Actions

Work Header

The Sheet Anchor

Work Text:

The Sheet Anchor
or Mr Midshipman Spike

Being a hair-raising tale of the escapades of the young vampire William, in Merry England during the reign of Good King George. (Or what they might have been before Joss changed the canon.) Including Salty Old Sea-Dogs; Buxom and plentiful Ladies of the Night; Dashing Young Officers, stalwart for King and Country; Other Officers, not quite so stalwart but still inclined to dash; Bloodthirsty Battles; Secretive Smuggling Escapades; Crafty Undercover Intelligence Work; and one pig.

Portsmouth, England 1812

Will opened his eyes but made no other movement whilst he waited to see what would happen next. He could hear Angelus prowling around somewhere behind him, making low growling noises that did not sound promising. The air was rank with the sulphur tang of roused demon. A hand shot out and twined its powerful fingers into his long hair, yanking his head back viciously. A voice hissed next to his ear. ‘And if you so much as think about doing that ever again, I will take you apart one piece at a time, d’ you hear?’

Very original, Will thought, at least come up with some new threats, Angelus. ‘Yes Sire.’

‘I will not allow my property to be damaged.’

‘No Sire.’

‘You don’t touch it, you don’t ask for it, you don’t think about asking for it.’

‘No Sire.’

‘Obedience, boy, obedience to my will, that is all you have to learn. And you will learn it. You do not dispute and I do not explain. You… will… learn.’ Angelus waited for a torturous second or two before thrusting his hand forward and letting Will’s head go with a jerk. ‘Go to bed.’

Will carefully pushed himself up off the table he had been stretched across and forced himself, moving stiffly, over to the bed; until he was lying face down with his head pillowed on his arms. He kept very still, eyes shut, hoping Angelus would think he had fallen asleep. He could hear Angelus undressing and then the whole bed shook and sank as the master vampire settled down on it. Will risked a glance and found himself gazing straight up into his sire’s eyes. He snapped his own shut again and then tried to still a shiver as a strong finger brushed across the nape of his neck, traced about the ridges of his spine and then worked its way up to entangle itself in his tousled locks. The hand started to unpick the blue ribbon that clung on stubbornly despite the violence of the last hour or so. It slid free at last and the clever fingers combed out the soft strands, splaying them out in a wide fan, brushing low across his lacerated shoulders.

Will winced as the bed shifted again as Angelus slid across closer and parted the mane of hair, stroking each half aside. Then he tensed up as his sire moved right over him and he suddenly felt a cool wet tongue lick at the top of his spine. The sensation moved down to flick gently over the smarting cuts that criss-crossed his back, cooling the burning flesh and soothing them into closing and healing. Surprised, but certainly not objecting, Will began to purr quietly and heard an answering rumble deep in his sire’s throat as Angelus worked lower, his tongue cleaning and easing each cut in turn. Will squirmed slightly and felt a warning pressure between his shoulder blades and a reproving growl, he froze and the soft lapping began again. Then without any notice it stopped. Angelus pulled back and cuffed him lightly across the head, ‘Go to sleep, boy,’ then rolled away and turned his back on him. Leaving Will frustrated and even more furious with his sire than he had been before.


When he awoke he was gazing at an open window where the orange and red flushed sky showed the sun had only just set. He was alone in the room.

He moved cautiously, his muscles stiff from lying still all night and a waned but still fiery ache across his back. Still sleep bleary he fumbled across to the window and leaned against the frame, gazing out at the jumbled roofscape of the town beneath him. A dull booming rolled in from the harbour, where some ship was firing its guns in salute as it came home to the great naval base on the evening tide. He reached back and found the cigar that he had purloined off a victim the previous evening; and which had miraculously remained untouched on the table all through the argument. It was a good cigar and he had been intending to give it to Angelus, but he clipped it and moved across to light it at the candle, without a second thought. He returned to the window and took a few deep, satisfying puffs. Then he reached up to his hair, which was still hanging loose, and with a frown of concentration, the cigar clamped between his teeth, he separated out a single strand. Soft rusty gold it was, the colour of a dormouse’s fur. He took out the cigar and very deliberately applied it to the end, watching the hair shrink and curl up on itself as it melted – before he tore it out and dropped it out of the window to drift out of sight. ‘Stupid bloody stuff.’ He started on a second hair.

Before he could begin his fifth the door opened and Angelus came in carrying a large brown-paper parcel, which he threw down on the table. He looked sharply at Will and sniffed the air. ‘What are you smoking?’

‘Took it off some fat bastard outside a pawn-brokers.’

‘It smells rancid.’

‘Probably gone mouldy.’ With a hidden expression of regret, Will threw it out of the window before Angelus realised his mistake.

‘Come here.’

Will moved and stood in front of his sire, turning round obediently when gestured to do so; he clenched his fists and waited. This bit was important. He heard Angelus breath out heavily and he knew the older vampire’s gaze was working over his back, then a hard finger was trailed down it, returning to repeat the action, pushing even harder this time. Will was very careful not to react. Finally Angelus reached up and slapped him across the shoulder. ‘Well enough. They’re healed: you can go out tonight.’ Will sighed with relief. ‘Get dressed. A decent clean shirt, white trousers, blue waistcoat, your best Hessian boots.’

Will went and donned the clothes as instructed, giving the boots a surreptitious buff so Angelus didn’t see they still had mud and blood spattered on the heels. Then he picked up a tortoise-shell backed hairbrush, which he handed to Angelus. He tried to stand patiently whilst his sire yanked the brush through the tangles of the day.

‘Ouch!’

‘Don’t whine. Why won’t you learn to stand still? This always takes twice as long as it should do.’

‘Well if you would let me cut it…’

The brush stopped in mid-stroke. ‘Tell me, William, that I did not just hear that.’

‘It’s a joke. It’s a joke’

‘Are you asking for another beating, William?’

‘No Sire! It was just a joke. I wouldn’t touch your property and I’m not asking you to allow me to; I just said if…’

‘It sounds to me like you are.’

‘I’m not, Sire: I promise. I’m not even thinking about asking you to cut my hair. You said I shouldn’t.’

Angelus snorted and returned to his brushing.

Will relaxed. Slowly, one chip at a time, was the way to wear Angelus down. Asking out-right last night had been a mistake, but with persistence surely his sire would get tired and give in eventually.

Angelus caught the long hair up, twisted a piece of twine around it to keep it in place and then tied a black ribbon firmly over to hide the twine, finishing it off with a neat bow. He turned his childe back round and smugly examined the completed effect. ‘With enough effort, William, you can look quite respectable. Put the coat on.’ He indicated the parcel he had brought in with him. Will went and opened it and examined the contents.

‘Bloody hell! Absolutely not!’

‘Well it is your decision, William. You can wear it with some skin still left on your backside, or without, but you will wear it.’

‘I’m going to look stupid.’

‘No you aren’t. You are going to look like a respectable young gentleman. Now do as you’re told.’

With great reluctance Will shrugged the heavy blue cloth onto his frame then stood looking embarrassed whilst Angelus did up some of the brass buttons. The stiff upright collar with its two white patches brushed against his chin. It smelt of mildew, salt, and the sweat of the previous owner, with just an undertone of fear-racked blood. Angelus reached back into the parcel and pushed the remainder of its contents into Will’s hands. Will crammed the black cocked hat onto his head and fastened the belt around his waist, then curiously drew the attached short dirk and examined it. ‘I couldn’t kill a toddler with this thing.’

‘You won’t need to. Now listen. Do you know the Sheet Anchor Inn?’

‘No.’

‘No matter. It’s down by the water; it isn’t hard to find. You are to go there and wait. Be sure to be in place by quarter past eight. Your name, when asked, is William Sullivan; and wait for them to find you. You will then be given something in exchange for which you will give them this.’ He handed him a gold guinea. ‘The rest has already been paid, so don’t let them haggle. Then you come straight home. If no-one turns up by the end of the night then you come home anyway, to be back here by half past five, not a minute later. Do you have a watch? Show me.’ Angelus compared it with his own timepiece and adjusted Will’s slightly. ‘I mean that about half past five, William: if you are late, I will not be pleased. Is that clear?’

‘Yes Angelus. What about money?’

‘I’ve given it to you.’

‘Yes, but what about for a drink or two? I can’t sit all night in an inn without drinking. It would look odd.’

‘You can sort that out for yourself. I’m not paying for your tippling.’

‘And why the fancy dress?’

‘Because that is what the…’ he hesitated briefly, ‘courier, will be looking out for. Besides it won’t stand out down there and there is a risk the press-gang will be out tonight. One person they are sure to leave well alone is an officer of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Anyway,’ he tilted his head to one side with a grin, ‘I think you look sweet.’

A few minutes later two minions scrubbing blood off the hall floor looked up and sniggered as Mr Midshipman William Sullivan stalked out of the house in full demon face, with a furious scowl on his features and an embarrassed red tinge around the tips of his ears.


By eight o’clock Will was making his way down noisy filthy streets, getting ever closer to the waterfront. His costume had caused little enough comment up in the better parts of town; after nearly twenty years of war, a junior officer in uniform walking along the streets of Portsmouth was nothing to excite anyone. Down there, he was part of the background. Though a passing dockyard man was surprised by the un-naval slouch and the muttering of ‘Sodding Angelus’s, sodding errand, sodding boy,’ coming from him.

Will kicked a loose cobblestone viciously and turned down a quieter side street, where a buxom woman in a striped dress suddenly lurched out at him from a dark doorway. ‘Hello, yer honour. Want a bit o’ company along o’ yer way?’ She gave him a leer, which let out a stink of onions and strong cheese through the gaps in her teeth.

‘Hardly that,’ Will said, and ignored her squawk of surprise as he pushed her back into the shadows. ‘I’ll just take you here.’ He fumbled his hands around her waist. ‘Where is the Sheet Anchor, by the way?’

‘Why down the end of Rope Walk Alley, yer honour. Oh, yer honour!’

Will found where her small purse was located strapped against her side and he yanked it free. ‘You wouldn’t rob a poor girl! Not a gentleman like you! What’s a girl to live by if she’s not to keep her few savings?’

‘I’ll save you the bother of finding out,’ Will said, and snapped her neck.

He examined the meagre contents of the purse with a disgusted look before pocketing the coins and throwing the purse away, then he headed off to find Rope Walk Alley.

Angelus’s caution turned out to be well founded a few minutes later when a press gang came past. Twenty burly sailors armed with stout cudgels and cheerfully heartless expressions, ready to compel their reluctant countrymen to serve their king. Not that they could have caught him if they tried but anyone dressed in shore-clothes in those parts would have to spend a lot of time hiding or running to avoid their attentions. The midshipman in charge of the party nodded to Will in a friendly fashion though, and the men knuckled their foreheads as they went past. Will, who wasn’t used to having respect from anyone despite thrashing the minions on a regular basis, acknowledged the salute with a pleasant feeling of self importance.


The Sheet Anchor was packed to the eaves with cheerful humanity that filled the air with an alcoholic miasma and a tidal-wave roar of noise. Will adjusted his exquisitely acute senses to the abuse and located a small space against a wall, which might be worth claiming. There was no hope of gaining a seat without having to fight someone for it. The inn was filled with every species of naval life and its allied trades, from the stoutly independent bumboat-men who earned their livings by selling goods around the harbour; through to ladies of every level of skill and prettiness who earned theirs by selling themselves. Mostly though the clientele consisted of large parties of libertymen, all determined to utilise their precious nights of shore-leave from their ships in spending as much money as unwisely as possible in a very short allowance of time. There was even a rowdy group of midshipmen, dressed in the same uniform as himself, creating a great deal of noise at a corner table.

Normally, Will liked inns, the wilder the better. This one just made him feel awkward and an outsider. Well, he was a vampire, he told himself, he wasn’t supposed to feel part of human company. The trick was not to let them realise that. He would do what he had to and then leave quickly, and let these stupid humans get on with their self absorbed little lives. He sneered and tried to find the pot-boy to get him a drink.

After a few minutes of fruitless hunting he gave up and headed for the possibly clearer air near the back entrance. He had barely gained the wall to lounge against, when a young woman approached him. She smiled brightly. ‘Good evening, sir.’ Will cocked his head. She was sweating slightly in the heat of the room but she was at least relatively clean and not the ugliest female present by a long chalk. ‘I’m a bit lonely tonight,’ she confided. ‘My friend Sal has gone home without me, so I’m all by myself, sir.’

Will cocked his head a bit further and raised one eyebrow.

‘And I don’t like being in this crowded place all alone, sir. I don’t be feeling comfortable.’

Will raised the other eyebrow.

A slight frown flicked across the woman’s face, quickly hidden. ‘Be you just arrived yourself, sir, seeing as you be alone as well?’ Her accent was slipping fast.

Will quirked the corner of his mouth.

‘I were a wondering, sir, if maybe…’ She toyed with the neckline of her dress, ‘Would you perhaps be caring for…’

‘No.’

‘Well, you bugger!’ she said, and stalked off to find better custom.

‘I intend to, but not with some dockside trull,’ Will said, and leant back against the wall.

Nothing much happened for a while. Will drummed his heels against the wall and looked around for someone to get him a drink from time to time – without success. After his rebuttal of one of the sisterhood, the whores left him alone and no rating was going to be friendly with an officer. He silently cursed Angelus. This was probably his sire’s idea of revenge.

There was a slight commotion as four smartly dressed officers came in and everybody either saluted or tried to pretend they hadn’t seen them. The three captains and a commander headed for a private parlour, coming right past Will. Three of them went straight in but the most senior stopped and looked directly at him; and with an inward feeling of horror at his actions Will stood up straight and brought his hand up to his hat.

The captain looked down his nose at him for a long minute whilst Will panicked that there was something very obviously wrong with his appearance.

‘Name?’

‘Sullivan, sir.’

‘Sullivan?’ Another pause. ‘What ship?’

‘Er… I hav—’

The captain held up a sharp finger. ‘Your mother’s name was FitzWilliam!’

‘Sir?’

‘Annabelle FitzWilliam. Am I right? Married a fellow from Dorset called Sullivan. I knew I recognised your face: I never forget a nose. I last saw you on your eighth birthday. I had heard you were carrying on in the admiral’s footsteps. Yes, yes, always good to see a family tradition of service being carried on. You’ve just been given a rather vital new appointment I hear, what?’

‘Er—’

‘Eh? Oh! Not to be mentioned in company?’ He tapped the side of his nose knowingly. ‘Don’t worry, I know all about that sort of thing! Remember me to your mother, Mr Sullivan. Captain Burleigh. She met me at the Crowtherly’s in eighty-seven.’

‘Burleigh, are you coming?’

‘I am with you in a minute. How is the admiral?’

‘Er, as far as I know, he’s very well, sir.’

‘Excellent, excellent. My regards to your mother as I said, and the admiral of course. Yes I’m coming, Smithe. Do you know who that was? Bella FitzWilliam’s boy: the vice-admiral’s grandson. You remember her? Rode a bay mare bareback as far as Whitehaven for a bet in the summer of eighty-seven. Fine looking creature. I paid fifty guineas for her when she came back.’ An inaudible comment came from within. ‘No, you dog! The mare!’ They closed the door.

Will looked around for somewhere else to wait.

The men at one table had started to sing a round, the song being picked up by each in turn. There were at least two with beautifully sweet and skilled voices. The others weren’t up to much but they made up for it by joining in with the cheerful enthusiasm and tolerance of men who must work and possibly die together.

The next group, all identically dressed and with the name of their ship embroidered neatly on their hat bands, were engaged in a vigorous game of shove half-penny along the length of their table, exchanging jokes and friendly banter on the relative performance of each player. Another man walked by and was hailed as their missing best friend of all time, persuaded to sit down and a drink pressed into his hand. They started to exchange ship news and gossip nineteen to the dozen. Will’s vampire hearing could catch every word. He could understand maybe one in three.

Will sullenly fingered the heavy gold coin in his pocket: with it at his disposal he could treat half the room if he wanted to, but in such a crowd he had no idea how to strike up a conversation convincingly. He started to wonder about trying to get his whore back. At least she would be someone to talk to.

An exceptionally loud roar came from the table of midshipmen. There were about a dozen of them, of various ages up to around twenty-five, and the smallest, who looked to be about thirteen, was currently standing in the middle of the table trying to down a tankard of beer in one go. The others thumped the table in increasing time. ‘Drink! Drink! Drink— drink! Drink— drink— drink— drink!’ The boy finally doubled over with a splutter, spewing half the beer straight back out again and coughing like a miner. The others cheered and beat him vigorously on the back calling out pleasant advice on remedies for a cough. ‘Come on, Charlie, got to get a full measure down you. For the honour of the service!’ Charlie just hung over the edge of the table, heaving, until they unceremoniously rolled him off.

Will became aware that one of the midshipmen was not watching the show but had noticed that he was staring straight at them. He met his eye with an arrogant questioning look. The man got up and sauntered over.

‘Percival, of Ganymedes,’ he said, holding out his hand.

‘Sullivan,’ Will responded, wondering yet again if this would prove to be the courier.

‘Didn’t I just see you talking to Captain Burleigh? Perhaps you would you care to join us, Mr Sullivan? I fancy you will find it tolerable company. The youngsters can be a damn nuisance of course, but one can always kick them if they annoy one too much and they are useful to send on errands.’

Percival made good on his statement by kicking a spotty youth off the end of the bench. The boy made no complaint, simply adopting the still prone Charlie as an alternative seat, to the amusement of the others.

Will sat down.

‘This is Mr Sullivan,’ Percival introduced him. ‘Mr Wyndham and Mr Cartwright of Northumberland, Mr Abbot and Mr Fanshaw of Ganymedes, Mr Slater of Hydra, Mr Reynolds of Diligente. That lanky prick in the corner is Price, also of Ganymedes. The others are swabs beneath your notice.’ There was a general chorus of greeting. ‘So, you know Captain Burleigh do you, Sullivan?’ Percival went on with just a little too keen an interest.

‘No. He claims he knew my mother.’

‘Ah, I get that a lot. Everyone knows everyone in the service.’

‘A lot of men know your mother, then?’ Will asked, to general guffaws from the others. Percival shot him a look of cold hatred.

‘Percival is highly connected,’ Cartwright explained, ‘Only not to anyone the rest of us have ever heard of. Would you care for a drink, Sullivan?’

‘Thanks. I can’t seem to attract the pot-boy’s attention.’

‘Ah, he’s proving elusive tonight, but we have a sure-fire method for dealing with that. It’s called Tubbs here. Tubbs, go and get another half-dozen bottles, and make sure it is the best this time, none of your watered down horse-piss.’

A fat youth resembling an over-stuffed sausage, whose mother had clearly only accounted for growth in height not width when outfitting him, shot off at surprising speed through the crowded room, with cries of ‘Mind the way. Stand clear there. Shift your arse,’ to anyone who got in his way.

‘Always a pleasure to see zeal in the service,’ Cartwright remarked. ‘What ship did you say, Sullivan?’

‘Oh I’d never sail on the What. She’s far too old and rotten.’

This was met with great barks of laughter, after the slower members of the group had had it explained to them. The youngsters started to repeat it with slight variations. ‘Don’t sail on the What, she’s unsound!’ ‘What ship there? That’s right.’ ‘What-ho the What!’ ‘Mr Watt of the What!’ ‘Which ship do… no, no— what ship? Why the What!’

‘You should all go on the stage,’ Will complimented them. ‘Preferably soon.’

The rest of the table calmed down a little – except for Charlie, who was starting to protest at the boy sitting on top of him.

‘Drum him with your heels, Durham,’ Reynolds advised.

‘Won’t that make him buck?’ Durham said.

‘Not if you drum him hard enough, then it will be like the din of battle, kill all the pain so he won’t much mind you sitting on him.’

‘Very true,’ Wyndham said, and the others nodded sagely with a certain look of respect.

‘You been in a lot of battles then?’ Will asked the young man, who looked to be about twenty.

Wyndham looked modest. ‘I had the good fortune to be at Trafalgar.’

Will did a quick calculation, Wyndham couldn’t have been much older than Charlie in 1805 when Trafalgar was fought. ‘Lot of noise?’

‘A fair bit, but then I was on Bellerophon.’

‘Why would that make it noisy?’ a youngster piped up.

‘Don’t you know anything, Travers?’ Cartwright rounded on him. ‘The Bellerophon was closest to Balgama when her magazine exploded.’ And he belaboured him around the ears to assist his education.

Will thought about the din and smoke of a great battle, the screams of dying men, the blood washing across the wooden decks. Angelus would never let him go near the war, although he had begged time and time again to be allowed to go to Spain or Russia. But it was human business according to his sire, and no concern of theirs. Angelus was only interested in stalking rich society women, with the comfort of a soft bed to return to in the daytime.

‘I’m sure you will all get your chance,’ Wyndham said softly. Will glared at the young man beside him, who shrugged and smiled. ‘I was lucky. Your turn will come.’

‘I’ve done some damage in my time,’ Will said with a curl of his lip.

‘Well of course! I didn’t mean to imply you hadn’t.’

Will opened his mouth to reply and then shut it again.

Tubbs came back with five bottles balanced on a very small tray and the sixth clamped between his teeth.

‘You never did say which ship, Sullivan,’ Percival commented.

‘Very observant of you.’ Will quickly stood up and started to hand round the bottles. Wyndham nudged Percival and gave him a pointed glare.

‘What? What are you trying to say, Wyndham?’ There was a low mutter and Will caught the word unemployed. Percival looked slightly smug but kept quiet. Will suppressed a growl and tried to remember the names of some ships.

‘I’m owed six bob,’ Tubbs said to nobody in particular.

‘I thought we were running up a bill?’

‘Not according to the pot-boy. I had to pay for this round and the last.’

There was a general muttering of discontent and everybody reached into his pockets.

‘He also said we should consider if we had already had enough.’

‘The unutterable dog. What business is it of his! We should scrag him.’

‘Quite right. The civilian cur.’ A pause. ‘Later maybe.’

‘I don’t think we should put up with this at all, not from a pot-boy,’ Percival said pompously.

‘Well you are clearly deeply concerned with the matter of cup-bearers,’ Will remarked. Percival gave him a suspicious look.

‘I’m still owed six bob.’

‘Wyndham will pay my share. You already owe me one and six, Wyndham,’ Cartwright said.

‘Ah, but I paid you back ninepence on Saturday.’

‘Not a bit of it. That was the ninepence you borrowed off me last month.’

‘No, no. I paid that back on Friday week.’

‘This could go on for some time,’ young Durham explained knowingly to Will.

‘Get off, Durham you brute, you’re hurting me!’

‘Do you have six bob, Charlie?’

‘Yes. Get off.’

‘Oh well, pay up then and you can get up.’ Durham hauled the breathless boy beneath him to his feet. ‘This round is on Charlie everybody.’

‘Oh well done.’

‘Good for you, Charlie.’

The furious child handed the money over to Tubbs who pocketed it with a pleased look. The resourceful Durham then managed to snatch a free stool for himself from a nearby table, whose previous occupant had temporarily retired for reasons of personal comfort, and he obligingly allowed Charlie to perch on one corner of it.

The drink was being consumed rapidly: gin, beer and wine all doing the rounds without pause for thought. And though Will had a way to go before he could catch the others up, plus the effects of an unnatural constitution to overcome, he was beginning to feel decidedly less cautious.

‘I came across Villeneuve once,’ he announced suddenly. This was strictly true. They had been living in France at the time and Angelus and he had bumped into the French admiral in an inn at Rennes. Not that Will had been much interested as to who the man was, but he did remember him. There was a silence while everybody waited for him to elaborate. ‘I asked him how he came to lose Trafalgar. He didn’t smile once.’ The silence deepened. Will took a hearty swig from his drink. ‘But then he couldn’t, seeing as he was just a puppet in a show at a fairground.’ The silence lasted a few seconds more whilst they decided how they were going to take this, then Wyndham let out a loud guffaw and the others followed his lead. Only Percival sat looking offended.

‘Have another drink, Sullivan, we clearly need to loosen your tongue some more,’ Cartwright said.

The youngster called Travers suddenly gave a loud groan and disappeared under the table. Will discovered he had turned up between himself and Percival. He dragged him out by the collar. ‘What are you doing down there, boy? Nothing worth sniffing between Percival’s knees.’

‘What did you say?’ Percival snapped.

‘I can put him back to puke on your feet if you would rather?’

‘Gentlemen, gentlemen, have a little thought for our fallen comrades feelings,’ the man called Price said quietly from his corner. ‘Take him out the back, Durham, and hose him down under the yard pump.’ Durham and Reynolds took the floppy Travers from Will’s hands and persuaded him towards the door.

Will frowned when he saw how readily the youngsters obeyed each other. He knew perfectly well that if he had said that to one of the minions he would have been laughed at and told to go do it himself. Unless of course Angelus happened to be around in which case the minion would have done it immediately; and then Angelus would have thumped Will for getting above his place and trying to give orders. He scowled and then saw Price was looking at him. Price was a tall delicate young man, pale complexioned for a sailor, with soft black hair and the soulful look of a poet. He smiled shyly at Will and then quickly looked down.

Will tilted his head questioningly, and unthinkingly his hand reached up to play with his hair.

‘Why do you keep that so long?’ Percival said waspishly, sneering at the action. ‘It’s hideously unfashionable. You look like a rating. Not even my father still wears his long.’

Will gritted his teeth. ‘Oddly enough I am not in the habit of taking dress hints from your father. Or is he a hairdresser?’ Percival’s eyes bulged.

Wyndham raised his glass abruptly. ‘A toast: confusion to Bonaparte.’ The others all followed his lead immediately, even Percival, and Will found himself mimicking them. Wyndham nudged Cartwright who was sitting next to him.

‘All ladies fair or foul, so long as they be willing,’ Cartwright proposed, and they all drank again.

Toast followed toast, working round the table, some lame, some witty. Charlie amazed them all by proposing the health of Mrs Christina Hartingly of the theatre, Drury Lane, and then refusing to give any further details despite a vigorous pummelling and threats to the safety of his cocked hat – which last item he seemed to value considerably dearer than his own skin.

It was Will’s turn for a toast. ‘The pleasure of the red nectar,’ he said, ‘and no-one to tell us when we may or may not drink.’

‘Hear, hear!’ The others thumped the table in their approval.

Only Percival was left. ‘Gentlemanly conduct,’ he said. The others all drank, but nobody seemed to think much of the suggestion, except for Abbot and Fanshaw, who banged the table with pointless ardour.

The absent three returned, with a wetter but soberer looking Travers being exiled to the stool where he couldn’t drip on anyone except Charlie; although the fug of the room would soon dry him off and everyone agreed that the risk of pneumonia was negligible.

‘The pot-boy gave us ever such a queer look when we came back in,’ Durham remarked.

‘That pot-boy is sailing close to the wind!’

‘He probably didn’t want us going into the yard. I swear there was some chap lurking in the shadows whilst we were out there.’

‘He’s probably got some underhand deal going on tonight.’ A spark of mischief sprang into Cartwright’s eyes. ‘I propose, gentlemen, that since the room is rather crowded and warm, and the weather clement, we find occasion to sit in the yard tonight!’ As one they picked up their drinks and headed outside.

Will hesitated.

But only for a second.


The yard itself was an inhospitable place, so they decided to take over a relatively clean and spacious cart shed on one side, with plans to send the youngsters out at regular intervals to keep an eye on things. The midshipmen exercised naval ingenuity in rounding up planks and empty beer-kegs to make a rough table and seats enough for them all, except for Durham, who had contrived to bring his stool with him and even produced a lantern from somewhere.

Will took in several breaths of the salt-laden night air. The moon was shining brightly into the dusty yard, casting strange shadows from the thick branches of ivy that grew bush-like all over one end of the cart shed. A fat pig in a sty in the corner shuffled out to find out what all the noise was about, then staggered back to sleep with an outraged grunt. Moths fluttered down, attracted to the light, which brought a bat in after them. Will watched it sweep away, his predators eyes following its wheeling flight with ease in the dark.

‘Come on, Sullivan. Come and sit down,’ Price said, and then suddenly ‘I think we should have a game.’

‘Anyone got any cards?’ Will asked.

‘No, no, not that sort of game. Pass me your dirk, Charlie.’ The small boy, who was perched on a convenient keg, reached down to his side and pulled out his weapon, handing it to Price. It was of far better quality than the one Will had, three foot of gleaming razor-edged damascened steel, with a carved ivory grip and a small crest engraved on the cross-bar of the hilt. Lethally beautiful.

‘As senior, I go first.’ Cartwright announced. Nobody objected.

Price carefully balanced the dirk flat on top of one of the empty bottles.

‘What’s the forfeit?’ someone asked.

‘A cobbing from the others with the flat of the scabbard or pay the whole pot bill,’ Tubbs said instantly. There was an exchange of glances and then a general murmur of assent.

Price leaned over and delicately tapped the hilt of the dirk, sending it spinning gently around until it eventually came to a halt, the tip pointing at Slater, who looked alarmed but tried to hide it.

Cartwright carefully steepled his fingers and considered Slater with great thought. ‘Who was the first girl you ever pumped?’ he said at last.

There came a loud snort from Percival. ‘First and last.’

Slater scowled. ‘Mary Anne Tilthborough, in a hayloft at my uncle’s place in Wiltshire,’ he said.

‘And was she worth getting the hay up your arse crack for?’ Will enquired.

Slater grinned. ‘Oh yes. And she knew how to get it back out again.’ The table dissolved into merriment.

‘Now, now. No secondary questions. Spin, Slater,’ Price instructed.

Slater reached across and set the dirk spinning again. This time it came to rest pointing at Tubbs, who looked surprisingly pleased to be thus chosen. ‘How much was the pot bill, really?’ Slater asked.

Tubbs turned bright red. ‘Six bob of course.’

‘He’s lying,’ everybody agreed.

‘Not a bit of it. Go and ask.’

‘Six bob including the bottles he stashed to collect later,’ Will said softly, making everybody look at him before turning back to Tubbs.

‘Well?’

‘You rotten thief!’

‘That was my money you beast!’

A general and violent scragging started, with the assembled company beating on the outnumbered Tubbs with anything convenient until the fat boy managed to slip out from under their hands. ‘All right, all right, I’ll go and get them. I was only saving them so we would have something to drink back on board.’ He shot out before more violence could ensue.

‘Does that count as a forfeit, Price?’ Abbot asked, putting an unnecessary drawl into Price’s name. The first thing he had said for himself all evening. He and Fanshaw were identical looking louts of eighteen or so, who seemed to be following Percival’s lead in everything.

‘Ah, well, now to be fair, he didn’t lie about the pot bill. Spin again, Slater.’

Slater swung vigorously so the dirk rocked violently and circled many times.

Will watched it hypnotically. He was warm and comfortable, at ease from the drink and feeling surprisingly happy in the company of these humans.

The dirk stopped, pointing at Price.

‘Who asks the question?’ Charlie asked. ‘Slater has already had his turn.’

Percival straightened up.

Will leant forward quickly. ‘What are you most afraid of?’ Price looked up and locked gaze with his own. There was a stiffening in the young men around them; some questions should not be asked. But Price returned Will’s stare, though with flushed cheeks now, and Will felt a sudden stirring in him, and he had to fight to keep his demon hidden.

‘Bats,’ Price said carefully. There were loud chuckles. ‘Daft things, flapping about in the dark. I’m worried about things that hunt in the dark.’ The others instantly broke out into clamorous shrieks, hooting and flapping their arms, before falling about helpless with laughter at the extent of their own wit.

Will took a long pull on his drink, he still hadn’t broken gaze with Price.

Price leaned across awkwardly and set the dirk in motion again, and Will knew without looking that it had come to rest facing him.

‘What do you most love?’ Price asked quietly, but as if the answer really mattered to him.

‘Ah, the lap of the surge against a proud ship square, the soft kiss of a beauteous maiden fair, the—’

‘Shut up, Durham. Does Sullivan look as if he would be interested in poetry?’ They beat him into silence. Everybody looked at Will.

Will put his hand into his pocket and started to play with the guinea Angelus had given him. It would be more than enough to cover the pot bill, even if they were there all night. Or he could simply get up and leave, go and find somewhere else to wait for the courier.

‘Killing things in the dark,’ he said. Price smiled slowly and nodded, as at a shared secret.

The others were looking confused. ‘Who’d you kill in the dark, Sullivan?’

‘Whoever I can.’

‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous. That counts as a forfeit,’ Percival snapped.

‘Perhaps Sullivan has had the honour to be involved in some night actions,’ Wyndham suggested cautiously. ‘Have you, Sullivan?’

‘I’ve seen action at night, yes.’

‘Where?’

‘No subsidiary questions,’ Cartwright said shortly. ‘Especially not ones that will lead to long anecdotes. Spin.’

Will leaned across and plucked the dirk off the bottle, then held out his forefinger and balanced the weapon, edge on, on his finger tip. The others gapped at the steadiness and balance required. Very gently, Will tapped the hilt with his knuckle and watched the blade spin, the razor edge shaving off little curlicues of skin. There was a general gasp of astonishment.

‘How do you do that?’

‘Can you show me?’

The blade stopped. Will lowered his hand and returned the blade to the bottle. ‘Would you rather have the company of men or women, Percival?’ he asked.

Percival turned beetroot red, his eyes looking daggers at Will.

‘Come on, Percival, that’s hardly a tough question!’

‘The company of your friends and comrades or a few pretty ladies?’

‘Make your mind up!’

‘Ladies,’ Percival finally spat out and he made a grab for the dirk.

Will smirked and stretched out his legs. ‘Here’s Tubbs again. You’ve been a long time, Tubbsie.’

Tubbs bustled in with a suspiciously complacent look. ‘I bumped into the pot-boy. And I’ve managed to get a proper bill started,’ he said, passing bottles around.

Will stood up casually. ‘I’ll help you get the rest in, shall I?’

‘The… the rest. Er, yes. Thank you, Sullivan.’ The complacent look had been wiped right away. Will followed the fat boy out, ignoring Percival’s protests that he should stay in case the next question was his.

Tubbs hesitated briefly then headed across the yard towards the pigsty and reached down to push aside a decaying board that was leaning against the outside wall of the sty. There was a low rumbling grunt from the hidden occupant. The air was heavy with her stench.

Tubbs stood, clearly trying to block Will’s view as much as possible, and started to pass bottles, a surprisingly large number of bottles, up to Will. Will put each one silently back down on the ground by his feet as Tubbs passed them.

‘That’s all,’ the boy said firmly.’

‘Except for that small keg.’

‘I… How did you see that? It’s—’

‘I have good eyes. What’s the keg, Tubbsie?’ He let his teeth hiss over the name and moved a little closer.

‘I don’t know. It was just out here. When I came back out it was sitting in the middle of the yard.’

‘So you commandeered it for the King’s service? How very enterprising of you.’

‘Yes. I just had time to hide it before that wretched pot-boy blundered out to find out why we were all sitting out here. I had to give him quite a bribe to go away again. Somebody owes me for that.’

‘Oh, I don’t think so, Tubbsie.’

Will cast a glance around the dark yard. There were muffled sounds of merriment coming from the shed and a dull roar from the inn itself. There was quite a risk of them being disturbed, especially since whoever had left the keg was liable to be back any minute. Besides, Tubbs was hardly… He looked down at the fat, greasy haired boy in front of him and his stomach gave an involuntary heave.

‘Please, Sullivan, please don’t hurt me.’ The moon slipped behind a cloud.

Will shook his head.

And plunged his fangs into the boy’s neck. What the devil, he was hungry and he needed something to mop up the alcohol.

When he was full he quickly tipped the blubbery body over the low wall into the pigsty. There was a splat as it settled into the stinking mud and straw.

Will bent down and examined the keg. A sniff soon told him all he needed to know: brandy. Very expensive, very illegal, very smuggled, French brandy. No wonder the pot-boy hadn’t been too happy about all the midshipmen repeatedly entering the yard.

He let the demon eyes glow gold in his face as he picked up the heavy little keg, nipped across the yard in the shadows so fast that only another demon could have spotted him, and with an agile leap bounded to the top of the cart shed. He walked along the roof ridge, a nimble black shape silhouetted against the dark sky, and quickly wedged the keg amongst the sturdy branches of the ivy. Bare seconds later he was back at the stack of bottles.

There was a discreet cough and a shape broke away from the shed doorway and came a few steps into the yard. ‘Sullivan?’

‘What?’

‘It’s me, Price. Where are you? I can’t see.’

‘I’m here. Come and give a hand with these bottles.’

‘Where’s Tubbs?’

‘Gone for good, barring a miracle. He had a guilty conscience: there are at least another dozen bottles here.’

‘Oh.’ Price came across the yard, picking his way carefully with his arms held warily out in front. He stumbled and crashed against Will.

‘Steady, sailor boy.’ Will caught him easily.

‘Sorry, Sullivan.’ The other man didn’t pull away though. ‘Are you sure we’re alone?’

‘Yes.’ Will dropped his voice to a deeper, softer note, ‘We’re alone.’ His hands slid higher until he was holding Price’s thin but surprisingly firm upper arms.

‘I wanted to talk to you, Sullivan. Um… alone.’

‘Talk?’ He slid one hand round, behind Price’s back, feeling the tingle of sweat through the thick, woollen uniform-coat, identical to his own. He tilted his head slightly and leaned forward, rubbing his body up against the other man. Price let out a surprised squeak. ‘What do you want to talk about, Price?’

‘Well its about love and er… hunting in the dark— Gosh—! Is… is your name William by any chance?’

Will froze. ‘What?’ He pulled back. ‘Don’t tell me: you were at my birthday party when I was eight years old.’

‘What? No! What are you talking about? I was told about you: William Sullivan. You’re one of them. Hunting in the dark is one of the signs isn’t it? And then you mentioned love… Sorry, this, well this is my first time. I thought you said…’

‘Ah.’ Will smiled reassuringly and let his hands drop slightly. Though with a satisfied fleeting smirk he noted that Price didn’t step back. ‘Don’t worry. Why don’t you show me what you’ve got?’

‘Here?’ Price gave another squeak like a startled coot.

Will sighed and took three steps back, even further into the shadows. Price matched him step for step with nervous little jerks. Will quickly reached out and swung the slender Midshipman around, pushing him into the corner where the pigsty and yard wall met. He put an arm out casually, blocking any escape. ‘Let’s see it then.’ The moon had reappeared and he could clearly see Price’s dark eyes staring widely at him.

‘I… yes… er…’ Price reached down towards his trousers very slowly. ‘This is alright, isn’t it? I mean, I wouldn’t want to do anything really wrong. It is all for the good, isn’t it?’ Will lost patience and grabbed down, his hand diving into the man’s pocket. He yanked out a small rectangular package. ‘It’s all there, I assure you,’ Price said.

Will quickly pocketed it. ‘Fine. Now…’ he reached up his hand towards Price’s neck.

‘Look at that! Right out in the open, the vile creatures!’

Will swung round with a snarl. Percival was already three quarters of the way across the brightly moon-lit yard, Abbot and Fanshaw a couple of steps behind. And he was backed right into the corner with no room to manoeuvre.

‘Who are you with, you foul sodomite? It’s that slimy toad of a pot-boy I’ll wager. Just your level, Sullivan.’ Percival had his dirk out.

Will charged forward, head down, intending to butt his way out. He took three swift strides when suddenly the ground gave way under his feet and he sprawled backwards helplessly, his ears filled with the clash of glass crashing against glass as the bottles he had tripped over rolled all over the yard. He smashed backwards, hitting his head against the sty wall. The moon came abruptly into his sight, split dramatically into two and then came back together again but still dancing drunkenly up and down in the sky. He was vaguely aware of a pair of long legs leaping clear over him and the wall together, and the squelching sound of mud and other things as Price made his escape across the pigsty.

‘Catch him!’ There was another crash as somebody else came foul of the scattered bottles. Then there was a heavy pressure on his chest and Percival’s face was thrust into his own. ‘Looks like your catamite got away for now. But don’t worry, we’ll catch up with him. We’ll just have to persuade you to tell us who he was.’ Will tried to thrust the human wretch off, but Percival’s face was bobbing as crazily as the moon. For some reason he couldn’t seem to get into demon face. ‘Come on fellows. Let’s deal with young Sodom and Gomorrah here.’

Three pairs of hands were suddenly flipping Will over onto his stomach and he felt somebody sitting on his back and twisting both arms up behind him. There was another pressure on his legs.

‘What are you going to do, Percival?’ the one on his back said.

‘Hmm, let’s see.’ By the sound of it Percival was standing above him, but whoever was on his back was pressing his face into the cobbles, so it was hard to tell. Will tried to buck, but he felt as weak as a kitten and his stomach seemed to be about to object strongly to being pressed so firmly against the ground. His head was splitting as well. There was suddenly a scrabbling and shuffling in front of him and he managed to open one eye enough to see. The glittering blade of a dirk was barely half an inch from his face. ‘Keep very still, Sullivan. We don’t want you to loose your pretty looks, now do we?’

Will stiffened. Any minute now, he thought, my head is going to clear, and you are. He tried to focus. You are. His stomach gave a sudden heave. You…

A hand grabbed at his hair and there was a scratchy squeaking sound followed by a sharp tug and he could feel the cool night air playing across the back of his neck. Somebody laughed.

‘Perhaps he’ll remember he isn’t a girl now.’ Something landed with a soft thump in front of his nose.

‘Now,’ Percival’s voice again, as oily as melted butter, ‘sodomites like things stuffed up their arses, don’t they? Pass me one of those bottles.’

With a roar Will tore his hands free and thrust himself upright. Percival was right in front of him and he let fly with his fist as he rose, feeling the soft impact as he connected with the man’s elegantly hooked nose, which splashed like a ripe fruit splitting and sprayed out a satisfying amount of blood on either side of his knuckles.

He was about to swing again when there was a sudden excruciating pain in his belly. He doubled over, gaping wide in agony, as a great heave of alcohol and fatty salty blood shot up and all over Percival’s uniform. Percival took a stumbling step backwards and Will tried to swing once more but again doubled over in pain and shot out a second stream.

‘What in thunder is going on?’ A loud voice trained to cut across storm or battle boomed around the yard. Above the demands of his still shuddering stomach Will was aware that the others had stopped dead. ‘Percival? Is that you?’

‘S-sir. Aye, aye, sir.’

‘Fanshaw? Abbot?’

‘Aye, aye, sir.’

‘Aye, aye, sir.’

‘And who is that? Good God, Sullivan! What would your mother say!’

And Will at last managed to straighten up and found himself gazing straight into the enraged eye of Captain Burleigh.

‘Er…’ he said weakly.

‘Don’t sir me, Sullivan. You are a disgrace to your family and the service.’ Will wiped a feeble hand across his mouth and blinked twice. Burleigh raged coldly on. ‘Percival, what are you doing in this opprobrious position. I took you on as a favour to your aunt, out of sympathy for her sister’s child, but I am beginning to have serious doubts about having done so. It seems that the son of a tradesman does not make a gentleman after all.’

‘N-no, sir.’ Percival hung his head, his cheeks glowing red with embarrassment, and Will thanked his eyes that were good enough to see so in the moonlight.

‘You will return to the Ganymedes immediately. And you will all three report to my cabin tomorrow at six bells.’

‘Aye, aye, sir,’ the three chorused meekly together and then shot off at the double, not giving their captain time to think of anything else to say to them.

Burleigh though was too busy contemplating Will, who to his evident astonishment had leaned back casually against the pigsty with a grin on his face. ‘Do you flog your midshipmen, Captain Burleigh?’ Will asked.

‘What? Yes, if they deserve it I— What the devil!’

‘Good. Make sure you flog those three good and hard.’ Will sniffed. ‘I just wish I could grace you with my company to watch, but I shall be otherwise occupied tomorrow.’

‘You insolent young— Your grandfather—’

‘You see I will have to deal with a keg of particularly expensive French brandy.’

‘You—’ Burleigh flustered to a stop. ‘Oh.’

‘I came across it by chance. Shortly before the others came out.’

‘Oh.’

‘I suppose it must be intended for someone in the inn, but it seems rather pricey for most of the patrons here tonight, perhaps I should go and speak to some of the officers? Or I could wait here and see who comes out to collect it? I wouldn’t want it to end up in the wrong hands.’

‘Oh.’

‘I don’t mind waiting around, but that would leave me rather tired tomorrow. So maybe it would be easier, all in all, to just find the pot-boy and ask him if he knows who it belongs to. Have you seen him by the way?’

‘I, er, he seems to have vanished, that was why I, er, I myself— I—’

‘It does seem very difficult to get his attention tonight. It must be because he is so busy: serving customers, keeping order, organising the smuggling sideline. Quite a hard-working lad in fact.’

‘Er, yes.’ Burleigh fiddled with his cuffs. ‘So, um, what do you intend to do with this keg?’

Will looked thoughtfully up at the man. His head was feeling a lot clearer. He could keep the brandy for himself, or on the other hand Burleigh was doubtless prepared to pay a lot for it and would probably pay even more for Will’s silence. ‘You look like a discerning drinker, sir, why don’t you make me an offer?’

A little later the last coin was counted out into Will’s hand. ‘Very well. Now where is it?’

‘Ah,’ Will said, ‘Now there you have a problem.’ He grabbed the captain’s arm and steered him across the yard until they could look in at the door of the shed without being seen. ‘There’s your keg,’ he whispered, and pointed to the small keg Charlie was still balancing on.

‘Good Lord! That is the honourable Horatio Charleston-Fanshawe, the Duke’s nephew,’ Burleigh breathed out. ‘Sitting on my brandy!’

‘Yes. And I’m sure you will agree we shouldn’t disturb him just yet. However I am willing to wait and see that nothing untoward happens to it tonight, and we can meet back here tomorrow when the coast is clear, to make the exchange.’ Burleigh blustered as much as he was able without making any noise. ‘Now, now, Captain, don’t want to attract unwanted attention. I’ll see you tomorrow. You can tell me all about flogging your youngsters.’

Will waited until the captain had left then strolled over to pick up a few of the bottles. There was a frantic whisper from the depths of the pigsty, ‘Sullivan! Is that you Sullivan?’

Will straightened up. ‘Price?’

‘Yes, it’s me. Have they gone?’

‘Seems so. What are you still doing in there?’

‘I couldn’t get out. They didn’t see me in the dark, they must have thought I got away. Are you alright?’

‘Yes. Though I perhaps shouldn’t have mixed my drinks.’

‘They cut off your hair! Oh, your beautiful hair!’

‘I’ll survive.’

A shy smile came across Price’s features. ‘Actually I think you look much nicer with it short. And it was terribly out-dated keeping it long. Even in the navy.’

‘I don’t think that was what they had on their minds.’

Price suddenly looked scared again. ‘Oh God! This is terrible. They saw us! Don’t you see what this means? They saw everything! We will hang! I never meant for this to go so far, they left me no choice, and now it’s all for nothing. Oh God, I don’t want to die!’

‘Hang?’ Will frowned and then remembered that naval discipline did indeed invoke the death penalty for homosexuality. ‘Price?’

‘Yes?’

‘Have you got much of that pig shit on you?’

‘What? No! Only on my boots.’

‘Come over here then, we might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.’

There was a particularly rousing cheer from the cart-shed.


Some time later Price stood back up, licking his lips. ‘Are you sure—’

‘Yes,’ Will said. ‘For the hundredth time, nobody is going to find out.’

‘Oh.’

Will re-buttoned his uniform whilst Price hovered.

‘Well, um, in that case, I was wondering if…’

Will glanced up. ‘See you again tomorrow night?’

‘Yes. Oh yes indeed.’ Price smiled. ‘Yes.’ He leaned forward tenderly to brush his hand against Will’s face. Will opened his mouth slightly and Price suddenly shrieked, stumbled backwards thrusting Will away from him, and shot off at a run. Will crashed back against the sty wall again, only this time there was an ominous tinkling sound from his pocket. He reached his hand in and swore under his breath when his fingers discovered the shattered remains of his watch. Then he frowned and reached up to his face, trying to work out what had just happened. Everything seemed human, so what had just frightened Price?

Then there was a scrabbling sound behind him and the sudden stench of blood and foul hot breath combined and a large shape loomed up from the other side of the wall. A voice between a snort and a scream barked out.

‘Sweet hell!’ Will took a quick step in the direction Price had fled in as the enormous sow reared up and put her trotters on the wall. She whiffled at him conversationally, then slumped back down to have another snuffle at the mysterious corpse that had appeared in her sty. A suspicious chomping sound was heard.

After some things even a vampire’s nerves needed settling: Will quickly picked up as many of the bottles as he could manage and returned to the shed.

‘Sullivan! You’ve been an age. The situation was getting very serious, we were nearly out of drink.’

‘Not to worry. We have enough to keep us going all night.’ He handed the bottles around. ‘And providing you all chip in I think I can persuade the pot-boy to let us have some rather good brandy quite cheap.’

‘What happened to all the gay-Ganymeeds?’

‘Their captain turned up. They had to leave.’

‘And Tubbs?’

‘Made some comment about wanting to scratch the pig’s back. Haven’t seen him since.’

‘He should be careful: pigs can be dangerous; my uncle was savaged by an angry sow once.’

‘Was he, Charlie? How does a duke come into contact with an angry sow?’

‘How do you know my uncle is a duke?’ Charlie asked suspiciously.

‘Oh, you know, everyone knows everyone in the service.’


Angelus stood in the middle of the spacious hall of his elegant townhouse. The gleaming black and white marble floor was still spotless from the polishing the vampire minions had given it. The finely turned mahogany banisters shone with beeswax and the fashionably painted panelling had been sponged clean right up to the ceiling. Any day now Darla would be returning after a long absence and he was determined that everything should be perfect for her reception.

Angelus frowned and looked at the open watch in his hand, his fingers tapping restlessly on the elaborately enamelled cover.

There was a scutter of boots outside and the door was suddenly flung open. Will shot through and slid across the hall to come to a halt just in front of his sire.

He gulped in a hasty breath to speak. ‘Did I make it?’

Angelus slowly looked up from the watch dial and met his childe’s eye. ‘Three minutes, William.’

‘Oh.’

Angelus closed the watch with a snap. ‘Leaving yourself three minutes in hand can hardly be described as an adequate margin for error.’

‘Ah, but I made it.’ Will grinned. ‘Naval punctuality you see.’

‘Hmm. Did you meet the courier?’

‘Yes.’ Will fished in his pocket past the large heap of coin and brought out the small packet, slightly bent after all its recent adventures but not noticeably damaged otherwise.

Angelus frowned. ‘What’s this?’

‘Your packet.’

‘No it isn’t.’ Angelus ripped off the covering and took out a carefully folded bundle of papers. ‘Who on earth gave you this?’

‘The courier. Said he was looking for William Sullivan. Gave me that. And you forgot to tell me about the pass-word, but fortunately I managed.’

Angelus studied the papers. ‘This appears to be a copy of the navy’s signalling codes,’ he said.

‘Why would you want that?’

‘Absolutely no reason. You were sent to get a bottle of very expensive French perfume as a present for Darla. The Sheet Anchor is a well known meeting point for exchanging smuggled goods. I went to a great deal of trouble to arrange it.’

‘Where did William Sullivan fit in then?’

‘Him? He was just the idiot I killed for the uniform two night ago. It seemed sensible for you to adopt the name in case you were challenged, you happen to look of similar age and appearance.’

‘Well, bugger me. The vice-admiral’s grandson receiving stolen papers. So much for his secret position. Looks like he does more work for the bleeding Frogs than the King’s Service. Hope he ends up dangling from the yard arm, where he belongs, the pox bellied— Oh, you already killed him, didn’t you. Well I hope it wasn’t quick for the whoreson swab. And I shall have something to say to that landlubber Price, about not getting himself rooked into betraying his bleeding country, next time I see him.’

‘That is all very well, William, but what about the perfume?’

‘Eh? The only person who approached me all night was the chap who gave me those. Who was this courier supposed to be?’

‘The courier? The pot-boy.’

‘The pot-boy! Never saw the bugger all night.’

‘Confound it, William! I suppose you will just have to go back again tomorrow night.’

‘All right.’ Angelus looked mildly surprised at Will’s cheerful acceptance of the situation. ‘You’ll have to give me another guinea though. I spent the first one buying up the state secrets.’ Angelus scowled. ‘Not my fault, Angelus, if you don’t tell me half the facts…’

Angelus’s eyes narrowed further but he reached into his pocket and produced another guinea. Will pocketed it, making sure it didn’t clink against any of the many others already weighing down his coat.

‘Very well. You had better go to bed. I want you back at that inn first thing tomorrow evening.’

‘Aye, aye, sir, er… Sire.’ Will said and skipped past him to the stairs. He took the steps two at a time with a cheerful bound, enjoying the noise of the stunned silence behind him.

There was a strangled croak. ‘William.’

He turned back with a grin. ‘Yes?’

‘What exactly has happened to your hair?’

The grin vanished from Will’s features as he took the rest of the stairs at a run.