Harold tried to circumnavigate the world once. He was eight, a fine age for an explorer in my opinion. He took with him his school rucksack packed with an atlas, a book about Marco Polo, in pictures, a ruler, a chocolate bar, a compass without the needle bit, two apples and a tube of sun tan lotion.
He got as far as the bus station before his mum found him at the stop for the 57 to Oxford, crying on the edge of the wooden seat. He’d made a deal with Dirty Ronnie to exchange his chocolate bar for £1000 and one of them hadn’t kept their promise. Harold’s trust in humanity had been shattered forever.
Ada took him home and treated him to a Count Dracula ice lolly from a van in the High Street. Even that didn’t cheer him up so as a last resort she went into Berkley’s and bought him a maths set in a red tin. He played with it until bedtime.
“I can try again tomorrow,” he said. “My efforts today were doomed to failure.” He dropped the old compass in the bin. “Pointless.”
“How can burning down a house be an accident?” I said. “Not only did you destroy property but you could have killed the woman who lived there as well.”
“Lydia ,” said Duke. “I remember her.”
“Harold’s great-aunt, yes.” I rested my arms on the counter. “What happened?”
“We’d gone to the beach for the day,” said Duke. He seemed relieved to be able to tell someone and get it off his chest. Confession is good for the soul, they say, though a demon can’t offer absolution. “We really were there for the sinning. This was the fifties, remember, where a raised eyebrow or a carefully timed tut was often all it took to steer someone onto the path of righteousness. Mr. Patch didn’t always see it that way. He preferred to take on the miscreants directly and smash up a motorbike as a lesson in humility.”
He paused and offered me a cup of tea. Surprised by his hospitality – angels usually whip out their fiery swords first and ask questions later – I accepted a rather pleasant Darjeeling.
“We spotted Lydia purely by accident,” he said. “In those days we had a file on the Watermans six inches thick, especially as the sister…” He frowned and clicked his fingers. I acted dumb like an anteater. “…Sophia had vanished. We knew what they were and were content to wait and see but when we saw Lydia we could see the baby growing inside her. We wanted to find out whose it was. Cross-species children being of general interest to us.”
“Are you still killing Lilith’s children every day?” I asked.
“Good God no,” said Duke. That was ironic, really, since it was God’s curse on Lilith to bear a hundred children every day and watch them being killed.
“I though that was God’s will?” I said.
“Yes, but it doesn’t need three of us.” Duke shrugged. “Mr. Patch does it all on his own now.”
“No. We didn’t do anything to her. We saw you leave, dressed much as you are now, which was very unusual at the time, and then we went in. The house was in darkness and Mr. Patch pulled up something to help us see.”
“Let me guess. Brimstone? He couldn’t have used a torch?”
Duke shrugged. “What can I say? He’s a traditionalist.”
“Where was Lydia during all this?”
“She’d already gone.”
Until the morrow. X