METAMORPHOSIS, PART 3
Huddling deeper against the hummock of tough prickly salt grass, Nic and Hutch watched the faint outline of the tank traps that lined the sandy beach. Even with augmented vampiric night vision, the mist and fog obscured the rusting spars most of the time. Only the muffled lapping of the waves gave any indication of the nearby water. Hutch grimaced to himself as his stomach gave a lurch when he even thought of riding a small fishing vessel across the few miles that spanned the channel. He had broached the idea with Nic of flying themselves over only to have that brilliant suggestion torpedoed by his mentor. Vampires were limited on how far they could fly over water by its depth and width, therefore, most rivers weren't wide enough or deep enough to cause a problem, but oceanic bodies of water were a different story.
A disturbance on the beach below the refugees drew the airman's attention away from his contemplation. Shifting silently, Hutch looked from behind the scruffy grass to the sandy shore while Nic moved into position beside him and both men visually searched the area around the cove. Eventually the acrid odor of tobacco drifted through the fog. Then guttural voices were heard unnaturally loud in the fog dampened atmosphere. Both vampires froze to the spot, wishing for more cover than some rank grass that was only a couple of feet high at best.
Then the German patrol seemed to move away. Using every sense at their command, they finally perceived that the beach was clear. Relaxing only a very little, both men gave silent sighs of relief.
"Damn," Hutch muttered almost breathlessly, waiting for his heart to slow its beat. He wondered if vampires got adrenalin rushes--it certainly felt like that to him. "Must've been a Jerry patrol."
Nic nodded into the darkness, not wanting to make much noise even though the patrol seemed to have moved away. It was probable that between them, the two vampires could have subdued the Nazi patrol, but the chances of doing it silently were small.
Both men tried to crouch even lower into the hard-packed sand and stringy salt grass. Long seconds eventually became long minutes that seemed to stretch endlessly before them.
"Wonder where our escort is?" Hutch murmured into the suffocating dampness of the fog and mist.
"It's not yet midnight," Nicolas answered, as the gentle waves continued lapping lazily at the sandy beach. Hutch changed position uncomfortably in the itchy substance.
"I won't be coming with you," the elder vampire said into the quiet night. Hutch jerked and turned his startled face toward his mentor.
"What do you mean?"
"I have no place in England. You have friends and a lover. I would be superfluous. There is a place for me back in Paris," Nicolas lifted his head and seemed to be looking toward the once glittering city. Momentarily Hutch wondered if LaCroix figured in Nicolas' thoughts or the beautiful vampire girl Nic had mentioned when explaining their escape. He couldn't be sure she was beautiful, but he was sure anyone Nic would associate with had to be beautiful...even LaCroix had a certain compelling type of good looks if you liked that type. Hutch hadn't before and certainly didn't now.
"I'm not exactly sure I can survive without your help," Hutch quietly exclaimed, trying to suppress the onrush of panic. "I still have a lot of stuff to learn."
"Others have with much less knowledge. As I said, take your lover into your confidence. Doyle is already prepared to help and make use of your talents," Nic smiled fondly at Hutch and placed a light hand on his shoulder. "You know how to feed and you know the limitations of your 'condition.'" Nic stopped and listened intently into the gloom. Then he shook his head as the rustling of a night beast became more noticeable. "I have only one more thing to warn you about and that is the Enforcers. They seem strangely silent during this time of history. Perhaps they understand the futility of trying to influence this foolish human endeavor."
"Enforcers?" Hutch asked in a careful tone that covered his shock. He was glad of something to distract him from the problems of his future with his volatile scientist lover.
"Yes," Nic answered. "They are a group that attempts to protect our way of life from discovery by the human world. I have given you lessons on how to operate. Follow that and there will be little interference from them. As I said, they seem to be largely absent from this conflict."
Hutch nodded then asked, "How will I know them?"
"Oh, you'll know them. Make no mistake about that." Nic's head turned abruptly, interrupting their conversation. Hutch's attention was also drawn into the thickening mist. Both men's hair was now almost wet from the cold fog that was condensing on it.
Three apparitions appeared out of the pea soup quickly taking human form. The set of the shoulders and slim build of the leader identified him in Hutch's mind as the British agent.
"Over here, Doyle." Hutch's whisper sounded unnaturally loud and seemed to bounce off the hidden rocky walls of the cove as the atmosphere played tricks in the damp air, causing the three men to stiffen and turn in all directions. The acoustics of the night were confusing. Then, as the surf's rhythmic slapping of the beach overtook the sound and drowned it, the three men relaxed as the refugees were recognized when they began making their way toward the low hummock where the two vampires were rising and moving down the slope.
Hutch and Nic had risen from their positions in the sand and began quietly brushing the clinging sand from their clothes as they slithered their way through the shifting sand.
"Cutting it a bit close, aren't you?" Hutch asked, as the two parties came together.
"Had to wait for that patrol. The boat will be here in about five minutes. She'll wait only ten minutes so we'd better get down on the beach," Doyle answered, checking the watch on his wrist.
The five started to separate but before that Nicolas leaned forward and gently touched his lips to Hutch's cheek then he hugged the American briefly. "Good luck, my friend. Perhaps we can find one another once this war is finished." Then he started to go back up the beach.
Doyle seized the vampire's arm as he passed the British agent. Nic obediently halted and gazed calmly at the man clutching his arm. "Wotcha doing, Chevalier?"
"I'm returning to Paris. I think there's some unfinished work for me there. No matter what I am or where I am, I'm still a Frenchman and my country needs me." The shadowy figures of Doyle's underground escorts nodded in agreement. "I can't run from this war anymore."
Doyle understood at once. "Do you have any contacts in Paris?"
"If I didn't, I'm sure these gentlemen would supply me," Nicolas answered, as he nodded his head to the others listening to the conversation and receiving shakes of their heads for confirmation.
"Yeah. Good luck. I think you're going to need it."
"Thank you. And take care of Hutch. He's going to be very ill on this trip. Get to England before daylight or if you can't, keep him on board away from the sun until dark. He won't like it, but it's better than the alternative."
"Yeah, life's always a better alternative than death," Doyle agreed, turning back toward the Channel. In his intense concentration, he was already dismissing the French vampire from his thoughts and zeroing in on the matter at hand. Namely, getting the American pilot back for a complete debriefing and what he himself carried back to George Cowley.
As the three Frenchmen disappeared into the mist, Hutch and Doyle slipped and slid through the sand and between the menacing tank traps that lent the whole scene an eerie aspect. Twisted metal which at times leaned drunkenly askew loomed out of the fog with intense suddenness. One minute the fog was impenetrable then as the gentle breeze briefly shifted, a grotesque sculpture would present itself directly in their paths. The muffling of sound by the haze lent itself to Hutch's fantasy that they were the last people on earth. Then the silence was shattered as a grating noise signified the fisherman's dinghy being beached. The fog suddenly intensified the creaking sound of the oars being stowed. Following the sounds of the waves lapping against the wood, the two men rushed toward the sea and the waiting rowboat. The figures of the fisherman were revealed as gray specters when the wind shifted blowing away some of the mist and ground-hugging fog.
Hutch stood back and watched as Doyle exchanged words with the fishermen then he was gestured to help shove the craft into the water. With icy water splashing about his ankles, Hutch accessed some of his superhuman strength and easily propelled the small boat into the rocking ocean. The Frenchmen leaped into the boat, grabbed the oars and began pulling against the current. Doyle and Hutch heard a shout from the beach. Hutch almost turned around, before he identified the language as German. Doyle did not hesitate, but leaped for the gunwale of the dinghy, recognizing that the patrol had returned. As the boat began moving back out to sea, Hutch was thrown off his feet momentarily by a wave. Doyle now kneeling in the prow of the boat reached over and grabbed Hutch by his lapels and began pulling him aboard. As he was sliding on his belly over the gunwale, he felt a sharp slap to his thigh then a stinging pain. He grappled momentarily with Doyle to hold his balance then slid awkwardly to the bottom of the boat.
There was the distinct rattle of automatic weapon's fire, but the pattern was random, showing that the patrol had no idea where the dinghy had disappeared to in the mist and haze. All the passengers mentally relaxed. The oarsmen also may have relaxed mentally, but physically they dug deeper into the water with their oars.
"Are you hit?" Doyle questioned Hutch.
Hutch nodded and smiled, then whispered, "One of the few advantages of my transition is my new powers of recuperation. It won't even be very noticeable by the time we reach the boat." He paused and looked around to see if the conversation was being monitored.
"Don't worry," Doyle answered his unvoiced question. "I don't think they understand much English.
"How do they do it?" Hutch questioned.
"Find the right cove in all this," Hutch waved his hands around indicating the weather, but specifically the murkiness of the atmosphere.
"Practice, of course," Doyle smiled. "Then of course, they all grew up on this coast and know every rock and tree for miles. So finding a certain cove on a foggy night was child's play for them."
"How is all this arranged?"
"Probably best you don't know the precise details, but usually they wait for a foggy night then arrive at a prearranged site. If there are passengers, they are waiting with proper code words. If there aren't passengers, the fishermen return to their ports until the next foggy night. The rest of the time they are peaceful fishermen."
"How come the Jerries let these guys out in the channel with the chances of them crossing especially in fog or rain really high?"
"The Germans don't want to feed the French population so they let the fishing industry go on almost unchecked. They do have patrol boats out with the fishing fleets, but when the fog rolls in...it's like the old saying, 'When the cats away, the mice will play.' These mice play a dangerous game, however. If caught, it's an automatic firing squad."
Hutch nodded. The lowly fishermen went up many notches in his estimation at their calm acceptance of the danger to rescue total strangers.
"By the way, Hutchinson, if anything happens to me on the trip across, make sure you get my boots and take the papers sewn in the lining to Cowley and no one else. No one else," he repeated. "Do you understand?"
Hutch nodded solemnly then noticed his discomfort begin to increase as the water deepened from the shallows. He began to feel some disorientation and a certain amount of nausea. As the nausea began to feel as though it was going to erupt, the mother ship formed up out of the fog.
Doyle grabbed a rope coiled in the bottom of the prow and gingerly rose to his feet. When the dinghy gently nudged its mother, he flung the rope up the short distance to the waiting figures above. Then he reached down and lifted the slightly confused vampire to his feet. By the time Hutch was standing, nets had been lowered from the gunnels of the fishing boat. Under Doyle's direction he took hold of the webbing and began to pull himself up. Friendly hands grasped various portions of the available anatomy of the American. It took only seconds then before he was sprawled on the deck of the small boat.
In another second Hutch was aware of the nauseating mixed aroma of diesel fuel and fish. The most overpowering odor was fish. Immediately it began to feel as though it was clogging his pores and permeating his clothing. Then Doyle was at his side urging him to his feet. In his utter confusion, he allowed Doyle to push and shove him to the bow of the boat where some spare nets were stored.
He barely noted passing the wheel manned by a gnarled old man who touched his grimy cap and gave them a toothless smile. They both sank down on the lumpy pallet.
Somewhere beneath them a tired diesel engine misfired then began throbbing in an unnerving rhythm, but the boat began a painfully slow journey through the waves. The adrenalin high or whatever it had been had kept most of the rocking motion unnoticed by the vampire, but now as the boat wallowed through the waves, he shuddered as his stomach rebelled against its treatment.
Gasping as the craft began to roll in earnest as it must have left the scant protection of the cove. Hutch rushed to the gunwale and leaned over the edge, his stomach heaving. At this point he found out that the temporary relief afforded mortals by regurgitation was denied his species. Only dry heaves that caused his eyes to water a pinkish fluid continued for long seconds. When the vessel hit an especially large wave, he started to slide over the edge of the safety rail. Just before he attempted to levitate, he felt his belt grabbed by a rough hand. Looking at his rescuer as he was dumped on the deck, he saw a weathered, grinning man in a filthy stocking cap. The man gestured him back to the pile of nets. Gratefully he staggered back with Doyle who was noticeably shivering in the chill breeze off the water. The sailor returned with an oaken bucket that he dropped on the deck near Hutch's feet and a couple of thick jackets were tossed toward them.
Doyle snatched up the nearest and wrapped himself in it. Sighing at the relief from the icy wind, Doyle looked at Hutch who slowly took up the other coat and held it out to the English agent. Doyle shook his head so Hutch shrugged into it.
"Don't notice the cold much anymore. But this sea voyage just isn't my cup of tea?" Hutch tried to lighten the atmosphere. Doyle smiled weakly at the feeble quip.
Trying to take his mind off the bouncing of the boat, Hutch commented to Doyle, "Last report we had of you before I left on my last mission was that you were lost somewhere in France. Now you're here big as life and twice as nasty."
"Had to be that way," Doyle answered shortly.
"Couldn't you have gotten word back to Bodie through some of your MI6 contacts? He's been a bit distraught to say the least."
"No, I bloody well couldn't. There was a leak in MI6 big enough to drive a lorry through. Cost us a few lives over on the Continent. That's what you've got to get through to Cowley even if I don't make it. In addition, the bonus I've stashed in me boots."
"Okay, okay," Hutch conceded, raising his hands in mock surrender.
Doyle snorted and turned his back to his companion. He put his head on his arm and wiggled deeper into the nets. He shifted then turned over.
"Shit! These damned nets are not exactly a feather bed," Doyle snarled and grimaced up at Hutch who was still sitting somewhat gingerly on the uneven surface. He was finding it difficult to hold his balance as now it seemed as though his inner ear had taken up the wobbling of the boat.
"Put your head in my lap," Hutch commented. "Might be a bit softer than the netting."
"Might at that. But don't you want to get some rest before we reach the coast?"
"Naw, don't need rest at night, now."
"Oh yeah, I forgot." Doyle shifted over and gently laid his short limp curls on the rough corduroy of his companion's lap.
"Think you'll ever get use to only being awake at night and drinking blood?" Doyle asked as he unconsciously snuggled deeper into Hutch's lap. "And never going out during the day?"
"Will have to, won't I," Hutch answered as his stomach rolled and lurched in time to the boats erratic motion. "Any idea how long this trip is going to take?" Hutch was hoping for a quick trip, but the little craft was making little headway in the dark.
"I'd guess we're only doing about five to six knots. Gonna take a while even if the captain doesn't get lost." Doyle's last few words were muffled in Hutch's trousers as he slipped into an exhausted sleep.
"Uh huh. Damn," Hutch muttered, while trying to shift his gaze to something other than the rising and falling guard rail. He looked up at the sky and it wasn't long when he noticed a winking light. The overcast seemed to be lightening or was his acute sight playing tricks on him? No, it was getting less and less foggy. There was another twinkling light. Finally he noticed a glimmer of the setting moon.
"Doyle," he nudged his dozing companion with his forearm. "Ray, I think the fog is breaking up."
Groggily Doyle raised his head up from the soft lap. He rubbed eyes gritty from lack of sleep. His exhaustion of the last few days had made him drop off in the middle of his conversation with the pilot. He followed Hutch's pointing hand and saw the dim glint of the crescent moon then saw a few faded stars.
"Yeah, you're right. Shit, this mission has been fucked from the very beginning." Doyle sat up and drooped his hands over his knees that he had drawn up nearly to his chest. "Nothing anyone can do, but hope. I don't think this wreck can make any better speed so we'll just have to hope that the E-Boats have all gone back to port. Surely as thick as this pea soup was, the Huns will assume that the fishermen all went home for the night." Hutch suddenly knew that Doyle was talking to boost his own belief as well as Hutch's.
Looking around, Hutch noticed the worried looks on the faces of the fishermen as they too saw the dissipating fog and rising wind. With the heavier wind, the throb of the engines increased, but that was offset by the choppiness of the waves.
"Ask him how far we've come?" Hutch said to Doyle. Doyle rose and went to the fisherman fighting the huge wheel. After a lengthy conversation, Doyle returned to the nets. Hutch looked at him in anticipation.
"'E thinks we're close, but can't be sure because of the current."
Hutch nodded and leaned back against the gunnel behind the nets. "Might just make it then."
"Do vampires swim?"
"Hell, I have no idea. Think we might find out tonight, do you?"
"Just might have to. I don't think our taxi can be exactly choosy where it drops us off."
Hutch nodded and leaned back to watch the ever increasing stars. At least the excitement of the past few minutes had quelled his nausea. Perhaps danger negated the effects of ocean travel for his species. However, he thought he'd take the nausea instead of the worry. He rose thinking that it might be a help if he watched for the E-Boats. Perhaps his sharp eyesight could give them a crucial edge. He rose and began pacing the available area, hoping that he wouldn't be told to sit down. The fishermen were too busy holding the course to notice his pacing. He watched behind and on all sides, but nothing seemed to be in the distance. Hutch knew he could see farther than the most keen-eyed human.
The tension dragged on interminably as Doyle joined him in his pacing. The boat was about 15 paces wide and the length that they could move was even shorter. He quietly briefed Ray on what he was doing, getting a nod of approval from the agent.
Seemingly hours later, Hutch thought he saw a speck on the horizon to their port side. He pointed it out to Doyle who couldn't see anything in that direction. Both men watched with growing apprehension though Doyle couldn't see anything, he believed that the vampire could. He'd had enough of a demonstration of their powers back in the basement of the restaurant. Finally Doyle spotted something that he could show the fishermen. He went to the lookout posted in prow of the boat. Both humans conversed then the Frenchman shouted to his companions about the speck growing on the horizon.
Doyle turned his attention to the direction that they were traveling. He thought when he briefly scanned that area minutes before there might be something ahead of them. Another boat? He couldn't be sure. He joined the men in the prow of the boat, watching for any sign of shore. Yes, there was something definitely in that direction.
Then Hutch had an idea as he watched the ship grow larger and more menacing with each moment. He wasn't sure if he could manage it, but he wasn't going to remain here after getting this close to England only to put himself back in the hands of the perverts in Paris. He went over to Doyle and tapped him on the shoulder then gestured for him to come to the front of the vessel.
"I'm sure I can see the shore from here even though you probably can't," Hutch spoke quietly into Doyle's ear. "I've got an idea. Do you trust me?"
Doyle nodded and waited for the vampire to continue. He surprised himself as he actually did trust his companion. Perhaps yesterday he would have had a different answer. But he had watched a very sick man try to cope with a difficult situation when they had boarded the boat. Now after nearly a night in his company, he found that this changed Hutch was basically the Hutch of a couple years ago during the trip in and out of Germany. Perhaps he wasn't quite as naive as he had been then, but he was still as honest. His physical changes hadn't changed his integrity.
"What do you say we go overboard now? I think I can fly us that far or perhaps if I flake out you can swim what's left."
"I thought you said that you couldn't fly far over water, if at all."
"Don't know until I try. Anyhow, I seem to have an adrenalin surge during danger that seems to offset the effects of the water. Remember I'm no expert at being a vampire." Hutch paused and ran his hands through his lank blond hair. Doyle remembered this gesture from two years ago. Yes, this was Hutch, slightly changed, but still basically Hutch. "I don't even know if vampires have adrenalin highs, but I know I don't feel too bad, considering the shape I was in a few hours ago. All I know is that I would rather drown than go back into Nazi hands."
Doyle could relate to that considering that the American's last experience had literally killed him and very painfully. Luckily he actually didn't remember much. Most of what Doyle had learned about the incident had come from Chevalier.
"If you think you can do it, I'll tell the captain that we'll try to swim for it."
"Yeah, or ask him for the dory. He might be more apt to buy that." Hutch thought of the rowboat just moments before. "Have him drop it over the side then turn away and leave it. It could even have its uses." Hutch nervously ran his hands through his hair again. "The Jerries might buy the captain's story that they got lost last night in the fog."
"Might at that," Doyle said as he went back to the bow of the ship to explain the plan to the captain.
Hutch worriedly watched the ship coming closer. It was now close enough for him to distinguish figures on the deck. He was reasonably sure that humans could only see the outline of the ship and it wasn't as close as he thought. He jumped when he heard a splash behind him. One of the men gave him a thumbs up and he saw that the dinghy was floating gently on the swells of the ocean. Doyle came to him and they both removed the jackets and handed them to the fishermen. A quick handshake and both men were moving down nets and into the water. They swam for the dory and clutched the gunnels as their taxi turned back toward the European Continent.
Hutch wasn't exactly swimming, but merely levitating with the help of the buoyancy of his body in the water. It was interesting to find he wasn't quite as buoyant as his human form had been. He didn't think he could have swum if he had to. As the fishing boat disappeared into the dark, he felt for Doyle's hand and discovered he was cold and shivering. He had forgotten exactly how bad it would be for a human this time of year in the open sea.
Grabbing the man around the waist, he lifted them both out of the water. It wasn't as easy as it appeared when Nic had lifted him when he was exhausted on the flight across France, but he thought he could manage. He didn't think he had any choice. Doyle couldn't swim any distance in the icy water of the Channel. Following his instincts, he moved as fast as he could. He didn't care if the Germans or the French saw two men flying. No one would believe them anyway. There was another pressing concern impinging on his consciousness. His vampiric intuition suddenly started telling him that sunrise wasn't that long off. He wasn't experienced enough to be able to give an accurate timetable of the appearance of the sun, but he knew he had only a part of an hour to find shelter.
With a rush of displaced air, he found himself soaring over a rugged rocky coast. Looking frantically to the east...he didn't need a compass anymore to know which direction danger came from.
"Bloody hell, I like your mode of transportation, Hutchinson," Doyle commented through chattering teeth.
"Sunrise isn't far off," Hutch answered. "Any suggestions?"
"Yeah, there should be a lot of caves along this coast. Been used for years for smuggling. Wouldn't be surprised to know that our friends come here whether they have passengers or not. Probably have contacts all along the coast for buying and selling of goods without worrying about the inland revenue." Doyle smiled grimly as his shivering increased in the chill air.
Hutch was worried about both of them. He could die from the rays of the sun and Doyle could die of exposure. Neither extreme would happen if he could help it. Using his sensitive vision, finally he spotted what could be a cave. He landed on the sandy beach outside the entrance. Taking a quick look, he saw immediately that it wouldn't be suitable. The sun would probably reach the back of the shallow cave well before noon.
Rising again he looked up and down the coast. He had no idea what way to go so he took a tighter hold on Ray and rose quickly to a reasonable height, but one that was still under the ever observant British radar.
"Doyle, if I don't make it before the sun rises, tell Starsky..." He couldn't continue.
Doyle just squeezed the arm around his middle in reassurance. "No problem, mate. We'll find a place yet."
A dark spot became visible about a mile down the cliffs. Hutch concentrated and momentarily was landing on the slippery rocks outside a much deeper cave. With relief he levitated through the entrance above the water rushing back into the cavern with each wave. He hoped that the tide wasn't rising, but he would have to take that chance. As they flew through the darkened cave, he just began to hope that there was some sort of ledge to rest on. He didn't relish clinging to the ceiling all day like a bat.
Eventually he found a narrow ledge to land on and gratefully settled his burden on the hard rock. Now Doyle was trying to suppress his shakes, but wasn't having much luck.
"I'll be right back," he told Doyle as he took off again. Surely there was someplace more appropriate for them to rest. Then he spotted a small boat tied at the end of the cave. He turned back and got Ray. Settling the agent on the makeshift dock, he began looking over the situation. There were boxes and bales stored farther back.
While Doyle huddled miserably on the sandy ledge above the boat, Hutch rushed back to rip open the bales as if they were wrapped in tissue instead of heavy canvas. He found a few bolts of musty cloth that he took back to the agent.
"Get out of those clothes," Hutch ordered then began to strip Doyle. Doyle's hands were so numb he couldn't be much help.
"Easy, Hutchinson," Doyle commented as Hutch popped a few buttons on his slacks. "Don't damage the merchandise." Without pausing, Doyle's underpants were thrown on the sand. "That's some of me best bits, you're messing with," Doyle complained. "Am gonna report to Starsky that you nearly raped me." Doyle shoved the pilot's hands away and took off his shirt.
Hutch quickly wrapped the agent in all the makeshift blankets he had brought over. He knew that Doyle was in more danger than he knew from lowered body temperature. Hutch had received all the lectures in RAF training, regarding ditching in the Channel. The last resort was to have a normal warm body crawl inside the blankets and share body heat, but he hadn't a normal warm body any longer. Perhaps a fire, the thought struck him.
"I'll be right back," he said to the shivering man now wrapped like the proverbial mummy.
Levitating to the entrance of the cave, he looked quickly around for drift wood. There was quite a bit just outside. The sun hadn't reached over the cliffs. There was a chance he could make it. He flew out into the blinding light. His skin immediately felt on fire, but he grabbed all the wood he could manage and rushed back inside the cavern before his smoldering skin could ignite or blister. He wasn't sure exactly what would happen. Nic hadn't exactly been forthcoming on the subject. Carrying his huge armload of firewood, he wondered if he had any way to light the stuff.
Doyle was nearly unconscious by the time he got back, and the shivering had stopped. Hutch had a moment of panic when realized the danger. Doyle's body temperature was getting dangerously low.
Fumbling momentarily he searched through Doyle's pockets and found a few water-proof matches. Then he went through the bales and found some cotton material that he carefully shredded. Making small clumps of material, he took out Doyle's utility knife and shaved some wood. Finally he managed to light one of the matches and watched the cotton catch fire then the wood shavings. It was a long, drawn-out process, but eventually he had a roaring fire going on the floor of the cave. He moved Doyle closer to the fire and gently rubbed his hands and any other extremities that he could carefully uncover then recover. As he put away the right foot after its massage, he looked up to see green eyes watching him.
"Where'd you get the wood?" Doyle asked suspiciously. He had noted the reddened skin of Hutch's face, neck and hands.
"Just outside the cave," Hutch answered.
"Nothing but water out there. You got burnt getting it didn't you?"
"Yeah, nothing serious as you can see. I'll be healed before nightfall."
"Thank you. Never thought I'd get warm after that dip in the ocean. Feeling much better, though."
As the fire sputtered, Hutch grabbed a bolt of what he thought was silk and tossed it on the fire. The smoke drifted up to blacken the rocky ceiling then wafted out toward the entrance.
Doyle snickered, "The smugglers around here are just going to love you, Yank."
"Yeah, well I can't very well go back outside for more wood and they'd probably really appreciate it if I burned their boat. Thought I'd save it in case you might want it to get outside during the day." Hutch settled back against the rocky wall. "Think I'll get some rest now that you're awake." He reached for an unburned bolt of silk and used it for a headrest. Without further comment, he became still and barely breathed.
Doyle watched the sunburned vampire for a few minutes then turned his head away from the fire and slept. Sleep was quick in coming, since he was warm and dry thanks to the American vampire. Just before sleep took him, he snickered at his thoughts. It sounded like the title to a bad movie, American Vampire in London, or something like that.
* * *
Doyle shifted uncomfortably in the lumpy bed. Twisting around, he couldn't find his pillow. Damn that Bodie! Why did he always have to confiscate both pillows only to toss one on the floor? Doyle changed position again and tried to snuggle deeper into the covers. Finally he opened his eyes still mentally cursing Bodie. Expecting to see his bedroom in the agents' London flat, he was disconcerted to notice a crack in the rock ceiling soaring over his head. Then as his nose was repelled by the musty odor of his covering, he remembered his hurried exit from the deck of the fishing boat. But how had he managed to end in a cave somewhere? Suddenly the impromptu flight over the Channel rushed out of his subconscious.
Memories of the previous morning soaked in as he looked around at the ashes of the fire still smoldering from the incompletely burned bolt of cloth. He saw that Hutch was still slumped down with another bolt of cloth for a pillow.
He got up and felt his clothes and found them still a bit damp, but he would feel better if he had on some trousers. Damp underpants he decided to skip. He tussled with the material that was not only damp but stiff from the salt. However, he felt better after donning them. His shirt was in the same shape, but he shrugged into it as he glanced around his sanctuary.
Working out a few kinks from his shoulders, he walked across the cave to the American. Shaking the man's cold damp shoulder, he was shocked to receive no response. Quickly he felt the other man's jugular and was concerned to find only a faint pulse. He shook the airman's shoulder even harder again, hoping against hope that the pilot hadn't killed himself in his saving of Doyle's life. Doyle remembered Hutch's bright pink complexion just before he drifted off to sleep. The flyer's head lolled against the unforgiving floor then his eyes opened and immediately glazed over with a yellowish tinge. Doyle was startled when there was a low growl from his companion who then used immense strength to shove Doyle back against the cave wall. Rough edges of stones dug into his shoulders as Hutch's mouth opened and long yellow canines extended. Doyle pushed futilely against the inhuman strength while calling, "Hutch! Hutchinson! Ken!" He had forgotten this aspect of Hutch's change which the Frenchman and Hutch had displayed to him a few days ago. In fact, it had seemed so fantastic that his logical mind had quite put it out of the upper level of his consciousness. It seemed almost easier to believe in flying over the ocean. Now it was brought back to him forcibly as he was struggling against inhuman creature that had him pinned to the wall like a fly on flypaper. Again he tried to get through to whatever was left of the man that he had once called friend.
"Ken," Doyle called softly and was relieved to feel the hands holding him so helplessly gradually relax. Then he was callously dropped as the vampire turned away. Moments later, as he was picking himself up from the bottom of the cave, Hutch turned back to him, looking as human as he had looked inhuman minutes before.
"Bloody 'ell, mate!" Doyle said quietly. "If you want to sleep in, just say so." He hoped his flimsy joke would help ease the tension thickening the atmosphere in the cavern.
Hutch smiled thinly and made his own feeble attempt at humor. "Sorry about that. Must remember to tell my friends to watch their step when wakening a vampire." Unconsciously, he rubbed his hands up and down on his damp trousers and studied the floor of the cave.
"It's not sundown yet. I'd wake more normally if the sun were down," Hutch continued to look at the sand under his feet.
Doyle grunted an agreement then said, "I'll remember the next time. Just forgot your little problem for the moment. Thought you were dead. Got the shock of me life when you moved so fast and were so strong."
"There are a few advantages to my condition. Not many, but a few," Hutch paused and scraped some sand around on the floor. "Guess almost anything is preferable to being dead." Hutch's blue eyes looked over at the scruffy figure opposite him, searching for condemnation in the green eyes that looked back at him quite frankly with admiration. Hutch glanced back at the floor.
Doyle decided he should drop the subject since he could tell his companion was quite uncomfortable with trying to explain things to him, but he couldn't quite stop the question that fell from his lips.
"Is it true that you're allergic to garlic as well as the intense sunburn side effect?" Doyle studied his companion, "But it must go away quickly since now that I look at you, I can see that your sunburn is gone."
"Yeah, the old legends are quite true about the garlic. French food is full of garlic. Passing a restaurant is nearly torture now. I used to like garlic in food. But..." Hutch stopped and looked off to a middle distance.
"You do uh...drink...uh...?"
"Yeah, blood. I guess it's no more repulsive than eating a rare steak. I never liked rare steaks so it's been..."
"Yeah, you might say that. However, when the hunger strikes, I don't seem to have much choice."
"Do you...uh...?" Doyle again stumbled on asking the question.
"No, I don't kill anything. Nic thinks that I'm perhaps the first vampire to cross over without killing." Hutch paused and looked intently at his companion, "I plan to keep it that way!"
"No offense meant. I was...just...well, curious."
"I understand. A friend doesn't turn into a vampire everyday. Just a rather touchy subject for me, yet. I didn't ask for this. Nic took it upon himself to save me. He's trying to cast out some of his own devils and I happened to get in the way."
Doyle was nicely surprised at these revelations. This was more information than Hutch had ever volunteered regarding his transformation. Perhaps he was becoming adjusted to his changed state. Doyle certainly hoped so. He remembered Chevalier taking him aside one evening and briefly mentioning that one of the dangers of Hutch's adjustment was suicidal depression. Chevalier had filled him in on other minor details such as sleeping and eating habits of vampires. Doyle had trouble then and still had trouble with these details which might have motivated the questions to which he already knew the answers.
Doyle paced the sandy floor of the cave, noticing that his head was aching as were various other portions of his anatomy. He walked back to the airman now seated on the ledge with his feet dangling over the lapping water. He said, "I think I can make it out to the beach in the rowboat. I'll go for help. It looks like you need some rest." Watching Hutch just stare off into space was unnerving so Doyle wanted to get him off his hands. He didn't want to wait for night when Hutch could travel. He had to do something now. Besides it would probably be evening before he could get transportation down from London.
Hutch nodded, knowing it wasn't rest that he needed but blood after the exertions of the previous night. Having Doyle out of the way was the best thing. Doyle was a walking temptation to his depleted system.
Not receiving a verbal answer, Doyle slipped into his stiff, leather boots. Salt water hadn't done them any good either, but it was all he had. He looked back at the reclining American who still seemed absorbed in his own unhappy thoughts. "I'll get back as soon as possible. You'll stay here?"
"If I can."
Doyle nodded his agreement and freed the dinghy from the ring sunk in the solid rock then settled himself on the bench and began rowing toward the beckoning sunlight, strangely saddened to leave the American in the dank darkness of the cavern. Before he changed his mind, he hurried the boat down the short channel to the rocky entrance.
Glancing back into the cavern, he couldn't see Hutch so he continued rowing until he found a place to get the boat out of the water. He pulled the boat above the high tide marks and noted the rock formations around the cave entrance so he could find it again. Then he began slogging down the beach. The damp sand seemed to reach out and grab his boots, making walking arduous. He stopped occasionally to rub out the cramps and look for sign of human habitation. It was nearly two hours later that he finally saw the building perched on the top of yet another cliff. Its antenna proclaiming its function.
After Doyle was gone, Hutch regretted letting him leave; he could have used the company. The cave was lonely and depressing. All he had was his own thoughts to keep him company until the sun had set. His thoughts were quite depressing.
Until he finally reached the shores of England, he hadn't let himself think too much of how the changes in his physical condition were going to change his everyday life. If he were human, he could be walking companionably with Doyle into the normal world. He wasn't sure that Nic had done him any favor. Doyle had said that life was always better than death, but he wasn't sure.
True, he had some sort of life, but would Starsky be so repelled by his needs that he would leave him and seek another human lover? No, he really didn't think so. The bond between them was stronger than the simple need for sex. But would they be able to have any kind of life together? Then there was the warning from Nic that he had to hold on to his self-control or kill. He had come close to killing those German soldiers in France only Nic had prevented him from doing it.
He had been depending on Nic to keep him in line and to advise him on things, but at the last moment his mentor had abandoned him. Or had he felt it was necessary to cut the apron strings? Perhaps he had been depending on the French vampire too much.
His need for blood was distracting him. All he could think of was Doyle out on the beach; he was a source of life. Hutch paced the confines of the cave. Ever since bailing out of his Spitfire, he had been locked up somewhere. His patience was shredding moment by moment. Just as he was about to bolt out of the cave, his good sense got the best of his impulse. His intuitive time instinct told him that he would soon be free of the cavern...sunset was approaching. He wouldn't have to wait for full dark, just until the sun was below the horizon.
He slid on his shoes and looked around the small refuge. Suddenly it was again a shelter and not a prison. There wasn't anything else that he needed here. He was glad that the smugglers had forgotten their booty or hadn't been able to get back to retrieve it. Possibly it had saved Doyle's life. Thinking about Doyle, he wondered what had happened to the English agent. It had been hours since he had left the cave. It didn't matter. He would catch up with him later. Right now the important thing was to feed as soon after sunset as possible.
He felt around in his pocket and found a scrap of a pencil. Finding no paper that was of any use, he wrote a brief message on a tattered bit of canvas to Doyle that he was going to go to London and would see him there, probably at the flat.
The light in the cave was dimming so Hutch levitated to the entrance. Yes, the sun was below the horizon so he flew out of the cave and to the moors above. He followed his vampiric nature; food was nearby. Going where his impulse led him, he found himself landing in a large field. Before him was a lamb and not far away was its placid mother who had implicit trust in the human species. Certainly this was a source of food, but he was sure he wouldn't have the control not to kill something that small. He would have to look farther. Lifting his head, he found what he was seeking. There grazing peacefully in the next field was a dairy cow. She hadn't been brought in for the evening milking. Hutch, not knowing the whys and wherefores of cows, wondered why this cow wasn't in the farmer's byre giving milk, but thanked whatever it was. He levitated easily to the next field and mesmerized the gentle animal long enough sink his teeth into the flesh of her neck and quickly satisfied the terrible hunger that had been plaguing him. Slapping her gently on the flank in thanks, he released his control and she ducked her head back to her own dinner.
Once sated, he sat on the rock wall that served as a fence between the fields and really looked at his surroundings. He had fled the cave in a flurry of hunger and hadn't taken notice of which direction he had gone. However, it was simply pleasant to relax in the lengthening twilight.
In the distance his intensified hearing could discern and identify the buzz of the night bombers leaving for the shores of the continent to do as much destruction as possible. There was the higher pitched whine of the escorting fighters, but all in the far distance. He wondered briefly if he would ever fly over those shores in a fighting plane. He dismissed that thought since fighting anything didn't have precedence in his mind.
As he thought about it, perhaps he should return to the cave and look for Doyle, but he had no reason to suppose the agent now he was back in his own country would have any problems. Walking down the beach, Doyle should have located a village or private home with ease. He probably was already on his way back to London. Of course, the agent might be a bit disconcerted to find Hutch gone, but then, Hutch didn't care if he had inconvenienced Doyle. He was wallowing in a few moments of perfect freedom...no hiding...no obligations.
Also right now he didn't want to confront that imposing personage of George Cowley...all he really wanted to do was to find Starsky and just be with him. Where would Starsky be? Perhaps he would be in London awaiting word of Hutch's rescue or death; if not he'd be at the lab. Hutch smiled to himself as he thought how easy it would be now to break into a top security facility such as the laboratory in which Starsky worked.
Reunion with Starsky uppermost in his mind, he levitated off the rock wall and nearly teleported to the city. Some very human intuition told him that within the boundaries of this ancient municipality, his lover and friend waited. He wanted this meeting private and personal, oh so personal and oh so private. His responsibilities to the war effort and his commanders dimmed to insignificance beside his individual needs. He would make up for that later.
* * *
Doyle stood on the beach just down from the entrance of the tidal cave with a glowering Bodie. Bodie was distant and silent on their trek across the moors then down the narrow path to the smuggler's cave, a path that Doyle had missed that afternoon. Directions from the local constable had made finding the smuggler's cave much simpler than Doyle had expected. Obviously its existence and use were well known to the locals.
Darkness was fully upon them and the cave was empty. The cryptic message from Hutchinson hadn't really explained much. Obviously Hutch had left when the sun was down. He was making his own way back to London and knowing the vampire's uncanny abilities, might already be in the city. He hadn't let Bodie read the message which explained some of the glower, but not all of it.
Earlier in the day, Doyle had traveled down the beach for nearly two hours, if his estimate could be trusted since his watch hadn't survived the dip in the Channel. He had expected to come upon a fishing village or lone beach house, but instead had found a coastal radar facility. Having no identification had made it a long and drawn-out process which had involved calling in the local constable who had taken him to the nearest village. It was a measure of his luck this village had no phone service outside the immediate area. It had never been repaired since the last time the Luftwaffe bombers had dropped their bombs far off target. The constable had only a bicycle so it was a long afternoon to finally find a working phone and get a call through to Cowley.
Bodie had arrived a few hours later with a car. It had been a changed Bodie, a taciturn Bodie who said little even in the privacy of the motor.
His only comment was, "Why the hell did you leave Hutchinson in a cave for God's sake?" Not being able to explain easily had led to more tension between them which Doyle had just added to by slipping Hutch's message into his pocket.
In disgust Bodie turned away from the cave, slipped and slid through the wet sand that filled his low shoes. Then he began struggling up the narrow path, cursing his cane and infirmity under his breath. Doyle followed, not offering any help to his companion. Anything might set off his partner's now uncertain temper. He had always been the one with the temper, but now Bodie was as volatile as he ever was, perhaps even more so.
Once back on top of the moor, they walked toward the car that sat incongruously on what resembled a cow path rather than a road. Doyle worried about the innards of the machine, but only peripherally since his main concern of the moment was the strange way that Bodie was acting. One would think that he would be pleased to see Doyle after nearly a year gone on assignment. He didn't let himself even consider that Bodie had found someone else, someone who was around all the time, or someone who wasn't going off to parts unknown for unspecified lengths of time. Surely Bodie understood that Doyle had no choice in his assignments or the length of time it took to complete them. Doyle knew he was going through the insecurities of soldiers since the beginning of time who had to leave lovers and wives at home while serving in wars. Knowing it intellectually and actually experiencing it were two different things as he was finding out.
"Your ankle must be giving you gyp. Let me drive," Doyle said and knew immediately that it was the wrong thing to say.
"Bloody hell, Doyle! I'm not an invalid," Bodie snapped in a tone that was just short of a growl. Doyle was startled almost as much as he had been that morning when he had awakened the sleeping vampire.
Shoving Doyle away from the driver's door, Bodie jerked it open, nearly separating the handle from the steel plating. He threw his cane over the back of the seat, got in, and jammed the clutch to the floor. Doyle stepped back as the motor roared to life and wasn't allowed the luxury of an idle.
"Are you coming or not?" Bodie definitely snarled this time.
Doyle walked around to the passenger door and settled gingerly into the seat. With no further comment, Bodie slammed the car into gear and popped the clutch. The rear wheels dug grooves in the sod, spitting dirt in high rooster tails behind the vehicle as it lurched down the rugged path.
The rest of the trip back to London was undertaken in near silence. It was an eerie landscape the agents traversed. As the evening stretched into night, the lack of any lights showing human habitation was disconcerting. With all road signs removed, the two men were lucky to take only one wrong turn which lengthened their awkward journey.
There was only an occasional sporadic comment on whether one or the other needed to stop for a cuppa or a leak to break the uncomfortable hush. Occasionally the quiet was punctuated with "Where the bloody hell did that stupid Yank disappear to?" from Bodie.
Doyle held his peace only by taking a firm grip on his patience and praying for a speedy trip to London. He hadn't informed either Bodie or Cowley of the change in the American pilot. He hadn't figured out how to broach the subject without having his sanity questioned. So he had thought that the flyer could demonstrate it better than he could tell it.
Now he was more concerned about the change in Bodie than in the change in Hutch. Hutch was still Hutch, while he felt he was sitting next to a total stranger even if it was human and Hutch definitely wasn't.
* * *