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Authors: James Herbert

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BOOK: Creed
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Creed obliged. ‘I wondered if you might recognize him.’ He handed the photographs to the diarist, who peered at the three blurred images of the crazy Creed had snapped the day before.

Blythe’s lips pursed and his nose wrinkled as though he had just been served wine of the wrong vintage and temperature. ‘I can’t say your focusing has improved these days,’ he remarked.

‘I had to blow them up quite a bit. He was in the crowd at Lily Neverless’ funeral.’

‘He looks a nasty enough piece of work, even without definition. Why so interested in him?’

‘No special reason.’ It hadn’t sounded convincing and Blythe’s arched eyebrow indicated so. ‘He, uh, he looked vaguely familiar and I wondered if he were someone from old Lil’s past.’

‘Dear boy, I’d imagine almost everybody there was someone from Lily Neverless’ past – why else would they bother?’

‘Do you recognise him?’

Blythe gave the photographs back. ‘As a matter of fact, I don’t. Though I might think about it a little more if you were to tell me why you’re so intrigued to know.’

It was Creed’s turn to walk away. ‘Don’t let it bother you,’ he said over his shoulder.

The picture editor was on the telephone when Creed reached his desk, and he motioned with a pencil for the photographer to take a seat. Creed did so, lighting up a cigarette, distracted by the run-in he’d just had with the gossip columnist. How the hell was he going to get a shot like
that
of Sarah Ferguson? The staff at the Grosvenor – or at least, the ones that counted – knew him too well to allow him in uninvited. The best he could hope for was pics of the Duchess arriving or leaving. Maybe she’d trip over the kerb as she left her car.
Maybe Salman Rushdie would appear on
Wheel of Fortune. Shit, there was nothing Creed hated more than a challenge.

‘How you doing, Joe?’

He looked up to see the picture editor, Freddy Squires, another veteran who had known Fleet Street before the exodus, peering over the top of his glasses at him. ‘Life could be kinder,’ Creed replied.

‘So I see. What famous personality landed you one last night? Or was it one of your girlfriends again?’

Creed reflexively touched his forehead and winced at the move. ‘Fell down the stairs.’

Squires regarded him sceptically.

‘It’s true. I took a dive, from top to bottom. My cat tried to kill me.’ He didn’t feel in the mood for going into the whole story. Christ, what would the old man think if he mentioned he’d been paid a visit by Count Dracula last night? The bars around the office would be merry that lunchtime.

‘I didn’t think you were the sort to keep pets.’ The picture editor began sifting through papers on his desk, the photographer’s condition no longer of any interest. ‘Got anything for us?’ he asked. Squires’ voice was gruff, his manner direct, but he was one of a minority who genuinely looked upon Creed with warm regard. The fact that the photographer had provided him with some of the best celebrity snaps of the past five years in terms of newsworthiness and amusement value had something to do with it; the other side was that Squires enjoyed originals, and to his mind, Creed, no matter what else he was, was certainly that.

‘It’s a bit early in the day, Fred.’

The picture editor grinned at the photographer’s pained expression. He pulled a sheet of paper free from the rest and offered it across the desk. ‘A list of events for you to cover the rest of this week. Film première, charity auction, nothing thrilling, but reasonable fodder. Good funeral stuff yesterday, by the way.’

‘Thanks. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.’ Creed exchanged the photographs for Squires’ list. ‘D’you recognize this guy? He was there, at the funeral. I thought he might be an acquaintance of Lily’s.’

‘Hm.’ Squires shuffled the pictures, studying each one for a few seconds. ‘Why d’you want to know, Joe?’

‘Uh . . . I caught him up to something after they’d laid the old girl to rest, when everyone else had left. Something a bit naughty.’

Squires stared across the desk at him. ‘You’ve got some other shots?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘Come on, son, don’t waste my time.’

‘Bear with me, Fred. Just tell me if you know who he is for now.’

The picture editor’s eyes went back to the photographs. He was silent for a while, then slowly shook his head. ‘Can’t say that I do. Looks vaguely familiar, though.’ He held up two together, looking from one to the other. ‘Nope, no good. Can’t place him. How important is it?’

‘I’m not sure at the moment.’

‘Tell you what, I’ll keep one and pass it around. We’ve still got a few of this character’s generation about the place. Shame it’s such a grainy shot. Are these really all you’ve got?’

‘They’re the best of the batch.’ He still felt disinclined to go into details.

Squires put the other two photographs into an envelope and pushed it across the desk. ‘Right. You know Woody Allen’s over at Claridge’s, don’t you?’

‘I’ve been informed.’ Creed tucked the events list and envelope into a pocket of the camera bag and stood, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

‘You don’t look good, Joe,’ the picture editor told him. ‘Have you had that bump seen to? You could suffer concussion, you know.’

‘Nah, I’m okay. Bit of a headache, that’s all. You’ll let me know about that shot?’

‘Sure. Oh, and Joe . . .’

About to turn away, Creed paused.

‘Grab a shave before you go over to the hotel. You know what they’re like having scruffs hanging around their front door.’

‘Go suck on your granny’s tit,’ Creed answered amiably.

‘I’ve sucked on worse. Mind how you go.’ Smiling, the picture editor went back to work.

But ten minutes after Joe Creed had left, he picked up the photograph again. His brow wrinkled. He tapped a pencil against his teeth.

Yeees
. . . he thought, the word drawn out in his mind.
I know that face from somewhere. Now where was it? When the hell was it?

Either someone had opened a window somewhere or something long-forgotten suddenly chilled him.

 

8
 

As always, driving through the West End was a bitch, which lightened his mood not at all. Stop-go-crawl-curse-stop, not necessarily in that order. One day the whole city was going to collapse in on itself and for all Creed cared it could happen there and then.

His head pounded and there was a sour taste in his mouth. He cut in on a Volvo and raised a stiff middle finger in response to the vehicle’s abusive horn. There was bright sunlight out on the streets, but that made the littered gutters no more attractive. Most of the people on the pavements looked as depressed as he felt; those crossing the streets merely looked apprehensive.

Now someone in a Ford Sierra cut in on him and Creed became outraged, thumping his horn and wishing it was the road hog’s snout. He desisted when he noticed the width of the other driver’s shoulders and the thickness of his neck through the Sierra’s rear window.

Our hero’s mind was no longer on the incident of the night before – that had become just a bit too unreal for him in broad daylight. A vampire in his loft? Forget it. He’d seen something, all right,
someone
, but obviously not what he’d thought. Right now he wasn’t sure if it had been imagination – after all, he
had
just woken up, and he
was
scared shitless – or if he misremembered. The way he figured it, his head had taken a pretty hard knock, so maybe his memory was scrambled. Besides, the tangible day-world of snarled-up traffic, bitchy gossip columnists, thumping headaches and impossible assignments imposed a reality that was perversely comforting when considering the alternative.

Claridge’s was just ahead. Creed pulled over on to a double-yellow, far enough away from the hotel’s entrance not to be obtrusive, but close enough to keep an eye on it should a traffic-nazi (warden) wander by. Another monkey (journalese for photographer, and a term not always used endearingly) was hanging around outside and Creed wondered whether he was loitering with or without intent. There was always a chance with high-class hotels like Claridge’s that somebody famous or infamous would walk out the door during the course of any day, so if nothing better was on offer, it never hurt to linger for an hour or so.

He locked the jeep and strolled towards the waiting paparazzo who, on observing Creed’s approach, looked dismal. Creed saw it was Terry Roche, a pro who’d been in the business twice as long as he.

‘Anybody in?’ Creed asked without a greeting.

‘Cut the crap, Joe,’ Terry replied.

So, they both knew the score.

‘He enjoys taking the kids to the park, doesn’t he?’ said Creed, taking one of the Nikons from his bag and slipping the strap around his neck.

‘Yeah, I’ve had a quiet word . . .’ Creed understood the ‘quiet word’ probably would have been with the doorman, ‘. . . and he hasn’t set foot outside this morning.’

‘It’s a bright day. Shouldn’t be too long. Any idea why he’s over?’

Terry shrugged. ‘Looking for European locations, I heard.’

‘Don’t tell me he’s had enough of New York.’ As Creed spoke he was looking over the other snapper’s shoulder through the glass revolving door into the hotel lobby. His movement was unhurried when he took off the Nikon’s lens cap and tucked it into a pocket, at the same time making a quick check on the camera setting. Bit of luck, he thought to himself, saying nothing to his companion. A couple of good ones and I’ll be on my way.

The sudden heightening of tension on such occasions has already been mentioned, and it’s palpable enough to be sensed by professionals of Terry Roche’s ilk.

‘Is he coming out?’ he asked Creed, not looking round to see for himself.

‘Will be. Don’t move – he can’t see my camera through you.’

‘Kids with him?’

Creed nodded.

‘Mia Farrow?’

He couldn’t be sure. ‘If it’s her, she looks different from her pictures.’

‘Yeah, I’ve seen her on the street before. She doesn’t dress up.’

‘You’re telling me. Let’s move to the side, give ’em a chance to clear the door.’

Their attempt at nonchalance as they did a kind of sideways shuffle along the pavement wasn’t very convincing, but fortunately their prey had a handful or two of youngsters to organise which required his full attention.

Once out of sight of the lobby, Creed and Roche raised their cameras and stood poised, like big game hunters, ready to shoot.

They waited, both tingling tense.

And waited.

And waited some more.

But nobody emerged from Claridge’s revolving door because, as everybody knows, Woody Allen is a lot smarter than he looks. He’d taken his brood out the back way.

The rest of the day wasn’t much better for Creed, either. With no specific mission in mind he toured the ‘in’ restaurants without finding any really worthwhile targets, although he caught two male Members of Parliament, one Labour, the other Liberal Democrat, who were having a ‘jolly’ affair (if the combination had been Labour and Conservative, then a snap would have been worthwhile), leaving Rue St Jacques, arm-inarm, and Jane Seymour, all sugar-coated gorgeousness, offering a two-finger salutation to the camera on her way out of Joe Allen’s, and Jeffrey Archer tripping over the kerb outside Le Caprice but, as ever, landing squarely on his feet. By late afternoon, Creed’s headache was as bad as a headache can get without becoming a migraine and he drove home, fit only for one thing. Stripping off completely, he did that only one thing and crawled beneath his duvet, pulling it over his head to close out the rest of the world. He was soon asleep.

The dream he had wasn’t good, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember what it had been about when he woke; all he knew was that although the pain in his head had subsided, there was an unease fidgeting in his gut. The house was in darkness.

He rubbed his eyelids to get them operating, and when he opened them he saw the black figure watching him from the door; only this time – and it took several heart-stopping seconds to realise it – this time it really was his dressing gown hanging there from a hook. ‘Christ,’ he muttered, and switched on a bedside lamp.

BOOK: Creed
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