The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Bamworth Legacy - Episode 5
Sunday 15th June 8.30 pm
"My God, they must know about us now!" Benedict is almost inaudible with fear. "We're a threat and they want to frame us for crimes we never committed! God. God. What are we going to do?" He shakes with silent sobs.
"So - the Man in Tan and his sidekick really are trying to keep the books for themselves!" John Henry whispers in the ear of Matt Culver. The latter, bristling with rage, pays him little heed, his eyes locked with those of Kate Walsh.
"Legally, you're all accessories, so you might as well..."
"Bollocks." Culver interrupts her, and pulls up a chair.
"I doubt whether the police will see it that way."
"Oh really, madam?" The Professor cuts in, his tone icily ironic. "And how would you care to explain to them the 'little matter' of your colleague's assault on myself in the pub car park this afternoon with," he gestures towards his companions, "at least four independent witnesses?" Walsh flashes an urgent, questioning glance at Lockwood. Almost imperceptibly he shakes his head.
"You're bluffing and you bloody know it." Culver casts an angry glance at Lockwood over his Raybans. "I've met the local police and I very much doubt they'd appreciate your colleague here wasting their time. On the other hand, they might be interested in a matter of extortion witnessed by four respected professionals. What do you think?"
"I think," the dark woman replies through her teeth, "I think that it is you who are bluffing."
"I don't know who you're working for, Ms Walsh, but I wonder if they could stand publicity. So assuming neither of us is enough of a fuckwit to call the police, perhaps we can have a reasonable conversation about this. You - or your employer - obviously want those books pretty badly to resort to such desperate measures. Would you care to tell us why?"
"Yes, stop playing silly little games and explain your interest in us before you irritate us yet further," adds Twitchin, crisply.
Martin Lockwood, who has been edgily fingering the rim of his glass, opens his mouth as if to speak, but desists after receiving a surreptitious jab in the wrist from Walsh's fork.
"We know you've tried this sort of thing before!" declares John Henry. At this brazen assertion, Lockwood's eyes wander as if for guidance to the features of his colleague, who has suddenly become resolutely poker-faced. "Don't try to deny it - I have my sources. I wonder what your boss will say when he finds out how careless you've been in covering your tracks!"
There is a pregnant silence while Walsh partitions her cherry pie into equal segments, her face carefully impassive.
"Alright." She flashes her brief, brilliant, mirthless smile. "No more games. I have in my possession a blank cheque for £30,000. If Orgus should pull out of the auction, then each of you would find yourselves £5,000 richer. Otherwise, well..." She spears a piece of pie with her fork, watching red fluid ooze between the prongs. "Things might become unpleasant. You're out of your depth, and your employer's wasting her time. Good night." Rising from the table, she departs, her associate in tow.
Before the group leave the inn, Professor Twitchin takes the opportunity to slip to reception, and ask after available rooms.
"Sorry, it's our busy season. All our rooms are taken for tonight. The gentleman in room 4 is moving out tomorrow, though. Would you be wanting a room for tomorrow evening?" Giving his name as Alan Parker, Professor Twitchin makes a reservation.
With the use of a Yellow Pages, Twitchin rings several car hire firms. Most are closed, due to the lateness of the hour. One agrees to reserve a car for him, but requires that he collect it the next day.
"I'm getting a bit worried about Darius," remarks John Henry as the four leave the inn. "You know, I don't think him sneaking off to the Bamworth house on his own was really such a good idea - he should have taken someone else along. Side-step, for example, he looks like he's more used to that sort of thing."
At the mention of the police, Side-step had chosen to make himself scarce. A brief taxi journey later, he arrives at the guest house and finds that Darius has not yet returned. Concerned, he leaves hurriedly for the Bamworth Estate.
In the Bamworth library, all has been silent for what seems an age, but for the faint rasping of the black cat's tongue as it grooms its back. Darius can make out its inky form, and the gleam of its mirrored retina. So long has he waited, listening, that he starts to suspect that the other man has moved away.
"Julie, there's a big cat waiting outside your mousey hole." Gerald's tone has a playful, velvety menace. "I won't hurt you. You're my favourite, you know that."
Perceiving no other heavy objects to hand, Darius stealthily lifts a large, hide-bound volume from the nearest shelf, and quietly takes up a position behind the door. This done, he throws down a small coin.
As he had hoped, the door rapidly swings open to reveal Gerald Bamworth, the light behind rendering his red hair a halo. Hampered somewhat by the difference in height, Darius swings at the silhouette with the grimoire, and feels it impact with the other man's skull.
As the tall man staggers against the wall, the door is propelled to by the violence of Darius's attack, returning the room to virtual darkness. Before Darius can contemplate escape, a powerful blow in the chest knocks him backwards against a shelf which groans, and topples behind him, with a racket of falling boxes and splitting wood.
Two strong arms seize Darius about the torso, and he is swung hard against the wall. Despite his half-stunned state, Darius becomes aware that the stronger man is attempting to hold him with one arm, and is feeling about the wall with his spare hand for the light switch. Making another swing at Bamworth's head with the book, Darius wrenches himself from the other man's grip.
Gerald swears as the light switch clicks uselessly. Hearing glass crunch under his fleeing steps, Darius surmises that the fallen shelf must have struck and smashed the hanging lamp.
Anticipating another lunge, Darius blinds his opponent with his pocket torch, and darts for the shadow of an aisle. Half-way there, he is brought down by a flying tackle. An arm is crooked about his neck, and begins to tighten relentlessly against his windpipe.
With a deafening crash, a brick explodes through a nearby window. As Gerald releases his hold to shield his head from the shower of glass, Darius squirms free, and flees for the window, ignoring the jagged shards as he wriggles through.
Outside, he is joined in his sprint across the grounds by Side-step, who, attracted to the scene of the fight by the flicker of Darius's pocket torch, had hurled the brick to provide a distraction.
"Look, Darius, do me a favour, in future leave all the double O seven stuff to those who know what they are doing. You could have landed yourself right in the sticky stuff back there..."
Arriving back in the village, Twitchin pays a quick visit to the house beside the school.
Margaret Hurst, the schoolmistress, repeats the brusque welcome of the preceding night, and makes tea while the pair talk, and exchange teaching experiences. With a little effort, the professor steers the conversation towards Eric Drayes.
"His father seems to be three sheets to the wind most evenings," he remarks. "Would not that be likely to disturb the boy?" She nods, with a curious fixity of expression that looks much like anger. After a pause she changes the subject.
Before retiring to bed, Culver sits up reading the journal of Joseph Bamworth.
...and is it not enough that they must suffer the tyranny of the horned one while they live but they must also be deprived of their eternal peace how can I deny them the protection that all of my sex owes to theirs...
...it is my blood yes my blood that binds them and must be shed...
Benedict Riggs dreams.
He stands in a field, waist-deep not in corn, but in silver flames that leap and subside with oily slowness, and do not burn. Before him sprouts a black tree, its bark slick as if with fluid. A bird the size of a calf watches him, head askew. It grips a bough not with claws, but with human hands.
"Who are you?" It screams out the question in one long rending breath, like a rook call. Its eyes are human.
As Riggs flees, the sound of its pursuing wings beats loud in his ears, until it becomes a roar, like that of the rotary blades of a helicopter tearing the air.
The party rise early to discuss strategy for the day. Upon examination, Darius proves to have sustained only slight cuts and bruises, all unobtrusive but for a cut on one cheek which is small enough to pass for a shaving scrape.
As the rest of the group prepare to separate in pursuit of different clues, John Henry telephones the offices of "The Watcher".
"Clive, my old friend - how are you! Listen, I know your boys haven't had much time to pursue the Walsh and Lockwood case, but I thought I'd let you know that things took a turn for the nasty last night! Yes! Our friends showed their hand - and threatened us with the police, no less!"
Marx whistles. "Well, the man's got gall. I went through some of our records. He got into trouble a few years ago, trying to cash some forged cheques. And who do you think paid for his lawyer? Sir Harvey Bamworth!"
After thanking Marx for his help, Henry telephones several of the local auctioneers. None claim to have record of any purchases made by Lockwood or Walsh.
Passing through the reception of the guest house, he discovers that a note has been left for the "Orgus agents".
Since we had little opportunity to talk at our last meeting, I am writing to invite you to our weekly lodge meeting. This will take place at the village hall at one-thirty, tomorrow. I hope to have the pleasure of bettering our acquaintance.
After breakfast, Culver visits the newsagents, ostensibly to purchase a pad of paper and some pencils.
"I must apologise for my friend the other day," he says, encountering Gill Sexton's stare of alarm and suspicion. "Care in the Community, you know." He casts a quick glance around the store. Mary Sexton is nowhere in sight.
After lunch, Professor Twitchin collects his car from the hire company and, accompanied by Darius, drives to attend his appointment at the offices of "The Watcher".
Working as a team, they begin to sift through the back copies of the newspaper. Most of the articles that mention the midsummer festival celebrate it, displaying pictures of smiling people with painted faces and elaborate costumes. Evidently many regular stalls and entertainments raise money for charity. Other articles bewail the wholesale invasion by "new age vagabonds" at this time of year.
Looking for other references to Middlechase, Twitchin and Darius find several mentions of the local Women's Institute, which is often engaged in fund-raising events.
Two pages of each issue are devoted to news of interest to the farming community. In a few of these, mention is made of the "Middlechase cooperative". The farmers of the village act as a unified body, and there is a suggestion of economic interdependence.
Sir Harvey is regarded as something of a local celebrity, and his death earns him a lengthy tribute. The SITU agents find no mention of either Gerald or Harriet, nor do they discover any overt references to witchcraft.
Upon his return, Culver suggests that Riggs and Side-step accompany him to the Drayes farm.
"What!" Side-step is incredulous. "I don't mind taking a look around the farm for you, but I don't fancy the idea of having our space cadet here in tow. One glimpse of a shadow and he'll be screaming little green men and magic moon beams."
Eventually he yields, but with an ill grace.
"Okay," he says, addressing Riggs, "but let's get one thing straight. You keep your eyes peeled, your ears open and your mouth shut. You got that? Any ranting and raving and you'll be thinking aliens are a soft option."
The three take the south road towards the Drayes farm. Matt Culver walks alone to the farmhouse, leaving the others to explore the surrounding territory.
His knock is answered by a dark, not unattractive woman in her late thirties. She has high cheek-bones and a rather weary, otherworldly air.
"My husband's not in," she says apologetically, upon seeing a stranger. Matt Culver introduces himself as an Orgus Antiques representative.
"I have a special interest in medieval farming implements and I was wondering if you'd let me look around some of your outbuildings."
"Oh." Mrs Drayes rubs the flour from her hands. "Yes. Yes, I think that would be alright." She shows him through numerous sheds, and observes Culver while he makes a show of examining various contraptions, and producing appropriate noises of interest or appreciation.
"Joanna? Who's in there with you?" A sturdily built man in his early forties has appeared at the barn door. At the appearance of her husband, Mrs Drayes drops her eyes and recedes into reticence, leaving Culver to introduce himself.
"I don't think we'd have much to interest you, Dr Culver. All my gear is as new as I can afford."
Riggs and Side-step wander through successive fields of wheat and barley. At one point a passing cloud shadow seems in the eyes of Riggs to take on the outline of an enormous bird.
A little shriek of laughter reaches their ears. Behind the hedge lies a green-mantled pond, the air above it thick with the manic motes of sun-gilded midges. Beyond it, in a little clearing, three figures are visible.
On the path, Mary Sexton totters on roller blades, her half-frightened smile vivid with lipstick, her arms raised for balance like those of a string puppet. A little behind her a boy of about sixteen with pleasant, snub features stands as if poised to catch her. On the grass sits a slender boy in his early teens. His hair gleams reddish-gold in the sun, and he appears to be carving something into the skin of his forearm with a white-handled knife.
Monday 16th June, 3.30 pm
Darius McGregor and Adam Twitchin at the archives of "The Watcher"
Side-step and Benedict Riggs on the grounds of Drayes farm
Matt Culver at the Drayes farmhouse
John Henry at the guesthouse