The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Bamworth Legacy - Episode 9
Wednesday 18th June, 8.30
The effigy's papier mâché eyes are those of an owl. Two black, woollen gloves, stuffed with newspaper, form its hands. A small scythe of silver foil is tucked into its belt.
"This all looks very sweet and innocent, but I can't help feeling that we are about to be involved in a drama of some kind." Side-step addresses his colleagues sotto voce. "It's like watching a bunch of jungle tribesmen putting vegetables into a big boiling pot and wondering who is going to be the main course."
"Well, as we're strangers, it's most likely to be us." Darius's tone has a quiet urgency. "Did you ever see The Wicker Man, where Edward Woodward gets trapped in a giant effigy and burnt alive? Well, whatever is going to happen in Middlechase seems to be starting - I think all of us should leave the area as soon as possible, maybe even the village."
Side-step is reluctant. "This looks like a good opportunity to do a bit of intelligence gathering. Why don't we put on our happy, smiley faces and mingle a bit? I suggest we see if we can give them a hand with their preparations and pick their brains for whatever titbits we can get out of them."
"You're not planning to pull out of the auction, are you?" There is a faint worry-shadow underneath each of Harriet Bamworth's eyes, like the bruise left by a forefinger. Culver nods solemnly, as he descends the ladder.
"We're seriously considering it, yes. I'd hoped to see you about it tonight, in fact. Is there somewhere we might talk in private?" She glances about, then leads him to a small stationery cupboard, cluttered with manila folders.
"Ms Bamworth," Culver begins when the door is shut behind them. "Indulge my curiosity for a moment: why have you set your late father's library at only £10,000? You must know it's worth twenty, thirty times that sum - at least."
The heiress smiles quizzically. "Is that the problem? This must be the first case of a buyer pulling out because the price was too low. What's all this really about?"
"When you showed us around the Estate, you introduced Ms Walsh and Mr Lockwood as 'representatives of another interested party'. Ms Bamworth, I need to know who they work for, because they're trying to scare us off the auction and, quite frankly, they're doing a bloody good job too."
"I'm afraid I can't tell you the name of their employer, Dr Culver, since I don't know it. But if this is just a matter of bullying on the part of Lockwood and Walsh..."
"They've tried blackmail, bribery and now they're threatening us directly. I know that Martin Lockwood exerted some kind of power over your late father - and if he could intimidate Sir Harvey, there's obviously more here than empty bluster."
"What?" Her surprise seems unfeigned. "What power? What do you mean?" As she raps out questions, the triple crease of the Bamworth frown appears in her brow. She listens to Culver's account with an expression of intense concentration, pressing her forefingers to her temples.
"So he does have enough money," she says under her breath. "The Cooperative. It didn't even occur to me." Harriet glances up at Culver and gives a short, weary laugh. "I wish you'd come to tell me this a day or two ago. Now it's too late to stop the auction."
"Ms Bamworth, we're more than eager to purchase your father's books but we don't want to risk our lives..."
"Oh, you and your friends will be in no danger, I'll see to that. I'm sorry I can't explain, but the happiness of a large number of people depends upon the outcome of this auction. The library must pass from the hands of my family, must leave Middlechase. The auction will be starting at eleven tomorrow. I hope you will all feel able to attend."
As Culver is leaving the office, he pauses. "One final question - who is Andrew Douglas?"
Harriet Bamworth looks puzzled and a little amused. "Do you mean the sixteenth century farmer? I only know him as Avril Bamworth's lover."
John Henry earns a small chorus of thanks from the school children as he lends his strength to manoeuvring their trolley. A precocious, eight-year-old girl with a removable brace answers his questions concerning the effigy.
"It's the Midsummer Lord, we made it in 'art'. It's for our play. We done the play last night in the school hall for the parents, and on Saturday we're doin' it in the square for visitors."
The Midsummer Lord is wheeled up to the war monument, where a little canopy of tarpaulin has been erected to protect him from unexpected showers.
"We burn him on Saturday evening," Henry's little guide adds, conversationally.
Looking around the square, Henry notices a man whom he recognises from Twitchin's description of the Reverend Sourley. The latter has put down a large crate of raspberries, so that he can wipe the perspiration from his glasses. The journalist approaches and enquires concerning the 'horned god' effigy.
"We've always had one of them at Midsummer, even when I was a child here. The stag antlers are a symbol of virility, fertility. The statue stands for some kind of masculine principle, a counterpart to the 'mother earth'. At Midsummer they get married and make the crops grow." He shrugs. "It's just a metaphor. I don't think it does any harm."
Henry changes the subject. "I had a dreadful fright earlier - that young chap Eric Drayes threw a fit right in front of me! Do you know if he's recovered? What's the problem, do you know?"
"Ill again, is he? I know he's very highly strung. It's adolescence as well, you know, missing school, tantrums, throwing things at his father. He terrifies counsellors. It's no wonder everything's getting on top of poor Joanna."
Side-step steadies Adrian Willis's ladder as the greengrocer hangs a rank of corn dolls along the front of his shop.
"What exactly is the itinerary for the celebrations?" asks Side-step, at a convenient moment.
"Well, you won't see much happening tonight. We're just putting the village into fancy dress for now. Tomorrow the place'll start filling up, and for the next three days all these stalls will be open, dawn to dusk. With a bit of luck we'll get the bouncy castle on the green behind the church, and Mike Drayes was saying something about fireworks. And then there's the Midsummer Party up at the Estate, but that's pretty much invitation only."
Back in the hubbub of the community centre, Harriet Bamworth slips on her charm like a silk glove, and appears to forget Culver's existence. She lends a supporting arm to the arthritic steps of Margaret Hurst as the older woman leaves the building for home.
Culver exploits an opportunity to tip the crushed Diazepam from his silver pill box into a large jug of home-made lemonade on Janet Lewis' stall. A minute or two later, he sees the lemonade funnelled into bottles, and marked with prices.
Outside, Culver is approached by Riggs, who grips his arm, and leads him towards the horned dummy. "God can't save us now," hisses Riggs, with a tone of horrified fascination. "They're about to arrive. We have to get out before they reach us. We have to get out!"
After attempting to persuade the rest of the party to leave the area, Darius eventually proceeds alone to the guest house, where he can observe events from the safety of his room. En route, he sometimes finds his motion impeded by the milling crowd, but these do not appear to be deliberate attempts to detain him.
At the guest house, Darius telephones SITU, and attempts to convey his growing sense of urgency.
"Well, that all sounds... profoundly interesting, doesn't it? Sounds like you're really onto something with that library, if people are trying to scare you off. Keep up the good work, look forward to seeing your full report. Good luck in the auction, eh?"
A little dissatisfied with this response, Darius places an anonymous call through to the police, hinting at a threat to children in Middlechase, and requesting their presence.
Following the advice of John Henry, Twitchin decides to keep a discreet watch upon Harriet Bamworth. The Women's Institute meeting has come to an end, and the community centre's doors are open once again to the male half of the population.
At quarter to ten the heiress breaks off her poised waltz from this social cluster to that, and strolls to a pay-phone by the door. By standing a few yards away and feigning an interest in the surrounding preparations, Twitchin contrives to overhear much of the conversation.
"Hello, it's Harriet. Listen, the Orgus people are planning to drop out." Pause. "No, no, I'm sure you're wrong about that. I'm pretty sure it's Walsh and Lockwood who are working for him. They've been threatening the other buyers." Pause. "No, I didn't think he could afford it either, but now I reckon he may be getting money from the Cooperative. He's in charge of their accounts, for heaven's sake, it wouldn't be hard."
"Please, it mustn't come to that. Aside from anything else, have you thought about the rule of three times three?" Pause. "No. Look, I don't want to pull rank on you over this, but if I have to, I will."
By ten, the SITU agents have congregated at the guest house. At the appointed time, Walsh arrives alone. She places a large Waitrose carrier bag on the bed, and opens it to reveal a series of small oblong bundles, wrapped in newspaper which she pulls away to reveal the notes beneath.
"You can count it, if you like. We'll bring the rest tomorrow evening."
After the departure of Walsh and Lockwood, the group discuss the findings of the day. John Henry is still tenacious of his pet theory of metallic poisoning in the water supply. He presents Culver with a bottle of tap water in the hope that the doctor may have access to a laboratory where it could be analysed.
There is a general sense of unease. Culver suggests that the group arrange a system of overnight watches. Darius, in particular, feels that it may well be necessary to make a rapid exit from the village.
"If you're thinking about the possible need for us to make a quick getaway, I have some contacts who could be useful," remarks Side-step, thoughtfully. "I could arrange to have an ex-Army Landrover delivered complete with camouflage netting and a full tank of gas. If you think it's a good idea I could hide it in some trees somewhere outside the village in case we need it. That way there is no chance of it being sabotaged or stolen."
Receiving no opposition to this suggestion, Side-step walks downstairs to the pay-phone.
"Hello, Jim? Yeah, listen, I need a favour. Can you drag out our long wheel-base Rover and a cam. net? No, we haven't got a job on. Listen, I need you to meet me at a pub called the Giant's Head in a village called Sweffling in Oxfordshire... About 1700 tomorrow... You can get a train back. Oh, and throw in a couple of flash-bangs and trip wires too..." Jim grumbles a little at the short notice, but agrees, his curiosity clearly piqued. "Great, see ya tomorrow, Jim."
Riggs takes a moment to purloin a sharp knife from the dessert trolley, wipe it upon a napkin, and conceal it beneath his T-shirt, before leaving the guest house.
He quickly discovers that no barn adjoins the schoolhouse or Miss Hurst's residence, and he addresses a few casual queries to the locals gathered in the square.
"If she's got a barn, it'll be on her little slip of farmland, on the border of Farrel's land. He works it for her, in exchange for a cut of any profits. From what I hear, though, the Cooperative's got their eye on that bit o' land..."
As Riggs leaves the square, he notices a police car parked near the turning to the northern road. Two uniformed policemen are asking questions of those present, and looking rather bewildered.
Riggs finds himself following the route of Darius's nocturnal ramble the night before. He follows the perimeter fence of Farrel's land for half a mile before the dark bulk of a long, square building emerges above the trees like a surfacing whale.
The reflection of the full moon slides giddily across a dozen unlit windows as Riggs runs silently from shadow to shadow. At a lower window he pauses to listen for movement, then uses his stolen knife to lever up the crude catch.
Within, the light from his pocket torch reveals a spacious building, renovated in the style of an art studio. Against various walls lean canvases, painted in Eric's unmistakable style. Several depict women twisting like ribbons as flames embrace them, their mouths long, black ovals of pain.
Executing a brief search, Riggs notes the disturbed dust around one of the floor planks, and uses his knife to lever it up. Beneath it he finds a heap of white, folded linen, two green garters, and two knives, one with a white handle, one with a black. From the handle of the latter extend three long, silken cords, one red, one blue and one white.
Benedict Riggs waits for some hours in the darkened barn, watching the squares of moonlight cast by the window sliding imperceptibly across Eric's turbulent scenes. When he becomes convinced that the barn will receive no visitors that night, he leaves by the window.
On the way back he mistakes the path, and stumbles upon a small field, where he experiences a thrill of recognition. Before him, black-barked and leafless, stands the tree from his dream. Thankfully, no giant bird now addresses him from its branches. He retreats hastily along the footpath to the village.
He arrives back at the guest house in time to perform his 'watch'.
John Henry dreams.
Eric Drayes stands in the art room of the little school, his hands red to the wrist. Slowly he reverses the picture before him for Henry's inspection. It is a gilt-framed oil painting of Eric himself, executed in the stilted, dusky style of another century. The stiff, white ruff about the throat of the painted Eric starts to redden, as if the canvas were bleeding.
Darius McGregor dreams.
Again he finds the prone form of Tracey Hammond in the corn, her slim limbs white as marble with cold. He puts out a gentle hand to wake her, and watches the flesh subside and crumble under his touch, as the slight figure disintegrates into a pile of white ash.
Matt Culver dreams.
He is once again seated with the journal of Joseph Bamworth on his lap, but now he is watching his own hand producing the scratchy, erratic scrawl across its pages. Culver glimpses the words, "Forgive me Ann the line must end" before the journal is closed.
He is mounting stone stairs in darkness. He is standing at the apex of a tower under a low grey sky. He swims downward through air for one long second before the iron railings below bite like teeth of ice.
Adam Twitchin dreams.
He sees a desert in which two animals fight, ever changing their shape. Despite their equality in guile and might, he observes that one wears a manacle in each of its many forms, which impedes its struggle.
In the gallery at the Bamworth Estate, he again observes the picture of Peter and Jessica Bamworth. The kneeling woman's quill is in motion, and appears to strike flame from the paper. She is still wearing her bland, impassive smile as her clothes catch fire.
Benedict Riggs dreams.
Something wearing the moon as its face is taking silent, impossible strides across the fields, looking for him. One foot rattles a chain as it drags. Its face turns blindly about and about, as it listens for him.
The next morning Matt Culver emerges, resplendent in full bike leathers, heavy boots and Raybans. His share of the ill-gotten £15,000 he stuffs into his pockets, encouraging the others to do the same.
"Thrown cash - always good for creating that vital diversion," he explains, grinning.
In the square, a new cluster of stalls have sprouted like mushrooms. Two different caravans sport signs declaring them to contain the "one and only Gypsy Lee." By the corner shop, a stall displays 'Celtic' jewellery on a base of black velvet, while from the canopy hang a range of silver pendants. On their black cords smiling moons spin, and chime against dancing elves.
As the SITU agents walk north towards the Bamworth Estate, they notice tents being set up in the fields that flank the corn. Two girls with moss-green hair and trailing black clothes sit on the churchyard gate, kicking the heels of their Doc Martens against the wood.
The courtyard in front of the great house contains some dozen cars. Clive Marx is visible, leaning up against his car as he finishes his cigarette.
The sole child and heir of Sir Harvey Bamworth has evidently been watching for the group's approach. Peering down from the balcony, she raises a hand in a welcoming salute.
"Thank you for coming," she says. There is more sincerity in her tone than is often given to this commonplace phrase.
Thursday 19th June, 11.00 am
All are at the Bamworth Estate