The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Lindorn of Storsjon
10.00pm, Saturday 14th September 1998
"Somebody stole the runestone?" Louis Lakersson blinks at Robert Montague Flint in disbelief as the latter explains the situation. "You mean the runestone from the museum? That runestone? Good God almighty." He takes off his glasses and wipes them, then gives a weak, little smile. "Bit of a blow to the tourist industry, eh? Not going to look too good in the guidebook, is it? So you'd like me to call the Swedish police? Yes, yes, of course."
As Louis heads to the phone, still wearing a rather comical expression of shock and concern, Robert rejoins the rest of the group, who are making tentative attempts to calm Leda.
"Where's Dr Massey?" asks Mal.
"Up at the dig. Running around like a hen searching for a stolen chick. I don't know whether he thinks maybe if he stays up there long enough it'll come home all by itself, like Bo Peep's lamb. Look, if you could talk him into coming back to the hotel until morning, I'd be very grateful."
"We'll give it a go." Robert fastens his coat once more. "Frankly, I wouldn't mind having a little look at the scene of the crime myself."
As the main door is opened, an icy blast of wind enters the hall.
"He'll catch bronchitis," mutters Leda. "Well, if he does, I won't be looking after him." This is uttered in the pained, defensive tone of one who knows that, as a matter of fact, she will.
Six figures tread an invisible path through the dark, cautiously keeping their steps between the rows of luminous markers. The roar of the waves seems unusually close, and the walkers almost expect to feel the touch of spray against their faces.
The darkness has swallowed all the comforting, twentieth-century details that had adorned the landscape during daylight. The little pathside placards, the litter bins, the well-trodden path, all these might have been washed away by the dark torrent of the wind. Instead, the party walk a narrow, luminous line amid a gallery of enormous silhouettes, each as stark as if it had never been softened by the pressure of a human foot. They walk above a sea of charcoal black, below a sky of graphite black, while to the right the island rises to a ridged and ragged crest, as if a giant ebony lizard were arching its back.
The path twists its way up this rise, to where a dull reddish glimmer issues from the museum of Mjalleborgen.
At the door of the museum, the group is met by Dr Marcus Massey. His broad, kindly face is pale and troubled.
"Oh, it's you Leda. Hello, Flint. As you can see, we've had a bit of a bit of a hiccup in the proceedings." The deep despondency and distress in his voice indicate that nuclear war or epidemics of bubonic plague would earn similar classification as 'a bit of a hiccup in the proceedings.'
"Why are you sitting here in the dark?" Leda is opening her bag and getting out a thermos flask. "Are you hoping the criminals will return to the scene of the crime, and won't notice you if the lights are out?" Indeed, most of the light within the museum seems to be issuing from a red light from the heating system, and from a selection of small bulbs inside the glass display cases.
"Oh, no, it's nothing like that. It seems that when the thieves dropped by to take the stone, they also seized the opportunity for a little mindless vandalism. Most of the main lights were smashed, along with one or two display cases. Just mindless malice, they didn't take anything." Dr Massey takes the cup of coffee that Leda has poured for him from her thermos, and drinks it without really seeming to register its existence.
"Have you any idea why the thieves took the runestone and nothing else?" asks Mal.
"It was the most interesting item." Dr Massey shrugs. "If I was going to rob the museum, it'd be what I'd steal. But then I'm an archaeologist. I can't see what value it would have to anyone who wasn't interested in archaeology. It's not like you'd be able to sell it - it's too distinctive. Well, I guess you could sell it to some rich collector, maybe. But if money's your aim, why start smashing things at random, as if you enjoyed it?
"It's not like the runestone is the easiest thing to move quickly, either. Why go to the effort of shifting a two foot slab of rock when you can fill your pockets with buckles and sword hilts? It must have taken at least two people to carry it. I mean, one person could drag it a little way, but only very slowly.
"I can't get it out of my head that those VAM people might have had something to do with this. You remember the fuss they kicked up about my study of the stone. It's all so idiotic. Why would anyone do this..." Dr Massey's manner is almost tearful.
In the crimson half-light, the SITU agents make a preliminary search of the 'scene of the crime.' The burnished buckles in the lighted display cases glow as if with their own radiance, and seem to hang suspended in the darkness a couple of feet from the floor. The red light that suffuses the room has the steady, sullen luminosity of a dying hearthfire.
"We're not going to find anything else here tonight, not in this light. Will you accompany us back to the hotel, Dr Massey?" Clearly tired, Dr Massey yields to pressure from superior numbers, and is led back to the Hotell Lindorn.
When the five operatives are safely back in the privacy of Robert's room, Daniel lets out a long breath.
"This whole business is just getting weirder and weirder by the moment. Is everyone else as stumped by this as I am?"
Robert shrugs. "Well, I think at a stretch I can narrow down the list of suspects to the VAM, the Children of the Lindorn, Gerard Dubois... or some other party known or unknown. Yes, Daniel, I think it's safe to say that I'm as 'stumped' as you are. Did anyone pick up anything useful from searching the museum?"
"Well, I don't think the stone was dragged across the floor from its case," opines Loki. "I looked quite carefully for any kind of scuffs or scrapes, and there was nothing. Also, the broken glass between the case and the door was crushed, as if it had been trodden upon, but none had been swept clear, as you'd expect if a large object had been dragged through it. Which all suggests that the stone was carried, rather than dragged. I'd guess that more than one person was involved."
"They weren't professionals, either," remarks Mal. "Did you see the door? It had a simple, low-security lock, the sort that you can open from the inside by just lifting a catch. The problem with that kind of lock is that if there's a window in the door, a burglar can just break the glass, push his arm through, and lift the catch. This door had a window just like that. But these people didn't break the window and let themselves in. They just barged the door until the lock broke. Unnecessarily noisy and messy."
"Talking of mess, I think one of them may have cut themselves smashing the display case," adds Daniel. "It may have been just the red light, but I think I saw a little blood on one of the glass shards on one of the sword hilts."
There is a small pause, while the five sit and ponder the evidence.
"So who was it? If it was the VAM, that's worrying. It might mean that they have some inkling why we're here, and are out to thwart us. I've been thinking a little more about that lindorn hoax with the rubber head. It's possible that the VAM are behind that also, in a bid to scare us into leaving the island." Robert frowns speculatively. "They claim that the lindorn is their protector and guardian. But when the S/S Stiklestad went down, it took a lot of their members with it. If the lindorn is protecting them, it isn't doing a very good job of it."
"We need to find out more about the activities of the VAM," says Daniel. "For starters, one of us might have a chat with that little chambermaid that Loki saw with the VAM. If Mal's right and someone's been searching Harriet's room, then that girl would be top of my suspect list. If we threaten to tell her boss about her going through the guests' possessions, she might start becoming co-operative." Since Loki is the only person who can identify the girl, it is decided that he should interview her.
"And that brings us onto another matter." Mal lowers his eyes a little self-consciously, as he often does while speaking, as if to compensate for drawing attention to himself. "Harriet's disappearance. It's been three days now. I know she asked us to cover for her, but I think we have to face the fact that she wouldn't have intended to be gone so long.
"I think she saw something, maybe just after she'd scaled the cliff. Maybe she saw whoever is involved in the lindorn hoax, carrying it out. I think she ran off to investigate, and something happened. It's possible that she's been overpowered and held prisoner, so that she can't tell people what she's seen. It might be worth searching the part of the island around where we found the rubber lindorn, just in case there's a house or something nearby where they could be holding her.
"We need to ask some questions at the hotel and village, and see if anyone's seen her. And, whether we like it or not, we need to report her disappearance." Mal glances at his companions, one by one. Reluctantly, each man nods assent.
"It'd be nice to keep an eye on the Children of the Lindorn as well," says Robert. "Cormac might be more than a harmless crank, after all. It's just possible he may have had the runestone stolen, if he has some mad idea about summoning the lindorn.
"Yes, I vote we set someone to follow him," agrees Daniel. After some discussion, Micheal is voted into this task. "I'm also a little worried about the way Krippner's manner has been changing towards us, did anyone else notice that? I'm still game for the diving trip tomorrow, but I'd rather not go alone." It is decided that Micheal will accompany Daniel underwater.
Loki is asked to research the other names of VAM members that the group has succeeded in gleaning. Mal is also interested in knowing whether Froson is thought to the focal point of any 'ley lines.'
As the operatives separate for the night, Daniel catches Mal's sleeve.
"I'm going to need your help to get into Harriet's room. I don't like to sound selfish about this, but if we're going to report Harriet's disappearance to the police, then I'll feel a lot more comfortable if I've looked through her notebooks and know that there's nothing in them to incriminate us.
Daniel and Mal wait until two before venturing into the corridor again. Noticing that Mal seems a little shy about his unconventional skills, Daniel turns his back on the older man as the lock is picked, and pretends to 'keep watch.'
An instant later, in response to a feather-light touch on the shoulder, Daniel turns to find Mal standing in an open doorway. The older man beckons, and moves away noiselessly, melting into the shadow like a wraith.
Daniel follows cautiously, his natural sure-footedness allowing him to move softly through the darkened room. After a few moments, a torch flicks on. Mal is standing a bare few feet away, by a chest of drawers. Daniel had not even heard the other man breathe.
"In here. They're in some kind of shorthand. I couldn't make sense of them." Daniel lifts one notebook in a gloved hand, and carefully turns a few pages. The pages are cramped with scrawled, jagged lines. There is no way of knowing whether this is some standard shorthand, or a code of Shen's own devising. There is no way of knowing whether the notebooks will betray anything of SITU to the police. Daniel sighs, then puts the two notebooks that contain Harriet's scrawls into his pocket.
After checking that the corridor is clear, Daniel and Mal return to their respective rooms.
Micheal wakes from an uneasy sleep, with a dim awareness that the wind seems to have diminished a little. As he staggers drowsily to the window, his first thought is that he has woken too early, and that the dawn has not yet arrived. A glance at his watch, however, shows him that the time is a little after eight. An attempt to wipe the steam from his window has negligible effect. Putting on his glasses, he peers through the glass.
Under a sky like grimy porcelain, low banks of mist are rolling like armies across Storsjon. The distant mainland, the dull white shapes of boats, these might have been cut from paper of different shades. The water of the lake is invisible beneath the mist. The sun is white and lifeless, like a mother of pearl button.
Phlegmatic as ever, Micheal reaches into his wardrobe for a coat with thermal lining and an extra pair of socks. After a moment's hesitation, he adds an extra sweater. Numerous hiking trips have taught him to read the signs in the weather.
Louis is more than a little shaken at being asked to call the police a second time.
"Miss Shen is missing? Leaping lizards. The police did say that they'd be sending someone over to look into the runestone theft this morning, perhaps you could mention this other matter to them then? Well, maybe you're right, maybe it would be best to phone them now, in case they've heard anything of the lady." He dials for the police and reports the disappearance, stopping now and then to ask Mal questions.
"When did she go missing?" Mal gives a truthful answer. The SITU agents had decided that the best way to explain the fact that the disappearance had not been reported earlier, is to claim that Harriet had spoken of wishing to visit the other islands for a day or two, so that her companions had only started to worry when three days had gone past.
"Does she have any friends in the area?"
"Unlikely," remarks Daniel. With a noble effort of will, he resists the temptation to imply that Harriet would be unlikely to have friends in any area.
"Might she have returned to England early, without informing the rest of you?"
Louis finishes the call to the police, and gives the party an anxious, sympathetic smile.
"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll run into your friend before you know it. You'll see, it'll all come out in the wash."
Gunnlaugson is horrified to hear of Harriet's disappearance, although he is somewhat calmed when it appears that no one seems to regard the incident as reflecting in a negative manner upon the security implemented at the hotel.
"Everyone will look for her, it will be so. Sihtric, stop dreaming of your bank account, you too will help look for the lady. Louis, you will do this for me, I depend upon you to organise these others in the search. Rest assured, gentlemen, we will bring you back your beautiful lady..."
With the might of the hotel owner behind the enquiry, the staff are soon rallied and interrogated. Most remember Harriet, her distinctive appearance and curious manner having made something of an impression. It seems that no one recalls having seen her since she left for the potholing expedition.
While the staff are being questioned, Loki looks out for the chamber maid he had seen with Ulrika Berget. She shows no particular sign of furtiveness at the mention of Shen's name.
Straight after breakfast, Mal, Robert, Daniel and Micheal walk to the harbour, leaving Loki at the hotel.
Mal finds a shop where his camera film can be developed. After a couple of hours he collects the pictures, and finds to his satisfaction that Harriet appears in several. There is one clear picture in which she is all but facing the camera, and another in which her rather striking profile appears in the left corner of the photograph.
"I'm sorry, Mr Masterson." Krippner waves his hand at the fog-laden expanse of the lake. "No diving today. It is my wish to please you in everything, but the risk is too great." Again Daniel picks up on a little hint of antagonism, a certain flash of ice in the rowing instructor's perfect smile. "Winter water is rising today, from the deep of the lake. If you were to slide down into that, it might cold your blood, make your breath hard, stop your heart... I would like to please you and take you in the water, but the cold might be too great for you." There is the tiniest emphasis on the word 'you,' as if to imply that Krippner himself would be more than capable of diving with impunity.
"Come tomorrow morning, you will see, the weather will be fine..."
Robert walks up to the Children of the Lindorn headquarters, nodding courteously to Steingerd as he passes her in the doorway. She is followed by a couple of the 'nymphs,' who peer at Robert with unconcealed and less than chaste interest. The taller of the pair glances back at him several times as they walk away, while pretending to adjust her hair. Robert recognises the laughing girl from the ceremony in the square.
Cormac hurries to the doorway to meet Robert. As they shake hands, Robert notices that Cormac is wearing a suit he has not seen before, a well-tailored, gleaming white ensemble which the operative suspects to be new. The cufflinks the other man wears are also unfamiliar, and show no accumulated grime in the grooves of the intricate pattern that adorns them. A fastidious dresser himself, Flint has noticed before, with a certain amount of distaste, that Cormac's clothes, while expensive, usually show evidence of rather lazy and superficial maintenance.
"I knew you would come back. But I regret that the amazing Steingerd is not here to talk to you. She has just walked out, just this very moment. She will return, and I shall fetch you a drink while you wait for her. Usually we prefer our guests and brethren to offer a small donation in exchange for refreshments, just so that we can continue to supply the service, but for you, my friend, it is gratis."
"I have to confess, I did not come here to speak to Steingerd, amazing as she is. I came here to talk to you." A tall cup of deeply unpleasant tea is placed in Robert' hand. He takes a small gulp, and represses a shudder. Cormac waves Robert to a chair, and seats himself opposite his guest, all smiles. "You see, I have reason to believe you may be in danger. I think Gerard Dubois is returning to Froson. In fact, I think he may already have returned to Froson."
The smile remains on Cormac's face, as if its owner had forgotten about it.
"The police would have told us, I think, Mr Flint..." One hand twitches slightly, as fighting an urge to move up and protectively cover the hidden wound at the shoulder.
"Not if they weren't sure that he was here. Not if they wanted to avoid a panic during the holiday season. There are quite a few police launches around at the moment, have you noticed that? Look, I like you, and I like the work you're doing here. I wouldn't like to see it all ended by the efforts of some homicidal maniac. With respect, you need someone to watch your back right now, and I'd like to volunteer."
"You're very kind, very kind. You understand I am not afraid, as such, but I have responsibilities as you say, the nymphs are like my own daughters... Perhaps if you could watch over me..." Cormac's face is contorted with doubt and indecision. One fingernail picks nervously at the gap between his teeth. "Ah, but it is not possible, not right now... I have... I have so much to do." He glances back at Robert, and succeeds in composing himself a little.
"You are very kind, but I think I must decline, for the moment. It is good of you to bring this to my attention, but even if Dubois is back on the island, I do not believe I am in danger. I have never done the poor soul any injury, and he has no reason to hate me. Before the day he..." The hand is on the move again, clutching at the old wound. "Before he... lost his head, we had never as much as exchanged a hostile glance. In fact, I have sometimes felt that he fired wildly into the crowd, that day. In any case I am fairly sure that, as he shot the harpoon, he was not looking at me..."
A few minutes later, Robert walks out of the building. Glancing across to the café where Micheal sits, drinking coffee, Robert catches the other man's eye, and shakes his head very slightly, to signal that Cormac has refused his proposition.
Micheal settles himself down to watch the Children of the Lindorn headquarters.
After a couple of rather dull hours, he sees Cormac emerge, accompanied by another man, whom Micheal does not recognise. Paying his bill, Micheal abandons his post at the café.
Trusting to his unremarkable appearance, and the fact that he has not been officially introduced to Cormac, Micheal ventures to walk in parallel to the cult leader, on the other side of the street. As Cormac and his companion stroll towards the northeast route out of the village, Micheal remembers that Daniel and Mal are searching the area near the place where the lindorn head had been found. He takes the opportunity to overtake Cormac. Under cover of the mist, which seems if anything to have thickened as the day has advanced, he heads off along the path, stopping occasionally behind cover to check that the two Swedes are still behind him.
Accustomed to rough terrain, he succeeds in advancing without betraying his presence by any noisy stumbles.
"Hard to believe that anyone could be fooled by that." Daniel peers in disgust at the rubber lindorn head. "Mind you, that Tyler woman did seem even more stupid than your average American, so it's possible that she really was sent into paroxysms of spiritual ecstasy by this pantomime prop."
"Over here. I think I've solved the mystery of the triangular footprints." Daniel follows the sound of Mal's voice and finds him standing at the mouth of another crevice. Inside are a snorkel and a pair of flippers, the latter just large enough to fit the footprints in the sand.
A rock tumbles from the cliff above. Mal and Daniel start and shrink back against the rock. A man is negotiating the steep path down to the beach. Both operatives glance around for a potential hiding place before recognising the descending figure as that of Micheal.
Reaching the base of the cliff, he waves to the others as they approach, and holds his fingers to his lips.
"Cormac's coming, with another man. They're about fifty yards behind me. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but they kept pointing down in the direction of this beach, so I guessed they were coming down here."
In dismay, the three operatives look at the sand criss-crossed with their footprints, then dart quickly across the rubble of rocks at the base of the cliff to find a hiding place.
As Micheal had predicted, Cormac and his companion arrive on the beach less than a minute later. The wind has begun the task of defacing the footprints, but the little cove is somewhat sheltered, and there are still visible traces when the cult leader reaches the base of the cliff. He notices them immediately, and calls out something to the other man, who is still descending. His companion regards the prints, and shrugs.
Both men gaze up and down the beach, but show no sign of having noticed the hidden SITU operatives. Cormac can be seen following the prints first to the place where the lindorn head is hidden, then to the crevice holding the diving equipment. He stands for a while, anxiously picking at his teeth. Then, after a hurried conversation, the two Swedes ascend the path once more.
A little after ten, the chambermaid knocks on Loki's door, then unlocks it and bustles in with two sheets draped over her arm. She is a little startled to find Loki seated just to the right of the door.
"No, please don't go, I was hoping to talk to you." He peers at her name badge. "I was hoping to talk to you, Margaretta. Please sit down." He gives her his best icy smile. "We've been noticing how thorough you've been with your job, and we were thinking of giving a report of it to your boss. We just haven't decided what sort of report yet..."
It is unclear how good a grasp of English the Swedish girl possesses. She stares at Loki uncomprehendingly until the words 'criminal' and 'break-in' are mentioned. At this point she flushes deep scarlet, and becomes a pitiable picture of child-like guilty terror.
"It was not me." she breathes, on the edge of tears. "They ask me help, but I say no, busy. It is not very bad, they put it back soon. Please, no tell..." She waves her hands in desperation, searching for a word, then repeats a Swedish phrase a few times, looking to Loki to see if he understands. "No tell Mr Gunnlaugson or... or other people."
"Where is it now?" asks Loki, improvising bravely in the face of a suspicion that he is facing a deeper misunderstanding than one imposed by the language gap.
"Not know. They no tell me, because I say not help. Please, no tell..."
The group meets as usual for lunch. As they walk to the dining room, they encounter Louis in the hall.
"I've been looking for you chaps. We've just had a call from the police - I expect you'll have noticed that their launch hasn't turned up in the harbour yet. I'm sorry about this, but it seems they're a little nervous about the weather, deceptively choppy, fog, wind coming in unexpected gusts, that sort of thing. Nothing too bad, but their general rule is, if the climate's looking a little capricious, you humour her until she calms down. The forecast's quite good, though, so I should think the weather will have cleared enough to let them cross by mid afternoon.
"It seems that in any case, the Ostersund police have been kept busy with a problem of their own, anyway. It seems that, a couple of days ago, someone broke into the Lansmuseet museum. Funny thing is, all they stole was one of the harpoon guns on display..."
After lunch, Loki opens his portable PC, and begins his new lines of investigation.
First, he makes a few enquiries among his contacts to see if any know anything of the way ley lines are mapped in Sweden. The first responses are not encouraging.
>bloody weird request loki.
>investigating our norse heritage are we, little god?
Fortunately Loki has several friends whose tastes are fairly esoteric, and through their networks, he finally succeeds in gaining some information on theories concerning Swedish ley lines.
Since it seems that the 'ley line' concept has its root in England, there are far more maps and accounts of ley lines in the British Isles than in any other region. However, a few enthusiasts have mapped other areas, including Scandinavia.
>have asked the experts about it and thanks a sodding bundle for making me talk to those nutters again loki see attached bullshit
Loki looks through the different accounts and raises an eyebrow. In nearly every case, two or more ley lines can be found crossing over the island of Froson.
Moving on to investigation of the VAM members whose names the party have gleaned, he finds that four of them have criminal records. Two have been arrested for destruction of property, one for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, and one for several counts of assault.
Returning to the village, Robert, Micheal, Daniel and Mal begin the tedious task of asking after Harriet Shen. The photographs do much to bridge the language gap, but even when their questions are made clear they are usually met by a shrug, a smile, and a shake of the head.
Since Harriet was last seen on the docks, they begin their enquiries there, dividing into pairs to save time.
A few of the dock workers remember Harriet's arrival, but seem to have registered little of her comings and goings since that time. Most of them seem rather busy, strapping away sails and checking the moorings on the boats. Several are glancing out at the sky with countenances that do not express confidence. Belle-Marie notices Daniel, and gives him a small wave.
At last, the woman serving behind the counter of the Gatukok, or street kitchen, is shown the photograph.
"Yes, she came here a few evenings ago, bought food, and looked at it like it was dirt. I remember her. Asked about the hygiene of my kitchen, so I showed her my certificate, and she said she was sorry. She lent on my counter to write a note, then asked my son to take it to the hotel." She calls a heavily-built young man from the back of the kitchen, and talks to him in Swedish for a moment.
"He says she took a footpath west. No, not back to the hotel. West, across the island. Yes, in the direction of the beach. She had been on a beach already, I think. She was mostly very smart, but she had lots of sand on her boots and her hands."
The western beach is all but deserted, the weather enough to deter even the most determined nude bather. The SITU operatives spread out and search the beach, but with little hope of finding traces of their missing colleague after such a long period of time.
It is Mal who makes the find. On one of the northern reaches of the beach, there is a brief plateau of rock at the base of the cliff, pitted and chiselled by the waves. Now and then the water licks over it, darkening the rock. In one small hollow, gently shifted back and forth by the motion of the water, lies a small grey oblong that stirs a memory in Mal, a memory of Harriet Shen sitting in an airport, tapping details into the object in her hand...
He lifts it and opens the catch. The screen is blank, the delicate electronics within destroyed by the sea water. There is a gilt 'H.S.' engraved in a corner of the lid. It is indubitably Harriet Shen's personal organiser. It is waterlogged and quite dead. Mal calls over the others, and shows them his find.
"Well, it looks like something came out in the wash..."
Once again, a little after five, Daniel excuses himself, and leaves his colleagues.
Belle-Marie is waiting for him on the quay, a hamper in one hand. She looks up at the sky and grimaces.
"Bloody typical. I should have remembered that arranging a picnic is the great storm-summoning ritual. Never mind, I've prepared the food, and we're damn well going to have a picnic."
Slightly to his discomfort, Belle Marie leads him to the western beach that he has just left. Noting that he seems a little preoccupied, she slips her arm through his.
"Don't worry, I know some places where we can get out of the wind." She leads him to a hollow in the cliff face, puts down the hamper and opens it. The crevice offers some shelter from the wind, but Belle-Marie's attempts to light some candles are soon abandoned.
A few sandwiches and half a thermos of soup later, Belle-Marie gives Daniel a wry smile.
"You must think I'm quite mad bringing you here. I did have a reason, though. Don't laugh at me if I tell you, though. You're going to think I'm just being paranoid, and I probably am, but... I get the feeling I'm... OK, this sounds melodramatic, but a lot of the time I get this funny feeling I'm being, y'know, watched. When I'm just walking around in the harbour, when I'm walking home. It's nothing concrete, and I guess maybe it's just because I worry about what everyone thinks about me here, but..." She glances at Daniel, and seems relieved to see that he is not smiling.
"Well, I didn't feel comfortable talking to you about this until I was sure we were alone. It's silly, I know. Thanks for not laughing at me."
There is a sudden hiss, as rain starts to strike the sand.
"Oh, for God's sake!" Belle-Marie laughs out loud, and runs out into the rain. "OK, I give in," she shouts against the blast of the wind. "I guess the picnic's over."
Daniel walks Belle-Marie back, and is once again allowed in for coffee. After a few minutes thought, he breaks silence.
"Look, Belle-Marie, I don't want this to be just a holiday romance. You're not happy in this place, and now it sounds like you're scared as well. For goodness sake, leave Froson, and come back with me, to Britain."
"I can't just leave, you know that."
"Why? Why not? I could support you until you found your feet..."
"No! I don't want anyone supporting me, that's exactly what I've been trying to get away from! Everything I've been doing for the last few years, it's all been to try and give myself some backbone, so I'm not someone's dependent, little possession..." She covers her face with her hands. "Shit. Sorry. Sorry. I know you're not like that, I'm out of line. Look, I think you'd better leave."
"I'd rather stay," Daniel says quietly.
"No, please, I've got to think about all this, and if you're here I'm not going to be using my head. Come and see me tomorrow?"
The walk back to the hotel seems unusually long. Perhaps as a result of Belle-Marie's peculiar confession, Daniel catches himself looking over his shoulder repeatedly, fancying that he hears another set of footsteps echoing his own.
He returns to his room and closes the door. He can hear the other SITU agents discussing their findings in Robert's room, but he cannot bring himself to join them. For a while he stares at the telephone. Then he lifts the receiver and calls for room service.
One of the hotel staff brings up a double shot of whiskey ten minutes or so later. Daniel downs it, and feels a curiously pleasant sensation, as if a knot within him was unclenching, after months of tension.
His sensations a few minutes later are just as curious, but considerably less pleasant. He has just time to turn out the light and stagger over to the bed before falling onto it in a state of unconsciousness.
Daniel is half-wakened some time later by the pain of a firm hand gripping him by the hair, and raising his head a little. His limbs seem impossibly heavy, and he cannot summon the strength to move them.
A hand, a large, male hand, lifts a glass to his mouth. The other hand moves from the grip on his hair, and holds his nose closed while the liquid in the glass is poured into his mouth, forcing him to swallow.
When the glass is empty, the hands release their hold. In his peripheral vision, Daniel sees a small, empty pill bottle tossed onto the floor by the bed.
"The picnic's over, Daniel..." someone whispers near to his ear.
Loki is woken by a curious sound coming from Daniel's room. The others are wakened by his anxious banging against Daniel's door, which appears to be locked.
From behind it comes the sound of violent retching...