The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Lindorn of Storsjon
Chapter 8

Monday 16th September, 2am

Behind the door, the retching pauses for an instant, and there is a loud thump, as of something heavy striking the floor.

"Reception will have a key." Loki bolts down the corridor.

"Good thinking! Get them to call a doctor while you're at it!" Robert rattles the handle once more, then takes a few steps back before throwing his weight against the door. He steps back from the undamaged door again, rubbing his shoulder.

"Wait here." Mal darts back into his room. Micheal and Robert have time to try their combined strength against the door a couple of times, before Mal re-emerges, carrying his penknife. Pulling out an appropriate extension, he swiftly picks the lock.

Flinging back the door he enters, crouched low. The door thuds reassuringly against the wall, convincing him that no-one waits in ambush behind it. Moving quickly, Mal dives forward into a roll, so as to dodge the blows of any assailants awaiting his entry. Relaxing into his old instincts, Mal opens his senses to the darkened room, ready to face an attack.

Shallow wheezing issuing from the form of a man sprawled on the floor. No-one behind the door. Door to adjoining bathroom open, no-one visible. Shower curtain pulled back, nowhere to hide there. No-one under bed. Window closed. Wardrobe empty. No other sounds.

"All clear."

Reaching through the doorway, Robert switches on the light. Mal is standing in the centre of the room, half-crouched like a cat on the brink of the pounce. He manages to seem quite formidable, despite the fact that he is wearing pyjamas. As the light comes on, he shifts his posture in a rather self-conscious manner, adopting a more natural stance, then stoops to attend to the prone form of Daniel on the floor.

Daniel's face is a pale, chalky grey, and he clearly has great difficulty even in opening his eyes wide enough to recognise his friends. When he is made aware that his colleagues surround him, he drags his hand along the carpet to point to the little pill bottle lying beside him.

"...stomach pump..." It takes a minute or so for the other agents to realise what words he is attempting to mouth. "...need stomach pump..."

Reaching reception, Loki beats out a rapid, urgent tattoo on the bell at the reception desk. As he waits, pacing a little, and occasionally giving the bell an extra hammer, he glimpses his reflection in the gleaming metal of the bell stand, and understands why he has earned the interest of the young couple dawdling in the lobby. They are clearly intrigued and not a little amused by this short figure pacing the reception area in a dressing gown, hair dishevelled. However, three seconds of Force 9 glare are sufficient to persuade them of the merits of minding their own business.

"Mr Smith?" Thorveig has materialised behind the desk while Loki has been regarding the young couple. Loki wonders briefly if Thorveig ever sleeps.

"I think we have a medical emergency. One of my colleagues has been taken ill - we can hear him retching in his room. We need a spare key, so we can get in. And we'll probably need a doctor, too." Thorveig nods, as serenely as if he had asked for more shampoo sachets.

She calls out in Swedish, and the face of Margaretta appears at the doorway to the lounge. Upon seeing Loki and Thorveig together, a look of abject fear crosses her face, but as she receives orders from Thorveig, this expression passes. Margaretta disappears into the lounge, and emerges a moment or two later with three other members of staff.

"Which room has your friend been given?" Loki gives Daniel's room number. Thorveig passes through the door behind the reception desk, and Loki hears the metallic jangling of keys. At last Thorveig reappears, empty handed.

"I am sorry, but the key is not on its hook. I think someone must have put it back in the wrong place. Do not worry, I shall send Oscar to get the other spare from the safe." One of the new arrivals is sent away with this task.

Thorveig opens the registration book, and scans down the column of names. "Dr Arthur... Dr Deedmann... Dr Gotlind... Dr Massey. All these are guests in the hotel. We shall find out if any of these are doctors of medicine. And Frans here will run to find Dr Beijer from the village."

Frans pauses at the door.

"Mr Smith, what shall I tell the doctor is the illness of your friend?"

"It seems like something disagreed with him."

Dr Gotlind is unamused at receiving a call upon his professional services in the early hours. His is a little over five foot tall, and his black eyes positively glitters with vexation, like those of an outraged goblin.

"Such a holiday, such a holiday." The little doctor's vowels are curt and emphatic, as if he were biting them short. "Well, where is the patient, then? Lead on, lead on."

"Hang on, Daniel, here comes the cavalry." Daniel is faintly conscious of the fact that his head is being propped on someone's arm, and that Robert is speaking to him. "Here's a doctor, Daniel." Sounds are curiously muffled, as if his ears were filling with water. Indeed, it seems as if he were gently, gradually sinking into water, drowning his senses and mind. Cold but quiet water, winter water, a chill but comfortable sleep...

"So you want to die, do you, young man?" Firm, bony hands have gripped his face, turning this way and that. His eyelids are prised open and then released. A grim, little gnome of a man is seated above him. Daniel can make out narrow, sallow features, and hot, black eyes. "No, I'm having none of that. Up you get. What's his name? Up you get, Daniel. Help me lift him.

"He must be made to be sick. Give him this, it will make him sick. And we must not let him sleep. Miss Hylten, you have phoned the hospital at Ostersund, have you not? Good." Although his mind tells him that his limbs have become colossal and immovable as mountain ranges, Daniel feels himself being lifted from the comforting roughness of the carpet. Never mind, says the cool numbing voice in his head, in a while they'll put you down and then you can sleep...

As Micheal and the doctor heave Daniel upright, impeded a little by the difference in their heights, Thorveig catches Robert's eye.

"I am glad to see that you managed to get into Mr Masterson's room." Her eyes contain a thinly veiled question.

"Mr Masterson managed to stagger to the door and let us in," replies Robert, quickly.

While the attention of all others in the room are directed at Daniel, Mal edges unobtrusively towards the bed. On it lies a sheet of paper that had at first escaped the party's notice. A few words are roughly scrawled across it.

I am sorry but I cannot cope with it all any more - Daniel Masterson

Seating himself on the bed, Mal reaches out a stealthy hand towards the paper. The next instant it is safely within his pyjama pocket, the slight crackle of paper masked as he clears his throat. A quick glance around the room satisfies Mal that his action has passed unnoticed.

"Are you getting tired, Mr Stockton?" Micheal rubs the sweat of effort from his forehead, but shakes his head. For the last hour he has been supporting most of Daniel's weight, while he helps to walk him up and down the room, and keep him awake. "Good fellow, good fellow. Do you hear what a good friend you have, Daniel?"

"How is he looking, Dr Gotlind?" Thorveig has reappeared at the door of the room.

"Oh, better, I think, better, if we keep doing what we are doing. He has been sick now three times, four times. It is good that those pills are made with a emetic in them, which make you throw them back if you take too many. I suppose he didn't know that. And what I gave him, that has made him sick. He is young, I think he will live. But I would like to get him to the hospital in Ostersund. Did you reach them on the telephone?"

"Yes, I did. I'm afraid it will be rather difficult to get Mr Masterson to the mainland just now. It seems that the boat they usually use to pick up medical emergencies from the islands has travelled north with most of the lifeboats - it seems a boat has run into trouble near the little port at Hauck. They think there will be casualties."

"Why do they not send the police launch to pick up Mr Masterson, then?"

"It seems that this is impossible." Thorveig makes a pretty, little shrug. "It seems that the ship wrecked at Hauck was the police launch."

After two hours, rather than allow himself to be endlessly dragged across the carpet, Daniel starts to take a little weight on his own feet. His head is still inclined to loll, and he clearly has an imperfect understanding of occurrences around him.

Loki stands with his back to the scene, wiping the condensation from the window. Outside the low mist rolls and writhes across Storsjon, as if the water were boiling. Through the clouds a few stars are visible, starkly brilliant, as if before a frost. Loki's face as reflected in the glass is almost mask-like in its immobility. Only his eyes are unusually, angrily bright, like frost stars.

It is not until eight the next morning that Dr Gotlind is satisfied enough with Daniel's progress to allow him to sleep. The little man gives a long yawn, exposing long, yellow teeth like those of rat.

"Call me if there is any trouble with him. Don't leave him alone." The brushes back his dishevelled hair, and prepares to leave. As he does so, there is a loud clatter and thump. Daniel has attempted to rise from the bed, and tumbled to the floor.

"I need... I have to talk to Belle-Marie..."

"You're not going anywhere. Get him back into bed. So it's love, is it? Don't kill yourself for love, young man, she won't be impressed."

Robert, Mal, Micheal and Loki take it in turns to sit up with Daniel while the others catch up on sleep. By eleven, he has recovered a more natural colour, and his breathing seems to be less of an effort. Loki agrees to stay with him while the others go to lunch. When they return, Daniel is weakly conscious, and capable of describing his ordeal. With difficulty he is persuaded that he is not yet able to manage the journey down to the docks to find Belle-Marie.

Mal takes out the note he found on Daniel's bed, and shows it to the group.

"I didn't write that."

"I know. It's rather a crude forgery. I suppose whoever wrote this was counting on roughness being put down to distress, or the drugs." Mal holds the paper up to the light. "It's very thin paper, and the signature's made up of all these flaky little lines. A familiar signature is drawn in one long, quick motion, not lots of little lines. I think someone's been tracing your signature."

"So who did this? The VAM? Cormac?"

Daniel shakes his head.

"I don't think it was the VAM. It all seemed rather too... personal."

"I agree," says Robert. "Daniel, it's possible that someone else may be in love with your Belle-Marie. Such as, for instance, Sverre Krippner. He's been rather hostile recently, hasn't he? Would you be able to identify the voice you heard?"

"No. It was just a whisper, and the first lot of drugs were kicking in. It was a man, but beyond that I couldn't even pick out an accent. I think our best bet is to find out who took my room service order on the telephone. My drink was brought up by Frans what's-his-name, the one who helped us with the potholing rescue. Perhaps we should check him out."

"We need to push a lot of tough questions." Loki has had less sleep than the rest of group. He is haggard but resolute. "Let's fight back a little. We need to start putting pressure on the VAM. Let's start with that maid."

"Yes," agrees Robert. "After all, it seems likely that the VAM stole the runestone. The big question is why?"

"Could the thieves have some plans to summon the lindorn using the stone? Both the VAM and the Children of the Lindorn obviously believe in what they're doing" Mal shrugs. "Perhaps we'd better ask Dr Massey's advice about that."

"Cosy thought, isn't it? I was starting to wonder about that myself. Look, if there does turn out to be some weird Scandinavian druidic cult performing rituals at the hub of the ley lines, someone calling himself 'Loki' is likely to annoy them. I reckon everyone had better call me 'Mr Smith' at all times, OK?"

"Maybe the VAM believe in what they're doing, but I'm less sure about the Children of the Lindorn" opines Robert. "If you ask me, Cormac is probably interested in nothing but money. The fake lindorn is just a way of extorting funds from gullible people like Penny Tyler. Even so, he may be dangerous. If Mal's theory about Harriet's disappearance is correct, he may be responsible for kidnapping Harriet. Or... well, given the recent turn of events, we can't rule out the possibility of murder. Nonetheless, for the moment let us assume that Harriet is alive. We should try to trace the man that accompanied Cormac to the beach. It's possible that he may be responsible for holding Harriet."

"Yes, we need to track Harriet down as soon as possible, and I reckon Mal's the man for that. Good to have an ex-private-eye on the team." Mal seems pleased by Loki's compliment. "And while we're at it, let's keep an eye out for Gerard Dubois. I feel like he's the key to all of this."

"Cormac told me that Dubois wasn't looking at him when he fired the harpoon gun. If that's so, then who was Dubois aiming at?"

"You'd better talk to Cormac again," advises Daniel. "Maybe he has some idea. Whoever it was, Gerard Dubois will be after them again." He gives a pallid queasy smile. "You never know, if it turns out that the person he's after was the man who drugged me, I might be tempted to help Dubois hit his target this time.

"Anyway, whoever my attacker was, I don't like the fact that he got to me so easily. I'd feel a lot better if we all shared rooms in future."

"That's a start, but it's not enough." Loki's tone is quietly dangerous. "Someone just tried to kill a friend of mine. I don't find that very funny. If things are coming to a head, we need to be ready. I suggest we arm ourselves up as best we can, so we can defend ourselves."

"I agree." Robert smiles grimly. "Pussyfooting around hasn't done us much good. Let's raise the heat a little."

"Good afternoon."

The 'laughing nymph' places her milkshake down beside her, and shields her eyes to study the figure that has addressed her. She is sunning herself in T-shirt and skirt on doorstep of the headquarters to the Children of the Lindorn. She does not seem particularly unhappy to recognise Robert.

"I believe I have the honour of addressing one of the 'nymphs,' am I right?" The girl smiles, and nods. "I've been trying to find someone to show me around the village, and I was wondering..."

"Will you buy me a drink?" He nods, and she gets to her feet. "I'm Birgitta. And I like chocolate milkshakes." She looks past him and waves at a group of girls who are regarding her with ill-concealed surprise and envy. After smiling speculatively at Robert, she loops her arm through his. "You don't mind, do you?"

Birgitta picks out an appropriate café in order to purchase the milkshake but only after taking a route that allows her to wave to as many of her friends as possible. Robert estimates that despite her manner and well-developed figure, she is probably no more than sixteen. She is bubbly, frank, and possesses a remarkably good grasp of English. She is also an arrant, if innocent, flirt.

She is easily encouraged to talk of Cormac and the Children of the Lindorn.

"It is good being a nymph. I like the money, and all the boys like us in the white dresses," she states, with endearing candour. "Mr Cormac, he likes us in the white dresses too." She giggles. "Sometimes he tries to put his arms round our shoulders and says we are all like his daughters. But we just laugh at him. And he tries to make us go swimming naked in the lake." Birgitta gives a flirtatious little shudder. "I don't mind it, except when it is cold."

"My mother worries about it, though, and makes me say the little rhyme. You know, the one that you say before you go swimming out of doors?" She recites something in Swedish, then laughs when Robert looks blank. "I translate. First you put a piece of steel, fire-steel, into the water, like it might be a needle or scissors or a knife, and then you say, 'Nykk, Nykk, needle-thief, thou art on the land, and I am in the water.' Then when you get out, you say, 'Nykk, Nykk, needle-thief, thou art in the water, and I am on the land,' and take away the fire-steel. It is not really that you fear the Nykk will steal the needle, it is that you fear she will steal you. The rhyme makes her safe, my mother says. But though I say the rhyme before I go swimming, my mother still worries about everything. She has more old stories than Cormac and Steingerd.

"And now she says I must not stay out late because of the goblin. Two of my friends saw him running up on the cliff walks. He looked like a man, but he ran in a curious way, all bent and lop-sided, so they knew it was a goblin. They said he was carrying something and it glittered, but they are silly, scared girls. My mother says he must be one of de underjordiske, the people who live in the earth, and hate us for living in sunlight. Or he might be one of the draugen, the ghost of a drowned man come to tell us that terrible things are about to happen. Except a draugen should have no head. But these are my mother's silly stories." For all her disclaimers, Birgitta clearly finds these supernatural rumours exciting.

Robert talks to his rather engaging companion for another hour, but becomes satisfied that Birgitta is unaware of any criminal or fraudulent activities on the part of Cormac and his associates. It emerges, however, that she and the other nymphs were present at the ceremony in which Cormac was injured by Dubois.

"Yes, we were there to sing, and Cormac and Steingerd came with us. Oh, lots of people were there. Reporters, and people from the village, and some people from Ostersund. And all the hotel staff were there. I remember, we had just stopped singing, and Mr Cormac had just walked up to Mr Gunnlaugson to shake his hand, so he was standing with the people from the hotel. And then he looked very surprised and fell over, with a big metal thing in his - I know I should not laugh, but he looked so surprised. I didn't even see the Frenchman. And Mr Frodi hid behind his mother, even though she is oh-so-little..." Birgitta giggles.

Margaretta ventures nervously into Loki's room, and freezes when she sees him seated by the window.

"You have not told Mr Gunnlaugson anything?"

"Not yet. But I'm thinking about it. Tell you what, why don't you sit down and finish that story you started to tell me last time we met, and maybe I'll find it so interesting I'll forget all about talking to Mr Gunnlaugson?"

The girl's limited English and evident fear makes for a rather broken narrative, but with a mixture of threats and encouragement Loki succeeds in acquiring an elaboration upon her previous cryptic remarks.

It emerges that Margaretta is the younger sister of an active VAM member, and is thus accorded a form of honorary membership within it. Although taking no part in the actual raid, Margaretta is perfectly apprised of a recent scheme among her friends to steal the runestone so that 'the English doctor does not take it away to a museum.' She has a somewhat hazy conviction that the stone is sacred to the lindorn, but denies knowledge of any imminent attempt to use it for any form of ritual. Margaretta claims to have no knowledge of where the stone has been hidden. Loki eventually comes to the conclusion that she is either sincere in this claim, or a remarkably good actress.

"Hello, Mr Harris. Is your friend better today?" Dr Massey seems reassured to hear of Daniel's recovery. "One of these days I must learn not to put myself down as 'doctor' in hotel registration books. I always get woken up when people have heart attacks, or when children get their heads stuck between railings. Anyway, how can I help you?"

"Well, I've been trying to work out who might have stolen the runestone. Tell me, could a group of fanatics possibly believe that they could use it to summon the lindorn?"

"I daresay fanatics might believe anything. Yes, given the rumour linking the stone to the lindorn, it's possible. And there are such things as rune wizards, they say. Tell you what, if you're really interested, you might want to have a leaf through this." Massey takes a book from one of his shelves. Its title is 'Rune Magic: Ancient Art or Anachronism?'

"If someone has stolen it for a summoning ritual, they're in for a disappointment. I've been working on translating the runes from the rubbings I took, and the words I have interpreted seem to confirm my initial hypothesis that the stone performs a commemorative function. I strongly suspect that it may be a gravestone. You see, I think that that word can be translated as 'most valiant,' and I suspect that that little phrase just there is 'the lament of men.' Do get Flint to come over and look at this some time, I'd appreciate his feedback."

Mal expresses appropriate interest in the smudges to which Dr Massey points. He then, as if casually, brings up the subject of the ley lines, claiming that he had read about the way many seemed to cross over Froson island, while researching Lake Storsjon for the guide.

"Well, I'm not too surprised that ley lines tend to pass through Froson. After all, as far as I can gather, the people who decide where the ley lines lie tend to note places of historical or folkloric interest, and then draw lines that pass through as many as possible. No-one would miss out Froson, what with Mjallebjorgen and the legend of the Storsjoodjuret. I'm afraid that when people show me pretty maps and say, 'look at the way this line passes neatly through all these ancient sites,' I tend to say things like 'what about the sites that aren't on the line?' or 'aren't you using rather thick pencil?'"

At three, Dr Gotlind visits Daniel again, and at last gives his permission for the somewhat impatient patient to leave his room, on the understanding that 'Mr Stockton stays with him at all times.' Daniel consents, and with support from Micheal, leaves his hotel room.

With unsteady feet, Daniel begins the journey to the docks. Although the sun is still hidden, the sky still seems unbearably bright to Daniel's vulnerable eyes. The occasional fits of rain seem to clatter like fistfuls of metal beads.

Crowds are sparser than usual on the docks. Casting his eyes along the row of tethered boats, Daniel makes out the slender form of Belle-Marie, leaping from prow to prow, nimble as a monkey. As she sees him, she swings herself to a halt, her arm around one of the masts, and waves.

"You're early, I wasn't expecting you for another couple of..." Her shy smile fades, as she takes in Daniel's appearance. "What the hell happened to you? And who's he?" She jerks a thumb towards Micheal.

"I can't walk by myself at the moment. We have to talk."

"I have to work. Look, can I meet you in two hours?"

"This won't wait. Belle-Marie, someone tried to kill me last night." Keeping his voice low, Daniel gives a brief, blunt account of the night's events. Belle-Marie becomes visibly pale as he speaks. "There's two alternatives that I can see, and I don't like either of them. The first is that you know something about all this that you're not telling me. The second is that you're as innocent as I am, and likely to be just as much in danger. Which is it?"

"If you really think I might have something to do with this person trying to kill you, then I don't see there's much more to be said." She bites the knuckle of her forefinger, and glares at him. "Oh, go back to Britain, Daniel, go back to Britain. Just leave me alone." She turns her back on him, and busies herself with clumsily coiling a length of rope.

"Belle-Marie, listen to me, you might be in some kind of danger. Listen, is it possible, just possible, that your old fiancé might not be dead? Could he be doing this?" Belle-Marie gives a short, bitter laugh.

"Just go back to Britain, Daniel." There is a rough edge to her voice, as if from half-swallowed tears.

That afternoon, Loki visits the village in order to hunt out weapons for the party. He succeeds in hunting out numerous penknives, a sharp-looking letter opener with a lindorn head handle, some heavy spikes designed for use in climbing, and numerous other portable items. These he secretes in his own room, for later distribution.

Having finally parted company with Birgitta, Robert meets up with Mal at a prearranged spot. The pair then approach the Children of the Lindorn headquarters together.

"Ah, my good friends, my good friends." Cormac seems to have rather more nervous animation in his manner than usual. "Oh, Mr Flint, I remember you were good enough to offer to guard me. As you can see, I had nothing to fear, I am still alive, thank you for your concern." He laughs, just a little too heartily.

"Yes, it would seem you have nothing to fear... from Dubois, anyway. But I rather think that someone else has, and I'd like to know who, so I can warn them." Robert gently quizzes Cormac about the events of the shooting, in an attempt to learn who Dubois might have been looking at when he fired the harpoon gun.

"I cannot be certain. I was to the front of the crowd, you see, before the cameras, shaking hands with Mr Gunnlaugson. I think Dubois was looking past me when he fired, at the crowd behind us. Who was in the crowd? Hotel staff. I do not recall too well. Mr Sihtric Gunnlaugson, he was there, I remember him shouting to everyone to stay calm. I think Frodi was there too. Thorveig was definitely there. Yes, I think she was by the door, and saw the Frenchman before the rest of us did, I think she was trying to talk to him. Krippner the boating instructor was there, I'm sure of it. And I know Louis Lakersson was there, I remember him dragging me around a corner out of firing range after the harpoon hit me. As for the rest, I don't remember." Cormac shrugs. There is a small pause, before the cult leader's brow creases very slightly.

"Mr Flint, why is that you say in that way, that I have nothing to fear from Dubois? What else should I fear?"

"Oh, you know, just the usual hazards of your profession." Robert smiles, brightly. "Such as exposure." There is a chill, little pause

"Are you talking about the dangers of our climate, Mr Flint?"

"Well, no, actually. I was in fact making an oblique reference to the painfully unconvincing lindorn head you have hidden on one of the beaches. I don't think Miss Tyler would find it very inspiring if she saw it again in the light of day, do you?" There are several moments silence, while Cormac picks at the gap between his incisors, a number of different expressions passing like clouds behind his eyes. Several are of a stormy persuasion. At last, somewhat to the SITU agents' surprise, he smiles.

"If you wished to take this information to the newspapers or Miss Tyler, you would have done so. Instead you come to me. So I think maybe you want something from me, and if you get it you will not go to the newspapers. Am I right?" Robert inclines his head a little. "This Dubois man interests you, that is it? Are you detectives hired to look for him? Well, well, you do not have to tell me. I will ask all of my friends to look out for him, and if I learn anything of him, you shall know it.

"The English are my favourite people. I always know that I can reach an understanding with them..."

As they are jovially ushered to the door, the SITU agents notice Cormac beckoning to another man who has been standing idle at the far end of the room, out of earshot. Mal recognises the man who had accompanied Cormac down to the beach the day before, and informs Robert of this in an undertone. The two agents cross the street and pause. Through the open door, they see Cormac speaking hurriedly to the other man. A moment later, the other man leaves the building, and strides away quickly in a northern direction.

Robert raises an eyebrow quizzically. Mal nods, and sets off in pursuit.

Keeping low, Mal follows the dim silhouette of Cormac's acquaintance through the mist, timing his footfalls to coincide with those of the other man. The man he follows is tall and strongly built, and walks with a long, leisurely lope. The ruts of the earth are unusually rigid under foot, and Mal starts to suspect that a light frost must have occurred during the night.

Mal is unsurprised to find himself being led to the beach where the party had found the lindorn head. As he watches, the other man descends the narrow path to the beach. From the cliff top, Mal watches, as the indistinct figure of the other man busies itself about the caves where the flippers and the lindorn head are secreted. When the Swede ascends the path once more, he carries a large bundle bound in tarpaulin. The size of the bundle would in no way be incompatible with the dimensions of the rubber lindorn head.

With this new burden, the Swede then travels back in the direction of the village. Mal trails him back to the harbour, where he climbs aboard one of the boats, and vanishes below deck with his tarpaulin-covered trophy. Mal notes that the name of the boat is the 'Gabrielle.'

The Swede re-emerges ten minutes later, and walks casually back to the Children of the Lindorn headquarters. As he wandering back, one of the dock workers waves to him, and hails him by the name of 'Johann.'

A little after five, 'Johann' leaves the building once more. Mal follows him once more, and sees him enter one of the houses on the waterfront. It seems unlikely that Harriet could be brought into this house against her will without attracting the attention of someone on the busy quay, unless it were very late at night. In any case, keeping her in such a central location would be very risky.

On Daniel's prompting, Micheal begins to investigate the phenomena of the drugged whiskey. By making polite enquiries, Micheal learns that Daniel's room service order was taken by one of the hotel kitchen staff, a young girl called Ulla. Micheal's inoffensive manner prevents anyone taking umbrage as he enquires into the standard arrangements for delivering room service.

"It is usually I or Gunnar that answer the phone, when it rings. Mr Kittelson and Mr Forman are usually too busy. They are the head cooks, you see. When we get an order, we write it down on three tickets. One ticket goes to whoever is preparing food or drinks for room service that evening. One is carried straight to reception, so that price can be added to the customer's bill. And one we pin up on the notice board outside the kitchen. When someone comes to take the order upstairs, they will unpin the ticket. That way, we know which orders haven't been taken up, just by looking at the notice board.

"After that, we put a call through on the intercom to call one of the other staff to take up the order. When the order is ready, we put it on the tray outside the kitchen, with the right ticket on it, so the waiting staff know which room it should go to. Someone usually comes to pick it up after about ten minutes or so, and we can cover the food so it doesn't go cold in the hall.

"We've always done it this way. This is Mr Njalsonn's way of doing things."

At dinner, Robert repeats the Birgitta's report of the 'goblin.' It is decided that Robert, Mal and Loki should make one last search of the cliff paths before retiring, in case this creature might prove to be the elusive Dubois. Mal is also eager to widen the search for signs of the missing Harriet Shen.

"It would be difficult to hide a hostage in the village. Even the back doors to most of the houses are visible to the windows of the houses behind them, have you noticed that?"

"Well, the island's not short of hiding places." When walking in the north, Loki has often heard the hollow fluting of the wind blowing through the numerous caves that pock the cliff face. Over the last couple of days, however, as the wind has grown stronger, he has several times heard the same fluting at different locations around the island. "I reckon there's cracks and crevices everywhere, hidden by the terrain. This island must be riddled with more holes than a Swiss Cheese."

Micheal accompanies Daniel back to his room, where the latter succumbs to a leaden sleep.

"Listen, there it is." Loki raises his hand suddenly. "That long note, like an oboe. Caves. We're near to... wait! Did you hear that?"

The other operatives tense, detecting a sudden excitement in Loki's voice.

"It's that sound again, the sound I heard on the cliff face, the sound that wasn't the wind or the caves... there! No, you can't hear it, the wind's too strong. Wait, wait, listen, listen...there."

They all hear it, that moment in which the wind ceases to breathe and something sings out clearly for a brief instant, with a weird, cold voice. It is a broken sound, like the throb of a violin string, raked by the bow in a careless hand.

And as the three men stand spellbound in the silence that follows that strange, passionless moan of a note, something comes dancing along the path towards them.

It is pale and unshapely, and moves weightlessly, as if through water. It skitters briefly here and there over the cause path, then suddenly takes great bounds that carry a dozen feet at a time. Its spherical head is all but featureless. As it approaches the agents see that it is the size of a small human child.

At a distance of some ten feet it wavers, twists, than somersaults towards them. A few tumbles close the distance between them.

Bjarnison's angel lies battered and twitching at their feet.

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