The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Haunting of Hatfield Peverel
Chapter 7

9.00 am, Friday 13th March 1998

'This Miracle Visitor certainly seems to be keen to stir Fulk up against his neighbour Reuben Stokes,' says Grace. 'Saying he's a warlock and so on - dangerous talk in the time of Matthew Hopkins.'

'Perhaps he _is_ a warlock,' says Jeffrey. 'Especially if, as Kris seems to suspect, he's the same person as the Stokely Rubens staying at the Manor House now.'

'I had some news from SITU on that,' says Kris. 'Apparently Jael Holdings, the firm that owns the Manor House, has three trustees. Mr S Rubens, Mr P Jekyll and Mr A Hanbury. As for Jekyll & Hanbury, they seem an unremarkable small City law firm - they just have the two partners, and as far as SITU can tell Jael Holdings is their only client.'

'Did they say how long Jael holdings had been going?' asks Stuart.

'It's a private trust, so it's not registered at Companies House,' says Kris. 'But SITU have found evidence that it was doing business as early as 1764.'

'Jael...' muses Stuart. 'Isn't that from the Bible?'

'That's right!' says Jeffrey, pleased. 'She was an Israelite woman who visited the Amalekite general Sisera in his tent, got him drunk, and then drove a tent-peg through his head. It's in the first book of Chronicles, chapter 22 I think. A great Hebrew heroine. Of course, in the modern Church violent deeds like hers tend to be rather downplayed,' he adds hastily.

'I wonder what's the connection between Clive Stokes and Reuben,' says Kyle, tipping back his breakfast bottle of Old Bob. 'Did you notice how both of them were talking about people's grandfathers being killed, yesterday? Coincidence?'

'Does this mean you're starting to believe, Kyle?' asks Jeffrey.

Kyle grins. 'Not a chance - but it's a fine story, I'll give him that. Approaching the qualities of a steamy Roquefort.'

'Kris, did you know your name's an anagram of "armadillos wink etc"?' asks Ferdinand.

Gino observes Clive Stokes's tent at Norsey Farm through binoculars from the woods as the journalist prepares to set out for the day, stuffing a daysack with miscellanea. As soon as Stokes has tromped up the path to the farmhouse gate, Gino descends from his eyrie and hastens to the tent.

Within he finds pretty much what one might expect for a solitary camper in the English summer: a sleeping bag, a Karrimat, a small cooking stove, a folding stool, a few changes of clothing, and other outdoor equipment. There is also a stack of back numbers of _Crab_ magazine, a sheet of paper on which is drawn a plan of the village with the Leighs' house and Norsey Farm marked, and a copy of a book entitled _Discovering_Your_Ancestors_. There is also, sitting rather incongruously among all this modern-day paraphernalia, a rather fine quartzite crystal ball. It has a flaw in the centre such that, when held up to the light, it appears to contain a brilliant spark.

There is no computer.

'I say, Jeffrey old fellow, any thoughts on that story?' asks Martin Thane, touching Jeffrey on the elbow as he leaves the coffee room. 'Fact is, we've not got very much so far... is there an ecclesiastical angle on it, perhaps? Some Biblical prophecy? The Dead Sea Scrolls? I was planning to speak with Reverend Hendry today - do you think it worthwhile?'

He sounds so piteous that Jeffrey can hardly bear to keep the news from him. 'Er, yes, Martin, that might be a good idea - he's something of a local historian, it appears.'

Thane brightens up. 'Excellent! Old documents... parish records... that's what we want! Between you, me and the gatepost, when I heard he'd been trying to get permission for an exorcism, I ruled him out as a lead - what a fool I was, eh?'

Gino walks back into the village, and sees Clive Stokes coming towards him along the road. Before Clive sees him he ducks into a bus shelter, and allows the journalist to pass. Clive is wearing a puzzled look.

As Gino emerges from the shelter, his eye is caught by a glint of light high in the disused Manor House opposite. He whips out his binoculars and peers carefully. Reuben Stokes is in an upstairs window, and he is watching Clive as he passes the house, through binoculars of his own. An inexpressibly malevolent look is playing across his features, such that even Gino, who has seen more than his fair share of expressions of dislike, shudders.

Stuart goes to visit Janessa Pettigrew again, and as he approaches her house meets Richie Wardens on the way out. 'You're Winters, right? _Prawn_ magazine?' He shakes Stuart's hand. 'Never heard of it, I have to admit - what sort of stuff do you do?'

'Oh, all sorts,' says Stuart vaguely. 'We've only just launched.'

Wardens nods wisely. 'Just between friends, bit of a daft title, if you don't mind me saying so - people'll get it mixed up with _Crab_. You know, the conspiracy theory people.'

'Oh yes, I've seen one of their guys around the village,' says Stuart. 'Clive Stokes.'

'Stokes? Here?' exclaims Wardens in surprise. 'What's he doing here? This isn't his sort of story at all.'

'No? What does he usually do, then?'

'The Government being run by the Masons, Ministry of Defence holding frozen aliens, that sort of thing. Nothing supernatural. That's not their area at all, really. Matter of fact they claim to despise it - very snooty. Strange!' He ponders for a moment. 'Still, not to worry, eh? I've got my scoop for today - ahead of Vicki! And of the _Fortean_, of course,' he hastily adds.

'Oh yes?' asks Stuart innocently. 'Anything good?'

'Well, seeing as you're a newcomer, I'll give you a little taste.' Wardens looks around conspiratorially. 'This lady in the house behind me - Ms Pettigrew - she's a bit sweet on me, tell you the truth. More than a bit. And I've managed to get hold of some extracts to publish, from a journal her ancestor kept - Reverend Charles Pettigrew - he was vicar at the time of this Fulk guy, can you imagine?'

'What does the journal say?' asks Stuart.

'Here, have a look,' says Wardens, and he pulls Janessa Pettigrew's copy of the journal from out of his bag. 'She's given it to me overnight to photocopy. Here's a good bit, look:'

Stuart reads where he indicates.

"This day I met again with Master Fulk, that troubled soul of whom I have written much lately. In truth, I wonder whether any other in the parish has as many cares as he, and {uncharitable thought, perhaps} for so little reason - he is a wealthy man, by the village's standards, and lives alone with no dependants. But he seems now to have taken animus against his neighbour Stokes, claiming to-day that Stokes has poisoned him and requesting - nay, demanding - that I ask Master Hopkins to come from Colchester and investigate Stokes as a warlock. I was much aghast, seeing all my good work {may the Lord punish my immodesty!} in this village to be overturned. I spoke firmly to Master Fulk, saying that this was purest superstition, and that he should not suspect Master Stokes simply because he is of the Hebrew faith, which I am sure is the cause of this most un-neighbourly dislike. The plate of end-of-season sticklebacks he confessed to eating seemed more likely to me to be the agents of his discomfiture. I sent Master Fulk away with the admonition that prayer would quieten his heart and bowels alike, but in truth I know not whether I persuaded him. How weak a reed is the soul of Man! - so vulnerable to the billows and tempests of Fate. Did not the Bard say it best: the fault lies in our selves, dear Brutus, not in our stars, says Cassius to his comrade - or words to that effect."

'How about that, then?' says Wardens triumphantly. 'This Fulk, who everyone's stirring up sympathy for - he's an Anti-Semite!'

Once Andrew Leigh returns from work, Ferdinand descends on him with the device he has made to register phone line activity.

'You're not going to be listening in on Ronnie calling steamy sex lines, are you?' asks Andrew joshingly.

Ferdinand looks briefly disappointed, for this idea had not occurred to him, but says 'No, it just tells us when the line's being used - it doesn't pick up the signal.'

'Excellent! We'll know if BT are overcharging us, as well, then.' Andrew looks at his watch. 'I wonder where Ronnie is - she should be home by now, surely. Must have been some business meeting, I suppose. There's a new client from America they're hoping to sting for some serious cash!' He chuckles.

'Did you know your name's an anagram of "ringed whale"?' asks Ferdinand.

'Really? Brilliant!' Andrew peers at the screen. 'So Ronnie's "lingerie havoc" - that's apt!' He laughs loudly.

Grace remains in Chelmsford, and in the evening attends the meeting of the County Museum's Historical Society, in the absence of anyone else wanting to. Stokely Rubens is there, along with around fifty or so people, mostly middle-aged women or couples. He arrives slightly late, wearing a smart tweed suit, carrying a silver-topped cane, and seems to be known by the majority of the members: he moves among them chatting smoothly, and it is clear that he is a popular attender. Grace is asked for her name by the secretary of the meeting, and when she finds that Grace is an academic she gets most excited. 'You must meet our Mr Rubens, he'd be delighted to speak with you.'

Grace finds herself gently dragged across to where Rubens is holding court - it is as though his charm is the main attraction the society has to offer. He bows deeply, kissing her hand and gazing into her eyes. 'Such a charming lady! Are you a Moor, madam, if I may be so bold as to ask?'

'I'm from Kenya,' says Grace. Rubens looks blank. 'On the east coast of Africa - about half way down.'

'Ah! A dusky Ethiop?'

'Near enough,' says Grace, more anxious for him to release her hand than get her ethnicity right. His eyes are curiously deep and penetrating, rather disturbing.

'I've been thinking about breaking into the Manor House, what d'you reckon?' Stuart says to Gino.

'Well, if Rubens is away in Chelmsford, this could be a good time,' says the American thoughtfully.

'What message should we be sending to Fulk tonight?' asks Jeffrey worriedly. The journal entry Stuart reported seeing has disturbed him.

'It'll be handy in the morning, anyway,' says Kyle. 'You can just ask your chum Wardens to show you the book again and see what's changed.'

'Pity he's got to give it back so soon,' says Stuart.

'It'd be a terrible shame if it went missing and he wasn't able to return it,' muses Gino. Everyone looks at him.

'"Receiving halo"!' says Andrew. 'I wonder where she is? She always calls if she's not going to be back by dinner. I do hope Mr Ferrocco isn't taking up too much of her time - she works too hard as it is.'

Ferdinand shrugs sympathetically, sipping his third cup of tea. He has been uneasy about leaving Andrew alone: a slightly sinister air seems to have crept over proceedings.

The talk, given by a historian from the University of Essex, is rather dull, especially to Grace, although the audience lap it up and Rubens asks a number of penetrating questions. He certainly seems to know the period. As it breaks up, Grace sees the secretary take Rubens's arm. 'Stokely dear, you'll be riding back on the train as usual, won't you? Would you very much mind being a dear and accompanying Doctor Roache to the station?'

Rubens looks embarrassed. 'For once, I'm afraid I'm not going straight back to Hatfield Peverel - I have a little business here in town to deal with first.'

The secretary is disappointed, and Rubens strides relievedly from the room, not bidding anyone goodbye. He looks in a hurry to get away. Grace steps into the doorway after him, and sees him starting to hasten down the road - not towards the station, that much is certain.

Gino returns to Hatfield Peverel as dark starts to gather, and as he walks to the guesthouse meets Clive Stokes, who looks worried. 'Something wrong?'

'Oh... nothing much, hopefully.' He broods for a moment. 'You ought to tell me the truth, you know, Ferrocco. We should be working together on this.'

'You ought to tell me who you're with as well, then,' says Gino.

Clive sighs. 'I'm with a group of concerned citizens, let's put it that way. Concerned citizens of the world, who don't like the possibility that something - or someone - could be endangering all our lives - even our very existence.' He grins. 'Sound like your kind of people?'

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

UNEXPLAINED main page | Rulebook | SITUation Report | Game transcripts