The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
5.10 pm, Saturday 23rd May 1998
'Whassat? Blood?' Maddy exclaims, unhooking her Walkman so that she can hear better. She glances nervously at Nora.
'The kill, eh?' says Greg simultaneously. 'Someone's doing some killing, all right. We'd best get to the surviving scouts as quickly as we can, or there might be none of them left at all.'
(Maddy fumbles in one of the many pockets of the huge silver puffa jacket she bought in Paris to produce two Walkmen taped back to back, and brandishes them at Alan.)
Virna Lindt starts ushering the group towards the airport taxi rank. 'You've all been booked into the Hotell Telemark,' she says, and hands them a card. 'This is my telephone number - please keep me up to date on whatever you may find out. And you may call me at any time in case of emergency.'
(The two pairs of headphones are similarly taped together. 'Bi-thingummy sound!' Maddy exclaims to Alan.)
Iain pulls out the packet of sweets. 'Do you know, are these sweets quite common in Norway? Can't say I've noticed them before.'
('My own voice, repeating the clues over a loop of Knut's funny music box music, fed straight into my right brain. Cool, eh?')
Virna wrinkles her nose. 'Rubbish Sweets, they are called in English. Yes, many people like them. I myself find them very unpleasant. They are made here in Oslo, I think - yes.' She turns the packet over in her hands. 'I am sure you can buy some at most shops if you wish to.
('What's on the other tape, going into your right brain?' asks Alan curiously.)
'The addresses of the other scouts?' asks Iain, and she hands over a small dossier. 'And do you know whether the Olsens are brothers?'
(Maddy grins. 'Kula Shaker, the band I was listening to when I was taken. The Chemicals' remix of Tattva - fab!')
'They are. Ollie is a year younger,' says Virna, and with that she strides off gracefully towards the moped rack.
Nora lays out on the table seven copies of the dossier, seven photocopies of the two photographs (the scout troop and Knut with his dog), seven cassette players with tapes of Knut's music, seven mobile phones, and seven packets of Rubbish Sweets.
'There's seven of us,' she says, 'so we can split up and one take each scout, leave the scoutmaster to a two-man team.'
'No, I think we should stay in pairs,' says Greg. 'That will be dangerous enough, considering that we know we're up against killers, and what we've just recently learned about the way that Erika Mahringer died. Even pairs is a bit risky, but time is precious.'
'Who's to go where, then?' asks Iain. 'We've got both Olsens and Rehnstrom in Lillehammer, Salvesen here in Oslo, Solness up at Krsitiansund - that's on the coast, near Trondheim. And Larsson, the scoutmaster, is in Lillehammer.'
Diana, looking round at the team, shrugs slightly, saying 'Well, I don't mind staying here for a day or two - see if I can get into Alf Hansen's office, or Liberg's place perhaps. Can anyone open locked doors without a key?' she asks delicately.
'I can!' exclaims Maddy. 'Well, sometimes.' She looks round slightly defensively. 'You've got the power, you've got to use it, right? Like the way we came here. That's what chaos is about, really - the edges of things, where stuff suddenly becomes, like, other stuff. Way cool!'
'Maddy, you and Diana deal with things here in Oslo, then, where Liberg died, and where Hansen had his offices,' says Greg firmly. 'You may need to repeat what you did in Guyana with their effects.'
'Boo! I wanted to go and see the scoutmaster,' says Maddy. Her face quickly brightens again, though. 'Why don't you come with us, Alan, then we can talk some more?' She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.
Greg sighs. 'Right, then. Iain, you're the closest we've got to a speaker of the local language, so why don't you and Nora go to Kristiansund - as a more outlying community, English is less apt to get us by there. And Ella and I will go to Lillehammer and work our way through the leads there. Let's aim to meet at noon tomorrow, at this café, the Skallagrim.' He hands out copies of a town plan.
'Is that one of those special coffee-houses?' asks Maddy excitedly. 'Or is that Amsterdam...?'
'I think evening's going to be more realistic,' says Alan shyly. 'It's getting late now, and it'll take us at least a couple of hours on the train to get to Lillehammer tomorrow - longer for Iain and Nora.'
'Right!' exclaims Nora impatiently, striking her hands together. 'Let's get moving! We've got no time to lose!'
Having seen the others off on separate trains, Diana, Maddy and Alan head into the business district to the address given them for Alf Hansen's office.
Maddy nods her head to the eerie, tuneless, senseless blend of music and words [and that's just the Kula Shaker! - ed]. 'This is about vibes, right?' she says. 'Tones and, like, strange frequencies, like in my clues. This funny music box, and harp noises when Erika died. We should look out for funny music at Liberg's place - anything that sounds sort-of wrong. This is all to do with, like, microwaves or something. I'll know more when my right brain's, y'know, digested things...'
Statoil turns out to be housed in a huge skyscraper, at least thirty floors tall. It looks like several hundred people probably work there. The lobby is palatial - smoked glass and blond pine are everywhere, together with uniformed security guards and a notice advising that outside working hours (which it now is) the building is patrolled by guard dogs.
'Perhaps breaking in's not going to be possible,' says Diana, staring up at the building, hands on hips. 'We could try during the day, if we can come up with a good cover story for being in the building. Mind you, it's Sunday tomorrow: they might not be open.'
'I get the impression that this building directs pretty much all of Statoil's operations,' says Alan, 'although to get to where Larsen worked, we'd have to claim to have business relating to the Bergen refinery, I should think. Of course, they might have cleared out his office by now, if they're being efficient, it's been a few days now. In which case his personal effects would probably have been sent to his home.'
'Well, we've got that address too: we could try it. It's a pity we don't know if he had any family or anything, whether there'll be anyone else there.'
Alan pulls out the dossier. 'Let's try Erik Salvesen, then.'
Lillehammer is only about a hundred miles from Oslo, on the main line northwards towards Trondheim, and in these northern latitudes it is still fairly light as the train skirts Lake Mjøsa. The situation - facing each other, in a carriage speeding through gathering darkness - is chillingly reminiscent to both Ella and Greg of the ride they shared to London after the conclusion of events at Schloss Kleider-Wollenstein, although neither reminds the other of the similarity.
On disembarking they head straight for the address they have been given for Larsson. According to Virna's research he has been unemployed for many years now, and the apartment building he lives in is in the seediest part of town - although none of Lillehammer can exactly be called squalid.
'He left the Scouts back in 1969, and his job as a civil servant at the Town Hall around the same time,' muses Ella, reading the dossier, as Greg rings on the bell for Apartment 4, one of twelve for this building.
There is no answer.
Greg rings again, with similarly little response. Ella walks back from the building and studies its front. 'There's six floors, so it must be two flats on each floor,' she says. There are several lights on to either sides of the first floor. 'Well, either he's gone out and left the light on, or he's not answering,' she says. For a moment she toys with the idea of attempting to break in, but there are people up and down the street every few minutes and the apartment building itself seems to be fairly busy. 'We could try giving him a phone call...'
It is getting late by the time Iain and Nora reach Kristiansund. The weather is bitter: a wind off the North Sea is blowing icy rain down everyone's necks. The locals seem to take it in good part, though, and Iain is used to as bad in Sweden. Nora huddles into her coat, but she is made of tough stuff. They walk up the long drive of Erik Solness's large suburban house, past a garage through the windows of which can be seen a number of canoes. Iain remembers from the dossier that Solness is the coach of the Norwegian national canoeing team, having earlier in his life been a successful member of it. He tucks his copy of Expressen Fredag back into his rucksack.
'Right, leave the talking to me,' Nora says as she rings on the bell.
It is answered by a big man in his late thirties, tall, his blond hair just starting to grey. His face is intelligent and weather-beaten, his grey eyes seeming to penetrate deeply. He is wearing a tracksuit which does little to conceal a splendid physique.
'Erik Solness? I'm Nora McShane, of Australian Scout News, researching an article on world scouting, and I wondered if I and my colleague might have a few words with you, if it's not too late at night for you.'
Solness smiles gently. 'Why, of course!' His English is excellent. 'It would be a pleasure. I live alone, so the lateness is no problem.' He ushers them both into a broad, open hall, leading downwards into a sunken living-space and with a spiral pine staircase accessing the upper floors. One long wall of the room is lined with display cases, which are stuffed full of trophies, medals, certificates and other assorted prizes.
Over the next half hour or so the two are deluged with happy reminiscences of Solness's time in the scouts, during which his enthusiasm for canoeing was sparked. Nora makes copious notes, while Iain sips on the akvavit he has been given.
Eventually Nora makes her move. 'While researching your troop, I found that three of its members have died recently - Knut Johannesen, Alf Hansen and Harald Liberg.'
Solness is shocked. 'What? That's terrible!' He slumps backwards, his face pale. 'I heard about poor dear Alf, it was on the news. Harald and Knut as well?' He swallows his drink and pours another, resting his head on one hand. 'What bad luck! To be taken in the prime of life... poor Harald, I saw him only last year - he had had great success, you know, he ran his own shipping line - he seemed so healthy! Perhaps a little too much fat - was it a heart attack? And Knut, where was he? I've not seen him for years now.'
'Actually, it may not have been coincidence,' says Iain. 'The causes of death were pretty suspicious.' He describes them.
Shocked gives way to flabbergasted. 'This is terrible! What can be happening?' Solness buries his head in both hands.
Nora and Iain exchange glances over his head. If he knew of or had anything to do with the mysterious events they are investigating, the Norwegian national canoeing coach is an amazing actor.
The three groups share their findings (or lack thereof) by phone before retiring for the night. Maddy lies flat on her back in the darkness, her small body wriggling under the duvet, with the double headphones on, her eyes closed, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. Before very long, the repetitive drone sends her to sleep.
She is in the freezing cold, struggling across an icy landscape, under a midnight sun... wind is howling over the mountains and across the snow, its voice plangent and atonal... ahead, far in the distance, beyond her vision, is a great citadel carved of ice, which she knows is at once home and hell... she is walking on ice, her feet bare... under the ice, creatures are moving, like coloured lights, swimming through its solidity, occasionally coming close to the surface... she feels no fear of them... the fear comes from what is ahead... dread fills her, dread of unspeakable evil which is also unbearable kindness...
The next morning, Sunday, Ella and Greg set out to visit Martin Olsen. He is both Mayor of Lillehammer and the district's Member of Parliament - a not unusual combination in Norway. But they are fortunate enough to catch him relaxing at home.
Given Olsen's lofty status Greg is surprised to find him answer the door of his mayoral apartment himself. More surprising yet, he is still in his dressing-gown at nine o'clock.
Olsen smiles self-deprecatingly in response to the glance. 'I live alone, so on Sundays I relax - need to take some time off, eh?' He is a small man, rather round, but his handshake is firm and his voice deep and powerful. His English is fluent but slightly accented.
With few preliminaries, Greg explains what has prompted his and Ella's visit. Olsen too is shocked at the news of the deaths, and at first puts it down to coincidence. 'My God! I must get in touch with the others, make sure they are well. We should have a wake for our dead friends.'
'Are you still in touch with the others, then?' asks Ella.
'Not really... my work is very demanding, as you may imagine. I see Micke from time to time, in the town - he has a computer consultancy business, very successful, his people have been doing some work for the council. And I had lunch with Erik Salvesen in Oslo a few weeks ago, his group are lobbying for increased funding at the moment.'
'And your brother?'
'Oh, yes, poor Ollie, of course, I see him when I have to!' He laughs slightly self-consciously.
Maddy is on the phone to Virna Lindt. 'Maybe someone back in the jungle could, y'know, try some of my passwords in the computer? Like, um, "geometer"?'
'We have no-one in the area now, Miss Hook.'
'And, uh, the stuff about maps in 1967 - is that, like, anything to do with the censored starchart thingies the other SITU people found in the vampire country?'
'That information is not available to you yet, Miss H...'
But Maddy has lost interest and turned off the phone.
Diana, Alan and Maddy spend Sunday morning finding Erik Salvesen, who they eventually track down at a golf course just outside the city. He is happy to chat with them in the clubhouse. 'We can lunch together, if you like - it is not as if I have anyone at home to want me back for Sunday roast!'
Salvesen is a fat, jolly man, wearing a Gieves & Hawkes suit whose label he proudly brandishes for Alan to admire. 'The English make the best clothes for men of my shape! I cannot wear these Italian suits, not for many years now!' He is Professor of Electronic Engineering at Christiania University, and also managing director of the university's technology transfer company.
This interview proceeds much like the earlier ones. Salvesen even stops stuffing down food for a few minutes, such is his disquiet. 'Poor old Alf! And he even gave me his Christmas dinner, once. We'll not see his like again.' He sighs deeply.
'When was that?' asks Diana politely.
'Oh, this was when we were all boys, in the scouts together as you know, back at home, in Lillehammer. We were all in hospital over Christmas, and Alf took pity on me - he could see that the dinner I had was not enough for me - so he gave me his.' A tear trickles down his cheek.
'What, the whole troop, in hospital together?' Maddy asks.
'Yes - it was after an accident. We had been climbing in the mountains, but the weather worsened, and we were all trapped in the cable car over two whole nights - all eight of us, and Mr Larsson of course. We all were suffering from exposure - it was fearfully cold. Quite an ordeal.' He shakes his head. 'So we had to go into hospital, when we were rescued. And it was over Christmas we were there, you see.'
Greg and Ella return to Larsson's apartment, but again there is no answer at the bell. So they head to the address they have been given for Ollie Olsen.
This house is a considerable contrast with the state Ollie's brother maintains. It is in a small terrace whose gardens back onto a trading estate. The door is answered by a harassed-looking woman in her thirties wearing an apron, with a baby on her hip. From within can be heard the sounds of a number of children of varying ages screaming at each other.
'Good morning,' says Greg. 'Might we speak with Mr Olsen, please?'
The woman looks blankly at him and says something in Norwegian. Greg looks blank in response, and she sighs, makes a swishing moment with her hand, and without turning her head calls out 'Ollie!'
After half a minute or so a small, thin man with thick wire-rimmed glasses makes his way along the hall towards the door, his progress hampered by a small child clinging to each trouserleg. He sniffles and mops his nose with a large, much-used handkerchief. 'Hello? Can I help you?' His accent is strong.
The SITU team start on their explanation. They are some way into it when Olsen realizes with some dismay that they are all still standing in the doorway. 'Come in, come in!'
Eventually all the children - they look very similar, so it is difficult to say for sure, but there seem to be about six of them - are cleared out of the living-room, and Olsen offers seats to Greg and Ella - hastily removing a bib from one chair and several Lego blocks from the other. 'I can't speak with you very long, I'm afraid - I have my job at the library to go to shortly.'
'You have to go in on a Sunday?' asks Ella.
Olsen sighs. 'Yes, unfortunately, I am just a lowly assistant, so I have work to do today - shelving, repairing - things that slip during the week.' He blows his nose again. 'It's not much of a job, but - you know. It is difficult to find work here when you have no real qualifications.'