The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Jungle All The Way
11.30 am, Sunday 24th May 1998
Greg smiles at Ollie Olsen's self-deprecating comments. 'You might consider being an assistant librarian a lowly job, but even so, it is an occupation which requires intelligence. Your brother has done very well for himself, although he must be a lonelier man than you are. Who knows, the right opportunity might come along at any moment.' He glances at Ella briefly.
Ollie snuffles and nods. 'It's strange, you know - when we were younger I was the clever one. Our parents thought Martin was a bit slow. But he must have been a slow starter. I was the year behind, and all the way through secondary school it was, Your marvellous brother. Of course we had Knut and Harald in our year, they were doing so well too. And Erik - Erik Salvesen - in the canoeing. We'd all been such good friends, but it seemed like overnight I was left behind...' he grins weakly and shrugs, snuffling again.
Greg pulls out a gigantic snow-white linen handkerchief from his breast pocket and offers it to Ollie, who accepts gratefully. 'Overnight?'
'Well, you know... very suddenly. We were in the scouts together, the gang of us. I was next to youngest, Harald was the youngest, but we were all friends. We used to go on trips together. But on one of the trips we had an accident,' he shudders, 'and it was never the same after that. They all shot off with their wonderful lives, and left me behind...'
Greg leaves it to Ella to break the news about the dead scouts, and steps out to call round the other investigators. He uses a phone box, aware that cellphones can be overheard.
When he comes back in, he finds Ollie in tears, mopping away with the linen handkerchief. Greg sits quietly, presenting an appearance of reassuring strength, while Ella comforts Ollie.
After a few minutes he is able to ask 'The trip you mentioned, that ended in an accident, was that in 1967? When the scouts were trapped in the cable car for two nights?'
'That's right,' sniffs the library assistant. 'It was so cold - you can't believe. We were singing songs to keep our spirits up at first - Mr Larsson was wonderful. Without him I think we might have all given up hope, but he kept us believing that help would come. We were only twenty kilometres away from here, in the mountains, but we were completely cut off.'
'And then you were all in hospital?' prompts Greg.
'Yes, over Christmas. We were all very ill really. But I suppose we were all young and fit. And a hospital is not such a bad place to be at Christmas - at least you are among friends and people who care about you.'
Before leaving Ella plays Ollie the music from Knut's box, but he does not recognize it and makes no significant response. She also offers him a sweet, which he eats gladly, again without any noticeable effect.
'Ahaa!' says Maddy, her face lighting up with interest at the mention of the magic word. 'Did you all have any, like, injections or X-rays? Or scans? I've been in hospital myself, y'know, in London. Where was your hospital? And when? Was it 1967?'
Erik Salvesen blinks under this torrent of questions. 'Er... yes, it was actually, Christmas 1967. I was ten years old - we all were about that age. We were in the King Haakon VII Hospital in Lillehammer - it was quite a new hospital then. Actually, our treatment was very minimal. Each of us was put onto a drip, I think, but there was nothing like scans or X-rays. Really, all that was wrong with us was cold and hunger. Especially hunger!' He takes another slice of sweet, brown cheese to assuage the remembered pangs.
'It must have been terrible, being in hospital over Christmas,' says Diana, with her best sympathetic, understanding look. 'Especially when you were still children.'
'Oh well, it was bad enough, yes, but when you consider what might have happened,' says Salvesen reflectively. 'We could easily all have died up there on the mountain. And at least we were together. Not Mr Larsson, of course, he was in an adult ward. But we boys.'
'When you were in the cable car, did anything, like, weird happen?' demands Maddy.
'Not really. It sounds exciting but in fact it was very boring - being stuck in that tiny space for so long. We sang songs and played word games, and Mr Larsson kept telling us that help would arrive soon. In fact, we were quite brave, I do not remember any of us crying, after the very beginning at least. It was so cold, in any case: we did not have enough energy to cry.' He bites into an apple.
'So you all had exactly the same things happen?' He nods. 'What was your doctor's name?'
'Goodness, I have no idea now... it was so long ago. I am sure you could find out from the hospital if you wanted to know.'
'Are you in the Freemasons?'
'Oh! - yes, I have heard of them. No, they are not very popular here in Norway - I do not think they would have many members. We Norwegians all support each other anyway - it is part of our way of life!' He grins.
Finally, as Ella did with Ollie Olsen, Maddy plays the music and offers Solness a sweet: neither elicits any unusual reaction.
'I hope you don't mind us taking up a little more of your time,' asks Nora, smiling winsomely.
'Not at all!' replies Erik Solness. 'Pleasant company is always a good thing. I was sorry to see you leave so early last night.' He pours coffee all round. Today he is wearing a red tracksuit, after yesterday's blue one: perhaps this is the only form of clothing he possesses.
'We were given copies of these photos, which we think are related to your scouting days,' says nora, passing them across.
'Oh yes!' says Solness, studying them keenly. 'This is all of us together. It must have been when I was nine years old: 1967. I have a copy somewhere - we all did. Probably in the loft!' He smiles. 'This other one... it looks like Knut Johannesen to me. How he used to love that dog! - what was it called? Blødax, I think. That is Bloodaxe in English - after Erik Bloodaxe, of course, the Viking chieftain.'
'And this is your scoutmaster, Roald Larsson?'
'That's right. What a good man! He was such an influence on all of us when we were small.' He sighs. 'Poor chap went to pieces later in life, though, I hear. It all became a bit too much for him. I believe he is living as a recluse now, more or less.'
'Was he with you in the cable car accident?'
'Oh, you know about that? Yes, he helped us keep our spirits up. What a trial that was!' Solness shivers.
Solness too responds normally to Nora's playing of music and offering of sweet.
The investigators meet in the Skallagrim café as planned and share the remainder of their findings.
'Hmmm,' frowns Maddy, 'this is, like, a really freaky bunch of scouts. I mean, all scouts are a bit... well, y'know... but these guys are all, like, now really high-up jet-setty suit people - except that Olsen little brother guy. An' why'd they all live alone - except that Olsen guy again? Something must've happened to them that didn't happen to him.'
'Perhaps he would have been a success too, if he hadn't married,' says Diana pensively. 'Or maybe he's just not as smart' she adds in a mutter.
Maddy is in full flow now, gesticulating generously: coffee cups are endangered. 'Maybe an implant, yeah? I know about implants. Maybe someone knew they'd all become, like, super-big-cheesy types - like in the Freemasons - and did something to their brains so they could, y'know, trigger them off years later - with sound, or whatever. And, uh, Ollie Olsen didn't get the implant - or it didn't work or something - so they didn't help him.'
'Or perhaps they were taken off the cable car to some place nearby, brainwashed and then had memories of the two days stuck there implanted,' says Ella, getting into the spirit of things.
'What to do next?' asks Greg.
'I think you and I should get a little more forceful about getting into Larsson's flat,' says Ella.
'Can you three return to Oslo for tomorrow morning to investigate the Alf Hansen loose ends?'
'There's plenty of trains,' says Alan. 'And there's Harald Liberg as well.'
'I want to go to the hospital and find out about it!' says Maddy. 'With you, Greg the Senator - 'cause everyone'll do what you say 'cause you've got a suit. An' we can check the doctor's phone number, as well.'
'I'll investigate the local newspaper offices,' puts in Nora, who has been uncharacteristically quiet so far.
Maddy has gained a faraway look. 'I know my memory's a bit, well, squiggly but wasn't there, like, this weird game about people taking over the world - called, uh, Illuminations or something? Anyway, in that, the Boy Scouts were, like, really powerful...' she tails off, then starts upright. 'Oh! I almost forgot to tell you 'bout my dream...' She shivers. 'It was like, y'know, Norway. There were lights under the ice, they were, like, alive... like the light in the sky when Erika died!!' She stares round-eyed at the others. 'Lights, noises, the tone would jump from frequency to frequency... undeniable unity of all living organisms. What if... what if there are, like, aliens that can exist on different frequencies, like in my clue? Sounds, vibes, or lights. Maybe the probe thingy would disturb them so they've, like, used the scouts to sab... sabot... to stop it.' She pulls out her grubby journal from her rucksack and starts scribbling frantically.
Greg wears a pensive expression as everyone digests this hotch-potch of theory. 'This may sound far-fetched,' he says slowly, 'but I am reasonably certain that we will need to go to that citadel of ice that you dreamt of, which is probably not too far from where the scouts were trapped. We should take extra care to learn anything we might about such a possibility.'
'Perhaps he was at church this morning,' suggests Greg. He has noticed that there is a large brick-built Lutheran mission-style church near to Larsson's flat.
'Maybe. I hope we're not too late,' says Ella. She has a nasty feeling that the scoutmaster may be a goner already.
Fortunately it turns out to be unjustified. 'Old Mr Larsson? He's in, all right. But you won't get him to come to the door,' says the neighbour across the landing in Flat 3. 'He only answers to one person these days, his friend Greta from his old work at the Council.' She laughs, none too kindly. 'He's not very fond of visitors.'
Ella looks at Greg as the neighbour goes back in. 'We need to talk to this man. I was going to suggest getting the police in... I think a little subterfuge is justified, don't you?'
Greg had been about to suggest picking the lock, so he certainly has no moral room to disagree.
Ella bends down to the keyhole. 'Mr Larsson? We're friends of Greta's - she sent us to see you.'
There is a long pause before the sound of shuffling footsteps is heard approaching the door. Then a voice - much firmer and more steady than Ella was expecting. 'Friends of Greta?'
'That's right - we saw her at the Council,' says Ella to the keyhole. 'My name's Ellen Wallace.'
Another pause, then a number of bolts are drawn back. The door opens, and in it stands a man in late middle years, tall and thin, with a pronounced stoop. His thinning hair is quite white and is drawn precisely across a large bald expanse. He wears an extremely threadbare tweed jacket over a cotton shirt with carefully-knotted woollen tie, and brown corduroy trousers. On his feet are a pair of brown bedroom slippers. An incredible smell of mustiness and intense habitation drifts through the doorway from the darkness within.
'From England? What do you want?' His face is thin and suspicious, his lips pursed like a fish's.
'Just to talk with you a little while,' says Ella.
'Hmph! You'd better come in.' He turns and shuffles within. Ella and Greg follow cautiously.
Larsson's flat is like stepping into a Seventies timewarp. There can be nothing here that was purchased more recently than twenty years ago. It is also amazingly cluttered, although without being actively untidy. There are piles of yellowing newspaper underneath all the seats.
'We wanted to talk to you about when you used to be a scoutmaster,' says Ella.
Larsson gains a pained expression as he potters about with tea things. 'That was a long time ago.'
'We read about the accident with the cable car - your heroism,' says Greg.
'A very long time ago. We were all different people then. I was a hero, yes, that's right. They gave me a medal - here, I have it here.' He goes over to the wall, keeping his face turned away from the two investigators with a curious hunch of his shoulders, and gets down a presentation box that is hanging there. In it is a tasteful bronze medal struck with the skyline of Lillehammer, on a blue and red silk ribbon, and a photograph of a much younger Larsson shaking hands with the Mayor. 'Do you see? Then... ah!'
'Have you kept in touch with the scouts?'
'Hmph, no, ungrateful little boys.' He sits down again, resting his face in his hands. 'I write - or Greta writes for me - to Martin Olsen now he is Mayor, but he is still ungrateful. Only his brother Ollie was kind to me.'
'Ollie Olsen, the librarian?' prompts Greg gently, trying to keep the jerky flow of thought going.
'That was before, when he was still a boy, when we were all different, when we had just come out of the hospital. He gave me a present, I had missed Christmas like all of us. He gave me a present!' Larsson's face is pressed firmly against his palms and his voice is very muffled.
'What was the present?' asks Ella.
'It was... here, I show you.' Larsson unfolds himself - his face is streaked with wet - and goes to the top of the piano. 'Here.' He is holding in his hand a musical box, identical to the one Knut Johannesen possessed. 'I... he was very kind. I play it every day to remind me. A good boy. He might still think of me. But not as I am now, no, no, the man I was before. Before the dreams came...' He slumps again.
Ella, looking nervously at Greg, moves over to take Larsson's hands in her own. He stiffens at her touch. 'Tell me about the dreams, Roald.'
He mumbles something in Norwegian. 'Terrible... terrible dreams. The ice... palace... he who calls... the slaves... no!' He starts to shake violently. 'Einherjar!' It is almost a scream, and he straightens like a board before collapsing into unconsciousness, like a rag doll.
Diana has organized booking the team into a local hotel, the Christiania. She sits at the small desk in her room, writing the scouts' names on a piece of paper, together with the factors that link them. She carefully draws lines between them, musing on their circumstances. Her pen continues to move, and the lines become a doodle.
Realizing what she is doing, she straightens up and makes to scrumple up the piece of paper, but her eye is caught by the form of the doodle - it looks rather like a snowflake.
Shaking her head, she throws the page away and goes to get Maddy. 'How's your ritual magic to find out who killed Knut coming along?'
Maddy breaks away from talking to Alan. 'It's the aliens! So far, anyway. Them and their implants. Messages are still coming through, though.' She taps the headphones wisely.
'Next morning, if we go back to Oslo, do you think you could get into Harald Liberg's place? Maybe if we could check it out we'd find some clues or something.' She pauses. 'And as he died in his sauna, maybe you could, um... pick up some vibes or something there.'
Nora and Iain spend the afternoon at the local newspaper, the Lillehammers Nyheter, and with the police. It seems that the accident was quite a cause célèbre back in 1967. The scouts were trapped on the 21st of December, and rescued on the 23rd. They were kept in hospital until the 26th, all being released together, Roald Larsson a day later. None suffered any serious effects from the exposure. The cable car was heavily reengineered the following year to allow its mechanism to cope with heavy snowfall: it seems it had been rather under-designed. It is still in regular use, and is an important part of the large skiing area north of Lillehammer: in fact it was used during the Winter Olympics when they were held here a few years ago.
Roald Larsson was awarded a medal by the grateful town for his heroism during the ordeal, but it was not long after that he lost his job: occasional mentions of him in the papers trace a slow slide downhill into reclusion.
The King Haakon VII Memorial Hospital is a general hospital serving Lillehammer and the nearby, smaller towns: it is not a large affair by British, Australian or American standards. There are various reports of new wings being opened, new equipment bought and so on, but nothing of any great note. It was opened in 1965, replacing an older cottage-type hospital on the same site, parts of whose structure were retained.
At the police station not much more is learnt. Nora presents herself as researching a story on scouts who make miraculous escapes, and the police, represented by a Captain Varelius, are happy to cooperate in what is likely to be favourable publicity for their town's rescue services. The files relating to the accident are produced.
Apparently no charges of any kind were ever brought relating to the case, nor was it suggested that negligence took place. The actual rescue mission, once the weather had died down sufficiently to allow it, was a textbook in-and-out.
'Was the weather unusually bad, then?' asks Iain.
Varelius shrugs. 'Bad enough, I suppose - the kind of storm you get only every few years. But every year we have to rescue people from the mountains. Mostly they are underprepared, or do not realize how early it gets dark here in the winter.'
When Nora is finished with this she places a call to SITU, who have been analysing the sweet. 'Very interesting,' says the operative to whom she speaks. 'We'll need a bit longer to know more, but we can definitely say that there's a protein in these samples that's not in the standard sweet.'
'What sort of protein?'
'Maybe an enzyme? We'll know more tomorrow. It's definitely been introduced subsequent to manufacture, though.'
The Haakon VII Memorial Hospital is a pleasing white-painted low-slung building, its corridors fresh and antiseptic. Maddy jogs eagerly from foot to foot as Alan and Diana talk to the reception desk. 'This was a long time ago,' says the receptionist frostily. 'You will have to speak with the people on the ward.'
As they walk in the direction indicated, Maddy confides 'If you want me to, like, have a fit or something, y'know, distract everybody in the hospital, just let me know.'
'I hope that won't be necessary,' says Diana.
Maddy puts on her headphones and grins. 'I'm good at having fits!'
On the ward, the investigators strike it lucky - the Matron is a nurse who has been working here for thirty-five years. She remembers the little scouts well. 'They were treated by Dr Hammer, who was our consultant then. He died a few years ago, I'm sorry. Such a good man, and a good doctor. We all felt so sorry for the little scouts, in here over Christmas. But they did not go entirely without - Santa came round and gave them presents! They were so pleased' She laughs in recollection.
'Was it just them here over Christmas?' asks Alan
The Matron thinks. 'No, let me see, I remember now - there was a little English boy here as well, he had broken his arm. A very sad little boy, and his parents were here in Lillehammer, but they did not come and see him as much as the scouts' parents did.'
It is still light as Ella and Greg emerge from the taxi at the foot of the cable car run. The lines stretch up towards the shoulder of the mountain.
'A cable car, why a cable car?' mutters Ella to herself as she stares up at it. She has brought rope and her ice axe with her.
Skiers are still descending the piste: this seems to be a busy part of the ski complex. 'What are we looking for?' Greg asks Ella.
'I don't know... to see exactly where the accident happened, I suppose, and the local area.' She stares up again. 'I was imagining it as more remote than this.'
'Perhaps it was, thirty years ago: I don't suppose the scouts went on their midwinter expedition to the middle of a busy ski area,' says Greg. 'But if we want to see the exact spot we'll have to get up the mountain - I imagine that using the cable car itself is going to be the best way - and either climb or ski down, probably a mixture of the two.' He looks around the busy valley. 'In any case, there's no palace of ice near to here, that's for sure. Someone would have spotted it by now.'