The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

When Christ And His Saints Slept

8.55 am, Thursday 27th August 1998

Munching thoughtfully on a double-chocolate fudge cookie, Ned ponders the unusual note Dr Rohinder gave him.

He immediately recognizes the symbols as three of the five symbols used to perform psychic testing. In Ned's opinion, these are little more than card-guessing parlour tricks - an opinion he was careful to keep hidden from Dr Rohinder during the previous night's chat. He is familiar with them from having written an article a few years back on a woman living near Washington, D.C. who claimed psychic visions while having sex with President Clinton. The technique was created about 60 years ago and used by botanist-turned-parapsychologist Joseph Rhine, who founded the Rhine Research Center near Duke University: as Ned recalls, his evidence of paranormal phenomena seemed to diminish as experimental controls were improved.

'Why on earth would Anita give me this?' Ned wonders. A few cookie crumbs fell on the paper and he brushes them off absent-mindedly.

Steven sees, with some relief, that Belle-Marie and Vera are settling themselves down to listen to Mary Gration's lecture. He excuses himself quietly and heads off back towards Beaufort College, together with Eric.

'Did you get a chance to check out Ned's leg?' asks Steven, as they pause at the zebra crossing on Manor Road.

'Yes,' says Eric slowly and thoughtfully. 'A curious condition. There are no overt physiological symptoms - no nervous damage, no slowed reflexes, no loss of sensation. And I am sure there is nothing wrong with the joint. It is almost as though the problem is chiefly in our friend's mind. Yet he does not strike me as unusually suggestible.'

'Not the hysterical type, that's for sure,' agrees Steven.

Mary Gration finishes her scribing, having constructed a tree of ten symbols, entitled 'The Sephiroth'. She turns, grasps the lectern with both hands, and gazes out intently over the audience until there is silence. Then, in a low, rolling cadence, she says 'Ignorant people consider only the clothes that are the story; they see nothing more than that and do not realize what the clothes conceal. Those who know a little better see not only the clothes, but also the body beneath them. The wise - the servants of the supreme King and the same people who were present in Sinai - consider only the soul, which is the essence of the real.' She pauses, then says in a more normal voice, with a cultured accent, 'Taken from the Zohar, ladies and gentlemen, the most significant text of Cabbalism. Written by Moses of Léon in the 12th century. Yet it sounds very modern, does it not? Today we talk about holism, integrated therapy, mind-body correspondence. Yet the wise of the Cabbala - and Moses of Léon was drawing on work going back as far as Rabbi Simeon bar Yokhai, in the 2nd century - saw these truths long ago. By treating the soul, the body will follow.'

Vera, sitting in the front row, makes eye contact and smiles. Gration smiles briefly back. Vera realizes with slight alarm that she may have conveyed the wrong idea. 'Oh bugger!' she thinks to herself.

'Excuse me!' says Belle-Marie quickly and quietly to her neighbour, who moves politely aside to allow her to stagger to the aisle, her hand near her mouth. Fortunately, she makes it as far as the lavatory before losing her breakfast. It always seems to be worst in the mornings, she thinks muzzily to herself.

When she returns to the lecture theatre, looking even paler than usual, Mary Gration has put up a graphic of a set of Tarot cards, overlaying the Cabbalistic tree. 'Just as the Cabbalist sages and the devisers of the trumps used symbols, so do modern psychoanalysts, particularly those of the Jungian school - although research shows that Freud himself was steeped in the Jewish mystical tradition. Jung speaks of the 'collective unconscious', but what is this other than the 'inner truth', the 'Sophia', of the Cabbalists? And of course the whole theory of archetypes parallels closely the significances of the trumps. If to dream of a sword represents the penis, to dream of a queen one's mother, we can immediately see that to draw the Ace of Swords, or the Empress, from the Tarot deck may be considered to have a similar significance.'

Vera takes careful notes, but they are simply a record of what is being said, not an interpretation of what is meant. She thinks to herself I'm out of my depth - except now I feel I need to at least find out if there's a connection with Mr Keyes' parents.

T.R. leaves the museum, first establishing (at Eric's suggestion) that neither the Alexandria Trust nor Tehuti has ever made it any grants - although an extremely wide range of other bodies and individuals have done so - and heads back toward the science area. On the way, he stops at Blackwell's and inquires after a set of Rhine cards. He finds that they are more properly known as Zener cards, after the student of Rhine's who invented them, and manages to buy a nicely laminated coloured set. He also purchases a small reporter's notebook.

He enters the Department of Plant Sciences, and asks the receptionist if Professor Michael Saunders is present. He is told to try Beaufort College instead: apparently the Professor uses the two offices pretty much interchangeably, but has not appeared at Plant Sciences this morning. 'I know he's been very busy with this speech he's delivering,' confides the receptionist.

'What speech is that?' asks T.R. curiously.

'Oh, to some conference or other. I don't know the details.'

T.R. walks past the side of the Zoology building, heading back to Beaufort College, as a light rain starts to fall: he is glad of his jacket today. Even at its warmest, the British weather is rather pallid to an Arizonan.

At Beaufort, he is surprised to find that Saunders is not here either. 'I can buzz up to Mr Dirkheim if you like,' suggests the porter on duty helpfully.

'Mr Dirkheim?' T.R. poises his notebook.

'That's the Professor's secretary.' The porter taps a number on the phone, but it rings unanswered. 'That's strange, he doesn't seem to be about the place either. Would you like to leave a message, sir?'

'No, thanks, that's fine, I'll be back later,' says T.R. easily, and he turns to walk away from the lodge. When he sees the porter busy with another inquirer, he turns on his heel and nips back into the college, blending inconspicuously with the tourists taking photos of the Front Quad, and swiftly finds the staircase leading up to Saunders's office.

Taylor, today wearing a simple blue shift dress, with dark blue faience earrings, has been wandering about behind the lecture theatre in search of Bernard Jackley. She finds him speaking animatedly into a public telephone. 'Look, Martin, it's not like I want you to recite the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or something. No preparation needed - hardly any, anyway. All it is is a little chat, to a bunch of enthusiasts. Very receptive audience. Just tell a few of your stories, you'll have them in stitches.' He pauses to listen. 'Well, God, Martin, do you think I don't know it's short notice? It's my bloody neck that's on the line here!' He mops his bald head with a large spotted handkerchief. 'Now be sensible - I could hardly have asked you first, could I? I had to have someone from the Psychic Times. If your people had agreed to sponsor the bloody thing then you'd have been first on the list, obviously.' Now his tone is more conciliatory. 'Look, man, you're the best, everyone knows that. These people'll lap it up, I tell you. They're a lovely bunch. Yes - five hundred quid. Right. Four o'clock, yes. All right, all right - dinner too. Right. Good. See you then.'

He hangs up and at once slumps weakly back against the wall, staring into space.

Taylor approaches concernedly. 'Mr Jackley - Bernard? Are you all right?'

He turns to face her. 'Oh - Taylor, is it? I'm fine, thanks, not to worry.' He smiles warmly at her, and straightens up. 'Just a bit of last-minute arrangement. The speaker for this afternoon's session. You know, we were originally going to have someone from the Psychic Times, but they pulled out. That was Martin Thane, of the Fortean Times -' he pauses to see if Taylor recognizes the name, and she nods enthusiastically but non-committally '- very good guy, a good friend of mine. A wonderful speaker. He's agreed to step in, at last.' He mops his forehead again, then seems to collect himself. 'Anyway - enough about my worries! How are you this morning? You look... very nice.'

Taylor glances around with a slightly embarrassed air. 'Actually, I was hoping to speak to you. Do you have a moment?'

'Sure! Let's go and get a coffee, shall we?' Jackley grins broadly, and offers her his arm.

'I figured he must be the custodian,' says Steven mildly.

'No - there wouldn't be anyone on duty at that time,' says Keith, the college sysadmin, scratching the end of a pencil through his weedy moustache. 'Anyway, he'd have had no right to try and lock you in there, whatever. Not without my say-so.'

'Well, that's pretty strange,' says Steven, frowning. 'Who else could it have been?'

'You leave it with me, mate,' says Keith firmly. 'I'll get to the bottom of this. No way is some bozo going to lock up my computer room and trap one of my guests inside. Bastard!' He levers himself upright.

'Thanks, I really appreciate it,' replies Steven, smiling politely, as Keith stomps away from the computer room. He turns back to the screen, and logs onto his email account. There is a response from Richie Wardens, the author of articles in the Psychic Times about Jackley. Wardens explains conspiratorially that he believes the Psychic Times were warned off participating in the ICIP - by whom, he does not know. He fears that Jackley may be dabbling with forces beyond his ken. The tone of the email is rather disturbing, and Steven is not sure how much credence to place in it.

He then finds the site of the Circles Phenomenon Research Group. From the dates of the items mentioned, it seems to have been untended since the spring. The whole affair is rather amateurish: it describes various 'realignments' the group have endeavoured to undertake. The theory of their founder, Dr Jonathan Sherwood, is that crop circles are messages from aliens explaining how we are to realign various ancient monuments, because of the way the stars have drifted from their courses since the monuments' construction. These schemes seem to have met with little favour from the authorities: there is some bitter talk of 'the Stonehenge incident', when several of the Group were arrested while trying to realign the stones. The most recent activity planned is a realignment of the pyramid of Khentkaus, in the Giza complex, in March of this year: there is no report as to its conclusion.

Steven notes that the name of Isobelle Kingston is mentioned as being an active participant in the CPRG. There is, though, no apparent connection to any Egyptian-named organization, or to the Keepers of the Hidden Circles, who have no Web presence.

T.R. carefully tries the door of Saunders's office, but it is locked. Shrugging, he wanders back out, on the way catching sight of Marion Sochacki. 'Excuse me?'

She regards him suspiciously for a moment. 'Looking for someone?'

'I was looking for Professor Saunders, but it seems he's not here,' replies T.R. innocently.

'Slacking! Probably still at home in bed,' she sniffs. 'Mr Warren, isn't it? From last night.'

'That's right. And you're Dr Sochacki.' T.R. offers his hand.

After a few moments of chat T.R. has persuaded her to meet him for a drink at four o'clock that afternoon (she is committed until then). It seems she is all too eager to spill gossip about her colleagues, particularly when he assures her that none of it will be published. It seems that she herself was at Cambridge as a student. 'Not like this place! Much more healthy atmosphere.'

Meanwhile, Eric has been doing a little detective work, successfully obtaining Professor Saunders's home address from the local telephone directory. The telephone rings for a long time, before a sleepy voice answers it - Margaret Saunders. 'Hello? Who's that?'

'This is Eric Alnes, Margaret. Do you remember me?'

'Oh, yes. The American gentleman.' She sounds rather groggy.

'I was hoping I might be able to speak with you this morning.'

'Oh, dear, I'm afraid that's not going to be possible, Dr Alnes. I'm simply not up to receiving visitors at the moment.'

Eric allows a little authoritative donnishness to creep into his voice. 'I really would like to speak with you, Margaret. I think it could be of benefit and interest to both of us.'

'No, really, you'd be wasting your time. I'm in no state... anyway. Goodness! Later on, hmm?'

Eric is forced to agree, saying he will call back in the afternoon. As the phone clicks dead, he purses his lips. Mrs Saunders sounded as though she might be drugged. Tranquillizers?

Ned walks briskly away from the offices of the Oxford Times, munching furiously on another cookie. He has been researching the doings of Jackley and his cohorts while at Oxford in the 70s, but without any luck: none of them are mentioned. In fact, student doings get very little coverage. Perhaps it might be worth checking out the student papers.

Perhaps more interestingly, though, he noticed a series of interesting articles concerning appearances of crop circles around the city during the years 1972 to 1975. And in 1974 there was the highly significant discovery of a Bronze Age burial at Stanton Harcourt, a few miles to the south, which seemed to have caused great interest. Most of these articles were written by one Martin Thane, who seems to have been a generalized junior staff reporter on the paper at that time.

'Okay, mate, I've been scouting around,' says Keith significantly. 'Turns out there was no-one on site authorized with keys for this room last night. As I suspected!'

'Well, it seemed like perhaps he didn't have the right key,' says Steven, considering. It had been as though the man had panicked, trying to lock Steven in only once he realized the room was not empty. 'Who might have been about at that time?'

'Must have been some sort of intruder. The only one who was signed in off this corridor was a guy called Dirkheim, Prof Saunders's secretary. I don't suppose it was him!' He laughs.

'Why not?'

'Well, if you'd ever met the bloke, you'd know why. He's not exactly the kind to be sneaking around and locking people up!' Keith laughs again.

Steven politely chuckles along, although he reflects that it is easy for Keith to dismiss the affair: it was not he who had been through it. He slowly gathers together his papers, preparing to meet with the others for lunch: at Eric's suggestion he has downloaded a great deal of information about Gottfried Ulek, Anita Rohinder and Mary Gration, several articles by Richie Wardens, the entire National Farmers' Union web site, and a report on the Oxford University rowing competition of 1974, in which Beaufort's 1st VIII finished sixth - several hundred K of material all told. He has also failed to make any more progress finding who the responsible officers of either Tehuti or the Alexandria Trust are, and is beginning to grow suspicious. How is it possible for recognized philanthropic bodies to leave so little trace?

At least he has a concrete report about the Psychic Times: it is owned by a lady named Sarah Vaughan, the daughter of the magazine's founder.

At last Mary Gration finishes her lecture. Several delegates, including Vera, move to the front of the hall to ask questions. Gration looks expectantly at Vera, whose mouth is working silently. Finally she blurts out, 'Yeah, but what's the point?' The other questioners, pause, roll their eyes and some shake their heads. Gration, though, calmly lays a hand on Vera's arm, squeezing it gently. 'You lift weights, don't you, dear?' she says.


'I'm sure we'll meet again later,' says the lecturer calmly.

'Yes! I mean, I'm looking forward to the planned events this evening,' Vera says quickly. 'We'll meet there. We'll talk then. Oh my, is that the time?' She looks quickly at her wrist, where there is no watch to be seen. 'I have got to go to get my fortune bed, READ. Over there. Somewhere. Gotta motor!'

By now the other questioners have begun to giggle.

Vera hurries away towards Beaumont Street, stopping at a telephone box. She calls her US company's law firm in Washington, D.C., leaving a message for its head Fritz Corrigan, asking him to check out Martin Keyes's story. She also wants to know any 'unofficial' details about his parents' demise, and if the companies make it a habit to hire husband and wife teams? Vera also asks to be told if Isobelle Kingston, Mary Gration, or Jackley have ever been on the companies' payrolls or received any money from the firm. She does not say where she is staying, but instead asks him to deliver the answers by voice only to her uncle Ned, by either paging him at the conference or calling him at his hotel in the evening.

Taylor, taking a deep breath, begins to explain. 'My family is in the textile business, mainly... but one of my uncles has some farmland out towards Columbia; he grows a good deal of corn and soybeans. Anyhow, about four months ago, some... something started happening. Well, I suppose I needn't beat around the bush; he had some crop circles appear. I guess they've happened in about half a dozen different spots by now, over the space of two months. My family all thinks it's just some kind of a prank, and they haven't tried to do anything about it. But... well, I'd read a little bit about them, and I couldn't help wondering what they might be... it just doesn't seem like the sort of thing some bored teenagers would do, does it? So that's why I came to England; I knew there'd been a number of them over here, and I thought I might find something out. Then I heard about this conference, and I thought this might be the place to ask.

'I don't know how much you might know about them, though you mentioned them in your opening speech... but I thought maybe at least you could tell me a little about them, or point me in the right direction.' Her tone is definitely worried.

Jackley smiles. 'I know a fair bit. We did a programme on them the year before last. But, to be honest with you, I don't think it's much of a phenomenon really. We found that almost every case could be explained as hoax.' He stirs his coffee thoughtfully. 'Why are you so concerned about it, if you don't mind me asking?'

Taylor replies slowly, 'Well... about four years ago, I was visiting my uncle's farm one summer... and I went for a walk one night... and, well...' She looks distressed. 'I just... disappeared. I was gone twelve days, and then I just came back, and I don't remember anything about it...' She'll look up at Jackley with a mixture of hope and fear. 'Do you think there could be a connection?'

Jackley has snapped to alertness at this news. 'Well, that really is quite disturbing. No memories at all? Presumably you were examined at the time by psychiatrists and so on?'

'Yes, I was... but they didn't really learn all that much. I had no memories at all.'

'A protracted fugue state? Hmm. Where were you found - in the same place you'd gone from?' Taylor nods. 'Well, that really is interesting.' He regards her searchingly. 'You know, there's all sorts of possible explanations, and you don't want to leap to any conclusions. This is what you might call an 'abduction experience', I suppose, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was aliens or whatever. You might have been possessed, or had a schizophrenic episode, or some other mental condition. I'm not really an expert on that line of things, I'm afraid.'

'I'd be glad to speak to anyone else you could recommend,' says Taylor humbly.

'I'll see what I can do.' He smiles again and pats her hand. 'You seem to have come through it successfully enough, at any rate! It's very brave of you to speak about this with me, a complete stranger.'

'I do find you very easy to talk to,' says Taylor truthfully.

'That's good. Well, listen, I've got to be heading back to the lecture theatre for the changeover, but - any time you want to talk, give me a call, right?' He scribbles a number down on his paper napkin. 'This is where I'm staying, at the college. Anything I can do - just ask.'

T.R., walking back through town, stops off at the Examination Schools, where a bevy of red-faced farmers is standing smoking on the steps outside, peering morosely up at the leaden sky. 'Never get the barley in if it stays like this,' one of them mutters to another.

Flashing his Phoenix Sun credentials at the receptionist, T.R. scoops up a copy of the convention programme. He has a quick glance around the lobby, seeing no faces familiar from the ICIP, and heads out into the High Street again, glancing through the materials. At once a name leaps out of the page at him: due to deliver a lecture at 3.30 this afternoon, on 'Agricultural Efficiency and Public Health - Strange Bedfellows?' is Michael Saunders, Wickham Professor of Land Economy at the University of Oxford.

Ned arrives at Zoology a few minutes after eleven, and notices the lecture hall is nearly filled to capacity. Ned notices that people seem to be especially excited and chatty. Enthusiasm for the topic seems to be riding high. Ned is hard-pressed to understand the popularity of reading auras. If even horse turds have auras, he doesn't understand why it's special that humans are supposedly endowed with coloured outlines as well.

He notices Belle-Marie near the stage. She seems especially nervous. Ned's been wondering about her a good bit lately. She appears mentally frail and he is worried that she may not be too stable. Automatically, he scans the crowd for sign of Vera, but he doesn't see his niece.

Remembering his last contact with Cosmo Landesman, Ned decides to sit near the back. He hopes he's far enough away that no one on the stage can see him. The notion that people have auras and that they signify certain characteristics of each person seems absurd. The ability to see auras, in his opinion, is more likely indicative of a brain or vision disorder. Which is why he intends to stay away from further contact with Landesman. 'Vera provides enough of a psychotic flavour to my life as it is, thank you kindly' he mumbles to himself.

'Pardon?' says an odd-looking fat woman seated next to him.

'Erm, sorry, talking to myself,' Ned says, a bit disconcerted. Strangely, the woman looks very similar to that man who sat across the table from him last night. At the thought, his leg begins to tingle again.

The woman continues to stare at him and Ned, now starting to get afraid and beginning to sweat, recognizes the same sardonic smile of the man from the previous night.

Immediately, Ned rises out of his seat and stumbles out of the lecture hall, just as Landesman begins his programme.

Vera dashes for the Randolph. Now this is a hotel! Lofty ceilings, ornate rococo decor, liveried flunkies... She wonders why one of her British friends, Mo, recommended the rather bijou Bath Place instead, when she called for suggestions a few weeks back. Ah well, Mo always went for charm over flash. Vera likes a little flash. She checks with the concierge to recommend a dress shop. 'Someplace that carries evening wear, but daring... Yes, very daring... Yes, I've been to Soho... No, I thought that might be going too far for a University-sponsored event... Thank you...' She is recommended to a shop called The Ballroom, and then heads up to Isobelle Kingston's room.

The third floor commands a good view out across to St John's College, and Kingston's room is a large one, beautifully furnished in Louis Quinze style. 'What a nice room!' says Vera unaffectedly, as the medium, who is wearing a long purple silk kaftan affair, shows her in.

'Now then, my dear, you have to prepare yourself mentally,' says Kingston, pulling the curtains shut. There is an air of suppressed excitement about her. The scent of sandalwood hangs heavy on the air. 'Think loving thoughts about your parents, and the times you had together. Try to push power into the bond between your spirit and theirs.' Now candles provide the only illumination.

Kingston sits opposite Vera, a crystal ball on the small table before her. She closes her eyes, and Vera sees that, disconcertingly, another pair of eyes, with golden irises, is painted on her eyelids. 'Aiwass, guardian spirit, are you there?' she calls in a resonant voice. More normally, she hisses to Vera 'Concentrate on the first question!'

The candles all flicker, and Vera shudders reflexively. There seems a chill in the room. 'I hear,' says Kingston - or is it she? The voice is deeper, like a man's, and curiously accented. 'I see a lost child.'

'That's me!' exclaims Vera. 'Are my parents there?' She edges forward in her seat.

There is a pause, then the voice says slowly 'They are not... here with me. They are... elsewhere.'

'Where elsewhere?'

'In a distant place of suffering. But you may speak with them through me.'

Vera swallows hard. 'What are they doing there? Mom? Dad? Can you hear me?'

'They were consigned there in death by a Power. They can hear you - your voice cuts through their torments.'

'Who killed you? - or what? How can I avenge you?' Her voice is small now.

'They do not know. An organization which had gained power over their affairs and over them. They sought to investigate, to rebel, and were crushed.'

'Is there any help I can get?' Vera is more or less in tears.

'You are already on the right path. Your uncle will help you, and your new associates.'

'Ned! Hmm.' She looks down at the piece of paper, as the candles flicker once more. 'Erm... do Martin's parents have a message for him?' She guesses that the spirits will know who she means.

There is a long pause, so that Vera fears Kingston has passed out, then the strange deep voice comes again. 'He should look underneath the top drawer in the study. There is something there of value to him.'

Vera makes a quick note, then clears her throat. 'And lastly, and I apologise for this Isobelle -' she glances across, but Kingston does not seem to even be aware of what she is saying '- I've been told not to trust Ms Kingston. Why would someone tell me that?'

The voice comes again. 'She has many allegiances and her interests are not all aligned with yours. But this is true of many people. You can only completely trust your uncle.'

There is a sudden sharp drop in temperature, or so Vera feels, and the candles all gutter out at once. The smell of citrus is strong in her nostrils as she fumbles to her feet, groping blindly in the darkness, gripped suddenly by terror and sweating all over.

Then the light returns, and Kingston is by the switch, yawning and rubbing her throat. 'I was very deep that time, my dear. Did you get what you sought? I can tell that Aiwass spoke through me - my poor throat! But did you reach your parents?'

Landesman finishes his opening passage - his speaking style is warm, rhetorical and full of showy flourishes - and says 'Now then, do we have any volunteers out there? Don't you worry now, ladies and gentlemen, nothing to be afraid of. It doesn't hurt a bit, that I promise you.'

A tubby man eases his way down to the front, wheezing slightly, and says 'Would you like to read me, sir?'

'I would indeed! Now just sit you down there, and we'll see what we can see.' He stands opposite the man, and pinches his own brow theatrically, deploying the other hand in vague gestures. 'I see a deal of green in there. Would you be a healer, then, sir, at all?'

The man blinks. 'I'm a dentist, as it happens.'

'Right then! And I can see that you're married - yes? But no children. You're a very giving man, aren't you? Generous?'

'I do a lot for charity,' says the man rather self-satisfiedly.

'Exactly! Well, thank you, sir, I think that shows something, does it not?' There is scattered applause. 'And you'll be pleased to hear you're in the best of health, apart from those lungs. A bit of exercise, sir!' As the man shuffles back to his seat, Landesman looks up and around. 'Who's next, then?'

Belle-Marie, gulping nervously and blushing, raises her hand.

'Ah! A beautiful young lady. Well then, my darling, come down here and let me take a look at you.'

As Belle-Marie descends, she feels that the eyes of the entire hall are burning into her shoulders. She perches on the edge of the plastic chair, clutching the hem of her skirt at her knees.

'Now relax, dear, it won't hurt a bit.' Landesman assumes a slightly different position. 'Aha! Now I'd say you're a young lady who's found love, is that right? The man of your dreams? And recently, too, I think.'

Belle-Marie nods mutely.

'You've been through difficult times in the past, my dear, I can see that, but it's all over now - eh? You can open yourself up now those times are gone. Now, as to your health - oh! I see you've - or, no, maybe not?' He regards her quizzically. 'I'll speak with you about that later, my dear.' Belle-Marie cringes into her chair. 'Well, you're in fine shape, my dear, nothing wrong with you at all. I wouldn't worry an inch if I was you. There you go, back to your seat, dear.'

As Belle-Marie stumbles back, Landesman seems to feel that he has lost the crowd slightly: his exegesis of the young Irish girl was not anything like as convincing as the earlier case, perhaps because she certainly does not look as though she is in good health. 'Who's next, then? Another young lady? Ah! - at the back.'

Taylor, smiling brightly, descends the stairs to the stage and arranges herself decorously on the chair.

Landesman stands across from her, pinches his brow again and with an expression of furious concentration, stares deeply at her.

Then, with the slightest of groans, he slumps into a faint, his eyes rolling up in his head.

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