The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
When Christ And His Saints Slept
4.10 pm, Friday 28th August 1998
T.R. says casually to the secretary, 'Bernard Jackley thought he might have gone to see Margaret Saunders - is that where he is?'
She smiles, relieved that this tall American is clearly an intimate of her beloved boss. 'Yes, that's right. Poor Mrs Saunders... the Master thought that she could probably use cheering up.'
T.R. smiles and nods, thanks her and strides off. He himself is not sure that cheering up is quite what Mrs Saunders most needs at the moment. He pulls out his cell phone and calls Eric at the hospital. 'Hi, Dr. Alnes. This is T.R. I've just learned that the Master is headed for Iffley. My guess is that he is going to pay a visit on Margaret Saunders. I'm going to catch a cab and follow him - I still want to know who killed Michael Saunders. Let the others know where I am.'
'Are you all right?' asks Claire Boothroyd concernedly. 'You look a bit pale. Come in!'
Belle-Marie blinks, shakes her head lightly and goes into the room. It is sparsely furnished, with a desk under the window and three plastic chairs scattered randomly about in front of it.
'Here, sit down,' says Claire. 'I'll put the kettle on.'
'Sorry,' says Belle-Marie. 'It's just... things have been a bit difficult lately.'
Claire nods silently, her back to Belle-Marie as she fiddles with the coffee cups.
'I came to see you because... well, it's like this, see.' Might as well go for it. 'I'm... I was... a student of Michael Saunders.'
Claire stops, standing unnaturally still for a moment, her shoulders tensed.
'And he said, he always said, he spoke of you as... as a really good friend, see? So that's why I... I just had to talk to someone. Someone who'd understand.' Belle-Marie is almost gabbling.
Claire slowly unfreezes, and her hands continue the task of spooning out coffee. 'Right,' she says quietly.
'It's been terrible, I've... you know, you must know what I mean. I've not known where to turn.' Belle-Marie does not have to dig very deep to add authenticity to her distress.
'Here - drink this,' Claire hands her a cup of coffee, and sits down opposite, hands in her lap. 'What did he say about me?'
'Just that... you were a close friend, that's all,' says Belle-Marie. 'But you know, what I mean is, the way he... died. It's horrible to say, you know, but I really don't think it was an accident.'
Claire forms her mouth into a thin horizontal line. 'You're damned right it wasn't' she says sharply, causing Belle-Marie to glance up at her in surprise. 'He was finished off. Maybe not deliberately, maybe she just meant to scare him, but he was killed all right. I'm dead sure of that.' She looks at Belle-Marie appraisingly.
'She?' asks the Irish girl.
'His wife. Margaret Saunders. She killed him. I'm certain of it. Couldn't bear him having found a little happiness... he used to tell me about the misery she'd made his life. He was going to leave her, you know.' Tears are starting to form in her eyes, and her fingers are knotting in the loose fabric of her jeans.
'Er... have you ever met Mrs Saunders?' ventures Belle-Marie worriedly.
'No, good God, no. Academic wives! What a bore. I never go to those college social things. And Michael wouldn't have wanted it...'
'Or seen a picture of her?'
'No - not to look at, anyway.' Claire straightens up sharply and scrutinizes Belle-Marie. 'Why - what's that got to do with anything?'
'You're an orphan, right? You never knew who either of your parents were?' asks Belle-Marie, the germ of an idea beginning to form.
'Yes - how did you know that? And who the hell are you, anyway - you haven't told me your name?'
'Gotta run,' says Belle-Marie, gulping down the end of her coffee and standing up.
But the door is already swinging.
'Any suggestions?' asks Steven diffidently.
'Oh, I don't know... I still think we should have chased up Professor Saunders's minority report,' says Taylor deflatedly. She lets her hands drop to her sides.
'Whatever strategy we had, it's probably too late,' mutters Steven to himself. He wanders briefly between the two burnt-out rooms, poking aimlessly at the heaps of sodden ash. There is nothing more to be seen here, he thinks. Inspector Coltrane Roberts is directing the uniformed policemen as they dismantle their ineffective barriers, but his heart does not appear to be in the task.
Just at that point, T.R. bursts in through the doors. He rushes over to Roberts and says 'You did me a favour a little while ago by letting me take those photographs. I'd like to return the favour. I don't have much... call it a reporter's hunch... but I think something may be happening at the Saunders' residence.'
Roberts instantly becomes alert. 'You don't say?' he rumbles.
T.R. nods. 'Both Bernard Jackley and the Master of Beaufort College are headed out to Iffley. This may be nothing but a wild-goose chase, but I have a feeling there are going to be some fireworks in Iffley real soon now.'
'And a certain rather unorthodox Detective Chief Inspector is on his way there, too,' mutters Roberts. 'Right, that's it.' He starts to stride towards his car.
'Say, I've been following this story since it began,' begins T.R., matching him stride for stride, 'and I'd sure like to see the end of it.'
'Get in,' says Roberts briskly, pointing to the passenger door of his Beetle.
Sergeant Harris, his face even unhappier than usual, looks about him indecisively, then starts talking swiftly to one of the uniformed policewomen.
'Did T.R. say that Bernard was out at Iffley as well?' asks Taylor.
'I think so,' says Steven.
'I... I think we ought to be there. I've got a really bad feeling,' she says urgently.
As Harris, finished giving instructions, starts to scamper towards his own car, Steven flags him down. 'Er... if you're heading to Iffley, would you mind giving us a lift, please?' He indicates himself and Taylor. 'Friends of the family... kind of.'
Harris's face is screwed up with worry: he looks as though he is thinking about arguing, but gives up before he has even started. 'Oh, all right - what difference's another two going to make? Come on, then.'
It's been a long week, and Ned is feeling tired. His eyes droop down above dark bags, and the pain from his burns is causing deepening creases in his temples. He is standing in the hallway, talking with his impetuous young niece. 'Go over what Kingston said again for me, in detail. There's something I can't put my finger on.'
'You're wasting time, Uncle.'
'Only your time, not mine,' Ned quips. 'I need to hear it word for word.'
Vera begins repeating the supernatural news reports provided by Aiwass. 'Prince of Blades... soul forfeit... trust no one but uncle and new friends... an organization which had gained power over their affairs and over them... sought to investigate... rebel... crushed.'
Ned interrupts by lightly slapping Vera on the side of her head. Vera glares at her uncle. Then her eyes grow wide in horror and anger. The two stare at each other in disbelief and begin repeating quietly in unison, 'an organization which had gained power over their affairs and over them.' Even though the conclusion supports their personal biases in all that has gone on, they are still shocked.
'Would you try to talk to Rohinder?' Vera asks. 'I think she's in shock, but not completely catatonic. I... we have to know who is guilty and who is not. Besides, Dr Alnes may need protecting.'
At the mention of Alnes, Ned sputters and spews crumbs on Vera. 'Alnes needs protecting? We're the ones that need protecting. SITU's compromised, and our team is led by an old fool!' Vera glares again at her uncle while she wipes crumbs from her front. Ned's face, which had reddened with anger, reddens with embarrassment. By way of apology, he tries lampooning himself. 'Next you'll tell me we need to be protecting Geoff Blaize! I'll show you protection. Where's my street sweeper? Er, ha, ha, ha.'
'Here I am, Mister Ned!' exclaims Mahmoud, his grinning face popping out from round the doorway and causing both Ned and Vera to jump in startlement. 'I get very good cookies for you, number one quality.' He thrusts a scrumpled paper bag into Ned's feebly clutching hands.
'Where the heck did you find him?' exclaims Vera. Then she shakes her head as if to clear it. 'Okay, Isobelle may need protection as well, and I need to talk to her, Aiwass that is. I want to talk to Landesman. I can't cover Kingston, Alnes and Rohinder all at the same time, and I think they are in danger.'
At the hospital, Ned stops in the gift shop and buys a half dozen white roses. He also has a quarter-bottle of brandy which he picked up at the off-licence on Cherwell Drive.
He enters Rohinder's room quietly. The small, dark-haired woman seems to be sleeping and Ned sets the flowers at the foot of her bed. With a look of concern, he sits carefully on the edge of her bed and tenderly holds her left hand. 'Anita,' Ned says, quietly. He's speaking more to himself and to her, he expects. 'This whole thing has been a disaster. I've got to confess that I've suspected ill of you all along. Even now I'm not sure if you're evil, or a pawn of evil intent. I'm especially sorry that you've been hurt and that we couldn't have, that we didn't spend more time getting to know each other. I've also got to confess, Anita, that when I first saw you, you - there was something about you that touched my heart.'
There is no response.
Moisture in his eyes, Ned leans over Rohinder and whispers more urgently. 'Anita can you hear me? I need you to hear. Please tell me if I can trust you. Tell me, please, if you can, if you...' Ned pauses for several minutes. 'If you care.'
More lack of response. Rohinder's vital signs monitors continue to bleep quietly.
'Hell,' sighs Ned. He is not sure what he would have done had she answered him. Could he have believed her? Could she have trusted him? Oh well, it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway - not if she insisted on keeping her homunculus in the bedroom.
Gritting his teeth together, he heads out into the corridor once more.
'What's your theory on the murder, Inspector Roberts?' asks T.R. 'If you're permitted to talk about it, that is,' he adds hastily. He is folded up rather uncomfortably in the bucket seat, his head pressing against the roof and his knees against the dashboard. 'I spoke to someone who said he could provide an alibi for Dirkheim - someone who was working late in the Beaufort computer room that night.'
Roberts glances across at him in the rear-view mirror. 'Chief Inspector Seymour is a very talented detective,' he says slowly. 'He has a part of his body that leads him unerringly towards the guilty party.'
The car stops at traffic lights, and Roberts, leaning forward over the wheel, continues to make chewing motions. T.R. remains silent.
'Unfortunately, it is not his brain.' Roberts glances across again as he accelerates away from the lights. 'It is another part altogether. Are you a married man, Mr Warren?'
'Er... no, sir - I'm single. The job... didn't want to get tied down, I guess.' T.R. is not sure why he is speaking so frankly to this big, brusque stranger, but it seems very natural.
'That is also Chief Inspector Seymour's situation. As I was saying, this part of his body leads him unerringly towards the guilty party. If that guilty party is a woman, that is.'
'Margaret Saunders, you mean?'
'The grieving widow. The Chief Inspector is a very sensitive man, under that rough, rugged exterior.' The irony in Roberts's voice is heavy. 'He has grown very sympathetic to Mrs Saunders's tears, during these last few days.'
After leaving Rohinder, Ned turns towards Edward Lloyd's private room off the main trauma ward. He scans the hallways as he walks, careful to avoid that orderly if he can manage it. Stopping in front of Lloyd's room, he quietly composes his thoughts. He lifts his cap and runs the fingers of his right hand through his hair, sighing quietly with resignation. Finally, he gathers his courage, takes a deep breath and enters the room.
Lloyd awakens as Ned drags a chair from the corner and sits down next to the bed. 'Good afternoon, Edward. I'm glad to see you survived your disaster.' Ned gives Lloyd a smile with no humour behind it.
'Oh, you know, it's not so bad...' says Lloyd feebly.
Ned lifts his arm and pushes down on the mattress a bit, leaning on it and causing Lloyd's weight to shift a bit. Lloyd winces. 'It's time you and I chatted a bit.'
Ned reaches into his coat and pulls out the bottle of brandy. He opens it and hands it to Lloyd, who accepts it gratefully and takes several long swallows of the amber-coloured liquid. 'Thank you.' Lloyd's voice lacks its usual firmness in tone. It sounds uncertain and older now.
'Edward, I found it interesting that the conflagration began with the star card. Some of the participants said they saw a 'blazing star' imprinted in their minds.' Lloyd's arm, rising to bring the bottle to his lips again, stops in mid air at these words. His eyes widen slightly and he looks at Ned anew with some wariness.
'In fact, Edward, isn't the 'Blazing Star' another name for a pentagram? In my capacity as a reporter, I've had occasion to do some research on the occultists' views on this symbol. As I understand it, in ancient Egyptian mythology - something your paranormal puppetmasters' club is familiar with, I presume - the pentagram is a symbol of an 'underground womb'. It's even associated with the heralding of some very significant births. It's also known as a symbol used to invoke or banish demons. Tell me, Edward.' Ned says his name with the second syllable drawn out very long. 'Which was it?' Ned reaches out his right hand and holds Lloyd's left arm, where the bandages are seeping a bit, and begins squeezing. 'Was a birth of some rough beast you sought? Or the unleashing of some entity?'
'I... I don't know what you mean!' says Lloyd hurriedly, his voice almost a yelp as Ned's grip on his injured arm tightens painfully.
'The time for evasion is past, Edward. You offered us a deal, and suddenly everything started to go wrong. Isn't it about time you started speaking a bit more frankly?'
'Ow! - for God's sake, stop! Ow! I've told you everything - ow! It wasn't meant to be like this - we were as surprised as you were - aah! I swear to God it's true!'
At this point a nurse's face appears at the small window in the door. Ned, looking across at it, nods and smiles cheerily, and she moves away.
'Okay, bogus boy, what's the deal with the 'Watcher'? Is this an alien of some kind? A human trying to contact aliens? Why? Why is the Watcher one of your enemies?'
'He's one of your enemies as well - yours more than ours. He's not an alien, no, but he's more than human - different than human. His people lived a long, long time ago, and there are only a few of them left now. SITU are dedicated to destroying them - I thought you'd know that?' Ned's grip has loosened as he digests this news. 'They tried to enslave humanity, before - that's the story, anyway. But now he just watches out for aliens. SITU knows much more about them than we do.'
'And what is the long-term goal of your breeding experiment?' Ned takes out Vera's commando knife and positions the blade between Lloyd's legs, near his groin. 'For now, you can call me the acolyte of blades.'
'There's no need for that,' says Lloyd rather strangledly.
'Maybe not, but anyway,' encourages Ned, with a small movement of the knife.
'We just want to improve humanity.' Lloyd catches the look in Ned's eye. 'Well, and gain power for the Club, of course. Humans are rather hit-and-miss at the moment. Some are clever, some are strong, some are sensitive. Wouldn't it be better if you could guarantee all three gifts would be present together? That's what the Magi offered the baby Jesus, you know - gold, frankincense and myrrh. But it has to be done the right way. There aren't any shortcuts. If you try and take shortcuts, you end up involving powers that you really shouldn't.'
As Lloyd stares up at Ned, the image of Vera seems to interpose itself. Ned shakes his head to clear it away. 'I'm gong to have to think some more about this, old chap,' he says, using irony to cover up his disquiet, and he rises from the bed.
Lloyd's gaze follows him to the door, and he can feel it on his back as he leaves the room.
Belle-Marie has made her way to the hospital as well, and is sitting by Isobelle Kingston's bed when Vera enters. Isobelle is already deep in trance, her eyes dark pools, and a man's voice is issuing from her lips, talking in what Vera guesses to be Swedish. Belle-Marie seems to be understanding it perfectly; she occasionally interjects, and there are tears in her eyes.
Vera at first hangs back, not wishing to disturb Belle-Marie's seance, but before long impatience takes hold and she draws up a chair. 'Ask him to put Aiwass back on!'
Belle-Marie blinks, registering her presence. 'Oh - right, yes. This is Ingvar. He's an... old friend of mine.' She seems oblivious to the tears which spot her face.
'Aiwass!' says Vera sharply. 'I want to talk to Cosmo Landesman!'
The Swedish voice disappears, but Isobelle Kingston has not uttered more than half a syllable in the hollow, dark voice of Aiwass, when the room is filled with the roar of flames. Both Belle-Marie and Vera reflexively glance around them: it seems impossible to believe that the sound is coming from Kingston. Mixed in with the roar is an awful bubbling crepitus. Aiwass's voice comes again, bursting through the flames, speaking quickly in a language neither woman understands, but it is speaking through tremendous pain. It dies away, and then erupts in a huge scream, rattling the windows of the tiny room. Belle-Marie and Vera are blasted backwards from the bed, Isobelle Kingston's form on it bent backwards as taut as a bow. An alarm goes off, and nurses start rushing in. Suddenly the noise stops, and Kingston is back to normal as quickly as though a switch had been thrown. Her body relaxes, and she blinks, looking around at the two women and at the nurses who are pouring into the room in numbers. A look of horror comes over her face. 'He's gone! Aiwass! He's dead! He's been killed!'
Even though the afternoon is progressing, the August nights are short and quite a bit of daylight remains. It is warm and very humid. Vera is wearing shorts and an Oxford University sweat shirt over a grey T-shirt. However, the weather report predicts rain in the evening. Vera begins walking around the town and then in the general direction of Iffley. Perhaps she will walk back to the hotel. Then she hears the footsteps. She stops. They stop. She does not turn around, but instead works over to the Iffley Road heading south out of Oxford, leaving the academic district behind. She walks past homes and B&Bs until the pursuing steps accelerate and develop a voice.
Vera waits for the man to catch up with her. 'It looks like rain. Mr. Blyth.'
'Are you returning to your hotel?' he asks. 'I was told you had not been around it for a couple of days, or at least you had not been seen.'
'I stopped renting bicycles and started taking cabs. I understand there is a lock for the river to the west of the Iffley Road.'
'Yes, and a rather nice pub on the way,' Blyth says. 'Perhaps you would like to stop there for a drink and a meal?' His manner is edgy and odd, perhaps a little guilty-seeming.
'I don't drink, although of course I do eat. But, I'd rather see the lock first.'
'Well, we must hurry before it gets too dark. The path along the river does not have lights and the lock operator will have left for the day. Any boats coming through will have to operate the controls themselves.'
'You seem very knowledgeable about it,' says Blyth politely.
'I've been doing some studying lately,' replies Vera evenly.
They walk around the rather narrow road to the river. The houses are old and their walls and windows form the right-hand edge of the walk. Eventually they reach the lock, crossing over to the north side of the river on a footbridge and walk along a path heading east. The occasional rain drops are becoming more frequent. The threat of rain and the approaching night have driven fishermen and walkers away. Vera and Blyth are walking alone.
Blyth, who is slightly ahead, half turns to speak to Vera, only to find she is so close behind him that they are now nose to nose on the narrow path. 'I believe I know who killed my parents, Mr. Blyth.'
Blyth remains calm. 'I see. I must admit, from what I read there must have been foul play involved. But, it's dangerous to believe everything you hear, Vera. May I call you Vera?'
'As you please. But I am going to trust you to be honest with me, to fill in some gaps for me. You've known about us and SITU and everything from the start. Clearly you were not concerned about two-way communication. I don't believe in magic, so I'd say the club already has an effective one-way pipeline of information about SITU. You could tell me how. For all I know SITU could be a sieve when it comes to security. How long has your club been this well informed?'
Blyth half-smiles. 'Quite a while. A couple of years now. More or less since they started organizing here in Britain. There's not much goes on here that we don't know about.'
'Like the Watcher, hmm? Exactly why is he your enemy? How does he threaten you, and where would he get the power to mess with your group? Heck, even your mistakes, like the cards, demonstrate a remarkable amount of power.'
'He himself isn't that much of a threat. But the others... they're a very different proposition. They're superhumanly powerful, and to them we're nothing - we're like insects. They have no care for us as individuals at all. We've existed alongside them for centuries, in hiding. But if it's now coming to war between them and SITU, then we know which side we want to be on,' he says earnestly.
'Speaking of power. When you told my colleagues about wanting the cards to strengthen your walls, or some such, I assumed it was psychic mumbo jumbo. But, where are your 'walls?' Where is your group based?'
'You'll understand that I can't really tell you that, Vera. We have to keep some secrets, even from our friends.'
'You and some other people we've met here seem to want my colleagues and I to believe I am the result of some breeding experiment. I assume you mean more than my parents rather remarkable combination of genes. But, I just don't see myself as Uber Girl! What were my parents up to? And what information do you think is in those books they left me back in the states that stink of brimstone?'
Blyth sighs. 'I was hoping you weren't going to ask that. Uber Girl is what you are, that's right, but not the way it should have been. Your parents made a very grave error. They were inpatient. We were happy to wait another ten generations if it was needed, but they wanted... well, it's human enough. And speak no ill of the dead, eh?' The rain is becoming more than a nuisance, and Blyth places an arm around Vera. 'We really should be going, we'll be soaked.' The turbulent water rushes through the weir, below their feet.
'Dr Alnes? How are you feeling?'
'Dr Gration? Not too bad, thank you... considering.'
'The nurses said you were making a good recovery. You must be quite a fit man.'
'For one of my age, you mean? Perhaps. This has been quite a blow, though, I won't deny it.'
'Maybe I can help you a little with that,' she smiles. 'Here.' She passes across a small glass disc, with some sort of mandala painted on it. 'I'll hang this in the light here, so you can see it spinning. It should help you feel a little easier.'
Eric examines the disc with interest, curious about the multicoloured swirling symbols that adorn it. 'How is this supposed to work?'
'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy,' she replies lightly.
'I find my philosophy is becoming more capacious by the day,' says Eric with a mixture of irony and ruefulness.
'Good! That's one of the first steps to wholeness.'
Eric remembers something he had been meaning to tell her. 'Mary, I came across a group earlier who might be of interest to you.' He describes the Keepers of the Hidden Circles, and their struggles to purge occlusions. 'I believe they are backed by our Trismegistus friends.'
She thanks him. 'I'll have a look myself. They could be very useful, if they really do have something. There's a lot of ancient knowledge out there, in some very odd hands. Sometimes I think it's all part of the plan.'
'If there is a plan at all, that is. Perhaps it's just chaos - without form, and void. With darkness moving on the face of the deep.'
'It has certainly felt like that to me, at times,' says Eric, remembering.
Mary regards him for a moment. 'I think you and I are going to have to spend some time together, once you get out of here. We have some fairly hard thinking to do. Do you realize what a weapon that effect we saw this morning could be?'
'Surely. I'm prepared to bet that now your SITU bosses and the Trismegistus Club chiefs are working out how best to use it against their enemy. That's the way they think. But I'm not sure it's the best way. There's more ways to kill a cat than drowning it with cream.' She rises. 'Anyway, I'm off to London again now. Give me a call when they let you out.'
Chief Inspector Seymour's red Jaguar is parked outside the Saunders house as T.R. and Roberts arrive. Roberts stops his Beetle a little way down the lane, and holds a finger to his lips, beckoning T.R. to join him in approaching the house from the rear. They edge through the rhododendrons towards the partly-open French windows.
Inside, the Master of Beaufort, Roger Harrabin, has Bernard Jackley in an armlock. The conjuror is swearing and struggling as the Master tries to calm him. Jackley is trying to make his way towards Chief Inspector Seymour, who, looking rather disconsolate, is standing at the foot of the stairs. About halfway up the stairs is Margaret Saunders, who is dressed vampishly, in a long, black satin dress. Her makeup is almost dead white, her lips a scarlet slash.
'Margaret, Meg, Meg, it was always you!' shouts Jackley. 'How can you possibly see anything in this clown?'
'But the Chief Inspector has arrested the two men who killed my husband,' says Margaret. Her voice sounds calm, but there is more than an edge behind it.
'Come on now, Bernard, old chap. This is hardly the time or place,' soothes the Master. 'You should have been here twenty years ago if you really wanted to sort it out.'
'How the hell could I, you idiot? She was married by then!' yells Jackley. He really does seem to be losing control.
'And whose fault was that?' asks Margaret coolly. 'I would have married you if you'd asked me. You knew that then, and you know it still. It's too late now.' She starts to retreat up the stairs.
There is a screech of brakes in the drive, and a rattle of gravel. Sergeant Harris, Taylor and Steven charge onto the scene. T.R. makes to rise and join them, but Roberts pulls him back down. 'This is better than Brookside!' he mutters contentedly.
At the sight of Taylor Jackley calms rapidly, relaxing and allowing the Master to release him.
'Bernard! Are you OK?' exclaims Taylor, and she rushes over to him.
'Who's this?' asks Margaret Saunders rather querulously.
'Bernard's new friend,' says the Master drily. 'Now can we please all calm down?'
Everyone else ignores this request. 'Bernard! Not you too!' exclaims Margaret. 'What about what you said just now?'
'It looks as though what Mr Jackley will say to one woman is quite different to what he will say to another,' says Inspector Seymour, bitterly. 'Perhaps he and your late husband weren't so dissimilar after all, Mrs Saunders.'
'Yes, I knew about that,' says Margaret. She is up at the landing now, looking down over the banisters at the others. 'Him and his little flings! That was the husband you condemned me to, Bernard, thank you very much! It may be cruel to say it, but those two men did me a great kindness by what they did.'
'Er, actually,' says Steven awkwardly. Everyone turns to look at him. T.R. notices that Sergeant Harris has left the room - where he has gone, he did not see. 'There's something I'd been meaning to tell you...'
There is another squeal of brakes, and the door slams open again. Roberts is in ecstasies. Standing in the doorway is a woman who T.R. guesses to be Claire Boothroyd. She and Margaret Saunders cannot see each other from their present positions. Claire points dramatically at Inspector Seymour. 'I know who killed him! It was her, his wife!' she cries. 'She was jealous!'
'And who the hell are you?' demands Jackley, infuriated once more. Then he sees Claire's face clearly, and his jaw drops.
Chief Inspector Seymour is looking up at the landing, at Margaret. 'Is this true?' he asks, pitifully.
Roberts, rising to his feet and drawing T.R. along with him, comes to the window. 'Of course it is,' he says scornfully.
'Don't come near me!' gabbles Margaret suddenly. 'I'll jump!' She has hauled herself up onto the banister, and is staring down at Seymour, wide-eyed in terror. 'Yes, I killed him - there, it's said now! And I'm glad! If ever anyone deserved it, it was him!'
Jackley, moving like a zombie, is still staring at Claire, ignoring Taylor totally. 'C- Claire? Is that your name?'
'That's right,' says Claire triumphantly, and she steps forward into the main body of the room. 'I loved him, and...'
Then she and Margaret see each other.
All is suddenly silent, but for the burning wood settling in the grate.
Margaret's voice is very quiet and soft. 'Claire? Baby?'
Claire's face seems to have come apart, her composure utterly lost in blotches of red emotion. 'M... Mummy?'
Jackley strides up behind Claire and puts his hands on her shoulders. 'My little girl?'
Both women ignore him, and Margaret starts to stretch her hands downwards, to try and bridge the unbridgeable gap.
Behind her appears the figure of Inspector Harris, stalking down the corridor. He must have climbed another staircase. He is tiptoeing with exaggerated care towards her as she balances on the banister.
Then four things happen at once.
Claire, seeing Harris approaching, cries 'Look out, Mummy!'
Harris makes a mighty spring for Margaret, trying to grab her around the waist.
Chief Inspector Seymour calls out 'No!' in a voice full of all the pain and suffering in the world.
And Margaret Saunders, twisting round at the faint sound of Harris's approach, loses her perch on the banister and falls heavily from it onto the wooden flooring eighteen feet below. There is a sickening crack as she strikes the floor head first.
8.30 am, Saturday 29th August 1998
'Well, I guess this is it for now,' says T.R. cheerily. He has long since sent off stories both on the Saunders killing and the ICIP incident, to every paper which he could find prepared to take them. Inspector Roberts, who seemed to have taken over from Chief Inspector Seymour the effective charge of the case had no stipulation about what he should or should not use, and T.R. feels that he has made a useful contact in the big Scotsman. 'I don't know what you guys are planning, but I guess I'll see you in the next investigation.'
'You sounds like you're looking forward to it,' says Belle-Marie in surprise.
'Sure I am! Don't you want to know more? Aren't you intrigued by what happened here?'
'I'm just planning to get back to Daniel and have this baby in peace,' she sighs. 'If I want to know any more, it's just to stop me going mad.' The image of Margaret Saunders falling to her death is still fresh in her mind. At least Daniel had told her that the story SITU had given him about the ICIP incident was more or less accurate - it would be too much if she started to mistrust them too. She'd end up like Ned and Vera. Speaking of which, where are the gruesome twosome?
'Vera, I'm going to take a couple of weeks to write my articles about this week's activities. I've always wanted to visit Glastonbury.' Ned smiles and gives Vera a sardonic laugh. 'I think I'll spend some time relaxing and writing my memoirs. And I guess I'll let SITU know where they can find me, in case they'd like me to work on another case sometime. Who knows, maybe next time I'll be able to save some old fool from killing himself (and us),' he laughs.
'I'll get Fritz to deliver those indecipherable books to you there - with some security' says his niece. 'And I'm planning on heading up North for a little tour.'
'Are you OK?' says Ned, peering at her. 'You seemed a little - I don't know, spaced out - when you came in late night, out of the rain like that.'
'I just had to try and get some things out of my mind,' she says enigmatically.
'I sent another email to Isobel Blyth, saying sorry about her husband,' says Steven. 'As well as filling her in on what's happened here.'
'The poor fellow,' says Eric, who is now sitting up in bed. 'What a terrible way to die - slipping and falling into the weir like that. He must have drowned very quickly. A shame - I had been hoping to speak with him some more.'
Steven pats his PowerBook. 'Well, everything we need to tell SITU is on here - I'll just hand it over to Mike Burgin as soon as he turns up. I'll pick up a new one when I get back to the States.'
'Did you put about Cosmo and his auras on there?' asks Belle-Marie anxiously. 'And Isobelle?' Steven nods.
'Belle-Marie, you've seen Jackley with Claire, last night - do you think she'll accept him as her father?' asks Eric.
The Irish girl shakes her head. 'She believes it, all right - not much doubt about that. But I don't reckon she'll ever come to love him. As far as she's concerned, he's nothing to her but a big pain.'
T.R. raises a silent eyebrow. It's not really incest for Michael Saunders to have had an affair with Claire, but it's a little too close for his tastes.
'And to poor Taylor as well,' says Steven. Their colleague has already left for home, saying she just wanted to get back to a world she understood.
'I suppose we never will find out about her abduction,' sighs Eric. Then he brightens. 'But there's one thing we still can do.'
The others look at him questioningly.
2.10 pm, Wednesday 3rd September 1998
'I didn't want to ask a priest,' says Eric, 'so we will just have to do our best. It was a heroic death, and deserves something worthwhile.'
He, T.R., Steven, Belle-Marie and Martin Keyes are standing under a yew tree in the graveyard of the Church of St Mary & St John, in Iffley. It is still pouring with rain - it does not seem to have let up for more than an hour or two all week - and the ground is very soft. T.R. has dug a small hole. Nothing larger is required. Keyes is shivering, and T.R. eyes him appraisingly. He sure doesn't look like the result of any breeding programme to me, he thinks.
'Man that is born of woman hath but a brief... no, that's probably not right for this,' starts Eric uncertainly. 'Er... I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord... no, that's not what we want either. Oh - of course. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...'
If God don't get you, the Devil must, thinks Belle-Marie as Steven reverently places into the makeshift grave the small cardboard box of grease and hair that is all that remains of the homunculus Gulo.
From: C M Harris
To: Operatives: Eric Alnes, Vera Goodchild, Ned Numenor, Taylor Parker-Davis, Belle-Marie Prior, Steven Smith, Theodore Warren
Subject: International Congress for Investigation into Psychism
Operatives are to be congratulated on their good fortune in surviving the unexpected events of the ICIP, on their presence of mind in rescuing such a large amount of very valuable information for SITU, and on making so many useful contacts. You will all no doubt have many questions about the implications of what transpired, but I am sure you will understand the security considerations which mean that we cannot answer all of them fully at this stage. Your cooperation in these matters is greatly appreciated.
The Rhine Card Experiment - it is our belief that the energy effect witnessed during the course of the experiment was an accidental one caused by the unusually dense concentration of psychic sensitivity. The knowledge that psychic sensitives are potentially vulnerable to such an effect is of great interest.
The Trismegistus Club - we anticipate being able to work well with this organization in the future. The events at ICIP have pointed up to both groups that we have a great deal to learn from each other.
Henry Blyth - Blyth's accidental death is unfortunate but need not be seen as significant. Edward Lloyd will continue to be our main contact at the Club, and Operatives Smith and Alnes have both expressed interest in helping with liaison, help we will certainly accept.
The breeding programme - we do not anticipate that the Club will tell us a great deal about what is clearly a long-term venture for them. However, it may be that more can be learnt nonetheless. Operative Alnes's medical opinion may be useful here. Our current impression is that they are manipulating human bloodlines, rather like racehorse breeders, over a very long timescale, with the aim of producing superior humans. Operative Goodchild can be seen as a rogue intrusion into this programme, but we imagine that physically at least she resembles their desired end product.
Bernard Jackley - has been helpful in providing us with a list of ICIP attendees. His new US show will be starting in the spring, thanks to Operative Alnes's intervention. He does not seem to have been permanently damaged by the experience.
Dr Anita Rohinder - is still to emerge from her coma. Medical opinion suggests that the likelihood of such emergence is unpredictable, backed up by Operative Alnes's observations. We imagine, though, that the Trismegistus Club will be working on a mystical way of reviving her.
Dr Mary Gration and the Sephiroth Centre - knowledge of this constructive group is helpful, alhtough we have at present no plans to work with them directly.
The homunculus Gulo - a fascinating creation, but the byways of alchemy are of little direct interest to SITU.
Isobelle Kingston and Aiwass - unfortunately, with the destruction of Aiwass, Kingston seems to have lost all her abilities as a medium. She seems to be unwilling to try and contact a new spirit guide, for fear that she will again be targeted in some way by whatever destroyed Aiwass.
Operative Goodchild's parents - were clearly employees of the Trismegistus Club, highly trusted and heading two of its front organizations, and important in its breeding programme. It seems to us that, keen to hasten the results of the breeding programme in enhancing their own offspring, they conducted some sort of ritual during conception which allowed the entity known as Celebrax, Prince of Blades to intervene. The result was Operative Goodchild, but when the Trismegistus Club found out what had happened they (we believe) had Operative Goodchild's parents killed, whereupon Celebrax picked up its end of the bargain.
Martin Keyes - we surmise that he represents an early, or a failed, branch of the breeding programme. Contact is being maintained with him by Operative Numenor. Our current surmise is that his parents were in some way involved in Operative Goodchild's parents' perceived treachery to the Club, and so they were killed by it as well.
Celebrax, Prince of Blades - to what extent this concept addresses a real being is difficult for SITU to ascertain. However, it seems to have been responsible for the creation of Operative Goodchild, for the damnation of her parents, and for the destruction of Aiwass.
The Harcourt Jewel, crop circles and such matters - SITU has no opinion on these phenomena. They do not see to us to bear any relation to the current investigation.
Chief Inspector Seymour - has taken early retirement. Inspector Roberts has been promoted into his stead.
From: Alistair Thwaite, Debrief/84
To: Operatives: Eric Alnes, Vera Goodchild, Ned Numenor, Taylor Parker-Davis, Belle-Marie Prior, Steven Smith, Theodore Warren
Subject: International Congress for Investigation into Psychism
Many thanks for your help in the recent investigation of matters ICIP. You will be pleased to learn that following your successful completion of this mission, you have been promoted from the rank of Investigator to that of Agent, meaning that your Illumination level is now 2.
Now that you have reached a higher rank within SITU, it is right that we should share some facts with you. Please note that these are strictly for the knowledge of Illumination level 2 or higher, and must on no account be communicated to, or even hinted at when with, persons of lower Illumination. In fact, you should not even let them know that a Level 2 of Illumination exists.
You will be aware that SITU sends Operatives to investigate Unexplained events all over the world. What you will not have known before now, but do as of today, is that these events are not as scattered and unlinked as they may at first seen. In point of fact, SITU has evidence that there exists today and has done throughout most of human history a wide-ranging global conspiracy, inimical to humanity. Therefore part of SITU's duty is to ascertain whether individual Unexplained events fit into this pattern or not: and to learn more about it and those responsible. So you can be sure that your investigations have helped all of humanity!
You have been contacted separately with the details surrounding your particular mission, and if you wish any of you wish to prepare a report to go into our magazine 'SITUation Report': this is far from compulsory, but may provide interest to other members. Your report will of course be censored by SITU HQ, so you need not fear giving too much away.
Thank you again, and I hope that you will wish to continue serving SITU on further missions.