The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Witless In Whitby
Mickey turns the knuckle dusters over in his hand. "Yeah, they'll do."
"OK, let's see. A set of lockpicks, one flick knife, couple of automatics, and that comes to..." The other man in the warehouse jots down a few figures on his notepad, hands it to Mickey, and then chews his fingernails while his customer reads it.
"You've put your prices up."
"Well, what do you expect? Inflation. It's not a charity I'm running here, you know. In fact usually I'd ask for more."
"OK, Linus, I'll take 'em."
"Anything else I can do you for?"
"Yeah. Do you know the name of anyone based near Whitby in Yorkshire who's handy to know?"
"Depends what you got in mind. There's always Samuel Courtland - I seem to remember he 'retired' there after he came out the last time. Don't go bothering him without a reason, though. He's got a nasty temper on him, and he always asks favours for favours."
On the flight back to England, John Stone turns the tooth in his hand over and over, watching the way the light slides over the yellowing enamel. He recalls the words of the old man at the reservation.
"... so, that is an old, old bone. I say you have a wolf there. Yes, a piece of the jaw of a wolf - I think it died young." The old man had given John a swift, shrewd glance. "Something bad came upon this animal, I think. Well, perhaps it will take better care of you than it did of itself. Wear the bone, keep it with you.
"I cannot tell you how to bring him to you, he cannot be called, like the dog. Meditate as I have told you, leave the doors of your mind open to him, and he will come to you, in his own time..."
Arms loaded with books, Isobel Blyth struggles with her house key, opens the front door, then pushes it closed behind her with her foot.
She moves quickly to her bedroom, and unburdens her arms. Onto the bed tumble a Penguin copy of Dracula, "Dracula: the legend and legacy of the Novel," "Stoker and East European Folklore," "Vlad the Impaler: the original Dracula," "Dark Count: the fact and fantasy of the Dracula." There are also a number of books dedicated to the medieval church.
Opening "Women in the Anglo-Saxon Church," Isobel runs a manicured finger down the names in the index, until she reaches the reference to "Hild, abbess of Whitby." She leafs quickly to the relevant page.
...Hild was born in 614. Like many other influential figures within the church, she was of noble birth. She was the grand-niece of King Edwin, who tried with mixed success to convert Northumberland to Christianity during his reign. Until she was 33, Hild lived a secular life, and there is even some evidence that she married. The latter half of her life, however, was dedicated to the church. She was baptized by Aidan at Lindisfarne, and was made the abbess of Hartlepool abbey. However, a military circumstance allowed her to found a double monastery in Whitby in 657.
King Oswiu of Northumberland, before a battle with King Penda of Mercia, had vowed that if God chose to grant him victory he would give ten estates to the church. Oswiu was victorious, and honoured his vow. One of the offered estates was an area in Whitby of ten hides in size, which was granted to Hild. She set up a double monastery, which housed both men and women, and which later became the site for the famous Synod of Whitby in 664. Hild died in 680 of a wasting sickness.
There are many legends associated with this strong-willed mother of the church. According to one, the building of the abbey was initially impeded by a large number of snakes that infested the area. Since the creatures were venomous and fearful, all appealed to Hild to resolve the problem. Taking up a great whip, Hild went up to the promontory alone. When the snakes approached her, she lashed at them with the whip, driving them back and back, until they stood with their backs to the sheer cliff drop. At this point, realising no further retreat was possible, the serpents raised their heads as one, in preparation to striking down the abbess. Fearless, she gave one great sideways slash with her whip, cutting the heads from all the snakes with one blow. The bodies of the snakes fell over the cliff, writhed in agony, and then turned to stone...
"So what is a jippeg, exactly?"
"Granddad, it's a jpeg, you pronounce it jay-peg. It's a bit like a gif, but you got a bigger range of colours, and it takes longer to download."
Professor Adam Twitchin stares at his grandson Luke as if the latter had suddenly started speaking in tongues. The latter sees his incomprehension, sighs, and tries again.
"JPEG File Interchange Format. It's a way of making computer images. You know, pictures." Twitchin nods, vaguely, and watches as Luke sets about typing in the URL for Karl Hendleby's website. After a few moments, the screen dulls to a deep, misty green. Thirty seconds later it is studded with tiny, glowing pictures and creamy-white text.
"Look, if you click on the pictures, you can see them larger." Click. A roofless, medieval building silhouetted against a storm yellow sky suddenly expands to fill the screen. Dark figures are visible in the shadows among the walls. Click. The image recedes to its previous size. Click. A misty harbour dotted with the dim shapes of boats leaps forward. Click. The picture shrinks again.
Click. The picture of the great flight of steps is the next to fill the screen. The picture is rendered in deep, smoky blues and moody greens, with some details picked out in stark black or white. The face of the man on the steps is one such. The computer image allows for far more detail than the black and white printout sent by SITU, and leaves room for little doubt concerning the identity of the man shown. His dazzled, haunted expression as he scans the shadows behind him, the scar down the side of his face, the combination of hostility and desperate appeal in his gaze - these could belong to no-one but Benedict Riggs.
As the Professor leaves the house, he is met in the hallway by his son Theo. He holds out a cheque, regarding his father with a mixture of reproof and anxiety, for all the world as if he were the father, and Adam the son.
"Here's the money you asked to borrow. I suppose I don't need to tell you that the imminent reshuffle in the MOD..." he clears his throat, his blood pressure almost visibly rising at even the suggestion that his job at the department might be in jeopardy. "I don't need to ask you not to do anything too, to do anything..."
"Don't worry, old boy," says the Professor, gaily, taking the cheque and tucking it into his upper pocket. "Your dear old Pater is only off to Yorkshire for a few days. It's Yorkshire, for goodness sake, not Haiti - what harm can I do there? The noble name of Twitchin is safe in Whitby."
Ugglebarnby 9 miles
Sneatonthorpe 13 miles
Beck Hole 6 miles
Perplexed, Wotan Andrew Weiser once again flashes his pocket torch at the milestone, then back at the map before him. About an hour before, he had taken a turning which a signpost had promised would lead to 'Littlebeck Woods.' Since this time, he has been driving along disturbingly similar roads which seem determined to weave in an aimless manner across the moors, and avoid any of the outposts of civilisation. Too many of the signposts and milestones seem to bear no relation to the places drawn on the map.
After studying the map for a few moments, Andrew sighs, and tosses it onto the back seat of the Landrover. As he starts up the car again, it slips onto the floor, where it nestles next to the portable PC placed for safety under the seat.
Although it would not be apparent to a spectator, Andrew's usually placid temperament is ruffled by more than losing his way on the Yorkshire moors in the pre-dawn light. Before catching his flight from Norway, he had sent a request to SITU for various pieces of equipment - his experiences in Egypt have taught him the dangers to be faced on SITU missions, and the merits of preparation. At Heathrow, however, he received a message informing him that SITU headquarters had been unable to provide him with a two-way police scanner, or forged press cards from the Times or any other paper.
His request for a Beretta 9mm M92, two pump-action shotguns with ammo belts, cases of ammunition and a permit had also been refused. The SITU representative with whom he had spoken on the phone had recommended that he should consult one of his future colleagues, Steve Anderson (otherwise known as 'Side-step') concerning the acquisition of weapons.
SITU had, at least, provided Andrew with the Landrover he is currently driving, a mobile phone which lies in the bag on the passenger seat, and a portable PC with which to stay in contact with headquarters.
Even now, when the slopes and rises of Fangfoss are softened by the pre-dawn mist, the landscape of the moors have a suggestion of dormant energy, like the slack sinews of a sleeping beast. Here and there the smoother contours are broken by outcrops of rock that thrust like fists from the green slopes.
A little before noon, Celestina Mirande descends from the rickety train from Middlesbrough, taking a moment to enjoy the wave of nostalgia that submerges her. Her colourful and striking appearance earn her a few glances as she walks from the station to the Cove Hotel, which is situated on the western cliff, a couple of streets from the harbour. After a brief pause to unpack her luggage, refresh and adjust her appearance, Celestina leaves the hotel again to take a stroll through the streets of Whitby.
She is pleasantly surprised to find that it has changed little since her childhood. The fish market has been modernised, and there are a few new tea shops. In one such shop, she sees cakes handed across the counter by a girl wearing a bowler hat and a rather bored smile.
Walking through the fish market, she inhales the smell of dead fish, remembering the succulent sea food she had enjoyed here before her turn to vegetarianism. Passing the fortune teller on the quay-side, she strolls across the swing bridge to the other side. Despite the fact that it is now late autumn, there are a not inconsiderable number of tourists on the waterfront.
One small boy has sulkily seated himself on the lowest of the 199 steps, and is defying all his parent's attempts to move him. He is clutching a luminous skeleton on a string.
"I don't want to go home. I want to see Dracula again," he announces in a loud, high-pitched whine which is clearly audible to everyone in the vicinity.
After stopping at the Dolphin pub for a Guinness, Celestina heads up one of the narrow streets that lead to the church and the abbey, pausing only to buy a pair of ear-rings from one of the local craft shops. At the end of the cobbled street she finds the base of the famous 199 steps, which she climbs swiftly, pausing once or twice to admire the view.
Amid the gravestones of St Mary's church, she finds the seat where Dracula had bitten Lucy Westenra, and recalls the pleasure she felt when she had discovered it as a child. She strolls around the church, enjoying the naval flavour of the building, courtesy of the seventeenth century shipwrights who had designed it. After leaving the church, she pays a quick visit to the abbey, casting a regretful eye at the wealth of scaffolding that now supports the old building.
As she is returning to the Cove Hotel, she comes unexpectedly upon Isobel Blyth, who is standing on the western side of the harbour, looking east to where the 199 steps rise. The two women greet one another warmly.
"I came here a day early, just to get a feel for the place," explains Isobel. "I've been walking up and down trying to find the place from which Hendleby painted his picture." She holds up the little printout of the painting that had been sent out by SITU with the initial briefing. "I wanted to see how it compared with reality. "It's quite an accurate representation, except that he's played with the scale a bit. You see, he's made the steps larger, so that he can make the figure larger. If the whole thing was drawn to scale, you wouldn't be able to make out the face of the figure."
She puts the printout back in her bag, and the two women walk back to the hotel.
"I hope that we'll be able to work with the other half of our new group," remarks Celestina. "Perhaps we should meet up with them beforehand for a meal, so we can all get acquainted."
"As a matter of fact, I've already had a message from one of the others. Apparently, they're meeting up at a pub near Littlebeck before moving on to the safe house, and they suggested that we meet them there this afternoon."
"Good. Let's see if we can rent a car, then drive over to Littlebeck."
At a little after two, Dr Matt Culver enters the Owl's Beard Inn, in Littlebeck. A quick glance around the saloon shows him the figure of Professor Twitchin, who is seated in the farthest corner, his gaunt form dressed in a tweed jacket, tough walking shoes. A canvas shoulder knapsack is placed on the seat beside him, and a pair of binoculars dangle around his neck. A battered, blue sailor cap sits upon his head.
"Matt, my lad, you're looking a little peaky."
"I know, I know, I've not been so well lately. Just call me Nosferatu, eh?" Culver manages a wry smile, although he is painfully aware of how his appearance has altered since the pair last met. His black, polo-neck sweater fails to conceal the extent of his recent weight loss. The joke is a bitter one. His hair is close cropped as usual, and this increases the slightly skull-like appearance created by his hollowed face.
"Never mind, some bracing sea air will soon put a little colour in your cheeks. And they do say cod liver oil..."
Outside the pub, a Landrover pulls up. Side-step gets out of the passenger seat, walks around to the back of the Rover, and retrieves his camouflage-patterned bergen. Hoisting it over one shoulder he walks back to driver's side, and leans down to speak through the window.
"Okay, Jim, thanks a lot mate. I'll see ya at the next party, wherever that may be. Don't go getting up to any shenanigans without me. I'll let you know as soon as I'm done here, okay?"
As he strolls over to the pub, the Landrover turns, and speeds away down the road.
As he enters, Culver and Twitchin recognise the familiar figure in its customary uniform of jeans, T-shirt, American flying jacket and desert boots, and they wave him over. Side-step orders a Southern Comfort, then joins them. His face shows the fading shadows of two black eyes, a scabby cut across the bridge of his nose and a slightly swollen lip. His spirits are clearly high, and he greets his colleagues warmly.
On a leather thong from Culver's neck, Side-step notices a little candy-pink fetish decorated with heart-shaped veves. He glances at the psychiatrist and raises an eyebrow. Culver catches his eye.
"Matter of faith," he says, whirling the fetish on its string. The mirror on the back flashes in the dim lights of the pub. "Like your lighter. Besides, they're all the rage on the Paris catwalks, sweetie."
"Oh yes, have you updated your lighter yet, Mr S?" asks Twitchin. "Zombies nil? Some of this may be a little more in your active line. I'm concerned about these newcomers, they may think a little too deeply about what we are up to here. As far as I am concerned our one and only aim is to get Benny back. He may be a little hatstand, but he is our hatstand, chum. If these new boys start chasing off after other great conspiracies or the like, let 'em, let 'em."
Side-step seems less inclined to take the matter philosophically.
"Why we gotta have a bunch of FNG's with us? It's bad news. We oughta just stick to the three of us. We know how each other operates."
Glancing past his friend, Culver clears his throat, and nods in the direction of the door. Standing in the doorway is a deeply tanned man in his mid thirties, who is gazing about the bar as if looking for someone. His hair is blond and cut short, and he is dressed in combat trousers, walking boots and a tan-coloured casual shirt. A pair of Raybans are tucked in his top pocket. From a ribbon around his neck hangs a single animal tooth, polished and varnished. His manner is self-contained, but confident.
Noticing the group appraising him from the corner, he approaches them.
"You look as if you're waiting for someone. Perhaps it's me. I'm Dr John Stone."
Culver rises and extends a hand.
John Stone runs a quick eye over the three other men at the table. Culver appears to be in his late twenties, and wears a gold stud in his nose, and a plain gold ring through each earlobe. His manner is engaging and almost intimate. Professor Twitchin is a slight, elderly gentleman, whose clothes seem a little out of place, as if they had been donned by an extra in an Ealing comedy. Side-step, a short but rather forbidding figure with an aggressive crew-cut and traces of fading bruises about his face, introduces himself with a tight, hostile smile.
"Nice to meet some new agents," says Culver conversationally. "Call me Dr Paranoid, but I was beginning to think we were the only ones, that the whole SITU thing was, oh, I don't know, a huge piece of performance art dreamed up by a bunch of spotty Arts students at Leeds University."
John Stone smiles. His discussion with Culver warms when each discovers that the other is a fellow psychiatrist.
"So your field is forensic psychiatry? Interesting." John Stone surreptitiously waves away Twitchin's cigarette smoke, and describes the path his own career has taken.
"So you're a radio therapist, like in Frasier, yeah? Hell, I just know we're going to disagree about Freud." Culver grins.
At this point, the party is joined by two more men, who have sighted John Stone from the door. The group shift to provide room for more chairs around the table, and Mickey Thomas and Andrew Wotan Weiser sit down with the rest. Andrew is a little under six feet tall, with fair hair and blue eyes. When he introduces himself, his Scandinavian accent is perceptible.
Mickey is a few inches shorter, with hair of an indeterminate, dark colour, centrally parted. He is dressed in blue jeans, a black leather jacket and a white cotton shirt. He introduces himself cordially to the strangers in the group.
"Oh, this and that," he answers, when questioned about his profession.
At about three, Celestina appears at the door, and returns Mickey's wave. She is a woman of striking appearance, and an almost palpable presence. Her skin is a smooth, mid-brown, and her makeup subtly accentuates the delicate bone structure of her face. Her mouth is wide and full, and her almond eyes are of a brown so deep that the pupils are almost lost in the irises. Her slim figure is swathed in a printed dress, and she wears dark leggings, elegant brown sandals and an orange head-dress which sweeps back her black, curly hair. Large gold and wooden ear-rings nestle beside her neck, and about her neck hang lengths of chunky jewellery.
Behind her enters Isobel Blyth, dressed as smartly as her companion, if somewhat less vividly, in casual but well-cut jacket and skirt. Her jewellery is somewhat more restrained than Celestina's, and there is a wedding ring upon her third finger. As she appears, Mickey calls out her name. As she looks towards the table, he flashes her a quick wink.
Side-step, who had shown signs of barely concealed anger at the appearance of Celestina in the doorway, can contain himself no longer as Isobel appears at her side.
"Jesus H Christ, somebody please tell me it's April Fool's day and this is somebody's idea of a joke. Ha bloody ha. I'm outta here, I ain't got time for this shit." To the consternation of the rest of the group, Side-step rises abruptly and grabs his bergen. After all but clambering past the rest of those seated, he makes for the door of the pub.
Culver also rises, gazing after Side-step with some surprise.
"Sorry. Side-step doesn't seem to like women. Sadly for some of us, he's no keener on men. Don't worry, he'll be fine once he's had his little strop." The others watch as Culver intercepts Side-step at the door, speaks with him earnestly, and after a short interval leads him back to the group. Side-step is still subdued and icy.
Professor Twitchin observes the Baron Samedi fetish around Celestina's neck, gently touches it, and smiles indulgently.
"My dear lady, been there, done that, and as I believe the youngsters today say, got the 'ridden by Dambala' T-shirt." He pauses. Somehow, despite her youth, Celestina has rather too much of an aura about her for him to feel quite comfortable in his patronising tone.
Following the line of Twitchin's eye, Culver also sees the Samedi talisman, and reacts with mock terror.
"He tried to kill us, you know," he says, nodding towards the fetish. "Nice hat, though." Celestina extends a hand to be shaken. From his reading, Culver recognises the disposition of her fingers as a gesture towards a standard voodoo handshake. He responds appropriately, shaking her hand so that his thumb encircles her protruding forefinger. Celestina recognises the gaudy, pink talisman around Culver's neck as a fetish of Ezili.
"Well, since we're all here, shall I phone the safe house to let them know that we're ready to be picked up?" asks Side-step.
The transport provided by SITU takes the form of two Landrovers, not unlike the one driven by Andrew. The path to the safe house is deeply rutted, and makes for a rather bumpy journey. Ten minutes after leaving the picturesque, little village, the trees start to thin, and soon one side of the path gives a view onto open moorland.
When the Landrovers come to a halt, the party get out to discover themselves at a large gate to which is attached a high voltage warning sign.
"Don't pay any attention to that, it's just to discourage intruders." A young man with a grey suit and a long, rather loose-looking jaw hurries forward, holding out his hand. "So pleased you could come. I'm Brett Piner, SITU headquarters sent me down to give you any assistance that I can. Here are your passes - would you be so good as to wear them while you're in the installation. Thank you." He hands out passes with the name of each operative and their rank. "Oh, and here are your briefings on Benedict Riggs, Jeffrey Fanlight and Jeremiah Fulk." He hands out several brown paper envelopes, each with the recipient's name on the front. The group cannot help but notice that the envelopes destined for the executives seem to be rather thicker than those given to the agents.
Observing Brett's rather nervous and deferential manner, John Stone guesses that the young man has not reached executive status yet himself, perhaps not even the rank of agent, and is rather in awe of the visitors.
Inside the envelopes are several pictures of Benedict Riggs. The biography is somewhat sparse, but indicates that Riggs spent some years as a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, during which time he acquitted himself with distinction. After a traumatic incident the nature of which was to remain a mystery, he was placed on a permanent leave as a result of mental illness. He was diagnosed paranoiac. While working for SITU, this mental condition again became acute, and after the termination of one particularly turbulent mission, Riggs was given sanctuary in a SITU safe house so that he could undergo treatment. The photographs enclosed show a man of about thirty, with a white, drawn face, regarding the camera with intense suspicion. In some cases, his hands are raised as if to fend away the flash, the angle at which they are held resembling some sort of martial arts posture.
According to the briefing, the Reverend Jeffrey Fanlight is a SITU executive, who has just completed his second mission. His photograph shows a man with a rounded, rubicund face, surrounded by a fringe of white hair and a thick, white beard that gives him a rather Father-Christmas-like appearance. This jovial appearance is marred only by the fact that in the picture he is wearing biker leathers, from which his dog collar peeps somewhat incongruously. The briefing records that his first mission took him to Transylvania, but provides no details of his second.
Each envelope also includes a photograph of Jeremiah Fulk, who appears to be a slight, solemn-looking man. His clothes are black, and hang from his slender frame in a curious fashion as if they were designed for another man. Wisps of grey hair hang lankly either side of a long, rather nervous face. His expression is curiously unfocussed and ethereal, almost other-worldly. The briefing states baldly that Fulk was encountered and rescued by Fanlight and his colleagues during their last mission, but does not give many further details. It states only that Fulk was suffering from severe trauma and shock, and that SITU were keeping him at the safe house while he was 'adapting.'
"Have you any idea why Fanlight escorted Fulk from the safe house?" asks Isobel, folding up the briefing sheets.
"We've no clear idea, Mrs Blyth," answers Piner, politely. "The men who were guarding Fulk will be at your disposal, if you'd like to question them. He shows his pass to one of the guards, and the gate is opened. On either side of the gate, a long fence extends, topped with barbed wire. Piner glances up at it, ruefully, and points to a place where a scrap of material flaps on a wire tooth.
"We think that's where Mr Riggs went over, while the electric fence was malfunctioning. We hadn't realised quite how... acrobatic he could be when he put his mind to it. Also, you see, the barbed wire prongs, well, they sort of point out, rather than in..."
"Riggs broke out?"
"Oh, yes, we think so." Piner looks confused. "Wasn't that covered in your briefing? As far as we can gather, Riggs overpowered the man who came to inspect the camera in his room, and knocked him out, and then slipped out through the installations electronic defences while they were deactivated."
"So all your electronic security measures were sabotaged, not just the camera." Professor Twitchin looks thoughtful. "Did you ever find out what was wrong with it?"
"No, all the systems started working again about half an hour after the original malfunction. We've had engineers in to look at them, but there's no sign of the cause of the fault."
"What I'd really like to know," continues Twitchin, conversationally, "is which idiot put a well-known paranoiac under 24 hour CCTV surveillance?"
There is an uncomfortable silence, during which Piner swallows uncomfortably. "Headquarters were quite explicit in their orders about surveillance. They felt that Mr Riggs' case demanded it."
"Which direction did the screams come from?" asks Side-step, who has been scanning the moors while the others have been talking.
"Over there." Piner points.
After a brief discussion, it is decided that Side-step, Mickey Thomas and John Stone are to search the moors around the safe house, and look for any trace of Riggs, while the others should take a tour of the safe house, and interview the staff.
"Here's Riggs' room. We've tried to keep it pretty much as it was - except we've thrown out the food he was hiding instead of eating." The room is small, its walls covered in cream-coloured paint. A large poster on one wall shows agents Mulder and Scully in serious contemplation of some object that illuminates their features. "We had to give him his own television and video. When he shared one with the residents, he kept pressing 'pause' and trying to catch the subliminal messages that he thought were hidden in all the programmes."
Isobel shudders as she moves about the room. There is a smell of discomfort about the room, harsh as a raggedly caught breath. She turns suddenly.
Piner stares at her. "Mrs Blyth?"
"Sorry, I thought... I thought you whispered something."
Culver shuts the medical files for Benedict Riggs with a snap.
"Are there any files on Benedict? These look just like the notes I handed to SITU after I diagnosed him. Are there any files written by other psychiatrists that have been seen to him?"
"I... I think they felt that your diagnosis had covered the main points." Piner is clearly a little out of his depth.
"What sort of work was Benedict Riggs engaged in before he entered the safe house?" asks Isobel, who has been looking at the file over Culver's shoulder.
"He went on a couple of missions with us," explains Twitchin. "One witch-hunting in Oxfordshire, and on mission in dear old Haiti."
Isobel is eager to acquire more details about Fulk, but very little are forthcoming. Fulk's medical records, which Culver has requisitioned, are fairly cryptic. They seem to be less a matter of consistent psychiatric diagnosis than a diary of comments, such as "patient's condition much improved." There does not appear to have been any marked deterioration in Fulk's psychological state, such as had been observed in the case of Riggs.
"Are there any more complete files on Fulk?" asks Isobel.
"I'll take you to talk to the guards that were looking after him - perhaps that would be best," responds their guide.
From an interview with these guards, the party learn that Fulk had been in the secure installation for a matter of a few months, and had always been "quiet, and no trouble, but a bit distant." When they push for information about the man, the group get the distinct impression that they are being stonewalled.
According to the guards, Fanlight does not seem to have employed any subterfuge in carrying off Jeremiah Fulk, and it seems this bravado, as much as anything, that had accounted for the success of his project.
"He's been to the installation before, and he was an executive, and the guard on the door knew him, so they gave him a badge and let him in. And as he went in, the guard asked him if he was here to see Fulk, and the Reverend said no, he was here to take him out. Then he just swept on in, and he was so confident that the guard thought he must be acting with orders from headquarters.
"Well, he got in, and found Fulk who he'd visited before, and then said something like, 'well, my lad, get your things, you're coming with me.' And we were just outside the door, and it was the first we'd heard of it, so we tried to question the Reverend about what he was doing. Anyway, he just started leading Fulk away by the sleeve, saying that he was in his care now, and we couldn't make out if he was taking him over officially or not. So we called out for some backup.
"Anyway, Fanlight was an executive, and we didn't have anyone of the right rank, so we got word that we were to let him go. So he strolled out, and Jeremiah Fulk climbs up on the back of the Reverend's motorcycle, shaking all the time. The sound of bike's engine was just fading in the distance when we heard the screams from the other side of the installation."
"Does anyone know anything of Fanlight? Has anyone here worked with him before?" Twitchin gives each of his colleagues an interrogative glance. Each shakes his or her head.
Wotan Andrew Weiser joins Celestina by the window, as she looks out across the moors.
"I'm glad you're here, Celestina," he says, quietly. "I know your knowledge is of more use against supernatural creatures than guns and bullets. Tell me, do you know if werewolves can be destroyed by fire?"
Outside the safehouse, Stone, Side-step and Mickey Thomas fan out to search the area.
Side-step follows the direction from which Riggs' screams appeared to issue. The ground is too rugged and too many days have passed for any trace of the fugitive's footprints to be visible. Trudging through the heath, Side-step keeps his eyes peeled, but can see no evidence of the incident.
His steps ultimately take him to the perimeter fence of a large farm. A pair of Dobermans come bounding from a doorway as he approaches, and bounce up against the wire mesh of the fence, snarling. A whistle from their owner calls them away. Side-step manages to start a conversation with the farmer, who appears to be of a more friendly disposition than his animals. He learns that, on the night when the 'jail-break' occurred, the dogs were unusually restive.
Mickey Thomas takes a south-easterly path which leads him through an attractive patch of woodland. At one point he finds himself on the verge of a steep, ice-clear water fall, under a dome of foliage that seems to protect it like a temple roof. A small sign informs him that this is 'Falling Foss' after which the local moor had gained its name.
On the way back to the safe house, he comes across a small building, crudely hewn from the rock. It is shaped more like a mushroom than a man-made thing. A rough, arch-shaped building is cut into the front, and the whole is bright green with centuries of moss. A cracked sign advertises this as 'The Hermitage.' Mickey puts his head in through the door, then withdraws it, puzzled. The earth floor of the old building has been recently disturbed.
John Stone stands out on the open moorland, and surveys the surrounding landscape.
He imagines a man scaling the outer fence, and standing before the safe house, ready to flee. Which way does he run? To the shadow of the woodlands, distant but still within view, within reasonable sprinting distance? No, he runs out onto the open moor. Riggs, the paranoiac with a fear of being observed, runs out into open land, where a well-aimed torch might have picked out his figure.
When the reconnaissance party return, the group prepare to leave.
"I'd like to look at some more in depth files on Fulk and Benedict," says Culver as he takes his leave of Piner. "Could you get in touch with headquarters and get them sent to me?" Piner agrees to try his best.
"Oh, and one other thing." Brett Piner looks slightly pained as the Professor halts again. "Would you mind telling me who it was who noticed Benny's picture in the website?"
Piner looks somewhat relieved.
"Oh, I think that was Quentin Kay. He lives in Sneatonthorpe, and has rather a... an enthusiasm about Whitby Abbey. He has lots of theories about the abbey, which he is naturally keen to share with us. He's been a member of SITU for about a year now, but he has acute agoraphobia, so he's not really able to go on missions. He sends us new... evidence for his theories on virtually a weekly basis, and since it's our policy to follow up our leads, we tend to look into everything he sends us, even the more obscure URLs. Here, I'll give you his address."
After they have returned to the Cove Hotel, the group are unified by a sense of discontent. Side-step who still seems somewhat subdued and hostile, moves away to the bar for a quiet drink alone. The rest discuss their discoveries, and decide on their next move.
"Unless anyone else had any better ideas, I suggest we start with Karl Hendleby himself," says John Stone. "We could approach him claiming to be potential buyers for his paintings. Let's see, it's about four o'clock now, it's probably not too late to drop in on him."
Twitchin's research of the web site has yielded an address and telephone number. An address for a gallery currently showing an exhibition of Hendleby's work is also given. This seems to be in the same street as Hendleby's own home.
When the number is rung, a recorded message responds.
"Hi, this is Karl Hendleby. I'm not in right now. If it's earlier than 11am, I'm asleep, and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you want to buy a painting, ignore that last statement, I'm in my studio working like the devil. Leave me a message, and I'll get back to you. Or just drop round." There are a long sequence of beeps.
It is decided that the SITU members will take Hendleby up on his kind offer to 'drop round.' Since eight seems a rather intimidating and suspicious number of 'buyers,' it is decided that only John Stone, Isobel, Culver and Celestina should approach the door. The others are to take a look in the gallery, and thus remain within call.
The gallery is all but deserted. Side-step and Mickey look singularly out of place. With his bruised face, Side-step in particular gives the uncomfortable impression of an individual sent to case the joint, rather than to relish art.
Hendleby's art is rather sellable but uninspired mood-pieces. He has a good, if unimaginative feel for atmosphere, and many of his scenes are draped in luminous green, blue or golden smog. Strolling among the exhibited paintings, the group notice that there is no sign of the painting in which Riggs had appeared.
Celestina presses the doorbell once again, and there is still no response. Shading her eyes, she peers in through the windows. The curtains are all drawn, and there is no sign of light inside.
"Look." Isobel points at the letterbox. Crammed into the slot is a great slab of mail. The postmark of one letter is visible, and shows it to have been stamped nearly a week before.