The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Witless In Whitby
Catching the alteration in Stone's countenance, Culver turns his head, and notes the somewhat ethereal face of Emmanuel glowing softly in the subdued light a few rows behind. An exchange of glances between Stone and Culver is enough to show each that the other has noticed the mysterious fugitive of the previous day. As if angling so that the scant light on the stage can fall upon his program, Matt Culver changes his position in his seat. His new situation allows him to throw sidelong glances at Emmanuel.
The young man is almost motionless, but for a slight motion of his lips as he mouths the Latin words in time with the singer, as if he has heard them many times before. His face might have been snatched from the canvas of some devotional Renaissance painting, and he smiles like a young apostle caught in the thrall of a religious vision.
Mickey quickly notices the subject of his companions' surreptitious glances. Quietly, apologetically, he rises from his chair, and makes his way to the aisle. He walks softly to the door of the hall, taking care not to glance at Emmanuel. After a brief visit to the men's toilets which lie to the right of the entrance corridor, he returns to the main hall. However, he does not make his way back to his seat, but instead positions himself in the shadows at the back of the hall, from which he can observe his colleagues, Emmanuel, and the action on the stage.
At the far end of the hall, the light strengthens, and spreads across the entirety of the stage. The woman at its heart slowly lowers her arms, as if waking from some kind of trance. She appears to be standing in a modest but decorously furnished Victorian living room, complete with a rounded table, shrouded in a white lace tablecloth that falls in pleated folds to the floor, a high-backed chair which wears its dull, gold tassels with an air of faded gentility, and a sampler stand. Painted to the backdrop are a dresser full of white and pink china, a grandfather clock that seems to owe its sonorous tick to the sound system on the gallery, a book case, and a window which shows a night sky in which the moon gleams vividly.
The woman makes a number of small, prim adjustments to her hair, and smoothes an imaginary ruffle in the line of her skirts. She seats herself in the high-backed chair, and starts to sew.
Somewhere beyond the painted world, a man starts to sing, very softly, taking up the tune that the woman had sung a moment before. Apparently oblivious, the figure in the chair continues to ply her needle. The man's voice moves into a crescendo, and at the same time the faint sound of the wind becomes audible, presumable issuing from the speakers above the stage. The woman does not look up, but her demeanour changes. She seems subtly unnerved, restless.
Still the song of the hidden man grows louder, and still the woman does not appear to hear. She makes a few more attempts to keep her attention upon her embroidery, then abandons it and rises from her chair. She takes a few uneasy paces back and forth, then reaches for the painted window and makes a gesture as if to close it. Abruptly, the song ceases, and a few seconds later, the stage subsides into darkness once more.
There is a frantic scuffle and bang, and the audience are aware of dark figures moving around the stage, shifting objects and whispering furiously to one another.
After a brief pause, the sound of wind resumes. Dry ice is vigorously emitted by the hidden machinery once again, and one or two of the watching SITU members have to stifle coughs as they are submerged in the dry, floury-smelling white smog. There is a long, theatrical creak, like that used in a radio play to indicate that a door has been opened. And then there is light, five frail, twitching ghosts of yellow, light. A man in sombre, black clothes is holding up a candle-holder, and appears to be peering forward, as if looking out across the audience. He smiles suddenly, as though his gaze has fallen upon the object he sought, and the next instant another man has walked within the range of the candle light.
"Mr Harker? I am Count Dracula..."
The light rises a little, but remains somewhat muted. A nervous-looking young man in late Victorian dress shakes invisible droplets of rain from his hat, and follows his host. Behind them, the backdrop shows an abstract tessellation of grey shapes, like the pattern of stones in a wall, seen through some distorting filter. Perspective is everywhere distorted, and there are some pockets of shadow that seem to be at once corridors receding from light, and shadows cast by protrusions from the 'wall.' The optical effect is skilfully managed, and the eye is further confused by the leaping of the candles.
The play quickly proves to be little more than a fairly faithful adaptation of Dracula, albeit with somewhat more music than Stoker's novel. Once one adapts to the way in which characters tend to break out into song in times of stress, the whole affair is rather enjoyable. The production bears the hallmarks of youthful enthusiasm, imagination, patchy but distinctive talent, and extremely limited resources.
The actor playing Dracula has a rather fine voice, rich and bittersweet like dark chocolate. He has a suitably imposing carriage and appearance, marred only by a tendency for his eyes to bulge whenever he attempts to sustain a note for a prolonged period. The three brides of Dracula have what is perhaps the best song, a complex, eerie three-part harmony.
Of all the cast, however, it is Tina Mamba, the actress playing Mina, who generates the most stage presence. Even while maintaining a quiet, almost impassive demeanour, she attracts all eyes.
Glancing backwards at Emmanuel, Culver notes that the young man never takes his eyes off 'Mina' for an instant.
Isobel finds herself quite absorbed in the action of the play, although she is a little distracted by a slightly claustrophobic sense of warmth, of constriction of her ability to breathe. She attributes this to the choking effect of the dry ice, and the warmth generated by a hall full of human bodies. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices that Culver has removed his leather jacket, as if also in response to an increase in temperature.
When the interval arrives, and the main hall is illuminated once more, Culver leans over towards his fellow psychiatrist.
"Our Dracula's fast becoming The Phantom of the Opera, eh? One of the more approachable among us should check out Miss Mamba, and someone else try to follow Emmanuel. I'm off to make some calls." Leaning across to Side-step, Matt persuades his colleague to loan him his phone. Feigning a fit of coughing, Culver rises from his seat, and shuffles towards the main door.
As he passes the row of seats in which Emmanuel sits, Culver allows himself a glance at the other man. Emmanuel is smiling down into his cupped hands, as if he were holding something very precious open to his gaze. Once again, the small, black circles are visible in the centre of each palm. Culver notes that there are no similar marks on the back of the youth's hands. Just as the psychiatrist is passing, a tiny, hesitant frown passes across Emmanuel's face, but the young man does not raise his eyes.
There is a small, unoccupied waiting room on the left hand side of the entrance corridor. Seating himself in a corner of this room, Culver takes out Side-step's phone and dials.
"Mark? It's Matt. Yeah, still alive - just. Look, I need a favour. Well, two actually. D'you still have access to Medline?"
Mark listens to Culver's requests, and there is the faint scratching of pencil on paper.
"Only for you, Matt, m'dear. Who else would phone me at ten at night with a mystery inquiry about the new Messiah? Stops me becoming blasé in my old age. So, you want me to cross-reference 'Whitby' with 'stigmatics' on the database, right? And then you want me to ring around all the psychiatric hospitals to see if they know anything about a," a faint rustle of paper, "man in his early twenties, 6'2", shoulder length fair hair, blue eyes, weight approximately 11 stone, marks in the centre of his palms. And I'm to say he's a 'self-harmer with religiose delusions,' and he's turned up in London. Has he turned up in London? No, I didn't think so.
"So who is this 'Emmanuel' of yours meant to be, Matt? Does he think he's Jesus come again, or is he Yeats' 'rough beast?'"
"I'll get back to you on that one, Mark. Cheers. My regards to Buddha."
"Why not try talking to him yourself? The pair of you might get on."
After Mark has hung up, Matt dials a second time, calling his friend Peter Drummond.
"Hullo, Matt. Have I heard of who? David Caine? No, I don't know the name off hand. Where's he based? I see. Yes, sure, I'll ask around."
Matt pushed the aerial back into the phone, which he places in an inner pocket. This done, he leaves the waiting room and wanders out through the external door. The ticket seller has now abandoned her station at the door, and the little chair and table have been removed. Matt crosses the empty street, and finds a dark doorway in which he settles to watch the community centre.
John Stone has also risen from his seat, and followed the small stream of people making their way to the toilets by the exit.
When he returns, like Mickey he does not come back to join his colleagues, but instead sits down in one of the empty seats in the back row, so that he too can watch Emmanuel without making himself obvious.
When the psychiatrist has passed out of earshot, the Professor leans towards Side-step, and mutters in his ear.
"Side-step, these FNGs - 'flipping new girls' presumably - are proving quite helpful. Try and be a little more cooperative, old chum."
Andrew, meanwhile, is surreptitiously scrying the seats behind him, camera in hand. Throughout the first half of the performance, he has been engaged in taking photographs of the cast. Now he twists in his seat, frowning at his camera as if he suspects it may be faulty. Lifting his camera to shoulder height, he shakes it slightly, and then gives the button on top an experimental tap. There is a click and flash, and Andrew has taken a photograph of the rows directly behind him, including the face of Emmanuel.
Isobel, who has observed Andrew's sleight of hand with the camera, also witnesses Emmanuel's reaction, sees him wince violently as the flash goes off, his large eyes narrowing to slits. She hastily turns to face the stage once more as Emmanuel's eyes start to scan the rows of seats in front of him.
From the back of hall, Mickey scans the audience, trying to ascertain whether anyone else appears to be taking an interest in the enigmatic Emmanuel. After a while, he notices that one man in the back row is directing his gaze at the young stranger with marked regularity. However, Mickey cannot be sure that it is not simply the peculiarity of Emmanuel's demeanour that is attracting the other man's curious glances.
The other watcher is seated just across the aisle from John Stone. From his post by the door, Mickey make out a tightly curling crop of brown hair, and a blunt-nosed profile. The man's figure is hidden in a large, baggy, blue jacket..
The lights dim once more, and when the stage is once more illuminated, the backdrop is as stark and white as a hospital sheet. Before this pallid void, a man is pacing. High above his head, a tiny barred window has been painted onto the sheet.
A maddening buzz starts to sing and sigh, and drill and whine. The man on the stage follows the unseen insect with his eyes, pounces for it, catches it, examines it, eats it. Men in white overalls emerge from the wings, and he backs from them, pale, hunched, defensive. The man is Renfield, the madman. The attendants speak to him jocularly at first, then with more of a bullying tone. He turns on them, and they withdraw, uttering threats, leaving him howling in his white, shadowless hell.
From behind the scenes rolls the rich, deep voice of the actor playing Dracula, singing the same song that Mina had sung at the start of the play. Now the melody is smooth and insidious as a serenade. After a while, the Latin lyrics are replaced by English words, coaxing, tempting, seducing. In broken snatches, the man in the cell starts to sing along. As his voice grows louder and stronger, the cruel light fades, and the room fills with mist. Just before the light vanishes altogether, the audience can see that there is now a second figure on the stage.
The narrative progresses. Dracula attacks Mina, and the heroes sing a pledge to his destruction. The last few scenes suffer from the lack of resources and equipment. A hell-for-leather chase across Transylvania is a little hard to simulate on a minimal stage, and the final battle in which Dracula is slain is somewhat anticlimactic.
Celestina stifles a small yawn as the cast emerge to receive their curtain calls. When they retreat for the last time, she rises from her seat, and peers across the hall towards the stage. To the right of the platform is a small door, upon which is hung a sign which reads 'Cast Only.' She picks up her bag, then leans over to Side-step and smiles, placing her hand over his.
"Stephen, seeing as you have something to prove, why don't you take Mickey and see if you can keep hold of Emmanuel this time?"
Coldly maintaining eye contact, Side-step slides his hand out from under hers.
"The name's Side-step."
He gives a rapid glance over his shoulder towards Emmanuel, then turns his face forward again abruptly.
"Look out, he's on the move," he hisses under his breath.
Emmanuel has indeed risen from his seat and made his way to aisle. Instead of walking towards the exit, however, he strides swiftly towards the stage. As he passes the row in which the operatives are seated, he turns his head, flashes an ice-white smile, and flutters his finger-tips in a wave. He paces quickly to the door upon which the sign hangs, throws it open and passes through it.
Celestina moves swiftly to the aisle, and walks after him in a brisk, confident but apparently unhurried manner.
Side-step gets to his feet, and moves towards the exit, pushing firmly through the placid stream of the departing audience.
"Where are you off to?" hisses Mickey as Side-step passes him.
"Round the back - got a hunch. Stay there so he can't leave this way."
From his hiding place in the doorway, Matt notices the audience start to leave, some laughing, some stretching their cramped limbs, one or two trying to hum tunes from the play. One parent is carrying a child overwhelmed with sleepiness. At last, he sees the short, pugnacious figure of Side-step leave the hall, and walk quickly around the side of the building. Culver raises an eyebrow.
One couple walking along the street hesitate as they see Culver's slightly emaciated form sitting hunched in the doorway. The girl pulls away from her companion for a moment, fiddles with a small red velvet pouch, and then produces a coin, which she places in Culver's hand before he has time to realise her intention. As the pair walk away, Culver smiles bleakly at the fifty pence piece in his hand.
Ignoring the sign that reads, 'Cast Only,' Celestina pushes open the door, and finds herself in one end of a long corridor that extends to the left. Directly ahead of her are two flights of stairs, one leading up, one down. On one side of the corridor are two doors which clearly open onto the back of the stage in the main hall. Numerous people are currently engaged in manhandling props through these doors. On the other side of the corridor are three or four doors. These appear to open onto little offices, which are at the moment doubling as dressing rooms.
There is no sign of Emmanuel.
There is a certain amount of good-humoured confusion. Celestina has to duck quickly to save her hat from a clumsily wielded wooden gravestone.
"Sorry, love," calls the grave-stone carrier. He is clad entirely in black, presumably so that he can move around the stage and shift props without being too obvious to the audience. "You looking for anyone particular?"
"Well, I was hoping to speak to the director or producer of the play, but I'd be glad to talk to any of the cast that are free."
"Director'll be about. Oi, Suzie, where's Greg?"
"'aving kittens about the amplifier crackles," says one of the brides of Dracula, pulling the ring pull from a can of beer. "'e's on the gallery."
"He'll be down soon, pull up a pew." The grave-stone carrier gives Celestina a broad smile, its warmth not unmixed with traces of admiration and curiosity. "In fact here he is. Hey, Greg, lady to see you, you lucky sod."
With a vigorous but tense stride a slight man in his early thirties is approaching. His hair is cut short but unevenly, so that it somewhat resembles the irregular sprouting of moss on an old stone. A tight gold and black striped polo neck give him a waspish, spindle-limbed look. His motions suggest that he has found himself in this world with more joints and angles that most of his species but that he is bitterly resigned to make the best of it. His lips are continually in tense, spasmodic motion, as if words were trying to escape him, and he were dedicated to their incarceration.
"Greg Major. As you can see, we're rather busy right now. We don't encourage people who aren't members of the cast to wander around back stage. If you're waiting for anyone in particular, there's a nice waiting room by the main entrance."
Celestina firmly ignores the nervous hand which has gripped her elbow and is attempting to manoeuvre her towards the door.
"No-one in particular," she says smoothly. "As a matter of fact, I'm the deputy manager of the York Royal Theatre. I'm currently trying to decide what productions are to have a run at the theatre next season. I'd heard good word-of-mouth reports concerning 'Out for the Count,' and I decided to investigate it. Having seen this evening's performance I felt it was incumbent upon me to congratulate the cast in person."
The hand on her elbow is no longer attempting to propel her from the corridor.
"The York Royal Theatre?" Celestina smiles, and nods. Greg Major wets his lips, evidently engaging in an acute mental struggle. She has clearly struck the right note with her cover story, but the director of Out for Count has the nervously tenacious manner of the compulsive, and the violation of a company rule appears to stick in his craw. "Well, we're very obliged... yes, and we would love to talk about this some time.... Nonetheless..." The pressure on Celestina's arm resumes, then relinquishes, as Greg Major's gaze moves beyond Celestina, to rest upon another individual cheerfully violating the sanctity of the 'Cast Only' zone.
"Wonderful performance, bravo!" Celestina hears behind her, in Professor Twitchin's unmistakable tone.
"Excuse me one moment," Greg mutters in a harassed tone, moving away to intercept the new figure. Celestina sees the director greet the professor, and then attempt to shepherd him from the premises. As if unaware of the other's efforts, Twitchin continues along the corridor, offering good-humoured congratulations to those members of the cast which stray within hailing range. For an almost imperceptible instant his gaze meets that of his female colleague. His eye has a trace of a twinkle in it.
She takes her cue, and moves further along the corridor towards the doors of the 'dressing rooms.'
As she approaches the nearest of these doors, it is suddenly flung open.
"God, I HATE that thing!" One pink fist slams a rough canvas corset down on a pile of boxes next to the door. "Oh, thank CHRIST, I can BREATHE again. LOOK, EVERYBODY, I'VE GOT BREASTS AGAIN oh hello." The figure in the doorway lowers the volume of her voice as she becomes aware of Celestina standing barely a foot away, and makes an attempt to draw her dressing gown around herself.
Mina Harker has undergone a startling transformation. The smooth, brown, impeccably dressed tresses now hang from one hand, and the fabric lining of the wig is clearly visible. The hair revealed by its removal is an inch in length, and a rather artificial shade of creamy white. Dark roots are visible near the scalp. Bonnet, gown and frock coat are no more; the girl in the door is dressed only in underwear and in a loose, luridly orange dressing gown in a mock-kimono style, which hangs open to show a rather plentiful figure that must indeed have undergone tortures to simulate the delicate, wasp-waisted form of Mina Harker.
"Hi, I'm representing the York Royal Theatre." The girl shakes Celestina's extended hand warmly enough, but there is a slightly quizzical look in her eye. "I wanted to tell you that I was most impressed with your performance."
"Thank you - but Greg should take most of the credit for that. He's a slave driver, but he gets results."
"You're too modest. Look, I really think you have potential. I wonder if we might meet up for dinner to discuss the matter some time?
"Uh huh. Mm. Look, I ought to make one or two things clear, before this conversation goes any further. If you're going to start off by saying how much you liked the play, and end up by telling me that you think I can do better by leaving the company, well, you're wasting your time. I've had one or two people coming to me with that kind of proposition. If you're interested in the whole company, that's different, of course."
Seeing how the land lies, Celestina hastens to reassure Tina that she has no plans to steal her away from the theatrical company. The young actress's grip on the wig relaxes a little, and her manner becomes less abrupt.
"Can you manage lunch the day after tomorrow, instead of dinner? You see, tomorrow's the last night for this run, and I said I'd be at the party, and I'm liable to be run off my feet until then." Celestina agrees.
"Hey, Tina? If you want that lift, you'd better be ready in ten minutes." The actor who had played Renfield puts his head out of the door of one of the offices, wiping away the last of the makeup used to redden his eyelids.
"Yeah, with you soon, Terry." Tina smiles apologetically at Celestina. "I'd better throw some clothes on." She disappears back into the recesses of the little office.
"What was that Latin text used in the intro? Terrifically effective! What did the text say in English?"
Greg Major seems to have resigned himself to conversation with his blithely determined interlocutor, and the Professor has even succeeded in touching the chords of the other man's professional enthusiasm.
"Oh, that! Well, the initial part of it is from a little Latin prayer that once took my fancy. Crudely translated it means something like 'Stand beside my resting place and watch me as I sleep, come to me now in this time of night and darkness.' Of course, it's just a variation on the old 'guard me while I sleep,' but it's got that nicely ambiguous edge to it. That's why I wanted Mina singing that at the start."
While he talks with the director, the Professor glances about the corridor. Emmanuel is nowhere to be seen.
Side-step comes to a halt at the rear of the little community centre. He grins up the fire escape that scales the outside wall.
"Planning to play the same game as yesterday, were we?"
Choosing a dark corner of the street, he settles himself down to watch the windows and doors that open onto the fire escape.
"Tina?" Terry knocks firmly on the door of the office. "Look, I don't want to hurry you, but I've got a hard day's raving to do tomorrow, and I could use some kip. Come on, prima donna, it's been quarter of an hour." He knocks again, and listens. "Tina?" There is a trace of concern in his voice.
After peering closely through the frosted glass for an instant, he abruptly opens the door and enters. It swings shut behind him.
From where she stands, Celestina hears a crash, the sound of a raised male voice, motion, the rattle of china, an incoherent word from Tina, and a slam like a door or window closing violently. After a moment or two the door opens, and Tina emerges, looking somewhat pale and shaky. She is now wearing a black leather jacket, and black denim jeans. On one foot she wears a purple Doc Martin, the laces still undone.
Terry follows quickly after her, hand hovering over her shoulder, as if hesitating on the edge of comforting something red hot.
"If that little sod turns up here again, I'll kick his head in, OK?"
"Yup. Me too. I think he was hiding behind the desks. He must have been watching me getting changed."
"He didn't... did he try..."
"No, no. No, he... just wanted to talk."
"You should have called out when he showed himself, got the rest of the gang to throw him out."
"Yeah, I know. I dunno, I dunno. I could handle it. I'm going to get my other boot."
From his hiding place, Side-step sees a familiar figure climb quickly from a ground floor window onto the fire escape, and scramble quickly over the railing.
As Emmanuel's long-limbed swagger carries him quickly along the street, whistled snatches of a tune from the play are carried to Side-step by the evening breeze.
The SITU executive keeps to the shadow of the wall as he sets off in pursuit, taking care that his muffled footsteps fall in time with those of the other man, so that they will be inaudible. Emmanuel turns a corner down a narrow alleyway, and Side-step follows.
At the corner, he hesitates. Beyond his sight ring out the sound of the other man's steps, confident, undisguised, receding, fading. At a point when he judges that Emmanuel has moved away a decent space, Side-step slips around the corner.
He walks into a brilliant blue blindness. He breaks himself against an ivory smile and eyes like skies.
After an interval, Mickey wanders out through the main exit, and spots Culver in his doorway retreat. The pair meet up with Isobel, Twitchin, Celestina, Andrew and Stone in the entrance hall. The community centre is being closed for the night, and somewhat reluctantly, the group depart.
"He said he was going around the building - perhaps he thought Emmanuel could get out that way."
"Well, it looks like he was right. Should we go and look for them?"
"Side-step doesn't seem to like people cramping his style. And if anyone can look after themselves, he probably can. Let's have a quick scout around, and then head back to hotel, so he knows where to find us."
The party reach the hotel a little after eleven, and retreat to Stone's room to confer. They have been conversing in subdued tones for about half an hour before a knock sounds at the door. When Isobel opens it, she finds Side-step's familiar figure standing outside. He enters the room without preamble, and sits on the bed, pulling out a cigarette.
"Did you see Emmanuel?"
"Yeah. Lost him in the alleyways." Side-step reaches into his pocket with his right hand, pulls out his lighter, and lights the cigarette. His left hand he keeps hidden in his jacket pocket.
Celestina describes the sounds that she had overheard in Tina Mamba's room. Side-step listens speculatively as she describes the layout of the back stage area.
"Sounds like he ran through the door, ran up the stairs, climbed out onto the fire escape, ran down the fire escape to the ground floor, and climbed in through the office window. Must have done it just before I got round the back of the building."
"Emmanuel," Culver mutters to himself, "the name of the child announced by Isaiah and applied to Jesus by my namesake, Matthew." He shrugs abruptly, and offers a wry smile as return for Side-step's quizzical glance. "Misspent childhood - you can take the boy out of Christianity and all that. He might be suffering religious delusions, but our Emmanuel's not the Messiah; he's a very naughty boy..." He laughs briefly, then his face becomes serious.
"OK, so Celestina reckons we're re-enacting Dracula, but I can't help noticing the way religion's starting to feature. Caedmon, the Abbess Hild, Reverend Fanlight, now bloody Emmanuel the 'local legend.' I wouldn't mind a closer look at those stigmata he was manifesting. Maybe we should do a spot of legwork at the library, or the local rag?"
"Perhaps someone could try and follow up on those SITU staff in the safe house," suggests Twitchin.
"While we're at it, it might be worth trying to trace the Reverend Fanlight," says Culver. "If we can get SITU to give us the registration number of his motorcycle, maybe we could report it as stolen to the local police."
Celestina stands, and calmly glances around the group
"Can anyone think of a ruse to contact Hendleby's lawyer for?" she asks. "He obviously isn't going to give anything away on confidentiality grounds."
"I was thinking of dropping around in my capacity as a psychiatrist, and expressing concern about Hendleby," offers John Stone.
"I suppose breaking into his office would be pushing it too far?" asks Celestina.
"Well, one place we can't break into again is Hendleby's house," opines Mickey. "There's been quite enough activity around there - people are liable to get a mite suspicious."
"What about his studio?" asks Isobel. "I think we need to give that a look."
"Agreed," says Culver. "But at the risk of sounding superstitious, let's do it during daylight hours, mm?"
"The way that Karl's house had been torn up," Celestina says, "it seemed as if someone... or something was looking for something. With this in mind, I think Isobel's right, we should check out his studio, although the trail is probably cold by now. May I suggest that John, Mickey and Stephen take the trip that way? I've walked the Cleveland Way before, it's very nice. I'd suggest that you go as well, Professor, but we don't want to risk someone of your obvious age and frailty risking an injury, do we?" She smiles sweetly, and continues before Twitchin has time to react.
"On the subject of the honeysuckle, I can't help but think that we're either over-reacting to some very bad horticultural practices, or that something leeched the very life out of the plant, something inside the house... something vampiric in its presence?" Andrew, who had had a chance to examine the plant, is able to tell Celestina that, if anything , the honeysuckle had probably withered through being inadequately watered.
"I think that the Whitby Art Society meeting is going to be very important, as well," continues Celestina.
"Yes, and I was wondering if you'd like to come along as my assistant or companion..." begins Twitchin.
"I can't. I've already introduced myself to Tina as a theatre agent, and she might be there. Culver, I suggest that you take Twitchin along, make sure he doesn't embarrass himself more than is strictly necessary." Matt purses his lips as he sense the hackles of his older colleague rising. It is hard to say how far Celestina's speech will have caused the Professor to revise his impressions of the 'FNG's.' "As well as trying to find out anything else out about dear old Karl, perhaps you could be on the lookout for our Uma Thurman lookalike? I have a feeling that it might turn out to be Peri herself."
Celestina pauses, and glances around the group to make sure that she has their full attention.
"Now, I'm going to say something that I feel should have been drawn to everyone's attention a few days ago. This is 1998. I say this because it appears that several 'people' in our group don't appear to have yet experimented with twentieth century ways of thinking. I realise that you may feel that the women's movement was just something that happened to other people, but sadly that's not the case.
"Gentlemen, several of you knew Riggs from a previous investigation and profess to be eager to have him returned." Celestina leans forward, her dark, vivid face resolute and compelling, "but at the end of the day when this investigation is over, we," she gestures to indicate herself, and the other members of her previous investigation, " will all be able to say that we gave our all to get the man back. But will you genuinely be able to say that? Or will you have to admit that you've spent too much time making snide comments, objecting to the presence of females and generally not being very helpful."
Andrew gives a light applause to this speech.
"Yes, we've had quite enough of these pathetic displays," he agrees.
"If you're really committed to finding Riggs," continues Celestina, "then forget all of these pre-Victorian ideas you have and let's really work as a team. Until someone can positively prove to me that brain power is directly linked to what set of genitals you were born with, let's go with the radically modern assumption that women are equal to men, OK? Chauvinism is sooo dull."
A few side-long glances are cast at Side-step as Celestina finishes her speech. However, the expected thunder clap does not occur. He seems curiously withdrawn, and offers no response.
"Time for bed, methinks." Matt breaks the silence with a yawn, and rises.
Before retiring, Culver braces a chair under the door handle. He also checks that the window is bolted.
Somewhere behind the hotel, the moon is shining. Culver can see lampposts, sign posts and cars bleeding black shadow away across the dull silver of the road and pavement. He remembers the painted moon on the backdrop. He recalls the girl's restless, helpless response to the music she cannot hear, and her futile gesture to shut the window.
Lying back on his bed, he places his headphones in his ears, and once again plays through the Dictaphone tapes, at the highest volume. By the time he sinks into sleep, the faint, slumberous noise of the static has become a softly relentless surge, like the noise of the wind.
After breakfast the next day, Isobel, Mickey and Andrew set off from the hotel.
At Isobel's request, they stop first at the little pet shop in which Emmanuel had succeeded in throwing off his pursuers. After a little browsing, Isobel selects a present for Sarah Louise's dog, Nero. Most of the items for animals his size are fairly dull in appearance, but she manages to find a large red and blue felt-lined collar, with a row of gold bells attached.
Leaving the pet shop, the threesome move on to the gallery. While Mickey browses, Isobel approaches the woman behind the till. Andrew heads off in search of the old man with whom he had conversed previously.
The woman at the till is able to provide Isobel with some leaflets produced by the Friends of Whitby Art Society.
"These ones have a section on the back that you can fill in if you want to join. And these have lists of forthcoming events that are connected with the society."
"There do seem to be a lot of Dracula-related events," she remarks, scanning the list of exhibitions and dramatic productions.
"Well, it's the time of year, isn't it? We have a bit of an outbreak of Dracula come Halloween. It won't be as bad as last year, though. You must have heard of the great Dracula centennial celebration? A hundred years after Bram Stoker's birth, or death, or something. Or after he wrote the novel, or something. Well, Whitby was jam-packed. It seemed like there was nothing but black clothes, and fishnet tights, and plastic fangs as far as the eye could see. Well, you'll get a bit of an idea a week from now. And some of them take drugs in the churchyard, though they're not meant to..."
However, the woman does not appear able to muster the energy for a full scale complaint. Her speech is periodically interrupted by yawns, and there are pronounced, weary shadows under her eyes.
In the meanwhile, Andrew has succeeded in finding the elderly balding man whom he had encountered when last visiting the gallery. The older man shows some sign of recognising Andrew, and looks him askance as he approaches.
His suspicious air is not much alleviated when Andrew introduces the subject of the undead.
"Load of nonsense. What I say is, show me a ghost and I'll believe in it, alright? But no-one's been able to show me anything. No, I don't believe in this ghouls and vampires and werewolves lark."
"But look at these paintings," presses Andrew, indicating Hendleby's work. "Look at the imagery. This was painted by a man with contact with the beyond."
"I don't know about that. I don't know what all the fuss is with Karl Hendleby all of a sudden, and why everyone's so keen to talk to him." The old man scowls a little, and the dark crevices of weariness and age deepen in his face for a few instants. His manner has an irritable weariness.
A little after eleven, Matt Culver is woken by a call from Peter Drummond. Culver is a little disorientated by the fact that he has overslept. Leaden-limbed and unfocussed, he takes up the phone.
"I think I've tracked down the guy you were talking about. Lived in York for a while, moved to Whitby about five years ago, could that be him? Solicitor. The general impression I get is that he's seen as dependable, quite competent. I've got a home address if that'll help you."
Ten minutes later, John Stone has set off to visit David Caine.
After leaving the gallery, Isobel, Andrew and Mickey make their way to St Mary's church.
Isobel strolls through the churchyard, clothes teased by a lean, grey wind. Without difficulty she stumbles upon the cross dedicated to the poet Caedmon. The cross is some dozen feet tall, and covered with detailed engravings. It rises from the centre of a tiered platform of stone.
At its base are seated two young women. One is dressed in a bowler hat and a tailcoat, and appears to be deeply engaged in the task of producing smoke rings, which are immediately ravaged by the caress of the wind. The other wears an ankle length black, velvet dress with a plume of lace at each cuff. The latter woman is engaged is pouring tea from a thermos flask into two bone china mugs.
Meanwhile, Mickey wanders into the church, and seats himself in a pew to wait for Isobel. The light that falls through the door is muted, and the colours of the stained glass window are dulled, lack-lustre, like a tired smile.
When Mickey has been waiting in the church for about half an hour, a young man in a slightly frayed brown suede jacket enters, and begins replenishing the leaflets on display by the door. As Mickey approaches, he raises his head and gives a quick, tight smile.
Mickey eases into conversation with the new arrival and discovers that he is actually the Revd Jonathan Raven, local to St Mary's Church. Mickey takes the opportunity to slide from his pocket his latest purchase, a small crucifix about the size of his palm.
"I'm sorry - you want me to do what?"
"Bless it, if you don't mind."
"For peace of mind.".
A tall man in his early thirties carefully lowers the two packing cases he has been carrying, and turns to face Stone. Caine has the sort of face that harmoniously blends a mass of imperfections, a protuberant nose with a pronounced, pinked bulb at the tip, downward-sloping eyes framed by a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles, and a mouth full of curves, stubborn curves, benevolent curves, humorous curves.
"Can I help you?"
"I believe so. Do you know where I might find Karl Hendleby?" Caine frowns down at the bunch of keys in his hand, through which he is carefully sorting, key by key.
"What's your interest?"
"I'm a psychiatrist. I don't want to worry you, but there's been developing concern about Karl's health."
"Did Sarah ask for your help?" John Stone makes a non-committal motion with his head. "Well, I daresay you can't tell me, but I'll assume that it was Sarah. To tell the truth, I'm glad she's called someone else in, rather than trying to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders. I expect she's already given you his address, hasn't she?
"I don't know what Karl's been up to recently, but you certainly have my permission to try and get him to stop it. He tends to get a bit compulsive obsessive - is that the right term? Karl's been my friend for about seven years - I think I've earned the right to boss him about a bit."
"What do you mean by compulsive obsessive?"
"Well, it's not obvious unless you know him, but he tends to fixate about things. He's got this painstakingly meticulous mind... perhaps you'd better drop by some time soon so that I can explain what I mean in more detail. I'm sorry to be antisocial, but I've this moment got back from a three week holiday, and I'm a little run off my feet just now. I have a lot of unpacking, and about half a ton of mail to wade through, I suspect. Could you leave a phone number with me?"
Stone notices that against the door rests a small card sign which reads "No milk today, please."
A pair of ceramic dolphins cavort across the sky blue paint of Peri Lee's front door. In response to Twitchin's ring the door is opened by a woman who is clearly still engaged in a conversation over her shoulder with someone else. A small child in T shirt and shorts has tangled one tiny fist in the woman's full skirt and has apparently been towed in her wake, tugging at the fabric of the garment all the while in a fitful, aimless manner.
"Ah, you must be Mr Twitchin. Cecily said you'd be coming along." A single glance is enough to satisfy the Professor that one theory at least is probably unjustified. A very powerful imagination would be required in order to see any similarity between Uma Thurman and Peri Lee. The latter is a slightly dumpy woman in her early forties, with a deep tan, and black hair cut to a bob just below the ear lobe. She wears a rather weird-looking garment that appears to be a cross-breed between a summer dress and a sari. It is a made from a gauzy green-and-blue fabric, and features the same dolphin motif as the door.
"I see you're looking at my little sari-gown. One of Jenny's little gems - she's a wonder when it comes to designing dresses. And this one's so wearable," Peri adds, with emphasis, as if wearability in a garment was an unexpected bonus.
In the little lounge, Twitchin is introduced to Raymond Hawkes, a slender, fair-haired man with a quick clench of a handshake, a mirthless smile, and a dry rasp of a voice. Jenny Seagreen smiles at him from beneath a hat which to Twitchin's untrained eye looks for all the world as if the contents of a dustbin had fallen onto her head, and her friends had been too polite to raise the subject. Alexander Poe is a small, middle-aged man who appears to be almost painfully eager to please, and who gives off a rapid rattle of a laugh to mark the end of every sentence. Peri also introduces a young man called Milo Marks, who is clearly far down in the implicit pecking order. The hostess seems to think nothing of recruiting him to assist with tea-making and the retrieval of forgotten oddments from the nearest corner shop.
"So, what sort of paintings are you interested in, Mr Twitchin?"
The hat on Jenny Seagreen's head waggles dangerously as she talks, rather as if it were speaking, and jogging her head into motion in the process. The Professor strives to keep his eyes from it.
"Oh, this and that." He smiles in what he hopes is a breezy, confident manner.
"Well, what sort of paintings do you usually buy?" asks the hat.
Not entirely sure of his ground, the Professor takes refuge in evasiveness, and changes the subject. Earlier that day, he had telephoned his grandson Luke, who he had persuaded to look through the London Yellow Pages, and note the names of several local art galleries. Twitchin makes reference to these galleries in a seasoned, airy fashion.
"Ah, so you'll have seen the Ben Housely expedition," Poe cuts in excitedly. "What did you think of it?" The Professor pauses to collect his thoughts.
"Much as I expected," he hazards.
"Ah, so you anticipated the development of this trend in his work. A lot of people didn't, but when you look at earlier works like 'Singing with nine cats,' it seems virtually inevitable, doesn't it? It's just a matter of reductio ad absurdum."
"Here's a nice toddy for you, Mr Twitchin." Peri places a large, steaming mug before him, and lets one sky-blue-painted eye lid drop over her eye in a wink. "We find it keeps out the cold." There is a distinctively alcoholic flavour to the concoction in the mug.
By the time the mug is empty, the Professor has gained confidence in his ability to bluff his way in art, and is delivering judgements upon the prominent artists mentioned by his new acquaintances with greater freedom.
"I hear you're interested in buying up some of Karl's stuff," remarks Raymond Hawkes.
"Yes, where is he? I hear he's gone to ground recently."
"Too true - we haven't seen anything of him for - how long is it - eight months? A year?" Peri blinks speculatively.
"I think maybe I could shift a few of his works in London, get his name known. I would really appreciate a chat with him about it. Of course I could buy a painting or two off my own bat, sell them on, but I feel a collaborative approach with the artist is always best."
"Yes, I can see that, so you'll have your foot in the door if he produces some more new and interesting art." Raymond nods slowly. "Well, don't get your hopes up on that score."
"Raymond, darling, don't be a bitch," Peri says placidly, refilling everyone's mugs.
"Well, you know as well as I do that he hasn't gone anywhere new with his work for ages. He's turning out lots of paintings, just not much art - his style is ossifying. It's all doom, gloom, mist and pixies pictures. And as I've said before, he's recycling his sunsets. That's the most obvious symptom.
"You can tell, you just need to look at enough of his pictures. Look at 'Doubt and the Moon' next to 'All Soul's Eve' and you'll see what I mean. It's the same sunset - the same damn cloud formation - just dabbed and daubed to make it look different. It's just hack work."
In a corner, the small child is carefully and meticulously patterning the wallpaper with the prints of palms dipped in jam.
"Eurydice, don't do that," Peri says, wearily.
Having left a message for Hendleby with the members of the Art Society, the Professor returns to the hotel, still flushed and buoyant with the combined effects of the hot toddy and the success of his launch into Bohemian society. He encounters the others just as they are leaving the hotel restaurant, and the group return upstairs to compare their findings.
While in town, the Professor has taken the opportunity to purchase a pea shooter, and some extra cloves of garlic. These he now places before Matt Culver with a smile.
"Just to add to the armoury," he explains. "By the way, Matt, what's wrong with your hand? Have you been to see a proper doctor?" Some trace of a rash still lingers on the skin of Culver's hand, although it has now faded a little.
It is noticeable that there is now a bandage around the third and fourth fingers of Side-step's left hand.
Isobel has been doing a little shopping of her own, and she now deposits the fruits of her search before Professor Twitchin.
"I'm afraid I can't do shorthand - but I'm sure a great brain like yours will pick it up very quickly. If you want some dictation practice, let me know." The Professor finds himself staring down at a small brown-covered text book with the title "Shorthand for Beginners" picked out on the front.
Culver has telephoned SITU during the morning, and learnt the registration number of the motorcycle owned by the Reverend Fanlight. It is the work of a moment to make an anonymous call to the police, stating that the bike has been stolen. After hearing of the capture of Hendleby's computer, Macket sent a car to pick up the machine, which is now undergoing investigation back at the safe house.
"Any more luck with those tapes?" Stone asks Culver. "It seems strange that Hendleby should hide blank tapes. Perhaps we should all listen to them - are you sure they're blank?"
"Listen for yourself." The tapes are played, the volume at its highest setting. They do indeed appear to be entirely blank. The group exchange perplexed glances. At last, Culver turns off the tape, and smiles brightly at the others.
"Are we ready to storm Schloss Hendleby, then? Torches, check. Stakes, check. Dodgy peasant accents, check. Right then, Borgo Pass here we come."
By the time the group reach the car park of the Abbey, the greasepaper gray of the sky has bloomed into a chill, brittle china blue, and the sun has emerged to cast a false and livid brightness over town and water. For all the brightness of the day, the wind has a sly touch of ice in it.
Whitby is now simply several tiered ranks of red roofs, hugging the harbour. The twin quays extend from the land like the jaws a giant pincer, dark against the gleaming water.
As the party follow the cliff top walk away from the town, Celestina takes the opportunity to fall back, and take Isobel's arm.
"Isobel," she says, when the others have moved further ahead, "do you think you could describe what happened in that hermitage in any more detail? It may be the key to this investigation. I understand that this is very uncomfortable for you."
With a certain amount of reluctance, Isobel forces her mind back to the image she had seen in the earth floor of the old building. Despite herself, she almost feels afraid to remember, as if visualising the incident would revive it, make her visible...
"Someone had drawn an eye in the earth there, I don't know why. I recreated it, and something saw me. I felt it become aware of me... and I felt as if it recognised me. It wasn't like anything I'd sensed before. It was like being recognised by a thunder storm, or a mountain..."
"It must be here somewhere. If we go much further we'll run into the holiday village just beyond the Saltwick Nab."
A gleam of the sun on glass finally betrays the location of the little studio. The building is set back from the footpath and the cliff edge, and the tiny track that leads to the front door from the main path is almost imperceptible. The studio is located in a small natural hollow, and since it appears to be only one floor high, it is virtually invisible from the path. A low hanging tree provides extra cover on one side.
The curtains are drawn at the windows.
Mickey moves to the front door then halts, experiencing an acute sense of déjà vu. The door is slightly ajar, its wood splintered and split. It has clearly been forced open.
The door is carefully pushed aside, and one by one the party enter Hendleby's studio.
The first face that meets their gaze is that of Benedict Riggs. Rigid, terrified, he stares from a large, fuzzy, black-and-white photograph on the easel opposite the door. Next to this photograph lie a number of sketches of Riggs' face, some in pencil, some in pastel.
Oil paintings have a peculiar lustre in imperfect light. Against each wall lean pictures in varying stages of completion, skeletal sketches of figures, trace outlines of faces, savage daubs of colour waiting to be tamed with a finer brush into eye hollows and mouth shapes. Now these items of display are become an audience, sitting gauntly silent in their ranks around a central masterpiece.
Three long skylights are built into the roof, presumably to let natural light into the studio. Through them, the metallic light of the sun slants down like a spotlight. Someone has at one point painted the image of a butterfly onto the glass of the central skylight. Now the red and blue image of the butterfly colours the light that falls onto the chest of the young man pinned to the floor of the studio by means of a sharpened length of wood.
His black hair is dishevelled, as if he had thrashed against the planks below him in his last moment, and his arms are flung wide, seemingly seeking something, anything, by which he might pull himself up. He seems to be entirely dead, but there is no blood.
For a long moment, the silence is broken only by the sea-like rushing of tree outside, which flings its foliage about the skylight, dappling the light falling upon the dead man. Then the group become aware of the sound of approaching steps, and the sound of a voice.
Andrew is nearest the door. Through it he can glimpse a young man approaching, swinging a carrier bag in one hand. The youth appears to be little more than twenty, and is dressed in a leather trench coat, and fringed black suede trousers. His dark hair is tied back in a pony tail, and his widely spaced brown eyes are large, soft and receptive.
He is approaching the door to the studio.