The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Blood In The Cup
11.50am 4th October 1998.
Outside the window a black bird sang somewhat inappropriately of the joys of autumn, his melodic voice filling the uncomfortable silence left by the confrontation.
Phil shuffled a little and chuckled, 'Hell, I hate to agree with Rupert, but so far Arabella you've been in the thick of just about everything bad that's happened to us. I can't hardly vote for you. I don't see that we have to, anyway. Just be a little more sensible.'
There were general nods of assent and Arabella suddenly took a deep breath, 'I'm sorry, you're right, I was coming on like a real little Hitler. I'm sorry to all of you, especially you Rupert, those cracks were uncalled for and hurtful. Just goes to show even a trained expert can foul up at times. There's no need to vote for a leader, I'll behave.'
The collective sigh of relief was tangible and Jo grinned, 'Well, now that's sorted, shall we get on and decide what we're going to do next?'
'Well obviously,' said Donald, 'we have to do something about Amanda, we've got precisely twenty-five minutes before she tells the whole story to her editor and the police. The way I see it we have two solutions, let her know about everything or silence her. Don't worry, I don't mean kill her, just, well I've still got a can of that knock-out gas. It would last a couple of hours, if we could persuade her that she's been hallucinating or something, we may pull it off, I'm sure Rupert has the 'equipment' to help her have a realistic dream. She wouldn't know what has been happening to her over the last day or so.'
'I definitely think we should avoid telling her everything,' said Rupert somewhat irritably, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes.
'Sam, Donald, Phil, there's something you ought to know before we carry on planning,' Arabella said, glancing at the others, 'but it's going to mean me telling you something I probably shouldn't.'
'Steady on Arabella,' Jo said in a serious voice, 'remember Mexico, we don't want a repeat of that!'
'It can't be helped,' Arabella said, shrugging her shoulders, 'I was informed a while back that we might have opposition, opposition that might be aware of SITU. I shouldn't be telling you this, but I think you need to know so that you understand the stakes. These people are an unknown to us at the moment and so we have no idea what they're capable of, or capable of doing. It is possible the people we've come up against could be agents in the employ of this group. On a more general base, I believe we have to do something to slow down or even stop the dig, Charles and Hugh were too confident they'd get hold of the Grail soon. I think the Pritchards are part of their group and therefore it is imperative they do not complete what they're doing. I could be totally wrong, but I don't think so. If I am right then it's most likely that once they have the Grail out of the spring it'll disappear, probably a break in at where ever it's stored, or something similar. I wish I thought I was wrong, but I don't think I am. In any event it would help if we could slow things down, it would give us time. I wonder how long it would take for the spring to re-fill?' she paused, allowing her words to sink in, 'Then there is Amanda, she is a real problem, one which I'm not sure we can palm-off with any old story. The way I see it we either trust her and enlist her aid, or we hope that her story doesn't kill us dead. I want to trust her, but I agree we can't tell her everything without running a serious risk of her being more than she seems. I want to trust her, but I've learned enough from my last try at this to know that occasionally my judgement is flawed. I think we should meet her and think of a story, I'll ring her now and arrange it for 12.30 and just hope she'll hang fire until then!'
Arabella drew out her phone and dialled and the others began to discuss other matters.
'So what do we think about this silver symbol on Alan Foster's cheek? Could it be a religious mark, or something more 'occult', and could it be linked to his rather deadpan expression?' the Major asked.
They looked at the film again, pausing as the man turned his head to the side. The mark was almost invisible, but just as he turned the raised skin reflected the electric light. They all peered at it intently. It seemed like merely an odd shaped scar, but if you stared at it for long enough... Sam quickly took out a piece of paper and sketched it, showing the others who suggested alterations until they were in agreement: the scar was in the shape of a solid dot, surrounded by a circle which had the crown at the topmost point.
'Have you seen it before?' Sam asked, showing it to Phil.
He shook his head, 'No, we'll have to look it up.'
George asked Phil in what way Alan Foster checked out oddly and Phil explained that there was basically no record of Alan Foster, particularly no criminal record which was very unusual in a security guard.
'What about Mrs Phillips, Rupert? How's she getting on?' George asked.
'Absolutely no change,' Rupert said, 'I'll go back today, there's rather a nice nurse who took pity on me.'
'Perhaps we should give Rosa Mundi another chance, they may have just been checking that we'd turn up,' George said.
'Yes,' said Phil, 'I'll try and contact them again.'
'Maybe someone should try to contact the spirit,' Sam mused, 'and we should try to put those Templars out of action.'
'I think we need to get the fake chalice back. I can't imagine what I was thinking of to throw it back into the well,' he stared into the middle distance, 'sometimes it's like I'm just a puppet and there's some higher force writing the plot of my life, putting words into my mouth I don't mean to say, making me do things I didn't mean to...' he shook his head as if to clear the thought and then continued, 'anyway, I've remembered something I read once about the Grail appearing as "worthless to unbelievers". Seems to sum up the situation. Any ideas?' None seemed to be forthcoming, so George offered his own, 'I think we could dangle a video camera, with a light attached, down the well. I also think that, if the 'grail' was light enough, we could 'grab' it with a suitably weighted lump of something sticky on the end of a rope - chewing gum, perhaps?'
There seemed to be general consensus for the idea. Sam looked thoughtful and then said,
'I think I can slow the dig down a little,' she laughed when the others looked sharply at her, 'nothing illegal, well nothing too illegal anyway. I thought I could sneak onto the site and sever a few power cables, cut a few drainage pipes, it'll only cause minor damage, but it might slow them down by days!'
The group beamed at her, 'Excellent idea!' said Donald.
'I was also thinking we should take a look at Aldridge's house,' Sam continued.
The smiles faded, 'I think steering away from any illegal activities would be a good idea,' said Jo, who had been appeared to be deep in thought, 'especially at Aldridge's place, it's bound to be a focus for Police attention.'
'I've got a meeting,' said Arabella, 'but it's in half an hour, so we'll have to move quickly. What are everyone's plans for the day?'
'I'll come with you to talk to Amanda,' Jo said.
'Me too,' volunteered Rupert.
'I'm going to try and recover the chalice from the well,' George said.
'I've been thinking about that,' said Arabella, 'how big is the well? Perhaps I could squeeze down there?'
The Major sighed, 'I've already told you, it's only the size of a dinner plate and you'd never get those hips down there! Aside from that, I definitely think we should get some filming done today. Our cover has developed leaks, which need to be plugged. I suggest that we split into two groups initially. One goes to the Chalice Well and has a film down it - getting the 'grail' while they are at it, and meeting up with the second group later. The other group goes to the spring and films Jo taking the waters as well as the precautions taken by the Police and anyone else who sticks their noses in. If they can get more footage of Alan Foster, then all the better, but do it surreptitiously. The two groups should meet up and do some general film work - panning shots, not of girls' legs this time, Rupert and any interviews we can get on the spur of the moment.'
'Rather than staging an on-site healing straight away, we should seem to be working towards that,' Jo said, 'filming preliminary interviews and so on. We should also ask if we can do a night-time filming - purely to add some atmosphere to the documentary, of course.'
Phil agreed, 'I really oppose the shooting of any kind of film of a healing on account that it is pointless and probably likely to cause more embarrassment to us, it's not the best idea, considering. But I do think we should at least pretend to be filming around the site, for one thing, George, it'll give you chance to get back that fake... Do you really reckon SITU will believe it's the real thing.'
'I want to go to Bristol as well,' Arabella said, 'check out the library. Anyone want to join me?' She was looking right at Rupert.
He raised his head sullenly, 'I'll come because I wish to Arabella. I'm not one of your students, much as I'd love to be chucked out of university for a second time.'
'Why don't you and I go and film the excavation, Phil?' Donald asked.
'Perhaps you could try to get some on-site interviews?' Arabella asked.
"Well... yes...' said Phil, 'but there's not many people left on our list who are conscious or willing to talk to us. Oh, I'll tell you who I did think of catching up with; the old woman's doctor. I'm still not sold on the idea of miracles - sorry, Jo - and I think we ought to find out what a proper medical man makes of all this. All we've got so far is people's word. We could do that this afternoon.'
'And I'll keep in contact with the hospital,' Rupert added, 'see how dear Betty is doing.'
'I'll come and help you, Major,' said Sam.
'And I'll join you once we've spoken to Amanda,' Jo said firmly. 'OK, we'll either see each other at the site or back here for dinner!'
As they were leaving, Donald caught hold of Rupert's sleeve, 'I'm sorry I scared you with my little joke Rupert, I guess hitmen aren't so well known for their keen sense of humour. I'll try not to put the wind up you like that again.'
Rupert just shrugged and followed Arabella out.
As the others filed out of the front door, Sam took George's phone and dialled SITU and explained that she needed ten thousand pounds.
Andre's reaction was not good, 'Sam, I know you haven't been with us long, but really, how can you think we can afford a sum like that on top of normal investigation expenses? What do you want it for, anyway?'
'I'm bribing the guards, they can get hold of the grail for us!' Sam replied.
'This is getting really ridiculous,' Andre said and there was real annoyance in his voice, 'no illegal activities, get it? That includes stealing, bribery, assault, firing at police officers and any other mishaps your group might have come up with! You're all treading a very fine line, you'll all have to get your act together, or I'll have to send another group down there!'
'Amanda, please understand,' Arabella said, turning to the other woman who was sat in the front passenger seat, Jo and Rupert were in the back. 'We want to trust you totally, but we know only very little about you. I know it goes the other way too, you know only what we've told you about us, but I think we'll have to decide if we can trust each other. If we can, then we'll have to accept, for the moment, that there are things that will have to remain unsaid. If you can't do that, then you'll have to print your story and we'll have to let the people we're trying to stop get the Grail. I'd rather you weren't involved at all, you're too nice a person to have to be involved in all of this mess, but you are and it's up to you. You can trust us a little, help us stop the bastards who kidnapped you from getting the Grail, or you can help them do what they want and hamstring up in our attempts to stop them. It's your choice!'
'Look,' said Amanda, her face flashing with anger, 'if you're just going to waste my time, I've got a story to deliver to my editor!
'OK, OK,' said Arabella, raising her hands in a defeated fashion, 'we are looking into the Grail's appearance and the people involved with it, and we are working for an organisation that focuses on the existence of supernatural and mythical phenomena. We can't be any more specific than that!'
Amanda looked sceptical. 'Big X-Files fans are you?'
'We think that there is significant risk that a foreign power might try to steal the grail away and that would be ultimately damaging to the British consciousness,' said Rupert.
'That's why you must have been kidnapped,' Jo offered, 'you got too close to the group. You're in an unusual position - instead of going to the police, you should tell everyone you were working on a big story and had to go undercover. It'll mean a bit of trouble for her, but when you get an exclusive on the full story of the grail, it'll be worth your while.'
Immediately the group could see that they'd hooked her. 'It's a good story on your part,' she said slowly, 'it's self-fulfilling and doesn't require a scrap of truth. I'm not entirely convinced but this story could make my name in the nationals if it turns out to be true. And if it isn't, hell all I'll have done will be lie to the Police!' she flicked her hair over her shoulder, 'how did you find me anyway?'
'We've had our eye on your chums, Charles and Hugh for a while. Your PA told us you'd had a meeting with two men and we just assumed it would be them. We hung around until they left the site and followed them. As simple as that.' Jo said.
Amanda nodded, 'So, we'll share information, right? I'll see if my editor will let me concentrate solely on this, but that'll mean telling him at least part of the story, though I won't give him any names.'
Arabella agreed, 'OK. I was going to go info hunting today with Rupert, want to come?'
'I have to report back,' Amanda said, 'so they can call off the police hunt. I'll ring you later and we can get together tonight.'
'Right, we'll take you back and drop Jo off at the site,' Arabella said, starting the car. Glancing in the rear view mirror she saw that Rupert had dozed off, curled up like a lonely puppy.
As they approached the entrance to the site, Sam, Donald, Phil and George noticed that there was a large crowd outside. Drawing closer they saw that there was around a hundred people, many of which were carrying placards which read, 'Save our heritage!' and 'Hands off our grail!'
There were news crews and harassed looking police officers everywhere. A queue of traffic spread back down the road from the protest and it soon became apparent that no-one was getting in. Even Marie and Richard Pritchard were being kept out and were stood red-faced near the gate.
'What's happened?' Phil asked.
'Some one has been stirring up local opposition!' Marie exclaimed, fury evident in her voice, 'they're saying we're going to take away the grail, when the museum is already being extended to house it there! Someone is manipulating this lot for some reason, I'm sure of it!'
Richard put a comforting arm around his wife's shoulders, 'I'm sure it'll be sorted out soon!' he turned to Phil, 'The Grail Trust are upset at the negative attention, they've given orders for no-one to be let on site until this matter is resolved, even us. The dig is on hold and we were nearly there, another morning's work and it would have been free!'
'They're not going to let us on to film then?' George asked.
Marie shook her head, 'No way - they're blaming the press for the negative reaction.'
A middle aged woman in a turquoise hat, shouting various offensive things about the Grail Trust thrust a bright pink leaflet into Donald's hands. He quickly scanned it.
'There's a meeting this evening at six o'clock,' he said, 'to discuss further picketing of the site and as it says here, the manipulative, thoughtless actions of the Grail Trust who think that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the Glastonbury residents. We should go to it,' he said.
'In the meantime,' said George, taking the group aside from the crush, 'there are plenty of people here to interview, including Alan Foster,' he pointed to the guard hut where the man stood, 'as well as that though,' he gave the smallest of their hand held cameras to Sam, 'get inside and film the site, I'm very nervous indeed that we can't see what's going on. Be careful and come out if there's any sign of trouble, we'll probably be here all day anyway.'
Just as Sam slid away, Jo arrived and they quickly explained the situation to her, over the increasing shouts of the protesters. Suddenly the main-gate began to slide open and there was a surge forward which carried the group with it. Booing filled the air and straining over the waving arms in front of them, they realised that Doctor Bord had come to try to placate the crowd. They didn't fancy his chances.
Pulling nervously at his bow-tie which was pulled to one side, he appealed for quiet.
'Ladies and gentlemen, please!' he called, 'I've come to speak to you, the least you can do is hear me out!'
The crowd began to quieten and George took the opportunity to examine the crowd. It was mainly comprised of middle-aged people or older, resolutely middle-class and obviously with the time to spend at protests. There were several men in suits hovering around, though he didn't recognise any of them.
Dr Bord ran a hand over his balding head, 'We have listened to what you've had to say,' he said 'and have postponed the excavation,' his next words were drowned out with wild cheering, 'but!' he screamed over the crowd, 'but! Only temporarily, while we look at the issues you've raised. We understand that a meeting has been arranged in St. Mark's church hall and we will be sending representatives to speak on our behalf. That's all I have to say.' As he turned to re-enter the gate, the booing started again and someone threw an egg, which hit him square in the bald patch. There was derisory laughter from the crowd as he hurried, red-faced inside.
The rest of the day passed very quickly as everyone seemed to have something to say for the camera.
George interviewed as Donald filmed and Jo took the details of those who would offer them. The consensus of the protesters (who were much more civil to them than they had been to Dr Bord) seemed to be that the Grail Trust had every plan to tear up the Grail and sell it to some London or, even worse, foreign museum for a massive price and the people of Glastonbury would never see it again. They refused to believe that there were plans to house it in the abbey museum and generally felt that they were the little people being stomped on.
There were plenty of people milling around and vendors selling food and drink arrived and began to make a healthy profit. There were several film crews including themselves and the protesters seemed to be quite enjoying it. In fact now that the tension over Dr Bord had abated there appeared to be quite a carnival atmosphere.
Sam materialised in the middle of the afternoon, 'It's quite difficult to get in,' she told them, 'they've got perimeter walkers with guard dogs and once one of those has got your scent, there's no getting away! Once you're inside though, it's not too bad. They've got a guard in the guard hut, but no other visible police presence. I couldn't get close to the grail, but it's still covered over and pump is still going. I'm going to go back, see if I can get a bit closer!' she disappeared once more, clutching the camera and a new blank tape to her chest.
The crowd began to thin a little towards the end of the afternoon as the protesters left to have dinner and then attend the meeting and as they did so, Jo suddenly noticed Dr Bord peering through the gate. She rushed over to him.
'Dr Bord, a few words for the camera?'
'No, no comment!' he stuttered back.
'When will we be allowed back on site, Dr?' George asked, 'we had permission to make this documentary and we don't even want to film on the grail site today, we wanted to examine the chalice well. We've heard a report that someone saw the grail in the well!'
The doctor snorted, 'We've been getting those reports for hundreds of years,' he leaned forward, 'just between you and me, there's an old plastic cup down there, it was put there in the sixties to stimulate tourist interest.'
'Doctor, what do you make of these claims that you're going to sell the grail off to the highest bidder?' George asked.
Sensing that something was happening that they weren't in on, the other crews came over and showered the doctor with similar questions causing him to retreat back into the site.
'So they knew it was in the well all along!' exclaimed Donald.
'I suppose that means that it is a fake,' mused Jo.
The other crews began to pack up shortly afterwards and there were only a handful of protesters left.
'I'm going to try to talk to Foster,' George said, signalling with his cane.
He strolled over with the other two in tow, trying hard not to stare at the scar on the man's face which seemed incredibly obvious now that they'd noticed it.
'Hello, I'm Major George Hardy, I'm with Acorn productions for the BBC. I'd be very interested to know what you think of these new claims that the grail is to be sold off.'
The man turned his dead eyes on George, 'I don't know, I... think it's rubbish,' he stuttered, 'they're building the extension right now for it to go in. It's all rubbish...' he said dreamily. He stared past George, his strange eyes unblinking.
Suddenly Donald seized George's arm, 'Sam, I think I heard her scream!'
They raced off, dragging their equipment with them, much to the puzzlement of those they left behind. They ran along the perimeter fence, Jo and George just behind Donald who suddenly dived over the fence and behind a tree where the noise was coming from. The two men Sam had contacted about stealing the grail, John and Dave, had caught up with her and she's obviously told them the bad news. Dave had her clutched around the throat, but as his attention was diverted by Donald slamming his companion into the tree, Sam struck his outstretched arm and kicked him with all of her might in his stomach. He fell to the floor groaning, to join his friend.
'And that's what you get for picking on a girl!' she said.
She and Donald climbed back over the fence.
'Are we just going to leave them there?' George asked.
'Well, we can hardly report them to the police, now can we?' asked Jo.
Leaving Sam's 'friends' to pick themselves up the group headed back to the hotel to eat before they left for the meeting.
The group had just finished their meal and it was nearly time to leave when Rupert and Arabella arrived, looking tired.
In-between gulps of food, they told the others what they'd found. It transpired that they couldn't find anything else of relevance on the Templars or the grail, but Rupert had found out that Brock Farm was owned by Edmund Montfleur. It had originally been part of the farm land which surrounds it, but as the land was sold off piecemeal, the farm had ended up being stranded on it's own. Arabella had spent her afternoon on the internet and found the Pritchards' website and mention of them in several other academic and archaeological sites, though there wasn't really anything that they didn't already know.
The worst piece of news came from Rupert, 'I rang the hospital this afternoon, I'm afraid that Mrs Phillips passed away at 2.14pm. The doctors are 99% certain that it was a fall.'
Rupert had apparently slept for most of the journey and still looked awful. He declined their invite to go the meeting saying, 'I'm just feeling a little queasy, nothing to worry about!'
They found St. Mark's church hall easily as it was near the centre of town. It was about average size for a church hall, so it seemed to groan with the strain of housing so many people. There was nearly two hundred people in the room, and the investigators had to fight to find seats. They'd managed to contact Amanda and she promised to come, but even so, Donald didn't recognise the black haired woman who sat next to him.
'It's me!' Amanda hissed, 'I'm incognito in case my hosts should turn up!' She pulled a piece of blond hair out from under the wig, 'on reflection, I feel blondes do have more fun,' she said, wiggling her eyebrows.
Phil cast his eye over the proceedings, there was certainly plenty of press there. There wasn't anyone he recognised in the audience, unless... he was just straining forwards to see when the lights went down and several people began to file out onto the stage and fill the chairs waiting for them. There was a smattering of applause and a few boos and then everyone quietened as one of the people on the stage approached the microphone.
'Hello...' the man said nervously and then cringed as feedback flooded the hall, causing people to cover their ears, '...sorry about that... I...I'm Nathan Hall, I've been elected to chair this meeting which has been called to discuss the conduct of the grail trust and the eventual fate of the grail.'
'We don't know it's the grail!' someone called out from the audience.
'Indeed,' said Nathan, who was tall and slim and around thirty.
'I wouldn't mind hanging my knickers on those cheekbones!' Amanda whispered to Donald. An old woman turned and hushed at her, put Amanda simply flipped her the finger and giggled.
'But we're not here to discuss metaphysical possibilities,' continued Nathan only what should be done with the object. Now tonight, I have with me...' the spotlight opened on the others on the stage and there was a collective gasp from the investigators. Hugh and Charles were seated on the stage and were introduced as Simon Fellowes and Nigel Harrison, next to them was the local councillor and a middle aged couple from the Glastonbury Resident's Pressure Group. On the other side was the local MP flanked by two men who were representing the Grail Trust. There was hissing from the crowd as they were introduced. Also there was a Chinese man wearing a grey suit who was introduced as Paul Chow from the RM Historical Society. The Pritchards were seated next to him.
'It's them!' Amanda whispered.
'And Mr Chow is from another group we wanted to talk to!' exclaimed Phil.
Discussions had begun. The residents outlined their protest, though 'Simon' and 'Nigel' didn't speak.
One of the men from the Grail Trust neatly rebuffed the resident's claims and went on to say that the failure of the group to produce hard evidence to back up their wild accusations meant that the excavation would begin again at nine am sharp and was expected to finish by seven of the same evening. There were some boos, though Marie and Richard grinned.
'Any questions?' asked Nathan.
A woman in a tasselled skirt immediately leapt to her feet, 'Yes, I'm Anna Stoppes of the Glastonbury Crystal Healing Group, can you tell us, Mr and Mrs Pritchard, is this the real grail?'
The ensuing furore as the panellists battled to answer gave the investigators a chance to talk.
'They're re-starting the dig in the morning,' Sam said, this may be our last chance to get our hands on it!'
'What are we going to do about Hugh and Charles?' hissed Amanda.
'And Mr Chow?' added Phil.
7.00pm 4th October 1998.
George Hardy, Phil Harlow, Samantha Michaelson, Joanna Wilton, Donald Swathe
and Arabella Robyns at St. Mark's church hall, Glastonbury.
Rupert De Montfort at the Royal Cup Inn.