The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
July 9th, 10:30am. Staff bar, science building, University of Kent.
"...And why it failed at the box office is beyond me!" Jason's voice continues, oblivious to Reardon's arrival. "Sometimes..."
Brandy coughs pointedly, cutting him off mid-flow, and nods in the professor's direction. "Lazarus, we've got company."
Jason jerks his head around, flushing slightly. "Oh right. Why didn't you say so? I..."
He is interrupted for a second time when Jake Numenor shudders slightly and swings around. "Reardon," he growls, "we're not here to waste your time and I expect you not to waste ours. You can start by telling us everything, word for word, that you told the authorities about Kawakami's death. Right now." He steps right up to Reardon, glaring at him nose to nose, the rest of the group too startled by the outburst to react.
"A well's a well, a river's a river, if you fall in you'll make it bigger," Maddy chants in the silence that follows. She smiles around and stands up to offer the professor her hand. "Hiya! My name's Madeleine, but you can call me Maddy, only don't call me Mad, 'cause... Well, anyway, I'm the creative thing person y'know? Um, I'm picking up serious stress vibes off you. D'you want a, like, a healing massage? I learned in India."
Reardon steps back quickly. "Now look," he snaps, "I was under the impression I would be talking to an academic group here. Not a bunch of -" He appears to run out of words. He blows out an impatient sigh and runs a hand through his thinning hair.
"So, uh, where's the duck pond then?" Maddy asks brightly.
This thing is going to fall apart unless someone takes control fast, Mal thinks. The professor's impatience is starting to turn to anger. Mal is on the point of standing up himself when Brandy speaks.
"David Smith," he says. "Head of the English half of this group. "Sorry about this fuss. You wouldn't believe the trouble we had getting set up here. We're all still a bit tired. I think the quickest thing would be if you simply went through what happened, the same was you told it to the police, as my American friend put it." He opens his briefcase and pulls out a reporter's notebook, flipping to the first page and looking at Reardon expectantly.
His show of professionalism seems to ease the tension from the situation. Reardon still looks on edge but he nods and hooks a chair round to sit down, deliberately putting his back to Jake and Maddy, which means he doesn't see Maddy slip out of the door behind him. "Right," he says to the others. "Professor Kawakami that was. Thirty-eight years old, Japanese, married with one child - his family living in Japan while he worked here. In good health and sound of mind at his last medical check-up which was about eighteen months ago. As I told the police, I have no idea why he'd want to take his own life."
It takes Jason all of two minutes to become restless. He nudges Brandy in what he believes to be a discreet manner. "Hey, what do you say to a bit of private dicking?" he hisses. "This guy's obviously not going to spill the beans, lets see what we can turn up ourselves." Brandy doesn't look up from his notebook, and Jason raises an eyebrow and stands up, adjusting the creases on his trousers and asking loudly where the 'john' is.
Brandy raises his head a fraction to watch him go. "Dicking's the right word for it," he mutters, scribbling down another note.
Jonas appears to think so too. He grins at the rest of the group and wanders out too. The door swings shut behind him, cutting off the sound of voices in the corridor outside.
"Kawakami came here four years ago," Reardon continues. "Six months as assistant head and then he was right into the top job and never mind the fact that he's going back to Japan to see his family one month out of every four. When he was here he had a house halfway down the hill, rented I believe. The police have been all over that too."
"What sort of work was the professor doing?" Brandy asks.
Reardon shrugs. "A bit of everything. Computer simulations of growth patterns using different fertilisers, some sort of project on pest control. A study into corn circles, which was a bit of a laugh. This time of the year we're so busy with students that we have precious little time for private research. Far too much administration, you understand." He attempts a smile that, to Mal's sharp eyes, doesn't quite come off. "I'm afraid students are a necessary evil in a place like this."
Will shifts in his chair. "I'm sorry; this is an awful thing to happen to anyone," he says, quite sincerely. "Hopefully our work will help ensure other people don't suffer the same loss."
Reardon turns his attention to him sharply. "Hopefully," he mutters. "But if you're looking for some stress pattern that made Kawakami suicide I'm afraid you're out of luck. It's not as if he was exactly overworked, no more than he wanted to be and he seemed the same as always - serious, polite, pleasant enough to talk to. Then a group of students come back to the college late at night and find him floating." He frowns at the memory. "A most unpleasant incident. Maybe it's in the genes: the Japs have got a habit of this sort of thing, haven't they?" He glances at his watch again.
"You didn't know him that well, then?" Mal asks quickly. "Was there any clue at all as to why he should want to kill himself? I presume there wasn't a suicide note."
"Nothing." Reardon shakes his head. "As I told the police at the time, no one here has any idea what was going on in his mind. A very private man, if you understand me."
Jason finds his way to the porter's lodge on the east side of the building easily enough. Persuading the security staff on duty to let him into Kawakami's room is proving more difficult.
"Sorry sir," the porter meets his request with a blank stare. "We're under orders not to open the room for anyone until the police have given us the go ahead."
"I am the police, you fool," Jason shouts. He pulls an ID card out of his pocket and flashes it in front of him. "I NEED the door to Professor Kawakami's office open and I need it now!"
The porter doesn't move. "Sorry sir. I'll have to clear it with the local station first. They've given me a number to call. Can I see your ID again a moment?"
Jason slams his hand down over the receiver just in time and glares at the man as he'd been seeing actors do for years. A title flashes up in his mind: Controlled Fury II - The Sequel. "Look pal," he storms. "Serious shit's going to hit the fan if we don't get in that room now! You get me in there or... or you can talk to my colleague here and he ain't as polite as me!"
The sight of all 240lb of Jonas Shabazz lounging against the wall makes the man hesitate. He scratches the back of his neck and eventually takes his hand away from the phone. "Well, I suppose I can let you have a look just for a minute or two," he says reluctantly. "I'll have to come with you. And mind you don't touch anything. It'll be my head on the plate if anything's disturbed."
Winking exaggeratedly at Shabazz, Jason follows.
Kawakami's office is on the second floor of the building, at the end of a long corridor. Considering the man was head of department, the rooms are surprisingly small. The porter opens the door into a space that is barely big enough to house the desk and leather chair. All four walls are lined with bookshelves and there are more books and files in piles on the floor. Jason stops and looks around uncertainly. It has only just occurred to him that, now he is in Kawakami's office, he hasn't got a clue what he should be looking for.
Jonas nods to another door leading off the far wall. "What's through there?"
"His tutorial lab. I haven't got the key for that one."
Jonas walks across and tries the door. The wood gives slightly but the steel bolt and padlock hold firm. He could force it in a matter of minutes, Jonas reckons. But not now. Not with the porter hovering over him. He stares at the door a while longer, a slow feeling of dizziness coming over him. Strange, he knows he's never set foot in this place before but for a moment he could swear that he recognises everything. If he turns now he's going to be staring straight at a book titled 'Environmental Architecture - the Implications.' He swings around quickly, away from the shelves, his gaze finding Jason.
"You found anything?"
Jason jumps. "What? Oh, yeah sure. Lots of things." He waits while the porter sees them out and locks the door firmly behind them. The two of them make their way back along the corridor together. "So what do you think of my cop?" Jason asks. "I used to be an actor you know..."
The morning light slides through the office window and highlights the orange and blue spine of a book. 'Enviromental Architecture - the Implications', it says.
"It's called the Sahaja Nata," Maddy tells a bemused flock of ducks. "If you do it right, it gets your brain in the right, like rhythm for doing magicky stuff." She has made a daisy chain which didn't quite fit over her head so it's perched across her ears. A tartan thermos, the outside still wet with pond water, sits at her feet. She jerks her arms experimentally. "Like this." Eyes closed, she goes into a cross between the Peacock Dance and the Rooster Dance, fanning out imaginary tail feathers, flapping her elbows at right angles to her body and making pecking motions. She has gathered quite an audience of assorted birds and students by the time she feels herself sliding into trance. She flops down flat on her back and lets her mind float free of her body.
Something happened here. Something bad. For a moment it feels like the air itself is poisoned. Maddy feels a sudden, urgent need to plunge her head under clear water to wash away the pollution. She jerks upright, gasping.
"Are you all right?" someone asks.
She stands up, blinking. A large white goose is pecking about by her feet. She turns around and finds herself facing a girl about her own age. She grins at her. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just having a - you know - a rest. I've got to go now. Thanks."
Her last feeling as she walks away is a wave of loneliness so intense it hurts her. When she looks back all there is is the goose staring at her with placid eyes.
Halfway back to the science building she bumps into Brandy. "Hi," he greets her cheerily. "Did you find the pond? I want to take a water sample."
She points vaguely behind her then stops and stares at him hard. "Brandy, why've you got a dog's name?" she asks.
His eyes widen momentarily. "How did you... Never mind. Just show me where the pond is."
Will isn't surprised to find Kawakami's office locked. He tries the door once and looks in through the narrow, glazed panel, seeing the stacks of books and the desk and chair that look too big, too new for the rest of the room. Then he turns and walks briskly away.
A quick conversation with the college porters gets him the list of the dead man's tutorial group and work colleagues.
"Though he didn't have colleagues as such," the porter tells him. "He kept himself to himself most of the time. There's a lot of people interested in him now he's dead now, ain't there. Pity no one spoke to the poor bleeder when he was alive, maybe he'd still be with us today."
Nodding sympathetically, Will scans the list in his hand. "Tariko Nohara," he says, stopping at one name. "That's got to be a Japanese name. Do you know where I can find him."
"Her. If she's still on campus she'll be in one of the labs I guess." He pauses, appearing to think, then smiles and shrugs. "It won't do any harm to find out if she wants to see you. Hang on here a minute and I'll phone around."
Jake Numenor comes out of the Franciscan Study Centre smiling broadly. Father Peter Geldard was still as fixed in his beliefs and still as argumentative as ever. Morning mass on Sunday should be something to look forward to, if the group is still there by then. Jake wonders if he can persuade some of the others to come along. A bit of hellfire never hurt anyone. He glances at his watch and hurries on. He didn't realise he'd spent so much time talking.
Ross is on the phone. Jason Lazarus will be trying to recruit him after this, he thinks drily. "He's dead?" He injects as much shock into his voice as possible.
Peter Jameson's secretary sounds equally upset. "I'm afraid so. It was an accident. It was in the papers."
"I didn't read them." Ross pauses. "I'm sorry. This is a bit of a shock. Pete and I were old friends, way back in medical school. What happened?"
"He was hit by a car." Her voice breaks on the last word. "The police said it was an accident, only... Wait a minute, did you say medical school? Peter never went to medical school. He's a doctor of science. What did you say your name was?"
On the other hand, maybe his big break into films will have to wait, Ross thinks, replacing the receiver gently.
He buys himself a coffee from the machine in the corner and tries again, this time phoning the university's administration department.
"I've got a query about science courses," he says.
Will stands up straight as a slim-built Japanese woman comes towards him.
"Mr... Brickam? I'm Tariko Nohara. You wanted to talk about Osumo."
"He wasn't depressed," Tariko declares fiercely. "He was having a great time here. He loved his job and he loved the area. And then they say that he got depressed and killed himself without a word to anyone. That's not like him at all."
"No?" Will raises an eyebrow quizzically. "Everyone else seems to think he kept pretty much to himself."
"That's because they never knew him. They never took the trouble to know him. I happen to know he was happy here. He wouldn't have changed a thing." She bites at the corner of a fingernail. "Suicide! And now no one's talking about it at all. It's like they all wanted him to be dead. I'm telling you, Reardon was into his job so quickly you'd think he knew Osumo was going to die."
Will lets out a slow breath. "Is that so?" he asks.
She looks at him steadily. "It's a possibility."
Mal passes Jonas and Jason Lazarus as he heads up the main staircase of the science building. Jason is saying something about Harrison Ford and Jonas is listening, his eyes glazing slowly. Mal grins to himself and shakes his head, taking the stairs two at a time.
A quick look around the upstairs corridors tells him what he wants to know. The security systems are all very basic. There are alarms on all the computer rooms and one camera per corridor that he can see, all linked to the monitors in the porters' lodge below, he'd guess. The lock on Kawakami's door looks new, more secure than those on other offices, and a red light flashes constantly in the middle of the door frame. Mal finds a wire running the length of the door and on into the ceiling.
When he looks at the outside of the building, though, he can't see any alarms. The office being on the second floor, the security people probably didn't think anyone would be fool enough to break in from the outside. Mal looks up at the flat roof with narrowed eyes. There is a drainpipe that runs straight up, he notices, passing no more than twelve inches from Kawakami's office window.
The hotel room is crowded with newly purchased recording equipment and cameras. "I thought if we were going to be reporters we'd better look the part," explains Ross. "Besides, it'll all come in useful."
Only Jake is missing. When he comes in he is clutching a whiskey glass in one hand. He sets it down on the bed and claps his hands, facing the group squarely. "Alright, boys and girls, we've got a mission to accomplish. I suggest we all investigate the floater in the duck pond and since London's just 90 minutes away, we all check out the suicide in London. After that, Shabazz, Lazarus and Brickham, you're with me. We'll investigate the 'grieving' widow in Essex. The rest of you then move on to Usk. That will give us time to gel as a team before we split up. Questions?"
"Yes," Jonas grunts. "Who died and made you God? I don't remember SITU putting you in charge."
The priest flushes angrily. "Someone's got to be."
"Then why not me? Or Ross, or Mal. At least they've been through this before. From what I've seen of you so far, all you're good at is antagonising people."
"And of course you're Mr Polite," Jake glares back.
Maddy chews her hair and watches him. "Hey, your name's Ronemun backwards, like the Atlanteans," she pipes up suddenly. "D'you know anything 'bout implants..?"
"Implants?" Jake's whole body stiffens.
Ross breaks up the argument before it can get going. "I've got something to say," he cuts in. "For starters you should know that I'm a wanted criminal - something to do with a little trouble we had on our last mission." He pauses uncomfortably, letting the fact sink in. "Anyway, if you think I'm going to be a risk to your cover I'm willing to work alone and keep in contact by phone. My fake id seems to be holding for now, I've done some checking up of my own and I don't foresee any problems but I don't want there to be arguments about this later." He smiles, somewhat grimly. "For the record, so far I've found out that all the sites where the deaths happened offer quite an overlap of science courses. With Usk being an agricultural college that's likely to be the link. Something that's grown and that has some sort of value in its basic cell structure. I've got a friend checking out other links for me; he'll get back to me as soon as he finds anything."
There is a short silence.
"All right," Brandy says. "We obviously need to split up. Personally, I'd like to check out Colchester. How about I go with you and Jason, Father, while the rest of you check out Usk and London? And who's good at breaking into buildings around here? Someone needs to take a closer look at Kawakami's office."
Mal nods. "I'm happy to stay here."
"Remember to get something personal from Kawasaki's office," Maddy tells him. "I'll need it to do my magicky stuff."
Ross groans aloud. "It's Kawakami. And I'm not helping you with any more magic. I think I'll stay here as well," he adds. "It'd be a good idea to case out the psychiatric units in the area. If Kawakami really was depressed he might have been getting treatment. Which means we might have to break into the places to get any information they have."
"Agreed," Jake says curtly. He looks around, staring at everyone hard. "Just remember: no plan survives the first contact. Be ready to improvise and -" his stare turns fierce - "don't get goatscrewed."