The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
The Chaucer Hotel, Canterbury.
3pm, 9th July.
Will Brickham glares around at the rest of the team angrily. A wanted murderer, a hippie, and a mad priest. It seems that the only useful members of the team are himself, Smith and Harris. He shrugs, glancing in Mal's direction. "I'll stay in Canterbury for now," he offers. The cold note in his voice warns the others not to argue.
"Suit yourself," Jonas stands up and reaches for the video camera in the corner of the room. "I'm taking this and my ass to wherever Usk Agricultural College is. I know somethin' about people getting drunk and getting killed by cars; forget this other crap." He waves the camera at them. "And don't tell SITU, but I'm pawning this when this is all over." He almost spits the words out. Then his expression changes. He looks down. "Look, brothas - and sista," he says slowly, "the reason I'm here is sometimes I get these funny feelings..." He composes himself with an effort. "I'm NOT gonna go there. But that book in that teacher's room, 'Env...', uh, well, the orange and blue one might be important. Now I'm sure as hell not gonna read it, but maybe someone who likes that sort of thing ought to."
"And I want, like, something of Kamikaze's," Maddy reminds them. "Or was it Kawasaki... Anyway, I'll go to Usk with Jonas. We shouldn't go off on our on, y'know, just in case."
Ross and Jake look distinctly relieved. Jonas scowls but nods. He fumbles in his pockets and pulls out a set of knuckle dusters. They look to be solid metal, plated in dull gold and studded with fake emeralds. At least, Mal thinks, eyeing them closely, they might be fake. The boxer throws a punch into his left palm, the echo lasting for several seconds. He smiles grimly. "Before I leave, if you want I think that door in the teacher's office can be opened, if you know what I mean."
Mal shakes his head, studying his fingernails. "We can handle that."
"Good." Jonas nods, obviously relieved. He stuffs his fists into his pockets and stands there a moment more, looking at each of the group in turn. "Well," he says eventually, "I'll get going. I'll keep in touch."
"Use land phones," Father Jake shouts after him. "Cellular are too easily compromised."
There is a short silence, broken only by Jason Lazarus's muttering. "He'd make a great action star. A film about brain-damaged boxers, and..." His voice tails off as he becomes aware of the others staring at him. "Sorry, what was I saying?"
It is quickly decided that of the remaining investigators, Jake, Brandy and Lazarus should move on to Colchester while Will, Ross and Mal stay on in Canterbury. Jake quickly quashes Brandy's suggestion that they drive there that night and when Jason offers to help break into Kawakami's office he rounds on him so fast he sends a chair flying.
"You'll stay out of the way, understand?"
Jason shrugs. "Ok, Colchester it is. At least there's been a murder there, that's something juicy at last!"
Jonas settles himself into the train's double seat with a sigh. Maddy's chatter, well-meaning though it is, is already starting to get to him. Besides which, he wanted to work alone on this. Spread out, find out as much as possible about everything. He smiles. Hit everything 'til you hurt something, then hammer at it until it breaks - one of the first lessons he ever learned, and he's learned since that it works in more situations than just boxing.
The weight of the knuckle-dusters is reassuring in his pocket as he sits back and closes his eyes, losing the rest of what Maddy is saying. Eventually it occurs to the girl that he isn't listening. She watches him for a few minutes in silence and then, setting her face into a contrived pout, she turns her face to the window and watches the reflections in the glass.
"Blaize here," comes the voice. "Don't tell me you've solved the mystery already?"
"No. I need some information." Ross scans quickly through the notes he has made. "Are there any private corporations that would sponsor research into pest control, or buy the results of research?"
"Yes, thousands," Blaize says drily. "Anything from farmers' co-operatives to supermarket chains." There is a brief pause during which Ross hears a dull humming which could be a computer or printer coming to life then Blaize adds, "If you think it's a private corporation that's involved, try to narrow down a list of possibles. Poking about at random isn't going to get us very far - and it may alert them that we're onto them before we even know who they are. Was there anything else you needed to know?"
"Not at present."
"Good luck then. Oh, and Ross... do try to keep the investigation legal this time."
Ross grins and puts the phone down, taking up the local directory instead. A few minutes later he is checking out the details of the psychiatric clinics in the area.
While Father Jake and Lazarus check out the university library - Jake for Kawakami's research papers and Lazarus for a copy of 'Environmental Architecture,' Mal and Will wander back through the campus together, looking for Tariko Nohara in particular and any of Kawakami's students in general.
Several conversations later they know that the Japanese professor was well liked and respected. The students under him were working on projects studying pollination, cell structure of plants, natural fertilisers and pesticides... all aspects of botanical science. The crop circle project was a study into how wind patterns can affect crop growth and proves far more dull than the title suggests.
"He was a good man," one of the students sums up. "Always ready to help us out if we needed him. He really missed his wife and kid, I think. Used to send them money and stuff all the time, so people said. The last time I spoke to him he was planning to fly back for the summer. But he never said that much about himself."
"A private man," Mal suggests. The boy nods. "Yeah, I suppose you can put it that way."
Eventually, they track down Tariko Nohara to one of the college coffee lounges. Will introduces Mal quickly.
"I'm sorry to hear about your professor," he says.
She nods, avoiding his gaze. Out of politeness, he gauges, not nervousness. Miss Nohara appears to be completely in possession of herself.
Will clears his throat. "I'm sorry we have to bother you again, Miss Nohara. Believe me, it is necessary that we know as much as we can about Professor Kawakami."
She looks up then, her eyes bright. "Why? So you can write you academic paper and get the credit for it? If you really cared, you'd be trying to find out why Osumo died - and it certainly wasn't because of depression, I can tell you that much."
Will touches her hand sympathetically. "We want to know the truth," he assures her. "Why don't you start at the beginning? Tell us what the professor was working on?"
She sighs and runs a hand through her hair, lifting long strands away from her face. "He had the student projects, of course. And then there was his own work. Most of it was extensions of the student work, I think. That's the usual way around here. I was working on a cross-pollination project, building up computer models and so on. You can see my work notes if you want, but Osumo was only supervising: I did all the actual work. He said he was working on other projects, but he never went into any detail. Sorry."
"What about Reardon?" Mal asks.
Nohara's smile twists into sudden anger. "He never like Osumo. Because he's Japanese, and because he's - he was - good enough to be head of department when Reardon wasn't. His area's physics, and none of his students like him much, you can ask any of them. They say he's never there for tutorials and things, and he's even not turned up to give lectures before because he was too busy."
"Busy with what?"
She shakes her head. "All sorts. He always makes so much fuss about any work he's doing that you'd think he was the only one in the department." She makes a noise of disgust in her throat and sets down her coffee cup. "As if anything is more important than feeding people. Look, I've got to go, but if there's anything else I'll be around and about tomorrow. The porter will know where to find me."
Mal watches her go, frowning slightly, seeing again the slight movement of her fingers when she talked about Reardon. Her dislike of him seemed perfectly genuine. But there is something else too and after a moment he realises what it is.
"Were you watching her?" he asks Will. "Her eyes went positively misty every time she mentioned the professor."
Will nods. "And, come to think if it, she's the only student we've come across who's used his first name."
"Environmental Architecture - the Implications for Our World Today," turns out to be one of the most boring books Jason Lazarus has ever read. For a start it has no picture. No murders. Not even a brief sex scene to liven the academic text. The author is a woman he's never heard of, and no wonder. She's got absolutely no future as a Hollywood script writer.
He flicks through another two pages and gives up. He's got better things to do. He leaves Jake poring over Kawakami's research papers and goes out to find a phone.
After booking five star accommodation for the group in Colchester, he punches out the number of his US office. "Julie, it's Jason," he says. "I need a distraction. Tomorrow, Colchester university. Organise a group of protesters to turn up." He pauses. "No, I don't what I want them to protest about. Pick something. Send Nigel over to take charge of it, and leak the information to the local press. And see if you can mock up four ID cards, will you? Say we're from a criminal psychiatric clinic in Washington or somewhere and fax a mental hospital in Essex... I'll get you the number... to confirm our consultancy visit tomorrow. Yeah, you'll have to cover for me if they throw any curve balls. Oh, and Julie, dear," he adds, before she can cut in to complain, "your big break's gonna come soon. I can feel it."
It is well past midnight. Ross and Mal wait tensely on the edge of the university campus. All is dark, the only illumination spreading in slow pools from the occasional street lamp. A sound behind them makes them swing round and both relax visibly when they see it is only Jake. The priest wipes his sleeves across his mouth, his other hand behind his back. A sharp scent of whiskey clings to him. He nods to Mal, ignoring Ross completely. "Let's move out, Harris," he says.
The security on Kawakami's office might be sophisticated for a university campus. Mal disables it in twenty seconds flat, climbing up the drainpipe to open the window. Ross and Jake follow him up quickly. Ross immediately crosses the room and begins going through the files by the door while keep one eye on the corridor outside. Once Mal has pulled the window blind back into position, he and Jake begin to search the room, their pencil torches looking like miniature lasers in the dark.
The desk drawers are all locked. Mal fiddles with them for a moment and opens them, bottom to top. He looks up, puzzled. "They're all empty," he hisses.
"So's this," Jake replies. He is looking at the computer screen. Ross crosses over to join him. All the usual software packages are there, but when Jake checks for personal files, there are none.
"Someone's been here before us." Mal runs a gloved hand around the seat of the leather chair and finds a pencil which he slips into an inside pocket. A quick scan of the shelves reveals nothing of use. No diaries, no work notes, no research papers other than those Jake has already seen in the library. The only personal items are a painting of Mount Fuji hanging in the back room and some sculpture make out of black glass and marked 'made in China.'
Mal studies the wall behind the desk. He finds a hook fixed halfway up, probably meant for hanging a calendar or something, but if there was ever a calendar, that too has gone.
In Usk, it is raining, the pale drizzle turning the early morning light grey and leaving a faint sheen over the backs of Jonas's hands. He wipes them off on his hands and glares at the man on the other side of the glass door.
"Look, mate," he shouts, "I will find out about Jameson, one way or another and the easier my job is, the easier I'll be satisfied. When the rest of the group get here and find the story's only half done they're going to be seriously annoyed."
"Yeah," Maddy adds, somewhat spoiling the effect. "And then they're going to ask all sorts of questions and you'll have to answer them, so there."
The college porter looks him up and down and steps back hurriedly as Jonas slams both palms into the glass between them. "You don't look much like reporters," he says.
"We're not. I told you, we're doing the advance work. Now, are you going to let us in or not?"
It looks as if the porter is going to refuse again when another voice interrupts him. "Martin? What's going on?"
The newcomer is a woman, late twenties, Jonas judges, black hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. She peers through the glass at him and unaccountably he finds himself seized with the urge to look away.
Maddy, though, lets out a squeal. "Jonas!"
"Quiet," he mutters.
"But I..." she tugs at his jacket. He brushes her hand away.
He turns just in time to see the colour drain from her face. Almost in slow motion, her knees buckle. Jonas catches her before she can fall. It feels for a moment that he cradling a wounded bird in his arms, her body is so light.
"I'm sorry," Maddy says again, sitting up slowly. "I'm all right now." She is still paper pale, her hands trembling.
The dark-haired woman smiles reassuringly. "It's not your fault." She returns her gaze to Jonas. "My name's Jacqueline Brown, assistant researcher here. Are you sure you don't want me to call a doctor for your friend?"
Maddy shakes her head. "I'm fine now. If I could just have a glass of water or something..."
Jacqueline shoots her a worried glance. She looks a little pale too, Jonas thinks. Her shoulders move in a visible sigh and she stands up. "Sure, I'll be back in a minute."
The moment she's out of the room, Maddy jumps up. "Jonas, I know her!"
"I know her!" she insists. Look, I lost my memory, right, because of.. well, because something strange get me and I can't remember anything that happened before that, only when I saw her I knew that I knew her." She is stumbling over her words in her excitement. "That's why I fainted, I think, because I remembered something. Well, not really remembered, not properly like, but I know I've seen her before and it wasn't after I lost my memory. So it has to be before."
The door opens. "Here's your water," Jacqueline says. "Now, is there anything else I can do for you?"
"I think the rain's finally easily." The relief is evident in Brandy Smith's voice. "Where should we go first? The university or the asylum?"
"The university, then the Kendals' home," Jake decides. "We need to recon both of them before announcing our presence in Essex."
Neither of them asks Lazarus's opinion and they are genuinely impressed when he tells them his plan and hands out a set of entirely authentic looking ID.
"Nice thinking, Lazarus," Brandy concedes at last, wishing he'd thought to do the same. He's a little more dubious when Jason tells him about the planned demonstration, but shrugs the problem away. "It might help, it might make our job more difficult. We won't know till we get there. The most difficult part will be the asylum. We're going to have to find out where the lady's being held and then get access, which won't be easy."
"Colchester Psychiatric Medical Institute," Jason supplies smugly. "They're expecting us at two this afternoon." The brief look of amazement in the Englishman's eyes is worth any amount of overseas phone calls.
They hear the shouting as Brandy takes the hire car around the last bend in the road.
"No to loans! Free education for all!"
A group of close on a hundred students is gathered, blocking the road ahead, some waving banners made from old sheets, others wielding traffic cones as weapons. A pair of journalists talk to the people at the front while another pair stand and take photographs. Brandy eases the car to a halt.
"My diversion," Jason says proudly. "What do you think?"
Jake and Brandy exchange groans.
The three of them have to push their way through dozens of protesters to get to the main college. They find it in chaos.
"Sorry," a porter tells them, hurrying past. "We're pretty tied up with this demonstration thing right now. Why don't you come back in a couple of hours? Or leave your names at the desk... Kendal? She's in hospital, or jail, far as I know. Here." He grabs one of the college newspapers from a chair and thrusts it at them. Brandy takes it.
Lecturer Kills Husband,' the headline announces. 'One of our own science lecturers, Mrs Sarah Kendal, killed her husband on July 4th. Her tutorial group is still in a state of shock over it. Thank goodness the exams are over is all we can say. Mrs Kendal's new home is Colchester Psychiatric Medical Institute. Lets hope she finds it comfortable.
Brandy lets the paper fall, feeling slightly sick. "Haven't students got anything better to make fun of?" he wonders.
Jason claps him on the shoulder. "Never mind. Why don't we get some lunch before checking out the madhouse?"
Brandy glances at his watch. It is eleven o'clock.
"You bought what?" Geoff Blaize's voice is loud.
"A car," Will tells him calmly. "A Toyota to be precise. Plain black, but I've jazzed it up with some antennas and a satellite dish." He doesn't bother to mention the computer, mobile phones and sound recording system he picked up in town. "I thought you wanted us to look the part," he says, managed to sound aggrieved.
"Yes, but... a car? Did hiring never occur to you, or do you think SITU is made of money?" He sighs heavily. "Well it can't be helped now. We'll be expecting the car off you at the end of the investigation, and any equipment you pick up. We might be able to reuse it. And for goodness sake, don't spent any more money unless you have to."
Grinning, Will replaces the receiver just as Mal walks in.
"Don't think SITU are too happy with me," he says. "What's up?"
"Look at this." Mal tosses him a book.
"Environmental Architecture? I thought we'd decided this was no good."
"It's the one from the professor's office," Mal tells him. "Ross picked it up last night. Take a look at it."
Will opens it curiously. The title page is covered with pencil notes. Flicking through, he finds more notes scribbled into odd spaces here and there. Will glances up. "It's a pity it's all in Japanese, isn't it?"
Ross has an appointment at a psychiatric clinic. Or, rather, two clinics. Both turn out to be a waste of time. The staff are friendly, offering to book him in with a counsellor straight away, but when he asks about Kawakami he's met with polite bafflement.
"Osumo Kawakami? He's the one who committed suicide, isn't he? No, he didn't come here. I only wish he had."
The second clinic mentions that the university has its own counselling service but when Ross checks that out he draws a blank as well. If the Japanese professor was suffering from depression, he wasn't receiving treatment for it locally.
Time for Plan B, he decides. He heads off in the direction of the professor's rented house, breaking into a slow jog as he nears the right place. A low wall separates front garden from back and he clears it without breaking stride. Everything is quiet. Cautiously, Ross makes his way to the back door. He stands for a while, listening intently, then, satisfied that no one is around, he tries the handle.
The lock is stiff but opens when forced. Ross goes in and stops.
If the police have been through the house, they have not been tidy about it. Books lie open on the floor, a metal box is upside down, spilling coins and paper clips over the carpet. Pictures hang crocked on the walls. The TV and video are untouched, but several videos are missing, the boxes left empty on the shelves.
The rest of the house is just the same. One of the wardrobes upstairs is full of women's clothes and these have been pulled half off their hangers. The air stinks of spilt perfume. Ross wipes his fingers across the dressing table. The surface is tacky. Slowly, he makes his way back down the stairs.
He has reached the hallway when the front door suddenly opens.
A slim Japanese woman, bursts in and stops. "Who the hell are you?" she demands. She runs a hand through her hair, lifting long strands away from her face. Then she sees the mess and she screams.