The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
11am, 10th July.
Jonas and Maddy - Usk college.
Brandy, Jake, Jason - Colchester university.
Mal, Will - the Chaucer hotel.
Ross - Kawakami's house.
Mal flips through another half dozen pages of 'Environmental Architecture - the Implications for Our World Today.' The Japanese characters all look the same to him and could mean anything.
"We need a translator," he says needlessly. Will is already reaching for the phone.
"I'll give SITU a ring. They're bound to know someone we can trust."
Ten minutes later, the answer comes. "There's a Mr. Ishida at the Japanese college on the university site," a woman's voice tells them. "He's worked with us in the past. He knows enough to do what you want without asking any questions."
Mal stands up. "Good. Let's go then."
But before they've reached the door the phone rings again.
"Who are you?" the girl demands. Her voice is shrill. She backs away towards the door, her hands raised as if she expects Ross to go for her at any second.
The thought has actually crossed his mind. He pushes it away firmly - he's in enough trouble without adding an attempted assault to the list. But he does need to stop her leaving the house.
"I'm a journalist," he says quickly. "I'm looking into Professor Kawakami's death. I came here hoping to be able to talk to someone about him, but then I saw the back door was wide open and I heard a noise inside so I came in." He gestures around. "This is what I found."
The girl stares at him, disbelieving, but at least she has stopped moving. "I'm calling the police," she says. "If you are a journalist you can explain it to them."
Ross lays his hand over the phone before she can touch it. "If I was a burglar I'd hardly turn the place upside down and then stand here and argue with you empty-handed," he says reasonably. "Do I look like I was stealing anything?" Then on impulse he asks, "Wait a minute, are you Miss Nohara?"
Her eyes turn wary. "How do you know?"
"I'm with the American, Will. He mentioned you - said you and Kawakami were friends." As she watches, he takes his hand slowly away from the phone. "This is a lot to ask," he says, "but I want you to believe me. There's more going on here that people think, and we're trying to get to the bottom of it. Phone Will - he won't lie to you."
She frowns a long moment, staring down at the scattered books on the floor. "No," she agrees at last, "I suppose he won't. All right, I'll phone him."
Will scowls as he listens to Tariko's voice. Ross must be mad attempting a break in this time of the morning. "Yes, he is with us," he tells her. He listens again and glances at Mal. "Yes, Mal and I are here together. We were just about to go and check up on something. Do you want one of us to drop round first?"
"I'll go," Mal volunteers. "You get the translation."
Will nods. "Give us ten minutes," he says to Tariko. "Mal will be right over. And don't let anyone else in until he gets there."
The two men exchange sighs.
Usk Agricultural College
Jonas stands up and glares across the room at the dark-haired woman. "You sure can, Jacqueline," he grumbles before Maddy has had a chance to open her mouth. "My associate here needs to rest a bit, but I have a lot of work to do that just can't wait. If you don't care, please look after her for a bit while I do some things, and when I get done I'll try to find us a more permanent place to stay. All right, Maddy."
She still looks shell-shocked. "Uh, yeah. Cool. Me and Mystery Lady can have a talk."
Jonas raises an eyebrow, surprised she has given in so easily. He shrugs. "Fine." Leaning close to her, he mutters. "See what her connection is with your 'magicky' stuff." A roll of his eyes shows what he thinks about 'magicky' stuff. "You say you think you have seen her before...?" He frowns, straightening up. "You and I may have more in common than I thought," he finishes quietly. He brushes past Jacqueline on his way out. Her attention is on Maddy.
"I'm glad you're feeling better," she says, holding out the glass of water. Maddy nods, earrings swinging wildly.
"Glastonbury!" she announces. "Nineteen ninety-six! Kula Shaker! Crop circles! This!" She pulls a silver ankh from around her neck, dislodging several other pendants in the process. "Does all that stuff mean anything to you?"
"I'm sorry?" Jacqueline looks at her, her face wearing that polite frown that most people wear when they have been talking to Maddy for too long. Glaring back at her, Maddy shrugs off her jacket and pulls back the shoulder of her gold and purple sari.
"What about this?" she demands. Well??!!"
The glass falls from Jacqueline's hand and shatters. Maddy yelps in fright but the scientist doesn't even seem to have noticed. She steps forward, treading on glass and water, her eyes fixed on the dark pentagram tattooed into Maddy's shoulder.
"Where did you get that?" she asks shakily.
Maddy grabs at her. "You know what it is?"
"No." Jacqueline's voice seems to be coming from some distance outside of her. She traces the bottom line of the pentagram with her fingertips. She still doesn't seem to quite believe what she's seeing. "I don't know what it is," she says. "But I've seen the design before. I've got one exactly the same."
Father Jake, in his battered olive-green jacket and priest's black shoes, pants and shirt, is a marked contrast to his two companions. All three men are tall, but Lazarus' Hollywood looks and Brandy Smith's city suit and briefcase serve to emphasise Jake's gray and grizzled face and his well-worn clothing.
If Jake doesn't notice it himself, the waiter at the restaurant Lazarus chooses certainly does, affecting a slight double take as he leads them to their table.
"I said I didn't want to eat," Jake grumbles. "I need a drink, g'dammit, not any of this crappy British food."
"And I said I needed a proper meal inside me," Lazarus replies smoothly. He sits down and picks up the menu. "Now, this afternoon. I'm to be consultant psychiatrist Dr Lazarus from St Elizabeth's Hospital, Washington. You two are my students and assistants." He pauses, waiting for reaction. There is none. "Let me do the talking," he continues, pouting slightly. "After all, I was an actor, you know. I once starred in..."
"We've heard it before Lazarus," Jake growls. He turns to Brandy. "What about you Smith. What kind of work do you do?"
Brandy jumps, startled. "Uh, nothing. It's irrelevant. Excuse me." He gets up quickly and heads in the direction of the gents' taking his briefcase with him.
Jake watches him thoughtfully. "Is it just me," he asks no one in particular, "or do you think that man's trying to hide something?" Forgetting him, he shouts to a waiter for a glass of Scotch and slaps a book flat on the table. "University prospectus," he explains, turning the pages. "Lazarus, the biology department's not small potatoes here. Kendal heads a staff of teachers, researchers and gofers numbering almost 100, and there's about 400 students." He sniffs, unimpressed. "I don't suppose for one minute you have science training? The department's research activities are split into three categories. The first is centered on cell biology, biophysics and biochemistry. Next there's photosynthesis and plant productivity. Lastly there's a general category of research that covers environmental biology. Any of these seem to provide a connection to the other victims' specialties?"
"Kawakami was working on fertilisers," Lazarus offers. "That could be plant productivity."
Brandy rejoins them, he's carrying a laptop PC in one hand, his briefcase in the other and he's whistling cheerfully. "I've found a link," he tells them. "Look at this." He sets the computer up in the middle of the table, ignoring the waiter's frown of disapproval. The screen flickers to life. "Nineteen fifty-eight," Brandy reads. "A spate on unexplained suicides happened in the space of one week in Saffron Walden, Essex. Eight people died and then the suicides stopped as suddenly as they'd begun. Nineteen seventy-nine, the same thing happens in villages in Cornwall and Scotland simultaneously. And in nineteen ninety-six there were no less than thirteen reported cases of missing persons, and five cases of accidents that led to partial amnesia during the Glastonbury festival. The police blamed that one on drug-taking, there's no explanation given for the others." He closes the computer and looks at them both. "What do you make of it so far?"
"First things first," Mal says with a cheerfulness he doesn't feel. "Is anything missing?"
Tariko Nohara shakes her head, frowning doubtfully. "I'm not sure. I don't think so. They've made an awful mess of his things." She picks a book up off the floor and straightens the cover. "This was one of his favourites. Japanese poetry. His sister bought it for him, so he said."
Ross watches her suspiciously. "You seem to know an awful lot about him for one of his students."
"Not really." A quick shake of her head. Her hair falls across her face, almost hiding the colour that rises to her cheeks. She opens a drawer and takes out a man's wallet. "The emergency cash is still here. Whoever broke in here, they weren't interested in money."
Mal and Ross wait while she goes through the contents of the house, not offering to help. Despite not wanting to leave fingerprints everywhere, Ross thinks, the Japanese girl is more likely to know what's important here than he is.
Eventually she comes back to them, sighing and shaking her head. "I'm really not sure," she admits. "There might be some of his work notes missing but the police took most of them when he died. I really don't know what was left." She looks at them both. "Now," she says firmly. "I am going to phone the police and report this. Are you going to stay or not?"
Ross stiffens a fraction, his gaze going to the door.
"I'll stay," Mal says.
The soldier flashes him a look of gratitude. "Whatever you want. I'd best check up on Will."
He is well away from the house before the first siren breaks the silence on the hill.
"There's all sorts of things here," Taro Ishida says. He looks up from the book and pulls a sheet of paper toward him, scribbling down notes as he talks. "These bits here are just commenting on the text. These look like the first two lines of a poem. All this mess on the front page seems to be notes from various telephone conversations. Tariko, seven pm. Meeting... I can't make out this one, it could be autumn or harvest or something similar. Whatever it is, he had a meeting about it at two o'clock in October. There's a list of figures here and these two characters mean delivery. A note of another meeting, and another. He seemed to have a lot of them, didn't he?" He frowns, his pen moving again. "December harvest. He's got his dates mixed up, I think." He looks up at Will. "I hope this is helping?"
Will shrugs. "I don't know yet. Is there anything else?"
"I don't think so. Meeting times, dates. The figures could be bills, I suppose. They're too big to be salary payments." He hands the paper to Will and takes another one. "Can you leave the book with me?" he asks. "The best thing would be if you called back later. I'll go through it thoroughly in the meantime."
"Sure," Will agrees easily. "I'll get back to you in, say, a couple of hours?"
He leaves Ishida poring over the book and makes his way out. The sun is bright and he has to shade his eyes against it. He blinks hard, then he sees Ross coming up the path towards him and his mouth sets into a hard line.
"I thought you were keeping a low profile," he says.
Ross doesn't react to the sarcasm in his voice. "I was. What have you turned up so far?"
Will gives him the sheet of paper and starts to walk. "I'm going to ask some more questions about Reardon. Do you think you can keep out of trouble long enough to help?"
Professor James Reardon, Will reads off the college noticeboard. Born nineteen fifty-six. Joined the university in eighty-five. Current acting head of department. Office on the third floor of the science block. Will glances at Ross. "Shall we go up?"
The office door is open and as the two men walk closer they hear voices from inside.
"...You understand this must be dealt with as discreetly as possible," someone is saying.
Reardon's voice answer. "I understand perfectly. And thank you. If I hear any more I'll certainly let you know."
"Very well. I..." The speaker stops abruptly. "I think we'll leave it there." A chair creaks.
Will pauses a moment then strides confidently up to the door. A pair of men, both wearing dark suits avoid him narrowly as they come out.
"Pardon me," one of them murmurs."
Will walks on into the office, but Ross stands and watches them go. He can't quite work out why they look so familiar.
Jacqueline Brown picks up the last pieces of glass and throws them in the wastepaper basket. She has regained her composure now and her hands are steady although she still tries to avoid Maddy's gaze.
Maddy watches her, swinging her legs against her chair impatiently. "Um, look," she ventures. "I had a sort of, well, accident in July ninety-six in Glastonbury an' I've only got really squiggly bits of memory from, like, before then. But I've seen you before. Don't say it's just, y'know, deja vue - I've had that before an' it's not that or false memories. You do know me, don't you? Tell me, please! It's like, important."
Jacqueline looks up. "I don't know you," she says calmly. "That's the truth - but there's a whole two weeks of my life I don't know about. Glastonbury ninety-six. You weren't the only one there."
Maddy's eyes open wider. "You?"
"I'm afraid so." She sits down. "I went to the festival with friends. One night - I can't remember which one - I had too much to drink and I woke up the next morning in the middle of a field with a hell of a hangover and no idea how I had got there. Only..." Her left hand fumbles with the collar of her shirt. "Only, when I got back to the festival site I found the whole thing was over. I'd lost two weeks of time. Not one night - two weeks. I've been to doctors, hypnotherapists, you name it, since and I've never been able to remember what happened. All I know is that while I was unconscious, someone tattooed this on my shoulder."
She pulls back the top of her shirt to reveal a pentagram, identical to Maddy's
Jonas hates cops. Even walking into the village police station makes him feel like hitting someone. Maybe he should try it, he thinks with a grin: the cops here don't even have handguns, after all.
"Can I help you?" The girl who has asked is blonde, no older than twenty. But her grey eyes are cold. Handgun or no, Jonas quickly rearranges his face into a suitably serious expression.
"Hiya sister," he greets her. "I want to talk to the man in charge of the Jameson case."
She doesn't move. "What makes you think it's a man? As it happens, the case is closed. No one's 'in charge' of it any more."
"Good, then the records will be available, right? Bring them out here, will you?"
The girl's eyes compress into a frown. "Now, wait a minute. First of all, police files are not library books. You can't just come in here and read them on demand. Secondly, who the hell are you, and why do you want to know about Jameson." Her lips twitch into a tight smile. "I'll warn you in advance you won't convince me you're a grieving relative so you can save that one for someone else."
For a moment Jonas finds himself in the embarrassing position of being lost for words. But he recovers quickly. "I'm a journalist. Doing the prelim' investigation before the big boys get here. They said it would be okay to see the records and take a statement off you. I've got a camera here." He produces it and holds it up awkwardly. "This could turn out to be a famous case."
The girl knocks the camera firmly aside. "Sorry," she says. "Our instructions are to keep this quiet. You'll have to do your filming somewhere else. And you can tell your friends not to bother to come asking for our records. The press has already had our statement. Jameson had been drinking. He ran out in front of a car and the driver couldn't stop in time. That's all."
A vague prickling starts up along Jonas' back. "Instructions?" he echoes. "Whose instructions? The family? Employers? Who?"
Her face sets stiffly. "We're not at liberty to say. I'll have to ask you to leave now."
Disappointment mingles with a nagging feeling of unease as Jonas leaves the building. He hasn't known a cop yet who hasn't wanted a bit of personal publicity. And he's seen enough cases of cops releasing details against the wishes of relatives and employers to know that their views are generally ignored.
He is still frowning when he calls Ross.
Ross answers at once, speaking quietly from his position in the corridor outside Reardon's office. He feels a vague stirring of worry when Jonas tells him about Maddy, but pushes it aside for the time being.
"Someone's been poking around this end too," he says. "Could be the same people who are trying to hush things up in Usk. If there is a connection, of course..." His voice tails off. "Got it!" he says in a triumphant whisper. "The men in Reardon's office just now. I haven't seen them before, but I've seen their type. The way they were dressed, their manner, everything, reminded me of the AirStaff group on the last mission."
"I haven't got much time..." Reardon is protesting.
Protesting vainly, because Will shows no intention of leaving. He looks around the room curiously. It is bigger than Kawakami's office, lined on all sides with bookcases. On the desk a coffee maker and a photograph of two children sit side by side.
Will nods at the photo. "You're married?"
"Divorced. I do have a lot of work to get through today, you know."
"I know." Will turns to look at a bookcase. A whole row of volumes on particle physics, a shelf full of astronomy texts below them. Another shelf holds what must be close on a hundred research papers, stacked in untidy piles. "Are all these yours?" he asks.
"If you mean, have I put my name to all of them, yes. I don't know how they do it in America, but research is the only way to get grant money in this country, and in the main we survive by grant." He sounds irritated.
"I suppose you must bring in a lot of money just by yourself," Will says.
A faint flicker of pride crosses Reardon's face. "More than anyone else - apart from one-off grants, which are no use in the long-term, of course."
"Oh. Then the men we saw coming out of here were from a grants body, I suppose."
"Something like that." Pointedly, Reardon reaches out and turns his computer monitor on. "Now, you really must excuse me. If you have any more questions I'm sure the rest of the staff will be only too happy to help you."
"So you don't know what happened to you either," Maddy finishes. "Haven't you ever wondered?"
Jacqueline shrugs. "All the time. In the end I decided I couldn't let it ruin the rest of my life. If I ever remember, fine. If not - well, it was only two weeks."
"Two weeks for you - it is my whole life!" Maddy protests. "Whatever happened to me, must have happened to you as well, only, it wasn't so bad cos you can remember things an' I can't."
Jacqueline levels her gaze at her. "So," she asks, "what are you going to do about it?"
Maddy pauses a moment, chewing a strand of her hair, then she stands up determinedly. "First of all, you can tell me about Jameson," she says. "Then I'm going to find Jonas and try a... a thing that might help. And I think you ought to stay here so we know where to find you later." A hard look creeps into her eyes.
Jacqueline's smile turns nervous. "Is that a threat? I'll tell you what I know about Jameson, which isn't much. It was a damn waste, that's all. If he'd been drinking, it was because they were putting far too much work on him here. He was always in the department late."
"What was he working on?"
"God knows. The usual student projects and something private that he never talked about. The police came here and took all his papers so I can't even see his work to a conclusion." She pauses. "Talking of work, I've got a tutorial in five minutes. Here -" she scribbles something on a sheet of paper. "My phone number. Give me a ring later."
Colchester Psychiatric Medical Institute is a forbidding place at the best of times. Someone has made an effort to brighten the white concrete with touches of yellow paint and hanging baskets. But nothing can disguise the heavy steel door into the place - or the bars on the windows. It makes Jake feel like he is walking into a prison. He shudders, rubbing his arms.
"You all right?" Brandy asks.
"Sure." He jumps as a door opens ahead of them.
"Doctor Lazarus, I presume," a woman says, coming through. She smiles brightly - artificially, Brandy thinks. "My name is Elizabeth Perry. I'm the doctor in charge of Sarah Kendal's case. How can we help, exactly?"
Brandy is expecting Jason to go off on one of his usual trains of rhetoric, but, surprisingly, he doesn't. He seems almost as quiet as Jake and hangs back, looking about nervously. Brandy grimaces to himself and steps forward. "I'm Dr Lazarus's assistant," he introduces himself. "We'd like to see Kendal's case notes, please. And would it be possible for us to see her?"
The psychiatrist regards them for a moment then nods. "Certainly. There'll be forms to fill in. Come this way please."
Sarah Kendal, Professor of Biology, Colchester University, Essex. Case study.
Thirty-eight years old, having shown no previous signs of mental instability, Kendal stabbed her husband, killing him. When police arrived they found her squatting in the corner of the room, playing with the murder weapon as if it were a toy. Questioning revealed immediately that Kendal was in some sort of state of regression, either faked or real. Her behaviour and speech was that of a four-year-old child and her only response to direct questions was to say she couldn't remember what had happened.
Little progress has been made to date. Kendal is capable of washing, feeding and dressing herself but she frequently wets her bed and is prone to temper tantrums, especially when direct questions about the killing are put to her.
It is the opinion of this hospital that the patient is not faking a breakdown in order to avoid prosecution but has, in fact, suffered an acute mental trauma, cause as yet unknown, which has let to her present behaviour.
Brandy whistles softly, laying the report down. Lazarus shifts uncomfortably in his chair. Jake, who refused from the start to sit down, paces the room restlessly. Elizabeth Perry waits, her smile perfectly in place.
"Would you like to question her now?" she asks. She leaves the room without waiting for an answer.
"You guys question her," Jake mutters. "I'll stand back here and keep an eye on the hallway. You never know what kind of shit can go down in these kind of places." He leans against the wall by the door, his gaze flicking sideways at every sound from outside.
Lazarus looks sick. "I'm sorry I wasn't more help," he stammers. "I... I... I've made countless m... movies about murder and death but I just realised I've never been closer to a real criminal than on a TV or movie screen." He gets up suddenly as footsteps are heard outside.
"Sarah Kendal," the psychiatrist says, leading a woman in by the hand.
Lazarus looks as if he's ready to fall to his knees. Brandy hooks a chair around behind him and kicks him in the back of the legs until he sinks onto it.
Sarah Kendal is a small woman, her blue eyes and fair hair giving her the look of a slightly demented china doll. She gazes at them all and smiles - the open, trusting smile of a small child. "Have you brought apples?" she asks. "I like apples." Even her voice is high, childlike.
Brandy has to resist the impulse to squat down on a level with her. "What's your name?"
"Sarah." Her little finger creeps into her mouth. "I'm waiting here for my daddy only he's got to work so he's late, an' these people are looking after me."
"I see." For once, Brandy feel unsure of himself. He looks to Jake and Lazarus for support but they are busy studying the door or the ceiling and say nothing. Sighing, he turns back to the biology professor.
"Can you remember what happened, Sarah?" he asks. "Before you came here. What were you doing?"
"Playing." The response comes automatically.
"Playing at what? Will you show me?"
Her face creases. "I don't remember." She swings away from him. "You're not my daddy, you're a bad man! I don't like you." Her voice rises higher, unnaturally shrill. "I don't like them. Make them go away..."
"I'm sorry," Perry says without the slightest trace of apology in her voice. "She gets like this every time she's questioned. It did say in the report. It might be best if you left for now."
It is an order, not a suggestion, Brandy realises. He nods assent and gets to his feet. "Thank you for your time. Come on, lets go."
"Mal," Jake says. "What's going on your end?"
"This and that." He fills him in quickly, adding, "so after Tariko had given her report to the police I left her to it. They couldn't find anything missing so they're treating it as an attempted burglary, assuming the thief was disturbed. I've picked up a full translation of Kawakami's notes. Most of it is irrelevant, I think. But there are a lot of mentions of meetings and the same word seems to crop up several times."
"Harvest." He sounds puzzled. "Maybe Jonas will be able to throw some light on it."
"Maybe," the priest agrees dubiously. He lets out a sigh. "Right. The police wouldn't let us see any of their records - said the case was strictly private - so we're going on to the weeping widow's house. With a bit of luck, we'll find something there. I'll be in touch."
They'd need more than luck, Mal thinks, replacing the phone and thinking that here in Canterbury someone seems to have been pretty thorough about removing evidence. And in Usk, Jonas reported, the police were as unhelpful as Jake said they were in Colchester. If there's a link between the cases so far, he thinks, it is that no one wants to talk about any of them. He looks again at the pencilled notes in front of him. Harvest?
"We sow the seed," Maddy chants, scattering flour and grass seed in a rough circle on the ground, "nature grows the seed, we eat the seed..."
Jonas watches dubiously as she adds some slices of bread, a stick of incense, a gold bowl and a tartan thermos to the ritual circle.
"Water's got memory," she tells him. She upends the flask, pouring a stream of brownish liquid into the bowl. "An' this water's from the duck pond." She fumbles in her bag for a pair of scissors and stabs herself quickly in the thumb. "Ouch. It works better with blood. Now I need my paper, and these..." she waves two marker pens aloft then takes an ankh from around her neck and hands it to Jonas. "You hang onto that and tell me if you get any, umm, psychic flashes, yeah? I'm going to do some, like, automatic writing."
Dipping two slices of bread in the bowl, she puts them over her eyes and lies down.
Jonas sits beside her more carefully. At least it has stopped raining, but the ground is still wet. The edges of the ankh cut into his hand. He studies it carefully, trying - and failing - to make sense of the writing that is carved into the metal. Maddy's hands begin to move, scrawling lurid patterns over the sheets of paper spread around her.
The minutes pass...
Maddy sits up so suddenly, she startles him. "Well? Did I get anything? Did you?"
Jonas shakes his head. "Sorry, sista. Not a thing." He picks up one of the pieces of paper. "You've written 'harvest', Maddy. Over and over again. You've got seed on the brain, girl."