The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
4pm 11th July
Mal, Ross, Will - Canterbury
Jonas, Maddy - Usk
Jake, Lazarus, Brandy - Colchester
"Listen boys," Jason says as the three of them get back into the car, "sorry about my, erm, 'lapse' at the clinic but you gotta admit that place kinda spooked all of us!"
Jake grunts in response. "Forget it. We need to search the weeping widow's home. You two ever do any covert work?" Without waiting for a reply, he continues. "Smith, do you know how to pop a lock? Lazarus, what kind of equipment can you secure for us that will enable the team to do some intel work? I'd like to have a voice-activated recorder hidden in Kendal's office and inside various places in her home. I also need a small camera to take shots of files and such."
"I've made a few burglar movies," Jason says, his eyes shining enthusiastically, "I know the score. Just call me 'the cat!"
Jake shoots him a look of disgust. "Don't get a hardon, pretty boy. These can be real hard bricks to pass, and the payoff can easily be a hotmetal enema. Comprende?"
Momentarily taken aback, Jason nods. "I'll keep watch outside," he offers. "Will we search Kendal's office at the university as well? It's too late to see the staff now and anyway so far we've learnt zip by any fair means. Lets see what we can find, maybe get some leverage to use when we do question the staff. And I've got another plan. Things are moving too slowly for me. Listen..."
Brandy and Jake listen with growing disbelief. When Jason has finished, Jake shakes his head. "Lazarus, that is the stupidest thing I've heard from you so far."
Jason affects a look of wounded feelings. "Hey! I've played it by the book so far and look where it's gotten us, nowhere! I'm gonna do this thing and at the end of the day I'm putting no-one in danger except myself. Lets set the trap and see what dirty futhermuckers we catch!"
"Futhermuckers?" Brandy echoes. The car rolls on.
"If you ask me - an' I know you didn't but anyway - the Universe is trying to, like, tell me something. On a, y'know, particle level..." Maddy shuffles her pieces of paper thoughtfully. "This is a Government cover-up, like with the, uh, alien thingy in our last mission - it's even the same dodgy Men in Grey! But, um, covering up what...?"
"Beats me," Jonas admits. "But whatever it is, there sure are a lot of these professor types who are getting harvested for something."
"Mmmm... I reckon this is some, y'know, mega-secret Government experiment - like, uh, 'Project Harvest' or whatever - an' all these scientisty people have helped out an' the know too much so they've been, like, deliberately suicided." She looks up at Jonas for confirmation. "Maybe they've made something, something that they've put in food an' they're testing out on people like me an' Jackie Brown and' all those people who disappeared or killed themselves or, uh, lost their memory. Maybe we're bits of the experiment that's like, gone wrong. Or maybe they're trying to make psychic powers an' I went right. Hmmm..." She runs out of theories. "Whatever it is, Brandy's PVC computer says they've been, like, doing this since, uh, nineteen-fifty-eight. They've planted the, like, seeds a long, long time ago. Maybe Jackie an' me are the seeds. Maybe they're harvesting us..." She runs out of theories and falls silent, nibbling crumbs off a spare slice of bread.
Taking advantage of her momentary silence, Jonas reaches for the ankh around her neck. "Look, you don't mind if I borrow this, do you?" He flips the chain up over her head and has pocketed the thing before she can object. "Don't worry, you can have it back later." Seeing her eyes narrow, he adds quickly. "What are your plans now? I guess you can handle the Jackie lady okay?"
"Yeah." She looks momently pleased. "I'll go see her again," she says. "Then I think I'll get hold of Ross an', y'know, head up to London. I got friends there I can talk to."
Jonas hesitates a moment then nods. Despite appearances, he has to admit that the girl does seem to be able to take care of herself. "Okay, girl," he agrees. "Let me know if you need anything on this end. And if you get into any trouble I'll come running."
He sound so determined that Maddy shoots him a look of quick surprise. Then she smiles. "Yeah. Thanks. I'll call you from London."
Mal sighs as he reads through Kawakami's notes one more time. Times and dates, the word 'harvest' again. A name: Jennifer Matthews. Mal stops and picks up his mobile phone.
"Will? Are you still on campus?"
The American grunts the affirmative.
"Good. Can you see if there's anyone by the name of Jennifer Matthews on the staff register? And if so, find out what connection she's got to Kawakami."
That done, he phones Tariko Nohara.
"Lunch tomorrow?" she says. She sounds surprised, but pleased. "All right. Caesar's in town is pretty good and so loud no one can hear what you're saying. Meet you there at one?"
So far, so good, Mal thinks, laying the phone down. Hopefully the Japanese girl will be able to shed a little more light on Kawakami's notes. She seems to have known him better than anyone here.
He packs up the professor's pencil and goes downstairs to arrange to have it sent by courier to Usk along with a quick note to Maddy telling her where it came from and asking her to check it out as soon as she can. Then he goes back to the privacy of his room to give Situ a call. He can't ever remember seeing anything like Maddy's pentagram tattoo before so he has to hope that they'll have some information. There should be a report on Glastonbury, at least.
There is, Blaize tells him. Incomplete, never fully resolved. ("When we develop a way of being in a hundred places at once we might have the manpower to investigate everything properly," Blaize says dryly.) But at least there is some information. Blaize promises to send it out at once by special courier - email is too risky to use. Mal thanks him and gets up. There's plenty to be getting on with in the meantime. Like checking back with Will - and checking up on Reardon's schedule for the night. It's high time someone took a close look at his office.
At the university campus, Will finishes checking the college staff register. Names are listed helpfully by alphabetical order with room numbers opposite. Will goes through the list twice before giving up and wandering across to the porter's lodge.
"Does a Jennifer Matthews work here?" he asks.
The porter stares at him. "Not that I know of. The staff list's over there."
"I know. I've looked." Will frowns. "She could be a student, I suppose."
"There are thousands of students. D'you know what department she's supposed to be in?"
Will thinks quickly. "Science. She may have been working with Professor Kawakami."
"The dead guy? Hang on." Turning to a computer screen, the porter hits a few keys. Will watches as a list of names appears on screen. By the time the porter has given up looking, he has already read the complete list. There is no Jennifer Matthews listed.
Ross packs the last of his belongings into his bag and zips it up. A familiar tingle of pre-combat excitement runs through him. Get out, leave this mess behind, and get back to what he knows best. He wonders how the London training ground is doing without him. After all, he's been away for a whole three days.
"I'm going back to London," he tells Will as the American comes in. "Maddy's heading there, and some of the others too, we think. You interested? We could do with an extra pair of hands."
Will hesitates. Seems there isn't a lot more to be done in Canterbury. Mal seems quite able to check out Reardon's office and tie up any loose ends with Tariko. On the other hand, he's not too keen on tagging round London after Ross. But then someone has to keep the idiot out of trouble.
"All right," he agrees without enthusiasm. "Just give me a few minutes."
"I didn't mean to, like threaten you," Maddy tells Jacqueline. "I just don't wanna, like, lose touch. You're the only thingumy link I've got to Glastonbury. Can you remember if you ate anything, like, funny - or took any uh weird drugs?"
Jacqueline laughs out loud. "Of course I did - it was Glastonbury! All the food was dodgy. And yes, I took drugs. No more than anyone else, and no more that I'd taken on other years." She smiles and lays a hand over Maddy's. "Listen, I'll tell you what I can remember, if you think it'll help you. God knows, I've wanted to get to the bottom of this long enough. The only problem is, I really don't think I can remember enough to help." She pauses, collecting her thoughts while Maddy waits impatiently. "Start with the festival," she says slowly. "I was there, I know that. I'd spend days living off cheap beer and veggie curry. There was a concert on in the night. I think I went to it. Then... nothing. Sometimes I get this vague feeling of a light being shone into my eyes."
Maddy's eyes open wide at this point. "Like a near death experience thingy?"
"No." Another quick smile. "Not that I'd know - I've never had one. It's more like being at the opticians, you know, when he shines a light into your eyes to examine them and it gets so bright you end up being able to see the backs of your eyes and all the veins."
Maddy shudders in sympathy.
"I'm afraid that's all," Jacqueline finishes. "It's not much to go on, is it?"
"Uh, no." Maddy smiles brightly. "But I'm going to London now, to see some friends. They mightn't know anything but, like, you never know do you?" She gets up, hesitating. Jackie is the only link with her past she has ever found and she finds herself reluctant to leave. In the end she holds out her hand. "Well, I've gotta go."
"I know. And, listen, if there's anything I can do to help..."
The second person that afternoon to offer unqualified support. Grinning to herself, Maddy leaves.
When Jonas arrives at the police station he is wearing his full working gear. Black wingtips, black Ralph Laurent slacks, red silk shirt. And Maddy's ankh, carefully restrung on an expensive gold chain, sharing his pockets with a set of gold and jewel knuckle-dusters. It is nearing five o'clock. Just about the time things should be winding down for the day, he reckons. First time I tried to con her, he thinks, adjusting the collar of his shirt, this time I'm going to try to suave her. If that doesn't work... with a savage glare he slaps his hand over the hard edges of the knuckle dusters in his pocket... if that doesn't work, I'm reverting back to form.
Relieved, he finds the same blonde girl is on duty at the desk. Her eyebrows raise as he comes in, her face turning unfriendly. Jonas grins at her. "You still don't want to give me that Jameson file, do you?" he says. "Cool. Well, that means I'm stuck for a while. So why don't we go get us a little somethin-somethin'?"
"Somethin-somethin'?" She matches his accent perfectly.
He holds up a hand. "Whoa, I just mean a drink, baby, and it's a quitting time, right?" He looks up at the clock. "'Bout that time, ain't it?"
"It is." The ice hasn't left her eyes. She leans forward across the desk, her gaze travelling from Jonas's face down to his shoes and back again. Her lips purse slightly. "Seven o'clock," she says. "There's a pub called 'The Bridge' just down the road from here." For one moment she smiles then her whole face flares with anger. "And if you even think of trying anything on me I'll rip your balls off with my fingernails. Understood?"
It takes just over an hour to get from Canterbury to London by train, another hour to reach the site of a large, run-down warehouse.
"Here it is," Ross announces. "SITU's training centre."
Will looks around, showing interest for the first time. By American standards the place is small but it dwarfs the nearby buildings. Its double, metal-edged doors look big enough to let a pair of trucks through side by side. The windows above are boarded over. So are all the others, Will notices. Must be sound-proofed pretty well as well because the whole area is eerily quiet.
"This way," Ross says and starts off towards a narrow door on the side of the building. Will follows.
A gunshot echoes through the empty space. Ross grins at the sound. "They're still practising without me, I see. Make yourself at home. The firing range is over there, there's an assault course set up at the back, there's..."
"Which way are the computers?" Will asks.
"In the offices. Up those stairs."
"Right." Will starts off in that direction. "I've got a few things I want to check out. I suggest we meet up again when Maddy gets here."
Maddy sits on the train to London twirling Kawakami's pencil between her fingers. She must remember to thank Mal when she sees him, she thinks. It's a pity he's set on staying in Canterbury for another day; he'll miss her special finding ritual. Fishing a notebook out of her bag, she uses the pencil to sketch out a few rough lines. Gradually, a complicated design takes shape.
Back in Usk, Jonas pauses for a moment before pushing open the door of the pub.
He sees the blonde straight away, chatting to the barman. He walks over to join her, smiling broadly.
"Hi, honey. Get you a drink?"
"Whiskey. Straight." She speaks without looking round. The barman sets the drink in front of her.
Jonas settles himself beside her. "My name's Jonas," he offers and grins. "You can call me Sexual Chocolate."
"Fine." She sounds bored but Jonas notices the way her gaze keeps flicking to him. A few minutes pass and she picks up her drink. "Cheers. You can call me Lesley." She stands up and walks to a table in a corner, leaving Jonas to follow her. She doesn't look at him again until she sits down. "Why are you so interested in Jameson, anyway?"
"I told you, I'm a reporter."
"Bullshit." She sets down her empty glass. "The reporters came and went days ago. And they certainly don't sent out advance groups. You're obviously not one of the others, so who are you?"
He stares at her blankly. "Lets just say I'm in a group representing Jameson's interests. Another drink?"
She nods, frowning down at the table top. She doesn't look up until Jonas returns. Some of the coldness has eased from her face and she looks on edge now. "When you came into the station, I knew you weren't a reporter," she says. She takes the glass out of his hand and turns it around between her palms. "So that meant you had to be some sort of follow up, making sure we weren't talking to anyone. Either that, or part of a group I don't know about yet." She looks up. "Tell you what I'll do: I'm going to take a chance on you. But I'm warning you, if you're lying to me I'll..."
"Rip my balls off with your fingernails. I know." Jonas laughs then leans forward. "So tell me. What is this shit with Jameson?"
"It wasn't an accident for a start," she responds. "Oh, the driver was innocent - we know that. We had half a dozen witnesses that saw Jameson run out into the path of the car. But something made him do it, and I don't think it was drink. I've seen him in this pub before and the most he'd ever have at one sitting was a pint and a half." She shakes her head slowly. "So there's got to be another explanation. Trouble is, I don't know what it is."
"What about the autopsy report?" Jonas asks.
She shakes her head again. "Rushed through in less than an hour. I haven't seen it. All the files have been sent up to London, and we were told not to talk about the case to anyone."
"On whose orders?"
She shrugs. "They came through the usual chain of command, from the boss down. Who gave the boss his orders, I don't know. No use looking for him to ask him, either. He took a month's holiday just after this started. He didn't leave a forwarding address."
Jonas heaves a sigh. "Okay. So what can you tell me about Jameson?"
"Scientist, married. From what I knew of him, he was quiet, hard-working. Doing well for himself, too. His wife started driving a Mercedes this year."
"Pretty good for a researcher's salary," Jonas agrees.
"You're telling me. He was one of the serious types, you know, working late most nights, always wanting to be on the verge of some great break-through." She meets Jonas' quizzical gaze with a small shrug. "I've met his wife a few times. She was always complaining about how hard he worked."
"Final question," Jonas says. "Have you heard of anything called Project Harvest?"
"No. Sorry." She downs the rest of her drink and stands up, flicking her long hair back with both hands. "There's another reason I agreed to see you tonight. Sexual chocolate, yeah?" She licks her lips and tilts her head on one side. "The only problem with chocolate is that it goes soft too quickly. Unless it's the good strong dark stuff, of course."
Harvest Trading Ltd - organic wholesalers. Norfolk.
Harvest Investments - pensions and long term savings. European head office, Munich.
Harvest Recruitment - financial and management personnel. London and the South East.
Will continues through the list, his gaze flicking over page after page.
Harvest International - charity for famine relief.
Harvest of Righteousness church, New York.
Harvest PLC - pioneers of genetic food research. Head office, London.
In the dark of the university campus, a darker shadow detaches itself from the side of a building and moves soundless across a footpath without anyone noticing. Looking through his night-viewer, the scene Mal sees is all stark contrasts of light and dark, people showing up as red blotches, changing shape as they move.
Reardon's office presents no problems at all. Quickly, Mal slips in, his gloves hands leaving no mark on the polished metal door handle. He begins his search at the desk and works outwards, the only light the pale beam of his pencil torch. Books, papers, folders, he glances at each in turn and replaces it exactly where he found it. The phone is a basic model, black plastic. Mal has it apart in seconds and inserts one of his small discs of metal. When he puts it back together again no one could tell that it had ever been tampered with. He continues his search.
After ten long minutes he finds what he is looking for. Not Kawakami's files, but the next best thing. A note scribbled in a diary locked in a bottom drawer. 'Meet Harvest tomorrow. Have files ready.' The date is the tenth of July.
A slightly less subtle burglary is taking place.
Jason talks on his phone while he keeps watch outside Sarah Kendal's house. "Hey, Nige, great demonstration at the campus today. We're going to give it the once over later tonight so tell me, what's the lay of the land?"
"It's quiet," Nigel says. "Everyone's asleep." He sounds half asleep himself. Jason glances at his watch. Half past one. He hopes the other two hurry. A car goes past and he shrinks back out of the sudden flare of the headlamps. He doesn't risk speaking again until the sound of the motor has died away.
"Okay, thanks. I'll let you know when I need you again."
Brandy and Jake appear at that point. Jake is swearing to himself.
"Nothing. Absolutely bloody nothing."
"Should have expected it," Brandy comments. "All we can tell is that Kendal's got very expensive tastes, and the income to match it. Most of the stuff's been cleared out but what's left is brand new and must have cost a fortune."
"How much does a lecturer earn?" Jason wonders.
"Not that much. Come on, next stop the university."
"Wiped," Jake declares, turning the computer off. "Just like Kawakami's. Keep looking, Smith, there must be something else."
Brandy shoots a quick look at the office door, hoping that Jason has sense enough to sound the alarm if he sees anyone coming. Somehow, he can't put his complete trust in someone who turned up for a break-in attempt dressed like David Niven out of 'The Pink Panther.'
He crosses to the window. A thin layer of dust covers the sills and he puts his hand across it thoughtfully.
"Something was here," he whispers. "Look at this."
Only just visible against the dust are five lighter marks, all of them identical rectangles. "What would you normally keep on a windowsill," he wonders softly.
They get outside the building, turn the corner and stop. Jason has already put Plan B into action. He waves an arm excitedly.
"That should stir it up, all we gotta do then is set up a few hidden cameras, sit back and sell the shit as it hits the fan!"
"Yeah, sure," Brandy answers doubtfully.
There's no time to argue. Quickly, they walk away. Behind them, the scarlet letters fade behind them into the night.
NEED TO KNOW MORE? CONTACT JASON AT CASTLE PARK HOTEL, APARTMENT FIVE.
Jonas wakes to the sound of the phone ringing the next morning. He groans and rolls over, reaching across Lesley to lift the receiver. For a moment he wonders what she's doing there, then he remembers and grins.
"Jonas here," he says. "Hang on." He takes the phone into the bathroom. "Ross. What's happening your end?"
"Maddy and I have spent most of the night trailing round tattoo parlours and shop doorways talking to her old friends. So far, nothing. No one has recognised her tattoo and there hasn't been any more trouble on the streets than usual. I'll be renewing a few old friendships of my own this morning. That may help us. As for the others, Will's unearthed a load of harvest references on the internet and Mal's found out that Reardon gave Kawakami's files to a third party. Jake told me Kendal's notes were gone too so I suspect they'll turn up in the same place."
"It could be London," Jonas says thoughtfully. "My contact here said that's where Jameson's case notes were sent."
"Good. Maddy wants everyone to meet up here this afternoon. She says there's a ritual she needs us for." His voice sounds a little strange. He laughs quickly then continues. "Can you get to King's Cross this afternoon? We'll meet you there."
"Will do." Jonas hears a sound from the next room. "Gotta go."
Lesley is putting her shoes on when he goes back into the bedroom. "Work calls," she explains. "give me your number, yeah? I'll ring you." She pauses just long enough to kiss him hard. She doesn't ask him who it was phoning and he's grateful. He doesn't much feel like lying to her.
It's only an hour from Colchester to Saffron Walden by car and the drive is a pleasant one. Brandy whistles to himself until Jake snaps at him to shut up.
"Are you sure it was a good idea to leave Jason behind?" he enquires cheerfully.
"From our point of view - yes. Put your foot down, Smith, we've got to be in London at two."
The library is the obvious first stop. After begging back copies of the local newspapers, the two men settle down to read.
"Bingo!" Brandy shouts after half an hour. He lowers his voice quickly. "Here we go: July 1st to 7th, fifty-eight. They've got pictures of all the people that died. And guess what? Two of them were in scientific research, one was a doctor, and the other five were workers on the same farm. What's the betting that all the police records have gone mysteriously missing?"
General enquiries turn up nothing. Neither Maddy's down-and-out friends, nor Ross's criminal ones have seen anything out of the ordinary, though they all promise to keep watch from now on. When Will asks about harvest he gets the same blank looks.
"Something about Harvest PLC in the Big Issue last week," one of the vendors offers. "Some report on a demonstration outside their head office. Nothing else though."
Will thanks him anyway and moves on.
Glastonbury 1996 - report.
Police reports list a total of eighteen casualties. Thirteen missing, five suffering memory loss. It is expected the actual number affected is higher.
Possible factors include a new drug that was circulating that year. Some variant on LSD. Caused the usual hallucinations and possible increased brain activity. Could well have affected memory centres. Exact chemical nature of drug unknown, and no other cases of it found.
Also the usual talk of UFO activity. No evidence found, unless some of the missing persons cases are due to abduction. Whether aliens would risk themselves by abducting humans for experimentation is still doubtful.
Government conspiracy. Again possible but not proven.
Psychic activities: Glastonbury always produces a particularly high level of psychic activity. Possibly because of the types it attracts. This in itself may be enough to cause the reported memory losses Some of the missing people, of course, could be suffering total amnesia.
Case status: Still open to investigation. Elements here may become important in the future.
Mal finishes reading and glances at his watch. He'd really like to phone SITU again and ask them exactly what they meant by that last statement, but Tariko will be waiting for him. Hiding the report carefully, he leaves the hotel.
Tariko shakes her head regretfully. "I'm sorry, I've never heard of a Jennifer Matthews," she says. "In the college or out of it." She looks down at the page of notes Mal has given her. "He always tended to write notes on whatever came to hand. If he couldn't find a piece of paper when he needed one he'd pull out whatever book was closest and use that."
"Is there anything significant here?" Mal asks.
"No. I don't know... He talked about having a lot of meeting with potential sponsors. Maybe that's what Harvest is." She gazes across the table at Mal, her eyes troubled. She has hardly touched her food. "Do you think we'll ever get to the bottom of this?" she asks.
"Righty Ho," Maddy says brightly. "I want to do Maddy's Special Finding Out Ritual Part One. It's, like, super-coolsville - but I need you all to help. Ross already did this, in, like, Wales."
Ross groans and nods.
Maddy looks at him gratefully. "Every magic ritual needs' like, energy...an there's no easy way to say it but I need your orgone, your sexual energy, yeah? Okay, tonight in bed when you're, uh, spanking the naughty bishop or, um punishing the monkey or...or whatever you guys call it, I want you to, y'know, focus on this sigil - right at the bit where you, umm, do the thing."
She glares at them all in turn, defying either of them to argue. Ross hastily smothers a laugh, turning it into a cough. Will's face is incredulous. Jake and Brandy are too preoccupied with other things to take much notice. Only Jonas seems unconcerned.
"Right you are, little sista. However it works, you seem to get results with this. Listen, do you have to spank the bishop alone or can you do it with someone else?"
Maddy blinks at him, blushing. "Once you've, like, beaten the snake, just destroy the sigil, yeah?" she tells him. "I'll do the rest."
After phoning Ross, Mal is glad he missed the special ritual. "Do you intend to go through with it?" he asks.
"Haven't decided. How about you? I can always send you a sigil by courier."
Mal declines quickly. Promising to keep in touch, he leaves the phone where it is and flicks on his recording equipment. Reardon's voice fills the room.
The first few calls are routine. Then comes one that makes Mal sit up.
"Yes," says Reardon, "I got the money."
"Then we're all satisfied. Good."
"Whatever." Even on the phone he sounds impatient. "You try coming here and telling that to the reporters. They won't take no for an answer."
"Reporters?" the stranger's voice rises in surprise. A pause. "All right. I'd better let management know. Don't talk to them any more than you have to."
The phone goes dead. Mal sits where he is a long time. The person Reardon was speaking to was a woman. And, if Mal isn't much mistaken, her accent was London.
Jason Lazarus is bored. He came on this adventure expecting the stuff of films - uncanny murder, alien invasion, high-speed car chases. Instead he gets to sit and keep watch in his hotel room while his co-workers go off to the place with the stupidly dull name of Saffron Walden. He picks up the remote control and starts flicking through channels, looking for some news program. Everything seems to be about European news - even more boring than watching the four walls of the room.
"Message for you, sir," the maid calls.
He jumps up at once.
Jason, the notes says. What is your involvement with Harvest? Suggest we meet. A black car will pull up in front of your hotel in one hour. Get into it.
"They said it was for room five," the maid says. "But I told them no, you had both rooms booked only this one was in another name."
Jason presses a twenty pound note into her hand. "Thank you." He feels like skipping as he goes back into the room. What does one wear on a secret mission? Black? Has Jake left a gun here he can borrow?
"Another death," the television continues unheeded in the background. "Nigel Thomas, research assistant at the Huntingdon Establishment for Research, Yorkshire, was found hanged this morning. Friends say he was a private man, quiet and hard-working. His death comes as a complete surprise."