The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
4.30pm, 14th July
Mal - Canterbury
Jason - Colchester
Maddy, Jonas, Ross, Will, Jake, Brandy - London
Ross's phone rings while the others are discussing what to do next. He listens to Mal's voice, making the occasional comment before turning back to the rest of the group.
"There's been another death in Huntingdon," he says. "Mal's heading up there now. I guess the rest of us should carry on here until he reports back."
"And don't forget my ritual," Maddy adds. "It really is important. I know you think it's not, but it is, so..." She notes Will's disapproving stare and falls silent, flushing hotly and muttering. "How'm I s'pposed to do stuff if you won't, like, help?"
Will sighs heavily and pushes himself to his feet. "I'm going to check out things here. I'll be in touch." No one tries to stop him as he leaves. A few minutes later the sound of the car engine outside breaks the silence. Ross stands up.
"Let him work alone if he's happier that way. Plans, everyone?"
"I've got some phone calls to make, then I'm heading back to Usk for the night," Jonas tells him. He winks at Maddy. "Someone's got to give your ritual a try."
Brandy frowns down at the floor. "Seems to me that Saffron Walden is turning into my part of the investigation. I'll go back there. Jake, are you coming with me?"
The priest doesn't answer. A glazed look has come across his eyes.
"Jake?" Brandy prompts.
He jumps and shakes his head. "Harvest PLC are behind all this. We should focus our efforts here."
A few phone calls later, Father Jake has all the information he's looking for. Settling himself down in a corner of the SITU warehouse, intermittent gunshots from the practice range breaking his concentration, he takes the Glock-22 from the holster at the small of his back and begins to take it apart. His callused hands stroke the gleaming metal parts almost lovingly and he pauses over each cartridge, tracing their contours with his fingertips before sliding them one by one into the waiting casing. The echoing gunshots dance in his head, becoming the notes of the Dei Gloriam. As he snaps the weapon shut and stands to replace it in its holster, Father Jake starts to whistle along.
In the privacy of a sound-proofed side office, Jonas is making a phone call.
"Hey, Doc," he greets his former employer, "I've got a question. I've run across some strange drug here - LSD type, but it causes forgetfulness. Anything up to and including complete amnesia. Know anything about it?"
"Amnesia?" Tyrone Wiggins - Doc to his friends - is silent a moment. Thinking, Jonas knows, and he waits patiently.
"We're not talking overdose levels here, are we?" Doc asks him. "Take enough of any shit and it'll scramble your brain for good - if it don't kill you first. What you mean is something new, that'll knock out your memory straight off."
"Something like that." Jonas is uncertain. "Reckoned if there was something about you'd know as much about it as anyone."
"And if I did, I'd tell you. You know that. Truth is, there's been nothing much new on the market since ecstasy - and that's only a kids' drug. Suppose it could have been a batch of LSD gone wrong or something - though if people had been taking it here I'd know about it, and I don't. When are you coming home, anyway? Your ma was asking about you t'other day."
Jonas shifts guiltily. "Tell her I'll ring. I've still got business to sort out here."
"I know: this drug thing. Take as long as you like - long as you're not setting up a rival company over there." He pauses, then adds, "Listen, I'll do this for you: if someone's taking your LSD variant, chances are they're into other stuff as well. Which means my boys will probably know them. I'll ask around, see if any of their regulars have been acting strange lately. Will that help?"
"It will," Jonas agrees, relieved. He had little hope that Doc would know anything up front, but he knows that if there is anything going on, Doc can find it out in five minutes flat. He hangs up, hesitates a moment and dials another number.
"Lesley," he greets her. "I have to get my rocks off tonight as part of a science experiment. Wanna come help?"
Leaving a note for Tariko that he's had to go away but will contact her if he finds out anything new, Mal packs his bag and slings it into the back of the sports car he's hired. A train from Kent to Yorkshire would take far too long, and he's sure SITU won't mind paying for a few day's hire - and any speeding tickets he might pick up on the way. It's all in a good cause.
Speeding out of the city, he hopes that he'll make it to the Huntingdon centre before the trail goes cold.
Will slams the car door behind him. The food research centre is part of a larger complex of buildings set in their own grounds. High walls block the view from the road but as Will walks up to the front gates he sees that there are long greenhouse buildings on either side. He stops to take a couple of photographs then carries on through the gates, nodding a greeting to the woman on duty. He is already at the main reception office before she recovers enough to call after him.
"I have an appointment to look around Jonathan Lee's department," he announces confidently to the receptionist. He is already looking around with interest. The office looks expensive - wooden floors, comfortable armchairs, some piece of modern sculpture half-obscuring a plaque on the wall. He steps closer to take a look.
'The London Food Research Centre,' it says. 'A subsidiary of Harvest PLC, est 1988.'
The click of stiletto heels on the polished wood makes him turn. He finds himself facing a woman, in her mid-twenties, he guesses, who regards him coolly.
"You're here about Jonathan Lee?" she asks. "Whom did you speak to when you made the appointment? We don't have any record of it."
"You should have: I phoned yesterday. What I wanted to know, ma'am, is how Mr Lee's death will affect the Harvest project."
"The Harvest project?" she looks genuinely puzzled. "Harvest has a number of ongoing projects, which one do you mean?" Her eyes narrow. "No, on second thoughts, don't bother answering that. Hilary..." she calls over to the receptionist. "Call the police and tell them there's another journalist here we want removed."
Will cuts in before the girl can touch the phone. "Don't bother. I'm leaving."
One down, two to go, he thinks as he jogs away from the building.
"Sure I'm okay," Jason says. "You carry on in Saffron Walden - it's too quiet for my taste. I've got some stuff coming up here which could be interesting. I'll let you know when it's over."
Brandy feels an uncharacteristic touch of concern. Jason didn't look too well in the asylum, he remembers. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asks.
"Sure. I'm fine. You go right ahead without me. See you later." The phone goes dead.
Brandy sighs. So he's on his own for this one, then. Crossing his fingers for luck he checks his wallet for his journalist card then walks across the road to the police station.
It is too easy. Five minutes later Brandy is sitting in a small office that is obviously some kind of library-cum-records room.
"I'm not sure we have much in the way of information," the officer tells him. "It was a long time ago. And, technically speaking, these aren't crimes we're talking about. The official verdict in all cases was suicide so the investigations would have been concluded very quickly." He is taking files off shelves as he speaks and flicking through them. "Ah, here we are. July nineteen-fifty-eight. There's photos of all the victims here."
Brandy takes them and studies them. There is nothing to give him any clues. The photographs are all snapshots, very similar to the ones he's already seen in the newspaper.
"What about next of kin?" he asks.
"There's a list here." The officer hands it over. "Can't tell you whether any of these people are still alive or not. It was over forty years ago. Do you want to contact any of them? I can't let you take copies of names and addresses, but I can get our office to try the contact addresses and tell the people you want to talk to them."
Brandy nods his thanks, having already committed the entire list to memory. He hands list and photographs back. "What else have you got? Photos of the crime scene would be useful."
"Nothing here. Maybe in the next file. Hold on." There is a pause then the officer shakes his head. "Strange. There's a paper here that says the cases were referred to London. When that happens the reports are usually sent back when the cases are closed but there's nothing else here. Nothing at all."
After Brandy's phone call, Jason can hardly keep still from excitement. He downs a fourth drink, just for luck, and checks his appearance again. Faded jeans, white shirt, open at the collar, black boots, deliberately scuffed. All right, so he's a few kilos heavier than Bruce Willis, but he's not that much older. 'Die Hard at Harvest,' he thinks to himself, brushing back his hair and grinning at his reflection. He checks his watch and goes to the door.
On the way out it occurs to him that he should have told the others what was happening.
The black car is waiting outside, engine purring softly. Jason has to stop himself running towards it. The back door swings open as he approaches and he climbs in quickly, grinning at the three occupants. All of them are dressed in plain suits. None of them is wearing sunglasses, Jason notes to his disappointment.
After a short silence he settles himself back into the back seat and turns to the man sitting beside him. "Well," he says, "this is all very exciting. Which one of you is going to explain the plot?"
The stranger's expression doesn't change.
"You are," he says.
"Look," Jonas says, approaching Maddy, "you can have your little thing here back, but I would appreciate it if you wore this instead. I'm not always much of a Christian, but maybe you could do with a little help from the Lord. Besides, the Lord works in mysterious ways, and so do you." He hands her her ankh and with it a small crucifix strung on an expensive gold chain.
Maddy stares at both, eyes wide. For a moment it looks as if she will burst into tears. Then she flings herself at Jonas and hugs him fiercely before pulling away, blushing and grinning. "Sorry," she says. "But... but I haven't met anyone who understands before and now there's two of you - Jacqueline and you. Thanks." She loops the crucifix inexpertly around her neck. But as soon as she's sure Jonas isn't looking she adds the ankh as well. Probably he won't notice.
Jonas's mind is already on other things. Lesley's meeting him at nine, which gives him a good four hours to do some work of his own. So. The press always wants a good story. Always. And since he can't con anybody into thinking he's a reporter, maybe the best way is to quit the con and enlist some professionals.
He soon finds what he's looking for: a small office of a local London paper. Only four people in the place, and two of those are staring out of the window. All of them jump up when Jonas bursts in.
He grabs the nearest one. "I need help, now," he announces. "I got a big story about all these professors dying everywhere and I'm not capable of writing it but if you come with me just this once it's all yours. Pulitzer Prize stuff here, brother."
The boy (well, all right he must be at least twenty, Jonas reckons, but the way he's staring now he looks like a scared kid) stammers something. Jonas gives his shoulder a shake. "Look man, you gotta come with me to do this thing. Come on, if this doesn't work out I know an old boxing pro who can tell you how he'd beat Naseem Hamed for your sports page."
"What - what's this about," the boy manages at last.
"Murder, mutating vegetables, everything. It's big, I promise you."
The four people in the office look at each other as if for support. Eventually one of them nods. "I suppose it's worth following up. Ain't much else happening. Go with him, Neil."
The boy Jonas grabbed looks half terrified as he follows him out of the office.
Jonas pauses outside long enough to recruit a 'cameraman' - the first tramp he sees sitting on a street corner. Pressing a handful of notes on him, he promises more if he keeps the camera on and keeps hold of it no matter what. Turning to the reporter, Neil, Jonas flashes him a grin. "All set. Lets go."
Ross finds Maddy sitting in a corner playing with her necklaces. Glaring at her irritatedly he pushes a sheet of paper at her.
"Have you read this?" he demands.
She looks up. "Uh, no. You haven't given me time. D'you want me to?"
"Never mind." He hauls her to her feet. "Come on, we've got to find Jake - now. Did he tell you what he was planning?" He shakes the paper at her again. "He's only going to march into the head office of Harvest PLC and shoot the chief executive."
"But I don't know anything about Harvest," Jason protests again. "That's why I sprayed the notice. I wanted to find out."
"Find out what?" Man-in-Black-Number-One demands. "You must know something or you wouldn't be asking questions. So, our question is, what do you know? What is your interest in Harvest?"
The look on his face makes Jason's heart thump heavily. He swallows hard. Don't let them know you're afraid, he thinks. But even as he thinks it he feels sweat trickling in a hot line down his back. "I -" he begins. He stops and starts again. "A lot of people have died because of what Harvest is doing. Surely you're not going to tell me it's only a coincidence?"
"We're not going to tell you anything," Man-In-Black counters. "Let's start with you. You've got no personal involvement in this, which means somebody is hiring you to do this. Who?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Man-In-Black smiles. "I think you do." His hand comes out of his pocket and Jason starts back in horror when he sees he is holding a syringe. "You just sit back and relax." His voice has taken on a dreamy quality. "This won't hurt a bit."
The spokesman for the Department of Health stares at Will in bewilderment.
"The Harvest Project?" he repeats. His fingers tap once on the desktop. "I don't know where you got that name from, but I assure you..."
"I got it direct from the US Government," Will cuts in. "High-level science. The claim is that the project is a failure from beginning to end and we want to know why. And, while we're on the subject, why has it been kept a secret from the British public. People have the right to know about these sorts of things."
"What sorts of things?" The spokesman's gaze shifts away from Will briefly then returns in full force. "Mr... Brickham, isn't it, I don't care what high-level scientists in America are saying, as far as we're concerned here, we've never heard of the Harvest Project. So, success or failure, I can hardly comment on it, can I?" His tone becomes clipped, each word pronounced separately and clearly. "I'm afraid you're wasting your time, William Brickham. Of course, if you'd like to tell me where you're staying, or leave a contact number, we might be able to take this further at some future date."
"Even though there's no such thing as the Harvest Project," Will finishes. "No, I think not. Thanks for your time."
Getting thrown out of offices is getting to be a habit, Will thinks as he walks out. Remembering the conversation, though, he frowns. Why, if there is no such thing as the Harvest Project, did the spokesman want his address and phone number?
He ponders this as he makes the short trip to the Department of Defence press office. Introducing himself as an American journalist on special assignment he launches straight away into a series of questions about the Harvest Project. "It's a Bio-Weapons project, according to my sources, and very well-advanced. What I want is an official denial of this."
"Then you've got it. We have enough trouble finding funding for our conventional forces without going into bio-weaponry."
There is little more information to be had. Obviously, no-one is going to admit to the Harvest Project, even assuming they do know about it. But a few questions asked in the right places might just be enough to worry certain people enough to bring them into the open.
Time to rejoin the team, Will decides. Then it's just a matter of waiting to see what happens next.
It has taken Jake the best part of an hour to reach the Harvest head offices. He has spent the time doing a quick disguise job, removing his dog collar and buttoning his fatigue jacket up to his neck. A Mickey Mouse baseball cap covers his hair and throws enough shadow over his face to make him feel comfortable.
Whistling the Dei Gloriam through his teeth he moves quickly through the main doors and pauses in the reception area to check the building register. A bored-looking man at the front desk glances at him briefly and looks away again when he walks to the elevator.
The executive offices are on the top floor, which suits Jake nicely. Still whistling, face emotionless, he stands and waits for the elevator doors to open. Through the repeating notes of the Dei Gloriam, three thoughts form themselves into words.
One: find out the purpose, goals and objectives of Harvest PLC in regards to genetic experimentation and the December harvest. Two: cripple the firm by destroying records and killing its chief executives. Three: survive and remain at liberty.
The doors open.
"You can't go in there," a secretary squeals at him. He ignores her and walks on, brushing the doors open.
He is in an office bigger than most houses he has lived in. His feet make no sound on the thickly-carpeted floor. The walls are hung with expensive pictures on one side, cash-flow charts on the other.
"Profits appear to be up," Jake says conversationally to the man sitting at the desk.
He jumps up with a startled cry. Jake pushes him back down, pulling him away from the desk before he can reach any alarm button. Dragging the frightened man after him, he locks the doors. He turns around with a smile. "Now, you and I are going to have a little talk. Who are you?"
"Anthony Claydon," the man stammers. "If you want money..."
"I don't." Somehow, the Glock-22 has found its way into Jake's hand. He gazes at it lovingly. "I want information," he says. He checks his watch. Twenty seconds so far. He can already hear shouts from outside. Another fifteen minutes, tops, before the riot squad arrive. "People are dying doing your research. Why?"
"I... I don't..."
The gun goes off. Claydon screams in fright. "Next time it'll be your kneecap," Jake says conversationally. "Now, talk."
"We don't know why they're dying. All it is is a modified form of wheat. It's supposed to survive under drought conditions. There's nothing in it that's dangerous, nothing! Don't..." He screams again, this time in agony, and doubles over, clutching at his left knee. Blood flows over his fingers.
A banging at the door. "Mr Claydon! Sir!"
Jake backs away a step, levelling the gun at the executive's head. "Call your people off or I'll kill him." He turns his attention to the flow charts on the wall. One of them shows a steady decline of profit and then a sudden sharp rise. He jabs at it with his gun. "What's this?"
"Government subsidy." Claydon is sobbing with pain. "I swear, I don't know anything. Please."
"Wow!" Neil the reporter is ecstatic. "You really meant it when you said a big story. Look at it!"
The Harvest building is fast being surrounded. Two more police cars pull up as they watch. Jonas strides over to one leaving Neil and the cameraman to follow as best they can.
"What the hell's going on?" he demands.
"Madman in there with a gun." The police officer pushes him back. "Stand back please, sir. You'll get your story fast enough."
Ross and Maddy watch from the back of the crowd. Ross's eyes are dark with anger. "I should have seen it coming," he mutters. "I should have known he'd do something like this."
"It wasn't your fault," Maddy says sympathetically. She twists a small crucifix around her fingers as she speaks. "No one knew he was going to go mad." She glances nervously in the direction of the police cars and tugs at his hand. "We should go. Y'know, like, in case you're recognised."
"Sir?" a woman's voice calls. "My name is Jennifer Matthews and I'm head of company finance. I'm authorised to offer you a cash amount - whatever it is you want. I'm sure we can work this out calmly."
Jennifer Matthews. The name cuts through Jake's memory. For a moment he considers opening the door and pulling her in. Not enough time. Too risky.
"What is causing the deaths, and what are Harvest's ultimate aims?" he shouts at Claydon.
"To make large profits developing, producing and selling genetically-modified foods," Claydon weeps. "It's in our company brochure. And we don't know what's causing the deaths. We're still trying to find that out ourselves."
Jake looks at him with an expression of contempt. "Not good enough." His finger tightens on the trigger, just the once.
"... Latest news from London is that a madman broke into Harvest PLC's head offices in London and shot dead one of the company's executives, Mr Anthony Claydon. Claydon has worked for Harvest from its birth in 1988 and was a respected member of the company and the community at large. He leaves behind a widow and three children. Fears that this killing is the start of a new terrorist campaign are mounting. Anti-terrorist experts are investigating the crime scene tonight and police have issued the strictest warning not to go near the buildings. Marksmen have had orders to shoot intruders on sight. As for the killer, he is described as a man possibly in his mid-forties or fifties, wearing combat fatigues and a Mickey Mouse baseball cap. He is considered to be armed and extremely dangerous."
The announcer's voice goes on. Mal listens with his attention half on the road. It sounds like someone else has a grudge against Harvest, he thinks, frowning as he wonders how this will affect their own investigation. He just hopes none of the group was there at the time to get caught up in it.
It is dark by the time he reaches the Huntingdon Establishment. The place is busy with police and reporters. He manages to track down Nigel's boss, a heavyset man in his late forties.
"Hanged," he says angrily, shaking his head. "Police are saying it's suicide, though they haven't ruled out murder yet, though why anyone would want to kill Nigel is beyond me."
"Is there any reason he'd kill himself?" Mal asks.
"None whatsoever. He was working hard lately, lots of overtime and that, but if he needed extra help he only had to ask. He always knew that. But then why would anyone want to kill him either? It doesn't make sense."
Jake isn't answering his phone. Brandy's sense of worry increases every time he tries ringing. Also, the two surviving relatives he tracked down from the police list genuinely can't remember anything about the suicide incident. Not because of any amnesia but simply because they were children at the time. It seems there's nothing more to be uncovered here. Trying Jason's number once more and listening to the phone ring, Brandy heads back to the car. Best head back to Colchester and see what sort of trouble Lazarus has landed himself in this time.
He buys a newspaper on the way and notes a small column under late news that mentions the death in Yorkshire. If there's any pattern at all, the deaths seem to be moving north, he thinks. Whether that's significant or not he doesn't know.
Jason wakes up slowly.
"Wh... where am I?"
"Colchester General Hospital," a voice says. "Lie still. You've taken a nasty knock, but you're going to be all right now."
He blinks twice. He is lying flat from what he can see and there is a man hovering over him. Slim-built and smartly dressed, a navy jacket slung over the chair next to the bed, a briefcase laid across the seat. Something about him is familiar but Jason can't quite work out what.
"What happened?" he tries.
The young man's frown deepens. "The doctor said you were found in a ditch at the side of the road. They'd no idea how long you'd been there. Their guess is that either you were drunk or you were attacked. Can you remember anything?" Without waiting for an answer he goes on, "You're lucky they found you, you know. And luckier that I though of checking with the hospital when I couldn't get hold of you."
Jason lies back, his head pounding. Something must have happened: he knows that. The question is, what? He opens his eyes again and looks hard at the man standing beside him. "Drink," he says at last. "Your name's got something to do with drink."
It is past midnight. Maddy is lying curled up on a bench, moaning to herself in her sleep. Ross waits beside her, methodically going through his equipment for want of something better to do.
Then the door opens and Jake saunters in. He is smiling, whistling tunelessly.
Ross is on his feet in an instant. "What the hell..."
Jake looks up, eyes calm. "I was getting results. Unlike some of you who seem to think touching yourselves up for a magic ritual is good investigation. I took out the Harvest organisation, changed clothes and nipped out the back before anyone knew it. So we're one up on them and no one's any the wiser."
"The fuck they aren't," Ross bursts out. "Do you want to spend the rest of this investigation hiding from the police? Haven't you seen the news tonight? The anti-terrorist squad are all over the building. There's no way any of us are getting close now."
Anger flashes into Jake's eyes. "Now look," he begins. He is interrupted. Maddy sits up with a cry.
"I dreamed something," she whimpers. She doesn't seem to have noticed that Jake is back. "I dreamed I was in a big house, I don't know where, and a woman who looks like me kept calling me Marilyn, and it all felt completely normal." She stops and heaves in a breath. "And then I was running through a field of corn and everything went wobbly."
Mal treads carefully through what was Nigel Thomas's office. The police have already been through, marking off areas with tape and chalk. Mal takes care not to tread on any of it.
The room is dusty, fingerprints clearly visible on the desk. Mal takes a couple of quick copies and moves on to the window. The sill is cleanly swept and smells of bleach. Turning, the thin pencil of torchlight picks out the outline of the desk. All the drawers are empty but the bottom one slides awkwardly. Quickly, Mal pulls it out and feels down behind it. His fingers come into contact with the blunt edges of a book.