The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
Midnight, 14th July
Mal - Nigel Thomas's office
Brandy and Jason - Colchester General Hospital
The others - Situ's London warehouse.
It is quiet, past midnight. Jake has stamped off, muttering something about needing sleep, the others are gathered in one room, too tense for sleep.
"Omigod!" Maddy gasps suddenly, eyes widening, "They killed Marilyn! The bastards!!" She catches at Will's arm then blushes and grins sheepishly. "Well, they, uh, blotted her out anyway," she adds more calmly. "If she, like, is me, that is. The name's, uh, Marilyn, Marilyn Hook..." Her lips move soundlessly, trying out the name. "D'you think Brandy could, y'know, track her - me - on his PVC? If she's not me she's maybe my sister or, uh, or my mum..."
Her legs give way and she sits down with a thump, paling visibly. She fumbles in her bag for a bottle of vodka and takes a long drink herself before offering it to Jonas. "Oh wow," she says emphatically. "I can't, like, decide if that'd be cool or, y'know, uncool..."
Ross glowers at her. He has hardly said a word since the argument with Jake. "This whole thing is getting to be 'uncool' as you put it," he says. He pushes himself upright and starts for the door. "I'll be around if you need me, but for the time being you can count me out."
The door slams behind him.
"One down..." Will mutters. He stands up and stretches. "I was thinking along the same lines. We could do with lying low for a day or two. I'll find myself somewhere else to stay."
"You can't go now," Jonas objects. "It's the middle of the night." He scowls fiercely. This is not how he'd anticipated his evening with Lesley turning out. Right now, she'll be lying alone in a hotel bed, cursing him for running out on her. He'll have a lot of explaining to do tomorrow, he thinks. Maddy is fingering her ankh restlessly. She drops it in a hurry and closes her hand around the crucifix instead when he looks in her direction.
The girl frowns for a moment in thought then smiles brightly at the two men. "Okay-dokey, there's, like, no time to waste. I know the next bit of Maddy's Special Finding Out Ritual is, like, Sun magic an' all but, like, why don't we hold the show right here in the barn!"
Mal pauses a moment where he is, tensed and listening hard. All is silent. Easing his fingers around the spine of the book he has found, he draws it out and shoves it quickly into a pocket. He continues his search.
Some personal belongings - a comb found down the back of a chair; a pack of sandwiches and an old coffee cup forgotten at the back of a shelf; a box of matches from a hotel in London. Mal pockets them as well.
Making sure he's left no trace of his visit, Mal slips out of the door and locks it behind him. The corridor is dark, only the emergency lighting throwing up random pools of light. No one sees him leave.
Half an hour later he's safe back at his lodgings. He drops his jacket on the bed and sits down, stifling a yawn. It's late, but he's got a lot of reading to do.
"I'm sure I know you from somewhere," Jason says. "Are you sure you're not an actor?"
Brandy sighs in frustration. "Just give me your phone."
Trying to track down calls from strange sources proves an impossible task. As far as Brandy can work out, no one called the number since he rang himself to check how Jason was. Either the mysterious 'Harvest' people covered their tracks well or they never contacted Jason by phone at all. He manages, at least, to get a trace put on the phone and has to content himself with knowing that if anyone tries to phone Jason now it'll be easy enough to track them down. Small comfort now the damage has been done, but it's better than nothing.
Jason is sleeping when he gets back. He leaves the phone in the cabinet by the bed and goes to find a nurse.
"How is he?" he asks.
"Recovering slowly. He seems to have lost all memory of what's happened over the past week. There's extensive bruising, as you know, and he's taken quite a blow to the head. That's probably what's caused the amnesia."
"Probably?" Brandy queries.
She shrugs. "We still don't know fully how the human brain works. Memory loss of this type can be caused by a number of factors. A blow to the head, sudden shock..." she sounds like she's reciting a text book from heart. "I suggest you call back in the morning," she says, breaking off mid-flow. "There's nothing more you can do here and I'm sure you need to sleep. We'll call you if there's any change."
Brandy starts to argue and thinks better of it. She's right: he's achieving nothing by waiting here. Leaving his number at the reception desk on his way out he turns in the direction of the hotel .
The light shines with ethereal brightness, illuminating every crevice and corner. Father Jake stands in the middle of it. Trembling, he slowly raises his eyes heavenwards. "My God, what I have done?" he whispers. "Mea culpa, maximus mea culpa."
He wakes with the sound of his own scream ringing in his ears. The bed-clothes, grey with sweat, hold him fast. He tears them off and stares at his hands in horror. Sweat is sticky on his hands, like blood. His vision blurs. "What have I done?" he moans. "What have I done?"
Maddy is explaining something to Will and Jonas when Jake enters the room. He walks in quickly and quietly, avoiding their eyes and sits down with his back to the wall. When he looks up his face is expressionless, devoid of anger and, for the moment, any trace of madness.
"What madness has come upon me, my friends?" he asks quietly. "What penance would suffice for the great evil that has been done at my hands...today, yesterday and in the years that beset my conscious with hollow eyes of pain and death?"
"Pardon?" Will blinks in surprise. But Jonas jumps up to his feet. Face contorted with anger, he drags the priest to his feet and wrests the handgun out of its holster. Jake gazes at him blankly, unresisting.
"My friends, tell me what I must do to help you in our quest to find the truth. My time with you is limited. I must leave soon to begin my time of penance and reconciliation. While I am yet with you, I will do what I can to assist you in resolving the mysteries of these murders."
"Father, you're endangering each of us as well as SITU the longer you stay here" Jonas snaps. He pauses and draws in a deep, ragged breath. "I know we are a team, but for now you have got to be on your own." A flash of renewed anger lights his eyes. He had a reporter all set to look into Harvest, and now all they'll care about is the murder.
"You moron," he yells. "You killed ONE executive! Who knows whether he was in on it or not!" He holds the handgun up and dismantles it, tossing pieces of metal to Maddy and Will. "Get rid of these," he instructs. "Whatever happens, he's not going to kill anyone else." He releases Father Jake and the priest slides back to the floor.
"Just tell me what to do," he says quietly.
There is a long silence.
"Are you, like, a little bit scary-mad?" Maddy asks him nervously. "I just, y'know, wondered an' stuff." Jake doesn't answer. She gazes at him a while longer, looks at the other two then offers, "You can help in my ritual if you like."
Meeting with Harvest today, Mal reads. Proj. ok, but they'll need to run larger-scale test growings or these results will be useless. Will suggest it next meet.
A gap, then. Rec'ed: chq for £10,000. Yippee!
Other notes followed, scrawled in different coloured pens. The hand-writing is the same every time. First seeds growing. Nothing unusual so far... Think D. is starting to suspect something. Told him I was doing private research. Shoots now 7cm tall... Harvest visit ok. Next paymt due soon... 12cm tall & doing well. Need to wait for heads to form before conclusive... Pollen ok.
The writing takes a turn for the worst.
Watched. Saw them today. Hiding this book so they won't find it. They want all details. Sure office is bugged... Mal stops at that. He searched the office thoroughly and there was no trace of any bugging device. If there was one he'd have seen it, he's sure of it.
15 cm tall. D. knows something is up. Had to lock him out of office. Is he one of them? Car followed me home. School girl watching me in the shop...
Lost whole day today. Can't remember what happened. Frightened. Need help, but even D's on their side.
The rest of the pages are blank.
"Just as well I prepared earlier!" Maddy beams, pulling her set of yellow candles from her rucksack. She kneels down, setting them out on the warehouse floor in a triangle, adding incense sticks and lines of wholemeal flour connecting them together.
Will watches suspiciously, Jake indifferently. She ignores them both and hands Jonas a pair of scissors and a sheaf of farming magazines. "I s'ppose this is, like... cornography. Can you cut them up and put them in the triangle?"
While he's doing it, she takes out her gold bowl, sets it in the centre of the triangle, pours in a splash of black ink then stabs her thumb and adds a drop of blood to the mix.
"Now the piece of resistance!" She smiles, brandishing a small cardboard pet-shop container, "I know it should, like, really be a field-mouse but this is much better. I'm going to call him, umm, Jason." Carefully, she releases a white rat into the palms of her hands and lets him run into the ink. He stands still, whiskers twitching.
"You could all, like, do a Questing Dance, y'know. To help him out." Maddy says without much hope. She demonstrates, jigging and swaying to some invented rhythm.
The rat noses out of the bowl and starts across the scattered fragments of paper, leaving a trail of black footprints behind it. Maddy scoops it up when it reaches the flour.
"Told you it was easy," she beams at Will. "Right, what's he chosen for us?"
Brandy finishes checking over Jason's hotel room and flops down onto the bed with a sigh. Nothing. A briefcase with some movie scripts and case notes so far. It looks like he intended turning the investigation into a film.
Even the written note from the mystery assailants is no help. It is typed in a standard font and could have come from anywhere.
Brandy lies back on the bed. He's obviously not going to get any clues from Jason. He can't remember anything, and the only thing here is a piece on how the brave hero walks out of the hotel to meet the mystery men in their black car. The only way he'll find out more is if he contacts the 'Harvest' people - whoever they are - direct. He'll have to think of a way. Tomorrow, he will...
His eyes close.
"What does it say?" Jonas leans over Maddy eagerly, reading over her shoulder. She shuffles through the pieces of paper, holding them up one at a time.
"This one is from an article about Harvest. This one's about crop-growing in drought areas. And this is about poppies."
Maddy's voice drifts away. Jonas feels himself swaying. It seems to him as if he's seeing her twice. The thin, scarlet-haired girl, waving her hands as she talks, and behind her someone else. A young woman, well dressed, speaking with the same excitement but with an accent straight out of an English period drama. He shakes his head to clear it.
"You all right?" Will asks.
He nods and rubs his fingers into his eyes.
"The last one just says 'time to go'," Maddy says. "Do you think..."
The door opens.
"We've got trouble," Ross announces. "Blaize has just had word that the police are on their way here." He holds up his hands before anyone can say a word. "It's nothing to do with Jake, so don't worry. SITU want me here to help but the rest of you are going to have to leave. Now."
There is no time to argue. People are already appearing around them, silently dismantling equipment. Others are leaving, carrying bags and boxes. Will glances at Ross then nods. "Good luck."
"Same to you."
They stop a safe distance away from the warehouse. Jonas blows out a sigh, his breath icy in the night air.
"Look, boys and girls," he says, "one of two things is gonna happen. Maybe whoever is behind all this is gonna clam up and keep quiet. You know the problems we're having with the fuzz anyway, so it may get to be next to impossible to find anything now. Or, there going to feel threatened and get aggressive. Then we have to watch our backs." He grins at the three of them in turn. "So, it's either the door gets closed, or it opens up and out come the pitbulls. Not much of an option. I expect we'll know shortly, especially considering what we've heard happened to Lazarus. Our only hope is that maybe the people behind this will tip their hand in their zeal to get to the bottom of the Harvest murder."
"Maybe." Will looks unconvinced. "What are you going to do?"
"Lesley's got to be back in Usk first thing tomorrow. I'm going back with her. We might have missed something there."
"I'll come too," Maddy offers at once. "I can talk to Jacqueline again. What about..." she falls silent, staring at Jake.
He stares back, his eyes blank. "I'll come with you. Just tell me what you want me to do."
Maddy looks uneasily at Jonas. He doesn't look too happy either but at last he shrugs and nods. "At least we'll know where he is," he concedes. He starts to walk away then stops and turns back. "What the hell," he sighs. "Come on. I know where there's a cheap hotel."
Mal fingers the long edge of the notebook in his pocket as he looks at the man sitting across the table from him.
"How long were you Nigel's boss?" he asks.
Daniel Owens, head of research stirs his coffee as if he intends to break the spoon. "Three years. He was a good worker, Nigel. Experienced, you know."
"So what happened?"
Daniel shakes his head, staring at the foam on his coffee. "I don't know. He was fine until this year. Then he started getting jumpy. Wouldn't talk about it to anyone. I asked him what he was up to last month and he damn near bit my head off for it. All I got out of him was he was too busy to talk. He started locking his office, too: not that anyone ever went in there without asking him first."
"Family?" Mal asks.
Another shake of the head. "He lived alone. Didn't even have a steady girlfriend that I knew about. The wife and I used to invite him over for dinner some weekends. He stopped coming a few months ago." He stabs at his coffee. "The police say it's suicide, of course."
"I think there's more to it than that," Mal murmurs. "There have been a lot of scientists die recently."
"I know. I've seen it on the news." He looks at Mal curiously. "Who are you anyway? One of those investigative reporters?"
Mal nods, letting him believe what he will. Daniel looks down at his coffee again, deep in thought. Eventually, he glances up. "The police were all over the place yesterday... and some people who said they were with the police. They sealed Nigel's office up, told me not to talk to anyone, especially reporters. And then I heard one of them telling the police it was a clear case of suicide and they should wrap up the investigation as quickly as they could."
Mal waits, silent.
Daniel stirs his coffee again, slopping brown liquid over the sides of the cup. "They're due here again tomorrow morning to talk things over with me. I don't know what they want, but after what's happened I don't care if a reporter or two happens to overhear." He smiles, suddenly, unexpectedly and stands up. "I'm a straightforward man myself, Mr Harris. I like to have everything out in the open. And my office has a very useful walk-in cupboard in the corner."
The radio is on in the corner of Will's rented room. Someone from the police force is talking about the Harvest murder. The newspapers - Will has bought one of everything - are full of the story. Some of the tabloids are claiming inside knowledge that the killing was the start of a new terrorist campaign, others put it down to the random act of a madman. 'A vegan with a grudge against genetic engineering,' one paper puts it.
The 'Times' has a double-page spread on the murder and also mentions the death of Jonathan Lee at the Food Research Centre. 'Harvest PLC and the Food Research Centre have always been closely linked,' it says. 'What if Mr Lee's death was no suicide but a bizarre killing? And what if the madman responsible for the murder of Mr Claydon last night is also responsible for the death of Jonathan Lee? Is there an agenda that we don't know about?'
There certainly is, Will thinks, turning another page. Buried at the bottom of the next page is a smaller report.
LONDON WAREHOUSE RAIDED
A London warehouse was raided last night following a tip-off that it might be the base of an illegal arms operation.
Police found the building deserted, but there were signs that it had been used recently. Whether as an arms base or for some other activity no one knows. Police are now keeping watch on the area but with little hope of catching anyone.
A thorough search through the rest of the papers turns up nothing new. Will leaves them in a pile and turns his attention to the photos of the Research Centre he took yesterday. After studying them for a good ten minutes he has to admit defeat. The buildings look completely ordinary. Rather dull offices with gardens around them - and most of the gardens are laid to grass. The greenhouses show up as long, white lines; impossible to tell what's in them.
"Gone?" Brandy says. "What do you mean, gone?"
"Gone. Not here. No longer present. How many meanings can the word have?" The nurse frowns back irritably. "He checked himself out earlier this morning. Off the record, he's booked himself into a private clinic in the States. He went straight to Heathrow from here."
A cold knot forms in the pit of Brandy's stomach. "All right. Thanks."
A quick phone call to Heathrow confirms that a Mr. Lazarus caught the nine o'clock flight from Heathrow to Washington. Brandy hesitates a moment then punches out Jason's number. He lets it ring for over a minute before he puts the phone down.
He leaves the hospital slowly, reluctant to walk away from what is the last link to Jason. But it seems that, for now at least, there are no new leads to follow. Best contact the others, he thinks. Find out what they're doing and meet up back in London.
When he gets to the car he pauses. Everything looks normal but some instinct throws a chill through him and makes him stop, his hand half-reached out to take the handle. He lets his hand fall and paces around the car.
He sees it a moment later. Only a few faint marks. Anyone else could have missed them, or taken them for scratches that were already there. But Brandy knows there wasn't a mark on the car when he left it this morning. The passenger door has been forced.
Jonas calls his reporter from the train, telling him the murder at Harvest isn't the full story. With a bit of luck he'll decide to keep digging.
The policewoman, Lesley, leaves them at the station, promising to call Jonas later. Which leaves two men and a girl, untidy, looking as if they haven't slept in days.
"It's so, like, cool that you believe my ritual stuff," Maddy enthuses. "I bet you, y'know, did that bit in the pantomime where you have to say 'I believe in fairies' as well!"
Jonas grunts a response. "We need to find out what the professor was working on, find witnesses to the 'accident'."
"He was working on growing techniques," one of his colleagues tells them. "Coaxing plants to grow in poor soil or where there's little water. That sort of thing. We have problems in Wales especially, the soil not fit for anything except grass, livestock farmers losing money hand over fist and not able to convert to cash crops."
A search for eye-witnesses to the car accident means a trip back to the police station. Luckily, they find Lesley on duty.
"I can give you the details on the car," she says. "But I don't think it'll help. We haven't found it yet." A dark-coloured Ford, she tells them. Dark blue or black, 'G' registration. She is about to say more when someone calls her name. She smiles awkwardly. "Whoops. Got to go."
They leave the police station together.
"Wasn't that girl at the station?" Maddy asks, nudging Jonas sharply. "I've seen her before."
He looks and sees a fair-haired woman leaning against a wall reading a magazine. He grins. "Thought I was the one suffering from déjà vu, not you."
Will is beginning to feel like he's spent his whole life reading.
Currently, he's tracked down a copy of Harvest PLC's financial report and is going through it.
The company goal is simple - to make money developing, producing and selling genetically modified food. There are ten boring pages of text justifying genetic engineering and then a financial history of the company.
It seems that Harvest wasn't doing as well as they'd like people to think. Battling against public opposition, they were losing money steadily and only a large subsidy in November 1988 saved them from going into the red this year. Payments to unspecified universities made up a quarter of the expense budget, the rest going on advertising, administration and staff costs.
The report is glossy, the paper heavy. The front cover shows a full colour photograph of the London offices. On the back cover is a picture Will recognises at once. He has a similar one in his room: the front of the Food Research Centre.
Mal listens to the news that Jason has vanished with concern.
"And Brandy says his car's been broken into," Maddy hisses. "I can't speak any louder. There might be someone watching us."
The whole world is turning paranoid, Mal thinks. "What about Kawakami?" he asks. "Did you get anything from his pencil?"
"I got stuff about, uh, myself. I forgot to ask about him. Sorry!"
Hiding his disappointment, Mal tells her what he's found out so far.
"So, Ross and Jason are out of it, the priest could have another fit of madness any minute, and Will's wandered off on his own," he sums up.
"So have you," Maddy points out. "What do you want us to do now?"