The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Seeds Of Suspicion
Midday July 15th
Jake, Jonas, Maddy: Usk
"What do you want us to do now?" Maddy asks, as if she has every confidence in Mal's ability to solve this mystery. Without waiting for an answer she continues enthusiastically. "You... we... someone could, like, break into the greenhouses at the researchy place an' see what they're growing. Just, um, don't talk to any goblin men, yeah? Or, like, eat their fruits..."
Mal allows himself to smile., shaking his head. "I'll be staying where I am until tomorrow - I've got a conversation to listen in on. Just see what else you can find, and keep in touch."
And keep Jake out of trouble, he adds silently, hanging up. He checks his watch. He's got the rest of the day to kill; he'd might as well check up on the latest news.
The national news is full of the murder at the Harvest offices. 'The terrorist attack,' they call it. Nigel Thomas' death is mentioned once only, in the local news at the end. "He was a private man," the newsreader says, "given to fits of depression and with few close friends or family to talk to. Police have ruled out murder."
Another private scientist suffering from alleged depression, Mal thinks wryly. There seems to be a lot of them about.
Brandy stands and stares at his car for several minutes. He glances back the way he came, but if there was anyone following him they've gone now. Either that, or they're too good for him to spot. He shivers suddenly and walks quickly away.
Half an hour later he is climbing into a rented car. A quick check in the mirrors shows the road behind him is clear. He lets his breath out in a long sigh and turns in the direction of the hotel. Time is getting on and he's got a lot of phone calls to make.
The first one is to Huntingdon.
"Sorry," Mal says when Brandy has explained the situation. "I'm tied up here until tomorrow at least. You'd be best off leaving your car where it is. Whoever broke into it may well have left some sort of tracer on it. They'll know you've abandoned it, but at least they won't be able to follow you so easily. I'll get down there as soon as I can tomorrow and take a look at it."
Agreeing reluctantly, Brandy waits a few minutes and then phones the hospital. Finally getting the name and number of the American from a reluctant nurse, he calls them up.
"Doctor Simmons of Colchester General hospital here," he introduces himself when he gets through to the head doctor. "Just to let you know that Jason Lazarus is on his way to you. Do you have arrangements for meeting him at the airport? He is still in quite a delicate state."
"Yes, we understood that. There'll be a car waiting for him." The doctor's voice is male, distinctly American and with a softness to it that suggests he spends too much of his time talking soothingly to anxious patients. One thing he does not sound is suspicious.
Brandy tries to match his tone. "Good. If you can just tell me what time he's expected, I'll give you a quick ring later on to make sure he's arrived safely."
Putting the phone down, though, he finds himself frowning again. He can't believe that Jason would just vanish without a word. That and the knowledge that someone broke into his car and could well be watching outside the hotel now means that he finds it impossible to settle. He paces the room restlessly, returning to the window to peer outside. The street is busy with people shopping; no way of telling which ones are genuine and which are looking for him.
Jerking the curtains shut, Brandy sits down on the bed and opens his briefcase. His computer is inside as always. At least that hasn't been tampered with.
"Entropy," Maddy mutters, hugging herself tightly, "Things... teams... like, fall apart. Like us. It's what the Universe, y'know, does..." She smiles slightly, pulls a strand of hair free from the sugar-pink butterfly clip and chews at it thoughtfully.
Jonas is equally lost in thought, counting off suppositions on his fingers. One: Harvest is in the business of growing alternative foodstuffs, perhaps in difficult climates. Pretty noble, even if done for capitalistic reasons. Two: The professors were being paid by Harvest, and all seemed to be working on projects related to the company's mission.
Three, he thinks, beginning to scowl, the "opposition", either to our group or to the professors, has power over the police, the ability to make murders look like accidents or suicides, and apparently likes to use bugs.
"The government sure looks like a strong suspect," he says quietly. He looks up. The fair-haired woman is still there, flicking idly through the pages of her magazine. Throwing another scowl in her direction, Jonas grabs Maddy with one hand and grasps Jake's collar with the other, pulling them both along with him. The priest follows without speaking, his eyes dazed and unfocussed.
"Dulce et decorum est..." he breathes. His voice is slurred.
Jonas shakes him once. "Did you say to just to tell you what to do and you'd do it?"
Jake stares at him, blank-eyed, shakes his head once as if to clear it and then nods.
"Good." Jonas turns. "Maddy, I need your help. Just for half an hour, okay?" he adds quickly as she starts to protest. "We've got to get Jake some new clothes and get rid of the others. Come on, I'll explain on the way."
The Harvest office is cordoned off, police waiting at every corner. Will walks past them slowly. There are enough journalists hanging about the front doors for him to blend in without being noticed.
He joins the back of the group in time to hear the tail-end of an argument.
"Well, I had a tip-off that Harvest itself was involved in something dodgy. I think..."
The door opens. Everyone falls abruptly silent.
The man who comes out is tall, well over six foot, thick blonde hair just turning grey. He smiles at them all. A false smile, Will thinks, far too careful, like he's been practising the expression in front of a mirror. He flicks on the tape-recorder in his pocket as the man begins to speak.
"Gentlemen, thank you for your patience," he says, still smiling. "I promised you a statement so here goes." He opens a paper and begins to read. "Harvest PLC would like to thank well-wishers for their interest over the past day. We at the company are still experiencing a deep sense of shock, as indeed, are Mr Clayton's family. Current speculation is that this awful killing was carried out by a member of some 'green' fringe group. Our activities have been a target for attack by the ignorant in the past. Genetic manipulation is the only sure way to supply our world's need for food at the present time. Because it is a new technology people distrust it. We pray earnestly that this will change before it is too late. Finally, this building will be closed for the next week while the police continue their investigations. You may take photographs from the outside, but please do not try to enter the building or bother our staff with requests for interviews. We will issue another statement when there is something new to tell you. Thank you."
He backs away into the building. The gathered reporters press forward, shouting questions, snapping photographs. Will turns away. A flash light almost blinds him.
"Hey..." he begins.
Across the street someone starts to run.
Letting out a yell, Will gives chase. He sprints across the road, using his hands to swing himself past one car. Up ahead he can just see a figure carrying a camera. He pushes past three people, shoves someone else physically out of the way, only pausing long enough to gasp an apology, and bears down on the man he is chasing. It is a man, Will is sure of that. He's wearing a brown leather jacket, faded jeans. The camera over his shoulder bumps from side to side and he pushes it back awkwardly with one hand as he runs.
The gap narrows. Will lengthens his stride.
A bike screeches to a stop. The man flings himself onto the back of it, shouting something that is lost in the general noise of the street. The motor roars up, deafening.
They are gone. Will stops, breathing hard, ignoring the angry looks from the people around him. Eventually he turns and walks away.
Messages are coming in fast. Brandy scans down them all.
Heard Lazarus was in Britain researching a new film, one of them says. Don't know anything else.
Brandy, thanks for your news. Haven't seen any kidnapped Americans this part of London. Are you sure he's kidnapped? Wouldn't that have been on the news?
Another one. The clinic is real enough. It's where all the rich and famous go to recuperate. Quite fashionable at the moment. Thanks for the tip-off, we'll have a camera set up there this evening.
Brandy sighs and continues.
Mr Smith, the message reads, we know who you are and who you're working for. Let us assure you, Mr Lazarus is safe and well. If you wish to continue in similar well-being, please go back to your newspaper now. You know what happened to Lazarus so you know we are serious. I said we know who you are. We also know you are on your own. Believe me, you are no threat to us and we could do you great harm if you persist.
The message is, of course, unsigned. Brandy swears and begins tapping at keys, trying to trace the thing back to its source.
He is still trying ten minutes later when another message comes. Mr Smith, it has come to our notice that you have breached the terms and agreements of your contract for internet access. Your account has now been closed. Should you wish to reapply for access, you may do so in six months from this date.
Five seconds later the screen goes blank. Brandy hits in his password again. 'Access denied' it says. And then nothing.
"Poppies... opium... memory..." Maddy frowns slightly, taking a swig of vodka-laced cherryade and scribbling a few extra words into her battered notebook. 'Maddy's Bumper Book of Conspiracy' it says on the cover.
When she reaches the place where Jameson was knocked down - or jumped in front of a car, if the police are to be believed - she stops and shakes out a red and white checked tablecloth. Sipping down mouthfuls of vodka and cherryade and munching handfuls of dry cornflakes, she straightens out the stem of one of the poppies lying in a neat posy beside her, and adjusts the one she's fixed behind her ear.
She transfers Kawakami's pencil to her left hand and picks up the mobile phone with the other. "Telephone doodles," she says to no-one in particular, "'are a direct manifestation of the unconscious...'" Letting her left hand scribble freely, she phones directory enquiries.
"Oh, yeah, sorry! I was, er, looking for someone's, like, number... Marilyn Hook, only I'm not sure what area she'll be in. It could be London, or Kent. Or Usk. Or Maybe Huntingdon in Yorkshire or Saffron Walden in Essex. Can you look?"
"Checking now." The operator sounds impatient. Maybe she's a Harvest spy, Maddy thinks excitedly. Or maybe she's just annoyed at having to look up names in five counties.
"There are sixty-eight M. Hooks listed," the operator's voice comes back. "Do you want them all?"
Maddy swallows another mouthful of cornflakes and coughs. She listens to the numbers, her left hand still moving randomly. Then, grinning to herself, she hangs up. "Right," she mumbles through another mouthful of cornflakes. "Now to check my doodle for clues. She picks up the book and nearly chokes.
Right across the middle of the page, in dark capitals, she has written: Marilyn Hookes, Oxford. She has pressed so hard on the last letters that the pencil has torn the paper.
Her heart thumping so hard she has to breath in gasps, Maddy snatches up the phone.
"Hello," she says. "It's me again. I want you to check Oxford this time."
Mal finishes reading Nigel Thomas' work notes for the fifth time. His own notes lie to one side.
1. Thomas accepted a project on behalf of Harvest.
2. Harvest paid at least £10,000.
3. Seemingly, the project was intended to be kept secret.
4. The project involved growing seeds of some description - what were they?
5. Thomas' mental state deteriorates as the experiment progresses. Link?
Of course there's a link, he thinks irritably. A link that they are very eager no one knows about. He stands up and packs the papers back into his bag. Maybe the meeting between Daniel Owens and his mystery guests tomorrow will shed some more light on the affair. He hopes so.
Sitting in Jacqueline Brown's office, Maddy chatters enthusiastically. "...so, like, I've found out stuff about this Harvest thingy that's using wheat with genetics in it. I think they've been doing experiments with it and, like, people are losing their memories like we did or, um, going mad. Oh yeah, an' these are, like, for you." She hands Jacqueline the bunch of scarlet poppies.
The scientist sniffs at them and sneezes. Maddy watches her intently.
"D'you remember anything about, like, running through a field or eating funny bread or, um, anyone called Marilyn Hookes?" she asks. "I think I might've found her phone number today. Or anything about what Dr Jameson was doing that might've, y'know, been to do with dodgy wheat? Oh, an' a blonde girl's been, like, following us."
"Following?" Jacqueline frowns. "Have you told the police?"
Maddy flushes slightly. "Sort of. It's all to do with Jameson, I think."
"And dodgy wheat," Jacqueline adds. "Some of Peter's experiments involved growing plants from seed. I don't know whether he was working on wheat or not, though - if he was, he certainly didn't tell me. And, of course, when he died, the police came in and confiscated everything so now I don't know what he was working on. As for running through a field..." she smiles. "Walking to work in summer is about my limit, I'm afraid." She sneezes again and wipes her nose on a tissue. "Sorry, I get a bit hayfeverish now and then."
Maddy picks up the poppies and gives them a shake. "I'll take them away again," she offers. "But there's one more thing I wanted to ask. I want to do tracings of our tattoos. If you don't mind."
Brandy tries not to stare around as he slings his overnight case into the back of the car. Maybe there are people watching him, maybe not. If there are he'll lose them on the way to Usk.
There's nothing more he can do here to help Jason. He'll find out soon enough whether he's back in America or not and in the meantime there's the rest of the team to worry about. Jake especially. His only consolation, he thinks as he eases the car into gear, is that the priest hasn't been connected with the Harvest murder yet.
Lesley stares at Jonas across the counter of the police office. "Let me get this straight," she says. "The guy who killed the Harvest executive - the one everyone's looking for and is quite probably mad and armed - is going to be sitting alone in a bar waiting for me to arrest him?"
Jonas glares at her and nods. "Five o'clock. Make up any details if you have to, but make your people think it's credible. He'll be there."
Lesley gives him a long appraising look. "Okay," she says at last. I'll trust you on this. If he'll be there, so will we. But if we get there and don't find him I'm going to come after you and arrest you for wasting police time."
"You're welcome to try." Jonas relaxes. "Now, I need to use a phone. Privately. Maddy borrowed mine earlier."
"Hey brother," he calls a couple of minutes later. "What's the name of that slimy lawyer of yours? You know, the one that uses his Canadian account to launder the money from your Mexican heroin connection."
'Doc' Wiggins barks with laughter. "Corey?"
"Yeah, him. Tell him or one of his partners to get a passport." Jonas grins tightly. "And remind 'em in your special way that you and I are closer than brothers."
It is exactly five minutes to five. Jonas crashes into the bar, making several people jump.
Jake is sitting quietly in a corner, steadily drinking his way through a bottle of bourbon. Jake pulls a chair around.
"You wanted absolution?" he demands. "Here's your chance to get it from me. Now if you can take a vow if celibacy you sure as hell better be able to keep all this quiet. You are about to be arrested for the murder of that poor bastard you shot up at Harvest. Don't confess. Don't say one blasted word."
Jake opens his mouth and closes it again. He moves to pick up his glass and Jonas catches his wrist. "Listen. If this country is anything like ours, you won't be moved for at least a few days. That's good. If you are in Usk I can maybe use my connection here to get to speak with you. Regardless, I want you to remember everybody who questions you, and every question they ask. If you can memorize the Bible you can memorize a few questions – it's the questioner and what they think they need to know that I'm interested in. Don't confess, Jake," he says, his words coming faster. "Deny everything. They got no physical evidence and no one is going to be able to place you at the scene because the only people who know you are with SITU, and we ain't talking. Now I may not be able to talk with you, or at least not alone. Here's the name of the lawyer you should request: Corey - Nolan Corey. Trust him with everything you know I would want to know. Hell, if they have any morals they won't even question you 'til he can fly over here, and that should buy some time."
Jake listens without any sign of interest, or even that he's heard what Jonas has said. "Corey," he mumbles finally.
"Good." Jonas looks over his shoulder at the door. "Look, Jake, do this right and you may get us a big clue and still beat the rap. Then you only have to worry about squaring things with the Lord." He looks at his watch and stands up. "Good luck."
He walks out just as Lesley and two other policemen are coming in.
"...In Patrium Mundi," whispers the priest, watching them approach.
Back in his rented room Will is sifting through his pile of photos and newspaper cuttings. And then, there is a sound at the door and an envelope is pushed underneath. He jumps up at once.
The hotel landlady is on the landing outside. She turns back and gives Will an uncertain smile. "Mr Brickham. Sorry, I didn't know you were in. I didn't mean to disturb you, but a man asked me to deliver that to you." She gestures vaguely at the unopened envelope in his hand.
"What man?" Will demands.
Her eyes open a fraction wider, startled. "A man, just now. Is it important?"
"No." He takes a breath and tries again. "What was the man wearing? A leather jacket?"
The landlady shakes her head. "Oh, no. He had a suit on. Real nice. And a great big car parked just outside."
Will goes to the window and looks out. There is no car there now. "All right, thanks," he says. He goes back into his room, tears the envelope open and stops dead.
The first photograph was taken some five years ago. Will diving in America. The second one is from Kent, the science block in the background. The last one shows Will turning away from the Harvest offices. He turns it over. On the back, a scribbled note.
We know who you are. Back off.
"Righty-ho," Maddy grins, "how did you get on? Oh, and look what I've got." She digs her newest purchase out of her bag and waves it in Jonas' face. "It's a Dictatato...a recorder thingy, one of those special ones that goes on when you speak to it. Put it beside your bed an' it'll record all the stuff you say in your dreams; they come straight from your, like, right brain, yeah? It might record some of your psychic flash bits. Or, um, just your bits..."
Jonas takes it and looks at it without interest.
"Everything's going to plan," he says. "Jake's in jail."
"In jail?" Brandy demands, incredulous. "What happened?" His mouths drops open when Jonas explains it was all planned.
"Don't worry," Jonas tells him. "The lawyer's turning up in the morning. He'll have him out in no time. And in the meantime our mystery friends might come calling. It seemed the best way to find out who they are."
"Or the best way to get Jake killed," Brandy snaps back. He takes out his mobile phone and punches a number. "Hello, Doctor Simmons here, I phoned earlier. Yes." He listens a moment. "Right, thank you. May I speak to him. Thanks." Another, longer pause. "Hello Jason," Brandy says. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine, a little tired." It is definitely Jason's voice. "Hey, I have to thank you guys at Colchester, you did a great job."
"Jason, it's me, Brandy," Brandy cuts in. "What can you remember?"
"Brandy? Of course, I met you in England, didn't I? You wanted a part in my film. Or were you the one who wanted a job as a scriptwriter?" He rambles on for a few minutes more. Brandy listens with increasing frustration and finally puts the phone down. At least he knows Jason is alive and safe. There's nothing else he can do for him now.
"Are you sure it was him?" Maddy asked.
Brandy nods tiredly. "As sure as I can be. Now, what are we going to do about Jake?"
As Jake sleeps, the prison cell is bathed in a quiet, sparkling glow. Jake blinks twice and sits up, rubbing his eyes. Before him stands a man dressed in plain white cloth belted with gold. His bare arms gleam in the unearthly light like polished bronze, but his face is like lightning and his eyes like twin fires.
Jake collapses to his knees, tears blurring his sight. "Forgive me, father, for I have sinned..."
The man, or angel, looks down at him. Words form in Jake's mind without any audible sound, each one burning him. "My son, hear me. Thy sins are great, as shall be thy penance. The mortal world is endangered by the One who shall not be named. The Others will come soon, to cleanse and renew. They must not be denied. From these shall once again arise the Sons of God, mighty shall they be and everlasting their reign. Titans once again will stride forth across the earth, the Elohim shall be freed to stand above all as masters of all life."
Doubt and fear twist Jake's features. His hands clench tight as a familiar heat surges through him. He jumps to his feet. "What the hell are you?" The last word is a scream.
And the cell dissolves around him, first into smoke then fire. Jake falls, screams again, feeling the sharp agony of flame strip him naked then caress his flesh away in strips. Just as the fire reaches his heart the world clears.
He is kneeling on the floor, the prison sheet twisted around him, tight as a shroud, the echo of a scream fading from his mind. Shaking, he crawls to the door and heaves himself up against it. Outside, there is no sound. Wishing they'd at least let him keep the whiskey, Jake staggers back to the thin mattress and collapses onto it.
HUNTINGDON - MORNING, JULY 16TH
"Come in," Daniel Owens says. A woman and two men come into view.
Mal watches from the adjoining room, a camera set up in the cupboard in Owens's room, bugging devices scattered around the office. Why watch from a cupboard where you could be discovered, when you can sit in comfort, he thinks, grinning to himself.
He sees the woman clearly first. She is middle-aged, her grey hair almost waist length, plaited back. Her suit looks expensive, as does the briefcase she carries. She sits down, neatly crossing her ankles.
The two men remain standing, one of them moving back to lean against the wall while the other runs his fingers over a row of books.
"So," Owens says. "You say you're with the police and you want to talk about Nigel." He stares at the woman suspiciously. "You don't look like police."
"We're not," she says smoothly. "My name is Jennifer Matthews. I am the head of finance at Harvest PLC. My associates are..."
"Just that: associates," says the one by the bookshelf.
Jennifer changes position as if his voice has made her uncomfortable. "What do you want?" Owens asks her suddenly. She reaches for her briefcase.
"To be frank, Mr Owens, Nigel Thomas was carrying out some private research on our behalf. All we want to do is to make sure we're fully up to date on his results." She opens her briefcase and takes out a cheque book and pen. "We're willing to pay the remainder of Nigel's fee direct to the department as a gesture of goodwill in this."
"I'm sure you are," Owens growls. "Don't you realise the man died because of your stupid experiments, woman?"
The camera clearly shows the sudden raising of her eyebrows, and the glance the two men exchange across her head.
"I don't think you'll find our work had anything to do with this tragic incident," she says at last, softly. "All we want to do is tie up the loose ends here." She looks up, her eyes meeting Mal's directly for a moment, almost as if she can see him. "We would like to check his office here, and his home for any papers he may have left."
Owens' expression darkens. "Who else knows about this? Or are you trying to get in first before anyone realises you people were involved?"
A polite frown. "Mr Owens, I'm sure you realise Harvest is having its own problems at present. The last thing we want is any more adverse publicity."
"So you want it all hushed up," Owens finishes. "No. One of my employees died and you want to pretend like it never happened. Well, I'm sorry for you - but no."
Jennifer picks up a pen. "It is a substantial sum we're talking about."
"No." He stands up. "I don't care how much money it is. You can keep it. And now, how about telling me who you're really working for. Or shall I call the real police and see what they have to say."
One of the two men steps forward. "You'll find they have the same to say as us, Mr Owens. And I'd advise you to co-operate."
"Or else what?"
His only answer is to glance at his partner on the other side of the room.
Jennifer Matthews sighs audibly. "I see," she says aloud. "Then we'll bid you good day, Mr Owens. There's nothing to be gained by arguing with you here." She snaps her briefcase closed and stands up to leave. The two men move to flank her, but as they reach the door one of them stops and turns back.
"One more thing, Mr Owens. There will be reporters asking questions about this. We'd pay well if you pass on any names to us."
The door closes. Mal leaves the camera running just in case and sits and watches the empty office. Nothing more happens.
A moment later Daniel Owens bursts into the room. "What did you think of that, then?" he demands. He stops and looks around at Mal's equipment with obvious interest.
The cell door opens. Jake sits up and looks at the uniformed man blearily. He's hardly aware how he came to be here. Maybe an angel put him here.
"Get up," the guard tells him curtly. "Your lawyer's arrived. And some people who want to ask you a few questions."