The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Et In Arcadia Ego
11am Monday, August 9th 1999
Louis: the university
The others: the Harvest site.
Sighing deeply, Louis leaves the university library. It is obvious to him that there is something of archaeological significance hidden in the Rennes-le-Chateau area and Harvest are deliberately trying to keep the university from investigating the area. Well, hopefully he can change that, he thinks. By starting a serious dig in the area, they will almost definitely draw the attention of whatever hidden parties are watching. And that may lead to a direct confrontation with the Ylid.
The thought is somehow not too comforting.
At the offices of Harvest PLC, M. Severin is smiling broadly, waiting for the first question. Looking far too confident, Jake thinks, annoyed. He gets the impression that Severin is so used to journalists visiting the site he no longer takes them seriously.
Dexter chooses that moment to confirm Severin's view. "Do you do cosmetics?" he asks.
Severin chuckles to himself and shakes his head. "Genetic modification is entirely to do with foodstuffs and medical research. We would not waste our time on frivolities such as make-up."
"So what type of research is done at this facility?" Nate asks quickly. "Specifically, I mean."
"Specifically, medical research. The prevention of genetic diseases, anything from cystic fibrosis to Down's Syndrome to infertility - which is often a genetic problem. By manipulation of the genes while in the womb, a problem of this sort may be cured before the child is born."
"Even infertility?" Nate asks sceptically. "I thought research into new treatments and drugs would be more effective."
Severin shrugs. "Maybe. We do not research into drugs here - that is the job of the medical facilities. The beauty of genetic manipulation is that eventually we may be able to do away with drugs altogether." He glances around. "Anything else?"
"Yes," Jake says. "No doubt you end up with a lot of failed experiments. What happens to those?"
Severin frowns a moment. "First of all, let me say that we never consider any of our experiments as failures. If something doesn't work we are pleased that we have ruled out a possible line of inquiry. As for disposing of experiments, the utmost care is taken, of course. We have incinerators on site and all waste material is burned the moment it is no longer needed. Nothing is ever taken out of the premises."
"How do you determine when an experiment is of no further use?" Nate asks him. He points the camera at him, waiting for a reply.
Severin laughs again and smoothes back his hair. "That is a question for our researchers, really. In general terms, when an experiment fails to do what we expected of it, or when all work is finished on it and all results stored, it is safely destroyed. Does that satisfy you?"
They continue with the tour, going through laboratories and computer rooms, Nate carefully filming everything, the others taking note as they pass. Judith asks to see one of the computer models and he obliges, opening up files full of graphs and diagrams. It doesn't make much sense to Judith but Yuri looks at it all with interest.
"I have seen similar things before," he says, jabbing at a string of numbers with his index finger. "This - it represents a piece of genetic material, yes? So you alter one part at a time and see what the results will be."
"That's right," Severin agrees. "We run through all the possible manipulations we can make and take the ones that give us the results closest to those we are looking for. Then we run the experiments in practice."
"I'd like to know a bit more about how you replace faulty genes at embryo stage," Judith says. "You said you could do it in the womb. Has this ever been tested in practice? And will it affect the mother at all, or the children of the child you cure - assuming she grows up to have children?"
Severin turns to look at her. "I'm afraid the answer to that has to be we do not know. The research is still very much in the experimental stage. We've not yet tried in vivo, although it has been done in in vitro conditions with some success. It will maybe be another five years before we are confident enough to try the treatment on an embryo that will be carried to term."
They walk on.
"Have you managed to make a strawberry flavoured fish yet?" Dexter asks.
Louis finds Charles waiting for him along with a selection of sealed boxes and a young man with black hair he introduces as Marc.
"Here you go," he says cheerfully, "and good luck to you. It'll be interesting to see if you find anything."
"Do you think we will?" Louis asks.
Charles shakes his head. "In all honesty, no. But it's worth a try, no? Let me know how you get on."
Hiring a van to move the equipment only takes a few minutes. When it arrives, Marc helps Louis carry the boxes outside. He is whistling to himself, seeming pleased at the prospect of some hard work. Just as well he doesn't know what he's getting himself into, Louis muses. He goes back into the department one last time to take his leave of Charles.
"Why don't you join us for a drink this evening?" he suggests. "I'll pay - my way of saying thank you."
Charles hesitates a second then smiles. "Why not? I've got nothing else on. I'll meet you in Rennes-le-Chateau, shall I?"
Sonja and Liza have been leafing through the Harvest literature as they walk.
Established in 1981, the company was founded in Toulouse by a group of corporate sponsors and has always been called Harvest. Nowadays it receives large government grants which supplement the billions of profit it makes, much of it coming from crop sales to the third world and developed world. The UK and American branches deal in crop modification, the German branch with animal experimentation and the Toulouse centre with medical research, including the research on infertility and cloning.
Sonja looks up after reading the last part. "Cloning?" she queries.
"It is fringe research," Severin answers dismissively. "Cloning keeps all the genes the same so giving us a control for each experiment. We will not be cloning sheep like they do in Britain."
"What about crossing a giraffe and a sheep?" Dexter asks quickly.
Jake sees Severin frown and steps in before he can react. "Monsieur Severin, Harvest has close links with the university. Do you allow the students to help with research projects here?"
"Here, no." Severin is sounding impatient. "We fund courses at the university, and many of our staff studied locally before joining us, but all the projects run on site are carried out by our own staff."
"What projects are you sponsoring?" Nate asks, continuing before Severin can answer, "I hear good things about Harvest investing in local projects and I see from the brochure that you are sponsoring some archaeological research in the area - what exactly do you hope to achieve with this?"
Severin smiles slightly. "Good publicity. That is all. We are part of the community here and wish to contribute. It is good for us, and good for the people here."
He leads the way out of the laboratories and back to the front of the building. Several members of staff - a fairly even mix of male and female all wearing identical white lab coats - look at them curiously as they pass but say nothing.
Feeling they are running out of time, Nate rushes through the rest of his list of questions. Severin answers them all briefly. No, Harvest have had no links with the Space Agency, they have never had access to any extra-terrestrial genetic material. Yes, there may be life on other planets, but whether there is or not is hardly relevant to the running of the company. Security precautions, he says, are adequate. High walls, alarms, guards on duty twenty-four hours a day. "The gates are electrified at night," he adds. "We have never had any trouble here, and do not expect any."
"Before we go," Judith says, "I wonder if it would be possible to interview any women on the management team? I'm assuming there is at least one."
Severin nods. "We have three female managers, and five of our senior researchers are women. I'm sure any of them would be pleased to talk to you. You can contact them direct - their names are in our company list at the back of the brochure."
Nate thanks him on behalf of everyone, then grins and adds. "My friend Dexter here would like to know if you have been involved with the Viagra project?"
"And are you a Freemason?" Dexter asks.
Severin's expression suddenly goes stiff. Turning away he says, "Thank you for your interest in the company. Please feel free to contact other employees if that is what you wish. I'm afraid I shall be very busy for the next week so I shan't be seeing you again."
It is past midday, too late for Jake's suggested experiment at the church. Agreeing to leave it until tomorrow, the group heads off to meet the Green Dawn members, taking a slight detour for Nate to do some shopping.
"I think we should join a gym," Liza says on the way. Dexter laughs, and stops abruptly when she adds, "we should choose one with the posh clientele, the board members of Harvest, for example."
"It could be a good idea," Sonja agrees. Liza beams at her.
"Judith? What do you think? The three of us could join together."
Judith nods doubtfully.
"That's settled then," Liza enthuses. "We'd better ban Nate though, he might frighten everyone off."
"What are we going to do about Green Dawn?" Sonja wants to know. "They're obviously assuming everyone will be out of Toulouse because of the eclipse, but what if Harvest have thought of that and have plans for something big that day? Green Dawn may end up in the middle of it. What do we do - warn them, let them go on regardless, or should one of us risk going along?"
"I'm going with them," Jake says decisively, daring anyone to argue. "Sonja, when we meet them I want you to talk to Spider. He might have something to say when Sioux's not listening."
"I'll help with that," Liza offers. "We should both get involved, Jake. We're fellow Australians after all."
Jake doesn't look over-enthusiastic, but he nods.
Sioux and Spider are waiting in sight of the Space Research centre. Nate and Jake immediately work on drawing Sioux aside.
"How did you manage that trick with the 'Ariane'?" Nate asks, "I didn't cover the story but it must have been a real top security area, you must have some damn good field people to pull that off."
Sioux's eyes light up at the question. Launching into the details of the mission, as she calls it, she doesn't notice that Liza and Sonja have cornered Spider.
"We've got all the information on the Harvest building," Sonja tells him. "By the way, they had trouble in London recently, a terrorist murder. Did you hear about it?"
Spider shrugs and grins, suddenly embarrassed by the attention. "We read about it in the papers. We weren't behind that, though we wish we were. They say some madman just walked in, shot the accounts manager and vanished."
"So what are Green Dawn's plans here?" Liza asks, studying her fingernails.
"Sioux's got the full plan. We need evidence of what Harvest are doing. We get that first."
"All by yourself?"
"No." A quick shake of his head. "We've got a whole load of Green Dawners standing by. With the information you give us we'll get in no problem." He looks worried a moment then smiles. "That's what Sioux says, anyway, and she's not been wrong yet."
The others have finished filling Sioux in on the situation at Harvest. Nate gives her the video tape with a warning that if she's caught he'll deny ever meeting her.
"I'll meet you back here nine o'clock on the eleventh, then," Jake agrees.
"Sure." Sioux doesn't seem to care one way or the other. Calling Spider to her, the two of them leave.
"Lunch," Nate says decisively.
A few village children watch curiously as three men pace slowly over the priory ruins holding strange-looking metal detectors.
In fact, as Marc has explained to Louis and Jake, the detectors are not intended to pinpoint metal, but to give a picture of the area covered to a depth of some ten metres. Using sonar and analysing the results it is possible to locate old walls, large objects, or open spaces. Anything that might give some indication of an underground room holding a cache of treasure.
Pausing within sight of the church, Louis comments. "The demon Asmodeus, being a guardian of secrets, signifies that hidden knowledge is to be found near the church."
"Then this is the place to start," Jake agrees. He wipes sweat from his face. "These things are bloody heavy, though."
They move on slowly, finding nothing. One by one, the watching children grow bored and leave them to it.
Searching the ruins and the churchyard is a long, uninspiring task. There are so many buried remains: the edges of graves, foundations of walls long since fallen, and the ground is so rough that it is hard to tell whether what they find is of any significance or not. Louis charts it all meticulously, intending to check against previous studies later and see if they have uncovered anything new.
"How long have you been at the university, then?" he asks Marc as he makes another sweep of the outside wall.
"Three years, Monsieur. I did my undergraduate work in Paris then moved here because the area has an interesting history. And because it is cheaper." He flashes a quick grin. "University grants are not what they once were."
"And so you are working for Charles. Are you involved in the Harvest project?"
"Just about everyone is," he says. "It's boring work - we've found very little yet - but the department says it has to be done so there's no choice."
Jake looks at him, still not sure whether to trust him or not. Reserving judgement for the moment, he turns his scanner off. "I think we've covered everything here. How about going up to the tower next?"
"I'm worried about Liza," Sonja confides. "I don't know what's wrong with her but she's behaving so oddly. I'm sure she's getting herself into something dangerous and not telling us."
"Nothing that a chain and padlock won't solve," Dexter says easily, looking back to where Liza is in conversation with Judith. He puts a hand on Sonja's shoulder before she has the chance to scowl at him. "Don't worry, we'll keep an eye on her. I'll ask Nate to set up some audio equipment in the church. That should help."
Unaccountably, Sonja feels a glow of warmth for the huge Scots-Nigerian. French men are definitely over-hyped, she thinks to herself, slipping her hand through Dexter's arm as they walk on to catch up with the others. "By the way," she murmurs, "you wouldn't be planning on taking a look at Plantard's house, would you? If everyone's away watching the eclipse on the eleventh, that could be a good time, don't you think..?"
"Liza," Judith asks, "is everything all right? You've been looking a bit pale and tired."
Liza shakes her head, avoiding the other woman's gaze. "I had a disturbed night, that's all. It happens sometimes."
"So you don't want to talk about it?" Judith persists.
"There's nothing to talk about. I'm fine."
"We could borrow the neighbour's dog and get him to sleep across your bedroom door to make sure you don't sleepwalk."
"No!" Liza snaps.
Stung by her tone, Judith flushes slightly. She mutters a quick apology and hurries on to talk to Yuri about Ylids.
"What exactly do I know about them?" he echoes, puzzled. "They are alien creatures, very powerful. They will kill you, torture you, anything. I do not think I have ever met one face to face. If I have, I am glad that I did not know it."
"So you don't know about the stigmata?" Judith sighs, disappointed. "If it was a sign of someone being an Ylid we'd just have to look out for them wearing gloves in August. I thought that was a bit too easy."
They have reached the village library.
"Ah well, back to doing things the hard way," Judith sighs.
"I have a theory about Liza," Louis tells Jake. He looks up to make sure Marc is busy working on the other side of the terrace and continues quietly. "In appearance she's very similar to the Magdalene - blonde hair, blue eyes "
"Vacant expression," Jake agrees. "Go on."
"Did you notice that Sandrine also has fair hair? Though her eyes were grey, not blue." His brow creases into a troubled frown. "I think," he whispers, "that we should watch over our friend Liza at all times from this moment forth I fear that she has become the focus of attention of whatever watches us from the shadows - the Prieure de Sion or the Ylid itself."
A sudden flash of gold light glances off the top window of the Tour Magdala as he speaks. Jake looks up at it. "Stay here," he commands. Taking a small mirror out of his pocket, he begins to stride purposefully away from the tower.
He stops halfway down the hill. Here, standing with his back to the tower, he can see its reflection in the mirror in his hand. Appearing to the admiring the view, he turns the mirror surreptitiously, watching it carefully. A quick shadow passes across the glass: a movement that could have been caused by one of the birds circling overhead. The tower windows are blank, empty, their image slightly distorted in the poor quality glass so they appear to be stretched out of shape at the edges. For some reason, the image of a pair of blue eyes awash with tears comes into Jake's mind. He blinks it away and goes back to join Louis and Marc.
Liza watches with interest as Sonja starts up her computer and begins searching for references on Plantard and Harvest.
"Harvest started in 1981, which is long after the first girl died," she murmurs. "So something else must have been killing them. What does it say about their local projects?"
The internet home page is very similar to the first few pages of the advertising brochure. A list of involvement in local efforts, including the archaeological digs, courses on genetics and cloning at the university, and sponsorship of children's charities. Further afield, they have donated money to national charities such as Help the Aged, and they have funded research and courses at many other universities. Toulouse, however, is the only archaeological dig to be sponsored.
"What about Plantard?" Liza asks.
Sonja taps a few keys. Information scrolls up and she chooses a heading. After reading for a while she shakes her head. "I can't find anything wrong with him at all," she says. "According to all these, he's above suspicion."
Liza bends over to read the screen. "Or he's very careful to cover his tracks," she says.
Yuri and Dexter are finding out the same thing in the library. Without Louis there to translate, they are having to rely on what little French they have, and the dubious English skills of the young librarian on duty. There are several recent articles about Harvest, generally positive. Two of them carry pictures of Monsieur Severin holding out large cheques to smiling recipients. Charitable donations, Yuri works out. There is one article commenting on pollution levels and concluding that Harvest are investigating new ways to cut pollution in the area. And the usual business news of share price fluctuations, job vacancies. It seems that, whatever the opinion of genetic engineering in general, Harvest is well-respected in the area.
As for Plantard, there is very little mention of him in the local papers. Much of his work seems to centre around Paris, although he does make regular trips to Toulouse and Rennes-le-Chateau. His support of Harvest is no secret and while one of the national papers criticises him for it, saying that because of him Harvest receives government money that could be better spent elsewhere: no-one else seems to care much.
"Typical," Dexter complains. "All this going on right under their noses and they can't even be bothered to see that there's anything wrong." He grins at Yuri. "You keep reading. I'm going to make a phone call, see if I can locate Sandrine's ex-boyfriend."
Following Judith's usual plan of touring wool shops, she and Nate find themselves in conversation with a customer. Seventy years old, she remembers the wartime well.
"There was a Nazi base in Toulouse," she tells them. "And there were always soldiers in the village, with their horrible swastika uniforms and guns."
"You must have been very angry about people who collaborated," Judith sympathises.
The woman sniffs. "Angry then. Not now, too much time has passed. Best let the souls of everyone rest in peace."
"Was anyone exposed as a collaborator here?" Judith asks her.
The woman pauses and looks at her hard before answering. "Some women. Maybe they were collaborators, maybe they just fell for the handsome soldiers, who knows. Some of them became pregnant and their families sent them away. Others died shortly after so it did not matter. We prefer to forget the war and its aftermath now."
"Maurice Perez?" Dexter asks. "Listen, you don't know me, but "
There is a long silence after he has finished explaining.
"Sandrine has stigmata?" Perez says at last. He sounds so completely shocked it cannot be an act. "What I mean I don't understand. Who are you? A reporter?"
"A friend. I'm part of an academic group. We simply wondered if you knew anything about this. It is important," he adds. He can hear Perez's breathing, heavy and hoarse.
"How is Sandrine?" he asks at last. "I need to no, wait. How long are you in Rennes? I'll take a few days' holiday and come down right away. How can I contact you?" Dexter gives him the number of Nate's mobile. The man sounds half scared to death, he thinks. Who wouldn't be, having just found out their old girlfriend has developed stigmata.
The day is turning cold. Having made a quick study of as much of the area as possible, Louis calls a halt to the investigating for the day. He gives Marc a lift to the station, promises to phone him when they need him next, and he and Jake head back home.
Everyone meets back at the house for dinner - beef wellington, courtesy of Judith. Nate, wearing baggy trousers and moving rather more carefully since his horse-riding the other day, offers to clear up, which unfortunately (or fortunately, depending of your point of view) means he misses the spectacle of Jake and Dexter singing 'Suspicious Minds' together. Louis puts up with the noise for slightly less than a minute before he excuses himself to make a phone call.
Madame Bovoire, as she calls herself, is Paris's top medium, famous for contacting the spirits of dead celebrities. She has also run a number of seances on Louis's behalf, trying to contact his dead father. The fact that she hasn't yet managed the feat has not put him off. A charlatan would surely have made something up for his benefit, whereas she has always been honest about what she has found.
When he gets through to her he explains quickly about the situation. "So I want you to investigate the Prieure de Sion," he tells her. "And Pierre Plantard and any of the other members of the movement. I want to find out who our enemies are so we can stay one stay ahead. I'll pay you, of course, double the usual rate. You can call me on this number " he gives her Nate's.
Jake is coming to the end of a Tom Jones impression when he goes back to the room. He interrupts. "Aren't we supposed to be meeting Charles at the pub?"
"See if you can get any papers from the genetic engineering lecture," Sonja says.
"And ask Charles for copies of any research he's done around here," adds Nate.
Judith is looking worried, not completely trusting Charles. "His wanting to know what we find out is like King Herod asking the Magi to tell him when they find the infant Jesus," she complains.
Jake grins at her. "We'll be careful."
The pub is warm, smelling of beer and cheap wine. Louis wrinkles his nose in distaste but Jake seems unconcerned, staring around at everyone until a man by the bar stands up and comes to meet them.
Louis makes the introductions quickly and Jake smiles a greeting. "So, Charles, what will you have to drink?"
"I'm sorry," M. Corbu says firmly, "it is out of the question. The portrait has always remained here, I'm not parting with it now."
"We can pay," Nate offers, looking at it again. "It's uncanny, it looks so much like my wife's younger sister it could have been painted of her. She died several years ago in a car crash and I know that if I bring that painting home it will make my wife so happy. I rarely act on impulse, but I'm willing to give you a reasonable figure for it: you were only saying the other night that it was by an unknown and worth very little."
"Maybe so. But it is not for sale."
Nate senses when he is beaten. "Let me get my information straight before we leave, then. You bought this house from Marie Denarnaud, yes?"
"Yes." He sighs. "I agreed to one interview, Mr Garson. I didn't expect to be bothered again so soon. Marie wanted to sell the house and she was asking a very reasonable price so my family bought it. We are not interested in the mystery that surrounds her. You will have to ask elsewhere about that." He catches Judith staring at the painting and shakes his head. "I am sorry, the portrait is not for sale. Now, I will have to ask you to leave."
A few pleasant hours in the pub getting Charles steadily drunker reveal a lot about his personal life, but very little about Harvest. Charles suspects, as Louis does, that Harvest want to deflect research away from Rennes. But, he declares with a shrug, he doesn't care why. "As long as they provide the money, we will take our research elsewhere. There is much to be found all over France. And maybe we have been concentrating too much on Rennes. My wife says "
He goes off into another anecdote, part in French part English. Louis and Jake exchange looks over his head. "Well," says Jake, "at least we're having a better time than the others. Another drink?"
Everyone sleeps lightly that night. Nate, fully clothed, has rigged an infra-red beam across Liza's door and is waiting for it to go off. Dexter and Sonja sit up together, dozing in turn. Yuri paces his room impatiently, Jake sits watching the moonlight change on the lane below the window.
Liza herself is the only one sleeping. Her eyes move rapidly beneath her lids and from time to time her lips part, framing answers to questions only she can hear.
"Your friends, they are the enemy," the voice whispers. "They will watch you and stop you. They do not want us to be together."
"Who are you?" Liza asks.
The darkness parts in front of her. She sits up, her eyes opening wide. "John?"
"Father?" Louis whispers, turning over in his sleep. "Father, where are you?"
"I am here." The voice seems to come from all around him. "Remember Egypt. I am with you. All you have to do is believe.
Strands of colour pour over Jake as he sits. The moonlight outside turns blue and the wind becomes a voice sighing in pain. For one brief moment a loneliness seizes him, so intense it brings tears to his eyes.
"This is what it is like," he believes he hears. "This is the secret you are looking for."
Yuri's scream wakes him.
" I left a lump of chewing gum behind Asmodeus's ear," Dexter is telling Sonja. "We can check tomorrow to see if it's still there, and Bloody hell. What was that?"
Bursting into the room next door they finds the Russian awake and trembling.
"I saw them," Yuri moans. His eyes are unfocussed, his gaze glancing off the rapidly-assembling group. "The men who tortured me. They were here, but when they took off their masks they " He stares around fearfully. "They were you. All of you."
By morning the mood has calmed little. Everyone is tired and on edge, Yuri saying nothing, Liza not even looking at anyone else.
"Sandrine's blood test was very interesting apart from the Ylid genes," Judith says, trying to get a discussion going. "She showed up as a B blood group which is very unusual for Europeans - especially this region of Europe. Bs are usually of Central Asian extraction. Do you think she could be in the holy bloodline?"
"It's worth checking," Sonja responds. "Are we going to the church at midday today? Sauniere may well have hidden his secret somewhere close by the statue of Asmodeus."
"You check out the statue," Dexter suggests. "Yuri and I will visit Sandrine again." Yuri barely reacts to the suggestion. Sitting hunched over a cup of coffee, his eyes bloodshot, he is lost in his own thoughts.
In the hours before midday Jake quickly checks up the location of Harvest's backup store. A small building in central Toulouse, it seems an entirely easier prospect for a break-in. Of course, Harvest wouldn't expect an attack at their back-up office. All their security is centred around the main plant.
Checking death certificates against the female employee roll he has to admit defeat. Some female employees have died whilst still working for the company, but not more than he'd expect, and none of them seem connected in any way.
Liza, Judith and Sonja has little more luck at the gym. Going there in person to enrol, they manage to talk to a few women who work for Harvest. In each case they politely decline to talk about their work, referring Liza back to Severin when she pushes for answers. When they meet the others ready to go to the church they are hot, sweating, and have no new information.
"So we know that a Ylid's involved," Nate says as they make their way along the path, "but what do they gain from the stigmata? All they get is publicity as far as I can see, and that's surely what they don't want. Or are they going to produce some genetic mutation and claim that it's Jesus come again? Jake, you seemed to think it was a sign of something internal, do you think we could X-ray Sandrine or photograph her aura or something?"
Jake shrugs. "We could X-ray her with permission. I've never known any photographs of auras actually coming out, though." He opens the door of the church. "After you, Liza."
The woman caretaker looks at them suspiciously as they begin their examinations. The moment Nate produces his bottle of etching fluid she calls out to them.
"Just an experiment," Nate reassures her. "Tell me, has the statue always been in this position."
"Of course it has. What are you doing with it?"
Nate lets a drop of fluid fall from the bottle. It has no effect.
Jake elbows him out of the way and positions his hand mirror. Sunlight flashes off in and into the eyes of the demon, seemingly absorbed by the black stone. Sonja moves round behind him and unpeels a lump of pink chewing gum from behind the demon's ear. The seconds tick by towards noon
Outside, Nate brushes his etching fluid carefully over the defaced tombstones. The liquid stings his nostrils and eyes and fizzes slightly as it touches the stone. Nate sits back and waits
Dexter and Yuri walk in silence to Sandrine's house and stop. Pulled up outside is an ambulance. Two men are lifting a stretcher, covered by a sheet, into the back. Sandrine's mother stands weeping noisily behind them.
"Dead?" Yuri mutters hoarsely.
Dexter starts forward
Etching fluid sizzles and spits, pitting the stone. Nate's eyes widen in surprise. There is no writing to be seen. It is as if Sauniere took his chisel to a set of plain tombstones
Sunlight flares, hovers in the air a moment, lighting the dust. A clear line hits the wall. The painting of the burial of Christ, the open tomb like a mouth .
A car screeches to a halt in the street. The driver leaps out, runs two steps towards the ambulance and stops. His lips form a single word. "Sandrine."
The girl's mother turns, stumbles as she recognises him. "Monsieur Perez. I'm afraid you're too late."