The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
A Shattered Visage Lies
Kassandra nods approvingly at Yuri’s suggestion.
“A debrief would be a good plan, but maybe not out in the lobby, hmm? Dexter, why don’t you check us all in and find out where our rooms are, so we can dump our stuff and meet up in one room.”
“And I need to, like, do some stuff first,” adds Maddy. “Meet in, uh, fifteen minutes, yeah? In my room?”
The rooms are somewhat stuffy, and the motif of the giant tiger’s head has been carried through to the wallpaper and bedspreads. To Lady Judith’s not inconsiderable relief, there are en suite bathrooms with ‘proper’ toilet facilities.
Inside her room, Maddy dumps her knapsack on the bed and kicks off her Dock Martens. Removing the bunched silk sarongs, she drapes them over the bedside lamp, giving the room an atmospheric peach-orange glow. Walking into the bathroom, she splashes cold water on her face, picks up the toothbrush mug, and carries it back into the bedroom with her.
“Vunde gurunam caranaravinde…” she sings softly to herself as she draws two bottles from her rucksack, duty-free Bombay Sapphire gin and Barr’s Cherryade, “…Sandarsitaaaa…” Downing a large glass of gin-and-cherryade (with a hint of spearmint) she practises a quick spin and jump dance, illustrating Madonna’s “ashaaantiiii!” chorus with a series of hand-flicks and head-turns.
With a satisfied expression, Maddy sets about preparing the room for the conference, and when the others arrive, they find themselves walking into a veritable shrine. Dexter raises his eyebrows slightly, and the corners of Lady Judith’s mouth twitch as her natural politeness battles with her sense of the absurd.
In pride of place on the floor, flanked by candles, sits a stuffed Babar the Elephant toy. The gleam of the apricot light on its glass eyes give it a startled look, perhaps an expression of consternation at the fact that four felt arms have been roughly stitched to its sides. The arms have blunt, bunched fingers, and the stuffing bulges through the seams. At its feet are arranged a few foil packs of peanuts, which appear to be performing the role of offering. To one side, a thread of smoke curls from a solitary jasmine joss-stick.
Maddy is seated before the tiny shrine, her legs knotted in a slightly unconvincing and probably highly uncomfortable effort at the lotus position.
“Lord Ganesh!” she smiles, gesturing with the bottle towards the little idol. “He’s the patron God of, y’know, luck and beginnings and stuff. And he looks a bit like Cthulhu, yeah? D’you want some, like, gin and cherryade?” Kass consents with a laugh, and squats next to Maddy on the floor. The others find seats in chairs and along the bed.
“Well Maddy, what’s the low down on this Yashimoto, then?” asks Kassandra, passing back the bottle after taking a long draught. “I gather he was, or is one of the more powerful of these Ylids, how come you didn’t make sure of him when you had the chance?”
“Well, we got sent to just outside, like, Tokyo ‘cause that’s where SITU reckoned Yashimoto was gonna do this, like, massive ritual thing in a place called, uh, Boiling Hell Valley. There was this, like, volcano and stuff, and he was trying to start earthquakes and summon these, y’know, dragons so he could get the power of all the, like, elements, yeah?” Maddy pauses to take another gulp from her bottle.
“Aaanyway, this was like a Shinto ritual. He wanted to get rid of Buddhism from Japan ‘cause he, umm, doesn’t like Buddha. Or something. Remember he tried to kill that Buddhisty baby Lama too? Well, my group all stayed with these monk guys and helped them fight back against Yashi’s baddies. I learned loaads of, like, really cool element magic stuff and made these Chaospheres out of apples. That’s how we got him in the end – but this guy Rob, uh, sacrificed himself to get the apple close enough to spoil the ritual…” A small pucker of a frown appears for an instant in Maddy’s customarily cheerful countenance. “The ground all opened up and all this, like, lava came out. Yashi and his dragon sank into it and we thought he was, y’know, dead?” She shrugs, and yawns.
A small pause ensues while the rest of the group digest her words and try to make sense of them.
“And do you think Yashimoto could recognise you after all that?” asks Dexter. “I mean, do we have to keep you hidden?”
“I dunno – he might. And I guess Tokutaro might recognise my, like, aura or something… Oh yeah – I’ll need to keep my hands, like, covered.” Maddy spreads her right hand, displaying a curious pattern which appears to have been branded deep into her palm. Lady Judith winces slightly. “I made up this, uh, sigil to work against Yashi.”
“Is there anything else you can tell us about Yashimoto?” enquires Heather.
“His baddies can do this, like, origami magic. Sometimes they’re ninjas too, like the guy he sent to Norway to get this, like, other Ylid, Krillikhesh. He was Santa Claus, but that’s, like, another story…”
“Did you come across Tokutaro Okada while you were in Japan? Do you know anything more about him?” asks Yuri. Maddy shakes her head, and as the others discuss the matter further, she picks up a pack of cards from the floor by her knee, and begins carefully shuffling them.
Yuri glances at his watch. “Well, Mr Tokutaro will be arriving in Delhi in about six hours, so we must arrange how his activities are to be observed.”
“I suggest we take it in turns to keep a discreet eye on him,” opines Dexter, “or in Kass’s case, maybe not so discreet.” Far from showing offence, Kass re-crosses her legs and directs an arch smile at the huge Scotsman.
“I think it might be better if the less… ostentatious members of the group were to follow him,” suggests Judith. “Perhaps myself… or Mr Drummond?”
Graham Drummond is startled from a state of near sleep by the mention of his own name. Unable to sleep on most moving vehicles, he is feeling the effects of the long journey more acutely than his companions. However, confronted by Lady Judith’s bright, friendly smile, he heroically surrenders his hopes of a long night’s sleep, and stammers his assent.
Eventually it is decided that Graham will watch for Tokutaro at the station and follow him for a few hours. If practical, he is to phone at about twelve so that the rest of the group are aware of developments, and perhaps so that arrangements can be made for Lady Judith to take over as ‘shadow.’ If possible, Heather will take over the task of watching Tokutaro later in the evening.
“I think I would also like to phone Jake Hobart to see if he knows anything about this archaeological convention that Tokutaro attended in Montreal.” says Lady Judith. “Jake is an archaeologist, one of our colleagues in the last mission,” she adds, by way of explanation. “We decided to stay in contact, and I count him as a close friend.”
Sleeping arrangements on the train are settled without rancour. At first Kassandra suggests coquettishly that she is intrigued by the possibilities offered by sharing a cabin with Dexter, but she happily consents to share with Maddy. Lady Judith proposes to share with Heather, Dexter is content to take a berth with Yuri, and Graham is gratified to find himself with the single cabin.
“Righty-ho!” Maddy says brightly, placing her carefully shuffled cards on the floor. “Let’s see if Lord Ganesh can tell us what’s, like, gonna happen, eh?” After a pause for dramatic effect she turns over a series of cards.
As the others wish her goodnight she is still staring speculatively at an inverted King of Swords, a six of swords, an inverted Chariot, and a Ponyta Pokemon card.
“Hello?” After a little effort, Kassandra has succeeded in finding a local club which is still open, and has a phone. Placing one hand over her ear to cut out the sound of the music, she presses the receiver to her right ear and manages to make out the distant sound of Blaize’s voice. “Listen, I was wondering, is SITU aware of any Ylid that have actually been destroyed? If so do they know the precise method of termination that was used?”
“We have reason to believe that we have been successful in eliminating several Ylids. It is thought that three or so were destroyed by our operatives in Mexico. One was in a torpid state, and when his vessel was discovered it was possible to destroy it through the use of ordinary weapons. The other two were tricked into coming into close proximity to one another, since they had possession of a serum that prevented them from spontaneously combusting. When the two Ylids were in one another’s presence, an operative was able to shoot one of them with a dart-gun tipped in a chemical that cancelled the effect of the serum.
“The Ylid known as the Master is also now believed to be dead. He was severely weakened through our sabotage of a ritual he sought to perform in Yorkshire. The party responsible for this then pursued him to Germany, where they succeeded in discovering a mine where he was storing a large quantity of psychic energy in crystal form, for the purposes of healing himself. Our people were able to destroy these crystals, and we suspect his physical presence may have been annihilated during one of the accompanying explosions.”
“Do we know anything about Tokutaro’s romantic connections? Has he ever been linked romantically with any European women?”
“We are at this moment working to find out as much as we can about Tokutaro, and will keep you informed. At present, it seems that Tokutaro’s social life may not have been particularly… active.” Kass asks a few more questions, then gives a long, feline yawn and returns to the hotel.
The potential peril of his mission, the ominous description of Yashimoto and his agents, all these are nothing to Graham Drummond compared to the horror of his 8.30 wake-up call, a horror rendered all the more poignant by his discovery that he is entirely out of chocolate.
A few taxis are waiting outside the hotel, and Graham finds himself shepherded into one by the most insistent driver. “Air-conditioned car!” his driver calls out as he gently manoeuvres Graham towards the car, as if it were an incantation designed to dispel the other drivers like evil spirits. “You will want to see the Red Fort, the Parliament House, the museums, the Qubt Minar, yes? I take you there, I take you all around the city. It is only ten pounds for the day, all around the city in an air-conditioned car…”
With great difficulty Graham succeeds in persuading his driver that he just wants to be taken to the airport. In his sleep-starved state, he almost starts to develop a fatalistic belief that in the end he will be carried captive to admire the historic sites of Delhi while the rest of the party wait in vain for his call. At last, however, the driver shrugs.
“We go to the airport. The price is half again what it says on the clock, yes? But then maybe we go to the Qutb Minar?”
“Maybe,” consents Graham, hoping to win his freedom with this concession. When he steps from the taxi at the airport, he finds that the air is still quite cool, but there is a parched smell to the dust which promises heat later in the day.
For a while he idles near the airport, taking the opportunity to stop near some local vendors to buy postcards, and to replenish his supply of chocolate. A little before nine, people start to trickle out of the main entrance. After a few minutes, Graham recognises a face from the photograph sent with the SITU briefing – Okada Tokutaro.
The young diplomat struggles out of the door with a pair of heavy-looking suitcases, before gratefully yielding them to the waiting porters. Tokutaro is decidedly diminutive even for a Japanese man, although the cut of his suit makes a brave effort at creating an illusion of stature. As Graham watches, he removes his steel-rimmed spectacles, pinches his nose between his eyes, and gives a heartfelt yawn. His manner is eloquent of both fatigue and a determination to appear brisk. Graham feels an unexpected pang of empathy with the other jet-lagged traveller.
Graham slips back to his own taxi as unobtrusively as he can while heading a parade of people who seem determined to sell him everything from miniature chess sets to melon slices.
“Could you, er, follow that cab?” he asks, slipping back into the taxi, half nervous, half exhilarated. “That one – that taxi – No, THAT ONE…” The taxi driver protests the advantages of pursuing a taxi that is heading for the Qutb Minar, but yields the point, and performs a nerve-rending U-turn in order to follow Tokutaro’s taxi.
Graham’s one consolation is that this manoeuvre may well have gone unnoticed. Lane discipline on this road appears to be almost suicidally fluid, the streams of cars intermingling and interweaving as if some deranged god of traffic were trying to plait them. Between the veering lorries and cars, black-and-yellow auto-rickshaws buzz like wasps, pink and gold tassels swinging from their rear view mirrors. The sound of horns is ubiquitous, as if they were used simply to signal the location of a vehicle from one moment to the next. The red bulb of every traffic light has the word ‘Relax’ written across it – a warning that appears to be generally unheeded.
At ten Dexter rises, and removes the chair that he has used to barricade the door in case of unwanted entry. He wakes Yuri, and the pair venture into Old Delhi. They swiftly discover that many of those to whom they speak have an at least partial grasp on English, which makes negotiations considerably easier.
Before too long, they chance upon a stall which displays a number of engraved knives. After a short bout of haggling, they succeed in persuading the stall-holder to part with six of these knives for a third of the price originally requested. Dexter claims a long, savage looking blade with a leather-bound hilt and sheath. Two of the other knives are small and delicate, with a delicate fretwork of engraving along the blades. One has a slight turn in the path of the blade, suggesting that it might be a throwing knife.
Their enquiries after more sophisticated forms of weaponry, however, meet with less success. It is unclear whether they have even succeeded in getting across what they mean by a ‘stun gun,’ while their mention of handguns meet with stares and slowly shaken heads.
“You try the police? The police have guns – perhaps if you offer a great deal of money…” The stallholder shrugs and laughs.
“You’re trying to hire a motorbike?” Kassandra has overheard Heather’s patiently repeated enquiries at the desk, and approaches. “You ride?” Heather nods, once again feeling herself contract with distrust at the unwanted proximity of a stranger. “Me too. I was thinking of trying to hire a bike for each stop on the way…”
“…so we have wheels if we need them. That’s what I was thinking,” responds Heather.
“Great minds think alike.” Heather watches as Kassandra leans over the reception desk to explain their requirements. “…large trail bikes if possible, the sort we can ride off the beaten track, as well as in the town…” There is something of the performer in every one of Kass’s lavish gestures, but the smile she directs at Heather over her shoulder does seem genuinely open and warm. “Well, it seems they can book us a pair of bikes at Jaipur, at Chittaurgarh, at Udaipur, at Jodhpur and at Agra. They say we’ll have to ask around at the other places ourselves.”
“So what kind of bike do you ride?” asks Heather, thawing by a grudging degree.
At eleven, Maddy struggles out of a tangle of bedclothes to answer the hotel’s wake-up call. After a quick breakfast comprised of Ganesh’s peanut offerings, she showers, dresses, and retrieves her tangerine iMac from her knapsack.
“Hello, Mr Sandman,” she mutters under her breath as she logs on and sends a few enquiries to a contact in Manilla. ‘Mr Sandman’ is quick to respond. The Indian software houses, as far as he knows, have not been badly hit by the Millennium Bug. Several of them are rising industries, though many are better supplied with gifted programmers than with cutting edge hardware. He has no end of theories about the current state of the Internet, but none seem to focus upon India.
After half an hour, Maddy emerges from her room, resplendent in arctic camouflage cut-offs, green Dock Martens, a SCHWA T-shirt featuring a fluorescent green ‘Gray’ head, a pair of fringed silver lamé opera gloves and a pair of shades with red-tinted, heart-shaped lenses. She finds Kassandra, Heather and Judith taking a light breakfast in the restaurant.
“Okaaay! Let’s go, uh, shopping!” Kassandra willingly takes up the invitation, but Judith and Heather opt to wait at the hotel for Graham’s call.
“Where did you say we were again?”
“Humayun’s tomb. Shall I find you a guide?”
“No – no thank you.” Graham reflects that his stealth in following Tokutaro would probably not be enhanced if he were accompanied by someone explaining the history of the site in a loud, clear tone.
Having paid for his ticket, Graham enters a narrow gate, and finds himself in a serene expanse of garden, cloven by long, straight walk-ways and channels. Small deer with black-tipped horns graze on one broad lawn. As Graham watches, half the herd raise their heads, and stir their feet in some unease. Some thirty feet away from them, Tokutaro has paused on the walkway towards a large central building wrought from reddish stone, capped by a gentle dome. He is turning a camera about, examining it closely, and occasionally giving it an impatient knock with the heel of his hand.
Aware that he has been robbed of all cover, Graham makes a show of playing the tourist and admiring the scenery as he strolls forward. He watches a peacock thrust itself into heavy, improbable flight, tail flowing behind it like a banner. As the bird undulates unsteadily into the air, its shadow crosses the path of a third man of whom Graham has been until this point unaware.
The stranger appears to be unusually tall, and is smartly dressed in a dark suit. From the angle of the newcomer’s head, it would seem that he is paying discreet attention to the central edifice or, perhaps, to Tokutaro.
Tokutaro has succeeded in taking his photograph, and straightens. As he does so, the other man moves away swiftly towards the far side of the building, out of the young diplomat’s view. With a nonchalance he does not feel, Graham contrives to wander along the walkway, pretending to study the deer so that his face is persistently turned from Tokutaro’s gaze.
By the time he reaches the far side of the building, however, the tall stranger is gone. Two swallowtail butterflies weave airy sigils in the stealthily warming air.
Like Graham, Maddy and Kassandra attract a certain amount of attention from hawkers and beggars, although many of the latter are thrown into confusion by Maddy’s tendency to present them with copies of the Big Issue.
A happy hour or two are spent strolling around the broad, British-built roads of Connaught Place, soaking up the atmosphere. Vivid cloths ripple on stall after stall, and the pavements themselves are spread with cloths upon which traders squat selling peacock feathers, raw silk squares hand-painted with bird images, coiled whips and crudely carved wooden chess pieces.
By the end of this time, Maddy has accumulated two strings of wooden Tibetan Buddhist beads, a selection of brightly coloured powders courtesy of a tikka seller, a jumble of assorted incense and cheap jewellery, and a set of henna paints.
Kassandra is less successful in her search for a Japanese kimono. Eventually she finds that one or two of the upmarket dressmakers is willing to tailor a kimono to her requirements, but there is no possibility of making such a thing ready in a single day. She is able, however, to purchase a few sarongs which exploit her striking colouring. After some initial difficulty, she even succeeds in finding an English book on Japanese dance forms in one of the more expensive bookstores.
The pair then visit the Gauri Shankar Temple, so that Maddy can pay her respects to Shiva and Parvati. By the shrine of Ganesh on the southern wall she pauses again, laying a small bilva at the foot of the elephant god.
“Wish me luck, erm, Elephanty One!” she exclaims cheerfully.
A little after one, Lady Judith receives a call from Graham, who recounts the events of the morning.
“He’s stopped to eat at last, so I took the opportunity to phone you. I can see him across the road in the restaurant. We’re in Connaught Place.”
Having borrowed some clothes from Heather in a bid to dilute her usual image, Lady Judith ventures forth, marvelling at the dry heat of the air compared to the dismal chill of the weather she has left behind in England.
One taxi ride later, she finds herself in Connaught Place, and discovers Graham Drummond all but dozing against the wall opposite the restaurant where Tokutaro is calling for the bill. Graham gratefully surrenders the job of tailing the diplomat, and takes the taxi back to the hotel to sleep.
After putting a call through to SITU, Heather has learned that after his physical collapse in 1994, Okada Tokutaro spent two months in a private clinic known as Izama. Blaize promises her that his researchers are working upon discovering weaknesses that Tokutaro possesses, but admits that so far all they have managed to unearth is his slight allergy to cheese and chocolate.
Heather is pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel has access to an Internet connection. It is apparently not for the use of patrons, but with the aid of a small tip Heather is able to gain access to it for an hour.
She performs a brief search on the Izama clinic. Upon reviewing their prices, she gives a low whistle. Either Tokutaro himself is extremely wealthy, or his company consider him valuable enough to be worth the investment a considerable sum towards his continued health.
“Agar Firdaus bar ru-e-zamin ast
Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast
“If there be paradise on the face of earth,
It is this, oh, it is this, oh, it is this.
“That is the meaning of the inscription of the wall, ladies and gentlemen. It means that at that time paradise existed here, in the Lal Qila, before the peacock throne was stolen away to Persia, and the British soldiers stripped away the gold and precious stones. But still, here, you can see shadows of paradise…”
The guide’s voice has the sing-song tone of an incantation learned by rote in an unfamiliar language. Lady Judith has managed to insinuate herself into a group of other tourists who trail behind the guide, gripping bottled water to their chests, and fanning themselves with guide books.
At some distance, Tokutaro can be glimpsed speaking quickly into a mobile phone. He seems nervous, and makes several attempts to smooth his hair and straighten his lapels.
“This inscription is said to have been placed by the first minister of Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal at Agra. Most truly was it said that in the Red Fort lay paradise. These pictures you see upon the walls, they look as if they are painted by hand, do they not? They are inlaid semi-precious stones, jade, lapis lazuli, amber, all touched with gold. Over there were fountains laid with precious jewels, where candles were placed so that they shone through the jewels and coloured the water.
“In that time, only paradise was good enough for the great ruler. But ages pass, and traces of glory are stripped away…”
Tokutaro pockets his phone and starts to walk away. Lady Judith unobtrusively detaches herself from the column of day-trippers.
At a little past six, Heather receives a slightly harassed call from Judith, whose composure seems to have become somewhat ruffled.
“Is everything alright? Have you lost Tokutaro?”
“No, but I almost wish I had. That annoying little man has done nothing all afternoon but rush from one part of the city to the other to stare at this ruin and photograph that shrine. And he will insist on taking auto-rickshaws – horrible, little, yellow rattling things with lawnmower engines that swerve around like dodgem cars, but without the rubber fenders. They have scarcely any doors to speak of, and nothing to stop the dust blowing into your face.”
“Would you like me to come and take over now?”
“Would you mind awfully, Heather dear? It’s just that he does seem to have stopped racing around for the moment, and we might not get another chance. He seems to be ordering a meal now, thank goodness.”
By the time she sees Heather’s familiar figure approaching, Judith has become heartily wearied of the heavy, yellowish smell of the New Delhi air and the harsh, dissonant unpredictability of its traffic. Even in Heather’s clothes, furthermore, Judith is unmistakably well-heeled, and is soon playing unwilling queen to a veritable swarm of hawkers. As she departs, most of the peddlers decide to follow her, leaving Heather relatively unencumbered.
In the shade of the restaurant opposite, the short diplomat can be seen penning something into a palmtop computer of some sort. When at last he pays the bill and leaves, Heather quietly follows along the opposite side of the road.
Jake Hobart sounds genuinely pleased to receive a call from Judith.
“You’re in India now? Are you all there – I mean, the rest of the team from France…”
“No, just myself, Yuri and Dexter.” Both feel an instinctive reluctance to refer too explicitly to the other members of the team, particularly in the case of Louis and Liza.
“And you wanted to know about this conference in Montreal? Wait, I think this may have been the event organised by Russell and Cockayne. I nearly attended that one – there was quite a range of interesting speakers. I believe there was a website giving details of the programme. Wait a moment.” There is a pause, and Judith can hear gentle click of keys being pressed. “Yes, here we are. Professor Tobias O’Donnell on ‘The Five Fallacies of Modern Archaeology.’ Professor Timothy Swathe on ‘Revisiting the Aztecs.’ Dr. Annabel Myers on ‘Scripture as a Historical Source.’ Dr Marcus Massey on ‘Mohenjo-daro and the Lost Language of the Indus Valley.’ Professor Susan Crichton on ‘The Malsemere Pot and Celtic Religion.’”
“Do you know of any Canadian national treasures that the Japanese might be interested in buying?”
“To be honest, no.”
In the distance, Tokutaro takes off his glasses, wipes them carefully, and then places them back on his snub nose. He bends backwards, squinting up the length of the slender, black pillar which rises from the flagstones of the courtyard.
Heather chances a glance at the guidebook which she has bought so that she can bury her face in it at a moment’s notice.
“…the pillar stands 7.3m high and is made of 98% pure iron. Its rust-less state is an enduring mystery. According to one legend it was set in place by a powerful wizard who drove it through the head of a dragon that lived under the earth, so that a powerful king might live forever. But the arrogant king came to doubt the wizard’s story of the dragon, and the king’s people sought to dig beneath the pillar, thinking to discover the wizard’s lie. But there they found the dragon, and the dragon woke and destroyed them…”
Around the blood-red tower of the Qutb Minar, the ruins are starting to stretch their shadows across the courtyards. Watching the black mass of shadow, its ragged edge like a row of protruding scales, Heather can almost imagine that she is seeing a shadow dragon in outline, lying prone on its side, its head held to the ground by the great, iron pin. The shadow of the tower itself forms a long, tapering tail. Then, while she is half smiling at this fancy, Heather thinks she sees the tail flick slightly, like that of a cat watching a mousehole.
Crouching behind one of the pillars of the little shrine that she has chosen as her vantage point, Heather peers towards the furthest reach of the tower’s shadow. Yes – there – a patch of moving shadow that owes nothing to brick and mortar. A man, moving stealthily along the path of shadow with a low, rapid, liquid motion like that of a ferret moving between coops. As he reaches the base of the tower he pauses, and bends backwards to look up the side of the tower, in a pose that curiously mirrors that of Tokutaro examining the pillar.
Following the gaze of the shadow-figure, Heather suddenly becomes aware of a pin-prick of white light winking near the apex of the tower, as if the late afternoon light were gleaming off metal, or glass. The light vanishes, and Heather peers up towards the ornately embellished façade of the tower. Blinking until her contacts itch, Heather sees a tiny dark blot resolve itself into the figure of a man, stationed on one of the upper balconies.
The light reappears, and thinking suddenly of the sun gleaming on binocular lenses, Heather ducks quickly behind her pillar once more. She finds herself confronted by a grimacing stone face which peers through the ravaged masonry of the pillar. Its mouth is an angry square, as if stretched by four fingers. Its tongue spills from its mouth like an unrolling carpet. Despite its grotesque aspect, however, there is something in its features that declares it to be female.
Heather dares another peep at the tower. If the stranger in the tower is holding a pair of binoculars at such an angle that the sun behind her and to her left would be reflected into her eyes, then he must be looking towards…
Her eyes fall upon the diminutive figure of Okada Tokutaro.
Having recovered somewhat as a result of lengthy afternoon nap, Graham has arrives early at Delhi Cantonment station, and thus has a little time to recover from the shock of being abruptly garlanded and greeted by a small entourage in brightly coloured livery.
The Palace on Wheels proves to be no old-fashioned steam-train from the colonial era, but instead a lengthy train in cream-coloured paint, which gives the overwhelming impression of having been iced. The train is adorned with flourishes and ornaments from end to end, tangerine-coloured garlands looping along the flanks of the carriages, deep blue lines defining its contours unsteadily, like pipe icing. Beneath the great central headlight on the front of the train is affixed a plaque with ‘Palace on Wheels’ painted onto it, as if to remove any doubt in the observer’s mind.
The flamboyant appearance of his conveyance somewhat facilitates Graham’s chosen cover of ‘trainspotter,’ since he is able to stroll the platform photographing the train with a degree of real enthusiasm. By the time Dexter, Yuri, and Judith arrive with their luggage, he has entered into a fairly warm and enthusiastic conversation with one of the other passengers, a young German called Max Bucher who is keen to travel all the ‘great trains of India,’ and with Dipak, one of the staff on the ‘Palace’ who is keen to exhibit his knowledge concerning the train. Graham excuses himself, and goes to meet the other operatives.
“According to Dipak, Mr Tokutaro should be in the third carriage, in berth A,” he mutters in a low tone.
While the group’s luggage is being heaved into the train, Maddy and Kass appear. Maddy pats the side of the train appreciatively.
“It’s nice that it’s not a, y’know, cable car. Bad things always happen in cable cars.”
“Have you seen anything of Heather?” asks Yuri.
“Yeah, we saw her outside, still watching Yash’s man struggling with his luggage. Oh! I’ve made some special bracelets; they’ll, uh, tell you if someone’s trying to, like, scry on you.” Somewhat to their surprise, Maddy proceeds to tie short lengths of plaited red, black and purple thread around the left wrist of each.
“Wonderful,” mutters Dexter. “Now we all look like we’ve been tagged like pigeons. Wait – hold on – where’s that going? That’s my case!” He watches in bemusement as his luggage is unloaded from the train once more and carried further up the train. “Wait! Do you know what’s going on?”
This last question was directed in desperation to a short, freckled woman in a floppy blue hat and elliptical, beetle-eye shades, who seems to be watching her own baggage recede with an air of annoyance and fatalism.
“I do not know exactly…” her voice is husky but not unpleasant and carries a distinct accent – possible Danish, Dexter suspects. “…some actress, she did not like her room, and since she is so important they move her, and the person whose room they move her to, they do not like the room either, and so now instead of moving one, two, three people they shuffle us all, like the cards…”
22nd December, 10.00pm
Yuri, Kass, Judith, Graham, Dexter and Maddy are at the Delhi Cantonment Station
Heather is just outside Delhi Cantonment Station