The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
A Shattered Visage Lies
“Wow! An actress? Like, coool…” Maddy grins broadly at the Danish woman. “Is she, like, one of the Bollywood ones or, y’know, a proper actress? Like, uh, Madonna?”
The other woman raises one hand to her mouth to hide a slight smile.
“I am not sure – it was an Indian name, I think, but I cannot remember it exactly.”
Peering down the platform, Maddy has glimpsed a place on the platform where the crowd seems particularly dense. A little forest of hands hold pens and notebooks towards a window in one of the carriages. From this window extends a white-gloved hand which grips a ball-point, and makes desultory scrawls on the proffered paper. Hitching her sari to knee height, Maddy scampers down the platform and is just in time to see the white hand withdraw, and the window close.
Just before an orange curtain draws to, Maddy glimpses a delicate female profile through the window, eyes hidden behind a pair of dark glasses. Turning abruptly, she almost unbalances a porter who is carrying an expensive-looking maroon and gold suitcase in the direction of the compartment. She beams at him without making any particular attempt to get out of his way.
“I heard there was, like, someone famous here, yeah? Oh, hi! I’m Maddy – I’m, like, such a fan of, uh, whoever it is! Could I see her – or, um, could you get me her autograph? Pleeaase! I’d be, like, so grateful…” The porter smiles indulgently at her request and murmurs something non-committal, but it is evident that he has more faith in a healthy tip from a famous actress than from one of Maddy’s eccentric appearance. Undaunted, Maddy lets the porter pass and instead enters into a good-humoured negotiation with a young boy who has been one of those fortunate enough to acquire an autograph.
Meanwhile, Lady Judith watches with cool disapproval as the porters carrying her luggage conduct a sustained and, to her, incomprehensible debate with one of the liveried attendants.
“This is ridiculous,” she says quietly. “Shuffled like cards, is it? We shall just see about that.” Judith pulls herself up, briskly beckons to the porters carrying her luggage, and clips swiftly down the platform. Noticing that one man in the livery of the Palace on Wheels seems to be giving directions to the other attendants, she bears down upon him. “Excuse me. Are you in charge here? I’d like to complain…” Her tone is neither strident or uncivil, but somehow conveys the crisp self-possession of one who understands themselves to be of consequence. Although he is half a head taller than Lady Judith, the attendant looks a little daunted as she approaches, and makes no attempt to wave her further up the platform.
While Lady Judith begins explaining her views on the current situation, Graham slips back into the carriage where he had left his belongings, and finds that half of his luggage has been removed, and replaced by a large candy-pink hat box and a floral toilet bag. After a few minutes he succeeds in finding Dipak, who is able to point him towards his new compartment.
“Dipak, do they have any kind of seating plan for the meals on the train? It’s just that I was hoping to practice my conversational Japanese, and so I was wondering if you could sit me next to the Japanese gentleman?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Which Japanese gentlemen did you mean, Mr Drummond? Mr Tokutaro, or Mr Rashino?”
Graham blinks a few times as he digests this new information.
“Well,” he says after a pause, “I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but shall we say Mr Tokutaro?”
“I shall see what I can do for my friend Mr Drummond. For most of the meals people choose their tables in the dining cars, sit where they like… but for some of the banquets and big dinners there is a seating plan. I shall see what I can do…”
Unobtrusively tailing Tokutaro, Heather notes his surprised reaction to the confusion on the platform. He talks for a few minutes with an attendant, pointing to his ticket with a carefully polite insistence, but eventually yields the point and watches with a crinkled forehead as his cases are manhandled through a window.
Heather pauses for an instant to make sure that Tokutaro is permanently settled, makes a mental note of the position of his compartment, and then sets about tracking down the others. Almost immediately she glimpses a shock of pineapple-coloured hair moving through the crowd.
“Maddy! Where are the others?”
“I don’t know! I’m playing ‘chase the luggage!’ Up and down the platform it goes, where it stops nobody knows! Look, autograph!” Maddy waves a grubby piece of paper in the air gleefully, then continues her scamper up the platform.
“…doing nothing but strutting about in expensive clothes and filming in exotic locations. Whereas my friends and I have earned our places on this train through the exercise of our intellectual powers…” Following the familiar tones, Heather comes upon Lady Judith. In full ‘lady of the manor’ mode by the looks of things. The cornered official has instinctively adopted an apologetic and respectful air, and while his replies are inaudible his hands are spread in a gesture of mollification.
Dexter’s luggage has ceased to waltz up and down the platform, and has at last been installed in one of the two-person compartments towards the front of the train.
Yuri watches inscrutably as Dexter carefully blocks the door, and then makes a thorough search of the compartment, examining even the backs of the curtain rails and the insides of the little gold and tangerine lampshades for surveillance equipment. After a minute or two peering under the beds, he raises himself with a long sigh, flicking the tasselled counterpane back into place.
Yuri catches his eye and raises an eyebrow.
“No,” Dexter says quietly. “I don’t like it. I can’t find anything here, but I don’t like the feeling that we’ve been manoeuvred into this cabin deliberately.”
There is a small pause while Yuri purses his lips and ruminates. “At the moment the train is in chaos, yes? The only way anyone knows which compartment is whose is by the luggage inside it, yes?” The two men look at one another, then as one they pick up their cases and slip out onto the platform.
A few carriages down they find an unattended two person carriage. Quickly they move the luggage they find there out onto the platform, and replace it with their own.
“Will this room do, do you think?” asks Yuri.
“Oh yes,” Dexter mutters under his breath. “I think it’ll do very well.” From his position at the doorway of the compartment, he can see Okada Tokutaro heaving his expensive valise into the adjacent compartment.
“…and I just want to say again how sorry I am that you were put to this inconvenience. I hope that this compartment will meet your requirements – this one was the most recently refurbished, so all the furnishings are absolutely new.”
Lady Judith walks around the cabin, casting an eye over the gleaming varnished wood, the gold-embroidered bed-spread and the intricately decorated ceiling, then directs a charming smile towards the chief attendant who stands in some trepidation by the door.
“Yes, I think this will do. Don’t you, Heather dear?” Sitting on the bed, Heather gives a non-committal little motion of her head, something between a nod and a shrug. “Thank you, Mr…?”
“Garbyal.” The chief attendant’s face subsides into a smile of relief. “If you ladies have any problems, or anything else you require, then I hope you will ask for me by name, and I will make all right for you.”
After the departure of Mr Garbyal, Lady Judith settles herself down before the ornate bed-side mirror, and makes a few small adjustments to her hair.
“He turned out to be rather sweet, didn’t he, Heather dear?” she says.
Glancing around the spacious, gleaming berth, Heather reflects that there are some advantages to sharing a cabin with Lady Judith.
“We’d better wait until things have settled down a bit, and then try and gather with the others to talk things over,” Heather suggests. “And we might as well bring them in here – I’ll lay odds the others’ rooms aren’t as big as this…”
“Room service!” Maddy beams across the berth at Kass, and hugs herself with excitement. “I’ve ordered – ooh, all kinds of stuff! Some of it’s for, like, Ganesh, though, yeah? When we find him, that is.” Her face lapses into a worried frown for an instant. Upon arriving in her cabin, she had discovered that her rucksack was partly open, and that ‘Ganesh,’ who had been near the top, was nowhere to be found. A quick search along the platform and corridors has yielded no sign of the little god, although several attendants have promised to keep an eye open for him.
She is still contemplating the mysterious disappearance of her idol when the room service arrives.
“Thank you very much.” Maddy waits until the attendant has set her a wide tray upon the table, and then places a generous tip in his hand. “D’you know anywhere I could get some, like, really good stuff to, y’know, smoke?” She gives an exaggerated stage-wink. A wad of rupee notes juts from the pocket of her combat trousers.
“Cigarettes of many brands are available from the bar, madam.” His expression is not unfriendly but is perhaps a little stony, and his tone does not invite Maddy to make her meaning clearer.
“Oh well,” Maddy says after he has left the room. Squatting on the floor, she sets about pouring a large triple vodka her left hand, and adding five sugars to a strong black coffee with her right. Reclining along the bed opposite, Kass watches with undisguised amusement and curiosity. “Altered states are, uh, really important to do magic properly,” Maddy explains. “I’m doing, like, an upper with one hand and a downer with the other – trying to disconnect the two halves of my brain. It’s for automatic writing, yeah?” Gripping the vodka glass in her left hand and the coffee cup in her right, she takes sips from each in turn.
“Talking of magic, you mentioned chaospheres, Maddy. So, how do you make a chaosphere and what exactly is it? What can you do with it?
“Well, it’s sort of like a bomb… you kind of charge it up with psychic energies, yeah? And you can put negative vibes into them. And throw them like grenades but with no pin. We used apples.”
“You mentioned origami magic, is that, like, folding paper animals and having them come alive?”
“Yeah, frogs ‘n’ dragons ‘n’ things. Kass, I’m gonna do some automatic writing now. Could you pass me a couple of sheets of paper from the table? And the green and red pens in the top of my rucksack?” Kass obliges, and watches as Maddy takes a pen in either hand and poises each above a piece of paper. She then closes her eyes, and makes a series of quick scrawls with each pen until both pages are full. Opening her eyes, she folds each sheet and places it in an envelope.
“Now we just, like, forget about it – and in a few days I’ll suddenly remember and open the envelopes and then, well, it’ll mean something…” She shrugs. “Aaanyway. We should, like, talk about the investigation and stuff. Where’re the others?”
With an unerring instinct born of long habit, Dexter has found the bar.
The long, air-conditioned bar is decorated in a pleasing range of blues and white, cool upon the eye after the flame-red and toast-gold of the berths. Dexter has sent three beers on a reconnaissance mission through his enormous frame – by this point they have set up camp inside his head, and started massaging his skull from within. Although the glitter of watchfulness has not entirely left his eye, he has recovered enough of his once customary geniality to start a conversation.
“…not one single holiday in five years. Five years, I ask you. I don’t count the honeymoon, that was at his mother’s place. And of course he was travelling to France, and Germany, and England, and Hawaii, but oh no, that’s not a holiday, that’s a ‘business trip.’ And all he says about it is, we gotta save up, look to our future.” The woman on the seat beside him carefully rotates one sun-burned ankle, watching a subdued star slide across the silver of her anklet.
“Well, then I find out how much he’s been spending each month on Christina from Mergers and Acquisitions on these ‘business trips,’ and I make up my mind he owes me. And you know what? The judge thought so too.” There is a reddish indentation circling the base of her ring finger. “And when I found out how much was like to be settled on me, the first thing I thought was, time for a little here and now. I’ve had it up to here with the ‘future.’” Her face is somewhat worn, but enlivened by a sense of almost child-like excitement. There is a cleft at the base of her chin which smoothes away when she smiles. The gold of her hair is a little too emphatic.
“I don’t blame you.” Dexter gives her a twinkle of a smile. “Listen, Sherry, I’m just going to head back to my cabin and get freshened up, OK? See you later?” He has glimpsed Maddy’s face at the door of the bar.
The American woman salutes him with a slim glass of traffic-light green, and absently adjusts a lemon-yellow strap over a reddened shoulder.
The train slides into leisurely motion just as Dexter, the last arrival, closes the door of the cabin behind him.
“First things first,” says Yuri. “I take it everyone knows where their cabin is situated on the train?” While the others give their berth details, he takes out a piece of paper and sketches a rough diagram. “So – the passenger carriages are each named after a Rajasthan state, in the order Kota, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Alwar, Sirohi, Kishangarh, Bundi, Dungarpur, Bharatpur, Jhalawar and Dholpur. Each carriage has four berths and a little sitting room. Maddy and Kassandra have the fourth berth in the Jaipur carriage, Heather and Judith have the second berth in the Jodhpur carriage, Graham is in the first cabin the Kishangarh carriage, and Dexter and myself are in the second berth of the Jhalawar carriage, towards the back. Tokutaro Okada it appears is also in the Jhalawar carriage, in the third berth. I suspect most of us have not yet had time to observe our other neighbours closely.”
“Well, in my opinion we should befriend and talk to as many people as possible,” declares Judith. “This Max Bucher might be useful when it comes to the history of India, if he’s spent so much time travelling around the country on trains.”
“Yes – I believe he’s sleeping in the Udaipur car,” pipes up Graham.
“Does anyone know how the meals will be organised on the train?” asks Judith. Graham is able to inform her that most meals during the tour will take place in the train’s two large dining cars, the Maharajah and Maharani cars. Two hours are set aside for each meal, and the passengers are free to appear for the meals whenever they choose within this time, and to sit wherever they like. “In that case, I suggest we ‘stagger’ our appearances in the dining car – that way we can keep a good eye on any comings and goings.”
“So what’s our strategy with Tokutaro?” enquires Dexter. “I vote that we take it in turns to molest him. Maybe if one or two of us make a nuisance of ourselves some of the more inoffensive members of our group can slide into his good books by taking his side against us.”
“Perhaps. But there’s more to this situation than meets the eye.” Heather closes her eyes and rubs gently at the lids, feeling the irritating discs of the lenses sliding to and fro. “I think someone apart from us is watching him. And I’m not sure whether he’s aware of it. When he was seeing the sights in Delhi he wasn’t clock-watching, the way you’d expect if he was visiting these places to meet a contact. He was just ambling about like a tourist.”
“I think there’s, like, another Ylid involved,” Maddy chirrups suddenly. “Either an old friend of Yashi’s or, uh, an old enemy. The big iron spiky thing Heather saw was all about a fight with a wizard and a king and a dragon that lived under the earth. That sounds, um, really like the dragony stuff in Hakone – although Yashi could be, like, the upside-down King of Swords. The rest of the reading’s all about, uhh, dynamic moving stuff, even the Ponyta flame-horse thingy, and an old battle…”
“…and a dark stranger, and the numbers 33 and 7, and a woman with the letter ‘M’ somewhere in their name, we get the picture,” mutters Dexter. Maddy is shaking hersel, her eyes still shiny and unfocussed from the ‘altered states’ experiment, and it is not clear whether his words have registered.
“The stuff about, like, the Indus Valley means something too – and I think that was when all the Buddhisty stuff came to India. It could be, like, Krishna, ‘cause he’s an older incarnation of the Buddha. Or it could be Kali – the actress maybe? – and that creepy shadowy guy watching Tokutaro was, like, one of her Thuggees… Oh! And the sticky-out-tongue face on the stone pillar thing sounds like Kali too.”
“What do we actually know about this actress?” asks Yuri.
“Well, Mr Garbyal was very helpful about that, wasn’t he, Heather? Apparently she’s a Bollywood actress called Bina Ajanta. She’s about twenty-two, and something of a rising star. One of the songs from her latest film is very popular at the moment. What film was it again?”
“‘The Girl with the Raining Smile,’” mutters Heather.
“That was it. I hope to goodness that title just suffered in translation,” says Judith. “Well, it seems that she didn’t like her room because it was too near the engine – she was sure it would be noisy, she said.”
“Yes, I heard something pretty similar from the steward,” adds Kass. “He hinted that he thought Miss Ajanta just wanted to throw her weight about a little, and make up for the fact she’s shown up without an entourage.”
“Could this actress be the person we’re looking for?” wonders Heather. “Is it possible for a Ylid to change sex? Or is there a way of masking his appearance to appear female?” No one has an answer to these questions.
“Mr Drummond?” As Graham is leaving the room, he is halted by a gentle hand on his arm. Lady Judith gives him a small apologetic smile. “I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for suggesting that you tail Tokutaro – I only realised later how tired you were from the flight.”
“N-not at all,” stammers Graham. “I just have some trouble, um, sleeping on, er, moving vehicles…”
“Then do you think you’ll be able to sleep on the train? Do you have any sleeping pills? Oh – wait a moment.” Judith turns to the ranks of toiletries lining the dressing table. “I have some essence of lavender, which I’ve always found very relaxing – ah, here we are.” Graham finds himself with a slender glass vial in his fist.
Back in his cabin Graham sets the vial down on the table, where it glitters like an elven decanter. Removing the tiny stopper he sniffs at the neck gingerly, unsure whether he is supposed to wear the ‘essence,’ inhale it or drink it.
As he is considering this, he becomes aware that he is being observed. Yes, there amongst the shadows. A pair of unblinking, black eyes, a soulful elongated face… Graham stoops and pulls the doll out from under his bed.
‘Ganesh’ appears to have suffered a fall from godhood. His extra arms have been pulled away, leaving only clusters of loose thread sprouting from the fabric like coarse hairs.
For a little while Yuri lies awake in the darkness, feeling the room about him swing gently this and that way as the train takes each turn. On the other bed, he can see in outline the restive bulk of the great Scotsman. Against the door lies the tangle of objects which Dexter has erected as a barricade.
Raising his hand so that it catches the thin strand of light from the door, Yuri examines the object which he has just found by the basin of the berth’s little washroom. It is a slender silver ring, with a dark green stone which gleams as if wet.
…8.30 am. Arrival at Jaipur…
Even at this early hour, the station is far from deserted. Perhaps in anticipation of the arrival of the Palace, a motley welcoming committee straggles across the platform. A turbaned charmer squats next to a dust-coloured cobra, which sways irresolutely in its basket. Hawkers rest against pillars, scanning the carriages for signs of emerging tourists.
None of these, however, have ventured to approach the red-haired woman in the centre of the platform. Instead, they watch her, daunted, fascinated and amused. They watch as she rests for an instant on the balls of her feet, face intent as if she were watching some invisible enemy for signs of weakness, for hints of imminent attack. They watch as she turns abruptly to aim a stomach level kick at another imaginary opponent who has presumably crept up behind her, then spins to block an attack from the first foe. With each agile step her loose, black satin trousers bell, billow and trail, and light spills and pools across the fabric like water. Her black, ‘Po-boys’ crop top T-shirt does little to confine her figure, and, as she whirls and leaps, a certain section of her audience appear to be devoting their attention to the portion of the action taking place in the region of her chest.
Kass pauses for an instant to recover her breath, her hair falling forward to curtain her face, and hiding a slight curl of a smile as she assesses the spectators. She has consciously executed her early morning Kata with rather more panache and exhibitionism than usual, exaggerating each move and smoothing its transition to the next until the whole becomes a dance.
Her smile is not entirely self-congratulatory, however. As a performer, she has developed the knack of detecting an ugly or hostile streak in a crowd. Over by the ticket office, four or five men lean against the wall, observing her dance intently, unsmilingly. Their pose is listless, but she feels their gaze like a row of knuckles.
Kass recalls the look on the face of the technician with whom she has spoken earlier that morning. No, madam, we can’t allow the passengers into the engine room. Civil words, a curt tone, and a disapproving glance at Kass’s PVC top and snakeskin trousers. Kass likes to shock, but in this country she is finding this task perhaps a little too easy. At least, she reflects, she has succeeded in establishing a rapport with Sanjay, one of the chefs, who appears to have a broad-minded attitude towards the prospect of nocturnal visits from young women in search of midnight snacks.
Spinning to face the train, she finds that a young man with a close, ash-blond crop is in the process of training an expensive looking video camera upon her. Obligingly, she executes a couple of high kicks, spins and comes to a halt facing him, hands raised and combat-ready as if to welcome an assault from him. He raises his head from behind his camera for an instant, and with a smile of unveiled admiration runs his eye Kass’s wind-tousled figure. At least someone here is behaving normally, Kass reflects.
“Hey!” Maddy is leaning halfway out of the coupe window in an attempt to get Kass’s attention, and beckoning furiously. When Kass approaches her, Maddy jerks her head towards the young man with the camera. “If you’re going to, like, do the thing, let me know, yeah? I need your, um, orgone to power some sex magic…” Considering that the young man is leaning through a window in the adjacent carriage, Maddy’s lack of volume control could be described as unfortunate. Kass, however, simply laughs and climbs back onto the train.
“Maddy, I was wondering – would you be willing to read some cards for me some time?”
Heather has decided to take an early morning stroll before breakfast, dourly ignoring her growing entourage of persistent auto-rickshaw drivers. At last she finds a telephone in the station, and when she is certain that she is not being overheard, she calls Blaize.
“Tell me, do you have another team working in India? Tailing Tokutaro?”
“No. No, we don’t.”
“Well, if you don’t, someone sure as hell does.” Heather describes the two men she had glimpsed at the Qtab Minar.
“Intriguing. Of course, these could conceivably be bodyguards employed by Tokutaro to keep an eye on him, but the suggestion that third parties might be involved is… interesting. Of course, this might make your job more challenging – if possible try not to be detected by these unidentified parties.”
“Have you got any further with looking into Tokutaro’s personal life? Is there any indication that he’s gay, or interested in women of another caste, something like that which he might want to keep under wraps?”
“We’ve looked out for hints of that kind of involvement, but not a breath of it. If anything, the evidence suggests that he’s an incurable workaholic. The picture we’re starting to build suggests that his social life may simply have been side-lined into non-existence.”
“I had some other questions too. I only know a few members of my current team – I was wondering if you could fill me in on the others.”
“Let’s see. Executives Larch and Owara you know. Executive Hook’s manner may be a little… eccentric, but she’s a tried and tested agent, and her psychic abilities, while erratic, have proved most useful in a number of situations. Agent Belnakov has worked a mission with some of your closer colleagues – it might be best if you asked them about his abilities in the field. Certainly we consider him a solid and useful agent. Operatives DeSade and Drummond are, of course, still unknown quantities. However, Operative Drummond appears to have an unexceptionable background, and Operative DeSade arrives with the personal recommendation of one of our field operatives.”
As arranged the night before, Graham proceeds at 9 am to the dining car for his ‘breakfast shift,’ sleepy, tousled and smelling slightly of lavender. He has, at least, succeeding in snatching four or five hours sleep, although he is not sure whether he owes this to Lady Judith’s lavender or the smooth movement of the train. Graham is dimly aware that he has just woken from a dream in which he had been a giant salmon laid bare on a plate, sprinkled with seasoning from a range of tiny glass vials, and then carried unsteadily by an aged waiter whose breath rasped and rattled with the racket of wheels over tracks.
Upon entering the Maharajah dining car, he catches the eye of Dexter, who surreptitiously taps at the wrist of Yuri seated beside him, and rises from his seat. Graham awaits their approach at the doorway.
“He’s six tables down on the left,” mutters Dexter as he passes Graham. “Done nothing for the last twenty minutes except tap away at that little handheld computer of his, and drink enough coffee to send a normal man into orbit.”
The Maharaja car is a lavish affair picked out in royal reds, ripe shades of orange and subdued golds. As he takes a seat, Graham casts an eye over his surroundings, under cover of admiring the painted panels of the arched ceiling, the embroidered tablecloths, the incomprehensible scenes enacted in the many paintings.
Tokutaro is earnestly penning into his little computer with one hand, and gently scraping loose white from the yolk of his fried egg with the other. Whenever there is movement in the dining car he pauses, and flicks his gaze up for an instant. The intricate patterns of the tablecloth are reflected in his round spectacle lenses, and his hair is slicked to a shine.
Feeling a little too delicate to chance a foray into local cuisine just yet, Graham opts for an omelette, and is just finishing this when he sees Lady Judith and Heather arrive in the car alongside an elderly Indian couple with whom they appear to be deep in conversation.
“So yes, we have been to Agra before. It was my home – I was born there. Wait – if you have paper I will write down all the places that you must see before you leave Agra.” Lady Judith watches as the elderly Indian gentleman scrawls down a list of names, too polite to mention that most of them have already been mentioned in her guidebook.
The husband, Rakesh, is white-haired and gregarious, his face a map of kindly lines. His wife Seema seems less comfortable with the English language, and confines herself to nodding after her husband speaks, a leisurely full-body nod that rocks her entire torso back and forth. She is somewhat plump, the flesh of her midriff bulging gently above her turquoise sari skirt, like fresh bread swelling over the edge of a baking tin.
“So – have you travelled on the Palace before?”
“No, no. When we were married, many, many years ago, we thought we would like to travel our country on a train like this one, but…” he spreads his hands, “…no money. Now my son, he has a job in Dubai. Have you ever seen Dubai?” Heather explains that they saw nothing of it but the airport. “A pity. It is a fine place – cleaner than even Paris or London. My son, he has a promotion this year, and he says that now at last we will travel as we wished to when we were married.
“Now, you can see those two young people seated over there, yes? The young man and the girl in the scarlet sari? Just married – we talked to them yesterday. So they and we, both of us on our honeymoons…” He laughs. “They are named Rajiv and Rina Shekar, are they not, Seema?” Seema rocks herself in her slow nod.
Over her shoulder, Heather sees Tokutaro tuck his computer in a pocket, arch his back as if bothered by stiffness, and rise from his table.
After breakfast, Lady Judith borrows Maddy’s violently orange laptop for a little research. Still intrigued by the idea of Canadian ‘national treasures,’ she performs a quick web search for references to Canadian archaeology. The results are uninspiring. There are a few papers on traces of indigenous tribes, including the ‘Buffalo People,’ but little more.
By ten o’clock, most of the passengers are assembled on the platform, ably defended from the main forces of the hawkers by a squadron of attendants in crimson turbans.
Yuri glances at the itinerary for the day.
After breakfast the first stop is the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. After this, lunch will be held at the City Palace, once home to the erstwhile royal family. After lunch, passengers are invited to explore this beautiful city and its rich bazaars. Guides are available for visits to the Jantar Mantar, the largest observatory built by Sawai Jai Singh. A luxury coach is also available to carry visitors to the Amber Fort, eight miles outside Jaipur. Dinner is provided at Nahargarh Fort, after which a luxury coach is available to transport all passengers back to the train.
A little further down the platform, Kass catches Heather’s eye.
“Let’s lose the whistle-stop tour and hunt down our bikes, mm?”
The Pink City of Jaipur is a painting, a cartoon. Parrots of an impossible green flit across a sky of an impossible blue, while the diffident morning light gleams on the impossible pink of the buildings. Jaipur is a candy city, a trap laid by a community of witches for a thousand Hansels and Gretels. At street level, however, the broad, straight roads roar with traffic every bit as aggressive and unpredictable as that in New Delhi.
Above this choking melee rears the Palace of the Winds, its enormous tapering front face picked out in watermelon pink and white, and embellished with countless tiny balconies and lattice windows.
Oblivious to the importunities of the street tradesmen, Tokutaro stands in the street, once again struggling with his camera.
Graham, who is watching the little Japanese traveller under cover of admiring the palace, feels a touch on his shoulder, and turns to find Dipak behind him.
“I have made arrangements for you, Mr Drummond. For lunch you will be seated next to Mr Tokutaro, and for dinner this evening you are placed next to Mr Tokutaro and Mr Rashino.” Graham expresses his thanks, and then, when a slightly awkward silence falls, reaches for his wallet to provide his obliging friend with a generous tip.
A monumental stone gateway guarded by enormous stone elephants offers an entrance to the walled grounds of the City Palace. Beyond an expanse of ornamental garden rise the domes, arches and broad balconies of the main palace.
The Palace on Wheels passengers are led across a great courtyard, through a marble palace where bejewelled daggers glitter on the walls like malevolent insects with monstrous stings, and finally into a large hall set with dining tables.
With a slight sense of stage fright, Graham allows himself to be led by a smiling Dipak to the seat next to Tokutaro.
The small Japanese man has already spread his napkin across his knees, and appears to be speed-reading a history of Jaipur. Behind his spectacles, his eyes zig-zag rapidly down each page.
“Is it, um, interesting?”
Tokutaro lowers the book, and inclines his head politely. “Very interesting. I always believe that a holiday is an opportunity to learn, not just to let the world slide by uncomprehended.” His manner of speaking is somewhat clipped but his accent negligible.
Graham takes a deep breath, and risks a short phrase in Japanese, as learnt from his basic correspondence course. He is aiming for something along the lines of ‘how are you enjoying your trip?’ and only a faintest wince on the part of Tokutaro informs him that he may have missed his mark.
“Good, very good!” asserts Tokutaro, after the briefest of hesitations. “You know some other phrases?” By the end of the meal, Graham has added a few more Japanese terms to his repertoire, and has learnt that Tokutaro means to visit the Amber Fort after lunch.
After a quick and surreptitious conference between the members of the SITU team, it is decided that Graham will visit the Amber Fort and attempt to talk further with Tokutaro, that Dexter and Yuri will accompany the same group but maintain a distance and watch for the other shadows, and that Kass and Heather should use their bikes to travel around Jaipur and keep an eye out for the other passengers. Maddy and Judith decide to wander the streets of the city, ostensibly to do some shopping, and use this excuse to follow other Palace on Wheels tourists.
After the party divides, Kass seeks out a telephone, and puts through a quick call to SITU. To her disappointment she learns that there is a little chance of sending a case of surveillance equipment to any of the scheduled stops within a meaningful time frame. Her attempts to find a tailor willing to make her a kimono are more successful. A dressmaker in Udaipur finally agrees to produce one to her specifications, to be picked up from the shop on the afternoon of the 24th.
Some time later, Maddy and Judith stop briefly in the shade, and finally succumb to the entreaties of the ten-year-old boy who has followed them for three streets attempting to sell them Pepsi.
“You know,” remarks Judith, looking at the bundles that fill their arms, “I think we may have got a little carried away.” A quick visit to the nearest American Express office has left her wallet bulging with local currency, and the exhilaration has yet to wane. She is already loaded down with two small silk carpets, three tie-dyed saris and any number of silver ornaments, studded with turquoise, lacquer bangles and enamel-on-gold pendants.
She regards the figure of her companion for a moment, remarking on how out of place the girl looks amid the rosily luminous walls of the ancient city, and then strives in vain to imagine a place where Maddy would not look incongruous.
“What was he like? Rob – the agent that sacrificed himself?”
Above Maddy’s Lolita glasses, the small frown appears once more.
“I liked Rob. He was…” Her voice trails away. “Oooh – that’s her! Over by the stall, looking at the silver bird with pearls for eyes! It’s that actress!”
Inside the grounds of the Amber Fort, Dexter slouches against the wall, his ponderous figure a startling contrast to the butter-yellow and burnt-gold designs that gleam from every wall, floor and ceiling. Yuri has been left in the courtyard to watch for Tokutaro’s other tails. Dexter himself has chosen to follow Tokutaro and Graham at a distance.
“You see, the walls and ceiling of the Sheesh Mahal are covered entirely in mirrors so that the faintest ray of light is reflected around the entirety of the hall…” The acoustics of the Jai Mandir temple lend a grandeur even to Tokutaro’s light and piping tones. Graham’s response is barely audible. Dexter waits for their footsteps to fade, before venturing into the mirrored hall.
The Sheesh Mahal itself is unlit, relying upon the twilight glitter of its mirrors, luminous with borrowed daylight. Near the outer walls a series of pillars run up to the roof, each tiled from floor to ceiling with mirrors.
As he takes his fourth step into a room, Dexter is treated to a scene in mosaic, a scene in myriad, repeated piecemeal in a dozen mirrors as if viewed through the multiple eyes of an insect.
Two men stand within feet of one another, the taller facing away, oblivious of the stealthy approach of the latter. A pounce and the two figures become one, the taller man bent backwards like a bow. Dexter hears a faint, musical crunch like a windscreen frosting, and then the larger man abruptly doubles, dragging the other man forwards in an arc over his shoulder.
Dexter reaches the line of pillars just as the figure of a man breaks for the nearest arch of daylight. Another man emerges abruptly the other side of the pillar and halts as his gaze falls upon Dexter’s extended knife. Dexter has an impression of two bright eyes under a dull grey turban and above a dun-coloured kerchief, and then the man turns and flees, bare feet sure upon the glossily tiled floor of the temple.
For a moment the Sheesh Mahal holds only a hundred Dexters, each extending a small ornamental knife, a tribe of corpulent Scots Nigerians in conference. Then he sets off in pursuit of the turbanned man, hoping that he can leave the other fugitive to Yuri.
A small, slight man with a muffled face and a dun-coloured turban emerges from the main gate of the Amber Fort, and sprints up to a young couple who are apparently in the process of mounting a motor scooter, the girl’s crash helmet combining curiously with her white sequinned sari. Without ceremony, the new arrival places a well-aimed kick against the side of the bike, upsetting it and sending the two riders sprawling. Before they can recover, the turbanned man seizes the scooter, drags it upright, and mounts it.
Further up the road, astride her rented motorbike, Heather shields her eyes from the sun as she observes the theft.
“Now, I’ll bet that’s not normal,” she remarks.
“And isn’t that Dexter trying to chase after him?” asks Kass.
23rd December, 4.00pm
Maddy and Judith are in central Jaipur, in Bapu Bazaar
Graham is in the Jai Mandir temple
Yuri is in the central courtyard of the Amber Fort
Dexter is directly outside the main gate of the Amber Fort
Heather and Kass are on the highway within sight of the Amber Fort
Dexter – You successfully sneak Ganesh out of Maddy’s rucksack while everyone’s luggage is being moved around the train, and slip it under Graham’s bed
Graham – You remove Maddy’s plaited bracelet. You don’t think anyone’s noticed.
Heather – You talk to Yuri about the possibility of starting a volcano in the way Maddy describes. He says that he thinks such a thing might be possible if one were to place a suitable degree of stress upon a fault line, but that this would probably require a great deal of explosives.
Yuri – Heather approaches you and asks whether you think it would be possible to start a volcano in the way Maddy describes. You tell her that such a thing might be possible if one were to place a suitable degree of stress upon a fault line, but that this would probably require a great deal of explosives.
Kassandra – Sadly, the kitchen of the Palace on Wheels seems to be undersupplied when it comes to laxative chocolate… :-)