The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
A Shattered Visage Lies
“Maddy? Can you hear me?”
Maddy is still shaking, but her eyes have lost something of their glazed, diffuse appearance. As yet she still seems to have trouble focussing, as if her gaze were still fixed upon some dread vista beyond the cabin wall. “Kali. I saw Kali. It’s her.” The words are little more than a whisper, giving the name of the goddess an uncanny, sepulchral sound. Her silver locket is gripped tightly in one fist.
“Well, she’s not here now,” Judith declares, as confidently and comfortingly as she can. Nonetheless, somehow the sentence emerges sounding less like a statement than a question. There is something disquieting about Maddy’s rigid, intense gaze. After a minute or two, however, Maddy blinks a few times, and gasps as she notices Kass’s plight for the first time.
“Kass! Is… uh, she OK?”
“Yes, dear, don’t distress yourself. She just seems to be unconscious.”
Maddy, who has scrambled across the floor to feel for a pulse at Kass’s throat, sags with relief.
“Uh, Judith? Could you, uh, get me a glass of water, please? I’m still a bit groggy.” There is still something heavy-limbed and feverish about the younger woman’s demeanour, and Judith is not entirely convinced that she is not suffering from shock. When Judith returns with the glass of water, Maddy is half-slumped again over Kass’s form, one forearm resting heavily upon the fallen woman’s thigh.
“Thanks.” Maddy downs the water, and wipes her chin absently. “It’s Bina Ajanta, isn’t it? She’s Kali’s vessel. I felt her. She’s angry. Angry with Kass.”
There is a sharp but muted double rap at the door. Judith rises and opens gingerly, and a moment later Heather’s head is peering around the door.
“We’ve got a crisis situation,” she hisses. “Tokutaro and Bina Ajanta seem to have flown the coop, Rashino’s lying in Tokutaro’s cabin with his neck wrung, and Graham’s there too, out for the count.”
“My goodness – is he alright?”
“Seems to be – we think he took a knock to the back of the head from the door flying open.”
Judith casts a concerned look over her shoulder at the crouched figure of Maddy.
“You go and help. I’ll stay and look after Kass till she, um, wakes up, OK?”
A few minutes later, Heather and Judith are at the door of Tokutaro’s cabin. Heather performs the same abrupt double rap. There is a sound of brief frenzied movement within, and then silence.
“Dexter! It’s me! Open up, you idiot!”
After a second, the door is pulled wide. Dexter casts a quick, suspicious glance up and down the corridor, and then beckons the new arrivals into the cabin.
Judith glances with a shudder at the pale, angular dead face of Rashino.
“I suppose we ought to search him. I already know where his cabin is… if we can find his cabin key…”
Without much ceremony, Dexter sets about rummaging through Rashino’s pockets. Somewhat gingerly, Judith picks her way across the strewn debris, and assists. The dead man has long and supple fingers. When his arm is nudged, the fingers flutter slightly, like the wings of a dead moth in a breeze.
“One wallet – couple of credit cards, under the name of Rashino Wataya. Passport in the same name. Some keys.”
“I think this is his cabin key,” announces Judith.
“Nice one, Judy. Hmm. Cigarette case, but no lighter. Anyone ever see Rashino smoke? Wonder if…” Dexter prises open the slim, delicately lacquered cigarette case.
At first glance it seems that it contains only old cigarette papers that have become crushed and crumpled in transit. The next moment, before his eyes, the papers flutter gently, like Rashino’s fingers, like the wings of a dead moth in a breeze. They flutter and gently unfurl, pale angles bursting from confinement like arrowheads of wheat breaking from their sheathes.
Pale, precise legs flex and steady, gently raising a paper carapace. Dexter recognises the shape forming just as the long curved tail curls like a question mark above the body. With a reflexive jerk of his wrist, he sends the cigarette box flying across the room. The lacquered box strikes the opposite wall and falls to the floor. The paper scorpion, on the other hand, spreads its legs as if embracing the air, and sails effortlessly across the room towards Yuri’s face.
There is something hypnotic, almost calming about its grace, as if it recalls some harmless paper mobile suspended on a fine thread over a child’s cot. At the last moment, however, Yuri breaks from this spell and with a timely swipe back-hands it across the room. It tumbles slowly in the air, like a kite chasing its tail. Before it can right itself, Dexter lifts the remains of a chair, and pins the insect against the wall.
The frail-looking legs flex and quest for purchase, and the head weaves from side to side as the scorpion strives to drag its flattened head and body free. From somewhere within issues a faint chittering, like someone riffling the pages of a telephone directory with a thumb nail.
“Hang on,” mutters Heather. She rummages in a pocket, pulls out a cigarette lighter, and holding it at arm’s length, touches the flame to one slender flailing leg. It ignites immediately, and for a few seconds six stalk legs spasm, crumpling in their frenzy and blunting their corners. A thin, whistling scream fills the cabin as the insect blackens and disintegrates. The last part to remain unconsumed is the tail, which draws back like a snake-head and strikes again and again in the direction of Heather’s hand, a spot of yellow venom bubbling at its tip. At last, even this is swallowed by the flame, and falls in blackened flakes upon the carpet.
Heather glances at her companions, and pushes her tongue into her cheek.
“Like I say, I gave up smoking. But I brought the lighter along in case I needed to start again. After all, Nate might have been along for this trip – I might have needed to wind him up.” She flashes a quick smile at Dexter and Judith. “Well, hadn’t we better get Graham out of here?”
“Right, Judith, have you got his feet?” Heather has her arms hooked under Graham’s armpits. “I guess we need to get him to the nearest cabin of ours so he’s out of the picture before the authorities turn up.”
“Well, Dexter and Yuri have their cabin right next door…”
“Great – the scene of the last bloody crime. What’s the next closest?”
“Graham’s cabin – he’s in the Kishangarh carriage. We’ll have to make for that – Dexter, what are you doing?”
Dexter has picked up a large suitcase from beside one wall, and emptied a dozen or so neatly pressed suits onto the floor. Without pausing for explanation, he lays it open on the floor, and then sets about dragging Rashino’s corpse from the bed towards the case.
“You’re not going to… I’m not going to watch this.”
“Have you got a better idea of how to hide the body?” huffs Dexter. Kneeling on the floor, he sets about bending the dead man’s stiffening joints, pushing Rashino’s angular limbs into the case as tightly as the scorpion had been folded into the cigarette case. When the Japanese man’s dead eyes are pensively regarding the ceiling past his own knees, Dexter pulls the lid into place, bracing it downwards with his foot so that he can fasten the straps. “Yuri, I’m going to need your help with this.”
“Alright, alright.” Heather has the door propped slightly open with one foot. “OK, everyone lift your corpse and on the count of three let’s get out of here. One, two, three – shit – back up back up back up…” There is a momentary confusion at the doorway before all four carriers succeed in retreating so that Heather can shut the door. Dexter suppresses a curse as the suitcase is knocked from his hands and falls heavily upon his foot.
Outside in the corridor the sound of running feet approaches, passes, and then recedes.
“Dipak,” Heather says by way of explanation. “OK, let’s try that again…”
“We’re going to have fun explaining this to anyone we meet coming the other way,” mutters Heather.
“Well, I suppose if that happens we’d better slip into one of these little sitting rooms they have in each carriage, hadn’t we, dear? Talking of which, which carriage are we in now?”
“Dungarpur, I think. Two more to go. Oh, Christ – I can hear voices ahead. Three or four people, I think… time for your sitting room plan.”
Depressing the handle with her elbow, Lady Judith pushes open the sitting room door, and the two women quickly manoeuvre Graham within.
“…uncertain, but there does seem to have been some kind of temporary electrical failure – our departure may be a little delayed until we’ve determined the source of the problem…” Garbyal sounds harassed and not a little confused. The footsteps pass, and Garbyal’s voice fades.
Heather and Judith, who have had their ears all but pressed against the door, relax and become aware that they are not alone in the sitting room.
One of the other occupants of the room is the young Frenchman from the cabin next to that of Dexter and Yuri. His companion is a dark woman in her earlier thirties, who is wearing a dark indigo dressing gown with what might be described as less than total conviction. The most charitable interpretation of their current proximity to one another would be that, noticing that his companion was somewhat under-dressed, the Frenchman had decided to save her from a bad chill by sharing his body warmth.
The woman is wearing a wedding ring. The Frenchman is not. Both are motionless, regarding Judith, Heather and their cargo with wide, startled eyes.
Judith smiles brightly at them, in a fashion which she hopes conveys the right element of “we didn’t see you, you didn’t see us,” and stoops to lift Graham’s feet. Each of the startled lovers manages a slight, nervous wave.
“Do you have any destination in mind for Mr Rashino, my friend?” Phlegmatically, Yuri supports his side of the suitcase while Dexter struggles with the door of the carriage.
“I think I saw some water through the railings on the far side of the platform. With a bit of luck it’s flowing, and will carry this little problem downstream. OK, coast’s clear.”
Dexter and Yuri quickly heave the suitcase to shoulder level, slip from the carriage, and proceed along the platform at a jog-trot. Sure enough, beyond the black iron railings that flank the platform a gleam of water is visible.
“Ready? One, two… and over.”
The suitcase sails over the fence, and strikes the surface of the water with a sound like a giant’s handclap. When the curtain of thrown droplets descend, the suitcase is still visible, although rather moist. It is now clear that the water is little more than four inches deep. The shock of impact has burst the over-strained straps, and the lid has snapped back, leaving Rashino’s pale profile exposed to the sky. His legs have jolted from their confines, as if a gangly and grotesque Jack-in-a-box were set upon emerging feet first.
“Shit,” Dexter says, with admirable restraint.
Graham wakes to a dull ache at the back of his skull, and an awareness that he is lying on his back on something soft.
“Graham? Are you feeling better? Oh – we found your glasses…” He feels his spectacles carefully perched upon his nose. As he opens his eyes, a pair of perfectly manicured hands swim into view, still resting upon the lenses of his spectacles. Looking up past them he sees the concerned, beautiful, green eyes of Lady Judith, who is seated beside him.
“Thank – thank you. They’re – they’re just for reading…” Graham blushes and half-raises himself, before abandoning the attempt as he is stricken by a wave of nausea.
“You shouldn’t try to move until you’re feeling better,” Judith declares, gently but firmly. Graham obediently slumps back onto the bed without demur.
“I’ll stay with him,” announces Heather. “You’ve still got that key to Rashino’s cabin, right, Judith?”
Five minutes later, Yuri, Dexter and Judith are standing outside the door to Rashino’s cabin in the Bundi carriage.
Judith places the key in the lock, and pauses to glance at her companions with an expression of slight trepidation.
“You know, I felt a good deal happier about this whole idea before we opened that cigarette case,” she whispers.
In answer, Yuri holds up an aerosol can.
“Insect repellent,” Yuri remarks, laconically. He holds up his other hand, which contains the cigarette lighter which he has borrowed from Heather.
“Ah – the handyman’s flame-thrower. Good one.” Dexter grins.
“Well, here goes.” Judith turns the key, and opens the door. After a pause, during which papery invertebrates fail to hiss from the darkness, the three agents slip within the berth and turn on the light. After the build in suspense, Rashino’s cabin appears anticlimactically prosaic.
The little closet proves to contain five pristine, identical dark suits. Three tiny, scarlet boxes on the dressing table prove to contain cuff-links, each with a different symbol set in the enamel. Yuri pockets these.
“I suppose we had better hurry,” Judith whispers, nervously. “Rashino may have associates on this train – maybe even Yashimoto himself. Hopefully his death will have caught them off guard, though.”
“Alright, there’s a couple of notebooks here, full of some kind of shorthand, a camera, and a set of binoculars. Oh, and some kind of stiletto dagger in a red velvet case. That just leaves the big case…”
There is a long pause, as they regard the great valise with its double buckle.
“Come on, folks,” Dexter says at last. “It’s probably just full of his socks.” He tugs both buckles free, glances up at Yuri to make sure that the Russian has the ‘insect repellent’ ready, and then flings back the lid.
A matching tortoiseshell set of comb, brush and scissors. Three pairs of socks, monogrammed. A polished, flattened pebble in some clear, amber-like stone, with at its heart a faint star of cracks which catch the light curiously. A one-way plane ticket for the same flight that had brought Tokutaro to India. And in the corners of the case, a tremor. From the leaves of two guidebooks, a tremor. From beneath three ties, a tremor. A tremor like the momentary flutter of Rashino’s lifeless hands, or like the wind in a hundred dead, white wings…
Rather pale and shaken, Judith, Dexter and Yuri eventually arrive at Graham’s cabin. Heather opens to their knock and lets them in.
“Graham says he’s able to walk now – he’s suggested that we head over to Maddy and Kass’s cabin to see how Kass is doing, and make plans.” Heather casts a quick appraising eye over the latest arrivals. “By the way, I’m assuming there’s a good reason why you’re all covered with soot and scratches.”
“Butterflies,” Yuri says, grimly.
“Butterflies.” Dexter links his little fingers, and shadow-mimes the insect in question. “With teeth.”
“…with teeth…” echoes Lady Judith, faintly.
As Heather gauges her companions’ expressions, her imminent laugh suffers a swift cot death.
When the group finally assembles at Maddy and Kass’s cabin, Kass has recovered consciousness, if not her usual self-possession. The group listen while Graham recounts the events of his meeting with Tokutaro, and the interruption of Rashino. The others then describe all that they found in cabins of Tokutaro and Rashino.
Maddy is in the process of clearing the debris from the ritual. When she reaches the Hanged Man tarot card she pauses, and then carefully places it to one side instead of replacing it in the pack.
“So, um, what’s happening with the dead body?” she asks.
Dexter exchanges a glance with Yuri before answering.
“It’s off the train, but I don’t think it’ll be long before it’s found.”
“Then, hadn’t we better get rid of, uh, this?” Maddy unthreads the green-stoned ring from the silk scarf, wiping her fingerprints from it with the white fabric.
“Let’s have another look at it first.” Heather holds out her hand for the ring, then frowns at it in concentration as she loosens the stone. “Looks like the wire’s still in the ring. So I guess it wasn’t the murder weapon. Kass – maybe you ought to nip down to the kitchen and find out if they’re missing any cheesewire.” After a brief discussion, it is decided that the stone will remain in Yuri’s possession for the moment, but that it should be jettisoned if there seemed any likelihood of the group’s belongings being searched by the authorities.
“So, what now?” Maddy seats herself cross-legged upon the floor, replacing her Ganesh fetish around her neck. “Bina was Kali – or Kali’s, y’know, avatar. Looks like she got, uh, pissed off waiting for Tokutaro and just, y’know, took him.”
“That would suggest that Bina Ajanta was Tokutaro’s intended contact all along,” Heather opines. “It was pretty clear that Tokutaro bought two tickets without knowing who his contact was – maybe he paid for her berth. Does anyone know if she came back to the train after the cruise? Did anyone see her afterwards?” She glances around the group as each of the others shakes their head. “Well, that might be worth finding out.”
“So what went wrong with the ritual? Maddy, you said that Kali was angry with Kassandra. Is it possible that when Kass was, er, ‘visiting’ Erich in that startling costume she may have attracted the attention of our Ylid by ‘doing a Kali?’” Lady Judith glances across at the uncharacteristically withdrawn figure of Kass. “I mean, taking on such a… dominant persona. Perhaps in future it might be safer to dress a little more, shall we say, prudently?” Kass does not respond, apparently still lost in thought.
“Speaking for myself,” continues Judith, “I feel a strong impulse to leave this train as quickly as we can. If nothing else, we have Graham’s safety to consider. After all, a lot of people will have seen him spending time with both Tokutaro and Rashino. Since Tokutaro is now missing and Rashino is dead, this could result in a lot of unfortunate questions.”
“Agreed – we know who our enemies are now, and we know they’ve abandoned ship.” Dexter’s substantial bulk is all but trembling with suppressed agitation. “We’re wasting time while those – those Traitors to Humanity are making their escape.”
“I’m with the big guy.” For the first time Kass shows a sign of rallying herself. “I say we scram, and do it now.”
“I could do, like, some divinations and find out where we need to go…”
“I doubt we have time,” Yuri says quietly but firmly. “If we are leaving the train, we need to decide now. We can decide where we are heading later. The train is already overdue for its next departure, and if it sets off and we are still on board we will have no chance to leave it until we reach Sawai Madhopur.”
“Unless they, like, find out that some of their passengers are missing and keep the train in Udaipur.”
“Just so – in which case the authorities will probably be called in, and we will all find ourselves quite busy for a while answering a large number of questions.”
From somewhere outside the train, there is a sudden sharp cry of alarm, followed by a stream of Hindi.
“Sounds like someone just caught sight of a body in a suitcase.”
“In a suitcase? That’s, uh, that’s, uh, like really gross.”
Dexter stands. “We move out,” he announces with emphasis. “Let’s get packing.”
“Wait a moment.” In the Udaipur carriage, Dexter suddenly pauses and raps sharply on a cabin door. A slightly startled Max Bucher appears at the door a moment later.
“Mr Owara – good evening. I’m sorry, I thought it would be the steward – I asked one of them to find out what was going on. Do you have any idea what is happening? Wait – excuse me – what…” A large Scots-Nigerian hand is placed against Bucher’s chest, and the young German is pushed vigorously backwards.
“We want to have a word with you,” says Dexter, pushing into the cabin after him. Yuri follows, with a strong sense of apprehension and déjà vu.
“You have no right to push your way in my cabin! I shall call the steward!”
“First I want to ask you about your berth. Did you know that when all the berths were switched around, we ended up with the berth that was meant for you? Did you know that?” To judge from Bucher’s expression it is news to him, nor does he seem to attach any particular importance to the fact. “And do you know what happened to that berth earlier today? Someone broke in and searched it, ripped the place apart.”
“I… you have reported this to the stewards, I suppose? And the police?” Bucher shrugs, visibly nonplussed.
“Don’t play the innocent with me.” Dexter reaches forward and grips the other man by the lapels. “What did you leave there which you wanted back so badly? Why did you break into the berth?”
“But I didn’t… they took out my baggage before I had a chance to unpack, and put someone else’s luggage in instead…”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“Dexter, my friend… I don’t think he knows anything…” As Yuri attempts to loosen Dexter’s grip on Bucher’s collar, which is swiftly becoming a stranglehold, Bucher himself abruptly pulls the Scotsman’s hands free. Struggling past the two agents, he drags the berth door open.
“Help! I’m being assaulted!” Instinctively, both Yuri and Dexter throw their weight against him and shove him backwards. Bucher falls back against a little study table, scattering tourist brochures and model trains, then slumps to the floor. When he shows no sign of rising, Yuri kneels beside him.
“He must have hit his head against the wall – he’ll be unconscious for a while.” Yuri stands and faces Dexter. “Formidable,” he remarks drily. “Can we go now, or will we need another suitcase?”
Erich is standing somewhat unsteadily at the doorway of his cabin.
“I thought it was your footsteps I heard – the little padlocks on your boot-buckles, they, ah, make little tinkling sounds… I wanted… wanted to talk to you…” His eye falls upon the suitcase in Kass’s hand. “You… you’re going somewhere?”
Further down the corridor, Kass glimpses the figure of Dipak returning along the train, talking animatedly to two other stewards.
“Tell you what, why don’t we go into your cabin and discuss it?” she purrs.
Inside the cabin, Erich slumps onto the bed, regarding Kass with almost touching awe and confusion as she seats herself opposite him, crossing her legs demurely.
“You are going away? Did I do… something wrong?”
“Not at all.” Kass smiles broadly. “But I’m sure you’re quite eager to do as many things right as you can, aren’t you?”
“What do you want me to do?” asks Erich, simply.
“Why, you don’t expect me to make things easy for you, do you?” Kass regards her companion impishly for a few moments, then appears to relent. “Well, since you’ve been good, I’ll give you a few clues…”
It emerges from the subsequent conversation that during the time that the tide of darkness swept along the corridors of the Palace on Wheels, Erich had still been in the Maharajah bar. From his account, it appears that in the bar nothing more sinister manifested than a temporary failure of the lights. However, he was well positioned to note a number of stewards running back and forth, occasionally pausing to perform a quick headcount of those people in the bar. The official story seems to be that there has been some kind of technical failure which has affected both the light circuit and the train’s engines.
When Kass playfully enquires as to whether the Aryans that conquered the Vindhya hills were ancestors of Erich’s, he seems to interpret this as a rather cruel joke about the beliefs of the Third Reich, and seems somewhat uncomfortable and offended. He informs Kass that the Aryans are in fact no relation of the German nation, and Kass wisely changes the subject.
Although somewhat baffled and unhappy to learn that Kass is leaving the train, Erich accepts her assertion that she will be in contact, and promises to try and keep the authorities from her trail. He even insists that she take a small gift of money to ease her journey.
“Open up, it’s Kassandra. Room for a little one?” Heather holds the door ajar, and Kass slinks in, case in hand.
“Right, good, that’s everyone here. Let’s get out of –”
There is another knock at the door. For a moment everyone stares at each other wide-eyed, then Lady Judith pulls herself up, waves to everyone to move out of sight of the door, and moves to the door.
A slightly harassed Garbyal is standing in the corridor. Rather than stepping forward to fill the opening left by the door, Judith holds it so that only her head shows around it, thus subtly implying that she is in a state of undress and that this is her reason for refusing to open it fully. Glancing at the other members of the room, Heather gives a gesture of her head towards the window, and then moves to Judith’s side so that Garbyal’s view into the cabin is entirely blocked.
“Ah, your ladyship, and, er, Miss Montrose. I just wanted to apologise personally for the, er, problem with the light, and the delay in departure. I was sure you would want to be kept informed of developments.”
“Indeed – I was just telling my friend that I was sure that you would be along to let us know what was happening,” Judith asserts warmly. Behind her, Dexter and Yuri are opening the window, slowly and carefully so as to make no noise. “None of the stewards seemed willing to stop and explain, but I just knew you would tell us the real story. It isn’t really just a technical fault, is it?”
Garbyal visibly melts under Judith’s smile.
“No, your ladyship, I am afraid it is not. I do not want you to distress yourself, but I am afraid there has been a… a very unpleasant accident. One of the gentlemen passengers has come to harm – I am very much afraid that he is dead, and the authorities will be wanting to ask questions – just formalities, you understand.”
“My word!” Judith allows a little tremble of shock into her voice. “Are the rest of us safe?” Kass’s lithe form has slithered through the open window, and she is raising a hand to help Graham through.
“Oh yes, your ladyship, quite safe. But if you could just stay in your cabin for now, ladies, it would be of a great service to us. At the moment, you see, we are trying to make sure that everyone else is, er, quite healthy and – and it is proving quite a task to find them all…” Garbyal spread his hands in a gesture of mild exasperation and despair.
With considerable effort and some assistance, Dexter is struggling through the window.
Judith creases her brow, half in sympathy, half in query.
“You cannot find some of your passengers? Have you looked in the bar, the restaurants?”
“Ah yes, some are in the bar, some are in the restaurants, some are (you will pardon me) in each other’s cabins. And some are gone! Vanished with cases and clothes.” Yuri casts a cautious glance over his shoulder and then follows Dexter to the darkness beyond the window.
“Yes – Mr Drummond, he is gone. Mr Owara, the Scottish gentleman, and the Russian gentleman, Mr Belnakov, they are gone. The young Shekar couple, they are gone. Mr Tokutaro, he is gone. Miss de Sade and young Miss Hook, they are gone. Miss Ajanta, she is gone.”
“Miss Ajanta? The actress? We saw her on the cruise on the lake earlier,” Heather remarks. “Did anyone see her come back to the cabin this evening?” Out of the corner of her eye, she can see ‘the young Miss Hook’ carefully hefting her rucksack through the window, tongue protruding from the corner of her mouth as she tries to avoid making a noise.
“Oh yes – she had her dinner served to her cabin at eight o’clock in her usual manner.”
“And you don’t know who cleared out her cabin?”
“No, Miss Montrose. We did not know that she was planning to leave until we found her cabin empty.”
“Very mysterious. Had she travelled on the Palace on Wheels before? Did she book her ticket in her usual way?”
“No, miss, she had never travelled with us before. And as for her berth, it was a gift-ticket. You see, sometimes someone will buy a place on the tour as a gift, or sometimes they will book for a number of friends, yes, and then find out who is able to come. And sometimes they remember to call and tell us the name for the passenger, and sometimes they do not.” He gives a slight shrug.
“I see. Well, thank you ever so much for letting us know what has happened, we really do appreciate it. We’ll just stay safely in our cabin until the authorities need us, shall we?” Judith closes the door, and sighs. “Poor Mr Garbyal – I do feel sorry for him. Shall we go?”
Aware that the hour is late, and that their appearance is likely to attract attention, the group decide to seek out a place where they can stay for the night, and plan their strategy in more privacy.
Using Maddy’s Lonely Planet guide, they choose a small hotel in western Udaipur, near the Jagdish temple. It is a disquieting walk through the picturesque streets of the darkened town, particularly since Kass and in particular Graham are once more showing signs of grogginess as fatigue sets in.
Once safely inside the Badi Haveli hotel, Judith books three double rooms and a single, and the group retreat to the largest of the doubles.
“If you ask me, our best bet might be to head straight to Mohenjo-Daro, and have a look around,” suggests Judith. “If Tokutaro has been orchestrating funds for the dig there, then that sounds to me as if either he wants to keep an eye on their findings, or he is hoping to stop any further activity there. Either way, it might be well worth a look around. And it might be a way of getting Graham further from the scene of Rashino’s death – I could accompany him there. But I’d like to run all of this past SITU first.”
“What about, like, Calcutta or Varanasi? Maybe Kali-Bina went to one of them.”
“I don’t know if this helps,” murmurs Graham, “but when I was in Tokutaro’s cabin – before the lights went out – he had a pair of guidebooks in his hand – little brochure-type booklets. I’ve thought back, and I’m pretty sure I can remember the place names on the front of each. Maddy – does your Lonely Planet mention two places called Ahmedabad and Lothal?”
“Hang on. Uh… yeah – in, um, Eastern Gujarat. Wait a minute…” Maddy rummages in her rucksack once more, and produces a large map of India. “Yes, Ahmedabad’s here, and Lothal is just underneath it. Oh – oh listen to this – it says about Lothal that there used to be a city there 4500 years ago, clearly related to the Indus Valley cities of Moenjodaro and Harappa, in Pakistan.”
“If that is where Tokutaro was heading, then Udaipur would be the closest point on the route for the Palace on Wheels,” observes Yuri.
“I did wonder about that,” remarks Lady Judith. “If he had been planning to make for Mohenjo-daro itself, it would have made more sense to leave the train at Jaisalmer. I think perhaps we need to talk to SITU about this.”
“Sure, but first I’d like to do a divination with the map, yeah?” Maddy removes the silver locket from around her neck, and holds it out in front of her like a pendulum. “Names give you power, and I’ve got Bina’s name and, like, a piece of Bina cremated here. The little piece always wants to find the bigger piece.” Stretching her arm out over the map, she begins moving it in wide, slow arcs, a magic marker gripped in her other hand ready to mark any part of the map that seems to draw the pendulum particularly strongly.
Maddy closes her eyes in order to concentrate fully. Before her mental vision, a silver heart continues to spin, dulling to lead one instant, gleaming like mercury the next, revolving this way, that way. A gleaming case of moulded metal, a deformed mirror reflecting a face that is not Maddy’s own. Midnight skin, ivory eyes, a skull in reverse. Black ash chokes through the clasp, and trickles from the locket in a steady stream. Black hair sprouts from unseen cracks in the silver like a wiry and uncanny grass, and snakes up the length of the chain towards Maddy’s hand…
“Maddy? Are you alright?” Maddy opens her eyes and stares at her empty hand. Then she looks across the room to where she has reflexively flung her silver locket.
“Nobody touch it,” she whispers. “She noticed me – she almost saw who I was…” Maddy stares down at the map. There are magic marker blots the length and breadth of India, but there does seem to be something of a cluster a little north of Ahmedabad.
Geoff Blaize is, on the whole, approving of the party’s decision to leave the Palace on Wheels.
“Well, there may be some i’s to dot and t’s to cross when this is all over, but we’re in critical days right now – we can’t have critical mission groups caught up in red tape right now. As for where to go next, Lady Judith, I am sure I can leave the matter to your judgement. Right now, as I’m sure you are aware, relations between India and Pakistan are not exactly smooth, and that could cause some problems if you did decide to cross the border and visit Mohenjo-daro. In the meanwhile, I will have some people look into both Lothal and Mohenjo-daro and see whether we can dig up something useful.” Judith thanks Blaize before handing the phone over to Maddy.
“Uh, hi and, y’know, Merry Christmas. We’ve found a new Ylid… and lost her. Sorry.” Maddy describes a number of her recent psychic encounters and visions. “I reckon she’s gone to Calcutta or Varanasi. Doesn’t SITU know, like, anything about these places?”
“I will have some people look into this for you, Executive Hook. Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas.”
Dexter rises long before the others the next morning, and takes a walk to the waterside. By chance he finds a breach in the fence that surrounds the Sajjan Niwas gardens, and after five minutes of strolling its lawns, he discovers a location secluded enough for his purposes.
Over Lake Picholo, a muted sun gleams through cloud-bars, like a shimmer on a mackerel’s belly. The lake has a skin of mist, and the mountains swim on nothingness.
With a pained solemnity, Dexter opens the carrier bag that lies next to his kneeling form, and with the reverence of one handling holy relics removes the contents, item by item. A tiny ceramic figurine of The King, face strangely aged by the cracks running through the glaze. Four tapes of Elvis songs. A couple of posters, a biography of Elvis, a rhinestone jacket. And last but not least, bundles of flyers and posters which show Dexter Owara himself in his full Elvis regalia, posing microphone in hand.
Face stony despite the intensity of the moment, Dexter makes a pile of his treasures, gently ignites the corner of one poster, and watches his great obsession burn to death on its tiny pyre.
When Dexter returns several hours later, his dark countenance discourages the others from making any comment upon his disappearance.
Heather has also been out of the hotel, arranging the hire of another bike. When she returns, she places a small parcel in front of each of her colleagues, wrapped a little hastily in brown paper.
“Merry Christmas. All I could manage, I’m afraid.” She has found a carved wooden elephant for Maddy, a square of silk painted with a river scene for Judith, an ornamental but sharp bone-handled knife for Dexter, a set of ankle-bells for Kass, and a small painting for Yuri. Graham is delighted to find that his package contains three bars of chocolate.
“Merry Christmas!” Maddy beams at Heather. “Oh, and I should, like phone my mum…” She disappears in the direction of the phone.
“Any further developments?”
“I’ve been surfing the web, looking for dirt on Dr Marcus Massey.” Kass has fastened her new gift around her ankle, and is turning her foot about experimentally. “It seems that he’s been caught up in a number of academic debates over the years. He seems to be a language specialist – spends a lot of time poring over old forms of script. Anyway, I couldn’t find any kind of itinerary for his activities in Mohenjo-daro. I did find one really recent article referring to him, though. It was describing a speech he made at a conference in Hong Kong, just a month ago, and it had a throwaway line about him appearing there before returning to India to continue his work at the newest site in Lothal.”
“I’ve been thinking back and trying to remember what it was that Rashino said to Tokutaro last night, when they slipped into Japanese for a moment.” Graham peers at the jottings in his notebook. “I’ve noted down what I think they said, in phonetic form, but I’m – I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right. I’m starting to think I might have to ask Maddy if she knows any way of stimulating the memory.”
While he is speaking, Maddy returns into the room, gripping an envelope in either hand. “Automatic writing,” she explains. “To help us know what to do next. The first’s in red. That means, uhh, Stop Danger Don’t Do This. Green means Go On It’s Safe Do It.” She produces a Swiss Army knife, and slits open the envelopes.
“Dexter.” Yuri is standing at the window of the hotel room, looking out. “Dexter, is that not your new friend down there in the street?”
There is indeed a woman standing a little way down the street, talking animatedly with a taxi driver. Her hair is hidden under a headscarf, and her eyes behind a pair of sunglasses, but it is recognisably Sherry.
12.30pm 25th December
All are at the Badi Haveli hotel.
Maddy and Kass: This conversation takes place at the hotel, when Maddy and Kass are alone:
Somewhat shyly, Maddy places the Hanged Man card on the bed between them.
“The Hanged Man,” she says. “A willing sacrifice you’re going to make. That was true; I just didn’t know how true.” She gives Kass a sideways look. “Kali did, though. Kass, she’s angry with you for being in the Moon ritual. You should’ve told me.” Picking up a second card, the Tower, Maddy places it over the first.
“I know…” Kass’s usual self-confident, lavish demeanour has fallen away. Behind the long, exquisitely painted lashes, his/her eyes are shy, a little uncertain. As they talk, ‘Kass’ confesses the truth behind Maddy’s latest suspicions, and Maddy starts to see another face behind Kass’s makeup, a new set of expressions and tones.
“I know what it’s like to change,” Maddy adds. “Once I was Marilyn. I didn’t decide to change, though; Sophia did. She’s another Ylid. I hate her.” Maddy seems unaware that, like Kass, she is altering her demeanour, and that her voice is shedding its stuttering and hesitancy, becoming more ‘Marilyn’ instead of ‘Maddy.’ “The thing is, however you make the change, you can never go back. Mum – my mother – wants Marilyn back and sometimes I do too. I’ve tried but I’ll always be Maddy. Mostly that’s OK, y’know?” She looks a little perplexed, and shrugs. “I can still use your orgone, though!”
‘Kass’ smiles, and then shivers.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance of an anti-Ylid or anti-Kali charm, is there?”
“Well, for now you’d better take Ganesh. You need him more than me.” Maddy puts the little sandalwood fetish around her companion’s neck.