The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Eater of the Dead
December 25th, 4 pm
At George’s house, no-one seems too surprised by the mark on Peter Lovell’s forehead, apart from Daphne. ‘What does that mean, dear?’ she asks Rupert.
‘Er… just that he is a member of the gang who kidnapped Arabella, I suppose,’ says Rupert.
‘It looks a bit like Ancient Egyptian, is that right?’
‘Yes, dear,’ says George, realizing that she isn’t going to drop the subject now. ‘It means “Nefertiti”.’
Daphne frowns. ‘So the kidnappers are devotees of a long-dead Egyptian queen?’ she says puzzledly.
‘It’s all rather complicated,’ says Rupert briskly, closing the image and backing away from the computer, sweeping the others with him. ‘Come on, the pudding’s getting cold. And that would never do.’
John keeps his hands in view, straightening up very slowly. ‘I’ve already told you that I don’t know where your ship is. About the only thing I can do is contact someone that might know where it is.’
Karyn nods. ‘You will take me to them. Now.’ She lines the gun up with his forehead.
‘I don’t know where they are!’ John has no difficulty injecting panic into his voice. ‘All I have is a contact number, so I’ll have to call them, OK?’
[Inside the body currently holding a gun to John, Karyn flings herself against the barrier Nefertiti has erected. ‘Get out of me you Arab slut!’ she screams. The barrier is manifested as a grey brick wall that seems to stretch for miles in all directions across the mental landscape Karyn’s consciousness has been discarded into.]
Karyn nods again, her face rippling in that disturbing manner once more. ‘OK, Let me get the number and I’ll give them a call. It’s in my rucksack?’ says John pointing to his pack in the corner of the room.
Keeping his eye on Karyn’s face, he slowly reaches for the rucksack, opens it, and roots through its contents. As he pulls out his organizer, he carefully palms two injection packs. ‘Here we go. Do you want me to ring them?’ he asks, pointing to the phone.
[Karyn eventually stops pounding on the wall. Think Karyn, think, she tells herself. You’ve read enough of these weird SF mystical mind-trip books to work out what you can do and can’t do!]
John taps out SITU’s number on the room’s phone, keeping an eye on Karyn, who has gone menacingly still once more. ‘Hi, Andre – Merry Christmas.’
‘Happy Christmas, John,’ yawns Swahn. He is still in the office, Christmas Day or no Christmas Day.
‘Mm, well, things have gone a bit sour here. I’m in my room with Karyn and she’s got a visitor in her who’d like to talk to you about her missing spaceship.’
‘What? You mean…’
John cuts back in sharply ‘Yeah, the one I found in Egypt. She seems pretty pissed off about us taking it and would like it back. I’m going to put her on now.’
He puts the phone down on the bedside table, Swahn squawking surprisedly ‘Hang on!’ and backs away to allow Karyn to reach it.
Karyn steps stiff-leggedly past him, but as she reaches for the phone, her hand shakes and her face convulses, her eyes widening in horror.
Iain meanwhile takes a relaxing breathe, clears his mind, then injects himself with the dubhium serum.
[Inside the mental landscape, large cracks splinter the wall like threads of a spider’s web. The sound of an engine is heard humming as a heavy black wrecking ball suddenly swings into view hitting the wall for a second time. ‘How do ya like that, Queenie!’ Karyn chuckles from the drivers compartment of a yellow JCB.]
Karyn totters, her eyes rolling and her face rapidly turning red.
John kicks the gun from her hand, ripples of heat surging through his body from the serum, and slaps the other dose onto her bare forearm, battering her backwards with his rucksack as a shield between them.
Both collapse on the bed, but the dose of serum seems to give Karyn new strength, and she starts to pull herself together.
[Karyn sees the wall magically starting to rebuild. Oh no you don’t! she thinks, and she hurtles across the grass, diving through a darkened hole.]
Karyn snarls, then suddenly her face and body soften. ‘John?’ she asks, in a shaky voice ‘It’s Karyn. I’m… I’m back!’ John warily climbs off her, his eyes searching hers, his gun now out.
‘What the hell did you inject me with? That feels so weird… such a rush, but kind of sick.’
‘The dubhium serum SITU made,’ says John, slowly lowering his gun. ‘I’m not sure what I expected it to do… it’ll wear off in a little while.’
Karyn wobbles unsteadily to her feet. It’s a weird feeling to be totally disassociated from your own body then suddenly regain control… like she can’t remember how her limbs work. She blinks, feeling something like an itch at the back of her mind. Nefertiti. The dark goddess must be trying to regain control. ‘We have to hurry’ she tells John. ‘I don’t know how long I can keep her busy in here for.’ She taps her head knowingly.
John nods, picking the phone back up, his eyes never leaving her face.
‘Andre? Right, it’s me back. Bit of a situation here, but I think it’s under control now.’ He explains briefly what happened.
‘You’ve got to stay together,’ says Andre seriously. ‘That was too close… we could easily have lost both of you.’
‘Mm. Well, we’re off to Oxford now to meet up with the others.’
He hangs up, grabs his pack and takes Karyn under one arm, hading straight out for the Discovery. It is only after he has reached it that he realizes that Nefertiti, if she was within Karyn, will have seen the bugging equipment.
Rupert starts getting a little restive towards the end of the day, as though anticipating something. ‘Weren’t we expecting Karyn, with a little present for us? Or perhaps a very big present?’
George looks at him blankly.
‘A video of ‘Boxing Helena’ – with Kim Basinger?’
‘Oh…’ says George. ‘I suppose that isn’t going to happen.’
‘With Sherilyn Fenn,’ corrects Sean. ‘Kim Basinger dropped out when she found she’d have to take her kit off.’ He chuckles lewdly.
Rupert shoots him a look of pure dislike, and starts cracking walnuts vigorously. Donald, leaning against the wall, frowns to himself and inspects his fingernails.
At this point his mobile rings: it is John.
‘Donald, John. Bad news.’ John is steering the big Landrover through country lanes, avoiding the M40. ‘Nefertiti showed up at the hotel and managed to possess Karyn. She’s after that ship we found in Egypt. We’re heading for you now. We can’t risk anyone being caught alone again. See you soon.’
‘Let me have that,’ says Karyn as John closes the phone. She taps in a number herself, reading it off the back of a small, scrumpled business card.
‘Hi, is that Professor Westwood? This is Karyn Hart, remember me? – I’m a colleague of Michael Williamson. Yes, that’s the guy. Listen, I’m in a bit of a fix here, and from what Michael said, you’re the kind of guy who might be able to help. Yes, that’s right. A possessor spirit. Do you have any contacts in the Oxford area who could meet up with me? Oh. You are? Jeez, that’s a hell of a coincidence. Oh, right, I see. OK then – can you meet me at my colleague George’s place?’ She gives him the address, and turns to John. ‘He said that Michael had tipped him off I might need some help, so he was in the area already.’
John nods. ‘Are you sure he can be trusted? Is it OK to invite him to George’s?’
Karyn frowns. ‘If Michael trusts him, that’s good enough for me.’ But there is a nagging fear in her mind – where is Michael, who has always seemed to able to look after himself? It’s an age since she’s heard from him.
‘Listen, John, after the Professor’s sorted me out, how’s this for a plan. We race over to Rupert’s dad’s secret house in Knightsbridge . We can take out the maid, Adele – just stun her and drag her off, maybe with some tranqs – and I can replace her. So when the Egyptian woman or whoever it is turns up tomorrow, we can find out exactly who it is. And while I’m in the house, I might be able to surreptitiously gain some info.’
John nods appraisingly. ‘Good plan – it’ll expose you to a lot of risk, though.’
‘Never mind that,’ says Karyn impatiently.
‘The one problem is she’s already seen the maid, when she turned up at the flat this afternoon. We’d have to have some cover story for why you were the new maid. And we’d have to have someone tough standing by in a car, not too far away. Arm you. Maybe give you some of the serum.’
Karyn grins impishly. ‘And I’ve still got that big crate, back at the hotel, remember? We might have missed Christmas, but it’s not too late for Boxing Day.’
‘Mm. We’re going to have to go back to the hotel at some point, to collect all our kit, and the others’. And we’ll need to set up a new base, somewhere more secure.’
‘But we don’t know how she managed to find us there. How could we make somewhere else more secure?’
‘Hi, it’s me, Donald – this may sound a little odd, but we need a quick favour from you.’
‘Fire away,’ says Andre Swahn tiredly. ‘You and your colleagues are keeping me quite busy today.’
‘Can you check and find out what’s happening at Buckingham Palace on New Years Eve? If there’s a party of some sort can you get me a copy of the guest list? We want to have a look at it and see who’s on it.’
‘No problem – I’ll get onto that straight away.’
‘Cheers, I’ll leave my mobile phone on – call me back later.’ Donald hangs up, to the sound of a small sigh from Swahn.
Coming back downstairs, Donald finds the other operatives huddled around Rupert, with Daphne having gone out to make a start on the washing-up. ‘Right, I’m coming with you to see your father.’
‘You’d better make it the morning,’ says George. ‘He was going to be in London all day, wasn’t he?’
Donald continues unruffled, holding Rupert’s gaze. ‘Perhaps we can persuade him to give us some info finally –now we know a bit more, perhaps you can call his bluff.’ Rupert nods. ‘If not, perhaps it’s time I had a few words with him on my own. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt him too much, just rough him up, scare him, you know.’
Sean nods approvingly, while George winces. Rupert, his expression intense, makes no objection.
‘What about this guy, then?’ says Sean, changing the subject smoothly as the silence becomes embarrassing. ‘I guess you want to talk to him? My idea is he’s a pawn – it must be a trap. The Ylids have never gone in for silly theatricals that I know of: the mark on the face is just to get our attention.’
‘You could be right,’ concedes George. ‘But even so, can we afford to ignore it as a possible lead?’
‘Is anyone going to meet up with this police guy?’ asks Donald. ‘I’d rather not – and I guess not you either, Sean. Should be Rupert really, or George I guess – the respectable ones. If we think it’s worth meeting him at all. But it might be worth telling him we’ve IDed the perp.’
‘I suppose it might be,’ says Rupert grudgingly.
‘Right! Let’s get some shut-eye, then,’ suggests George. ‘Anyone who wants to can doss down here in the living-room – you’re in the spare room, Rupert.’ He glances over his shoulder to make sure that Daphne is not in hearing range, and adds sotto voce ‘Don’t worry, it doesn’t have any adjoining walls with our room, so you should get an uninterrupted night’s sleep.’
Rupert pales momentarily at the image this conjures up.
Sean prefers to sleep in his van, but before leaving the house he thinks to himself. Daphne must be involved somehow – her working in the civil service and recognising that guy on the tape. Too much of a coincidence. He gently slips a small personal bug into the lining of her coat as it hangs on the rack at the foot of the stairs, without anyone else noticing. Carefully does it. She’ll make her move soon enough. Before dawn is complete, he is driving back to London.
In the morning, Donald receives a call from Andre Swahn. ‘It seems like a pretty select affair, Donald. The Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Princess Anne and her family. Theo Twitchin – the junior Defence minister. Viscount de Montfort. Someone named Shareena el-Ahmar – an Egyptian. Peter Lovell, who also works in the Ministry, alongside de Montfort. The Egyptian Ambassador – Mr al-Ahwady – and family. That’s it. Odd combination, eh? – and two of them related to SITU agents.’
Donald sets his teeth. ‘The guy Lovell, we reckon he’s an agent of Nefertiti. He’s got the mark on his head. And as for Shareena el-Ahmar… she might be Nefertiti herself.’
‘Really?’ Swahn does not sound especially surprised. ‘Well, anything we can do to help, do say. Of course, it would be good to avoid things like an SAS-style attack on Buckingham Palace, if you can. Particularly as the real SAS would probably object rather strongly.’
‘Mm,’ says Donald thoughtfully, but George taps him on the shoulder and demands the phone.
‘Andre? George here. Do you know anything about this Lovell chap? – or have any contacts at the MoD who might?’
‘I’ll have a check for you – call you back later.’
As none of the other operatives are free, Rupert is forced to phone Sean, much though it pains him. ‘Perhaps there’s some useful investigating you can do. We haven’t yet looked into my father’s “official” London home in Bruton Street. Maybe it would be a good idea to look around, see if there are any clues there. The address is Flat 2, 14 Bruton Street. It’s all a bit deceptive, really, as the “flat” is so large you could swing a cat for fifty feet without it touching the sides. The only problem is we don’t have a cat. But anyway, the flat is huge. Inside it’s sort of large house size.’
‘I can imagine,’ says Sean dryly. He is not at all averse to the idea, although from what Marty said there are two aged servants resident in the Bruton Street house, so he will have to be careful.
‘Look, we have to go now, I’m afraid – to get back to the estate. I have things to do.’
George shakes Rupert’s hand warmly. ‘Good luck!’
Rupert turns to Daphne. ‘Thank you so much for a lovely meal, Daphne. There’s nothing like a nice roast hippo… er… sorry, I meant to say turkey. It’s so easy to confuse the two. They’re so similar, aren’t they? Except it would take a forklift truck to pull the wishbone, and a circular saw to carve a joint.’
‘Er… yes, Rupert. Thank you,’ says Daphne doubtfully.
‘Do you mind hanging on to Mahmoud, George?’ asks Donald hopefully. ‘I can’t take him with me for this, and I don’t want to leave him at home by himself.’
‘I can look after him,’ suggests Daphne brightly.
George, seeing the expression on Donald’s face, steps in quickly. ‘I’ll take him back with me, Donald, don’t you worry.’ He turns to Mahmoud. ‘I’ll show you my medals – eh?’
Rupert strides boldly into the mansion, and finds that the Viscount has only been back for an hour or so. He tracks him down in his study. ‘So, father, are you willing to talk yet?’
‘What? Young man, this behaviour is insupportable! I will not have you speak to me in such a tone.’ He wags his finger under Rupert’s nose
Rupert had intended to remain calm as long as possible, but at this long-loathed gesture he at once flies into a fury. ‘Oh no, not more of this pathetic act! Look, I know all about the secret house in Queen’s Gate Place, Knightsbridge. I know all about the woman from Egypt who is now visiting. I know about the meeting at Buckingham Palace on New Year’s Eve, and about Anthony de Montfort’s true activities in Egypt when he was there. We even know about the amulet disk from Egypt! Now look, why not be honest before it’s too late?’
The Viscount pales, and staggers slightly, but two spots of colour burn above his cheekbones. ‘Rupert, you must not challenge my judgement on these matters! You have shown on many occasions that you have no care at all for our family name. I refuse to allow you to drag it any further into the dirt! I will do as I see fit, and you will accept it, or else leave this house for good!’
‘Father, stop treating me like a moron. You know I’m not as thick as pigshit, like Charles is. I have a few spare brain cells, and they have been working out what is going on. Give me some credit, and tell me the truth.’
The Viscount, his eyes blazing, steps forward and clouts Rupert vigorously across the side of the head, with the hand holding his walking-cane. ‘Silence, whelp! How dare you speak to your father like that!’
Rupert reels, feeling as though a small explosion has gone off in his ear. He can feel warm blood coursing down his neck, and his vision is blurred as he falls back against the door. He attempts to raise his own fist, but his father scornfully plants the toe of the stick in his solar plexus and pushes, driving Rupert backwards out of the room. ‘Be off with you! And don’t you ever set foot in this place again!’
Marty rolls up at George’s house mid-afternoon, in thoughtful mood, having spent the night and morning at the West Wycombe vicarage, and recounts his story.
‘Why would the disk heat up like that? I thought it was supposed to be a protective item,’ asks George in puzzlement.
‘Two possibilities I can think of. Either it was being attacked itself, by the enemy. Or else they were attacking me, and it absorbed the energy, or something like that.’ He takes a gulp of tea. ‘Magical energy can be channelled into heat – that’s what’s supposed to have happened at the psychic conference I went to, remember? That time the Zener cards heated up and caught fire – and a load of the psychics in the audience popped a valve, too.’ He swigs again. ‘Good thing I’m not psychic, isn’t it.’
‘And you were near a Trismegistus Club base? Do you think they’ve got anything to do with this?’
‘I don’t know.’ Marty studies his hands. He knows that the T Club bear him no great love or respect. But that they might try and kill him, or help Nefertiti try and kill him, would be a pretty bitter pill to have to swallow.
‘Anyway, look on the bright side, it looks as though the disk works,’ says George cheerfully. ‘Those old priests of Punt must have known a thing or two! And if Nefertiti’s trying to destroy it, that means it must be valuable and useful to us.’
‘As long as we can find an asbestos box to carry it around in.’
George pours more tea, with one ear on Daphne pottering around in the kitchen. ‘Another question, though: how did it get from Rupert’s father’s mansion to where you found it?’
Marty shrugs. ‘That jeweller stores a lot of secret stuff. Some sort of arrangement with the police, I guess. It’s almost like having a Swiss bank account.’
George frowns. ‘Presumably either Rupert’s father stashed it there after he met with Essawi, or Essawi took it from him and stashed it there himself. In either case we can bet that Nefertiti didn’t want it near to Rupert’s father.’
‘Because it might lessen her influence over him?’
‘Maybe. But how did Anthony de Montfort get hold of it in the first place?’ George sits back. ‘I’ve spoken to our contacts out there again, but there’s no real leads yet beyond what we know already. The trouble is that they’re not really investigators in the same way we are.’
‘I don’t think we’re going to be able to answer that question without one of us going to Egypt, then…’
Donald is sitting in the car, gazing out across the damp driveway, when Rupert comes staggering out towards him, one hand clutching the side of his head. ‘Jesus wept! What the hell happened to you?’
Rupert tries to smile, but his other hand clutches convulsively. ‘Didn’t quite go as I expected, I’m afraid, Donald. We’d better go straight to Plan B, I think.’
Donald nods. ‘Plan B? OK – I don’t have a problem with that.’ He slips a flick-knife into one pocket, and a knuckleduster into the other. ‘See you in a little while, then.’ He peers at Rupert’s ear, as much of it as can be seen. ‘You should get that stitched – get some ice on it first, though. Or you’ll end up with a right old cauliflower.’
He slips across the driveway towards a back window.
Sean is also at the de Montfort estate, snooping around the woodland. He has traced the surveillance cables to a small waystation concealed in dense undergrowth, near the boundary wall. From here a radio aerial broadcasts the signal in short wave. There is no real way of telling where the intended receiver might be.
Although Sean knows quite a bit about electronics, he is baffled by some of the hardware at the waystation box. A microprocessor is (he guesses) compositing the signals from all the surveillance devices together, and encoding it for broadcast. Must be quite a nice piece of programming, if the surveillance image can be unpacked in a useful form at the far end.
He crouches down on his heels and lights a cigarette, musing. He still has the feeling the group is being manipulated. Karyn being taken over is odd – it don’t ring true. Why didn’t the Ylid go in person? Or is someone trying to hide their identity?
He stands, sighing, and treads the cigarette out carelessly in the bracken. Time to head to London.
Donald easily finds his way back to the study, where Viscount de Montfort is working away at his desk, his back to the door, as though nothing had happened. Donald steps quietly into the room, and the first the Viscount knows he is there is when the door clicks shut behind him. ‘I think it’s time we talked, don’t you?’
‘What is the meaning of this intrusion?’ Rupert’s father draws himself up to his full height, which is considerable.
Donald casually lights up a cigarette, blowing smoke across the room. ‘You don’t know me, maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not, doesn’t matter. I know Rupert very well, I kind of think of myself as his guardian angel. That boy should be dead by now, by my hands.’
‘And good riddance! He’s disgraced the name of de Montfort. You’ll oblige me, whoever you are, by leaving at once, and taking my wretched offspring with you!’
The Viscount’s bluster, though, does not seem all that effective on Donald. ‘Sit down, and listen to me. You’re going to have to anyway, so you may as well be comfortable.’ Slightly to Donald’s surprise, the Viscount sulkily complies ‘I am – sorry, was – a hitman, contracted to kill whomever my masters desired. Sometimes it was for political reasons, sometimes revenge, I didn’t care. I was trained to see past all that. The people I killed were faceless to me, names meant nothing.’
‘Pah! You don’t surprise me at all. And a de Montfort is associating with such characters!’
‘Shut up and listen. Over time, the faceless people started to gain faces, the names would sometimes crop up on the news. I felt something I didn’t think possible – guilt.’ Donald sits down himself. ‘The amount of times I held a gun in my mouth wishing I could pull the trigger… uncountable.’
He looks up, realizing he has gone on a bit. ‘That’s in the past. My last job, my turning point if you will, was to kill Rupert, your son. I don’t remember why he had to die.’
‘But, to cut this rather long story short, it was good news for him, ’cos I decided to change my ways. Unluckily for him the contract was still on him, so there I was thinking, he’s going to die if I don’t do something. So I set about protecting him from afar. I’ve saved that boy’s life Christ knows how many times.’
‘You might as well have not bothered,’ says Rupert’s father bitterly.
‘The contract is now terminated, I’ve seen to that. His life isn’t in danger any more. So why am I here, you’re thinking? Well, now I don’t think of him as a victim, I call him a friend. When I first met him, properly, I must admit I thought I was wasting my time on him. Now, I’ve seen him go through so much in the last few months, and I can’t stop it. You can. Tell me what I need to allow us to stop whatever is coming. If you’re in danger over this, I will protect you. I can get people here who will look after you.’
The Viscount merely snorts contemptuously at this moving tale, which Donald is almost believing himself by the end, so convincingly has he recounted it.
There is a brief silence, then Donald sighs and says ‘No, I didn’t think the softly-softly bullshit sob-story approach would work.’
He reaches into his inner pocket, and slowly pulls on a pair of black leather gloves. ‘The truth is, you are about to tell me everything you know about Egypt, your family and anything else I happen to ask you. I will know when you are telling me the truth and when you aren’t. Believe me, you don’t want to lie too often.’
‘Are you threatening me?’ The Viscount is red-faced with incredulity.
In reply, Donald reaches into his pockets once more and pulls out the knuckleduster and knife. He slides the one over his left hand, and snicks open the blade of the other. ‘You could put it like that, yes.’
The old man’s reaction catches even Donald by surprise. He twists the handle of his walking-stick, and from it emerges three feet of shiny steel blade. Donald leaps to his feet and quickly steps inside the blade, having no wish to be skewered, and he sinks two quick left jabs into the Viscount’s stomach.
The old man collapses with a whoosh of air, the sword clattering to the floor, and doubles up, his face grey. He gasps for air.
‘Right then, perhaps now you’ll start spea… hold on.’
The Viscount’s face has turned grey, and he is wheezing torturedly, clutching at his heart. As Donald reaches forward to help him, his body spasms, there is a horrible rattle in his throat, and he slumps prone.
‘Can you remember anything odd about Lovell? You know – clubs, friends, strange habits?’ asks George tentatively.
‘Not really – he seemed pretty ordinary to me. He was very interested in history, I remember that. He took me to the British Museum a couple of times.’
George is keeping a very neutral expression on his face, but Daphne picks up on something. ‘Dear, you’re not bothered that I had a bit of a thing with him, are you? It was a long time ago…’
‘Of course not, darling,’ says George honestly. He has no trouble being adult about this sort of thing. ‘I’m just glad your taste has improved!’
Daphne laughs relievedly. ‘Well, it was only a bit of a fling, anyway – thank goodness. I would never have suspected him of being capable of this sort of thing – kidnapping, murder. He was much keener on Sarah, I don’t think he really had much time for me.’
‘Sarah St John – my boss at the time. She was a good friend…’ Daphne stands up quickly. ‘More tea?’
‘Thanks – but I think I should probably be getting back to my own place now – meet up with the other fellows, you know.’ George stands up. ‘Rupert’ll be back from his parents’ soon.’
Daphne looks a little disappointed.
‘Hello, George? Andre Swahn here. I’ve checked up on Lovell, and he rings true – long-term civil service, MoD. Bit of a loner by all accounts, but he’s well in with the Minister and with de Montfort, apparently. High flyer, you know the type.’
‘Odd that they should risk blowing his cover on muscle work like this, then,’ muses George.
‘Mm. Well, it could be a trap.’
‘That’s what Sean thinks.’
‘Mm. His instincts are often good in this sort of situation. Or else they could be trying to burn him, because he’s in some way compromised, or has let them down in some way. Nefertiti isn’t very forgiving.’
Rupert is still in a private world of misery as Donald crunches slowly across the gravel towards him.
Donald opens the car door, and sits down quietly. He looks across at Rupert. ‘Er, listen, mate, I don’t know quite how to put this. Um… is there a Plan C?’
‘Karyn! How are you?’ George is genuinely pleased to see the young American.
‘Not too bad, thanks.’ Karyn’s gaze quickly takes in George’s house. ‘How’ve things been here in Oxford?’
Not too many sips of tea later, another car draws up outside the house. The man who gets out is in his early forties, with brown hair tied back and a tidy goatee beard. His eyes are intense, his cheekbones prominent, and he wears a battered brown leather jacket.
He ignores George and John (and Mahmoud, who is in the background playing with George’s old field telephone kit), and heads straight for Karyn, taking both her hands in his. ‘So, you’ve managed to get yourself into trouble, eh? Doesn’t surprise me.’
‘She’s been possessed by a… powerful spirit, and we think there might be some residue,’ contributes George helpfully. ‘Er… would you like a cup of tea, Professor?’
‘Exorcism first, tea later, that’s my motto,’ says Professor Westwood sarcastically.
George raises his eyebrows slightly, exchanges a glance with John, and disappears into the kitchen.
Professor Westwood works quickly, sitting Karyn down and injecting her with Rohypnol, ‘to open up your soul to me’. He casts the occasional sardonic glance in the direction of John, who has remained to keep an eye on what’s going on. ‘Trust is all-important in this business,’ he says at one point.
‘If Michael trusts you, that’s good enough for me,’ says Karyn woozily.
‘Right then. Look into my eyes.’
John is a little surprised to see no occult paraphernalia – no bell, book and candle, no crystal ball, no incense. Clearly Professor Westwood belongs to a more modern school of trafficker with unclean things. As if reading his thoughts (perhaps he was?) the Professor turns sharply to him and says conversationally ‘All that clutter is just a device for focussing the power, you know. You can just as easily do it straight out of your mind if you know how. And it’s less to carry around with you.’
Karyn is by now in a complete daze, and Westwood turns his gaze back to her, frowning. ‘She’s got some… hm!… interesting stuff in here. Right, oh, OK, I see what you… Jesus! You weren’t kidding when you said it was a powerful spirit. Hmm.’
Some twenty minutes pass in silence, during which Professor Westwood perspires heavily, his cheekbones seeming to stick out more and more and his lower lip becoming rather chewed. Eventually he slumps back, releasing Karyn’s hands.
On cue, George appears with a steaming mug of Assam, which the Professor gratefully receives, spilling a fair amount over his trousers. ‘That was tough. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a spirit quite like that. Such a small trace, no more than a tracker really, but so deeply bedded in – and completely casually too. It’s not like this spirit had made a big deal out of possessing Karyn. It must have awesome powers.’ He looks from John to George, and back. ‘Just what is it you’re mixed up with here?’
Dcember 26th, 6 pm
George, John, Martin, Karyn (who will come round in a few minutes) – George’s house
Rupert, Donald – at the de Montfort estate
Sean – on his way to London
George and Donald: George approaches Donald in the morning and asks quietly ‘Could you possibly get me a handgun? Not a cannon, just something for personal protection, should nastiness ensue in the next few days.’
Donald, surprised, nods agreeably and indicates his own automatic, under his jacket. ‘Something like this?’
George eyes the bulge of Donald’s mighty weapon a little nervously. ‘Er, no, a little smaller I think. Something that will fit in an inside pocket without showing.’
When Donald reappears after dealing with the Viscount, he hands George an 8-shot .22 automatic, and a small box of ammunition. ‘This should see you right.’