The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


Sunday 9 February 1997, 3:15 pm

Vul turns his back on the severed hand and looks at himself in the mirror. He hates the man he sees there, the coward who couldn't pull the trigger on the old Doonie hag. He hits the mirror with his right hand, shattering the glass and smearing it with his blood, then grabs the hand. He knocks one of the paintings from the wall, smashing the frame in the fireplace, rips out the loose nail, and takes the hand into the hall, where he nails it to the wall. With the blood flowing from his own cut hand he writes 'Lost and Found' beneath the trophy. Then he walks down to the bar.

On board the 'Lady Flora', Murdo looks anxiously from Brian to John and back.

"You bet your ass there's a problem!" John says. "Vul slashed the airline!"

Brian scowls at the slashed hose. "That bastard," he grumbles. "You would think that punk just thinks this is some kind of game." Wishing hell and damnation on Vul's head, he turns to Murdo and asks: "Do you have a spare air hose for this thing?" He shows Murdo the useless airline.

"A spare, you say?" Murdo's eyes open wide, as though this is a surprising request. "No, I do not have a spare. Shall we go back and try again tomorrow?"

He sounds hopeful. But Brian shakes his head. "I can jury rig this using rubber cement and duct tape."

Meanwhile, John examines the rest of the gear. "I'm not diving if the equipment has been sabotaged," he concludes, and turns to Brian. "If you want to go down, I'll examine anything you bring up."

Brian shrugs his assent. He dons his gear (checking it carefully yet again), makes sure his knife, camera and flashlight are ready, and goes in. It is cold and murky, and difficult to see very much at all, but the water is like a second home to Brian and he begins to remember earlier days, some of them even pleasant. He swims around the boat a few times to get the feel of the water again, then heads out. John watches him from the boat.

Brian stays alert for signs of the sunken ship, but has not got far before he sees something glowing in the water to the north. He swims closer, and finds the entrance to an underwater tunnel; he judges he must be somewhere beneath the cliff. The glow emanates from within the tunnel, and watching it he realizes that it is not of constant intensity, but is pulsating slowly with some complex pattern. He takes a careful look around; the light is so bright here he has no need of the flashlight. The tunnel looks natural but the entrance seems rather unstable, as though it has been subjected to an explosion recently – Brian guesses that the blast opened up the entrance. He can see no animal or plant life nearby – living things clearly avoid this area. Cautiously, he swims in.

He doesn't get very far. After a few twists and turns that take him to a position that he guesses is roughly far beneath the Old Man, his way is blocked by an iron grille set into the walls of the tunnel. It is of new construction, and it is padlocked. There is no way he can force it with just his knife – he will have to come back with some heavier equipment, he realizes. It is frustrating: the light is stronger still here, but its source is tantalizingly out of view – he can imagine it lying just around the next bend...

As Brian turns to leave, he notices a set of strange marks on the tunnel wall. They appear to have been chiselled into the rock and are badly worn, but he can still distinguish most of them. Brian doesn't know much about such things, but to him they look vaguely like runes. He takes a picture of them with his camera before returning to the surface.

At Five Acre Farm, Jake greets Hamish Doonie politely. "Ah, Mr Doonie – "I don't believe we've met." He offers his hand. Hamish stares at it, wide-eyed. Unconcerned, Jake takes out his bag of jelly-babies. "Would you care for a jelly-baby?" He pops a green one into his own mouth.

"What's this?" Hamish demands, his voice high-pitched and wavering between outrage and desperation.

"You don't like outsiders much, do you Mr Doonie?" Jake says sympathetically.

"Not when they beat my brother senseless, break into my house and scare my wife so badly she runs away from home," Hamish growls.

"But we're nothing to be afraid of," Jake persists. ""We're just making a documentary."

"I have no time for your lies," Hamish mutters. He puts one hand against Jake's chest and pushes hard, then strides straight into the farmhouse.

Jake stumbles backwards and lands heavily on his backside. "Well, well, well!" is all he can say.

Fergus helps him to his feet. "My apologies," he says, a little shamefacedly. "They are an excitable lot, those Doonies."

"Uh, yes," says Jake, brushing the mud from his trousers. From what Hamish just said, it seems the film crew might be more of threat than the HIDA after all.

There is a lot of muffled shouting and screaming from within the house, then Hamish reappears, this time dragging Mary after him. She makes a half-hearted attempt to resist but he is too strong for her.

"You're not taking me back there. It's gone too far," she sobs. "That American would have killed us all if he hadn't thrown that fit!"

Mrs Drummond hobbles out of the door after them. "Leave the poor girl alone, Hamish," she pleads. "She'll come home when she's good and ready."

"She's coming home now," Hamish says gruffly. "She has a child who needs her."

"That's no child of mine!" Mary hisses. She looks around desperately, as if for some means of escape, and sees Jake. "Ask the doctor!" she shouts at him. "You ask her. She'll tell you what Ma did – to me, to my poor boy."

"Stop your snivelling, woman!" Hamish shouts, and raises his hand as though to strike her.

"Hamish Doonie!" Jock bellows. He suddenly seems to swell up to twice his normal size. "Lay a hand on my girl and you'll have me to deal with!"

Hamish scowls at him, but relaxes. "Mrs Drummond," he says, "I thank you for taking care of Mary, but I will not thank you for interfering further. This is Doonie business, and none of yours."

He leaves, pulling the still sobbing Mary with him.

On leaving the Heritage Centre, Miss Prism almost collides with a grey-haired, hunched lady who is walking along in a world of her own, shaking her head and muttering to herself.

"It's the end," she is saying, "The end of the world. The Old Man is waking..." Startled, she looks up, sees Miss Prism and puts her hand to her heart. "Oh dear, you did give me a fright!"

"Are you alright?" Miss Prism asks, concerned. "Is there any thing I can do?"

"No, nothing. There's nothing any one of us can do!" The woman wails and covers her eyes. "It's happening just as my grandmother told me. Death and destruction, all around... I heard your reading at the church service this morning – 'God's chosen must unite against Antichrist'. How right you are! The time of the Antichrist is here!"

Miss Prism takes her arm. "Let me take you home, at least."

Dumbly, the woman leads her to a tiny cottage overlooking the harbour. There is a plate of bread and butter in the kitchen, as though she had been making tea before wandering out into the street. Miss Prism sits her down and puts the kettle on the stove.

"I think a nice cup of tea is in order," she says, firmly.

The woman sighs. "I'm so sorry – I do not know what came over me. What must you be thinking of me? And where are my manners? I am Mary Ross, and let me make the tea, please – "

"It's no trouble. You rest there for a moment." Miss Prism busies herself with the tea things, then asks, almost casually: "Tell me, what was that you were saying about the Old Man? – I couldn't help overhearing."

Mary sighs again. "It's just an old story my grandmother told me. Each week when I was a girl, she took me walking on the cliffs, and always to the same place – that old rock on the headland. I was more than a little afraid of it, but still she would take me there, and one day she told me how the Old Man was once a real man."

She falls quiet. "Please go on," Miss Prism prompts.

"His people lived far across the sea," the woman says, her eyes growing misty, "on an island that was dry and barren because there the sun never set, or so my grandmother said. So these people built a fleet of boats from what were left of their withered old trees and set sail into unknown waters. The first land they happened upon was Clachantyre, so green and fertile that it must have seemed to them like paradise, and seeing that no one lived on the island, they decided to claim it for their own. But the air was different here, it is said, and realizing they could never make this their home, they journeyed on – where to my grandmother could not say. Except there was one who longed to see the sun set, just once in his life, and valued that sight more than life itself. So he slipped away as his people departed and sat on the cliff top, waiting for night to fall. And the sunset was the most beautiful this world has ever seen, and as the sea swallowed the last ray of sunlight, the stranger uttered a cry of joy, and as that sound left his mouth, he was turned to stone. And so he has stood ever since – but one day, my grandmother said, he would be set free, and on that day it would be the worse for Clachantyre." She shivers.

"Oh?" Miss Prism glances out of the window. It is growing dark. "And why is that?"

"She would not say, except that his people were sorely upset to have lost him, and would go to any length to get him back..."

Leaving Mary Ross napping safely by the fire, Miss Prism's next port of call is the church. The only person she can find is Angus Duff, the organist, who congratulates her on her reading that morning.

"You delivered those verses beautifully," he says. "It brought a tear to my eye. Now, what were you saying about church records?"

He is only too pleased to locate the relevant box for her. Miss Prism leafs with interest through the old books and crackling certificates – local history, such a fascinating subject!

Some of the handwriting is exceptionally difficult to read, but after a while Miss Prism believes she has sorted out the recent genealogy of the Doonie family. The three brothers Hamish, Dougal and Tom were born in 1966, 1969 and 1977 respectively, and were the sons of Hamish and Moira, both of whom died ten years ago – first Hamish, then Moira three months later. Hamish Senior's father was another Hamish, who was in turn the only child of Florence and Jock, and, as far as Miss Prism can see, these two were first cousins – Florence the daughter of another Hamish, and Jock the son of a younger brother, James; Hamish and James were two of seven brothers, none of whose burials are recorded. The death of an unnamed infant is recorded in 1910. The most recent records show that young Hamish Doonie was married to a Mary Drummond in 1996, but there is no record of a christening for their children.

As Miss Prism leaves the church, she is sure she sees someone watching her from behind a house on the other side of the graveyard. But when she crosses the road to check, there is no one to be seen...

On his way back to the pub, Jake looks around for John. He sees no sign of him, however, so he decides to go to the vicarage alone and search for clues to what the Reverend might have found during his wanderings on the beach.

When he reaches the vicarage, though, he finds it surrounded by a large crowd of police and an even larger crowd of villagers. All the villagers seem agitated, and some are weeping openly.

"Poor Nettie, oh poor Nettie!" one woman wails. "Who could have done such a thing to her?"

"I can guess!" a man growls, looking straight at Jake.

The rest of the villagers turn to him. There is a distinct aura of menace about them. Even jelly-babies won't help this time, Jake realizes. "What's happened?" he asks, nervously.

"See for yourself," the growling man says, and steps aside to give Jake a full view of the scene inside the vicarage.

The kitchen is swarming with people – police taking notes, police taking photographs, police telling other police what to do, men and women in white overalls taking fingerprints and collecting things in plastic bags – and it is some moments before Jake takes in the true horror of the situation. The elderly housekeeper Mrs Craig is slumped in a chair, still and silent in the centre of all the activity, the back of her head blown away and oozing blood and brains onto the kitchen table. Her right hand is missing, crudely hacked off as if with a carving knife, and the word 'SEA' is written in blood on the wall...

As Murdo steers the 'Lady Flora' into the harbour, Brian and John see Vul and Sampson waiting on the dock. On the ground beside them sits a cardboard box full of what looks like a dozen or more Molotov cocktails.

John leans close to Brian and whispers: "This could be trouble."

Brian tenses, ready for action. He sees Sampson grin at Vul and giggle wildly. "It's showtime!" Sampson shouts, and leaps onto the boat.

Vul ignores him and stays on shore. "Step over here, Murdo," he calls.

Murdo looks back at Brian and John with some confusion. John takes several steps backwards.

"I said step over here!" Vul repeats.

Wringing his cap in his hands, Murdo hops onto the jetty. "What seems to be the problem, Mr Dragna?" he asks, his voice wavering.

"No problem, Murdo," Vul says, then adds, unexpectedly: "The night comes quickly here." And with that he punches Murdo in the stomach.

As the old captain falls, Vul pounds his fist against the back of his neck, driving him to the ground, then starts to kick him. Brian leaps across the deck, but Sampson grabs the front of his shirt. He flashes Brian a brilliant smile, says: "Didn't you call me a 'fool'?" and throws a hard right cross across Brian's chin. "Of course you did, motherfucka. Now here comes the pain!"

But he gets no further, as Brian recovers from the punch and jerks his knee swiftly into Sampson's balls. Sampson drops to the deck, howling. Brian turns for back-up to John.

And finds himself staring down the barrel of John's 9mm pistol.

"How could SITU set me up with someone like you, Dellis?" John snarls. "Never, in my life, have I worked with someone so close minded. SITU sent us here to solve a mission. We can't have a 'cop' trying to stop us because he doesn't like how we do things. There's too much at stake. People are going to pay millions for the information I gather on this island. I don't have time to let some flyboy relive his Nam days."

He starts to squeeze the trigger.

"Drop your weapon!" booms a voice through a megaphone.

Three marksmen in police uniform are running onto the dock, with another three behind them.

"Oh shit!" moans Sampson.

"Drop your weapon!" the voice repeats. The speaker is an overweight man in a tan raincoat. His face is red as he runs on to the jetty.

John hesitates, and a marksman fires. With a gasp of pain John stumbles backwards and collapses onto the deck, blood spurting from his chest. Vul gives an incoherent shout of rage and reaches into his trenchcoat. Another marksman shoots, but Vul has already dropped to a crouch, and roaring he throws a two-inch steel ball through the air with deadly accuracy. The officer slumps, blood gushing from his temple. With an incoherent shout of rage, Vul jumps the nearest marksman. They go down in a flurry of blows and a shot goes wild above their heads. The others close in.

"I want him alive!" the raincoated man shouts, still speaking through his megaphone though he is now standing just feet from the action.

Screams and shouts ensue, and under the weight of half a dozen bodies Vul is soon overpowered. Snarling and spitting like a wild animal, he is dragged to his feet, forced to his knees and handcuffed.

"Looks like we arrived just in time," the raincoated man says over his shoulder. PC MacDuff follows him onto the jetty. "Good work, MacDuff."

"It was the note that got me worried," MacDuff pants. "That, and certain information I received." He nods at Brian.

The raincoated man introduces himself. "I'm Chief Inspector Stewart of the Fort William Police. Are you injured?"

Brian rubs his jaw. "No, I'm fine. But Captain Murdo looks in a bad way."

Stewart's officers fetch a stretcher for the unconscious old captain, one for the injured marksman and a third for John. John's eyes are closed, his skin is grey and he is bleeding profusely from a bullet wound below the collar bone. It is a sorry scene, and a thin crowd of villagers is gathering on the shoreline to watch it.

As Sampson is led away, hobbling, he wrenches around in the grip of the officers and spits in Brian's face. "Men from the 'hood don't take no shit!" he shouts. "Next time I'm gonna take you down!"

Shaken and disturbed by the day's events, Brian, Jake and Miss Prism gather at a corner table in the bar of the Old Man's Arms. John, they have learned, is under guard at the doctor's surgery, while Sampson and Vul are being questioned by the police. Murdo is in a 'stable' condition. They wonder what could have led to their colleagues' rampage of violence.

"Vul was having a psychotic episode," Jake decides.

Miss Prism, who is knitting as she talks to help her relax, disagrees with him. "Mr Dragna has behaved in a most ungentlemanly fashion throughout this investigation," she says. "And now he has led those other two boys astray." She shakes her head sadly.

"Whatever," Jake says, "someone should have recalled him from the assignment before he did real damage – now it's too late."

They fall silent again. Brian muses on the attempt on his life. Vul and Sampson he had never trusted, but he had begun to consider John a reliable comrade: they had seemed to work well together in solving this mystery – what could have driven John to suddenly turn on him?

Jake makes an attempt to change the subject. "I've been thinking about the Sea People Ma Doonie mentioned. There's a genetic defect which would be particularly prevalent in isolated, rural communities which caused the legs to be fused together. It explains certain obscure Scottish legends and might partly account for these 'Sea People'. We need to find out more about them before we do anything else – we're no match for Ma Doonie until we know more about her powers. I would have said calling the police won't do any good as there isn't much of a police force on the island," he adds with a wry grin. "But now we seem to have half the Scottish constabulary on our doorstep. Maybe you can revisit Hawkcraig House, Brian – you get on well with Mary."

Brian says nothing. He doesn't seem to paying much attention.

Jake tries to cheer him up. "You look like you've been kicked in the Doonies." Brian stares at him uncomprehendingly. Jake flounders. "It's a sort of joke you see. I've never been very good at them, but I'm told they can be terribly effective." He twirls his scarf in the air and changes the subject again. "Do you think it might have been Murdo who tampered with your diving equipment? Perhaps he was forced into it – but by whom? Why would he want to kill you?"

There is another uncomfortable silence. Fortunately, the door opens at that moment and Chief Inspector Stewart enters. He looks around, sees the party in the corner, and strides over to their table.

"Good evening gentlemen, madam," he says, pulling up a stool. "Well, we have a fine old mess here, do we not? Your colleagues had a busy day."

"Chief Inspector, may I ask how Mr Hansen is?" Miss Prism asks.

"He'll live," Stewart says, darkly. "He'll be questioned when he comes round. As for the other two... McBride thinks he's tough, but he'll sing sooner or later – they all do. Dragna we can get no sense from – he does nothing but rave about hags and sea monsters and voices in his head."

"It sounds like schizophrenia," Jake says.

Stewart peers at him through narrowed eyes. "Hmm. Schizophrenic or not, we do know that he is wanted in the United States for questioning with regard to the deaths of his family, and in France for the murder of a young woman who I understand was his lover."

"Oh dear," says Miss Prism.

"It appears," Stewart continues, grimly, "that after beating and shooting Mr Dellis and Murdo Muir to death and blowing up the boat, your three colleagues planned to burn down the home of a local family and mutilate and murder all the inhabitants – including a baby. And that's not all. PC MacDuff told us about a recent break-in and vandalism at the church – we found Sampson McBride's fingerprints all over the scene." He pauses.

"As for the murder of Mrs Craig... this man was cleverer – very clever, in fact. He covered his trail like a professional. But we've sent the bullets to forensics, and I have no doubt that we shall find they came from John Hansen's gun. And in addition, we found these among Hansen's possessions." He produces something from his coat pocket and lays it on the table: the Old Man's Fingers. "A valuable prehistoric artefact, stolen recently from a museum on this island."

The party stare at the Fingers. The stone gleams gently in the light from the fire, and Jake has a sudden urge to reach out and touch them. As his hand meets the stone Fingers, a thrill of energy passes up his arm, and for a moment he hears a voice speaking a language he does not understand.

Stewart snatches the Fingers back. "That's police evidence, Mr Carter," he says. He returns them to his pocket and gets back to business. "I need a statement from each of you. I want to know what you know about Vul Dragna, Sampson McBride and John Hansen. I want to know why they wanted to kill Mrs Craig, Mr Dellis, Captain Muir and the entire Doonie family. And most importantly – I want to know exactly what you are all doing on this island..."

Sunday 9 February 1997, 9:45 pm

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