The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


In an underwater cave off the West Coast of Clachantyre
Wednesday 12 February 1997, 9:55 am

Brian looks at the camera, then at Cameron. "Could we step over here in my office, please?"

He leads Cameron out of view of the camera then says, in a low voice: "I would say this is definite proof that HIDA's agenda here is more than they say it is, right?"

He looks around for some way to reach the camera; it is mounted right over the glassy column and the only way to get to it, he realizes, is to climb on the column itself. Tentatively, he steps onto the plinth – and immediately experiences a much more powerful and disturbing blast of the strange sensation Miss Prism and Jake felt when touching the dolmen on the headland above. He shakes he head to clear it and concentrates on the task at hand: cutting the power cables then unscrewing the camera from it's mountings. He puts the camera in a bag and climbs down, relieved to be back on the ground.

"But now they'll know someone's been here," Cameron protests weakly. He is still whispering, and looks more dazed than Brian feels. Clearly, a career in local council has not prepared him for such strange revelations.

"They'll only know it's gone if they send someone out here," Brian reassures him. "And they would have known anyway if we had left it here."

He takes out his camera and takes exhaustive pictures of the room, including close-ups of the pale panels, the holes beside them and the carvings on the column.

"Now, let's get to the surface and out of here," he says, grimly.

As Cameron swims down into the tunnel, Brian gives the room a last once over – and notices something he missed before: an empty matchbook lying discarded on the floor. He takes a closer look; the matchbook reads 'The Royal Station Hotel, Fort William'. He puts it in the bag with the camera and follows Cameron into the water.

While Jake sits shivering in the boat waiting for Brian and Cameron to return, he tries to start a conversation with the taciturn Monroe.

"Have you noticed anything odd in these waters recently?" he asks. "Unearthly lights, mutant fish?"

Monroe bares his teeth at him in expression that might be a smile, a grimace, or a very unfriendly snarl.

Jake clears his throat and tries again. "What do you think about the HIDA's activities? If they're involved in dumping it would be very bad for the waters around the island."

Monroe bares his teeth again. It's a snarl, Jake decides. The boatman lifts a length of rope off the deck and begins to coil it round his hands, testing its strength.

"Would you like a jelly-baby?" Jake asks, now rather alarmed. He gets to his feet and starts to back up slowly across the deck.

Monroe snaps the rope tight between his fists.

Jake's back touches the rail. He look over his shoulder. "Oh – is that the others?" he gasps hopefully, pointing down at the water. As he does so, a shadow falls over him, and he looks back to see Monroe looming right beside him, his huge hands reaching out.

Jake cannot suppress a yelp of surprise. The bag of jelly babies jumps out of his hand and falls into the sea with a soggy splash. Monroe gives a nasty laugh...

"Over here!" calls a voice from the stern. It is Brian.

Monroe gives Jake a look of disgust, and moves to help the divers into the boat.

When they reach Harriestown, Brian invites Cameron back to the Old Man's Arms to discuss what they have discovered. Cameron looks at his watch.

"I can't make it straight away," he says, regretfully. "I really must get some work done this morning, and I have to go home first. But I'll stop by this afternoon – why don't you give me a call when you're ready?"

At the inn, Jake and Brian seek out Miss Prism.

"Did you find Captain Monroe reliable?" Miss Prism asks. "With Mr Murdo still in hospital, we need to find another boatman to secure a passage for Mary – and for us!"

"Reliable, apparently yes – friendly, most definitely not!" Jake says, huffily, hoping he will have a chance to visit the Post Office for more jelly babies later.

The party discuss their next move.

Jake is keen to let Chief Inspector Stewart in on future discussions. "If we have to break the law clearing up the investigation, we'll need a policeman to help the cover-up," he reasons. "I think we need to deal with Ma Doonie and the child as soon as possible, but the question is how?"

Brian looks very uncomfortable. "Miss Prism," he says, quietly, "if you can get Mary off the island and away from here, that certainly may be for the better. HIDA may be hostile. These strange forces from the ocean just might be as well. But Ma Doonie and the kid certainly are. What happened to Vul, added to what information our superiors gave us, there is no doubt some strange power is at work here." He pauses, searching for the right words. "It hurts me a lot to say this, in many ways, but Sampson McBride may have been right. The Doonie house may have to burn. Ma Doonie and young Hamish may have to die to end this..."

There is a grim pause.

"Old Ma Doonie is the key to the troubles on the island," Miss Prism agrees. "She and that terrible house must be put to the fire..." She shudders. "It's the only way. No time to be lost."

"We can't kill them in cold blood," Jake protests. "If we set light to Hawkcraig House we might kill the other Doonies. If we had to, destroying the cave might be the best way to stop the murders. No Sea People – no strange powers for Ma Doonie. It would be a pity but. Brian, how much explosive would we need to ruin the cave? And what would be the effect on the dolmen?'

This conversation is interrupted by heavy footsteps coming down the stairs: it is Chief Inspector Stewart. Jake excuses himself from Brian and Miss Prism and hurries over to the police officer.

"Chief Inspector, I should mention that I jotted down the number of the helicopter the divers used to leave the beach where we found the mutated fish. It will be interesting to find out who owns it; unfortunately we haven't had time to track down the authority holding the owner's details."

Stewart's eyes light up. "Let me have it and I'll get it traced." He lowers his voice dramatically. "You know, I won't be at all surprised if that helicopter turns out not to belong to the HIDA."

"Hmm, you may be right, " Jake says. "I've found something else – Cameron Frazer has contacted the HIDA about Ms St. John and they've never heard of Clachantyre. Odd, considering the divers, helicopter and whitewash conference..."

After lunch, Miss Prism decides to go for a walk round the village to clear her head. She doesn't get far: in the lane behind the pub she encounters Lucy – in a passionate embrace with Dougal Doonie. A few things begin to make sense to her...

Lucy squeals at the sound of Miss Prism's footsteps and pulls away, wiping her mouth. Then she gives a little gasp of relief.

"God, I thought you were my dad!" she cries. Dougal lurks behind her, a wary look on his face.

"Lucy!" Miss Prism says, brightly. "I've been meaning to speak with you, since our little chat the other evening.

"I'll be on my way then," Dougal mutters, taking a step backwards. But Lucy grasps his arm.

"Don't worry Dougie, Miss Prism knows all about us. Well, almost all..."

"I take it this is the young man you're going to Spain with?" Miss Prism says.

"Yes, that's right." Lucy prods Dougal in the ribs. "Why don't you say hello to Miss Prism, Dougie?"

"Uhh, yes." Dougal scratches the back of his neck. He is blushing quite furiously. "I'm, uhh... pleased to meet you."

"Don't mind Dougie," Lucy says to Miss Prism, jiggling Dougal's arm as she speaks. "He's just a bit shy." Dougal shrugs. "I've been jumpy ever since we started courting. It's hard work hiding it from our families."

"That's why we're going to Spain," Lucy says. "To get away from this dump of an island – and everyone on it. My dad would kill me if he knew about Dougal. He thinks I'm still his little girl!" She grimaces. "We're leaving tomorrow, thank God!"

"And what will your family say about you leaving home?" Miss Prism asks Dougal.

Dougal shrugs his shoulders again, this time with a pathetic sigh. "I don't think they'll even notice I'm gone. Mary's too worried about the baby. Hamish is worried about Mary. Ma's head is full of schemes for bringing back the old days. Tom's too busy doing her will: lying for her, spying for her – even thieving for her. And after what happened with that American the other day – " He seems to be almost speaking to himself, now. "Though the baby might notice. He's a bright one, that wee lad. When you look into his eyes, you can see he knows you – and all about you..."

As Cameron requested, Brian telephones his office, intending to ask him to come down to the inn and examine the pictures they took in the cave.

"He's not here," the receptionist snaps, sounding even more harassed than usual. "And I've no idea when he'll be in – I have seen and heard nothing from him all day. It's asking too much, I tell you, leaving me to cope on my own like this! When he has the good grace to come in, I shall be tendering my resignation, let me tell you!"

She slams the phone down.

When Miss Prism gets back from her walk, the party gather with Chief Inspector Stewart. Brian describes what he and Cameron found in the cave, showing them the photographs he took.

"What on earth is this place?" Stewart breathes. "What lies behind those panels in the wall? And what are the holes beside them for? Do you think something fits in them?"

"Jake, can you fax a picture of the carvings on the column to you colleagues for identification?" he asks, then turns to Stewart. "These people ring the Old Man with strange devices, they put a monitor down in the grotto with that...whatever it is... I wonder if they are truly from HIDA, or is it a cover for some other organization? They aren't here for mere 'oil drilling'..."

Stewart gives him an enigmatic smile and rolls a Cola cube round his mouth. "I'm pleased to tell you there's been some new developments in that area... Following Mr Carter's information about the so-called HIDA helicopter, I've discovered that the said aircraft isn't registered to HIDA at all – but to the Ministry of Defence!"

Leaving Jake at the inn, Brian and Miss Prism set off for Cameron Frazer's house. Brian takes the photographs from the cave, determined to get Cameron's opinions on the carvings.

They are in sight of the Frazers' house when they see someone come out of the door. At first they think it is Cameron, and Brian is about to call a greeting to him – then he realizes it is not Cameron at all, but PC MacDuff. Some instinct makes them duck out of sight behind a hedge as MacDuff straightens his tie and grins widely to himself, then climbs onto a bicycle and rides away.

When they sure MacDuff is out of sight, they go up to the house. Brian knocks on the door.

Mrs Frazer opens it. She looks in a much better state than earlier that morning; she is smartly dressed and made-up, and the air of desperation about her seems to have gone. When she opens the door, there is a smile on her face – then she sees Brian and Miss Prism and her expression hardens.

"Can I help you?" she says, coldly.

"I'm looking for your husband, Mrs Frazer," Brian explains. "Is he here?"

Her gaze falters. "No, I'm afraid he's gone out."

"Will he be long?" Miss Prism puts in, sweetly. "Perhaps we could wait for him inside? It is rather cold out here and I think it's about to rain."

Giving Mrs Frazer no time to protest, Miss Prism pushes his way past and into the house. Brian follows.

"Yes, why don't you..." Mrs Frazer says, weakly.

Miss Prism takes a seat at the kitchen table and gives Mrs Frazer a friendly smile.

"I think a cup of tea would go down very nicely," Miss Prism says.

Six cups of tea later, there is still no sign of Cameron. Brian looks at his watch.

"Will he be much longer?" Miss Prism asks.

Mrs Frazer pushes a strand of hair off her face and frowns. Since Miss Prism's attempts at conversation died about five minutes after their arrival, she has been sitting at the table staring fixedly out of the window and looking increasingly raddled.

"To tell the truth," she snaps, "I don't know and I don't care. Let him stay out all night, if that's what he wants!"

Miss Prism leans forward. "Does your husband often go missing like this?"

Mrs Frazer laughs bitterly. "Oh, not often. Just whenever some floozy catches his eye. Then I might not see him for days – though he always crawls back here eventually."

"Would you like to talk about it, dear?" Miss Prism pats her hand sympathetically.

Mrs Frazer pulls her hand away, a startled expression on her face. Then she gives Brian a hard stare. "So you can go back to the pub and have a joke about it over a couple of drinks next time you see him? I'd rather not, if it's the same to you."

Realizing they have definitely outstayed their welcome now, Brian gets to his feet. "Perhaps you can ask your husband to call us when he gets home?"

Mrs Frazer doesn't show them out.

On the way back from the Frazers' house, Miss Prism takes her leave of Brian. As she hurries away, he hears her muttering under her breath: "No time to be lost, no time to be lost..."

Once again she takes the lonely track to Hawkcraig House. She doesn't have to wait long outside before Mary appears, this time to gather her washing from the clothesline.

"Mary!" she hisses, waving at her from behind the hen-house.

Startled, Mary drops the washing basket, spilling the clean clothes in the mud. She stares down at them for a moment, a bemused look on her face, then steps over them and joins Miss Prism.

"Why have you come?" she gasps. "I told you – it's dangerous for you here!"

"Not as dangerous as it will be for you, Mary, I assure you," Miss Prism says firmly. "But I have arranged a boatman, Captain Munroe, to take you to the mainland. You must leave at once." She fixes Mary with a steely stare. "And I will not take 'no' for an answer."

Mary shakes her head, flustered. "But I need to pack. And what about Hamish? And the baby?"

"I said now, Mary."

Mary opens her mouth to protest again – then her fearful expression turns to one of horror. Miss Prism has an instant in which to realize that Mary is not looking at her, but past her, then she hears a sudden rustle, a hiss of air, and something hard connects with the back of her head.

She drops into the mud, unconscious.

Late that evening, Jake walks up to the headland to see if any more gadgets have been set up around the Old Man. As he approaches the dolmen, however, he sees that two well wrapped-up figures are already there, silhouetted in the moonlight. He drops to the ground and shuffles forward quietly until he is close enough to overhear what they are saying. One is squatting on the ground beside the Old Man, cursing loudly; the other is staring out to sea.

"This will really piss her off!" the squatting man grunts. "Twenty thousand quid's worth of equipment gone – and the muvite!"

"There'll be more muvite where that came from," his companion says, more calmly.

Jake wonders what 'muvite' might be – then remembers the black crystal he took from the box on the dolmen.

"No prizes for guessing who did it!" the squatting man continues, a note of panic creeping into his voice. "Who are they are? Want do they want? You know, George, I'm starting to wish I'd never got involved with Sarah St. John and this crazy power trip of hers. What the hell was I thinking of, letting her talk me into it? We should have taken that tip-off straight to the Secretariat, not gone behind their backs. If I'd kept my head down and my nose clean, I might have been head of my own section in five years..."

"Pull yourself together, Steve." The other man sounds almost bored. "It's all under control. Now Borrisov's got his act together, we'll be out of here by this time tomorrow."

"I wish I had so much faith in him," the one called Steve mutters.

"He is the expert. I've worked with him before. He'll get our friends in the cave out, if anyone can. St. John can make it official then – she'll have more evidence than just the word of a crazy journalist – and the really big guns will come in."

"And what about the islanders?" Steve asks. "I presume they'll be out of here, too?"

"Have to be. This is going to be big, Steve. They'll say they've discovered a new form of plague or something here, and designate the island a biohazard zone. They might even create a biohazard – make things a bit more convincing – "

"Quiet!" Steve hisses suddenly. "I think I just heard something..."

After an evening alone at the Old Man's Arms, Brian realizes he hasn't seen Miss Prism since they got back from the Frazers' house that afternoon. And when he asks around the inn, it seems that no one else has seen her, either...

When Miss Prism opens her eyes, the world is still dark around her – it is some time before her eyes grow accustomed to the dim light. She is lying on a cold stone floor, she realizes, in what appears to be a cellar. How long she has been here she does not know, but it is night: moonlight filters down from a grimy window high overhead, casting strange shadows between the haphazard collection of packing crates, wine racks and farming implements that crams the room.

Shakily, she gets to her feet, her knees aching and her head pounding. She realizes with some dismay that she has lost her best feathered hat. Behind her, a short flight of worn stone steps lead upwards to a door – no doubt locked, she guesses, but worth a try nonetheless.

But as she starts to climb the stairs, she hears footsteps approach the other side of the door...

Miss Prism – ???
Jake – The Old Man, West Coast, Clachantyre
Brian – The Old Man's Arms, Harriestown
Thursday 13 February 1997, 12:10 am

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