The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


Thursday 13 February 1997, 10:10 am

In the bar at the Old Man's Arms, there is a moment's shocked silence.

"Who is it?" Jake demands, wondering if this might account for the disappearance of Cameron Frazer – and ready to confront MacDuff if necessary.

"'Tis Monroe," replies the islander. "Washed up in the harbour with his head smashed into a thousand pieces!"

"I think our discussion can wait, Mr MacDuff," Jake says, about to make his escape. But MacDuff seems to barely notice him.

"Yes, you wait here – I'll be seeing you later," he says, absently, then turns back to the islander. "Lead on!"

Sid watches them hurry outside, shaking his head sadly. "Dear oh dear! Poor old Monroe – he was one of my best customers. What kind of a place is this to bring up a daughter? And I thought we'd left this sort of thing behind when we moved up from Coventry..."

Jake doesn't have time to sympathize. He dashes upstairs to Stewart's room, where he finds the Chief Inspector laying on the floor with his feet hooked under the bed, doing sit-ups.

"There's been a murder!" he exclaims. "Let's get down to the harbour and see what's happening!"

At the harbour, Jake and Stewart join a growing crowd of islanders watching solemnly as a body is fished out of the water and dumped on the jetty. Jake cannot help but shudder when he recognizes the sagging blue face as that of Monroe, the menacing boatman.

"He's dead, alright," MacDuff proclaims after a brief examination. The islanders gasp. "Killed by a single blow to the back of the head with a blunt instrument, if I'm not mistaken. A clear case of foul play!" Another gasp. MacDuff seems to be relishing the situation. "MacDonald, Craig – you carry the body to the Station, and I'll set up a centre of operations there. The inquiry starts as of this moment!"

He starts to stride away, leaving the crowd of islanders muttering among themselves. One or two of them stare angrily at Jake and Stewart. Jake begins to feel decidedly uncomfortable.

"MacDuff!" Stewart calls, apparently oblivious to the hostile atmosphere. "I'm on leave here, as you know, but if you need a hand you know where I am."

MacDuff gives him a tight smile. "I do not think that will be necessary. This is a local matter, and I will thank you outsiders for not interfering." He peers through narrowed eyes at Jake and adds: "Don't get any ideas about leaving the island, Mr Carter – you will never make it."

And with that he is gone, followed by a struggling MacDonald and Craig.

As the crowd disperses, Jake hears someone mutter: "They did it! I know it was them! They murdered Mrs Craig and now they've murdered Monroe."

Jake looks around, and sees the speaker staring straight at him.

The islander scowls, and speaks again, more loudly this time. "It's time we did something about them..."

Without any murder site to investigate – it appears that Munroe's body was washed into the harbour by the tide – Jake returns to the problem of Miss Prism's disappearance. Taking Stewart aside, he explains why the party came to the island and what they have discovered – though he takes care not to mention the existence of SITU. Stewart seems to take the news in his stride; he listens silently to what Jake has to say, nodding occasionally.

His story finished, Jake pats his pockets, looking for a jelly baby – but of course, he lost those, thanks to Monroe. His dismay must have registered on his face, because Stewart reaches into his own pocket and pulls out a paper bag.

"Have a liquorice allsort – not a coconut kiss, though. Those are my favourite. Hmmm..." He chews thoughtfully. "I can't say I'm surprised by what you've told me. It was obvious there's something very strange going on here – I could tell that the moment I set foot on the island. And now you say Miss Prism has gone missing?"

"Her last known location was Hawkcraig House," Jake replies. "Chief Inspector, can you pull some strings and get a search warrant? I'm terribly worried about her – a few days ago Ma Doonie told her that she wouldn't leave the island alive, and now she's disappeared!"

Stewart nods again, his expression stern. "I'll get on to it at once. And while we wait, I'd like to take a look at that videotape you obtained from the cave..."

At the beach, Brian watches Sarah St. John and the bald-headed man, a cold feeling in his heart. His resolve increases: the presence of this guy, this ruthless Russian who held him captive for all those years, who slaughtered a whole village to recapture him – that has cinched it for him.

"I will demolish that cave, if I can." he mutters.

The two figures on the beach start to load boxes of equipment into the dinghy, and Brian uses this opportunity to get closer. Keeping close to the ground behind an outcrop of rock, he strains to hear their words. They are speaking Russian, and though Brian hasn't used the language in years, his fluency returns rapidly.

"There would have been no need for this haste if you hadn't brought the authorities down upon our heads," the bald-headed man is saying.

"That wasn't my fault!" Sarah St. John returns, grumpily. "Everything was going fine until that so-called TV crew went on the rampage. I'm going to find who they are and what exactly they're doing here, never fear, as soon as we're finished here."

The bald-headed man shrugs. "It is of no consequence now – "

"It's of consequence to me, Borrisov! This is my job on the line!"

"We have what we came for," Borrisov continues, seemingly ignoring her. "We have the specimens."

St. John mutters something Brian cannot catch, but her tone of voice is grudging. "And what about the obelisk?" she adds, more loudly.

"The transmitter, you mean? I will return for it – in due course. It's safe enough in the cave. After all these centuries, a few months more matter little." He gives a nasty chuckle. "And it will be interesting to see what mayhem the locals create this time."

St. John hefts the last of the boxes into the dinghy. "You're still holding to that theory?"

"Oh yes," Borrisov says. "Every eighty years or so, the beacon transits its message. Every eighty years or so, the islanders wreak havoc. It's no coincidence." He laughs, darkly. "You should be glad, Mrs St. John. Maybe it will take care of your so-called TV crew for you..."

Sid isn't keen to let Jake and Stewart take the TV and video recorder upstairs, so they have to use the sitting room.

The screen flickers into life with an extreme close-up of someone's nose. Then its owner jumps down and the party recognize the face of one of Sarah St. John's 'HIDA' colleagues. The 'developer' herself is present, too, and a short, bald, middle-aged man wearing an eyepatch. They are all dressed in diving gear.

"That should suffice," this stranger says. He has a vaguely East European accent. "We will know if any of our beasties stir before we return."

"You don't think they will, do you?" The 'HIDA' man glances nervously at the pale patches in the walls.

The stranger laughs. "They have waited here ten thousand years – I think a few days more will make no difference to them. Your informant is to be commended, Mrs St. John. In my experience – which, as you know, is considerable – this is certainly the most significant such discovery made in the last two decades. Not since Szeged in ' 75 have I seen such flawless suspension..." He runs his hands over one of the pale patches, almost reverently, seemingly lost in a world of his own. "It will be difficult to revive them, of course, without these." He puts his finger into one of the small holes in the wall and wiggles it about. "But it will be done. And what will they say, when we bring them back to the base and revive them? What will they be able to teach us...?"

By contrast, Sarah St. John is all business. "I was sceptical when Clive Stokes first approached me, I have to admit," she says. "Why would a member of the press – and particularly that sector of the press – give such a story to an employee of Air Staff 2A? From where did he get that story? And how did he get my name?" She shakes her head. "I really have no idea. I'm just thankful he did."

The stranger's eyepatch jiggles as he raises the eyebrow beneath it.

"In addition to his other talents, this man is an astute judge of character." He chuckles. It is an eerie sound in the confines of the cave. "So, let us return to dry land, Mrs St. John, and we can make plans for the retrieval and delivery of this find. I take it," he adds, "that this remains a strictly unofficial transaction?"

"Oh most certainly yes. My superiors must never find out about this. Isn't that right, Steve?" She gives the 'HIDA' man a fierce stare.

"Er, of course it is, m-ma'am," he stutters.

In silence, they gather their equipment and leave.

Stewart hits the stop button. "Well, well, well..." he says.

In her cell. Miss Prism hears the sound of the Station door opening, followed by a lot of rustling and banging, and scraping noises as of furniture being moved about.

After fifteen minutes or so of this, she calls: "Is that you, Constable? I'm sure there are laws against the kind of treatment I am receiving! I haven't been fed all morning, and I am still due a telephone call. I demand to speak to my sister at once!"

There are heavy footsteps on the tiles, then PC MacDuff appears. He gives Miss Prism a dark look, then unlocks the cell door. "You can go," he grunts.

Miss Prism is astounded. "I beg your pardon?"

"I said you can go. Now get moving before I change my mind." He gestures towards the door, and adds. "I've got more important things to do than babysit you for the HIDA people."

Determined to make a dignified exit, Miss Prism picks up her handbag and walks out of the cell and towards the Station door without haste. She sees that MacDuff's desk has been pushed aside and replaced by a trestle table covered with a big map of the island, upon which hundreds of small pieces of plastic (supplemented with a handful of coins) are arranged in what is presumably a highly significant pattern.

"Is there a problem?" she asks, casually.

"There has been another murder," MacDuff says, with relish. "And I have a good idea who the perpetrators are..."

Miss Prism makes her way slowly outside. She feels tired and not a little unwell after her recent experiences – the best thing now. she realizes, would to put her feet up and have a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately, there are other matters to be dealt with first – burning down Hawkcraig House among them.

As she hurries down the street she sees Captain Murdo coming in the opposite direction. He is walking with a stick and looks very frail and unsteady, but the colour is back in his face and he seems to be making a recovery. When he sees Miss Prism, though, he goes pale again and starts to tremble.

"Good day, Captain Murdo!" Miss Prism greets him brightly. "May I ask how you are?"

Murdo's eyes fill with tears.

Somewhat surprised, Miss Prism pats his shoulder. "There, there. Now, pull yourself together, there's a good Captain. It's a terrible thing to see a grown man weep."

"Oh, I have reason to weep!" Murdo chokes. "I have done a terrible thing. I lied and betrayed a trust, and I'll surely pay for it when I meet my maker!"

"There's no need for that kind of talk," Miss Prism says, sternly. "I'm sure it can't be that bad."

"It is, it is! How will you ever forgive me!"

"Forgive you? For what?"

"Oh, Miss Prism," Murdo moans, "I promised them I'd tell no one, but while I was in my sick bed I thought about it over and over, and my conscience has been plaguing me mightily. After a brush with death such as I had, you realize what's important in life..." He sniffles miserably. "But they said it would do no harm, and the Lady Flora needed repairs, and I didn't think it would do any harm..."

Miss Prism frowns. "Come to the point, Captain, please do."

He sighs. "When you and your friends first arrived here I had a visit from one of those developers – the young lassie, Sarah St. John. She said she would pay me fifty pounds if I kept my eye on you all and let her know what you did, where you went, and whether you were asking any questions."

"Did she explain why?" Miss Prism asks, though with a sinking heart she guesses what is coming next.

"She said you may not be all that you seemed. I think she believes you came here to cause trouble for the oil people – but that's not true, is it? I can see for myself you're harmless enough and I told her as much, but she kept insisting. And then she offered me one hundred pounds, and I could not turn her down."

He pauses, wringing his hands. "Then you gave me that letter – do you remember? You asked me to send it to your sister if anything happened to you. I gave it to Mrs St. John, and she paid me another fifty pounds. Oh, may the Lord have mercy on me! I am no better than Judas himself!"

Miss Prism remembers only too well – and it explains why those suspicious men appeared at Agatha's house so soon afterwards.

"But the worst of it is..." Murdo continues, dropping his voice to a barely audible whisper. "... I'm sure they tried to kill Mr Dellis when I took him and Mr Hansen out diving."

"What do you mean?"

"It's the truth!" Murdo moans. "For I found one of them lurking about near the shed where I keep the equipment. He made some excuse or other when I challenged him, but I did not believe him – though I did nothing because I was afraid what people might say if word of me working for them got out! And to think Mr Dellis might have been drowned..."

He puts his face in his hands and begins to sob loudly.

When she finally reaches Hawkcraig House, Miss Prism knows what she must do. Everything is clear now, clearer than it has been since she first arrived on this godforsaken island. Without hesitation, without thought or fear, she strides towards the massive front door, opens it wide and flings a lighted match onto the pile of old curtains on the floor, another into the box of books, another onto the stack of paintings piled up by the door.

She closes her eyes, exultantly. There is something evil in this house, she knows, something ancient and sinister, something which must be destroyed if there is ever to be peace. And she is the one to do it. Convulsively, raises her arms, as the swelling flames spill from one pile of rubbish to the next. She hears a baby cry, and a sound as of distant laughter...

Then a scream. She turns to see Mary Doonie running down the track towards her, her eyes rolling and face white.

"What are you doing?" Mary shrieks.

"I am saving us all!" Miss Prism bellows in reply. "These cleansing flames will wipe the evil from the face of the Earth!" She has to raise her voice to be heard above the gathering roar of the fire. "God's chosen must unite against the Antichrist! Come with me, Mary, and we will make our escape!"

Mary stares at her, a look of utter, uncomprehending horror on her face. Then she shakes her head, pushes Miss Prism out of the way and flings the door open again.

A cloud of black smoke gushes out, and Miss Prism chokes. The hall beyond is already a blazing tunnel of light and noise.

"No!" Mary says, shaking her head. "I won't leave my baby."

And with that she staggers into the burning house.

After watching the video, Jake goes for a wander around the harbour, looking for boats they might 'borrow' should the need for a swift exit arise. There are half a dozen moored there, and any could be taken easily – despite recent events, crime prevention is obviously a low priority with the islanders.

He heads back towards the Old Man's Arms, wondering if Brian has returned yet. As he approaches, he sees someone waving frantically to him from the shadowy alley beside the pub. It is Dougal Doonie.

"Dougal!" he exclaims, joining him in the alley. "What are you doing here? Where's Lucy? And what on earth happened to Monroe?"

Dougal grasps his arm, desperately. He is trembling, his clothes are torn and he is covered with blood. "I killed him!" he wails. He is clearly beside himself with fear and distress. "But I didn't mean to do it! He was like a madman – he said we should throw Lucy in the sea. I tried to stop him but he wouldn't listen, so I grabbed a paddle and hit him with it. I didn't mean to kill him, I swear, I swear!"

"Where is Lucy?" Jake demands. "Is she injured?"

"I left her hiding on the beach," Dougal moans. "You have to help us – please, what can we do?"

Jake doesn't have time to reply. There is a sudden sound of shattering glass, followed by a burst of smoke and flame. It takes him just a moment to realize what is happening.

The pub is on fire.

Brian hurries back to the Old Man's Arms, to find that Jake has gone out somewhere and Miss Prism is still missing. Stewart is present, however; he ushers Brian into his room and speaks in hushed tones.

"I've called in some favours and arranged what you wanted. You know..." He spreads his hands wide, miming an explosion. "Can we wait until tomorrow?"

"Whatever it takes to stop these people getting their way," Brian says, grimly. "More answers would be nice, but – "

He is interrupted by the sound of breaking glass downstairs. Together, he and Stewart rush to the window and look outside.

"Oh my God," says Stewart.

Smoke is billowing from a window downstairs. And a half a dozen burly islanders are standing at the front door, murder in their eyes...

Brian – Inside the Old Man's Arms
Jake – Hidden in the alley beside the Old Man's Arms
Miss Prism – Hawkcraig House
Thursday 13 February 1997, 12:30 pm

Briefing | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

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