The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Bamworth Legacy - Episode 2

"Oh God, another bloody student journalist on the make!" Professor Twitchin snorts with contempt, and spreads his crossword out before him with deliberation. "I thought I's escaped all this nonsense. Look, young man, put that silly organiser thing away and give the rest of us a little peace, will you?"

Riggs is already on his feet, and bursts into tense, angry speech, punctuated by stabs of his finger in Henry's direction.

"You stupid, stupid fool! Your mind is closed to extreme possibilities and that makes you a target! They're here I tell you... they're everywhere and they're already a part of us! My God, you could be one and you don't even know it..."

"Easy now, Benedict." Culver interrupts him gently, laying a soothing hand on that of Riggs. "I'm sure John didn't mean to belittle you - or whatever happened to you. Scared you pretty bad, didn't it?" Still visibly agitated, Riggs disengages himself and leaves the room. After enthusiastically noting Riggs' reaction in his organiser, Henry turns an inquiring gaze upon the other members of the group. Culver shrugs.

"I wouldn't have put it quite as colourfully, but, yes, I guess I'm pretty sceptical too. I'd be happy to be interviewed - but I'm hardly going to set your notebook alight!" Henry is treated to Culver's boyish smile.

As the interview begins, the professor pointedly abandons his crossword, and rises.

"If this young fool has dragged me back from the pub to be subjected to this, I suggest he has a lot to learn about human nature yet, let alone anything beyond that." The door swings and slams a second time, as Twitchin leaves.

Hands clasped behind his head, Culver holds forth upon his early life in an austerely religious family on the West Coast of Scotland, his expulsion from the same for "Sins of the Flesh", his career in psychiatry, and his desire to join to SITU after a "personal" incident some six months before.

"What else? I'm gay, but don't let it bother you. I do try not to frighten the horses!"

Henry happily concludes his notes, and thanks Dr Culver.

"Now, who's next for the interviewee's chair?" Through a mist of cigarette smoke, he meets Side-step's suspicious stare.

"Oh no you don't, sun beam. I ain't having no one mentioning me in no book. My private thoughts are staying just that, private. I don't care how confidential you reckon it'll be." As the conversation drifts back to the day's events, Side-step describes his close encounter with the watcher in the square. "I don't believe in this supernatural twaddle either but whatever is going on around here, we're not the only ones interested. Someone was paying particular attention to my activities in the village earlier, and somehow I don't think he was just some nosy local."

"Do you think he might have been spying on us?" Henry's face is suddenly serious. "Maybe he's a Man in Black. But he was wearing a tan overcoat, wasn't he? Well, Man in Tan, then. Whatever he is, we'd better be careful!"

At this rather tense moment, the door's sudden opening startles all.

"Um, hello." Darius McGregor seems a little overwhelmed by the weight of three gazes. "I've found Tracey Hammond."

As Culver rouses Karen Norse and instruct her to bring hot tea and blankets for the shivering girl, Darius rests and recounts his discoveries.

After discovering the prone form of the girl, he had begun a search of the environs, but the increasing darkness and his concern for Tracey's state had forced him to abandon it. The journey back through the uncanny, thrashing darkness of the windswept fields had been broken by pauses beneath trees when the weight of the half-conscious girl became too much for Darius's aching arms. She had betrayed little sign of hearing his tentative questions, but he had taken pains to memorise any breathy fragments she murmured.

"Mary'll kill me, I'm such a baby... what, my clothes? Why do I... it's not fun any more... all the voices from the fields... it's no good talking to me, I can't, I don't know how... make it stop, I don't know how to make it stop..."

A brief examination satisfies Dr Culver that Tracey Hammond is suffering shock. At his enquiry concerning "odd substances", she squirms uncomfortably.

Constable Brice and Karl Hammond, who shares his daughter's mousy hair and large, dazzled-looking eyes, arrive within ten minutes of Mrs Norse's phone call. Matt Culver's offer of his professional services are politely declined. He shrugs, and advises a urine drug screen.

In The Star, meanwhile, Adam Twitchin has somewhat recovered his composure. As a dowdy, elderly gentleman sitting alone, he evades much of the attention the SITU agents had acquired earlier, and thus is able to overhear much of the ambient conversation. The sickliness of the Lewis farm's cattle seems to be something of a running joke. The locals clearly expect to be served somewhat beyond eleven, but the landlord, Mark Ashford, gives an expressive nod towards Twitchin's table, and the complaints ebb.

One stocky, dark man leaves at closing time with ponderous unsteadiness, regarding the progress of his own feet with a distant interest, as if failing to recognise them as his own.

Leaving the pub, the professor sees Tracey Hammond being ushered into an ambulance with her father, and is swiftly apprised of recent events by his colleagues.

Mulling over the news, he takes a walk through the village. All is dark but for the floodlit church, a small bulb at the base of the monument, and the occasional lighted window. One such gleaming square is visible in a small building adjoining the school.

Twitchin returns just as Henry has finished typing up his interview of Culver, and the group are ready to turn in.

Early the next morning, in the privacy of one of the guest rooms, it is resolved to divide for purposes of investigation, and reunite for lunch before departing to the Bamworth Estate together. Upon Professor Twitchin's suggestion, they find a telephone number for the central office of the Watcher. A bored-sounding secretary informs them that the paper does, indeed, have an archive of back-copies, and that an appointment can be made to see them at a day's notice.

The only Lewis listed for the village in the telephone directory is an Ian Lewis. A gruff, thickly-accented male voice answers when the number is rung.

"No, you've got the right number, but Neil's out. Probably at the Drayes' farm with young Eric. I'd try again later if I were you."

The rain of the previous day has washed the sky clear, and when Side-step strolls through the square a little after nine, there is already a warmth in the freshening breeze.

His hand is already on the handle of the newsagents' door, when in his peripheral vision he once again glimpses the figure of the man in the tan overcoat. The latter is leaning up against the wall of the post office, a paper held out before him, sunglasses concealing the direction of his gaze.

A Landrover is making a laborious affair of the northern turning out of the square. While it thrums sluggishly between the two men, Side-step takes advantage of this temporary cover to mimic his opponent's disappearing act. A moment later, he has the satisfaction of hearing rapidly approaching footsteps.

The tall, sandy-haired man who hurries around the side of the corner shop, hurriedly folding his newspaper, is unprepared for being swung around by the lapels and pinned to the wall. His sunglasses tumble to the ground.

"I don't like people following me around, mate, it tends to make me very nervous. Now either you fancy me and are trying to pluck up the courage to ask me on a date or you are working to some other agenda. Now which is it and don't give me any flannel or I am likely to have a sense of humour failure and that won't be healthy, for you, that is." The other, though some three clear inches taller than his attacker, visibly wilts under Side-step's gaze, his pale eyes blinking with reptilian rapidity.

Their gaze is broken as a tinkle sounds from the opening door of the dairy. The stranger takes advantage of this distraction to jerk free, and bolt.

Resisting his initial impulse to sweep the other's legs from under him, Side-step uses the opportunity to follow the fleeing man, running alongside the road beyond the cover of the hedge. Opposite the church, the man in the overcoat halts for breath, pulling out a mobile phone.

"Kate? It's Martin. No, I'm bloody not. Somebody just jumped me and tried to make me into a mural." Pause. "I bet. Well, unless he fancies stealing enough to triple my salary, he'd better find me some jobs that don't involve psychos trying to push me through walls. Bring the car down and pick me up, will you? I'm a bit shaky."

Some ten minutes later a white Volvo stops at the church, and the stranger gets into the passenger seat. Before Side-step can note the registration number, the car drives away along the northern road.

Meanwhile, Gill Sexton puts on her best morning smile as Benedict Riggs and Matt Culver enter the newsagents. As prearranged, Riggs, handling numerous gun magazines in a cursory fashion before launching into conversation to "distract" her.

"Have you ever considered how a television works? I mean have you ever truly considered how the pictures come through the screen? No? Then how do you not know that they are able to watch you through that same screen..."

Mary Sexton is sulkily sorting copies of Elle. She seems a little intimidated by Culver's approach, and becomes distinctly defensive when Tracey Hammond's name is mentioned.

"I wouldn't know. Neil and me were just hanging out that night around the petrol station." Her stare is just a little too defiant. "She... she is alright, isn't she?"

"What if the magazines in your shop were arranged in such a way so that they submitted some kind of subliminal message in order to cover up the fact that they are already here?" Benedict's voice rises to a crescendo as he waves a Beano before Gill Sexton's increasingly appalled face.

"Mary," she mutters out of the corner of her mouth, "get your father." Her daughter uses this excuse to push past Culver and disappears through a door beyond the counter, returning in an instant with a thick-set, sleepy-eyed man of forty. In the presence of Leo Sexton, his wife and daughter acquire a curiously subdued aspect.

"Perhaps you are one of them?" Benedict calls over his shoulder as he is gently led out by Culver. "Are you? Are you?"

Walking to the site of the meteor strike, Professor Adam Twitchin finds John Henry determined to accompany him, his chagrin in no way lessened by the latter's choice of a maroon tie to accompany his lemon-yellow shirt.

At the site, the entranced girls of the previous day have been replaced by a youth who lies on his back across the green, a dusty, black labrador draped across his midriff. The sides of his head are shaved, the remains of his hair pulled back into a pony tail. He responds affably when Henry compliments him upon his dog, and seems impressed by the SITU agent's grasp of the occult.

"I'm just here to, you know, feel the vibes." He thumps the grass. "Reckon I'll stay for Midsummer, though. Last year it was just, you know, electric. Jugglers, scryers, people who know these old, old dances, all these amazing people just coming from miles away... I got a mask, this time, and everything." He tweaks open a haversack. Something stares with painted yellow eyes from beneath two branching horns.

Twitchin squints across the land, observing its contours. From time to time he observes the small compass in his hand, shakes it, and regards it again. The tiny needle twitches and sticks, twitches and sticks.

To effect the compass to such an extent, the professor estimates that the amount of magnetic iron to have reached the ground without burning away in the atmosphere must have been fairly considerable. The "site", he realises, is the nadir of a subtly sloping dell, the softened remains of the original crater. This crater appears to have been about half a mile in diameter, a size not incompatible with the impact of a meteor of the estimated size. The village itself would lie within this "crater".

Hoping to continue his aborted search with the benefit of daylight, Darius returns to the field where he had discovered the lost girl. After an hour, he finds another flattened hollow in the crop, at the base of which he notices traces of candle wax.

"Is there a good reason why you're treading my corn into crop circles?" A small, delicate man in a blue pullover is wiping at his reddened nose, and observing the SITU agent. Darius describes the events of the preceding night. "Christ, Tracey was here, was she? I might have harvested her up with the corn." The farmer introduces himself as Simon Farrel, and walks with Darius as far as the village, conversing upon neutral topics.

As agreed, the group meet up for lunch, pool their information, then set off for the Bamworth Estate.

As they walk, Matt Culver, with a dramatic shiver, voices his misgivings. "There's a strong history of witchcraft in this area, and Tracey was certainly spooked by something. The summer solstice is an important date in the Wiccan calendar - we've got the Midsummer Festival to look forward to..."

The grey stone of the great house that rises into view is scarcely softened by sunlight. On either side black cedars brace, like dancers awaiting the first chord.

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