The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Bamworth Legacy - Episode 4
The old woman opens her eye, sets aside the book in her lap, and laboriously raises herself from the chair.
"Look!" Benedict grabs the sleeve of his nearest companion. "On the side of her neck! I'm sure I can see the marking of an abductee. Yes! Yes, I'm sure I can see the scar where they have stuck one of their god damn implants in her neck! Can you not see it..." His countenance, radiant with certainty, falls as he sees his companions' incredulity. Muttering something about "Washington" and "them", he steps back from the group.
As she peers through the window, Professor Twitchin raises his hand in a wave. With a flushed, apologetic smile, Matt Culver mimes opening the window a little. She shakes her head, points towards the door, and moves from sight.
With a sigh, Side-step pushes his hands into his pockets.
"Okay boys, now that we appear to have been rumbled, who is going to be the bright spark and volunteer to explain to the old dear why there are six men gawking at her through a window like a bunch of freaks at a pervert convention?"
"We'd better send in one or two of our less alarming members to talk to her," opines John Henry. "We'll frighten the poor woman to death if we all march in there at this time of night!"
"Twitchin, I think you ought to go and speak to her," Side-step adds under his breath as the front door starts to open. "This little outing was your idea after all."
Appearing at the door, the old woman reaches a slender hand to the switch of the porch light, and pauses to survey the group in the street thus illuminated. Her head is set at a perpetual tilt, and her shoulders drawn up as if to cushion it, giving a queer impression of necklessness.
There is an awkward instant in which both Twitchin and Culver start to speak, and then stop in confusion. The former recovers first, introducing himself according to his identity as university professor.
As he places a business card into her long, freckled hands, he explains that one of his former students, previously a resident of the village, had asked him to look up the local school mistress while he was in the area.
"I'd better put the kettle on again, then," she declares, briefly, and holds the door wide for his entry.
As the front door is pulled to behind them, the party in the street become aware that Riggs is no longer among them.
Within the house, the atmosphere appears to combine the aromas of damp, mustard and talcum powder in roughly equal quantities. At the doorway to the kitchen Twitchin is forced to duck his head to pass beneath a flimsy mobile, dangling foil fish of different colours.
"The children persist in giving me things when they pass on, and then get offended if I don't keep them around the house. Touching, isn't it?" She spoons sugar from a blue-glazed pinch-pot, upon which the imprints of little thumbs in the clay are still visible.
"Jane who was it, this student of yours? No, don't recall her, but you needn't tell her that. How's she getting on, anyway?" Professor Twitchin improvises plausible fictions concerning the imaginary "Jane", then turns the conversation to his hostess's teaching experiences.
"Here? Oh, I've been teaching here since I left training college thirty years ago." Listening to his tentative enquiries, the old school mistress allows tea to soak into a jaffa cake, then drops it into the cup and stirs, drinking the resulting mess with evident enjoyment.
"Oh yes, I taught Tracey Hammond. Amazingly stupid girl, the sort that thinks if you do everything you're told, everyone will love you. Then, most children are stupid, forget the wisdom of innocence. At work each day, I see mean, brutal, stupid children. Mind you, I see the same when I look at most adults."
"No, the Bamworth children never passed through my hands. Private educated, of course."
As she talks, Twitchin casts a desultory eye over his surroundings. On a primitive shelf, presumably another product of childish hands, a mahogany clock with gilt flourishes is collecting dust. The hands appear to have stopped at half past three, and a little window above the face shows a smiling sun in the ascendant, above a pensive-looking moon. Noting the double glazing in the window, he surmises that the old woman's hearing must have been remarkable to have heard the group passing her house.
He then nearly chokes upon his tea as, through the open door, he sees Benedict Riggs passing like a ghost up the hallway.
Exploiting the diversion provided by the rest of the group, Riggs has had no difficulty in vaulting the low wall of the school, and finding a window at the back of the house by which to make a stealthy entry.
Riggs has been preparing to run into the sitting room, declaring the presence of a fire further down the corridor, in the hope of scaring her from the room, and acquiring an opportunity to look through the exercise books, and find that of Tracey Hammond. Now, however, he pauses.
From floor to ceiling, the walls are papered with crude collages and crayon scrawls, clearly produced by children of primary school age. The Hammond girl had been fourteen or so.
It would, therefore, seem unlikely that any of the exercise books seen could be hers.
A well-kept grey parrot watches his superficial search, occasionally gripping one of the bars of its cage and gently gnawing at it, exposing its black tongue. It bares its withered eye-lids in a series of slow blinks.
In contrast to the cheerful primary colours of neighbouring pictures, a group of paintings that cover most of one wall have a shocking effect upon the eye. Crimson or yellow skies are daubed into dullness. Tree limbs straggle like the limbs of dead spiders, and there seem to be black heads at the crest of some of the trunks. In a lower corner of each of these paintings is scrawled the name, "Eric".
A little further down the street, the rest of the SITU agents wait until Twitchin and Riggs have returned, and then proceed back towards the guest house.
Professor Twitchin departs in the direction of the Star, and Culver detaches himself from the group to visit the local petrol station and purchase a half bottle of malt whiskey. The proprietor, Howard O'Keefe, is willing to enter into conversation.
"Odd business with the Hammond girl, eh? They say she was smoking 'waccy baccy' with a couple of other kids. Didn't see them round here, did you?"
"Not that night, no. I'd remember, the police were asking. There's a bench just across the junction from here, and kids often hang out there, but none of them were around that night." He pushes Culver's change across the counter. "So it was drugs, was it? That figures. No man with any sense would bother ripping clothes off a skinny little trick like Tracey. After a year or two to fill out, well..." He chuckles.
In the Star, the professor enjoys a quiet drink. By listening in, he is able to put some names to faces. The dark-haired man whom he had noticed the night before is Mike Drayes, and appears to be a regular.
Karen Norse is cleaning the glass faces of the old prints when the group return to the guest house. While the other SITU agents retire, Culver prevails upon his hostess to join him for a night-cap. She shows him into a small, unused parlour, pulling sheets off a couple of chairs.
Culver's companion turns out to possess a moderately respectable alcohol tolerance. Unobtrusively, he ensures that her measures are consistently larger than his, but by the time his whiskey and half a bottle of sherry from behind the counter have perished, he is far from sober.
Karen is highly communicative, although she seems largely determined to focus upon the short-comings of her husband. The maidservant at the Bamworth Estate she identifies as Julie Osmond, a rather "backward" girl the family had taken pity upon.
Even in his hazy state, Culver is aware that Mrs Norse appears to be lolling towards him in a somewhat dangerous fashion. His usual habit of touching people while talking to them is being reciprocated with a certain degree of interest. Fortunately, a little after two, Karen falls asleep in mid sentence.
On Sunday morning the group meet to discuss their strategy for the day. Culver emerges wearing black T-shirt, DMs, and night camouflage fatigue trousers.
"I'm planning some night manoeuvres," he mutters to Side-step, with a suggestive arch of his eye-brow, but the raillery is half-hearted, and he is exhibiting a distinct vulnerability to light.
"We need to have another look at the library again, secretly if possible, particularly those journals." Mentioning the Bamworth portraits, the words of Tracey and the books in the library, Darius explains his conviction that witchcraft has been plaguing the village for generations.
The others decide to spend the evening visiting the Wheatsheaf, in search of Walsh and Lockwood. Professor Twitchin suggests that if the other potential buyers could be suitably disconcerted, they might be dissuaded from attending the auction.
A little before noon, John Henry departs for Ducklington.
Clive Marx, the editor of "The Watcher", is a youngish man with a large nose and a pleasing, uneven grin. The mention of BBC connections have worked their spell, and he is dressed smartly. Initially a little daunted by Henry's assertive mode of address, he relaxes as his companion insists on buying round after round.
"I'm here as a sort of undercover agent for 'Antiques Roadshow,'" Henry lies blithely. "I'm investigating a ring of dodgy antique dealers who travel the auction circuit buying up old books and the like. The word is, they operate by literally scaring off the opposition, going as far as intimidation..." Despite his promise to keep the affair 'under his hat', Marx is clearly itching to take notes.
When the elder journalist mentions Kate Walsh and Martin Lockwood, Marx looks thoughtful.
"Lockwood... no, I can't remember, but the name's familiar. I'll look it up and get back to you."
The Watcher does have a thinly disguised gossip column, but Harriet Bamworth has never appeared in it.
Marx seems more than willing to meet up for another liquid lunch at some future date.
Somewhat impeded by his hangover, Culver spends much of the day continuing his study of the journal. One or two passages catch his eye.
...I have found the records of the said trials and have made copies in my own hand I now think that it is Avril who speaks with the softest voice...
...make it stop but how can I I would give my soul to do it...
The only afternoon bus to Sweffling passes through a little after seven. Side-step has already telephoned for a taxi, and leaves a little after five, so that he can attempt a little reconnaissance at the Wheatsheaf before the main body of the party arrive to speak to Walsh and Lockwood.
Arriving in Sweffling, Side-step smiles to see a familiar white car parked outside the "Giant's Head Inn". Neither Lockwood nor Walsh appear to be in the bar. Buying himself a pint of mildly repulsive low alcohol beer, he stations himself in a corner from which he can observe the door, and which is in ear-shot of a number of tables set for dinner.
Speaking looks from the bar staff compel him to buy a couple more drinks in the hour that he has to wait before his patience is rewarded. He swiftly hides his face behind a drinks menu as Kate Walsh passes within a few feet of him with a rapid clip of stilettos, Lockwood half a step behind.
Unfortunately, the pair show no eagerness to be overheard, and select a table in the furthest corner. The woman's brittle incisive speech is sometimes pierces the general murmur, but Lockwood's tones are barely audible. Side-step strains his ears.
"...seems to check out OK. Sidden's been seen at lots of similar auctions, anyway... Orgus... seems bona fide... why do they need six people... but for God's sake, leave the talking to me..."
At seven the arrival of food truncates their conversation. At a quarter past, Lockwood swallows hastily, making frantic gestures towards the door. Riggs, Henry, Twitchin and Culver have walked in. Kate Walsh lays down her cutlery, running her tongue swiftly over her long teeth as she surveys the arrivals.
"Pull up another table," she says coolly. "We were hoping to have a little chat with the group of you. We'd like to discuss a little matter of assault and an attempt to break into my car. If Orgus are willing to back out of the auction, I just might be able to talk my friend here out of calling the police..."
The drive to the estate is in such poor condition, that Darius quickly abandons it in the fading light for fear of turning an ankle. Numerous lights are on in the great house.
The front door is locked, but Darius has observed a small side entrance. The door makes a loud click as he pulls it to behind him, but it does not appear to rouse the household.
Finding his way through the labyrinth of passages in the stairway proves no easy task. He stumbles into a trophy room at one point, finding himself the object of the rigid stare of a dozen stuffed pheasants. Their glass eyes gleam orange in the light of his pocket torch.
He is startled at one point by a black cat that flows like oil down a stairway past his ankles.
At last he finds the library. As he crouches by the private journals, he sees the cat run past the aisle in which he is concealed. He is quite certain that he closed the door behind him.
"Julie?" It is Gerald's voice. "Is that you? It's no good hiding in there. There's nowhere you can go..."
Sunday 15th June 8.30 pm
Darius: at the Bamworth estate
Matt, Adam, John, Side-step, Riggs: at the Giant's Head, Sweffling