The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Bamworth Legacy - Episode 11
Thursday 19 June, 9.30pm
"Hm, well there's a surprise." Matt Culver glances over Harriet Bamworth's party invitation. "Are you guys thinking what I'm thinking?"
Carefully, Henry re-reads the letter, to be sure of its meaning. "Call me cynical," he says, slowly, "but it sounds to me like Miss Bamworth is inviting us to steal those books. The question is, do we want to get involved in such a scheme? And the other question is, will we get away with it?"
"SITU won't support us if we're caught by the police as burglars, but I doubt that they'd actually turn away any books and papers that turned up at their headquarters," remarks Darius.
Meeting Side-step's eye, Culver smiles. "So... shall we go for it, then?"
Side-step has no reservations. "It looks to me as though Miss Bamworth is giving us an opening. I think it's time to stop arsing around with these people and get a little more assertive. We've done no good playing it the sporting way so why don't we just nick the bloody stuff and have done with it?"
Darius suggests that a robbery attempt be made that very night, but it is eventually decided that a better opportunity will be offered by the Midsummer Party the next evening, which all should attend. When it has been possible to speak to Harriet Bamworth, and learn from her which items in the library are of significance, a signal should be given to Side-step to leave the party. At a prearranged time, Side-step should drive back to the Bamworth Estate in the Landrover, toss flash-bangs in through the windows to cause confusion, and then park the Landrover outside the window of the library, where the rest of the group will be waiting to pass the relevant books through the window of the library. After a hasty exit, the company will then make their getaway.
"Not exactly a subtle plan, is it?" Culver frowns. "Some of us have careers to return to, you know. It'd be nice if we could get something on Gerald Bamworth as security against his going to the police. How about the Osmond girl? Must be blackmail material there..."
Riggs' reservations seem more profound. With a tone of muted despair, he addresses all of the others. "I just want to... want to say that if they're waiting for me there and they finally get to me... I want any of you who are left to tell the world about the truth... fuck them and fuck SITU who seem to enjoy screwing with us and not telling us what the hell is going on... you have to get the truth out! You have to tell everyone that I wasn't mad - that they really are here!" More words follow these, but appear to be addressed to an empty corner of the room, as Riggs withdraws to sit, quivering, on the edge of the bed.
Culver recommends that all those attending the party hire dinner suits for the occasion.
"We're going up in the world, obviously," beams Henry. "We should all go along to this party - on our best behaviour, of course."
"Well, I for one am not keen on Lockwood and that insufferable Walsh woman gloating over us, but... needs must." The Professor yawns and rises from his chair. "If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I'm off for a beer. It's been a hard day."
"Tough luck at the auction, Professor." Mark Ashford hails Twitchin loudly as the latter enters the Star. "I got myself outbid as well. It's always the same. Every time I set my heart on a nice little fireguard, or a set of horse brasses, or a batch of mock-Victorian floor tiles, there's that skinny baggage with weaselly eyes bidding against me..." Twitchin listens with patience as the publican airs his grievances. As far as he can gather, the fate of the Bamworth library has made little impact upon Ashford's private universe, the latter far more concerned about the tragic departure of the goblets that might have graced his mantelpiece.
Mike Drayes does not react as an elderly academic seats himself beside him, and offers only monosyllabic replies as the Professor refers conversationally to the Bamworth family and their library. A casual mention of Eric's name, however, suddenly stirs him into loquacity.
"You got children? Ah, grown up and gone away. You're lucky. Y'know, I found out today Eric's not been at school for... oh, I don't know... a month... not been home for two nights either. I see him around the village, but if we talk, we end up shouting, y'know. Nothing I can do.
"Some people, well you've seen 'em, it's like they got this magic charm and they can do anything they like and look good doing it. But with me, nothing, nothing works. 'Slike struggling about like an ant, an' watching these, these giants taking in your life's journey in a single stride... and knowing that your feelings don't matter, an' you'll never make any difference to things..."
A little after eleven, Twitchin returns to find the others still refining the burglary plan. Before they retire to bed, John Henry advises all to carefully lock their windows and doors.
"We should watch out for Walsh and Lockwood. Yes, they won at the auction, but they may be less than pleased at the way we double-crossed them. They might want their money back, for a start..."
All the SITU agents share the dream.
Teeth chattering, a young boy grips his coverlets against his chest, while his bed rises and subsides like a little boat upon a sinuous, silver sea. His hair is the colour of copper, and his name is carved into his forearm.
Like mermaids, the dead women reach towards him, the skin of their white arms blackening like charred paper where the silver flames touch them. Their whisper is the hiss of wind-swept grass, their consonants the crack of sun-baked earth.
...make it stop make it stop make it stop make it stop...
His face twisted in terror and anguish, Eric draws away from the reaching hands, and makes fists against his ears to shut out the voices.
"Alright! I will! I'll do what you want, just make it stop! Make it stop!"
The following morning, after informing the Norses that the group would be requiring their rooms for one more night, Culver strolls to the newsagents.
Gill Sexton's appetite for scandal is easily whetted by a few dramatic hesitations, but she seems frankly incredulous when Culver implies that Gerald Bamworth has bought the family library. "Why would they go to the trouble of an auction if one cousin was going to sell it to the other? Where's the sense in that?"
Strolling back across the square, Culver encounters the Professor, who is stooped beside his hired car. All four tyres have been carefully and thoroughly slashed, and the aerial has been bent in four places. After surveying their timetable, the pair catch a bus to the Oxford.
Using his share of the bribe money offered by Walsh and Lockwood, the Professor purchases a small hand-held video camera with some tapes, a pocket torch, and some tough, waterproof clothing, before becoming irrevocably distracted by the display of new publications in the window of the scientific branch of Blackwells. He fails to find a shop selling night-sight binoculars.
Dr Culver hires a dinner suit from "The Ballroom", and invests in some more sleeping tablets and a Dictaphone with cassettes, before proceeding to the Central Library to perform some research.
After an hour or so, Culver stumbles upon a book called "The Alex Sanders Lectures." Many of its theories are nonsensical. Incompatible myths are jumbled and historical details fabricated. In this book, however, the agent discovers mention of the "althame", a black-hilted knife attached to three silken cords, which is used to draw magic circles. A white-handled knife, or "bolline", is used for carving within the circle. A garter is described as a sign of high rank within the coven.
A slim booklet, "Gods of the Glades" by Morrigan Sundaughter, gives a hazy but good-humoured account of wicca, stressing the importance of choosing "the colour of candles that feels right to you." Wicca is described as centring upon the worship of a God and Goddess, equal in stature and all-embracing. Culver's attention is attracted, however, to a passage asserting that "destructive energies and motives" should be excluded from the practice of magic, since "all harm that you shall do by it shall be visited upon you, multiplied by three times three..."
In the corner shop, Benedict Riggs buys a bottle of mineral water, but is frustrated in his search for rope. After a quick glance about the store, he purchases a roll of gaffa tape. Back in his own room, he opens the plastic bottle, and slightly adulterates its contents.
At noon, Twitchin and Culver re-enter Middlechase, the bus moving sluggishly through a crowd that churns, and parts reluctantly before it. The square is alive with colour. A man in a turned about leather cap and a tartan waistcoat juggles flame batons next to the Midsummer Lord, his hands black with soot, and his face red and slick with heat.
A tanned blonde in a technicolour, crocheted poncho attempts to charge Professor Twitchin five pounds for filming her as she plays Irish tunes upon her pocket pipe.
Two adolescent boys regard a uniformed officer with surly intransigence as he attempts to remove them from their seat upon the bonnet of his police car.
By the time the SITU agents make their way through the village towards the Bamworth Estate, the throng of pedestrians has made the narrow roads all but impassable. Beyond the church, they spy the grubby, pumpkin-orange, heaving bulk of a bouncy castle, swarming with children.
For once, they are met at the door not by the butler, but by the maid, Julie Osmond, who mutely gestures to them to follow her up the red-carpeted stairs. Yesterday's auction hall has returned to its usual role as reception room. The "Midsummer Party" turns out to be a relatively low key affair, and Culver's rented suit renders him a little obtrusive.
Both the Women's Institute and the Middlechase Cooperative are well represented among the guests. The Farrels are visible, as are the Friars, the Lewises, Mark Ashford, the Reverend Sourley, Howard O'Keefe and the Willises. The stunted form of Margaret Hurst slumbers in a brocaded throne near the fireplace. The Drayes couple converse quietly near to the drinks table. Eric is not in evidence.
Kate Walsh spies their entrance from across the room, and flutters her fingers in a little wave.
The great portrait of Sir Harvey Bamworth has been hung high on one wall, and adorned with ivy and little flourishes of corn.
"Mr Henry, I'm so glad to see you. I was afraid you might have left the village before the invitation could reach you." John Henry turns to discover his hostess, and his questions die on his lips. Gerald Bamworth's arm is firmly looped through that of his cousin, her hand clasped in his.
"Fancy nearly forgetting to invite the Orgus agents. What a dizzy, little thing you are, Harry." Gerald gives her arm a playful squeeze, and plants a kiss upon her forehead. "I think you should tell the gentleman you're sorry, don't you?" A tiny spasm passes through Harriet's wan smile.
"I do apologise," she says quickly, as if the words pain her. There is an uncomfortable pause, during which the SITU agent waits for Gerald to leave and attend his other guests, but Bamworth seems to have no intention of abandoning his cousin. Harriet raises her gaze, and meets Henry's eye with a look of slightly desolate urgency, forcing her mouth into a smile. "You missed all the excitement. We had a break-in last night."
"Oh, I don't think we need to bore Mr Henry with..."
"A break-in in the library," continues Harriet, holding Henry's gaze. "Mr Collins didn't see who it was, but he thinks they must have been looking at the old family journals." Gerald's eyes narrow fractionally, and his cousin winces as if the grip upon her arm had suddenly become more rigorous.
"Really Harry, what will Mr Henry think of you? Anyone would imagine that you suspected him of deciding to steal the library because he couldn't buy it..." As she is led away by her cousin, Harriet turns her head to mouth two words over her shoulder.
Henry quickly communicates this information to his accomplices. Darius finds an opportunity to slip from the party. His sense of the house's layout improved by his previous nocturnal visit, he finds the library before too much time has passed.
Proceeding along the corridor to the library, Darius passes a doorway from which a flickering light pours. Glancing into a small room, he sees Arthur Collins seated in his shirt sleeves before a black-and-white television. Collins sips cocoa slowly, steadying the mug in both hands. Darius flits past the doorway unobserved.
Inside the library, with the aid of his pocket torch, Darius locates the shelves where the family papers are stacked. He quickly satisfies himself that the piles of documents that include the journals are contained within a particular group of boxes, few enough in number to fit into the Landrover, and narrow enough to pass through the one remaining window. The window broken by Side-step's brick during Darius's last visit has been boarded.
Cautiously, the young journalist retraces his steps, and a quarter of an hour later is once again among the guests at the Midsummer Party. His information is swiftly dispersed among his associates. The signal is given, and it is Side-step's turn to make an unobtrusive departure.
For some five minutes, Matt Culver has been observing Gerald Bamworth as the latter gently frog-marches Harriet about the room. When Bamworth pours himself a drink, Culver watches closely, and a minute later procures an identical glass to that in his host's hand, and fills it from the same decanter to a similar level.
Retiring to the toilets, the psychiatrist opens his silver pill box and is disturbed to discover his supply of crushed Valium powder somewhat smaller than he recalls. He adds half of that which remains to the brandy in his glass.
After a quick conference with Twitchin, it is decided that the Professor shall engage Gerald in conversation, thus providing a distraction so that Culver can switch the drinks.
At the buffet table, Gerald Bamworth has put down his glass to lift a slice of quiche, his other hand still gripping that of his cousin. Noting this, the Professor approaches swiftly and enters into conversation as abruptly as possible.
"Tell me, Gerald, why would the Cooperative, your Cooperative the documents tell me, spend so much money on what would eventually be yours anyway. Your dearest cousin Harriet," he nods to her, "has no children after all... unless of course you would care to explain how a cooperative you control is channelling cash into your family funds."
"That sounds a little like libel, Professor Twitchin. You can get into a lot of trouble claiming things that can't be proved."
"I'm sure the Revenue chappies, let alone the VAT fellows would be interested in all of this." A little beyond Bamworth, Culver switches the glasses. As he walks away, Gerald glances up at him, but apparently without heeding him. "Your stooges Walsh and Lockwood will not be that keen on maintaining commercial confidentiality in those circumstances, don't you think? Or am I just imagining things?"
"I suggest you start imagining a little more quietly. You would be amazed at how many people would be willing to testify to my personal integrity. You would, wouldn't you, Harry? All that I have to do is ask."
With a speculative smile, Gerald Bamworth cups his one free hand under the glass, and gently swirls the liquid within as he watches Twitchin retreat through the crowd.
Feeling Bamworth's casual gaze upon his back, Culver continues his rapid stride across the room, as if to find ice for his drink. Just in case the other is still observing, he places his glass next to the ice bucket, and begins to shovel cubes into his drink.
From across the room there comes a shout, and the sound of smashing glass. A space is clearing around the Drayes couple. There is a large splash of a dark liquid on one wall. Mike Drayes' hand is bleeding, and fragments of glass gleam on the floor about him. The raised voice is his.
"He told me! That's how I know! Your brat came and yelled at me this morning for pretending to be his father, that's how! He couldn't believe that I didn't know. Did everybody else know? Did you all know?"
Harriet flits rapidly to Mike's side, murmuring something in a muted tone. The gentle hand she lays upon his arm is shaken off.
"A bit tired and strained? You bet I'm tired... tired of you, all of you, up in this house, with your smiles, and your games, and your rotten blue blood, and your Oxbridge accents. I gave you everything, my whole life, my trust, my farm, my work. All I tried to keep for myself was my wife and my son, and you took that too.
"No, Miss Bamworth, I don't want to lie down, thank you very much. I want to spoil the sodding party, that's what I want to do." Joanna is standing a foot away, shoulders hunched, gripping her own collar as if wishing to choke herself away to nothingness. Remembering her, Mike gives her a sudden violent shove in the direction of Sir Harvey's portrait.
"Stay with that, if you like it so much better than me," he shouts, pointing at the painting. "See if you can get that to cope with your depressions, and your son." His wife falls to her knees, shaken by sobs, as Mike shoves his way unsteadily out of the room.
Seeing Harriet standing alone, Culver looks about anxiously for her cousin, and is startled by a touch upon the shoulder.
"Sad, isn't it?" Gerald is standing a foot away, regarding Drayes' departure with the detached appreciation of a drama critic. "This seems like a good time for my usual toast." He lifts his glass ironically. "Domestic harmony."
Culver drinks the toast, and is gratified to see Bamworth empty his brandy glass.
Recognising Drayes' outburst as a useful distraction, both Darius and Professor Twitchin have left the room. The former makes his way towards the library, so as to be ready for the rendezvous with Side-step. The latter decides to exploit the time remaining, and explore the great house further.
With relative ease, Culver exchanges Lockwood's drink for a drugged substitute, and engages him in conversation. However, even as he watches for signs of befuddlement in the other man, Culver becomes aware of his own increasing drowsiness. Despite the fact that he has been scrupulously watering down all his drinks, he finds himself suffering all the symptoms of intoxication.
Lockwood's words are a nervous sneering monotone, their meaning evading Culver's grasp. Across the room, the psychiatrist sees Gerald watching, with an expression of amused curiosity. In an attempt to clear his mind, the SITU agent leans his increasingly heavy head against the plush cushioning of the chair back, and, just for a second... closes his eyes.
Gerald Bamworth is gazing across the room with an air of complacency when Benedict Riggs walks up to him, and asks to talk with him privately about the auction. Gerald agrees, but is disinclined to wander far from the party. He shows Riggs along the landing to a small study.
Having closed the door behind them, Bamworth turns to find Riggs' knife a few inches from his face.
"Oh, of all the ridiculous..." Gerald brings up one hand with remarkable speed to reach for the wrist of the hand holding the knife, and simultaneously swings a punch at Riggs' face. Faster than thought, the American blocks the punch and kicks Bamworth's feet from under him, stepping back as the big man falls and upsets a stack of in-trays.
Recovering quickly, Bamworth rolls athletically away from his attacker and attempts to stand, but his ankle is deftly hooked by Riggs' foot, and he is again unbalanced. To judge from his expression, as he finds himself on his back amid a sea of papers, Gerald Bamworth is unused to finding himself physically outclassed.
A minute or two later, Bamworth has been bound firmly to a chair using the gaffa tape, and some of the mineral water has been forced into his mouth.
"Now, I want to hear some truthful answers, Mr Bamworth, or I'm gonna be a bit pissed off. I think I should also inform you that I am actually certified insane and that I also believe you to be the victim of an extra-terrestrial abduction. This would mean that you have been implanted and upon hearing any answers I don't like, I would be forced to attempt to remove the implant from your neck with only this crude knife. I should also tell you that I have never before performed an implant removal and there is no guarantee you would survive the process." Gerald stares at Riggs' face, as if trying to assess the latter's seriousness. It is apparent that he sees nothing there to reassure him.
He answers Riggs' questions in soft, passionless voice. "The festival? Just joie de vivre. Just a celebration as the Midsummer Lord claims and possesses his mate. No, as far as I am aware, the people of the village did not make a pact with the devil centuries ago. I don't know for certain, I wasn't there. Eric Drayes? A youthful mistake of my uncle, that's all he is."
"Is he somehow the last in the purest line of the Bamworth family? What dark deed stains this village and its history? What action must cause blood to be shed again and again throughout the centuries?"
"You shouldn't let yourself become excited." Gerald suddenly seems earnest and concerned. "Don't you know that the aliens use your emotions to get inside your mind? That's something I found while I was... looking into them... to work against them. In fact... in fact I'm really glad we met. We could be allies. Against the aliens."
As he prepares once more to sneak past the room where Collins stands sentry, Darius notices that the library door is open. An instant later, he gives a violent start as he glimpses the dance of a torch beam in the darkness beyond.
His sudden motion brings his heel up against a broad, brass vase of dried 'honesty' plants. The vase settles with a rattle that not even the babble of the television set can mask. There is an explosion of sound within the library, a frenzy of steps and a tinkle of broken glass. The next moment, Darius's ears and head are drummed by a protracted metallic clang that, after, the initial shock, he recognises as the bell of a burglar alarm.
Hearing sounds of hasty motion from Collins' room, Darius turns and hares off along the corridor. A shadowy alcove, between a Indian statue of a rearing elephant and a pillar supporting a stuffed tiger head, offers him a hiding place.
Collins totters into view, wheezing heavily. As the butler pauses, bending over to rest his hands upon his knees, a small figure in black clothes and balaclava suddenly sprints past from the shadow behind him. Darius heaves a sigh of relief as the elderly man staggers off in pursuit of this other intruder.
"Gerald, you do know that your burglar alarm's gone off..." Blundering into the study, Howard O'Keefe stares at the trussed form of his host. "What..."
O'Keefe is unaware that there is a third man standing behind the door, until a neat blow to the back of his skull renders him senseless. Hearing a chaos of noises in the nearby corridors, Riggs abandons the study and his victims.
Professor Twitchin is at the door to the chapel when the alarm sounds. While he hesitates, attempting to decide what to do, he hears a crescendo of steps, and pulls back into the shadows as a slender, diminutive figure bullets past, almost sobbing for breath. A few yards behind a bulkier man pursues, arms extended as if for a forward fall. Both vanish into the chapel, from which there proceeds a short scuffling, and then a long gasping gurgle, as of one in physical distress.
Through the door, Twitchin glimpses the form of Arthur Collins. sprawled on his back in recently laid cement. A dropped torch flings his face into strange yellow crags and ebony valleys. A black balaclava is gripped in one convulsing fist. He is choking, turning his eyes unseeingly.
"Must stop... Eric Drayes... one of the books... he has one of the books..."
Beyond Collins' fallen form, the soft cement is dented by a sequence of sole prints from a small pair of trainers.
Back at the Landrover, Side-step removes the wires from the flash-bangs, transfers them to his holdall, and changes back into his uniform, before driving back towards the Bamworth Estate.
The Landrover roars across the grounds, and swerves to a halt by the library window. Leaping out of the driver's seat, he sprints along the front wall of the house, dextrously pulling the pins of the flash-bangs, and hurling them through various windows with a grin of glee.
Ears still ringing with the cacophony of these detonations, Side-step runs back to the Landrover. No familiar face, however, appears at the library window. He now becomes aware, behind the noise of his vehicle's engine, of a tinny reverberation, like that of a bell sounding within the house. Looking over his shoulder, Side-step glimpses an alternating gleam of red and blue, and hears the wail of a siren.
Fortunately, evasive tactics are not difficult. The police choose to travel by means of the drive. Side-step, who churns earth head-high as he grooves the lawn, does not. The police car treats a slender hedge as an inviolable perimeter. The Landrover does not.
The police allow the guests to leave the Bamworth house a little after two. Fortunately, the sounding of the alarm, which many had taken for a smoke or fire alarm, and the arrival of the flash-bangs, has caused enough confusion to obscure the manoeuvres of the 'Orgus agents.' Somewhat surprisingly, no mention is made of Riggs' attack upon Gerald Bamworth.
Arthur Collins, who is suffering from a cardiac arrest, is transferred to hospital, still murmuring the name of Eric Drayes. In the back wall of the chapel a stone slab has been removed, creating a draught and offering egress to the courtyard. It is clear that the police suspect a collaboration between Eric and the driver of the Landrover, whom they suppose to have provided him with a getaway.
Supporting the semi-conscious Dr Culver, the group return to the guest house. A note from Bill Norse, requesting that the 'Orgus agents' vacate their rooms by noon, has been attached to Twitchen's door.
The party enjoy a fitful, dreamless sleep, and wake to find their rooms vivid with the golden touch of a Midsummer sun.
Saturday 21 June, 9.00am
All are at the guest house