The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Hidden Circles
Chapter 7

Russell reads again the page on Frank Gupper that Karyn Hart has given him. "Let's have a look at that site," he says.

A couple of minutes later he is hooked up to the Sta-Brite Windows home page. This small Watford-based double-glazing firm goes in for flashy graphics and lots of exclamation marks, but concealed among the wondrous offers and cutaway diagrams of uPVC molecules is a page listing 'Star Salesmen' (none of them are women). Frank Gupper is listed as having won Salesman of the Year in 1993, but there is no photograph. There is none of Tony Morris, either, although he was runner-up in 1993 and again in 1994. Russell notes down the names of all the other Sta-Brite personnel listed, but none of them are familiar to him as Keepers.

"How long do you think it'll take to get those hieroglyphs translated?" he asks Karen. "Is it worth waiting?"

"Not really - Tricia's pretty keen, but I doubt she'd going to sit up all night on it. Come back mid-afternoon and we'll see what's come through."

Sam and Ross, tiptoeing through the sleeping dormitory, also notice the strange silvery glow the moonlight is casting over the sleeping Jack Callaghan. They quietly head downstairs to Nina's office, and while Ross acts as lookout Sam expertly pries the lock open.

Moving inside, he starts indiscriminately passing papers off the desk to Ross to read. Nina's office is a dreadful clutter compared with Frank's - she has made no attempt to file anything, and documents are just heaped any old how over the desk, with old coffee cups mixed in among them to provide a surprise for the unwary.

Ross scans through the papers as Sam passes them to him, but the majority are concerned with routine administrative matters like bookings for visitors, receipts for decorating materials and so on. Only right at the bottom of the stack does he find anything of interest - a set of vouchers issued by the Camden Homeless Shelter Trust, entitling Nina King to free meals over the Christmas period of 1994. There is a photo of a slightly younger and considerably scruffier and thinner Nina attached.

The next morning Ross heads into the village early and calls the Daily Mail, asking to speak to their journalist Warren Martin. There is a sound of much rustling, and the receptionist comes back to say that no-one of that name is employed by the newspaper. Ross scratches his head - the Daily Mail is definitely what Celestina told him. "He might be a freelance?" he hazards.

"No, we've no-one of that name on our books at all, sir. I'm afraid you must be mistaken."

Ross thinks for a minute and then phones the Black Prince, the village's only residential pub. He is at once put through to Warren Martin's room. The journalist is surprised but cheery.

"So, Mr Myers, I expect you're sickened with the depraved filth that's going on up there, eh? Can't wait to tell all? Got any names - underage girls, especially? That's what our readers want to hear about - young girls in Gupper's clutches. Are there any there?"

"You can come and see for yourself, mate," says Ross. "I can get you into the Hall no problem, and you can poke about to your heart's content."

There is a slight pause, and when Martin's voice comes back it is cautious. "Sounds good, Mr Myers, sounds good. I could use a bit of a nose around - the old reporter's instincts, you know. Very kind of you to offer."

"What say we meet by the wall at two tonight, then?" says Ross.

The sound of scribbling is heard. "O-kay - two it is. You're on. You're a true public servant, Mr Myers. And don't worry that you won't be rewarded, because you will - and handsomely too!"

Back at the Hall, Celestina receives a phone call which has her biting her lip worriedly. She catches a tired Russell as he heads out to the dawn ceremony. "Russell, I'm going to have to go back to London - can you tell the others?"

"Yes, sure." He looks at her with concern. "Is something up?"

"Nothing serious - I hope. It's my grandmother, she's fallen ill, and I should be with her."

Sam attends the dawn ceremony as well, the first one for him. He is rather struck by the atmosphere, as the robed Keepers stand in a rough semi-circle around Frank and the small obelisk carved with hieroglyphs, all chanting along in what is presumably Ancient Egyptian in the peaceful dawn light, while Jack Garrison honks along mournfully on his didgeridoo. Sam finds the experience tremendously relaxing and uplifting, but when it is finished he has a faint headache and feels rather weakened, for some reason.

As the Keepers straggle back to the Hall, Sam falls in alongside Jack Garrison. "Nice didgeridoo work, mate."

Jack looks at him warily. "Cheers, mate - it's a right bugger to play, this thing, pardon my French." His accent floats about unconvincingly and it is at once obvious to Sam that he is from the East End and is trying to cover it up.

The more Sam thinks about it the more he feels he has seen Jack Garrison around back home somewhere, and he resolves to search his belongings at the first opportunity.

Russell catches up with Sam and fills him in on the story so far. He was busily watching the Keepers during the ceremony, but he is certain now that none of them can be Tony.

He heads for the kitchen and resumes his place by the immense stack of carrots: before long he is chatting away with Jenny Hammond, who is working next to him while her children play under the legs of the table.

Ross goes to see Frank to have a general chat about security matters and prepare the ground for his cunning plan to use Warren Martin to turn Frank and Nina against each other.

Frank appears distracted and worried, gazing out of his window. He seems slightly reassured by Ross's calm, authoritative tones, though. "It's very good of you to help us out like this, Ross - we've probably not given enough thought to infiltration before now. Nina does her best, but she's not an expert, you know? None of us are - not at that sort of thing - we weren't really prepared for it." He sighs. "You just try and put a bit of good back into the world, and all anyone can do is try and drag you down and get at you. It makes me sick, sometime, I can tell you. I mean, what does it matter if it's proper Egyptian or not?" He is rambling now, and Ross remains silent. "What right's he got to come here and criticize me, say I'm not doing a proper job, ask questions? I'm doing my best, and I'm just trying to help people." He falls silent for a moment, his chin in one hand. "And look at these marigolds outside the window here - squashed flat! Nothing seems to be working out right at the moment."

"What do you make of this Essawi, Jenny?" asks Russell.

She wipes her hair out of her face and considers. "Well... I don't like to speak ill of anybody, especially someone I don't know... but, don't you think, he gives me the creeps a bit. I'm sure he's very holy and enlightened and everything, and being from Egypt and all he must know an awful lot about the religion we follow here - but the way he creeps around on those big bare feet, like a cat - and I know he worries Frank. It's almost like Frank is scared Essawi's going to turn people against him, or something, but I've not seen it if he is - he's been going round talking to people about their beliefs, and he's been saying we should all go to all the ceremonies and devote our souls to the sun, so that's not too bad, is it? But," she leans closer to Russell and speaks more quietly, "this is something William told me," she indicates her eight-year-old son under the table nearby, "and you know what kids are like at that age, he might have made it up - but he said he saw Essawi in a room by himself the other night, not last night just now but the night before, in a room by himself, looking into this strange bowl, and there was steam coming out of the bowl, and Essawi was talking to it - to the steam, or to the bowl - in a foreign language, Egyptian I suppose? Doesn't that sound a bit weird to you?"

Russell has to admit that it does.

At lunch, Michael sits down opposite Jack Callaghan, who has been missing all morning. He looks at Michael blankly, as though taking a while to recognize him, and his manner is highly distracted. He answers very slowly.

Something in Michael's stomach warns him against saying too much to Jack, so he sticks to pleasantries. As he rises worriedly from the table after lunch, the sunlight glances across Jack's forehead, and Michael sees that there is a design traced there with faint, silvery lines. It is a group of hieroglyphs set in an oval cartouche - a pear-shaped blob surmounted by a cross, and two semicircles. As Jack turns away the design is no longer visible.

Ross has been looking around the assembled Keepers to see if any of them, or any of the children about, could be the girl he saw across the river. He decides not: the only girl of anything like the right age (fifteen or so) is Kate Carpenter, and she looks completely different.

Sam heads down into Branston Parva after lunch, to buy some tobacco. He stops in at the Black Prince, and has a pint of Brakspear's in its cosy bar. He notices, in a corner of the room, Warren Martin, sat across from a couple probably in their late thirties. Both are well-dressed, and they look as if they are giving Martin a hard time.

Sam sidles along the bar and opens his ears wider.

"... two hundred pounds and nothing to show for it so far!" the man is saying. "It's about time you started earning your keep, Mr Martin - we're not paying you to sit around here on your behind!" He has the tone of a man who does not suffer fools gladly.

Martin makes a placatory gesture. "Now, please, Mr Carpenter, Mrs Carpenter, don't you worry - it's all in hand. I've made a number of useful contacts among the cultists, and I've got a plan in hand to recover your daughter."

"When will that be?" cuts in the woman, her voice cultured but under strain. "We just want our little girl back!"

"Tonight - this very night. By tomorrow morning I'll have your Kate out of Gupper's clutches and back safely with you."

The couple fall temporarily silent with surprise, then both start talking at once.

"You'd better be telling the truth, because we're getting pretty fed up..." says the man.

"Tomorrow morning! Oh, Kate! Baby! How she must have suffered!" says the woman.

Her husband turns to her sharply. "Don't be such a fool, Jenny - she's probably having the time of her life. Why do you think she ran away from school to come here?"

"Oh, Brian! How can you say that! She's just a child!"

"Ahem!" says Martin. "If that's all, Mr and Mrs Carpenter, I'll be about my business now. I expect you'll be heading back home - I'll call you as soon as the situation is resolved." With that he leaves the table, mopping his brow as he passes Sam, and after a minute the couple leave too, getting into a Range-Rover that is parked outside.

"Do you know anything about a Tony Morris, or Sheila Morris?" Russell asks Jenny Hammond as they open another sack of carrots.

"No... doesn't ring a bell. Should I?"

"Tony might have come to visit Frank, a few weeks ago." Russell describes him.

"No... oh, wait a minute. Actually, I think I do remember someone like that. Richard brought him in from the gate. Richard said he wanted to join the Keepers, but he never did - he turned up and had a meeting with Frank, but I didn't see him again after that. This was a few weeks ago." She looks around and leans closer again. "Richard said he'd heard raised voices... and Frank looked a bit upset next time I saw him. Funny, now you mention it, I wonder what happened to him? He looked nice."

Returning to the Hall, Sam passes Russell, who is off for his rendezvous with Karyn. He checks to see that Jack Garrison is occupied plastering the wall of the room where the suitcase of money is concealed, and goes to the empty dormitory. Jack's bedside cupboard has very little in it, just a couple of old train tickets. Scrawled on the back of one, though, is a phone number, 0171 987 4488, which Sam can tell from the code must be in the Mile End / Poplar area.

"Any luck so far?" Russell asks Karyn as she lets him into the van.

"Yep - here we go. Tricia's done a good job on these." She passes him a sheaf of paper. "Looks... interesting."

Russell picks up the first page. "A hymn in praise of Her-Akheti, the Living One, exalted in the eastern horizon in his name of 'Shu who is in the Aten' who liveth for ever and ever, the living and great Aten, he who is adored in the Sed festival, the lord of all that the sun encircleth, the lord of the disk, the lord of heaven, the lord of earth, the lord of the house of the Aten in Akhetaten, of the king of the South and the North, who liveth in truth, lord of the two lands, Nefer-Kheperu-Ra Ua-en-Ra, the son of Ra, who liveth in truth, lord of crowns, Akhenaten, great in the period of his life, and of the great royal wife, whom he loveth, the lady of the two lands, Nefer-Neferu-Aten, Nefertiti, may she live in health and youth for ever," he reads. "And that's just the introduction!"

"Tricia provided some notes, as well," says Karyn, passing him another, much smaller sheaf. "She reckons these are authentic eighteenth-dynasty prayers, as used in the reign of Akhenaten - that introduction mentions him and his wife Nefertiti. They're just prayers of reverence to the sun - the king and queen are supposed to be its son and daughter. There's a good bit here - 'Thou fillest every land with thy beneficence / Thou art beautiful and great and sparkling, and exalted above every land / Thy rays penetrate everywhere all the lands which thou hast made.' Neat, eh? But something else Tricia said was interesting - the carvings have been made by someone who didn't know hieroglyphs - who was just copying a drawing, she reckons. And this ties in with this mason's mark, showing the obelisk was made by this guy in Croydon, I guess."

"But who gave him the design, and why?" puzzles Russell. Turning the pages back and forth in his hands, he comes across a cartouche - the oval shape in which the hieroglyphs that make up people's names are usually enclosed - containing a pear-shaped blob surmounted by a cross, and two semicircles. "Hey - what's this one mean?"

He and Karyn lay the original photos and the translation side by side. "Here we are - this is it. It's the hieroglyphs for the name 'Nefertiti'."

Michael is working in the gardens at the front of the Hall when a large black car rolls up outside. Five men in suits get out of it, all with short hair and hard faces. Typical Keeper material they are not.

As they enter, accompanied by Richard, Frank scurries out of his office. "More people! Whatever next!"

The smallest of the men, who has a nasty scar running down the side of his face, speaks for them. "You the boss man here? We want to join up." He has an East End accent.

"Excellent! You won't regret it - escaping from the stresses of London life, eh? Get back to nature - well, this is the ideal place to do it, I can tell you. We lead a simple life here."

One of the men sniggers, and the one who spoke elbows him fiercely in the ribs. "Stumm!" he whispers. "What are you, some sort of berk or what?"

Frank continues his introduction blithely impervious.

As Russell leaves Karyn's van he sees that two police cars are drawn up outside one of the houses on the green. Standing by them, a policeman is talking to a man he recognizes from Celestina's description as Charles Bugbee, who looks sick with worry. On the other side of the cars, a policewoman is talking to Margaret Hurst, who also looks concerned. Outside the pub are three young men, who look angrily at Russell as he emerges. "There's one of 'em!" he hears.

Russell walks slightly nervously off down the lane towards the Hall, but before he has got very far he feels himself struck on the back by a flung handful of gravel. When he looks back he sees that the three youths are being remonstrated with by another policeman.

Tanya, who has had a quiet day decorating, senses rather than hears footsteps behind her. She whirls round to see Essawi stood there, his hands inside the sleeves of his jellabah and his face as inscrutable as ever. Rather than apologising for sneaking up he merely inclines his head gravely. "In the season of the crocodile, the wise man harvests his grain early - so we say in my country."

"Really?" says Tanya, slightly puzzled. "I suppose so."

"Can you help a poor ignorant man, Mademoiselle? As a newcomer here I can but rely on what I am told. Can you tell me of your beliefs - what made you come to these Keepers? What the sun has for you?"

Michael goes to find Ross and tell him what he has seen. "Given what we now know about Martin, we might want to change our plan," he suggests.

"Maybe. Let's have a think about that."

Sam, walking along the upper corridor towards them, glances down into the hall and has the shock of his life. Standing there, talking to Frank, are Joey Candless and four of his gang - the hardest team in the East End, responsible for a number of violent bank jobs as well as an extensive protection racket. In his own line of work he has been able to avoid clashing with them, but he knows that Candless is a man who has to be paid respect. At last he remembers where he has seen Jack Garrison before - he's cut all his hair off, lost some weight, and changed his name, but he is unquestionably Gary Jackson, a member of the Candless gang. Sam had heard that Jackson had left town after some unpleasantness - a job that went wrong.

"Don't worry, Frank me old son, we'll settle in just fine here," Candless is saying. "We'll make ourselves right at home, never you mind."

Secret Actions

Sam: while in Nina's office you are disappointed to find that there are no real valuables present - no silver photo frames or anything like that. In fact there are no personal possessions here. There are some bits and bobs of office equipment - photocopier, fax machine - which might be worth a bob or two.

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