The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Lindorn of Storsjon
Chapter 6

11.30pm, Friday 13th September 1998

In the hall of the hotel, the American woman is unfastening the strings of a crimson cape and hood in the Red Riding Hood style, and carefully brushing a fine dusting of spray from the velvet. Louis is listening to her account with a slightly glazed, co-operative smile, one of his sleeves firmly imprisoned in her grip.

"I've never seen something with such raw sublimity," she is continuing, as the SITU agents enter the hall. She shows no sign of discomfort at the sudden increase in her audience, and is more than willing to give a full account of her adventure.

"Well, as I was walking along one of the eastern footpaths, I felt this sense of peace and well-being come over me, just like during the ceremony at the square. I saw you gentlemen there this afternoon, you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, then I felt that something was watching me, just in a benevolent way, and it was like something was saying my name very softly. Then I saw this shape rising up out of the water, just this big, noble head on a long neck. And it looked at me, then just slid back down under the water again."

In response to further questions, it emerges that the visionary had been too overwhelmed by the portentousness of the moment to retain the presence of mind needed to operate a camera. She does, however, have a fairly clear recollection of the location where the incident took place, and gives relatively precise directions.

"You're obviously a woman of great spirituality and psychic sensitivity. I'd love to hear more of your experience. Perhaps you would allow me to offer you a drink?" Evidently flattered, the American woman assents to Robert's proposal. He glances at his companions, and they take the hint. Leaving Robert to his private interview, they walk out through the main doors to hunt out the location of the sighting.

"Are you a Leo? You just have to be a Leo." After scarcely an instant's pause, Robert lies, and agrees, professing awe at her powers of perception. Adept in the arts of charm, he quickly discovers that his new acquaintance needs only the slightest encouragement for her ego to spread and sun itself like a peacock's fan.

After persuading her to discuss the lindorn, which she seems to view as a guardian spirit for the region, "linked with the element of water, intuition and the unconscious, you know," he has no trouble inducing her to talk about herself.

It emerges that her name is Penny Tyler, and that she is a writer of 'esoteric novels.' "Not any of that fantasy rot," she explains for his edification. "I research thoroughly before I write a book, and look into folklore. And I always visit the locales, so that I can tune into the atmosphere. Do you know, I write most of my books in a kind of trance? It's like the spirit of a place just takes me over."

Her titles include Voodoo Love Slave, The Garden of Lilith, Captive of the Yeti and Pharaoh from Beyond the Stars, all of which she insists respect mythical tradition. She seems equally proud of her association with the numerous 'groups of mystics' from whom she has acquired her information. She speaks of these organisations and cults with a slightly proprietorial air, and Robert gradually develops the impression that not a few of them have received funding in exchange for their information.

Outside, the four other operatives struggle along the pathway against a strong wind from the north, guided only by the small luminous markers alongside the edge of the path. The novelist had reported seeing the lindorn near one of the north-eastern beaches. With some care, the operatives descend the path towards the beach, and attempt a search of the area, using torches.

Once again, the group are made aware of how much the weather has freshened. The black waves that loom and subside at a distance from the beach have gained ridged, flinty crests, flecked with foam. Their continual motion is confusing to the eye, and after a few minutes of scanning the waters, it is easy to imagine that the novelist might have been deceived by the sudden rearing of a wave. The agents are reluctant to venture onto the beach for fear of obscuring traces in the sand with their own footprints.

After casting the beams of their torches about the region for some half an hour, the group decide to return to the spot in the early morning when their search would be aided by daylight.

"Yes, it's a nasty night." Robert approves the others' decision to leave a more thorough search until the following day. "It's strange that the creature's activities seem so firmly linked to the weather. I think it would be worth trying to get a long-range weather report for this area, don't you? Loki, can you help us out with this?" Loki agrees to look into the matter.

Robert smiles speculatively as he gazes through the window towards the shifting, black mass of Lake Storsjon.

"You know, Miss Tyler's account has a rather curious ring to it. Has anyone considered the possibility that it could all be a hoax - perhaps perpetrated by Cormac?"

"I certainly don't think the guy is all that he seems," remarks Daniel. "Do you remember what Dubois said before he shot him? If you ask me, I think it's worth following him and seeing what he gets up to. If no-one else wants to, I'll tail him myself." No-one has any objection to this plan.

"We also need to keep an eye out for Dubois," continues Daniel. "If Cormac is up to something, then the chances are that Dubois knows enough about it to take a shot at him. If we don't find him before he comes up against Cormac, I have a feeling Dubois may end up getting hurt."

In an endeavour to discover more about the Children of the Lindorn, it is decided that Robert shall attempt to speak with the spae-wife, Steingerd, and that Daniel and Michael will try to arrange an interview with one of the 'nymphs.'

With regard to the other local 'cult,' it is decided that Loki and Mal shall attempt to approach Ulrika Berget once again, and try to arrange a conversation on the girl's own terms.

"I'm willing to visit the formidable Mr Bjarnison again," offers Mal, with a small smile. "Micheal, I'd be glad to have you along, he seems to have accepted you now. I'd still like to know whether our little friend is the crippled boy from the incident in the 1930's. Loki, do you think you could try and hunt up any newspaper items relating to the affair? The boy's name might be mentioned. Also, I'd like to know a little more about him." Loki agrees to make the attempt.

"That Swedish word he used, when you mentioned the lindorns, has anyone had a chance to find out what it means yet?" Micheal nods in response to Robert's question. That afternoon he had taken the opportunity to ask Louis for a translation.

"Apparently it's a slightly old-fashioned word. It can be used to mean a number of things, employee, servant or even slave."

As the group are preparing to depart to their separate rooms for the night, Mal clears his throat politely.

"I know you're all well aware of this, but we have another problem to address. Harriet Shen has now been missing for two days, and I'm really getting quite concerned about this. I don't think we can just sit around waiting for her to turn up. Has anyone thought of checking her room to see if she has returned and then left again without our knowledge?"

"Her room key vanished with her," points out Micheal. "How would we get in?"

A little self-consciously, Mal gazes down at his long, delicate, perfectly-manicured hands.

"Um. That shouldn't be too much of a problem."

A little after one, Mal slips from his room, silent and unobtrusive as dust. Harriet Shen's room is only a little further down the same corridor.

At her door he pauses, opening himself to every nocturnal sound, the three subtly different notes intoning within the whirr of the hotel's heating system, the rough breaths of the waves outside, the eerie percussion of cracks and creaks released by any building settling as the chill of night sets in. No noise issues from within Harriet's room.

Pursing his lips in concentration, Mal draws out and splays a penknife. Most of the attachments bear little resemblance to blades. Choosing one, he inserts it into the lock, and after a few seconds gentle teasing is rewarded with a dull click. The door opens when he turns the handle, and he cautiously enters Harriet's room.

He closes the door carefully and checks that the curtains are drawn before turning on his torch.

The bed shows no sign of recent occupancy, but given that a chambermaid has probably been sent in each morning, this is unsurprising. Shen's suitcase has been unpacked and placed tidily at the back of the wardrobe. Several ensembles of garments, suited to different occasions and climates, have been hung up in the wardrobe, each costume above an appropriate pair of shoes. Most of the shoes are flat-soled, sensible and in good condition. Beside them is placed a round tin of brown shoe polish.

In one drawer lies a miniature tape recorder, with several blank tapes. In another are stacked a series of black leather-bound notebooks, two of which are filled with notes in some form of scrawled shorthand. There is a camera, holding a film with seventeen pictures taken.

Remembering Harriet's puritanically starched appearance, Mal glances around the bathroom. The bristles of her toothbrush are dry, suggesting that it has not been recently used. Similarly, there is no sign of recent condensation on the ceiling of the shower. The little oblongs of pale peach soap supplied by the hotel seem to be unused, and the cavities designed to hold them contain no water.

As he returns to the bedroom and gazes around, Mal frowns. There is something subtly discordant in the room, something that jars with the reigning character. Opening the drawer with the notebooks once more, he studies the pile again.

The books have been stacked neatly up against the back of the drawer, so as to leave room for items of stationery at the front. However, at some point the drawer has been pushed back roughly, so that the uppermost slid forward, toppling over the edge. Mal tries to imagine Harriet meticulously stacking the notebooks, aligning their edges, and then shutting the drawer so hastily that her handiwork is undone. He fails.

The catch of the suitcase is unfastened. Mal tries to imagine Harriet carefully unpacking her suitcase, fastidiously placing it at the back of the wardrobe so that it is not in the way, and then sloppily leaving the catch unfastened so that the lid might fling open, disarranging her carefully regimented pairs of shoes. He fails.

Then he imagines another pair of hands opening Harriet's drawer, and shoving it back after a glance, opening her suitcase to look inside, then pushing it hastily back into the wardrobe, still open...

There is no evidence to suggest that Harriet has returned to her room since her disappearance. But it seems that someone has.

An hour or two before breakfast, the party rise and proceed to the place of Penny Tyler's visitation. The rocky descent is a lot easier in the ice-blue morning light. They proceed carefully, watching out for any traces of scales or tracks. After a short while, Loki gives a shout. In one area, the sand bears traces of great, splayed, triangular prints, some two or three times the length of a man's foot.

With a new caution, the group follow the tracks, which lead them back towards the rock face, with soon proves to be pocked with hollows and overhangs.

Stooping, and squinting into the darkness of one such overhang, Loki finds himself face to face with the lindorn.

Its eyes are large as lemons and of a similar colour, with vertical slit pupils like those of a cat. Its head all but fills the cavity, and the jaw is wide enough to take in the torso of a child. The head is a blackish green in colour, and has a long tapering jaw.

"Good grief." Loki reaches in with both hands, and grasps the pole upon which the head is mounted. Carefully he hefts it, and draws it out into the light of day. The rubber head swivels a little on the pole as he holds it up for the view of the others. A little torrent of water runs from it down his arms, and its jaw hangs open comically, as if in shock.

"I don't believe this. Robert was right about the hoax. Look at this, we're in some kind of Scooby Doo episode!"

Having returned their find to its hiding place, they walk back to the hotel to eat a well-earned breakfast. With great fortitude, they even succeed in maintaining a straight face when Penny Tyler calls out to greet them.

"I'm going straight to tell Haarkon Cormac about my communion with his lindorn. I know what he'll say, though. He'll say that I should go swimming naked in the lake to please it. He's such a naughty man. What do you think, Robert? Do you think we should go swimming naked in the lake to please the lindorn?"

For once even Robert Montague Flint, the supreme diplomat, is temporarily at a loss for an answer.

"Mr Stockton! Mr Micheal Stockton!" Passing through the docks on the way to Bjarnison's house, Mal and Micheal are halted by the sound of Jan Fjard's voice. Fjard waves then over amicably, and hoists his bulky frame up from his deckchair.

"I think I start to like your madman, Mr Stockton. I see this story, I keep it specially for you." He folds over the newspaper in his hand, and passes it to Micheal. Putting on his thick, rather ugly reading glasses, Micheal blinks in some distress at columns of interminable, incomprehensible words, beset with strange accents, and slanting lines bisecting o's. The photograph at the base shows a grubby, greyscale image of a boat. Along the stern is written the word "Elise."

"It is the boat of your madman, Dubois, it is found on the south coast of Sweden, in a boating club harbour. They find it yesterday, no-one on it, he get away. And up he comes, on the train, I think. Look there, do you know what that boat is?"

Micheal follows the direction of Fjard's finger with his eyes. A small launch is cruising away from the harbour at Froson with a wasp-whine of motors, churning a white wake. There are red letters painted on the side, too distant to be read.

"That is the police. This morning they sail up and down the lake, up and down.. They stop boats, they search them. They come here, they ask questions, they look in boats. They do not say why. But I say why. I think they know Dubois comes up on train. I think they look for him.

Before taking the northern path away from the docks, Mal stops at one of the local shops, and buys a ball of the most expensive, durable twine he can find.

As they approach Bjarnison's house, Mal watches the sky in vain for kites. It seems that the little man is not about his usual occupation, perhaps for fear of losing any more of his creations.

Reaching the cottage, Micheal knocks at the door, firmly in case the old man is deaf. After several minutes, during which the operatives hear a painfully laborious, scrape-thud, scrape-thud, which tells them that their host is negotiating the stairs, Bjarnison opens the door.

Mal, who is starting to comprehend their uncommunicative acquaintance a little better, simply holds out the ball of twine as an offering and an excuse for the visit. The old man takes it, unravels a length, examines it closely, then subjects it to a series of vigorous yanks.

"Hmph." He studies it again. "Very good." Responding to his beckon, the Micheal and Mal follow him into the kitchen. The angel kite is placed upright on one chair, like a diminutive guest. Bjarnison starts to gently disconnect the strings that bind it, and to attach lengths of the new twine.

"I tried to make it look like her. She always looked like an angel." He jerks his head towards the picture of his wife. "When it grieves me that she is gone, I just think, well, she was an angel, like this one. You can tie them to the earth for a while, but sooner or later the string breaks, and they go back where they belong. To heaven. To the sky. It was the weather carried her off. The winter weather. Influenza."

Mal waits patiently and respectfully during the silence that follows this sudden flood of communication. He allows Bjarnison to finish his task before distracting him with comment.

"When we last came here, you spoke about the weather. You talked about the wind, and then you said 'I do not know what she is doing.' Who did you mean? Where you just talking about the wind?" A curt shake of the head. "Was it the Storsjoodjuret you meant?" Another shake. "Who is 'she?'"

"It is best that you never find out." Bjarnison gently takes the angel up in his arms, and proceeds outside, followed by his guests. In a few moments the angel is almost out of sight, trembling at the end of the vibrating string, wings a-shimmer. As the trio watch her progress, Mal quietly recounts the disappearance of the Dalmatian.

"Poor animal. I think it will not be seen again. I do not know what is happening, but you should leave the island. Both of you." There is a considerable interval before he speaks again.

"There is a story I should tell. Once there was a young boy. The boy had a very bad dream. He dreamt that he saw the sky reflected in the water. And he saw that there were two moons and they were eyes. And he saw there were many, many stars and they were all teeth. And he never woke up."

Back in his hotel room, Loki taps away at his keyboard, seeking out local weather charts. Most of the local radio and television networks have links to information resources connected with weather prediction. Although much of the actual textual material is in Swedish, much of the information is in map form, and its meaning is possible to deduce.

The general forecast for the area warns of some changeability in climate towards the latter end of September, but in general suggests that the Jamtlands will have continued sunny weather and minimal levels of precipitation. Looking at the charts depicting the current state of the climate, Loki notices that the lines which outline the different atmospheres seem to suffer a slight, but decided kink as they pass over the islands of Storsjon. Without appropriate expertise, it is a little difficult to deduce the meaning of this kink.

Having made notes of his findings, Loki goes on to hunt down any mention of the incident involving the missing schoolchildren. It proves difficult, but eventually he finds an article written in 1946 by a cryptozoologist called Isaac Tiesler, who had apparently spent much of his life camping on the banks of lakes where monsters were supposed to have residence. His 'academic' writings had been put onto the Internet some twenty years after his death as a token of affectionate remembrance on the part of his American son.

Tiesler has a tedious tendency towards descriptions of landscape, anecdotes of his journeys and rather hazy theorising. However, it emerges that he had at least met the crippled boy who survived the disappearance of his schoolmates. The boy is tactfully referred to as Leif B___, but the description of the disability that afflicts the child's legs tallies rather neatly with the stunted appearance of Bjarnison's own legs.

Loki then attempts to find information on Ulrika Berget, searching in particular for any criminal record. This is a considerably slower process, since all the relevant records are in Swedish. With a Swedish-English dictionary he struggles through a number of files, but is somewhat demoralised by lunchtime. At this time he has gleaned the information that before returning to live with her family in Stockholm, Ulrika was a student in sociology at the University of Stockholm. During her time there, she seems to have been involved in unruly behaviour during student demonstrations on two occasions. On each case she received only a fine.

Having shaken off Miss Tyler, Robert retreats to his room to make some phone calls. He first calls Dr Sophie Painter, the expert in Scandinavian iconography to whom he had faxed the rubbings of the runestone.

"Hello, Robert. Yes, I've been doing some swotting up on your runestone. I have to say, the runes didn't come through the fax too well. I can sort of see what your friend means, but I'd need to look at the rock itself. Anyway, the premise of the stone having been 'improved' by a later sculptor is not in itself particularly silly. I've just come from a site in Denmark where the stone floor of this building has been totally rehashed, all the carvings tweaked. Mind you, that was probably the work of early missionaries, trying to give old religious pictures a Christian flavour.

"His theory that the stone would still be jutting out of the ground when the Viking settlers arrived seems to hold up anyway. I had a chat with some archaeologist chums of mine, and they say it's quite possible that the subsidence into the soil wouldn't have been very advanced at the stage.

"I've also been trying to hunt out articles on Mjalleborgen for you. I'll fax a couple of them over to you. I'd like to know what your friend thinks the stone was, a monument, or a gravestone, or a religious object, or what. Do keep me posted on this one, will you, darling? And let me know if there's anything specific you'd like me to hunt down for you."

After ten minutes or so, two short articles arrive through the hotel fax.

One is a scholarly attempt to link known Dark Age settlements to places mentioned in old folklore and rhyme. Mjalleborgen wins itself only a couple of paragraphs. The author seems inclined to connect the settlement with an island locale mentioned in one of the sagas as the domain of a lord who welcomed bards and treated them well, and who hence gains much eulogy in the saga itself.

The second argues that the settlement is in fact of a far later date than is commonly supposed. It refers to the runestone as evidence of this, contending that its carving is in fact an embryonic form of the Gripping Beast. It also refers to one of the other items to survive the destruction and looting of the settlement. A jointed piece of armour for the arm and hand had been discovered, somewhat crushed by the fallen stone. The author argues that this armour shows greater proficiency of craftsmanship than one might reasonable expect in the 5th century.

The five operatives meet up for lunch once more, their mood sallowed by the continued non-appearance of Harriet Shen, and a waning appetite for fish, which once again dominates the repast.

After the meal, all five stroll towards the docks. Daniel pauses to ask Sverre Krippner about the possibility of a diving expedition at some point. Krippner seems a little less easily intimate than on their first meeting. There is something somehow a little rigid, a little glassy, about the smile with which he meets Daniel's enquiries.

"Yes, of course, it is all laid on, courtesy of the hotel. If you wish, I can take you and your friends out on a boat tomorrow morning, and we can go diving together. You may dive scuba, if you wish, or snorkel. Come and find me tomorrow."

As the group walks on through the docks, Daniel glimpses Belle Marie helping to load crates from the quay. She is hard at work, and does not notice him passing. Daniel recedes into reverie, and it is with some difficulty that his colleagues recover his attention.

At last the five part, Daniel, Micheal and Robert moving towards the headquarters of the Lindorn, and Mal and Loki walking towards the residence of Ulrika Berget.

* * *

The door to the Bergets' house is once again opened by Ulrika's mother. Today, Mrs Berget is dressed in a low-hanging floral summer dress in parchment yellow and ginger. Her heavy, doughy chin rolls into folds as she yawns broadly and blinks herself into recognition of her visitors.

"I knew you would come back. Opportunity knocks once but trouble always returns. I will make Ulrika come down and answer for whatever she has done. I have taken her benefit cheque today, she will do as I say."

Loki and Mal quickly cut in, asserting that they have no particular complaint against Ulrika, or wish to acquire an interview through extortion. They explain that, as writers for a local guidebook, they wish to represent local feeling accurately, and that as Ulrika is an important voice in the VAM, they thought they should approach her for her views.

"I will talk to her." Mrs Berget winks. "I will tell her not to be scared of you. Then she will come down. She never likes anyone to think she is scared of anything." She walks heavily off to the stairway, allowing Loki and Mal room to enter the lounge. There is a shouted conversation, then Mrs Berget returns. "I have fixed it for you. She will talk to you, but not in English, it is against her principles. Do not worry, I will translate for you.

After some five minutes, Ulrika descends the stairs, wearing black lipstick, black painted spirals at the corner of each eye, and an expression of supreme defiance.

The interviewee is less than cooperative. Often questions are answered by a monosyllable, or a belligerent shrug. The VAM she describes as soldiers for Sweden, which she describes as being betrayed by politicians, and undermined by interlopers. She has some statistics regarding recent rises in unemployment in Sweden, rises that she blames upon the immigrants stealing jobs that might have been taken by Swedes. Immigrants and tourists alike should, in her mind, be 'thrown out.'

She insists that the VAM are the Swedish people's representatives, but that they are persecuted by conspiracies between politicians and foreign powers. Ulrika refers to the sinking of the S/S Stiklestad, during which incident a large number of VAM members perished, as an example of the efforts of this conspiracy.

The lindorn, she explains, is an emblem of Sweden, and of Froson in particular. She pours scorn on the way in which the legendary beast has been packaged for tourists. Ulrika paints a picture of a creature devoted to guarding its homeland, and capable of violence to defend it against intruders. The VAM, she claims, are like the lindorn in this.

The two visitors pick up a curious nuance in her behaviour. Beyond her aura of sulky defiance, she seems curiously excited, almost triumphant.

"Did her behaviour seem odd, or was it just me?" Loki whispers in Mal's ear, as soon as the Bergets' door shuts behind them. "A bit like she was enjoying a private joke at our expense?" Mal nods. "Look, you head back to the hotel. I'll see you later. I'm going to follow this girl and find out what she's up to."

After the departure of his companion, Loki moves away and prepares himself for a long browse of the papers on display in front of a corner newsagents. The front of the Bergets' house he keeps continually in his peripheral vision.

Within half an hour he is rewarded by the sight of Ulrika climbing quietly out of one of the ground floor windows. He lets her take some dozen steps out of his line of sight before he sets off in pursuit. As he has anticipated, it proves quite easy to follow her distinctive form.

Four youths and a girl of about eighteen are waiting on the quay. Their mood appears to be one of slightly nervous hilarity. Ulrika joins them, and addresses a sentence that is clearly a query. One of the young men nods. She gives him a swift, vigorous hug, then glances around the docks in a wary manner, as if to be sure that her posse is not being observed. Loki takes a sudden violent interest in the rubber lindorns on sale in the nearest window, and her gaze passes over him.

She beckons to the rest, and all six walk north, out of the village. Loki continues to follow, now at a considerable distance. Fortunately, the irregularities of the landscape provide some cover. From behind a convenient crag, he watches the group halt at last, seat themselves upon the grass, and engage in an animated, conspiratorial conversation. The other girl has brought six bottles of beer with her, and these are raised as if the group were drinking to something.

As he watches, Loki realises why the other girl seems familiar. He has seen her several times in the corridors of the Hotell Lindorn, working as a chambermaid.

Robert strides through the door of the Children of the Lindorn's Headquarters, matching Haarkon Cormac smile for smile.

"Thank you for inviting us to your ceremony yesterday. I'm sure we've all been... spiritually enriched. I was most struck with your amazing spae-wife. You must let me have a talk with her - local colour for the guidebook, that kind of thing." Again the magic word 'guidebook' has its effect, and within five minutes Robert finds himself ushered into a little room where the amazing Steingerd is phlegmatically wiping condensation from her tea off a small crystal ball.

"I hope you'll excuse me, pressing business, you know..." Cormac hurries out, leaving Robert and the spae-wife together.

"I know why you have come here." Steingerd's voice, now that she is no longer performing for a crowd, is husky, motherly and comfortable. "You seek the lindorn." Only a little taken aback, Robert nods. "Yes, many come here seeking a thing of mystery, something beyond all their ordinary experience. We all know there is something more than what we see, do we not? Give me your hand."

Robert surrenders his hand, and watches as the spae-wife studies his palm.

"I see a lot of success in your present and your future. Success and wealth. I see that you are good with people. I see lots of pretty girls that will fall in love with you. Lots and lots, blondes, brunettes, girls with red hair. But you must find the right one, young man, and marry her, and you will have five beautiful children. No, six. The last one was twins." The spae-wife releases his hand, and settles back into her chair. "Fifty krona," she adds in an undertone, after a small pause.

Realising that it is necessary if the interview is to proceed, Robert hands over a 50 krona note.

According to Steingerd's own account, she has been intimately acquainted with the lindorn since her earliest childhood. She claims to have ridden on its back in the waters of Storsjon before she could walk. The lindorn, she asserts, is a purely benevolent creature, a guardian of the lake which welcomes all. She even claims that it has been known to rescue swimmers.

The spae-wife then launches into a practised and proficient sales pitch for various items of lindorniana, from which Robert feels fortunate to emerge with only superficial scars to his wallet.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Micheal have noted the departure of Haarkon Cormac, and have followed him to a little café on the waterfront. He enters, and they see him join Penny Tyler at a table towards the back of the café. Cormac kisses the novelist's hand before seating himself beside her.

Feeling a little like characters from a film noir, Daniel and Micheal take a table by the door, and order coffee.

It is possible to surmise that the American is recounting her adventure of the night. Haarkon seems to listen with the utmost awe and delight. Clasping her hand in his, he regards her with an almost reverent air. At last she stands, slapping her companion playfully on the wrist, as if to signal that she wished her hand released.

As soon as she has left the café, Cormac takes a slim, foldaway mobile phone from his pocket, dials, and talks excitedly for some time. On several occasions he laughs out loud. After ordering and downing a cocktail the colour of anti-freeze, with an umbrella and two pear slices perched on the glass, Cormac returns to his headquarters.

A little before five, the SITU agents meet up to compare their findings. Throughout their conversation, Daniel is noticeably distant and uncommunicative. As the minutes crawl past five, he stands suddenly.

"Look, I've just got to take care of something. I'll be back later." The others exchange glances as he walks out of the bar towards the main door of the hotel. A moment later they see him through one of the windows, striding away in the direction of the docks.

Belle-Marie looks at once happy and uncomfortable as she sees Daniel approaching.

"I'd kind of given up on seeing you today. Will you walk me home?" The walk back to Belle-Marie's house takes place in silence. With her hand on the front door, she pauses, then holds it open for Daniel to enter. "Just for coffee," she stresses.

Daniel finds himself in a living room that exhibits all the comfortable chaos of a place that is never shown to guests. A little two-bar fire has been pulled to the extent of its cord so as to heat a place in front of the tiny television. A small nest of blankets has been arranged in this spot. The foam erupts here and there from the sofa. Among the cushions sits a stuffed toy kangaroo, with mock-satin boxing gloves.

He seats himself next to the kangaroo, and watches through the door as Belle-Marie spoons instant coffee into mugs, and turns on the kettle.

"You looked angry with me last night. Why?"

"I wasn't really angry with you. Just with me." She pours the coffee, and brings it into the lounge. "You see, I do OK, all in all. And I have such good resolutions nowadays, about keeping my feelings from getting stamped on. And here I am, throwing myself into being, what, a holiday romance?"

"I'm not just... it's not like that. In fact I think that's what I came here to tell you." Daniel gives a bewildered, little shrug. "I don't know what's happening between us. What the hell are we doing?"

"Isn't it obvious? We're being idiots. We've both got such wonderful track records haven't we? The men in my life have a tendency to drop dead, remember. And anyway, you'll be buzzing off back to England in a week or so, won't you?"

"Belle-Marie, why do you stay here?"

"Because I'm not supposed to." The Irish girl gives a wry, little laugh. "Just obstinacy, I guess. When my fiancé died, I could tell that all everyone expected me to do was wander off back to Stockholm, and inject myself with a one-way trip to heaven, or something. No-one wanted me here. So I stayed. There was nowhere else for me to go, I guess. It's OK. I've sort of got some friends, now.

"Anyway, I don't feel like things have been closed properly between this place and me, do you know what I mean? I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like there are ends that need to be tied up, and questions that have to be answered." She shrugs.

Belle-Marie and Daniel talk until after nine. During the conversation, Daniel succeeds in gleaning the names of numerous VAM leaders.

A dinner appointment is made for the following evening. Belle-Marie suggests taking a picnic out onto one of the western beaches.

When Daniel returns, he finds the others awaiting him, not a little anxiously, since he had failed to turn up for dinner. While Daniel is explaining his absence, Robert feels his sleeve being tugged.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but you were so much help last time we had a spot of trouble." Leda Piers has a ruffled, harassed air. "Do you speak Swedish at all? I've been trying to telephone to the police on the mainland, but the woman I keep reaching only seems to speak Swedish, and I'm not sure I'm dialling the right number. And you know, I'm not sure anyone at the museum has had the gumption to phone the police yet." Pausing for breath, she glances around at an array of blank faces.

"Oh, so you haven't heard. I thought everyone in the hotel knew about it by now, I've been kicking up dust about the whole affair all afternoon. There's been a break-in at the Mjalleborgen museum. They've no-one but themselves to blame. They only turn the burglar alarm on at night, and at midday each day the curator wanders down to the village for lunch, leaving the place unguarded. Well, today he got back and found he'd been burgled.

"Poor Dr Massey is in a bit of state. You see, all they took was the runestone..."

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