The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Blood In The Cup

3.00pm 1st October 1998

Sam and Rupert leapt to their feet to go to the bar but Donald, quicker than both of them, beat them to it.

'I'll get some drinks in, never know what people might put in it,' he said, efficiently eliciting drinks orders from the rest of the group and heading towards the tiny bar adding, 'I've got the drinks, someone else can get some food. I'll have some peanuts, you can't do much to them.'

'You must be the prodigal then?' Phil said, turning to the dishevelled Rupert with a broad smile, 'Rough journey?'

'I was just wondering, Rupert, ' George began, 'which bypass have you been protesting against?'

Jo hurried to smooth the situation, 'Rupert! Good to see you again. How are you?'

Rupert merely shrugged and sat down, accepting a drink from Donald without a word.

Arabella looked thoughtful, 'I think we should all get to know each other.' she said.

'Does it have to be in such a confined space?' Donald mumbled, pausing over his tepid coke, 'anyone could hear.'

'Donald is right,' Jo said, 'maybe we should all meet up in one of our rooms after lunch?'

Rupert snorted into his glass, 'That would look rather suspicious wouldn't it?'

'Yes,' agreed Sam, 'and we could till be spied on. I noticed they have a beer garden out back. We can take our lunch out there and discuss our plans without anyone hearing.' There seemed to be general agreement and she quickly took food orders and went to the bar. They all seemed happy to have ploughman's lunches or ham salads, except Donald who had already ravenously consumed the tiny pack of nuts he'd bought from the bar.

Sam strolled up to the barmaid who looked at her in amazement. 'Hi,' Sam said, brightly giving their order. As the barmaid was writing it down she said, 'Must have meant a lot of trade for you, this whole grail thing.'

'Oh yes,' said the woman, 'we've had a lot of guests through it all, You're the first TV crew to stay here, though we did have a couple of reporters from the local news program and paper in for their lunch once,' she smiled proudly, 'our ploughman's lunches are quite famous, you know!'

'I'm glad I ordered it then!' responded Sam, 'so what do you think personally about the discovery?'

The barmaid shrugged her shoulders, 'Don't know,' she said, 'I never was a very good Christian. I'll bring out your food to the garden if you want to go and find a table.'

Lunch had been eaten in relative silence, broken only by a few concerned words for Rupert from Arabella and the song of a solitary bird in a nearby bush. A busy road passed somewhere near them as the constant hum of heavy traffic muted the relaxed atmosphere and gave an air of tension. There were no other patrons in the garden, it was mostly too late for lunch and too early for dinner.

'So,' said Phil, 'perhaps we should decide our roles in the TV crew. It's not that important as we're not really going to be doing anything to do with it, it's just so we all have our story straight if we're ever questioned. My own suggestions for the fake assignments are George as director, Donald as presenter, Rupert for camera and lights, Sam as soundwoman, me as PR and Arabella and Jo as researchers.'

'I always wanted to do that job,' Donald said amicably, 'it's a lot more respectable than my last one!'

'I can take the role of a hopeful guinea pig, too,' Jo interjected, 'the idea being that you're going to try the grail water on me. My injuries are real enough to make that plausible.'

They all seemed happy to accept this, so George rose to his feet once more, 'Well, we may as well get on with the introductions then. George Wellington Hardy, Major, Her Majesty's Royal Corps of Signals. Retired two years ago. Sixty two years of age, I sometimes feel seventy two and very occasionally fifty two. My outside interests include military history, miniature figures, gardening, crosswords, my brother's grandchildren and the occult, with particular reference to spirits, ghosts and the afterlife in general. I'm not averse to getting my hands dirty but will always try to think my way around an obstacle before trying to climb over it.' He sat back down.

'Dear George is a nice enough fellow,' Rupert interjected, 'fairly harmless and a teeny bit senile, but we don't hold that against him. Just keep him away from the Vaseline!' He looked around for a reaction. Sam stifled a yawn. Donald looked away in boredom. The rest merely looked resigned.

'Thanks for starting us off, George,' Arabella said, 'anyone else want to take the plunge? Phil?'

Phil seemed happy to speak, 'I'm a journalist working for the quality evening press in the form of the Standard,' his voice was laced with sarcasm and the others smiled, 'Sorry for me Brummie accent, I'm not used to your southern lingo yet!'

'I guess I'm next,' said Sam, 'not much to tell. I live on my own, I'm good with my hands and my talents keep me in money. This is my first assignment and I'm looking forward to it.'

Jo was next, 'I used to be in the military, but I took the an injury,' she indicated her leg, 'and I was retired out. I've written a couple of articles on Mayan magic which I've become interested in of late.'

Rupert was sat next to her and he took centre stage with great relish, 'I'm Rupert de Montfort. I'm a very well adjusted all round good chap and everything,' the others looked somewhat sceptical at this, even those who didn't know him, 'My hobbies are...well, Bohemian in nature, as is my lifestyle. I like to consider myself to be a man of the world. Oh, and I have absolutely no sense of humour.'

'That's apparent, dear boy,' George murmured, only half under his breath.

Donald was next but he made no attempt to speak.

'Donald?' Arabella prompted again, 'do you want to tell us about yourself?'

He looked rather uncomfortable, 'I was...well...I was...' he took a deep breath and started again, 'I'm really sorry but I can't tell you about myself at the moment, I want to but I can't. Believe me when I say I'm not a weirdo. My paranoia is for a good reason, it's what has kept me alive for so long. I wasn't a very nice person up until recently, and most of you would hate me if I told you what I really was,' they all looked rather worried and he made a move to comfort them, 'You can all trust me though, if there is any trouble, you can count on me!'

'That only leaves me,' Arabella said, 'and I'm afraid I'm not very interesting, I'm a professor at a university where my students consistently drive me up the wall. Now, I think we should try and get some work done today and perhaps breaking into groups would be the best way. I thought I could take George and Rupert to the library, we can look at the news reports and try and find some contacts. The rest of you can visit the site, perhaps sweet talk the vicar, try and get some info out of him? Let's all go and freshen up and we'll meet outside in half an hour, I don't think we need to take our fake equipment with us, we can just say we're planning out the documentary if anyone asks. Is that OK with everyone?' The all nodded and trooped through the tiny bar, heading up to their equally tiny rooms.

Jo, Phil, Sam and Donald were all ready to go in about twenty minutes. They waited patiently with Arabella and George for nearly forty minutes. 'Why don't you go on down to the site?' Arabella asked, 'we'll see you here for dinner and we can talk about what we've found out. We can probably talk reasonably freely, everyone knows we're here to investigate the grail so they'll expect us to be talking about it!' The others agreed and set off towards the site on foot, Jo's limp not as noticeable as it had been when she first arrived. George shot upstairs to find Rupert and Arabella sighed, picking a loose piece of cotton off her skirt. What had she let herself in for, volunteering to referee those two?

'I don't know about you,' said Phil to his three companions, as they walked the scenic route to the abbey, the tor guiding their steps, 'but I'm pretty good with words and seeing as I'm supposed to be the PR man, I think I'll try and speak to the priest, see what I can get out of him. I'll push our documentary as a good advert for the church, that's bound to hook him and the hopefully I can reel him in!'

'I was hoping to speak to the people on the site,' Sam said, 'the security guards, the souvenir sellers, that sort of thing. They might have all sorts of information.'

'OK,' said Jo, 'well, Donald, I suppose you can come with me to take the plunge. We might as well find out as soon as possible if this does really have any healing properties!'

After a ten minute argument about where the library was, Arabella went and bought a tourist map from a local newsagent. Eventually they were on their way. When they got there, they were pleased to find that the library kept newspapers on CD ROM, except the local rag which was on microfiche. They soon settled in front of the readers and even Rupert became engrossed in scouring the pages for any pertinent articles. Soon the printers were humming and they had a small pile of relevant stories between them. It rapidly became apparent that the whole story was handled at the Clarion entirely by a certain Amanda Gudmunsdottir. Quickly finding the paper's telephone number she left the other two saying, 'I'm going to try to contact this Amanda, she might be able to help us.'

Leaving the others to head down to the spring, Phil got directions to the vicarage where a tired looking, middle aged woman with lines round her eyes and wearing a floppy, floral apron said that Father Murray would see him if he would care to wait about half an hour. Phil agreed and she showed him into a small, rather smelly living room. The walls were decorated with production line oil paintings and a sixties style grandfather clock chimed every fifteen minutes in the corner. Somewhere in the house he could hear raised voices. Sighing he stared at his watch and hoped that the others were having more luck than him.

Sam, Jo and Donald wandered the site for a while, getting a feel for the layout. Eventually they found their way to the 'miraculous' spring. It wasn't hard to do, fluorescent yellow tape guided them along the path, until they came out on the scene from behind a screen of bushes. The sight of the open marshes would have been quite breath-taking, had it not been for the bunting around what amounted to little more than a large muddy puddle, surrounded by mossy, green stones. Water bubbled constantly to the surface and the sound was both relaxing and exciting at the same time. A large stall, also covered in bunting, and selling everything from gift-set bibles to crude replicas of the dish was off to the left. Under the shade of a spreading oak tree to the right, was what looked at first glance to be a temporary toilet. Closer inspection revealed it to be the guard hut and a short, broad man in a grey uniform and hat stood outside.

A woman knelt praying beside the spring. Two men were taking photos and making notes. Jo didn't really want to try the water in front of everyone and decided to wait until at least the woman pilgrim had gone. Sam went off to talk to the woman running the souvenir stall. Jo hoped they wouldn't be waiting long, standing up for such a long period meant her leg was hurting mercilessly.

Rupert and George had thoroughly searched the Clarion on microfiche for anything mentioning the 'grail' and were now conferring over one of the large wooden tables in the library. They hadn't argued for at least ten minutes. Unfortunately they hadn't found out anything that they didn't already know, a couple other names of the miraculously healed had turned up and they dutifully noted them, though it seemed that they were mainly tourists from out of town.

It seemed that the Clarion had taken a very neutral stance on the whole Declan Aldridge matter, they weren't entirely convinced that the 'grail' was authentic, but they also didn't think that Aldridge putting it there made it a fake. The editorial said, 'If it is indeed true that this object is the Holy Grail then it doesn't seem impossible that it could have been using its influence in other places in the world. Who knows what force may have brought the holy grail back here. If it is the holy grail.' It seemed that Arabella may have been on the right track in contacting the reported, Amanda Gudmunsdottir, she could have other information. Arguing over who should tidy away the rolls of film, they gathered their things and entered into a debate over where they should head onto.

Arabella stared, somewhat ill-temperedly, at her tiny gold watch. She had spoken to Amanda on the phone and they had agreed to meet in an hour's time at the Royal Cup. The time of their meeting had come and gone an hour ago.

Amanda had seemed quite keen on meeting the TV crew and had even suggested that it might make an interesting angle for her latest report on the situation. She agreed to fill Arabella in on everything she knew. Eyeing the public phone in the corner and wondering why the whole team hadn't fitted themselves out with mobile phones so they could always be in contact, she was about to stand and ring Arabella once more when a woman walked into the bar. She was of medium height with long, pale hair and wore a tiny pink t-shirt.

She was carrying a leather music case and talking loudly into a dinky mobile phone, 'No, no, I can't cover it, I'm still doing this grail story...yes, still! Look, I'm about to do an interview, you'd better get someone else to cover it...' she paused as if listening and glanced around the bar. Only Arabella and a old man dozing in the corner were there, so Arabella took her chance and waved at Amanda who wearily waved back. 'Yup, yup, look, OK...yup, right, I have to go, I'll ring you back when I'm free. Yup, OK, ciao!' She rushed over to Arabella and dropped her bag on the floor. 'Hi, Arabella Robinson?'

'Yes, well, Arabella Robbins, that is...' but Amanda was already rummaging around in her bag for a notepad, 'OK,' said, 'tell me what angle you've got!'

'Well, um,' Arabella cursed herself for not using the hour of waiting to think up a more precise story, 'well, we, that is Acorn productions, we heard about the supposed grail, well hasn't everyone and...'

'You the director?' Amanda asked.

'Ah, no just the researcher, a skivvy really.' Arabella replied.

Amanda snorted with laughter, 'Yeh, know the feeling. Anyway, you were saying?'

'Yeh, we heard about the whole thing and wondered what the most original way to look at it would be. And then it occurred to us, we could take the our own guinea pig, give them the waters and see if their ills were cured!'

'Excellent, so you get a doctor to give you a medical certificate as proof of their illness before hand?' Amanda asked.

'Well, not exactly,' said Arabella.

'But you are doing it under scientific conditions?' questioned Amanda.

'No, we, I mean Jo, she's the one with the injury, she's just going to take the water, see what happens.'

'OK,' said Amanda, 'when're you doing this?'

'When we're ready,' Arabella said, 'we're doing some pre-production research now, Jo and a few others are down there, checking out the site, y'know lighting, PR, that sort of thing.'

Amanda nodded, 'I like the angle. I'll make you a deal. I'll tell you what I know, if I can be in on it. The healing I mean. If I can be there to report on the effects. What do you say?'

'I...I don't know...I mean, I'd have to speak to the director, he's very strict.' Arabella said.

'You've got to stand up for yourself, girl, this is the nineties, you don't need some faggot's permission just because he gets to call himself the director! This could be your big break! Other production companies will be head-hunting you left, right and centre to be their director when I report it's all your idea!'

'Look, I can't make that decision,' Arabella said nervously, 'I just wanted some contacts from you, Declan Aldridge, that sort of thing, y'know!'

Amanda snorted, 'You'd be lucky, Aldridge has taken a lead out of Lord Lucan's book. The priest won't give his address but I managed to trace him through the electoral register. His house is all shut up, he's gone to stay with friends and I can't find him. I'm sure the priest knows where he is, and I'm going to find out, in fact that's where I was headed when you rang. Tell you what, we can go together, and you can introduce me to the rest of your team, especially this Jo, I'd like to hear from her. Come on, do it for sisterhood, let's show this director guy who really wears the trousers on this planet!'

Phil leapt to his feet when the woman came back into the room. He'd been listening intently to the crescendo of the anonymous argument and had heard stamping footsteps and a slamming door as someone had stormed out, and was surprised as the woman came in. He'd been waiting considerably longer than half an hour as the woman shepherded him down a long, thin, wood panelled corridor. Tapping on a door at the end of it she gestured for him to go in.

He flung open the door and marched purposefully into the room where a fat, balding man in vicar's garb sat behind a desk. 'Hi Father Murray,' said Phil running over and grabbing his hand, 'Phil Harlow, PR for Acorn Productions, we're hoping to make a documentary about your miraculous cup and I thought you might like to be in on it.'

'I, well I...hope I would...' said the vicar, pulling nervously at his collar.

'Of course, of course,' said Phil, 'this whole thing must have come as a great blessing. Must have really got those bums on those pews and can you imagine what a national documentary could do? This could be the new Lourdes, the new Mecca!'

'Ah, that's Muslim,' the priest objected.

'Yeh, but look how many of them visit that place each year!' Phil said, slickly, 'Wouldn't you like that many pilgrims here?'

'Well, yes...' said the priest.

'Exactly, and we're here to help you do that, right?'

'I suppose so.' the priest said.

'Good, so you'll co-operate with the film?'

'I...yes. Yes, I will!' responded Father Murray.

'Brilliant,' said Phil, 'absolutely brilliant! Now we're hoping to do a strong human angle, those that were healed, that sort of thing. Do you have some sort of list of those who've experienced a miracle?'

'I certainly do,' said the priest, his face beaming. He rummaged around in a draw and produced a rather crumpled sheet, which he handed to Phil. At the top was a crudely drawn cross and underneath a list of around twenty five names. There were no addresses or phone numbers.

'I need to be able to contact them,' Phil said, 'don't you have numbers or addresses?'

Father Murray shrugged his shoulders, 'Er, not all of the healed want to be identified, don't you recall in the bible where Our Lord healed the lepers and told them not to breathe a word of it to anyone? I must respect their privacy. However, the first person to be healed Mrs Phillips has been giving interviews, here's her number,' he quickly scribbled the name and number on a scrap of paper and handed it to Phil, 'oh and Ms Morris and her daughter Fern, they've spoken to the papers, I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you their story,' he furnished Phil with the number and address.

'That's not much to go on, Father,' Phil said, 'what about Declan Aldridge?'

The vicar stiffened and Phil thought that perhaps he'd said something wrong, 'I'm afraid Mr Aldridge won't permit me to give out his contact number, he's been very camera shy about the whole matter,' the priest leaned forward and lowered his voice conspiratorially, 'I'm not sure that he's...y'know,' he made a twirling motion at the side of his head with a finger, '...all there.'

'Come on, father, all I want to do is speak to him...' pursued Phil, but he was interrupted as the door was flung open and the housekeeper rushed in. 'Father, those archaeologists are back, I told them you were busy, but...'

She broke off as a small woman with red hair and a tall lanky man marched into the room. 'Look, Father Murray,' began the woman and Phil recognised her voice from the muffled argument he'd overheard, 'we've been onto English Heritage and they're sending a representative here as we speak, they think we might have a good case of obstruction against you!'

Father Murray leapt to his feet and began shouting almost incoherently at the archaeologists. Phil sat back, should he intervene or slip away?

Leaving the others, Sam approached the souvenir stall, pretending to examine the plastic ashtrays and postcards with enthusiasm. 'Hi,' she said, thrusting a hand out at the mousy woman behind the stall, 'I'm Sam Michaelson, I'm with Acorn Productions, we're going to do a program on the discovery. You must see a lot of what goes on from this vantage point. Witnessed any of the healings?'

'Yes, several,' said the woman, 'though some people have said that the healing was spontaneous, it took several days before it worked. I'm Joy, by the way, Joy Sanderson.'

'So what happened with the healings you saw?' Sam asked.

'Just what you'd imagine,' replied Joy, 'they drunk the water or rubbed it on the affected part and then they'd say they were healed. I've been told that the first woman, it healed her cataracts and you could see her eyes clear up like clouds fleeing a summer sky. Must have been something to see!'

'I'm sure!' said Sam, 'one last question. Do you believe it's genuine?'

Joy looked surprised that Sam had even asked the question. 'Of course, don't you?'

Sam laughed, 'Just have to be thorough!' she said. She quickly bought a biro with Glastonbury Abbey printed on it and then sauntered over to the guard hut. She introduced herself to the guard who told her he was called John Ashe. She asked him the same questions, but he didn't seem to think the grail was genuine. 'So have you had much trouble?' Sam asked, 'someone must be worried or they wouldn't have hired you!'

'No trouble yet,' said John, altering his cap, 'but plenty of interested groups. See those blokes over there,' he pointed to the two men in long coats that Sam had noticed earlier, 'they're trying to buy it for some sort of foreign collector. All sorts of people have been here to see it, news people, tourists, pilgrims. The Grail Trust thought it might be best to have some security, you never know who might try to prise it up and run off with it!'

'The Grail Trust?' asked Sam, 'are they looking after this whole thing?'

'Oh yes,' replied John, 'you should talk to them, you probably need their permission. Dr Bord is the one you want, he's got an office on the site.' 'Thanks,' said Sam, 'I will.'

Finally the female pilgrim left, though it was unapparent if she had got what she was praying for.

Jo's leg was very stiff and she limped over to the pool, Donald at her side. She painfully knelt down, seeing that there was a heavy, lead crystal goblet placed on a flat rock, presumably for the use of pilgrims. Donald looked at her encouragingly, and she glanced downwards.

At the bottom of the bubbling water was a long blue shape. Looking closer Jo could see it was a dish made of glass and it appeared to be wedged between two rocks, over the source of the spring, so that air and water rushed up around it. Glancing over his shoulder, Donald saw Sam talking to the security guard. He also noticed that the other two men who had been making notes were watching him and Jo and intently. He decided to keep an eye on them.

Jo reached out and picked up the glass. She wasn't sure if she should drink the water or rub it on her leg, so she decided to do both. She scooped out some of the water and was rather alarmed to see that it was a murky green, with tiny red particles floating in it. Squeezing her eyes shut she took a big gulp and then pulled up the leg of her baggy jeans to reveal the scar. She tipped the water over it, shivering at the cold. Putting the glass down she stumbled to her feet. The only difference was that she felt really stupid. Had she ever thought this would work? 'Doesn't seem to have done anything,' she said cheerfully to Donald who'd been looking at her expectantly, 'perhaps it isn't the real grail after all!'

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