The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Blood In The Cup

1.30am 3rd October 1998.

'For God's sake run and don't look back!' Donald yelled, aiming his gun. The apparition was now so close that their faces were bathed with the sickly yellow light which emanated from it. Everything seemed to slow down, as if the air had suddenly become more dense, and Arabella saw Donald's finger squeezing the trigger.

She grabbed his arm and pushed it away from the ghost, shoving him backwards, 'Run, you bloody idiot! That thing isn't going to harm a Banshee, you'll only piss it off!' She maintained her grip on his arm, and dragged him away. He hesitated for a moment as the apparition reached out to him and briefly he saw the pale, sad girl he had witnessed the previous evening. This made him look at his gun in horror and stuffed it inside his coat. Arabella was still dragging him and he found himself half running backwards, away from the melancholy vision who stood with her arms outstretched as if beseeching him. Managing to find his feet, he turned and, holding Arabella as tightly as she was holding him they managed to stumble at speed away from the scene. Briefly they had to run across open ground and Donald urged Arabella breathlessly to go as fast as she could. They would be in plain view and Donald's sharp hearing had picked up the fact that the others had been found by the Police, he could only hope that the Police would be distracted enough not to see two figures running in the darkness.

The Police man's shout had exactly the opposite effect to that which he had intended. Sam and Jo bolted. They headed off to the right, fanning out as they got closer to cover of the trees. Rupert, glancing around gave one last almighty tug on the grail. A huge handful of rock came out of the water and the sudden change in distribution of weight sent him sprawling into the damp grass. Scrabbling to his feet, he took off, an officer only a few paces behind him.

'Well so much for cottaging in the middle of a field! I think I'll try the toilets next time, or Clapham Common!' he cried, the wind carrying his words back to his pursuers.

'Stop!' ordered the voice behind him as Rupert darted into the trees, his sharp eyes spying Sam's fleeing back. He swerved in the opposite direction, a dead branch catching one of his feet and sending him flying into a tree, he lay there, stunned for a moment as he heard the policeman crashing through the brush towards him.

Jo was under the cover of the trees in a second, praising her knee for having regained its former abilities. She could here the cries of the police officers and she ran back through the trees until she was parallel with them and the pool. She knew her companions would be heading straight for the hotel and hoping to buy them some time she drew her gun from its holster, aiming it at the huge floodlight which illuminated the scene.

Tears came to Sam's eyes as she fled away from the scene, even her hardened feet couldn't cope with running over the rock and branch strewn floor. She'd heard Rupert's voice and had allowed herself the luxury of a grin at his words. She'd heard Rupert and his pursuers crash into the wood near her, but they seemed to have headed off in another direction and for that, Sam was grateful. She was also glad that her new hair colour blended into the woods so well, if it were still blue she'd have been a sitting duck. The air tore at her lungs as she took big gulping lungfuls but urged herself on as she saw the perimeter fence glinting dully under the streetlights. She'd just laid one hand on the cool railings when a huge crack echoed through the night and then another and another. She stood stunned for a moment before she realised it was gun fire. Remembering that Donald carried a gun she jumped the fence, wondering if he and Arabella had been cornered by the Police and were firing at them. This was not a good place to be. Feet sore and bleeding, she raced at full speed back to the hotel.

The few seconds that Donald and Arabella were out of cover seemed like hours and the commotion from the pool area was so great that they couldn't even tell if they'd been spotted or not. Now they were near the perimeter fence, and Donald hurdled it without thinking, and paused for Arabella who surprised even herself with her athleticism.

Out on the street they tried to regain their composure. Their faces were pale and hair windswept, long red curls had fallen out of Arabella's bun and were liberally decorated with leaves. Slowly they began to walk back in the direction of the hotel, hoping that their frightened appearances wouldn't draw any attention.

Arabella stroked her hair back into place, 'That was a classic Banshee, or Bane-Sidhe, and that in itself is not good. According to myth and folklore, the Banshee is the spirit of a murdered Elf-maiden. Its scream can drive mortals insane or even kill them under the right conditions. It looks like the 'Grail' has a guardian. Very, very, very not good!'

'What do you want to do now?' Donald asked, surprised to hear the quaver in his voice.

Arabella shrugged her shoulders and glanced back in the direction of where their companions still were, 'What can we do?' she said, 'I think I heard someone shout Police. I hope they've got away OK. We'd better get back to the hotel.' Wrapping their warm coats around themselves against the painfully cold night, they were lost in their own thoughts until a wild eyed looking George leapt out at them from behind the hotel door.

Clawing at the tree trunk for balance, Rupert pulled himself to his feet. Warm, sticky fluid trailed down his face and he realised with a certain amount of panic that it was his own blood. His nose was bloodied and had gone numb. The officer was nearly on him now and was waving his baton in Rupert's direction.

'Halt, or I'll strike!' he warned. Rupert dived into the trees behind him, dodging around trunks and trying to simultaneously look ahead, at the floor and at the officers progress. He ran on, clutching his hand to his bleeding nose, hoping that they'd never heard of DNA testing down here. His breath rattled in his chest as plunged wearily on and just as he thought he couldn't take another step, he realised that he could no longer hear his noisy pursuer. The silence was truly eerie, only the popping and snapping of the brittle twigs beneath his own feet broke the silence. Taking the risk of being caught he stopped, leaning against a tree as he fought to catch his breath. No, he really couldn't here anything else, he must have lost his pursuer. A smile spread across his face as he walked towards where he supposed the perimeter must be and almost leapt out of his skin as he heard a loud bang. That set him to running again and he heard a few more of the noises. He was over the fence and halfway back to the hotel before he realised that he noises had been gun fire.

Jo had worked her way back from her original position, squeezing off shots until all of her ammunition was gone. Her attack had had the desired effect, pandemonium had reigned once the light had been taken out. Radios crackled and people cried out in fear. She was blind in the dark herself for a moment as the light faded, but quickly regained her night vision. Some of the police had run for the trees and others had hit the floor, though she was sure that none of them had taken a bullet. Her aim was far too good for that. Deciding that the Police weren't going anywhere for a while she headed back to the hotel herself, hoping that none of her companions had been caught.

Sam, swift on her feet had made it back to the hotel before the others and had dragged George from his bed to tell him the story. He was livid when he heard about the gunfire and when he saw Donald approaching with Arabella he raced to meet them.

'Donald, you idiot, what do you mean, firing at the police?' he hissed, 'I would have thought that you would especially appreciate the need for subterfuge!'

Donald took a step backwards, 'Look, Major, I didn't fire at anything. I'll admit I was going to but Arabella here stopped me,' Arabella, looking pale nodded.

'Let's got to my room,' the Major said, 'we're going to draw too much attention out here!' Rupert arrived as they were going up the stairs and they were discussing what had happened when Jo showed up.

George immediately asked about the gunfire, 'Yes, it was me,' said Jo wearily, 'I had to do something. We should have known the Police were going to be there, we were pathetic! They would have arrested us!'

'Well, committing an even more illegal act can't have helped matters!' George said, shaking his head wearily, 'Look, everyone go and get some sleep, but perhaps you should all get on your knees and pray that no one got a good look at you first. We'll discuss this further in the morning!'

Phil rose bright and early, taking his notepad down to the dining room/bar. He was eager to hear of last night's events and assumed that all had gone well as he slept through the whole thing with no disturbances. He was on his second pot of coffee when his phone rang.

'It's Eddie,' said a gruff voice, 'I've got that info you wanted. You do know how illegal it was for me to do this don't you?'

'Yeh well I'll mention you in my Pulitzer acceptance speech. And of course I'll visit you in prison!' Phil said, refilling his cup, 'what have you got?'

'Right, Thomas Richardson is classic security guard type, several convictions for various petty crimes and one for GBH which he did two years for. Typical ruffian who gets into the security business really, but the other one, Alan Foster, he's a bit more of a mystery. Nothing to his name as all, not even a driving ticket, pretty unusual for someone in his line of work.'

'Thanks for that, Eddie,' Phil said, 'I owe you a pint.'

'I think you'll find it's two,' Eddie said. Phil laughed and hung up.

George walked in, looking rather tired and worried. Phil noticed that he was till carrying his cane, but wasn't using it to walk with now. George went over to the barmaid who handed him his papers.

'Did you hear about that terrible business last night at the abbey?' she said, handing him a tray with his breakfast on, 'some terrorists tried to steal the grail, they fired at the Police! No-one was hurt but they've cordoned off the area!'

'Oh dear,' was all that George could find to say.

'Still, it'll make an exciting twist in your documentary, won't it?' she said. George nodded and headed over to the table. He quickly filled Phil in on the evenings events, discussing the whole thing between themselves in low voices.

Arabella appeared in the door next. Her face was tight and drawn and there were pronounced grey circles under both eyes. She accepted a cup of coffee from the major wordlessly.

'So Arabella,' said Phil, 'How was the night out on the tiles, then?'

Arabella gave a monosyllabic response and Phil laughed, 'Seems like we're causing a crime-wave just by ourselves. Are you sure we're not the bad guys? Seriously though, I think we ought to keep a lower profile.'

'I can't help but agree,' Arabella said, 'I think I should carry on looking around and finding out a bit more though,' she says, 'it's a researcher's job and that is supposed to be my role. Besides, I'm getting a little worried about Amanda. She's not the type to be out of contact for so long, especially as she's been making this story her baby. Time for some intuitive investigation I think.'

The others slowly filtered down, in various states of sleep deprivation. Toast was being hungrily consumed and coffee happily gulped when Arabella's phone rang. The others ignored it as she answered it, but she held her hand up to indicate the need for silence. As usual the bar was theirs alone at breakfast time and the barmaid was in the kitchen washing some plates.

The whole group could plainly hear the voice on the other end of the line.

'This is Geoff Blaize, head of SITU UK, am I speaking to Professor Robyns?'

'You are,' responded Arabella

'Are you able to talk?' Geoff asked.

'Yes,' said Arabella, 'the whole team is here.'

'Excellent!' boomed Geoff, his voice was very gruff and had the edge of a person who was used to giving orders that were obeyed, 'Make sure you pass all of this onto them as well! I'm ringing about this bloody catastrophe induced by you lot last night. It made the charge of the light brigade look positively well thought out. We've heard that the whole damn area has been cordoned off now. How the hell do you think you're going to achieve your end game when you can't even get on the site? I want to make it clear that by your messing about and attracting this much police attention you've made it more difficult for yourselves and for the rest of SITU to carry on the fight against the real enemy. Incredibly poor show, you're just lucky that there were no casualties last night. And what's this I hear about firearms? Anyone in the group who is currently carrying one must get rid of it as of this minute. Apart from the fact that it's bloody illegal, the police are going to be carrying out anti-terrorist searches, and if any of you get caught and locked up, we sure as hell won't be bailing you out! You can count on that! You're going to have to think of a way to solve this and bloody quick, you need to lessen the tension, shift the blame to someone else. You'll have to put your heads together on this one and I hear you've got a couple of loose cannons in your group,' Arabella blushed that the rest of the group could hear his words, 'you'll have to make sure that none of them go off. Andre also tells me that he was expecting you personally to take care of the newbies in your group, yet I understand that at least one of them has been implicated in various crimes. The police have actually checked out your contact number. I can tell you I've seriously considered taking you dolts off this investigation you've presented a serious risk to SITU's security, but Andre has persuaded me to allow you to redeem yourselves. And you'd better do a bloody good job, I can tell you that much. I'll be back in touch!' And the phone went dead.

Arabella put her phone away, 'You all heard that I assume?' she said. 'It looks like we're in trouble with the bosses and frankly, I'm not even mildly surprised. We're going to have to do something about this.'

'That's it, I can't stay here with you, I'm going to find somewhere else!' Sam said suddenly, her face flushed as she rose to her feet. The others stared after her as she stormed upstairs.

There was a pause for a moment, and then Donald shifted in his seat uncomfortably, 'I think we should avoid the site today,' he said.

'I think you're right,' Jo said, 'But it's difficult to plan too much ahead here. We should lie low as a group for a couple of days, if possible. We should find out where Amanda Gutmundsdottir was last seen and try to track her down from there. Then there's the possibly real Grail in the well. We should try and get that out and have a close look at it. We seem to have gathered plenty of information from the library so we should leave the place alone for the time being and concentrate on following the information up. If everything goes horribly wrong, I'll suggest we hide out in Declan Aldridge's house. Why?' she didn't pause for an answer, 'because we know it's empty and it may be a focus for other groups interested in the grail in which case we'll be on hand if they come to search the place.'

The others looked definitely uncomfortable, George cleared his throat, 'I think we're in enough trouble already, Jo, we don't want another disastrous investigation on our hands.' His meaning was implicit.

Jo nodded, 'Right everyone, we messed up badly, but we haven't lost the war yet.'

'We?' Rupert said, only half under his breath.

She continued, 'We got away clean so lets see if we can keep it that way. George, Phil, you're not implicated in any way. Donald and Arabella, did anyone see you?'

'We don't know,' said Donald, 'I don't think so, even if they did, I don't think they would have got a good look at us, we were running like hell.'

'Right, then the real danger at the moment lies with myself, Rupert and Sam. Hopefully, no one got a clear look at us, but we can't be sure of that. One thing is for sure, though, we'll find out

damn quick. So we need to get as much done as we can while there's still time. The chalice well seems like an another piece of this clue. George, would it be big enough to get someone down it?'

He shook his head, 'No, it was only about this big,' he measured out a circle with his hands, slightly larger than an average dinner plate. 'I'd like to go back there, I thought perhaps we could dangle a video camera down there, I've got an appointment with Dr Bord on site today, so I can ask for permission.''

'And I'll come with you,' said Phil. 'We also want to keep tabs on what is going on at the spring still. Even if we're keeping this low a profile, we don't want anyone to pull a fast one when we're not looking. I also think we should split into groups to interview the woman who found the grail and the first woman who'd been healed.'

'I'd like to come to the interviews too,' Rupert said, he turned to Donald who had barely touched any food but had contented himself with a few sips of coffee, 'Have you ever killed anyone called Ken?'

The group barely realised what was happening as Donald lashed out with his arm, sending Rupert back off his chair and skidding into the wall. Donald leapt after him, and in one smooth movement, seized Rupert by his grubby collars and thrust him against the wall.

'I've killed people for much less than a snide comment Rupert, so you'd better start and take me seriously, I won't be afraid to do you some serious physical harm. I certainly don't think any of us will be lighting your joints for you when I've broken all of your arms and legs!'

He let go, allowing Rupert to slide to the floor. Jo had leapt to her feet when the incident began and now she smiled, sitting down.

'Get up, Rupert, you look even more of a prat than usual down there.' she said with glee.

Arabella looked worried, 'I'm sure this isn't what Geoff Blaize had in mind,' she muttered.

George took a bite of toast, 'I've been thinking about that yellow line on the map, I wonder if it might be a Ley Line? I read something about them last month. Lines of mystic energy, connecting 'Places of Power', or something like that.'

'So, our plans for the day,' Arabella said, trying to bring some order to the gathering, 'Phil and George, you're going to investigate the Chalice Well and later interview Priscilla and Fern Morris and Betty Phillips with Rupert. What about you, Jo?'

'I'm going to try and keep a low profile, keep an eye on here, make sure that there are no Police coming. Perhaps try and find Charles and Hugh, see what they're up to.'

'And as I said earlier, I'm going to do a bit more digging at the library and then have a serious look for Amanda, I'm worried. Perhaps you'd like to join me Donald?' He nodded, 'As for Sam...' she began. Sam appeared at the door, as if on cue, a bag slung over her shoulder. She hoisted it further up, her bangles jangling loudly as she did so.

'I'm going to find somewhere else to stay,' she said, 'I'll meet you at midday in the library.'

'Hang on,' Arabella said, rushing towards the door, 'I don't think SITU will like this, you heard what Geoff Blaize said, we have to pull together!'

Sam shrugged her shoulders and left.

'One last thing,' Jo added after a while, 'I want everyone to keep their important belongings packed up and ready to go just in case we need to do a runner.'

'OK,' said Arabella, 'then we'll all meet back here at dinner time.'

They all stood and Phil stretched his arms out, 'God, that was the best night's sleep I've had for ages. I don't know what they put in the mattresses, but I swear they are the most comfortable ones I've slept on in my life!'

The others grinned and made to leave but Rupert grasped Jo's arm, 'Running away from those Police last night I saw the same side of you that Saddam Hussein must have done, how is that yellow streak, dear?' Jo pushed away his hand and headed upstairs, 'Did you know that the people who suffered from Gulf War syndrome were generally of a very low intelligence? Seems you fit the bill very well.'

'And did you know,' she called back down the stairs, 'that while England's landed aristocracy are in the top two per cent of richest people, they generally rank in the bottom two percent when it comes to intelligence!?'

Out on the streets, the fruit of their evening's work was apparent. The police presence was extremely heavy; there were plenty of police officers roaming around and almost as many police cars as there were civilian ones. The Major and Phil had taken one of the smaller cameras out of their pile of props and plenty of cable, which would double up as rope. As they got closer to the site, they could see a pair of Police dog handlers at the gates, searching everyone who went in. Cars were being turned inside out and there was a large gaggle of reporters outside the gates.

'This area is sealed off to the general public today, sirs, do you have any specific business here?' the policewoman on duty asked.

'I have an appointment with Dr Bord,' George said, giving his name. The officer, struck something off on her clipboard and gave him an ID badge with his name spelt wrongly on it.

'I'm doing PR for Acorn productions, I'm here to see the Pritchards,' Phil said.

'You're not on my list,' she said, 'I'll contact them,' she went into the guard hit and emerged a minute later, 'Yes sir, that's fine, here's your badge, please make sure you are wearing it at all times.' They went in through the gates and were cursorily searched.

'My appointment with Bord isn't until this afternoon,' George said, gesticulating with his cane, 'and it looks pretty quiet at the moment, lets have a look at the Chalice well and then go over to the spring, see what we can find out!'

Arabella set off with Donald to rent themselves a car, thinking it was getting far too cold to be going anywhere on foot. Arabella carefully filed the receipt so she could claim expenses later. It didn't take long to sort out a car and they gladly climbed into its warmth, heading straight for the Clarion offices.

Inside the reception was bustling with people; reporters and police-officers. Arabella pushed her way to the front.

'I'd like to speak with the editor or manager please,' she says, briskly business-like. 'It's concerning the disappearance of a friend of mine, Amanda Gotmunsdottir!'

'You and everybody else!' exclaimed the receptionist, 'you'll have to wait. Over there!' She pointed at some chairs in the corner and Donald and Arabella settled down to wait.

After about fifteen minutes, a slight man with floppy blond hair and a stained shirt approached them.

'Hi, I'm Simon Hall, I'm deputy editor. Do you have some information about Amanda?'

'I'm Arabella Robyns, Professor Arabella Robyns of Nottingham University. I rang Amanda yesterday and we arranged to meet up and discuss a new lead she had on the Grail story. She said something about some secret group trying to get the Grail. That was the last I heard from her. I've tried her mobile since then and had no response. I want to know what's happened to her!'

'I'm afraid that we can't really discuss this at the moment,' he scratched his head and indicated the direction of the police officers, 'Amanda has gone missing and the police seem to think it's serious,' he leant forward, 'there's talk of kidnap!'

'I'm a fully qualified psychologist and I have a reasonably fair idea of how Amanda's mind works. It's possible I might spot something that someone else might miss. Besides, it'd make a good story if someone from this office found her and not the police. She might not want the police involved, they might tie up her part of the story in red tape.'

Simon laughed as if she'd made a joke, 'Know how Amanda's mind works? I don't think so! You're not her shrink are you?' Arabella shook her head, 'Besides it's all in the Police's hands now, and if they need a psychologist then they'll call one in.'

A door off to the side opened and some stuck their head through, 'Simon, phone for you!'

'Look,' said Simon, 'I have to go!'

'Can't you give us anything else?' Arabella said, somewhat desperately.

Simon looked at his watch impatiently. 'No, I have to... hang on, there's Sheila, Amanda's PA. The Police have just finished with her, but I can't think she'll be of any help.'

He went off to answer the phone and send Sheila to them. A small women, with blond hair in a short ponytail and wearing a red shirt approached them. Her eyes were red and she'd obviously been crying, she clutched a raggedy paper tissue in her hand.

'I'm Sheila Brown,' she said, 'Amanda's PA. Simon said you wanted a word?'

Donald rose to his feet, 'Yes, sorry to bother you, we realise that this must be a difficult time for you, what with Amanda's disappearance and everything. We're from Acorn Productions for the BBC, we'd been working quite closely with Amanda,' Sheila nodded, 'and we understand she was working on a lead when she went missing. We're rather concerned that the our own staff might be being placed in danger because of it. Is there anyway you can tell us what lead she was working on at the time?'

Sheila looked at him with her red rimmed eyes, 'I don't know... she didn't tell me, she's forever flying off on leads and not letting me know, and I'm supposed to keep her diary! All she'd said was that she had to meet two men, who had a lead about the grail story, she didn't give any names or anything!' Tears were welling up in her eyes again and Donald put a comforting hand on her shoulder which she reacted very well to.

'Thanks, you've been a massive help,' Donald said softly, 'I'm sure she'll turn up soon, keep us posted,' he handed her the mobile phone number, 'and we'll do the same!'

'Hello,' Rupert said suavely into the phone, 'my name is Rupert de Montfort, I'm from Acorn Antiques, sorry I mean Acorn Productions for the BBC, would it be possible to come and speak to you this afternoon about your grail experience?' He paused as the voice on the other end of the line spoke, 'Excellent and will your husband Ted be there as well? Lovely, we'll see you about three thirty then. 'Bye!'

Another quick phone call to Priscilla Morris meant that they had another interview at two thirty. Rupert carefully probed the surface of his tender nose, he didn't think it was broken but it was rather swollen and purple. He lay back on his bed, just time for a snooze before the interviews began.

The police officers walked past the Royal Cup Inn for the fifth time that morning and Jo was seriously tempted to suggest they leave. Perhaps the Police were onto them. But there seemed to be Police everywhere that morning, in fact a car had been searched right in front if her. She didn't want to linger too long in case she aroused suspicion. Cramming one hand into her pocket, she took out her mobile phone, perhaps she could get on with finding the mysterious Hugh and Charles.

The hill and the area around the chalice well were deserted. They had no problem lifting the lid to the well and after taking a few minutes to find out how the camera worked, they lowered into the hole, having tied it to the cable twice to make sure it didn't fall.

'Be careful you don't lower it into the water!' George hissed as Phil manoeuvred the camera down the hole.

'I honestly don't think it'll reach that far!' Phil said, his tongue stuck out with concentration. There was silence for a minute as Phil continued to feed cable into the hole, 'right, that's as far as it'll go,' Phil said. They both peered down to see if they could see the glimmering object, but it was obscured by the camera.

'Well, lets get it out and see what it's got!' George said. They pulled the camera out slowly, wincing every time it struck one of the sides. Once it was out, they flipped the lid back closed and stood to work out how to playback. For all the world to see they looked like tourists admiring their amateur footage. The tiny screen played back a surprisingly clear image, most of it was the dark slimy walls of the well, light occasionally reflecting off it. The sound of the rushing water got louder as the image inched painfully downwards. Unfortunately the camera had swung round and round all of the way down and so they only got fleeting images of everything. Suddenly something gold flashed into view and the two men gasped, there it was, the cup! It was golden, but they couldn't see much else of it and the camera had been right on top of it, that was why it hadn't gone any further.

'This is where legend says that the grail was flung,' George said in an over-awed voice.

'We have to try and get it,' said Phil, 'I won't be convinced until I hold it in my hands!' He looked at the cables they'd brought, 'perhaps we can try and make a hook? Tug it out of place, y'know?'

'We can try,' George said, gathering up the cables and making them into a passable hook. 'See if you can get it and I'l keep a look out, I'm concerned that we've been here too long.'

Phil nodded and lowered the cable into the spring once more. It was more difficult than he'd anticipated and he wished they'd brought a torch. He was about to give up and declare the whole idea nigh on impossible when he felt the cable snag on something. Peering down into the hole, he thought is looked like it had caught on the cup. Pulling tentatively, he fervently hoped that the cup wouldn't go hurtling down into the water, never to be seen again. But it seemed that the cup had caught tangled in the cable and he painfully inched it upwards, terrified that any sudden movement would send the object into watery oblivion.

'Someone's coming!' hissed George suddenly. The object was only an arms length away and Phil grabbed it, pulling it free of the cable, and allowing the wire to slither into the well, he leapt to his feet and slammed the lid shut. When the middle aged couple walked past, pausing briefly to admire the fine wrought iron work on the lid of the well, Phil looked exactly like a tourist admiring the splendid view. Once the couple were out of view, Phil pulled the cup out of his jacket. Turning it over in his hands he suddenly realised something. Everything was clear to him now.

Donald and Arabella were back in the car.

'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?' Donald asked.

Arabella nodded slowly, 'If you're thinking that Messrs Charles Montfleur and Hugh Simmons are cropping up an awful lot in this matter, then yes, we are thinking the same.'

'They were watching Jo and I on site,' Donald said, striking the things off on his fingers as he spoke, 'we caught them trying to steal the grail, they were trying to put strong arm tactics on the archaeologists and now two men have probably kidnapped Amanda! It all seems to be linked.'

'Lets go and get Jo,' Arabella said, 'She was going to look for Charles and Hugh, perhaps they'll lead us right to Amanda! First we need to meet with Sam.'

Phil handed the cup to George, 'It's a bloody fake!' he said, 'not even a good one. It's like a kids toy! We should have known. If the legend of Christ is true, he was a poor carpenter any cup or dish he would have used would have been like that ugly thing in the spring, not some gold and jewel encrusted goblet. How could we have been so stupid?'

George scraped at the cup with his nail, watching the gold paint peel away, 'it was probably placed here to fool the tourists,' he said, 'a trick for the gullible American visitors and we fell for it!'

Phil shook his head, 'What idiots! And what a waste of time. I suppose we might as well put it back.'

George shrugged his shoulders, 'I think everyone has lost interest in this well.' But he opened the lid and dropped the cup in anyway. They listened to it bounce off the sides on the way down.

'Let's go to the spring,' George said, pointing with his stick.

As they got closer they could see that the whole area around the spring had been cordoned off with an eight foot tall wire fence, there was a single gate which was guarded.

'Hi, we're here to see the Pritchards,' Phil said through the wire. The man's name tag read Tom Richardson.

He let them in. Inside a full scale archaeological dig was going on. Several trenches had been dug around the spring, where the turf had been removed and was neatly stacked in rolls near the fence. Cold looking students dug at the ground listlessly with muddy trowels. Most of the activity was centred around the spring. Complicated looking equipment was arranged over the pool. A pump was oozing and burping the red spring water into a huge tank.

They walked over and Marie turned, 'Ah Mr Harlow, nice to see you and you've brought a camera this time!' The look on her face was pure delight, they had obviously been beyond hope of getting to excavate the grail, 'have you come to do some filming?'

'Oh no,' said Phil, shaking his head, 'just to see how things are getting on.'

'Very well, thank you,' Marie said. George's phone rang and he stepped aside while Marie showed Phil what was happening. Apparently it was proving more complicated than they'd anticipated and she chuckled to herself that some people had been trying to remove it by hand, saying that it was impossible. It seemed that it would take around two to three days to remove it, as the rocks around it had to be cut away, the object had been shoved into a crack and the constant changes in temperature meant that ti had been contracting and expanding and was now firmly stuck.

'We've also taken the opportunity to do some general digging on the site,' she said, 'it's not very often that one is allowed access to dig a site like this!'

Phil saw George looking around and nodding as he spoke into his phone.

'There's Doctor Bord!' Marie said as a small man in an ill fitting suit and scarlet bow tie came into the compound. Marie introduced Phil and George hurried over.

Dr Bord was friendly but not very forthcoming. He told George how weighed down they were with the whole thing they were and that they couldn't really provide much help, though they were free to film at the site at any time. On top of the excavation, the terrorist attack and all of the press attention, alterations were being made to the current builders centre to house the object once it had been excavated.

'And been examined by us!' Marie chided gently.

'Of course, dear girl, of course!' Dr Bord smiled. He handed a business card to George.

'Here's my number, give me a ring, if you have any queries!'

George headed back to the hotel to collect Rupert for the afternoons interviews and Phil went off on other business.

The meeting in the library with Sam was swift. Arabella had spoken with SITU on the phone again and when she found Sam she handed her the phone.

'Andre says ring him.' Arabella told her.

Sam did: 'Look, Sam,' Andre began, 'this is a team investigation, we can't have anyone going out on their own. Didn't you hear what Geoff said this morning? Either you move back with the others or I officially take you off the case. It's as simple as that. I'll ring the hotel at nine in the morning and if you're not there, then you're fired. I'll be checking with the others.' Sam handed the phone back and walked away, saying she'd be in contact.

Donald and Arabella found Jo outside the hotel. She'd just rang George who reported that he'd seen two men in long coats lurking around the compound and they fitted Jo's description. Jo climbed into Arabella and Donald's car and they filled her in on what little they'd found out.

'Quick,' said Jo, 'let's go and wait outside the abbey site, wait for them to emerge, Donald and I can ID them. We'll follow them, who knows where they might lead us?'

Despite the heavy Police presence, Donald drove at somewhat unnecessary speed to the abbey and the pulled up nearby with a good view of the gate, but far away enough not to be noticed. They settled down to wait.

Phil carefully punched in the number for Rosa Mundi that Declan had given him. It rang a long time before anyone answered. A mans accented voice (perhaps some sort of Asian or Oriental accent, Phil thought).

'Hello, Rosa Mundi, can I help?'

'Hello, yes. I was given your number as I'm a prospective investor in the er... grail artefact. I want to avoid such a rare artefact passing beyond my reach. I was told you might help me.'

'Who gave you this number?' the man asked.

'I'm afraid I can't reveal that,' Phil said, 'perhaps we could meet to discuss this?'

A meeting was quickly arranged for the Red Lion where Phil had met Aldridge. Phil out his phone away and headed for the hotel to work on his notes. Somehow, the thought of a meeting with this group who might be implicated in Amanda's kidnap filled him with dread.

The interview with Priscilla Morris was very short. She looked like a typical harassed mum, there were children all over the house wearing party hats and she explained apologetically that it was little Fern's birthday and she was having a party.

Offering George and Rupert seats and closing the living room door against the noise she smiled in a tired fashion and said, 'Right, what can I do for you gents?'

George opened his mouth to speak but Rupert got there first, 'Tell me about your dream dear. I mean the one about the grail, not the one about the huge tower or the one where you sit in the top of a tree!'

Priscilla's face went red and then purple. She rose to her feet, her apron clenched tightly between her hands.

'Get out.' she said in a quiet voice.

'It was only a joke!' protested Rupert.

'Get out now, before I have my brother throw you out! Bloody hoaxers like you, I hate ther lot of you!' she shoved them unceremoniously towards the front door and the children stared as they went, 'I never asked for any of this and scum like you make me feel worse than I already do. Go on, get lost before I call the Police!' She slammed the door.

'Well done Rupert,' George said as they headed towards Betty Phillips' house, 'splendid result, perhaps you could let me do the talking this time?'

An average sized chap in a beige cardigan opened the door to him. His face was painted with panic, 'Oh dear God, I thought you were the ambulance! You don't know first aid, do you?'

He left them stood in the open doorway and fled back through the house. The investigators quickly followed him out into the garden where they could see a figure laid out on the floor at the bottom of the garden.

'I'd gone in to make a cup of tea!' the old man said, 'and when I came back out she was here,' the old woman, presumably Betty, was laid out, a mighty purple bruise developing on one exposed temple, 'she must have fallen!' the old man said, 'she's been so reckless since her cataracts healed!'

George looked around, the ground was uneven, hacked off tree trunks and large stones littering the floor, a discarded tray with a tea pot and cups lay strewn halfway back up the garden.

'Hello!' a voice called through the house, 'did you call for an ambulance?'

Rupert got to his feet and showed the pair of paramedics where poor Betty lay. They gently lifted Betty onto a stretcher and began to carry her towards the house.

'Was it a fall?' George asked, genuinely concerned.

'We can't really tell at the moment, it could be a blow to the head,' one of the paramedics said.

'Where are you taking her?' Rupert asked.

'The town memorial hospital,' the paramedic said, 'now if you don't mind...'

Rupert and George watched as Betty was put in the ambulance and Ted got in beside her. Once the ambulance had roared off they decided to return to the hotel.

The light was just beginning to fail when Charles and Hugh emerged through the gates. Jo, who had just returned from the coffee run with yet another three cups of bland coffee noticed them first. The two men headed over to a midnight blue car, they couldn't quite identify the make, but it was obviously large and expensive. The car slid out into traffic and after a moment, Donald started their car and followed them.

Slowly they wound through the narrow city streets, confident that they wouldn't be spotted. Gradually though, they got out into the suburbs and then the blue car turned onto the motorway. Donald followed as Arabella said, 'The last time I spoke to Amanda it sounded as if she were on a motorway. It could be a coincidence...'

The traffic on the motorway was busy at that time of night and Donald almost lost the car a few times, but just managed to keep sight of it. He saw just in time which turning the car took and pulled into it as well, trying to keep a civil distance. The turn off lead into a small country village. But the car didn't stop there, it coasted though and out onto the windy lanes beyond.

'This is where we have to be really careful,' Jo said, 'they can't get much traffic out here and two cars on one of these roads at the same time might arouse suspicion.' Donald nodded grimly.

They followed the car for at least half an hour and when it pulled into a tiny rutted lane, Donald drove straight past.

'You missed the turning!' Arabella exclaimed.

'No,' said Donald, 'they would have been really suspicious if we'd followed them down there. We'll go on foot.' he parked the car and they backtracked in the gloom to the track. There were no street lights here and they stumbled along the muddy track for the best part of an hour before they spotted buildings and lights in the distance. The blue car was parked outside. They approached cautiously and found a gate with a sign which read, 'Brock Farm' written on it. The farm turned out to be little more than a few higgledy-piggledy wooden outbuildings. The one which the car was parked outside of was lit by electric lights, but there were no windows.

'Let's get a bit closer,' Donald said. They began to inch forward when a scream pierced the still air, a woman's scream.

'Amanda!' Arabella breathed. The investigators stared at each other. What now?

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