The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Like a Thief in the Night
Chapter 4

10:00am 24th December 2000.
Isobel, John, Mickey – Avebury
Twitch, Eric, TR, Andrew, Matt – Oxford.

“Lets go check out Avebury then,” John says. “Take a look at the place, see if we can get a feel for whatever is going on.” He looks at Isobel and Mickey. Mickey agrees warily. Isobel just shrugs. Her mind is still on Arthur, and right now she doesn’t care what anyone else does. Still puzzling over the quotation she heard in the church, she gets her Bible out and turns to Revelation. It doesn’t take her long to find it. Chapter twelve, the woman and the dragon. The dragon seems to represent the devil who was eventually defeated by the archangel Michael, but who is the woman?

Isobel stands up. “I’m going to find a church,” she says in such a firm tone of voice the two men know there is no point arguing with her.

 “Christ on a bike!” Matt exclaims breathlessly. “Harvest aren’t wasting any time, are they?”

T.R. comes running out at the sound of brakes screeching. “What happened? Are you three all right?”

Matt grins at him humourlessly, dusting himself down. “I’m with Twitch. Let’s find a pub.”

Eric joins the group as they settle around a table in the nearby Magdalen Arms.

Matt orders a round of large brandies and sits morosely.  “I’m really sorry, Andrew. I should’ve guessed Bradshaw would react like he did. I s’pose having the bloody virus all that time has got me used to acting like I’ve nothing to lose. Worst thing is, my bluff didn’t even work…”  He downs half the brandy in one mouthful, grimacing as the spirit hits the back of his throat and forces a wry smile. “So here we all are on Christmas Eve – and even Santa Claus is an Ylid! Ho bloody ho!”

TR looks concerned. “Could be just a drunk college student, of course. But if it is connected to Bradshaw’s clinic, we can be fairly certain that Harvest knows who we are and who we work for. Eric and I were not at the clinic with you, but it would be easy for them to figure out our connection as well.”

“Ylids everywhere,” Matt mutters, finishing his drink and ordering another. “Which reminds me, did you say something about being a boy scout back in Norway, Andrew? Don’t s’pose you’ve got a music box at home?”

“A music box?” He frowns. “No. Why?”

“Just something from the SITU files. They say Father Christmas is Krillikhesh, a rogue Ylid with a troop of scouts as his unwitting servants. But that’s by the by.” He glances around. “I reckon Andrew and I’ll have to lie low for a day or two. Anyone else got any bright ideas?”

“From what TR said, I’d say we all should lie low for a while,” Eric says seriously.

TR agrees. “There are a few things I want to do first – check up on Harvest for one, and have a final word with Anita Rohinder, but I think we should all head down to Avebury to join Isobel and the others.”

Twitch’s head bobs enthusiastically. “Let’s go!” he declares, standing up and knocking the table flying.

Avebury High Street is packed with last-minute shoppers. Mickey swears as he pushes his way through them, making Holly giggle. She at least is having a good afternoon, he thinks – and no wonder. Her arms are laden with present, and Mickey’s wallet is fast filling up with receipts he has every intention of charging to SITU. Christmas presents for a little girl must count as a legitimate expense.

“The dragon’s watching us,” Holly says suddenly, making Mickey jump. But when he turns he finds she is pointing at a cuddly dragon with huge polished eyes.

“Do you want it?” he asks.

She shivers and hangs back. “No. I don’t like dragons. But she is watching us. She doesn’t like us and she wants to hurt us.” Her voice begins to rise, making people turn and stare. Mickey kneels down by her.

“Darling, there’s no one there.” Even while he tries to reassure her, he is scanning the crowds, suddenly very conscious of the weight of his bullet proof vest under his shirt.

Holly’s eyes widen. “She says to stay away. This is a culmination of a thousand years of planning. No man will stop it now. Interfere and we will kill you.” She screams the last word, then goes limp in Mickey’s arms.

“Holly!” He shakes her, realising with relief that she is still breathing. A couple of people run over to help, one of the gathering up the fallen bags, others clearing a path through the crowd so Mickey can carry his daughter to the shelter of a shop doorway.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance?” the woman with the bags asks.

Mickey shakes his head. “No. It’s just over-excitement. She’ll be fine. She’s waking up already.”

She is. She blinks a few times, clinging onto Mickey’s sleeve. He keeps his arms around her until she is able to stand up. “I think we’d better get out of the crowds,” he murmurs. He looks around for the woman who helped, to thank her, but she is gone, the bags left in a neat pile. Frowning, Mickey gathers them up.

 “Dr Alnes? Martin Keyes here.” The voice on the answering machine sounds strained, anxious. “Just to answer your questions: my first and only job for the Trismegistus Club was during the Oxford disaster. I was hired to help out with stewarding and cleaning and so on during the conference, and my only contacts were Edward Lloyd and Henry Blyth. Sorry I can’t help more. When I went to work for SITU in Mexico, Lloyd stopped returning my calls. As a matter of fact, he never even picked up the phone. I’ll never know if they killed my parents over their involvement with Goodchild’s family, but their actions were those of people with something to hide.”

Disappointed, Eric puts the phone down. He had been hoping that, as one of the Club’s experiments, Martin would know something more about them. Certainly the Club are hiding something, but what? Whatever it is, Keyes doesn’t know.

Another avenue closed, he sighs to himself as he begins packing for the trip to Avebury.

The quaint little village of Avebury with its 15c church, 16c manor house and renowned museum grew up amongst the much older Avebury Stone Circles. These are of major importance and many say they surpass those of Stonehenge.

The Avebury henge is surrounded on three sides by the Marlborough chalk downs and consists of a 15-foot-high bank, 1,200 feet in diameter, encircling an outer ditch. Four roads intersect the bank. Three of the roads, or possibly four, are thought to have been causeways, providing entrances and exits to the henge. From an aerial view, Avebury appears to be a Celtic, or circled, cross.

Within the large outer circle are the remnants of two or three smaller circles. The outer Great Stone Circle once contained about 100 upright sarsen stones – hard sandstone rocks found in the downs. Only 27 still remain, surviving the massive assaults and destruction by the Puritans in the 17th. and 18th. centuries. The largest of these weighs about 60 tons and stands around 25 feet tall.

The exact purpose of Avebury is unknown, but human remains found during excavations give evidence that it was a burial site. There are burial mounds surrounding Avebury including West Kennet Long Barrow, 350 feet long, dating to ca. 2700 BC; Windmill Hill with earthwork on top estimated built about 2500 BC. Animal bones excavated here suggests it might have been an cattle market, trading post and ritual site.

The most common thought is Avebury was built by the Beaker People (a stone age people, so called because of the brightly coloured drinking vessels often found in their burial sites), and was once a community of huts. The name Avebury itself implies it was once a burial site. It was referred to as such in the 10th century charter of King Athelstan.

The Beaker People were farmers and worshipped the Mother Goddess. Their celebration, at times taking form of a play, took a whole year to perform. It celebrated nature and the seasons of the year with songs, dancing, processions through the streets of Avebury, and perhaps included animal or even human sacrifices.

The shapes of many of the stones suggest they took on masculine and feminine aspects. Silbury Hill may have represented the pregnant Goddess, a feminine symbol. A masculine symbol might have been the Devil’s Chair, a huge stone measuring 14 feet wide by 13 feet tall, and containing a ledge. Even in the 20th century young girls on Beltane (May Eve) would sit on the Devil’s Chair and make wishes.

Excavations conducted in the summer of 1999 at Avebury have revealed megaliths from an avenue which leads from the circle in a westerly direction towards Beckhampton. The Beckhampton avenue had been mentioned by the 18th Century antiquarian William Stukeley, but before now the only clues to its existence have been two massive stones standing in a field to the west of the village. The recent excavations revealed six stones from the avenue and there is a chance that the team will be returning during 2000 to continue the work.

In a recent publication, aliens are being hailed as the builders of the Avebury stones. Regulars at the Red Lion, the pub which stands in the centre of the circle, are remaining tight-lipped about the latest explanation, which is one of many to be suggested down the years. Apparently, the stones are identical to ones on Mars called Cydonia, and are arranged in the same formation.

“Are you going to buy that?” a girl asks. John closes the book and gives her a wolfish grin. “I will. Thanks. I thought Stonehenge was the only stone circle around here.”

“It’s the most famous one,” the girl says, taking the book from him, “but the whole of Wiltshire is full of them, and there are a load clustered around this area. The whole place is steeped in myth, so to speak.” She pulls out a length of paper with reindeers on. “You want it wrapped? No? Well, if you want to see Stonehenge, I suggest you go there soon. The police are closing off the roads for New Year, but we always get crowds of Druids and New-Agers no matter what. There’s some talk of them restaging some occult ritual this year.”

“Really?” John feigns boredom. “Can’t say I know much about those things. What are they going to do?”

“I really have no idea.” She smiles apologetically as she hands the book over. “Something to do with the new millennium, I think.”

Meanwhile in Oxford, TR is searching out information about Harvest.

The world’s largest genetic engineering corporation, they started up in 1977 with offices opening up in London and Paris simultaneously, and they expanded rapidly. The registered directors are listed as Warren Black, John Wilson, Michael Leger and Leon Rowe – all of them accountants and lawyers and all of them, apparently, perfectly legitimate. The British head office is in London, with research establishments throughout the country. The French arm of the company has its head office in Paris, again with major establishments in other locations throughout France.

While they have no official links with other companies, they are well known for their generous research grants to academic and private institutions. Generally speaking, the UK corporation sponsors research into genetically engineered crops, while the French corporation has made great breakthroughs in the fields of cloning and fertility research. However, there is a fair amount of cross-over and it seems that Harvest will sponsor just about any project that is of interest to them. Hence their funding of the Bradshaw clinic, no doubt.

Wondering if he can get an interview with one of the Harvest directors, TR picks up the phone and dials the number of the London office.

“I’m sorry,” the receptionist tells him. “All the directors are on their Christmas breaks at the moment. Besides, they very rarely give personal interviews. If you phone back in the new year, I can arrange an interview with one of our managing staff for you. This office will be shut from tomorrow until the second of January, so I can’t do anything before that.”

So much for Harvest, TR thinks.

The others are all busy preparing to leave Oxford, which means Andrew is checking weaponry, Eric is doing a last round of the hospital and Twitch is buying everyone Christmas presents of brandy and rum and testing it all personally for quality. Matt has already disappeared on some mystery errand of his own.

TR leaves them to it and goes to find Anita Rohinder. “Hi, my name is T.R. Warren,” he introduces himself. “I don’t think that you and I have ever spoken before, but I was at the first Psychic Congress here in Oxford a couple of years back and at the most recent one. If you don’t mind, I have a couple of questions for you about your experiment with the cards at the first Congress.”

He keeps his tone friendly and she smiles at him and waves him to a seat. “Sure. Anything I can do to help.”

TR pulls out a deck of cards and deals three of them onto the table in front of her. Each one bears a symbol – a star, a triangle and a circle. “You wrote this on a note to a friend of mine,” he says. “What does it stand for?”

Rohinder purses her lips a moment then her face clears. “Ah yes, Ned. I remember him. We had hopes that he might be psychically sensitive. I’d been attempting to send the images to him telepathically. If he’d received my sendings he would have recognised the symbols straight away. As it was, he did not. We were mistaken.”

“Why him particularly?” TR asks.

She sweeps the cards away and stacks the deck neatly. “Because of all you he showed the most marked response. His leg, remember? His body reacting to forces that his mind denied were there.”

TR remembers Ned stumbling, half-crippled. He is silent a moment, then asks, “So, why do you need psychically sensitive people?”

Rohinder laughs. “My dear Mr Warren, the White Alchemist will have perfect powers of the psychical realm. If we are to create him, we need the services of the psychic powers, however weak.” Her laughter fades. She looks at TR speculatively. “You, for example, would be quite, quite useless to us, even though you are an interesting case. I have met few people with such an in-built resistance to psychic forces.”

“What do you mean?” TR frowns at her, puzzled, but determined not to be side-tracked he goes onto his next question. “You performed an experiment at the last Congress using cards like these. Could you tell me about it?”

“Certainly.” She has the air of someone giving an interview now, business-like and smiling. “As I said, the symbols on the cards are generally used to test the psychic awareness of a subject.  On this occasion, we were attempting to charge the cards with psychic energy, by having everyone concentrate on the symbols together, one symbol at a time. A telepathic sending travels from mind to mind. This would have worked by energy being transferred from the minds present to the cards themselves.” She breaks off with a shrug and a wry smile. “As you know, it didn’t work.”

TR thinks of the scene at that Congress, people and furniture spontaneously combusting. He suppresses a shudder. “Why did it go wrong?” he asks.

Another shrug. “I wish I knew. Too much psychic energy together in one place, is my guess. The cards over-charged and energy spilled out, turning back on the people who were there, and creating a loop so that people could not stop focussing on the cards.” Her hands reach out and play with the cards, shuffling through them. “That is what went wrong, Mr Warren. As to why it went wrong, I cannot answer that.”

“TR, please,” he says. “So, how did the experiment relate to your organization’s desire to create the White Alchemist?”

“It didn’t. It was purely a side interest.” Her hands are suddenly still. She leans forward. “If we could have charged the cards, however. If we could, they would have become a weapon powerful enough even to kill an Ylid. The Watcher was our major enemy then. Maybe he still is, despite Sophia. What do you think?”

TR draws back, suddenly uncomfortable. “I think you should put me in touch with one of the club’s leaders. Do you think you could arrange an interview for me with some of them?”

Rohinder sighs. “Edward Lloyd was the leader, unfortunately. I can’t arrange an interview with him – not on this plane of existence. Once this – ah – situation is resolved we shall elect a new leader. Until then, you’ll have to make do with me, I’m afraid.”

The church is quiet after the service, candle-lit and dominated by an enormous Christmas tree in an alcove at the front. Isobel sits down on the front pew next to the reverend – a young, earnest-looking man in spectacles.

“What can I do for you, then?” he asks.

He looks as if he’s about to lay his hand over hers and Isobel draws back quickly. “I’m sorry to bother you at this busy time, but this is a matter than has been troubling me for some time. I really want to know about the dragon in Christian theology. Does it always represent the devil?”

The reverend thinks for a moment then nods. “I can’t think of any instances where it doesn’t. The devil first appears in Genesis as a serpent, tempting Eve to wrong in the Garden of Eden. There are other references throughout the Old and New Testaments, culminating in the prophecies in Revelation.”

Isobel opens her Bible. “It talks about a dragon, a woman and a child. If the dragon is the devil, who are the woman and child?”

The reverend leans over the Bible, adjusting his spectacles to read the small print. “The woman is generally assumed to be Israel,” he says. “Childbirth is a symbol of the troubles the nation will go through.”

“And the child?”

He glances up. “The child is the Messiah. Christ himself.” He smiles. “Don’t worry. The devil is the enemy of mankind, opposed to them from the beginning, but in the Messiah, the enemy will be defeated. You must always have hope that it will happen.”

For a moment he seems to be speaking someone else’s words, not his own. He shakes his head and smiles. “Sorry. Where were we?”

“We were talking about the devil,” Isobel tells him. “While I’m here, maybe you can give me some pointers as to good places to visit in the area – places with strong spiritual significance, or of historic interest?”

“Certainly. The whole village has had strong historic significance, of course, and the stone circles are supposed to have been used for religious ceremonies – but Pagan, not Christian. You might like to walk around the circles, or visit Stonehenge, of course. That is where most of the activity centres.” He smiles again and stands up. “You’ll have to excuse me now, if you will. I have another service starting in an hour and I must prepare.” He adds as an after thought. “Why don’t you pop into the Red Lion if you’re interested in the area. The landlord’s a bit of an amateur historian and probably knows as much as anyone.”

“Thanks, I will,” Isobel calls.

For some reason she is feeling much happier as she makes her way out, pausing to leave a large donation in the collection box as she passes.

Sitting on the Oxford to London train, Matt gets out his laptop computer and fires off a quick message to Ned Numenor in Paris. That done, he does a quick check on sacrifices at Stonehenge.

The sacrifice detailed by Emma Darton in the Fortean Times seems to have been the last sacrifice at Stonehenge – or at least the last one for which there is a body. From marks on the skeleton, scientists have worked out the victim was a man and most probably killed by a single sword blow to the back of the neck, carried out while he was kneeling. Forensic tests show him to have been a local man, and he was buried in a shallow grave that was too small for him, close to the ring of stones at Stonehenge, but no more details than that are available. The rest is conjecture and speculation. Of wild theories there are plenty, including conjectures that people were sacrificed as offerings to alien beings the locals worshipped as gods – or by alien beings as offerings to their own gods. What is lacking, though, is hard proof. Apart from that one skeleton there are no other remains of sacrificial victims – if indeed the victim was killed as part of a sacrificial rite. And there are so many theories about the nature and purpose of Stonehenge that Matt is fairly sure that nobody really knows.

Logging off, he goes into the toilet to make a phone call where he can’t be overheard.

“Blaize? Yeah, it’s Matt Culver, Happy Christmas and all that. Listen, I’m headed down to London to touch base with the other UK mission. I’m aiming to meet up with them at the Knightsbridge address and swap information with them. “Two female Ylids, two babies – one born, one unborn – ‘happy mothers all round’…it’s all very ‘Second Coming’, don’t you think? Oh yeah, and Stonehenge – built with stone quarried and lugged across from Wales, if I remember right. That’s the Watcher’s main stomping ground, isn’t it? Any word on him recently?”

“Nothing since Harvest tried driving people insane with genetically engineered wheat,” Blaize says. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was involved, though. My best advice to you at the moment is to take care.”

“Yeah, I know that. Thanks.” He hangs up just as the train is pulling into Kings Cross, London.

It seems to take an age to get back to the hotel, but finally they are there. Mickey leaves Holly opening her presents – won’t hurt the girl to get them early, he reckons, and goes into the bathroom to make a few phone calls. After calling TR and Matt to tell them what he’s found out so far – namely, that at least two of the people killed in the kidnap were targeted purposely – he phones Blaize in London to organise the equipment he’ll need to break into the Bradshaw Clinic.

Checking up on the two gangsters who were killed, he is convinced that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, they were murdered. Both were young, relatively healthy, no history of heart trouble in either family. The families themselves can tell Mickey very little. They weren’t even fully aware of the type of ‘work’ the two men did. The wife of one says her husband was seen with a blonde woman a few days before he died.

“At the Red Lion,” she says. “A friend of mine saw him and thought he might be having an affair, so she told me. She didn’t know who she was. A tourist, maybe, we get a lot of people through here.”

An ear-splitting shriek cuts through the room. Mickey drops the phone and runs.

Holly is sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor, surrounding by bags and wrapping paper. In one hand she’s holding a sheet of paper. In the other she’d clutching a severed human finger. Mickey has to prise the thing out of her grip.

This is a warning, the writing on the paper says. You cannot stop what has been set in motion. Continue, and we will take your girl and do the same to her.

It is raining when TR reaches the Bradshaw Clinic. He unfurls an umbrella, muttering to himself about ‘bloody English weather’.

“TR Warren,” he introduces himself to the receptionist. “I’m a journalist researching a story about the clinic for an American paper. I wondered if Mr Bradshaw would be able to spare me a few minutes?”

The girl’s smile is bright and a little cold. “I’m sorry, sir. Mr Bradshaw has given me strict instructions to refuse all interviews for the time being. He is a very busy man. Should you wish to leave an address and contact number he will get in touch with you at a more convenient time.” She picks up a pen. “May I take a note of your name so I can tell him you called? What does the ‘TR’ stand for?”

Knowing there is no point pressing the matter, TR backs away smiling. “It doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ll call again after Christmas.”

So, Bradshaw isn’t seeing visitors, he muses as he leaves. Either Matt scared him badly yesterday, or he’s under orders from someone else. The only way to get information from the clinic is going to be breaking into it – and that is up to Mickey.

Mickey sits next to the bed, still holding Holly’s hand.  John raises her head gently and loops a small velvet bag around her neck.

“It’s a protection charm,” he explains. “It will help.” He gives one to Mickey and to Isobel too. “I was planning to give them you tomorrow, but it seems you need them now. Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas,” Isobel echoes dismally. Mickey has put the finger in an envelope in the room safe, but she fancies she can still smell it.

John pats her on the shoulder and goes to the window. A few flakes of snow are drifting down outside. The Earth is trying to hide herself. Once again, he senses some great evil hanging like a shadow over the village.

“We are all of the same energy and existence,” John murmurs. “We are all linked.” Closing his eyes, he senses fear, and anticipation. The world seems to be poised, waiting for something to happen. The snow outside takes on the form of a great white wolf, sliding through the streets, turning its head every now and then to listen.

John catches the sound, too. Somewhere close by a baby is crying. He strains towards the sound but it fades before he can tell where it is coming from.

How his life has become consumed by the Ylids and the threat they pose, Matt muses, changing into heavy boots, black combats, black wool jumper and scarf, long leather topcoat and gloves. His flat feels strange, unlived in, and he realises how little time he has spent there in the past years. He adds a black woollen hat to his get-up and picks up his medical bag, remembering to add a full syringe of sedative.

Even the hire car is black, and had to be paid for in cash in case someone tries to trace it. Matt heads for Queen’s Gate Place, Knightsbridge, stopping at a florists on the way. He buys the most extravagant bouquet in the place, paying in cash again, writes ‘Stay away. Sophia.’ on the card and seals it into the envelope.

A long shot, he thinks, getting the Ylids to fight each other, but it’s worth a try.

With TR, Twitch, Andrew and Eric in one car, not to mention their luggage and assorted weaponry, it is a tight squeeze. The car is large, however, and fully air-conditioned, a fact which Twitch keeps demonstrating.

“You see, this way for air, this way for, um, no air,” he beams, breathing brandy over everyone. Andrew reaches across him to turn the thing off before he can break it.

TR is reading the SITU report that Andrew received on the Trismegistus Club. “Either SITU is being deliberately naive about our friends at the Tri Club or they are not telling you everything they know,” he comments.  “The Tri Club is not just a breeding program with a “purely academic” interest in the occult. They also dabble with…I don’t know what you call it…” He shrugs. “Magic, I guess. I’m still not entirely sure I even believe in the stuff. But anyway, at the last Psychics’ Convention, they tried an experiment with a set of cards that was supposed to create a powerful weapon. The experiment backfired and fried Rohinder’s mind. She was in a coma until recently. They also claim to have built a homunca…” He hesitates, searching for the right word. “I don’t know what you call it, but it was some kind of servant thing built to protect Rohinder.” He crosses his arms and leans back in his chair, “Those are not what I would call ‘purely academic’ interests. I think we need to know a lot more about the Tri Club.”

“We certainly do,” Eric agrees quietly. “For a group of people that say they don’t condone the use of magic, they certainly do a lot of dabbling themselves. I for one am still not convinced they’re telling us the full truth about themselves.” He glances at a road sign as they pass. “Avebury twenty miles. Does anyone know anything about the place?”

“It’s a village,” Twitch cuts in enthusiastically. “It’s got motorways and stone circles, I think. Went there once with the wife. Lovely girl she was. Died, you know.” He falls silent, gazing out of the window.

“Stonehenge is the main place of interest, isn’t it?” Andrew asks. “I’ve never seen it, but they say it’s quite small. Not at all impressive.”

“The stones date back to around 2550 BC,” TR says helpfully. “But there was a structure there before that, probably made of wood. The first stones – bluestones, they’re called – came from South Wales and were probably rafted by sea and river. The largest of them weighed 8 tons and was placed near the centre as the focal point of the monument – it’s what we call the altar stone today. Other stones are known as sarsens and come from Avebury itself. The common axis of all the sarsen stones and the bluestone settings is towards the midsummer sunrise. The eight-ton bluestone is set so the rays of the rising sun can fall on it for only a few minutes every year at the time of the midsummer solstice.”

“Wrong time of year,” Twitch hiccups. “It’s Christmas now, remember?”

“I know,” says TR, a little irritated. “Anyway, the henge was built by the ancient Britons, and completed in the early Bronze age by Beaker folk. It was during an age when people believed in an Earth Mother and Sky Father. The amount of feminine symbolism at Stonehenge suggests it may have been a temple to the Earth Mother. On Midsummer morning, the rising sun illuminates the altar stone, which represents a marriage of Earth and Sky.” He shakes his head. “But what it symbolises on New Year’s Eve, I have no idea.” He grins suddenly. “Will you look at that? It’s snowing?”

To the strains of “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas,” they drive on.

The group is only missing Matt as it meets up in Isobel’s room at the Travelodge. Eric asks to look at the severed finger and declares it to be male and only recently severed. It’s going to take a full forensics study to find out more.

“I’ve arrange for us to have a walk around Stonehenge tomorrow,” TR tells the others. “Jane Tate, an old acquaintance of mine, has agreed to accompany us. There aren’t any current excavations going on in the area, more’s the pity, but the museum will be open again on Boxing Day and in the meantime we can have a look around the stone circles here. I’ve asked about local events, too. Proper ones, not crack-pot New Age gatherings.”

“There’s going to be a party in the village,” John says. “And one up at Stonehenge, so they’re saying, if the New-Agers get through the police blocks.” He gives Isobel a sidelong glance. “One thing’s for certain, Isobel’s baby is here, somewhere. The next thing is to find him.”

Matt pulls up outside the hotel in a flurry of snow. He has called Twitch to catch up on the latest events and the back seat of the car is piled with presents for the group. The Avebury service station is not the place he’d choose to do his Christmas shopping, but it’s better than nothing. He gets out of the car, whistling to himself.

Then stops suddenly.

A movement in the shadows that could just have been his eyes playing tricks on him. But if they weren’t… It is a face he’d recognise anywhere, even if the glimpse he got was of someone old, haggard to the point of death.

“Darius?” Matt calls softly. “Darius, are you there?”

Christmas Eve, 11pm
Avebury Travelodge.


JOHN – No one is behaving particularly oddly, given the circumstances. Isobel is wholly concerned with getting Arthur back. Twitch seems to be happily drunk most of the time. TR strikes you as thorough and reliable, as does Eric.

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