The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Eater of the Dead
Chapter 9

December 27th, 2pm

Rupert nods appraisingly. ‘Look, I’m not saying I’m unmoved by your plight, or by what you want. In fact I have a great deal of sympathy for it. More in fact than those idiots at SITU. But still, there’s things you’ve said which make no sense, and which I need to know more of before I can agree.’

Nefertiti says nothing, but continues to regard him levelly: the disk in his breast pocket pulses warmly and strongly.

‘Look, you said that your aim has always been to get the ship in exchange for Arabella. Yet at the scene of the crime the note that was left said exactly the opposite. It said you didn’t want the ship, just revenge.’

‘That was just a bluff, Rupert. To frighten you.’ She smiles forgivingly at him. ‘I thought you would be more amenable if you thought me ruthless. But I can never carry that off for long.’ She makes an amused face.

‘I’m just wondering if you actually are the one who is holding Arabella,’ Rupert says sceptically. ‘Can you provide any proof that it’s you that have her, and not another Ylid like Sophia or The Watcher?’

‘So you know their names? You of SITU have not been entirely wasting your time, then. It could hardly be Sophia, she would never dare set foot on this island. This is The Watcher’s territory. I can only visit here very briefly, and I am more daring than she.’ Something about the smile she gives at this point strikes Rupert oddly – as though it conceals something. ‘The Watcher should guard his territory better, perhaps. I suppose you know that I have taken over his power in the Government here, through your father. It was easier than I had thought.’

Rupert nods again, keen to placate her some more. ‘I am really fed up with SITU, as I said. I just can’t understand what they are doing. Maybe you can tell me. Who or what are their leaders on the island of Nauru, and what on earth are they trying to do? If I know some more I might be able to do a bit of inside work. You know, bring them down from within. The way I feel at the moment I have no time for Blaize or Swahn.’

‘They are small men, and it may be that they themselves do not know for whom they toil. Things which are not even human, let alone Ylid. A group of rebel servants, or slaves – things less than human, as I say. We called them Servitors. It is they who are behind your SITU. That is why my fellows are so eager to destroy you – because they were betrayed by these entities so long ago. But I am capable of rising above such concerns, and I judge, Rupert, that you too are a pragmatist, not an idealist – not a man who would sacrifice himself for a dead philosophy, or for empty vengeance.’ She regards him appraisingly. ‘You would make a much better Viscount than your brother, I have to say. But I am a little disappointed with your choice of woman. She is intelligent, yes, but so pale and needy. She will suck the life out of you, if you remain together. But maybe you can arrange things as your father did: the pale, weak wife at home, to bear the children – and the exotic, powerful lover, here in London, or in Egypt, to draw him up to his full capability.’ She laughs merrily at Rupert’s embarrassed expression – this is more of an insight into his parents’ marital relations than he had any wish for.

‘Look, this is all very interesting, but you’ll understand, there are some really crucial things I need to know. Without knowing this I won’t be able to help you.’ He looks up, to make sure that he has her attention, and finds her still smiling indulgently. For some reason he has a strong urge to appear decisive and capable in front of her, to somehow impress her. ‘These are as follows. Why do you need the space ship? Are you trying to leave earth, fight off an enemy from the distant stars, or use it to join them against us?’

‘To leave Earth. But it is broken. And in any case I have no wish to leave at the moment. It is what you might think of as an insurance policy. If life here is made too difficult for me, I wish to have it to use in emergency.’

‘How, if it’s broken?’

She shrugs. ‘It can be mended, I expect. By a clever artisan. I would only have to look for one. Some of my fellows have been backing you humans in your quest for space flight, in the hope that they could leave more easily that way. But I think it better to start from the place we know.’

‘OK, well, we’ll leave that for the moment. What I would like to know about is the disk Anthony de Montfort had. Did you give it to him or did he steal it? Or is it protection against you?’

For the first time, a shadow of annoyance passes across her face, although only very fleetingly. ‘It was very harmful to him, and he would have been happier had he not been given it. By people who claimed to be wishing to help him. Was he helped, returning here to the cold, to ridicule and misery? I think not. He could have continued to reign alongside me as my consort, had he not been so foolish.’ At this rousing talk, the disk pulses more strongly, almost angrily Rupert thinks.

‘This won’t take much more time. Then I’ll decide. I’d like to know exactly what you have planned for the New Year. Saying that it is no concern of mine just won’t wash. If you or your fellow Ylids plan to enslave or destroy us humans then it is my business. I need some sign that this won’t happen, and an idea of what will.’

‘You humans are so melodramatic! Why would we want to enslave you, or destroy you? Always this fear. It is true that we are naturally superior to you as individuals, and we have tremendous advantages. But what petty tyrants would we be, to turn those advantages to such base ends? I will tell you, then, if it will put your mind at ease. All I plan is to remove your Queen and her family and reign over this country in her stead. Is that so terrible? People will not even notice the difference.’ She relaxes back for the first time, one arm lying gracefully along the back of the sofa. ‘And no-one will be hurt, unless they resist. Which would be foolish in any case.’

Rupert blinks, reluctant to take in the enormity of this scheme. ‘Okay,’ he says slowly, ‘you have been slightly candid with me. More so than those pillocks at SITU. So, tell me how, when and where you want the spaceship, and I will see what I can do.’

As her eyes light up and she sits forward, he hastily adds, ‘I have to stress that at the moment I don’t know where it is, but there must be ways of finding out.’

‘You must find ways,’ she says rather coldly, with something of a glare. ‘Otherwise, we have no bargain, and I will do as I please with your woman. I want the ship delivered to Buckingham Palace for midnight on New Year’s Eve. If you do not comply with this, it will be apparent to me that you have no access to my ship, and that means that holding your Arabella any longer will be merely a waste of my time.’

Rather than dwell on the implications of this arrangement – the way the Ylid spoke, it did not sound as though she meant she would hand Arabella back safe and well if she became of no further use – Rupert, thinking of the listening others, says ‘I have a couple of friends, Messrs Swathe and Hardy, who would also like to meet you. Maybe they could help you as well. Or at least you can talk to them if you want.’

‘Your friends who have bugged this flat? They can come in. I have no secrets to conceal.’

Meanwhile, in the van, George is saying to Donald ‘Is it me, or is she talking complete bollocks? I don’t believe she has Arabella at all, although she may know who does. I reckon that, when she and her crocohippodile arrived chez Rupert, ‘bella was already (and probably recently) gone and she got her pet to savage Jo in a fit of pique. Certainly, if she had Arabella, I think she would have left the ransom note rather than the ‘do your worst, but she’s dead already’ one.’

Donald nods appraisingly, and George continues, warming to his theme, ‘I think we need to discover who actually has her – is it the lot from the Air Ministry, or some other group?’

At that point they hear Rupert’s cue over the link. Donald sighs. ‘Well, give him his dues, this will be interesting I suppose.’ His head is still pounding form the hangover as he straightens up and clambers out of the stuffy van. ‘Sean, please you hang around, if we need help you come in. Just listen out for screams of agony or something like that.’

Sean nods non-committally: his expression is distant.

It is only a matter of moments before the pair are admitted by a subdued Karyn. Donald looks Nefertiti up and down and say, ‘So you’re the all powerful Nefertiti? Somehow I thought you’d be bigger.’

‘I can be,’ she says solemnly, and suddenly she seems to almost blaze with power, lighting up from the inside, appearing to grow physically and spiritually until her beauty dominates the room. To their embarrassment, Donald and George both find themselves powerfully aroused.

Rupert, who does not seem to have been affected in the same way (although he does feel the disk grow quite uncomfortably warm), glances at them in puzzlement. ‘Well, chaps, any questions?’

His gun has been gradually lowered during the course of the conversation, and is now pointing at the floor, but it jerks up again when Donald sullenly asks the Ylid ‘So, how do we kill you then?’

George stares at Donald in horror at this tactless remark, but the hitman merely shrugs. ‘Well, it might save us some time if we knew how to do it properly. Please don’t take it the wrong way, luv, but well frankly until you and your kind die my life ain’t going to get easier, is it.’

Nefertiti shakes her head sadly. ‘You are so misguided. Firstly, there is no way of killing me: I am immortal. That is the whole point. And more importantly, I mean ‘your kind’, as you put it, no harm. I have lived alongside humans for more than four thousand years now, since the days of the Pharaoh Khufu who built the Great Pyramid, and in all that time I have only ever harmed those who stood against me. I think I can even describe myself as an enlightened and fair ruler, under whose reign Egypt prospered.’ She nods to herself, rather smugly.

‘Not all your agents are quite so well-meaning, though, are they?’ sneers Donald. ‘How much did we hurt you by killing Essawi? Cos to be frank. if he was your right hand man in Egypt, he was a pussy – cause a bit of a ruckus and shoot him a couple of times, way too easy. I expected a decent fight from him: before I put the bullet in his head he was crying for his life. I thought he was going to pee his pants.’

‘That is not how I remember the events,’ says Nefertiti coldly, regarding him with considerable disfavour. ‘I was observing quite closely.’

Donald sighs. ‘Well, all right, but the bit about being easy to kill him was true.’

‘After your necromancer had used his foul arts it was, yes. It is he, the one you call Michael, and his kind who are your true enemies. I see he has left you now.’

‘Well, look, this little love-fest is all very interesting, but really we should probably be getting on now, I think,’ interjects Rupert, realizing that the other two have no great contribution to make to the conversation.

‘Yes. Find my ship, and have it ready as I said. I will give you your Arabella back at the same time.’ With that she rises, and the three do likewise, backing towards the door.

As they leave Donald makes one last remark. ‘The game’s nearly finished now, isn’t it – all the pieces getting into place for the final showdown, whatever that may be. I won’t wish you good luck, but if it means anything to you I’ll be there to see you die…’

‘Again the melodrama,’ says Nefertiti amusedly. With a casual gesture of one finger she does something which causes Donald a painful and uncomfortable constriction in the front of his trousers. ‘If you would like me better like this, I can help you,’ she says, in a different voice, and Donald looks up in surprise to see that she now appears exactly like Daphne, only wearing nothing but a very daring negligee.

He rubs his eyes, backing away awkwardly, and Rupert, who has seen nothing out of the ordinary, impatiently hustles him through the door by his elbow.

‘So, Sean, what are you going to do with the bloody cleaner then? Knowing you you’d like to conduct some perverse sexual act, and then kill her. Well, I’m not letting you do that. If for no other reason than the fact that a dead cleaner at my father’s home could well send the police into more apoplexy than they are already in. The bastards! In fact maybe you and them ought to get together. You’d have a lot in common.’

Sean’s face is very pale. Just where does the little whinging whiny brat get off throwing insults like that? Same old sausage… throwing accusations… condemning him for things that he has no control over, condemning his use of controlled violence when it is others that have no idea of how to use that tool with skill. He looks at Rupert with the eyes of a cold-blooded killer. ‘I was bored, and she did have the cutest, tightest ass… silly girl pretended she didn’t want it like that…’

As Rupert regards Sean with aghast horror, George notes with some relief that the unfortunate Adele appears actually to be still unmolested.

Sean breaks Rupert’s gaze as though the incident had never happened. ‘If you are quite finished, we have business to attend to.’

‘Perhaps we can just release her somewhere else in London. She’ll tell the police, I’m sure, but she won’t be in any hurry to come back here,’ suggests George.

‘We can’t take that risk,’ says Sean decisively. ‘Karyn’s still exposed up there, although it sounds like her cover’s safe for the time being. We have to stash the girl somewhere.’

‘What about a SITU safehouse?’ suggests Martin. He rings to organize it, while the others brief Sean on what they have learnt.

‘… so we need to find out a bit more about the spaceship,’ finishes Rupert.

Sean stares at him, surprised. ‘You don’t mean you’re planning to carry on playing along with this deal, are you? That’s crazy! We can’t trust that bitch… OK, we’re short on options, but… Not that it’s any skin off my back if she kills off your Royals.’

‘I tend to agree with Sean,’ says George nervously. ‘I have the opinion that Nefertiti is trying to get the ship back under false pretences, and also that she wants it to escape whatever is going to happen at New Year.’

‘Maybe,’ nods Rupert. ‘I never said I trusted her, did I? But she has to believe that I do.’

‘If she tells us exactly what is going to happen, and who is going to do it, I might be more disposed to the idea of giving the ship back to her.’

‘Why would she want to hang onto Arabella any longer, if Rupert gives her what she wants? It would hardly be worth putting any more pressure on him, would it? Unless she thinks she can get him to change SITU’s policy towards her,’ says Martin reasonably.

‘Maybe I could. I’m sure they’d be quite happy having one less Ylid to fight,’ says Rupert. ‘Although they might not be too keen on the idea of her as Queen of England.’

‘With your brother as consort, by the sound of it,’ George reminds him.

‘And you next in line. Maybe she’s a bit keen on you,’ suggests Martin helpfully.

‘More importantly, perhaps, it sounds as though she’s stepping all over The Watcher’s toes by coming here at all, let alone making herself Queen. I don’t suppose he’s going to take it lying down. Maybe she might seek SITU as allies against him?’ George scratches his beard vigorously. This is making his head spin.

‘One thing’s for sure, this ain’t the right time for a show down,’ says Sean. ‘Not until the location of Arabella is found. I’ll put together some demolition charges in preparation, so we can blow the enemy base to kingdom come.’ He glances around the surprised ring of faces. ‘You might think it overkill, but it might be the safest way of dealing with that monster, if it appears!’

While George helps the unshockable SITU cleanup team transfer Adele into an unmarked van, in preparation for spiriting her away to a safehouse in Wimbledon, Rupert, Martin and Donald put their heads together over the late Viscount’s notes. ‘God, I wish my father had learnt to write. He probably spent half his childhood smoking pot behind the bike sheds… or was that me?’

‘This doesn’t look like it contains much we don’t already know,’ says Martin. ‘Your father went out to Egypt. He traced down the public knowledge about his ancestor, and came up with the Shareena link. He seems to have been a bit surprised to find she was still alive and kicking. But there are hints here that he’d had some contact with that social set when he was out there in the war.’

‘Maybe they picked up on his name, even that early.’

‘And then turned him to their side when he came back to Egypt in 97. Essawi came to visit him over here, when he was setting up the Branston Hall cult… he was given the job in the Ministry… just about the time Nefertiti was taking it over from The Watcher.’

‘But what about the sun disk? Nefertiti implied your ancestor was given it in Egypt, and that’s how he slipped out from under her sway. And your father had it in the house until recently, but it sounds like he must have just handed it over to Essawi.’

‘Not knowing that it was the one thing that could have protected him from Nefertiti’s influence,’ nods Rupert grimly.

‘But don’t forget, there’s supposed to be a curse on it,’ Marty reminds him. ‘Whoever owns it will suffer the same torments as the Puntish priests who Hatshepsut tortured – betrayed by the ones they trust. That certainly seems to have applied to your father, doesn’t it?’

Sean continues to watch the flat, eager to see whom Nefertiti contacts, while Donald and Martin head off to Croydon. ‘I’ll be back in for a few hours,’ Donald explains, ‘I’m just going to talk to this Peter fellow. I’ll see if I can’t squeeze some info out of him – and also shake up the opposition a bit by knocking out one of their guys. They seem happy to do it to us, it’s about time they got a taste of it.’

Rupert meanwhile places a call to SITU. ‘OK, knobhead SITU people. Your time is up. Come in number 5, as they say. What do you have to say for yourselves in answer to my questions?’

‘Rupert, good to hear from you,’ says Geoff Blaize, tireder than he has ever sounded before.

‘I asked you if you would be more candid. What exactly is going on, who the SITU leaders in Nauru really are and what they really want. So, have you decided to answer my questions yet, or do I have to start helping Nefertiti?’

‘You don’t want to do that,’ Blaize says anxiously. ‘You don’t know what she might be planning.’

Rupert loses his temper. ‘I know exactly what she’s planning – she just told me! Look, dick brain, I’ve had just about enough of your lily-livered crap. Either tell me the truth or don’t expect help. I want to know what is going on. I’ll tell you what Nefertiti said about you. She said SITU was controlled by a non-human group called Servitors, who had been the Ylids’ servants but betrayed them! What do you have to say about that?’

There is a brief, shocked pause. ‘Er…’

‘Don’t just dismiss it as an Ylid lying. You’re bloody well lying as well, you moron. I’ve really had enough!’

‘OK,’ says Blaize in a small voice. ‘There… is an element of truth in that version of events. But it was the Ylids who betrayed… our friends…, not the other way round. I know that much, although I don’t know the full details…’

‘What about your moronic paranoid crony Swahn? Does he know any more?’

Another silence. ‘Andre’s gone,’ says Blaize, in what sounds close to quiet desperation.

‘Gone? Gone where?’

‘I don’t know. He’d been acting oddly lately, then… One o the other groups is on the case. They think it may be the Trismegistus Club, or the Ylid Sophia.’

Rupert divines that Blaize is not going to be much further help. He sounds as though he’s having great difficulty coping with life at all at the moment. ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’m losing patience with you anyway. Nefertiti has offered me Arabella in exchange for information, to be exchanged on New Year’s Eve. I might well be there, for all the help you lot are.’

As he is hanging up, he adds ‘Oh, and thanks for dropping me in it with the police. Was it you who also paid for my bail?’

‘Yes, it was…’ but the phone is now closed.

George meanwhile has made his way back to Oxford, and is soon sharing a pot of tea with Daphne. ‘I know that you have had your suspicions, dear, about my… leisure activities. It must all seem rather odd.’

Daphne nods, slightly guardedly. ‘I don’t like to pry, George…’

‘No, not at all, I should really have been more open with you. Trust is the foundation of any lasting relationship.’ George looks her sincerely in the eye. ‘But secrecy is of the essence, you see. I and the others work for a secret organization…’

The gleam in Daphne’s eye indicates a feeling of satisfaction that her suspicions have been confirmed.

‘… that looks into possible low-level security threats. Troubleshooting, you might call it.’

‘Some of them look more as though they’re used to trouble-causing,’ Daphne puts in mordantly. ‘And Rupert, although he’s a lovely chap, he was a drug user until recently, wasn’t he?’

George nods. ‘Yes, that puzzles me a little too, I can’t imagine why he was recruited. Although he has proved somewhat resourceful in the past. But that all takes place at a different level, anyway. The point is that this is a bit of a tricky time for us, with New Year coming up. We’ve been alerted that something is likely to go off – something serious. I can’t give any details.’

Daphne is excited now. ‘I thought so! There’s been such a lot of hype about it, on the TV and so on. Is it terrorists? The IRA? That Sean chap sounds Irish.’

‘I really can’t say, dear – I’m just going to have to ask you to be patient and understanding with me. As you already have been,’ he adds hastily. ‘And, most importantly, don’t tell anyone about any of this at all. Especially not your former workmates. They’re mixed up in this somehow.’

‘Oh dear…’ Daphne is forlorn. ‘I think I may have already done that, George. When I recognized Peter Lovell, I phoned Sarah and told her – I didn’t think… we used to be such friends.’ She wrings her hands feebly.

George takes them within his own, reassuringly. ‘Don’t worry. We’ve got our eye on her. She’s the dodgiest one of the bunch, you must see that now.’

‘Yes, I suppose so,’ Daphne sniffles.

‘But our best man is on the case now, he’s already tracked her down. As long as you don’t tell her any more, we’ve nothing to fear from her.’

‘Oh George, you’re so masterful!’ cries Daphne, launching herself into his arms. As she kisses him passionately, a part of George’s mind is wondering if anything odd happened while Donald was staying: but he knows full well that, like Caesar’s wife, she is above reproach or suspicion.

Donald is travelling light, just a gun, knife, rope, handcuffs and his ciggys. He is also wearing some rather natty leather gloves. Martin tries to draw him out into conversation during the journey, but meets with little response, so shrugs and goes back to treading the late Viscount’s notes.

They have the address, from SITU via Sean, and it is the matter of moments to find it: Donald gives Martin a pair of gloves too, which he dons without comment. After a quick scan around to see if anyone is watching, he knocks at the door. He is half expecting Lovell to be out at work, but the door is answered, by a man who certainly looks like the one in the picture. He regards them questioningly, and Donald says with the biggest God-embracing grin he can force, ‘Hi there – would you like to confess your sins to Jehovah?’

‘Er, no thanks,’ says Lovell warily. ‘Are you Witnesses or something?’

‘No, we don’t like witnesses, that’s not the way we work,’ explains Donald, drawing his gun and pointing it at Lovell’s belly. ‘Perhaps you’d like to confess them to me then, Peter.’ He is still grinning.

‘What have I got to offer? Well, you’re a spook, or at least an ex-spook, so you know how things can turn on the smallest piece of information. Information I give you could turn out to be most useful to you. No guarantees of course, like there’s no guarantees that anything you may tell me will be useful to my colleagues or myself.’

‘Fair enough,’ Sarah nods.

‘You’re probably aware that we’ve been moving against Nefertiti for some time now. It looks like this may be coming to a head. You claim to not need our help and that may be so, but if you’re against her as you claim, then it could benefit both of us to talk.’

‘It certainly won’t do any harm. Assuming your organization is reasonably secure.’ She looks him up and down a little. ‘Or if you don’t let what I tell you spread very far within it.’

‘We use a small team structure,’ John reassures her. ‘For instance, here’s something: are you aware of the vehicle we recovered from Egypt during the summer? I never got to really check out its performance envelope, but it was an interesting flight. Nefertiti seems to be rather keen to get it back and we’re interested in why. It could be available for the right offer.’

Sarah suddenly looks very interested. ‘A ship? Of hers? Tell me more.’

John is a little surprised that this appears to be news to her. ‘As I say, we didn’t test it out, and it may not have been fully functional. But it’s some very interesting technology, and she’s certainly pretty keen to get it back.’

‘Excuse me, I need to make a quick call,’ says Sarah excitedly. She stands up and walks away a few paces, speaking quietly into a mobile phone, nodding. After a moment she returns. ‘And you’re in possession of the vessel? We’d be very interested in taking it off your hands. In return for our help, that is.’

John nods. ‘There seems to have been rather a lot of interest about the Aquila constellation. Maybe we’re going to be getting some visitors that have to be met or stopped?’

Her expression becomes rather guarded. ‘If there are, they won’t be coming from there, that’s for sure. But yes, in return for that ship, we’ll help you all you like with Nefertiti. It’ll be a pleasure.’ She smiles sharply.

‘On a final note, there are a number of us in the group that are not entirely happy with the way things have been directed up to now. It hasn’t quite got to the stage of an outright split, but it’s not far off. Some of us are not happy with our resident aliens and could be looking to shift loyalties elsewhere.’

‘OK, I read you. We’re always on the lookout for good recruits. But you should understand a few things about my principal first. He’s not like Nefertiti and those others, always bickering and trying to lord it over humans. He has his own special interest area, and he sticks to it. Most of the time we just ignore what the others are up to, and what SITU’s up to: it doesn’t affect us. If you, or anyone else, wants to join us, you have to be prepared to put everyday human affairs behind you, to not be worried about what’s happening to your friends, your family and so on, in the short term. The Watcher is playing a much bigger game than that.

‘OK, OK! No bloody sense of humour the police.’ Rupert’s initial sally has been met unfavourably. ‘I wish to make a complaint of police brutality against Inspector Seymour, at Bow Street police station on the afternoon and evening of Tuesday 19th December. He hit me across the ear, where I was already damaged. It’s very straightforward. Constable Harris witnessed it, and even complained to Seymour. It’s all on tape.’

The desk officer at the other end takes down Rupert’s details without excitement or surprise.

‘I want this complaint thoroughly investigated by the Police Complaints Commission!’ exclaims Rupert.

‘Don’t worry, sir, it will be.’ She gives him a reference number.

‘I’m taking this one all the way,’ Rupert warns her. ‘What on earth is the world coming to, when an innocent ex-drug addict who dislikes authority figures can’t even be interrogated and tortured in peace? Mark my words, this is what brought down the Roman Empire.’

‘You’ll be informed when the Commission moves onto your case, sir. Thank you for your call.’

Rupert ponders where to stay the night: on reflection, he thinks he may as well use the family’s town house.

‘… so it all looks pretty hopeful,’ John tells Sean. ‘But we don’t have the authority to hand over that spaceship without Blaize’s say-so. We don’t even know where it is at the moment.’

Sean taps his teeth with a pen. ‘And if we give the spaceship to your new friends, does that mean we screw our chances of getting Arabella back off Nefertiti?’

‘I can’t see Rupert being too thrilled at that plan,’ John agrees. ‘Anyway, I’m staying up in Bristol overnight, so I can meet with Sarah again in the morning with any news. I’ll call Blaize and let him know what’s happened…’

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea? From what Rupert said, Blaize is cracking up entirely. Could be that he’s not exactly in control of things himself. I don’t like the sound of this Swahn leaving business.’

‘But how can we get the ship without him? I guess we could string him along somehow…’

‘Anyways, best bet for now is to keep talking and keep ‘em sweet. They seem like the best-organized bunch we’ve come across yet.’

It does not take long for Lovell to break. Martin wanders curiously around the small house, observing the detritus of an everyday single life, while Donald questions the civil servant downstairs – occasional grunts and moans of pain ascending. When the noise stops, Martin goes back down.

Lovell is lying in a fetal ball at Donald’s feet, covered in blood. ‘He doesn’t know much, the wimp,’ says Donald contemptuously. ‘First he was trying to get into that Sarah’s knickers, now he’s hung up on Nefertiti. Thinks he’s a clever boy, switching sides when he did.’ He can’t see what Daphne found remotely attractive in Lovell. ‘Anyway, he’s told me where they took Arabella: it’s a warehouse in Walthamstow. That’s where her main force is.’

‘Including that monster?’

‘Ammit, yes, apparently. But as to the background, he’s not told me anything new, really. All the stuff about Rupert’s family we already know. And the big plan is for her to become Queen, same as she told Rupert. Have the whole country revere and worship her, like they did in ancient Egypt when she was Nefertiti, and again when she was Cleopatra – yeah, that was her too. She’s been a bit quiet since then, but this is her big play. She saw The Watcher had his attention elsewhere, and moved in on his territory.’

‘You know what us Brits are like,’ Martins says agreeably. ‘We do love a Royal, especially if she’s good-looking. I should think she could channel quite a bit of power off all that reverence.’

‘He’s given me Sarah’s home address, too, and some names of useful people at the Walthamstow end and in The Watcher’s organization.’ Donald pats his pocket. ‘Right, I think that’s everything.’ He turns back to Lovell, and dons once more his scary God-embracing grin ‘Well done my son, you shall truly be rewarded in the kingdom of Heaven.’ As Lovell whimpers in fear, Donald puts a cushion against his head and fires three shots into it.

Martin, still wincing, draws a sheet over the body as Donald scopes out the back exit. ‘Right, let’s get moving – hey! There’s a car pulling up outside!’

Both men scurry out to the back garden, hiding behind a laurel bush, looking through the length of the house via the kitchen windows.

Two large men in black suits are standing outside the front door, ringing. When they get no answer, they look around, and one of them quickly and expertly forces the lock. They waste no time searching the house, but rapidly find Lovell’s still-warm body on the living-room floor. While one starts to dust for fingerprints, the other talks into a phone, nodding. They wait only as long as is necessary to take the prints, then head back out to their car.

‘Shall we follow them?’ Martin hisses to Donald. ‘Or split up?’

Sean’s vigil is lengthy but it is eventually rewarded. Nefertiti places a phone call to a London number, and conducts a conversation in Arabic. Shortly afterwards, a black Rover pulls up, and she comes down to get into it. It contains a driver and another man, all Egyptian-looking.

As they pull away, Sean slips the van into gear and follows at a safe distance: the car moves slowly through the evening traffic, heading eastwards, through the City and then north, up the A10 in the direction of Stoke Newington. After about an hour’s drive, it finally turns into a deserted-looking industrial estate in Walthamstow. Sean can see the figures of men with dogs moving around the outside of the building into which the car is admitted.

December 27th, 11pm
John – Bristol
George – Oxford
Martin, Donald – Croydon
Sean – Walthamstow
Rupert – Mayfair
Karyn – the flat

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