THERE MUST BE BLOOD!
The car didn't want to start for the love of God, fairies or even constant supplications of Thos, who was turning the keys in the ignition as if the Guinness World Record was at stake. He looked dubiously ahead, waiting probably for some sort of divine intervention.
"Maybe we are out of gas?"
"Honey, we are certainly not. I have filled the tank just yesterday."
Thos muttered under his breath and tried again, this time managing a sort of asthmatic wheeze out of the old mini. He nodded his head sanguinely.
"I guess we have to take the train." He took the keys and opened the door. "Tilda, is that OK with you?"
His wife got out of the car and checked her hat for proper position on her head. She was a handsome woman of thirty three, dressed meticulously in a full, fitted dress and a pair of kid gloves. On opening her bag, she peered inside and took out the purse.
"I hope we can afford it. I nearly spent all the money at that blasted gas station."
The Bells got just invited to see Gerald Harman, an old friend of Tilda's, who taught at St Fridswide College. Taught, that's actually quite rich, since he enjoyed his work so thoroughly it barely could be called work. They haven't seen him for almost a year, so were glad for the invite. Thos, the unfortunately named Thomas Bell was a private investigator, which sounds far more glamorous than the daily fare of trailing unfaithful spouses and checking who's helping himself to the till. He was not very good, but he was persistent in his pursuit of late night trails, never dettered by the weather conditions. His wife taught Religious Studies in a private school nearby, whilst she was not working on another of her mystery novels, that sold adequately to cover her haberdashery bills. They lived in a small terrace house by the river, all stacked up to the very ceiling with books, mostly on real crime, courtesy of Mr Bell.
"I hate trains." Thos took the bags out of the boot and dropped them with a thud on the path.
"Oh, c' mon, it's not the end of the world" His wife grabbed her mobile and promptly called for a taxi, which arrived in less than fifteen minutes, to deliver them to the station.
When they finally were inside the carriage, Thos noticed there was something on Matilda's mind. She refused a sandwich and sat with quiet resignation observing cows through the window.
"What's up? You've been quiet the whole day. Unusual for you, I'd say."
She sighted heavily, playing with a lock of hair.
"What about Gerald?" Things pertaining to her former teacher and mentor meant a lot to his wife. Sometimes, he even thought, half jokingly to himself, that Rev Harman was ten times more important to her than all the family taken together.
"Well, in his email, he was rather opaque, but from what I surmised, they are having a real problem down St Fride's. Something to do with a reawakening of a local legend." She said, after a long silence. Thos took her hand.
"How do you mean? You're not telling me now, out of the blue, that suddenly you have started believing in superstitions, surely?" He exclaimed. "Or do you mean..." The possibility struck him "...do you mean Gerald is becoming unhinged?"
She shifted in her seat.
"I am not sure. I think there's a more sinister issue at hand in here. Let me explain. Apparently not long ago they started having problems with the windows at night- a number of them would be found open, although both the housekeeping staff and the students swore they closed them themselves. We are talking here about the middle of winter, so it does seem most curious that anybody would consider changing the atmosphere of the first floor corridor into a refrigerating space. After that a few people started to get sick. Naturally, it was attributed to the open windows. After all, it's ever so easy to catch a cold in February. They complained mostly of headaches, sore throats, breathing problems; the usual lot. There was only one thing. They also complained about somebody's presence in their rooms. They couldn't explain it."
Thos looked on intrigued. "How do you mean?". His wife spread her hands in a gesture of bemusement.
"It all started looking like something... unnatural." She coughed wearily. " Gerald told me ages ago about this legend at the college. Mind you, it was just one of these stories. The founder, Lord Deverell, fell out badly with the governing body during his lifetime. It had to do with the high church sympathies mostly, but I bet there was just a lot of bad financial blood to really get it going. Anyway, just before he died, he emptied the main building and stayed there on his own for a week. Lights shone in the night, strange chanting was heard- ergo rumorous of satanic rites had spread. Deverell's family was even less charitable than the general public and he was forcibly restrained and taken to the nearby asylum by his brother. He died there shortly after. Just before they removed him from the premises he shouted loudly, that he will avenge himself one day by vampirising anybody who sets a foot in the left wing. Fanciful, ha?"
Thos laughed. It all seemed like a very bad penny dreadful, indeed.
"Very spooky... and very cliché, so far."
"That's the crux of the matter, though. All the students from the first floor lost blood."
On the arrival they were greeted by a jolly, rotund man in his late fifties, who opened his linen suit clad arms and exclaimed: "Welcome home children!". He grabbed a suitcase straight from Thos's arm and briskly headed toward the large, carved door at the front of an impressive 1860s building, all adorned with curious nooks, cranies, and rather bored looking faces of gargoyles. They followed him into a corridor. Tilda walked next to him, clutching his arm.
"So tell me how the curse of St Fride's is doing?" She asked, winking mischievously in the direction of her husband. Gerald's face fell a little. He actually stopped and put the suitcase down.
"I didn't want to worry you." He paused, rubbing his temples. "There have been new developments and they are not too pretty. You better come with me both to my study.".
Gerald's room was spacious, fusty, filled so much with papers and books, it resembled a quite rickety mountain range. It reminded Matilda of her own home and placed a warm feeling of familiarity in her mind. They came in, Gerald closing the door and twisting the key in the lock. He sat heavily in the low leather armchair, pointing to the couch with a generous gesture that neither the weariness nor the lines of concern on his forehead, were able to erase completely.
"Tilly" he used to address her as if she was still the brat who just entered college "you obviously read the entirety of my email. I showed in it some concerns for the happenings in here." He swallowed a little bit of the saliva."The truth is, it's not just some stupid legend knocking about. Despite the fact that it's now mid May all the students living on that floor I had written about suffer some sort of a flu. It's hard to describe it. They seem to be occasionally getting better, just to succumb with reawakened vigour. Quite a few of them sought medical advice, which...well, didn't amount to much, but for telling them that they were anaemic. They eat properly. None of them was tested positively for TB, nor any other ailments for that matter. I am starting to have an oncoming rebellion on my hands, even before they go home for the summer vac. They will want an investigation, the university chancellor will start getting interested..." His voice trailed off. "Frankly we might be stopped from taking any students next year." A heavy silence filled the room. Thos lit a cigarette and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.
"I see." he said "I guess you want me to look around and see what I can snoop out?" He puffed the smoke in a nervous manner."I am certainly not a doctor, so clearly I have no idea what kind of mysterious disease might be plaguing your flock. Saying that, it might be less mysterious than you think G. This is an old building. God knows how much poisonous material was stuffed into it. Are you getting my drift, G?". The older man sunk in his chair. "Thomas, I wish it was so, ironic as it sounds. We had a through check a year ago, and absolutely nothing was found amiss."
Matilda pondered for a while, looking closely at Gerald, who stared gloomily at the carpet.
"What if we both" she put an emphasis on the word "ferret around. After all Thos doesn't really know the college. I mean, he was here only twice." She turned to face him."Weren't you hon?" Her husband nodded his head, lightning up another cigarette. "We go and see what goes bump in the night."
"Of course Tilly, feel free." The older man rose from his armchair. "I think it would be best to join others in the dining hall at the moment. Pork chops tonight- yummy." Somehow, from his lips it did not sound even remotely delicious.
Tilda looked around with a genuine nostalgia. The hall was brightly lit by the sun coming through the tall windows, full of good- natured chatter, the same way she remembered it from her days. Thos was opposite her, having on next to him a nice looking brunette and a very stiff cleric, who seemed to suffer from hay fever.
"Hello" she addressed the woman, with a smile. "We came here today for a little holiday with my husband. What about you? Are you a student?"
"Oh, yes. Just doing my medical degree. Hard work, I'm afraid. She extended her hand across the table. "My name is Esther." They exchanged pleasantries.
The cleric didn't look like he wanted to be involved in any conversation, predominantly blowing his nose into a frayed napkin, but he also was facing the impossibility of sitting quiet and ignoring the Bells. Overcoming himself, he turned to Thos.
"Dreadful asparagus, don't you think? The chef is hardly a Michelin star diamond. I wish we weren't fed here as if we were pigs." he grunted, looking intently in the direction of the principal, with a murderous intent in his small, red- rimmed eyes.
"Oh...maybe slightly undercooked, but I wouldn't go that far. I heard real praises from the restaurant he worked for a few years ago." Thos said politely
"Morons abide everywhere." the cleric spat. "Where are you from?"
It did sound as if he was making even poor Thomas responsible for his starter.
"Witney. Me and the good wife, Matilda" he pointed toward her." What about you?"
"Same as Esther. "Higher education" for a lot of money." He blew his nose again, sniffling loudly.
"I really don't know what is worse- the standard of teaching in here, or the security. Have you heard about the windows?" Thos nodded. "All of them opened during the bloody winter. It's no surprise we have galloping influenza! Has anything been found? Bet your boots, there wasn't. Bet your boots!". He snarled derisively. "If I were you, Tilda" he faced Mrs Bell "I would not sleep in here. Better pay for some B& B, than risk illness in this god- forsaken place. Same for you, man. The funniest bit is they are all trying to be hyper hand- washing, blaming it on some sort of supernatural bollocks. The moment I start believing in vampires and demonic infestation, I think I get rid of my collar and quit for Mallorca!"
Esther, who said quietly during the whole tirade, trying to suppress laughter (Matilda noticed), opened her mouth for the first time since the introduction.
"Yoric is a little bit on the hot side... I wouldn't really be so cautious. It's true, a few people from the left wing have been having some cold trouble since Feb, but, no, nobody's dying."
Yorick Springfort raised his hand in a protesting gesture.
"Not yet! Just you wait, I tell you!" He snorted again, shaking his head.
After the second course was finished, among more or less the same conversation, Thos turned to Esther:
"I wanted to ask you something. I heard that all the ill students had anaemia. Is that correct?"
She wiped her lips and put the napkin down.
"That is correct. Nobody knows what caused it. The blood cells were absolutely normal, there was no congenital disorder. It just seems that eight people were... drained of blood over the months. I know, it does sound insane. And there is something more." she added, almost sheepishly " I was staying once on that floor, because they were replacing a window in my room. I woke up around two in the morning, and I swear, someone has been just closing the door. I run after the intruder, but he was gone, like he just evaporated into a thin mist."
That was all very curious, Thos thought. Everybody, although they laughed at the supernatural, was full of apprehension.
When Matilda was preparing for bed, she had a thought.
"Thos, we should look around tonight. I mean, I don't believe in vampires, but clearly something is amiss in here."
He folded his sweater and put the trousers on a hanger.
"Honey, Esther has just told me her window was being replaced. I am asking "why?". Why did she need to go to the left wing?"
Thos sat on the bed, buttoning his pyjamas. There was an expression of puzzlement on his broad face. It suddenly striked him as quite out of the ordinary.
" You see, the guest rooms aren't in that part of the college, but on the ground floor, where we are now." she spelled out very slowly.
I dawned on him. Grabbing the dressing gown he set for the door.
"Tilda, you are absolutely right. Let's go!"
They entered the corridor, lit by discreet lamps installed on the walls. It was very long, high ceilinged, cold. Nobody seemed to be stirring. They were moving slowly, trying to find the exit to the stairs leading onto the first floor landing. Opening the heavy door, they peered towards the stairs.
"Do you see anything, Tilda?" he whispered conspiratorially. She shook her head, and they continued to follow their intended route. Stealthily they climbed the stairs. Nothing was moving. Suddenly, there was a gust of wind, undeniably coming from the landing window- open ajar, as if an unseen force thrusted its way into the building.
"What the hell..!" exclaimed Thos, backing away.
In the light of the nearly full moon lied the body of Yoric Springfort, white as the pure, milky mist of the night.
Gerald looked rather ill- his face showing strain, worry, lack of sleep. Police officers were busying themselves around the college, with a special attention to the square of the floor which the body occupied. An officious looking man with a faint suggestion of blonde stubble, stood on the side writing vigorously in a little notebook. He looked puzzled, but also slightly annoyed. This was not the usual scuffle in Cowley Road. This looked like a prolonged, ungrateful business, which could take months to tackle and consume a massive chunk of police budgetary resources.
"Henessy, could you call again for the coroner?!" he yelled at a pimply policeman loitering on the side. The young man scuttled down the stairs clutching a phone in his hand.
"God, give me strength..." muttered inspector Barton, creasing his wrinkly forehead in the most unattractive manner. He turned from the notebook to face Dr Harman.
"Excuse me, where are the people who discovered the body?"
Gerard, who was already tetchy from insomnia, took an instant dislike to this bullying, arrogant man in a polo-neck sweater and his razor sharp moleskin jacket. The look was expensive, yet somehow brass and vulgar. He was reminiscent of men in American 1970s cop- shows.
"I believe they are in their room downstairs, recovering. It's not everyday you find corpses in your path." he said acidically. "I think they are very tired and not a little bit shaken."
Barton waved his hand in a dismissive manner.
"Mother of God! Are you all so delicate? At this rate we'll be sitting here till Xmas doing some polite pussyfooting. Give me a break doctor! You might have an eternity but I have limited resources and even less money."
Gerard had to nearly bite his tongue not to say something really nasty.
"Inspector, I don't appreciate you addressing me that way. A tragedy has happened, and it's already quite dire in here without you insulting my guests." His lips were set and almost ashen, his stare severe.
The other man just snorted.
"I apologize that my ways are seen by you as offensive" he said flippantly "but I have no time for pleasantries." He turned towards the stairs upward on which Henessy was running towards him.
"When is that bastard coming? Have you phoned?"
"Yes!" he panted" will be here in ten minutes!"
Bartell put his notebook away.
" See what I have to deal with? Mr Rochester thinks as well that I have unlimited time supply, and this idiot boy" he nodded towards the constable "takes six minutes to make a phone call. Mother Theresa would have lost patience!" He rummaged in his pocket for a nicotine gum and shoved it into his mouth angrily."I can't even bloody smoke any more. Apparently bad for my heart."
Gerard gave up on any more comments. It was clearly pointless to imprint on this Neanderthal of a man anything approaching civilized conduct.
"If you want to interview Mr and Mrs Bell, they should be available downstairs in room 21" he said courtly.
The inspector nodded. He was chewing his gum in the most vigorous fashion, completely enveloped in his thoughts. It dawned on Dr Harman that this indeed will turn into a massive saga. Mostly of inconvenience and gnashing of teeth.
Tilda and Thos were sitting, drinking black coffee in the MCR. They were shattered from the lack of sleep and still quite shaken after seeing the dead body that looked like nothing they ever had experienced. Well, they never beheld a dead body for a start.
?Are you alright?? Thos put a hand on his wife's shoulder. She was quite pale and concentrating on her cup of beverage as if she was very cold and trying to warm herself in its hot vapours.
?I am fine, quite fine...Though? there was a pause ?Did you see what he was wearing??
?How do you mean? Of course I did. He had his suit on, collar, shirt- all the works.?
She put a finger to her chin, deep in thought.
?Yes, but not that. Did you notice his pin??
?He had a very curious lapel pin in a shape of the sun with some figure above it...Don't know, an angel??
At that moment the door opened and inspector Barton entered the room. He swaggered in, practically slamming the offending door behind him. Dark clouds of fatigue were gathering on his brow. He cleared his throat a few times and thudded his solid frame in a chair.
?Hello again. I would like to ask you some questions regarding the deceased.? He took a pad out of the jacket pocket and started chewing on a pen. ?How well did you know Yorick Springfort??
Tilda came first, having too many competing, racing thoughts in her head that she was trying to order, and wanting some peace.
?Not at all. We met him just yesterday, last night at dinner time, really. ?
?And what did you make of him Mrs Bell??
She shrugged her shoulders. ?Not much. He introduced himself as a student of divinity. Judging by his garb he was a trainee priest, about thirty years of age, fastidious, serious.? She couldn't help herself to add: ?Slightly snotty. He complained a lot about food and accommodation, as if St Frideswide's was a hotel.?
?So you didn't take to him?? asked Barton.
?Well, I used to be a student here and I dislike men dissing the place, but to be honest he was altogether not very pleasant, quite rude actually.?
Thos felt this was not going too well for them and decided to stop his wife from too much of unburdening herself.
?What Tilda means is, he was probably preoccupied with his studies, not interested in small talk, that was my impression. I don't think we had enough time over an hour to form an opinion of him.?
Tilda shot him a questioning glance, so small, it was practically invisible to the inspector who was laboriously scribbling in his notebook.
?And what was the last time you saw Mr Springfort alive??
?That would be eight thirty, when the dinner ended. We decided to have coffee in the SCR, Senior Common Room, but he said he was tired and was going straight to his room. That was the last we saw of him that night... well, alive? she said in a smaller voice.
Barton raised his eyebrows, thinking that these two did not look as innocent as they wanted to appear. He decided to be less gentle for a change.
?What was the reason for your visit to the college? Moreover may I ask what were you doing in the corridor, in the middle of the night? Surely, there are better places to rest.?
Thos didn't want to divulge the real rationale for their sojourn. Gerald was his client of a sort and deserved confidentiality. Yet finding a excuse was another matter.
?You'd laugh? he appeared to blurt ?but we were ghost- hunting.?
?Ghost-hunting?? repeated Barton, incredulously.
?There are many legends about this place, especially the one concerning the returning spectre of Lord Deverell- mad, bad, dangerous to know character who founded the college in 1861 and apparently dabbled in black magic before he was taken away to the loony bin. We thought it would be fun to search for him. Or orbs or other supernatural phenomena. It happens to be a hobby of ours?
This was a turn for Inspector Barton to look alerted.
?That's very interesting Mr Bell.? he said caustically. ? I have just received a call from the mother of the deceased. She happens to be Vanessa Springfort, current Lady Deverell herself.?
Thos decided to have a cigarette in the garden. He had a severe headache from the lack of sleep and stress. Not only things were not well at college but they did not look very good for him and his wife. To be blunt, he looked like a suspicious liar, who had an ulterior motive for dispatching poor Yorick to his final otherworldly destination. He puffed angrily, knitted his brows and made long strides along the path. He was also thinking about what Tilda had told him before the Barton character barged in. Now he distinctly remembered a pin. It was not large, but the design certainly had nothing to do with The Church of England. Thos decided to ask Gerald if he knew anything about it.
He had no idea if he was going to be in his study, but he gave it a shot. After knocking on the door he heard an irritated and slightly surprised voice saying ?Come in.? Dr Harman was sitting stiffly behind his desk, papers in front of him and a bright red, he would swear, breathless Esther stood near the bookshelves pretending she was looking for a volume.
?Forgive me, I didn't know you were busy G...?
Gerald shook his head with a certain strain and waved at the young woman. ?We were just scanning for some reading material. Esther was interested in historical Jesus and wanted me to suggest a book or two. Isn't that right, child? Now, I hope you will have a riotous time perusing Vermesz? His left eye was twitching, the way it does when people have a nervous tick. Esther smiled politely and with a slight nod mouthed ?So long.? leaving the room.
?How can I help you Thomas?? he came back into his sagely self and offered Thos an armchair he sat in previously. The man took it without much haste but not tarring either, making himself comfortable. He had to proceed very delicately.
?Gerald, that fellow Yorick, was he very active in the college??
?Why, you surprise me!? the principal exclaimed. ?No, he was rather quiet, kept to himself. Actually, his only extracurricular activity was the choir, as I remember? he mused.
Thos gathered his strength. ?Was he a member of some society? Or rather has the choir got a celebratory pin, a mark of some sort??
?Yes, now you mention it, it does. Three harvest wreaths in a golden halo.?
?Not a sun with a descending angel??
Gerald looked at him strangely, raising his eyebrows. There was something in that sentence which clearly alarmed him. He got up and started rifling through the books on the nearby shelf, finally producing a battered volume. He opened it on a page according to an entry at the back index and laid it in front of Thos. There it was, a large, resplendent, baroque sun, embraced as in Blake's picture of the creation of the world, by a muscular figure of an angel. Underneath it was only one word ?Lucidus?.
?What the hell is that?? he asked.
Gerald laughed mirthlessly and slightly derisively and sat back in his library chair.
?It was apparently a secret society started in the times of the old Deverell. The rumour was it dedicated itself to things rather unholy and strictly speaking not within the scope of Anglican thought. The key word here is apparently, because nobody really believed in the ravings of the mad Lord, who prophesied that Lucidus was about to take over the government and was better connected that the masons. In the parlance of today the chap would have been described as a paranoid schizophrenic, and not, as you see, without a reason. There was no Lucidus, like there are no soviet agents in this college nor strange reptilian conspiracies. But the legend remains.? He closed the book and turned to Thos. ?Where have you seen this symbol??
?You wouldn't believe? he said in an excited voice ?In the cleric's lapel.?
Gerald put his middle finger, pointedly into the ether:
?I am not surprised?
?You are not??
?Well, Cedric had his eccentricities. I wouldn't make too much out of the fact that he had a piece of jewellery designed in a shape of a symbol found in a book. Between us, he was a little bit of an odd one.?
When Thos left, he sat deeply in his chair, uneasy to the core.
Tilda decided to refresh herself from the atmosphere of the college under siege. Police was everywhere, the air thick with noise, the corridors stuffed full of suspicion and misery. She chose a café in Cowley Road, ordered a glass of wine and sat down to contemplate the papers. Something airy and fluffy for a change. All was quiet but suddenly in a corner of her eye she saw Esther. She was in a rather disrupted mood and her eyes seemed to be red rimmed from crying. Tilda went over to her.
?Are you alright?? she asked softly.
The other woman lifted her head and wiped away a mascara smudge underneath her eye.
?Oh... I don't know really. This has been all too much. Please sit with me. I am feeling dreadful? her pleading face crumpled into a picture of consternation.
Tilda grabbed her things and joined her. There was a temporary silence. At last Esther broke it.
?I don't know what to do. I will be frank with you because I cannot do it with anyone else in the college.? she inhaled deeply. ?I have been indiscreet with...Oh, what the hell, with Gerald. I know, everybody thinks he's such a confirmed bachelor, but it's a pack of lies. It would all have been well but for the fact that Yorick caught us one time and since then Gerald completely turned on me threatening to throw me off the course if anything came out. Of course I promised to keep shtum, but I don't think he believed me. And then, next thing we know, Yorick is dead.?
Matilda exhaled deeply:
?That doesn't look too good. Are you afraid for yourself??
?Maybe, I don't know... Gerald is capable of anything. After all he's the master not only of the college but fore mostly of Lucidus.?
?What is that??
?Outwardly a dinner society, not much different than a bunch of history nutters meeting every month and arguing about finer points of church law, but in reality a club of well connected dons and clergy members who wheel and deal quite large sums of money.
?Something like the masons??
?Much worse than the masons.?
Both women got deep into a conversation.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hurriedly Tilda run back to college. She tried to call Thos a few times but only an answering machine was available. She found him finally in the library, crouched over a pile of books, fiercely typing into his laptop. She mimed to him to come out and dragged him to the spacious cloakroom nearby.
?What the hell...??
?Gerald is playing some sort of a game in here. Did you know he had an affair with Esther?? she whispered hurriedly.
Thos looked back at her with an uneasy air about him.
?I suspected as much. There was a strange vibe between them. Though I don't think that is of any concern as they are both adults and G was by no means her supervisor.?
?Sure, but you know how rumours can harm one's career in this town. He apparently blackmailed her. And it's all because the nosy Yorick Springfort spied them out.
?Ah, the Yorick Springfort of The Lucidus Society??
Tilda opened her eyes wider.
?Oh yes. That pin of his was a token from it. From what I have gathered it's a sort of an occultist club started by the madman Deverell in the XIX century. Mumbo jumbo for the educated clerics.?
?Thos? she blanched further ?mumbo jumbo, Gerald Harman is a master of. And not only that. You say they are some sort of a hobby circle. Esther says they are more like a financial, power hungry structure that decides which deals are being signed, who gets elected, who gets the grants- you get the idea. I am starting to wander why are we here.?
Her husband looked at Tilda full of concern.
?I am not liking it either. Ghost stories, magic, sickness- my foot! All I have heard since we arrived was lies, lies and more lies. And there is a body of apparently someone who was a busybody of no consequence with ideas of grandeur and inflated family pride. If he was so unimportant, why is he dead??
?That is what I would like to know as well.?
Next time they were scheduled to see Gerald, they both agreed they should pretend absolute ignorance of secret societies, affairs and all the ugliness that was rising its head fast at St Frideswied's. Officially they had no leads. Maybe they looked slightly on the edge which Harman picked up straight away but Tilda blamed it on total exhaustion.
?I understand. I myself have enough of police and constant questioning. Besides, Yorick's death is such a blow? he said gravely? Indeed, I think now the small matter of an unexplained flu is nothing in comparison. He wasn't the nicest of men, but I struggle to understand why anybody would like to cause him harm.?
They were sitting in Gerald's office fortifying themselves with whisky. Thos felt trapped by his obligation to the older man, yet somehow there was a niggling thought that not all was as it seemed. He considered his previous sentiment concerning that all said to him was lies.
?I will be blunt with you G, if I may.?
Gerald raised his eyebrows.
?You and Esther Fowler. We know.?
Gerald put his glass quickly on the table, instantly looking sheepish.
?It's a regrettable affair that has ended quite a while ago? he gave a sigh ?We didn't really understand one another. I haven't mentioned that because I thought it would just muddle matters. Esther somehow got it into her head that I could forward her career. Some strange nonsense to do with me knowing a few chaps in her department.?
Tilda looked at him sharply.
?You mean Lucidus.?
He gave a dismissive laugh.
?The local country club- forgive me but I have grown tired of people jumping to some occult conclusions all my time I have been a member, and even more since I started leading it. Yorick bored me stiff trying to dig the regrettable origins of Lucidus. I guess it was all due to his ancestor. No, we don't murder children and sacrifice goats and the black mass happens only once a year? he laughed drily. ?We just work on helping talented students and building academic connections, that's all there is to it. I mean talented... In case of Esther it was ambition over ability. I liked her but I could not put her forward. The trials of the drug her team worked on were disastrous. There was no way anyone sensible was going to put money into it.
When I was honest with her she just exploded and I am afraid since then things were quite bad between us.? he sighted heavily. His face bore an ashen cast of tiredness and utter gloom. Matilda suddenly felt sad for him, for his years and troubles, and for all that he meant to the college.
?I am sorry Gerald.? she said quietly. She composed herself nevertheless and looked him straight in the eye. ?Do you mind telling us what drug was Esther trying to create??
?I do not know the details. I am not myself a doctor as you know well. It had to do something with malaria as far as I remember. Unfortunately for her the tests were just not satisfactory and the company, I think it was Prozler, refused to back it up.?
They thanked him and exited.
?Thos, they are all lying? she brushed her fringe off the forehead and sat down.
?Well, I know.?
A sort of stupor descended upon them. They felt powerless and cheated.
?I think we should look around? she said. ?Not here. Here everyone is trying to swing the cat their way. I should give Fred a call, you remember Fred- the friendly Frankenstein from the lab??
Thos laughed out loud despite all his his current troubles. The in jokes between him and his wife always gave him the fits.
?Absolutely. If there was a big experimental study he should be in the know.?
They parted ways, Thos keeping an eye on the college and Tilda issuing forth towards the medical buildings. It took her a while to navigate the long corridors and locate Dr Hammon, to his friends- Fred, a clean cut looking, mischievously glinty fellow in a less than pristine lab coat. He was surprised at her inquiries but answered quite comprehensively.
?Sure, I have heard about it. Who hasn't?? he exclaimed as if she asked him about the most common thing on earth. He went to his computer and after a few taps on the keyboard pages started spewing from the printer. ?Esther was sure to get backing. It was one of the most revolutionary malaria treatments in last decade. Cheap too! Think about millions of people in Africa who could finally afford not to die in agony.? He passed on the pages.?Read it yourself if you don't believe me.?
?I will take you on your word? she smiled. ?So did she get the money??
?At the last stage there seemed to be some sort of a breakdown in the data. It was very strange... The pharmaceutical company pulled out after it came to light that the side effects were rather alarming. It was damn bizarre as two runs of the tests showed nothing and then, puff, apparently, although CB40 killed malaria like a dream, it also caused fatal auto- immune anaemia. Basically? he put put his glasses down ? it caused total and utter irreversible destruction of red blood cells.?
Tilda thanked Fred copiously and hurried to her mobile on the way out of the building.
?Thoss, you won't believe! Esther must have been testing her drug at college. I don't understand, it's madness but she couldn't accept that the drug trial failed. Listen, this is a disaster- they are all going to die! You must phone the police!?
On the other end, there was silence and a silence full of consternation.
?She's been attacked. Someone got her in the gardens. She's lying in the hospital.
She rushed down Mansfield Road and nearly out of breath caught a bus in High Street. Tilda flew out of the door at the stop and at breaking speed reached St Frideswide's. Thoss was waiting for her in their room. On entering she thrusted at him the article written by Esther and her colleagues.
?Look, this is what Fred told me. Her wondrous drug! So magnificent, it managed to kill at least one person to date!? She flopped on the chair, tired and overwrought. Thoss looked at her with a heavy heart, not being sure he was being obvious or seriously missing something.
?But who has attacked her? She couldn't have clubbed herself in the back of the head. Even if Yoric died due to her experiments, why on earth would she drain him of his blood??
?To hide evidence, that's obvious. If he dropped dead with no signs of violence, there would have been an inquest full of tests and problems with his red cells would come to light which would have alerted police to poisoning. Then look who is dabbling in blood drugs...? Tilda's mind was racing.
?True, but why Yoric? Why there was not someone else who suffered a collapse? She tested secretly the whole floor of people and only one drops dead?? Suddenly his face ashen and he looked at his wife with alarm ?Now? he pulled her from the chair by the arm ?we need to get a taxi to The Radcliffe!?
Waiting for the cab was an agonizing time, though short in minutes, long in anticipation. The journey seemed like aeons, especially now being aware of the truth, Tilda was realizing the mortal danger of the situation.
They burst through the automatic door and headed towards the reception desk.
?Hello, could you tell us where is Esther Heythrop??
?Are you her family??
?No, just colleagues from university but it's visiting hours...? Tilda pleaded.
?Alright, she's on the first floor, room 115. You are not going to be alone. Your friend is there already.?
Thoss and Tilda looked at each other.
They caught the lift. The room was on their left, next to the nurses station. He put a finger on his lips and approached the door, opening it ever so slightly. Inside... to her horror she saw a big lump of tweed, like a beached whale, overwhelming the bed. It heaved and stifled the cries underneath him.
?Gerald! Stop!? he shouted.
The large man froze for a second, then wildly tore aside.
?You fucking bastard!!! Bell!!!?
Tilda stood frozen. Then she quickly caught Esther's hand and pushed Gerald away.
?It was you? she nearly whispered ?it wasn't enough Yoric was your son and didn't know it. You had to rub his face in it, make him suffer for his mother's indiscretions. Stupid
Yorick, who just wanted to be a part of a secret society. You disgust me? she said shaking her head. ?And Esther, oh, you could not stand her either. The drug, the wonder drug she has created stabbed you like a knife, didn't ? You had to skew her results, discourage Prozler, poison your own students.?
Harman pulled away.
?You have no proof Yoric is my son.?
?Well, that's up you to disprove but Lady Deverell swears blind you are the father. Somehow the photos of Lucidus show tremendous resemblance.? she quipped, and then added with sadness ?I am sorry for Yorick. You didn't deserve him.?
Thos pulled a mobile out of his pocket.
?It's over, isn't it? I hope Esther can get back on track from your meddling and interference. I also hope your students will recover. God, it's a mess...? he pressed the police number.
Gerald stood silently in the hospital room, gasping and full of disbelief. He crumpled visibly and sagged. He knew his time was up.
?You should have never called us as your alibi- that was your mistake? said Tilda.
And that is how the blood trail was discovered.