Julia’s morning sickness has pressed Fliss’s buttons. And the only way to call off the hounds (that threaten to tear Ken limb-from-limb as the falsely accused father) is to tell the truth of Destination. But Fliss isn’t impressed. That her ‘pods might facilitate actual time travel, that’s one thing. That’s marketable. But as a means of world-hopping in hypothetical multiverse? No, she’s not buying it.
Episode 58 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
My phone rang—or rather, vibrated. The Museum Director expressed his displeasure in a single look. Oops! I should have turned the phone off before starting on this presentation, even thought it was between only the two of us. I gestured apologies. He gestured for me to answer. It was Dave. Yet I couldn’t say, Hi Dave. I didn’t want my boss to know how personal the call.
“Yes? Sorry, I’m in a meeting. Can you phone later?”
“No. Julia, no bulling, I need talk to you NOW.”
“What is it?” I asked, a glance round at my boss.
“Can’t say, not on the phone.” He was gabbling. And he sounded panicked. Whatever it was, I was in no doubt it was urgent.
“I can meet you for lunch,” I said. I couldn’t get away before then. He must realise that.
“Yea-yea, fine; it’ll have to do. Where, when?”
“Gosh, you are in a hurry. Um . . . I can probably get away at twelve.” I looked to my boss for confirmation. I didn’t usually take my lunch that early and there was this presentation to complete and discuss, but he nodded. Maybe he could hear some of what Dave was saying, at least his express-train-delivery. “Meet you at the Green?”
“Sure. By the pond at twelve.” The phone went dumb.
“Trouble?” My boss wasn’t renowned for his compassion, yet he was showing it now. And he didn’t even know what the problem. At that time, neither did I.
Dave pounced on me as soon as I crossed the road and into the lane opposite.
“My God! you’re in a state.” He couldn’t even wait for me to walk across town to the Green. “What’s the matter? Oh my God, it’s not your father?”
I had tried not to speculate, though I had wondered if it was something to do with my mother. She often drove out to his father’s nursery. But it would have been my father phoned, not Dave. That obvious fear put to rest, I had then applied full focus to what I was doing (the presentation and discussion)—which had kept me happily distracted.
“Not my father,” he said, grabbing my hand and steering me down a tight alleyway—at which I objected.
“What . . .?”
“Best we’re not seen—didn’t think when you said.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Anyone know you’re here? Meeting me?”
“No. Dave, what the hell is this about?” He was behaving like some hunted character in a TV detective series.
“Ken’s dead,” he said and had the consideration to wait for that to sink in before saying more.
“D-Dead?” I could feel my eyes searching his face, asking for him to tell me more.
“Police will want statements; it mustn’t look like we’ve colluded.”
“Dave, can you take this from the start?” Perhaps I wasn’t being too bright. “I mean, why would the police want statements from us? Oh.” The basics were beginning to filter through. “H-how did he—Dave, you didn’t . . . ?”
“No. No! But . . .” he rattled a sigh like he was breathing out the enormity of it, “it’s not natural causes—not even a car crash.”
I asked him again to tell it from the start. “I mean, this is like trying to see the picture when I’ve only two pieces.”
“Haven’t much more myself. I’ve only what Mrs Sharmin told me, and she’s in a hell of a state, and not meant to be talking.”
I pulled him deeper into the alley. There was a door to a solicitor’s beside us and by the sounds someone inside was about to open it. The door yawned, conveniently hiding us behind it. I heard staccato heels and guessed it a secretary hurrying to do her lunch-time shop. Which reminded me I was hungry. I had sandwiches in my bag but this wasn’t the time to be eating. Yikes, ought I to be eating with Ken newly . . . dead? But it still hadn’t really sunk it.
“So, let’s get this straight.” One of us had to be calm and logical and since Dave was racing into mania that one had to be me. “Mrs Sharmin told you. And who is she?”
Oh silly me for not knowing. “And that would be Fliss’s cleaner?”
“The Freidmans’, yea.” I’d noticed that of Dave: he tended to call them collectively ‘The Freidmans’, always a couple. While to me they were Fliss and Ken.
And now it really was sinking in. “Oh my God . . . Fliss! How is she—where is she? Cripes! this must be awful for her.”
“She’s at the police station,” Dave said, though he hesitated a moment before saying the ‘P-word’. “Listen—will you let me say—you have to understand before they start questioning you.”
“Question me about what? Oh, shitty deaths, they’re treating it as murder.” From my mouth to my toes, the horror swelled in me. Nausea, cold sweat, my head refusing to think. And the police were wanting to question me? “Dave, when did this happen?”
“This morning,” he said, running frantic fingers through his hair. “It was all over when I got there. I mean, well, the police were everywhere, and Mrs Sharmin in an awful state, jabbering away. They’ve taken her now to the hospital, doping her up with tranquilizers or—I don’t know, whatever. She’s a main witness—apart from Fliss, the only witness.”
“Dave, you are still not making much sense.” I looked at my watch. I’d have to get back to work soon.
He took a deep breath. “Mrs Sharmin was cleaning the Pod Room—that’s her first duty Monday mornings. She’d already heard their raised voices but, no change there, she ignored it, went about her work. But she’d only half finished when the Freidmans burst in and Fliss, angry, yells at her to get out.”
“Which wisely she did?”
He nodded, and again glanced down the alley (the door that had hidden us now had slowly closed of its own volition).
“She listened at the door—well, you know what chars are.”
Another time I’d have objected to the generalisation but I let it pass as currently irrelevant. We were getting to the meat of the story, and apparently it was imperative for me to know this before the police questioned me.
“She heard Fliss accusing Ken of an affair with you, a rehash of the codswallop yesterday. She heard her say of you being pregnant, and that Ken’s the father.”
I groaned. “Lawks, it’ll be all over the village. You don’t believe it do you?”
“Hush, let me say. I’ve job enough to pull sense out of the old dear’s ramblings. And no, I don’t believe it. So, course, Ken denies it. So then Fliss asks about your meetings in the evenings.”
“But you’ve always been there as well; nothing iffy about them.”
“Yea but Fliss doesn’t know that. Anyway, apparently Ken said these meetings were to discuss—and here, with Mrs Sharmin not understanding, her account gets even more mangled—but seems Ken said we’d been meeting to discuss the reality of the ‘pod’s Destination. And, again, Fliss wasn’t having it. She screeches back at him (and according to Mrs Sharmin she’s now totally hysterical) something about her not being so gullible she’d believe we’ve hit on a parallel universe.”
“The cleaner actually used those words, ‘parallel universe’?” I asked.
“Maybe she’s a fan of X Files or something—Doctor Who. Anyway, Ken came back at her that she’s the physicist, she ought to believe it.”
“Yea, and it’s true,” I said.
“Ken said he’d prove it—”
“Said that you’d taken photos so he’d do the same. That next time he’d take a camera.”
“Oh, that poor Mrs Sharmin,” I said. “It must have seemed so bizarre to her.”
“Yea, like she’d walked into another world—That’s what she kept saying. And she thought at first they were acting, a play or something. The old dear, she tried to make sense of it. And then when she saw—but I jump ahead. Fliss egged him on. ‘Yea, yea, so why not go now?’ She made it known she wouldn’t believe about you and the baby till this of the universe was sorted.”
“And he went,” I said. I knew Ken well enough to know that’s what he’d do. Whatever it took to stop the fighting and return to peace. So, yea, he’d take a camera and go.
“He told Fliss to give him three days.”
“There and then?” I asked. “No time to prepare?”
“Seems so. According to Mrs Sharmin, it all went quiet—just, as she describes it, a mechanical hum. She doesn’t understand of the ‘pods, only that they’re something ‘scientific’. She started jabbering then about Frankenstein, and working for monsters, and she ought to have seen it sooner. I tell you. Julia, that old dear’s head has been totally blown.”
“I can imagine.” Though if Fliss and Ken had told the woman the ‘pods’ true purpose she probably wouldn’t have believed it, and she’d have spread Frankenstein tales all over the village. I had a sudden horror of my mother hearing all this. What would she make of it? Yet more eye-scratching between the de Plessey cousins. “So, fifteen minutes later . . .?” I prompted.
“Yea, fifteen minutes later. By then Mrs Sharmin was cleaning the Den—she calls it the Hall. She hears Fliss screaming and screaming like she’s in a horror movie—Mrs Sharmin’s words. So, course, she rushes in to see what’s the matter.”
Dave closed his eyes and turned away. I could see he was taking deep calming breaths—which warned me the next bit mightn’t be nice.
“She . . . in the Pod Room, the ‘pod, it was open. She couldn’t describe—she wouldn’t, and I can’t say I blame her. Ken, dead, but not recently dead—no fresh blood, she said, though blood aplenty. It was dry, brown, she said. And his body was . . . it was like . . . maybe a dog had mauled it. And there was this carved-wood handle sticking out of his chest. ‘Not like any knife we’d ever use‘.”
“Wow!” I fell against the wall, glad it was there to support me. My thoughts were racing though none wanted to stick.
“She was keen to be out of the Pod Room—”
“Yea, I imagine . . .”
“Says the smell was . . . not pleasant.”
That was more information than I needed. And I hadn’t yet started to form the scene in my mind. Jeez, I’d no idea of the horrors that later would hit me.
“Good ole British old dear, she took Fliss to the kitchen and made her a cuppa, and phoned the medical centre here, in town. And all that before I arrived to do the garden. As I say, when I got there the place was crawling. Scenes-of-Crime, patrol cars, couple of detectives, some technical units in a big van. Looked like the day the circus arrives. And there was Mrs Sharmin, wandering around, out of it—till they realised and took her.”
“But not you?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Just arrived, I’m the gardener, what do I know? They’d rather me out of the way. Shoo, go home, more or less said. But once they hear what Fliss has to . . .” He wrapped his arms over his head. “Sorry to dump this on you.”
“Dump? Hardly. But what’d you reckon? Was it a dagger? Did the Kredese kill him at Destination? I mean, he claimed the Kredese have daggers but I’d swear it’s only the Kerdolan. Was he caught trespassing?”
“It was Ken’s dagger,” he said.
“No. Dave, you don’t know that. Anyway, how? I mean, if it’s Ken’s dagger, then . . .” No, I couldn’t believe that. “Are you accusing Fliss of murder? But . . . How, with her stuck in that chair?”
“You think she can’t lean over? She’s not totally immobile—or haven’t you noticed?”
“Dave, no. She wouldn’t do that. She would not.”
“She talked of castration.”
“No!” Yet she had talked of killing him, too.