Wharram Percy was a small town, more a village really, that lay nestled in the rolling green hills of eastern Yorkshire. In any given year the population of tourists out-numbered the natives three-to-one, but the tourists trickled in throughout the seasons allowing the town to keep its rural charm. As with most Yorkshire towns, it had a claim to fame. For Wharram Percy this was the old mill, which staked its claim as the birthplace of hydroelectric power. But that didn’t interest Seymour Staines much.
He’d grown up in the coastal city of Hull where his nosey nature allowed him to make a name for himself as a detective on the force — before it got him kicked off twenty-seven years later. Too old to retrain, too stubborn to remarry, he’d wandered God’s Own Country doing odd jobs and keeping busy until he fell in love with Wharram Percy and its slow, peaceful lifestyle. They’d asked him to be the law but he didn’t think the town needed it, so he rode point on a Mr Whippy ice cream truck as he made his regular weekly rounds. It didn’t keep him as fit as walking a beat might — a few too many liberties taken with the stock had noticeably increased his girth — but people opened up more to a sweet treat vendor than they did to a uniform of authority, so the trade-off was worth it.
Yes, Wharram Percy had become his town and he’d come to know all the goings on in it as he made his regular rounds. Which was why this trip was so strange. He wasn’t scheduled to visit the mill today, but old Rigby Pemberton had seemed adamant. So Seymour had made time to come ‘round after his rounds to see what was what.
Rigby was a huge chap with long grey hair who managed the ticket booth at the mill. He’d been compared to a hippy version of Lurch from the Adamms Family on more than one occasion. Like Lurch, he was as gentle as the Andrex puppy. Unlike Lurch, Rigby liked wearing a monocle. No one could figure out why, as he didn’t dress the rest of the part.
By the time Seymour found time to make it to the mill, the early autumn sun had begun to set and the shadows were stretching long across the ground. The site was already looking like something out of an American Halloween special, despite the relatively newly adopted celebration still being over a month away.
As he pulled into the gravel parking area, Seymour noticed the old mill lamp was conspicuous in its absence that evening. Being as dependable as the sunrise, it was taken for granted, a barely-noticed fixture of the small town. For the first time in his memory, it wasn’t lit.
Suspicion aroused and senses alert, Seymour took a bottle of chocolate sauce in one hand, tucked a bottle of strawberry sauce in his belt as a backup weapon and climbed down from the truck, leaving the engine idling to keep the fridges running. Footfalls masked by the noise of the engine, he made his way as quietly as he could to the door of the mill.
In truth, he had no idea what he thought he’d find. It wasn’t like Wharram Percy was a hotbed of crime, the home of international drug syndicates or people trafficking rings or some-such. But something was wrong nonetheless. The hairs on the back of his neck tingled the way they used to all those years ago on the force and he never ignored his neck hairs.
The front door was closed and locked so he crept around the back, ears attentive for any movement but there was nothing apart from the soft rumble of his truck’s engine and the growing howl of the strengthening wind as the storm predicted for yesterday began to build in the northwestern sky.
Seymour found the back door already open, dangling askew as one of the hinges was torn off the door frame. Chocolate sauce at the ready, he crept carefully through the entrance and into the working part of the mill, where he stopped and listened.
He breathed a sigh of relief. It was quiet. There were no threatening voices, maniacal laughs, or desperate pleas for mercy. In fact, there was nothing. No whirring spindles of the famous water wheel, no footfalls or gentle mutterings from Rigby, no sounds of any kind save a dull, repetitive thud.
Throwing caution to the wind, Seymour eased around the wall to the light switches and turned them on, illuminating the entire interior. The place was a mess with an overturned table near the wall and tourist brochures scattered everywhere. Pictures had even been torn from the wall and flung to the floor where the glass had shattered.
“Rigby?” he yelled, deciding that any ner-do-wells had already left and his priority was to find the proprietor. There was no answer.
“Rigby!” he yelled again with a similar result.
A new kind of desperation filled him. The kind where one feared learning they were too late to prevent a tragedy. Seymour raced through the side rooms, finding nothing but more reckless vandalism, before finally venturing out into the wheel room and across the thick glass floor that had been installed to show tourists the operation of the horizontal water wheel down below.
Now it lay still, with a dark shape obscuring the wooden slats. he looked away and pinned his attention to the still trunk of the water-wheel spindle, ignoring a tingle passing up his spine. Suddenly it was clear, the pieces of the puzzle had come together to form a grizzly picture. The lamp’s power cut. The silenced water wheel. The dark shape blocking its progress.
Seymour hesitated, attempting to steady himself. He didn’t want his worst fears confirmed. He knew something horrible would be waiting to stare up at him from beneath the glass floor. Something that had once been a dear someone. The squirt bottle of chocolate sauce dropped from his hand as he finally stared down into the dead, drowned eyes of poor old Rigby, his monocle swimming in and out of his long grey hair, joining the bubbles in the stream.
Edwin H Rydberg
The police had taken almost an hour to arrive from Norton, the nearest community with a homicide squad. They’d done their due diligence in roping the place with yellow tape before remarking on what a shame it was. Another two hours were needed to find, wake, and transport someone qualified to climb through the trapdoor and get into the water to prise poor Rigby from the slats of the waterwheel. When they finally got him up his body was bloated and mangled and almost unrecognisable.
Seymour let the youngsters get on with the job of retrieving the body, dusting for prints, analyzing the scene for signs of a struggle, asking the text-book questions.
“How well did you know the deceased?”
“Can you think of anyone that might have wanted him dead?”
“Do you know if he owed any large sums of money?”
He had apologised to them, in the usual self-deprecating British way, for not having more information, but Rigby Pemberton was a stand-up guy. Kind, helpful, kept mostly to himself and loved the water wheel and sharing it with people. He was the kind of person anyone would want as their neighbour.
And suddenly, that was a troublesome thought.
Seymour excused himself from the bustle, retrieved a chocolate Magnum from the ice-cream truck and sat himself on the curb near the edge of the road overlooking the action. The cops still scoured the place for clues but he’d seen the scene and he didn’t hold a lot of hope for a quick solution. Right from the beginning, something had been wrong about this, but he’d been too worried about finding Rigby to think about it. Now, with time, space, and a bit of chocolate indulgence, he’d begun to realise what had bothered him.
Everything appeared to have been staged. Everything except Rigby’s death, that was. The break in, the signs of a struggle, the brochures scattered on the floor, it was all too perfect. Too many clues that led nowhere. It was all too convenient, too easy, and too meaningless. It was as if someone had been attempting to recreate what they thought a crime scene looked like after watching too much CSI: Miami.
Yet there was a real body, he’d seen it himself. The divers were fishing it out of the water even as he sat there licking the vanilla interior of his crunchy tempered chocolate treat. So murder appeared to be the goal and the victim was either a willing participant or caught totally by surprise. Neither of which made any sense from what he knew of Rigby. And that was the crux of the problem. What did he really know about Rigby?
He was the kind of person anyone would want as a neighbour.
How many times had that phrase made the evening news when describing a serial killer? While it wasn’t always the quiet ones, they did seem to make up a disproportionately large number of the perpetrators of unusual or extreme crimes.
Still, Rigby was the victim. If suicide was his goal, there were far easier ways than drowning yourself in the water wheel of a mill.
Clearly, something was missing from the equation.
Seymour finished up his ice cream and stood just as the authorities slid Rigby’s body into the ambulance and closed the doors behind him. The vehicle drove off down the gravel road moments later.
“Find anything?” he called to the detective who looked to be taking a pause before heading back in. She turned, watching his approach and he estimated from the taut skin of her face and the tired look in her eyes that she was about forty and a long time from green. That was refreshing. Too often the small towns got sent rookies that wouldn’t tie their shoelaces without checking regulations first.
“Just a waterlogged body and a lot of questions. You’re the guy who found him, right?”
“That’s right. Former detective Seymour Staines at your service.”
“Detective Stacy Knowles. Nice to meet you former detective Staines. Is that yours,” she asked, nodding toward the ice cream truck. “I could really go for a strawberry sundae about now.
“Anything for Yorkshire’s finest,” he said as they made their way to Mr. Whippy. He climbed in the back while she waited by the serving window.
“Can I ask what you were doing here at this time of night?” Detective Knowles said after he finished dispensing the soft ice cream.
“Rigby called me. Said he had something to talk about. Said it was urgent.”
He squirted on the toppings, added the spoon, and gave her the dish, waiving her offered payment.
“And you found him like that when you arrived?”
Seymour had already given a statement to her subordinate, which told him the police were out of ideas and were revisiting already tread paths. He told his story again anyway, in the name of cooperation.
“That matches what we found,” she said between mouthfuls. “And still leaves us with nothing to go on. If we don’t find any marks on the body, we’re going to have to write it up as ‘accidental’.”
He was about to object when she interrupted him.
“I know. Too many unanswered questions. But you know how thin we’re spread these days with all the budget cuts and being forced to respond to name-calling incidents for the sake of keeping the peace. It’s like the politicians don’t want us to solve actual crimes.”
All Seymour could do was nod and let her finish her ice cream. He’d watched the force degrade over the twenty-seven years he’d been a member and when they’d finally heard enough of his complaints, they’d removed him.
“Thanks,” Detective Knowles said, passing the empty cup back to him for disposal. “That really hit the spot. Look, I hate to ask a favour but we should be getting back to Norton tonight. Is there a next of kin we can pass his few items to? We’ve got this,” she said, showing him the monocle he’d seen floating in the water, “and a few bits of writing from his room. As far as we can tell, none of it is relevant to what little remains of this investigation.”
“He… uh, yeah sure. Hey, I can pass it on if you’d like. Save you guys the trip. The news might be easier coming from a friend, anyway.”
She thought a moment, clearly torn between duty and practicality, before finally agreeing.
“It’s against protocol, but yeah, that would be great. Here’s the monocle,” she said, placing in his hand the circular glass piece he’d last seen floating in the water near Rigby’s bloated body. It somehow felt larger, more significant knowing that he was holding the cherished possession of a dead friend.
“We found a few more like it in his office, along with a box of papers – nothing much on them, just scribbles, but maybe they’re important to next of kin. I’ll get someone to bring them out.”
“That’s great,” he said, turning the monocle over and over in his hand. He’d never understood why Rigby had worn the crazy thing. Most thought he wanted to look the classical gentleman, but then why not dress the rest of the part?
On a whim, Seymour held it to his eye.
“See anything interesting?” Detective Knowles asked.
He didn’t reply immediately, but the answer was most definitely ‘yes’.
Rigby’s meagre belongings were on the passenger seat as Seymour Staines pulled the ice cream truck into the last remaining space along West Row. Lights were still burning in the windows of some of the properties, but not at the home of Vivian Burns nee Pemberton. Was it worse to be woken from your sleep to hear bad news, Seymour wondered, or to hear it and be denied sleep at all?
Procrastinating, he glanced to the seat and the items he had to pass on. Would this odd assortment of belongings bring any sort of comfort to Vivian as she learned her brother was dead and worse, murdered? It seemed unlikely.
Seymour took one last look through the items, hoping something would jump out at him and explain why the apparently harmless Rigby Pemberton had met a watery end at the mill. Did it have anything to do with this box of papers? Perhaps, although if that were the case, why had the killer left them to be found?
Running his fingers through them again, Seymour caught sight of something he hadn’t noticed before. He’d dismissed it as a doodle, but now he realised that he had seen the simple design before. When he had put Rigby’s monocle into his eye, the same shapes had been formed on his vision; tiny scratches to the lens leaving a mark on his vision. He had mentioned them to Detective Knowles but they had both dismissed them as irrelevant to the crime.
Frowning, Seymour pulled the piece of paper out, and switched on the overhead light. He let his gaze wander over the other scribbles on the page, hoping a pattern would emerge. Sometimes you had to let your subconscious work a puzzle to get the solution. Certainly for now, the only ideas that came to his mind were coincidence, or Rigby sketching the damage that had been caused to his precious lens.
‘Enough!’ the sound of his own voice inside the cab of the ice cream van made Seymour wince, and he quickly gathered up the remaining pieces. He was too close to this case and was trying to rationalise away the death of someone he knew by making it more than it needed to be. He’d seen others to do the same. The most likely explanation for what had happened was someone trying to rob the mill, and Rigby being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As simple as that.
Clutching the other man’s belongings, Seymour left the truck and made for Vivian’s house. The gate squeaked; the sound unnaturally loud in the stillness. Staines could hear his own breathing as he walked up the tiled path and raised the brass knocker to let it fall.
The sound was answered almost immediately by the yapping of a small dog, joined just moments later by a deeper woof of a larger beast, then a light came on in the hallway.
‘Quiet! Get back now!’ Vivian’s voice quieted the animals, before she opened the door. Seymour watched her expression for the moment when she realised something was really wrong. The moment he could use to segue into his regret, mention of bad news, the careful dance that led the bereaved to understand what had happened.
‘Seymour?’ Vivian asked. Of course, Seymour realised, he was known in the village. His mere presence at her door wouldn’t be enough to tip Vivian off to the tragedy. He wasn’t a policeman any more, he was the ice cream man.
‘Vivian, could I come in? I’m afraid I’ve got some rather bad news…’
He saw the woman’s glance run over him, clocking the box of notes and the velvet wrapped monocle collection. He thought he saw understanding arrive. She stepped back, her voice sounding a little strained as she ushered the dogs through to the kitchen and shut the door, leaving Seymour to stand awkwardly in the entrance hall. There was the unmistakable smell of river mud, which Seymour traced to a pair of wellington boots placed carefully on newspaper just inside the door. His hand came up to rest on a wax jacket, still damp from time spent outdoors.
‘Sorry,’ Vivian’s voice came from the other end of the hallway. ‘They’re a little over excited. Prince saw a hare on his walk and didn’t want to come back…he’s usually so good.’ She was still dressed, Seymour noticed, so why had the house been in darkness?
‘Don’t worry. Can we go into the living room and sit down?’
Vivian swallowed, following the trail of breadcrumbs he was leaving her, preparing her as best he could for the shock that was about to come. She opened the door and led the way into the room, folding herself stiffly into an armchair.
‘What is it, Seymour?’ she asked, keeping her voice level even as she gripped the arm of the chair tightly.
‘As I said, bad news,’ Seymour began. ‘I’m afraid that I found your brother dead, earlier today.’
‘I see.’ Seymour knew Vivian had a reputation for being icy, but he had expected this news to penetrate her exterior, at least a little. ‘Heart attack, I suppose. It’s how our father and his brothers all died, there’s a condition that runs in the family. I don’t remember the name.’
‘No, I’m afraid not,’ Seymour replied. ‘I expect the police will be in touch with more information, they’ll have an investigation to conduct but…it looks like Rigby was killed.’
‘Killed? An accident?’
Vivian took a little, shuddery breath. For a moment, Seymour thought she was about to cry but a hard swallow later and she had steadied herself. ‘Why are you here and not the police?’
‘They thought it would be better coming from someone you know.’
‘Ah,’ Vivian nodded a few times, clenched her hands against the chair once more, and then let them come to sit gently in her lap.
‘I suppose I should go and make some tea. That’s what you do at a time like this, isn’t it?’
‘Is there anyone I can call?’
‘Yes. Thank you.’
Less than an hour later, Seymour was preparing to take his leave. Vivian had asked him to call Patsy Baker, the manager of the village gift shop and Vivian’s closest friend. Tea had been made and drunk, and Seymour had given diplomatic answers to the few questions that had come his way. It wasn’t his place to decide what was public information in this case.
Returning from taking his cup into the kitchen, Seymour walked past a dresser in the living room and noticed a shelf dedicated to family photographs. Rigby could be seen in some of them, his hair growing longer as the decades took their toll but the monocle was an ever-present identifying feature. It wasn’t only Rigby, however. A group shot taken in the 1970’s showed a collection of Pemberton’s against the backdrop of a walled garden and many of the men sported a single eyeglass.
Lifting the frame, Seymour showed the picture to Vivian. ‘I always wondered about the eyewear. It was a family thing, I see.’
‘Oh that,’ Vivian rolled her eyes. ‘Bloody boys club. That’s what the Pemberton family is. Fully grown boys pretending to be something they’re not, and Rigby is the worst,’ she paused. ‘Was. God.’
A reproachful look from Patsy was all the encouragement that Seymour needed to replace the frame, say his goodbyes and step out into the night. As he crossed the street and got back into the ice cream van, Vivian’s words echoed in his mind. A boy’s club. Pretending to be something they’re not. But pretending to be what?
Sliding his key into the ignition, Seymour turned it and the van fired into reluctant life. The overhead light was still on, and as Seymour reached up to turn it off, light reflected off something on the floor below. Bending down, he found a small scrap of paper that was tattered with age; one of Rigby’s notes. Looking guiltily towards Vivian’s house, Seymour unfolded it. It took him a moment to make any sense of the lines but suddenly he saw it. A sketch of the ground floor of Wharram Percy water mill.
Not something that Vivian would want; Seymour decided. Still he didn’t think the time was quite right to part with this piece of Rigby’s life, either. Putting the paper carefully into the glove box, Seymour turned off the interior light, and pulled out to make his way home. Violent crime rarely made sense, but perhaps he’d be able to understand it all a little more in the morning.
Hull was a relatively out of the way place and, thanks to the North/South motorway network avoiding the place, was hardly the crime hub of Britain. However, that didn’t mean that it escaped the same sort of crimes that infected the rest of the country. Drug usage fuelled its own long list of problems which people tried to ignore and, thanks to the criminal status of the narcotics, tended to be kept out of the public eye. While Seymour had been a member of the police department there he had witnessed more than his fair share of things that had kept him awake at night. Violent rapes, assaults and murders were not uncommon and the cases of child abuse had occasionally pushed him to the edge of the fine line between law-abiding detective and vengeance-seeking vigilante. But since his enforced retirement, and subsequent divorce from his wife, he had soon got used to the pleasures of peaceful nights where sleep wasn’t disturbed by images of broken and violated children or the loud aggravating sonorous tones of his wife’s almost inescapable snoring.
But tonight was different. What sleep he’d been able to find had been filled with surreal dreams of dead bodies, monocles, dark but faint blurred lines and indistinct maps. His unconscious mind was trying to make sense of things that his conscious brain had ignored. Seymour’s bedroom was totally dark apart from the faint red light given off by his alarm clock. Screwing up his face he focused on the numbers and released a barely audible curse as he saw that it was only 4 am. It was far too early but thanks to his active mind he was wide awake.
Deciding that any attempts to go back to sleep would be futile he got up in an attempt to see if his waking mind could make sense of messages that his dreams were sending him. Whatever it was, the words seemed to be written in fog so he needed to ensure that he transferred the subliminal to his luminal and ensure that it wasn’t lost forever, leaving only a swirling mist of lost ideas in the back of his memory.
Having removed his covers he immediately regretted it. His bedroom was cold and his first instinct was to give going back to sleep, under his warm quilt, one more try. But he knew that he’d be wasting his time and, besides, he had an idea.
Seymour’s laptop computer was hardly the latest of specifications but even if it had been it would have been wasted on him. He was the type of person that was literate enough to turn it on and surf the internet. Anything else was witchcraft or the domain of nerds. He had an email account but only ever used it for ordering stock, although he still had to spend several minutes a day simply going in and blocking all the spam accounts that insisted on trying to sell him Bitcoins, treatments for illnesses that he’d never heard of, or invitations from people who could be women, but were more likely male hackers from China offering to show him dodgy photographs of females in various stages of undress.
Ignoring the junk folder for the moment he decided to get on with his research. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite sure where to begin. He started off by looking into the origins and history of monocles. Although it was interesting and informative it did nothing to further his investigations and allow him to force his crazy dreams to make any more sense than they had when he’d first surrendered to wakefulness. After all, he already held the stereotypical view of the type of person that wore them. They were either upper-class snobs, upper-class villains, or both, and none of those clichés would have accurately described Rigby Pemberton.
Then, breaking only to ensure that his cup was kept full of hot black coffee, he started to look online at the history of the mill. Perhaps there was a helpful snippet of information not mentioned in the brochures but although Wikipedia had an entry it looked like it had taken most of the data from the tourist pamphlet, or vice versa. The mill had a long history and had, up until WWII, been used for its intended purpose. It had closed and then fallen into disrepair for several years before the community collected enough money to buy it and complete the required renovation work. Seymour had seen all that had been done to make it what it was, so he couldn’t help wonder how many jumble sales and raffles they’d needed before they’d raised the required funds.
Finally, rubbing his eyes, he looked around his dining room and saw that daylight had made the single light bulb, above his head, redundant. Looking at the old dome cased clock on the bookshelf he saw that it was 7.30 am and he began to wonder where the time had gone. Surely, he mused, he hadn’t been online that long? Then, before despair could fill his mind, he decided to have a look at any digital maps that related to the hand-drawn one he’d saved from earlier. Almost immediately he saw something that seemed to jolt his analytical brain like an electric shock. The image was of a map of someplace in Paris but it had dark lines on it that made him curious. Clicking on the image he opened up a website and saw something that seemed to make the jigsaw puzzle of images inside his head begin to come together and form a picture; still unfathomable to him but it was there. He felt like shouting eureka and dancing around the room but, even though he was alone, he had no desire to look, or feel, foolish.
Spending a few more minutes studying the website he allowed himself to release a victorious fist-pump into the air before he picked up his mobile phone and began to carefully dial the number that was on the screen.
“Hello, good morning, is that Professor Greenhaugh?” He cheerfully began, expecting the same sort of response from the person at the other end of the line.
“Errr, yes I do realise the time. It is almost 8 am.” The humour in his voice fading in response to the less than happy response of the professor.
“Well, I suppose, as it is the weekend, you might be wanting a lie in and it might seem like the crack of dawn to you but I have seen your website and I have a problem. It is important and I think you can help me.” He quickly moved the phone away from his ear so as not to be deafened by the long, and loud stream of abuse that he’d never have expected from someone with a doctorate.
“No professor, I assure you that I am not just some crossword enthusiast that is stuck on a clue and have come to you to work it out. My name is Seymour Staines and I am investigating a suspicious death.” There was a pause as he listened to the professor before he raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Yes sir, very good. See More Stains, I see what you did there, very clever sir,” he said, the sarcasm heavy in his voice, “and no, technically I am not a police officer, I am an ice cream man.” He paused again as he let the professor resume his swearing tirade.
“Yes sir, I do appreciate that it is unusual for someone who drives an ice cream van to investigate a murder and I know that the police do not reciprocate by selling 99’s from their cars but if you will just let me explain.”
Although the description of his dream, subsequent research, and solution wasn’t formulated as coherently as he’d have liked, the professor listened patiently. Seymour had seen on the website that the professor seemed to be vain and egotistical so he ensured that he played on those traits as he talked and, much to his relief, the professor finally acknowledged that he’d grasped the gist of what he’d just heard. Even better, he had accepted the challenge to decipher it all.
“You’ll come and see me? That is brilliant, thank you so much. It says on your website that you live in Leeds so do you think that you could come straight away?”
After finalising details and arranging to meet the professor at the mill in a few hours, Seymour put down his phone and began to pensively chew on his bottom lip. Now that he was no longer focusing on it he was beginning to think that his original idea might not be as clever as he’d thought. He just had to hope that, when the professor started to look at things he didn’t end up looking like a complete idiot. But Seymour knew he didn’t have the luxury of self-doubt. Going to a kitchen drawer he rummaged amongst the junk finally finding a magnifying glass that he put in his pocket.
Next, he had to go see Vivian and try to borrow the monocles and a photograph. Then he had to contact Detective Knowles and hope she didn’t think he’d gone insane. It looked like it was going to be a long and busy day.
“You’ve only just given these stupid things back to me,” said Vivian, with more than a note of irritation in her voice. “Why do you want to look at them again?”
“Well, who wears them nowadays or even did back then? The Penguin? Colonel Mustard? German officers in amateur theatricals?”
Seymour laughed. “You may have a point there, Vivian. Still, the men in your family seemed very attached to them. Were they fans of Karl Marx, by any chance? He used to sport one, I believe.”
“Marxists? You can’t be serious! Landed gentry, most of the Pembertons, huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ types and determined to keep it all in the family. But you haven’t answered my question. What good are the monocles to you now?”
“Just a theory I’d like to explore,” replied Seymour, reaching for the box. “It might help with one line of enquiry. And, to help with another, would you mind if I borrowed that photograph we were looking at yesterday? There’s someone I’d like to show it to.”
“The Pemberton boys’ club, do you mean? What’s so interesting about that?”
“Maybe nothing, but I’d really like to know where the photograph was taken.”
“I have no idea, I’m afraid.”
“Do you mind if I take it out of its frame to see if there’s anything written on the back?”
“Well yes, actually I do mind. Go on if you must, but be careful, won’t you? It’s an old frame and quite fragile.”
“Of course I’ll be careful.” He took out the Swiss Army knife he always carried in his trouser pocket and selected the right tool. A single rusty screw had held the cardboard backing in place and he handed it to Vivian for safekeeping.
“Aha! What have we here?” The writing was so faint and spidery that Seymour, even screwing up his eyes, couldn’t make it out. “Sorry”, he said, “I’ll just get my magnifying glass from the van, unless you’ve got some reading glasses I could borrow?”
“I’ve never needed any,” she snapped. “Why don’t you try one of the monocles?”
Seymour chose one at random from the box and tried to hold it between the socket of his right eye and the soft skin between upper eyelid and bushy brow. It promptly fell out again and, even when he succeeded at the third attempt, felt very odd. By the time he had mastered the technique, he might just as well have got what he needed from the van, but then he would not have made the discovery that this monocle, just like the one worn by the late Rigby Pemberton, bore some tiny scratches. Excited, he tried a second and a third with the same result. Each set was different, though. Could they possibly form part of a complete picture when combined?
“Can’t you see well enough with any of them?” asked Vivian impatiently. Not wishing to share his discovery with her, he shook his head. Professor Greenhaugh was going to be very intrigued, though.
“Can you name any of the people in the photo?” he asked. “Particularly the men. Apart from your brother, I mean.”
“Some of them,” she said. “Pass it over. Well, there’s Uncle Digby and his son Jago, Uncle Peregrine with Peter and Harry and a few other cousins … Simon, Timothy, Neville, Carl – Oh, and right at the end there’s Jean-Philippe.”
“On his mother’s side. Product of a wartime romance, I think, but I don’t know much about him except that he loved pistachio ice cream. Funny, isn’t it, how little things stick in your mind? It’s such a popular flavour in France but not so easy to get hold of over here. I don’t suppose you carry any?”
Seymour shook his head. “And have you kept in contact with any of these men?”
“No. My brother used to, but I think they’re probably all dead by now. Rigby used to go to a lot of funerals and generally came home with their monocles. They must have left them to him in their wills, I suppose. That’s why he had such a large collection. I’d never given it much thought, before, but it’s curious, don’t you think?”
“Very curious. And what about Rigby’s will?”
“I don’t think he ever got ’round to making one.”
“So everything will come to you as his next of kin?”
“Yes. Not that he had much. I suppose the monocles might fetch a bit.”
“No other Pemberton men to pass them onto?”
“Not that I know of.”
“And the location of the photograph? Any ideas about that?”
“Not really. Most of the stately homes had walled gardens, didn’t they, to grow fruit and vegetables for the household? They’re used more for flowers these days, of course.”
“Don’t any stick out in your mind that you may have visited together?”
Vivian thought for a moment and then said, “Oddly enough, yes, but it was in Paris. Somewhere in the Marais district and full of medicinal plants. I think it had belonged to a monastery originally and then a school. Our next stop was Père Lachaise, which seemed a strange choice to follow with.”
“Yes. It was quite a hike. A couple of miles at least and I had blisters by the time we got there, but Rigby was keen to visit both. He’d been there before, or so he said, and wanted to check if they’d changed much. Apparently not, but he did make a few notes.”
“From all you’ve told me,” said Professor Greenhaugh, “I think we may be dealing with a tontine.”
“A what?” Stacy Knowles had been invited along to conform with protocol, the water mill still being closed to the public whilst the investigation was ongoing.
“To put it at its simplest, dear lady, a tontine is a pool of wealth in which any number of people may have a stake, but the one who outlives all the others receives everything.”
“It sounds like a recipe for murder to me,” said Seymour, who was equally grateful for the explanation, “but I doubt very much whether Rigby finished off any of his relatives.”
“Probably not,” said Stacy, “but what if he wasn’t really the last of the Pemberton men, as Vivian seems to think?”
“That’s certainly worth looking into, but just for now I’m more interested in that sketch you found of the ground floor here and the material you came across online. Paris, you said… Plenty of windmills in the old days, of course, but I can’t think of any water mills, unless you count a rather fine oil painting in the Petit Palais.” Looking at their blank expressions, the professor sighed and continued, “That’s an art gallery and the painting in question is by a 17th century Dutch master called Meindert Hobbema. Probably a red herring, though. Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“Do they even have ice cream trucks in Paris?” Seymour shifted in his seat and glanced over to Professor Greenhaugh’s laptop. “I mean I wouldn’t even know what the French version of the ice cream song would sound like.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Professor Greenhaugh snapped. “We’re trying to figure out the happenings and reasonings of your friends’ demise and what this Boy’s Club thing is and you’re talking about Paris ice cream trucks.”
“So, they do exist.” Seymour’s glance seemed to fade into the distance.
“Yes of course they exist. Look I will quite happily drive back to Leeds and forget all of this.”
“Sorry I am just really tired and there has been a lot to take in.” Seymour adjusted himself in his chair again.
“Also, would this not be better if we just went inside. As much as your ice cream van is a bizarre yet fun place to work and research, I’m pretty sure when she is done with her fifteenth phone call it will get a bit cramped in here.” Professor Greenhaugh gestured toward Detective Knowles.
Detective Knowles was pacing back and forth on the pavement talking quickly to whomever was on the other side. Seymour was undecided as to whether he should go and see what she was doing. He opted for a less personal space invading option and shouted out of the serving hatch window.
“Stacey.” Without looking towards him she raised her arm and held up one finger, “Stacey.” No response this time. On the third attempt, Detective Knowles snapped held her hand over the mouthpiece and screamed back towards Seymour.
“It’s nothing majorly important,” Seymour could see Stacey sigh, “I have just opened a new box of Twisters and wondered if you wanted one?”
Stacey mumbled some expletives under her breath and then put the phone back to her ear, “Okay sir, I have to run, I will keep you updated. Thank you.”
“So, is that a yes to the Twister?”
Stacey placed her phone back into her trouser pocket and started towards the ice cream truck. “Yes of course, but I’m not paying and we’re going inside.”
“It’s on the house and we’re going in the house” Seymour smiled as he threw her the Twister.
Seymour’s house was small and quaint in comparison to his extroverted personality and he fully understood why people didn’t think it suited him, but he was comfortable and that’s all that mattered.
As Professor Greenhaugh and Detective Knowles took their seat on the worn leather three-seater sofa and placed the papers, monocles and electrical devices onto the coffee table Seymour grabbed one of the many photographs from the wall above his mantlepiece as he placed down the photo of the Pemberton Boy’s Club.
“Are we doing this then?” Seymour glanced at the picture again. “Are we teaming up to solve this?”
“Well I have spoken to my super and he has given me some free reign on this as I think there is a lot more to what happened to your friend than a robbery gone bad,” Stacey said as he finished off the remnants of the Twister. “So yeah you can say we’re doing this. No idea is stupid so let’s spitball some now. We will treat this front room as ops base.”
“Well okay then, I think I should start with this. I didn’t want to say anything until I’d tried them all.” Professor Greenhaugh moved the box of monocles to the centre of the ornate oak coffee table. “Okay so as we know and saw before, each of these monocles has a scratch on the lense. These scratches are more uniform and precise to be accidental…”
“So, do you think they mean something?” Seymour interrupted.
“If you would’ve let me finish, I was getting there.” Professor Greenhaugh closed the top of his laptop and shifted forward on Seymour’s sofa. “First I looked through them to confirm the presence of scratches and then inspected the monocle closer.
“And what do you think you’ve found. I mean monocles with a scratch isn’t the biggest lead on Rigby’s death.” Detective Knowles scoffed.
“Yes, I understand that, but like I said I inspected closer. At first, what I thought were tiny imperfections on the brass wire of the monocles appear to actually be extensions of the scratches and just as I started lining them together, it started to actually make some kind of an image.” He carefully emptied the contents of the box onto the table and began linking and swapping around the monocles to line up where he thought they should.
“So, do you think this is like some kind of jigsaw puzzle?” Seymour said as he lurched over the table to see what was being formed.
“It is definitely looking like it, but so far I have just linked three out of the fifteen monocles, but let’s be honest they could really fit either way. This could take some time.”
“I’ll make the coffee.” Detective Knowles said acceptingly. “I mean it certainly isn’t a bad idea, but it could lead to nothing.”
“And I’ll get the ice creams.” Seymour said as motioned towards the door.
Before he could make it to the door Professor Greenhaugh shouted for him to wait and started scrambling around the room looking for something.
“What have you lost?” Seymour asked.
“Where is that picture of Rigby and the other Pemberton’s?” Greenhaugh asked while still searching himself.
“It’s on the mantle. Why do you need it?”
“I don’t need the picture exactly; I just need to know how many people are in the picture including Rigby.”
Detective Knowles was first to the mantlepiece and picked up the picture and told him there were sixteen people.
“I knew it. We are missing one monocle. Because of the indentations no matter which way they are placed together they are out of shape if there is an odd number. Whatever these lines link to make it is formed in a four by four square.”
“Wait, so if we are missing one, then if we figure out who in the picture is still around surely, they become prime suspect. Especially if your theory of a tontine is correct.” Seymour said as he began walking back into the room. He was predominantly directing the question toward Stacey as he knew this would require a bit more man power than the three people in the room. Even just to find out who the last remaining member is.
“That would take some time. Perhaps Vivian could help some more?” Stacey suggested. “Would she be willing to come and help?”
“I suppose it’s not that late. I could head round and see if she’d be willing to help identify some of the men or even shed some light on who might still be around.” Seymour picked up the picture from the mantlepiece and picked up his coat from his armchair. “I’ll head over there now and see if she can help. By all means help yourself to hot drinks. Be back soon.
Seymour decided to walk to Vivian’s house. He occasionally liked the stroll along the rambler’s path to help clear his head or to reminisce about years gone by and his early less political time on the force, but on this walk he couldn’t focus. All that he was thinking about was the death of his friend and how good it felt to be back on a case. He was excited.
When he reached the gate at the end of the field he pulled to open, but for some reason it was bolted shut. Confused he reached over and felt the padlock and attempted to pull it apart. No luck. This was the first time since his move to Wharram Percy that the gate was locked. Although he may have overindulged on knickerbocker glorys and a whole host of other frozen dairy products and even with a few more years of a sedentary lifestyle under his belt, Seymour could still move. He climbed the fence and vaulted over when at the top. He continued walking down the path behind Vivian’s house until he heard a banshee-like scream coming from the house.
He started running around to the front of the house, brushing past sharp thistles on rose bushes and could feel them scratch across his face when he ducked under Vivian’s secret garden-like archway. When he reached the door, it was hanging loose from the frame.
“Vivian?” Seymour shouted as he walked through the door. As he rounded the corner, he saw Vivian knelt down on the floor.
“Seymour.” Vivian said as she looked up to him displaying uncommon signs of emotion.
Before he could say anything more, he saw the blood and the body of a woman laid face down awkwardly in front of the log burner. It was Patsy Baker.
“I was upstairs cleaning up and I heard the door getting kicked open or barged open and then screaming. The man was asking where the monocles were. He clearly thought Patsy was me. That should be me.” Vivian said close to tears now.
“It’s okay, this isn’t your fault,” Seymour said in an attempt to help remove any burden of guilt. “I’ll call Detective Knowles she is heading the case of your brother. I can’t help but assume this is related.” He got out his phone and dialled Stacey.
Seymour tilted his face towards the shower head, the stream of water flushing away his nightmare: a broken circle of monocles singing the Marseillaise and dancing around him, had segued into a pursuit by a wolf-hound and chihuahua, barking as they chased him towards a cemetery. With the whiff of garlic in his nostrils, he’d only had time to read the name ‘Pemberton’ on an ornate tombstone before savage bites at his thigh and ankle woke him up.
Turning off the shower, he brushed back his thinning wet hair and stepped onto the chill, tiled floor. Once dry, he wrapped his towel around him, ends barely meeting to cover his modesty. Yet another piece of fabric apparently shrunk in the wash. He’d have to get Eric down the road to look at his machine.
Padding along the corridor, he knocked at the door of his own bedroom, “Bathroom’s free,” and received a sleepy female grunt in response.
Of course, it hadn’t taken Stacey Knowles and the Prof long to get round to Vivian’s house last night, but by the time the rest of the police crew had arrived, done their forensic bit, and interviewed all concerned it was 2am. So, Seymour had offered the Prof and Stacey a place to crash locally. Being the gentleman (ahem) he was, Seymour had taken the sofa, leaving his two bedrooms to his guests.
Seymour dressed quickly, his trouser belt, already on its last notch, straining more tightly than usual.
He made himself a coffee, hesitated over the sugar and milk, then took it as unsullied black this morning. Once seated at the old pine table, enjoying the aromatic Arabica, he perused the local rag, its crash and thump on delivery being what had woken him up. He sat with his back to the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window, his head still muzzy from two nights of broken sleep.
News of Rigby’s death had made it to the paper, an old photo of him appearing on the front page, sporting a monocle, dressed in white, captain of a winning cricket team. There were no criminal details, the reporter’s story focusing on ‘Tragic Passing of Well-Loved Local Villager’, continued on page 3. News of Patsy Baker had arrived too late for today’s edition. Reporters would, no doubt, be sniffing around later. Tomorrow’s paper would be interesting: would they link the two deaths?
Now revived by the caffeine, he fetched the monocles, photograph and map from their bookshelf hiding place behind some tatty paperbacks. He was vaguely aware that the grinding noise of the shower had cut out, as he studied the writing on the back of the photograph using the magnifying glass he’d retrieved from the van.
The script was old-fashioned, the spidery lines difficult to decipher, even with magnification. He could make out some of the names Vivian had mentioned, but there were also some foreign words: French? Italian? He’d never been good with languages. Interpreting had been his ex-wife’s job on their holidays. Though she hadn’t been that able either, from what he remembered, simply shouting louder in English. Come to think of it, she’d always been a bit of a foghorn.
“Morning.” Stacey greeted Seymour as she sat down next to him.
“Sleep ok?” he asked.
“Not bad, but the church tolling every quarter hour didn’t help.”
“Ah yes. The curse of country living. It took me a while to get used to the bells, and crowing cockerels, and baa-ing sheep, when I moved here from Hull. The hardest thing was coping with the lack of traffic noise and sirens…”
He shook his head clear of reminiscence. “Fancy a hot drink? Something to eat?”
“Tea please. White no sugar. And toast. I’ll have to get back to work soon.”
As Seymour prepared breakfast, the shower’s complaining started up again. He noticed Stacey sifting through the items on the table.
“So,” he said casually, placing bread in the toaster, “do you think Patsy’s murder was a case of mistaken identity?”
“I’m sorry, Seymour. You, of all people, know I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation.”
He placed the tea in front of her, the mug emblazoned with the logo of a well-known ice-cream. Stacey smiled her thanks. She had a very attractive smile.
“Only,” he continued after a short pause, “there’s a lot that doesn’t add up.”
Stacey theatrically clapped her hand to her mouth.
“Ok. You don’t have to say anything. But you can listen.”
He counted on his fingers. “One: Vivian’s back garden gate was locked. Never has been before.”
“Two: the front door looked kicked in. Wouldn’t thieves either break a window, a lot easier, or ring the doorbell then force their way in?” Stacey sipped her tea, her eyes fixed on Seymour. He was distracted briefly by the intensity of her gaze before continuing, “Three: Vivian said she was cleaning upstairs at the time of the murder. Surely you don’t clean while you have a guest downstairs, even if she’s a good friend.”
“Maybe Vivian felt she could leave Patsy to her own devices since she was such a good friend.”
They were both startled by the snap of toast popping up. Seymour dashed around the kitchen, almost throwing crockery, cutlery, butter, toast and marmalade at Stacey, before settling down again.
“Four: Vivian said she heard the door bursting open and a scream. She didn’t mention her squeaky front gate or her two dogs who were happy barking at me when I first visited. So did the dogs know the intruders?”
“Maybe she forgot to say because she was distressed,” Stacey spluttered out through a mouthful of toast. “And why would people she knew break in anyway?”
“Five,” Seymour ploughed on, “if they did know Vivian, then why murder Patsy? Unless Patsy was the target all along?”
Stacey raised an eyebrow.
“Six,” Seymour started on his other hand, having to put down his coffee to do so, “how do we know it wasn’t Vivian who murdered Patsy, making up the story about intruders to cover herself?”
“Yes, that crossed my mind too. We’ve taken steps-”
“Seven, going back to my first visit, Vivian’s house was in darkness, yet she was fully clothed and had apparently just walked the dogs in pouring rain. What’s all that about?”
“It does seem odd-”
“Eight,” Seymour interrupted again, “she hardly reacted at all to news of her brother’s death, but was devastated about Patsy. If she did murder her, maybe it was tinged with guilt.”
“Ok.” Stacey shot up, the chair rocking backwards. “You’ve made some interesting points. I must press on. Thanks for bed and breakfast.”
“See you later? Free strawberry sundae?”
“Maybe.” The front door slammed behind her.
Footsteps clattered down the stairs. “Was that Stacey?” asked the Professor.
“Just missed her… Breakfast?”
“Splendid idea. Eggs, lightly scrambled with smoked salmon. Earl Grey tea with lemon and honey.”
“Toast and builder’s tea coming right up.”
* * *
Thanks to the warmth of the Indian summer, the ice-cream vending business was booming.
Seymour had left the Professor at the kitchen table, studying the monocles, map and photograph, laptop open, ready to surf the net for answers. He’d assured Seymour that with his linguistic proficiency and facility at reading old-fashioned script, he’d decipher the scribblings on the back of the photo in no time.
He’d then added, “I noticed a magnificent view of the church from my bedroom window. Gothic style I believe. I’ll toddle over and take a dekko, and reccy the graveyard too… then pop over for an ice-cream later.”
From Seymour’s pitch near the tourist sites, there’d been no sign of Stacey, but he’d seen a greater than normal traffic of police, nosey-parker members of the public and reporters. Even the locals had indulged at the van: the gossip was of the murders, but Seymour hadn’t gleaned any additional information. At least trade was brisk, to the benefit of his cash-till. Seymour, himself, had fancied a 99, but showing considerable restraint, was making do with an ice-lolly, during a quiet moment.
A lanky man, with greying dark hair, approached the van. Placing his sunglasses on his head, he squinted at the price list.
“Do you serve pistachio ice-cream, please?”
He was well-spoken, with a slight foreign twang.
“Sorry no. I do have a crushed nut topping, though. Maybe try it with chocolate ice cream?”
After the exchange of goods and money, Seymour asked, ‘Have you come far to visit us today?’ Part of his customary, and indeed customer-y, patter.
“Not really.” The man’s face twitched with what appeared to be a nervous tic. He rubbed his eye. Noticing Seymour’s gaze, he added, “I’m a martyr to my allergies.”
“Oh dear, what a shame,” Seymour observed, but the hair at the back of his neck was rising in its tell-tale way. And he’d clocked that when the man had wrinkled up the bottom lid of his right eye, it was almost as if… he was trying to hold in a monocle.
Seymour was distracted by a text arriving on his battered phone. It was Professor Greenhaugh. Given the importance of the matter, he’d felt it only right that the professor be one of the small group of people he shared his number with.
Reverse of photo is title of another painting hanging in Petit Palais: “Soleil dans le nuit”. Definite lead. I’ll keep digging.
He tried to mentally match these words to the scrawl he remembered on the back of the photo, then dropped the phone back into the pocket of his apron. He had a lead of his own. He watched the stranger move away from the van, pause below the Mill’s hydroelectric bulb, pass slowly by an open window then settle on a bench by the back door. Was he listening in on a conversation? If so between whom? The answer suddenly walked through the back door in the shape of Detective Knowles and Vivian Pemberton. As soon as they were a few metres away the man began to follow. Seymour gave chase himself.
“How was the ice cream?” he asked, catching the man and matching him stride for stride. His slender companion visibly jumped.
“Ice cream? Fine, absolutely fine.”
The accent was certainly French and the outline of the monocle clearer in the light. There was something delicate about him, a fragility to his bone structure like that of a bird. Seymour wasted no time.
‘Look, I wouldn’t suggest following Vivian whilst she’s with Detective Knowles. You’re hardly going to get away with another murder with Police about. I should know.’
He flashed his old spare police badge, pinned to the inside of his apron. The man paled and tried to take another direction.
“What? Please… leave me in peace.”
“Maybe you didn’t see my badge properly. Maybe you should fetch that monocle of yours out and take another a look.”
There was a moment of stillness between them. Seymour pressed his advantage.
“You could try running. But where are you going to hide in Wharram Percy? Detective Knowles is too close to try anything stupid with me. Such a dilemma.”
He looked panic stricken now.
“You’ve got the wrong man! I took the monocle, I admit it. I was trying to gain more information by listening in on the detective, but that’s all.”
“Huh. Shall we walk and talk then? It’s such a lovely day for the time of year.”
And so they walked the path that passed from the Mill through the grounds of the church, Seymour’s easy gait contrasting sharply with the staccato steps of his companion. It was immediately clear Seymour’s spare police badge and his knowledge of the monocle had been enough to loosen the man’s tongue.
“I simply came to take what was rightly mine and Rigby was already there in the water.”
“You were at the Mill that night?”
“Yes. But I am a peaceful man, a man of God. My name is Father Victor Gallot.”
He bowed slightly and succeeded in recovering some of his composure.
“I’m convinced I disturbed the real murderer when I entered the Mill. He must have escaped with the Oeil de Dieu, but he left the entire collection of lenses behind. Not long after I arrived I heard someone else pass the door. Knowing I would be an immediate suspect I fled taking the master lens.”
He retrieved his monocle from his waistcoat just long enough for Seymour to glimpse it.
“So this monocle is the master lens…for…?”
“The Oeil de Dieu. It cannot be operated without it.”
“And how long before you decided to violently steal the rest?”
Father Gallot simply shook his head.
“Let me get this straight. You admit you were at the scene of the crime on the night in question and stole one of the monocles. Yet we are supposed to believe you had nothing to do with stealing the remaining monocles or either murder? Come on, sir.”
“It’s the truth.”
“I see. Well, I have two options for you. One — I can take you down to the station and take an official statement. Or two — we can just keep walking and talking and see where that takes us.”
So, they continued out of the Church grounds and down the country lane towards Nether Percy.
“I presumed if you were aware of the monocles you would know all about the Oeil de Dieu,” the priest said. “Literally it means ‘Eye of God’. It was the work of one man — noted physicist, religious theorist and my great grandfather, Léon Gallot.
“Of course, he knew his contemporary Wilfred Pemberton quite well. He was a talented dowser and naturalist, and they shared an interest in Quintessent springs. They developed a number of concentration gradient maps together, including the Spring that rises into the river beneath your very Mill.”
The map of the Mill’s ground floor with its graduated shaded lines immediately came to Seymour’s mind as Victor continued, now in a frostier tone.
“But the development of the Oeil de Dieu had nothing to do with Wilfred Pemberton, no matter what the family says. They have no claim on it, especially with a Gallot still drawing breath.”
Seymour disguised his increasing bafflement with a knowing smile and a shake of the head. It was a trick he had mastered in the past, when interrogating suspects without much of a clue. It never failed to squeeze more out of them.
“You’ve heard of Jean-Phillippe Pemberton, officer?”
“Of course. A product of an anglo-french wartime romance wasn’t he? French on his mother’s side I believe?”
“Well he was not the only product of an anglo-french love affair. My grandmother was English, but I never knew my grandfather. A year of exhaustive research finally revealed him to be an unmarried childless French Naval officer of the name of… Gallot.”
“And so you have come to reclaim this Eye of God device. How did it come to be in the hands of the Pembertons?”
“Léon Gallot set up a tontine to protect the Oeil de Dieu when he died, each male heir in the Gallot family was to hold a single lens as an equal stake in the device. He believed God would preserve the most worthy man to operate his invention. When the Pembertons became aware of their forebearer Wilfred and his professional connections with Léon they sought it out. They found it languishing in a museum collection, with no known Gallot heir to wield it. Until now.”
“The Pembertons only wish to use it for personal gain, just as Wilfred Pemberton would have done. That was never its true purpose”
“And what was that purpose?”
“To gaze into future days. To see and help realise God’s plan.”
Seymour could suddenly picture this kind but deluded man in his pulpit looking down upon a congregation. He was clearly eccentric, but was he capable of murder?
“Look into future days how?”
“To understand fully I would need to show you my great grandfather’s notebooks, recovered when I visited his cottage and walled garden in Paris, the Soleil dans l’eau. It is built over one of the most powerful Quintessent springs in all France.’
As soon as the name of Léon’s cottage was out of his mouth Seymour could match it, see it scrawled in an untidy hand on the reverse of the photograph. It made sense given the Pembertons were pictured posing in what looked like a walled garden, clearly on a visit to Gallot’s former home.
So this was strange. Had Professor Greenhough simply made a mistake in his text? It wasn’t the first time he had tried to shift Seymour’s attention to the gallery in Paris though. Seymour felt a sudden discomfort in the pit of his stomach. He tried to distract himself by focusing on Victor’s increasingly incredible monologue.
“Wilfred Pemberton was the first to discover the unusual qualities of Quintessent Springs, but it was Léon who understood the coalescence of sunlight and water represented the meeting of the divine with the worldly. He theorised this essence passed deep into the earth before being released to the surface in springs.
“The model of creation Léon adopted allowed for God’s great plan to be directed at a microcosmic level by the will of man. The Quintessent springs were the point of connection between heaven and earth. It took my great grandfather a decade to perfect a device that could read God’s plan in the waters, and by that time Wilfred had proved himself truly unworthy to share in the discovery.”
By this time they had reached the outskirts of Nether Percy, and stood beneath the sign pointing out to tiny Percy on the Willows. Father Victor seemed to relax, having unburdened himself of so much.
“Well officer, if you mean to take me in now’s the time. My dwellings are but a few metres down the lane.”
Seymour tried to think clearly. Of course he didn’t for a moment believe the claims made for these so-called divine springs, or the existence of a device for looking ahead and reading God’s great plan in their waters. Yet he was just as sure Victor himself believed every word that he was saying. He would certainly inform Stacey immediately of his presence in the village, but the man didn’t seem to pose any immediate danger.
“Don’t be surprised if you receive an informal visit tomorrow for your own protection. Keep your doors well locked tonight. Whoever has the monocles and the device itself in their possession will be looking for the master lens.”
As the two parted ways, Seymour felt pleased his police routine had opened up so many new paths of investigation. Yet he couldn’t keep a face from appearing in his mind, somebody who suddenly made him uneasy. It wasn’t Victor’s face, though questions remained to be answered. It wasn’t Vivian’s face, though the last Pemberton’s account of the incident at her home seemed so full of holes. No, he found the face that truly troubled him to be that of the Professor.
Edwin H Rydberg
Seymour woke to the dawn light through his window after a restless night filled with bizarre dreams. Not since his days on the force had he dreamed as much as he had lately.
This dream had begun with two shadowy figures working together feverously over a forge only for each to pick up the weapon they’d built, stand back to back, and march ten paces before turning and shooting. As each was hit they exploded into glittering confetti that fell to the ground triggering the eruption of magical well-springs. Each well-spring soon spawned a monocle that gleamed like sunlight sparkling off water; five groups of three that floated in the air before joining together in a spinning circle. The entire scene folded in on itself to form a tube that the monocles flew down. His gaze had followed them before discovering a powerful and malevolent eye at the end. The eye then retreated revealing the laughing face of Professor Greenhaugh.
That’s when he woke up sweating.
“Imagine if I’d had something stronger than a cuppa before bed,” he said to the quiet morning air as he pulled himself out from under the comfortable sheets.
And it was quiet. Despite his misgivings about Greenhaugh, it was nice having him and Stacey — Detective Knowles — in the house yesterday. He’d forgotten how much he enjoyed having other people around.
After a shower and breakfast, Seymour washed the dishes while losing himself in the peace of nature out the kitchen window. A moment of relaxation before he returned to the reality of a double homicide in his sleepy northern town.
Despite the unseasonal warmth, the leaves were still turning colour and there appeared to be a gentle wind. The sky was a calming blue with large, white clouds floating through it. Just outside his window, he could see two birds fighting over a small branch.
Watching their squabble took him back to the beginning of his dream and the family feud that Father Gallot had described in a far more colourful way. The truth of whatever had actually happened was lost to the fog of history, but perhaps he had a chance to mend old wounds. After all, there was one surviving member of each family. Surely it would be in their better interests to bury old and unknown grudges and work together.
He finished up the dishes, grabbed his coat and headed out the door.
* * *
“Thanks for doing this, Vivien,” Seymour said, as they walked through the forest path between Upper and Nether Percy. The area was yet another scenic playground in the wonderful world of Wharram Percy and a favourite morning destination for local walkers.
“He’s a priest,” she said, by way of explanation, “and he knows something of my family history. If he knows anything that could shed light on what happened to poor Rigby… well, how could I not talk with him?”
Once he’d understood that Vivien was the last surviving Pemberton and that all the male heirs were dead and the tontine broken, Father Gallot had been more than happy to invite them around for lunch. ‘Nothing fancy’, he’d said. But he sounded eager to discuss his great grandfather’s invention with Vivien.
As they reached Percy on the Willows an enticing aroma filled the air minutes before their destination came in sight.
Father Gallot’s house was a modest building with a modest garden that could even be considered small for Wharram Percy. It had an immaculate white picket fence and a colourful array of perennials still in bloom. Their host awaited them with a large smile.
“Come, come,” he said, waving them forward. “It is great to see you my friend,” he added, addressing Seymour before turning to Vivien. “And this must be the beautiful lady Pemberton,” he exclaimed, taking her hand gently between his before giving her a peck on each cheek.
“You’re too kind Father Gallot.” Vivien said, blushing despite herself, but Father Gallot had already turned back toward the house, motioning them to follow.
“Please, we are all friends here. Call me Victor. Now, first we eat, then we will talk of la chose magnifique — the wondrous invention of my ancestor.
The meal began with a flavourful onion soup, followed by beautifully cooked chicken with potato dauphinoise, topped off with a selection of cheeses. At all times there was white wine and crispy bread on the table and friendly conversation from their host.
By the time they’d finished and Seymour pushed away from the table, content, it was mid-afternoon. He was feeling happy and comfortable and he had to remind himself they’d come here for a reason.
But Victor hadn’t forgotten. “Please. We have eaten. Now we have interesting things to speak of.”
“Yes,” Vivien chimed in. “Seymour tells me your ancestor was an inventor. That his invention might have had something to do with poor Rigby’s death?”
“Alas, madam, I fear this may be true,” he said, before reciting the same story he’d told Seymour the previous day.
“That is fascinating,” Vivien said when Victor had finally finished. “It sounds so magical. Would we be able to see this invention? Do you have any drawings of it or…”
“I can do better than that, my lady. Look, here is the master lens,” he said, holding it to the window so the afternoon light shone through it.
The thing almost seemed alive, like it really was the eye of some mythical creature. Inside, a rainbow of colours swirled about the centre in captivating patterns.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Victor said, passing it to Vivien so she could have a closer look. “But that’s only part of the wonder.”
Victor cleared the table and then, with a flourish, removed the table cloth. He unfastened the surface and stood it against a wall. The table support structure resembled the steering wheel of an ancient naval vessel. Only, there was something different about it. Seymour strained his addled brain, but he couldn’t figure out what it was trying to tell him.
“It’s a wheel,” Victor said, spinning it. “The working device is meant to be built over a Quintessent spring… a natural conduit of cosmic energy,” he explained, seeing their empty stares.
“Look,” Victor continued with great excitement, “each monocle has a place for it around the edge. They’re positioned at a precise angle to the axis so as to refract the Quin… cosmic energy from the source inward, toward the centre of the wheel, and onto the master monocle. Once enough energy is stored, the master monocle reveals a vision of the future. A window into God’s great plan.”
To support his claims, Victor rushed over to a bookshelf and pulled down a leather roll that he’d clearly been studying regularly. He unrolled it and pointed to an image of the device drawn on the roll.
“There. Beneath the wheel. Do you see? It shows a vision of the future.”
“Yes,” Vivien said, staring intently at the image. “It does look like a picture. Almost like it’s playing a movie.”
“It doesn’t look like a vision to me,” Seymour noted, still basking in the afterglow of a little too much wine. “Looks more like a door, I’d say. Some kind of gateway.” He stopped almost as soon as he’d said it, feeling rather foolish for getting caught up in this nonsense. But neither Vivien nor Victor reacted as he thought they might.
“Mon dieu. You might be right, monsieur. But if that is true, what type of doorway would the Eye of God open?”
“One to the centre of your soul?” Seymour ventured.
“Or the centre of the universe?” Vivien said quietly.
“Oh! What about between universes!” Seymour added, warming up to the game as he remembered a popular science show he’d just seen the other week. “Just imagine walking through to another Wharram Percy. With another you,” he said, giving Vivien a friendly poke in the side.
“Or another you,” she retorted with a playful but hard backhand to his belly.
“Hey, those hurt,” he said, noting the four rings she had on her right hand that had briefly embedded in his stomach fat. “You have to watch those things!”
Vivien turned to Victor. “I’m sorry father, I think the wine’s gone to his head. I should probably be getting him home before he becomes even less manageable. Thank you for your wonderful hospitality,” she said, climbing to her feet before attempting to help Seymour to his.
“Of course, of course.” Victor guided them to the door as Seymour leaned a little too heavily on Vivien. “I had a wonderful time, thank you so much for visiting me. We must do this again soon.”
It took them twice as long to walk home as it had to arrive in the first place but by the time they reached his house, the fog of the wine had cleared from his mind.
“Thanks, Vivien,” he said, sheepishly. “Sorry for the….” He mimed elbowing her in the ribs.
“That’s okay, just don’t let it happen again,” she said, turning to leave before turning back. “Oh, and Seymour.”
“If you want to use me as a crutch again, please take it easy with the ice cream,” she added, before closing the gate behind her.
As she faded into the early evening dusk, he went inside to prepare a light dinner.
* * *
The sun was setting and the colourful oranges and pinks fading to dark as Seymour sat staring at the blank screen of his TV. After a garden salad and a cup of tea he’d sat himself back in his favourite chair, his brain fixating on the meeting with Victor. Seymour couldn’t help but feel he was missing something and his brain wouldn’t let him move until he figured out what it was.
His mind roamed back to the setting as if it was the scene of a crime. The three of them sitting by the table, staring at the parchment, looking at the wheel. He imagined it spinning, with each monocle focusing energy to the centre.
That’s when it hit him; the odd feeling of similarity that had escaped him! If one turned the table on its side it was a model of a water wheel!
And Victor had said there was a strong Quintessent spring under the mill!
A sudden feeling of dread washed over him. The investigation of Rigby’s murder had moved on from the mill, but the area was still cordoned off. Meaning there were no visitors and no police. Perfect for anyone who wanted to act without being disturbed.
Perfect for anyone who had recently stolen some monocles that weren’t what they seemed to be, and who wanted to test an old theory! Seymour leapt from his chair, grabbed his coat and raced out the door for the ice cream truck.
The drive was just long enough for his mind to run through all manner of thoughts. Until today, this had been a straightforward double-homicide. Now it seemed to be going someplace altogether darker. Was Greenhaugh masterminding this? Or could it be friendly Father Gallot?
Five minutes later Seymour was parked before the police roadblocks just out of sight of the mill. Under cover of dark, he wasted no time in sneaking across the grounds, approaching the mill from opposite the water wheel.
He heard voices coming from ahead and he tread carefully as he crept around the building.
As he rounded the final corner, the waterwheel came into sight. It was lit by a shimmering semi-circle of torches and there were a half-dozen cloaked figures near it. One of them was just finishing fitting something to the edge of the stationary wheel.
From Seymour’s vantage point, the edge of the waterwheel sparkled in the torchlight and he had a sinking feel he knew where the stolen monocles now resided.
One of the figures raised his arm and spoke in the deep, familiar voice of Greenhaugh. “The Body is in place, we have the Will. All we require now is the Guide and the Eye will open for us.”
As if on cue, another cloaked figure stepped from the shadows. Seymour gasped as the figure raised an arm to reveal the master monocle… and a slender hand wearing four large rings.
Stunned to inaction, he could only watch as the woman moved closer, her strong voice reciting, “With this final piece, we restore Your Eye. Gaze upon us, Oh Great One, and reveal your secrets.”
As she slotted the last monocle into place, a wave of energy pulsed outward. Seymour felt the world shiver as the wheel began to turn.
The way he saw it, Seymour had two options. One, he could go barging in, shouting the odds and hope that this bunch would come peacefully, which given they’d already murdered at least two people didn’t seem likely, or he could call in reinforcements. If he’d been a more organised person, he could have pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialled 999; but he didn’t have his phone.
Wracking his brains, Seymour tried to remember if he’d left it in the van – or was it still at home on the coffee table? A part of him knew that this was just adrenalin; he’d heard them say something about a body. Was someone else already dead, or were they about to be?
Think logically Seymour, he told himself. Panicking wasn’t going to make this bad situation any better. If he went in on his own he’d be overpowered, another victim. He needed help.
His arrival hadn’t interrupted them, so they probably hadn’t heard him pull up in the van or walk up the road over the noise of the water. If he was quiet, he should be able to get back to the van unnoticed. Then he could check for his phone, call Stacey if it was there, and sneak back to carry on watching. That was the best case scenario – get an ex-copper as an eye witness and your case was solid.
Of course if the phone wasn’t there, that was a whole different problem. But Seymour wasn’t one to borrow trouble, so he decided to deal with first things first and head back to the van.
He trod as lightly as he could walking back down the lane and past the roadblocks, and as he did a thought occurred to him. How had they all got there? Had they walked, or were their cars parked nearby. Maybe he could work out who else was in the mill, just by looking at the nearby vehicles.
Unlocking the van, Seymour pulled himself up into the driver’s seat. The interior light came on, illuminating the mobile phone on the passenger seat. Yes! Grabbing it, Seymour jabbed at the buttons to call Stacey, and put the phone to his ear.
He scanned the nearby streets as he listened to the phone try to connect, looking for cars that seemed out of place. He’d driven the streets of Wharram Percy often enough to know the native vehicles from the tourists.
He was so focused on that, he didn’t hear the words spoken when the phone was picked up on the other end. He blinked back to reality and started talking.
‘Stacey? It’s Seymour. Look, somethings up at the Mill. The Prof is there, with Vanessa, and a bunch of weirdos in cloaks. They said something about a body…’
‘Excuse me Sir, this is Lucky Dragon Chinese. You place order now?’
‘What? Stacey, this isn’t a good time to mess about.’
The voice on the other end took on a frosty tone that left Seymour in no doubt that, whatever else, they were not messing about.
‘You place order now.’
As tempting as the thought of a nice sweet and sour chicken was right now, Seymour realised what must have happened. He’d used his speed dial to call Stacey, and she was number 2. He must have hit number 1 by mistake, his favourite takeaway. Fat fingers and all that. He mumbled an apology and disconnected, then redialled the right number.
The ringing resumed, and this time Seymour kept his attention on it. Stacey usually had her phone in her hand, so he was expecting her voice to break in any second. It didn’t. The phone rang, and rang – and then finally it was answered.
‘You’ve reached the voicemail of DI Stacey Knowles. I’m sorry I can’t take your call, but leave a message.’
Seymour bit down on a curse word, exhaled a sigh and waited for the beep.
‘Stacey, it’s Seymour. We’ve got a situation at the mill. Get here ASAP, and bring back-up.’
Hitting end call, Seymour leaned back into his seat for a moment, then gave a brief nod to urge himself back into action. He needed to get back to the Mill.
A light drizzle had started to fall, the sort of rain that didn’t seem like much but soon soaked through your hair and clothing. It didn’t do much to improve Seymour’s mood as he picked his way through the roadblock again, and retraced his steps back to the mill. The wet tarmac reflected the moonlight, helping him to see his way up the narrow road that led to the car park.
Sticking to the shadows, Seymour kept his tread as light as possible although every step was a not-so-silent recrimination about how ‘light’ wasn’t what it used to be. This time, he walked along the water’s edge, hoping the noise of the water would cover his approach.
He could still hear voices, the professor’s barking tone was easy to distinguish even if his volume had lowered enough to disguise his words. The female voice he assumed was Vivian. There were other voices that danced on the edge of his hearing, they seemed familiar but he couldn’t quite place them.
When he’d first arrived, they’d sounded confident, as though they were about to achieve something remarkable, but the tone of conversation was different now. There was tension, disagreement. All was not well among the jolly band of weirdos.
A flash of torchlight alerted Seymour to the fact that he wasn’t alone out here in the rain. He ducked down, trying to make himself one with the nearest bramble patch. No, not just one torch, there were several.
‘Any sign?’ one called.
This wasn’t good. They were out here looking for something, or someone. Maybe they had heard him on his first visit. Maybe, if he just settled down quietly, they’d go back inside and he could get a closer look at what he was dealing with.
He eased himself down to sit on the riverbank, instantly regretting it as cold water started to seep through the back of his trousers. And worse, his aching joints reminded him he wasn’t a young DC any more, and he’d have trouble getting back up.
Still, all he had to do was sit tight and wait; as long as they weren’t actually murdering anybody right now, and the lack of blood-curdling screams implied they weren’t, then all he had to do was keep an eye until Stacey got here with the cavalry.
‘Over here!’ a voice from the other side of the car park. Seymour was pretty sure he’d heard just that cry from a player at the last pub Five-a-side tournament, but which player? That he couldn’t say.
First one, then two other torches converged on a spot on the other side of the car park; their lights pooling together on an area of the ground. Seymour used their distraction to get onto his hands and knees and start working his way closer to the mill. His palms and knees were soon caked in slippery mud, but that was a small price to pay for getting a better view. If he angled his head just right, he could see past the spinning wheel and through the spindle hole to the interior. He could see a second wheel, spinning there…no it was the table he had seen at Father Gallot’s and in the centre, the master lens.
Peering closer, he caught sight of leather straps, undone and flapping from the inside wheel. For the body? He wondered.
It was that morbid thought that accompanied a sudden tap to his shoulder that elicited a high pitched squeal. A hand was suddenly wrapped over his mouth while a familiar voice whispered in his ear, ‘Quiet!’
The shock was such that Seymour couldn’t help but inhale through his nose. Releasing a noise, that in the darkness, seemed to be loud enough to wake up everyone in York never mind those only yards away from him. However, once the initial surprise had gone and his heart started to beat normally again, he was able to focus on the hand that was covering his mouth. It was damp and the fingers were firm as they remained attached to this face like some alien trying to plant an egg inside him.
Despite the simple instruction having been whispered he could tell straight away who it was and once he’d nodded his acquiescence the hand slowly released its grip.
Thanks to his crouched position and his far from perfect physical condition his attempt to twist around, while keeping his feet facing forward, was not a great success and the sudden pain in his ribs and stomach made him opt for swivelling fully, so that his back was to the characters who were carrying out their strange ritual.
“Victor!” His voice a hoarse whisper. Although there wasn’t much light, Seymour could tell that the Priest has seen better days. There was a dark and thick liquid on the right side of his face and, by the way that it was slowly dripping freely from his chin, it didn’t take much skill to know that it was blood. From the dark line near his hairline it wasn’t hard to surmise where it was coming from.
“I thought you were probably dead!”
“Oui, mon ami, not yet but it wasn’t due to other’s lack of trying.” The Priest’s voice was barely audible, as if it was just thoughts transmitted from one mind to the other. “Shall we say that my profession has made me a little too trusting. I try and see the goodness in people and, as Vivian seemed to be a friend of yours, I never thought that she would be a threat.”
Slowly and warily, Seymour repositioned himself so that he was level with Victor and could watch what was going on at the other end of the car park. “I am sorry Father. I had faint suspicions about her but they were nothing tangible and I didn’t think she would be in cahoots with the Professor’”
“Cahoots?” the priest briefly paused and he contemplated the word. “Ah, yes, allies. Well they came to see me this evening and my introduction to Professor Greenhaugh was short and painful. She said that she had an idea and wanted to see the eye piece. As soon as I showed it to them the Professor hit me on the head with something. As you can see,” pointing to his still bleeding wound, “they made a good attempt at silencing me forever, but I thank God for his protection. My thick skull didn’t cave in so easily, but while I was unconscious they took the monocle and left me for dead.”
Seymour had to admit that, from the traces of blood and size of the wound, it was a miracle that the priest was still breathing, never mind able to walk. “Then what happened?”
“I don’t think I was out for long as they’d just left when I came to. I was able to follow them as they made their way here. I managed to keep a safe distance and have been in hiding ever since, watching and listening to them. Then I saw you arrive and waited to see what you did. Considering the company you kept I wasn’t sure if you were with them. After all, as you say in English, ‘Fool me once…’ but as you are hiding and watching as well, I feel that we are both on the side of God.”
Seymour was an old and cynical ex-copper who’d seen too much evil to be a devout believer in any form of deity so he’d always simply considered that he was on the side of justice and good although he’d found out the hard way that both words could be open to interpretation and misuse. Being on the side of ‘God’ seemed to take away any vagaries and help to assure him that, in this situation, there were just criminals, victims and justice; although identifying who was a criminal was getting ever more difficult. “So you have been here for a while?”
“Yes. I regret that I didn’t have time to pick up a coat but, God willing, He will allow me to dry off and not catch the flu once I am safely home. But for now I must put up with your wonderful English weather.”
“Have you any idea what they are doing? All the cloaks and stomping around in the darkness makes it look more like a Satanic ritual than some sort of modern-day crime scene.”
“Sadly, you might be right, just because someone looks to see into the heart of God, it doesn’t mean they are good and they will use the knowledge and power for the benefit of mankind. Such things could easily tempt weak men to do evil and men who are already evil to do horrific things. So ‘Satanic’ might be the right word. The power that…”
The priest suddenly fell silent as his attention was taken up by what was going on at the far end of the car-park. The figures seemed to have found what they had been looking for. They grabbed hold of a large object and were dragging it towards the entrance to the mill. It was too dark to make out what it was but from the size and shape Seymour had his suspicions and the thought made the pit of his stomach go cold.
“Is that another body?” He dreaded asking the question and feared the answer but had to ask it.
“It is a person but hopefully not a body, yet.” The priest had sensed Seymour’s concern and gave him a placatory tap on the shoulder.
“Thank goodness I was able to call Stacey. Hopefully she picks up my message soon and arrives with enough back up to ensure nobody else gets hurt and no one gets away.”
Victor sighed as he stood up and began to walk, stooped low like a Catholic ninja, across the carpark towards the mill, gesturing for Seymour to follow suit. “Alas I suspect that it might be some time before the detective picks up your call. You see the captive is her. It seems she must have been taken prisoner before they visited me as Vivian and the Professor’s accomplices were guarding her when I arrived. They couldn’t have been proficient at tying knots as, while you were in the process of phoning for her help, she managed to free herself and make a run for it. However they had come armed with a crossbow and, despite the poor light, managed to hit her in the shoulder. She made it to the edge of the carpark and seemed to collapse in the ditch over there. I wanted to go and help her but that would have exposed me to a bolt from their crossbow and probably allowed them to finally finish me off for good.”
Seymour released an Anglo-Saxon expletive that was understood but ignored by the French Priest. Crossbows? Amazed at their use. He knew that some people in the village had them for catching rabbits and they were accurate and deadly at close range but, even though they were silent, Seymour couldn’t help but think of William Tell. “So it is up to us then?” He didn’t like the odds as they were outnumbered, unarmed and didn’t have time to go back to his ice cream van and call 999. He wasn’t sure how long it would take an armed response unit to get there and, when they did finally arrive, their approach would surely be heard. Stacey might be the first to die. “I know you are a man of God but what are your views on violence if it is against evil?”
The priest paused, wiped the blood and rain from his face and, thanks to a chink of light illuminating his eye, gave Seymour a concerned look. “I am a man of the flesh and despite my best endeavours I have occasionally sinned. But I am also a man of God and have managed to keep his fifth commandment. I would very much like to avoid breaking that.”
Seymour knew that various Christian faiths numbered some of the Ten Commandments differently but he assumed that number five, to a Catholic, meant ‘thou shalt not kill’. “I assure you Father, I have sinned as well, and probably a lot more freely than you, but I too have managed to avoid killing anyone so I would very much like to avoid that as well. I was thinking more of a bit of noisy brute force and violence. If they happen to get injured in the process…” he wanted to say ‘all the better’ but decided to be diplomatic, “then so be it and I am sure that God will forgive you.”
There seemed to be a demonical twinkle in the priest’s eyes as Victor grinned at him. “Oh, mon ami, I might have chosen to walk in the path of God but I haven’t always done so. In school I was quite an athlete and, although it shames me to admit it now, I was something of a bully. I know how to look after myself and I pray that God will give me the strength to fight but this time for good rather than other boy’s pocket money or the contents of their lunch boxes.”
Looking at the bedraggled, wet and bloody mud-covered figure who was crouched down in front of him Seymour found it difficult to reconcile the image of the priest with that of a young thug. But he knew that people could change and hoped there was just enough of the figure from the past to enable them to, at least rescue the detective. After all he was no spring chicken himself, he needed all the help he could get and God’s underling was all that was available.
Seymour looked around for anything that they could use as weapons but what he saw didn’t exactly fill him with courage or confidence. Where were carelessly discarded lengths of timber when you needed them? There were rocks lining the path but they were far too large so, even if they could be lifted, they wouldn’t have made effective projectiles. Then he saw what looked like a small rock and, bending down, picked it up, only for the damp clump of soil to disintegrate between his fingers. As he wiped the mud off his hands he silently recognised that, as dogs were often allowed to do their business in the area, it could have been worse.
“You have a plan?” Victor was now turned the other way and was looking through a window into the mill, waiting for instructions.
“A plan?” Seymour couldn’t help but release the two simple words in such a way as to make them sound like he was surprised by the priest’s obvious question. “Errr, not exactly what you’d call a plan as such. More like a black box between where we are now and our final objective where we have rescued Stacey and escaped with our lives. Then, once safe, we call the police and they come in like the Seventh Cavalry in a John Wayne film.”
Victor gave Seymour a puzzled look. “So, in other words, you haven’t got a plan or a clue?”
“Exactly.” Never one to be put off by the lack of exact details, or the complete absence of them, Seymour grinned. “The only weapon we seem to have right now is surprise so all I can suggest is that we creep into the mill and once we are spotted we charge at them as fast as we can. After that, play it by ear.”
Chewing his lip Victor nodded as if he was analysing every detail. “Yes,” he said, finally smiling. “As plans go, it is simple. But it is a good one. Come on, let’s go. There is no time like the present.”
“So you really don’t believe in turning the other cheek, Victor?” A sudden twinge of conscience had stopped Seymour in his tracks. Was it right to lead a priest into moral as well as physical danger?
“Sadly not,” replied Gallot with a rueful smile and a very Gallic shrug. “That concept never sat well with me, even after I left my school days behind me and entered the seminary. Have you ever read La Chanson de Roland?”
Startled by the sudden change of subject, Seymour replied, “My French can just about cope with the title, but no. Who was Roland and what did he sing about?”
“It’s an 11th century epic poem about the battle of Roncevaux Pass during the reign of Charlemagne.” Seymour scratched his head. This was surely no time to stop for a chat about French literature.
“And?” he asked impatiently.
“Well, Roland and his friends were Christian knights, of course, their enemy being the Saracens. But my favourite character has always been Turpin, the ferocious Archbishop of Rheims. He was what you could call a warrior priest, determined to fight and die alongside them. Yet, as a man of the cloth, he was only supposed to carry a mace.”
“Because he wasn’t allowed to shed blood, of course.”
“Although knocking someone senseless was all right? Rather like our Friar Tuck with his quarterstaff?”
“Friar Tuck? The fat friend of Robin des Bois? Well yes, according to the conventions of the time. But Turpin would have none of it. He fought with sword and lance.”
He sounds more like Dick Turpin than a prince of the church, thought Seymour, but he kept that notion to himself. This was no time for flippancy.
“And would you do the same, Father?” Using the priest’s first name suddenly felt less appropriate than when they were sharing a meal. It was all a question of hats, rather like partnering your bank manager in a darts match down at your local and then standing in front of his desk the following morning to discuss your overdraft.
“In this situation, yes,” replied Gallot. “Especially if it does turn out that we’re fighting Satanists. Killing can be justified under church law, you know, although in very limited circumstances. Turpin absolved the soldiers of any sins committed before the battle and, as a penance, told them to strike the enemy as hard as they could.”
“None of this ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ stuff, then?”
“No. And, like my Lord Archbishop, if violence is the only way, I’d prefer something sharp and pointy in my hand.” The priest was looking around as he spoke, a militant gleam in his dark eyes.
We’re starting to edge into vampire territory here, thought Seymour, who had seen far too many Hammer horror films than was good for his peace of mind. The priest was bound to have a crucifix about his person, but he doubted whether the sight of it would have much effect on Vivian and the Professor, not to mention the rest of their sinister little group.
“Et voilà! Help me, Seymour!”
One section of the tape used by the police to cordon off the area had been attached to the rusty iron railings that ran part way along the side of Percy Beck. A Health and Safety panic, sparked off by a parish council fearful of legal action, had led a few years before to their installation and to the removal of some perfectly safe stepping stones. There had been no money for maintenance, though, and some of the rails had worn loose. It was these at which the priest was tugging. With Seymour’s assistance, he was soon armed with a makeshift trident likely to give his enemies blood poisoning if it didn’t kill them outright.
“Follow me,” he hissed. Pausing only to wrench out another rail for himself, Seymour did.
* * *
Stacey Knowles, nursing her throbbing shoulder, was glaring at the bowman – or woman left to guard her. It was impossible to tell who was swathed in that hooded cloak, she thought to herself, but it really didn’t matter. If superstition and a very outdated belief in magic had indeed taken hold of Wharram Percy, Stacey was the one to disabuse its adherents of any such notions. No one was going to take her for a fool, much less use her as some kind of a ritual sacrifice. Once back on her feet, she’d grab them and… That would have to wait, though. During her previous captivity, she’d learned enough to know who was in charge and not to provoke her. Those heavy rings made a good knuckle duster. What she couldn’t figure out was quite where the Professor, whose long drooping face put her in mind of a basset hound, fitted in. After all, Seymour had been the one to contact him. Unless by some almighty coincidence the plot was already being hatched, Greenhaugh couldn’t possibly have insinuated himself into the cult – if that was what it was – so quickly.
Stacey didn’t have to bide her time for long. She was still deciding which part of her guard’s anatomy she’d like to target with a well aimed kick when a pair of howling banshees shot past them both.
“Police! You’re all nicked!” shouted Seymour, laying about the cloaked figures with a will. Father Gallot headed straight for the focus of their attention and thrust his trident into the works.
As the wheel ground to a screeching halt amid cries of dismay, Stacey took immediate advantage of the situation to leap to her feet and seize the crossbow.
“Don’t try anything foolish, sweetheart,” she hissed, reaching for her handcuffs, “unless you want to be at the business end of this thing.”
She had one skinny wrist secured when a burst of light bright enough to dazzle everyone in the vicinity put paid to her hopes of an arrest. By the time she could see straight again, both prisoner and handcuffs had disappeared into the night.
Seymour and Victor had fared no better in their attempt to detain the ringleaders. As their minions made themselves scarce, shedding torches and cloaks as they ran, Vivian and the Professor stepped hand in hand into the water.
When all four feet were in the water in one fluid, perfectly synchronised movement, there was a split second when the sound in the area seemed to disappear… until a loud watery crash brought upon by a bright blue light from above broke the silence.
Seymour bolted forward as quickly as he could in an attempt to grab one or both of Greenhaugh or Vivian, but before he could get there, Father Gallot had intercepted his advance and managed to get himself in front of Seymour.
“You can’t get them now. They have used the portal,” Galalot said, with his hands on Seymour’s shoulder, still struggling against the force of his movements.
Slowly calming down Seymour rested backwards and leant against the wall. “So now what, can we follow them?”
“Oui, if you would like to end up looping through the unknown with no way of making it back. It would appear they found a way to shift the calibration of the wheel after use.” Gallot said as he took a needed rest against the wall by the side of Seymour.
“Portal. Calibration wheel. A big beam of blue light and a loud crash and two people have disappeared off the face of the earth. Now can somebody please bring me up to speed with what the hell we are dealing with?” Detective Knowles asked as she gestured toward the wheel.
Seymour sighed and pushed himself off the wall, “Well, it is a long story and I won’t pull any punches. My friend Father Gallot here will fill in some of the blanks.” Seymour patted Gallot on the shoulder. “Okay so the monocles we found are connected and they are used to power the master monocle and this can create a vision into the future and now we have seen that it can create some sort of teleportation device.”
“You must be joking. Right?” Detective Knowles asked.
“Mon cher, unfortunately not,” Father Gallot said. “The teleport is new to me, but I knew how the monocles were used. This is the culmination of a family feud between my family and the Pembertons.”
“And somehow Professor Greenhaugh is on their side helping them. We need to figure this out and get them,” Seymour added.
The three walked toward the mill’s water wheel and examined it. In the centre was the master monocle that had been stolen from Father Gallot. Around the edges, linked with dimly glowing lines to the centre, were the other monocles. One line had been broken by Father Gallot’s makeshift trident.
“Well I’d like to figure out what we can do. Greenhaugh betrayed my trust and used me. Even worse than that, I gave him a free ice cream!”
The three of them decided to reconvene at Father Gallot’s place in the morning to give them all time to get properly washed up and for Stacey to make the necessary arrangements with her superiors. She was going to keep this all quiet, as much as she knew what she’d seen, an explanation of this would be an easy way to get her kicked off the force under some ruling of mental instability.
When Seymour got home that evening, he left his muddied shoes on the step outside his door and slung his jacket straight into the wash. His other clothes were removed in the bathroom and caused a mess bad enough to break his concentration from the portal and next steps. As he was running the shower in an attempt to pull through any hot water after forgetting to switch on his immersion heater before leaving. He gathered up his clothes and walked them through into the utility room. After he closed the door and started a quick-step naked run back to the bathroom, he could hear a faint whispering.
It was just quiet ramblings until the first audible sentence was heard, “Is he naked?”
He quickly scrambled for anything to cover himself up. “Sorry Liz,” he audibly apologised for what he was using to cover himself. A royal family commemorative pillow. “Who’s there?”
“Can he see us?”
“I can hear you. I know somebody is there. Show yourself.”
Now the voice changed and was clearer in its reply, “I am sorry Seymour we can’t do that.”
The tone of voice and phrasing was memorable, but the voice itself seemed to be distorted in a way similar to that of a ransom demand request in American films. Seymour racked his brains trying to place the voice, but he couldn’t. He had seen enough tonight for his next thought to be true. These voices were coming from his house and what sounded like they were directly in front of him.
“Is this a ghost?”
“No, it’s not a bloody ghost.” The lighter voice returned and Seymour clicked.
“Vivian?” Seymour walked backwards into the bathroom and wrapped himself in a towel.
“Yes, it is Vivian and that isn’t going to erase my memory. I have seen everything now.”
“You like?” Seymour couldn’t help himself from asking such a leading question. Humour was always a way out for him. Processing this situation was harder than any case he’d work as a copper.
“Don’t be ridiculous. We need your help?” Vivian brushed off Seymour’s remark and brought this otherworldly conversation back on track.
“We? Wait. Of course, Greenhaugh!”
“Yes it is I, Seymour. There isn’t much time. We had to do what we did, for the good of Wharram Percy. I couldn’t involve you when it first started because the wheels were already in motion. So to speak.”
“Wheels already in motion. What the hell does that mean? You stole the monocles, almost killing Father Gallot in the process I might add, and then you vanished into another realm,” Seymour said, still unsure of exactly where to direct his focus. “You need to come back here and answer for what you did.”
“What we did? Seymour you need to understand we stopped Father Gallot from abusing the power,” Vivian answered. “You need to make a decision on who your allegiance is with. We know you have a meeting in the morning with Detective Knowles and Father Gallot, go to that and see what is said. Just realise we will be there.”
No noise or visual sign had happened, but Seymour could sense that the two were gone.
That immersion heater has probably done the trick by now he thought as he dropped the towel.
Children’s shrill voices outside his bedroom window, dragged Seymour from sleep before a clang and thump heralded the arrival of the newspaper.
He opened his eyes tentatively, shielding them with his hands against the bright sunlight which didn’t have to work hard to find its way through the threadbare curtains.
Peering at his watch — he really should visit the optician’s — he saw he had plenty of time before the 9am meeting with Stacey and Victor. He slumped back against the pillows, but sleep eluded him. At least he hadn’t been troubled by strange dreams last night.
He pondered over the bizarre recent events. If he hadn’t seen that recent TV programme with popular scientist and philosopher Dr. Desiderata Frogmorton, he wouldn’t have had a clue as to what was going on. She’d discussed the potential existence of a multiverse: parallel universes. There’d also been something about relativity, that time and space were interchangeable. It had all made sense at the time (ha-ha!) but now he was hazy about the details.
Sighing, he rolled over and sat up. It was no good. He’d have to rise and shine, though he’d need a lot of polishing to achieve the second attribute.
He tugged off his pyjama top and was about to remove the bottoms when a sudden thought assailed him.
‘Vivian? Professor?’ He repeated their names more loudly. Fortunately, there was no response. He released the breath he’d been holding waiting for a reply.
Only for a sudden intake of breath when there was heavy banging at the front door. His heart pounded. He couldn’t cope well with stress anymore. Being free of it should have been one of the advantages of being retired early from the Force. Or so he’d thought.
Padding down the stairs, he headed towards the sound of a second volley of knocks, his bare feet disapproving of the change from warm carpet to chilly floor-tiles.
‘Yes?’ he grumbled as he kicked the newspaper to one side and tugged open the door, only to raise the pyjama jacket he was still holding, to partially cover his chest in a gesture of modesty.
‘I’ve seen it all before,’ said Stacey, stepping over the threshold, ‘er… though not yours, of course… I mean…’
‘Come in. Cup of tea?’ he asked, pretending not to notice her embarrassed blush, as he re-donned his top. ‘Do sit down.’ He indicated the kitchen chair and moved to fill the kettle.
‘Lovely, thanks.’ She sank down into the seat. Now that her flush was dissipating, her skin appeared pale and sweaty.
‘Are you ok? You don’t look well.’ He sat down next to her and took hold of her wrist to measure her pulse. From that it was an easy move to hold her hand, the one not taken up in a sling. She let it rest there.
‘You’re heart rate’s up. I assume you got some medical advice.’ He nodded towards her injured shoulder.
‘I felt a bit rough so ended up in A&E last night. They patched me up, gave me some painkillers. I’m on the mend now.’ She slumped back, her head drooping.
‘Well, you don’t look it. Have you had breakfast?’
‘I’ll make you something. You have to eat to heal.’ He couldn’t believe he’d trotted out something so trite. She’d brought out the protective instinctive in him. But normally she didn’t need protecting. Normally.
He pottered around the kitchen, assembling proteinaceous items, plonking them down in front of her, accompanied by a mug of steaming, sweet tea.
‘Now, then, what’s all this here then?’ What a stupid thing to say. All it needed was: “hello, hello, hello!” and he’d be the laughing policeman. ‘I mean, why are you here, and so early? Not that it’s not nice to see you…’ he petered out.
‘Here, let me.’ He spread the toast when it became apparent she couldn’t manage one-handed, and prepared some for himself too.
She smiled her thanks, and they munched and sipped in companionable silence for a while, the colour returning to Stacey’s face, Seymour was glad to note.
‘It’s just… just… so incredible,’ she stuttered. ‘Teleportation! I wanted to discuss it with you before our meeting with Father Gallot.’
‘I wouldn’t have believed either. Except… last night, I was visited by Vivian and the Prof. Not so much a visit, more a visitation.’
‘A ghostly one,’ he added.
‘Ghosts! Now you’re getting into the paranormal!’
‘They said they needed our help, were acting for the good of Wharram Percy, and will be at our meeting with Victor.’
Seemingly on cue, Seymour’s phone pinged. ‘It’s from…’ He stopped as he read the first line. He scanned the rest of the message and held the mobile out for Stacey to see.
Tell no-one. Meet at Mill at 8:30. Have messaged Stacey too. Victor
‘Why does Victor want-?’ Stacey started.
‘Sh,’ Seymour put his finger to his lips. ‘Walls have ears!’ he whispered.
‘Ah, ok. When we’ve finished breakfast, shall we… go for a walk?’.
‘Great idea. But I may need to get dressed first.’
* * *
At 8:29, they ducked under the police tape, Seymour lifting it up to ease Stacey’s way, and joined Victor by the Eye of God. He’d removed the railing and manoeuvred the lenses back into position. Resting in his palm was the Master lens he’d removed last night: a precaution in case of the return of the remaining acolytes.
‘Thank you for meeting me here. I wanted to show you something,’ he said.
The priest slotted the Master lens into the centre of the device’s wheel hub. Seymour and Stacey ducked, but there was no pulse of energy.
‘Vivian and the Professor thought they would need a sacrifice to activate the portal. But as we saw last night, this was not the case…’
Seymour started to explain about their visitation last night but was talked over by Victor.
‘…I referred back to the notebooks of my ancestor, Léon. There’s a mention of a “purgatoire”, a kind of limbo, to which the unworthy can be sent through the portal. This does not require sacrifice. However, I saw no mention of how these poor unfortunates can return to the real world…’
Seymour tried to speak again but was interrupted… again.
‘…There was also a suggestion that the pure in heart can traverse without sacrifice. And this was interesting…’ Father Gallot approached the Eye of God.
‘Is that wise?’ asked Seymour at the same time as Stacey said, ‘Be careful.’
‘It won’t have recharged yet. Approchez-vous à L’Oeil de Dieu.’ He gestured beckoningly and Seymour was reminded of a shepherd-like priest, tending to his flock. ‘Come closer, my children, consider its exquisiteness.’ The sparkling light of the Master lens lent him a hazy glow, bestowing the strange optical illusion of a halo.
Seymour and Stacey advanced, but hesitantly. Although Victor appeared honest and reliable, Seymour wasn’t 100% sure he was trustworthy. Gazing into the monocle, Seymour saw shifting clouds of rainbow colours dancing in the glass. A beauty marred only by a symbol scratched at one point of its rim.
Father Gallot whispered words that sounded like latin. With a groan, the wheel started to spin.
‘What are you doing?’ Seymour yelled over the creaks of the speeding wooden circle, as he retreated several steps.
Stacey tried to join him, but Victor grabbed her good arm and rammed it up her back. ‘Soon you will understand. Forgive me, my dear.’ He shoved her, and she staggered towards the stream.
There was an intense flash, and she toppled forwards.
‘No!’ yelled Seymour, as he launched himself at her and clutched her ankle, their momentum propelling them both into the shimmering Quintessant spring water.
* * *
Was that an ice-cream van’s chimes? What’s more his own rather ropey rendition of Greensleeves?
Seymour slipped out of the watery depths of unconsciousness into awareness. Thankfully, he wasn’t sopping wet as he might have expected. And other than feeling dizzy, he seemed unharmed.
He was sitting on a bench, the autumnal state of the trees suggesting it was still the same time of the year. It looked like the area close to his usual commercial pitch. And sure enough there was the van, a queue of regulars and tourists patiently waiting for their cooling treats.
And there was Stacey beside him. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked, concerned about her pallor.
‘Yes. And you?’
He nodded, though he felt angry at Father Gallot, and shaken, and suspected Stacey was also putting a brave face on things.
‘What just happened?’ she asked.
‘The Eye of God happened. Damn Victor. Maybe the questions should be “where are we?” or “when”?’ He was remembering Desiderata Frogmorton’s theories. ‘Is this a parallel universe, or a different time in our own world?’ He didn’t add, “and how do we get back?” though it must be crossing Stacey’s mind too.
‘Whichever it is, we have a problem,’ she said pointing towards the van. ‘Does the man serving ice-creams look familiar?’
He certainly did. It was like staring in a mirror. Seymour looked away and shielded his face with his hand. ‘Well we can’t stay here all day. We’ll have to do a recce and gather information. Where first…?’
‘I wouldn’t mind giving Father Gallot a piece of my mind! So much for being a Man of God.’ Stacey massaged her shoulder as she spoke.
‘Yes, though it may not be the same Victor, and he may not have met us yet…’ This multiverse/time-travel stuff was very, very confusing.
‘But it would be useful to read his ancestor’s notebooks. Clues about how to get back… if we need them,’ Stacey added.
‘I don’t do French.’
She smiled wryly.
‘Ah, but I see you do, Miss Smartypants.’
‘And why are we here, and not near the Mill?’ asked Stacey, ignoring his jibe.
‘Good question. We should go there. See if the Eye of God is around, and Victor or any of the other suspects too.’
They set off, Seymour keeping his head bowed, avoiding the gaze of passers-by. ‘We need to find out when we are too. If, that is, we’re in our own world.’
‘We could ask a passer-by,’ suggested Stacey, ‘though they might think it odd that we’re asking for the date. And I suppose they might recognise you or even me… if I’m around in this version of things.’
‘No need.’ The village shop they’d arrived at would do the trick. Seymour’s original plan was simply to inspect a newspaper’s date. But then his stomach rumbled. They could kill two birds with one stone. ‘We’ll buy the local paper and something to eat.’ And never mind if they were recognised. They couldn’t keep pussyfooting around.
‘Do you have money or a card?’ asked Stacey. ‘Strangely, I haven’t come well prepared.’ She grimaced.
‘No problem. I run a tab.’ Assuming this was his universe, or that his doppelganger operated in the same way.
Seymour scooped up a local paper from the display outside the shop, showing the front page to Stacey.
‘Four days ago!’ she exclaimed.
‘Rigby will be alive,’ if he existed here.
Seymour pushed open the door, the old-fashioned bell jangling his presence. He picked up a BLT sandwich before reluctantly replacing it and selecting low-calorie tuna. Sod that for a game of soldiers. He grabbed the BLT too, and a twin-pack of éclairs, and a non-diet coke.
‘Time for a little snack?’ commented Stacey. He could see the thought “and so soon after breakfast” flash across her face.
‘Help yourself, too.’ Seymour wasn’t surprised she chose chicken salad and mineral water.
There was no-one at the counter, but rummaging noises emanated from the storeroom beyond. A figure emerged face hidden by the tower of crisp boxes being carried. The person bent down, placing the load on the floor.
As she stood up again, a welcoming smile on her face, Seymour’s would-be purchases tumbled to the floor. He kicked himself mentally. He should have been prepared for this eventuality.
‘What’s up Seymour? Having a “Mr Bump” day?’ asked a familiar voice belonging to someone he’d last seen lying dead on Vivian Pemberton’s floor.
- Upper Percy
- Nether Percy
- Percy on the Willows
- The Old Mill
Rigby was a huge chap with long grey hair who managed the ticket booth at the mill. He’d been compared to a hippy version of Lurch from the Adamms Family on more than one occasion. But like lurch, he was as gentle as the Andrex puppy. Unlike Lurch, Rigby liked wearing a monocle. No one could figure out why, as he didn’t dress the rest of the part.
(main male protagonist)
Former Detective Seymour Staines is an ex-PC from Hull who was forcibly retired after 27 years of service because he was looking into something within the force that he shouldn’t have been. The dismissal destroyed his life and he lost his wife, his house, and his pension. After wandering Yorkshire trying to find himself, he discovered Wharram Percy where he now runs an ice cream van for the locals and tourists who visit the medieval town. A few too many visits with his own merchandise has led to a noticeable increase in his girth since his earlier days on the force.
Likes 99s and chocolate magnums.
(main female protagonist)
Detective Stacey Knowles is the head of Norton homicide (also vandalism, traffic violations, and non-criminal hate incidents – Norton has a small police force). She’s fit, middle-aged, and generally friendly but takes her job seriously.
She has a weakness for strawberry sundaes.
Sister of Rigby Pemberton, she lives in Wharram Percy near her brother with her two dogs. Her good friend is Patsy Baker but she’s also friends with Seymour although he knows little about her. As far as they know, she’s the last surviving Pemberton and the only girl in the Pemberton Family that she refers to as the ‘Boy’s Club’. As such, she inherited the collection of monocles left by Rigby. She also has the only remaining photograph of the Pemberton clan.
No known ice cream preference.
Best friend of Vivian Pemberton, who lives nearby in Wharram Percy. Appears to have been killed in a case of mistaken identity as mysterious thieves stole the monocles.
A history professor from Leeds known for his ability to solve historical puzzles. What will be his role in the investigation? The learned sage, or might he have his own agenda?
No known ice cream preference.
It now appears that Greenhaugh is a leading member of a cult set on using The Eye of God. For what purpose?
Supposedly a man of God, Father Victor Gallot arrived at the mill before Seymour on the night of Rigby’s death to reclaim a monocle that he says belongs to his family. He found Rigby already dead and claims to have removed the monocle from Rigby before running off, presumably at hearing Seymour’s arrival.
He has stated that his great grandfather Léon Gallot was actually the inventor and original owner of the monocle system and particularly the master device that harnessed them. A device called ‘The Eye of God’.
Father Victor has claimed that Léon Gallot was originally friends with WilfredPemberton until the latter proved himself unworthy.
He likes Pistachio ice cream.