15 April 2007

Oxford Ostinato - Chapter 3 Part 2

Stan, Ned and Kevin met for a late breakfast, all of them feeling the effects of their disturbed night, although Kevin had suffered the least of them, having slept through most of the uproar. Stan had a grim look and even Ned looked concerned at the thought of what the boss might do when he heard about the events of the previous night.
"Kevin, take the guys some breakfast," said Stan curtly.
Kevin looked mulish but obeyed. He had just enough sense to know better than to argue when Stan was in such a mood. He put mugs, bowls of cereal and a plate of sliced bread onto a tray, then added milk, sugar, marmalade, butter and finally a large pot of tea. He carried it carefully out of the room. Ned immediately turned to Stan and asked the question he had been wanting to ask for the past half hour.
"What are you going to tell the boss?"
"Everything," Stan answered shortly.
"But – "
"Ned, if I don't and he finds out later that I didn't – well let's just say it'd be more than my life's worth not to tell him everything now."
Ned swallowed, then nodded. "Do you want me to come up with you to see him?"
Stan shook his head. "Go and see if our other guest is awake yet and if she wants some breakfast."
Stan knew that Ned was secretly relieved not to face Mr Inglesham. He scowled, then went out into the hallway. He met Kevin coming back from taking breakfast to the musicians and told him to stay in the kitchen until he got back.
"Can't I – " he began.
"No," Stan said, cutting him off. "Just go and wait in the kitchen, will you?"
Kevin scowled at Stan's departing back, then slouched sulkily into the kitchen to wait.
Stan went upstairs to his master's room and knocked on the door.
Stan went inside, then stood stiffly at attention by the door.
His master, who was dressed in his usual impeccable clothes, making Stan feel rather dishevelled by comparison, looked up from his desk.
"Stanley. What have you to report this morning?" His voice was colder than usual, making him sound ancient.
"Our third guest had an epileptic seizure in the early hours of the morning," Stan said, trying not to flinch from his master's gaze.
"An epileptic seizure? How is this possible? We tested her thoroughly and the potential for such an affliction would have shown up in the tests."
"I don't know sir. I've checked all the test results and there was definitely nothing on them to indicate such a possibility."
"So the seizure is the result of the process which she underwent?" asked Mr Inglesham.
"I believe so, sir, though I'm not an expert in such matters." Stan waited for the inevitable order from his master whom he knew would tolerate no imperfections in his guests.
"Then get rid of her. Ned must go and fetch the cellist from town, and we will start again."
"Sir." Stanley's tone was neutral and expressionless, but he was not happy with this order, even though he had anticipated it. He went downstairs and back into the kitchen where Ned was waiting with Kevin. Ned caught his eye and saw a grim look there. He turned to Kevin.
"Go and bring the van round to the back door," he said.
Kevin looked surprised, but for once he didn't object or ask questions. He went out the back door, taking the van's keys from a nail by the door as he passed.
Ned looked at Stan's grim expression again. "What is it?" he asked.
"You're to go and fetch the cellist again," Stan answered.
"Oh." Ned looked unhappy. "We're doing it again then?" he asked.
Stan nodded. "Yes. Take Kevin with you, but keep a close eye on him. Don't let him talk to anyone, OK?"
Ned nodded. "OK," he said, his tone and manner quietly resigned. Stan went out and along the passageway, then down to the basement. He opened the door quietly and saw the woman on the trolley was asleep. Somehow that didn't make what he had to do any easier. He picked up a needle and the small bottle he'd used the day before to help her to sleep, but this time he used a bigger dose. He carefully injected the sleeping woman and waited until the regular rise and fall of her chest ceased. He would have to be quick if he was going to get her into the woods without being seen. He knew that the towpath alongside the river was often busy even this early in the morning, with dog walkers, runners and cyclists, not to mention rowers out on the river itself. He fetched a large sheet and wrapped it around the dead woman's body, then slung it over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. He went upstairs, through the kitchen and outside. He staggered slightly under the dead weight, but managed to keep his feet. He walked across the back garden, through the trees that screened the house from the river, and let himself out through the garden gate. He stole a quick glance at his watch, then swallowed a couple of times before setting off along the towpath, moving as quickly as he could manage whilst still carrying a dead body. He made it to the edge of the woods without seeing anyone except a distant runner in a white top and dark trousers who was moving towards him at a steady, ground-eating pace. He ducked in amongst the trees and moved a little distance away from the path, before laying down his burden, desperate to catch his breath for a few minutes before he completed his task. As he stood there, he listened and heard the regular footfalls of the runner approaching the edge of the woods. He found himself involuntarily holding his breath. A few moments later he let it out again with a yelp of surprise when a quiet voice spoke to him.
"What are you doing?"

Saskia was enjoying her run. She had done some warm up exercises first, well aware of the dangers of pulled muscles or torn ligaments if she tried to run when her body hadn't properly warmed up. Then she had set off along the towpath, enjoying the rhythm of her running, the warm Spring air and the early morning quiet. Initially she hadn't taken much notice of the distant figure who had emerged onto the towpath ahead of her, but as she got closer she could see that whoever it was had a large heavy object over one shoulder. And as she got closer still, she saw the figure looking at her, then move into the woods that lay ahead on the left hand side of the path. Something about the way he, she was close enough now to see it was a man, moved and ducked into the woods caught her attention, then she'd caught a faint sense of guilt and fear from him, and she hadn't hesitated to follow him into the woods.
She saw the figure ahead of her stop and put down his burden. "What are you doing?" she asked quietly, startling the man into a yelp of surprise. She saw he was short and stocky, with a shaven head and a scar across his right cheek. She also sensed his feelings of fear and guilt shifting into annoyance, and realised two things in quick succession: that she should have hesitated before following a strange man into a wood, and that this man was dangerous. However, it was too late to get away because he was aware that she knew he was up to no good – the very fact that she'd followed him told him that much. She found herself briefly wishing she hadn't picked up the Doctor's habit of incaution – and wondered, at the same time, when it had happened.
The two of them looked at each other for a long moment, the man seeing a tall, dark-haired woman with bright green eyes and a watchful manner that indicated he wasn't going to be able to bluff his way out of this situation. He wondered why she had followed him into the wood, a young woman on her own. Was it bravery or foolhardiness?
"What's it to you?" Stan asked.
Saskia shrugged. "It depends on whether or not you're doing something wrong. If you're up to no good, then it matters to me that you stop. If you're just disposing of your garden waste, then I'll be on my way."
Stan gave a short, mirthless laugh. "You think you could stop me if I'm up to no good?"
Saskia nodded.
"You and whose army?" he asked.
"No army. Just me and the Doctor," Saskia answered calmly.
"Doctor who?" asked Stan, puzzled by her confident manner.
"Just 'the Doctor'," Saskia answered.
"And where is this doctor of yours?" Stan asked sarcastically.
"Right now he's in Plantation Road."
"Which is far enough away for him not to be a threat to me, or much use to you," Stan pointed out, a grimly triumphant smile on his face.
"That depends," Saskia answered, trying to calm and keep him talking until she could find out what was going on.
"On what?" Stan asked impatiently.
"Speed mostly. The speed of reflexes, yours and mine, and how fast you can run. You see, the very fact that you're still talking to me instead of telling me to get lost or mind my own business, tells me that you're up to no good. As does the tension in your muscles and the fact that you're breathing no less rapidly now, even though you've put down that object you were carrying."
Stan looked at Saskia open-mouthed. "Who the hell are you, Sherlock bloody Holmes?" he demanded even as Saskia whirled around and sprang away from him, hoping that his surprise would give her enough of an advantage to get away.
A few moments later she was proved wrong when Stan threw himself bodily at her in a rugby tackle that sent her crashing into a tree, knocking her out.

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