Chapter Eight: Behind every mystery lies another mystery
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
There are few trials more difficult to endure than waiting for someone else to finish doing something before you can do your own work. Calpurnia kept her daughter Bathsheba supplied with hot cocoa while she worked through the Later East Anglian Chronicle. But that took very little time. Calpurnia had spent enough time in her life twiddling her thumbs while she was ill. She tried to help Bathsheba by looking over her shoulder, only to have her daughter wave her away as a distraction. So instead she hobbled back and forth between her kitchen and her bookshelves, tracking down books she wanted and bringing them to the table. Her apartment wasn’t very big, so it would not have taken very long. But Calpurnia, like so many bookworms, could never look at one book on a shelf without pulling out a few nearby to look through. So she ate up a good deal of time that way.
Finally, five cups of hot cocoa and one hour, forty one minutes, and twelve seconds later (Calpurnia had nervously kept track), Bathsheba closed the book with a satisfied slam. She looked up and smiled at her mother. “Nineteen words you flagged. Nine occur twice, five occur three or more times, and five are unique. I’ve listed the page and line numbers for all of the occurrences.” And she pushed a sheet of paper across the kitchen table.
Calpurnia gratefully accepted the sheet, happy she could get down to work. With that many additional references, she should be able to improve her translation of the laying of the wyrm. I’m coming to get you, she thought of the wyrm.
She looked up to see her middle daughter with her head cocked to one side, frowning at her. “What’s wrong, Sheba?”
“Marcus set you up on this, didn’t he.” Bathsheba stated it more as a fact than a question.
Calpurnia didn’t quite know what to say in reply, so she took refuge in the truth. “I don’t know for sure. I imagine the Council consulted him before asking me to get involved. And I’ll have some hard words with them afterwards. He’s not my husband anymore, and has no right to have any say in my life.”
Bathsheba’s frown had disappeared, but she still shook her head. “Mum, you know Marcus must have rammed this through the Council. Stop kidding yourself. Just remember that he’s no doubt already figured out how he’ll come out ahead, whether you succeed or no.”
She got up, grabbed her bag, and prepared to leave. But before she headed for the door, she gave Calpurnia a genuine smile. “I suppose this means we won’t be hiking out to the old fort day after tomorrow, now.”
Calpurnia felt her heart sink. She’d forgotten all about their walk, even though it was a regular weekly thing. Blushing, she replied, “It would help if I had two solid feet to use.”
Bathsheba seemed to understand what hadn’t been said, and wasn’t put off at all. She leaned forward, gave her mum a quick kiss, and headed out the door without another word.
Calpurnia was left feeling there was something else she should have said or done. But she couldn’t quite figure out what. So she turned to the Later East Anglian Chronicle. She had a job to do, and she was going to do it, whatever her ex-husband Marcus was up to.
Donald Chisholm was in a right rare mood. Here he was, in a meeting of the Scots Council, the Secretary of that illustrious organization, about to report on how Geoffrey MacAlpine was mishandling the English wyrm case, and the chairperson would not let him speak! Zounds, did the woman think the problem would go away before the end of the meeting?
The Council’s meeting room in Edinburgh was what one would expect: heavy dark wooden furniture, a long table, pictures of ancient members on the walls, a fireplace at one end, and a bar along one side. The carpet was thin and dark red, while far too many of the members were thin and gray-haired. As in many organizations, it was the younger men and women who worked in the field, while their more experienced elders deliberated back at home.
Donald accepted all this. He was getting along in years himself, and preferred political intrigue to risking his neck confronting demons. It annoyed him that Geoffrey MacAlpine, whom he thought of as a contemporary, kept plunging into one adventure after another. Really, the man had no sense of the dignity that went with age. Donald mentally patted himself on the back. He was dignified. The men and women around this table were, for the most part, dignified. Yet to his mind there was a difference between being dignified and elderly on one hand, and being a senile, long-winded old fool on the other. And it seemed this meeting was taken up far too much by the latter type speechifying. MacNab the treasurer had droned through his report, and now Ogilvie the recruiter was droning through his.
Donald glanced up at the head of the table. The chair, Charlotte Wallace, sat there. She was no spring chicken herself, having gone completely grey more than a decade ago. Short and slight, she resembled a nervous bird when active. Right now she looked as if she were ready to tuck her head under her wings (if she had wings) and go to sleep. Donald resigned himself to enduring Ogilvie’s report. But he would wait no longer. Charlotte might have no sense of urgency, but what was happening in Great Yarmouth needed to be addressed now!
Ogilvie finally finished and sat down. The move took Donald by surprise. One moment Ogilvie had been droning on, and then suddenly he wasn’t. Before Donald could even open his mouth, Charlotte roused from her nap and called for a fifteen minute break! Donald had had enough. He stormed up to the head of the table, determined to make a fuss if he had to.
Charlotte had stood up and was glancing about, seemingly pleased with herself. Donald accosted her in a loud voice. “Charlotte, we must discuss this matter of MacAlpine’s clear dereliction, now, tonight, as soon as the council reassembles.”
Charlotte Wallace turned to face Donald. For all her apparent fragility, she was chair because she was a powerful magician and a consummate politician. She did not suffer fools gladly. Donald should have been warned by the smile she gave him. In placating tones, she replied, “Of course, Donald. But we have a guest who will arrive in a moment and wanted to say a few words in greeting. You will do him the courtesy of letting him have a few minutes, say, no more than five.” The last was said in tones that implied it was not a request.
Donald felt his stomach turning. Charlotte didn’t do things without a reason. Something was up. Had MacAlpine come back to Edinburgh to plead his case in person? But, no, Charlotte had called the visitor a guest. Although . . .
Donald had no further time to evaluate the situation, for Charlotte’s face lit up in a wide smile. “Oh, and here he is,” she told Donald. “Just in time.”
Donald spun around. Advancing toward the two of them from the door at the far end of the room was a magician dressed entirely in black: Marcus Satterthwaite, the fearsome first husband of Calpurnia Kingsley and member of the English Council. Conversation in the room died away as the Scottish magicians wondered just what this man was doing in their midst.
Marcus showed no sign that the silence bothered him. He stepped up to Charlotte, whom he towered over, gave her a hug, and bent down to kiss her on both cheeks. And then he turned to Donald and said, “Chisholm! Just the man. I want to hear all about the fellow you sent down to work with my ex-wife. No doubt you sent one of your best, eh?” He patted Donald on the shoulder. “When the meeting resumes, of course. For now, Charlotte and I need to chat informally.” And with that he took Charlotte’s arm and led her out of the room.
Donald’s stomach was no longer turning. He felt too faint for that. Donald recognized he’d be committing a faux pas to denounce MacAlpine in front of an English Council member after he’d been sent to help out the English. And yet he knew of Marcus Satterthwaite’s reputation, that he was a vengeful man, and would no doubt take it poorly if he found out what a mess Geoff was making of things. Why the blazes did his ex-wife have to be mixed up in this? No matter what Donald decided to say and do, he had the feeling it was going to end badly.
Geoff, of course, had no idea of Donald Chisholm’s predicament. He was out on the shores of Breydon Water with Jacintha. They were spying on Florence Thursby. Flo had come along the same path as the previous night, but had traveled a bit further along to the west. So Geoff and Jacintha had scrambled to follow after her. It had not been easy, for they had to carry a lot of equipment, keep up with Flo, and yet not alert her to their presence. But Flo had come to a stop, finally, and Jacintha and Geoff had been able to settle down and organize their watch, waiting for the wyrm to show.
Minutes ticked by. Despite the wait, Jacintha was excited. She felt like she was in a spy movie from the 1960s, what with the night goggles and everything. She could just imagine a submarine emerging from Breydon Water, with a Russian spy jumping out to meet with a traitor. And then she and Geoff would jump in and save the day!
It was a good fantasy, but that was all it was. Jacintha knew they were waiting for a creature that could do infinitely more damage than a spy. And there was no guarantee they would succeed.
She looked over at Geoff. To her consternation, he had taken off his night goggles, closed his eyes, and had apparently gone to sleep. She nudged him.
Geoff opened his eyes and gave Jacintha a glance. With a smile, he whispered, “Quiet, Jackie. I’m trying to hear the sound of any disturbance in the Water.” And then he closed his eyes and to all appearances seemed to be asleep again.
Oh. Jacintha felt embarrassed. And then felt annoyed. He could have told her that beforehand! But before she could do anything, Geoff whispered again. “Look sharp. I’m hearing something.”
Jacintha focused on the waters just beyond their mystery woman. There was nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing . . . and then with a start she saw something! Were they waves, or . . . no, the disturbance was giving off heat relative to the surrounding waters. Jacintha watched in fascination as a pattern of disturbances developed. It looked like the wyrm was passing back and forth in the waters, just barely breaching the surface.
The disturbances increased. The worm began showing above the surface, first a little, and then more and more of its length was disclosed. Jacintha was impressed. The creature surely was long, maybe even longer than sixty feet. It was hard to judge. And then it became a lot easier. The head and tail of the creature both rose well above the surface. Jacintha patted the assault rifle at her side as she wondered at its size. It looked enormous.
And then Jacintha got the shock of her life. As she looked through her night goggles, she realized it was not the creature’s head and tail she was seeing.
No, not the head and tail, not at all. It was two heads. And one was staring right at her.
Uh-oh, something’s gone very, very wrong. Hope Calpurnia’s translating at full tilt, because Jackie and Geoff may need her help at any moment in the next chapter!