by Marcus L. Rowland
"So what did you make of him?" Willie asked, timing Modesty as she field-stripped her MAB Brevette automatic, blindfold, in the penthouse the following evening.
"He's not talking about what he does," said Modesty, completing the dissassembly and starting to put the gun together again, "but I doubt it's anything to do with us."
"And you think he fancies you?" said Willie, silently picking up a part and moving it a few inches.
"That's cheating, Willie," Modesty said instantly.
"You took something...." she passed delicate fingertips over the components "...the magazine base-plate."
"How'd you know?"
"I smelled your aftershave when you leaned towards me."
"Nice one. It's still there if you can find it," said Willie. Modesty felt again, found it, and completed the reassembly in seconds. "That's only six seconds over your best time," said Willie, "even with looking for the spring."
Modesty took off the blindfold and said "Nice to know I'm not slowing down too much. You were saying?"
"Does Giles fancy you?"
"Not exactly. Likes, perhaps, but I think it's more that he's still in love with this other woman, Jenny, and sees something of her in me."
"That's all right provided he doesn't think you're her reincarnation or something."
"He seemed sane enough," said Modesty.
"So did Myra."
"Myra? One of your old flames?"
"That's right," said Willie. "Lovely bird, but she was obsessed with reincarnation, convinced herself I was Lord Byron."
"Why Byron?" asked Modesty, putting the gun back in its holster and into her concealed gun safe.
"Search me. It was all right when she just wanted me to be 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know', I could do that well enough, but then she wanted me to write poetry..."
"Not your scene?"
"'Roses are red," said Willie, "violets are blue, and that's about my limit."
"In the end I cribbed about twenty minutes of the worst Victorian poem I could find and shoved her name into it, thought that might shut her up but I never 'eard from her again. Probably still wondering what 'effulgent' means..." He looked at her expectantly.
It was an old game they played. Willie would find a word, as obscure as possible, and use it in conversation. Modesty had to respond by using the correct meaning. She racked her brains, then said "I can see how she might wonder... Probably not a brightly shining example of wit."
"Thought I had you there for a second," said Willie. He glanced at his watch and said "It's about time I was heading back to the pub, the builders start on the new extension tomorrow morning and the manager'll need a hand."
"When are you in town again?"
"Probably not for a couple of weeks. It's going to be a bit hectic for a while."
"I'll try to get down at the weekend," said Modesty, "maybe I can give you a hand."
"I'll look forward to it. About Giles..."
"Be careful. You're probably right about him, but I've still got an odd feeling that there's something funny going on."
"I'll bear it in mind," said Modesty, "and I've an idea about how I can find out some more about him..."
Professor Stephen Collier was a psychic researcher and mathematician, one of Modesty's former lovers; his American wife Dinah was blind, an astonishingly accurate dowser, and one of Willie's ex-girlfriends. All four were firm friends. When Modesty called at their home the following weekend Dinah was gardening, by touch and scent, while Steve was lounging in a deck-chair and typing an article into his iBook.
"Giles?" said Collier, once Modesty had explained what she wanted. "Rupert Giles and Sunnydale?"
"That's right," said Modesty
"And this isn't a joke?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
"What do you mean?"
"Take a look at alt conspiracy sunnydale some time. Rupert Giles tends to feature fairly prominently in their theories."
"Why Giles?" asked Modesty.
"He rescued the last survivors, driving them out in a school bus with the street collapsing behind it. Before that he ran an occult bookshop in the town. Before that he was librarian at Sunnydale High, the school that was at the epicentre of the collapse. He lost that job when the school was blown up four years before the town collapsed, almost to the day, but he still somehow ended up driving the school bus."
"Blown up?" echoed Dinah, pausing in her weeding.
"Allegedly a gas explosion," said Collier. "Although for some reason it was centred on the school library. Sixteen people were killed, including the mayor of Sunnydale. They only re-opened the school a few months before the town collapsed."
"That's a weird coincidence," said Modesty, "but it doesn't tell me much about the man. What do you have on him?"
"Let's see..." said Collier, starting a web browser and going to one of the sites he had bookmarked. "He studied at Oxford, got Firsts in ancient languages, philosophy, and archaeology, dropped out for a year or so, then went back to college and got his MA and MPhil. After that he worked for the British museum from the early eighties until ninety-seven, then resigned and moved to Sunnydale, and got the school librarian's job. Nobody seems to be sure why."
"How did he get a work permit?" asked Dinah.
"Good question," said Collier, "and one that's been asked a good few times. There's no obvious reason why they should have given the job to him in preference to an American graduate. Or any good reason why he kept his work permit after he lost the job."
"So what's the conspiracy theory?" asked Modesty.
"Basically, that he was involved in the collapse of the town. Nobody has any evidence that it wasn't a natural disaster, although there are a lot of questions about the actual geology of it, but that doesn't stop the conspiracy nuts. It doesn't help that there are legends of supernatural phenomena in the area going back to the seventeenth century, when the Spanish settlers called it the 'Boca del Infierno.'"
"'The Mouth of Hell,'" said Modesty
"How is he supposed to have destroyed the town?" asked Dinah.
"One theory is that he found a way inside the hollow Earth," said Collier, "and the town collapsed into the opening, another has him helping the Grey aliens to destroy the place. But the one that seems to have the biggest following involves black magic. The idea is that he found something in the British Museum, a manuscript or artifact that led him to Sunnydale, where he tapped into some sort of mystical energy source. His first experiments led to the school exploding, then he finally got it right when the town went under."
"And your theory?" asked Modesty.
Collier was silent for a moment, then said "There's evidence of psychic involvement in the disaster. The Rhine Research Centre was running several experiments that afternoon, all of them began to give anomolous results about ten minutes before the collapse began, ending with the earthquake. There were similar results in Tokyo and Washington. The UCLA parapsychology laboratory had two subjects collapse."
"Which is why you know so much about Sunnydale, of course," said Modesty. "What about the woman Giles mentioned, Jenny Calendar?"
"It doesn't ring any bells," said Collier. "Nothing on Google, let's try alt conspiracy sunnydale... yes, here we are. None of this is official, remember, but allegedly she was murdered, body found in the home of Rupert Giles in February ninety-eight. He was questioned but released without charges."
"I didn't know she was killed in his home," said Modesty.
"She wasn't," said Collier, scrolling down the page. "She was killed elsewhere then moved there."
"What about her uncle, Enyos Kalderash?"
"Hmmm... no, nothing about him here."
"Do you have any other names?" asked Dinah. "Anyone else that Giles mentioned?"
"You could try Dawn Summers," said Modesty. "Oh, and there's a sister... um.. Buffy."
Collier typed "Dawn Summers" then said "Dawn's mentioned a few times, usually as one of the passengers on the bus. Hmmm... someone pointed out that no documentation on her survived Sunnydale. But there's no particular reason why there should be, as far as I can tell. Let's try Buffy Summers... hmmm. That's odd..."
"What?" Dinah and Modesty asked almost simultaneously.
"It's claimed that she was expelled from Hemery High in Los Angeles for setting fire to the gym. Suspect in the murder of another student in Sunnydale, charges later dropped. Suspect in the destruction of the high school until they determined it was a gas explosion. After that there's nothing much until the town collapsed. She was also a passenger on the last bus, of course."
"Sounds colourful," said Modesty. "But it doesn't really get us anywhere. It doesn't explain why Tarrant is interested in Giles, or warned me off him."
"There's evidence that most governments are interested in parapsychology," said Collier, "and Tarrant has more reason than most to know that parapsychological methods can sometimes work. What if Giles is involved in that in some way? Maybe co-ordinating research between Britain and the USA?"
"Wouldn't you know?" asked Dinah.
"Not necessarily," said Collier, "not if it was a secret project. Maybe something was going on in Sunnydale, there was a university there. A PSI event powerful enough to destroy a city... maybe some sort of PSI weapon."
"And there you have it," said Dinah. "Those conspiracy guys want Giles involved with magic or aliens because they think that way, Steve wants him involved in parapsychology because he thinks that way. And Modesty, I guess you think he's involved in the spy game or big time crime, because that's the way you tend to look at things."
"It's a good point," said Modesty. "What would you suggest I do about it?"
"Ask him, of course."
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