Author's note: The idea of Sunnydale Conspiracy Theories in the last chapter seems to have amused a lot of my readers, so much so that I've set up a Livejournal community, sdaleconspiracy, to discuss them. Who was the mysterious one-eyed man aboard the last bus out of Sunnydale? Why do thousands of people have vague memories of a "Jonathan" doing everything from starring in The Matrix to inventing the Internet? Is that really Mayor Wilkins in the background of the Zapruder assasination film? Why doesn't Google Earth show the Sunnydale crater? The truth is out there... but will anyone be able to recognize it if they see it? Tinfoil hats are optional but recommended...
"...and three pints of Old Peculiar, a diet Coke, and a packet of cheese and chive crisps," said the biker standing at the bar. Modesty nodded and began to pull the pints.
"It's good of you to 'elp out," said Willie, attending to another of The Treadmill's customers, "might 'ave known we'd get busy as soon as the builders got to work."
"Charlie ought to be up from changing the barrel soon," said Modesty, pouring the Coke while she waited for the foam to settle in the beer glasses, "and Mrs. Dawes should be finished in the kitchen any minute, then we can take another look at the decor of the lady's room in the new extension. Where do you keep the cheese and chive crisps?"
"Box by your knee," said Willie, pulling a glass of cider.
Modesty located them, topped up the beer glasses, and put them onto a tray on the counter, and gave the customer his change from twenty pounds. He left fifty pence behind in a puddle of spilled beer; Modesty wiped up the mess and dropped the coin into the tips saucer by the till. She was vaguely aware of someone taking his place, and said "What can I get you?" as she turned to the counter.
"A few moments of your time when things slacken off a little," said Sir Gerald Tarrant, "but for now a small whisky and soda."
"I had an interesting visitor yesterday," said Tarrant, about fifteen minutes later. He, Modesty and Willie were in Willie's gymnasium in the barn behind the pub. "Doctor Rupert Giles. It appears that he's taken an interest in you. Which is odd since I think you said you'd only met him once."
"Twice, actually," said Modesty. "I ran into him again at Barbi's salon about a week later."
"Ran into him?" asked Tarrant, raising his eyebrows.
"I arrived a little early for my next session, he was still there, with another student. Giles and I ended up having lunch together."
"After you promised me not to get involved in his affairs?" Tarrant asked mildly.
"'Ang on a minute," said Willie, "I'm the one that made the promise. The Princess didn't say a word."
Tarrant thought for a moment, then shook his head and said "I wish to hell you had. Who was the student?"
"A girl called Dawn Summers," said Modesty. "She's an excellent fencer. Why?"
For some reason Tarrant looked relieved as he said "I can only tell you some of it. You'd have to go to Giles for the rest, and I really would advise against it." He paused to collect his thoughts, then said "Giles heads an international organisation which handles certain..." he seemed to be looking for the right words "unusual problems. Without going into details, it's necessary work and extraordinarily dangerous. From time to time they've found it... expedient... to ask favours of the British government, since they're based in the UK. Usually that involves lending them equipment or personnel, or liasing with foreign governments."
"And in return?" asked Willie.
"In return?" asked Tarrant.
"What's in it for the government?" asked Modesty. "For the other governments?"
"I can't answer that," said Tarrant, "Except to say that I have no reason to believe that we are being short-changed. But the casualties have been heavy. Three years ago most of their people were killed, including all of their leadership and everyone seconded to them. Giles has done an extraordinary job of rebuilding, but he's desperate for personnel. Now that you've come to his attention I'm afraid that he may be planning to try to recruit you."
"I don't think so," said Modesty. "So far he's done nothing but express a mild interest in my family. He seems to think that my parents might have been related to a Romanian gypsy tribe."
"Romania?" said Tarrant. "That's interesting."
"What do you know that we don't?" asked Willie.
Tarrant considered for a moment, then said "I have to ask you not to discuss this with Giles, if you talk with him again."
"Discuss what?" asked Modesty.
"This conversation, and what I'm about to tell you."
"All right," said Modesty. Willie nodded his agreement.
"Three years ago we missed the early warning signs that led to tragedy, because we assumed that their organisation was being run competently. Afterwards we learned that they were hidebound, endlessly bogged down in tradition and precedent. Corruption was rife, and Giles' predecessor was a disaster, a man with a knack for doing exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time."
"So when Giles took over you decided to keep a closer eye on things," said Modesty.
"You're bugging them," said Willie.
"Monitoring their communications," said Tarrant. "As are the Americans, and probably at least another dozen governments."
"Do you think Giles doesn't know?" asked Modesty. "If he's in contact with you I'd imagine he at least suspects that you're watching him."
"That's more or less what he was asking, in fact," said Tarrant. "He wanted to check that you aren't one of my agents. Since you say you met twice I can only assume that someone may have suggested that your second encounter was less than accidental."
Willie grinned and said "I wonder what gave him that idea?"
Modesty smiled for a moment, then said "Would I be right if I guessed that you're learning a lot less than you'd like?"
Tarrant nodded reluctantly and said "There have been problems. Their security is excellent."
"And you'd really love to have someone on the inside to make up for it," said Willie.
"Yes, but... No. Definitely not. I don't want either of you to have anything to do with them."
"Sir Gerald," said Modesty, "we don't work for you, and I'm reasonably sure that we're both old enough to make our own decisions. Now hypothetically, if we did get a little closer to Giles what would you want to know...?"
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