58.0 Jill read her mother’s email after school on Wednesday. Her dad sick. Mental breakdown? Jill sat in her room and stared.
58.1 She thought of him, so far away, and having her mom’s help might be worse than nothing. Something had to be done.
58.2 She rushed from her room and found Iris holding a cup of tea and a gardening magazine but looking distracted.
58.3 “Aunt I have to go to London. Can I please? I have to!” Iris stared. “It’s Dad,” Jill continued. “He’s been taken to a hospital…”
58.4 Iris looked confused. “But Jillie,” she said, “I haven’t heard a word.” Jill retrieved her laptop computer and showed Iris the letter.
58.5 Her aunt read it twice, carefully. “He just has my mother to help him,” Jill said. They both knew what that meant.
58.6 Jill loved how Iris didn’t react to things in the same way as other adults and she was not disappointed on this occasion either.
58.7 “You know I don’t fly,” the old woman said, looking over her eyeglasses. She considered briefly. “Billy will have to go with you.”
58.8 “Billy?” Jill said. “Do you think he would do that for me?” Iris sat back in her chair. “He does not have a choice,” she said.
58.9 Jill had to smile at this. She loved how Billy’s success and gayness and manners daunted many people, but never bothered her old aunt.
59.0 They were real friends, and It seemed to Jill that Billy would do anything for Iris, but this was asking a lot.
59.1 “Get him over here,” Iris said. “Tell him the gingerbread will be out of the oven in 45 minutes..” She went to the kitchen.
59.2 Jill sent Billy a text message: “Aunt making emergency gingerbread, ready in 45 minutes. Can you come?”
59.3 Billy tried to work in the afternoon. His novel was too long already, and he was having trouble thinning it. Rather it kept growing.
59.4 The woman dead under the chandelier had at least been buried now, and the glass cleaned up, and the brother implicated. That was something.
59.5 He thought about Blue’s death, and wondered if the detective had received his email. He felt Zachary might be missing some things.
59.6 But he was especially distracted by the issues spinning around his old Scottish short story and the Uncannydeath mystery.
59.7 And that message he received asking for his help. How could a mystery writer be expected to remain aloof under these circumstances?
59.8 At 4:00 pm Jill’s text arrived. Gingerbread sounded damn perfect. Billy grabbed his coat and drove his old Mercedes to the dome house.
59.9 He got out and noticed a man, looking in from the short driveway. He called a “hello” but not before the stranger had turned and gone on.
60.0 Soon Billy was at Iris’s kitchen table. There was whipped cream on the warm gingerbread, and she had put a shot of brandy in his coffee.
60.1 He looked at Jill. “This emergency gingerbread is lovely,” he said. “But what can be the emergency, exactly?”
60.2 Iris answered before Jill could speak. “Billy you have to take Jill and go to London. Right away. Her parents are there and Adam is sick…
60.3 …He’s in a hospital. Some kind of collapse. Laura thinks he’s lost his mind.” Iris followed her words with a hard look at Billy.
60.4 For a moment he considered the jadeite coffee mug, which he held in both hands. “Fire King?” he asked.
60.5 “Got it at a garage sale last week,” Iris said. “So when can you leave? Jill has a passport…Tell me you can do this Billy.”
60.6 He looked at her. “To the ends of the earth for you, Iris my love.” Then he winked at Jill. ”Go pack,” he said. “Passport first.”
60.7 After Jill left Billy stood up. “I have to go home and send my publisher a pathetic email. And find some airline tickets…”
60.8 “I have this for Jill.” Iris handed him a bank card from her account. “Pay for everything.” Billy grinned. “How fun!” he said.
60.9 Iris winced. “Well do have a good time,” she said. “But she will be missing school so remember to come home.”
61.0 “And Billy, you know Laura isn’t easy.” He buttoned his overcoat. “Yes, so I’ve heard. Another difficult character.”
61.1 As he walked to the door he added, “Oh Iris, there was a man outside when I came. Staring at the dome. Does that happen a lot?”
61.2 “Actually yes,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. It’s an unusual house…”
61.3 Back home, Billy booked the flight and texted Jill: “Pick you up tomorrow at 4:00 am. Leave PDX at 11:15, in London 8:00 am Friday.”
61.4 Jill acknowledged immediately. “Got it.” Billy smiled. At fifteen she was already a better adult than most adults.
61.5 He wrote a quick apology to the publisher, and an over-stated evaluation of the book’s progress, then he thought again about Zach.
61.6 Maybe email didn’t work with the detective. Too late to call. He would write once more. “Zachary I am out of town for a few days…
61.7…I just wanted to tell you a couple things that might be of interest in the investigation. Evie Lane has moved in with Wendell Oat…
61.8…Also, have you considered natural poisons? I have reason to believe there were some around, in the neighborhood so to speak.
61.9 I would suggest you check for evidence of jimsonweed or monkshood plant. Just a hunch. Must run now.” That was done.
62.0 What other loose ends? He thought of the message about Uncannydeath. No word back from that inquiry. Maybe he should have called.
62.1 He went to his room to pack for the early morning trip. It could be cold in London, and likely even colder in Scotland.<
e10.8 Mart sat in his office, contemplating hurricanes. His division was over-exposed in the Caribbean and the Gulf, and he needed balance.
e10.9 He loved reinsurance. Reinsurance was how the financial world coped with the unexpected on a grand scale. You did it by balance.
e1.0 He could swap a billion of his hurricane risk against European windstorms, or flooding in Bengal. No one knew what would happen.
e1.2 As long as the profit on the things that didn’t happen outweighed the loss on the things that did, he was still in business.
e1.3 His second job, as he liked to think of it, was much the same. There were risks that embarrassments would crop up. He had to cover them.
e1.4 The Scotland business worried him. He was over-exposed. No resources on hand if something went wrong. He’d relied on Adam’s instinct.
e1.5 How could he best cover the risk? The office would expect him to sort it, with minimal data.
e1.6 They weren’t going to tell him what might happen, in case it didn’t. Wheels within wheels. And Billy Killins playing hard to get.
e1.7 Mr Killins might just about be awake by now. Mart had no e-mail for him, so sent another Direct Message on Twitter.
e1.8 ‘@killinswrites May have to go Scotland on govt. business to sort #uncannydeath. Newcastleton story. More than meets eye?’
e1.9 That gave Mr Killins quite enough clues to decide where he stood, Mart thought. He was a crime writer. He was used to these things.
e2.0. He stretched in his high-backed chair, and made up his mind about the hurricanes. He phoned one of the weather bond specialists.
e2.1 “Charlie, see if you can offer around $1.5 billion of US hurricane and match it against a mix of Indonesia, Japan and Europe.
e2.2 Wind, not flood if possible. If push comes to shove, I’ll take whatever’s going, providing the risk’s spread, and the margin’s OK.”
e2.3 That was that. He would have to go to Scotland. See Adam. See Brennan. Get some cover in. Where was Adam’s report? He’d asked Brennan.
e2.4 He swivelled his chair, put the confidential machine online. Jeeze, he could still taste peanuts. Perhaps he could get in some golf?
e2.5 Nothing from Brennan. In fact, total silence all round. Mart scratched an ear. Had he sold too much hurricane?
e2.6 The models said 2012 was low/normal risk, but hurricanes spawned in a few square kilometers, and no model went that fine.
e2.7 There just wasn’t enough data to decide. The same applied to Scotland. On impulse, he phoned the office. For once, Sue was there.
e2.8 “Sue, I’m thinking of going to Scotland. I’m short on resource there. But I’m walking in the dark. Can you give me more data?”
e2.9 There was a long pause. “Beyond the fact that we are worried about this drug we have heard of, it would likely be injudicious.
e3.0 But it might help you to do a little background on an old thing called MKULTRA. It’s common knowledge, Mart. Out there. Past. OK?
e3.1 Maybe not our best-ever. So, see what you can do. We have enough bad press globally. Don’t need more. Your discretion, Mart. Bye.”
e3.2 Mart got onto Google, and Wiki, and the variety of sites they led to. He did not like the look of this. Not one tiny bit.<
62.2 Billy was tired. What a day. His bag was packed and the alarm set for a time that was really not even morning. And he was hungry.
62.3 He drank a bit of very good brandy in a lovely old glass, looked once more at his computer and found another tweet about Uncannydeath.
62.4 This one seemed to know more. Billy was intrigued. And the author claimed to be on his way to Scotland to investigate. How…uncanny.
62.5 “One should never,” Billy advised himself, “send messages while tipsy.” Then he wrote back. “Arriving London Fri a.m….
62.6 Visiting sick friend at Whittington hospital. Cup of tea? Pint of beer? Deep secrets of hidden crimes? –Billy”
62.7 “Now,” Billy said to the brandy glass. “He will either run screaming or not believe his good fortune. Who the hell knows?”
62.8 “Jesus H Christ,” Mart said aloud. He sat in his office, alone. “Who is this guy?” But there was another message too, an email.
62.9 It was from Adam. “Mart,” it read. “I am alive. Brennen the bastard sent me a text that he is off for ‘margaritaville?’
63.0 Sorry I brought him in. They won’t let me out of this place: Whittington. I worry that Brennen sent you nothing, and he took it all.
63.1 Let me know. I can try to remember. Laura is making me crazy but I think I have her in control. –Adam.”
63.2 Mart went online, to book a flight.<
[One should never tweet while tipsy.]
63.4 It was not a normal dream. It was as if she had slipped into one of her trances while asleep and lived it . This happened from time to time.
63.5 It was always uncomfortable, but she seldom woke with the sickening sense of fear that now infected her. She groped for the lamp.
63.6 She kept a pencil and a pad on her bedside table in case she needed to record any experience she had while asleep.
63.7 Often the details went astray before she could write. But not in this case. The sense of suffocation was so vivid. And the trees.
63.8 Ranks of dark trees all around. Someone – a man? – a boy? terribly afraid. Trying to run. Then somewhere else. No trees, but linked.
63.9 Somewhere equally dark. A building. Maybe a deserted house. Again, the sense of fear. This time, a voice. A man’s voice, clear.
64.0 “Jill!” The shout was tinged with desperation. “Jill!”. Natasha did not know whose voice it was. But she only knew one Jill.
64.1 She sat up in bed. Slowly her room was resolving itself into its cluttered normality. She wrote hastily, grabbing the details.
64.2 She padded barefoot to the sink and drank three glasses of water. What time was it? She found her watch. Early. Very early.
[How wise Natasha is not to have anything to do with computers]
[Now, where was I?]
64.4 But sometimes there was no choice. And she wouldn’t even be paid. She dug in a drawer and found a crumpled sheet of paper.
64.5 She kept everything on paper. Phone numbers, bills, the lot. Computers and cellphones interfered with her perception.
64.6 She found Iris’s number, but hesitated. That connection was close, but it was not the right one. It was Billy she knew she must ring.
64.7 When Billy’s phone roused him out of the comforting warmth, he thought it must be his alarm. He swung his legs out of bed.
64.8 But when he looked at his bedside clock he realised that, in theory, he still had an hour’s sleep left. Then the shrill tone registered.
64.9 He picked up the phone. “Good Morning, Billy Killins here.” Politeness could be the best form of sarcasm at times.
65.0 “Billy,” came a voice. ” I know you don’t really believe. You don’t have to protest or anything. I know. But I needed to call.”
65.1 “Who is this?” asked Billy, allowing a little irritation in his voice. It was, after all 2.05 am.
“Oh Billy, it’s Natasha. You know.”
65.2 “Good morning Natasha, what can I do for you?”
“It’s not for me Billy, It’s for Jill. Is Jill alright?”
“As far as I know, yes.
65.3 “We are both catching a plane in a few hours. We’re flying to London.” There was a pause while Natasha took this in.
65.4 “Billy, are there trees there? And maybe an empty house?”
“Natasha, dear,” said Billy as gently as he could, “What is this about?”
65.5 “It’s just that – I can’t describe it, Billy, but I had a dream – no not a dream – and someone was calling out for Jill. Full of fear.”
65.6 Despite himself, Billy Killins felt a ripple of worry. “You are sure it was Jill? Our Jill?” “I don’t know,” came the reply.
65.7 “I think so. That’s why I rang.”
“And who was calling out?”
“A voice. A man’s voice. Not yours I think. Billy, please be careful.”
65.8 “Natasha, I assure you I value my skin a very great deal. And I value young Jill even more, if that is possible.
65.9 I shall do my utmost to avoid both trees and empty buildings while in London, and shall ensure Jill does the same.”
66.0 “Oh Billy, thank you. I had to warn you. I wouldn’t normally. But Jill, you see…and Iris of course.” Billy smiled.
66.1 “Thank you Natasha. Please let me know how much I owe you.” He felt he ought to extract a little revenge for that moment of worry.
66.2 “Nothing, Billy….but if you are sure, shall we say $40?”
“Of course.” He put the phone down. He was pleased he knew her so well.
66.3 It was hardly worth going back to sleep. He padded to the window and looked out. No sign of day. He sighed.
66.4 Flying was such an uncivilised way to travel. Up in one place, down in another, with your body clock in pieces.
66.5 Given the choice, he would go by sea, with time to observe and gather ideas. Many things happened on ships, not all of them nice.
66.6 Nothing ever happened on an aircraft. Still, a sick parent couldn’t wait. He’d make damn sure he kept an eye on Jill though.<