The Unfortunate Fortune Teller

A Hawthorne and Benton Mystery


The SILENCE light came on in the TV studio. The floor manager, hearing the producer’s voice in his headphones, held out his hand to signal the countdown to the presenter, who shifted slightly in his chair and faced the red light on the camera. A welcoming smile spread itself across his face, with a suddenness that was slightly alarming. The autocue rolled as he opened his mouth to speak:

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show. My guest this evening is a young lady whose powers will surely make her a household name. She is part way through a national tour, and will be appearing at theatres in our region in the next few days. Please welcome Miss Iolanthe Hibrith!”

The presenter rose from his seat, leading the audience in applause as his guest entered. Iolanthe Hibrith turned out to be a small, slight woman of about twenty. Reddish-brown hair curled around her pale face and cascaded over her shoulders. This, together with her outfit of a dark blue, full length dress and a sea green woven shawl, lent her a pre-Raphaelite air. She approached the presenter, looking around with a wide-eyed, almost hunted expression, but when she spoke, her voice was steady, clear and unexpectedly deep.

“Good evening.”

“Good evening, Miss Hibrith. Thank you for joining us tonight. Now, I won’t ask you to give us a demonstration of your powers straight away, but can you explain to the viewers what it is you do and, perhaps, a little of how you do it?”

In her sitting room in her house at Devil’s End, Miss Hawthorne looked at the television screen with curiosity. She didn’t usually watch this programme, she had turned on early to see the news headlines, but the running order had been disrupted. As the young woman began to explain how she used powers of divination to help her audiences and guide them, the white witch snorted.

“Pah! Stuff and nonsense.”

But something about the girl was nagging at Miss Hawthorne’s mind, something felt wrong, what was it? She watched more closely, concentrating on the expression and posture of the young prophetess. Something about the expression bothered her. The young woman’s voice was calm, but her eyes darted to the left, shooting frequent glances to someone or something just off the camera. After some jovial hints from the host, Miss Hibrith allowed herself to be persuaded to do a reading for him. Miss Hawthorne watched for a few more minutes, frowning. Then she made a decision. Moving from her armchair to her desk, she lifted the telephone receiver and dialed, turning so she could still see the television.

“Hello, Olive Hawthorne speaking. Yes, that’s right. Yes. May I … is the Doctor available by any chance?”

There was a pause at the other end of the line, then Miss Hawthorne was greeted in familiar, ringing tones.

“Miss Hawthorne? What a delightful surprise. What can I do for you?”

“Ah! Doctor. I’m sorry to trouble you. Is there by any chance a television at headquarters?”

The following morning found Miss Hawthorne at UNIT HQ, in the Brigadier’s office. The Brigadier was in Geneva, but the Doctor had no qualms about taking possession of the office in the commanding officer’s absence. He sat behind the desk, swinging gently from side to side in the Brigadier’s office chair as he considered the matter in hand. Suddenly he came to halt and put both hands on the desk.

“Well, Miss Hawthorne, I agree. Something was very wrong on that broadcast last night.”

“You saw?”

“Yes. What she was describing was the usual nonsense, but I had a distinct impression of power, when she began to work on the host. And there was something else...”

“Yes.” Miss Hawthorne spoke decidedly. “That child was terrified. Something, or someone, has frightened her badly. I thought at first she was nervous at being on camera, but I think it was more than that.”

“I agree.”

The Doctor stood up and began to pace the room, one hand in a pocket of his velvet jacket while he stroked his chin with the other. His next remark was unexpected.

“Have you ever dabbled in divination, Miss Hawthorne?”

“I? Well, I have cast runes and I used the tarot when I was younger.”

“But not anymore?”

“No. I came to the conclusion that there were things that people would be better off not knowing, myself included. After all, most forms of prediction will show only a snapshot of the future, not what happens on the way, or the sense of the events. I do still use my crystal, but for remote viewing. I no longer wish to look into the future.”

The Doctor appeared lost in thought and speaking almost to himself,

“Yes, it can be a terrible thing to know the future.”

Miss Hawthorne looked at him questioningly. Her expression recalled the Doctor from his reverie. A sudden smile lit up his face, banishing his thoughtful frown like the sun coming from behind a cloud.

“Forgive me, Miss Hawthorne. Now, (he sat back down behind the desk) we agree that something is wrong. The question is, what, exactly, and can we do anything about it?”

At that moment there was a knock at the door. In response to the Doctor’s “Come in,” Sergeant Benton entered, carrying a tray with three cups and a teapot on it.

“Goodness, have they got you on tea boy duties, Sergeant?”

Sergeant Benton didn’t rise to the Doctor’s teasing. Instead, he put down the tray, drew up a chair and began to pour out three cups of tea.

“Not yet, Doctor. I thought you and Miss Hawthorne would probably want some refreshment and that it was time you told me what you two have been plotting in here. After all, if Miss Hawthorne is going to get into trouble, I expect I’ll be going too!”

Miss Hawthorne accepted a cup of tea and smiled. Bracing herself for the strength of the brew, she took a sip.

“We haven’t plotted anything, at least not yet.”

While they drank their tea, Miss Hawthorne explained their concerns about the previous night’s broadcast and their conclusions thus far. Sergeant Benton looked thoughtful.

“But I thought you didn’t believe in magic, Doctor?”

“The sort of clairvoyance and prediction that Miss Hibrith seems to be engaged in isn’t magic, Sergeant. Many scientists believe that there are parts of the human brain that are not used in everyday life. It may be that the powers we attribute to magic come from the use of those dormant areas. I should like to undertake some research into these matters myself at some point, but I’m too busy at the moment.”

Miss Hawthorne looked skeptical, but made no comment. She didn’t want to get involved in another argument about the limits of magic and science. Sergeant Benton looked at her and smiled to himself. After their initial disagreements, there was mutual respect between the Doctor and the white witch, but that didn’t mean that there was always agreement. But the Doctor was speaking again.

“It seems to me that the most logical course would be to attend one of Miss Hibrith’s performances and see if that gives you any clues.”

“You won’t be able to assist, Doctor?” asked Miss Hawthorne, hearing the “you”.

“No, no I’m afraid not. I have other urgent matters in hand.”

He said no more, but Sergeant Benton guessed that whatever it was involved a trip in the TARDIS. He spoke up.

“The Brigadier should be back in a couple of days’ time, but we can always call Geneva to get clearance before we take any action.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

Miss Hawthorne was relieved. She was fairly sure that the Brigadier would approve of their investigation, but she preferred to have the approval of that, sometimes irascible, gentleman before they began.

“Nothing to it! I’ll get Jenkins to add it into the daily report he sends through, it’s not due out till 15:00 hours.”

Sergeant Benton picked up the tea things and checked the surface of his superior’s desk for spills or marks. Investigating mysterious clairvoyants was one thing, but the Brigadier’s desk was not to be trifled with. The Doctor smiled as he watched.

“I think we’ve got away with it, Sergeant!”

“Just checking, Doctor, can’t be too careful. I’ll get on to Jenkins now about that report.”

He left the room, closing the door carefully behind himself and the tray. Miss Hawthorne pulled a folded newspaper out of her bag. The paper was folded back to the entertainments page, and one entry had been ringed in pen.

“And if you will remind me how to get an outside line, Doctor, then I can call the nearest theatre and book our tickets. They are bound to sell quickly after last night’s broadcast.” The box office number was, indeed, engaged, but Miss Hawthorne’s persistence paid off and, after repeated calls, two tickets were reserved at the theatre in nearby Risinghurst for the following evening and after more consultation of advertisements in the paper, two rooms booked at a small hotel in the town.

“Good,” said Miss Hawthorne as she made a note of the ticket price, “that will give us the rest of today and tomorrow to plan our strategy.”

She rose and gathered up her cloak and handbag. Sergeant Benton put his head around the door and informed his co-conspirators that he had spoken to the Brigadier.

“Jenkins was talking to him when I went to the comms room. He’s given us the all clear to proceed.”

“Excellent,” the Doctor stood up and rubbed his hands together. “now if you’ll forgive me I must get on,” he walked briskly out of the room, leaving Miss Hawthorne and the Sergeant looking after him. Sergeant Benton shrugged, then smiled,

“Well, that just leaves us then! Did you get the tickets OK?”

“Yes, we can pick them up at the box office. I’ve booked rooms for us here,” Miss Hawthorne showed the Sergeant the name of the hotel, “so I suggest we meet here tomorrow and travel over together. That is, if I may leave my car here?”

“That’ll be fine, I’ll get you a pass. We can take one of the unmarked cars from the garage.”

“Good.”

Miss Hawthorne’s car was on the small side, and, while it was the right size for her everyday needs, it wasn’t really big enough to accommodate Sergeant Benton’s long limbs.

“Then I will see you tomorrow afternoon.”

“Yes, see you then.”

Sergeant Benton closed the door behind Miss Hawthorne and then, without really thinking, sat down and sighed. What had they let themselves in for this time? Suddenly, the Sergeant realised he was sitting in the Brigadier’s chair. He leapt up, and looked round guiltily, then relaxed and laughed. Picking up Miss Hawthorne’s newspaper, which she had left on her chair, he went to make the necessary arrangements for the following day.

It was shortly before three in the afternoon when the UNIT unmarked car pulled into a parking space outside the Fairview Hotel. The name was slightly misleading, the immediate view being a supermarket on the opposite side of the high street, but the rooms were clean and comfortable and the staff welcoming. Once Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton had unpacked and settled into their rooms, they walked round to the theatre to collect the tickets and explore the town a little before dinner. Risinghurst was a small place which hadn’t yet been swallowed by the urban sprawl of nearby, larger towns. The architecture in the town centre was a mixture of ancient and modern, a half-timbered inn sat cheek by jowl with an imposing Edwardian bank and glass-fronted supermarket. Some of the side streets off the main thoroughfare were cobbled, and tubs of flowers and hanging baskets brightened the houses and shop fronts. All in all, it was a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. The theatre was on a turning off the High Street. The jutting canopy and windows were typical of an early 20th century regional theatre. Miss Hawthorne collected the tickets from the box office window, while Benton looked at the posters advertising current and future events, then strolled a bit further on, to look down the alleyway that led to the rear of the theatre and, presumably, the stage door. The Sergeant took a couple of steps down the alley, then stopped as he heard voices coming from the other direction. He moved forward again, but more slowly. He had almost reached the stage door when the two men who were the owners of the voices came round the corner from the back of the theatre. Benton stepped back into the shadow cast by the building and flattened himself against the wall. Fortunately, the speakers were too intent on their conversation to notice him. The taller of the two was slim, but muscular and seemed to loom over his companion. He was wearing dark trousers and a black leather jacket and carried a sports bag over one shoulder. His fair hair was trimmed to almost military neatness. His companion was a short, stocky man with a crew cut, wearing a belted mackintosh over a tweed suit. Their voices were low, but audible.

“Has she come up with the goods yet, then?”

“No. Not a thing. Claims she can’t get a clear impression, whatever that means, that’s why I called you, I thought you might be able to … persuade her a bit.”

The shorter man laughed, nastily.

“Well, I could remind her of her responsibilities, that might do the trick. How are the numbers tonight?”

“Sold out, told you the telly was a good idea.”

“Yeah, you were right about that.”

By this time the men and reached the stage door and entered. Benton stayed still for a few seconds, then walked quietly back to the end of the alley, a serious expression on his usually good natured face. He didn’t know much about theatre people, but those men did not match his idea of what they would be like, either in appearance or conversation. Clearly Miss Hawthorne had been right, the young clairvoyant was being threatened.
Miss Hawthorne had finished her transaction at the box office and was waiting by the entrance, looking at the posters. She turned as Benton approached.

“There you are John, where did you vanish to?”

“Not far, Aunt Olive (they had assumed their usual aliases of aunt and nephew for the purposes of the trip), I just wondered if that alley was a short cut to the High Street.”

“And is it?”

“As it happens, no!”

This conversation took them away from the box office queue. When they were far enough away for their voices not to carry, Miss Hawthorne raised her eyebrows,

“Well?”

Sergeant Benton told her what he had seen and heard at the stage door. Miss Hawthorne frowned.

“I see, so our suspicions were right.”

“It looks like it. But what could they want her to do?”

“I don’t know, at least… perhaps we will learn more after tonight’s performance.”

“Hope so.”

Benton was silent for a moment, then asked a question which had been troubling him since the previous day.

“Miss Hawthorne?”

“Yes?”

“Can people really read other people’s minds? I mean, really?”

Miss Hawthorne considered.

“It depends what you mean by reading their minds. The human mind is a mass of conflicting thoughts and impulses. One person might be thinking of three or four things at once, they might think they were concentrating on their work, for example, but behind the scenes they might also be wondering what was for dinner, whether it would be fine later for a walk, all kinds of things. So, even if one could see into a person’s mind, isolating a single train of thought from the others would be nearly impossible.”

“Oh, I see.”

“It is possible to read a person’s feelings, but that isn’t really a question of clairvoyance, it’s more about learning to read expressions and posture and tone of voice, and asking leading questions. I’ve seen it done by any number of charlatans.”

“Right, what the Doctor calls ‘body language’?”

“Precisely. “

“And what about predicting the future?”

“Ah, that is a more complicated question. There are techniques that those with a talent for clairvoyance can use to ‘see’ a vision of the future. But, as I said, these are just snapshots, with no context, and the way to that future is rarely made clear. One might, for example, see a vision that suggested a great disaster, but it might transpire that that disaster was necessary to prevent an even bigger one. We must also consider the question of suggestion. An unscrupulous person might suggest to a client that their life was to take a certain course, in order to influence their behaviour.”

“Oh, like Macbeth you mean?”

They had reached the hotel by this time and Miss Hawthorne paused on the front step and looked at the Sergeant, astonished. Seeing her bewildered expression, Benton explained,

“Well, the witches knew Macbeth wanted to be king, so they knew if they told him he would be, he would do the rest. I reckon they weren’t seeing the future at all, all they had to do was tell him and he was so ambitious he made it happen.”

Miss Hawthorne was rendered temporarily speechless by her companion’s sudden diversion into dramatic criticism, but recovered quickly.

“Er, yes, yes, that’s precisely what I mean.” Then her curiosity got the better of her. “I didn’t know you were a fan of Shakespeare?”

Benton grinned.

“Read it at school. We got taken to see a production for an outing. That’s when I realised what the witches were up to.”

“I see!”

Miss Hawthorne led the way into the hotel, reminding herself that it didn’t do to underestimate Sergeant Benton.

The conversation continued over dinner. Having steered a large forkfull of steak and kidney pudding from plate to mouth without losing even a drop of gravy, Sergeant Benton went back to his earlier question.

“So, it is possible to see into the future?”

Miss Hawthorne glanced round the dining room. From snatches of conversations from the other tables, it was clear that they were not the only ones who would be attending the performance that evening, so it seemed safe enough to carry on with the subject.

“Yes, but only up to a point.”

“I see. And how do you think this Miss Hibrith does it?”

“That remains to be seen. There are many ways of channeling clairvoyance. Some use the tarot or the I-ching, others may use crystals (their eyes met and Sergeant Benton grinned at the memory of the other uses Miss Hawthorne had found for her trusty crystal ball). Ahem! Mystics and soothsayers have used all kinds of things throughout history. Mirrors, animal entrails (the Sergeant lifted his fork, then set it down again,) the alignment of the stars, weasels…”

“WEASELS?”

Sergeant Benton’s astonished reply came at a momentary lull in the hubbub of the dining room and several diners looked at him in surprise. He blushed, then lowered his voice as the chatter began again.

“Sorry, but, weasels? You’re having me on aren’t you?”

“No, indeed! In ancient times the weasel was seen as a beast of ill omen, a warning of impending death, or the familiar spirit of a witch.”

“Well I’m blowed. Weasels, eh?”

Sergeant Benton shook his head and turned his attention back to his dinner.

The theatre lobby was buzzing with conversation when Miss Hawthorne and the Sergeant arrived. While Miss Hawthorne went to deposit her coat at the cloakroom, Sergeant Benton took up station near the side wall of the lobby, in a position that would enable him to keep an eye on the people coming and going. A sudden burst of loud laughter drew his attention to the far side of the lobby, where a large, red-faced man in evening dress was standing with the taller of the two men from the alleyway. The alley man was in a smart suit, but still, to Benton, looked shifty. Their conversation apparently at an end, the taller man gripped one of the red-faced man’s hands in both of his to shake it. He did this vigorously and with an odd movement that would have been missed by anyone less observant than Sergeant Benton. Having shaken hands, the men moved apart, the tall man slipping through a door at the back of the lobby, which, presumably, led back stage. Miss Hawthorne threaded her way through the crowded lobby to where Benton was standing, a thoughtful frown on his face.

“Have you seen anything of interest?”

“Oh yes. If I’m not mistaken, one of my friends from the stage door has just pinched that man’s watch!”

Miss Hawthorne followed the Sergeant’s gaze, to where the man was chatting to a small group, clearly unaware that he had been robbed.

“But how extraordinary. Surely this can’t be the purpose of these gatherings?”

“I wouldn’t have thought so, you’d need a whole army of pickpockets to rob all these people, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble, surely?”

“No. So why steal that man’s watch?”

“Opportunist?”

“Possibly.”

Behind the scenes, the stage crew was making the final preparations before curtain up. This sort of show didn’t need a lot of scenery, but the lighting was complicated, as there was a need to spotlight members of the audience as well as those on the stage. Unnoticed by the crew, the tall man walked along the busy corridor and entered a door marked dressing room. Inside were Iolanthe Hibrith, who was putting the finishing touches to her makeup, the shorter man from the alley, who was leaning against the wall and scowling, and a small, dark haired woman, who was sitting on a chair next to the mirror, watching proceedings rather as a cat watches birds. The tall man closed the door behind him and held out his hand. He had, indeed, stolen the watch. The shorter man spoke.

“There you are. Just you have a try with that and see if it doesn’t jog your ‘visions’ a bit.”

Without turning round, the young clairvoyant said;

“No.”

“No? I don’t think you understood me. I’m not asking you to do it.”

“And I’m still saying no.”

“Really. Ok then. Monica.”

The dark haired woman stood up. Iolanthe Hibrith cringed and held out her hand for the watch.

“That’s better. One last time and your Dad’s debts are all paid off and you can go and spread the good news or whatever it is you want to do. Now.”

The girl held the watch in both hands and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, the pupils had shrunk as if she was staring into a bright light. After a few seconds, she spoke.

“This watch belongs to a rich man.”

“Yes.” This was the woman, Monica, “tell us about him. Where does he live?”

“In a big house. Lots of rooms. Ten … ten rooms.”

“Can you see what is in the rooms? Start on the ground floor. What can you see?”

“A big room. Paintings. A dresser with, with silver things on it. A fireplace…” she paused and Monica leaned forward

“Yes? What is there on the fireplace?”

Iolanthe turned the watch in her hands, her eyes still fixed on some distant point.

“A clock, all gold and silver, under glass. Candlesticks”

“Good, that’s good. Now try another room. Walk out of the door and into the hall, then go into another room. What do you see?”

“A chair. A big desk. Bookshelves. A fireplace.”

“Good. Are there any pictures?”

“Yes. The one over the fireplace looks funny. It’s not straight.”

Monica shot a glance at her companions, one of whom nodded.

“Good. Now, back into the hall.”

“There’s a dog. A big dog. It’s barking, it’s ...”

Her voice faded away and her head drooped to one side. Monica took the watch out of her hand and gave it back to her taller companion.

“There you are Vince. Good enough?”

“I’ll say. The safe is where we thought it was and we can get the crew ready to deal with the dog. I’ll call them now.”

“And you’d better ‘find’ that watch before he notices it’s missing. If he hasn’t already.”

“Right, half a mo.”

The man took a small pair of pliers out of his pocket and bent the fastening of the watch strap, to give the impression that it had worked loose and fallen off,

“and you’d better get our leading lady ready to go on, there’s the bell.”

Monica didn’t answer him, but bent over Iolanthe, a bottle of smelling salts in her hand. As the young woman came to, coughing, Vince slipped out of the door. In the lobby he greeted one of the ushers, who was checking tickets at the entrance to the auditorium.

“Yes, Sir?”

“Sorry to bother you, but I found this over there by the bar,” Vince waved vaguely in the direction of where he and the red-faced man had been standing, “and I don’t know who it belongs to, but I expect they will want it back.”

The usher took the watch and examined it.

“I should think so! Thank you sir, we’ll make an announcement.”

“Right you are.”

Vince waved his thanks to the usher and went out of the main door onto the street. Once outside he walked to the nearest phone box, a short distance away.

After speaking to Vince, the usher had spoken to the Front of House manager, who made an announcement over the tannoy.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. A gentleman’s sliver wristwatch has been found in the lobby. If you have lost a watch, please speak to one of our ushers with a description and we will return it to you. Thank you.”

There was a general hubbub as the men in the audience checked their wrists and pockets. Eventually, the red-faced man signaled to an usher and spoke animatedly. The usher left the auditorium and returned moments later with the watch. From their seats at the rear of the auditorium, Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton watched the proceedings with surprise. Benton leaned towards Miss Hawthorne and whispered

“So they nick his watch and then give it back to him?”

A woman in the row in front turned round and shushed him. Benton subsided, and Miss Hawthorne could only raise her eyebrows and shrug. But as the curtain went up she was deep in thought. What use could it be to the men to steal a watch and then return it after so short a time? Had they taken it for Miss Hibrith to use? What could she be using it for?
Her train of thought was interrupted by a burst of applause. Iolanthe Hibrith. She bowed to her audience and then settled herself in the chair which had been placed centre stage. A table with a glass of water stood to one side, and she took a sip before she spoke. Once again, Miss Hawthorne noticed how clear and steady the voice was. If Miss Hibrith was nervous, no sign of it showed in her voice. And this time there were no darting glances to the side, so she did not fear a threat, or need reassurance from offstage.
The evening began with Miss Hibrith giving a brief account of her family history and how she had discovered what she described as her “gifts.” Miss Hawthorne listened with interest, noting the slight quiver in the voice when the woman mentioned her parents. Miss Hawthorne’s notebook was open on her lap and she wrote in the words “parents? Orphan?” then turned her attention back to the stage. The account of her upbringing and training finished, Miss Hibrith explained the form the evening would take. She did not, she said, have a spirit guide and would not be offering to bring messages from beyond the veil, (the woman in the row in front sighed in disappointment at this,) rather she would sense the auras of those present in the hall and help people to see themselves and their problems clearly. This, she hoped, would help the audience find solutions to any difficulties in which they found themselves. Sergeant Benton looked at Miss Hawthorne and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Miss Hawthorne shrugged and wrote “Cold reading?” on her pad and turned it so the Sergeant could see it. He nodded and looked back towards the stage. Earlier in the evening, Miss Hawthorne had explained that cold reading was a technique used by fraudulent mediums and psychics which enabled them to get information about their audience without the audience realizing how much they had given away. A person practiced in cold reading would make a series of guesses (chosen based on the profile of the audience) and then pick up on and respond to cues given by the members of the audience in response to the initial guesses.
Iolanthe Hibrith closed her eyes. After a few moments she began to speak and it seemed to a disappointed Miss Hawthorne that it was indeed cold reading that was taking place. There were guesses in the form of questions, which the audience responded to and these were followed by more precise questions and more responses. Yet there was something else. It was a feeling. An impression of something sweeping across the auditorium, like an invisible search light. Miss Hibrith might be using the methods of charlatans, but she also had power. Interesting. If she was using the cold reading for her public persona, what was she using her actual power for? Miss Hawthorne closed her eyes and attempted to clear her mind. She pictured a slate, with one word written on it:
FRIEND
She concentrated on that word as hard as she could. As she felt the “searchlight” sweep over her, Miss Hawthorne gasped. Her gasp was echoed from the stage, where Iolanthe opened her eyes with a start and looked around with a bewildered expression. The audience watched in consternation as a dark haired woman came onto the stage and crouched down by the chair, questioning her charge urgently. Whatever Miss Hibrith said seemed to satisfy her, as she held out the glass of water. Iolathe Hibrith sipped the water and composed herself, then closed her eyes again and began to speak, using the same technique as before. Eventually she seemed almost to doze off, then raised her head and looked at her audience with a smile.

“I hope you have found this evening to be enlightening. Thank you for sharing your time with me.”

Then she bowed, a little unsteadily and walked off the stage to loud applause and cheering. Under cover of the ovation, Sergeant Benton leant over again to Miss Hawthorne and asked;

“Anything?”
“Oh yes. Definitely. I believe we made contact. I only hope I have not got her into any trouble. Did you feel it?”

The Sergeant considered.

“I felt … something. It was, well, it’s hard to describe. It was as if something or someone was looking for something, reaching out towards me.” He stood up ”honestly? It was creepy.”

“That’s a very good word for it. And now I must go and make some unwelcome advances.”

“Right. I’ll go to the cloakroom and wait outside. If you’re not out in half an hour I’ll come and rescue you!”

“I hope I won’t need rescuing, I expect to be given short shrift! But yes, I’ll see you outside.”

When she walked off the stage, Iolanthe was met by Monica, who grabbed her by the arm.

“What was that about? What happened?”

Iolanthe continued to walk, seeming unaware of the pressure on her wrist.

“Nothing. It was nothing. I was too tired after the remote viewing. I shouldn’t have tried to do the whole room in one go.”

Monica looked at her suspiciously, but Iolanthe turned a clear face towards her.

“Really, that’s all it was.”

“Oh well, if you say so. We’d better hurry. You’ve got to debrief before we leave the building.”

She quickened her pace, dragging Iolanthe behind her. In a small voice, the psychic asked,

“Must I? I thought ...”

“Of course you must. Don’t give me any more nonsense. The sooner we start the sooner it will be over with. Come along!”

With this last word she yanked her victim by the arm, almost pulling her off her feet. By this time they had reached the dressing room. Monica, seeing a group approaching, which she took to be well-wishers, hustled Iolanthe inside and slammed the door. Once inside, the younger woman sat down in front of the mirror and buried her face in her hands. Vince, who was lounging against the wall near the door, looked at her

“Well? What is it? What’s upset our little star tonight?”

Monica answered;

“Says she’s tired. Something gave her a fright on stage. Says she thought we wouldn’t need to debrief.”

“Oh, well, in that case she’s got another think coming.”

Iolanthe looked up at this;

“But you got what you wanted? Didn’t you? Isn’t that enough?”

Vince was about to reply, when there was a knock at the door. Vince signaled to Monica, who got up and opened the door a crack. Iolanthe couldn’t see who was on the other side, but she heard a female voice.

“I am sorry to trouble you, I know I’m taking a terrible liberty coming to the dressing room, but I did want to say what a wonderfully fulfilling evening this has been for me.”

Monica thanked the owner of the voice brusquely and made as if to close the door, but the speaker didn’t take the hint.

“My name is Hawthorne, I write a column now and then in the Wiccan Gazette and I was wondering if by any chance ...”

“No.”

“Oh. But I haven’t asked you yet!”

“Miss Hibrith is not going to give interviews. She is worn out.”

“Oh of course, I wasn’t expecting to speak to her now. Good heavens! No, I was only going to leave my card,” a pale, slim hand was extended with a small square of pasteboard in it, “and say that I’m staying at the Fairview Hotel for the next few days, if Miss Hibrith wanted to get in touch. I had such a warm impression of her during the evening, almost as if we were already friends.”

Something about the last word made Iolanthe start. She managed to keep her face expressionless, though and, instead, reached out with her mind. There it was again. On the other side of the door was the word FRIEND. Iolanthe’s mind raced. Who was this woman? She couldn’t possibly be as silly and twittering as she sounded. Why had she come? Could she actually be here to help?
Monica had accepted the card and closed the door on the still expostulating Miss Hawthorne. Without looking at the card she tore it up and threw the pieces and in the wastepaper basket.

“So much for her. Debrief time.”

She pulled up a chair and sat opposite Iolanthe, who was too tired to resist when she heard Monica say quietly “look at me” and saw a small, sparkling pendant hanging in front of her eyes. As she slipped into a trance, Iolanthe repeated to herself over and over again;

“Hawthorne. Fairview. Friend.”

Sergeant Benton was, as he had promised, waiting for Miss Hawthorne outside the theatre.

“Any luck?”

“No! Sent away with a flea in my ear, as I expected. I think I spoke clearly enough to make myself heard, though. Unfortunately we will have to wait and see if Miss Hibrith is able to make contact.”

“Yes. We’d better be getting back, I suppose. Not much point in trying to follow them, they’d spot us straight away in a quiet place like this.”

“I fear so.”

They walked back to the hotel in silence, both of them frustrated by their lack of progress. Having wished Miss Hawthorne good night at the door of her room, Sergeant Benton went to his own room to get ready for bed. But, unusually for him, he couldn’t settle down. The events of the evening nagged at his brain and, in the end he had to sit up and read, not knowing that Miss Hawthorne had had to do the same.

In the dressing room, Monica took out a plan of the auditorium, and began to read the seat numbers aloud. In a slow, entranced voice, Iolanthe gave a word in answer to each number.

“F47.”

“Lust.”

"F48."

“Guilt.”

“F49.”

“Curiosity.”

As they went along, Monica made marks on the plan. Once they had reached the back of the stalls, she glanced at Vince, who nodded. Leaning forward, she snapped her fingers in front of Iolanthe’s face. The reaction was instant. Iolanthe opened her eyes and sighed, then looked down at the plan with disgust.

“You got what you wanted?”

“Enough to be going on with.”

A tap at the door alerted Vince to the time.

“We’d better be going.”

Monica stood up and made to take Iolanthe’s arm, but was shaken off.

“Don’t touch me.”

Vince smiled, unpleasantly.

“Getting independent? Don’t even think about making trouble, or we’ll put you under again and carry you.”

Iolanthe’s shoulders sagged momentarily, but she said nothing. Instead she gathered up her shawl and bag and walked to the door. As she did so, three words appeared in her mind.

Hawthorne. Fairview. Friend.

Miss Hawthorne and Benton met again at breakfast the following morning, both noting the other’s tired face and deciding not to mention it. The Sergeant had picked up a newspaper from the pile at the door of the breakfast room and exclaimed as he saw the headline on the front page.

“Look at this! Would you believe it?”

He handed the paper across the table and Miss Hawthorne gasped as she looked at it. The front page showed a photograph of an angry looking man outside a Georgian villa. The headline read;

“Burglary shock for local businessman.”

The man in the picture was the red-faced theatregoer.

“Could it be a coincidence? “ asked Benton. “someone in the neighbourhood who saw him leave the house and took a chance on it?”

Miss Hawthorne was reading the story.

“I think not. It says here that the thieves drugged the guard dog and went straight for the safe and the silverware, ignoring the other rooms. This theft must have been planned.”

There was a short silence, then suddenly Miss Hawthorne said,

“Remote viewing! Of course! What a fool I am!”

Sergeant Benton looked puzzled.

“Er, I’m sorry, you’ve lost me there.”

Miss Hawthorne recovered herself and looked quickly round the breakfast room, but they were alone.

“I’m sorry. It suddenly dawned on me. The watch. That was what the watch was for.”

Miss Hawthorne explained that some clairvoyants were said to be able to read from objects, they could tell a person’s history, whereabouts or even their future from touching and holding one of their possessions.

“It is usually a fraud, using the cold reading techniques we saw last night, but we know that Miss Hibrith is not a fraud.”

“So, you think she might have seen inside this chap’s house, by holding his watch? That seems a bit unlikely.”

“It does, but it also seems possible. Consider. The watch is stolen for a short time before the show and then returned. Why? Not for a prank. When Miss Hibrith arrived on stage she was already tired. So much so that my small intervention caused her to lose her concentration. Could this have been because she had already been exerting herself in attempting to view the house, using the watch as a focus? The burglars knew where the most valuable items were, and they knew about the dog, they must have got that information from somewhere.”

“Yes, but ... it’s a bit...”

“Far-fetched? Yes, it seems so. I wonder. We may be able to find a more definite link,” Miss Hawthorne reached for her handbag and fished out the page from the newspaper that she had taken to UNIT, “but we will need either to visit the local library or contact UNIT for information. As time is against us, I suggest the latter.”

Light dawned on Sergeant Benton.

“Oh! You mean if there have been more burglaries in places where there have also been shows? Is that the list of venues?”

“Yes, here.”

“Right, there’s a phone in the lobby and it’s pretty quiet at the moment. I’ll get in touch with HQ.”

Benton went quickly out of the room, grateful to be taking some positive action. Miss Hawthorne drummed her fingers on the table, deep in thought, then called the waiter and asked if the reception had a map of the area she could borrow. Having received a positive answer, she went to the desk and secured the map, then seated herself at a table in the lobby, close to the phone, where Sergeant Benton was talking to HQ. When he had finished the call, he joined her at the table.

“And?”

“Spoke to Jenkins, he’s going to get on to records and the local police and get back to us.”

“Good. That will be better than us approaching the police ourselves, I think.”

“Yes.”

“In the meantime, after last night’s excitements I feel I could do with another cup of coffee.”

“Good idea!” and Benton went to find a waiter and place the order.

They hadn’t long to wait. The coffee had been drunk and the Sergeant and Miss Hawthorne were discussing a plan of attack for the day, when Benton was called to the phone. He returned after about fifteen minutes, a serious look on his face.

“You were right. Every place she has performed, there’s been a burglary. See here,” Benton sat down and put his notebook on the table next to the page from the newspaper. He showed Miss Hawthorne how the dates of the burglaries matched with the dates of the performances.
“Same MO each time. Only the rooms with the most valuable stuff are touched, the rest are left alone. And there’s something else,” he turned a page in the notebook, “on the day of the performances, there’s been a morning reception at the town hall in each place. All the victims also went to those receptions.”

Miss Hawthorne leaned forward and rested her chin on her hands.

“How interesting. Could that be where the gang, I think we must be dealing with a gang? (Benton nodded) how they identified their victims?”

“It must be. If they were local bigwigs, it wouldn’t be hard to find out where they lived. Or they might have had to give their addresses to get a ticket. The gang could see which house they fancied the most from the outside and then later on they’d pull the watch trick and…”

“And their other victim would fill in the details. Oh yes (in answer to Benton’s questioning look) I think there can be no doubt that she is acting under duress. The conversation you overheard proves it, if nothing else. Now, where could they be staying, I wonder?”

“I don’t reckon they’d be in a hotel. Even if the gang wasn’t all in one place, they’d want to come and go without anyone seeing them.”

“I agree… I,” Miss Hawthorne paused as a couple walked past on their way out of the lobby, “perhaps we should continue this conversation somewhere else.”

“Right.”

Benton nodded and picked up the map, paper and notebook. The hotel had been able to provide a private sitting room, which would be a much better place to continue their discussion.

Daylight streamed in through the blind as Iolanthe opened her eyes. She remained still, pretending to herself that if she didn’t move, the previous night wouldn’t have happened, and that perhaps she if she closed her eyes she would open them again somewhere else. A brief tap at the door shattered that illusion and she sat up in bed. She had expected Monica to arrive, but, instead it was the shorter of the two gangsters, Vince’s boss. He was carrying a tray and had a newspaper under one arm. He set down the tray on the bedside table and tossed the paper onto the bed.

“You did well.”

Iolanthe looked at the headline and shuddered.

“Don’t look like that!” the man smiled spitefully, “you’ve been a great help.”

He went to the door, then turned back.

“I’d stay up here for today if I were you, we’ve got a lot of organizing to do and then there’s all the phone calls to make after last night.”

Iolanthe nodded, then gathered her nerve.

“Mr Barnes. You said this would be the last time. Once you’d been paid back.”

“Did I? Oh, I can’t think what made me say that. Why would we stop now, when it’s all working out so well? Make the most of your day off, you’ll be busy again before you know it!”

He went out of the room and Iolanthe heard the key turn in the lock. So that was that. They weren’t going to let her stop. She had to get away. She had little appetite for her breakfast, but ate it, without really noticing what she was eating. As she ate, she turned the pages of the newspaper, avoiding the story of the burglary and the review of her performance the previous evening. The reviews page was followed by a page of advertisements for local attractions, events and accommodation. As Iolanthe idly scanned the page, a small advertisement seemed to almost jump out. The Fairview Hotel, Lower Risinghurst. That was it! But how could she make contact? The window was too high to get out of, and, even if she could, Iolanthe had no real notion of where the house was located as they frequently travelled after dark and her view from the car was blocked. The lower windows and doors were all secured and she was rarely left completely alone, even if she wasn’t confined to her room. That left the telephone. It was risky, she would have to be very quiet and hope that she could get through before she was discovered. She hadn’t tried to get to the phone before, Barnes and Vince had persuaded her that, if she tried to call the police, she would be arrested and that together with their insistence that she pay off the debt they said her father had owed them, and the promise of terrible consequences if she did not, had kept her quiet. Until now. Now she knew that they would not let her stop. She shuddered again at the thought, and not only of the burglaries. The phone calls Barnes had mentioned were the result of her cold reading and her mental sweep of the auditorium. Monica had noted the seats where the patrons had negative emotions; guilt, fear, lust, hatred. A list of telephone numbers, filched from the box office, provided the gang with a route to blackmail. Calls were made from public phone boxes, using the same techniques as the cold reading, to scare the patrons and make them believe that the gang knew their secrets, whatever they were. From there the gang would proceed to tighten their grip on the victims, with repeated calls and, finally, demands for money. Iolanthe shook herself, mentally. She had to try, even if it meant risking getting caught. The nearest telephone was in the study. If they let her out later on, she would try and call from there. Her mind made up, Iolanthe focused on the advertisement and began to memorise the telephone number. She dared not risk tearing out the page and the gang had made sure that she had no writing materials. With the number lodged in her memory, she got out of bed and went to the bathroom that adjoined her room to get washed and dressed. That accomplished, she made her bed and sat on it, putting her feet up, then picked up the novel that sat beside the tray on her bedside table. Locked in as she was, she could do nothing but wait.

In their sitting room at the hotel, Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton had studied the map that had been provided by the receptionist. Using a pencil, Benton had lightly marked the locations of the theatres where performances had taken place, or were booked for the next few days, after which, presumably, the gang would change their lodgings. Plotting a line around the area, they looked at the possibilities for a hideout. Unfortunately the area covered several small towns and villages, so even this initial narrowing down wasn’t much help. Miss Hawthorne sighed.

“I fear we are looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Benton frowned.

“It looks like it. It must be somewhere in this area, but where do we start. OK,” he pulled his notebook towards him and picked up the pencil, “let’s think. What would they be looking for?”

“Somewhere remote? But not too far away from civilization, they would need to get food and other supplies, but they wouldn’t want to be overlooked.”

“Right. So that would rule out the centre of the towns and villages. Somewhere on the edge, a farmhouse perhaps. Would it need to be a big house, do you think?”

“That would depend on how many of them are staying there, I suppose. If it is just the two men and women, or even one man, didn’t you say that the shorter man had been called in? Well then if it is just those three or four people, then the house would not need to be large. But if the whole gang, including the burglars, is lodging there and possibly storing the stolen goods there too…”

“Yes, I see what you mean. So that gives us a house of at least four bedrooms, assuming that Miss Hibrith isn’t sharing a room with the other woman, and on the edge of, or just outside a town or village. That’s still quite a lot of ground to cover.”

“Yes, alas.” Miss Hawthorne looked at her watch. “Just on eleven. Supposing we take a walk around the town? There may be some letting agents we could consult on the pretext of wanting to rent.”

“Sounds good to me. Better than sitting in here and stewing over this map at any rate.”

“Good, I shall see you shortly then.” Miss Hawthorne went to the adjoining door to her bedroom.

“Yes, won’t be long.”

Sergeant Benton folded up the map and carried it and his notebook through to his room, where he put both things into his flight bag. He paused for a moment, then unlocked a rectangular case that was concealed in the bottom of the wardrobe and took out his shoulder holster and gun. It wasn’t likely that they would run into trouble on a walk round the town, but if they were dealing with a gang of crooks, Benton preferred to be safe rather than sorry. With the firearm concealed under his jacket, he picked up the bag and went out to meet Miss Hawthorne in the corridor.

At just after two in the afternoon, Iolanthe opened her bedroom door and looked out cautiously into the hallway. Most of the members of the gang had left to contact potential or existing blackmail victims, using public telephones so they couldn’t be traced. Monica had brought up a lunch tray and then departed, leaving the door unlocked, so Iolanthe guessed that she was no longer considered to be at risk of interrupting the gang in their planning, at least for that day. She closed the bedroom door carefully and walked quietly along the hallway, pausing at the top of the stairs to listen. She could hear voices from downstairs, but faintly, so the door between the voices and her must be closed. Good. Iolanthe made her way to the study her novel tucked under her arm, at the far end of the hall. The study was a small room, lined with bookcases, some still full of a mixture of reference books and novels. A desk and chair stood under the window and there was a telephone and a blotter on the desk. Iolanthe put her book down on the desk, ready to pick up, should she need an excuse for being in the room. She closed her eyes, briefly, visualizing the phone number she had memorized earlier. Then she opened her eyes, picked up the receiver and dialed. After what felt like an eternity, a friendly voice answered:

“Fairview Hotel, Risinghurst, how may I help you?”

“Oh, Hello,” Iolanthe fought to keep her voice steady, “I, er, you have a guest by the name of Hawthorne staying with you. May I speak to her?”

There was a brief silence as the receptionist checked the register.

“Miss Hawthorne, yes, one moment please, who may I say is calling?”

“I, er, a friend.”

Another pause, of no more than a minute, but which felt like hours to Iolanthe, then the voice she had heard from her dressing room said;

“Hello?”

“Hello? Oh, this is Iolanthe Hibrith.”

“My dear girl!” the warmth and concern in Miss Hawthorne’s voice made tears spring to Iolanthe’s eyes “Where are you? Can you tell me?”

“I don’t know. Not in a town. There aren’t any other houses nearby, but I can see a church spire and some rooftops from the window of my room.”

“Good. How big is the house?”

“I don’t know how many rooms there are altogether, I’m not allowed downstairs,” Iolanthe became aware that she was speaking like a child, perhaps it was the relief of talking to someone who sounded like they cared about her, “but there are four bedrooms and a study on the first floor.”

“I see. And can you see the telephone number?”

Iolanthe looked down at the dial, the number was printed on a piece of card set into the centre of it.

“Yes, it’s ...”

But the sound of footsteps from the hall outside made her stop. She put the receiver down slowly and quietly and began to speak more loudly. Not words, but vowel sounds, vocal exercises that she did every day to keep her voice healthy for the stage. As she did so, she picked up her book and climbed a set of library steps that stood nearby. When Barnes opened the door, Iolanthe was sitting on the top of the steps, studying the shelves and enunciating consonants in her usual clear, calm voice. Barnes stood in the doorway and laughed.

“Getting some practice in? Good. You’ll want to go back to your room now though, the lads will be back soon.”

Rightly interpreting this as an order, rather than a suggestion, Iolanthe chose a book and climbed sedately down, walking out past Barnes without a word. He escorted her to her room and locked her in again, tucking the key in his pocket. Iolanthe sat on her bed once more, hugging her knees like the child she felt she had become. Would Miss Hawthorne find her? She had tried not to hope, lately, because of the inevitable pain of disappointment, but maybe, this time? Whatever the outcome, she had done all she could. Iolanthe laid down on her side and picked up the book she had chosen, hoping it would give her some distraction while she waited.

When the call was cut off, Miss Hawthorne paused for a moment, then dialed for the operator.

“Hello? Operator? I am speaking from (she read off the number) and I was talking to a friend a moment ago when we were cut off. No, no you needn’t reconnect me, but could you give me the number? I daresay some emergency has arisen and I don’t want to bother her now. Ah (she gestured to the receptionist and he, guessing what she wanted, supplied a pad and pen) Blakeswood 7345? Thank you so much, that is most helpful. Goodbye.”

She hung up, thanked the receptionist and hurried back to the dining room, where she and Sergeant Benton had been having a late lunch. Benton looked up from the remains of his ploughman’s lunch as Miss Hawthorne approached.

“Any news?”

“Yes!” Miss Hawthorne lowered her voice so as not to attract the attention of fellow diners, “yes, that was Miss Hilbrith. We got cut off before she could give me the number, but I believe we may be able to find where she is being held. I only hope she was not caught speaking to me. If she was, we have no time to lose.”

Benton got up and they hurried to the sitting room, where the map was spread out on the table. Miss Hawthorne looked at her note.

“The number is a Blakeswood one, and Blakeswood is ...”

“There,” said Benton, pointing to a spot on the map a few miles from Risinghurst.

“Yes. Now, she said that they weren’t in a town, but that she could see a church and some roofs from her window so…”

They pored over the map. Then Miss Hawthorne gave an exclamation.

“There! Could that be it?”

She pointed to a place on the map not far from Blakeswood. Benton read the name.

“Blakesfield Place? Must be quite big to be on the map by itself, and with that elevation it should be close enough to see the church. Look, there’s almost a direct line.”

“Then that must be it.”

They looked at each other in silence for a moment, then Benton spoke;

“Right, I’ll get on to the police. Jenkins spoke to the local station before he called me, they know why we are here and will cooperate if we need them.”

“Good. If the whole gang is there, we will need a considerable force.”

Benton didn’t answer, but left the room to go and telephone the police. He was back in a few minutes.

“Got through straight away. Spoke to the inspector thats dealing with the burglaries and told him what we’d found out. They’ll be ready to move in about half an hour and will pick us up on the way.”

“Good, that is a relief. What did you tell him about Miss Hibrith?”

“Well, I did gloss over the remote viewing a bit, I wasn’t sure he’d buy that, so I just told him that a gang was using her as a front for the burglaries and left it at that.”

“Very wise, he might have found that side of the case hard to believe.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Then we had better get ready, or you had, at any rate, I suspect the inspector will want me to stay in the background.”

With that, Miss Hawthorne left the room, leaving the Sergeant to clear up the map and then go and make his own preparations.

Iolanthe, worn out by her experiences in the study and of the previous day, lay dozing on her bed. A sudden sound woke her. She sat up, bewildered. What was that noise? All seemed quiet again, and already the sound was fading from her memory. She was about to settle back on the pillow when the sound came again. She slid off the bed and went to the window. On the road, she could see cars and a van had drawn up a short distance away and a body of men moving quietly along the lane towards the house. The police? But would there be enough of them to take on the whole gang? Then she saw a second, smaller party, coming towards the house from another angle, three men, carrying a long ladder. Iolanthe felt as if her heart had leapt into her throat. As quietly as she could, she opened the window to its fullest extent. She didn’t dare lean out, but the movement of her opening it had attracted the attention of one of the men, who waved. Iolanthe gave a sob of relief. She might get out at last. She turned away from the window and saw Monica standing in the doorway.

“I heard you open the window. What are you playing at?”

Iolanthe said nothing, but walked towards Monica. Monica crossed the room and grabbed Iolanthe by the wrist.

“I said, what are you playing at? Look at me.”

“No,” said Iolanthe, quietly, as she met the other woman’s angry gaze with calm, blue eyes that seemed to blaze from within, “no, you look at ME.”

On the ground below, Sergeant Benton and two policemen set up the ladder against the side of the house. One of the officers gave a signal on his radio, and suddenly there came a loud call of “POLICE! OPEN THIS DOOR!” and repeated blows to the front and back doors of the building. One of the policemen steadied the ladder and Benton climbed up. He was met at the window by Iolanthe, who had to resist the temptation to throw her arms around him in relief, but, instead, helped him over the sill and into the room. Benton looked at Monica who was lying unconscious next to the bed, but said nothing. Instead, he put a finger to his lips and positioned himself next to the doorway, his gun drawn. From downstairs came the sound of shouting and gunfire. Footsteps thundered up the stairs and Barnes appeared in the doorway, a gun in his hand.

“You little witch! If this is your fault you’ll pay for…” he fell silent as he felt the butt of Benton’s gun against his neck.

“That’s better,” said the Sergeant, pulling Barnes into the room and deftly handcuffing him with his other hand, before shoving him to the floor, “that is no way to talk to a lady.” He picked up Barnes’ gun and kept him covered until two policemen arrived and dragged him away, while another removed the still unconscious Monica.

Benton smiled at Iolathe and received a tremulous smile in response.

“Well, it still sounds a bit noisy down there, so we should probably go out the way I came in. Do you feel up to climbing down a ladder?”

Feeling almost hysterical with relief, Iolanthe said “yes.”

When they reached the bottom of the ladder, Sergeant Benton offered his arm to Iolanthe, who was shaking with reaction and led her over the grass to the lane, where Miss Hawthorne was waiting with a blanket and a warm hug. Wrapping the young woman in the blanket, Miss Hawthorne helped her into the back of one of the cars and then pulled a flask from her bag. She got into the car beside Iolanthe, and passed her a cup of steaming coffee. Iolanthe accepted the cup with shaking hands, grateful to have something to focus on. Miss Hawthorne said nothing, but her calmness was immensely reassuring to Iolanthe, as was the solid presence of Sergeant Benton, who stood next to the car. Eventually the Inspector came over and spoke Iolanthe, telling her that he had arranged for her to stay at the hotel in Risinghurst for the night with Miss Hawthorne and the Sergeant, but would need to speak to her the following day to take her statement. Iolanthe nodded, not able to speak. Seeing that she had understood, the Inspector nodded to Benton, who got into the driver’s seat and drove back to the town. Following a call from the Inspector, the hotel manager had arranged for a camp bed to be set up in the sitting room between Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton’s rooms and provided a nightdress and wash kit.

“And now, my dear,” said Miss Hawthorne, after dinner, which had been served in the sitting room, “you had better get some rest. You can tell us all about it tomorrow. I’ll leave my door ajar, so if you need anything in the night, you can call. Good night!”

With that, she left the room and Iolanthe, overwhelmed with her experiences and with the kindness that these two strangers had shown her, did as Miss Hawthorne suggested and was soon asleep.

The next morning they were joined by the inspector, who accepted a cup of coffee, then began gently to question Iolanthe. He raised his eyebrows at her description of her psychic powers, but there was no gainsaying her hypnosis of Monica, who had awoken some hours later in a furious temper, so he let that side of things go for the time being. Miss Hawthorne and Sergeant Benton sat quietly and listened, Miss Hawthorne reaching across to take Iolanthe’s hand when she showed signs of becoming upset.
The first thing they learned was that her surname wasn’t Hibrith at all, but Grosvenor. The false surname was an alias, suggested by the gangsters. Her parents had divorced when she was 10, and her father had later had problems with gambling. When she was 15, he decided to cut all his old ties and had emigrated to Australia. They had stayed in touch, writing to each other frequently, but she never saw him again before his death in an accident when she was 17. Her mother had died when she was in her first year at University. She had inherited a small amount of money from her parents, but the shock of her bereavement and the need to earn a living meant that she left university and began work as an assistant at her old school, where she had been happy and had been welcomed back with open arms. A few days after her twentieth birthday, she was approached by Monica and Vince. They told her they had been friends with her father in Australia and that he had told them about her, but it had taken them some time to find her. At first she was delighted to meet them and to hear about her father, but then it became clear that they had an ulterior motive in seeking her out. She had always been aware that she was, as she put it, able to see more than other people, but she had kept that side of her personality to herself, although she had been unable to hide it from her parents. Somehow Monica and Vince had found it out, she never knew how, from her father. Vince, who had by then been joined by Barnes, told her that her father had relapsed into gambling again and owed him and Barnes a large amount of money, which she, as his only surviving relative, would have to pay back. Iolanthe was horrified by this news, and even more so when the idea of her becoming a performing psychic was suggested. She resisted for as long as she could, but had no one to turn to and eventually gave in after days of a combination of threats, bullying and hypnosis, under which she signed a contract with the gangsters. After the first few burglaries and the television appearance, she still held out some hopes that she would be released after the debt was paid, but this hope began to fade until it was finally dashed by Barnes. The rest of the story, they knew.
The inspector nodded to a constable who had accompanied him to take notes. He then thanked Iolanthe and told her that her statement would be ready for her to sign later that day. Miss Hawthorne let go of Iolanthe’s hand and asked:

“Have the gang confessed?”

“Some of them have talked, Vince has, but Barnes is staying tight lipped for now. He may crack when he learns that the others have given him up.”

“I see. And … can you tell us anything?”

“I’m afraid I can’t share much, but I can tell you this,” he looked at Iolanthe, “there never was any debt. They had marked your father as a likely target for blackmail, because of his history of gambling and befriended him in Australia. They haven’t said yet how they found out about you, possibly Monica had worked on him with hypnosis, but either way, he must have told them enough to make them curious. Then the accident happened and they filed the information away and went on to other things. Once their income in Australia dried up and the police down there started making things uncomfortable for them, they decided to come to England and seek you out.”

“Oh! It was all a lie?”

“Yes. You are under no obligation to them, and you never were.”

“Oh!”

Iolanthe’s head went down and Miss Hawthorne put a hand on her shoulder and looked at the Inspector, who nodded and stood up.

“I think that’s probably enough for today, Miss Grosvenor. We will have your statement ready for you this afternoon and you will need to give evidence when the case comes to court, so we will need to know where to contact you. Will you be going back to Sussex?”
Before she could speak, Miss Hawthorne answered for her.

“For the time being, Inspector, Miss Grosvenor will be coming to stay with me at Devil’s End. My clients give me plenty of work providing them with herbal remedies and it is high time I took on an assistant. Then, once her affairs are in order, she can decide what to do next.”

Iolanthe, still speechless, turned to her and mouthed “thank you” and was astonished to see Miss Hawthorne wink at her. Iolanthe wasn’t sure what the future held, but she felt safe for the first time in months and, though she wasn’t sure exactly what being Miss Hawthorne’s assistant would be like, she rather thought she would enjoy finding out.

THE END