Entente in Danger
A Hawthorne and Benton Mystery
The Molvanian delegate woke with a start and looked at the clock on his bedside table. The luminous dial showed that it was three in the morning. He shifted awkwardly, trying to find a cool spot on the pillow, his face running with sweat. Then he froze. A tiny sound, barely audible, came across the room. He closed his eyes, childlike, as if by not looking he could make whatever it was go away. The sound came again. A tiny creak, then the door of the room began to open. Slowly, slowly it opened. Unable to bear the tension anymore, the delegate sat up, suddenly, and looked towards the doorway. And then he screamed.
Sergeant Benton walked briskly down the corridor at UNIT HQ. He had been summoned by the Brigadier and he was not about to keep his commanding officer waiting. Arriving at the Brigadier’s office, Benton knocked on the door and waited for the “come in” to give him leave to enter. On entering the room, he saw that the Brigadier was not alone. Sitting by the desk was a small man in late middle age, wearing a dark suit and a worried expression. His face was vaguely familiar, but Benton put that out of his mind for the time being and addressed himself to his CO.
“You sent for me, Sir?”
“Yes, at ease, Sergeant.”
The Brigadier indicated the gentleman opposite.
“This is Sir Giles Mulberry, of the Foreign office. He has come with a request from the conference that’s taking place in Stanswick this week.”
Benton had noticed something about the conference in the paper, a meeting of representatives from two independent states, but he hadn’t paid it much attention. Sir Giles looked at the Brigadier, as if seeking confirmation, then turned to the Sergeant.
“Ah, Sergeant. We have run into serious problems at the conference and we, that is I, hope that UNIT, that is you, may be able to help.”
Benton kept his face carefully expressionless, his eyes fixed on a point on the wall just above the speaker’s head. Sir Giles shifted in his seat, appearing ill at ease. Then he came to the point.
“The fact is, one of the delegates has come to believe that he is being persecuted by ... well by person or persons unknown. He has demanded that a neutral agency be engaged to provide him with security.”
“And that means you, Benton.” The Brigadier opened a file on his desk. “I have all the particulars here, we can go through them in a moment, I wanted Sir Giles to be able to meet you in person before you go to the conference and.. ah… well.”
The words “have a look at you” lined themselves up in Benton’s mind. So that was it. Bodyguard duty. He shrugged mentally. Oh well, it would be a change. But Sir Giles was speaking.
“Yes, er, well, if you can fill the Sergeant in with the details, Brigadier, I’ll expect him at Stanswick Manor by this evening. Good day to you both.”
Rising from his chair, the diplomat gathered his hat and coat and departed with some speed. After the door closed behind his visitor, the Brigadier relaxed a little. Dealing with civilian authorities always put him on edge, one never knew what they were going to ask and they tended not to understand the complications of military operations. However. He turned the file away from himself.
“Sit down Benton and have a look at this.”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
The sergeant sat down and picked up the file, turning the pages with an expression of concentration that gave way to concern.
“Sir, this … Mr. Vornschawl? Is he? I mean have they?”
“Well, er, no, I mean...”
“That’s precisely what I asked myself when I read the file. Man wakes up every night in distress, reports seeing figures coming in and out of his room, objects moving around, hearing noises. But apparently not. He’s been looked over by a specialist and they can’t find any sign of mental disturbance, other than his being very, very scared.”
“Were there any witnesses?”
“Not to the nighttime … ah… visitations, but the objects that he claimed were moved definitely had been, though the rooms were locked and nobody has yet admitted moving them.”
The Brigadier leaned back in his seat.
“The thing is, Benton, this conference is of vital importance. Molvania and Slokovia have been at daggers drawn for years. Getting them talking would not only bring stability to that whole area, but Sir Giles has given me to understand that an understanding between those countries will have a huge impact on trade too. So, when this issue arose, he went to the top. I have orders from Geneva to extend him every possible assistance, which, in the first instance means you.”
“It’ll be plain clothes,” The Brigadier paused and closed his eyes briefly at the thought of Benton’s ties, which, while definitely clothes, were in no way plain, “so get yourself sorted out and get Smyth to lay on transport.”
Rightly interpreting this as a dismissal, Benton stood up, taking the file with him. He paused at the door.
“Well, these … visions, or whatever they are, and stuff moving around, do you think we should ask…?”
“Yes, I do. I don’t know what Sir Giles will make of it, but he has given me carte blanche to deal with the matter as I see fit, so I see no reason why we shouldn’t make use of all the expertise at our disposal.”
“Right.” Benton opened the door, “Will you call her, Sir, or shall I?”
Miss Hawthorne was in her workroom, bottling a distillation of evening primrose, when the telephone rang. She put down the bottle and funnel she had been holding with an impatient exclamation but picked them up again when the ringing stopped and she realised that her assistant had answered the call. Having filled and sealed the bottle, she set it on the shelf with the others, rinsed her hands at the sink and went down the hall to the sitting room, in case she should be needed. Her assistant was still speaking when Miss Hawthorne opened the sitting room door. Iolanthe Grosvenor had changed since her first meeting with Miss Hawthorne four months ago. Her hair, previously long and flowing, had been cut into a bob that framed her pale face with chestnut coloured curls. She had quickly abandoned her mystic’s clothing; long, shapeless dresses and shawls, forced on her by her kidnappers, and, instead, wore her preferred outfit of trousers and well-cut blouses. Some of the inhabitants of Devil’s End, being on the conservative, not to say old fashioned, side, looked askance at the trousers, but Iolanthe had not let the suspicious glances bother her and the villagers had soon become accustomed to the sight of her trim figure either walking or cycling round the village as she ran errands and made deliveries for Miss Hawthorne. Her friend and employer watched her as she spoke.
“Yes, yes I’ve got that. Stanswick Manor. Will you be able to? Yes, I’ll call back when we are on the way. What time are you leaving? (She looked at her watch.) Yes, should be before then. I ... (she looked round to the doorway where Miss Hawthorne was standing) yes, she is, did you want to…? Oh, OK, fine, yes, we’ll see you then. Goodbye.”
Iolanthe replaced the receiver and made a final note on the pad in front of her, then turned to Miss Hawthorne, who was looking both surprised and curious.
“That was Sergeant Benton.”
“Ah, I see. And does he have work for me?”
“For us, actually. He has been ordered to Stanswick Manor, to that peace conference, or whatever it is, (Miss Hawthorne nodded, like Benton, she had seen the conference mentioned in the papers, but paid little attention to it,) to act as security to one of the delegates and the Brigadier wants us to go up there and stay close by so he can consult us if he needs to.”
“How interesting. But why would he need us? We are hardly experts in security.”
“No! It seems that the delegate has been ... seeing things. He’s been given a clean bill of health by a psychiatrist, so the next thing is to work out what is happening to him and who is behind it. That’s where we come in.”
“Did Sergeant Benton say what form these, er, visions took?”
“Not really, I got the impression he didn’t want to say too much over the phone. He’s got the UNIT file with him though, for us to look at when we meet him.”
“Good. We will need all the facts. He will be staying in the Manor itself; I assume?”
“Yes, he needs to be on call for his delegate. The Manor is a hotel, but it’s been taken over completely by the conference, so we’ve got rooms booked at (she consulted the notepad) the Red Lion in Stanswick village and Sergeant Benton says he’ll try and get over to see us sometime this evening if he can.”
“Well,” despite her previous experiences, Miss Hawthorne was slightly breathless at the speed at which events were moving, “we had better get packed! I will just check next door about Gabriel (the cat’s ears pricked at the mention of his name, then settled down when he realised that food wasn’t in the offing), if you could get the map book out and start looking at the route? (Iolanthe nodded.) Thank you. We don’t want to get lost on the way!”
They left the room, Miss Hawthorne to call at her neighbour’s and make arrangements for feeding Gabriel while she was away, and Iolanthe to pack a bag with clothes, toiletries and a selection of books that she thought might come in useful, before returning to the sitting room to take the AA Road Atlas down from the shelf and begin to plot their route from Devil’s End to Stanswick. Miss Hawthorne came back into the room and looked at Iolanthe, thinking how she had begun to change from the shy, nervous creature who had arrived at Devil’s End after months of mental torment, into the calm, confident young woman who had been hidden underneath. She was not completely healed, that would take a long time, but the security and friendship that surrounded her had already done a great deal, as had the knowledge that she was not, in fact, indebted to her captors and that they were safely behind bars. Miss Hawthorne smiled and went over to the desk.
“Got it all right?”
“Yes, I think so, it looks like there’s a fairly direct route if we take the main road here...” Iolanthe pointed to the map and Miss Hawthorne nodded.
“Yes, that looks straightforward. I shall go and pack, if you could call the Sergeant, we can be on our way.”
Ten minutes later saw Miss Hawthorne’s Austin Seven pull away from the house and follow the road out of Devil’s End and towards the A Road that led to Stanswick.
It was late afternoon when they arrived at the Red Lion. The inn stood on the main street, near a marketplace, where the stallholders were dismantling their stalls after what had clearly been a busy day. The front of the inn was red brick and the roof tiled with slates, the sign which swung above the entrance showed the heraldic design of the animal from which it took its name. Tables and chairs stood outside the door, some of them in use by groups of men who Miss Hawthorne’s instincts told her were reporters, waiting for the bar to open. She ignored them and led the way to the reception desk, which was just inside the front door. Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe were greeted by the landlord, a friendly man of about 50 who checked them in on his register and then led the way to their rooms. The accommodation was in a small annexe to the main building, across a courtyard that bore witness to the Red Lion’s past as a coaching inn. The rooms were small but comfortable and the shared bathroom clean and well fitted out. The ladies unpacked their bags, then made their way back across the courtyard to the small function room that Sergeant Benton had engaged for their evening meal and conference.
The Sergeant arrived as dessert was being served, bringing with him a tall man in a dark suit, who he introduced as Inspector Dent of the Stanswick police. He and the Inspector declined the offer of food, but accepted coffee, which they drank while Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe finished their meal. When the plates had been cleared, the Inspector drew two files from his briefcase and placed them on the table.
“This is what we have so far. It isn’t much, I’m afraid. The Molvanians won’t release the medical report on Mr. Vornschawl, but they insist that he is not suffering from mental derangement.”
“I see.” Miss Hawthorne turned the pages of the first file. “His sleep is disturbed, he has reported seeing a cowled figure in his bedroom, but when he calls for help the figure disappears, and his belongings seem to have been interfered with.” She drew a deep breath, “Well, inspector, without the medical evidence, and from a laywoman’s point of view, this looks very like a case of paranoia.”
The Inspector cleared his throat.
“I agree. There is the question of the personal items being interfered with. He says that some of them were locked away in a desk to which he has the only key, and others had moved when he had left the room briefly and locked the door, but it’s not a difficult matter to get a key copied, and I’d be tempted to think that someone is stoking the paranoia by moving things around.”
“Hmm. These manifestations at night. Have there been any witnesses to them?”
“Yes and no. One of Mr. Vornschawl’s regular security men was on duty outside his bedroom door. He heard a disturbance inside and a cry. When he and his colleague went in, Mr. Vornschawl was pointing at the door asking if they could see ‘it’. When they told him there was nothing there, he refused to believe them, insisting that there was something in the room, that then left through the door, which, he believed, had been open all the time.”
Iolanthe raised her eyes from the file, her chin on one hand.
“But it wasn’t?”
“No, it was closed and locked.”
“and there was no sign of anyone else?”
“None. The guards checked the room and the corridor, but they couldn’t find any trace that anyone other than Vornschawl had been in the room.”
Iolanthe returned her gaze to the file and Miss Hawthorne spoke again.
“Has he only seen this figure at night? I mean, have there been other manifestations during the day?”
“No,” Sergeant Benton took a turn in answering, “in the daytime he doesn’t see anything, just at night. He says he feels fine, or rather he felt fine, until just after dinner and then he feels more and more panicky until the early hours, when whatever it is shows up.” Benton looked at the Inspector, “I suppose it could be that he is so busy with the conference he hasn’t got time to panic in the daytime.”
The Inspector nodded.
“That was my assumption at first.”
Catching the inflection in his voice, Miss Hawthorne asked, “But?”
“Well. In his statement, just a moment (the Inspector turned the file towards himself then turned it back when he had found the place) here, he says that he felt ill at ease for at least two nights before the first, ah, vision. The feeling started in the evening, got worse through the night, but, for the first two nights, he was back to normal the next day. Once the figure started appearing, he had more trouble sleeping, but, if it is a mental disorder, it seems to be very punctual, and that makes me suspicious.”
“Yes, I see.”
There was a brief silence as the investigators considered the files again. Finally, Miss Hawthorne spoke.
“Well, as I see it, we have two trails to follow. Firstly, we need to establish the cause of these visions and ... practical jokes, for want of a better word. I suggest that Miss Grosvenor and I may be best placed to pursue that, ah, angle. Then we need to find out who is behind these attacks and what they seek to gain from them. Sergeant, I think this is a matter for you and the Inspector.”
The Inspector was slightly startled at Miss Hawthorne taking the lead like this, but he couldn’t fault her reasoning, and said so.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “that may be a ticklish job. We can run background checks on the hotel staff, but the Molvanian delegation are understandably cagey about letting us investigate their people. They’ve already threatened to invoke diplomatic immunity and I’d rather have them cooperative, even if we need to take a closer look at some of them. Unless…” he looked at Benton who guessed what he had in mind.
“I can try, Sir. I’ve got to check in with the Brigadier this evening in any case, I can ask him to get on to Geneva to try and smooth things over a bit.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. One thing we can start looking into is who stands to gain the most by disrupting the conference. I take it we are all agreed that this can’t be a personal attack?” The others nodded. “Right, then my team will start there. There must be lots of vested interests that wouldn’t want this agreement to be signed.” He got up and nodded to the others.
“Are the Slokovian delegation also under suspicion?” asked Miss Hawthorne.
The Inspector paused.
“It’s tempting, but I’m inclined to discount them for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the two delegations are in separate wings of the Manor, with little communication apart from in the conference room, so any member of the delegation passing from one wing to the other would probably be noticed. Secondly, they are the obvious suspects. And when a case presents me with such an obvious explanation, I want to make very, very sure before I start making accusations. We will have to investigate them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was trying to set them up. Right, I must be off. Sergeant?”
“Yes Sir, I’ll call you tomorrow, or sooner if anything happens in the night and I’ll get in touch with the Brigadier as soon as I get back to the manor. I expect he will call you himself, or someone from HQ will be in contact.”
“Good. I must get on. Good evening to you.”
With a final nod, the Inspector departed. Once the door closed behind him, the others relaxed a little. Sergeant Benton went to the bar for drinks and, when he returned, he found that Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe were both making notes and discussing possible tactics. He set the glasses on the table and sat down.
“Where are we up to?”
Miss Hawthorne looked up from her notes.
“Ah, thank you,” she sipped her sherry, “Iolanthe and I were just speculating on the causes of this unfortunate gentleman’s hallucinations.”
“Right. Any ideas?”
“One or two, but they are difficult to verify, I’m afraid, still…” she looked at Iolanthe who fidgeted with her pencil for a moment, as if finding the courage to speak.
“It is possible to use hypnosis to make people see things,” she said, “but it’s hard to tell when someone has been hypnotised until the trigger is activated and they start seeing whatever it is the person who hypnotised them wants them to see.”
“Right, and what would the trigger be?”
“It could be anything, a sound, a smell, even, but they would only be affected by the hallucination when they heard, or smelt, or saw the trigger. The rest of the time they would be completely normal.”
“Ah,” Benton took a sip from his pint and then set the glass down again, “so difficult to pin on anyone.”
“Yes, because you don’t know when the hypnosis was first performed. In here,” she reached into her bag which was next to her chair, and pulled out a book, “it says that the initial hypnosis could be months or even years before.”
“So, he could have been hypnotised before he even got here? That does complicate things. We could be looking for a suspect who is still in Molvania.”
“Yes. Then there’s the panic symptoms. The Inspector said the hallucinations didn’t start for a couple of days, but he still felt scared. So, whatever the trigger for the visions is, it isn’t also causing the panic.”
Benton rubbed his forehead.
“Good grief. What have else they done to him?”
This time Miss Hawthorne answered.
“I believe I may have an answer to that question, but, again, it will be difficult to verify. It may be that Mr. Vornschawl has been dosed with a substance that accelerates the heart rate, causing excessive sweating and a feeling of panic.”
“He’s been doped? How would they get it to him?”
“My guess is that his evening meal has been doctored.” Miss Hawthorne leaned her elbows on the table and steepled her fingers. “The symptoms began in the evening and had dissipated by the next morning. That would suggest a small dose has been added to his food or drink, enough to bring on symptoms overnight, but not enough to have any lasting effect. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure what the substance is, or even if it exists, without testing the food.”
“No.” Benton frowned. “The meals come from the hotel kitchen, but they are served by his own staff, so the stuff could be put in either in the kitchen, on the way up, or just before it’s served, if it is one of his own people…” he paused, then spoke more decisively. “I’ll just have to try and get some of it to test. I’m not sure how, but I’ll have a go and pass it to the Inspector. He can get his lab onto it.”
“That would seem to be the best course of action. Can you do it without being observed?”
“Good. About the hypnosis, I suggest that we, (Miss Hawthorne looked at Iolanthe, who nodded) go over the files again and see if we can find the trigger for these attacks.”
“Right.” Benton looked at his watch, “I’d better get back. I’ll be in touch tomorrow, if not before. You got the radio alright?”
Miss Hawthorne had felt faintly ridiculous having to carry a UNIT radio set, but she recognised that it was the most efficient way of reaching the Sergeant. It was currently in its case in the bottom of the wardrobe in her room, until she could summon the nerve to unpack it.
“Good. In that case, good night! Oh,” Benton stopped by the door, “what about the things moving around? That has definitely happened.”
Miss Hawthorne looked thoughtful.
“Indeed. Telekinesis is possible, of course, though it requires immense mental powers. But I believe we should start from the Inspector’s point of view, that these objects are being moved by more straightforward human interference and work from there.”
“Ok, that seems fair. Good night, then.”
His fellow investigators wished Benton good night in their turn and they all left the room, the ladies to return to their rooms for the night, and the Sergeant to make his way back to the Manor.
In a modern, but luxurious, study one end of a telephone conversation was taking place. The walls of the study were lined with shelves, mostly holding photographs in silver frames. A large portrait hung over the fireplace, depicting a tall, heavily built man of early middle age. The face showed signs of having been handsome, but heavy jowls and a forbidding stare made it unattractive. The subject of the portrait was sitting behind an imposing desk, turning from side to side in his leather chair as he spoke.
“We have made good progress. He is almost on the point of collapse. I believe three days, at the most, and he will crack.”
“Excellent. And he doesn’t suspect?”
“No. He believes that he is being set upon by evil spirits or by wizards, I think.”
“Good, good. And the police?”
“Putting their noses in. There is one thing ...” the voice hesitated and the man in the chair leaned forward.
“There is a new man. He was requested by Vornschawl. He is from UNIT.”
The man in the chair stopped swinging abruptly.
“UNIT? Damn. That could complicate matters. What’s he like?”
“Tall, strong, not very intelligent, I think.”
“Well that’s something. He will be reporting to his HQ though,” the man frowned, deep in thought. “I don’t think he can stop us now, though, we are too far along. There isn’t time for him to get on our track and if he does...”
The line went dead. The man in the chair smiled grimly and drew a folder from a stack in one of the trays on his desk. UNIT? Well it was too late to stop now. He had too much riding on this. His accomplice would just have to keep an extra watch on this UNIT man and deal with him as necessary. Another grim smile. He had no doubt that his man was capable of dealing with this newcomer, however tall and strong he might be.
When Sergeant Benton arrived back at the Manor, he reported to the head of security for the Molvanian delegation. Commander Axel Schmitz was a short, energetic looking man, with greying hair swept back from an incongruously youthful face. He shook Benton’s hand and asked him if the accommodation provided was acceptable to him.
“I, er, yes, thank you Sir.”
“Good, good. I am sorry I couldn’t stay to talk when you arrived earlier, I trust my colleagues made you welcome.”
“Yes, yes they did. I hope you don’t consider this an imposition, Sir. I’m here to help in any way you need me to.”
Commander Schmitz smiled.
“You need have no fear of that, Sergeant. I am certain you will not be ‘in the way’ is it? We are grateful for the assistance of UNIT in this case. And now, if you will come with me, I will introduce you to Mr. Vornschawl.”
Benton followed the Commander out of the room, noting as he did so a couple of security men taking a break at a table near the door. As he passed by, one of the men looked round, then turned back and muttered something to his companion, who looked over with an expression that was anything but friendly. Oh well. Curiosity? Professional jealousy? The Commander seemed friendly enough at any rate and he was in charge, after all. Benton stored the incident away in his mind for later and concentrated on his immediate surroundings. The Commander led the way along a corridor to a lift, where he turned a key to access the buttons for the private floor where the Molvanian delegation was staying. The manor, a building in the Palladian style, which had been the focal point of a Georgian country estate, was divided into a central building and two wings. The conference room, kitchen and accommodation for the conference organisers were in the central part and one wing each had been allocated to the delegations, allowing them both privacy and security. Once the Commander and Benton had reached the upper floor, another corridor let to the delegate’s suite. Benton noticed a trolley by the door, bearing used plates and dishes, covered by a cloth. Could he be in luck? It was worth a try, surely? As the Commander knocked on the door, Benton moved over to the trolley and cautiously lifted a corner of the cloth. Underneath were a soup plate, a dinner plate with the remains of roast beef and potatoes on it and a dessert dish with the remnants of what looked to Benton like Angel Delight, but which he assumed was something a bit more refined. A coffee cup and saucer stood next to the plates. Commander Schmitz was now standing in the doorway and talking to someone in the room beyond. Looking over his shoulder, but trying to stay out of sight, Benton could just see that a waiter was removing a coffee pot from the table that stood to the left of the door. Good. That meant that the detritus under the cloth was the remains of Vornschawl’s dinner. Not knowing how long he had, or if he would get another chance, Sergeant Benton picked up a napkin from the tray and wiped it swiftly over all the plates and round the inside of the coffee cup. The Commander, hearing movement behind him, turned, but Benton stood quickly at ease, his hands behind his back, the napkin screwed up in his right hand, his face betraying no sign of the hurried activity.
The Commander turned back and went into the room. Benton followed him, hastily shoving the napkin into his pocket and hoping that he wouldn’t be expected to shake hands with anyone. He stood to attention as he was introduced and breathed a small sigh of relief when it became clear that Vornschawl was going to keep matters on a formal footing. The delegate was, like his security chief, a relatively short man, but, ordinarily, he had an air of calm authority. Looking at him now, though, Benton noticed shadows under his eyes, and had the impression of a man who was struggling to keep up an appearance of strength under extreme strain. As if he had read the Sergeant’s thoughts, Vornschawl smiled wryly.
“Yes Sergeant, I am very tired today. But no less determined.” He looked around the room as if daring one someone to contradict him.
“I am most grateful to UNIT for their assistance, and to the police. If it were just a threat to myself, I would be content to allow Schmitz and his men to investigate, but there is more at stake here than my personal security.”
“Commander Schmitz will see to it that you have all you need for your investigation. As to my immediate security, I understand that you will be on duty tonight?”
“Yes, Sir.” It had been arranged that two Molvanian officers would be on duty from 9 o’clock until 1 in the morning, when they would be relieved by Benton and a Corporal Hesse, Vornschawl’s personal bodyguard.
“Then I will not detain you further.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Benton turned smartly and left the room, followed by the Commander. Outside the door, the Commander once again shook Benton’s hand.
“Thank you, Sergeant. Corporal Hesse will meet you here at 9. I regret I cannot join you myself, I have other responsibilities at that time.”
“Understood. Thank you, Sir.”
The Commander walked briskly off down the corridor and Benton went to his bedroom. Once inside, he locked the door and wedged a chair under the handle to make doubly sure that he wouldn’t be disturbed. In the bottom of his holdall was a small box containing what he laughingly described as his “detective kit.” Benton opened the lid of the box and took out a plastic bag. He pulled the napkin out of his pocket, wincing slightly when he saw what the food and drink had done to the lining and put it carefully in the bag, sealing the top and attaching a label with the date, time and contents. He then used his radio to contact the police station and arrange for the bag to be collected and sent to the lab. The room was equipped with a telephone, but Sergeant Benton avoided it on the grounds that it offered too many opportunities for eavesdroppers. Once his rendezvous with the police had been arranged, Benton forced himself to relax with the distraction of the latest Desmond Bagley novel. After about half an hour, a phone call from reception summoned him to the ground floor where, under the pretense of receiving a file, he passed his bag of evidence to the police rider and then returned to his room, this time to sleep until his alarm woke him at midnight.
Neither Iolanthe or Miss Hawthorne had felt able to sleep that evening, but they had said goodnight and went to their own rooms. Iolanthe had got into bed and spread the contents of the police file out on the bedclothes and, assisted by a bag of chocolate limes, began to search for any trace of the hypnotic trigger. Miss Hawthorne made herself a cup of tea and sat for a while with her crochet, mulling over her notes. The next morning, they met outside the door to Miss Hawthorne’s room and crossed the yard together. Breakfast began in silence, until Miss Hawthorne, noting the shadows under Iolanthe’s eyes, asked
“My dear, did you get any sleep last night?”
“Not a lot.” Then, carrying war into the enemy’s camp, “did you?”
Miss Hawthorne sighed.
“No, and I fear that it was so much wasted time. I seem to be no clearer in my mind about the case than I was last night. Did you make any progress?”
“Possibly. I can’t prove it without testing, but I think I may have found the trigger.” Iolanthe looked thoughtful as she buttered a second slice of toast.
“Really? But that’s definite progress.”
Miss Hawthorne glanced around the breakfast room. Nobody seemed to be paying them any attention, but they couldn’t be too careful. Iolanthe caught her look and understood. For the rest of the meal they discussed the local area, with the help of a guidebook that Miss Hawthorne had borrowed from the landlord, and anyone listening would have assumed that the slightly eccentric looking lady and her younger relative were planning a day out.
After breakfast, Iolanthe and Miss Hawthorne returned to the annex and Iolanthe gathered the file and her notes before joining Miss Hawthorne in her room. She sat on the edge of the bed while Miss Hawthorne sat in an armchair and leafed through until she found the page she wanted.
“It may not be anything, but I noticed that before every hallucination, he mentions being woken by, or hearing a sound, like a door creaking as it opened.”
“And you think that could be the trigger?”
“It’s possible. But it’d be difficult to prove without testing it on him.”
Miss Hawthorne frowned.
“Yes, I can’t see how we would manage that, but it might be possible. We must inform Sergeant Benton and see what he can suggest. Would you say that the sound is caused by someone actually opening the door?”
“I thought so, but both the guards say that the door was closed and locked when they tried to get in, so unless they are lying…”
“Yes. Well we must consider every possibility of course. One moment, does the room connect with the rest of the suite?”
Iolanthe pulled out a roughly drawn plan of the suite.
“Yes, here, there’s the bathroom on this side and this door (she pointed at the plan) goes through to the … sitting room?”
“I think we can discount the idea of someone hiding in the bathroom, that seems unlikely, but it might be possible that the attacker opened the door to the sitting room, either to make the door creak or to fake the sound in some way.”
“Yes, that would work, oh, except it says that the door was locked… but then whoever it was could have locked it behind them. In all the panic the guards wouldn’t have noticed the noise and they’d have been busy with Mr. Vornschawl at first, so they mightn’t have checked it straight away.”
Miss Hawthorne leaned forward in excitement.
“I believe that’s the answer!” then she sat back again. “So we are looking for a person with access to the suite, who would not be suspected. It appears the Inspector was right, and this is an ‘inside job’.”
Iolanthe smiled at the audible quotation marks but became serious again as they both considered the implications of their deductions.
“Yes, it does look that way.”
“We must see what Sergeant Benton has to say, he may have more information. He said he would call at 10, either on the phone or on that contraption.” Miss Hawthorne gestured to the radio, drawing another smile from Iolanthe. “Until then, we may as well go over the files again together.”
“Yes, and I’ll get my books. If we have found the trigger, the next thing will be working out how to deactivate it.”
Iolanthe left the room and returned a few minutes later with the books. Since her experiences with the gangsters, she had made a special study of hypnosis, both in hypnotizing others and in resisting trances and suggestion. Miss Hawthorne, always keen to broaden her knowledge, had joined her assistant in her studies. Now, they sat quietly together, the books and file pages between them as Miss Hawthorne searched for clues and Iolanthe for a way to break the hypnosis that was causing the hallucinations.
The silence was broken by the telephone bell. Miss Hawthorne answered.
“Hello? Oh, Sergeant, yes, it’s good to hear you too. Yes, yes, we believe so, yes. But how did… really? Yes, one moment.”
Miss Hawthorne gestured to Iolanthe, who got up from her seat on the bed and came over. The phone didn’t have a loudspeaker, but Miss Hawthorne held the receiver between them and Sergeant Benton’s voice came through clearly.
“quite a night of it.” He was saying when Iolanthe reached the phone.
“Has there been another hallucination?”
“I’ll say there has. Happened just after two. Same as before, as far as I can gather, one minute all was quiet, the next he was screaming blue murder. The door was locked, by the time we got in there whatever it was had gone and he was shaking and couldn’t speak with fear. When I spoke to him this morning, he says the visions are getting worse. More figures, and last night they reached out to him with their hands covered in blood.”
“Yes. Nasty business. The Commander was right on the spot once we’d broken in, he helped us get him calmed down. I was wondering, could it be part of the hallucination? Would it get worse over time because the person who did it made it that way?”
It was Iolanthe’s turn to look thoughtful.
“It’s possible, I don’t really know. Or it could be the stress making it worse, he must be worn out by now.”
“He certainly looked it when I got back yesterday evening.”
Miss Hawthorne spoke again.
“Did you find any evidence of what might be causing the palpitations? That must be putting a strain on his heart.”
“Possibly.” Benton described his actions with the napkin and dinner trolley. “The Inspector said he would call you this afternoon, assuming he has any results by then.”
“Good. If we can identify the substance, we may be able to counteract it without showing our hand to the enemy, so to speak.”
“Yes. And did you say that you’ve found the trigger?”
“Yes, or, at least, we believe so.”
Miss Hawthorne handed the receiver to Iolanthe, who brought Benton up to date with the results of their research.
“And can you stop it?”
“I think it’s possible, but I won’t know for sure until I try. And how I’m going to get close enough to try?”
There was a brief silence at the other end of the line.
“We’ll have to get you up here somehow. Maybe talk to the Inspector and see if he can wangle it. Oh, half a mo.” There was a click as Benton put the receiver down and then, in the distance he could be heard talking to someone. He returned a moment later and said, “I’m sorry, Sir, I’m due to escort Mr. Vornschawl to the conference room, I’ll report later.”
Guessing that the other person was in earshot and that they had been temporarily cast in the role of the Brigadier, Miss Hawthorne said goodbye and hung up. At the Manor, Sergeant Benton replaced the receiver and went to the door, nodding to the guard who stood in the corridor. He had taken all the precautions he could to keep the call private, from using a direct line and checking for bugs, to locking the door. It was unlikely that the guard had heard anything, but, if he had, it was too late now. Benton had met the guard when he had arrived the previous day; but hadn’t got much of an impression of him.
Corporal Brecht was shorter than Benton by at least six inches. As far as the Sergeant could judge, the Corporal was in his thirties, a stocky, well-built man with curly dark brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. Benton didn’t want to seem to be interrogating his companion, so after a few pleasantries, the conversation ceased. When they reached the suite, they found Vornschawl as he had been the previous day, tired, but determined to attend the conference and play his part. He walked between his escorts, stumbling over the front of the lift, but Benton’s hand under his elbow stopped him from falling.
“Thank you, Sergeant. It would not do for me to look like an old crock, would it?”
Assuming the question was rhetorical, Benton didn’t answer. Instead, he looked ahead at the mirrored lift doors, just in time to catch a curious expression on the face of his temporary colleague. Not hostile certainly but… Benton struggled to put his finger on what it was that bothered him about the expression. Then he decided to file it away in his memory for later. He would need all his wits about him at the conference.
After speaking to the Sergeant, Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe gathered what they would need for the day and left the inn for the morning. Miss Hawthorne left a message with the landlord in case the Inspector should call earlier than expected, then joined Iolanthe who was studying a map of the village. After brief consideration, they took the tourist route around the village, with a few detours. The church, a Victorian gothic confection, was of limited interest to Miss Hawthorne, who preferred the Norman style, but they went inside and spent a little while looking at the stained glass and earlier funerary monuments that had been reinstalled after the demolition of the earlier church and its reconstruction in the 19th century. After the church their route took them to the green, which reminded them both of Devil’s End and led Miss Hawthorne to reminisce about that most memorable of Beltanes. After doing a circuit of the green they made the first of their detours, in a hardware shop. When the hardware shop wasn’t able to furnish Iolanthe’s needs, the pair called in at a second hand and junk shop a few doors down. Miss Hawthorne waited outside, trying to appear fascinated with a display of garish Moorcroft pottery in the window, until Iolanthe returned, looking quietly pleased and nodded in answer to her companion’s raised eyebrow. On consulting her watch, Miss Hawthorne suggested lunch might be in order, and, after comparing menus and décor, they decided on a small but inviting looking tearoom. This proved a good choice, and the ladies enjoyed a selection of sandwiches, followed by fruit cake and accompanied by tea. Lunch over, they went back to the inn and took possession of a set of table and chairs outside, so as to be on hand when the Inspector rang and to the disgust of one of the visiting journalists who had his eye on that particular spot to do his crossword and wait for opening time. Ignoring the baleful glare leveled at them by the gentleman of the press, Iolanthe and Miss Hawthorne seated themselves and began to pass the time by reading on Iolanthe’s part, and crocheting on Miss Hawthorne’s. The church clock had just struck two when Miss Hawthorne heard her name and looked up to see the Inspector approaching. He considered pulling up a chair, but, seeing the disgruntled journalist nearby, suggested that they move somewhere more private. A word with the landlord secured the room from the previous evening and the investigators convened to compare notes.
“It’s good of you to spare us the time, Inspector.” said Miss Hawthorne
“It’s no trouble, I’m on my way up to the house and I’m running a bit early, so I thought I’d speak to you in person. Always easier to discuss things face to face than over the phone.”
“Oh, I agree. And, may I ask, has there been any report from the laboratory?”
“Yes. That’s mostly what I came to tell you. The napkin had traces of a drug used to treat low blood pressure. Because the traces of food and drink were mixed together, we couldn’t get an exact fix on which one the drug was concealed in, but the lab boys think it was probably in the coffee, the caffeine would get it into his system more quickly.”
“I see.” Miss Hawthorne steepled her fingers again, deep in thought. Then she spoke again. “The effect of the drug seems to have dissipated by the morning, would that be a question of dosage?”
“We believe so. It has to be taken regularly when it’s used for treatment, so a relatively small dose would produce a temporary reaction, like the one suffered by Vornschawl. We consulted a medic and he said he thinks the dosing hasn’t been going on for long enough to do any permanent damage, but, if it continues there will a risk of damage to the heart.”
“Then we must find out who is doing this and stop them as soon as we can. Is there anything we can do to counteract the effects of the drug?”
“It turns out there is, and that’s why I was on my way up to the manor. We don’t want the attacker to know we are on to him too soon, so Vornschawl will need to carry on being doped, at least for the time being. Our tame medic has given me something to reduce the effects of the drug, so he can carry on having his dinner, take one of these (he drew a small glass bottle out of one pocket) and pretend to be agitated, but reduce the strain on his heart.”
“Good. And we, at least, Miss Grosvenor, may have found the explanation for these distressing visions.”
The Inspector listened attentively as Iolanthe explained her conclusions about the hypnosis and the probably trigger for the hallucinations. Finally, he sighed.
“It’s beyond me, Miss Grosvenor, but I’ll take your word for it. And you think he can be cured?”
Iolanthe bit her bottom lip.
“It should be possible to remove the trigger. Is there anyone you can call on that has experience of hypnosis?”
“Other than yourself? No. So, I’m afraid you will need to come with me.”
“I?” Iolanthe flushed for a moment but recovered herself. “I mean, if you think?”
“I do. Do you think you are up to the job?”
A moment’s hesitation and then “Yes.”
“Good. I’ll introduce you as one of my plain clothes officers. The tricky part will be persuading the Molvanians to let us talk to Vornschawl alone. I’d like to think we aren’t dealing with a widespread conspiracy, but, at the moment, we can’t trust anyone save Sergeant Benton.”
The Inspector stood up.
“I can give you a few minutes to get organised, then we will need to be off. I’ll meet you outside in, say, ten minutes?”
“Yes, that’s fine, I just need a few things.”
She left the room and the Inspector looked at Miss Hawthorne.
“Can she do it?”
“I’m certain she can. Iolanthe has not had the easiest of times lately, but she is a very capable young woman and if she says she can do a thing, we must believe that she can.”
“Good. If I need to stay on at the house, I’ll get one of the uniformed officers to run her back, otherwise I’ll drop her off myself.”
Iolanthe reappeared at this point, with a satchel over one shoulder and nodded rather tremulously to the Inspector and Miss Hawthorne.
“All ready? Good.”
The Inspector led the way out of the inn and towards his car, parked at the edge of the marketplace. He opened the passenger door for Iolanthe and then went round to the driver’s side. As he got in, the radio on his dashboard crackled.
“Dent here, go ahead, over.”
Miss Hawthorne was too far away to hear the conversation, but she saw Inspector Dent’s expression grow increasingly serious as he asked terse questions of the person at the other end. Eventually he replaced his radio receiver and leaned out of the car window.
“I beg your pardon?”
“We need all hands on deck. I reckon you’d pass for a doctor.”
Miss Hawthorne was bewildered by the suggestion but got into the car. As the Inspector pulled away and drove off at speed, Miss Hawthorne recovered her breath and asked.
“Inspector. I don’t wish to distract you,” she paused as the Inspector veered suddenly to avoid a cyclist, “but what exactly is happening and why must I pass for a doctor?”
“I’m sorry to rush you, Miss Hawthorne.” The inspector replied without taking his eyes off the road, “but we need to get to the Manor as soon as we can. Vornschawl has collapsed.”
Miss Hawthorne subsided into a shocked silence and the Inspector gave his full attention to driving.
Discussion had got underway quickly in the conference room that morning. The delegates took their places and began where they had left off the previous day, with a debate on the ratification of trade treaties. The discussion was held mostly in German, which was a shared language of the two states, and the moderator was a representative of the West German government. Benton, who had stationed himself against the wall facing the Molvanian delegation, reflected that, even if he had been able to understand the language, he probably wouldn’t have made head or tail of the negotiations. As far as he could tell, though, the discussion seemed to be going well, there was none of the tension he would usually have associated with international negotiations. Save for an occasional glance round the room, the Sergeant kept his eyes on Vornschawl and the men either side of him. Corporal Brecht stood behind Vornschawl. Once again, Benton was vaguely troubled by the man. Something about him that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He looked at Vornschawl who seemed to be struggling to concentrate. He reached for a glass of water and his hand shook as he raised it to his lips. Benton looked at Brecht again. There it was. The expression on the guard’s face betrayed no concern for his employer. Instead he looked … Benton thought for a moment … satisfied. Content. Not an expression one would expect a man with his responsibilities to be wearing, particularly at the moment. Benton filed the name and the face away in his mind to check with the Inspector. He couldn’t condemn a person because they pulled a face, but all the same … The next moment all thoughts were driven from his mind as Vornschawl gasped and fell forward, unconscious onto the table. Benton moved as if by reflex. He dashed round the table and managed to get himself between the other delegates and Vornschawl. Brecht was already crouched down.
Benton put his hands under Vornschawl’s arms and raised him a little in the chair. The delegate’s head sagged to one side.
“Out cold. We’d better get him out of here.”
Brecht nodded and, between them, he and Benton carried Vornschawl to the corridor. The guard on the door jumped as they came through. Benton snapped
“Don’t hang about man, find a stretcher!”
As the guard departed, the two men laid their burden down on the floor and turned him onto his side to make sure that he was able to breathe unimpeded. The soldier who had been sent for the stretcher soon returned, and he and Brecht carried Vornschawl to the lift. When they reached the delegates suite, they met the Commander, who exclaimed in horror and opened the door for the stretcher bearers to enter and place Vornschawl on the bed. Benton watched for a moment, then ran along the corridor to his room and the radio to contact the Inspector. When he returned, Vornschawl appeared to be resting comfortably, but had still not regained consciousness. The Commander was on the telephone, speaking in Molvanian. Brecht sat by the bed on a chair. He looked round as Benton came in.
“Where did you go?”
Benton nearly replied, “none of your business,” but controlled himself. “you and the commander had things in hand, I went to inform the Inspector. He’s on his way up now.”
“Ha!” Brecht’s satisfied expression was replaced with one of spite, “and a lot of use he has been to us! And UNIT? You didn’t manage to stop anything did you?”
Benton bit his tongue. It was no part of his plan to argue. Luckily for him, the Commander spoke.
“Brecht! You forget yourself. If you have no useful work to do, you may guard the door. Go.”
Brecht went out. As he passed Benton, the Sergeant looked at him closely. Was that a flicker of a smile? Or was the paranoia getting to him? The Commander distracted him from this train of thought.
“I’m sorry Sergeant. We have all been under stress and the Corporal is young and hotheaded.”
“Oh, er, think nothing of it, Sir.”
“You are too kind. I am glad the Inspector will be here. In the meantime, I have called the guardroom and asked for them to contact the resident physician, (the organisers had arranged for a doctor to be on call for the duration of the conference,) he will be with us soon.”
“Shall I stay here, Sir?”
“If you would, Sergeant, I would be most grateful. Corporal Brecht can remain outside, for the time being.”
The Commander left the room, leaving Benton alone with Vornschawl. The Sergeant loosened the delegate’s collar and checked his pulse, which seemed to be slowing. Knowing there was little else he could do, Benton pulled up a chair and sat by the bed.
Meanwhile in the study, another telephone call was being received.
“This morning at the conference table.”
“Is he conscious?”
“Not so far as I know. The Doctor has been called, also the police.”
“Bloody Hell. Looks like we overdid it. Still,” a nasty smile creased the man’s face, “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. If it keeps him out of action until the sale goes through, they can have their treaty.”
“And if it does not?”
“Then we will need to take more direct action. How is the UNIT man?”
“As I thought. He suspects nothing, I am sure.”
“Good. Keep me posted and don’t forget, you’ve got as much to lose as I have if this goes wrong.”
“As you say.”
The receiver clicked. The man hung up, then flicked the pages in his desk directory and dialed a number.
“Yes. Are today’s figures in? Yes, I know I did. Come on man!” a pause, while the person at the other end left the phone and the man drummed his fingers on the desk. Eventually the voice at the other end returned.
“Yes? Good. Excellent. No, that’s all for today, just put the usual report in. Yes.”
Without pleasantries, the man hung up. He stood up and walked to the window, looking out over the grounds outside with eyes that seemed fixed on something else entirely. Once again, he smiled. Then he left the study.
Inspector Dent pulled up at the entrance to the Manor, got out of his car and ran up the steps to the entrance. His passengers followed more slowly, shaken by the speed of their journey. Commander Schmitz was waiting in the atrium. He stepped forward as the Inspector approached, his hand held out and a worried expression on his face.
“Commander. I came as soon as I could. How is he?”
“At the moment, he is sleeping, I think. We have consulted the resident doctor and I have posted men in the corridor. Sergeant Benton remains in attendance.”
“Good, then we won’t waste any more time talking.”
“Indeed. But? (as Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe approached)”
The Inspector gave nothing away.
“This is Detective Constable Grosvenor and Doctor Hawthorne. DC Grosvenor is from my own staff and Dr. Hawthorne has been engaged as a consultant by the chief constable.”
“I see. Then there is nothing more to say. If you will please follow me. Hesse!”
The Commander called to his subordinate and instructed him to guide the Inspector’s party to the delegate’s suite, then left the atrium. The visitors followed Corporal Hesse to the lift, Miss Hawthorne was relieved that the Commander seemed to have taken the Inspector’s explanation at face value and that an actual doctor had attended the patient. As they ascended in the lift, Iolanthe caught Miss Hawthorne’s eye and gave a tiny, nervous smile, but no words passed between them. The Corporal didn’t seem to be in the mood for conversation, so the Inspector kept his own counsel until they reached the suite, when he thanked Hesse for his assistance and, with a searching look, requested that the Corporal contact him should he have any information to give about the events of the previous days. Corporal Hesse nodded, stood briefly to attention and departed. Sergeant Brecht had been removed from his post outside the door and replaced with two other guards who, when they saw the visitors approach with the Corporal, stood aside to let them enter the suite. The Inspector knocked on the door, then, hearing a quiet “Come in,” entered, followed by Iolanthe and Miss Hawthorne. Inside, they found Vornschawl sitting up on his bed, with Sergeant Benton standing by the connecting door to the sitting room and the conference doctor checking the delegate’s heart with his stethoscope. The doctor ignored the interruption, instead instructing his patient to lean forward before transferring the bell of the stethoscope to the back. After listening to Vornschawl’s heart and breathing, the doctor took off the stethoscope and came to meet the Inspector.
“Good to see you, Inspector.”
In answer to Miss Hawthorne’s questioning expression, the Inspector explained that Dr Braithwaite was a local GP who had been seconded to the staff of the conference. Dr Braithwaite was a tall, slim man, who, to the Sergeant and Miss Hawthorne’s eyes, looked barely old enough to be in practice, with his round, pink-cheeked face and short, fair curls. But he treated his patient with a quiet professionalism that was instantly reassuring. The Inspector briefly introduced Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe, then approached the bed.
“How are you, Sir?”
Vornschawl smiled thinly.
“Better, I think. The doctor tells me that my pulse has returned to normal, but I believe he has concerns for my heart?”
The doctor’s face became slightly pinker, but he was ready to give an honest opinion.
“From the symptoms Mr. Vornschawl has described, and the incident this morning, I would say that his heart has been under considerable strain. I would advise him to consider resting but (Vornschawl waved a dismissive hand) I do understand the importance of the situation.”
The Inspector took the medical report from the police laboratory out of his pocket and showed it to the doctor.
“We believe Mr. Vornschawl has been given regular doses of this substance, without his knowledge.”
Dr. Braithwaite consulted the report, frowning. After he finished reading, he passed the pages to Vornschawl, who had held out his hand for it.
“I see. Yes, that would account for the symptoms. This kind of medication in a healthy person would… well. And with the added strain of the hallucinations...”
“Hallucinations?” asked Vornschawl, “you are certain of that, doctor?”
Inspector Dent glanced at Iolanthe, who nodded.
“We believe you may be subject to a form of hypnosis. It appears that it’s possible to implant a hallucination in the brain of a subject, which is triggered by a word, or even a sound.”
“And can you stop it?”
“We think so. Miss Grosvenor (Iolanthe stepped forward) has some expertise with hypnosis and will try and remove the trigger and the image, if you will allow her?”
Vornschawl sat back against his pillows and let out a long breath.
“Inspector, if it will remove those dreadful visions, I will try anything. I swear, I saw them as clearly as I see you now. I find it hard to believe that they were only in my head, but, please, Miss Grosvenor, do try.”
“Thank you. If you would all please stand back?” Iolanthe looked at the others, who stepped back as instructed. She pulled up a chair and seated herself close to the bed.
“Look at me please, Mr. Vornschawl.”
Vornschawl did as she asked.
“Now, whatever you hear or see, you must keep looking at me. Do you understand?”
Iolanthe gave a tiny nod to Miss Hawthorne, who was standing out of the view of the delegate. Suddenly there came a creaking noise. Quiet, but unmistakably the noise of a creaking hinge. The effect was instantaneous. Vornschawl became tense, his hands shaking. Iolanthe took his hands in hers and began to speak, calmly. Her voice was soft, so the words were almost inaudible to the others in the room, but she kept up a constant stream of speech as the delegate’s eyes widened and his shoulders also began to shake. After a couple of minutes, he began to relax. The shoulders first, then the arms and hands. Finally, his eyelids quivered and drooped, and he fell back against the pillows, apparently asleep. Iolanthe released his hands and let them fall onto the bed covers. She stayed still for a moment, then sighed and stood up. Doctor Braithwaite came forwards and checked Vornschawl’s pulse. He nodded and let the wrist go.
“Good. Thank you, Miss Grosvenor.” The Inspector shook Iolanthe’s hand, “will we disturb him if we talk?”
“No, he’ll sleep until I wake him.”
“Good. Now, Doctor, I must ask you about the drugs. We haven’t identified a suspect yet and ...”
“I thought you might ask. I cannot, in all conscience, allow him to continue to be drugged. He is a healthy man, for his age, but the strain on the heart has already been considerable and I cannot advise that you expose him to further risk.”
“Thank you for your honesty.” The Inspector held out his hand, “I hope we can avoid any further incidents of doping. We have reached an impasse in the investigation in any case and I was going to suggest to Mr. Vornschawl that we take steps to force the opposition’s hand. Your advice makes this even more necessary.”
Doctor Braithwaite shook hands with the Inspector and left, looking troubled. The Inspector turned to Iolanthe.
“Miss Grosvenor, will you wake him, please?”
Iolanthe went over to the bed. She held Vornschawl’s left hand and bending close to him, said quietly but clearly,
“Mr. Vornschawl, you may wake up now.”
As Iolanthe let go of the hand and stepped back, the delegate’s eyelids fluttered and rose. He was momentarily confused, but then as his eyes regained their focus, the confusion left his face.
“Inspector. Miss Grosvenor. Have you?”
“Yes. You will not see those things again.”
The quiet confidence in Iolanthe’s voice seemed to reassure him.
“I cannot thank you enough. And what was it that caused them to appear?”
“This,” Miss Hawthorne held up a rusted hinge, that Iolanthe had bought at the junk shop that day, “or something like it. An ordinary sound that would pass unnoticed in your statement.”
“I see, so the person who did this to me has such a thing in their possession?”
“Possibly,” Iolanthe stood up, “or it may be a recording. A Dictaphone would be small enough for them to carry around without arousing suspicion. Especially at a conference.”
“Indeed. Well, Miss Grosvenor, I can only thank you again. And now, Inspector, how does your investigation progress. What news do you have for me?”
“Little enough, I’m afraid. If I may?”
The Inspector gestured to a chair and Vornschawl nodded.
“Please, all of you, seat yourselves, Sergeant, if you would fetch chairs from the other room?”
While Sergeant Benton opened the connecting door to the next room and went in search of chairs, the Inspector sat down by the bed and pulled a file from his briefcase. When the entire party was seated, the Inspector began to take documents from the file and show them to Vornschawl.
“We’ve had Interpol and UNIT monitoring political groups who might have wanted to disrupt the conference, or who have a personal grudge against you, but we’ve come up with very little. It doesn’t look as if any of the usual suspects are behind these attacks, or, if they are, they are keeping very quiet about it.”
Vornschawl considered this information.
“It would not be in their style to be quiet about such a thing. I know these groups. When they take action, their methods are … direct and they are quick to claim responsibility. They would not wish another group to claim their victories.”
“Quite. That means that we had to look for another motive for the attacks. Was it a personal motive, that is, where the attacks meant to harm you personally, or was the conference still the target, but for a reason other than to simply disrupt relations between your nations?”
The Inspector pulled another set of pages from his file.
“Then, instead of looking at who might gain from preventing the treaty being signed, we decided to look at who would LOSE if it went ahead. And that brought us to the question of trade and geography.”
Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe both looked puzzled at this and the Inspector turned to them to explain.
“Slokovia is in an unusually difficult position when it comes to exploiting natural resources. The country is rich in a number of highly prized minerals, but the geography of the country makes exports difficult. It is surrounded by mountains on all sides save one, and that is the side that forms the border with Molvania.”
Vornschawl joined in the explanation at this point.
“Until now, the poor relations between our countries have made it almost impossible for companies based in Slokovia to export their goods through Molvania, but now, with this new agreement, they will be able to move across the border with much more ease. Such a thing will not only be of benefit to both our nations, but … ah, I think I see what you are driving at, Inspector, it may lead to a decrease in price of those resources which are readily available in Molvania, but less so elsewhere.”
The Inspector nodded.
“Precisely. So, anyone with investments in those areas would see a considerable drop in their profits.”
“But surely, then they would wish the treaty to be abandoned altogether?”
“Possibly. But if they were intending to rid themselves of their investments, they would only need to delay the treaty signing sufficiently to allow them to do that.”
“I see. Yes. Yes, you may be right.”
It was Sergeant Benton’s turn to look puzzled.
“But wouldn’t they give themselves away? If they tried to sell off all their shares at once, wouldn’t it scare the market?”
“One would think so. But we can assume they would know what they were doing… if they had done it over a long enough space of time. My team has been working on trying to trace suspicious stock movements, but it’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Vornschawl nodded slowly.
“Indeed, and time is against us.”
“It is. With your permission, Sir, I would like to suggest that we take a more direct approach. It will be a risk, but I don’t think we can wait any longer.”
The delegate sighed.
“I can only place myself at your disposal. What are your plans?”
Commander Schmitz paced his temporary guardroom impatiently. A member of the manor house staff, who was responsible for clearing tea and coffee cups, opened the door and, seeing the expression on the Commander’s face, thought better of and closed the door again quickly. The telephone bell interrupted Schmitz mid circuit.
“Yes, Schmitz here.”
He listened for a moment, said “Yes, Sir,” in his own language and hung up, then left the room quickly, the door banging behind him. Schmitz walked quickly to the lift and then to the delegate’s suite, nodding to the guards outside the door as he went in. When he entered the room, he found Vornschawl on the telephone. Inspector Dent was seated beside the bed, and Sergeant Benton stood by the wall, gazing stoically at nothing much in particular.
Vornschawl gestured a greeting, then returned to his call.
“Ja, ja, vielen Dank. Bis Morgen.”
He hung up and smiled at the Commander, speaking in English for the benefit of the Inspector and the Sergeant.
“Sir. You are feeling better?”
“Much better, thank you. I need you to make some arrangements for me.”
“I have just spoken to the Slokovian delegation. We will be signing the agreement tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow?” The Commander seemed momentarily startled but recovered himself quickly.
“Yes. On the advice of the doctor, I have decided not to prolong the negotiations. We are agreed that any further discussion is unnecessary. I shall rest this evening and we will reconvene at nine tomorrow morning.”
“I understand. When will you require your meal?”
“Ah. The doctor has advised that I avoid food for the rest of the day, I have ample water, a meal will not be required.”
Benton looked sideways at the Commander without moving his head. If Schmitz was struggling to adjust to the sudden turn of events, he was hiding it well. But Vornschawl was speaking to him.
“I am indebted to you for your help today. If I might impose on you once more, I would ask that you guard my door again tonight.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Thank you. Then we need detain you no longer at present.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Benton stood to attention and then left the room. Once the door had closed behind him, Vornschawl turned back to his head of security.
“And now, Schmitz, I will need to you to inform your men and secure these rooms until the morning.”
“Yes, Sir. I will double the guard.”
The Inspector stood up and extended his hand to Vornschawl.
“I must get back to my headquarters. I’ll call with any news we have in the morning.”
“Thank you, Inspector.”
The Inspector left through the connecting door to the next room and called to Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe. Vornschawl exchanged a few more words with Schmitz and then dismissed him before turning on his side and closing his eyes. Schmitz watched him for a moment, then left to go about his duties. One of the guards from the corridor escorted the Inspector and his companions to the lift. On reaching the ground floor, Miss Hawthorne and Iolanthe went out to the car, while the Inspector spoke to one of the uniformed officers who was on duty in the atrium. A few moments later he came over to the car, accompanied by the officer.
“Constable Hawkins will drive you back, I need to have a word with the manager.”
“Thank you, Inspector.”
The ladies and the Constable got in and he drove them back to the village, at a considerably slower speed than that with which they had arrived. Inspector Dent watched them leave, then turned back to the Manor and went back up the steps to the house.
After leaving the delegate’s suite, Sergeant Benton had followed his customary course of action for a night on duty. His first port of call was the hotel bar, to secure a plate of sandwiches and a cup of strong coffee, which he carried carefully up to his room. It was a bit on the late side to sleep after the meal, but he took off his jacket and sat on the bed with his book, trying to relax as much as he could before his shift began. A tap at the door distracted him from the novel. Benton looked at his watch. Half past eight. He opened the door to find the Commander standing in the corridor.
“Sergeant, may I come in?”
“Er, yes, of course, Sir.”
Benton stood aside to let in his unexpected guest. The Commander walked to the window, then turned.
“I wanted to thank you for your assistance, Sergeant. Our delegation is very grateful to UNIT for their cooperation.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“I hope you have been able to rest sufficiently. You must be tired. Do sit down.”
“I … oh no, Sir, I’m quite…”
The Commander reached into his jacket and drew out a gun.
“And do not think of calling for help.”
Seeing nothing else for it, Benton sat down in a chair.
The Commander reached into his other pocket and pulled out handcuffs, which he used to secure Benton’s hands round the back of the chair. He then pulled the curtains, shutting out the last of the daylight and switched on the desk lamp, positioning it so that the light shone directly into his prisoner’s face.
“Again,” he said in a smooth, soft voice, “You must be tired. You are tired, aren’t you Sergeant?”
Benton realized in an instant what was happening. Trying to remember his training, he answered “yes,” in a dull voice, while pushing as hard as he could with his mind against the light and the Commander’s voice.
“Good. Very, very tired. You need to sleep.”
“Yes.” Benton blinked, then closed his eyes.
“Excellent, Sergeant. You will need to sleep for a long time. Hours. You will not wake until I give you permission. When you wake, you will not remember this meeting, or even why you are here. Do you understand?”
Benton’s head drooped on his shoulder, his breathing slowed, and his eyes remained closed. Commander Schmitz watched him for a few moments, then went behind the chair and removed the handcuffs from the Sergeant’s wrists. Benton sagged in the chair. The Commander smiled, pocketed his gun and the handcuffs and walked quietly to the door.
“Sleep well, Sergeant.”
Schmitz went out into the corridor, locking the door behind him. He would be there to open it, so nobody else would know that it was locked from the outside. As the Commander’s footsteps retreated down the corridor, Sergeant Benton opened his eyes. The next moment he was on his feet and at the door. Finding it locked he cursed inwardly. He would need to get out without attracting too much attention and breaking the door down would certainly attract attention. He had a set of skeleton keys in his “detective kit” but would any of them would fit and would he have time to find the one that did? There was nothing else for it. Benton fetched the keys from the box in his wardrobe and began to try and fit them in the lock. By a miracle, the third one he tried worked. He threw the keys onto the bed and snatched up his gun, not bothering with the holster. Benton put his head out of the door and looked both ways, but the corridor was clear. Sergeant Benton pulled the door closed, then made his way towards the delegate’s suite as quickly and quietly as he could.
Commander Schmitz walked coolly along the corridor as if he had every right to be there, as, indeed, he had. He nodded to the guards who were standing outside the door, then turned his key in the lock and went in. The guards relaxed a little, only to be startled moments later by the appearance of Benton, gun drawn, hurrying towards them.
“Did he go in?”
“The Commander, did he go in?”
Benton tried to get to the door, but the guards drew their weapons.
“You don’t understand, it was him. We’ve got to get in there!”
“Stand back, Sergeant.”
“Corporal,” Benton recognized Corporal Hesse, “you have to believe me. If we don’t get in there...”
At that moment there was the sound of a shot from the other side of the door. Benton wrenched open the door and went in, followed by the guards. Inside, they found the Commander sprawled against the wall, blood seeping through his jacket near his right shoulder. Vornschawl was sitting up in bed, a gun in his hand. Benton went to the Commander and took the gun from his hand. The Commander tried to resist, but feebly. Corporal Hesse removed his tie and bound the Commander’s other hand over his wound. As he did so, the door to the adjoining room opened. Commander Schmitz laughed, then coughed.
“We do still have the advantage of you.”
“Oh, I’m afraid not, Commander. I met Sergeant Brecht and he won’t be able to give you his support.”
Inspector Dent stood in the doorway. He crossed the room to the telephone and made a brief call. The Commander’s laugh had turned to a stream of cursing. Vornschawl regarded him disgustedly.
“Shut up, Schmitz. Unless you can explain your behaviour, we do not wish to hear anything from you.”
“Explain?” Schmitz coughed again and spat, “I was going to be paid a lot of money. I wouldn’t have had to spend any more of my life looking after idiot diplomats.”
“Money? That’s the only reason?”
“What better reason could there be?”
The door opened again, to admit three uniformed police officers. Two of them lifted the Commander to his feet and half walked, half carried him outside, the other went into the next room to collect Brecht, who the Inspector had restrained. When this had been accomplished, the Inspector spoke briefly to Vornschawl and the other guards, then left the room accompanied by Benton.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get there quicker, Sir.”
“Not your fault, Sergeant. As it turned out, Mr. Vornschawl beat us all to it.”
Three weeks later Sergeant Benton, Miss Hawthorne, Iolanthe gathered in the Brigadier’s office to hear the last news of the case from Inspector Dent. With the Commander’s influence removed, negotiations had proceeded quickly, and the agreement was signed within a few days. His hope of fortune dashed, Schmitz had seen no reason to stay loyal to his paymaster and had confessed fully. His evidence, supported by investigations by the Fraud Squad, had revealed a wealthy industrialist who had had almost a monopoly on the processing of one of the minerals which was in good supply in Slokovia.
“He had been quietly selling off stock, through a number of channels for the past two years,” the Inspector explained, “but he was desperate to finish the job.”
“But to attack an innocent man like that?” protested Miss Hawthorne.
“Money does funny things to people. Great amounts of it even more so.” The Inspector shrugged. “Look at Schmitz. Unblemished record of service, both in the military and in security.”
“Did he give any more reasons for his conduct?”
“Not really. It seems he had had a longstanding grudge about being ordered about by civilians, and pay is never that good, even for the most senior ranks, so when temptation came, he was ready. I know (as Iolanthe protested) it doesn’t seem like a lot, but the money men know how to work on people’s feelings. My guess is that he stoked Schmitz’s general grievance until he believed he had a personal vendetta against Vornschawl.”
“And it was Schmitz who had hypnotized Vornschawl?” asked the Brigadier.
“Yes, on the journey over. The delegation had travelled in small groups for security and Schmitz managed to get him alone and implant the hallucinations and the trigger before the conference even began.”
“He had served with the Commander for the longest of any of them. They trusted each other completely and Brecht objected to the treaty, he felt it was a betrayal of his country, so he was easily converted to Schmitz’ cause, even without the promise of bribery.”
“I see.” The Brigadier stood up, signaling the end of the meeting, “Well, thank you, Inspector.”
“Thank you, Brigadier.”
Miss Hawthorne also stood up.
“Well, I must get back. Gooodness only knows what people will have been up to without me to keep an eye on them!” she smiled at the assembled party, shook hands with the Inspector and left. Inspector Dent looked at Iolanthe.
“Are you not going back with Miss Hawthorne?”
Iolanthe blushed and opened her mouth to speak, but the Brigadier was before her.
“Ah, Miss Grosvenor is staying on at UNIT. We have offered her a position as a full-time consultant, and, I’m pleased to say, she has accepted.”
“I see, well, congratulations, Miss Grosvenor.”
Iolanthe had found her voice by this time and thanked the Inspector, who departed after shaking hands. The Brigadier sat down again.
“Show Miss Grosvenor to her office, then send Corporal Scott along to make sure she has all she needs.”
Benton ushered Iolanthe out of the room. As they walked along the interminable and nondescript corridors of UNIT HQ, Iolanthe tried to remember the route and wondered if she might be given a map, or, at least, a ball of string to find her way out again. As Benton told her they were “nearly there,” one of the office doors opened and a tall officer with reddish-brown hair appeared, holding a box file in one hand. He stopped when he saw Benton and his companion approaching.
“Sir. Miss Grosvenor, this is Captain Yates.”
“How do you do?”
Iolanthe shook the Captain’s hand and smiled.
“Pleased to meet you, Captain Yates.”
Yates withdrew his hand with a puzzled expression. He walked a few steps, then stopped and shook his head as if to clear it. Sergeant Benton looked at his superior officer, thought of asking what the matter was, then thought better of it. Instead, he left well alone and he and Iolanthe went on to her office.
Yates watched them go, bewildered. When he had shaken Iolanthe’s hand, the words “Sorry, not interested,” had appeared in his mind as clearly as if they had been spoken. He shook his head again and, recalled to his duties, quickened his pace along the corridor. Having at last arrived at the room that would be Iolanthe’s office, Sergeant Benton ushered her inside and then looked both ways along the corridor before closing the door. He explained that Corporal Scott would be along shortly to make sure Iolanthe was supplied with everything she needed for her work, then, unable to help himself, asked
“What did you do to him?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Captain Yates. What did you do to him?”
Iolanthe smiled demurely, though her eyes sparkled.
“Nothing really, I just find it easier if everyone knows where they stand from the beginning.”
“Ah, I see. Well, let me know if there’s anything else you need.”
“I will, thank you.”
As Benton walked away, he began to smile. He had had some concerns about Iolanthe joining UNIT, though Miss Hawthorne had told him he was worrying over nothing and he had to admit she had been right. Iolanthe Grosvenor wasn’t going to have any trouble at UNIT.