17/04/2013 08:02

“Can I help you?” A young man wearing the brown livery of the professor’s household appeared out of a side door, coming towards them.

“Yes.” Marco said bluntly. “I am Marco Preston and this is Talith Meer. We are here to see Professor Smith.”

The man in front of them paused, rubbing his hands together nervously. “I’m afraid the Professor is…”

“Incapacitated?” Marco asked irritably, annoyed to be stalled again.

“Well…not exactly.” The man hesitated. “I’m afraid he’s dead.”

There was a moment of shocked silence as they let the words sink in. Marco abruptly sat down on a bench and put his head in his hands, feeling incredible frustration mix with anger and sadness. They needed his help and now he wasn’t there…

Talith was asking for details in her calm voice.

“We found him this morning.” The man explained to her. “He died in his sleep. The police have just finished – we suspected foul play at first, because of the death threats, but there’s no sign. The doctor pronounced it as heart failure.”

Talith nodded, thinking. “So what will happen to everything? His projects?”

“His secretary is looking for his will. We think he left it with his solicitor but we haven’t been able to contact them yet. The professor spoke highly of both of you. If you would like to see his secretary, then she will be please to help you…?” The man obviously wanted to get them into someone else’s hands. Talith could hear voices coming down the hallway and guessed that another deputation were arriving.

“Of course.” she agreed.

The professor’s secretary turned out to be a rather intimidating young woman who glanced coolly at them from over her desk. “One moment, if you please.” she said and picked up the phone as it began to ring.

Marco glanced impatiently around the room, half listening to the brief phone call. The secretary placed the phone back down after a curt farewell and looked coldly at them.

“How can I help you?”

“We need information on a project.”

“I’m afraid I merely handled the administration and financial side of things. I have no idea of any of his projects apart from a rough outline. You would do better to ask one of his helpers.”

“We have. They don’t know either.” Marco said bluntly.

“Did he leave any plans or notes?” Talith put in enquiringly.

“Goodness, no.” The secretary looked shocked at the thought. “Everything was in his head for the prototypes, and that was all he made. He sent them to other people to make plans of. He had nothing to do with that.”

Marco and Talith looked at each other. So the prototype was the only one of its kind, and no plans would have been made yet.

“Is there anyone who would know anything about his designs?” Talith tried.

“He had an apprentice, and a daughter. Maybe one of them would be able to help you.” She wanted to get rid of them as well. “These were their last contact addresses.” After handing them a piece of paper, she mentally dismissed them and turned back to her computer. Marco glumly followed Talith from the room, shutting the door behind him with a bang.

“Fat lot of help that’ll be! A daughter would know nothing about her father’s latest projects, and the apprentice might know something…but not everything. It’s a wild goose chase.”

“But it’s the only thing we’ve got.” Talith reminded him calmly.


Lady Luck

17/04/2013 08:01

The first time he saw her was in the casino, sitting near a crowded table with a glass in one hand, leaning over the heads of the gamblers. He heard the shout of the winner and the babble of voices, and saw her luxurious smile that crinkled her perfect nose and made her eyes shine. She looked up from the table and their gazes met, just for an instant. And then the dice rolled, and she looked back to the game, enjoying the gambler’s luck. He found a game of his own, and forgot her for the evening in the thrill of success.

The second time he saw her was in a fashionable restaurant, sitting elegantly at the bar, talking to a group of smartly dressed men who gathered easily around her. The silk threads of her dress caught the light in shimmering patterns that eddied across her curves, and the rubies at her throat and ears sparkled. He followed his companions to a table and listened to their conversation for a few moments, casually looking across to the bar. She turned her head and caught him looking, then winked. The crowd eddied across, hiding his view, and when he next caught sight of her she was accepting a drink with a charming smile from the young barman, who smiled back, smitten. She seemed to sense his gaze, and raised her glass to him before the crowd swirled and hid her. When he next caught sight of the bar, she had vanished.


17/04/2013 08:00

Surrounded by mist, he felt himself in a dream. Music seemed to swirl around him, coming from the mist itself as it swirled. Was it making the music? He wasn’t sure of anything. Even the ground didn’t seem to be real, soft and yielding, letting him sink slowly downwards. His eyes were closing, and unable to stop himself, he drifted into sleep.

When he awoke, it was to the sound of laughter, drifting slowly on a light breeze. Something soft brushed his cheek. He opened his eyes and watched, all bemused with sleep, as flurries of petals drifted past, dancing and swirling to music only they could hear. The sky seemed touched with gold, light warm on his face. He touched smooth fabric underneath his fingers as he pushed himself up, half dreaming.

Was it a heaven? Soft greenery was underfoot, small-leaved plants that gave off the sweetest of scents. The trees around him were in bloom, the flurries of petals settling around in a subtle carpet of colour, drifting around him. A little way to his right he could see buildings, the curving walls draped with clinging greenery. The other way, the trees grew a little more thickly, but he could hear a gentle trickle of water. In the distance, mountains rose in splendid grandeur. He stood up, slowly, and began to walk towards the water, following the drifting laughter.

Threading his way slowly through the trees, he became aware of people around him. Someone took his elbow, and then another took his arm, leading him gently, supporting him as he stumbled. He was still half-dreaming, still half-asleep.


17/04/2013 07:59

She shrugged and blew smoke through her nostrils. “I understand that he’s an insomniac. Through choice.”

“Why would anyone choose not to sleep?”

The green eyes turned coldly to the young man sitting opposite and one shoulder rose and fell. “How should I know? I assume bad dreams because we sometimes hear screams in the middle of the night. He always looks worse those days. But why should I care? As long as it doesn’t disturb me I’m not bothered by his problems.”

He couldn’t find an objection to her callousness, but found himself disliking her.

It was 3.26 am by his watch and there was a gentle knock on the door. He continued to watch the seconds tick past, wondering if he was hearing things. Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, another knock…just loud enough to hear if you were awake and not too loud to wake someone up. Neat. He sighed and swung his legs out of bed, half glad of the interruption and half wishing that his demons could remain his own, without bothering the rest of the hall. The door handle felt cold against his clammy palm as he swung the door open on the chain.

“Hope I didn’t disturb you.” the face outside said. “Wondered if you wanted company or if I could borrow that book you were on about. If it’s not bothering you?”

He swung the door shut and took the chain off, then locked it again as soon as the young man had stepped inside. “You been out?” He was wearing jeans and a loose t-shirt.

“No. Didn’t know if I would scare anyone by wandering around in sleep gear.” He took the chair indicated.

“Accurate guess. Miss Pretty’s a bit fussy about that kinda thing.”

“Miss Pretty?”

“Slim girl, brown hair, pretty, smallish. Rachel to anyone that does know her. You musta seen her. Or heard her. She’s got a loud voice when she’s upset. Want a drink?”

“Wouldn’t mind, if I’m not bothering you.”

“No. It’s nice to have some morning company. Speaking of, I assume you’re the new lodger called, variously, Ben McIntosh, Mr Tosh and Benny Tosh.”

“Yeah. Benjamin McIntosh, that’s me. I’m happy enough with Ben. Rachel didn’t mention your name, though. May I ask?”

“Wynne. Wynne Wordsworth. Bad name, I know. Most people know me as Will.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“So what did Rachel tell you about me? She has attitude, does that lady.”

“You’re an insomniac through choice. And that she doesn’t care. I get the impression she doesn’t like anyone very much.”

“Not really.” He sighed. “Yeah, insomniac. Nice way of putting it. I’d say permanent nightmare machine.”

“Know the feeling.”