The moment she got back from her interview, Alison Parker strode into Frank's spare room, flung her cases onto the bed, flung them open and grabbed her clothes from the wardrobe. She stared to pack...
...but the moment the first item of clothing hit the bottom of the first case, her phone rang.
She picked it up from where it lay by her bags, held it against her ear and said, 'Alison Parker Enterprises. We create dreams like cheese creates nightmares.'
'Alison, what the hell're you doing?' It was Liz and she sounded annoyed.
'I'm packing my bags.'
'To do what?'
'To go to Delgado Manor.
'That's what you think. You're unpacking those bags and you're staying where you are.'
'I take it Lou's been in touch.'
'Yes he's been in touch and he's an idiot.'
'He's your boss.'
'I don't care what he is. You're not my assistant and you never will be.'
'Well maybe you'd better listen to this recording he gave me to play to you at times of friction.'
She took her Dictaphone from by her cases, held it to the phone and pressed Play. It said, 'Betty, I'm your boss. This girl's your assistant. You'd better let her assist you or I'll replace you with a man and make you his secretary.'
Alison pressed Stop then Rewind and, again holding the phone to her ear, said, 'So, what've you got to say about that?'
On the other end, Liz gave a long long sigh. She went quiet. She did something that sounded like pacing. She did something that sounded like stopping pacing. She did something that sounded like more pacing. She stopped pacing. Finally, she said, 'You want to be exposed to danger?'
'Yes I want to be exposed to danger.'
'Right. I'll expose you to danger - and then let's see how you like it. Tonight, the moment the sun sets, I need you to do something for me.'
'Does it involve sticking my job up my arse?'
'No. It involves a drive to Sleeton.'
'An old abandoned coalfield on the way to Hangerton. According to local legend, since its desertion, it's been haunted by a creature called the Beast of Sleeton. Tonight, I want you to go to that coalfield, I want you to sit in your car in the middle of it and I want you to see if you can find the Beast.'
'From what I've heard since I got here, that thing might be what killed Danny boy.'
'And if I find it?'
'Do nothing. Stay in the car and phone me. Keep your doors and windows locked and, if it makes any move towards you, get out of there. Got that?'
'Good luck. Coz if that thing gets its teeth into you, luck's the only hope you'll have.'
Liz jabbed off her mobile phone, tossed it on the table to her left and resumed her investigation. Alison wanted to see what sort of things an occult investigator had to deal with? Well now she was going to find out. And if she didn't like what she found out? Tough. She'd dug her own grave, now she was going to have to lie in it.
As for Liz's own investigations, if her chats with the staff had been of little use to her, she had other options available. She'd tried searching the house from front to back and side to side. Now to try up and down.
Liz was on the upstairs landing, stood beneath a hatch in the ceiling. According to Rachel, when she'd been showing Liz around, it led up to the roof. Liz grabbed a table from where it stood by the wall, and dragged it to stand under the hatch.
She climbed up onto the table and, with a twist of its handle, opened the hatch. It lifted upwards. She pushed it aside and then, with a jump, hauled herself up through it.
She hauled herself up onto the roof, scrambled to her feet and put the hatch back in place. Now she straightened up, drew a lop of stray hair away from one eye and set off in search of mystic symbols and signs of sacred geometry in the house's layout.
She found none.
All she found were a few time-worn spirettes, the domed glass roof of Delgado's Ritual Room and a pigeon whose condition suggested it had been dead since just before the dawn of time.
Search concluded, Liz headed back for the hatch, lifted it, lowered herself through it and dropped down onto the table. She straightened up, grabbed the hatch above her, moved it back into place and secured it. Now she jumped down from the table and pushed it back to where she'd found it.
That was another dead-end explored.
Now for the next.
She made her way downstairs and into the entrance hall where she watched the grandfather clock whose hands were permanently stopped at three-thirty. According to Mrs Hobson, the thing had never worked since it had been installed. That didn't make sense. A clock that didn't work had no use...
...except to hide things.
She moved it away from the wall...
...and found nothing. A few raps at the section of wall behind it proved it concealed no hollowed-out passageways.
She returned the clock to its rightful place, lifted its glass-fronted cowl, set the fingers to the right time, opened its pendulum case and set its pendulum swinging.
It swung for a few moments then stopped.
Midnight found Liz in bed, using her laptop to scroll through the background info Lou'd sent her just before telling her he'd appointed Alison.
According to the files, the staff were who they said they were, and each had the back story they'd claimed to have. On top of that, none of them had anything that even resembled a criminal record. They were squeaky clean - either that or they were good at covering their tracks. Right now she wouldn't put it past all of them to have killed Daniel Robinson.
She switched off her laptop, closed its lid and put it by the bed. She flicked off the bedside lamp, slipped her gun under her pillow and laid her head on the pillow. She gazed up at the ceiling, and once again Liz Sanford settled down for a night of trying to be a victim.
With a long, slow crunch of gravel, a car came to a halt at the head of a road that had clearly once led to somewhere but didn't any more. It was Alison Parker's VW Beetle and she was here to look for the Beast of Sleeton.
She couldn't deny it, if anywhere looked like a place a mystery beast would haunt, this did; a rubble and house-brick strewn field whose over-long grass seemed to reach out like the fingers of death. A hundred yards away to her right, a skeletal figure scarred the face of a low red moon. It was the towering hulk of a pit winding head.
She switched off her engine, made sure the doors were locked then took her rucksack from the seat beside her. She opened it and retrieved three items; a Thermos flask, a Tupperware box containing her sandwiches, and a pair of binoculars. She rested the flask and box on the rucksack on the seat beside her then concentrated on the binoculars.
According to the man in the shop she'd bought them from, these weren't just any binoculars, they were sniper's binoculars. He'd reckoned they could spot a vacationing president at a mile and a half off. Then, once spotted, you could get your rifle out and pick him off at leisure. 'Pop,' he'd said, 'Bye bye, President.' She'd had the feeling he was a little odd.
Still, he clearly knew his optics. She slipped off the lens caps, put them on the dashboard then held the binoculars to her eyes.
And, leaning forward, Alison Parker peered out into darkness for any signs of a creature that could tear apart a fully armed man.
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