Masquerade In Red – Chapter One… again.

Okay, I know I’ve already posted the first chapter, but these things always change. I thought I’d give it another go.

 

PRIVATE PLANE

As interesting and scenic as the Cornish coastline was, the Gothic pile known as Polgarron that  appeared to rise up out of the sea looked dark and forbidding. It was on a par to every old haunted house flick I’d ever seen. Crashing of the breakers, wild and tempestuous in the daytime, can ultimately assume a threatening aspect at night. Whoever chose this almost feral setting certainly did it for affect.

Judging by the countless hours Gregor had spent on this, he wrote little of the mysterious Professor. Other than he went by the rather doubtful moniker of Piers Maskelyne. Surprisingly, Maskelyne, unlike most Professors,  was  far from archetypal. While it might have been from an old clipping, there was a rather grainy photocopy from a newspaper of Maskelyne. He appeared  to be in his mid thirties. The suit he wore happened to be a fraction outmoded, with wide lapels, long to the waist, serving to accentuate his slender build. After all, the style went out in the eighties. The guy must be in his sixties by now.

Or not. According to Gregor, the Professor was born in 1976, which made him 38. Then the photo was more recent. I can’t help avoid a smile of derision. What kind of guy wore such an outmoded suit? Maskelyne was clean shaven. His features are handsome, debonair. A cynical smile played around full bodied lips. His  hair was long and spilling to his collar in carefully coiffured waves. One word sprang to mind and was ‘Dandy’. He certainly epitomised a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel or Sydney Carton. It’s as if his expression were challenging, daring me. To a duel perhaps? I steered my gaze away with a semblance of relief. 

My attention was swiftly diverted to what sounded like an aircraft’s engine whirring overhead. I poured myself a coffee, which was now practically stewed, that Harland brought some half hour ago, I stared  up at the sky. The plane was one of those light aircraft. Possibly a Cessna. The Captain told me once that he held a pilot’s licence and owned a private plane somewhere in Angmering. I had dared to enquire how a guy with the use of only eye can drive a car, pilot a plane, and ride an old Harley he bought from the States. 

“Instinct, Aidan. Purely instinct”, he’d related.

I smiled, shook my head and marvelled at this both amazing and fascinating man. The Captain displaying his prowess again.

Wishing that I too could fly a light aircraft, I checked out the recordings Johnny Miller had  forwarded to Gregor, as his handler.

Miller began by describing his room at Polgarron. How violent the sea was  at night and that it was difficult to sleep at first. 

“The first thing I noticed in my search,” Miller  related, “is there are bugs all over the place. Both kinds. Fuckin’ creepy crawlies, especially spiders.You can hear ‘em rustling in the wainscotting at night.”

“Wainscotting?” Gregor remarked with an element of derision.

‘”The panelling.”

“I know what wainscoting is. Tell me about the other bugs. Listening devices.”

“If it weren’t for our communicators, I’d never be able to call in.”

Miller’s voice was barely above a whisper. “There’s a sort of intercom over the bed. That’s the one they use to summon us.”

“Summon you? Who are they, Johnny?” 

His momentary pause was filled with static. Miller continued in a conspiratorial tone. “The doctors. At least I think they’re doctors, They wear white coats.”

“Where do they summon you too?” 

“After… after…” He swallowed so noisily, It caused the tape to crackle. “You know I told you about the machine?”

“The one they use to…” I heard Gregor pause and clear his throat innumerable times before continuing.

“To condition us. I’m told to report to the caves.”

“Caves! What caves?” Gregor exploded. “What caves, Johnny?”

 “Catacombs then. They’re sort of carved out of the rock and lead from under the house. That’s where they bring the.. the victims. There’s other stuff too. Look, Greg, I’ve gotta go.”

“Have you seen the Professor?” Gregor asked quickly.

“He’s the one who presides over the… the gathering. At least, I think that’s who it is, but  he’s always masked. The kind of eye mask they wear to masquerade balls. I’ll tell you something. There’s another agent.”

“What other agent? As far as I know there is no one.”

“Well there is, and it’s a woman.”

“A woman?” Gregor exclaimed, but his words fell on deaf ears, because Johnny Miller had rung off.

Profoundly lost in the unfolding conversation of catacombs and the enigmatic masked Maskelyne, I realised the Cessna was continuing that incessant whirring above. Returning to the window, I watched as it circled overhead. It was as if it were fixed in that position, making me wonder, still dazed by Miller’s revelation of the goings on at Polgarron, if the plane were about to crash. It certainly appeared to be in difficulties. The Captain hadn’t had a heart attack had he? After all, he was in his mid sixties.

He imagined himself to be half that age, but perhaps its time he faced the fact.

The sound of an explosion, followed by sporadic bursts of gunfire, erupted from somewhere outside the corridor. I was still staring at the Cessna, concerned over the Captain’s predicament, when I was  conscious of the glint of sunlight bouncing off the metal casing of a high powered rifle.  A rifle that was strategically levelled on my window from the Cessna ‘s passenger side.

 

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