Chapter 20


[New readers: to start at chapter 1, click Archives / November 2012 on right hand side]

As he approached the Osborne Reynolds Institute Ludovic looked around in the gathering dusk. He could see nothing unusual about the street or the building. Pushing back the hood of his new coat he looked up into the drizzle. The facade of the building was tidy and unremarkable. Right outside the building he stopped. At his feet he could see a concrete slab inset with glass blocks, a skylight for the basement which overlapped the pavement. The basement was illuminated, but the blocks were too worn to allow him a view of the interior.

The receptionist recognised him before he stated his name. He signed in the book and collected his lanyard and visitor badge, which he hung around his neck.

He had told Professor Flatt’s assistant that he wanted to share some background information with the Professor. She told him she would call him back. When she finally contacted him twenty-four hours later he was given an appointment towards the end of the next day. It appeared that the Professor was not in a hurry to learn more.

Sitting on the leather chair in the plush lobby of the institute he saw a few people come and go. Most of them looked academic rather than commercial to his unskilled eye. None of them was wearing a suit, but several wore ties. As he sat he could hear, or feel, a deep humming, like a distant piece of machinery. It reminded him of the quiet noise of an electricity substation.

“Dr Vestas?” Miriam Flatt’s assistant appeared from the lift. “Sorry to keep you waiting, the Professor can see you now.”

The office on the sixth floor was very tidy. There were no papers on the desk and the computer screen was switched off.

“Please take a seat,” said the Professor as soon as he entered. She gestured at the armchairs beside the low table near the window. “Would you like a drink?”

Once Ludovic had asked for a cup of tea and they were alone, she sat opposite him and looked at him expectantly.

“You said you had more information to share?” She asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yes,” Ludovic spoke slowly, “we’ve been looking at contemporary accounts from the seventeenth century, the period corresponding to some of finds at the dig across the road. It looks as if there were some interesting events nearby.” He paused, looked casually around the room and asked, “what sort of science are you doing here?”

Miriam Flatt ignored his question. “What do you mean by interesting events?” She asked calmly.

Ludovic paused again. “There are stories of witchcraft, possibly witch burnings and mysterious figures.”

“Isn’t that pretty normal for that period?” Said the Professor with a short laugh. “My mother was a Lancashire girl. She made sure that I knew the story of the Pendle witches. That was the seventeeth century wasn’t it?”

“Yes. A little bit earlier than our investigations, but the same period. There would have been the same superstitions.” Ludovic stopped talking as Flatt’s assistant came back into the room with two steaming cups. “Thank you,” he said and waited until she had closed the door before continuing. “But witchcraft was often just a convenient explanation for anything that was a bit out of the ordinary or disruptive. A report of a witch or a curse was an easy and credible way to deflect attention.” He took a sip of tea. “Someone might use witchcraft to explain a sudden misfortune, an unexpected illness, or even a death.”

“A death?” Professor Flatt picked up her cup. “Did you find a body as well as an identity card like one of ours?”

Ludovic hesitated. He held his cup to his lips and then replaced it on the low table.

“We found a seventeenth century skeleton,” he said cautiously. “She was young and pregnant. I think that she might have been accused of witchcraft. It matches one of the contemporary accounts.”

“That’s sad. But what has it got to do with this institute.”

Ludovic held out his hands, palms up. “I don’t know.” He admitted. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you. What sort of science are you doing here? Is it linked to something that happened here in the past? Are you investigating something local, something that could only happen here?”

Professor Flatt looked at him. Her gaze was level and appraising. There was a long silence. Finally she spoke.

“Yes,” she said abruptly. “We are investigating something local.”

She stood up.

“The science is difficult to explain,” she said. “It is easier to see it than to describe it. Do you want to have a look?”

Ludovic stood up as well. “Yes, I would,” he said. “I would be very interested to see it.”

“The laboratories are in the basement. We can go and look now.” She turned and stepped towards the door. Ludovic followed. “The rooms are cold,” she said. “Some of the instruments are super-cooled and all the computer equipment is air conditioned. You’ll need your coat.”

4 Responses to “Chapter 20”

  1. 1 Anon

    No, Ludovic! Be afraid, be very afraid!

  2. 3 ann

    Glad he has a state of the art coat from a previous chapter!

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