Loyalties pay off for Mac as Jason buries a piece of his past. The cabal are reunited and waste no time to expedite their plan to perform The Company of Man.
Saturday 30 September
While Mac stands bloodied over the body of Campbell, Amy rushes across to him and plants a lingering kiss as she whispers “My Protector” to him. Stunned figures in the crowd gather around them, blurring out of focus, as she takes him by the hand and pulls him away from the crime scene. Nobody outside the pub appears to notice them as she quietly – almost invisibly – leads Mac, entranced as he is, to safety from the gathering mob.
They wend through through side alleys and back streets, before emerging to a regal chariot, bearing the finest livery of a true king of the realm. Overawed by the majesty of the sight, Mac steps into the carriage as Amy instructs the driver to ride to a sanctuary.
Time passes and distance grows from that scene of violence that ended with their embrace. Soon, the clopping sound of hooves are drowned out by the gutteral rumble of a heavy diesel engine. The familiar chatty tone of Mac’s right-hand man, Frank Baron, chips away at Mac’s apparition. Glitches break out of ever-growing cracks in his illusion. Mac starts to recognise the interior of his lieutenant’s pickup van driven not by a well-fitted chauffeur, but by his same loyal follower. Before it is entirely shattered, Amy kisses Mac again, who falls into a deep slumber.
Sunday 1 October
The next day, Mac awakens to the smell of fried bacon, in the familiar surrounds of his deputy’s home. Frank is making breakfast for them, but there is no sign of Amy. They talk about what happened, and how Amy had instructed Frank to come to their aid. Mac expresses his concern about and mistrust of Amy to Frank, advising similar caution.
Nothing is said of Richard Campbell’s slaughter.
Checking his phone, Mac picks up messages from Nicholas. They arrange to meet at the library to expedite the performance of the play with whatever material they have. Mac is deeply mistrusting of Amy, and anyone else who has expressed an interest in the play.
* * *
Elsewhere on a chillingly silent Sunday morning, Jason rises early after a long and restless night investigating the mysterious wife-stealer that Barriemore Canonbury appears to be. A vengeful desire to gain the trust of the man before triggering his ruin begins to seer into Riggs’ soul.
More pressing, though, is to dutifully lay to rest his poisoned treasure, Speckled Jim. The oldest tree in the town is outside the Barriemore’s hostelry, the Rampant Mare. Jason heads over early to bury the bird. As he digs away, he spots Miranda inside at one of the windows. She conspicuously ignores him, rapidly drawing the curtain to avoid his gaze. Jason completes his ceremony and takes up a waiting position on a nearby bench, hoping his estranged wife will emerge so they can begin to engage in peace talks.
As Jason waits ruefully, Nicholas appears across the road, walking to the library. They join up, and exchange news of the events in Cheltenham and at the police station, before arriving at the library where Mac awaits.
* * *
The cabal reunited, they start making a plan. The play needs to be performed without delay, so they set about preparing to perform it at dusk that evening, with the legendary Rollright Stones as their circular stage.
Experience has shown the cabal that the power of the play is magnified when there is an audience. So it is decided that the show will be an honorary performance in memory of the dearly departed friend of Lower Barton Amateur Dramatic Society, and the town’s favourite playwright, Richard Campbell, stories of whose brutal slaughter are splashed across the local newspapers.
Nicholas sets about making promotional material, and circulates an appeal to the theatre and library mailing lists. Jason extends an opportunity to his business contacts. Take up from sponsors and punters is surprisingly good, as the enticement of the original piece stokes the cultural sensibilities of residents in a way that is unrivalled by the usual sleepy Sunday offerings that the town presents.
A big performance needs many hands to make light work of. Mac appeals to the people of his realm, mustering his rescue team and other followers to join as extras, stewards and stage hands for the show.
To help ferry the growing numbers from Lower Barton to the venue, Mac makes some calls and persuades a contact from a nearby town to bring a few coaches to town to help them cover the distance, before placing a call with Amy to invite her to the performance that night.
Meanwhile, Nicholas extends his own invitation to Jerome Warren, whose misplaced brief presented the cabal with the opportunity that set them off on this course. Remembering that props and costumes can have an enhanced channelling effect, he gets in touch with Alex Diafronte, the recently appointed museum curator and the theatre’s wardrobe specialist. He persuades her to give up her Sunday to gather materials for the performance and fashion some appropriate outfits for the leading players.
The accomplished ghostwriter and Elizabethan theatre specialist then sets about crafting a final section for the play that speaks to the meritorious ambition of the new heroes of Lower Barton – a tale that will help strengthen the heart of its people, and steel their resolve against the estrangements that threaten their realm.
* * *
With all the preparations in place, it isn’t long before a large crowd forms in readiness for a procession to the Stones. By mid-afternoon, the size of the gathering attracts the constabulary. Concerned about the unauthorised rally, and the group’s plan to march to an area in the county that is closed off as a highly dangerous accident location, they attempt to disperse the crowd. Intervention by the cabal members is enough to persuade them to provide an escort, rather than break up the event. The drama society is advised to delay proceedings by a couple of hours to give the police time to marshall their resources.
Defiantly, Mac ignores their instruction and issues his own command to get the show on the road. The caravan of coaches rumbles out of Lower Barton and files down the country roads towards the stone circle. As the procession approaches the site, motorised traffic gives way to a rising tide of pedestrians, marching sullenly in common colours, like a Red Army on the way to a football match. Brooke recognises the ghastly creatures lining the road. The cabal waste no time ensuring their audience and performers aren’t distracted or disturbed as they drive through a mass of faceless figures. Just about keeping the wits of their passengers together, they speed past any danger to arrive at their destination, only slightly delayed.
As a legion of helpers start setting the stage, the group spot that the librarian Amy Bassano and book trader Jerome Warren have already arrived. They appear to be having an animated, maybe even heated, exchange. After a few moments, Warren storms off. Amy spots Mac across the landscape. Their eyes lock and she approaches him stridently. She implores that they don’t squander the impact of the play’s first performance, and insists that she has to be in it. He invites her to play a (minor) role in the performance. Reluctantly, but almost out of duty, she accepts her station as Mac’s loyal follower.
* * *
Dusk falls and the scene is set for a highly charged performance. The players settle and the group begins. As the play gets under way, the story builds out from the prologue as a whirling, magical storm surrounds the players and audience. Through the various acts it builds towards Brooke’s new finale, towards an unstoppable emotional crescendo. Safe in its eye, at the centre of the circle, players and audience alike become lost with each other, oblivious to the reality that passes outside the stone circle stage.
Each player and each member of the audience participating, experience an intense rapture, an overwhelming desire. They find themselves drawn to one another, bound almost by an unfathomable sense of common devotion sprung from this shared experience of unspeakable profundity.
The clouds subside as the play ends, dissipating to reveal a mass of enraptured bodies, writhing around the inside perimeter. The lead players share a renewed sense of purpose, and an intense mutual loyalty between them and the other participants. A loyalty and bond towards a common cause – the protection of Lower Barton.
* * *
As the clouds sweep away, Barriemore – having seen Jason’s announcements among the business community – arrives to witness the end of the show. He quickly realises what has come to pass, more quickly perhaps than the cabal members themselves. He drops to his knees, sinking to the ground, watching helplessly from outside the ring.
Behind him, Amy – who was conspicuously absent from her role as the play went on – lurches into view of the players. A furious expression consumes her. She closes in on Barriemore, her eyes locked on the cabal in the centre. An angry figure grows and contorts from her body, increasingly unrecognisable, into a terrifying vision rising above Barriemore. The twisted, wraith-like figure casts a black shadow over the hapless host. It launches itself into the air, spreading its arms to eclipse the moon in the night sky. It draws a long breath before blasting a drawn out shriek that pierces the air. The crowd is plunged into darkness as the unearthly spirit rises above, hovering menacingly for just a moment, before sweeping down at the players in the gloomy heart of the stone circle.
* END *