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The Directive

 

THE DIRECTIVE

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2013 Robert M. Easterbrook

Published by Robert M. Easterbrook at Shakespir

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

Dedication

For mother (1936-2016)

 

Chapter 1

Verone on the Lookout for High Strangeness

Vidocq Verone sat in the charcoal-grey darkness of his Suzuki Grand Vitara, SUV, as he’d done many times, and wondered whether tonight would be any different from the other nights he spent out here on the lookout for high strangeness. Flicking on the light of his wristwatch, he noted the time: just after midnight. He shifted in the leather seat in his black sport utility vehicle and tried to stave off sleep. The movement made the seat sound flatulent. Sipping the warm coffee from thermos he’d brought, he knew that if he didn’t drink the coffee he’d be asleep in no time. He sipped and flinched, forgetting how hot it was and put the cup back in its holder jutting from the dashboard. He rubbed his eyes, then peered into the hazy five-tone darkness of the surrounding woodlands, seeing only the dark-grey, indistinct shapes of trees, fences, treetops and, looking up, the starry canopy above. As he did, he glimpsed the movement of light out the corner of his eye and searched the sky to the northwest.

There was a glow coming from the northwest. It was low in the sky, on the tree line. It slowly travelled the ragged line of the treetops. He watched it drifted to east. He presumed it was east because he assumed he was facing north – years of experience helped. He gauged his bearings by the road he’d come in on, which was behind him and to the right, and headed east to Middlesbrough, this city where he lived. Focusing on the glow, he watched the object’s erratic path above the tree line, making it easier to see.

Aiming his binoculars; he zoomed in on the glow.

Through the binoculars, he saw a greenish glow, and circular. Like a street lamp, but mobile. Where it had come from was impossible to tell. Where it was heading might be easier to forecast if it stayed on its present, though zig-zagging course.

He remembered then he’d read of a similar sighting, three nights before, over in Bellhaven, a suburb about fifteen kilometres west of his present position. An elderly couple had reported the sighting. The husband, wearing his pee-jays, slippers and a robe, had been putting out the garbage. It was around 10:30pm, the husband says, when, as he put the wheelie-bin in its proper place, just right for the garbage collectors to empty early the following morning, he happened to look directly up.

That’s when he’d seen it.

He said he’d never seen anything like it. A large greenish-glow was drifting by, directly above him. Astonished by the sight of it, not knowing what it was, he was about to call to his wife, Jenny, to come see when it did something that startled him. It sent out a beam of light; shone on something in the distance. What the beam focused on, he couldn’t see; hidden by rooftops. As suddenly as the beam had appeared, it winked out. He watched the object for another minute or two as it drifted soundless out of sight, behind the tree line. Mr. Grovenor said the thing then headed north-northeast from his position.

Verone hoped he was seeing what the elderly gent saw. If he was lucky, which he doubted, the thing might have returned. At least, the colour and shape were the same. He opened the car door and slid from the car, bringing the binoculars. Dry tree debris crackled beneath his shoes. But when he aimed the binoculars again at the glow it winked out.

‘Damn,’ he said, and made to throw the binoculars. ‘You blighter.’

He stood staring where it had been before disappearing, hoping it would re-materialise and make his night. But it didn’t come back. Minutes passed before he was resigned to the inexorable fact that it wasn’t going to return. Well, that’s the end of that then, he thought. No photos, no video, no artefacts, only a memory of a fuzzy green glow in the dark night sky. Great.

‘Thanks for the memories,’ he muttered.

Back in the car, he sipped the warm coffee from the thermos – cool enough now – before deciding what to do next. He reasoned, more like argued with himself, that what he’d seen was, in fact, the same thing Mr. Grovenor had seen a few nights earlier. He couldn’t be sure, though. He’d need more proof, evidence that others had seen it. He’d check its trajectory later, at home, on a map. He’d estimate its distance from him and see whether it passed over residential areas. Then sketch a plan to search for witnesses.

He started the engine, revved it a few times; reversed from the cosy parking spot. As he drove back along the dirt track to this place – it was about a kilometre from the road – he cursed having not seen more of the thing. He headed home.

Imitating the Terminator’s accent, he said aloud: “I’ll be back.”

He regularly parked on some lone dirt track in the small hours, to achieve his goal of seeing high strangeness. Any road, in fact, off the main roads, would do; somewhere on the outskirts of one of the nearby suburbs on the outer rim of Middlesbrough – maybe fifteen or twenty kilometres out. When the road was on someone’s private property, he needed permission to park. Sometimes he needed a cover story, too, because it was quite clear to him that the property owner was never going to agree with him sitting there in the dark waiting for visitors from another world. Puzzlement and scowls were often the order of the evening. Others didn’t care so much, just knowing he was a policeman, of sorts, was good enough. Parking also provided serenity and time to think. He hoped, as always, to catch a glimpse of something otherworldly, what the world now called a UFO: an unidentified flying object. The emphasis, of course, was on unidentified. It was unidentified because observers had great trouble determining the object’s nature, and origin.

He’d seen them, one in particular, up close and personal.

Another close encounter like that one would be worth it, he thought. It would be sufficient reward, he argued, for the effort he put in to verify what others had seen by seeing it himself. What that really meant, he hadn’t a clue. It was a mystery. A puzzle wrapped in an enigma. To understanding it, he wondered, might involve discussions with extraterrestrials over tea and a biscuit about afternoons on another planet-with-a-unpronounceable-name.

But it never happened. Well, it hadn’t happened since that fateful day in 1995.

Tonight was the exception to the rule – the unstated rule about when and where UFOs make an appearance. Of course, he’d seen many things since 1995; mostly lights in the sky and the occasional dark object skimming among stars. Nothing that matched what he’d seen the night of 6 October, 1995. That event had driven him, more like compelled him, to do this: to park and watch the skies at night, and sometimes during the day (when he had time), when he wasn’t otherwise engaged. He just knew he had to do it. It was a strong feeling; nothing he could describe further.

If compelled was the right word, that is.

His friends had said, when they learned of his extracurricular and often nocturnal activities: “Just don’t give up your day job”. He’d chuckled along with them, at himself. But deep down, he wasn’t really chuckling. What’s to chuckle about? He was former DCI Verone, temporarily absent from duty, so his colleagues and former boss would say. If he was temporarily absent, he reasoned, then he was on temporary assignment. For the past eight years, he’d been private investigator, Vidocq Verone. Investigating the fraudulent, the wife cheaters, and the disappeared. He enjoyed his work; well, its lack of violence, mostly – a thing he didn’t miss as DCI Verone. He once got a cuff on the chin by a disgruntled husband, whom he’d found was cheating on his wife. Luckily for him, he’d been able to overpower the brute and make a citizen’s arrest. He hadn’t had to wait long, on that occasion, before the boy’s in blue arrived to take the sod into custody and charge him with, first of all, assault. And then stupidity, he hoped. But the law didn’t view as illegal, stupidity and cheating on a wife.

He was well known by the local constabulary. Had been, generally, appreciated. But, like his friends, they frowned on his UFO hunting. UFOs were the unspoken thing. You could see one, but just don’t tell anyone if you had. Thankfully for him, some of the local cops occasionally witnessed something strange in the skies above Middlesbrough’s suburbs and the surrounding districts. And they’d had the presence of mind to report it and, on occasion, invited him to ‘investigate’ the events.

Investigate on the quiet, that is.

His staple, now, what paid the bills, was the daily grind of ‘catcher in the rye’, and insurance fraud. You’d know the type: owner-manager burns down business to collect the insurance. Wife suspect’s husband is cheating on her, so hires him to look into it. Investigating missing persons was trickier because it sometimes took him away from the district for days and weeks on end. Thankfully, the local police were used to him, knew his reputation as former DCI, and kindly but quietly allowed him access to files and a database full of fascinating profiles and criminology.

But what about UFOs? If a UFO buzzed someone, was it a criminal act? Was that kind of like stalking someone, perhaps? Harassment, maybe?

He huffed; the law hadn’t caught up with reality, yet.

Chapter 2

Mrs. Butler, the Otherworldly, and Senior Sergeant Appleby

Mrs. Felicity Butler lay awake, watching the curtain billow into a dark hood and rustle as it did. Being a light sleeper, she’d been woken by the rustle. She felt the cool air then, she upped, deciding to close it. As she stepped toward the window in her nightgown and slippers, she stopped, thinking she’d heard an unusual sound; something out of the ordinary. A sound, ordinarily, not often heard; shouldn’t have been heard. She parted the curtain and leaned on the windowsill listening intently for the sound. She cupped a hand around an ear. But didn’t hear anything but the night: the rustle of leaves on trees and the scamper of small animals.

She felt thirsty then, and decided to go to the kitchen for a drink. She was about to close the window when there a flash of light.

Then there was a scream, that cut through the wistful night. She tensed, her stomach knotting in fright. A tingle raced up her spine as the scream echoed in her mind. The scream had come from outside nearby. Perhaps the neighbour’s house. She threw the curtain aside, and peered nervously through the window.

The neighbour’s house, directly opposite, was dark and otherwise silent. She could see most of the back half and one corner. As she peered at it, through dim light. There was no activity outside, not in the house; no lights were on. She didn’t see anything unusual; didn’t hear the scream again. Puzzlement creased her face, and proceeded to shut the window. She latched it. Looking at the neighbour’s house, again, just to be sure. But nothing eventuated. The house was silent. Must have been an owl, she reasoned.

In that instant, the neighbour’s house was bathed in a green glow. She was startled and, stepping back, almost tripped over herself. She grabbed a bedpost to steady herself, then rushed to the window. The neighbour’s house was awash with green glow.

Alarmed, she rushed to the phone to call the police.

~~~

 

Senior Sergeant Firth Appleby and Constable Timothy Travers soon arrived at the home of the person who’d called in a disturbance. An unusual disturbance, at that. A Mrs. Butler’s house. Exiting the police car, Appleby stood by the car for a moment, glancing up and down the street, then around at the neighbourhood of Farnborough. Travers looked at him and shrugged. He raised his eyebrows in unperturbed response.

Nothing to see here, Appleby thought, not at this ungodly hour. The night was still. It was so quiet, he felt sure he’d hear a mosquito fart if he stopped to listen for it. He made a phsst sound. Apart from Travers’s breathing, nothing else could be heard. He followed Travers making his way to the gate and beyond to the front door of the person who’d called for the police. Travers politely stood aside, gesturing to let him do the honours and knock on the woman’s front door.

He just rolled his eyes at Travers.

Felicity Butler had heard a solid knock at the door and assumed it was them, came to the front door and creaked it open, peered thought at them. She must have thought it wasn’t the police, by her hesitance, because they were plan clothes officers. She must’ve been expecting the boy’s in blue. But, given the hour, who else would she be expecting? Had to be the police, since she’d called for them. She stood there scanning them up and down, seeing two well-dressed men – she hadn’t expected it.

‘Good evening, ma’am. I’m Senior Sergeant Firth Appleby.’ He gestured to his companion. ‘And this is Constable Timothy Travers. You called for the police, here we are. Now, what’s this all about then, Mrs?’

‘You’re not in uniform?’

The suits and ties had thrown her. His stern serious, concerned look would concern her too, if he put that on. He felt the grumpy side of himself taking over. It could be the look of anyone called out at this hour, but not him.

‘Ma’am,’ he said, seeing Travers give him a look. ‘You called us. Why are we here?’

‘Why are we here?’ she quickly said, in a nervy but friendly voice for the hour. ‘Are you the police?’

He wasn’t in the mood to stand there modelling for her, withdraw his ID and thrust toward her. She squinted at it.

‘What can I say? It’s a quiet night,’ he said. ‘The uniforms are busy, so you got lucky. You got us.’

‘Oh, do come in, come in,’ she said, more excited than was sensible, at the hour, and gestured them in. ‘It’s a bit cool out.’

‘Sergeant Appleby,’ she said as she pulled the door open to let them in and stood back. ‘I heard a scream and saw a strange light over the neighbour’s house. I was frightened.’

‘A scream?’ Appleby asked, as he passed her entering the house, as any good detective might. Getting straight to policing, he focused on the scream, since strange lights weren’t his domain, and asked: ‘What kind of scream, then?’

‘Well, a frightful scream, Sergeant,’ she said, closing the door and bringing her hands together tightly, frowning. She from him to Travers, who shrugged, and added: ‘Is there any other kind?’

He looked at Travers, who offered him arched brows and a smirk, but let him do all the talking. ‘Which neighbour’s house would that be, then?’ he asked, and when she didn’t instantly reply, he stared at her waiting for an answer wearing a set of raised eyebrows to match.

‘The Kingston house,’ she soon said, frowning back at him. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Kingston. Number 25. To the right.’

He turned to go have a look, but stopped and said: ‘Travers, wait here. Ma’am, Travers here is gonna ask you some questions while I go next door.’ He turned without hesitation and was out the door.

Mrs. Butler looked at Travers. He smiled. She asked him if he’d like a cup of tea, but he declined. She said: ‘Well, I need one. I’m going into the kitchen to make a pot, just in case you change your mind.’ She turned and headed into the kitchen.

‘Thank you, ma’am,’ said Travers, following her into the kitchen.

~~~

 

Appleby looked up and down the street before making his way next door to the Kingston house. He remembered he had a torch in the car and fetched it.

After going through the gate to the Kingston house he stopped and surveyed the front of the house. No lights were on, suggesting everyone was either asleep or not at home. He’d test that theory shortly by knocking on the front door. But first, he thought he’d check the garage on the left and see if there was a car.

Most people have cars, don’t they?

Appleby found a side window to the garage, shone the torch in. No car. No car usually meant no one home. Unless they’re car-less, but he doubted it. The state of garage suggested it was home to a car. That may account for only one of the Kingston’s, he mused, given that there were at least two of them.

Scanning the front of the house again with his torch, he watched it, a large spot of white light, glide slowly over the front of the house like a full moon on its travels across the night sky.

He went to the front door then and knocked, and waited. After a minute, he knocked again and waited some more. The unacknowledged knocks clinched it for him; no one was home. But what was that scream Mrs. Butler spoke of? And who had screamed?

A mystery screamer, eh?

Might have been an owl, he thought; they can scream like a child.

If someone was in there lying on the floor bleeding to death, there was no way to know. He needed a better reason to enter the house than Mrs. Butler’s belief she’d heard a scream. A human screaming, at that. He needed evidence that a crime had been committed. A scream didn’t seem to be sufficient grounds to enter the house. He needed stronger grounds. Another scream would suffice, he thought. Perhaps he’d get Mrs. Butler to scream, and then claim it had come from the Kingston house? I could threaten to shoot Constable Travers, he thought; that would certainly elicit a scream from her. He chuckled.

He made his way around to the back of the house, his torch searched before him, darted all about.

‘Umpf,’ he moaned, tripping on something.

He soon found the back door and tried it. Locked. Shone his torch through a square glass panel in the door and peered in. Saw a kitchen. It looked undisturbed. He went round to the side of the house looking for a side window to peer in.

He soon found a window and, placing his torch against the pane, peered in. A dining room. He searched through the small gap in the curtains. The room looked undisturbed. He scanned, as best he could, the floor, for signs of a struggle; nothing, no body.

‘Nobody; no body,’ he chuckled. ‘Geez, I crack myself up.’

He sighed with relief, but was then instantly disappointed at the fact that there was no seeing what it was like on the upper floor. Without a better reason than an elderly woman’s ‘I heard a scream’ – said with appropriate tone – and no sign of a disturbance, a thorough search of the Kingston house would have to wait until morning.

‘That’s it then,’ he muttered, and headed back to Mrs. Butler’s house.

No signs of violence. And there was definitely no strange light. He wasn’t really concerned with spooky lights, anyhow; only crime. Spooky lights did not, by reason, signify crime. If no crime had been committed, there was no sense in loitering. Better to leave it for tomorrow morning when the light was better, he decided. If there’s a dead person in there, they won’t be going anywhere in a hurry. But he doubted there was. He’d get someone here first thing in the morning. He made for the front of the house and then back to Mrs. Butler’s.

~~~

 

Mrs. Butler had put on the kettle and set some cups on the table.

‘Do you live alone, ma’am?’ asked Travers, putting his hands in his pockets, then rocked on his heels.

‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ she said. ‘I’m a widower.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’

‘Oh, don’t be, it was some time ago now,’ she said, and quietly looked at him for a moment and when he didn’t say anything, she added: ‘My husband died some years ago. He was a school principal. Trentham Elementary. Do you know it?’

‘I see,’ said Travers, nodding to show he was listening. Then started when he realised she was waiting for an answer. ‘Oh, yes. I, ah … I know Trentham.’

‘He was principal for 20 years. He’d taught Geography all up for 30; he loved it. He loved teaching.’

Just then, there was a knock and Sergeant Appleby hollered from the front door. Mrs. Butler hollered from the kitchen to enter. He wandered into the kitchen, looking from Travers to Mrs. Butler.

‘Cup of tea, Sergeant?’

This was little England; people drink a lot of tea here.

‘Ah, no thanks, ma’am. Thank you anyway,’ he said, smiled and shook his head. ‘I’ve checked the neighbour’s house and didn’t see anything unusual. There was nobody home.’ He glanced at Travers before speaking again. ‘Do you know the neighbours well?’

‘Oh, yes. Fairly well.’

‘Do you know their whereabouts? Are they away on holiday then?’ He was not the type to get overly concerned if there wasn’t any reason to.

‘Oh, they didn’t say,’ she said. ‘They sometimes say, give me a key and ask me to look in on the house while they’re away. Can’t imagine where they are.’

He glanced at Travers but kept speaking to Mrs. Butler. ‘Ok, we’ll be off. Unless there’s anything else you wanted to tell us?’

‘Oh, yes. The light. There was a light,’ she said. ‘A green light. It covered the whole house, and mine. It was a frightful sight.’ She wore the appropriate, horrified expression.

‘You saw a green light?’ he queried, almost cynical. What he wanted to say was: ‘Why didn’t you say so before? We could’ve solved the problem over the bloody phone!’ He looked at Travers, raising his eyebrows, widened his eyes, and shook his head slightly.

‘Yes, I did,’ she said. ‘I heard the scream and then I saw the green light.’

‘You’re sure you heard a scream?’ he asked, almost incredulous. He was a little sceptical of anything she said now, after hearing of a green light.

‘Yes,’ she said, nodding to indicate she had.

They were interrupted by the kettle boiling. She reached over and turned off the gas.

‘Ok, well. If you hear any more screams, please give us a call,’ he said, glancing at Travers.

‘Aren’t you concerned about the light?’

‘I’m sorry, green lights are not our concern Mrs. Butler, only crime,’ he gently chided. ‘There wasn’t anyone at home, and nothing’s disturbed. But if you happen to see more strange green lights, I suggest you call someone else.’

‘Who?’ she asked, being completely convinced she’d seen something which had alarmed her, and she really wanted someone to look into it.

He looked at Travers, raised his eyebrows and then said: ‘There’s a gentleman by the name of Vidocq Verone, ma’am.’ He looked at Travers again before saying more. ‘He specialises in this sort of thing. I’ll give you his number.’ He got out his pen and notebook and scribbled some words and a number and handed it to her.

‘What about the scream?’ she asked. ‘Aren’t you concerned about it?’

‘Until we have more to go on, there’s nothing for us to do, ma’am,’ he said. ‘We’ll return tomorrow and talk to the Kingstons. Perhaps they’ll be home and be able to tell us something. But until then, there’s nothing else we can do.’

‘Well then,’ she said. ‘Goodnight and thank you for coming, Sergeant. Constable.’

He looked at Travers, tilting his head to indicate it was time to leave. They headed for the front door and out onto the terrace. ‘Good evening, ma’am,’ he heard Travers say as he followed him out the door.

They were soon in the car, and he sat thinking about the situation. Then started the car, and headed down the street, slowly passing the Kingston house, giving it a glance over, before disappearing at the end of the street.

Chapter 3

Verone gets a Call to Investigate High Strangeness

Verone listened to the just audible drone of the engine and the whir of rubber wheels on bitumen diminished as he slowed entering Bretford, a Middlesbrough, his hometown, a provincial capital city, somewhere in England. Turning right at the next intersection, he headed along Barrow Street until he found number 27. He turned and entered the driveway, and parked in the usual spot outside the entrance and alighted. He Picked up the binoculars and thermos as he got out, and as he did, set the car alarm, hearing the familiar tweet. Mounted a few stone steps in a single bound, he whisked a key out and slid it into the keyhole and turned it. He was home. He was also tired. The keys landed with a clunk on a sideboard in the hall as he shuffled his way to the kitchen.

After placing the binoculars on a kitchen bench, he went to the message machine and fingered a button to learn who’d called. There was a beep and then a clunk as a call disconnected. Another beep, and heard a man providing instructions in a husky voice, for an upcoming meeting with an insurance company. Beep. Heard breathing, but call stayed on the line. He bent to listen intently for the speaker, but there was just breathing again. They soon spoke: ‘I … I … need … oh, god!’ Beep. The caller had been female, voice distorted by anxiety. He estimated her age to be around sixty and educated, by the dialect. He’d have loved to have hit ‘redial’ to trace the call at that moment, but, once the call had been received, redial was no longer an option.

There was nothing to be done now, he sighed. Nothing to go on except a few words and an abrupt exclamation. Not much to go on, really. But then there was the voice: female, accent, educated, and her possible age. But these were still not going to get him further than he already was: at home. And he wasn’t in a hurry to go out again tonight, not without a damn good reason.

The caller had mystified, though; but he still was leaving the house again.

If she called back, he could at least talk to her and get more information about whatever it was about. But for now, he had to let it go and go to bed. He was tired. In case she decided to call back again during the night, he got out a recording device and took it with him to the bedroom. Placed the recorder near the phone and proceeded to undress, to take a quick shower before getting some shuteye.

It wasn’t the first time he’d had that type of call, of course. It was familiar to him. But he felt there was something different about this call; couldn’t put his finger on quite what it was. He felt sure there was something important to it, though. He lay thinking about it a while, tossing and turning. When he didn’t think about the call, he thought about the green glow in the dark night sky.

He eventually slept, but not without dreaming. He dreamed of the green glow, watching it drift above the treetops without a sound. But instead of it disappearing, as it did a few hours earlier, it suddenly turned and rushed toward him and his car. Bathed in a green glow, he startled himself awake and was sitting bolt-upright, breathing heavily.

‘So that’s how it’s gonna be, eh?’ he muttered.

Turning to look at the glowing red numbers on the electronic radio-clock on the bedside drawer, which said ‘2:15AM’, he sighed hard. He groaned and flopped back down on the bed. He stared up at the ceiling. His mind was full of the image of the green glow enveloping him. His heart pounded in its boney cavity as he remembered. He tried to relax, but failed.

‘This is unusual,’ he muttered. Why was he worried about this? It was what he did. It was what he researched.

‘Shit,’ he yelled, as the phone warbled to indicate an incoming call. Looking at the phone, he hesitated before answering it wondering who it could be at this hour. Thought it might be the earlier caller; the ‘oh god’ person. But at this hour? He rubbed his face. Their God obviously doesn’t understand the concept of sleep.

Picking up the receiver, he said: ‘PI Verone.’ At first, there was silence. Perhaps it wasn’t the heavy breather from earlier; thinking there might have been two callers. He remembered the recorder, grabbed it and switched it on, and brought it near the earpiece.

‘Hello?’ he said again and waited.

‘I … I … need your help, Mr. Verone,’ said the anxiety-ridden voice. Ah, the ‘oh god’ person, he mused.

‘Yes.’

‘Something’s happened,’ she said. ‘And I’m afraid.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Are you in any danger?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I think so.’

‘Can you be a bit more specific?’ he asked, beginning to think he was dealing with a victim of domestic violence. Had she been attacked by her husband? he wondered.

‘I heard something,’ she said.

‘Go on.’

‘A scream,’ she said.

So it wasn’t the husband then. Now he was just puzzled.

‘It came from the neighbour’s house.’

‘Did you call the police?’ he asked, still thinking this sounded more like domestic violence than a cheating husband.

‘I did,’ she said. ‘But they suggested I was imagining things.’

‘Why did they say that?’ he asked, puzzled. He was beginning to think he was listening to a nutter with nothing better to do than call people in the middle of the night hoping they’d talk to her. She must be some lonely person with lots of time on her hands, he thought. He could sympathise. He also wondered who she’d called the night before.

‘Because of the lights!’

‘Lights? What lights?’ he asked, confused. Screams. Lights. Which was it? He now had a glimpse into his own future and wondered whether he’d end up the same way. Oh, that’s right; he’d invited people to call him if they saw something. Whose bright idea was that?

‘The green lights!’

He almost dropped the phone and the recorder. He juggled them for a second trying to get a grip on them. He stopped himself when he had them under control, and exhaled hard. Shook his head in an effort to clear his head. He stared momentarily at the phone not sure if it would suddenly change into a snake and bite him and he’d need to rush to a nearby emergency room for an injection or something. He drew in a deep, steadying breath, wondering what the hell was happening to him.

Deciding he hadn’t heard her correctly, he asked her to repeat what she’d said. He could hear her asking if he was still there. ‘Can you say that again, please?’

‘The green lights,’ she said, insistent. ‘I looked out the window after hearing the scream and then everything turned green. The neighbour’s house was glowing green.’

He was now convinced she wasn’t a lonely person with nothing better to do than call people in the middle of the night with crazy stories about imaginary things she thought she’d heard, or seen. No, it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. She had seen a green glow, and it might have been the same green glow he’d seen hours earlier. Coincidences come in threes, don’t they?

‘That’s when the nice policeman gave me your name and number, and told me to call you. He said “call Vidocq Verone, he investigates this sort of thing.”’

‘Yes, that’s me. I do investigate this sort of thing. But I’m curious to know who the nice policeman was who gave you my number?’ He had a strong feeling he already knew.

‘Senior Sergeant Appleby.’

He groaned.

‘I’m a bit surprised you’re calling me now, at this hour, that’s all.’ What he wanted to say was: ‘Next time you see a UFO, try calling business hours!’

‘Thank you, Firth Appleby,’ he muttered, and shook his head.

‘It came back,’ she said. ‘The green light came back. So I decided to call you because I’m scared. The police didn’t find anyone at home, you see. And so they must have thought I had made a mistake and left it at that. But I’ve seen the light again, and I’m worried. What is it Mr. Verone?’

‘Well, it’s hard to say, Mrs … Ms …’ he said, trying to choosing correct designation, not knowing which would be appropriate. He went quiet realising he didn’t know her name.

‘Mrs. Butler. Mrs. Felicity Butler.’

‘Ok, Mrs. Butler, can I please have your phone number and address?’ He had to take control of the situation, get her details and head over there now. Despite the hour. There might be trace elements, artefacts left behind at the scene which he had to collect and have analysed. This was a crucial moment in the event. If he didn’t do something now, the evidence might not be there in a few hours. He had to get over there, in spite of the lack sleep, and do the best he could, under the circumstances.

‘Can I come round to your home now, Mrs. Butler?’

‘Whatever for? The police have been and didn’t see anything.’

‘It’s crucial I see the scene as you saw it. Hopefully, I’ll find an explanation for what you saw, perhaps even for what you heard.’

‘All right then, if you must. I’ll prepare for your coming, Mr. Verone,’ said Mrs. Butler, reciting her details. ‘How long do you think it will take you to get here?’

‘Um, give me 40 minutes or so,’ he said, and with that placed the phone on its receiver. He sprang from the bed, went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. He scanned his reflection in the mirror. He remembered his dream, of being overwhelmed by a green glow. He wondered whether there was anything in it. Was his dream a premonition, perhaps? He’d know more in an hour or so.

Chapter 4

Rebecca Baxter and Samantha Desser Experience High Strangeness

Early the same evening, Rebecca Baxter and Samantha Desser were lounging on banana chairs out in the backyard of Fredrick ‘Freddie’ Lorne’s home in Bellhaven, a suburb of Middlesbrough. It was around 8:15PM; weather: pleasant. She and Samantha, or Sam, as she preferred to be called, had attended Freddie’s birthday party, which had now begun to wind down. She had suggested to Sam they take a break and get some air before heading home.

She looked up at the night sky, cloudless, and exclaimed: it was full of stars.

‘What do you think of Sunny, isn’t he just it?’ asked Sam, and giggled shamelessly.

‘A real hottie, yeah,’ said Rebecca and laughed. ‘I just love the way he smiles. Awe.’

She had a secret thing for Sunny, had since the start of the spring school term. She’d watched other girls pairing off with a boy, or not, whatever, just to be with someone over the summer break. That was a tradition at Bellhaven High. She wondered if it was going to be her fate this summer, but she doubted it. Her heart was set on getting good grades. She wanted to get into Oxford one day, and believed hard work was the only way she was ever going to get there. Boys would take second place over her dreams.

‘How’s your math coming? Mine isn’t going so well,’ said Sam, and laughed.

‘Yeah, math. Gee, it’s gonna be the end of me, I swear,’ Rebecca said. ‘That Mrs. Peterson is a real dragon. I can’t satisfy her Gorgon-headed wants. Turning people to stone. What a monster.’

‘You’ll do well,’ said Sam, attempting to placate her. ‘You always do.’

Rebecca had seen how Sam had made the Markus Dean list the last two terms. Might have been really jealous too, if it weren’t for the fact that they were mates. She couldn’t help wondering whether Sam would ever make it, though. Get on the Dean’s list, that is. She sighed. Thought then that Oxford was far, far away in another part of the galaxy, and couldn’t be reached by the number 12 school bus, no matter that she caught it on time, as she always did.

She lay beside Rebecca on the banana chairs, staring up at the canopy of stars.

‘I can see Andromeda,’ said Rebecca, in a childish voice. She reached over and poked Sam in the side.

‘No, you don’t,’ said Sam, between giggles and squirming to avoid more of the same.

‘Shit! Did you see that?’ shouted Rebecca, pointing vigorously to the eastern horizon, just above the roof of the neighbouring house.

A light moved slowly from east to northwest. It seemed to be moving in their direction.

‘Where? What are you talking about, Rebecca Baxter?’ asked Sam, using a stern teacher’s voice. She seemed unconvinced the thing deserved so much enthusiasm.

‘There,’ said Rebecca, again pointing vigorously with an outstretched arm and pointed index and middle finger.

Sam tried to follow her pointing in the dim light, as best she could, the line her arm etched in the night sky to a slow moving spot of light.

‘Oh, I see it. What is it?’

‘How should I know? Is there a radar dish on my head? I’m not an air traffic controller,’ said Rebecca, poking Sam in the side again to emphasise her point.

Sam giggled and writhed beside her.

‘Shit! It’s getting bigger. Look at that, it’s green!’ hollered Rebecca, sitting up straight to look intently at the approaching light.

‘Bec, I’m getting scared. Let’s go inside.’

‘Let’s see what it is,’ said Rebecca, unperturbed, immediately standing up to get a better view.

The green ball of light grew bigger as it got closer and closer to them.

‘It’s a goddamn UFO!’ yelled Sam, grabbing Rebecca’s arm, holding it tightly, drawing her close.

She watched as the green glow came almost overhead, then felt herself unable to move. She was feeling the same thing as Sam. She tried to scream, but nothing came out. At least, nothing sensible; just gibberish. And just when the terror grew more intense, she experienced blackness. She was enveloped in silence and, at the same time, a bewildering calmness.

Chapter 5

Verone Bumps into Appleby in the Dark Night, and Meets High Strangeness

Verone left Mrs. Butler’s house with a torch and switched it on, the light bouncing on the path before him. Flashed it in the direction of the street, and then threw it toward the Kingston house. Stepping lightly from the path to Mrs. Butler’s front door, then into the street, he scanned for signs of movement as he did.

On the street, he moved cautiously toward the Kingston house, the clap of his footsteps echoing around him, and down the street. He soon realised he was wearing the wrong shoes for stealth. When he arrived at the front gate to the Kingston house, he opened it slowly, hoping it wouldn’t squeak or groan, but it did. He groaned as it let out the merest mousy squeak. Shrugging, he entered the property and stopped in the front yard. He scanned around, looking left, looking right, then at each of the curtain-draped windows of the two-floor house. He half expected to see signs of movement, someone peering through a crack in the curtain, or a light going on, but didn’t. The house was dark and silent.

Looking straight up at the dark night sky, he saw a canopy of stars looking back at him.

Moving passed the garage to the side gate, cars in the garage or not didn’t concern him as much as green lights in the sky. Which he wouldn’t mind seeing, right now. Opening the gate, he stepped through cautiously, making his way along the side of the house. At the first window, he looked in. Nothing going on. No one seemed to be home. Well, the lack of movement just meant the owners were probably in bed, fast asleep, where all intelligent creatures should be.

Making his way further along the side of the house, he soon stepped round a corner. The house jutted out further and onto an open space, and in the splash of his torch could see that it there was a well laid-out garden, full of small shrubs and tall trees.

As he made his way toward the back door, he thought he saw a small bulbous shadow moving in the house and stopped. He reflexively threw light the nearby window. He didn’t see the he thought he’d seen. He pressed on to the backdoor feeling little concerned about being thought of as a trespasser, if anyone caught him here, because he had a damn good excuse; he’d been ‘contracted’ by Mrs. Butler to investigate a disturbance after the police had been called to investigate, saw nothing unusual, and left.

As he stepped toward the back door, he threw light on the door to find the handle. He reached out to grab the handle, but got the shock of his life when someone spoke.

‘Oi!’ yelled a male, smothering him with the light of a torch.

‘What the bloody hell!’ he yelled, which he thought appropriate, in the circumstances, stepped lively backwards away from the speaker, almost tripping over.

‘Verone?’ said the male, seemingly recognising the person he’d almost given a heart attack. Soon adding: ‘Is that you?’

‘I’d like to punch you right on the nose, whoever you are,’ he said, glaring at the shadow man still smothering him in the light of his torch. And then recognised the voice: ‘Appleby?’

‘What are you doing here?’ queried Appleby.

He spoke in a harsh whisper: ‘I’m doing what you suggested Mrs. Butler do several hours ago. I’m here because of her.’

‘That was earlier this evening, Verone,’ said Appleby, using an equally terse whisper. ‘It’s now 3AM.’

‘You’re here!’

‘So?’ retorted Appleby. ‘I’m a police officer; you’re not.’

‘I’m a PI.’ He instantly recalled Appleby from his time at Middlesbrough Policing, how the man was coarse, often using language suited to his temperament.

‘Isn’t it passed your bedtime?’

He really did want to punch Appleby then, for being a dick, but fought the temptation knowing the consequences striking an officer of law would bring – a former fellow officer, at that. Still the same old Firth Appleby, he mused.

‘She saw the green light again and called me,’ he explained. ‘So I thought I’d talk to her and then look around.’

‘Yes, well, okay. Shall we?’ Appleby gestured toward the back door of the Kingston house. Implying they together inter the house.

Appleby opened the door and entered first. ‘The door was locked when I first came here,’ he said.

He followed a few steps into a short hallway and then slowly made their way further inside.

They came across the kitchen first. It looked undisturbed.

Then they heard something, and both of them threw torch toward the sound. A large spot of white light shivered on the ceiling. There was a dull thud. It had come from upstairs.

He looked at Verone, who nodded to move on.

He stepped through a doorway, imagining it must lead in the direction of the stairs, which he’d have to take to the first floor. He moved as quietly as he could. The carpet muffled his shoes, so going stealthily was not an issue inside, and was glad because he didn’t want to scare away whoever it was that was messing about upstairs. He wanted to get a gander at what the intruders, thinking the intruder might not be local, given that Mrs. Butler had seen a green glow envelope the house.

Unless the burglar was into coloured lights … he shook his head vigorously, thinking that was a stupid thought.

He turned to see Appleby prepare for a burglar, breathing hard, shuffling along, preparing for a scuffle, perhaps.

As for himself, he hadn’t a clue about what had caused the thud, and stepped lightly forward with a different frame of mind. He threw torch light on the stairs located in the middle of the house – directly in front of the main entrance. He glanced back at Appleby to see if he was still with him, and then took a step toward the stairs.

A dark, short, shadow suddenly dashed across the space in front of them and raced up the stairs faster than might ever take them.

Appleby charged passed him, giving chase. He was sure he’d seen a burglar and was intent on making an arrest.

He, on the other hand, having been ahead of Appleby by at least two steps, had gotten a clearer view of the dark, short, shadow as it dashed past, taking the stairs in Olympic style. He thought he’d recognised it. He was also quite sure it wasn’t a burglar. He stepped lively, following Appleby up the stairs.

As he got to the top of the stairs, he froze, startled to see the house suddenly take on a green glow. Appleby, however, took no notice of the changing hue of the house, still convinced he was in pursuit of a burglar and let the dark shadow know who was in pursuit. ‘Police! Police! Stop and identify yourself!’

He, however, stood stock still, amazed at what he was seeing. The green glow, he was sure he’d seen several hours earlier, the same one he was now convinced Mrs. Butler had seen, had returned. He wondered if he shouldn’t say ‘We come in peace! We only want to talk!’ but had second thoughts, just in case it was a burglar, after all. He also didn’t want to give Appleby an excuse to look at him sideways wearing an ‘I told you so’ smirk, having taken a burglar into custody.

He heard a scuffle in the nearby room, drawing his attention to it. Thought he’d better try an assist the intrepid Appleby. What he saw when he stepped in the room and bathed the scene in torch light, on the scuffle, wasn’t anything like what he had expected to see at that instant. Appleby had shuffled back into a low boy and things had fallen over. The Sergeant’s mouth agape, eyes wider than the Thames, the light of his torch smothering the face of an out-of-this-world entity. The creature’s big dark eyes blinked in the wash of the white light.

Appleby gave the strongest impressing of stunnedness he’d ever seen, and speechless. Although frozen to the spot, his hand was shaking and caused the torch light to strobe.

He thought he’d better say something, thinking it should be ‘Nice to meet you! Where are you from?’, but when he worked his mouth, nothing of the sort came from it. What came out was: ‘N … N … N … Wh … Wh … Wh …’ – and with that, the creature turned to look at him, probably wondering what devil language the strange human was speaking. It tilted its head to the side and blinked again, and then suddenly disappeared in a beam of cascading light blue. He realised his mouth was wide open and shut it. Then scanned the now silent, almost empty room wondering how the creature had done, the only other sound in the room was Appleby’s irregular, heavy breathing.

‘Well I’ll be,’ he muttered.

He was about to address Appleby when he heard the faint sound of a woman’s voice calling to him from outside the house. Then spoke to Appleby: ‘Appleby! Come on! Pull yourself together man, it’s gone!’

Taking a step toward Appleby, he grabbed his arm and tried to get Appleby to moving, but Appleby shook Verone’s hand free and threw his harsh torch light in his face. ‘If you ever tell anyone I was here, I’ll arrest you for trespassing. Got it?’ Appleby stepped around him wearing a deep frown and headed downstairs and out of the house.

He followed him, shaking his head, eventually catching up with him in the street with an anxious and agitated Mrs. Butler. She’d seen the green glow again, and was determined to get Senior Sergeant Appleby, whom she was now very surprised to see, in that instant, to acknowledge that she’d seen it and wasn’t at all bonkers.

‘Did you see it? Did you see it?’ bellowed Mrs. Butler, her choral voice echoing down the street. ‘Oh, you must have! The house was completely glowing. It was glowing green!’

The street was empty. No one else seemed to have seen the event.

Mrs. Butler’s exclamations, however, had roused a neighbour who yelled from his front porch across the street. ‘What the bloody hell is going on?’ The gentleman wore a robe and slippers, looking very much like Arthur Dent from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He saw the irony in that, but didn’t smile fearing an emotion-filled moment from Appleby. The neighbour was coming their way, aiming straight for the now sheepish Appleby and the agitated and perhaps overly excited Mrs. Butler by his side. He stepped a few paces away, preparing for another awkward moment as Appleby raised his hand to the man.

As the gentleman came near, Appleby took charge of the situation. ‘Police business,’ he said in his best policeman’s voice, withdrawing his credentials from his coat pocket and thrusting it at the approaching gentleman. ‘Turn round, go back to your house and go back to bed. There’s nothing to see here. Sorry for disturbing you.’

The gentleman stopped, peered at Appleby’s credentials in the half-light of a street lamp and torch light, grunted, pirouetted and head back to his house. He ruffled his robe tight around his person and grumbled softly all the way back to house.

He stood shaking his head at the scene before him.

Mrs. Butler, he noticed, knowing what she’d seen, wasn’t going to have any of that; have her or the event so easily dismissed, and turned on him. ‘I know what I saw, Sergeant. What are you going to do about it?’ She stood her ground firmly, both hands on hips, and glared hard the now ruffled Senior Sergeant. But Appleby was his usual, irascible self.

‘It’s Senior Sergeant, ma’am. And …’

Appleby looked guiltily at him and then back at Mrs. Butler. ‘Let’s go back inside and talk about it over a cup of tea, shall we?’ He smiled the smile of the annoyed and gestured with an outstretched arm and open-palmed hand, in the other hand he held his torch, the light of it smothering Mrs. Butler’s indignant face.

Mrs. Butler stepped away, he and Appleby following, and before long they were back in her house watching the kettle boil and giving each other knowing looks.

‘You know, Firth,’ he said, eager to discuss the encounter. ‘We both know that what you saw wasn’t what I saw, and that’s something you’re going to have to face.’

‘Oh, and what didn’t I see, Mr. Clever Dick?’ retorted Appleby, now looking peaked and peevish.

‘A burglar.’

Chapter 6

Rebecca and Samantha Return to Reality, from the Shock of a Lifetime

‘Rebecca! Rebecca!’ Distant, urgent voices were the first thing she heard before she fully regained consciousness. Hearing that, she also felt urgent hands giving her shoulders a good shaking. As she came to, she wondered what had happened.

Why on earth was someone shaking her? she thought, and to get some clarification, tried to say ‘What the hell is going on?’ but the warble coming from her parched mouth was more like a Gregorian chant than general English, making her stop and frown. A Gregorian chant was far from the shape of her thoughts, by a long way. Then she heard someone asking about Sam, and what the both of them had been doing to end up unconscious.

‘Sam! Samantha Desser, can you hear me?’ said a man, his voice urgent, full of concern. Samantha was barely cognizant, she realised, but reality soon flooded her consciousness. ‘What? Why are you asking me that? What’s happening?’

Sam looked to see her trying to lift her head, but it was gently pushed back down.

‘My name’s Dr. Stevens. Dr. Saul Stevens. I’m a friend of your mother’s. You’ve been unconscious, but I can’t find anything physically wrong with you. Can you tell me what happened?’

Rebecca watched him pass a small pen-light across Samantha’s eyes.

‘Where are we?’ asked Rebecca, still dazed and confused.

‘You’re on a stretcher in the living room, sweetie. It’s Mrs. Lorne. You’re still here at our place. The parties over, and you’ve missed Freddie blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.’ She laughed nervously. ‘He’s terribly worried about you. We all are.’

Rebecca felt the gentleness of Mrs. Lorne’s hands as they squeezed hers. She attempted to sit up, Mrs. Lorne helping her to a sitting position. She was alert now, and soon saw Chrissy Lorne staring wide-eyed at her, wearing an odd grin. She instantly knew then that the story, the story of their blackout, would be all over Bellhaven by this time tomorrow. And quite probably spread all the way to the centre of Middlesbrough by lunchtime tomorrow. She groaned and shook her head slightly.

‘Bec?’ queried Sam, now sitting on the couch a short distance away. The doctor had a firm grip of Sam’s arm, steadying her. ‘What happened?’

‘I don’t know, Sam. I don’t know.’

‘Can you remember what happened?’ asked Dr. Stevens. ‘Did you take something you shouldn’t?’

‘What? No!’ snapped Rebecca, indignant. ‘We were … watching the stars.’ She gave Sam a wide-eyed, bewildered look, hoping she would add something substantial to the story. And not the one they knew was the truth, but wished to the heavens hadn’t happened.

Sam shake her head, giving her a look that said ‘let’s not go there’.

Then Rebecca recalled the whole thing, in technicolour. While it was her wish they never talk about it again, she felt she had to clear the air concerning the doctor’s thought that they consumed something they should have, and decided to tell the truth. ‘We were watching a UFO and then … nothing. Can’t remember anything after that.’

Sam just shook her head again, staring hard at her, eyes wide, mouthing the word ‘no’. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chrissy Lorne twitch, drawing her attention.

‘You what?’ blurted out Chrissy, staring hard at Rebecca in shocked amazement, mouth agape. ‘You saw a UFO? And then you passed out?’ She let out a hardy laugh and waved a pointed fingered in her general direction, then turned to leave the room. She was still laughing as she went upstairs to her room. Her distant voice was heard to say: ‘Wait till the guys at school hear this one!’

Sam was shaking her head. Rebecca knew, as well as Sam did, they were going to be ribbed for this little morsel in school tomorrow. If they were allowed back so soon, that is. She quickly devised a plan to run away. How could they not tell people this story and not the other about taking illicit drugs? Bugger the consequences, she thought. The truth is the truth.

‘Did we really see a UFO, Bec?’

Sam had doubts, apparently. Rebecca wore the appropriately puzzled expression to emphasise her sincerity. But she wanted the truth known, not their honesty questioned about taking drugs.

‘I saw it first, remember?’ she said, almost peeved at Sam for acting like she didn’t see anything. ‘I wanted a good look … so I stood up. It came overhead and then … we must’ve blacked out. I can’t remember anything after that.’

‘So, that’s the story, eh?’ queried Dr. Stevens, rubbing his chin, obviously sceptical they’d seen something unusual, and not that they’d taking an illicit substance. He wasn’t going to believe her, she thought. She was sure he’d heard many stories accounting for such things, but not heard that a UFO had caused similar symptoms. How very professional of him, she sneered. He looked from her to Sam, then back to her. They were physically unharmed, apparently; not a scratch on them. But he wasn’t sure about their scratchy mental state. She felt sure it was his first time hearing someone use a UFO for an excuse. Not knowing herself, but it was obvious that the symptoms must not be all that dissimilar with a known illegal substance. The puzzling thing was neither of them showed any sign of having taken anything. They weren’t sick, they weren’t showing any other symptoms, yet they’d been found unconscious. He said he’d check their blood work tomorrow before he made a final diagnosis.

‘All right, girls, time to go home. Your parents have been notified. Take it easy. And if anything else happens, be sure to call me.’ Dr. Stevens made to walk out when Rebecca grabbed his arm.

‘We really did see a UFO doctor,’ she said, giving him the sincerest look she could manage. She was telling the truth, and he had to know it.

He stared at her, bewildered by her truthfulness, she hoped. He didn’t seem sure about what to make of it.

‘You had an experience. Of what, I don’t know. I’ll talk to your parents tomorrow and then give them my prognosis. Take it easy, alright.’

She protested, but Dr. Stevens spoke over her. ‘You’re under eighteen. I have to tell your parents.’

He smiled at her as he touched her arm, and then turned to smile at Sam. He said goodbye to Mrs. Lorne, and with one final glance back at her, stepped out the front door.

Chapter 7

Verone Meets a Client and Drawn into a Conspiracy

It was early. Verone parked outside number 45 Dowling Street, Trentham, the home of Mrs. Widcomes. Apparently, she believed she had a cheating husband and she wanted it verified. He switched off the music CD he’d been listening to and exited the car. The song’s mood lingered in his mind – The Cure: ‘the same deep water as you’. He stood by the car for a moment, giving the street a sweeping glance, taking in the neighbourhood. Upper middleclass. He then made his way toward the front gate of the Widcomes’ house. But as he reached the gate, the subject of discussion between two passing schoolgirls, presumably on their way to school, stopped him dead at the gate. Then swung round to look at the girls and eavesdrop on their conversation.

‘It was glowing green as it came overhead,’ said the ponytailed blonde, in a shocked voice. ‘And then everything went black.’

‘Do you really think we saw a UFO, Bec?’ said the second girl, a brunette. ‘I hope we weren’t abducted. Yew, imagine that!’

They hugged each other as they passed on by, seemingly oblivious to his presence, and headed on up the street away from him.

He stood stunned, staring at theirs backs as they disappeared up the street. Now there were others who’d seen the green glow. And that made six, that he was aware of. Six people had witnessed the same object. It was no longer a coincidence, since a coincidence amounted to just two sightings; more was a firm pattern; regular occurrences. He fought the urged to chase the girls and indulge his need to know of their encounter and experience. What prevented that was a possible new client. And that meant income. He’d have to chase girls another time; assuming they came by this house, along this street, at least, every morning on their way to school. The presence of the green glow, however, had begun to look decidedly intentional, which meant he’d need step up his inquiries.

Later, then.

Right now, business waited; the kind of business that put money in his bank account.

He opened the gate to the Widcomes’ house and stepped up to the front door. He grabbed the metal knocker that wore several coats of dark blue paint and knocked. It didn’t squeak or creak. Then he stood back and waited, but didn’t have to wait long before someone answered the door.

With a click, the door swung open and a woman in her forties, perhaps, stood in the doorway. She was a blonde, and elegantly dressed. The dress appeared to be a business outfit. ‘Hello?’ she said.

‘Good morning, I’m Vidocq Verone, PI. We spoke on the phone? We had an appointment today?’

‘Oh, yes. Do come in,’ she said, stepped aside to let him enter.

He entered but stood aside, waiting for her to lead him further into the house.

‘Thank you for coming,’ she said, her speaking as eloquent as he’d ever heard. ‘This way.’ She gestured with her arm the general direction in which he should head.

The house, as he scanned it, looked reasonably stately. The décor had a turn-of-the-last-century feel. Lots of white and browns. The antique wallpaper tended to be of soft gold and dark greens. Most of the furniture was antique. A splash of modernity could be seen here and there, breaking the dominance of the old world feel. The living room, the instant he stepped inside, paid homage to yesteryear. Portraits were hung around the walls with pride.

‘Cup of tea?’ she soon asked.

This could take a while, he thought; a cup of tea would definitely help things go a lot smoother.

‘Lovely,’ he said. ‘Err, black and two sugars. If that’s alright?’

‘Take a seat, Mr. Verone, while I go make us some tea,’ she said, and disappeared elsewhere in the house.

He soon heard the clunk of cups and saucers, and the clink of cutlery; probably spoons.

Taking in the living room in broad sweeps, he soon settled on one of the portraits. It was a portrait of a greying elder man. He surmised it was a parent, of whom he would no doubt soon find out. The man was certainly looked old enough to be her father. The mother’s portrait was nearby. Well, what he took to be the mother. He instantly saw the resemblance. Must be the mother, he thought.

There was a photo album on the low table in front of him, between two floral two-seater lounge chairs. Swept a look at the door, then back at the photo album. He opened it. There were family snapshots in it. They’d had children. Wondered where they were. Saw the Widcomes together and saw how they seemed very happy together. They were happy in the photos, at least. Thumbing his way through several family photos and what appeared to be holiday snaps. They were photos of a property, and would ask about it. There were photos of Wayne Widcomes and others, surmised they were business acquaintances by the way their suites. Chemicals. The husband was into chemicals, by the look of it. He studied a photo of what looked like a chemical factory. It didn’t show the name or where it was.

There was movement at the door as she returned bearing a tray of tea and biscuits. She placed the tray on the low table in front of him. He deftly moved the photo album aside, a finger conveniently stuck in the page where he’d gotten up to in his browsing.

‘Ah, I see you’ve found the photo album,’ she said, and smiled at him before sitting opposite him. ‘That’s got older photos in it, perhaps a few recent ones. I’ll show you the more recent shots in a moment.’ She got up to locate another photo album in a nearby cabinet. Pulled it from its place among others, returned and put it in front of him. ‘This might interest you.’

Freeing his finger from the first, he drew the other close, and opened it. He reached for his cup of tea then, before getting into perusing the photos. Brought the cup close to his mouth; hesitated when he saw a recent photo of the husband. ‘Is this Mr. Widcomes?’ He asked nodding at the photo.

She smiled.

He noticed how Mr. Widcomes’ appearance had changed, not seen in the other photos. He didn’t look relaxed, not even happy. In fact, he looked anxious, nervous. It reminded him, then, of Mrs. Butler, when he’d first met her. She’d had the same look. Was there a connection?

‘We’ve been married 20 years this September,’ she soon said. ‘These past six months have been the strangest. The most bewildering. He doesn’t talk anymore, doesn’t want to be near me, it seems.’ She looked at him forlornly, as if to say “Is there something wrong with me?”

He just smiled. No point in making things any worse than they already were.

‘He became distant, more concerned about his work than about our happiness,’ she explained, continuing to talk her husband. He let her; the more she the less he had to.

But then he heard his queue to go to work, and asked: ‘What does he do for a living?’

‘He’s a director at VMS Chemicals, over in Wallsend,’ she said. ‘Fifteen years this September.’

‘Tell me about his change of demeanour,’ he said, as he thumbed through a few more pages of the photo album, listening to her talk of the change in her husband. And then he saw most unexpected thing, and frowned. More than unexpected; it was something he knew a little about. And that instant, her voice faded into insignificance as he became engrossed in the photo. It was a photo of a UFO. It was over the chemical factory. What was it doing there? And who took the photo?

‘Did you find something?’ she said, breaking his concentration on the photo, having given the impression he was no longer listening to her.

‘Oh, sorry. Just a photo of a UFO over the chemical factory.’ He showed it to her secretly hoping that she would know all about it and tell all. Perhaps there was a connection between the UFO over the factory and Wayne Widcomes’ personality change these past six months.

‘That’s interesting,’ she said, looking intently at the photo. ‘I never noticed this before. Don’t know how it got into the album.’

‘So you didn’t take the photo?’ he asked, hoping to learn more about it quickly before she noticed they were no longer talking about her husband.

‘No, I didn’t. Wasn’t me. Can’t say I know who did.’ She handed the album back to Verone. She smiled nervously as he took the phot album in hand, the page open at the phot of the UFO.

Her face, he noticed, showed him what she was feeling about the photo, total puzzlement. He knew then she hadn’t taken the photo. He realised he’d need to have a chat with Wayne Widcomes if he wanted to find out more. He pouted.

‘Do you think it’s real?’ she asked. ‘I mean, I’ve never seen a UFO before, and wouldn’t know one if I tripped over it.’ She laughed nervously and brushed her hair over one ear, a sure sign she’d grown a little nervous.

‘To be honest, I don’t know either,’ he said, not wanting to say anything about his nocturnal activities when they were meant to be discussing the nocturnal habits of her husband. ‘But I have a friend, a former police officer, who investigates this stuff. I’d be happy to show it to him to verify its authenticity, if you like.’

Not saying he referred to himself as the UFO investigator, being best to be tactful, right then.

She gave him a puzzled look, perhaps wondering why he suddenly seemed more concerned about the photo of the UFO rather than her husband’s behaviour, which he’d come to discuss. She dismissed it unimportant, was nothing to do with her husband, and he shouldn’t worry about it. It didn’t have anything to do with her husband’s behaviour, she was sure. She was eager to get back to that.

‘I don’t think it’s anything. Let’s not worry about that.’

‘All right, Mrs. Widcomes,’ he said reluctantly, which wasn’t what he wanted to say. What he wanted to say he couldn’t, not without a better reason than the one he was thinking: ‘Your husband may be involved with extraterrestrials, madam. We should investigate it.’ What came out was: ‘The terms of the contract are in this document.’

He proceeded to withdraw a contract from a folder he brought with him. Placing it before her on the low table, after putting aside the photo album, beside him on the lounge, and then withdrew a pen from the inside pocket of his jacket and placed it on the document as he slid it toward her to sign.

Chapter 8

Appleby Accuses Verone of Being Able to Smell High Strangeness

Appleby stood aside as the ambulance officers hastily manoeuvred an ambulance trolleys bearing Rebecca Baxter and Samantha Desser, away to a waiting ambulance, backdoors open, ready to receive them. The girls had, apparently, passed out while having a driving lesson. Rebecca Baxter had been driving the car at the time. Samantha had been a passenger in the back seat. The driving instructor, one Mrs. Bellacre, was coming out of her shock, stood with him and Travers not from the site of the car crashed, not so much a car crash as where the car had ended up when the girls passed out and she had to take immediate action to prevent a major catastrophe. The car was being trundled onto the back of a truck, as he watched.

‘Is there anything else you can add to your account, Mrs. Bellacre?’ asked Appleby, holding a notebook in one hand and his pen in the other, preparing to write down whatever she said.

‘No, but they’d been talking about something weird at the time of the incident,’ said Mrs. Bellacre. ‘They were talking about how they’d seen a UFO last night and how they’d passed out when it passed overhead. They were worried about it because they couldn’t remember what had happened or why they’d passed out.’

‘Golly, a UFO,’ said Travers, and laughed.

Appleby, however, was not amused and groaned. He rubbed his forehead. Not another bloody UFO, he thought. He secretly hoped it wasn’t the same one he’d encountered last night. Even another one; any more. They were the last thing he wanted to think about at the scene of an accident. He didn’t want to know about them. He was a police officer, for god’s sake. He couldn’t have people thinking he was going bonkers. He couldn’t help himself and immediately thought of Verone and what they’d seen at the Kingston house.

He happened to look toward the road, and, speak of devil, Verone just happened to be passing the scene of the accident he was sure to find interesting, and probably pull to the edge of the road. Verone spotted the girls first, then him. He did indeed, pull to the road side. Appleby groaned. Appleby knew what was going happen next, but had been too slow to move. Verone was out of the car and heading for the ambulance, and watched as the girls were placed in the ambulances.

‘Excuse me, ma’am. I’ll be right back. Don’t go away,’ he said to Mrs. Bellacre. To Travers, he said: ‘I’ll be right back.’ He made a beeline for Verone.

‘Blimey,’ he said, as Appleby strode to him.

‘What the hell are you doin’ here?’ said Appleby, before Verone could say another word. ‘What is it with you? Can you smell UFOs or something?’

Verone went from smiling to frowning at his punchy words.

‘Hello, to you too,’ said Verone.

‘I know you know something about this,’ said Appleby, waving an index finger vigorously at Verone. ‘And I’m sure as hell gonna find out what.’

‘Was it another UFO encounter?’

‘Please drop by the office later, I want a word.’ And with that, he left Verone and returned to the puzzled Mrs. Bellacre and the scene of a perplexing event.

~~~

 

Verone was stunned as he returned to his car thinking he’d been right about the girls. Or, at least, that it had something to do with a UFO, given they were talking about it as they we being trundled into the ambulances. He moved off, heading for the very place Appleby had requested he go and wait for him. Middlesbrough police headquarters was his intended destination, anyhow. He decided Appleby was still having trouble coping with the fact that others had seen what the two of them had seen the night before, an extraterrestrial posing as a burglar.

~~~

 

‘Was that Verone?’ queried Travers, watching Verone drive away.

Eager to dodge engaging Travers in a discussion about Verone, Appleby skirted around the question, and said: ‘Right, I’m going to the hospital to get the gossip on the girls. I’ll meet you later, back at the office.’ And then he hopped in the back of one of the ambulances.

He watched Travers staring at him, his face distorted with puzzlement. He’ll be confused for moment, he thought. But he’ll be alright. Travers shrugged and turned to Mrs. Bellacre and asked some more questions about the accident. Then the ambulance backdoors were closed, shutting off the sight of them. He looked down at Samantha Desser, wondering what the hell was going on with her and the other girl. And hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Chapter 9

Widcomes and a Contract

Wayne Widcomes sat in his office at VMS PharmaChems pondering the events of the night before. It needed to be done, he reasoned. He couldn’t let Kevin Kingston go ahead with his plan to tell the authorities what had been going on at the chemical and pharmaceutical factory, there’d be hell to pay if word got out. And word couldn’t get out; however bizarre Kingston’s story may sound. No, he couldn’t let him do it. And this time he’d find new project manager to oversee the production of the compound – Serotonin, or an odd version of it. But this time he wouldn’t tell exactly what it was and who it was for. Especially who it was for. He’d also get the next project manager to sign a confidentiality agreement. He wanted assurances. He’d discuss it with the visitors, tonight; they always came at night. He frowned. He wanted to be sure that what Kingston had said wasn’t true, and that there wasn’t any danger associated with the chemical compound the visitors had asked to make.

The visitors, the bug-eyed bastards, had entered his life six months ago when he’d photographed their craft hovering silently over the factory in Wallsend. He had pondered the reality of their existence, all that day and night. Then they came to him in the middle of the night, at home. He thought he was going crazy when they appeared in his room and they said they wanted to talk; they had a request. Talk was an overstatement – he wouldn’t call it talk, so much as put the words in his mind. Anyhow, they wanted him to make something for them, the Serotonin-like compound. They had said it was a matter of survival for them, and that the compound could be made from available resources at the chemical factory; his factory. How they’d known that, had completely baffled him.

They assured him there was no danger, and the compound was innocuous to humans and the local ecology.

The astonishing thing about the encounter was that his wife, as they lay in bed, had been asleep through it all. She hadn’t stirred. Somehow she had remained unaffected by their presence. Had they done something to her to keep her asleep; keep her oblivious? They must’ve was all could say. Of course, he couldn’t help thinking that he was going mad. They assured him, though, that he wasn’t. But it didn’t stop him thinking it.

Then there was the incident with the stolen car, and a police report.

He groaned.

They said they’d return when he finished making it. They said they’d reward him in ways he couldn’t image. He had hesitated, of course. He couldn’t believe it was real; believe they even existed. But then they did return, many times, and soon asking why hadn’t he finished making the compound. When he couldn’t think of a good reason he just said he’d been interrupted and would begin again shortly. The reward was still on offer, and that had compelled him. He had asked Kevin Kingston to oversee its production. Kingston, however, had grown suspicious of its nature, and what it would be used for – didn’t believe him when he’d said it was innocuous. Kingston sensed danger and refused to go on with it. And when Widcomes refused to say what it was and who it was for, Kingston had threatened to go to the authorities.

Kingston had agreed the substance was innocuous. At first. Later, he began saying the substance could be used for sinister purposes when mixed with other substances like antidepressants, opioids, stimulants, pain killers for headaches and migraines, psychedelics, and certain herbs. Widcomes was confused, at first, then worried. Why would the visitors ask him to make the substance and say it wasn’t dangerous? He had checked the ingredients himself and hadn’t seen anything to worry about. He didn’t understand Kingston’s concern. He didn’t understand why Kingston had had such thoughts.

He had taken the matter in hand when Kingston had become emotional, almost irate; so he’d had made an executive decision. He decided Kingston had to be silenced. There was too much at stake for him and the factory; his position in the company, for one, and his sanity, for another, which definitely would be questioned. And he couldn’t have any of it. There was also the reward. Things had been done, confidence had been restored. A new project manager was on the job; the chemical was on its way.

Chapter 10

Verone Digging for Dirt Turns Up More Strangeness

What the hell is this? though Verone. He’d found something in the files at Police Headquarters in Middlesbrough about Wayne Widcomes, but it wasn’t anything like he had expected. Widcomes, the report said, had been arrested for thieving a car. When the police asked him why he’d done it, his reply had stumped the police; they’d never heard anything like it. Widcomes had said that he believed he was being chased by an extraterrestrial and was trying to escape. So technically, he hadn’t stolen anything. That was his argument. But the magistrate didn’t buy his story, gave him a suspended sentence and placed him on probation. Widcomes was also ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. No surprise there, he thought.

‘Blimey!’ he said aloud, realising he would soon have his work cut out for him if he followed this up. What the hell had happened to Widcomes? The police were obviously unpersuaded by his story. He doubted anyone would be, apart from him. He wondered if there might be a connection with his, Mrs. Butler’s, and now Appleby’s, encounter with the green glow. And let’s not forget the two young schoolgirls, he thought. How are they connected to all this? They had obviously seen it too! The green glow was beginning to look decidedly blue in colour and accompanied by an annoying wailing sound.

He dug deeper. He hoped to find some actual dirt on Widcomes. Thieving a car wasn’t close to the kind of dirt he needed if he was to find a connection between the photograph of a UFO hovering over the chemical factory, at which Widcomes was a director, and recent events. He felt sure that there must be a connection, given Widcomes’ story to the police about being chased by an extraterrestrial. He doubted being chased by an extraterrestrial, as Widcomes had described it, was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Chapter 11

The Girls Are Examined by Dr. Saul

Appleby stood near the door of the examination room in the Sisters of Mercy hospital where one of the schoolgirls was being examined by Dr. Saul Stevens, trying to determine the cause of their blackout event during the driving lesson. He watched and waited to learn more about what had happened to them. He watched as Dr. Stevens checked their vitals and asked them a range of medical questions.

‘Do you have a headache?’ asked Dr. Stevens.

‘No,’ replied Rebecca Baxter, annoyance distorting her voice. She didn’t seem comfortable with the attention or why everyone was making a fuss.

‘Is there a ringing in your ears?

‘Nope,’ she said. She pouted out, probably out of boredom.

‘How many fingers?’

‘Three,’ she said, and pulled a face, rolling her eyes, shaking her head. She glanced across at the other girl, Samantha Desser, lying nearby on a hospital gurney. She looked peeved; they both looked peeved. He could commiserate.

‘Right. Clare,’ soon said Dr. Stevens, addressing a nurse who’d been standing nearby, probably waiting for an order, like a military soldier. ‘Take a blood sample, then send it upstairs, high priority. Thanks.’

Dr. Stevens wrote some things in his Blueberry using a stylus, then acknowledged his presence, nodding at him. He stopped leaning against the door, thinking it was his cue to have a chat with the doctor and made a beeline for him.

He read the look on the doctor’s face and readied himself for a serious conversation.

‘Doctor,’ he said as he stepped up to him.

‘Sergeant.’

‘What’s the prognosis, doctor?’ He was keen to get the information he needed to close the case. A simple case of teens misbehaving was what he hoped was the result of his examining.

‘To be frank,’ said the doctor. ‘I can’t find a single thing wrong with them.’

That wasn’t what he wanted to hear, and pressed the doctor for more.

‘Doc, I have reason to believe the girls were involved in something they shouldn’t have. I need to know why they’ve passed out twice in 24 hours. The second time almost resulted in serious injury.’

‘As you know, I was called to an emergency the night before last involving the girls. They were found unconscious in the backyard of a friend’s house. I know them. I’ve known them for years. They’re sensible and responsible people. When I asked the girls what they’d been doing, they were sure they hadn’t been doing anything untoward. In fact, one of the girls, Rebecca Baxter, the blonde, was adamant that they’d seen something … something unusual.’

His expression changed to one indicating suspicion, hoping to God it wasn’t the unusual thing he’d had the misfortune of seeing recently; the one Verone was adamant he’d seen.

‘She said they’d seen a UFO, had been watching it when the event occurred. She sounded totally convinced that they had seen it.’

He just looked at the doctor, understood the implications of having seen something strange himself. He knew it from personal and recent experience, and had no intention of going in that direction. He steered clear of talking about UFOs. ‘What do you think, doctor?’

‘I’ve booked them in for an MRI scan, later today,’ said Dr. Stevens. ‘I’ll know more then. But until then, I’ve got nothing else for you. Sorry.’ And with that, the doctor stepped around him and shuffled off to elsewhere in the hospital. He watched him go.

He turned back to look at the girls. He hoped the doctor would have found something to account for their blackout, other than having seen something strange. He didn’t have time to entertain theories of extraterrestrial involvement in the lives of two unsuspecting schoolgirls. He was having enough trouble with it in his own life. This wouldn’t look good in the papers, he decided. And it certainly wouldn’t look good to head office.

Time to have a serious chat with Verone, he thought. Verone would have something to say about this, he was sure. He immediately headed back to police headquarters, where he hoped he would find Verone had been a good boy and was waiting for him. He needed answers, and he needed them now.

Chapter 12

Appleby Draws Verone into His Investigation

Verone turned at the sound of someone coming into the records room at police headquarters in Middlesbrough, and saw Appleby. And he didn’t look pleased.

‘You! My office. Now!’

He was a bit surprised by Appleby’s tone and urgency, got up, as ordered, and followed him out of the records room and into his office.

Appleby immediately questioned him. ‘I want to know what’s going on, and don’t give me any bollocks about UFOs and little green men.’ He felt Appleby’s glare like ultraviolet radiation, and was sure he was going to get burned.

He smiled nervously, and soon said: ‘Any chance of a cup of tea?’ He stalled for time. The answer Appleby wanted he couldn’t give him, and the answer he had to give him really wasn’t the answer Appleby wanted.

‘Travers!’ bellowed Appleby, and Travers instantly stepped into the room looking like a naughty school boy called into the Principal’s office.

‘Sarge?’ said Travers, bewildered, looking from Appleby to him, then back to Appleby.

‘Get some teas, will you,’ said Appleby. ‘How’d you take it?’ Appleby directed the question at him.

‘Black and two sugars,’ he said, directing his answer to Travers. ‘Thanks.’

The air grew a bit tense in the office. He spoke first.

‘I take it the girls have had an interesting experience,’ he said, and he smiled at Appleby knowing he’d just revealed he knew something that no one would know about, yet, or even should know about.

‘How’d you know that then?’ asked Appleby. ‘No one knows about it except …’ he stopped. Appleby realised then that he must’ve known about their experience before he did, and he hadn’t told him.

Seeing Appleby’s glare, and not wanting to be put in a headlock, he decided to tell Appleby what he knew. ‘I overheard the girls talking this morning, saying they’d seen a green UFO. It was purely by chance. They were passing the house of a new client I was visiting earlier this morning.’ He put on his best look of innocence.

Appleby sat down then, but still glared at him; a look full of intent to do him grievous bodily harm.

‘I wanted to stop and chat to them but a potentially hefty bank balance was beckoning,’ he said. ‘So, of course, I knew about their experience before you, but I felt sure you wouldn’t want to know. At least, not before lunch.’

‘Mr, Clever Dick,’ said Appleby. ‘Ok, Sherlock, tell me what you think is going on and I’ll tell you what I think is going on.’

He felt cornered then, like a fox in a henhouse full of hunters’ hounds. It was a place he really didn’t want to be. He prepared himself as best he could, to tell Appleby the thing he really didn’t want to hear.

‘I believe the girls saw what Mr. Grovenor and I saw, a few nights before. What Mrs. Butler and I saw last night, me twice. And what you saw, but don’t want to believe you saw, because it all needs to make Earthly sense to you. You want to believe you saw a burglar last night and not what we both know you saw, an extraterrestrial from another world.’

‘Behaving like a burglar,’ chimed Appleby.

Appleby sat quietly mulling his conclusion. He looked from him to the officers in the next room, through the glass wall, busying themselves with their respective police business. They hadn’t a clue about what was going on. Neither did Appleby. He was right about one thing, though; a thing he had to admit: he was having trouble believing he’d had an encounter with something otherworldly. And obviously couldn’t understand why so many people had claimed to have seen the thing. But whatever was going on, it looked like it’s going to keep going on.

‘I’m going to go out on a limb,’ said Appleby. ‘I know you’re a sane, down to earth bloke, and an excellent investigator. I know you’d never deceive me or provide me false or misleading information. Not intentionally, anyway.’

‘Your point?’ he said.

‘The girls had an experience, alright, and it involved a doctor being called to a birthday party the night before last.’

He listened to Appleby then, mulling the new data.

‘Apparently, the girls had seen a UFO while sitting out in the backyard of a Mrs. Lorne’s house. Mrs. Lorne’s son, Freddie Lorne, was celebrating a birthday. The girls had been invited to the party, along with several other Bellhaven High school students. The girls had gone outside for a breather and sat on a pair of banana chairs chatting. One of the girls, Rebecca Baxter, had seen a light moving on the city skyline. Samantha Desser didn’t immediately see it, but then did. Samantha grew a little worried, but not Rebecca Baxter, who had encouraged Samantha to stay and watch it, and see what it was. They claim it was a green UFO, and when it came directly overhead, the two of them passed out. Mrs. Lorne, wondering where they’d got to, found the pair lying on the ground unconscious and immediately called for a doctor. Her doctor friend, Saul Stevens of the Sisters. They were coming round, though, by the time the doc arrived. The strange thing about it is that the doc didn’t find anything physically wrong with them. He took a blood sample from the pair and prescribed rest. He said he’d get back to the girls’ parents if he found anything. He didn’t.’

‘How strange,’ he said, furrowing his brow in response to learning that nothing wrong could be found with the girls. He’d heard stories of abductions in which the abductee didn’t have a happy experience. Quite puzzling, he thought. Why was the girls’ experience so different?

‘The pair was having a driving lesson when they both passed out again.’ Seeing his expression, Appleby said: ‘No, not just the girl driving the car, but the girl who wasn’t driving, in the back seat. The girl driving drove off the side of the road. If it hadn’t been for the excellent skills of the driving instructor, the car might’ve crashed, seriously hurting someone.’

‘No one was hurt, though?’ he asked, concern creasing his voice.

‘No. The driving instructor was a little shaken, more perplexed than shaken.’

‘Perplexed?’

‘Yes. On account of the fact that the girls were discussing their experience from the night of the party when they passed out.’

He felt totally amazed by the event now. What on earth had happened to the girls? Heard the irony in what he’d said and chuckled.

‘I can’t begin to tell you what will happen to me when the papers here about it.’

‘Don’t you mean if?’ he said.

‘Are you kiddin’ me? Two schoolgirls pass out during a driving lesson because they saw a UFO. Do you think that’ll stay quiet for another 48 hours while we try to figure what the hell is going on?’ He heard Appleby’s frustration, at the prospect of being asked upstairs and being grilled about UFOs by Head office. And the fact that former DCI Verone was somehow keeping things from him.

‘Don’t you mean you?’ he said, pointing a little finger at Appleby.

‘Listen, Mr. Clever Dick. It’s you and me on this one. You’re a potential witness,’ said Appleby, tapping a finger on his desk.

‘Me?’ he said, wide-eyed, surprised that Appleby was including him in the investigation.

‘Don’t get indignant with me, Verone,’ said Appleby. ‘There’s still the business of you being at the Kingston house in the little hours.’

‘What? You can’t be serious? We both know …’

‘And that is why you’re gonna help me out,’ interrupted Appleby. ‘I can’t go upstairs and say a little green man did it. They’ll laugh me into an early retirement.’

‘Ok, but you’ve got to entertain the possibility, at least, that the um, … extraterrestrial,’ he said, not wanting to say little green man because she, he, it had been decidedly grey, not green, ‘was there on other business.’

‘What other business?’

‘Well, it seems strange to me that the extraterrestrial would be there to harm the Kingstons.’

‘He could’ve been there to rob them?’

‘Possibly, but highly unlikely.’ He saw Appleby’s face twist with scepticism, he added: ‘Nothing was taken, right?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What? Didn’t you send someone round to check?’

‘No.’ Appleby’s suddenly sounded nervousness. ‘What was I going to say was the pretext? A little green man and a green glow?’

‘A little grey man, actually,’ he corrected him.

‘I can hear it now:

Me: Well, your Honour, we went on the neighbour’s say so. She’d heard a scream and then saw a green glow envelope the neighbour’s house.

Your Honour: I see.

Me: We got the call and investigated.

Your Honour: Yes.

Me: We poked around and observed an intruder in the house, we gave chase. We cornered him in an upstairs bedroom. When we asked him to identify himself, he remained silent, probably because he didn’t understand us.

Your Honour: Do you mean to say, Sergeant, that he was a foreigner?

Me: No, your Honour. What I mean to say is he was more than a foreigner. He was from outta-bloody-space!

Your Honour: Are you telling me the intruder was an extraterrestrial-type alien?

Me: Yes, your Honour.

Your Honour: I see. Tell me, Sergeant, when was the last time you had a psych evaluation? Case dismissed.

‘I see your point,’ he said.

‘No, I don’t think you do, Verone. My credibility is at stake here. It’s ok for you to sit there and say it was an bleedin’ extraterrestrial, but that’s not what the people upstairs are gonna hear. They’re gonna hear me say I’ve lost it, and suggest I go join former DCI Verone, and together, you and he can investigate all the bloody UFO sightings you want and stop wasting police resources!’ Appleby obviously didn’t know what to do, and couldn’t handle his belief system being shattered overnight by a widower, a couple schoolgirls, and more than likely an extraterrestrial.

‘I don’t suppose it would help if I tell you,’ he said, ‘that my latest case, involving a suspected infidelity, also involves a UFO.’ He prepared to be strangled by Appleby then, if not be hit in the head by a thrown projectile.

‘You what?’ said Appleby, wide-eyed and mouth agape. ‘This is madness. Are you telling me there’s another person who’s seen this UFO? The same one we …’ he didn’t finish his sentence. He let out an audible groaned at the thought of being told by his superior to go on a long vacation and looked toward the ceiling, perhaps hoping God would speak, but didn’t hear anything. Well, the answer he wanted. But he couldn’t deny the fact that the evidence was stacking up, and not in his favour.

‘I believe there’s a connection between the extraterrestrial we saw, the schoolgirls, and the Kingstons, and now Wayne Widcomes, senior director at VMS PharmaChems. If you want answers, I suggest you start by talking to Widcomes.’ He watched Appleby carefully, hoping he wouldn’t dismiss his hunch as easily as he’d dismissed Mrs. Butler’s neighbour last night. He knew Appleby couldn’t dismiss Mrs. Butler so easily because he’d seen the green glow himself. And he’d seen the visitor from another world. It was time Appleby faced the unbearable truth that this story had more to it than a green glow.

Chapter 13

Captain Williams-Herzog and a Joke at Verone’s Expense

Appleby and Verone were on their way out of police headquarters when they were met in the foyer by Captain Williams-Herzog, Verone’s former boss. He saw the surprised look on Williams-Herzog’s face as he caught sight of him, and groaned. He headed straight for them, his curiosity having been aroused.

‘Senior Sergeant Appleby, and, hello, former DCI Verone,’ said the Captain. ‘What brings you to police headquarters, a missing person’s case perhaps?’

Perhaps the Captain would simply think Appleby was assisting him with his PI work, and leave matters at that. But he stood before them waiting for a response; not in hurry to be on his way attending his own business. He groaned again.

‘Sir,’ said Appleby. ‘You know Vidocq, I’m sure,’ and gestured to him with a look and a nod.

‘Not missing person’s case, this time, I’m afraid,’ he said with a jovial laugh. ‘It’s …’

‘A nasty case of fraud, we think, sir,’ said Appleby, interrupting, obviously not prepared to let him say anything further about the thing they worked on, for fear the Captain would embarrass him. he saw the way the Captain frowned at Appleby, surprised at his behaviour. Looking at him, but speaking to the Captain, Appleby said: ‘But it could also be an elaborate hoax, too.’

The Captain stared in puzzlement at Appleby.

He also gave Appleby a puzzled look.

The Captain then looked at him, wearing a surprised grin. He knew what he was thinking, and he’d would be able resist saying something. He groaned again.

Appleby explained: ‘Verone has given us a lead, sir. There may be a connection between our possible victims and a new client of his,’ Appleby nodded hastily at him, ‘and we’re just on our way out to interview someone.’

‘So, an extraterrestrial didn’t do it then?’ said the Captain, laughing enthusiastically as he reached over and slapped him on the shoulder. He then deliberately walked between them to head further into police headquarters.

He stared at the departing Captain with a disbelieving expression. He could still hear the Captain chuckling to himself further down the corridor, and shook his head in disbelief.

‘Don’t say a word,’ said Appleby, moving to exit the building.

‘All I was going to say was that I didn’t think his joke deserved that much enthusiasm.’ He smiled and followed Appleby, stepping lively to catch up.

Chapter 14

The Girls Pass Their Medical Examination

Dr. Stevens studied the MRI scans of the schoolgirls, Rebecca Baxter and Samantha Desser, in hopes of finding an answer to their puzzling blackouts. He stood beside Dr. Michael Mervas, chief neuroscientist at the Sisters of Mercy hospital somewhere in Middlesbrough. He and Mervas studied the steel-green images of the girls’ brains hanging on wall-mounted lightboxes, which glowed in the dim lighting of Mervas’s office. There were images on the computer screen on the desk as well, and they switched between each analysing and discussing the scans. The images looked like plant root-structures, but represented the structure of the girls’ brains neural-net, which appeared to be undisturbed and intact. He didn’t see any lesions or indication of tissue trauma, which he’d expected to see, instead, saw something unusual.

‘Wait a minute, what’s that?’ he said to Dr. Mervas. Given Mervas was chief neurologist, he was sure to know more about it than him. He pointed with a finger at the small smudge on an image on the one of the wall-mounted lightboxes, making a circle in the air above the spot he was concerned with.

‘It’s the hippocampus,’ said Dr. Marvas. ‘Lots of activity going on there. Interesting.’

‘But why is there activity there?’

‘Don’t know,’ said Dr. Mervas. ‘May have something to do with what your patients saw.’ Dr. Mervas smiled at him. ‘Increased Serotonin might account for it. But, it’s a long shot. They’re not showing typical symptoms associated with a Serotonin agonist, are they?’

‘Not really,’ he said. But he wasn’t sure if had seen it or not. He had something to focus on and would look again for the clues.

‘Ok,’ said Dr. Mervas. ‘It’s back to your sighting, then.’

He stared intently at Dr. Mervas before say anything. He didn’t believe in UFOs. ‘They claimed to have seen a UFO, and then passed out. They couldn’t remember anything after seeing it.’

‘There’s your answer, then,’ said Dr. Mervas, confident in his conclusion. ‘Whatever it was they saw has done something to their brains and is preventing them from remembering what happened.’

He was incredulous. ‘Are you saying a UFO caused this?’

‘No. What I’m saying is, the sight of a UFO contributed to it. It’s what happened to them when they saw it, whatever it was. Their brains were overwhelmed by the sight of it and did something to compensate for the trauma of seeing it. They were incredibly frightened, and their brains have blocked access to the memory of the incident. Serotonin could account for it. Though you said they weren’t exhibiting signs there’d been an increase in its use.’

He thought about it a moment. before he spoke. ‘So it was in response to what they saw that caused this activity and is continuing to have an effect on them even now,’ he queried, just to be clear.

‘Yes,’ said Dr. Mervas. ‘That and something else. But if there was nothing in the bloodwork, then it was the combination of seeing the object and an unknown.’

An unknown? He’d ponder this in the days to come. What was the unknown? It hadn’t been alcohol or an illicit drug like marijuana or cocaine or painkillers. The girls’ blood had been clear of such substances; they were clean. It was puzzling, though. He scratched his head in bewilderment.

‘Thank you, Michael,’ he said. ‘I’ll get back to you, if that’s alright?’ Dr. Mervas nodded and he made to leave the area and head for his office to make a report for Senior Sergeant Appleby. He’ll be interested to know this, he thought.

‘You’re welcome, Saul. Anytime,’ said Dr. Mervas to his departing back.

Chapter 15

Travers Takes a Call

Constable Travers took the incoming call as he sat at his desk in police headquarters trying to complete the report on the schoolgirls’ and their passing out incident. He taped two keys on the computer keyboard at a time, unconcerned that he wasn’t as proficient at typing as he should be, for police officer. He shrugged. He was also wondering where Appleby had gotten too. He should be back by now, he thought, as he slowly, deliberately worked at writing up the report. Appleby should be here, informing him of how to finish the blessed report. He sighed hard.

Then his Samsung sang.

‘Hello, Constable Travers, how can I help you?’ he said, distracted as he answered the call.

‘Oh, hello, Constable Travers. Doctor Stevens here. I’ve got that report on the schoolgirls that Sergeant Appleby’s been expecting. Thought I’d call first and give him my prognosis. Is he there by any chance?’

‘No, he’s out of the office right now. Is there anything I can do for you?’

‘Just tell him to come by and collect it. I’ll fill him in then,’ said Dr. Stevens.

‘Ok, I’ll tell him as soon as I hear from him.’

‘Ok, thanks. Bye,’ said Dr. Stevens, promptly ending the call.

He immediately got on put in a call to Appleby. Having entered the numbers, he sat back waiting for the call to connect. He perused what he’d written so far of the report, on the computer screen.

‘Appleby,’ said the Sergeant, almost a grunt, which was his typical gruff style. He frowned at the phone.

‘Travers here. Doctor Stevens has finished his report on the girls and wondered if you could drop by and collect it.’

‘Thanks.’ Appleby coughed and promptly disconnected the call.

‘Sir, I w …’ he said, but stopped when he realised Appleby had ended the call. He frowned at the phone, tutted, shook his head and then sat back in his not-so-firm chair, which leaned to one side occasionally, and pondered the report he was writing. But without the doctor’s report or Appleby’s input, he’d have to let it sit until he had the extra information. Perhaps he’d call the doctor and request it. But that would be until after he’d had a cup of tea.

Chapter 16

Verone and Appleby are onto Widcomes

Appleby found the entrance to VMS PharmaChems and drove through the entrance. He followed the signs to the visitors’ car park. He found an empty space and parked the car.

He looked at Verone, and said: ‘Right, let me do all the talking.’

‘What? Hang on a second, he’s my client’s husband. You wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for my generosity. I have to speak to him first and see what comes of that. He’s suspected of infidelity only, at this point. We can’t just barge in and say, “You’ve been cavorting with extraterrestrials, Mr. Widcomes. Come clean, or we’ll arrest you for cavorting with a possible kidnapper.”’

Appleby just frowned at him, not getting the response he’d hoped.

‘All right, but as soon as he gives us a clue that he’s in any way connected to recent events, then I’m gonna take over, ok?’

Verone just looked at him but didn’t speak for a second. ‘Ok, ok. Good lord, I haven’t even done any undercover work on the fellow yet. I’m so unprepared.’

Exiting the car, he and Verone made their way to the administrative division of VMS PharmaChems.

They soon found a front-desk person and enquired of Wayne Widcomes. The front-desk person was charming enough, and soon told them that Mr. Widcomes was down at one of the plants, and that she could call to the front-desk using the PA system, letting him know there was someone waiting to speak with him. ‘Please, take a seat while I page him.’

‘Mr. Widcomes, could you come to the front-desk, please. Mr. Widcomes, front-desk.’

He and Verone found a pew and sat.

‘So what did you find on him in Records?’ he asked Verone, eager to get started.

‘Oh, hell. You’re not gonna like what I found on him,’ he said, mouth twisted, followed by groan.

‘Try me.’

‘He was arrested six months ago for thieving a car,’ said Verone.

‘What’s so unpleasant about that then? What was his excuse?’

Verone looked at him with a pained expression before saying anything else.

‘Don’t tell me a UFO was involved? Bloody hell!’

‘Well, not exactly,’ said Verone.

‘What do you mean, not exactly?’

‘He said,’ Verone began, ‘he was being chased by an extraterrestrial and was trying to escape it.’

‘Oh, my great grandmother’s lumbago!’ moaned Appleby, staring wide-eyed at Verone, brows arched. He shook his head and bowed his face into his hand.

‘There’s more,’ said Verone. ‘When I was interviewing Mrs. Widcomes, and browsing through one of her photo albums, I came across …’

‘What? He’s got a photo of ET, has he?’

‘No, no. Not ET, as you so eloquently put it. It was a photo of a UFO hovering over a building somewhere her at the chemical factory. So I …’

‘Bloody hell!’ Appleby looked to the ceiling and then down corridor.

‘So I asked Mrs. Widcomes what she knew about it. She denied knowing anything about it or having seen it before I brought it to her attention. She didn’t know anything about it.’

‘Heads up,’ said Appleby, nodding in the direction of the front-desk. A gentleman was talking to the front-desk person, and assumed it must be Mr. Widcomes.

Chapter 17

A Little Bird Tells a UFO Story to Journalist, Terri Hardy

‘Ms. Hardy?’ said the female on the other end of the phone as Terri Hardy answered the call at her desk in The Middlesbrough Times newspaper office, in the heart of Middlesbrough.

‘Yes, that’s me,’ she said. ‘What can I do for you?’

‘I’ve got a story for you, and you might find this one interesting.’

‘Oh, ok. So what’s it about then?’ she queried, secretly hoping it wasn’t another scandal involving a local football player. The last thing she wanted right now was to interview another footballer with an ego the size of a … well, big, and then expect the interview to take place in the change rooms immediately after a match. She’d learned the first time that footballers’ egos were way bigger than their physical status as men.

‘A couple of schoolies by the names of Rebecca Baxter and Samantha Desser were involved in an unfortunate accident yesterday, but the car is fine. They’d both passed out during the driving lesson they were having with a local learn to drive school, Bellhaven Drive.’

‘Yeah,’ she said to indicate she was listening. She sighed with relief realising it had nothing to do with footballers.

‘Well, the reason they gave for passing out was a UFO.’

‘What?’ she said, just a little surprised to hear that a UFO was offered as the reason for a car accident. That was a first. That was certainly different, she thought. She immediately barked down the phone: ‘What, was the UFO driving on the wrong side of the road?’ She and the caller laughed. Then she fell silent wanting to hear the rest of the intriguing story.

‘That wasn’t the first time they’d experienced a blackout,’ the caller said. ‘They’d been attending a birthday party the other night, and at some stage had gone outside for a break, to get some fresh air. Apparently, the mother of the birthday boy went to find them because the party was winding down, and she found them lying on the ground in the backyard, unconscious. She immediately called her local doctor, Dr. Stevens, to assist.’

‘Why didn’t she call an ambulance?’ she queried, curious about the choice to call a doctor, first.

‘I don’t know. I think Mrs. Lorne knew Dr. Stevens and trusted him,’ said the caller. ‘But an ambulance was called, anyhow.’

‘Ok,’ she said, and was beginning to suspect the girls had taken something they shouldn’t have. It was beginning to sound like a substance abuse story.

‘The girls,’ said the caller, continuing, ‘had almost come round by the time the doctor had arrived. And when Dr. Stevens examined them, though, he couldn’t find anything wrong with them. They showed no signs of having eaten anything bad or of having been drinking.’

‘So had the girls taken something illegal?’ she asked, now eager to hear the punch line.

‘The girls had claimed to have seen a UFO and had passed out at the sight of it.’

‘Whoa! They actually said that?’ she said, a bit incredulous. She wanted to be sure she wasn’t listening to hearsay.

‘No, no. They actually said that. And they are still saying it.’

‘Wait, wait, wait. The girls again passed out a few days later, while having a driving lesson, and they’d seen another UFO?’

‘No, no. They were still suffering the effects of having seen the UFO from a few nights before,’ the caller explained.

‘What did this Dr. Stevens have to say about it?’ She, having now been squarely taken in by the girls’ story, wanted to know what was really happening. There could be a good story in this, after all.

‘That’s just it. Dr. Stevens couldn’t find anything wrong with the girls. There was no sign of them having eaten anything bad, drunk any alcohol, or having taken anything illegal. They were very healthy, apart from the mild amnesia they were suffering.’

‘The girls are sticking to their story that they’d seen a UFO, though?’

‘Yes. Adamant they are,’ concluded the caller.

‘Right, where are the girls now, at home?’ she asked, now eager to pursue the story.

‘No, they’re still in the hospital. If you head over there now, you’ll see them before they’re sent home.’

‘Ok, can I have your name and number, please?’ she asked, a customary thing journalists do; a source had to be verified.

‘Oh, no. No names. Uh-uh,’ said the caller. ‘I don’t want to be linked with the story.’

‘Oh. Ok, then,’ she relented. ‘It’s just that the newspaper will sometimes pay for a good story, and we need to know who to pay.’

‘Fine, but I don’t need the money,’ said the caller. ‘Or the fame.’

‘Ok, no problem,’ she said. ‘Thank you for the story and I’ll decide what to do with it. Thanks.’ She said goodbye, and with that, the conversation was at an end.

‘Hell, yes! I’m on this one!’ she hollered to the ceiling. ‘I’m all over it.’

She was up, grabbing her bag and car keys and rushed out of her office, heading to the hospital to catch the girls. Hopefully, she’d get the exclusive rights, and the lowdown on what she began to believe could be the story of the week.

She stopped by a coat stand to grab her coat. She also put on a big cheesy grin, and said aloud: ‘A UFO made me crash the car!’

Chapter 18

Widcomes Outfoxes the Police

‘Mr. Widcomes, I’m Vidocq Verone,’ the first man to spring to his feet said, greeting him in the foyer at VMS PharmaChems, to the surprise of the other man, he noticed. The man who called Verone gestured to the other man, introducing him as his colleague, Sergeant Appleby.

‘Senior Sergeant Appleby,’ snapped the Sergeant, pointedly correcting the other.

‘Hello.’ He shook hands with both of them. ‘How can I help the police?’

‘Well, is there somewhere private we can talk?’ said Verone, quickly, giving the other a sideways glance.

‘Yes, step this way,’ he said, amused by their antics but concerned the police needed to talk to him. Why me? What was it about? First, some man from MI5 comes asking about Kingston, and now these two. The MI5 person’s interest in Kingston’s disappearance was disturbing, hinting that Kinston had indeed contacted someone; made good on his threat. But he had managed to convince the MI5-man that he knew nothing, on both counts. But these two oddly behaved police officers, suggested Kingston’s whereabouts was generating more interest than he’d thought possible, and so soon. He’d hoped his disappearance would’ve gone unnoticed for far longer. Damn, he thought.

He watched the pair following him, and again noticed the stern looks they gave each other.

‘This way, gentlemen.’ He gestured to an office.

A surprised clerk looked at him and the others, completely puzzled by what was going on, by their presence, until he said: ‘Do you mind? Can you give us a few minutes?’

‘Ah, sir? What?’ The clerk didn’t immediately get the hint that he should leave his office so they could occupy it for a few minutes.

His eyes bulged at the slow-to-get-it clerk, and said in a hushed tone: ‘Are you stupid or something? Take five and get a coffee. I want to use your office.’ He nodded toward the door.

They watched the clerk evacuate his seat and exit the office.

When the clerk was gone, he shut the door and smiled at Appleby and Verone.

He saw the puzzled expressions on their faces, quick, knowing glances passed between them.

‘Please, take a seat. And tell me what this is all about.’

The shorter man, called Appleby, lurched forward before the other man, Verone, could say what he was about to say, and said: ‘We have reason to believe that something has happened to one of your employees, a Mr. Kevin Kingston. I wonder if you could tell us his whereabouts.’

‘Kingston? I’m sorry, something’s happened to Kevin Kingston?’ He tried to be sincere and not give away that he knew something. He suddenly realised they might know the truth about Kingston. ‘I don’t understand.’

He watched the man Verone glare at Appleby before turning to look at him and smile. He hoped he would counter Appleby’s straight to the point approach. He seemed to harbour a different set of thoughts on the matter.

‘He seems to have disappeared, him and his wife. The neighbour is concerned, not having seen them. The Kingstons normally inform her if they’re going away. But they didn’t say a word this time, or leave a note. Can you shed some light on their whereabouts, sir?’

He saw the annoyed look the man Verone gave Appleby when he placed emphasis on the word light. He was attentive now to whatever they might say next. The man Appleby seemed to know something no one else on the planet should know, by his reasoning. He reflected an instant on his contact with the extraterrestrials and wondered if these two hadn’t made contact with the same ones. He also wondered what the hell that meant.

He decided to be cautious. If they know about the extraterrestrials, he might be exposed. He decided it’d be better to play ignorant about such things, for as long as possible, until a decent cove story was devised. ‘I can’t say I can shed any light on the whereabouts of the Kingstons. Sergeant, was it?’

‘Yes. Senior Sergeant.’

‘Well, Senior Sergeant, I don’t keep track of everyone who works at VMS. I’m only aware of their presence when I have a need to speak to them. I can’t even remember the last time I saw Kevin Kingston. I’d need to check his status with HR and chase him up, I’m afraid. And that may take a while.’

‘We’ve got all day, Mr. Widcomes. We don’t mind waiting.’

He heard the man Verone groan. He obviously didn’t agree with Appleby’s approach to policing. Maybe something else is going on here that he isn’t aware of? Be evasive. He knew his rights, and he wasn’t going to say anything that would alert them to the fact that he could shed some light on the situation. And he had no intention of doing so.

***

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The Directive

PI Vidocq Verone and Sergeant Appleby meet high strangeness in a house in the early hours one night, and are instantly drawn into high intrigue in the leafy suburb of Farnborough. Appleby thinks there's been criminal activity in the house, and plans on making an arrest. Verone believes he's re-entered the strange world of UFOs, reliving the bizarre events of ten years earlier causing him to take leave from policing. While Apppleby investigates the possible kidnapping of Felicity Butler's neighbours, the Kingstons, Verone is contracted by the wife of PharmaChems director, Wayne Widcomes, believing he's cheating on her, and soon finds evidence of an extraterrestrial connection. The two events become entwined when Verone learns Widcomes is Kevin Kingston's boss. Appleby invites Verone to work with him to solve the case, and both are led down the garden path chasing clues to Kingston's disappearance and Widcomes possible involvement in his disappearance. When two school girls are involved in a strange UFO encounter, events soon take a sinister turn causing Verone and Appleby to question their ability to solve the disappearance of the Kingstons. The school girls' story attracts the attention of Terri Hardy, a journalist with the Middelsbrough Times. She investigates the girls' story and is soon caught up in the ongoing investigation with Verone and Appleby. A series of puzzling events is soon followed a murder, and Verone, Appleby, Mrs. Butler, Terri Hardy and Dr Saul Stevens of the Sisters of Mercy hospital, are soon drawn together to try to understand what's happening and prevent a city from descending into terror. But the more they know the more their sanity is challenged, as more deaths signal a darker turn. What will they do when they discovering the truth about what's been going on in Middlesbrough? Will it increase their sense of doom, stop them from preventing further deaths? Or will they rise to the challenge and bring the madness to an end? Or will they descend into madness trying?

  • Author: Robert Easterbrook
  • Published: 2016-08-07 07:20:11
  • Words: 96618
The Directive The Directive