Below is the Prologue for 'The Gathering' the sequel to 'Clan' by David P Elliot - paperback due for launch 30th June 2013 - e-book versions already available!
February 2007 – Branxholme, Roxburghshire, Scotland
‘So where is he?’
Susan Coltrane’s usually fine features showed untypical signs of tiredness, the dark rings below her eyes attesting to the sleepless night she had endured following the horrific events of the previous night.
She studied Sir Ronald Robertson, who suddenly looked older than his 70 plus years and she noticed his hands were shaking as his thin, bony fingers clasped the large crystal whisky tumbler, the deep amber liquid trembling as he shook.
She had never seen him drinking at this hour of the morning or witnessed his usual practiced elegance and courtesy to slip.
She looked around at the others. Clemenza, the short and stocky dark-haired Columbian, was standing looking out of the huge window across the manicured lawns of Branxholme. Stefan Erikson, the naturalised American ex-Swede sat in a comfortable armchair, sipping espresso, and the young Russian Vladimir Romanski was pacing up and down, nervously wringing his hands, obviously still traumatised by the vivid memory of his father’s slaughter the night before.
The group seemed happy to leave Susan to question Robertson.
He took a deep swallow before answering. ‘I have no idea where he is now. He left to pick up Soulis early this morning, as you know. He didn’t tell me where, originally, but he phoned me later to tell me he was out at a place called Hermitage Castle and he seemed shocked to find the place overrun by police.’
‘So he was meeting Soulis at this Hermitage Castle? Where the hell is that?’
Robinson continued to stare into his glass as he carried on. ‘It’s a derelict castle, 30 minutes or so from here, outside a place called Newcastleton. I have no idea if or why they were meeting there. Andrea seemed very upset when he called me. He wanted me to find out what the police were doing there. He then apparently left Hermitage and went to a hotel in Newcastleton called The Grapes. He called me from there and wanted me to use my connections at the Home Office to find out what was going on at Hermitage. I spoke to a contact of mine. He telephoned the Chief Constable to find out.’
‘I’m not sure I like the idea that the police are involved in our business.’ Clemenza spoke without turning from the window as he pulled on a large Cuban cigar, blowing blue smoke in a steady stream and watching it disperse against the glass of the window.
‘We have no reason to believe they know anything about us.’ Robertson responded, ‘my contact at the Home Office told the Chief Constable it was a security matter, there was no need for him to mention any of us.’
‘Nevertheless....’ Clemenza responded, leaving the statement hanging in the air.
Robertson continued: ‘It seems there was some kind of investigation into some local murders. Some police officers and a couple of civilians were killed. It appears just a coincidence that their investigations took them to just the place where Andrea had arranged to meet Soulis.’
‘I do not believe in coincidence,’ Clemenza responded, ‘and any involvement with the police is unhelpful. So where the hell is Dettori now?’
‘I don’t know,’ Robertson replied, his voice pitching higher with frustration. ‘As far as I can tell, he met with the investigating officer, a Superintendent Munroe, and went back up to Hermitage with him. I could question the Superintendent more, but as far as I can tell, Dettori disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. It seems something odd happened up at the Castle. Dettori’s disappearance was, on the face of it, the least surprising element.’
‘Surprising? What do you mean surprising?’ Clemenza turned to face Susan and Robertson, ‘What I call surprising is what I witnessed last night. What were those creatures? I have never seen slaughter like that. They tore Romanski to pieces, what could be more surprising than that!’ He spat out the words, his face colouring with anger.
‘I mean, it seems there was some kind of mass hallucination up at the castle, apparently strange warriors were seen, horses, children – it doesn’t make any sense; the police seem to be loathe to talk about it.’ Robertson had a real tremor in his voice as he took another swallow of the whisky.
‘Look, none of us understand what happened last night, but we have to remain calm, consider what we do next. There is too much at stake for us to panic now.’ Susan placed a hand on Robertson’s arm, gently trying to calm his shaking.
She looked at her colleagues in the highly secretive Soulis Foundation. Only two of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees were absent: Andrea Dettori and William Soulis after whom the Foundation was named. Oddly, only Dettori had ever met Soulis and of course now Dettori was missing.
‘I don’t like this,’ she eventually said, ‘I agree with Clemenza. The police involvement is, shall we say, unfortunate. I think we should leave here as soon as possible. We can let Ronald here make discreet enquiries. In the meantime, I think, the further we all are from here and from each other the better. The Soulis Foundation pretty much runs itself, as far as I can see, and we all run our own parts of it as well as our own businesses. I think we should leave Ronald to look into this, and in the meantime wait to see if Dettori contacts us. Once we know what has happened here, we can consider the future of the Foundation. In the meantime, I think we should not meet again until we have a clearer idea of what we are dealing with. Agreed?’
Her colleagues nodded in turn.
‘Ronald, let’s stay in touch and if everyone is okay with it, I will take responsibility for keeping everyone updated. The less individual contact we have, the less likely we are to be associated with each other’.
Within an hour a procession of black Mercedes limousines with darkened windows crunched to a halt on the wide gravel drive at the front of Branxholme and the colleagues took their leave of each other at the front of the house, each leaving in separate cars.
As Clemenza leaned forward to kiss Susan Coltrane on the cheek, they both looked at the young Russian, Vladimir Romanski, as he climbed into the back of one of the Mercedes. The thin and dishevelled young man was still visibly shaking.
‘Watch him,’ Clemenza said quietly into Susan’s ear. ‘Watch him, he’s the weak link here.’
As the limousines swept out of the driveway, servants hurried out of the front door, carrying luggage which was quickly loaded into a van to be taken to the airport and sent on to the various locations the Foundation members called home.
Susan’s car was the last to leave and she turned in the comfortable rear seat to look back at the imposing edifice that was Branxholme, a double towered castle in the heart of the Scottish Borders, a few miles from the town of Hawick. At a small window at the very top of the tower to the left of the main entrance she thought, for a second, that she saw a small grey face with black soulless eyes and vicious yellow teeth. On its head was a foul-looking, matted dark-red cap. She closed her eyes tightly and then she opened them again and refocused. If there had been anything at the window, it was no longer there.
She shuddered uncontrollably as her mind returned to the horror of the night before. Had she stared into the eyes of a Red Cap? Or was her mind playing tricks on her? Was she so traumatised that she was hallucinating?
As the dust from the gravel drive rose in a cloud behind the limousine, obscuring the receding building in its manicured grounds, she turned to face forward again, tears flowing down her cheeks. She pressed a button to close the tinted screen that hid her obvious distress from her driver and she stared at her tear-streaked reflection in the glass panel before her.