I awoke with a start as the train lurched into the station and my head fell forward jolting me back into the waking world. Once I had collected myself I started to file out with the other passengers the train had collected along the way, all milling towards the station’s single exit. I looked around to see if I could find any signs pointing to the popular tourist spot but failed to see anything of the like. Grabbing a map from the local newsagent I noticed that both Siegfried and the concierge had failed to mention that the train didn’t actually stop anywhere near Stonehenge. It was a bus or car for another hour to my destination. Cursing them both under my breath I decided to try my luck at driving. I’d need a vehicle anyway if it turned out the woman had moved on. After getting some directions and making my way to the nearest car rental dealership I ended up with one of their more modest models. The rather disinterested dealer pointed me in the rough direction and before long I was thundering down the mighty M3 and towards a hopefully quick resolution to this case.
Another seemingly uneventful trip had me arriving at the stones some time early in the afternoon. I stopped off in town for supplies and lunch. A quaint British pub offered me salvation in the form of a hearty beef pie, chips and some ridiculously dark ale. A local brew I was told. I didn’t much care much about its origins, it filled my stomach and warmed my heart so was alright by me. A guy could get used to this, travelling around the countryside eating large meals and drinking his fill. My only problem was that people were far too friendly out here. Back in the city I could sit in a corner all day and not be disturbed. So far I had three separate conversations about the local weather, the demigod sports teams, and how crowded London was becoming. Usually I would have told them all to go to Hel and leave me to my misery but I needed to find a reliable source on the lights and the locals would surely be in the know.
When the waitress returned to clear my thoroughly empty plate and bring a fresh pint of beer I put the hard sell on her. I asked if any unusual characters had come through in the past few days. She looked off thoughtfully. Her short brown hair fell in tight curls around her face and she pursed her lips together as she tried to recall. A tight smile crept over my face as I studied her. She was a woman who gave off a strong first impression. Curves in all the right places and the attitude to match. We had flirted shamelessly when I first ordered and now I was a little sweet on her. An English rose if ever I saw one. My mind wandered back to the task at hand as she spoke, her voice thick with a southern English accent but it suited her well.
‘What do you mean unusual? Like strange or weird.’ She laughed, ‘we get plenty of both in here, especially from the locals!’ I grinned back at her and shared in the joke.
‘I’m thinking of someone a little less local. A girl with very strange hair.’ Her face dropped slightly when I mentioned I was looking for a woman, a pang of jealousy perhaps? First time for everything.
‘Strange hair…’ she pondered this for a moment, shuffling around the plate which was getting heavy in her hands. ‘Yeah, come to mention it. The other night this wisp of a thing came in. She was wearing one of those hoodies and when she took it off one side of her head was completely white, while the other black as anything.’ She shook her head. ‘Ain’t seen nothing like that around here. Well, unless you count Sid’s daughter, Jenny. She went fairy floss pink last year! Went off to America to be an actress supposedly.’
I nodded and took out the photo. ‘This her?’ I asked. The waitress studied the photo for a second.
‘Yep, that’s her from the other night. Ate three dinners as well! Loved our baked potatoes, Roy even gave her some to take home.’ That interested me.
‘Home? She say where she was staying by any chance?’ I said returning the photo to my pocket. She shook her head no.
‘Asked for directions to the henge though. Told her that late at night it would be closed for visitors. The druids around here are very strict on people interfering with their rites and rituals you know.’ I told her she didn’t strike me as as druid. She laughed, ‘Oh, I’m a good old Roman girl. None of that nature worshipping for me.’ She smiled coyly and I returned the offering.
‘Thank you, Gemma.’ I said, reading her name tag. ‘You’ve been a great help.’ She let a girlish giggle slip and started to return to the kitchen before I called her back. ‘Sorry, I forgot to ask, have you heard anything about these lights at night? I was reading about it in one of the papers on the way here.’
She put the dishes down and slipped into the bench seat opposite me and lent in close. ‘You’re not the first to ask about those lights you know. That girl you’re looking for quizzed poor Roy for half an hour about them. And just this morning two other guys, all in black were walking around town asking anyone who’d stop if they had seen anything.’
I tried my best to look shocked. ‘Is it that big a deal? I thought it was just some kids or bored druids having a laugh?’
She shook her head and whispered low. ‘Government experiments.’ She tapped her nose and gave me a sly nod. ‘Trying to make weapons for the gods to fight the other houses. They deny it but you only have to look around. All the signs are there, plain as day.’
I put on my most polite smile and let her speak on. Oh, Gemma, you were doing so well, I sighed inwardly. ‘Thanks.’ I said, and she smiled and left with my dirty dishes.
Men in black suits. Sounds like it could be my employer or his fellow cultists running their own investigation. I’m probably a backup plan in case they miss something, which would annoy me most any other time but I’ve learnt that as long as there is a pay-check at the end of it I can put up with most anything. There are a few noted exceptions of course but not being trusted to do a good job isn’t one of them. That said they could be a third party out looking for the woman or they’re just interested in the mysterious lights and have nothing to do with my particular case at all, apart from the odd coincidence. Either way I’m going to have to keep an eye out, but it sounds as if they aren’t as friendly with the locals as they could be which could very well be to my advantage.
Gemma returned with another pint and a friendly smile. She hurried off to bus another table which saved me from a further awkward conversation and more patronising smiles. As I took my time with this beer I worked out the best course of action for the day. Looking at the clock above the bar I saw it was close to three in the afternoon. I was guessing that the light show would most likely happen at night and right now that was my main lead. From talking to Gemma and the other locals in the pub they didn’t seem to know too much about the whole thing so I decided that further questioning would probably be a waste of time. Especially if the suits already did that. I think the best course of action would be to stake out Stonehenge and just wait it out.
Ninety percent of my job was just waiting and watching. If you had the patience to sit in a car outside a building for a week only to get a few seconds of incriminating evidence you passed detective school 101. It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t fun, and it certainly wasn’t sexy. I decided to finish the pint, stock up on supplies and head out the henge to wait it out. If I was lucky I wouldn’t be the only one there and I might get a glimpse of the mysterious ‘government men’. I wasn’t in a particular hurry to go and do nothing so I took my time and savoured the strong flavour of the amber liquid before me, drinking in the quaint atmosphere of the busy post lunchtime crowd.
After leaving the pub I visited the local newsagent come small grocer across the road and bought a couple of newspapers and some supplies. I asked about the lights but the owners offered nothing new, guessing that it was some kids having a laugh. Agreeing with them, I took my stakeout equipment and wished them well. The short drive out to the monument went quickly and I arrived with plenty of time to do the touristy thing and walk around the stones. The perimeter was guarded by several unimpressive guards in black uniforms. You were allowed to walk around the ancient monument but only official members of the druid community were allowed access to the inner circles, and even then only during sanctioned religious events. This was all according to the various informational signs littered around the area. I tried making conversation with one of the security guards, asking if they had seen anything the past few nights but just got the cold shoulder. I didn’t push it in case I was asked to leave, I needed to maintain a low profile for this to work.
I did manage to find a real life druid on my way back to the car. She was a little odd in the sense that it became quite obvious that the world she lived in wasn’t the same as the one I was currently occupying. Her white robes were adorned with various pouches hanging from three separate belts around her waist. They bulged with plant life, and the air around her was permeated with the strong aroma of several pungent spices. A golden sickle hung upside down at her side, gleaming in the fading sunlight.
‘The world speaks to us and we hear it cry out!’ She exclaimed at the top of her lungs, despite the fact I was a mere three feet in front of her. The booming voice she commanded made for an entertaining yet frustrating conversation.
‘Yes, I understand, but have you seen a girl with black and white hair around here lately?’ I tried to get her to look at the photo but she was off in her own mind.
‘We are all creatures of the same world. Our colours and sex mean nothing to the plants and trees around us!’
I didn’t take her as a full representation of her religion. Living in the world as long as I have you found that there were extremes in every cause, religious or otherwise. Unfortunately the more unstable of the groups tend to be the ones who were more outspoken and cast a bad light on the rest. It was easy enough to back away from the druid priestess, she barely even registered I was there to begin with anyway. I returned to my waiting hire car and got as comfortable as I could. The sun would be down in a few hours and it would be dark enough for any light show. As the time ticked onwards the car park emptied and soon it was only myself and one other vehicle. I exchanged a friendly smile with the two well dressed gentlemen who did their best to ignore me completely.
It was a relief to know that I wasn’t too late. If these guys were still here that means the trail hadn’t gone cold or moved on. It was odd though. The girl clearly had a few days on me, why hadn’t she shown up and done her thing yet, whatever that was? Maybe there was more to this or maybe she was just terrible at directions and got lost between here and the pub. I grabbed the local newspaper from the passenger seat and started to flick through it while it was still light out. I skipped straight to the religion section but there was nothing mentioned about a light show last night. I trawled through the rest of the paper. They reported on every small occurrence around the area including a cat that had managed to get trapped, I kid you not, in a tree. If that’s what passed for news around here than they would jump on the mysterious lights. My guess is that the light maker or makers had already moved onto their next destination and so had the girl but the national paper I looked through earlier had no mention of lights in any other areas. It’s possible that they’ve had a night off, slept in maybe? My best hope is that they turn up tonight and so does the girl. It was a solid plan, and looked like it was the same plan my friends in the black sedan had as well.
Things could turn ugly if they’re after the girl as well and won’t accept that we’re possibly on the same side? That said, I didn’t care if they were working for my employer or not, I was told to bring her in and that’s what I was going to do. Let them sort it out later, after I get paid for a job well done. I glanced over at the car, both men were sitting there silently, not moving, just looking blankly at the henge. It weirded me out slightly. I was glad I worked alone, being stuck in a stakeout situation with a partner is both distracting and incredibly awkward. Even if the person you drag along is a red head hot enough to burn through your upholstery. The glamour of the private eye life was too much for some. Dirty cars, seedy locations and long hours. It wasn’t much but it was all I had.
I figured I had an hour or so before the sun fully set behind the green hills that populated the area around me so I decided on a quick cat nap to pass the time. My fedora fitted comfortably over my face and the springs of the seat digging playfully in my back made for the perfect makeshift bed and soon I was off in a deep slumber.