Friday, 17 May 2013

Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb

Robin Waterfield, author of Rebel Planet (and a few other FF books I have yet to reach on this blog) was also the co-writer of the rather more short-lived mystery-themed Webs of Intrigue gamebook series, alongside Wilfred Davies (who doesn't appear to have written any other gamebooks). I'll say something about how I got into the series when I cover the second book, as that was the one I first acquired. As for book 1, The Money Spider, I got it via Amazon almost a year after acquiring its follow-up.

Strangely, my memory places my first, brief, look through the book outdoors, near Hull Royal Infirmary. That's only a couple of minutes' walk from where I was living at the time, but I can't think why I'd have taken the book out with me. In any case, I made a start on the investigation, reached what appeared to be an internal continuity blunder, and went no further.

In this series I play a private detective, known to my associates as 'the troubleshooter', or T.S. There are no stats for my character, but there is an element of bookkeeping to play: in the course of my investigations, I will encounter numbered clues. There are, judging by the 'web' provided for keeping track of them, a total of 72 clues, though it's unlikely that more than 20 of them are actually relevant. The rest are red herrings, and if I find too many of them, I'm likely to get taken off the case for time-wasting. I may also find the investigation grinding to a halt if I fail to discover certain key clues within a time limit. Well, that's how it worked in the second book, and The Money Spider appears to run along similar lines.

Scotland Yard call me in to help with the case. Earlier in the day, a teenager told a police constable that there was a bomb at the Bank of England, and made himself scarce while the policeman was investigating. There was a bomb, set to go off around 50 minutes after the teenager approached the constable, though the Bomb Squad managed to neutralise it with more than half an hour to spare. Oddly, the bag containing the bomb also held an alarm clock, unconnected to the bomb, and set to go off 20 minutes before the bomb was due to explode. The perpetrators left no fingerprints.

The book came out in 1988, so it's a bit too late for this lot to be investigating it.

I'll start by trying to find out who had the opportunity to plant the bomb. The mysterious teenager obviously merits further investigation, but several eyewitness reports indicate that a Securicor van seemed in a hurry to get out of the area at around the time the alarm was raised, so I shall look into that first.

Someone took down the van's registration number, but when I try to trace it, my enquiries are blocked because my security clearance isn't high enough. Ominous. I have contacts in the security forces, so I'll see if any of them can get me some answers off the record. Indiscreet enquiries about what may be MI6 business are the sort of thing that could get me pulled from the case faster than you can say 'D-notice'.

My friend asks around, and is able to confirm that the van was on business unrelated to the bomb scare (clue 52). She also mentions that the Soviets have shown an interest in the incident, and may be willing to share any discoveries that they've made. So I contact a man in Brussels, who knows nothing about the bomb, but mentions that something has got the Swiss banks agitated of late. This is getting increasingly tenuous, but I look into it anyway, as the other options available are even more tangential.

It's a dead end. And quite possibly the point at which I abandoned my first go at the book, as I now have to choose whether to follow up the robbery in Hatton Garden (which has not been mentioned in any of the sections through which I've passed so far) or the missing bonds (about which I know equally nothing). A quick check of the map establishes that Hatton Garden is more than a kilometre to the west of the Bank of England, possibly that bit too far away for it to be plausible that the bomb was planted to distract attention from criminal activity there. Depends on the location, size and number of police stations in the area, and I don't relish the thought of trying to find out 25-year-old details of that kind of information. Not knowing where the missing bonds ought to be, I can't tell whether or not they're any more likely to have been more accessible to some criminal on account of the bomb scare, but since I have to look into one or other of these crimes, I'll pick the one about which I know less.

Well, it looks as if the bonds went missing from the bank, so there could be a connection. The book explains what bearer bonds are, and points out the difficulty that thieves would have claiming on them (not that that deterred a number of criminals on TV from stealing some) before suggesting that they may have just been lost. Treating the disappearance as a crime is going to be very time-consuming, but I'm willing to take a chance on its leading somewhere.

This is starting to look like something. The bonds definitely vanished on the day of the incident, and were in a time-locked safe that became accessible at the exact same time the teenager approached the policeman. Only four people had access to the safe during the time the bonds went missing... and one of them is a Swiss executive on secondment. She's from Untersee, and works for Hessemann and Pinelli, and at this stage there's nothing to indicate wrongdoing on her part, but I'm making a note of these names in case they should recur.

Investigating one of the other potential suspects automatically leads to asking about the other two, and turning up nothing suspicious (clue 8). And a passing comment reveals to me that the bank from which the bonds went missing was across the road from the Bank of England, which it might have been helpful to know earlier. Still, the structure of the gamebook at this stage seems significant - why one branch for Ms. Goch, and another that covers Mayers, Colby and Geary, if there's nothing afoot here?

Turning my attention to the missing bonds, I discover their value to be £8 million. £4.75 million's worth of them are related to the same £5 million loan, which apparently doesn't match standard banking practice: the bonds would normally be more widely distributed, to reduce the impact if the borrower should go bankrupt. And can you guess the nationality of the customer who took out that £5 million loan?

Actually, Harry Lime made some incorrect assertions, but the associations are strong anyway.

I'd have to tick off another clue if I'd looked into the other large loans partially represented by the missing bonds first, so that clue must be a 'wasted time chasing false leads' flag. But I didn't waste the time, so I don't have to mark off the clue. The Swiss loan has the kind of backing that should make it a safe one, though that may have been undermined by the 'eggs in one basket' approach that seems to have been taken with the bonds. More pertinently, it was made for the purpose of expanding the cheese industry in Untersee, and arrangements at the Swiss end were handled by Hessemann and Pinelli. Ominously, I now get asked if I have clue 8...

And Ms. Goch has done a runner. So if I'd only investigated her, things would have transpired differently, but as I also looked into everyone else who had access to the vault, she got wary. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense in plot terms, though from a gameplay perspective I guess I'm paying the price for wasting time on the others. Still, that may have doomed me to failure. But the undeniable evidence that she has at the very least failed to declare a conflict of interest, and her highly suspicious disappearance, give me clue 22.

Checking in with the police, I learn that an informant in a nightclub has reported a rumour that a lady banker was seen wearing overalls on the day of the bomb scare. I'm asked if I have a certain clue here, but as I don't, I can't tell whether or not having it would be a bad thing. Lacking it, I make enquiries and find the man who started the rumour. He tells me (in a somewhat idiosyncratic manner) that on the evening in question he saw a group of cleaners getting ready for work, and recognised one of them as Ms. Goch. He also remembers the name of the cleaning company, the not-at-all-suspicious-sounding Intercon.

Researching Intercon turns up the information that they're an international company, offering security services as well as cleaning, and with a policy of having directors occasionally masquerade as new workers in order to perform spot checks on the staff. One of their directors on the continent is Ms. Goch (clue 55 - the one I was asked about earlier). I'm then asked if I have clue 22, but that just leads to a progress check. Based on the number of clues I have, I get to choose another avenue to investigate. But I could be in trouble the next time I get sent to this section, unless at least two of the clues I find by then are relevant.

Taking a bit of a chance, I try to trace the alarm clock. The perpetrators are liable to have covered their tracks carefully when acquiring the bomb components, but maybe they were less cautious about getting the more innocuous part of the package. Ding! Identifying features were not removed, so I am able to contact the manufacturers and find out that it was part of a batch sold through Woolworth's (a genuine chain, rather than the 'serial numbers filed off' parody names used in Appointment with F.E.A.R., though the stores closed down a few years ago). Woolworth's indicate that the relevant batch was sent to East Anglia, which has eight of their stores, but it turns out that only the Harwich branch has already put the clocks on display.

Now I have a dilemma. If I want to be thorough, I should check that none of the other branches had one of the clocks stolen from stores. Make that check, and I might get another unhelpful clue number. But going straight to Harwich could mean missing a big lead if, unlikely as it seems, Ms. Goch's partners-in-crime were so stupid as to risk attracting unwanted attention by stealing the clock. Hoping they were smarter than that, I head for Harwich.

Well, first I have to decide whether to go myself or have the local police handle the investigation. Because having some big London detective demand that they devote time and resources to finding out who bought an alarm clock from Woolies is going to go down so well. I'm sure they'll look into it straight after they solve all the murders.

Harwich branch have only sold two of the clocks. I question the staff, and see indications that one of the shelf-stackers has something on her mind, but isn't willing to speak up. In the hope that she might open up in more informal surroundings, I take her out for lunch (it was definitely the right decision not to leave this to the police), and during the meal I make a casual observation about the local port, which jogs her memory: on the morning that the clock was sold, she was stacking shelves near the clocks and kitchenware, and saw 'a little roly-poly man' who looked like a long-distance lorry driver taking one of the clocks.

Checking records at the port, I find that ten lorries passed through it that morning: six from the Netherlands, three from Austria, and one from... let's just say that if the driver had cheese sandwiches, there were probably holes in the filling. I'm asked about another clue I lack, but given what I do know, it seems unlikely that not having the clue is a bad thing.

I ask about the lone lorry. Which was delivering cheeses to Croydon. Pursuing the lead to Croydon, I learn that the driver, Hans Ulrich, fit the shelf-stacker's description of the man who bought the clock. The distributors of the cheese reveal that it came from Untersee, as does Ulrich, who took a day off to go sight-seeing in London the day before the bomb scare. He's out on a job at the moment, but I think it's worth taking the time to try and track him down before he can emulate Ms. Goch.

He's due to arrive in Florence tomorrow. I'm delayed by a bomb scare at the airport, a flat tyre on the car taking me into town (combined with a flat spare), and the fact that nobody seems to have heard of the company to whom Ulrich is making a delivery, and by the time I find the place, he's been and gone. Now he's en route to Milan, so I try to catch him there. Upon arrival, I learn that he's changed his schedule and gone to Nice first. I'm going to need something to justify my expenses for this trip, so I continue the chase.

On the way to Nice I pass the site of a car accident, but as the authorities are already present, there's no need to stop. Once I hit town, I contact the police to let them know what I'm doing, and guess what! That crash that caught my attention...

Ulrich witnessed it, and is still at the station, giving his statement. Hands up if you thought he'd died in it, and I'd completely wasted my time. At my request, once the police have all the details of the accident, they ask him if he bought an alarm clock in England. Taken by surprise, he denies it, and when told that he was seen doing so, he acts suspiciously enough to convince the police that he's involved in something dodgy. A quick call to Scotland Yard, and he's under arrest on suspicion of involvement in the placement of the bomb (clue 5). Re-sult!

It's time for another progress check, but that's okay. The quality of my clues doesn't matter until I have at least seven, and right now I only have five. And the one I picked up on that little jaunt is definitely relevant. So, provided my next avenue of enquiry turns up at least one more key clue, I should make it through to the next phase of the investigation.

Time to track down that teenager. The report made by the policeman he approached gives a description of the youth, and the (probably false) name and (definitely false) employer he gave when asked. It also mentions that the policeman took him for one of the messengers used by Lloyd's and the Stock Exchange, so I decide to see if there's anything to that theory. I ask around at Lloyd's because of the connection with banking, and learn that they have one messenger who meets the description (clue 2). He has a strong alibi, but does mention a Stock Exchange messenger named Jerry who looks a lot like he does.

The set-up at the Stock Exchange is more convoluted, but a hunch based on the name given by the suspect narrows the field to just two young men: James Cherkhom and Gerald Cohen. So maybe going to Lloyd's wasn't a completely wasted effort, as Jerry is more likely to be Gerald than James. Mr. Cohen's employers confirm that he matches the description, and let me know that he's on holiday in Spain. A quick check proves that he flew out from Stansted, and is booked into a hotel in Barcelona. Time for another trip abroad.

By the time I arrive, Gerald and his brother have moved on, leaving no forwarding address. A porter thinks they were planning on hiring a car and driving to Alicante, and further enquiries prove this to be the case. There's a police helicopter heading there tomorrow, but I could potentially get there a good twelve hours faster if I hire a car. So I drive.

While taking a coffee break along the way I meet an old acquaintance, currently investigating Basque terrorists, and somebody slashes my tyres. The car's not roadworthy again until two hours after I was expecting to arrive in Alicante. Nevertheless, I don't rush once I'm back on the road: I'm tired, and an accident at high speed could end this investigation for good.

The Cohen brothers have moved on again by the time I arrive (but at least I do arrive), and are apparently mountaineering. By the end of the day I've managed to get to the national park near Alcoy where they're camping, but that's a pretty big place. The next day I set off into the mountains, accompanied by a park ranger. We get caught in a rock fall, and his leg is injured, possibly broken. The book will probably penalise me for leaving him and going off in search of help (I'd guess more rocks, a fatality, and a career-ending scandal), so I'll have to hope that the brothers I seek just happen to be chilling out in the village to which I take the injured ranger.

They are. In the very café where I go to phone for assistance. Gerald admits to having reported the bomb, and reveals that a German-sounding stranger gave him £20 to do so. The man (who might have been Swiss, surprise surprise) claimed to have spotted something suspicious, and to be unwilling to approach the police himself because it'd mean being asked lots of questions and missing out on sight-seeing time (clue 53). That wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped, but I do at least have a description of the man in question, so I might as well see if that leads anywhere.

Home Office information about potential candidates gives me a long list of possibles, but it gets narrowed down a lot once I restrict the scope to Swiss nationals (good thing I didn't start by looking for the teenager, which I'd been contemplating doing). Ignoring families, members of tourist parties and recently-arrived holders of resident's permits brings the list down to three names, and only one of them is anywhere near the age Gerald estimated the man to be: Dieter Francchi.

The porter of the hotel where Francchi stayed remembered him because he was a good tipper. Francchi matches the description Gerald gave, went out of the hotel almost an hour before Gerald went to the policeman, and unexpectedly cut short his visit the following day. He made two calls from the hotel, one local, the other to Basle. And he came from Untersee.

Travel times from Dover to the hotel indicate that he couldn't have stopped off anywhere to collect the bomb, and he's hardly likely to have carried it through Customs announcing, 'Nothing to declare!', so an accomplice must have handled that side of things. The text has me realising that there must be a conspiracy, Waterfield and Davies apparently having assumed that I wouldn't have found out anything else prior to this discovery.

Further research reveals that his route to England was more convoluted than necessary, and that for two days he was at a hotel in Amsterdam, at the same time as another Swiss resident, Peter Klaus. I'm asked if I have clue 32, which may mean that that name can turn up in connection with other enquiries. Not having that clue, I dig deeper, discovering that Francchi and Klaus had no public contact despite having travelled from Frankfurt to Amsterdam on the same train. And from Basle to Frankfurt on the same train before that. Klaus lives in Basle, but that's not where he originated. Yep, Untersee again (clue 33).

I think there's more to be lost than gained by chasing after other tourists: having over 12 clues at the progress check leads to the same section as having seven or more, but less than three key ones. And choosing not to look into tourists any longer leads to the progress check. But I have eight clues, and three of them are on the list, so it's time to move on to the next phase of the investigation.

This is tricky. Plenty of evidence points to Untersee, so I could go there. But I have the option of following more leads in London. I can still find another four clues without exceeding my limit, and the checklist of relevant numbers suggests that there's more worth finding out there. So I take a chance. But what to look into next? The explosive? The timer? The bag the bomb was in?

My sense of the absurd may yet cause me to fail here, because I'm researching the brown paper bag. It turns out to have been manufactured in Austria, though the factory mainly supplies them to Denmark and, of course, Switzerland. This particular model was only introduced four months ago, but there will already be plenty in circulation. No, they don't keep track of individual bags. I've found this much out without getting a clue number, so it's not too late to abandon this whimsical digression in favour of a more serious line of enquiry.

I contact the Swiss wholesalers who distribute the bags. They don't track individual bags, either, and now I've committed myself to this silliness, the book forces me to check with the Danish wholesalers as well. They are still using the previous model of bag, proving (as if I needed it) that this bag came from Switzerland. Now that that's been settled, I have to see what the forensics labs at Scotland Yard can tell me about the bag, because the authors figure that if I'm going to be thorough about this, I'm going to be really thorough. What are the odds that the lab workers find traces of Untersee cheese?

Many a true word etc. Spectro-analytical instruments detected a slight cheesy aroma on the outside of the bag (clue 48). No, they couldn't identify the cheese. And I'm back to the progress check.

I think I can risk one more investigation before heading to Untersee. The bomb timer may contain some signature, so I'll look into that. It turns out to have been designed for a parking meter, and manufactured in Liechtenstein. An attempt has been made to destroy the serial number, but the lab technicians were able to find it anyway. Records indicate where the timer was sold. Down where it's wetter, as it were (and that's not even close to being the most convoluted pun I've ever made).

The workshop that purchased the timer pronounced it as defective, and claimed to have discarded it. As it's not remotely defective, someone in the workshop must be involved. There are three possible candidates: family man Albert Schmidt, outspoken socialist Heinrich Popper, and good citizen Peter Klaus. Picking the right one is unlikely to be tricky at this stage.

Peter Klaus: qualified engineer, and former local councillor. After resigning from the council, he quit his job at the workshop and moved to Basle to become a travel guide. For obvious reasons, there was no sign of him in Basle during the three days before the bomb scare (clue 32).

Back to the progress check, and it's time to head out to Untersee (chief exports manganese, cheese and conspirators, though the encyclopædia entry doesn't mention the latter). Straight off, I get asked about clues 32 and 33. Having both, I draw conclusions about Francchi and Klaus' rôles in the plot, and the text has me decide to focus on Francchi first.

He's working on putting right the damage caused by an avalanche last year. A job that would provide access to, and expertise with, explosives. I'll try following the paper trail before I do anything else. Well, it wouldn't be difficult for someone to exaggerate the amounts of explosives they were using, and keep the excess for illegal projects (clue 13). But Francchi's bosses become uncooperative, and refer me to the Town Council when I ask to see more records. The Town Council are similarly unhelpful, but ploughing through the minutes of their meetings turns up the information that both Francchi and Klaus were on the Council back when plans for building a fall-out shelter were first approved.

What else can I unearth about Klaus, then? I head to Basle and, hoping that I've not come to his attention, hire him as a guide. He suggests a climbing holiday or a trip in a hot-air balloon, so maybe he does know I've been making enquiries about him. I've already been climbing once this adventure, and a ballooning 'accident' would be harder to contrive, so let's take to the skies.

The description of the trip takes an odd turn when it gets to the clouds: 'Somehow it reminds you of something you feel you once knew - those 'mountains' so tall and solid-looking, but in fact just mist.' But before long I focus on the job in hand, and try to engage Klaus in conversation. It goes nowhere productive, and then we hit turbulence, and the wind picks up. Klaus suggests landing as soon as possible, unless I want to risk going with the wind. Frankly, my dear...

The wind takes us past Untersee, and Klaus curses upon seeing the avalanche damage. I ask some leading questions, learning that the avalanche was 'the cause of all [their] troubles', and that while only two people died in it, 'the price was heavy'. He also mentions the possibility of subterranean damage caused by the weight of the debris.

We land in Italy, close to a chapel that Klaus knows. He gets angry upon finding the door locked, which has never happened before. After cutting through the chain, we go inside and find that a tent has been erected there. Klaus is puzzled, but I've seen this kind of thing before, and suggest that he check inside the tent for a chair. He finds two, both with handcuffs attached. Great! We've found a kidnappers' hideout, set up so as to give the victims no idea where they're being held. Probably due to be used very soon, so there's a distinct possibility that our arrival was noticed and is not welcome.

I get Klaus to help me set up a trap using the tent and some gas cylinders. Two armed men approach the chapel. Best not to act until we can get both... But the first one is suspicious, and opens fire, wounding Klaus. The two of them then run off. I make Klaus as comfortable as I can, and he mutters something about 'the spinner'. I head off in search of help, and meet two other people, a man and a boy. The boy saw the attack while looking for a lost sheep, and fetched the farmer, who notified the mountain rescue team and has brought a first-aid kit along.

Before long the team arrives. They strap Klaus to a stretcher and take him to a hospital, where he's found to have a cracked pelvis. He won't be going far for a while, then.

News of the incident precedes me back to Untersee, and the locals buy me drinks and ask me questions. Becoming aware that, while not drunk, I am getting a little incautious, I decide to nurse the next drink: stopping abruptly could raise suspicions. Too late - I've already said a bit too much, and that next drink is spiked. I'm vaguely aware of being put on a stretcher, and then nothing...

Until I come round inside the cabin of a motorboat in motion. The door is locked, the portholes have been hastily boarded over, and I'm in no fit state to exert myself. Eventually it stops, and at some point someone unlocks the door without my noticing. The boat is deserted, and tied up at a jetty. I risk going ashore. Still no signs of life. Whoever brought me here could be hiding in a nearby copse. Given the choice between crawling through the grass so as to reach the copse unobserved or returning to the boat, I pick the latter for personal reasons relating to a party I attended in 1990. Let's just say that the combination of spiked drinks and crawling around in the grass has unpleasant associations, and leave it there.

Back on the boat I arm myself with a bottle and wait. Eventually my abductors get fed up of hiding in the locked engine room, and head for the cabin. The door is too narrow for them to come in together. Decent bottles don't shatter when you use them to stun people. After tying them up, I manage to find out that I'm close to Lausanne (clue 68). The authorities may not be entirely convinced of the reliability of a drink-smelling foreigner with traces of some drug in his bloodstream, so I just take the boat back to Untersee and avoid making a fuss about this whole regrettable business.

Once I'm back there, I get asked if I have clue 3 and/or 68. Just the second of those, but evidently there are consequences still to come from my unplanned boat trip. Oh, I have the option of asking the locals if they know anyone with a boat, questionable morals, a sore head, and signs of having been tied up recently. Or I could recognise that pursuing such enquiries is liable to lead to more lethal interference - well, that or a misunderstanding involving a lady who charges for unusual shenanigans.

Instead, I look through back-copies of the local paper, finding an eighteen-month-old article on avalanche damage to the local caves. Francchi is quoted as saying that repair work would take eighteen months. Further reading turns up an article from six months ago, which announces the resignation of the entire finance committee, which included Ulrich, Goch, Francchi and Klaus. There is also mention of a Herr Spinne. The same issue mentions the retirement of Wolf Spinne, renowned for having aided refugees from the Nazis and worked with the Red Cross in Hungary. His 34-year-old son Wilhelm has taken over the family business. And one last article, from shortly after the avalanche, tells of research which has indicated that deep caves are good environments for producing specialist cheeses, but changes to the conditions may disrupt things for up to two years (clue 51).

Concluding that I need to investigate the avalanche damage, and aware that the locals aren't about to let me, I contrive a plan to sneak in from the far side. So I go climbing about, and lose track of the time appreciating the wonders of nature. Better to take an extra day over the investigation than mess about in the semi-darkness and risk injury or death.

The following day I try my hardest to avoid attracting attention. At one point, staying out of the way of others leads me to wind up waist-deep in a stream. The Choose Your Own Adventure book Mountain Survival taught me the importance of drying off, so I sneak into a barn that has the sun shining through a hatch in the roof. A couple of local dogs play with my clothes while they're drying, so they're a bit tatty by the time I put them back on (clue 35 - not really a clue, but evidently my sojourn in the barn could have repercussions).

In the end I reach the site where the work is being done just as the day's shift ends.I wait for everyone to leave, then wait a bit longer, then sneak in, heading straight for the cave. The walls are being strengthened, which makes sense in a fall-out shelter, but local stone is being used rather than concrete. Also, the air-conditioning set-up is outside, which is odd. And the passage forks. Have I come this far, only to wind up failing because I take the wrong turning?

The one I take leads to a cheesy-smelling chamber, its walls lined with racks, some holding cheeses, the others empty. At the far end are sealed, air-tight hydraulic doors. No way of getting through them. As I head back, I reflect that local stone would be appropriate for a cheese-processing plant, as it'd be what the bacteria are used to. And then I see a side turning I'd missed.

Of course I check it out. It leads to a chamber where the ceiling is being reinforced, and tunnels have been excavated. They are fitted with racks, lined with local stone. Tarpaulins cover cheese-making equipment, much of it damaged. It looks as if the avalanche destroyed the caves where Untersee cheese was matured, so the locals are secretly building new ones.

While investigating one of the tunnels, I hear footsteps, so I turn off my torch and hide. Lights go on in the chamber, and a quick glance enables me to spot Klaus, on crutches. He's accompanied by someone I can't see, but when he calls the man 'Dieter' I know it must be Francchi. They discuss the reinforcement work, and  Francchi mentions that getting funding to complete the job should be easier now that most of the bonds have been shredded.

I get asked if I have clue 35. In a truly glorious non-sequitur, my having had my clothes slightly torn by puppies apparently causes me to knock a stone with my foot, prompting a search of the chamber and tunnels. A breeze suggests that the tunnel I'm in is not a dead end, but I keep still lest I attract more and closer attention. Eventually the search dies down. I continue to lie low, and a while later the searchers actually leave, because nobody came out of hiding when they pretended to go, so that suggests that there was no intruder after all.

I can either investigate that breeze, or go back out the way I came in and check out the on-site huts. Unable to keep from noticing that the section number for going to the huts is the same one as for doing so before entering the cave, I consider two possibilities. 1) There's vital evidence in them, and I'm being given a second chance of getting it. 2) There's nothing but trouble to be had by approaching them, and this is a second opportunity to blunder into the trap. Given what I've learned in the caves, 2 seems more likely, so I go deeper into the tunnel, which ends at a crack in the wall, concealed from outside by a shrub. The conspirators might not know about this way in and out (clue 20).

I take my time returning from the mountains, and make it back to London without incident. While my findings are gone over to see if there's enough evidence to get the conspirators extradited, my lack of clue 39 prompts me to find out more about the enigmatic Herr Spinne. His surname means 'spider', but that's only really of significance in the context of the book title. More pertinently, 59-year-old shoemaker Wolf Spinne was part of a tour group that came to London shortly before the bomb incident. He split off from the touring party without notifying the authorities (hence his not turning up in the course of my earlier researches), and spent some days living extravagantly at one of the pricier hotels (on a shoemaker's income?). The suspicions raised by his extravagance become more substantial when his bill turns out to have been paid by a very respectable German bank because he had no credit cards.

The same bank also paid for his flight to London from Amsterdam. And his flight to Amsterdam from Frankfurt. And hire of the helicopter in which he visited Limburg. Also, despite arriving in Frankfurt just ten minutes before his flight was scheduled to leave, he had no problems with the standard formalities. He obviously has good connections (clue 50).

At the London branch of the bank in question, I get the run-around. Unimpressed, I barge into the manager's office and, when he blusters about client confidentiality, go over his head to the German directors to find out how happy they'd be about being implicated in an attempt to blow up the Bank of England. That gets results.

It turns out that Herr Spinne has a hundred thousand dollars in his account. At all times. Whenever anything is paid out of it, one of ten extremely wealthy people tops it back up. Four of these benefactors escaped from Nazi Germany via Switzerland, but there's nothing else that connects any of them. Beyond the 'being stinking rich' thing. It's an odd set-up, but there doesn't appear to be anything illegal about it. One of the other contributors to the account has been implicated in the murder of a Mafia boss, but the others are squeaky-clean.

The account is closed before I can pursue further lines of enquiry. Remembering the name of the one Englishman who paid money into it, I track him down, but he says little beyond praising Spinne as 'a great man' and 'a man of honour' who 'has done me a great service'.

I'm asked if I have clue 51. Yes, and this leads me to the conclusion that Spinne is a strange kind of philanthropist. The more I learn about him, the more convinced I become that he masterminded the whole scheme, and that I have no way of proving it. But what of the others involved? Four specific clues are required for a sufficiently compelling case against them. I have only three of them. Not good enough. They're going to get away with it.

Mind you, considering the way that bankers have been carrying on in recent years, it's hard to build up much resentment about a gang that conned one bank out of a few million in order to save an industry on which a whole Swiss canton depended, which was threatened because of a natural disaster rather than any human wrongdoing. The end doesn't justify the means, but the conspirators' actions may be a lesser evil than what would have happened otherwise.

Oh, and one of the essential clues I did have? 48. I may have failed, but my insistence on researching that paper bag was the right choice after all. And knowing that... no, it's not as good as victory. But I'd have thought less of the book if it made obsessively investigating a brown paper bag a bad thing.

1 comment:

  1. Another series that I have never encountered that sounds interesting enough to collect. I remember playing some detective gamebooks that I borrowed from the public library when I was a small child, but they were much more linear than this. I can't recall the name any more.