ST. MARY'S AND THE VISIT
by Wayne Sefton
It was Bedlam at St Mary's, that's Bedlam with a capital B. Of course it was always bedlam at St Mary's, it was that kind of place. On this occasion, however, the capital letter was well earned.
It all started when we had an influx of new recruits. Any spare space inside the main building soon filled up and the new recruits kept coming, an avalanche of Disaster Magnets that threatened to overwhelm St Mary's like a Gabble of Politicians spotting a free buffet. It quickly became clear that what was needed was a new building to house them all and the plans for the Taylor-Winfrey Hall of Residence were quickly drawn up, then just as quickly pushed through the minefield that is Bureaucracy. There were more free buffets than you could shake a breadstick at.
Then it was down to Nigel Bindoff and his team to perform a miracle, not something normal associated with St Mary's even counting successful jumps with no injuries. Yet a miracle there was. As the city of tents that quickly began to resemble Wellington's camp at Waterloo grew, so did the walls of the new build. It took less than a year but, eventually, the new building was completed. And it was a masterpiece, easily matching and perfectly complimenting the stately elegance of the original Priory on the outside but with all the benefits of a modern build on the inside. Slowly, the tide of tents began to recede as the Admin team swung into action, allocating rooms with the ferocity of a Barbarian horde.
Then someone said, "We need an official opening ceremony." That was where the Bedlam came in.
All was quiet down Admin Alley until a door was suddenly thrust open and Teresa Mason-Tierney emerged like an avenging Angel, piece of paper in hand. "She's coming, she's actually coming!" She shouted, the musical lilt of her voice ringing down the empty corridor.
At the end of the corridor, a head suddenly appeared, staring down the corridor to see what all the commotion was about. Jenny Blackmore looked down as another head, this one belonging to Rachel Garstang Penman, appeared just below hers. A second later, Mel Lawn stepped from behind the corner to stare at the approaching Head of Admin, proving that in any group, no matter the size, there's always one.
"Look, look!" Shouted Teresa excitedly as Rachel and Jenny joined Mel. "She's coming, she said she'll come!"
Rachel took two attempts to grab the ferociously brandished piece of paper and read what was written on it. "Oh wow, Jodi Taylor is coming here?"
Jenny, reading the paper over Rachel's shoulder, raised an eyebrow. "Oh I loved her in Broadchurch. Not so sure about the new Doctor though. I mean, David Tennant? Come on! But yeah, she was really good in Broadchurch."
Teresa stared at Jenny, open mouthed. "What? She's-, what?" She took back the piece of paper and stared at it. "Oh no. Nonononono!" She ran back down Admin Alley again, holding the offending piece of paper at arm's length and muttering over 'the wrong one'.
Rachel watched Teresa's retreating back and then slapped Jenny on her arm. "You know that's not who she meant. You go tell her the truth, right now!"
Jenny's shoulders rose slightly as her eyes slid sideways towards Rachel and she grinned a mischievous grin.
The Bedlam reached fever pitch over the following couple of weeks. The Admin team worked tirelessly, overseeing every aspect of the upcoming event. Teresa and Sandra Hale, as the main organisers, handed out the various assignments to all the departments and then demonstrated an almost supernatural ability to be in every place at virtually the same time, a preternatural skill even the Ghost of Time would have been envious of.
Housekeeping worked wonders. Not only did they manage to present the original Priory in such a well cared for condition that would make even the most ardent S.P.O.H.B. inspector swoon with delirium, they managed to clean the entire TW building around hordes of marauding disaster magnets who were hell bent on moving in to their newly assigned rooms no matter the cost.
Grounds keeping came a close second. R&D's earlier attempts to turn the area in between the TW building and Hawking into a lunar landscape with their meteorite experiment was transformed within a single week. Where before various craters of varying sizes pockmarked the grounds, now sunken rock gardens and ornate pools gave the, albeit misguided, impression of serene tranquility. Some of the pools even had fish in them. So long as no one put their hand anywhere near the water, the Neolithic Piranha, that were so much larger than their more contemporary descendants, made excellent Koi Carp after being suitably disguised with pearlescent orange and white paint.
Other tasks were also being undertaken by almost every other department. IT had been given a task that they kept under wraps, wanting it to be as much of a surprise to St Mary's as it was to be for our guest of honour. Needless to say, this led to a few sleepless nights for both Teresa and Sandra. For the rest of us, the amount of money changing hands in the sweepstakes for guessing the subject of the project was matched only by the sweepstakes for predicting the moment it all went horribly wrong. Confidence, or, more accurately, the lack thereof, was astonishingly high.
Even Chief Shaw and some of his Techies were conspicuous by there absence. Again, no one knew for sure what it was they were up to, but it was noticed that Hawking was in lock down far more frequently of late. What was more, strange, foreign sounding music had also been heard coming from the heavily secured hangar, though the building's shielding muffled the sound enough to make it unrecognisable.
R&D were banned from doing anything, at any time, anywhere, while Miss Taylor was here. House Keeping had been ordered to lock the door to R&D and not to open it again until Miss Taylor had left the premises. Preferably with the members of R&D still inside. However, questions had been raised as to the wisdom of leaving them, unsupervised, in a large room full of chemicals and the equipment necessary to mix them.
In the Security Section, we had problems of our own. Security would, by necessity, be tight while Miss Taylor was here. Access to the new Security wing in the TW building would be restricted, as would the offices in the old building. The whole section would be deployed to various strategic points around the whole of St Mary's and the grounds outside under the command of Alison Monroe. Julie Jennifer and myself would act as chaperons to Miss Taylor and, although she wouldn't really need it, to our other guest of honour, the Ghost of Time herself, Marietta Winfrey. Where ever they went, we would go. And we would have the Canine unit, affectionately labeled the K-9 Unit, with us. Julie would take Genghis and Attila would come with me. For this event, the K-9 Unit's newest recruit and official Security mascot, Poppy, would be absent.
The main problem here was Miss Taylor herself. She was an unknown factor to the K-9. Genghis and Attila were highly trained guard dogs, trained to be wary of strangers. While Miss Taylor could be introduced to the K-9 and the dogs be told that she was a friend, they might still become fractious being around her for a length of time. So I consulted with Jo Robinson in Small Animals and she came up with a plan. She said that the dogs would be more responsive with the promise of a reward. I asked about them being around Miss Taylor for a long period and she said I would have to find a way to extend the promise of a reward for as long as was needed. For this, I had to do the unthinkable.
I contacted the head of R&D.
I found Virginia Christy Lamothe in the lobby and presented her with the problem. "Ah, yes. I can see the problem and I think R&D might be able to er, to help. I will just need one or two details, of course. Erm, what do you use to reward the savage be-, erm the K-9 Unit?"
"Sausages." I replied.
"Oh, really?" Asked Virginia. "Sausages?"
"They love them. And the kitchen seems to have a never ending supply of the damned things."
Virginia thought for a moment. "Actually, that might work. Ye-es, eau de Bratwurst kind of thing." Her eyes suddenly widened and she exclaimed excitedly "Yes, and if we-! I wonder if we have any?" Then she rushed off towards the stairs leading to the first floor.
Two days later and she was back, this time at my office, with, what appeared to be, a bottle of perfume. "Here we are," she said holding out the little bottle towards me between her thumb and forefinger, "Eau de Bratwurst!"
I leaned back in my chair slightly, just in case it went off, and raised a questioning eyebrow at her.
"All you do is spray a little on yourself at, I'd say roughly, head height for the dogs." She leaned towards me, chemical weapon extended, so I raised the other eyebrow at her and she turned to the chair to her right. "Just one or two sprays should be enough, it's quite potent you see."
There was a brilliant flash of green tinged light and a small mushroom cloud of greasy smoke rose towards the ceiling.
The fire alarms went off.
Virginia stood up straight and stared at the chair in astonishment. "Oh, well that shouldn't have happened!" She looked at the inoffensive bottle in her hand and then at the green flames dancing merrily in the middle of the chair. She turned back to the bottle in her hand. "Green flames?" Then her eyes widened. "I shouldn't have used-! Or maybe I didn't-? What if-?" She paused for a moment, staring thoughtfully at the wall and then turned and rushed out into the corridor.
I stared at the empty door and then my eyes fell to the far edge of my desk where I could just see the top of green flames, appearing and then disappearing into the air, just beyond it. I leaned forward and raised my head slightly, then looked at the suspiciously empty corridor outside my door while the fire alarm blared merrily away.
The Bedlam peaked about a week before the big day as each department, realising the deadline was coming and they weren't ready, went into overdrive. Interdepartmental warfare, the kind normally reserved for the Technical and Security sections for their weekly football match, began to break out on a daily basis with the rivalry between Maintenance and Grounds Keeping threatening to reach legendary proportions. It culminated with the two departments squaring off on the south lawn, with each side brandishing the tools the other had accused them of stealing like medieval weapons. Grounds Keeping's Melissa Wittner had a sink plunger. It was Culloden, St Mary's style.
The only thing keeping the two sides apart, for now, was the K-9 Unit. Sat squarely between the two warring factions, Genghis stared menacingly at the army of Maintenance while Attila glared at Grounds Keeping. Battle was finally averted when out trotted, or possibly ran as it was hard to tell the difference with a Yorkie pup, the K-9's newest recruit. Once Poppy, stubby tail wagging furiously, sat down between the two opposing sides and started growling, no one had the heart to fight anymore and an agreement was reached where-by they would both pool their resources and make them freely available for them all to use.
And then it happened. The big day finally arrived.
As people have been known to point out from time to time, we're St Mary's. We are a historical research unit, and we have a wardrobe department.
It was emptied.
All those personnel not officially on duty for the day and sensing a party atmosphere after being told fancy dress was optional, descended on wardrobe in a torrent. Jess Titcombe and Cheryl Robinson-Atwood, though trying valiantly to keep some semblance of order, soon became overwhelmed. Sensing the desperation in her department, Jenny Gurton made the kind of appearance a ravening Valkyrie would have been proud of. With the full force of her righteous indignation, she brow beat the whole crowd into two ordered lines and then stood and glowered at them as they sedately collected their costumes and left her premises.
While this was going on, in a quiet corner of the new TW building just behind the Chapel, three figures slipped quietly into a room that was unmarked yet brightly lit inside. The room had a single window in one wall and was bare except for a table, some wooden chairs and an office lamp. Adrienne Wolffe Feddersen held the door open and ushered Rachel Dawson and Zoe Cook inside.
"Are we doing it in here?" Asked Zoe, looking around the whitewashed walls of the room that still smelled faintly of fresh paint.
"This is where we're supposed to come." Replied Adrienne, also looking around the room. She gently touched the door and the walls to make sure the paint was dry before hanging a garment bag up on the door.
Rachel put the large aluminium make up box she was carrying onto the table and then also looked around the room. "Well, it should be bright enough. At least we'll be able to see properly."
The three women, having finished their study of the barren room, looked expectantly at each other. After a few moments, it was Zoe who broke the silence. "Ok, now what?"
Adrienne shrugged her shoulders. "Now we wait for her to arrive."
Zoe turned and looked at the walls again. "I still say we should have brought a widgey board."
Adrienne closed her eyes and held up her hands. "Ouija! It's a Ouija board and we don't need one."
Zoe still wasn't convinced. "How will she know where to come?"
Rachel glanced at her as she opened the large make up box. "She's the Ghost of Time. I think she'll know where to go and when to-," she paused for a split second as her eyes focused on a point just beyond her nose, "get there." Keeping her head still, Rachel looked over at Adrienne and then at Zoe. They had seen the same thing she had. Their breath had started to steam as the temperature in the room suddenly began to fall.
Together, the three women looked into the corner of the room behind and to the right of Rachel. There, standing tall and proud with an air of majesty about her, stood Marietta Winfrey, the fabled Ghost of Time.
Although no one actually saw her speak, all three women heard a softly spoken and feminine voice speak to them. "I see you Rachel Dawson. I see you Adrienne Wolffe Federsen. I see you Zoe Cook. I see you kind of heart and pure of spirit, all three. Do not fear me, kind hearts. For nothing that is not evil need fear Time's arrow, nor worry of Time's embrace."
The three women apparently still worried as they all stood rooted to the spot. It was Zoe who moved first, she bobbed a curtsy.
With a quick glance to her friends, Rachel stepped forward. "Erm, thank you Your, Your Timeliness?" She gave a quizzical look to her friends and shrugged her shoulders. When she turned back to the front, she started involuntarily because the Ghost of Time was now stood directly in front of her. Then she felt herself relax as the Ghost of Time gave her a kindly smile. "Would you er, would you like to-? You won't fall through-? Can you sit on-?" She absently scratched at the top of her head, her face a mask of confusion.
With another kindly smile, the Ghost of Time sat demurely on the offered chair and looked at Adrienne as she began to speak.
"As, as you may be aware, we have a very special guest coming today. Aside from yourself, I mean." She added quickly. "Anyway, we don't actually know if 'she' knows wha-, who, you are." She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and continued. "So, we have been asked to make you a 'little' less ghost-like, just so that we don't frighten her when she sees you. I hope that's alright?"
The Ghost of Time stared at Adrienne, her benevolent smile playing across her lips. "I know of Jodi Taylor, as she knows of me. She has a special gift that she shares with the world in the words she writes, words that spread happiness and light in a world that darkens as the days go by. Her heart shines like a beacon in this world and her pureness of spirit is a joy to me. She has nothing to fear from me, though I can see your thoughts and they are good. Please, proceed."
Adrienne looked at Rachel and, after a moment, nodded her head.
Just as Rachel began her work, the main gates to St Mary's opened and a sleek Daimler limousine drove through to stop next to the waiting Security officer. The officer made a note on the paperwork fastened to his clipboard, gave a perfunctory salute, and the Daimler headed up the gravel driveway. It stopped just outside the doors to the old Priory where a line of department heads were waiting to meet it.
Teresa stepped forward just as the driver opened the door and out stepped one of the guests of honour, Jodi Taylor had come to St Mary's.
Teresa introduced Jodi, looking resplendent in a smart trouser suit that Mrs Partridge would have been happy to be seen alive in, to the line of department heads who all shook hands and exchanged words with her. Then Teresa led her up the stairs and into the Priory where tea and refreshments were waiting.
There was the sound of rapturous applause as soon as Jodi entered the foyer. The denizens of the old building, those members of St Mary's who had been here the longest, had all turned out to welcome her and had lined the stairs and the balconies. For the most part they wore their St Mary's uniforms in their departmental colours, but, here and there, some had gone all out for period costumes and some contrasting colours could be seen dotted around indiscriminately.
Teresa led the party of people into the lounge area where the refreshments could be found. Although the room was empty of personnel, it was perhaps a little unfortunate that they weren't the first to have arrived.
"Oh my," said Jodi in surprise, "that's a lot of glitter."
"Yes!" Replied Teresa, trying hard to hide the edge in her voice. "That would be our Jenny Blackmore." She forced a smile and turned to a guest of honour who had already started to sparkle. "She does like to decorate with the stuff, at every opportunity she gets. May I offer you some tea?"
"Thank you, that's most kind."
"How do you take it?"
"Sugar and a slice of lemon please, but no glit-, I mean milk. Thank you."
She was handed a cup of tea by Barb Ruddle who then enquired, as she seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject, which Jodi thought was the correct order for making tea, milk in first or last? "I'm afraid I don't partake" she replied diplomatically and then stood exchanging pleasantries with Nicole Pilcher, Suziemitch Newbold and Jill Wadsley.
Once the refreshments were done with, Teresa, now joined by Sandra Hale, led Jodi towards the TW building. "I thought you might like a little tour of the building, before the official opening. Once it's open, you won't be able to move in there after the new recruits invade."
As they approached the new building, there was another thunderous round of applause from people who were all dressed in period costume in a riot of colours. Again, Jodi smiled and waved at the colourful crowd. "Are these your new recruits?"
"Yes they are." Replied Teresa, smiling benevolently at the cheering crowd.
"They seem very enthusiastic."
"We do have hope for some of them," replied Teresa as she led Jodi around to the side of the new building, "unfortunately it's Bob. This way please."
They entered the building and Jodi looked around. "Well, this is impressive." She frowned slightly as she stared down one of the empty corridors. "I'd swear this building wasn't this big from the outside."
"Yes, it does give that impression doesn't it? Our Nigel Bindoff and his team have worked wonders on this build, he really has."
They passed the new Security station which was closed until the building was officially open. "Yes, it's state of the art." Explained Sandra. "The duty supervisor can run a full Security operation just from this one station."
Teresa took over. "Unfortunately, because it contains sensitive information, we're not allowed to go in. I'm afraid it will be the same for R&D."
Jodi looked a little disappointed at that but nodded her understanding.
They continued with the tour with Teresa and Sandra showing Jodi some of the rooms the new recruits would be staying in. They also visited the cafe area, two of St Mary's three libraries and the building's cavernous kitchen where they stumbled on Barb Ruddle and Mort Reading who were, apparently, continuing their argument over whether to put milk in first or last in a cup of tea. As they continued on their way, it was undecided if either of the two combatants had even known anyone else had been in the kitchen with them. Finally they visited the shop where, after a brief wander around, Jodi found something that made her day. She held her left hand out towards a shelf. "Chocolate!" She held out her right hand. "Tampons. Who ever designed this place is a marketing genius!"
From there, they made their way outside again as it was close to time for the opening ceremony. They made their way around to the front of the building where the two crowds of old and new St Mary's personnel had merged together in front of the TW building's main entrance. A small podium had been set up with a row of chairs lined up behind it and two more chairs given a place of honour between the chairs and the podium. All of them were facing the building. The brightly coloured crowd had gathered on both sides of the podium and formed a short corridor that led to the main doors.
I was standing in between the long and short rows of chairs, just behind the left hand chair which had been allocated for Jodi. Next to me on my left, sitting on her haunches with ears erect, was Attila. On the other side of the two chairs stood Julie Jennifer with an equally proud and regal looking Genghis to her right.
Virginia had come back to my office the day before with another perfume bottle which she again held proudly before her. "Here we are! Eau de Bratwurst, version two. Well, actually, version forty eight, but who's really counting?" She turned to the, now replaced, chair beside her. As a look of panic for my new chair crossed my face, she turned back to me. "It's probably best you spray her chair and not the person. Best to be on the safe side, ay?" She sprayed the chair and nothing happened, though it didn't stop the both of us leaning back just in case. "There!" She exclaimed happily. "Mission accomplished, as it were." She placed the bottle on my desk, smiled brightly at me and then disappeared back through the door and was gone. I looked at the empty doorway, eyed the bottle suspiciously and then leaned forward to check that my new chair hadn't melted.
On our way to the TW building, we were to meet with our other honoured guest, the Ghost of Time herself, Marietta Winfrey, who we were going to escort to the location of the ceremony. We met her, still accompanied by Adrienne, Rachel and Zoe. Now, instead of the spectral figure I expected, I saw a regal lady wearing a blue summer dress and full of health and vitality. Adrienne and her team had done a really good job. We held on to the dog's collars as we watched them approach and Julie quipped, "She's only been here an hour or two and she already has some Ladies in Waiting".
I smirked a little and then forced it away as they drew close. "Good morning ma'am, I'm-!"
"I see you, Wayne Sefton. I see you, Julie Jennifer. I see the darkness you share that you control with honour, with dignity and with fortitude, with a warrior's steel resolve and a friendship that binds one to the other. I see spirits burdened with misconceptions of past events, striving for the light that is already within your grasp. All you need do, is close your hand."
Without a word of warning, she stooped down and held her hands out to the dogs. I think panic flared in both of us. This was the one thing we had feared the most, that either or both of the guests would treat the dogs as household pets. Both of them were anything but.
Surprisingly however, both dogs simply sat down and stared up at Marietta with rapturous attention. "Ahh, I see the matriarch and the eternal pup. Beings of a different kind, yet sharing in their master's sense of honour and loyalty and love. No spirit is more attuned to the light than those of the animal kingdom. Man, with all his intelligence and wisdom, could learn much if he just took the time to watch the animals with which he shares this world."
With that she was up and walking again, her ladies following behind her. As she passed me, Zoe gave me a quick smile. "She does that a lot." She said as she followed the others.
I looked own at Attila who was looking up at me with bright, Canine eyes. "What are you smiling at?" I asked as I gave her a sausage. Julie did the same for Genghis, vigorously ruffling his ears and telling him what a good dog he was.
We escorted Marietta to the podium where she sat demurely on her chair and patiently waited. Having no more concerns where Marietta and the dogs were concerned, I surreptitiously sprayed some of Virginia's Eau de Bratwurst on the chair Jodi would be using, just as Jodi and her party came into view. When she reached her chair, Marietta stood up and she and Jodi shook hands, chatting quietly and smiling together as if they were old friends. I couldn't hear anything of what was said, but no doubt Julie would be getting questioned later.
I introduced myself and Julie and then introduced the K-9 Unit. This was the big test and both Julie and I held on to the dog's collars with tight grips.
The dogs behaved superbly. Sitting almost to attention, Jodi was introduced to both dogs as a 'friend' and both dogs calmly scented her hand and then allowed her to stroke them. I then explained about rewarding them and handed Jodi two sausages. She gave one to each dog who took them gently from her fingers before wolfing them down.
Once both guests of honour were seated, Teresa stepped upto the microphone and the speeches began. I've never been a fan of speeches, either making them or listening to them, so it wasn't long before I zoned them out and concentrated on my surroundings. Everything appeared as it should be and that was when I picked up on a strange odour. It was very faint, barely even there at all. But there was definitely something. I casually turned to look at Julie and she had also sensed it. She threw me a quizzical look and I raised my eyebrows to say I didn't know what it was. I looked around again at all the people but no one seemed to have noticed it, so I looked back at Julie. She dropped her eyes to Jodi's chair and then gave me another questioning look.
I had a sudden sinking feeling in my gut.
As unobtrusively as I could, I knelt down in the pretense of fastening one of my boot laces. The smell was definitely a little stronger here but I still couldn't tell what it was or where it was coming from. I knew one thing though, it didn't smell like any sausage I'd ever had. With nothing else for it, I slowly leaned forward a little, trying, for want of better words, to sniff Jodi's seat.
Things might have gone better if I had been listening to the speeches. Because, with cosmic inevitability, that was the moment Teresa invited Jodi to say a few words. As she made to get up, she suddenly noticed me crouching down behind her and leaning forward.
I might have got away with it if I'd continued to 'fix' my boot lace. Instead I reacted to gut instinct which, in spite of popular opinion, doesn't always save your life. I suddenly leaned back and my hand shot out to calm an already perfectly calm Doberman. Attila, surprised by the sudden arrival of my hand on the back of her head, gave me a warning growl and a look that said there weren't enough sausages in the world to save me should I 'ever' do that again. I stood up and politely applauded, studiously avoiding the strange looks Jodi was throwing my way. When I looked to my right, I could see that both Julie and Marietta were both trying valiantly not break out in fits of laughter while, beyond them, both Teresa and Sandra stood and glared at me.
Once both Jodi and Marietta had stood and said a few words and Sandra had closed the speech making part of the proceedings, it was time for the ribbon cutting. Together, Jodi and Marietta walked down the corridor of people, smiling and waving at the assembled people who all applauded with gusto. The two ladies climbed the three steps to the double doors where they separated slightly with Jodi taking the left hand door and Marietta taking the right. Together, they each opened their respective doors to reveal a golden yellow ribbon stretched across the entrance. With the doors officially open, Teresa stepped forward with a comically large pair of scissors and handed them to Jodi who offered one of the finger bows to Marietta. Together, after making a few quips about sewing with the huge scissors, the two guests of honour stepped up to the ribbon and slid the blades over it. Then they took another step towards the ribbon. And then took another towards the retreating yellow ribbon. Now well and truly inside the foyer, both ladies turned to their right to see the end of the ribbon slowly disappearing inside the mouth of a goat.
"Quick," said Jodi as quietly as she could, "before the bloody thing scarpers!" They closed the blades of the huge scissors over the ribbon which neatly severed in two.
Suddenly realising that the tasty looking yellow thing in his mouth was now free, and not being one to miss an opportunity to make either an entrance or an exit, Pliny made his getaway past the open doors and in full view of the watching crowd. Outside, St Mary's roared their approval. Though whether it was for the officially opened building or Pliny's timely exit, no one was actually sure. Back at the podium, Teresa folded her arms, bowed her head and covered her face with one hand.
With the opening ceremony officially concluded, everyone made their way in the direction of the Priory and Hawking where a huge open buffet had been laid by Barb and her team from the kitchen. By now, Julie and I were there for one purpose only, to escort our special guests where ever they wanted to go. Our presence, combined with that of the K-9 Unit, ensured that the two ladies had plenty of their own space and the freedom to partake of the refreshments in peace.
That was until a series of loud bangs startled everyone, including the dogs, who went ballistic. There was panic, but not from the loud bangs which turned out to be poorly timed glitter bombs going off back at the new building. The panic came from those St Mary's personnel who were closest to the snarling and barking K-9 Unit and suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to be those St Mary's personnel furthest away from the snarling and barking K-9 Unit. People in brightly coloured costumes fought and scrambled to get away from the dogs as Julie and I grimly hung on to their collars. Surprisingly, the two people we were most worried about with the K-9 Unit turned out to be the safest two people at the buffet. Genghis and Attila never bothered with them once. Undoubtedly though at that particular moment, the person most in danger was the one who 'relocated' the glitter bomb. Teresa Mason-Tierney's face was a mask of fury as she held her clipboard out in front of her and snapped it in half while snarling, "That bloody Jenny Blackmore!"
We finally managed to calm the two dogs down and people started to nervously return to the buffet. That was until another glitter bomb went off, this time behind the buffet, and the whole thing kicked off again, this time with Barb Ruddle screaming at the top of her voice, "Protect the food!"
Things became much more sedate after the buffet when the guests of honour decided on a tour of the grounds. This was the cue for various members of St Mary's to disappear to their pre-arranged places, ready to assist with any inquiries the guests might have. Or the Police, which ever showed up first.
Mel Lawn had been given the new sunken rock pools as her station, by lieu of the fact that they backed on to her Archery Butts. That way, should the ladies request a demonstration of Archery, they could kill two birds with one stone. A saying that, as it turned out, was surprisingly apt.
Blood pressure levels rose once more when Jodi stopped by the Koi pond, leaned over and peered down into the water. Several pairs of black, glittering eyes peered back at her with an air of expectancy.
"How wonderful." Commented Jodi, admiring the pearlescent sheen to the rather excessively sleek looking bodies of the fish. "Are they Koi?"
"Er, yes." Replied Mel. She gave Jodi a bright smile. "The brazen ones are all over there."
Jodi and Marietta both laughed. Jodi wagged a finger at her. "That was clever, I liked that." She looked at Mel's costume and the bow and quiver of arrows she carried. "Robin Hood?"
"Robyn," replied Mel, "with a Y. I'm the Archery instructor."
"Wonderful. Do you think you could show me how to shoot?"
"Of course." Said Mel with a carefully maintained smile. She led us all over to the firing point on the Archery range and explained to Jodi how to stand, how to load and aim and fire her bow. Jodi did as she was told and released her arrow. It glanced off the side of the target and disappeared into the traps behind.
"Oh dear." Said Jodi in a disappointed tone.
"Don't worry, that was only your first shot. I missed the target completely with my first arrow. Try again."
Jodi accepted another arrow and reloaded. She lined up the target and then regulated her breathing, just as she had been shown. Then she released.
Just as a Pheasant burst from the bushes off to her right. The bird, gaining height and speed with every beat of its wings, flew straight into the arrow's flight path and caught the arrow in full flight. With a squawk and an increased flurry of wings, the pheasant continued to try to gain height but eventually flew in a graceful arc and crashed head on into one of the rock pools. The distinctive sound of roiling water told those in the know exactly which pool it had crashed into.
"Oh dear." Said Jodi. Again.
Mel stared, open mouthed, as the sound of roiling water reached a crescendo. "I've been trying to do that for years." She turned back to Jodi and said brightly, "You're a natural at this!"
After the tour of the grounds was complete, it was decided to pay a visit to The Blue Swan, St Mary's very own on-site pub. They entered the pub, which, unsurprisingly, already had a few patrons firmly ensconced around the bar, to find The Blue Swan's proprietress ready and waiting for them. Deb Danielson greeted them all enthusiastically. "Welcome to The Blue Swan! I'm so pleased you decided to pay us a visit. I took the liberty of making some Margaritas for you, my own recipe. Could I interest you at all?"
By all accounts, they were really good. Being on the job, I stuck to soft drinks, as did Julie. But both Jodi and Marietta certainly seemed to enjoy them.
It was while they were on their second drink that the bar descended into silence and all the patrons seemed to split and move to the sides of the room. Then, from outside the doorway to the bar came the distinctive sound of Balalaika music. Chief Shaw, along with four of his Techies, trooped into the bar wearing silk blouson style shirts in Techie orange, baggy black trousers and black boots. On their heads they wore Cossack style Ushankas. Once in the center of the room, they all adopted proud poses with their chins held high and their fists on their hips. These were followed by two more Techies, also wearing the same clothes as the main group, but these carried a Balalaika each, the first one carrying a Secunda Balalaika while the second had a larger Bass Balalaika.
Once the troop was arranged to their satisfaction, Chief Shaw looked at the two ladies by the bar and spoke in a clear, ringing voice. "To celebrate this auspicious event and to honour our very special guests, the Technical Section presents for your enjoyment, a traditional Cossack Hopak!" Then in carefully rehearsed Cyrillic he said "May happiness and good health walk with you once you leave my humble house behind."
The two Balalaika players both struck a chord on their instruments and then began playing a lively tune that seemed uncommonly complex for an instrument that only had three strings. Immediately the dance troupe began moving. Circling around their dance area, they were soon in full flight. With arms folded, they ducked and straightened, crouched and threw their legs forward, leapt high into the air and did very impressive splits, all the time whooping and given sudden cries of "Hey!" Arms flew in all directions as they jumped, kicked and danced to the rapid notes of the Balalaikas and the rhythmic clapping of the crowd, all of whom appeared to thoroughly enjoying the spectacle. Considering the relatively small area they had to dance in, and the thronging people all straining to get a better look, they did an amazing job.
At one point, Jodi glanced off to one side and saw Nicole Pilcher writing on a clipboard. Occasionally, Nicole would look up, shake her head with a disapproving frown and then write something else. Her scribbling intensified when Kim Gough got too close to an airborn dancer and the tray of Margaritas she was carrying suddenly disappeared skywards, to the usual appreciation of the crowd. Jodi indicated Nicole and asked what that was all about but, as no one seemed to know for sure, apart from the fact that Nicole was from the Health and Safety department, She soon gave up on it and went back to enjoying the dance.
With a final energetic flourish, the dance came to an end and the watching crowd roared their approval, Jodi and Marietta clapping and cheering as vigorously as everyone else. Jodi and Marietta both stepped forward to chat with the sweating dancers, even the two Balalaika players were sweating.
By now the Margaritas were taking a good hold, aided by the risen temperature in the bar after the cossack dancing, and Jodi felt she needed to get some air. So, after giving her farewells and complimenting Deb on her establishment, they left.
As Jodi was walking and looking around, she noticed that her retinue had grown slightly, including one young lady still with a Margarita in each hand. She asked Sandra who it was.
"Oh, that's Jeanette, Jeanette Boyce. She's in charge of Sick Bay today."
Jodi raised an eyebrow. "Should she be drinking those if she's on duty?"
"Oh don't worry. Jeanette is very professional and would never allow herself to become compromised while on duty. Besides, she could probably drink the whole of St Mary's under the table. With the possible exception of Julie there." She paused when Jodi turned to look at Julie who was walking just behind her with Genghis and gave her a friendly wink. "To be honest," continued Sandra, "there's good money available on who would win between the two of them."
They passed the library, the original library, and Jodi asked if they could take a quick peek inside as she had already seen the other two.
They opened the doors and was surprised to see a small group of people inside. The library was very neat and tidy, as well as being suspiciously devoid of swans and the group of people had that hastily tidied expression of the recently bedraggled. All of them showed red welts on exposed flesh, especially Liz Bisson from Housekeeping who had a bright red nose due to the fact that, not five minutes earlier, she had been running around in circles holding an irate swan at arms length with it's beak firmly attached to the middle of her face and screaming "It's got by dose, dear lord it's got by dose!" Teresa introduced them all to Jodi and Marietta and told them from which department they were from.
While Jodi stared dreamily at all the books on their ornate shelves, Adrienne who, along with Rachel and Zoe all worked in the library where they had recently spent hours studying various make up techniques, sidled next to Jo Robinson and whispered to her, "Where are the swans?"
Jo, leaning back on a table for support, nodded towards the utility cupboard. "Suziemitch Newbold and Nigel Bindoff drugged them and we put them in there."
Adrienne looked over at Suzie and Nigel, both of whom had the slightly dazed expression of the recently traumatised. "You drugged the swans?" She hissed in horror.
"It's just a mild sedative. They'll be out for a couple of hours and then they'll wake up with no after effects. It's fine, perfectly fine."
"So, what happened to you lot then? You look as if you've been in a war."
Jo shuddered. "The buggers are far more resilient than we thought and the sedative took longer to take effect than we expected. They fought back. I swear at one point they formed a phalanx, little monsters!"
Adrienne stood up straight as Jodi and Marietta came back from the stacks. Jodi smiled. "What a wonderful library. Magnificent."
Teresa, who had got the story of the library battle from Carlita Adams, checked her watch. "Yes, we're very proud of our library. However, we really should move on. I.T. have something very special planned and I wouldn't want to be late for it. Lorraine Dixon and Jenni Vibert have worked so very hard on it for us." Teresa's eye gave an involuntary twitch at the mention of the name 'Jenny', even in spite of the difference in spelling.
As they were leaving, Marietta leaned over to Nigel Bindoff and said softly, "Just so you know, dear heart, they are waking up." She nodded to the broom cupboard and then followed the group to the door, leaving a wide eyed Nigel staring towards the stacks in horror.
Teresa and Sandra led the way to IT and opened the door, allowing Marietta and Jodi to enter first. It was, perhaps, somewhat fortunate that Marietta had entered before Jodi. As soon as she entered, Jodi froze in shock and stared around her in wonder. She didn't even feel Teresa and Sandra pile into the back of her, but everyone later agreed she probably would have noticed the Ghost of Time pass right through her if she had gone in first instead of Marietta.
The inside of IT had been transformed. Instead of the workstations and server stacks usually found in IT, now the court of Henry VIII shone in vivid detail. It was magnificent. A marvel of light and detail and colour, from the tapestries on the walls to the flags and banners that adorned the area around the throne to the clothes worn by the various figures on display, figures that suddenly started to move.
Jodi stared in raptured delight at the magnificent architecture of the court and the wonderful gowns of the various ladies on display. Even Marietta was surprised at just how much detail there was, not to mention how accurate the detail was.
But the surprise didn't end there. As they moved further into the court, they found the court and the people within changing to refelect the different times of the court and included all six wives of Henry VIII as well as such major players as Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich.
From out of the background scenery and wearing sumptuous gowns stepped Rachel Garstang Penman, Jenny Gurton and Jess Titcombe. After introducing themselves, they guided the two ladies through the hologram, demonstrating how to change from one time period to another and pointing out and explaining various points of interest. The fact that their oration also included somewhat discreet jibes at one another told everyone listening that some disagreement had taken place, behind the scenes as it were, over whose gown was the best. The fact that they were sometimes caught glaring at one another told everyone that the said disagreement was still ongoing and words would be said after everyone had gone. It seemed a very real possibility that the court of Henry VIII hadn't quite finished shedding blood just yet.
After almost an hour of wandering through the various ages of Henry's court and marveling at the wonders wrought by Lorraine and Jenni, the group moved on, leaving the sound of hissed feuding behind them.
Henry's court proved to be the climax of the day's events and a worthy climax it had turned out to be. After a final cup of tea, Jodi's car was brought around to the front of the old Priory where, once again, the whole of St Mary's had congregated to give her a true St Mary's send off. The crowd clapped and cheered for all they was worth as she and Marietta appeared at the main doors. More glitter bombs went off, showering everyone with shards of sparkling, eco-friendly glitter.
Jodi turned to Marietta. "May I offer you a lift? It really is such a big car just for me."
Marietta smiled. "Thank you kind heart, but I have my own travel arrangements already in hand. But thank you for the kind offer."
Jodi took Marietta's hand in hers. "It was very nice to meet you, I do so hope we will get the chance to meet again."
"As do I. I see great things ahead for you, kind heart, great things indeed. Fare you well."
Giving Marietta a beaming smile, Jodi turned to Teresa and Sandra. "Thank you so much, for all of this today. It has truly been an eye opener and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it." She glanced at me, carefully avoiding her gaze. "Nearly every minute anyway." She turned back to Teresa. "On the sixth and seventh of April, next year, I'll be hosting an afternoon tea at The Grange Hotel in York. I would like to extend an open invitation to all of you to come and join me. It would truly be wonderful to see you all again." Again, she turned to me. Then she smiled. "Yes, even you."
I looked at her, returned her smile and inclined my head towards her in thanks.
Teresa also looked at me, raised an eyebrow reprovingly and then turned her attention back to Jodi. "Thank you, that's most kind. I will pass it on to the rab-, to the staff. On behalf of everyone at Virtual St Mary's Jodi, thank you for what you have done to make this event that much more special, for everyone involved. St Mary's thanks you for your service."
"It was an honour and a privilege." With that and to the sound of more applause and cheers, she stepped down to her car, climbed in the back seat and waved as she was driven away.
With the Daimler driving down the driveway, everybody turned to Marietta only to find that, without anyone seeing her, the Ghost of Time had gone as mysteriously as she had arrived. So Teresa turned back to see the Daimler disappear through the gates. Then she said quietly, "Marietta? Jodi? On behalf of Virtual St Mary's, the honour and the privilege is all ours."