The Doomsday Conspiracy
London, Thursday, October 18th
Leslie Mothershed's role model was Robin Leach. An avid viewer of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Mothershed carefully studied the way Robin Leach's guests walked and talked and dressed, because he knew that one day he would appear on that programme. From the time he was a small boy, he had felt that he was destined to be somebody, to be rich and famous.
"You're very special," his mother would tell him. "My baby is going to be known all over the world."
The young boy would go to sleep with that sentence ringing in his ears, until he truly believed it. As Mothershed grew older, he became aware that he had a problem: he had no idea exactly how he was going to become rich and famous. For a period of time he toyed with the notion of being a movie star, but he was inordinately shy. He briefly contemplated becoming a soccer star, but he was not athletic. He thought about being a famous scientist, or a great lawyer, commanding tremendous fees. His school grades, unfortunately, were mediocre, and he dropped out of school without being any closer to fame. Life was simply not fair. He was physically unprepossessing, thin, with a pale, sickly complexion, and he was short, exactly five foot five and a half inches. Mothershed always stressed the extra half inch. He consoled himself with the fact that many famous men were short: Dudley Moore, Dustin Hoffman, Peter Falk ...
The only profession that really interested Leslie Mothershed was photography. Taking photographs was so ridiculously simple. Anyone could do it. One simply pressed a button. His mother had bought him a camera for his sixth birthday and had been wildly extravagant in her praise of the pictures he had taken. By the time he was in his teens, Mothershed had become convinced that he was a brilliant photographer. He told himself that he was every bit as good as Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon or Margaret Bourke-White. With a loan from his mother, Leslie Mothershed set up his own photography business in Whitechapel, in his flat.
"Start small," his mother told him, "but think big," and that is exactly what Leslie Mothershed did. He started very small and thought very big, but unfortunately, he had no talent for photography. He photographed parades and animals and flowers, and confidently sent his pictures off to newspapers and magazines, and they were always returned. Mothershed consoled himself with the thought of all the geniuses who had been rejected before their ability was recognized. He considered himself a martyr to philis-tinism.
And then, out of the blue, his big opportunity had come. A cousin of his mother's who worked for the British publishing firm of HarperCollins had confided to Mothershed that they were planning to commission a coffee-table book on Switzerland.
"They haven't selected the photographer yet, Leslie, so if you get yourself over to Switzerland right away, and bring back some great pictures, the book could be yours."
Leslie Mothershed hurriedly packed up his cameras and headed for Switzerland. He knew - he really knew - that this was the break he had been looking for. At last the idiots were going to recognize his talents. He rented a car in Geneva and travelled around the country, taking pictures of Swiss chalets, waterfalls, and snow-capped peaks. He photographed sunrises and sunsets, and farmers working in the fields. And then, in the middle of all that, fate had stepped in and changed his life. He was on his way to Bern when his motor failed. He pulled over to the side of the highway, furious. Why me? Mothershed moaned. Why do these things always happen to me? He sat there, fuming, thinking about his precious time lost, the expense it would be to have his car towed. Fifteen kilometres behind him was the town of Thun. I'll get a tow from there, Mothershed thought. That shouldn't cost too much.
He flagged down a passing gasoline truck. "I need a tow truck," Mothershed explained. "Could you stop at a garage in Thun and have them come and get me?"
The truck driver shook his head. "It's Sunday, mister. The closest garage that's open will be in Bern."
"Bern? That's fifty kilometres from here. It will cost me a fortune."
The truck driver grinned. "Ja. There they get you by the Sundays." He started to drive on.
"Wait." It was difficult to get the words out. "I'll ... I'll pay for a tow truck from Bern."
"Gut. I will have them send someone out."
Leslie Mothershed sat in his disabled car, cursing. All I needed was this, he thought, bitterly. He had already spent much too much money on film and now he would have to pay some bloody thief to tow him to a garage. It took almost two interminable hours for the tow truck to arrive. As the mechanic started to attach the car to his truck, there was a flash of light from across the highway, followed by a loud explosion, and Mothershed looked up to see what appeared to be a bright object falling out of the sky. The only other traffic on the highway was a tour bus that had pulled to a stop behind his car. The passengers from the bus were hurrying toward the scene of the crash. Mothershed hesitated, torn between his curiosity and his desire to move on. He turned and followed the bus passengers across the highway. When he reached the scene of the accident, he stood there transfixed. Holy God, he thought. It's unreal. He was staring at a flying saucer. Leslie Mothershed had heard about flying saucers and had read about them, but he had never believed they existed. He gaped at it, awed by the eerie spectacle. The shell had ripped open and he could see two bodies inside, small, with large skulls, sunken eyes, no ears and almost no chins, and they seemed to be wearing some kind of silver metallic suits.
The group from the tour bus was standing around him, staring in horrified silence. The man next to him fainted. Another man turned away and vomited. There was an elderly priest there, clutching his beads and mumbling incoherently.
"My God," someone said. "It's a flying saucer!"
And that was when Mothershed had his epiphany. A miracle had fallen into his lap. He - Leslie Mothershed - was on the spot with his cameras to photograph the story of the century! There was not a magazine or newspaper in the world that would reject the photographs he was about to take. A coffee-table book about Switzerland? He almost laughed aloud at the idea. He was about to astonish the whole world. All the television talk shows would be begging for him, but he would do Robin Leach's show first. He would sell his photographs to the London Times, the Sun, the Mail, the Mirror - all the English newspapers, the foreign papers and magazines. Le Figaro and Paris Match, Oggi and Der Tag. Time and USA Today. The press everywhere would be pleading with him for his photographs. Japan and South America, and Russia and China and - there was no end to it. Mothershed's heart was fluttering with excitement. I won't give anyone an exclusive. Each one will have to pay me individually. I'll start at a hundred thousand pounds a picture, maybe two hundred thousand. And I'll sell them over and over again. He began feverishly adding up the money he was going to make.
Leslie Mothershed was so busy adding up his fortune that he almost forgot to take the pictures. "Oh, my God! Excuse me," he said to no one in particular, and raced back across the highway to get his camera equipment.
The mechanic had finished hoisting the disabled vehicle in the air, ready to tow it away.
"What's going on over there?" he asked.
Mothershed was busy grabbing his camera equipment. "Come and see for yourself."
The two men moved across the highway to the wooded area, and Mothershed pushed his way through the circle of tourists.
"Excuse me," he said. "Excuse me."
He adjusted the focus on his camera and started snapping pictures of the UFO and its eerie passengers. He took pictures in black and white and in colour. As the shutter clicked each time, Mothershed thought, a million pounds ... another million pounds ... another million pounds.
The priest was crossing himself and saying, "It's the face of Satan."
Satan, hell, Mothershed thought exultantly. It's the face of money. These will be the first pictures that prove that flying saucers really exist. And then suddenly a terrifying thought occurred to him. What if the magazines think these pictures are fake? There have been a lot of faked photographs of UFOs. His euphoria vanished. What if they don't believe me? And that was when Leslie Mothershed had his second inspiration.
There were nine witnesses gathered around him. Without knowing it, they were about to lend authenticity to his discovery.
Mothershed turned to face the group. "Ladies and gentlemen," he called out. "If you would all like to have your photographs taken here, just line up and I'll be happy to send each of you a print, free."
There were excited exclamations. Within moments, the passengers from the tour bus were standing beside the remains of the UFO, except for the priest.
He was reluctant. "I can't," he said. "It's evil!"
Mothershed needed the priest. He would make the most convincing witness of them all.
"That's just the point," Mothershed said persuasively. "Don't you see? This will be your testimony about the existence of evil spirits."
And the priest was finally persuaded.
"Spread out a little," Mothershed ordered, "so we can see the flying saucer."
The witnesses shifted their positions.
"That's it. Very good. Excellent. Hold still, now."
He snapped half a dozen more pictures and took out a pencil and paper.
"If you'll write down your names and addresses, I'll see to it that each of you gets a print."
He had no intention of sending any prints. All he wanted was corroborating witnesses. Let the bloody newspapers and magazines try to get around that!
And then, suddenly, he noticed that several people in the group had cameras. He couldn't allow any other photographs but his! Only photos that had the credit, "Photograph by Leslie Mother-shed", could exist.
"Excuse me," he said to the group. "Those of you who have cameras: if you'll pass them to me, I'll take a few pictures of you so that you'll have some taken with your own cameras."
The cameras were quickly handed to Leslie Mothershed. As he knelt to frame the first shot, no one noticed that Mothershed clicked open the film compartment with his thumb and held it ajar. There, a little bit of nice bright sunlight will help those photographs no end. Too bad, my friends, but only professionals are allowed to capture historic moments.
Ten minutes later Mothershed had all their names and addresses. He took one last look at the flying saucer and thought, exultantly, Mother was right. I am going to be rich and famous.
He couldn't wait to return to England to develop his precious photographs.
"What the hell is going on?"
The police stations in the Uetendorf area had been inundated with telephone calls all evening.
"Someone is prowling around my house ..."
"There are strange lights outside ..."
"My livestock is going crazy. There must be wolves around ..."
"Someone drained my watering trough."
And the most inexplicable telephone call of all:
"Chief, you'd better send a lot of tow trucks out to the main highway right away. It's a nightmare. All traffic has stopped."
"No one knows. The car engines just suddenly went dead."
It was a night they would never forget.