A conflict of faith by Patrick G Moloney.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Instalment 3 of the Jack Burke crime mystery series

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017

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The blonde crossed her ample thighs giving him a quick glimpse of bare flesh above her stocking tops, when he dragged his eyes back to her face she treated him to a wry smile. For a moment he was flustered and almost forgot why she was here, the pregnant pause was slightly embarrassing as he gathered his thoughts. He made a big show of studying her resume as he struggled to think of something to say, this was ridiculous he had never interviewed a secretary before this. The last person he had employed in this job was his part time girlfriend and she had just sort of fallen into the job. When the bust up came she had told him where to stick his job and his office, and in no uncertain terms at that. In the end it was the blonde who broke the silence, “Look I really need this job and I know I can be good at it”. He looked at her for a moment and eventually just nodded, before awkwardly proffering his hand, her slim fingers with the deep red nail polish felt soft and vulnerable as they shook hands. This is how Jack Burke P.I. got his new secretary called Mabel, in his shock he allowed her to leave without even discussing payment terms. Still the seven grand he had earned from the pendent case should cover her wages and his costs for the next few months, besides it was depressing being in the office alone all the time.

Jack woke the following morning to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the blonde woman stood above him where he lay on the battered couch. For a moment he wondered where the hell he was and who she was, then he remembered it was Mabel his new secretary. He swung his legs off of the couch and sat up groggily, she asked him for the key to the mail box. While she popped down stairs to retrieve the mail, Jack went to the desk drawer and poured a stiff measure of Crested Ten whisky into his coffee. By the time she returned he was half way through the mug and feeling slightly more human, they sat in awkward silence for a while until she asked him where her work area was. He got a sinking feeling in his stomach as he pointed sheepishly at the door that led to the small side office, this was embarrassing because he knew the place was full of cardboard boxes of old files and empty whisky bottles. If Mabel was shocked at this she gave no hint of it, instead she cheerily began to try and tidy her small work space. Jack had gotten a call from his old friend Fr Murphy down at St Anne’s parish the day before, so he wanted to go to his apartment to shower and change before heading down to meet him. He made his excuses and left Mabel to her grimy task, she was humming a tune as he left.

Jack was shocked at how bedraggled his old friend had got since they last met; the priest looked like he had shrunk. They sat in the rectory the usual glasses of Irish whisky before them; Fr Michael Murphy’s hand trembled as he lifted the glass. Murphy had never been a man to be stuck for words, but Jack could see he was struggling now. Jack sipped his whisky and waited for the priest to speak; when he did there was a disturbing distant look in his eyes. It turned out that a series of break in’s had occurred on the church property, the local cops had put it down to young vandals. But looking at the demeanour of the priest Jack instinctively knew that there was more to this than just vandalism, it turned out his friend wanted him to look into this on a professional level, he assured Jack that he would be well paid and mentioned something about a special diocesan fund. Jack agreed to meet him again in the morning to discuss the situation in more detail, as he left Fr Murphy sat drinking whisky and lost in his own thoughts. Jack turned to bid Fr Murphy goodbye but the old man just stared through Jack as if he was not even there, the expression on his face was one of absolute dejection and fear. Yes! there was a lot more to this than meets the eye, he also had a sinking feeling that his old friend was holding back information. What was it the Catholic Church would say, and then it came to him, a lie of omission.

Jack would have been forgiven for thinking he had walked into the wrong office, when he got back. The old office looked like it had been scrubbed from top to bottom; a sweet smell of furnisher polish pervaded the air. Jack vaguely wondered how there was so much light in the room, then he realised the window pane was sparkling clean, inside and out. Mabel must have climbed out onto the fire escape to clean the outside; she really had been busy while he was out. Mabel walked in from her own office and handed him a small stack of shopping receipts, she had purchased cleaning items and to his surprise a fresh bottle of Crested Ten. Jack gave a quick glimpse at them; the whole lot came to seventeen bucks. Jack handed her a crisp twenty dollar bill, muttering to her to keep the change. Jack threw the receipts in the waste paper basket, only to have Mabel retrieve them and place them in the bottom drawer of the filling cabinet. She placed them carefully in a folder marked expenses, Jack watched the full swell of her hips and pert backside as she bent over. He was sure on some level she knew he was watching, she closed the drawer and treated him to another one of her wry smiles before leaving the room. Jack walked to the filling cabinet and looked inside, all the files were neatly arranged in folders in the drawer. A sudden thought came to him, maybe Mabel was here as a sign. A sign he needed to regain some kind of order in his life, later she went out to bring in lunch. Jack unwrapped his sandwich and stared in disbelief at the chicken salad on rye bread, it was the first semi healthy food he had eaten in a very long time.

The large well-dressed man with Fr Murphy did not look like any church worker Jack had ever seen, something about him made Jack take an instant dislike to him. He could not put his finger on it, but he fancied it was the condescending way he treated Jack’s old friend. Anytime Fr Murphy went to speak the man cut across him in a dismissive manner, the priest appeared to cower in the man’s presence. Jack sat there struggling to hide the contempt he felt for this man, he would take this case but solely for Michael Murphy’s benefit. The man introduced himself as Coburn, whether this was a Christian or surname Jack was at a loss to know. Turned out that there was more to the situation than Murphy had told him, nothing had actually been vandalised but a rare book had been stolen, Coburn was quick to pick up on Jack’s reaction, he immediately launched into what sounded like a pre-prepared statement. He was quick to explain that the book had little or no monetary value; it was a religious relic he stressed. It was simple he said they wanted the book returned, a little voice in his head told Jack that there would be nothing simple about this whole thing. Coburn reached into his jacket pocket and produced a cheque book, Jack watched him as he wrote in flowing script. The hand he extended with the cheque was adorned with a large gold ring, though he did not get a proper look at it. Something about that ring was out of the ordinary; Jack took the folded cheque and put it in his pocket. Coburn rose to his feet and Jack knew instinctively that the meeting was over, no hand was offered in friendship and Jack turned on his heels and left.

Jack sat behind his desk trying to make heads or tails out of the meeting with Coburn, the man really bothered him. Something about him seemed sinister; as a matter of fact Murphy looked positively terrified in his presence. He took the cheque from his pocket and examined it; the paper was embossed with a name “The Fellowship of the Faith”. It had been made out for nine hundred dollars as a retainer fee; it was drawn against a bank he had never even heard of with an address in uptown. Jack grabbed his car keys and headed uptown, he found the address on the cheque after a lot of searching. The place looked like no other bank he had ever visited, it looked more like a private dwelling, all be it a very large one. Jack pressed the bell on the big oak door, after a few short moments he was ushered in by an ancient looking man in a bell hops uniform. The man led jack down a long hallway to a room with a single cashiers hatch, Jack presented the cheque to the woman behind the counter, and he was half expecting her to throw it back at him. Minutes after entering the building Jack was back on the sidewalk, his jacket pocket bulged with eighteen crisp fifty dollar bills. So he had learned a couple of things about Coburn, one, he did not write rubber cheques and second of all, high street banks were not his thing. Jack returned to the office and gave Mabel eight hundred dollars to lodge for him, and then he headed back to the rectory to consult with Murphy.

Jack was getting dizzy watching the old priest pace up and down the room; if it were possible the old man looked to have shrunk even more than he was yesterday. His old friend had a disturbing stare in his eyes, he reminded Jack of a caged animal or an inmate on death row. Jack was about to physically put the priest sitting down when he suddenly stopped pacing, he turned to Jack with tears in his eyes and whispered. “Forgive me for involving you in this Jack, but I know where that cursed book is” Jack was dumb struck as his old friend was wracked with sobs; once he had regained  some self-control Murphy spoke again. “I have the book and you must help me to ensure it does not fall into Coburn’s hands”. The old priest crumbled into his chair and hung his head; it was a long time before he spoke again. Turns out that there were renovations taking place a few months back deep in the bowels of the old church, they had unearthed the old book. It had been hidden there for hundreds of years and for a good reason, it was a catalogue of rites banned by the church since the dark ages. Among these rights was one to restore life to those who had long since departed this world, and rites to summon things that were never of this world. Murphy had mistakenly allowed Coburn and the fellowship to study parts of the book, however he soon realised that their faith was not necessarily the same as his own. The real reason he had persuaded Coburn to hire Jack, was the fact he wanted Jack to help him put the book beyond anyone’s reach for ever.

Jack reached inside the big old furnace and retrieved the book, Michael had thrown it in the there but the flames had not even scorched it. There it had remained until now; it was ancient looking but unremarkable in other ways. It was leather bound and roughly the same size as a modern hardback, the gold engraved symbol on the front cover seemed familiar. Then it dawned on him; the symbol was similar to the one on Coburn’s gold ring. Murphy had told him of visitations in the night by things not quite human, things that Coburn had sent to jog his memory on the whereabouts’ of this book. It was no wonder Murphy was fading away into a skeletal figure, Jack instructed Murphy to go to his bed and lock the door. He placed the book back in its hiding place, promising his friend that they would deal with it the following morning. Jack had the distinct feeling of being tailed on his drive back; he stopped off in a bar and rang the office to make sure Mabel had left for the night. The phone just rang out; well at least she was safe for the night. He dawdled over a few drinks before driving back to the office; he would grab some shut eye and deal with this when he was fresh in the morning. However Jack’s dreams were filled with disturbing things that moved in the shadows, things that were not quite human. When he did wake he felt as if he had not slept at all, perhaps this was how it would always be now.

Jack’s shoulder burned and throbbed fiercely by the time eventually managed to break open the bedroom door, the curtains were still closed leaving the small room in darkness, however the coppery stench of blood hinted at what he would find. That over powering stench of a fresh kill was added to by an underlying stench, a stench of things long since dead. When he opened the curtains he was greeted with a vision straight from hell, his old friend had died badly. Fr Michael Murphy’s corpse looked like it had been run through an industrial mincer; it would definitely be a closed casket job. Jack left the room as he found it and hurried towards the basement, but the opened door on the furnace told its own tale. Jack made his way back up the stairs where he went through the parish registrar, well at least the names under C. The large man sat at the big leather topped desk, two books lay open before him. One was a classical Latin dictionary and the second an ancient leather bound book, he was so engrossed in his task he did not realise he was being watched from the shadows by the window. Coburn died with barley a sigh as the point of the switch blade entered the nape of his neck, the eight inch blade travelled upward into his brain and it was all over. When the perpetrator left the ancient leather bound book went with him.

The sound of the big oak doors being locked told him that soon he would be alone in the big old church, well alone except for the remains of his friend in the casket before the alter. When he was sure the sacristan had left Jack slipped from his hiding place in the confessional box, the silence in the big old church was eerie. He made his way towards the casket that stood illuminated in a pool of coloured light. The moonlight streaming through the stain glass windows sent coloured beams sliding across the polished surface of the casket, he stood for a moment with bowed head remembering his old friend and the promise he had made him. Then he set about his grisly task, when he lifted the hinged lid a puff of foul air made him almost gag. But he braced himself and continued, from beneath his trench coat he took the ancient book, then grimacing he rolled the mangled remains onto their side and slid the book beneath them, he was about to close the lid when something else came to mind. He pulled the switchblade from his pocket and placed it in the casket too, after all he had a collection of them. The lone figure of Jack Burke remained at the graveside as the men filled in the grave; it was only when the last shovel of earth was placed on the grave did he begin to walk away. He was heartbroken for his friend but content with two things, an ancient book and a murder weapon would rest with Michael for all eternity. However jack was not naive enough to believe those who banked in that strange bank would stop looking for the book, he would need to keep looking over his shoulder.


© Copyright 2017 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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