To the Devil his dues by Patrick G Moloney.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Instalment 4 of the Jack Burke crime mysteries

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017



The matronly woman grimaced at the coffee mug before her on the desk, by her expression it appeared that the coffee mug was one of the most offensive things she had ever been presented with. Mabel stood behind her pulling faces; Jack had to concentrate really hard to prevent himself from laughing. The woman seated before him sat on the very edge of the seat, he noticed that she had not removed her gloves. He had no doubt in his mind that she believed she was in immediate danger of contamination from her surroundings, everything about her screamed wealth and snobbery. Her expression was that of someone sucking a particularly bitter lemon, Jack wondered what had even persuaded a woman like her to visit this part of town. He had a sneaking suspicion someone was channelling this type of work his way, ever since the music box case he was being offered work by wealthy patrons and the work was becoming increasingly bizarre. Jack was tempted to ask the Mrs Bradford who had recommended him, but he was fairly sure the snobbish woman would be hesitant to say. Mrs Bradford took a silk handkerchief from her bag, and wrapped it around the coffee mug and shoved the offending item further away from her. Jack found her behaviour quite amusing, he was even more amused by Mabel’s vomiting gesture from behind the woman. Still he felt that this case just might be a little more straight forward than his more recent ones. It sounded like a run of the mill con job; apparently Mrs Bradford’s daughter was spending large amounts of money trying to contact her recently deceased father.

The daughter had been introduced to a mystic or charlatan as Mrs Bradford described him, she was now spending serious money on this man. Jack vaguely wondered what Mrs Bradford’s idea of serious money was; sometimes women like Mrs Bradford like to give the impression of wealth and prestige. When behind their charade they were often in poor financial circumstances, Jack decided to see if Mrs Bradford was one of these people. The woman was prattling on and on about this charlatan mystic, her condescending attitude had begun to irritate Jack now. He interrupted her in full flight by telling her he would require a retainer fee upfront, the woman treated him to a withering glance before reaching for her purse. Mrs Bradford dusted the desk top in front of her with her handkerchief before placing the cheque book on it; he offered her a pen which she totally ignored. Instead she took a gold Cartier pen from her bag to write the cheque. Mrs Bradford poked the cheque across the desk towards him, than she continued her blistering condemnation of the mystic, her daughter was so taken by. Jack agreed to call around to her home the following day to get some more details; the woman used the handkerchief to hold the door handle as she left. Jack picked up the cheque and looked at it; it was made out for one thousand dollars and drawn to cash. On instinct he swivelled his chair and looked down on the street below. A chauffeur in full uniform opened the back door of a Rolls Royce silver ghost, he watched Mrs Bradford climb inside. Well he thought I guess that answers any questions on her financial situation.

Jack showered and put on his best suit, he had even polished his shoes. He looked in the mirror to knot his tie, and then he decided to discard the tie and go with an open neck shirt instead. A part of him realised this was a childish thing to do, but another part wanted Mrs Bradford to be irked by this. It was almost like admitting that the woman had intimidated him with her snobbishness, so Jack Burke rebel with a cause headed off to a business meeting minus a tie. Mrs Bradford’s town residence happened to a penthouse suite overlooking a park in the centre of the city, if this was just her town residence he would love to see her main house. Jack had paid a visit to an old friend to get the low down on the Bradford’s; it turns out her late husband’s family had made a mint from mineral exploration among other things. Jack was taken up by private elevator to the penthouse, the elevator operator watched him suspiciously on the ride up. A butler met him at the door and led him to the drawing room; he took in the vista from the large windows as he waited. It was breath-taking, it was as if they were in a different world up here, it was almost as if the grime and horrors of the streets were consigned to another dimension. Jack turned at the sound of someone entering the room; he was shocked at the vision before him. It had been a little over twenty four hours since he sat opposite this woman, but she looked like she aged in years. Mrs Bradford looked as if someone had deflated her; her stature appeared to have shrivelled. The woman invited Jack to take a seat at the side of the ornate fireplace, when she sat opposite him he noticed something else. Gone was that flamboyant arrogance and snobbery, it had been replaced by hesitancy and a look of fear haunted her eyes.

They were no sooner seated than the butler arrived with a silver tray, he handed the woman a glass of sherry and a whisky to Jack, Jack toyed with the idea of refusing the drink, but he already knew the woman had researched his habits before she even approached him. He sipped his whisky and waited for her to speak. Mrs Bradford placed her untouched sherry on the side table and sighed heavily, then staring deep into Jacks face she began to tell the tale. The truth of the matter was, it was not about the money at all, but the mystic had been telling her daughter things that he should never have known. Things that her late husband had only shared with her on his death bed, things that he had sworn Mrs Bradford to secrecy about. Family skeletons that were to remain in the closet, yet here was this so called mystic hinting that he knew things that her husband assured her had never been mentioned outside the family. Whatever this mystic had been saying to Mrs Bradford’s daughter had really thrown the old woman off kilter. Jack had no luck trying to get the woman to elaborate further on these so called secrets; however she did promise to reward him handsomely if he could discredit this man. Jack had the distinct impression that discredit or get rid of, had the same connotations to Mrs Bradford. So there really was something in the Bradford’s past that the old woman did not want surfacing, Jack did manage to get her daughters address, but he could see she was even hesitant about providing this.

Jack sat outside the big house, he had been sitting in his car now for almost two hours and his back ached. Finally the woman came out and got into the sports car, she looked nothing like her mother. There was not a hint of a matronly shape about this woman, Jack put her age around the middle thirties and she was quite a looker. Jack started the engine and once she had gone a short distance he drove after her, wherever she was going she was in no hurry as she drove at a leisurely pace towards the outskirts of the city. Forty minutes later Jack watched the woman ring the doorbell of a large house on a leafy street, the door was opened by a dark skinned man in an expensive suit. If this was the mystic then fortune telling must be commanding big fees these days, the man ushered her in and looked up and down the road before following her inside. At one stage jack had the distinct impression the man had looked directly at him, but that would be ridicules. He was parked a discreet distance from the house between other parked cars, still he could not shake the feeling he had been seen by the black man. Jack waited for another hour and a half, and then he noted the address in his book and headed back to the city. A quick phone call to a contact at the city council and Jack had a name and telephone number for the black man. His name was Mr Syed and he had had been at the address for about three months, this would tie in with what Mrs Bradford had said. She had told him that her daughter was involved with the mystic for about three months.

Jack was a firm believer in trying the simple solutions first, so he walked up to the door and rang the bell. He was about to press it again when the door opened, the guy was a lot bigger up close and he towered over the detective. “Can I help you sir” the words were spoken in perfect English but with a hint of an accent Jack could not identify, the voice was deep and hoarse. Something in the big man’s eyes warned Jack to proceed with caution in dealing with this situation, in the end he just went for it. He explained he was here representing Mrs Bradford, something flashed in the black man’s eyes briefly. But it disappeared just as quickly before Jack could determine what it was, the man stepped aside and invited Jack in. Jack sat opposite the big man behind the ornate desk in the study; everywhere you would care to look there was elaborately carved wooden figures and masks. African Jack thought but then again he was not exactly an expert on this kind of thing, for some reason he felt the whole thing disturbing. The sooner he was out of this room and this man’s presence the better he thought, the black man listened to the reason for Jack’s visit without interrupting. As a matter of fact he had finished speaking for quite a while before the man spoke. “People come to me for a reason Jack; I do not seek them out. However we all have things that trouble us on our minds, often it is about people who are no longer with us”. A sudden intense pain in Jacks head was followed quickly by a vivid image of the mangled remains of Fr Murphy, it passed as quickly as it had come. Opposite he could have sworn Mr Syed had grinned at him, leaving the house Jack knew that Mr Syed would be not be easy to get rid of.

The following day he paid another visit to Mrs Bradford, as luck would have it her stunning daughter was there too. Jack had the distinct impression when he entered the room that he just missed a blazing row, it was amazing sometimes the way a row can eventually bring out the thing that has been souring the air. Mrs Bradford sat looking dejectedly into the empty fire place while her daughter spoke; it seemed Mr Syed had explained how the Bradford wealth had been built on the back of gem stones stolen from his ancestors. Stones he had assured her had more of a spiritual value to his people than a monetary value; he had explained in no uncertain terms that if they were not returned, there would be a devastating price to pay for the women. Something in Jack’s mind told him that Mr Syed did not make empty threats, he told the same thing to the ladies. Jack followed the two women into the bank vault; he watched as the opened the safety deposit box. The stones had been set in a pure gold necklace, these were the stones that the Bradford’s had used as collateral to build their empire. Superstition had it that as long as they remained in the family’s possession the Bradford’s would continue to prosper, Jack wondered just how much more prosperous they needed to be. They already had more money than anyone could spend in ten lifetimes; in the end, the daughter had persuaded her mother to hand them over to Syed. This was to be Jack’s final part in this case; he was to take the Jewels to Mr Syed.

The transaction was set to take place at the docks, apparently once Syed had the stones he would be boarding a ship bound for Africa. In one way Jack was happy not to have to return to that creepy study he had first spoken to the man in; Jack arrived early for the rendezvous he wanted to make sure there were no nasty surprises waiting for him. Jack was on his third smoke when the big man appeared out of the shadows; he had no sooner handed over the stones when things went rapidly south. Two men appeared out of nowhere, one glimpse was enough to tell Jack what these men were. He had come across men just like these countless times over the years; they were usually ex cops or military and worked for the highest bidder. Men like this had no boundaries and were likely to kill without compunction; Jack was willing to bet there were here at the bequest of Mrs Bradford, he was also willing to bet that either Mr Syed or he were not expected to survive this transaction. Both of the burley men held handguns; one was pointed at Mr Syed and the other at Jack. One moment the big black man stood stock still, just like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. Then the whole world appeared to be turned on its head, Syed moved like a blur and the man who held a gun on him screamed pitifully.

The whole thing lasted mere moments and all that remained of the gunmen were bloody carcases, jack looked around him in disbelief. Then Syed was holding Jack aloft with one hand, the strength of the man was unnatural. Syed stared deep into Jacks eyes and Jack felt him probing his thoughts, the black man’s eyes had morphed into something akin to the eyes of a big cat. It was like staring into the eyes of a panther, he could feel the man probing his mind. Jack was sure he was trying to determine if Jack had prior knowledge of the ambush, then he was suddenly thrown hard against the car and everything went dark. When Jack came to, the necklace was lying in his lap but the stones had been removed, Syed was gone and so were the corpses. Then form the shadows came a deep hoarse voice, “Murphy sends his regards, he said to tell you the book is safe. He also told me to tell you, he has no use for a switchblade where he is”. A short bust of laughter followed and then the silence returned. Jack got gingerly to his feet but it took him quite a while to compose himself enough to drive away, on the drive back into the city that voice echoed in his mind. Apparently Mr Syed had a rare talent for unearthing information, information that no one else should know.

Over a week had passed since the episode at the docks and he had been unable to find any trace of Mrs Bradford, still he had managed to turn a nice profit from the gold part of the necklace. Jack sat in his office sipping whisky laced coffee; he was trying to dispel any memories he could from the docklands. That reference to his old friend Fr Murphy had really disturbed him, Jack had even been to the grave but it lay undisturbed. Mabel entered the room looking gorgeous as usual, she handed him an envelope she said had been hand delivered. It was a short note from Mrs Bradford’s daughter, in it she apologised for any inconvenience he may have had while working for her mother. There was no mention as to the whereabouts of her mother, but a cheque for three thousand dollars was enclosed. Jack held the cheque in his hand and thought to himself, dealing with the devil, really can be quite lucrative.


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