Dearly departed by Patrick G Moloney.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Instalment 5 of the Jack Burke crime mysteries series.

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017



The thick fog had begun rolling in from the river around mid-morning, and by late evening the city scape had a ghostly quality about it. The lamp posts lining the pavements appeared as if they were floating, the bottom half of them being lost in the dense grey fog. The streets were devoid of all but the hardiest of pedestrians, anyone without pressing business preferring to remain safely indoors. For some unknown reason Jack liked to take a walk at times like this, maybe it was the emptiness of the streets but he felt at ease with himself. It was almost as if he was walking through a bygone area, a time before they had packed the people into the city like rats in a barrel. Jack had been aware of the footsteps behind him for the last ten minutes; he stopped beneath a street light and lit a cigarette. He was aware that the footsteps behind him stopped too, coincidence maybe but he was not convinced. He continued his journey and the footsteps resumed behind him, they were keeping pace with him. The footsteps neither gained on him or receded further back, he was beginning to feel uncomfortable about this. Jack increased his pace and slipped his hand into his coat pocket; he found the handle of the switchblade and wrapped his fingers around it. He veered left and entered the mouth of a narrow alleyway, here he leaned his back against the wall. When his pursuer drew level with the entrance he reached out and grabbed him by the coat, he swung the person against the grimy bricks and opened the knife.

The high pitched yelp from the person was absorbed by the thick blanket of fog; he was staring into the frightened face of a young man of slight build. He watched the man’s Adams apple bob up and down when his wide eyes fixed on the switch blade; he looked like he was ready to pass out from fright. Even later at the bar in O’Malley’s the young man’s hand trembled so much he could scarcely lift the glass, Jack waited patiently for the man to regain his composure, before pressing him on the reason he had been following Jack. It turned out the young man was employed in the city by a firm of undertakers, for some reason or another he was convinced something strange was going on there. When Jack asked him if had spoken to the police, the young man found something on the floor to stare at, when he finally looked up at Jack he was pale as death. He stammered something to Jack about supernatural strange, and then fell silent again. In a time in the not too distant past, Jack would have ridiculed the young man’s fears. However the cases he had dealt with recently had caused a seismic shift on he viewed the world, Jack had ceased looking into the shadows and instead had move to places beyond the shadows. Jack quizzed the young man as to why he had picked him to unburden on, the young man made some vague reference to a newspaper article that mentioned Jack’s name. Jack was far from convinced but he let it slide, instead he told the young man to call to the office the following day.

Mabel sauntered into his office waving an envelope over her head; the only writing on it was his name. “Special delivery I would say, since there is no address on this” she chirped and handed him the envelope. Jack hefted the envelope in his hand, it felt chunky, and something about the handwriting was vaguely familiar. The envelope contained two grand in crisp one hundred dollar bills, and a brief note that stated, “A retainer for the case you are about to take”. Jack looked at the money in disbelief and then back at the cryptic note. For some reason his mind drifted back to the music box and the antique dealer who had hired him to find it, not for the first time lately he felt as if certain cases were being channelled his way. The only case he was considering presently was the one the young man had approached him about last evening, Jack was pretty dam sure the young man did not have this kind of money. So the nervous young man from the street had a benefactor with bucks, lately it seemed to Jack that he had somehow been transported to a strange parallel universe. Now that his curiosity had been stimulated, Jack felt as if he had no choice but to investigate the young man’s fears. The young man eventually turned up a couple of hours after the money, Mark Jones was the man’s name and in the cold light of day he looked even younger and far more afraid.

Mabel fussed around Mark as if he was a child bringing him coffee and biscuits, it was as if she felt his vulnerability and was trying to make him feel at ease. Jack lit a smoke and watched as Mark lifted the coffee cup with trembling fingers, behind him Mabel gave him a pleading look, as if to say be gently with him. This was going to be painful, so in the end he mentally prepared a list of questions to ask the boy. An hour and a half later Jack had a sketchy picture of what was going on, Mark Jones was employed by the undertakers as general dogsbody. He would fetch and carry, clean and lift; Jack slowly began to see what Mabel noticed immediately. Mark Jones was not quite right or as his late mother would say he was simple, Mark would often work late cleaning up and this is where he began to believe that strange things were taking place at the funeral home. Part of Marks payment was the use of a small apartment attached to the garage at the rear of the home; he told Jack that he often heard sounds from the embalming rooms in the basement. The sounds would be most frequent late at night when no living person was supposed to be in the building. Jack was beginning to think that Mark just needed a career change, but someone had already paid a retainer and he was honour bound to investigate. The look of relief on Marks face when he told him he would look in to it was something to behold. Behind Mark, Mabel smiled at Jack and blew him a kiss, jack suddenly felt as if he was under pressure from all sides.

Jack’s initial inquires threw up a strange thing almost immediately, a contact in the city hall told him that the number of funerals the home dealt with, was small indeed. A business like that would be struggling badly on the number of jobs they recorded yearly, yet they had been surviving on this volume for a number of years. Either they were running the business as a hobby or they were being paid phenomenal money for the few funerals they did. Another possibility was the Funeral home was only a front; the business may be a way to launder dirty money. Suddenly Jack was coming to the conclusion that just maybe Mark was right and something strange was going on. Either way Jack was going to have to look into this, somewhere in the back of his mind jack was hoping that it was all just Mark’s over active imagination. Mabel spent the rest of the morning smiling at jack in an approving manner, he felt like a child who was progressing well with his potty training. Jack decided to call in a favour from an old acquaintance that worked in the revenue offices. He needed to get a picture of the financial viability of the business he was about to investigate, he took an early lunch to meet his revenue contact downtown. Jack picked up the tab for the lunches and watched the tall brunette as she walked away; the sway of her hips was almost hypnotic. He had forgotten just how attractive she was, she should be modelling he thought instead of pushing paper for the Inland Revenue. It turned out just as he had expected the Funeral Home was a loss making venture, it had never turned a single cent in profit in all the years it was operation. Looks like the simple young man was right about strange things afoot, however Jack doubted if the strangeness was anything paranormal.

The funeral home was an impressive building dating back at least a century he thought, as real estate it would be very valuable indeed. Jack wondered why they just did not sell it to some developer, walk away with the cash and forget about the losing business. It was located in a quiet leafy suburb where property prices ran extremely high, there had to be some angle that made them keep it open. Jack left the car and slipped around to the rear of the building, he tapped on the fire exit door and waited in the shadows. A moment later the door opened and he was looking into Mark’s deathly pale features, the young man looked as if was ready to burst out crying any moment now. Jack gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile and moved past him and into the building, he got the young man to take him to the office first. A series of photo graphs depicting the present owner and his predecessors were hung on the office wall, apart from hairstyles and the clothing they could have easily been mistaken for the same man. A couple of moments with his lock pick and he had the filling cabinet open, Mark paced nervously up and down as Jack studied the journal. In a city where people were dying at a huge rate, the business was averaging about ten funerals a year. Jack studied the details of the clients but they really meant nothing to him, however in most cases the letters CC followed the details in red ink. Mark confirmed to him that this meant closed casket, he found this strange as this was usually reserved for badly damaged bodies such as gun shots to the face. Mark assured him that any of the bodies he had seen were intact with no trauma to face or head; next they went down to the embalming rooms. The smell of chemicals made his eyes water, however everything looked neat and tidy. The only thing that he found unusual was how small the basement area was, for some reason Jack had expected it to be much larger. He left Mark less than an hour after entering the building; leaving Mark instructions to contact him when their next client arrived.

The cadaver on the embalming table was that of a man in his middle seventies, he was unremarkable in many ways. Jack moved around to the head and looked closely at the facial area, meanwhile Mark coward against the door trembling. The dead man looked perfectly at peace, yet the family were insisting on a closed casket. Jack was completely at a loss as to what was going on, Mark was visibly relieved when Jack said it was time to go, after Mark let him out he sat for quite a while in his car outside. Something about this whole thing was beginning to bother him; in the end he started the car and drove home. There would be a funeral in the next few days and Jack would be attending, maybe a gander at the grieving family might give him a clue. Jack watched the long black limousines as they followed the hearse down the central driveway of the cemetery; it was not a big funeral. They continued to the far end of the cemetery, this was the new section which led Jack to believe that there was no existing family plot. Jack made his way towards the freshly dug grave trying his best to use the rows of headstones as cover; from behind a large tree he watched the proceedings. The motor of the camera whirred as he took photograph after photograph through the telephoto lens, when the burial was completed the widow left the grave immediately and returned to the car. Jack watched in disbelief as the owner of the funeral home knocked on the tinted window and received a fat brown envelope from the widow. The undertaker quickly looked at the contents before slipping it into the inside pocket of his long black coat. Jack captured the transaction on film, this was the strangest way he had ever seen a funeral paid for. When the grieving widow was driven away he hurried to his car and followed her, the limo dropped her at a large walled residence on the outskirts of the city. Peculiarly no other mourners turned up at the house, the poor guy must have really been unpopular.

Jack sat at the bar in O’Malley’s and had a few drinks while he waited for the photos to be developed. He always used the same guy for his photo developing, so Jacks work always got priority, something was niggling him about the funeral. Well something more than the strange payment method, then it dawned on him. The pall bearers hefted the casket about as if they were strongmen; well either that or the box was empty. A couple of hours later Jack had the photos spread out on his desk, he arranged the photographs in chronological order. By doing this he had a flowing visual record from the time the hearse entered the cemetery until the burial was completed. The whole fiasco looked as if it was staged, right down to the disinterested looking parson. Jack’s eyes continued to wander back to a series of photos of the pall bearers carrying the casket to the graveside; he was convinced now that that casket contained nothing heavier than air. Jack left the office early and went to his apartment for a power nap, he had plans for later that night and he might not get much sleep. Jack was about to become part of a modern day resurrection crew, and if Mark was nervous up to this, then he was about to become terrified. On his way home Jack stopped off at a hardware store, there he picked up two long handled shovels, and a torchlight with spare batteries.

Jack waited patiently for the young man to struggle over the high wall, when Mark dropped on to the grass beside him he was deathly pale. The silver moonlight cast a ghostly light over the rows of headstones; the whole scene was alive with creepy shadows. They made their way to the far corner of the cemetery, to where the fresh grave was. Jack could feel the terror emanating from the young man; it was beginning to make him feel jumpy as well. The shovel struck the lid of the casket making a hollow sound like a base drum, Mark let out a soft whimper. Jack gestured for him to climb out of the grave and he did not have to ask twice, Marks hand shook so violently that the torch beam jumped about the grave making Jack feel disorientated. He growled at the young man to be still, and then he cleared the last of the earth from the hinged lid at the head of the casket. Bracing himself he levered the lid open, he had anticipated a smell of chemicals wafting from the box. But nothing came from inside, the beam of the torch reflected back at him from the satin lining. Just as he had thought the box was empty, the cadaver had either done a Houdini act or had never been there in the first place. Jack lit a cigarette as soon as they had recovered the empty casket, deep in his head Fr Murphy’s voice muttered about the darkness. Jack could sense that this whole thing was leading deep into the shadows, but he had come this far and there was no going back now. He dropped mark outside the funeral home, he was about to drive away when something came to him. The building was a big house, then why is the basement so small.

Mark stood with his back to the wall as Jack paced the embalming area tapping the walls, nothing seemed out of order, and the whole thing was frustrating him. He was about to leave when something caught his eye, marks on the floor at the base of a large metal cabinet. Jack heaved and the cabinet slid along the floor making a sound like a banshee, Mark jumped and stuttered that, those were the sounds he had heard. An old arched doorway was revealed behind the cabinet, it took quite a while before Jack could open the lock. When he illuminated the room with his torch he almost screamed, the thing chained to the far wall, bore only a very slight resemblance to the man who should be in the casket. The pitiful full thing whimpered like an animal when the torch beam illuminated it, it was neither dead nor alive and had no resemblance of anything human. “I see you have found my secret laboratory” the voice came from somewhere behind them. Jack spun to find the undertaker standing over the body of Mark, the simple young man would never be frightened of anything again. The undertaker held a long stiletto blade dripping with Marks blood, he advance on Jack with hatred in his eyes. “Before we became undertakers my family had always been necromancers, it is surprising how many people wish to make pets of their dearly departed. This thing you see here is just in its infancy, I will train it like a good pet before I return it to his wife. She will make a final payment and everyone will be happy”. The undertaker gestured with the blade for Jack to move into the hidden room, Jack dropped the torch and the undertaker’s eyes followed it to the ground. Jack stepped forward and dove the point of the switch blade upwards through the roof of his mouth and into his brain.

The sound of the nine millimetre pistol was deafening in the confined space, Jack did not stop pulling the trigger until the magazine was empty. He wanted to make sure that the pitiful thing in chains was at rest where it should be, and then he placed the three bodies in the hidden room. Jack spent the next twenty minutes stacking every container of chemicals in the building into the room with them, and then he went to the garage and returned with a container of petrol. He made his way to the front door dousing every surface with petrol; he was three blocks away when the explosion went off. In the rear view mirror a mushroom shaped ball of flame lit up the sky, not a scrap of evidence of what had occurred in that house would ever be found. Jack stopped off at a jeweller the following morning, as he had anticipated Mabel’s first question when he walked in the office, was how Mark was doing. Jack muttered the answer, “Mark is not afraid anymore”. Before she could quiz him any further he handed her the watch, deep inside he hoped it would distract her enough to put Mark out of her mind. The following day another envelope arrived with crisp dollar bills, a simple note stated balance of payment. At the bottom of the note instead of a signature, there was a series of musical notes.


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