A Glimpse of Truth among the shadows by Patrick G Moloney

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Instalment 7 of the Jack Burke crime mysteries..

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017

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The hallway stretched out before him like an endless highway, a part of his mind told him this was not real. Yet the doorbell continued its irritating ringing, no matter how quickly he walked, the door remained a great distance away. The constant ringing was making his head hurt, but worse than that he had a feeling something was wrong. Whoever was out there badly wanted to be answered, he hoped it was not someone he cared for that was in trouble. But who do I care for, the question suddenly popped into his head. Now he began to feel more confused and agitated, he knew he cared for someone but the name would not come to him. Had he lost his mind completely, he was finding it hard to think, that incessant ringing sound was addling his brain. Jack woke on the old couch in the office, the phone on the desk ringing its shrill sound. He had been dreaming there was no doorbell only the black Bakelite phone, he got unsteadily to his feet and crossed to the desk. His mouth felt dry and his head throbbed, he picked up the receiver and answered. His throat felt gravely and his voice came out like a whisper, he had been at the whisky bottle again. There was a sudden burst of static in his ear then silence, he was about to hang up again when a voice echoed down the line. The clipped British accent wanted to know if he had reached the offices of Jack Burke, Jack had a sudden urge to hang up and go back to the couch. But he ended up agreeing to meet the British gentleman at the central hotel the following evening; after all he was curious to know what a Brit wanted with him.

He held his face below the water in the basin until his lungs were burning, when he surfaced his head felt less groggy. He had been hitting the drink fairly heavy since he had come back from White Peak; it had been one of the hardest things he had ever done, to tell Mabel that her brothers had not survived. He had not elaborated on what had happened back there, but by the look in her eyes he knew that she had a good idea. He had begun to wonder lately if the darkness in her past had somehow steered her in his direction, all roads in his life lately led in one direction and that was into the shadows. Jack wondered if Mabel had been sent to him to walk the same path, sometimes he felt like he was becoming the darkness. The small man stood out like a sore thumb among the rest of the people in the hotel lobby, you did not find many people in this city wearing a bowler hat and herring bone overcoat. He cut a quaint and almost comical figure, however anyone that looked into his eyes would know he was not a comedian. The dark eyes behind the wire rimmed glasses were alert and serious; they burned with intelligence and wisdom. It would be a grave mistake to believe that anything about this man was trivial; he had a firm no nonsense hand shake when Jack took his hand. The man gestured towards the dining room before striding ahead of Jack; in his right hand he carried an old fashioned brief case. The waiter had no sooner brought the coffee when the man got straight down to business, he introduced himself as Jonathan Greene and he was a solicitor. He had just flown in from London this morning and intended staying for no longer than one week. He wanted Jack to locate a woman by the name of Jennifer Delaney and persuade Ms Delaney to meet him on a matter of urgent business. All this information was imparted to Jack before they had even had a sip of their coffee, when asked why Jack; Jonathan Greene’s expression became even more serious.

It was the first time since they had met that the British man seemed to struggle for words, after a long pause he stared directly in to Jacks eyes. The answer was not exactly what Jack had expected, “A man you did some work for recommended you, and I believe you located a music box for him”. There it was out in the open what Jack had believed all along, the collector who owned the music box was channelling these strange jobs to him. A myriad of questions raced through Jacks mind, but in the end he just nodded. Somethings in life you are better off to remain ignorant of, and the motives behind the collector’s actions was one of these things. Green handed Jack a folder containing the details of the of the woman he was to locate, then excused himself and left Jack sitting alone in the dining room. He sat there for a long time, pondering over the fact that he had never even considered refusing the case, and then he realised why. When Jack had taken the first case for the collector he had embarked on the first leg of a long journey, it was a journey with a purpose and he would only discover what this purpose was if he stayed steadfastly on the path. He had a niggling suspicion that like Mabel something dark in his past had brought him to where he was now, he would only know what this was when he finally discovered what lay beyond the shadows. The waiter returned and asked if he would like anything else, it was a struggle to stop himself ordering a large Crested Ten. Instead he decided to call by and see how Mabel was doing; he did not want to turn up at her apartment half cut. For the first time in a long time Jack was surprised with himself, he had actually thought of someone else instead of just himself.

Back at the office he began to tidy up the place, he washed up the coffee cups and locked the whisky bottle in the bottom drawer of the filling cabinet. He felt better than he had done in a while; Mabel had looked like she was beginning to feel better in herself. She had even hinted about coming back to work, so he had decided to tidy up in case she came into the office. For the second time that day Jack Bourke had a revelation, he realised if he travelled in the shadows he would rather not do it alone. Jennifer Delany turned out to be a woman in her early seventies; the folder gave her last known address in a suburb of the city. The woman had moved to this country in her mid-twenties, a suggestion of a possible romance with a wealthy industrialist was briefly mentioned. However as far as Jack could make out from the dossier she had remained unmarried, the frustrating part of this whole thing was that he had not been entrusted with the reason Mr Greene had travelled this distance to locate the lady. But there was one thing he was sure of, and that was the fact that if the collector had recommended him for the job. Then there would most certainly be an element of darkness involved in this case, it was as plain as the nose on his face that he was now part of something that went beyond the accepted norms of life. Jack had somehow passed from being a private investigator to becoming a sort of paranormal investigator, the troubling part was he felt that somehow he had become the monkey while someone else was the organ grinder.

The big old house must have been quite the residence back in the day, but the gardens had all succumbed to weeds and moss and lichen covered the cobblestones of the driveway. The mail box lay in a patch of weeds, the screws fixing it to the gate pier having rusted through a long time ago. The house itself was still a formidable building but the paint had all but peeled from the walls, and the windows had turned opaque with dust. His first instinct was to turn the car and hit back to the city, but since he was here now he decided to have a look around. The front door looked as if it had warped in the frame, he ran his hand across the wood and the varnish came away in powder. He seriously believed it would take a crowbar to prise the thing open, he cupped his hand over his face and tried to peer through the dusty windows. But apart from the shadowy outlines of what he guessed was furniture he could not make out anything else, Jack decided to take a look around the back of the house. When he came around the gable end to the back yard a foul stench assailed his nostrils, his first thought was of a decaying body. But he quickly realised the stench was emanating from an old fountain, situated in the centre of what must have one time been a lawn. If the front gardens were bad the rear of the house resembled a miniature jungle, a stand of bamboo had taken over a large section of the grounds. He made his way to the backdoor carefully picking his steps across the rotting decking, he had just put his hand on the door knob when the voice behind him made him jump. “Hey mister, I told you guys time and time again Jenny isn’t here”, he turned slowly to find the stooped old man standing by the stinking fountain.

The first thing that drew Jack’s attention was the small axe in the man’s wrinkled old hand, the man may have been older than god but he had a determined look in his eyes. “I told the other guys they are wasting their time, Jenny hasn’t been home for a very long time”. Something about the old man told Jack that he was concealing something and it was plain to see that he was protective towards this Jenny. Jack did his best to convince the man that his reason for being here was in the best interest of Jennifer Delany, the old man eyed him suspiciously for what seemed an eternity. Then it was if the air was suddenly let out of him, he appeared to grow even more stooped and the hand holding the axe slumped to his side. They sat in the small apartment that had once been part of the big double garage; the garage was concealed from view at the bottom of the garden behind the bamboo stand. It was neatly kept yet frugally furnished, Jack watched the old man pour the two glasses of Bourbon with a trembling hand. They sat either end of the small kitchen table in silence sipping the fiery liquid; Jack could now see how fragile the man really was and was hesitant to push him too quickly for information, he was willing to sit here in silence until the old man was ready to talk. They were on their second glass of liquor before the old man finally spoke.

His name was Joe and he had been a sort of unofficial gardener for Jennifer Delany, he had been homeless and she had offered him part of the garage to live in. In return he had maintained the gardens and done odd jobs for her, at least he had done so before she was taken ill. That had been almost ten years ago and he had stayed on, but he was getting older and could not take care of the gardens now. He lived on welfare and a small sum of money paid into his account monthly, a little pension she had set up for him. Joe told him that no one had come looking for her for years that was until lately, about twelve months ago men had started to turn up looking for her and access to the house. In the end he had gone to a friend he knew in the cops and the cop arranged for a patrol car to swing by now and again, that had worked for a while. However in the last couple of weeks that had begun to come around again, Jack could see that the old guy was getting scared about these visitors. The old man fell into silence again and Jack asked the question, “When did Jennifer die” he was not prepared for the answer. Maybe it was the age old adage that no one had asked the right question, or it may have just been the old man wanted to unburden. Either way the old man answered without hesitation, it turned out the lady he sought was still alive. Now the defining thing would be what stage of alive she would be in, Jack left the old man who had once again drifted into silence. He looked back as he got to the door; the frail old man was staring into space. Staring into a past to a time when he could look after gardens and he was not frightened by strange men calling around.

Bedlam, the word came immediately to mind as soon as he entered the grounds of the hospital, the building could easily have been transported here from Victorian England. He was more than a little surprised, he would have thought that a woman who owned a house like the one Jennifer Delaney owned, would be in a financial position to afford a more modern facility than this. But like most things in life first impressions could be deceiving, the inside of the building looked more like a five star hotel than a hospital. Jack made his way to the reception desk, the woman behind the desk looked as if life had given her nothing but lemons. Jack removed his hat and treated the woman to what he hoped was a seductive smile; however his attempt at charm fell on stony ground. The shrew faced receptionist glowered at him as if he was some kind of a deviant, an instant and strong dislike for the woman welled up inside him. However he forced himself to smile at the battle-axe and asked to see Jennifer Delaney, by the shocked expression on the woman’s face one would have thought he had asked her to sleep with him. Without uttering a word the woman reached inside the desk drawer and handed him an official looking form, and then as an afterthought slapped a pen on top of the paper. She gestured rudely in the direction of a seated waiting area; he had an overwhelming desire to snap the woman’s scrawny neck. Instead he grabbed the form and crossed the room to the waiting area; here he filled out the shrews form. Under the heading of relationship to patient, Jack wrote nephew.

The receptionist trawled through the form diligently, every now and again shooting him a look of disdain. He could see she was hoping to find some reason to deny him visitation to Jennifer, in the end she stamped the form with force before picking up the phone. The young buxom nurse who led him to Jennifer’s, room was the polar opposite of the crone in reception. She was all smiles and flirtatious and he wondered just how they could be even from the same planet, she left him at the door to Jennifer’s room with a smile and a cheeky wink. He braced himself before knocking at the door, wondering what kind of state he would find the patient in. If Jennifer Delaney was in her seventies she certainly looked nothing like it, she could have easily passed for a well preserved fifty something woman. “I am delighted to see you Jack, especially since I had not even realised I had a nephew” her voice was soft and humorous but her eyes were cold and alert. This woman did not look to Jack as if she was in anyway mentally impaired, in the end he decided to just tell her straight out how he had come to be here. The woman sat staring out the room window as Jack spoke, even though her gaze was elsewhere he had a disturbing feeling that Jennifer was judging his every word and expression. Jack had come here in search of this woman, yet he had a disturbing feeling that he was here to be accessed. He had talked himself out and still she stared into the distance, it was almost as if she was waiting for him to say something that would somehow incriminate him. He had an immediate sense that this woman was a formidable character, but then why was she wasting her remaining years in this place.

When Jennifer finally spoke it was almost as if she had read his thoughts, “The reason I am here, is the fact this institution affords me a small amount of protection. Very powerful people believe that I have something they want; these people will employ any methods at their disposal to get what they want. I am not sure if you could even comprehend the methods they have at their disposal, but it is safe to say that once they know where to find me, walls and locked doors will not stop their agents from reaching me”. Jack waited for her to elaborate further, but it was as if she suddenly forgot he was even in the room. Evening had arrived and the sinking sun filled the room with shadows, Jennifer had become a silhouette against the window. Jack had a strange glimpse of the beauty she must have once been, he vaguely wondered how a woman like this had ended up alone. He felt as if he was losing her to her own thoughts, and he asked the only questions he could think of. He asked her what they wanted and who they were, it was as if her mind suddenly kicked back into gear and she turned to him. She looked him straight in the face for the first time since he entered the room and answered in a whisper, “I just don’t know, but I feel they are closing in on me. Joe is obviously beginning to become frightened or else he would never have told you how to find me. They will send the shadow creatures to him before long and he will tell them where I am, his mind was never that strong in the first place. I myself had always been strong willed and the dark things they command almost broke my sanity, if I knew what I am supposed to possess I would have given it up back then”. She turned once again to stare out the window at the gathering darkness; he watched her shoulders give an involuntary shiver. In a broken voice she whispered, “Bring the English man to see me, perhaps he can tell us what they seek and who they are”.

On a hunch Jack turned the car and headed out of the city, he would leave it until the morning to contact Jonathan Greene. Something she had said galvanised him to head back to her house in the suburbs, he needed to check on old Joe. The moment he rounded the stand of bamboos and the garage came into view he felt it, that unearthly stillness that surrounded the building. The apartment door was locked from the inside yet he knew there was point in knocking, the door frame splintered on the first impact of his leather brogue. Joe’s body hung limply like a rag doll, the old man’s neck looked unnaturally long. Jennifer had been right when she said that his mind was not strong, whatever they had sent to interrogate him had pushed him over the brink. The stench of something unworldly pervaded the air of the small kitchen; Jack had experienced this scent before. He had smelled it whenever the unseen things moved beyond the shadows, the sharp blade of the switchblade parted the rope easily and he took the weight of Joe on his shoulder. He laid the small frame of the old man on the kitchen floor; his first instinct was to find something to cover the body. But in the end he walked away and left the old man as he had found him, Joe was beyond anything causing him more hurt or fear. He headed back to the office he would need to phone the hotel, phone the hotel and drink whisky. He knew the shadowy beings would come to him in his dreams and the whisky might just blot out the memory of their visit. Jack went through what was becoming a morning ritual; he filled the wash hand basin and held his head below the water for as long as he could. This served to elevate the worst of the grogginess in his head, although he almost got sick when he brushed his teeth. Staring in the mirror he knew the liquor would eventually wear him down.

Traffic was heavy and moving at a snail’s pace this morning, so the journey to the hotel gave Jack Burke plenty of time to reflect on his life. Every way he turned these days he found himself staring into the darkness, he had a niggling feeling deep in his mind that something in his past had led him to this. But what it was he just could not say, all he knew for sure was there did not seem to be anyway to avoid the darkness now. When he pulled up outside the hotel, Jonathan Greene stood waiting on the side walk his comical bowler hat firmly in place. The journey to the hospital was made in uneasy silence; he had at first tried probing the British man as to what was going on. But his questions appeared to fall on deaf ears, in the end he drove in silence. The shrew faced receptionist seemed far less cocky this morning, when he requested to see Jennifer the woman plainly avoided eye contact. She seemed flustered for some reason, he was about to repeat his request when Jonathan Greene grabbed his elbow silencing him. “Is there some kind of a problem mam”, he asked in his clipped English accent. The sour faced woman behind the desk stared at a point somewhere above their heads, before speaking in a faltering voice. “Ms Delaney passed away peacefully in her sleep last night”. Something in Jack’s head told him that it may not have been a very peaceful passing. He was about to question her on the circumstances but Jonathan tugged on his jacket and headed for the door, outside he asked Jack to take him to her house.

The back door of the big old house was open and hung from one rusted hinge; it had been closed when Jack left the garage last night. Jack reached in his coat pocket and slipped out the switchblade, he only managed to put one foot inside the door when Jonathan pulled him back. Jack looked at him questioningly; the dark eyes behind the wire framed glasses that looked back at him were filled with determination. “Jack I am sure that you are already well aware that the cases we send you are, shall we say, are a little beyond the normal realms of your profession. As you may have guessed you were not picked by accident, nor was Mabel a random applicant for the job. However there is quite a lot that will not be divulged for quite a while to come yet, the man you know as the collector is part of a small group of people as am I. We dedicate our time to ensuring that certain items are kept beyond the reach of people who seek to harness dark forces for their own evil intentions. The knife you have in your hand may well defend us against any human aggression we face inside this house; however there are other things they use. Shadowy things you have experienced before, they are more of a threat to your mind then your body”. As abruptly as Jonathan had begun to speak he now lapsed into silence and gestured with his head to the open door, they entered silently.

Someone had turned the place over and the contents of drawers and presses were strewn around every room, the small man walked through the house with determination. He stopped only briefly in each room to give a cursory glance around, it was as if he was expecting to find something that stood out. They were on the first floor when Jack felt it, a gradual but persistent drop in temperature. By the time they had reached Jennifer’s bed room the temperature had plummeted, and the quality of light had deteriorated. They stood in the centre of the big room, their breath creating plumes of vapour in the frigid air. Whoever turned the place over had really gone to town on this room, even the mattress of the four poster bed had been sliced open. Jack began to sense movement in the edges of the room, darker patches among the shadows. Fleeting glimpses in his peripheral vision of things he could not find shape for, things that when he turned to look at were not there. A more determent movement close by drew his attention; the small man in the bowler hat had climbed on to a chair and was removing a painting from the wall behind the bed. The gloom began to close in on Jack; it felt as if an invisible damp blanket was being draped over him. He put pressure on the button on the knife handle, the blade opened with a swishing noise. The small man was walking towards him now with the painting under his left arm; he knew instinctively that he must put the blade through the man’s throat. The man with the funny hat exploded into action, his right hand came from his pocket and moved in a blur of speed. A flash of light went off in Jack’s head and he sunk into the blackness.

He was at home in his parents’ house; he knew it was Sunday because he was wearing his good clothes. Suddenly they were outside the church, he couldn’t remember walking here. His parents were speaking to a sombre looking priest and they were staring at him, he closed his eyes to concentrate on hearing what they were talking about. Then he heard the priest’s words, “You must raise him as your own son, someday he will be called on to face down the darkness”. He opened his eyes and the small man with the wire rimmed glasses was above him starring into his face, he was lying in the scrub grass outside the old house. Jonathan Greene helped to a sitting position; his head ached with a throbbing dull pain. The small man offered him a silver hip flask; the brandy seared his throat and made a fire in his belly. He watched Jonathan Greene use his switch blade to remove the back of the painting; he removed an ancient looking piece of parchment and studied it before nodding with satisfaction. Not a word was spoken until Jack pulled up outside the hotel, Jonathan Greene handed him a thick envelope and only then did he speak. “I apologise for the cosh across your head Jack, but I did warn you the darkness can affect your mind”. The small man began to climb onto the sidewalk, before pausing to turn to Jack again.” Only by looking beyond the shadows Jack, will you truly learn the truth about yourself”. Jack waited until Jonathan Greene was inside the hotel, then he turned into the afternoon traffic and headed towards Mabel’s apartment.

 

 

 

 

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