Following the Storm By Patrick G Moloney.

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

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017

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The gusting wind caught him square in the chest when he stepped out on to the street; rocking him back on his feet. It was awkward trying to keep the fedora hat on his head as in one hand he held his mail and the other grasped an ornate walking cane walking cane. He stepped back inside the post office to steady himself; the pretty young woman behind the counter asked him if he needed help. He tossed her a wry grin before telling her he was beyond help. Placing the mail inside his overcoat and holding his hat with the free hand he stepped once more into the storm, it was early November and the mighty Atlantic Ocean was in foul humour. By the time he got inside the car he was gasping for breath, it was not yet four in the afternoon and the meagre street lights in the village were already battling the gloom. Most of the mail had been bills forwarded from the office. The other mail forwarded was junk advertising everything from office furniture, to a new concept called the ansaphone, a device to record incoming calls when you were out of the office. He played around with the idea he might have use for one of those, in the end he crumpled the flyer up and threw it on the back seat. The last envelope was an A4 sized one; it was addressed to him at the cottage. He recognised the collectors flowing script immediately, and his hand shook slightly as he opened it. It was the page from a newspaper dated one week since; it had been folded so as when he took it out the first thing he saw was the photograph.

It was a photograph of two men in tuxedo suits, both men were recently deceased at his hands. Jeff White and the man from White Peak stared into the camera smiling; he felt anger boiling up inside him as he looked at the photograph. A part of him wished he could kill them all over again, as he read the caption a gust of wind off of the sea threatened to overturn the car. The story dealt with the brutal murder of these two so called pillars of society, police believed that there was an occult and child abuse connection involved. So the collector was keeping him up to date on developments, he placed the newspaper clipping back in the envelope and placed it in the glove compartment. He would burn it in the fire later when he got back to the cottage, right now he had an urge to drink and he was tired of drinking alone. The Anchor Tavern was the only real bar in Bell Harbour; this was the first time he had ever set foot inside the door. It was furnished in the style of a bygone era, a small group of trawler men sat at a table in the corner playing cards. By the raucous behaviour of the card players Jack guessed they had been there most of the day, He took a seat at the corner of the bar with his back to the card game, the bar keep had a hard look about him but seemed cordial enough. Jack was on his second glass of whisky when one of the young men from the card table came to the bar, he was slightly unsteady on his feet and full of bluster. Jack watched him in the mirror; he had seen hundreds of guys like him before. The card player shouted his order at the barman, while he waited he turned to Jack and his eye went to the ornate walking cane leaning against the bar. “What happened your leg mister” he slurred, Jack continued to sip his whisky and ignored him. He watched the drunk’s expression; he could see he was getting agitated. Jack caught the drunk’s wrist as soon as he placed his hand on his shoulder, one quick twist and the man’s face was on the bar. The bar tender intervened before things developed any more, the card players were asked to leave.

Jack apologised to the man behind the bar over the altercation, but the man just shrugged and told Jack he been waiting for an excuse to get rid of the drunks. A few people began to drift in after six; Jack supposed they were calling for a drink after work. Around eight thirty Jack purchased a bottle of whisky to go, realising he was not exactly in the mood for company. Jack was just at the car when he heard the hurried footsteps behind him; his first thought was the drunk from the bar. He tossed the whisky bottle on the seat, and then he twisted the head of the cane to release the blade. He turned quickly prepared to fillet whoever was behind him; the small elderly couple looked as if they had seen a ghost. The couple stepped back in unison and stared at him in stunned silence; it was the woman who spoke first. Jack poured two generous measures of whisky, the elderly lady preferring to stick with coffee. Mr and Mrs Kirby had driven the whole way from the city to meet him; he did not have to ask who pointed them in his direction. The couple must have been in their mid-seventies and the wife was the talker, her husband choosing to confine his input to nodding in agreement with her narrative. They wanted Jack to find out what happened their only child, when he asked them about the cops looking into it; they told him the law had given up on it a long time ago. This was the crux of the problem; their son had disappeared over thirty years earlier. So what had brought them to Bell Harbour now, Mrs Kirby looked embarrassed and stared at the floor as she gave their reasons. She had been plagued with dreams for the past twelve months, in these dreams her son came to her. He told her that he was imprisoned in a dark place and he could not rest, she had gone to her pastor and the pastor spoke to a man who gave him Jack’s name. So indirectly he would once again be working for the collector, they left him with a file on the disappearance and an envelope of cash. Jack tried to tell them that he would only take money if he thought he could help, but they insisted that money was never a problem.

Outside the storm raged unabated as Jack sat by the fire and went through the file, when he had finished he tossed it one side. Surly no one in their right mind could expect him to get a result in this case; he fell asleep on the sofa his last conscious thought was to contact the Kirby’s and return their money. She came to him in a dream looking every bit as radiant as the first day he met her, but there was no happiness in her eyes. Instead there was a pleading look, she told him that the Kirby’s child was trapped just like her brothers and he promised her he would try. The following morning Jack gathered his things, it may have only been a dream but he would never break a promise to Mabel. As he drove inland from the coast the gathering storm seemed to follow him, it took him four hours to reach the town where the child had disappeared all those years ago. Where he was brought up, Preston would be considered a one horse town, but in this are it was considered a hub in the county. A phone call to a former detective acquaintance in the city helped pave the way for him to see the old records at Preston police station. The serious looking woman that led him to the basement where the cold case files were kept seemed nervous of him, she handed him the box of files and almost ran from the room. Jack sat on a hard chair that made his back ache and sifted through the dusty files, from what he could see they had done a pretty decent investigation. So what could he do at this late stage that would make any difference? None of the police involved were still even in Preston most of them had already passed on. The only chance he had was to try and track down the last person who had contact with Joseph Kirby, according to the records it was an eight year old friend called Jennifer Boyle. In the end it was the serious woman that gave him a break, she told him that Jennifer had married and still lived in the county.

The cancer had taken a heavy toll on the woman, but even in her emancipated state he could tell that she had been a stunner. She smiled at him but her eyes had that thousand yard stare, the nurse had told him she was on high doses of pain killers. Jack felt awkward now that he was in the small hospice ward facing the dying woman; he struggled to find a way to open the conversation. But she spoke before he had a chance, “You are here about Joseph aren’t you; he comes to me at night you know. He told me you would be coming, I tried to tell them back then that the dark things took him, but they thought I was just a foolish child”. Jennifer lapsed into silence again and closed her eyes, he thought she had fallen asleep, but when he started to get up to leave she grasped his hand. Even in her weakened state her grip was solid, “Please stay, I rarely have company these days, I just need to rest for a while and we can talk again”. The room was dark when he woke, he could feel her staring at him. He had been dreaming of the shadows again and it took him a while to realise where he was. She laughed softly and said “It has been a long time since I had a man sleep by my side”. For some reason he could not fathom out he reached across the bed and took her hand, she sighed softly and squeezed his hand gently this time. He listened patiently as she told him about her life, how she was first diagnosed in her mid-thirties and how her husband had left soon after. It was a while before she began to talk about the missing boy again, when she did the sadness in her voice was gut wrenching. They had been best friends at school, they would explore the old mansion on the outskirts of town every chance they got, it was here she told him that the shadows took him, all those years ago.

There was not much of the rambling old house still standing, the roof had caved in many years before. Jack found it hard going to pick his steps among the rubble inside the walls; scavengers had ripped out anything that could be sold. According to the records the house was run down even back in those days but still more or less intact. It had once belonged to a family who owned steel mills in the area, but after the war the business had gone in to decline and they had moved on. Jennifer had told him that they had been exploring the out buildings when Joseph was taken, she was adamant that dark shadowy figures had set upon them, she had run and they took Joseph. The local police held no store in her version of events and her statement was dismissed as the hysterical ramblings of a frightened child. There was nothing much inside the walls of the house so Jack made his way back outside, he closed his eyes and tried to imagine a picture of the grounds as they were on that day thirty years before. According to Jennifer she could remember being in a barn like building when it happened, he made his way around the back of the house. The rear yard was a cobbled stone affair surrounded by out buildings; Jack stood in the centre of the courtyard and turned slowly. The old coach house was the one that most resemble a barn, he started towards it his cane making tapping sounds on the cobble stones. Halfway across the yard he felt it, it was as if someone had tugged on his coat tails. Then Mabel’s voice sounded deep in his mind, “The big house Jack beneath the floor”. He turned and hurried back in the direction he had come from, when he stepped inside the walls the second time he felt it. The atmosphere inside what was left of the big old house had changed, the very air seemed oppressive and it was cold as ice. Faint whispering voices reached him from the direction of what was once the kitchen, he moved towards them and the whispers took on a frantic note.

Jack stood in confused anger in the centre of the big kitchen, the whispers had fallen silent but he could sense a malevolent presence. He had tapped on every inch of the stone floor but no sign of any hollow spots; perhaps he had imagined her voice and the whispering were manifestation of a troubled mind. He had not been himself since he had left her at that convent, he was overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness he should not have come here. He was giving the old couple false hope, and misleading a dying woman. He turned to leave and a beam of low winter sun shone through the window opening, it illuminated an area of flagstones where the cooker had once stood. He was covered in a clammy sheen of sweat that felt like ice in the frigid air by the time he managed to lift the heavy flagstones; the stone steps below them disappeared into pitch blackness. From this darkness the whispering began again carried on a waft of foul air, halfway down the steps he found an alcove in the wall containing a large candle. He found Joseph in the hidden room below, the flickering flame of the candle picked out the small skeletal frame. They had nailed the child to an inverted wooden cross, when he laid the cross on the ground the incessant whispering stopped. When he went to the hospice he knew by the nurse’s expression he was too late, he would have liked to tell Jennifer that he found Joseph but somehow he felt she knew. A couple of days later he watched the small coffin being lowered into the ground, the elderly couple stood holding hands in dignified grief as their child was finally laid to rest. Later as he left the cemetery he saw them, in the distance the little boy and girl smiled and waved at him.

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