A Life For A Life by Patrick G Moloney.

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

Submitted: March 07, 2017

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Submitted: March 07, 2017

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The Chevrolet Airporter had been customised; all the windows bar the front windscreen had been tinted black. But this in itself was not that unusual, a lot of celebrities liked to travel like this. What was unusual about the custom alterations was the inside; the whole rear of the big car was now an ambulance. An ambulance that was far better equipped than most emergency departments in the country, four people occupied the back of the big limousine. Two burly body guards, the bulge under their armpits was a tell-tale sign they were armed. They sat staring intently at the man they were paid to protect, the man was frail and ancient looking and lay on a hospital trolley. The old man’s face was covered by an oxygen mask, and his chest barley moved with his shallow breathing. The final occupant of the rear of the car was a stony faced woman; she sat alongside the patient monitoring his pulse, a stethoscope hung from her neck. It was plain to see the old man was not long for this world, but the woman looked calm and collected. She checked his pulse and blood pressure, and then she looked at the machine that monitored his heart beat. Every now and again she took notes and spoke softly into a Dictaphone.

By the time they got the old man into the room the heart monitor was showing an almost flat line, they quickly placed him beside another trolley on which lay a woman in her late teens. The woman with the stethoscope placed transfusion lines in both their arms, a number of transfusion lines designed to exchange blood between the young woman and the man who barely clung to life. A group of men now entered the room with strange robes, when they began to speak in a strange language the woman opened the lines. The ceremony or whatever it was, continued for about forty minutes, when they finished the old man’s heart monitor showed an almost regular heart rate. In stark contrast the young woman’s had flat lined, before the lines had even been removed, the young body was already beginning to show signs of rapid aging. Within an hour the man was sitting up and looking as if years had been miraculously shed from his age. By the time the body guards took the man from the room, the girl’s body was already being washed downstream in the local river.

‘Coleridge’ a place name that had appeared on a scrap of paper saved from a fire, part of the tiny amount of evidence that was salvaged from what remained of George Clarke’s journal. Clarke’s journal would have meant the end of an organisation that had been responsible for unspeakable evil. But these people knew how to protect themselves and were willing to kill anyone that tried to expose them. Now they were left with single pieces of a complicated jigsaw puzzle, this was why Jack and Anna now found themselves on a long dive to the place called ‘Coleridge’, it was here they hoped to pick up the threads of their quest again. The collector had been researching Coleridge ever since they had given him the scraps of the journal. Normally the collector provided them with a contact in whatever police precinct they happen to working in, however the Coleridge police department were not willing to cooperate with outsiders. However the collector had come up with another local contact, an investigative journalist by the name of Rita Morris.

Anna was driving when they reached the outskirts of Coleridge; it was a fairly large provincial city by the looks of it. They stopped at service station just inside the city limits, both of them needed to stretch their legs and eat after their long journey. Anna cleared her plate as usual and finished anything he had left, he could never understand how she managed to eat so much and retain her killer figure. Jack returned to the car while Anna went to use the restroom. When Anna returned from the restroom she threw a copy of a local newspaper in his lap, the headline read ‘Spate of missing persons cases in Coleridge continues’. Below was a picture of a young woman, the latest to go missing, but the most interesting thing was the name of the journalist. It was the same name the collector had given him. Rita Morris, she was a freelance for the local rags and magazines.

The small bar was shrouded in a cloud of cigarette smoke, a number of customers sat on high stools at the bar, but the rest of the place appeared empty. Jack looked around and could not see a single other woman except for Anna who stood by his side. Anna went to a vacant booth at the back wall while Jack ordered the drinks. When Jack mentioned the journalists name the bar man fell silent, as he looked Jack over. It was only when Jack explained that they had arranged to meet Rita here that he seemed to thaw out. It appeared that the journalist was a creature of habit and they were fifteen minutes early. The booth Anna had picked gave a view of the whole bar and the doorway, it also left them lost in shadow to the casual observer. Bang on eight thirty the door opened and the woman sauntered in; she was dressed in a short glittery dress in a style of the roaring twenties. She was very pretty and carried herself confidently. Jack caught the bartender as he gave an almost unnoticeable nod in the direction of their booth, he got the feeling the bar tender was tight with this particular customer.

Rita Morris moved with a self-assured feline grace, this was a woman who had a high opinion of herself. Rita sat on the curved seat and slid across alongside Jack, without even acknowledging Anna she whispered in his ear. “Mine is a whisky sour” he could feel the tension coming from Anna. When he arrived back with the round of drinks, neither of the girls was speaking. Jack had a feeling that this was going to be a long night; Anna had a face on her like thunder. Rita sipped her drink and put her hand on his knee, it was plain to see she was doing it to get up Anna’s nose. Jack did not find the situation funny and pushed her hand away as it moved further up his leg; Anna suddenly got to her feet and went to the pool table. Jack was also losing patience with the journalist’s antics, but he trusted the collector not to land them with a lemon. Jack eventually just asked her straight out what the story was, Rita took out a cigarette. Jack lit it for her and she pulled deeply on it and blew a smoke circle from her cupid lips.

A period of silence followed and then she spoke, “Go get your girlfriend and we will talk, I just needed to see who I was dealing with. Something dark is happening in this town and I need to be careful, a person can get real dead real quick around here. I would rather that the person was not me, you can’t trust anyone in this town”. Anna was still seething and it took a lot of persuading to get her to come back and listen to the journalist. Now that the teasing was finished she got down to business, gone was all the false flirting Rita was suddenly a hardnosed journalist. She was quite the encyclopaedia on what was going on in Coleridge, and she also had a wide range of contacts including quite a few with the street people.

Rita arranged to pick them up the following morning at their hotel; before she left she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, leaving him smeared with lipstick. Then she stood up and winked at Anna and blew her a kiss, the anger from Anna was a tangibly thing. Jack watched her saunter towards the coat rack, her rounded bottom swayed side to side hypnotically. He almost jumped out of his skin when the girl with the green eyes slammed her empty glass on the table. She muttered something in her own tongue and Jack just gawped at her, then she hissed “Another drink please” Jack hurried to the bar. Anna continued to knock back the drinks in silence; she did not speak again until he left her at her hotel room door, then she slurred “Goodnight” and slammed the door. Jack lay awake for quite a while, in the room next door she banged things around and spoke out loud in Russian. Jack suddenly realised the girl with the green eyes was not always calm and collected; she had quite a temper on her, that girl. When Anna finally went to sleep Jack found himself lying awake staring at the ceiling, it’s funny how your mind sometimes went into over drive when you needed it to relax. Everything that had happened since that first night he met the collector, played out in a muddled kaleidoscope of images. When sleep finally came to him it was fitful as his mind continued to throw up jumbled images.

Jack woke to Anna pounding on the door, he had over slept and woke disorientated. He stumbled to the door and let her in, the fact that he was in his underwear completely escaped his mind. If she was put out by his appearance it was not obvious, she threw him a towel and pointed him towards the shower. Rita was pacing up and down the lobby when they arrived down; she made some wise crack about a passionate night and winked at Anna. Jack was afraid to look to see how the Russian woman took the jibe, but the journalist was now the epitome of professionalism. Apparently she had a new lead in the downtown area; she sat in the passenger’s seat and directed him. Anna and Jack hung back while Rita went to the line of street people who queued up outside the soup kitchen, Rita seemed to be warmly greeted by quite a few of these unfortunate souls. She took an old timer one side and they had a long chat; the down and out did a lot of gesturing with his hands. Rita slipped the old man a few notes, when she walked back towards them she had a troubled look on her face.

Rita filled them in on what she had been told, it seemed all a bit fanciful but Jack had a hunch it just might be true. If this was the lead they all needed, then it would be later tonight before they could verify it. Rita offered to show them the city, Anna was all for breaking up and meeting later. Jack could tell Anna was not happy when he let her go back to the hotel alone, while he remained with Rita. In the end there was no tour of the city; instead they got some fast food and sat in the park. However it was far from a wasted morning; Rita filled him in on every nuance of the missing person’s cases. Not only that but she also freely gave her own insight to what was going on, including the fact that she did not trust anyone in the police department. Something else she said really touched a chord with him; Rita believed some very powerful people were involved with this whole thing. When he got back to the hotel he filled Anna in on Rita’s theories. Jack could tell she was interested in these theories; however she listened sullenly without adding to the conversation. When they both went to their rooms to prepare for the nights work, Jack spent quite a while wondering why the hell Anna was so upset about this woman.

Gone was the flash dress high heels and pearl necklace, Rita was dressed in clothes that could only be described as male like. She wore a woollen cap of a dark colour, and her necklace was replaced by a camera strap from which hung a Nikon camera with a telephoto lens. From a distance she could have easily been mistaken for a man, however up close the drab clothing could not camouflage her feminine shape. Anna also had changed into dark clothing although they were of a more feminine cut, just before they left Rita took Anna one side and a whispered conversation took place. When they returned to the car Anna appeared less tense than of late and more surprisingly, they both sat up front with him. Whatever had been said appeared to have eased tensions between them. They drove towards the outskirts on the far side of the city; to where an old abandoned hospital stood. It was often used for shelter by the homeless whenever the cops cleared them off the streets, the old timer had told Rita of strange things going on here on certain nights. They drove in silence each lost in their own thoughts, somewhere in the back of Jack’s mind Mabel whispered for him to be careful.

Jack was getting restless and was about to suggest calling it a night, they had been here for almost three hours without any sign of activity. The sound of the camera shutter going off stopped him before he could speak; a dark coloured van had pulled into the parking area in front of the building. They got quietly out of the car and keeping to the shadows they approached nearer to the van, a cigarette glowed in the darkened cab and then another. Minutes later the two burly men got out; discarding their cigarettes they opened the side door of the van. The young woman was either unconscious or dead, for they had to literally drag her body from the cargo area. Each one took and arm and draped it over their shoulders, then they dragged her inside the building, her shoes leaving parallel lines in the dirt. Jack slipped the pistol from under his jacket, he turned to Anna and she was already disengaging the safety on her own gun. They allowed ten minutes to pass before deciding to follow the men; however the arrival of another vehicle stopped them in their tracks. Stepping back into the shadows, they watched the hospital trolley being removed from the big stretch limo. It was hurriedly taken in the direction the woman had been dragged.

The stony faced woman was about to place the blood line in the woman’s arm, when Anna stepped from the shadows and fired a round over her head. The sound of the gunshot in the abandoned building was immense, it sounded like a cannon going off. Pandemonium immediately broke out, the men in the strange robes immediately scattered while the others began to return fire. Jack stepped forward and managed to get off a few shots in quick succession; however some well-aimed return fire sent the three of them diving for cover. Continuous gunfire kept them pinned down while the people in the room made good their escape. Silence eventually settled over the building, the only sound was of their own breathing. However it was a while before Anna crept from cover to reconnoitre the situation, Jack struggled to his feet helped by Rita, “Clear” Anna’s voice whispered from the room ahead. The young woman still lay on the trolley, beside her the woman with the stethoscope lay on the ground; one side of her head was a gaping wound. She had been hit by a bullet ricocheting from a wall; Anna leaned over the girl and listened to her chest, after a moment she turned and gave Jack the thumbs up sign.

Neither of them had noticed Rita was not in the room, she had followed a trail of blood that disappeared down a long unlit corridor. A faint sound from this corridor alerted Jack that something was wrong; it was Anna who found her. By the time Jack got there Anna was sitting on the ground cradling the journalist, Anna held her hand tight over the knife wound and whispered softly to the dying girl, the camera was nowhere to be seen. Anna stopped talking and leaned her ear close to Rita’s mouth, she remained like this for a while, and every now and again she nodded her head. When she gently placed Rita’s head on the floor Jack knew it was over, they returned in silence to the unconscious girl. Rita’s last words were to plead with Anna to leave this town; too many powerful people in this city were involved and they would send people to kill Jack and Anna. As soon as they left the girl at a local A&E department, they gathered their stuff booked out of the hotel. It was just getting light as they drove out of Coleridge, and they did not stop until they reached the next town. Here they stopped while Jack made an anonymous phone call to the Coleridge police department. He told them where to find the bodies, although he had a distinct feeling that the bodies would already be gone. Jack had little doubt that Rita Morris journalist would now join the ranks of missing persons; her file would lie in a cabinet in the police department and remain unsolved. Another avenue in their ongoing investigation had just been closed for them, but Jack had a feeling that they would be returning to Coleridge at some stage in the future.

  • Darkfiction


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