Never Turn Your Back

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


Alan Hagan, high-flying lawyer, receives a visit from an old friend


Alan Hagan walked through the empty car-park after another long day. As his footsteps echoed through the shadowy cavern, he felt a prickle of cold across his Armani clad back. Though he prided himself on always being the last to leave the office, tonight the atmosphere in the darkened basement felt sort hostile . . . expectant somehow.

His spirits soon lifted as he approached his Maserati. Was it possible to love a car?

I believe it is, Mr Hagan, yes I do . . .

He unlocked the car door, reached for the handle, when he heard a footfall behind him.

He whirled. A couple of metres away stood a man.

"How's it going?" He said.

Hagan peered more closely through the gloom. The offices upstairs were opulent and tasteful, designed to inspire confidence in the law-firm's high-flying clients. But behind the scenes, his father, Wallace Hagan, had always been a penny-pinching son-of-a-bitch, and this parking lot belonged in the stone-ages. A couple of security cameras would have been useful . . . even just some decent lighting, maybe?

"Um, can I help you?" Hagan began patting his coat pocket for his mobile phone.

The man made a low, humourless chuckle, dragged on a rolled-up cigarette. Even in the dimness Hagan saw he wore Italian leather on his feet, and his suit was well-cut. But on closer inspection, the overcoat and suit could have used a good pressing, and the shoes appeared scuffed.

"Aw, " The stranger puffed again on the cigarette, "I'm truly disappointed you don't you recognize me."

Shadows filled the sunken, unshaven cheeks; wispy hair stood out from his head. Hagan could not read those eyes in their dark sockets, yet . . . the features stirred a faint recognition.

"What is it you want?"

Where is my fucking phone?

A vagrant? Junkie, maybe? The clothes may have been stolen, or given to him by some bleeding-heart charity. But the man’s teeth appeared in good condition and though his voice sounded rough and expressionless, at the same time it seemed well educated.

Godammit! I left it in the office again!

Hagan gave up patting his pockets, "Hey . . ." He tried to make his voice calm, buddy-like, "Look, I can see you're, ah, um, you look like you could use a bit of help. Am I right?" He manufactured the warmest smile he could, "In my briefcase here, if I could just access--"

"I'm not here to mug you." The stranger took a step forward. 

Hagan drew up his briefcase, making a shield of the expensive leather. In his head, he heard his dead father's advice. Old Sir Wallace - a huge bear of a man (in physique and reputation) who had graced the law courts of this town - had lived by the philosophy that you should never turn you back on an enemy. The saying was metaphorical, yes, but not turning his back seemed good advice right now.

The man dragged on his cigarette, letting the smoke dribble out, up to the ceiling. He chuckled again at Alan's discomfort; the amused noise disintegrating into a violent, coughing fit.

No. Mental case. That’s it. Yeah, and unstable can mean dangerous.

As the man straightened up again, too late, it occurred to Hagan he should have hit him while he was doubled over.

"Sorry about that." He ground the butt into the oily concrete, "Things'll kill you, you know."

"Listen, I'm leaving now, so if you'll just--"

"You're not going anywhere until I have some answers, Alan."

Maybe a former client? Why does he seem familiar?

Hagan’s eyes darted. Where the hell was Cecil? Burnt out old codger was only employed because he was a childhood friend of his father's. Some security guard: asshole spent 23 hours of the day napping in his cubby hole at the far entrance of the garage! Well, now Sir Wallace had left this mortal coil, things would change around here! No more . . .

Wait. Hagan swallowed. Alan. The vagrant had said 'Alan'.

"How do you know m-my name?"

"Aw, come on - you're a minor legend in this town! Sure. Alan Hagan, son of Sir Wallace, the 'Big Bear' . . ."

He supposed it wasn't exactly hard to pluck a name or a face from the odd appearance in the newspaper, or t.v. soundbites - even off the brass plate on the front of the building if you wanted.

"Okay." Alan licked his lips, "Fine. Well, whatever. You just step back there, let me get into my car. Comprenday?"

"I really am disappointed."

"Look - whoever you are - I don't know what your game is but---"

"It isn't a game, Alan." The man’s voice turned sharp as ice, "Look closely: don't you see?"

Hagan studied the ravaged features for a moment, then sent his gaze around the shadowy parking lot. Totally empty. No other cars or people - and no Cecil.

I don’t care how much my father thought of him, I will kill that lazy old bastard if I get my hands on him . . .

Staring at the stranger again, Alan's ulcer started to burn. The man stared back, foot tapping, half-smiling, like he had all the time in the world.

Well, he probably did - after a big day lolling around at the bus stop, or milling aimlessly outside the supermarket - whatever the fuck these people did with themselves. His nostrils picked up a smokey, groggy odour. This really was just too much. The guy was an insect.

"Okay. If you don't move, there will be trouble for you, I promise."

"Oh, you could not possibly cause me any more trouble than you already have, Alan. Do you remember Ronny Collins?"

The man stepped closer. Hagan held his breath. He vowed to make it his business that Cecil have his balls twisted off for this.

"Hagan. Look, it's me." The stranger's eyes burned, "I am Ronny Collins."

Hagan's scalp contracted, sweat popped out of his every pore, "N-no! It can't be! You're nuts. Get away from me!"

The man pushed his face right up close. The shadows fell away.

Hagan's heart stuttered. The twist of the man's mouth, the movement of his head, the shape of his nose . . .

"Look like hell, don't I, Al?"

Hagan's mind raced, "I . . . I . . ." His arms trembled, still holding up the briefcase, "I don't u-understand. I don't--"

"You look real nervous there, buddy." Ronny said, "You should. After all, it's because of you I'm dead!"

Hagan did manage to stop himself from pissing in his pants, but it was a close thing.

"No! No . . ." He squeaked, "You, you're--""

"Dead? Yeah, I just said that. Awesome intelligence, Al. You're a real chip off the old block . . . Oh, commiserations, by the way, on the old bastard popping off so suddenly last month."

"Who are you!" Hagan's voice echoed around the deserted garage, but the man didn't even flinch.

"I told you: Ronny Collins." He lit another cigarette.

"Well, w-well, Ronny never smoked. I don't know what--"

"When you're dead, you can do as you damn-well please: smoke, drink . . . well, you can't do everything you feel like, if you get me. But if I really tried, Alan my man, I could maybe, ah, influence certain things that should be only a mortal's domain. You know, I could affect certain . . . situations, if my actions were deemed by . . . well, deemed to be righting a wrong." He gave a wry twist of the mouth, "There are rules to these things--"

"You're fucking crazy! You're a fucking crazy man!" Hagan shifted his stance, perhaps to make a run for it - he did not know. If only he could just get away, wake-up, whatever it took to end this nightmare before he--

Ronny grabbed his arm, "I see everything now. I KNOW everything – that’s one of the benefits, Alan, when you're on the other side."

Hagan stared at the bony fingers, felt their pressure. The hand was real. Ronny was real. It must be some kind of scam. That had to be it! This bastard was here to scam him.

His heart slowed a little. This he could deal with; the dirty tricks of human kind were quantifiable.

He shook off the hand, straightened his tie, "What the fuck do you want . . . 'Ronny'?"

"Now that's more like it. What do I want, you ask? I want my wife back. I want the last fifteen years, seven weeks, and six days of my life back!"

"Just finish the shake-down and piss off before I call security."

Ronny barked out a laugh, "You mean Cecil?"

Hagan's eyes narrowed, "How do you know Cecil?"

"Oh I know Cecil, don't you worry about that. He might be the world's most useless security guard, but he has other, um, useful qualities - as you well know, Alan."

Hagan opened his briefcase, pulled out a cheque-book, "Here. Tell me what it's worth for you to go away and I'll make it out to that amount, plus fifty percent. How's that sound?"

Ronny looked amused, sucked on his smoke, then said, "Okay then, how about, oh, let's say - five mill?"

Hagan made a snort of laughter, "Real funny, Ronny." He replaced the cheque-book, snapped shut the gold-plated locks on the briefcase, "Well, it's been so nice catching up and all, but I've got to--"

"You really are unbelievable!" Ronny pushed him in the chest.

Hagan staggered back against the car. His heart bumped. This person was maybe a little fitter than he looked, "W-well, come on, man, really, I can give you a certain amount, you j-just gotta be reasonable. We can come to, to some sort of, of . . ." He trailed off, something had caught his eye. He looked down. Splashed across his lapel he saw white cigarette ash. He stared at it, licked his lips. This was his best fucking suit.

Slowly, he brushed the ash away, then looked up. He un-clenched his jaw and forced a smile, "You know what? You really should just leave now and I won’t--"

"Leave?" Spittle flew from Ronny's lips, "I will leave when I've got JUSTICE!”

Hagan ground his teeth. This pathetic bastard really needed to be taught a lesson. Nobody messed with a Hagan and got away with it. Nobody.

He lifted his arm and swung it in a beautiful arc. Ronny never saw it coming. The heavy briefcase smashed into the side of his head. His face squished up, and there was a brief surprise in his eyes before they rolled back.

Now that was funny!

As the man's wretched, shabby body slumped to the concrete, Hagan squared his shoulders, straightened his tie.

Lying there on the cold carpark floor, 'Ronny' looked like nothing more than a pile of dirty rags.

 

***


A groan from the back seat of the Maserati. Alan watched in the rearview mirror as Ronny sat up and shook his head.

"Jesus, what's that banging?" Sounded like his larynx had been sandpapered. He touched the side of his face, glaring at Hagan in the reflection, "You hit me, you bastard. What have you got in that briefcase, fucking anvils?"

Hagan smacked the steering wheel, "Very amusing."

"Where are we going?"

Hagan did not reply, but said, "You know, I gotta tell you, you're right about one thing: you do look like hell."

"Like to see how you look fifteen years after you die. But that's the least of my problems, my friend." He sighed, "Got a light?"

"Sure." Hagan pushed in the dash lighter and handed it back.

"It was so hard for me, Alan, because I loved Melanie - not just for her beauty, or for the family money, her glamour - like you do - but because I just adored her. And I know you knew that." He exhaled a lungful of smoke, (it would be a bitch getting the smell out of the upholstery), "I have been trying for so long, Alan, to communicate to Melanie what you did to me, but I can never seem to reach her. I think it is because of your presence . . . and your father's."

Hagan snorted, "You seem to have been able to 'reach me' all right." 

"Yes . . ." There was a weird glint in his eyes, "But I think I know why."

"Listen man, you're a scammer. You do bear quite a striking resemblance to Ronny Collins - no doubt that's why you got the blackmail idea, or whatever - but I'm not such an idiot as to believe you're here to haunt me, for fuck's sake."

"No, not ‘haunt’. I told you - after years of watching, waiting, hoping, I've come to you to get myself some justice." He made a self-deprecating little frown, "It is due to my, um, hanging around, that I do not look so much like my pristine, pre-death self any longer. Takes its toll, being so long earth-bound."

Hagan cursed when a passing car beeped him for not dimming his headlights.

"Anyway," Ronny continued, "I wonder if you are aware that the police believed, from very early on, that I did not kill myself? But there was no unaccounted-for DNA found at the scene where I died, no witnesses, or any other evidence to counter the conclusion that it was a suicide." Gazing out at the night, Ronny dragged on his cigarette. "Your father's man was very careful. And of course, Wallace had his piles of talking money and plenty of 'friends' in legal places . . . Jesus Alan, you know this shit, you helped him organise my death."

"I really do not understand what you're talking about."

He leaned over the seat, right into Hagan's ear, "Oh, sure you do. There hasn't been any evidence to prove it was murder up until now, but remember what I said, sometimes we folk from the other side can have some influence in order to right a wrong." He slumped back again. "You turned your back on me, Alan. If anyone could have intervened and saved me, it would have been my close friend Alan Hagan."

"For God's sake! I was overseas for nearly a year on major business. When I got back you - well, Ronny Collins - was already dead!"

"And the vulnerable, heartbroken Melanie was ripe for the picking." Ronny's voice was hoarse again, "Yes, very convenient, that overseas trip of yours. I knew she had been having an affair. I knew it was you."

Hagan's knuckles were white on the steering wheel. The street lights had long since petered out along this road; only a black abyss lay beyond the cone of the headlamps.

Ronny glared right into his eyes in the mirror, "Remember how close we once were? I was the 'brother you never had'? All that bullshit all through school and college? I only remind you of our past, Alan, so you realise I am probably the one person in this world - along with perhaps the late, great Wallace Hagan - who really knows you."

His foot was a numb weight on the accelerator. He was up to 100 and he knew there were bends ahead.

"I was a good lawyer, Alan, had my own shining path - beautiful wife, chance of being made partner in a couple of years. And now?" There was one heartbeat, two. Then he smiled. But it was a fixed, death's head grin, "I know when Melanie wanted to quit the affair with you and try and make our marriage work, that's when you and your father made your move. I know this like I know that the sun rises in the east."

"I have not killed anyone!"

"Well, your father confessed to me that he organised it - and you are every bit as guilty as if you were the perpetrator. But now Big Bear no longer thinks it is wise to protect his precious cub - you - he's got his own soul to save. He's . . . 'seen the light', you might say."

"Your fucking crazy."

The road curved. With a huge effort of will, Hagan dragged his gaze from Ronny to ease the Maserati through the bend - double-clutching into the corners, even starting to enjoy the challenge of swinging his fine motor along the road.

The carriageway straightened out, fields opened up beyond the verges, dotted with scrub and the odd farmhouse. A lonely stretch, no cars about.

All these years he had believed Ronny Collins was dead, but what if--

He shook his head. No. There had been an investigation, newspaper articles, a funeral for God's sake! He had even sent flowers, cried for the loss of his friend . . .

No, here was a blackmailing imposter that needed to be dealt with.

Hagan flicked his gaze to the mirror. There was nobody in the back seat. He swerved, the rear end skidding on gravel. He yanked on the steering wheel, veering back onto the tarmac. The darkness thickened again as he zoomed through a tunnel of trees, around a shallow bend and . . .

A figure in the middle of the road!

Hagan swerved again. The car hit the gravel again. He pumped the brake, but it was too late, the tyres had lost their grip – the car skidded . . .

 

***

 

Hagan opened his eyes to see whiteness all around. 

He was dead! This was the white light those who'd had near-death experiences talked about . . .

But No. Something hard, yet yielding was jammed against his face and his chest, and he couldn't breathe properly.

He pushed at the whiteness, got it away from him. He drew in air and looked around.

Darkness. Shattered glass in front of him. He could see tree-bark - rough and brown with smudges of lichen. Beyond the tree lay a patch of forest. 

The air bag slowly sagged into his lap. Hagan frowned at it and bit by bit, his thoughts started to re-connect.

Crash. He had crashed his car. He could smell no fuel - that must be a good thing. But who had planted that tree in the Maserati's bonnet? The road . . . driving . . . someone on the road . . .

Ronny Collins! He had been standing in the middle of the road! Ronny had caused him to run off into the ditch, and wrap his precious car around a tree!

Apart from the faint tick-tick of the cooling engine, Hagan heard only a faint rustle in the bushes outside, and a cricket chirping.

I'm alive. At least I'm alive. Thank God.

Insurance would fix the rest.

Hagan prodded his ribs, felt his head. Apart from an all-over achy, exhausted sensation, there did not seem to be any injuries. Well worth the extra money to have the safety features package included.

"You know, Alan, you - and your father too - your souls are black."

Hagan jumped. 

"Most other people - the good ones - they move through life with a glow around them, through them."

Hagan’s heart slammed. He stared into the mirror at Ronny. A chill spread up his back - perhaps his own cold, dark soul shifting under his skin?

"You stupid bastard! What the fuck were you playing at, standing in the middle of the road?"

"Who me? No, you must have . . . I don't know, hallucinated?" Collins gave a wheezy chuckle.

Hagan would kill the bastard! What right did this, this asshole have - intruding into his life, trying to ruin what he had made for himself!

He turned around, "Listen you . . ."

The back seat was empty.

His guts plunged. He sat for a moment, mind whirling. Then he started stabbing at the seatbelt button, trying to unclip it. But it wouldn't budge. He yanked at the seatbelt, only to cause the webbing to jam in its roller.

Squeezed against the seat by the over-tightened belt, he glared into the rear-vision mirror. Ronny was there!

Again he prodded at the seatbelt clip. Still jammed.

He yelped when something banged on the window. Ronny was staring in at him, laughing, his coat billowing in the cold wind.

"No!"

Ronny laughed and laughed. His head looked like a glowing white skull - empty pits for eyes, grinning clacking teeth, strands of wispy white hair floating.

"Noooo . . ." Hagan groaned, scrunched his eyes shut.

He IS a ghost, Alan . . .

No! No! The apparition is a man, not a ghost or a zombie or a mirage: a man. And

Hagan opened his eyes and glared out into the night. Ronny had disappeared again. He jabbed at the seatbelt lock again.

"What did you do to the seatbelt, you freak? So help me, as soon as I get out of here, you’re going to get the beating of your fucking life!"

The seatbelt clicked open. Hagan stared at it. Then he threw it off, fumbled with the door-handle. When he pushed open the door, it issued a high-pitched creak like a death cry. He stumbled out, righted himself, peered into the night.

He was alone.

***

 

Cecil opened his eyes. Well shoot! He'd slept through his favourite programmes again - including the late news!

Yawning, he dropped his feet to the floor, from where they'd been propped on the desk. He stood, back crackling, then shuffled out the door of his tiny office slash cubicle. He supposed he ought to take a sweep around the garage, it's what he got paid for, after all.

His thoughts turned to Wal. He got a pang to realise his old friend really was gone for good. Shame. The world could do with a few more colourful characters like Wallace Hagan. In the old days, he and Wal had some real high-times together. They had been close, and all their lives, they'd had each other's backs. Though as time passed, Cecil had been the one to bail out Big Bear Hagan more and more often because of certain . . . indiscretions. It did pay well though - he couldn't complain about that.

And not only Wal had needed him over the last twenty, twenty-five years - as the boy got older, he had become fairly demanding too in requiring Cecil’s 'services'. Still, Alan was Wal's only son, and again, the money was a salve on his conscience.

Cecil's knee clicked as he plodded through the cavernous basement. As he scanned the empty parking lot, he remembered: he could have sworn he'd seen someone walk past his booth earlier. A tall man, fair whispy hair, wearing a trench coat. Had had looked like a vagrant, but had seemed familiar at the same time. 

Cecil frowned. He could not recall getting up to investigate: almost like . . . like he might have dreamed the figure going past . . . 

He scratched his head, "Well that’s weird . . ." He muttered, "Because I can also remember Alan drivin’ out of here pretty soon after that man walked in and I wasn’t asleep then . . . we even waved at each other . . . "

Cecil rounded a large pillar, flicked on his torch, scanned the area. No cars (including the Maserati), no people, and no vagrants. 

He shrugged. Must be getting senile in me old age.

He shuffled back to his cubby hole.

 

***

Hagan looked around his opulent surroundings. He could hear no sound. He saw extinguished candles and place settings for two laid out upon the dining table.

Late for dinner again. He thought – this time by about four hours

His mind flashed to Ronny. What a state the man had been in . . . if that had been Ronny. Whoever he was, he had been a sorry specimen.

Hagan shook his head, his memory of the evening fuzzy. He could not recall how he had got from the countryside back home again. But he had taken a hit to the head – even if only from the airbag.

That’s it! I must have hitchhiked home . . . maybe I ought to go to the hospital?

As he moved through the house, he began to realise how blessed he really was. He didn't know if it the brush with death had caused it, or whether the things Ronny had said affected him, but he decided right there and then, he must make some changes in his life. From now on he would make it his mission to live his life better, make it more enjoyable . . . meaningful.

As he reached the living room, he heard a banging on the front door. He looked up the staircase to see Melanie appear on the landing. She wore a satin negligee, her hair sleep ruffled.

"Hey." He smiled up at her, "Sorry I'm so late. I would have rung but--"

The banging again. Hagan froze. It must be Ronny!

He watched Melanie frown, come down a few stairs, pause, bite her lip, then descended to the living room.

"It's okay, babe, I'll get it."

She ignored him, walked past. He recognised the cold shoulder. She had probably taken the trouble to make an excellent dinner and he hadn’t even bothered to ring.

He shrugged, half-smiled, she had a right to her cold shoulder. But he vowed he would make it up to her.

As she moved, he caught a waft of her perfume and was suddenly overcome by the senstation that they did not belong together. Then it hit him: after all was said and done, he really did love his wife.

He moved next to her and eyed the security camera screen on a panel by the front door. Lot of money for a glorified peep hole. No ghosts. Two police officers.  The angle changed, the view panning out along the front drive-way. A car - white and blue - parked on the street. Ghosts didn't ride in cop cars, did they?

Ronny rode in my car . . .

Then his heart jumped. Cops. Ronny had gone to the fucking cops!

Hagan racked his brain to remember what had Ronny said about his death? Something about evidence?

"But if I really tried, Alan my man, I could maybe, ah, influence certain things that should be only a mortal's domain. You know, I could affect certain . . . situations, if my actions were deemed to be righting a wrong . . ."

"No!" He cried, "Melanie, don't!"

Jesus! He had to get out of here! He should call Cecil! His Lawyer! He should—

But before he could go one step, she opened the front door.

The cops were tall, one with a slight paunch, the other broad across the shoulders.

"Hello, ma'am. Sorry to bother you at this time of night, but . . . are you Mrs Alan Hagan?"

Her face paled, she nodded.

"Ma'am, we're from the Metropolitan police . . ." Both took out their ID's and displayed them, "Is your husband Alan Hagan?"

"Yes! What a stupid question!" 

The officers dropped their eyes, "I'm sorry Ma'am, but . . ."

As they spoke, Hagan watched Melanie. Her hand moved to cover her mouth. When Paunch finished, he and Broad gripped her arms and helped her to the couch. Alan followed the three of them and sat next to his wife.

"It happened on the road to Roansville, about twenty kilometres out of town."

"I don't understand." She sobbed, "Wh-what was he doing out there? Why?"

"There will be an investigation, Ma’am, but judging from the tyre-marks it appears he may have swerved to miss something on the road and . . . well, the car hit tree and, and the wreck was . . ." Paunch licked his lips, "He would not have suffered, Mrs Hagan."

Tears slid down her face. Though she would never love him like she had loved Ronny, she did have strong feelings, Hagan could see that. How would her feelings change if she found out he did know exactly how Wallace had instructed Cecil to get rid of her first husband fifteen years ago?

Hagan went to reach out and touch her, comfort her, tell her he was here, and he would never leave her—

"Don't do it, Alan."

He looked up. Ronny stood on the rug in front of them, watching the scene. There appeared to be a sort of glow about him. He no longer looked as he had this evening, but seemed fresh and young and healthy. Even his clothes could have been straight from the tailor. 

"Don't stay here with her, Alan, your heart will only be broken. I tried for so long, but it's a soul destroying thing to be earth-bound. You should just come with me, now. Wallace will be glad to see you." 


Submitted: January 13, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Karen Gillard. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Oleg Roschin

Wow! What a ride! Masterful writing and storytelling, Karen. That should mean something coming from me, since I'm not really a fan of ghost stories. But your writing is stellar, and the way you bring every line of dialogue, every scene to life, is very impressive, to say the least. Thumbs up, way up!

Sat, January 13th, 2018 6:55am

Author
Reply

Thank you so much, Oleg, you've made an old lady very happy, ha ha! I've been writing for years and only just found this site. I'll see if I can dig up some more stories!

Fri, January 12th, 2018 11:09pm

hullabaloo22

A spooky story, excellently told, Karen.

Sat, January 13th, 2018 9:12pm

Author
Reply

Cheers! Thank you for the kind comments

Sat, January 13th, 2018 1:30pm

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