An alliance of sorts. No 26 in the Jack Burke series.

Reads: 29  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful
Number 26 in the Jack Burke series of paranormal detective stories.

Submitted: September 25, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 25, 2018

A A A

A A A


The flickering light of the candles caused monstrous shadows to dance across the whitewashed walls and ceilings of the cavern like room. The once brilliant white of the walls and ceiling had now dulled to a sooty grey; countless years of candle flames had deposited a thick layer of soot on them. The lone window was a long narrow slit in the stout stone walls, from this narrow opening the stone sloped outward on either side to form alcove. The sill of this alcove, like every other surface of the room was covered in must old tomes. The air inside this stone room was heavy with the scent of must paper and candle wax.

 The shadow of the lone figure huddle at the desk, cast an eerie shape on the wall. Oblivious to the frigid temperature of the room, the figure studied the lines of script on the large leather bound book before him. Every now and again he would dip the quill pen in the ink and add to the lines of neatly flowing script, the musty old book was a ledger of sorts and the man with the pen had been making entries to it for a very long time. Reaching across the rough hewn wooden desk he brought one of the candles closer, the candle wax spilled on his bare hand but he ignored it.

 The long years of laboring at this task had already infused his very skin with the odor of candle wax. The close proximity of candle wax and musty old books over time had given the man a distinctive scent all of his own. The man cleared his throat and wiped the red liquid from his lips with a piece of cloth, others might have fretted over the presence of blood in their spittle. But this was a condition the man had lived with longer than he could remember, yet he possessed a strength that few men could match.

 The ever present fumes from the burning candles had affected his throat, and now when he spoke his voice sounded like the rustling of dead leaves. All this mattered little to the man, any verbal interaction he had these days was short and to the point. Now that he had moved the candle closer he studied his latest entries. On one side he had written the name Catherine Boyce and beside it he had drawn a small cross, and on the other side he had written the name Jack Burke and beside it a strange symbol resembling a question mark.

Satisfied now that his records were up to date the man closed the ledger and gained his feet, he stood tall and lean and the shadow he cast was that of a dark giant. The long black habit he wore gave the impression that he was thinner than he was, here in the privacy of his secret place he still liked to wear the trappings of his former life. A part of the tall man’s mind still firmly believed he was carrying out the work of god; after all he had been given a rare gift by god. The gift of longevity beyond most ordinary persons understanding, and a passion to smite down all those who strayed from the path of righteousness. He had gained many different names among those who feared him, but the one they whispered in the moment of their greatest fear was “The Abbot”.

The Abbot made his way across the room and chose another tome, before returning to his seat. This was the book he kept on those who merited his attention, lately for some reason some of these names had attracted the attention of the detective Burke. He did not mind this fact, for as long as they had the similar agendas he was willing to let Jack Burke continue his work. However the moment he felt that Jack Burke had strayed from the right path, he would have no hesitation in killing him.

The reflection in the small bathroom mirror no longer disgusted him as much now; he had grown accustomed to the sight of his damaged torso. The pain had grown less and less by the day until it had now become just more of a discomfort, he smeared the salve on the crisscross of burn scars that stretched from his chest to his stomach. They had told him at the hospital that the scars would eventually fade, however they would never really disappear. A part of his mind felt a strange thankfulness for this, as long as they were visible they would be a constant reminder of how close to death he had come. He would never again ignore that small voice in his head that had warned him that something was not right about Catherine Boyce, it had been a very costly life lesson and one he would not forget.

 The salve had to be applied religiously every morning; it was designed to return some elasticity to the scarred skin. Jack finished and walked bare chested to the small office, he would be unable to put his shirt on until the last of the salve had been absorbed by his damaged skin.

It never ceased to surprise him how silently the woman could move; even in her high heels she had entered the office without a sound. Jack Burke looked longingly at his shirt which lay on the battered old couch, inside the feeling of embarrassment sent a hot flush to his face. It was too late now to cover himself and he stood awkwardly staring at the woman with the green eyes sitting opposite him. Those green eyes stared back at him and he was relieved they showed no sign of disgust; instead they twinkled with amusement at his embarrassment.

 “Don’t worry Jack, I am a big girl now and I have seen men with fewer clothes than you are wearing at the moment.” He could hear the amusement in her accented voice and a smile played across her full lips. Anna was really enjoying his discomfort and he felt his face getting hotter. The stunning woman was playing with him like a cat with a mouse, in the end her amusement became contagious and he found himself laughing softly.

 Anna reached inside her bag and left a folder on the desk, before rising to her feet. “A little something for you to look at, should you feel like doing a little work”. He watched the sway of her hips as she left the office, her parting words causing the heat in his cheeks to flare again. “Perhaps the next time your show might be a bit more revealing Jack”.

Jack listened to her soft laughter as she went down the stairs; the funny thing was that she made no sound with her stiletto heels on the wooden steps. Jack’s mind threw up a vivid image of her shapely nylon clad legs and the hypnotic sway of her full hips. For a moment he let his mind wonder to thoughts that he never even knew he harbored for the Russian girl, but just as quickly he banished these thoughts. His life was complicated enough without deluding himself with fantasies such as this, instead he put on his shirt and turned his attention to the file she had left on the battered old desk top. The day was grey and misty outside and he needed to turn on the banker’s lamp to read, he pulled the rickety office chair nearer the desk and reached for the folder.

 A sudden longing came over him, it was as if something was missing and he could not put his finger on this feeling. Then he realized it was the once ever present bottle and glass, they had been his constant companions for longer than he cared to remember. With this thought a wave of nostalgia washed over him, a vivid image of Mabel pottering around the office came unbidden to his mind and his eyes blurred. So much had happened since she last sat here in the office, he wiped his eyes and promised himself that he would go and see her soon.

Dragging his mind from the past Jack opened the folder, he was surprised to see that instead of the collectors flowing script the words had been written in a woman’s hand. Anna had transcribed a list of names from original records kept by the collector; some of the names had been circled with red ink. It was only when he read the attached letter could he make sense of the whole thing, the list of names were of people the collector suspected of being connected to White Peak and other dark episodes over a number of years.

 The ones circled in red all had one thing in common; they had all met violent and suspicious deaths in recent years. Of the others all bar two had disappeared, gone into hiding perhaps. It did not take him long to come to the same conclusion Anna obviously had, they had competition. Someone out there was working from records very similar to those the collector had accumulated; this in itself was not all bad. However if this person was uncovering any information regarding White Peak or similar cases, then he was not sharing that information.

 There was one last surprise in the folder for Jack, an envelope containing a cheque for ten thousand dollars and a hand written note from the collector. The note was short and business like, it explained that Anna would be running his affairs for a while. Any case that Jack was willing to work on for Anna would be covered by the standard fee of ten thousand dollars.

Jack swiveled the old chair and stared out the grimy window at the grayness outside, there he sat for quite a while trying to make sense of the emotions building inside him. His first instinct was to tear the contents of the folder into a million pieces and consign it to the waste paper basket. Jack resented the fact that there was hidden leverage at work here; the collector had already known that Jack could not rest until he got to the bottom of the White Peak affair. But in the end despite the resentment and anger this was an offer he could not refuse, ever since he had agreed to take on the case of that accursed music box a chain of events had been set in motion.

 He had gone too far down the rabbit hole now and there was no going back, besides he could never turn his back on Mabel. Also if he were to be truthful he would have to acknowledge the fact that, ever since he had started working for the collector he had ignored most of his other clients. He would need some kind of steady income if he was to look after Mabel in the future. In the end he turned and picked up the list again, he took his note book from his jacket pocket and copied the two names and addresses from the list. Now all he needed to do was find those people and hope they had something to say that would help identify exactly who was in competition to them.

Jack knew by the expression on Anna’s face that she was not happy; she had offered to accompany him to the address of one of the people on the list. It was an out of state address that would mean at least a two day trip, but he had firmly declined her offer of company on the journey. The truth was that he was slightly irked that he was still indirectly working for the collector; even though the man lay hovering between life and death in a private hospital many miles from the city. Anna sat opposite him now in the office silently fuming to herself, the second address had turned out to be closer but it looked as if that person was now also in hiding or dead. Anna made one last attempt to persuade him to let her come with him, when he refused again the fire in those green eyes was intense.

 The woman suddenly jumped to her feet. “Fine! If that is how you want to do this, then so be it. You seem to have a very short memory Jack, have you forgotten already that you were lucky to escape with your life the last time”. With that she turned on her heels and left the office, her outburst had left him feeling slightly foolish. First of all she was right, working alone could be dangerous and second of all he should have told her about the strange man that had saved him. The man that had left a gruesome keepsake in his bedside locker at the hospital and a letter reminding Jack of the debt he now owed that man.

The long drive was boring as hell and he had too much time to think, recriminations began to eat at his mind. Ever since he started convalescing he had taken to going back over his past, picking away at painful memories like a scabbed wound. All the failed relationships and the periods of drunken oblivion, he had even taken to analyzing his childhood memories. The disturbing thing about this was the fact that little of his childhood memories were as clear as he once thought.

 It was almost as if he was reading from the script of a movie when he tried to recall specific details, the events came to mind but they somehow felt false. Either way all this self-analysis invariable led back to the one subject. Had he failed Mabel? Should he have been able to prevent her abduction and did his drinking cloud his mind to the dangers she faced? More damning questions to eat at his soul, questions his mind would rather not answer.

It was getting towards twilight and his hip ached like hell and he decided to pull into the motel, in reality he could have driven for a while longer but the thoughts in his head were getting too much for him. The bored man in the small reception area, never took his eyes from the small TV he was watching as jack signed the register book. As he limped to the room Jack couldn’t help but wonder if he was found dead in the room? Would the guy who booked him in even be able to identify him as the man he had given the keys to?

Passing a pay phone on the way to his room; he stopped and contemplated ringing the convent. But in the end he decided that he would leave it till the morning, he felt just too emotionally exhausted to make the call now. Jack knew the call was long overdue; however he needed to mentally prepare himself first. Each time he was faced with the fact that her condition was not improving, he lost another little bit of hope and when all hope was gone what would he have left?

Jack made his way to the rented room feeling dejected, in truth this had been creeping up on him for quite a while now. The scar tissue on his chest was beginning to feel tight and he struggled to get the key in the door, he was just crossing the threshold when the feeling came over him. An intense feeling that someone was standing behind him staring at his back, he carefully twisted the head of the cane and drawing the steel blade he turned quickly. The car park was deserted without a sign of life, there was nowhere for anyone to conceal themselves yet he could not shake the feeling of being watched.

It was barley light when Jack woke; he had been troubled all night by horrific dreams of being burned alive. The dreary motel room looked even more dismal now in the half light of a grey dawn. The heating had gone off sometime during the night and his breath made vapor clouds in the frigid air, his mind took him back to a time when he sat by the fire in Fr Murphy’s cozy study. A weariness still hung over him but it was more than a lack of proper sleep, lying there in the depressing little room a realization settled over him. He was becoming very weary of the path he traveled in life, a grey journey that meandered in and out of the shadows but was never far from the darkness.

 What had led him to this place in life he could not say, but now lying here he wondered what toll it was taking on his mind or even his soul. Forcing his mind from this depressing muse he willed himself to get up and face the day, but somewhere in the back of his mind the question remained. Will I ever leave the darkness or will it eventually consume me?

Jack stood by the pay phone rooting in his pocket for change, when he could not find any he was strangely relieved it meant he could put off ringing the convent. He was about to walk towards the car when someone tapped him on the shoulder, he turned to find a strangers out stretched hand. Jack was confused at first when he saw the loose change, then the stranger gestured towards the phone. He took the proffered coins and before he had a chance to thank him the tall stranger had left.

 The conversation with the mother superior did little to raise his spirits, nothing much had changed with Mabel’s condition. Later, after he had resumed his journey his mind wandered back to the tall stranger who had given him the coins. Try as hard as he could, Jack could not remember any of the man’s features, nothing apart from the fact, that he was tall and lean and had an unusual odor about him. Vague and all as his recollection of the man were, Jack had a funny feeling that he had met this stranger somewhere before. Of late it increasingly felt as if his mind was unwilling or unable to rest; so he spent the next hour trying to build a mental picture of the stranger but still to no avail.

It was mid-afternoon by the time Jack finally entered the suburbs of the nondescript town where his quarry supposedly now lived. The watery sun shining above did little to brighten the dreary streets of the provincial town; the small numbers of pedestrians that moved about in the dismal streets seemed to carry a forlorn air about them. Jack supposed their mood was in tune with the dilapidated buildings and their peeling paint work, the whole town seemed to have an air of hopelessness hanging over it. A sign of the times Jack thought, a snapshot of Middle American that had long been abandoned and left behind. It seemed like the perfect place for a man to lose himself, and hide from his past.

What sign posts that were still in place, were faded and close to illegible, causing Jack difficulties in finding the address he required. On more than one occasion he was tempted to stop and ask a passer-by direction to the place he sought, but the last thing he wanted was for the man he sought to be forewarned of his arrival. Like a lot of provincial towns the layout of the narrow streets appeared to have no logical pattern, as a result of this it was dusk before Jack finally found the area he was looking for. It was a long straight road lined on either side by detached two story dwellings.

The area could have well been an affluent part of town at some stage, but now like the rest of the town the buildings had grown dilapidated. Front yards were by and large over run with weeds and the clapboard exteriors of the houses were badly in need of a fresh coat of paint. The house he sought was mid-way down the long street on the left; it was slightly bigger than the surrounding buildings and far better maintained then the neighboring dwellings. The front yard was comprised of well-maintained lawns either side of the path that led to the front porch. The surrounding shrubbery had been neatly pruned and the house looked freshly painted.

In contrast to the houses on either side, that had a for sale sign planted in the front gardens, a brightly painted post box stood in the garden of this house The owner had even gone to the bother of neatly painting the name Huxley on the side of the post box. Jack sighed contently in the knowledge that he had final tracked down Bartholomew Huxley. A feeling of anxiety however soon began to settle over Jack, he had experienced so many disappointments on his quest so far and now he prayed this did not turn out the same. Finally with a growing sense of apprehension he climbed slowly from the car, pausing only to retrieve his ornate walking cane, he started up the path towards the porch of the building.

The finger extended towards the doorbell stopped abruptly, inches before making contact. The feeling had come over him suddenly that something here was very wrong, Jack reached inside his jacket and slipped the pistol from his shoulder holster. He prodded the front door with the barrel of the gun and it swung open silently on well-oiled hinges. Instinct guided him down the dark hallway and towards the door at the end that lay slightly ajar. Holding his breath he leaned forward and listened intently, long moments passed before he detected the faint sound of shallow breathing. The sort of breathing a man might make while dozing in his favourite arm chair, Jack had come too far to back off now, and he slowly pushed the door inwards.

The scene before him was of a typical sitting room from the early decades of the 1900’s, tastily decorated with some nice pieces of furnishing. The floral wall paper pattern in contrast was beginning to fade; equally the once expensive carpet was beginning to become slightly thread bare. The heavy drapes were drawn, and even if it was full light outside the room would still have been dark. The far corner of the room was lit by a small oasis of light, from a low wattage bulb in an ornate standing lamp. Illuminating the figure slumped in the green velvet covered arm chair. For all the world it was just how his mind had imagined it, a man who had dozed off in his favorite arm chair. However even as he approached the seated figure, Jack’s mind screamed the fact that something was very wrong in this room.

The sleeping figure was a male of slight build, the top of his scalp clearly visible through the thin strands of jet black hair combed over in a failed attempt to hide his balding pate. His head had dropped forward with his chin resting on the chest bone of his slight frame; the manner of his dress suggested a caricature of an aristocratic gentleman. Now that he was getting nearer the still figure, Jack became aware of that awful rattling sound that accompanied each shallow breath. It was as if the man’s lungs were partially filled with fluid, Jack had heard this particular sound on more than one occasion and he was well aware it was the sound of a dying man. Jack lifted the man’s head and laid it back against the high back of the chair, loosening the brightly colored cravat the man wore around his neck Jack felt for a pulse.

The slight throbbing of his pulse was weak and erratic and his eyes fluttered beneath the closed lids. Jack withdrew his hand, but suddenly the dying man reached out and grasped Jack’s wrist in a vice like grip. The man opened his eyes with obvious difficulty and stared at Jack, the light was almost gone from those eyes yet for a single moment they focused on Jack. Bartholomew Huxley made a super human effort to speak, his lips moved and a pink froth of blood and spittle coated his lips. Leaning forward Jack placed his ear close to the dying man’s lips. The solitary two words made little sense to Jack, in a barely audible whisper Huxley said “The Abbot”. A shallow sigh followed as the man breath his last, Jack wasted no time in searching the man’s pockets for any information that might be useful.

“I am afraid Jack that I have taken the liberty of removing anything I felt would be of any use to my work”. The voice from the shadows had a strange sound to it like the rustling of dead leaves in a breeze; it was the same voice Jack had heard in the darkness of his hospital room. The sound of soft footfalls moved from the shadows and Jack felt the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed lightly beneath his left ear. Now the stranger was close, Jack smelled the odd odor of candle wax and musty old books. A hand reached from behind him and deftly removed the pistol Jack had placed in his Jacket pocket. “I will be leaving soon Jack and if you want to remain alive to complete your quest, do not follow me”. The warm breath against his cheek carried the unmistakable scent of fresh blood.

The cold steel was removed from the back of his head, and the presence was no longer behind him. It was almost as if his tormentor had disappeared into thin air, one moment he was whispering in Jacks ear and the next he was gone. Just then a low voice drifted to Jack from the direction of the porch. “When I am finished with the papers I have taken, I will forward anything I feel may be relevant to your ongoing investigations. Do not leave this room for the next ten minutes; your life might just depend on this”. Silence descended again and the only sound in that room was the rapid beating of Jack’s heart. Then the distinctive sound of dead leaves rustling came again. “A word of advice to you Jack, sometimes you must delve deep in your past to learn your future and where it will take you”. Silence descended once more, and this time Jack knew he was alone.

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments: