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    Mawgrim
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Hidden Secrets - 10. Knight of Wands

A call to action - passion may be on the cards

‘You’re very chirpy this morning.’ Cynthia spread her toast with her favourite slurry, while Nipper sat up on his hind legs, eyes bright and tail wagging. Not so far from how I was feeling.

Cynthia had already gone to bed when I got home after the cinema closed. I’d shut down the screens in a kind of trance, my brain still unable to fully process what had happened in the staff room. Wisely, Dan had gone back to his office after our second kiss and after we’d swapped phone numbers. There’d been other members of staff around as we locked up the cinema, so we’d not been able to say much, but he’d given me a couple of smouldering looks which made me realise he must be feeling as shaken and stirred as I was.

‘I had a good day,’ I said, wondering if I should tell her. It almost felt as if I had fallen under a spell and if I told anyone, it would dissolve, or I’d wake up realising it had just been a dream. What the hell! Might as well test the bounds of reality a bit further. ‘Someone asked me out for a meal tonight.’

Her eyebrows raised. ‘Really? Well, good for you.’ She threw a piece of toast to Nipper. ‘Anyone I know.’

‘I doubt it, being as he works at the cinema.’

‘Another projectionist?’

I shuddered at the thought of kissing Colin. ‘Er, no. He’s the manager.’

‘And how did this come about?’

I gave her a PG version of the previous evening’s events. Thankfully, she seemed more interested in the fact that I had started to use the cards again.

‘You see. Everything happens at the right time and place. I’m glad for you. Now, where are you two going to eat tonight?’

‘He forgot to say.’

‘Must have been distracted.’ She smiled knowingly. ‘I know a lovely little Italian place, off the Market Square. It doesn’t get too busy during the week, but it might be as well to book.’

‘I’ll text him later. He might already have made arrangements elsewhere.’

‘So, will you be coming home tonight?’ she asked playfully.

I felt slightly embarrassed. Knowing your fifty-something aunt is thinking about the possibility of you having sex does that. ‘It depends how it goes,’ I mumbled. I didn’t need to draw a card to realise that if last night’s preview was anything to go by, the main feature would definitely be a blockbuster.

‘No need to be embarrassed, dear.’ She’d picked up on the vibes right away. ‘I may be ancient, in your eyes, but I have had a few adventures in my life. I will, of course, insist on meeting this Knight of Cups to make sure he has honourable intentions towards my nephew.’ Her eyes twinkled as she said it, so I knew she was joking.

‘I think there’s a good possibility I’ll be staying out tonight,’ I said. ‘And I’m sure he’d love to meet you sometime.’ It would probably be wise to keep Dan away from any of my relatives for the time being. I didn’t want to scare him off.

‘I shall look forward to it. So, what are your plans for today, before the big date?’

I definitely needed some kind of distraction. ‘I’m going into town, so if you want me to get anything…?’ I could drop in at the library, buy a new shirt and have lunch somewhere.

‘I do need a few bits and pieces. I’ll let you have a list. I’ve some friends coming over this afternoon.’

‘Another seance?’

‘No, just card readings. Some of my regulars.’ We carried on chatting as I ate my muesli and she finished off the grim goo on her toast. Cynthia was very easy to get along with. I wondered why she’d never married. For as long as I could remember, she’d always lived alone.

I set off for town, well wrapped up. It was a bright, cold day with a few crisp leaves scattered along the pavements. As I walked, I imagined Dan in the cinema office. I knew he was on the early shift, finishing at five. At least he’d have plenty to keep him occupied. I almost wished I was at work too, as the day seemed to stretch out endlessly before me. Everything before seven-thirty felt like wasted time; hours and minutes that had to be lived through before seeing Dan again.

At the library, I returned a couple of Cynthia’s books, then managed to obtain a half hour slot on a computer, just to check my emails. This was getting annoying. I resolved to drop in to one of the mobile phone shops while I was out, to see how much it would cost for a smartphone.

Once I’d logged in I saw that George had already left a reply. Being retired, he probably had a lot of time on his hands.

Dear Terry

I was sorry to hear about Maurice’s condition. I am lucky to still have my health and faculties, although the days when I worked at the Regal sometimes seem in sharper focus than more recent events, but that’s just the way it is as you get older.

I can tell you some of the information you asked for. I’m assuming you are fairly young, so you probably don’t remember what it was like back in the days when cinemas were being twinned or tripled. It was a mess, I can tell you. Workmen everywhere and the dust was really bad. We covered the projectors every night and cleaned everything down thoroughly before opening - yes, they still made us stay open for most of the time! I remember Jack, the chief, complaining to the management. How could we be expected to put on a decent show when the place looked like a building site, he said. Didn’t make any difference.

Jack always ran the box well - he was a stickler for good presentation and keeping everything ship-shape - but he wasn’t the easiest man to get along with. He remembered the days when the box had a full staff and bemoaned the decline in standards. All through the sixties, if anyone left, they were seldom replaced and by the time the Regal was tripled we were on single manning, although after we re-opened, we were back to multi manning again (for a couple of years, until the company decided to cut costs.)

Not so different from the present day, I mused. Although the Regal was supposed to have a team of three in projection, there hadn’t been a hurry to take anyone else on and after Maurice had gone, Colin had run the place single-handedly with a relief coming in from a nearby town once or twice a week to give him time off. I noticed that George hadn’t mentioned anything about Jack's drinking. Perhaps he still had a sense of loyalty toward his former chief?

You asked about the comments left in the box log. That would have been Jack, I reckon. He got made up to chief in 1973 or 4. He’d only been in the job a year or so before we were tripled. His predecessor was disillusioned with the company and the changes that were happening and he wasn’t always as thorough as he could be. Jack wrote to the Regional Engineer several times asking to be promoted to second, then co-chief and finally, when Fred left the industry, to chief. Back in those days there weren’t many chiefs under the age of forty-five, but Jack can’t have been much more than thirty when he finally got promoted.

If you could send me a copy of those logs, I’d like to read them to remind me of the old days. I can let you have my home address and would pay for postage, of course.

All the best

George Whitaker

I printed off a copy and read it through again. The tripling sounded chaotic. In my head I’d been imagining the cinema similar to a building site today, with fences, security and Health and Safety regulations in place. I had forgotten how different things must have been back then. The fact that they’d stayed open must have made it even worse.

George’s email supported both Maurice and Sylvia’s observations that Jack might have had a temper. I was surprised to find out his age; I’d always envisioned him as much older than Maurice or Colin, but if George was correct, he’d only be in his sixties now.

Someone cleared their throat behind me. Of course. My half hour was nearly up and I’d spent most of it thinking rather than availing myself of the Internet. Not that there was anything special I needed to look up. I’d gathered just about everything I could concerning the Regal.

I spent the morning browsing in various clothes shops, drinking coffee and getting intimidated by the hard sell in every mobile phone shop. I just wanted a phone I could use to receive and send emails, but the monthly fees were much higher than I’d expected. Maybe I could live without that for a while longer?

In WH Smith I bought a copy of a computer magazine with reviews of the latest model phones and laptops. Perhaps I’d be better off getting a laptop? They were expensive too. I remembered the days of living with Cliff, when if he didn’t have the money for something, he’d just take out a loan or open another credit card account. I’d done the same and run up frightening amounts of debt in a fairly short time, despite earning a decent salary. I was still paying off a good chunk of it; one reason why I’d returned to the ‘sensible’ way of life I’d been brought up with. If you didn’t have the spare cash, you didn’t buy it. Simple.

My phone rang. It was Cynthia. ‘I’m sorry to bother you,’ she said. ‘But the washing machine’s leaking. I’ve turned off the water, but I daren’t use it and there’s already a load in there. Could you have a look at it for me?’

‘Of course.’ My duvet cover was one of the items. Cynthia had already made a few comments about the quantity of washing I did, in comparison to her own, so I definitely owed it to her to try and fix the problem.

Sorting out the machine occupied my hands and mind. The issue turned out to be a perished washer on the hot fill, entailing another trip out for spares. By the time everything was fixed and the floor dried out, it was nearly three-thirty.

Cynthia’s friends had arrived by then, so after hanging the washing to dry on the indoor racks, I adjourned to my room. I’d bought a new shirt in town, but if I was going to wear that it would need to be washed, dried and ironed and after all the issues with the washing machine, there wouldn’t be enough time. Cynthia didn’t own a tumble drier; I suspected she’d regard it as yet another piece of modern technology that could go wrong. I went through my existing clothes and selected a favourite shirt that I’d bought during a weekend in Barcelona. Sometimes it was better to wear something you felt comfortable in and which held happy memories. I realised I needed to check where we were going tonight. Dan hadn’t sent a text, but he’d been working and Wednesdays were busy.

I picked up my old phone and considered what to write. Looking forward to seeing you later. Where do you want to meet? That sounded fine. Before I had any second thoughts about the wording I pressed send. Off it went, winging its way through the ether.

I didn’t expect a reply right away. Dan’s phone might be in the office while he attempted to sort out a booking problem, or replenished stock in between shows. I could almost visualise him in the foyer now, putting on his professional smile, which wasn’t quite the same as the one he wore when he was genuinely happy. I hoped to see that particular expression later on. I hoped to see quite a lot more of him later on, too. Just thinking about that was starting to get me worked up, but knowing that Cynthia and her friends were downstairs was an effective libido dampener. My room was directly above where they were sitting and I was very aware how much the boards creaked.

I needed distraction. What better than to think about the cinema mystery some more? I grabbed my notepad and the printouts from the library, sat at the dressing table and considered everything I’d found out.

Firstly, on a new page, I wrote down all of the names I knew. All of those who had been at the Regal in 1975, whether working there, or otherwise involved.

PROJECTION:

Jack - chief - bad tempered and (drunk?) but did a good job. Pushed Maurice down box stairs?

I chewed the top of the pencil, contemplating what I’d written. Sylvia had said he was a drinker and Colin had mentioned it too. George hadn’t though. So either he’d just been tactful, or maybe Jack hadn’t been drunk all of the time. He was certainly short-tempered from what I’d been told. He’d thrown his keys at the manager before walking out and had possibly - if Maurice could be believed - pushed him down the stairs. How reliable was Maurice’s memory about the incident? Although he had been very clear about it, given his current condition, how could I be certain he’d not got Jack mixed up with someone else? I added a question mark.

Colin - projectionist - went out with Jenny before Trevor. Didn’t like Trevor for this reason and probably didn’t like Jenny much, either. Didn’t like Maurice. How did he get on with Jack?

I sifted through my memory. Had Colin said much at all about Jack? I didn’t think so. Colin hadn’t got on with Maurice recently, but wasn’t that as a result of Maurice being promoted instead of him? Back in 1975, they’d both have been on the same level, so there would have been no reason for animosity.

Maurice - projectionist - was told by ‘someone’ to keep the well a secret. Implied there was a body hidden in the cinema (smell of rotting flesh). How much of this is true?

I realised I didn’t know much at all about Maurice, apart from what he’d said to me. He’d married Brenda, who had worked in the cinema, according to Sylvia. Had Brenda been there back in 1975, or started later on, when he became chief?

Find out if Brenda worked at cinema in 1975.

George - projectionist. Might have already been senior if he got promoted after Jack.

That was all of the projection crew. Four seemed rather a lot for a single screen, especially as George had mentioned a decline in manpower prior to the tripling. That was something else I needed to clarify.

Trevor Godfrey - assistant manager. Reported seeing ghosts in the cinema while he was living in one of the flats. Colin and George both said he might have made it up as he liked being in the limelight. Went out with Jenny and travelled abroad with her after leaving cinema.

I wondered if he’d got into trouble because of the story. The company wouldn’t have liked it, for sure. I could imagine the reaction if my theories about someone being buried under the stalls surfaced today. Perhaps he’d had a written warning, or maybe even been sacked. Was that why he and Jenny had gone off around the world? More questions.

Jenny - cashier. Went out with Colin, then Trevor. Left the cinema to travel and is presumably still in Australia. Married Trevor, according to Sylvia.

Okay, I couldn’t be sure that was a fact, but it seemed likely. I’d seen the postcards for myself and they’d certainly got as far as Australia where Trevor had relatives.

Sylvia - married to Phil, who she said was a projectionist. Kind person. Likes Maurice.

That would make five of them. Far too many. Although Phil may have joined the team later, possibly after Jack went. It was unlikely that Phil had been working at the Regal in 1975.

Bob Luard Jr - foreman of Luard Construction. Rescued cat from well. Family still owns land cinema stands on.

I didn’t know much about Bob the builder, except that he had a low tolerance for people ringing him up. Maybe he had a fondness for cats, or more probably, he’d been the one to rescue it because he was in charge of the job and had the equipment to do so. Plus the publicity wouldn’t have done any harm. Everyone loved an animal rescue story.

I sat back, realising I actually knew very little about these characters. Certainly, not enough to ascribe a motive for murder, if indeed, it had been a murder. Suddenly, everything began to sound very far fetched. All of my theories hinged on the ramblings of a confused old man. Plus the strange feeling in that aisle. The police would laugh at it. Insufficient evidence for anything.

It was nearly four-thirty. Although my phone hadn’t pinged, I checked it anyway. No messages. Maybe Dan was having second thoughts? No, he was still working. He’d just not had the time to reply.

I looked down at my notes again. There was something niggling at me. Jack, Colin, Maurice, George, Trevor, Jenny, Sylvia and Bob. What did they have in common other than they had all been connected with the Regal in that fateful year? It suddenly came to me. They were all still alive! Therefore, none of them could be the body in the well. So who was?

‘Terry!’ Cynthia called up the stairs.

I went to the door and leaned out. ‘Yes?’

‘I wondered if you’d like a cup of tea. And to come down and meet the others.’

I supposed I should try to be social. ‘All right.’ I’d had enough of thinking about thirty year old mysteries for the time being.

As it turned out, Cynthia’s clients turned out to be a friendly bunch. Although of a similar age to herself and mostly retired, they had led interesting lives. It was while we were talking that my phone finally pinged. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, glancing at the screen.

Pick you up at seven fifteen. I already know your address.

Cynthia must have seen my face change. ‘Good news?’

‘Dan’s picking me up from here.’

‘I’d better behave myself, then.’ She smiled.

I carried on chatting for a little longer, then went off to have a shower. I was starting to feel slightly nervous; what had happened in the staff room had been fairly easy and spontaneous. Now we were actually going out on a date, it might be more awkward. I hoped not, but you could never tell.

Once I’d got ready, I went back down to sit with Cynthia. The other ladies had gone home. She’d lit the fire and turned on the television. We watched for a while; a news and current affairs programme. I didn’t pay much attention to it, but it was a way to pass the time.

Cynthia got up to put some more pieces of coal in the hearth. ’Are you taking an overnight bag?’

‘No!’ That would be a bit too presumptuous.

‘But if you stay at his place, how will you brush your teeth?’

It wasn’t generally something I thought about in advance. Some people kept spares. Or I’d just brush them when I got home. ‘My teeth won’t fall out if I don’t clean them for one night.’

‘No, but if you’re going to be kissing, won’t you want fresh breath?’

I gave her a look.

‘Well, you need to think about things like that.’

I got up and pulled the curtain aside. It was already dark and a fine drizzle made haloes around the orange street lamps.

‘It’s only just seven,’ Cynthia reminded me.

‘I know. But your drive isn’t the easiest to find, with all that shrubbery.’ I didn’t even know what car Dan drove.

‘Sit down. Try to relax. We could do a short meditation if you like.’

‘I’m fine.’

‘Would you like a little glass of wine?’

‘Better not. Don’t want him thinking I’m an alcoholic. A lot of projectionists are. Well, managers too, for that matter.’ I knew I was gabbling.

‘I never got to ask you if you’d found out any more information this morning. About the cinema.’

‘Sort of. But when I’m away from the place, it just feels, well… Far-fetched.’

‘You sensed something was there, didn’t you?’

‘Yes.’ That was the one thing I could be certain of.

‘Well, then. It’s just a question of seeing the whole picture. Putting it all together.’

‘That’s just it. Apart from what I’ve felt and some suppositions based on what people have told me, I don’t really have any evidence.’

‘Perhaps that seance might be a good idea, after all.’

‘Maybe,’ I agreed. I’d hoped she’d forgotten about that. ‘I’ve been making a list of all the people who worked there back when it was tripled and I’ve realised I don’t know much about them.’

Cynthia thought for a little while. ‘How many of them have you talked to?’

‘Well, Sylvia, of course and Maurice. Although how much of what he says is reliable…’

‘Hmm. There is that. What about his wife?’

‘I’ve only met her once, when she picked him up.’

‘Maybe you should try speaking to her. Maurice might have told her something.’

That was a good point. ‘And she worked in the cinema, too.’

Cynthia nodded slowly. ’What you need to concentrate on is relationships.’

‘Eh?’

‘Not yours, silly. Theirs. Now, in my experience, when you have a group of similarly aged people working together, there’ll be cliques, friendships and of course, relationships.’

‘I already know Colin went out with Jenny before she chucked him for Trevor.’

‘There you are, then. You need to ask some more questions along those lines. It might provide some clues.’

Car headlights flashed across the curtains. It had to be someone pulling in. The front hedge was so thick you couldn’t see any lights from the road.

‘Must be your knight in shining armour,’ Cynthia said.

I stifled the urge to peer through the curtains again and waited until the doorbell rang before I got up to open the door.

Dan stood on the top step. ‘I wondered if this was the right house.’

‘It is,’ I said, rather redundantly. ‘My aunt’s place.’

‘Oh, yes. I think you mentioned that. Hello,’ he said, over my shoulder.

Cynthia, being as inquisitive as ever, had followed me into the hall. ‘Good evening.’ She beamed enthusiastically.

I prayed she wouldn’t say anything embarrassing. It was like being fifteen again. ‘Er, this is my Aunt Cynthia,’ I said to Dan.

‘Pleased to meet you.’ He gave her his ‘greeting a customer’ smile. ‘Right, are you ready?’ he asked me.

‘I’ll just grab my coat.’ It was hanging on the hall stand. I’d already put my wallet and phone in the pockets.

‘Well, have a good time,’ she said to us. ‘Make sure you both have garlic.’

‘Bye,’ I said quickly, almost knocking him down the steps in my hurry to escape.

I recognised Dan’s car. I’d seen it a few times in the cinema car park, just hadn’t connected it with him. We both got in, out of the rain. Cynthia still stood on the steps, waving.

‘I hope you like Italian. I booked us a table at the Sorrento. A few people recommended it.’

It was probably the one Cynthia had mentioned. ‘Off the Market Place?’

‘That’s it. Have you been there before?’

‘No, but I’ve heard good reports.’ As he pulled out onto the road I started to relax slightly. ‘How’s your day been?’

‘Not bad. Busy. Yours?’

‘I had to fix my aunt’s washing machine.’

‘Just like being at work then. If it’s broken, find a projectionist.’

‘Sort of. I’ve done quite a few odd jobs for her since I moved in, although she’s fairly handy herself.’

I noticed he drove with an easy competence. Not too fast or slow. Cliff had been a speed merchant, throwing you round corners, braking and accelerating hard. He’d said I drove like an old granny.

It wasn’t far from the house to the town centre. Parking was easy on a midweek winter evening. The restaurant was welcoming; amber light spilling from the windows onto the wet cobblestones and neon lights in green, white and red outlining its name. We were shown to a decently sized table for two, a candle burning inside a red glass holder. We agreed on a bottle of Valpolicella.

‘I’d best only have one glass as I’m driving,’ Dan said.

‘Oh. Trying to get me drunk, then?’ I gave him a pointed look.

‘Do I need to?’ he quipped back.

‘Not really.’

The wine arrived and we went through the palaver of tasting it before we were left alone to peruse the menus.

‘Well, it looks like whatever we order, we’ll both end up with garlic breath,’ Dan said. He’d evidently picked up on Cynthia’s comment.

‘Maybe if I breathe on Colin tomorrow he’ll keel over.’

‘That’s a thought. You know he put two films on late today.’

‘Any reason?’

‘He said it was a technical problem. But let’s not talk about work.’ Dan looked at his menu.

‘No. Thinking about Colin is a bit of a mood dampener.’ I checked out the list of starters. The garlic king prawns sounded tasty. But I fancied the seafood linguini for a main, so maybe it would be too much if I also had it for a starter. I had a sudden thought. ‘You aren’t allergic to seafood are you?’ Images of kissing Dan later and having him go into anaphylactic shock alarmed me.

‘No, why? Are you?’

‘Not at all.’

‘Well, that’s good, then. I fancy the garlic prawns for a starter.’

I’d definitely go for something else, then. Ordering the same dish might seem as if I couldn’t choose for myself. ‘Think I’ll have the bruschetta.’

‘Would you like to share some olives while we’re waiting?’

‘Okay.’

The waiter returned and we ordered our food. I was beginning to relax slightly now that we were actually together again and so far, conversation had been easy.

‘How come your aunt lives here?’ he asked.

‘My dad’s parents came from Stowbrough. He moved to London for work.’

‘Strange coincidence that you ended up getting a job here.’

I smiled slightly. ‘Some would say there’s no such thing as coincidence.’

‘Ah, the uncanny element again. That’s an odd combination too.’ Dan sipped his wine.

I couldn’t help but notice the movement of his throat as he swallowed and my gaze dropped to the neck of his shirt. He’d left the two top buttons undone, giving a glimpse of dark chest hairs. ‘Eh, what?’

‘Well, projectionists are usually very practical, matter-of-fact people. Doesn’t exactly go with Tarot cards and all that spooky stuff.’

I smirked at that. ‘Bit of a stereotype isn’t it? It’s like saying all gay men love musicals.’

‘Damn. I was just about to ask you if you wanted to go and see “Cats” with me,’ Dan joked. ‘But seriously, it’s a bit unusual.’

I knew I had to come clean. ‘I grew up with it. Everyone in my family is sensitive. My dad dowses, my mum reads cards and tea leaves. Cynthia arranges seances.’

‘And you read the cards too.’

‘Yes, but not professionally any more. Just for friends.’

He smiled at that. ‘So what happens if someone gets the Death card? Do they actually, you know…’ He clutched at his throat and rolled his eyes dramatically.

I sighed. ‘In films, maybe. But in real life that doesn’t generally happen. Anyway, the Death card is more about endings than actual, physical death.’ I stopped talking as a plate of olives arrived along with a selection of breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. I was hungry, so tucked in.

‘You were saying?’ Dan helped himself to a couple of olives.

‘You’re really interested in this stuff? I thought you were a sceptic.’

‘Maybe you can convince me otherwise. I like to keep an open mind.’

‘All right, then.’ It didn’t take long to think up some examples. My dad sometimes gets asked to help locate pipes; water, gas and the like. The utility services have maps, but sometimes they’re not totally accurate. Just last month he had to go out to find a buried electrical cable before they started to dig up the road.’

‘Don’t they have instruments to do that?’

‘Yes and they’re pretty good. But sometimes, things are packed so close together they get false readings. So before they bring in the diggers, they get someone to double check. He’s also been asked to dowse archaeological digs and find the best places to sink wells…’

‘Ah, wells. Brings us back to the cinema again.’

I wondered if I should confess. ‘I, er, actually dowsed the stalls area. The well is located at precisely the same spot where you get that odd feeling.’

‘I might have known. Hence your theory about…’ he looked around to see if anyone was within hearing range and lowered his voice. ‘The body.’

‘Yes. I don’t have any real evidence, you know. Just the feeling, coupled with what people have told me. We may never find out for sure, if they don’t want to dig up the stalls.’

Dan chewed a piece of bread thoughtfully. ‘There’s a possibility of another couple of screens going in next year. That would be the time to do it. After all, that water problem isn’t going to go away.’

‘Really?’ That sounded promising. Not just the dig, but the extra screens. If the cinema was going to close, they certainly wouldn’t be thinking along those lines.

‘I’m not supposed to say anything yet, but planning permission has been granted.’

It might also mean Dan would decide to stay, rather than move on to a multiplex. ‘That’s great. But I won’t say anything. It’ll piss off Colin, though. He’s convinced the place is going to close down and he’ll be made redundant.’

‘Chance would be a fine thing.’

We were talking about Colin again. And work. I needed to change the subject. ‘So, where’s your family from?’

‘Bromley.’

‘South of the river. A foreign country.’

‘I take it you come from North London, then?’

‘Whetstone, originally. Then we moved further out, to a place called Shenley. It’s a bit more than a village, a bit less than a town.’

‘And they still live there?’

I nodded.

‘You get on well with them? I mean, they don’t mind you…’

I knew what he was getting at. ‘Not at all. Both Mum and Dad were basically hippies back in the seventies, so they’re pretty cool about everything. Made it really difficult for us kids to rebel when we were growing up.’

‘Lucky you.’ He sighed. ‘When I plucked up the courage to tell my parents, they refused to believe it. “It’s just a phase you’re going through.” All that kind of stuff. Even tried to set me up on dates with friends’ daughters. I was so glad to get away to uni, where I could just be myself.'

‘Don’t you see them any more?’

‘Strictly Christmas only. And that’s not something I look forward to. I mean, they aren’t bad people or anything, just unwilling to accept their offspring aren’t pre-programmed to do exactly the same as they did.’

‘That’s sad. So, there’s nothing to make you go back down south?’

‘Not any more. You figured that out last night when you read my cards.’

The Three of Swords. I remembered that one. ‘What happened?’ I hoped it wasn’t anything too bad.

‘Unfortunately, Jason was one of those people who thinks anywhere north of Watford is populated by folk who wear flat caps and enjoy pigeon racing. I’d made it quite clear I might end up anywhere in the country, but when I was offered this job he couldn’t get his head around it. He tried to persuade me to leave the business. Then when I said I wouldn’t, he told me he wasn’t going to wait for me and that if I moved away, he was going to get on with his life.’

‘Nice.’ Jason’s loss was my gain.

‘What about you?’

I had known this was probably going to come up. ‘I was in a long-term relationship. It ended almost a year ago. So, pretty much the same.’ I didn’t mind talking about it, but telling him the whole story would have made it sound like a tragedy and I wasn’t looking for pity.

The waiter returned with our starters, clearing away the remains of the bread. I hadn’t realised, but while we’d been talking, I’d got through most of it. He topped up the wine. I noticed Dan refused any more. Sensible of him. I didn’t want to end up too drunk either and made a mental note to watch my consumption.

The bruschetta was excellent. Crisp, rustic bread topped with a delicious mix of ripe tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Plenty of garlic, too. The prawns looked good as well. We didn’t talk much until we’d finished eating.

‘Cynthia said the food was good here. She was right.’

Dan nodded. ‘Just goes to show that decent food exists even beyond the M25. Jason’s view, not mine. He probably thinks I’m living on pie, chips and mushy peas.’

‘Or deep fried Mars bars. It’s a very southern attitude. A few people I know who’ve never been anywhere beyond Luton think the same, even in this day and age.’

Dan had another small sip of wine. He was clearly rationing himself.

‘Look, if you want to have a drink, why not just leave your car parked up until the morning? There are taxis.’

‘No, it’s fine. Karen told me cars get broken into if they’re left overnight in town. Don’t want to risk that.’

It was a fairly new car. I could see his point. ‘Can always have one later, at home.’

‘And a drink.’ His eyes twinkled.

I smiled. ‘Of course.’ I reckoned we both knew where the evening was heading. ‘You, er, live in town?’

‘I’ve rented a house on the outskirts. Not such a posh area as where your aunt lives, but it’s pleasant enough.’

‘Cynthia was lucky enough to buy that place before prices went crazy.’

‘They’re still a lot cheaper than anywhere down south. I could probably afford to buy a two or three bedroom house if I decide to stay in the area.’

‘My plan, too. I get on with Cynthia, but it’s a bit restrictive living under someone else’s roof. She’ll probably get tired of me after a while anyway, so I’ll start looking around before that happens.’

‘Think you’ll stay here, then?’

‘I don’t see why not. I like the cinema. I like this town.’ I dropped my voice. ‘I like you.’

Dan smiled. ‘The feeling’s mutual. You know, even at the interview, there was something about you…’

‘Oh, so you didn’t just give the job to me because no one else was interested?’

‘There was that, too.’

Our main courses arrived, interrupting the conversation for a while. The linguine had been a good choice. There were prawns, mussels and squid in the sauce. I remembered eating a similar dish in a restaurant near Amalfi.

Almost as if he read my mind, Dan asked. ‘Have you ever been to Italy?’

‘A couple of times, yes.’

‘I’d like to go, one day. I’ve not had much opportunity to travel. Or the money, really. When I was at uni I was scrimping and saving, then I started in the cinema business directly afterward. Assistant manager’s wages aren’t brilliant.’

He’d be earning considerably more now, although I supposed that even a general manager at a small three screen wouldn’t be on a huge salary. I knew that if the cinema exceeded targets, they could get a decent bonus. My former manager had paid for a new kitchen with her bonus one year. ‘Travel is never a waste. You have some great memories.’ That brought my mind back to the postcards Sylvia had shown me. Back in the seventies, travelling to far flung places as Trevor and Jenny did would have been a real adventure.

‘Where else have you been?’

‘Oh, a few places.’ I didn’t want to sound boastful. ‘Gran Canaria, a couple of Greek islands, Spain.’ I didn’t mention the more far-flung destinations. ‘When I was a kid, my parents used to take us camping to France.’

‘We nearly always went to Portugal. Dad’s into playing golf. He’d go off and leave mum with me and my brother. She used to refer to herself as a golfing widow.’

It sounded slightly sad. I finished the last of the linguine, feeling fairly full. I can never eat a huge meal; working in the cinema encourages grazing in between shows. Dan ate more slowly than I did, so I sipped some more wine while he finished his risotto.

‘Mmm,’ he said. ‘That was delicious. Do you fancy any dessert?’

I smiled. ‘Yes, but nothing they serve here.’

The look he gave me went straight to my groin. ‘Coffee at mine, then?’

‘That’ll do nicely.’ It seemed an eternity of waiting before we could settle up the bill and leave. We hurried back to the car in the rain. Dan drove a little faster this time, I noticed. You didn’t need to be psychic to feel the building air of sexual tension. I hadn’t had sex with another man since Cliff died; for the first few months afterwards I’d felt no desire at all, then when it had returned, I’d taken care of my own needs, not wanting to get involved with anyone again. I was ready for this, but also slightly nervous. I wondered if he felt the same.

‘I really wanted to touch you in the restaurant,’ he said.

‘Me too.’ It had always struck me as unfair that heterosexual couples could hug or kiss in public without any fear of drawing unwanted attention. ‘Maybe we should go to that gay bar in town some time?’ At least we could be ourselves there.

‘I didn’t know there was one.’

‘And you’ve been here how long?’

‘Four months now. I just haven’t had a lot of time. And you know what it can be like when you’re on your own. Maybe I’m a bit choosy, but some of the types who come on to you…’ Dan turned off the main road onto the sort of new build housing estate that could be anywhere in the country. The roads snaked around in a way that would be totally confusing to anyone who didn’t live there. I wasn’t paying much attention anyway. At last he pulled up on a driveway. ‘Here we are. Home, sweet home.’

Once we got inside, I felt even more keyed up, wondering if I should make the first move. But this was his house; his territory. Once again I was reminded of how natural it had been yesterday, in the cinema. We both felt at home there, I supposed. He led the way into the living room and when he paused in the doorway, fumbling for the light switch, I almost bumped into him. He turned. We were so close I could feel his breath; the heat from his body even through his shirt. I reached out at the same time he did and suddenly it all became easy again. Two people, wanting each other. I pushed the coat from his shoulders and pulled him close as our lips met. Dan was a gentle kisser, not one of those who try to eat your lips off. I liked it. My tongue reached into his mouth. I tasted a hint of wine and garlic and something indefinable that was his own unique flavour. He ran his palm between my shoulder blades, stroking down to the small of my back and pressing me closer. I felt his arousal; I knew he must be equally aware of my own state; not fully hard yet, but getting there.

It was every bit as good as what had happened in the staff room; better, as there was no fear of a projection alarm going off at any minute. We carried on kissing, letting hands explore contours of bodies that were, as yet, unfamiliar.

There’s something special about a first time with someone. The anticipation is half of it. I let my hands slide down to the waistband of his trousers, pulling his neatly tucked shirt out to reach warm flesh beneath. Dan was always so tidily dressed. Like a parcel, just begging to be unwrapped, layer by layer. The noises he made told me he liked what I was doing. His own hands were making explorations. I moaned in encouragement.

I traced the muscles of his back, slid my hands down to his firm buttocks. He pressed himself closer, pushing me against the wall. My shoulder blade tipped the light switch and the room was suddenly plunged into darkness again.

‘Oops, ‘I said.

Dan chuckled. ‘Doesn’t matter. I can feel everything I need to.’

‘Nice to see it as well.’

For answer, he ran a hand across my chest, finding my shirt buttons and undoing them one by one. A finger circled my right nipple, sending a shudder through me. I leaned back against the wall as he traced a line between my pecs, down to my belly button and heading south. Nimble fingers unfastened a couple more buttons, then his hand was there, sending a spike of arousal to my brain’s pleasure centre as he touched me through my underpants.

Not wanting him to be the one making all the moves, I loosened his belt and unzipped him. Hard heat filled my palm as I grasped his length, running up from his balls to the head. He pushed into it, giving a little gasp, then rewarding me with a similar move.

Suddenly, I had too many clothes on. I wanted skin against skin. He’d undone most of the buttons already, so I shrugged off the restricting shirt, then let him pull down my trousers and underpants as I did the same to him. Now I could feel him properly, smell him. Clean, with just a hint of scent from the shampoo and shower gel he’d used earlier, overlaid with his own musk. I rested against his shoulder as I worked us both together. I felt his breath against my neck, the vibrations from his little groans of encouragement, like a cat’s contented purr. His hands were on my bum, grinding us together as he thrust into my hand. I forgot to think. Everything was here and now, sensation building towards the inevitable. My breath was noisy and my heart pounded in my ears. Sweat had broken out on his chest. He nuzzled at my neck. I moved faster, seeking the rhythm I needed, the pressure I wanted. I could feel he was close, too. All of a sudden his breathing changed. I knew he was nearly there and then suddenly I felt the pulsing through my hand. It was enough to get me over the edge as well. I didn’t know whose cum hit my stomach; his or mine. I carried on milking out every drop until the pleasure went beyond and I had to stop.

I caught my breath, heavy in the darkness. Dan brushed my lips gently, then rested his forehead against mine. ‘That wasn’t bad for dessert,’ he said. ‘Shall we skip the coffee and go straight upstairs?’

‘Definitely. We’ve got all night, after all.’

Copyright © 2022 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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This story will update every Monday

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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7 hours ago, drsawzall said:

Ah...that would be delicious irony, that one of the traveling couple may be down the well whilst the other is living the high life....

One, or both? And if so, who did them in? The plot thickens.

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7 hours ago, CincyKris said:

I also had a passing thought in an earlier chapter that the postcards might be fake, but the postcards came from Sheila.  Our sweet Sheila couldn't be our murderer.  

Or she might believe they're real. Having worked with Jenny and Trevor, you'd think she'd know what their writing looked like.

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