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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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Hidden Secrets - 14. Two of Swords

The path ahead is far from clear

We both slept in the following morning. Dan wasn’t in any great hurry as he wasn’t due in until midday and it was the first of my two days off. As we hadn’t gone to sleep right away, it was probably a good thing.

Dan handed me my second slice of toast. ‘So, what do you have planned for today?’

‘Well, this afternoon I’m going to visit Brenda and Maurice.’

‘Not just a social visit, I’m guessing, Monsieur Poirot?’

‘No. Well, sort of. I’d like to see how he is and I found loads of old stuff I was going to chuck out. Some of it might give him a pleasant trip down memory lane.’

‘Then you’ll drop in your subtle questions about the murder…’

‘We don’t know it was a murder. I’ve always tended more towards the theory that whatever happened was an accident. Someone panicked and needed to cover it up. They had a convenient place to dump the body, so that’s what they did.’

‘They? I didn’t think non-binary was a thing back then?’

I saw from his expression he was joking. ‘Very funny. And I’m sure it was a thing, just no one had a label for it yet. But that’s beside the point. I meant “they” in the sense of plural.’

‘You think there might have been more than one person involved?’

‘Possibly. I can’t be sure about that, of course. It’s a hunch.’

‘So, given what you’ve already figured out, what’s your best guess?’

That was a hard one to answer. ‘Gut feeling, based on the evidence I have so far is that someone knew Jack was seeing another man and tried to blackmail him about it. Given what I know about who worked there at the time, the most likely suspect is Colin.’

‘Well, Colin’s definitely not the body in the well.’

‘No. That’s where it gets tricky. I’m going on the supposition Colin - or whoever - told someone else and Jack found himself being coerced to help with something illegal. Most probably fiddling of some kind. You know, I heard about one cinema where no sooner had the popcorn deliveries come in through the front door, than they went out through an exit way, cash in hand, no questions asked.’

‘It’s possible,’ Dan conceded. ‘So, Jack gets caught up in something dodgy, against his will. Then what?’

‘Falling out of thieves. Someone gets greedy. There’s a fight. Someone gets pushed, bangs their head and dies. They need to get rid of the body and force Jack to hide it down the well. He’s the chief, after all. He has access to the cinema outside of opening hours. The well gets filled in. Should be the end of story, but it’s not. The gang worry Jack will give them away and threaten him. He starts to drink, which makes him even more of a liability. He works out the only way he can be safe is to get away…’

‘You should pitch that to a Hollywood producer. It’s quite a thriller.’

It did sound a bit dramatic. ‘Got any better ideas?’

‘I haven’t had the time to mull it all over like you have. Have you considered another scenario? What if Jack’s the one down the well?’

I had an answer for that. ‘He can’t be. He was still chief when the tripling finished and worked at the cinema for something like a year afterwards. In fact, all of the people I know worked there at the time were still alive after the tripling.’ I gave their names, holding up a finger for each one. ‘George, Colin, Maurice, Jack, Trevor, Jenny, Brenda and Sylvia. It was Cynthia who suggested the victim might have been someone who didn’t work there.’

‘Or someone you just don’t know about. There would have been a lot more front of house staff than just those three girls, plus a couple of managers too.’

I hadn’t even considered that, but he was right. ‘Anyway, I’m hoping George might be able to tell me where Jack went to after he walked out. I’m going to pop into the library to check my emails later.’

‘No need.’ Dan smiled. ‘I have broadband here and you can borrow my laptop.’

It was weird logging in to my webmail account with Dan leaning over my shoulder rather than some anonymous person waiting their turn on the computer. It didn’t help that he kept blowing on the back of my neck and running a finger down my spine.

‘Stop it. You’re distracting me.’

‘You didn’t say that last night. In fact, I distinctly remember words like, “yes” and “more”.’

The page loaded much faster than in the library. George had replied to my email the day after I’d sent it. ‘Do you want to see this or not?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘Then be good and you’ll get a reward later.’

Dan pulled up a chair next to mine as I opened the email.

I read through it quickly. George had sent me his address. He didn’t live in Stowbrough any more. I guessed he’d moved away following his retirement. His email continued.

Now, you were asking about Jack. You may or may not know that he walked out of the cinema without giving any notice. It was a bit of a shock to us all, because he cared very much about the place and although we knew he had a temper on him, I’d have never thought he’d do something like that. But he’d not really been himself for a while. It might have been the stress of having to run three screens - I know of a few projectionists who’d been perfectly happy in a single screen, then couldn’t cope with all the changes. He also had a difficult personal life.

That was probably as close as George was going to get to revealing what he’d presumably known about his former chief’s sexuality.

After he went, I took over as acting chief. He’d left a few personal bits and pieces behind and I decided to take them over to his house as I also had a few questions I needed to ask him about the place. You must know what it’s like when you take over without anyone being there to tell you about all the quirks of the cinema.

No one answered the door, but one of the neighbours came out when they heard me knocking. They said they thought he’d gone away, but that they’d heard shouting and banging a couple of days before. It got me worried. I went home and talked to my wife about it and we decided we should report it to the police, just in case. When they broke into the house they found a lot of furniture tipped over and some blood on the floor, but no sign of Jack. It looked as if he’d left in a hurry. The theory was he’d had a fight with someone and just left. So in answer to your question, I’ve no idea where he is now.

‘Well,’ Dan said at last when he finished reading. ‘Looks like they got to him in the end.’

‘Now who’s being over dramatic. He was a heavy drinker. He could have just stumbled around the house, fallen over and cut himself.’

‘Neighbours heard people shouting. The police thought there’d been a fight,’ he pointed out.

‘All right. Maybe he got lonely and brought someone home. There was a misunderstanding. Who knows?’ There were all sorts of possibilities. Only I had a feeling none of those scenarios applied in this case.

Dan re-read the email. ‘Wonder if the police investigated any further at the time?’

‘There must be lots of instances of people just disappearing. I bet it was a lot easier back then to hide your tracks, if you didn’t want to be found.’ I didn’t know a great deal about police procedure, apart from what I’d seen on TV detective shows, but if there wasn’t a body and the person missing was an adult with no relatives pushing to find out answers, they probably didn’t go out of their way, even in this day and age. Back in the nineteen-seventies, it would have been even less likely.

‘So we don’t know where Jack is now, or even if he’s still alive.’

‘No.’ I was surprised no one I’d talked to had mentioned it, but then maybe George had been discreet at the time. Or I hadn’t asked the right questions. In any case, there was already one unsolved mystery connected to the cinema, so I certainly didn’t need to be looking for the answers to this one as well. I sighed.

‘So, back to the detective work. What are you going to ask Maurice later?’

‘I’m not sure. But one of the things he’s repeated a few times is that someone told him to keep quiet about the well. As soon as I start talking about it, he clams up. So chances are, someone scared him badly in the past; enough that even now, with his memory fading, he can still remember that. But maybe he’s said something to Brenda? I can’t ask directly, of course, but if she acts in the same way, I’ll know that she knows something. Sylvia definitely doesn’t. She’s happy to talk about all the people who worked there back then.’

‘Sounds like a plan.’ Dan glanced at the kitchen clock. ‘There’s still nearly an hour before we need to leave. Fancy some distraction.’ He slipped a hand inside my waistband and started tugging my shirt free. His hands were warm and smooth against my back.

I stood, turning so that we were face to face and smiled at him. ‘What do you think?’

He dropped me off at Cynthia’s house before he went to the cinema. I was feeling a little guilty at abandoning her, so I’d made up my mind to stay there tonight. We both needed to catch up on sleep and I didn’t want to seem presumptuous by going to Dan’s house every night.

Cynthia was occupied with some clients when I got in, so I didn't disturb her. I made myself some lunch and leafed through the local paper. Much of it was taken up with advertising, sandwiched between a few heartwarming stories; a local woman who had taken up running after surviving cancer and was planning to compete in the London marathon, pictures of cute puppies from the animal shelter and a school who had built a wildlife garden to help children learn about nature. There were the usual cautionary tales including warnings of a pair of con artists who had stolen money from several vulnerable elderly folk. On page six the smaller articles took up a few columns. Police were appealing for witnesses to a car accident, planning permission was sought for a development of thirty homes on a greenfield site. I skimmed over most of these and almost turned the page before something caught my eye.

BODY IN LAKE LATEST

After a dog walker reported finding bones in the water at a local beauty spot, experts have begun the process of trying to identify the remains. Forensic techniques have determined the body was that of an adult male aged between 25 - 40 years and of average height. The skeleton was estimated to have been in the water for longer than ten years.

Of course, my brain began to go into overdrive. After coming up with my earlier theory and reading George’s email, I had a nasty feeling about who that skeleton might be.

‘Everything all right, dear?’ Cynthia came through, having bid goodbye to her clients.

‘Fine.’

‘No more ghost sightings?’

‘Well…’

She picked up immediately on my hesitation. ‘Do tell.’

‘Last night. Dan and I both saw something. Same as before. A shadowy figure sitting in the stalls. It disappeared as we got closer. He could smell the smell too.’

‘Sounds like your Dan has a talent for these things.’

My Dan. It sounded as if she’d paired us off already. ‘Hang on. It’s early days yet.’

‘Yes, but you obviously get along. I could see it in your auras when he came round to the house. Very compatible.’

‘And I just found this.’ I waved the newspaper at her, then realised she didn’t know of the latest information. As she read, I gave her an update.

‘So, you think it may be Jack?’ she said, eventually.

‘It all fits, doesn’t it?’

‘Lots of people go missing each year, you know. And the police have a huge file of unidentified remains, dating back to the nineteen-fifties. I saw a programme about it.’

I was probably jumping to conclusions again. Fine detective I’d make. ‘Anyway, whoever it turns out to be, it’s not the main mystery,’ I said. ‘Dan’s coming round to your idea of a seance.’

‘Oh, good.’ She almost rubbed her hands with glee. ‘I’ll have to contact my regulars.’

‘Not too many,’ I warned. ‘If the company got wind of anything like that, he could get into trouble.’

‘But he’ll really let us do it?’

‘I think he wants to know the truth as much as anyone. Seeing that apparition convinced him.’

‘You must invite him round for a meal. Then we can have a chat about it. Which evening are you both off?’

‘Friday, I think.’ At least now he’d experienced the uncanny himself, it wouldn’t be so bad introducing him to Cynthia. And although I had all sorts of doubts about the veracity of information obtained through a seance, it might be our best chance of finding out more.

I’d looked up Maurice’s address on the map. It was only a short bus ride away, so once I’d washed up, I gathered together everything I wanted to take and set off. It was a typical November afternoon; dull, with low grey cloud. The sort of day when it never really seems to get light and dusk falls swiftly. Most of the trees had shed their leaves and people were well wrapped against the all-pervading damp chill.

I got off the bus, heading down a side street into a typical road of nineteen-thirties semi detached houses. It wasn’t called a road, of course. Avenues, drives and closes were far more in tune with the naming conventions of the time. On this estate, they had been named after the sort of shrubs the first occupiers would have planted; Lilac Way, Forsythia Close, Magnolia Drive. Brenda and Maurice lived at number thirty-two. It had lacy net curtains at the bay window and a tidy front garden with a small lawn.

I rang the bell. Brenda opened the door. Her hair was neatly styled and she wore a chunky cardigan she’d probably knitted herself over a floral-patterned dress.

‘Hello again,’ I said. ‘It’s Terry, from the cinema.’

She obviously remembered me from our brief meeting. ‘Come in. Maurice has been so looking forward to your visit.’

It was slightly too warm in the house. As well as the central heating being turned up high, a coal effect gas fire burned in the fireplace. ‘Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?’ Brenda asked.

‘Tea please. Milk, no sugar.’

‘I’ll make it strong. I know you projectionists like it that way.’ She disappeared into the kitchen.

I sat down in the chair opposite Maurice. ‘Hello, Maurice. I see you got yourself some new glasses.’

He peered at me. ‘Do I know you?’

‘I’m the…’ I had been about to say ‘chief projectionist’ when I remembered that wasn’t a good idea. ‘The relief projectionist. We’ve met at the Regal a couple of times.’

‘Ah.’ He seemed to accept that.

‘I was there the day you hit your head, so I just wanted to come over and see how you were doing.’

‘My head? There’s nothing wrong with it.’

‘That’s good, then.’ I wasn’t sure what to say next, so I reached into my bag. ‘Anyway, I know you take an interest in cinema stuff, so I thought you might like to look through some of these while you’re stuck at home.’ I’d brought several of the outdated equipment manuals and a sheaf of film condition reports, plus some publicity stills I’d found in another box.

He picked up one of the manuals. ‘Ha! I’ve been trying to track down one of these. We’ve got those rectifiers in screen one.’

Not any more, I almost blurted out. ‘Well, that’s useful, then.’ It might make him more cooperative.

Brenda returned, carrying a tray.

‘Look, love,’ Maurice said. ‘This young man has found exactly what I’ve been looking for.’

‘Well, that’s nice, dear.’ She smiled at me.

I got the feeling I may have just made her day a little easier. Now, I had to be very careful not to wreck things. ‘Sylvia told me that you used to work at the cinema, too,’ I said to her.

‘Not for a few years now, but yes.’ She set down my cup of tea, together with a plate of biscuits. ‘Help yourself.’

‘Thanks.’ I mustered my thoughts. ‘I’m very interested in how it used to be back in the old days. Things have changed a lot.’

‘Things do.’ She glanced over at Maurice with a sad expression.

‘It must have been amazing when it was a single screen. All those people, filling the auditorium…’ Some of my enthusiasm for cinema was leaking through.

‘I was an usherette. I liked that, because I got to see all the films.’

‘Who was your favourite actor back then?’ That was always a good way to get someone talking.

‘Now you’re asking. Robert Redford, probably. I always liked him better than Paul Newman.’

‘He was in some great films,’ I agreed, although I begged to differ with her preference. Paul Newman had such sexy eyes.

‘Oh, yes. They knew how to make films back then.’

‘Hmm.’ Every generation thought that. I sipped my tea and picked out a custard cream. ‘Tea’s good.’

She smiled. She’d obviously been making projectionists’ tea for years. ‘So what made you go into the business, dear?’

‘I was always fascinated by it. Not just the films, but how they got on screen. I started helping out at a local cinema while I was still at school and the rest is history.’ Maurice was leafing through the manual avidly, a smile on his face. It made me glad to see something that might have ended up in the bin bringing back happy memories. ‘So I’ve always been an enthusiast and I love to find out about the history of the places where I’m working.’

She nodded politely, although I guessed her main interest was in films rather than buildings or the social history of the cinema.

I decided to drop in some names. ‘I’ve been emailing George, who used to be the chief at the Regal, before Maurice.’

‘Oh, yes. He’s well, is he?’

‘Seems to be. He’s written a history of the place. It’s on the Internet.’

‘I wouldn’t know where to start with all that.’ She sipped her own tea. ‘Mind you, you being technical must make it a lot easier. Maurice always used to like to keep up with new technology.’

‘Eh, what?’ Maurice looked up, having heard his name.

‘You used to love watching “Tomorrow’s World”, didn’t you?’

Maurice looked eagerly toward the TV. ‘Is it on now?’ he asked.

‘No, dear. Not any more.’

‘Thursday,’ he muttered. ‘It’s on a Thursday evening. Can we watch it?’

Brenda sighed. ‘It’s only Monday. And it finished a couple of years ago.’

I decided to bring the conversation back to more relevant subjects. Like the past and that fateful year. ‘George has made a list of all the bands who played there. It must have been so exciting to be a part of that.’

Brenda smiled. ‘It was. Sometimes, we were able to sneak in and see part of the show. Jenny - my friend who worked there - even got backstage a couple of times.’

Bingo! She’d given me the exact opening I needed. ‘She’s the one who went to Australia?’

Brenda frowned. ‘How do you know about that?’

‘Sylvia showed me some postcards.’

‘Who is this man?’ Maurice asked Brenda, while looking at me quizzically.

‘It’s Terry, from the cinema, dear. Remember.’

‘Don’t think we’ve met before.’ Maurice picked up another of the manuals and waved it at me. ‘Kalee 18. Good projectors. Made in Leeds, you know.’

I nodded, wondering if I could push my luck a bit further. ‘I heard Jenny went off travelling round the world with Trevor.’ It was an innocuous enough statement, but I felt a sudden tension in the room.

Brenda pursed her lips. ‘He was a bad sort,’ she said finally.

‘Who was?’ Maurice asked, looking up from the manual.

‘You don’t want to hear about that, dear.’

‘I do,’ he protested. ‘Who’s she talking about?’ he asked me.

‘Er, Trevor? Trevor Godfrey.’

Maurice’s expression changed. ‘Mustn’t speak ill of the dead.’

‘Maurice!’ Brenda spoke sharply, then glanced quickly at me.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know. I suppose that was in Australia?’

‘Who’s in Australia?’ Maurice asked.

‘Trevor and Jenny went there,’ I said.

All of a sudden his expression changed. ‘Don’t ask me any more. I don’t know anything.’ He said it in the same kind of tone as when he’d panicked in the cinema. As when I’d asked about the well.

Brenda looked concerned and also, I thought, slightly scared. ‘That’s enough,’ she told Maurice. ‘Look, I’m sorry,’ she said to me. ‘I don’t think this is doing him any good. He’s very confused today.’

‘I can see.’ I drank the rest of my tea quickly. ‘Sorry if I upset him. It wasn’t my intention.’

‘I know.’

‘I should probably go.’

‘Yes, dear. I think you should.’

I set down the cup and picked up my bag. ‘Bye, Maurice.’

Brenda showed me out, into the hall. After she opened the front door, she paused. ‘Best not to dredge up the past too much. It doesn’t do anyone any good.’

‘What do you mean?’

She shook her head briefly. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’

I stepped out and the door shut behind me. All the way back to the bus stop, I mulled over what had been said and more importantly, what hadn’t been.

‘It was weird,’ I told Cynthia, later on. By the time I’d got back to the house, the murky day had darkened into evening. It was only four-thirty.

‘Sounds it. So it was when you said Trevor’s name that she changed.’

‘Definitely. “He was a bad sort,” were her exact words. And Maurice said something about speaking ill of the dead.’ I wished I’d been able to record the conversation, or write it down. Things were already blurring together.

Cynthia steepled her hands together, as she often did when she was thinking. ‘Now, we know Trevor went out with Jenny. D’you think Brenda might have been jealous of her? Maybe she wanted Trevor for herself. Friends have fallen out for less.’

‘You think Brenda was so jealous she murdered Trevor? She’d have been more likely to go for her rival, I’d have thought, if she was after him.’

‘True, true. I’m just speaking my thoughts aloud here. Maurice implied Trevor was dead.’

‘Yes, but he doesn’t know what day of the week it is.’ I was beginning to doubt everything Maurice had said. Although why had Brenda reacted the way she did? To protect him? Or herself?

‘Someone is hiding something. It may be nothing to do with this supposed murder, of course.’

‘Then what else?’

‘Jealousy? Love triangles? Remember, they were all very young at the time.’ I still wasn’t sure.

Cynthia straightened up. ‘Are you seeing Dan tonight?’

‘He’s working until the end. Tomorrow as well. I thought I’d give you some company.’

‘Oh, well. You can always call, I suppose.’ There was a twinkle in her eye. ‘Or text when you’re in bed.

I wondered how much she knew. That’s the trouble with having psychic relatives. Nothing stays a secret for long.

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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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It is with great sadness I must announce the death of Mawgrim, Promising Author on GA. He had been in declining health for some time and passed away on Christmas Day. Mawgrim worked for decades as a cinema projectionist before his retirement and was able to use this breadth of knowledge to his stories set in cinemas. He also gave us stories with his take on the World of Pern with its dragon riders. He will be greatly missed and our condolences go out to his friends, family, and his husband.
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What made me laugh was the comment re texting in bed....she knew what the texting would lead to. 

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20 minutes ago, mansexlover said:

What made me laugh was the comment re texting in bed....she knew what the texting would lead to. 

Cynthia's no fool.

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