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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 - 15. Eight of Swords

Unable to see a clear way forward

Tuesday was an uneventful day off for me. I went food shopping with Cynthia, carrying the heavier bags. Dan was working all day again. I missed him. I didn’t want to come over as needy or attention seeking so I successfully resisted the urge to text until evening.

Cynthia noticed me checking my phone for the umpteenth time. ‘For God’s sake, Terry, send the man a message.’

‘Should I? I mean, he’s at work. He probably doesn’t want me pestering him.’

‘Have you invited him over for that meal on Friday yet?’

‘Er, no. I was going to wait until I saw him tomorrow.’

‘Text him. It’s enough of an excuse for you to contact him and he only has to say yes or no.’

She had a point.

My aunt has asked if you want to have a meal here on Friday evening.

There. ‘Done,’ I said, hitting send.

Cynthia wanted to watch something on TV about an archaeological dig. I found it interesting when they started talking about dating old bones. Would they be able to use the same techniques on a more modern skeleton? It didn’t seem as if the process would give an accurate enough estimate. Maybe that’s why they’d only been able to say ‘more than ten years’ for the bones recovered from the lake?

My phone pinged.

That would be great

 A minute later it pinged again.

Do you want me to pick you up on the way home tonight?

Cynthia obviously noticed my face light up. ‘Good news?’

‘Er, Dan’s invited me over later. And he said yes to the meal.’

‘Excellent. I bet he’s been pining for you as much as you’ve been for him.’

Pining. That was an old-fashioned word, but very apt.

I packed an overnight bag, putting in the clothes I’d need for work the next day. I waved the toothbrush at Cynthia. ‘See. My teeth aren’t going to get neglected.’

‘Have a lovely time. I’m off to bed, so double lock the front door when you go. Just call me if you won’t be back tomorrow night so I can put the chain on the door.’ Cynthia was very security conscious. I couldn’t blame her for that, as an older woman living alone. Mind you, Nipper barked manically whenever he heard anyone outside, so I guessed that might put off prospective burglars.

Dan arrived just after eleven. ‘Had a good day?’

‘Not bad.’

‘Any seances or Tarot readings?’ He grinned.

‘No. Tesco and TV. Oh yes, and Cynthia asked if there’s anything you don’t eat.’

He pulled away from the house. ‘Eye of newt and wing of bat.’

I rolled my eyes. ‘Just don’t come out with any of that when you’re here.’ I’d had to put up with a lot of teasing at school once it became known my parents were ‘that hippy witch’ and ‘the wizard of odd’.

‘Of course not. I do have some manners.’

‘Glad to hear it.’

He drove for a while. ‘Did you go and see Maurice?’

His question reminded me of all that I’d discovered since we last saw each other. I hadn’t finished the story by the time he parked up outside his house.

‘That’s incredible. So we’ve now got two murders instead of one?’

‘Possibly. Although we should probably concentrate on the cinema. It’s only a hunch that Jack’s body was thrown in that lake.’

‘I’m learning to trust your hunches.’

He let us in, then drew the curtains and cuddled up next to me on the sofa. His hand stroked the side of my face as he leaned in for a kiss. I tasted his mouth, letting my tongue tell him how much I’d missed him without the need for talking. I’d managed to get his tie off and his shirt half way undone when he stopped me.

‘Er, maybe we should carry on with this upstairs.’

‘True. It’s more comfortable on the bed.’ Things had started to get fairly heated fairly quickly.

‘That and it was a bugger to get the stains off the upholstery last time.’

I was glad of the annoying radio alarm the following morning. I wanted to get to the cinema fairly early as there were bound to be films and trailer reels to make up; one of the usual Wednesday tasks.

Dan woke and untangled his limbs from mine. One thing among many I’d discovered about him was that he was a cuddler in bed. ‘Mmm. Good morning.’

‘It was a pretty good night, too.’ In the early stages of a relationship, you can’t get enough of each other. Although, was it actually a relationship? I wasn’t certain. I fancied him like mad and it was definitely reciprocated, but only time would tell where we ended up.

We had some breakfast. I made myself sandwiches. It felt very domesticated, as if we were already living together. We got to the cinema by nine-thirty. Harold was mopping the front steps and spotted Dan’s car. He held up a hand in greeting.

‘That’s twice now he’s seen us arrive together. You think he’ll suspect something’s going on?’

‘Maybe.’ The cinema gossip mill was always ready to speculate. ‘It won’t take them long to put two and two together, you know.’

‘I suppose not.’

‘Still, look on the bright side. It’ll stop the rumours about you and the lap dancer.’ I grabbed my stuff and went round to the front with him.

‘Morning,’ Harold said. ‘Little bastards egged the doors last night. And someone threw up over the steps.’

‘Lovely.’ Dan wrinkled his nose. ‘I thought this was supposed to be a nice area.’

‘It is, most of the time. Just a few troublemakers. Anyways, it’s all cleaned up now.’

Inside the cinema, we went our separate ways. There was a message left for me in box three. It wasn't very informative, due to Colin being the one who had left it and simply consisted of a roughly torn off sheet of lined paper stuck to the bottom plate of the Christie platter. Scrawled in large block capitals it read 'BROKE'. 
Okay, so the bottom plate obviously didn't work. Couldn't he have left me a bit more of a clue though? Something like 'it won't feed' or 'it won't take up'. 'Broke' could mean anything from 'totally defunct' to 'I've got no money left until payday' though I doubted it actually was the latter. 
I powered everything up and pulled back the take up arm. The plate moved, but not as fast as it should. A horrible grinding noise came from the motor, which proved to be caused by the drive wheel having come loose on its shaft. It had slipped down so that it was only just touching the flange of the plate. A closer examination showed the grub screw that normally held it tight had come loose and was catching as the wheel turned. That explained the problem, but it was a fiddly job to fix. The plate needed to be removed to do the job properly and it was far too large to lift off alone. I went in search of Harold. 

I could see the stalls door was propped open, so, taking a deep breath and holding it, I walked down the aisle. Under the harsh glare of the halogen cleaners lights, it didn’t look at all spooky, although I still dodged round the top of the well.

He was busy repairing a toilet seat in the front stalls gents. Why anyone had broken it in the first place, I had no idea. A similar mentality to egging the front doors, I supposed. The toilets were in desperate - ha, ha - need of refurbishment, but so was much of the building. When you walked into the foyer of the Regal you might be deluded into thinking it had been totally renovated. It had been freshly painted in modern colours; the retail area was brightly lit and the carpet was new enough to still feel bouncy underfoot. The stairway up to screen one, and the corridor leading to two and three had received similar treatment. From there on in, though, the date of previous refurbishments went further and further back into history. And those toilets, well…

The trough style urinal was of yellowed enamel with a cracked tile surround. There were bars over all the windows, which had been painted black. The soap dispensers had left an incontinent trickle of orange ooze beneath their encrusted nozzles. The cubicle still had a high level cistern with an old fashioned chain pull. Harold was replacing the cheap black plastic toilet seat - broken in half - with another that looked still cheaper.

'Look at this,' he said. ‘Off for the weekend and the place falls apart.’

I didn't like to say it looked as if it had been falling apart for much longer than that. If it wasn't for his attention, it might be much worse.

'Don't they ever clean in here?’

'Not much. They don't like coming down here. One of the cleaners said she saw a ghost once and that gave all the others the excuse not to set foot in the stalls. Mind, they don't get used much, so it's not the problem it might be…’

I interrupted. 'She saw a ghost? What kind? I mean, what did she see?’

He shrugged. 'She said it was someone slumped in a seat. She thought it was a drunk who'd been locked in when the cinema closed, but when she went over to wake him, he disappeared.’

Interesting. She must be sensitive, too. It proved that what I - and Dan - had seen wasn’t a unique manifestation.

'Mind you,' he went on, 'I've never seen nothing, and I've been in here often enough. Sometimes there's a funny smell, though, but I reckon that's just drains.’

‘Perhaps.’ I didn’t want to go in to that. ‘Anyway, I was just coming to ask if you could give me a hand in box three. I need to take one of the plates off to fix it.’

‘Not a problem.’

Harold had evidently been in the box before. ‘Blimey,’ he said. ‘Looks a bit tidier in here than last time I saw it.’

It was good someone had noticed. ‘Thanks. I’ve cleared both of the downstairs boxes.’ I pushed the motor back so the plate was free to lift and went to one side. ‘If you get the other side, we can take it off and lean it against the bench there. Okay? Ready to lift?’

‘That’s lighter than I thought it would be.’

‘It’s not the weight that’s a problem, just you have to lift it level and it’s too wide to do that alone. Unless you have very long arms.’

He chuckled at that. I got down on the floor with the right size hex key. ‘This’ll only take a minute, if you want to hang on and we can put the plate back.’

Harold must have noticed Colin’s note. ‘I see Mr Happy didn’t fix it himself, then.’

‘No. Still, maybe he didn’t have time.’

‘You know…’ he paused. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t say nothing, but he’s been spreading some rumours about you.’

I lined up the drive wheel. ‘Like what?’

‘That you’re… well, gay.’

‘That’s not a rumour.’ I thought I might as well clear it up. ‘It’s a fact.’ I wondered if he’d have a problem with it. He was of the older generation, after all.

He sucked his gums, evidently thinking. ‘You don’t act gay. Or look it.’

Another typical misconception. ‘Harold. You probably walk past gay people in the street every day without realising. I’ll admit that there are a few who fit the stereotype, but that’s why there’s a stereotype in the first place.’ I waited for him to get his head around that.

‘I thought he was just being nasty,’ Harold said. ‘Like he was when Maurice started getting forgetful.’

‘That’s Colin for you. Right, let’s get this plate back on and we’re ready to roll.’ With the plate in position, I made a few adjustments. I’d expected Harold to leave right away, but he was still standing there, beside the bench when I got up again.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘I’m not one to judge folk. And you’re making a better job of running this place than he would. If anyone gives you any bother, just let me know.’

‘Thanks.’ I had to suppress a smile at the thought of wheezy old Harold springing to my defence.

I got on with my pre-opening jobs, then went to check the film dump. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang had arrived. I carried it upstairs and started checking it. It was always good to get ahead, in case something happened to disrupt the day.

Something did disrupt the day, but not until later in the afternoon. I’d been to do a scope change in screen two when I heard voices in the foyer. Raised voices. Maybe the egg-throwing yobs had returned and were giving Sylvia a bad time? As soon as I opened the door I saw I’d guessed wrong. Maurice was in the foyer, confronting Dan.

‘I’m sorry,’ Dan said firmly. ‘We don’t allow members of the public into the projection rooms.’

‘You stupid idiot. Who’ll put the films on if I’m not there.’ Frustration was written all over Maurice’s face, which was also bright red. I hoped he wasn’t about to have a heart attack.

Dan spotted me. ‘My chief projectionist will.’

‘But I’m the chief here!’

‘No you aren’t. He is.’ Dan pointed at me. ‘You don’t work here any more.’

Maurice strode over toward me. ‘Do I know you?’

‘We’ve met before,’ I said cautiously.

‘He says you’re the chief.’ Maurice gestured towards Dan.

I glanced over at Sylvia for support. I had no idea how to handle something like this. Give me a broken platter any day. ‘Well, I er, yes.’ Maybe it was for the best to tell him, rather than keep on trying to humour him. Although he’d probably forget in ten minutes, anyway.

‘Well, you can’t be. No one’s sacked me. I work here!’ The last part was delivered in a strident voice.

Sylvia waddled over. ‘Come on now, love.’ She put a hand gently on Maurice’s arm. ‘Come and sit down over here. Shall I get you a nice cup of tea?’ As she led him away, she hissed. ‘Call Brenda.’

‘Oh, er, right.’

‘Number’s in the office, in the address book,’ Dan said. Evidently he didn’t want to let Maurice out of his sight.

I realised I didn’t need it. I’d phoned Brenda recently and her number was still in the memory of my phone. I went into the office, though, for a bit more privacy and quiet.

Brenda answered with her phone number, as people used to do. ‘Four seven six nine four two.’

‘Is that Brenda Gudgeon?’

‘Yes. Who’s this?’

‘Terry Young. Chief at the Regal.’

‘What do you want?’ Obviously, she still hadn’t forgiven me.

‘Maurice is at the cinema and he’s a bit upset.’

‘I hope you didn’t start dragging up the past again.’

‘No. I just came in on the tail end of things. He wanted to get into the projection box and the manager told him he couldn’t.’

She gave a sigh. ‘I suppose I’d better come over and pick him up. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.’

‘Thank you.’ I returned to the foyer. Dan was manning the kiosk, while Sylvia had taken Maurice into the staffroom.

‘Slip us a large hot dog,’ I said cheekily, hoping to cheer him up.

‘Later, maybe. If you’re good.’ He spoke quietly. ‘Did you get through?’

‘She’s on the way.’

‘I don’t quite know how to handle this. He’s getting worse. Even when I first started, he’d always leave when we told him it was his day off. That’s not working any more.’

‘Perhaps you should ask HR?’

Dan shook his head. ‘He’s not staff. They won’t be interested. His wife will just have to keep him away from here.’

That was easier said than done. Maurice was still fit and able to walk where he wanted. I doubted Brenda would be able to stop him leaving the house.

As all the features were running, I waited in the foyer for Brenda to arrive, recognising her car when she pulled up outside. She walked purposefully to the front doors, looking as if she might explode at any moment.

‘Where is he?’

‘I’ll take you,’ Dan said. ‘Terry, could you mind the kiosk for a moment.’

I prayed no customers would want to buy anything. I’d worked front of house when I was a kid, but I had no idea how the tills worked these days, or indeed, what the prices were for most items. Fortunately, it was only a few minutes before they came back through, Sylvia and Brenda on either side of Maurice. He seemed docile enough now, although when he saw me he bristled again.

‘That man’s stolen my job,’ he said, pointing at me.

‘No, he hasn’t,’ Brenda said. ‘Now come on, let’s get home. I’ve made a nice steak pie for tea.’

Maurice pulled away from his captors. He could be surprisingly strong at times, like when he ran away with the keys. ‘You’re just as bad as the rest of them,’ he said to me. ‘Did you kill him?’

‘Maurice!’ Brenda sounded frantic. ‘Stop it. You know you mustn’t say things like that.’

‘They put him down the hole that night. They did.’

‘Stop saying those things!’

‘They can’t keep me quiet forever. I know what happened. I saw it!’

‘Maurice!’ Brenda rushed over and slapped him on the left cheek. It seemed to do the trick.

He lifted a hand to his face and looked puzzled. ‘You hit me.’ He paused, looking puzzled for a moment, before saying, very matter of factly. ‘He hit me once, too.’

‘Be quiet and come home.’ Brenda’s carefully styled hair had broken free and a long strand flopped down across her face. She looked wild, but it wasn’t just anger. There was fear there, too. ’This is your fault,’ she said to me, again. ‘Getting him all stirred up.’

‘I’m sorry.’

She shook her head, disrupting her hair even more, then marched her husband out of the cinema.

Sylvia looked shocked. ‘I’ve never seen him like that. And Brenda… She must be at the end of her tether, poor woman.’

Dan leaned on the kiosk. We all watched as Brenda secured Maurice in the passenger seat, then brushed her hair back from her eyes before getting in and driving away.

‘Could you just come to the office, Terry? If you aren’t busy.’

‘I’m not.’ I checked my watch. ‘I’ve got a while yet.’

I wondered what he was going to say as I followed him to the office. He flopped down in the chair behind his desk. I stayed standing.

‘What the hell was all that about? Did you hit Maurice?’

‘No!’ I protested.

‘He said you did.’

‘No. He said, “he hit me once, too.” That could mean anyone. I haven’t killed anyone, either and if you remember he asked me that as well. He’s confused, poor sod.’

Dan put his head in his hands. ‘I’m supposed to be a cinema manager, not a bloody social worker.’

I couldn’t stop myself from going round the desk to comfort him. ‘Don’t worry.’ I put an arm around his shoulders. ‘If he’s going downhill that fast, then she’ll probably have to get him into a care home soon.’ I felt callous even saying it, but it was true. Brenda couldn’t watch her husband all the time. What if one day he went out and totally forgot where he was? He could get lost, hurt or worse.

‘Sorry,’ Dan said. ‘I just felt so out of my depth. I can deal with customer complaints, even when they get angry, but when you can’t use reason with someone…’

I perched on the chair arm, stroking the nape of his neck.

‘Do you think any of what he said was true?’

I nodded once. ‘I reckon it is. He was told to shut up about something and he did, all these years. But now he’s losing any inhibitions he once had, he blurts things out.’

‘Do you think he saw the murder?’

‘Maybe. At the very least, he saw “them” dumping the body.’

Dan leaned back into my touch. ‘What should I do? Call the police?’

I didn’t know either. ‘We don’t really have any evidence as such. The ramblings of a confused man, weird smells, ghosts in the stalls. They’d laugh at us.’

‘I suppose so,’ he admitted.

He sounded so downcast I kissed him softly on the cheek. He put his arms around me and pulled me into the chair with him. We were probably lucky it was a well made piece of old furniture rather than something designed for a modern office. We weren’t lucky that the door opened at that precise moment and Karen walked in.

Her mouth fell open. She didn’t know where to look.

I felt mortified, but also, strangely, like laughing. It was like a set piece from a farce. I got my feet to the floor with only a little difficulty and Dan helped me to stand.

Karen did the only thing she could do under the circumstances, which was to pretend that she hadn’t just walked in on her manager embracing the chief projectionist. ‘Sorry I’m a bit early,’ she said. ‘I had to pick the car up after its MOT and there was no point in going home. Anything you’d like me to start on?’

I met Dan’s eyes. ‘I’d better go,’ I muttered. ‘Films to lace up.’ Hanging around here wasn’t going to do any good.

‘Right,’ he said.

I felt Karen’s eyes follow me all the way to the door. On my way back to the staffroom I considered  what had just happened. Apart from inappropriate behaviour at work - and it hadn’t been in a public area - there wasn’t really anything too awful about what Karen had seen. If one of us had been female, it wouldn’t have caused any scandal at all. I had been out for years and didn’t mind people knowing it. Dan was more of a private person, but the staff would have been bound to find out sooner or later, particularly with his visits to the projection staff room during the last show and the fact that we often arrived his car. There might be some awkwardness, but we’d soon be yesterday’s news as something else came along to fuel the gossip mill. I still felt embarrassed for Dan, though. I hoped it wouldn’t undermine his authority in any way. And once Colin found out, I could see him using the information to claim favouritism if Dan supported me in any decisions that affected the projection department.

I carried on with work, trying to put it to the back of my mind. The only trouble was that a lot of projection tasks occupy your hands but not your mind. Normally I enjoy having all that time to think my own thoughts, but today it didn’t help much.

I knew that Dan was due off at five, so I wasn’t surprised when ten minutes afterwards he turned up in the staff room.

‘Well, that was a different afternoon.’

‘Yes. Look, I shouldn’t have…’

He stopped me. ‘It doesn’t matter. Karen knows everything now. I told her. She’s fine with it. And really, we’re both to blame. Although neither of us did anything wrong, as such.’

‘That’s what I thought too. I mean, we weren’t snogging in the foyer or anything.’

‘They’d have realised something was going on sooner or later. This just makes it sooner. I’m more concerned with how it might affect you. Do you think Colin will make it a problem?’

‘He already dislikes me. If he - sorry, when he - finds out we’re seeing each other, he could use it to say he’s being treated unfairly.’ I’d had another thought. ‘He might even think I only got the job because of it.’

‘We didn’t even know each other then.’

‘I know that. So do you. Think someone like Colin’s going to care? He reckons he should have got the chief’s job. It’ll boost his ego more to assume that’s because I had an unfair advantage rather than because you didn’t think he was up to the job.’

Dan sighed. ‘We’ll have to cross that bridge when it happens. If it happens.’

‘I’m fairly sure it will, at some point. I’ve been treating Colin with kid gloves for selfish reasons up to now. Apparently, he goes off sick when he gets really pissed off and I’d rather not have to work six days a week if I can avoid it.’

‘I’d rather not have the overtime bills. Plus, I quite like seeing you on our days off.’

‘Only quite like?’ I teased.

‘Like very much, I should have said. So, being as it’s all in the open now, would you like me to pick you up this evening?’

‘I’d quite like that.’ I mimicked his words.

‘Well, see you later then.’ He turned to leave.

I stopped him and pulled him close. ‘This isn’t a public area either. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.’

Copyright © 2022 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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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.
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So the story hidden for so long is starting to unravel with the unraveling of Maurice's mind. I wonder if it is Jack down the hole? And if so, what caused I all. 

I'm loving Dan and Terry. ❤ 

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2 hours ago, Doha said:

So the story hidden for so long is starting to unravel with the unraveling of Maurice's mind. I wonder if it is Jack down the hole? And if so, what caused I all. 

I'm loving Dan and Terry. ❤ 

As you can see from the comments, there are many theories about what happened.  Dan and Terry make a good couple.

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