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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 - 16. Nine of Swords

Nightmares and worry

‘So, they’ve found out about you. Same as what happened to me.’ Jack spoke with the local accent. He looked to be around thirty, the age he must have been when he died. If you ignored the unflattering seventies haircut and moustache, he wasn’t bad looking.

‘It’s different these days.’ I realised I was dreaming. We were in box three, but it wasn’t quite the same. The platter was a Philips rather than the Christies we used now. So we were back in the past again.

‘Does Jenny know? She’ll use it against you.’

‘Jenny’s not here any more. It’s two thousand and five.’

Jack looked unbelieving. ‘It’s nineteen seventy-five.’

Maybe he was right, if the cinema looked like this. I wondered why we were here. I knew I had questions I wanted to ask him, but I couldn’t remember them. I heard the creak of the stair as someone else came in. It was Jenny, dressed in her customary red and carrying a gun. ‘So, that’s where you’ve been hiding,’ she said to Jack, either ignoring me, or unaware of my presence. ‘Come on. We’ve a job to finish.’

‘I… I don’t think I can.’

‘Too late for that. If we’re caught, I’ll make sure you go down with me. You don’t want that, do you Jack? Not when you can take your cut and forget it ever happened. Now, come on.’ She gestured with the gun.

Jack gave me a helpless look, then left with her. I followed a short distance behind them, to the stalls door. As they went through, I felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding, but I couldn’t stop.

The top of the well was uncovered, although it wasn’t a large opening, as it had been in the previous dream. A body lay slumped half way down the aisle, blood pooling around his head.

‘Go on, then,’ Jenny said. ‘Dump him. No one will ever know.’

Jack moved forward with some reluctance. I don’t think I’d have wanted to touch a dead body either. As he rolled the body over, prior to lifting it, I saw the face. It was Dan.

‘No!’ I cried.

Jenny swivelled around. She saw me now. ‘You again.’ She lifted the gun. ‘You’ve been poking your nose where it’s not wanted. You’ve been warned enough times.’

She fired. I ducked. Splinters of wood flew through the air as one of the seats exploded. I ran back towards the door, trying to dodge as they do in films, except in a narrow aisle bordered by seats, there isn’t much option for sideways movement. Then I saw a blinding flash and my legs gave way. I tried to keep on crawling, hearing her heels clack as she stalked me. I was going to die…

‘For fuck’s sake, Terry.’ Dan, obviously alive and well, leaned over me as I emerged from the dream. He’d turned the light on. His face was a mixture of concern and annoyance.

I couldn’t blame him. No one likes being woken in the middle of the night. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘It was one of those dreams again.’

‘It’s okay. I was worried about you. Maybe you should go to the doctor?’

‘And tell them I’ve been dreaming about a thirty year old murder? That’d go down well. No, the only way to stop all this is to lay the ghost to rest.’

‘How are we going to do that?’

We. He’d said we. ‘Aunt Cynthia has some ideas. She was going to talk to you about it on Friday, but maybe we shouldn’t wait that long. She’s been thinking about having a seance. Letting the ghost tell us in his own words.’

Dan made a face. ‘Does that really work?’

‘It’s all we’ve got. Maybe just giving him his voice back will be enough?’

‘I bloody well hope so.’ He sighed. ‘So what was the dream about this time?’

‘Jenny shot me. You were already dead. It was horrible.’ The image of Dan, lying there, rushed back. All that blood…

‘Do you believe in dreams? Coming true, I mean.’

Of course I did. I had prior experience. It was why I couldn’t just forget them.

Dan lay back, encouraging me to do the same. I felt safe nestled against him.

‘How many of these have you had now?’ he asked.

I thought back. ‘Three. No, four.’

‘Anything common to them all?’

‘They’re in the cinema. There’s a chase and guns involved. Jenny’s been in three of them. You’ve been in two. They seem to be progressing as I find out more. Maybe it’s just my subconscious trying to make sense of it all. I don’t know.’

‘Maybe they’re trying to warn you about something?’ he said. ‘Has that ever happened before?’

I nodded slowly. It was time to tell him, as I’d never told Cliff. ‘I’ve not said very much about my last relationship. There’s a reason for that.’

‘You said it ended a while ago.’

‘One year ago, on November the twenty-fifth. That’s the day Cliff died.’

Dan pulled me closer. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Not as sorry as I was. You see, I’d been having these dreams for about a month or so beforehand. Dreams in which he died. There were always roads involved. Sometimes he stepped out into traffic and was hit by a car. Other times he was in a car crash…’

‘You didn’t say anything to him?’

‘He wouldn’t have believed me. He was a total sceptic when it came to anything a little bit on the uncanny side. I did a couple of Tarot readings too. Not when he was there, of course. He’d have laughed. The Tower kept coming up. I said nothing. Maybe if I had, it would have made a difference.’

‘And more likely it wouldn’t. He’d have just ignored it wouldn’t he?’

I knew Dan was right. It was what I’d figured out myself. ‘Then on the twenty-fifth, he left for work at the usual time. It was foggy. There was a pile-up. I didn’t hear anything, of course. I wasn’t his next of kin so why would anyone contact me? When he didn’t get home at the usual time, I tried calling his phone. It just went to message.’ The stress of that dreadful evening came back, as if it was just yesterday. ‘I didn’t find out until around lunchtime the next day. His father finally called me. Just gave me the bare facts. That was it.’

‘Bastards,’ Dan said. ‘Didn’t they care?’

‘Not much. They never approved of me. Anyway, that’s history now. Old history. It’s part of the reason I moved all the way up here and came back to the cinema business. I’m glad I did, or I’d have never met you.’ There were so many choices in life; places where the road diverged. For every new friend made, there must be countless possible others never met.

Dan was quiet for a while, lightly stroking my chest. ‘Do you miss him a lot?’

If I told him the truth, would he think I was as callous as Cliff’s parents? I knew I had to. Any relationship founded on lies wasn’t good. ‘I miss him because I feel guilty I didn’t do more. He might still be alive today. But even if he was we wouldn’t be together. We were in the process of drifting apart for months before the accident happened.’ There, I’d said it all. I felt a great sense of relief.

We lay in the darkness. I had never felt closer to Dan than at that moment; not just physically, but as if our minds were linked too.

‘If those dreams are true, or hold even a smidgen of truth, then we might both be in danger.’

‘Exactly. What I still don’t understand is why Jenny? My subconscious cast her in the villain role almost from the start, but I’ve nothing concrete to back that up. She was an ambitious woman who wanted to travel, then she settled in Australia and married her boyfriend. They’re both probably still there.’ Even as I spoke I remembered that conversation with Cynthia, a few weeks ago. ‘Be careful,’ she’d warned. ‘The murderer might live just a few streets away.’

‘Probably isn’t definitely,’ Dan said. ‘They might have come back. What if they both got involved in something dodgy and the whole travel thing was just a ruse? Go away for a few years, then come back when it's all settled down? They could have been paid off to keep their mouths shut about a crime, a robbery, who knows?’

‘You’re right. I’d never even thought of that. Could we find out?’

‘It’d be a job. They might have changed their names. They might be living anywhere in the UK. Or even on the Costa del Crime.’

For every new theory, there was another dead end. It wasn’t as if we had the resources of the police, or the knowledge and experience of private detectives. ‘Best get some sleep, I suppose.’ I had work in the morning, although only until Colin relieved me. Dan was on all day.

‘Another day in the cinema. Do you reckon the gossip’s got round yet?

‘At the speed of light.’

I was surprised to find Colin had done some work. He’d checked the adverts and made up the trailer packages ready to drop in. Looked as if it would be an easy Thursday. Every time I walked through the public areas, I was aware of glances from the front of house staff. The cinema grapevine had been working as smoothly as ever. No one said anything, though. I almost wished they would.

Dan must be counting stock by now, with Karen. I wondered if she’d say anything to him. I was almost expecting a text, so when my phone pinged I opened the messages right away without bothering to check who had sent it.

The message was all in capitals.

IF U DONT STOP POKING UR NOSE BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.

The number wasn’t one I recognised. The words I did. Jenny had said them in my dream. Now, it might just be a coincidence, but I didn’t really think that.

I replied to the text immediately.

Who is this?

Didn’t expect an answer, although there was still the remote possibility someone had simply keyed in a wrong number and the text hadn’t been meant for me at all.

Five minutes passed. No reply. Ten minutes. The same. I decided to call the number. Surprise, surprise. It had been disconnected. This wasn’t a mistake, or a silly prank by kids, sent to a random number. I had no doubt it was a serious threat, sent by people who knew what they were doing. Who might well be prepared to carry out that threat.

I made a cup of tea in the staff room. A normal, if slightly uneasy day had suddenly been turned into a scene from a crime drama. A couple of minutes later, the detectives would cross the taped line and look down at the battered body, while the pathologist gave a run down on the time of death.

As I drank my tea, I started to think it through. Firstly, what could I do? I should probably tell the police. They would, of course, ask why I might have been sent such a message. And then the whole preposterous story would come out. Would they even take any of it seriously?

Secondly, how had the texter got hold of my number? It would have to be through someone who worked in the cinema. All of the staff and management contact details were kept in the office. It wouldn’t take much for someone to go in there and find it, just as I’d found Brenda’s number that day.

Something nagged at me, something obvious. I’d found Brenda’s number! I’d called her, from my phone. I’d called her twice, actually, the first time to arrange to visit Maurice. Brenda had my number. Brenda had become almost hysterical when Maurice started to say things he shouldn’t in the foyer. Had she maybe passed on to someone else that I had been ‘dredging up the past’ as she’d put it?

But no. Brenda was just a middle-aged housewife and Maurice a confused former projectionist. Ordinary people like them didn’t get involved with criminals. Except, Maurice was convinced he’d seen something thirty years ago and had been told to shut up. He must have told Brenda; they were married after all and you don’t keep secrets from the person you love. Brenda feared for him, now he was becoming incapable of keeping quiet any more. She was diverting attention from her husband to me, someone she didn’t know very well and didn’t care about…

Stop it, I told myself. I didn’t know that for sure. It could just as well be Colin, trying to get rid of me so he finally became chief. Or some other member of staff who hated me for some other reason; homophobia being the most likely. Perhaps one of the young girls who’d had a crush on Dan now knew he was unavailable and resented me for that reason? The possibilities were endless, just as they had been back in nineteen seventy-five. It was like one of those murder mystery games, where everyone has a motive and everyone is a suspect.

I would be careful, I vowed. I’d stop asking questions at work and get on with my job. If I received another message, then I’d take it to the police. It was the only common sense thing to do.

Naturally, I thought about it all afternoon as I went from box to box, starting shows, dropping the foam in to the programme and changing adverts. It stopped me from worrying about what anyone might be saying about my relationship with Dan. We’d agreed we wouldn’t give the gossips any more fuel, so I didn’t expect to see him during the day, apart from brief glances when we both happened to be in the foyer. I so wanted to tell him about the text message, but it would have to wait.

Colin came in at four, his usual surly self. We spoke only about matters pertaining to work. At five, I gathered up my stuff and went home to Cynthia’s. I have to admit, I was watching out on the way, wondering if I might be followed. Nothing happened. This was what the message was all about, I realised, to make me scared of my own shadow. It was working.

It was quite a relief to let myself in. Nipper came to greet me, yapping. The smell of something spicy wafted from the kitchen.

‘Hello,’ Cynthia called out. ‘Tea will be ready in around half an hour. Go and make yourself comfortable. I’ve lit the fire.’

I sat in one of the big armchairs, watching the flames dance. Should I say anything to Cynthia? It was probably wise. I was going to tell Dan, after all.

She came through with a couple of mugs of tea, handing one to me before settling down in the other chair. ‘Just waiting for the rice to cook. It’s three bean chilli tonight.’

‘Lovely.’

She looked at me sharply. ‘Everything all right?’

You couldn’t pull the wool over her eyes. ‘With Dan, yes. Everything else, not so good.’ I proceeded to tell her about the dream I’d had and the threatening message. I even showed it to her. ‘It’s got me rattled,’ I said.

‘I’m not surprised. Although that’s obviously the intention. Do you really think they’ll do anything?’

‘I’m hoping not. It’s supposed to frighten me into stopping asking questions. So I will. Doesn’t mean I won’t carry on investigating in other ways. Do you fancy arranging that seance?’

She beamed. ‘I’d love to. But I haven’t a free morning until next week.’

That was fair enough. It would have to be early in the morning, before any staff came in and obviously on a day when Dan and I were both working. ‘How long will it take, roughly.’

‘An hour or so. Maybe longer. If we go more than two hours and nothing’s happened, there’s no point carrying on.’

‘Fine. Then if we start at nine, we can definitely be finished before any staff turn up. I might have to let you all out through the side exit.’

‘Sounds positively clandestine. The girls will love it.’

We ate and had a glass of wine each. I filled Cynthia in on the events of the previous day; Maurice’s outburst in the foyer and Brenda’s attempt to shut him up. Then Karen walking in on Dan and I in the office.

‘You weren’t doing anything naughty?’

‘No, just cuddling. But everyone knows about us now.’

‘Will it cause problems, do you think?’

I shrugged. ‘There’s always one or two. Although the company does have an anti-discrimination policy, so aside from the odd funny look, I don’t think it’ll change anything much. Colin hated me anyway and I don’t see much of the other staff. Dan and I have agreed to act very properly at work from now on, so as not to give them anything to gossip about.’ It would probably put an end to our tea and cakes in the staff room, waiting for the last show to finish, but that was all.

‘Seconds?’ she asked.

‘Please.’ Cynthia always made plenty of food. Anything we couldn’t eat now would be stashed in the freezer for the days she didn’t feel like cooking from scratch.

‘You know, I’ve had an idea,’ she said, returning with the bowls. ‘Maybe Dan should stay here tonight. Just in case someone follows him. I’m sure this house is far more secure than any new-build.’

‘I’ll ask him.’ It made sense. Dan would be driving home late, when there weren’t many people around. I imagined someone leaping from the darkness and coshing him outside his house. No one on estates like that ever went out if they heard a scuffle. He might lie there all night and it was going to be a cold one.

‘Then I can cook some breakfast for you both in the morning.’ She smiled.

‘He’s working tomorrow until five.’

‘Good. Then you can help me start on the spare room. I’ve been meaning to redecorate for a while and I could do with a hand moving the furniture and stripping off the old paper.’

I texted Dan later.

Cynthia’s offered to let you stay here tonight. She’s promised a cooked breakfast.

He replied a short while later.

If she’s okay with it?

She is. And so am I. I have a very comfortable bed here.

Even if it did squeak a bit.

It was odd, sitting up waiting for Dan to get home. Cynthia and I watched some TV, then played backgammon for a while. I’d grown up with evenings of playing various board and card games, so it felt very much like being at home.

I heard the car pull up just after eleven and went eagerly to the door, along with Nipper. It felt as if I’d not seen Dan for a long time. We hugged briefly before I led him through to the living room.

‘Good to see you again,’ Cynthia said, peering at him over the top of her glasses. ‘Make yourself comfortable and I’ll put the kettle on.’

‘Wow,’ Dan said quietly. ‘This place is like stepping back in time.’

I supposed it was, with the Victorian tiled fireplace, all of the original architraves and coving, a patterned rug covering the varnished boards. I’d got used to it, so it was nothing special to me. My parents house was similar in style and around the same age. ‘Was everything okay at the cinema?’

‘Fine. Sylvia said she was glad we’d got together. Karen was perfectly businesslike. I didn’t see much of Colin all day. I take it he was okay with you?’

‘Surly as ever. We only talked about work.’ I decided to tell him right now. ‘Something weird happened this afternoon, though.’ I showed him the text. ‘The number was cut off after about ten minutes. I’ve no doubt it’s a real threat.’

‘You should take this to the police.’

I knew he’d say that. He was going through the same process I had earlier. We were about half way through the speculation over who might have sent it when Cynthia came back. Dan stopped talking.

‘It’s all right. My aunt knows as well. It’s partly why she invited you round tonight, in case anyone followed you home and clobbered you.’

‘That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?

‘Well, if Terry’s been threatened and they mean business, they might go for you as well.’ Cynthia read a lot of detective thrillers.

‘Better safe than sorry, especially after those dreams.’ I didn’t want to take any chances this time around.

We supped tea around the fire. Cynthia outlined her seance plans.

‘It had better be next Tuesday or Wednesday, then. Which is best for you?’

‘Wednesday, definitely. We do our five mile walk first thing on a Tuesday morning, followed by serving lunches to the old folk at the Scout Hut.’ She threw Nipper a dog chew. She always kept a few in her pockets. ‘Now, I don’t want you youngsters to feel inhibited, just because I’m in the house as well. I sleep very soundly and the walls are thick. So do whatever you want.’

This naturally had the effect of making us both as embarrassed as a pair of teenagers. I glanced at Dan furtively, trying not to laugh.

‘Plan for tomorrow is breakfast at around eight, then Terry and I will be stripping all day…’

‘Wallpaper,’ I put in.

‘Wallpaper, naturally. At my age, I look much better with clothes on.’ She winked, before addressing Dan. ‘Then after work, you’ll come back here for tea and a Tarot reading. I may even bring out some of my elderberry wine.’

‘That sounds lovely. Thank you again for inviting me.’ Dan was at his most polite.

‘Not at all. I’ve not seen Terry so happy for years. I wanted to meet the man who brought the smile back to his face. Now, I’m going to feed Nipper and turn in. Have a good night, both of you.’

Dan waited until he heard her tread on the creaky stairs. ‘Your aunt is… amazing,’ he said.

‘She’s certainly different. But that goes for my whole family.’

‘Shall we, er…?’ He flicked his eyes towards the ceiling.

‘I’m not sure I’ll be able to do anything. It’s like trying to do it in your parent’s house. Even though they said pretty much the same thing to me as soon as I was old enough.’

‘Well, we can just have a cuddle and go to sleep.’

That may have been the intention, but it didn’t take long before fairly innocent cuddling and a few kisses turned to more. At least both our mouths were fully occupied so only a few moans escaped.

It was definitely chilly in the bedroom the following morning. The heating was on, but the sash windows let in a lot of cold air. I let Dan brave the bathroom first. It looked authentically old fashioned, but the window was draughty and the enamel bath with the shower attachment took a while to heat up. My feet were always freezing after a shower.

‘Those Victorians were hardy folk,’ Dan said, coming back through.

‘It’s character building, they say.’

‘I, er, don’t have any clean underwear.’

‘You can borrow mine. In the top drawer over there.’

Seeing Dan rooting through my undies made me wish he could get back into bed again, but it was getting too close to breakfast time. The smell of cooking wafted up the stairs and Cynthia wouldn’t be happy if it was spoiled though tardiness. I went and had a quick wash, then got into some old clothes, ready for the day’s work. Dan looked as well groomed as ever when we went downstairs.

‘Sleep well?’ Cynthia said. ‘I certainly did. Out like a light. Can you carry some of these dishes through to the dining room?’

We ate well. So did Nipper.

‘I haven’t had a breakfast like that since I was last on holiday,’ Dan said. ‘That was amazing. Thank you so much.’

‘I don’t bother with anything fancy when it’s just the two of us, but I like cooking when there are guests. She spread her slice of toast with the usual Marmite.

‘Could you spare some of that. I love Marmite.’

Well, there had to be at least one thing we disagreed about, I figured.

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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Chapter Comments

Thoroughly enjoying this story.  Thank you for the journey.

 

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1 hour ago, Quixo said:

Thoroughly enjoying this story.  Thank you for the journey.

 

Thank you for reading and commenting!

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1 hour ago, drpaladin said:

Terry's dreams are becoming more vivid and disturbing. I'm glad he opened up to Dan about what happened to Colin. He has carried the guilt for too long.

Someone is definitely feeling threatened by Terry prying into the past and they know how to hide their tracks. This means the perpetrator is still very much alive, nearby, and getting information from the inside. The murders were committed to hide the tracks.

I hope the seance reveals  more. 

Cynthia may have been right when she said the murderer might be living just a few streets away.

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39 minutes ago, raven1 said:

Terry's dreams become more vivid and detailed.  This one included Jenny again and Jack.  Whoever was killed had something to do with both of them, since Jenny insists that Jack help her take the murder victim to dump in the well.  Jenny is supposed to be in Australia, but the dream and the SMS would indicate that she is much closer.  Brenda may know where to find her, but is very afraid for Maurice and herself.  

Karen seems to be aloof and a bit cold.  She has access to Terry's number and although doesn't look like Jenny, cosmetic surgery can reduce aging and change appearances.  Still too many mysteries.  I hope the seance helps some.

Jenny is not necessarily the one who sent the text. Brenda is definitely frightened. Nice theory regarding Karen - don't think anyone else has come up with that one.

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30 minutes ago, centexhairysub said:

Terry's dreams are getting more and more detailed.  Dan being in them sort of throws me; as he clearly would not have been around when everything was happening; but the fact that Terry cares for him and he could be used to hurt Terry ties it together I guess.

I can't see Brenda being the one to send the message; but she might have finally broken down and warned someone that Terry was looking into the past.  

Totally wild thought; what if Maurice or Brenda were more involved then we think; maybe Maurice's Alzheimer's is causing him to forget the circumstances; and Brenda is getting worried someone will finally listen to what he says?

Can't wait for the séance.

Dreams often mix up the past and present (and may even be a prediction of possible futures). We already know that Maurice saw something and was frightened enough not to say anything about it for all those years. Brenda may well have been more closely involved than anyone knows so far. I can see why she is worried Maurice will inadvertently give away something he shouldn't.

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10 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

"And tell them I’ve been dreaming about a thirty year old murder? That’d go down well."

That's where the body is supposed to be! 🙂

Another chapter in which the puzzles just got bigger!

Well, well, well. Didn't even notice I'd made an inadvertent pun there😄

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8 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Nice guesses, again. Only 6 more chapters to go, so the mystery is slowly drawing to its conclusion.

What?! No!! I’m enjoying this unusual story so much.
 

I’ll miss Dan and Terry … especially now that Dan has been welcomed into the family. The three of them having tea and talking until midnight, then up and eating a big breakfast, is so sweet and cozy. 

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