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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 - 17. Nine of Wands

Watch your back

I helped Dan scrape the frost off his car windows before he set off for the cinema, then dried the dishes Cynthia had washed. After that, we started on the spare room.

Victorian furniture is solidly built and very heavy. We moved a few smaller pieces out of the room onto the landing and piled the rest in the middle of the room, leaving access to the walls. Cynthia fetched buckets of hot water, while I scored the paper with a knife before we began to soak it. I soon discovered there were several layers of old paper. It was a bit like an archaeological dig, uncovering past patterns and colours.

As we scraped away, Cynthia talked. ‘I remember this one. Must have been around nineteen eighty-five I put that on. It’s not aged well.’

I found a loose edge and eased it away. A satisfyingly large piece peeled off.

‘Oh, well done. You know, I really like your young man.’

‘So do I.’

‘It makes me happy to see you happy. I’d been wondering how easy it would be for you to meet anyone, moving up here and working those strange hours, but fate moves in mysterious ways.’

I smiled at her. ‘It’s early days yet, but I think it will work out.’

‘Well, you have a lot in common. No reason it shouldn’t.’

We carried on soaking and scraping for a while.

‘So, do you have any plans for the weekend?’

‘Working on this room, I expect. Dan’s at the cinema. We’re going to try and get our rotas a bit more in sync, but it won’t happen overnight.’

‘Are you going to the library to check anything else?’

‘I don’t know what else there is. After that text, I think I should keep a low profile. I’m not going to ask anyone at the cinema about the past, either. Chances are it’s one of them who passed it on.’

‘To whom, I wonder?’

‘That’s the question. Remember when you warned me the murderer might only live a few streets away? I’m beginning to think it might be the case. What if it was Trevor?’

‘The manager who made up that ghost story? Why just him? Women can be murderers too.’

I nodded. ‘That’s true. Maybe Colin was right about Trevor and Jenny being on the fiddle while they worked together? Maybe that’s what financed their trip around the world.’

Cynthia peeled off a strip all the way up to the moulded plaster cornice. ‘Let’s let our imagination run riot for a while. Sometimes that can free you from getting stuck in a rut.’

It wasn’t a bad idea. ‘Okay, then. Scenario number one. Trevor and Jenny have been fiddling the tickets or selling off stock illicitly. Someone else finds out and threatens to report them unless they get a cut as well.’

‘Hmm,’ Cynthia mused for a little while before adding to it. ‘Let’s suppose the third person begins to get greedy, demanding more. That’s often the way with blackmailers. Jenny and Trevor decide to get rid of them.’

I was getting into her story. ‘So they lure this person to the cinema when it’s closed. Or maybe it happens at the end of the evening, when everyone else has gone home. The blackmailer is expecting another payment, but instead gets knocked on the head and dumped down the well…’ That sounded plausible. ‘But where does Maurice come in to this scenario?’

‘He’s in the cinema as well and they don’t realise. Do projectionists have to stay behind sometimes?’

‘If a film’s on a crossover, we have to plate it off the night it finishes and leave it out for pick up. Back in the old days, the chief used to do battery discharge tests overnight too. But Maurice wasn’t the chief then. Jack was.’

Cynthia’s brow wrinkled as she thought. ‘Fine. Then maybe they were both there that night. Maybe they both saw something they shouldn’t and were warned to keep their mouths shut about it.’

‘Why didn’t they get killed too?’

‘Trevor and Jenny weren’t murderers, just petty criminals. In fact, maybe they didn’t intentionally murder the blackmailer. It could just as easily have been a scuffle gone wrong. Someone gets pushed, loses their balance, clunks their head on the edge of a desk and bingo. They knew they’d be leaving the country soon. It wouldn’t matter after that. Plus, the hole would be filled in, covering up the evidence.’

That made sense. I rolled with it. ‘But Jack starts to drink and say things he shouldn’t. So he gets offed too and dumped in the lake.’ Something didn’t fit there. ‘Wait a minute, though. If Trevor and Jenny are half way around the world by then, who’s going to know what Jack is or isn’t doing?’ The two crimes weren’t necessarily connected at all. Perhaps Jack had merely been unlucky with someone he’d taken home? It wouldn’t be the first time something like that had happened.

‘He left that note, though,’ Cynthia pointed out. ‘The one you showed me.’

That was true. ‘So you think his death is connected?’

‘Don’t you, deep down?’

‘I have to say I do. Okay, scenario number two. Let’s suppose Trevor and Jenny weren’t villains at all. They got mixed up in something dodgy against their will. Something arranged by real criminals. That’s why they left the country, to get away.’

‘Sounds possible. Maybe these criminals were the ones who tried to burgle the cinema previously?’

‘If Trevor had been helping them, they wouldn’t have needed to try and open the safe with welding equipment. He’d have known the codes, as a manager. Could have just let them in, no problem.’

‘Hmm.’ Cynthia scraped another piece of wallpaper. ‘Well, maybe they were planning a second try? And Trevor was being forced to go along with it. What if they’d threatened some harm would come to Jenny if he didn’t.’

That figured. ‘But Trevor had left by then. He’d have handed in his keys.’

‘They could have had copies made.’

‘You do read a lot of those detective novels, don’t you? But they wouldn’t have done it while the building works were going on. The cinema would have been taking a lot less money than usual at that time.’

‘Jack!’ Cynthia said. ‘They needed Jack in on it for some reason. They found out he was gay and were using that knowledge to threaten him. Anyway, there’s some sort of confrontation at the cinema and one of the criminals gets killed. Or both of them. Jack, Trevor and Jenny dump the bodies down the well. Maurice sees it happening. Jack tells him to keep his mouth shut. Trevor and Jenny flee the country. Unknown to Jack, however, someone else knows about it; another criminal who wants revenge. He finds Jack and kills him. He thinks the problem’s solved and he’s got away with it until years later, when you start asking questions and Maurice begins to talk.’

‘So that would mean there has to be someone working in the cinema now who still has contact with this criminal. Or criminals.’ Rather uncharitably, my mind drifted towards Colin, as it had before when I’d been wondering who might want me out of the way.

‘It looks like it. You never know, maybe someone has been embezzling money all these years.’ Cynthia pulled off a long strip of paper.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Dan hadn’t said anything, but I knew companies often sent young, up and coming managers in to try and turn around failing cinemas. For a three screen town centre cinema, the Regal brought in quite a few customers. When it was expanded, it would do even better. Perhaps someone at head office had recognised there were discrepancies between what should be coming in and what actually was?

‘That’s another reason you should go straight to the police if you get another one of those messages.’

‘Oh, I will, don’t worry.’ Our musings had made me more certain there were bad people involved somewhere down the line.

We stopped for a sandwich around lunchtime. We’d made good progress on the room, but with so many layers of paper, it was slow going. I carried on for most of the afternoon, while Cynthia went back downstairs at around three to begin preparing the meal. As I worked, I conjured up ever more outrageous theories about the criminal connection to the cinema. What about Bob Luard, for example? Had he been involved in any of the intrigues during the tripling? Had he used the old well (which he had already been down to rescue the cat) as a convenient place to put the body of a business rival?

As often happened, too much speculation led to confusion. I needed to concentrate on plain facts. Perhaps Cynthia’s seance would bring some new clues to light?

Once the light began to fade, I gave up the job for the day, cleared up the rubbish, then showered and changed. Dan wasn’t due until around five-thirty, so I helped Cynthia by setting the table and getting the fire going. I then hovered around in the kitchen, much as Nipper was doing.

‘You know, there’s something to be said for winter.’ Cynthia checked the vegetables that were steaming. ‘All those warming stews and puddings.’

‘So what do we have tonight?’

‘Surprise. Although I think your mum might have used the same recipe. It came from our family.’

My parents had both been vegetarians, although they left us children to make up our own minds, as they had for so many things. So I ate vegetarian at home and the usual teenage staples of burgers, pizza and fried chicken when I was out and about. Most of the meals mum - and Cynthia - brought to the table tasted just as good without meat. I hoped Dan would enjoy whatever it was she’d made.

The doorbell rang just after five thirty. Dan stood on the step. ‘Thought I was never going to get away today. I had two complaints to deal with and Robert was late to work. Girlfriend problems, apparently.’ He rolled his eyes.

‘Come on in. Cynthia’s been slaving in the kitchen for half the afternoon.’

‘Well, whatever she’s cooked smells wonderful.’

‘Go and sit yourselves down, boys. I’ll bring this through shortly,’ she called.

I’d lit the candles in the dining room earlier and together with some subdued amber lighting, it made me feel as if I had stepped back in time to the Victorian heyday of the house.

Dan looked impressed, too. ‘You know, I’ve never really appreciated old houses before, but this place has certainly got character.’

‘Yes, it makes the cold draughts almost worthwhile. That’s why the Victorians always wore so many layers of clothing.’

‘Must have been fun when it came to undressing.’ Dan flashed me a quick smile.

‘Play your cards right and I’ll give you a glimpse of my ankles later.’

Cynthia brought a serving dish of vegetables through first, then the main feature. The potatoes topping the dish had been grilled until they were golden. Steam rose gently, swirling in the candle flames.

‘Tuck in. Eat as much as you like, but leave room for pudding.’

Root vegetables nestled in the rich, brown gravy, set off by the green of tenderstem broccoli and bright yellow sweetcorn. I poured us all some wine and we tucked in.

Nothing was said for a few minutes until Dan spoke. ‘Is there beef or lamb in this? I keep thinking I can taste one, then the other.’

‘It’s neither,’ Cynthia replied. ‘I call it my Lancashire not pot. Totally vegetarian.’

Dan looked as if he wasn’t sure whether she was kidding or not. I helped him out. ‘Most of my family are vegetarian. This is the sort of food I ate growing up.’

‘Well, if it’s all as good as this, you wouldn’t miss the meat at all.’ Dan moved a few of the vegetables aside as if he suspected there might be a chunk of beef hiding somewhere. ‘It’s amazing.’

My mum had made her own version of this dish. I reckoned Cynthia had used a slightly different mix of herbs, giving it her own twist. Such was the way with recipes handed down through a family; everyone added their own favourite flavours. I had a suspicion there might be some Marmite in there too, but all mixed together and cooked, I could tolerate it.

We ate and sipped wine for a while. The crackle of the fire and ever changing patterns of the flames against the walls made the room feel like a cosy refuge from the darkness of a winter evening. Relaxed as I was, I began to feel as if another person was in the room with us. A ghost, perhaps, of an earlier occupant, lured back by the homely atmosphere. I glanced at Cynthia, wondering if she felt it too.

‘There’s someone here,’ she said softly, answering my unspoken question.

‘Eh?’ Dan looked up from his dinner. ‘I thought you locked the door after you let me in,’ he said to me.

‘Not a physical being, dear.’ Cynthia explained. ‘I often find myself sharing the space in this house. It must have a welcoming feel. The presence may pass on in a few minutes, but if it stays, we may be able to communicate later.’

Dan looked a little uncomfortable. ‘I’ve seen enough films to know having spirits inside a house doesn’t generally end well.’

‘Hollywood has much to answer for,’ she said. ‘Naturally, if untrained people play around with a spirit board in a place with a reputation for hauntings, things may get out of control. I’ve been called in to intercede in a few cases. Now, would you like some more of the not pot?’

Over the next few minutes, I felt the presence move around the room. It wasn’t at all an uncomfortable sensation; more as if, like any guest, they were familiarising themselves with the surroundings. Seeing Cynthia and I behaving as if nothing extraordinary was happening, Dan relaxed again. When we’d all eaten enough, Cynthia took the plates back to the kitchen.

I was about to help, when Dan stopped me. ‘Don’t leave me alone. This is a little bit spooky.’

‘No problem.’ I sat back in the chair and reached out for his hand. ‘Don’t be scared. This is normal for my family.’ I hoped he didn’t find it too off-putting. ‘I mean, it doesn’t happen on a daily basis, just now and then.’ We’d been thinking a lot about the past and the hidden secrets of the cinema. It wasn’t really surprising something had been drawn to us.

‘So what happens now?’

‘Pudding, I expect. Then, if the presence is still here, Cynthia may ask some questions. It’s going to be a bit less structured than a normal seance, because we didn’t go looking for this to happen.’

Cynthia returned with a syrup sponge pudding and a jug of custard. ‘Now, Dan, are you comfortable with this? If you aren’t then let me know and we’ll stop the proceedings.’

‘I’m interested,’ he said slowly. ‘You and Terry seem to know what you’re doing, so although I’m slightly apprehensive, I think I’ll be all right.’

‘Good.’

As we carried on eating, I began to feel that prickly sensation on the back of my neck, similar to standing over the top of the well in the cinema. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I thought I’d better tell Cynthia.

‘It looks as if our spirit would like to channel through you,’ she confirmed. ‘Are you happy with that.’

‘Yes. I think so.’ Maybe we were about to find some answers at last?

‘Why is this happening now?’ Dan asked. ‘And why here rather than at the cinema?'

‘Good question,’ she said. ‘People often think holding a seance where someone has died is the best way to contact them. Sometimes it is. But spirits are free to roam where they will. Sometimes, they’re attracted to a person rather than a place. This one is evidently drawn to Terry.’

She cleared away while we sat quietly. I knew that if I read the cards now, it would be full of insight and intuition.

Cynthia returned with the tools of her trade; a pendulum, a board, some incense and salt. Dan watched with interest as she prepared the room methodically, then said a short prayer before we joined hands. If it had been a film, she’d have probably started by asking if there was anyone there, but in this case, we already knew someone was there, so she bid them welcome and asked if they had a message for us.

I had intended using the pendulum; as familiar to me as dowsing rods, but I didn’t need to. ‘He says yes.’ Words tumbled into my head unbidden. ‘He warns me we - not you Cynthia, but myself and Dan - are in danger.’

‘Can you tell us any more?’ Cynthia asked.

An image came into my mind of the Regal, looking slightly different than it did today. ‘The cinema,’ I said. ‘It’s connected with the cinema.’

‘Are you from the cinema, too?’ she asked.

‘I was.’ It was a slightly odd experience speaking someone else’s words. ‘Forced out before my time.’

Dan evidently couldn’t contain himself. ‘Who are you?’

I already knew before I spoke the words. ‘Jack.’

‘Thank you for talking with us, Jack,’ Cynthia said. ‘Is there anything else you’d like to tell us.’

‘They’re killers. Watch out.’ I felt his presence diminishing, like a radio station slowly becoming de-tuned. All of a sudden, the candles flickered, as if a wind had blown through the room. Then he was gone.

Cynthia bowed her head and said another short prayer to close the session. We broke the circle. All of a sudden, I felt very tired.

‘You’ve gone very pale,’ Dan said to me.

‘I think that coffee is called for.’ Cynthia was practical as ever. ‘I’ll go and make some for us.’

After she’d left, Dan spoke. ‘That was really strange. You didn’t sound like you.’

‘Really?’ I hadn’t noticed. ‘How did I sound?’

‘You spoke with the local accent. Like Robert or Sylvia.’

It would figure, I supposed, as Jack had probably grown up in the town.

‘I wonder why it was Jack, not whoever it is who’s buried under there?’ he mused.

‘Connection, maybe? He was chief at the Regal too. I’ve been thinking about him a lot.’ My last ‘cinema dream’ had involved Jack.

‘Do you think Cynthia and her friends will be able to contact the person who's down the well?’

I shrugged. ‘It’s never certain. But if they want to make contact, I don’t see why not.’ All of the evidence so far made me think they did.

‘Jack warned both of us were in danger.’

‘Not surprising. I was sent that text, but if the bad guys know we’re together they’ve probably surmised rightly I’ve told you about it.’

‘It doesn’t seem real. Criminals - murderers - stalking a provincial town. It’s like being in one of those films where ordinary people are sucked in to a criminal underworld they didn’t know existed.’

He was right. ‘Not the sort of scenario anyone wants to end up in. But we are. So we just need to be careful. Try not to give them the opportunity. Park your car somewhere with good lighting. Keep your eyes open. Don’t talk about this with anyone else apart from me and Cynthia. If they believe we’ve stopped prying into the past, then hopefully they’ll leave us alone.’

‘Hopefully,’ Dan said. ‘That’s not definitely.’

Cynthia returned with the cafetière and cups. ‘Here you are. You look better already,’ she said to me.

‘I feel all right now. I’ve never had that happen before.’

She smiled in sympathy. ‘It’s strange, the first time. But you get used to it, just like anything.’

‘I don’t want to make a career of it. I’m quite happy being a chief projectionist.’

She poured the coffee. ‘Now, Dan. I’m not sure if we’re all in the right frame of mind to read your cards tonight. It might be best to do something ordinary and mundane, such as watching television. Or we could play some board games, if you prefer.’

‘I agree,’ he said. ‘I think I’ve had enough of the supernatural for one day.’

That was the evening I discovered Dan’s talent for Scrabble. We drank some of the fabled elderberry wine and went to bed in a pleasant haze.

It was strange seeing him off to work the next morning. ‘Be careful,’ I said, before he got into the car. Most of Saturday I spent worrying, in case one of the unknown bad guys hurt him in some way. My imagination ran riot. I envisioned masked men bursting into the cinema foyer brandishing guns; Sylvia trying to stop them and being shot down for her pains. Or a car waiting outside for the moment Dan stepped out at the end of the evening. A single gunshot and squealing tyres as they drove away. It was all very far fetched, but then wasn’t everything at the moment?

Cynthia kept me occupied. We carried on stripping wallpaper, then in the afternoon, pruned the buddleia in the back garden and had a bonfire. Cynthia danced around it with Nipper. ‘That’ll give the neighbours something to talk about,’ she said with glee. ‘They think I’m some sort of witch anyway. I reckon the chef at the hotel is just waiting for the moment I take off all my clothes and dance around by the light of the moon. He’s always peering over the fence on his breaks.’

She’d unfrozen a pasta bake she’d made previously and we had that with home made garlic bread, then settled down for the evening. I was a little apprehensive in case some other spirits decided to pay a visit and try me out, but nothing happened.

Dan texted me once the last shows had started.

Everything fine so far. Maurice came in this afternoon, but very quiet. Do you want to stay at mine tonight?

Love to. Pick me up when you finish. Be careful.

I know. Look out for hitmen and all that. I’ll be fine.

I was very relieved when his car pulled up on the drive. It was Cynthia’s turn to be worried. ‘Do make sure he locks up properly. These modern houses have very flimsy doors, you know. Anyone with a bit of strength could kick them in. If you hear anything downstairs, don’t try to be a hero. Call the police.’

‘I will,’ I promised. It was good to know someone cared that much. In any case, we got to his house without event, although I did keep an eye open in case anyone was tailing us. Once inside, Dan provided sufficient distraction for me to forget my earlier concerns and afterwards, we had an undisturbed nights’ sleep.

He dropped me back in the morning. As Sunday progressed, I worried less. You can’t stay in that sort of state all the time, although a niggling feeling of foreboding lurked in the back of my mind. We finished getting off all the paper, then both spent a few hours filling in cracks and holes in the plaster. Tomorrow, I was back at work for a full day and Dan was in until five. Monday was film booking day and he liked to be there himself in case he needed to query booking department’s decisions regarding which film should play in which screens.

We spent the night at Cynthia’s and had another huge breakfast. I knew I wouldn’t need to eat again until the evening, so made myself some sandwiches filled with hummus and roasted vegetables. As Dan drove towards the Regal, the cold, blue shadow it cast across the road increased my foreboding by another notch. I hoped I was wrong, but I had a bad feeling about today.

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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Chapter Comments

1 hour ago, raven1 said:

The tension is really beginning to build as Jack's ghost warns Terry and Dan that their lives are in danger.  He also said "they are killers" meaning that there are at least two murderers involved.  I also have this little voice that keeps asking me who would Maurice obey when he is directed not to say anything about what he saw, but is not in obvious danger from that person?  Were Brenda and Maurice somehow involved?  We still don't know a lot about Colin and Silvia or the theatre historian that Terry has contacted.  That person is not next door, but could be in a short time.  Great chapter that keeps us guessing.

Maurice was frightened enough to say nothing for all those years, meaning that even if the person who told him to keep quiet wasn't around, he may still have feared reprisals from others. 

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18 minutes ago, CincyKris said:

I was also thinking that George may be involved. Could Terry's inquiries have restarted the buried drama?  

Terry's inquiries have definitely started up something.

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4 hours ago, centexhairysub said:

What a real delight; the visit with Jack was spooky but we got a little insight.  It sort of bothers me that Dan said Maurice was subdued, usually being there agitates him, why was he acting differently...  

I truly do believe there are people that are magnets for the weird.  Spirits or even just the unusual human weirdness that is out there.  

They need to be careful; I know that Jack indicated that Cynthia was not in danger; but someone could use her to try and get to Terry.  

We need to get this seance scheduled as soon as we can.

Can't wait for the next update...

Terry's decision not to do any obvious investigating may protect the people close to him. It depends on how ruthless the people trying to silence him are. We now know someone was buried in the well and Jack is dead, too, so they aren't averse to killing people when they become inconvenient.

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