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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 - 20. Strength

Transcend any obstacles in your way

I was awake long before Dan’s radio alarm went off. I’d slept lightly, woken at one-thirty by a cat fight, then around six when one of the neighbours shut a door noisily and started scraping the frost off their car windscreen.

Dan always slept soundly. He was one of those lucky people who drifts off easily and stays asleep. I rolled onto my side and watched him for a while. He was totally relaxed, far removed from the worries that had kept me awake. Worry not just for myself, but for him, too. We’d begun with a mutual attraction; progressed to a physical relationship, but what I was feeling now was the stirrings of real love. I wanted to protect him from danger, for him to be safe.

A series of small coincidences had brought us together. I’d mentioned to a few old colleagues I was interested in getting back into the industry, which had led to finding out about the vacancy at the Regal. Had that not happened, we’d probably never have met. Then again, if I hadn’t got the job, I wouldn’t be living with this nagging fear, wondering if those threats would be carried out. Yet the good fortune of meeting Dan outweighed all of that.

I wondered if PC Branksome had picked up my message. If he didn’t call back, I’d try again later on, once the first shows were underway. To stop my thoughts going further along those lines, I started working out what sort of questions the company representatives might ask. They’d need a projector for showing Powerpoint slides. It would have to be quite a powerful one to fill our screen. Did marketing department have anything like that to lend out to cinemas, or would we need to hire one? We had a PA system tucked away at the back of the spares room, but I had no idea if it worked. Best drag that out and try it.

Dan turned over, pulling at the duvet. I didn’t mind. His house stayed warm, even when the heating had been off all night. Maybe I could afford to move in with him, once I’d had a few months wages in the bank? I’d have to pay my share; it wouldn’t seem right otherwise. How much did it cost to rent a house like this, anyway? I didn’t want to ask him directly, but could get an idea by looking in the estate agents windows along the parade.

As the illuminated display of the clock radio steadily counted off the minutes, I considered how my life had changed. A year ago, I’d been contemplating leaving Cliff, not for the first time. It never seemed to be the right time to bring it up, though. Or if I tried to talk about the state of our relationship, he’d change the subject. Then, on the twenty-fifth of November, fate intervened. Now I was seriously thinking about living with Dan. It felt like the right move, even though we’d not known each other for long.

Dan turned again. He blinked and yawned, then looked at me. ‘I thought you were awake. Not worrying still, are you?’

‘I’ll be worried until whoever killed Maurice and sent those texts is caught.’

‘It might take a while, you know.’

He was being sensible. I nodded. ‘Oh, well. Nothing I can do about that. Although I’m going to call the police again this afternoon if they don’t get back to me.’

‘I would, too.’

‘I’m keeping Sylvia’s name out of it though. I’ll say it was an anonymous call, just like those texts.’

‘That’s your choice.’ He sat up. ‘You know what we should do next time we both have a day off? Get away from here for the day. Go somewhere different.’

‘Could do it next week, I suppose. I’m off Monday and Tuesday.’ I liked the idea.

Dan leaned over. His arms wrapped around me as he pulled me across to his side of the bed. We ended up in a tangle of duvet, legs and arms. ‘It’s never been this way with anyone else,’ he said softly. ‘Everything just seems so easy with you.’

‘I know. I was thinking that before you woke up.’

‘When I first saw you, at the interview, I felt a sort of spark. A potential, if you like.’

‘I felt that, too. But I wasn’t sure if you felt the same way. And I didn’t want to ruin a good working relationship by making a wrong move. Then, that day Maurice knocked you over in the foyer and I told you all that stuff, I thought I’d blown it.’ I stroked his chest, enjoying the feel of silky hair over hard muscle beneath the skin.

‘It bothered me, I’ll admit. You seemed so practical and full of common sense. It didn’t tie in with all that about bodies buried under the cinema. But I thought I’d take a chance.’

‘Glad you did.’ I pulled him closer and went for his lips. He must have decided to do the same. Our noses bumped. We both laughed, then had a second, successful try, which led on to other things. Our bodies meshed together so well. We were at that happy stage where we knew each other’s turn ons and sensitive spots yet there was still much to discover.

‘Better way to wake up than the alarm,’ he said, afterwards, when we were both breathless and messy. ‘Best clean up and get up, I suppose.’

‘I suppose so. Pity, really.’

‘Can do it again tonight, if you like.’

We were definitely on the same wavelength. It wasn’t just the sex, although there was nothing to complain about there. Maybe while he was asleep, he’d been tuned in to my own thoughts? ‘You know I’d like that.’

‘Maybe we should…’ he paused. ‘I mean, if you don’t think it’s too soon…’

‘Move in together?’ I finished his sentence.

‘How did you know that was what I was going to say?’

I put on a spooky voice. ‘Because I can see the future. But, seriously, yes, I’d like to.’ Cynthia wouldn’t really miss me. She’d had the house to herself for so long, she’d probably be glad to get it back that way. Staying with her had never been intended to be a permanent arrangement, just a chance for me to settle in to my new job without having the immediate worry of finding somewhere to live. ‘I’ll pay half the rent, of course and the bills.’

‘We can sort something out,’ he said. ‘Will your Aunt be all right? I mean, she said she was scared the other night.’

‘That was more for our benefit, so we didn’t feel we had to turn out in the cold again. I reckon Nipper would have a go at anyone who got into the house and Cynthia’s certainly not defenceless. To be honest, she’s probably safer if I’m not there at the moment.’

‘There is that.’ He sighed. ‘Better get up, I suppose.’

‘You said that five minutes ago.’

‘I mean it now.’

We raced each other to the bathroom. Dan had first go in the shower, while I brushed my teeth and shaved before the mirror steamed up too badly.

As we were eating toast - thankfully minus Marmite, although Dan had threatened to buy some - my phone rang. It was Cynthia. I hoped she was all right.

‘Don’t worry,’ she said, forestalling my query. ‘I’m fine. But I thought I should tell you that your spirit friend from the cinema was around again last night. Very agitated, he was. Threw a cup off the drainer to get my attention.’

‘Jack?’ I asked.

‘That’s who he said, when I brought out the board. Then he spelled out, “danger” followed by “be prepared”. That was it, though. I think the effort must have exhausted him, for all of a sudden, he was gone. Pity you weren’t here, really. He might have been able to tell you more.’

‘I’ll be back at around five, when Colin gets in. We can have another try then, maybe?’

‘Do be careful,’ she said. ‘I’ll see you later. Oh and bring Dan round for tea. I’m making a curry and there’ll be plenty to go around.’

‘Will do, to both. Bye for now.’

‘Trouble?’ Dan asked. Cynthia always spoke loudly on the phone and he must have heard some of it.

‘Not really. Another visit from Jack at her house. He left a warning, too.’ The sense of unease I’d had during the night began to strengthen again. ‘Promise me one thing, will you?’

‘What?’

‘If you get any inkling something’s not right, wherever you are at the time, pay attention to it. If more people took notice of hunches, rather than just telling themselves it’s silly and nothing’s wrong, then some of them might still be alive.’

‘I reckon I’ll be perfectly safe at the cinema. Not so sure about your aunt’s curry, though. Does she grow her own, blow-your-head-off chillies, by any chance?’

‘How did you guess.’ His comment lightened the mood again and we set off for work together.

My first job was to get the boilers going. As I’d expected, screen one felt decidedly chilly. The cleaners always left the old stalls exit door open when they were taking bags of rubbish out to the bins, so Harold had told me. It was for their own convenience, but now the weather was colder, it didn’t help. The original auditorium of most old cinemas is difficult to heat. People used to wrap up warmly when they went out in the old days, whereas now, many complained if they couldn’t sit through a three hour film in a T shirt without shivering.

The cold intensified as I crossed the spot where the well lay. The bad smell was back again. Could that be a warning, too? I patted the walkie talkie clipped to my belt. My concern for safety was far more effective than Karen’s reminders to make sure I carried it wherever I went. I had my phone in my pocket, too.

I started deep cleaning box one, then went back to turn on the plenum once the radiators were hot. It was still nearly an hour before Dan’s appointment with the company representatives, so by the time they arrived screen one would have warmed up considerably. Once I’d finished, I made tea and took it down to the spares room to have a look at the PA system.

This was one of the rooms I had only given a brief tidying, stacking the commonly used spares together so it was easier to see if anything needed to be re-ordered. The PA system had been pushed to the back of the lowest tier, with several boxes stacked in front of it. Sorting through those would be a task for another day, so for now I simply pulled them out of the way and dragged the amplifier and speakers out for a look. Although covered in dust, externally they looked in good condition. I plugged in the amp and was pleased to see the lights on the front glowing. That was a good start. What seemed to be missing were cables to connect the speakers and a microphone. I was rummaging through the boxes to see if I could find them, when my walkie talkie crackled into life.

‘Terry? Could you come to the main auditorium? The, er, company representatives need to ask you a few questions.’ There was something different about Dan’s voice and not just because of the crackly reception. I felt a prickling at the back of my neck, just as when stepping over that buried hole in the ground. Be prepared. Jack’s words, spoken though Cynthia, echoed in my mind. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, only that I needed to think quickly.

‘Sure. I may be a few minutes though.’ I kept my voice steady, calm. ‘Just in the middle of rewinding a reel of “Harry Potter.”’ We’d already been told by head office that due to security issues, the prints wouldn’t be arriving until the day before the film's release. There was no way it would have come in a week beforehand. I hoped Dan got the reference and understood I’d recognised something was up. It also bought me a couple of minutes.

I raced up the stairs to the box and carefully looked through one of the smaller, less central portholes, angling my head until I saw them. Dan stood near the edge of the balcony, sandwiched between a heavyset man in a dark suit who looked as if he could have stepped right out of one of my warning dreams. To his other side was a woman wearing a long, red coat.

I jumped back, fearful they might see me. My heart began pounding and not just because I’d run upstairs. My hands shook slightly as I grabbed my phone and found Cynthia’s number. Hopefully, she wouldn’t have a client with her, when she always put it on silent. ‘Answer, please,’ I implored.

Four rings later, she did. ‘Terry?’

‘I don’t have much time. They’re in here. They’ve got Dan. Call the police. Tell them anything, but get them here fast. I’ll open the front doors.’ As I spoke, I made my way down the side exit to the street.

‘Don’t do anything foolish,’ she said.

I ignored that. ‘Do it as soon as I hang up.’

‘Of course. Now, Terry…’

I didn’t have time to listen to any more. ‘Bye,’ I said quickly and ended the call.

Harold was mopping the front steps as I burst out of the exit. ‘What’s the hurry?’

‘Can’t stop. Listen. Leave the front door open. Let the police in when they arrive. Dan’s in danger.’ So would I be, very soon. ‘Tell them we’re all in screen one.’

‘What?’

‘Don’t ask any more questions. Just do it.’

Thankfully, he recognised the urgency in my voice. I raced back inside and up the main stairs. Only around five minutes had passed, according to the foyer clock, but it felt like a lifetime. Pausing by the entrance to screen one, I took a couple of deep breaths, then pushed the door open, climbed the last few stairs and tried to appear unaware anything might be wrong.

‘Hi,’ I called, drawing their attention and taking in the appearance of the two as I went to join them. Up close, the man definitely looked like a nightclub bouncer. He was probably in his thirties and his suit couldn’t hide the bulging muscles of his arms or the breadth of his chest. The woman was older, with neatly styled hair and perfectly finished make up. Her coat looked as if it had cost a couple of weeks of my wages and a soft leather bag hung from her left shoulder.

‘Glad you could join us,’ she said, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. ‘Terry, isn’t it?’

‘That’s right. I expect you want to know some technical details.’ I was still playing the innocent. The longer I could keep them talking, the better, I supposed. The police station was less than a mile from the cinema, but I had no idea how quickly they would get here. Surely there couldn’t be much crime going on at this time of a morning? I stopped a good three paces away, wishing Dan wasn’t so boxed in. That was obviously intentional. He looked anxious. I wished I could reassure him in some way.

‘You could say that,’ the woman said. ‘You know you’ve caused us a great deal of trouble.’

‘Eh?’ Again, I pretended I didn’t understand her reference.

‘Tell him what this is all about.’ The bouncer grabbed Dan’s arm and shook him slightly.

‘They want to know how much information you’ve found out. About… what’s down there.’ Dan gave a quick nod of his head in the direction of the stalls.

‘That’s right,’ the woman said. ‘No need to pretend you don’t know why we’re here.’

‘Oh. You mean the well?’ I tried to keep my voice steady.

‘The well, yes.’ A hint of impatience showed in her voice. ‘What did Maurice tell you about it?’

‘Not much, really. Did you know he had Alzheimer’s disease? Sometimes he couldn’t even tell what day of the week it was.’ Sylvia had told ‘them’ I only knew what I’d found on the Internet. Maybe I could convince her it was the truth?

‘And other times he was fairly lucid, I’m told.’

‘I only spoke with him a few times. I felt sorry for him. He thought he still worked here.’ I needed to sound convincing. ‘He told me about the bands that played here and the people he worked with. I’ll admit I asked him about the well, because I’d figured out by then it was causing damp problems in screen three. But he wouldn’t say anything. I don’t see why this is all so important.’

The woman gave a nod to her partner, who tightened his hold on Dan’s right arm and twisted it. He cried out.

‘Look, there’s no need for that,’ I said quickly ‘I’m telling you what I know.’

‘You’ve been asking too many questions, Mister Nosy Parker. Don’t try to play the innocent.’

As soon as she said that, I knew she must have sent those texts, or at least told someone else what to write. ‘I like to find out the history of old cinemas, that’s all.’

‘I’ll break his arm, next,’ the bouncer threatened, doing something that obviously hurt Dan.

‘No, don’t!’ How many minutes had passed? Where were the police? I had to buy some time. ‘I went online to research. I found out the well was opened up when the cinema was tripled. Is that what you want to know?’

She nodded slowly. ‘And the rest. You asked Brenda about Trevor and Australia.’

So, she’d spoken to Brenda, who must have repeated the conversation, in all innocence. ‘How do you know Brenda?’

She gave another cold smile. ‘Never mind that. Tell me about Trevor.’

I fished around for facts. ‘He was an assistant manager here. I read about him in an old newspaper. He said he saw the cinema full of ghosts.’ It was nothing more than anyone could find out from legitimate sources. I glanced at Dan, who looked as if he was in a lot of pain. What else could I say? ‘He went to Australia with his girlfriend. They sent postcards. Look, please stop hurting him…’

‘I don’t reckon he knows any more,’ the bouncer told her, although he didn’t let Dan go.

‘Shut up! You aren’t paid to think.’

She must be his boss, rather than a partner. Or one of them. I’d imagined shadowy underworld characters, like something out of a film about the Mafia, not a middle-aged woman who wouldn’t look out of place shopping in Marks and Spencers. My mind desperately tried to connect all of it together, but I was scared for Dan and for myself. In the quietness, I heard a noise I hoped was a door opening, down in the foyer.

‘What was that?’ the woman asked, sharply.

‘Probably the cinema handyman,’ I said casually. ‘I saw him on my way down from the box.’ Keep talking. Distract them. ‘Was it you who killed Maurice, just because you think he might have given something away?’

‘It wasn’t intentional. They were meant to give him a fright, that’s all. But you… you’re a different matter. And him.’ She gestured towards Dan. ‘I expect you’ve told him everything.’

So she knew about us. Who’d told her that? Sylvia, maybe. Suddenly, it all clicked into place. The three young women who worked in the cinema; Brenda, Sylvia and Jenny. She must be Jenny. All those dreams I’d had, casting her as the villain, had been right. But where was Trevor in all of this? ‘I’ve told you everything I know. Why would I lie, when you’re threatening us? What’s the point?’

Jenny stared at me for a few moments, evidently making up her mind about something. ‘I’ve heard enough. Besides, whatever you didn’t know before, you do now. Or you’ll work it out. Can’t have you talking to the police about it, can we?’ She flipped the catch on her bag and took out a small gun. The way she handled it suggested she knew exactly how to use it.

Had I really heard the door at all? It certainly seemed silent out there now. Jenny pointed the gun at Dan. He stifled a gasp. Shit! This was all going wrong.

‘Now, come here,’ Jenny ordered. ‘This is going to be so tragic. A lover’s tiff, too close to the edge of the balcony. One falls over, the other, torn by remorse, throws himself after.’

The bouncer, still holding Dan tightly, pushed him closer to the edge. I was as helpless as in any of those dreams. ‘Please, don’t.’

‘Hold it right there!’ Another voice rang out. ‘Drop your weapon!’ Two armed police officers stood at the top of the auditorium. They must have come in up the fire exit stairs. Several more burst through the entrance doors.

Jenny hadn’t expected this. ‘You bastard!’ she cried out, swinging the gun around to point at me. I heard a shot almost at the same time someone grabbed me and pushed me to the floor between two rows of seats. Wood splintered. I struggled. ‘Stay down,’ ordered a voice, close to me. A shout was followed by two more gunshots. I heard a cry and a dull thud.

‘Don’t shoot me.’ That was the bouncer’s voice. ‘I ain’t armed.’

I saw booted feet on the stairs near my head. What I wanted right then was to know if Dan was all right. I imagined him falling onto the seats below. Would it be enough to kill someone? ‘Dan!’ I called. I felt suddenly sick.

‘Easy now,’ said the voice. ‘He’s all right. Now, don’t get up too fast. You might feel a bit light-headed.’

He helped me to my feet, but my legs weren’t working right. I had to sit abruptly again, although not before I glimpsed Dan, seemingly unharmed, leaning against the balcony rail and a police officer leading the bouncer up the steps with his hands cuffed behind him. Then I vomited all over the carpet. ‘Sorry,’ I gasped, retching a second time.

‘No problem,’ the police officer said. ‘Happens a lot in situations like this.’

He left me sitting there, my hands shaking slightly. A few of the officers were looking over the balcony. So was Dan. I pulled myself up, then made my way down the few steps between us and hugged him tightly.

‘Ow,’ he said. ‘My shoulder…’

‘Sorry.’ I’d forgotten about the damage.

‘It’s all right.’ He put his good arm around me. I noticed he was shaking, too. We didn’t say anything, just held each other. If he let me go, I’d probably fall down.

From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something red, down below in the stalls, then focussed in on it. Jenny had fallen onto that seat next to the aisle, beside the top of the well. She’d clearly been shot in the head. It was a mess. I turned away quickly.

‘Ambulance will be here shortly.’ It was the police officer who’d helped me up. ‘Then, later on we’ll need a statement from you both.’

Dan and I were taken off to the local hospital, where it turned out his shoulder had been dislocated. I wasn’t hurt, although I expected I’d have a few bruises from having several stone of police officer crushing me to the ground. The police stayed with us, for which I was grateful. Jenny was dead, but her accomplices might still be on the loose.

We gave statements; well, as much as we could, anyway. It turned out that no sooner had Dan taken the ‘company representatives’ inside screen one than they’d dropped all pretence of being interested in hiring the cinema and Jenny had ordered him to summon me, at gunpoint. No wonder he’d sounded the way he did.

Further investigation proved the phone call to Karen hadn’t been from our marketing department at all; they had no record of even being contacted. I reckoned Jenny had got the cinema phone number from Brenda. I mentioned that to the police, this time. If Brenda had been the one in contact with Jenny all along, she could have got us killed. I hated thinking it, but some of what she had said might well have signed her own husband’s death warrant.

Later that day, back at Cynthia’s, we tucked into the curry and drank a few glasses of her fabled elderberry wine, which she pronounced a sovereign remedy for shock. Karen had taken over as duty manager and as the cinema was now a crime scene, it was shut for several hours. I imagined the speculation that must be going on. Colin would be loving it.

‘So, what did you say to get them there so quickly? And armed, too.’

‘I said there was an armed robbery going on. And that you’d managed to call me, before being abruptly cut off.’ Cynthia sounded pleased with herself.

‘I know I must have sounded shaken, but how did you figure it all out so fast?’ Dan asked.

‘When I heard you on the radio, I just knew something was wrong. And I remembered Jack’s warning through Cynthia. “Danger. Be prepared.” I gave you that excuse about “Harry Potter” hoping you might realise I’d figured out something was up…’

‘I knew it was odd. But when someone’s pressing a gun into your ribs, you mostly just think about that. It seemed like hours before you came in.’

‘Yeah. In that time, I’d run up to the box and seen you sandwiched between the two of them. That was when I knew for sure something bad was going on. In those dreams I had, Jenny was always wearing red and there was usually a heavyset man wearing a dark suit.’ It was a good job I’d not seen the gun. I might not have been so confident if I’d known Jenny was armed. ‘So I rang Cynthia while legging it down the stairs. Harold was outside, so I told him to watch out for the police arriving and where we’d be. Then I came up to face the music.’

‘You were brave.’

‘Not really. I just knew I had to keep her talking long enough for help to arrive. And then, when he started hurting you…’ I had to blink back tears. ‘If anything had happened, I’d never have been able to forgive myself.’

‘Well, it didn’t, thankfully.’ Cynthia refilled our glasses. ‘I suppose all they have to do now is round up the usual suspects.’

Dan and I both chuckled. ‘You just made a film reference,’ I explained.

‘Did I?’ She looked baffled. ‘It’s just a figure of speech. But what I meant to say was that this Jenny must have been involved with criminals, if she arranged for Maurice’s death, had the wherewithal to bring along a man of violence and possessed a gun. Her actions don’t really sound like those of someone without experience in the field.’

‘No,’ I agreed. ‘I suppose we’ll find out the whole story. But I’m guessing it will be a while.’

Dan had a couple more of the painkillers he’d been prescribed and I tried to arrange pillows so his shoulder would be supported. The doctor had told him to wear the sling for several days, which meant he couldn’t drive, so he was stuck at Cynthia’s for the time being.

i climbed into bed next to him, wanting to hold him, but afraid I’d hurt him.

‘I’ll let you know if it hurts, I promise,’ he said. ‘Although what with the wine and those pills, I can’t really feel anything right now. Kind of sleepy, too.’

I was, as well. It had been a whirl of a day and the after effects had left me exhausted. I snuggled as close to Dan as I could, feeling his heart beating next to mine. Earlier on today, that heart might have been stilled forever…

‘You know, when that gun was sticking in to me, I did think of one thing,’ he whispered, sounding as if he was beginning to drift off already.

‘What was that?’

‘I’d never have a chance to say I love you. Because I do.’

‘I love you, too.’

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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