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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 - 21. Death

A time for endings.

As I’d suspected, we didn’t hear a great deal right away. Cynthia insisted Dan should stay at her house, in case he needed help while I was at work. He’d been told to rest at home for two weeks to speed healing and reduce the chance of his shoulder dislocating again in the future. He added me to his car insurance, so I was able to use his car to fetch anything he needed from his house.

At the cinema, everyone wanted to hear the story, although even when I told them the plain facts, they were soon embellished. I particularly liked the version where I’d struggled with a gun-toting villain, almost rolling over the edge of the balcony, like a scene from a James Bond film.

The dramatic incident had one positive effect. Colin became quite chatty as he asked me all about it. ‘See,’ he said, with some satisfaction. ‘It takes a projectionist to sort things out. Managers are useless.’

‘Watch it,’ I said. ‘My boyfriend’s a manager.’

‘Well, it takes all sorts,’ he grudgingly agreed, before going on to say how he’d known that Jenny was a ‘bad one’ all along. I don’t think he’d ever forgiven her for passing him over in favour of Trevor. ‘He’ll be in on all of this too, if she ain’t got rid of him by now. Bet she’s the kind with a string of divorces behind her.’

Two days after the event, I had a phone call early in the evening. It was Sylvia again.

‘I had to call you,’ she said. ‘I wanted to say how sorry I am.’

‘Don’t be. Your warning helped me.’

‘But there’s all the rest. I’ve told the police everything, but I have to tell you, to get it off my chest.’

‘Are you sure?’ Although I wanted to know, I didn’t want her to say anything now she might regret later.

‘Very sure,’ she said firmly. ‘I consider myself to be partly to blame for what happened to Maurice and what almost happened to you.’

‘It’s the criminals to blame, not anyone else.’ I was conscious of echoing Cynthia’s words from a few days ago.

‘You’re a kind lad,’ she said. ‘But don’t make too many allowances until you hear the story. It all started way back, when we were young. Jenny, Brenda and I made friends almost as soon as we started working together. The friendships you make when you’re that age tend to last, you know?’

I did. ‘So, you all kept in touch?’

‘Brenda more than me. She and Jenny were thick as thieves. I got those postcards I showed you for a few months after Jenny and Trevor went travelling. Brenda said Jenny used to write to her, too. Anyway, what I didn’t know, but she did, was that Jenny came back from Australia after less than a year. Didn’t like it, she said. Too hot and too many poisonous things.’

‘With Trevor?’ I asked, eager to find out.

‘I’m getting to that, love.’

‘Sorry.’ I’d try not to interrupt again.

‘Anyway, Brenda stayed in touch, after she came back. Without Trevor. He’d met another girl out there and settled down. So, all those years while Maurice was still working, they’d meet for lunch now and then. Brenda knew Jenny was well off. She started a couple of businesses and they’d been very successful. Obviously, Brenda told her when Maurice was diagnosed and he had to leave work. Jenny gave them money so he could get special drugs not available on the NHS.’

Kindness, I wondered, or in the hope it might slow down the progression of the disease? I didn’t say anything, though.

‘Me and Brenda used to have a chat every week or so, sometimes on the phone, sometimes in person. When you started work, I told her about how you were kind to Maurice and how you kept asking me all about the history of the place. She must have passed all that on to Jenny. I didn’t mean any harm, honestly.’

Hearing the distress come into her voice, I tried to reassure her. ‘It’s all right. You weren’t to know anything bad would come of it.’

‘After that, Brenda kept wanting to know what kind of things you were asking. Especially anything about the tripling and the well. She was getting really stressed with how Maurice was deteriorating by then, especially after his fall. She realised he was getting near the point she’d be unable to look after him anymore.’

I heard her take a breath. ‘It’s a sad situation,’ I agreed. Of course, she’d had experience of it herself, with her mum.

‘Brenda told Jenny about Maurice’s outbursts at the cinema. That was when it all turned nasty. Jenny reminded her of the promises that had been made all those years ago and said Maurice would have to be kept quiet. She was going to help Brenda find a good care home, she said. Just before last weekend, it must have been. Then, on the Monday, that awful accident… only it wasn’t an accident, was it?’ She sobbed again. I heard her blow her nose. ‘You know what Jenny said to her afterwards? That she should stop crying and be grateful they’d “done her a favour.” I reckon that was when she realised how ruthless Jenny was and the kind of business she was really involved in. Brenda said she’d had her suspicions a few times, but you don’t like to think that about your friends, do you?’

I paused a moment, giving her time to compose herself. ‘So, did Brenda tell you what happened “all those years ago”?’

‘Afterwards, yes. She was in such a state she told me everything. That was why I phoned you. They didn’t know how much Maurice had said to you, or how much you might have discovered yourself. Like I said, they’re ruthless. I had to warn you.’

‘You weren’t the first,’ I said. ‘I’d had a couple of threatening texts, one a few days before and one just after Maurice was knocked down.’ I wasn’t going to tell her about Jack’s warning, too.

‘I wish I’d gone to the police then, I really do. But I was scared. We were both scared. It brought it all back to Brenda, what happened back in nineteen seventy-five. You know she was going out with Maurice, back then?’

‘You mentioned that, yes.’

‘Brenda and Maurice were in the cinema that night. They both lived at home, you see. It was their only chance to have some private time. Anyway, they’d been up in Mr Godfrey’s old flat. He’d left by then, so it was empty, but still furnished. It was when they were on their way back down they heard the noise in the stalls. Brenda told me she was ever so frightened. It was only a few months earlier Mr Godfrey had seen all those ghosts. Anyway, she stayed backstage, while Maurice went on ahead. He came back for her a bit later. White as a sheet, she said he was. And when they were making their way out, she saw Jenny and Jack in the foyer, arguing about something. But when Jenny saw her, she was nice as pie. Said she wasn’t to worry herself over what had been a little misunderstanding. And Maurice wouldn’t tell her what it was all about, not at first.

‘She only found out what had happened a few months later, after Jack had pushed Maurice down the stairs. He got concussion, you know and was rambling. He said he’d seen Jack throwing a body down the well that night, with Jenny standing there watching.’

I’d known Jack was violent, although somehow I couldn’t imagine him killing a man. But if Jenny had been there as well, then maybe it had been at her behest? If she had a hold over Jack, somehow… One of the theories Cynthia and I had come up with was that he might have been blackmailed because of his sexuality. It made sense.

‘She tried to get Maurice to go to the police to tell them about the assault and about what he’d seen, but he wouldn’t. It was different in those days. He had to work with Jack and no one liked a snitch. Besides, he didn’t think he’d be believed about the body and the cinema had re-opened by then, with the hole filled in. There was no proof. So he - and Brenda - lived with that secret all those years.’

‘I wonder who it was?’ I didn’t realise I’d spoken aloud until Sylvia gave me a reply.

‘Maurice didn’t see a face. It was dark in there, after all. Apparently he went through all the local papers for weeks to see if anyone had been reported missing, but no one was.’

I mulled over what she’d told me. ‘So Brenda knew Jenny had been involved in some way, but never asked her?’

‘No,’ Sylvia said. ‘You wouldn't like to think a friend could do something like that. Anyway, Jenny could be very persuasive. She was a dab hand at making up stories too. Brenda would have believed whatever she said. And that’s it, really. We’ve both been talking to the police, so let’s hope they can find out the rest.’

‘Let’s hope so.’

‘Is Mr Perkins - Dan, I mean - going to be all right? I heard they took him away in an ambulance.’

‘He’ll be off work for a couple of weeks, but he’ll be fine.’

‘Oh, good. Well, I’ll let you get on. I’m coming back next week myself, so I’ll see you then. We can still have a chat, can’t we?’ She sounded unsure.

‘Of course. Like I said, it wasn’t your fault.’

At the end of my shift I went back to Cynthia’s. Over dinner, I told her and Dan about Sylvia’s ‘confession’.

‘Sounds like that Jenny was a nasty piece of work, through and through,’ Cynthia said, when I’d finished. ‘Poor Brenda. She must have thought she could trust the woman.’

‘And Sylvia had no reason to believe Brenda was feeding Jenny information.’

‘Hmm,’ Dan said. ‘What I’d like to know is who’s down the well?’

‘Now Brenda’s told the police, I expect they do, too.’

Dan made a face. ‘Damn it. With “Harry Potter” starting next week, too.’

‘I don’t suppose they’re going to hold up an enquiry for the sake of your admissions.’ Cynthia dished up another slice of the pie she’d made. ‘Still, think of the publicity the cinema will get.’

‘Not exactly good, is it? Body found in cinema.’ Dan still sounded glum.

‘Oh, I don’t know. Isn’t all publicity good these days? You could even hold ghost walks out of hours and bring in more business.’ Cynthia always saw the positive side of a situation. ‘Anyway, eat up before it gets cold.’

It was three more days before he had the news he’d feared. The police wanted to uncover the well and retrieve the body down there. Although they didn’t say, Dan got the feeling it wasn’t just Brenda’s statement that had led to the decision. Maybe someone else had talked, too, now Jenny wasn’t around any more?

The cinema would, of course, be closed while the operation took place, although Dan was assured it would be as quick as possible and they would put right any damage afterwards. Harold and I had a busy few mornings removing seats and stacking them at the sides of the auditorium. The company sent in their own contractors to put up plastic sheeting at the front of the circle, to try and prevent dust from getting everywhere.

Colin loved the intrigue of it all. I’d never seen him smile so much before, especially when all of the white-suited forensics experts arrived and a mini digger was carefully driven inside through the exit door in the front stalls. I left him and Harold watching the preparations.

I was in the top box, making up the first print of Harry Potter, when they both came up.

‘They chucked us out,’ Colin said. ‘Sealed the area off.’

‘Oh, well. You didn’t really think they were going to allow spectators. It’s a crime scene, after all, even if a very old one.’

Harold peered out of the porthole. ‘Can't see anything much,’ he said, sadly. ‘Wrong angle.’

Colin joined him, pressing his nose against the glass. ‘I can see the digger, just about.’

The noise of drilling began. It reverberated through the building. Even if we’d been allowed to open, there was no way anyone could have watched a film in the mini screens with that racket going on. Beyond the veil of grey plastic, the air was full of dust, making visibility even worse.

The drilling stopped and started several times over the next few hours. I reckoned they were clearing the rubble carefully as they went; after all, they didn’t know how far down the body might be. Harold and Colin stared out of the porthole as I carried on checking the print.

About two, Colin came over, bringing me a mug of tea. He’d never made me tea before.

‘Er, chief,’ he said.

That was a first, too. ‘Yes?’

‘I was wondering. Well, me and Harold both were… if we could go up in the void and watch from there.’

I’d considered it myself, but decided it wouldn’t be entirely responsible. However, I liked this newly cooperative Colin and was keen to see some of the excavation. ‘I don’t see why not. But we’ll have to be really quiet. I don’t think they’d appreciate an audience.’

Colin smiled again, then called across. ‘Hey, Harold. He says yes.’

We climbed up the iron ladder to the flat roof, and opened the door to the void; a vast roof space above the main auditorium, criss-crossed by girders. Inside, wooden walkways led to the recessed lights and extract fans for ease of maintenance. Rolls of insulation had been laid down across the floor, which was of the usual fibrous plaster, easy to mould into Art Deco curves but very fragile. If you stepped off the walkways, you'd go straight through.

‘Do you think they'll see if we put the lights on up here?' I didn’t want to miss my step.

'You can’t see owt from down below,’ Colin replied.

'Okay then.' I snapped the switch on. There were only a few dim lamps spaced out at intervals anyway. It was just sufficient to see where you were going.

Colin went first, being more familiar with the layout. He was surprisingly light footed. So was Harold. I hoped the insulation wouldn’t set off his coughing. The walkway creaked under our weight, but there was so much noise from below, I doubted anyone would hear. I’d already turned down the fader on my walkie-talkie in case it crackled into life. My mobile was back in the staff room, so at least that couldn't go off at the worst possible moment. Thinking about this, I tapped Harold on the shoulder and hissed, 'Have you got a phone with you?’

‘Turned off.’ He patted one of the pockets in his boiler suit.

‘What about Colin?’

Harold passed the message on and I saw Colin shake his head.

'Good. Didn't want it to ring while we're up here.' All of a sudden, we felt like a team in one of those heist movies.

Colin set off again, then held out a hand in warning as he reached a point just beyond a complicated junction of ventilation ducts. 'About here,' he whispered. ‘Careful.'

We knelt on the boards, while Colin moved the insulation aside carefully to reveal a dead light fitting. A piece of flexible conduit ran to a metal lid which he lifted carefully. The old lamp holder was still fixed to the underside. There was just enough room for us all to peer through the hole.

It was a very long way down; forty or fifty feet I guessed. From directly above, everything looked weird; the people tiny and foreshortened. The last thing any of them would be likely to do was to look up. All of their attention was on the digger, now carefully removing rubble from a large hole in the ground. What had already been taken out was piled to one side.

We watched for a while. More drilling was followed by removal of debris. The further down they went, the smaller the pieces seemed to be. The care that was being taken reminded me of an archaeological dig.

It took nearly an hour before anything happened; an hour of watching the same repetitive actions, of one or the other of us getting up and stretching cramped limbs. There was a morbid fascination in the whole scene, no matter how boring. At last, the noise stopped and the digger moved away. White suited figures gathered around the opening. High powered lights mounted on tripods were brought closer to illuminate its depths.

‘Looks like this is it,’ Harold whispered hoarsely.

A pump started up. Hoses of varying sizes snaked across the floor and out of the exits, draining water from the well. That took quite a while, too. At last, a tripod was assembled over the hole. Cables ran over a pulley at the top, connected to an electric winch. Finally, a long board was fastened at each end to the cable. Two members of the forensics team sat on top of it.

'That's a bit more high tech than they used last time,' Colin whispered. ‘When Bob Luard rescued the cat.’

For several minutes, nothing much happened. We could see the board slowly descending, as the white clad forms became smaller and smaller. My right leg began to go numb. The others must be equally uncomfortable; worse probably, as they were older.

'I wish they'd bloody get on with it.' Harold shifted slightly, rubbing the back of his neck.

'Me too.' I longed to stand up and stretch again, but was afraid of missing something. Then, from below we heard someone shout and the winch stopped turning.

'Do you think they've found something?' Colin whispered.

'I don't know.' What I did know, however, was that if I didn't move soon I would lose the use of my right leg. I had to get up and massage it back to life. While I did, Colin and Harold took up a more central position to get a better view of the proceedings.

I crouched down again. 'Anything yet?’

‘Nah,’ Harold said. ‘They’re taking their time.’

‘They need to make sure it comes up in one piece,’ Colin added.

After what seemed like an age, the winch began turning again, even more slowly than before. One of the men clung the the cable, while the remains had been strapped to the board. The other man must still be down there. I didn’t fancy his job.

I had expected the body to have reduced to nothing but bones after so long in the ground and was surprised to see this wasn't the case. It was still partially clothed, and the torso and limbs looked almost intact.

'That don't look like it's been buried for thirty years,' said Colin, voicing my own thoughts. Somehow this made it seem all the more shocking. We didn't watch for very much longer. As soon as it had been moved to one side, the corpse was covered and taken away. A couple more forensics officers went down the hole, presumably to help search for any other clues.

We made our way back from the void to the staff room. I put the kettle on. I was gasping for a cup of tea and assumed the others must be, too.

‘That was weird,’ Colin said. ‘I thought it would be nowt but a skeleton.’

‘So did I.’

Harold shook his head. ‘It was because of all that water down there. Sometimes, a body turns to summat like soap. There’s a word for it, but I can’t remember. Anyways, we found ‘em like that a few times.’

Another of his sewer tales, I supposed. ‘Well, I imagine they’ll be able to identify the remains from DNA, or dental records.’

‘Yeah. Wonder who it is?’

I thought of Maurice, watching Jack tip the body down there, all those years ago, with Jenny looking on. Now that it seemed likely she had been involved in illegal activities, it occurred to me that maybe it was just a routine ‘disposal’. Didn’t criminals sometimes get rid of bodies in the foundations of buildings? Jack could have been forced to help, to stop his secret being revealed.

I talked about it later with Dan and Cynthia, although I waited until we’d all finished eating before describing the state of the body.

‘Interesting,’ Cynthia said. ‘You know, I’m sure I’ve read of a Victorian case where they exhumed the body of a woman buried in very wet soil and found something similar had happened. Sort of the reverse of mummification.’

Dan grimaced. ‘Glad I didn’t see it. That kind of thing would give me nightmares.’

‘It wasn’t that bad, really.’

Cynthia gathered up the empty plates. ‘Remember what you said about it being a good way to dispose of a body? That day when we were stripping the paper in the spare room? We suggested then it might have all been connected with criminal activity.’

Dan looked puzzled. I probably hadn’t told him that one.

‘We were coming up with all sorts of theories,’ I explained. ‘One was that Trevor and Jenny got involved in something dodgy. It might have started with the first burglary; the one that failed. I’ve heard of instances before where people who worked in a cinema got coerced into helping thieves. Then the criminals decided to have another try, but by then Trevor had left, so they had to get Jack involved, because he had keys.’

‘He wouldn’t have had a safe key, though,’ Dan pointed out. ‘Only managers do.’

‘Maybe it was a combination lock? Trevor would have known that and I bet it wasn’t changed very often.’

He nodded. ‘Possible.’

‘Anyway, it never got that far. The three of them decide it’s not worth the risk. There’s a scuffle and the bad guy gets punched, falls, hits his head and dies. They’re panicking about what to do with the body, when Jack suggests the well. It’s going to be filled in soon anyway. Problem solved. Jenny and Trevor flee the country. Jack stays, but someone else from the gang wants to find out what’s happened to his mate.’ It would explain Jack’s drinking too, if he’d been in fear of his life. ‘He realises he can’t make excuses any more and his only chance is to leave the cinema and this town. But it’s too late. They catch up with him, kill him and dump his body in that lake.’

‘We can’t be sure that was Jack.’ Dan was being cautious.

‘No, but I have a strong feeling it is. And I don’t ignore those any more. Anyway, they’re bound to identify who it is sooner or later.’

‘And they’ll identify that poor soul who was down in the well,’ Cynthia added. ‘There are all sorts of techniques they can use these days.’

‘I just want the stalls put back to how they were. And my cinema open again.’

I caught his eye. ‘Managers! All you think about is your admissions.’

Dan winked. ‘And my big, fat bonus.’

‘We can take care of that later,’ I promised.

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. 

Story Discussion Topic

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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Chapter Comments

2 hours ago, Geemeedee said:

Is it messed up that I want Terry and Dan to stay at Cynthia’s house because I like Cynthia’s house? 😆

So, all it took to win Colin’s respect was to damn near die and cause the gruesome end of a woman who spurned him 25 years ago. My fave part was when Colin excitedly told Harold that D̶a̶d̶ Terry said it was cool to watch goings on from up in the void.

Not at all.Cynthia’s House is based on one where a friend lived when I was about 12. I've always liked those rambling Victorian villas.

Love your observations on Colin.

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15 minutes ago, JayT said:

I'm wondering if Bob Luard saw anything when he rescued the cat...

He rescued the cat before the body was dumped, but he'd certainly have a good idea of what the space was like from going down there on a rescue mission.

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6 hours ago, rewski84 said:

I'm beginning to wonder if the body might possibly be Trevor?  The only reports of his whereabouts have been through Sylvia and Brenda via Jenny. Also, if Jenny's involvement goes back to the time when Trevor was still in the picture then he would've have known something or would have also been involved somehow. I can't picture him just being able to walk away from this mess just because he found someone to settle down with and  psycho-bitch Jenny being okay with that. If the others involved were coerced or blackmailed into silence, well then occam's razor, perhaps? Just a thought. 


Can't wait for Monday! 

Good reasoning there. Wait and see if you were right next Monday 😄

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On 6/13/2022 at 3:05 PM, CincyKris said:

Who is in the well?????  This question is renting space in my head!  I still guess that it's Trevor, the only one who directly knows he went to Australia is Jenny, and we obviously can't trust her.  Where is Jack's ghost when you need him?!

Well it's not "pussy" cos it was rescued!!  Lol 🤩😱😂😂😂😂😂

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