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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 - 22. Justice

Justice will be done, in the end

By his second week of convalescence, Dan was getting bored, so Cynthia began to teach him to read Tarot cards. Much to my surprise, we often ended up discussing the meaning of the cards.

‘Why is it I can remember some meanings easily and others not so much?’

‘It’s like that for everyone. Some of them talk to you and some just don’t. Just spend more time meditating on the ones you find difficult.’

Dan picked out the Knight of Wands. ‘Think I’m always going to remember this one. That evening, in the staff room…’

‘It was fairly memorable, yes.’ I picked out the Knight of Cups. ‘And here’s the knight who came along and swept me off my feet. I often wondered, did you pick chocolate eclairs deliberately.’

‘I wasn’t sure what cakes you preferred, but pretty much everyone likes eclairs. Honestly. Nothing suggestive was intended.’

We sat either side of the fire. Nipper snored softly in his basket as the flames crackled.

‘Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a house like this,’ Dan said. ‘Something with character.’

‘And a freezing bathroom.’

‘Draughts can be fixed. Cynthia hasn’t even got secondary double glazing in some of the rooms. I’ve been trying to persuade her to spend money on some improvements. It would make her life more comfortable.’

‘Well, maybe she will.’ I doubted it, though.

We talked about the cinema, too. He was happy to know that after the police finished filling in the hole and levelling the floor, the company provided new carpets and a fresh coat of paint. As it looked very likely the six screen conversion would go ahead next summer, they were reluctant to do any more.

I was apprehensive the first time I had to walk through the stalls once the work was complete and the cinema re-opened. Although the long-buried body had been removed, Jenny had died violently in almost the same place. If she was still around, I doubted she’d be a friendly or neutral presence. But there was nothing at all. The area above the filled in well felt just the same as the rest of the auditorium. I reported this to Dan with some relief.

‘No more ghosts,’ he mused. ‘Won’t seem like the same place.’

He’d been cleared by the doctor to return to work the following Monday. in the mean time, Karen kept him updated regularly. Although we’d missed the opening weekend of Harry Potter, business was steady. Most evenings, screen one was nearly full. Looking out of the porthole at a sea of heads, rather than empty seats was a good feeling.

Sylvia came back a few days before Dan. She was far from her usual, cheery self. I hoped no one would ask her too many difficult questions. In between shows, I went to speak to her, as I’d always done, reckoning it would help to make her feel as if things were getting back to normal. I’m sure both of us were all too aware that Maurice had died less than two weeks ago. It seemed much longer.

‘You don’t reckon he suffered much?’ she asked, glancing through the doors to that spot on the road where it had happened.

‘No. He was unconscious when I got over there and it didn’t take long before the ambulance arrived.’

‘Well, that’s something, at least. Poor Brenda can’t forgive herself, though.’

It would take her a long time to get over the shock, not just of her husband’s abrupt death, but the betrayal of confidences by someone she’d thought a friend. ‘You always feel as if you were to blame, even when you aren’t.’

Sylvia nodded agreement. ‘I know that, dearie. No matter how many times people tell you otherwise, it’s always there.’

‘It’ll get better.’ I spoke from experience. There were times I still felt that way about what had happened to Cliff, especially with the first anniversary looming. Cynthia must have told Dan, for on that morning, they were both extra kind and careful around me. I was glad to be working; there’s nothing like keeping the mind occupied to stop you brooding over the past. Still,  I couldn’t help but recall the hopelessness of that day, trying to call him and getting nothing but voicemail. For all my good advice to Sylvia, I’d always wonder what might have happened if only I’d confided my fears to Cliff, even though deep down I knew he would have ignored them.

On the Sunday before Dan was due to return to work, Cynthia spent the morning going through her selection of newspapers, as usual. Dan had suggested we take her out for a meal as a thank you for everything she’d done, so she had a day off from her normal Sunday dinner preparation.

While she commented on the stories in the nationals, I leafed through the Mercury. It was full of the usual stuff. The Stowbrough Christmas lights had been switched on by a celebrity I’d never heard of. A dog had saved the lives of the family who owned him by barking incessantly at one in the morning, thus alerting them to a fire downstairs. Then, on page twelve, half way down a column of short news stories, I read, BODY IN LAKE WAS LOCAL MAN.

Following forensic investigations, the skeleton found in Stowbrough Lower Lake has been identified as being that of Jack Dale, a local man who went missing from his home in 1976. Police believe he died under suspicious circumstances following new information regarding this thirty year old formerly closed case.

‘Look at this.’ I waved the paper.

‘What?’ Dan looked up from the Homes and Gardens supplement.

‘It’s Jack! The skeleton in the lake.’ I laid the paper out on the table so that Cynthia and Dan could see for themselves.

‘Well, I never.’ Cynthia straightened up after reading the brief paragraph. ‘New information, eh? I’ll bet one of Jenny’s partners in crime has talked.’

‘If that’s the case, it brings it all back to her again,’ Dan mused. ‘Wonder how long it will be before they find out who our body belongs to?’

‘It depends.’ Cynthia was always watching true crime documentaries. ‘Perhaps someone will confess to killing him. Or give the police a name.’

‘Could have been the same murderer in both cases,’ I suggested. ‘Sylvia said Maurice only saw Jenny and Jack in the stalls that night, but we don’t know what happened before that.’

‘We may never know.’ Cynthia returned to her seat and picked up the tabloid she had been reading. ‘But I’m sure once it all becomes public knowledge there’ll be something sensational printed in this.’

‘“From cinema usherette to crime boss,”’ I said. ‘I can see it now.’

Dan rolled his eyes. ‘More publicity the company would rather not have. Although Karen’s told me quite a few people have been specifically asking for seats in the stalls, so they can see the murder site as well as taking in a film.’

‘You don’t get that in a multiplex.’ We all returned to our own papers, but I wasn’t really reading as my eyes skimmed the page. Poor Jack had been so close to getting away. He’d left the cinema - a place he loved - and had presumably been making plans to leave Stowbrough when they tracked him down. I imagined he’d opened the door, unsuspecting. Maybe the murderer had posed as a meter reader, or someone else you wouldn’t think twice about letting in? I was certain Jenny would have had it well thought out. Perhaps she had been there too? It was a pity she’d died, really. Had the police been able to take her in for questioning, who knows what else might have been revealed.

Work settled back into the normal pattern. Colin remained far more cooperative than he’d been before. Every time it rained, the carpets in screen three became damp. The police excavations hadn’t solved the drainage problems, but I hadn’t expected them to. That would have to wait until building works began for the extra screens.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opened before I had time to continue sorting out the stores. Back in that room again, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the last time; when Dan was being held at gunpoint in the circle. It could all, so easily, have gone wrong.

I cleared the lower shelves first, sorting stuff into piles. As expected, there were a lot of items - often still in the original packaging - which were for equipment that had been removed years ago. I decided it was best to ask our service engineer if they were any use to anyone before throwing them out, so set them aside in a box for his next visit.

The top shelf was piled with dusty boxes and cardboard tubes which I presumed held old film posters. I sorted through the boxes first, finding records of the secondary battery maintenance, more manuals - including one for the Victoria IV - and film condition reports dating back to the 1950’s. They must have been brought down here when someone had a clear out of the chief’s office. I decided to send those to George, apart from the Victoria IV manual. Or, on second thoughts, he could pick them up if he wanted them. The postage for that lot would be astronomical.

Climbing to the top of the small steps, I managed to dislodge the first tube where it had jammed between the slats, and bring them all to the front. Who knows, there might be some collectable items inside? Old film posters often fetched decent money these days.

It was slightly disappointing to find the first two tubes held sheets of coloured lighting gels. They must have been stashed there since the days when the Regal held live shows. The third tube contained rolled up drawings of the stage dimmer board connections. It had long since been disconnected, but still remained fixed to the wall at the side of the stage. Again, only of historical interest. I put it on the ‘for George’ pile, then reached for the final tubes. More drawings, it looked like. I almost didn’t bother to take them out, but all of a sudden I had an unmistakeable prickling at the back of my neck and knew I should.

One was for the Cinemation console in screen one. I was amazed at the functions it used to be able to perform, including controlling all of the cinema lighting and switching on the boilers. Over the years, these features must have failed, or been disconnected, until all that was left was the ability to start the projector and dim the houselights. The final tube also contained drawings. Partially unrolling them, I saw the plans for the original tripling; a cross section of the auditorium, showing where the partition walls would go and one detailing the projection box construction and electrical layout. While these weren’t going to make my fortune, they were more interesting and relevant than the rest of what I’d found. They’d look well framed on the box wall. Still, nothing to get excited about.

The presence still hovered around, prompting me to separate the sheets.

‘All right, all right,’ I said out loud. ‘Although I don’t see why…’ As I spoke those final words, a couple of smaller sheets of paper became dislodged. Lined paper, covered in writing. The pen had pressed so firmly, indentations showed through on the unwritten side. I knew at once who was the author. I’d seen his writing in the box logs.

‘Thank you, Jack,’ I said, certain now it was he who was close by.

Perching on the top of the steps, I began to read. After the first few lines, I knew at once what it was; the original of the scrap I’d found in the chief’s office. That had been just a few paragraphs; this was the whole thing.

It won’t matter if anyone finds this as I’ll be gone, or dead. Not even sure why I’m writing it, except to get it off my chest. Ever since that night, it’s haunted me. He’s haunted me. Walking through the old stalls is a reminder of that night. It’s like he’s still alive, watching me. I should have taken notice of what he said and got out before. We could have made a life somewhere, together.

I knew when he started working at this cinema there could be something between us. The way he looked at me sometimes. But you have to be real careful. Getting it wrong is dangerous. When he started going out with J I thought I’d read it wrong. But no, he was still interested. One of those who swing both ways.

We met a few times in his flat when the cinema closed. He used to come round to my place, too. At first, it was just sex - good sex at that - then I started to fall for him. I reckon he felt the same way, but she had him in her clutches. He said the only way out was for us to leave, but I’ve got responsibility. I worked hard to get to be chief at my age. I put it off, until it was too late.

It started with the ghost story. T always liked to tell stories, but she made him do this one. It was part of the plan she had, he said. He made up this story about the cinema being full of ghosts. It was a cover for the burglary. Once he got inside that flat at night, he never unlocked the door till morning. That’s what he said to the police, the day after.

I didn’t have nothing to do with the burglary. T said J’s friends would do all the dirty work. It was a good plan. He opened the safe and took out all the money. It was replaced with fake stuff, which they burned and melted the coins, so it looked like the heat from outside had done it. But then she wouldn’t give him the half he’d been promised. It was for them both, she said, for when they went away. She was going to look after it. I think she suspected, by then. No sure how she found out, but I think someone seen us and told her.

So, he left the cinema, like they’d planned. He kept saying he was going to tell her it was over, but he still wanted his half of the money. It would set us up, he said. I wanted him to drop it. I’d rather just have him than any amount of cash. We’d start again, somewhere like London. I could get a job in projection, easy enough.

I don’t know what happened that night. All I know was that when she came and got me, he was lying in the stalls, dead. She said he’d tried to hit her and she’d ducked out of the way so he went over the edge. I didn’t believe it. T wasn’t violent, not one bit. Anyway, she said I had to help clear up the mess, unless I wanted to end up the same. She said she’d frame me up for stealing the money and for doing him in. She had friends who already knew about him and me. I wanted to kill her, but I couldn’t. I was too scared.

So I did what she said. I put him in the well. Then M turned up saying what you just done? I told him none of his business. I said he mustn’t tell anyone or there’d be trouble. Then she promised him some of the money to shut up. You and your girlfriend can put it down on a house, she said.

He backed down, but I always knew he knew. Couple of times, I thought he’d tell, especially after she went off. Said he wanted more money, but I didn’t have none so I shut him up another way. I hoped he’d leave, but little bastard didn’t. Not sure how it would have ended up, but then she came back. That’s when I started noticing them following me. I reckoned she wanted loose ends tying up and that was me. M too, but he was under her thumb. Think she gave him more money or something.

Anyway, I reckoned my only way out was to leave. To get away somewhere

The page was full. I turned to the second one, already knowing what I’d see.

they can't get hold of me. Life is shit. Don’t expect death is any better. What is it they say about better to have loved and lost than never been loved at all? That’s wrong. If I'd not fallen for him, I’d never of got involved in it. Too late now. Only choice left is to leave. Get away from them.

As I finished reading, a sudden draught blew through the room, ruffling the pages and raising dust from the floor. Having revealed his story, Jack had gone. I rolled them back up, carefully. Once I finished work, we’d all have a good look. To think, all those years the secret had remained hidden, almost in plain sight. Those papers could so easily have been thrown away, yet something had preserved them, ready for me to find, at the right time. Maybe that had been Jack’s doing, too?

Back at Cynthia’s that evening, they lay, flattened out on her dining table. Cynthia and Dan had both pored over the note, while I deciphered a few words they couldn’t make out. Going through it a second and third time, I was less concerned with the story. What struck me was the tragedy of it all.

‘So, the mystery is finally solved.’ Cynthia took off her reading glasses and slipped them back into their case.

‘More or less,’ I agreed. ‘It’s Trevor whose body was buried under the stalls. They never went away together at all. Jenny left the country and sent postcards to make it look as if they’d both gone. Then, when she came back, she gave the excuse they’d split up because he’d found another girl out in Australia. Who’d have any reason to think otherwise?’

Dan finished reading. ‘Sad story. Can you imagine how it must have felt for him to dump the body of the man he’d loved down the well?’

‘Heartbreaking. But what else could he do? She’d have probably concocted some sordid story.’

Cynthia nodded. ‘And you can guess who’d have been believed, back then. Pretty young girlfriend or scheming gay man who’d “turned” her boyfriend, then murdered him when he said he was going back to her?

‘You tell a fairly good story yourself.’

She smiled. ‘After all my years on this earth, I know human nature all too well.’

It reminded me of another story Jenny had made up. ‘Remember that day?’ I said to Dan. ‘Jenny said it was going to look like a lover’s tiff. One of us had pushed the other, then thrown themselves over in remorse. Maybe she was trying to recreate what happened back then, except, of course, she had no intention of following him.’ I wasn’t sure if the height was sufficient to kill a person outright. It would depend how they landed, of course. It was even more horrific to think she might have gone down and finished the job before running to find Jack.

‘What a nasty piece of work.’ Cynthia sighed. ‘It’s a pity she didn’t live to face the justice she deserved.’

Dan looked up. ‘And that failed burglary didn’t fail at all. Wonder how much money they got out of the safe?’ He shook his head sadly. ‘I suppose we should take this to the police as evidence.’

I’d already given them the other piece of paper. ‘I suppose we should. It might help, if they haven’t already identified the body.’

I’m not sure if it was coincidence or not, but just over a week later there was another story in the local paper, front page this time.

BUILDING BOSS ARRESTED

Robert Luard Jr, managing director of Luard Construction, is helping the police with enquiries concerning a thirty year old murder. A body was recently unearthed at the Regal Cinema, which had lain buried since the cinema was tripled in 1985. Mr Luard was in charge of the project at the time.

‘Well, I never,’ Cynthia said.

‘I knew it.’ There had been something off about Bob the builder when I’d tried to speak to him. Maybe he’d passed that information along to Jenny, too?

‘Do you reckon there was something going on with him and Jenny? Dan asked.

‘Could have been. She used a lot of people.’

Cynthia nodded sagely. ‘She must have got him to turn a blind eye before the hole was filled in. And I’m wondering if she laundered money from her dodgy dealings through his business as well.’

It fit so well. I imagined Jenny dropping the cat down the hole and persuading Bob to go down there to see if there was suitable room to hide a body. That made Trevor’s untimely end even more certain to have been premeditated rather than the result of a quarrel. I was glad I hadn’t known all this when I confronted her that day.

‘Even if he gets off, I doubt Crest will use his company for the work on the extra screens.’

‘Dark doings in a small town,’ Cynthia intoned in a melodramatic voice.

‘Sounds like a book,’ Dan said. ‘Maybe you should write it?’

‘Oh, no. I’ll leave that to someone else. I like reading murder mysteries, but I’m no author.’

Christmas rushed towards us, as it always did. Dan and I spent some time at his house, writing cards and putting up decorations on our last weekend off before the day itself. I’d had the usual invitation to spend it with the family, extended, of course, to Dan. ‘Are you ready to meet them all?’ I asked. ‘Or have you got plans to go home to your own family?’

‘No way. I haven’t spent Christmas with that lot for a few years and I certainly don’t intend to start now. How many will there be, do you think?’

I counted in my head. Cynthia would be going as well, also my mum’s sister Cathy and her husband. Their grown up children might be there with the grandchildren. ‘About sixteen, I reckon. Maybe more.’

‘A real house full. Don’t think I’ve ever been with that many people at Christmas. The grandparents came over once or twice, back when I was small, but it was usually just the immediate family for Christmas day.’

‘It’ll be good fun. After the meal, we’ll all go for a walk round the village. Then we’ll come back and play board games. I might get the cards out and do some readings. Mum will definitely be looking at everyone’s tea leaves and coffee grounds. Then, on Boxing Day, it’ll be another walk and nibbling at leftovers.’

‘And back to work the day after.’

The cinema only shut on Christmas Day, but we’d both managed to wangle two days off by agreeing to work Christmas Eve and New Year. Colin seemed happy enough with that and so did Karen. ‘That’s the cinema business for you.’

‘Yes, but I wouldn’t want to be in any other.’

‘Me neither.’ I pulled him closer for a kiss. ‘First Christmas together,’ I whispered, when we broke for breath.

‘Let’s hope it’s the first of many.’

‘Kisses or Christmasses?’

‘Both.’

We didn’t have a crackling fire, or even a hearth, but the passion sparking between us was certainly hot enough. ‘The rest of the decorations can wait a while.’ I undid the first few buttons of his shirt, running my fingers through the soft hair on his chest.

‘Agreed.’ He gave me one of those looks. ‘Shall we take this somewhere more comfortable?’

I smiled. I didn’t need any Tarot cards to know the future was looking good.

THE END

Thank you for reading and following this story. It would be great if you could leave a recommendation and/or review on the title page as this helps others when they are trying to make up their mind whether to read a story or not.

To The Weyr will continue to update every Thursday and I will be publishing other short stories and prompts now and again.

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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10 hours ago, Geemeedee said:

 

I put off reading this chapter for a few hours, because I didn’t want the story to end! I enjoyed it so so much. It was entertaining and educational. I loved the ease at which Terry and Dan got together, and how seamlessly Dan fit into Terry’s family. (I know Terry’s folks will like him.) I only wish we could’ve been as bemused along with Dan upon meeting the clan at Christmas! 
 

11 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

I've been toying with the idea of a sequel where Terry starts investigating reports of hauntings, together with Cynthia. After all, his job as a projectionist is going to become redundant when the digital roll-out starts about 5 years from the end of this story.

I hope you do! And maybe get Terry’s mom involved if she comes to visit? You’ve given yourself a wealth of characters to create with. 
 

Thank you for giving me a reason to look forward to Mondays, lol!

Edited to add: I think Jenny killed Trevor because he wanted Jack, not because he wanted his money. 

 

Your idea of why Jenny killed Trevor is fairly close to what I thought, too. Having 'chosen' Trevor, she'd have been pretty upset if he'd had an affair with anyone else. Once Jenny picks you, you don’t get away easily (or alive).

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18 minutes ago, raven1 said:

Great idea!  The world needs a new Agatha C.  I think Cynthia and Terry would make a marvelous detectives.❤️

This is pretty close to what Agatha had to say when she describe Mrs. Marple. Dan and Terry could join her as a gay married couple, like Tommy and Tuppence.😂😂😂😂

Cynthia has definitely got a touch of Miss Marple about her, although there's also a smidgeon of Anna Madrigal from 'Tales of the City' about her.

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3 hours ago, raven1 said:

I hadn't thought of Anna, but you are so right! I love Armistead Maupin's books.  Have you read Baby Cakes

I hope you start writing soon.  You have got me very excited.  

I've got the first six of the series in paperback and have read the rest on Kindle. Must dust them off and re-read again.

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