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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 - 8. Two of Cups

Romance may be just around the corner

Cynthia took three different Sunday papers and devoured them steadily through the day. She said she liked to see how the bare bones of a story were twisted to suit the presumed prejudices of each paper's readers. Sometimes she'd read out what was written in one article, then compare it with another.

'You see, Terry, there’s no such thing as absolute truth. It's all relative. Every time a story is re-told, someone adds to certain details and takes away from others to please their listeners, or their readers.’

That could apply just as well to the tangled web of the Regal's story. I'd told Cynthia about Maurice's last visit. She'd sympathised, as she always did.

'I know you don't want to upset your manager, but I think you should still carry on your investigations. Just don't let him know about it, at least, not until you have sufficient proof to make him sit up and take notice.’

'And if I can't find the proof?’

'Then you'll have to wait until these builders come in to the dig the floor up.’

'If it ever happens. I doubt the company will want to spend that sort of money, or to put up with the inconvenience and the noise. Better to replace a bit of soggy carpet every six months, that's how they'll see it.’

'My, you are all doom and gloom today. I think you should get out in the fresh air for a good walk. Nipper and I will be going around the common after lunch.’

There wasn't a lot between Cynthia's recommendations and a direct order, so I knew exactly what I'd be doing later on.

She was cooking some kind of vegetarian roast for herself and a small piece of beef to be shared between Nipper and me. I hovered around, read the papers, made notes on what I'd discovered so far and from whom.

'How was your seance yesterday?' I asked as she basted the potatoes.

'Not the best we've ever had. But then you can never tell how these things are going to develop. I mentioned your cinema haunting - the so-called time slip - and Caroline suggested we should try having a session in the cinema.’

'I don't think Dan would approve of that at all. Bad enough me letting Maurice in, but if he saw a group of you holding hands and asking if anyone's there, I reckon I'd be out on my ear.’

The hot fat stuttered. 'Does he have to know? Couldn't you smuggle us inside?’

'I could. But I won't. At least, not until things have settled down a bit.’

Cynthia smiled smugly. 'I'm glad you're still keeping an open mind. We thought it would be an excellent idea.’

'Of course, you could all come in one afternoon and pay to sit in the stalls. If one of your party was in a wheelchair, they'd have to open the door up. But I don't know if you'd be able to get the right atmosphere if there was a film playing. It's quite loud down there.’

'There's no harm in trying. I'd like to see what I can feel over that old well of yours.’

Talking of the cinema and the stalls area in particular, reminded me of my dream. All I could remember in the cold light of morning was being chased through the cinema (again) and being shot at (again). Maybe I had been watching too many Hollywood blockbusters?

After lunch, we walked off some of the calories and that Sunday afternoon sleepy feeling. I threw a Frisbee for Nipper, which he loved. For a little dog, he could jump very high. We passed several other groups of walkers. Cynthia seemed to know most of them.

While we’d climbed the hill, the sun had been struggling through cloud, casting faint shadows in front of us. As we reached the top and paused to catch breath, it finally broke through. Many of the trees had held on to their leaves and the sun brought out the multiple colours of that glorious decay. 

Cynthia struck a dramatic pose and began to speak.

‘“Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: Oh thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow…”’

It sounded wonderful, up here on the hillside. It was like a lament and an invocation, all at once. 'Who wrote that?' I asked.

'Shelley. “Ode to the West Wind.” That's just a small part, of course.’

'I wish I could remember poetry like that.’

'You should try it. It's only a matter of training the memory. It's easier to remember the ones that rhyme, of course.’

When we returned she lit the fire and we had a couple of glasses of wine. I felt very content. It hadn't been a bad day, after all.

'Would you like me to read your cards?' Cynthia's request brought me back to the present.

'Um, well...' There was no harm in it. No one had done a reading for me for a long time. I hadn't even drawn the odd card for myself, save for that mishap on the morning of my first day at the Regal. And hadn't that been prophetic? 'Go on, then.’

I was warm and relaxed. Time had slowed to a comfortable amble. Tomorrow was a long way off. 

Cynthia fetched the wooden box in which she kept her decks; a box smelling of sandalwood and lavender.  'Now then,' she said. 'Which one shall I use for you?’

'The Waite,' I said. 'I like it. It's familiar.’

'Very well, then.’

When I was small, my mother had given me a Tarot de Marseilles deck. I'd learned to count with the pip cards. Later, I'd acquired an old and rather battered Rider-Waite and made up stories about all the characters I saw in the pictures. I'd never had to read any books to decipher the meanings; they'd become fixed in my mind through play and imagination.

Cynthia's deck was the Universal Waite. The pictures were the same, but they were more vividly coloured than on the original deck. She handed me the cards to shuffle. 'Think of a question,' she said. 'But don't burst a blood vessel from thinking too hard. You know the drill. Shuffle the cards until they feel right.’

I shuffled. The cards had a pleasing feel to them. Not too slippery, but not sticky either. It was a well handled, well-tempered deck. Where do I go from here, I wondered? Do I carry on searching for proof, or should I trust my own intuition. I handed the cards over to her. ‘I’m ready.’

She briefly closed her eyes. ‘It's a simple question,' she said. 'So no need for a complicated spread. Three cards will suffice.’

I nodded. She fanned the cards out on the small table between us and I put my left hand out over them. To me, the right cards feel very slightly warmer than the others. After just a few seconds, I indicated which I wanted to pick.

Cynthia removed them one by one, then gathered the fan together into a pile which she laid to one side, giving space to my choices. 'This first card represents you. The second...' and she placed it face down next to the first, 'is your situation. And lastly, this card represents the challenges and opportunities you are facing.’

The room seemed to have become very still and quiet. I was conscious of Nipper's deep breathing as he slept in front of the fire and the crackle of the coals as flames flickered.

Cynthia turned over the first card. It was the Four of Cups. A young man sits cross-legged beneath a tree, looking at the three golden cups placed in a row before him. He seems unable to choose which to take, or use, and is totally oblivious to the fourth cup which is being offered to him by a disembodied hand in the sky.

'Your vision is clouded,' Cynthia said. 'You're concentrating too much on one aspect of the situation, while ignoring something else that could be very useful. You need to move on.’

'If that's a roundabout way of asking me to let you and your friends in for a seance, the answer's still no.' I gave her a quick smile to show I wasn't entirely serious.

'Now, here's your situation.' She turned over the second card. The Two of Swords. A blindfolded woman sits on a chair, holding two crossed swords. ‘Well, there’s a surprise.’ She gave me a quick glance. ‘I’m sure you know this one.’

‘I’m over analysing things, I know.’

‘Exactly. You need to stay open to new information. Don't assume too much. You might be basing those judgements on wrongful information.’

It reinforced the message of the previous card. I'd been concentrating too much on hard facts, not trying to see between the cracks. Okay, so Jack wasn't really a vicious psychopath, just a misunderstood chap trying to do the best job he could.

'Finally, your last card. This one represents your challenges and opportunities.’

It was the Knight of Cups, a man wearing a winged helmet, riding a white charger who paces slowly, held in check by the rider. In his right hand he holds the cup. I always think of it as the Grail, and the rider as one of King Arthur's noble knights. He looks away into the distance, half lost in his vision.

Cynthia looked me in the eye. 'Trust what you have learned so far, using intuition and you won't go wrong. Be confident and move forward.’

For a few more moments I studied the cards. 'Spot on.' I said. 'I wanted to know if I should trust my intuition and I've just been given the answer.’

Cynthia looked at the last card again. ‘You know, I’m getting another feeling about this knight. He  might be your knight in shining armour. He’s riding in to sweep you off your feet.’

‘Get off,’ I said. ‘There’s no romance on my horizon right now.’

‘Are you sure about that? Maybe you should pick another card?’

‘Well…’

‘Go on. It’s not going to hurt.’ She fanned the remainder of the deck out again.

I paused, hovering above them, then picked one, turning it over right away. I almost laughed out loud. It was the Two of Cups. The lover’s card.

Cynthia smiled. ‘Something you aren’t telling me about?’

‘Something I’m not sure about yet.’ If it meant Dan, then surely any interest he might have had would have been seriously compromised by yesterday’s catastrophe. I must have come over as slightly unhinged. He was probably far too sensible to ever take a chance with someone like me. Ah well, it was probably for the best not to get involved with someone at work. Pity, though.

After a couple more glasses of wine sleep found me easily and if I had dreams that night, I didn't remember them.

I was due in early on Monday and couldn't get a slot at the library, which opened later for staff training. If George had emailed me, it would have to wait for another day. I didn't think he would ring. Maybe the mobile number had put him off; lots of older people don’t like calling mobiles.

As I approached the cinema I found myself looking out for Maurice. If he was outside this morning, how would I avoid him without causing offence? Fortunately, he was nowhere to be seen, so I let myself in hurriedly, dumped my supplies for the day up in the box staff room and went to check the boilers.

If anything, the atmosphere in the stalls was thicker than ever. That was the only way I could describe the sensation, like wading through treacle. There was a cold pull in the area above the well and I found myself stepping around it gingerly, as if the ground might give way. It was then I began to remember the nightmare of Saturday night. It gave me an uneasy feeling as I went down under the stage, through the claustrophobic, poorly lit corridors. A patch of plaster bulging with damp seemed to grow outward as I passed, as if it was reaching out for me. The stretch where one of the lamps had failed had never seemed quite as dark before and shadows formed sinister patterns. That was when I heard the noise.

I stopped dead, wondering if I had caused it, knowing all along that I hadn't. My breath sounded loud in the confined space. I consciously muted it, listening. There it was again. A faint but definite scratching, from down below. No, it was more like scraping. As if something was trying to claw its way out of the ground.

I stayed very still. It took a great deal of willpower not to turn around and hurry back the way I had come. The only thing that stopped me was the fear that if I stepped back out into the stalls, they might not exist any more. I had a feeling I had moved outside of time and reality. Perhaps I was dreaming and would wake up at any moment?

My heartbeat thumped loudly in both ears, but it didn't quite drown out that other noise. Scrape. Drag. Thud. A misshapen figure, groping its way across the floor, dripping with mud and water which led back in a shining trail toward the well from where it had emerged. Scrape. Thud. Clang. What could that metallic final note be?

I knew I had to move. I had to face whatever it was. Slowly I walked down the corridor, through the patches of shadow and light, toward the steps leading down to the boiler house. I passed the gaping doorway to the plenum chamber. Flinched back. Had something moved there in the darkness? No. It was just the cage around the belts reflecting slivers of light coming in through the open vents.

Scrape. Drag. It was louder now, definitely coming from down those steps. There was a watery gurgle too, like thick liquid running down a plughole. Blood, my imagination insisted. I put a hand against the wall to steady myself. It was rough and cold. I didn't know if I should make my own noise or not. Making a noise would warn whatever it was of my presence. I imagined it lurking at the foot of the stair, waiting for me in the gloom below. Yet a human sound might have the opposite effect. The thing - the awful, dripping thing of slime and pond breath - might slither away back down into the sewer from whence it had come if it was disturbed.

I stopped again. Why on earth was I letting my fear take control like this? I hadn't suffered from such terrors for years. I needed to get a grip.

Clearing my throat loudly, I trod heavily down the steps. As I turned the corner, I noted the light was on down here. Colin must have left it on last night. The scraping noise seemed louder as I reached the doorway. I pushed the creaky old door open. It was swollen with damp and always caught on the floor.

Something was there, beside the hole where the submersible pump usually whirred to itself. It was large and dark and stooped. It was pulling something out of the hole. I heard the scraping noise again as the bucket dragged against the edge of the pit, followed by a thud as it came free. The man straightened up, rubbing the small of his back with both hands and giving a heavy sigh. He wore a dark blue boiler suit and rubber boots, his grey hair slicked back neatly.

'Hello,' I called. My voice still sounded slightly shaky, but at least my heart was beginning to slow down.

He turned around. Although his body was bulky beneath the baggy suit, he had a long, thin face, with caved in cheeks which were smudged where he'd wiped away sweat with muddy hands. 'Ay up,' he said.

I walked over to him. 'I don't think we've met. I'm Terry Young, the new chief.’

'You started last week?’

'Last Monday.' It seemed much longer.

'That's why, then. I'm just back from holiday today.' He held out a dirt-smeared paw for me to shake. 'Harold Briggs. I'm handyman here.’

'Ah. No-one told me about you.’

'I try and keep the old place afloat. Mending seats, a bit of painting, clearing out the sumps, like…'

'I thought I was going to have to do it.’

'No. Don't you worry. I've always took care of this end.' He sniffed loudly, then fumbled in the pocket of his overalls for a large, grubby handkerchief, with which he blew his nose loudly. The sound echoed around the basement.

'Have you been here long?' I asked.

'Only about an hour. I work nine til three, five days a week.’

'Oh, right. I actually meant in years.’

'Too bloody long, you might say. Ever since the council laid me off. That'd be, oh, about eight year now.’

It was difficult to tell exactly how old he was. You could guess anywhere between early fifties and late sixties and still be way off. I didn't like to ask if he was drawing his state pension, as it might be construed as offensive. It's never a good idea to get on the wrong side of a cinema handyman. They can make your life a lot easier and should be handled with care.

Harold dumped the sludge from the bucket into a wheelbarrow. Then, holding firmly to the rope, he threw it back down into the depths. Muddy water drained out through the holes in the barrow, trickling into a small drain with a gurgling sound.

'How often does this need doing then?' I asked, feeling the need to show an interest and quite relieved that I wouldn't have to spend a morning doing it myself.

'I do it every year before winter sets in, so the pump has an easier job of it. There's not been much rain this year, so it's not too bad.’

'So the drainage here isn't great?’

He dragged the bucket back up. Now that I knew what the sound was, it didn't seem a bit sinister. 'Horrible,' he said. 'Bloody building's on top of a swamp, if you ask me.’

'They say there used to be a lake here before the cinema was built.’

'Aye, there was, at the old Luard house.’

The name caught me by surprise. 'Luard? Isn't that the builder's name?’

'That's right. They've been big round here for over a hundred years. They still own the land.’

'I thought they'd sold it to Regal?’

'No. It's on some kind of long lease.’

This was a new piece of information I hadn't even thought about. No wonder Luard Construction had been so heavily involved with the conversion work. They had a vested interest. And if they owned the land, they might have some detailed plans available. I needed to ring Bob Luard as soon as possible.

'How are you getting on?' He threw his bucket in yet again.

'Not bad.' It's always best not to mention any names, or how you feel about certain people. At this stage, I had no idea of the handyman's allegiances.

'You'll have your work cut out. Maurice weren't fit for much for a good while before he went.’

'Yes. Er, how long ago did it start? His condition?’

Harold sucked on his gums. Close up, it was obvious that the caved in appearance of his face was due to a lack of teeth. 'He'd been forgetful for a couple of years. It were nothing much at first, just forgetting to put films on at the right time.’

It's easy to get caught up in a job and totally lose track of time. 'I've done that myself on occasion.’

'Then it became a regular thing. And he couldn't remember folk's names. Or he'd say summat to someone and then tell it to them again ten minutes later. Of course, Colin made a big thing of it.’

'Really?' I tried to sound non-committal.

'Colin's like that. He's always saying he should have got the chief's job when Maurice did. I can't imagine he's been too happy to see you.’

'You could say that.’

'Aye well, he thought he'd get given it this time around, but new manager wasn't having it. Colin got on the wrong side of him almost the same week he started.’

'He can be a touch... abrasive,' I agreed.

'You're being kind there.’

At least I now knew Harold's view of Colin. So far, I hadn't met anyone who really got on with him. Somehow, that wasn't surprising.

'He'll go off sick next, you wait and see. He's done it before when things aren't to his liking.’

This alarmed me. 'I hope not. It's not easy to get reliefs in. And it's costly.’

'That's why he did it before. He knew it'd piss off management. He was out for a few weeks that time.’

Great. I'd be treating him with kid gloves from now on, just in case. 'Maurice keeps coming back to the cinema.' I wanted to see how he felt about the visits. Someone must have been letting the old boy in before and I doubted it was his former colleague.

'Sad, isn't it. I've brought him in for a cuppa sometimes, but Mr Perkins don't hold with it.’

'I know.' I gave him a brief outline of what had happened on Saturday. He gave a wheezy laugh which turned all too quickly into a full blown coughing fit. His face went an alarming shade of red, and I was afraid for a while he might choke. But instead he coughed up a lump of phlegm which he spat down the hole he’d been dredging.

'Sorry, about that,' he said once he could speak. 'It's me old trouble. Why I was laid off early…'

That helped solve the mystery about his age. 'Bronchitis?' I asked. My granddad had suffered from the condition.

'Nothing so simple,' he said. 'See, I used to work down in the deep sewers when I was with the council. Down there, it's like another world. There's things living in the darkness.’

'Rats?' Nipper would have a field day.

'Them too. But what I'm talking about is organisms. Algae, fungi, bacteria.’

'Lovely,' I commented.

'Some of 'em are real pretty. You wouldn't think anything that lived in the dark would bother to go for bright colours, but when you shine your light on them, they glow. And there's other kinds that shrink back from the light, like when you go out into your garden with a torch and all the worms pop back down their holes. Anyroad, what I was trying to say is that you can't imagine all the different things down there, under our feet.' He glanced down the hole, as if he might still catch a glimpse of that lost world, then continued. 'Sometimes there are bad gases too. So when you go down, you have to wear special suits, like divers. You have to breathe through a mask and carry tanks of air on your back.’

'How big are the sewers? Can you stand upright?’

'In some of them. The main ones, like. All built by Victorian engineers. That's part of the problem, you see. Everyone takes 'em for granted. Out of sight, out of mind, taking away all the nasty stuff no one wants to know about. But they've been there a hundred and fifty years and they need maintaining.' His gaze went off into the distance. 'I'd have loved to have seen the tunnels under the big cities. London, Manchester, them kind of places. Miles and miles of 'em. Some had ceilings as high as any cathedral, great big galleries of brickwork…'

It was clear he felt the same way about sewers as I did about cinema.

'Where was I?’

'You were telling me about the big cities. And having to wear suits with breathing apparatus.’

'Aye, that's right. It's real heavy, that stuff. You have to put on big boots too. It’s hard work wading through the water, lugging all your tools to wherever you need to be. It's never really cold down there, even in winter and you get mighty warm. Then if it rains up above, you need to know about it. The water levels can rise really quick when there's a downpour. Blokes have drowned.’

An unpleasant thought, drowning in sewage, even if it had been adulterated with rain water.

'But what I was trying to tell you was how I ended up in this state.' Now he'd been talking for a while, his wheezing had worsened. 'Generally we'd work in gangs. You'd have an experienced man like meself with a couple of new lads to show 'em the ropes. Anyroad, this one afternoon, this young bloke, he got into difficulties. Reckoned he couldn't breathe properly. I went to help, to check his air supply, but he started panicking and that's when it happened.’

Like any good storyteller, he had his audience enraptured and made a suitably dramatic pause to once more blow his nose. 'So he's flailing around, like, and he catches me a good one and I falls back against the tunnel wall. Trouble is, there’s a great big bit of jagged metal sticking out of it. Went clean through my suit, past me ribs and into me left lung.' He pointed to the spot. 'As I said, there's things living down there that like warmth and dark and moisture. Some of them got in me lung. Little buggers.’

It made me think of that scene in Alien when the embryonic creature bursts from John Hurt's chest. 'How did they get them out?’

'That's just it. They can't. Found out I've got a dodgy heart as well as a dodgy lung. They reckon I've had it all me life, but it means they daren’t operate. Any drugs they give me just knocks it back for a while. If they gave me stuff strong enough to kill it off, reckon it might do me in as well. So I just live with it and gets a bit out of breath now and then.’

It was an impressive story, all in all. I told him as much, wondering how much truth there was amid the embroidery. Clearly, he was bad enough to have been given some sort of early retirement, but living with a sewer dwelling organism in your lung seemed too much like something from a film. As did a body buried down a well, I told myself. Believe it, unless it can be proven false.

'I'm on a decent pension, but I like to keep meself busy. And this place is the nearest I'll get to the real thing. They've told you about the well, I suppose.’

'Oh, er, yes.’

'It's all a part of what was here in the old days. They had all kinds of water features in them gardens. Some famous bloke designed them for old man Luard to show off to his important guests. There were fountains, and ornamental heads that spat water at folk and all kinds of other trickery. They needed a big cistern to run it all and ways to get the water to where it was needed next. All of that runs under here.' He gestured to the floor. 'It's why we get these holes filling up.’

'And why there's that damp patch in screen three?’

'That's right.' He beamed toothily.

I thought about what he'd said. 'Do you mean that there's other ways to get into the well, without digging up the stalls floor?’

‘There would have been, once. Trouble is, it's mostly all collapsed now. The water can still run, but nothing much bigger than a rat would get through.’

I had a sudden vision of tying Nipper to a rope - or even better, attaching a small digital camera to his collar - and sending him through. If there was even the smell of a rat ahead he'd participate happily enough. However, Cynthia wouldn’t be too happy about it, the camera would probably fall off and get lost, Nipper would become stuck and there would be a televised rescue operation as members of the local emergency services worked tirelessly (and at huge expense to the taxpayer) to rescue the gallant dog. The cinema would, of course, be wrecked and I’d be sacked. So maybe that wasn't such a good idea after all. In the meantime, Harold was rambling on about Victorian hydraulic engineering and the shoddy workmanship of today.

'Course they should have filled it all in properly when they built this place, but it would have cost too much. So they just pumped out as much of the water as they could and dumped some rubble down the main cistern.’

'They can't have dumped too much. The cinema cat went down it during the conversion work and had to be rescued. It must still be pretty deep.’

He nodded sagely. 'What they also forgot is that this whole area is dotted with springs. There's likely a very good reason for that cistern to have been put exactly where it was. I'd bet it's being fed by a natural water source and water's a powerful thing. Over a long period of time it'll wash rubble away and make new courses for itself.’

'Do you think it could be capped, to stop the leakage?’

'Maybe. If it were done properly. But I don't reckon they'd pay that kind of money.’

'I'm trying to persuade Dan to have a proper investigation done.’

'Good luck to you, then. I tried the same with the previous manager, but all he was interested in was getting out of the place as soon as he could. And Maurice wasn't much help.’

'How do you mean?’

'I thought he'd back me up, but he kept finding reasons why it didn't need to be done. Didn't want his nice cinema dug up, I suppose. Didn't want a mess.’

Personally, I thought there was quite another reason for his tardiness, but I wasn't going to start giving away my suspicions as yet. I left Harold to carry on with his dredging operations, cleaned the projector in box two more thoroughly than I'd had a chance to do before, then settled down to try and talk to the big boss of Luard Construction.

The phone was answered by a receptionist and the greeting she spoke ran together through familiarity of use. ‘GoodmorningLuardConstructionhowcanIhelpyou?'

'Er, well.' I absolutely hate ringing companies up when I don't have an easy query. You end up having to explain the same thing to about three different people, all of whom decide the best way to deal with it is by transferring you to another department. 'I'm trying to find out the exact location of the old well under the Regal cinema. I'm told your company owns the land and that Mr Luard actually went down the well during the tripling of the cinema. I wonder if you'd be able to assist in pinpointing where it is, as we have a water leakage problem.’

She paused for quite a long while, so that I wasn't entirely sure if she was still there. ‘Hello?'

'I'll just put you through to our planning department.' There was a soft click, followed by tinny music. I hate synthesised music on phones. You end up humming the bloody tune as it repeats over and over again. It then sticks in your head for hours afterwards.

There were two loud clicks, followed by the silence of electronic limbo. 'Hello,' I called again, knowing even as I did that it was a futile gesture. The connection was gone. I would have to ring again.

I tried three times over the next ten minutes and each time was greeted by the engaged tone. Probably more people holding on in music induced stupors, while the receptionist refreshed her mascara or read the five minute story on the back page of her magazine. How did a company like Luard Construction function if no-one could get through?

Each time I called, I found myself getting more and more frustrated. The next time, it rang. And rang, and rang. I began to have doubts that I had dialled the right number. Maybe the phone was ringing in an empty house somewhere.

I stopped it, checked the number, then very carefully punched in the correct digits. The same ringing tone greeted me again. Presumably I had now caught the receptionist on her tea break. Five more rings and I was going to hang up. Just as I was about to, the same voice as before answered.

‘GoodmorningLuardConstructionhowcanIhelpyou?'

'I was waiting on hold and the line cut off.’

'Oh dear. I am sorry. Who did you want to speak to?’

I went through the entire little speech again.

'I'm not really sure who you need to speak to.’

'Last ti -' But before I could get another word out she went into computer mode again.

‘Justhangononemomentwhileweprocessyourenquiry.'

On came that same irritating tune. I waited. And waited, through three repetitions of the damned thing, conscious of the credit running down on my phone and that so far I had spent nearly half an hour accomplishing nothing other than getting into an increasingly bad mood. To keep myself from going totally loopy, I imagined the receptionist's conversation with a colleague.

'There's some bloke on the phone on about an old well under the cinema. Who shall I put him through to?

'I dunno. It's not my department. Just cut him off and he'll probably go away.’

'Good idea, Dave. You coming out for a drink tonight, then?’

'Yeah, why not. See you later, duck.’

Sure enough, after a certain length of time, the music once again stopped, to be replaced by that eerie silence.

'Bugger,' I said, not caring if anyone could hear. I was pretty certain they couldn't anyway.

It was now getting close to opening time and all the projectors needed to be laced up. I reckoned it was a good idea to leave it for a little while, because right now I felt a lot like yelling at the receptionist and if I did it wouldn't really help me to get any answers.

On my way through the foyer Sylvia stopped me to ask for a hand in moving some heavy boxes. Then I found the film I needed to show upstairs was still in box three, as Colin hadn’t bothered to move it the night before. Or more likely, knew it would annoy me if he didn't. By the time the first show was underway I was even more certain to end up ranting down the phone.

Nevertheless, I tried again. It was the same receptionist, and she still sounded as bright and cheery as she had earlier. What did they give her, to keep her like that, I wondered.

'I called earlier today, and so far I've been cut off twice.’

'Oh dear. I am sorry. Who did you want to speak to?’

I became increasingly convinced that she wasn't a human being at all, but some fiendishly clever voice recognition system. Bob Luard's fancy offices were nothing but a facade for his underground lair, where he sat in a black leather swivel chair and plotted world domination.

'I'd like to speak to Mr Blofeld, sorry, I mean Luard.’

'Who should I say is calling?’

'I'm Tony Philips, from Regal's head office. I'd like to discuss the lease arrangements for the cinema.' Utter bullshit, of course, but it might get me somewhere. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was going to beat the system.

‘Justhangononemomentwhileweprocessyourenquiry.'

Once again, I was forced to listen to that music, which I now knew was designed to brainwash the unwary into forgetting all about the call they had planned to make. Then, totally unexpectedly, someone picked up the phone, and a gruff male voice answered. ‘Luard speaking.’

I imagined him sitting behind his vast desk, pushing little models of buildings and diggers around, a chunky cigar held between stubby fingers.

‘Hello, Mr Luard. I'm calling from the Regal cinema. We're trying to trace the plans for the site and I'm told you may be able to help.' I kept it businesslike, and polite.

'What do you want those for?’

'They're having a problem with drainage and would like to track down the exact position of an old well under the stalls floor.’

'We don't keep plans that old. Anyway, can't the chief tell you? He knows where it is.' He sounded irritable.

'He's retired.’

'That's your problem. Anyway, I thought Shirley said you wanted to talk about the lease?’

'Oh, er, yes. That too.’

'Then you'll have to get on to my legal advisors. Cranford, Birch and Perry. Good day to you.' He put the phone down.

How rude. How unhelpful. There would obviously be no point in calling Luard Construction again. Absently, I wondered what the response would be should head office ever really try and phone in the future. I was quite glad I hadn't used my real name. A vision crossed my mind. A large black car with heavily tinted windows, waiting outside the cinema after the last show. Waiting until I was in the middle of the road before accelerating hard towards me…

Now come on, I told myself. That's taking the world domination theme a little bit too far. Bob Luard was just your average short-tempered businessman who doesn't want to waste time talking to anyone who isn't going to be bringing in lots of money. I wondered if Shirley would get into trouble for letting the call slip through. I hoped so.

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Chapter Comments

I wonder if Lourde Construction's problem is a decline in quality work being covered up by branching out so much into modern stuff that they think the past is now forgotten?  Perhaps that's why the family lost the old homestead?

Urban flight is nothing new--those who could afford it had both town and country houses, while less fortunate suffered or scraped enough together to leave entirely.

We lived on the east side of Columbus until I was three years old when the empty fields across from us were divided up into lots and new houses went up, so my parents got us out into the country where I grew up surrounded by farms until I was nearly 30.  I now live just north of OSU's campus in a neighborhood that was developed around 1900, so the houses are fairly diverse in style and alas about half are rented out to students with internal changes occurring when owners sell or tenants do too much damage...the exteriors are governed by historic regulations, so at least those maintain their style.  My own house has kept most of the internal features like original woodwork in varnish and lighting, and that was a huge plus for me....

Romance with Dan?  Hmm, an interesting thought, but he seems almost as close-minded as Cliff was.  

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8 hours ago, raven1 said:

I am not surprised the Luard or his company are indifferent to the problems of the cinema and Terry's call is more of a nuisance to them than a problem for them.  If Bob Luard was concerned about something in the well, he wouldn't have told Terry that is was the cinema's problem.  It might even be that he doesn't want to bring up the matter of the poor construction practiced when the company filled in the old plumbing system for the lake. 

I had to laugh at Terry's runaway imagination just before he met Harold.  Harold did have a lot of new information to give, but I am not sure if any of it is relevant.  This chapter has some very interesting descriptions.

Yup. The Luard construction company aren't really interested in the cinema's damp problems. Does this mean Bob Luard had nothing to do with the events of 30 years ago? Maybe.  

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2 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Romance with Dan?  Hmm, an interesting thought, but he seems almost as close-minded as Cliff was.  

Dan, like a lot of people, has never had his preconceptions challenged. Terry's family background has ensured he is in tune with his subconscious. It remains to be seen whether Dan can be more open minded when it comes to phenomena he hasn't encountered before. 

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3 minutes ago, Mawgrim said:

Yup. The Luard construction company aren't really interested in the cinema's damp problems. Does this mean Bob Luard had nothing to do with the events of 30 years ago? Maybe.  

It's a little strange he went down the well to rescue the cat though. He doesn't seem the humanitarian type.

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5 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

It's a little strange he went down the well to rescue the cat though. He doesn't seem the humanitarian type.

Maybe he wanted to impress one of the girls who were working at the cinema at the time, or even get a bit of publicity for his dad's company. Everyone loves an animal rescue story, after all.

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5 minutes ago, Mawgrim said:

Maybe he wanted to impress one of the girls who were working at the cinema at the time, or even get a bit of publicity for his dad's company. Everyone loves an animal rescue story, after all.

He didn't fool the cat.

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No one else has voiced my guess yet. Bob saw more than a cat in the well, maybe he went in after it to stop someone else from seeing the body?  Maurice witnessed something but has been terrified to talk about it for almost 50 years. That info is still there, folks with dementia lose short term memory, not long term. Also, maybe the love interest is George?  Do we know how old he is?

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2 hours ago, CincyKris said:

No one else has voiced my guess yet. Bob saw more than a cat in the well, maybe he went in after it to stop someone else from seeing the body?  Maurice witnessed something but has been terrified to talk about it for almost 50 years. That info is still there, folks with dementia lose short term memory, not long term. Also, maybe the love interest is George?  Do we know how old he is?

That's an interesting theory. Maurice was certainly frightened enough to say nothing and you are right about short term memory being the first to go. George was chief at the cinema, but retired before Maurice took the job, so he'd be in his seventies now.

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1 hour ago, Mawgrim said:

That's an interesting theory. Maurice was certainly frightened enough to say nothing and you are right about short term memory being the first to go. George was chief at the cinema, but retired before Maurice took the job, so he'd be in his seventies now.

I just went back and looked at the last chapter, I was thinking of Bill, who runs the website!  

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Now I have to rethink what I said.  These comments are great and point out some excellent alternatives to my comment.  This is why I like the story, comments, author, readers and GA so much.❤️ 

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