Arch and Westie were standing in the centre of the incident room, engaged in a spirited conversation about the case at hand, when Alex Findlay stood up from behind his desk and called them over.
“Have you got everything we’ll need for this mornings endeavours?” and looking directly at Kaylie Western, he added as an aside, “And DC Western, have you secured your extra sandwiches in the tuck bag, in case of an emergency?” She nodded acceptingly at the facetious remark and then, simply looked over at Arch and grinned. Westie, took The Boss’s comments as a sign of her acceptance into this newly formed team and simply continued getting fully prepared, for yet another long day down by The Canal. Arch smiled to himself as he picked up the case notes that Ronnie Childs had recently placed so neatly, on the DCI’s desktop.
“Right team, quick march, let’s get ourselves down to the Canal bank and do some real Police work” commanded Alex, as he led the way out of his office and unlocked his Audi.
“We’re not going in a squad car?” enquired Arch.
“No, I fancy driving today,” said Alex, “Jump in and buckle up.” It only took a couple of minutes to cover the one and a bit miles from the Police Station, to the bridge opposite the old Ravens Gate works. Apart from the single track, pot holed section along Canalside, it was a smooth journey and soon they were out of the car and making their way to the towpath. In front of them was The Ravens Gate Bridge, with it’s imposing wrought iron edifice, forming the entrance to the old Battersby’s Tar Works. Arch, stood motionless with his legs apart, took a couple of deep breaths, then using his hand to shield his eyes against the weak morning sunshine, cast his gaze in both directions along the canal bank.
“This could be anytime,” he observed and then, “If somebody said it was 1870, I’d have a hard job convincing myself otherwise.” He peered down the mist shrouded cutting, towards Quaker Crossing and beyond, to the point where the waterway began to curve to the left, as it passed below the ornate stone work of Balaclava Bridge and then disappeared from view. Kaylie Western, was looking in the completely opposite direction and was gazing, at the old greenhouses and the ancient crossing, that was known locally, as Jenkins’ Walkway.
Alex Findlay, was captivated by the Ravens Gate itself and thus, was looking straight over the canal and upwards, at the intricate iron work of the gateway. On days like this, with the clear blue of the sky behind them, the metal flock of Ravens, silhouetted with wings unfurled, as if in unison they reached for the heaven’s, appeared almost spectral.
“We seem to have chosen our directions,” Alex remarked, “so I won’t delay you any further. I’m just going to nip into the hostel, to check a couple of things out. It shouldn’t take too long and then, I’m going over to.........” He lazily waved his hand, towards the Ravens Gate works. “I’ll take a look at the old tar works itself.”
He turned to Arch and then, after taking a look at the surrounding area, proposed that he should go and interview the folks who were living in the Council Houses, that backed on to the old walkway. Then, pointing at the almost obscured old Toll house in the trees, which had a thin wisp of pale smoke rising from the right hand chimney, Alex Findlay said, almost conspiratorially,
“I’ll bet, that you can get a pretty good view of the canal bank from there. Go and see if there’s anybody in and while you’re there, see if you can get a look through that end window,” Arch, was trying to envisage, exactly what his Boss was thinking and added,
“I see what you mean but I bet that you can’t see far beyond the Ravens Gate structure because of that fucking big black barge obstructing the view, but I’ll ask anyway and you never know, the owner, might just have seen something.”
Findlay stroked his chin and cast his eyes in both directions, up and down the canal. “Hmm, I see what you mean,” he said and continued to massage his lower jaw, “it does appear that we may have a blind spot in this picture.”
He then turned towards Westie, "If you do that way,” he said motioning with his thumb, “and Arch does the other, then I’ll go and stand next to Arch’s, so eloquently described, ‘Fucking big black barge’ and we’ll check, as to whether, you can see me clearly and just how far beyond that point, you’re both still able to get an unobstructed view.” Arch and Kaylie nodded in agreement and DCI. Findlay, checked his watch. “I’ve got 11.07 and if we all work efficiently, I reckon that give, or take five to ten minutes, we can have this all tidied away. Then we’ll meet in The Black Dog for lunch, at what shall we say....., about 1.30ish. O.K?” Then turning to Westie added “Oh, and while you’re down that end, call in on the old dears in the Maisonettes and give the sheltered housing ‘Biddies’ a knock, would you. Those twitching, curtain worriers, don’t miss much and you never know, they just might blow this thing wide open.”
Kaylie Western’s shoulders visibly sank under the weight of his instructions. The last time she had been required to call on these old ladies to take some statements, was a year ago, when one of their number reported that a 'flasher’ was hanging about the area making some of the residents nervous. That was in her second week at the Station and she had not been out of College long. The 'flasher,’ had been apprehended a few days later but Westie, could not wash the scent of Lavender out of her hair and her uniform, stank of Lilly of The Valley, for several weeks after. She faked a shudder, as she walked off up the towpath to conduct, the line of sight test. Westie, was laughing to herself, as she turned and said,
“I’ll see you at two Gentlemen later but for now, Verona awaits.” DCI. Findlay and Arch smiled, then Alex broke the silence.
“Right then, let’s get going,” Arch jumped to it, responding,
“See you at The Black Dog in a couple of hours, Sir. My shout.”
Alex stood quietly looking at the shell of the Ravens Gate works, as Arch made his way to the Towpath, turned off and headed towards the Toll house. The sound of an apparently distressed female voice caught his attention and he quickly looked back down the canal, to see if Arch, whom he could still clearly see, had heard the same noise? It was obvious that he hadn’t, as he was still moving away up the waters edge, towards the Toll House. Satisfied that he was reading far too much into the woman’s screechy voice, Alex waited and watched, as his two officers continued along the canal bank turning regularly to check their lines of sight. After about fifteen minutes Westie, had reached Jenkins’ Walkway and stopped as her view of Arch was becoming obscured by the black barge.
Her test completed, Westie waved to Alex then turned back, crossed the council Pitch and Putt course and passed from view behind the garages that sat at the front of the grandly named Elsbeth Newington Court.
After another few minutes, Arch became obscured from Alex’s view by the pillars of Quaker Crossing, as the towpath curved away towards, Balaclava Bridge. The test completed, Alex made his way towards The Hostel. He hoped that somebody at St. Joe’s, may be able to shed some light, on the precise location of the tramps hideaway. The Hostel was only about 100 yards away, so he was there in next to no time. The main entrance to the hostel was propped open and Mary Fleetwood, a member of the cleaning staff was attempting to give the large doormat, a going over with the vacuum cleaner.
However, things were not running too smoothly, as the industrial strength vacuum’s suction unit, kept grabbing hold of the poor mat and refusing to let go.
“Arrrh.” exclaimed Mary, as the nozzle released it’s death grip and she almost hit herself in the face, due to the recoil. “Damn you, you spawn of Satan,” she added, in her now not so gentle Irish brogue, then finished her frustrated tirade with a stream of bloodcurdling Catholic obscenity, “Mary, Joseph and The Baby Jesus ! Good god almighty, strike your soul down and curse you to Hell” Her exasperation, was plain for all to hear, as she was again, forced to halt her work, to once more disengage the nozzle of the cleaner from this satanic mat. Low and behold, here was the origin of his distressed female voice. Alex smiled as that cleared up any vague worries that may have been festering at the back of his mind.
“Good morning, ummmh,”............ and he leaned forward, in order, to read the name on the badge, that she was wearing, before continuing with his statement. "Mary.” That hurdle negotiated, he continued, “My name’s D.C.I Alex Findlay and I’m here to see whoever’s on duty.” She just stared at him and nonchalantly said,
“Jill Donovan, you’ll find her in the office” and promptly got back to her ongoing conflict, with the vacuum cleaner and the mat.
“Thank you,” he politely said and sidled past her straining body, as the mat fought back once more.
Kaylie Western, at this point was being assailed by various elderly ladies, who were popping out of their neat little Maisonettes, all over the place. They all had some complaint or another, to bend her ear with. Cups of Tea and pieces of cake were being offered left, right and centre. She couldn’t help but notice, how if she stopped for a second to speak to one of them, the others saw this as an opportunity to flock around and prevent her from leaving, until she had allowed all of them to voice their complaints and comments.
Pretty soon she knew all about the boys playing football at all hours of the day and night and the goings on at No. 27, but there was nothing at all regarding the canal bank. Nothing strange having been seen, or heard for that matter. Westie did not scrimp herself when it came to the tea and cakes, but she was fully aware there were still the twenty, or so more Council Houses to inquire at. She made her polite excuses, paid a visit to the toilet, and set off for the next port of call, just over the grey flagged walkway outside the old ladies garden gates.
Arch, on the other hand, had enjoyed a peaceful stroll along the cemetery side of the waterway. He was just about to climb the old steps, that would take him onto the top of Balaclava Bridge. As he reached the last step, he halted and looked over the canal to his left and observed the long deserted and now derelict array of small workshops. They had served many purposes over the years but now, were lying empty and derelict. Due to his diligent nature, Arch, felt that he was obliged to take a look, just to be sure. As he reached the threshold of the span, he stopped and marveled at the detailed frieze’s depicting the heroic events, that took place, on that legendary day in October 1854, during the ill fated excursion into The Crimea.
Arch, was looking directly down the span, towards the supporting pillars, which held the carvings of The Russian Cannons and the smoke, which was discharging from their muzzles, as they fired at the advancing horsemen. On either side of the carriageway, which he guessed was about twenty feet wide, there were Black Granite cannon balls, which had been placed on the carved stone rail of the bridge. He could not fail to be impressed by the carvings of war horses in full impressive battle action! Truly, the entire bridge was a monument to a bygone age and it was little wonder, that it had been granted a Grade One listing. Arch recalled what he had been taught about The Battle of Balaclava during his school days, and that Florence Nightingale, was one of the nurses who had to repair the wounded soldiers. Then of course, there was that poem, about these 600 Cavalry men, who rode into some valley, or other and got themselves killed. Mr. Stubbly, his Junior School teacher, had insisted that the whole class, both Boys and Girls, rote learn Tennyson’s classic poem. Arch, tried to recall it as he slowly crossed over, into the Stone Russian Cannons, firing from the pillars at the far end.
“Half a league, half a league, half a league onward,” he paused for a moment, trying to recall the next line. Then it came to him. “All in the valley of death rode the six hundred.” and finishing with a flourish, that was more akin to Captain Picard, than anything else, he pushed his right arm out, as if he were carrying a sword and triumphantly cried out, “Forward the Light Brigade, charge for the guns.”
When he reached the other side of the bridge, Arch turned and looked backwards. From this opposite viewpoint, the charging horses and their riders, seemed to be heading straight for him . As he stepped off the far edge of the bridge, Arch turned again, just to take one last look at this remarkable structure.
“They don’t make them like that anymore” he whispered to himself and then, cast his gaze away down the footpath and a little off to the right. Through the trees, still in leaf he was barely able to make out the shattered and overgrown remains of the old Gildabrooke Mansion House, but just a glimpse of the crumbling, once pristine chimney’s, with their multitude of long gone pots, re-enforced the feeling of nostalgia that had grown in him, as he walked across the main span of Balaclava Bridge.
“Snap out of it Deacon and you can piss off Mr. Stubbly, I’ve got work to do.” He turned his attention to the workshops. A couple of the brick built and therefore more substantial structures, had faired reasonably well but the wooden, or tin clad constructions, were simply rotting away. The roof on most of them, was gone, either collapsed or stolen, it made no difference. Even the least damaged of the coverings, had holes where the water had been leaking in for ages and undermining the very foundations of the building. He looked, in each and every nook, or cranny but found nothing that seemed out of place. It appeared that nobody, other than a few teenagers, looking for a hidey-hole, that might afford them a little privacy, to have sex, or take drugs, had been near these places. Having checked in the last crumbling doorway, Arch made his way back towards the bridge itself. Refusing to be drawn again by the romance of the bridges friezes he focused on his next target, crossed over and reached down to open the garden gate of The Toll House. There was still a thin wisp of smoke coming out of the chimney and if those bumps and bangs, were anything to go by, there was somebody moving around inside. He took a few steps more, rang the doorbell and waited.
Inside, Alan Turnbull was trying to reorganise his life. What was the good of this Home Cinema Unit, if he wasn’t getting the best use of it?
“Hold on a moment,” he called out “I’m being as quick as I can. You just caught me at an inconvenient time.”
Arch gave the property a once over, while he waited for the front door to open. He peered at the upstairs room that seemed from this viewpoint, to overlook the Canal. The door opened and a tall thin man, who Arch guessed was in his mid forties, stood there and stared at him.
“Yes,” he said with an authoritarian tone in his voice. “Can I help you, or are you simply going to try and sell me something that I don’t want, or need?” Arch, didn’t expect such a brusk welcome and started fumbling for his badge. Retrieving it from his inside pocket, he thrust it at the occupant, who instinctively jumped back to avoid being hit.
“Oh! Hello officer, you interrupted me as I was struggling with some speakers but that can wait, nobody’s bleeding to death right now, so I think that I can give you a few moments.” Arch was wondering why he always seemed to get the weirdoes but he said,
“I was looking at your room up there,” he pointed in the direction of a small first floor conservatory, that overlooked the canal. “ I wonder, if I may take a look down the canal, from in there?”
Alan Turnbull raised an eyebrow quizzically then invited DS. Deacon inside the converted Toll House and offered him a cup of tea.
“Thanks but no thanks,” replied Arch. He followed Alan as he climbed the stairs,
“This place, used to be run by the Gildabrooke Estate, you know. I picked it up for a snip some years back, when they had a clear out of leased properties and I’ve been renovating it ever since.”
Arch was considering the price this curious guy had paid for this place but didn’t get the opportunity to enquire, as they reached a heavy looking wooden door at the top of the landing. Alan swung open the door and there it was, like a glasshouse floating in space. The Canal and it’s towpath were below and there was a clear view right down to the new road bridge, two and a half miles away. From this vantage point, you could see, all six of the Canal crossings. All the way from the modern bridge to Gildabrooke half a mile to his left, then right to Balaclava Bridge, past Quaker Crossing, Ravens Gate, Jenkins’ Walkway and on to the new Barton Crossing, which had replaced the century old swing bridge.
As he gazed at the view with a certain amount of wonder in his eyes, he observed Westie, in her black suit come out through the trees surrounding the local Pitch and Putt and, having checked her watch, set off towards the crossing by Jenkins’ Hollow. Without thinking and yet taking DCI. Findlay’s earlier comments about eye line, sight and distance into account, Arch began waving his arms up and down, hoping to catch Kaylie Western’s eye.
“I wouldn’t bother, if I was you. She can’t see you, it’s one way glass.” Arch, halted in mid perambulation and looked at his guide, dumbstruck. “A man has to have his privacy,” said Alan.
Arch, felt like a little boy who, on Christmas Eve, had just been told that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, so he changed his tack. “You get a great view along the waterway from this room and I was wondering, if you saw or heard anything untoward, a week last Saturday at around one thirty in the morning?” Alan just scratched his head. Arch continued. "Could you account for your whereabouts on that night, at the afore mentioned time?”
Alan, raised his eyebrows and moved over to the desk, which sat next to the rather large telescope, which Arch had immediately noticed, when he entered the room. Alan Turnbull, was leafing through the pages, when he suddenly let out an excited cry,
“Eureka, here it is,” and he laid the book open on the table, for DS. Deacon to examine. There were a lot of references to Planetary movements, which he didn’t understand that had been taken at regular intervals. “As you can see I was studying the transit of Venus” ventured Alan, now leafing through his diary and upon finding the date in question he handed it to Deacon.
Arch observed the neat script describing a litany of things to do, appointments to keep and items of shopping, that he was going to add to his next list. Then there were a few salacious references to someone called Sheila.
“Who’s this Sheila person?" Enquired Arch, thinking perhaps, there had been a touch of Peeping Tommery going on. So, he asked a typically male orientated question, “Anything worth seeing?” Alan, seeing the look of opportunity, on DS. Deacon’s face, stepped forward and having excused himself, grabbed hold of the telescope, maneuvered it a touch to the right, lowered it’s trajectory then invited Arch, to have a look through the eye piece.
Curious, he bent forward but all he could observe in the lens, was the dark form of the crane, that was tied up opposite the Ravens Gate works. There on the prow, was the name “Sheila,” written clearly for all to see.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” commented Alan. Then when Arch didn’t reply, Alan continued “before you think of some other inane questions, I do believe that if you look a little further down the page of my diary, you will see that I spent the remainder of that night with a colleague.”
Arch, was a little bit thrown by this turn of events and pathetically offered, “So you can prove this by supplying me with your colleagues name and contact details?” he asked. Alan Turnbull, was by this time standing, looking down the canal and getting ever more, exasperated with this idiot Policeman.
“Make of this what you will, it matters not to me but let me put this on the record. I am a white male, 47 years old. I’m not gay, or a paedophile and I enjoy the company of intelligent people. Plus, I would like to make one, or two other things perfectly clear.” Alan, took a breath and continued. “I support an excellent Football Team, Manchester United and my favourite food, is braising steak with a portion of French fries and spoonful of Onion Gravy. Is that clear enough for you?”
Now, it was Arch’s turn, to feel offended. This guy was just plain facetious and to some extent, Mr. Alan Turnbull, reminded him of 'The Boss.’ Arch, watched as Alan quickly wrote down the details he wanted and thrust the piece of paper at him. He took the note and quietly pocketed the information, while continuing to leaf through the diary, until he reached the date of Eleanor Ross’s murder. He saw, that Mr Turnbull was at work,
“Can you tell me where you work Mr Turnbull?” Alan straightened and replied,
“Central Library, I’m the Chief Librarian.” Arch self-consciously handed the diary back to him, and asked again for good measure,
“Are you sure, that you haven’t seen, or heard anything untoward?”
“No, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you further. I have nothing more to add at all, except” he paused to consider his words “occasionally, I do hear some sounds that cannot be easily explained.”
“Like what,” urged Arch.
“Sounds,” said Alan absentmindedly, “just sounds, that’s all.”
Deacon, could see that nothing was going to gained by hanging around, so he excused himself and made his way back down the stairs and out of the front door.
“I may need to speak with you again, if that’s O.K. with you. What time would be the most convenient?” Alan, turned and after a little consideration, and replied,
“I don’t generally get in from work, much before 6.30, so how’s about we say, ....... 7.00 ish? However, I would prefer if you could call me first,” with that Alan handed Arch his business card. As Arch was walking down the garden path towards the gate, Alan added, “You can always get hold of me during the day at The Central Library.” Arch, immediately responded with,
“Thank you and if you hear any more....’sounds,’ give me a call at the station and ask for DS. Arch Deacon.” With that, he turned to leave.
Behind him, he heard this little voice, trying not to be heard, saying “Yes, your worship” and giggling to itself, as it closed the door.
'What’s so amusing?' thought Arch, as he closed the garden gate and departed.
Whilst Deacon and Westie were pursuing leads in the neighborhood, Findlay had endured a rather fruitless time at the probation hostel. This was a Tuesday, at around Lunch time and the place was damned near empty. He had spoken to only three, of the ‘newby’ residents, who had not been much assistance to the enquiry. The rest of the lads were at their workplaces and would not be back until five, or six p.m. Having exhausted the limited information, that these detainees had to offer, he shared a few pleasantries with the female warden, over a cup of tea and then he’d made his excuses and departed. All he had gleaned from his time at the Hostel this morning, was what he already knew, that Nick Swann’s tramp possibly, used to hang out somewhere near The Ravens Gate, and that they didn’t think, he was there anymore.
Having negotiated the hostel car park and the pot holes in the single track road, which ran alongside the canal, he found himself looking directly at the black and yellow stained monstrosity, Ravens Gate. He stood for a moment observing the edifice, then, as he was about to cross the threshold and walk through that ominous portcullis, he felt a shiver run down his spine. Shrugging it off, he stepped forward and his eyes fell upon something written by a local bard on the base of one of the iron columns, which was holding up the ancient black gates. It read, “Quoth the Ravens, Nevermore.” Alex stopped to read it, smiled, then looked up at the pillar, into a pale blue sky, blackened by the rising of the Conspiracy of startled ornate Ravens, rising from the bower above the gate. As he reached for the sliding metal bar, that held the wrought iron gate closed, he disturbed something that was perched on the top of the bower. The flapping of the startled birds wings and the deep guttural,’Caw, Caw,’ sound that emanated from its throat, made him jump.
“Christ almighty Alex,” he said in an attempt to calm his nerves. “Get a grip, Man. You’re letting your mind run away with you.”
Once he had admonished himself, for being too edgy, he stopped, took a long, deep breath and peered upwards once more at the dark ironwork, that adorned the entranceway, just to check there were no other, ‘live’ surprises in store. Squinting into the light he realised there was something odd about the cast iron ravens, but couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Seeing it was all clear, he pressed on inside the gates.
Immediately the air seemed to become thicker and he felt sure, that the sun had just snuck behind a cloud. Findlay looked ahead at the silent sheds, pipes and broken doorways, that were all that remained of old works. Everything was stained a brown-blackish colour, with an occasional sulphurous yellow smear. Undoubtedly, the result of years of the tar rendering, that had been the bread and butter of this place. He strode forward, past a jungle of dark pipes which led into and out of a large shed with a corrugated roof. It had a dark oozing stain on one side of it, which had not faded with the passage of time. As he passed by one particularly heavy duty piece of tubing, Alex noticed how much like arteries the piping looked. He hurried past several more of the blackened conduits, many of which, bore an uncanny similarity to a once writhing hydra like creature, now frozen in time. There was something terribly disquieting about this place and he found himself wishing, that he had not undertaken this ‘recy’ alone.
Beyond the rotted corrugated building, there was just more stained darkness. He could swear, that the few breaths of air reaching him, were becoming warmer, the cloying stench of ancient tar grew thicker and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Then, just as his head began to spin, some relief came his way when he moved beyond the narrow ginnel like passageways that fed the workshops and he stepped onto some kind of main concourse. 'Good grief, this place is huge,' he said to himself as he gazed at the entirety of the Tar Works, from this central point. This place was going to require a much larger crew and a lot more time to explore properly.
“Still, I’m here now so it wouldn’t hurt to stick your head in one, or two places before you go. Just to have a look around,” he commented to himself. Looking around he chose a part opened door, off to his left.
“Hmm, bad choice Alex,” he cursed, as this entrance, had obviously not moved an inch in many years. He moved on, trying each latch as he came to it and after finding each and every one of them, either jammed closed, or blocked by fallen roofing material, he was ready to give up on this idea, when he encountered one door that was swinging freely on its hinges on the furthest and largest shed. This shed had a large No.1 painted on its side.
“Oooh, nice one,” he cried triumphantly and walked inside. “Hello, hello and what have we got here then?” he called out in his very best ham copper tones, as he moved further on and into the semi darkness. Small beams of light, were gallantly attempting to illuminate the shadowy spaces but the years of grime and neglect, had the upper hand. A cloud of dust was floating above the places where he had walked along the floor, disturbing the sediments of the ages, thus allowing the tiny shafts of sunlight to play through the cracks and dance on the floor in his tracks.
Alex took a few more paces into the dusky heat of the desolate warehouse, halted, then turning 360 degrees he took in the enormity of the place. The splinters of light, piercing the fractured roof and pooling on the floor below, made it difficult for Alex to judge the dimensions of the structure. He cast his eyes around, seeking something that would give the shadowy orifice, some form of recognizable human scale. The temperature inside this shed was oppressive and the air was thick with stale tar and dust, a bead of sweat formed on his forehead, which he wiped away with the back of his hand.
The occasional chirping of a small bird broke the silence and Alex peered into the shattered darkness, in an attempt to identify it. His ears were starting to accommodate the new conditions, which seemed to muffle every sound. There was the regular beat of dripping, emanating from what seemed to be some kind of leak falling into a pool of water.
The sound appeared to be coming from a structure in the middle of the floor, which he could just make out, around fifty feet in front of him. Suddenly, the air was rent by the sound of many pairs of flapping wings and the panicked cries of many larger birds high up in the roof. Involuntarily ducking, he automatically raised his arms to shield his head, then, realising the source of the perceived threat, straightened up, placed his hand on his heart and swore,
“Fucking hell fire, you could have given me some warning,” he said to the birds that were still unseen in the shadows. “Sorry, I didn’t even know that you lot were up there.” He could feel his heart trying to leap out of his chest and he was breathing even more heavily, than he had been a few moments earlier. The sweat was now flowing freely down his temples. The noise from the avians, was not diminishing, if anything, it was growing more frenzied and high pitched.
“O.K, O.K, I’m going in a minute but first I’m going to have a look at this tank, or whatever it is.”
Findlay was just wishing he’d brought his torch with him, it would have been slightly more reassuring, if he could have seen clearly for more than just a few yards in front of his face. To be sure he could retrace his steps, he stopped again and looked back at his own footprints on the dust covered floor of the warehouse. Strangely, there were no other marks on the ground apart from his size tens, which led all the way back to the door he had found swinging in the breeze earlier. He frowned, surely he couldn’t be the only person to have left a trail on the surface in all the years, since the Tar works had closed?
He scrutinized all of the surface that he could make out but there did appear to be nothing, not even one mark, on the dusty floor. There were no animal prints, or any sign that even one of the screaming birds, now quietened, had landed on it.
“Curious,” he commented as a few of the unseen birds high above, started to get agitated again. 'Surely, something has found its way into this place, before me?' Alex began walking towards the regular sound of the dripping water, insistently calling to him, from somewhere within the darker shadows.
“O.K, let’s see what’s making that annoying sound,” he said out loud as he approached the suspected water tank. His attention, was then sharply caught by another noise, that seemed to be coming from somewhere within the darkness beyond the glistening pool, with its sound of rhythmic drops of liquid falling from above. This new tone, was akin to something scraping on a hard surface. Alex stood rigid, all his senses on alert, he got the distinct impression he was no longer alone in the shattered darkness, his breathing became shallow and quiet but his heart was pounding loudly, the hair on the back of his neck stood erect. Alex went into fight mode,
“Hello, who’s there. Show yourself,” he demanded of the darkness, but there was no response. “It’s no use hiding, I’m sure that we can work this out,” he heard himself imploring but again his plea got no reaction. He was beginning to get annoyed with this farce and reaching into his top pocket, Alex, pulled out his badge and held it up, in the beam that was being thrown by one of one of the shards of splintered light, emanating from above.
“I’m a Police officer,” he said with the most authority that he could muster, under the circumstances, “And I demand that you show yourself.” Again, nothing moved to come forward. Alex, was starting to question himself, had he imagined the scraping noise, or was it real? 'Probably just a rat or something' his rational mind asserted. He stood motionless for a few moments, just to be sure his supposition was correct and the noise had simply been the everyday sounds of yet unseen and trackless in-house wildlife. Satisfied, he again checked behind him just to be sure that, 'The Scraper,’ was not sneaking out through the swinging door.
Findlay had barely turned his head when there was a sudden huge splash, as if some giant piece of masonry had fallen from a great height into the pool behind him. Taken by surprise, Alex spun round to see what had created the loud noise. He stared into the fetid pool but to his alarm there was nothing, no masonry, not even ripples disturbing its oily, glistening surface. As he did so, the door slammed shut with a deafening thud and the invisible birds started to shriek piercingly again. Alex, felt the fear once more welling up in his soul, eyes wide, the hair on the back of his neck stood up, his breathing became as rapid as his pulse, sweat trickled down his neck and his mind screamed
'Get out, get out NOW!'
The cacophony, from the unseen flock grew louder and louder, in his ears and he was beginning to feel a twinge of confusion in his mind. Quickly, he turned and looked for the door that he had come in through but it was gone, lost in the darkness. The only remaining light was being provided by the needles of scant illumination piercing the shadowy gloom from high above. The panicked flapping of the birds wings created a strobe effect and then the scraping sounds returned, louder and closer than before.
'GET OUT!' screamed in his head as he became more disorientated. Desperately searching for his route out he had a stroke of luck, one of the shards from on high, picked out a couple of his footprints on the floor. Seeing this, his survival instincts clicked in and he quickly lurched forward to follow his steps back towards the exit. At first, there was no sign of any way out, so Alex, threw his head back, as if he was looking to the heavens for some sort of divine guidance.
That’s when he saw them, the mass of dark birds, clinging to the pylons that supported the broken roof of the building. Their eyes glinted menacingly as they stared at him down below, in the dark.
“Shit,” he said, more out of shock at the number of birds, than out of fear, 'Look at them all. There must be hundreds of the fucker’s up there' and, trying not to panic, he redoubled his effort to locate the way out. He dashed across the darkened floor, in the direction of the footprints and almost ran straight into the door. He saw it at the last moment and stopping himself just in time, tried to push the entrance open, but it would not give. He felt the panic rising, he was trapped in here with all those birds and whatever was making that scraping noise and had thrown that huge slab into that fetid pool. He felt the sweat beads, trickling down his neck, as he groped for the fastening mechanism and his breath was becoming ragged. His mind again screamed continuously now,
His fingers clawed and scraped on the rusting metal tearing his nails and flesh as he grabbed for the latch, frantically trying to get out of this all encompassing, claustrophobic darkness. The screaming of the large black birds grew louder and louder, the scraping sound was almost upon him, his heart pounded and his temples throbbed.
The sweat was running freely down his face, trickling into his eyes obscuring his vision. As his anxiety grew unbearable he felt something like a sliding latch and grabbing it, yanked it back and at last, the heavy metal door silently swung open again, with ease. Alex, almost leapt through the opening and took several large loping strides out into the light, to get away from the perceived dread inside.
Once outside in the open air, he quickly glanced over his shoulder, was he being pursued? Seeing nothing, he stopped and turned to face the door swinging on it’s hinges.
Slowly, his feelings of dread began to fade, along with the deafening cries of the birds and he started to relax a little in the gentle warmth of the pale, Autumn sunshine. He stood staring at the door for several minutes, reluctant to turn his back on it. Gradually his breathing calmed and the throbbing in his temples eased, he took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face and the blood from his hands. Having regained his composure and assured himself nothing was going to jump him from behind, Findlay walked purposefully away from the old building, back through the works and over the bridge. Then, he couldn’t resist one final glance over his shoulder, at the decaying looming edifice, that was The Ravens Gate.