His offer to assist Alan with the report he had rashly promised to compile for DCI. Findlay, was initially quite a daunting task. Nick, never imagined there was so much coverage regarding this one small area. He had imagined it would be a relatively simple task, which wouldnʼt take up all that much of his time. However, he soon discovered a ﬂaw in that logic and it was concerning one simple fact. Each of the local canal side developments, had their own story to tell and then, there was The Gildabrooke Estate.
This alone, had volumes of reports on the comings and goings at the old hall. Nick soon realised that this project was going to be anything but simple. “Shit man, where do youbegin to unravel this load of crap,” he asked himself, as he looked at all the newsprint in the two leather bound volumes, that lay on the table before him. “Begin at the beginning and work your way methodically, to the end,” he reminded himself of his university research, which, not surprisingly, was indeed the best method to go about this task. “Set yourself parameters and stick to them. Then, scan the banner headlines accordingly” he told himself as he opened the ﬁrst volume that was dated November the 11th, 1740.
The more he read, the more he discovered and the more he discovered, the more he realised he’d only just scratched the surface. It appeared that even the opening of the
tar works hadn’t gone without incident. The papers reported, “Man found drowned, as Battersby’s open gates.” Intrigued, Nick read on. It seemed that some poor unfortunate chap, who went by the name of August West, had fallen into one of the water filled troughs located inside one of the sheds and in the hectic opening events that followed, had been forgotten. West’s disappearance was put down to him simply walking away from the job, so it soon slipped away from the everyday consciousness of the workforce. It wasn’t until, a sweet, pervasive stench of decay started to intrude into the shed, that anybody sought to discover, where the odour came from.
The Tar Works, was a most fragrant place to work and so nobody took any notice of the aroma, for quite a few months. The decomposing body of Mr. West came to light, when the deep water troughs, in what was referred to as ’The big shed,’ were refilled and his corpse, floated to the surface. When the body, was examined, it was found to have four holes in it’s chest. As no projectiles had been discovered anywhere near the scene, it was decreed that the victim had been ’Done to death, by a person, or persons, unknown by means of stabbing.’ This, was a fascinating insight into the past and it was just waiting for somebody like Nick, to come along and untangle it. He made a copy of this incident concerning August West’s death and the discovery of his rotting body, then promptly turned to the next issue and began to read.
Alan, hadn’t been exaggerating when he commented, "This task, could possibly take forever," and that he was "going to need some help, if he was ever going to complete this search." Nick, ignored stories such as, “The Queen, unveils new hospital,” and any reports that clearly, were not connected to the canal, the canal side factories or the bridges. There were many mentions of all the spans but Nick avoided anything to do with their construction as Alan had promised to give him those details when they compiled the report as he had fully researched them for listing purposes. So, he concentrated on anything written about any murders, deaths and spooky, or unexplained events, that had gone on, along that section of the canal, as far back as the archive material would let him.
Then, something caught his eye. It came from 1747 and it read, “Woman sees spectre in water by Jenkins’ Walkway.” This, was more like it, after all didn’t Samuel say he saw something in the reflection on the water but when he looked over to the other bank, there was nothing to be seen. He read on but it appeared, that local Doctors had put her visions down to an overindulgence in Laudanum and so, Florence Wilkinson’s eye witness report, was dismissed out of hand. It had easily been explained away, as the addled rantings, of an intoxicated “Gin Genie.” Nevertheless he took a copy.
His chronological trawl through the yellowing and age wearied newsprint, was now becoming quite riveting. Nick found it increasingly difficult to stop exploring this long hidden archive, that Alan had presented. He put down one compelling item, only to pick up another, which would either continue the story, or jump away, only for it to alight in a totally different landscape. He eagerly read on, always looking for the next big story but to be honest, in his cynical mind, they appeared to be more akin to a Boy’s Own comic and any ‘Real meat,’ was hard to find in this archive. Endless tales of daring-do and fanciful adventure, began to lose their flavour and his eyes were beginning to grow weary. Then, just when he was considering packing it in for a while, he noticed a distinct quickening in the pace of the reporting. 'What year are we in?' He thought. Nick, quickly turned to the front page and scanned the top of the stained, torn copy of something called 'Thee Cadishead Sentinel’ and observed, that it was an issue, from September, in 1750.
Fascinated, he read on. It appeared, that during a very short time period, spanning only six days, several people had reported seeing “A strange and mellifluous being, moving silently across The Jenkins’ Walkway.” These later sightings, of spectral beings were put down to mass hysteria and the reports were forgotten, amid the tumult of the latest war. Intrigued by these tales, Nick sought out anything further, that may be connected to any of these articles. However, there was nothing else which appertained, until in 1755, a headline screamed out at him and it read,
“Tragedy: Battersby’s daughter found dead in water.” Nick, turned the pages until he acquired the story he was seeking. It appeared that the industrialist’s youngest daughter, Henrietta, aged eight, had disappeared while playing inside the works and despite an organised search, nothing had been seen, or heard of the infant. Then, one of the Horse men, who traversed the canal towpath, while their steeds pulled the barges, found her body floating in the water, under the span of the newly built Battersby’s Bridge, later to be known as The Raven’s Gate.
Henrietta had been stabbed several times and had her throat slashed. Look as he might, Nick could find nothing more about this unfortunate girls death and the rest of the paper, provided nothing further. So he took a copy to add to his growing information file.
Nick scanned on, looking for links in the pieces, which could be joined together to get a better perspective on the life and death issues appertaining to the canal side. A couple of the tightly bound weekly issues later, he ran across, “Body discovered in Canal.” Intrigued, he read on and the report stated, that the body of one of the workforce at Battersby’s Tar Works, who had gone missing some days previously, had been found apparently drowned, floating in the canal under the newly completed Bridge. Mr. Battersby commented, “This was one of the newly developed areas of the works and accidents, were an inevitable consequence of progress.” Nothing else, was said about the unfortunate man’s death. There was no mention of his family, the possibility of a grieving Spouse, or any children.
“Callous and uncompromising,” muttered Nick as he clicked a copy and turned to the next volume.
He was finding this journey through history, to be quite invigorating. Besides his list of keywords, which drew his attention to certain items, he couldn’t avoid being fascinated, by all the detritus of life, as it was lived back then. There were some real classics, such as, “Mans head blown off.” Or, “Missing Wife found dead in cellar.” Nick just had to heartlessly laugh, at the way things were reported only a couple of hundred years ago. He could just imagine the scene 'What’s that you say, Sir? She merely fell down the steps and bashedher head, several times.' Nick, thought.
“Well, that explains everything, Sir. Be on your way now. We won’t be troubling you again.” Nick, knew that he shouldn’t giggle but he did.
'Sexism, what sexism,' he thought and continued the search, with a smile on his face. This was proving to be the most enjoyable thing he’d done for years, trawling through the past like this, was stimulating.
The weeks, then flicked past and nothing of any note sprang out of The Papers, until 1759 when splashed across the front page, was the Headline, “Cold Blooded Murder.” Upon inspection, Nick unearthed a tale of abject horror. It concerned the discovery of a water filled pit, which was part of the excavations, for the new Canal Basin being dug out to create an enlarged area able to service the Tar Works’ bigger barges. Within the new diggings, the rotting corpses of two young women and three children had been found. No names were given, and the report only mentioned, that all of the bodies were unrecognisable, “due to water inflicted corruption.” He smiled inside, when he read this part.
'They may have lacked some of the more modern, higher senses of sympathetic decorum but they certainly knew, what harm could be inflicted by giving too much detail,' he thought, as he read on. Upon scanning the remainder of the ancient report, he once again, found a reference to The Ravens Gate. Nick, took note of these continuous references, concerning something attached, or connected to the tar works, photographing them with his iPhone, so he could download them to his laptop later. His eye, then fell upon another, smaller item that was lower down the page. It was strangely similar, to something that he had read recently, in one of the other papers. “Figure seen fleeing Ravens Gate basin.” Coincidence was not a term that Nick had any faith in, he much preferred to use, concurrence. It somehow, seemed much more apt. Click!
There was a strange feeling rising in Nick’s chest, it was a mixture of excitement and dread, he didn’t want it to go away, it made him feel alive. Vivid memories of what Samuel had said, when he spoke about his terrifying swirling vision he’d seen on the water and these ancient newspaper reports, of ghostlike figures having been seen, near to the tar works, filled his mind. This was really exciting, maybe he should look into taking this sort of thing further. The thought of quitting his job in the Probation Service, just like Larry Walsh had done, seemed very appealing right now. He mused, that he could possibly become a Researcher and have an awful lot more fun than he was having at the Probation Service.
Alternately, he could simply do nothing other than dream and continue being bored at work for another fifteen, or so years. He took in another deep breath and then, sighed slowly as he let the breath go. Having calmly taken a moment or two for consideration of his real life options, Nick plowed on looking for more “concurrences” in the second heavy leather backed folder. Each of these bound volumes, covered roughly a ten year period, as reported in the pages of the local press. The further back in time that you delved, the rarer any surviving printed materials became. There were, great gaps in the available information which gradually, grew to canyon sized spaces, as the years receded.
Fortunately for Nick, the same was also true, if the compiler reversed the process. As Nick, acclimatised himself to the old printing eccentricities, such as the differing typefaces and some of the grammatical nuances of the time, his pace increased. What had started as a doubt, became a fascination and his love of History, coupled with a long standing curiosity quotient, was now being amply fed by this delve into the past and he wished to dig deeper. Nick, read about the rivalry that existed between the Bosses of the four differing interests that grew along that section of the canal and then expanded their horizons. There was Jenkins’ Mine, Battersby’s Tar Works, The Quaker Meeting Hall with it’s attendant business interests and last, but not least, the Gildabrooke Estate. This competition, manifest itself in the ever more expensive and elaborate bridges, that sprang across the water like leaping Salmon traversing a weir.
Granted, this ‘Archive’ work was riveting and he’d definitely learnt an awful lot of local history, but very little regarding the areas he actually desired to learn about. He could now appreciate why it was that Alan had looked so relieved, when he had said that he would help him in the compilation of this report. The intricacy’s of the project had at first seemed like a straight line through time, but that once smooth road, had quickly turned into a rather complex spiders web. The pile of discarded and copied documents just kept on growing ever larger. He seemed to have been turning these copies over, one after another, for ages and nothing of any matter had turned up, concerning any Murders, Spectres, Apparitions, Banshees, or even Ghosts for what felt like an eternity. The Ravens Gate, might just as well have been demolished, for all the news it was generating. He looked to the top of the page to clarify, just how far he had progressed and was exasperated to see that The Banner was telling him, that he’d travelled far further, than it felt like to him.
“Youmust be joking. It’s 1759 and nothing’s happening?”
Then, he remembered, how it had seemed like you were pulling out your own teeth, when you had a thesis to complete, during the summer holidays. He swiftly dismissed those kind of thoughts and again looked at the 'Leaning Tower of Papers,’ that was growing beside him.
“Sorry but I simply don’t believe, that can be the case,” he said to the walls, in an exasperated tone. He felt he must have become distracted, by some film-flam and overlooked something far more important. So Nick, with a newly found steely diligence, quickly retraced his steps, nothing. So, digging in he worked his way through the rest of the Volume and to his chagrin discovered nothing more, of any note. Any trail, that he imagined he may have found, went very cold, rather quickly and he had run out of avenues, when 1760 appeared on the horizon.
“Shit,” he expounded, as he turned the last hard copy and discovered, that he had reached the end of this binders road. If he wished to go further, he would need to ride the charabang of more folders.
“Bollocks, Bollocks. Bollocks,” he cursed quietly, as the rear leaf of the leather bound volume, emphatically closed on the final edition of the decade.
He was now going to have to report his findings to Alan, collect the next section of the Newspaper records and do the same thing all over again. He looked up at the clock to see if there was time to contact altorro, tonight?
“Bloody hell, where did the time go,” he said as the clock struck midnight. “I’ll phone the bugger tomorrow but right now, I need a bite to eat and a nice fat Joint. Nick, lay on his bed, looked up at the ceiling and took a long satisfying pull on his well packed Spliff.
“Oh, yeah. That’s some good weed,” he relaxedly whispered, as the smoke worked it’s intended function in his brain and he leaned over, to stir the steaming cup of coffee that was sitting on the small Moroccan bedside table. Nick, closed his eyes and pondered the possibility of a different future, if this all panned out right......
The new shift rota, for the three members of staff that remained at St. Joseph’s Probation Hostel, was proving to be problematic. You no sooner finished one period of duty, than it felt like you were starting another. Little seemed to have been done to alleviate the problem and the staff were starting to buckle under the pressure. Nick was on Days this week, which at this time of year, meant that you left home in the dark and did not return, until the sun had almost set in the sky. The solitary benefit that accrued, was the occasional stunning sunset, that could be observed in the West, as he drove home. The pressure of inmate numbers also played its disruptive roll on departure times and a shift often had to be extended due to incidents that required a conclusion before leaving. Add to that the unusual traffic delays and arrival or departure times, could easily be extended by up to half an hour and on a few occasions, even more.
The Hostel staff, were running on empty much of the time and Nick was about to start another long Day Shift.
“Oh, deep joy,” he muttered as he departed from his Volvo, and shuffled towards the main doors of St. Joe’s. “Good morning, Mack,” he said casually, as he walked past the old hostel cook, who was preparing breakfast, then slid into the office, where Jill Donovan was sitting, waiting to be relieved. Before this particular rota had begun, ‘Change overs,’ had been the times when members of staff, had the time to convey much more, than just the A.B.C’s of another stint in charge. The easy transfers of the duty wardens, had also been the period where the barely detectable undercurrents in resident life, could be given an airing, so that the situation could be simply defused, or at least, a watchful eye could be kept on the situation. Now, he was presented with the Office Diary in a distinctly perfunctory manner, as 'whoever,’ quickly departed the grounds and left for home.
“Hi Nick, Bye Nick,” said Jill and then, almost as an after thought, “It’s all in the diary on the desk. See ya.”
Then, he was alone again. Right now, his most pressing task was to read Jill’s notes in the diary. She had left the office in such a rush, that absolutely anything could have happened. It was Nick’s concern now and anyway, he appreciated she was tired, hungry and she just wanted to go home. Nick opened the rather impressive, hard backed ‘Daybook’ and started to read. It was all rather depressing and bore the mark of a tired mind, from the first word, to the last.
“Usual stuff,” said Nick. “Just another load of perhaps’s and maybe’s but nothing concrete.” Roland Davies, got one of his regular mentions, which were mostly for being, ’weird and creepy’ but there was nothing unusual about that, either. Beryl, had often mentioned the fact, that she always felt ‘unclean,’ whenever, Roland had spooked her out, with his inappropriate language. Then there was Jill’s comment about one of the newer lad’s, who didn’t seem to be fitting in too well. He tossed the Journal back onto the desk and forgot about the entries. There was nothing written down that appeared to demand any urgent intervention and therefore, Nick sat back in the swivel chair and put his feet up on the desk. He had an hour before the residents, got up for breakfast,
“Make the most of this moment of perfect peace,” he jokingly said to himself, “The little bastards will be aroused soon enough, so enjoy the silence, while it lasts.”
Nick picked up the phone and called altorro. “Hello,” said Alan, “How may I help you?”
Nick, smiled and was about to say “Hi Man, hows it hanging?” as the voice on the other end of the line, ever so politely continued speaking.
“If you have an Historical query, please press one. If you have a Steam related enquiry, press two and if you are calling about a Library related matter, press three. State your question, or enquiry and I will get back to you, if you leave your number after the beep. Nicolas, thought about it for a couple of seconds and then, very deliberately pressed one.
“Beep,” went his friends message service and Nick started to speak. “Hi Alan, it’s me Nick. Listen man, I’ve read all the stuff, in the two Press Binders that you gave me and I want more, if that’s O.K. with you. Call me at the hostel with your reply.” Satisfied with his effort, he was about to put the phone down and congratulate himself when he remembered that he had forgotten to mention getting together to compile the Report.
“Fucking hell, how dumb do you want to be?” He quickly redialed Mr. Turnbull and went through the whole numbers process again. Now he could calmly ask, about the compilation of the Report. This time Nick, had been, far more self assured and he closed Part Two, of his one way conversation, with a much tighter, “Bell me.”
“You have, messages,” said the disembodied voice on his phone as Alan put his final shoe on. He had noticed the number 2, flashing on the digital display, as he had passed it on the way to the shower. He hadn’t noticed it being there the night before, as he checked the locks and set the alarm before he went to bed.
“Hmm, it’s either another long lost secret admirer but that’s very unlikely, or it’s Dezzy, pulling a late one, telling me that ‘Gladys’ has had another ‘Eppie.’ Shit either way.” he said to his own reflection, in the bathroom mirror and lazily scratched his head and yawned. “It’s nothing that can’t wait,” he idly commented, as he tried to shake off the last vestiges of the previous nights slumbers and made his way, unsteadily towards the bathroom.
The shower beckoned him and he blindly followed his well trodden routine, stepped into the cubicle and closed the door. The hot water, simply washed away the nights perspiration and he began to feel a touch more human, as he rinsed the shampoo from his hair. He stood under the jet, for a moment and let the water flow over his body, while he attempted, as usual, to plan for another day at the Library. When he had taken up the position some years previously, the numbers of people using the facility had been steady and it seemed like he had a job for life, which carried a certain sense of security with it.
Alan, had never been one of those people, who considered he was overly ambitious and the idea, of knowing the path your future was heading down, gave him a great feeling of peace of mind. Now numbers were slightly down and this was starting to prey on his mind, something needed to be done.......
He could imagine nothing worse, than worrying about his position and the thought of having to attend an interview, to secure another job, was in his mind, horrendous. Alan loved his job and it demanded very little of him in return. Still, the report that he had promised DCI. Findlay, was now uppermost in his mind and had been, ever since he had furnished Nicks, with the first two Binders. If he had just kept his mouth shut and stopped being a Chief Librarian, for just a moment, this situation would never have arisen. He wouldn’t be getting greyer by the day and Nicks, would not have been roped in to his fantasy of being some kind of local hero.
“Stupid. Simply stupid. Why couldn’t you keep your fucking mouth shut.” He felt his head drop and his shoulders sag. “If they had asked you, to do a search for any clues, that may have been hidden in the Archives fine, but what kind of idiot volunteers for such a task?” He dried his hair, and answered his own question.
“Nick Swann, that’s who.” Alan, then hurriedly slipped on his warm dressing gown and having turned the shower off, headed for the kitchen. He didn’t feel like much of a breakfast this morning, he was still thinking about the Bound Volumes he had given to Nicks. A cup or three of strong, well sweetened black Coffee, would suit very nicely this morning. As he sat down, on his favourite chair overlooking the Canal and the bridges, Alan picked up his cup and took a sip from it, reached over and pressed the button on the answer-phone.
When he heard Nicks voice, asking him to return the call he felt invigorated and for some unknown reason, strangely relieved. 'Maybe, he had something for him, or perhaps his old friend, had a hunch, or maybe, he had discovered something? It all stank a little of desperation, that’s just plain wrong thinking. You’re clutching at straws, again Alan. He’s only had the first damn volumes, for a day, or so.' Before he had time to think anything more, the phone proclaimed,
“Message two.” In a much better mood now, than he had been ten minutes ago, Alan deemed, that all was once more, well with the world and he haughtily decreed “Play on foul spot,” with a full panoply of arm movements as he delivered it, with all the available pomposity he could muster. The second message was also from Nicks.
“Typical. Some things never change,” he commented, as he listened to Nicks’ question about what to do with the insights, he had gleaned from the first trenche of papers? “This should be interesting,” he thought as he pressed the 'Delete’ button on the phone and made his way to the car. 'I’ll give him a call, when I get to the Library but for now, you’ll have to excuse me Nicks but I’ve got to negotiate this pot hole.'
Too late. It managed to catch him out every time he tried to escape the Toll House grounds.
“Ummph,” he exclaimed, as the front wheels rode over the newly excavated ramp, at the end of the driveway.
It was mid morning when Nick returned to the office having sorted out the lads for the morning. Looking over at the telephone he saw the flashing red light, that indicated there was a message, waiting to be listened to. Nick, pressed the ‘play’ button and picked up the nearest pen, that so far seemed to have escaped the ravages of Jill’s insistently nibbling teeth. Imagine his surprise, when the sound of the theme to “The good. The bad and The ugly,” came out of the receiver. Nick smiled. A.T. always was a clever sod and this Mexicali soundtrack to his phone calls, was perfect.
“Hi Nicks, got your messages. That was fast. We must talk about the Report. Call in to The Toll House, on your way home tonight, I’ll be there.”
Nick, was impressed. “Wow, that was short and sweet but fucking efficient.” All he had to do now, was decide how he was going to get to the Toll House, from St. Joe’s. He could take the longer, more circuitous route via the main roads, or the shorter, more direct unadopted toll road route. From the upstairs windows, you could just make it out through the trees but it was a patchy, obstructed view and to be honest, Nick had been somewhat taken aback, when Alan had said, that he had been living there for years. The Toll House, was somewhere that Nick, had never actually seen close up. About two years ago, he recalled one of the Inmates, referring to “That fucking daft house, with the mirror windows, on it’s upstairs Greenhouse.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also bet, that the owner, had a Cannabis Factory, on the go up there. Nick, remembered that he had pooh, poohed the idea, saying that, “It was probably nothing to do with growing drugs because who on earth, would put up a thing like that, in clear sight, if they had anything to hide?” Now knowing it was, Alan Turnbull, his old school mucker, who lived along the canal bank and had this curious house with it’s high rise mirrored conservatory, he couldn’t wait to go and have a look at this ’Room of Mystery.’
Nick, chose to venture down the ancient Toll Road and instantly regretted it.
“Christ Almighty, this is going to wreck the car’s suspension and put a crack in the windscreen if I’m not careful. Why did I choose this route, just because it’s the shortest.” Just as he thought, that his back could take no further punishment, relief was at hand. Just ahead, he could see the elevated, smoky mirror glass 'greenhouse’ approaching on his left. 'Fancy Alan living here for years and me not noticing him?'
He turned left and left again and then found himself in the tiny parking area, in front of the toll house. The place appeared to be empty but as he slowly walked towards the front door, another Volvo but this time a four wheel drive monster, pulled into the parking space and stopped, in the low cloud of dust its tyres had kicked up. It was Alan.
“Sorry, I was a touch late but you know how it is. Have you been here long?” He asked Nick, as he sprang out of his car. Before Nick had a chance to answer the question, Alan added, “No. Of course you haven’t,” he commented as he passed his hand over the forward section of the bonnet of Nick’s aging Volvo. “This lovely old lady’s still warm.”
Purposefully, leading the way to the front door, Alan, mentioned something about "wetting himself, if he didn’t get to the bog, sooner, than soon" and then having reached the entrance in double quick time, fumbled around with his keys for what seemed like an age, before finding the correct one. The door then flew open and Alan, almost ran to the small room, at the end of the hall, doing a good impression of the ‘Keystone Kops,’ from the silent movie, and disappeared through the wooden doorway. A couple of minutes later, he re-emerged, with a relieved grin on his face.
“Shit, I nearly didn’t make that one. I knew that last cup of Coffee, was a mistake.”
Nick, just smiled and retorted with, “So what’s changed. In the old days, you could piss yourself, in a Desert that was suffering from a severe drought.” They both laughed out loud, at the shared memory.
“Drink?” said Alan, as he guided Nick, along with the Binders, containing their tightly packed, twenty or so years of Newspapers, up the staircase to his favourite room and opened the door.
“Bloody hell,” said Nick, as he stepped inside, the leather backed protective folders, which previously had been growing heavier by the minute, suddenly seemed to be as light as a feather. “Wow, this is amazing,” he commented, as he tried to look out of every window simultaneously. “Was this already here, when you bought the place, or did you design it, like this?”
Alan, had taken his coat off and was carefully hanging it on the stand, that sat in the space behind the obviously expensive, soft leather settee. “Christ no, the place hadn’t been lived in for ages when I got hold of it. The whole project, was just a punt on my behalf. After my short but disastrous marriage to Denise broke up I wanted something cheap but with a little more character. Luckily, just then The Council put up many of it’s excess Gildabrooke Estate holdings up for sale, so I bought this place, hoping to do it up.”
Nick, kept hold of the newspaper Binders as he continued turning, so that he could take in this incredible room above the canal. “Does the telescope work?” Asked Nick.
“Of course,” Alan answered him, then asked if he had any preferences for what he would like to hear on the Jukebox?
“No. Whatever you normally play, when you get in from work. That’ll be fine by me.” Alan, was obviously pleased with Nick’s response and gesturing for him to sit down on the settee, he picked up the remote control devise, pointed it at the Bang Olafson amplifier and pressed Play. The music, just effortlessly flowed out of the huge speakers and filled the room, with a calming sound, that simply encouraged Nick to close his eyes and relax.
The music, of The Cowboy Junkies, filled the entire room and Nick felt his whole body unwind, in an instant. “Welcome to the pleasure dome, Nicks,” smiled Alan, as he handed Nick a large Whisky and quietly sat down. This was unbelievable. The richness of the sound was almost indescribable and Nick, just lay back and closed his eyes, allowing the music to simply wash all over him. As his mind and body relaxed, so did his 'death grip’ on the Binders, which he had maintained ever since he arrived at the Toll House.
Suddenly, Alan blurted out at a rather louder than normal volume, “No sleep, till bedtime!” Nick was hauled from his blissful oblivion, with a jolt. “Don’t tell me, you were resting your eyes,” Alan ironically said.
“No. No, I was just getting lost in the music, there for a minute.”
He looked over at his former best mate and smiled internally. “Before you ask, the speakers are hidden in the walls and as for the unspoken query, that you’re too polite to ask, the whole room cost £28,367, including V.A.T.”
Nick just looked in wonder, at this room. It truly was a “Pleasure Dome” and he was rendered speechless. It was a good job that Alan spoke first, or they would have both remained silent and just listened to the music, as they got progressively more drunk.
“How are you finding those files, that I gave you. Probably, a bit indigestible, I’d guess but you seemed to have raced through them.” Nick, opened his eyes and released his grip on the folders, sitting heavily in his lap, almost letting them fall to the floor.
“Whoa, nearly.” He said, as he regathered them in mid slide. “I found them, intriguing and to tell you the truth, I am going to ask you for the rest of them, if that’s O.K with you?” It seemed, that asking Nicks, to cast an eye over the archive files, had been inspired.
“You mean it?” Enquired Alan, with an incredulous tone in his voice.
“Yep, give me all you’ve got, I spent most of last night, like some kid with a good book. I found it almost impossible to stop reading the damn things.” Alan’s face must have been a picture, as he said,
“You see that neat brown pile, over there,” and he nodded in the direction of the Telescope, “Well, it’s the full printed history, in newspaper form, of this entire area up to 1897. After that you’re on to the microfiche, which will take you, all the way up to the last twenty-five years, that stuff we’ve managed to transfer to computer files.”
Nick turned his head and deliberately looked at the remaining binders, stacked up against the far wall, looking like some form of brown, antique leather flying buttress.
“I’ll give you a hand in carrying them down to your car later but now, I think it’s time to share this wee dram, with my old friend Nicks.” To once again hear Alan, speaking openly, in his often hidden Highland accent, was somehow comforting to Nick who had spent his childhood in Lossiemouth. It brought back a memory, that seemed to be from a long time ago. In school, all those years ago, he and Alan had conversed with each other, using this ‘Lingo,’ like they belonged, to some kind of secret society. The Scottish brogue, reappeared in his voice, when he got to the phrase, ‘wee dram’ and continued until he had finished the sentence.
“The evening meal, will be ready at about eight o’clock, as we don’t care to eat early in these parts. How does, Lightly Roasted Chicken, with a serving of Vegetables, Roasted Potatoes, Stuffing and Mint Gravy, to taste sound?”
Up until that point, they sat in the smoked glass greenhouse, drank some of Alan’s fine single malt whiskey and listened to his stunning jukebox. After the main course, came the Sweet and on this occasion, it was a delicious, Strawberry Pavlova. Where Alan, had acquired the thing, was anybodies guess but that didn’t detract from the taste, for one single second. Over Coffee, Nick returned to the matter which had brought him here in the first place.
“I was looking through the articles in the binders and at first, I saw nothing. No connections, no clues, no patterns. Nothing. There were just piles of words, which individually made no sense at all, but then one phrase kept on reappearing and that was,The Ravens Gate.”
Alan, stood up and moved to stand by the canal view window, which he now, silently stared out of, towards the afore mentioned bridge.
“That thing,” he said, as he nodded his head, in the general direction of the dark structure, “Is a very interesting place. It has many old wives tales, loosely attached to it and if you look inside the rest of these here binders and the other stuff, we will be able to give our Mr. Findlay, a pretty damned comprehensive picture of life, and death for that matter, along this section of the Waterway.” When he saw how enthusiastically Nicks, was taking all this information in, Alan continued with his speech. “When we, at the Local History Society that is, were putting together the case for having all the bridges listed, a few years ago, we came across all sorts of stories regarding that impressive black monster,” he said indicating, that he was speaking of The Ravens Gate Bridge and its attendant works. “We were looking for positive reasons to have them listed, so although we came across some dark tales in the local history texts, we dismissed them as fantasy and generally, attempted to sort the wheat from the chaff, before we presented the Society’s carefully researched plan to the Heritage bods. To you, it may seem to be a simple matter of procedure because you’re normal but that, was not how it all worked out, it was no easy task, I can tell you.” He placed his hands in the pockets of his trousers and turned his countenance away from the deepening dark, that was enveloping the canal, outside.
“Did you know Nicks, that the Weather Vein, that sits right in the center of the works atop those black steel pillars, was originally a blood red hand, pointing out there, to the horizon.” He was now dramatically gazing to the infinite heavens and pointing his index finger, on the end of his outstretched right arm.
“Heroic,” commented Nick. “Altorro away,” he added. Alan folded his arms haughtily, comically frowned, as if his pride was mortally wounded and commented,
“At some point the hand was replaced by a black raven but nowadays, there’s really only a rusting spire remaining but it must have been pretty impressive eh?” Nick, just sat in his place and waited for Alan to continue. He did not have to wait long, his old friend was in full flow.
“Right the way through the history of the place, there have been stories told to frighten away any children who might have been tempted to trespass on the grounds but occasionally, there was something else, something far darker that would intrude.” Nick, was now sitting so far forward in his seat, that if he moved even a Micron further, he would fall off his perch. “The first time, that any kind of name crops up, in reference to the visions of a raggedy man, or such like, reported crossing the span during a full moon, is when some smart arse Editor, decided to be clever, so he Christened it “The Gin Genie,” a few hundred years ago. Alan was again going at full pelt and Nick, though he knew of this, didn’t want to stop him now, so he just grunted his encouragement.
“There was one story, about two young Ladies, they might have been Sisters, or best friends, I can’t quite remember which it was now. The report stated, they were found, propped up, face to face but with a single hole, as if something hot had been driven through their chests, almost welding them together.”
Nick was almost twitching with excitement, at the prospect of such an entertaining trawl through the newspaper archives, “I never knew there was so much in it,” he said facetiously and reached out for his remaining drink. He easily located his glass but there was no liquid, remaining inside. “Bollocks,” he said but Alan, who obviously, was also enjoying this evening, simply moved over and filled it up again. “Thank you, Jeeves,” he offered in response, then allowed Alan enough time to gather his next thoughts.
“When they found those two women,” he continued, “it was reported, that they both had a rictus scream etched on their faces and they were tightly entwined, as if to protect themselves against their assailant. Unfortunately for them, it failed. It was said, that they were unable to decently separate the corpses, so they buried them together, in one big coffin and interned them in the unconsecrated ground, beyond the graveyard. I’m given to believe this now lies in the Quaker Meeting Hall grounds. As yet we aren’t quite sure where but if it lies, as expected, where the new car park will be then we will have a case for a dig and exhumation. Could be very interesting for the report.”
He moved over to the Telescope and absent mindedly stoked his chin again. Nick watched Alan as he paced languidly in front of the smoked glass. He was considering furnishing Nick with another ghoulish tale but just as he was about to speak, he paused and reconsidered his options. “It’s my guess, that it’s all reported in those press binders and when you’ve read them all, you’ll know a darned sight more about it, than I do.” Both of them seized on this moment of silence, to take another sip from their glasses, before Alan spoke again.
“You have to understand, that we Bod’s at the History Society, didn’t want to dig up any more dirt and potentially harm, our bid for Heritage money, so we were dissuaded from digging any deeper. To tell you the truth, we never looked at it, in anything like enough close detail.” Alan, then threw Nick a glance through squinting eyes and continued with, “But I suppose DCI. Findlay, has been of some use in that department, eh?”
Nick could see what he was getting at and thought about it, but could see no way of furthering that path, unless someone allowed him access to the police archives. “Findlay, may be useful but I’m not sure, that even he, could pull off grounds for an exhumation.” Nick said doubtfully, with a joke in his voice but Alan, was now standing there, in front of the glass, looking somewhat conspiratorial.
“I’ll take a look, at the archive info on the unconsecrated grounds. If we’re lucky it’ll have to happen before they dig the car park. I’ll take a shufty at what archaeological projects the Local History Society, has proposed and I’ll get back to you on that one. Just leave it with me for now” and with that, he reached for the rapidly emptying bottle of Glenruthis Highland Malt and poured out the last of it.
Nick, sat back and sank into the settee, considering Alan’s words. After a few minutes his mind shifted to his earlier thoughts. “So, do you want me to collate our findings for the report for the DCI, or do you want to do it together?” Alan thought for a moment,
“How about if I give you all my findings from the local histories and documents, along with my info gathered for the bridge listing, then you collate and draft the report. We can go through it together to finalise things if you like, but really, I don’t care who signs the report. To tell you the truth, Man, I’m not interested in getting any more of this kind of work, it’s just not my thing”
It didn’t take Nick, more than a few seconds to answer that one. He was really getting his teeth into this investigative stuff now. It was far more interesting, than the tedious, repetitive work, that his Hostel job consisted of.
“O.K, if it’s all right with you, I’ll do it but we might need some further info on parts of this one because, from the little bits that I’ve seen, we may be casting our line into very deep water.” It was now Alan’s, turn to listen and just grunt, in the right places. Then he took another generous sip of his drink, as another great track pounded out it’s signature riff, from the invisible speakers, somewhere in the walls.
“Not bad, eh Nicks?” he said, as he relaxed and closed his eyes, in order, to fully appreciate the music.
“Not bad at all.”