Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 26

The work commenced on that Friday morning, with assorted men in suits standing around, looking at plans and appearing to be ever so learned and knowledgeable. The mini digger started it’s engine and expelling some large clouds of dark acrid smoke, signified it’s readiness to begin the exploration of the old unconsecrated grounds, opposite Quaker Crossing. By the time ‘the suits’ had given their last nod of congratulatory approval, the dye was cast. Alan Turnbull and several of his acolytes, were also present on the canal bank for this auspicious event.

To have originally viewed, at it’s inception, the whole of The Four Bridges project, with anything other than a skeptical eye, would have required the services of a professionally trained optimist. Nobody had bothered with the place since the early 1960’s. The deterioration rate of the structures, had gathered pace, with each passing year. Now, due to one man’s crazy idea, namely Alan, that was dreamt up over a few Beers in one of the local hostelries, an entire train of events had been set in motion. After all those efforts, the realisation of the Local History Society’s dream of restoration, was in sight.

That was not what interested Alan today. He was interested in this archaeological excavation of the unconsecrated graves. What they would uncover was anybody’s guess but there were a number of lurid folktales about this place. He hoped the dig would either lay most of them to rest, or maybe finally prove that some things, were beyond simple understanding. 'You can but hope, this life needs some mystery,' he thought as he cast his eyes, over the old cemetery on the opposite bank of the canal and just let his imagination run wild.

Mr. Jones, had been so impressed with Alan’s impromptu sales pitch, that he had gone straight back to his bosses at The Heritage Society and suggested an investigation was essential. He soon convinced them, that there were some unconsecrated graves which would require investigation and reburial if the car park for the Quaker Museum and Local History/Arts centre was to go ahead. This excavation, would be merely the first step, in the rejuvenation of the whole area. The Heritage Society soon negotiated with the Quaker and Shaker Societies, so that any matters appertaining to religious sensibilities would be taken care of. These people may wish to be viewed as meek and mild, but generally, in matters of propriety that was not the case. They could, through sheer bloody mindedness, hold the entire development up in court, for what may as well be an eternity, so it was always advisable, to stay on their right side.

So, it had been agreed that any burials would be carefully excavated, and together with any grave goods examined and recorded. Then all the remains would be consecrated, then re-interned in a small, purpose built Quaker Mausoleum alongside the old Meeting House. The bones, would be placed into individual caskets along with any grave goods and a plaque placed on the doorway, by way of explanation. When the dig was complete, it was hoped that The Quaker Museum Complex and the Ravens Gate Basin development, would just follow smoothly along behind it.

At this time, Nick was on his way to the Lower Barton Basin area, for a little more fishing. Probation as a job and Police work entangled with a potential dark mystery, as a hobby, had cluttered up his mind and he sought some peace and quiet, to clear the fug.

“Thank goodness,” he thought, that he had reconnected with a few of his old interests. The last week, which he had spent laboriously trawling through all those old copies of Watchman and Police files in search of background and corroborating information had taken a toll on his enthusiasm for this ‘dark project.’ He was now fully aware that, “The Phantom,” was rumored to be a spectral being, which it seemed, had first appeared around 1621 and proceeded to “alarm and perturb” one of the local Watchmen from the Gildabrooke Estate. At the time, nobody connected the sightings of “The Phantom” with the start of the excavation of Bitumen, at Jenkins’ Field, which would later become known as Jenkins’ Hollow, due to the sinking of the ground, after the extractions. Then, everything went quiet and ‘The Phantom,’ disappeared from the public consciousness and was forgotten. Until 1740, when ‘The Phantom’ reappeared and menaced the area for many years.

Over the years, the reports, of a ghostly entity, stalking the area and eye witness descriptions of something, “not quite there,” silently moving around, near The Hollow, had been consistent, if somewhat erratic. Even between 1940 and the end of the bombing war, there were a few reports of some spectre, silently walking the towpath during the air raids but most of those, were reported, as the sightings of somebody moving within the smoke and flames. They naturally called that figure, “The Bosch Phantom.” He was probably, the only one of the Ghosts, Ghouls and Spectral beings, that had been reported over the years, that was purely fictitious. Nick, suspected, that “The Bosch Phantom,” was merely an invented device, that allowed the people on the ground, to make their fears tangible and manifest, in a world gone mad. All ‘serious’ reports of him, ceased when the Second War ended and he was not linked to any murders. Now, here in the present day, there was a similar killer, who was operating along the same stretch of the canal, only he was known to the local press who had no sense of history, as 'The Canal Cutter.' However, to the small group of conspirators, this perpetrator, was known as “Powderfinger”.

Once again, as Nick pulled into the Basin car park it was deserted. Freed from all restrictions, concerning correct parking protocols, Nick just faced ‘Deke,’ into the pale early morning sun and put the brakes on. He got out of the old Volvo, shut the door and retrieved his tackle from the boot. Slowly, he made his way across the shale, to the spot he had selected for the day. He was becoming quite familiar with this particular location, which initially appeared deceptively uninteresting and rather mundane.

The contours of the man-made landscape, had been created to perfectly frame the basin area and show the whole project off, as if it were in an advertising brochure. As cynical a move as that was, it had one unforeseen benefit to the area’s angling community.

The mounds of gravel and shale, that had been so painstakingly positioned, for the duel purposes of aesthetics and effect, actually cut off all access to any winds reaching the basin. This had the benefits of creating shelter for the angler and a dead calm on the water. Thus, making the basin, a very desirable place to wile away a few hours fishing, boating, or simply relaxing with the family, after work.

The whole area, was planned down to the last reed bed and Barton Basin, was the rather pleasant end result. Indeed, the design had been so successful at stopping the natural flow of air and water across the basin, that the owners had been forced to introduce a physically clumsy copy of the Trevi Fountain to aerate the water and stop it growing stagnant. During the dog days of summer, it must have become somewhat stifling and oppressive, not to mention, smelly. In colder weather, the fountain had little difficulty in keeping the various algae at bay, despite the proclivity of its automatic water flow pump, to periodically go on the blink. However, come the still heat of mid summer, no matter how hard it was worked, the Romanesque plumbing fixture, looked more like Old Faithful, as it periodically sent a directed jet of water, high above the surrounding mounds of landscaping gravel.

Having encountered the ’geyser’ previously, Nick paid little heed to the gurgling noises emanating from the water. It sounded like some giant mystical creature with stomach problems, the occasional large air bubble, that rose to the surface, like some great fart, was all part of the build up to the next explosion of “Old Barton,” the title the locals had given to the basin’s long suffering ’Geyser.’ He casually made his way past the “Beast” and headed for the footbridge, to access the point on the opposite bank he had chosen for todays, well earned period of relaxation. A calm, quiet day by the canal, with a rod and a bobbing float, seemed to be the perfect remedy for his present malaise.

Nick, confidently strode onto the footbridge and stopped in the centre, looked in both directions, to confirm his choice as to where to ‘set up,’ for the rest of his day by the canal. This was perfect, the water barely moved in the gentle breeze. It had been a strange twelve months, with the weather patterns going all over the place. The last Spring, had been unseasonably warm and the daily temperatures, had been breaking records, on a regular basis. The Summer, had also been ridiculously hot and still, though abnormally wet with some areas experiencing unexpected flooding. The Autumn, had proved to be long and yet again, it was ridiculously warm during the daytime but bitterly cold, in the ever lengthening nights. Now, it was rolling on into the depths of the Winter and still there was hardly any frost. It seemed as if these mild days, would drift slowly on, into another Spring.

He stopped and took a long deep breath of the crisp early morning air and savoured it, then took another one but this time, he drew it all in using only his nose. Then, stepping off the bridge, Nick turned left and walked on for around 100 yards before putting his old wicker basket down and just sitting on it, in the clear light of another beautiful morning.

Lazily, he gazed up and down the almost silent cutting, whilst he slowly attached the reel to the handle of his rod and drew the line through the eyes. He followed this identical routine, each time he came to this spot but was only really now, coming to appreciate its charms. There were always plenty of fish, of various sizes and species which regularly disturbed the calm of the surface, as they rose to take a morsel, from the water. The quiet, misty vista and the canals own viscous membrane, which was nearly always like glass, gently lulled the viewer into a space outside of normal time. He cast his readied line into the water with a slight splosh, as the ripples died down again, silence once more overwhelmed everything around it, and the channel reverted to it’s somnambulism.

Meanwhile, further down the canal, the claws of the JCB, expertly held at a shallow angle, dug into the ground and scrapped against a resistant surface.

“We’ve got something here.” cried a young member of the excavation team who was stationed by the side of the exploratory trench, observing the digger’s progress. “Stop, stop.” Yelled the student, waving his hands at the driver. “Let’s have a quick scan down there.”

The engine was promptly cut and the young archeologist climbed down, to take a look at what the digger had unearthed. Alan, heard the call whilst attempting to get away from a lingering minor dignitary.

“S’cuze me but I think that I’m needed over there,” he hurriedly said, while waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the sound. He quickly made his way toward the clamour coming from the area around the JCB excavation. “What’ve you found, is it anything interesting?” called Alan, as he peered towards the trench.

“Don’t know,” shouted back the archaeologist, “it could be anything but I it seems like the top of a casket, maybe it’s one of the ‘Unholy burials,’ that we’re after.”

Alan’s heart was racing as he moved swiftly across towards the find. He looked up and noticed that the two Heritage excavators, were just standing there, looking into the shallow pit. The exact location of and names of any internments had been long lost, during the History Societies investigation, they had only uncovered vague references and rumours linked to the unconsecrated graves. It seemed most likely that any records of this nature, were viewed as inconvenient for nefarious religious reasons, so may have never existed in the first place. It was after all unconsecrated, or unholy ground, which some may have felt, was a good reason to adopt an official position of, 'best buried and quietly forgotten.’

At this point one Heritage archaeologist ordered the digger to take another scoop off the surface to widen the hole and reveal more of the find. Then there was a sudden shout of,

“Stop!” from the student in the pit. As Alan breathlessly reached the excavation, he saw the two men, standing motionless, unblinking staring rigidly down into the hole. He followed their gaze and his jaw just dropped. Below him, he saw the ‘find.’ It appeared to be the remains of a large old coffin. Its years in the earth, had desiccated the wood, which resulted in it obviously being made brittle and it had shattered, when the weight of the diggers jaws had innocently scraped across it drawing the remains of the lid completely off, revealing its contents.

There, just below his feet, in the shallow grave, lay the nearly mummified remains of a pair, of what appeared to be females, holding each other tightly. It was not the embrace of these two women that held the viewers attention. No, it was the fact that they both appeared to be seeing something long lost in history and whatever that ‘something’ was, it filled them both with abject terror. Both of their heads were turned, almost at a right angle to the floor of the casket and more importantly, both were staring at the same thing, totally terrified and screaming. It was so obvious to any onlooker, that these women’s passage into the next world had been so horrific, that it almost made one recoil. Then it struck him like a bolt out of the blue.

“Holy crap, Man,” he barked. “These could be the two fused bodies from way back when.” He couldn’t take his eyes off them, that rictus look of terror which was forever etched on their faces, both fascinated and revolted him simultaneously.

Gathering himself again by taking in a couple of satisfyingly deep breaths, Alan took charge. He called out to all the work crew gathered on the site. “We need this place completely uncovering and we need it done with a great deal of care and diligence, so let’s all get to it and remember to be gentle with these remains and treat them with the respect, they are due.”

Then, having finished his little speech, he turned and walked away from the two terrorised women thinking, 'This coach party will have an interesting appointment at the morgue.' He couldn’t help but smile as he punched in Nicks’ private telephone number.

Alan, just had to tell somebody about this remarkable find.

“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is fu...” Before Nick could utter a word, Alan, was off and running.

“We’ve found them, Man. The whole fucking boneyard. Give me a bell later.” Then as an afterthought, he blurted out a stream of excited words, which sounded to Nick, something like, “Must go now. You call Findlay, he needs to know and his autopsy guy needs alerting. Really average etcetera. See you, Man” and that was it. The line went suddenly dead and Nick was left smiling bemusedly about 'altorro’s’ manic phone call.

“Chaotic but succinct, typically Alan.” Nick’s supposed relaxing time off, down on the canal bank had just had a stick put in the days spokes. However, he was fully aware that once he had set foot into the 'Undercover’ world of dark investigations, he would have to accommodate the fact, that this murky world didn’t respect days off.

So, it was time to re-order his commitments. Nick, pulled himself back into the real world and got immediately on his phone to Alex Findlay. The call was picked up almost immediately.

“Alex Findlay here....” He began but stopped suddenly, when he observed who was calling. “Nick Swann, I was beginning to wonder when, or even if, you would call. What have you got for me?”

Nick, tried in vain to order his thoughts around what Alan had said to him and then gave up. ‘altorro,’ always had this annoying habit of allowing his mind to race ahead and leave his vocal chords behind, to catch up later. This generally rendered whatever it was that he was attempting to convey, to an uninitiated third party, absolute garbled gibberish. You had to know Mr. Turnbull quite well to disseminate the intended message to others. So Nick, just organised Alan’s ramblings, into something that was at least semi coherent, for Alex’s benefit.

Once the niceties were over, he commenced with his recantation. “I’ve just received a call from Alan Turnbull. He’s at the Quaker excavation and they’ve turned up something interesting.”

That peeked DCI. Findlay’s interest and elicited a rapid response. “Right then, lets hear the news.”

Nick, took a breath and then began. “They have uncovered several bodies which will be taken to the morgue for storage before a consecrated re-internment. Alan, hopes that your Pathologist from the Powderfinger murders, can be persuaded to conduct a forensic examination on some of their remains. All, strictly on the QT of course.”

Alex, quietly responded. “For starters, he is a she, called Dr. Pinnock but at The Station, we call her ‘Jinx’ and I think, with a little persuasion, she may be able to assist on the carvery front.”

Nick, just held his phone motionlessly to his ear. “Carvery?” He was playing the word over in his mind, when the voice on the phone disturbed his pointless deliberations.

“Morgue. Autopsy. Blood and knives.....get it?” Interrupted Alex. “I think it’s quite good myself.”

Now feeling like a prize idiot, Nick chuckled vacantly and gave a stock response, to cover for his dimwittedness, “Oh yeah, nice one,” he lamely answered.

Alex, seemed to ignore his ignorance and simply continued, “I’ll see what she can arrange. Shall I call Mr Turnbull direct?”

“If you would...” responded Nick then quickly signed off.

There, that was Alan’s message conveyed to DCI. Findlay and now it was time for Nick, to get back down to some serious relaxation. "First things first,” he said to himself, as he withdrew his lighter from his pocket. Then he felt for the silver cheroot case and reverently removed one of the “menthol” cigarettes,” put the Joint in between his lips and lit it. While he waited in the near silence, for the desired effect to hit his brain, Nick’s thoughts returned to the purchasing of the cheroot holder.

He had bought it at the local “Head Shop,” some months previous, purely for the clandestine transportation of Marijuana laced roll up’s. “Ah yes, the Head Shop.” Now there-in lay a tale. There were no drugs, or any other mind altering substances available at Eddie’s Emporium. As everybody knew, Eddie was only in it for the money. He was a fine example of a classic bus stop Hippie. His hat was attached to his ’hair’ but for many years now, his hair, was not attached to his skull.

For Eddie, his fake hair served as a kind of hat, that kept him warm during the winter months. The real thing, had all fallen out some years before, when he had indulged in a dalliance with Amphetamine Sulphate. It never occurred to him, that the street term, ‘Speed,’ referred to how fast your hair fell out, or, how quickly you lost your mind. A grin, tinged with a good dollop of schadenfreude crossed Nick’s lips as he looked down at the finely worked surface of the silver cheroot case. He shook his head slowly and laughed, when it dawned on him, how unlike his wares, Eddie really was. Then, having felt he had done all that was required of him, Nick satisfyingly cast his line into the still waters of the canal and relaxed on the old wicker basket, silently watching his red tipped float bobbing on the surface and smoking his ’well earned’ joint.

Jinx replaced the receiver and thought about what Alex Findlay had just told her. He had realised, that the number of people involved in the ‘Conspiracy of Silence,’ would need to be increased, if they were going to get anywhere. This was, as he had said, a 'Dodgy Deal,’ and they all had a huge amount of credibility to lose, if this enterprise all went belly up and their exploits became common knowledge.

“We’re going to catch Powderfinger, or at least that’s the intention,” he’d said enthusiastically, hoping to encourage her participation in the plot.

Even though it seemed this whole idea was a little hopeful, she realised this killer was extraordinary and although she wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, she would do almost anything for Alex. Perhaps this approach would yield more results than a simple autopsy on a fresh victim, could ever hope to reveal.

“A bit like the hunt for Jack the Ripper,” she had said to him when the opportunity arose.

“Well, yes, I suppose that you could see it a bit like that old chestnut,” responded Alex.

She would have to keep this quiet but she knew, that she could trust Mason and Melissa to keep it ‘in house’. After all, the bones from the dig would be coming to the morgue for storage and potential identification anyway, before reburial. Who would know, if they took a good look at the ‘girls’?

Whilst she was musing, Alex was considering contacting Alan Turnbull, to set up another meeting at his place overlooking the canal. Somehow, that location, overlooking the very area of their killers operations, brought him closer to the source, and after all, Alan was a really good chef. He broke the silence,

“Think about what I’ve said and I’ll get back to you later.” With that, the line went dead and Jinx, was left holding the phone pondering the patterns made by some flaking plaster on the wall, which had been repainted before it had been sanded down, leaving a slight depression that looked a little like a springing cat.

Jinx turned, as a full trolley of newly sterilized equipment, being pushed by Mason, made a cacophonous entry into the room.

“Could you make any more noise, or have you managed to max out on that score?” She smiled at the struggling figure of Mason, as the trolley fought back, “I may have just been told, about something for you to wrap your brain around.” Mason and his load stopped, as her words hit him.

“You mean as in spooky?” He said, almost without moving his lips.

“Yup, that last call was from Alex Findlay and he says, that he’s got a clandestine job for us to do. Seeing as how it’s connected to the Powderfinger enquiry, we will have to be careful, what we say and to whom we say it. So it’s a strict code of silence on this one.”

Mason, who was looking slightly bemused at her comment, responded in a loud whisper, “I never imagined it any other way. You’re my boss and he’s the law. What more can a poor boy do?”

She smiled appreciatively at him, for his instant compliance to her uncommon request for his silence. It was a gentle, almost secret smile, that said she trusted him implicitly with this task.

“Alex, has informed me that there are going to be some ancient and curious cadavers coming our way, that may show similar mutilations to the present day killer. He want’s us to take a good look at them, off the record.”

The idea of some, ancient and curious cadavers arriving, sent a shiver down his spine. Mason just stood there pondering the situation for a few moments before he offered any opinions on this venture.

“We’ll need the assistance of Melissa Gilbert and her expertise in this area, if we are going to get any corroboration on the weaponry used.”

Jinx concurred with his logic about involving Melissa, she had never questioned the decision to construct a model of the weapon, that may have been used to inflict the awful injuries discovered on Debra Foxx and Eleanor Ross. She had just carried out the task both diligently and quietly, then kept the findings secret. After all, in the pathology line of work, discretion was just a normal part of working life.

Melissa Gilbert, had an unquestioning manner about her. She never thought to oppose authority and Jinx as M.E. was a sort of second boss to her. Had her Pathology Chief got wind of things and asked her directly, then she would answer him truthfully.

However, she reasoned, what he didn’t know she wouldn’t have to hide and she rather liked helping Mason. In addition, she knew that Jinx would step up and have words with the Chief, should the need arise.

Jinx, on the other hand, had never been able to keep her mouth shut if she felt something needed to be said. It had undoubtedly cost her a few rungs, on her climb up the greasy ladder of promotion. Mason continued,

“then, there’s my contact at Uni. We may need to use him again, if there’s any similar residues on the wounds, so that we can get them carbon dated. Fortunately, he won’t need to know any details, just a sample and a number. So all we’ll need, is to ensure Melissa’s silence, but that won’t be too difficult.....”

He tailed off, as Jinx nodded her head in approval and he seamlessly, started to put the sterilised implements away in the 'Cutlery Cupboard.’

Back on the canal bank, Nick was trying to rediscover the sense of peace and tranquility, he’d felt when he got out of ‘Deke’ earlier, when the day had been just drifting almost silently by. He tossed another handful of ‘ground bait’ into the water and waited for the disturbed surface of the glassy mirror to calm down again. The ripples silently crossed the water and then disappeared, as a deep quiet descended on the waterway once more.

There was something, almost other worldly about the basin, at this time of a crisp winter morning. There was still a mist on the channel and the few birds that lived along its banks, were locked into a sympathetic silence, as if mesmerised by the cold. None of them, were venturing from their perches and even the air itself seemed to be holding its breath. Off in the distance, the sound of a motor vehicle could barely be heard. Nick surmised, the fading drone of it’s engine, meant it was pulling away from his location. As he listened, his observation proved to be correct and the faint throbbing sound, slowly faded completely out of audibility and he was left, in a relative sea of tranquility. He closed his eyes, to fully appreciate the serenity of the moment.

“Hi there, how you doin'?” Came the startling sound of a voice, emanating from the opposite bank.

“Fucking hell, can a man get no peace?” He expostulated out loud. The sudden sound of another human voice close by, had caused Nick to jump, almost falling off his trusty wicker basket. He opened his eyes just a slit, to try and identify who the slightly familiar though, very annoying intruder was. The mist, gradually cleared from his eyes and Nick realised, that he was looking at a rather elderly man, who was grinning like two Cheshire Cats and waving to him, with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t help but smile back.

“Samuel, you old dog. How are you these days,” and for good measure, on consideration, added, “keeping warm I hope?”

On the other side of the canal, Samuel was turning round and heading for the footbridge, to cross over the water and join Nick, his smoking buddy, on the other side. As he approached Nick’s position, a fish nibbled tentatively on the line and the float bobbled almost imperceptibly in the calm water. Samuel stopped his approach, dropped to his knees and silently watched, in an almost palpable expectation of 'the strike’ but none came, as the fish lost interest and presumably, it just swam away. Nick breathed again, then satisfied that the ‘Prey’ had departed, looked up and quickly apologized, most profusely, to Samuel for his startled outburst.

“Don’t bother yourself, Man. I should have thought,” he said and sat down on the loose shale, that made up the bank. “Caught anythin’ yet?”

It seemed to Nick, that Samuel sounded different. He now had a distinctly more Jamaican, ‘Rastafied’ accent and he just hoped his previous ‘gift’, didn’t have anything to do with it? He would investigate. “You don’t sound the same, you somehow sound.......” He struggled for the correct words because the last thing that he wanted to do, was offend the old man, particularly after his earlier outburst of industrial language. “More Caribbean,” he offered.

Samuel’s face cracked and he let out a loud laugh, so genuine, that Nick knew instantly, that he was forgiven for his previously perceived rudeness.

“I never thought, that I would ever see you again after we went our separate ways last time. Tell me, Sam, how ’s life treating you these days?” He remembered how spooked his raggedy friend had been, the last they had met, on this very canal bank. Nick, got the feeling that he was blabbering and he blushed slightly.

“Yeah, fine,” nodded Samuel, looking upwards at the blue sky. “My new pitch is in a quiet area and the other ‘campers,’ are fine. There is no shortage of cover and best of all, there is nothing weird going on.”

With an almost imperceptible flick of his head, he indicated back down the water, towards The Ravens Gate. “I’ll tell you what, I still have bad dreams about that night.”

Nick, cast a swift glance towards Samuel and observing the fact, that he was having a little trouble in selecting the precise words he wished to use to convey something he felt was important, just averted his gaze and once again, looked at his motionless float, waiting for Samuel to continue.

“There are many stories, that I hear at night, when there’s a group of us sitting around a small fire. Most of these tales are just imagined and I reckon, are told merely for the sake of talking but every now and again, one of these yarns, has a ring of truth about it.”

Nick stiffened slightly at these words and Samuel took this pause, to be an opportunity to continue, uninterrupted.

“You can hear it, in their hushed voices. There is something, that is disturbing them and they are having some difficulty in expressing themselves as clearly as they would want to.” This was intriguing and he needed to hear more.

“Go on,” he said encouragingly and Samuel dutifully obliged.

“O.K. then, I’ll tell you the one that I heard a few nights back.” He checked to see if Nick, was paying full attention and satisfied that his interest hadn’t faded, he cleared his throat and introduced his story.

“To tell you the truth, I never found out what the bloke was called, he moved on the next morning but this is what he told me. Remember, I’d had a few slugs on this bottle of Whiskey that my new friend had ‘merely found,’ so it may not be perfect.”

Nick, smiled saying, “You’re the ringmaster, fire away Sam.”

Samuel immediately began the recanting of the tale. “He told me, that he was coming down from The Blackstone Sinks, just passing through, on his way to the coast. When one night last week, as the sun was setting, he was passing below some amazing bridges and then, one of which he said 'looked like some fucking fancy bridge in Venice,’ and then he just said ’you can’t miss it, it’s got this set of big black gates, with fucking amazing black bird sculptures on it’.”

Nick, turned his head and looked at Samuel. Samuel, just looked him straight in the eye and gently nodded his head.

“I think I know this place you just described, it’s called The Ravens Gate,” murmured Nick and Samuel’s even quieter response,

“I thought so too,” came back.

“Anyway, carry on. Point taken,” urged Nick. It appeared to him, that Samuel was going to say something, that would have lead the conversation down the wrong road, so he quickly intervened. “You were saying?” Samuel looked slightly confused, as if he was racking his brain for the next thread of something important. “The story that the traveller told you,” prompted Nick, trying both to help the old man and learn something potentially useful. “You were telling me about when he was passing The Ravens Gate.”

Suddenly, Samuel’s brain visibly clicked back into gear and he stiffened slightly at the remembered memory. Simultaneously, as his body became rigid, he jerked backwards into the cold light and for the first time, Nick could see the damage that many years of living a homeless existence had wrought upon him. In this grey luminescence, he appeared to have aged considerably and his ’bank buddy,’ now looked ninety years old, although Nick knew from his life story he was somewhere in his fifties. Samuel, stared straight ahead, lost for a minute, so Nick gave him another nudge and repeated,

“The Ravens Gate Bridge, remember?” he said with an insistent edge to his voice.

It was as if a radio had been suddenly switched on and almost instantly, Samuel set off telling his story once more, without hardly missing a beat.

“Anyway, he said that it wasn’t yet dark enough for him to stop for the day, so as interesting as it was, the dead edifice would have to ’remain a mystery for a little while longer’ and he walked on. Explaining that he was 'just quietly passing through’ and 'had only taken a few steps out of the deepening shadows beyond the darkly stained bridge, back into the fading light’, when he became aware of a 'panicky feeling,’ that was overwhelming him. Although, he was out in the open air, he said it felt, ‘as if he were shut in somewhere’ and 'his hair stood on end,’ as he felt he was ‘being watched.’ Next, came this acute sense, where he got the impression, that he was being followed’.”

Samuel paused again here, Nick recognised this was not easy for him but after taking the time for a few deep breaths, he continued in the manner of an accomplished raconteur.

“For reassurance, he placed his hand inside the top of his jacket and gripped the handle of the knife, he always carried there, hidden close to his heart. He quickly turned and looked back, into the mirk but saw nothing. 'It’s just this time of year with all it’s cold vibes,’ he said trying to reassure himself and then turning again, resumed his journey. He had gone no more than twelve paces, when the sound, of what seemed to be an injured bird, with a broken wing caught his attention. It came once again, from 'somewhere behind him’, so he stopped again and looked back down the canal bank. Again, there was no one and nothing to be seen. So, once more he reprimanded himself ‘Get a grip’ and he strode on his way down the bank. He was trying to figure out where the troublesome sounds were coming from. As the dark presence of The Ravens Gate Bridge, fell away behind him and the ancient outlines of the old Jenkins’ Hollow Walkway slowly drew closer, he became aware, of just how isolated this area was. As he walked towards the ancient stones that made up the Jenkins’ span, he again thought, that he saw something in the corner of his eye on the opposite bank. He stopped again and looked into the fading twilight, at the other side, but once more, it appeared there was nothing there.

"'Perhaps he was hallucinating? Some poisoned hooch, or maybe that pie he ate earlier? ’For god’s sake, stop being so jumpy, pull yourself together, there’s only you on this fucking towpath right now’ he told himself and headed off down the bank, towards the rising glow of the streetlights at Barton basin, as night fell.”

“Then, out of nowhere, he thought he could hear the sound of footsteps behind him, but he wasn’t going to fall for that one again. If this kept up and he halted and peered over his shoulder, every time he detected a random sound, he would never make it to Barton before the light faded completely. He recalled another time, where due to his tardiness the rapidly enveloping dark, had led him to spend a rather ‘aromatic’ night, just inches away from a fetid pile of dog muck, which when he had opened his eyes the next morning, was the first and only thing that he could see. The memory of that event, made him grin, ’Just six inches to the left and that would have been my pillow for the night.’"

"However, remembrances of narrow escapes, were soon forgotten along with any trace of a smile, when he heard distinct scraping sounds coming fast towards him from behind. He turned his head quickly and peered into the darkening twilight. This time, there was distinctly something there, approaching swiftly in the growing gloom. On first sight, it appeared to be made up of tattered and torn cloth, flailing in the breeze but whatever it was, he did not wish to encounter it in the fading light. He began to move, a little faster now, almost at a trot. Then, after a few more paces, he stopped again, turned and squinting into the mirk, he thought that he could make out what he could only describe as 'a bundle of rags writhing and spinning wildly,’ as it closed on his position. He had seen more than enough and he started to run. He didn’t know what this ‘thing’ was and he didn’t want to find out either."

"Something in his head screamed danger. It was fight or flight. His instinct was to run but as he took the first steps on his flight from 'god knows what,’ another insistent voice appeared inside his mind, thin and imploring him to 'stop and wait.' He hesitated, 'What the hell was this thing and where could he run to escape it?’ Then he looked at the stones of the Jenkins’ Hollow Crossing and just ran, as fast as his tired legs would carry him towards it, as if it was somehow reaching it would save him from his swirling dark nemesis, fast overwhelming him from behind.”

“The muscles in his legs were burning, he struggled to breathe, spitting saliva from his throat. His heart pounded and sweat trickled down his face, as he strained every sinew but he could go no faster and 'the monster,’ that was ‘coming to get him’, was gaining with every second that passed. It was just a matter of time before it caught him."

"'Stop, stop now,’ the thin sharp voice in his head commanded him. 'Stop now,’ it screeched, ripping through his mind ’like an icicle’. Gripped with terror, he could feel it’s whirling dark presence just yards behind, he could smell it and it ‘smelt like death.’ Running blind now, with the ‘thing’ shrieking in his mind for him to ‘Stop!’ he reached the old Walkway. He could run no more. His lungs, were bursting, he couldn’t take another step, so, as he passed the far wall of the crossing he faltered and then, simply stopped and with his last force of will, he drew his knife and turned to face his pursuer.”

“As he stopped and turned, he ducked, so as to avoid any swinging weaponry, that might be intended to strike him on the head. No blow came and he quickly raised his eyes to focus on 'the monster’ that was chasing him. There, about ten feet away, was this creature, that appeared to be 'moving to its own soundtrack. ’As he looked at it, the swaying, swirling creature appeared to stare back at him from beneath a kind of hood. It seemed it was unable to move any closer, it kept on moving towards the edge of the bridge, then retreating, as if it had reached ’some kind of forcefield or unseen barrier.’ He claimed that the 'swirling and swaying creature, appeared to almost dance in and out of phase, to some soundless music only it could hear.’ He continued to watch, as 'the monster lashed futilely with it’s long boney ‘fingers’ towards him but did not approach."

"Slowly, he realised he was safe, then in an act of sheer bravado, he took a step closer to ‘it,’ just to see how it responded. The frustrated shrieking, once again pierced his mind, then the voice was imploring him to 'step a little closer,’ to it. He could feel himself being almost hypnotically drawn towards the dancing creature but then, his own mind shouted ‘Stop!’ and he snapped back away from it, turned and made his way as fast as he could, beyond the reach of 'that monster’.”

With that, Samuel shut up about the goings on along the canal bank and just sat there, on the towpath’s edge and scratched his head.

“That’s about it. That’s all I know. After the bloke, had told me that tale, he just stood up and headed for his bunk. Then, as he was moving slowly away, he told everyone gathered around, he was 'leaving tomorrow and going to the coast.’ When I woke up in the morning, he’d gone, I never heard a fucking thing.”

Nick was both intrigued and enthralled, by the fluidity of Samuel’s recanting of such a weird story. This warranted some further investigation. In gratitude, he felt that he should offer Samuel another joint. Nick, reached for the silver case and withdrew two impeccably rolled ‘Joints’ from his Cheroot holder. He offered one to Samuel, who accepted it with another of his broad smiles and the remaining one, he placed between his own lips. Later, he would call ‘altorro’ to relate this story and see what he made of it. Nick secretly felt that Samuel had told him something very important to this dark mystery. However, right now, he had some serious relaxing to do, with an old friend of his.

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