Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 28

The tetrapack structure creaked and flexed, as Mason strained to prize off the top. He slid his penknife around the lid and levered again.

“It’s worse than a can of paint,” he grunted as he put in one last effort to free the lid and expose the interior. Suddenly, the top gave up it’s struggle and popped up, accompanied by a loud hissing sound. They all jumped as one, at the unexpected noise, released by the breaking of the seal. Then Mase, firmly grasped hold of the loosened lid and removed it. They all stood there and curiously, looked down into the open casket, not knowing, what they would see. There, below them, was another perfectly preserved body, looking back up at them.

“Jesus, it’s still got it’s eyes,” murmured Jinx. “How’s that possible and look at the face.” Inside the plasticated coffin, there lay the body of a screaming petrified man. He had, very obviously been stabbed several times and then for good measure, had his throat savagely cut.

“Wow,” squeaked Melissa, this is just like those first two women’s bodies, that came in a while ago.”

Jinx, now butted in, “You mean Debra Foxx and Eleanor Ross, and not forgetting those other two unfortunate Policemen. They were all killed, by a perpetrator that for the moment, we’re calling Powderfinger but more’s to the point, those murders took place a mere few months ago and these poor beggars, have been lying underground and forgotten, for anything up to four hundred years.” Then, to salve her own curiosity, she added, “I think that we should open at least one, or maybe two more, purely to look for more evidence, you understand.” Jinx, then rapidly moved over to the next casket and called for Mason, to “remove this one’s lid next and let’s have a gander at the resident.” Mason, was only too eager, to carry out this latest set of instructions so didn’t need much encouragement, as he hurriedly strode along the line of caskets.

When he reached the one, that Jinx was resting her hand upon, he paused, then quickly sliced the tape and bent over, hoping to locate a favourable position to apply some leverage. This one, was easier to prize the cover loose and Jinx, was just in the motion of reaching down to remove the cover, when she stopped herself. She had just realised, that she was half dreading the outcome of her next action, in case she was about to discover this was another body in the same condition, as the last one. What about all the other caskets.........What if they, were also, all in a similar state as the first one they had opened.

Then what were her team supposed to do? Despite her reservations, this was not something that could be put off forever and so, she reached down and took a firm grip on the lid of the casket and steadily lifted it clear.

Once the interior conditions were revealed, their eyes were met by a chillingly familiar vision, the face was contorted into a fearsome grimace and the disturbing pale dead eyes where just staring upwards, as if appealing to a higher power for salvation. This time, the throat had not been cut, there was no need for overkill because this deceased soul, had a clean hole in the head. Something had entered the skull, apparently from the front and exited at the rear. The hole, was about the size of a musket ball and had cut a clean path into this persons skull but had caused no greater damage on exiting at the rear.

There were the same tell tale residues of powder around the wound. Besides the throat not having been cut, there was very little, if any difference between bodies one and two. Both corpses, appeared to be stuck in their own time. Their clothing, though dusty, was in pristine condition and as to why, their skin and eyes was still intact, though desiccated was anybody’s guess.

Melissa, busied herself cutting off small sections of the corpses clothing and carefully placing the samples in separate bags, for testing later, comparing their wounds, seeking to find some similarities, in the means of their gruesome deaths. Unbidden, Mason was now attempting to get into the next of the anonymous caskets. He, was finding this exercise strangely invigorating and had by now, somewhat got the knack of this sarcophagus opening operation.

Every casket that he opened, produced a corpse, who’s condition appeared to have been frozen almost at the moment of their demise. The team, had developed quite an efficient routine by number three and the others,just followed easily. Mason, would lift the coffin lid and place it to one side of the box and then, move on to the next one in the line.

Jinx and Melissa, would then peer in, inspect the corpse and take samples and photographs, while Mason exposed the next body for them to view. This routine went along fine, until number five was opened. They heard the lid come off and then they heard Mason summoning them.

“Come and look at this one,” he called urgently, which caused them both to stop in their tracks and straighten up.

“What is it?” said Jinx, while Melissa just stood there motionless, waiting for his answer.

“Come and see,” he said again but more insistently this time. “Look at this one.”

When she approached the open coffin, Jinx, could somehow tell that this one, was a little odd. It was the smell around the body, that had changed. Gone, was the scent of violent death and it had been replaced by a musty smell, not dissimilar to that more commonly detected in old houses, where the occupant had passed away some months previously. This last corpse, smelt of solitude and Lily of The Valley, rather than the rank odour, that was created by the dry sweat of dread, that the others had portrayed. Below them, in the final sarcophagus, that Mason had just opened, lay a skeleton, which had a garland of felt Roses on its head and that was all. Obviously, somebody had once cared for this individual and Jinx, who was often prone to a touch of over sentimentality, felt a twinge of sadness about this last one of the burials from the unconsecrated ground, opposite Quaker Bridge. Any clothing that this individual may have worn, had long ago rotted away and now, there was just a pile of white bones, where there had once been a human being.

Upon observing the pelvis, Jinx surmised the skeleton was male, then added “I wonder what he did, to deserve being dumped in a shallow grave, on the wrong side of the towpath without even a headstone to mark his passing?”

Initially, Melissa had spent a little time with each newly opened casket, looking for the manner, of each of the individuals deaths and logging what she found but as the coffins were opened, with each revealing similar wounds and states of preservation, she had moved on to the next, more rapidly but this latest one, stopped her progress in its tracks. “We’ll need a sample of this one for the purposes of comparison.” She said to Jinx, when she had set eyes on the skeleton. “It shouldn’t be too hard to date this one ’cos, as you can see, it’s patently obvious, he was a ‘Dead Head’.”

Mason, almost choked himself laughing at that irreverent comment and Jinx, instantly snapping out of her melancholia, laughed along with him. “So, what do you reckon, Woodstock, or Acid casualty?” She laughed. That moment of levity, broke the spell, that the bizarre corpses had cast on the trio.

“Anyway, when you’ve stopped laughing Mase,” Jinx said, waving her hand at the array of bodies, “Could you take some samples off all these folks and make sure they get off to The University, this afternoon.” She paused and then added, “We might be onto something important here, good work people,” she said, still smiling at Melissa’s irreverent observation.

As she was leaving the refrigerated area, Melissa turned to Jinx and intriguingly said, “I think, that we may already have the weapon, that we are looking for. I gave it to Mason months ago, when Eleanor Ross came in. Remember?”

Oh yes, she remembered all right but didn’t wish to broach that subject right now.

Right now, Nick was still at work and his priority, was to write two reports for The Magistrates Court. One, concerning a reported breach of bail conditions, by Danny Talbot, which would most likely end with a slap on the wrist and a warning concerning his future behaviour. The second, was much more serious. That one concerned the re-arrest and subsequent theft charges being pressed against Bernard Townsend, a long term, often troublesome inmate. This one, was going to prove to be the more difficult of the pair, to craft any defence or cause for mitigation, that might be accepted by The Magistrates. This, is where his job got hard.

Danny, was an itinerant “tea leaf” and Nick was fully aware Danny’s self righteous defence of his actions would be;

“I can hardly be held responsible, if stores made the items look so damned appealing.” Sometimes, he thought, “This was not an occupation for the sane,” but that was not going to get this report finished and he must knuckle down to the days duties. He was just about to start writing the less serious and therefore easier of the two reports, when Mary, stuck her head round the office door to enquire if there were any more toilet rolls, or did the little darlings, need to be told to, “be careful with the tissue when polishing their precious little arses, or it’ll run out.”

That was guaranteed to create havoc in the hostel. Tell them something like that and they would be throwing the stuff out of the upstairs windows, before you could count to ten.

“That’s all we’ve got to play with and they won’t be delivering any more, until tomorrow afternoon” retorted Nick. As she was walking away, he called out. “Don’t mention it to any of them, or you know what the buggers will do and it won’t be me who’s cleaning up the mess! So keep it under your hat.” Nick, thought that he heard Mary snort, in reply to his request for secrecy as she went through the swing doors into the kitchen area, for her mid morning break.

He liked Mary, she was something of a force of nature and always spoke her mind, no matter what the subject matter was. She would openly converse with the members of staff and Nick, found her approach refreshing to say the least. In ‘Maryworld,’ spades were always spades, never shovels and all proper shoes, had 4 inch heels but fantasising about her legs, soon faded away, as the comforting smell of toast began to infiltrate the office.

Normally, as the smell from the kitchen reached his nostrils, his stomach began doing somersaults but today, he wasn’t hungry and he just viewed this intrusion, as an aromatic distraction. Dismissing its seductive charms, he preferred to carry on with the reports.

Having made, an impassioned plea for the continued liberty of Danny Talbot, he was now stuck in a mentally empty room. Danny, had been easy to write positively about, he was a gentle soul, who had the misfortune to have been born on the wrong side of the tracks to absent and alcoholic parents. Bernard Filton Townsend III, to give him his full name, was a completely different matter. Born into a good upstanding family, he had gone off the rails at a very early age. What had begun as an occasional chocolate bar lifted from the local newspaper shop, which his Father quietly paid for later, had blossomed into stealing the lead off church roofs and car theft.

“How to guild this Lily,” Nick thought, as he looked out of the office window at the clouds floating past in the sky. He was seeking inspiration but none was coming. So, remembering what he had been told by his first Proby boss “If you can’t think of anything positive to say, then settle for the truth.” Perhaps, a little twee but that old one had never let him down, so he could live with the consequences of using it again. It was not often one of the inmates elicited such negative passions but Berny3, as the other lads derisively called him, managed it. He’d had everything a boy could possibly want, laid on the proverbial plate before him and he blew it all away. He had money, a bright red convertible sports car, several girlfriends who all dreamed of being super models, plus a pair of extremely handsome Vymirana dogs, which didn’t like him very much but then again, who did?

Nick, began the report with all the usual platitudes such as, “Bernard, would benefit from a period of stability in his life, which the hostel life may provide for him,” and so on but quickly ran out of half truths and finished with, “to be honest, I think that sometimes he simply does not care.” Nick, looked down at the second report, on Berny3, picked it up again and re-read it. “God man,” he gasped, “Is this the best that you could come up with?” It had taken so long to complete and turned out so condemnatory. He realised how disinterested he was in this report. Nick, now was questioning his perverse interest in Mary’s legs and wether this was indeed, the right job for him at this point in his life?

“Questions, questions,” he muttered, more as a distraction for himself, than a serious point. He had been party to these kind of thoughts before and previously he just wrote them off as “the normal misconceptions of a tired mind” but nowadays, the idea of resigning from his position in The Probation Service, was increasingly inviting.

These days, Nick realised that criminals were not as interesting as History and on top of that, he had his aging Mother to worry about. She had increasingly, been taking up more of his time and considerations about any future plans. He needed to see Alan and explain this dilemma to him, maybe he’d have some good ideas. Plus, he really needed some help co-ordinating his notes on the Powderfinger investigation. Holding down his position at St. Joe’s during this staff shortage, was exhausting him and it was interfering with his efficiency, on every level.

“I just need more hours in every day,” he desperately said to himself and then, let his head droop into his waiting hands with a sigh.

“Would you be wanting a cup of strong Coffee, Nicolas, you look like you could use one?” said a soft Irish voice, which came from the direction of the door. He turned his head to reply to the question.

“Where have you been all my life, Mac. I’d love one, thanks.” With that surprise interruption, he snapped out of his lethargy and reached for the phone.

“Why let the moment pass,” he said and dialed altorro’s work number. Whilst he waited for him to answer, he neatly folded the two reports and carefully sealed them in their individual envelopes, readying them for dispatch to the Magistrates Court.

“Hello, Alan Turnbull here. How may I help you?” said a disembodied tinny voice, that sounded as if it were coming through a tannoy system. “Hi Alan, this is Nicks. We need to meet over a drink, or something. How does tomorrow evening sound to you?”

Alan, was hoping that Nick, would phone and quickly answered his friend’s enquiry, in the positive. “Sorry I’ve been quiet for so long man but I’ve been somewhat involved, in the excavating of the old graveyard, next to the car park, behind the hostel. I kept meaning to give you a bell but you know how it goes.” Then added, “How do you fancy, The Black Dog, after your shift tomorrow? I’ll be finishing early, so, how does six o’clock sound to you?”

It sounded fine to Nick and he happily confirmed it. Now, there were just another few hours to successfully negotiate before he could get home and continue to research Samuels’ story. Tomorrow, hopefully he would get something and give something of an update on any data, regarding their mutual friend, “Powderfinger,” with altorro. This may have been, a conspiracy of the willing but it seemed to Nick, that at the moment, all the others in the cabal were just doing their own thing. It felt like nothing was being constructively co-ordinated and that, he was going to change.

The next day, during the afternoon, in that still period, when the clocks seemed to be going backwards, Nick, buried himself in the tedious routine duties, that kept the life of the hostel running smoothly which passed the time quickly. So speedily in fact, that Nick, was genuinely surprised when at ten past five, Beryl walked into the office with her usual chirpy greeting. During this continuing period of staff shortage, a certain flavour of black humour had grown up, and Beryl was a master of it.

“Hi Nick. Bye Nick. Anything good happened?” and before he could speak, she hit him with the rejoinder, “Of course not. What was I thinking?” He tried not to respond to her goading and calmly walked out of the office. However, as he was closing the door, Nick could not resist having a gentle go at his colleague and muttered,

“Infamy. Infamy. They’ve all got it infamy,” just loudly enough for her to hear as he walked towards the main entrance. Then, as he opened the heavy wooden front door, he could hear her not so generous and rather loud response.

“Oh bugger off, Nick. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He smiled, as he was approached “Deke,” and glancing down at his wrist watch, he figured, that he had fifty minutes to drive down the road to “The Black Dog,” go inside, sit down and wait for Alan. This seemed like a good opportunity to pull over by the cemetery and smoke a quiet joint before his meeting. He parked Deke under a tree with a pleasant view of the Quaker Crossing and pulled out his cheroot holder, removed a joint and before lighting up, wound down the window. As he drew in the calming smoke he hit the recline button and slowly slid backwards in the comfort of Dekes leather seat and listened to the soothing sounds of Ianaudi on her stereo.

Twenty five minutes later, still early for his meeting, Nick sauntered in to “The Black Dog”, ordered two cognacs, drank one at the bar then took the other to a secluded seat in the lounge. 'Altorro,’ was also a little early for the meeting. Nick, was just sitting back, slowly tapping out the beat of the song, on the sound system watching silently, as Alan breezed into the softly lit lounge, walked straight up to the bar and ordered what appeared to be a double shot of his favourite, twelve year old single malt whisky and just downed it in one. Then, having obviously considered it, ordered another. It was only as he picked up his second drink, that he turned to locate a good position for him and Nicks, to discuss the “Powderfinger,” case. He had chosen “The Dog,” as it had a totally different atmosphere to “The Barn,” where they’d met for their first reunion drink and it was just across from the Toll House.

As he turned, his eyes into the main body of the lounge, he spotted Nick, who was trying to look as if he hadn’t seen Alan downing his Whiskey.

“Nicks man, I didn’t see you sitting there. What’s your poison?” Altorro called out. Nick, looking at Alan’s hang dog expression, laughed out loud.

“Wow, what’s up with you, by the look on your face, I’m guessing Gladys has failed her boiler test!” Alan scowled momentarily, he was simply unable to contain his weariness and disappointment,

“How did you guess? Damn it man, we’ve worked so hard......” He put his own drink down on the table top and turned back towards the bar, stating, “Double Cognac, if I’m not mistaken?” Nick, nodded and Alan slowly, set off on his quest for refreshment, with a certain resignedness. When he returned, Alan was carrying a tray with two of everything on it. Besides the drinks, he had managed to acquire some packets of crisps, two bags of Pork Scratchings and a rather wearisome looking Pork Pie, which was purely for his own consumption.

This thing Alan had about Porcine flesh, wrapped in an unappetising pastry, suspended in a gelatinous substance, had begun when they were both attending Grammar School. One of their fellow Sixth Form students, Ray Lewin, a rather small nervy kid, had quite by accident, discovered this particular little gem of a bakery, “Granny”s Kitchen,” and purchased one of their pork pies for lunch. On returning to school,the memory of the pie still remained on his tongue and he spent the next fifteen minutes, waxing lyrically about the attributes of “Granny’s.” His description of the Pork Pie, was so poetic and delivered with such conviction, that Alan, had sworn to one and all present,

“That tomorrow, he would check out this apparent ‘Shangri-La of Pork’ and give a more balanced report, to the other students.” He was not going to solely take Ray’s word for it. He was going to have to check this place out, for himself. From that one moment of rather rash decision making, had grown Alan’s fascination with Pork Pies and his stomach. What had started out, as a single pie and a can of fizzy pop ‘habit,’ had grown out of all proportion so by the end of the year, it was a full blown six pies and a bottle of Lucozade sized monkey, that was sitting on his shoulder. Now, it seemed, all these years later, the good old Pork Pie, was still playing it’s part in Alan’s middle aged life.

He sat down and took a small sip of his Whiskey, picked up one of the packets of crisps and stuck a large handful of the things into his mouth. Nick, could see that here was his chance, while Alan was crunching his crisps.

“While you were out there, in that graveyard digging away, I was going through my notes, trying to co-ordinate all the info, that I have gathered at Peel Park.” On hearing this, Alan, stopped crunching and looked over at Nick, plainly expecting more. “Listen, I think I may have come across something very interesting in connection with this “Powderfinger” case.” His statement got very little noticeable interest, as Alan was too busy clearing away a veritable storm of potato chip crumbs from around his mouth.

“Sorry Man, I missed a lot of that, some idiot, had put a load of crisps in my mouth and was making me eat them. Sorry.”

So, he tried again and raising his voice a couple of decibels. “Powderfinger, remember?” Alan, was now looking distinctly chagrined. “From my research, it appears he’s got a definite range of operation and it’s between Balaclava Bridge and Jenkins’ Walkway. Outside of that reach, it seems, that he may be impotent.”

Alan, stared at Nick, and squinted. “Impotent?” Nick, saw his point.

“O.K, bad choice of words but you get the idea?” Alan, nodded and he was now paying full attention to Nick’s every word. “Are we sitting comfortably?” Nick, facetiously asked. “Then I’ll begin,” he added, then clearing his throat with a generous gulp of his Cognac, he began.

“About a week ago, I was told a story about something weird, that was going on near The Ravens Gate, involving this strange ragged entity, some big black birds and Jenkins’ Walkway.” During the next thirty minutes, Nick, told Alan the tale, that had been spun for him, by Samuel and his subsequent corroborating research. When he had finished, Alan began his critique.

“Great story again, man. I liked the bit where the ball of rags, was talking to the guy, great stuff.” Then he continued, “This Samuel guy, sure can’t half spin a good one but where’s your evidence, that it was indeed “Powderfinger,” that the tramp came across that day?”

He’d thought about all of this stuff, whilst he sat waiting by Quaker Crossing and countered Alan’s point with one of his own. “I’ve checked it in the records and there are no similar killings, nor, has there ever been one reported, as having take place outside the range that I gave you.” He noticed that Alan, was silent and deep in thought about what he had just been told. Seeing this, Nick continued and emphasized the words, “Balaclava to Jenkins’........ That’s where we’ll find him. Somewhere between The Balaclava Bridge and old Mr. Jenkins’ Walkway.”

Alan lifted his eyes from the hob nailed table and looked earnestly at Nick. “That’s all very interesting but there is no real proof, of anything, in what you’ve just told me. We’ll need a lot more meat, if anything is to come from all this speculative conjecture.”

He then fell into another thoughtful silence, before adding, “Although, we did uncover some very strange looking bodies from the dig in the old cemetery, opposite the Quaker’s Crossing.” A heavy silence hung in the air, for a few moments, until he continued.

“Do you remember the pair of corpses, I originally rang you about?” Then, after observing Nick nod, he paused then added, “They were oddly........joined.” He stalled again at that point and he seemed to be having trouble finding the correct words, with which to describe the sight which met his eyes, in that disturbed grave. “There’s no nice way to put this and for the the time being, you’re going to have to take my word for most of this but they were both screaming and appeared, to be fused at the chest.”

Nick, just sat there in silence for a moment or two, until Alan spoke again, his voice conveying a spookily wondrous edge. “You should have seen their faces, the terror was almost palpable and the preservation of the bodies, was plain unnatural. They must have been in the ground for hundreds of years and should rightly have been skeletons but they weren’t. They looked, as if they had been flash dried and their clothes........ Jesus man, their clothes, appeared to be almost new. There was just a slight dusting on the surface, that’s all there was. I’ve never seen anything like it and that’s not all,”

Nick, simply sat there wide eyed at this further information from Alan.

“We pulled out five other cadaver’s, four of which showed similar wound patterns and were in a similar state of preservation, including the terrified scream. Only one, had been reduced to skeletal remains.” He paused to assess the impact of his words, then continued, “Officially, they’ve all been sent to The Morgue, for storage and possible identification before being given back to The Quaker’s, for what has been spoken of, as a Christian burial.”

Now it was Nick, who was paying more attention. “You mean, the bodies are in protective custody?” Alan nodded slowly. “Can we get them dated, so that we can see if there’s any corroborative evidence?”

Alan, looked at Nick and a smile flickered across his lips. “Bloody hell, you sounded just like a Cop then, Mr. Findlay, must be rubbing off on you.”

Nick, laughed, sank the remainder of his Cognac in one go and said, “Same again,” as he moved towards the bar.

“Yeah, why not, you only die once,” Alan flippantly retorted, as he stretched his arms towards the ceiling and grunted. That one small quip, changed the tone of the evening and now they could act like two old friends, rather than co- conspirators.

Nick, brought their drinks back to the table with him and sat down on his seat again.

“It’s just a suggestion but how do you fancy, another meal round at my place?” Alan, noticing his friend’s amenable response, saw this, as a green light and he allowed himself, to continue with his promotion of his idea. “It seemed to work well last time and it think we all need, to meet regularly to pool our information.”

Nick, gave the concept a little thought but saw nothing intrinsically wrong with that suggestion and nodded his consent. “Yeah, O.K. Why not, it’s not much of a black project, if the conspirators never meet, now is it?”

He suggested, that they meet, a week on Saturday. If he could persuade Alan to give him some help with the report, they should have it finished by then.

“You know, I could really use your help sifting the piles of info, that I got from Peel Park, you’re so good at this stuff....” he said and laughing, nuzzled his shoulder.

“Does that kind of shit, really work with the women these days, or do you want to have your wicked way with me, later?” enquired Alan. The mouthful of cognac he was just preparing to swallow, was magically propelled, down Nick’s nostrils and hit the carpet, at a rate of knots. Barely able to contain his own laughter, Alan struggled to say anything lucidly but he did manage to splutter, a few semi coherent words, which Nick understood to be, “No problem, glad to be of service.”

However, they could in fact, have been anything at all and perhaps, he just wanted to have heard those words. Alan, was on a roll now, so Nick, just took another large sip of his Cognac and waited for altorro, to continue. He did not have to wait long.

“Now we’ve got the dig over, my evenings are free for a while. Why don’t you come round tomorrow, after work and we’ll start sorting it out.” Nick nodded his agreement enthusiastically with a mouthful of crisps of his own to contend with.

Alan, looked as if he was invigorated by the whole clandestine thing. He’d not had this much fun, introduced into his life, unbidden as this was, since his days in the Sixth Form and the revolutionary zeal, which had been manifest itself in, “Bizz, Wank, Turd,” the short lived student rag he had been involved in writing with Nick’s assistance, all those years ago. Alan was buzzing and that sense of excitement, could clearly be seen in his eyes and heard in his voice. Nick though, was not so effervescent. Not only, would he be finished in the Probation Service, if this ’Powderfinger’ conspiracy got out, but he’d also noticed, that lately, he was distinctly feeling desperately lonely.

For the first time in years, the hole in his life, put there by the untimely death of Joanne, was really hurting him. It was all very well, throwing yourself into your work and doing as much good as you possibly could for other people, but eventually that particular ice, wore very thin indeed and right now it was starting to crack. In an attempt, to distract his mind from these melancholy thoughts, Nick looked over to the bar and eyed up the scant gathering of office workers and Sales Reps, who were frequenting The Black Dog, today.

"Hmm, not very inspiring,” he muttered to himself and turned his concentration to one of the few other customers, that were in the place at this time of day.

“A penny for them,” said Alan, who had noticed his old friend getting increasingly distracted by this pretty impressive looking blond, who apparently, had no idea she was being observed. Now it was his turn to sound like the knowledgable one at the ball,

“Her name’s Jennifer, she works at Baker, Kelley and Wallis’s, you know, the architects place in town and she’s very choosy.” Then pouring on the melodrama, he added with over zealous arm gestures, “Many men have tried but all have fallen by the wayside in their pursuit of the fair lady but be not afraid, ye may be that Prince she is seeking.” Alan, now had a huge stupefying grin slapped all the way across his face.

“It’s strange,” said Nick, intentionally changing the subject, “But the more searching of various old archives I’ve done, the more aware I am of the presence of the past and the more conscious I’m becoming of the future.”

Alan’s grin, faded a little and became more a look of growing confusion. “Run that by me again but this time, cut out all the comma’s and tell me what you really mean.”

Nick, lowered his head and stared intently, at the Red and Dark Blue swirls, that made up, the intricate pattern of the carpet. “I’m not sure, how to put this,” he said and paused for a while, before he continued with his train of thought. “I don’t know, it may have something to do with the time scale of this Powderfinger stuff, or it might be my Mother and the simple fact, that she’s getting older, despite me wishing and semi believing, that it’s somehow possible she isn’t. Then, I look at myself and see a lonely aging man, dying in his bed and nobody giving a damn, except maybe his trusty old dog.”

Alan, began playing a small imaginary violin and mimicking the sound of a bow string, being scratchily drawn across the invisible strings. “Fuck me, Man. How to bring everybody down. Rapid stylee, innit.” Said Alan, as he continued to saw through his imaginary Fiddle.

“O.K.” said Nick realising what he was doing. “Stop already, I get your point.”

Now it was Alan, who was being the earnest one and he casually swept his open hand, in the general direction of the afore mentioned Jennifer, who was still sitting there, opposite them looking demure, saying. “You need someone, Man. How many years haveyou been single?”

Nick, knew that he was correct. Since Joanne, all those years ago, there had only been one, or two short term relationships, more akin to holiday romances. The kind of two weeks of sweaty, clumsy sex and then, an equally awkward goodbye sort of relationship. Very unsatisfactory in their nature and it had become easier for him, to simply withdraw from the dating market and concentrate on his career.

Annoyingly, he knew that Alan, was again right and the lovely, Jennifer did indeed keep on looking in his direction and smiling. All the while, he was thinking, 'who on earth would want to spend their time, with a dope smoking, cognac drinking, music head for a partner?'

Alan then spoke, as if he was reading his thoughts and said, “You’ll never know unless you ask, now will you.”

That intervention, threw Nick a little and all he could offer in response, was a rather feeble, “You read minds now, do you?” as he took another sip of his Cognac.

Alan, who was by then exasperated, rose to his feet and sank the last slug of his Single Malt in one go. Then, after muttering something along the lines of, “Oh, for god’s sake, if you want something doing......” Marched over to Jennifer’s’ table, sat down and started, what appeared to Nick’s jaundiced eye to be a furtive conversation with her. It appeared to Nick, that there was an exchange of information on little bits of paper, which were carefully folded and safely tucked away. When he had completed his self appointed task, Alan leant over, gave her a peck on the cheek and then returned to his own table, sitting himself down, with what Nicolas viewed, as a certain sense of smug self satisfaction. Alan, who was very consciously ignoring him, waited for him to ask. Nick was not about to cave in, so Alan sighed and quietly retrieved the note from his pocket and handed it to Nick.

When he looked at it, he saw the piece of paper simply had a telephone number written upon it and below the digits, there was a brief inscription, which read. ’Give me a call, when you have the time to talk.’ It was signed, ‘Jen.’

“You see nothing comes to he who hesitates,” said Alan. “I informed her, that you quite liked her but were working on the Canal Murders case and were a little tied up at the moment,” He stated, “She seemed interested. We swapped numbers and there you go. Now it’s all up to you. The ball’s in your court, do what you like but just don’t fuck it up, before it takes wing.”

Nick, turned on his hard wooden seat and smiled at Jennifer, who was getting up to leave. As she passed by his table, she smiled, leaned over and whispered, “Make it soon, I’ll be waiting.” Then, the delightful Jennifer, proceeded to depart the premises. Nick, watched her as she moved towards the door and admired the sway of her hips, as she walked. When she reached the exit, Jennifer, turned and blew him a kiss, before she turned for home and disappeared from his sight.

“Wow, eh?” said Alan. “They don’t come much better than that, do they?”

Nick, was still stunned by this woman Alan, had just picked up for him. “Why?” He enquired, obviously puzzled.

“Well, what are good friends for,” said Alan, as he popped another crisp into his mouth.

Feeling that his duty, as an ‘old mate,’ was now completed, he abruptly changed the subject and the tone of the meeting changed. Alan, brought Nick crashing back down to earth again, by darkly interjecting, “I don’t want to worry you but you can see from my place, that the big black birds, have returned to The Ravens Gate. I noticed them, growing in numbers” and after a long sigh, he added, “Something bad is going to happen, trust me.”

Nick, sat silently and just looked at Alan. All thoughts of the lovely Jennifer, had left his mind, when Alan had spoken those ominous words. “How do you know,” he said questioningly?

“Call it a feeling. Call it intuition, call it whatever you fucking well like but it’s following a pattern I’ve seen before.” Now, he had got Nick’s full attention.

“You’ve seen this sort of thing before?” He queried.

“No, not exactly.” Said Alan, “I’ve seen this pattern of events pan out before, it always starts with a gathering of Ravens, and I can tell you this much, it never ends well.” Nick, just looked at him, and disbelievingly, shook his head.

“So what you’re saying is, this thing, isn’t over yet.”

Alan, returned his concerned look and simply added, “No, I don’t think so, not by a long chalk.”

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