Alex knew, so long as nothing unforeseen happened, the trip to Lower Barrow would take roughly 40 minutes. So, wanting to make a good impression, he left early to ensure he got there on time. No, it simply wouldn’t do to arrive late in a flustered state, this evening with Jaqui was too important for that. Years of admiring her from a discrete distance, had got him nowhere. Seemingly, all it had taken was a few murders, some strange mortal wounds on the corpses of the victims and the formation of a secret cabal, which was now, only inches away from acquiring a secret handshake, to bring them together. In the past he hadn’t often got to talk with her, privately or otherwise, for month’s on end. So now he wasn’t going to mess up this golden opportunity. He was on his way, to collect this long admired and desired female, to take her on their first date together.
His car sped rapidly through the light traffic, so he found himself at his destination rather early. Alex pulled over at the end of the lane which led to Jaqui’s abode, and checked the time. He sat, twiddling his thumbs, listening to some music on the car stereo and watching the clock slowly tick towards the appointed moment. He felt like some idiotic young man, attempting to hide from his girlfriend’s parents. “Stupid,” it undoubtedly was but “god, it’s still exciting,” even after all these years. As the time drew near, he drove onward and parked outside her home.
“Get a grip, you silly old fart. Get out of the fucking car, go knock on the door and see if Jinx wants to come out to play.” That small, amusing nugget of childish banter, made him smile internally but it failed to prevent, a nervous reversion to something resembling a spotty kid, who actually, knew nothing about women and was just winging it.
Another vehicle, sped past on the road to Askham Manor and almost made him jump out of his skin.
“Christ Almighty!” he said out loud and then, as the silence reasserted itself, he plucked up all his remaining courage. “What are you waiting for, get yourself out of this fucking car and go and knock on her front door!”
With that ’contentious’ issue settled, he checked himself out, in the rear view mirror, straightened his tie and confidently exited his warm B.M.W stepping out into the cool of the evening, only pausing briefly, to brush away a couple of non-existent flecks of dust from his jacket. Satisfied, that everything was as perfect as it could possibly be, Alex stretched out his arm and reached for the door bell.
Jacqui watched him fumbling around outside the door, through the ripples in the frosted glass. Smiling to herself, she took pity on poor old DCI. Findlay, whom at this precise moment, it seemed was incapable of organising a proverbial ‘piss up’ and opened the door before he had time to ring the bell.
“Hello Alex, I was starting to wonder, if you’d bottled it and I was going to have to spend another evening in front of the T.V, worrying about getting old.”
He tried to judge her eyes, was this an admonishment, or was it just Jinx, being utterly relaxed in his company? He hoped it was the latter, though surely she wouldn’t let her guard down that quickly? She was smiling at him and so he smiled back at her.
“Not a chance,” he answered self consciously. Falling back on good old gallantry he continued, “Would Madam, care to join me, for an evening of revelry?”
She blushed slightly and invited him inside. “Sit anywhere you like, I won’t be a minute, just a couple of things, that need doing and then, I’m all yours,” Alex, got an unexpected tingling, which ran all the way up his spine at her words. “You can pour yourself a drink, if you like but I’ve only got Vodka, Gin, or plain old Beer on the menu tonight,” she said, her voice occasionally fading to almost nothing, as she moved from room to room.
“Thanks but regrettably, no thanks,” he called out to her. “I think you’re forgetting, that I’m tonight’s designated driver. It wouldn’t look too good, if I got pulled up, on a drink driving charge, now would it?” He then, made a few small, almost derisory snorting sounds, as he pictured Connor Metcalfe, growing ever more progressively purple and jumping up and down on the spot, as he admonished him for drinking and driving.
Jaqui continued with her long range broken conversation and then, unexpectedly, she fell suddenly silent. Alex, noticed this and trying to subtly break the awkward moment, he enquired,
“Do you want me to pour one for you?” There was no response and then another,
“Hmmm,” could be heard emanating from the hallway.
“Should that be interpreted, as I don’t know, I can’t make a decision, or alternately, was that a yes?” he enquired.
“Hmm,” was again the reply but this time it came from the doorway, behind him. Now, he took this as a ‘yes’. Alex, holding on tightly to the Vodka bottle, mostly as a prop, turned his head to enquire, what her preference of aperitif was going to be.
As he was about to enquire, she suddenly moved a little closer and the soft light of the illuminating spotlights, caught her in it’s gentle glow and silhouetted her form, in it’s luminescence. That vision, cut him off in mid flow and he simply gawped at her. The glow behind her, highlighted only those things, that under normal circumstances, the eye might miss and which gave her a pleasing, etherial tone. He was unable to speak. Only when the spell was broken, as she passed beyond the scope of the dappled light and into the body of the lounge, did he get his senses back.
“Vodka, Gin, or maybe a beer,” he politely enquired? “It’s a bit early yet for the hard stuff, I think I’ll have a beer, but please, feel free to have some of that Vodka you’re cuddling?”
Alex, quickly put the bottle down on the table and self consciously looked in vain, for the Beer.
“It’s in the fridge, the desk next to the settee,” she stated, as if she could anticipate his next query. “I tend to find myself enjoying one, or two of life’s little delights, when I’m writing a report, or on those occasions, when it all gets a little too much and everything closes in around me. You know,” she said in a soft flat tone. “Sometimes, it all becomes simply too much for my soul to handle. I reckon, that most people, don’t realise, just how hard it is, to hold all that pain inside your head and stay sane.”
That was probable very true but thoughts such as those, were not exactly, appropriate for a first date scenario, so she quickly followed it with, “Make it a Grolsch, Alex.”
Alex, stood up and sauntered over to what appeared to be a small writing desk, located close to the settee. Investigate as closely as he may, he could not locate anything, that remotely resembled a fridge. Looking around, all that he could see, was a settee and a small writing desk.
“O.K, I give up. Where is it?” He waived his hand in front of his face, while pointing at the furniture which lay in front of him. “One leather settee,” he said and then nodded at the desk and pointed. “Plus, one small desk and no sign of a fridge.”
Jinx, was giggling as she approached him. “Press the top of the ink well, it doesn’t bite,” she instructed. This was obviously one of her party pieces. Alex duly obliged, reached over and did as she had told him, just like a little boy. He was genuinely intrigued and wanted to see the transformation, that some designer had invested considerable time and effort, to disguise a drinks cabinet as a desk.
The top of the ink well, offered little resistance to his enquiring fingers, it smoothly depressed allowing the blotting pad to slide away from the left hand side of the desk and a selection of German Beer bottles to rise mechanically from the interior.
“Wow, where did you get this thing from?” He asked and pressed the top of the ink well again, for good measure. It promptly, sank back into the desk top, taking the beer with it. “Bugger. Now what?” Jaqui, looked pityingly at this big policeman who was standing before her and was at a loss to figure out, even the most rudimentary matters of logic.
“What goes up, must come down again,” she added, while attempting to suppress another laugh. “Just press it again and stand back in amazement, as the beer reappears, before your very eyes.” She waved her hand with a flourish, like a magicians assistant.
Alex peered at the desk suspiciously and tentatively, reached over and pressed the ink well, for a third time. “Hey presto,” he squeaked as the beer bottles reappeared on the desk top. Quickly, he grabbed one of the glass bottles and an opener lying in the unused Bacolite ashtray, alongside the Corkscrew and a small see through holder, containing three, umbrella style cocktail sticks. The whole ensemble, was equipped with a mirror back which gave the impression, that the bar was of a greater size, than it really was. It was capped off, with it’s own discreet light, manually operated with a fine cord.
“Art Deco, Nineteen Thirties style, or what,” he observed and just smiled at her warmly.
“It was my Fathers pride and joy.” She said, wistfully. “He acquired it, from somewhere in Germany, during the last war and he left it to me in his Will, when he passed away.” She said, with a distinct sadness in her voice and she leant on him, as if she was seeking some form of solace in his touch.
Alex was now thinking involuntarily, about his Mother. All those tears she had shed for a man, who had simply walked out on her, leaving the infant Alexander to grow up, without a Father. He was getting distinctly emotional himself, amid all those memories and he felt an irresistible need, to put his arm around her shoulder and pull her closer to him.
Jacqui, did not resist. “Would you mind, if we stayed in tonight?” she whispered and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll phone for a couple of Pizza’s, if you like but tonight, I just want to be alone, with you.” Alex, was thinking exactly the same thing and silently nodded his agreement.
Alex poured out the beer then took another for himself and placed the glasses on the coffee table. They sat back on the settee and relaxed in each other’s arms, as Jinx clicked the remote and the Bose sound system began to play sweet music. After a short while Jinx heard Alex’s tummy rumble and jumped into action,
“Pizzas! What’ll you have Alex?” She punched in the relevant number and placed the order, then casually curled up on the settee pulling Alex’s more than willing arms around her. Ten minutes later, just as the silence of the evening, was beginning to cast it’s spell, there was a commotion, by the front door.
“Pizza, for a Miss Pinnock,” strained the unsure voice, from her intercom. “Your supper’s here Jaqui. Come and get it, or I’ll take it back,” threatened the owner of the voice, who was speaking, from within the darkness.
“You know him,” inquired Alex, as she reluctantly started to rise from her position of pleasure within his arms.
“Shit yes, you’d be amazed, how many Pizza’s I’ve eaten lately.” Alex watched, as she made her way to the front door and opened it to retrieve the food, that was sitting there. Having picked up the order, she turned back towards the darkness and called out.
“Thank you, David, tell your uncle Louis, that I’ll be in tomorrow after work, to settle the bill.” There was a faint cry, from down the roadway, that he thought was delivered in something resembling, Italian. Jaqui, then having closed the door, spun around to face Alex and after placing the giant Pizza box, on the table, retook her seat, by his side.
“Maltese,” she said, pre-empting his next question, as they were tucking into their food. “I pay monthly, it’s easier that way.”
Later, after the Pizza had been eaten, the two of them just sat on the settee, arm in arm, drinking beer and deep in thought. Alex, was the one who broke the contented silence pervading the entire room.
“This, has been the best night I’ve had for many a year. The company couldn’t be bettered, you look beautiful and I am honoured to be here with you, tonight.” He sighed deeply and continued, “This is simply magic being here, alone with you at my side, is way beyond my wildest dreams but there’s just one problem.”
At these words, Jinx, noticeably stiffened, as Alex continued. “I can’t seem to get this whole Powderfinger mystery, off my mind. I suppose, that my pride got dented and now two men are dead because of my inadequacy and in addition, just to make matters worse, there is nothing much, that I can do about it.” She looked at him and was about to offer some words of comfort and support but he hadn’t finished yet. “Unless I’m able to solve this case, it will be put on the back burner and quietly forgotten. How on earth, do I manage that, when nobody seems to care?” He looked out through the windows, into the darkness of the night outside and sighed. “Four murders and we’re no closer to apprehending any actual suspects.”
Jacqui, looked into his blue eyes and she could feel the pain. It was written all over his face. She reached out and touched his arm, “I care Alex. You can’t blame yourself, when your two ‘lads’ were murdered, you had no idea what it was you were dealing with. Thankfully, you have some clues now.” That statement got his attention and he responded,
“What clues are they, then?” She hadn’t yet shown him Melissa Gilbert’s photographs, of the terror stricken mummified corpses excavated from the old Quaker Cemetery. In addition, Alex had been reassigned after Nesbit and Draper went missing, so he never saw their similarly mummified bodies. Mason, had taken some pictures of the cadavers, which she had retrieved, along with the postmortem reports and included in the folder, that she was going to bring along to the meal on Saturday.
Jinx, had no intention of putting a “wet blanket,” on the evening and so she put her hand on his cheek and said softly, “Just wait until Saturday. I’ll make a full presentation then but, tonight is definitely for the living.”
Alex smiled and relaxed at the feel of her touch and the sound of her words. Anyway, what was another few days, in the great scheme of things. Nothing was likely to happen. “Let it go Alex” he said to himself as he drifted away on her scent.
“Would you like another beer, or do you want something a little stronger,” she said, as she walked over to the mini bar.
“No. No.” He uttered, as her hand, passed across the Spirit bottles. Another beer, will do nicely,” he added, as he distractedly watched her moving across the room, swaying her hips, in time to the music, that was gently pouring from the speakers. She returned with the drinks and sat down next to him. The room was bathed, in a soft glow, emanating from the period standard lamp and Alex let himself glide into the moment.
There was a deep silence in the room, lurking just behind the music and Jacqui, was seeking an opportunity to broach a rather delicate subject. The song, on the jukebox ended and she was getting tired of waiting for that perfect moment, which never seemed to appear. So, growing ever more impatient, she simply said, “This, is a tiny bit embarrassing for me to ask you and I’m completely out of practice but......” Then she paused, as if she were reaching below the surface, for some inner fortitude and plucking up the courage, that would be required, to withstand any rejection, she carried on. “Would you like to stay the night?”
Alex simply couldn’t allow this opportunity slip by. This was Jinx, the subject of many a man’s lustful daydreams, and she had just asked him, to spend the night with her, in such a way, that there was no question of Spare, or Sofa Beds coming into it. She wanted to spend the night, in the same bed, as him.
“Do you mean,” he said stutteringly, “because, if you do, then, it’s definitely, yes,” he spluttered and took another swig of his beer, to regain his composure. “My God Jinx,” he looked deep into her eyes “The answer has always been yes.”
She returned his gaze, then searched out his hand, held it tightly and rested her head on his shoulder, saying, “I was always afraid, that you’d say no, I suppose. I’ve not had all that many male friends, and I always did find it difficult to accept rejection, even as a schoolgirl. So, I put my heart and soul, into study and here I am.”
Alex, cupped her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. No words, were needed to express, what they both were feeling at this point, it was obvious. She then took the hand, that she was still holding, stood up led him out of the warm lounge and up the stairs. Alex, simply followed like a besotted puppy. He offered, absolutely no resistance. At this moment, he would have followed her anywhere. Nobody, had ever done this kind of thing to his senses before and he wasn’t going to complain now. Jacqui, led the way and he dutifully followed her lead, as she opened the bedroom door and they went inside.
“No more words,” she gently commanded with a finger on his lips, as she removed his tie and pushed him down onto the bed. She joined him on the mattress and they fell into each others arms again. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this,” she whispered tenderly in his ear and then kissed him softly, on his neck. On hearing this Alex, forgot his clumsiness and softly unbuttoned her blouse. From that point onward, everything became a blur and sometime later, his head hit the pillow, the world fell away and he slipped into a deep, satisfying sleep.
Some time during the early hours, Alex awoke suddenly and sat bolt upright. He looked around seeking some means of discovering, what time it was. This room, was not familiar and then he began to remember. He looked down to his side and there, sleeping contentedly, was Jacqui. His breathing, started to shorten,
“My god, man. Get a grip and pull your stupid head back together. That’s Jinx and she’s in bed with you,” he murmured quietly to himself, hoping, that she couldn’t hear his thoughts, in her sleep. Furthermore, he was remembering, that she had done most of the running in this scenario. It was her, who had taken the lead and now here he was, in the boudoir of the woman of his dreams.
'So why am I thinking about that abandoned black corrugated shed, at a time like this?' The building, that in his nightmare’s, was just a cavernous void, a gaping maw with it’s myriad shards of shattered light and of course, it’s horrendous black birds.
On the periphery of his vision, he registered that there was something in the room, that was moving. He looked up above his head, at the dancing dark silhouettes, that were playing across the ceiling of the room. Gnarled and cold, the shapes of the bare tree branches, danced noticeably in the stiffening breeze outside and played against the white light given off by a modern version of a Victorian Street Lamp. As he peered into the shadows, his eyes started to play tricks on his mind. The random flickering shapes began to form a corporeal essence and it was no longer a matter of shadows. Again, it felt as if he was almost reliving those moments inside the No.1 Shed at The Ravens Gate. He could feel the fear rising in his chest and a single bead of sweat, slowly ran down his brow and fell silently, onto the mattress. The drop of water falling, onto the sheet, brought Alex, back to his senses. He straightened himself up and stretched his back. Then, he spread his arms, like a crucified man and deeply inhaled two, or three breaths of the cooler night air and his troubled senses began to clear.
Alex, looked down at Jacqui, still peacefully sleeping in the warm bed and placed his hand on her hip. The conflict in his head was becoming impossible to cast aside.
Overwhelming feelings of guilt on the one hand, and on the other, his newly formed relationship with Jinx. In the dark of this night he realised, that he needed to resolve these murders, or they would haunt him forever and cast a shadow forever over his chances of happiness with Jinx. Outside, the once gentle breeze, had grown into an ever strengthening wind and the patterns on the ceiling, grew increasingly frenzied, as they lashed back and forth across their makeshift canvas. As he leant back and replaced his head on the pillow, he felt Jacqui stir and with that, after taking one last look at the macabre silhouettes, dancing furiously overhead, he closed his eyes.