When Nick finally arrived at The Old Toll House, all the others were about to tuck into Alan s extensive array of sandwiches.
“Sorry chaps but I had to take care of something at the hostel, before I could get away.”
“Nothing too serious I hope,” said Alex, sympathetically.
“No, it was just that one of the idiots, swallowed his false tooth and nearly choked,” said Nick. “Anyway, what have I missed?” Alex, being the instigator of this particular meeting and feeling the need to be the leader of the choir, jumped in.
“Nothing to worry your head about”, and then, in a voice dripping with conspiracy said, “I think, that we four, are the only people, who are capable of doing anything about this Powderfinger character. I tend to think, with the renovation work halted again, that if we don’t act soon, the chance will be lost and he’ll go back to sleep, until next time and then, one day it will all start over again.”
Arch and Nick, nodded their agreement but surprisingly it was Alan who commented, “Yes I concur, if somebody, doesn’t act on this ‘individual,’ we’ll be left waiting, for another murder to occur and who knows when that’ll be and I, for one, don’t fancy that option.”
They all knew, that he was right and offered no objections to his observations. This blunt approach by Alan, took Alex, Arch and Nick a little by surprise.
“I was having some thoughts, along similar lines,” interjected Nick, attempting to give the impression of having spent some time thinking about this extra get together. He needn’t have concerned himself with such considerations.
“Yes, we were just discussing the fracas around The Ravens Gate, last week, when you arrived,” said Alan trying to buy a little more time, for all his guests to marshal their thoughts.
“Normally, at this point, I would expect Arch, to say something like, 'How do you kill a ghost,’ or something equally pertinent but when it all comes down to it, that is the question we have to ask ourselves. More worryingly, that is also the enquiry, we have to find the answer to.” Said Alex, as he refilled his glass.
From behind them, came a voice saying, “Well, gentlemen, boring as it may sound, I feel that I have to ask you again, how do we set about killing a ghost?”
The other three conspirators, looked in the direction of the sound. “Bloody hell Arch, there’s nothing like stating the bleeding obvious! To think that, originally, I was attempting to keep you out of this one,” Alex, frustratedly retorted.
“Even you, must be aware that someone, could get badly hurt, or something even worse, trying to pull this one off and we haven’t even got a plan yet.” Arch, just stood there in his own laconic way and simply repeated, “Once again, I ask you all, how do we kill a ghost?”
It was Alan, who again spoke first and attempted to put into words, how the group were generally thinking. “Nick,” he said cocking his head in his direction, “Is the only one of us, apart from me, who’s sat down and read the whole of Constance Goodchild Diaries and he thinks he may have an idea. Don’t you?”
Nick, took a deep breath and attempted to put his arguments in some sort of cohesive form. “Constance, was aware of something, that she referred to as, ‘Her Spectre,’ following her, for years and yet, it didn’t kill her. Why not? I hear you ask. She knew of it’s existence, for quite a long time but it let her live. Why?” He suspected, that Arch, would have some pithy comment to make, so he left a convenient gap in his explanation and sure enough, he did not disappoint his audience.
“He fancied her,” came the jibe from DS. Deacon and not surprisingly nobody laughed.
Ignoring Arch’s comments, Nick carried on with his thoughts. “I suspect the reason he left Connie alone, was simply the fact that she never looked at him. She was a very humble, religious woman, who would always keep her eyes lowered in the presence of a stranger. I’m speculating that she never saw his face, until that fateful day, when she and her friend looked out upon the face of the 'Devil’ and screamed. Hence, they both died in a state of terror.”
While Arch and Alex, both looked directly at Nick as he told his tale, Alan, was sitting back, with both hands on his head, thinking. “O.K. So, we don’t look into it’s eyes and whisper a few sweet nothings in it’s ear. The pertinent question is still, how do we kill the damn thing. Any suggestions?”
A silence filled the void in the room. “The Apache’s believed, that if you didn’t acknowledge a spirit’s existence and you turned your back on it, the entity, would wither and die. Though I don’t think that would work here.....” said Nick, not holding out much hope, ignoring the problem was going to solve it. “It must be a corporeal being, at least some of the time. Otherwise, it couldn’t kill with such impunity and if it can kill us, then we can kill it, when it’s in that condition,” said Nick.
Alex, was impressed. “So what you’re saying is, that when it strikes at someone, it’s vulnerable?”
Nick, thought about it for a few seconds and then answered, “Yes precisely.”
Alex, interrupted his thought patterns again. “Not exactly, that’s just conjecture. We’re going to have to attract the thing first, before we consider killing it and more’s to the point, who, is going to be the sacrificial lamb in our little play?”
Nick, saw his point clearly and voiced his rising doubts. “Who‘s going to be daft enough to be our Matador, who will stand before the beast and strike while the iron is hot?” He said, as much to himself, as to the assembled group. Everybody realised that Nick was correct. Somebody, was going to have to risk being killed, in order, to defeat this creature.
“So what you’re really saying, is that when it takes on solid form, in order to kill, us, it’s vulnerable to our slings and arrows, as it were,” repeated Arch, “What if you’re wrong, Nick? Somebody, is going to die for no good reason. It’s simply a theory, a logical one I grant you, but still a theory, nothing more.”
Now it was Alan, who spoke for the first time in quite a while. “From all the reports I think he’s right. We can kill it but we will have to make our strike, just as Powderfinger is going to kill one of us. I believe it’s the only time it’s vulnerable.”
Alex, who was paying an unusually intense interest, in this talk of ending Powderfinger’s reign of terror, sought a little clarification at this juncture. “So we have to wait, until the damn thing is corporeal, before it’s vulnerable?” All eyes, turned to Alex.
“Yes,” replied Alan, “I read it in Nathaniel Jones’s original copy of Conny’s Diary.” The other three conspirators, looked up suddenly.
“Explain,” said Alex and waited for Alan to elucidate.
“Well, Mr. Jones, left the diary with me, open at a point in the index, where an Elder of the Old Faith, had made a note, regarding Powderfinger and although, he refers to it, as, ‘The Spectre,’ I’m fairly sure, that we’re talking about the same thing.”
Arch, was looking straight at him and again asked the obvious question. “How can you be so sure, from just a few words written in an ancient account?”
Alan, looked at his interrogator, trying to picture the exact words that he had read in the notes at the rear of Constance’s journal. “Granted, the writer describes ’The Spectre,’ as, now let me get this right, ’a creature of air and light, that slips off the eye’ but there is also a mention, of it dancing hypnotically before it’s victim, just as it is about to strike.” This point, was not lost on the gathering, as Alan continued. “The diary, also makes great play of the fact, that Powderfinger, has to enter our domain, in order to affect any changes.”
Arch nodded, his concession to these points, “Makes sense” he conceded. Alex considered what he had just heard, “That’s all very well but how do we know if we can trust his words, and more’s to the point how can we actually hurt Powderfinger?”
His inquiry,hung in the air, as the other members of the Cabal, considered the problem. Alan, was about to reply to this latest query, when Nick dived back in, with an unexpected statement of his own.
“I believe there is a method, that we’ll need to employ, if we are to have any lasting effect on the creature. In one of the Watchman’s reports, I came across the recounting of a very interesting confrontation with the ‘Spectre,’ or'Powderfinger’ as we’re calling him, near Balaclava Bridge. This event, is also documented in 'The Watchman’s Book.’ In it, there’s an account of a confrontation between one of the Gildabrooke Watchmen, a certain John Miller and something he described as, 'The Swirling Entity.’ I took it, that the location of this struggle, was somewhere along the bank, around about where we are right now.” He paused at this point in the tale and simply, peered out of Alan’s smoked glass window and let his eyes drift off down the waterway.
There was a growing heaviness in the lounge, as Nick resumed his telling of the ancient account. “The Watchman, on seeing that he was coming under attack, discharged his musket at 'The Swirling Entity.’ However, as the entity was swirling and I quote; 'In and out of this world’ at the time, the musket ball, passed straight through it.” Nick, could plainly see that Arch, wished to say something, at this point but deflected him with a raised palm.
“Then, as the hypnotic entity bore down upon him, it ’seemed to enter this world fully’ and in a desperate attempt to defend himself, the Watchman lunged at The Entity, with his bayonet, only this time, it struck something solid and the creature recoiled with a 'blood chilling scream,’ which was described by the writer as, ‘coming straight from purgatory’ and then it simply vanished.” Nick having imparted this bit of relevant knowledge, gleaned from the archives to his co-conspirators fell silent. Between them, they were now going to have to come up with a plan.
“So,” said Alex, “it seems like it does have a weakness after all.”
Nick looked at the assembled conspirators, but no one added anything more, so he continued. “In addition, there is a small scribbled note, in the index, that states the following, 'Because it is a creature of the air, it needs to breathe’. Take that as you wish but I think that indicates, that maybe in it’s corporeal form, we could drown it.”
It was Alex, who spoke first. “Balaclava to Jenkins,’ is easy to say but it’s quite a distance between the two and just supposing, we are dealing with the same thing, how do we lure it out of it’s hidey hole and then engage it in combat?”
Again it was Nick, who piped up. “Any changes to its environment, seems to bring it forth particularly a destructive change. There are several buildings, including that massive black No.1 Shed, that was left in the Raven’s Gate Works but I don’t think, that we want to go in there and give it, any more advantages, than it already has.” Then after giving it a little thought, he added, “The last thing we want to do, is give it space and come to think of it, darkness. We need Powderfinger out in the open, close to water, if we are going to do it any damage and get away from the encounter unharmed.”
His sombre words resonated in everybody’s ears but there appeared, to be no dissent amongst the group. So all that was needed now, was a few more details. This time, it was Alan who spoke first,
“Well chaps, we are in possession, of certain facts and now all that is required, is for us to put them into action. Firstly, we will need to settle on a date that all of us can agree to consider, as P. Day.”
There was a slight sound of chuckling, from the others, as he said that. “P. Day, where did you get that one from?” said Nick and he laughed out loud. “Nice one but I mean, P. Day,” he said.
“Enough merriment,” interjected Alex, sternly.
“Now let’s just get on with it,” chimed Arch, who was always ready to back his boss up.
“There’s a full moon next week,” added Alan, “there can’t be a more auspicious time than that. Well not according to Connie’s Diary, anyway.”
Now, Nick, was nodding. “Yes, it begins, next Wednesday. If the chronicles are right, when they say that Powderfinger, walks the towpath on nights with a full moon, then that would seem the ideal time to strike.”
Alex, silently acquiesced with a nod and simply said, “So, if we don’t act on this full moon, then it may be another month, or longer, until we get our next chance..........Hmm, I say that we go for it.”
Everybody agreed, Wednesday it was. “There are four of us and only one of him, so let’s do it,” said Alex determinedly. “All we require, is the way to attract him and the stuff to hurt him” and looking towards Nick and Alan, asked one simple question. “What did The Gildabrooke Watchman, use in the report that you read?”
Nick and Alan answered simultaneously, “An iron bayonet, from the Napoleonic Wars.” They both grinned at this moment of unity.
“Oh brilliant,” said Arch. “So, all we need are a few Napoleonic bayonets. What could be simpler?”
Alex, was used to hearing Arch’s dour negativity and easily dismissed it. He continued, with his train of thought, only adding, “We will have to delay our strike, until the very last moment, just as he is about to deal the death blow himself and then, we will hit him hard and somehow, or other, disable him and throw his body into the water to drown the fucker.”
Alan, was a little surprised to hear Alex, using such profanity, somehow it just didn’t sound right, coming from him but undaunted, he continued.
“Well, it sounds reasonable from up here, in the safety and warmth of this cosy lounge but being out there, in the cold and possibly damp conditions, that can just blow up out of nowhere, is a completely different kettle of fish.”
Nick, who had many years of experience, working along this section of the canal, concurred. “There’s a wind, that blows along the water at around this time of year, every year, that comes straight from the coast and things can get a little hairy, very quickly and God forbid, if it catches you out.”
Alan, was nodding furiously as Nick spoke. “Couldn’t have put it better myself,” he said. “The weather, is another variable factor in all this. We can plot and plan, all we like but whether it’s heavy grey clouds and torrential rain, or crystal clear skies, with an array of stars, we cannot influence the weather. So, let’s just pick a time and go with it, come what may?”
“How does 7.30 back here next Wednesday sound?” Said Alan and they all nodded, or grunted their agreement.
“Yeah but that still leaves the biggest thing, that we all have to agree on.” They all knew, what Alex, was talking about.
“Who, is going to stand before the beast and invite death?” said Nick.
Again, it was Alex, who spoke up first. “I’ll do it,” he said “but, I’ll expect you lot to be there with me, if only to watch my back.” Then, as if a light had been just been turned on in Alex’s head, “I’ve got it. I know, how we get his attention.” The others just stared at him, waiting for his next words. “Although Powderfinger is only active between Balaclava and Jenkins’, his malevolence is centred around the Ravens Gate Works.” He looked around as everyone nodded their agreement, then continued, “We, well I, attack the pole holding up the bird sculpture by the main gates, with a hacksaw and commence cutting through it. He will pick up the destructive vibrations and bingo, Powderfinger will react to us. We will now be the pro-active ones and he will be the individual reacting to our tune.”
Now, it was Arch, who saw the possibilities first. “Hmmm, then if he responds, Powderfinger will have to come out of his lair and come into the light. His shield, is the dark of No.1 Shed. If we expose him, we will have him. He will simultaneously be, both out in the open and next to the water’s edge,” he chirped excitedly.
“Exactly my point,” responded Alex. “Sometimes a little bit of good old fashioned Police psychology, can be just what you need to achieve the desired outcome.”
Now Arch was beaming broadly, at everybody else in the cabal, “That’s why he’s the boss,” he triumphantly stated and clapped his hands together once, as if he was indicating a done deal. “Sold, by the handsome middle aged DCI, in the blue shirt.” He never could resist a gentle ribbing, at his boss’s expense and Alex took it all in good heart.
However, Nick perceived a flaw in the plan. “According to Connie, Powderfinger has the ability to move from point to point, at phenomenal speed. The diary clearly states, that he can get from A, to B in the blink of an eye.”
The elation of the past few minutes, dissolved into thin air, as his words sunk in. “I think, it would be prudent to place our own version of The Watchmen, on some of the other bridges, to alert the rest of us, he is indeed coming and from which direction.”
There was a silence, that descended over Nick’s words, only broken by Alex commenting on what he had just heard. “Well, you know what they say, forewarned is forearmed and you wouldn’t want that fucker, sneaking up behind you, now would you. That could end very badly!”
This, was something else for them to consider. “It’s just a simple matter of numbers,” said the ever logical Arch. “There are four of us and there are four bridges.” He then counted them off on his fingers, like some lecturer, at a University. “Balaclava, Quaker, Ravens Gate and Jenkins’. All that we have to do, is decide who, is going to watch and where.”
The remaining conspirators, just looked at each other. “How do we tell the others, that he’s on his way? The phone signal is dodgy along the canal to say the least. We can’t run as fast as it is claimed he can move and anyway, he could have done somebody in and vanished again, before we manage to get a warning out,” commented Nick.
“Belt and braces,” answered Alex, who was sounding exceedingly pleased with himself. “If we use a Radio Com system, which we leave permanently open, that’s the belt. Then, just in case there are any technical problems, we each have an air horn, which we can use as an alarm and voila, there’s our braces!”
Nick, saw Alex’s logic perfectly. “That should ensure us, contact at all times and we’ll be able to give an alert signal. We can then try to make it, to which ever way he is headed, in time to stop him,” he chimed, excitedly. “Cool plan, Alex. Nice one.”
Arch, who had stayed silent and just listened until that point, piped up, “I suppose, it’s a plan, well sort of anyway but I’m not sure if we could make it in time. This canal bank, is long and we’ll only have an instant to act, or he’ll be gone again and if that happens, we may as well, never have bothered.”
Alex, was not about to let Arch, talk him out of this one. “Look, we all know where he’ll be headed. He’ll be coming for me. I’ve already told you, that I’m willing to take the risk. Anyway, Nesbitt and Draper were two of my officers, who died because I was too fucking proud to let everyone know that I got scared in the No.1 shed. If I’d had the balls, they might not have perished in the manner they did and now, this is my chance to redeem myself.” There was nothing, that anybody had to say about that, the DCI, was steadfast on this score. Alex Findlay, had made his mind up and he wasn’t going to give an inch on this one.
“So, you’re going to be on The Ravens Gate, itself?” Muttered Alan worriedly. “You do realise, that Powderfinger’s probably not going to use the towpath, he’s most likely going to be coming at you, from inside the precincts of the works?” Alex heard his warning.
“Yep, you got it in one. I’ll be there, sawing through the pole, that’s holding up the reaching black birds, of the sculpture and Powderfinger, will be coming for me, probably from within the old factory.”
Nick and Arch, just looked at each other, on hearing this revelation. “Don’t even try to talk him out of it” Arch said to Nick. “Trying to change his mind, when he’s decided on a coarse of action, is fruitless.”
There were no words forming in Nick’s mind, to use in any counter argument against the implementation of Alex’s fool hardy idea. Nothing.
“I’ll bring the air horns and com systems and may I suggest, that we all arm ourselves with some kind of steel weaponry as that seems to have been the most effective” commented Alex. Then continued, “So gentlemen, is there anything else, that may need some ratification, or are you all happy with that?” Alex, waited for any response but there were none forthcoming, so he concluded, “7.30, here on Wednesday, is that good for everybody?” He looked around the room, for any dissent, but there was none.
“OK gentlemen, let’s shake on the deal.” They all solemnly stood up, took each others hands and looking each other in the eye, sealing the pact, in some kind of invisible, yet very ‘comradely’ and unbreakable sort of way.
As Alex was about to pick up his glass, he stopped and simply added, “Oh yes, just one more thing, I’m asking you all, not to say a word about any of this to Jinx. She doesn’t need to have this kind of worry, on her plate. I’ll tell her all about it, when it’s over. Promise me Gentlemen, not a word,” he said insistently.
Looking each one of them in the eyes, he repeated slowly and with gravitas, “Not..... A..... Word.”
So it was settled, ’P Day’ was next Wednesday. At 7.30 in the evening, the four of them would attempt to rid the canal bank, once and for all time of Powderfinger. Their lofty aim was to restore peace to the area, after all these long centuries, of murder and malevolence. Nick raised his glass and uttered the sentiments they were all aware of.
“Here’s a toast to you Constance, wish us well.” The dye was cast, there was no going back, they all raised their glasses, touched them together and downed the respective contents in one.
Then, they turned and silently peered out of the smoked glass window, at the saturnine vision, that was Alan’s disconsolate view of The Ravens Gate Bridge and it’s attendant works. It was a grim sight that met the eye, in the deepening dark. The rotted outbuildings of the factory, when viewed in silhouette, appeared like an almost surreal image of a lost city, against the darkening sky. It made them all shudder, as the inherent bitterness of their drinks washed over their tongues, before they swallowed them down.
Outside, in the darkening twilight’s long shadows, a spectral creature was prowling along the towpath, as if it were seeking something in the mirk. Then, it suddenly paused, raised it’s head and sniffed the air, as it passed close by the room containing the small group of conspirators. It let out a small, almost silent hiss and then, gyrating furiously, it disappeared into the gloom of the advancing night.