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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Mystery stories
- Subject: Crime story
- Published: 01/23/2015
''Midnight Whispers''Born 1957, M, from Belfast, United Kingdom
A long time ago, twenty years to be precise, my Father died. What’s special about that you may be thinking, it happens to people who are old or sick, to people who are in car accidents, or in his case, get murdered. And there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Sometimes it’s when I’m just sitting reading a book or watching the news channel that a wave of melancholy comes across my body. And always there seems to be a void that surrounds me, like that feeling you get when someone has left a room. Even though you may not have been talking that emptiness in the silence left can be as loud as any scream. The police at the time said it was a robbery that had gone wrong, yet the only thing they took was my father’s journal.
The story I’m about to tell you... if I had heard it myself two weeks ago I wouldn’t have believed it. I work for the Boston Star, a small rag that likes to think it’s bigger than it is and one my Father was director of. Generally it covers political news, a bit of sport and a few pages of small cover stories sent in by budding freelance journalists in the off chance the editor might offer them a full time post. Most can’t write an article for shit so I find myself reading and reviewing those that are of some interest and setting them right before going to press. Quite a few go in the garbage and depending on Charlie’s mood, that’s my boss by the way, the others I put forward are read by him. If he likes the story it go’s in if not then it joins its trash buddies. I had been through about thirty or so the day before press was due and had worked late into the night. Ten I never got past the first page they were so bad, the following twenty I grammar checked, put them in my order of preference and placed them on Charlie’s desk for him to read the following morning. Normally the ten Charlie chooses then go to press and sometimes the others are held for more investigation or debunked considering how he feels.
By the time I got into my office around 8am Charlie had already read the stories I had put forward, my guess was he had been in at dawn just to get a head of the printing guys down in the basement. The ten he had chosen were already in my in-tray waiting for me stacked into a neat little pile for final approval. It’s my job to take them down to the letterpress room so they can be scanned; Charlie’s office is on the corridor leading to the main elevators, a twenty foot square room that consists of a glass floor to ceiling partition with an inset door hung on silver hinges screwed into the half inch plate. A giant antique oak bureau that’s supposed to be a perfect replica of the president’s desk that sits up at the white house takes up most of the centre floor area, on the wall behind his high backed brown leather swivel chair is a poor painted portrait of him sitting regally staring down at himself. The rest of the room is filled up with a row of windows that look down onto lower Bellevue Avenue and the corner of west Sixth Street on Willmott. I was oblivious to everything around me as I sauntered down the corridor listening to a podcast of a previous day’s news programme that aired on Rw279.fm. As I passed by out of the corner of my eye I could see Charlie waving to me to come in. Anxiously I opened the door, it was rare that we ever talked that much in his office face to face, mostly it was by phone or internal email. I felt my mouth go dry as I stood there like a school kid ready to see the head master.
‘’Dean’’ he said smiling while rising from his chair that creaked and groaned as it relaxed from bearing his weight. ‘’Good to see you my boy’’ he said, genuinely holding out his hand.
His grip was solid and secure, the sign of a confident man. ‘’I’m fine Charlie’’ I choked, instantly realising I’d made a mistake ‘’I mean Mr Hoffman, sorry sir!’’ I said, quickly correcting myself.
He blew off my blunder with a wave of his other hand and offered me a seat on the other side of his vast desk. The room smelt of burnt tobacco and expensive scotch that was smouldering in the forms of a large Havana in a cut glass ashtray and a similar style tumbler with two fingers of ice laden whiskey. ‘’Can I offer you a Drink, Dean?’’ he asked me pointing to the well stocked cabinet to his left. I declined graciously with the excuse that it was too early in the morning for me, little did he know that any other time I would have broken his arm for one but I thought it better to come across as a good employee. ‘’What can I do for you Mr Hoffman?’’ I asked jealously watching as he topped up his glass. Charlie leaned back into his chair and threw his six hundred dollar Salvatore Ferragamo boots onto his desk and relit his cigar with his thumbnail flick tipped match.
‘’I’m sending you on a road trip Dean’’ he said in between what looked like exhaustive puffs.
‘’Up to Maine in fact’’
‘’Which Town?’’ I asked.
‘’Belfast’’ he replied blowing out a smoke ring ‘’Know it?’’
I shook my head ‘’wasn’t it in one of Stephen Kings novels I think, what’s the gig?’’
He leaned down and opened a drawer that was inset into the right leg of his bureau; from inside he lifted out and passed over a few sheets of paper indicating with his finger for me to read. I threw my eyes across the four pages quickly and was immediately aware by their headline script that it was one of the twenty I had previously read. The article’s title was ‘’Midnight Whispers’’ and it had been written and submitted by a young journalist named Emily Cash who worked on Belfast’s local community paper. A twice monthly small free circular with a turn over of about two thousand prints. making its money on home grown advertising, the basic story centered round the town’s radio station that runs a late night phone-in from midnight until three in the morning. Nothing unusual in that, but it would seem that for the last month or so every Wednesday at exactly 3 minutes past the witching hour the DJ who goes by the name Elvis has been taking a call from a young boy called Jack Steeple who claimed to be lost. When Elvis asked him where he was phoning from, the boy explained it was from a cell phone his mother had given him to keep him safe. Nothing uncommon in that either until you take into accounts that the boy was found murdered back in January twelve weeks ago. The phone in question he claims to be using was placed in his coffin just before his family buried him- so how can this be possible? of course everybody had discredited this as a pure hoax. Except for this young journalist, Emily, who went to his grave and rang his cell phone. she describes her day at the cemetery as wet and blustery but with an eerie sense that she was being watched. She writes that when she called Jacks phone she could hear a faint ringing above the graveyard wind, and when she put her ear to the damp earth she could make it out more clearly, and was certain that it was coming from his grave. The phone calls continue to come every week only now they are not broadcast, instead a producer on the station listens and take’s a transcript of the phone in, making note of all Jacks conversations.
‘’I want you to meet up with this girl Emily, Dean. Take her out for a drink and get some more info on this story. I think we could run this for a few weeks, what do you think?’’
‘’You’re joking right’ I laughed, but Charlie never flinched at my remark.
‘’It’s over four hundred miles from here boss’’ I meekly protested. ‘’A good eight hours drive just to have a cup of coffee with some two bit hick and a senseless article, are you being serious?’’
Charlie eased his feet off his desk and pushed back his Buddy Holly glasses onto the bridge of his nose. I could see he was about to put his bosses hat on and give me an order I couldn’t or shouldn’t refuse.
‘’Look Dean’’ he said sipping from his glass looking every bit the spitting image of the rat pack’s Peter Lawford. ‘’You’re a nice kid Dean, and your father and I went way back, but this is not a request. two days from now the station will hopefully receive another phone call. I want you there when it happens, see if you find out who’s really making these contacts and do your report, now get out of here.’’
I gathered up the papers Mr Hoffman had given me and used a pencil to scribble down the location of the radio station on to the corner of one sheet. Back at my desk I was able to Google its whereabouts and it would seem that Rw279.FM was now broadcasting from the old lighthouse at Fort point. Nickerson Cemetery where the boy was interred was a fifteen minute drive across town from the lighthouse so I figured I would look for a base somewhere in between to stay for a few day’s. once again Google came up trumps and I found a small motel with easy to pay rates midtown. By the time I had driven to my apartment and gathered up a few things for my trip it was 11.33am when I turned on to highway 95 out of Boston. The route was to be straight along by the coast taking in Dover, then through Portland onto Brunswick and Augusta then finally Belfast, without any stops my E.T.A would be close to 8 or 9pm depending on traffic.
Before I had left my office desk I had phoned ahead and pre-booked my room with a very courteous lady called Ruby who was manning the reception desk at the Yankee Clipper. Her exuberance was commendable even though I told her I was in a hurry and would she please just give me the quietest room in the building. she continued on with her well honed sales pitch on how the Motel was a sprawling, white painted wood framed structure recently modernised and boasting free Wi-Fi, flat screen TV and air conditioning. Taking care to mention the fact that each newly bought king size bed had been fitted with hand picked by her none the less bespoke neutral brown and cream bed linen. I thanked her, paid by card, but felt exhausted by the whole transaction.
In the back of my mind, as I drove along, I was concerned about how I might approach the story with Emily and the boys family, it had been a very short period of time since his death, the circumstances of which Ms Cash either decided to not extrapolate on or she had been asked not to. Either way I was going to be very much in the dark regarding my position and I may have to tread lightly in order to gain everyone’s confidence. It had been a long time since I had done any in-depth journalism so I expected to be a tad rusty, a bit like my old 1999 Ford that I hoped would get me to Belfast and back.
About fifty miles on along the Boston road I stopped at an Esso gas station to fill up and grab some coke, smokes, and chips for the trip, then after a piss break in the one shit hole fits all washroom round the back I decided just to floor it and keep going until I hit Belfast. Along with my phone call to secure a room for the night I took time to speak to the radio stations who very kindly gave me Ms Cash’s cell number. I called and left her a voice mail explaining who I was and would she mind meeting up to discuss her story over a drink tonight. I hoped she could drop into the Clippers bar where I would be waiting at around 10pm, that should give me enough time to get there and check in.
The highway was surprisingly busy but I made good time to Dover in just over an hour. As I passed through this quiet little town I let my eyes take in its quaint New Hampshire influence. Downtown Dover seemed to be made up of a slow moving main street, ambling pedestrians and the smell of the Cocheco River. Red brick contemporary buildings mix well with older seventeenth century structures that have lasted since the first settlers. My satnav highlights the Cocheco Mill, an enormous rustic construction that seems to take up much of the town. Surrounded by lush green tree’s it felt like I had just enjoyed a good whiskey. Specks of rain began to spittle across my windshield as I carried on through and back onto the 95.
Everyone who is anyone knows about the most famous baseball team, The Portland Sea Dogs, the fact I was heading there brought back some great memories of when Dad used to bring me to see their games when I was a kid. At any other stage I would have stopped but my tight traveling constraints left me little time for any sightseeing, so I hammered on through town and made Brunswick by 2.20 in the afternoon. The rain had followed me all the way from Dover but had never amounted to anything other than a drizzle, I had only ever made short trips in my old Ford so by now I was suffering from its less than comfortable worn out seats, resulting in a dull ache in my left shoulder that began to irritate me, most likely brought on by my poor posture driving. Trying to ignore it I was beginning to wonder whether Charlie had sent me on a wild goose chase when my cell phone rang. After checking my mirror to make sure the traffic cops weren’t behind me I picked up and answered. It was Emily and she seemed excited in her tone that I was interested in her story and was on my way to discuss it; her voice was pleasant and warm with a hint of New England and that ‘N’Hamshah’ drawl that sounds like they are singing each line, a possible remnant of the Irish lilt and the Scottish Burr.
By the time I started across the Kennebec River Bridge, a formidable steel expansion that led the way into downtown Augusta, the light and the rain were fading out. An orange sun hung low in a yellow and terracotta sky and only the sound of the water and nesting birds in the surrounding pine trees cut into the otherwise peaceful afternoon. Maine’s capital city was less than 5 miles ahead. I was getting closer to Belfast, I was glad because I had nearly used up my supplies and I was in no mood to stop again. Water Street in town was as quiet as the bridge, few cars were moving in the picturesque narrow street that boasted the old and contemporary. Patriotic American flags fluttered from every other shop and tavern, it had the feel of a charming small town but I had the sense that commerce and business were just as important. I cruised by Capitol Dome craning my neck to get a good view of the golden lady pointing skyward holding her chalice of fire. The olde Federal building looked like it would have been more at home in an old gothic horror movie with its grey stone façade; heavy archway entrance and jutting pointed slate turrets. Breathtaking as it all was I was conscious that time was creeping by and I needed to push on.
Belfast is a city in Waldo County Maine, located at the mouth of Passagassawakeag River Estuary on Penobscot Bay. About seven thousand people live and work around this old Indian waterway that translates into ‘A place of spearing Fish’. Around 1720 General Samuel Waldo, a rich land developer, bought the land with the ambition of setting up a colony. After turning it into a plantation he died in 1739. His heirs sold it to 35 Londonderry proprietors who gave it the name Belfast after the same city in Northern Ireland. Irish, Scot and German immigrants were encouraged to settle in the village where it soon prospered. By 1863 it had become a city producing 4 and five mast schooners. All this I remember enduring seminar according to my old school teacher one wet afternoon in July many moons ago, backed up recently by Wikipedia and the power of Google.
When I pull into the Yankee Clippers car lot the moon is sitting low and bright in the purple night sky, the smell of fresh water seems to saturate the air enhancing the atmosphere, which encourages the tree and grass life around the Motel to bloom extensively. My lungs are ill equipped to deal with such purity, leaving me struggling to breathe. oh what I wouldn’t give now for a good drag on a thick Havana, but that’s another pleasure I have long since refrained from. I grab my only bag I’ve brought from the seat well behind me and push the trash I have accumulated on the passenger side into my already crammed glove compartment with the promise of clearing it out tomorrow. Three of the ten rooms on either side of the small reception area had lights on, it would seem that this would indeed be just the place to get some peace and quiet, but yet I figured if there was any gossip to be had about what actually goes on in this little town then Ruby would be the one to know about it. That’s of course if she was still working this evening. Two wooden steps lead up to the small glass door that had a thin white lace curtain hanging behind it, I could hear the rich sound of a radio playing in the background singing out in mono tone a Merle Haggard tune about being an ‘Okie from Muskogee’ seemed to keep time with the loose gravel crunching under my feet the closer I got on my short walk to the entrance. From behind the drape I could see a portly dark haired woman sitting miming perfectly with the melodic over tones of the bearded one. She had a pencil in her hand and in-between writing something down it looked as if she was conducting the band with it. This was without a doubt Ruby; I put my best smile on then turned the brass door knob. Above my head a little bell tinkled announcing my arrival as I stepped in. Merle Haggard immediately faded to black and Ruby’s smile dazzled me like a string of pearls on a well tanned neck.
‘’You must be Mr Wilson’ she oozes rising up from her seat revealing her ample bosom that is being curtailed by a size too small blue blazer and white blouse. Up close her crimson lipstick has blanched onto her perfect straight teeth that must have cost about five thousand dollars to implant. she pushes the back of her buoyant newly permed auburn hair lightly as if to highlight its size and drops her eyes in false flirtation. I can feel myself being scanned by her sexual assessment making me suddenly aware of my less than pristine attire of stained jeans and coke dribbled white tee shirt.
‘’Call me Dean’’ I croaked while shifting on my feet embarrassed by my now evident body odour. ‘’you’re Ruby I presume, has a lady called Emily Cash been asking for me, I gave her this number?’’
I think I may have disappointed her mentioning Emily’s name so soon into our meeting because her disposition suddenly swings into the professional overtones that she took on the phone when I made my reservation; her eyes are no longer conducting a valuation of me and she is indicating to her book that I should sign in.
‘’Room 21’’ she smiles with those pearly whites ‘’Down the hall on the left’’ she points with her pencil ‘’you have a nice stay now.’’
‘’Thank you’’ I reply and head towards my room, behind me I can hear Dwight Yokem fading in crooning ‘Aint that lonely yet’ it would seem Ruby has returned to her broadcast. Inside it looks exactly like she had described, I switch on the TV, shower and throw my bag onto the bed.
A quick look in the mini bar makes my mind up what will be first; I give in to a Jack Daniels and ice, the only drink I will have had in two years. The first sip hits my throat like a whip crack then seeps down into a warm caress, making my travelled body slowly fall onto the soft bed pillow below me. Gradually I begin to give into the sensation of not moving allowing the deep soothing impression that the alcohol is giving me to draw me in to the realm of sleep. Barely am I there when the phone beside my bed rings so loud it makes me jump upwards spilling what remains of my drink over my cola tarnished shirt. ‘’Jesus H Christ!’’ I hear myself scream into the room. it rings again. I feel belligerent and pissed off before I even reach to answer but I restrain myself in case it’s either, Ruby, Miss Cash, or worse my boss.
To my astonishment it is none of the above. at first all I can hear is static noise hissing so loudly I hold the ear piece away from me, then a faint breathing morphs into a voice that sounds like its coming from within a steel drum, just like I did when I was a kid with two old tin cans and a piece of string. ‘’Who is this?’’ I ask attentively waiting for a reply yet shit scared of who or what might answer me. A child’s voice, a boy I’m sure, pierce’s my head in a scream sending me reeling backwards making me drop the phone onto the floor, it rolls and pivots across the carpet as if held in a ghost like hand. I feel myself draw my legs up like a woman who’s just seen a large rat scurry past her and shriek a silent ‘What the Fu-!’ As the handset rises to my eye level and hovers silently before me like a Viper snake spitting out its venom, a voice whispers.
‘’Four, Three, two, one’’ instantly it drops to the ground percolating out only its dialling tone.
For a moment I am unsure just what had taken place and sit silently just staring at the buzzing handset. either I imagined every thing and it was brought on by my shot of whiskey, or I just witnessed something paranormal. I think I would prefer believing the latter but that would be the easy way out. Before I nervously replace the phone back on its cradle I jot the four numbers down on a note pad beside my bed hoping that my meeting with Emily may make some sense of what has just transpired, but even as I consider this my doubts about revealing my dice with the devil, if that’s who or what this was, to her may not be a good opening line. I decide to wait and see just how things will pan out.
After my well deserved shower I put on my only clean pressed blue shirt that I could find in my closet this morning, along with my second best pair of 501’s and my nearly new brown Gucci loafers, then tie my hair back. the only cologne I can find is the bathroom air freshener, in my haste I had forgotten my Hugo Boss, it will have to suffice so I give myself a wide sporadic spray. My cell phone rings just as I’m brushing my teeth, it's Emily and she has just arrived in the car park, and could I meet her in the bar, I tell her I’ll be along shortly. In order for me to get there I need to pass by Ruby. I ponder on wither or not I’ve used up all my brownie points with her after my less than amicable arrival. It has always been my opinion there are few people in life you should piss off, one being your Mother, the others being the guy who serves you dinner and motel receptionists mainly because all can make you regret it. I would put on my best Mel Gibson persona and try and redeem myself with Ruby, not that I thought I needed to but I guessed paying her a little bit of attention would do no harm when it came to getting that little perk like an extra pillow or softer towels. So I did on passing, smile and stop to commend her on her fine choice of handmade bed linen and homey décor, all of which were just as she had described. This seemed to do the trick and we left each other smiling with the promise of a drink together later.
The bar continued its unpretentious design much like the rest of the motel and I could see Ruby’s influence everywhere. Emily was sitting by the open fire that was burning two large logs in its hearth, it threw out a warm orange glow across the stripped pine floor and I could feel its heat on my face as I approached. Emily was smaller than I had imagined, her well polished journalistic chatter had made me think she was a six foot ball breaker when we spoke on the phone, but what I saw reminded me of the collage girls who failed to make it onto the cheer leading team, not because of their good looks but more for the reason they had both beauty and brains, a combination usually frowned upon by the leader of the pack. Hence the side step into the school paper were she would no doubt have found her niche. Her long honey blonde hair was cascading down across her shoulders and hiding the fact she was wearing a pair of expensive black Chloe Havana glasses. An item of accessory usually out of reach by any stretch of the imagination of a poor hack trying to make a living on the local rag, this would suggest to me a trust fund or a well to do set of parents. Most likely the latter with an indulgent protective father who has more friends he can pull strings with than he can count on both hands. I hoped she wouldn’t turn out to be a spoilt brat, so when she rose and smiled to me I held my hand out with candid caution. Her grip was firm and felt well rehearsed, most likely from meeting and greeting dignitaries’ or well to do potentates, which made me more assured that daddy was a notable person of some distinction.
‘‘Hey’’ she said to my pleasure, ‘’How are you’’ she sang in her New Hampshire intonation. I was unsure if it was the heat of the fire or my own schoolboy awkwardness that brought on a sudden hot flush, in either event the outcome was the same and I stood there blushing and blabbering on like a teenager on his first date. Thankfully she either didn’t notice or was too professional to make a comment on my sudden burst of incoherent rambling about how I loved her hair style and how she wore my favourite perfume. I would favour the latter so she won me over on that one.
Her choice of wine was a French Shiraz to which I must add not many of my past girl friends ever drank but once more underpinning my ‘well to do’ theory. I settled for a cool bud and a bourbon chaser wondering how I would slip in the question of who her daddy was.
‘’Tell me about Jack’’ I asked her ‘’Do you really believe he’s phoning a radio station from his coffin, Emily?’’ She must of sensed the patronisation in my tone for I could see her brow frown and her lips tense up searching for words other than the ‘screw you’ she was thinking about.
‘’Look’’ I said trying hard to pull on the reins of common sense and slow down the car crash that just drove out of my mouth. ‘’Its impossible for this to happen, for one, the cell phone battery would run out and two’’ this one I had to think about saying after my episode with my room phone just thirty minutes ago, ‘’Dead people don’t speak.’’
I think putting it so bluntly must have hit a chord and to be honest I half expected her to get up and leave but I had to see just how committed she was to her story. If she truly believed in what she had written she would stay and I would give her the respect because of it. If not then I had saved myself a few days going over a piece that wasn’t worth following up on and I could put it along with its trash buddies back at the office. She never moved, instead she produced a small recording device from her purse, clicked it on and placed it on the table between our drinks.
For a second or two I heard nothing but static silence hissing out of its monotone small speaker, crackling interference is slowly replaced with incoherent mumbling as if someone is speaking from inside a closed room. Then who I can only assume was the DJ named Elvis speaks, his voice is clear and precise as you would expect a veteran broadcasters to be. His first question is non leading other than to ask ‘who’s Calling, and how can we help?’ The pause that follows is full of the same static as before until a child’s voice fades in sounding like it’s from within a tin can, its familiar tone raises goose bumps on my arms and neck reminding me of my recent episode with my room phone, both are one and the same.
‘’Who are you?’’ the Dj asks again.
‘’Jack’’ the voice repeats.
‘’Where are you?’’
‘’Can you see anything, a building, church or road name?’’
‘’No-Just, Just Blackness’’
‘’You mean it’s dark where you are’’
‘’Is anyone with you?’’
‘’Who is there with you?’’
‘’Can they help you?’’
‘’What do they want?’’
For a moment the static hiss returns and the Dj whispers to whoever is with him in the radio booth that he thinks the boy has gone. The crackling of inert space fades into a serine echo of nothingness and a weeping child bursts into the speakers ‘’they want me’’
The goose bumps on my arms fold into a chill that electrifies my spine sending a shockwave of fright to my brain.
Emily looks at me without speaking; her stunning blue eye’s are enhanced by the glasses she wears and make them look like beach pools on a moonlit night. The flames of the fire flicker and dance into the room and give her complexion a mellow orange glow, she clicks off the recorder and raises one of her eyebrows while slowly sipping her French Shiraz. Momentarily I am mesmerised by her natural beauty. ‘’Well?’’ she asks.
The devil of doubt appears on my shoulder and I can feel the voice of experience telling me that this is nothing more than a young boy playing a prank on a susceptible Dj who has already set himself up for such a ruse, it is my job after all to debunk this story, that’s what Charlie sent me here for really, wasn’t it? Then I thought, why this one, ‘Maybe we can run with it for a few weeks’’ I can remember him saying. ‘Find out who’s really making these calls and do your report’.
‘’Do you have more like this?’’ I ask Emily.
‘’Yes, the rest of the phone in’s are on this tape’’
‘’Can I have it?’’
‘’Can I tell you something?’’ I begin ‘’Just before we met I think it was Jack who called me here in my room.’’
I watched as Emily screwed up her face, maybe she was contemplating the fact that after my sardonic patronisation that I was once more mocking her with my story about what I had experienced in my room shortly before we met. I assured her that it was not the case, in actuality I had put the whole thing to the back of my mind blaming it on my alcohol injection, explaining it was the first drink I had drunk in two years. And that maybe I had just imagined it all, but when I heard Jacks voice on her recorder I knew that they were one and the same and maybe there was more to this than I first thought.
‘’So you believe me’’ Emily said.
‘’I’m not sure what I believe’’ I replied ‘’the voice on the phone, Jacks- in my room he spoke of four numbers, look here I wrote them down’’ I showed Emily the scrap of paper I had scribbled them on. ‘’Have you any idea what they mean?’’
‘’No but this is not the first time I have seen these’’ she said readjusting herself in her seat, it was obvious that they were important and she knew they were significant if he contacted me directly and not through the station. ‘’He refers to them again in his last four calls, look.’’
Emily produces a bunch of A4 pages from her leather briefcase she had brought with her and slowly scans them with her stunning blue eyes, the transcripts of each conversation between Jack and Elvis are spread upon the table in chaotic formation one after the other. ‘’Here’’ she points at one ‘’And here’’ at another. ‘’He mentions names on each as well, those who he describes as the ‘others’, ‘Tommy Monroe, Peter Darnell, William Penrose’’ and so on – seven in total’’. A pregnant pause hangs in the air between us; it is obvious that Jack is trying to tell us something, then like a curtain is pulled back to let in the sunlight, somewhere in my mist of childhood memories I think I have heard these names before. I can make out my Father talking with Charlie in our dining room in a blurred vision of a boys past. Father is sitting with his journal reading out the very same names that are floating up from the transcript pages. He talks about how these boys were abducted, sexually abused, murdered, then dumped. Charlie was the investigative reporter on the story and Father was following the crimes with great interest himself considering he was the editor at the time and all the stories had to go through him before they could go to print. I remember a heated argument when father accused Charlie of dragging his heels on such an important story by giving a less than informative outlook and second rate writing. His last words were that he would finish the story himself and that Charlie would go back to reporting on sports.
‘’Are you ok Dean?’’ Emily asks me, pulling me back to a subdued reality ‘’You seemed to have been in a world of your own for a moment’’
‘’What?, yes-sorry forgive me, I was just thinking about something’’ is all I can muster from my fog of distant thoughts. ‘’About twenty years ago seven boys, all about my age, went missing along the coast; it was the biggest story that the Boston Star had ever covered or has done since. I was just about twelve at the time so it was a big deal with my father that these kids were found murdered. Four in Portland, two in Augusta and the three names you just spoke of in Brunswick.’’
For a moment Emily stared at me as if I was speaking in some sort of code.
‘’don’t you see!’’ I said lifting the transcripts, ‘’Four, three, two and one, just as Jack spoke to me on the phone. Jack is the one - and the rest are the ‘Others’.
‘’Oh my God!’’ Emily simpers from behind her hands, ‘’that poor boy was just the next victim, but why wait twenty years. I don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense.’’
Above our heads the incidental music of some obscure jazz band that has been playing around us for the past hour is interrupted by a woman’s voice. I instantly recognise it as Ruby’s. Her vigorous energy is in abundance and it oozes out of the ceiling speakers requesting I come to reception.
‘’Wait here Emily’’ I sigh blowing out my cheeks ‘’I’ll be right back.’’
The clock on the bar wall chimes out midnight and its cooler in the hallway that leads through to where Ruby is still listening to ‘Go Country, the best little radio channel this side of Maine’. Dwight Yokem has long since been replaced by George Jones whose melodic undertones are drifting in the air along the corridor. Suddenly I feel the effects of my long days travel, the alcohol that I have just drank, and the episode with the possessed phone, it's been a long day and I’m in no mood for a long winded conversation with an over sexed spinster.
‘’Hello Mr. Wilson’’
‘’Ruby’’ I nod back hoping my exhausted head won't roll off my shoulders ‘’You called me?’’
‘’Oh, why yes I did’’ she smiles retrieving a yellow paper sticker off the side of her computer screen.
‘’Your boss called, he said he has been trying to get you for the past two hours’’ She pauses and looks at me over the rim of her glasses like a peeved school Mam ticking off a naughty boy who hasn’t done his homework.
‘’Phone’s dead I guess’’ is the only excuse that seems viable, then I remember I left it in my room.
‘’What did he want?’’
‘’Let me see, oh yes- you need to call him and let him know how you are getting along with your report on the Jack Steeple story’’ she reads to me ‘’He’s such a nice man, Mr Hoffman.’’
‘’You know him?’’
‘’Oh why! Yes I do, he stayed here about three months ago, the same week we had opened after our refurbishment.’’
I felt goose bumps raise again on my arms and neck. ‘He never told you that’ a voice in my head whispers. ‘’First I’d seen him in twenty years, fine lookin man if I say so myself, mind you I was just a naïve young girl back then. Stayed here quite a lot during the time of those poor boy’s murders. As a matter of fact he always liked the room you’re in tonight.’’ Ruby’s smile hung on her face much like it did on the picture poster that hung on the wall behind her promoting a big welcome to the ‘Yankee Clipper’ the finest in Maine hospitality.
‘’Did he stay long?’’ I ask her hoping she would give up more information on the back of such an innocent question. I wasn’t disappointed.
‘’Initially he had booked to stay for four nights’’ Ruby mused, and I could tell she was thinking hard by the way her eye’s jerked around in her head. ‘’He came back on the second evening, seemed like he was all agitated, or anxious about something or other. Sweatin and breathin heavy as I recall, burst through the door and just where you is standin came right out and said he was leaving and I should make up his bill’’
Ruby shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes as if I’ve asked the dumbest question she has ever heard. ‘’And nothing, I made up his account and he checked out, he left in such a hurry he forgot this’’
Ruby leans down below her desk, her ample assets are temporally lost among the mounds of booking forms, promotional material and the technical equipment required to run a small motel. Eventually she emerges slightly out of breath with her normally pristine hair gently tossed.
'’I found this under his pillow when I went to clean his room’’ Ruby place’s a small worn leather bound notebook on the desk in front of me. I feel my heart slip into an erratic beat; I recognise it instantly as my father’s journal. ‘’Can you make sure he gets it back?’’
‘’Oh yes, I’ll make sure he knows I have this.’’
A soft footstep behind closes in until Emily is standing beside me; she looks to me then Ruby and then the book. ‘’What is this Dean?’’ she asks pointing at the Journal ‘’I got tired of waiting’’
‘’I need you to do something for me Emily’’ I ask pulling her gently away from Ruby’s ear shot.
‘’Sure, what is it’’
‘’Phone Charlie and tell him you think Jack is about to reveal his killer, explain you expect him to call tomorrow night as usual’’
‘’Won't he ask where you are?’’
‘’Tell him I’m checking out Jacks grave and those of the other boys, I’m pretty sure he will understand, oh and tell him I have this,’’ I say holding up Fathers Journal.
‘’But we don’t know that Jack is going to-‘’
‘’trust me Emily’’ I interrupt ‘’I have a feeling you will have more to write about soon, meet me at the radio station tomorrow and I will explain it all’’
The old lighthouse at Fort point sits precariously close to a crumbling cliff edge fifteen minutes west of Belfast’s main route out of town. Its white washed façade is in stark contrast to the surrounding evergreen fir tree’s that seem to try and hide it from the small dirt road that is the only way up to its towering impression. A perfect place to broadcast, with no other buildings to obstruct its transmissions it has a clear line all the way out to sea and beyond.
Emily and I are waiting in the small sound booth just inside the main recording studio, the clock on the wall shows 11.55pm and Elvis is running his sound checks before he takes over his midnight slot. A pre recorded programme of classic eighties music has been on since 9 and the last of Spandau Ballet is fading out of the booths speakers. Elvis gives us the thumbs up to us bang on midnight before leading in with his intro. He emulates the King of rock and roll in every way with his slick back hair, aviator shades and fake Tennessee drawl. If you closed your eyes Elvis Presley is in the building. ‘Are you lonesome tonight’ is his ironic choice of first play as we wait for the phone to ring, his mouth mimes in time to the haunting melody that seems to caress the entire building.
‘’Are you ok?’’ Emily whispers to me, ‘’It will be over soon’’
‘’I know’’ I reply, yet barely have I finished speaking do we hear the trill of a ringing phone interrupting the last chorus of the sombre performance. Elvis fades it out and once more his counterfeit accent asks ‘Is that you Jack?’ just as he has done on all the others.
At first there is nothing more than a void of silence ‘’Are you there jack?’’ Elvis asks again.
‘’Yes’’ a child’s voice whispers from within the depths of the stillness, his frightened voice seems to haunt the very bowels of the Lighthouse.
‘’Are you alone?’’
‘’Who is with you?’’
‘’Are you still lost?’’
‘’No, we have been found.’’
The glow of the sound control panel lights up Emily’s face and behind her on the wall her shadow dances and moves. She turns and looks at me; the expression she is wearing confirms that this has never happened before. But before she can speak the gentle creak of a door handle moving directs both our eyes to the dark figure that has just entered the booth. Slowly our eyes become accustomed to the face of who is standing pointing a small revolver at Emily’s chest.
‘’Hello Charlie’’ I whisper ‘’we have been expecting you.’’
Charlie indicates with his gun that we should move back against the control desk, Emily slides her hand into mine, it’s clammy and damp and I can feel her pulse racing through it.
‘’Ah, Dean, Dean, Dean’’ Charlie says shaking his head. ‘’You just couldn’t let it be could you, I gave you a simple job and you had to mess it up’’
‘’It was you that killed those boy’s; my father figured it out and put it all in his journal. That’s what you were both arguing about that day when I played in the other room. Not about the story coverage, he wanted you to give yourself up, plead guilty or he would expose you to the police. And you destroyed him for this.’’ I hold up a worn leather bound book in the semidarkness of the radio booth, Charlie’s eyes follow it with contempt’’
‘’Give it to me’’ He orders.
I hand it to him and he places it in his overcoat pocket. ‘’Why? Charlie I don’t understand’’
A slight smile embroiders Charlie’s face, making the deprivation of his cold heart obvious in his demeanour, his shoulders drop before he blows out his cheeks into a deep resounding sigh and for a moment I see the man I thought I knew. The man who took me under his wing and gave me a job, looked in on me as I learned the business that my father could not teach me. My Friend, my mentor.
‘’Ironic really, there I was creating the news and your father asks me to report on it, talk about having an inside angle.’’
‘’But why those boy’s?’’ I ask him.
Charlie buries his head in his hands for a moment; I can hear his breathing become shallow, it’s as if my question is like a knife in his belly. And its one blade he is afraid to remove in case it bleeds the blood of guilt. ‘’There isn’t no rime or reason to this sickness I have inside me’’ He begins to cry ‘’I got weak is all. The flesh is frail and they were just there, waiting by the bus stop, walking home from school. It was easy to get them into my car’’
‘’And Jack’’ I reply ‘’Why wait twenty years’’
‘’A few months ago I read somewhere that the Clipper was going to be refurbished, after I had disposed of the last body back then I swore I would never do it again. I stayed there regularly during my cover of the murders and on my last night I hid your fathers Journal under a loose floorboard in my room. But when I learned of the renovation work I couldn’t take a chance that it wouldn’t be found. The only thing was by the time I returned it had already been completed; Ruby was a young girl then but she remembered me and made a big deal of giving me my old room. And would you believe it, below the loose board it was still there. I placed it under my pillow until I could figure out what to do. But the following night I decided to drive into town, and he was there, Jack, just waiting by the kerbside looking lost with his skateboard. It was hard for me to suppress this monster that I have to live with everyday, I couldn’t help myself. When Emily called last night and told me you were going back to the grave and that you had the Journal, also that Jack was about to disclose who killed him, I had no choice but to come here tonight’’
‘’What now then Charlie?’’
‘’No one will believe these phone calls are real, this story will be lost in the annals of some obscure two bit magazine, I’ll make sure of that, something I sent you to do in the first place, it would have been better coming from you Dean, but no matter, and you have no proof of any of this now that I have this Journal’’
I squeezed Emily’s hand and from inside her blouse she produces her small recording device that has a thin grey wire attached to its side. The wire is running through her skirt and is plugged in to the control panel behind us. Charlie’s eyes begin to widen and his face drains of blood as Emily pushes the play back button and his voice booms out of the panel’s base speaker.
‘’you’ve been on air all the time Charlie, so you see I have all the proof I need. Don’t I Elvis?’’
From outside the booth in main room Elvis removes his sunglasses and gives me a thumb up.
‘’You tricked me’’ Charlie says, ‘’and the phone calls from Jack?’’ he asks.
I look to Emily and then to him ‘’can’t say for sure if they are real or not I guess’’
Silently he nods a wistful smile and hands me back my fathers Journal.
‘’I'll be seeing you Dean’’ he says opening the door.
‘’Yeah, see ya Charlie’’ I reply, and then just as quietly as he came he was gone.
A few days later I was back at my desk with a hell of a story to write; I sat with a heavy heart and began to make the curser on my screen move to the words that needed to be written, words that had waited twenty years to be put on paper. Emily smiles at me from beyond the plate glass partition with inset door that hangs on silver hinges. The room smells of Havana cigar smoke and vintage whiskey. Before I start I retrieve the small recording device from my pocket that Emily gave me on our way back to Boston, it has the soundtrack of Jacks last call in on it, the very same one we listened to in the radio station that night. I plug in my ear phones and listen to Elvis as he speaks to Jack.
‘’Are you alone?’’ he asks and I remember.
‘’Who is with you?’’
‘’Are you still lost?’’
‘’No, we have been found’’
‘’By who, who found you?’’
‘’Father, -he is with us, tell Dean we are safe now’’
I feel a tingle of shock electrify my spine; the voice fades away into a static hiss leaving only the sound of a silent void in my head. Slowly my fingers gain a life of their own as if I’m being guided by an unseen force. The letters appear before me as I begin to read them and I know that my father is with me.
‘Dean Wilson Reporting’
Two days ago the body of Charles Hoffman, chief editor of the Boston Star, was found in his car on the grounds of Nickerson Cemetery. A small firearm was found in his hand and police believe he took his own life. It would seem that he was heard confessing to the murders of eight boys on the radio the night before bringing an end to a twenty year old unsolved cold case. He also plead guilty to the abduction and killing of Jack Steeple, the same boy who allegedly made phone calls from his grave as covered by the talented Journalist Emily Cash who now reports for the Boston Star.
A short Story by Will Neill