Chapter Two: The Island People
Jon was starting to think it would be easier getting blood from a stone, and maybe more fun. Standing in the pokey boozer trying to get the locals to open up and answer his questions whilst trying to not give away the fact he was a copper. Underneath his thin shroud of hopefulness he knew they'd clocked him from the first time he'd opened his gob.
“So, what can you tell me about him?” Jon asked, sipping his pint.
The old man sniffed and yanked the string that was attached to his dog. “He was a smart little fucker, not daft, not by a long shot.” He downed the whiskey and stared from the empty glass to Jon. Jon pulled out his wallet and motioned for the barmaid. While the old man was waiting in silence for his drink Jon felt puzzled. He reckoned the old codger had to be thinking about someone else. Mordecai Shimmin was not a smart person. Mordecai had been born and christened Vincent but had changed his name by deed-poll because he had found religion.
Jon remembered sitting across from Mordecai in the interview room back on the mainland. Mordecai had sat there looking like a lost lamb, panic smeared all over his face like a kid getting done for shop lifting and dreading the parents pitching up to collect them. Mordecai's chronic stammer didn’t do him any favours. Jon was sure that if it had been any other detective then they would have marked Mordecai down as innocent, even though he’d been hanging around the convent like the shine on a glass eye. Then when the nun had disappeared of course they were going to have to put the big pinch on the freak.
Jon dug about in his pocket for the photograph. He passed it over to the man who had a quick glance at it. “Yeah, that’s Vinny Shimmin.” The man turned his attention to the flickering television.
Jon looked at the photograph again then said, "Terrible stutter he had though."
The old man looked at him as though he were cuckoo. "Stutter? Vinny didn't have no stutter." He turned back to the television. “Bloody Keltic, they’ve done it again, bastards.”
Jon looked at the screen. The old bastard had identified Mordecai Shimmin from the photograph but reckoned the lad had never had a stammer. It was the football results that were scrolling by on the television. Rangers had gotten a beating from Celtic. Jon looked at the old man as though he were a bit slow. He couldn’t help but correct the old man.
“You pronounced it Keltic, you meant Celtic?”
The old man looked at him as though he'd pissed on his shoes. “Maybe to you, but I’ve pure Keltic blood and C’s are said hard, like the word ‘cunt’.” The man’s stare bolstered the fact that he’d directed the word at Jon.
Jon didn’t care a shit about the old man's sentiments, his head was spinning.
"You wanting to know more?" The old feller asked, lifting his glass to give Jon a hint.
Jon shook his head. The old man shrugged and turned back to the television. Jon mentally kicked himself for being so stupid. Back when he'd been interviewing Mordecai he'd said ‘Kerbrous’ when asked where the nun was. Jon had put it down to him being slow and linked that phrase to the building work that Mordecai had been doing as a casual laborer for a local building firm that had been laying down new kerbing. They’d had a geographical survey done down the whole stretch of paving and had found no body. That had been the end of that line of investigation, there was nothing solid to prove foul play, just a stuttering lunatic who'd been making a pest of himself. They’d had to release Mordecai without any charge. Subsequently the lad had done a bunk. Jon had his suspicions that the lad had high-tailed it back home to the island. His gut instinct told him Mordecai had something to do with the nun’s disappearance and there was no way he was going to let it drop.
His superiors on the other hand didn’t share the same interest and didn't want to foot the expense. Jon had shaken his head, a bunch of tight-arses, they were middle managers trying to fiddle books and slash this and that to look good. Without their backing Jon decided he’d go it alone. He'd booked himself some vacation time and crossed the Irish Sea hoping for answers. Now he’d gotten them, but he wasn’t sure he felt any the richer for it.
Jon looked at his watch. It was half-past four on a Saturday, if he were lucky he might be able to make it to the library before it closed for the night.
The place was empty apart from the librarian being heavy handed with the stamp over at the desk. Jon put on his best smile and approached.
"Hi," he said, he hoped it was charming.
"We're closing up soon." She barely even looked up from the book she'd stamped.
"I was wondering if I could use one of your computers?"
“Are you a member?” she asked.
Jon sucked in breath. She fell right into the stereotypical portrayal that female librarians seem to get lumbered with. She wore her hair plain, sober clothes and looked like she’d never been fucked, and maybe such an occurrence might do her the world of good.
“No. I’m over from the mainland, official police business.” He hoped that sounding official would help.
“Then why aren’t you using official police computers?” She asked, her eyes looking over her glasses. She looked as if she was in her mid thirties, yet she was dressing like someone in their seventies. He wondered if she was like one of those dowdrie women in films that all of a sudden yanked off their specs, shook their hair free from a bun and became a hot babe. Jon quickly decided she more than likely wasn't.
“Because…Look, can I have a quick go of a computer or not?”
“They’re over there. Don’t be too long, they’re supposed to be for members only.” She went back to stamping the books leaving Jon to wonder why the hell she'd not let him have a go on the computers without all whinging.
The man at the pub who’d known Mordecai when he was growing up had said the lad was clever. One of the oldest tricks in the book, if folk think you're stupid they don't expect as much from you, Jon kicked himself. He typed in ‘Cerberus’ and hit enter. Mordecai hadn’t meant anything to do with a kerb when he had said ‘Kerbrous’ he’d been playing him for a fool.
He began reading the web page. It had clicked in the pub, Mordecai affecting the hard ‘C’, playing a game, but what game, and what did it have to do with a missing nun. Mordecai had meant Cerberus. He’d been using a kicking ‘ker’ instead of the curly ‘ker’.
Jon knew that Cerberus was the three headed hound from Greek mythology that guarded Hell. He knew that much from watching Hercules on the television. But there had to be more to it. At the lowest level Mordecai had used it to play a game. Anything more than that moved into sinister territory.
Back at the time when Mordecai had first turned up on their radar when the concerned Mother Superior had phoned to report the lurkings of a strange man Jon had looked up the meaning of his name. Some fools change their name to Jedi Johnson you know where they're coming from. Jon had been curious about the origins of the name Mordecai. A little Googling and he'd found out it meant contrition. This didn’t seem to work in too well with abducting a nun.
Jon scrolled down and read some more about Cerberus. There had to be something there, something significant that would shed light on whatever game Mordecai had started playing. The shadow of the librarian splashed down in front of him.
“We close in two minutes.”
Jon looked around. She was peering at him and showing him her watch so closely he could tell its make and hear its tock.
“Okay.” He couldn’t be arsed arguing the toss, or bargaining for more time. He twisted a lip. “You know anything about that three headed dog thing, what’s it called? The one that guards that mountain?” He’d read her as being someone who liked to be smarter than others and played on it.
She took a moment as though she'd sent a mental-minion off through the corridors of her knowledge to look upon the shelf where facts about three-headed dogs were kept. The minion returned quick-smart. “Firstly, the dog’s name is Cerberus, and it’s from Greek and Roman mythology. It guards Hades, Hell, not a mountain.”
Jon nodded. “Any idea what it might have to do with the Island?” Jon swiveled in his chair giving her his full attention. She took on that thoughtful look once again as the mental-minion went away to harvest the knowledge.
“Sticks River, comes to mind, I suppose, but it's a bit of a stretch.” She suggested.
Jon rubbed his brow in thought. The River Styx was what you had to cross when you were dead, you paid the ferry man. “Where is it?” he asked.
“Sticks River? It branches off from the Silverburn just outside of town.” She was enjoying being in the limelight with her vast knowledge.
He made a few notes. “Is it far from here? Reckon you could show me on a map?” he asked.
She breathed heavily through her nose. “Okay, but then you really have to leave. I do have better things to do on a Saturday night.”
Jon was tempted to ask what the hell they were, feeding the umpteen cats she probably had.
Jon wasn’t one for the countryside. He was stood on a well trodden pathway that shouldered the bank of the Silverburn River. The librarian was a dozen feet ahead. Jon grinned, it turned out she didn't have anything better to do. She'd gotten impatient as she'd been trying to give him the directions and had said, "For Christ's sake, do you not know anywhere on the island?" To which he had shaken his head. She'd grabbed her coat and said, "I'll take you there."
Once on the outskirts of the town where the river met the sea she'd taken it upon herself to wear the mantel of tour guide. He found out her name was Beth. He’d expected something like Maude.
It was the third time she'd had to stop for Jon to catch up. “It might be summer detective, but the night does come in eventually.”
Jon got the drift and picked up his step, it was his shiny office shoes that were letting him down, he reckoned he might as well have two blocks of butter strapped to his feet.
Beth shared some local knowledge as they walked. Jon was only half listening. “Not sure how it got its name, one of the problems, people sometimes forget to pass on such details and then it becomes a plaything of conjecture.” At that point Jon stopped fully listening but remembered to nod occasionally.
They came to a small wooden bridge that arched itself over the twelve-foot width of the Silverburn River. Beth pointed. “We cross here. Just up ahead it breaks away from the main river. The branch-off becomes Stick's River.” They crossed the bridge. Jon looked at the Stick's River. It was far from impressive and you’d struggle to drown anything in it. He checked his watch. It was coming up to seven o’clock. It probably wouldn’t start getting dark for another hour or so, he hoped. They followed the river for nearly a mile. Jon reached out and touched Beth’s shoulder.
“Stop.” He whispered.
She gave him a stare that was filled with questions and asked, “What’s up?”
He pointed up the river. About a quarter of a mile further onwards they could see a tent pitched beside the river. Jon knew it could be some nature loving camper, but as equally it could be Mordecai.
“Stay here.” Jon didn’t check to see if she was doing as she was told. He was marching towards the tent. He had that gut-feeling and it had served him well in the past. About two dozen feet away from the tent he called out. “Mordecai Shimmin. Come out of the tent.”
There was the distinct sound of canvas being unsettled. It was chased by the zip being drawn down. Mordecai’s voice came from within the flaps.
“Detective Howard?” It was missing its stutter but Jon recognised it.
“Yeah,” Jon said.
“I was hoping you’d catch up,” said the voice.
“I see your stutter’s cleared up.”
“Can I call you Jon?” The voice wasn’t smarmy, it sounded polite if anything.
“Can I put you in cuffs?” He wasn't actually carrying any but it sounded like the best thing to say.
“No, well not yet anyway.”
“Do yourself a favour and come out of the tent.”
“Who’s with you?” the voice asked.
“Just a librarian.” Jon wondered how Mordecai knew that he wasn't on his lonesome.
“Why’d you bring her?”
Jon was tired of the conversation. “I’m counting to three and then I’m gonna come drag you out of there.”
“Don’t you want to know about Sister Gail?” asked Mordecai from within the tent, showing no inclination of leaving it.
“Rather hear about it down at the local nick.”
“That's not going to happen, Jon. This is much too serious.”
“No shit,” Jon said, taking a step closer.
Jon could see the tent-flap being pulled fully back. Mordecai crawled out with something in his hand. Jon’s body went rigid and then relaxed when he saw it was a thermos. “Put the flask down.”
“I need it. Sister Gail gave her life to fill it.” Mordecai’s dark eyes were serious, even to the point where the lids forgot to blink. Jon noticed Mordecai's dark hair had grown since he'd interviewed him over on the mainland. It was on brink of being hippyish.
Jon felt his stomach tighten. He didn’t need a fertile imagination to guess what was in the flask. At least it proved he'd been right, that Mordecai had been the reason that Sister Gail had dropped off the face of the planet. He’d killed her.
It was time to stop playing Mordecia's game. “Drop the flask. I’m not going to ask again.”
“I can’t. The hunt has begun for the Osseous Box. If evil finds it first then evil will find us!”
“Whatever. Drop the fucking flask.” Jon took a step closer.
“I gave you the clues. I need you here to help me. Sister Gail said I would need help. Help me find the box and help me hide it somewhere safe.” Mordecai's words pleading.
Mordecai was spitting out insanity. Jon ignored it and took another step closer. Mordecai took a step back to compensate. “Jon. The river shall point the direction, but holy blood will lead the way. Sister Gail gave her life so that we might get to it first. Don’t let her death become a waste.” More pleading.
“Stop talking Mordecai, you’re fucked up. You killed a nun, they’ll probably bring back hanging for you, and that'll still be too good.” Jon broke into a run.
Mordecai dived for the small river. Jon was soon on him and they wrestled. Jon managed to roll Mordecai over only to lose the advantage. The deranged always seemed to have more strength than was fair. Jon struck down with an elbow that smeared Mordecai’s nose across his face. Still Mordecai struggled to get to the river. Jon tried to get the flask. Mordecai didn’t want to share it.
They struggled and rolled like two schoolboys having a playground scuffle. Beth was shouting something. Jon couldn’t make out what it was, it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was gaining control of the situation and getting things sorted. Mordecai found some more strength and managed to momentarily shrug himself free of Jon. He used the inches of freedom that he’d gained to take the top off the flask and hurl the contents into the river. Jon saw red-anger. He watched as the contents of the flask poured away into the river. It was Sister Gail’s blood. It pooled in the river like oil, it refused to mix and dilute with the water. Jon clenched a fist and was about to use it on Mordecai’s face but stopped. The blood didn’t run downstream with the flow of the river. It stayed together in a crimson, liquid mass. Jon couldn’t help but crawl over to the riverbank and stare. Mordecai held a hand to his nose and stumbled over. Beth joined them in their strange vigil. None spoke as the blood broke every law of physics and began to work its way up river.
Mordecai smiled. “Holy blood will guide us.”
“What the…” Jon couldn’t find anything else to say.
“That can’t be happening,” Beth added.
Mordecai began to follow the rogue blood. “We've gotta be the first to find it.”
Jon started off after Mordecai. He didn’t know whether to arrest him, beat him up some more, or question him. He went with a question. “What is this Osseous Box?”Mordecai didn’t stop, nor look back. “Destruction.