Where the Wicked Dwell
(First two chapters)
Marcus Blake leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on the desk and thought about the year that had flown by since Afghanistan. His ramshackle security agency had not improved much in that year. He had taken on a secretary, a young widow by the name of Vereen Child who had a four-year-old son, Earl, and the only acquisition that could be said to have improved the business. Vereen worked for three days each week; anymore would have meant losing her benefits.
Of those who had applied for the job, Marcus liked Vereen the most. She had also been recommended by one of Marcus’s former clients who had died in tragic circumstances. There were few takers for the job, considering the hours and the meagre pay, but she fitted the bill, had the necessary personal skills and wanted an opportunity to keep in touch with workday routines. She lived on a council estate in South London.
Vereen opened the door and walked in. She wasn’t surprised to see him like that; he had a way of relaxing that was almost an art form. For a brief moment, she was able admire his bodyline, his features and unruly blond hair. She knew he was extremely fit because of the hours he spent in the gym when he wasn’t working, honing his martial arts skills and building his strength. She often hoped he would show some inclination towards her, but he was a gentleman too and it had never happened. One day maybe, she thought as she dropped a folder on his desk.
‘You got a phone call this morning.’
Marcus took his feet off the desk. ‘Who was it?’
‘Sir Giles Cavendish, whoever that is. You moving in posh circles now?’
Marcus felt an inward groan surfacing; any interest from Cavendish could not be good news. ‘Sometimes I wish I wasn’t,’ he admitted. ‘What did he want?’
‘He wants to see you, said he’d be here about now.’
Marcus grunted and looked at his watch.
‘Who is he?’ Vereen asked. ‘An old client?’
Marcus thought of Afghanistan again and missile attacks, drugs, child smuggling and the death of a dear friend.
‘You could say that,’ he said after a while. ‘Make yourself scarce when he comes, Vereen. If I need you, I’ll give you a shout.’
One other improvement to the agency during the previous twelve months was the refurbishment of a disused room next to his office. Although Marcus did not need money, the fee paid by Her Majesty’s government for his services in Afghanistan had been handsome: it was enough to buy a fair chunk of prime real estate in the city. But all he wanted, or needed, was to double the size of his agency. Vereen used it as an office, but it was really a repository for anything Marcus didn’t want or didn’t know what to do with.
They both heard the door downstairs open and the creak of the first footfall on the carpeted staircase leading up to Marcus’s agency. Vereen raised her eyebrows at him and walked over to the door. She pulled it open as Sir Giles Cavendish reached the top step. He smiled and Vereen stepped aside as he brushed past her. Marcus got to his feet and held his hand out over the desk.
‘Sir Giles, how good to see you,’ he lied.
Cavendish nodded and shook the outstretched hand. He was a tall, cadaverous looking man. His thin face peered solemnly from beneath a scalp peppered with age. There was little colour in his face, and Marcus noticed his height was diminished by a slight stoop. He was surprised at the appearance of a man who once held himself so elegantly, and always with a purpose. It came from breeding, was Cavendish’s standard reply when asked.
‘Can I get you something?’
‘Tea would be nice: black, two sugars.’ He sat down in the chair facing the desk.
Marcus looked over at Vereen who smiled and closed the door behind her.
‘Pretty girl,’ Cavendish observed, and looked back at Marcus. ‘Caribbean?’
‘So,’ Marcus said, spreading his hands and ignoring Cavendish’s question about Vereen’s origins. ‘How can I help you, Sir Giles?’
‘You had a client some time ago,’ he began. ‘Chap by the name of Eddie Garfield.’
‘How on earth did you know that?’ Before Cavendish could answer, Marcus put his hand up. Cavendish’s business was to know a great deal more about people than they would probably have wanted. ‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘You knew what he was?’
‘A Cabinet minister?’
Cavendish nodded. ‘A junior minister. Well, Culture Secretary.’ He made it sound worthless. ‘But you must have known that.’
Marcus did, but Garfield had insisted on absolute secrecy, so Marcus tried bravely to treat the client as a member of the public rather than a member of the government. A thought drifted into his mind, but he couldn’t hold it.
‘Are you still with MI6, Sir Giles?’
‘Don’t change the subject, Blake, but yes I am. More or less,’ he added.
‘So why are you interested in a client of mine? Is there a problem?’
‘Who said there was a problem?’
Marcus laughed. ‘You haven’t come here to pass the time of day, Sir Giles. We both know that, don’t we?’
Marcus knew that too. ‘Yes, very sad. And it meant I’d lost a client, but that was a few months ago.’
‘Do you know how he died?’
Marcus nodded. He recalled the headlines in the national press about the budding politician’s death. ‘He had cancer.’
‘Yes.’ The word was uttered slowly. ‘Were you aware he was ill?’
Marcus shook his head. ‘Clients don’t come here to talk about their medical problems. If he was ill, he didn’t show it.’
There was a gentle knock on the door and Vereen came in carrying a tray with Cavendish’s tea. She placed it carefully on the desk and left the two men alone. Cavendish took a sip of his tea. He turned his head and looked around the room.
‘I nearly lost my life here. If it hadn’t been for you….’ He let it drift. Marcus tried not to think what could have happened if he hadn’t acted so quickly.
'Your life is not in danger now, is it?’ he asked.
Cavendish leaned forward and put his cup down, shaking his head vigorously. ‘Goodness me no, unless you’re thinking of London traffic.’
The old boy still had a dry sense of humour, but Marcus thought he was prevaricating, hedging a little. He seemed slow in coming to the point.
‘So, no real challenges for you now?’
Cavendish chuckled. ‘There are always challenges, but I do like to spend some time in the Tate or the National Gallery these days. I can quite happily get lost in them.’
‘But that isn’t why you are here, or did you just want somewhere else to while away your time?’
Cavendish picked up his cup. ‘No, that’s not the reason.’ The cup went down again. ‘You said Garfield died of cancer, right?’
‘It’s what I read in the paper.’
‘No, he committed suicide.’
Marcus’s reaction was perfectly natural: his head went back and he raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘Suicide? I don’t remember reading that.’
Cavendish shook his head. ‘You wouldn’t have done; it was hushed up. More to protect his family I would think. But Garfield was not the suicidal type; he had so much to live for, a promising career and probably would have made Prime Minister. He was certainly equipped for it.’
‘But who is the suicidal type? And what makes you say that, anyway?’
‘He left a suicide note.’
Traffic noise percolated through the window, encroaching on the silence that followed Cavendish’s surprise admission. The two men stared at each other. Cavendish picked up his cup and sipped his tea. Marcus looked a little puzzled. The vague thought he had earlier slipped in and out again, too rapid to hold on to it.
‘That does rather confirm it though, doesn’t it?’ he said, letting the thought drift away.
Cavendish put his cup down in the manner of someone about to make a statement. ‘According to the suicide note, he was so ashamed of his involvement with a fifteen year old boy that he decided to take his own life.’
Marcus whistled softly through his teeth. ‘Wow, but you don’t believe it, do you?’
Cavendish went on. ‘Garfield was in the public eye virtually twenty four hours every day. His position as a cabinet minister meant he was under close and covert surveillance by the Secret Service, to say nothing of the Press. His wife said the confession was absolute nonsense — there wasn’t a shred of truth in it.’
‘Perhaps she was in denial; after all, it must have been awful for her. It was bad enough losing a husband in that way, but to know he was a homosexual too. And with an under-age youth it would have meant he would be labelled as a paedophile.’ He left it hanging.
‘Sounds like an unmitigated disaster, which is why it was hushed up.’
‘But you’re not happy with it.’
‘I said he committed suicide, but I don’t think that’s the case — I believe he was murdered.’
The cemetery spread itself over a huge area in a landscape of headstones, shrubs, a variety of trees and well-tended borders of flowers that helped brighten the solemnity of the place. Marcus walked slowly along the pathways worn by the passage of mourners over the years. Each headstone revealed a passing through age, a tragedy, an illness. None mentioned suicide, not even that of the cabinet minister. Marcus had walked past the grave each day for the past week, each time noticing the bouquet of flowers by the headstone had wilted steadily. He saw other people visiting the graves of their loved ones. Some brought fresh flowers, others just sat and chatted to the husband, wife, son, daughter, or lover.
Marcus began to see a pattern: elderly people would come during the morning; younger people tended to come later in the day, perhaps after work or during school hours. He had initiated a chat with the cemetery keeper by telling the man he was writing a book about cemeteries in England and the great work done by keepers. It was flattering enough to learn more about the habits of the people who visited the cemetery, particularly the well-known and famous who were buried there.
It was on the seventh day when she turned up. Marcus saw her walking towards Garfield’s grave carrying a bouquet. He made his way towards the adjacent plot so he arrived just as the woman was removing the old flowers.
‘Doesn’t get much easier, does it?’
She turned towards Marcus with the wilted flowers in her hand. ‘No.’ Her smile was weak. She looked back at the headstone beside which the fresh bunch of flowers lay. ‘But we can’t forget them, can we?’
The woman had come prepared, he could see that. She had a kneeling pad and began working the soil with a small hand trowel, prising out the weeds that had popped their heads above the ground. They went into a carrier bag along with the flowers she had removed from the urn. It was a warm, pleasant day for that time of the year; the famous April showers had yet to appear. She was wearing boots suitable for a day’s gardening and had discarded her topcoat, which now hung unceremoniously over the headstone. As she worked, her dark hair swung around her face. She brushed at it occasionally despite the fact she was holding the trowel.
‘I try to get up here as often as I can,’ Marcus lied. ‘I miss the old boy.’
She stopped and brushed her hair back. ‘Your father?’
He shook his head. ‘No, just somebody I knew years ago.’ He nodded towards Garfield’s headstone. ‘And your……?’
‘Oh, I’m sorry.’
She sat back on her heels. ‘No need to be; you never knew him.’
‘Yes, I know what you meant.’ She started digging again. ‘Where have you come from?’ Her voice jerked as she prodded at the weeds.
‘All the way up to Norfolk, eh?’
‘It isn’t that far,’ he replied. ‘And I can get some work done while I’m up here.’
‘Well, research actually.’
‘Are you a writer then?’
She said nothing for a while as she busied herself with a particularly stubborn weed. ‘So what do you write, fiction?’
‘No, I’m researching cemeteries as a matter of fact. Not very exciting, I know.’
She sat back on her heels again, puffed out her cheeks and brushed her hair back, trowel in hand.
‘Oh I don’t know, there’s a whole world of stories buried here.’ She wasn’t looking at Marcus, but staring absently at her husband’s headstone. ‘Some mysterious, some natural, some hiding a truth.’ She paused. Then she gave a little shake and reached forward for the fresh flowers, popped something into the urn and lowered the flowers in. She took a small bottle from the pocket of her coat and tipped the contents into the urn, then crossed herself and mumbled a short prayer.
Marcus watched as she scrambled to her feet and lifted her coat from the headstone.
‘It was nice talking to you,’ she said.
‘Do you mind if I walk to the gate with you?’ Marcus asked.
She shrugged and buttoned the coat. ‘Sure, if you like.’
They fell in to step on the pathway and walked silently, each with their own thoughts until they reached the small gatehouse at the cemetery entrance.
‘Are you going back to London now?’
Marcus shook his head. ‘No, I’m doing research, remember?’
She laughed softly. ‘Of course. Well,’ she held her hand out, ‘thanks for your company, and good luck with your research.’
She walked across the car park to a silver coloured Range Rover. Marcus hurried to his car and waited for her to drive away. As she turned out on to the main road, Marcus fired up the motor and drove after her. He had one thing on his mind and that was not to lose her; somehow he had to maintain contact and hope she could lead him to the reason why her husband had committed suicide.
Or was murdered.
Vereen splashed more lemonade into the rum and passed the glass across the counter. The guy pushed a twenty pound note into her hand, but held on to it. Loud rap music crowded the background, making it hard to hear anyone speak.
‘You should be in my crew, Vereen; you’re buff, we’d be good together.’
‘You’re out of your head, Blazer.’ She pulled the note from his hand and rang it through the till. He was a good looking guy, but Vereen was not in the market for sex, because that’s all Blazer wanted. Most of his galdems, or female crew, were no more than bed warmers. She handed him his change.
‘Abelard’s in tonight, I hear.’
The nightclub in which Vereen worked occasionally was owned by a top flight thug from the small, West Indian country of Haiti who fancied himself as a modern day Papa Doc Duvalier. Winston Abelard was in his early fifties and ran all kinds of criminal activities, backed up by a network of contacts, thieves, murderers and drug dealers. The word was that his influence reached into the higher echelons of power in the British establishment, and only a chosen few were allowed to get close to him, to get into his inner sanctum. Vereen had been invited in, but declined what would have been an inevitable slide into whoredom. She didn’t like him anyway and had heard someone describe him as an oily bastard. She thought so too.
‘Why should I care?’
‘You’d be a blud, not a sket. He’d do you good.’
Vereen grimaced. ‘I don’t want to be his mate nor his slut.’
‘So come in with me.’
‘I just told you, Blazer, no way.’
She moved away to serve another customer. Her mind wandered away from Blazer and his attempts to absorb her into his galdem — his female crew — and thought of Marcus. She hadn’t seen him for a week, not that she expected to, which was why she’d grabbed the chance to moonlight at Abelard’s nightclub. She had popped into the office and cleared the junk mail, opened a few window envelopes and made sure there were no messages on the phone for him. After that she was free to do whatever she wanted until the following week when she expected Marcus back.
There was a subtle change in the atmosphere as two heavies walked through the double doors leading into the club from the outer lobby. They stood motionless as Abelard walked in. Vereen saw this in the mirror that covered the entire wall behind the bar. When she turned round, she kept her head fixed on her customer and avoided making a chance eye contact across the dance floor.
The dancers made way as Abelard walked through the press of people and headed towards a roped off, VIP area. It wasn’t long before he had an attractive Caribbean girl beside him. She was his ‘gash’, his girl, which he changed as regularly as his drink.
Vereen could never understand what made these women think they were going to be a permanent feature alongside men like Abelard. She did wonder if they were given a good pay-off once they had been cast aside. But somehow she doubted it. She turned to serve another customer when the bar manager dropped a drinks order in front of her.
Vereen knew the score. She made up the order, two drinks, and fought her way around the heaving dance floor to where the big man was sitting. She didn’t like him, and despite her open display of disinterest, she was afraid of him. She found him unsettling, poisonous almost. She knew of the voodoo culture in Haiti, and was convinced he carried an essence of it wherever he went. It was like an evil cloak that surrounded him, and to get close was to be trapped.
She placed the drinks on the table and tucked the tray beneath her arm. As she was about to walk away, he leaned across his female companion and grabbed Vereen just above the elbow. She froze. The feel of his flesh crept over her like a snake coiling itself round its victim. She almost dropped the tray in fright as she turned round to face him.
He smiled, showing a row of gold and white teeth. The gold seemed to flash, and the white were almost iridescent against his black skin, as black as his hair neatly styled with cornrow braids. He fondled her arm for a few seconds. Vereen found herself looking down at his muscular chest, exposed through the open, silk shirt. A gold chain hung against the dark curls.
‘You look good tonight, Vereen.’
She cleared her throat. ‘Thank you, Mr. Abelard.’ She tried to pull her arm away but he held her firm.
‘Why not stay when you’ve finished your shift?’
Her heart beat furiously beneath her rib cage, pounding up into her throat. Her voice fluttered and trembled as she tried to form the words. She coughed.
‘No thank you; I have to go home. My kid,’ she explained hopelessly. She didn’t know if he knew she had a son.
He released his grip on her. ‘One day, Vereen, you will change your mind.’
She smiled nervously and walked away. As she practically stumbled her way back to the bar, she could feel his eyes on her, and she was convinced he was touching her, running his hands all over her body. She dumped the tray and hurried through to the toilet where she shut herself in a cubicle and sat down. She had a spliff in her pocket. She could hardly put it to her mouth her hands were shaking so much, but she managed to light it and draw the heady smoke deep into her lungs.
The calming influence of the marijuana helped her, and her trembling subsided as she smoked the cigarette down to a butt. She dropped it into the toilet and walked out of the cubicle. Abelard was no longer a mental threat to her wellbeing, but she knew she would probably have to give up working part time at the club if she couldn’t prevent his creepy advances.
When she walked back into the club, Blazer was waiting for her. He caught hold of her elbow before she could get behind the bar.
‘Hey, Vereen, are you crazy? You had a zoot in there?’ He nodded towards the toilet. He knew she had smoked a joint.
‘What if, Blazer? None of your damn business.’ She tried to shrug him off.
‘Listen, Vereen.’ His voice was urgent. ‘If Abelard knows you do that, you’ll be dead.’
‘He ain’t going to kill me, Blazer. And what do you care?’
The rap music went up a notch forcing him closer to her so he could make himself heard. Vereen tensed and moved back.
‘I saw what happened over there.’ His eyes moved. ‘Abelard is not good for you.’
She laughed. ‘That isn’t what you said earlier, Blazer.’
‘I was deep, man, out of order.’
‘So why you worried now?
He pressed a little closer. ‘I’ll take you home tonight. You’ll be safe.’
She dragged her arm away. ‘No way, Blazer; it’s just another excuse to mash.’
‘No sex, Vereen, on my honour.’
She laughed again. ‘You ain’t got no honour; you’re like the rest of them.’
Suddenly his expression changed. He looked serious and concerned. ‘On my life, Vereen, I’ll take you home. You’ll be safe. Abelard won’t hound you.’
Vereen dropped her head a little. She knew how the men in the club came on strong with the girls, how they treated most of them as their own property, to be treated like dirt most often. She sensed that Blazer was different, despite all the gang talk and the ethnic slang. But could she trust him?
‘I don’t know, Blazer.’ She shrugged in a hopeless gesture.
He gave her arm a gentle squeeze. ‘On my life, Vereen.’
She relented and immediately felt surprisingly better for it. ‘OK, Blazer. I finish at eleven.’
He winked. ‘We’re bredrin, Vereen. Friends.’
She went behind the bar and began collecting dirty glasses. The bar manager gave her a withering look but was too busy serving to have a go at her. She knew that would come later, but she could handle that. She just hoped she could handle Blazer.
When Marcus left the cemetery, he followed the woman along the main street running through Burnham Market, a lovely village — a town almost — busy with tourists and shoppers. Cars seemed to be parked haphazardly all over the strikingly attractive area. The woman turned south and headed out towards North Creake. Two minutes later she pulled off the road and turned into a secluded driveway. Large chestnut trees arched over the curved drive, hiding the house from the road. Marcus drove by and continued on for another mile before turning and heading back to Burnham Market.
Now, in the comfort of his room at an ancient pub, he phoned Vereen, but she wasn’t answering. He knew at that time of night she could be out, in bed, or watching some TV and may not want contact with anyone. He would have been horrified if he knew at that moment she was sitting in a toilet smoking a roll-up. He cancelled the call and picked up the pile of free newspapers and tourist magazines he had gathered during that afternoon and began working his way through them.
What Marcus wanted was to get a feel of the place and try to understand the psyche of those professional people who chose to live in deepest Norfolk. He also wanted to learn more about the cabinet minister and his wife, now his widow, and to find out if there were any clubs or associations to which they were affiliated, or patronised. He figured that the key to learning what could possibly have led to the man committing suicide would be found in the links he and his wife had forged away from public scrutiny. Marcus understood that any club membership was not a guard against that kind of scrutiny, but the people they associated with might hold the answer.
It was quite late when he finished the last of all the reading material. He gathered it up, piled it all into the waste bin and made his way down to the bar. A drink and a chat with locals was on his mind — another source of information and gossip. But he had a germ of an idea that might work. He needed Vereen’s cooperation, but until he could contact her, it would have to remain just that, an idea.
After the incident with Vereen, Abelard waited until almost midnight before shrugging off the attentions of the young woman sitting beside him, and made his way out to a private room. Close members of his staff knew that once he was inside that room, no-one was permitted entry unless by invitation.
The walls of the room were covered in drapes hanging from the coving to the richly carpeted floor. At the far end of the room was a cupboard fixed to the wall. He took a key from his pocket and opened the two small doors revealing a carved, black figurine. It had a goat like appearance but with a human face. Two curved horns framed the demonic head. Abelard kissed the tips of his fingers and touched the lips of the figurine. Then he turned and made his way to a large table at the other end of the room. There were several chairs round it, but one ornately carved, wheel-back carver dominated the rest. Abelard sat in this chair and placed his hands on the table with his palms facing down. The cloth that covered the table was decorated with a six pointed star contained within a circle. In the centre of the star was an inverted, five pointed star. The hieroglyphics within the circle engaged his attention for several minutes as he chanted a mantra softly, slowly bringing his mind to a hypnotic state until he drifted into virtual unconsciousness, and the sound of his breathing was all that disturbed the silence.
In Abelard’s mind now was a vision of Vereen. There were no other elements in what he could see, just her outline and face. He concentrated fully until he imagined his breathing was synchronised to hers. In this state he felt he was able to enter Vereen’s subconscious and remain undetected. He was unable to do any more than to embrace the vision and dwell there with his thoughts. Had Vereen been in that room with him, it would have been different. Eventually the vision began to fade and Abelard returned to his fully conscious state. He sat there for a while, drinking in the memory of this wholly surreal encounter, knowing that he had managed to plant a small seed of his own in her mind.
He got up from the chair and stood still for a moment, regaining control of his body. Then he walked across to the cabinet, kissed the figurine and locked the two doors. He felt enlivened now because of the technique he had learned from his masters. Vereen would soon be his willing acolyte, of that he was sure, and bring him closer to perfection in the satanic arts.
Vereen gasped and sat bolt upright. She was covered in sweat and shaking. She looked around her but could see very little. It was dark in the room, with just a small amount of moonlight entering through the curtain edges. The blanket on her bed lay crumpled on the floor, and the sheet had wrapped itself around her waist. The nightmare burned fresh in her memory as she sat there trying to figure out where she was and what had brought her to this state. Her heart thumped beneath her ribs as she took deep breaths to control her fright.
She dragged the sheet away and climbed out of bed, turned on her bedside light and made her way through to the bathroom. She was careful not to make too much noise because of her son who lay sleeping in a small bed beside hers. Once she was in the bathroom, she locked the door and helped herself to a glass of water. Her reflection looked back at her from the mirror as she leaned on the vanity unit, glass in hand. Her face looked puffy from sleep, but her eyes revealed a mild terror. She had never suffered from nightmares before, other than when her father had died. But now she could feel something sinister, something terrifying. She slumped down on to the toilet and wished she had another spliff to smoke. Not that she could while staying in her mother’s flat. She sat like that for ten minutes, nursing the glass of water until she felt calm. Then she finished her drink and went back to her room, clambered into bed and turned off the light. Sleep came quickly for her, and mercifully there was no re-occurrence of the nightmare.