Can’t a writer get paid? Give Trev Hill some beer money!
The stairs creaked as the security guard climbed to the upper floor. He hated this part, the stairs were narrow and the whole building made noises. Of course, he told himself, it didn’t help that it was this house. He’d never been in it before but he’d heard enough about it. Everyone knew they were just stories to scare the kids or the girls but it didn’t help now he was here alone, not now he had to sleep here himself. Not that he figured on getting much sleep, especially if She decided to visit.
Paul O’Shea assembled his crew in the local Prince Rupert Hotel. “The Stalwarts”, as he had christened the regular members, were sampling the hostelry’s local delights. A little early, he felt, but they knew their work and their limits. Meantime, he was interviewing some new members from the locale, specialists in their fields, he was told. He sipped his coffee, hoping to god that they weren’t the usual self-important local bumpkins he normally had to deal with. Thankfully, they weren’t too bad, he had to admit, although Dr Bartholomew Bartlett PhD was a trifle annoying. However, as he had the most contacts and some local media status, he was put in charge of the “auxiliaries”. Once O’Shea had his troops, he arranged the first briefing for the following evening in the Prince Rupert.
The conference room was abuzz with excitement as the auxiliaries and local trades-folk assembled and wolfed down the complimentary sandwiches and wine.
“Hark at the Hoovers!” a stalwart technician was heard to comment, “All the same on every job, extras, super-luminaries, local specialists… all the same, all bloody hoovers. Come up to the table and hoover it all away!” His stalwart buddies nodded sagely at his words of wisdom and surveyed the melee whilst hoovering their pints. O’Shea entered the room and the multitudes found their seats.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, “O’Shea began, “you’re probably aware that there is something special planned in the local area,” the multitude chuckled accordingly, “Well, until today I could have told you, but then I’d have had to kill you!” Cue more chuckling. “As you are no doubt aware, myself and my stalwart crew are members of the television production History Hunters, a popular archaeological programme. You’ve also probably worked out that the History Hunters will be filming an episode in your fair town of Severnsbury. WE are very excited about this, as it is a beautiful, well preserved mediaeval site with a lot of history, but again, you probably know that too.” Nods and chuckles and, “get on with it,” sighs.
“Well,” O’Shea continued, “now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for.” The multitude pricked up their collective ears, “A few months ago Sunforques, the well-known national pub and hostelry chain, acquired premises in Severnsbury with the aim of converting the current site into a small mediaeval themed tavern. Naturally, they want to keep the buildings as close as they can to the original state whilst incorporating the structure into the new interior design. However, they have also given permission for archaeological research to be done on the foundations of the building, which is still standing I hasten to add, before proceeding. Of course, we are very excited at this unique chance and also very honoured that History Hunters has been asked to undertake the research. And so, to aid us in our endeavours, we have gathered together a number of locally respected specialists, that is, your good selves!” Laughter and applause.
“ Neal Tobias, Severnsbury Sentinel. Could you tell us, Mr O’Shea, where the archaeological dig is to take place?”
“Well, Mr Tobias, I was just about to do that but let’s say your shrewd, archaeological journalistic technique has unearthed the information,” winked O’Shea, to a roar of merriment. “So, in answer to Mr Tobias’s digging, we’ll reveal that the site is located in the 15th century structures which form the junction between Fish Row and Grope Lane.” Gasps of excitement and astonishment. “This area, as you know, is not only one of the oldest and most picturesque areas of the town but also has a long and rich history of trading and…”
“Oh yes indeed!” piped up Dr Bartholomew Barlett PhD. “A special sort of trading indeed, for instance, did you know that the original name of Grope Lane was Grope…”
“Yes, thank you, Dr Bartlett! I’m sure many people will be aware of the colourful past of the area. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to Dr Bartholomew Bartlett PhD, who will be leading our team of local researchers?” Polite applause and Bartlett lovingly waving to all, especially the cameras. “Now,” continued O’Shea, “let’s discuss some technical matters, shall we? Then we can excavated the bar!” Wild applause.
During the post-announcement soiree O’Shea was making the customary introductions between the new members of the team. Accordingly he approached Dr Bartlett accompanied by a woman.
“Dr Bartlett, I’d like to introduce Dr Hayley Mackenzie who’ll be working alongside you.” Dr Mackenzie held out her slender hand whilst Bartlett puffed himself up to the required level of pomposity.
“Ah, DOCTOR Mackenzie!” he declared, holding on to his wine-glass and cigar, “And from which honorable institution do you hold your title?” he asked. Dr Mackenzie smiled slightly, withdrawing her hand,
“The Open University,” she replied unselfconsciously. Bartlett’s eyebrows rose and fell.
“Oh, my apologies, I had assumed it was from a proper institution, like my own,” He sighed.
“Of course, one would have liked to, Mr Bartlett, but having a job and a family does get in the way a little,” Dr Mackenzie replied tartly. The tone was lost on Bartlett, who shrugged in slimy sympathy,
“I wouldn’t know, Dr Mackenzie, having never married. One devotes all to one’s discipline, you see. Ah well, needs must as the devil drives, I suppose, eh, Mr O’Shea?” O’Shea had coloured somewhat at Bartlett’s comment,
“Dr Mackenzie comes highly recommended, Dr Bartlett, something supported by some of my fellow OU graduates.” Bartlett nodded with a self-assumed comprehension and not a hint of embarrassment,
“Of course, Mr O’Shea. I understand completely. Well, I shall look forward to working with you, Dr Mackenzie and feel free to drink from my well of experience.” He raised his glass and turned back to his little group. O’Shea and Dr Mackenzie turned and walked towards the bar.
“Oh god, sorry Hayley!” O’Shea sighed. Hayley shrugged,
“Heard it before but that line was a killer, wasn’t it?”
“What, the ‘never-married’ one?”
“Yeah, probably never found anyone stupid enough, even from the OU!”
The location of the excavation was a narrow lane in the centre of the town. Severnsbury had been a prosperous town in its heyday, a religious and mercantile centre which attracted a number of trades and traders. The centre of the old town still retained the classic black and white houses of the 15th century, with their distinctive timberwork and time-sloped structures. Grope lane led from the more recent renovations of the High Street up to the old mercantile centre and the cobbled street of Fish Row. This would be a particular headache for the excavators because of the need to remove any cobblestones individually and mark them to return in the exact spot from which they came. O’Shea ‘s team loved this kind of work. The overtime was amazing. The local research team stood in the lane surveying the relevant structures.
“Amazing building, isn’t it? Nothing fancy as such, but all the history in its little rafters,” O’Shea smiled, his more romantic side beginning to peep through. Hayley Mackenzie nodded with a slight smile. One or two of the other researchers ran their hands across the wooden beams on the outside of the houses.
“Our job, “ O’Shea began, “is to go down…” Bartlett chortled,
“Very apt, considering what this place was, eh? Did you know, Dr Mackenzie, that the original name was…”
“Yes, thank you, Mr Bartlett, I do know.”
“So, who knows what we’ll find, eh!?” Bartlett droned on. O’Shea continued.
“We’ll be trying to get down to the inner foundations and maybe around the outside. It seems the lane was narrowed at some point, might be interesting to find out why and if it had any connection with Dr Bartlett’s original name,” he smiled, nodding at the appreciative Bartlett.
“So what exactly will we be doing, Mr O’Shea?” asked a young man in the group. O’Shea turned to him.
“Now, John… is that right?” the man nodded, “Yes, sorry, John Frenchman every one, assistant archivist at the county libraries. Well John, you’ll be searching land records etc and finding out about the architectural records and so forth, seeing how the buildings changed over the years. Also, maybe some legal records, court documents etc to see if we can get a few tales of the past, that kind of thing. I’m sure there must be something juicy.”
There were a few knowing smiles from the local historians which set O’Shea’s heart aglow.
The security guard settled down in the “watchman’s” room. He’d brought blankets and the kettle was on but the portable TV was giving him problems. He’d never liked this building, even as a kid walking past it. Now, just his luck, he’d been lemoned with the night shift and a dodgy telly. He switched it off and picked up a Dan Brown thriller from the table. Better, than nothing, he supposed.
He stiffened as he heard the little steps running up the staircase outside the room and the little giggle. He cursed silently. If it had just been the noise, he could have put it down the the ancient beams cooling down in the night. But that giggle… that changed it all. He tried to ignore it but the sound of footsteps resumed in the room above him; that room.
He slowly rose from the chair and picked up the torch, the heaviest, and made his way out onto the staircase. The wooden boards creaked in a warning fashion as he climbed slowly, tensely, up each step, his breath becoming shorter and his chest tighter.
He paused at the doorway of the room and flashed the torch around. He couldn’t see anything untoward but slowly, almost painfully, he put his hand around the doorframe and fumbled for the light-switch on the other side of the wall. He wasn’t going in their without a bloody light. He held the torch like a club, half expecting his wrist to be seized by an unseen hand.
The light went on. Nothing. The room looked ordinary, boring, even. He breathed a sigh of relief, chuckling to himself at his own stupidty. He wouldn’t tell the lads about it, he decided. Still, he’d just have a quick look. It was just possible, after all, that some local kid had snuck in for a dare. Hadn’t they all done that at one time?
Crossing the threshold, he didn’t notice a difference in temperature. If he had, he’d have put it down to the room simply not being heated during the digging project. That said, the slight breeze around his neck could have come from an open window… somewhere. It was the tingling coldness which enveloped his neck which stopped him in his tracks, followed by the slow, almost caress-like movement of the sensation down his arm and chest.
His torch arm was paralysed, either by fear or the cold sensation, and his chin and neck felt cupped in a light but firm hold. A warmer, softer breeze blew into his face, becoming warmer as it got close to his neck and ear. He realized with an increasing horror that it wasn’t just his arm which had stiffened. The eyes in his petrified face forced themselves to look downwards as the cold sensation turned warmer and moved slowly down towards his rising bulge.
As the sensation touched him there, he heard the giggle once again. Snapping his eyes upwards, he saw her, screamed and found the use of his legs again. Throwing himself backwards he all but rolled down the stairs, followed by the mocking, bell-chimes of the girlish laughter.
The security boss had nodded and left silently, leaving a steadily fuming project manager sitting at his desk.
O’Shea gripped his vape between his teeth and muttered a curse that would have driven the devil away in embarrassment, before throwing his pen at the wall in frustration,
“This is bloody ridiculous! Is it cold or wet there? Do they want wi-fi, porn channel? What?” he cursed.
The door opened and Hayley MacKenzie peeped cautiously into the room.
“Trouble Paul?” she asked. O’Shea nodded sternly.
“F-ing exodus of night-watchmen. Can’t keep them and nobody will say why.”
“What did the security chief say?”
“Nothing, but he knows something, I know he does… He’s holding something back!”
“You don’t survive long in my job if you can’t tell. Sod it! What’s the problem?”
“The problem is…” Mackenzie smiled, “that you need a drink!” O’Shea nodded.
“A big stiff one!”
“Wouldn’t mind a big, stiff one myself, as well as a drink.” The good Doctor smirked. O’Shea recoiled in mock-horror.
“God, you’ve been working with Bartlett to long!”
“Spending any time with him is too long. Look, forget the Prince Rupert, I know just the place, old coaching inn. I think you’ll like it.”
“Sounds good, what’s it called?”
“Errrm, The Coach and Horses, believe it or not.”
“Now who’d have thought it?” he chuckled. “Your local?”
“Not really, but it does a great pint of… Somerset apple juice!”
“And I took you to be a shandy girl!”
“Well, why should a girl have ale on the lips when she can get the tongue in cider!”
“And it also happens to be where some of your security team drink.”
The pub was fairly busy but comfortable. The crowd were generally working locals, not a trendy young crowd. Mackenzie and O’Shea found a free table in a corner and O’Shea nipped over to the bar, returning with two bright orange pints of Cheddar cider.
“So,” he asked, sitting down and taking a sip, “How’s it going with the research team?” Mackenzie took a large sip of her own chilled cider and smiled, semi-triumphantly.
“Not bad at all. Perhaps even more than OK.” She smiled knowingly. O’Shea rose to the challenge.
“Looks like somebody has a secret they are dying to tell me,” he opined, staring into Mackenzie’s smirking face. The smirk peaked and she took another sip.
“Oh yeah! You’ll love this…” she began. However, O’Shea’s loving would have to wait as there was a rather loud story being told across the bar which made both O’Shea and Mackenzie down their glasses and listen.
A stout, middle-aged man was standing at the bar, regaling a group of what appeared to be his drinking buddies. He seemed excited or agitated and the audience appeared transfixed. O’Shea nodded towards the orator,
“He’s actually one of the security team. I think he’s a foreman.”
“Could be worth a chat then,” Mackenzie replied.
O’Shea waited until the speaker left the group, heading towards the gents, and casually stood up and strolled to the bar. As the man returned, O’Shea “ stepped alongside him,
“Hello George, fancy meeting you here. Is this your local?” he smiled. George’s eyebrows rose and he nodded at O’Shea.
“Oh, alright Mr O’Shea. Enjoying a night out are yeh?”
“Yes, nice place? I’m here with Dr Mackenzie, would you like to join us?”
“Oh, well, very kind of yeh, but…”
“Nonsense, George! I’m sure your friends won’t mind for a minute, what are you having?” O’Shea pressured the security-man, motioning to the barmaid to bring some fresh pints over. George accepted he was taken and shuffled over to the table with O’Shea. He nodded to Mackenzie and sat down, raising his pint to his lips. O’Shea sat down opposite, took a sip of his cider and smiled across at him.
“Now then, George, Dr Mackenzie and I just caught a little of your show over there with you mates. We were hoping you could do an encore and tell us a bit more about it.”
“Ah, Mr O’Shea…”
“Paul, George, please… we’re not at work now,”
“Oh,,, right, of course, Mr… Paul. Well, really, pay no heed to all that. It was just the beer talking and a bit of bravado for the lads, you know,” George flustered. O’Shea kept eye contact while giving a smile which only reached his cheekbones,
“Sounded a bit more than that, George. From the little I caught, it sounded like some critical information about working conditions and the spreading of rumours which could make it difficult to recruit new staff,” he crooned, sipping his cider without breaking eye contact. George reddened,
“But I can’t imagine a foreman spreading such disinformation. I mean, what would his boss think?”
An awkward silence descended.
“It was noisy though, Paul!” Mackenzie chipped in. Maybe we misheard it, it’s possible.” She smiled warmly at George, who was now a deeper shade of purple and gazing into the depths of his mild. O’Shea held the line for a moment longer before shrugging and grinning,
“Of course we must have misheard. That’s why I asked George over to explain it to us, off the record, didn’t I George? I’m sure we’d be interested in hearing it all properly, don’t you think Dr Mackenzie?”
“Of course, Hayley. Now, why don’t I get us three Scotches and you can give us the full story, eh George?” He left George and Hayley together while he went to get the whisky. Mackenzie gently touched his hand,
“It’ll be OK, George. He just wants to know what’s going on. And it sounds pretty interesting to me, too.” George sighed and shook his head.
O’Shea returned with three double malts. George downed his in one and began.
“I’m not comfortable talking about this, Mr O’Shea, ‘spcially not in-front of a lady… no disrespect, Dr Mackenzie…”
“…Dr Hayley, it’s just not summat I’d usually talk of,” he mumbled.
“It’s OK, George, I’m a big girl!”
“Well, you see,” George continued, “It’s that place, the one we’re lookin’ after. I don’t suppose as yeh both know the history of the place, do yeh?”
“Well, I know a bit,” Mackenzie interrupted, George nodded,
“Of course, Dr Hayley…”
“Oh yeah, sorry. Mr Bartlett said you wasn’t a real doctor! Anyway…” he continued, oblivious to Dr Mackenzie’s flushed expression, “ I’m talking more as local history and tales. I mean, you might not know that the old lane was knowed as…”
“Yes, we know! And why.” Dr Mackenzie assured him. He nodded and took another sip of his ale.
“Well, you’ll know as some of the history what went on there but there’s local stories of a Madam Sabrina, who’s supposed to haunt the place.”
“Oh come on!” protested O’Shea, “You’re not telling me that…”
“Wait, Paul!” Mackenzie interjected, “ Tell us more about the story. Who was Madam Sabrina?” George looked towards O’Shea, who nodded.
“Well there’s sum as says she were a well to do lady and them as says she were a “different” kind of lady, if you get my drift.” They nodded to show the drift had indeed been got. “Well legend has it that she murdered a chap, as like her lover or a chap as had slighted her. Course, she were caught an’ ‘anged but her ghost is supposed to haunt the place, waiting for her chap to come back, I suppose.”
“So has this something to do with the lads leaving the job? Are they scared to stay there?” O’Shea asked, only just hiding his incredulity.
“Well that’s the strange thing, Mr O’Shea. That house ‘as been a lot of things over a lot of years but even quite recently there were a couple of rooms at the top which were rarely used, an’ certainly not slept in.”
“Well, the usual, knocking noises… I mean like somebody tapping, not the other kind! But people getting strange feelings and such.”
“So, was that happening to your guys?” O’Shea asked.
“That’s the interesting thing, Mr O’Shea, we put some of the younger chaps in there to watch the place, as some of the older ones were a bit wary, believe it or not.”
“Are you wary, George?” Mackenzie asked. The watchman blushed a little and nodded sheepishly.
“Must admit, I am, Ms Hayley but I heard tales from my father, who were a glazier there once. He did a late shift there once and never again!”
“So… a few noises are scaring them, is that it?” O’Shea sighed. George shook his head.
“A bit more than that, strange dreams, errm, strange… sensations! Like they was being touched, a lot, and weird thing was that when they woke, their clothes and things were scattered over the room and their change was missing!”
“What?” Mackenzie and O’Shea chorused.
“Loose change. Gone. Wallet and things scattered. Between that and the… sensations, couldn’t get anyone to stay up there.”
“It couldn’t just be they were drinking a bit and…”
“None of my lads drink, Mr O’Shea, not on the job. We ‘ave our professional pride too!” he stated indignantly. O’Shea apologized,
“But it couldn’t just be someone was coming up while they were asleep and…”
“Locked doors, Mr O’Shea. Not saying it was Madam Sabrina but it were enough to spook ‘em, as it were. It’ll take some work to get any of ‘em to stay there again.”
The production team assembled the following morning. O’Shea was puffing at his vape in solemn thought. As the morning chatter declined, he finally spoke.
“Houston, we have a problem!” The team looked serious, “But, it could be a bit of a godsend!” The team looked puzzled. O’Shea looked at them all and began quietly,
“It seems that some of the security team are scared to stay in the building because of some strange disturbances which they blame on an old legend. Does anyone here know about Madam Sabrina?” One or two local team members raised their hands. O’Shea nodded. “Well, for those who don’t, Dr Mackenzie, here will fill you in. Hayley?”
Mackenzie bade everyone a good morning and opened a file.
“OK, as you’re probably all aware, Grope Lane is believed to have been a red light district known, originally as…”
Bartholomew Bartlett opened his mouth to declare but Mackenzie was relentless,
Bartlett sat down in a huff. Some of the team Smiles whilst others tittered quietly.
“Oh titter ye not!” Mackenzie grinned, “It was once a pretty common street name. Anyway, there is a local legend about a ghostly female who is thought to have been one of the local working girls, Madam Sabrina. So the story goes, she killed someone and was executed and now haunts the place.”
Bartlett piped up,
“Oh now, now, is this what passes for historical research in your institution? A few old wives’ tales? There is no evidence for this at all…”
“Well actually, Mr Bartlett, there might be. John Frenchman, here has some interesting documentation which he discovered yesterday and I was about to tell Mr O’Shea last night. John?”
John Frenchman coughed and blushed slightly,
“Thank you Dr Mackenzie, Well, it took some finding but there is a rather damaged piece of parchment from the local court records. It seems to be an extra-ordinary proceeding. It’s a bit hard to read, so we’ve sent it for further analysis, but it mentions a Madame Havren who was found guilty of the murder of a guest in her house. What makes it even more interesting is that she seems to have been hanged from the window of the house itself, rather than the local gallows.”
The room was quiet. Bartholomew Bartlett guffawed,
“Oh what nonsense, why would anyone be hanged from the window of a house. I’VE never heard of such a thing and I…”
“Presumably as a deterrent to other house-owners doing the same thing. Perhaps the client was somebody important.” Frenchman offered. Bartlett huffed.
“But the name is totally different!” he sniped. Frenchman shrugged,
“It appears it could be a Welsh variation of ‘Sabrina’.” At this, Bartlett rose, slamming the table in frustration,
“There is no precedent for such a punishment! It is simply a myth!”
Mackenzie sipped her coffee and savoured her moment,
“Perhaps not a precedent, Dr Bartlett, but in August 1530 an Edinburgh tailor was sentenced to be hung from the doorway of his own house for concealing his wife’s death by plague. You can find it in ‘Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh. AD 1528-1557’, published in Edinburgh by the Scottish Burgh Record Society, 1871, page 35!”
Bartlett choked on his cigar.
“So perhaps not as rare a punishment as you assume, Dr Bartlett,” Mackenzie concluded. Bartlett retired to his chair and smouldered.
“So,” O’Shea announced, “we seem to have some historical basis for the legends. This appears to be a significant discovery and so I have discussed with the production company and the site owners, Sunforques, that we extend the episode on the excavations and include a special edition about the local legends and the new information.”
The team chattered excitedly as Dr Bartlett shook his head and gazed into his tea,
“The noble discipline of historical research is now brought down to a study of fairy tales!” he sighed.
“Perhaps not, Dr Bartlett. In fact the ‘fairy tale’ as you call it might be the seed of some new excavations and important discoveries.” Everybody hushed and looked towards O’Shea.
“You remember, John, what I said early in the project, when I asked you to check architectural records?”
“You said something about the lane having been narrowed at some point, I think.” Frenchman replied.
“Exactly, and we aren’t sure why. Well, I’m just wondering if it was to accommodate something or to help people avoid something.”
“Such as?” Bartlett asked, his curiosity rising in spite of himself.
“What normally happened to hanged felons?” O’Shea asked into the air.
“They were sometimes gibbeted or…” Frenchman froze mid-sentence.
“…buried beneath the gallows!” Mackenzie concluded. “Paul, do you think she’s down there?”
O’Shea shrugged and grinned,
“Which of you would like to find out?”
The evening bells chimed in the local church, a stone’s throw from Grope Lane. Paul O’Shea was unpacking his sleeping bag in the upper room of the old house. Hayley Mackenzie chuckled,
“Is your hotel so bad?”
“Well, somebody has to show these big tough security guys that there’s nothing to fear and someone needs to be here, so it may as well be me.”
“Aw c’mon, we could get some of the diggers to rough it here. They’d be OK with it, I’m sure. Bet they’ve camped down in worse places,” Mackenzie posited. O’Shea shook his head,
“Nope, the buck stops here! Apart from that it means I don’t have to endure Bartlett’s moaning over breakfast!” he grimaced. Mackenzie smirked,
“Ah, now I understand! You might like this,
There once was a doctor called Bart,
Who was such an insufferable fart.
He’d slag off your uni,
And make it sound puny,
To make up for his tiny, wee part.”
O’Shea burst out laughing at the limerick,
“Where’s that from?”
“Ah, some of the archaeologist girls were having a drinking competition last night and making up limericks about him.”
“Why him, especially?”
“Well, apparently he’s been spending a lot of time around the dig, taking photos and such.”
“Nothing weird in that is there?”
“Normally, no. But he seems to be very interested in some of the younger diggers, students, the female ones in shorts and t-shirts. They reckon his camera probably has more necklines and thighs than soil and clay.”
“Oh god! Has he…?”
“No, they say he’s harmless but annoying. They’ve started wearing longer gear if they know he’s around.”
“Well, as long as he doesn’t start trying to recreate the Lane’s history!”
“I’m sure even Madam Sabrina would think twice!” joked Mackenzie as she left the room.
O’Shea made up his bed on a table and lay down on top of the sleeping bag to read himself to sleep.
The two o’clock chimes sounded and O’Shea felt his eyes partly open. He was aware of the change in room temperature but could not decide if he was awake or not. He tried to move his hand to reach for his phone but seemed to be suffering some form of paralysis. A slight fear began to grow in his mind as he struggled to move.
Then he felt the soft sensation, stroking down his arm.
The feeling moved up his chest and he felt a warmth close to his neck, and gentle touches as if somebody was kissing him. As he tensed his muscles the breathy sigh caressed his ear,
O’Shea rolled his eyes to the side but felt something gently push his head back toward the centre, where he was held as if two hands cupped his chin and jaw. A warm, moist breath lightly blew across his throat and face.
The force holding his face slowly moved down his body, pulsating, massaging his chest and moving lower… lower… He realised he was stiffening, rising,,, and the sensation reached his loins and slipped under the waistband of his shorts.
He felt himself slide out into the open, the warm pulse caressing and massaging his throbbing self.
Suddenly a heavier force seemed to swing over him and pinion him on either side of his ribcage while his arms and chest were stroked and gently pummelled. The weight shifted and his hardened hotness blended with a moist softness as the weight pressed down upon him. He gasped in surprise and ecstasy. The force seemed to close around his lower part and hold it firmly.
O’Shea tried to move his head, to look down his body but once more the “hands” cupped his chin and moved his head backwards before he felt something narrow snaking around his throat as if something, a cord or a strap, was holding him from behind, and a small shape appeared net to his face in the corner of his eye, giving a little giggle He struggled to breathe as the weight rose and lowered rhythmically upon his body. Unconsciously his hips were moving in time to that of the force upon him, his breath quickening and the muscles of his legs and stomach quivering as he resisted, held back,,, then his hips jerked in a physical crescendo and his being went limp across the table.
Yet the tension around his throat remained. Then it relaxed and he opened his eyes slightly.
Through the crack of his eyelids, he thought he could make out a small, blurred figure rummaging through something, his clothes. A sound of delight and the tightness around his throat eased, Then the weight seemed to dismount. He could breathe easily once more.
A hand stroked his head and face and a smiling visage came close, its breathy warmth on his cheek.
Darkness overcame him.
The sunlight hit O’Shea in the face and he screwed up his face as he woke. He sat up groggily, surveying the scene. His clothes were lying, scattered across the room and his wallet lay disembowelled under a chair. As he sat up he noticed his own state of undress and his sex-soiled shorts, from which flopped his flaccid member. Cursing, he tried to rise and clean himself up.
“Morning coffee, Sir!” Mackenzie announced as she threw the door open. “Oooops!”
The hastily dressed O’Shea drained the last of his coffee. He still found it difficult to meet Mackenzie’s eyes.
“So, you think Madam Sabrina came to you in the night?” she asked. He shrugged,
“I don’t know! Maybe it’s just all the stress and some crazy wet-dream… Damn! I feel like I’m fourteen again and explaining to my mother why I’m washing my sheets!”
“NO need! I’ve two of my own and I learned never to ask or comment!”
“Wise! But there’s one thing which gets me, my wallet!”
“What about it, is it missing?”
“No, that’s the weird thing, my wallet was on the floor, my cards and banknotes were there too but…”
“Your coins had gone?”
“Maybe Madam Sabrina needed to spend a penny?”
“Or make a phone call?”
“Or maybe paper money and cards didn’t exist in her day but coinage did.”
“I really wish you hadn’t thought of that!”
“Mind you, my real question is…”
“Was she any good?”
“I really wish you hadn’t asked that!”
The conversation was cut short by a thud outside the door. The thud was followed by a haughty rap at the door, which itself was followed by Bartholomew Bartlett’s head peeping around.
“Ah, just come to check on our brave leader, but I see you are already tending to him!” Bartlett smirked. “Did you have a nice night, Mr O’Shea?”
O’Shea grimaced slightly.
“Ah, it was a bit restless, Dr Bartlett, but thanks for asking. The bells and such, you know!”
“Ah yes, I’ve heard that things can get a little… hard, sleeping on the table. Especially in this room! Well, I’ll see you at the meeting!” With a chuckle, Bartlett disappeared.
Mackenzie and O’Shea looked at each other,
“How much do you think he heard?” Mackenzie asked. O’Shea shrugged ,
“Probably most of it but he’s likely as not heard the rumours from security too. I wonder what his next move will be?”
“I don’t know, but I think our move is to speed up that dig.”
O’Shea outlined the plan for the extension of the dig and a new schedule for filming, including interviews of local people, ghost-lorists and historians from the team. He mentioned nothing of the previous evening but made it clear that the rooms were not to be used at night and security would now be based nearer to the excavation area on the ground floor.
“Obviously, we’re moving in new equipment and we don’t want some drunken idiots trying to play Bonekickers!” The archaeologists in the team shuddered at the mention of the defunct TV programme. “Right, if there are no questions, let’s get on with it!” The meeting ended.
“Bart Bart was strangely quiet,” Mackenzie mused, “Do you think he’s plotting something?”
“Maybe! But I don’t see he can do anything detrimental to the project. It wouldn’t be in his interests. Now, I’m off to see George and the guys.”
George met O’Shea’s gaze with a surprising amount of concern. Several other members of the security also nodded to him with an air of sympathy and understanding.
“So now you know, Mr O’Shea!” George said softly. O’Shea nodded,
“Now I know!”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you more earlier on, Mr O’Shea, but…”
“It’s OK George, I understand!”
“A bit embarrassing for the younger lads, as you can imagine.”
“Not that much fun for us older ones, eh gents?”
A few serious nods and coughs went around the room.
The following morning the meeting assembled and John Frenchman rushed into the office, his face aglow.
“We’ve got an update on the court record!” he declared. Everyone jumped up excitedly but O’Shea stopped Frenchman from announcing his news.
“It sounds great, John, and I can’t wait to hear it but I think we should wait until Dr Bartlett arrives. Has anyone seen him?”
Nobody had, although some of the archaeologists commented that Dr Bartlett had been seen the previous evening looking rather excited about something but was last seen leaving the Prince Rupert and heading over to Grope Lane, saying he was going to take some night-time pictures.
O’Shea tried Bartlett’s phone but to no avail. After half an hour he shrugged,
“Sod it, if he can’t be here on time he can find out later. Go on, John, let’s hear it!”
Frenchman regained his excitement as he fumbled in his file,
“OK, well it seems we were right. Madam Sabrina was hanged for killing a client. She was the owner of the house and this guy was some local big-shot.”
“OK, so we have confirmation. Well done guys! That’s fantastic!” O’Shea yelled in glee. Frenchman stopped him with a look,
“There’s more! Let me read you a bit,” he said, taking a sheet of paper from the file, “Don’t worry, we’ve had it translated into Modern!” he chuckled eagerly.
“ And it is hereby decreed by these persons of this court, that the whore and mistress of the said bawdy house is to suffer death by hanging at the hour of noon on this very day. Her accursed corpse having hung from the window of the room wherein she committed her foul deed of murder for one full motion of the sun, shall be laid to rest beneath the steps of that same house as a warning to all who enter and who ply that trade in the locality of Gropekuntelane.”
The room was silent. Frenchman looked overjoyed and then the assembly cheered. Mackenzie hugged O’Shea.
“Oh Paul! We were right! YOU were right! Oh I wish Bartlett were here to see this!”
Before O’Shea could answer, a solemn security man entered the office. The noise died down when the expression on his face became obvious.
“I think you’d better come upstairs to the rooms, Mr O’Shea!”
O’Shea and Mackenzie reached the top of the stairs, to see another security-man watching the door. He stepped in front of them,
“I think maybe you should look on your own, Mr O’Shea. Sorry Dr Mackenzie but it’s not pretty.”
O’Shea opened the door and entered, Mackenzie pushed past the guard and followed. They both stood stupefied. There, across the table, with fierce red lines around his throat, his trousers at his knees and his spent seed upon his stomach, lay the corpse of Dr Bartholomew Bartlett.
The dig resumed after a tasteful few days break. The police had released the body for burial and stated that whilst there were some unexplained aspects of Dr Bartlett’s demise, they were not looking for anyone else in connection with it. O’Shea was incredulous.
“A man dies in a room, apparently alone but with red marks around his neck, and they don’t think there’s anyone else?” he gasped. His boss shrugged and sipped an espresso,
“Well the autopsy says he died of natural causes, had a heart attack or a stroke, or something.”
“I bet he had a stroke! Question is, who was he stroking!?” O’Shea punned darkly. His boss snorted in amusement.
“Himself, apparently! I think the evidence was pretty clear. Seems the excitement was too much for him!”
“But what about the red marks around his neck?”
“You know, Paul, I can’t work out why you are trying to delay this project any further,” the other man said, shaking his head. “Look, we’re in the clear, we’ve got a great dig, a great subject and now, let’s be honest, GREAT PUBLICITY!” he banged the table in crescendo. “And apart from that, nobody seems to know what red marks you are on about, the pathologist didn’t see any at all.”
O’Shea stared at him.
“You’re joking! Hayley saw them too, and the security guys. Now you’re saying they weren’t there when he was on the slab?”
“Apparently so. IF there were any marks, they must have faded. I don’t know, I’m not a medical doctor, neither are you. You’re a TV producer and you’ve got something to go and produce, so I suggest you get on with it!”
Mackenzie and O’Shea stood watching the archaeologists.
“I think we’re down to a level which corresponds with our time frame,” one of the young women called over. “If she’s here, it shouldn’t be long!”
O’Shea turned and clasped Mackenzie on the shoulder. She looked back at him with a sad smile on a serious face,
“I know, Paul. Let’s hope it’s worth it?”
“It’s just I don’t know how I’ll react, seeing her!”
“I doubt she looks as good as when you saw her last,” she replied drily.
They headed out into the lane and met Frenchman, who was returning from the local Starbucks. O’Shea took his latte and drank deeply.
“Just run me through what we have on Madam Sabrina, John.”
“Well, this chap she killed was a local merchant, pretty rich and powerful. Madam Sabrina considered him her own personal client and took him upstairs to her private room. Apparently it was a common practice to get guys drunk and get a young maid to rifle the clothes and purse while she and the client were on the go. According to what we know, he refused to pay her and had no coinage on him. Probably knew her tricks. She was so incensed that she strangled him then and there. At least that was her testimony. The rest as they say, is history!”
“So just a simple case of a snotty customer not paying?” Mackenzie quipped.
“There’s something more,” Frenchman broke in. “Perhaps a bit more disturbing,” he warned as he produced another page. “I wanted to show you this in private because it might be a bit of a hot one!”
O’Shea stared at him, as he began to read the page,
“So too, shall hang alongside the aforesaid murderess, her daughter of nine years who not only witnessed the said murders but was known to lure the unwary unto their fate and was likewise wont to rifle the pyrses of the slain and was said, on occasion, to choke unfortunate victims whilst her mother gave favours.”
The coffee had suddenly lost its taste.
O’Shea and Mackenzie stood by the barrier, watching the archaeologists scraping down to the final level.
“Paul, do you think Bartlett deliberately went to…?”
“I’m trying not to entertain the idea, Hayley. Even he…”
“Well, that would explain why all the trousers and wallets got rifled, wouldn’t it?”
He didn’t reply and they stood in silence watching as the earth of centuries was gently moved back.
“What you said before, about her not recognising paper money, that’s why she wanted coins.” O’Shea stated flatly.
“But what would have happened if me, or the lads, hadn’t had any coins? What then?”
“Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?”
There was a call from the excavation site. A member of the film crew came running over.
“Mr O’Shea, Dr Mackenzie, we think we’ve found her!”
O’Shea threw his empty coffee cup into a nearby bin and they hurried into the site. They were met at the entrance by the dig leader.
“What have we got?” O’Shea demanded
“We’ve just uncovered parts of a skeleton. Looks like a foot. Seems to be another skeleton next to it.”
“Great! Can we see her?” Mackenzie asked. The archaeologist nodded,
“Well you can come a bit closer and we’ll fix the cameras up to see the rest of the uncovering. We can gauge where the head is and start there, it’ll make it more exciting for the show.”
The work paused while the film unit moved in under the instructions of the diggers. Mackenzie and O’Shea moved closer and watched s the sand and soil was brushed away, slowly, more bone became visible. The digging stopped as the chief archaeologist spoke to the camera,
“It seems to be the skull of a woman, and is intact as far as we can see, At first sight, there seems to be some damage to the vertebrae in the neck. Obviously, we’ll need to analyze it but it could be consistent with a hanging.”
The cameras then moved over to the second grave as the team began to uncover the remains.
The skull was much smaller and the bones of the little neck were also damaged. O’Shea watched expressionless as the bones were uncovered, moving down one side of the body along the arm, towards the hand. Where the archaeologist stopped suddenly. She called over to her colleagues. O’Shea’s stare hardened as the consternation around the grave grew. Suddenly he slipped under the barrier and strode across the dig. The kneeling diggers gazing up at him in bafflement
His eyes grew wider as he stared down at bones before him; the skeletal hand of the long dead little girl firmly clutching between its fingers the plastic credit card of Dr Bartholomew Bartlett.