Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1) (11 page)

BOOK: Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1)
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He looked away and smiled a smile of his own. It softened his face and made him look kind. To the doctor’s relief, Julian changed the subject. “How go things for you, Doctor?” She relaxed. He could have made the moment uncomfortable for her and she admired his restraint.

She considered his question and her smile turned ironic and her mood suddenly somber. Ailís Dwyer shook her head. “I have been stuck in my examination rooms from early this morning until just awhile ago. The children are constantly in need of inspections for head lice. It is a common occurrence. Can’t be avoided in the country.

“I just needed to get out of that place for awhile and get some air. Too many late nights and too many early mornings.”

Julian looked thoughtful and concerned. “Doctor, you don’t seem like yourself tonight. You seem tired, but also angry. If I’m off the mark, please forgive me. If I’m not, is there anything I can do to help? I listen well if you would like to talk.”

“Angry and tired,” she said without emotion. “I’ve been more and more like that recently. I get so frustrated with myself, with my patients, with life in general. There is always so much to do without a moment to myself. Sometimes…”

Ailís Dwyer’s hazel eyes glistened and then welled with tears as she spoke. A single tear coursed over her cheekbone, hung and then continued down her cheek. She sniffed and tried to regain her composure, but another tear followed the first and her eyes burned.

Without looking at her, Julian took out a clean handkerchief and offered it. She took it and nodded her thanks, but did not use it to staunch the flow of tears. She clutched the handkerchief tightly in her hand instead.

The doctor closed her eyes and set her head on the rocking chair’s high back as she willed herself to stop crying. Embarrassment washed over her face. “No one should see me like this, least of all him,” she thought.

Her eyes burned even more and the tears wouldn’t stop. Julian could sense her anguish and more, he felt the deep ache inside her. She had been running on adrenaline for too long. She hadn’t taken a break. She had watched her workload increase. She was exhausted. Slowly, even the tears were too tired to seep from her eyes.

“It will be okay,” Julian whispered slowly, emphatically. “It has to be.” His smile was soft and kind. “Doctor, there really isn’t another choice. Oh, maybe not tonight or tomorrow, but soon, I promise.”

He reached out his hand slowly, gently and offered it palm up. She took it and felt relief wash over her. She felt she could, even if only for a moment, set her work and her worries down. Sheltered in the lea of this strange man’s tenderness and compassion, a moment was enough.

She squeezed his hand. “Thank you,” was all she whispered in return. Then, with a nearly painful slowness, she rose and made her way back to her office. Julian watched her go and ached inside for her.

***

The doctor turned off lamps as she moved through the practice, then climbed the wide stairs to the living quarters above. She looked in on her son, kissed and covered him and made her way to her own bed. She undressed and got under the covers. Her sigh wasn’t from comfort, but from fatigue.

Julian had, she felt, dealt with her with surprising compassion and kindness. She could hear a quiet strength in his voice, although he said almost nothing. She could still feel the warmth of his hand. She felt rather than heard his words and knew they were true for him and for her.

“It will be okay, it has to be,” he had said. She knew it as a simple truth. There wasn’t another choice. She couldn’t let it all spin out of control. Timothy and all too many people depended on her. She not only had to be present, but also at her best.

“Was this American what he seemed to be?” She wondered. “What does he seem to be? What is he doing here?”

She smiled and thought to herself, “I have to remember to poison Moira Hagan for dragging me into that whole silly shirt business.” With that thought, she started to drift and then added, “But first, I have to find out what she found out.”

Julian’s handkerchief was still clutched tightly in her hand and his words whispered, “Maybe not tonight or tomorrow, but soon, I promise.” She had no reason to, but she believed him. She fell into a deep and dreamless sleep with that thought.

Julian continued to sit alone in the dark with only his thoughts for company. He could not explain why he had said what he said or acted the way he had with Dr. Dwyer.

He had never been a man tuned in to people. He understood what motivated them. He knew the scores of reasons they did one thing and not another. But he knew them only in an academic sense. No feeling, no emotion, no attachment or connection to or for anyone. His failed marriage proved that. His clients loved him and his ex-wife hated him. What more was there to say?

Tonight he knew, sensed and felt it all. He had known the doctor would appear. He sensed her frustration. He felt the deep pain inside her although she tried to cover it with light conversation. He smiled at that thought.

Then Julian’s smile turned melancholy as he wondered why things happened as they did. Why had his life led him here? What was causing him to experience these unsettling events and feelings? He tried to put that aside for a moment but could not stop his wondering.

Why was a woman so kind and generous as Ailís Dwyer constantly on the verge of exhaustion? Why did he feel drawn to her? Finding no answers and with a slight wind chilling the air, he went inside.

***

Days flowed into an agreeable sameness as summer drifted day-by-day toward fall. The village streets were empty of playing, happy children as the scrubbed versions of their summer selves were marched to school at St. Michael’s.

Julian made it a practice to get to know the names of the people of the village, but he learned little else. He was frequently met with the phrase, “You’ve not been long among us.” He didn’t take this as a slight, but only as the way of the villagers.

***

One Sunday, as he left Church with the Mahers, Julian asked Sean about an ornately carved pew that sat empty every Sunday. The pew was on the Epistle Side of the transept and seemed to inspire reverence.

“That’s for Squire Lanigan that is,” Sean whispered as he and Julian dipped their fingers in the holy water font out of habit and each man crossed himself automatically on the way out of church.

“Squire Lanigan? Who is he? Has he been away? I’ve never seen anyone in that pew.”

“Ah, Julian aren’t you are a great one for the questions. This is only one of the many reasons you will always be Chief Constable. Why you are a regular Sherlock Holmes while, poor Sean Maher will be nothing but your student forever.”

Pleasantries were exchanged with Father Fahey and Mayor Cahill at the front door of the church and within three feet Julian whispered, “Sean, just a couple of things if you don’t mind. First, I’m an assistant constable and second, a man more full of shit than you, I have never met.”

“For that Oi’ll be expecting to see you at the Confession next Saturday Julian Blessing,” Father Fahey said in a voice that was directed with surgical precision to strike Julian in the back without ruffling anyone standing nearby.

Sean looked on in mock horror. The priest continued, “And isn’t it Sean Maher you’ll be bringing with you?”

“But good Father Fahey, amn’t Oi as shocked as your goodly self at the harsh and intemperate language used by this sinner.”

“Trust that there are not enough confessional hours throughout all the world that would allow you to catch up on your sins, Constable Maher.”

Sean mumbled “Look what you’ve doon now,” but Julian was too busy laughing to hear. Not so busy, however, that he didn’t feel the slap on the back of his head delivered by Kathleen Maher. Sean laughed and his wife took a menacing step toward him. He retreated instinctively.

“Any two children in this village behave better than the two of you,” she said and marched her own children home without a look back.

Chapter Twelve
 

The inside of the manor house was cold. No fires burned in the fireplaces and the wind blew across chimney tops causing the house to feel hollow and lifeless. Seated in a wingback chair before the dead fireplace, the Pale Man sat with a map across his knees and scowled.

Clutched in one hand was a coin from a time long dead. He rubbed his thumb across the obverse of the coin, turned it over and rubbed the reverse side. It would be his soon. He knew it. There had been a time when he would have said he could feel it, but his feelings had long since been covered over.

Thought and knowledge were all there was. This time the prize would not elude him. This time the trophy would be his and others would pay a mighty price. He knew it and that thought gave him no joy at all.

“Enter,” he said a moment before the deferential knock on the door. A servant entered and said, “Sir, your appointment has arrived.”

The Pale Man nodded and without warmth said, “Show him in.”

Tom Lynch, a large man of middle years dressed in a barn coat entered and removed his cloth cap out of habit rather than respect.

“Lynch, your men have yet to find what I want them to find,” the Pale Man said.

“Beg yur pardon, but me men wouldn’t know if they found it or not. You’ve not told us anything but to dig. It is a funny business and Oi don’t like it,” Big Tom Lynch said.

“You are not paid to like it. You are paid to do as you are told,” the Pale Man said as he got up from his chair. “If you would rather take on employment that better suits the inquisitive minds of you and your men I suggest you do it – now. Either that or don’t bother me again about what you like and don’t like. That I like it is enough for me and that I pay you is enough for you.”

“Where’s the map?” Lynch asked barely able to mask his distaste. The Pale Man smiled and in his smile there was no warmth to be found.

***

It was early morning and the fog spun in lazy swirls along the dirt lanes of Cappel Vale. Julian sat on the front step of the police station and thought through the things Moira Hagan had told him.

“There are things you must come to grips with and you must do so quickly.” Moira’s tone had been serious. “There is something approachin’ you like a locomotive. In order to avoid being smashed flat and taking others with you, you must work on your talents and be strong enough to take on what the future will bring. You are a strong man in many ways, Julian,” she had said. “But the kind of strength this task will take is not the sort you have just yet.”

Not for the first time, Julian asked, “What task? What talents?” and Moira answered flatly that she had no idea. It wasn’t like her not to know something, especially something like this. It was ominous, that much she knew, but the where or when or what of it was a mystery to her.

As for his talents, again she said she knew he had them, a few had surfaced already, but she had no idea what they all were. She had said, “You ask questions only you can answer. I can only imagine your fear, frustration, and confusion, but in this area, you must find your own truths in your own way.” Julian was sure that of all the things Moira did not know, his level of confusion and anxiety had to top the list.

***

Moira sat on a bench in her garden watching the same tendrils of fog churn through the village and eddy around the houses. Like Julian, her mood was reflective.

She had watched her student with care. He had, she knew, worked diligently from the first, even when he didn’t know what he was working on or why. He had made progress and she took a harsh line in measuring his efforts and accomplishments. If his work had been anything less than his best, they would have started over. Half measures, she knew, would not do.

***

The detail on the coin when seen through the jewelers’ loupe was remarkable. To be sure, it wasn’t newly minted, but the detail was nearly perfect. Although it was not exactly round, the coin had been struck hard and the images were clear.

It had a green-brown patina and some smoothing in its fields. The Roman Emperor Vespasian, radiant in right profile, strong and full of power, stood out in hard relief on the obverse side. On the reverse, Pax stood holding a caduceus and olive branch and resting on a column. The words PAX AVGVSTS C were easily legible in clear, clean letters.

The Pale Man’s fingers flipped the coin forward and back and forward again. He never tired of looking at this coin. Every detail was familiar to him, every ridge and shadow was known.

He felt the coin’s weight in his hand and calculated again the exact market value of his treasure; £55.24. Not much really unless one multiplied it by 400,000. That was his estimate of how many coins like the one he held in his hand awaited him, and that was just the face value.

The real value rested in the story behind the coins and he felt he knew that story better than anyone. He could name his price for the priceless and there were those who would gladly pay.

He gritted his teeth and his grimace seemed almost like a smile. It might have been had not a certain sheen developed over his eyes. “You will soon be mine,” he said quietly to the coin as the malevolent grimace set itself more firmly on his face.

In a cold study in a bleak manor house some distance from Cappel Vale, madness waited.

***

Miles away six men in heavy work boots hacked at a circular earthen outcrop as the sunlight faded. A large man in a cloth cap and barn coat stood by and supervised the work. It was night and only a sliver of the moon illuminated the digging.

“Put your backs into it or we will be here all bloody night, ya eejits,” the large man barked and the pace of digging increased.

***

The darkness of evening settled over Cappel Vale in dark hues like an Irish chain quilt. Julian found himself drawn to St. Michael’s Church. He had essential thoughts to pursue. He had been tacitly accepting the changes he experienced, but now was the time to start making well-reasoned choices.

He felt he was ready to leave behind the notion that life just happened. Life, he was finding, was a series of conscious decisions. St Michael’s, not for the first time, was the place he chose to sort through his thoughts and his choices.

He was going there more often lately, always at night when no one was about. Infrequently he would encounter Sister Eugenia or her assistant, a young nun named Sister Gertrude. Sometimes Julian would run into Father Fahey as the old priest dozed in the front pew of the church. Usually though, Julian timed his visits so he could be alone.

He entered the church and walked quietly to a rear pew. Julian could have been in that position in his pew for five minutes or two hours. Time meant very little in Cappel Vale.

He was aware of her before he either heard or saw her. He opened his eyes to see the lone figure of Ailís Dwyer move quietly to a pew ten rows in front and to the left of Julian’s. Dr. Dwyer crossed herself as she genuflected then stepped into the pew and sat down. Julian expected to see her bow her head in prayer, but rather she seemed to stare at the tabernacle on the high altar with her chin tilted up and her eyes open.

Julian closed his eyes to resume his contemplations, but before long he sensed her again. He knew she had turned her focus away from the altar. He opened his eyes to find the doctor staring at him.

“You’ve been there all along,” she said with a slight edge to her voice.

“Since before you came in, yes. I didn’t want to startle you so I just went back to what I was doing. There seemed to be plenty of room for both of us here.”

Her features softened as she smiled. “I suppose there is. You don’t seem like the praying kind,” she commented as she left her pew.

“Somehow neither do you,” Julian said.

“You go first,” she said as she slid into his pew. “What are you really doing here?”

Julian thought a moment then said, “Well, like many complex things, it started out quite simply. It is quiet and there is a pervasive sense of peace here. My hope is that being here will help me find what I’m looking for.”

The doctor said, “What would a man like you be looking for, I wonder?” she asked with a smile. “You needn’t answer that of course.”

“A man like me, you said. I’m glad you have a handle on that, because I sure don’t.” Julian said and smiled easily while the doctor looked embarrassed.

“Anyway, I don’t mind,” Julian said. “I’ve never discussed it with anyone actually. I guess you could say I come here to think. I wouldn’t characterize it as meditation exactly. That seems too grand a word for what I’m doing. Reflection or daydreaming would be more accurate. It sometimes starts off by my trying to think through a problem, but soon my mind starts to wander and before long I am – well, this is embarrassing really but I’m led to a solution.

“Suddenly, the situation becomes more clearly defined with hard edges and sharp corners and I can see it all with amazing accuracy. It never lasts long, but occasionally long enough to catch a glimpse of what the solution might be.”

Julian chuckled softly. “If anyone had told me a few months ago that I would be talking this sort of nonsense I would have called the police and had that person committed for his own safety. It is just that the world changed for me or at least the part of the world I used to occupy did. It happened quickly and I lacked the wits and words to cope with the changes, so I apologize to you for my clumsiness,” Julian said.

“Enough of me though. How about you? What brings Dr. Dwyer, the woman of science, to church in the dark of night?” He smiled warmly.

“Clumsiness? If you say so, but you need not apologize for something I never noticed. I will keep a sharp eye out for it in the future though,” the doctor said and she and Julian shared a smile. “As to what I’m doing here, that is a story that might take some time to tell and it isn’t all that interesting.”

“Sorry. That wasn’t the deal. With the candor at my command, I told you my story. Now it’s your turn. I have all night if you do.”

“Well, in fact you have not told me your story. You told me a part of a story, so don’t for a moment believe I haven’t noticed your oversight. No matter, I will tell you my story,” she said in the hushed tones reserved for churches. “The reason for my coming here has changed over time, but maybe I should give you some background.”

“I can’t tell you how refreshing that would be,” Julian said. “No one ever tells me anything here that isn’t either common knowledge or common sense, so something of substance would be marvelous.”

“It isn’t that they don’t want to tell you, Mr. Blessing, it is just…”

“It’s that Oi’ve not been long among us,” he finished for her using his improving mock Irish English.

She laughed at him and with him. “I’ll share with you because I am an outsider too and have spent a long time ‘not being long among us’ as you are now.” Her gaze moved slowly from Julian’s face to the tabernacle. A sadness entered her and after a moment she spoke.

“I had finished medical school and was doing my residency when I met and married a wonderful man. Now, medical residency is not conducive to relationships of any sort. There simply is no time. You don’t have time for yourself, and any time you make for another is time you have to take from something else. Still, we were happy – blissfully, to use the cliché.

“He was trying to get his start as an architect, but it was hard in Dublin at the time. The economy was in a poor way and architects were sitting around in abundance. I said we had no time together. That wasn’t altogether true. We did have a little time alone,” she said and smiled.

“I became pregnant. Pregnancy was the last thing I wanted or needed. I never really pictured my life with a child in it. I was happy, professional, and proud of what I was doing. I thought a child would detract from that.

“In any case, I worked up to the very end. Early in the pregnancy, my husband, William, talked me out of going to the U.K. for an abortion. I wanted to, but he was persuasive and I loved him so.” She took a deep breath and her chin trembled.

“Doctor, you needn’t continue. I have stupidly intruded and I don’t want to cause you any distress,” Julian said gently.

She took a moment and her thoughts were far away. “You didn’t intrude. I have heard other people’s rendition of this story, but have never had the chance to tell it myself.”

Minutes passed before she continued, “I gave birth to Timothy. I had delivered babies before. After hours of excruciating labor, I would wrap some bright red, squalling, squirming infant in a towel and place it in its mother’s arms.

“Without exception each mother, sweat soaked and fatigued beyond words, would coo and fawn over their hideous creature and tell me how beautiful little Patrick or Megan was and I would grin and agree, because that is what doctors are expected to do.

“My labor wasn’t that difficult, but still I was a wreck and weak from the effort. They handed Timothy to me and I beheld perfection for the first time. He was so beautiful it hurt. I thought my heart and my head would explode with the joy and love that was inside me. William felt the same. In some ways more so I think.

“I stayed home for as long as we could afford it – which wasn’t very long – and then we were suddenly face to face with reality. There were three of us and we were in need of money. Timothy presented unique logistical needs that were hard to meet.

“My husband gave up looking for a job as an architect and it nearly broke his heart. He was good at his profession and he loved it so much. He went into the building trades as a carpenter - he had done that sort of work on and off while putting himself through university. He would work days and I would work the night shift.

“The feedings, the getting up during the night, all of it conspired against us. We were both exhausted all the time. We worked extra hours to try to save a little money and we consoled ourselves with the idea that it wouldn’t always be this way.”

Julian studied the doctor’s profile and listened closely as she spoke. The texture and timbre of her voice, and the way the words fit together – this was a story she had gone over in her mind many, many times before. The church’s subdued candlelight glinted off her chestnut colored hair whenever she slightly moved her head.

BOOK: Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1)
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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