THE TAUNTING CLUE
The rusted hinges on the single-leaf wooden door creaked and groaned as it slowly gave way to firm but forcible persuasion. The door became stuck three-quarters through its travel and refused to budge any further. Jonathan clicked his tongue then stared behind him at his wide-eyed sister who was holding a torch trained at the old door. Kaitlan nodded her encouragement then shone the torch beam into the musty gloom revealed by the open door. Jonathan turned his own torch on then slipped through the opening, shortly after Kaitlan came in and stood uncomfortably close to her brother. Jonathan kissed his sister’s forehead in a bid to allay her fears even though he was sure she didn’t allow herself such emotional luxuries; Kaitlan gave him a weak but warm smile.
They stood back-to-back and shone their torches around the room. The first thing they became aware of was the unmistakable smell of mushrooms, and underneath that, a strong odour of age and decay. The room, as Jonathan estimated while scanning with his torch around the walls, measured around fourteen by twelve feet with a regular ceiling height. The bare bricked walls were filthy and covered with spider-webs and other insect things which Jonathan didn’t really want to know about. Pointing his torch up, the ceiling he found was made from the floorboards of the room directly above them. The cellar, or basement they were now both standing in had no windows, furniture, or decoration of any kind save for a central stone structure resembling a table. On top of this structure rested a long but narrow tapering wooden box which could only be recognised as a coffin.
The wall opposite the door had three openable stone hatches which hung on hinges. Jonathan walked over to them and wiped some dust away with the sleeve of his jacket. He aimed his torch at the hatches and squinted his eyes. Kaitlan joined him and she too began studying the strange chiselled writing.
Kaitlan traced her fingers over the sunken writing passing from left to right. After a few moments of thought she let out a gasp. Jonathan shone his torch on her face.
“What is it, Kat?” he asked in a half whisper.
“This is it, Jonathan. . .this is the vault,” she replied, sounding distant.
“Are you sure? I can’t read these names as well as you can.”
Kaitlan looked at the other two hatches using her tried and trusted method once again. She reached inside her denim jacket and pulled out a notepad and flicked through the pages. Jonathan pointed his torch down at the pad to help her read. She found the relevant page and guided her finger across three names which were written there. She quickly glanced at the hatches, then back at her notepad again. Her head slowly began to nod – reinforcing the fact that she felt sure of herself.
“R. I. P,” said Kaitlan, intending it to be a clue for her brother.
“Jeekus!” exclaimed Jonathan, his jaw dropping.
“Rosaline, Isabella, Persephone,” said Kaitlan, in confirmation.
“We have to open them, Kat,” said Jonathan, casting a glance at the coffin behind him. “We have to open everything to be sure.”
“Where’s our stuff,” Kaitlan asked.
“I left it upstairs.”
“I’ll go and get it. Don’t do anything silly while I’m gone. . .OK?”
“Sure thing, Kat. Hurry up!”
Kaitlan moved swiftly and quietly from the room and climbed the stairs of the empty, derelict house to retrieve their tool kit. As her soft footsteps diminished on the stairs Jonathan once again scanned around with his torch finally coming to rest on the coffin in the middle of the room. He walked around it looking carefully for any marks or signs of recent use, but he saw no tell-tale signs to give anything away. There were no inscriptions on the coffin and this made Jonathan become suspicious of the authenticity of the object in front of him. He heard soft footfalls as his sister descended the stairs, moments later she re-emerged through the gloom with a rucksack hanging from her shoulder. She paused when she saw the look on her brother’s face, she recognised it as doubt.
“Jonathan? What is it?”
She handed him the rucksack, eyes still fixed on him.
He took the rucksack, rested it on the floor, then knelt in front of it and opened the flap and rummaged around inside it.
“I think it’s a prop, Kat,” he said, pointing at the coffin with his chin. “What do you think?”
Kaitlan turned her attention to the coffin and walked around it as her brother did moments ago, taking in all the visible details or lack of them. She squinted her eyes on one point of interest, but after rubbing away at it with her sleeve she moved on round to the other side. Disappointingly, and with a sinking feeling, Kaitlan found no marks or inscription on the dusty old coffin and concluded that her brother was correct in his description. . .a prop!
“Jonathan, I think you’re right. But how is this possible? We’ve been so very secretive and careful in our every move. . .I don’t understand.”
Jonathan pulled out a large ornate wooden crucifix from the rucksack.
“Here. . .catch.”
Kaitlan caught the cross in mid flight.
“I can’t say, Kat. But one thing is clear, we always seem to be one step behind the curve. Once we find out how that’s happening, we might gain an advantage.”
“How do we do that?” Kaitlan looked dismayed.
Jonathan stood up holding a mallet, chisel, and stake in his hands and stared at his sister.
“Kat, first things first, eh? I don’t know everything yet, so can we just concentrate on the matter at hand and do what we came to do.”
“Yes of course. I’m sorry Jonathan, I just feel so disappointed. . .again!”
“That’s ok, Kat. So do I,” he replied with sympathy in his voice.
Kaitlan took a deep breath and composed herself.
“Right. . .let’s do this.”
“Over here,” said Jonathan, indicating the left-most hatch.
Kaitlan moved up alongside her brother allowing him room for manoeuvre and planted her feet firmly on the ground in an aggressive stance. She leaned forward and held out the crucifix with one hand, her torch in the other, and trained them both on the hatch. Jonathan inspected the opening side and carefully placed the chisel between the frame and the hatch itself, then looked at his sister. Kaitlan nodded, looking like a wild cat ready to pounce on its prey. Jonathan drove the chisel between the aperture and levered it forward, the hatch squeaked but offered no resistance as it came ajar. With one determined movement Jonathan swung open the door and braced himself for action. Kaitlan’s torch revealed that the inner chamber was long deserted and the only sign of life or movement came from scurrying insects startled by the sudden opening of the hatch and the bright light which came splashing in.
Jonathan sucked in a sharp breath then released it along with his pent-up tension. Kaitlan seemed frozen on the spot as if she still expected something awful to happen, but only stillness answered her fears.
“Dammit,” she exclaimed, while examining the inside of the narrow chamber. “This place hasn’t seen activity in a long time.”
Jonathan nodded in silence and moved on to the next hatch. They both performed the same procedure as they did before and as anticipated, the inner chamber was empty. After finding the third and last chamber empty they both turned round and stepped over to the coffin. Kaitlan waited for her brother to get ready then retreated to the door threshold – cross in hand with her torch pointing at the coffin. Jonathan inspected the lid with his fingers feeling around for any latches or lock attachments but found nothing. After glancing around at his sister he took a step back, and with one firm kick he booted the lip of coffin lid which sent it flying up in the air eventually landing with a crash a few feet away. After this violent disturbance a cloud of dust filled the small room and hovered menacingly over the open coffin, the light beams from Kaitlan’s torch amplifying its choking presence. They both waited and watched as the dust wafted around the room, lingering longer than a room with an air flow would allow. Jonathan took a tentative step forward, Kaitlan came up behind him still poised for action. He craned his neck and peered down into the coffin – it was as empty as the three chambers.
“Well that was expected,” he said, letting loose a held breath.
Kaitlan aimed her torch down at the coffin. The wood was old and grey and at the bottom of the coffin a layer of fine dust had accumulated over time, and in the yellow torch light appeared as sand. But the coffin wasn’t totally empty, a folded piece of paper was revealed nestled into the dust as Kaitlan swept her torch up and down the inside. Jonathan picked it up and unfolded the paper, then held it out for both of them to read.
Catch me if you can – I hope to meet your sister one day.
The writing, although flowing and elegant looking, was tall and spindly, and written in black ink. Jonathan looked at his sister for any signs of reaction.
“I’d like to meet him too, but not for the same reasons,” said Kaitlan, sounding angry but unfazed about the blatantly obvious threat to her life.
“He’s a cocky bastard. . .that’s for sure,” Jonathan offered.
“There’s nothing for us here Jonathan, let’s get out of this dank, depressing hole.”
“I’m with you, Sis,” he agreed, while packing up the rucksack.
When they were ready, and after a quick jaunt up the stairs, they emerged from the doorway of the derelict house into the mid-afternoon sun; they both felt grateful for the warmth as it hit their faces. As they stood brushing themselves down it would be obvious to any casual onlooker that they were blood related. Jonathan stood a good foot taller than his sister at six-feet. His short hair was dark brown and curly and his eyebrows were thick and bushy. His blue eyes, being large and roundish, gave him a docile appearance, and underneath those a small narrow nose hung over lips that were set in a permanent semi-smile. His squarish jaw enhanced the chiselled quality of his facial features, while his thin and sinewy physique betrayed the fact that he worked out regularly. Kaitlan on the other hand, looking just like her brother, represented everything feminine in the siblings. She had the same colour hair, but it was long and frizzy making her face look small in comparison. Her facial features being softer and more defined gave her an angelic quality, but it was her eyes, her most prominent feature with the power to captivate whoever looked at them to succumb to their hypnotic beauty. Her laser-like gaze would tell anyone that behind the eyes of Kaitlan, there was a clockwork intelligence that never stopped working, and because of that intelligence – she was no shrinking violet and didn’t frighten easily.
Kaitlan, a post graduate, studied Egyptology at university. After graduating she landed a job with the British Museum’s Egyptian department, and on occasions did real field work in Egypt itself. She loved her work, she loved her job, and at thirty-three years of age she never had cause to look back or regret the decisions made that molded her life’s career. She was utterly content. Jonathan, being the eldest at thirty-five, never did anything so grand as attending higher education, but as far back as his school years he excelled at athletics or anything sportingly physical. This talent led him to end up as a physical trainer at a prestigious gym; a position he also held with pride just as Kaitlan did with her own vocation.
Having made themselves presentable they walked in silence back to the waiting Land Rover parked in a lay-by. Both of them were struggling with the fact that they had no idea what to do next or where to go. With these thoughts still foremost in their minds they reached the Land Rover. Jonathan pressed his key fob and the Rover obediently responded. Jonathan took the driving seat and threw the rucksack behind him, Kaitlan jumped into the passenger side and buckled up. They both sat facing forward staring at the road ahead but not really seeing it, Jonathan jiggled his keys around absentmindedly.
“Come on, Kat,” said Jonathan, breaking the silence. “You’re the one with the brains, what the hell do we do now?”
Kaitlan’s head suddenly snapped round to face her brother – seemingly shocked out of her reverie. She swivelled her body around on the seat until she was squarely facing him as much as the seatbelt would allow.
“We do what we always do, Jonathan. . .don’t give up, don’t give up hope, and by doing so something will turn up like it has done before. We made a promise to each other to never stop trying. We need to be true to ourselves and to mum and dad’s memory, if not for our own sakes, then for theirs – we owe them that much.”
Jonathan placed the key in the ignition.
“You’ll get no argument from me, Kat. So the plan is?”
Kaitlan lowered her eyes in thought, then raised them to meet her brother’s.
“That bastard Devane always seems to know our every move before we make it, How? How is he doing this. . .by what mechanism? The only link or common denominator to our recent investigation is the department of land registry. So logically, he has a minion in a position of power working there who tipped him off about our enquiry. How else could he have known we were searching for that house? His grip on this area runs far deeper than at first we thought. Our hunch about that house was correct! He definitely dwelt there for a time – that much is obvious. But in the time it took for us to narrow down our search he fled after being informed by someone of our intent and left that mocking clue for us to find. He knows we’re on to him, and that gives us power over him for the first time.”
“How do you mean?” Jonathan asked, his brain gears working overtime.
“Because we’re making him do things he doesn’t want to do. He is fleeing from us – ergo, he is scared of us, scared of what we’re prepared to do. That is what gives us the power. Never mind that threatening bullshit note he left us, that’s just bravado on his part, an attempt to intimidate us into thinking he’s untouchable and all knowing, but deep inside HE is the one who feels intimidated and threatened.”
“And the prop coffin?”
“Same thing,” said Kaitlan. “A mocking gesture meant to tell us we’re wasting our time so we’ll give up our search for him.”
“Well,” said Jonathan, turning the ignition on, “we’ll never do that. So what now?”
“Right now we go home and plan out next move.”
“And after that?”
“We go rat catching.”
Jonathan heard the anger and determination in his sister’s voice. He pulled out onto the road and headed homeward bound. On their journey home they spoke casually to each other, but in the quieter moments Kaitlan’s mind was drawn like a magnet to the events of the past year which all began after their parents were introduced to Mr. Mallious Devane.