فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

Voices in the Dark

By the time Michael got to the Oswald Gallery, the sun had nearly disappeared. He parked his car right in front of the door, and was shocked about what he saw. There was graffiti all-over the front of the building. It was the same yellow paint that he’d seen at the caretaker’s house, and the same symbols. Then he saw the broken window. The hole was big enough for someone to climb through, but bits of glass were still sharp. The robber had probably been hurt. Michael looked through the broken window. A big rock from the garden was lying inside, on the wooden floor. Bits of broken glass were everywhere. On one piece of glass he saw something red. It looked like blood. The thief had been cut. This meant that the police could get an important DNA clue. Michael immediately took out his mobile phone. He called the city station. Another officer would come to Pendle Lee as soon as possible. The crime scene officer would come, too.

Michael didn’t want to stand outside waiting. He decided to go in. Perhaps the thief was still in the gallery. Trying to stay calm, he opened the front door. Then he stopped and listened. He couldn’t hear anything. He took another step. The wooden floor made a loud noise. Then, slowly and quietly, he went to the room with the broken window. There were paintings on the wall. Some of them were landscapes from the Butterworth collection. There were also sculptures. But Michael was more interested in the blood. It was a very dark red because it was almost dry. It made a small trail across the floor and into the hall. Michael followed it.

The trail went up the stairs, along the hall, and into another room. It stopped in front of a wall. There was an empty space where a painting once hung.

Suddenly, there was a shout from downstairs. The two other policemen had arrived. Michael went downstairs and greeted them. He told them about the trail of blood and the stolen painting.

“Can you go through the rest of the building?” he asked the constable, whose name was John Ritchie. ‘I’m going to look in the garden.”

‘I’ll get fingerprints and blood,” said the crime scene officer. “But I don’t think we’ll get a match. There were no matches on our fingerprint database last time.”

Just as Michael was about to go outside, the constable called him back.

“You’re the one who was hit in the graveyard, aren’t you?” he asked. “I talked to those teenagers. Every single one has an alibi. Even Alex, who is an angry young man. One day he’ll end up arrested for something, believe me!”

Michael thanked him, then took his torch and went outside. There was no moonlight, so it was very dark. He walked all around the building, looking and listening. On one side of the garden was the car park. Two police cars were parked there. On the other side of the garden there were woods. They made a good hiding place. Michael went into the trees. It was very dark, almost black. The trees looked very tall in the white light from the torch. Michael thought about his visits to the cemetery. Now he was walking through woods at night. His torch had become his best friend. It was a good thing he did not believe in ghosts or witches. If they were real, he would have seen one by now. In fact, he felt like the ghost of Pendle Lee himself. That’s what happened when you spent too much time in graveyards and dark places.

Suddenly, he heard a noise. He immediately stopped walking and listened. He wondered if it was a small animal making noises in the dark. But then he heard a voice. Another voice answered. Two people were hiding in the woods. Michael took out his phone and called PC Ritchie. He spoke very quietly and quickly. The constable agreed to join him.

In less than a minute the constable was there, walking softly through the trees. Then they both switched off their torches. After a few moments, their eyes could see better in the darkness. They quietly walked towards the sound of voices. Two people were hiding in some bushes underneath a tree. They were dressed all in black, and had long black hair. This just made their white faces stand out even more in the dark. Michael recognized two young men from the cemetery. He gave a shout. The boys looked around and saw the officers, then jumped up and started to run. Michael and PC Ritchie raced after them through the trees. The teenagers were fast, but frightened. They kept looking behind them. Suddenly one of them hit a tree and fell to the ground.

“It’s a good idea to look where you’re going,” said Michael as he pulled the boy to his feet.

Meanwhile, PC Ritchie had managed to stop the other one. The constable took the boy’s rucksack and opened it. He shone his torch inside.

“What do we have here, boys?” PC Ritchie asked, shining his light on cans of yellow spray paint.

At the police station, Michael and PC Ritchie questioned the teenagers. They said they’d painted the symbols on the walls, but had had nothing to do with the smashed window or the burglary. Just after doing the graffiti, they’d heard someone walking through the car park. They’d gone into the woods, and then heard the sound of breaking glass. One of the boys’ fathers was in the room with them, which was normal when a 15-year-old was involved in a crime.

“Why didn’t you call the police?” he asked his son.

“I hate the pigs,” said the boy, using the insulting word for policemen. “Can we go now?”

The police would wait until daylight to search the woods for the stolen painting. Michael didn’t want to let the boys go until then, but he had to. There was no reason for arresting them. They were checked for cuts, because of the broken glass in the gallery window. But neither of the boys had been cut anywhere on their bodies.

They were in lots of trouble about the graffiti, but Michael didn’t think anything serious would happen to them. He let them go home with their parents.

Back at his desk, he made some notes for his report. Then he made a list of things to do in the morning. At the top was the search warrant for Nigel Huxley’s home. He wanted to visit the old sculptor as soon as possible. He wanted to have some of Huxley’s blood for testing, too. The investigators could match it against the blood from the gallery. Next, he wanted to take Joan Potts to the gallery to ask her about the stolen painting.

He was sure it was another one of Sylvia. Then, he wanted to go to the hospital to see if Lottie had any memories of the robbery. Suddenly, the phone rang. Michael picked it up.

“Hello?” he said.

“Michael, it’s Mrs White,” said the woman on the phone. “Sorry I’m calling so late. It’s those kids in the cemetery.”

“Not again.” Michael sighed.

He was disappointed. There were bigger things than bad behaviour going on in Pendle Lee.

“I’ll go immediately,” he said. It wasn’t illegal to be at a cemetery at night, but it wasn’t respectful.

“Perhaps we can ask the ghost of Agnes Cott to give them a fright,” Mrs White said. “Then they’ll stay at home every night!” Michael gave a short laugh.

“I’ll ask her to pay them a visit,” he said.

Once more, Michael drove to the cemetery. Once more, he parked at the gates and got out his torch. There were candles glowing among the graves. He could see young people sitting around. Loud music was playing. He recognized the tall figure of Alex. When he got close to the group, Alex saw him and stood up. The young man looked angry. Michael felt angry, too, but he didn’t want to get involved in a fight with teenagers.

“Go away!” Alex yelled.

Michael was just about to reply when he heard a loud scream. It sounded like it was coming from the caretaker’s cottage. Immediately Michael started to run to the old house. Alex ran, too.

“It’s Katie!” Alex exclaimed. “She went into the house for a dare.”

“Can’t you kids stay out of trouble?” Michael shouted as he ran.

When he got to the house, he tried to open the door. It was still locked.

“She went through a window,” said Alex.

Together they ran to the side of the building. Just then, Katie screamed again. Michael found the window. It was old-fashioned, and the old wood had made it easy to open from the outside. He shone his torch inside and called Katie’s name. He saw her rush into the room, looking very frightened. When she saw Michael and Alex, she started to cry and immediately tried to climb through the window. Michael helped her.

Once outside, Katie fell on the ground. She lay on the grass. “It’s the witch!” she said. She couldn’t stop crying.

“What did she look like?” Alex asked.

Michael looked at the young man angrily. “There are no witches,” he said. “Or ghosts.”

Then he saw a strange glow coming from inside the house. It was very bright orange.

Katie and Alex saw it, too.

“I dropped my candle,” said Katie.

The old house was on fire.

Michael immediately pulled his mobile phone from his pocket. He called the emergency number. But just as he was about to speak, he saw a figure inside the house.

“There’s someone in there!” he exclaimed.

“The witch!” Katie cried. “I told you. She’s real!”

Michael threw the mobile to Alex, who immediately told the emergency services where they were. Then Michael climbed through the broken window into the burning house.

“Police!” he called out, but the figure had disappeared.

He ran through the room and into the hall. Spider’s webs were on his face and in his hair. The fire seemed to come from the front room. He could feel how hot it was. He was choking on heavy smoke. He looked around, confused. Then he saw her: a woman was going up the stairs. He had no time. The fire was going to burn the old building down. He ran up the stairs. He could see quite well because of the orange glow from the fire. When he got to the top, he saw her standing very still, looking at him. For a moment, he thought that Katie was right. The woman was a witch.

Agnes Cott, he thought. She had long grey hair and dirty old clothes. She looked very old. Michael told her his name.

“I’m here to help you,” he said.

She turned and ran down the corridor.

Michael followed her. He could see smoke from the fire coming up the stairs. He went into one of the bedrooms. Although it was darker in the room, he could see the old woman. She was trying to pick up some large, flat objects. When Michael got closer, he saw that the objects were paintings. On every one, he recognized Sylvia. The old woman looked at Michael and started to cry.

“Please help me!” she said.

Two months later, after his evening shift, Michael left the station. He walked up the road. When he got to the old people’s home, he stopped. Nigel Huxley was waiting for him. It was the same every Wednesday and Sunday. The two men went inside together.

Sometimes Sylvia couldn’t remember their names. She couldn’t remember pushing Lottie down the stairs, or laughing and knocking Michael out in the graveyard. For weeks she’d been living in the old caretaker’s cottage. She stole things to eat, as well as the paintings. She couldn’t be put in prison for her crimes because she had Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, at the old people’s home she had food, clothing and good care. She mainly remembered things that happened sixty years ago. Michael knew she had been beautiful then, although he couldn’t tell from looking at the old woman now. He and Nigel would listen to her stories about wonderful summer evenings, and her eyes would glow with happiness.

“Her eyes are the one thing that hasn’t changed,” Michael said to Nigel, looking at the photo of Sylvia in his wallet.

“They’re still beautiful.”

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