We at Bits about Books LOVE short stories and we’re thrilled to have this dark and devious Jack Nightingale short story for you, written by Conrad Jones.
His ‘Blood Bath’ features in the short story bundle with the same name, edited by Stephen Leather, who created the character of Jack Nightingale. The bundle contains seven short stories, each written by a different author, each centred around Jack Nightingale – what an exciting premise!
This is Conrad Jones‘s version of… BLOOD BATH. Enjoy!
A Jack Nightingale Short Story
It was a cold grey dawn, no longer dark but not yet light either. The headlights were still necessary for her to drive safely. Jenny McLean checked her reflection in the rear-view mirror of her Audi. Her blond hair was scraped tightly to her scalp and tied up in a do-nut on the back of her head. Waiting for Jack was her pet hate but then he paid her wages, so she tolerated his tardiness. He had said twenty minutes at the most. The thought of climbing out of bed so early didn’t appeal in the slightest but there was something in his voice which worried her. He had said it was an emergency and to make sure that she wasn’t late. For Jack to use the word ‘emergency’ then something catastrophic had happened. The urgency in her employer’s voice had trumped her need to sleep. Jenny didn’t let the fact that he employed her stop her from scolding him about making her wait, not that he paid any attention to her protestations anyway. Waiting for him was nothing new. The biggest problem at the moment was the early hour and the place where he had chosen to meet that bugged her. The drunks, burglars and lunatics were on their way home, while the workers were still in their beds clinging to slumber.
The Bayswater area of London where Jack lived was inhabited by a diverse group of cultures but early in the morning, the Hyde Park area was awash with weirdoes. As the sun came up, it chased them out of the shadows and forced them to go home. She had only been parked for twenty minutes and three different people had already knocked on her window, two asked for change and the third was so drunk that he couldn’t string a sentence together. It wasn’t often that Jack needed her so early in the day and he said it was urgent so she was willing to persevere. When he called, he had sounded anxious. No, he was more than anxious. She knew that he didn’t sleep well sometimes and he often sounded tired, but this morning he sounded different. He sounded frightened. She didn’t question his request to pick him up, nor did she quibble about the place he had chosen to meet. She was sure that he would explain when he arrived. She would insist that he explained.
A loud tap on the passenger window startled her. She was about to tell whoever it was to sod off when she realised it was Jack. Jenny couldn’t see his face but his raincoat was unmistakeable. The central locking clicked open allowing him to open the door.
“Have you been waiting long?” he asked looking around before climbing in. He took a deep drag and then flicked what was left of a Marlboro into the gutter. The smell of tobacco wafted into the Audi behind him. He looked up and down the street furtively, “I got here as quick as I could.”
“Did you come out of the park?” Jenny frowned. She had been expecting him to come from the opposite direction. His demeanour was all wrong. Jenny could tell that he had been disturbed by something.
“Yes,” he muttered. He checked behind them again. “We need to get out of here. Drive towards Kensington.” He sat back in the seat and wrapped the seatbelt over his shoulder, clicking it into place as the vehicle moved off. He closed his eyes and breathed out slowly as if trying to calm himself. She hadn’t seen him looking so shaken for a long time.
“Do you want to tell me what I’m doing here at this ungodly hour?” She slid the Audi into light traffic. There was next to nothing on the roads. “And then you can tell me what you were doing in the park in the dark wearing that raincoat. You’ll get arrested.”
“I always wear this raincoat,” he shrugged and closed his eyes as he spoke. He ignored her attempt at humour. “Since when has being in possession of an old raincoat been a crime?”
“Excuse me?” she nudged him with her elbow. “When you were on the force it was a prerequisite to arrest, wasn’t it?” she chuckled.
“You’re not far wrong,” he smiled for the first time, although there was no mirth in it. Locking up villains had been much simpler than what he did now. Sometimes he yearned to return to those times. “In my day, a man in a raincoat in the park after dark was as guilty as sin itself.”
“And if he didn’t confess, you’d have beaten it out of him!”
“How dare you?” Jack scoffed. He half smiled and looked behind them again.
“So,” she said, steering the car around the park. “What exactly are we doing here?”
Jack shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. “We’re going to see an old friend of mine,” he tilted his head as he spoke. Jenny knew that meant that he was being inventive with the truth. “He’ll be able to help.” He paused, “I know what to do but I need to know that you will be safe first. You may have to stay there for a while,” he took a breath as he thought about his next words. “You’re in grave danger, Jenny. You’ll have to stay there until I can sort this out.”
Jenny looked at him, her mouth open in surprise. She shook her head in disbelief. Sometimes working on the checkout at Aldi seemed like a desirable alternative career. After working with Jack as long as she had, nothing much surprised her any more but she had to admit that this time she was and it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. “Why would I be in some kind of danger?” she asked incredulously. “What the hell can be so bad that I couldn’t even pack some underwear and a toothbrush?”
“Trust me, it’s bad.”
“Jack!” she snapped. “That is not fair. I’m not a child, so don’t you dare treat me like one.” She looked sideways at him. The steel in her eyes warned him not to try to bamboozle her with nonsense. “What exactly is going on?”
“Pull in here,” Jack sighed and took out his phone. She indicated left and guided the Audi to the kerb. The traffic was light enough to get away with it for now. In a few hours time changing lanes would cause havoc. “They sent me this last night,” he said, as they stopped. He opened up the message and clicked on the attachment. Jenny squinted to look at the image as it opened and then came into focus. She took a sharp intake of breath and covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh my God!”
“I’m not sure where God is right now but he certainly wasn’t around when this happened.” Jack sighed, as he looked at the screen. The image showed Jenny crucified upside down. Her hands, wrists and ankles had been nailed to a tree with metal spikes. Her throat had been slashed from ear to ear. A deep black gaping hole exposed her trachea to the world. Blood streaked her neck and face and her blond hair was matted and red. A silver vessel resembling a wide goblet had been placed beneath her to collect her life force as it flowed from her.
“Oh my god!” she whispered hoarsely. “How?”
“Photoshop, I presume,” Jack replied flatly. “They superimposed your image onto the victim. That’s why I couldn’t tell you on the telephone. If they’re watching you and you had an overnight bag, well, it wouldn’t take much to find you.”
Jenny looked up as a bus honked its horn at a cyclist who had wandered too far from the kerb. A black hackney cab slammed on its brakes, the rear lights illuminating for a second. Her eyes shifted back to the image. “You said victim?” She looked at Jack to enlighten her. “What victim?”
“I don’t know who she was,” Jack swallowed hard and smiled thinly. “Whoever she was, she is nailed to a tree in the park.”
Jenny now understood the angst she had heard in his voice earlier. Her imagination was running riot. Fear fuelled adrenalin coursed through her veins. “You saw this woman crucified in the park?”
Jack nodded and looked out of the passenger window. “We need to drive, Jenny,” he turned to her. “I don’t think that I was followed. I checked. That’s why I was late but I can’t guarantee that you weren’t. He checked behind them again nervously. “We need to get to Kensington quickly. I’ll tell you about it on the way.”
She nodded and pushed the vehicle into gear. A space in the traffic appeared and she slotted into it. Her actions were those of an automaton. Shock had numbed her senses. Whoever the poor woman in the park had been, she had been butchered to send a message to Jack. Seeing her own face imposed onto the dead body had knocked her sideways. It looked so real. “Do you have any idea who is doing this?” she asked quietly.
“I can guess,” Jack shrugged and sighed. “The crucifixion indicates Satanism.” He shrugged. “If I had any doubts at all, the inversion of the crucifix and the exsanguination and collection of her blood, that’s concrete evidence that they’re Satanists.”
“Do you think they’re going to try to kill you or something?”
“No,” Jack said, shaking his head. “If they wanted to do that then they could have done it this morning.”
“Did you call the Police?” Jenny asked biting her bottom lip.
“They’ll find her soon enough and we can’t afford to waste time answering their questions. She was dead.” Jack shook his head as if to dismiss the image from his mind. “I got a call telling me that the photograph was on the way and that I should go into the park and look at the oak tree, near to the statue of Peter Pan.” He rubbed his hands together; the urge to smoke was making him tetchy. “When I saw the image, I thought it was you. I went to the park and the rest you know.”
“They’re threatening you?”
“I don’t think so,” Jack shook his head as he answered. “This isn’t a crackpot making threats. It’s far too organised.”
“So, what are we dealing with?” she glanced sideways nervously trying to read his expression.
“I think it’s a statement of intent.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re telling me, or should I say, showing me what they are intending to do to you.” Jack looked at her and lowered his voice. “Hence the early-morning drive through London to get you somewhere safe. Whoever they are, they’re not going to go away. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble already. I need to get you safe, lure them out and stop them permanently.”
Jenny shivered and exhaled loudly. When Jack said he was going to have to stop them she knew what he meant. She could only think of one way to discourage people like them and she didn’t need to know any more details than that. The entire morning was a nightmare and it seemed obvious that it would only get worse. Jack shifted in his seat so that he could see the traffic behind them in the wing mirror. He scanned the vehicles carefully looking for someone who was too close or too interested in the Audi.
“You’re making me nervous,” Jenny said, scanning the rear-view mirror.
“Concentrate on driving.”
“It is hard to concentrate when you’re acting skittish,” she snapped. Her attention was taken by a motorbike behind them; the driver and pillion were both hidden by black visors. Suddenly, every vehicle was a threat. The motorcyclist to their left was a sinister assassin. The Suzuki saloon on her right was being driven by a psychopath.
“Jenny!” Jack shouted. He instinctively stamped on the brake pedal which unfortunately was fitted on the driver’s side. Jenny jumped with shock and looked through the windscreen to the road in front. The traffic had come to a stop at a red light. She slammed on and the Audi screeched to a halt stopping inches from the rear of a double-decker bus.
“Jesus!” she hissed, putting her forehead onto the steering wheel. He heart felt like it was about to punch through her ribs and jump out of her chest. She took a deep breath, “Sorry but this has got me spooked.”
“Don’t apologise,” Jack shook his head. He checked the mirror again and looked around the area. They had circumnavigated the park and were entering the Kensington area. “Pull into the drive-thru up ahead.”
Jenny tried to stop shaking as she indicated to swap lanes. “Is now the best time for an Egg McMufin?” she muttered. Her nerves were shot.
“I’m not sure there is ever a best time for one of those,” Jack smiled thinly. He could see that she was taut. How could she not be? Someone had mocked up her death and slaughtered an innocent in the process. Whoever it was, meant business. They were hard core nut jobs. “However, their coffee is undeniably caffeine rich. I need a cocktail of caffeine and nicotine to balance my system.”
“I think we should be more concerned with who might be following us.”
“Have faith,” Jack said as the pulled onto the car park. “Go through the drive-thru and order a black coffee, then drive around again and order another one for yourself.”
“Drop me off here,” he pointed to a smoking shelter which had been erected for the staff. “I can see if anyone is tailing us and have a cigarette at the same time,” he smiled and opened the door. “Make sure you go around twice, yes?”
“I get it, Jack,” she said shaking her head. He slammed the door and walked away. Jenny checked her mirrors and pulled into the drive-thru lane. There was nothing behind her when she pulled up at the speaker post.
“Welcome to McDonald’s,” the speaker crackled. Some bright spark had flung a ketchup covered pickle at the menu board. Jenny frowned as it looked like it had been there for some time. “May I take your order, please?” Jenny checked her mirror again. A black transit van trundled into the drive-thru lane behind her. The driver had a beanie hat on his head and dark glasses, which Jenny thought was odd as it was barely light yet. “Hello?” the voice cackled. “May I take your order, please?”
“A large coffee, please.” Jenny mumbled. Her attention was taken by the van. She looked for Jack but he had gone. He wasn’t where she had dropped him.
“What type would you like?”
“Coffee,” the voice sounded irritated. “What type of coffee would you like?”
“Oh, sorry,” Jenny said distractedly. “Latte is fine.” The van driver seemed to be looking straight at her in the mirror, but she couldn’t be absolutely sure because of the glasses. He was sat bolt upright and unmoving.
“Is that large?” Jenny heard the question but it didn’t register. The van drew closer to the rear of her car. So close that she could no longer see the headlights. “Hello?” the speaker box cackled. “Do you want a large coffee?”
“What?” Jenny frowned and looked at the order screen.
“Yes. Large is fine.”
“Any breakfast items with your order?”
“For God’s sake!” Jenny snapped. Her nerves were at the point of cracking, “I just want a coffee, okay?”
“Drive to the second window to collect your order,” the voice said, irritably. Jenny edged forward faster than she normally would have. The van edged up to the speaker box and stopped. As the space between them widened, she felt her fear subsiding. The driver leaned over to place an order. Jenny felt a wave of relief wash over her. She stopped at the window and handed over a five-pound note. The cashier took it and handed her the change without a word, obviously irritated by her impatience. Jenny took her coffee from the order presenter and blushed a little. Biting the head off a teenager had not been on her list of things to do that day. She was probably either just starting or just finishing her shift. An obnoxious customer wasn’t what she needed either way. A pang of guilt bit her.
She pulled out of the drive-thru lane and drove around the car park. There was no sign of Jack anywhere. As she reached the back of the store, she noticed that the drive-thru lane was empty. A lone crew member was huddled in the smoking shelter puffing on his cigarette, as if it was to be his last. She guided the Audi back around the building and pulled up at the speaker box again. Her heart thumped uncontrollably when the black van followed her. The driver stopped the vehicle at the entrance to the drive-thru lane, confused by her actions. He wasn’t sure whether to enter the lane, where he would be funnelled through the drive-thru again, or to drive around the car park to the exit. The fact that he was hesitating and contemplating entering the drive-thru lane was enough to alert Jenny that he was suspect.
Jack appeared from nowhere, pulled the passenger open and jumped into the seat with a bump. He snapped the seatbelt on and closed the door in one movement. “Did you get coffee?” he asked, looking at the driver of the black van.
Jenny gestured to the cup; her eyes fixed on the van which was thirty metres behind her. It crawled forward slowly and entered the lane. She watched as a black hackney cab pulled behind it, blocking it in. “Reverse as fast as you can,” Jack nudged her. She looked confused. “Put the car into reverse, Jenny,” he repeated, slowly.
“What?” she frowned and looked into his eyes. They were sharp and full of intelligence, tinged with a little bit of fear. “I don’t understand.”
“I want you to put the car into reverse and floor it,” he explained calmly. “The radiator on those things sits very low. If you reverse as fast as you can, we should be able to disable it and stop him following us.”
Jenny nodded imperceptibly. The cogs in her mind clicked into place and she understood the plan. She sighed and pushed the gear stick into reverse. Looking over her left shoulder, she stamped on the accelerator. The tyres screeched and the Audi lurched backwards at speed. The engine roared and she watched the van driver’s expression turn from confusion to terror in seconds. He braced himself for the imminent impact and covered his eyes with his forearms. The Audi connected with the front of the van with a sickening crunch. The sound of shattering glass filled the air and coloured glass exploded from between the vehicles. A cloud of steam erupted from the front of the van. Jack was rocked backwards in his seat and Jenny let out a high-pitched shriek.
“First gear and drive!” Jack shouted. He watched the van driver trying to open his door but it was jammed by the speaker box. “Do it now, Jenny.”
Jenny engaged first gear and floored the accelerator. The Audi sped along the drive-thru lane, across the car park and out onto the main road. The rear end fishtailed as the tyres found purchase on the tarmac and the powerful engine catapulted the vehicle forward. Jenny steered between a bus and a queue of waiting traffic, then turned right down an alleyway which serviced two rows of shops which were back to back. A grey wheelie bin bounced off the front wing as they exited the alley and joined the main route which headed West around the park. “Shit!” she finally allowed herself to speak. “Shit, shit, shit!”
“Calm down,” Jack said coolly, “Calm down and slow down.”
Jenny slowed the vehicle considerably and switched lanes, exiting the main route onto the back streets. The rear-view mirror was empty of pursuers. She shook her head and whistled as she exhaled heavily. “Okay, okay, calm down he says,” Jenny mumbled to herself, “someone is trying to nail me to a tree and Jack wants me to calm down. Easier said than done, Jack!”
“I know this is difficult to get your head around but you did brilliantly well,” he touched her elbow gently. “We lost the van and whoever else was following us.”
“Look behind for yourself,” he assured her trying to keep his voice calm. “If I ever need to rob a bank, you’re my driver.”
“I don’t want to rob a bank.”
“I know, but if you did, you would be the driver.”
“Well, I won’t.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Neither do I,” Jack shrugged. “It was just a joke.”
“Do you think this is funny?”
Jack sighed and shook his head. “The whole thing is laughable,” he said looking out of the window as a police car hurtled by with its sirens blaring. The blue lights illuminated the interior of the Audi for a second. Thankfully the officers inside only had a view of the front of the Audi. “Definitely not funny but laughable, I mean who would believe it?”
“I work for Jack Nightingale,” Jenny shook her head and snorted, “so I would believe most anything.”
“Head for the Olympia but keep off the main roads,” Jack pointed to a sign for Kensington High Street. “If the police see the state of the back of the car, they’ll pull us over. We need to get off the main drag, okay?” As if the gods were conspiring against him, the rear bumper section fell off with a clatter and a shower of sparks erupted behind them as it dragged along the road. “Shit!” he moaned, “Pull over there onto the kerb.”
Jenny bit her bottom lip and swerved to the side. The front wheel thumped up the kerb and another section of the rear fell away and clattered along the road under its own momentum. It came to a standstill under a Post Office truck. “Now what?” Jenny moaned as she turned the engine off.
“We walk,” Jack said, taking off his belt and opening the door. “Move it quickly before the police get here. They’ll soon realise that we rammed the van at McDonald’s. I’m pretty sure that we can cut through the estate there.” Jenny climbed out of the Audi, immediately missing the warmth and security that it offered. The light was winning its battle against the darkness but there was no warmth in yet. The summer mornings were months away yet. She instinctively walked to the back of the vehicle and took a sharp intake of breath and her hand went to her mouth. Jack watched her from the front end hoping that it was repairable. “It’ll look like knew after some filler and a touch of paint.”
“Shut up, Jack!” she cocked her head to the side and he thought that she looked a little bit mad when she did that. “I’m no mechanic but filler isn’t going to cut it here.” She pointed to the boot which was now concertina shaped, “The Restoration Man couldn’t fix this up.”
“You reversed into a transit van,” he shrugged. “What did you expect it to look like?”
“Shut up, Jack!”
“Okay, I’m shut up,” he made a zip gesture with his hand. “We need to move.” He looked at his watch and a concerned expression appeared on his face. “Come on, before it’s too late!” He turned and crossed the road walking towards a row of terraced houses to their left. The driver of the Post Office van eyed them suspiciously and caught Jack’s gaze. Jack stared at him and made an imaginary gun with his fingers. The driver looked away immediately, gunned the engine and drove towards the main road and the park beyond. He could hardly blame the driver for being suspicious, after all they had parked up a badly damaged car and appeared to be abandoning it. “Will you move yourself!” he called back to Jenny. Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him. “I know, shut up, Jack,” he mumbled to himself.
Jenny pulled her coat tightly around her and jogged to catch up with Jack. They walked the rest of the journey and spent most of it speculating about who had killed the woman and gone to all the trouble of using Photoshop to send a dreadful message to him. At some point he would have to speak to the Police and he would need something more convincing to tell them than he had at the moment. A Photoshop image and a hunch would make him sound like he was either a participant or a fruitcake. “They’re not the only Satanists on the block,” Jenny said, slightly out of breath. They were walking quickly. Jack seemed to be on a mission. They were both of the opinion that Jack was being targeted by the Order of Nine Angles once more and that rattled him. “After the last lot I did some research on others outside of the ONA,” she said, a little nervously.
“I told you that was a bad idea,” Jack stopped suddenly and turned to her. “What type of research did you do exactly?”
She looked sheepish as she answered, “I used the internet, of course.”
“Tell me that you didn’t set up any false profiles to sign into their websites?” Jack asked, sternly. “Tell me you didn’t.”
She looked away and walked on ignoring his stare. It wasn’t often that she had to admit to being wrong but Jack could tell that she was hiding the truth. “I set up two. That’s all.” Jack walked quickly to keep up with her. He grabbed her by the arm and stopped her turning her to face him. “You’re hurting my arm, Jack.” She shrugged free and tried to walk on but he held her tightly. “Okay, okay. I set up two profiles, just to monitor their chat boards.”
“Who?” he snapped and shook his head. “Who did you look at?”
“Then New Church of Satan and the Nine Angels,” she quipped, as if it was irrelevant. “Not angles, angels.”
“Yes, I know who they are, Jenny.”
“Good,” she turned and walked away.
“Jenny, the Nine Angels make the others look like boy scouts,” Jack said, angrily. “They broke away from the angles because they weren’t quite sick enough!”
“Don’t exaggerate, Jack.”
“You have no idea how dangerous they are,” he shook his head incredulously. “I know exactly who they are.”
“Then you’ll know that it’s important that we have a handle on them,” she said stubbornly. “We can see their chat rooms from my profiles and if there’s anything on there about you, then we’ll have advanced warning,” she said over her shoulder. “It is important that we can see them.”
“And they can see you, Jenny.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“They can follow a URL address and trace the link to whoever owns the email address,” he explained in a heated fashion. “Once they have an owner’s identity, they have a name and an address. Then they have you, Jenny.”
“They can’t do that.”
“They obviously have done that.”
She stopped again and put her hands on her hips. Her lips were quivering and her eyes filled with tears. “Are you saying that this is my fault?”
Jack looked at her and despite his frustrations, he shook his head. “Not really, no.”
“You weren’t to know,” he couldn’t look her in the eye. “They may have come after me anyway.”
“Maybe, but I rattled their cage, didn’t I?”
“We can’t change that now,” he looked at the road as he spoke. “We need to get you safe and then I can fix this.”
“I’m sorry, Jack,” she muttered. A tear rolled down her cheek. “I was trying to help.”
“Best intentions line the road to hell, Jenny,” he muttered. He gestured to an alley between the houses. Larger buildings made from brick with corrugated iron roofs loomed behind them. “We’re nearly there, through here and across the industrial estate. It will take us twenty minutes at best.”
Exactly twenty minutes later, Jack pointed to a Victorian terraced house which had the number 9 on the door. “That’s very apt,” he quipped, “I wonder if they chose it on purpose.” Wide stone steps climbed from the pavement to the door and spiked metal railings formed a barrier to the basement flat below. “He lives down there in the flat,” Jack said, crossing the road at a jog. “I can only hope that we’re in time.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” Jenny moaned. “In time for what?”
“I haven’t got a clue,” Jack shook his head, “therein lies the problem.”
“Is there where I’m supposed to be safe?” Jenny frowned at the scruffy basement windows.
“No, but the occupier will know.” He paused at the top of the steps which led down to the basement. The road was clear in both directions. “I want you to stay here and wait for me.”
“Not a chance,” she said adamantly. “I am not waiting anywhere on my own.”
“You will be fine for two minutes. I need to make sure that it is safe, okay?”
“Two minutes, Jack,” she whined. “Please don’t leave me here any longer than that.”
“I promise.” He turned and ran down the steps, peering into the grimy windows. His face wrinkled as he tried to see inside. He cupped his hands against the glass and tapped with his right hand.
“Jack,” Jenny called from the pavement. He turned to see her face looking over the railings. “Who lives here?”
He knocked louder on the glass and ignored her question. Inside, the net curtains and dust conspired to stop him seeing anything clearly but he could make out the shapes of a settee and a dining table. He could also see that everything was draped thick with cobwebs. A shiver ran down his spine. He checked his watch and moved towards the front door. It was a four-panel wooden fitting. The paint was blistered and cracked. At the base of the frame where the weather bar would be fitted, six inches of leaves and fast food wrappers were piled against it. It hadn’t been opened for months, if not years.
He pushed at the door beneath the lock and it creaked open slightly. Peering into the darkness behind it, he shoved a bit harder and it moved some more. Something behind it was stopping it from opening completely. His instincts told him to leave it well alone, but he couldn’t. Jenny didn’t know it yet but they had taken her cousin already. She was a young girl called Constance. Jack had no idea that she existed until now but they had told him to be at the flat below number 9 Otley Way, before seven o’clock. He checked his watch and it read ten past the hour. They had said that if he didn’t get Jenny there on time, the young girl would take her place on the cross.
Left with few options, Jack had taken the sawn-off shotgun, which he had purchased from his associate T-Bone, a local hood and intended to comply with their instructions, until he could get the girls away safely. If that meant leaving a trail of dead ‘Niners’, then so be it. He had no choice. Kill them, or they would kill Constance. He nudged the door with his shoulder and looked behind it. A substantial mound of junk mail had been causing the problem. He took the sawn-off from his inside pocket and shoved the door with his shoulder to open it completely.
The cloying smell of damp stuck in his nostrils. Specks of dust circled in the weak beams of light which tried to penetrate the deep blackness of the hallway. Jack felt that eyes watched him from the shadows; evil eyes. As he took his first step inside, he heard Jenny screaming. Her scream was cut short and an engine roared. Jack bolted up the steps three at a time. He gripped the shotgun tightly, his knuckles white with the pressure. As he reached the top of the steps, he saw a Post Office van screeching around the corner at the end of the street. All that remained of Jenny was a pink Puma training shoe.
The temptation to ring the Police was overwhelming, but what would he say to them? At this point in time, it could do more harm than good. He had no choice. He had had no choice from the beginning. There was a reason why they had chosen that address. He had to find out what that was. Maybe that would lead him to wherever that had taken Jenny and Constance. The Niners had upped the stakes and he had to react accordingly. They had threatened his family before. It was time for him to cross the line into their world. Instead of waiting for them to come for him, this time he had to become the hunter.
He took the steps running and burst into the hallway, shotgun raised. The darkness seemed to inch backwards visibly, as if it had life and form of its own. His Hush puppies crunched brittle leaves beneath them. He reached for the light switch and ever the optimist, switched it on. It clicked and the bare light bulb fizzled and then exploded in a shower of glass. Jack covered his eyes to protect them but the images he had seen were etched into his brain; the fleeting vision of thousands of shapes.
Jack kicked at the pile of junk behind the door and grabbed a copy of the local free paper. He twisted it tightly and lit one end with his lighter. As the flame glowed, the shapes at the end of the hallway became clearer. Books. Hundreds and thousands of books. He edged along the hallway and studied the titles as he past piles which were taller than himself. Magick, witchcraft, wicca, ley lines, satanic worshipping; the entire spectrum of the occult and dark religions was covered by this incredible collection. He knew that he was in the right place.
As he neared the only doorway which led off the hallway, another smell drifted to him with the dankness. It was the rotting stench of death. He had experienced it before, both consciously and unconsciously. Its foul sweet odour was almost palpable. Jack reached around the door frame and searched for the light switch. His fingers felt exposed as they touched the cold damp plaster. He touched the cover and flicked the switch.
The flames from the torch burnt his fingers. The paper had burned away unnoticed. He threw it down and stamped on the burning embers. Sparks floated upwards threatening to set fire to the mountains of books. “Shit!” he mumbled as he extinguished the flames. The low wattage bulb flickered and then glowed dimly. Jack looked around the room. It had a feeling of abandonment to it. Something that once thrived here had gone. The walls were lined with stacks of books piled above head height. There was no television, which after seeing the number of books was no surprise. A dining table with barley twist legs stood against one wall. On it, half a dozen books lay open.
Jack entered and the smell of death thickened to the point where he could almost taste it. It filled his airways and tried to suffocate him. The urge to turn and run was powerful, almost impossible to defy. Jack knew it was a trick of the mind. Someone or something was testing his resolve. He shook his head and composed himself. Breathing deeply, he crossed the room to the table. In the centre was an ornately covered book, titled The Beast. It was open at a page which depicted the burning of a sacrifice. Two females tied back to back either side of a post, flames devouring their bodies. They were mother and daughter. He didn’t know how he knew but he did. Next to it was a manuscript, ‘The Sigil of Baphomet’. It too described the selection and abduction of female victims. The other books were opened at similar subjects. A notebook lay to one side, the entries written by someone deranged, numbers and snippets of text were scrawled next to sketches of demons that no parent would allow their children to see. Scribbled in the notebook next to a sketch of a young girl being tied up, was an address. Black Mound Mill. Jack eyed a line of text which explained that the name was used in connection with the burning of the innocent to empower the dark ones.
Four hours and a hundred and fifty miles away, Jack studied the mill from the safety of some trees. The mill was a single storey structure with a vaulted loft space constructed of timber and breeze-block walls with a corrugated iron roof. A window above its double doors was protected by a mesh grill. There were two cars parked on a gravel path which didn’t move all the time that Jack watched. Another vehicle arrived and a bald man in his fifties stepped out of the mill and shook hands with the driver who, handed over a carrier bag with a logo resembling a pasty printed on it. They chatted for a moment then the bald man went back inside and the vehicle left. Jack assumed it was a delivery of pastries to keep the captors and the hostage from starving to death. He guessed that it would only take five minutes for him to cross the field between where he was hiding and the mill. Rapeseed was growing waist high and its intense yellow flowers were almost dazzling to the eye; its scent sweet. He ducked low and headed towards the side of the mill where there were no windows.
There was a path around the mill, made from tons of compacted waste sawdust. Waist high grasses leaned over from either side, threatening to swamp it forever. Jack headed for the rear of the building hoping that the images on Google were recent. They were and he thought he had seen a way in, but until he saw it close up, he couldn’t be sure. A conveyor belt protruded from the rear elevation, its cogs and wheels red with rust. The hatch above it was padlocked but below it was a flywheel, half in the building and half out. The axle was fitted to the rear wall, its belt twisted and warped by time and the elements. The mill had once supplied wooden beams to the coal industry, which were used to support the miles of tunnels deep beneath his feet. When the pits were closed, the mill went bust with them and it had never been sold on. There was a gap between the flywheel and the wall, which he had guessed was big enough for him to squeeze through. It was a tight fit but Jack was inside the mill in seconds.
The smell of freshly cut wood had long since been replaced by must and mould, damp and decay. Armoured grey wood lice in their thousands scurried beneath his Hush puppies, making the floor look alive. Every footstep seemed to crush a hundred of them, their crunching bodies threatening to give away his arrival. The loft above him was supported by a suspended wooden platform, thick curtains of grey cobwebs dangled from every crack in the floorboards. An antiquated giant band-saw dominated the ground floor and he had to skirt around it to reach the front of the building.
Jack heard muffled voices upstairs. All male. Three at least. A rotten wooden staircase was the only access, its handrail splintered into several sections, some of which dangled uselessly in the air. Beneath it, another set of steps led to a cellar. Jack looked into the gloomy stairwell. The darkness at the bottom was inky black. The nerves in his spine tingled and the voice of reason inside his head told him to leave the cellar alone. There was no need to go down there. A dreadful feeling of desolation crept into his mind, hopelessness and misery touched his soul. Despair oozed from the cellar. He felt a tear form in his eye and he wiped it away with the back of his hand. Wretchedness dwelled down there in the darkness and he had to confront it.
He took a deep breath and steeled himself against the sense of despondency which threatened to engulf him. The steps creaked beneath his weight and he heard tiny claws scurrying away, searching for dark corners to hide in. As he neared the bottom of the staircase, his feet seemed to disappear from view as if he had stepped into a stream of blackness. A sense of total dereliction overwhelmed him. He reached for his torch, anxious at what horrors its light would reveal and clicked it on with his thumb. The light flickered and the beam struggled to push the darkness back. It seemed to retreat and then creep forward again, threatening to envelop him. The beam hardly illuminated the dank space; the corners of the cellar remained hidden. Jack swung the beam in a wide arc.
Near the far wall was an altar draped with goatskins. Thick church candles encircled it. On top of it the skull of a four-horned ram sat staring at him. The empty eye sockets were black. On the wall behind it was the pentangle with a goat’s head daubed within. “The Sigil of Baphomet,” Jack whispered to himself. He knew that this wasn’t a place of group worship. The symbols and markings were all wrong. This was where the priestess prepared herself. He stepped onto the cellar floor and felt a tingle run through him. Sweeping the beam beneath the stairs, he saw different markings daubed on the grimy plaster. Syrian demonology, he guessed. They were similar but not exactly the same as some he had seen in his research. A thick rope dangled from a block-and-tackle, which was fixed to the rafters above and beneath it stood an iron bath. The feet were shaped as demonic claws grasping human skulls. The enamel was stained with a dark tidemark and the wall was dotted with bloody handprints. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered beneath his breath.
Invisible hands gripped him; cold fingers clawed at his soul. He gasped as the image of Jenny Mclean entered his mind. She was hung upside down, her throat slashed from ear to ear, blood pouring into the bath beneath her. Her eyes were black, piercing and accusing. “Help me, Jack,” she giggled. Her voice was a thick guttural gurgling. She smiled. It was an evil twisted smile; her teeth were smeared with her blood. “Aren’t you going to help me, Jack?” She laughed hysterically and it echoed through his mind reaching an unbearable pitch. Her expression changed. She looked surprised, as if she was going to choke. Her mouth opened wide. Projectile vomit splattered the bath. She screamed and her body began to spasm, her jaw distended and a thousand bloated flies exploded from her throat. The black jet of buzzing insects gushed towards him. He staggered backwards and clasped his hands over his ears to stop the vision. His foot hit the bottom step and he dropped the torch. Blackness swamped him, evil, sickness and decay smothered him. The insects tried to enter his every orifice and suffocate him. Jack bolted up the stairs gasping for his breath and crouched against the wall. He knew that the images were imaginary but he still waited for the vile flies to chase him. Sweat ran down his back in cold rivulets. He shook his head and tried to compose himself. “Breathe deeply, Jack,” he muttered. “Get a grip of yourself.” His breathing slowed as the nauseating effects of the cellar waned. “Get a grip? That’s easy for you to say. The bitch has got a blood bath.” His senses returned slowly.
The urge to push on to find the girls was strong, but his experience in the cellar had drained him. He was a cynic and always would be but there was no doubting the overwhelming sense of evil that he had felt. There was an explanation for it, there always was. Yes, he knew that the devil existed and yes, he knew that there were those who could direct his energy for their own benefit, but what he had felt in the cellar was misery on a cosmic scale. Whoever this woman was, she had a God given talent. Maybe not God given, but it was impressive in a sick way.
Jack felt his strength returning with every breath that he took. The sense of numbness faded. He could hear the men chattering as they ate their lunch. The aroma of pies drifted to him. They were having their dinner, which was a bonus. Jack had hoped that his rescue mission would be simple and straightforward, as after all, they weren’t expecting him. He planned to surprise them so much that they wouldn’t know what had hit them, until it was too late.
Jack shook the disturbing images from his mind, crouched at the bottom of the stairs and pulled his collar up. He took a deep breath and sprinted up the stairs, taking the steps three at a time. He heard the conversation stop and a few surprised expletives were exchanged as his footsteps alerted them to his presence. As Jack reached the landing at the top, he shouted as loud as he could and held up his old police ID card.
“Armed police,” he bellowed. He held the sawn-off tightly against his shoulder and knelt down to make himself a smaller target. “Get your hands up in the air now!”
The sudden noise combined with the shotgun startled them. He hoped that they would think that he was part of an armed police unit, long enough for him to disarm them. There were three men sat in a semicircle below the only window; the bald man who he had seen outside, a grey bearded man in his sixties and an old biker looking guy with sideburns and a ponytail. Jack couldn’t see any weapons, which was a bonus. The chairs were arranged around a small screen television, which was perched on an old crate. Ponytail stood up, his pies in one hand, raising the other above his head. His mouth was open, revealing the half-chewed contents. Jack couldn’t take his eyes off them to look for Constance and Jenny.
“Don’t shoot,” greybeard joined ponytail and stood up. “I can explain everything.”
“Get your hands up, now!” Jack screamed. They jumped visibly and complied; three bags of pastry spilled in the dust. “Where are Jenny and the girl?”
None of them spoke but their eyes involuntarily flickered to a point behind him. “Get on the floor face down and do it now!”
Two of them responded quickly but baldy hesitated and eyed Jack suspiciously. He fired a shot above him. The lead shot blew a hole in the roof bringing down a landslide of grit and filthy debris. It was more than enough to discourage him from arguing. He hit the floor like a sack of spuds, giving Jack the opportunity to glance behind him. A young girl was sat on the floor, tied to a roof support. She was gagged and blindfolded. Her long blond hair hung lankly to her shoulders. She was struggling against her restraints, which was causing a small avalanche of dust to fall from the pitched ceiling, showering her with powdery grime. “Stay calm, Constance,” Jack shouted. “I’ll have you out in a minute.” He could see the shape of a woman tied on the other side of the post. “Jenny!” Jack shouted.
“He’s not the Police.” Baldy hissed to the others
“What do you mean?” whispered ponytail.
“He’s on his own, and since when did they use sawn-offs?”
“Shut up!” Jack shouted. He walked over to them.
“Who are you?” the niner sneered.
“I’m the man that barbecues Niners,” Jack looked at their reactions, “one wrong word from any of you and I’ll blow your balls off. Get it?” They nodded that they understood, the colour draining from their faces. “Get up baldy,” he aimed the gun as he spoke. He was the mouthy one and therefore the one most likely to cause him problems. “Sit on the chair.”
He sat down as instructed. “She’ll find you eventually,” he sneered. “You have no idea what she is, the High Priestess is barely human. She uses their blood to bathe. The blood of the females keeps her young and of course we get to have some fun with them first.” The look on his face was one of disdain, disgust and an almost perverse superiority. “You’re a dead man but you haven’t realised it yet. Do you know what she is? I don’t think you have a clue what she can do to those who cross us!” His expression of disgust really bothered Jack.
“She doesn’t scare me,” he lied.
“She’ll eat you alive, you fool,” the Niner sneered, “you and your family and friends.”
“She hasn’t done so far.”
“Do you have any idea how many of us there are?” he scoffed, like a schoolboy bragging about how big his dad is. “Taking your friend is just a message. It’s nothing to what we can do to you. You do not understand what we are capable of!”
“Maybe not, but the mistake that you’re making is not understanding what I’m capable of.” Jack saw fear in his eyes, as he raised the gun. “I need you two to remember this. Tell the other sickos in your little group what happens to people who threaten my friends.” He pulled the trigger twice and blew the annoying expression off his face along with most of his head. Ponytail whimpered like a wounded dog and greybeard retched as he reloaded. Blood and globules of grey matter splattered their faces. Constance let out a scream, the sound muffled by the gag. “Constance,” Jack called, “I need you to stay still and do not panic no matter what you hear. I’ll come and untie you in a couple of minutes. Do you understand me?”
She nodded silently although Jack could see her legs were trembling and a puddle of urine began to spread beneath her. He turned his attention back to the horrified Niners. “I was going to tie you up and leave you here until the police arrived, but I’m beginning to get the impression that you lot think that I’m some kind of cockroach, running and hiding under a rock somewhere.”
“I don’t think that,” Ponytail stuttered.
“I’m not hiding from you,” Jack explained calmly. “I will never hide from you. Understand?”
Ponytail put his hands together, as if in prayer. “Please don’t kill me.” His eyes were closed so that he couldn’t see the ruined body of his friend. “I’ll do anything you ask, if you let me live.”
“Okay. Let’s see, shall we?” Jack tossed a bundle of cable ties onto the floor in front of him. “Tie him up with those, two around the ankles and two around the wrists.”
Ponytail scurried off on his hands and knees. His hands were shaking so much that he fumbled clumsily with the zip ties. He avoided looking at the headless corpse which was still sitting upright on its chair. The cloying smell of excrement mingled with the coppery smell of blood. Baldy’s bowels had relaxed upon death, releasing his waste into his trousers. “Your friend is starting to stink already,” Jack commented on Baldy’s deterioration. Ponytail just stared at him, his lip shaking like an epileptic pink slug beneath his moustache. He obviously didn’t have an opinion to share with Jack. “I don’t think he’s gone to hell to be a dark angel; I think he’s just a dead paedophile with the contents of his lower intestines in his pants.” Tears ran from Ponytail’s eyes.
Jack took out his telephone and dialled. The emergency operator began asking a stream of questions but he placed the phone on the floor next to greybeard’s head. “Tell them who you are and why you kidnapped the girl,” Jack aimed the gun at his head. “If you mention Jenny or me, you’re dead. Lie once and your brains will be all over that wall.”
He nodded that he understood. “My name is David Wilder and I’m involved in the kidnapping of a girl.”
“Tell them her name,” I ordered.
“Her name is Constance Bonner.”
“Tell them why.”
“She was kidnapped because we were going to use her in part of a satanic ceremony.”
“Tell them who you belong to.”
“I’m a member of The Order of Nine Angels.”
Jack ended the call and strapped his hands and feet together leaving the two of them cowering in the dirt. Ponytail was sobbing in the filth as Jack ran to Constance. He cut through her bonds and lifted her to her feet. Jenny looked like she had been drugged. He removed the gag and pulled off her blindfold. Her eyes showed signs of consciousness and terror in them. He reached for a bottle of water and put it to her lips. She gulped thirstily from it. Jack couldn’t see Jenny in her features. Constance was olive skinned and her eyes were green. He kept his body between her and the carnage behind him. “Your Auntie Jenny doesn’t look too good, does she?” Jack joked trying to build a rapport with her. The little girl looked at Jenny with confusion etched into her features. Jack stopped for a moment. “Is she your auntie?”
Jack swore beneath his breath. It was one thing falling for a bluff, but when it was such a schoolboy error, he couldn’t forgive himself. “Now listen to me carefully. I want you to close your eyes and run down the stairs, okay?”
“Okay,” she said her voice a whisper.
Jack turned to Jenny and lifted her like a doll and carried her quickly down the creaking steps. The double doors were unlocked and he put his back against them and pushed them open. The fresh air was invigorating, a stark contrast from the reek of death inside. He put her down on the weed strewn tarmac, which led to the road. The sound of the first responding Police car whined in the distance. Jack turned to Constance, “Now, I need you to trust me, okay?”
“Okay,” she whispered again. “I want my mummy.”
“The Police are coming,” he cocked his head and smiled. “Can you hear them?”
Constance nodded and bit her lip, “I thought you were the Police.”
“No, but I had to tell the bad men that,” he shook his head. “Now listen to me. I need you to run down this road until the Police car reaches you, okay?”
“I’m scared,” she tightened the grip on his hand. “I want to stay with you until they get here.”
“I know you are frightened, but I’m going to stay here and make sure that none of the bad men follow you, okay?”
Constance took one last teary look at him and then bolted down the road. She moved quickly for one so young. Jack waited until a curve in the road hid her from view, then he grabbed Jenny and sprinted into the rapeseed and headed back the way he’d come. He knew that Constance would be safe now but knew that things could unravel at any time. He was cursed after all. It was a matter of time before they got to his family and friends again. Jack felt the muscles in his legs burning from the exhaustion as he ran for the trees. He knew that he had to track the leaders of the cult that was targeting him. They had to be stopped and only he could do it. He knew that he would be going back to the flat below 9 Otley Road at some point soon. He wanted more time to study the notes and research that the occult librarian had made. Armed with that information, he would be able to find the serpent. To stop a serpent from biting you, you have to chop off its head and that was exactly what he was going to do. The next time he saw them, it would be at his bequest and this High Priestess would get her bloodbath. Jack Nightingale promised her that.
About Conrad Jones
Author Conrad Jones originally comes from a sleepy green-belt called Tarbock Green, situated on the outskirts of Liverpool. He spent a number of years living in Holyhead, Anglesey, which to him classes as home, before starting a career as a trainee manager, respective business consultant with McDonalds Restaurants in 1989.
On March 20th, 1993 while managing the Restaurant in Warrington`s Bridge St two Irish Republican Army bombs exploded directly outside the store, resulting in the death of two young boys and many casualties. Along with hundreds of other people there that day Conrad was deeply affected by the attack, which led to a long-term interest in the motivation and mindset of criminal gangs. This is when he began to read anything crime related he could get his hands on.
To him, this experience is directly linked with the desire to write books on the subject, which came much later on due to an unusual set of circumstances. Because of that experience, Conrad’s early novels follow the adventures of an elite counter-terrorist unit, The Terrorist Task Force, and their enigmatic leader, John Tankersley, or `Tank`- the Soft Target Series, described by a reviewer as ‘Reacher on steroids.’
‘Blood Bath‘ is available at Amazon