All You Who Enter Here by Will B. Riley by Will B. Riley - Read Online

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All You Who Enter Here - Will B. Riley

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59

Chapter 1

Shropshire, England.

They should do a Dracula movie in this place.

The accent was East London. The speaker, seated on a moss-covered tomb and cleaning his fingernails with a thin-bladed knife, was a man in his thirties. He ran a hand over his fair, spiky hair and looked up at his standing companion for confirmation.

What do you think, Andy?

The standing man removed his hands from his overcoat pockets and blew on them. His breath escaped in a frosted plume before dispersing. He looked around him at the ancient gravestones then put his hands back in his pockets.

Oh, aye. It’d do for that all right.

He was a big man, some fifteen years older than the man seated on the tomb. Baggy eyes and the beginning of blue jowls gave him a sad expression. A broken nose suggested a life in which violence was not unknown. Both men wore dark suits and overcoats.

The graveyard was ancient, isolated and neglected. Thick stone walls surrounded it on all sides, crumbling in parts and almost invisible beneath a heavy coat of ivy. Gnarled branches of centuries old yew trees overhung the wall, while beyond the yews the surrounding woods were too dense for daylight to penetrate more than a few feet. A squat, stone church took up a quarter of the churchyard, so ancient that it sagged in the middle, and so sunken under its own weight that it appeared to be growing out of the earth, solid as a boulder. It wore its thick crust of ivy like a woolly coat and its roof had a soft green blanket of moss. Little of the dull, cloudy daylight would penetrate the five small windows on each side for they were deep within the ivy.

The graves themselves, those at least that were still discernible as such, were marked by weather-worn tombstones, the tallest of which peered just above the long grass. Others had long since fallen over and lay hidden. More prominent were the few larger rectangular tombs like the one upon which the younger man sat. Few of their inscriptions were decipherable, for what the wind and rain had not eroded over the centuries was hidden under a blanket of lichen. No-one had been buried here in a very long time.

You shouldn’t be sitting on a grave, Colin, the older man said. It’s not respectful.

The seated man looked up with a bemused expression. Who gives a shit about respectful? There’s nothing in here to respect, ya great Scots git. I bet there’s not even bones left. He leaned down towards where the top of the tomb had fallen in leaving a gaping hole. He tried to read the name on the stone by scraping away some of the moss with his blade. Hello, anybody in there? You don’t mind me sitting on your grave, do you? See, Andy, he doesn’t mind. He wiped the blade clean with his finger and resumed cleaning his nails. The other man shook his head in disapproval but said nothing.

For a few moments the only sounds were the soft moan of the wind, the hum of insects and an occasional flutter of birds among the trees. Then a new sound was added, the crunch of slow moving tyres on gravel. The younger man jumped to his feet.

They’re here.

With a click the knife blade disappeared inside the handle and the man called Colin brushed stone dust from his coat and went to stand beside his companion. Both men straightened their ties and stood respectfully with hands folded in front of them. The sound of tyres continued as more cars arrived in the lane outside the cemetery gate. There was the almost inaudible purr of expensive motors, then silence. The sound of multiple car doors opening and closing followed. After a few moments five men in dark suits entered through the rotting gate and walked briskly across the churchyard. Each gave a muttered greeting or nod to Colin and Andy before gathering in the small church porch where one of them produced a bunch of keys. The nail-studded door, black with age, opened with unexpected quietness. The five men disappeared inside.

Next to enter the churchyard was a strange, slow procession of men, all of advanced age, some in wheelchairs pushed by younger, dark-suited men, others leaning on the arms of similar helpers. The occupant of one of the wheelchairs was heavily blanketed and attached to an oxygen bottle and IV unit. One by one they were helped into the church. The last, a tall, straight man who appeared to be the youngest and the least frail at no more than eighty, stopped in front of the two men.

Good morning, Andrew. The voice was high and quavery, the eyes grey, sharp and piercing.

Good morning, Mr. Whittaker.

Is everything in order?

Yes, Sir. Andy indicated the church. Body’s all nicely laid out, coffin’s ready and Old Wilfred’s done a fine job on the grave.

Very good, Andrew. The piercing eyes turned to the other man and looked him up and down. Colin.

Mornin’, Mr. Whittaker.

The old man continued into the church. The man holding the door followed him inside and closed and locked the door. Left alone the two men relaxed and put their hands in their overcoat pockets. The younger man gave an exaggerated shudder.

Why do those blokes always give me the creeps?

Andy grinned. So you’ve no respect for the dead, Colin, but there’s some among the living you respect?

Who, The Society?

Aye, them.

That’s not respect, Andy, Old Mate. Colin gave another shiver. It’s fear.

No sound of prayer or hymn was heard from within the building and after ten minutes the church door was unlocked. Before it was fully opened Andy and Colin had resumed their respectful stance. Four men emerged bearing a coffin on their shoulders and Colin and Andy took up position in front to lead them through the long grass to where a newly dug grave lay open with a heap of soil beside it. Behind them the old men made their slow, painful progress. Andy and Colin stood respectfully aside while the coffin was lowered into the grave.

When all were gathered around, one of them bent down and, picking up a handful of the excavated soil, tossed it into the grave. For a moment or two soil and stones rattled on the coffin lid as others followed his example, then as silently as they had come, the old men made their way out of the graveyard. The last to leave was the man with the piercing eyes, the man they had called Mr Whittaker. He nodded to the two men then followed the others.

Immediately Colin and Andy reached behind a nearby tomb for the spades they had leant there earlier and began to fill in the grave. Once the coffin was sufficiently covered with dirt the muffled thumps, sobs and screams from inside it which had been clearly audible throughout the ceremony could no longer be heard.

XXX

Chapter 2

Sydney, Australia.

The letter that was to change so horribly the lives of the Paterson family arrived on an ordinary Tuesday in April. The letter bore a postage stamp yet it had not passed through the Australia Post system. Instead it had been placed in the mailbox by the man who sat in his car, a dark-blue Subaru, a hundred metres away watching the house. The man knew nothing of the letter’s contents. He had been hired only to deliver the letter to number 11 Wollombi Place, Baulkham Hills and to verify that it was picked up by the householder. He had delivered it two hours ago and was getting bored, hot and drowsy.

The man was in unfamiliar territory. Like most people from Sydney’s East he had been only dimly aware that anything existed west of Central station. To him the Western Suburbs meant that vast sprawl of housing the M4 freeway passed through on its way to the Blue Mountains and inland Australia. The fact that the great majority of Sydney’s four million lived in the Western Suburbs had hardly registered on his consciousness.

Not that he’d want to live here. Too quiet, and twenty kilometres too far from the bright lights of Sydney. Besides, his little inner-city terrace was probably worth more than the biggest of these houses simply because of where it was. Location, location, location; wasn’t that what the real estate agents claim counted most?

He started the car so he could turn on the air conditioning and keep himself awake. April was supposed to be the first month of autumn but no-one had told the weather that. He had already removed his tie and thrown it into the back seat along with his jacket but he was still sweating. While he waited he looked around at the houses in Wollombi Place. It wasn’t a bad looking street. It was in one of the earlier of the new estates so its bleak newness was softened by the trees that had had some time to grow.

Number eleven was a single storey, triple fronted brick veneer with attached garage, a verandah across half the front. Like the others in the street it had no front fence, just a neat, green lawn that stretched to the kerb and was divided from next door’s lawn by flowerbeds. The mailbox where the letter waited was housed in a three foot high column of the same brick as the house.

He sat up straight and reached for his video camera as a figure came into view at the end of the street. This could be it. Husband, wife, teenaged daughter, adolescent son. That’s who he had been told lived there and any one of them would do as long as they picked up the letter. Then he could go home. As the figure approached he could see it was a woman. He brought up the video camera and adjusted the telephoto lens as she headed straight for number eleven.

Oh, very cute. Wavy auburn hair to her shoulders. He slid the view down to her legs. Shapely. Good figure too. She was wearing a nurse’s uniform. Over one arm she carried a light jacket. The other hand held a plastic shopping bag. Come on, Lady, get the mail so I can report in and go home.

As if she had heard him the woman stopped at the mail box, opened it and extracted a handful of letters. She shuffled through them as she dawdled up the path to the front steps. About halfway there she slowed to a halt and peered at one of the letters more closely, then moved forward again until she was in the shade of the house and out of the sun’s glare. Laying the rest of the mail on the top step she opened the letter.

The man zoomed his camera in and watched the pretty eyes draw down in a puzzled expression as she read the single page. Must be something interesting, he thought, with all this secrecy. Oh well, not my business. He watched her slip the letter back into the envelope and pick up the discarded mail. Before she disappeared onto the veranda he took one last opportunity to sweep the camera up and down the shapely legs and body, then with a sigh he put down the camera and picked up his mobile phone. He pressed the number he had been given and was answered almost immediately.

Yes?

Mr Murdoch?

Yes.

I delivered the letter. The woman’s just picked it up.

You recorded this?

Yep. I’ll drop the camera in as soon as I get back.

Good.

The other party hung up without thanking him or saying goodbye. The man put his phone down and drove off.

#

The wall phone rang in the tablet-pressing department of Perritt and Grant Pharmaceuticals. On the third ring a stainless steel and glass door slid open, letting the hum and roar of a tablet press fill the room, and an operator in blue overalls and a hairnet emerged. He waited until the door had closed again, shutting off the noise, before removing his earmuffs and picking up the phone.

Pressing rooms. Bob here.

Hi, Bobby. It’s Suzy.

Hi Sweetie. How you doing?

Good. Is my hubby around?

Sure is. Hang on. I’ll get him.

Bob, full name Robert Edward Ramsbotham, laid down the phone and touched a button on the wall. Immediately another stainless steel and glass door slid open. Inside the room a tablet press hummed and clattered busily, turret spinning and spitting out newly made tablets at a rate of several thousand per hour. Pommy Bob caught the attention of the blue-overalled operator with a hand-to-the-ear signal. The operator switched off his press and came outside. The door slid closed behind him.

At six feet two Chris Paterson was four inches taller than his colleague and at thirty-seven ten years younger. He removed his earmuffs as Bob handed him the phone.

It’s Suzy, Bob said. He returned to his own machine. Chris waited until the door had closed off the noise.

Yeah, Darl. What’s up?

Oh, nothing, really. It’s just that this odd letter came today.

Yeah? Who from?

It’s from a firm of solicitors in the city.

Oops! Chris exclaimed. Am I in trouble?

No, it’s nothing like that. Here, I’ll read it to you. It says, ‘Dear Mr Paterson, we would be obliged if you would contact us at this office regarding the estate of the late Mr Alistair Sissons.’

I don’t know anybody called Sissons. Oh …Wait … I wonder if …

Knew you’d be interested.

There followed a moment of silence. Chris bit his lip, Better give me the phone number, Darl, and I’ll give them a call. Might be nothing, but you never know.

He wrote the number on his palm. After Suzy had hung up he phoned it. A crispy-voiced receptionist answered. The solicitor whose name Suzy had given was not available, and the receptionist couldn’t or wouldn’t tell him anything about the matter in question but arranged an appointment for him to see a Mr Murdoch at ten-forty-five tomorrow if that was suitable. Chris said it was, although it wasn’t since it was Wednesday, a work day, but his curiosity made him eager. After he had replaced the phone he remained staring at the wall, seeing nothing, too deep in thought to notice the increased noise as the sliding door opened and Bob re-emerged.

I was watching, Bob said when the door slid shut on the noise. You looked worried. Something wrong at home?

Chris shook his head. A grin spread across his face.

Bob, mate, I think I might be about to learn something I’ve always been curious to know .

#

Chris breathed a sigh of relief as he parked his ten-year-old Holden in front of the garage and switched off the ignition. He’d nearly caused an accident on the way home because of inattention to the road, but it was impossible to keep thoughts of the letter from his mind. It was probably nothing, a case of mistaken identity, in which case he’d be wasting his time going to town tomorrow. On the other hand there was no way he was going to miss this chance. Just because he knew nobody by the name of Sissons and had never even heard of the name before, it didn’t mean there was no connection. It could be a relative. After all, he knew almost nothing about his father. And those words ‘estate of’ might mean … no, best not to expect anything. Probably a clerical error or something.

He got out and locked the car then walked to the front steps. He was almost there when he heard a rolling sound behind him, but before he could turn around he was grabbed by the arm and swung around. The lovely young woman with the flying blonde hair who clung to him looked very much like his daughter Mandy but was some three inches too tall. It took a moment to recover and realise that it really was his daughter.

Mandy! Watch what you’re doing.

The girl steadied herself and pointed down to the in-line skates on her feet, the reason for the extra height.

Daddy, can I have a pair?

Oh, I see. It’s ‘Daddy’ when you want something, and ‘Dad’ the rest of the time, eh? Whose are those?

Simon’s. He said I could borrow them.

Simon would give you his life savings if he had any. The fourteen year old next door had nurtured a severe crush on Mandy since birth.

I know. Isn’t he sweet? Can I have a pair?

She roll-walked with him to the steps where he disengaged her hand from his arm and transferred it to the verandah post.

Weren’t you the one who said skates were for kids?

Yes, but they’re still fun.

Ask me again nearer your birthday.

‘Yeah, right. That’s months away."

And you wanted a mobile phone. Make up your mind.

’Cause I’m the only sixteen year old who doesn’t have one.

You’re not sixteen yet.

I will be soon.

A minute ago you were complaining your birthday was months away.

Mandy gave an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. Oh, Dad!

Chris watched her as she glided away unsteadily down the path. She was dressed in a pink top and white shorts, her long, tanned legs looking even longer because of the skates. When had his cute little girl metamorphosed into this teenage beauty with the movie star looks? It had happened too fast, or he’d been too busy working extra jobs or overtime to notice. In some ways Mandy was still a little girl but there was no doubt she was a young woman physically. He grinned with embarrassment at the memory of the thrill of excitement he’d felt before he’d realised the ‘woman’ who had grabbed his arm was his daughter. God! No wonder there always seemed to be boys around these days. He went up the steps and into the house where he found Suzy in the laundry sorting washing. She had changed into a T-shirt and jeans.

Hi, Darl. He kissed her on the cheek. Busy day at the hospital?

Non-stop, like every day. How about you?

Dull as ever. Chris replied. The most exciting part was your phone call. Where’s this letter?

On top of the television. Did you make an appointment with that solicitor?

Ten-forty-five tomorrow. Where’s Dylan?

The skateboard park as usual.

Chris went into the lounge room and picked up the pile of mail on top of the TV unit. He groaned when he saw the bills among the pizza specials and shopping adverts. Three bills when one would be too many at the moment. The electricity bill could wait until the final notice. The Council rates were already a final notice. The house insurance had to be paid though, which meant the car repairs would have to wait, again.

The envelope from the solicitor was a standard white rectangle with the firm’s name and address in the top corner; Murdoch, Leigh and Walters; Solicitors. The address was Bridge Street, Sydney. No problem there; Chris knew roughly where that was. The letter itself told him no more than Suzy had quoted to him over the phone ‘regarding the estate of the late Mr. Alistair Sissons’. A poncy name, that was for sure. He heard Suzy come in. She rested her head on his upper arm as she re-read the letter with him.

It might be nothing, Chris said.

Maybe, but you’ve got to check it out. And you want to, I can tell. You’re intrigued.

Of course I am. You know I’ve always been curious about my father’s family. This solicitor might be able to tell me something. I wonder who this Sissons guy was.

Suzy took the letter from him and put it in its envelope, then placed it where Chris wouldn’t forget to take it in the morning. The rest of the mail she took with her as they walked through the dividing arch into the kitchen.

Are you sure you don’t know the name? Think hard, Chris. Didn’t your granddad or grandma Henning ever mention it?

Chris shook his head. I’ll ask them. Granddad won’t remember. He doesn’t even remember he’s in a nursing home most of the time. Grandma might recognise the name though. He picked up the electric jug and filled it at the sink. Let’s have a cuppa and try to forget about it until tomorrow. We’ll find out all about it then.

Ok. But it’s that bit about the estate I keep thinking about. That could mean you’ve been left a share in this Mr. Sissons’ will.

Yeah right, Chris laughed. With my luck it’ll turn out Mr. Sissons was a deadbeat and they’re looking for a relative to pay for the funeral.

XXX

Chapter 3

Chris stared at the man on the other side of the desk.

Let me get this straight, Mr Murdoch. What you’re saying is that I should really be called Sissons, not Paterson?

The revelation was a shock even though some sort of relationship with the late Mr Sissons was what he had hoped for and half suspected ever since receiving the letter. But Chris had no doubt the man in front of him was telling the truth. Mr Murdoch of Murdoch, Leigh and Walters was a thin man of about fifty with heavy, black-framed glasses, combed-over greying hair and a peevish expression. While Chris had been waiting in the opulent reception area he had overheard the solicitor’s snappish instructions to the harassed-looking, middle-aged woman who appeared to be his secretary. His attitude to his customer however was more polite, almost fawning.

Yes, indeed, Mr… um … I think we should stick to ‘Paterson’ for now, Don’t you?

Chris shrugged. That’s the name on my birth certificate.

Of course. You see how complicated this affair has been to unravel because of such things. Nevertheless there’s little doubt that you are the person we’ve been looking for. Your father was the stumbling block for us. When he left England in 1964 as a young man he simply disappeared. Your grandfather, the late Mr Sissons, he held up a sheaf of papers in front of him as if they were the late Mr Sissons, spent a great deal of time and money in an effort to find him. Without success until now. It’s very sad that after so many years, when his son, your father, was finally traced, it should be discovered he has been deceased these many years. I have no doubt this would have hastened old Mr Sissons’ demise. On the other hand, to discover in his last days that he had a grandson, that’s you, and even two great-grandchildren now, must have given him a certain joy before he died. What a pity he never got to meet you.

Chris nodded. He’d come so close to actually meeting a genuine relative on his father’s side that it was a deep disappointment that it wasn’t going to happen after all, unless there were distant cousins, or great-aunts and great-uncles. He had already learned that his father had no siblings.

Why did my father leave England and change his name, Mr Murdoch?

A disagreement between father and son, it seems, although what the nature of the disagreement was I can’t say. Your grandfather clearly regretted the quarrel because he immediately arranged to have James followed and brought home. He was traced to France first, Paris, where he managed to elude them again. He was traced then to Italy and finally to Germany where the trail was lost completely. That would have been in nineteen-sixty-six.

Chris did the mental calculation. That’s nearly fifty years ago. How come the trail hotted up recently? Something must have made them start searching again.

"The search was never actually called off. Old Mr Sissons always had somebody looking for clues. After Europe the search went to other parts of the world including an earlier, unsuccessful search here in Australia. As for exactly how or when the breakthrough occurred I’m unable to say, but I imagine it was facilitated in recent years by the advances in computer technology which would have provided clever new cross-reference tools. These days all of us are on many more data bases than we like to think, Mr. Paterson. Then of course there are such things as DNA testing