Sidney Brown struck the brass plate with the lion head knocker three times then stepped back about two feet. Only silence emanated from inside. Then he heard the muffled sound of a door open and shut. As the front door slowly opened he was suddenly immersed in a brief sensation of intense cold, an unseen blast that chilled his soul.
Nervously holding up his warrant card he said “Inspector Sidney Brown. Are you Michael Dodd?”
“Sure. I’m Mike Dodd. How can I help you?”
“I am making enquiries about an incident that has come to our attention and your name is involved. I was hoping you might be able to help. Can I come in?”
“Sure.” Sidney hesitantly stepped into the eerily dark hallway of the large Victorian building, its shuttered windows and steep, dark, tile hung gables adding an almost sinister feel. The door clicked shut behind him. A stained oak door with damage around the lock that had been hastily and inexpertly repaired. “Follow me please.”
Passing the first door on the right Sydney felt the same cold sensation, penetrating, as a frosty morning’s wind blown chill might do when stepping out from the warm. The contrast obvious as they entered the rear room draped in early morning sunshine streaming in through tall sash windows with shutters fully open. A sudden, welcome warmth. Maroon and gold faded flock wallpaper gave an image of declining decadence and the dust, he noticed the dust. A thin previously undisturbed layer shifting with his movements. Two brown, distressed, Chesterfield sofas dominated the space, buttons missing here and there with three very large, rectangular, soft, bright red cushions, one on the sofa by the windows and two on the sofa by a long antique bookcase with the patination of two centuries of care. Patches of dark brown staining on the leather and stripped pine floorboards, incongruous within a quite stylish room.
“Take a seat. Anywhere you like. But not at that end.” Pointing to the darkest spot in the corner by the bookcase displaying an eclectic collection of reference volumes and family pictures in ornate silver frames. “That’s where my mother sat. Here, maybe, in the sunlight where it’s warm and cheerful. Yes, just here.” Pointing at the end of the other sofa closest to the windows.
Sidney pushed the cushion aside but it fell onto the floor on top of the largest brown stain. He moved forward to retrieve it but Michael said, “leave that, it will be quite alright there, they are to remind me. It’s a good place for it to be in the circumstances, considering the conversation we are about to have.” So Sidney sat down, immediately remembering how uncomfortable Chesterfield sofas are.
Michael slowly lowered himself into that dark corner. He was tall and youthful. Wispy brown hair and a pasty glow exaggerating the piercing stare of his dark brown, almost black eyes. The lines of his faded dark grey suit hanging limply on an undernourished frame. A gaunt expression dominated by high cheekbones and wide mouth curled into an ever present subtle smile. A hint of cool vapour coming from his mouth when he spoke, almost indistinguishable, but there nonetheless.
“So Detective Brown I have been expecting you and here you are although earlier than anticipated. I will not deceive you, I know what you suspect and will do my best to appraise you of the facts and consequences of the sequence of events that have been puzzling you.” This all said with that expression passing across his face, head slightly tilted, studying Sydney, culminating with a widening mouth and extended grin.
Sydney was unsettled, not so much by those events that did indeed baffle him, but by the fact that he had been expected. And of course Michael’s macabre appearance and cryptic manner. He said, “One year ago something happened I am sure of that. A mystery that has not been solved. Where were you living at that time?”
“I was here. This is my parents' house and I was here with them and my sister.”
“Ah yes, Linda. Your sister Linda. They disappeared at the same time. There seems to be no record of what happened to them.”
Out of the blue as though he was deflecting the question Michael said, “Sorry, I’m afraid I cannot offer you anything. There is nothing in the house. I would suggest green tea, I know you drink it but unfortunately it’s not possible. I realise I’m a poor host.”
Sidney was taken aback, adding to his growing sense of unease. “How do you know I like green tea? Why were you expecting me?”
“I know most things about you. I know things that maybe you are not aware of. That’s why I am talking to you, because I know you. You are investigating matters I have been involved in. I have followed your progress and it’s only now I am able to meet you. For this to be concluded.” His eyes narrowing slightly, staring at Sidney, lips pursed, to confirm his understanding.
“But we have not met before. How can you know me?”
“Because I can watch you. The same as I watched the men this past year…. My parents disappearance. You were talking about my parents disappearance.” The sudden shift back to the conversation lifted his mood conveying Sidney hesitantly back to what he had been saying.
“Yes...yes they disappeared at the same time. Do you know what happened?”
“I do because I was there. We were in this room, my sister sitting where you are, crying, in fact very distressed, sobbing and shaking with emotion, telling us her concerns. What she had discovered. My parents both on this sofa and I was over there standing by that window, worried for her. I always looked out for her, protected her, she was younger, impetuous, always vulnerable. The shutters were closed. It was dark. Ten o’clock in the evening. And cold. This fire was lit with logs burning, blazing, supplying them with welcomed warmth. For you to understand I need to go back three months more... Are you comfortable? You look uncomfortable.”
“I am… alright, there’s no cause for concern. I will manage. I need to know the truth. Of how the men died. And the boat. The boat we found on the beach just one week ago.”
“Yes, but that comes later. First you need to understand the beginning. His name was Rocco Bartelloni, at least that’s what he told her. Handsome and rich. A flamboyant character, so sure of himself and everything around him. Dominating, expecting those around him to simply obey. Linda was beautiful and sexy, it was no wonder he was attracted to her. My father asked her what he did to create his wealth but she said she did not know.”
“Did you meet him? Did she bring him home?”
“Two weeks before that night she arrived with him at six in the evening. They were about to dine. Unexpected, but nonetheless they made him welcome and he ate with them. Later she told me she loved him. I told her to be careful, that I felt Rocco was a powerful man. A man that would demand, that would dominate, that could destroy her. She told me with some angry passion, that I was wrong, that I was jealous, that we had never had anyone. As a family we were alone. She had found someone while the family were alone. This was always her way.”
“We know who he is, what he does. That has all come to light in the last week. Since the tip off about the boat and its cargo. Did you send that message?”
“I did, so you would know, so you would be able to close that route. I have guided you to me, although you would not realise it. I will give you all the details so with your international contacts you can finish my work. First though let me continue. Later, the week after that dinner, Linda decided to surprise him. She thought it was his birthday. She knew he would be at his warehouse so arrived and just walked in. He was there with three other men and they did not see her. She listened to their conversation and was dismayed at what she heard. Two of the men were foreign. She thought Dutch. She ran but they saw her, though not before she had reached her car and sped away. She arrived home and we were here, in this room and she told us, through her tears. There was a crash at the front door and it burst open. Rocco and two others stormed into this room. She stood up, confronting him. He was shouting at her, “you should not have come. You should not have seen. There can be no loose ends. You know us, You saw us. You heard what was said.” He pulled out a gun with a silencer and my father rose to defend Linda. Rocco shot him. He fell onto this sofa next to where I’m sitting, where that red cushion is. Rocco then shot Linda who fell, where the cushion is on the floor. My mother screamed and one of his men shot her where she sat. Here. Shot her in the middle of her forehead. Then he saw me and shot me.”
“I don’t understand. How…”
Michael stood, cutting him short, first staring out the window as if remembering, then moved to stand next to the red cushion on the floor. Looking at it. His face momentarily displaying a look of grief and pain, then he suddenly lifted his head, very close to Sydney, staring at him. His eyes piercing. A hint of anger and temper, a sudden cold exuding just momentarily. His breath misty. With deliberate force and venom he hissed, “I do not expect you to understand. I only want you to listen. Then to act. It’s only important that you act on the information I shall give you. That is all you need to understand.” He returned to his seat and sat back down, the moment deflating, his demeanor returning as he continued.
“They took them to the east coast. To their boat. Their trawler which they used to catch fish in the North Sea. There they would rendezvous with a fast boat from Holland and take on board drugs to land with their fish. The bodies were dumped in the sea. Far out to sea. They will never be found. The drugs were brought into this country twice a year. It took that long to accumulate them. The heroin originates from the poppy fields of Afghanistan and travels to Europe along the Balkan Route that roughly follows the old Hippy Trail through northern Iran and Turkey entering Europe via the eastern European states. The lax and confused European border and immigration policies greatly assist the transportation making it easier to cross the many European borders. They are so porous, the European borders. Holland was the final destination and when a sufficient quantity had been delivered the load was sent to England. That was Rocco’s task. It was his responsibility to synchronise the rendezvous, import the heroin and organise distribution. The arrangement was virtually foolproof until it was compromised by my sister, that night. These men were notorious, evil and completely ruthless. They thought nothing of destroying lives, eliminating any who got in their way.”
“We found the trawler on that deserted stretch of beach. Stuck fast on the sand where it had been driven at some speed. A deliberate beaching. Why would they do that? The four men on board were dead with no apparent cause. That’s what the pathologist said. No apparent cause of death.”
“I’ve spent the last year watching them, gathering information, waiting until they were all in the right places. It took a long time for them to gather a large load. I watched the drugs being transported. Where they came from. How they evaded the authorities in all those countries they passed through.”
“But how could you do that. Cross so many borders in these circumstances?”
“Borders are nothing to me. I can cross borders without effort. For me they do not exist. I simply go where I want to without scrutiny. I exist in between two places and that gives me great power.”
“But how? I don’t understand…”
“Most people's minds are closed. You are not expected to understand. Know what I say is true, that is all you have to do. Believe what I tell you, then do your job. When they were all at last in the right places I acted. The men on the boat were first. I simply stopped them living and set the course at full speed for the beach. Those in Holland were next. They will be found in a warehouse at the address I will give you. There will be no apparent cause of death. Earlier today I visited Rocco Bartilloni. I showed myself to him as I had done that night one year ago. I could not help that night. There are rules in limbo that must be obeyed. It was not possible to show myself to my parents. My sister knew me but I had to remain hidden to my parents while they were alive. But when they had been shot I was freed and immediately showed myself, but too late to save Linda. It was fate that my sister was shot before my mother. If my mother had been shot first I could have intervened and my sister would be here to tell this tale. I could have saved her. I let Rocco leave. I was intent on a more thorough vengeance.”
Michael’s speech then quickened, building in passion. “He was alone when I went to his house. Before I showed myself the air around him was freezing with all my pent up hate. I was hissing my wrath. Still unseen. The cold, the sound, increasing, powerfully building, until suddenly I was there. I rose up in front of him. To my full height. With all my power. My hand on his chest. Gripping. Twisting. His eyes opened wide. In terror, pain and recognition. He saw before him his doom. And he died.”
Michael gave a long, deep, meaningful sigh, recovering himself. “You will find Bartilloni at his address. There will be a cause of death. Your pathologist will say that he died of extreme fright, that constricted his features and caused a massively painful heart attack. The pathologist will say it was as though his heart had been slowly squeezed, twisted in a vice like grip.”
Sydney was motionless, stunned by what he had heard, trying to digest what Michael had said, what Michael was. He tried to speak but no words came.
Michael stood, moved towards Sydney and handed him a notebook. “This notebook contains all the details you need to close one of the major drug supply routes into this country and it will make you famous. Now I cannot stay. My work is done. I have failed my sister and am compelled to go to where I should be. It’s been so nice to have met you Inspector Sidney Brown.”
With that Michael turned and left the room. He went into the corridor and Sidney heard the door to the front room open and close with a momentary blast of cold air. Sidney, with the notebook in hand, started to leave, confused, unsure and shocked at what had been said. Suddenly he stopped drawn by a photograph sitting in its grand silver frame on the end of the book shelves. It was of a handsome young man with a caption underneath that read “Our wonderful son Michael who saved the sister he adored from violent attack at the expense of his own life.” Sidney involuntarily caught his breath as he read the date. It was ten years ago, a full nine years before that murderous evening.