This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 928 words.
Checking out after breakfast, Jon drove the short distance to Aldenham. He would be there two hours too early, but there was nowhere else to go. He parked the Mercedes within sight of the church, and went through the notes and documents in his shoulder bag while he waited for the vicar to arrive. Not long after eleven, he saw William walking up the street and turning left into the path to the church. He grabbed the shoulder bag and car keys, arriving at the church door while the vicar was still standing just inside.
The tall man gave him a wide grin. “I thought you might be early. Come through and I will make us a cup of tea. There should be some cake left too. Some of my church ladies make delicious cakes”.
In the vestry was a small table with a kettle and mugs on it, and a mini-fridge underneath. William started to make the tea, but when he opened the big tin next to the kettle, there was no cake inside. He shook his head. “Apologies, I think I must have eaten the last piece yesterday. Go through and take a seat in the church, I will bring it through”.
Jon sat on the end of the front pew, feeling that cold air that always seemed to be found in any church. When he was handed the tea, he sipped it immediately, hoping it would warm him up. William stood his mug on the stone floor. “I have asked Amelia to call on me at twelve. I invented some church business. It turns out her daughter Eloise is staying with her at the moment, so I suggested she come too. You should have an answer to all of this by lunchtime”.
The tea was very milky, and the supermarket blend not to Jon’s taste at all. But he swallowed all of it as soon as it wasn’t too hot to do so. The church had given him a chill that he couldn’t seemed to shake.
He had no recollection of passing out, but as he came round, he was aware that he had been unconscious for some time. He was somewhere dimly lit, and he could hear people talking nearby, but could not make out what they were saying. There was a sharp pain in his mouth, and he thought he must have bitten his tongue, as he could taste blood. As he tried to sit up, he was stopped by something hard and metallic. Stretching out his legs, he hit something else with his feet.
It took a moment for him to realise he was in a cage. It was not that much larger than him, and there was a bucket and a toilet roll in the left hand corner, next to a large plastic bottle of still water. He shook the cage, but it was secure. Bolted to the stone floor, and the opening above secured by a substantial padlock. He heard a female voice clearly.
Footsteps sounded on the floor, and suddenly Eloise’s face loomed into view just outside the bars. Standing behind her was Amelia, Roderick, and William. The vicar had such a wide grin, his teeth looked whiter than ever in the gloom. Jon asked them what they were playing at. Why was he in a cage. What was it all about. And finally, what had they done with Lolly. Eloise answered his last question first.
“We did nothing with your young friend, except to pay him handsomely for telling us where you lived, and allowing us to cut his tongue so he could lick some envelopes. Then he took his money and left, I assure you. By the way, your letters were very bad form, amateurish to be honest. As if we would believe the police would be interested in your fantasy”. Jon opened his mouth to speak, but she raised her hand to silence him.
“This is what you are going to do. I am going to put an envelope through the bars, and you are going to lick it. If you do that, we might give you something to eat. If not, we might just lock the door to the crypt and forget you are in here”.
She slid the envelope though. It was addressed in the same clumsy style. The recipent was Terence O’Connor, the American author of the best selling Mickey Mulligan private investigator novels. Jon licked the gummed flap and handed it back, asking Eloise again why they were doing this to him.
William the vicar stepped forward. “We had no luck with our detective novel. Your snotty agent rejected it. So we are changing genres. This time, it’s going to be a Horror novel, based on first-hand research. You are the subject of that research, and perhaps Terence O’Connor too, if he can work out how to get to Aldenham, as you did. So just stay calm, and who knows, you may be famous again. If only by default”.
All four of them started to laugh out loud, and Jon slumped back against the cage.
His one hope was that Claudia would put two and two together, and send the police searching for him. He had changed the names and locations in the story, but Claudia had written the real ones down when they spoke, and knew about Eloise and her rejected manuscript. But that could take a long time, and he had no idea how long he had left.
Meanwhile, he was wondering what Inspector Johnson would do now.