Part 9: A Dark Past
Chapter 9: A Dark Past
I had spent a restless night in the Manor... and to have known that this would be my last day would have made my morning far more pleasant than it was. I roused from my uncomfortable night feeling stiff, and wearily crawled out of bed. Shivering in the cold house, I dressed myself and prepared for another day in the accursed manor.
It was incredibly cold inside the house now.
Still shivering, I turned to the fireplace in the lounge.
I decided it was a good time to make use of that wood...
The wood was now burning nicely in the fireplace.
I paused for a moment and held my hands out to the warm fires, and allowed my mind to depart the dreary environment of the Manor. For a moment, things were calm; but I simply could not tear myself away from the mystery at hand. Determined to get some answers, I decided to give an unlikely source of information a call: the papers in the safe in the master bedroom included a bank's phone number. Jotting it on a piece of paper, I made my way to the phone.
R: Good day, the National Bank of Northumberland. Robert Blake speaking.
M: Hello, Robert. I need some help. It's about James Thomas Blackwood... do you have a customer called that?
R: I'm sorry sir, I can't give you that kind of information.
M: My name is Cristopher Milton, a renowned doctor and good friend of the Blackwood family, and I demand some respect!
R: I'm terribly sorry, sir. I do have a customer listed as James Blackwood here.
M: Could you tell me about any recent activity in his account?
R: What... what kind of banking activity, sir?
M: Well, you tell me! Any withdrawals, payments...?
R: I can't just give you that sort of information, sir... I would only be able to give it to the account owner.
M: So that means the account is still active?
R: Well, ye-- it means I can't give you this information, sir! You said your name was...?
M: Uhm... I won't waste your time anymore, good day!
I was quite shocked by the conversation! If the account was still active... who was using it? That was question I'd answer later--I called Jerry while I was at the phone to tell him about the previous evening's events.
J: Who is it?
M: It's me...
J: Michael! How are you?
M: Actually... I'm not sure. Jerry, I'm definately not alone in this house.
J: What are you talking about?
M: Last night I saw something... down below. It was moving. I wasn't dreaming and I'm not making this up.
J: Are you sure it wasn't a mutant rat?
M: Definately no rat.
J: I'm calling the police--
M: No, no no! Not just yet.
J: Michael, for Christ's sake... you could have a burglar inside the house!
M: This is no burglar Jerry. It's much more... interesting than that and I want to figure this out by myself. Just promise me you won't call anyone. I can do this on my own.
J: Whatever... just call me if you need any help. I'm driving there today.
M: Right, bye.
With that done, I decided to explore outside. The previous day had cooped me in the house, and I felt the damp walls of the mansion looming down on me. I opened the door and stepped out into the fresh morning air, feeling instantly revitalized.
My first destination was the garage. I hoped that one of the several keys I had found would unlock the padlock keeping it shut.
A strong smell of aged oil was infecting the barn-like garage.
There was an old and dusty bicycle in the garage. It seemed to have some sort of device attached to it.
I spun the pedals of the bike, revealing the device to be a dynamo. I turned to the table in the corner of the garage.
Of all the various items lying on the table, only the toolbox on the far left seemed to have a few useful things.
From the toolbox, I picked up a pair of pliers and a screwdriver.
A pair of pliers.
Just a screwdriver.
Resting against the corner of the table, on the floor, there was a crowbar.
It was a sturdy crowbar. Those things always come in handy!
One classy and old automobile. Still, I didn't want to get very close as it gave me the strange feeling that something was about to jump at me from inside.
With the crowbar in hand, I felt... well, brave enough to venture down into the basement. Perhaps I would discover something new, now that I had the daylight to aid me?
... But no. I dared not venture into the boiler once again. I couldn't face up to that horror just yet. Instead, I looked around the basement some more, and found a far more innocuous problem: the water valve keeping the water in the house from running.
The valve was stuck and wouldn't budge.
I jammed my crowbar into the valve.
Striking the crowbar with the hammer jarred the valve into turning, letting water run through the house once more. I left the basement with a feeling of accomplishment... but not without first retrieving my tools.
The water was running, but there seemed to be a problem with the pipes.
Where to now? I thought to the crypt, and how it had been held shut with wires... with my pliers in hand, I made my way there.
A thick wire was tied between both handles, securing the door to the crypt.
As the doors swung open, I felt quite happy with myself, and how resourceful I was being. Unfortunately, dear reader, my jovial mood was shattered soon afterwards.
A cold shiver ran down my spine as I entered the decaying crypt... the foul smell of rotting flesh seemed to have persisted through the years.
I seriously considered what I was about to do... but my curiosity got the better of me.
A corpse in the advanced stages of decomposition was inside the coffin... it was... disgusting. The body had been resting several years before its disturbance. I decided to leave it alone.
Reeling, I reached to open the coffin above it.
Strangely, this coffin was empty.
Needless to say, this shocked me considerably. If the coffin was empty, and James Blackwood's account was still active...?
According to the plaque, both Mr. and Mrs. Blackwood died in the same year.
Turning away from the coffins, I gazed around the crypt, and in particular, to the grating and the floor below.
I couldn't imagine what the purpose of the grating in the floor was. Obviously nobody down there would need any fresh air...
Most of the plaques were too badly eroded to make out what they said...
The smell of death was worse in the floor below, which housed several coffins.
This coffin was half-opened and I was horrified to glimpse at the remains of a dead cat in it... strange.
One of the coffins was considerably smaller than the rest... Even though it was in better shape, it was too dark to make out what this plaque read.
I had no more oil for my lamp, and the house had no candles. I did recall, however, that the master bedroom had a mirror in it. Perhaps I could put it to use...
After leaving the crypt, I stopped to think for a few seconds. I only found one body inside... but there were two plaques. Something was evidently out of place here...
My mind adrift with thoughts as to what was going on, I made my way back to the house to retrieve the mirror, and then back again to the crypt.
I took the mirror and wound the wire I had taken from the crypt door to it, in order to let it hang from somewhere.
The mirror now had the wire attached to it.
The idea was good, but I obviously needed more light to reflect.
The large windows in the dome above allowed some faint light into the crypt.
Picking up a rock off the floor, I attempted to throw it up to the window.
I hurled the stone at the window but sadly, it missed and bounced off the ceiling, flying out of sight.
I found the rock, and managed to smash the window on my next attempt.
Again I hurled the stone at the window with all my strength, and this time my aim was true. The glass collapsed, throwing shard in every direction. Thankfully, none of them hit me.
The inscription was too eroded, but I could make out the letter "R" on the far left. The prospect of witnessing the decaying body of a baby wasn't very tempting.
I left the coffin alone. "R" from the coffin, and "BIN" from his room... surely his name was Robin? I had quite a lot to digest, and decided it would be best to consult with Jerry.
M: Michael here.
J: Michael, I was worried about you! Are you doing OK?
M: Yes, I'm fine, and I think I know the identity of my intruder.
J: Tell me! Who is it?
M: James Blackwood.
J: The Blackwood person...? Michael, are you serious? The ghost of the murderer is roaming the house?
M: I'm not talking about his ghost, Jerry... I'm talking about him.
J: What the heck do you mean?
M: I mean James Blackwood himself. Alive, in this house!
J: Michael, you're losing your mind. Even if he managed to hide himself, how did he survive all this time?
M: Good point, but I'm sure a desperate man like Blackwood would've found a way.
J: Yes... by turning into a ghost! Wait a minute... yeah, I have it right here: James Blackwood passed away on June, 1963. Would you please stop this?
M: But Jerry... I've been into the family crypt, and his coffin is empty!
J: Oh God, Michael... you've really gone out of your mind... digging into coffins, what next? Desecrating the chapel?
M: Whatever it takes to solve this mystery. You can only find stories like this in books.
J: Precisely why I'm beginning to wonder about your sanity...
M: Listen Jerry, I'll be fine. I'll call you if I find out anything else.
I went back upstairs to the attic, and retrieved the newspaper article from that date, June 1963.
NORTHUMBERLAND DAILY NEWSPAPER
Wednesday, 1st June 1963
Following the shocking nes that became of public knowledge last week, we must now inform about the sinister outcomeo f the story that has been in the mind of every citizen of our town these past few days. Mr. James BLACKWOOD has died at the age of 56 due to a heart attack, allegedly because of the pressure and stress caused by the astonishing accusation by Mrs. Eva MARIANI, formar maid of the family. This puts a sudden end to the case deferred by the authorities. Police chief William BAILEY said, "It saddens me that Mr. BLACKWOOD was never brought to a proper trial. No matter what kind of excuses could be possibly made, the deat of Mrs. Catherine BLACKWOOD is a fact. I'm fully convinced that was guilty."
Dr. Christopher MILTON is said to be taking care of a funeral that nobody will attend, and all the belongings of the Blackwood family are now in his posession.
Silently, Rothbury returns to daily life, turning the page over one of its darkest chapters. Many will wonder in the years to come what really happened inside Blackwood Manor.
The article wasn't terribly useful, but the phone number of the detective in charge of the case, William Bailey, was written on it in pen. I decided it would be best to call him instead.
W: Who is this?
M: Hi, are you Mr. William Bailey?
W: That's me. And you are...?
M: Yes, my name is Michael Arthate. I'm a... journalist for a local newspaper in Rothbury.
W: I see. And what is this all about?
M: Well, you're the former police chief of this town, aren't you?
W: Indeed. I served many years ago...
M: And you were once in charge of a famous... or should I say, infamous case here?
W: Oh bloody hell, don't tell me this is about James Blackwood!
M: Well... yes. I'm writing a story for my newspaper. Uhm... the most famous police cases of Northumberland!
W: Have you got any idea how many times I talked about this? Go to your nearest library... I'm sure you'll find plenty of information about Blackwood there.
M: But sir, this is really important--
W: Alright, son, spare me the nonsense. What is it that you want to know?
M: Well, in the first place... What did Eva Mariani see exactly?
W: She saw enough, son... James Blackwood was dragging a shape into a hole in the garden. At first Mrs. Mariani couldn't realise what it was, but eventually she made out the dead body of Catherine Blackwood with a serious wound.
M: And Blackwood was automatically deemed guilty?
W: He was found digging his wife, son.
M: Why did James Blackwood never appear before a jury?
W: When you're somoene as renowned and famed as James Blackwood was, you can pretty much avoid the authorities. However, you can't avoid justice... and Justice was brought upon James Blackwood.
W: He died shortly after the accusation. You should know about that.
M: What happened to Dr. Christopher Milton?
W: How should I know? You bet your life that slimy worm was up to something. I couldn't prove it though, and I spent years investingating him. A shame we couldn't implicate him as much as James Blackwood. Blackwood and Milton were intimate. Milton did the impossible to aid his friend and even clear his name after he died. You do the math.
M: Still... everything sounds so vague. As if something was missing.
W: Are you questioning my performance on this case, son?
M: No... no no sir. Not at all. I'm just trying to figure this out. Like, why a proper autopsy was never done?
W: ... Why are you asking me these question?
M: Please sir, this is very important to me and I could really use your help. I'm trying to fit all the pieces of this mystery together.
W: Mystery? What mystery? You must be one of those people that just ove splitting hairs, don't you.
M: I don't think I understand, sir...
W: Listen son, that cold blooded bastard murdered his wife, God knows why, but he and his fancy doctor did the impossible to hamper our investigations. You don't have to be a brilliant detective to realize Blackwood did it.
M: There's always a reason behind a murder. Nobody has ever found out why Blackwood did what he did.
W: The man was clearly a psychopath, son!
M: There's got to be something else! I can't believe Blackwood flipped just like that one sunny day. It doesn't make any sense.
W: People flip everyday, son. You could be flipping as we speak... hehe.
M: Well, then tell me Blackwood reacted when you pulled his wife from beneath the ground.
W: I beg your pardon?
M: I mean Catherine Blackwood's body. When you dug in the garden of the manor...
W: Like I said, they hampered the investigation. We never managed to set one foot inside the manor. What kind of bloody journalist are you, son?
M: But... are you telling me you never actually retrieved the body?
W: That's exactly what I'm telling you! Now if you don't mind...
M: But sir, I have more que--
W: Stop wasting my time damn it! I was enjoying my retirement until you had the brilliant idea of calling me. I don't want to hear anything else about this case ever again!
M: Mr. Bai--
W: Leave. Me. Alone.
... Of all the calls in the house, this had chilled me the most. If the police hadn't exhumed Catherine's body, then who had? Why was her body in the crypt, even though Mariani had seen her being buried?
As I pondered these questions, I recalled that I had comissioned Barby into translating Eva's letter. I dashed outside to see if she had sent the translation yet. Much to my pleasure, she had.
I spent the whole morning running a few errands for the Blackwood family and on the way back many thoughts crossed my mind. I take back what I said... I want to return home. Things haven't got any better here.Everyone is behaving mysteriously and they try to avoid me. I do understand that they must still be distubred about the death of their son, but it has been almost two years since that already! I feel like an alien. I don't belong here anymore... andd I find it hard to sleep at night! There's too much activity in this house, too much moving around, and that is unnerving me.
I feel something terrible is going on here and I want to go as far away as possible. I will miss Mrs. Blackwood dearly as she has always been kind to me, but I'm afraid my health is at stake.
And I've been seeing some strange things too... I can't explain it, but I think someone did something very wrong. That Dr. Milton would often come to talk with the Sir for many hours, and nobody would allow me upstairs... although I've been secretly taking pictures. I hope this doesn't upset you... but don't worry, they are well hidden under a loose board beneath my bedside table.
Please mother, forgive me! I know I should have listened to you... it's not like I'm stubborn. I just wanted to wait and see if things would get any better for myself. They haven't... and that's why I'm asking you for a place to stay until I sort out my situation. Call me as soon as you can! I usually have to stay in town until five o'clock, but lately I've been coming back about an hour earlier. I just want to leave this place... I confess that I am scared.
I'll be waiting... and please, hurry!
All that was left now was to find the loose floorboard she had mentioned in her letter.
The photo clearly revealed all! Blackwood burying his wife in the garden... so why was there a body in the crypt now? Something wasn't adding up, but by the end of the day, it would all be revealed.