Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Gathering: Chapter 3 - A mystery - or a wild goose chase?



We dropped Maddocks home. Mrs Maddocks thanked us and took in her husband who meekly followed her. Lomax and I knew she would want to be alone with him, so we did not intrude and left quickly, though I promised to call by the following day. I honoured my promise, leaving my office early to catch Maddocks before dinner. I gave him the talk - told him he had to stop what he was doing, that if he kept going on with his trips to the dope dens he would end up bringing shame on his family and worse on himself. I told him to go talk to a doctor, or a shrink, or a priest, or anyone who could help him get over what ever it was that kept bringing him back to those places of shame. I even said that if wanted to yap about his bad memories from the war he could talk to me, that he could ring me any hour of the day or night and I would come and see him. I would do anything to stop my old buddy from destroying himself and his family.

Maddocks was contrite. He told me that he had got over the bad experiences now, that he would be able to resist the urges that made him seek out the foul fruit of the opium poppy. If his terrible wartime experiences started coming back to him again, he would be able to face them down. And if they began to get to him, he promised me solemnly that he would get in touch with me. Anyone watching us talk would have been convinced that Maddocks was a changed man, that he would never disgrace himself again. But I knew him too well. How many times had we had this conversation? How many times had he promised me that he would never go near the dope again? And how many times had me and Lomax had to go fish him out from some seedy den of degeneracy? I told him that he hoped he really meant it this time, but I left him wit the sinking feeling that it would not be too long before I received another desperate phone call from the unfortunate Mrs Maddocks, a good decent woman who did not deserve the pain that her husband was putting her through.

So the following morning, when my secretary said that Mrs Maddocks was on the line with an urgent call, I was not surprised that he had failed but disappointed that it had happened so soon. It was less than a full day since I had last seen him - he had never relapsed so quickly before. But on answering the phone I realised I was mistaken. It was not Mrs Maddocks on the line - but Hunter Maddocks himself. "I have to talk to you", he said. "Not over the phone, I need to see you". He sounded real shook up. This was not good, so soon after his last episode, but at least he was calling me first.

"I'll be right over", I replied. Hanging up, I told my secretary that I would have to go, that she would have to cancel my appointments for the rest of the day. She nodded and got on with it. She was a good girl and I was lucky to have her.

Maddocks was alone in his house when I arrived.

"What's this all about, Hunter?" I asked.

"Take a look at this", he said, handing me a newspaper. He had drawn a circle around a death notice. Some guy called Harrison Ogilvy had died suddenly and the arrangements for the funeral were being posted. The name meant nothing to me. Big deal.

"Friend of yours?" I said.

"Not an old friend. But I know him. I met him the other day".

"Oh", I said, not sure why the death of this casual acquaintance should have so unnerved Maddocks.

"I met him at that opium den by the river. He started talking to me, I think because I was the only other white person there. Well, the only person like him, anyway, someone from a good family who had gone bad. He was like me, taking that dreadful dope to try and blot something out of his mind. But he wasn't a war veteran like I was. It wasn't something he had been through in the past that he was trying to forget. He told me it was something that had just happened."

"I see," I said, not really caring about some dope fiend whose sob story had touched Maddocks' heart. But I let him talk on. He was clearly shaken enough by the guy's passing that it would not take much to have him heading back to the dope joints to mourn him.

"He was shocked by what he had done", continued Maddocks. "He didn't tell me what it was, and I didn't ask. I was too out of it to do much more than listen. I think he partly didn't tell me because he was just babbling, but whatever it was, it was pretty awful, I could tell that - maybe too awful to tell anyone. He said he thought he could do it fine, but once it had happened, it suddenly hit him and he ran away into the night".

"So what do you think it was? Something criminal?"

"That goes without saying. But I don't think it was common or garden illegality, it was something worse than that. He was shocked at what he had done, absolutely shocked. And he was afraid. Afraid of the consequences of his actions. And of his accomplices".

"Accomplices?" I asked. "So he was not acting alone in this… whatever it was?"

"No, he was not. He had some accomplices, but there was another working with them that he was particularly afraid of. He was evasive, but it seemed like the accomplices were like him, whatever that means, but the other was different somehow. From what he was saying, he might have been foreign".

"I see". This did not seem too surprising a story to me. Maddocks' dope buddy had let himself get mixed up in some kind of shady criminal enterprise, headed up by a sinister individual from outside the country (as these things often are). Then he had got cold feet about the whole business and had some kind of breakdown, once he realised what the consequences of it all would be for him if he was caught. And you can be sure that he was the one who would be caught - the foreigner who headed up the operation would let his patsies see the inside of a jail cell for him.

"This happens all the time," I said. "Men like your friend from good backgrounds think it would be the most terrible fun to get involved in some kind of criminal caper. Real criminals are always on the lookout for these kind of people. They make the perfect foils for any such enterprise. But then when they are in too deep they realise it's not all a game, that if things go wrong they will be seeing the inside of police station, or worse. And then their criminal buddies won't be coming to pull their fat out of the fire".

"It's not like that," answered Maddocks. "Ogilvy wasn't afraid of the cops. It was what he had done that terrified him. And what the others would do to him".

"If I had to guess, I'd say he let himself get involved in the vice trade. There's some pretty rum customers in that kind of business, and anyone working in it could find themselves involved in some pretty unsavoury goings-on. He must have had a sudden attack of conscience, but he knew that his buddies would not want him to back out".

"It could be that, but look, whatever it is, this is a nasty business. He was trying to blank himself out completely with the dope, but he said there was no escape from what he had done. Or from them. And he was right".


"Yes, they came for him. Do you remember me saying that you and Bobby coming for me was like his friends coming for him? Well it was, kind of. When they arrived, they weren't taking no for an answer. They pushed the way through the place, led in by the boss there to check out all the white men there. They took one look at me and shook their heads, but when they saw Ogilvy they pulled him to his feet, punched him in the guts for good luck, and then dragged him out of the place. The paper seems to say that he died by accident, but I know he was murdered. And you've got to find out who did it".

"I've got to find out who did it?" I was somewhat taken aback at Maddocks' suggestion that I would have to turn detective.

"Yes, you'll have to. Bobby will help you, of course. I'll help all I can, but I can only do so much. You know what my nerves are like, any kind of shock will send me back to the opium den. I… I had to use up all my strength to call you when I read about Ogilvy in the paper, instead of just heading down to the riverside".

"But I'm not a detective! How can I find out who killed him? Anyway, doesn't our city have a police force to look into this kind of thing?"

"Sure, but if they thought there was any possibility of foul play, this would be in the papers already. By all means go to them and see if they want to investigate this, but I know what they'll say".

"If I go to the cops will you come with me?"

"I'd rather not. I don't want to draw their attention on my… on my weaknesses. But if you go to them and they are interested then I am willing to tell them what I saw and heard".

"OK, I will go to them. But tell me, how did you know the guy you met in the dope den is the same guy as in the death notice? Did he tell you his name?"

"He did, but I forgot it - until I saw it again this morning".

"I see. OK Hunter, I'm going to let the City's Finest handle this one. I'll report what you told me, so you'd better get ready to be interviewed by a homicide detective".

And with that I left him.

Next Chapter

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