Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Gathering: Chapter 7 - Uninvited guests at a funeral



Bobby Lomax and I are continuing to investigate the death of one Harrison Ogilvy, a doper pal of our troubled friend Hunter Maddocks.

Lomax and I had found out some things about Ogilvy, but it wasn't enough. We would have to get closer to him to find out anything more. So that's how we found ourselves heading along to his funeral. Funerals are great places for snoopers. No one is going to ask why you are there and the occasions are tailor-made for people to strike up conversations about the deceased.

Ogilvy's funeral was a big religious affair. Lomax and I sat near the back, so we could more easily cast our eyes over the attendees. We could see his parents at the front, a frail looking older couple obviously none too pleased at the untimely death of their son. With them sat a woman I guessed would have to be the sister mentioned in the newspaper death notice. I caught a look at her face. It was one that would be considered beautiful if not for the hardness of her facial expression. I wondered whether this was her usual look or whether it was a response to the sudden death of her brother. Mourning becomes few people. The other mourners looked like a mixture of various members of the deceased's extended family, favoured employees of the family company, and some younger men who might have been those old friends of Ogilvy's that had apparently been cut off by him last year.

As the reverend droned on with this religious pieties (the usual stuff about God working in mysterious ways, about the divine plan being sometimes hard to fathom, about the deceased being with God now and beyond human suffering, and so on - the kind of thing I'd heard a thousand times before) I found myself thinking that so far there was nothing out of the ordinary. But of course, there would hardly be. It's not like the shifty characters who dragged Ogilvy out of that opium den would be here to pay their respects. And I certainly did not expect this sinister foreigner of whom he was so afraid to be sitting at the front of the church in a place of honour. But if we were to find out anything that would get us closer to finding the killers (if Ogilvy had indeed been killed), then we would have to talk to these people in the hope that something they would say - something that might not even be significant to them - would set us on the right track.

I looked around the church once more, this time discreetly checking out the people behind us in case any of them looked like they might be worth talking to. There were the usual kind of people skulking at the back of the church, the kind of people who were clearly at most distant acquaintances of the deceased or perhaps people who knew other family members and felt it was worth their while being seen to attend the service. But that's not all there was. My eyes were drawn to a woman sitting on her own near the back of the church. My eyes were drawn to her for two reasons - first of all, she was a knock out, although perhaps not the kind of woman who normally frequents the inside of churches. But I noticed something else about her too - her eyes. Under her heavily made-up face I could see she had been crying. She was not someone here out of a vague sense of obligation or a wish to pay last respects to a casual acquaintance. This was someone to whom the deceased meant a lot. And yet she was sitting there at the back of the church, on her own, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.

"There's a dame at the back of the church," I whispered to Lomax, "and I think she may have been close to Ogilvy. I'm going to see what I can find out from her when the service ends. You try his old buddies. Spin them some kind of line and see what you can get out of them about his cutting them off last year."

He nodded.

The service ended and the coffin was hoisted up and carried outside. People began to file out of the church. Lomax and I moved as quickly as we could, but without drawing attention to ourselves, to get outside to where we could more easily latch onto whoever we fancied talking to. Once outside, I could see the coffin being loaded into the hearse while the first leavers milled around. The woman had left her seat as soon as people had started to move and was not waiting around outside. Where the hell was she? Then I saw her moving away from the church, a lonely figure escaping the throng. I hot-footed it after her.

"Excuse me ma'am!" I said, as I got closer to her. She turned around and eyed me suspiciously, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. Her beautiful cheeks. Maybe I was wrong about mourning not becoming people.

"What do you want?" she said.

"I saw you walking away and I could see you were upset. Harrison Ogilvy obviously meant a lot to you. Do you have time for a few words? I'm trying to get to the bottom of how he died."

"Get lost! I don't want to talk to some snooper." She turned to go.

"Wait!" I said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. "I think his death might not have been an accident. You might be able to help me catch his killers."

She hesitated and turned around.

"I can't talk to you here. I don't want those snobs in his family to see me. I have to go."

"Let's talk somewhere else, then?"

"Not now. I have to be somewhere."

"OK," I said, and handed her my card. "That's my office number. Yeah, that's me, I'm not a cop and I'm not a private detective. Call me when you are free to talk."

"Maybe I will," she answered, almost smiling, and then hurried away.

I turned back to the crowd. Lomax was working a group of men who looked like they might be these old college buddies of Ogilvy. He didn't need my help so I had to decide who I wanted to talk to. I wasn't going to talk to the immediate family - I wouldn't be able to talk to them for long enough and did not want to make a direct approach to them at this stage. So I went up to a somewhat portly gentleman who was on the wrong side of middle age and said "Terrible sad business" as my opening conversational gambit. But our conversation was not particularly informative. The man I was talking to seemed to know Ogilvy through business. He repeated what we had already heard about his not being temperamentally suited to work in that world. He hinted that Ogilvy's death may indeed have been suicide brought on by his failure to thrive in the company his father had created. Beyond that, nothing of obvious consequence, bar the suggestion that Ogilvy's sister, Alanis, would now most likely take his place as heir presumptive of the family business. The idea of a company headed by a woman was obviously something of a novelty, but my companion believed that Alanis Ogilvy had what was needed to succeed in world dominated by men.

"She's got the balls you need to succeed in business," he said, crudely. "Unlike that poor dead brother of hers".

As the crowd began to move off after the hearse towards the cemetery, Lomax and I were able to slip away and compare notes in a downtown diner. I described my brief encounter with the crying woman and then the conversation with the chubby man.

"That dame might be able to tell us something," said Lomax, somewhat stating the obvious. He then went on to talk about his discussions with Ogilvy's old college friends. He had posed to them as someone who had become acquainted with Ogilvy through business and found they had similar tastes on many matters. Thereafter they had met occasionally for lunch, though Lomax noted to them that about a year ago their contact had ceased - Ogilvy stopped returning his calls and they met no more. This gambit worked - Lomax's story so chimed with the old buddies' experience that they opened up about how they too (his oldest and dearest friends!) had been similarly cut off by Ogilvy at roughly the same point of time. Lomax tried to gauge whether they knew what might have precipitated the change. They knew of nothing and were baffled by Ogilvy's shunning of them. But a chance question to them about Ogilvy's behaviour before he cut them revealed something that I instantly realised must be of significance.

"They said he had been continuing with his private researches, but that he had a new subject of interest. Apparently the various mediaeval Christian heresies had been a subject of fascination to him, but then he had turned away from that study and taken up an interest in the history of ritual magic and the occult".

"The occult?" I asked.

"Yes, all aspects of it," said Lomax. "Apparently he was always talking to the others about his studies in that area but they were not particularly interested. He apparently mentioned that he had entered into correspondence with some other scholars on all this."

"Great Scott, Lomax, do you see what we have here? Ogilvy develops an academic interest in the occult, and then cuts off his friends. I think I know what happened here. He went from having a theoretical interest in the subject to a practical one. And he found himself some new friends who shared this interest. The terrible business he was engaged in, about which he told Maddocks he was so concerned, was some kind of obscene black magic ritual. And his associates have murdered him to prevent their foul secret from being revealed to the world!"

Next Chapter

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