The Shadow of Li Po: A Fiction Archive Round-Robin

Part Four by John Grubber & James Dalton

The Danielsport Record was in an old building, though not as aged as the Hotel. Mary guessed that it was at least seventy years old, and in that time it seemed to have been modified numerous times. Several ground floor windows were bricked up, the colour was close, but didn't quite match the surrounding masonry. The front door was new, its simple functional look clashing with the red brick and white trim of the rest of the structure.

Inside the floor was patterned linoleum, missing a few tiles in places, new ones replacing others in high traffic areas. Grand wooden stairs dominated the foyer, standing opposite an old cage elevator with an out of service sign. The lift was flanked by frost-windowed offices, department names stencilled on them in black.

A light glowed behind one of them standing out in the silent, darkened building. Samuel Chase was printed on the door, under the name was on it, and it stood slightly ajar. She peered in, and saw a man hunched over a desk, his back to her. His hair was salt-and-pepper , and he looked quite thin. Mary knocked softly on the doorjamb and cleared her throat.

“Yes?” The figure at the desk sat straight up, stuffing some things in a drawer and slamming it shut before he turned around. He had been a handsome man once, but the march of years and the stress of running a small-town paper had taken its toll, leaving the face creased and sunken. Dark circles hung under the bloodshot eyes, which only barely focused on her. "Ah! Miss Worthington! You have arrived safely! Excellent! Is Ginny treating you well?" He had stood up and offered his hand in greeting.

"Yes, sir, she’s been great." Mary said, taking the bony hand. Chase's grip was even lighter than her own. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Chase.”

"Sam. please. We're like a family here, and I don't stand on ceremony." He gestured for her to sit as he returned to his own chair. The office was full of books, Mary noticed, including many about screenwriting and the movie industry.

They exchanged pleasantries, Mary relating the tale of the trip from Boston, omitting O'Doul. Chase told of his trip to Bangor. 'Visiting friends' he said, and taking in a few movies, as Danielsport’s theater had not yet opened for the summer crowds yet. At length, Mary steered the rambling editor to her job and when she could begin. She gambled and told Chase what she knew of William O'Doul and the circumstances surrounding her death. Chase nodded sagely, and seemed to take greater interest when she talked about the missing urn. She left out the tale of Li Po though, and Justin, figuring that the man before her wasn't too interested in news with supernatural twists- especially when she didn't believe them herself.

"Mary," he interrupted. "Danielsport is a small town, like all the other places around here, and it wouldn't do to go stirring up trouble with wild theories or rumours."

"Its not a theory or a rumour," Mary protested. "The urn is missing, its valuable, and the last man to own it is dead, as are its previous owners- all of them."

"Little towns have secrets just like big cities Mary," He said paternally. His eyes were clear now, and had taken on a cold glare. "Secrets that are old, secrets that are known, but not spoken of. That's the way it has been, and that's the way its going to stay. I didn't hire you to dig up graves and haul skeletons out of closets. I hired you to write about events in Danielsport. That's all."

"But, " Mary began.

"Mary." His voice had taken on the same coldness as his eyes. "You and I both know that there is more to that story than meets the eye. A healthy man doesn't just drown on a strangers yacht- especially a man who hates water, and especially a man who is on that yacht with a young woman, while his wife sits at home in a wheelchair." He paused, and took out a cigarette, offering her one. "That girl has a lot to do with this, whatever happened."

"But where is the she now?" Mary asked.

"I don't know. She disappeared soon after the funeral. Foul play wasn't suspected, so she was free to go." Chase stood up and began to pack his briefcase. "The urn hasn't been seen either."

"What's her story? Who is she? What is an oriental girl doing in backwoods Maine?" Mary sat forward on her seat. Her mind was starting to race at the prospect of uncovering a big story, something that might get her a job at a larger paper in Boston.

"Beats the heck out of me." He put on his coat.

"Well she had no family here, she must have been here for a reason!"

"All I know is that she came from Toronto because she knew Taylor, the McTeague's oldest son, the rich kid that died." He moved towards the door, broadly hinting that the meeting was ending and that it was time for Mary to go. "You know, there was some talk about how Angus McTeague's wife died. It was kept quiet, but people say that it wasn't her son dying, that killed her, it was catching her husband, 'consoling himself' with Kara, the maid." Chase paused. "Mary, this is not a story, I am not going to publish it, so don't even waste your time on it. You will have plenty of other work to take care of. Everyone in little towns like this has a secret or two, and no one wants them dug up, least of all by a newcomer." He pulled the door shut and they stood in the dark foyer. Chase began to talk about the history of the paper and the building, as though it were rehearsed and he had said it a hundred times before for the summer crowds wanting to see a 'genuine small-town paper.' Mary wasn't paying attention though, her mind was already wandering and thinking of how to contact the maid in Bangor.

*

The ambulance had arrived for Cal shortly before three-thirty, leaving Dennings in charge of organizing the lab. Cal’s attacker now lay dead in a freezer, awaiting autopsy to give a greater idea on what the creatures were. The remaining two were currently fighting in the aquarium, a display that Dennings found intriguing. He was sure that only one would live through the night.

Dennings looked back down at his notes, scanning them in order to make sure that he kept to the same story Cal had read. It would not be fruitful for him if others learnt what he knew. Dennings just hoped that the creature’s attack would have no lasting affects upon Cal.

Dennings was reaching for his tea when a flash of pain exploded behind his eyes. His vision clouded with red and guttural voices echoed through his mind. It was a message, part of the price he had paid for the power he would soon receive. Mercifully the crimson veil finally lifted. Dennings was surprised to see that almost an hour had passed since the onset of his headache. All traces of the pain were, however, long forgotten. He had better things to think of now.

A single thought pulsed through his mind as he absentmindedly scratched the six circular scars at the base of his neck.

Li Po…

*

A hoarse voice answered the phone, punctuating its wheezing with coughs. It was a mans voice, a man who identified himself as the caretaker of the estate, and now its sole resident, in the wake of its owners' sudden deaths.

"Yes. Hello," Mary began. "Could I speak to Kara Panas please?"

The voice was barely audible, but Mary could make out enough of the words to make her almost drop the phone in surprise. She thanked the man for his time and help, and sat down on the bed in her room. A smile crossed her face. Kara would be easy to find- she was working across the street- at her sisters diner.

* * * * * *

The restaurant was empty, its lunch crowd long gone and the supper customers not yet arrived. There was a lone woman, wiping the tabletops. Mary entered, the door chime announcing her arrival. The blonde girl half turned to acknowledge her, then resumed her cleaning.

"Back already? What can I get for you?" She was attractive, with a slender figure and long blonde hair.

"Coffee is fine, and if you have a minute, I'd like to ask you about-" Mary began.

"Let me guess- the McTeagues?" She said with a smirk. "Sure, why not? I'll tell you what I know- same stuff I told the sheriff up in Bangor. Its pretty slow here, take a seat in a booth and I'll be right with you."

She cleared a table and poured two cups of coffee, before sitting down in the booth.

"I'm surprised you are willing to talk to me." Mary said. "Most people don't really like newspaper reporters." She took out a pad and a pencil, and recorded the woman's name, and the date, in tight, neat handwriting.

"Hey, I seen 'All the Presidents Men' I know its your job to be nosy." Kara replied as she pulled her hair back out of her face. "So ask away, and if I don't talk, that's your answer." Again with the smirk.

"Well, everything I am interested in seems to start with their son, and his death." Mary said. "What can you tell me about him?"

Kara looked around, to make sure the restaurant was still empty. She leaned forward, and spoke in a low voice, even though there was no one to hear her.

"His parents sent him to Toronto a few years ago to 'void the draft- they didn't want to send him to Viet Nam like everyone else had to. I guess he wanted to go and fight though." Her eyes were glassy, Mary looked away, not wanting to embarrass her.

"Damn fool. He eventually went you know." She arranged the utensils on the table before her. "Just last year. Did two years of college up there in Canada, then came back and joined up." She shook her head. "He died over there you know."

Mary nodded, she knew this fact, but not any of the details surrounding it.

"And not even heroically, either." Kara laughed. "He got sick. He didn't even go into the jungle, he died in some army base. From malaria they told us, but I'm not so sure." Mary took notes as the waitress spoke, noticing several large rings and expensive-looking earrings. Items a poor waitress couldn't have afforded on her own.

"Angus, his father, was never the same after that." Kara sighed. "That was a good job, it’s a shame it had to end so suddenly. I was going to go to college y'know," She said, "after my son was in school all-day and I had saved enough money to move to Boston."

Two men entered the restaurant and sat down in a distant booth, against the front window. Kara got up, took their orders, and then disappeared into the kitchen. A third man entered, and Mary recognized him as the man with the box from the bus. He recognized her too, and looked around, as though expecting someone else to be in the restaurant. He seated himself with the two men, whom Mary now recognized from the bus station the night before.

Kara reappeared, quickly bringing coffee to the table of men. Returning to Mary's table, she tucked her hair back again as Mary spoke.

"Did Taylor have any friends come to see him?" Mary paused.

"Oh yes, he had a lot of friends, and a especially a lot of girl friends." She smiled. "He was quite the ladies man, that one." The smile grew.

"Do you remember one of the girls, an Oriental girl, perhaps?" Mary pressed.

"Oh. I remember her- Lia, I think her name was. At Taylor's funeral. It was a beautiful service. It was odd though, she came all the way down from Canada to be here. Though it wasn't the first time. She apparently came for Easter when Taylor was in his first year of college. I didn't meet her though- I was visiting my parents in Derry.

"Mrs. McTeague hung herself about two weeks after Taylor's funeral. I guess it was just too traumatic for her, losing her only child like that."

"Yes," Mary replied. "It must have been quite a shock to her."

"Lia kept in contact with Angus though," Kara said. "I thought that was kind of weird, especially when she showed up at his funeral too. I mean, It was nice and all, but she kept asking all sorts of questions about who was executor of the estate, who was in charge of the will and stuff like that."

One of the men from the table got up and threw some money on the counter, while the others headed for the door. Kara jumped up and put the money in the till, counting it while she watched them walk slowly along the front of the restaurant. Tow of them, Mary noticed, were watching her very closely- as closely as she watched them. When they were gone from sight, she walked back over to the table and sat down again.

"You know, it's sad," She said. "All these people dying so suddenly. Funerals can be so expensive. I know Angus was in a pretty tight spot after his wife passed on. That's sort of how he died you know- he was on his way here, to Danielsport, to see about selling some things to a local antique dealers."

"The O'Doul's?"

"Why yes," said Kara. "I believe it was. He said they were quite interested in purchasing some items from him. Its strange though, Angus was always such a careful driver, he knew that road so well."

"What do you mean?" Mary asked. Bangor was some way away, even by plane.

"He used to come down here all the time. Danielsport is where he moored his yacht."

To Be Continued...


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