‘You need to look at these photos,’ Susan insisted to Lisa as their coffees started to grow cold. ‘I’ve compiled all I can from the history, it’s all here.’
She put her iPad down, swivelling it to be right side up for her friend.
Lisa was getting more irritated by the minute. Almost as soon as they had sat down with their coffees she had started to regret turning the ‘back in half an hour’ sign over on the bookstore door and coming out with her friend, even if the general quiet of the day indicated it was unlikely anyone would be denied access to the store as a result. It wasn’t the lack of business that vexed her, it was that her friend’s obsession with this death theory was growing, not diminishing, and she seemed to be implying something about Damien was involved now, which meant the hyperbole was going into over-drive.
‘This one,’ Susan said, flicking one open in front of Lisa, ‘Is of Carlotta’s uncle and some of his business associates. See the man in the back of the photo, see what I mean?’
Lisa looked grudgingly at the grainy, darkened photo. To see Carlotta’s uncle was ghoulish enough, but the poor quality of the photo overall did nothing to strengthen her friend’s case, or explain her fevered insistence that Lisa involve herself in this fool’s escapade.
There were three men with the uncle in the photo. The one at the back was tall, with dark hair, and his face was partially obscured by the rather unfortunate bouffant hairstyle of one of the other men. But it was true – to the degree that old, black and white grainy photos could make people look like people – there was perhaps more than a passing resemblance to Damien in that photo. If you were of a mind to be imaginative, of course, which Susan was always far too ready to be.
‘That’s someone they call Mr.D Whethers, and it seems he might have been the man who encouraged Carlotta’s uncle to go into the more speculative line of business that bought such ruin to him and his clients.’
‘Whethers isn’t Damien’s name,’ Lisa responded, her voice tight, ‘And he’d be older to be that man, surely.’
‘It’s not just that!’ Susan replied, and then started to flick rapidly through some of the other photos she had stored on her computer. ‘This is the failed author, photographed with someone they claim might have been a possible literary agent, and you can’t see it too clearly, but still, there is a resemblance. Then this, the strong man who died of a heart attack, this is a photo of him with some friends, and look at the man in the corner! Then this one, years before, the priest that committed suicide, a photo of him outside the church with some of his congregation, look at this man there! And worst of all, look at this photo of a group of men and women that were accused of being involved in the satanic cult around the time of the ritual deaths – look at him!’
And with that she jabbed her finger at the photo, at a man who did look a bit like Damien, albeit with a slight beard and mustache that gave the visage a distinct Mephistophelean air.
‘These photos aren’t great, and you said yourself, these are decades between some of these deaths. At the time of this last one Damien wouldn’t have even been born. What are you saying exactly?’
Susan stopped a moment, as though only just realising this in her fervour. ‘I don’t know exactly. You’re right it can’t be him, that’s impossible, but maybe a relative? Maybe it’s something in his family? You have to admit it’s a hell of a coincidence’
‘A coincidence is exactly what it is,’ Lisa said, impatient and beyond caring for her friend’s finer feelings any more. Obviously Susan didn’t care much about hers. It didn’t matter to her she knew Lisa was smitten with her new neighbour – even if it was the first positive link Lisa had had to a man for so many years, and that definitely counted the last desultory years of her marriage before the divorce. Susan didn’t care about that, clearly, if she had this scent of some frankly absurd conspiracy story. Lisa’s happiness was clearly nowhere near as important as her new obsession. So why should Lisa care too much for how Susan felt?
Makes you wonder if she’s really a friend at all, Lisa thought grimly.
‘It’s too much, and it seems whoever these men are, they are far too close to all this, so I’m frightened you might be in danger of some kind.’
That was too much. That was it.
It was time for the truth, stripped bare of any friendship propriety. It was time for the gloves to come off, and damn the consequences, this was just too much. Lisa had spent so much of her life as the good girl, the nice girl, the tolerant one: sucking up the dramas and needs and histrionics of friends and lovers. Always being the one who was kind, who cared, who thought before she spoke. That’s what she was taught in her home, growing up, and like there, what did it get her, in the end? It seemed sometimes that when people asked you to be considerate of others, all they really meant was for you to be considerate of them, and that in this consideration you gave them complete license to never consider you.
Never consider you. It was enough. It was time.
‘No you’re not. You’re just obsessed with a story, with the drama of it all. Really, you always have been like this, and I’ve tolerated it, never wanted to hurt your feelings with pointing this out, but this time it’s too much. You want to hurt me, or at least you don’t care if I’m hurt by all this. You know how I feel about Damien! You know! So don’t pretend this is for my welfare. You want a mystery, and you don’t care what it costs anyone else, and frankly that’s just nasty, that’s just unkind. Even for you!’
She stood, throwing money from her purse on the table for the coffee.
‘So don’t come asking me to use up my precious spare time just to indulge your latest obsession. And really, just don’t bother me at all unless you come to some sense and see what you’re doing here. I’ve had enough!’
Susan looked at her stunned, unable to respond. Lisa just shook her head, her face telegraphing an awful mixture of dismay and repulsion, and then she turned, stalking out of the café.
‘Lisa! There’s something here, you have to see it! You might be in danger that’s all..that’s all I’m concerned about, that’s all!’
But her words were lost to Lisa, who had slammed the door of the café as she left, and so only the other patrons heard it, looking at the display with some amusement or puzzlement. Susan felt suddenly adrift and ashamed, embarrassed publicly. She was a journalist here, and well-known, and had a reputation to defend, and in one fell swoop of trying to protect her friend, she could destroy that respect.
Trying to protect her friend, her friend who spat out such viciousness in response: just like the mere thought of Damien being questioned could bring out the warrior within. And as Susan stared into her coffee cup rather than meet the eyes of her fellow café patrons, a new terror emerged.
She’d only come to the bookstore to get Lisa to come out for the coffee. It hadn’t been on her mind to even discuss her research because she knew Lisa thought she was chasing shadows. But then she’d seen Damien, she’d seen his face and she’d known, deep in her bones, the photos were telling the truth, not lies.
And the man in them that looked like Damien was central to so many of the deaths before they occurred, almost like he was a catalyst of some sort. Or the family of men, if that was what made more sense. So she’d had to warn Lisa, she had to. She had no other choice as a friend.
But if that was the case, what depths of control from this shadow figure made others bring about their own ruin in his or their midst? And what might that mean for Lisa, if the slightest question of Damien, his background or his motives was raised and such fury came in its wake? Was she already under some kind of spell? Was that was it was?
And what might that mean?
And how could she help a friend who so violently and completely refused her help? What could she possibly do? And was it already far, far too late?
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved