*Somebody told me you were looking into The Secret Order of Everlasting Sorrow, meet me at Cafe Grande down Princes street, 10am sharp*
She stared at the message on her phone, it couldn’t be real, it was just a stupid prank. But here she was anyway, waiting in a tiny coffee shop down a back alley she hadn’t even known existed till today.
Sipping at the coffee, (black no sugar, strong but not too bitter) she wished her her nerves would quit screaming so she could actually enjoy it.
She checked her watch again, 10.03, it was a prank for certain. Disappointment further spoiled her coffee, but a few minutes more couldn’t hurt, just to be sure, just till she’d finished the cup.
Swirling the last mouthful around the bottom, she stared mournfully at it. At least she’d found a new cafe to sit and write, quiet, good coffee, and free Wi-Fi, everything a fledgling author could ever need.
Startled, the cup flew from her hands, splashing the dregs across the pristine white tablecloth.
“Shit, shit, shit, I’m sorry!” Mopping frantically at the spreading stains with a paper napkin, she looked up, stopping mid dab.
In front of her wasn’t the proprietor as she’d expected but a tall dark man straight out of a noire novel. He was hauntingly familiar and yet at the same time she knew she’d never met him before. His eyes were shadowed, his long dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, clothing immaculate, pressed jeans tucked into polished boots, a thigh length jacket over a crisp black shirt. All he needs is the red rose between his teeth, she suppressed the thought biting her lip to stop herself smiling.
“You are making it worse you know, come, they will just bleach the stains out, and what you want to know cannot be discussed here.” His voice was deep, with an odd accent.
“You want me to just walk off with you? A total stranger, do ya think I’m crazy?” Standing up she clutched her jacket in front of her protectively.
He raised a perfect dark eyebrow and smirked at her. “You came here didn’t you? In for a penny, in for a pound as they say.. What is the most you have to lose?”
She chewed her bottom lip, he was, she had to admit, the first even slightly real lead she’d found so far. But that didn’t make the prospect of walking out of the cafe and going somewhere alone with him any more attractive.
“How do I know that you've got anything useful to tell me?”
His smirk got wider, “you don’t, you will just have to…trust me.”
She backed up a step, “I have friends you know, they are expecting me to call them at twenty past ten, and they’ll call the police if I don’t check in every twenty minutes after that!”
He shook his head. “No, you really do not, your best friend has not spoken to you in six weeks, your family all think you are dead, and your boyfriend is sleeping with another man right at this moment and would be glad if you never came home again… so tell me again, what do you have to lose?”
She spluttered, indignant, scared, and then resigned,
He laughed at this, and then offered her his arm, “walk with me, I promise what I offer is the complete opposite of death.”
“..so..it’s true, it’s really true?” She tentatively placed her hand on his arm, feeling foolishly old fashioned.
“Some of it,” he tapped his lips with a finger leading her out of the cafe and down the narrow side street.
“Where are we going then?” Shuffling her grip on his elbow so she wouldn’t drop her jacket or cellphone, she poised her thumb over the emergency distress alert on her phone.
He glanced at her, “you should put that away, I assure you I am not going to harm you.”
Muttering under her breath, “I’m sure all serial killers say that to their victims,” she slipped her phone into her jacket pocket.
He looked at her sideways and cocked an eyebrow. “Serial killer? That is a new one for the collection, I have been called many things but never that.”
She felt the heat rising up her face and concentrated pointedly on where they were going. The street narrowed to a single lane with a tall dense hedge on one side and an equally tall time worn brick wall on the other. Sunlight skimmed the top half of the hedge leaving most of the lane in shadows. She stopped short, pulling her hand off his arm.
“So..it’s quiet here, can’t you just tell me what you know now, and I’ll go home.”
He kept walking a few paces before sighing and turning to look at her.
“It is not that simple Gretchen, I cannot just explain a thousand or more years of history, you have to see the artefacts for yourself.”
“How did you know my …artefacts? You have actual real artefacts from the cult?”
“Cult is such an ugly word don’t you think? It reeks of nefarious deeds and bloodshed. We prefer the terms Society, or Order, much more civilised.”
“..yes, yes, but artefacts, you said you had some?”
“That is what I am trying to take you to see, do stop lolly-gagging about and come with me.”
As she hurried to catch up with him he turned, the profile of his face caught for an instant by the light, jolting memories from her. She had seen him before, on the bus, on the street, across the park, always too far away to see properly. He’d been watching her, for months. She shuddered and thought about turning tail and running back to the cafe. But the thought that he might just be telling the truth, that she might finally unravel the mystery kept her walking along with him, nerves jangling as loudly as the keys in her pocket.
The narrow lane ended in an overgrown plot with a rickety wrought iron fence, half the points rusted off and scattered in the long tangle of grass. The gates hung wretchedly from their hinges and proved no obstacle to following a worn, fur tufted game path that meandered through the scrub.
It took her a long moment to realise what the place was. It wasn't until they rounded a small copse of trees and saw the crumbling stone mausoleum she realised they were walking through a long abandoned graveyard.
“Woah! Hey.. I..I’m going home now.. This is... This is too creepy!”
He was faster than she could ever have imagined, moving before she’d taken even one step away from him, one arm wrapping like a steel band around her torso, clamping her arms to her side, the other covering her mouth like a vice.
“I am sorry, you already know far too much, I cannot let you go now,” his hissed breath caressed her neck like a dark promise and she shuddered.
With each futile struggle he tightened his grip leaving her breathlessly terrified that he could actually crush the life out of her.
She went limp, her jacket slipping from her rapidly numbing fingers. Growling wordlessly he lifted her feet off the ground, carrying her still restrained form to the decaying marble fronted crypt.
He dropped her and shifted his grip to her throat, fingers crushing into her windpipe,
“Do not try anything!”