In the back of the Mercedes, Sandy explained to Daniel that he’d rather go alone into his parent’s home. “I don’t think they’ll be as…forthcoming, if you are with me, Daniel. A guy of your size says a lot without saying anything…if you know what I mean.”
Sadly, Daniel did know what he meant; he’d been living with it his entire life. One look at him and most folks were scared, even in the daytime. His eyes were dark as his midnight skin and they burned fear into many a brave soul. His size was unmatched, ludicrous really. At age fourteen he stood eye to eye with only a handful of people, by eighteen he had no physical peer. A full seven foot of solid muscle and yet moved lithely through the world as if gravity held no sway on his frame. There was none of the lumbering awkwardness of those unfortunates cursed with pituitary giantism about Daniel; his size was not the cruel result of some tumour, he was perfectly healthy.
Suited as he was to his chosen vocation he was hindered by his own conspicuousness; going unnoticed was simply beyond him. For this reason he worked behind the scenes, in the shadows, but always at hand. He placed a tiny microphone behind Sandy’s belt buckle and opened the car door for him. “If you need me in there…just say my name.”
Sandy felt like this was overkill but was by no means certain, it had been a strange day.
Lifting the wooden latch he stepped into the gravel driveway. It snaked upwards, escorted by overhanging tree limbs on either side which formed an arched corridor of green. Crunching through the gravel, Sandy looked left to the oak at the brow of the drive. The site of his childhood tree-house and many long-abused rope swings; it still wore a frayed necklace of twine from its bough.
At the crest of the slope the green passage gave way to an open expanse of lawn, secreted from the world by a perimeter shield of screening trees and greenery. He had always felt safe in this garden and it had always greeted him like a trustworthy friend. Yet tonight in the moonlight, this felt like foreign soil and the feeling gave him pause.
Sandy had spent little time at his parent’s home in the last nine years; visits were limited to the required holidays and birthdays, with the odd exception. They had been neither supportive nor happy with his plans to run a guitar shop -- secretly hoping it would fail and any day now -- he would get a real job. For almost a decade, he had been happy to disappoint them.
They were unaware however, just how much money his grandfather had bequeathed him. His father had always assumed, he had received the lion’s share. He was wrong. Sandy had been the sole beneficiary of a separate and undisclosed account, which he had used to fund his work ever since.
Following the curve of the trees his childhood home drifted into view. It was a large Tudor building, square and strong, solid grey stone faced by timber beams above ground level. Lights burned in the living room and in his father’s den. No cars out front but this meant nothing as his parents always garaged them. As he approached the front door his mother opened it -- obviously aware of his presence. “Sandy…is everything ok son, why didn’t you call to say you were coming?”
Sensing her false manner, he replied. “Everything’s fine, mum, I just wanted to talk to you guys about something.”
Maureen Jackson was medium height with fox-red hair and soft features. She’d effortlessly kept the figure that had attracted Tom Jackson to her, almost thirty-five years and two kids ago. Sandy stepped forward and kissed her on the cheek. He noticed a familiar smell at the threshold, but couldn’t quite place it. His mother moved aside to bid him enter. “Your dad’s out tonight, he’s at the pub with your uncle Pete.”
Sandy again felt completely awake to this lie. His uncle Pete was never a drinker and his father disliked him fervently. But this was not how he smelled the untruth of it. Somehow he’d just known it to be a falsehood. Showing him into the lounge, she said “Cup of tea, son?”
His eyes covered the room…empty. “No thanks, mum…I’ve just had dinner.” He sat on the dilapidated couch, its springs caressing his butt. “When are you guys going to get a new suite, this thing’s in bits?”
His mother lit a cigarette and waved it. “Your dad likes it and you know your dad.”
Tom Jackson had always been what you might call a hoarder. He could easily be described as rich but refused to part with anything unless it was not only on its last legs, but had then had them amputated. If he ever bought a new couch he would most likely store the old one because you never know when it might come in handy. Sandy thought to one day when his friend had visited his parents with him. Joe’s car had died on their driveway and inspection found it wanting of a new fan-belt. He was conceding to calling the garage when Sandy suggested asking his father if he’d a spare. One trip to his dad’s shed later and Joe had a choice of five fan-belts salvaged from different vehicles over the years under the auspices of the: you never know rule. This was the one time Sandy could recall it coming in handy though.
He looked to his mother, hiding her nerves behind cigarette smoke. Flicking ash into the tray in her lap she asked. “How’s the business, son?”
Sandy could sense her, looking for shelter in a predictable question, seeking normalcy in her routine ask. “Fine, mum, doing well…I’m even thinking of expanding, either bigger premises or another shop. By this time next year, The Perfect Chord…could be a franchise.” He loved torturing her in this way -- always had.
Then, as if resigned to her fate, she asked. “What was it you wanted to talk about, Sandy?”
Fixing her gaze and holding it, he said. “Dave Higgins.”
She filled up on nicotine. “Brenda’s Dave…what about him?”
Brenda was Dave’s mother; a mysterious figure whom Sandy had never met nor heard much talk of, although he would concede he never much discussed his own mother with Dave either. “How long have you known Brenda, mum?”
Inhaling another hit she replied. “Must be…ten years now, why…what about Dave?”
Ignoring her question he asked another. “When did you see her last?” His stare probed her, anticipating her next lie. Her hesitation before answering was a strong enough tell. Body language beat polygraphs all to hell and a host could always see into the truth of things.
“A couple of months ago I think, I’ll check my diary.” With that she stood up and left the room. Sandy knew she was not going to retrieve a diary. He noticed a shadow break the light seeping under the closed door of his father’s den, just as his mother called to him from the opposite end of the living room. Her misdirection was only a millisecond too late. Just then, he recalled the smell he’d noticed at the front door. His father’s French hair tonic and he knew the shadow in the den belonged to him.
His mother called again. “Sandy…come here son.”
He walked to the hallway in disbelief at what his senses were telling him. His parents were mixed up in this and were lying to him -- say it isn’t so. In the hallway his mother’s movements carried from the kitchen. But at its door something made him halt. He suddenly felt cold and afraid. In the house he grew up in and amongst those he should feel safest with, he knew he was in danger. He looked to the threshold of the kitchen and sensed malevolence lying in wait, distilled and simmering just beyond the verge of the room. Then the word he hoped he wouldn’t need passed his lips. “Daniel”
Again his mother’s voice bled from the kitchen, soft and quiet. “Sandy son, come in here a minute.” The voice that had sang him to sleep as a child percolated into the hall and chilled him to his core. Fearful, he took a step back from that mellifluous voice and noticed the door to his father’s den was now ajar. Turning to investigate, he never saw his mother advance on him from the kitchen and hand aloft she moved to strike.
From the shadows, like some dark apparition, a hand caught her arm, dismissing its force like it was a blade of grass. Sandy turned to see his mother, held one-handed, in mid-air by Daniel, her feet in no danger of touching the ground. Her entire head was enveloped by his right hand muffling her scream. His left hand held her aloft by the wrist, like a toddler being swung by a parent. In her now prostrate hand she held a syringe and it answered the -- how deep in this shit are they -- question that had been concerning Sandy. He stared at the syringe and felt as if a trapdoor had suddenly opened in his stomach. Coming round from a trance, he said “My dad…is here . . . somewhere.”
Daniel looked to Maureen Jackson, flailing like a fish out of water and said “Your father’s in the car, already wrapped.” Sandy would soon learn that “wrapped” in Daniel’s terms meant restrained in ways which would have Houdini crying like a baby. Daniel gave a gentle squeeze and she relinquished the syringe. “I’m going to secure her in the car, Sandy…you ok?”
Sandy was pretty far from ok and still playing catch up. How could they be involved? This must be a… misunderstanding. “Placed here” Dave’s words reverberated in his skull, rattling accusingly off its bone walls, and Sandy knew the old proverb: Truth sits upon the lips of dying men. Then, looking to the hypodermic laying on the hall carpet, its amber payload of God-knows-what glistening up at him, he simply said “Ok”
He walked with Daniel and held the door for him. Then, alone in the only place he’d ever truly felt was home, he sat on the stairs. Leaning forwards Sandy held his head in his hands. There was no escaping it. His world had suffered a paradigm shift of monumentous proportions. Yes sir, in the past 24 hours, the car had definitely slipped off the jack for Sandy Jackson. With everything he’d been through, the syringe wielding mother had just been the chrome on the grill.
Through the gaps in his fingers his eyes were drawn to the left. There -- scraped into the wood panelling that lined the stairs -- was a symbol. A mark he remembered having carved as a child of eight-years-old. Only then did he realise he was sitting on what his mother had called the naughty step, a place of chastisement…he’d been there often. The shape he’d etched was far from random and he knew immediately it was a relative of the one he’d seen in the Telecaster. The one he was now host to. Leaning across to inspect it he had no doubt it was from the same family, maybe a second cousin, twice removed.
How the hell could I make this mark, when was I exposed to it, how did I learn it?
He was pondering the origin of this symbol when suddenly he felt it…the silence. Not a sound stirred the home that had always been so full of life. The two people wrapped in the car were home to Sandy Jackson; with them removed, the heart of this house had no beat, it was truly eerie. Sandy’s grandfather had written a lot about silence in his journal. He’d said certain folk believe silence is perfect. But qualified this by warning Sandy there was no such thing as perfect silence. “Anyone who spends long enough in its presence, will find after a while Sandy that the silence gets too loud, deafening. You have to shut it up. It’s sacrilege not to son.” He recalled that Floyd had written that the icons always find the Flaws in Silence.
Then as he looked from the mark on the wall to the family portrait hanging above it, the peace was broken by a gentle hum filtering through the quiet. A muted rattle that he initially thought must be the pipes or perhaps the washing machine cranking into gear in the basement. As the sound grew louder however, he knew he was wrong. Still numb from his mother’s attack, he gripped the newel post, stood up and followed its drone across the living room and into his father’s den.
The place was a shrine to the god of clutter. No more than a junk room to anyone else’s eyes. His eyes raked the four walls which wore bookshelves groaning with volumes and letters stored in desperately random fashion. The floor it seemed was not for walking on, but merely a home for old newspapers and magazines stacked in precarious columns, climbing like Jack’s bean stalk towards the ceiling. An old and broken VCR sat on the floor beneath his desk. Next to it, lay an arcane PC monitor that hadn’t been juiced up since the eighties. The desk was mounded with papers and no less than three mugs nestled amongst them, adorned with coffee stains in various stages of decay. It reminded Sandy that his father was not only a hoarder, but also a slob.
He could almost feel the noise now, a vibration in the room. He looked to its source under the desk, half expecting to see a cat purring behind the old monitor. Nothing there, he slid the heavy VDU aside, scrunching up the rug it sat on as he did so. He looked to the old VCR and found nothing. Then he spotted it, beneath the rug he’d crumpled; a line in the floorboards, obviously a trapdoor. Sandy looked up to see Daniel hovering over him.
“What are you doing, Sandy?”
He pushed over a magazine pillar, noting an article he knew atop the sprawling periodicals. It was about legendary guitarist Jimmy Page and how he’d bought two homes previously owned by known occultist and devil worshiper Alistair Crowley. Sections of the text had been highlighted in yellow pen, but oddly, Sandy never had his dad pegged as a Led Zeppelin fan. “Help me move this desk, Daniel”
Sandy moved to grab an edge but was too late as Daniel lifted it solo, like it was no more than one of the magazines now fanned out on the floor. He shifted the VCR and pulled up the rug revealing the door in the floor. He had never known of its existence -- a second basement. Eighteen years in this house and here was a room he’d never been in. It had no lock or hasp and as he lifted it, the hum was amplified tenfold. Sandy raised his hands to block the offence from his ears. He looked to Daniel for confirmation of this volume increase but it was clear, the big man heard nothing.
Wooden steps led down into darkness and Sandy -- thinking them awfully rickety looking -- said “Maybe I should test them, Daniel?”
Daniel peered down into the dark cavity and smiled. “Be my guest.”
He descended a few steps and noticed a dangling cord. He tugged it and a weak yellow light filled the small chamber. There were boxes and even a couple of old, oak barrels which Sandy had no explanation for. Daniel was not keen to leave Sandy unguarded and stepped gingerly onto the timber steps. It was not a very large hole and Sandy did entertain the notion of Daniel getting stuck in the trapdoor -- like some giant cork -- sealing him down there. As it was, his shoulders simply rotated to diagonal through the gap and he lowered himself gracefully. But the ceiling was so low that even bent double, his shoulder brushed against the hanging bulb. It rocked back and forth, casting a dim halo of light in teasing arcs that revealed one end of the basement then the other.
From the far corner the signal called to Sandy, he moved in answer and saw the crate, in the light’s pendular penumbra. Although dusty it was conspicuous in that it was too new an object to grace this cellar. Daniel -- noting Sandy’s interest -- obliged and prized off its lid.
Inside lying on a bed of straw, was an old guitar. Daniel’s solemn timbre washed over him. “Do you know this instrument, Sandy?”
Sandy looked to it -- he’d never seen it before -- but knew immediately; it was a 1928 Gibson L-1 . . . his grandfather’s lost acoustic.