Chapter Thirteen – Gargoyle

22 Jul

When I creaked open the door to The Caffe Noire, there wasn’t any music. Not even a single note. A tea cup sat upside down in the middle of Rosie’s table. The man in the yellow suit tipped his hat to me and looked away.

I walked up to the counter and whispered to the shopkeeper ‘What’s wrong?’

The empty feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that I already knew the answer, but I had to ask anyway just in case it was something else. I hoped it was something else. The shopkeeper just looked at Rosie’s table and shook his head. All I could do was mouth the word ‘How?’

He raised an eyebrow: ‘What on earth are you talking about?’

I stuttered: ‘I thought that you were going to say that Rosie was…’

‘Still in the cathedral? Yes, I know all about that – my takings today have already dropped by twenty percent. I always forget how… morose… this place gets when she goes away.’ He gave me a thin smile ‘So, what can I get you?’

‘A black coffee and anything you’ve got on the cathredral. I’m going to see if I can find her.’

I put a few coins on the counter and he made me a coffee before rustling through a huge stack of papers underneath the counter for what seemed like ten minutes. When he emerged, he was holding a single sheet of paper – he handed it to me and smiled. For a second, I thought about sitting at Rosie’s table, but it would probably break some unwritten rule or other. So far, I knew not to drink the jasmine tea or talk about playing cards. Sitting at someone else’s table was probably a cardinal sin in this place.

So, I sat at my table by the wall, sipped my coffee and looked at the sheet of paper. It was covered with pale concentric brown rings, probably from at least twelve cups of rose tea. All of the writing as absolutely tiny and completely illegible – but it was covered with pencil sketches of the outside of the cathedral. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before, except for the fact that there seemed to be one more gargoyle than I remembered.

I started to wonder whether this was a sign that the cathedral was locked or not – after all, this place might have it’s own strange logic of some kind. I mean, Rosie said that the cathedral was one of the only places here which didn’t move around. It was certainly possible that a gargoyle disappeared when the cathedral was unlocked.

Draining the rest of my coffee, I left a tip in the bowl on the counter and handed the map back to the shopkeeper before saying goodbye and leaving. At least I now had a way to tell whether I could get into the cathedral or not.

As I crossed the road, I reached into my jacket pocket and felt the end of my torch – it felt oddly reassuring. Now I knew why the detectives in the old movies always carried revolvers with them wherever they went. There’s nothing more reassuring than having something heavy and metallic in your pocket when you’re facing the unknown. Plus, the torch would be about ten times more useful than a revolver too.

I kept my eyes on the pavement as I walked to the cathedral. The streets were busier than usual, but the people obviously weren’t tourists. Not even the most naive and ignorant tourist would wander around the town in the middle of the day without a shirt, or any other clothes for that matter. But, no, right in front of me were the wrinkled and sunburnt buttocks of a bald man who might have been handsome if he was four decades younger. I kept my distance and my eyes on the pavement. This was beyond awkward.

It didn’t matter whether I stopped or not, he was always ten paces in front of me. Maybe he was something dangerous like the cards? Some deceptively innocent phenomenon which everyone who had spent more time here than I had would instantly run a thousand miles from as soon as they saw it. But, no, I’d probably be stuck with butt-man until I reached the cathedral. So, against all my instincts, I walked faster. So did he. This was even more awkward than life drawing classes back at college.

When I got to the front of the cathedral, I looked up and counted the gargoyles. There was one less than in the drawing. So, I reached into my pocket and discreetly pulled out my torch and flicked it on. Rosie would be in here somewhere and so, hopefully, would whatever I was looking for. Although I didn’t want to get too optimistic about it.

‘Beware. Keep your light close to you and your wits about you.’

For half a second, I didn’t know where the voice came from, until I turned around and saw the bald guy facing me. I kept eye contact with him and he repeated what he’d just said. Closing my eyes, I nodded a couple of times. When I opened them again, he was gone.

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