Feature

The night calls

Several months ago in The Challenge I told the intriguing story of a 1970s down-at-heel Huyton private investigator named Robin Cardinal, and how he was hired to trace a young lady named Audrey Ellis, the fiancée of a powerful businessman she had walked out on. 

It transpired that Audrey had an amazing gift – she could read minds – and through her mind-reading ability she had discovered that her businessman boyfriend had murdered his first wife, so Audrey deserted him and hid in south Liverpool. 

Cardinal abandoned the case he’d been assigned (a first for him), became romantically involved with Audrey, and together they intended to set themselves up as partners in a new private detective business in London – but before the planned move, an intriguing case came Cardinal’s way in July 1970. 

As Cardinal was removing his few personal belongings from his threadbare office on Manesty’s Lane off Hanover Street, the telephone started to ring. Curiosity got the better of him and he answered the call. There was silence, so he said: “Hello – Cardinal Investigations – how may I help you?” 

“I need you to find out who the practical joker is who’s making my life hell;” said the caller, followed by, “hello – is anyone there?” 

“Yes,” said Cardinal, closing the window to keep the hubbub of the traffic out, “the line’s a bit bad - Mister?” 

“Mansell – George Mansell,” the caller told him with an air of impatience. 

Cardinal sat on the cleared desk. “So, Mr Mansell, tell me a little bit about this practical joker who’s making your life hell.” 

Mansell coughed, then said: “Well, it’s been going on for some time now - about two months – I get calls in the middle of the night making all sorts of serious allegations about me and threats to expose me and so on.” 

“And what does he say?” asked Cardinal, “Do you recognise his voice? Does he call on an ex-directory line?” 

“It’s a she, Mr Cadinal,” said Mansell, “and there’s something about her voice, as if I’ve heard it before way back, but I just can’t place it, and she sounds as if she’s in a hallway, sort of echoing like. I’m ex-directory, yes.” 

Cardinal made notes on the back of an unpaid telephone bill. “And what are the allegations, which, I presume, are not true?” 

There was a sharp intake of breath from Mansell. “She calls me a womaniser and a gigolo and accuses me of all sorts of cruelty against women – all nonsense without any foundation may I add!” 

“Well, in that case, you really have nothing to worry about Mr Mansell;” reasoned Cardinal, “let her ‘publish and be damned’ so to speak.” 

“Because!” Mansell roared down the phone, “Because I would like to know who this unbalanced person is! Heaven knows what she might do to me! She might get hold of a gun.” 

“Where are you?” asked Cardinal. He thought there was something just not right about this case. Mansell gave him the address to a converted farmhouse near Old Roan. 

Cardinal took Audrey with him in the old Hillman Imp. In person, George Mansell looked a lot younger than he sounded. He was in his early forties, blonde and his home was crammed with antiques. He played a reel-to-reel recording of one of the midnight calls to Cardinal, while Audrey read Mansell’s mind. 

A faint echoing woman’s voice could be heard accusing Mansell of indecent assault, blackmail, and of driving a woman to commit suicide. 

“I’m recording this to play to the police!” Mansell was heard yelling back to the accuser, who then retorted with: “Take it to the police! And explain why I am accusing you!”  

Cardinal made a lengthy list of Mansell’s friends and business acquaintances (he was an antiques dealer), and underlined the female associates. He took on the case at his usual rate of fifty pounds a day plus expenses then left, saying he’d be back in touch soon. 

In the car, Cardinal asked Audrey what she had picked up with her telepathic ability. 

“Well, he was full of guilt when he played that tape – as if he had done the things he’s accused of doing. Here’s the strange part, though: I kept picking up the name Magdala from him, and I feel she’s the one making the calls.” 

“Can you somehow tune into this Magdala?” asked Cardinal, but Audrey shook her head and said, “It’s very odd; I don’t get a thing from her. Usually with anyone within a reasonable distance you get a trace of something, but Magdala, whoever she is, seems to be able to shield her thoughts.” 

Cardinal visited his brother in law, Tony, an ex-employee of Plessey who had now set up his own telecommunications company. Tony had developed a minicomputer the size of a shoebox that could trace incoming calls to any telephone. 

A court order was needed to use it, but Cardinal begged Tony for the box and assured him he’d take all responsibility if the law found out what he was doing. The box had just been connected to Mansell’s telephone in his study when it started to ring. Mansell answered it and said, “It’s her!” 

Audrey concentrated – and saw the caller’s face. It was pale and she got the impression the caller was dead. A ten-digit number appeared on the call tracer box, and Mansell wrote it down. 

Audrey suddenly said to Mansell: “She’s telling the truth! You abused her and many others when she was young and when she told on you, no one believed her – and she killed herself. She’s dead.” 

Mansell’s face turned red, and he bawled: “Cardinal – you and this woman are no longer employed by me! Leave now!” 

Cardinal traced the number later that evening – a telephone box outside a cemetery less than a mile from Mansell’s farmhouse, and the receiver was still hanging from its cord. 

Cardinal and Audrey saw the ghostly girl looking at them near the cemetery gates, and then she vanished. A month later, Mansell was found dead in his study, his eyes bulging in terror; had Magdala paid him a visit? 

All Tom Slemen’s books and audiobooks are available from Amazon.

 

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