Title: One Foot in the Grave
Word Count: 3,303
Summary: Jonathan and Maddy puzzle through the clues at the crime scene of their latest twisted mystery – a seemingly impossible murder, committed in an abandoned cemetery.
Author's Note: Written for myxstorie, on commission for the 2011 help_japan fandom charity auction.
Disclaimer: The Jonathan Creek concept, storyline, and characters are © 1997 – 2010 David Renwick/BBC Entertainment/BBC Drama. No money is being made from the creation of this material. No copyright infringement is intended.
Jonathan Creek brushed an errant branch away from his face. "Tell me again what we're doing here," he deadpanned, shooting an unamused look to the companion at his side.
"Oh, come on, Jonathan," Maddy Magellan cajoled, pushing through the dark, dank underbrush, shining the beam of her flashlight to the high stone wall just ahead of them. "Aren't you the one who always wants to return to the scene of the crime, figure out how it's done?"
"No," he groused, pulling the sides of his duffel coat closer around himself. The bite of the cold October wind cut across his features, serving to only deepen his scowl.
Maddy looked back at him, giving him her best pleading look. "Yes, but even you have to admit, this one's a real stumper," she reminded him sweetly. "Aren't you even the least bit curious?"
He pursed his lips. She knew full well the level of his curiosity, given that she'd managed to get him out here. Still, he wasn't about to let her have the last word. "Not enough to go traipsing around a cemetery at all hours of the night," he shot back, ducking under a particularly low branch as he followed her, however reluctantly.
Maddy frowned as she crouched next to the wall. "Will you keep your voice down?" she hissed, shooting a worried look towards the guard stand a few feet away. She took a deep breath and began moving in the opposite direction, shining her light over her path. "Now, listen," she began, "let's stick to the plan, okay? We'll follow this wall all the way round, until we come to the approximate placement of Karl Marx's grave, and then you'll give me a boost over – "
"Or," Jonathan cut in from behind her, bringing her a lurching halt, "we could just go through the gate."
Maddy rolled her eyes, heaving a heavy sigh as she heard the creaky old gate swing open. "You and your tedious logic," she huffed, turning on her heel to follow him inside. Normally it cost a small fee to enter the gates of the cemetery, but she wasn't above sneaking in without paying the toll.
The two walked in silence, stealing through the abandoned-looking east side of the old Highgate Cemetery in north London on quiet feet. The graveyard was as silent as a stone, rather unusual for a night like this. Trees, flowers, and shrubs were allowed to grow wild on the grounds, unhindered by human touch, and it was considered a safe haven for all sorts of animals. The guards had even commented a few days previous on the different species of nocturnal birds who usually filled the night air with their song.
But tonight, all was quiet, almost eerily so. The weather had already taken a turn for the bitterly cold, the breeze swaying through the highest branches of the trees, causing them to rattle and shake ominously. Maddy swallowed hard, concentrating on keeping the beam of light steady as they moved forward, picking their way through the overgrown graves. She stuck close to Jonathan, who ambled ahead as if he had not a care in the world, and, not for the first time, wondered how he managed to carry himself so confidently, and yet so guardedly.
Something darted across her feet just then, and it took every fiber of her being to keep from gasping out loud. She swallowed hard, casting her eyes towards the pitch black sky. It was the night of All Hallows Eve, very nearly a year to the day of the mysterious death they were investigating. Though she wasn't usually one to be taken in by stories of ghosts or other, macabre creatures of Halloween, she also wasn't one to tempt fate by hanging around cemeteries in the dead of night. The man who was murdered did believe in such things, however, and considering the grisliness of the crime – not to mention the mystery surrounding it – it seemed worth it to check out this, his biggest fear.
"There it is," Maddy whispered, tugging on Jonathan's coat as they approached the grave of interest. "That's where he died."
"Fitting," Jonathan remarked, allowing his eyes to linger over the ostentatiously carved monument that marked the grave of Karl Marx. "The man was considered the devil by many in his day."
"Ha ha," Maddie deadpanned, a shiver racing down her spine as she clutched at her companion's arm. She ducked behind a nearby headstone, pulling Jonathan down beside her. "Now look," she whispered, peeking out from around the marker. "According to the story, this guy, Mifflin, was convinced that the devil came round on Halloween night, playing the danse macabre and raising the dead from their graves."
"And you buy this?" Jonathan asked skeptically. "Come on, even you have to admit this is silly."
Maddy arched a brow. "Sillier than sitting in a blind, waiting for a bunch of badgers to come out and feed?"
Jonathan rolled his eyes. "At least badgers are real creatures," he argued under his breath.
"All right," Maddy said, heaving an exaggerated sigh as she elbowed him in the ribs. "So I'm desperate, okay? Look – something killed Mifflin on this night a year ago. All of our other leads have gone nowhere, and this is the only thing we haven't checked out for ourselves." She shot him a look. "And don't tell me it's silly," she warned him. "You're the one who's always saying to look at what's possible, instead of what's probable. Maybe we'll find our answers tonight, if we can see for ourselves what Mifflin was up against."
"Fine," Jonathan relented, settling down on his haunches. He wrapped his arms around his knees in an attempt to keep his body heat from escaping. "How much longer are we going to sit here?"
"The devil comes due at midnight, yes?" Maddy checked her watch, switching off the beam of her flashlight. "We've only a couple of minutes now…"
The two sat in silence as they waited for time to pass, Jonathan staring pointedly at the damp ground in front of him as Maddy crouched beside him, almost fearful of what she might see as she peeked around the marker they were hiding behind. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, so loud it was beginning to pound in her ears, as the wind continued to sway through the trees above, gusting up as the minutes ticked by.
Both were nearly startled out of their skin when the bells of the nearby church rang, the deep, ominous tones marking the moment of midnight. Maddy found herself holding her breath, forcing her eyes to stay open as she leaned around the marker, her gaze trained to the grave just ahead. Moonlight filtered through the trees surrounding the back wall of the cemetery, illuminating the monument that marked Marx's grave, giving the figure atop it a menacing look.
At that moment, something rustled in the nearby shrubbery.
Maddy shrieked, feeling herself tumbling backwards, only to be caught at the very last second by her erstwhile companion.
"It's just a fox," Jonathan whispered, helping her upright once more. He took the flashlight from her hands and shined a bright beam a few feet away, into the dense underbrush, illuminating a pair of iridescent eyes. He squeezed her shoulder with his free hand.
Maddy sighed, pushing herself to her feet. "Well, so much for that theory," she grumbled, busying herself with brushing errant bits of grass and dirt from her clothes. She turned away from her companion, hoping to hide the hot flush of embarrassment that had risen to cover her cheeks.
Jonathan shook his head as he stood beside her. "You didn't really expect anything to come of it, did you?" he said skeptically, his question more of a declaration. He moved away from her, approaching the marker of Marx's grave and inspecting it closely. Maddy watched as he walked all the way around it, trailing one hand over its base. She was at a loss to explain the circumstances surrounding the mysterious Mifflin's death, especially now that she had witnessed exactly nothing with her own eyes.
"Let's go through it again," Jonathan said, breaking the silence of the night air as he circled back around. "The answer is here, we're just not seeing it quite yet."
Who can see anything in the dark? Maddy mused to herself, though she wisely kept from voicing the comment. It had been her doing that they were out there in the middle of the night, after all. Instead, she reached into her bag for her reporter's notebook, which she quickly turned to the pages containing her notes. She moved closer to Jonathan, eager to have a bit of light again, though she practically had the details of the crime memorized by now.
"This Mifflin character was discovered early Halloween morning, one year ago today, fallen across the grave of Karl Marx here in the east portion of Highgate Cemetery," she began. "He was lying face down in a pool of his own blood, a wooden stake driven through his back. A freak snowstorm had blown up sometime during the night, freezing his blood and his body where he lay, but there were no tracks anywhere around his body, and no fingerprints on the stake, suggesting he was the only person here in the cemetery when he died." She fumbled in her oversized purse, drawing out a police evidence bag. "And lying on top of him was a single tarot card, the origins and meaning of which are still unknown."
"Hmm," Jonathan mused, taking the card. "It's certainly an interesting choice of calling card, don't you think?"
"But what meaning does it have?" Maddy asked, tapping her pen absently against the pad. "Its card number five, the Hierophant – not something interesting and conceivably related to a murder, like the Devil card, or the Death card. So – what does it have to do with this? What does it have to do with a dead body found abandoned in a graveyard on Halloween night?"
Jonathan shrugged. "Maybe nothing," he conceded, turning the bag over in his hands. "Or maybe everything."
Maddy considered him for a long moment. "What are you thinking?" she asked, wishing for the hundredth time that she understood how his brain worked. "Nothing's turned up – no fingerprints, no clue as to who it belongs to."
"And what about the witness?" he asked, suddenly changing topic as if he hadn't heard her question. "This friend of the deceased, who brought the story to your attention?"
Maddy pursed her lips. "Ah, yes," she hedged, glancing at her notes again. "Mifflin's best friend, a Mr. Charles Bankhead. He's a self-described paranoid schizophrenic, and I must say – that's not far off the mark." She sighed, thinking back to her previous meetings with Bankhead. There was certainly something off about him, the manner he had of staring off into space for long moments, muttering to himself about weather patterns and ticking off on his fingers, cutting his eyes from side to side whenever someone else came nearby. He wasn't the most reliable person in the world, and under any other circumstances, she would've dismissed him without another thought, but something about his story intrigued her. Digging into it, there was enough there to convince her that he was telling the truth – there was just something wrong with the scenario the police had envisioned, a macabre suicide of an actively hallucinating man. Mifflin hadn't killed himself, after all – who had the ability to drive a stake through their own back?
"Hmm," Jonathan hummed, turning his attention to a nondescript tree nearby. "Very interesting."
Maddy stared at him, trying to discern what he was puzzling over now. So far as she could tell, Bankhead was a mere bystander in the entire affair – he'd found Mifflin's body, and had been so distraught over the discovery that he'd been committed to the hospital and kept in the psychiatric ward for nearly a week.
"Well," Jonathan said after a moment. "That's how it was done."
Maddy shook herself. "What?" she blurted out incredulously. "What do you see?"
He pointed up into the tree. "There," he said, as if it was as plain as the nose on her face.
She followed his line of vision, seeing the fork in the branches. "What are you telling me?" she asked. "The killer was hiding in the tree?" She shot a skeptical look at him. "It was a monkey or something?"
Jonathan huffed an exasperated sigh. "No," he said emphatically, taking her arm and walking over to the spot where Mifflin's body had been found. He looked up. "Now do you see it?"
She lifted her eyes, a cold chill reverberating through her body when she realized she was standing directly beneath the spot he'd pointed out. "He was ambushed," she breathed, suddenly finding the scenario all too easy to believe.
Jonathan nodded gravely. "By someone with enough skill to fall gracefully to the ground," he contended. "Although, who needs to be graceful, when there's something to break your fall?"
Maddy shuddered at the gruesome image. "So this person waited for Mifflin to come out," she speculated, gazing over at Marx's grave, the figure atop the marker looking like a menacing beacon in the night. "And they just…?"
"Staked him," Jonathan supplied. "The force of propelling oneself off that branch would be more than enough to drive a thick wooden stake through someone's back, pinning them to the ground."
"But why?" Maddy asked. "Who would go through so much trouble to kill, instead of using a gun or a knife?"
"Ah," Jonathan murmured, holding up the card once more. "That's where this comes into play."
Maddy took it from him, turning it over and over in her hands. "What are we looking at?" she asked. "Is this supposed to tell us who murdered him? Was it someone from the church? Or someone with a higher sense of justice?" She wrinkled her brow. "Someone hunting supernatural creatures?"
Jonathan shook his head. "No," he said, "this card doesn't tell us about the killer – it tells us about the victim."
Maddy frowned. "Then how does it help us find the killer? A killer, I might add, who managed to spirit himself away from the scene of the crime without leaving any hint of his presence."
"One thing at a time," Jonathan advised, "and I promise, it'll all make sense." He gestured to the card she held. "Do you know anything about tarot?"
"Do you?" she shot back. "I didn't think you one for occultist leanings."
"Tarot started out as a card game," he informed her, "used for such things as parlour tricks and cartomancy. The whole system of divination thing came later, when the religious mystics took hold of the deck and began reading meaning into the images on its cards."
He pointed to the card she held in her hand. "The Hierophant has many meanings, but for this card, from this version of the deck – it speaks to dogmatism, rigidity of thought and belief, a moral superiority and strong sense of right and wrong." He glanced at her, seeing the confusion in her expression. "Was the card found right side up or upside down?"
"Does it matter?" she rejoined, having a sinking feeling that it did, indeed.
"Held upright," he demonstrated, taking the card from her, "it represents organized religion." He turned it so that it was pointing upside down. "Held downward, it represents the intervention of a master or guru into life's affairs." He gave her a meaningful look. "Someone who intercedes on our behalf, believing themselves to know a better path than the one we choose for ourselves."
She swallowed hard, finally cottoning onto his meaning. "Like a friend," she said softly, another chill rumbling down her spine.
He nodded gravely. "Exactly."
"But that still doesn't explain how the killer got away," she reminded him, taking a step closer, suddenly feeling even more exposed for standing in the place where a man was murdered.
Jonathan sighed. "That's the hardest bit to wrap your mind around," he conceded, "but the only way to piece this together is to look at it from the other angle. What if our Mr. Bankhead, the self-professed lunatic, is nothing of the sort?"
Maddy glanced down at her notes on him and her meetings with him. "There's definitely something off about him," she argued. "Even you know that – you've met him."
"I have," Jonathan said, "and the more I think back to those meetings, the more convinced I am he's not really psychotic. He has too good a grasp of reality to be as delusional as he seems. No, I think he's actually very clever – clever enough to construct this entire façade after the fact to cover his tracks."
Maddy shook her head. "What does that have to do with escaping the scene without leaving a trace? There was two feet of snow on the ground when the body was found – "
"Precisely," Jonathan cut in. "Fresh snow."
"But who can predict the weather?" Maddy argued. "Who would know that was the exact moment to comment a crime, only to have Mother Nature cover his tracks? It was a freak snowstorm, a once in a lifetime occurrence!" She shook her head. "That's one hell of a coincidence."
"But it's not a coincidence," Jonathan replied. "Even freak snowstorms follow a weather pattern. A wide, vague, esoteric pattern, but a pattern nonetheless." He gave Maddy another chance to draw the conclusion on her own. "And who do we know who's obsessed with the weather?"
Maddy nodded. "Bankhead," she supplied. "That was one of the traits of his psychosis – delusional obsession with weather."
"So put it all together," Jonathan urged, giving her the card back.
"Bankhead killed his only friend," she said slowly, turning the pages in her notebook. "He knew Mifflin believed in the occult, believed in the devil and the danse macabre. He lured him out here, ambushed him from the tree, killed him with a wooden stake, and left the tarot card as his signature. And all along he knew of the impending snowstorm, and knew his crime wouldn't be discovered." She shook her head. "He set it up to look like Mifflin had died of his own worst fear – interrupting the devil's dance, and being killed because of it. So now the only question is – why?"
Jonathan shrugged. "That's the last piece of the puzzle," he agreed, "and when you uncover that, you'll know how to nail him."
Heavy silence stretched between them for a long moment.
Finally, Maddy threw up her hands. "This is why I'll never understand friendship between crazies," she declared, stuffing her notes back in her bag.
Jonathan glanced at her, looking amused. "You don't consider our friendship lunacy of the highest order?"
She pouted. "You wound me, Jonathan," she replied cheekily. "You know you're in this because secretly, deep down, under those layers of smarminess, you're really quite fond of me."
Jonathan rolled his eyes. "I'm also fond of a warm fire and a cup of hot tea," he grunted. "Which – I think you owe me both, after dragging me out here in the middle of the night." He pushed ahead of her, wrapping his coat around himself as he crunched through the brush.
She hurried to catch up with him. "You know you like these mysteries," she chided lightly, taking his elbow and sending a winning smile in his direction. "Or maybe, you just like me?"
She couldn't be sure of it, striding as quickly as they were through the dark, but she thought she caught the hint of a smile cross his lips, which warmed her more than any fire ever could.