Chapter 9 THE PROMISE
PART TWO - JUNI Chapter 9 THE PROMISE Dervish regards the cave with something close to religious awe when he enters. For a long minute he doesn't even glance at where I'm hunched over Loch. His attention is fixed on the walls, the roof, the formations, the waterfall. Then Bill-E nudges him softly and mumbles, "Over there." Dervish snaps to his senses and advances. "Billy told me what happened," he says, still several metres away. "How is he?" "Fine-" I say and Dervish smiles "-for a dead man." The smile vanishes. He slows. Behind him, Bill-E covers his mouth with his hands, stifling a sob or a scream. "You're sure?" Dervish asks softly. "Check for yourself," I say hollowly. "Prove me wrong." My face crinkles. "Please." Dervish kneels and gently pushes me away. He examines Loch. Rolls his eyelids up. Puts his ear to the dead wrestler's chest. Goes through all the same resuscitation tricks that I tried. I don't bother telling him that he's wasting his time. Let him find out for himself. Eventually he draws back, saddened-but worried too. He looks at me. Then at Bill-E. "Tell me again what happened." "He slipped," Bill-E moans. "I tried to grab him but I couldn't reach." "There was nobody else in the cave?" Dervish presses sharply. He looks at me and licks his lips. "Nothing else?" "No," Bill-E cries. "No," I whisper. "You're sure?" Dervish asks, voice low, directing the question just to me this time. "It's important. You were alone? The three of you? You're sure?" I nod slowly, confused. "I tried to save him," Bill-E sobs. "But he was too big. Even if I'd caught him, he'd have dragged me down with him, isn't that right, Grubbs? It wasn't my fault. Please, Dervish, don't say it was my fault." "Of course it wasn't," Dervish sighs. "It was an accident." He rubs his chin, troubled. He stands, looks around, glances at the waterfall and the spot Loch fell from. Doesn't mention the crack-he hadn't seen the wall before I howled and split the rock so he assumes it's a natural feature. "Is there anything you can do?" I ask. "Any spells...?" "No," Dervish says plainly. "He's beyond help." I fight back tears. "Will the ambulance be here soon? Maybe they-" "Nobody can do anything!" Dervish snaps. "He's dead. You've seen death before. Don't ask the impossible. You're not a child." I stare at my uncle, stunned by his harsh tone. It sounds like he's criticising me for caring about my friend, as though that's wrong. Dervish catches my look and his expression softens. "This is bad. And not just because Loch is dead." He looks around again, nervously. "I didn't call for an ambulance." "What?" I explode. "But-" "He's dead," Dervish says as if that explains everything. "An ambulance wouldn't have helped." "But you didn't know that when you came," I shout. "When Bill-E fetched you, Loch was alive. Why didn't you phone for help? Maybe they could have got here before you. Maybe Loch would be alive if-" "Billy, come here," Dervish interrupts me. Bill-E approaches slowly, fearfully, trying not to look at Loch. Dervish keeps me silent with a fierce frown. I want to scream bloody murder, but I bite my tongue, waiting to hear my uncle out. When Bill-E's a metre or so away from us-the closest he's going to come-Dervish speaks. "What happened tonight is a tragedy. I feel for you, honestly, even though I'm not showing it. We'll talk about this after. I'll give you all the support I can, make it as easy for you as possible. But right now I have to be hard. And I have to ask something hard of you." He pauses. Again a nervous glance around. "As far as the official verdict goes, Loch can't have died here," Dervish says. "I'll explain later. Right now you have to trust me. We need to move the body. Make it look like this happened somewhere else. Cover up the entrance to the cave and tell nobody about it. Understand?" Bill-E and I gawp at him. "Please," Dervish says. "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't crucial." "You want to... tamper... with the body?" Bill-E croaks. "I just want to move it," Dervish says. "We'll take it to the quarry. You can say you were climbing there. We'll call the emergency services once we-" "Bloody hell, Dervish!" I yell. "Loch is dead and you're playing games? What sort of heartless-" "You're not listening!" Dervish roars, losing his temper. He glares at me. "Let me say it again- this is crucial. This cave has been hidden for hundreds of years for a very good reason. It must be hidden again." "Hidden?" I whisper and Dervish nods. "You mean you knew about it?" "I didn't know the exact location but I knew it existed." Dervish is white-lipped. "The entrance was deliberately blocked off many centuries ago. We'll have to fill it in again." He stands and offers his left hand to me, his right to Bill-E. I don't want to take it but his eyes tell me I must. Bill-E is even slower to accept the hand but eventually he takes it too. "You've got to promise," Dervish says. "Promise you'll back me up, lie for me, say this happened in the quarry, tell nobody about the cave. On all that's holy to you... in the name of your dead mothers... promise." "And if we don't?" I ask stiffly. Dervish smiles bitterly. "I could force you but I won't." He squeezes our hands tightly. "You both know that we live in a world that's not the exclusive domain of humans. There are other forces. Demonic forces. This cave could be valuable to them. If we don't handle this right, demons will benefit and Loch won't be the only one who dies. Will you promise?" Neither of us says anything. Dervish sighs wearily. "I'll tell you more about it later. You can retract your promise then, if you feel I didn't have good reason to ask for it. But there isn't time now. We have to work quickly, get Loch to the quarry and phone for the police straightaway. If we delay, it will show on an autopsy. It'll be risky, no matter how we play it, but if we don't act now, while we have the advantage of time, it will be a lot harder. For all of us." Bill-E and I share a look. Neither of us knows what this is about but we trust Dervish. He's saved both our lives in the past. "You swear you'll explain?" I ask, voice shaking hoarsely. "I swear." "Then I promise." Dervish smiles gratefully and looks to Bill-E. "OK," Bill-E says weakly. "In the name of your mother?" Dervish presses, hearing a wavering tone in Bill-E's promise. Bill-E hesitates, then nods. "In the name of my mother." Dervish relaxes and lets go of our hands. "Thank you. This is more important than either of you can possibly realise. It's..." He looks down at Loch and gulps, then mutters under his breath, "At least there wasn't any blood." That reminds me about the mysterious disappearance of Loch's blood. I start to tell Dervish about it... then stop. It isn't important. The blood must have simply seeped through cracks in the ground. I'll only confuse the situation if I speak up now. Dervish bends beside the body, gently touches Loch's pale forehead, then sighs and tugs at his beard. A moment's pause, during which I see how hard he's having to work to cover up his true feelings. Then his expression firms and he moves into professional mode. "Billy, you bring the torches. I'll take the shoulders. Grubbs, grab his legs. And for hell's sake, don't drop him-that's the last thing we need." The next few hours are nightmarish. We carry the body home, load it on to the back of Dervish's motorbike, strap the arms around Dervish and put a helmet on so if anybody sees Loch it'll look like he's a living passenger. I watch them drive away, shivering next to Bill-E, then go indoors and try to drink a mug of hot chocolate in the kitchen. But I'm unable to gulp it down. Dervish comes back for us. Usually he'd only allow one of us to ride behind him, but there's no time to follow the rules of the road. At the quarry, Dervish throws Loch over the uppermost edge of the cliff. The dull thump as he collides with the hard floor brings tears from Bill-E and me. I don't know why Dervish didn't chuck Loch down when he brought him out here. Maybe he wasn't thinking straight. Or maybe he wanted our tears, to make the rest of the charade seem more realistic. I make a phone call. Following Dervish's instructions, I dial the emergency number, report the accident breathlessly, give my details and wait. I wonder why Bill-E and I didn't do that before. We both have mobiles. Why didn't one of us climb out of the cave and ring for an ambulance? Did we simply lose our heads and panic? Or did something in the cave control our actions? The police arrive before the ambulance. Dervish debated whether or not he should stay with us or go home and return after the emergency services got here. In the end he chose to stay, instructing us to tell them that we rang him after calling for help. Everybody here knows Dervish. They know how fast he goes on his bike. The police are always trying to catch him but he's too crafty. They'll assume he tore over here at top speed. They won't like it, but given the tragic circumstances, they're hardly going to make a fuss. Paramedics examine Loch. They do what they can to bring him back to life. But they go about their job sluggishly, without hope, knowing it's too late. They don't cover his face before loading him into the back of the ambulance because they don't want to upset Bill-E and me. But as soon as he's out of our sight, I'm certain the sheet will be pulled up and over. The officer in charge asks to take our statements. Dervish clears his throat and gently suggests phoning Loch's parents first. The officer blushes-he's young, probably hasn't seen a corpse before, temporarily forgot his training. Dervish offers to make the phone call. The officer accepts the offer with a grateful smile. Dervish keeps it quick and to the point. There's been an accident. Loch's been taken to hospital. Says it's serious. Doesn't say Loch's dead. Leaves that for the doctors. Not the sort of news you should break over the phone. Home. The police drive Bill-E and me. Dervish follows on his bike. More hot chocolate. I still can't drink it. Biscuits which I can't eat. Dervish turns on the heating. While the police are talking with us, Dervish rings Ma and Pa Spleen. They arrive before we're finished, splashing out on a taxi for maybe the first time in their lives. Anxious to protect their grandson. Eager to whip him away from the police and their questions. Dervish has to drag them aside and explain that it will be easier if they let the police finish-if we don't do it here, we'll have to go to the police station later. He takes them into the kitchen and plies them with tea and coffee. I imagine them discussing me, Ma and Pa Spleen blaming me for Bill-E being in the quarry after dark, saying I'm responsible for him risking his life on such a dangerous climb-and for Loch's death. The interrogation goes softly. The police don't suspect foul play. They just want to get the facts straight. We tell them we went for a walk. Wound up at the quarry. Went climbing. Loch fell. Bill-E tried to catch him. Couldn't. The end. Kids fool around at the quarry all the time. Every few years some local official vows to block it off. Nobody's ever followed up on the promise, though I think they will after this. The police take the attitude that a fatality was bound to happen sooner or later. Just bad luck that it happened to us. They leave not long after midnight. (How did it get so late so quick?) They say they might return to take follow-up statements, but that shouldn't be necessary. They tell us to take a few days off school, maybe go away for a while. They warn of a possible backlash-parents sometimes overreact in situations like this. Loch's relatives might blame Bill-E and me, hurl insults and accusations at us. The police say we shouldn't be too upset if that happens, to try and understand their position. Bill-E wants to stay the night, hear Dervish out, learn why we had to lie. But Ma and Pa Spleen are having none of it. They want out and fast. They've never liked Dervish and aren't a lot fonder of me. Bill-E's arguments are shot down before they're out of his mouth. Then it's into the back of the taxi which they've kept waiting and home, where they can pour poison in his ear and remind him of all the times they warned him about the grisly Gradys, how we'd lead him astray. Then it's just me and my uncle, alone in our old mansion. A foul smell in the air-the stench of lies and deception. Without discussing it, we retire upstairs to Dervish's study, where we sit on opposite sides of his huge desk, facing each other, me suspicious and wiping away tears, Dervish ashamed and tweaking the hairs of his beard. Time for explanations.