'Glastonbury' - A Novel by Brian L Porter

A Joe Cutler Mystery/Thriller

An exceprt - Introduction, Chapter 1

Introduction

 

Glastonbury! The name itself conjures up mental images of the England of long ago. Here in the heart of the ancient county of Somerset, stands the home of the first above-ground Christian church in England, the ruins of a centuries old abbey and the whole town is overlooked by the imposing Glastonbury Tor, with the crumbling remains of St Michael’s Chapel standing at its head overlooking the swirling green countryside that surrounds the town. Glastonbury throbs with legend; it is said the bones of Joseph of Arimathaea were laid to rest here, as were the mortal remains of the legendary King Arthur. The Arthurian connection is strong in Glastonbury with many believing it to be the site of Arthur’s Camelot. Could it have been the home of the famed round table? Did the Knights who formed that noble group, Gawain, Lancelot and Co really tread this ground? Was the Holy Grail really brought here all those years ago? Is it still here, buried in some long forgotten secret niche known only to those whose bones have long since crumbled to nothing beneath the marshes and mires that once swirled around the Tor, once an island rising up from the wetlands of Somerset, and now cast adrift upon the land-locked plains of South-West England?

            For many Glastonbury is a hallowed place, a town where history and the present exist hand in hand, where the souls and the ghosts of history encroach every so often on the lives of those who exist in tandem with their memory and who walk where they once walked, talk in the quiet places they once conversed in, and who tread lightly when the sun goes down and the moon rises over the forbidding and compelling hill that stands as an eternal sentinel over the town and keeps it’s secrets hidden from those who would pry too deep.

Into this land of myth, magic and legend comes a small group of professionals, hired by a mysterious and wealthy entrepreneur who professes to have acquired a map that will reveal the hiding place of one of the most magical and famed emblems of Arthurian legend. For Joe Cutler, Winston Fortune and Sally Corbett fame, wealth and riches could be just around the corner, but first they have a job to do, a job that will lead them into far more dangerous corners of this place of myth and legend than they could possibly have foreseen.  As the rain falls on Glastonbury they wait and prepare their equipment for the job ahead, and a new Glastonbury mystery waits to be unravelled.

Prologue

 

            A pale and baleful moon looked down upon the green landscape below as the five men moved silently across the wet and marshy surface of the field. Apart from the leader who walked ahead the other four were burdened by the weight of the load that they shared between them. The load had felt heavy enough when they’d started, now it was becoming heavier with every step. Their arms were becoming leaden, their muscles ached, and a great sigh of relief issued from each of the four when the leader stopped, raised his hand and uttered the one word:

            “Here.”

            They slowly placed the heavy lead-lined boxes upon the grass and untied the shovels that were strapped to the top, adding to the weight. Under the orders of the tall man who’d brought them to this spot they began to dig, first cutting rectangular sods of turf from the ground, pieces that would later be fitted back into place to disguise the burial place. Next, they dug deep, almost as deep as the height of a man, a task made easier by the softness of the earth, but also harder by the degree of fatigue they felt from carrying the heavy load.

            Two hours later it was done; the last pieces of turf were being carefully re-laid to cover the traces of the burial. They were well away from any regular byways and it was unlikely that anyone would find the place before the turf had knitted itself back into place. To all intents and purposes the hole was perfectly hidden, its contents safely interred in the earth.

            With the moon as sole witness to the burial of the heavy lead-lined boxes and their contents the five men looked back just once as they left the field, their leader taking time to pause and mark the burial site on a map he carried tucked into his belt. Soon, the men had gone, the field lay silent and only the moon would know that they had been in this place that night, and of course, the moon would never tell.


Chapter 1

 

            A faint grey wash of daylight breaking through the crack in the curtains signalled the coming of morning. Joe Cutler stirred beneath the warmth of the duvet, listening to the steady drip of raindrops falling from the gutter to land on the ground below. Rain, bloody awful rain, third day in a row. No work again, they couldn’t do a thing as long as this damned rain persisted. He and his team needed dry weather, solid ground beneath their feet, not the soggy morass that presented itself as long as this perpetual downpour lasted. Even then, when it finally stopped they’d have to wait for the ground to dry out before they could recommence the job and the more time they lost the more money they lost, or rather didn’t earn.

            Capshaw was paying them to get results, not sit around checking their equipment day after day, and Cutler’s frustration was mounting. It was possible of course under normal circumstances to work in the rain, but the low-lying ground in this part of England meant that three days of steady rain had turned the ground into a veritable quagmire, and any attempts to achieve results were doomed to failure. No, Cutler knew that he was destined for another irritating and annoying day of relative inactivity, with nothing but the company of his two friends and employees and the sights of Glastonbury to fill what should have been his working day.

            Tempted for a moment to pull the duvet back over his head and return to the land of dreams, Cutler thought better of it, and instead swung his feet over the side of the bed, stretched, then ran his fingers through his well-tousled hair. Standing, he walked to the window and opened the thin curtains, allowing his eyes to take in the sight of the miserable downpour that had brought operations to a standstill. In the distance the ruined tower of St Michael was visible atop the legendary Glastonbury Tor and reminded Cutler just why he was here.

            After a hasty shower in the tiny shower room which went with his room, (Mrs Cleveley’s Guest House wasn’t quite the Hilton Hotel), Cutler made his way down to the dining room for one of the landlady’s superb home-cooked breakfasts. At £30 a day for bed, breakfast and evening meal Cutler certainly wasn’t complaining about the standards of cuisine or comfort at the guest house, though with the bill for all three of them running at just over £600 a week, Capshaw’s £2,000 advance certainly wouldn’t last long if the rain refused to let up.

The others had beaten him to it. As he walked into the well lit dining area on the ground floor the smiling faces of Winston Fortune and Sally Corbett greeted him from a table positioned under the large bay window that looked out upon the street.

Cutler made his way over to them and sat down next to the large Jamaican who had become not only a trusted employee, but one of his closest friends. Sally Corbett was opposite the two men, a cup of coffee in her hand as her boss seated himself.

“I don’t know what the hell you two have got to look so happy about,” said Cutler in response to the smiles from his friends.

“Good morning to you too Boss,” came the response from Sally.

“Yeh man, like, how are you today?” This from Winston Fortune.

“How am I today? You dare to ask me how I am today? Hell, Winston, we’ve been here for three days now, and apart from walking around the gift shops and sheepskin factory shops, and checking and rechecking and calibrating and recalibrating every damned piece of equipment in the van, we’ve done bugger all, and you ask me how I am today?”

“Wow, someone got out of bed the wrong side today, that for sure,” said the big Jamaican.

“This rain can’t last for ever Boss, we’ll get the job done, we always do,” said Sally, the youngest member of the team, and at five feet and half an inch tall (she always stressed the half-inch), by far the shortest. Sally Corbett was twenty four, pretty in an academic sort of way, and purposely kept her hair cut on the short side, as much of her work involved being stuck in dirty holes in the ground which would have made long hair wholly impractical. Cutler held his hand up to interrupt the flow of the conversation.

“Hmm, yes, the usual please,” said Cutler as Mrs Cleveley came striding towards the table, smiling as always.

“Right Mr Cutler, two boiled eggs, toast and coffee it is then,” and she scurried off back towards the kitchen.

“As I was saying,” he continued, “Capshaw is paying us to find the bloody thing, not sit on our backsides all day. We started off with a two week contract to do the job and this will be the third day we’ve lost already. May I remind you my wonderful employees that the advance I received is going to pay for this wonderful lap of luxury in which we’re currently ensconced, and that once I’ve paid the marvellous Mrs Cleveley for our two week stay there won’t be much left to go around unless we do something to earn our fee?”

“But Capshaw will still pay us won’t he Boss?” asked Fortune.

“Sure, he’ll pay us. But do I need to remind you that we only get a flat fee if we see out the job and find nothing? The big bonus is only payable if we actually find what he’s looking for.”

“Yeh, like that’s going to happen” joked Fortune.

“You know, I have to agree with Winston on this one. I think you’ve really flipped this time,” jibed Sally.

“Listen you two doubters, I’ve seen the original document; he showed it to me spread out on his desk. I’ve no reason to doubt his sincerity or belief that the thing is genuine, and if it is and we can solve the puzzle of its location, then we’ll share in the rewards that such a find will bring. You’ve both seen the copy he gave me, I know it’s not the same as feeling the real thing in your hand, but believe me, that thing was old, very old.”

“These things can be faked you know,” said Sally.

“Sure they can, and maybe someone made a mint by selling old Capshaw a dummy document and then doing a runner,” Winston continued.

“Listen, I don’t think a reputable man like Malcolm Capshaw would be taken in by a fake document. He’s very wealthy, very knowledgeable and from what I’ve heard, not a man to cross in either his business or personal life.”

“So you think it’s the real deal then, eh Boss?” asked Fortune.

“If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be sitting here now waiting for the bloody rain to stop would we you moron?”

“Rain, rain, go away, come again another day,” Sally sang the old childhood rhyme.

“Don’t come back at all.” Cutler snapped as he looked out the window at the steady incessant precipitation that seemed to be drowning his prospects of achieving what his cohorts already thought of as being wildly impossible.

Mrs Cleveley chose that moment to arrive at the table with two plates of scrambled eggs, ordered by Fortune and Corbett before Cutler had made his entrance.

“Here we are my dears,” the landlady chimed in her sing-song sweet Somerset accent. “Yours will be along in a minute Mr Cutler. They say the rain’ll stop later this morning, I just heard it on the radio.”

“I hope you’re right Mrs Cleveley, I really do,” he replied quietly as she scurried off to fetch his breakfast.

Twenty minutes later the three of them gave up their seats under the window and made their way to Cutler’s room where he quickly unlocked his briefcase and removed the copy of the document that Malcolm Capshaw had showed him two short weeks ago.

“Right then, let’s just go over this again, in the hope that the rain does stop and the ground dries out enough for us to start the search sometime tomorrow.”

“OK Boss, you’re the boss,” said Winston Fortune as he stretched his large frame out along the side of Cutler’s bed.

Sally Corbett sat demurely at the foot of the bed; her legs tucked under herself as Cutler unfolded the document and placed it on the bed where the three of them could see it clearly.

The paper he placed on the bed was a copy of something that definitely looked old. Most of the wording was indecipherable to the three of them, being written in what we today refer to as Old English, though the words seemed to have something of a hint of French or perhaps even ancient Latin to their untrained eyes. Whatever the words were, they were faded so far as to make most of the script unreadable, perhaps even to an expert in languages. What made the document so interesting however, and perhaps so potentially valuable was the one word which was still quite visibly etched in centuries old ink towards the end of the first line at the top of the document.

As the other members of the Strata Survey Company looked on, Joe Cutler, owner and chief survey engineer of the company he’d started three years ago traced the index finger of his right hand slowly across the page, allowing his finger to stop directly below the word that had convinced him to take the job when Capshaw had called him and invited him to a meeting in his office. Hell, if they were successful it would put him and his company on the map big time, he knew that such a find would bring him instant recognition, and the contracts would come pouring in.

“You know of course that most people don’t even think Arthur existed and that if he didn’t then this is just a wild goose chase.” said Sally.

“Will you just listen?” Cutler replied. If Capshaw was convinced then for what he’s prepared to pay us for succeeding we at least ought to try.”

“OK boss man, we’re all ears,” said Winston Fortune as he waited for Cutler to speak. “Go ahead and tell us again just how we’re going to find King Arthur’s Excalibur!”


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