Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Keep Those Things Away From Me - Novel

Stephen Walker, Keep Those Things Away From Me, arrow through heart, novel, black,white
STOP PRESS: This novel will be available for free download, for 24 hours, on April 14th 2016. Make sure to get it before the offer ends.

It's finally here, my senses-shattering fourth novel. The third to feature that all-too gorgeous mad scientist Teena Rama, and the second to feature that all-too useless whipping boy Danny Yates.

Teena Rama's determined to get married. Danny Yates is determined to stop her. It can only lead to a series of events that endanger the survival of the whole human race.

See:

One chest's battle with bureaucracy.

One man's battle with mirrors.

A fashion agent determined to get her woman.

A jungle lord who hunts the deadliest prey of all.

A megalomaniac who can only be accessed via a cancelled bus service.

And a man who'll solve any problem for a fiver.

If you can predict how this novel ends, I fear for you.

92,000 words.

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon.Com and all other worldwide branches of that organisation.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Gockle of Fear - Sample.

A Gockle of Fear by Stephen Walker
In Liz Sanford's latest adventure, the nation's official occult investigator finds herself up against a menace that threatens the government itself, as the true power in this land finds himself a victim of the least likely crime ever.

How do one of the nation's least loved entertainers and the, 'Most evil woods in Britain,' fit into all this?

There's only one way to find out:


A GOCKLE OF FEAR
By Stephen Walker
(Approx 8,000 words)

Friday afternoon, Lou Ferman dragged Liz Sanford, by the wrist, down the aisle of a local cinema. She wouldn't have minded but he'd not even bought her an ice cream.
Under his other arm was a locked suitcase he was holding as though his life depended on it. As far as she could make out, he'd just got back from a, 'Vital, life or death meeting in London that could change the whole future of mankind we know it.'
God alone knew what he'd meant by that.
But God alone knew what he meant by most of the things he said in life. Lou Ferman was her boss - and a bigger idiot you could never hope to find.
Liz Sanford was this nation's official occult investigator. She worked for the government. And it seemed to her like, in eighteen months in this job, the twenty six year old had never known anything that resembled a normal conversation.
Reaching a middle row, he dragged her along it, pulled down a central seat, pushed her down into it, claimed the one next to her, looked around as if in fear of snipers then rested the suitcase on its side on his lap. He whispered, 'Liz Sanford, you must never tell anyone what I'm about to tell you.'
'You do know we have an office?'
'And?'
'You couldn't tell me this there?'
'Might be bugged,' he said.
'What?' she said. 'So you've brought me to a cinema to tell me this secret that no one must ever know? The one place that's guaranteed to be full of people?'
'And is it full of people?'
'I admit it's currently empty. But there was no way you could have known that before we got here and there's no way you can guarantee it's going to stay empty.'
'Look at the screen' he said. 'What strikes you about the film they're showing?'
She looked at the screen. And, after a few moments, she concluded. 'It's in Danish.'
'A foreign language film being shown in Sheffield, what are the chances there's going to be anyone in the cinema?'
'Sheffield's a cosmopolitan place, filled with people of immense cultural sophistication,' she said.
'Says who?'
'The council. In its publicity handouts.'
He looked at her like she had a screw loose.
And then he said it. 'Who runs the country?'
'The Prime Minister,' she said.
'Tsk! Betty Betty Betty.'
'Don't call me Betty.'
'Has no one ever told you the Prime Minister's a mere flunky, a fop and a frippery? This, however, is your lucky day. Why? Because you are about to meet the true power behind the throne.' And, with that, he propped the suitcase vertically on the armrest between them and flipped up the case's latches.
He let its lid fall open.
Its contents tumbled out onto her lap.
And Lou Ferman said, 'Liz Sanford, meet the man with his finger on the nuclear button.'
*
'Well?' said Lou. 'What do you think?'
Liz gazed down at the thing that had landed on her lap. She said, 'It's a ventriloquist's dummy.'
'Correction,' said Lou. 'It's not a ventriloquist’s dummy. It's the ventriloquist's dummy. Liz Sanford, meet Mr Potatoes.'
'And this thing has its finger on the nuclear button?'
'It has its finger on every button that matters in this land.'
She lifted the thing up, letting it dangle, by one arm, from her hand. 'Have you finally gone completely and totally mental?' She asked Lou.
'It's not me that's mental. It's the Prime Minister. You may not know it but, for the last three years, fair Albion has been run by this, an evil ventriloquist's dummy that sits on the Prime Minister's arm in Cabinet meetings and tells him what to do. He can make no decision without it.'
'Are you making this up?'
'You've seen the Prime Minister. You tell me. Do you think he's capable of running a country?'
She had to admit he had a point.
Lou said, 'All through his career, Mr Potatoes has guided him. From Eton to Oxford to Downing Street. Saying things to him. Things too terrible for him to contemplate. There's only one problem.'
'Which is?'
'Last night, someone stole its evil.'
'And this is bad because?'
'Without that evil, it's just a floppy collection of blocks of wood. That means that, right now, there's no one running Britain. That means we're in deep doo-doo. That means, Liz Sanford, that you have to get that dummy its evil back.'
*
'Let me get this straight,' she said. 'You want me to get a dummy its evil back so it can continue running the country?'
'That's right.'
Liz and Lou were in the van, her driving. Heading back to the office, she turned on to St Mary's Road.
She said, 'Lou. Look at me.'
He did.
She said, 'What's my job?'
He said, 'You're this nation's Numero Uno occult investigator.'
'And what does that involve?'
'It involves keeping Britain safe from occult menace.'
'Then why the hell would I help ensure that it's run by an evil dummy?'
'Because, without it, this land'll be thrown into confusion and chaos, with a total blithering idiot in charge. Also, if you don't, that blithering idiot'll sack us and replace us with someone who will do it. Those people won't be as good at their jobs as we are – because they'll have been appointed by an idiot - and we'll all be doomed. Liz Sanford, more than ever, for the good of us all, you have a duty to make sure that evil triumphs.'

You can download the rest of A Gockle of Fear from:

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Adventures By Moonlight.

Stephen Walker, Adventures By Moonlight, short story collection
Hooray! Adventures By Moonlight is my new collection that gathers together all the short stories I published in 2011 and 2012. It also features a specially written story called Adventures In The Moonlight, which I like to think of as the tale that Robert E Howard never dared tell.

That means it's packed with 71,000 words of supernatural doings and occurrences. Thrill to the adventures of occult investigator Liz Sanford as she battles with the forces of darkness - and with her own workmates. See a Victorian super-sleuth who refuses to follow the script. Find out what happens when a metaphorical being loses her lucky hand. All this and a whole lot more besides.

Features the stories:
ADVENTURES IN THE MOONLIGHT.
WAITING FOR THE WIREMAN IN 1974.
LEAVING THE CIRCLE.
THE WEAKEST LINK.
CARRYING.
SEND ME YOUR HORROR.
THE MUMMY SHRUGGED.
STONE.
THE STRANGE CASE OF THE STRANGE CASE OF THE DOG.
WHEN DROMGYDDRU GETS HERE.
WHO THE HELL IS DOMINIC PINE?
STONE DREAMS.
THE DOWNWARD SLIDE.
DON'T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU, SANTA!
GETTING OUT.


You can download Adventures By Moonlight from:
Amazon.Com, Amazon UK and all other good branches of Amazon.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fatal Inheritance: Chapter Nine.

NINE

Fatal Inheritance, Stephen Walker, novel, Liz Sanford, Occult Investigation
Available from:
The moment she got back from her interview, Alison Parker strode into Frank's spare room, flung her cases onto the bed, flung them open and grabbed her clothes from the wardrobe. She stared to pack...
...but the moment the first item of clothing hit the bottom of the first case, her phone rang.
She picked it up from where it lay by her bags, held it against her ear and said, 'Alison Parker Enterprises. We create dreams like cheese creates nightmares.'
'Alison, what the hell're you doing?' It was Liz and she sounded annoyed.
'I'm packing my bags.'
'To do what?'
'To go to Delgado Manor.
'That's what you think. You're unpacking those bags and you're staying where you are.'
'I take it Lou's been in touch.'
'Yes he's been in touch and he's an idiot.'
'He's your boss.'
'I don't care what he is. You're not my assistant and you never will be.'
'Yeah?'
'Yeah.'
'Well maybe you'd better listen to this recording he gave me to play to you at times of friction.'
She took her Dictaphone from by her cases, held it to the phone and pressed Play. It said, 'Betty, I'm your boss. This girl's your assistant. You'd better let her assist you or I'll replace you with a man and make you his secretary.'
Alison pressed Stop then Rewind and, again holding the phone to her ear, said, 'So, what've you got to say about that?'
On the other end, Liz gave a long long sigh. She went quiet. She did something that sounded like pacing. She did something that sounded like stopping pacing. She did something that sounded like more pacing. She stopped pacing. Finally, she said, 'You want to be exposed to danger?'
'Yes I want to be exposed to danger.'
'Right. I'll expose you to danger - and then let's see how you like it. Tonight, the moment the sun sets, I need you to do something for me.'
'Does it involve sticking my job up my arse?'
'No. It involves a drive to Sleeton.'
'Which is?'
'An old abandoned coalfield on the way to Hangerton. According to local legend, since its desertion, it's been haunted by a creature called the Beast of Sleeton. Tonight, I want you to go to that coalfield, I want you to sit in your car in the middle of it and I want you to see if you can find the Beast.'
'Because?'
'From what I've heard since I got here, that thing might be what killed Danny boy.'
'And if I find it?'
'Do nothing. Stay in the car and phone me. Keep your doors and windows locked and, if it makes any move towards you, get out of there. Got that?'
'Got it.'
'And Alison?'
'Yeah?'
'Good luck. Coz if that thing gets its teeth into you, luck's the only hope you'll have.'
*
Liz jabbed off her mobile phone, tossed it on the table to her left and resumed her investigation. Alison wanted to see what sort of things an occult investigator had to deal with? Well now she was going to find out. And if she didn't like what she found out? Tough. She'd dug her own grave, now she was going to have to lie in it.
As for Liz's own investigations, if her chats with the staff had been of little use to her, she had other options available. She'd tried searching the house from front to back and side to side. Now to try up and down.
*
Liz was on the upstairs landing, stood beneath a hatch in the ceiling. According to Rachel, when she'd been showing Liz around, it led up to the roof. Liz grabbed a table from where it stood by the wall, and dragged it to stand under the hatch.
She climbed up onto the table and, with a twist of its handle, opened the hatch. It lifted upwards. She pushed it aside and then, with a jump, hauled herself up through it.
She hauled herself up onto the roof, scrambled to her feet and put the hatch back in place. Now she straightened up, drew a lop of stray hair away from one eye and set off in search of mystic symbols and signs of sacred geometry in the house's layout.
She found none.
All she found were a few time-worn spirettes, the domed glass roof of Delgado's Ritual Room and a pigeon whose condition suggested it had been dead since just before the dawn of time.
*
Search concluded, Liz headed back for the hatch, lifted it, lowered herself through it and dropped down onto the table. She straightened up, grabbed the hatch above her, moved it back into place and secured it. Now she jumped down from the table and pushed it back to where she'd found it.
That was another dead-end explored.
Now for the next.
She made her way downstairs and into the entrance hall where she watched the grandfather clock whose hands were permanently stopped at three-thirty. According to Mrs Hobson, the thing had never worked since it had been installed. That didn't make sense. A clock that didn't work had no use...
...except to hide things.
She moved it away from the wall...
...and found nothing. A few raps at the section of wall behind it proved it concealed no hollowed-out passageways.
She returned the clock to its rightful place, lifted its glass-fronted cowl, set the fingers to the right time, opened its pendulum case and set its pendulum swinging.
It swung for a few moments then stopped.
*
Midnight found Liz in bed, using her laptop to scroll through the background info Lou'd sent her just before telling her he'd appointed Alison.
According to the files, the staff were who they said they were, and each had the back story they'd claimed to have. On top of that, none of them had anything that even resembled a criminal record. They were squeaky clean - either that or they were good at covering their tracks. Right now she wouldn't put it past all of them to have killed Daniel Robinson.
She switched off her laptop, closed its lid and put it by the bed. She flicked off the bedside lamp, slipped her gun under her pillow and laid her head on the pillow. She gazed up at the ceiling, and once again Liz Sanford settled down for a night of trying to be a victim.
*
With a long, slow crunch of gravel, a car came to a halt at the head of a road that had clearly once led to somewhere but didn't any more. It was Alison Parker's VW Beetle and she was here to look for the Beast of Sleeton.
She couldn't deny it, if anywhere looked like a place a mystery beast would haunt, this did; a rubble and house-brick strewn field whose over-long grass seemed to reach out like the fingers of death. A hundred yards away to her right, a skeletal figure scarred the face of a low red moon. It was the towering hulk of a pit winding head.
She switched off her engine, made sure the doors were locked then took her rucksack from the seat beside her. She opened it and retrieved three items; a Thermos flask, a Tupperware box containing her sandwiches, and a pair of binoculars. She rested the flask and box on the rucksack on the seat beside her then concentrated on the binoculars.
According to the man in the shop she'd bought them from, these weren't just any binoculars, they were sniper's binoculars. He'd reckoned they could spot a vacationing president at a mile and a half off. Then, once spotted, you could get your rifle out and pick him off at leisure. 'Pop,' he'd said, 'Bye bye, President.' She'd had the feeling he was a little odd.
Still, he clearly knew his optics. She slipped off the lens caps, put them on the dashboard then held the binoculars to her eyes.
And, leaning forward, Alison Parker peered out into darkness for any signs of a creature that could tear apart a fully armed man.

You can download the rest of Fatal Inheritance from:

Monday, 9 September 2013

Fatal Inheritance: Chapter Eight.

EIGHT

Fatal Inheritance, Stephen Walker, Liz Sanford, novel, occult investigations
Available from:
Alison stood there in Lou Ferman's office, holding the temperature gauge she'd just been given. 'I don't get it. You're giving me the job just like that?'
'Uh huh.'
'Don't there have to be security checks? Reference checks? Background checks? You don't know anything about me. I could be evil. I could be incompetent. I could be lazy, mad or stupid.'
'Are you?'
'No. '
'Then you're fine for the job.'
'But you don't know my strengths, my weaknesses. You've not even heard my twelve-point plan.'
'Does it include her doing a 'fun' calendar?'
'It might do.'
'And her doing a round of in-school puppet shows?'
'It might do.'
He said, 'You know what the trouble with Betty is? No one likes her. That's why she needs books written about her. And she needs calendars and key rings and T-shirts with her on them. I've told her. “Betty, this is the 21st Century. You're a good-looking girl. You have to do the PR thing.” Does she listen? Course she doesn't. She just threatens to smack me one and keeps on alienating everyone she meets. You, Parko, are quite ugly, you look like a frog, but you're sort of cute. Cute is good for PR. And, if you turn out to be evil, well Betty can always shoot you. That's what we pay her for.'
*
You could call her a fashion fascist but, in Liz Sanford's opinion, no one under the age of fifty had any business wearing a fedora. That suggested it hadn't belonged to Daniel Robinson or Tom Radcliffe. It was also hard to believe it had lain undisturbed for twelve years, which implied it hadn't belonged to Valentyne Delgado. It was a safe bet it didn't belong to Mrs Hobson, Rachel or Joe, and that made its presence a mystery.
Within minutes she'd found Mrs Hobson's office halfway down the corridor to the left of the stairs. Not bothering to knock, she walked straight in and found the woman tapping away at a computer.
Hobson paid her no heed. So Liz shut the door behind her, headed for the desk and claimed a chair facing her.
'Mrs Hobson,' she said. 'I need a word with you.'
'In that case you'd better sit down hadn't you?'
She already had.
Liz watched her read the computer screen and said, 'What're you doing?'
'I'm currently in the process of ordering a new weather vane. I'm afraid the big chicken that normally tells us which way the wind blows fell off its perch three nights ago and refuses to reclaim it. Fortunately we have the wonder of the interweb. A remarkable device. Sometimes when you're using it, I swear it's like you're talking to the dead.'
'And have you done a lot of that? Talking to the dead?'
'Not since Valentyne's day. He used to like to impress the more gullible young ladies by holding seances. Nothing gets them leaping into your arms with a shriek quite like a manifestation. I don't know why but, for some reason, he had the notion that my presence would make the process more disturbing. As for you, I take it you came here for something?'
'This hat.'
'You already have that hat.'
'I know but I don't want it. I was wondering if you know where it came from?'
'Leaving aside the fact that the sentence should have been, "From where it came?" I don't have the foggiest. To my knowledge it's been sitting on Little Daniel's desk for a week or so.'
And you don't know how it got there?'
'I'd assume a visitor brought it, though I've never seen one wearing a hat. It's certainly not Daniel's. He was startlingly devoid of anything that even vaguely resembled style. Valentyne sometimes wore one which he claimed he used to hide his eyes of a beast while roaming the back streets of Bolton. That, however, was burnt with him, in accordance with the terms of his will.'
'And Tom Radcliffe?'
'Never wore a hat.'
'Can I have a list of all the visitors Daniel had while he was here?'
'You could if I had one. Sadly, he didn't seem to trust me and insisted on sneaking them in while I was absent. He seemed to be under the impression that I was part of some conspiracy against him. "You want me out!" he used to declare. "Well this is my house now and you'll never get rid of me!"'
'And did you want him out?'
'Miss Parker, it's not my place to decide who should be in possession of this house. More pertinently, the chicken...'
'What about it?'
'It won't pay for its own replacement. Which poses the question of how you're going to fund the manor's upkeep. Do you have a vast personal fortune you can draw upon to subsidize it?'
'Fat chance. I don't know if you know this but I'm a writer.'
'Mr Rowling did mention something along those lines.'
'I was thinking of making a film here.'
'And then?'
'I'll be doing what Tom did. I'll hire it out to people with more money than sense.'
Hobson sighed.
'You don't approve?' said Liz.
'This house, Miss Parker, was built for a specific purpose, the promulgation of occult activity. It seems a complete waste to use it for purposes that any large country house could be used.'
'You'll refuse to co-operate?'
'I'm employed by this house. I do as I'm told.'
'And those original purposes, did you have an involvement in them?'
'I was hired as an administrator, nothing more.'
'From where?'
'You ask a remarkable number of questions, Miss Parker.'
'That's because I'm researching my film. The more I know about the house, its history and that of those in it the better.'
'In that case, I was running a house in Bath - Charnwith Terrace. If you think Belgium is the dullest place on Earth, let me tell you you've never visited Charnwith Terrace. The couple I worked for, Mr and Mrs Respectable, never a surprise, never a shock; "Oh yes, let's have the Hadleys round for dinner and we can discuss property prices and nursery care provision." The smugness of those people. One more week and I'd have done something I'd have refused to be held responsible for. Fortunately, I saw a vacancy here advertised, and applied. It sounded like much more fun.'
'And you did what for Delgado?'
'A house like this doesn't run itself. If Valentyne wanted a filing cabinet, I got him a filing cabinet. If he wanted the roof repaired, I got him the roof repaired. If he wanted a steel gauntlet, I got him a steel gauntlet.'
'A...?'
'Gauntlet of the type a knight in shining armour would wear.'
'And what did he want one of those for?'
'The ritual of the steel fist.'
'And what did that involve?'
'I think you can imagine.'
'How much of what he got up to did you know about?'
'I knew everything,' said Hobson.
'Rachel says Daniel claimed the house contained a secret.'
'He thought all sorts of silliness. He kept claiming there was a creature at his window every night. Well, I've been here for fifteen years and I've never seen any creature.'
'And it didn't strike you as odd that, after two weeks of him telling you a creature was after him, he died in mysterious circumstances?'
'Where's the mystery? He arrived at the manor shortly after a jaunt abroad. He had a tropical disease. He brought it with him. He died. I wouldn't have minded but, thanks to his death, Joseph, Rachel and I had to be tested to make sure we weren't carrying it too.'
'And were you?'
'No.'
'And does this house contain a secret?'
'The only secret this house contains is that it doesn't contain a secret.'
*
Her conversation with Hobson had taken Liz nowhere, so she set off in search of someone more helpful. That meant Rachel who seemed to be as open as Hobson was closed.
When Liz found her, she was in a bare, grey room, arms folded, stood watching a Hotpoint spin.
'What're you doing?' said Liz.
'Watching the washing.'
'Because?'
'It's there.'
'Mind if I ask a few things?' Liz whipped out her note pad. 'As research for my next movie?'
'Am I going to be in it?'
'I'm sure we can fit you in as a zombie or a mummy or Screaming Victim Number One.'
'In that case...' Rachel perched herself on a tumble dryer. '...help yourself.'
Liz held her pencil ready to write. 'How long have you worked here?'
'Only since December. Mrs Hobson hired me. Tom Radcliffe was still the owner then. I think she only hired me to get at him.'
'Because?'
'He hated women. The last dogsbody before me, she couldn't take any more. She quit, saying she never wanted to be in the company of that man again. So what does Mrs Hobson do? She goes right out and hires the first woman she interviews.'
'And he took that how?'
'He kept throwing things at me and saying things like, "Women, women, why must I always be surrounded by them!?! They killed my cousin. I'll not have them kill me!"'
'And what did he mean by that?'
'I've no idea.'
*
Liz found the man called Joe, out round the back of the house and sawing wood.
'What're you doing?' she said.
'Making a coffin,' he said.
'For who?' she said.
'You,' he said.
'Me?' she said.
'You won't be with us for long.' He stopped sawing, looked her up and down, said, 'Five foot eight,' and resumed cutting.
'You don't have much faith in my survival skills do you?'
'If you own this house, you die. Valentyne Delgado didn't survive. Tom Radcliffe didn't survive. Daniel Robinson didn't survive. Why should you?' He went across to collect more wood from a pile by the shed.
The man had a whole array of saws lying around. She picked one up, a fretsaw whose jagged blade she studied. When she'd finished with Joe, she'd be taking it with her and she knew just what to do with it.
Wood collected, Joe returned.
'How long have you worked here?' she said.
He set about marking the latest piece of wood for cutting. 'Since the start. Mrs Hobson hired me. I worked at a house in Derbyshire and she tapped me up.'
'Then you know everything that happened when Delgado was in charge?'
'I know nothing.' He picked up a saw and started cutting the latest plank. 'I'm the handyman. He told me he wanted this hammering, or that sawing, and I did it. That was the beginning and end of my knowing what he did. I'll tell you one thing though. He was working on something.'
'On what?'
'I don't know but towards the end, he'd lock himself away in that study of his and not let anyone see what he was up to.'
'And then?'
'He was killed.'
'By who?'
'No idea.'
'Tom Radcliffe seemed to know.'
'Tom Radcliffe was his cousin. Delgado must've told him things.'
'What things?'
'Things only Tom Radcliffe could tell you, and he's dead.'
'And, in this house, at nights, have you ever heard anything?'
'Like?'
'Rattling, creaking, banging; anything that might sound like something trying to get in?'
'Now you're talking like Robinson. He used to claim he was hearing things trying to get in.'
'And you?'
'When you work in this place, you hear all sorts of things, late at night, in your bed.'
'Mrs Hobson gave me the impression she's never heard a thing.'
'She has the knack of not noticing things she chooses not to notice.'
'And it doesn't bother you, living in a house whose owners tend to die in mysterious circumstances?'
'Why should it? I'm never going to own it.'

You can download the rest of Fatal Inheritance from:

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Fatal Inheritance: Chapter Seven.

SEVEN

Available from:
Liz woke with a start.
She sat upright.
Where was she?
She was in Delgado Manor.
She was in bed.
And she was alive.
Being alive didn't bother her. Whatever its travails, it was still better than the alternative and, at the risk of being presumptuous, she'd expected - one way or another - to still be with us come daybreak. That wasn't the issue.
She climbed out of bed and checked the windows. No sign that anything had tried to get in through them.
She glanced across at the door, and the chair was still propped against it. As far as she could make out, there hadn't even been an attempt on her life, and that didn't make sense.
She climbed back onto the bed, crossed one leg over the other and sat there thinking. According to Carl Seevers, Daniel Robinson had been getting visitations from his very first night there, so why not her? She took a cigarette from the packet by the bed, stuck it in her mouth and lit it.
Moments later the door rattled. Someone was trying to get in, their route blocked by the chair. A greater effort and it shifted, hitting the floor, before being pushed aside by the door opening.
It was Mrs Hobson. Wordless, she strode across to Liz, took the cigarette from the investigator's mouth and crushed it in the palm of her hand. Showing no signs of having been burned by it, she placed the dead butt back in her new employer's mouth. 'Smoking in bed, young lady, costs lives.' And, with that, she headed for the door.
'Mrs Hobson?'
The woman stopped, hand on doorknob, then looked towards Liz.
'In the night,' said Liz, 'did you hear anything?'
'Such as?'
'Noises? Rattlings? Bumpings?'
'Noises?' said the woman. 'Why on Earth would I want to hear anything like that?' And, with a slam of the door, she was gone.
*
First thing that morning found Alison in her best clothes and stood outside a run-down office block up a city centre backstreet. According to the card Frank had given her, it was where she'd find Liz's boss.
She looked the place up and down, waited a moment while she reset her chutzpah to eleven, and went inside.
*
After breakfast Liz started searching the house for whatever secret it was Daniel Robinson had thought it contained.
She didn't find anything.
She didn't find any trapdoors, secret passageways, anomalous rooms, nooks or crannies. She didn't find any patterns in any wallpaper that might have been encoded information, or any arrangement of artworks that might suggest a hidden meaning. She found nothing behind mirrors. She found nothing behind paintings. She found nothing behind drawers. She found nothing in suits of armour.
What she did find was Valentyne Delgado's study. That was hardly a shock, bearing in mind that Rachel had introduced her to it the afternoon before. She stepped inside, closed the door behind her and set about giving its walls a good knocking, in case of hidden chambers.
That got her nowhere, nor did tapping the ceiling with the feet of an upturned wooden chair. So she turned her attention to the one wall she couldn't knock. That was because there was no wall available to knock. It was completely obscured by row after row of leather-bound tomes.
She went across and checked them; Dickens, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Proust, Joyce - A A Milne. Obviously Delgado, if they were his - and the volumes on the occult pointed that way - believed in being well read. She pulled one from its shelf.
It was a dummy.
So was the one beside it.
And the one beside that.
In the entire room, not one of its books was real. Clearly he thought it more important to look like something than to actually be that thing.
She gazed around. There was nothing else in the room of any interest except the bureau, with its marble bust of Delgado - and its urn containing the great man's ashes. She picked it up, removed its lid and checked its contents. They looked like anybody's ashes to her. She licked a finger, jabbed it into the ashes then tasted them.
They tasted human to her.
She put the lid back on the urn and checked the bureau's drawers. She found nothing beyond the statutory paper clips, stapler and drawing pins. She checked behind the drawers ... and found nothing.
That left her to clear up just one mystery about the room. Who, exactly, had left behind the fedora that lay, upturned, on the bureau?
*
'Mr Ferman, you don't know how grateful I am that you've agreed to see me.'
Lou Ferman was not at all what Alison Parker had expected. She was expecting Skinner from the X-Files. Instead he was stood there in jeans and a T-shirt, before the world's most cluttered desk. Hanging from his chin was a goatee. His build was thin, his eyes huge. His office was as cluttered as his desk, its not-recently-cleaned window giving a partial view of the soon-to-be demolished hotel opposite.
Stood throwing darts at the board on the wall, he said, 'So, let me have it. What's this matter of life and death you've come to see me about?'
'Mr Ferman, I want a job.'
'Doing what?'
'Being Assistant Occult Investigator to my flatmate.'
'Because?'
'She won't let me go along with her on investigations - even when they involve me and even though she knows I need to know what she gets up to, to complete my novel.'
'What novel?'
She put her rucksack on his desk, unbuckled its straps, undid its single brass stud and looked inside for the item she needed. After a few moments, she found it, retrieved it, made sure to get it the right way round and handed it to him.
He studied it. It was still just a title page. 'She Went in Search of Oblivion,' he said. 'That's Betty all right.' He checked the other side of the sheet. 'It's a bit short.'
'I can't write more till she lets me go along with her and I get the chance to see her in action. A writer must know her subject fully to write about it. Mr Ferman, I don't like to show off but I've got a CV to kill for, I'm honest, reliable, popular with everyone I meet. I'm not scared of hard work - or monsters - and I was up all last night working out a twelve-point plan for improving the way Liz does her job.'
'You said you don't know how Betty does her job.'
'Knowing Liz I'm betting none of it involves Public Relations.'
'You can say that again.'
She was about to go on but didn't. The man was occupied with rummaging around in a filing cabinet, till he finally found what he was after. He took it from the cabinet, shut the drawer then took her hand. He turned her hand, palm up, and placed the newly collected object in it.
She studied the thing. It was some sort of measuring implement, about the size of a cigarette packet, with a dial on it.
He said, 'What's this?'
'A temperature gauge?' she ventured.
'And what's it for?'
'Detecting ghosts?'
'Congratulations, Parko. You're our new assistant spook buster.'

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