Alison handed the man a cup of tea then sat beside Liz on the settee. They were back in the flat, their mystery doom-monger in the armchair only recently vacated by the solicitor.
The man took a sip at his tea then put it aside. 'Miss Parker, my name's Carl Seevers and I'm a doctor. I was a friend of the late Daniel Robinson and I have to warn you never to visit that house.'
'Two weeks ago - that'd be just after his encounter with you - Daniel came to me claiming the house was the subject of nocturnal visitations.'
Alison frowned. 'Nocturnal...?'
'According to him, at nights, it was being called upon by a creature.'
'What "creature"?' said Liz.
'He couldn't say. He never got a good look at it but he'd wake in the night to see it at the window; a black shapeless mass with burning red eyes and an aura of purest evil. Whatever it was, it'd hunch there, gazing in at him as though it were probing the manor for a means of entry. I of course dismissed it as a delusion caused by what we in the medical profession know as Sleep-'
'-Paralysis,' said Liz. 'A tendency to wake in the early hours, unable to move and convinced you're in the presence of a being or beings of purest evil.'
'I take it you were wrong,' said Liz.
'Seemingly so, because, a week ago, he told me that, whatever the thing was, it was only a question of time before it got into the house - and he wasn't going to lie in bed waiting for it. That night, when it arrived, he was going to be ready. He'd be waiting outside, both barrels primed, and he was going to kill it.'
'That was the night he died.'
'Except,' said Alison, 'his solicitor claimed he died of natural causes.'
'That depends how you define natural causes,' said Seevers. 'When his body was found, it was just an empty shell. Every single one of his internal organs had been liquefied. It was recorded as a natural death because the coroner didn't know what else to call it.'
'That's all fine,' said Alison, 'but none of it answers the obvious question.'
'Why did he leave the house to me?'
'Did you tell him who your flatmate was?' asked Liz.
She said, 'Ah.'
Seevers gaze skipped back and forth between the pair of them. 'Ah what?'
So Liz told him what she did for a living.
He said, 'The government has an occult investigator?'
'You'd be amazed what the government has. By leaving the house to my flatmate, he knew he'd attract my attention. Which leaves the obvious question. Why not just call on me in the first place?'
'I might be able to venture a guess,' he said. 'Daniel had this notion that the house contained a secret. From where he got the idea I can only speculate. It might have been down to some comment a relative had made, I'm not sure. At the time I put that too down to delusion. Presumably he didn't want outsiders clomping around the site until after he'd had a chance to fully explore it. He'd only been there a week at this point. He'd recently inherited it from his cousin Tom Radcliffe.'
'And his cousin?' said Alison.
'Had also died.'
'The same way as Daniel?'
'No one knows. Only his head was found. What kind of state his body was in was anyone's guess.'
'And because of his desire not to have official agencies stomping around all over the house,' said Liz, 'Danny boy's gone the same way as his cousin.'
'So it seems.'
'He was no Einstein was he?'
''It does seem that Daniel was somewhat foolish in his actions,' Seevers concurred. 'And that's why, Miss Sanford, you have to agree with me. Bearing in mind what's happened to all previous incumbents of Delgado Manor, there's no way in this world Alison Parker can even visit that place.'
'As a matter of fact, I agree the opposite.'
They both watched her like she'd just declared her love for Hitler.
She didn't care about that. She just rose to her feet. 'It sounds to me like, if there's one thing Alison Parker has to do, it's to claim her inheritance.'
Still seated, Alison clenched her fist and gave a delighted but silent shout of, 'Yes!'
'Dr Sanford,' Seevers protested, 'you can't be serious. Haven't you been listening to me? I've just said that everyone who's ever owned that house has ended up dead.'
'Which is exactly why she should go there. If something kills every owner, I'd have thought the best way to find out what it is is for her to go there and see what tries to slaughter her.'
'And the fact that you're putting her life at risk?'
'I wouldn't go that far,' said Alison.
'It doesn't matter,' said Liz, 'because she's not going.'
'What?' Alison jumped to her feet. 'You just said-'
'That Alison Parker's going to Delgado Manor.'
'And, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm Alison Parker.'
'No you're not.'
'No?' She frowned. 'Then who is?'
'Liz,' said Alison, 'you're not me. Even in your best dreams you're not me.'
'That's funny because suddenly I feel like telling everyone I am.'
'So? What? I stay here while you go there and take all the glory that's rightfully mine?'
'That's right.' Liz grabbed a magazine from where it lay slumped across one arm of the settee, opened it and flicked through till she found a mostly white page. She tore it out, discarded the magazine, borrowed a pen from the doctor and scribbled on the page. 'These are my measurements.' Now she took a card from her coat. 'This is my expense account debit card.' She handed it to Alison.
The girl studied it. 'How come they don't let you have a credit card?'
'It's a long story.' Liz neatly folded the page and handed it to her flatmate.
The girl studied the two items she'd just been handed. 'What have these to do with me?'
'This. I want you to go to town and get me the clothes I'd buy if I were you.'
'About a week's worth.
'And why should I?'
'Because if you don't, I won't tell you what I find at the manor and you won't have anything to use in your book.'
'She writes books?' said Seevers.
'Don't even ask,' said Liz.
Alison said, 'And what's to stop me from just going to the house anyway?'
'I am,' said Liz, 'and I've got the weight of Government behind me. That means you're not going, and the Queen agrees with me.'
Alison sighed. She checked the card and paper. 'I'll try Tatyana's Dungeon.'
And, with that, the girl was gone.
Now Frogmella was out of the way, it was time to get rid of Seevers. Liz said, 'Now, I suggest we get you back to wherever it is you came from.'
'The railway station.'
'And, on the way out, I'll tell you all about my exciting adventures.'
Out on the street, Liz watched Seevers climb into the taxi she'd ordered, and then speed off up the road. Now he was gone, she pulled out her mobile phone and made a second call. This time to the man who called himself her boss. 'Lou?' she said. 'It's Liz. I need background info. Three people; Tom Radcliffe, Dr Carl Seevers and Daniel Robinson. And while you're at it, I'll need the murder case files for a man called Valentyne Delgado.'
'You'll never pass yourself off as me, you know. You're too lanky, your hair's too rough and you've got no curves.'
'I'll take that as a compliment then, shall I?' Liz was sat before Alison's dressing table mirror, a towel around her waist, as her flatmate tried to make her look like her.
Needless to say, the girl was taking forever over it. She'd already done Liz's lips, now she was burying her eyes in enough eye liner to make Shirley Manson balk. Liz looked a complete idiot. Her hair? Too rough? That was the least of her concerns. Thanks to Alison, it was now purple, and, as for the clothes the girl had bought her...
But what could she do? If she wanted to pass herself off as someone, she had to look like her. Sod's law guaranteed that, as soon as he was out the door, Rowling would have phoned Delgado Manor to tell them the deal was done - and it was a safe bet he'd have described the new owner to them.
Of course, there was nothing Liz could do to disguise the fact she was 4 inches too tall. She was just going to have to hope that, as Alison's height was more or less average, he wouldn't have seen fit to mention it.
The girl retrieved a small bottle with some sort of black liquid in it. She removed its lid, which had a brush attached to its underside, planted one hand on Liz's left breast and started painting its nipple black.
'What're you doing?' said Liz.
'You wanted me to make you look like me.'
'You've got black-painted nipples?'
'Of course I have. What if I bump into an unexpected tryst? I want to look my best don't I?'
'And you wonder why I won't take you anywhere with me.'
'Just wait till we fit the nipple rings.'
'Look. It's simple.' Alison held up what she claimed was a body-piercing gun, though to Liz, it looked more like the harpoon gun from a whaling ship. Her flatmate said, 'I hold it against the area in question, press this trigger and wham, it's straight through and out the other side. Five presses, wham, wham, wham, wham and wham, and you're done.'
'Five? Alison, I don't know where you learned biology but a human being doesn't have five nipples.'
'No but you want all the other piercings don't you?'
'What other piercings?'
'Upstairs, downstairs and in the middle.'
'So you're just playing at this. You don't want authenticity.'
'It'll improve your sex life.'
'I don't care if it improves my TV reception, I'm not doing it.'
'You had your ears pierced didn't you?'
Liz lifted her hair to show her ears in all their intact glory.
'Want me to pierce them?' said Alison.
'You know, this gun cost a fortune. I bought it especially for you. Barry, in the shop said, "Pierce flesh? Al, this thing can shred steel." And do you let me use it? Oh no, you're too busy thinking about yourself, like you always do.'
Liz gave her the look she felt most appropriate; and the girl sighed.
Finally having to admit defeat in her quest to punch holes in her flatmate, Alison put the gun on the dressing table, picked up the lipstick she'd abandoned in order to take the gun from its box, and got back to the clearly less therapeutic job of blacking-up her flatmate's udders. 'I still don't see why I can't come with you.'
'Because it's gonna be a bit of a give-away if two Alison Parkers show up.'
'No but if you don't have to be Liz Sanford, I don't have to be me. I could pretend to be your assistant Maisie and wear sunglasses and say groovy a lot.'
'That's what I'd say if I were an assistant to me.'
'Sometimes I worry about you.'
'Fine. Have it your own way. I'll just stay here and vegetate while you run around having an adventure.'
'You won't be here.'
'No? Then where will I be?'
'Because whatever killed the previous owners might come here looking for you. That's why you're going to stay with Frank. Get me a piece of paper.'
Alison yanked a tissue from the box by the mirror.
'Pen,' said Liz.
The girl grabbed an eyebrow pencil and handed her both items.
Liz scribbled a note on the paper. 'While you're at Frank's, don't answer the door to anyone you don't know and, if anything goes wrong, call this number.'
Alison studied the number she'd just been handed. 'What is it?'
'You're better off not knowing, but listen to this and listen good. Under no circumstances call that number unless you're moments away from death and there's absolutely no hope of escape. Got that?
'To call it otherwise could cause disaster - not just for you but for everyone who's walking the face of this planet. Got that?'
'Got it.' Alison picked up her mobile phone and, consulting the sheet her flatmate had just given her, started to prod its keys.
Liz grabbed the phone from her and jabbed it off with her thumb. 'What're you doing?'
'Calling that number.'
'What did I just tell you?'
'You said don't call it.'
'Then why're you calling it?'
'I didn't think you meant it.'