Monday, 28 September 2015

The Phantom of Elswick Hall (part 4)

All eyes were on Robin. Tom looked as if he was about to cry, but then so did Robin. She looked at me, unconvinced. "Gabriel," she spluttered, "are you trying to be funny?"
Rachel stepped between us, looking at me in such a way as if to ask, "Are you out of your mind?" Instead, she said, "You know he's not capable of that, Robin." She turned to me. "What are you doing, Gabriel?"
"I want to say my job, but that would be overly melodramatic. I'm solving the crime."
"And that's not melodramatic?" Rachel said, but I ignored her.
"How can she be the murderer?" Someone exclaimed. "She wasn't even in the room at the time."
"The woman was killed by poison, thus I wouldn't have need to be in the room." Robin said. "Hang on, why am I incriminating myself?"
"She isn't the murderer." I said.
"But you just said-"
"No. I just said you were the Phantom of Elswick Hall. I never said she was the murderer."
"I feel like the last kid on a school trip." Rachel announced. "By which I mean you've lost me."
"Tom," I said, giving him the attention he wanted, "tell me something. How does the phantom become a phantom?"
"The man drowned in the marshes." Tom said, and took a gulp of his gin as if to wash the words from his mouth. Begrudgingly, Lucy placed a cup in front of him. She'd evidently remembered her duties.
"Exactly." I said. "Then his ghost marched back across the marches, broke into the Hall and left a load of muddy foot prints everywhere. Besides obviously not being the cleaner's favourite person, what does this tell us?"
No answers.
I smiled. "It tells us nothing. What does inform us, however, is the state of my good friend Robin here. Her shoes are muddy, her shoulders are damp, as is her hair. It would be logical to presume that this was because the rain is falling pretty quickly outside and she was dampened as she ran from the car park to the entrance. But that's not the case is it, Robin?"
She shook her head. "My car broke down. I had to hike across the moors."
I smiled. "And you left muddy foot prints throughout the corridors. Hence why you are the Phantom. The real question is: Who is the murderer?"
"Well?" Tom asked, picking up his glass. "Who is it?"
I shrugged. "I've no idea. We'll have to wait for the police to get here."
Everybody sighed and turned away, their grumblings to low to be understandable. I turned to Rachel and Robin, "At least we proved ghosts aren't real."
"You are such an idiot." Robin said.
"Why didn't you tell us about your car?" Rachel asked.
"I thought there were more pressing matters. I was going to mention it."
Before I could comment on how she could get a taxi back, I was interrupted by a sudden bout of coughing and spluttering. We all turned and I cursed. "Not another one."
Tom was choking on something, his eyes bulging, his face turning red. He looked like he was about to explode. Rachel swore and raced towards him, Robin quick in tow. I stayed where I was for a moment, my mind pondering ruthlessly. Every variable, every detail flashed before my eyes. I grinned. Oh, it was obvious. Just one problem.  She was gone. I turned around and saw the door was gaping open. "Damn!" I cried. "Rachel, Robin, save him."
With that, I ran.

I followed the muddy footprints through the wooden corridors, towards the bar. The clap of thunder and the zap of lightning was evident in my ears. My feet pounded against the floor, propelling me on and on. I passed Linda's corpse without even realising, reaching the open French windows. I leapt out, within moments feeling my shoulders and head pelted with rain. She was racing across the moors, towards the road which led to the Hall. I had to stop her before she got there.
My shoulder stung as I ran, the sweat playing with the roughly healed flesh. I felt slightly light headed, but I ploughed on nonetheless. As I ran, the ground turned softer and softer beneath my feet. At first, it lapped my shoes with long lashes of mud, then my ankles and my trousers. I cursed. I could feel the ground squelching and shifting beneath each smash of my foot into the floor. The only blessing was that the person I chased after was having the same problems.
The sky rolled and thundered, spitting it's terrible tears down on me. It was becoming an effort to even raise a foot now, with my shoes sinking away into the muddy floor. I cursed, urging myself on with dying energy. The mud seemed to absorb me, oozing into my shoes, making each squelch much louder. The murderer seemed to continue her escape, but I forced myself on. I could catch her. I knew I could.
It appeared as if two gods were having a fight above me, clashing their axes and swords together with resounding results. It felt in someways as if the ground beneath my feet was shaking with seismic explosions. I stumbled, but the ground held me in place. I clawed my foot out and tried to move another step, but I sunk even deeper now, up to my knees. Those terrible images of the original phantom drowning in the mud flooded my mind. The swelling eyes, the mud oozing through his nose. I felt a pang of sickness wash through me, followed by a new sense of determination. I couldn't let that happen. I had to stop them.
I ran and I ran, sinking deeper and deeper, drowning in the cold ooze of the night and the mud. It was hopeless and endless but I knew I must catch her. Rachel and Robin may fail to save Tom but I had the power to avenge him and Lynda.
I picked up speed, roaring after her, getting closer and closer. My trousers felt heavier than usual, weighing me down and slowing my responses. The sweat oozing into my shoulder made me want to howl at the moon, but I bared my gritted teeth and hurried on. I had enough stitches to impress a professional knitter, whilst my lungs were like empty oxygen tanks. I was on the verge of death, but that seemed quite inappropriate to think considering Tom. Nonetheless, I was approaching her.
As we neared the road, I launched myself forwards. I rugby tackled her to the floor, holding down her arms and legs with my own. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next, but the decision was taken away from me by my good friend, 'Perfect Timing.'
On the horizon was the howling of police cars, racing towards Elswick Hall hoping they weren't too late. They weren't. I'd managed to capture the murderer. The waitress. Lucy.

I sat inside the Hall with both a blanket and a tin foil sheet wrapped around me. It didn't stop my shivering. The paramedics had wanted me to take my trousers off, worrying the were making me colder, but in the end they respected my dignity and let me instead ruin a priceless sofa. Robin stayed with the policeman, explaining what she'd managed to work out. Rachel stayed with me and we sat in silence for a while. She was pretty cut up about Tom's death. The poison had been deadly. Deadly nightshade.
"It wasn't the berries, was it?"She said, eventually.
I shook my head. "It was the gin."
"The gin?"
"Lucy poisoned the gin in the restaurant. Tom gave it to Lynda to drink; he was beginning to detox, and it killed her. Lucy tried again with the glass just after I revealed Robin was the phantom."
"Why is it always so obvious after you've said, but never before?"
"Like magic tricks." I said. "I don't know, I don't want to know. All I do know is that I want a Hot Vimto."
Robin wandered in with a tray of coffees. "Well done, Gabe. You were right. It was Lucy."
"Got a motive?" I asked, accepting the coffee begrudgingly. It wasn't quite Hot Vimto.
"Like something from a novel." She said. "Turns out the lass was a radicalised Christian. Brought up in a cult of all things to believe that scientists were the devil's spawn."
"I'll try not to be offended." Rachel said.
"Where'd she get the nightshade?" I asked.
"No idea. The police are going to raid her church. I imagine there will probably be some growing there."
"I wouldn't be surprised." I said, reminded of that scene in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. "Do the police have any evidence?"
"She confessed." Robin grinned. "Eager for everyone to know the sacrifices she'll make for religion. It's bizarre. It's like she's proud."
"She is." I said. "That's the problem."

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Phantom of Elswick Hall (part 3)

To say the room wasn't immediately flung into a panicked state, full of near apocalyptic screaming and declarations of death and misery, would be a lie. It was as if a casting director had asked a load of drama students to be extras for a horror movie. There were more horrified faces present than on an Instagram channel following Halloween. I shook my head and sighed. Lightning, thunder and murder seemed to be a brilliant stimulus for mass hysteria.
"Everybody calm down!" I cried, stepping onto one of the sofas with the type of nonchalant disinterest that my mother would have shouted at me for. "There are no such things as ghosts, or phantoms. The gentleman is just drunk."
"I am not drunk!" Tom slurred.
"Just ignore him and settle down, I'm sure there's a logical solution."
The nervous chattering began to declare the murderer was still at large, that they were chasing through the hotel in search of another victim. Other people, who had been speaking to Tom, had decided that it must be the Phantom, searching for his forgotten baroness. It was no coincidence that Linda Hegarty looked a bit like the baroness. The nervous chatter grew and grew, to a point where it almost drowned out the clash of lightning through the french windows. Almost. The ever deafening thud of thunder and lightning was omnipresent.
Rachel poked me and said, "I think you should volunteer to lead a ghost hunting expedition."
"That would imply I believe there is a ghost."
"It would also probably put a lot of people's minds at rest."
I groaned and said, "Can't you volunteer to lead it? Then I can say I'm just tagging along to be the voice of reason?"
She smiled and climbed onto the sofa I'd been stood on, shouting, "Right, everybody! Listen up! Gabriel and I are going to have a look for the ghost. Everybody needs to stay here and keep calm, okay?"
"No!" Cried Tom. I rolled my eyes. He was starting to get annoying. "I want to come!"
"He is so drunk." I whispered to Rachel.
"Why do you want to come, Doctor Hughes?" Rachel asked.
"Good question." Tom replied. "Ugh, I'm the foremost expert on the Phantom."
Rachel looked at me. I shrugged. "He's got a point."
"Right, Tom, you can come with us. We'll also be needing a member of staff to show us the way around."
A blonde girl in one of the tight uniforms raised her left hand, her right tightened around a cross hung from her neck. She stood up and said in an English accent, "I'll come."
"Thank you." Rachel said. "As for the rest of you, wait here. Don't leave the room. Don't panic, the police will be with us soon."

I led the party, a torch held out in front of me. The white light oozing from the end illuminated the way, flickering from one wall to another as I manoeuvred the aim. The others were silent, Tom saying the littlest he had since I met him. I would have ignored him, however, even if he had been talking. My attention was transfixed on the trail of muddy foot prints leading across the floor. I estimated they were size eight or nine, putting the culprit at approximately Rachel's height. I checked Rachel's shoes, just on the off chance. She was wearing high heels whereas the apparent ghost was wearing converse.  Yet another piece of evidence in favour of the ghost's existence.
The footsteps led us back in the direction of the Crime Scene. As we approached the door, Tom grasped the girl's arm and cried, "Do you have the key for the bar? Can we get a gin whilst we pass? For my nerves?"
"Look at you." She sneered. I think she'd told Rachel that her name was Lucy. "You're a disgrace and, even worse, you know!"
Tom turned away, sullen and offended. Lucy strolled forwards to join Rachel and I, who were promptly flabbergasted. She huffed with a dramatic sigh. "I can't be doing with alcoholics. Disgraces the lot of them! God only puts them on this Earth to remind us why we're going to Heaven."
I exchanged another bemused glance with Rachel, then turned back to Lucy. "That's one way of looking at it."
She tutted. "Don't tell me you think it's a disease? I thought you were meant to be an intelligent man."
"The man you've just called a disgrace is a scientist."
"Same thing, isn't it?" Lucy asked. "Anyway, a truly intelligent man would know that science is just the unfaithful's way of understanding the universe."
Rachel, who was obviously a scientist in herself, tutted. "And religion is the unintelligent's way, isn't it?"
"Anyway!" I quickly interjected. "Surely a woman of such reason as you, Lucy," Rachel glared at me, "wouldn't be able to comprehend the notion of ghosts?"
"Yet another reason why the 'scientist' is a fool."
Before Lucy could say anything more ridiculous, we heard a terrible scampering. We all froze to the spot, our breathing becoming quieter and quieter, the mood becoming tenser and tenser. Eyes flickered up and down, from one wall to another. The varnished wood, the oil paintings, the deactivated chandeliers on the roof. I cast my torch down, the light glancing over the wooden floor for a few moments. Muddy foot prints. Converse. Size eight or nine.
The scampering grew louder at the end of the corridor. The white beam of my torch shot to the end of the corridor, illuminating the source of the scampering. There was nothing. Nothing at all except the wooden wall. There was a sudden flash of colour, but I wasn't able to concentrate on it, my attention stolen by the sudden explosion of lightning. The roll of thunder, the ragged breathing around us, the creaking of the walls and the wide eyed terror so obvious.
There was a terrible clatter from the bar, the shatter of glass and the howl of the wind. The wind sounded like a human scream, harrowing and eternal, lingering on the ear for much longer than it was welcome. There was a terror in the air which prickled the skin with goosebumps. I took a step closer to Rachel, felt my hand lock in hers. The howling wind continued.
The sky rumbled with a grand clap of thunder, sizzled with the spark of a bolt of lightning. The holding winds found our backs, etching us in a permanent chill. The scampering grew ever louder and louder, like it was creeping up our spines taking our neck hairs with it. It grew closer and closer, and then, suddenly, it became a voice.
"What the hell are you lot doing?"
To say we jumped would be an understatement. The United Kingdom Gymnastic Troupe did less jumping. Considering my abnormal height, I was surprised I didn't feel the roof with my head. I turned around, pointing my torch directly to the source of the voice.
"Put your torch down, will yer?" Robin Greenhouse demanded. Her eyes squinted into the source of the brightness, her hair knotted and as damp as the rest of her due to the rain outside. Her shoes were caked in mud. She looked like she'd just hiked through a river made of winter; mud, rain and hail. Or alternately just strolled across the moors.
"Robin? What're you doing here?" I demanded.
"Looking for you. You called."
"You called her?" Rachel asked.
"There was a murder. It would have been impolite not too." I said.
"I found the body. Where are the suspects?"
"Who's this?" Tom said, one eye half closed, his legs appearing as they were about to give way beneath him.
"Let's go back to the drawing room and we can do the introductions then. How come you came on foot?" I asked Robin as we walked. I didn't let go of Rachel's hand however. Lucy and Tom trailed after us.
"Car broke down on the road in. This place is very hard to find, you know that right? Even harder on foot. Any towels in here?"
"It's a luxury hotel." Rachel said. "I imagine there are probably towels somewhere."
"Who's the dead person?"
"Lynda Hegarty. Approximately 33, worked as an alcoholic councillor."
"Thanks." Robin said. "Cause of death?"
"Deadly Nightshade."
"How Agatha Christie! Got a culprit?"
"I'm working on it." I said.
"That means he hasn't got one." Rachel clarified.
We reached the lounge once more. The doors swung open and we walked in. A tense silence awaited us, the room's occupants instantly breaking that silence. Who was this ginger woman? Was she the murderer? Why had she only just turned up? Did they find the ghost? Are ghosts real?
Rachel set about trying to answer each and every question very carefully and calmly, but I simply sighed. With a hysteric mob, there was no being calm and rational. I climbed back onto my sofa and shouted at the top of my voice, "Shut up! The lotta you! We've solved the mystery! The Phantom of Elswick Hall is," my elongated finger protruded through the air and turned towards the Phantom, "you! Robin Greenhouse."

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Phantom of Elswick Hall (part 2)

The waiters, once they'd finished screaming, listened to me with a calm interest.
"I'm Gabriel Rathbone." I explained. "I write an article on crimes. This a norm for me. Can you lot take everybody still alive to the lounge? I'll have a look at the body, decide a cause of death. Rachel can call the police. Okay?"
They set about doing as told whilst Rachel moved an evidently traumatised Tom towards the overtime seeking arms of a waiter, to transport him to the lounge. The others followed, with their eyes creeping back to claim a look at the corpse, before turning away once more in disgust. I waited until they were all gone before kneeling down to check the corpse's pulse. It had already been found missing but I thought I'd repeat the process just in case.
"Victim is called Linda Hegarty." Rachel announced. "Approximately thirty three. Worked as an alcoholic councillor, supplied by the University to stop Tom from killing himself."
"This isn't CSI, Rachel." I said, pulling a pair of plastic gloves from my pocket. I opened Linda's mouth peered in. "Nothing overly suspicious." I mused to myself.
"Sorry." She said. "I cannae help it. I babble when I'm nervous."
"Evidently." I said. I poked my finger around the inside of her mouth, feeling for fake teeth which might have contained cyanide capsules. Unlikely but possible. All I found from the inside of her mouth was that she had very bad breath, not helped by the swig of gin she'd taken from Tom.
I closed her mouth and turned to her torso, checking for any stab wounds or injections. Again there was nothing. "Think public restaurant." I said to myself.
"Pardon?" Rachel said.
"Nothing." I said.
"What does Robin normally do when you're poking and prodding a corpse?" Rachel asked.
"Feeling jealous of someone not even present?"
"Shut up."
"She normally comes to the same conclusions as me then feels proud of herself for a moment until she realises I know everything she's already said."
"Can I look at her- no. It. Can I have a loot at it?"
I turned away from Linda and instead to Rachel. "You're volunteering to stare at a corpse?"
She nodded.
"Why didn't I find you earlier?" I grinned. I stepped away and passed her two more plastic gloves from my pockets.
"How come you have gloves with you?"
"Always be prepared. Dib dib, and all that."
"You were a boy scout?"
"It is possible to learn something from common sense rather than an official institution."
"You make the Scouts sound like a mental health facility."
"Have you ever seen the Scouts?"
"Deadly nightshade." Rachel said, standing up.
"I'm sorry?" I replied.
"It was deadly nightshade that killed her. Maybe if you'd joined the scouts rather than slagging them off, you'd know that nightshade causes the eyes to dilate." She pointed towards the eyes, which she was holding open. The pupils were much larger than they should be.
"How did it enter her?" I asked, trying to think of everything I knew about Atropa Belladonna. Besides the amusing notion that Belladonna translated to Good Woman, I remembered very little. Then the memories of a topic on Macbeth, the real Macbeth, came to mind. Had he not used Deadly Nightshade to poison soldiers? And what form did it take?
I looked towards the plate on the table and grinned. "Deadly nightshade. The deadliest part is none other than small black berries."
We looked towards Lynda's plate and discovered a helping of fresh berries. I grinned at Rachel. "You are very clever, y'know that?"
"Darling, please." She grinned back.

"To be honest," Rachel said, "of the two, I would have expected Tom to be the one more likely to be killed."
"What a cheery thought." I said.
"No, but honestly, it would make more sense. He is a scientist, after all."
"And do scientists get many death threats?"
"As many as any journalist does." She said. "There are religious extremists from every religion, and there are a lot of religions."
"Ah, but I'm not just a journalist. The people who send me death threats aren't concerned about the sanctity of Diana's memory or the importance of cancer from raw eggs. The people who threaten to murder me are actual murderers."
She laughed. "I love how seriously you take your job."
"I'd want a cheery detective to investigate my death." I shrugged. "And, at least I don't do noire monologues."
We walked towards the room where the witnesses awaited, our shoulders pressed down with the weight and expectation of our justice bringing duty. Beyond the wooden doors was a sea of anxious faces, burdened with the weight of their appalling memories. It was a dark time to be present, a darker time to be one with the answers. It was a darkness I had to live with.
"Anybody got a phone I can borrow?" I demanded. Someone quickly presented me with a busted Nokia. I tried 999 but the call failed. I tried Robin's phone number, just on the off chance, but that call failed as well. I gave the phone back and told the owner to drive to the nearest police station and explain someone had been poisoned with Deadly Nightshade. "You should probably tell them Gabriel Rathbone is here, as to calm them down slightly."
He nodded and smiled and then wandered begrudgingly off. I turned to the crowd and announced, "Everybody needs to calm down. It's all going to be alright."

About six hours later, there had been no return of the man I'd sent to the police. A part of me worried that he was the murderer and had made a clean get away but he had no obvious motive and I could have sworn he wouldn't have given me to phone if he was guilty. He didn't looked intelligent enough to do it as a way of convincing me of his innocence.
The storm that lashed against the windows convinced me that he must have been slowed down by caution. Perhaps there was a traffic jam caused by a crash. Maybe he'd crashed. I shivered at the idea.
A group of kids who didn't understand what was going on were staring out of the window, watching the forks of lighting cutting through the air. It was the type of evening that the term 'It was a dark and spooky night' was created for.
Rachel and I were sat on a sofa, trying to take our minds off the corpse in the other room. A young woman was playing the piano, to try and calm the room. Her choice of rock music, I think it was by the Fratellis, wasn't helping.
Tom was sipping from a large bottle of alcohol, trying to distract himself from the trauma. A part of my mind which really enjoyed dark comedies thought it was funny how the death of the alcoholic councillor had brought to an increase in drinking.
It was just as I was contemplating whether to share that joke with Rachel when we heard it. The boom of lightning, the crash of doors, the clatter of breaking glass. The howling winds and splattering rain. Then the steady thud of footsteps. I turned to Rachel and raised my eyebrows.
"Not even a bloody holiday." She said.
We went across to the doors and opened them, staring out. The hallway light had turned off, but a candle from the lounging room quickly illuminated it well enough. There was nobody either way, but the floor told a different story.
Muddy footprint after muddy footprint. They all led towards the end of the corridor. I cast a bemused glance towards Rachel but I never heard her reply. Not because she was talking really quietly but because of Tom. With a drunken slur, he screamed, "It's the Phantom of Elswick Hall!"

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Phantom of Elswick Hall

“I feel like a fourteen year old, waiting for my older mate to come back from the corner shop with a bottle of Vodka.” I told Rachel, as we sat in front of a candle in room 62 of Elswick Hall. The wicker chair I was sat in was worryingly close to the candle. I had a creeping paranoia that the chair might set in fire, and the white material of the duvet behind us was probably a fire hazard too.
“Shut up, Gabriel.” She laughed. “We’re hardly fourteen years old.”
“And the guy getting the Vodka isn’t one of my mates.” I said. 
“No.” Rachel said. “He’s my boss and he’s desperate to meet you.”
“Drinking around a candle in a luxury hotel is certainly an orthodox place to meet up.”
“What can I say about Tom? He does things in style.”
The door opened and the man called Tom rushed in. Despite the gloom of the non-candle lit doorway, I could tell plenty by his silhouette. He was middle aged, balding and swollen around his middle. My deductive abilities told me a load of nonsense that wasn’t probably true. Hopefully.
“How’s whiskey?” He asked, grabbing three shot glasses from his desk and waddling over to join us. He pulled up a chair on the other side of the candle and smiled. “Hope you’re thirsty, it’s a big bottle.”
“Now you’re talking my language.” I said, smiling. “It’s an honour to finally meet you. Rachel’s said a lot.”
“Nothing too bad, I hope.” He laughed.
I rolled my eyes. This was turning into one of the most cliched conversations of my life. 
“And Rachel,” he said, “a pleasure to see you again.” He kissed her hand.
I’m surprised my eyes weren’t in the back of my head, I’d rolled them that much! “So, what does the head of governmental scientific research do?” I asked.
“Things that I certainly won’t be telling a journalist.” He laughed. “Although, you’re hardly just a journalist, are you? I’d say more of a detective.”
“I dabble.” I said. 
“Don’t be so modest! You’re an excellent detective, one of Scotland’s finest, I’d say. Greenhouse Spectres, now there was a case! Absolutely cracking.”
“I’ve always thought it was a bit far fetched.” I said.
“No, not at all. It’s an excellent story because it proves that something, no matter how strange, can be simply proved with logic.”
“And a handy stroll to the pub opposite the church.” Rachel said. 
We all laughed and toasted such a revelation. Once he’d emptied his cup, in one sip, Tom said, “Mr Rathbone, do you consider yourself a ghost buster?”
“I’m not wearing a proton pack.” I said.
Tom laughed. “Very funny. Mr Rathbone, Gabriel, would you like to hear a ghost story?”
I nodded in the candle light, leaning forwards, enticed. As my mentor, Amelia McCardle, had once said, always listen to a person’s story. It tells you a lot about the person.
Tom poured himself another glass of whiskey, watching it rise to the brim of the glass. His eyes darted from one side of the room, the mirror above the coffee table, the lounge near the flat screen television. When they finally returned to me, a brand new trail of wax had solidified down the candle’s shaft. He looked at me. “Have you ever heard of the Phantom of Elswick Hall?”
“No.” I said.
“Of course not. It’s a story that the staff here at Elswick Hall want to keep very secret. I doubt the general public would want to stay at a haunted hotel, after all.”
I nodded. It was perfectly understandable.
“The story goes that a man once stayed in the hotel when it first opened. Nobody knows his name; his records can’t be found. Hence the element of fiction to this story. The legend states the man was trying to recover from his divorce from a famous baroness, that he’d fallen completely from grace. Whether this is actually true or not, I don’t know. It’s what happens next that counts.” He took his shot glass and drained it in one gulp. He poured himself another glass. “They say he’d spend every evening in the bar, gulping every liquor and alcohol in the entire hotel.”
“You sound as if you’d get on.” I said.
Tom put down his empty shot glass and smiled. “You’re very witty, Mr Rathbone.”
“Go on with the story.”
“The man got so drunk one day that he was told he would have to leave. Angry, he wandered out into the night, a bottle of gin clutched in one hand. The rain was lashing that night, forks of lightning spiking through the air. The trees rustled and the ground squelched under his feet. The man decided to go for a run. As he jogged, his shoes squelched in the mud. As he got further and further away from the hotel, his ankles squelched in the mud. As he passed through a short burst of trees, leaving the enticing glow of the hotel, he felt himself wading through the mud up to his knees. He ventured out, further and further, until eventually his legs were taking him through the marshes. I’m sure you’ve experienced them?”
I nodded. They’d almost been the death of my poor land rover. 
“It is said that he died in those marshes, drowning in mud. The sludge poured from his nose and his throat as he said goodbye to his mortal form.”
I grimaced. 
“Perhaps I have over emphasised the details. I do apologise. But still, on with the story. The story goes that now, the ghost of the man stalks Elswick Hall, forever in search of drink or anyone who looks like his beloved baroness. And everywhere he goes are a trail of muddy, abandoned footprints.”
He paused for dramatic effect and finished off his fourth glass of whiskey. One gulp later, he placed it down and said, “So, Mr Rathbone, what do you think?”
I looked at him. “It’s certainly an interesting story. I will go to sleep on it and I’ll tell you my conclusion tomorrow. It’s getting rather late.”

As Rachel and I walked back to our room, hand in hand, I asked, “What did you think?”
“Surely I should be asking you?” She replied.
“Hey, you’re the scientist. I’m merely a humble journalist.”
She shook her head and grinned. “I think it was the biggest load of nonsense I’ve ever heard. Just like Tom to fill his head with rubbish to disguise from his massive intellect. You?”
“I thought he was a good storyteller.” I said. “But as for whether I believed it or not... Well, let’s just say sceptical would be a polite word.”

The Next Evening. I’d told Tom my findings at lunch earlier that day. He was sat at another table, away from us, with a woman that Rachel told me had been assigned to make sure he didn’t drink himself to death. My arms stretched across the table, either side of another candle, my hands holding her’s as we waited for our meals to be delivered. I blew the candle out.
“Well, that’s romantic.” She said.
I shook my head, sighing. “I have a phobia of candles at romantic dinners.” (See Memory Lane)
“And this is the very definition of romantic.” She said.
“You’re looking exceptionally beautiful today.” I smiled.
“You’ve saved this dinner.” She told me.
On another table, a business man was laughing with a group of other men. They looked the sort who’d go game shooting at the weekends, or would alternatively play rugby on a Thursday. I don’t know if I was imagining it or not but I could have sworn one of them was called Diggers. 
A group of women were picking at their low calorie meals, wishing they could have the freedom of old age that the couple on the next table had. One of them was practically drooling over the old woman’s chocolate cake. I didn’t blame her; it looked delicious.
On the next table were Tom and his alcoholic councillor. He sighed, shaking his head and pushing her his sixth glass of gin. “I can’t face another glass.” He said. “You have it.”
The woman shrugged and took a deep sip of the gin. There was none left on the table now. 
At another table, a little boy was having a perfectly innocent conversation with his teddy bear whilst his parents exchanged glances at each other. Little Alfie will be beaten up at Eton if he keeps doing that, one glance said.
Should I call Mr Nailor? Another asked.
The child psychologist? 
No, the hair dresser. Of course the psychologist! 
He did such an excellent job with Octavia, I guess it would only be a good idea.
“Gabriel!” Rachel snapped. I looked at her, snapping out of my people watching trance.
“Sorry, my dear?” I replied.
“Sometimes, I think you’re more interested in other people than me.” She said, acting with a sense of narcissism I’d never seen in her before.
My shoulder stung a bit as I moved my hands to hold her’s a little tighter. “Rachel, I couldn’t love you more.”
She leant forwards and kissed me on the lips. She moved back, flushing with an embarrassed red, when the waitress came over. “A rack of ribs and chips?”
I raised my hand and she placed it in front of me, placing Rachel’s prawn pasta in front of her. 
“Good job I blew out the candle.” I said. “Otherwise, you would have set yourself on fire when you went to do that.”
“Shut up.” She smiled, and speared a prawn on her fork.
The rolling boom of thunder reverberated outside, threatening clouds blocking out the purported half moon. Rain lashed against the French Doors, grand echoing booms with each splash. A fork of lightning carved through the darkness. As it boomed, there was a sudden scream. We all turned to see it’s source. Tom.
Opposite him was the corpse of his alcoholic councillor.
“Oh for crying aloud!” I cried. “Can’t we ever have just a bloody holiday?”