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."

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