Sunday, 8 September 2013

Fatal Inheritance: Chapter Seven.

SEVEN

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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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