THE NEW BUILDING
Kane Thelwell looked around nervously and slid into the church hall. It should be safe enough. All he had to do was keep his head down and no-one would look at him twice. He was just so desperate to get out of his small room and at least be around living people, even if he didn’t feel comfortable speaking to them, that he risked this trip to the church coffee morning.
It was standard stuff. Three old ladies were serving tea and coffee from a huge, overcleaned urn in one corner, together with a selection of bacon butties, sausage sarnies and toast. Another table had a selection of home made cakes. Kane looked over them and decided to buy one later. In his experience, competition between the ladies meant that the cake stall was always worth a visit. There was a sad selection of battered paperback books that had probably been trundled out every Monday for years, and a rail of ‘nearly new’ kids’ clothes.
The best thing about this was that the church hall was new. It was so new that you could hardly find it on the internet. It was a brand new, purpose built complex with a church, a church hall, a selection of meeting rooms and a large and extremely modern kitchen area. This was not a haunted building. It hadn’t had time. Besides, it had been blessed, so it had to be ghost free, right?
Kane couldn’t remember when it had started. He had always been faintly aware of ghosts, even when he was a child. There had always been the faint whisper on the edge of his hearing, the faint flicker on the edge of his field of vision and the sensation of not being alone. It was only as he got older, however, that the ghosts had started talking to him. As a young teenager in foster care, he had been glad of a sympathetic conversation and the old railwayman who had died forty years before in the bedroom now allotted to Kane had been a good listener with some sound advice. Kane had missed Eddie when his placement ended there. Then there had been Millie. She hadn’t been very helpful when it came to sorting out survival in a hostile household, and she hadn’t always listened, but she had some good stories and some great advice about how to talk to girls, which had been a real help to a fourteen year old.
The placement after that hadn’t been so much fun, and the elderly schoolteacher who had died in that room five years before was not sympathetic. He was, however, surprisingly tolerant when it came to helping Kane with his homework. Kane’s school attendance had been erratic at best even before he got into the system, but Mr Kettering had stood behind Kane as Kane scrolled through teaching sites on the council issued laptop and then patiently talked through the work Kane had missed. Kane had been almost sorry when the acerbic Mr Kettering finally passed over, comforted by the knowledge that he had got one more troubled boy through his exams.
His next placement had been a halfway house. There was no question of him going to college, despite his good grades, but the converted Victorian townhouse had been okay, and with the three ghostly parlour maids, the spirit of the old lady who had been the matriarch of a large family and the shades half a dozen kids and teenagers, there had never been a dull moment.
But that’s when it turned. One of the other, living, members of the facility had overheard Kane’s half of a long conversation with Mary, the maid from 1908, and had reported him to the resident social worker. When blood tests showed Kane to be drug free, a few further observations and careful questions led to Kane being held for psychiatric evaluation. That had been six months ago, and while Kane had illicitly stopped taking his medication, he was aware of being monitored in that same halfway house. Now he was careful.
Kane smiled nervously at the old lady as she poured him his tea, picked up his sausage sarnie and found a seat in the corner. As a defence he pulled out his battered phone and put in the headphones. There was nothing to listen to. Kane hadn’t been able to afford to pay for any phone calls for months. But if anyone saw him talking, perhaps they could assume he was having a conversation.
The sandwich was perfect – the sausages were crispy and brown sauce oozed from the soft, white roll as he bit into it. Then Kane’s heart sank. He could see ghosts. He could see their faint outlines as they wandered around the hall and inspected the latest information on the notice board. He started to bolt down his sandwich. He had to get out of here before the ghosts realised that he could see them. He drained the last of his tea, but he was too late. The ghost of an elderly lady caught his eye.
Kane’s heart sank as she grabbed her companion’s insubstantial arm and tugged the elderly gentleman towards Kane. He looked towards the door but it was too late.
“Hello, dear, I’m Margaret and this is Herbert. Herbert was the first minister on this site.”
Kane positioned his phone so he looked like he was making a call. “I thought this site was new.”
Herbert shook his head. “They rebuilt on the same site. I was completely against it, of course. I always said that there were issues with the traffic when the new supermarket was built.”
“Nobody listens to us, of course.” Margaret said sadly. “And now all we can do is listen to the endless rumble. It affected the foundations of the old building.”
Kane looked out of the window and onto the busy street. He could see the ghosts’ point. Traffic was edging along in a jam just before the turn off to the massive supermarket. “It’s progress.” He said quietly.
“We noticed the cracks in the cellar in the old building before anyone else.” Herbert sighed. “They never listened to us, and by the time the committee had spotted them, it was too late.”
“The old building had its problems, of course.” Margaret said. “They had a lot of trouble with the heating.” She looked wistfully out of the window. “Everything is working well, but there is so much traffic.”
“If there was only a way to escape this.” Herbert followed Margaret’s gaze. “Some way of leaving this endless rumble.”
“Is there a way?” Kane asked.
Margaret leaned forward, sinking slightly into the table. “You can see us. Perhaps you can find a way to get us some peace. That’s all we want.”
“If we could just find a way to silence the endless rumble.” Herbert said. He looked around the bustling church hall. “It is all so different from my day.”
Kane looked at Herbert who was wearing a frock coat and stiff collar and then glanced over to the young mums in leggings. “Time change.” He managed.
“And not for the better, young man.” Margaret said. “Surely you are willing to help us?”
Kane drew a breath to answer and then froze as a stern and elderly minister stalked over towards his table. Kane shrank back into his chair, miserably aware that a skinny youngster apparently talking to himself was never going to get a warm welcome.
The minister leaned down on the table and, to Kane’s utter shock, spoke directly to Margaret. “Are you causing trouble again?” He looked over at Herbert. “You both know better than that. This poor lad came in for a drink and a sandwich. He did not come in to be harassed by two ghosts barely better than poltergeists.”
Herbert pursed his lips. “I beg your pardon!”
“Which story were you telling? The tale where you just needed a picture of your descendants? Or the one where you needed to see pictures of the town.” The minister looked between the two ghosts. “Don’t tell me you were trying the traffic one again. You are on your last warning.”
“You are no fun.” Margaret pulled herself upright, drifting slightly above the ground. “It’s not like we meant any harm.”
“You never do.” The minister snapped. “But I’m still having to counsel those you contact.” He shook his head. “I think you need to leave this young man alone. And I am warning you, one more episode like this and I’m banishing you back to the churchyard.”
Kane watched the two affronted ghosts drift away through the nearest wall and then turned to the minister in surprise. “You can see them?”
“Most of us here can,” The minister smiled sympathetically. “But we’re an unusual bunch.” He hesitated. “I can talk you through some techniques to avoid the supernatural, if you like, or learn more about it.”
“I would really like to learn more about it.” Kane said without thinking. He paused. “I’d like to be able to ignore them as well, at least, the annoying ones.”
“I’m Charles Easton, the minister here.” Charles held out his hand. “If you’re free on Wednesday, I’m in my office all afternoon. We can have a chat.”
Kane automatically shook the minister’s hand. “I’m Kane Thelwell.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.” He took a breath. “I’ll be back on Wednesday.”
“Excellent,” Charles said briskly. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Mr Matthews.” And he was gone.
Kane took the last mouthful of his tea and stood up slowly. He couldn’t wait to tell the ghosts back home about this.
“Can you see anyone?” Justin asked. He stood at the window, tension in every line of him.
“One moment, Mr Birstall.” Kane tried to concentrate on the sobbing ghost in front of him. “Calm down and just try and…” You couldn’t tell a ghost to take a breath. “Just take it easy.”
“All my life I’ve heard the story of the family jewels.” Justin said. “I’ve waited my whole life to buy back my family home.”
Kane nodded distractedly as the ghost slowly straightened up and looked at his sister’s great grandson. “That’s better. Now, this is Justin, and he wants to know what happened to his great grandmother’s jewellery.”
Justin looked between Kane and the gap that Kane was apparently speaking to. “Dad said that the jewellery wasn’t much, but it would be great to be sort of reconciled with that, to be part of the family.”
“I never thought she would leave.” The ghost started sobbing again. “I thought if I forbade her to marry then we would be together and comfortable. But she wanted to go to London with this clerk.”
Kane nodded politely. “I’m sure you missed your sister…”
“I missed her so much. How could I know that I would drive her away.” The ghost pulled out a spectral handkerchief. “I mean, if I had realised perhaps I would have at least had letters.” The ghost looked between Kane and Justin. “I have to know – did she die in poverty? Did she die in pain? Did she have a family? I’ve worried about it for so many years, I can’t rest.”
Kane looked at Justin. “Your great-grandmother, was she happy?”
Justin smiled. “I grew up with stories about her life. She loved the theatre, was devoted to my great-grandfather – she was so proud of him. She was always well dressed, and had all the latest fashions, especially when she went to the big dinners and galas.”
“What do you mean, big dinners?” The ghost forgot to sob into his handkerchief and stared at Justin.
“The ghost is surprised your great-grandmother went to big dinners.” Kane said, a little timidly. A skinny kid just out of local authority care shouldn’t ask questions of a high flyer in the City.
Justin didn’t take offence. “My great-grandmother ran off with my great-grandfather to the horror of all their families. But they settled in London, he went back to his father’s firm and they were very happy. Once he took over, there were shareholders’ dinners and charity events with the Lord Mayor.” He smiled. “Granny used to tell us stories about how they met with royalty and all sorts.” He sighed “But she used to whisper to Granny that all the fancy necklaces she had didn’t have the same feel as the locket her brother gave her and that she left behind.” He shook his head. “That’s why I’m here. One last chance.” He sighed. “Who am I kidding? That locket was probably sold or thrown long ago.”
“How dare you, sir!” The ghost stood, indignant. “The very thought that I would do something like that! Of course, I didn’t want the maids finding it and perhaps sending it on to London, so I hid it.” He turned to Kane. “Boy, you can fetch it for me.”
“What?” Kane said, bewildered. “I mean, what do you mean? Where is it?”
“I put it in the kitchen.” The ghost said. “No-one would think to look in the kitchen for something I hid. I never went there as an adult.” He shook his head. “Everyone forgot that I grew up in this house. I know every nook and cranny. Come on, lad, smarten up.”
Kane followed the ghost out of the empty study and down the echoing, uncarpeted hall and into the kitchen. Justin trailed after him.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m following the ghost, Mr Birstall.”
“What ghost?” Justin said. “I can’t see anything. Don’t you have to have a seance and call on them or something.”
As Kane walked into the kitchen, he wondered what it would be like to have to ask a ghost to come instead of trying to get them to shut up and leave him alone. “I’m getting a message.” He said.
“Hmph, a message.” The ghost snorted. “Anyone would think you were some sort of spiritist. Come over here, lad, and put your hand up the chimney, quick as you like.”
Kane looked at the soot-encrusted mantle and took off his jacket. “Whereabouts up the chimney?” He asked doubtfully, rolling up his sleeves.
“What?” Justin asked.
Kane ignored him and, following the ghost’s instructions, slid his hand behind the mantle. “The ghost, your great-great-uncle, would like to know if his sister was happy, and how she died.” The soot felt unpleasantly damp and a little slimy.
“What?” Justin asked. He stared at Kane and then shrugged. “Everyone said she had a happy heart. She died in the Blitz, direct hit on the house.”
“She wouldn’t have suffered.” The ghost said quietly. “And she was happy.” He sighed. “Try a bit further left, boy.”
Kane looked down at the soot streaking his newest jeans and trainers. “Are you sure? Hang on…” His fingers found a loose stone and he wiggled it a little before he managed to prise it out. He set the stone carefully down on the hearth and tentatively reached in. “I think this is it.”
Justin took the small tin box from Kane, regardless of the soot falling on his bespoke suit and, after a struggle, opened it up. He swallowed and tipped the contents onto the dusty windowsill. “Great-grandmother’s locket.” He pushed aside the discoloured pearls and the garnet necklace and pulled out a simple locket, still faintly gleaming under the dust.
“She didn’t die poor, she died happy.” The ghost sighed as he started to fade and pass over. “I didn’t drive her to poverty. She was happy.”
Kane watched the ghost go home and turned to Justin. “The ghost has gone, Mr Birstall. I don’t think that there’s anything else.”
“Hmm?” Justin was staring at the picture in the locket. “Sorry, I was caught up with this.” He showed the facing pictures to Kane. “My great-grandmother and her brother. I have a similar picture of her at home, look.” He pulled out his phone and scrolled through to show Kane the picture of the same laughing young woman that was in the locket.
Kane looked at the faded photographs and smiled politely as he tried to brush the soot off his jeans. “So, I’ll see myself out.”
Justin came back to the present. “I’ll give you a lift to the station.” He handed Kane an envelope. “Agreed fee.” He added a second envelope. “And the bonus for finding the locket.” The smile on his face grew. “The family jewels.”
Daisy shifted nervously in her seat. “Grandpapa, are you sure about this?”
Her husband held her hand. “It’s okay. We’re doing the right thing.”
“It’s okay for you, Russ, you didn’t grow up with Grandpapa.”
“He’s not exactly your grandfather, though, is he?” Russ said. “I mean, he’s your great-great-great grandfather. And he’s old enough to know his own mind.”
Daisy looked across at the ghost sitting next to the fire. It was an open fire, hissing softly with the smokeless coal they had to use in this part of the city. Grandpapa had never countenanced changing to central heating. “But it seems so final.”
“I know what I’m doing, girl.” Grandpapa puffed on his ghostly pipe. “But I’ve stayed here long enough.”
“Is it about Mrs Henderson?” Russ asked.
“Russ!” Daisy hissed.
“I’ll have you know that I was always faithful to my wife, your grandmama…”
“Great-great-great grandmother,” Russ whispered to Daisy.
“… but I do admit that when Mrs Henderson moved in next door I was struck by her character.” Grandpapa ignored Russ’s comment. “And, yes, now that she has passed over, it has made me think that perhaps I should go and join my Millie…”
“Or Mrs Henderson” Russ murmured to Daisy.
“If you don’t mind.” Grandpapa snorted. “It’s time to join my Millie. I just hope you found someone suitable to take my case.”
“Are you sure you need help, Grandpapa?” Russ asked. “Can you not just, I don’t know, decide?”
Grandpapa shifted awkwardly. “I’ve not had any luck so far.” He admitted. “I may be a special case.” He puffed on his pipe again, enjoying the thought. “But hopefully you have engaged a suitable specialist, one who can manage matters with appropriate dignity.”
“He is the only one we could find,” Daisy said. The thought of the familiar, irritating figure disappearing left her unsettled. “But three separate people said he was very good. All the other people we asked were, well, fakes.”
“And he isn’t asking a fortune, like some of them out there.” Russ added. “If he can’t help us, it will have to be a priest.”
“No priests!” Grandpapa snapped. “I don’t approve of them. The old vicar ran off with his secretary and his replacement cooked the books.”
Daisy and Russ exchanged worried glances. There were plenty of stories about bad priests, but who else could get rid of ghosts? Daisy waved her hand at the table. “Are you sure we need to have this ready for him?”
Grandpapa snorted, “Anyone who can get rid of me will be a man of some courage, a man of discernment, a man of taste and refinement. It won’t be some teddy boy in a silly jacket or one of those punk mohicans. He will be a gentleman.”
Russ looked over the small table set aside for the ‘ghost whisperer’. “I hope he smokes.”
“All gentlemen smoke.” Grandpapa said. “Or they should. A man should be able to choose a good cigar. That’s how you can tell the quality of a gentleman. It may make all the difference in whether he accepts the case or walks away. And have you water for the whisky? I know we have soda, but some of the old guard take water with their whisky.”
Daisy and Russ avoided looking at each other. Grandpapa was becoming more and more out of touch, but Daisy had had the opinionated ghost in the background all her life and Russ had grown to love the old man – more or less. Neither could imagine the house without him. But now that the sprightly and scandalous Mrs Henderson had gone, a spark had gone out of the old spirit and he had become quieter and a little less visible. They jumped as the doorbell echoed through the room.
“Don’t keep him waiting!” Grandpapa said, “Or he may realise we no longer have staff! Go on – answer the door!”
Daisy and Russ raced into the hall and then paused at the door. Daisy looked at Russ. “If we open this door, we won’t be able to stop it.”
“If we don’t open the door, Grandpapa will carry on being miserable.” Russ said, “And he’ll make our lives miserable with it.” He looked at the door as if seeing it for the first time. “But I know what you mean.”
The doorbell rang again. “Open the damn door!” Grandpapa roared from the sitting room.
Daisy swallowed and, despite shaking fingers, opened the door. “Oh!” She looked at the skinny lad in the thin jacket and supermarket jeans and wondered what Grandpapa would say about this.
“Mr and Mrs Smyth? I’m Kane Thelwell. We spoke on the phone about a ghost.” Kane smiled nervously. “May I come in?”
THE WRONG FUNERAL
Kane stood at the back with the rest of the foster kids. He wore a faded black sweatshirt over his darkest jeans, but it was too cold and wet to manage without a jacket and its pale grey stood out against the funereal black of the people at the front. The family looked very proper, all in black with the men in tailored suits and the women wearing hats. He shifted a little in the cold of the church as he listened to the people at the front.
It didn’t seem like the funeral of the woman he knew. They talked about her hard work taking on troubled youngsters that had been rejected by everyone else. They talked about her retiring to the flat and her membership of the local lawn bowls association. They talked about how sad it was that she had never met the right man but devoting her time to the rejected souls had filled the void when she wasn’t working as a very respectable accountant. Kane exchanged glances with the other foster kids. They were equally bewildered. This was not the woman they knew. The woman they knew had been warm and spontaneous and could out-swear as sailor, with a different girlfriend every month. She had fought for these kids, yelled at them, cried with them and celebrated every success. Not all those who came into her home were successes. Not all had survived the legacy of the care system. Some had fallen by the wayside and lost touch, but most had kept contact over the years. The older ones had done their best to contact everyone who had passed through Auntie Brenda’s welcoming door, and though some couldn’t be reached and some couldn’t make it, forty three of her foster kids were there, with ages from over forty to eighteen. They huddled together in their best clothes, silently mourning as they fumbled with unfamiliar service books and old fashioned hymns.
The priest pronounced the blessing and her elder sister followed the coffin in its stately procession out of the church, avoiding the accusing eyes of the foster children. Everyone knew Auntie Brenda wanted to be cremated. Everyone knew that she had wanted loud colours and louder music at the crematorium. She had wanted to be played out to ‘Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!’ And she would have thrown a fit at seeing the kids she loved pushed to the back.
The kids followed the family, leaving a discreet gap. Kane had been one of the last ones she had taken in, before she became too sick to look after others. He glanced around him. The foster kids, the ones she had sheltered, were all pale and tense. Many were quietly crying or fighting back emotion. It had been safe to cry at Auntie Brenda’s home. It had been safe to get a kind word and a reassuring squeeze of the hand. He had known her for such a brief time and her overflowing love had wrapped around him like the best kind of blanket, warm and soft and the perfect size. When he had left, others had called in to help her out, to make sure she had food and warmth and a listening ear, just as she had done for them.
In the sadness, Kane felt anger. Auntie Brenda’s relations hadn’t been there when she was going through chemo, when the shakes hit her, when the nights got cold and dark. They didn’t sit and read to her or share the soaps with her. It had been the kids that her sister had dismissed as broken that had paid back the unstinting love that had been such a lifeline to them. Now they had taken Auntie Brenda’s funeral and made it into something alien and distant.
Kane discreetly hefted his backpack. The kids had not been invited to the small reception afterwards, but that was okay. They would not have gone anyway. Instead they had muddled together a room in a pub owned by one of Auntie Brenda’s less reputable friends and organised some food between them. They had made sure they had a loud copy of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ cued up on their iPad, along with all of the rest of Auntie Brenda’s favourite music. After some discussion, they gave Kane instructions and the contents of the backpack, and he would linger after and pay the final respects on behalf of them. They had worked it out.
After the final blessing and Auntie Brenda’s sister had thrown a small, sanitised shovel of earth onto the coffin, shielding it from the kids, the family slowly dispersed along the gravel paths of the churchyard. The kids nodded to each other. The younger ones headed towards the car park, knowing that they would be watched like hawks ‘because you never know what that sort could get up to’. One of the older ones started asking the vicar questions while another two or three started lingering around the older headstones, catching the eye of the churchwarden. Kane was unobserved.
He crouched down next to the grave. “I miss you, Auntie Brenda,” he said. He swallowed and opened the backpack. “We’re all sorry about the funeral, but we’re doing our best.” He pulled out a few bottles. “It’s okay, Ellis bought the drinks, so it’s legal. We didn’t do anything to get into trouble.” He glanced quickly around and tipped a bottle of the best supermarket rum into the grave. “We all know you like a rum and pep when it’s cold.” He tipped a bottle of peppermint cordial after the rum, quickly hiding the bottles in his backpack. “And it’s November. We remembered. Rum and pep between September and March, and gin and elderflower between March and September. And I promise to take the bottles to the recycling.” He glances around again. “We talked about this a lot,” he said quietly. “But we worked it out together in the end.” He pulled out a plastic bag and emptied the cheap selection into the grave. “We got you the chocolates you always asked us to buy you for Christmas, the ones you liked, but we didn’t want to put plastic in the grave, so we left the box at home. We even left you the coffee creams.” His voice cracked a little at the end.
The shade of Auntie Brenda patted his shoulder. “You did okay, you and the rest. I appreciate it.” She grinned her familiar, careless grin as she popped the echo of a coffee cream into her mouth. The ghost had regained her hair and it was back to her favourite bright pink, spiked defiantly high. “And did you ever hear such rubbish?” She watched Kane stand up and nod to the other kids who drifted away from their targets towards their cars. “She called me an accountant! I worked in a betting shop all my life and I was bloody good at it.” She threw back her head and laughed the throaty, rich laugh that Kane loved. “She would have looked like she had a lemon stuck in her dentures if anyone had said that. Come on, I know you lot. You’ll have got a party sorted out. Let’s get going.”
WATER’S NOT THE WORST OF IT
“Are you sure about this, Mr Easton?” Kane said, looking down the dark steps. “And he won’t listen to you?”
Mr Easton shook his head. “It’s not that he won’t listen to me, it’s just that he thinks I shouldn’t be doing what he called ‘mechanical operations’ as I am a ‘man of the cloth’. I don’t think that dying has helped him become a calmer person.”
“He wasn’t calm when he was alive.” Vic said. “He was a terror. You had to grow a thick skin around him.”
Kane looked at the old man hunched next to him. “And you knew him when you were an apprentice?”
“Yep, sixty years ago, give or take. He was a bugger then and he’s a bugger now and there’s no way I’d go down that hole.”
Kane looked down into the dark cellar. “How bad can it be?”
“If we don’t it fixed soon, there will be structural issues.” Mr Easton said.
Vic nodded. “He could hear the start of it, went down to find the leak and hit his head on the doorframe and died.”
“I think it is a classic case of a spirit unable to rest until something has been put right.” Mr Easton said.
“It would have been put right years ago if he’d let someone get to it.” Vic said. “But he would never trust another man’s work. He wasn’t that good himself, though.” A tea cup flew off the draining board and smashed into the wall next to Vic’s head. “He had rubbish aim as well.” Vic said. “And I’m waiting outside in the car.”
Kane took off shoes and socks, then picked up Vic’s heavy metal toolbox, handed Mr Easton the lamp, and made his way gingerly down the stairs.
The cellar was cramped, with paint flaking from the walls and water flowing over the stone floor. Mr Gomersal was sitting on one edge, a translucent half smoked cigarette stuck behind his ghostly ear. He looked over the tool kit.
“At least it isn’t all this new rubbish.” He said, looking at Mr Easton. “This the lad?”
“It is.” Mr Easton said, “No-one else will come down.”
“When I was a lad people took work where they could take it, and none of this complaining.” Mr Gomersal said. “Right, lad, you do as I say and we’ll be fine. I’ve worked out what the problem is. Now get a wrench, not that one you idiot, that one. That’s it, now pick it up, it won’t bite you.”
“Yessir.” Kane picked up the wrench and looked at the oozing pipe.
“Can you see where the bolt is? No, not that one, you idiot, the one behind it. Bring the light closer so you can see what’s in front of your face. Yes! Give the lad a cough drop, he’s found it!”
As Kane struggled with the rusted pipes, he decided that being ankle deep in cold, dirty water was not the worst part of it.
A MATTER OF TASTE
Kane sat miserably at the table. The restaurant was closed business but he could hear the clatter of the kitchens as they got ready for the evening.
The ghost of Auntie Brenda had stood over him while he laboriously pressed his only white shirt and tried to get him to smarten himself. He had done his best, and now was sitting at a table in a restaurant where a normal meal would cost the equivalent of two week’s rent money.
“I bought this restaurant fair and square.” Mr Jervis said. “And I thought I was buying the recipes.”
Kane tried to ignore the ghost sniffing at the side. “Wasn’t anything written down, sir?”
“There wasn’t a scrap of information.” Mr Jervis tapped his fingers on the immaculate damask tablecloth. “I’ve gone over old purchasing invoices, but the old…” He caught sight of Kane’s expression. “The former chef did a lot of the marketing himself. There’s no clue there.”
The ghost nodded. “And I never let the staff know all the secrets.”
“The staff don’t know the full recipes either.” Mr Jervis said.
“I can see the ghost.” Kane said. “I can ask him for the recipes, if you like, sir.”
“That’s why you’re here.” Mr Jervis snapped. “I need the recipes. The restaurant was sold for a song after he died and now I know why.”
“I’m not surprised if you look at the standard of the bread order.” The ghost sniffed. “And that last lot of cabbage was not fit for the pigs.”
“The ghost says that there were issues with the bread and the cabbages.” Kane said. “Sorry sir.”
“Dammit, Jo said that I shouldn’t scrimp when it came to the bread.” Mr Jervis stood up and started pacing. “And I’ve changed back to the suppliers already.”
“I could give him a few pointers, as he proves himself.” The ghost watched Mr Jervis with a maliciously satisfied expression.”
“Umm, I think the late chef will be willing to give some information over time.” Kane said. “But I can’t make him do anything, sir. Sorry.”
“What’s the point of hiring a ghostbuster if you can’t them to bust the ghost.” Mr Jervis grumbled, then noticed Kane’s expression. “I’m going to have to be nice to him, aren’t I.”
“At least he’s not interfering, sir.” Kane said.
“I’m not interfering yet.” The ghost drifted over to the table. “And the first thing he can do is update those menus. I updated every six months. I’ll give him some new ideas.”
Mr Jervis sank back onto a chair as Kane passed on the information. “He’s going to be running the restaurant, isn’t he?”
The ghost looked up from the menu that Kane had opened for him. “Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up. Now, you need to get rid of the duck on the menu. It’s been here for a few years. Perhaps some partridge…”
Kane started taking notes.
NOT MY CUP OF TEA
Kane managed a forced smile as he stood to shake Mrs Roberts hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“I’m glad you can make it.” Mrs Roberts waved him to a seat. She set up her tablet and quickly flicked to the information. “You’re Kane, you live in Carlton Court down the road and you freelance. You are looking for a job in this shop to learn new skills and meet new people.” Mrs Roberts looked at him coldly. “This is not a dating site. This is a respectable coffee shop.”
A ghost of an elderly woman standing behind Mrs Roberts sniffed. “She may say it’s respectable, but the way they waste the cakes is shameful.”
The elderly man’s ghost next to her nodded. “You would have thought after eighteen months she would have got the cupcake order right.”
“They call them muffins.” The woman said. “It’s a disgrace.”
“What exactly is your freelance work?” Mrs Roberts asked.
Kane had practised this with the ghost of Auntie Brenda. He couldn’t say that he saw ghosts and sometimes he either talked them into ‘going home’ or passed on information such as the location of jewellery or recipes in a restaurant. “I practise a form of counselling.” He said with as much conviction as he could muster.
“I see that one of your references is that incredibly expensive restaurant in Chapel Allerton.” Mrs Roberts said, making a note. “Why are you coming to a small coffee shop after working there?”
“I didn’t work there as a restaurant worker.” Kane tried to keep calm. He really needed a steady income. He was making decent money as a ghost translator, but banks, credit cards and landlords needed something more tangible. “I was contracted as a freelance counsellor.” Mr Jervis needed something like counselling at the end of it and Kane still had to go in every month and play mediator between the old, dead chef and the new, living owner.
“That one looks like he might be worth keeping.” The elderly woman said. “He looks desperate enough to learn.”
“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.” The elderly man sniffed. “Perhaps he could eat up some of the surplus cake order.”
Kane tried to avoid looking at them. Mrs Roberts looked down the list. “You put that you prefer morning shifts. Is that to fit in with this freelance stuff?”
Kane nodded. “But I’m very flexible.”
“I bet he’s flexible.” The old lady smirked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to find out how flexible in the back room.”
The elderly man shook his head. “She never took her opportunity when we managed to lock her in the back room with the last lad that worked here. I would have thought it would have been perfect.”
“I even fused the lights.” The elderly lady said. “It takes a lot of effort to move electricity and she didn’t appreciate it.”
“I don’t approve of divorce.” The elderly man shook his head. “And she’s no age.” He looked Kane up and down. “He’s a bit young, but he should manage.”
“You can start tomorrow, if you like.” Mrs Roberts said. “6.30am sharp, I’ll show you how to set up.”
“I wish she would, but it would just be the café.” The elderly woman muttered.
Kane stood up. Auntie Brenda would be disappointed, but she would understand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can work here. The ghosts are a little too much.”
Kane felt bad for Mrs Roberts as her shoulders slumped, but the appalled expressions of the ghosts would keep a smile on his face for a long time.
CHOOSING THE BATTLES
Tim put another log on the fire and then leant back. He hadn’t bothered to switch any lamps on as the light faded, and the flickering glow danced around the room, throwing shadows against the wall. It was that time of year again, when he wondered whether he had done the right thing, whether he had chosen the right path. A scatter of rain hit the window and he could hear the wind rising in the trees. There was a knock on the door.
Tim walked down the hallway, switching the lights on as he went, and checked the peephole. You didn’t get many surprise visitors this far out in the country, and he didn’t think it would be Estelle. She was visiting friends over in Rochdale and was staying the night. He did not expect to see a thin, hunched young lad, damp and bedraggled in the porch light. It could be a trick. Tim slid the chain on and cracked open the door. “Yes?”
“Mr Timothy Arndale McGuigan?” the young lad asked, shivering a little.
“Who are you?” Tim answered, peering around him for any possible accomplices.
“I’m Kane Thelwell, and I’m here on behalf of Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan.” Water dripped from his plain brown hair. “He’s asked me to pass on some messages.”
“Alistair McGuigan is dead.” Tim said flatly. “He can send no messages.”
Kane turned, as if listening to someone. “No, I can’t say that! Or that! Okay…” Kane squinted through the rain back at Tim. “The Major General says that you wanted to call your first cat Cowshed, because a friend had a cat called Cola as…”
“Alright, alright.” Tim unhooked the chain and ushered the lad in. “You’re soaked!”
Kane managed a smile. “It’s a bit wet out there, sir.”
“Stay there!” Tim ordered. “My wife would kill me if I let you drip on the sofa.”
After a brief whirlwind of activity, Kane was perched on a bundle of towels on the sofa, his hair roughly dried and a large mug of hot chocolate thrust into his hand. Tim put another log on the fire and sat back in his chair. For a moment he watched the stiff winds whipping the flames up into the chimney and turned to Kane. “How did you know about my cat Kimble?”
Kane glanced uneasily at a space at his side. “I can see ghosts.” He said. “Sometimes I get paid to help people out with hauntings and stuff.” He glanced again and nodded. “But this time I’m doing a favour for Major General McGuigan, as a way of saying thank you for his help.”
“What do you mean?” Tim said.
Kane shook his head. “The Major General wants to pass on a message to you. He says he knows that he always told you to be a soldier like him. And that you became a solicitor instead. He says that he talked about you going after money instead of glory.”
Tim pressed his lips together and turned back to the fire. After all these years, the words still stung. “I am a damn good solicitor, you know. I’ve been invited to apply for a position as a District Judge.”
Kane paused and listened to the unseen presence at his side. “But you’ll take a pay cut if you do that.” He said.
Tim shrugged. “I’m not exactly on the breadline, and judges get a respectable salary. Besides, I’ll still get a share of the profits from my firm.”
Kane sipped his hot chocolate and listened again. “The Major General says that you were handling a divorce recently, the Atkins. He said that you encouraged them to reconcile.”
“They were just going through a bad patch.” Tim said. “It would have been wrong to force the divorce.”
“But you could have made a lot of money out of it.” Kane said. “The Major General says that the other solicitor was itching for a fight.”
“They didn’t want to divorce.” Tim said. “They just needed to have a long talk. And they’re happy now.”
“The Major General said you walked away from that fight.” Kane said.
“It was the moral thing to do.” Tim said coldly.
Kane cocked his head to one side. “But you went in hard for that financial settlement.” He said. “The Cawlstone one. The Major General said you fought that like a tiger. He said you spent hours on the books over that.”
“It was the right thing to do. I was merely pursuing a fair settlement against unfair tactics by the respondent.” Tim said. “It was a challenge.”
Kane listened for a moment, then nodded. “The Major General said that you did the right thing both times. That you showed excellent judgement and good leadership.” He paused and nodded. “He says to tell you that you made the right choice, in those and the other cases he saw. That you choose your battles with skill, use well considered tactics and strategy and that he is proud of you. He says you would have made a good officer, but you’re doing pretty good where you are.” Kane listened again. “He says to tell you properly, that Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan is proud of you, his son, and that he always will be.”
Tim swallowed. “Thank you.” He said. “And I’m proud of him.” He hesitated. “I love you, Dad.”
Kane looked at the space next to him and smiled a little. “I think he loves you too.” He said. “He says, goodbye.”
“Wait, Dad, hang on!” Tim leapt to his feet, but Kane was shaking his head.
“He’s gone home now, passed over. He’s not here anymore.”
Tim lowered himself slowly back into the armchair. He found himself breathing a little harder, as if he had been running. He let the conversation sink in slowly. He turned to Kane. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Kane said awkwardly, sipping his hot chocolate.
“Seriously, thank you.” Tim said. “It means a lot.” He managed a smile. “And that is just the way Dad would have said it.”
“He seemed a bit hard work, but he was a good man.” Kane said. “He helped me out with a problem last week, and I don’t think I could have managed without him.”
Tim smiled a little sadly. “He was a great man to have on your side.” He hesitated. “You say you are employed to sort out hauntings?”
Kane nodded. “Well, sort of sort out. I can see and hear ghosts, but I can’t make them do what I want.” He thought for a moment. “I could never have got the Major General to do anything he didn’t want to.”
Tim laughed. “That sounds like Dad. But what is your fee?”
Kane shook his head. “No fee tonight. It’s my way of saying thank you to the Major General. I don’t mind.”
Tim looked at the hunched young lad, with his battered trainers and worn, cheap jeans. “I feel like I owe you a great deal.” He said. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?” He watched the emotions cross Kane’s face, as he struggled to resist temptation, before he gave in.
“Could you give me a lift to the station?” Kane asked.
“Bless you!” Kane said.
The ghost of Auntie Brenda sniffed and looked at Kane reproachfully. “You know I’m allergic to cats.”
“I knew you were allergic to cats.” Kane stroked Bertie’s ears. “I didn’t think it would last afterwards.”
Auntie Brenda’s expression softened. “Poor little mite.”
Kane tickled under Bertie’s chin and tried not to grin. “This is not a poor little mite. This is a bruising bully with more attitude than fur.”
Auntie Brenda leaned forward and ran a spectral finger over Bertie’s coat. “Give that cat a bit of food and some love and he’ll have a coat you can be proud of, won’t you, sweetie?” Bertie gave her a disgusted look before leaning into Kane’s caresses. “Poor thing has lost its owner and is all alone in the world.”
Kane felt the weight of Bertie settle heavily on his lap. When he helped the spirit of Bertie’s last owner to pass over, he had not expected to have to deal with a cat afterwards. “I’ve always wanted to ask,” Kane began carefully. “Why did you always have cats if you were allergic to them?”
“Oh, I got used to them after a while.” Auntie Brenda wiped her nose on a ghostly tissue. “Besides, it isn’t a home without a cat. Now that you have your own little flat, it makes sense to have cat.”
Kane looked around his new flat. It was self contained and, for the first time he could remember, he didn’t have to share a bathroom or kitchen. He wished he could risk getting a new build flat, though instead of this Victoria conversion. He had spotted a few ghosts on the way in and he was sure Auntie Brenda had been gossiping. On the other hand, there was something grand about the high ceilings and painted mouldings. Auntie Brenda had helped him choose the right furnishings in the charity shops and it was starting to look cosy. “Ow!” He glared down at Bertie. “Just because I stopped tickling you doesn’t mean that you can spike me!” He went back to gently stroking the soft fur under Bertie’s chin.
“He knows what he likes.” Auntie Brenda chuckled. “Now, I have to get some rest.” She faded slowly from view.
Kane leaned back into the armchair and listened to the deep, vibrating purr of Bertie sprawled on his lap. Contentment settled around his shoulders like a warm blanket. Things were looking good.
LOVE YOU FOREVER
“How dare he date her!” A shower of dead rose petals scattered across the floor.
“You died two years ago.” Kane felt desperately out of his depth. How could he explain it to the ghost of Carlee Evans? “He can’t mourn you forever.”
“I killed myself because of him.” Carlee sobbed. “Of course he should love me forever. I left a note saying that I would love him forever. It’s not too much to ask.”
“I did some digging and looked some stuff up on the internet as well as talking to him.” Kane said. “You killed yourself because he went to his grandmother’s funeral.”
“I needed him!” Carlee wailed. “He was always talking to his precious family and his stupid friends. He should have been concentrating on me! I was devastated from work.”
“It was his grandmother’s funeral.” Kane stared at the ghost’s face for a moment, but saw nothing there. “He loved her and was heartbroken.”
“He should have been loving me!” Carlee stamped her ethereal foot. “I loved him.”
“Did you mean to kill yourself?” Kane asked.
Carlee shrugged and turned away.
“Because your internet search history was all about ‘safe overdoses’.” Kane could feel the ghost pulling away from him, but he concentrated a little. He was getting a lot better at dealing with ghosts and, to Carlee’s horror, she couldn’t leave.
“He should have been worried about me, not anyone else.” Carlee said. “And we should always be together. He doesn’t need anyone else.”
Kane took a deep breath and nodded to the ghost of Auntie Brenda who was hovering just on the edge of his vision. She slipped away. He tapped Carlee on the shoulder and almost smiled as she flinched at the unexpected contact. “You know Mick asked me to help because I can talk to ghosts.”
Carlee nodded. “And you can tell him how much I love him, and that I forgive him, and you can keep relaying messages. He won’t need the bitch now he can talk to me.”
“I can speak to all sorts of ghosts.” Kane said. “I keep it quiet, but I can often find a particular spirit or ghost, if I try and have a few clues.”
“I only care about Mick.” Carlee said. “Nothing else matters to me and nothing else matters to him. He has always been obsessed with me.”
Kane thought of the way Mick had described Carlee, the reluctance to date, the nightmare of the relationship and the relief mixed in with the guilt when she died. “I spoke to your mother.”
Carlee stared at him. “You wouldn’t!”
“Carlee Jean, how could you do this to me?” A ghost of an older woman strode towards them out of the shades, her lips pressed hard together and her eyes cold. “I can’t believe that you continue to embarrass your family, after everything I’ve said.”
Carlee spun around. “Mother!”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady. Your father is so disappointed in you.”
“No, not Dad as well!”
The man following was as formally dressed as Carlee’s mother and wore a disapproving expression. “I found out about what the papers said.” He shook his head. “Even in death you were a disgrace.”
“I’m surprised that Father McKinley did the service.” Carlee’s mother said. “And to think he baptised you.”
“Mother…” Carlee tried to interrupt.
“You are coming with us.” Her father was adamant. “I am not allowing our family name to be dragged through the mud because you can’t control yourself.”
“No, Mum, Dad, you don’t understand!” Carlee cast an imploring look at Kane. “Say something.”
“Good luck.” Kane said, watching the figures fade out of sight. Now to give Mick the good news.
“It’s easier to show you,” Kate said.
“We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it,” Kes chipped in.
Kane looked nervously at the couple. “I’ve never dealt with a haunted window before,” he said. “They’ve always been haunted by someone.”
Kes shrugged his broad shoulders. “We didn’t know where to turn until you were recommended.”
Kane sighed. “Show me the problem, please.”
Kate led them into the small back room in the tiny terrace. “We sunk a lot of money into this. We always came in the evenings, though, and when we look back, the old owner always rushed us out of this room.”
“We thought of suing the surveyor,” Kes said. “But how do you explain this in court?”
Kate went over to the far wall where thick curtains hung and pulled them back. Kane stared as Kes switched on the light. The window was completely bricked up. Kate saw his confusion. “We thought we could have it knocked through, but, well…”
Kane watched in disbelief as Kate’s hand passed through the apparently solid brick and rapped smartly on what sounded like a glass pane. “I think I see.”
“It looks normal from the outside,” Kes said. “You can even see the furniture in the room and everything.”
Kate nodded. “We asked the previous owner.” She sighed. “He had inherited the house from his aunt. Apparently the old lady had seen her fiancé kissing another woman through this window, and so she had it bricked up.”
“She never married, or even dated, as far as the nephew knew,” Kes said. “It’s a very sad story.”
“I’ve never done a window before,” Kane said carefully. “I’ve only done people.” He thought for a moment. “And dogs.” He walked slowly up to the window and pressed his fingers against what looked like dark brick. They passed through and rested against cool glass. “Could you give me a moment?”
Kane waited until the door had shut quietly behind him and then looked carefully around. It took a moment, but he saw her, a bent old lady huddled in the corner. “Hello, Miss. I’m Kane. Are you okay?”
“I’m so ashamed,” the frail figure said. “I’ve never forgave myself.”
“I knew it wasn’t just a window,” Kane said. “There is always someone there.”
“I found out later that it was his sister,” the shade of the old lady said. “It had just been a peck on the cheek anyway, but I was so jealous.” The ghost of a withered hand wiped away a translucent tear. “And afterwards, well, I just couldn’t look him in the face. I had said such dreadful things.”
“I’m sure he knew that you didn’t mean them.” Kane said sympathetically.
The old lady’s ghost shook her head. “I couldn’t live with myself. I wouldn’t see him. I couldn’t even bare to read his letters.” She gestured to the ghost of the brickwork. “I had to do this.”
Kane stared at the ghost of the brickwork and then back at the old lady. “Who took it down?”
“My nephew, Arthur, took it down.” The old lady slowly approached the window and stood next to Kane. “I should have done that years ago, and I was glad that he had.” Tears slid down the wrinkled cheeks. “I should have gone to him years ago, and now it’s too late.”
Kane thought for a moment. “But it isn’t really too late,” he said. “You could find him now.”
The old lady was suddenly still. “You mean, apologise? It’s too late for that. And I could never find him now.”
Kane shrugged. “People seem to manage once they’ve passed over. And perhaps you could just talk to him. You can explain.”
The old lady slowly shook her head. “I need to apologise. I need to go and find him.” She slowly faded into the dim light in the corner of the room. As her presence left, light flooded in as the ghosts of the bricks on the window followed her.
Kane sighed as he turned to call in Kate and Kes, his heart breaking a little for her sadness. He had dealt with enough ghosts to be unsurprised by her stubbornness.
“Come on, kitty, come for a cuddle,” Kane hoped he didn’t sound as helpless as he felt.
“Can you see him?” Adele called over his shoulder.
“He seems to be stuck behind the bookcase,” Kane said, “Come on, Kitler, come on.”
“I’ve never liked cats,” Adele said, trying to get a look. “But when my aunt died, well, I couldn’t let him go to a shelter. I mean, my aunt loved the evil creature.”
Kane stared helplessly at the ghost of the cat. The ghost stared back. Kane recognised the expression of bland assurance, the hint of secret wisdom and knowledge, and the pause of waiting for a thought to turn up between the furry ears. “Come on, Kitler, there’s a good kitty.”
“He was supposed to be called Sam, but after he terrorised next door’s rottweiler and dropped a live rat in front of the vicar, we thought Kitler was more appropriate.” Adele said. “He was a bit of a character.”
Kane reached out and tickled Kitler under his ghostly chin. The cat snuggled down onto the cuddle and edged forward. “He sounds a little difficult.” He could hear the phantasmal purr echoing.
“Do you know, the first week he was here, he chased a postman down the path,” Adele said with a hint of pride. “We had to collect all our post in the end, and we were blacklisted by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“Who’s a good kitty?” Kane said, as the spirit of the cat edged closer.
“I didn’t expect to miss him when he went, but I do,” Adele sighed. “I wonder if that held him back from crossing the Rainbow Bridge?”
“I think he was still happy here,” Kane said, watching the shade of Kitler push blissfully against his tickling fingers.
“I suppose so,” Adele said. “I mean, next door’s Alsatian still runs away from the post where Kitler used to sit. But he makes such a noise at night, racing around and knocking things over. It’s like he never left.”
Kane looked at the smug spirit in front of him. That’s why the ghost hadn’t moved on. He was having too much fun terrorising the household to want to see what happened next. “He is a strong character.” Any minute now, Kane thought. Any minute now the purr will turn to a hiss. I wonder if he can still scratch?
“But I’m not getting any sleep, and it’s unnerving having a ghost in the house.” Adele said. “So can you do something?”
“I’ve only really done people,” Kane said, pulling his hand back quickly as the cuddle turned instantly into an attack. Kitler glared at him. “I’m not sure how to get a ghost cat safely over.”
“Could you bribe him with ghost treats?” Adele asked. “He used to do anything for Dreamies.”
Kane stood up. “To be honest, I really don’t know what to do.” He looked around. “Aunt Brenda, do you have any ideas?”
The ghost of his foster mother tickled Kitler behind the ears. “What a sweetie. I wish I could take him home with me.”
“I’ll take it from here, my good woman!” A disembodied voice rang out before a spectral figure shimmered into view.
“Aunt Charlotte,” Adele whispered, holding on to the back of the chair.
“You can see her?” Kane asked.
“People always said I had a presence,” Aunt Charlotte said smugly. “And now I’ve come for my Sam before he gets exorcised or some such nonsense.” She grabbed Kitler firmly around the middle and hoisted him, unprotesting and stunned, into her arms. “He’s coming home with his mummy.” She turned to Adele. “You did your best for mummy’s little kitty. You should get that painting I left you valued, the one that you put in the spare bedroom.” She sniffed. “If you appreciated art, you would already know about it. The certificate of authenticity is tucked behind the frame at the back.”
Adele and Kane watched the ghost of Aunt Charlotte with her malevolent companion fade from view.
“Have they definitely gone?” Adele asked. “I mean, both of them?”
Kane smiled reassuringly. “I’m pretty sure that they won’t come back either.” He watched Adele sag with relief.
Auntie Brenda nodded in approval. “You’re going to find it very quiet around here now,” she said. “Perhaps you should get another cat.”
Kane decided that was one message he was not going to pass on.
THE COFFEE SHOP
“Please, could you just consider it?” Jane looked around into thin air. “It would make such a difference.”
Kane looked at the ghost of Bob Jones who was twisting the shade of his flat cap around in his hands. “Times are hard at the moment,” he said.
“They always are, son, they always are,” Bob said. “But that’s no reason to lose my dignity. I’m not one to put myself forward and I’ve always been respectable.”
“Can you see him?” Jane asked.
Kane nodded. “He’s not very comfortable with this, and I can see his point of view.”
“All I’m asking is a little help,” Jane said. “I’m not asking for clanking chains and moaning. All I want is a little presence.”
“Presence?” Kane asked.
“Yeah, a bit of a chill sometimes, or perhaps unexpected draughts. Something lowkey.” Jane looked around, trying to guess where Bob was standing. “What can Mr Jones do anyway?”
“That’s a very personal question,” Bob said, affronted.
Kane turned to Bob. “You must have seen the amount of work Jane has put in to re-open this café. She just needs a little help.”
“It’s not the same since she bought it,” Bob said. “I was coming here for years before I died here, and I always came in for Ellen’s smile. She had a lovely smile and she always made sure I had an extra bit of bacon.” Bob smiled reminiscently. “So when I passed here, well, I just hung around. I still got to see Ellen’s smile, though she found it a strain at the end, as she got older.” His tone changed. “Then this young lass waltzes in and changes everything. It’s not the same. I miss Ellen.”
Kane turned to Jane. “Bob is talking about Ellen, the former owner. I think he’s worried that she’s being forgotten now someone new has bought the shop. Do you know her or any of her family that may be able to speak up for you.”
The colour drained from Jane’s face. “Ellen Carson? She ran this place for years, with the best bacon butties and meat and potato pies for miles.”
“They were absolutely the best,” Bob said, “And she always had a cheerful word for anyone coming in.”
“But it was losing money in the end. People weren’t coming in. They wanted fancy coffee and my poor grandmother couldn’t keep up. She took a holiday away to think about it but she just faded when she was away from it. She passed in her sleep.” Jane looked down at her hands and a tear slid down her face. “I miss her. I promised her I’d make a go of this place, and I inherited it fair and square, but the costs of renovation have taken all my savings. I have to make this work.”
Kane stepped back as Bob peered forward then looked at Kane. “Is she Ellen’s granddaughter?”
Kane looked helplessly at Jane. “Can you show anything to link you with Ellen?”
Jane stared for a moment and then dug into her pocket. “How about this?” She pulled out her phone and flicked through the pictures. “Here.” She held it in the air.
Bob walked around Kane to look at the picture. “That’s Ellen sitting with you! I mean, she isn’t as young as she was when I met her, but she always had the sweetest smile.” He frowned and looked at Jane, tilting his head and frowning. “Do you know, I think you do have a look of her about you.”
“I think he believes you,” Kane said.
“I think I do,” Bob said. “I tell you what, I’ll make a deal. I’ll haunt this place – respectfully, with no hanky panky, as long as there’s a picture of Ellen on the wall.” The spirit’s face softened. “She made a great cup of tea as well. She knew what I liked – strong enough for a mouse to run across it.”
Kane tried to hide his grimace at the thought of the tea and passed the message on to Jane.
“It feels strange, knowing that he knew Gran,” Jane said. “But nice, like having a fairy godfather.”
Bob snorted, but there was a smile in his eyes. “And the reason that infernal new coffee machine keeps messing up is that the workman put one of the switches in upside down. I watched him as he was trying to sweet talk some lady on the phone. The foreman was far too forgiving. It would never have happened in my day.”
Kane passed the message on, keeping any comments to himself about his own experience of past workmen. He turned to Bob. “You won’t get carried away, will you?”
“As I said, I’ve always been respectable.” Bob was firm. “A few unexpected chills won’t hurt anyone, just a little decent spookiness.” He grinned, a gleam in his spectral eye. “And if Jane takes down the picture of her grandmother once or twice a year, I’ll do something special for it. Not at Halloween,” he added hastily. “That would be cheap. I won’t do cheap. But it will be good just to keep a story going. So it’s still fun to come here for one of those strange coffees, but there’s a little extra.” He puffed up his ghostly chest. “Ellen would have liked that.”
OUT OF PLACE
“How has it been?” Kane asked Jane. She had sounded strained on the phone when she had asked to meet him in the park.
“Well, it’s sort of a success,” Jane said, running a hand through her hair. It was evening and the setting sun gleamed on her loose, golden hair. “But it’s sort of not.”
“Is he haunting the café?” Kane asked.
“That’s the problem,” Jane said. “I thought he would have a bit of a chill around the place, you know, a cold spot or unexpected draughts. Instead he’s fixated on the machine.”
Kane thought for a moment. “Why?”
“He used to be a plumber when he was alive, remember,” Jane said. “I think he keeps trying to work out the coffee machines. To be fair, they work a lot better when he’s here. They get hotter, the flow is smoother and in general they are just that little bit easier. But it gives the barista’s the shivers.”
“How are they taking it?” Kane asked.
“With maximum drama,” Jane grumbled. “I don’t think that they’d miss it for the world. He’s very respectful, you know. They only spot it when the steam comes out twisted or there’s a disturbance on the surface of coffee, and they know he’s trying to work out what’s going on.”
“Is he haunting the customers?” Kane asked.
“He usually turns up for a Goth couple that come in most days, and all involved seem happy with that. But he seems unhappy to try anything with someone in a suit and tie, and they’re all office workers there. And he won’t upset the ladies.”
Kane smiled sympathetically. “If you’re going to have anyone haunting a coffee shop, it’s perhaps as well that they’re haunting it nicely,” he said.
“I wonder if you could have a tactful word with him,” Jane said. “He’s doing wonders for business and I’m very grateful, but perhaps if he redirects some of his work.” She smiled apologetically. “And I’ve arranged for a man to come and show the staff how to service the coffee machines. I’d like Bob to watch. I think he’d like it, and I’m sure he’ll understand it more than us. He could put us right.”
“You want Bob to service your machines?” Kane stared at her. “He’s a ghost!”
“But he’s already pretty good and it would save a fortune in repairs,” Jane said. “Please, will you tell him?”
Kane thought for a moment. It may seem odd, even to him, but who was he to argue. “I’ll let him know, and I’ll share what he says.” Kane shook his head. “I don’t know how he’ll take it, but I’ll be around tomorrow, around 10am.”
“Brilliant,” Jane said. “I can’t wait!”
Kane shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not really here that often,” he said. “If you’re giving a demonstration about how to service the coffee machines, you should speak to Jane. I’m just hear as an interested bystander.”
“And to ask my questions,” Bob said, his ghostly form peering closely at the machine.
“Although I’m sure I’ll have a few questions,” Kane added.
Jane nodded at the engineer. “That was the agreement. You show me how to service the machine and what I need to do to keep it working in good order.”
Bob hissed in Kane’s ear, “Watch he doesn’t over tighten stuff when he closes it all up. It’s a nasty trick some plumbers use, to make sure that a lass on her own has to call them out. He has the tools, you see, that can get nuts and bolts a bit tighter. It’s a dirty trick.”
Kane nodded. “Can I just check? When you’ve gone over it, you’ll watch Jane take it apart and do the service again, to make sure she knows what she’s doing?”
The engineer shot him a dark look. “Will you be having a go as well?”
Kane shook his head. “No, I’m just watching.”
“We have allowed a whole morning,” Jane said. “That should be plenty of time.”
“I can manage it in a morning,” the engineer said, “but it will take you some practice to be as quick.” He unrolled his took kit. “Can I check your tools?”
As the engineer picked over Jane’s comprehensive toolkit, Bob fretted around Kane. “He’s no good, really. I’ll be watching him. He’ll miss out a step that will mean a call out, or he’ll go too fast. It’s a good thing I’m here.”
“You may have to explain things to me,” Kane muttered in the background, trying to keep away from the engineer. “I haven’t got a clue.”
“Don’t worry,” Bob said, “I’ll keep you straight.”
It was an interesting morning. Kane was used to ghosts, so the shade of Bob hissing questions was nothing new. It was fun watching the engineer’s expression.
“Of course I’m going to use the descaler on these parts,” the engineer said. “I was just waiting for the right moment. May I have a jug to soak the parts?”
Under Bob’s instructions, Kane cut the bottom off a large, empty milk jug, rinsed it well and handed it over. “That should do, shouldn’t it?”
The engineer grunted. “It should be adequate. Now, let’s get back to this seal…”
“If we need to replace it, where do we get a new one?” Kane asked, prompted by Bob.
The engineer was rattled, “I always recommend going to the manufacturer,” he said. “That way you know you have a genuine part.”
Bob grunted. “It depends on the kit. Sometimes you don’t need the fancy stuff and get something from the builder’s merchants.” He shook his spectral head. “But with this machine costing so much, it’s probably best to be careful.”
“As I was saying,” the engineer glared at Kane, “the seal is seated here.” Jane watched with interest as the seal was neatly fitted. The engineer nodded, “And then we can screw this housing over it.”
Kane jumped as Bob shouted in his ear. “Is that seal properly set?” he asked. “I thought I saw it move.” Translating a ghost’s outrage into polite words to the living was a skill, and Kane had earned that skill.
The engineer shot Kane a suspicious look and looked closer. Everyone could hear the click as the seal fitted snugly into its spot. “Well spotted, lad. Have you done this sort of thing before?”
Kane shook his head. “But I believe in listening and paying attention,” he said with complete honesty.
“Hmm,” the engineer said, shooting a dark look at Jane who was watching with bland interest and fitting on the housing. “That should more or less-”
“He’s forgotten a part!” Bob shrieked in Kane’s ear.
Kane nearly fell over and managed to gasp, “Where does that go?” as he pointed to a small rod next to the engineer.”
“Well spotted!” the engineer blustered, “I was just checking to see if you noticed.”
Kane managed a weak smile as Jane tried to hide her giggles behind the engineer as he fitted the part. The engineer was taking meticulous care while shooting glances over at Kane. “It’s very interesting,” Kane managed.
“That about wraps it up,” the engineer said. “I’ll be sending you the invoice.”
“Wonderful,” Jane said. “And can I have your card for the UNC folder?”
“Happy to oblige, miss.” The engineer rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a card and, after a further rummage, a pen. “And you can get me anytime on this number,” he said as he scrawled a number on the back.
“Thank you,” Jane smiled and eased him out of the shop, sagging slightly when he was out of sight. “That was an education. Did Bob make you jump?” she asked Kane.
“I think Bob took at as a professional insult,” Kane said. “What is the UNC folder?”
“I keep a record of business cards in it,” Jane said. “Numbers of businesses that I want to use again or that I found helpful get saved on my phone and laptop. The rest go in the UNC folder. It stands for ‘Use Under No Circumstances’ and I’m definitely putting this one there.” She smiled. “And thank Bob for me. If he hadn’t been watching, I’m sure I would have had to pay for a lot more visits. He’s saved me a fortune!”
Bob smiled broadly. “I’m happy to help out,” he said. “Anything for Ellen’s lass.”
Kane shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m not sure that this is a great idea. We’ve gone for miles. Perhaps we should turn back.”
April checked her mirrors and then, indicating, pulled into the side of the road. “I really wanted you to check out my new car. I mean, I had Den check out the engine at his garage, but I sensed a presence, and I was wondering if it was okay.”
Kane hunched lower in his seat. All of the foster kids that had been part of Auntie Brenda’s life knew that he could see ghosts. He had passed on enough stern and supporting messages. It was still quite awkward. “I know that there’s a man in the car,” he said carefully. “But we haven’t spoken.” He looked closer at April. “You’re looking very pale. Are you alright?”
April grimaced. “I shouldn’t tell you, really, but I’m expecting. I’m only a few weeks gone, but I’m feeling a bit rough.”
“Congratulations!” Kane said. “Will I get to be an honorary uncle?”
“Of course!” April said. “Ooh, I really don’t feel well.”
Kane felt the start of panic. “What do you mean? What’s the matter?”
April’s face lost the last of her colour. “I feel all woozy.” She slumped against the steering wheel.
“April! April! What’s happening?” Kane patted her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“Dial 999,” the voice from the back of the car said firmly. “We need to get her to a hospital.”
Kane turned around and saw the ghost of a man in his late fifties, with greying hair, glasses and a calm expression. “Yes, of course.” He pulled out his phone. His panic quadrupled. “I can’t get a signal!”
“Okay, keep calm,” the man said. “I’m Andy, and we can deal with this. Take a breath. Now, first things first. Check quickly for breathing and pulse.”
Kane fumbled a bit but managed. “April, can you hear me?”
“Mmm?” April’s eyes rolled back in her head.
“That’s a good sign,” Andy said. “Now, get her into the back of the car and get her legs higher than her head.” He looked at Kane’s expression. “It’s okay, I know the techniques. Get out of your side first – check for traffic!”
Kane stumbled around to April’s side and opened the door. “Come on, April. We need to make you comfy.”
“Check your phone again,” Andy instructed, still calm and measured.
Kane shook his head. “I’m still getting nothing.” He looked around the desolate countryside. April had driven them to the hills above Bolton Abbey and there wasn’t a soul in sight. “I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s okay,” Andy said. “You can do this. We need to get April to some medical attention, and that’s not going to be a problem.” He gave Kane a hard look. “I can’t do anything physical, so it’s down to you, but I can tell you what to do. And I know this area well. I know all the short cuts and back roads and we’ll have her in Skipton General Hospital before you know it.”
His calming voice was having an effect, but Kane was still panicking. “How are we going to get her there? I can’t get a signal!” He looked around wildly. “It could take me hours to walk back down to the road.”
“You’ll have to drive,” Andy said. “But first, get April into the back with her legs higher than her head.”
Kane grunted and struggled as he followed Andy’s instructions and half lifted and half guided April into the back. “I can’t drive.”
“Okay,” Andy said. “Put a blanket over April – there’s one on the parcel shelf. That’s right.” He looked carefully at Kane. “I’m going to tell you what to do, and you’re going to follow my instructions and we will at least get as far as the main road.”
“I haven’t even got a provisional licence!” Kane said. “I can’t do it.”
“April needs you to do it, Kane,” Andy said. “Just listen to me. I was a police officer for twenty years and a driving instructor for another ten. I can talk you through this. All you need to do is keep your head. And you need to do that, because April is looking poorly.”
Kane looked down at April. Her breathing was laboured and she was terrifyingly colourless. “Okay.”
Kane walked around to the front of the car and, after a heartbeat of hesitation, climbed into the driver’s seat. The key was in the ignition. He turned the key.
Suddenly Andy was sitting next to him, complete with clipboard and a spectral seatbelt. “Put your seatbelt on, please, Kane. We don’t need two casualties.”
Kane nodded and put the seatbelt on. “We need to turn around, don’t we?”
“You were in foster care with April, weren’t you?” Andy said. “You must have had a go or two in a car.”
Kane shrugged. “I was usually a passenger. And it was years ago.”
Andy looked at him thoughtfully. “Okay, let’s start. Clutch in first, release the handbrake and we’ll find a good place to go around.”
Kane pressed a pedal.
“No, the clutch,” Andy said. “No, the other one. That’s it.”
The car lurched forward.
“Check your mirrors,” Andy said. “Just in case. No, just a glance! Keep steering straight.”
Kane frantically corrected the line of the car.
“We’re coming up to a gate so just move a little past it, that’s right. No, wait a minute, stop. No, that’s the accelerator. That’s it.”
The car lurched to a halt. Kane could hear the stress in Andy’s voice.
“It’s okay,” Andy said. “I’m going to ask you to do things that I used to take weeks to build up to. It’s fine. Now, find reverse. That’s it, clutch down, and I want you to release calmly and slowly.”
The car stalled.
“We can do this,” Andy said. “The important thing is to know that this is the easiest way to get April to some help. We focus on the outcome. Now, clutch down, slowly up and now turn the wheel to the left. No, the other left. That’s it. Nice and slow. Slowly! Slowly! And stop!”
The car stalled, inches from the drystone wall. Kane managed to get his foot on the brake.
“Well done,” lied Andy. “Now, we need to make sure that we take care coming away. Start steering now before we start the car. It’s not good for the tyres, but let’s be practical. That’s right. Now, we are going to start the car, make sure that we have plenty of revs before we release the brake and then we are going to turn right. Okay? Now, make sure that the handbrake is on. Good.”
Kane took a breath, turned the ignition and eased his foot down on the accelerator.
“Not too many revs,” warned Andy. “Right, now slowly release the handbrake and-”
Kane let out the handbrake and then shrieked as the car hurtled out, skewing wildly to the right and roared painfully down the road. He took his foot from the accelerator and his knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.
“Keep it steady,” Andy said, keeping his voice even with effort. “Now second gear, clutch down, change the gear and slowly up.”
The car stalled.
“It’s okay,” Andy said. He was gripping the spectral clipboard with some force. “Handbrake on, into neutral, ignition, release handbrake, into first, that’s it! Now into second! Well done!”
The car trundled along at fifteen miles an hour.
“I think we need to show that there is a hazard,” Andy said. “Let’s get the hazard lights on.” He glanced at Kane’s set face. “We’re going to slow to a stop, put on the hazard lights and then start again. It warns others to give us space if we need it. You can do this.”
The car stalled.
“Kane, look at me,” the ghost said. He waited until the white faced lad turned to him. “You have to do this for April. There are going to be lots of stalling and lurching and crunching, and it’s going to be scary. But if you listen to me, you can get April to safety, and she needs that.”
Kane looked back at April, whose breathing was fast and shallow. He nodded, put on the hazards, gear in neutral, ignition, first gear, second gear and then carefully around the corner.
“Country lanes can be tricky,” Andy said. “But we haven’t got too far to go before we get to a main road and we’re bound to get a signal there. Now, keep it steady. Don’t worry about the bend, just dip the clutch and don’t panic.”
The car lurched suddenly forward, swung wildly across the road and lurched before settling back down to fifteen miles an hour.
“Well done,” Andy lied again. For a moment, the spectral clipboard shook in his hands. “You can do this. We can be down to Bolton Bridge before you know it. Now, keep it steady, don’t worry about the rise.”
The car laboured up the hill, the engine almost banging.
“Just a little more on the accelerator,” Andy said carefully.
The car shot over the top of the hill, careered around the blind bend, and shot down the slope. The engine screamed.
“Just gently touch the brake,” Andy said.
The car lurched violently, then continued at speed.
“No, just gently touch it, that’s it.” Andy kept the encouraging note in his voice with effort. “And let the car slow down nice and steady.”
The car lurched, growled and stalled.
“You’re doing very well for a first time,” Andy said. “Especially in the circumstances.”
They both looked around. April was alarmingly still and seemed unaware of the rollercoaster the drive was.
“Check your signal,” Andy said. “We may just need to get the car safe.”
Kane checked his phone. “Nothing, no, hang on…” He unbuckled his seatbelt.
“Handbrake on first!” Andy yelled.
The car was starting to roll away as Kane dived for the handbrake, then jumped out of the car. There was a tiny flicker of a hint, but nothing concrete. He forced himself back in the car. “Nothing.”
“But there was nearly something.” Andy was being carefully encouraging. “So we keep going. Now, seatbelt on, into neutral, ignition. Come on, you can do this. It’s all straightforward.”
It took Kane ten minutes to travel the next three miles. He could feel the sweat on his face, and his whole body ached as the tension took his toll. The car lurched, gears crunching, then stalled or shot forward in unpredictable ways before crawling around yet another blind corner. Through it all, Andy’s calm voice kept Kane going. That, and the laboured, rasping breathing from April in the back.
“You’ve done brilliantly,” Andy said. “Absolutely brilliantly. I couldn’t ask for more. Now I want you to slow down and steer to the side where there’s a gate. You can stop there. It’s okay. That’s it, easy on the brake. Handbrake on, engine off and there we are! Well done. Now, you see that in front of you. It’s a telephone pole.” Andy grinned at Kane. “You may not be in a condition to recognise it, but it almost certainly means that there’s a signal.”
Kane pulled out his phone and checked. He noticed that his hands were shaking. “I’ve got a signal!” He looked around at April. She was scarily still.
“Good, now check your maps and make a note of where we are. Then call 999. They’ll get April the help you need.” Andy smiled. “And you had better get back into the passenger seat. We don’t want them to want to check your licence.”
Instead, Kane got out and leaned over April as he made the call. She was cold and clammy now, and he eased the blanket over her as he passed on all the information. As he hung up, he turned to Andy. “Thanks. I don’t know what I would have done.”
“You would have managed something,” Andy said breezily. “Now, while we’re waiting, I’ll run through some of the Highway Code. After that start, I’ll get you through your driving test, no problem.”
Kane rubbed April’s icy hand. “Perhaps it can wait,” he suggested.
“No time like the present,” Andy said briskly. “And you don’t want to be fretting while you wait. Now, what is the speed limit on a road with no markings but streetlamps?”
Kane tucked the blanket closer into April and wondered how he could get out of this one. A ghost for a driving instructor was all he needed.
“I did it!” Kane sat back in the seat and waved the pass papers at Andy. “I passed my test! Thank you!”
Andy grinned. “I told you that you could do it. Now all you need to do is keep checking your mirrors and get some practice in.” His face clouded over. “I wish I could come with you to find a car.”
Kane smiled awkwardly at the ghost of the driving instructor. “I wish you could as well. I don’t know where to start.”
“Well, your friend Den will know a few people, but don’t let him talk you into something that’s not absolutely on the level,” Andy said. “Check online for all the papers that they should have, and don’t accept any excuses.”
“You can’t leave the car, can you?” Kane said. He frowned. “I wish there was some way to help you.”
April interrupted them, walking over from the test centre and sticking her head into the car. “I’m getting a lift home now,” she said, grinning at Kane. “You can drive the car back. Take your time.” She put her hand on her pregnancy bump. “I need a long nap, and I don’t want to be disturbed.”
Kane watched her get into her husband’s car and smiled. “She’s just being kind, really.” He turned to look at Andy. “So what now?”
“I’ve been thinking,” Andy said. “When you realise that you’re a ghost, you find yourself wondering where you went wrong, what you did and how to put it right.” He forced a grin. “I couldn’t go out and look for answers, but I’ve done a lot of thinking. It’s unfinished business.”
Kane nodded. In his experience, ghosts usually hung around because they were too stubborn to go or were too attached to a place or person. He’d seen a few cases where the ghost couldn’t let go because of a guilty conscience, though, or, as Andy had said, unfinished business. “I haven’t seen a haunted car before.”
Andy sighed. “I think I know what it is,” he said. There was a brief shift as he was suddenly in the passenger seat, seatbelt fastened and clipboard in hand. “Why don’t you drive us out to the park. We can talk there.” He grinned again. “Your first trip as an independent driver. Off you go. Don’t forget to check your mirrors.”
“You did a good job saving April, you know,” Andy said as they drove. “It means a lot to her.”
Kane smiled. “It was you that saved her really, telling me what to do. She says that she may give him Andrew as a middle name. And I’m going to be a godfather.”
“That’s nice,” Andy said gruffly. “I haven’t got any kids.” Uncharacteristically, he looked out of the window and made no comment as Kane made a mess of a left turn. “I think it’s that holding me back.”
“That you have no kids?” Kane asked. “I don’t think that can be changed.”
“No,” Andy said. “It’s just…” He looked down at his ghostly clipboard. “I was a copper, then I was a driving instructor. I banged up a few bad lads in my time. I was straight, and I did my best, but when I got hurt holding a shield wall in a riot, I left.” Andy glanced across to Kane who was concentrating on an awkward junction. “It’s okay, take your time and then keep to the right. That’s it, well done. Anyway, just before I snuffed it, I took on a lad for lessons, and I recognised his name. I’d put away his dad.”
“Was he angry?” Kane asked.
Andy shook his head. “He said that I’d done everyone a favour. Take it from someone who’s seen it – there are some dark places in this world.” He looked at Kane. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you, not after you were in care.”
Kane shook his head and carefully changed up into third gear. “So what happened?”
“He said he was okay with the lessons, and I gave him a bit of a discount,” Andy said. “He was a nice lad. He didn’t take after his father, that’s for sure. We would talk as we drove, like you and I have, and I put him in the way of an apprenticeship I knew was coming up. I thought it was the least I could do, as it was my fault that he didn’t have a dad speaking up for him.”
“Did he get it?” Kane asked.
“The apprenticeship? Yeah, and from what I heard he was doing well.” Andy looked down again at the clipboard. “He was keeping his head down and working hard. I was helping him out, giving him lessons without him having to worry about paying straight away. And he was doing well.” Andy paused. “Why don’t you pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
Kane checked his mirrors, indicated and stopped. He turned the engine off and turned to look at the ghost. “You were becoming a father figure to him, weren’t you?”
“He wasn’t much older than you,” Andy said. “And he was doing his best. I could give him some ideas, help him out a little. I took him and his girlfriend out for a meal once. She was nice as well. Quiet, but calm, you know.” He sighed. “Anyway, we came to the test. He failed the first two times, but that wasn’t a problem. I was poorly on the day of the third test, but I wasn’t going to let him down.” Andy turned away from Kane and stared straight ahead. I was waiting in the office when I was taken ill. I died before I got to the hospital.”
There was a long silence. Kane wished he knew what to say. Even after the last few years of helping spirits, negotiating with them and, at times, telling them off, he never knew what to do when faced with emotional pain, from either the dead or the living. “Did you ever find out?”
Andy shook his head. “I thought he’d do it this time. He was turning out to be a great driver – very calm in a crisis. I can’t seem to let go of it.”
“You haven’t been dead long, have you?” Kane asked. “Because he probably still lives in the same place. I can go and ask, if you like?”
“That would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it?” Andy said.
“You’d be surprised,” Kane said. “But I could at least take a message.”
Kane came back to the car from the tiny flat above the shops and slid into the driving seat. The ghost next to him didn’t even turn his head. Every translucent inch of him was rigid. Kane wished that he could at least put a friendly hand on Andy’s shoulder.
“It’s okay, he believed me,” Kane said. “Especially when I reminded him about the crumpets and the parking bollard.”
Andy managed a chuckle. “That’s a story that you couldn’t make up. So, what was it? Did he do it?”
Kane nodded. “He passed, Andy, he passed! He said it was the best and worst time as he came in to tell you and you were gone.”
“I knew he would do it,” Andy started to fade.
“And he said that once the house you left him gets transferred over, he’s going to propose to his girlfriend. He says that you made it possible.”
As the ghost faded, Kane could see a hint of a tear in Andy’s eye. “That’s wonderful news. She’s a good lass and they’ll look after each other.”
“Andy, listen, he said that you were like a dad to him, and that he’ll never forget you.” Kane said quickly.
There was just the faintest trace of the old driving instructor in the air but a soft ‘thank you’ drifted out before Andy was gone.
Kane sat for a moment and stared at the space where Andy had been. Then, taking all of his courage in his hands, he drove off, fully alone in the car for the first time.
Pictures from an Unknown Past
“She isn’t here now,” Kane said. “She was too embarrassed.” He looked at the lady sitting opposite him. It was almost a stereotype. She sat upright, as a plumb line, ankles crossed, hands folded on her lap and not a white hair out of place.
“My mother?” Mrs Kirkdale said. “That is a surprise. She was usually quite direct.”
“I didn’t manage to contact your late mother,” Kane said. “But I managed to get in touch with someone called Ellen. She seemed very fond of you?”
“My sister? She was always good to me, despite the age difference. I miss her a great deal, you know.” Mrs Kirkdale sighed.
Kane wished he knew the right way to approach things. “You got in touch with me about a strange bequest, didn’t you?”
Mrs Kirkdale nodded. “You were recommended by Tim McGuigan. He was the solicitor for my late husband, you know. He’s very practical and not usually one for such mumbo jumbo, so I took him seriously when he suggested that I speak to someone who speaks to ghosts.” She looked doubtfully at the scruffy figure hunched on her chair, then turned her attention to the small bundle of photos and slides. “Apparently there is a lot more of these photos and some letters, if I choose to accept the bequest, along with some money. But my parents and sister left me everything anyway and I invested in a good pension so I’m comfortable. I can indulge my scruples. These look like other people’s memories. I’m not sure that it is right that I have them. It should go to family.”
Kane shifted a little as he perched on the edge of the chintz armchair. He felt desperately out of place and had no idea how to approach the news. “You were fond of Ellen, weren’t you?” he said.
“I adored her,” Mrs Kirkdale’s face lit up with the memory. “She was such fun, you know, although she was nearly twenty years older than me. In fact, I was something of a miracle baby. I don’t think my parents really expected me. They were older and set in their ways.” She sighed and looked over at the pewter framed picture sitting on the windowsill. “Really it was Ellen who brought me up and taught me about life. She was very encouraging and supportive. I always think that she should have had children herself, but she never married. Her sweetheart died in the war, you know. It was right at the end, in Berlin. Ellen never talked about it, well you didn’t, but mother said that it was dreadful luck. They had even planned their wedding. I suppose I gave her something to think about. All I ever knew was that she doted on me.”
Kane took a mouthful of excellent tea from his china mug and summoned all his courage. “Did you ever wonder about your mother being a little older than most ladies giving birth?”
Mrs Kirkdale frowned. “I must have been quite a last gasp as a baby. I think it was a shock. I don’t remember her being affectionate to me, or loving, but she did her duty. It was a different generation and she was set in her ways. She always liked things to be just so, which saved me a few times. She had to be seen as a good mother.” She laughed. “Then I scandalised her by going to university. She didn’t see me working in the labs with the first computers, as she passed away before then, but she would have been horrified.” Mrs Kirkdale shook her head. “And she never met my late husband, either. I’m not sure that she would have approved of me marrying an engineer instead of a doctor or a solicitor.” She took another sip of tea. “Are these evidence of my mother’s indiscretions? If so, I would be very interested.”
Kane swallowed. “These photos and slides are from your father’s family. Not the man you think of as your father, but your real father.”
Mrs Kirkdale stared. “You mean that there really was a scandal? I can’t imagine it! Mother was so proper!”
Kane shook his head. “Ellen said that it was different times, and her mother was very strict.” He hesitated. “She asked you not to blame her. She loves you very much. It’s just that, she is your mother. She thought it wouldn’t matter, as they were supposed to be married the next month, but he got called back to the front line unexpectedly and then he was killed.”
Mrs Kirkdale looked blank. “How dreadful.”
“Ellen said that your mother, that is, her mother, wouldn’t allow her to say anything, so they went into the country and then told everyone that you were a surprise baby.” Kane watched Mrs Kirkdale carefully for signs of shock.
“Well I was, really, wasn’t I?” Mrs Kirkdale shook her head. “Now it makes sense. I always wondered why I was born so far away from the family, and why I wasn’t christened in the local church. My mother, I mean my grandmother, was so obsessed with appearances.” She looked at Tim and smiled. “And Ellen was a wonderful mother! If you can tell her anything, tell her that. Tell her that she still has all my love.” She looked down at the photos. “Thank you. It may seem strange to matter at my age, but it’s a wonderful gift to finally know that you had a mother that loved you.” She shook her head and brought herself back to the present. “And now my late father’s family have found me. That will be fun.” She held out an envelope. “Here is the fee that you agreed,” she said, then hesitated. “And, well, it’s expected that old ladies bake cakes. Well, I can’t bake for toffee, but I can shop at Waitrose like a champ. I hope you enjoy these.” She stood and picked up a large box of assorted luxury biscuits from behind her chair. “Now, I’m sorry to rush you off, but I have a great many phone calls to make.” She smiled at him, looking twenty years younger and full of mischief. “I can’t wait to find out about my family.”
Where Did I Put It?
The ghost of Mr Caswell polished his spectral glasses. “I am at a loss,” he said.
Kane tried to look sympathetic. He turned to the new owners of the house. “The problem is, Mr Caswell is troubled, and until he puts his mind at rest, he can’t leave. He’s looking for something.”
“This is definitely the last time I buy a house and contents,” James said.
Verity looked around the well ordered but very full living room. Bookcases lined the walls and every surface was covered with knickknacks. “What has he lost?”
Kane winced. “That’s the biggest problem. Mr Caswell can’t remember.”
James closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Let me get this straight – we have a ghost that can’t rest until it’s found something, but can’t remember what it lost? That’s ridiculous!”
“I am not an ‘it’!” Mr Caswell said indignantly. “And it could happen to anyone at my time of life. Or not.”
Kane looked at the tall, thin spectre in front of him and nodded before turning to James. “He’s a ‘he’. That is, Mr Caswell doesn’t like being called it.”
Mr Caswell dropped down into a chair where he sunk below the surface of the seat for a moment before drifting slightly higher to rest on top of the cushion. “It’s very depressing. I just don’t know where to start.”
James frowned. “I’m sorry. I really am sorry. But look at it from our point of view. We bought the only house we could afford that was near my work, with the contents, and now we have this…” He struggled for words.
“It’s an opportunity to really turn the house out!” Verity said brightly, forcing a smile. “Can the ghost remember whether it was big or small?”
Mr Caswell shook his head. “I just know that I forgot something.”
Kane shook his head, then turned back to the ghost. “Mr Caswell, can you remember when you last had whatever it was?”
Mr Caswell frowned. “I think it was after I retired,” he said. “But before I fell ill. That would make it after 2003, but before 2018.”
James’ face was set as Kane repeated the information. “So, around a fifteen year gap, with a margin for error.”
The living room lightbulb popped. Kane and Mr Caswell jumped, but James and Verity were unmoved. “I’ll get the steps,” Verity said, dashing out.
James pulled out a tray of lightbulbs from the kitchen. “It’s costing us a fortune in lightbulbs,” he said. “We’ve had the wiring checked, but apparently it’s fine.” He glared at Kane. “As far as we can tell, it’s the ghost. Whenever the ghost is in here, a lightbulb goes, and we need them at this time of year. We are drowning in broken lightbulbs!”
“Why don’t we start in the kitchen?” Verity said, before James could get carried away any further. “There’s not much there.”
The kitchen was bleak. The cooker was older than Kane, although cleaned within an inch of its life. The fridge was new, but small. “They made me get a new one for my medicines,” Mr Caswell said. “And at least they left it propped open when they unplugged it.”
Verity inspected inside. “This is quite a good fridge.” She looked a little embarrassed. “I feel little like a grave robber.”
“It was included in the price,” James said, his voice carefully controlled.
“I’m very glad that they have it,” Mr Caswell said. “And I’m sure that they’ll make better use of the house than I did, especially over the last forty years or so.” He sighed, hovering next to the sink. “I wish I could help them more. And I’ll answer any questions they have.”
“Mr Caswell is happy to answer any questions,” Kane said, looking between the couple. “And that has to be a help. I mean, he can tell you what all the switches are for and everything.”
“The manuals to the boiler, the cooker, the fridge, the washing machine, the microwave and the kettle are in the second drawer on the right,” Mr Caswell said. “The cold tap sticks, and I was planning on getting a plumber out. I got a bit too frail to sort it myself. I thought a little WD 40 might help. You can find a tin of that in the cupboard on the left, top shelf.”
Kane relayed the information. “Mr Caswell is very well meaning,” he said.
Verity sat down on a kitchen chair and for a moment her face crumpled. “We are broke. Being able to use these things would make things so much easier. We’ve been sleeping in the car for the last week. We couldn’t afford both rent and mortgage, and we just about covered this house.”
James put a gentle hand on her shoulder and looked at James. “It’s been a tough few years.” There was another pop as the lightbulb in the kitchen went. James visibly sagged.
“Dearie me!” Mr Caswell looked flustered. “I can’t have a nice young couple upset like this!” He shook his ghostly head. “I watch the television and listen to the radio – or I did – and I know how hard it is these days. Why, I bought this house for £3,000 back in 1967. When I saw the price that was charged after I died, I could hardly believe it. And the house needs a lot doing to it.” He pulled himself together, floating an inch above the floor for a moment before settling. “First things first, forget the lightbulb. In the cupboard under the stairs, top shelf, you can find a torch, or flashlight I suppose you would call it, spare batteries, candles and a spirit lamp.” The ghost frowned. “I think that the methylated spirit may have gone, but the chemist at the end of the road used to sell it, and it wasn’t too expensive.”
Kane passed on the message and followed James as he went along the hall to the cupboard. “Mr Caswell could be quite useful,” Kane said.
James looked at him carefully. “You may be used to ghosts, but we are not.” He pulled out the torch and batteries and checked along the shelf. “Everything is exactly where he said it would be.” He turned back to Kane. “This house is the most organised I’ve ever seen. Talk about a place for everything and everything in its place. It’s incredible.”
“I liked order,” Mr Caswell said. “I couldn’t keep it as clean as I liked over the last few years, and the carers sometimes cut a few corners, but I’m still quite pleased.” He looked at Kane. “I never blamed the carers, you know. They did their best.”
Verity joined them at the cupboard. “I hope I can keep up this standard.” The hall lightbulb popped.
Mr Caswell sighed. “No-one could,” he said. “I drove so many away.”
“Hang on,” Verity said. “Look at how ordered this house is. And Mr Caswell remembered exactly where the manuals and candles were. Whatever is missing is really unusual, because I bet he never lost anything. Everything in its place. Whatever is missing must be something important.”
“It usually is something important that makes people ghosts,” James said.
Kane didn’t comment. His experience of ghosts did not give him a great deal of respect for them. “Why don’t we sit down somewhere comfortable, in the living room, perhaps, and talk things through. If it’s a repressed memory, perhaps we can work through it.”
“What an excellent idea!” Mr Caswell said. “I never had much time for such things in the past, but after what Verity said, well, it makes a great deal of sense.”
“We are going to do talking therapy with a ghost?” James said, but after reading Verity’s expression, he nodded. “But not a séance.”
“I should hope not,” huffed Mr Caswell. “There was never anything like that here when I was alive.”
They trudged into the living room. The winter afternoon light was already fading and James set up candles, aided by Mr Caswell’s advice, while Verity switched on the electric fire and drew the curtains. “It’s very snug,” she said.
Kane looked around. It was dated, but it was snug. He sat at the edge of an armchair and turned to Verity. “Where do you suggest we start?”
“I have a basic certificate in counselling,” Verity said. “It’s not much, but it may be a help. Where is Mr Caswell?”
Kane indicated the armchair opposite him. “He looks a little nervous.”
“I am nervous,” said Mr Caswell as he watched Verity and James take up their position on the sofa. “But this state of affairs simply will not do.”
Kane looked at Verity. “I’ll pass on what he says, and I’ll do the best I can. I suppose it isn’t like a proper counselling thing.”
Verity shrugged. “The course didn’t cover counselling the dead, so it’s all new territory for me.” She thought for a moment. “Mr Caswell, why did you buy this house?”
“I was looking for somewhere after my mother died,” Mr Caswell said. “For so many years there was just me and my mother. My father died in the war, you see, and I was the only child. She took in lodgers and worked at a solicitor’s office. I suppose that’s where I got to like things to be nicely set out. I think it makes life a lot easier. She put me through a good school, as well, you know. There were plenty of times when we had to watch the pennies, but I never went without and when she passed she left me a nice little nest egg. Of course, I’d been saving my own money, from my job in the bank, and it made sense to get somewhere. We had been living in a rented flat, but I thought that it was time to invest in bricks and mortar.”
“Did you miss your mum?” Verity asked, through Kane.
“I suppose I did,” Mr Caswell frowned. “Of course, I was busy chasing promotion at work, and with buying this, I kept myself busy.” He watched Kane patiently relay this. “I had a lot to do, at first. I heard about the house going for sale through the bank. It had been repossessed. Well, you didn’t see so much of it in those days, not like in later years, but I saw the ones that came up.”
James nodded as Kane translated. “We saw some repossessions, and they all needed a lot doing to them.” He grimaced. “And someone always outbid us on them anyway.”
“Of course, it all had to be redecorated, and I did a good job, if I say so myself,” Mr Caswell said. “I had to start from scratch with the garden and take it back to the topsoil. You wouldn’t think to look at me now, but I was quite energetic in those days. I put down turf, laid out flowerbeds and planted those trees outside.” He nodded to James. “You need to keep up with the treatment for codling moths on the apple trees. I used to get the bands from the hardware store on the High Street. It’s gone now, of course, but I’m sure that you’ll be able to find the bands somewhere.”
Kane passed on the information to James. “Mr Caswell seems to have a way of doing everything.”
James frowned. “It could get irritating if he kept telling us when to mow the lawn or if we’ve missed a bit of dust.” He paused. “But having this sort of information is like gold. I’ve never lived anywhere with a garden before.”
“I’ve got a couple of folders in the bookcase nearest the door, bottom shelf. They have all the information about how much wallpaper you need per room and how much paint, and when the boiler was last serviced.” Mr Caswell said. “And I kept a separate address book for the tradesmen I used. I did a lot myself, but not so much as I got older.”
“This isn’t finding what you lost,” Verity reminded Mr Caswell.
“I suppose not,” Mr Caswell said gloomily.
“But let’s go back to the house. It’s quite big, isn’t it?” Verity said. “Did that make it a good investment?”
“Well, with the baby on the way and everything, I thought we would need the room.” Mr Caswell said. “I used the small bedroom at the front. I thought it would be a little snugger, and there was plenty of light.” He paused. “I forgot I had a child.”
Kane stared at him. “How?” He turned to James and Verity. “Mr Caswell has a child.”
The ghost hunched over and there was a suspicion of moisture on the faded cheek. “I worked really hard,” he said. “You see, Judith, my wife, wasn’t ordered like me. In fact, she was the opposite. We should never have married. But of course we didn’t realise. I mean, you didn’t live together before marriage in those days, so we didn’t realise. We had a lot of arguments.”
“I see,” Kane said.
“Judith was a successful woman in her own right, you know, and there weren’t many women solicitors in those days.” He hesitated. “Her family always thought that she could have done better than me.”
Kane quietly repeated this to Verity. She nodded. “It must have been hard.”
“Judith just left one day,” Mr Caswell said. “And she wouldn’t let me see Jeanette. That was my daughter’s name.” His eyes looked into the past, unfocused and filled with pain. “I wanted Margaret, after my mother, but we ended up with that as a middle name.” He shook his head. “It was very different then. I tried, you know. And I sent money. Judith said that she banked it for Jeanette, but my daughter never contacted me.” The ghost stood and started pacing. “I sent Christmas and birthday cards, but they moved and the cards were returned to sender. I think that’s when I gave in.” Mr Caswell stood in front of the tiny electric fire. “I couldn’t do it anymore. So I pretended that I didn’t have a family. I worked really hard at it. I just wrote a letter every Christmas and birthday, filed it in its proper place, and then didn’t mention anything about it for the rest of the year. I never saw either of them again. Jeanette’s birthday was last week. I think it was the first time I didn’t write her a card or letter in fifty years.”
“That’s what you forgot,” Kane said.
“And there’s nothing more I can do,” Mr Caswell said. “I just have to accept it and keep going.” He blew his nose with a ghostly handkerchief.
Verity listened to Kane’s explanation. “Where are the letters?” she asked.
“Second bookshelf to the left in the study, fourth shelf down. There are three files,” Mr Caswell said, slowly losing his colour.
“He’s going,” Kane said quickly.
“Mr Caswell, I’m going to find your daughter and get those letters to her,” Verity said quickly. “I’ll do everything I can.”
The fading shape of Mr Caswell smiled. “That would be a great kindness, and I would feel so much better. And don’t forget to keep the shed door closed if the wind is in the East, or the windowpane at the back will fall out.” Then he was gone.
“He’s passed over now,” Kane said. “There shouldn’t be any more problems.”
Verity looked around. “I think the first thing I’m going to do is track down his daughter,” she said. “It seems only fair.”
James stood up and dusted down his jeans. “And I am going to change some lightbulbs.” He paused. “But I’ll check first to see what brand he used. There has to be a record of it somewhere.”
Tim McGuigan, solicitor and reluctant trustee turned to Kane. “Can you see any ghosts here?”
Kane looked around the dusty flat. “Hang on a minute, sir.” He moved slowly around the living room and pushed into the bedroom.
“The old lady died in hospital,” Tim said. “I suppose her spirit might have returned here.”
“You have her will, don’t you?” Kane asked.
Tim sighed deeply. “I think that Ms Beresford had a sharp sense of humour and hated her relatives. I have the will. I’m looking for the codicil.”
“Co da what?” Kane peered reluctantly into the bathroom and then returned to the living room.
Tim followed him. “It’s a legal addition to the will that is kept with the original will under normal circumstances.” There was an edge to his voice. “This is not normal circumstances.” He paused and then shrugged helplessly. “You may as well know. I loathe breeching client confidentiality, but I think any clue will help you. And Ms Beresford wasn’t exactly my client. She had already lodged the will when I bought the practice.”
“So you never met her?” Kane asked.
“No,” Tim said. “But I’m getting an idea of her. The will listed individual requests to her carers, made allowance for bills, taxes and payment for the funeral, and then said, and I quote, ‘the remainder of my goods and chattels to be divided among my relatives as stated in the list dated 14th November 2007, with the remainder to be sold and the proceeds to go to my nominated charity together with any money or monies remaining.’ I have memorised the dratted thing.”
“Is that a problem?” Kane asked.
“Look around. Somewhere there is a detailed list of who gets what of the art.” Tim shook his head. “That’s an original Hockney, and that’s a Moore. The art in here is worth a fortune. And then there’s the collected first editions of books. Some of them are worth thousands. All of her relatives are clamouring to get their share of the…” Tim’s training asserted itself. “I mean, they want to be able to have whatever legacy is due to them. And the charity has pitbulls for their legal team. My receptionist handed in her notice yesterday.” He turned to Kane. “Can your Auntie help? I know that she’s found people that are, you know, passed over in the past?”
Kane shook his head. “She’s fading,” he said. “She’s getting ready to pass over. I’m going to miss her, but it’s only right.”
“I’m sorry,” Tim said, patting the young lad’s shoulder.
“It’s okay,” Kane said. “I’m sort of ready.”
Tim smiled sadly, then looked around. “I don’t know what my predecessor was thinking. I mean, there could be artwork worth over a million pounds here, and we have no idea who should receive it. We’re going to have to store it, insure it and still try and find that list. He must have been mad. I can’t think what made him agree to that sort of madness.”
“You’d be surprised,” a voice behind Kane said.
Kane turned. The ghost was of an older woman with bright orange hair and wearing a pink velour tracksuit. “Ms Beresford?” he asked.
“That’s me!” she said. “As for how I persuaded the solicitor – I may have passed my prime, but there were a few tricks in the old dog yet. You see, Mr Clough had a weakness for…”
Kane desperately tried to cover his ears as Ms Beresford started to explain in minute detail exactly how she had persuaded the former solicitor. “It’s okay, you don’t need to tell me.” He turned to Tim. “She used sex.”
Tim looked at the embarrassment glowing from Kane. “I can tell. Has she appeared?”
“Yes,” Kane said. He turned to the outrageous lady. “Why did you hide the list for the relatives?”
“None of them have done a day’s work in their lives,” Ms Beresford said. “I thought it would do them no harm to exert themselves to find the list.”
“But they can’t come here until the list has been found,” Kane pointed out. “It’s Mr McGuigan that has to do the work, and he’s done nothing to you.”
Ms Beresford frowned. “But at least that shiftless lot will have to wait a while, and that’s something.”
Kane relayed the information to Tim and then turned to Ms Beresford. “How did you choose which charity to leave it to?”
“I chose a big one for the main will with a royal sponsor,” Ms Beresford said. “It was more or less at random. But the trustees are legally obliged to get the best deal possible for the charity, so they have to fight to keep the will as written.”
“Very clever,” Tim said after Kane had explained.
“It’s the cats’ shelter that I really valued, and I managed to put a decent amount their way when I was alive,” Ms Beresford said. Her ghostly face softened. “I helped out there, years ago. I’ve never forgotten.” She looked into her past. “I’ve always been a bit adventurous, with sex, but this was with love and it was different. I’ve always wondered what happened to her.”
“Did you leave anything to her?” Kane asked.
“I didn’t know where to start looking,” Ms Beresford sighed. “Besides, I could have more fun thinking about the useless lot scrambling for their pennies. They’ve ran up credit cards and loans waiting for me to die. The longer they wait, the more the interest will eat up the portion they get. And I’m going nowhere. Not until I see them work for it.”
Kane turned to Tim and moved a little aside. “I don’t think that I can persuade her,” he said. “Do you think you could arrange for the relatives to come and look?”
Tim stared at him. “It would be a riot. I’ve met the relatives, and while I’m not happy about being stuck in the middle, I don’t blame Ms Beresford for a second. They are…” His solicitor training kicked in. “They are difficult.”
“I suppose we could start looking,” Kane looked around.
“There are hundreds of books, all perfectly sized to have a small list in them,” Tim said. “The list could be inside the cushion of a chair or sofa, but we can’t do anything destructive because that would reduce the value of the estate and, trust me, those relatives would sue.”
“Perhaps we can go and get a coffee and plan what to do next,” Kane said. He looked at the smug shade of Ms Beresford.
He was interrupted as the ghost of Auntie Brenda shot into the room. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere! April’s had her baby and it’s a girl!”
Kane sighed in relief. “Are they both alright?”
“They are both fine,” Auntie Brenda assured him. “She’s a bit tired, poor kid, but the little girl is doing fine – a bonnie 7lb 4oz and they’re calling her Louise.”
“That’s a lovely name,” Kane said. He turned to Tim. “Sorry, it’s Auntie Brenda’s ghost. She brought some news…” he trailed off as he caught a glimpse of the expression on Ms Beresford’s ghostly face.
Ms Beresford was staring at Auntie Brenda, who was staring back. Auntie Brenda took a step forward. “Jocasta?”
“Brenda?” Ms Beresford’s ghost had lost all semblance of colour. “Is it really you?”
“I’m so sorry,” Auntie Brenda said, her voice suddenly younger. “But you know what my family was like and they whisked me away.”
“I tried to find you,” Ms Beresford said, her voice breaking, “But it was no good.” She took a deep breath. “I behaved disgracefully.”
“So did I,” Auntie Brenda said, and laughed her deep, throaty laugh. “Thank goodness we did!” She turned to Kane. “It’s time for me to go. Give April my blessing.”
Kane watched the two women fading gently. “Where is the list!?”
“Bedside table on the left, second drawer down, taped to the underside of the drawer,” Ms Beresford said over her shoulder before turning back to Auntie Brenda. “I can’t wait to hear all about it!”
Then they were gone.
Tim listened patiently as Kane tried to explain what had happened. The solicitor shook his head as he carefully removed the bedside table’s drawer. “It sounds like they are about to cause trouble wherever they end up,” he said. “I did a bit of research on Ms Beresford, and she did a lot of good on the quiet, while being very loud on the scandal.”
“Auntie Brenda fostered kids,” Kane said, “And she did her best even with the hardest ones.”
Tim neatly unpacked the contents of the drawer onto the dusty bed and then turned the drawer over. He started taking pictures with his phone as he eased off the yellowing envelope and pulled the flap open. “I can’t be too careful,” he said. “Ms Beresford’s family are not nice people.” He glanced over the list and his jaw dropped. “Look at this!” She’s listed everyone of her living relatives, with a family tree – look- and left them each a teaspoon. That’s it. One decorative teaspoon. It says that there’s a drawer full in the kitchen and she got them cheap from an auction house.” Tim looked at Kane, wide eyed. “And all the art and valuables are listed, and they’re all left to different charities.” He grinned. “There are a lot of cat charities listed.”
“The family are going to be furious, aren’t they?” Kane said.
Tim stared at the list as if he was holding a ticking bomb. “I think I’ll stick to zoom meetings for this. It might be safer.”
“I can feel her here,” Joan said. “It’s like she’s breathing down my neck.”
Kane was blessed, if you could call it that, with the ability to see ghosts. As he sat sipping tea in Joan’s knickknack crammed living room, he could clearly see the ghost of Nancy leaning in close to Joan. “She’s there,” he said. “A lady about the same age as you. She’s wearing a blue hat.”
“She always wore blue,” Joan sniffed. “She said it suited everyone. Mind you, it was a close call a few times.”
Nancy caught Kane’s eye. “Well she thought she could wear yellow and she really couldn’t.” The ghost shuddered at the memory.
“I can’t keep going on with this sense of someone peering over my shoulder,” Joan continued. “It’s worse than when she was alive. Tell her to go towards the light, or whatever it is.”
Kane winced. “I’m not very good at that bit.” He looked at Nancy. “Do you miss Joan?”
Nancy sniffed. “We were close, that’s true. But I can’t rest. She owes me £2.34. I can’t seem to get away from that. I’m owed £2.34 and until I get it, I can’t leave.”
Kane turned to Joan. “Nancy says that you owe her some money.”
“I do not!” Joan said indignantly. “I’ve always paid up. We reckoned up after every trip and meeting. We’d settle up who paid for what and where and make sure that we were all square. I could never sleep if I owed money.”
“It’s £2.34,” Nancy insisted.
Joan carried on, unaware. “I have never been in debt – not a penny under or a day late. How dare she!”
“It’s the money from the bingo,” Nancy said. “Just because I died that day didn’t mean that she could get away with keeping my share. And it’s £2.34.”
Kane turned to Joan in confusion. “She said that you owe her from the bingo.”
Joan frowned, then looked at Kane. “It was the day she died. And I was so upset, I forgot.” The colour had left her face. “We went to the Community Centre for bingo. We paid the same for our tickets, took it in turns to buy the tea at the interval and bought our own raffle tickets. The only thing was, we split whatever we won, exactly half.”
Kane tried to work it out. “To be honest, I’m more used to ghosts that can’t rest because they owe money, not the other way around. So, you won a prize of £4.68, that you would normally split. But you never had the chance.”
Joan shook her head. “It was a box of chocolates. They weren’t allowed to give cash prizes because it was for charity.”
“It wasn’t proper gambling,” Nancy added. “So it would be something like a bottle of wine or a candle.”
“They asked for donations,” Joan explained, “And the profits went to a good cause.”
“Everyone took turns,” Nancy said. “And asked that we give a rough value.”
“We all took turns,” Joan said. “Nancy and I used to go halves on a decent prize. You were supposed to give an idea of what it cost so that they could rank the prizes.” She sighed. “We always got something nice, with it being a good cause. Mrs Holloway, down the road, she only gave things like a packet of mints. Well, she couldn’t manage more with her being on a pension and all the trouble her husband is having.”
“We never blamed her,” Nancy added to an unhearing Joan. “You give what you can.”
“And I won the box of chocolates,” Joan said. “I was going to go home and check the price, so I could give the right money to Nancy. It was donated by Mrs Cadwallader, and she sometimes, well, she gets carried away.”
“Joan was always a lot more tactfully than me,” Nancy said. “That Mrs Cadwallader was all fur coat and no knickers. She’d talk about her expensive perfume like she wasn’t seen buying it from the market.”
Kane looked back at Joan. “Nancy said that Mrs Cadwallader sometimes exaggerated.”
Joan put her tea down with care. “I would be ashamed to behave like that. She put it as a £10 prize but got it as part of a sale in the big supermarket at the other side of town. It cost £4.68. And the chocolates were stale!”
“I’d be mortified,” Nancy added.
“But with what happened to Nancy as we left the Community Centre, I didn’t think to hand over any money,” Joan said.
“I got hit by a car,” Nancy told Kane. “I never felt a thing.”
“How do I pay the £2.34?” Joan asked. “I mean, Nancy’s dead.”
“Could you perhaps bury it in the grave?” Kane asked.
Joan shook her head. “She was cremated and her ashes scattered.”
“I can’t go until it’s settled,” Nancy said.
“And what is she going to do with the money if she’s dead?” Joan asked. “I don’t suppose there’s much bingo there.”
“What would you do if you hadn’t had a chance to pay her back?” Kane asked.
“Oh, I’d pay for the tea next time we were out,” Joan said. Her face fell. “I haven’t felt like going out much, now that she’s gone.”
“We went everywhere together,” Nancy said to Kane. “We were inseparable from when we met at school. We even married brothers.”
Kane nodded to Joan. “Perhaps that’s it,” he said. “Why don’t you go out and have a last cup of tea on her?”
Nancy and Joan both frowned, then shook their heads. “A cup of tea is £1.80 in the usual place,” Joan said. “That would be 54p off.”
“That’s too much,” Nancy said. “How about a nice hot chocolate? You have one for you and one for me.”
Kane turned to Joan. “Nancy suggests a hot chocolate, at £2.35 and that you have one for you and one for her and then you’ll be straight.”
“It will still be 1p out,” Joan said. “But I can put a penny into the collection at church – separately, of course.”
“Of course,” Nancy said. She started to fade. “That would be perfect, and we would be settled up.”
Kane watched the ghost disappear and then turned to Joan. “She’s gone.”
Joan held herself upright with only a slight gleam in her eye suggesting how near she was to tears. “I’ll go tomorrow and have two hot chocolates and save a penny for church,” she said firmly. “And I’ll have a word with her nephew. She kept a close eye on him, and I know that she would be grateful if I kept up the good work.”
Kane felt deep sympathy for the nephew. “I’m sure that she will.”
Up in the Attic
“I’m so sorry to involve you,” Adele said. “But I was finding it…” She trailed off and looked unseeingly past Kane and through the window behind him. “I’m hoping that it will be nothing and I can pull myself together.”
Kane managed a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. Sometimes it can be noises in the pipes, or mice. I’ve been called out to all sorts of places, and it isn’t always ghosts.”
Adele relaxed a little. “You were recommended by someone from my aunts’ church,” she said. “He said that you were more sensible than the usual ‘ghostbuster’ and I didn’t need to worry.” She hesitated. “But you will tell me if you see anything? Even if it’s not what you think that I want to hear?”
Kane nodded. “It’s always easier to deal with the truth,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me a little about the background?”
Adele ushered him into the immaculate, if old fashioned, kitchen. “I was brought up by my aunts,” she said. “It’s sort of complicated. My father was their half-brother, and twenty years younger than them, after his father’s second marriage. And he was quite old when I was born…” Again she trailed off, staring into space. She forced herself back into the present and flashed a brief smile at Kane. “I was two when my parents died and my aunts were in their late fifties. Neither of them had married but had lived here since they inherited from their parents.” She glanced around. “It was all that they had ever known.” She paused again.
“It must have been a challenge for everyone,” Kane said quietly into the silence.
“I suppose so,” Adele said. “I think that they did their best, but it was…” She looked down at the cup of tea she was clutching. “They didn’t approve of modern clothing, or music, or make up or anything. I mean, they grew up in the sixties, but it was like they were Victorian. But they did their best. And they really encouraged me at school. They didn’t understand computers, but they still bought me top of the range kit with all the extras.” Adele paused again. “They understood some things, though. I was always allowed privacy. That was more than many of my friends had. After I was about nine or ten, they said that my room was mine alone. They wouldn’t go in there. And they didn’t. I suppose it’s because they insisted on keeping their own space. They were always fair.” Adele swallowed. “I was never allowed in the attic. They said it was their space, just like my room was my space. Even after they passed, a few months ago, I didn’t want to go up. And that’s where the noises come from.”
“Are you worried that their spirits may be there?” Kane asked. “I’m sorry to ask, but how did they die?”
“Covid,” Adele said. “They were both elderly, it was the start of the pandemic before any of the vaccines, and they were already frail. They never had a chance.” She swallowed again. “I really miss them, even though we had been arguing. They weren’t sure about my boyfriend.”
“What does he think?” Kane asked.
Adele managed another smile. “He dumped me when I wouldn’t sell the house. The aunts were right about him. Sometimes I really miss them.” She looked up at Kane. “I’m sorry to be so maudlin. I suppose that you’re used to it.” She looked a little closer at the slight young man sitting opposite her. “How did you start with this? Mr Eastham said that you had a lot of experience.”
Kane smiled. “I’ve always been able to see ghosts. I just got into the way of helping people out. I can’t make ghosts do what I want,” he added, “but sometimes they listen to me. I usually pass on messages so that they can rest.”
“I’m sure that the relatives are grateful,” Adele said.
Kane thought for a moment. “It depends,” he said, trying to be tactful. “You meet all sorts, but it has its rewards.” He set his cup down and stood up. “I’d like to see the room, please.”
The stairs from the hall to the bedrooms were wide and sweeping but the stairs up to the attic room were cramped and twisted. Kane followed Adele as she forced herself up the final flight, her back straight and determined as she pushed open the solid wood door and walked forward. “Come in,” she said. “This is where the noises are coming from.”
Kane stepped past her and looked around. It was a snug room, a little dusty now, but you could see the good order shining through. There was a table in the centre of the room with two dusty glasses still on them. Two wing backed chairs were placed either side with cushions placed to support an elderly back. Footstools to help creaky knees were placed neatly to the side. There was an old-fashioned radio sat on top of a huge mahogany bookcase and small lap blankets and shawls folded on a rack in the corner. Kane braced himself as he saw the two ghosts of elderly ladies sitting upright and prim in the faded chairs. “Good morning,” he said politely.
“He can see us, Elsie.” The taller of the two ghosts stood and nodded. “Good morning, young man. I’m very glad to see you.”
“Do you know, Mildred, I thought that we would be here forever.” Elsie stood next to her sister and smoothed down her insubstantial skirt before turning to Kane. “I hope you wiped your feet before coming up here.”
“Yes, miss,” Kane looked nervously between the two ghosts. “And Adele showed me where to wash my hands.”
Mildred snorted. “That is as maybe. Well, now that you’re finally here, we have a message before we can get away.”
“It was all very difficult at the end,” Elsie added. “We weren’t allowed visitors. I was quite upset.”
“We both were,” Mildred added. She looked at Adele. “You had better say something to her. The child looks like she has swallowed a fishbone.”
Kane turned to Adele. “I can see two elderly ladies.”
Adele nodded. “I can see by your expression that it’s them. Are they telling you off?”
“Not yet,” Kane said cautiously.
“Don’t be smart!” Mildred snapped. “Seeing us doesn’t make you clever. And don’t slouch!”
Kane found himself straightening up. “No, miss.”
Elsie drifted over to the bookcase. “We have had a long discussion about this,” she said. “And we have agreed that there are two main messages. The first is that we want Adele to know that we are proud of her.”
Mildred nodded. “We may not have always showed it.” She pursed her lips. “We always felt that there was too much silly emotion around. We didn’t feel the need to go around expressing ourselves. That’s for the youngsters. We kept ourselves busy.”
Elsie nodded in agreement. “So you should tell Adele that we are both proud of her. She may not feel that. She always lacked confidence, you know, though we did our best. But if she looks in the bookcase, she may find some reassurance.”
Mildred drifted next to her. “And she should make more time with the young man from next door but two,” she added. “We always stressed that she should look for a young man in a profession and not a trade…”
“The washing could be dreadful if you married into a trade,” Elsie interrupted. “But it’s not so bad now with the new washing machines.”
Mildred gave her sister a sharp look before continuing. “He may only be a plumber, but he has a kind heart which is more than that other good-for-nothing has.” She sniffed hard and glared at Kane. “He wanted her to sell the house so that he could get the money, you know. We heard him on the phone.”
“And then poor Adele would be left without anything,” Elsie added. “Because men of that sort never stay around.”
“Pay attention, young man!” Mildred floated over to Kane. “Tell Adele about the young man next door but two and the bookcase. And that we are very proud of her.” She looked over to her sister. “Well, that’s that. Now we can go and find father.”
Kane watched the ghosts of the elderly ladies fade away before relaxing and turning to Adele. She was looking through the bookcase, looking pale. She looked up at Kane. “They kept everything.”
“They said that they were proud of you, and that you should pay attention to the young man next door but two,” Kane said. “Are you alright?”
“They kept everything.” Adele pulled out a folder. “Every school letter, every piece of art, every report. And they put notes.”
Kane looked over Adele’s shoulder. Attached to the school report was a sheet of paper covered with copperplate notes. “They really didn’t like your maths teacher, did they?”
Adele stared at the paper. “I know that I always got good marks after the first parents’ evening and he never said a single word to me in class after that.” She looked closer. “I always wanted them to be proud of me. Why didn’t they tell me?” She handed the folder to Kane and pulled out another. “And these are all the school photos. They put notes next to them about how well I was doing in the science classes, and how they were impressed by my essays. They even planned out how to buy the right books for me, as a reward.” Her voice broke. “I feel like I’ve finally got there. I’ve finally made it.”
“They also mentioned the man next door but two,” Kane said.
Adele managed a smile through the tears. “We’re going for a coffee tomorrow. They’re probably right about him too.”
Kane sat hunched over at the table. He had never liked the idea of seances. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know what to do,” he said helplessly. “Normally the ghost is in front of me and ready to talk.” In his experience, getting a ghost to talk wasn’t the problem. The problem he had was getting them to shut up in the first place.
“But Joan said that you were very good,” Sandra said helplessly.
Kane managed an apologetic smile. “Nancy was very close to her all the time,” he said. “I didn’t need to look.”
“Well, here are mother’s ashes,” Sandra said, placing the urn in the centre of the table. She looked around the family huddled around. “And I’ve lit some candles. Why don’t we hold hands and see if anyone is there?”
“There’s no need for that!” a ghost behind Sandra said sharply. “I don’t approve of candles in the house. They make dust.”
Kane looked at her nervously, then turned to Sandra. “A ghost has just said that there is no need to light candles and that they make dust. Is that your mother?”
Sandra’s eyes went wide. “Yes, that sounds like her. Ask her if her name is Pearl?”
“Honestly, you would think she would know better,” Pearl sighed. “You never give a tarot reader or medium any clues. It makes it harder for you to swindle them.” She glared at Kane. “I know your sort. But yes, I’m her mother and you can tell her from me that she’s being ridiculous. The will was with the solicitor, the money was in the red handbag and Tony took the dog. What more does she want?”
“Is she at peace?” Sandra asked.
Kane wondered how he could tactfully pass on Pearl’s opinions. “Um, I think your mother doesn’t know why you are asking anything. Did you find the will?”
Sandra nodded. “We got in touch with the solicitor. She’d hidden a load of money in her red handbag, but we found that pretty quickly, and we knew that she always wanted Tony to have the dog. And we sold the bungalow, just like she said in the will and everything was split.” She fought back tears. “The funeral was lovely.”
“I know,” Pearl said smugly. “And much better than my sister-in-law’s memorial. Mind you, her family was always a bit peculiar.”
“Your mother said that she thought the funeral was fine,” Kane said. “What is it that you need to know?”
Sandra swallowed. “I miss my mum,” she said, her voice breaking slightly. “And the thing I always remember are the flowers in the garden.”
“I always loved my garden,” Pearl said softly, reaching out helplessly towards her daughter.
“I got a lot of the flowers planted in my garden now,” Sandra said. “I’ve got the same peace roses and asters. I’ve kept up to the wallflowers and alyssum, but there’s one plant I can’t find.”
“You have to be tough, when you have seven kids,” Pearl said. “I had to keep them in order. But I let them enjoy the garden. That was something a little different.”
“Mum could be a bit fierce,” Sandra said, with breath-taking understatement. “But when we were out in the garden, she’d tell us stories and show us stuff. She’d make the snapdragons pop for us and save the seeds so that we could see the faces in the seed pods.”
“Snapdragon, or antirrhinum,” Pearl said. “The seed pods look like little skulls – very spooky for kids. I grew sunflowers as well. I used to have all the kids, and the grandkids and great grandkids after them, plant sunflower seeds and we’d measure them and the one who got the tallest flower would get a little chocolate bar. And come Halloween we’d carve the pumpkins I’d grown and we’d save the seed…” Pearl trailed off.
“My happiest memory is of my mum in a garden,” Sandra said. “She grew one plant, and I could never remember its name. I always called it, ‘fairy silver’ and mum used to talk about the elves and the moon. I can’t find that plant anywhere. It’s the only one I can’t find, but it’s the one that always seemed the most magical. I need to know what it was.”
The ghost of Pearl swallowed. “I didn’t realise, I didn’t know how much it meant,” she said. “I would have told her.” For a moment she shut her eyes and a trace of a phantom tear slid down her face. “It’s honesty, or moonflower, fancy name lunaria. You can get the seeds on the internet. It’s quite common. I got the variety with purple flowers.”
Kane relayed the information to Sandra. “I don’t know much about gardens, but it sounds pretty,” he said.
Sandra nodded. “It really is,” she said. “And it will always be full of stories for me.”
Pearl blinked back tears as she faded. “As long as she remembers to tell those stories to her kids,” she said. “And her grandkids.”
“She’s gone,” Kane said.
Sandra shook her head. “Not while I’ve got a garden,” she said. “And I can share her stories.”
Passing on a Message
Louise leant back in her chair. The café was almost empty and there was no-one near, but she still kept her voice low. “So you say that my dead brother sent you.” She looked the slim, hunched figure up and down. “You don’t look like the sort of person he would know.”
Kane nodded. “If he was alive, we would probably never have even spoken,” he said. “But, well…” He tried to gather his thoughts. “I can see ghosts,” he said.
“Really?” Louise said politely.
Kane was used to this. “Your brother said not to bother with giving you details about your childhood or anything like that. He said you were very cynical and had learned to distrust people.”
“That’s a good cold read,” Louise said. “What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything,” Kane said. “Ben helped me out with something, and so I promised that I would help him out. He pointed me in the right direction and I asked the necessary questions and got some good answers. He’s worried about you,” Kane said. “Or he was. When we found what he was looking for, he passed over.”
“That’s convenient,” Louise said, her eyes boring into his.
Kane nodded. “Ben said that there were a few problems with the business, that your stepmother was making claims that were difficult to challenge,” he said.
“She feels that she is entitled to more than she had after my father died,” Louise said. “She keeps talking about being a grieving widow.” She smiled thinly. “She’s making no secret of that. It’s not hard information to find out.”
Kane nodded. “Ben and I talked to a few people that your solicitor would have trouble reaching,” he said. “But together we found some things that may help you.” He carefully placed the bag on the table and pulled out the documents. “These are letters that your father wrote to a solicitor that your stepmother intercepted. They show that he never had any intention of leaving anything to her.”
“But she claims she should have a share because she is his widow,” Louise said bitterly. “And half the family think we should pay something out because they were married, even if Dad didn’t leave anything to them.”
“This is the record of her marriage to her first husband,” Kane said. “This is the supporting evidence of the marriage. And this is the sworn statement of her first husband, or rather, her husband, showing that he is not only still alive but also that they never divorced. Your stepmother is entitled to nothing. She was never legally married to your father.”
Louise stared at the papers for a long time. “How can I repay you,” she asked as she ran light fingers over the documents.
Kane shook his head. “Ben helped me out, so I said that I would help him out.” He drained his cup of tea. “You should find all that you need in there,” he said, standing and shrugging on his jacket. “It was nice meeting you.”
Kane stepped out of the café and into the sunshine. He wasn’t usually proud of his strange gift, but today was different. Today he was glad of it.