(copyrighted material Caron Allan 2007)
He hit her once. The hammer struck her across the side of the head, sending her sprawling across the bed. She came to rest, stunned, with her neck bare on the rail of the bedstead. Her flesh seemed very white against the dull sheen of the moonlit brass. Too white. And naked. It filled him with rage. How could she not be disgusted by her own nakedness? He felt a compulsion to hide it, cover it, take the filthy bareness away. His good, trusty hammer was at hand. He brought it up above his head and with all his strength slammed it down on her bare white neck.
There was a sound. The soft wet sound of her last breath, softer than the sound of butterfly wings, as the hammer smashed her neck again, and then again. And again. A pause then twice more to be sure the thing was done. The last scrap of tissue tore apart and the head fell onto the floor, the weight of her hair causing it to land with a soft thump. Immediately he felt peace wash over him. He had done it, he had dealt with the filthy creature, and everything would now be clean, Godly, decent.
He picked her up as if she weighed nothing, threw her body into the cupboard and slammed the door. There was a bloodied, sticky mess on the bottom rail of the bedstead. He spread a clean towel across this and it was gone from his sight. A length of fair hair tailed out from under the bed, somehow still unsoiled by her blood and so it did not offend him. Her head had rolled under there and he decided it may as well stay there until the morning. He’d clear up then, once he’d had a good night’s sleep. A weight was gone from his heart, and his mind, and as he lay down, a smile spread across his face. All would now be well. He read his Bible and then he slept.
‘Hi Mum, it’s me. How are you?’ Amy said, putting a big smile in her voice.
‘Hello sweetheart. I’m all right, thanks. It’s nice to hear from you. How’s Lyle?’
Amy frowned to herself. She knew she’d told her. She just knew it.
‘Mum, we broke up a few weeks ago. I told you.’
‘You broke up! But you were so in love, so happy, you were engaged to be married!’ Her mother sounded like she was hearing this for the first time. She couldn’t have sounded more upset if she had been engaged to the cheating moron herself.
‘I know, Mum, I know,’ Amy said gently.
‘But you were so happy,’ her mother repeated.
‘I know Mum, I was there. But now it seems that Lyle wasn’t so happy after all.’
‘What did you do?’
Amy was shocked by that. But while she was still recovering herself, her mother had already answered her own question. ‘No, I’ll tell you what you did. You were selfish. Men don’t like women to be so independent. They want a woman who will support them in their career, not be putting her own career first.’
It wasn’t the first time Amy had heard this outmoded argument from her mother. And her mother wasn’t the only one who still believed the old lies. Hurt gave way to irritation, impatience.
‘Mum!’ she snapped. ‘That’s not how it was!’
‘Oh really? You’re telling me he was any happier than I am about this ridiculous, so-called ‘career change’ of yours? I mean, I can’t imagine he was at all pleased to hear you’d given up a perfectly good job at his family’s firm. In fact, I imagine it felt like a huge betrayal to poor Lyle. Not to mention the potential damage it could do to his professional reputation if word gets out about what you’ve done.’
‘Mum!’ This time Amy actually raised her voice. ‘That’s not fair! In any case, I made my decision to quit after he and I broke up. He cheated on me…’
‘I’m not surprised! There’s only so much a man can take. You modern women need to learn to be less selfish, less…’
Too upset to want to talk any longer, and cutting short her mother’s lecture on just where Amy had gone wrong, Amy said,
‘Anyway. I was just calling to let you know I’ve got my first professional assignment. It’s in your area, so I’m coming down there for a few days. I’ll get there Wednesday night.’
‘Doing what? What is this ‘assignment’?’
‘Investigating, Mum. Investigating paranormal phenomena. That’s what I do now. I told you. That’s what you were just ranting about.’
Her mother didn’t bother to conceal the scorn in her voice.
‘Oh that! That’s not a real job! That’s not even decent. It’s just a nasty and cruel confidence trick. And it will never pay your bills! You’ll end up in prison for fraud. You’ll bring shame on your family. Go back to London and ask them for your old job back, I’m sure they’d understand. You could tell them how much you regretted your decision to leave, and how wrong you now realise it was. Tell them you were upset or confused, or something.’
‘I’m not going to do that, Mum. It wasn’t the wrong decision. Now, I’m going to be in Derby next week for about a week. I thought it would be nice to get together for dinner.’
‘I can’t, Amy, I’m busy packing. As you well know. Or you would if you weren’t so absorbed in your own affairs. You know I’m on the point of moving house, so if you thought you could just walk in here without a moment’s notice and cadge a bed and a free meal, well I’m sorry, that’s just not possible. Now, I’m very busy, so if there’s no more bad news, I’ll need to go, I have to get on.’
Amy fought back tears. It seemed pointless to tell her mother she had already booked her motel room, and that she would never have presumed on staying with her, and that yes, she’d known her mother was packing and that’s why she had thought it would be nice to go out for dinner so her mother wouldn’t have to cook for herself, and could escape the packing cases for a couple of hours. But now all that was spoiled, and so Amy said goodbye in a choking voice her mother dismissed as ‘the sulks’.
At least when she still had her accounting job with Webster-Best, after a miserable conversation with her mother she could have gone out with a bunch of colleagues and got drunk. But terminating her contract with Webster-Best had effectively terminated her friendships too. Apart from Brandy, who still texted her or called her once or twice a week to gossip, Amy hadn’t heard from any of her old pals, none of them had replied to her emails or texts. She was no longer in any of their chat groups.
She went to find a feel-good movie to put on to lift her low mood. All she could find was Kill Bill and she followed it with The Green Mile. At the end of all that, as she gathered up the damp tissues and empty chocolate packet, she could still hear her inner bitch saying, ‘Your mum’s right. It’s. All. Your. Fault. You will be alone. Forever.’
A week later, Amy halted the car in the narrow street outside a sprawling red-brick building. There was a sign on a tall post, facing the street that announced this was The Old Mill Hotel. The area was probably terrifying at night. Now, even at just after eleven o’clock in the morning, it lacked appeal. All around were car parks, storage units and boarded-up abandoned houses. This side of the street was lined with parked vehicles, mainly large vans.
She stretched out the journey’s stiffness from her neck and shoulders then reached back into the car for her shoulder bag. She quickly checked her phone before heading around to the side of the building to the main entrance. No messages. No missed calls. As she was a few minutes early for her appointment, she tapped out a quick text to her mother asking if the house-move had gone smoothly. Pocketing the phone, she made her way around to the entrance. Then, back to business, she dragged open the big glass door and stepped into the lobby.
Inside, the entrance lobby and reception area was warm and welcoming, a pleasant, and slightly surprising contrast to the outside. Whoever had planned the décor had made the most of the ‘industrial’ architecture, using stark neutrals for the wall and floor-coverings but adding warm oranges and golds in the shades on the lamps, the pictures on the walls, the little side-tables and the upholstery of several deep and squashy sofas. The no-nonsense comfort was instantly appealing.
There were voices off to the right of the reception desk, coming through an open door. Amy could hear a woman’s voice saying,
‘…was just standing right here, as clear as you are to me, then when she took a step closer, it just vanished into thin air. She saw half of a man’s jacket, and a gold watch chain, shining across him from the top pocket to the middle buttonhole, and she saw a full, dark beard.’
‘Wow! That’s just amazing!’ a man declaimed in an American accent. Amy thought he sounded as though he was speaking to an audience. He sounded like someone in the business, and Amy fixed her attention on his voice as he continued, ‘I can’t tell you how excited we get whenever we hear about a full-bodied apparition.’ There was a pause, for effect, Amy thought, then he added, ‘Because as I’m sure you know, that’s pretty rare. We’ve been the length and breadth of your great British nation doing this show, and we’ve seen some pretty intense things over the last few months, but a full-bodied apparition still has the power to excite us. That’s what makes us want to travel all these miles, so we can experience the thrill of interacting with this kind of phenomena and bring it to the people all over the world sitting there in their homes and hopefully, we can help everyone to understand just a little bit better. This is a great opportunity for us all to learn about The Other Side.’
Amy shook her head in revulsion at his grand-standing. She called out a greeting, walking in the direction of the voices as she did so. Three heads appeared in the doorway, a female and two males. All mercifully attached.
‘Hi,’ Amy said again, and held up her driver’s license as ID. ‘I’m Amy Harper. I’m expected. We talked on the phone? You must be Stephanie?’
The woman didn’t have time to conceal a frown but advanced to meet Amy, hand outstretched.
‘You’re a little late, we’ve already started.’
Amy smiled in spite of the irritation she felt. She shook Stephanie’s hand.
‘I’m pretty sure we agreed on eleven-thirty. It’s only twenty past.’
The frown was displaced by a look of embarrassment as Stephanie checked her own watch.
‘Oh yes, that’s right, we did say eleven-thirty. Sorry. I probably should have called you back to cancel. The thing is, I got a call from the IPA guys. You know, from that really great TV show? Anyway I was just showing them round, telling them a bit of the back-story.’
The IPA? Oh yes, Amy had definitely heard of them. She had seen them on television. Their big-budget show was now in its fourth series. They all wore a uniform of matching embroidered-logo polo shirts with khaki pants and work boots, giving them a workmanlike appearance. This no-nonsense, down-to-earth look added a ton of credibility to the series. No one could say their marketing wasn’t top-notch. And no surprise there either, as Amy knew that at least two of the team had worked in marketing for a number of years before setting up the paranormal investigation services. They turned up in brand new vans with the IPA logo on the side and toted all kinds of electronic equipment and mysterious gadgetry. And they had a big team of investigators: around six full-time members and as many part-timers, not to mention there were always a couple of ‘trainees’. Her heart sank. Her first assignment was already rapidly going down the pan. How could she compete with the ‘big guns’?
‘So, I’m guessing you no longer want to retain my services now you have the IPA team on the case?’
‘Well, I’m afraid…’ Stephanie began, still looking embarrassed. The two men stepped forward. One of them, the largest in terms of height and width, thrust a large hand out towards Amy.
‘Jake Henriksson, joint co-founder of IPA, which you may not know stands for Investigators into Paranormal Activity.’
She did know. But she had automatically shaken his hand and said it was a pleasure to meet him before she knew what she was doing. Note to self, she thought, stop being so damned friendly, it’s a cut-throat business. The second guy stepped forward and quietly said he was pleased to meet her and that his name was Steve. He also shook her hand. Over to Jake again.
‘Now look, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be enough room for two teams of investigators here, you know. I mean, we’re always real keen to encourage new talent.’
Amy didn’t want to think of herself as ‘new talent’. Neither did she like the way he had assumed some kind of authority or seniority over her. Thirdly, she noted they expected to have to help her, but didn’t seem to think they could learn anything themselves. She’d seen them in action on their TV show a number of times and felt that they could use a few tips. Their technique had all the finesse of a bulldozer.
She looked at Stephanie who was biting her lip and looking worried.
‘Well, I suppose I did kind of ask you to come here,’ the hotel owner admitted. ‘And I know you did say I only have to pay up when the investigation is over, and then only if you can solve the problems. And the IPA guys are paying me for the chance to come here, so I guess it would be okay if you stayed.’
Amy gaped. The IPA guys were paying their client? Her client? Dismayed, she couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t get bleeped out of the IPA TV show, or overdubbed with hilarious effects in the end-of-season special. There was a moment of uncomfortable shoe-shuffling and throat-clearing.
‘Well, I guess we’d better get…’ said Steve.
‘Yup,’ said Jake.
They all drifted back through the doorway, Steve waving Amy through ahead of him with an embarrassed smile. The walk-through resumed.
‘As I was just telling the guys…’
Amy fished out her notebook and pen, and followed Stephanie and the other two investigators around the hotel. She was trying to do everything at once: she was trying to fix on what Stephanie and the IPA guys were saying, and she was reaching out with her mind and with her senses to try to get some kind of feel for the place and whatever might be going on there, and on top of both of those two things, she was also trying to get down some clear notes about what had been experienced in the hotel up to now, and to record her first impressions.
A couple of times this led to her getting left behind by the others, who went round the hotel at what seemed to be lightning speed. If they’d had a cab waiting out front with its meter running, Amy wouldn’t have been surprised. Now that she thought about it, she recalled several vans parked in the street. One of those had to be their vehicle. She didn’t remember noticing any fancy logo though.
Left behind by the others, she paused in an upstairs corridor to draw herself a little plan of the hotel so she could mark in the ‘hot’ spots. Through an open doorway Amy noticed a chambermaid had paused in her work to look in her direction. Sensing an opportunity, Amy approached her with a smile, her hand outstretched.
‘Hi. I’m Amy. I’m here to try to find out a little more about some of the unusual things that have been going on.’
The woman nodded and smiled. But she said nothing. Amy felt she should prompt the woman a little.
‘Have you ever seen or heard anything strange?’
‘Something you can’t explain, something – I don’t know – crazy?’
‘Crazy? Like – spirit? Yes?’
‘Yes!’ Amy said a shade too eagerly. ‘Or – well it could be anything – noises, shadows?’
‘Shadows? Like shape in the air? Yes, I have seen the shadow. Not this room. Upstairs. Outside the room 303 there is a shadow one time. I come out to get cloth from my cart – here I see shadow just at stairs.’
‘What happened?’ Amy asked, feeling a thrill of excitement. An eye-witness report – within minutes of arriving! It was incredibly lucky.
‘Nothing really. I take my cloth, and turn around, and here he is…’
‘He? It was the shape of a man?’
‘I don’t know, but yes I think maybe it was a man. I don’t know why. But I think so.’
‘Okay, that’s great. So what happened next?’ Amy didn’t want to make notes while she was talking to the chambermaid in case she missed something: an expression, a phrase, a look, or she forgot to ask a pertinent question. She only hoped she would be able to remember all this later once she sat down to type up the notes about her first visit.
‘Like I say, I just turn and there he is, this shadow, this shape, by the stairs. And I surprised, you know, so I do a little sound, like a scared noise, but I feel like it hear me and it turn, so I run. I run very fast and I come into this room 303 that I am cleaning up here,’ and here she pointed to the ceiling above her head, then continued: ‘And I go inside the bathroom and I lock the door. And all the time I am praying, but as well I think, idiota, spirits are walking through the doors, right?’
She looked at Amy for confirmation.
Amy nodded. ‘They can sometimes move through solid objects such as furniture or even doors or walls. You must have been really scared. Did you wait in the bathroom for very long?’
The woman looked down at the floor, pleating her apron hem with anxious fingers. Biting her lip, she nodded slowly. ‘I wait – I wait long time,’ she said in a whisper.
‘That’s okay, I can understand that. You were scared. Anyone would have felt the same. Don’t feel bad.’
‘No, you not understand. If Stephanie find out, she take some of my money back for me not work. Please…’ The woman held out clasped hands in front of her, looking at Amy imploringly.
Amy hoped her smile was reassuring. ‘It’s okay, um…’
‘Analina. It’s okay. I won’t tell Stephanie what you said.’
‘She won’t know?’
‘She won’t know,’ Amy said. ‘Have there been any other events? Has anything else happened?’ she clarified when Analina looked puzzled.
Analina shook her head.
‘Not really. Sometime I just feel someone is there but just only that one time I really see.’
‘Okay. Well thank you for talking to me, it’s very interesting.’ Amy smiled then as she turned to leave, Analina smiled too and almost bobbed a curtsey.
‘You welcome, madam.’
When Amy reached the end of the hallway, she was immediately struck by another thought and she turned to hurry back to the room. As she entered, she stopped suddenly. Ahead of her she could see Analina standing as if rooted to the spot, a look of terror on her face.
Taking a deep breath, Amy stepped into the room and approached Analina. She put out a hand to the chambermaid, who grabbed it like a lifeline, latching onto her arm with both hands, gripping her hard and turning Amy to look at what she was seeing.
A shadow was between the room’s twin beds, right in front of the wall. Through the centre of the shadow Amy could see the wall light, its delicate glass shade gleaming.
Carefully, with slow, slow movements, Amy reached into her bag to get her phone, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on the shadow.
It stretched from around two feet below the high ceiling down almost to the floor, and was about three feet wide, though the outline was not a fixed, straight-edged rectangle but undulating and soft-edged, almost a human shape. And the shadow was darker at the top, growing clearer from halfway down, lightening and fading until it disappeared completely six or eight inches above the carpet.
It looked exactly as if someone had painted a dark grey shadow on a glass screen. Something Amy had seen done many times on shows similar to that of the IPA. Amy quickly opened the camera function on her phone and snapped four or five times before Analina whispered, ‘It goes.’ And Amy looked up and saw that the shadow had completely disappeared.
‘What it is?’ Analina asked her, angry and frightened, tears of frustration in her eyes. ‘You find this what it is! I am too scared. And I need this job!’
‘I know. I will, I promise. Wow, that was so exciting!’ Amy said and patted the woman’s arm.
Analina turned on her. ‘Not for me it not exciting! I got to work here, I need this job, I do not need your exciting thing! First time I see this here this floor. Now I got two places I’m scared to go! You need to do this!’
Amy felt terrible. For a moment she had sounded just like the IPA boss. She shook her head, all contrition. She had forgotten that most people would not welcome these kinds of occurrences in their workplace.
‘I’m so sorry, Analina, I wasn’t thinking. I promise I will do everything I can to sort this out.’
She remembered then why she had come back to speak with Analina.
‘Do you know if anyone else here has seen the shadow? Or heard noises?’
Analina shook her head doubtfully, although her words made Amy think someone had talked about seeing or hearing something.
‘I don’t know. You ask them. Maybe they tell you what they see. I don’t know. I don’t speak for them. They see for themself if they want to talk to you. It not good here to talk on these things. Stephanie say we here to work. I do not want to lose job now.’
‘Okay, that’s fine. Look, let me give you my card, it has my phone number and email address on it. You can call me anytime if you want to talk or if you think of anything else.’ Amy held out her business card but Analina shook her head, holding out a hand to stop Amy giving her the card.
‘I can’t. Stephanie not like me call you. Stephanie not like us to talk about shadows and footsteps.’
‘Footsteps?’ Amy asked eagerly. Something else new. But Analina had had enough, she pushed past Amy and started to leave the room, calling over her shoulder,
‘Sorry madam, I must get back to work now. Nothing to say to you. Very busy now. Goodbye. Thank you. Have a nice day.’
Out in the corridor Stephanie and the two IPA guys were returning. Stephanie looked impatient.
‘Oh there you are! We’ve been looking all over for you.’ Stephanie adopted a brittle smile for Amy but couldn’t resist directing a sharp look at Analina who was now busy with her cleaning cart.
‘Sorry. I hope you don’t mind, but I saw this lady cleaning in this room and I couldn’t resist the urge to ask her about anything she might have witnessed.’
Analina looked at her with eyes rounded in horror, clearly afraid Amy was going to get her into trouble. Amy smiled at Stephanie and added, ‘I bet your housekeeping staff see all kinds of things. I mean, they’re in and out of all these rooms on a daily basis.’
‘And what was she able to tell you?’ Stephanie asked, with every appearance of making a casual enquiry. But her eyes were cold. Amy felt no compunction about lying to protect Analina.
‘Unfortunately nothing. She says she’s too busy to pay attention to silly stories.’
Stephanie’s sharp look softened slightly, and as she led them back past Analina and towards the stairs, Amy heard Stephanie say softly to Analina, ‘Muy bien.’ And immediately Analina relaxed.
Downstairs they followed Stephanie into the dining-room.
It was large, brightly lit even at this time of day, with around thirty tables set for dinner, with fresh candles waiting to be lit, set into dainty glass holders, and gleaming napkins and tablecloths in place. Glassware and silverware shone. Everything was immaculate and Amy could see how the hotel had earned its impressive reputation.
The back wall was mirrored from floor to ceiling, and here too, the mirror was spotlessly clean and dust-free. On the right, the expanse of wall was broken up by three double glass doors overlooking a wide terrace, with the sweep of a tree-lined lawn beyond. In the summer months, it would be wonderful to have those doors open, sunshine and the sound of laughter to come into the dining-room. And if there was music, what could be more romantic than to get up between courses or at the end of the meal and dance with the one you loved on the terrace in the moonlight. It was the perfect venue for weddings, engagements and anniversary celebrations.
‘We’ve had a number of reports of a young woman either looking out this first door onto the terrace or walking from that same door across the dining-room to this door to the hallway. I would say she’s been seen about five or six times in the last two years alone by various guests and staff, and even myself. She never seems to notice us, never pauses nor stops nor speaks, just always seems to walk directly from glass door to hallway door. But when she’s looking out at the terrace, she seems fainter, and she literally just stands there, she doesn’t move or turn or anything, and after a minute or two she just disappears into thin air.’
‘Wow! That’s incredible!’ Jake immediately chipped in. Amy already didn’t like him because of his way of monopolising Stephanie’s attention by constantly interposing ‘uh huh’ or ‘wow’ or ‘you don’t say’ at the end of every phrase she spoke, so that the constant stream of interruptions made her forget what she was saying. In addition, it made Amy want to slap him.
Conversely Steve, his colleague, or minion—Amy wasn’t quite sure what their relationship was though she suspected the big, noisy one was The Boss—his colleague had said almost nothing at all. But in spite of his silence, Amy liked him simply because he was so quiet. And he was polite. He had held doors open for her several times as they’d walked round with Stephanie, a charming courtesy. He never interrupted but just listened attentively. He was the only one of the other three that even acknowledged Amy’s presence. She felt like an uninvited guest at a party.
‘What did you say the apparition looked like?’ Jake the Noisy Boss asked.
Stephanie took a deep breath, began, ‘Well…’ Using both hands, palms down, to give weight to her story. She’s enjoying this, Amy thought, then her next thought was, I’m not sure what she’s telling us is even true. It sounds like something she’s made up for the tourists. But why would she make something like this up? Amy pondered on this for a moment. From a purely economic point of view, a ghost in the dining-room might be good for business, especially if it was young and pretty and possibly tragic. On the other hand, if it became known that there was a terrifying male shadow person lurking in the guest bedrooms and keeping cleaning staff locked in the bathroom for extended periods, that would quite definitely NOT be good for business. If these things had been going on for several years, why wait until now to call in an investigator? Or three?
‘Well,’ Stephanie repeated. ‘She’s young. I’d say around twenty, twenty-two. Very pretty. Long brown hair caught back in a blue velvet ribbon. Long skirt, almost to the floor, and some kind of white cotton blouse with a locket on a chain resting on her bosom. She looks kind of old-fashioned, actually, though maybe not exactly Victorian, you know, but maybe kind of 1910s, 1920s. And she’s about my height, with a very nice, slim figure. My guests said they thought she looked as though she was waiting for her lover.’
This was all very detailed. Too detailed. In spite of her suspicions about what Stephanie was telling them, Amy carefully made notes in her book.
‘Do you know anything about the hotel’s history?’ Steve the Nice Guy asked. Stephanie shook her head whilst Amy, always susceptible, was thinking how nice his voice was, and what a sensible question that was to ask.
‘Not really. Sorry. I just know there was an old mill on the site.’
That much could be gleaned from the hotel’s name, Amy thought, feeling cranky, but the two IPA guys nodded slowly as if Stephanie had said Something Insightful.
‘Wow!’ said Jake the Noisy Boss once more. Nice Guy simply nodded again slowly.
‘I know, right?’ Stephanie simpered and finally Amy realised that Stephanie was flirting with the two men. Amy felt angry with herself for not noticing sooner, she was definitely slipping. Meanwhile, it was clear that Stephanie’s main objectives were to keep them away from the hotel’s real paranormal issues, and if at all possible, to snag herself a gainfully-employed American celebrity paranormal investigator at the same time.
‘What time of day do you usually see the – um – apparition?’ Amy asked, trying to sound bright and perky. She would not get anywhere by giving in to the urge to snap at anyone. Bills to pay, she reminded herself, be nice, you want to eat next month, don’t you?
‘Blimey, well…’ Stephanie seemed to be thinking, trying to remember. A faint flush stole up the woman’s throat and flamed across her cheeks as she said, ‘It’s mainly late in the evening, you know.’
‘When the last one or two guests are finishing up a late dinner and about to go up to their rooms?’ Amy suggested mildly. Stephanie had the grace to look a little embarrassed.
‘That’s right. Or sometimes a small group might be lingering over their drinks, you know, just chatting. We wouldn’t chase them out, that would not be hotel policy.’
Amy nodded her understanding even though she was now absolutely convinced Stephanie was making up the whole story. Apart from the appeal that a mysterious and tragic haunting might hold for guests, Amy still couldn’t quite see the point of the fabrication.
‘Late in the evening and into the night are commonly believed to be the most likely times for someone to have a supernatural experience,’ Jake assured Stephanie. ‘Although of course, it can also depend on the reason the haunting or hauntings have come about in the first place.’
Stephanie was hanging on his every word like it was the most interesting thing she had ever heard in her life. Amy could tell Jake was flattered. They began a long discussion about ghostly time-keeping, with Jake flinging in the odd anecdote to prove whatever point he was trying to make.
Nice Guy did an exchange of eyebrow-raises with Amy. Clearly he wasn’t buying it either. Amy was pleased to feel that he was treating her as an ally, and she was glad he wasn’t taken in by Stephanie’s act. After a few minutes, just as Amy was getting almost too bored to continue being polite, Stephanie, seemingly embarrassed, said,
‘Um – I was just kind of wondering. I mean, I suppose you can’t just maybe do like a kind of all-purpose kind of general ritual to maybe get rid of any kind of ghosts or spirits or whatever they are?’
Amy waited to see what would come next. It seemed they had finally got to the real reason Stephanie had called them in. The two IPA guys looked baffled. Stephanie hastened to explain.
‘It’s just that there could be ghosts or whatever that I don’t even know about, you know, in other parts of the hotel. I mean, just because we’ve seen this sweet little girl down here, doesn’t mean there might not be something nastier somewhere else – maybe in the kitchen or some place. I’m just worried about the possibility – no matter how slim – of losing bookings.’
Yes, this was the truth at last. Finally she was being honest about what was motivating her to call on them for help. Jake shook his head.
‘Sorry, it has to be specific to whatever kind of spirit you have here, we can’t do a kind of general spring-clean to cover all eventualities.’
Stephanie couldn’t hide her disappointment. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘Oh well. I just thought I’d ask. So what do you guys want to do next?’
‘We need to do a night-time investigation, or rather two or three night-time investigations, followed by a kind of debrief where we tell you our findings and come up with an action plan to help you move forward with the situation. Don’t worry about the night-time vigils, we’ll make as little noise as possible, and damage should be minimal,’ Jake said, and in case anyone thought of leaving Amy out of things at this point, she nodded vigorously and said,
‘Yes, that goes for me too.’
‘Whatever,’ Stephanie said. She sounded resigned now, like all the fight had gone out of her, ripping away the flirty, talkative persona she adopted for business purposes. ‘I’ll tell my staff they’re having a few days off. I’ve been forced to close the hotel anyhow until you figure this mess out. I already have one lawsuit on my hands, I can’t afford any more. A client’s wife had a heart attack after seeing something upstairs and now they’re suing me. If they win, I’ll probably lose everything anyway, so I guess closing for a few days won’t make much difference. Just let me know when you’re done and tell me what I need to do next. Now excuse me, I’ve got to go and tell my customers their stay has just been cancelled.’
Looking older and anxious, she turned and stomped away, her shoulders slumped in misery. Amy felt bad about the things she had thought about Stephanie now. She realised how quickly she had forgotten that her livelihood depended on someone else’s nightmare. She should have realised that there would be a lot riding on this investigation – after all, nobody called in people like her, or the IPA guys, unless they were desperate.
She couldn’t wait to come back after dark and find out what was really going on.