Featured

The Haunting of Dr Jacobs

A ghost story for Christmas

I haven’t, in truth, known Dr Irwin Jacobs for very long. I would stop short at calling him a friend because I don’t honestly believe he has anyone he could apply that title too. While appearing outwardly friendly, in reality, he struck me as a very self-contained person; a very private man who only very reluctantly reveals anything about himself.

   I first met him in Llandudno in North Wales at a conference on The Study of Personality Disorder. It was organised by SANE, the mental health charity and was attended largely by medics and psychiatrists and others involved in the provision of mental health services. I was there as a freelance journalist with an interest in mental health, having written on many occasions about how destructive it can be to families and relationships.

   I literally bumped into him at the hotel bar where he was sitting on a stool staring gloomily into a gin and tonic. I rather clumsily managed to spill his drink which he was about to sip. I naturally apologised profusely and immediately offered to buy him another, but he waved the offer away.

   Dr Jacobs has a rather Teutonic face; startling blue eyes, a square jaw and a firm mouth that is not given to smiling. His thinning grey hair sits above a furrowed brow and a sallow face. We shook hands and I apologised again.

   I sat on a stool next to him and introduced myself. I am Dominic Howard, quite well known in my chosen field by mental health professionals, even if I do say so with a degree of modesty! After we concluded the introductions, I asked him about his practice. He immediately became quite animated and went into some detail about the problems some of his patients present. It was, however, punctuated by nervous glances around the room, his eyes flickering from side-to side as though expecting a friend or colleague. I looked around but there were just other delegates standing in small groups in earnest discussion.

   ‘Are you expecting someone,’ I said, standing up, preparing to leave.

   ‘No, No,’ he said, placing a hand on my arm with a look that invited me to sit. I did so. ‘I thought I saw a cat,’ he muttered, almost under his breath.

   I stared at him. ‘A cat?’ I repeated looking around the bar.

   ‘I’m allergic to them,’ he said by way of explanation, looking around furtively. For some reason I did not believe him but why would he lie about something like that? Our conversation then turned to topics to do with matters of the mind. It ended with us exchanging contact details. As a journalist I have always found it useful to collect people who are experts in their fields and for all his odd behaviour, Dr Jacobs did appear to be highly knowledgeable. We shook hands and parted.

   That was a month ago and I have been busy writing a feature on stress at the workplace, a subject close to my heart, when I routinely look at my email queue and there is one from Dr Jacobs inviting me to call round for supper. To say that I am surprised would be an understatement.

   I note that Dr Jacobs lives at Bedford Square, which is not that far from my apartment at Ridgemount Gardens, near the University of London. I reply saying that I would be happy to call round. I am curious, more than anything else, to see what life is like at Bedford Square. I note his address is not an apartment!

   The door is opened by a man formally dressed. He asks me to identify myself and ushers me into a small but comfortable room to the left of the front door. I take it he must be a butler or manservant. I am astonished that they still exist in the 21st century.

   Five minutes later he returns and invites me to follow him to a plush, but rather austere lounge. Jacobs is standing near an open coal fire. He steps forward and we shake hands. He treats me to a rather watery smile and waves me into an expansive easy chair. The Butler, who he addresses as James, is standing nearby awaiting instructions. Jacobs orders two whiskies.

   I gaze around the room. It is slightly Edwardian; not quite Victorian but fussy in that everything obviously has its place. Along one wall are shelves full of tomes. I am always fascinated by bookshelves; what treasures are hidden away there, I wonder, and I am sorely tempted to explore, but I don’t. Instead, I look at Jacobs who is staring around the room furtively.

   ‘Do you hear anything?’ he asks softly.

   I listen. There is just a heavy silence which is interrupted by James bringing our whiskies. I stare at him. His face could be made of stone. It is set and expressionless as he sets our drinks down on occasional tables.

   ‘I am informed by cook Sir, that dinner will be served in 30 minutes,’ he announces in a monotone. Jacobs nods in acknowledgement and James glides out of the room.

   ‘I didn’t hear anything,’ I inform Jacobs, ‘apart from the occasional car passing outside.’

   ‘You didn’t hear a laugh,’ he asks, looking at me closely. I shake my head, puzzled, and enquire why he asked.

   He stares at a corner of the room. This is a strange house,’ he says. ‘Once the servants have left, I can’t help feeling that there are other people here. I can hear them. Mutterings and laughing, sometimes all night long. There is a cat too. I have no idea how it got in here but I see it every night, lurking in corners.’

   I look around the room and then say breezily that there is no sign of any cats now and then ask him how long he has lived at Bedford Square.

   ‘It was bought by my grandfather,’ he says, relaxing a little. ‘We have lived here for three generations. Both my father and grandfather were medical men. I am the only one to practise psychiatry.’

   ‘Did you never marry,’ I ask a little hesitantly wondering if he might be offended by such a personal question.

   He frowns and replies that he did but that his wife died suddenly just two years after they were wed.  ‘It was toxic shock. She died in just two days of the bacteria taking hold,’ he says quietly. I have been alone ever since.’

   Suddenly, James appears to announce that dinner is served so we follow him into another spacious room with a dining table in the middle with seats for ten people. There are two place settings at one end. The room is mostly lit by candles, two candelabra on the table and two meagre wall lamps which together manage to cast ominous silhouettes on the walls.

   Dinner passes in a gloomy silence and it is with some relief that we eventually rise to leave the maid to clear away the dishes. We return to the lounge which is also poorly lit with just two small wall lights.

   Jacobs walks over to a cabinet and holds up a bottle of Martell. I nod and he pours two large measures and returns to his seat by the fire. He begins a conversation about psychiatry and the unusual symptoms displayed by his patients. I listen with interest as he describes Clinical Lycanthropy.

   His patient involves a delusion that he can transform into an animal. It is often associated with turning into a wolf or werewolf; the name of the syndrome originates from the mythical condition of lycanthropy or shapeshifting into wolves.

   ‘The patient genuinely believes he can take the form of any particular animal and during delusional periods he can act like the animal.’

   He goes on to talk about another patient who suffers from Alien Hand Syndrome which is characterized by the belief that one’s hand has its own life. Individuals experiencing the syndrome have normal sensations but feel their hand is a separate entity: The affected hand has its own agenda. This syndrome may occur in individuals who have damage to the corpus callosum, which connects the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain.

   All very interesting but I notice that while he is talking, he is casting nervous glances around the room. He notices that I have almost finished my brandy and offers a refill and when I accept, walks over to the cabinet which is in a half light.

   As he uncorks the bottle, I fancy I see a shadow to his right which appears to be bending over him. He suddenly starts and shouts ‘No, no, go away, damn you,’ waving his arms wildly. He steps back and glances in my direction.

   ‘Forgive me,’ he says. ‘That was not intended for you.’

   ‘I thought I saw a shadow,’ I say looking around the room. ‘But it may have just been a trick of the light.’ I smile a little uncertainly.

   ‘She is plaguing me,’ he mutters taking a large gulp of brandy.

   ‘Who is?’ I ask.

   ‘A patient of mine who died about a year ago. In fact, she committed suicide,’ he says with a finality I find rather strange.

   I begin to think of what excuses I can conjure up to escape from this place with its sepulchral atmosphere. Did I imagine that shadow? Did he? Has this gloomy dump somehow infected his subconscious into making him believe he is haunted?

   Just then there are measured footsteps in the corridor outside, becoming louder as they approach the door. We both stare at it, and then they stop just as suddenly as they started. The door handle turns slowly twice and then stops.

   ‘Is that the butler?’ I ask, but his face is white. ‘Why doesn’t he come in?’

   ‘The servants have gone home,’ he replies quietly twisting his fingers around in his lap.

   I stand up and walk quickly to the door and wrench it open. There is nobody there but for some reason my eyes are drawn to a dark patch by an occasional table with phone directories on top. I can see two yellow eyes staring at me malevolently. They become larger and larger and begin moving towards me and I swiftly return into the room and slam the door behind me. I lean against it and then slowly walk back to my chair and sit down.

   ‘What did you see?’ he asks softly.

   ‘I thought I saw a cat,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘I have no idea who the footsteps belonged to though because there was nobody there.’

   I decide it is time to go. I stand up and thank him for his hospitality. He also stands and we both walk to the door, a little warily in my case. The hall is eerily silent as we walk down its length. He opens the front door and I step outside. I turn and thank him again but just before I walk away, I ask. ‘Are you going to be alright?’  He doesn’t reply. He just closes the door silently.

 

It is two weeks since my eerie supper with Dr Jacobs and I have managed to put him to the back of my mind. I am about to file a story for the Telegraph when I feel my mobile phone vibrating. I stare at the screen. It is Dr Jacobs. Why on earth is he ringing me? I click answer and am about to ask how he is when he asks me if I could round to Bedford Square later. He sounds strange. His voice has a rasping quality and is slightly tremulous. I reluctantly agree.

   I ring the bell and wait. Nothing happens. I ring it again. There is still no sign of life. I am about to walk away when the door half opens slowly revealing Jacobs. I stare at him in astonishment. He is unshaven, his jacket is open, his shirt half undone but it is his face that startles me. It is gaunt. His eyes are bloodshot.

   He slowly opens the door wider and I walk in with some trepidation. When in the hall I ask him where the butler is.

   ‘He left,’ he says. ‘He said he could no longer tolerate the things that go on here and just walked out’

   I am about to say that I could hardly blame him but don’t. Instead, I follow him into the lounge where the curtains have been drawn back to fill the gloomy room with daylight. It looks no more inviting than it did at night. He walks over to the drinks cabinet and offers me a whisky. I decline with a shake of my head. It is just 10.00am.

   ‘What has happened to you?’ I ask indicating his open shirt and generally unkempt appearance.

   ‘I can’t sleep,’ he says. ‘It won’t let me. I get no peace, none at all.’ He glares around the room. ‘Very soon I imagine cook will leave and then God help me. I have no idea what I will do.’

   It is on the tip of my tongue to say that he will have to do what most other single men do; cook for themselves or eat out, but I don’t.

   As he talks, I find myself looking at the door. I have no idea why. It might have been a movement that caught my attention, I’m not sure, but then as I look, the door handle begins to turn very slowly in one direction and then in the other. I stare at it in dreadful anticipation at what might be on the other side but the door remains closed.

   Jacobs has walked over to the window and is staring at the street outside. ‘Is there anyone else in the house?’ I ask.

   ‘No, just us,’ he says, turning around. ‘Why do you ask?’

   ‘I thought I saw the door handle turning,’ I say. He simply shrugs and turns back to the window. ‘Why have you asked me here Dr Jacobs?’

   ‘You have some idea of what I am going through,’ he says. ‘You know it is not the result of a fevered imagination or hallucinations. I just want someone to record what I am going through.’

   ‘There must be a cause though,’ I say. ‘Do you have no idea why you are being persecuted. There has to be a reason.’

   ‘I think it may be the result of a fixation my former patient entertained about me,’ he says staring at the other end of the room. I follow his gaze and there just by the door is a large black cat, its yellow eyes staring, unblinking. There is something malevolent about it.

   ‘Get away from me,’ he yells, throwing a book at it. But the cat has vanished.

   ‘It is always here,’ he growls. ‘It watches me day and night. There is no respite. I can hear it growling wherever I go.’

   I am standing a little way into the room near the fireplace which is unmade. There are half-burned documents in the grate. Jacobs has resumed staring out of the window so I bend down and grasp the two pieces of paper. I hastily stuff them in my pocket and as I do, I hear a dry chuckle in my right ear. I start backwards and almost fall over an occasional table. He turns around and asks if I am alright. I tell him I lost my balance.

   ‘All I would ask you do is to make a record of what you have heard and seen here,’ he says. ‘My colleagues in the profession will be interested that my experiences have been verified by an independent witness.’

   ‘Surely they will be interested in the likely cause as well,’ I say. He turns back to the window.

   ‘That will be a matter of some debate I imagine,’ he says quietly.

   I take my leave of him. He doesn’t offer to show me out so I make my way down the hall half expecting some horror to emerge from the shadows, but there is just an ominous silence.

   I cross the road and look back at the house. I can see Jacobs in the window staring gloomily at the sky and then I look more closely. Standing behind him and slightly to his left is another figure, the figure of a woman, an old woman with a pinched face and a shawl around her shoulders. She is staring at him malignantly. I continue staring for perhaps a minute or two until the figure gradually fades from view. I make my way out of the square back to Ridgemount Gardens.

   I had forgotten about the pieces of paper I found in Jacobs’ grate. I take them out of my coat pocket and lay them out on the table. The top halves are unburnt and one appears to be a bank statement belonging to a Catharine Bancroft. There are just three items visible, all withdrawals totalling £100,000. The other is a letter addressed to Jacobs saying that he had been granted Lasting Power of Attorney for Ms Catherine Bancroft. The rest of the letter is burnt. I assume she is or was a patient of his. Why, I wonder, has he attempted to destroy them in the grate? Then, another thought occurs. Could she be the patient he referred to?

   I decide to go online and see what a Google search reveals. The first is a news story in which police are appealing for information about Catharine Bancroft, aged 78, who vanished a year ago. I read the story. It seems she told a neighbour she was going to a local shop in south London and was never seen again. The neighbour is later quoted as saying she was devoted to her cat which had also disappeared. It was, apparently, a large black cat which she doted on. It was always with her. I stare at the photograph. There is no doubt about it. She is the spectral figure I saw standing behind Jacobs. And the cat I saw was no doubt hers too.

   The second news story that comes up is five years earlier in the Daily Mail saying the actress Catherine Bancroft was retiring from the stage after a lifetime in the theatre. It seems she was a regular in West End productions. It goes on to list many of the shows she appeared in.

   So why would she be haunting Jacobs, if indeed it was her I saw? And why did he say she committed suicide, if indeed it was Miss Bancroft he was referring to? The inescapable conclusion, given the documents I found, is that Jacobs was somehow involved in her disappearance but I find that difficult to believe. He may be a little odd but an eminent psychiatrist like him murdering and stealing from a patient is difficult to believe. Surely not. There must be another explanation.

   But if she weren’t murdered, what could have happened to her? Suicide is simply out of the question. A well-known actress like her taking her own life would have been certain to have made the headlines.

   I scroll through the other news items in which Catherine was mentioned but the headlines get smaller and the stories shorter as time goes on and there is no trace of her. There is only one story in which Jacobs is mentioned and that was when he revealed that she had been a patient of his for some time. No significance appears to have been attached to that.

   I decide that I can do no more but I write up my research and file it away thinking that if Catherine does re-appear there will be story in it. I put Jacobs out of my mind and immerse myself in more pressing matters.

   It is just a week later when I am sitting in a coffee shop sipping a cappuccino reading the Guardian when my mobile rings. I sigh and am minded to ignore it. I value my thinking time and interruptions are annoying. I glance at the screen which is saying ‘Dr Jacobs’. I really do not want to visit him again in that creepy house of his but I decide to answer and make an excuse, if indeed that is what he wants.

   I click on it and listen but all I can hear is an odd subdued, whispered, muttering. I keep saying ‘Dr Jacobs, are you there’ but there is no answer, just the muttering and a strange, rather eery rustling sound.

   Then, suddenly, there is scream which is so loud I almost fall off my chair. The two people sitting at the next table glance at me curiously as I hold the phone away from my ear. When I listen again there is just absolute, total, silence. Then I hear a sound that chills me to the bone; it is a sound I last heard in a butcher’s, the unmistakable sound of flesh being sliced. I rush outside and hail a cab, telling the driver to take me to Bedford Square.

   I stand looking uncertainly at the door. What am I going to find behind it? Perhaps I should have rung the police first, but then if nothing gruesome has happened despite the scream, I would look foolish. For all I know Jacobs might have just been having a fit of hysterics. Having said that my instinct is telling me otherwise.

   There is no movement in the windows; no lights are shining; they just stare down at me ominously. I press the bell and wait. There is no response. I press it again and notice that the door appears to be very slightly open. I push it gently and it swings open very slowly as though by an invisible hand, revealing the cavernous, dinghy hall.

   I stare into its gloomy space. There is no movement, no sign of life. I suddenly have an almost overwhelming urge to walk away from this place but I know I must enter; something is compelling me to.

   I walk slowly, fearfully, down the hall. I call out to Dr Jacobs several times; there is no answer, just an oppressive, brooding silence. I reach the lounge and stare at the door. I want to turn back; what will I find in there?

   As I stand there transfixed, the door gradually opens of its own accord. I step hesitatingly into the room which is in partial darkness due to the curtains being slightly open. At first, I can see nothing in the gloom. I was expecting to see Jacobs in his armchair asleep but the two chairs are empty.

   It is only then I notice the smell. It is a sickeningly dry, sweet metallic scent on the verge of being pungent and slightly suffocating, mixed with the odour of burning.

   It is only when I walk past the first armchair that I see it. At first, my senses cannot interpret the scene that confronts me. I stare in open-mouthed horror at the carnage that lies before me. Bile rises up and I rush to a plant in the corner and throw up. I leave the room trembling, the scene etched into my mind.

   Jacobs, or what is left of him, was lying in the hearth in front of the fire which had been lit and which was casting a red glow on the room.

   Embers from the fire had somehow fallen on his chest and burned their way into him exposing a few ribs. He is lying in a pool of blood, but the most horrific sight is his face which has been shredded as if by a claw. One eyeball has been forced out of its socket and hanging down his cheek.

   I stumble to the end of the hall into the kitchen and pour myself a tumbler of water. I sit on a chair until my breathing returns to normal and my heart stops its wild beating. Something is telling me to return to the room. I walk to the doorway and there, in the centre of the room, is an elderly woman. I know immediately it is Catherine Bancroft. She is staring at me, tears trickling down her cheeks. At her side is her cat, also staring at me, its eyes no longer glowing. She raises an arm and points to the floor and they both slowly disappear.

It is two weeks later that police discover a body in the cellar. It was quickly identified as that of Catherine Bancroft. I had some difficulty persuading them to search the cellar without revealing that it was Catherine herself who pointed it out. The half-burned documents I produced persuaded them that it was a possibility that Ms Bancroft had been murdered.

   At the inquest, forensic scientists were unable to satisfactorily explain how Jacobs sustained such horrific injuries. An open verdict was recorded.

   Just two days later, I found myself wide wake at 2.00am. I glance at the window. I always leave the curtains half drawn to let in light. The moon’s rays cast a sombre light on the opposite wall. I stare at the windowsill.

   A cat is sitting there.

Chapter Nine

                                                Maggie

Admiral Street Police Station

Day 10

We are waiting in reception for Sergeant Bannon at Admiral Street. Emma is looking uneasy and pacing up and down. It took all my blarney at breakfast to persuade her to come. At one point I think she was just going to walk, but in the end, I persuaded her that her boyfriend, and his thugs, aren’t going to give up; they will find her wherever she is, and they will take her back into captivity, unconscious if necessary. There is only one way to end her nightmare, and this is it.

   Bannon opens the door and summons us to follow him. He looks at me questioningly, no doubt thinking it has something to do with the murdered boy in the park. He takes us to an interview room, and we all sit around a table. He stares at us expectantly and asks how he can help us.

   I introduce him to Emma and tell him that we were attacked last night by two thugs sent by Emma’s boyfriend Steve Keane. Their intention was to take her back home, forcibly if need be.

   He looks at us in turn and asks Emma why she left him. She tells him the tale of physical abuse, threats and controlling behaviour and that she was a virtual prisoner and how she planned her escape carefully over two months. He asks where this was. She says he has a large, detached house in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Bannon has taken out a notebook and is writing down details. He asks what her surname is, and she says it is Threlfall. She is twenty-eight.

   ‘So, what exactly happened last night?’ he says looking at us both quizzingly.

   ‘We had just left the Head of Steam on Hanover Street and two blokes grabbed us and dragged us down a street into a doorway,’ says Emma looking tearful. ‘They told Maggie to fuck off. It was me they wanted. The one holding me said I was going home.’ Bannon takes a note of that.

   ‘How did you manage to escape?’ he asks.

   ‘Maggie attacked them,’ she says grinning.

   He looks at me with renewed interest. ‘How did you manage that? What did you do to them?’

   ‘I persuaded them to go away,’ I say. ‘They may have needed a little help from A&E on the way though.’

   ‘You aren’t going to arrest her, are you?’ says Emma. ‘If it weren’t for her, they would have abducted me and taken me back.’

   ‘Not at all,’ Bannon assures her. ‘You are perfectly entitled to defend yourself if attacked. I hope you gave them a bloody nose.’

   I laugh. ‘Oh yes, I certainly gave one of them that. I probably broke it as well. As for the other heavy, he may be talking in a high-pitch voice for a while.’

   ‘Good,’ says Bannon grinning. ‘I will contact colleagues in Birmingham CID, and they will have a word. He will no doubt deny he had anything to do with it. But that’s fine. He will have got the message. His boys will have got back to him no doubt. If there is any repetition of anyone following you or harassing you, we will act. In the meantime, change all your passwords, tighten up your security on social media and try not to be on your own, especially of a night. Do they know where you live do you think?’

   ‘I don’t think so,’ she says. ‘I haven’t noticed anyone suspicious by my flat.’

   ‘How long have you been in Liverpool?’

   ‘Just over a year.’

   ‘How do you think they found you?’

   ‘Well, he knew I was an arts teacher and I have an aunt in Liverpool. They no doubt kept an eye on her house and no doubt did a stake out of art colleges until I was spotted. He probably had teams out everywhere looking for me.’

   ‘He really is determined, isn’t he?’ Bannon murmurs quietly.

   ‘That’s what worries me,’ she says.

   ‘Cheer up. He will over-reach himself and then we will have him. Do you have a picture of him?’

   She says she will hand it in later in the day. Bannon tells her to be watchful wherever she goes.

   I tell him she can stay with me for a few days.

   As we are walking out, I ask Bannon if there is any progress on the dead boy. He shakes his head and says they are no further forward. They need information from students but all they are getting is silence.

   I tell him there is definitely something going on at the campus. I mention all the huddles and the whispering. I tell him I will be in touch if I hear anything. Before we leave, he asks me for my phone number and stares at it quizzingly when I give it to him. We leave him in reception and decide to head for the nearest bus stop intending to head into town for a coffee and something to eat.

   We are standing at a bus stop on Park Road when a man almost knocks me over. I am about to tell him what I think of him, but he is away down the road. I stare after him.

   ‘Are you OK?’ says Emma. ‘Some people, honestly. He didn’t grab your bag, did he?’

   I am carrying an open canvas bag holding my purse as well as odds and ends. I still have it and I can see my purse inside. I breathe a sigh of relief. I hold it up triumphantly. ‘Looks like he was just a clumsy eejit,’ I tell her.

   I am about to return it to the bag when I notice something else inside.

   It is a memory stick. We both stare at it and then at each other.

   ‘He deliberately banged into you to drop that into your bag,’ says Emma. ‘There was plenty of room on the pavement. He was targeting you. No doubt about it.’

   ‘Did you see if he was Chinese?’ I ask her.

   ‘He definitely wasn’t. He was young though from what I could see of him.’

   ‘What the bloody hell is going on?’ I mutter staring at the stick in my hand. ‘Let’s see what’s on it when we get back to the flat,’ I say as our bus approaches.

I plug the stick into my laptop and six files appear on the screen. Emma is leaning over my shoulder. I open one at random and stare at it. It looks like a series of complex chemical formulae.

   ‘Make any sense to you?’ I ask Emma. She shakes her head.

   I open the other files. They are also technical documents dealing with what I suspect are metallurgical properties to do with the reduction and oxidation of metals, and their chemical performance.

   Other files appear to deal with crystallographymaterial characterization, mechanical metallurgy, phase transformations, and failure mechanisms.It’s all a bit beyond me and has nothing to do with mathematics or the department I work in.

   ‘Why would he give it to you?’ Emma asks. ‘And what does it all mean do you think?’

   It is obviously not intended for me, so whoever is behind this must think I am somebody I am not. I close the laptop and sigh. ‘We need to go to your flat to pick up a few things, don’t we? I think you should stay here for a week or so. I could do with the company and apart from that, whoever gave me that file is going to want it back.’

   ‘So, we could both have thugs after us,’ says Emma giggling.

   ‘It’s no laughing matter,’ I say with a mock seriousness and then join in with her giggles.

   ‘What are you going to do?’ she finally asks.

   ‘I think I am going to ring the good sergeant,’ I say.

   ‘She looks at me curiously, a half-smile hovering. ‘Do you fancy him?’

   That takes me by surprise. I haven’t even thought of him in those terms. In fact, I have had quite enough of men for a while.

   ‘Not at all,’ I say briskly. ‘You’re away with the fairies if you think that?’

   She gives me a knowing smile.

Chapter Twenty

Naomi

Llanberis, Snowdonia. Thursday, November 1

It is almost three years since I’ve visited Neal in Llanberis. In many ways I envy him. He’s a popular figure there; in high regard as the local blacksmith even though his ironwork is largely ornamental. Neal is a big-hearted guy, and I remember how locals would often arrive with broken bits and pieces that required welding which he would do ‘in his spare time’ and not charge. But of course, he was repaid. A basket of eggs would be left on his step, or a chicken now and then, or perhaps a pound of bacon.

   He has even learned Welsh which was not as difficult as perhaps it sounds because our mother was Welsh, and she would often speak to us and encourage us to speak to her in what she termed our mother tongue. And at one-time Liverpool was even termed the capital of North Wales because of its Welsh population. So, although Neal was brought up in Liverpool, he has very much reverted to a native.

   And then there is the village’s spectacular location. Llanberis is on the southern bank of Llyn Padarn at the foot of Mount Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa as it is known locally, the highest mountain in Wales and the second highest in the UK.

   Although Alex paid for the hire car, I elected to drive, and we arranged the insurance accordingly. I explained that Alex would not be accustomed to driving on the left and many of the narrow, winding, roads in Wales can be tricky for drivers new to the UK.

   As we drive through Caernarfon on the A486, the scenery becomes progressively more rugged as isolated farms give way to rolling hills and jagged peaks. I can see that some have a snow covering already which just adds to its serene beauty. Snowdonia is a gloriously beautiful place in summer, but that is transcended by the magnificence that autumn and winter brings.

   The wet Welsh weather is also legendary, and on previous visits I often felt as though a mass of black clouds sat atop the valleys like large cloth caps, dispensing a permanent wall of drizzle. They have a saying in Snowdonia that if you can’t see Snowdon, then it’s raining and if you can see it, it’s still raining.

   Alex is spellbound by the scenery as we near Llanberis. Her eyes are shining with pleasure: ‘This is just beautiful, Just beautiful. Do we have far to go?

   I tell her that we are only around ten miles away from the village. A silence falls between us, but it is an easy silence in which we are both content to think our own thoughts. I found my mind speculating about what it was Alex was going to tell me yesterday when she was interrupted. She evidently thought better of it because she didn’t continue the conversation when she had the opportunity later. My instincts tell me that she is something of an enigma and I hope that while we are in Snowdonia, she will learn to trust me enough to confide in me.

   I am happy to be away from the city with all its horrors of the past few weeks, and although I know Alex has been on the alert to anybody following us, I have not noticed anything suspicious as we drive down these narrow roads. Indeed, there have been no cars at all behind us for miles.

   As we arrive in Llanberis, I turn off the A486 to High Street to a white-fronted terrace sandwiched between shops. We pull up and get out. Before we can even ring the doorbell, Neal has opened the door and is standing there, hands on hips a huge grin on his weather-beaten face.

   We hug each other, and he studies me. He frowns. ‘You’ve lost weight. Are you looking after yourself?’ Before I can answer, he has ushered us into his sitting room, and he studies me again.

   He turns to Alex. ‘I worry about her you know. I’m sure she doesn’t feed herself properly. Typical bloody artist.’ And then he smiles. ‘You must be Alex. Naomi has told me all about you. Welcome. Please make yourself at home.’ 

   They shake hands solemnly.

   Neal is a big guy as is befitting someone who works in a forge. Well over 6ft, solidly built with hands that are accustomed to handling iron – or climbing the peaks of Snowdonia. But he has a kind, friendly face and his eyes dominate his looks.

   It is late afternoon and already dusk is beginning to creep along the valley as a fine mist rolls in from the lake. The clouds are low and only the nearest hills are visible.

‘You must be hungry. It’s a fair old drive from Liverpool.’

   Alex and I are sitting on a settee and Neal in a big old armchair that has seen better days. Last time I was here I tried to persuade him to get something a little more modern, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He declared that was like an old favourite jumper that you just could not bring yourself to part with.

   The sitting room is cosy. Apart from the settee and the armchair, there is a Welsh dresser that he has had for years. It was made by our dad who was a skilled carpenter and whose work sold far and wide before his death ten years ago.

   I glance at Alex. I can see she taken with Neal. She smiles back. ‘I could use a meal I guess.’ She looks at Neal and me. ‘What about you two. What do you want to do?’

   Neal claps his hands. ‘Good. Let’s go out then. There’s a pub just down the road that does good honest food at reasonable prices’ He turns to me, his face serious. ‘And you can tell me what has been going on in Liverpool.’

   We are sitting down in The Heights, a comfortable pub and restaurant. It has a long, narrow bar as well as a lounge with a picturesque bay window looking out onto High Street. We all opt for a real ale. Double Dragon. We order our food.

   While we are waiting I tell Neal about the events of the past few weeks. The murder of Parry so soon after my reading in the pub; the horrible way he died and then the attempted murder of Alex and finally the murder of the man in my apartment.

   Neal stares at Alex. ‘Why would someone want to kill you? I can’t imagine you harming anyone.’

   She glances at me and grins. ‘Apart from two wise guys on the river the other day.’

Neal looks puzzled, so I explain about two youths sitting down at our table in a pub and attempting to chat us up.

   ‘Alex was in the Military Police in Canada,’ I explain. ‘So, she’s no pussycat.’

   ‘I am really once you get to know me.’ She looks hurt and then smiles at Neal. He just laughs, but then he is serious again.

   ‘So, this is all a result of you seeing Parry and doing your psychic stuff?’

   I was about to answer, but Alex intervenes. ‘No, I don’t think so. Naomi is just peripheral. I think Parry would have been murdered whether he had seen Naomi or not. People were after him because of files he copied or stole from HAARP in Alaska.

    ‘And as for me. Well, I can only think that they believe I have some knowledge of where they are.’

   Neal looks puzzled. ‘Why try to kill you then? Surely, they would want you to lead them to the files?’

   It is then that it dawns on me. ‘It has to be because they don’t want you to find them.’ I look from one to the other.

   ‘Think about it. If the files are found, they are going to be returned to HAARP. And that could be the last thing they want. Whoever ‘they’ are.

 Alex stares at me. ‘Makes sense.’

   I continue my line of thought. ‘So, therefore, it follows that whoever is after the files wants to find them to sell them.’

   ‘Or to use them.’ Alex looks at me. ‘There were rumours at HAARP that the Russians are interested in what they are doing up there.’ She stops and looks apologetically at us both. ‘Not that I know what goes on. Nobody tells HR anything.’

   When we are back in the house, we have tea and then my phone rings. It is Inspector Salisbury.

   ‘Miss Richards. Where are you?

   ‘In Llanberis.’

   ‘Good. Just as well. I thought you should know that the Press have got hold of your names. I really am sorry. I have no idea how. All I can say is that it wasn’t us. They are camped outside your apartment as we speak. I advise you to lie low for a while.’

  ‘Thanks. I think we had already decided to do that Inspector. Is there any news about the dead man?’

   There is a slight pause. ‘We have finally been able to identify him. He is Russian.’ Naomi is thunderstruck. ‘Russian? Does that mean it is they who are looking for these wretched files? Could it be them who murdered Parry? And if so, who could have murdered the Russian?

   There is a short silence at the other end and then Salisbury responds: ‘I’m afraid I cannot answer any of those questions at this time Miss Richards. What is important is that you are safe in Llanberis because nobody could possibly know you are there. I will keep you posted if there are any developments.’

   But he is wrong about that. What Naomi and Alex do not know is that under the boot of their hire car is a very small magnetic device which has been sending a signal ever since they left Liverpool.

A new title is on the way

It is the second edition of KIll Joy which has been completely revised and updated and which will be available on Amazon worldwide from July 1st both as an ebook and paperback. Just do a search for ASIN: B0B3V68FPH. It will be published on Friday, both as an ebook and paperback

It is available to pre-order as an ebook for just £1.99 for a limited period.

The story, very briefly.

Children’s author Joy Davies mysteriously disappears after her car crashes during a snowstorm on the outskirts of Liverpool. Has she simply escaped her cheating and wasteful husband Jon or has something more menacing happened? Could her disappearance be linked to her writing which has moved in a new, darker direction following her interest in the story of a convicted serial killer. Or has she simply decided to disappear like Agatha Christie?

Her friend, Naomi Richards, decides to investigate and discovers that Joy’s disappearance is more menacing and leads her and journalist Sandra Parry into uncovering a conspiracy involving murder, intrigue and trafficking.

Chapter Eight

Maggie

The trouble with Emma…

Day 9

I have just been online to view developments in Dublin and what I read in the Times is a bit disturbing. How can they have any doubts about the identity of ‘my’ body? And why are they ‘keeping an open mind’ over the explosion. I was so meticulous. Could it have something to do with the jubilee clip around the gas pipe? I only loosened it very slightly and I was wearing gloves.

   Anyway, whatever their suspicions I doubt they will ever make the connection with the real Maggie Taylor and Roisin Doyle has disappeared and is very unlikely to be found here in Liverpool so I think I can relax.

   My thoughts turn to Naomi whom I met yesterday. She saw something. I am certain of it. Why else would she tell me to ‘be careful where I go’ and then walk out. What did that mean I wonder? I should have asked her to elaborate.

   It is just another inexplicable event in a growing list since I arrived here. Life in Dublin was childishly predictable by comparison. If I didn’t know better, I would have said there is some sort of conspiracy going on involving the students. Why else are there huddles in corners, whispered chats and furtive glances that appear to be aimed at me? And then there is the hostile Mr Darke. I suppose it might just be an anti-Irish thing which I have encountered before once or twice but I would not have expected to encounter it here in Liverpool which has a high proportion of Irish residents.

   No, it must be something else. I have not forgotten the note either which may, or may not, refer to my past although my gut feeling is that it has something to do with whatever is going on here on campus.

   I have opened a bank account here. They accepted my ID without question, and I have transferred what little cash was in Maggie’s account into it. I have also converted a large part of the Wirex crypto cash into pounds and transferred that as well. I still have a substantial sum left in Wirex…just in case.

   I have been mostly in my office on campus today. I have been asked to prepare a presentation on how a modern application of mathematics can typically draw from differential equations, numerical analysis, and linear algebra. It’s a fascinating subject and it will be a public PowerPoint presentation in the Autumn or whenever the Dean sees fit.

   ‘Mr Hostile’ made a point of snubbing me in the corridor earlier but that is simply fine – for now. The day will dawn when he will face a reckoning from me for his boorish behaviour and I guarantee he will not like it!

   I am on my way to a pub called The Head of Steam in Liverpool One, a trendy part of the city centre full of designer shops and swanky bars and restaurants. I am meeting Emma, the art lecturer I met a couple of days ago in the Blackburne Arms.

   She is already sitting in a cubicle when I get there. She is nursing a pint. I ask if she wants another, but she says she would prefer a Guinness to the mild. She stares at the pint she is holding disdainfully. ‘It tastes like cat piss,’ she explains. I grin and head for the bar and return with a couple of pints.

   She asks how long I stayed in the pub the other night and I tell her I was plagued by a barfly.

   She grins and asks what that is.

   ‘A pain in the arse,’ I respond. ‘Some middle-aged tosser who thinks he’s God’s gift and that just because a woman is on her own in a bar, it is open season on her.’

   ‘What did you do?’ she asks grinning hugely.

   ‘I persuaded him to go away,’ I say.

   ‘And did he?’

   ‘With alacrity,’ I say, grinning back.

   ‘I won’t ask how you managed that.’

   ‘Better not.’ She erupts in a gale of laughter.

   We decide to change the subject and I tell her that I intended to get to the Tate, but I was diverted. I ask if she has been to their latest exhibitions. She has and mentions that she has a studio in a place called Waterloo, about five miles up the Southport coast. She says I must visit now that university and college are on the cusp of breaking for summer. I tell her that I would really enjoy that.

   As we are talking, I notice two men leaning on the bar behind Emma, a little distance away. They are staring at us. No, I’m wrong. They are staring at her, and she is obviously the subject of their conversation. I sense trouble.

   I lower my voice and mention that there are two dodgy-looking characters who seem to be talking about her and am about to tell her not to turn around but before I can she does, but there is nobody there. I assure her that that they were there. She looks uneasy. I have a strong feeling that she knows exactly who they are. I don’t like it.

   We continue chatting for another hour or so and then decide it is time to go. I scan the place to see if there is another entrance but there isn’t. I take out my keys and palm them in my left hand with a key protruding through my fist.

   We turn right to walk to the bus stops up the road. As we do, we are about to cross a narrow, dark street called School Lane on our right when the two men grab us and drag us to a doorway just down the street.

   One has his arm around my throat and Emma is held by the second. He hisses in my ear. ‘Why don’t you just fuck off so that we can talk to Emma?’ He gives me a shove. I glance at Emma. She looks terrified.

   I turn to face him. He has an ugly leer on his face, his lips parted in a sneering grin. I move quickly and with the ball of the palm on my right hand I slam it into the space just under his nose. His head snaps back and blood immediate begins pouring out. He yelps like a mongrel and falls to the ground. Emma’s assailant lets go of her and makes the mistake of moving towards me. I yell at her to run as he faces up close to me with his fist drawn back. I move within a couple of inches in front of him and bring up my knee between his legs crunching into his balls and at the same time using the key in my left hand to stab the fist that is about to be slammed into me. He cries out in agony, and I turn and follow Emma around the corner.

   There is a Hackney cab rank quite close. I yell at Emma and wave at her to follow me. We climb in and I tell the driver to head for the Ropeworks.

   Emma is looking dazed. She stares at me, her eyes wide. I put my finger to my lips, and she leans back in her seat. Her hands are trembling.

   In my apartment I pour us both a generous Jameson. I look at her. She is white. ‘Want to tell me about it?’ I ask.

   For a while she is silent and just stares at the floor ‘I have been really stupid,’ she begins softly. ‘I had a boyfriend who was great – at first. He took me to expensive restaurants, we went on fabulous holidays, no expense spared. I just took it all for granted and never really asked where the money was coming from. He said he was a dealer.’ She looks up at me. She has tears rolling down her cheeks.

   ‘I didn’t ask what kind of dealer. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Obviously, it was all too good to be true. And then he began to get possessive, you know?’ She looks at me questioningly. I nod. I know all too well what that is like.

   ‘It got to the point when I was a virtual prisoner at home. He said I shouldn’t want to see anyone else without him.’

   I think I know what is coming. ‘You escaped, didn’t you?’ She nods. ‘I changed my name, moved to Liverpool and got a job at the college. I didn’t think he would ever find me.’

   I had to conceal a smile. The similarity with me is uncanny. The only difference is that she didn’t murder him. Perhaps she should have, but I don’t think I will tell her that, or my story for that matter. Not yet anyway.

   ‘It looks like he has found you though,’ I say. ‘You have to go to the police, you know, because the two heavies he sent after you are not going to stop. They have been paid to find you and they are not going to stop just because I hurt them.’

   ‘Where did you learn to fight like that?’ she asks, a look of apt admiration replacing the fear on her face.

   ‘I had a tough upbringing,’ I say grinning at her. ‘You will stay here tonight and tomorrow morning we will both go and see a nice sergeant I know. He will know what to do.’

Chapter Nineteen

London, Monday, October 22

Myron Hill is a long-time environmental campaigner joining celebrities who embrace the aims and agenda of Environment Rebellion, challenging serious global issues and making the public aware of the potential threats of climate change

   Articulate and eloquent, Hill’s natural charm contributed in helping him build a dedicated circle of influential friends in showbiz, business and politics, while rugged good looks, an expensive education and family wealth gives him the means to travel the world to monitor and campaign at environmental hotspots.

   Hill also has a secret he has never revealed to anyone; not even those closest to him, although he has few really close friends and even fewer long-term romantic attachments because of the nomadic lifestyle. His secret is that he has a psychic ability which he finds invaluable for reading people and their intentions.

   Hill, in short, is a very persuasive individual and it came as no surprise to commentators that he played a leading role in Environment Rebellion, helping to close down parts of London earlier in the year. It was Hill who issued an open letter on social media which said: ‘We further call on concerned global citizens to rise up and organise against current complacency in their particular contexts, including indigenous people’s rights advocacy, decolonisation and reparatory justice – so join the movement that is protesting against global warming.

   Shortly afterwards the 39-year-old risked arrest at Waterloo Bridge before telling a reporter: ‘I feel like it is really, really, tough to disrupt people’s lives like this, but this is really important because I believe the disruption that will come down the line if we do not declare a climate emergency and do not tackle this situation of climate change will just dwarf any inconvenience here today.’ Hill, however, managed to avoid arrest; indeed, he has a reputation among his colleagues in the various movements he has been involved in for staying out of jail, whatever the protest might happen to be about or however much disruption it causes.

   He has also been largely responsible for making the Environment Rebellion international with protests in New York, Paris and other capitals as well as provincial cities in the UK.

   More recently, Hill has also developed an interest in HAARP after whispers began circulating around climate change activists about something in Alaska called Poseidon. All enquiries about what it might be simply drew a blank.Nobody knew anything about it other than it was supposed to be a research project into the weather, but gradually, rumours began to trickle out that whatever was going on there could be a global threat. Social media began to feature conspiracy theories, some of them patently ridiculous, but others had a leavening of truth but still little by way of solid facts. It all reeked of an official cover-up which was enough to arouse Hill’s continued interest.

   So, Hill made the trip to Gakona in Alaska in October and saw for himself the barbed wire, the watch towers, the armed guards. He stopped his car and took pictures but within minutes a half-track appeared in from of him full of heavily armed troops who discouraged him from staying any longer. Normally, Hill would stand his ground in the face of official bullying and argue that he has a perfect right to take pictures in a public place, but on reflection, he had seen what he had come to see and was convinced that whatever is going on there is something they do not want civilians to see.

   There did, however, appear to be something of a flap on at the time with a helicopter hovering above and the half-track taking off in the direction of Anchorage. Hill followed at a distance keeping well behind, almost out of sight.

   Ten miles further down the road, alongside the Copper River, the halftrack stops, and salvage vehicles are pulling a 4×4 out of the river. Hill also stops a little further on and gazes out of his rear-view mirror. The car has obviously skidded off the road during the violent storm that swept over the area the previous night. There does not appear to be anyone in the 4×4; no ambulances or emergency vehicles are present, just the military. The occupant must either have been rescued earlier or somehow escaped he reasons. So why are the military so interested in a civilian car found in a river? Surely that would be a matter for the state troopers or the police. It is an intriguing question. And Hill likes intriguing questions because they usually point to official secrets and official secrets usually involve furtive activities the authorities would rather keep hidden. The inescapable answer that Hill comes up with is that it was the person in the car that the military are so keen to find, a person who was evidently on the run but on the run from what?  He puts his car in gear and drives on to Anchorage with the intention of visiting the local emergency hospital to ask if anyone has been rescued from the Copper River. Yes, that could be interesting, he decides.

   More recently, he was intrigued when he read a report of a HAARP scientist being murdered in Liverpool and was convinced that it could not be a coincidence. What was a HAARP scientist doing there? he asks himself. Liverpool too could be worth visiting. It’s a place he hasn’t been to before despite having heard a lot about it over the years.

   In the meantime, he has a backlash against Environment Rebellion to deal with. A familiar gallery of super trolls have mocked Hill as both bourgeois elitist and a ‘cultish doom-monger.’  

   Hill grins at that. You know you are winning an argument when your opponent’s go after your background, he thinks.  When they start going after your tone, you know you’ve won. The same critics have cast Environment Rebellion as the reaction of the privileged few, punching down at the emerging beneficiaries of mass consumer culture by promulgating ‘hair-shirted Leftyism’ instead of their preferred technological optimism. He laughs out loud at that.

   But back to the barricades. Hill is off to the City in a renewed bid to persuade financiers to back the aims of Environment Rebellion. He puts the finishing touches to a statement he is about to issue: ‘We aim to engage with the business community. We’ve already talked to [governor of the Bank of England] Mark Carney, Legal & General and Axa but we’re going to step it up by forming a ‘business declares emergency’ movement. We want large banks, insurance companies, pension funds and hedge funds to openly declare we have a climate emergency and commit to zero emissions by 2025.’

   He smiles. That should do it. He will issue it today. And then on to Bristol and then Liverpool.

Chapter Eighteen

Naomi

Liverpool, Wednesday, October 31

I sit trembling on the stairs outside my apartment. The image of the dead man is indelibly engraved on my mind. I felt sick when I saw the hole in his head and the blood and brains surrounding him. I know, without doubt, that the stairs and the door in the terrifying premonition I had a week ago were my stairs and my door and the subsequent portents of disaster and feelings of terror that lay behind them are connected to the horror I have just witnessed.

   I am so glad that Alex is here. She has taken over. She rings Salisbury, and within minutes Rodney Street is closed off, and Police are everywhere.

   I think she must have seen similar scenes before for her to act so calmly and swiftly. It is incredible to think that this is the same woman who nearly died a few days ago. Alex is indeed an enigma. By appearance, she looks so vulnerable and remote but beneath that veneer is a startling toughness.

   On our way home last night, she revealed more about herself; the fact that she had been in the military police; her tempestuous relationship to a bully and tyrant and how it persuaded her to strike out on her own.

   I responded by revealing more about myself; my failed marriage that was more due to boredom and disgust than abuse; my lifelong torment due to my ability in the psychic world and my love of art. We both agreed that the opposite sex could remain at arm’s length for the foreseeable future.

   She joins me on the stairs and hands me a mug of tea. I sip it gratefully.

   ‘You OK?’

   ‘Yeah, I’ll survive.’

   ‘Salisbury is going to talk to us soon.’ 

   I just nod, the vision of the dead man still stark in my mind. ‘I suppose you have seen all this sort of thing before?’

   ‘Once or twice.’

   ‘This is the first time I have seen a dead body. You probably think that strange with me communicating with the dead. But it’s somehow different once they have passed over – almost as though they are living again.’

   She looks at me strangely and nods. Then I tell her about my dream or vision of a week ago and premonitions of death I have had since and how they are undoubtedly a warning about today and probably even future events.

   ‘Don’t you see,’ I say to her. ‘The stairs I ‘saw’ are these stairs, and the door was this door.’

   She puts her arm around me and says, smiling: ‘It’s a pity your visions can’t be more specific. It would have saved us both a lot of trouble.’

   I look at her and grimace. ‘I wish,’ I simply answer.

   She is right of course, but precognition just doesn’t work like that with me. With most people, most of the precognitive experiences happen within a forty-eight-hour period before the future event, and often it is within twenty-four hours, but it can be weeks or even months ahead of the actual event taking place. I at one time compared notes with other psychics and the consensus was that an unhappy event – like death, illness, accidents, and natural disasters – is four times more likely to be the subject of precognition.

   A few minutes later Inspector Salisbury squats down on the stairs beside us and asks if we OK. We nod. He turns to me and asks: ‘Are you quite certain this is one of the men that was in the pub?’

   ‘No doubt about it.’

   ‘And the apartment door was open when you arrived?

   ‘Was it wide open?

   ‘No, it was just slightly open. I wonder how they got in.’

   ‘It looks like the Yale was picked. You didn’t lock the mortise, did you?’

  ‘I’m afraid not inspector.’

   ‘And neither of you have touched anything?’

   ‘I rang you as soon as I saw what had happened,’ Alex says. ‘And then we came out here until you arrived.’ He nods.

   ‘Well, I’m afraid we can’t let you back in for a few days. SOCO and our forensics people have got a lot to keep them occupied. The pathologist is in there now. We will arrange a hotel for you if you have nowhere else to stay.’

   He glances from Alex to me and then says: ‘And don’t worry we will clean the apartment up when we have finished. You won’t know anything has happened.’

   I felt like saying that I will probably be having nightmares for months, but instead, I just nod and thank him.

   He stands up and says softly: ‘I know this is horrible, but actually it gives us our first decent lead in all this. We are going to check his identity and nationality and we have a search ongoing for his companion, although we think it likely that this is the work of somebody else. I will keep in touch.’

   A thought occurs to me: ‘I think I’ll ring my brother to see if he will put us up for a while. He lives in Snowdonia. Quite honestly, I think we need to get away from this place for a week or two. Will that be alright?

   Salisbury looks from one to the other. ‘I can’t see a problem with that providing you give us the address, and we already have phone numbers.’

   ‘Can we go in and pack our things.’

   ‘Yes, I’ll get an officer to escort you back in.’

   I thank him. He goes into my apartment. There is no sign of Sergeant Bannon. After he leaves Alex looks at me: ‘Are you sure you want me along. Won’t your brother mind putting up a total stranger?’

   I shake my head: ‘Neal won’t mind. I’ll call him later. We will stay the night here in a hotel and drive to Snowdonia tomorrow. I’ll hire a car.’

   ‘No, you won’t. I’ll hire a car. It’s the least I can do.’

   Later, when we are settled into a small hotel not far from my apartment, and Alex has gone to hire a car, I ring Neal.

   His phone rings for a while and then a breathless voice answers: ‘Neal, it’s me, Naomi.’

   ‘Sis. How are you? How’re the spirits? He chuckles.

   ‘The same as ever.’ I smile at his cheerful voice.

   Neal is my younger brother by five years. I was always the older sister who he worshipped and followed around like a pet lamb, but as we grew older our paths diverted, and whereas my path led me to art, his led him to the outdoor life and, specifically, mountaineering and ironwork which is partly why he lives in Snowdonia. He is a mountain rescue volunteer and has a thriving trade in ornamental ironwork.

   He has always poked fun at my psychic ability in public, but in private he is more circumspect having witnessed many odd things over the years.

   ‘What have you been up to?’

   ‘You are not going to believe me. To start with we found a dead body in my apartment this morning.’

   ‘One of your spirits then?’

   ‘No Neal. I’m serious. A real body. He had been shot in the head. Then a few days ago somebody tried to murder my friend and about two weeks before that a man I gave a reading to was murdered.’

   There is a long silence: ‘Bloody hell. Are you taking the piss Sis?’

   ‘I wish I was. My problem is that the police have kicked us out of the apartment because their forensics people are going to be here for days. They have put us in a hotel, but I need to get away from Liverpool for a week or so. Can we come and stay with you?’

   ‘Who is we?’ asks Neal.

   ‘Oh, it’s my friend Alex. She is from Canada. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you all about it.’

   ‘Yes of course you can stay. You will have to share a room though.’

   ‘No problem. Thanks, Neal. We’ll see you tomorrow.’

   Shortly afterwards, Alex returns swinging car keys from her index fingers: ‘It’s not a limo. But it’s comfortable and it will get us there.’

   I told her about my chat with Neal. ‘We leave tomorrow.’

   At Rodney Street it is the third time in half an hour a jogger slowly lopes past Naomi’s apartment, taking a close interest in all the police activity.

   Nobody notices.

Kill Joy

The second edition of Kill Joy is now available as an ebook on Amazon. Simply do a search usinf reference ASIN: B0B3V68FPH

This is a completely revised version in a new format to make it easier to read. It is the second Naomi Richards story and is based around the murder of children’s story-teller Helen Bailey in 2016 who was murdered by her partner and buried in a cesspit under their garage.

Her partner, Ian Stewart was subsequently convicted of her killing and in 2017, Stewart was convicted of secretly drugging and suffocating Ms Bailey, in a plot to inherit her fortune of some £4m.

He was jailed for life with a minimum 34-year term, and police then began to investigate the death of his wife in the garden of their home on 25 June 2010. He will now spend the rest of his life in prison.

Naomi Richards is becoming something of a cult figure, mostly among women, because of her psychic abilities. Fans will no doubt be pleased to know that a thirs book is being written.

Chapter Seven

Maggie

A detective calls

Day 9 

There is a message awaiting me when I arrive at campus this morning. It seems one of my students has been found dead in a park in the suburbs. A detective is on his way to talk to me, although I doubt that I will be able to help him very much. I haven’t had time to get to know many of the students on a personal level yet. He will probably want to talk to the other students which is fine as far as I’m concerned.

   When I arrive there are small groups of students in huddles in corners and doorways who appear to be discussing something quite earnestly. They glance at me as I walk past. It is only when I get to my office that I make the connection between the huddles and the dead student. Word has obviously got around but then I daresay it has been on the news which will be on every smart phone by now. I have only just got round to switching mine on!

   Ten minutes later my phone rings to inform me that two detectives, a sergeant Bannon and a female officer, are on their way up. I look at my schedule. I can give them half an hour before I deliver a lecture; come to think of it they may like to address the students beforehand. I will give them that option, I think.

   Shortly after there is a smart rap on the door. A sharply dressed, slim man, probably in his late twenties with blond hair walks in, followed by a younger, attractive, equally slim, woman whose face is devoid of expression. He introduces himself and then her as DC Fairchild.

   ‘It’s a while since I was on a campus,’ says Bannon gazing around my office and the papers and books in piles everywhere. Reminds me of my tutor’s room.

   ‘Where was that?’ I ask him curiously.

   ‘Corpus Christi, Cambridge. I did classics,’ he explains.

   ‘I can imagine you got a First too,’ I say smiling.

   ‘And you?’ he says, rising an eyebrow.

   ‘Oxford, New College. Double First in Maths and Psychology.’

   He looks impressed. I tell him my primary subject here is maths but that I also teach applied psychology. I ask him about the dead student.

   ‘Johnny Zhang, 20, originally from Dublin. We don’t have a next-of-kin address. We are hoping you can help us with that.’

   I tell him that welfare and registration will be able to and tell him who to contact. I ask what happened to John. I didn’t admit that I was expecting it to be a Chinese student.

   ‘He was murdered,’ says Bannon bluntly. I am about to ask how but decide not to. I daresay he wouldn’t tell me anyway. DC Fairchild has said nothing but simply stares at me impassively. I don’t like her. I don’t know why but I don’t like the way she looks at me and decide to stare her out. She is the first to look away. I get a small feeling of victory. Yes, I know it’s childish, but I don’t care. This is my domain, and I am not going to be intimidated by some female copper with a personality problem. I turn my attention to DS Bannon and invite him to talk to the students before I deliver my lecture.

   I decide there is something decidedly odd about DC Fairchild. It is almost as though she has a personality gene missing. She has opted to stay out of the lecture hall saying that she will be outside to speak to anyone who has information.

   There is an uneasy silence as Bannon delivers his appeal for information. Some students rather pointedly study their notes or stare at the ceiling. Nobody has questions when he finishes. He thanks them for listening and says that he is available to talk at any time and that I have his number. He hands me his card as he says it, smiling apologetically.

   Back in my office, I file my lecture notes and stare out of the window at the street outside. It is one of those gloomy days accompanied by a fine drizzle which I am so used to in County Cork. There are times when I miss my life there, but I know there is no going back and not just because of events in Dublin. I will explain why some other time.

   My thoughts turn to the note that Joe’s friend Naomi gave me. At first, I thought it might have been a student joke. ‘We know who you really are.’ Whoever ‘they’ are can’t possibly know about my name change…can they?’ No, that is just too crazy.

   I was very, very, careful planning the house fire and my name change. Nobody could possibly have known about it. I am certain I was not followed either before or after the fire. Indeed, I had already left Ireland when the place blew up. And believe me, I would have known if anybody was keeping tabs on me. I learned all the tricks in my old life. It is also tempting to think that somebody has followed me to Liverpool. They didn’t. I would have known.

   No, the more I think about it, the more likely it is the note has a completely different meaning. Indeed, perhaps ‘they’ confused me with someone else. The alternative is that it has something to do with the old days. If so, I have good reason to be twitchy.

   I decide I need a decent coffee and set off for the local coffee shop. I sit at a table spooning froth into my mouth and get an uncanny feeling that somebody is staring at me. I turn around and there, sitting a few tables away is Joe’s friend Naomi who I met briefly yesterday when she handed me the note. She smiles and gives me a little wave. I beckon her over.

   Naomi is an attractive lady, no doubt about it. She has the same denim jacket she had on the last time I met her. The boots have been replaced by trainers and a pair of battered jeans with streaks of paint in places. I guess she is a woman who doesn’t particularly care what others think of her and in that respect, I am with her. I ask her if she lives locally.

   ‘Just down the road on Rodney Street,’ she says staring at me with a strange intensity which I find oddly unsettling.

   ‘Isn’t that the road where all the consultants have their surgeries?’ I ask.

   She laughs and nods. ‘They are all on the ground floor with brass plates,’ she explains with a wry smile. ‘My place is on the third floor with no brass plate.’

   ‘Do you need one? Joe said you were an artist “among other things.” I was intrigued by what that could mean.’

   She gives me a twisted smile, sighs, and replies that she is a psychic, obviously expecting me to respond with what I imagine is the standard response of deep scepticism or outright disbelief or sneering scorn. But I have encountered the real deal before. My mother was one when we lived in Cork, an orphic lady who was well respected for her abilities in the neighbourhood.

   Naomi is staring at me with those magnetic eyes of hers and then down at her mug of coffee, tapping her finger on the side. When she looks up, her face is troubled.

   She suddenly says she must go without looking at me. I somehow get the feeling she knows about Dublin, but not in any detail. I want to ask her what she has seen but something is stopping me. She stands up and just as she is about to walk out, she half turns, looking me square in the face.

   ‘Be careful where you go,’ is all she says and then she is gone.

   I wonder what that means.

Chapter Six

Forensic Pathology Unit,

Royal Liverpool University Hospital

Day 8

Professor Clive Bixter is in his office, leafing through a report when DCI Salisbury and DS Bannon arrive.

   ‘Good morning professor,’ says Salisbury.

   ‘Do come in gentleman,’ booms Bixter, standing up. They shake hands. He ignores Bannon.

   ‘I take it you would like to know exactly how your young lad died. The one in the park,’ he adds to dispel any doubt.

   ‘That’s the general idea,’ murmurs Bannon.

   ‘Facetious as usual,’ I see,’ says Bixter fixing him with a penetrating stare. Professor Bixter is not a man who is easily ignored. He is head of the Forensic Pathology Unit. He has crossed swords with Bannon on previous occasions.

   He indicates for them to follow him. ‘Something I want you to see,’ he says. ‘I hope you aren’t squeamish,’ he smiles mischievously at Bannon. ‘I know you have seen it all before chief inspector, but this case has some unusual aspects. It is not your run-of-the-mill killing.’

   ‘Even we had come to that conclusion when we were confronted with a naked body, half buried and with an enigmatic note attached to it,’ Bannon pipes up. Salisbury frowns at him.

   Bixter ignores that and leads them to another room where a body is lying on a stainless-steel examination table covered by a sheet.

   He consults his notes. ‘The victim is Johnny Zhang, 20, of Primrose Gardens, Norris Green.’ He looks at Salisbury for confirmation. Salisbury nods. ‘We have the parents arriving later today to give a positive identification,’ he says. e He con sults

   ‘What is most interesting is the cause of death,’ Bixter says, drawing back the sheet. ‘This is not the usual stabbing with your kitchen knife or any of the other fashionable accessories young thugs carry around these days.’ He points to a small puncture wound in the woman’s chest. ‘Almost looks like a bullet hole,’ doesn’t it?

   Salisbury leans over to study the wound. ‘I suppose that explains why there wasn’t really very much blood around the body,’ he says. Bixter nods.

   ‘In my opinion that was caused by a sharp pointed implement, something like an Épée.’

   ‘That’s a type of sword used in fencing, isn’t it?’ says Bannon.

   ‘So it is sergeant,’ says Bixter. ‘But before you get excited let me say that it could also have been caused by any kind of spike.’

   ‘Offices used to have spikes mounted on wooden plinths where bills or invoices would be ‘spiked’ when they had been paid,’ says Salisbury. ‘I don’t imagine they still have them in these paperless days.’

   ‘Yes, that would have done the job and you would be surprised there are still a few around,’ murmurs Bixter. He turns to study the body. ‘Anyway, it would have been around a foot long, enough to penetrate the right atrium and enter the left ventricle. No sign of sexual activity. No bruising to speak of. No sign of substance abuse. Death would have been almost instantaneous. I would hazard a guess that he knew his attacker.’

   They follow him back to his office where he hands Salisbury his detailed report. ‘I have a few additional observations you may be interested in,’ he says frowning. ‘I consulted a forensic psychologist at the university about this case and included his thoughts in an addendum at the back of my report.’

   ‘I suppose you are going to mention the message that had been attached to him,’ says Bannon.

   Bixter sighs. ‘Yes, I am sergeant, but only en-passant, so to speak. The cypher is relatively unimportant really. It is, in my opinion, essentially a smoke screen in that it was written in very bad Mandarin.

   He smiles thinly at Bannon. ‘I’m sure you will have noticed that for yourself sergeant. Its purpose was to make you think that this was a Chinese killing, whereas the opposite is actually the truth. Once you have understood that it is only a matter of half an hour or so to arrive at the killer’s real message.’ He pauses and grins at Salisbury. ‘It’s hardly worth the trouble really because you will not be any the wiser when you have deciphered it.’

   ‘What do you mean,’ says Bannon.

   ‘Well sergeant since you evidently have not yet deciphered it, when you do you will find that the message is just the killer’s way of taunting you. Unless I’m very much mistaken, you will be no nearer arriving at his identity than you are now.

   ‘He’s just having fun with you sergeant.’ He smiles at Bannon sardonically.

   ‘What is more pertinent is what the psychologist had to say once he had been acquainted with the facts surrounding the case.’

   ‘Does he give an indication of the killer’s personality?’ asks Salisbury.

   ‘Absolutely. Not only that but what motivates him, or indeed her, and more importantly whether this is a one-off or whether he will kill again.’

   ‘You have my undivided attention,’ says Salisbury.

   ‘I think his most important conclusion is that the killer is a malignant narcissist and a psychopath.’

   ‘Psychopath I can understand,’ says Salisbury. ‘But malignant narcissist?’

   ‘Well, he pointed me to Psychology Today where Carrie Barron, M.D., described it as: “Intelligent, high functioning, soft-spoken, charming, tearful/seemingly emotional, gracious, well mannered, kind and have the ability to form relationships.”’

   He points up a finger and grimaces: ‘But there’s a downside as well because while it is easy to see why, at first glance, this type of person would be appealing, Barron also wrote, “The combination of subtle paranoia, lack of conscience and sadism in these people renders these individuals scary, dangerous, and ruthless.”’

   And there you have it, chief inspector. You are dealing with a very complex killer who is highly intelligent, well-motivated and by the way, could be either male or female.

   ‘That narrows it down a bit,’ mutters Bannon. They both stare at him and then Bixter claps his hands to his head.

   ‘I almost forgot chief inspector. A thousand pardons. The unfortunate Master Zhang had a clenched fist. At first, we thought it was rigor mortis but now we aren’t so sure. When we managed to prise his fingers open there was a slip of paper inside. I have it on my desk.’ He rummages around the various files and triumphantly holds it up when he locates it. He hands it to Bannon who looks at it with a bemused expression. He gives it to Salisbury.

   ‘That number rings bells,’ he says quietly.

Chapter Seventeen

 Naomi

Liverpool, Wednesday, October 31

When I arrive home, I find Alex all curled up on the sofa staring pensively at the TV. For a moment or so she stares at me sightlessly and then, as if emerging from a dream, shakes her head slightly and smiles. ‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘I was miles away.’

   I sense that something has happened. I can feel the unease in her. ‘Are you OK?’ I ask.  She just grimaces and says that she is tired and has been thinking over events as well as the mystery of Poseidon and what it all means. She rises from the sofa, gives me a hug and announces she is going to bed. For a while I sit there feeling uneasy wondering what it could possible be to have awakened a sense of foreboding in me.

   I had a troubled night, a fitful, uneasy sleep interspersed by a strange, surrealist dream of a dense impenetrable forest with eyes suspended from branches which turn in unison to stare at me whichever way I go. I got up at around 3am to make myself a mug of tea and stopped briefly outside Alex’s room to listen to her gentle snoring.

   This morning I creep into the dining room to see Alex happily munching her way through a bowl of Cornflakes. ‘Morning,’ I mutter as I go to put the kettle on.

   ‘You look awful,’ she says. ‘What’s up?’

   ‘Just a bad dream,’ I say slumping onto the sofa. After a few gulps of tea, I walk over to the window to gaze down onto Rodney Street. It has the promise of being a lovely day by the looks of it. The sun is shining, and it is not too cold judging by the commuters making their ways to offices and shops.

   ‘I think we should go out for the day,’ I declare turning around and looking enquiringly at her. ‘I need some bracing, fresh air to blow the cobwebs from my mind and it looks like it’s going to be nice and sunny out there.’

   ‘What have you got in mind,’ she says smiling.

   ‘How do you fancy a river cruise? After breakfast we could get the bus to Liverpool One bus station and it’s just a walk from there to the waterfront and the Pier Head. There won’t be many tourists this time of year so it’s unlikely to be crowded. We can also stop off at Wallasey or Woodside on the other side of the river too if we feel like it. What do think?’

   ‘Sounds like fun. Count me in.’

   An hour or so later we are sitting in the ferry terminal having a coffee awaiting its arrival. Opposite are the famous Three Graces that include the Liver Building. I look at them recalling the scary premonition I had a week ago when I ‘saw’ a lake instead of the plaza with its tourists enjoying the sunshine.  Despite that, there is a cold wind blowing off the river and we are wrapped up warmly. There is a scattering of people also waiting and as I look around, I notice a lone man looking directly at me. His gaze is intent, and he looks as if he wants to say something. I nudge Alex and tell her but by the time she turns around he has left. ‘What was all that about do you suppose,’ I say. She simply shrugs. ‘Just a weirdo probably. The world is full of them.’

   Half an hour later the ferry arrives, and we climb the stairs to the upper deck to get a panoramic view of the famous Liverpool waterfront as it sails off mid-river. ‘Just imagine,’ I say to Alex: ‘This is the last view millions of people had of the old world when they sailed off to start a new life in Canada and the U.S.’

   ‘It’s a beautiful sight,’ she says.

   And then: ‘I can’t imagine not living near the sea or a major river,’ she says watching a massive oil tanker slowly make its way upriver to unload its cargo at Stanlow. ‘The sea has a fascination somehow. I could probably stare at it all day and watch its changing moods. It’s never the same, you know,’ she declares, an expression of wonderment in her eyes.

   ‘I feel the same about clouds,’ I say thoughtfully. ‘They are never the same either. You must have heard of an English landscape painter called Constable?’ She nods. ‘He spent two years studying and just painting clouds. He is famous for his clouds as much as his landscapes.’

   ‘We have Lake Ontario back in Toronto. It’s really a sea more than a lake and there is a well-known district called The Beaches where there is almost a mile of sand, trees and places to chill out in. It’s a great place to go for walks and even a swim in the summer. I wish we had a boat like this though that you could go for a cruise in.’

   ‘There’s a bar downstairs. Let’s go down and have a coffee or something,’ I say. We arrive in the saloon after ordering a couple of cappuccinos and Alex turns to me. ‘There’s something I want to tell you.’ But before she can say anything else, two youths, probably in their 20s sit down at our table. ‘Mind if we join you?’ one sniggers. He evidently thinks he’s cool. He has designer stubble. He is tall, good-looking and probably considers himself suave and God’s gift. His mate is very much in his shadow. Short, overweight and thinning hair. He sits next to Alex. His first big mistake.

    ‘Like a drink,’ says Mr Cool. He looks at her coffee. ‘How about a vodka to relax you?

    ‘You girls looking for some fun?’ says the other. Mr cool sits next to Naomi, treating her to what he imagines is a winning smile.

   I stare at him. ‘Just fuck off why don’t you,’ I say quietly with as much menace as I can summon. I give him what I think of as my death stare which is enough to freeze most people.

   ‘Would you like me to break your arm,’ Alex says conversationally to the other. They both consider that a huge joke and grin at each other. A response that would seem to be one they are accustomed to getting. The barman eyes our group suspiciously.

   I look at them both seriously and unsmiling: ‘I’m only going to say this once. I wouldn’t upset her if I were you. She’s done time for GBH in Canada and if she says she will break your arm, that is exactly what she’ll do.’

   Mr Cool stands up. The winning smile gives way to a sneer.  ‘Fuck you. Pair of lesbians.’ And with that, they disappear in the general direction of the deck, muttering and glancing behind as they go.

   ‘You two alright,’ asks the barman. ‘Yes, we are,’ says Alex: ‘Which is more than they would be if they hadn’t gone.’ She sighs. ‘Local colour eh. Time to go, I think. Let’s go back up top.’

   As we walk out, I turn to Alex: ‘Would you really have done that? ‘Break his arm you mean? Certainly.’ She smiles and winks.

   We decide to break our journey at Birkenhead. ‘There’s a lovely place called Hamilton Square by the Town Hall,’ I tell Alex. ‘Let’s have lunch there. I know a nice place.’ As we reach the square, something tells me to glance behind and I do and there, not far behind is the man who was looking at me intently. ‘It’s him again,’ I yell to Alex. She looks around and takes off towards him. For a few seconds he stares at her, then turns around and runs like a hare towards the ferry terminal. A few minutes later she is back, red-faced and out of breath. ‘Lost him,’ she gasps. She gazes at me. ‘Unless I’m mistaken it’s you he seems to be interested in, almost as if he wants to talk to you.’

   ‘I wonder why,’ I say, mystified.

   Later that day, we arrive back at Rodney Street. We climb the stairs to my apartment. As we reach the door, I see it is open slightly. We stop and look at each other. Alex puts her finger to her lips and creeps past me, gently pushing the door open wider. She disappears inside. Shortly afterwards she re-emerges and stares at me grim faced.

   ‘There’s a body in there,’ she says. ‘It’s not pretty,’ she warns me as I move to go in. ‘Don’t touch anything.’

   I enter the apartment. It is in chaos. I stare in disbelief. Just in front of the window by my armchair is a figure lying on the floor. There is a pool of blood on the rug and his head is also covered in blood. I can’t see his face, but I can tell who it is. I put my hand to my mouth as the horror of it sinks in. I feel sick.

   Alex moves alongside me and then we both creep back to the door. ‘I know who it is,’ I whisper to her. ‘It’s the thin guy from the pub.’