Someone Like You

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“I’ve lost it, that’s the truth. I can’t write songs any more. But it’s a deadly secret. I’m trusting you not to tell anyone Jamie. I mean it.”

You’re bound to have heard of Samantha. You haven’t? Maybe you never watch TV or listen to pop songs on the radio. Samantha – she only ever uses that name – produces pop songs that are so catchy and simple you’re convinced you could write them yourself, only you know that you couldn’t. Remember Katie Perry’s I kissed a girl, how incredibly memorable it was? Some singer songwriters have this uncanny gift of creating something special and different and interesting that you love listening to and you can’t forget. Adele is another. Find me one person who doesn’t like Someone like you, and they’re probably deaf.

So when I got a call from Samantha’s agent, then the star herself, telling me that she’d bought ‘Fireflies’, once the seaside home of the deceased thirties singer/songwriter, Phyllis Dexter, and wanted me to arrange some renovations, I was delighted.

Phyllis Dexter was the ‘Adele’ of her day, the 1930s. She was thought of in the same way as Edith Piaf, Billie Holliday and others, a woman with phenomenal charisma in her performances as a singer, who was also a gifted songwriter. And her beautiful house ‘Fireflies’, high up on a cliff on the Suffolk Cost, was where she had composed many of her iconic hits.

“The thing is, that I’ve always loved Phyllis,” Samantha went on, talking in a sad desultory way as she sat across the table in the North London café where we’d arranged to meet. “And I thought that maybe living in her house, might help me to get close to her. It was all my lovely boyfriend Hamish’s idea – he bought it as a surprise, telling me he hoped I might regain my muse, by absorbing the atmosphere of the place.”

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I met ‘lovely’ Hamish a few days later, in the main sitting room of Fireflies. He was very tall and slim, dressed in a pure white suit, and had a habit of avoiding your eyes when he spoke to you. Samantha wasn’t there, was in London on business. I hadn’t been invited to sit down, and he was standing in front of the grand piano, idly picking out a tune as we spoke.

“Look, Mr Dark,” Hamish said, after boasting about his prestigious job in international finance for ten minutes. “I picked you as the architect for a reason.”

“A reason?”

“Yes.” He turned to face me. “ I wanted you, because I heard you’re interested in ghosts, psychic phenomena, nonsense like that.”

“What’s that got to do with my abilities as a conservation architect?”

“Ah well, I gather Samantha’s told you about her big problem? Her inability to write songs anymore? Well I’ve found a professional singer who gives performances as a Phyllis Dexter lookalike, and she’s agreed to give a performance at Fireflies one night. She’s going to dress as Phyllis and sing in the half light, so we can hopefully persuade Samantha that her spirit ‘lives on’ here. I think if she ‘saw’ her heroine Phyllis as a ghost, it just might kick-start her creative juices.”

Do you cringe, as I do, when somebody says ‘creative juices’?

“This is Phyllis’s piano,” he went on. “We managed to get it at auction in the States. I bought it as a surprise for Samantha when we move in next week.” He paused for me to gush with admiration. “So Jamie, can you give me any tips on how we should stage our ghost? Entrances and exits, lighting effects, how long she should sit there and sing, that kind of thing?”

“Sorry. Of course I hope that Samantha regains her song-writing ability. But trying to ‘stage’ the appearance of a ghost is a ridiculous idea that won’t work.”

“So you won’t help me?”

“No.”

“Right, forget it then. There are plenty of other architects.”

I walked out of the house without another word. I was disappointed, of course, for I’d loved Fireflies on sight, and Samantha had seemed as if she’d be a very nice person to work with. But if making a fool of her, by falling in with Hamish’s crazy embarrassing idea, was part of the deal, then I was having nothing to do with it.

A month later I got a call from Samantha. She invited me round to Fireflies to discuss the renovation work, as if my row with her boyfriend hadn’t happened.

She was like a different woman from the diffident unhappy soul I’d talked to in London. Now she seemed to be on top of the world, smiling and welcoming, inviting me into that same lovely huge sitting room that overlooked the sea.

“It’s come back!” she told me, sitting in front of the grand piano, while I sat on the sofa nearby. “Honestly Jamie, it’s wonderful! I think Phyllis’s spirit actually does live on here! I came down one night,  just after we’d moved in. I was on my own here, I couldn’t sleep, and when I came into this room, I saw her! I saw Phyllis sitting right here, playing the piano and singing to herself quietly, just for a few seconds, and then she disappeared. But in that moment I felt a real connection with her spirit, as if she knew what I was going through. I felt a sort of love coming from her to me, I really did! And in the morning, when I sat in the same place, a melody came into my head. And suddenly it was just like it used to be, one melody after another came flooding out, words and music came together and I can write songs again! Just like that! It’s wonderful!”

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So it seemed that Hamish’s grand plan had worked.

Samantha was brimming with ideas about what she wanted to do with the house, and I spent the rest of the morning going through the plans with her and arranging what was to be done.

Next day I had a call from Hamish.

“Hello Jamie. Listen, I’m awfully sorry we fell out the other day. Samantha likes you, and we had quite a row about it. And she insisted you were the best man for the job, and I realised that when I told you to push off that I was just angry with you because you hated my idea. No hard feelings, eh?”

“No, of course not.” I remembered that Hamish, an international banker, only lived with Samantha at weekends, since his heavy work schedule took him all over the world.

“And isn’t it great news that she’s writing songs again?” he continued enthusiastically. “She told me yesterday on the phone, I can’t wait to see her. And Jamie, look, I have to apologise to you.”

“Apologise?”

“Yes. You were quite right. After talking to you I realised how ridiculous my idea of faking Phyllis’s spirit was, so I abandoned it. After all, no one really believes in ghosts, do they?”

To see this on Wattpad go to:  https://embed.wattpad.com/story/61225485

Lord Peter’s Folly

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My client, John Barleycorn, ran out into the road at the level crossing, right in front of my car. As my screaming locked wheels sent a cloud of burning rubber into the sky, I knew that there was no way that I could stop in time.

The last thing I remember is the slam crack of impact as the car behind smashed into me, just before I ploughed into something ahead.

What a tragedy.

Especially when John Barleycorn had been one of the nicest men I had ever met, a month ago now.

When I’d first met the old man I’d discovered that he was bonhomie personified, from his large white beard and avuncular smile, to the big floppy hat he habitually wore and the shabby old jacket and flannels. Long retired from full time work, he’d been a struggling writer of children’s books all his early life until, at the age of 45, he’d written that first ‘Marmaduke the Wonder Cat’ adventure, and become famous overnight. The ‘Marmaduke’ books sold all over the world, and he made money too from ‘merchandising’, that is selling the right to use the logo of Marmaduke’s furry face, that was applied to all manner of children’s toys, clothes, sportswear, and even a brand of coffee.

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“You see,” John explained to me as we chatted, “all my life I’ve been a timid sort of fellow, scared of my own shadow. But secretly I always longed to be a hero—the kind of character who goes around rescuing people from danger, diving into trouble. I’ve always loved cats, and Marmaduke is based on my last wonderful black-and-white moggy, who used to sleep on my lap for hours while I sat at my desk working. Hence ‘Marmaduke the Wonder Cat’, who goes around the world helping people out of trouble, saving children from harm, and doing it with his own dash and flair.” As we sat together on the sofa, he looked downwards, smiling wistfully. “Do you know Jamie, I would absolutely love to do something heroic—just for once in my life. To be able to save someone’s life would be such a wonderful thing, wouldn’t it?”

“But how many people get to save someone’s life?” I asked. “Even for doctors it must be quite a rare event.”

After his wife died, he’d decided to sell up his London penthouse flat and buy ‘a project’ as he called it.

That’s where I came in: John had bought the Stavely Estate, a Victorian built ‘gothic’ castle in its own capacious grounds, constructed by the eccentric Lord Peter Hathersage in 1860, near to the Kent cost. The house itself was fine, what John really needed my services for was the wonderful tower, famous throughout Kent and Sussex as ‘Lord Peter’s Folly’.

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Built of brick and 300 metres in height, it served no practical purpose whatsoever except as a peculiar kind of landmark. It was just about large enough to allow the spiral staircase within it to reach the top, and its flat roof allowed space for a couple of chairs, so you had space to sit out and see far and wide across the county. On a clear day you could even see the Millennium Wheel in London in one direction and the sea in the other. Absolutely breath-taking views. And a great place to sit with a friend and talk, as I had done with John several times now, chatting away and watching the world go by.

But unfortunately Lord Peter’s Folly was on the point of collapse, and I’d called in a civil engineer friend to help decide on our best course of action for saving it.

That afternoon, I’d been at the top of the tower with John to give him the bad news, warning him that it could collapse literally at any moment, and the best thing to do would be to not enter it again until the repairs were done. He pointed out that since it was on his own land, if it fell it wouldn’t hurt anyone on the public road, so he alone would be killed, and the view was so wonderful, he’d take his chances.

“Because I just love it up here,” he’d told me, beaming. “I doze off, and sometimes I feel as if dear old Marmaduke is asleep in my lap, just like he used to be. Sometimes I wake up and for a moment and it’s almost as if I can see him and touch him, the dear old boy. . .”

So when my car smashed into his body, all I was aware of was my failure to stop in time. The next moment there was the crash of the level-crossing gate smashing into the front of my car, making the airbag explode, crushing up against my chest. Then there was the astonishing sight of the windows of the express train careering within an inch of my car, the rattling roaring scream nearly deafening me.

After a minute or two, as I tried to fight my way out from the exploded airbag, I struggled to work out what had happened.

For some reason it seemed that the train’s arrival had not automatically triggered the level-crossing gate to close and the traffic lights to stop the traffic.

And if John Barleycorn hadn’t jumped in front of my car, I would never have stopped in time.

But where was his body?

I couldn’t understand what had happened to it, for when I got out of my car and looked around, it was nowhere in sight.

An hour later I found out that Lord Peter’s Tower had collapsed a few minutes before my accident. And in doing so it had destroyed an electricity substation, which had happened to be powering the controls for the level crossing, which was why the traffic wasn’t stopped. John Barleycorn’s body, I had been told, had been seen somewhere inside the pile of rubble that had once been the tower.

No way could he possibly have jumped out onto the road in front of me.

Yet I’d seen him.

Hadn’t I?

And when I walked across to see what was left of the tower there was a black-and-white cat walking slowly across the rubble.

Moving On

As I’ve told you my interest in the supernatural began because of my love for old buildings. This is one of those curious jobs that unsettled me in the early days, before I began to make psychic investigations myself. It made me wonder, do the dead really have some influence over the living?

What do you think?

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“Well done, excellent, it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing!”

I had never seen Rex Broom, the Conservation Officer for Canterbury District Council look so happy before, as he shook hands warmly with Walter Needlove, multi-millionaire owner of the TRAVELLER’S REST chain of luxury hotels.

The three of us were standing in the hallway of derelict Massingham Hall on a rainy November afternoon, when the daylight was fading faster than my spirits. I sincerely wished I was somewhere else.

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I didn’t like Walter, and I liked oily Rex even less. Officer Broom was a self-important little jobsworth, who enjoyed his sense of power that enabled him to strut around telling people what building work they could or couldn’t do to the listed buildings that they owned.

In its heyday Massingham Hall had been a beautiful Georgian mansion, but its succession of owners since then had allowed it to fall into ruins, literally. Faced with a Compulsory Purchase Order by the council, the last owners had allowed the bureaucrats to take it off their hands. But with budget cuts, the council were only too delighted when the property magnate owner of the hotel chain had taken an interest, and had offered to buy it for a nominal sum. Taking it on would mean he was legally obliged to rebuild it according to its listed building status, and the vast project would clearly cost millions rather than thousands.

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As a keen member of the local history society, I’d been part of a group that had created a ‘Save Massingham Hall Trust’ that had tried to get hold of the Hall with a view to pooling our spare time and resources to rebuild the place, utilising the various government and local grants that might be available, so that we could eventually open it to the public. Negotiations with the council had been going well, until the TRAVELLER’S REST consortium had made a much more generous offer, and were not even asking for any grants.

Yet to me, something, somehow, didn’t quite ring true.

And today, as I watched Walter’s mean little eyes behind the huge spectacles, narrow shoulders hunched within his expensive overcoat, sucking on a large cigar and lapping up all the compliments, I knew I was right.

I was there because Walter Needlove wanted to use my expertise as an ‘ancient buildings architect’ – he wanted me to draw up plans for the necessary repairs, the kind of work I’ve done plenty of. Old buildings are a passion of mine. I love them all, I really do.

The other love of my working life is lighting, and I’m a professional lighting designer. Lighting, to me, is a form of controllable magic. You can transform every room in even an ordinary house into something special by putting in uplighters, downlighters, skirting lights, spots, there are a million variations and possibilities, and that’s what makes it so exciting. Not only moods, atmosphere, colours, but also the entire feeling of a space can be brought to life by the imaginative and creative use of the different forms of lighting.

Maybe my interest in old buildings and lighting is also linked to the fact that I saw my first ghost when I was ten and, ever since, I’ve been a believer in visitations from the afterlife and investigated such things on the rare occasions they occur. I’m not physic, like some people are, and I daresay that just like everyone else I don’t see 99% of the spirits that surround us all the time. But occasionally I do get a welcome glimpse into the spirit world.

Amid a lot of bluff laughter and handshaking, the posturing idiot Rex Broom had finally gone, leaving Walter and me in the hallway of the ancient building. A wind had whipped up, whistling through the holes in the roof and the gaps where the walls had partly collapsed, while the drizzle strengthened, soaking into my battered leather jacket.

“So, Jamie, you reckon you can put together a scheme that’ll keep that fussy little bastard on the council happy?” he asked me.

“Yes. But do you realise it’s going to cost a fortune?” I told the straight-talking northern businessman. “We have to use the materials the conservation officer specifies, bring in craftsmen who charge premium rates, there’s no leeway for altering the windows or the room sizes, it has to be put back exactly as it once was.”

“So it’ll be a money pit, doesn’t worry me. I’ll treat is as a tax loss, eh?”

“And you do know, I hope, that there’s no way on earth it can be adapted to use as a hotel. The council would never give permission for the fire escapes and all the other things you’d need.”

“Naturally not. Jamie, lad, believe me I’m not thinking of making money here! I want to restore this old place for posterity, to give something back to future generations in return for all the good luck I’ve had in my life. To make all those folk who thought old Walter’s just a moneymaking philistine, think again.”

We wandered around the ground floor: huge drawing rooms, a vast kitchen area and the gardens. Outside, squinting into the wind and rain, he pointed to the stone building in the distance. “What’s that?” he asked.

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“The first Lord Henry Massingham had a mausoleum built in the grounds in 1650. Him and several members of his family are in it.”

“Bugger.” Walter’s already wrinkled forehead crinkled even more, and his eyes narrowed. The spark of cheery good humour had vanished faster than a snowflake on a red-hot coal. “What’s to be done about it then? Do we get lawyers and such to have the old bones moved?”

“I’ve never come across the problem before,” I confessed. “But since you can’t use the place as a hotel, and you want to restore it for the nation, surely there’s no harm in leaving them where they are? After all this was their home, and it was their wish to remain here.”

“I don’t know as I like the idea of that. Oh dear me, no.” He shivered in the rain.

“Bodies in a mausoleum? That’s downright morbid. No, no I’m not having that, I’ll get my lawyers onto it, soon as I can, shift the bloody things somewhere else.”

We went back inside. My revulsion at the idea of working for such an appalling man was tempered by the challenge of doing such an interesting job. It was the kind of project that comes up once in a lifetime.

I cautiously led the way upstairs, but some steps were missing, and it seemed fairly hazardous, especially at the upper landing, where there was no protective rail. Walter remained down below.

“I’ll not come up there lad,” he told me, “doesn’t look safe to me. Never liked heights me, especially when you can see the drop. I’ll stick to the ground floor. I’ll get off now, then Jamie, you know what you’re doing. I’ll leave you to measure up.”

“Surely you’ve got some ideas of what you want?” I went on. “Of course the fabric of the place has to be put back as it was, but we can make a few alterations here and there.”

“No, no, I’ll leave it all up to you,” he said, anxious to leave, clearly uncomfortable. He made a big show of drawing back the cuff of his cashmere overcoat and looking at his Rolex. “Best be off, got to be in Manchester in four hours.”

When I was alone in the place I began the laborious task of measuring the rooms and recording all the dimensions on my laptop. After a while the light had practically gone, so I called it a day, and wandered into the grounds of the estate, and walked all the way down to the mausoleum. It was a rather beautiful small rectangular stone building with a plaque with the word ‘Massingham’ carved into the stonework, the M with elaborate swirls and scrolls surrounding it. The tiled roof was broken, leaving holes in a couple of places, and I couldn’t resist peering inside. All I could see was dust and cobwebs, a glimpse of a slab of stone.

I moved closer, had the momentary idea of taking a flash photo of the mausoleum’s interior, through the gap, using my mobile phone. As I held it there a chill breeze sprang up out of nowhere. I tripped against something and accidentally dropped the phone through the gap. I heard the clunk as it fell into the cavity and met some hard object.

Gritting my teeth and steeling myself to do it, I put my hand into the gap and felt around, hoping against hope I could locate the expensive phone. Then all of a sudden I felt a keen awareness that somehow I wasn’t alone. For the briefest, merest second, I saw, or thought I saw, a figure flit past me back into the house. Then I felt the plastic of my phone, reached in a bit further, clasped my fingers around it and pulled it out.

From my research, I knew that the last Lord Henry Massingham had died in the Hall in 1770. Allegedly he’d inherited a fortune from his father who had died relatively young, and had frittered away his fortune on hedonistic living, drink, gambling and womanising, and he’d died under strange circumstances in his 35th year. He was rumoured to have been a member of the notorious ‘Hellfire Club’ in London, where Satanism, witchcraft and drug-fuelled orgies were said to have taken place.

Somewhere in a museum I remember seeing a portrait of Lord Henry, his thin face and raffish good looks belied by a vicious debauched puffiness around his piggy eyes. He was said to be known for taking justice into his own hands, and had once allegedly broken a man’s neck for some perceived insult. Lord Henry had apparently loved Massingham Hall, he’d been the one who’d built extensions and supervised the laying out of the grounds. And if memory serves me right, he was the last Massingham to be laid to rest in the mausoleum. Perhaps my own fingers had been within inches of his skull?

It was a sobering thought.

That’s when I remembered I’d left my camera in one of the upstairs rooms of the Hall. It wasn’t quite dark yet and I climbed the stairs cautiously and made my way to the bedroom, found my way in and discovered the camera then came back down. But in my haste to get home I missed my footing.

Momentarily, I was falling through the sheer drop to the stone floor below. But I managed to stop myself just in time. Then, to my horror, I thought I saw the body of Walter Needlove below me on the stone floor, his neck twisted at an impossible angle and his sightless dead eyes staring upwards, blood seeping from the wound in his head into the grey expanse.

Blinking and swaying with the shock of it all, everything eventually came back to normal and I knew I was alone, and my vision had to have been a hallucination.
I breathed a sigh of relief once I was back in my Range Rover. I heard the hands-free phone ringing and answered it.

“Jamie?” the voice asked. “Jamie Dark?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“This is Tony Lepanzo, from the Massingham Hall Trust.”

“Hello Tony. I thought our Trust had been disbanded since TRAVELLER’S REST bought the Hall.”

“Of course, so it has,” Tony went on gloomily, “force of habit.”

I thought of Tony, his short silver hair and bushy white moustache and friendly eyes.

“Listen Jamie, I’ve just heard something pretty shocking. A mate of mine works for the TRAVELLER’S REST Hotels group. Don’t ask me how he’s heard, but according to him, there’s a rumour that Walter Needlove is planning to fix an explosion in the Hall. Work out some plausible explanation for the cause of it, thus destroying what’s left of it so the council agree it can be demolished, then, with permission for a single dwelling already, he’s bound to wangle permission for erecting a new hotel, or if not a luxury house he can sell at a profit.”

“That fits,” I agreed. “Ideal location on the way to Canterbury, fantastic views all around. I had the feeling he didn’t seriously want me to draw up any plans, that he was just going through the motions. Come to think of it there are old mine workings underneath it, he could claim there was a build-up of underground gas or something.”

“So what are we going to do?” Tony asked.

“Goodness knows. I’ll sleep on it.”

A couple of days later Walter Needlove was found dead on the hallway floor of Massingham Hall. He’d apparently fallen from the upper mezzanine floor, through the gap left by the missing banister rail.

I thought back to my vision, and shivered at the memory of what I’d seen two days before it had actually happened.

The directors of the TRAVELLER’S REST agreed to sell the derelict hall to our Trust for a very fair price, and of course I was glad to do the drawings and help with the building work for nothing.

One thing we’d all agreed on: the residents of the mausoleum should stay where they were.