The deal was quite a simple one really. Charles – that’s my sister Marcie’s husband – believes in ghosts and I don’t. At least I didn’t. He’s got money and I haven’t, so when he challenged me to put my beliefs to the test with the offer of a big fat payoff, I wasn’t minded to refuse. He knew I liked old buildings anyway, so he undertook to find one with “a history” as he euphemistically put it that was for sale. If I could spend the night there alone and in the dark, and I liked it enough to want to live in it, he’d give me a deposit of 20% to buy it.  That way I could afford a mortgage of a size that even my biology teacher’s salary could sustain.

All I got from him that morning was an e-mail containing an address and a time, signed with his trademark smiley face. “Smug bastard,” I thought, memorising the content, as I wiped the e-mail form my already over-full mail box.

Six o’ clock was an irritatingly early hour to have to turn up to the address named, given that the deal was that I’d stay ‘til dawn, but I thought, what the hell.  He-who-pays-the-piper-spoils-the broth, and all that. So I phoned my rather curvaceous date for the evening and cancelled (damn, I had high hopes for that night and she was pissed off with me). Then I packed a small overnight bag. “At least Minstead isn’t far from New Milton,” I thought as I set out at 5.30. The daylight was in its final death throes, and a typical November chill was fingering the city workers venturing home for a nice warm evening and a comfortable bed. I, by contrast, would spend a cold night shivering in some old wreck of a cottage that had no power while Charles proceed to play some damn stupid tricks to get me out of the place.

That was why I was so surprised to pull up outside a well lit, rather expensive looking Victorian semi just round the corner from the Trusty Servant pub in down town Minstead. I got out of the car suspiciously. I knew Charles must have something major planned. He wouldn’t risk having to give me the deposit on something worth as much as this place. It looked warm and inviting, and I could see through the window that there was a fire already lit in the wood-burner in the lounge. I was feeling quite chuffed about a cosy night in front of the Aga, and was just wondering how I was going to gain entry, when Charles appeared from out of nowhere. I assumed he had been sitting in the pub waiting for me to arrive. At 43, he was grossly overweight and balding, yet at six foot two he still cut an imposing figure in that Saville Row suit and city brogues. In that get up, he was a complete contrast to me at five foot four in my standard uniform of Pringle sweater and Levi jeans. I could tell straight away that something was wrong. In some not quite definable way, he wasn’t really himself – looked rattled, haunted even. “Davy,” he said, his voice sounding distracted and withdrawn. “Sorry but the deal’s off. There’s been an unfortunate development.”

Development?” I mimicked, in a rather less than charitable snarl. “Kiss my arse baby,” I drawled in my best Bruce Willis imitation. “A deal’s a deal, so let me in and when the sunlight hits the fan tomorrow you owe me 20% of the value of this des-res-semi-d.  I never renegotiate.” He looked like he didn’t understand, like if he and I weren’t quite on the same wavelength. Something was distracting him and his mind was clearly elsewhere. But what did I care if he had some business deal go sour on him? I’ve always resented that he has so much more than me. He had plenty of money to meet his end of the bargain and I was growing more and more confident that the deposit on the house would be mine at sunrise. This time I was going to get the better of Charles. I shoved past him, forgetting I didn’t have a key to the front door. Still inwardly celebrating my one-up-man-ship, I didn’t register that it was strange when the door swung back as I pushed on it.

To be continued

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