“Thanks for coming, mate.” Deo pulled Kane inside and shut the side door. “I’m pretty desperate.”
“It’s no problem.” Kane stood awkwardly in the centre of the room, clutching his bag and suit carrier.
“I really need you to help me out.” Deo said, waving Kane towards a seat. He collapsed into the chair behind the desk. “Tonight is make or break.”
“It’s a really good place.” Kane said, looking around the office. His feet sank into the thick carpet as he walked over to the other chair. The desk was mahogany and the framed pictures on the beautifully painted walls were tastefully elegant.
“Don’t be fooled by the office.” Deo said. “If tonight doesn’t work, all this is getting sold off to keep paying the bills. It’s not really my taste anyway.”
Kane agreed with him. It was all a little overpowering but in complete keeping with the rest of the place. The hotel was a former stately home, built for Lord Bromborough in the nineteenth century and with no expense spared. It was lavish, luxurious and spoke of old money and style. Deo was a product of the care system, just like Kane, and after a series of unfortunate care homes and foster families, he liked plain, minimalist and uncluttered. “It should make money, Deo, it’s glorious.”
“It’s expensive to run.” Deo said. “The other investments are doing fine, but this takes so much upkeep, and people don’t want to spend out on a luxury hotel when there are so many cheaper alternatives. It’s making a loss and I can’t keep bailing it out. I need a gimmick, and everyone tells me that this place is haunted.”
“It is.” Kane said. “It definitely is. I saw three on the way in.”
“What?” Deo stared at him. “Seriously? No, you’re kidding me.”
Kane hunched in his chair and looked embarrassed. “There was an older man who looked like he used to be a manager or a butler. He looked self-aware and worth talking to, but he didn’t see me noticing him. There’s a shade in one corner of the lobby.” He frowned. “She’s like a stuck memory, not someone to talk to. She’s sobbing as she’s trying to brush something up. Those who are psychic may notice her, but otherwise you can forget about it. And there’s a nightmare hovering around the rooms nearest the lifts.”
“A what?” Deo stared at Kane.
Kane hunched down even further. “I don’t know exactly what it is. It hangs around where people sleep. I think it gets something out of their dreams, but I know that people usually have nightmares if they sleep near them. You would need a priest or something to get rid of it.”
Deo looked at the skinny lad hunched in the chair in front of him, the plain brown hair neatly brushed, freckles showing against the pale skin and strain around the grey-blue eyes. The childhood neglect Kane had known had stamped him, not just physically, but mentally. Deo had just listened to a matter-of-fact description of something that could be vital to his hotel, said in such a nervous and self-deprecating way by someone who had no idea of the value of their gifts. “You really can see ghosts, can’t you?” He said.
Kane nodded, embarrassed. “But I try not to.”
“Do they tell you to do thing?” Deo asked. “I mean, do they tell you to hurt people or anything like that?”
“Usually they tell me to smarten up and get a haircut.” Kane said. “Or complain that I haven’t polished my shoes. Sometimes they try and tell me to do something, like dig out something that’s been lost. Sometimes they tell me to tell the current owner of the property to, um, well, to go away. Some of them are more polite than others.”
“And what do you say to them?” Deo asked.
Kane looked confused. “It depends. Usually something like, ‘yes, sir, but could you please not cause a disturbance.”
“Do you ever ask them to cause a disturbance?” Deo asked.
Kane shook his head. “I’ve never dared to.” He thought a little. “Most of them don’t need encouragement.”
“Well these ones do.” Deo said. “I can get premium rates as a haunted hotel. I’ve even met with a solicitor to get disclaimers written up for those staying in haunted rooms. All we need to do is get them to show themselves.”
“And they haven’t?” Kane asked.
“I bought this place as haunted.” Deo jumped to his feet and started to pace. “And nobody’s noticed. I even gave some of the housekeeping staff a Ouija board, and they didn’t think anything happened.”
“That’s a first.” Kane said.
“I know.” Deo said. “And I have a party of journalists, influencers and minor celebrities staying tonight, all for free, with plenty of drinks and great food, and all I need them to do is go away and tell everyone that this place has hot and cold running ghosts and is a wonderful place to visit.” He dropped back into his chair. “Or I can’t get this to pay.”
“And you want me to ask the ghosts to make a disturbance?” Kane asked.
“Exactly.” Deo said. “You’re here as my friend who is a novelist, and you have come for this event for material for your book.”
“I can’t write a book.” Kane said.
“I’m not asking you to.” Deo said. “I’m just asking you to tell people that you’re a novelist.”
“And the event?” Kane asked, dreading what was coming.
“After a very expensive dinner, we are having a séance.” Deo narrowed his eyes. “I hope you have something decent with you?”
“Auntie Brenda helped me chose it.” Kane said. “And she watched me press it. I’ll look okay.”
“You need to look confident. You need to look like you know what you are talking about. You need to look better than okay.” Deo sighed. “If Auntie Brenda helped you, then the clothes will be fine. Just try and look a little less like you and a little more like me.”
Kane looked at Deo. The man had shaken off the dust of the council estates and poverty and now sat there, assured and radiating authority. His hair was styled, his tie was silk and the hard muscles under the bespoke suit said he was a man to be reckoned with. The suit that the ghost of Auntie Brenda had helped Kane find in the charity shop fitted him immaculately and the almost new designer shirt she chose looked amazing. The clothes would fit the part perfectly, but he still wasn’t sure he could look like Deo. “I’ll do my best.”
Kane was aware of the ghost following him up the richly carpeted stairs, but he was used to ignoring spirits and merely trudged into his room. He set his bag down on the floor and carefully hung up the suit in the mahogany closet. The first thing he had to do was get a shower. The journey down had been long, and he felt grimy after the cramped train and crowded buses. He hung his thin jacket on the door and peered into the bathroom. It was almost as big as his bedsit at home. He pulled off his t-shirt and then noticed a ghostly chambermaid staring at him.
“Do you mind?”
The chambermaid squeaked and fled through the closed door. Kane shook his head and checked the clock. Perhaps he would have time for a soak in the huge bath. There was complementary bath soak, shampoo and soap, and a pile of wonderfully fluffy towels. He started to run the hot tap, sighing in anticipation as he tipped in the masculine looking bath salts.
Kane turned around, halfway through unzipping his jeans and irritation prickled through him. The shade of what was almost certainly the butler was standing there, looking at him with a mixture of condescension and scepticism. “Do you mind?” He said. “I’m trying to take a bath.”
“You can actually see me, sir?” The ghostly butler stared.
“Yes, and I can see you seeing me, and I want a bath.” Kane said, holding up his jeans as the bath foamed behind him.
“But you’re a guest.” The butler said. “You’re not the mystic advertised.”
“No, I am just someone wanting to take a bath.” Kane never got to take baths, and the bathtub was nearly as big as his entire bathroom. Couldn’t the ghosts leave him alone for a minute?
“I’m going to inform his lordship.” The butler vanished.
Kane slipped out of his jeans and hung them neatly over the rail next to his t-shirt. His hands were on the waistband of his boxer shorts when he heard a voice booming behind him. He turned around, quickly grabbing for the complementary bathrobe.
“I won’t believe it until I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” The ghost was of an older man, dressed appropriately for somewhere in the 1870s, Kane guessed, holding a shade of a cigar and looking irritated.
Kane felt the much-needed treat slipping away from him as he clutched the bathrobe to him. “What do I have to do to take a bath in private around here?” He snapped. A heartbeat later he winced inwardly. He was supposed to be getting the ghosts onside. He turned off the tap.
“Who the hell are you?” the ghost demanded, the butler hovering at his shoulder and a cluster of shades peering around the doorway.
“My name is Kane Thelwell, I’ve been invited to spend the evening here and I would like to take a bath in private.” More like Deo, Kane thought to himself. I need to be more like Deo. “Who the hell are you?”
“I am Lord Martin Bromborough, and I built this house.” The ghost snapped. “And I do not approve of what has happened to the place. There is some damned upstart trying to make this like some sort of lodging house. It’s complete unacceptable. I mean, who is this man?”
“Times have moved on.” Kane tried to be soothing, but it was a struggle. He was in his underwear, clutching an unfamiliar bathrobe around him while his bath went cold.
“And not for the better.” Lord Martin said. “I mean, who is this man and who are his parents? I can tell you – he’s a nothing, no breeding at all! He’s just a foundling! And he waltzes in here, cool as you please, and starts ordering things around. I won’t have it.”
Kane had spent most of his life staying small, trying to be unnoticed, trying to keep the peace to keep safe. But just for a second he saw red. “Deo isn’t just anything.” He snapped. “I bet he is worth ten of you when you were alive when it comes to character. What were you good for? Bullying the housemaids and picking on shop staff? I bet you were loathed.”
“Hang on a moment,” Lord Martin said.
Kane swept on. “I bet people hated it when you visited. But they always like seeing Deo. Because he’s a decent man.”
“I say…” Lord Martin tried to speak but Kane wasn’t having any of it.
“Do you know how tough it is in care? And Deo was the one who looked after the youngsters. He would stop the bullies and make sure everyone got treated the same. He’d share his food when things were short. He’d get the girls home safe and he kept an eye on the lads. He was a hero.”
“But I never said that…”
“He went and made something of himself, you know.” Kane said, pacing up and down as the ghosts flinched back. “He didn’t have a father to give him loads of money and he didn’t have a load of education because you never get that. Instead he worked all the hours he could and sweated and saved, just to try and make something of himself.” Kane glared at him. “He has a family, you know, and those kids never go without, never have to worry about a beating or a screaming fit. And he doesn’t forget us either, the kids from the home. He always sends something nice at Christmas, because some people don’t think that they are better than someone else just because of a bank balance.”
The ghostly butler coughed. “If I may interject, sir, I would like to say that Lord Martin has always been very considerate to the staff.” The shades of the chambermaids and footmen behind him nodded.
“Thank you, Smith.” Lord Martin said, a little awkward at this compliment. He stared at Kane, unsure how to continue. “It’s just, well, I built this house as a home, for a decent family. I was never lucky enough to have a family of my own. I hoped that an establishment like this would bring a good family in. That someone respectable would enjoy what I made.”
Kane was still riding a wave of unaccustomed adrenaline. He strode over to the frosted window and threw it open with a flourish. “Look out there.”
The ghosts looked at each other and then drifted closer, peering around the frame. Lord Martin shook his head. “Things have changed.” He said softly. He turned to Kane. “What has happened?”
Kane shut the window on the cold air. “There aren’t lords the same way, or big families. Deo is a decent bloke, trying to do a decent job. He’s a hard man, but he’s straight.”
“He wants us to show ourselves.” Lord Martin said. “To be some vulgar sideshow, like a bearded lady or a two headed snake.”
“I don’t think he’d want you to be vulgar.” Kane was calming down. “Besides, I don’t think he’d want anything…” Kane searched for the words. “He wants this to be classy, to be an upmarket thing. He’s charging a lot, but he’s providing something a little extra. I don’t think he’d want a big production. I think he’d want subtle.”
Lord Martin looked undecided. “To think I would come to this.”
“If he can’t make this pay, then he will sell it.” Kane said. “And it might become a care home for the elderly or the council could take it over.”
The ghosts behind Lord Martin exchanged worried looks. Lord Martin drifted towards the window again and passed his head through the frosted glass. He pulled himself back in and looked at Kane. “It looks very bleak.”
“Deo has to make this work because it costs a lot to keep this place up to scratch,” Kane said. “It may not be worth it. It could be demolished and something else put here.”
“Over my dead body!” Lord Martin snapped.
Kane paused for a moment to allow Lord Martin to realise the irony of his words. “Deo would keep this place nice. And he could get someone in to exorcise you and just play tricks with draughts and that. There are loads of books about how to fake a haunting.”
“Fake ghosts? In my home?” Lord Bromborough snorted.
“Do you know that Deo could make a fortune knocking this place down and building a multi-story car park?” Kane asked. “Now, no-one is asking you, your lordship, to be part of this. I imagine that you would have a different role.” Kane racked his brains for inspiration. “If you were a leader in life, it seems only right that you are a leader now. So you supervise, make plans and keep it all classy. The servants can provide a discreet and respectable…” Kane trailed off, trying to think of a good description.
The butler coughed again. “Perhaps we could describe it as ‘Room Service’?” He suggested. “It would certainly be a pleasant change than merely observing.”
Lord Bromborough looked thoughtful. He sat down in the well-padded armchair, sinking into it slightly, and nodded. “It will keep us in good spirits, as it were. We can take it as a form of healthy exercise.” He looked over the servants. “And we can make sure that it is all tip-top, respectable but entertaining stuff.” He grinned, a grin echoed by all the servants. “At least, it will be entertaining for us!”
Kane was the last to come down to dinner. He had managed to get a bath by suggesting that the ghosts plan things in a separate room, and after that he had been curbing their enthusiasm. He took his seat in the corner, nodded politely to the local news presenter next to him, and shook out his napkin, just as the ghostly butler had shown him.
“Ask for another glass, sir, as this one is cloudy.” Smith murmured in his ear. The ghost of the butler looked around the room, nodding slightly at the polished silver, the gleaming flatware and the immaculately tasteful flower arrangements.
As Kane leant back to attract the nearest waiter, he noted the shade of a plump housemaid slip into the gap. The psychic who was hosting the séance shivered a little and looked around, but the others were oblivious. He briefly caught Smith’s eye before handing over the glass.
“If sir would pay attention, Ellen has been practising this all afternoon.” The butler retreated as Kane tried to look unaware. In fact he only looked around when the first of the other guests gasped. The candle flames were flickering wildly without a single breath of air coming from outside the table. The stage magician checked under the damask tablecloth as the professional dancer shuddered and the psychic gasped. With a final, herculean effort, Bella finally extinguished the candles and the slight loss of light only added to the eerie effect. As the stage magician dripped wax on the flower arrangements as he tried to find the source of the draughts, Kane looked across at the shade of Lord Martin and, very faintly, smiled.