Jerry pressed the rewind button, and the man on the screen speedily walked backwards across a sun-lit bedroom to the doorway. When the door appeared to slam closed, Jerry pressed Stop. He tapped his lips with a finger. What have I missed? He leaned back in the chair to gather his thoughts when the door behind him opened. Glancing over his shoulder, his associate, Anne, arrived carrying two steaming mugs of coffee. She smiled as if she'd completed an epic adventure just to get them, and with a swing of her hips, she closed the door with her bum.
"There were no biscuits," she said. "And before you moan at me, I did ask."
Jerry reached for his mug but paused at the news. "You're kidding me? We're in a police station, and there are no biscuits? The bastards must be hiding them. Maybe we should investigate that. The case of the missing biscuits."
Anne chuckled and eased herself into the chair next to Jerry's. She focused on the screen and rubbed her hands together with enthusiasm. "So, what have you found?"
Jerry shook his head and wiped the tiredness from his eyes. "Diddly-squat!"
"No ghosts then?" asked Anne.
"No ghosts," Jerry admitted, "just Charles."
"But that's a good thing, right?" Anne declared. "It means we can concentrate on finding the real killer."
"You would have thought so, but there's no evidence of anyone else being in the room. The killer should be here." Jerry tapped the screen with a knuckle. "But he's not. Charles Manford, one of our country's leading Paranormal Investigators, had cameras everywhere throughout the house, and I'm sure with all his years of experience, he'd have positioned them in the best possible places to catch even the slightest movement, and yet our killer evades all of them. You should see the tape, especially the ending. I watched it at least five times while you were making the coffee, and there's something that doesn't make sense. Watch."
A bedroom was on the screen. Its pale walls and white curtains glowed from the sun's rays shining through the window's netting. The patterned white duvet on the bed appeared inviting and freshly made. Jerry pressed play, and the net curtains danced in the breeze from the open window. The bedroom door opened, and a middle-aged man wearing dark sunglasses stood in the doorway, scanning the room.
"And there it is," said Jerry, pausing the film.
Anne shrugged. "I didn't see anything."
"But that's exactly my point because neither did Charles. The only place the murderer could have been was beyond the sight of the camera. But if you watch Charles, you can see he's having a good look round. So surely, if there's someone in the room, Charles would have done something to acknowledge them, and yet he doesn't. All his actions suggest the room is empty."
Jerry pressed play, and Charles walked slowly into the room. "Look at him. At the point of entering the room, there's no fear in him. It's only when he's beside the bed that we see a difference in his behaviour. But it doesn't explain what happens next."
Charles stopped at the foot of the bed and stared down at the white duvet. Anne studied the image, searching for a sign of malevolence. At first, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. It was only Charles' prolonged attention to the bed that deserved questioning. His sunglasses hid any emotion until his hand reached to his mouth in disgust. Anne leaned closer to the screen, hoping to see more as the Paranormal Investigator's behaviour altered further.
"What does he see?"
Charles glanced over his right shoulder, and his body suddenly recoiled, causing him to turn a little.
"And there it is," said Jerry as the knife protruding from Charles' chest came into view. "Peculiar isn't it."
"Spooky," said Anne. "It almost makes you wonder if it was a ghost that murdered him."
"That's exactly what the murderer would like us to think."
"So, where do you want us to start?"
Jerry pointed at the screen. "Hammerfield Hall."
Jerry steered the car into the curb and switched off the ignition. Hammerfield Hall loomed large before them at the end of a short gravel drive. Its weathered sandstone front and large windows were dark and unwelcoming. Ivy clung to brickwork, adding colour to where there was none, and two tall conifers stood sentinel beside the house.
"Haunted or not, it bloody looks the part," said Jerry. "So, how old is it, anyway?"
Anne pulled a notebook from her bag and began flipping the pages. "It's Eight-hundred-years-old. There used to be a hospital on the grounds. This is the priest's house."
They headed down the drive, crunching across the gravel.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" asked Anne.
Jerry glanced across to his friend. She was staring towards the windows on the upper floors. "Not yet," he said. "But something tells me that's all about to change."
A modern doorbell was screwed onto the doorframe, next to an old-fashioned lever that had to be pulled downwards to shake the bell. Jerry reached for it, causing Anne to laugh, but then at the last moment, he rang the modern doorbell instead.
"If this is what it looks like out here," he said, "just imagine what it's going to look like inside."
A woman opened the door holding a tin of furniture polish and a yellow cloth. She smiled warmly in greeting. "Yes?"
Jerry took the lead. "Mrs. Chedwell?"
"No. May I ask whose calling?"
"Yes, of course, we're private investigators. We'd like to ask Mrs. Chedwell some questions."
The woman stepped aside. "Come in. I'll let her know you're here. But I must warn you, I can't promise she'll see you."
She ushered them into a reception room and then disappeared deeper into the house. When she'd gone, Jerry began to wander around the room. Two leather sofas faced each other at the centre of the room. He ran his hand across the top of one as he walked past. Old paintings of men and women in Georgian clothing hung on the walls next to hunting scenes. The relics of those hunts hung next to them. Jerry saw some vintage photos on a side table and was drawn to them while Anne's heels clicked across the wooden floorboards to the other side of the room.
"Jerry!" she called.
He hurried over. On top of a set of drawers was a glass-fronted cabinet containing six antique knives on a bed of purple velvet. Anne opened her notebook to reveal a photograph taken in a forensics lab of a knife beside a ruler.
"These are the same as the murder weapon," she said.
They leaned in for a closer look.
"Well, that didn't take you long," said someone behind them.
They both spun around like surprised children caught in a mischievous act. An old woman stood in the doorway, leaning on a walking stick.
Jerry smiled, hoping to put her at ease. "Mrs. Chedwell?"
"I hope you have a good reason for why you're here," she said.
"We specialise in cold cases," said Jerry. "We're looking into the murder of Charles Manford."
She grimaced as if tired of hearing his name. "Charles Manford died because his curiosity got the better of him. It was tragic, and I wish it never happened."
"You believe his death was his own fault?" asked Jerry.
"I didn't say that."
"But you believe his investigation was the reason for his murder? What exactly was he investigating?"
Mrs. Chedwell frowned. "I thought you said you were detectives investigating the case of Charles Manford?"
"We are," said Jerry. "But we prefer not to read old case notes. We like to look at these things with a fresh pair of eyes."
She walked unsteadily towards the nearest sofa and made herself comfortable. "Do you believe in ghosts, Mr?"
"Jerry. And this is my associate, Anne. But to answer your question: No, no, I don't believe in ghosts."
She scowled at his response. "Then you're more than likely going to die, too."
Her words surprised Jerry, so he pointed to the display cabinet. "With one of your knives?"
"They're not mine," she countered. "They belong to the house."
"To the house? Mrs. Chedwell, do you know who murdered Charles Manford?"
"Of course, it was Cane Belfonte."
Anne scribbled down the name in her notebook. "And who is he?" she asked.
"He's the original owner of the house and my resident ghost. I want him gone. This place is too big for me, and I want to sell up. But it's difficult trying to sell a house with him roaming the corridors, so I decided to find help. My cleaner found Charles Manford on the Internet. My hope was he'd perform some kind of exorcism, but all Charles wanted to do was study him."
"And how can you be so sure it was the ghost that murdered Charles," asked Anne, "and not someone with a grudge?"
Mrs. Chedwell's jaw clenched, and her eyes narrowed. "Because, my dear, there was nobody else upstairs. Charles' assistant was in here with their equipment."
"And where were you at the time?" asked Jerry.
"I was in the garden. It was a beautiful summer's day." She suddenly smiled. "Would you like to meet him?"
"He's here?" asked Anne. The two investigators shared nervous glances. "How do you know? Don't you need to perform some kind of a séance or something?"
Mrs. Chedwell gave out a trilling laugh. "No, no, dear. Not here."
Jerry found the glint in her eye unsettling. "Is it safe? I mean, if you believe Cane killed Charles Manford, would we not be in danger?"
"But you don't believe in ghosts, so how much danger do you think you'll be in?"
"What does Cane look like?" asked Anne.
"I have no idea. What you actually see is an orb. But if you want to visit the room where Charles died, you'll have to meet the orb because that's the place it seems to like the most."
Jerry shrugged. "I'm not sure if an orb can actually be classed as a ghost, but all the same, we're right behind you."
She led them out into the hall, past a grand oak staircase that smelt of fresh polish, to a doorway. Once through, the ceiling appeared lower, and the hallway narrowed.
"Is this the old part of the house?" asked Jerry.
"Yes," said Mrs. Chedwell. "Cane's house."
The corridor ended at a dark wooden door which Jerry recognised from the film. To its right were the stairs that Charles had climbed.
"This was where Charles started filming," said Jerry. "The camera was pointing towards that door."
Mrs Chedwell nodded. "That's right, there were cables everywhere."
"What's through the door?" asked Anne.
"It's the garden, dear. In Cane's time, there would have been a hospital. There's nothing left of it now, apart from the old chapel. But it's here where Cane enters the house every day. He then drifts upstairs."
They followed her up the stairs and past a small window that cast its light across the landing, illuminating three closed doors. Mrs Chedwell headed for the nearest.
"This is the master bedroom," she said as she stepped inside.
Jerry eagerly followed while Anne lingered in the doorway. The room was bright, just as he remembered. The white walls glowed from the sun, and the bed appeared unused. Wooden furniture lined the walls, and their polished finish complemented the beams that were on show.
"This is where Charles died," said Jerry, pointing to the spot at the foot of the bed. "The camera would have been positioned over there."
"That's right," said Mrs. Chedwell. "He placed the camera on the bedside table."
Jerry moved around the bed to the table and surveyed the room. Anne remained in the doorway while Mrs. Chedwell stood at the foot of the bed, near to where Charles had died. In his mind's eye, Jerry could see the camera's view. Of course, there was a huge amount of bedroom that the camera didn't see, but still, there was nowhere that someone could have hidden.
"You seem disappointed," said Mrs. Chedwell.
"I am a little," he confessed. "I was hoping to find the place where the murderer was hiding."
She smirked and shook her head. "I've already told you who murdered Charles. Is it so hard to believe? However, you'll stride the bedroom, take some notes, and eventually, you'll come to the same conclusion as the police and pass the murder off as unexplained. You won't admit it, but you'll have to accept that the only person who could have murdered Charles was Cane."
She glanced into the hallway, over Anne's shoulder. "Ah, here he comes, right on time."
Anne squealed and leapt into the room.
"Come and stand next to me, dear," said Mrs. Chedwell. "Now, don't be frightened, nothing will happen."
Jerry moved to the end of the bed and peered through the open doorway.
"Here he comes," said Mrs. Chedwell.
The orb slowly moved into the room, floating like a soap bubble but cloudier and without any reflection of light.
"Oh my god, it's real," said Anne.
"Of course, it is, dear," said Mrs. Chedwell. "And it's completely harmless." She stepped towards the orb.
"What are you doing?" asked Anne.
Mrs. Chedwell turned, smiled, and the orb passed through her chest. "See," she said. "Completely harmless. Every day Cane makes this same journey through the house, and he never deviates. If something is in his way, he just passes straight through it as if it wasn't there."
Jerry licked his lips and swallowed. "I've never seen anything like it."
His eyes followed the orb's trajectory as it circled above the bed, inches from his head. His fingers reached out but stopped short. "Is that all he . . . er, it, does? Does it do anything else?"
"He'll do this for a half-hour or so and then disappear."
Jerry watched the orb. It was nothing like the orbs he'd seen on the TV. They always appeared as if they were a trick of the light or light reflecting off dust. This was real.
"Well, thank you for your time, Mrs. Chedwell," said Jerry. "I think we've seen enough to be getting on with."
Outside, Anne silently walked back to the car. Jerry glanced over his shoulder. Mrs. Chedwell was in the window, watching them leave.
"Well, that was different," he said.
"What the hell did we just see?" asked Anne. "Was that a ghost?"
"I have no idea. But it's safe to assume it can't hold a knife, which means there's still a murderer out there. So, who's next on our list of people to question?"
Anne delved into her bag and pulled out her notebook. She skimmed through and stopped at a page that had been dog-eared. "Paul Sharp," she said. "He's a computer whiz at the University."
"And what's his connection?" asked Jerry.
"He helped Charles set up all the cameras and motion sensors. He was in the house at the time of the murder."
The directions given at the University's reception led Jerry and Anne to the Science Department and a door marked Staff Only. Jerry rapped on the door with his knuckles. No one answered. He glanced down at Anne, and she responded by raising her eyebrows at the stalemate offered by the door. Her smile made him chuckle, but there was no way he was walking all the way back to the car empty-handed. The squeak of trainers on a polished floor made them both turn around. A student was heading their way.
"Excuse me," said Jerry. "We're looking for Paul Sharp."
The student winked at Anne and then pointed to the classroom next door. "He'll be in there."
Jerry opened the door and peered inside. Empty chairs filled the room, but leaning over a table at the front of the class was a blond-haired man with his hands inside a large electronic device.
"Paul Sharp?" asked Jerry.
"That'll be me," said the man. He didn't look up.
"Mr. Sharp, we're private investigators. Do you mind if we ask you a couple of questions regarding Charles Manford?"
Paul Sharp stopped what he was doing. He paled, and his posture stiffened. "Charles Manford? I thought the case was closed?"
"It is," said Jerry. "We're currently determining whether it's a case worth reopening."
"I didn't see anything," said Paul.
Jerry chuckled at Paul's eagerness to disassociate himself with the murder. "It's all right, Mr. Sharp, you're not on our list of suspects."
"You have a list?"
Jerry realised his attempt at humour was not working. "Mr. Sharp, you were in Hammerfield Hall on the day Charles Manford died, am I right?"
Paul nodded. "I was in a downstairs room, looking after the equipment."
Jerry stepped closer and glanced inside the unit Paul was repairing. "What type of equipment?"
"TV monitors and white lights."
"White lights?" asked Anne.
"That's right. Charles had a theory about light dispersion?"
When the detectives didn't respond, Paul elaborated. "Have you ever directed a white light into a prism?"
"Yeah, I remember doing that at school," said Jerry. "It splits the light into its component colours."
Anne frowned at the sudden change in topic. "What's that got to do with ghost hunting?"
Paul began to pick a fingernail. "It enabled Charles to see something that he shouldn't have, and he paid for it with his life. If you've watched the recording we created at the house, you'll know what I mean. I'll never step inside that house again."
"We're not scared of a tiny orb," said Jerry.
"So you've seen it?" said Paul. "That thing murdered Charles."
Jerry smirked. "But you never saw anything. They're your words."
"I was watching the monitors. I saw him die. There was no one else there."
"We're not convinced."
Paul rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Then you're fools." He darted off towards a door beside the blackboard and signalled for them to follow. Jerry glanced at Anne, and she replied with a shrug.
They followed him into his office, squeezing past cabinets and open boxes filled with electrical junk. Below a window, behind his desk, were seven large filing boxes marked Warwickshire Police. Paul removed the lid of the topmost box and retrieved a green A4 book.
"The Police gave all this back to me once they'd finished with it. This will tell you everything you need to know." He handed Jerry the journal just as laughter irrupted inside the classroom. "I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me, class is about to begin. Feel free to use my desk." Then, before stepping through the door, he paused and looked back. "Ghosts – I don't think they like being seen." And then he was gone.
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Anne.
"Who knows?" Jerry flicked through the journal and chuckled.
"Well?" asked Anne.
"It's only the plans for Charles' experiment." He opened the lid of the nearest box and laughed in surprise. "Oh my God," he said. "It's only Charles' experiment. It's all here."
"So, we set it all up and re-run the experiment and prove once and for all that a ghost did not murder Charles."
Jerry pushed the last of the plugs into its socket and stared with concern at the wire configuration. There were cables for monitors, cables for ballasts, cables for lights, and cables for extension leads. He studied the drawing in the journal and then glanced back to the cables. As his eyes followed a cable along the hallway, a faint shadow crossed the wall.
"I hope you're not going to burn my house down."
Jerry spun round. Mrs. Chedwell stood just yards away, her eyes on fire.
"I still hope to sell this place, you know. I won't get much for it if it's just a pile of ashes."
Jerry placed a hand on his chest. "Mrs. Chedwell, you startled me. You're very quiet on your feet."
"For someone of my age?" she said, raising an eyebrow.
"No, no, that's not what I meant," he said.
"Well, I just wanted to let you know that if you want a drink, you can help yourself in the kitchen, I'm not your tea's maid."
"Thank you," said Jerry. "That's very kind of you."
She tilted her wrist and glanced at her watch.
"Mrs. Chedwell, can I ask you a question?"
"If you must."
"Do you really believe it was Cane's ghost who murdered Charles?"
"Of course, I do."
"Then why are you not trying to stop me from doing what I'm about to do?"
"Would it do me any good? You'd probably get some sort of court judgement to overrule me. Am I right?"
"Do you think I'm going to get myself killed?"
"I think you are going to see more than what you bargained for."
With that said, she walked gingerly along the hallway, shaking her head and muttering with annoyance at all the cables. Jerry glanced at his watch; it was nearly time. He raced downstairs and into the reception room. The top of Anne's head just visible above the three monitors.
"Have you checked the cabinet?" he asked her, nodding towards where the knives were kept.
"They're all still there," she said. "Getting nervous?"
"A little," he confessed.
He passed her Charles journal as he walked around the table to view the monitors. The first camera was aiming towards the back door. The second camera was on the landing, aiming towards the top of the stairs and the window. The third camera was in the master bedroom, set upon the bedside table, exactly where Charles Manford had placed his.
"Have you read any of this?" Anne asked, indicating the journal.
"No, not really," said Jerry. "I was more interested in the drawings to his experiment."
He looked at his watch. "Right, I'm heading for the back door." As he turned to leave, he paused in the doorway. "Keep an eye out for Mrs. Chedwell. I still don't trust her."
Once Jerry had left the room, Anne opened the journal. Written across the first page were the words The Case of Hammerfield Hall.
She quickly scanned the monitors. The camera on the back door seemed a little brighter, but that was all. Returning to the journal, she skimmed through, searching for words that might be relevant to Charles' experiment, occasionally stopping to read a little. The first few pages covered what they already knew, but the words "light dispersal" caught her attention.
"Day after day, I followed the orb, and its course never changed. Then one day, as I followed the orb along its usual route, the sun was streaming through the window at the top of the stairs. When the orb passed through the sun's rays, I'm sure I saw Cane. I know how that sounds, but I can barely contain my excitement. It was just the briefest of glimpses of a man in robes or a religious habit. Then I had an idea: what if I can recreate the moment the sun gave me? I've asked for help from someone I know and trust at the University. His knowledge of electronics has been invaluable to me in the past and will prove even more so now. He's creating some lights for me, white lights."
The back door was antique and appeared robust enough to keep out intruders. Apart from, Jerry mused, a little orb. He reached down to a cluster of plugs and noticed his hand trembling. Switching on the white-lights, the hallway suddenly filled with intense light. He closed his eyes and swore. "Jeez." It was then that he remembered the sunglasses. He'd found them in the box with the light bulbs and only put them in his pocket because the journal had said they were important – now he understood why. He rested them on his nose, and the brightness became tolerable.
He glanced at his watch. One minute to go. The anticipation of what he might see filled his mind with second thoughts. He took a deep breath and berated himself. Come on! There's no such thing as —
The back door opened, revealing a bright sunny day. In the doorway was a man of middle age, wearing the habit of a monk. The hood was down. His short black hair stuck to his face with sweat, his hands fumbled on the handle in his haste to enter. Jerry stared at him, questioning what he was seeing. Was this a ghost? Tilting his head forwards, he glanced over the top of his glasses – the man was no longer there. In his stead was the orb. Jerry swallowed as he came to a realisation – it was not only the lights that helped see Cane, but the glasses were pivotal, too. He peered back through the glasses just as the man turned. Jerry gasped and snatched the glasses from his face. The orb floated before him, face height. Had he been seen? Slowly, the orb glided away, towards the stairs and began to ascend. Jerry let out a huge breath, placed the glasses back on, and followed.
Anne licked her finger, turned the page, and continued to read.
"It's incredible. When the lights hit the orb, a transformation occurs, just like when light hits a prism. But instead of the colours separating, the orb displays images within a four-yard radius. However, our eyes cannot filter the light properly, so Paul treated some common sun-glasses with a chemical, and now I can see everything. When the orb moves, the images move with it. These are Cane's memories, I'm sure of it. Maybe this is his purgatory, reliving a sin until he's seen the error in his ways. But what is his sin?"
Anne saw movement on the first monitor. Jerry was slowly heading towards the stairs. His posture hunched over, his steps deliberate. As she continued to watch, she mulled over Charles' thoughts. Memories? Memories of what? What did Charles see? On the table was a pair of sunglasses. She placed them on and headed for the door.
The priest suddenly paused on the stairs and cocked his head to one side. Jerry froze, staring wide-eyed at the man before him, his hand poised and ready to rip the glasses off. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest as he held his breath. The priest didn't turn. Instead, he continued to focus on the bedroom door as if listening for movement inside. Without warning, Cane leapt up the remainder of the stairs and disappeared. At that very instant, the Hall reverted back to Mrs. Chedwell's decor. The orb was no longer within the illumination of the white lights.
Sighing in relief, Jerry hurried up the stairs and paused by the door. This was it, he realised. This would either prove to be nothing or solve the case. He turned the handle and gently pushed the door. Before him was a room he didn't remember. Wood-paneled the walls, and animal skin rugs covered the floor. To his right, an intricately carved four-poster bed with a dark blue canopy dominated the room. On the bed lay a woman. Her hands and feet were tied to the posts. She lay still as if asleep. Jerry tiptoed closer. Blood covered her chest, and her wrists and ankles were chafed raw.
I've seen enough, he thought. I know why Cane can't rest.
He turned to leave and felt an explosion of pain in his chest. Cane stood before him, his eyes staring directly at him. His face was calm, sympathetic even. Jerry glanced down at the knife in his chest. He tried to speak, but Cane reached up and placed a finger on Jerry's lips. "Shush, my child, I can have no witnesses."
Anne raced up the stairs and shoved open the bedroom door. Jerry lay curled up on the floor.
Racing to his side, she knelt beside him and saw a small puddle of blood by his chest. She gently pushed his shoulder, revealing the knife. A sudden kick to her backside sent her sprawling to the floor. Panic made her movements swift. She rolled over to find a priest stood beside Jerry, staring down upon her.
"A witch appears, drawn to the evil deeds that I've committed."
Cane slowly crouched and grabbed the knife. His eyes unblinking, his movements deliberate. The knife came free with ease. Blood ran down the blade and dripped from his knuckles.
"I am a man of sin, but I'm still a soldier of god. Killing Satan's whore will weigh in my favour."
Anne shuffled backwards until she touched the wall. Escape was impossible. As Cane stepped closer, he the raised blade, his face screwed-up with hate. He snarled as the blade plunged down. Anne screamed and closed her eyes. Nothing happened. She opened them to find the priest had gone. Mrs. Chedwell was stood in the doorway with an unplugged cable in her hand.
"I told you this would happen," she chided.
Anne removed her sunglasses and let them fall to the floor. Jerry lay motionless by her feet, his face staring towards the ceiling. Above him, the orb circled the bed.
"Case closed, I presume?" asked Mrs. Chedwell. "Or do I put this plug back in?"
Anne stared at her, lost for words, and wept into her hands.
"I thought as much," said Mrs. Chedwell. "I'll put the kettle on and call the police."