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Authors: Simon R. Green

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BOOK: Ghost of a Dream
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“Good boys. I can always depend on you when some sneaky bastard is playing games with my head.”

She leaned forward, braced herself on top of her instruments with both hands, and let her head hang down for a moment, slowly bringing her ragged breathing back under control. Bringing herself back under control through sheer strength of will. She felt like she’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson, with an anvil on her back. But after a few moments, she brought her head back up proudly and sneered around the empty lobby, showing her teeth in a nasty grin.

“That the best you can do? It’ll take more than that to break me, you bastards!”

One by one, slowly and unhurriedly and without any fuss, the lights in the lobby began to go out. Melody swore briefly and checked her readouts. None of her sensors were indicating anything out of the ordinary, but the lobby lights were quite definitely dimming and going out. Faulty wiring in the lobby? Melody shook her head quickly. That was grabbing at straws, and she knew it. The last few lights went out in a rush, leaving Melody standing alone in the dark, in a small pool of light generated by her monitor screens and work lights. The dark
around her was solid and impenetrable, without even an exit light. Melody kicked in the heavy-duty spotlights she’d incorporated into her equipment stand, for just such emergencies as this; but they didn’t make much difference. The pool of light surrounding her instruments grew a little brighter, but it didn’t expand one inch. The light couldn’t seem to push out into the darkness at all.

Melody made herself check her readings methodically, one by one. Everything was functioning as it should, but none of it was telling her anything useful. She glared about her, into the dark. She couldn’t see a damned thing. The lobby was…gone. She had a sudden horrible feeling that she was alone in the dark, that the rest of the world was gone, and only she and her small pool of light remained. As though the world had been taken away, or she had been taken out of it…like the old steam train at Bradleigh Halt. And now she was trapped, floating forever in an endless sea of darkness…She shook her head fiercely and took a firm hold on her thoughts. She wasn’t afraid of the dark. Darkness was only the absence of light. The world was still there; all her sensors said so. Which meant that this was another form of psychic attack. And like the posters, it might be scary, it might mess with her head, but nothing was happening that could actually hurt her.

She activated the communications system built into her decks and called Happy on his mobile. It rang and rang and rang, but nobody picked up. Which was odd. If Happy had turned his phone off, it would have gone straight to voice mail. So why wasn’t he answering? She tried reaching JC, but he didn’t answer either. Unless…
someone was shutting off the sound, the same way it was shutting off the light…

Melody placed her hands flat on top of her instruments, and said to herself,
I’m not afraid. I’m not. I don’t believe in any of this bullshit.

Her head came up sharply, and she glared out into the darkness. Someone was walking around. There were footsteps, in the dark. Not the loud and crashing impacts she’d heard before, up on the stage…but quiet, steady, perfectly ordinary footsteps. Melody listened carefully. On the whole she thought they sounded more like a man’s than a woman’s. And not a particularly big man, at that. Melody smiled. She could handle men. The footsteps walked round and round her pool of light, taking their time. Sometimes coming close but never actually emerging from the dark to enter into the light. Going on, round and round and round…

“Who’s there?” said Melody, in her most strident and challenging voice. “Identify yourself! Talk to me! Don’t make me come out there and get you!”

There was no reply. Only someone walking unseen, round and round her. Melody reached down, into the special cabinet set under the short-range sensors, and pulled out her favourite machine-pistol. She always kept a gun or two handy, for those moments when diplomacy had clearly failed. She aimed the machine-pistol out into the dark, right at the footsteps; and then hesitated. She didn’t want to fire blindly out into the darkness. If she randomly shot up the lobby, the theatre’s owners would be bound to kick up a fuss. Not that she really gave much of a damn, but she couldn’t justify it to herself, opening fire
without an actual target. The others would look at the widely sprayed bullet holes, and they’d know. They’d look at her and think she’d become spooked, maybe even panicked. And she couldn’t have that.

And then all the lights came back on at once, quite suddenly, as though they’d never been away. Melody jumped, despite herself. She glared fiercely about her, sweeping the machine-pistol back and forth. The lobby looked back innocently, quiet and empty and ordinary. As though nothing at all had happened. A voice spoke behind her, and she spun round, bringing the machine-pistol up to fire; and then she stopped herself at the last moment. It was only Old Tom, the caretaker, standing quietly by the main doors in his long brown overall, regarding her with his usual vague smile and watery eyes. Melody lowered her gun and sighed loudly as the tension ran out of her.

“Where the hell have you been?” she said sharply. “We looked everywhere for you!”

“Oh, around,” said Old Tom. “Are you all right, miss? You look pale. You look like you’ve seen a ghost…”

Melody snorted briefly, embarrassed, and quickly put the machine-pistol away, out of sight. “What are you doing here?” she said brusquely.

“Taking a look around, miss, seeing what needs to be done. Before the whole cleaning crew comes in tomorrow. We’re going to have our work cut out for us here, miss, and no mistake. Still, it does take me back, being in the old place again. Good to see Benjamin Darke and Elizabeth de Fries again, too. I remember them, and their
old friend Alistair Gravel; thick as thieves, the three of them. Always together, always getting into trouble…”

“Funny,” said Melody. “Benjamin and Elizabeth didn’t remember you.”

Old Tom shrugged easily. “No reason why they should, miss. They were important people, lead actors, and I…was staff. Actors and staff don’t mix, miss. Different people, different worlds. But I remember them; oh yes…They had this play they’d written, and Mr. Gravel was going to star in it. A play that would make them all rich and famous…And then, suddenly, Mr. Gravel was out! And they brought in this big film star to take over the lead. Can’t remember his name, on the tip of my tongue; you’d know it if I said it…”

“Frankie Hazzard,” said Melody.

“That was it!” said Old Tom, beaming at her. “Bless me; fancy you knowing that, miss. Anyway, the play went on, all right, but it wasn’t the huge success that everyone expected. Oh no. Died on its arse by all accounts. Very sad. Still, these things happen…”

“I heard that Alistair Gravel died,” said Melody.

“Bless you, no, miss!” said Old Tom. “He didn’t die. He disappeared. Didn’t turn up for rehearsal one day. Everyone looked for him, but there wasn’t a trace of him to be found anywhere. Didn’t leave a note, or anything. Bit of a mystery, really. You want to talk to Benjamin and Elizabeth, miss. If anyone knows what really happened back then, it’s those two. Still, can’t stand around here chatting with you, when there’s work waiting to be done! I’ll see you around, miss. You watch out for yourself.”

He nodded briskly, shuffled off, and disappeared through the main doors. Melody hardly noticed. She was thinking hard.

When she did finally look up, she noticed immediately that there was a single photo pinned to the Coming Attractions board, right by the main doors. Melody scowled at the board for a long moment. She hadn’t noticed any Coming Attractions board before, never mind a photo. Could she have overlooked it, because she was concentrating so hard on the posters? Or was it an illusion as well, put there to mess with her head some more? Could Old Tom have put it there, on his way out, for reasons of his own?

Melody came out from behind her instruments and advanced slowly and cautiously on the Coming Attractions board. A simple wooden easel, supporting a large plain board with a colour ten-by-eight photo attached to it with a single drawing-pin. Couldn’t have looked more normal and ordinary if it had tried. Melody gave the easel the Happy test, by giving it a good hard kick, and the board rocked solidly back and forth. She prodded the photo with her fingertip, and it certainly felt real enough. She took a firm hold of the photo and pulled it free.

She shook it back and forth a few times, still half-expecting the thing to disappear, or fall apart into mists, in her grasp. But it gave every indication of being an actual photograph. Melody held it up before her and studied the image carefully. The photo showed three young people standing together, smiling broadly for the camera. From the artificial way they were posed, Melody assumed it was a promotional shot of some kind. The
strap-line at the bottom of the photo gave the names of the three young people standing so happily together. Melody had already recognised the much-younger Benjamin Darke and Elizabeth de Fries, but she nodded slowly as she looked at the darkly handsome one in the middle: Alistair Gravel.

“So that’s what you look like,” she said finally. “What happened to you, Alistair? Why did you disappear? And why are your old friends Benjamin and Elizabeth so sure that you’re dead?”

SEVEN

OFFENSIVE CLOTHING

JC stood at the very front of the stage, looking out over the empty auditorium and bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. He was enjoying this case so far. Lots of clues, lots of entertaining weird shit, and, best of all, he had no idea what the hell was going on. JC always enjoyed a challenge. Something fiendishly complicated, and horribly fiendish, to test his smarts and his courage. JC never felt more alive than when jousting with death. More so these days because he had nothing else. Kim had been his reason for living; and with her gone, he had to find something else to fill his thoughts, to keep him from thinking about her.

He’d seen her here. In the theatre. That had to mean something.

“So,” said Lissa, coming forward to stand right beside him, “here we are, alone on the stage together, just the
two of us. That has to mean something…Why did you choose me as your partner and send everyone else away, I wonder?”

“Almost certainly not for the reason you’re thinking,” said JC, turning unhurriedly around to smile at her. “Now that Benjamin and Elizabeth are gone, let us take the opportunity to talk about them behind their backs. How well do you know them?”

Lissa shrugged briefly. “They hired me to be in their play, for really good money. What more do I need to know?”

“You must have made some inquiries before you agreed to take on the role,” said JC. “You must have heard something…”

“Well, one always
hears
things, sweetie. No-one loves a good gossip more than the acting profession. For us, adoration and backbiting are but two sides of the same coin. I did hear that this play was jinxed…A lot of people in my business wouldn’t touch it with a disinfected barge-pole. And not simply because it died the death in its first and only run. The original male lead in the play, all those years ago, was supposed to be one Alistair Gravel. Except he didn’t get to be the lead, did he?”

JC nodded. “I remember Benjamin and Elizabeth saying he died, in an accident.”

“Which is very interesting,” said Lissa. “Because I was told Alistair Gravel up and disappeared. Vanished, between one rehearsal and the next. And he was never found again, dead or alive. Not one trace of him anywhere, in the last twenty years, which is a bit odd, sweetie, for such
an up-and-coming, talented young actor. Wouldn’t you say?”

JC considered her thoughtfully. “You didn’t take this role because your agent advised you to, did you?”

Lissa laughed softly. “No. I came here because I wanted to find out what really did happen to my uncle Alistair. I grew up listening to stories about his mysterious disappearance, so when my agent got the offer, to be in a play so unlucky they have to attach a rabbit’s foot to every script to get people to read it…I jumped at the chance. My agent still isn’t talking to me. I think dear Benjamin and Elizabeth know a lot more than they’re saying. I think they know what happened here, all those years ago. If we can persuade them to talk.”

JC raised an eyebrow. “‘We,’ dear lady?”

“You want to know what’s behind the haunting in this theatre,” said Lissa, with an artless toss of her head. “And it’s my belief that all these spooky manifestations are directly connected to the missing Alistair Gravel.”

“Seems likely,” said JC, in his best
I’m giving away nothing at this time
voice. “Every haunting, every bad place, has its starting point—its beginning, in some dramatic moment. And its power source. Ghosts…are all about unfinished business.” He looked steadily at Lissa. “Do you think your missing uncle Alistair is the ghost here? That he’s behind everything that’s happening?”

“Seems likely,” said Lissa. “Robbed of his chance for fame and glory at the very last moment? Struck down on the brink of stardom? Has to be.”

BOOK: Ghost of a Dream
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