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Authors: Phil Rickman

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The Smile of a Ghost

BOOK: The Smile of a Ghost
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Smile of a Ghost

PHIL RICKMAN was born in Lancashire and lives on the Welsh border. He is the author of the Merrily Watkins series and
The Bones of Avalon
. He has won awards for his TV and radio journalism and writes and presents the book programme
Phil the Shelf
for BBC Radio Wales.




The Wine of Angels

Midwinter of the Spirit

A Crown of Lights

The Cure of Souls

The Lamp of the Wicked

The Prayer of the Night Shepherd

The Smile of a Ghost

The Remains of an Altar

The Fabric of Sin

To Dream of the Dead

The Secrets of Pain


The Bones of Avalon




The Man in the Moss


The Chalice

First published in Great Britain in 2005 by Macmillan.

This paperback edition first published in the UK in 2012 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Phil Rickman, 2005.

The moral right of Phil Rickman to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-0-85789-015-3 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-85789-022-1 (eBook)

Printed in Great Britain.

An imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd
Ormond House
26-27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ

The Smile of a Ghost


PART ONE: Robbie

1. Into the Loop

2. Vice-rage

3. Pebbles

4. Routine Pastoral

5. Saturday Sun

6. On the Slippery Slope

7. I’ll Be Waiting

8. Imbalance

9. The Bishop’s Tale

10. Leave God Out of It

11. Nightshades

12. Esoteric

PART TWO: Jemmie

13. Extreme

14. Black Poppies

15. Ghost-Walk

16. Kindred Spirit

17. Outcast

18. Departure Lounge

19. The Joy of Death

20. Old Ludlow

21. Tradition

22. Stepmother

23. Duality


24. Ancient Incense

25. His Element

26. The Mix

27. Carrying a Light

28. Tonguing the Yew

29. All the Big Words

30. Victim

31. Smoke

32. Media Studies

33. Lift Shaft into Heaven


34. Old Stock

35. A Resort for the Dead

36. The Legend

37. Like in the Belfry

38. Like

39. Raw Madness


40. Heavier Than You Know


41. Big Bump


42. Like Heat

43. Nobody but God

44. Lab Rat

45. Marion

46. Gridiron

47. Point of Transition

48. Running Through the Town

49. An Intimate Eternity

50. Dead Person Watching


who’d told Mumford, It’s a new beginning.

All the beaming faces blurred by pint glasses frosted with froth, all the damp handshakes. Mumford mumbling, Ah, thanks… thank you… very nice… ’course I will… No, I won’t be going nowhere… yes… no… thank you.

Andy Mumford, who didn’t see the point of new beginnings – complete waste of half a lifetime’s experience. Andy Mumford who had just wanted to carry on.

The way this town had carried on: the oldest town he knew – or at least the one that looked oldest. Bent and sagging, and people loved it for that, and nobody looked up at the crooked gables and the worm-riddled beams and said, What this old place needs is A New Beginning.

Mumford felt a gassy fury inside, like in one of the first-ever pictures he could remember – in a children’s encyclopaedia, it was, and it showed the inside of a volcano close to eruption. How many years ago was that now – forty-four, forty-five? God almighty.

Not that anybody would ever know about the volcano in Mumford. Not showing it was the one thing he was real good at. Not showing his excitement when the suspect in the interview room said the wrong thing at the right time, springing the trap. Not showing what he really wanted to do to the rat-eyed rapist with a cellar full of porno videos. Never showing his feelings because he was a professional and because he was…

… imperturbable.

Clumsy old word, bit of a mouthful, but probably the nicest thing anybody ever said about him in all those years in the Job. And that was all right. Imperturbable implied solid, reliable… professional.

Only, what bloody use was being totally professional when you didn’t have a profession any more? What use was imperturbable ever going to be to him again?

Mumford walked up Broad Street, Ludlow, which some folk maintained was the most beautiful street in the most beautiful medieval market town in the country, and it might as well have been a semi-derelict industrial estate for all he noticed.

Warmish evening now, Easter just gone and the town coming alive for the tourists, everybody’s world opening up, Mumford’s closing down. What would he do, day to day, through the summer? And then the autumn and the winter and then another year. Another thirty years, if he was spared. The length of his career all over again. Thirty years of what’s the point?

He reached the top of the wide street, across from the Buttercross, the old market building with its fancy little clock, behind it the tower of St Laurence’s soaring over a tight mesh of streets and alleys. The whole scene warm and golden. Andy Mumford feeling as warm and golden, frankly, as shit.

Ludlow wasn’t his town, mind. Mumford came from Leominster, back in Herefordshire, a dozen or so miles down the A49. It was just that his Mam and Dad had moved here to take over a little shop after the old man retired from the Force (‘Why don’t you get yourself a little shop, Andy?’ some bastard had said in the pub; Andy could’ve nutted him) and now Gail was working part-time as an auxiliary nurse at Ludlow Community Hospital.

Because Gail was still a professional.

For probably the first time ever, Mumford had brought his wife to work this morning and he’d come back now – after what had to have been the longest day of his entire life – to pick her up. Tonight they were going to have a meal at one of the fancy new restaurants that had opened up here.

A celebration meal. A couple of extra glasses of wine for him because Gail would be driving them home. A toast to a new beginning. A meal they wouldn’t normally think of affording in the town that, with all these new eateries, had become the Food Capital of the Welsh Marches – Mumford conceding that, for the town, this probably did, in fact, qualify as a new beginning. Always been prosperous, but it had real wealth now, all these poncy-voiced bastards moving up from London with their silver knives and forks.

Mumford glared, with this new resentment, at the little shops with their blinds down and the dark windows of the Buttercross where the town councillors met and patted each other on the back and swapped the odd Masonic handshake.

He was in his best suit, the suit he’d last worn to collect his commendation from the Chief Constable, and Gail had brought to work some nice clothes to change into at his Mam and Dad’s house down the bottom of town, behind the new Tesco’s.

Which was why Mumford was walking uptown… trying to get himself into the right mood to face his Mam and his bloody Dad for the first time since the Home Office had officially repossessed his warrant card. Needing to sound a bit jovial from now on, on account of
was no longer enough to see him through. He was expected to become a member of the human race. To become Andy.

Andy, the dumpy, middle-aged, genial, smiling, bastard civilian.

We’ll likely be seeing a bit more of you at last, then, Andy
, Mam had said the other night on the phone.
You can do a bit of decorating for us, if you want to. And Robbie, he wants to show you all his favourite places in the town, don’t you, Robbie? He’s nodding, see. He’s always saying when’s Uncle Andy coming?

Robbie, his young nephew, his sister’s boy from Hereford, who preferred to spend the school holidays with his grandparents in Ludlow, even though his grandad despised him.

I’ll be getting some kind of job
, Mumford had snapped back.
En’t that old yet

Guessing that when he got there tonight she’d have forgotten he was even retired. In any other job he wouldn’t have been. If he’d just been a bit more ambitious in the early years, if he’d pushed a bit more, he could’ve made Inspector and stayed on till he was sixty. But he was a plodder, and the plodders didn’t get promoted and so they were forced into retirement at fifty. And everybody thought that, being plodders, they were looking forward to it: crown-green bowls, growing sprouts, bloody line-dancing.

Surprisingly, the only bit of understanding had come from Francis Bliss, his last boss, who was fifteen years younger and, as a senior officer, still had another twenty-odd years to serve if he wanted it.

CID room, Mumford’s last morning, Bliss frowning.

This is all to cock, this system, Andy. We just throw away our best natural resources, like pressing the fuckin’ delete button on thirty years of database.

He’d respected Bliss for that. Realized how much he’d come to respect Bliss as a detective, too, despite him being a smart-mouth from Merseyside. Knew that when the time came, unless the world was a very different place by then, Bliss – never a man you’d call imperturbable – would go out cursing.


Mumford looked up at the hard, shiny evening sky, ready to curse God.

But God got in first.

God pulled the rug from under the slippers that Mumford was never going to wear.

He was turning the corner to walk up to Castle Square when he heard it coming up behind him, a sound that used to make his blood race but now seemed more like a taunt, and he wanted to shut it out. The way this morning he’d punched in the button on his alarm clock – which he’d routinely set without a thought last night – and then lain there staring into the white-skied emptiness of a new day.

BOOK: The Smile of a Ghost
4.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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