All text and photos © Louise Marley unless otherwise stated Site Design: Seaweed Hut
PC Shelby Roberts had never believed in ghosts. She had never believed in vampires, the Loch Ness Monster or little green men from Mars. But at midnight on Halloween, in a crumbling four-hundred-year-old house, it was incredibly easy to forget what one didn’t believe in and suddenly think of a whole lot of things in which one did.
Yew Tree Hall would have given Wes Craven nightmares, decided Shelby, as she paced the master bedroom, cursing the elderly heating system which rattled like a smoker’s cough behind the ubiquitous oak panelling. Every time a colleague downstairs clicked a light switch, the whole house dimmed. And, as an owl swooped amongst the chimneys, screaming like a banshee, the police dogs prowling the gardens began to howl in chorus.
In dire need of a large brandy and a whole bottle of Prozac, Shelby would have felt a lot safer armed with a crucifix and holy water instead of her standard-issue police firearm. Particularly as, at that very moment, the bedroom door smashed open behind her, accompanied by a rush of frozen air.
Shelby spun round, swinging her gun up against her shoulder, aiming it into the dark chasm beyond. “Who the hell is that?”
Sergeant Rackham stepped out of the shadows and eyed her balefully. “The technical phrase is, ‘Armed police, stop or I’ll shoot’.”
She quickly lowered her gun before he could see it was trembling. “Sorry, sir. This place has got me spooked.”
“If you can’t hack it, I’ll get someone else.”
Sergeant Rackham suddenly and surprisingly grinned, floodlighting his Mount Rushmore features. He was the sort of lean, almost emaciated man who would always look good in the dark overalls of the Tactical Firearms Team. Although Shelby sometimes felt he would be better suited to a black Stetson.
“Don’t let the place get to you, Shelby. It’s only a house, not the Bates Motel.”
Only an old haunted house, she thought caustically. Where its Elizabethan owner had been sealed up, alive, inside this very room - and had been leaping out of the woodwork from spite ever since. But she waited for her sergeant to leave before she wiped the sweating handle of the gun on her uniform, and attempted to pull herself together.
There was another blood-curdling scream. What the hell was that? Shelby bit on her lip to stop herself harmonising. She had no wish for Sergeant Rackham to come thundering back up the staircase, expecting at the very least to find her brutally murdered with her entrails draped all over the furniture.
She crept over to the window to investigate, pulling the dusty curtains apart an inch, praying that they wouldn’t fall to bits in her hand. But the terrace below was silent, save for some furtive scurrying in the shrubbery. The scream must have been the owl after a mouse.
As the building settled down to an uneasy silence, Shelby sank wearily onto the four-poster bed. After three years pounding the beat, why the hell had she picked Firearms for her first major posting - when she could have been chasing sports cars along the motorway, or helping little old ladies across the road, instead of guarding an eccentric movie producer from his imaginary hitman?
As the clock struck midnight, and Shelby’s head began to nod from sheer boredom, a shadowy figure glided through the panelled wall opposite.
Shelby jumped to her feet. “Armed officer!” she bellowed - and then realised she no longer had the gun. It lay glinting conspicuously on the bed behind her, exactly where she had left it. She carried on speaking in an authoritative voice and hoped the intruder would not notice the gun. “Put your hands in the air where I can see them and move slowly into the light!”
A short chubby man obligingly padded towards her. He was certainly too well-fed to be a ghost. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” he grinned.
Shelby was not amused. “How the hell did you walk through that wall?”
“Walk through - ” he broke into laughter. “Did you think I was a ghost?” More hysteria. She was tempted to put a bullet through him just to shut him up. “It’s the servant’s staircase. I came in the back way - didn’t want to bother any of those nice young fellows out front.”
Shelby realised she was talking to the owner of Yew Tree Hall. “What are you doing here, Mr Wohlberg? You’re supposed to be at the safe house.”
“I left some paperwork behind. I explained the situation to some young lad called PC Wells and he escorted me here. Such a nice polite boy.”
Bloody PC Wells! He’d never thought to radio her.
Oscar Wohlberg was looking her up and down in a rather familiar fashion. “Say, you’re rather small for a police officer … ”
“And where’s your gun?” he continued relentlessly. “I thought you were one of the Firearms Squad?”
“Tactical Firearms Team,” she snapped. “I am. And my gun is right - ”
“Here?” he grinned, picking it up and squinting down the viewfinder.
Damn! “Yes, that’s my gun, Mr Wohlberg. Please let me have it back.”
“It’s big, isn’t it?” He flicked the muzzle up towards the ceiling and inspected it. “It looks like a sub-machine gun. Have you shot anyone with it?”
No, but give me a couple of minutes. “Mr Wohlberg, I beg you, please hand me the gun. It’s loaded, it’s dangerous; I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
Her fingers tightened over her radio to call for back-up, but she hesitated. One wrong word from her and he would think it a huge joke to pull the trigger and blast a hole through the wall behind her.
“Put your hands in the air and gimme all your money,” smirked Oscar.
Shelby began to edge towards him. “Mr Wohlberg … ”
Oscar slid his finger through the trigger guard and attempted to rotate the gun. It might have worked for Doc Holliday but Oscar’s fingers were far too pudgy. Shelby threw herself on the floor just as an explosion lacerated her ears. Oscar screamed and staggered backwards, sliding down the bed and crumpling onto the dusty wooden floor.
Cautiously Shelby lifted her head and saw Oscar lying flat out. Oh my God, he’d shot himself! Her heart frantically beating a bass rhythm on her ribs, she levered herself on to her elbows and crawled slowly towards his motionless body. Scooping up the discarded gun, at once making it safe, she sprang back to her feet and leant over Oscar, resisting the temptation to prod him with her toe. It was her fault after all. If she hadn’t left the Heckler & Koch on the bed, he would never have been able to play Gunfight At The OK Corral with it.
“Please don’t be dead,” she muttered, undoing his shirt, revealing a large expanse of hairy chest. He seemed to be breathing all right. And there was not the smallest drop of blood. It seemed Oscar had just fainted from the shock.
She stood up and tried to remember the firing line. The floorboards were OK, no bullet holes there. The ornate plaster ceiling, too, was unmarked. Shelby slowly followed the line across towards the mantelpiece, carefully stepping over Oscar’s prostrate body. Running her fingers lightly across the pale stone surround, she couldn’t see any new marks, although there were plenty of old ones. And it didn’t look as though anyone had dusted the mantelpiece for a while either.
In the centre of the mantelpiece, lying on its side, was a gold statue. A little golden man, all hard and angular, standing on a plinth, leaning on a sword. Solid gold? Shelby picked it up, feeling the weight of the thing. Plate, she scoffed - and then realised the head was missing, as though someone had … blasted it clean away? Slowly, returning it to the mantelpiece, she looked again at the panelling over the fireplace.
Just behind where the statue had stood was a jagged hole. Shelby grinned. The only thing Oscar had shot had been … his Oscar.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love
She was supposed to keep him out of trouble ...
When Shelby Roberts is forced to resign from the police, the only work she can get is as a ‘minder’ to movie star Luke McFadden. Still, spending three weeks on location in the historic city of Bath doesn’t sound too bad.
After all, how much trouble can one actor get into?