Some people do not believe in ghosts. Some people do not believe in anything, not even democracy. There are persons who even affect incredulity concerning an open door at Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development in Golden Lane. They say it did not stand wide open, that they could have shut it. That the whole affair was a delusion, that they are sure it must have been a conspiracy. That they are doubtful whether there is such a place as The Denizen on the face of the earth. That next time they are in the City of London they will look it up.
I am going to tell what happened to me exactly as it happened. Before going on I ought to declare there was a time when I did not believe in ghosts either. But at this rate the story of the Deaths At The Denizen will never be told. So we will plunge into it immediately.
‘What do you want?’
‘Would you like to earn a dirty dollar?’
‘Of course I should.’
A somewhat curt dialogue but we were given to curtness in the office of Woo, Wong & Wang, an estate agent in the Bunhill ward of Islington.
My name is not Sandy or anything like it but the other clerks called me that because I looked even less like a Scotsman than they did. I admit I was not handsome. Far from it. The only ugly specimen in my family, I knew I was very plain and I felt grievously discontented with my lot. Still I did not like being taken for a gweilo.
‘I can tell you how to lay hands on a whole load of mean greens.’ Lee one of my seniors informed me.
‘How?’ I asked sulkily for I felt he was having what he called his fun.
‘You know that ghost flat we let to Fong, the tea-dealer?’ Fong was a very rich merchant but I did not correct Lee’s expression, I simply nodded.
‘He has it on a lease and he can’t live in it. Our governor said this morning he wouldn’t mind giving anybody who could find out what the deuce is the matter a few bucks.’
‘Where is the place?’ I asked.
‘Nearby in Golden Lane, the City end right by The Barbican.’
‘And what is the matter?’ I further enquired.
‘A door that won’t keep shut.’
‘A door that stays open, if you prefer that way of putting it,’ said Lee.
‘If I am, Fong is not, or Wong. Fong came here in a nice passion and Wong was in a fine rage. I could see he was though he kept his temper outwardly. They have had an active email exchange it appears and Fong went away to talk to his lawyer. Won’t make much by that move I fancy. Anyway that was months ago.’
‘But tell me,’ I entreated, ‘why the door won’t keep shut?’
‘They say the place is haunted.’
‘What nonsense!’ I exclaimed.
‘Then you are just the person to take the ghost in hand. I thought so while Wong was speaking.’
‘If the door won’t keep shut,’ I remarked pursuing my own train of thought, ‘why can’t they let it stay open?’
‘I’ve not the slightest idea. I only know there is money to be made.’
And having thus spoken, Lee took down his hat and went out, either upon his own business or that of our employer.
My salary was low and hard to live on. So Lee’s words about there being money in The Denizen stayed with me. I wanted moolah badly. Fancy is a dangerous little jade to flirt with as I soon discovered.
I thought of the amount of money Fong paid for his luxury apartment in The Denizen. I decided he would gladly give more than a month’s rent if he could only have the ghost exorcised. I was determined to speak to Wong on the subject. I told Wong that if he had no objection, I would like to try and solve the mystery. I told him I did not believe in ghosts and as for burglars, I was not afraid of them.
‘I don’t mind your trying,’ he said at last. ‘Of course you understand it is no cure, no pay. Stay in the apartment for a week. If at the end of that time you can keep the door shut, locked, bolted, or nailed up, I shall pay you well for your trouble. Fong’s lease runs out soon and he won’t renew it. He’s already used a lawyer to try and get out of paying what he still owes me but he won’t try that again.’
I borrowed a pistol from a gangbanging friend. It was a lovely afternoon when I found myself walking down Golden Lane and crossing the border between Islington and the City of London. With every vein of my heart I loved the city and the city was looking its best just then in bright sunshine.
When I got to The Denizen I showed my authorisation to the concierge and received the keys to Fong’s flat.
‘You are not going to stop up in The Denizen alone are you sir?’ he asked.
‘Yes I am,’ I answered uncompromisingly. So uncompromisingly that he said no more.
Wong had not given me any instructions by which to identify the ghostly chamber but it turned out to be the master bedroom. I knew nothing of the story connected with it, if there were a story. I had as little mental as actual luggage. I’d bought a holdall of food and a small backpack with spare clothes. Regarding the mystery I was perfectly unencumbered. I had not the faintest idea what the back story to the ghost was.
I looked at the bedroom doors. All three stood open, one wide, the other two slightly ajar.
‘I’ll just shut them as a beginning,’ I thought, ‘before I sit down.’
The doors were heavy. After I had closed them I tried them. They were quite secure. I went out onto the balcony. There was a good view of Fortune Street Park but it was in shadow as The Denizen blocked sunlight from reaching it.
I must have been sitting on a chair on the balcony for hours. The evening shadows were drawing on apace, so I hurried back into the living room, feeling it was weird to be there all alone with every one of the other 98 apartments in The Denizen unoccupied. I knew these were ghost homes that the owners had bought as investments and not to live in, but even so it seemed odd that besides me there was only the concierge in the building. The sun had sunk below the horizon by this time. With my own eyes I saw that one of the doors I had shut was standing wide open!
I turned to the other two bedroom doors. They were closed as I had left them. It was the master bedroom door that had moved. For a second I stood appalled and frightened. That did not last long however. There lay the work I had desired to undertake, the foe I had offered to fight. So without more ado I shut the door.
‘Now I will walk to the front door and see what happens,’ I said to myself. I walked across the living room and when I turned around the door stood wide open.
I went into the master bedroom and pulled up the blinds. It contained a bed, a dresser and two chairs. There was a fitted cupboard that had been bolted shut. I considered that odd. I left the bedroom, shut the door and turned the key in the lock. I noticed there were bolts on the outside of the door so I shut them too. I walked across the living room, turned around and found the door stood wide open once more.
‘Stay open then!’ I cried in fury. ‘I won’t trouble myself any more with you tonight!’
Almost as I spoke the words, there came a ring on the entry system. Given my nervous state the peal startled me beyond expression. It turned out to be Fong’s cleaning lady, the concierge had told her I was in the apartment and she thought it best to ring up before she came in. Once she’d done her duties she felt bold enough to ask me a direct question.
‘Are you going to stop here all alone?’
‘All alone,’ I answered with as much cheerfulness as was possible under the circumstances.
‘That’s the room, you know,’ she said, nodding in the direction of the open door, and dropping her voice to a whisper.
‘Yes, I know,’ I replied.
‘You’ve been trying to shut it already haven’t you! You’re a game one!’ And with this complementary if not very respectful comment she hastened out of the apartment. Evidently she had no intention of proffering her services towards the solution of the mystery.
I cast one glance at the door. It stood wide open. Through the windows I had left bare to the night, moonlight was beginning to stream cold and silvery. I decided to go for a walk.
‘Look here, Sandy,’ I said to myself, ‘life’s not child’s play. That door is just the trouble you have now to face and you must face it! But for that door you would never have been here. I hope you are not going to turn coward the very first night. Courage! The door is your enemy, conquer it.’
‘I will try,’ my other self answered back. ‘I can but try. I can but fail.’
As I stood by the locked gate of Fortune Street Park a woman engaged me in conversation. She asked me if I was the ghost buster who’d come to sort things out at The Denizen. When I answered yes she told me she wouldn’t spend the night in that cursed apartment building for a million pounds. Then she left me standing outside the locked park.
What was that? I heard a noise in a shrubbery close at hand. Something shot out and darted into cover across the street. I followed but I could catch never a glimpse of it.
When I got into Fong’s Denizen apartment the moon’s beams were streaming down into it. For all the world the flat seemed to me like something in a dream, but I was tired and sleepy and decided I would not trouble myself about the open door till the next morning. I would go to sleep.
I tried to sleep in the smallest bedroom. I attempted to rest but chanced to lay my hand on my pistol. It was wet. I touched the floor. It was wet too.
The next morning broke clear and bright. I was up with the lark. I went down to talk to the concierge and said I was afraid my staying in Fong’s Denizen flat would cause him trouble.
‘No sir,’ he answered profuse in his expressions of gratitude. ‘At least Fong’s girlfriend won’t be around to bother me while you’re in the flat. She doesn’t like speaking to anyone who can understand her. She prefers to rant in broken English. She doesn’t like being contradicted by those who can argue with her in Cantonese.’
‘Fong is dead?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘stabbed in the back about a month ago and the cops don’t have a single lead to go on!’
‘And where is his girlfriend staying?’ I persisted.
‘Dance Square. Go north up Golden Lane and cross Old Street. It’s on the left side of Central Street.’
I hurried back to the apartment and checked my phone. There was a text from Wong. The gist of it was: ‘Spare no expense; if you run short of money call me for more.’
I spent the forenoon considering that door. I looked at it from within and from without. I eyed it critically. I wanted to know if there was any reason why it should fly open, and I found that so long as I remained on the threshold it remained closed. If I walked even so far away as the opposite side of the room, it swung wide. Well before two o’clock I confess I was baffled.