At two there came a visitor. None other than Wong himself. He called me on my mobile from Giddy Up, the coffee stall in Fortune Street Park and summoned me there. He didn’t want to enter Taylor Wimpey‘s The Denizen luxury apartment block and so demanded I meet him across the road.
‘You must not stay here ignorant of the rumours that are afloat,’ he said. ‘Of course, when I let the place to Fong I knew nothing of the open door. I had no idea there was any ghost story connected with The Denizen, or I should have kept the place empty.’
He wanted to know what had I seen? What did I think of the matter? Very honestly I told him I did not know what to say. The door certainly would not remain shut and there seemed no human agency to account for its persistent opening; but then on the other hand, ghosts generally did not tamper with firearms, and my pistol, though not loaded, had been tampered with. I was sure of that.
My companion listened attentively. ‘You are not frightened, are you?’ he enquired at length.
‘Not now,’ I answered. ‘The door did give me a start last evening but I am not afraid of that since I find someone else is afraid of a bullet.’
He did not answer for a minute. Then he said: ‘I have a theory about the open door. After I bought the flat I put my cousin Fu in it when he came for a short visit to London. He was murdered in that room, the door will never stay shut till the killer is punished.’
‘Murdered!’ I did not like the word at all. It made me feel chill and uncomfortable.
‘Yes he was murdered sitting in his chair and the assassin has never been discovered. At first some were inclined to believe that I killed him. Indeed many are of that opinion still.’
‘There is not a word of truth in that story is there?’
He laid his hand on my shoulder as he said: ‘Not a word. I loved the man tenderly. It was last summer. The concierge was aroused by a fearful scream. It was my cousin’s death-cry. He had been stabbed from behind in the neck. He was seated in his chair writing an email to me. But for that I might have found it harder to clear myself than was the case. For his solicitors came forward and said he had signed a will leaving all his great wealth to me unconditionally only three days previously. That supplied the motive as Fu’s wife’s lawyer put it. His widow was very vindictive, spared no expense in trying to prove my guilt, and said openly she would never rest till she saw justice done, if it cost her the whole of her fortune. The thing is Fu was due to take the signed will to his solicitors on the day he was murdered and now it has disappeared. And there’s one other odd thing, I discovered by chance only today that Fong who took out the lease on the flat right after my cousin died has been having an affair with Fu’s young and very pretty widow for the past two years.’
Wong went away and I returned to The Denizen. I stayed in the luxury flat all day, devoting myself solely and exclusively to that door.
If I shut it once, I shut it a hundred times and always with the same result. No mater what I did it swung wide open. But never when I was looking at it. So long as I kept an eye on it, the door stayed shut. The instant I turned my back, it stood open.
About four o’clock I had another visitor. None other than Wong’s daughter. She was in her late teens and dressed like a juvenile delinquent. She had the cutest snarl you ever saw.
‘Papa sent me with this,’ she said. ‘He would not trust any other messenger.’
She put a piece of paper in my hand: ‘Keep your food under lock and key; buy what you require yourself. Drink only bottled water, never take any from the tap even for making tea or coffee. If you want anything my daughter will see to it.’
Why, I cannot explain but before I went to bed that night I drove a gimlet hard into the floor and said to the door: ‘Now I am keeping you open.’
When I went down in the morning the door was close shut and the handle of the gimlet broken off short, lying on the floor.
I put my hand to wipe my forehead. It was dripping with perspiration. I did not know what to make of the place at all! I went out into the open air for a few minutes, when I returned the door again stood wide.
If I were to pursue in detail the days and nights that followed, I should weary my listeners. I can only say they changed my life. The solitude, the solemnity, the mystery, produced an effect I do not profess to understand, but that I cannot regret. I have hesitated about writing of the end, but it must come, so let me hasten to it.
Though feeling convinced that no human agency did or could keep the door open, I was certain that some living person had means of access to the apartment which I could not discover, This was made apparent in trifles which might well have escaped unnoticed had several, or even two people occupied the flat, but that in my solitary position it was impossible to overlook. A chair would be misplaced, for instance; my papers were moved; my clothes touched. When I went out and while I was asleep, someone wandered through the apartment. One morning, very early indeed, I spied a hairpin lying close beside the open door.
What an idiot I had been! If I wanted to solve the mystery of the open door, I must keep watch in the room itself. The door would not stay wide unless there was a reason for it, and most certainly a hairpin could not have got into the house without assistance.
I made up my mind what I should do. I would get up early and take up my position about the hour I had hitherto gone to the Giddy Up stall to buy coffee. I felt on the eve of a discovery and longed for the day to pass, so that the night might come.
It was a lovely morning and when I came back there was a basket outside the apartment door. It was filled with rare and beautiful fruit and flowers. I was very fond of fruit in those days, and seeing a card addressed to me, I instantly selected a tempting peach and ate it a little greedily perhaps.
I had barely swallowed the last morsel when Wong’s caution recurred to me. The fruit had a curious flavour, there was a strange taste hanging about my palate. For a moment, sky, trees and park swam before my eyes. Then I made up my mind what to do. I smelt the fruit, it had all the same faint odour. Then I put some in my pocket and took the basket and locked it away. I got an emergency appointment with a doctor in Half Moon Court. Rather cross at me for wasting his time, he was at first inclined to dismiss my idea. But I made him cut open a pear and satisfy himself the fruit had been tampered with.
‘It is fortunate you stopped at the first peach,’ he remarked after giving me a draught and a prescription for some medicine to get from a chemist. I was advised to keep in the open air as much as possible. ‘I should like to retain this fruit and see you again tomorrow.’
When I checked my phone I found a text from Wong. The contents of his message greatly surprised me. He said he had sold the apartment with a few weeks of the lease still running on it and that I should vacate the place at once. Wong paid me a thousand pounds via PayPal and said I should return the keys either to him or the concierge.
‘I do not think I shall leave The Denizen yet,’ I said to myself as I put my phone away. ‘Before I go I should like to make things hot for whoever tried to poison me.’
The concierge had disappeared. I hadn’t seen him for days, so I had the excuse there was no one to return the keys to until I either got hold of this functionary or Wong. I can’t say I was surprised the concierge seemed to be bunking off work since aside from me there was literally nobody else in The Denizen.
I felt ill and languid. Fancy was no doubt to a great degree responsible for these sensations, but the poison must have been a factor too. I had lost energy in a most unaccountable manner. The long, lonely days had told upon my spirits. The fidgety feeling which took me a hundred times to look upon the open door, to close it, and to count how many steps I could take before it opened again, had tried my mental strength as a perpetual blister might have worn away my physical. In no sense was I fit for the task I had set myself of keeping watch that night and yet I was determined to go through with it. Why had I never before decided to watch in that mysterious chamber? Had I been at the bottom of my heart afraid? In the bravest of us there are depths of cowardice that lurk unsuspected till they engulf our courage.
The day wore on and evening approached. The night shadows closed over The Denizen. Aside from the rumble of traffic everything was still as death. This luxury apartment development had never before seemed to me so silent and so deserted.
I felt a thrill of terror as I sat down in the dark in the master bedroom of that cursed Denizen ghost home. Before I settled I’d shut the door and locked it. I paused and listened. The night was still and sultry as though a storm were brewing.
The hours passed slowly. The moon came and looked in at the windows and then sailed away to the west. I seemed to myself a mere collection of nerves. Every part of my body appeared to be twitching. It was agony to remain still. The desire to move became a form of torture. Morning at last! Had ever anyone before so welcomed the dawn? It was the morning twilight, soon the sun would rise, soon my awful vigil would be over, and yet I was no nearer the mystery than before.
Hush! What was that? It had come. After the hours of watching and waiting, after the long night and the long suspense, it came in a moment. The locked door opened suddenly and silently. I had barely had time to crawl under the bed and hide myself, before I saw a woman in the room. She was searching my chamber looking for something. She opened the locked built in cupboard and began tipping the papers that were piled up inside it all over the floor. I guessed she was Fu’s widow and was searching for his will. I crawled out from under the bed, had her in my grasp but she tore herself away. She hit, scratched, kicked. Shifting her body as though she had not a bone in it, she slipped free and ran wildly towards the door. I rushed across the room and just caught her dress as she was on the threshold. My blood was up and I dragged her back. She had the strength of twenty devils and struggled hard. I held her beneath me. She turned and twisted and slipped about like a snake, but I did not feel pain or anything except a deadly horror lest my strength should give out.
Could I hold out much longer? She made one desperate plunge. I felt the grasp with which I held her slackening. She felt it too and seizing her advantage tore herself free. I was blocking the doorway so the woman I took to be Fu’s widow leapt through the window and fell to her death. I could not explain to the police what I was doing in the apartment. The authorisation letter I’d received from Wong had disappeared as mysteriously as my phone and the concierge. When I was charged with murder and appeared in court, Wong himself testified that while he owned the apartment, he’d never given me permission to stay there and that I must have stolen a spare set of keys that had been kept in our office. The woman I’d taken to be Fu’s widow turned out to be a common prostitute. None of the incidents I’d experienced in Golden Lane made any sense as the jail doors slammed behind me after I’d been given a life sentence with a minimum term of 30 years. The papers portrayed me as some kind of sex fiend but that’s simply not true.