Rare Sight

Hi! Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoy 'Rare Sight', which I loved writing - I've already written an early draft of the next book in the series. And now for the blurb: Joe Simmonds didn't ask to see spirits. It doesn't help that a teenage ghost called Georgia turns up, claiming to be the aunt he didn't know he had - and that she was murdered.
Add in a vengeful dead grandfather, an unscrupulous spirit trader and a couple of nasty murders, and Joe has a hard time just staying alive, as he learns what Rare Sight is, and how to use it.
Cover design by the talented Mark Dyball (though I've spoilt it by cropping!); image copyright Dundanim/Dreamstime

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12. Chapter Twelve

Sebastian vanished immediately.

“Was that a good idea?” Joe asked his mum.

She shrugged. “I don’t care,” she said. “I’m sick to death of being bullied and spending my whole time feeling scared. I don’t know if I’m going to get back from work to see my family sitting chatting in the kitchen, or to find they’re all missing and there’s a message for me scrawled on the walls in their blood. If Stuart Tansley wants to deal with me, he’ll have to do it face to face.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“No, but I bet Gideon can track him down.” She said the name ‘Gideon’ as if it was a swear word. She started rummaging in her bag and pulled out her mobile phone. “Right, let’s see if your father wants to help us.” She dialled his gran’s number and waited for someone to pick up at the other end. “Mum,” she said at last, “No, no, I’m fine. But I need to speak to Gideon.” There was a long pause, then Joe heard Gideon’s voice booming from the other end. He was one of those people who wouldn’t be able to speak quietly if they were at a librarian’s funeral. “Gideon,” said his mum. “I need you to track down Stuart Tansley.” There was the sound of Gideon’s voice again, and Joe distinctly heard the word, “dangerous”. Then his mum said, “I don’t care, Gideon. That weasel of a man needs to learn that bullying will, in the end, always come back to haunt him.”

“Right,” she said, turning to Joe and putting her phone back in her bag. “That’s sorted. Gideon’s on his way.”

They sat in silence for about ten minutes, until Gideon’s battered red Beetle stopped in the road just ahead of them. His mum signalled and pulled out, following Gideon through the centre of town. After a while, the shops gave way to houses, then high-rise apartment blocks, and then the roads emptied of vehicles and they were driving past abandoned warehouses and factories, with holes in the roof and graffiti on the walls. There was no one around, and the wind swept across the area, buffeting the car. Joe shivered, wishing he’d grabbed his coat on his way out of the house. They must be near the estuary, but it was a part of Runchester Joe had never visited before.

“Mum?” he said.

“Yes, love?”

“Well, what if this Tanner bloke gets vicious? I mean, what if he’s got a gun? Or a knife? What if he’s got men – you know, like bodyguards or something?”

“Hmm? Oh – yes, I suppose he might have.”

“Mum, are you even listening? What if we’re driving straight into a trap?”

“Joseph, would you look in my bag?”

He sighed and reached for the overloaded bag which she’d planted at his feet. “What am I looking for?”

“Just look inside.”

He sighed again and began to rummage through the familiar contents – her wallet, a wad of shredded tissues, her phone… and then he stopped short. His hand had landed on something cold and hard. “Mum, what is this?”

“You know what it is, Joe.”

He looked at her, and saw that her face was resolute. He looked back down, at the black shiny steel barrel that was now pointing out from among the clutter.

“But Mum – a gun?”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“You what?”

“You heard me.”

“I… no, of course not. Look, have I entered some alternative universe or something? I thought you were my mum. You know, anti-guns, anti-drugs, anti-anything-that-might-kill-your-son?”

She nodded, still looking ahead of her at the road, where Gideon’s ancient red Beetle was disappearing round a corner. “Exactly. You need to know how to use that thing if you have to. You stay in the car, with the windows closed and the doors locked. And if anyone threatens you, you pull the gun on them. Do you know how to release the safety catch?”

“Mum, I’m not staying in the car.”

She pulled over abruptly, into the parking lot of a huge, desolate redbrick building that must once have been a grand factory. “Fine, then you get out here.”

“You what?” he said again.

“You get out – now,” she said.

“I’m not letting you go without me.”

“Then you stay in the car and you keep the gun next to you.”

“Mum – you’re losing Gideon.”

She started the engine again. “The way the exhaust on that old Beetle clonks, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble finding him again, do you?” She put her foot down hard on the accelerator, and the car lurched forward and stalled. She turned the key again, but the engine made a spluttering sound and wouldn’t catch. “What the…?” She tried again, but the little Ford Fiesta wasn’t going anywhere.

As his mum  fought with the ignition key, three men appeared from behind the factory. “Mum…”

“Mmm?” she didn’t look up, but kept trying to turn the key.

“Mum,” he said more urgently, trying not to show the alarm he felt on his face.

She looked up and jumped slightly. The men were like something out of a gangster film: all black leather coats and menacing, sauntering walks.

“The gun,” murmured his mum, and he passed it over below the seats, so the men wouldn’t see. He noticed his own fingers were shaking. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to do anything if the men attacked them.

“Mum…” he said again.

She was loading the gun while keeping her eyes fixed on the men, who had now stopped, just a few feet from the car. “This is the safety catch,” she hissed. “Keep it on until you need to use it but don’t rely on it to make the gun safe. Now, stay in the car.” She laid the weapon gently in his lap, pulled the door handle and got out.

He sat there shaking; the gun in his lap seemed like an added threat. He had no intention of actually firing the thing and had no idea what she’d meant by ‘don’t rely on it to make the gun safe’.

He wound down his window a crack, just enough to hear what was going on. His mum and the men were standing, staring at each other. Where had Gideon got to?

“Stuart Tansley,” said his mum at last, and the smallest man smiled and gave a slight nod. He was flanked by the larger ones.

“Sara Simmonds. You haven’t changed a bit.” His voice was a little high and his tone insincere. He sounded like he’d spent his whole life freaking people out for fun.

“Haven’t I? Well, you’re obviously as much of a thug as ever. And now you’ve got henchmen, I see. Does that make up for being small in mind and spirit, Stuart?”

Joe held his breath as Stuart Tansley tensed and his bodyguards reached into their inside pockets. But Stuart shook his head, laughing. “No one else ever spoke their mind quite like you, did they, Sara Simmonds?”

Gideon chose that moment to drive into the parking lot, with his car belting out smoke from its noisy exhaust. Joe breathed a sigh of relief. Although he supposed Gideon didn’t have weapons of any kind.

“Well, well, well,” said Stuart. “Is this the big man himself?”

Gideon pulled up nearby and got out of the car. He was easily as tall and broad as the larger of the two bodyguards, but the two of them had their hands back in their inside coat pockets, and Joe didn’t like to think if the safety catch was reliable on their guns – or if it was even on.

“Tanner the Spanner?” said Gideon in a voice that left no doubt what he thought of Tansley, and Joe saw Stuart Tansley tense again. This time, he didn’t tell his men to take their hands away from their pockets.

“Gideon Burroughs,” said Stuart. They looked like they were having a staring contest.

Gideon walked over to stand beside Sara, but he didn’t take his eyes off Stuart. Joe wondered if anyone was going to get to the point. In fact, he couldn’t remember what the point was. Stuart broke eye contact first. He glanced towards Sara’s Fiesta.

“I see you brought young Joseph,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to have a word with him. He should have been… somewhere else by now. The Edge of Hope it’s called. Charming place. I wonder how he made it back?”

“Luckily, someone tipped me off,” said Gideon. “You had no right, Tanner.”

“No right?” screeched Tansley. “No right? After what you did to me at school? No right?”

“What did he do?” said Sara.

“Oh, that’s right, pretend you didn’t know,” said Tansley.

His mum looked bemused. “Help me out here,” she said to Gideon.

“We tortured him,” said Gideon.

“You…?”

“Me and Georgia. We used to punish him for his crimes.” He smiled, watching Tansley’s face. “We had a whole set of tools to threaten him with.” Sara looked at Gideon and he shrugged. “We didn’t use most of them – we just liked to see him squirm. Anyway, it’s not like anyone else was doing anything to stop him.”

“You tortured him?” hissed Sara.

“Oh, it was all rather childish,” said Tansley. “They pulled out my hair, in small handfuls. And they stuck pins under my toenails – that kind of thing. Of course, we’ve evolved rather more… effective methods of persuasion since then. Many of our own techniques are based on those used by the British army. My men here are both ex-army officers.” He smiled. “But Gideon and Georgia did teach me a few useful things.”

Joe was now even more terrified of Tansley and his bodyguards. And he also knew things about Gideon he’d have been happier not knowing.

“I’m sorry,” said Sara. “I didn’t know.”

Tansley looked at her for a moment. “No, I think you really didn’t.” He shrugged. “But it was no worse than the stuff I was doing to some of the other kids – the smaller ones, who couldn’t fight back. Oh, don’t squirm like that, Sara. Isn’t that what it’s all about, in the end? Who has the power? We’re no different from the animals on the plains, after all – satisfying our hunger, fighting to be on top.”

“But we have a choice,” murmured his mum. “We don’t have to live like that. We can choose not to.”

Tansley laughed. “Can we? Have you chosen to be here, now? Or did you come because you needed to speak to me, to find a resolution?”

His mum was silent. Joe felt like he was going to suffocate. His legs were trembling and his breaths were short and fast. “Fight or flight” again, like in his biology lessons. He himself no longer knew what they were doing there. What had they hoped to achieve, confronting a thug like Stuart Tansley? He couldn’t work out how Tansley had known they were looking for him – so much for the element of surprise. They’d be useless spies. The gun in his lap alone had him so terrified he hardly dared to move in case it went off. At last, breathing heavily, he picked it up between his finger and thumb, like a dead rat, and edged out of the passenger seat, depositing the revolver carefully on the seat behind him before squeezing past the gear stick to the driver’s seat. At least now he could start the car if he needed to – provided the engine was now behaving. His mum sometimes drove them out to a business park on a Sunday and let him practise his driving in the privately owned car parks there, where she said the under-age driving laws didn’t apply. If his legs would stop trembling, he might be able to drive them out of there.

He concentrated on the pedals – reminding himself which was the brake, which one the accelerator and the clutch. When he was sure he’d know what to do if he had to, he stopped to listen again to the conversation outside.

“What kind of deal?” Gideon was asking, and there was a long pause. Joe had moved the seat forward to reach the pedals, but now he slunk down so that he was barely visible from outside.

“Well now, let me see…” said Tansley. Joe peeped out of the window; the little man looked flushed and a bit shiny, and Joe wondered if he was nervous himself. Gideon was a big man – he might even be carrying a weapon. Joe glanced at his mum’s gun, where it lay menacingly in the seat across from him. If his mum could produce a gun out of her bag, then Gideon might own a whole armoury for all he knew. He realised he didn’t know much about his father. He wondered how many kids Gideon and Georgia had bullied in the playground.

“Well, let me see,” said Tansley again. “As I’m sure you’re aware, I have Georgia’s Receptacle. I’m guessing you’d rather like to get your hands on that yourselves?” Sara and Gideon looked at each other and nodded. “Very well – I’m going to let you have it,” said Tansley, as if he was a beneficent uncle rather than a thug with henchmen. He beckoned to the bodyguard on his left to bend down and whispered in his ear. The man nodded and turned away to murmur into what looked like a watch on his wrist.

Joe gasped as almost immediately spirits came in from all directions – many from above, as if flying. Gideon took a step back and drew Sara behind him. She looked around in alarm, unable to see the threat. Joe glanced again at the gun. It would be no use against the ghosts, but it might get Tansley to call them off. He looked at the bodyguards and realised he and his parents wouldn’t stand a chance if it came to brute force and weaponry, whatever Gideon might pull out of his inner pockets. He felt curiously calm now that there was real danger. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine started up immediately; he inched the car forward, alongside Gideon and Sara.

They both looked at him, but then Sara said something to Gideon, her words blocked from Joe by the car engine, and Gideon shook his head. Joe saw him point to the air, which was teeming so thickly with ghosts it reminded him of the migrating salmon in a river he had once seen on the National Geographic channel. The ghosts were making a loud humming noise, and he turned off the engine to listen. It took him a minute to establish that the hum wasn’t the friction of their passage through the air, but the noise of their murmuring – dozens of voices, chanting or droning. They were passing round the car, now, blocking Joe’s view like a swarm of bees, and he caught the voice of an elderly woman as she skimmed by,

“Never in peace,” she was muttering, “Never in peace.”

He tried to tune in to another voice, and heard its owner – a middle-aged man in a bowler hat – say something like, “Always the grip,” which made no sense to Joe. And then a man of about seventy said, quite clearly, in a strange, whiny tone, “Why won’t he let us sleep?” He turned to face in at the driver’s window, staring straight into Joe’s eyes, so that Joe started back in shock. The man’s face was so pleading that Joe shrugged and shook his head, to show he couldn’t help.

The passenger door opened sharply and his mum slid in quickly.

“Drive,” she said.

“But…”

“Just drive – now.”

He jerked the car into first gear and lurched forward, his vision blocked by the whirling ghosts. There was a thump and a jolt and Joe shouted, “Urgh!” He stalled the car and looked at his mum. “What was that?”

“Start the car again,” said his mum. She locked the doors. Her head was swivelling nervously from side to side. Joe could still see only the ghosts. Someone tried to open one of the back doors as he turned the ignition key. “Drive!” shouted his mum again.

“What did I hit? I can’t see,” said Joe desperately, as the engine caught again.

“I’ll tell you later. Please, Joe – get us out of here.”

He drove for several minutes before his mum told him to pull over so that she could take the wheel.

“What did I hit?” he asked her again, once they’d swapped places and she’d pulled out in one smooth movement. She didn’t answer. “Was it… Did I hit a person?” He had a lump at the base of his throat and the suffocating feeling had come back. He was gulping for air.

“You ran over your father,” she said, calmly.

“What? But… Is he OK? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me to stop?”

“Oh…” His mum took one hand off the wheel and waved it airily. “Gideon will be fine. He always is.”

“But, Mum – I knocked him over. With the car. I knocked my dad over. Mum – you’ve got to turn round. We’ve got to go back and see if he’s OK. Mum, will you stop?”

“I’m not going to stop, Joseph. And we are certainly not going back for him. Look…” She dropped something in his lap, but this time it was small and light. He picked it up.

“Georgia’s Receptacle? So… you made a deal with Tansley? What was it?”

“Gideon,” said his mum. “They gave me the Receptacle in exchange for your father. It was too good a deal to pass up.”

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