His lip curled. ‘I’m not here for chit-chat. Why would I want to pass the time of day with you? All I want to know is what you did. Why did I disappear and where did I go?’
‘I don’t know. You’re going to have to give me a little more information.’
‘I was here then I was not here.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘I know who you are. Everyone knows who you are. You must have had something to do with what happened to me. You’re the only person on this earth who can both see and talk to us. It cannot be a coincidence that you show up here and I vanish from existence.’
I ran my tongue around my teeth. I was going to have to order some more stew and make up a reason for why I couldn’t eat what was in front of me. ‘When exactly did you vanish?’ I enquired.
‘It was a Tuesday. I know it was a Tuesday because that waste of space great-nephew of mine gets all the deliveries on a Tuesday. In my day, we…’
I held up my hand in a bid to get him to stop talking. ‘What happened in your day isn’t relevant. What is relevant is that today is Friday and I only arrived today, so your disappearance obviously has nothing to do with me.’
I rocked forward, using my elbow to nudge the almost full bowl of stew and send it crashing to the floor. ‘Oh no!’ I gasped. I looked at the barman who was already bustling over with a towel in his hand. ‘I’m so sorry! I’m such a klutz.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said. ‘It’s not a big deal. I’ll get this cleaned up in a jiffy.’
The ghost tutted loudly. ‘In my day, we’d have made you clean it up yourself.’ He jumped soundlessly from the table and eyeballed the poor barman who remained oblivious to his presence. Winter at least knew something strange was going on; he’d stopped eating and was watching me carefully. ‘It’s difficult to believe,’ the ghost continued, ‘that I’m related to this idiot at all.’
I got down and tried to help, although I probably just made more of a mess. Then I paused. Hang on a minute. ‘That man,’ I said slowly. ‘The one with the beard who raced out of here.’
‘The one you were having the altercation with?’ the barman asked.
I scratched my neck, wincing as my fingernails scraped the edge of my wound. ‘Er, yeah. Him. When did he arrive?’
‘Tuesday. I wasn’t expecting him, to be honest. He’s here regularly, about once a month, but he doesn’t normally stay for more than a night. And it’s only been a couple of weeks since his last visit. He gives me the creeps, if I’m honest. I won’t be upset if he doesn’t come back. There’s something about his eyes, you know?’
Oh, I knew. ‘So he was supposed to be here tonight? He has a room here?’
I looked over at Winter. He was already getting to his feet. ‘Can we see it?’
‘I dunno. Maybe we should leave it for the police or until he comes back. I can’t just let people wander around guests’ rooms.’
I tilted my head to one side. We needed to see that room and I preferred to do it without breaking in. ‘We can help you,’ I said eventually.
The barman stood up, abandoning the splattered hotpot in favour of looking at me warily. ‘How?’
‘This pub is haunted.’
He took a step backwards. ‘Excuse me?’
I glanced at the ghost. ‘What’s your name?’
‘By your great-uncle Willie,’ I said to the barman.
‘William!’ the ghost howled. ‘Not Willie!’
‘Well then,’ I snapped, ‘you should have kept your willie inside your damn trousers then, shouldn’t you?’
Both Winter and the barman started. ‘My great-uncle was known for exposing himself,’ the barman said, staring at me.
I raised an eyebrow in Willie’s direction. That figured. The ghost pretended to be suddenly fascinated by a stain on the old flocked wallpaper.
‘How did you know that?’ the barman asked. ‘It’s supposed to be a family secret.’
‘I told you,’ I said patiently. ‘This place is haunted.’
He looked very pale. ‘No wonder the milk keeps going sour.’
‘Actually,’ William declared loudly, ‘that’s because the silly woman in the kitchen keeps forgetting to put it in the fridge and she leaves it out next to the oven.’
I focused back on him. ‘Why are you here? I’m going to assume it’s not just because you want as many people as possible to see your poor excuse for a penis.’
Winter started and, predictably, his expression grew closed and angry. He stayed quiet, though; he knew I was a big girl.
William sniffed. ‘The family always hated me. They were jealous. My sister despised me so much that she cursed me to find no rest, not even in death, unless I promised to name her as my sole heir when I died. She was a money-grabbing whore who—’
‘Shut up.’ I glanced at the barman. I wasn’t entirely sure how all this was supposed to work but how hard could it to rescind a generations-old curse that transcended death? ‘One of your ancestors cursed ol’ Willie to find no rest unless she was given his stuff when he died. I’m presuming that she didn’t do that. I guess that to get rid of him and allow him to pass to the next plane, where he’s supposed to be, you just need to take back her words.’ I shrugged. Maybe. What the hell did I know?
The barman scratched his head. ‘Are you trying to fleece me or something?’
‘Nope. This is for real. I promise. All I want in return is to get into that room.’
He was obviously still suspicious and on edge. He sidestepped and, in the process, slid in one of the small pools of splattered gravy. Winter reached out and grabbed him just before he went crashing to the floor.
‘Ivy is a pain in the arse,’ Winter said gruffly.
‘Hey!’ I protested.
He flicked me a look. ‘It’s true. You’re the laziest person I’ve ever met. You’ll take shortcuts wherever you can and you never do anything the way it’s supposed to be done.’ He smiled and my heart flip-flopped. ‘But you’re honest to a fault. You don’t lie and you wouldn’t deliberately hurt someone.’ He paused and I knew he was thinking about what I’d done up in Scotland. ‘Not unless you really had to, anyway.’
‘So, ridiculous as it sounds, you finally forgive me for sacrificing myself for you?’
Winter’s expression was earnest. ‘Yes. But don’t do it again.’
‘I’m not sure I can promise that,’ I said with a wry grin.
He leaned towards me. ‘Maybe I can make you.’
‘How? By tying me up?’
‘By flashing those sexy blue eyes at me? By kissing me until…’
Both Willie the ghost and the barman cleared their throats at exactly the same time. Oops. I’d completely forgotten they were there. I coughed. ‘Sorry.’
‘That’s alright.’ The barman stared round the room as if expecting Willie to jump out at him at any moment. ‘William Barcell. I, er, take back what my ancestor said. She was wrong to want all your money and she shouldn’t have cursed you. You are now…’ He scratched his nose.
‘Free?’ I suggested.
He nodded. ‘Sure. You are now free.’
Willie’s eyes went round. ‘Really? I can pass on? I don’t have to stay here? Thank you!’ He blew me a kiss. He leapt over to the barman and tried to hug him. It didn’t really work because the barman couldn’t see or feel him but the sentiment was nice.
Willie pulled back and looked around. ‘I’m ready to go now!’ he called out. ‘Where’s the light?’ He swung his head in every direction. ‘I don’t see it. Where am I supposed to go?’
‘What’s happening?’ Winter asked.
I considered the matter. ‘I think,’ I said, ‘that Willie has been telling a few porky pies.’
The ghost stared at me. ‘What? No, I’ve not! I’m not a liar!’