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Authors: James Green

Unholy Ghost

BOOK: Unholy Ghost
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Unholy Ghost

James Green

Jimmy Costello, corrupt ex-copper and now fixer for the Catholic Church, always liked Paris, but never got the chance to spend time there.  Now his boss in Rome wants him to go back.  It's a simple job: find the missing owner of a piece of valuable property.  But Jimmy's not the only one looking. 

What is he looking for and who else wants it so badly? No one seems to have the answers. This time Jimmy is on his own.

Chapter One

‘Good heavens, Mr Costello, there is absolutely nothing life-threatening about what I'm asking you to do.'

Jimmy gave her what his mum would have called an “old-fashioned” look.

‘No, there never is, is there?'

Professor McBride didn't answer. Jimmy didn't expect her to. On her last non-life-threatening outing he'd got a knife in his side. But his real reason for kicking was the way she had summoned him, like some bloody junior office clerk. ‘Come to my office': no ‘please', no explanation, just the command to be there.

‘You are, of course, at liberty to refuse, although I have to say …'

‘No you don't. You don't have to say anything.'

They sat in silence. The office was at the top of a tall block in a modern business suburb and through the windows Jimmy could see the sun shining on the distant blue hills of Frascati. It was a lovely view made all the lovelier by the glory of the April day. After a moment Jimmy pulled his mind back from the glories of nature. Yes, he could refuse. But if he did, what else was there? This woman was all he had, without her his life had no point, made no sense. She had given him some sort of life back, so he put away his petulance and gave in.

‘What is it I'm supposed to do?'

‘Simply what I said. Find a missing person.'

‘What missing person?'

‘I don't know.'

He threw up a hand in frustration.

‘You see! There you go again. You give me a hurry-up call because you say there's a job. I come running and you tell me that I'm to look for a missing person, but you don't know who it is. What is it about you? Why can't you be straight? Why can't you just tell me …'

Professor McBride's voice was sharp. Jimmy almost expected her to lean forward and rap her knuckles on the desk.

‘Mr Costello, I've heard all that before. You don't trust me, you think me, in your own words, a devious bastard. Very well, I agree you may have grounds for thinking as you do …'

Jimmy sat in silence as she went on. It didn't matter what she said. Whatever it was, she was right, she was always right, so he sat and listened and, when she was ready, she began to explain what it was he was going to do for her, the job that absolutely couldn't be life-threatening.

Next day, early, he packed a cheap black holdall with essentials and left his apartment. He lived in an ultra-respectable district not far from the Vatican, on the top floor of a four-storey building which looked just like all the other four-storey buildings that lined either side of the street except that beside his main entrance there was a small restaurant, the Café Mozart. He went in and bought his breakfast; a coffee. Then he walked to Lepanto where he caught the Metro. He was going to Fiumicino airport and a taxi was out of the question during the Roman rush-hour. It wouldn't be quicker to walk, but it would be close. At the airport he boarded a scheduled flight to Paris and by lunch-time he was sitting in a bar overlooking the Seine.

It was April in Paris. People wrote songs about it, got romantic about it, came here just to be part of it. Except that today the rain was running down the café window distorting the view so that the buildings on the far bank were almost indistinguishable from the dark sky above them. Outside the bar cars and pedestrians alike passed in little more than a blur. The wind strengthened and threw even more hard rain against the big window, and what little was visible momentarily dissolved. It was as if some sort of animal was trying to get in. It was Paris in the spring.

Jimmy looked down at the cup of coffee on the table and thought about his meeting with Professor MacBride the previous day in Rome. Too bloody true he had grounds, she
was
a devious bastard, and the more she said nothing should go wrong the more he'd felt sure something not only could but would go wrong. But he'd still got on the plane. He picked up the cup but the coffee was almost cold, he'd nursed it for too long. He looked at his watch. There was still an hour to kill before the meeting she'd arranged. He looked at the window again. The view, what there was of it, had returned. It was no day to be out strolling on the boulevards. It was a day to stay inside where it was dry and warm, but inside a bar with the rain hammering at the windows wasn't his idea of discovering Paris. He might be anywhere, Rome, Copenhagen, Lübeck, even London.

Funny, he thought, when I've passed through Paris before, when there was no time to see the place, the sun always shone and it all looked terrific. I was sorry I couldn't stay and look around. Now here I am and it's no better than a wet Sunday in Kilburn. And he let his mind drift back to London, to Kilburn and his childhood. But his memory, as it does with everyone, played him false. It told him that when he was a child playing with his friends in the narrow terraced backstreets the sun had always shone and the days had always been warm and bright. There had been no cold, wet days, not until he'd grown up, when suddenly the warmth and sunshine somehow got switched off at the plug and a cold greyness had begun to seep inexorably into his soul.

Shit. Forget it, what's done is done, it can't be mended or changed. It's finished and gone. What was it Danny said? Let the dead past bury its dead. His mind went back to a dirty, side-street bar in Rome and a big West Indian who hated coffee, wouldn't drink alcohol, and had a laugh like a bass drum.

Jimmy smiled to himself. Good bloke, Danny, but too clever for his own good. Even so he wasn't wrong, leave the dead alone and maybe they'll leave you alone. He got up from his table, went to the bar, paid, and left the café.

He pulled his collar up as far as it would go, pushed his hands deep into the pockets of his light raincoat, waited at the kerb then crossed the road and walked alongside the wall below which was the embankment and then the wide, muddy Seine. He was headed for the bridge which would take him over the river onto the Isle de la Cité. He didn't want to be out in the rain so he was heading for somewhere inside that couldn't be anywhere but Paris. He walked on quickly hunched up against the rain, a stocky, crumpled, middle-aged man with short, grizzled hair. He might not like the weather, but it fitted him. A cold, grey day for a cold, grey man.

Chapter Two

Once over the bridge he kept going down a straight, tree-lined road. The small spring leaves seemed to be able to defy the gloom of the day and almost shine as their branches swayed, but maybe it was just the rain easing and the clouds lightening. After a short while the road opened out on the left side onto a big square. Jimmy turned. There were plenty of people here who had braved the weather because beyond the busy square rose up the massive, marvellous front of Notre Dame Cathedral, the place where Jimmy had been heading. Jimmy wasn't surprised the square was so busy, after all, if you've travelled all the way from the US or China or Japan you didn't let a little bit of rain stop you. He passed through the tourists who, under umbrellas, in waterproofs and hats, or just getting wet, were laughing, talking, looking, snapping themselves and each other on their cameras and smart phones. They were doing what all visitors did in Paris on wet days, ignoring the rain and enjoying themselves.

Jimmy made his way towards the small entrance in one of the great doors at the foot of the cathedral's glorious façade. He went in, dipped his finger into the holy water stoop, and blessed himself. The soaring space of the interior was filled with the busy hum of voices, lines of tourists were being led through the aisles and people stood in groups, or in twos and threes, or by themselves, gazing at the glory that surrounded them and flash lights gave sudden, brief bursts of bright light. Only a very thin scattering of people knelt in the pews and up the main aisle the great main altar stood aloof, silent and empty. To most of the visitors this wasn't a church, a place of prayer and worship. It was high culture, serious history, a building of almost miraculous beauty the like of which, somehow, we couldn't manage to make any more.

Jimmy looked around and walked to a statue in a quiet corner. It was a woman, a nun. He didn't know who she was nor did he particularly care. He needed someone to pass on a message. It didn't matter who the messenger was so long as it was a saint, someone who was already on that other inside, the one he'd been told about as a child and now found it so hard to believe in. He slipped some coins into the black box below the tray of burning candles, picked up a new one, lit it, and placed it in a holder among the others. Then he took a step back and looked up at the statue.

‘Saint whoever you are, I want you to pray that …' But the next bit was always difficult but finally he managed a few words. ‘… ask God not to let me slip away. Tell him I don't want to just slip away. Ask him to keep me, keep me …' But the words petered out. It never got any easier. He knew it never would. Maybe that was because he wanted to believe, wanted it so badly to be true, and wanting it so much he could never be sure that if he believed it would be no more than self-delusion. He shook his head. If that was how it was then he would never get there. How had Bernie managed it? How had her faith been so simple and so strong, even to the end?

He crossed himself, turned and walked away from the plaster image. It wasn't much of a message and he wasn't sure it would get through, or that anyone was there if it did. But he still tried, tried to hold on for the sake of Bernie, because Bernie had stuck with him and looked after him while he … but again the words petered. Let the dead past bury its dead. It was over, gone, couldn't be changed or mended, so let it go.

Outside the rain had stopped. The umbrellas were coming down. The clouds had noticeably thinned, the gloom of the dark clouds had lifted, bringing a hope of the sun breaking through. Maybe the day wouldn't be so bad after all.

Jimmy turned down the collar of his coat and walked away, heading for the nearest Metro to go see and talk to another nun, a real one this time, not a plaster image.

He was half way back along the tree-lined road when the clouds suddenly parted, the sun came out, and the dreary dampness of the streets changed magically. The drips on the leaves began to sparkle, the wet pavement glistened as the sun hit it, the dark roofs took on a wet brightness, and the window shutters and black ironwork balconies on the upper floors of the buildings on either side no longer looked grim, but now offered a happy and elaborate counterpoint to the light colouring of the Empire frontages so quintessentially Parisian. The red, wet pantiles of the roofs seemed to come to life and glow as the sun streamed into the streets. All around him the place seemed suddenly alive, full of light. What was it that name they used?
La Ville Lumière
. City of Light. Jimmy instinctively lost some of his crumpled look, straightened up, and walked on with a livelier step.

The Seine flowed heavily under the bridge as he crossed but even the dirty water managed a few glistening twinkles up at him as the sun caught its ripples. The clouds were clearing fast and there was the promise of a fine afternoon to make up for the foul morning.

Jimmy left the bridge and crossed the main road. The café was just down on his left. Maybe he'd come back later and sit outside in the sun, have a beer, and watch Paris go by. His whole mood lifted. He felt better. Perhaps this time it really would be something easy, something straightforward, just find a missing person. Nothing evil, nothing life threatening. Nothing that would get him or anyone else killed. He looked around and brightened. April in Paris, Paris in the spring, all as per the brochure. All very ooh, la, la. Oh yes, all very much ooh la bloody la.

BOOK: Unholy Ghost
7.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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