Read A Ghost at the Door Online

Authors: Michael Dobbs

A Ghost at the Door

A Ghost
at the Door

Also by Michael Dobbs

The Francis Urquhart Trilogy

House of Cards

To Play the King

The Final Cut

The Thomas Goodfellowe Series

Goodfellowe MP

The Buddha of Brewer Street

Whispers of Betrayal

The Churchill Series

Winston’s War

Never Surrender

Churchill’s Hour

Churchill’s Triumph

The Harry Jones Series

The Edge of Madness

The Reluctant Hero

Old Enemies

The Lords’ Day

A Sentimental Traitor

Other Titles

Wall Games

Last Man to Die

The Touch of Innocents

First Lady

Find out more at: www.michaeldobbs.com

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
A CBS COMPANY

Copyright © 2013 by Michael Dobbs

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Michael Dobbs to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act, 1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London
WC1X 8HB

www.simonandschuster.co.uk

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Hardback: 978-1-47111-151-8
Trade Paperback: 978-1-47111-152-5
eBook ISBN: 978-1-47111-154-9

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

Typeset by M Rules
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

To the memory of

Timothy Hadcock-Mackay,

a very special friend.

CONTENTS

PRELUDE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

PRELUDE

Through the double sash of the window she could see the light beginning to redden as an evening breeze blew across the embers of the day. When she’d arrived a few hours
earlier, the wind had been blowing impatiently, stirring the waters of the lake, but now the elements were at peace, rocking gently, like a childhood lullaby bringing the day to its close. Her last
day. In the corner of her line of sight she could glimpse the ivy-covered ruins of the Victorian boathouse that stood sharp against the glistening water, brown on mottled silver, its hollowed eyes
staring, its open mouth mocking. The sun was sinking behind the distant scribble of hills and by the time it was gone, she realized, she would be dead.

He had poisoned her. Stupid, it was the drink, of course, a final whisky, he’d said, and suddenly she couldn’t feel a thing. She was wiggling her toes, so she told herself, as though
buried in the sand of her beloved island, but nothing happened. She was paralysed, couldn’t move, except for her eyes. She felt no sense of panic, not yet, not for a few seconds at least;
there was little more than a tremor of incomprehension that she could hear his breathing but not her own. For a moment she wondered whether this was another of his mind games, a test of her
devotion, even though she’d never given him cause to doubt, not once, not in all the years since she’d turned up at the lecture rooms off St Giles and found him staring at her from the
podium. Two enquiring minds of exceptional talent, two bodies of youthful needs, soon to be thrown at and upon each other.

Theirs hadn’t been much of an affair, not in terms of weeks, little more than a medley of urgent couplings that had trussed her Catholic soul in knots, until he’d declared that he
couldn’t both supervise her doctorate and take her to bed, not at the same time. He’d made his choice clear and she had followed it, without ever losing hope that he might change his
mind. Ever. Even now.

Strange, she could almost taste it once more, that breathless moment of orgasm when the body locks up, refuses to breathe, a moment that seems to last for ever before it releases everything.

The mounds of her once youthful breasts were barely moving now; she struggled to speak but could find only one final word: ‘What . . .?’ She had meant to ask, ‘What is it? What
have you done?’ But the words wouldn’t form. A coldness was stealing through her, she couldn’t feel her feet, no movement in her arms, fingers, no breath. Stuck in that
moment.

‘It’s experimental, a derivative of snake venom. Filled with what’s called mambalgins, so no pain,’ he said, as though offering comfort. Then, ‘Forgive
me.’

Her lips trembled once more but she couldn’t make sound any longer. The sun was no more than a rim of fire, its light breaking up in anger as it forced a way through the thickening peel of
atmosphere. Her eyes seized upon it, trying to drag it back into the sky.

He watched her struggle, knowing what she was thinking; he’d always been able to read her mind. ‘Why?’ he said, posing the question for her.

Her eyes stopped their wild flickering as she concentrated, desperate to hear the answer, to understand.

‘Harry,’ he said.

The word came as a hoarse whisper, like air escaping from a long-sealed box in which so many secrets had been hidden. And now she began to panic, to scream about injustice, but only in the
silence of her mind. Harry Jones wasn’t her fault! She’d done nothing she hadn’t been asked to do! This wasn’t right, wasn’t fair!

She tried to drag her heavy eyes back to her killer, in this crowded room of memories, to plead with him, but she couldn’t find him, only greyness, and his picture, in the silvered frame,
with his wife, the wife she had always hoped he would put by for her, but never had, not even after the wife had died.

Only then did she understand what a fool she’d been, had always been. There had never been any point. To those years. To her.

And, with a final snatch of air, the panic gave way to appalling fear. It rushed through her body, closing down every synapse, snapping every sinew, until it had consumed her completely.

He sat and watched for a few moments, finishing his drink, until he was sure.

The sun had gone, and had taken her with it.

CHAPTER ONE

Two months earlier

It took no more than five short words to shake the world of Harry Jones to pieces. They turned out to be malevolent, sharp-edged little words, yet were intended to be an
expression of love. And the day had been going so well for a change.

Harry was driving to Henley on Thames and the traffic, swollen by those who were flocking to the local festival, had ground to a crawl. The fields by the river used for festival parking were
sodden after weeks of summer rain and had turned into a biblical mire of misery that left some drivers impatient. That included Harry. He’d ducked onto a minor road that cut through the back
lanes, only to discover that half of humanity had grabbed the same idea. Progress was rotten, getting worse, a world turned to aggravation and exhaust fumes. That’s when he saw the halfwit in
his wing mirror, wrong side of the road, flashing his headlights, drawing closer, jumping the line of cars behind. It was a canary-coloured Porsche Boxter with hood down and sound system at a level
set to stun. As Harry watched, it pulled in only three cars back.

Harry’s fingers drummed on the worn black leather of his steering wheel. In the passenger seat sat Jemma Laing, his . . . What was the word they used nowadays? ‘Lover’ was
accurate but gave rise to giggles, while the description of ‘girlfriend’ seemed too quaint. Many people used terms like ‘partner’ or ‘soulmate’ but Harry
didn’t give a damn for many people. Jemma was what she was. Achingly cute, understanding, irreverent, sometimes even patient, very Scottish, great complexion. And unpredictable in bed, there
was that, too. A woman who had remained at his side through everything recent months had thrown at him.

They were approaching a blind corner, the lane squeezed between the hedgerows. The Porsche driver was laughing with his passenger, a young woman whose oversized designer sunshades were pulled
firmly over her eyes as she pretended not to notice the stares of disapproval being thrown at them. Harry’s hand hovered over the gear stick of his old Volvo estate. He and Jemma were out for
an elegant evening, a black-tie-and-pretty-frock affair; she didn’t deserve confrontation and road rage. Trouble was, the irritating Porsche man with bollocks for brains knew it, too, and was
intent on taking advantage. As the traffic began to crawl slowly forward once more, he revved up and pulled out to overtake. Harry lifted his foot gently off the clutch, knowing he wouldn’t
have a prayer of beating the Porsche for straight-line speed. But Harry didn’t do straight lines. Instead he swerved into the middle of the road, into the path of the yellow sports car as it
leapt forward.

A collision seemed inevitable. Harry gave the wheel another decisive twitch to force him wider.

Porsche Man had little choice. He had no room and a huge excess on his insurance. He blinked, flipped the wheel and swerved into the only gap still available to him. It turned out to be an open
gate leading into a ploughed field. The Porsche bounced, the engine revved, the tyres spun as its driver struggled to regain control. The wheels plastered the paintwork with mud as they dug
themselves little graves. The driver had time for no more than a single unimaginative expletive before he found himself hopelessly stuck.

Harry pulled nonchalantly back into the queue of traffic. Jemma pretended not to notice.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said as eventually they found a place to park that didn’t require them to wade.

‘No, you’re not,’ Jemma replied.

‘You’re right. Must be a syndrome or something. I just hate yellow Porsches.’

‘Good job you saw that open gate.’

‘I didn’t.’

‘Oh, Jones,’ she sighed, shaking her head as she swapped her high heels for more practical slip-ons until she could find firmer ground. ‘Try and remember that we’re here
to have a good time. Don’t go killing anyone before I’ve had something to eat.’ The freckled tip of her nose waggled in rebuke. Then she burst out laughing. She’d long ago
realized there was no point in trying to change him. Live with it or move on.

Which was precisely the choice presented to her later that evening. The setting of the festival was sublime: a floating stage on the river with marquees along the bank where the audience could
eat and watch the performance. It featured the Military Wives Choir and a sensational young American tenor whose voice made the night air crackle with excitement. The ripples of the stream began
throwing back a mixture of candle flame and lasers with ever greater intensity as the natural light began to fade and the cares of the day were set aside. Men dressed in a manner that rekindled the
elegance of an earlier age, women decorated their breasts with jewellery and, for a few hours, the gathering darkness kept the rest of the world at bay. Harry and Jemma had been invited by Costas,
a friend of so many years that Harry had been best man at his first wedding and helped him sober up after his second. Costas was Anglo-Greek, heavily into shipping, and had organized dinner on a
small and beautifully restored Edwardian launch named
Persephone
, whose wooden hull had plied the waters of the Thames for more than a hundred years. Seafood. Rare wines. Music. Moving
gently on the river current. Just the four of them, Costas had said.

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