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High Jinx

by el gringo 

Posted: 18 September 2005
Word Count: 1578
Summary: I wrote this brief ghost story some years ago to perform at a Christmas reading party. It has no literary merit (I'm working on better fiction that this), but is at least moderately entertaining and mercifully short! It's also (deliberately) melodramatic, with as many twists and turns as you could expect to fit into 3 pages! Someday I'll rewrite it and flesh out the characters, in which case it may sound less like a soap opera.

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I met Dennison during a business trip to Paris, holding court over an admiring group of executives over Armagnac and cigars at the George V restaurant. A tall ruddy-faced figure in an elegant silk suit, white hair flowing beyond over his collar, speaking in accentless French. All laughed uproariously at every impeccably timed punchline, delivered with a characteristically modest shrug. Here was a man of evident charm, and charisma.
Some while later I paid a visit to les hommes, to find the source of my envy standing two cubicles up at the urinal. Staring at the tiled wall before me, it was a surprise to hear a gruff whisper in my ear:
“Listen old chap, you couldn’t get me out of here, could you?”
“I’m sorry?” I replied, astonished to hear an old Etonian accent from the lips that had so recently spoken effortless French.
“You see, I really need to escape, and it would be jolly helpful if you could create a diversion so I can slip out. Naturally, I’d be delighted to explain over a drink back at my hotel. You might be able to help me.”
This was an offer not to be refused. Though I say so myself, my performance, which involved a stumble and a spilled glass of brandy, was worthy of an Oscar. Making excuses, I stepped out into the cool night air to find Dennison, as he introduced himself, smoking a Romeo y Julietta while leaning in a neighbouring doorway.
“Good show, old bean!” came the familiar voice. “Dennison’s the name.”
“Harper, George Harper.” I replied, hand extended, “I deal in textiles. What line are you in?”
A cold hand shook mine limply. As we strolled towards a more discreet location, Dennison began an intriguing monologue that lasted until we were comfortably seated in the opulent crushed velvet warmth of Dennison’s hotel bar.
“Corporate lawyer by trade, though it’s been years since I practised. I found I had a talent that could earn me far more money. You see, our lords and masters have a tendency to get themselves into scrapes. I’m the fixer who gets them out of trouble, personal and financial. I cover the tracks, smooth the furrowed brows of wives, send investigators off to chase red herrings, that sort of thing. In fact, I deal with any delicate situation that my clients prefer to be kept quiet. And for that privilege, they happily pay my quite extortionate fees.”
Fuelled by the heady aroma of vintage Krug, I felt drawn into this apparently open tale.
“But surely” I asked, “in that case you don’t want to be the centre of attention.”
“All cover, old boy. A performance – name of the game” – he tapped his nose. “Of course, most of the time I’m so discreet you wouldn’t even notice me. Fly on the wall.”
I nodded disbelievingly. Dennison chuckled to himself.
“I can vanish most convincingly, I assure you.”
“So why did you need to extricate yourself from that gathering?”
“Ah. Therein lies a tale. My client is M. Bresson, the chairman of a troubled chain of luxury hotels, who suspects his competitors are indulging in a spot of industrial espionage to stay one step ahead. I’m posing as a potential investor prepared to back a bid by a M. Delibes against my client’s company in order to assess their motives. The party you saw was a little attempt to loosen tongues among the top brass at Delibes. Trouble was, I noticed a very slight look of suspicion on the face of my contact. Rather than risk discovery, I had to get out, fast.”
“You don’t seem to be in a hurry to consult M. Bresson.”
Dennison smiled wryly. “Let’s say I need to check a few facts first.”
“So why are you telling me this?” The crucial question.
Dennison paused for the briefest of moments. It seemed to me that the twinkle in his eyes was one of amusement, but the debonair façade resumed instantly. Suavely brushing cigar ash from his jacket, he replied in words selected with rapier precision:
“They say nothing is accidental. Do you believe that, old fruit?”
“Me? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never met you before.”
“Indeed.” He casually exhaled a ring of cigar smoke.
“You knew I was English.”
“True. In fact, I know you rather well. Does that surprise you?”
I sipped from my glass and swallowed heavily. Dennison continued.
“I believe you know M. Bresson already.”
“Yes, I sold him some quality fabrics for refurbishing the rooms in his flagship hotels.”
“Personally to the chairman? That doesn’t ring true, old chum, particularly since you’ve been seen there on plenty of occasions. And why else would you be sitting on your own in a cordon bleu restaurant within earshot of M. Delibes management team? Frankly, I don’t believe profits from selling a few fabrics would cover the cost of the entrees.”
I reacted indignantly: “I don’t believe anything you’ve told me. I think this whole meeting is a set-up. You’ve been trying to pump me for information.”
“Also true,” agreed Dennison, “Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly.”
Then softly he repeated the accusation: “You’ve known M. Bresson all along, and not to discuss the décor of his hotel suites either. In fact, you’ve met in the most discreet locations across Paris and London. Could it be that you were working for him to extract commercial secrets from the Delibes chain through a cover of your own?”
My jaw dropped. A bead of cold sweat trickled down my forehead. I wrestled with my conscience for a moment but Dennison could read my every thought. There was no choice but to acknowledge the truth.
“What if I am? I’m only doing the same as you have already admitted.”
“Not so, I’m afraid. Don’t tend to do much double-dealing these days, more into revenge. Been following you for some time. Play the man, not the ball, I always say.”
“You’re working for Delibes?”
“In a manner of speaking, but of course, the motives are entirely my own. Delibes was quite happy to agree to my little arrangement to catch you in the act, to service his own greed. He’ll rot in hell in due course, with a little luck.”
“But how do you know all this? All of our conversations were conducted in absolute secrecy.”
Dennison’s face beamed with delight, as if the dim-witted schoolboy had finally twigged his times table.
“Quite simple, old boy,” he whispered, “this is a ghost you’re talking to. I can be quite invisible when I choose - the very soul of discretion in fact. Did you notice the room was a little chilly when you met Bresson? Ah yes, you kept your coat on, if memory serves me right.”
A feeling of panic burst in my chest: “That’s absurd – you’re as real as I am.”
“Am I?” the grin on Dennison’s face widened.
The icy hand came forward slowly. I recoiled in sudden fear, but Dennison merely pulled open his silken jacket to reveal three red and glistening bullet holes over his heart.
“You see, they never fade. At least, not until I’ve avenged my killer. That’s where you come in, my friend.”
Dennison fastidiously checked that nobody could see us, but he had chosen the table with care – we were well shielded. He produced a revolver from beneath his jacket and placed it carefully on the table in front between us.
“On your next discreet visit to M. Bresson, perhaps you’d be kind enough to return the compliment. Hmm? Three matching holes in his tailored shirt would suit him nicely. I think it wholly appropriate that a trusted employee should bring the old devil to his knees.”
My heart lurched. “But why would he….”
“Ah, that was because I exposed the skeletons in his closet, if you’ll pardon the pun. And there were plenty of bones, I can tell you. Two mistresses in different apartments, corruption of public officials, to wit tax inspectors, a regional deputy and reputedly a minister too, though I never proved that. Then there were his dubious business practices too...
“Of course, I broke my own rule and tried to take a piece of the action, as they say in the movies. Sadly, that was my undoing – big, big mistake. Though to give Bresson credit his henchmen did an excellent job of cleaning away my body...”
Dennison sighed heavily, but my mind raced. I looked at the gun on the coffee table between us. Reading my mind, Dennison continued:
“Don’t worry – it’s real, and fully loaded. You’d be amazed what you can do when you’re dead – there are so many of us around and no one truly knows who’s alive and who’s dead. Until you are, that is.”
He paused to study my drained face. “Of course, you could always join us on this side instead, but do make sure you do it in a public place, so M. Bresson is at least implicated in public. But then, you’ll have me to torment you unto eternity. Fancy that, old darling?”
I stared back into the face of death, mind racing. Then impulse took over. I picked up the revolver and fired six rounds into the chair where Dennison sat. From somewhere nearby came a scream and a shout, but all I heard was the sound of distant laughter from a figure in the chair…

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