Ghost Town follows on from where Soul Mate finished. I'm writing the final chapters of Ghost Town now. Then I will edit and hope to have it all done within a couple of months.
Here's the cover image (Bridge of Sighs, Oxford).
And here's the opening scene.
I float for a moment then the water closes over my head and I sink slowly among the reeds. When I touch the bottom silt rises like mist, forming a cloud that surrounds me. Long hair drifts across my face. Some part of me knows this is weird. I don't have long hair. The water is a dead weight pressing on my chest. I can't breathe or move, but that doesn't seem to matter much. An old bike lies in the mud beside me. The sun is shining, faint through the murky, green water. Slowly the ripples fade and the surface above is still. The mud settles around me, soft as silk; it sucks at my clothes, in time it will bury me.
I wake, gasping. Suki's hand is on my shoulder.
"Tommy," she sounds anxious. "You were having a bad dream."
I nod before she can ask. "Just a dream." I know it was more than a dream but I don't want her to worry.
Usually my nightmares are about Danny, his face the moment before he falls, the way his arms windmill as he loses his balance, the thud as his body hits the ground: blood trickling between the gravel. But this was different. It was too vivid. It's not a memory. It felt as if it was really happening to me and there's this weird disconnected feeling in my head that comes with the ghosts. I touch my head. My hair is short, not like in the dream. I can breathe. It was a pond I realise; a body at the bottom of a pond.
Ghost stuff. I push the thought aside quickly.
Suki's watching me. "You, OK?"
"Yeah," I mumble and try to get it together before she asks too many questions. I lean over and kiss her. But she still looks worried.
"It's alright," I say. "Just a bad dream." I don't want her to worry. But though the dream's gone, I can't shake the feeling that something terrible is going to happen today. Ghost stuff? I don't usually know or sense when the ghosts are coming until it happens. I wonder if the feeling has to do with the dream and search for a connection.
It doesn't take me long to remember that it has nothing to do with the dream and it is bad.
It's not the first time I've messed up, but today a reckoning falls due for something that really wasn't my fault. That's not going to make a difference to Ally. I'm going to die. Or get precious bits of my anatomy handed to me on a plate. Or stuffed down my throat. The thought makes me shudder. I've heard Ally threaten to cut a guy's wedding tackle off. I'm not making it up. Ally was hammered at the time but he wasn't kidding.
The picture in my head is so vivid I forget where I am and groan.
"Tommy?" Suki looks round. She's frowning.
I make an effort to concentrate on her and put Ally out of my mind. She's wearing a man's white shirt, her legs are bare and her henna red hair is all mussed up. She slides her legs out of bed and stands up. Narrowboats are short on storage space, I never realised that the problem has fringe benefits. As I watch, Suki stands on tiptoe and reaches for something in one of the high cupboards. The shirt rides up, revealing long legs. She looks so sexy it drives me crazy. She reaches higher, acting like she has no idea what she's doing to me.
I slide over, grab her round the waist and pull her backwards on to the bed. Clothes and stuff shower down from the cupboard.
"I've got to go to work," she says, sounding a bit annoyed. "You can clear this mess up." I don't think she's really pissed off because she lets me kiss her neck.
"You've got to be nice to me," I say. "It might be the last chance you get."
She sighs and rolls over onto her stomach so she can look me in the eye. "You're going to see Ally? You're sure you don't want me to come with you?"
I shake my head. The one thing worse than getting your balls ripped off by an enraged Scotsman would be having your girlfriend watch. "But you could give me a nice send off, like the soldiers used to get."
"He's not going to hurt you, Tommy. He's just going to shout at you a lot."
I know it's going to be worse than shouting, but I don't correct her. I nicked five hundred quid out of his wallet, or at least the ghost did. Ally doesn't know about the ghosts that screw with my life. He's a Scotsman and, leaving stereotypes aside, he's careful with money. He's not going to listen to excuses. Particularly not crazy excuses like, I was possessed by a ghost and had no control over my actions. I'm just glad to have the money to pay him back, plus a bit of interest. And of course there's Zac who owns Ride in Style cabs and who gave me a chance. He's not a guy anyone messes with; he makes Ally look like a pussycat.
Suki wriggles up the bed and slides her arms round my neck. She plants a brief kiss on my lips. "It'll be fine. You can ask for your job back while you're there."
Suki is the probably the kindest person in the world, and she tends to think other people operate the same way. I'm afraid being round me is going to ruin her life view. After what happened, I'm more likely to win the lottery than get my job as a rickshaw driver back. I can't even afford to do the bloody lottery.
She gives me another kiss and then wriggles free. "Come on, you need to get up. You have to go to the police station this morning."
"Shit." I'd forgotten about that.
"And you should visit Mickey later too. If you go this afternoon I'll come up and meet you after work."
She's perfect. I can't work out what she sees in me, apart from the ghosts.
There's no way something this good can last. "Whose shirt is that?" The question is out there before I really think. Of course it's the last thing I should ask her, but she seems to have an endless supply of other guys' clothing and it winds me up a bit.
She just shrugs. I'm betting it was Simon's, her suave, rich, art dealer ex-boyfriend. Mr Perfect. A guy who is still in love with her. "Was it Simon's?"
She gives me a look. "Maybe." After a moment she grins at me. "You can wear it to the police station if you want to make a good impression, ghost boy." She slides the shirt off and ducks out the door before I can catch her. Instead I end up giving Jess a full frontal. She's not pleased.
"Tommy, you jerk, put that thing away before I chop it off." She's already dressed in her standard black, her hair spiked like a hedgehog. Every bit of her is lean and soft as barbed wire.
I slam the door quick and mutter an apology. I can hear Suki laughing. It's all right for her. I still can't tell when Jess is joking. Even if that was a joke it's not funny with Ally and Zac lurking in my future. I catch sight of Suki's alarm clock and realise I should be on my way to the station.
I end up wearing the stupid shirt because I can't find anything else smart enough. I'm a bit nervous about this visit. Thanks to a psycho ghost using me as a taxi last week, I missed several bail sign-ins and got involved in solving a twelve year old murder. Suki's mum says she sorted the sign-ins out, but Anna's not my biggest fan and I'm not exactly sure what she told the cops. When I'm dressed, Suki's still in the bathroom. I knock on the door, "Let me in, I'll soap your back." But she just laughs and shouts, "You're late."
Jess sips coffee and raises her eyebrows in a longsuffering way.
I'm busting for a pee. When Suki comes out she's all dressed for work at the café so there's no way I'm getting a special send off. She gives me a peck on the cheek and says, "I'll see you later at the hospital."
I know she's talking about visiting Mick, but I hope the mention of the hospital is not prophetic. I grab a coffee before I go, trying to sharpen up before dealing with the cops. Jess sits at the table and ignores me. She's messing around with beads, as usual, making some sort of jewellery. As I head off she says,
"Watch out they don't lock you up, Tommy."
I'd like to think she's joking, but it's more likely wishful thinking on her part. Suki's going to speak to her about me staying on the boat. That's not a conversation I'm going to be around for. I just say, "Thanks, Jess, have a nice day."