Excerpt for Tell My Wife I Will Be Home For Christmas by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Tell My Wife I Will Be Home For Christmas


VINCENT GILVARRY



Published by the author in association with

Smashwords


Copyright

©

2017


Background image designed by Bruce Rolff

and supplied by

Shutterstock


COVER DESIGNED BY THE AUTHOR



















































8INTRODUCTION


It is said that holy men can breathe underwater, that some can walk on water, and others can travel through space and time. One young man found that out for himself, not long after he turned eighteen.

A snake charmer and his wife had been reaching out from beyond the grave for over one hundred years. They were looking for someone to do what they could not. When they failed to lure three other men into their net, they came up with an alternative plan. It was somewhat more complex, because they had a particular type of person in mind, not some egotistical, self-important know-it-all, but someone a little more sensitive.

In the year 2000, the snake charmer’s wife befriends a young boy called Jasper Powell. She has been appearing in his dreams ever since he was five years old, but he never imagined that she would make an appearance in his life. Jasper has acquired a special gift from his Lady Friend, and he is about to find out exactly what it is.



CHAPTER 1


PART ONE

2013

Melbourne, Australia


1995 was the year that the World Wide Web made itself known to the world at large. It was the year that terrorism reared its ugly head in the guise of the Oklahoma bombing, and it was also the year that the Russian space station docked with the shuttle Atlantis. However, something equally important happened in the city of Melbourne in faraway Australia. 1995 was the year that Jasper Powell made his appearance on the world stage.

His father had suffered from a medical problem for years, and his mother Geraldine had had enough of married life. And when Jasper was only five years old, she filed for a divorce.

On the advice of a friend, they placed his welfare in the hands of a childcare agency called Gridley and Surrey. He would live with his father, but he could see his mother as often as he liked. From an educational point of view, it was the best thing they could have done.

Henry was a retired businessman who chose to subdue his demons with alcohol, rather than a prescribed course of medication. Geraldine relinquished her career as a practising gynaecologist, packed her bags, moved out of their Toorak home and opened a tapas bar in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne with a long and chequered history.

At the time this story starts, Jasper has had fourteen different carers, the last of whom was a young man called Mark Jacobsen, a Physical Education student from Monash University. His job is to provide opportunities for Jasper’s social and emotional development. And a few months before Jasper graduates from high school, Mark decides to take him on a camping trip up into the mountains.

Mark loves nothing better, than to slip on his hiking boots, and explore the rugged Australian bushland.

‘Our destination will be a freshwater creek that flows down from the Dandenong Range,’ he says. ‘We’ll set up our tents, check the place out and maybe do a spot of fishing.’

‘It won’t be dangerous, will it?’ Jasper says.

‘We will probably see a couple of birds, a few ground rats, maybe a kangaroo, and the occasional snake.’

‘Snakes,’ Jasper says.

He has every reason to be wary. He has seen quite a few in his dreams and that is where he’d like them to stay.

‘There’s nothing to worry about, my old friends Fabian Stella-Marcus and Declan Smith will be coming along too, and they’re both big solid guys.’

‘Any self-respecting snake would think twice about grappling with Fabian. He is smarter than the average snake.’

One fine but chilly Saturday morning, they set off in Mark’s newly refurbished campervan. Jasper is dressed in a long-sleeve shirt, good solid hiking boots, and a pair of cargo shorts with big roomy pockets. And as they head off down the highway, he is bopping away to the feel-good tunes of the 1950s.

Two hours after they leave Melbourne far behind, they arrive at their first port of call. Sassafras is a quaint little town, where day trippers can soak up the atmosphere, or enjoy a freshly-baked scone from one of its famous Devonshire tea houses.

But these boys have something very different in mind, and they head straight for the local bakery. On a chilly day in the mountains, there is nothing more appetising than a piping hot pie, topped with a light and crispy, golden flaky pastry.

‘Ooh, there are so many to choose from,’ Jasper says.

He’s an old-fashioned boy with old-fashioned tastes, and cannot resist a pie topped with mashed potato and mushy green peas.

Declan wanders away with a jumbo sized, Saucy Mexican Salsa. Mark’s decides on a traditional Aussie pie and a sausage roll, but Fabian as usual, just has to be difficult.

‘Don’t bother waiting around for him,’ Mark says. ‘He’ll take ages.’

Fabian steps out of the shop ten minutes later with a tray piled high with a selection of mouth-watering cream cakes.

‘Just in case we get peckish,’ he says, ‘but that lovely girl gave me three for the price of two.’

‘Probably because she wanted to get rid of you.’

‘More than likely.’

‘Okay boys, let’s hit the road,’ Mark says. ‘We still have a few miles to go.’

They pile into the campervan and with Mark at the helm, they venture along country roads, down narrow country lanes, past week-end retreats, and even the occasional country mansion.

It is almost two o’clock when they arrive at a car park in the middle of nowhere. But this is not just a hiking expedition, it is a data collection exercise as well. Orienteering is an accredited subject and the boys have to document their trip in detail. A map of Victorian hiking tracks is essential, as is an old-fashioned compass, four mobile phones, and that ever-dependable App, an online GPS.

They strap on their backpacks and make their way through an old growth forest. And by the time they reach their destination, the light is fading, darkness is closing in, and rain clouds are gathering overhead.

A remote camping spot, known only to a few intrepid hikers is as far from civilisation as Jasper has ever been. But it was worth the effort, just to see a beautiful little freshwater creek that winds its way through the undergrowth.

‘Well, we finally made it,’ Fabian says. ‘It’s just like something out of Deliverance, isn’t it?’

‘I hope not,’ Mark says.

An encounter with a couple of mean-spirited rednecks is the last thing he wants. But this is the great outdoors, and anything could happen on a bleak and overcast night in the middle of nowhere.

Jasper paid a small fortune for a state-of-the-art, polyurethane tent, which is supposed to be a cinch to erect. It states quite clearly what goes where, but that doesn’t help him much at all.

‘Oh, what do I do with all this stuff?’ he cries.

Fabian has been watching closely and decides to come to his rescue.

‘So, you are obviously not the outdoors type.’

‘No,’ Jasper says, ‘don’t know a thing about it.’

‘In that case, I’ll give you a hand.’

With a few deft moves, Fabian slips the aluminium poles into the sockets, pulls the tent into place, stakes it to the ground, and a few minutes later, Jasper steps back to admire his new home-away-from-home.

‘There now, that should keep the greeblies out.’

‘Very nice,’ Jasper says.

‘I’m an expert at just about everything Jasper.’

‘That’s good to know. Thanks, Fabian.’

‘My mother always told me to be kind to strangers. Now, let’s get this show on the road.’

They scout around and collect a stockpile of leaves and branches. Fabian lights the first match of the day, and they watch closely as the flames gather in momentum. Thirty minutes later, a healthy fire is blazing away, and the only chore after that, is to cook up an old-fashioned Aussie BBQ.



CHAPTER 2


It is not unusual for young men to include alcohol on the agenda, especially when they plan to have a good time. Jasper watches with interest as Fabian removes a selection of drinks, and a black leather pouch from his backpack.

‘Well, we made it,’ he says, ‘and that means we have to celebrate.’

‘How old are you, Jasper?’

‘Seventeen, but I’ll be eighteen in a few weeks.’

‘Well, that makes you legal. Perhaps you’d like something to lubricate your vocal chords,’ Fabian says with an evil glint in his eye.

‘It won’t hurt. In fact, from what Mark has told me it might even do you good. You are a writer, after all, aren’t you?’

‘Amongst other things,’ Jasper says.

‘Consider this a present. It will open your eyes in ways you could never imagine.’

Every Friday afternoon after school, Jasper’s mates would have a quick puff before they got on the train, but he had never been interested. One day, he decided to give it a go and nearly passed out on the spot. He ended up at Melbourne Central Station and wandered around in a daze, for the next two hours.

That was the day that his life took a detour he wasn’t expecting. That was the day he noticed an attractive young woman gazing at him from the opposite side of the platform. There was just enough space on the bench for one more person, so she plucked up the courage, and asked the old lady at his side if she could squeeze in.

‘I’ve been working non-stop for the last twelve hours,' she said.

She made herself comfortable, ruffled around in her red velvet bag and removed a packet of cigarettes.

‘You don’t mind if I smoke do you,’ she said.

The old lady pointed to a sign that’s visible on almost every street corner in Australia…This is a Smoke Free Zone.

‘We’re underground now, and I don’t think that counts, besides, I have had a hell of a day.’

‘Whatever you do, never take a job in the hospitality industry. People can be so tiresome when you work in a fancy restaurant.’

The old lady just wanted to get home, kick off her shoes and rest her weary legs, but a message over the loudspeaker was the last straw. The six o’clock train to Cranbourne would not be arriving for another thirty minutes. She sighed volubly, reached into her bag, and then settled back with a dog-eared copy of an old Mills and Boon love story.

The vivacious Sally Velasko was now free to devote her attention to Jasper.

‘Very interesting eyes,’ she said in a voice that was just short of a sigh.

Sally couldn’t get any closer if she tried, but there was something about Jasper that she just couldn’t resist. He had a certain indefinable quality, and it wasn’t just his glistening green eyes, the dimples around his mouth or his boyish good looks.

Most women on the streets of Melbourne wear black as a statement of their position in society, but Sally was not one of those. On that day, she was wearing a pair of blue spangled tights and a red velvet coat. Her glossy black hair was hidden away under a black velvet beret. Ruby red was the lipstick of choice, and her sparkling blue eyes were accentuated by a hint of eye shadow.

Jasper is a typical seventeen-year-old boy, operating on that most vital of all frequencies, but he was no match for a seductress in disguise. Within minutes, Sally had him laughing away about one thing and another, and before he knew it, she had his phone number and he had hers.

Passengers were bored and tired, and the sound of the train soaring through the tunnel was music to their ears.

‘It’s been nice meeting you,’ he said, ‘but I have to go.’

Sally was not to be deterred, she followed him onto the carriage and took a seat by his side.

‘So, Jasper, what are you doing tonight?’ she said.

Jasper’s hands were hot and sweaty, and his heart was beating a little faster than usual. But as he gazed into those seductive blue eyes and ruby red lips, he knew exactly what she had in mind. He was about to venture into uncharted waters without a map or compass.

‘I was just going to have a pizza, and maybe watch a movie.’

‘With Mum, Dad and three siblings, perhaps,’ Sally said.

‘No, I sort of live alone. If Dad is at home, he is probably in an alcoholic stupor.’

‘In that case, I would love to join you, if you don’t mind. I am an apprentice chef, amongst other things, and I could whip up a few delectable nibbles…and maybe something else as well.’

‘I hope you’re hungry, Jasper, because I am famished.’

When the train arrived at Toorak station, they wandered down the hill and around the corner to a red brick Georgian mansion. Jasper never did get an opportunity to watch a movie that Friday evening. Sally had other things on her mind, and as Jasper would eventually find out, Sally always got her way.



CHAPTER 3


Jasper is in the company of three very healthy and handsome young men, who are about to step out into the big wide world, preach the value of regular exercise, a wholesome diet and moderation in all things, but they are young men after all.

‘So, Jasper, name your poison,’ Fabian says. ‘We have quite a lot to choose from. Have you ever had a drink before?’

‘My father has a wine cellar in the basement, and a bar that most people would die for,' he says.

‘That answers that question, I suppose.’

‘So, you’re a rich boy from what I hear?’

‘If you call living in a big house with no one to talk to, other than the occasional carer, then I guess I am a rich boy,' Jasper says, 'but I am an orphan of sorts.’

‘And why is that?’

‘My parents were too old to raise a child, so they leave it to people like Mark, and for that I have been very grateful.’

‘So, they do everything for you.’

‘No, they didn’t Fabian, but they did show me something about the world in which they live.’

‘I once spent three weeks with an Indian family in Pondicherry, and at the age of ten, I was unofficially adopted by five gay men, all of whom I still call friends.’

‘Now that is interesting, Jasper. Is there anything else I should know?’

That’s a leading question if ever there was one, and Jasper is starting to wonder about this hulking Greek god of a guy.

‘Well, when I was twelve, I spent every week-end helping to feed the needy and homeless on the streets of Melbourne.’

There are so many other things that he could have said but this is not the time or the place.

‘No complaints then, Jasper.’

‘Sometimes Fabian, sometimes.’

The following morning, he wakes with a start from a deep and restless sleep, only to hear Mark calling to him across space and time.

‘Jasper, rise and shine, it’s time to get up.’

‘Okay Mark, I’ll be there in a few minutes.’

He stumbles out of his tent, the aroma of bacon and eggs drifts through the air, birds are singing in the trees, and the gentle sound of a forest stream gurgles away in the background.

‘How’s the head?’ Mark says as he tends to breakfast over an open fire.

‘Not too bad, considering what we got up to last night.’

It’s a wonder that they’re still alive. They had a few too many drinks, and it was all Fabian’s fault. As Jasper discovered, he has a mischievous sense of humour and will do anything for a good laugh.

‘So, where are they? Did they go for a run?

‘No Jasper, they’re still in their tent.’

‘Wow, how did I miss that?’

‘You couldn’t tell,’ Mark says curiously.

‘No, I didn’t have a clue.’

‘Well, they’re pretty low key about it. They are going to be teachers, after all.’

‘A cup of coffee perhaps,' Mark says, ‘it’s the real thing.’

‘A triple dose to start with,’ Jasper says, ‘just to see if I’m still normal.’

‘But you’re not going to say anything about them to Gridley and Surrey, are you?’

Jasper has only submitted one bad report on a carer, a young fellow whose interests were somewhat suspect. He never did get his wicked way, but he did get his marching orders.

‘I certainly will not Mark, besides, it’s none of their business.’

‘This trip is an important part of my social and emotional education, and that’s the sort of thing they like to hear.’

‘Thanks Jasper, you’re a good guy,' Mark says.


CHAPTER 4


Two months later, Jasper’s father is diagnosed with liver failure. And he is rushed off to hospital in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, he passes away two days later. It’s a very difficult time, as it coincides with Jasper’s high school graduation, and his eighteenth birthday. But it could have been a lot worse if not for Sally. She takes a week off from work, accompanies him to the graduation, and even makes a cake for his birthday.

His father's funeral is a quiet affair, a simple graveside ceremony with a few close friends in attendance. Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy, but Sally stands at his side and offers what little comfort she can. As the only remaining member of his family, his mother Geraldine also makes an appearance, in body if not in spirit.

As Jasper’s legal guardian, she makes no effort to contest the will. Geraldine is seventy-three years old and will not be around forever. Jasper is nominated as the sole beneficiary of his father’s estate and numerous documents have to be signed and countersigned. Consequently, he sees more of his mother in the solicitor’s office than he has in ages.

‘Well, Mum, that’s the last one,’ he says. ‘Feel like a coffee before you go back to work.’

‘That would be lovely Jaz.’

They spend the next hour, wandering through Toorak Village, an exclusive shopping precinct for the well-heeled and the well-to-do.

‘Jasper, you’re a very wealthy boy now,’ Geraldine says. ‘What are you going to do with your life?’

‘I think I’ll sell the house and find somewhere else to live.’

‘In that case, I know just the place. There’s a very interesting building in Fitzroy.’

‘Why don’t you come over and check it out. It’s a bargain, compared to anything else in the area.’

‘I might just do that,’ he says.

Geraldine is the owner of a tapas bar called Donna Isabella’s, an inconspicuous little shop in the time capsule that is Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Whereas Toorak reeks of style, class and money place, Fitzroy oozes old world charm and character.

It’s one of the oldest suburbs in Melbourne, and a popular haunt for artists and musicians. Thousands of cottages were built in the early 20th century, to cater for the influx of European immigrants, and a few still exist in their original form.

Fitzroy has always had a colourful mix of people, including the poor, the sad, the lost and the lonely. The seedy boarding houses of days gone by have been given a new lease of life. And in the 1980s, the young urban professionals moved in and transformed Fitzroy into what it is today.

Jasper is excited at the thought of having his own place, and makes a 10 o’clock appointment with a real estate agent for the following Saturday morning. He and his mother arrive a little bit early, so they can check it out in advance.

The building in question is a red brick structure with decorative features around the outer edge. The windows on the ground floor have been replaced by brickwork. The first and second floors do not appear to be occupied, but the top floor apartment has a fancy little balcony at the front.

‘Look Mum, it even has a name,’ Jasper says.

The Phoenix, 1914, is etched into the lintel above the front door.

‘I wonder if it means anything.’

‘I have no idea Jaz, but it appears to be a very solid-looking building.’

‘Look up there on the roof. It even has a bell tower,’ he says. ‘If that’s any indication of what it’s like, I have a feeling this is going to be good.’

‘Have you met the agent yet, Jasper?’

‘No Mum, I have only spoken to her on the phone. I think she’s from the upper end of town.’

A few minutes later, a highly polished, jet-black sports car stops at the kerb, and reverses into the first available parking space. A stylish young woman with bright orange hair, pokes her head through the window, and zoom in on Jasper.

‘Are you Jasper Powell?’ she says.

‘Yes, I am.’

‘I’m Jennifer Bradley. Very pleased to meet you,’ she says. ‘I thought I’d arrive early, but you beat me to it.’

Jennifer Bradley is an attractive young woman in her late twenties, and even though it may not be her usual attire, she is dressed in a perfectly appointed, two-piece ensemble with matching shoes. After a few minutes of general chit-chat, they wander down a side street to the rear of the Phoenix.

‘The only access is through the back gate, but it has very good security as you can see.’

They step into a spacious courtyard, surrounded by a bluestone wall, that has a series of sharp spikes along the top.

‘This was probably a horse stable, but today, it could accommodate three medium sized cars or even a lap pool,’ she says. ‘And it even has a wine cellar in the basement.’

‘That could come in handy,’ Jasper says.

Being the business-minded person that she is, Jennifer launches into her sales pitch immediately. Jasper is a prospective client and there is money to be made.

‘The original tenants were live-in caretakers, but The Phoenix has had a series of occupants over the years.’

‘It’s been vacant for the last five years, but its spotlessly clean. I believe that a local family looks after it, but I have no idea who they are.’

The Phoenix is built on a solid bluestone base, but the lobby looks like the entrance to a boutique hotel. Filtered light streams in through a beautiful stained-glass window. An ornately carved staircase winds its way to the top floor. And an ornamental lamp, suspended from the ceiling, adds a touch of quiet sophistication.

‘This is really beautiful, isn’t it Mum?’

‘It certainly is Jaz.’

‘The design is similar to the Art Nouveau style,’ Jennifer says, ‘leaves and tendrils and that sort of thing. But if you look closely, you will see that they are actually snakes, vipers and serpents.’

‘Oh, really,’ Jasper says.

‘Is that a problem.’

‘Well, we’ll see. Perhaps we should take a look inside first.’

‘In that case,’ she says, ‘follow me.’

Stepping through the door is like stepping into a dream that Jasper has had a hundred times before. The top floor apartment is a vast open space, with polished wooden floors, and a view of Fitzroy through every window. High up above is a vaulted wooden ceiling, surrounded by a decorative, hand-carved cornice, and at the very apex, is a most unusual-looking tower.

‘That’s not a bell tower, is it?’

‘No, it’s not Jasper, it’s a bust of a woman, and if you look closely, you can see that her head-dress is a crown of stylised serpents.’

‘Snakes again,’ Jasper says.

The very mention of the word is enough to send him into a spin, and for a very good reason, he’s been dreaming about them for years.

‘This is the work of a very accomplished craftsman’ Geraldine says. ‘Do you know anything about the builder?’

‘Not much, other than the fact that his wife was the inspiration for the décor.’

‘It seems that she was a great beauty from somewhere like India. He was a snake charmer extraordinaire, and she was commonly known as the snake charmer’s wife.

Jasper is having second thoughts about this idea, and he would happily wander away and just forget about it. But he is stopped in his tracks by an unfamiliar tingling sensation. It slithers up his spine like a snake slithering up a pole, stops halfway for a second or two, and then surges up his backbone.

‘What’s going on,’ he says. ‘Something very weird is happening.’

The last thing he expected to see is an unusual display of lights at the far end of the room. Unbeknownst to Jasper, this is the energetic activity that precedes the appearance of a spirit from the spirit world.

The ghostly form of a woman steps through an invisible portal, drifts around the room, opens her arms, and nods her head, as if to say, this is a very good idea, Jasper.

It’s his Lady Friend, the very same woman who has been appearing in his dreams ever since he was a boy.

‘Jasper, are you alright? Geraldine says. ‘You’re as white as a sheet.’

‘Yes Mum, I’ll be okay in a few minutes.’

Geraldine took him to see a psychologist when he was eight years old, but it was to no avail, his Lady Friend continued to appear like clockwork. As to who she is, Jasper has no idea, but her usual routine is to gaze into his eyes, as if she is aching to take him into her arms.

‘So, Jaz, what do you think?’ Geraldine says.

‘It really is beautiful Mum.’

‘It would be a shame to let someone else get hold of it.’

‘I know Mum, it would, wouldn’t it?’

‘So, what will you do, my boy?’

Jasper is in a quandary, and his instincts are to walk away and forget he ever saw this place. But his Lady Friend obviously has very different ideas. From the look on her face, it’s apparent that she is beseeching him to throw caution to the wind and just do it.

‘I think I’ll take it, Mum.’

‘Congratulations,’ Jennifer says. ‘You have made an excellent choice.’

It’s the biggest decision that Jasper has ever made in his life, and whether he likes it or not, the die has been cast. A few days later, he becomes the proud owner of a prime piece of Victorian real estate, and the custodian of a major piece of its forgotten history. As he will soon discover, The Phoenix has hat , age oform of dy hanging over his head and a ith a cornice that looks like a long trailing serpent. he its secrets, and it has been waiting for someone like him to come along and work out what it is.

Jasper hasn’t said anything to his mother about what happened the week before. To see a ghost in the clear light of day was weird enough, but that tingling sensation, and that golden light, what was that all about?

He has been racing around for the last two weeks, trying to get the house ready for the auction, and has enough on his plate at the moment. But there is no way that he is going to get down on his hands and knees, and clean ten rooms, so he happily pays someone else to do the dirty work.

He wasn’t going to hang around for the auction, but Geraldine begged him to change his mind. It had been her home for over forty years, and this is an opportunity to put old ghosts to rest.

Just about everyone at the auction is a lawyer, a doctor or a merchant banker. And while some are doing their best to look as unobtrusive as possible, a few are obviously from the shady side of town. To purchase a house in Toorak would be an opportunity to stake their claim to a slice of hallowed ground. And for one nameless face in the crowd, it is a bargain at 4.5 million Australian dollars.

To Jasper’s relief, it doesn’t take as long as he thought it would and it’s over in an hour.

‘So, Jasper, what are you going to do with the furniture?’ Geraldine says.

His father was an avid collector of 19th century furniture of one style or another. And an antique dealer with an eye for a bargain would happily take everything off his hands. Jasper sold half the furniture at auction, and donated a truckload of odds and ends to charity, but he wasn’t about to dispose of his heritage altogether.

‘Those old wardrobes might come in useful,’ he says. ‘I think I might take those as well.’

‘What about the wine cellar?’ Geraldine says.

‘Ah yes, I’ll see to that as soon as possible.’

They wander out the gate and up the hill, and don’t even bother to look back. That old Georgian mansion has far too many memories, and they are more than happy to leave them exactly where they are.




CHAPTER 5


Rattling around in an empty apartment felt very strange for the first few weeks, but Jasper was never alone. His Lady Friend made an impromptu visit at least once a day. The tell-tale sign was that all-too-familiar tingling sensation. And after that, he would just drift around in a daze, and his feet barely even touched the ground.

She just happened to make an appearance on the night that Sally stayed over, but that was all it took. A few days later, she moved in, accompanied by a black cat called Merlin. And the very moment he saw something out of the corner of his eye, he made a beeline for the front balcony, and that is where he stayed for the next three weeks.

If you have just moved into a new apartment, and the only thing you have to cook with, is a rusty old gas-burner stove, the first thing you would do is throw it in the bin, and that is exactly what Jasper did.

He spent a small fortune on a new state-of-the-art kitchen, a huge black and white couch, and several wingback chairs. But Sally wasn’t about to let the twelve-seater dining table, or the French Imperial armoires gather dust in the basement.

They spend the next few weeks trawling through some of Fitzroy’s best antique shops, where Sally fell in love with an enormous canopy bed.

‘Jasper, it’s the sort of thing you’d see in a medieval castle, isn’t it?’

‘What do you think?’

‘I love it,’ he says.

She spent ages decorating it with exotic Indian saris. And when it was finished, Jasper christened it The Boudoir of the Queen of Sheba.

A plaque at the bottom of the stairs clearly indicated that The Phoenix was completed on the 28th of March 1914, and that gave him an inspired idea.

‘Why don’t we have a house-warming party and invite a few people over.’

The biggest problem was how to trim down an extensive list of friends, and the only solution was to pick a name out of a hat. It’s a task for which they had to pluck up a bit of old-fashioned Dutch courage, but there was plenty to choose from. Over five thousand bottles from the Toorak wine cellar had been stored away in the basement. And it takes two bottles of a finely aged red before they are ready to roll.

‘Okay, I’ll go first,’ Jasper says as he selects a name from a hat.

‘Ah ha, the Queen of the Witches is a certainty.’

There are not too many people who can say that the Queen of the Witches is one of their best friends, but Jasper can, thanks to his mother Geraldine, of course.

Mortisha is the very essence of modern day witchiness. And other than the fact that she wears a long black dress from nine to five, she has nothing in common with the unflappable Morticia of Addams Family fame.

As everyone knows, she is a fictitious creation, but Mortisha Montserrat has two principal interests, one of which is handsome men, and the other is a passion for high-class fashion.

‘Your turn,’ he says to Sally.

She is just about to select a name from the hat, when a gust of wind scatters little bits of paper all over the floor.

‘Now that was seriously creepy,’ she says. ‘Is this place haunted?’

Jasper hasn’t had the heart to tell her that strange things have been happening ever since he moved in.

‘I think it might be,’ he says.

‘What do you mean by that Jasper?’

‘Well, ever since I was a boy, a woman has been appearing in my dreams, but for some reason she has decided to make an appearance in my life as well.’

‘So, who is she Jasper and what does she want?’

‘I don’t know, but whenever she appears, I get all sort of tingly.’

‘Like goose bumps, you mean?’

‘No, it’s like every cell in my system starts to vibrate at light speed. And I feel as if I’m out there somewhere and here at the same time.’

‘I have no idea what that means,’ Sally says. ‘Perhaps she fancies you Jasper.’

‘A desire to seduce me is not it at all Sally. My Lady Friend has never done anything like that. Not once.’

‘But she is obviously hanging around for a reason.’

‘Like what Jasper?’

‘It has something to do with this place. It’s based on the theme of a snake, just in case you hadn’t noticed.’

‘I had noticed that, of course, Jasper. So, what does she want?’

‘I think she’s trying to tell me something.’

‘And what would that be?’

‘I don’t know, maybe she was murdered, here in this very apartment, and she wants someone to find out the truth.’

‘The spirits of the departed do not rest easily, especially if they have been maligned,’ Sally says in an overly theatrical manner. ‘They usually hang about until their issues have been resolved.’

‘That’s the sort of thing Mortisha would say. Perhaps she can solve this problem, because I have had enough of this situation.’

‘It’s getting all too creepy and it’s not normal either.’



CHAPTER 6


Sally has to face a twelve-hour day, slaving away in a chic restaurant in downtown Collins Street. She is usually out of the house by five thirty in the morning, whereas Jasper, crawls out around nine, after which he sits on the balcony savouring his first coffee of the day.

He has always dreamt of writing write a best-selling novel. And he would love nothing better, than to peck away at one of his unfinished manuscripts, but that isn’t going to happen, not at the moment at any rate.

So, he heads off to the pool to do a few laps instead. It’s a twenty-minute walk through the beautiful Carlton Gardens to The Melbourne City Baths. And after a few dozen laps, he usually wanders over the road to soak up the atmosphere of the fabled Queen Victoria Markets.

The aroma of freshly cooked food wafts through the air, and the markets are as popular with the locals as they are with the tourists. Jasper grabs a quick bite and then stops off to see his mother on the way home. Geraldine is usually preparing the delicacies for the mid-day rush, and sometimes needs an extra pair of hands.

‘Jasper, it’s so lovely to see you,’ she says. ‘I’m running a little late. Mind giving me a hand?’

‘Definitely, Mum, what do you want me to do.’

‘Peel the prawns, prepare the whitebait, and cut up the squid, to start with.’

‘You mean this sloppy mess on the bench.’

‘Yes Jaz.’

At least it gives him something else to think about. And as far as Jasper is concerned, he has done more than enough thinking for one day.

‘The smelly jobs for the hired help,’ he says. ‘No problemo, Mama.’

When Geraldine lived in Barcelona, she loved nothing better than to sneak out onto the streets disguised as a femme fatale Flamenco dancer. But today, she is dressed in a deep green skirt, a bright red scarf, big chunky earrings, a healthy application of eye shadow, and a string of glitzy beads.

She is the flavour of the month with quite a few of the old men of the area. And it’s not uncommon to see Rogelio, Ramon or Raoul, gazing through the window, dreaming of days gone by. Geraldine doesn’t have time to make their dreams come true, but she usually blows them a kiss, and that really does make their day.

Tapas food is the speciality of the house, and Geraldine always has a few classics on the menu. Today, it’s paella, tortillas, chorizo sausage, and an anchovy and potato salad. A chilled tomato and cucumber soup called gazpacho is always a summer favourite, especially when it’s served up with a little bit of salsa, and a handful of garlic croutons.

Geraldine does not regret giving up a lucrative career as a gynaecologist, and she certainly doesn’t miss the stress of being a medical professional. She is doing something she loves.

‘Thirty minutes to countdown,’ she says, ‘just enough time for a glass of wine and a quick cigarette.’

When they step out the back-door, she offers Jasper his first ever cigarette, and even though he has never been tempted, he jumps at the opportunity.

‘You look a little worried Jaz. Is everything okay with you and Sally?’

‘Yes Mum, it’s all good, but it’s that apartment. I think it’s haunted.’

‘Really, that must explain why it was such a bargain.’

‘But there’s more. I’m still having those dreams about my Lady Friend. And I’m sure she’s there as well.’

‘What do you mean, Jaz?’

‘Well, she just pops in sometimes, and I always know when she’s around.’

‘Why, what does she do?’

‘Well, it’s nothing awful, but I get all weird and tingly, like I am about to take flight or something.’

‘Really Jasper, that does sound interesting.’

‘I wish I knew what it was all about, Mum. But the last time it happened, all I could think about was Dad.’

‘Your father experienced something like that after his mother died. He was always saying he could see her in the house.’

‘It took its toll on both of us after a while, which is another reason I moved out.’

‘I have a suspicion that there is something going on,' Jasper says, 'and she wants me to do something about it.’

‘This sounds like a case for Mortisha, High Queen of the Witches,’ Geraldine says. ‘You have her number, don’t you?’

‘Yes Mum, I do.’

‘Jaz, my beautiful boy, things happen for a reason, and I would not be surprised if you have been chosen to solve a long-standing problem.’

‘That sexy she-devil might have you in her sights, but don’t ignore her. I think she likes you, my boy.’

‘I think she does Mum, but I wish I knew why, because I can’t take much more of this.’



CHAPTER 7


Jasper often pops in for a chat. As he knows from experience, it’s not a good idea to just rock up at Mortisha’s door. The last time he did that she was entertaining a coterie of like-minded souls.

An eerily cat-like woman, swathed in black silken veils took a fancy to him immediately. Lucrezia Lavarre was a vaporous spirit on two legs, who spoke in long breathy pauses. She spent ages dousing him with invigorating little molecules, in an effort to cleanse his aura of unwanted visitors, or that is what she said at any rate.

He knocks politely on the door and just hopes for the best, and to his relief Mortisha is at home.

‘Jasper,’ she says. ‘It’s lovely to see you again.’

After a compulsory kiss on both cheeks, she stands back and scrutinises him in the way that only a witch can do.

‘I have a feeling that something big is about to pop up.’

‘I hope not, Mortisha.’

‘There is definitely something going on with you, young man. Now come in and tell me everything.’

Mortisha has long black hair and deep black eyes, and usually wears a long black dress that attracts little bits of lint, fluff and dust. As to her age, Jasper has no idea, she could be a hundred or she could be forty. She is a witch after all, and probably knows the secret of immortality.

Her house is a renovated worker’s cottage which looks like any other house on the street, until you get inside that is. The focal point of the lounge is an enormous crystal ball, and above that is a ceiling which resembles a glistening spider’s web.

Jasper has never had the courage to ask about the strange green glow emanating from a door at the far end of the room. For all he knows, it could be a portal to the world beyond. But he is relieved to see that there isn’t another soul in sight, other than her shaggy old cat, Methuselah.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ she says.

‘Anything Mortisha, as long as you don’t spike it with something.’

‘You are in a bad way, my boy. I think you’re in need of sedation.’

While she attends to a simple domestic task, Jasper just goes for it and tells her everything.

‘So, when your Lady Friend appears you experience a heightened sense of arousal, shall we say?’

‘Not that sort of arousal, Mortisha.’

‘Okay, tell me more.’

‘It starts at the base of the spine, like a tingling sensation at first, and then every cell in my body goes into overdrive.’

‘So, you feel energised, you could say.’

‘Yes Mortisha, big time. Like a power plant on two legs.’

‘Jasper, have you ever heard of the Kundalini?’

‘No Mortisha, I haven’t. What is it?’

‘It's a reservoir of power at the base of the spine. And once activated, it flows up to the brain, and opens the way for experiences of a non-physical nature.’

‘It’s not life-threatening, is it Mortisha?’

‘For first timers, it can be temporarily debilitating, but for the experienced, it is unadulterated bliss.’

‘If the Kundalini ever makes an appearance, magic can happen. Your energy system operates on full power for a few glorious hours, and you feel as light as the proverbial feather, so to speak.’

‘Then that must be it, Mortisha. What else could it be?’

‘What you have described is what the Holy Men of India experience, Jasper. It happens for a reason in their case.’

‘However, once this situation has been resolved, you will probably never experience it again, but you never know.’

‘But why is it happening to me, Mortisha.’

‘Your Lady Friend obviously activates that energy when she makes an appearance. It seems that she is determined to communicate something to you and to you alone.’

‘You obviously have a connection with this woman. Perhaps you were lovers in a previous life.’

‘I don’t think so, Mortisha. I think she has something to reveal, and she has chosen me to do it. Why I cannot imagine, but she has.’

‘In which case, another visit to your apartment would not be out of order. I will look into this in my own way, and let you know what I find.'

‘In the meantime, did you enjoy the tea?’

‘You didn’t put hemlock in it, after all. Did you?’

‘No Jasper. That would have been fatal. Not that I would, of course. You were doing perfectly well, without any help from me.’




CHAPTER 8


To Jasper’s mind, that idea does make sense, but it leaves him with a lot to think about. Not knowing what else to do, he wanders aimlessly along Brunswick Street, and on an impulse, he decides to investigate a spiritual bookshop.

Entering The Lighthouse is like stepping into a highly-charged sanctuary. The air is suffused with incense, and hundreds of crystals, suspended from the ceiling, give it a very otherworldly feel.

The Lighthouse has a very interesting selection of books on all sorts of New Age topics, channelling, spirit guides and other out-of-this-world things. Jasper works his way through one shelf after another, until he finds a book called Meditations on the Kundalini by Swami Jagatpati.

‘This looks like just the thing,’ he says.

He races up to the counter, hands over the money and heads for the peace and quiet of the Fitzroy Public Library. According to the cover, Swami Jagatpati is a holy man who claims to have reached a state of Godhead through intensive meditation. But he is also a self-professed expert, who has spent most of his life, in a state of Kundalini-inspired bliss.

The Kundalini has a long and ancient history, but the thing that really takes Jasper by surprise is the fact that it has always been depicted as a serpent.

‘Ah ha, that explains all that weirdness. Now it’s starting to make sense. My never-ending snake dreams have nothing to do with snakes at all.’

But it is what the Swami has to say about the effect of the Kundalini on lovers both young and old that really wins Jasper over.

‘Ooh, Sally will love to hear about that.’

Now that he knows that he is not possessed by evil spirits, Jasper starts to relax. But before he goes, he decides to inspect an exhibit on the local area.

‘Mm, maybe they have something about my building as well.’

He approaches the librarian on duty and explains that he is the new owner of The Phoenix.’

‘Ah, that place,’ she says. ‘We have a selection of old maps, and a range of historical documents that you might find useful.’

Brunswick Street has had several incarnations over time, and many of the grander buildings date from the 1850s. Melbourne went through a building boom following the discovery of gold, but, everything changed during the 1930s. Entire blocks were razed to the ground. Living conditions were abysmal. Houses were in a pitiful state, and immorality and drunkenness were rife.

‘And the lives of the inhabitants were nothing if not deplorable,’ Jasper says. ‘Things must have been absolutely horrible in those days.’

It’s all very interesting, and he is just about to give this idea up as a lost cause, when it moves into even stranger territory. Jasper has never been one to hear voices in his head, but he has the distinct feeling that someone just whispered in his ear.

‘Jasper, search and you will find.’

‘I’m doing my best,’ he says. He looks around warily and is relieved to see that no one even noticed.

He suddenly remembers a conversation he had with Jennifer Bradley.

‘So, the other two apartments,’ he said. ‘Are they the same as this one?’

‘No one knows, Jasper. They have never been occupied.’

‘There’s something odd about that. What about the pub on the ground floor?’

‘It was bricked up, not long after the building was finished, and no one has ever seen it either.’

‘And I presume that you have the keys.’

‘No, we don’t Jasper. We only have the keys to the top floor apartment. But the contract clearly states that they will be transferred to the new owner, after they take possession.’

‘And who will do that?’ he says.

‘That, I cannot say, Jasper.’

‘So, who owns this place?’

‘Our only contact is with a private mail box in Colombo.’



CHAPTER 9


A holiday in India was a real eye-opener, but Jasper was glad when it was over. All the clues are probably staring him in the face, and the last thing he wants is to pack his bags and head off to Sri Lanka. He delays his return for as long as possible, and decides to have a coffee to pass the time, but when he gets back home, it is only to find the security gate unlocked.

‘Oh no, this isn’t good,’ he says. ‘What will I do?’

Jasper doesn’t have a macho muscle in his body, and absolutely no martial arts skills at all. Sally won’t be home for another hour, so it couldn’t be her. And the last thing he wants is to wrestle an intruder to the ground.

‘Perhaps it’s a previous resident, but there’s no way they could break in, not unless they’re some sort of modern-day cat burglar.’

He had the locks changed to an electronic system, and only he and Sally know the password. That can only mean they are in one of the other two apartments.

He has been up and down the stairs at least five hundred times in the last two months, but he has often wondered what might lay behind the other two doors. He has a feeling that he’s about to find out. He creeps up to the door on the first floor, but it is locked as he is relieved to see.

‘So, they’re in the other one,’ he says.

He moves along quietly, his heart pounding away in his chest, and to his dismay, the door on the second floor is ajar. Not much but it is. Oddly enough, he just happens to notice an old-fashioned fragrance wafting through the air.

‘Cashmere Bouquet, that’s what my grandmother used to wear.’

He is not about to rush in unannounced, so he braces himself and takes a long deep breath.

‘Come out whoever you are,’ he says. ‘This is private property and you are trespassing.’

The worst thing about living in the modern age is the fear factor. Television has been brainwashing people for decades, making them believe that everything is dangerous, that the food they eat is carcinogenic, that their neighbours are the enemy, and at any given moment, they will strike you down and that will be that.

But the last person Jasper expected to see is a lovely white-haired old lady peering cautiously around the door.

‘Don’t hurt us sonny,’ she says. ‘Please don’t hurt us. We don’t mean you any harm.’

‘Are you Jasper Powell by any chance?’

‘Yes, I am, but who are you?’

‘My name is Bella, Arabella José and this is my husband Paz, Pasquale. We are your neighbours, Jasper.’

Jasper is not about to be mugged by two of the loveliest old people you could ever wish to see. And they really are his neighbours. He has often seen Paz pottering around in the back garden.

‘But what are you doing here?’

‘Jasper, we are here to give you the keys,' Bella says, 'but before we do that, perhaps you could oblige us with a cup of tea.’

‘I could,’ he says. ‘I definitely could.’

‘Please take my arm as I am a very old lady now. It takes me ages to get up these stairs.’

There are exactly thirty-three steps between each floor, and its slow going with Bella on one arm and Paz on the other.

‘Jasper, your apartment is beautiful,’ Bella says. ‘But where is your girlfriend?’

‘She’ll be here soon.’

‘Jasper, you boil the kettle, and we’ll sit down and wait. We have so many things to tell you.’

Jasper sends a quick text message to Sally, alerting her to the fact that they have company. And while he is at it, he sends one to Mortisha and his mother as well.

He races back and forth with cups and saucers, milk, sugar and biscuits, and just as he is about to pour the tea, all three of them appear at the door.

‘I know you,’ Geraldine says as she races over to Bella.

‘I’ve seen you before.’

‘Yes, we pass your shop, but only on a Thursday,’ Bella says. ‘We have never stopped in for a chat, but I often thought we should.’

‘You’re Donna Isabella, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, I am, but my real name is Geraldine Powell.’

As to how he was going to get hold of the keys, Jasper had no idea, but this is the last thing he expected. Bella and Paz have a story to tell, and everyone is waiting on tenterhooks to find out the secret of The Phoenix.

‘Our parents arrived as immigrants just after the Spanish Civil War of 1937,’ Bella said. ‘The Franco regime targeted anyone who was still loyal to the king, but my family barely escaped with their lives.’

‘Paz and I were born in Melbourne, and we have been married for over forty years.’

‘This building has been here for at least a hundred years, and my father was the third caretaker.’

‘We lived here for many years, but after my parents passed on, we brought the house next door.’

‘We had to move out, Jasper. There are too many stairs to climb for one thing, but that isn’t the only reason.’

‘It’s haunted, isn’t it?’ he says.

Paz nods his head in agreement. He knows exactly what Jasper is talking about.

‘Yes, it is,’ Bella says. ‘This is not a good place for a man to live, as you have probably found out. But it does have its secrets.’

‘Tell us everything you know,’ Jasper says.

‘Well, I don’t know as much as I would like, but maybe you can find out more.’

According to Bella, The Phoenix really does have its secrets, and one of those is a ghost who targets any able-bodied male.

‘But that isn’t all, on the two floors below there are hundreds of wooden boxes.’

‘Really,’ Jasper says.

‘Yes, we have no idea what they are, I don’t think its treasure, but it’s big, whatever it is.’

‘This building was constructed several years after the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880. My mother told me that, and I am sure it’s important, but I don’t know why.’

‘There were two other caretakers before my father, and if they knew anything about this place, they took the secret to the grave.’

‘The Phoenix was constructed as a place to store hundreds of wooden crates,’ Jasper says, ‘but why?’

‘Do you have any idea who built it, Bella?’

‘No Jasper, but look around. There are clues all over the place.’

‘I believe it has something to do with the woman who has been appearing in my dreams,'

‘The ghost you mean?’ Bella says.

‘Yes, she’s been doing it for the last ten years, and I suspect she has something to do with this place.’

‘She even whispered a message in my ear when I was in the library this afternoon.’

‘She did,’ says an astounded Mortisha. ‘What did she say?

‘Search and you will find were her exact words.’


CHAPTER 10


Jasper has enough wine in the cellar to last another five years, if he drinks in moderation, that is, but he is not doing a very good job at the moment. A bottle and a half of a nicely aged red has no effect against the power of his Lady Friend. She appears in his dreams again that night, but not as a puff of mist and smoke. This time she is waiting at the edge of a cliff adorned in long silken veils.

It’s a wild and stormy night, the winds are howling, and monstrous breakers are rolling onto the shore below, but this is no sightseeing tour, it has another purpose altogether. Jasper is here to witness the destruction of a sea-going vessel, trapped in a raging storm. It is heading for an outcrop of rock, and in a tempest such as this, it doesn’t have a hope.

The storm eventually subsides, and by morning light there’s nothing left but debris floating along the shoreline. If a little girl and her father had not come to his rescue, the fate of the only survivor may have been very different altogether.

‘That boy may have died,’ his Lady Friend says, ‘if it hadn’t been for us.’

Another part of the puzzle is falling into place, and if Jasper is correct, that was the coastline of Sri Lanka, but as to the identity of the boy, he has no idea at all.

If he is to find out anything more, he has no choice but to check out the other two apartments. He ventures downstairs with a flashlight in one hand and a cast iron key in the other, and to his relief the lock opens with ease.

He pokes his head around the door, expecting to see rats, mice and cobwebs all over the place. But it is not only spotlessly clean, it really is a storage place for hundreds of wooden crates, stacked one on top of the other from the floor to the ceiling.

‘Holee, this is massive,’ he says. ‘How did they get them in here, and how would you get them out.’

If that day ever came, it would be a major production in every way. The front wall would have to be removed. Brunswick Street is a very busy road, with trams and cars coming and going every other minute, and it would cause chaos for three days at the very least.

He wanders along to investigate, only to discover that every crate is numbered. As to what they contain he could not even begin to imagine, but someone obviously went to great lengths to protect this treasure.

‘But who were they and why?’

He is just about to lock up when he hears someone coming up the stairs.

‘Jasper, are you there?’ says a familiar voice.

‘Yes Mortisha, I am. Come on in and feast your eyes on this.’

‘Oh, my goodness Jasper, what is this?’

‘An undiscovered treasure, I presume. It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?’

‘Oh Jaz, you’re right. This is truly extraordinary.’

‘And it’s been here for how long?’

‘One hundred years at the very least.’

‘I’d love to have a quick look. Wouldn’t you?’

‘Yes of course Mortisha, but I don’t think now is the time. My Lady Friend might not approve.’

‘Do you have any idea who she is?’

‘No, but she appeared in my dreams again last night. Only this time she was waiting on the edge of a cliff.’

‘Any reason why.’

‘A ship was wrecked in a storm, and the only survivor was a young boy.’

‘Let’s go upstairs and have a cup of tea Jasper, so we can discuss this in the clear light of day.’


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-43 show above.)