Authors: Gareth P. Jones
âAn extraordinarily witty story that accurately depicts the lives of the dead and compellingly describes the death of the living.'
The Ghost of Oscar Wilde
âAs with its London setting, this book contains all that life can afford and all that death will allow. I thoroughly recommend it to all readers, the living and the dead alike.'
The Ghost of Dr Johnson
âThere were many moments during the reading of Mr Jones' thrilling tale that I would undoubtedly have held my breath with excitement had there been any breath in my lungs to hold.'
The Ghost of Mary Shelley
âI wish I had written this story.'
The Ghost of Charles Dickens
âAn intriguingly constructed story with an inventive young hero and an intricate mystery that had me gripped right up to the final page.'
The Ghost of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
âI very much enjoyed the melancholy and tragedy contained within these pages. The humour was less to my tastes.'
The Ghost of Emily BrontÃ«
âMost ghost stories are written for the living. Here, finally, a story has been penned that will, in equal measure, appeal to the dead.'
The Ghost of Henry James
âA singular literary joy from a most fanciful writer with a vivid imagination.'
The Ghost of Jane Austen
The Ghost of Samuel Pepys
Constable & Toop
is a book full of life and crammed with death. All in all, a splendidly macabre and amusing tale.'
The Ghost of Edgar Allan Poe
The author thanks C.P.J Field & Co for their kind permission to use the name
Constable & Toop
For Madi and Lauren Bliss
In her last few moments of life, as the blood gushed from the knife wound in her neck, Emily Wilkins found her thoughts drifting to her mother's death. Mrs Wilkins had lain on her deathbed for weeks without uttering a word until finally, one day, she sat up, fixed her eyes upon Emily and spoke.
âYou're a good girl, ain't you, Em?'
âI try to be, Mam,' she replied.
âYou deserve more than I've ever been able to get for you.'
âI've never wanted for anything,' said Emily.
Her mother shook her head. âYou never had no schooling, but you're a bright girl. I only wish I had done better by you.'
âI just want you to get well,' Emily pleaded.
âThere's no chance of that now, my love,' said her mother. âI can hear them knocking for me.'
âWho?' Emily looked up. âThere's no one knocking.'
Mrs Wilkins smiled weakly. âSoon I'll have no choice but to answer. But promise me this, Em. You need to make the most of this life because who knows what lies on the other side of that door.'
âWhat door, Mam?'
Her mother pointed at the blank wall beside her bed. Her smile was so full of sadness and regret that it drew yet more tears from Emily's eyes. She wiped her face with the cloth she was using to mop her mother's forehead.
Her mother coughed; a dry, throaty cough that sent a splatter of bloody phlegm into the palm of her hand, before she fell back and died, leaving Emily alone and orphaned.
At the time, Emily had childishly believed this final cough was her mother's body ejecting all of its blood before dying.
She realised how very wrong she was as the red liquid now gushed from her own throat. The human body contained much more than a handful of dry blood. The murdering hands that were taking Emily's life were covered in it.
The hands had appeared out of nowhere.
The right had closed around her throat. The left, around her mouth. Emily tasted the salty sweat of the skin as she struggled and kicked, but the hands were strong and this wasn't the first time they had been put to such use.
The blade slid across her neck so smoothly she barely felt it cut the skin. The blood gushed out like water breaking through a dam until the murderer's right hand closed around the wound, stopping the flow.
âCan't 'ave you dyin' in the street like a dog, can we, girl?' snarled a voice. âThat would never do.'
The hands dragged her up the dark, cobbled alleyway.
She could hear knocking.
âDon't you heed that, girl,' said the gruff voice. âWe ain't far now. Hang on yet.'
Lapsewood dipped his pen into the pot of black ink, licked his fingers and pulled a piece of paper from the pile on his desk. In the top right-hand corner he wrote the date: 16th January 1884. His in-tray was stacked higher than ever and today's Dispatch documents had not been delivered yet. It concerned him greatly.
He didn't mind the work. Quite the contrary. In life, Lapsewood had lived to work. In death, he was no different. Work was orderly. It was structured. It was safe. It meant arriving early, sitting down at his desk and working his way through the paperwork to be completed by the end of the day.
Work was satisfying.
Except recently, there had been an unsettling amount of paperwork still left in the in-tray when the final bell tolled.
He tried staying late to get on top of it, but if old Mr Turnbull, the night watchman, found him at his desk he would take the opportunity to recount the tale of his bloody Crimean death, while idly scratching the gaping bayonet wound through his heart.
Lapsewood tried working on Sundays, but still the paperwork grew and grew. Perhaps he was being too conscientious about his processing, taking too long over each one, but he couldn't bear the thought of speeding up at the expense of doing a good job. The Bureau was all that stood between an orderly afterlife and utter chaos, and Lapsewood's Dispatch documents were a vital cog in that great machine.
The office door opened. âMorning, Lapsewood,' said Grunt.
âMorning,' Lapsewood responded. He didn't look up.
Grunt was new. He had been hanged at Newgate for the murder of his wife and wore a silk scarf around his neck to hide the red marks from the rope. But the soft skin around his throat had been broken during the hanging, meaning that now, with no blood left in his veins, grey fluid seeped out, collecting at the top of the scarf. Every so often, Grunt would wipe it away with a spotted kerchief from his waistcoat pocket. Lapsewood found this habit utterly unacceptable. In his less charitable moments, he secretly wished that Grunt had been guilty of his crime, thus making him ineligible for Official Ghost Status and unable to work at the Bureau.
Grunt, however, was innocent. He had been hanged for another man's crime.
âPenhaligan wants to see you,' said Grunt.
Lapsewood felt one of his headaches coming. This was not good news. Not good news at all. It had to be the paperwork. He knew what would happen. He would be called into Colonel Penhaligan's office, given a dressing down, then escorted to the Vault where he would reside until he was tried and convicted of professional incompetence.
âDid he say what it was about?' he asked.
âNah,' said Grunt. âHe just told me to tell you to come up and see him urgently.'
âUrgently? He used the word
âI think so. Might've been
. Or just
. It was something like that, anyway.'
âGrunt, this is important. Exactly what did he say?'
anything,' replied Grunt. âHe more bellowedÂ .Â .Â .'
Grunt's smile suggested this was supposed to be funny.