The Crime Readers' Association

Ghosts, a Logan Bishop story by Luke Deckard

Ghost story with a medium for Hallowe'en

London, October 1920


Anniversaries make it worse. But when you can’t forget, celebrating is all there is.

I pour two small glasses of Johnnie Walker. Amber liquid splashes on the desk and I wipe it away with my hand and then rub my wet palm on my pant leg. I pick up one of the glasses and ding it against the other.

“Here’s to you, Timmy,” I say to a photograph of us with our troupe.

I throw back both peaty drinks.

The cold October day in France flashes in my mind. No-man’s land is a wasteland: bodies litter the grey, desolate earth, and the rattle of gunfire and thunderous booms surround Tim and me. We crouch in the dugout—a German bomb comes down near us. Our position is compromised, and we start to move. Another explosion throws me off my feet. I turn back to look for Tim, but the air is black with smoke and dust. My heart thuds so hard it may burst from my chest. The ringing in my ears is crippling. Ten feet behind me is a crater. At the edge is Tim, blood and mud caked to his body. His skin is seared and burnt, and a metal rod has sliced his belly open. Tim cries for his mother as I take out my gun.

“Forgive me.” I pull the trigger, and Tim’s body stops convulsing.

A tear runs down my cheek. I look up from the picture—my heart seizes: Tim’s ghost stands in front of me. My hand starts to shake. I reach into the desk drawer and grab a bottle of Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup and down it with my eyes shut. The taste is bitter, but the morphine steadies the nerves and cools the hot flash.

A knock on the door startles me. Tim is gone. I grab the whiskey bottle and the glasses and shove them into the bottom drawer. I drop the Winslow bottle into my pocket.

“Come in,” I call as I stand.

Through the office door, a woman in a cream woollen coat trimmed with fur enters. A brown leather clutch is in her hand. She’s tall and wears a dark cloche hat, her black and grey hair frames her narrow face.

“Mr Logan Bishop?” she says.

“That’s the name on the door. Are you going to pick a side to stand on?”

“Oh, yes.” The woman comes inside and shuts the door.

“What’s your name?” I ask, and catch a whiff of her fruity perfume.

She stands in the office uncertain and reluctant like a cat in a new environment.

“I’m Georgina Barrymore.” She approaches the desk, and we shake hands. I motion towards the chair opposite, and she sits, still in her coat. She won’t, or can’t, allow herself to feel comfortable.

“What can I do for you?”

“I found your advertisement in the newspaper. You’re available for various jobs. Like, say, finding someone?”

“I am. Do you need someone found?”

“Your advertisement says you’re an ex-Pinkerton…are you American?”

“I am that too, madam. But you’re not here to ask me questions, Mrs Barrymore.”

“Miss,” she corrects.

“My apologies, Miss Barrymore.”

She grips the clutch in her lap. “It’s my son, Russel. I’m worried about him. He ran away a few months ago and I want him to come home now.”

“Do you know where he is?”

She nods. “He’s living with a man named Charles Cain in Camden Town.”

“Why don’t you just go see him?”

“I’ve tried four time to see Russ, but Mr Cain has corrupted him and turned my boy against me. He won’t see me.”


“My Russ has had a terrible few years—like so many. We lost his father in the War, and the Spanish influenza took his fiancé, Jennifer, two weeks before their wedding day. I suppose it was losing Jenny that did it. Russ started going to mediums, and he would tell me about his encounters and conversations with my dead husband and his Jenny, and, it frightened me. It’s unnatural. And then one day I discovered he was giving money to this medium, Charles Cain, and I ordered him to stop.”

“How much money?” I ask.

“Hundreds of pounds a month. Russ refused to stop giving him money, swearing this man was really speaking to his fiancé and father. He said Mr Cain was the genuine article and he wanted to help raise awareness of his abilities. I told Russel that I would end his allowance if he continued to give this heretic money. Well, the day after I made this threat to Russ, he was gone. He went to live with Mr Cain and his wife. I don’t know what to do—I just want my boy home. It’s been two months, and I don’t know who to ask for help, and I thought someone like you may.”

“The spiritual malarkey aside, I’m not so sure I can drag a grown man back to Mommy, Miss Barrymore.”

“Charles Cain is evil, Mr Bishop. I know it. My Russ isn’t. He’s been fooled, preyed upon by this sorcery. Whatever Mr Cain is channelling, it is not my husband nor Jenny. It’s dark and unholy.”

“Wait, you believe Cain is…what? Summoning demons? Dark spirits?” The edges of my mouth curl.

“Are you a spiritual man, Mr Bishop?”

“My spiritual beliefs got shot to hell along with my nerves back in ’17.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. But I can say with the utmost confidence that there are angels and there are demons, Mr Bishop. And Mr Cain is demonic, I assure you. My minister has tried to see Russ, but, again, he can’t get near him. I need my boy to be brought back to the light by any means necessary. How much will it take?”


Five hundred pounds to drag someone back into the light seems a good deal for everyone.

The last bit of Cadbury melts on my tongue as I walk up the path to Cain’s Camden house. It’s in the middle of a long terraced road with flickering electric streetlights. In the front window, a dim, amber light leaks around the edges of the closed curtains. The bell has a violent buzz. A woman in a robin-egg blue dress and a white shawl answers. She has strawberry blonde hair, tied up in a bun. Her face is pale and round with soft features.

“May I help you, darling?” the woman says with a motherly softness. She looks at me with concern, like I’m a lost child.

“Mrs Cain?” She nods. “I want to see Mr Cain, if I can.”

“Of course, we have room for one more tonight.”

I’m just in time for the show.

I step closer to the woman, but she doesn’t move. I step back—a surge of intimidation goes through me.

“Oh, right…” I take out my wallet and hand her two pounds. She smiles and takes it.

She leads me into the sitting room. A spicy incense burns and fogs the room. An oil lamp flickers in the centre of the table. Around it sit five people: a sad-faced older man, two women in their late thirties, and Russel Barrymore. Charles Cain is at the head. He’s thin with sunken cheeks, a receded widow’s peak and a goatee. He wears a pea-green suit and a black silk cravat. The way the oil lamp lights his face gives him a devilish look. Miss Barrymore might be on to something.

“Welcome,” he says to me in a low and melancholy voice. “Please sit with us. We are about to begin.” He waves his hand at a chair. His fingers are long and narrow.

I nod and take a seat opposite Russel.

Cain starts with the older man who introduces himself as Clive Douglas. A lifetime Camden guy who runs a small grocer on the High Road.

“My sister Doris has been gone two years. Lately, I’ve dreamt about her, you see. In these dreams, she tries to speak to me, but I can’t hear her—I just see her mouth moving. But I can’t get over this feeling it’s some kind of message. I want to know if —” the old man clears his throat, his face full of sadness and regret—“I got to know what she’s trying to say.”

“I will do my best to give you peace of mind,” assures Cain. “Let’s begin.”

Cain closes his eyes and tilts his head up. His palms are flat on the table. He breathes in and out—it starts slow and becomes quick. His hands hover over the table, and he begins to groan. The table starts to shake; the oil lamp rattles and the flame flutters.

“Doris… I want to talk to Doris Douglas,” starts Cain. “I have your brother here, Doris. Doris, will you speak to your brother?”

The older man bites his lower lip and inches forward in his chair. One woman’s eyes are wide, and the other covers her mouth. Russel watches with intense interest.

“Call out to her, Mr Douglas,” Cain orders.

“D-Dori, Dori, it’s me, your brother, C-Clive…”

Clive,” Cain’s voice changes entirely—it’s raspy and raised in pitch with an eerie falsetto. He continues to angle his head towards the ceiling, and his body trembles.

“Dori, is that you?” Clive Douglas says.

It’s me, Clive…your sister.”

“Dori, you’ve been in my dreams… What do you want to tell me?”

To tell you, Clive, I don’t want you to feel no guilt, you hear?” The older man’s chin quivers and a tear falls off it. “I…love you, Clive…I’m better here. I want you to know that. There’s peace.

“Dori, I’m so sorry! I said such cruel things last time I saw you! I love you, too, sister.”

Clive… It’s—it’s…” Cain’s voice starts to sputter. He throws himself forward and catches his breath.

“Dori, don’t go!” Clive folds over with his face buried in his hands.

“Mr Douglas, I lost the connection,” says Cain, his breath returns, “but I believe you got something reassuring from that, didn’t you?”

Clive wipes his eyes and grunts, “Yes.” The older man wears a sad, slobbery smile. “But she had more to say, I feel it.”

“We can always try to summon her another time, Mr Douglas,” Cain says and Clive Douglas nods. Cain looks at me. “You are sceptical?” Cain says to me, surveying my expression. His deep-set eyes stare at me—it’s hypnotic.

“I think this is a load of shit.”

“You won’t speak like that to Mr Cain!” Russel says, pointing his finger at me.

“Easy, son,” Cain soothes. The other guests stare at me. “What’s your name, sir?” Cain turns back to me.

“Can’t you work that out?”

“I’m no mind reader, nor do I purport to be.”

My eyes roll. “Logan Bishop.”

Cain shuts his eyes and extends his hand in my direction; the flat of his palm faces me.

“What are you doing?” I say.

“You harbour deep regrets, don’t you, Mr Bishop? I can feel them…yes…you are haunted by something terrible.” Cain’s hand massages the air. The table begins to shake. Tim flashes in my mind. This asshole doesn’t know anything about me. “You did something, Mr Bishop. You want forgiveness from someone, someone close to you. A family member…”

“Enough!” I say. Guilt twists in my gut like a knife. He can’t possibly know…can he?

“Wait…wait…” Cain continues. “No, not a family member…it’s a brother, but not a brother by blood, yes, that’s it, a dear friend. He’s trying to reach you. He looks like a soldier.” My hand starts to shake, and my skin feels hot. In my mind, I am standing over Tim’s dying body, holding my gun. “Your friend wants to speak to you, Mr Bishop…let him do so, through me.”

“I’m not doing this.” I push away from the table and stand.

“He understands, Mr Bishop…what you did. You eased his pain. It was mercy you showed him.”

He can’t know about Tim. That’s not possible.

“He’s trying to tell me his name…to make sure you know it’s him…”

I storm towards Cain and yank him from the chair—at the same time, the shaking table thuds to a stop and Cain’s chair topples. He grabs at my hands that hold him by the lapels, his eyes wild with fear. The women scream, and Russel rises and orders me to let Cain go. The older man stays planted in his chair.

“I said to fucking stop, you lying piece of shit.”

I throw Cain back, and he falls over the chair. I look down at the floor and notice the bulge under the carpet.

I turn to the group. In the doorway is the strawberry blonde woman, her hand holds her stomach.

“It’s not spirits shaking the table…” I kick the chair away and pump the lever under the table—it bounces. The older man gasps. “He’s a fraud, using cheap tricks and guesswork.”

Russel looks at Cain on the floor. Heartbreak and disbelief are on his face.

“Russel,” I say. He looks at me. “Your mother wants you to come home.”

His eyes are glassy. He continues to process the reality that Cain’s a fraud. That time and time again he’s conned fragile souls like him. That he’s lived under the same roof with this manipulator.

“None of it was real?” Russel asks. But the look in his eyes tells me it’s more of a statement.

“Russel, he played you, man. He doesn’t talk to your ghosts. He played all of you. Manipulated you for your money.”

“No, no, Jenny spoke to me through him…she did. She did,” Russel says.

“She didn’t,” I say. “He made you think that.”

“What’s going on?” Russel asks Cain, running his hand through his shellacked hair.

“Russel, son…” Cain starts.

“I swear to God, it better be the truth coming out of your mouth,” I tell him.

Cain looks at me, his face sags. “Everyone, leave…” No one in the room moves. “Get out!” Cain shouts.

Cain’s wife, the two women, and the older man scurry out. Russel and I don’t move. Cain stands and starts to approach Russel.

“Don’t come any closer!” Russel says, his hand extended. “You tell me the truth. Wh-what is that?” He points to the table.

“Spill it, Cain,” I say.

“Russel…I helped you, didn’t I? I helped you find closure. That’s what I do. I help people, and I do good.”

“Good Lord. You, you lie to me. You—you lie about communing with the dead, you made me think I could talk to my father and Jenny.”

“I help people with their grief, son, you’ve come such a long way. Look at you, son.”

“I’m not your son!”

Russel leaps at Cain and the two fall to the ground. Cain screams as Russel beats him. I grab Russel and peel him off Cain, who now has a bloody mouth. Cain fumbles and hurries to his feet. He props himself against the wall and wipes his bloody mouth with his pea-green sleeve.

Russel crumbles in my arms and cries.

“I miss her so much…I wanted her back. You lied to me…”

“It’s OK, kid, it’s OK. Calm yourself now,” I say and pat his back.

“Will the pain ever stop?” he grunts like a lost, scared boy.

Tim’s ghost stands in front of me.

“No, but you’ll learn to live with it.”

I reach for the bottle of Winslow Syrup in my pocket.

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