The Psychic Agency
Here is the first chapter from the book, I hope you'll check it out on Amazon, there are links below.
The Psychic Agency
The Book of Thoth
I’d been sent for an interview at the London offices of an organisation called ‘The Psychic Agency’, to join their team. As always, I’d no idea why, or what to expect, but I’d certainly been put through my paces by the small staff team.
‘Well, Mr Claxton, you have a set of the most extraordinary abilities, I don’t think we’ve ever met anyone as well qualified to join us here at the agency.’ The psychic, Portia Winterman said in her cut-glass English accent while studying me carefully and tucking her long blond hair behind her ears.
Gerard Monterey, a noted historian, empath, and floppy-haired dandy agreed, he was expensively dressed, probably by Saville Row, it was a style I was familiar with, he looked like someone from the Edwardian period. ‘Portia is quite right Mr Claxton,’ he said in a voice that was so posh, it was almost as if it was too painful for him to speak. ‘We have never come across anyone with such incredible psychic abilities; it reminds me of the Moston case.’ He paused looking distracted taking off his horn-rimmed glasses and rubbing his eyes. ‘A most interesting assignment in New York, I discovered a lovely rare 1959 claret while we were there, and then there was the Dresden case in Leeds, where I found a very rare 50-year-old Glenfiddich whisky.’ He paused again, ‘But I digress, now where was I?’
‘Do excuse Gerard, Mr Claxton,’ Portia said with her vivid blue eyes smiling. ‘He’s easily distracted, and I assure you he’s not an alcoholic, just a lover of the finer things in life, I’m sure you’ll get used to him.’
‘Do please call me Jasper,’ I said with a smile. We were all sat in a small meeting room, which was hot and somewhat dusty. The premises were old and situated in Gough Square just off Fleet Street, a name often associated with the printing and publishing world. It was August and the height of the sweltering Summer, Britain was having one of the hottest Summers on record, the papers and TV news linking it to more evidence of man’s self-destruction and global warming.
‘I must say you hide your feelings and emotions, Mr Claxton… sorry, Jasper; I don’t get anything from you,’ Gerard said standing up taking off his black velvet jacket and adjusting his Hermes silk cravat while trying hard to concentrate on my emotions. ‘Most interesting, it’s never happened to me before, I can always sense people’s feelings, but you Mr Claxton are a blank canvas. Now, how do you explain that?’ He asked seriously, tilting his head slightly.
I gave a half smile and slight shrug, ‘To be totally honest with you I’ve no idea.’
But of course, as a time-travelling ghost, I was lying.
‘It’s obvious that you’ve had a great deal of experience in the field of psychic research and investigations,’ said the white witch Kate Greville, fanning herself with a food magazine; the cover was extolling the benefits and virtues of a Mediterranean diet, and the latest food supplement, the nutrient-dense acai berries said to have a unique nutritional profile loaded with antioxidants, helping to improve cholesterol levels. She was sat opposite me sipping her iced herbal tea and eyeing her lunch, which looked like some sort of wholemeal lentil pasty; I wondered if she might be a vegetarian. ‘I don’t know how you’ve managed to cram in so much experience at your young age,’ she said still eyeing her pasty.
Young, I thought. Little did they know that as a ghost, I was 312 years old, I hid my battle scars well, and admittedly, I didn’t look it. It was nothing strange for me to be communicating with both the living and the dead. Although, I love the living, in a mad baffled sort of way… But I supposed to them I looked more their age; they all seemed to be in their mid to late twenties.
‘And I’ve never seen anyone find their way so quickly around our computer tests and break through security systems and firewalls,’ said Orlando Johnson, the team’s smouldering-eyed, shaven-headed, muscular, IT expert while biting into a huge bar of melting chocolate. ‘I hope you don’t mind?’ he said. ‘I have a very sweet tooth, and I need to keep my energy levels up.’
Apparently spending so much time at the gym was something of an obsession with him, he subscribed to the ‘no gain without pain’ brigade, I could tell he was secretly hoping to flaunt himself on one of those reality TV programmes where they wear very little!
Now don’t ask me how I knew about computer systems, because I had no idea; it just came with the job. ‘Of course not,’ I said to Orlando taking in the clutter and chaos in the small room where we all sat in a circle; it was almost like being at a séance. I found myself thinking about dear Jocasta Bradman, a gifted medium I’d worked with many times in the past. Sadly, no longer with us in 2018, but I still met up with her regularly in earlier time periods.
‘But may I ask why you want to break into computer systems? Isn’t that illegal and against the law?’
Orlando smiled and nodded, ‘Good question, I assure you we don’t make a habit of it, but sometimes needs must. It’s amazing what can be hiding away in a computer system, including demons and evil spirits, and of course valuable evidence in cases of espionage, tax evasion, cover-ups, and crimes; I’m sure you know the sort of thing.’
‘Orlando doesn’t make a habit of breaking into computer systems Mr Claxton, sorry Jasper,’ Gerard said playing with his expensive gold cufflinks. ‘Every company needs an IT expert these days, just for the purely mundane aspects of running a business, it’s a sign of the times.’ He sighed, rubbing his nose, ‘I’m afraid the good old days of old-fashioned bookkeeping, and the like are long gone.’
Orlando frowned and looked at Gerard disapprovingly, but didn’t say anything.
‘Jasper Claxton,’ Portia said to herself lost in thought. ‘Umm, such an unusual name, but it’s a name I’ve heard before… my grandmother Fenella used to talk about a Jasper Claxton.’
I was momentarily taken aback, but I immediately knew who she was referring to, the beautiful Lady Fenella Windsor Hawtrey, I’d worked with her several times in the 1930s. She worked for MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, in fact, Portia had inherited her beauty and effortless elegance. I remembered Lady Fenella loved to wear expensive clothes and Lilly of the Valley perfume, which I could smell on Portia, who looked very chic in her knee-length, long-sleeved, floral printed chiffon dress and expensive strappy heels. If I had to guess a designer I’d say, Susan Reed; I’d worked with her on a case back in 2017. I remember Susan had been inspired by the feminine 1970s designs of Zandra Rhodes and the late Bill Gibb, but that’s another story.
Portia continued, ‘She and my dear grandfather Giles used to wax lyrical and talk for hours about the cases they’d worked on in the 1930s with this Jasper Claxton.’
Yes, I’d worked with Giles as well, I always knew those two would get together.
‘Tell me; you’re not named after him or related to him by any chance are you?’ she asked leaning forward and putting her head in her hand looking doubtful.
I smiled to myself shaking my head but gave an honest answer, ‘I never knew my parents. I’m afraid, I know nothing about my family, I was an orphan, so I can’t say. But tell me, what happened to your grandmother and grandfather?’
‘An orphan!’ exclaimed Portia sitting back in her chair looking shocked.
I nodded, there was an awkward silence for a moment.
‘Granny… granny you say, sadly we lost her in 2010, but she lived well into her nineties, she was beautiful, immaculate, stoic, independent, and headstrong to the very end, she hated being called granny, and insisted on being called Fenella. And grandad, well he died in 2006, but again he was a very good age, my grandmother kept him on his toes, he absolutely adored her, they were very happy together. They had that incredible ‘can’t live without you’ kind of love; it was amazing and very touching.’
Yes, that was the Lady Fenella I knew, how I loved her, not that there was anything in it, of course. You can’t have a relationship when you’re a ghost, but had it been possible, well, she would have been the one for me, we flirted outrageously with each other. I’d never seen anyone more beautiful, courageous, or intelligent; she was way ahead of her time, I often thought about her. How sad I suddenly felt, but of course, I didn’t show it. I comforted myself by thinking we might meet again soon on an assignment through the gift of ghostly time-travel.
I hesitated, ‘I’m so sorry,’ I said wanting to change the subject, ‘but tell me, Portia, where do you think you get your own psychic abilities from?’
‘Um, I’m not really sure,’ she said pulling a face while taking a sip of her Starbucks coffee in its takeaway paper cup. ‘My grandmother's uncle, Winston Hatherton was a noted psychic investigator, in fact, he regularly worked with the Jasper Claxton I mentioned. He also worked with a renowned white witch called Florence Dearden and an amazing medium called Jocasta Bradman. They ran a Psychic Historical Society in Pluckley in Kent, they had many interesting cases and became quite famous. I did meet them all once when I was very young, in fact, I have some of Winston and Florence’s diaries from the cases they worked on; they left them to me on their passing, although most of them went to Cambridge University. Winston was a noted Cambridge scholar, and I think somehow their work rubbed off on me, but my psychic abilities are a gift I’ve had from being a girl.’
Dear Winston, Florence, and Jocasta, I thought of them as the family I never had, and I was so pleased I still met up with them regularly in the past as a time-travelling ghost, not that any of them knew I was a ghost. In fact, I still attended the Psychic Historical Society Meetings in Pluckley and helped them with various cases.
Orlando’s mobile phone started ringing with its Kylie Minogue ‘I’m Spinning Around’ ringtone, ‘Please excuse me,’ he said quickly closing his laptop and looking at the others. ‘I really need to take this call.’ He stood up pulling up his low waisted slim-fitting distressed jeans which were revealing the waistband of his white Armani underpants and left the room closing the door behind him.
Technology, I thought, when I was born there was no such thing as electricity let alone a telephone or a computer, I looked at Portia. ‘He’s a Kylie fan,’ she said tilting her head and smiling.
‘I see… so, in some ways you’ve taken over from the Psychic Historical Society,’ I said smiling, ‘you’re the modern-day version.’
Portia grinned, ‘I suppose you could say that, although the Historical Society finished many years ago now, and the Psychic Agency has only been up and running for a couple of years. We’re trying to build the business, so we’re always on the lookout for people like you, but suitable people are hard to find; unfortunately, quite often they don’t want to acknowledge their psychic abilities. But eventually, we’d like to have offices, or at least contacts, people we could call upon all over the world.’
‘We have big ambitions,’ Gerard said smiling taking a sip of his earl grey tea in its elegant china cup carefully placing it back into its matching saucer.
I nodded, ‘Yes, so I can see, there’s nothing wrong with that, and in my experience, there’s plenty of work out there, the spirit world never rests you know. the ongoing battle between good and evil with much of it hidden from the human world.’
They all looked at each other.
‘Tell me what made you set up the Agency?’
‘Good Question,’ Gerard said looking at the others. ‘Well, we all kept bumping into each other at numerous psychic conventions, and we started consulting with each other on various cases. We were all being kept very busy but struggled on our own, so I realised we could be far more effective if we came together, and luckily everyone agreed.’
I immediately felt at home in the dusty wood-panelled rooms of the Psychic Agency offices, which occupied part of a large 18th century stone building, so you could say my period. It was almost like I’d come home, but with the benefit of electricity and central heating, not that I felt the cold of course.
Portia looked at me, ‘So, Jasper when do you think you could start?’
I shrugged, ‘Right now; if you need me that is?’
‘Excellent,’ said Gerard. ‘You can join us tomorrow; we’re heading to Sudbury to visit the home of the IT expert, Simon Fletcher, he thinks his home computer system has been possessed by an evil spirit. Have you heard of him?’
I shook my head, ‘No, I can’t say I have, but how strange, an evil spirit possessing a machine.’
‘Yes,’ said Kate. ‘Simon lives in a very grand fully automated house, one of the first of it’s kind. Apparently, everything is controlled by an advanced computer system. He says it’s become so bad at the house he’s had to move out because he fears for his life.’
I looked puzzled, ‘How very odd; I’ve never come across anything like that before.’
‘A sign of the times Mr Claxton,’ said Gerard.
Portia nodded, ‘Yes, it’s unusual, so tomorrow we’re meeting him at the house for the first time to see if we can help.’
‘You say he’s an IT expert?’
‘Yes,’ said Gerard with a slight nod. ‘He’s made a fortune from creating and developing computer games among other things. I’m amazed you’ve not heard of him, he’s quite famous, he’s become a bit of a celebrity.’ He paused clearing his throat. ‘For many different reasons.’
‘He sounds interesting,’ I said, ‘tell me does Simon live at the house on his own?’
‘Yes, I think so, although I suppose he’ll have help around the house, you know cleaners and gardeners, that sort of thing,’ Portia said. ‘He’s recently divorced, I think it was quite messy, his wife was after a lot of money and part of his collection of rare Egyptian art and antiquities.’
‘Egyptian art… um, I see.’ I hesitated, it was Portia’s comment about Egyptian art that set alarm bells ringing. ‘Yes, divorces can be messy and difficult these days, particularly if there’s a lot of money at stake. Has any of his business interests or computer systems been affected?’
‘We don’t know,’ Orlando said walking back into the room with his mobile phone in one hand while smoothing down his muscle-hugging white t-shirt, emblazoned with the legend ‘I’ve started, so I’ll finish’ with his other.
‘Hopefully, we’ll find out more tomorrow; I’ve just been talking to him, he was my caller, he says things have become much worse, and he’s convinced the house is now totally possessed by evil.’
I pursed my lips, ‘Umm, I see.’
Kate stood up and moved to an open window to try and get some air; it was so hot and stuffy in the room, no air conditioning here. She took a deep breath and coughed loudly as if choking, ‘That’s London air for you,’ she said still coughing and putting her hand over her mouth.
She should have tried the stench and London air back in my time!
‘What do you know about Simon?’ I asked.
Kate turned from the window clearing her throat while brushing her long, rich auburn curly hair out of her deep brown eyes, and smoothing down her loose fitting, ethnic printed sleeveless dress, which revealed her many arm tattoos. I think they were all protective symbols; I was sure I’d spotted the Solar Cross among them, which is an equal-armed cross, surmounted by a circle. It’s one of the oldest spiritual symbols in existence, dating back to Stone Age carvings. It represents the light and movement of the sun, and balance, it’s a symbol of eternity that embodies themes of birth, death, and rebirth. It’s thought to be a centering and calming aid when under threat, used to banish negativity and cast out dark shadows.
‘He’s in his early forties,’ Kate said. ‘British, self-made, he’s quite glamorous and always in the gossip columns and glossy magazines.’ She paused scratching her ear. ‘He usually has some beautiful blond woman draped on his arm, or all over him like a nasty rash, who’s wearing next to nothing, which has cost a fortune, and who has never eaten anything in her life… I’m not surprised his wife divorced him; she must be pleased to see the back of him and relieved they didn’t have any children… Although thinking about it, I don’t consider she was the maternal type.’ She frowned and wrinkled her nose. ‘Sorry, I sound very judgemental don’t I.’ She shook her head and gave a nervous laugh, ‘I’m sure he’s quite nice really.’
‘You know you don’t mean that,’ said Gerard looking up from his notepad. ‘You’ve not even met him, but I can sense you’ve already taken an instant dislike to him.’
Kate put up her hands in surrender, ‘Yes, you’re right, but I’ll try not to show it I promise.’ She sat down slowly and took a bite out her wholemeal pasty… ‘Mm, this is delicious,’ she said with her mouthful.
‘You say he’s self-made, money wise I mean?’ I asked.
Orlando nodded, ‘Yes, he’s very rich, not Bill Gates rich or anything like that, but I think he’s pretty comfortable, he’s been on the Sunday Times rich list.’
‘Do you think he has enemies?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I would think so,’ Gerard said. ‘Are you thinking one of his enemies or competitors has tampered with his computer system?’
I shrugged, ‘It would be the most logical answer unless his ex-wife is responsible, what’s the saying, ‘Hell has no fury like a woman scorned’.’
‘Of course, you could be right,’ Portia said. ‘Although Simon is convinced it’s not a competitor or his bitter wife, Patrina. Although, I know she’s very unhappy about the divorce settlement, even though she received millions.’ She sighed, ‘Some people are never satisfied.’
‘Yes, I agree,’ I said. ‘As I’ve already indicated where money is concerned people are never satisfied. Do you know why she was unhappy?’
‘It was in all the newspapers, although of course, I don’t know if any of it’s true,’ Kate said wiping some pastry crumbs from around her mouth. ‘You know all about her lavish lifestyle, an army of beauticians, plastic surgeons, personal trainer, nutritionist, manicurists and those posh false nails, hairdressers, colourist, precious jewels, designer handbags, shoes, and clothes, private jets, luxury five-star holidays all over the world.’ She paused for breath. ‘They say she has at least ten Hermes Birkin bags in rare leathers worth a fortune… She was wanting thousands and thousands each month just to pay for all that, let alone put a roof over her head in some swanky house in Mayfair… Yet I can’t imagine any of it has made her happy; it probably just filled the empty void in her life… The tabloids say she and her rich friends were responsible for setting the trend for the ‘trout pout’ in the late 1990s, along with those bizarre beauty treatments, you know the ones, involving a sheep’s placenta, yuk, utterly disgusting if you ask me, and then there are those super expensive face creams, and niche perfumes.
It’s said she even started the trend for the slug eyebrow, Botox, hair extensions, dermal fillers, push-up bras, individual false eyelashes, and the size zero.’ Kate sighed, ‘Honestly, some people have more money than sense; they say she gets paid tens of thousands of pounds just for turning up at an event in a dress from some fashion designers latest collection.’
‘Are you really sure all of these new trends are down to her?’ asked Portia.
‘Well, her and her rich friends,’ said Kate with a shrug, ‘it’s been in all the celebrity magazines.’
Gerard was about to speak…
‘Don’t they say she’s bringing out one of those celebrity perfumes and a men’s aftershave?’ asked Portia. ‘Aren’t they based on some sort of rare secretions?’
‘Rare secretions!’ exclaimed Gerard wincing, ‘Yuk, you make them sound utterly disgusting.’
‘Oh yes, I’d forgotten about that,’ said Kate. ‘Mind you I wouldn’t put anything past her,’ Kate laughed, ‘do you think she’ll be using her own?’
Gerard heaved, ‘Ladies, please… although adding various secretions, as you put it, into perfume is nothing new; take civet musk, a foul-smelling scent produced by the anal glands of the male civet cat, it was used a lot in perfume at one time,’ he said. ‘It should be banned if you ask me.’
They all grimaced at the thought.
‘Oh, I’ll never wear perfume again,’ said Kate.
‘Quite,’ agreed Gerard, ‘you don’t know what you’re spraying yourself with.’
‘And people wonder why I’m a vegetarian,’ said Kate. ‘Although I can’t imagine it will be up to much, her fragrance I mean, what does she know about the art of perfume creation? And what will they call it? Patrina’s cheap and smelly plonk?’ Kate laughed with a sense of irony. ‘Oh, and she’s bringing out her own range of false eyelashes, and sports-wear for people with breast and butt implants.’
Kate raised her eyebrows, ‘Can you imagine?... Along with nightwear, a faux fur clothing range, along with silk scarfs and men’s ties, luxury handbags, belts, and shoes. Not to mention vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal remedies, essential oils, and her own jewellery collection… I think she’s also doing a series of self-help books focusing on mindfulness and a DVD, along with an agony aunt advice column for a national newspaper, a fitness DVD, and a CD of her favourite songs… There’s even talk about her having her own radio show, along with one of those fly on the wall lifestyle documentary shows for a satellite TV channel. She’s even writing a lifestyle cookery book, and her autobiography; they say it’s going to be called, ‘She had her cake and ate it’.’
‘Well that’s a stupid name for a book if you ask me,’ said Orlando pulling a face. ‘What’s the point of having a cake if you can’t eat it? But from the sound of things, she definitely has. Although I must admit I’d never heard of her until now, she sounds like another one of those pointless celebrities to me.’
Kate nodded in agreement pulling her mouth to one side.
‘Isn’t her cookbook called, the ‘no diet, diet or the elimination diet?’ asked Portia.
Kate nodded, ‘Yes, I think so, or something like that.’
Orlando frowned, ‘Well that’s another stupid name I mean surely every kind of eating is some form of diet?’
‘But doesn’t the research say that diets don’t work?’ asked Kate.
I may have frowned or winced. ‘Oh dear, most interesting,’ I said smiling and feeling quite amazed. ‘Well Kate, I must say that you seem to know an awful lot about diets and Patrina; you should go on ‘Mastermind’ and have her as your specialist subject. And from what you say, she sounds like a major influencer, but I have to ask, is any part of her real?’
They all looked doubtful.
‘Good question,’ said Kate. ‘They say,’ she lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘They say, she’s even had…’ She pointed downwards, ‘her down below rejuvenated!’
I tried not to look shocked; the world really had moved on! ‘Um, I can see she’s been something of a trendsetter and been quite a busy girl… although on reflection, it sounds like she may have a lot to answer for. And of course, they do say that’s one good thing about money.’
‘Oh, yes, and what’s that?’ Portia asked looking puzzled.
‘You can be miserable in comfort.’
Everyone smiled but agreed.
‘But what is she actually famous for?’ I asked.
They all looked at each other again; Kate shrugged, ‘Good question, being famous, I suppose.’
‘So, she’s famous for being famous?’
Kate nodded, ‘Yes, although I always thought you had to have brains and talent to be famous; I don’t think she has any of those attributes.’
‘I see, fascinating,’ I said. ‘Anyway, we’re getting sidetracked and distracted, what about Simon himself, where is he from, his education, you know that sort of thing?’
Orlando smiled and opened a bottle of Cola which hissed loudly; it wasn’t the diet variety. ‘He makes a big thing about being an East End lad made good, he never went to a posh school or university, he just seems to have a flair for technology as well as having a good business head.’
‘I see, tell me, is he a member of any societies?’
‘What you mean like the Freemasons?’ Gerard asked with a half-smile looking at me over the top of his glasses.
‘Yes, it’s a serious question,’ I said. ‘I’ve come across secret societies many times in my work as I’m sure you have. Freemasonry is a good example because it goes back to the medieval Stonemasons who would use secret words and symbols to recognise each other’s legitimacy, and so protect their work from outsiders. There are persistent suspicions that Freemasons also conceal the way in which they assist each other in business and the workplace.’
‘Actually, it’s a good point, Jasper,’ Portia said looking at the others. ‘We mustn’t rule anything out.’
‘Tell me has Simon Fletcher been to the police?’
They all looked at each other again. ‘I don’t think so,’ Gerard said shaking his head slightly. ‘I mean what would he say, my computer’s been possessed by the devil; they would think he’d gone mad.’ He pursed his lips thinking and gave a decisive nod. ‘But I suppose it’s a good point.’
‘It’s hard to know what’s best to do,’ I said. ‘But I believe our approach should always start with a search for a logical explanation because Simon’s problem could well be man-made, not paranormal or supernatural. They usually are.’
‘Of course, again you’re right,’ Portia said while tapping her pen on the table. ‘But for some reason, Simon is convinced otherwise.’
‘Umm.’ I hesitated.
‘Go on,’ Portia said, ‘what are you thinking?’
‘I’m not sure; I might have a better idea when we’ve met Simon tomorrow. How are you getting there?’
‘By car, of course, Gerard’s taking us in his new pride and joy, his Range Rover Autobiography; you must come with us.’
‘Goodness,’ I said looking at him. ‘Have you won the lottery?’
‘In a way,’ Gerard said with a sigh. ‘A trust fund has finally matured.’
‘Lucky you,’ I said smiling, thinking about what Portia had stated earlier in our meeting; Gerard had the look of a man who needed a lot of money to support his lifestyle. I could see he appreciated the finer things in life.
‘Yes, one day Mr Claxton, I hope to buy a large house in the country, perhaps an estate, with an organic vegetable-garden, miles from people and anywhere, instead of my current townhouse in busy Islington, which thankfully does at least have the sanctuary of a garage and small garden… Although the local youths seem to see it as a dumping ground for drinks cans, beer bottles, takeaway food and pizza cartons, and general detritus, but thankfully my dear gardener Mr Percy deals with all that for me.’ He paused for a moment lost in thought, ‘Although I would miss my historic tailors and Mr Keel at Anderson and Sheppard on Old Burlington Street. And perhaps one day I may even open a shop selling vintage books and rare first editions.’
He paused again and smiled, ‘Oh the joy of a Dickens, an Austen, or a Bronte; but right now, as I’m sure you can see.’ He looked at the others slightly disparagingly and sighed, ‘I’m much needed here.’
Everyone rolled their eyes.
I hesitated then nodded. ‘I see, but how wonderful, it’s most people’s dream to have a hobby they can turn into a viable career.’
Gerard agreed, ‘Yes Mr Claxton, sorry, Jasper, everyone will tell you, I prefer books to people when you’re an empath you have to always be on your guard, or you’d be in sensory overload, there is so much noise and emotion out there. Books offer peace, knowledge, and some respite from life’s many foibles.’
‘Indeed, now, you say Simon collects Egyptian art?’
Gerard nodded, ‘Yes, he is said to have a valuable collection of rare Egyptian artefacts, one of the best in the world.’
‘Um, most interesting,’ I said. ‘How did he get them?’
‘One would assume through an art gallery or auction house like Sotheby’s,’ Gerard said in a tone which suggested I’d asked a stupid question.
‘Well, there is a thriving black market in ancient artefacts,’ I said. ‘We must take a good look at them when we visit the house.’
‘Surely you’re not thinking it’s some sort of ancient Egyptian curse?’ Gerard said his lips curling into a smile.
‘I don’t know,’ I said raising an eyebrow. ‘But as we’ve all said, we can’t rule anything out.’
‘A lot of Simon’s best-selling computer games are about ancient Egypt,’ Orlando said. ‘You know, the pharos battling all kinds of tyrants, the gods, and evil. He has a real fascination with that period in history, and he’s certainly cashed in on it.’
Once I left the offices of The Psychic Agency I went into incorporeal ghost mode and drifted through the busy streets of London, of course, it was now very different to my day, at the beginning of the 18th century. Although like today, London was always crowded, but back then the population was only about half a million. So, the community was nothing like today. But even in the 18th century London was not only much bigger than anywhere else in Britain, but it was also a vivid new metropolis, much of it in soft pink brick thanks to The Great Fire of 1666, which left more than half of the old city as smouldering ruins, but it also ended the terrible plague of the London.
There were two very different lifestyles in 18th-century England: that of the rich and that of the poor. The Industrial Revolution started in the middle of the century, and with that came new machinery which saved time and made some people very wealthy. The rich were getting richer and the poor, poorer. The population was also growing wildly, making London dangerous, and it was dirty, smelly, noisy, and overcrowded and full of vice.
Like today, the wealthy lived luxuriously in lavish, elegant townhouses, mansions, and country houses. Their social diaries included dinner parties, opera, and the theatre. In the 18th century, many had inherited their vast fortunes and never knew what it was like to work, cook meals, or empty their own chamber pots. Like today, fashion was important in upper society, upper-class women wore stays, which were bodices with strips of whalebone, and hooped petticoats under their dresses. Men wore knee-length “breeches” with stockings, waistcoats, and frock coats over linen shirts, as well as buckled shoes. Three-cornered hats were popular too, and of course wigs.
The city streets were noisy and echoed with the din of horse-drawn traffic clattering on cobblestones and the hubbub of people engaged in daily trade. Hundreds of carts transported goods back and forth, while Sedan chairs weaved their way up narrow streets as they conveyed wealthy passengers to their places of business, 18th-century city life was frequently confusing and chaotic.
The network of narrow alleys and lanes had remained mostly unchanged since medieval times, and they proved increasingly inconvenient to horse-drawn vehicles, and like today, London was prone to traffic congestion. Crowds swarmed in every thoroughfare. Scores of street sellers transported merchandise from place to place; there were milkmaids, orange sellers, fishwives, and piemen; they all walked the streets offering their various wares for sale, while knife grinders and the menders of broken furniture could be found on street corners. People would gather to watch politicians make speeches, watch bare-knuckle boxing matches, and public executions, amongst an array of other grisly spectacles.
London suffered badly from dirt and pollution, so much so that candles were sometimes required at midday in busy shops owing to the smoggy conditions outside. Many travellers noted the ‘smell’ of London as they approached from far away, and letters received from the capital city were often said to have a ‘sooty’ odour.
Alongside the stinking rivers and choking pollution of London, open sewers ran through the centre of numerous streets. Gutters carried away human waste, the offal from butchers’ stalls and the tonnes of horse manure that were left daily on the streets. The roads of most towns and cities were unpleasantly dusty in the hot summer months, and many became virtually impassable in the winter owing to their muddy and flooded condition, and I think you can guess what the mud was! But I suppose calling it mud was a polite way of putting it.
So, as I drifted around London taking in sites such as The Houses of Parliament, various parks, grand hotels, Fortnum and Mason, Harrods, Liberty’s, the smart designer shops on Bond Street, Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, 10 Downing Street, The London Eye, The Shard, The Gherkin, The Post Office Tower, King Cross Station, the underground, Heathrow Airport, and Canary Wharf, how times had changed. Although London was still thriving, full of history, but still congested, and appeared to have a lot of homeless people and be a place of the rich and the poor. As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr had said, ‘Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.’ Meaning, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’
‘So everyone, what did you think of the mysterious Jasper?’ Portia asked raising her eyebrows with a smile.
‘Why do you call him mysterious?’ Kate asked opening a bag of beetroot and parsnip crisps.
Portia stood up and poured herself a glass of designer bottled still-water taking a gulp; you know the sort of thing, endorsed or promoted by a celebrity for its miracle health and youth-enhancing properties! ‘Yuk, this waters luke-warm, it’s so stuffy in here, it’s boiling in summer and freezing cold in winter… But Jasper, I don’t know,’ she shrugged, ‘he just seems, well, he just seems too good to be true.’
‘Portia, my dear, don’t you think ‘mysterious’ is always going to be associated with anyone wanting to join us here at the agency,’ Gerard said seriously. ‘I mean we’re hardly looking for, oh I do hate the word, but I can’t think of another adjective, we’re hardly looking for ‘normal’ people to join us, I don’t think they’d be much use in our line of work. But I will concur with you in that he’s particularly mysterious.’
‘I liked him,’ said Orlando. ‘I think he might be able to teach me a thing or two about computer systems, I’ve never come across anyone with such skills, he just raced through those tests.’
‘True,’ said Kate. ‘But let’s be honest we’re not looking for a computer expert, we already have you Orlando, but I guess it’s all an extra bonus. And when he started talking about magic and his knowledge of the Paracelsian concept of elementals, the elements of earth, water, air, and fire, classed as the fundamental building blocks of nature, well, I was hooked, and for me, as a white witch, it was a no-brainer. What are your concerns, Portia?’
Portia sat down putting her glass of water on the table. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t call them concerns exactly, I just think he’s a bit of enigma, but a most charming one, I’ve never seen anyone so vital, and with such blue eyes, he has a kind of aura, with his short blond hair his face looks like it’s been spun out of sunlight.’ She smiled.
‘Oh dear, I fear she’s already besotted,’ said Gerard.
Portia laughed, ‘Don’t be ridiculous; I’m just stating a fact.’
‘Portia’s right Gerard, he does have an aura,’ said Kate. ‘A good aura.’
Orlando looked at Kate and Portia, ‘You’ll be talking about his huge charisma next,’ he said with a mischievous smile.
‘Don’t be disgusting,’ said Kate with a sneer. ‘Trust you to lower the tone.’
‘Children please,’ said Gerard with more than a note of irritation in his voice. ‘I’m sure we will all learn much more about Mr Claxton, Jasper as we start working with him. Now I must get on I’ve several reports which I need to complete for my lecture tour of Canada early next year.’
‘Yes, we will Gerard,’ said Kate munching on a beetroot crisp. ‘Get to know him that is; I’m looking forward to getting to know him.’
‘Professionally that is,’ Kate replied sharply. ‘Honestly, you’re hopeless.’
‘I thought you’d decided against the lecture tours,’ said Portia.
‘I had,’ Gerard said with a sigh, ‘but Dame Cecily Rathbone and Professor Clementine Rutherford from the Psychic association over there have convinced me otherwise, they don’t feel the lecture tours can take place without me.’
‘Must be nice to feel wanted.’ Kate said now biting into an apple.
‘Indeed,’ concurred Gerard, ‘It’s a burden I must endure.’
‘Amazing names though,’ said Orlando.
Gerard looked puzzled.
‘Cecily and Clementine,’ Orlando said, ‘Amazing names, not names you hear very often these days.’
‘No, I don’t suppose you do, more’s the pity. I assume you’d prefer it if they were called Sunday, Luna, Moon, or Harper?... Why does everyone have to be named after a celebrity or their children these days? Whatever happened to a bit of originality? People behave like lemmings. Anyway, I can’t sit around here chatting; I must get on, time waits for no man as they say.’
‘Gerard you’re such a snob,’ said Kate with her mouth full of apple.
Gerard took a deep breath and gave a slight frown, ‘Well, I find snobbish people have something to be snobbish about my dear, one has to protect oneself and maintain standards. Now you really must excuse me, I need to finish this report and then I have an appointment with my barber in Mayfair.’
Kate, Orlando, and Portia looked at each other rolling their eyes, their non-verbal communication dashed around the room like gossip in a village hall on a church Sunday, and they all understood the message.