Jason Dark: John Sinclair's First Case
HOW IT ALL BEGAN by Jason Dark
Ghost Buster John Sinclair's Very First Case
(Translated from the original German, 'Wie Alles Begann: Mein erster Fall', by Dr. Tony Page, August 2007: Jason Dark is Germany's most prolific fiction writer, with (as of 2009) nearly 2,000 novels to his name)
To the readers of my numerous adventures, I am (if modesty will permit) well known – ghost buster, John Sinclair. My readers are all thoroughly acquainted with my crucifix, my Beretta gun, my engraved gem and magic boomerang. Yet there was a time – many years back, even before the time of my encounter with the necromancer, Orgow – when I was not yet the ghost hunter I am today and when I never envisaged, not even in my wildest dreams, that I would ever become such a person.
I would like to tell you of that time. For that is when everything began.
I was still very young and had just left school. I was basically just hanging around, waiting for life to begin. Moreover, I was still living with my parents. My father was working as a lawyer at a bank and was just about to strike out on his own by setting up his own legal practice. We were living in London at the time, the city that was to become the setting of my destiny, as it were.
If anyone had told me as a young man who I would one day become – I would just have laughed. I had resolved to study a somewhat peculiar subject. Despite all the opposition which this drew from my parents, I gave myself over to the study of psychology and criminology – for even then, I was determined one day to become a policeman, very much to the chagrin of my father, who would only too gladly have seen me become a partner in his forthcoming legal chambers.
But old Horace F. Sinclair could say what he liked: I had a mind and will of my own and, after all, we Scots are famous for a degree of dour pig-headedness. I mean to indicate by this that our family hailed from Scotland.
I was victorious in the battle of wills that was fought between father and son - with the help of my mother, who took my part - and commenced studying only that which gave me pleasure. I was also determined to move out of my parents’ home; after all, every twenty-year-old wants to be independent. What’s more, there was the “other sex”, which naturally interested me greatly! When I occasionally brought a girl back to my parents’ house, I unfailingly harvested the rather disapproving look of my mother, as she glared simultaneously at me and her watch. I always knew what was going through her mind. “No visitors until after breakfast” – that was what her look expressed in silent words. And, in fact, I stuck to her rule. Apart from two exceptional occasions when I had to summon up all my nerve and ingenuity to smuggle the girls past my mother in the morning.
My father still managed to catch a glimpse of these goings-on. But he said nothing, and just winked at me with a conspiratorial twinkle in his eye.
So I set about looking for a flat, avidly reading all that was on offer on the noticeboards at the university. Most of the rooms were too expensive. And I did not want to sponge off my parents. In consequence the search was really difficult and dragged on. I had almost given up hope – much to the delight of my mother, by the way! – when one wonderful Sunday in May I happened to find myself near the university and suddenly thought that I would just pop in and give it another try. On Sundays the porter always used to pin the new addresses to the noticeboard.
I appeared just at the right moment. The porter – we called him Chicken Bill, because he raised poultry – was just in the process of putting up some new cards on the board. When he saw me, he stopped and looked at me in astonishment.
“In the university of your own free will, young man?”
“Well, not exactly”
“What brings you here, then?”
I pointed to the noticeboard. “The ‘for-rent’ accommodation ads.”
“Ah.” He understood and nodded. “You still haven’t found a place to stay, then?”
There was still a lingering whiff of country air about him, and his face boasted a healthy, rosy complexion.
“Um,” he reflected, “there’s not much new here. Still the same old stuff. And the people who rent out their rooms demand prices that even I couldn’t afford – and I’m earning a salary.”
I was disappointed. “So there’s no point in my hanging around here, then?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I haven’t read all of these yet.” I think he felt sorry for me, as he handed me the new room offers, giving me the chance to look through them before anyone else could see what was available.
I only needed to see what parts of town the rooms were in to dismiss them: Kensington, Mayfair, Chelsea: all wonderful places to live in, but for me - a student - far too expensive.
But the last-but-one room made me look twice. A certain Mrs. Osborne was offering a room that cost no more than £10.00 per month. If that wasn’t a good deal, I didn’t know what was!
I laughed out loud, so that even Chicken Bill stopped his work and asked what was the matter. I showed him the ad. He read it through very carefully. “I don’t know, young man, I really don’t know.” He shook his head. “That is indeed marvellous value, but …”
“What do you mean, ‘but’?”
“Such flat offers are often traps, if you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Look, I’ve worked here at the university for over 20 years. The problem of room-hunting is just as old. Actually, much older!” he corrected himself. “I know all about such tempting offers. There are usually strings attached!”
“What kind of strings?”
“In addition to your monthly rent they might demand something else from you: babysitting, shopping, providing various other services or even comforting lonely women. I’ve seen it all before!”
I grinned. “The last one would suit me just fine!”
Chicken Bill raised a warning finger. “Son, that depends on the woman.”
“Oh, I see.” I laughed. “You mean that it can sometimes be a dreadful old witch.”
“Worse than that.”
“OK, I'm with you, sir – I understand. But I’d still like to take a look at the flat sometime - and at the landlady.”
“I can understand that. But just bear in mind my warning.”
“Sure, I will. Thanks again.” I was already on my way, full of optimism. After all, what could happen to me? I was young, my whole life lay ahead of me, and everything was simply terrific and wonderful.
I already possessed an old banger at that time that was halfways serviceable: not a Bentley, oh no – a Morris Mini. I’d acquired the vehicle from a scrapyard. Two friends of mine had helped me get it into some sort of roadworthy shape. OK, the back seats were missing, but that wasn’t so bad after all, since my friends regarded my Morris and me as the perfect transporter of crates of beer!
I had made a note of the address and checked it once more before I set out. The house was in Holborn, near the Royal Courts of Justice and also not far from Fleet Street, the world-famous newspaper street. I cruised in my old banger through the streets of London. I suffered a few mechanical hitches on the way, but with patient encouragement and loving caresses of the steering wheel I always managed to get the Morris going at full tilt once again. Sometimes she surpassed herself, even overtaking a Jaguar – but only because the Jaguar was parking!
It was May, and I drove with the windows open, enjoying the wind in my face, the sunshine, and smiling at all the delectable girls who skipped across the road. Most of them actually smiled back at me.
When I reached my destination, things suddenly took on a gloomy aspect. I don’t mean the sky, which was radiantly blue as before like a postcard: it was the narrow gorge of road into which I turned. To the right and to the left the houses seemed to form a solid grim wall. What is more, the facades were old, covered with stucco, with big bay windows at the front, and roofs adorned with numerous dormer windows.
So this was the street in which I was to live!
I was accustomed to looking out onto greenery. But here there was not a single tree, not even a bush to be seen – just houses pressed tightly up against one another. On Sundays everything is quiet, even in a giant city like London. And it was particularly quiet in this narrow street. There was scarcely anyone about – but at least, in compensation, there was somewhere to park my Mini!
I got out and had to walk back a few steps. Then I stopped momentarily, with my heart beating fast, in front of house number 18. I already had a strange feeling. My first flat, the first time living away from my parent’s house, a step forward in life, responsibility for myself, no help in the mornings, no one to lay the table for me any longer – yes, it was going to be quite something. I thought of the people who had trodden this path before me, as well as those who would walk it after me. They all had – or would have – the same problems as myself.
Three more steps brought me to the front door, where I again stood still, and where the doorbell, with the name of the owner inscribed beneath it, stared out at me.
I still hesitated. But in the end I plucked up courage and rang.
Even from outside I could hear the shrill ringing of the bell. At first nothing happened. Then I heard a buzzing noise and leaned against the solid wooden door. I pushed it open, entered a gloomy hallway with a high ceiling, saw a staircase in front of me and a woman who lived on the ground floor who had come out of her flat in answer to my ring. She was waiting for me in front of her door. To reach her I still had to climb three more steps. I smiled, in a rather forced way, and must have come across as pretty diffident.
Before I could say a word, the woman spoke, enquiring, “You have come about the room, young man?”
“That was quick!”
“I happened to have something to do at the university,” I lied.
“I think it’s good when students work even on Sundays.” She stepped aside to let me come into her flat. “Do come in, Mr. ??”
“Sinclair,” I said. “John Sinclair.”
“I am Mrs. Gilda Osborne.”
I had the opportunity to study the woman. She certainly was not an old bag or an old spinster. I judged her to be around forty. She looked like a painted doll or mannequin. Her face indeed bore a doll-like expression, while her cheeks were plastered with powder and her eyes accentuated by dark liner. Her lips were cherry-shaped and shone as if with red lacquer. She wore her hair backcombed, in the fashion of the day. The colour was far too blond to be genuine. Her green dress gave me a kind of colour- shock, and under it she wore a bra which pushed her breasts up uneasily high. Her height was roughly similar to mine: in other words, pretty lofty. Perhaps she gave the impression of being so tall because of her backcombed hair.
“Do sit down, John.”
She had led me into a room furnished with bucket armchairs and a kidney-shaped table. I also saw a chest of drawers, a stove and a wooden floor painted dark red. Somehow the place had the feel of a waiting room about it. Opposite me was a picture hanging on the wall. It depicted a man with a black beard and bushy walrus moustache.
The woman sat down facing me. She scanned me with her eyes from top to toe. I couldn’t help thinking of the words of the porter, that many lonely women fetch students into their homes for a bit of “diversion”. I blushed.
She noticed it and smiled. “A bit shy, eh?”
I shrugged and was irritated that she had already seen through me. “Well,” I said. “This is the first flat I’ve ever moved into, and so I don’t want to be too pushy.”
She laughed. As she did so, I noticed two gold teeth glinting in her mouth. “I can well imagine that, my Dear. You know how much the rent is, right, John?”
“Yes. Ten pounds a month.”
“Can you manage that?”
“I’ll have to, if I am offered the room.”
Mrs. Osborne hauled herself to her feet out of the armchair. “Let’s take a look at the room then, shall we?”
“That would be nice, thank you.” I got to my feet as well.
Mrs. Osborne kept close beside me. I could smell her perfume. A heavy cloud of fragrance enveloped the woman and did violence to my nose.
“The room is on the first floor. I’ve rented out several rooms there. The floors above are empty. I want to get them redecorated.” She told me all about this as she walked ahead of me and turned her head round at the same time. Then she climbed up the stairs. Her shocking green dress was as tight-fitting as skin. I saw the powerful backs of her knees in front of my eyes and, when my gaze travelled upwards, it was met by her excessively curvaceous curves. She had not said a word about her husband, so I plucked up courage and asked.
She stopped on the first-floor landing and turned round, wanting to give me an answer. “Edwin is often away on business. He rarely comes home. In any case, he is very quiet. You will hardly hear him. Didn’t you notice the picture on the wall just now, John?”
“Do you mean the oil painting – the portrait?”
“I couldn’t really miss it.”
She gave a broad smile. “That’s my husband, you know.” And then she said something that surprised me. “That’s why I always have him with me.”
I was still pondering upon her words when we reached the first floor. A corridor opened up before us. It wasn’t closed off from the stairs by a door. I counted the doors in the corridor: three on each side and an additional one at the end of the passage.
Mrs. Osborne had stopped and was pointing to the door. “That’s the bathroom, by the way.”
“Do I have to share it with the other tenants?”
“Not other tenants. Only one tenant. The other rooms are empty.”
I was surprised. She noticed my reaction and knew that I didn’t dare ask her why she had not rented out the other rooms. She gave me the answer of her own volition.
“I only like to rent our two or, at most, three rooms. Otherwise it’s too noisy for me. You take my meaning?”
“Of course, Mrs. Osborne.”
“And while we’re on the subject: I don’t prohibit female visitors, but there is a closing time, so to speak: by 10 o’clock at night all girls must have left the house. Do you agree to that, John?”
She looked at me in such a direct and sharp manner that, quite contrary to my inclination, I nodded and couldn’t help turning red. I might as well have stayed with my parents, I thought. I heard the voice of my new landlady drifting towards me as if from a great distance: “I’m glad you think in that way. Not every young man of your age is like you. Excellent. Now I’ll show you your room. I always make every effort to furnish it nicely.” She laughed and walked ahead of me.
(To continue, please click on 'Jason Dark 2' below!)