The old colonel gets himself a ghost writer.
The home of Colonel Sir Percival Archibald Matlock Bertram OBE DSO (and various other decorations I have failed to remember) was not the baronial pile one might expect from the sonorous quality of his name. It might stretch to manorial at a pinch but certainly no further. My first view of it was affected by the morning mist that rolled at its feet, allowing it a mysterious atmosphere that, on subsequent acquaintance, was not deserved.
Unturreted and without crenellations, the house was yet imposing enough for the front door to be flanked by one of those old, pull down bells that resounded within. A suitable pause followed while the echoes died into silence. Then the latch clicked and the door opened to reveal a bent old man in butler’s clothing. I explained my mission.
He opened the door wider and suggested I step inside. The reception hall was small but comfortably furnished and the walls were hung with portraits of serious-looking gentlemen in military uniforms. The butler bade me wait while he informed the colonel of my presence. He disappeared behind a doorway to the right.
I had not long to wait before he appeared again, this time opening the door wide and beckoning to me. I entered what turned out to be the colonel’s study.
The walls were covered in dark wood panelling, the whole being lit by the light from a large bay window. The colonel was standing behind a massive old desk by the far wall. He extended a hand towards me.
I went forward and shook his hand, thereafter taking a seat in the chair opposite the old military man. He sat and regarded me for a moment. When he spoke, it was in a quiet voice, well accustomed to authority and in that style so widespread among the officer corps of Her Majesty’s army.
“So, you must be Harrington, what? I presume you know what you’re here for?”
I nodded to the first question and answered the second. “You wish me to record your memoirs, sir. I am what they call a ghost writer and I am honoured to be selected for the task.”
He harumphed into his moustache. “Well, well, it’s a minor matter but has to be done, you know. Can’t let the world go on without knowing the shenanigans my bunch got up to. It’s sort of expected of us old military types to get everything down on paper once they’ve retired. And I’ve been dreading the task and put it off too long. Never been too keen on the old paper work, you know.”
“It’s horses for courses, I expect, sir.” I found myself slipping into the military vernacular in his genteel but imposing presence. “Do you have any plans for how we’re to go about the business? If not, I can tell you how we normally get these things done.”
“Well, I s’pose I just rattle on about what happened in the war and you sit there scribbling in your notebook. Seems simple enough to me.”
I smiled. “Agreed, sir. No need to overcomplicate the matter. And when would you like to begin?”
“D’you know, I was just about to have some tea when you arrived. We could have a cup and then get down to business. I presume you have all your katunda with you?”
“All in the briefcase, sir.” I indicated the case I’d set down next to my chair.
“Good man, good man,” he muttered, then lifted his voice to command the butler. “Jenkins, get a pot of tea and two cups in here, would you? There’s a good chap.”
The butler’s voice issued from beyond the doorway. “Right away, sir.”
Sir Percival turned back to me. “Good fellow, old Jenkins, you know. My batman during the war and just couldn’t let him go afterwards. Don’t know where I’d be without him.”
“I see,” I assured him. “And is he a ghost too?”
He stared at me. “A ghost? What the devil d’you mean, man? Jenkin’s no ghost.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I thought…”
“You thought what, man? Come on, out with it.”
I shifted in my chair, embarrassed at the way things were going. “It’s just that I thought, if I was going to be writing the memoirs of a ghost, then, presumably, anyone working with him would also be a ghost. It’s the usual way the agency works things. Ghosts get ghost writers and the living get the living writers.”
“The memoirs of a gh…? Are you saying you think I’m a ghost?”
I could see it was time to straighten things out. “Well, aren’t you?”
His face was turning an interesting shade of pink. “I most certainly am not. Good lord, man, I know I’ve left this memoir thing a bit late in the day but not that late, I can assure you.”
This was a bit awkward. If he was alive, there was no way I’d be able to write anything for him. That was strictly against the agency’s code. Ghosts for ghosts was the rule and there were no exceptions.
“I’m dreadfully sorry, sir. It seems there’s been a mistake. I can’t help you with the memoirs after all. The agency can send someone else instead.”
The old colonel was staring at me with an intensity that was quite disconcerting. “Just a minute, young feller-me-lad. D’you mean that you actually are a ghost?”
I nodded. “That’s how it goes, sir. You asked for a ghost writer when you phoned, so that is what you got. Just some confusion over the meaning of words, that’s all. Probably wasn’t helped when they found out you were the creator of the special forces group, the ‘Ghost Platoon.’ Terribly sorry about that but we’ll have it fixed in no time.”
Word count: 968
For Only Short Stories, August 2021
Prompt: Write a short story about a 'ghost writer.’