Grey Shapes [A Gees Supernatural Mystery]
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by Jack Mann
Category: Dark Fantasy/Horror
Description: The Classic of Dark Fantasy. Grey Shapes brings Gregory George Gordon Green (or as he is known to intimate and enemy alike, "Gees"), ghost-hunter extraordinary, face-to-face with the greatest challenge of his career. Who--or what--is killing the sheep of Downslandbar? Philip Tyrrell, one of the biggest local farmers, hires Gees to find out. The Downslandbar constabulary are powerless to stop the attacks, which are carried out by strange 'gray shapes" that strike from the fog; the local sheepmen, practical, unimaginative individuals all, claim no dog is responsible for the damage--but something unearthly. But Gees soon begins to suspect that Tyrrell's fiancee, Glyda McCoul, is a member of an ancient, undying race of shape-changers, the Duione Sidhe. And behind her is the more sinister, terrifying figure of her father, the McCoul who has purchased the castle of Locksborough, once named Loki's Barrow and the scene of black magic and evil deeds. If Gees is right, ancient demonic forces from Britain's remotest past have returned with powers undreamed of by modern man, determined to reinstate the reign of Hell on Earth--and Philip Tyrrell has been selected to play a very unusual part. Armed with nothing more than his wits, Gees must confront the powers of darkness in the darkness on the darkest night of the year. A must-read for lovers of dark fantasy and horror.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: October 2004
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [379 KB]
Reading time: 249-349 min.
A MATTER OF SHEEP
A LITTLE pile of opened letters, with their neatly-slit envelopes pinned to them, lay beside the typewriter on the desk: the girl who sat back from the desk in her comfortable chair, reading a novel, was tall, but not too tall; she had piquantly irregular features, brown hair with reddish shades in it, and deep, blue eyes, long-lashed. Her principal attraction was expressiveness, both of eyes and lips, though she could render her face as wooden as a doorpost if she chose.
She put the novel down on the desk as a tall, youngish man, with exceptionally large feet and hands, came into the doorway of the room and, paused for a moment, reflected as he always did when he first saw her for the day that he had been wise in his choice of a secretary. He looked ungainly, at a first glance, by reason of those feet and hands, but a second glance would convince anyone that he was nothing of the sort. Clean-shaven, pleasantly ugly, he gave the girl a smile as she looked up at him.
"Morning, Miss Brandon," he said.
"Good morning, Mr. Green," she answered. "There are--yes, twenty-two inquiries, none of them very interesting."
"We'd better get an editorial regrets done, I think," he said.
She looked a question at him, and he explained:
"You know. Not--'the editor regrets'--in our case, but the same sort of thing. 'Messrs. Gees have given careful consideration to your case as stated in your letter, and regret they are unable to offer any advice.' Something like that--get it engraved in copperplate and run on to decent paper. It'll save you answering each one individually."
"But I've so little to do, as it is," she pointed out.
"I know," he assented gravely. "It's growing into weeks since we wound up the Kestwell case, and I put the balance of that twelve thousand pounds away in the safe. And we've spent over two of the twelve thousand already, including my new car."
"We?" she queried stiffly.
"Well, I saw you putting a new typewriter ribbon on a couple of days ago," he said, "and I suppose you paid the window cleaner. I didn't."
The telephone bell rang before she could reply. She removed the receiver and listened, and then replied:
"Yes, I should think eleven o'clock would be all right. Will you hold on while I ask one of the principals?"
With her hand over the mouthpiece she looked up at Green--or Gees, as his intimate friends always called him:
"A Mr. Tyrrell from Cumberland is in London--his letter is among those on the desk--and wants to see you at eleven o'clock, Mr. Green."
"Okay by me," he answered. "Tell him I also yearn."
"Yes, Mr. Tyrrell"--she spoke into the receiver--"our Mr. Green will be pleased to see you at eleven o'clock."
She replaced the receiver, and turned over several of the letters, eventually picking out one which she handed to Gees.
"Yes," he said, "it will be as well to see what he wants before he gets here, and there's half an hour to go. I hope the poke contains a real pig--we get so many silly inquiries."
He glanced at the sheet of paper. Pinned at the top left-hand corner was a small clipping, evidently from some agony column. It read--
"Consult GEE'S CONFIDENTIAL AGENCY for everything, from mumps to murder. Initial consultation, two guineas--37, Little Oakfield Street, Haymarket, London, S.W.I."
"Ah," Gees observed complacently. "Our old 'mumps to murder' is still pulling 'em in, then, even from the wilds of Cumberland. But--Oh! What the--? Am I a goat? The man's daft!"
"He enclosed a check for two guineas," Miss Brandon remarked.
"Yes, I said he was daft, didn't I? Sheep? Does he think we're a veterinary establishment, or a dumb friends' league?"
"I suppose sheep come between mumps and murder," she said reflectively," and he is the only one who sent the two guineas in advance."
"Well, then, I'll talk to him, wurzel worrier from the wilds though he may be, and unless he stops the check he won't see his two guineas any more. Now what about the rest of them, Miss Brandon?"
He drew up a chair, and, seated at the end of her desk, went through the other letters. As he put the last one down, he shook his head.
"Editor's regrets are strongly indicated, Miss Brandon," he observed, "and in the next advertisement we'll put a note to the effect that a stamped addressed envelope must accompany all inquiries. We shall be three bob and more down by the time you've told all this lot that I don't feel inclined to take up their cases. And that?" as the doorbell rang "?will be our sheepist, I take it."
Rising, he went to the next room, which formed his own office, and left her to admit the visitor. Presently she opened his door?
"Mr. Tyrrell to see you, Mr. Green," she announced.
"Ah! Come in, Mr. Tyrrell. Take that chair--it's comfortable."
The visitor lowered six feet of bone and muscle into the leather-upholstered armchair at the end of Gee's desk--he did not know that he was directly facing a concealed microphone, the wires of which terminated in a pair of earphones which Miss Brandon could fit on in her room if Gees put his foot on a buzzer stud under his desk. The net effect of him, Gees decided was brown: brown tweed suit, well cut, with brown brogue shoes, and he had brown eyes and a sun-browned, pleasant sort of face. An open-air man, and a good sort, with a pleasant, honest smile.
"You got my letter, I hope, Mr. Green?" he asked.
Gees nodded at his desk. "It's here," he answered. "All I can gather is that you want my advice about losing sheep--or rather, about how not to lose sheep. To begin, now--have you advertised?"
Tyrrell shook his head. "Not that sort of loss," he answered.
"You'd better state the case," Gees advised. "The where and the how and the why, and make it as full as you like. Though I must warn you in advance that I know next to nothing about sheep--on the hoof, that is. Saddle of mutton at Simpson's--yes. Otherwise--but tell me all about it, since you've come for a consultation."
His visitor smiled, thought awhile, and then began.
"You know Cumberland, Mr. Green?"
"I have a hope of visiting the lake district some day," Gees answered, "but it hasn't materialized yet. That is--no."
"Not the lake district--I can see Skiddaw from my bedroom window, but if you don't know Cumberland that conveys nothing to you. I own about two thousand acres, Mr. Green--Tyrrells have owned it for centuries and the greater part of it is sheep run, though there is some arable land as well. But, in the main, sheep farming. A far-flung country--my nearest neighbor is well over a mile away--was, rather, until McCoul took Locksborough Castle and decided to rebuild enough of it to live in. Rather wild country, it would seem to you, I think. And, since last March, I have lost over fifty sheep."
"And where do I come in?" Gees inquired.
"Those sheep have been killed--mangled horribly--by some great dog or dogs," Tyrrell proceeded. "I've had the police on it, of course, but with no result, except that they have proved to me that no dog capable of doing the damage is kept within twenty miles of my land--that is, no dog which is not kept under proper control."
"In that case, what do you think I could do?" Gees asked again.
"I don't know. But there's this about it. Sitting here talking to you, the whole thing seems incredible, preposterous. My head shepherd, a man named Cottrill, is a straight, practical, unimaginative man of about forty, but--well, in such a district as that old legends survive, and there is a vein of superstition in the most practical of the people. He says it's unearthly, and that no dog as we know dogs is responsible for the damage. I've been out nights with him, watching--to no purpose, of course. They were the nights when nothing happened."
"Still, what could I do?" Gees insisted.
"Find what is destroying my sheep," Tyrrell answered promptly.
"When the police who know the district have failed?" Gees pointed out, and shook his head. "I'm afraid, Mr. Tyrrell?"
"But they have merely approached the problem on routine lines," Tyrrell interrupted. "Checked up all the dogs within a reasonable radius of my flocks, and virtually proved them innocent. After that, they own, they are at a standstill. And I know this is no ordinary dog."
"The specter hound of Man, eh?" Gees observed meditatively.
"Something like that, I honestly believe," Tyrrell assented with a hint of nervous earnestness. "Oh, I know it sounds damned silly, sitting here with a telephone handy and cars honking outside--all the twentieth century round us. If you come to undertake this problem for me, you'll step back a couple of centuries, back into a world where people still believe that solid, material things are not all of life."
"As you believe, evidently," Gees suggested.
"I have an open mind," Tyrrell admitted. "Look here, Mr. Green--first of all, though, would this fall to you, or would any other member of your firm undertake it, if it is undertaken?"
"It would fall to me. I am the firm--all of it."
"But--your secretary said one of the principals would see me," Tyrrell pointed out. "So I assumed--and the name of the firm is plural. You mean--you are Gees? All of it?"
"Gregory George Gordon Green," Gees said solemnly. "Therefore."
"Well, look here, then. So far, I've lost fifty sheep, and if this goes on for another six months, I shall not only lose fifty more, but Cottrill will go, and so will others of my men. They regard it as a curse on the place, especially those who have seen the carcasses. If you'll undertake to kill this dog or whatever it is--put an end to the trouble for me, I'll pay you fifty pounds."
Gees considered it. "I will undertake a week's investigation for that sum," he offered. "That is, on the understanding that the fee is paid whether I lay the ghost or no--even if it's merely a matter of sitting up a night or two with a gun and shooting a dog."
"Umm-m!" Tyrrell grunted doubtfully. "And yet?"
"Well?" Gees asked in the pause.
"Well," Tyrrell echoed, with an air of decision, "I'll pay that, and another fifty to hold you a second week if the first is not enough to solve the mystery. I'll go that far, for I read all that Kestwell case and know what you did in it, and now I see you--well!"
"For these bouquets, much thanks, Mr. Tyrrell," Gees said gravely. "Shall we say--if I arrive the day after to-morrow?"
"That will suit me," Tyrrell assented. "I'll meet you at the station--it's an eight mile drive to my place--Dowlandsbar."
"Oh, but I shall drive all the way," Gees said. "I run a Rolls-Bentley, and can do it in the day comfortably. Stay--where?"
"You'd better let me put you up," Tyrrell answered. "The only inn, the Royal George, is the better part of two miles from me, and the accommodation there is--well, rather primitive. Yes, I'll put you up."
"Very good of you, I'm sure," Gees told him, and rose to his feet to indicate that the interview was at an end. "Expect me in time for dinner, the day after to-morrow, at--yes, Dowlandsbar." He glanced at the address at the top of Tyrrell's letter to get the name right.
Tyrrell, risen too, held out his hand. "I'll do my best to make you comfortable in the wilds," he promised. "Since seeing you, I've got faith in you, Mr. Green. I believe you may be able to solve my problem."
"We'll see. I make no promises. But I'll do my best."
* * * *
"A likeable chap," Gees observed to Miss Brandon after his caller had gone. "Public school type, but not too much so. And I've always had it in mind to have a look at the lake district, though he's rather out of it, by what he says. Still, I can move on, after killing the dog, or dogs. It's a dog killing his sheep, that's all."
"And you say he's going to pay you fifty pounds to go and kill it?" she asked, with patent incredulity.
"Ah, but he's got a bee about it being a ghost dog," Gees pointed out. "The local police have exonerated all the dogs in a twenty mile radius, he says--but I know from the time I spent on my father's Shropshire estates that if a dog gets the sheep-worrying habit, he'll travel far more than twenty miles in a night to gratify his tastes."
"Then?" she began, and stopped, thinking it over.
"It's got him down," Gees explained. "There was a point in our talk when I could see belief in the supernatural in his eyes. I don't wonder. He lives eight miles from a station, and his local is the best part of two miles from where he lives--Dowlandsbar, heaven save us!"
"His local?" she asked curiously.
"Short for pub--the nearest bar to lean against," he explained. "And his next door neighbor is half a mile away and named McCoul, so what have you? I start early in the morning the day after to-morrow."
"And--and I remain in charge here?"
"Obviously. Go over the inquiries as they come in each morning--open all the letters whether they're marked 'Personal' or no. I've no low intrigues on, just now, so you won't get shocked. Send editor's regrets in every case where you feel it's possible, and if you come across anything interesting write and say the matter is receiving consideration, and on receipt of our initial fee of two guineas we shall be happy to communicate further. Then send that particular inquiry on to me, and I'll see what I think of it. Of course, if Tyrrell's right?"
He broke off, and stood thoughtful by her desk for awhile.
"You mean, about the supernatural?" she inquired eventually.
"It would be sub-natural, if anything, in a case of this sort," he answered. "I'm going to spend the rest of the day in the British Museum library, Miss Brandon, and when you've finished discouraging the rest of our inquirers you can get on with your novel. One of these days, there may be some work for you again, and till then I like the decorative effect of having you here. If I'm not back at your usual time for closing down, just put the cover on your typewriter and go."
"Very good, Mr. Green. Do you--do you think this is super--no, sub-natural, as you called it?"
"I'll tell you when I come back from Dowlandsbar." he answered, "and since I don't start till the day after to-morrow, that's some while ahead. But a nice holiday in the lake district--or somewhere near it--before the end of September, and a check for fifty pounds for taking it--well, what have you? I'd be sub-natural myself if I didn't. See you tomorrow morning, if not this evening, Miss Brandon."
"Very good, Mr. Green."