February can be an odd month these days; odd in the sense that you never quite know what to expect as far as the weather is concerned. Take today, for example. It is the middle of the month and yet the sun is shining brightly, and it should have felt warm outside but there is a cold, merciless wind blowing from the north and everyone is wrapped up in their fur-lined coats. Yesterday by contrast, threatening clouds loomed overhead which in past years would have almost certainly been a portend of snow but there was nothing but cold rain that seeped through to your bones. When I was a little girl, I would have been certain to be building a snowman with my dad this time of year. Maybe there is something to all the climate change furore after all.
I am Naomi Richards and I am an artist and psychic but before you snigger or move on to something else I should say in my own defence that I tend to play down my psychic abilities because people are inclined to think I am either slightly bonkers or a charlatan. And I assure you I am neither.
Art is something I have toyed with all my life in an amateur way; something I did almost as a means of self-expression; a way of formalising my feelings about people and life in general, especially during the uncertainties of my teenage years. It was only after my painful divorce that I decided to take it seriously by spending six years in university winding up with a Masters. I sell a canvas now and then and people appear to like my work but, sadly, not enough to pay the bills for my apartment on Liverpool’s Rodney Street, a fashionable address in consultant land in the city centre with the majestic Anglican cathedral just down the road. Not that I am on the expensive ground floor you understand. No, I reside on the first floor which is two flights up but that’s OK. It’s still a good address from which to run my other business which is my psychic consultancy. Sounds rather posh and pretentious doesn’t it? But I assure you it isn’t. I just help people if I can; people who are bereaved or in pain or who are lonely or troubled.
You may be tempted to think that I am eerie old lady with a moustache, wearing a pointy hat with a broomstick in the corner and, of course, the mandatory black cat. But I have none of those, not even the cat and especially not the moustache. I am actually in my late twenties (28 if you really must know) with light brown hair combed back in a bushy ponytail that hangs half-way down my back. People have been known to remark on my eyes having a magnetic quality. I wouldn’t know about that. I just know they are grey. I’m not a large lady either, nor am I skinny. I think I have a pretty good figure actually; not one you would perhaps associate with the dark arts. (Whatever they are!).
I find it difficult to explain my psychic abilities to people because it is something I have lived with all my life. When I was little, I was terrified by the voices I heard and the things and images I saw. At first, I thought it was something that happened to everyone but then when I told my mum what I was seeing or hearing she would stare at me warily with a very worried look on her face. She dragged me off to our GP and then to a variety of consultants who all declared that they could find nothing wrong with me. It was then I realised that it was just me seeing and hearing things. After that, I learned to keep my mouth shut. As I grew older though I began to realise that I should not be frightened and that I could use my abilities. I knew instantly who I could trust and who I could not, for example. I knew my husband was cheating on me long before I dragged it out of him. And I very often know when something is about to happen. They happen as images in my mind – I call them flashes – which last for perhaps a second or two – and then they are gone. It would then be a day or two later that the event or events would happen. These days I am sometimes called in by the local Police when a person, especially a child, goes missing and sometimes I can help locate them and sometimes I can’t.
Anyway, I am gazing out of the window of a south Liverpool pub watching all the activity as shoppers hurry past in the cold February sunshine with heavy bags from the nearby shopping centre. I am sitting at my usual table by a window with the sunshine casting a golden glow on the table in front of me. It is one of the monthly psychic sessions I do here, and I have a full list as usual. Most of them will be my ‘regulars’, mostly elderly ladies but by no means exclusively so. I do get men too wanting to know how what their careers have in store for them and girls wanting an insight into the latest or prospective boyfriend. It’s a mixed bag and it greatly helps to pay the rent!
The sessions are organised by Sid Driscoll, a man with a colourful background which a bent nose and a cauliflower ear testify to. He is not a man to get on the wrong side of but he’s an asset at these sessions in that he is more than able to deal with any trouble-makers. I call him Sid the Fixer! Not that it is a potential problem here, but it can be when we hold sessions in the city centre when drunks come in ‘for a lark’.
My first customer is Betty, an 85-year-old regular who lost her husband almost 20 years ago. I think she is basically lonely and comes in for a chat apart from getting in touch with her husband. It always brings tears to her eyes and Sid invariably brings her a cup of tea when I give him the nod. He will chat to her and by the time she leaves she will be laughing.
The rest of the evening goes smoothly as it usually does until an unexpected client suddenly appears in front of me. I am reading a few notes and am about to pack up when I look up and there she is. I look at my list and I have seen everyone on it. Sid must have taken on a latecomer without telling me. I shake my head a little impatiently and look at the woman who is gazing at me in an odd way, almost as though she is looking through me. With eyes that do not blink. I can feel a shiver along my spine. She is probably in her 50s with iron grey hair, a deeply lined face and a threadbare brown coat. I clear my throat rather noisily and ask how I can help her. She doesn’t reply but instead lifts an ancient handbag and pulls out a cutting on a yellowed paper. She slides it across the table to me and I stare at the headline which says. Housewife vanishes. And then, underneath Mother of two goes for a walk and is never seen again.
I am about to read the story underneath but instead I look up intending to ask why she has brought it to me but there is nobody there. I look around the room at the other tables, but they have all packed up and left. There is just me and Sid, sitting on a stool at the far end of the bar, enjoying a pint. I put the cutting in my bag and walk over to him. ‘Fancy a pint,’ he says, grinning, displaying a row of uneven teeth.
‘No thinks Sid. Some other time. ‘Who was the latecomer you sent over without telling me,’ I say, a little annoyed.
His brow furrows and he stares at me as if I’m mad. ‘Eh! I didn’t send anyone over luv. I would have asked you first, you know that.’
‘Well a middle-aged woman appeared at my table, didn’t say a word, just handed me a cutting and then disappeared.’
He shrugs. ‘I didn’t see anyone. Last I looked at your table you were on your own, reading something by the looks of it. I wouldn’t worry about it. Sure, you don’t want a drink?’ I shake my head and sigh. ‘Thanks anyway Sid. I’m tired. See you soon.’
I walk down the road to the bus stop and within minutes I am on my way to Rodney Street. I slowly start to climb the two flights of steps at number 18 but as I do so, I can hear steps on the stairs behind me. I stop and look down the stairs but there is nobody there. I must have imagined it. I carry on up and open my door and switch the lights on. My first action is to put the heating on. It is freezing outside and not much warmer in here. I leave my coat on until it warms up a little. I make a coffee and settle into my favourite chair and switch the TV news on. I feel unsettled and I don’t know why. I look around the room, but it looks the same although is it my imagination or does the corner opposite the windows look darker than usual? Is that a rustling sound can hear? I shake my head and decide it is all in my imagination and then I remember the cutting the strange lady gave me. I dig around in my bag and look at it under the lamp alongside my chair. The paper is yellowed so it is obviously at least five years I would say. Maybe even older. I read the story. It seems the missing woman’s name was Nancy Derebohn and her husband is quoted as saying she left the house one night saying she was going to visit her sister a few streets away, but she never arrived. A search of the neighbourhood revealed nothing.
I decide to Google her name to see what comes up and I discover that Mrs Deerbohn vanished fifteen years ago which explains the age of the cutting. There were no sightings of her and while the Police suspected foul play no body was ever found. Later reports said that her husband Roy was questioned but released. It seems she is still officially a missing person. It is then I come across the picture of Mrs Derebohn. It is the lady who came to see me. No doubt about it. Was she a spirit? Although spirits hold no fear for me, I am feeling slightly uneasy. I shiver.
It is late so I decide to turn in. I walk over to the windows and gaze down at Rodney Street. The old-fashioned gas lamps, now electric, bathe late night pub and club goers in pools of frosty light. Very soon, even Rodney Street will be still and silent. I draw the blinds and head for my bedroom where I partially draw the curtains. I have never really liked a totally dark bedroom and I like the shafts of light from the streetlamps below. It stems from when I was a little girl when I was constantly afraid of what I might see in the dark.
I take a hot water bottle to bed with me and soon its warmth has suffused its heat under my duvet, and I snuggle down and lull myself to sleep thinking about my latest canvas.
It must be 2am when I awake with a start. I sit up in bed rubbing my eyes. Was it a noise or something else that woke me? The shafts of light are shining through my window and it is quiet – too quiet. Silence can come in many forms I find – it can be menacing, suffocating or it can be welcoming or comforting but this silence is different. It has an expectancy about it. All my instincts tell me that something is about to happen. I look around my room. It is then that my eyes are drawn to a dark corner by the door where there is an even deeper darkness, beyond the shafts of light from the street lamps. There is something there; it begins to coalesce into a vague amorphous shape; transparent and very slightly glowing. As I watch, it gradually takes shape and glides slowly towards me until it reaches the foot of my bed. It is the lady who appeared at the readings yesterday; Nancy Derebohn. Once again, her eyes bore into me. I ask her softly what she wants of me and then, after the silence continues, how I can help her. By way of an answer, in my mind I see a street; a row of terraced houses and then a front door, No 92. I know she wants me to go there. I am about to ask her why when a feeling of terror and desolation hits me like a wave, and I hear a howl of anguish. It is so strong I gasp and close my eyes. Something terrible happened to her. I know it. I can feel it. I open my eyes and she has gone. I decide to get up and make a cup of tea. I cannot sleep after that experience.
I cradle the hot cup in my hands and search for the cutting that Nancy gave me. I know the number of her house and I know it is in Liverpool, but I don’t know which street. I look at the cutting again and eventually I find it – Freshfield Road. I find it on Google maps and discover it is not far from the pub I give readings in. I shall pay it a visit tomorrow.
As it happens the following day is bright and sunny and I am busy with things artistic, which includes looking at a studio I am considering renting, so by the time I get back to Rodney Street it is early evening and the shadows are getting ominously longer on the
I have a hurried egg and chips with a couple of slices of ham with a large mug of tea. I really don’t care if it isn’t trendy. It’s filling and its cheap and that’s all that matters. I get the bus at the bottom of my road and head for south Liverpool. By the time I am walking past the pub on my way to Freshfield Road it is getting dark and the street lights are beginning to switch on.
I reach number 92 and it looks very dilapidated, dirty windows, peeling paint and a general uncared-for appearance. I wonder if, in fact, anybody lives there and how I explain my presence if anybody does come to the door. I really can’t say that I saw a ghost last night who told me to come here because I’m sure the door would be very swiftly slammed in my face. I decide I will simply ask for Mrs Deerbohn and see what response I get. I have just realised there is something strange about the street. There is no sign of life. There are no lights and no cars either. All very odd.
I climb a couple of steps and look for a bell. There isn’t one so I knock. I can hear the sound echoing around inside. I wait but there is no response. I decide to knock once more and to leave if there is still no response.
I knock again, louder this time, and just as I am about to bang the door again, it opens slightly. I stare at it and push it open revealing a blackness. I call asking if anyone is there but there is just a stony silence. I look up and down the street, but it is empty. The lights glimmer dimly, and it is now getting dark. I stare at the stygian blackness in what I suppose is the hall. I can feel the hair at the back of my neck rising. I don’t want to enter but I also know I must. I leave the front door wide open to give at least a little light. I tread warily into the hall, feeling my way. The silence is absolute and oppressive. There is a doorway on my right which I decide to ignore and then, in front me is the stairs. To the right is another door which I push open and gingerly tread my way into what I assume is the sitting room. Something brushes my face and I put my hand to my mouth to stop myself screaming.
A little light from the window shines grimly into the room. I can hear a voice, a man’s voice, faint but growing louder. Then, suddenly standing in front of me, is a tall, gaunt, heavy-set, unshaven man, his teeth bared. He is calling me a slut, a whore, he raises his hand and I flinch as it passes through me. His face is contorted in fury, flecks of white at the corners of his mouth. He bends down towards the fireplace and is now holding a poker which he brings down on my head, once, twice, three times. I look down at the floor and there is a body of a woman, her face looking up at me. It is Nancy.
Now I know why she wanted me to come here.
I run out of the house, tears streaming down my cheeks. I run up the road until I reach the end and suddenly there are lights, traffic, people walking; people talking; people laughing. I stop and lean against a wall and bury my face in my hands.
‘Are you alright luv,’ says a kindly lady who stops, a concerned look on her face. I nod, smile wanly and assure her that I am and that I will be fine in just a minute or two. She looks uncertain and walks on.
As I walk, I begin to wonder if all that was a dream. The house and indeed the entire street for that matter. I doubt very much whether either are really like that at all so what have I just experienced? Some sort of elaborate psychic message? Was it all in my mind? Indeed, did it happen at all? I am tempted to turn back to see if the street has changed but I decide to go home. I am tired and feel completely drained.
Surprisingly, I slept undisturbed and woke feeling refreshed. As I sit at my table sipping my morning cup of tea, munching toast and marmalade, I find myself thinking about Nancy Deerbohn and her anguish which I can now understand. She was brutally murdered by her husband and her body hidden somewhere. That must be why she has shown herself to me. I gaze out of my window at the patch of azure sky I can see above Rodney Street. I know I must go back and see the house as it is today. I make my mind up. I will go this morning after I have done a brief shop for necessities. My fridge is forlornly empty, and I have even run out of staples like bread and soup. On the rare occasion I see my brother who lives in Snowdonia, he keeps telling me I have lost weight. Maybe I have. It is just that sometimes I am just too busy to eat. Yes, I know I should make a point of having at least one good meal a day and I do try.
The bus takes me within walking distance of Freshfield Road, this time in broad daylight with a blue sky and a gleaming sun shining down. No macabre visions this time surely?
The road could not be more different to the one I walked down last night. There are cars lining one side; people are walking; people are talking; it is all bustle. I smile and then when I am within sight of number 92, I stop in my tracks. What do I say to whoever opens the door? I hadn’t thought of that. I can’t tell the whole story; not at first anyway because the occupants will think I’m mad. I think for a few moments and decide on my approach.
When I reach the house, it could not be more different. It is brightly painted with modern double glazing and curtains at the windows. And there is a bell.
I hesitate and then, my mind made up, I press it a couple of times. There is no response, although I think I can detect movement. I stand there undecided. Should I just go? I have turned on my heel when the door is suddenly opened and a flustered-looking woman in her early 20s looks at me enquiringly. I clear my throat and say that I am sorry to bother her, but I wonder if I might have ten minutes of her time. When she looks at me blankly, I plough on and say that it is about a woman who used to live at this house by the name of Nancy Derebohn and that she might be able to help solve a mystery.
She frowns as if trying to decide if I am for real or not. She asks me who I am, so I tell her but leaving out my psychic abilities…for now anyway.
She opens the door wider and ushers me into the sitting room which is bright, cheerful with a couple of comfortable armchairs and a sofa. So different from my last visit.
‘I have just put the baby down,’ she says smiling. I fervently hope she means the baby is asleep and not dead. ‘Mornings are always a bit hectic, especially when I’m working. I am Alice Worthington by the way,’ she says holding out her hand. We shake, smiling. ‘Now, how can I help you,’ she says. ‘You mentioned Nancy Deerbohn. I know she and her husband used to live here.’ I nod. ‘And then, apparently, one day she just vanished.’
‘I think she was murdered,’ I say, deciding to take the plunge. ‘And I suspect it was her husband who killed her, here in this house.’
She stares at me, a look of horror on her face. ‘Here,’ she whispers, looking around.
‘Quite possibly in this room,’ I continue sighing. She puts her hand to her mouth and then a perplexed look crosses her face.
‘Can I tell you something,’ she says. I nod. ‘You must promise you won’t laugh though,’ I tell her I won’t and look at her expectantly.
‘I think this house is haunted,’ she says. ‘There are quite often rappings on the wall behind you when there is nobody in the next room and things have disappeared and very often, I can feel as though there is somebody here.’
‘Yes, I can feel it now,’ I say.
‘You can?’ I nod.
‘A few months ago, I friend of mine was here staying the night and she saw a grey lady who she said looked very sad.’
‘I saw her yesterday,’ I say, coming to a decision. ‘What I haven’t told you is that I came here yesterday but neither the house nor indeed the road looks like they do today. I’m still puzzled by it quite honestly.’ She stares at me, her eyes wide.
Then I told her about how I saw Nancy’s murder being enacted in this very room.
‘Oh my God,’ mutters Lucy, looking around again.
I put my hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s OK,’ I tell her. ‘You have nothing to be afraid of. Nancy wants justice. That’s why she is haunting this place and that’s why she has appeared to me several times.’
Lucy stares at me. ‘Would you like a coffee?’ I nod and she disappears into the kitchen and I can hear the kettle being put on and mugs being arranged.
When she returns, she hands me a piping hot mug. ‘How do you know all this?’ she says. I explain that I am a psychic investigator and that Nancy first appeared to me at a pub reading not far away.
When I have finished recounting the chain of events that led to me coming here, she leans back in her chair and then suddenly stands up and says she wants to show me something. We walk over to the window and she points to a well-kept lawn outside.
‘Do you see the flowers,’ she says. I look at the lawn and there is a yellow rectangle of buttercups in the centre. ‘They are pretty,’ I say. ‘We never planted them,’ she says. ‘They are always there, whatever the weather. Really strange.’
I ask if we can walk outside and when I look down at the flowers I know, without any doubt that is where we will find Nancy Deerbohn.
I tell Alice and she stares at the buttercups, tears in her eyes. She looks at me. What do we do?’ she asks.
‘We tell the Police,’ I say getting out my mobile.
Two days later a forensic team with an imagining scanner arrive at the house. Within hours they had established that there was something buried in the garden. Alice Worthington and her family were moved out to a hotel for a week while a tent was erected in the garden. At first, there had been scepticism at Admiral Street Police Station following Naomi’s call. But then, her track record had persuaded Inspector Salisbury that it was worth an initial investigation, especially if it had any chance of closing the file on Nancy Derebohn.
At the end of the week they issued a statement saying that the remains of Mrs Derebohn had been recovered and that her husband Roy was helping Police with their enquiries.
At Liverpool Crown Court today, the case of missing housewife Nancy Derebohn was finally closed when her husband, Roy Arthur Derebohn, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years jail.
Mrs Derebohn, of Freshfield Road, Wavertree, inexplicably vanished 15 years ago after telling her husband she was going to visit her sister a few streets away, but she never arrived.
Extensive searches of the area failed to produce any clues as to her whereabouts and a fingertip search by Police of nearby Wavertree Park, known locally as ‘The Mystery’ also failed to shine any light on her disappearance.
Her body was discovered buried in the garden of their home on Freshfield Road after Police used imaging technology to conduct a search.
The court was told by the prosecution that Derebohn had bludgeoned his wife to death after returning home in a drunken rage and that it was not until the following morning that he had buried her body in the garden.
Trial Judge Rupert Trenholme QC, when sentencing Derebohn, described him as callous and totally devoid of human feelings and that the savagery of his crime was beyond belief.
Detective Inspector Ken Salisbury, in welcoming the sentence, refused to confirm that it was the intervention of a psychic that had led to the discovery.
This is the first ‘Naomi’ story. If you enjoyed it, you may like to know that a full-length novel, The Poseidon Files, will be published shortly.