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Interview With a Ghost

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"Well," said Captain Jones, over the intercom, "that answers that question."

"Not really," said Patterson. "It doesn't really explain all the ancient China stuff. We didn't even ask him about that."

"I think it does, actually," said Collins, tapping his fingers on the table. "If he didn't want people to know that he'd died and was continuing to live his human life, what better way to throw them off the trail than by mimicking a old legend like that?"

"But the Fentons said it wasn't well known," said Patterson. "Who would have known about it when the Fentons first showed up?"

"It certainly narrows down the list of potential..." Collins groaned. "What do we even call this? Victims? Suspects? Possibly dead people?"

"Before you two get too tied up in semantics," said the captain, voice coming through the intercom again. "We have some things to discuss. My office."

.

Collins and Patterson weren't the only ones assembling in the captain's office. Captain Jones had called Molly, the medical examiner, in as well. She sat on the chair in front of his desk, a stack of papers in her lap.

Jones shut the door behind him and locked it. "Alright," he said, rubbing his face and sinking into his chair. "So, before you called me in to watch that interview, I was talking to Molly. She told me some interesting things about Phantom's body. I assume you've already told these two what you've learned."

"I've gotten a little more, since then, actually," said Molly.

"Go ahead, then," said Jones.

"Well, at this point we're pretty sure that the cause of death is electrocution... Or we would be, if it wasn't for the whole 'only half a body' thing he has going on." Molly sighed. "He has electrical burns on his bones. They're black in spots."

"Ouch," said Patterson. "What a way to go."

"Yeah. Let's not bring it up to him, okay?"

"It might be a way to figure out it's him, though, make him break cover."

Captain Jones cleared his throat. Collins and Patterson turned to look at him, expectant.

"That brings us to the bones of this matter, so to speak," said Jones.

Collins suppressed a twitch of his lips. The captain liked puns, but admitting that one found them humorous could be hazardous. Mainly because it would result in more puns.

"What is that, sir?" he asked.

"Do we want to expose Phantom? Assuming that he is masquerading as a living person, something I'm not entirely convinced of. Especially considering your mention of legends and 'ancient China stuff.'" The captain circled the words with air quotes. "Care to explain?"

"The Fentons believe that Phantom is the same ghost as one that shows up in a bunch of legends around the world," said Collins. "We were going to look into them, next, but Phantom showed up."

"So, in other words, there's some evidence that he's, what, hundreds of years old?"

"I suppose," said Collins.

"Which would mean that's someone else's body. Because there's no way it's that old, right, Molly?"

"Not unless all that ectoplasm in it preserved it, somehow," said Molly. "I wouldn't entirely discount that, by the way. I'm not an ectologist."

"And everyone who is, is a suspect because of the ectoplasm and the body's age," put in Patterson.

Captain Jones cleared his throat. "As long as that's not the case," he said, "that means that, if Phantom is playing at being alive, he's doing it with someone else's life."

There was a pause, the words heavy on the air.

"You don't think he actually killed anyone, do you, sir?" asked Patterson.

"No," said the captain. "I don't. But it's something we have to consider, because if it is the case, then we have an obligation to reveal him. But if it isn't... What do you think will happen if we reveal Phantom and he leaves? If he's just continuing his- his 'life,'" again his hands came up to make quotes, "and he's not hurting anyone, there's no reason to reveal him, and many reasons not to, including the safety of the city."

"There is a reason to reveal him, even then," said Patterson. "If he's lying about it being an accident. If he was murdered. Or if the accident wasn't as out there as he wants us to think it is. I mean, he's a teenager. They don't just drop dead for no reason, and, well, Dave's wife had a point."

"You mean with her comment about abuse," said Captain Jones.

"Yeah," said Patterson.

"If it helps," said Molly, "there aren't any other detectable signs of abuse on his body."

"There's another issue," said Collins.

"Yes?" said the captain.

"What if Phantom decides to object to our line of questioning more physically?"

"You mean, if he attacks us?" asked Patterson.

Collins shrugged. "He is a ghost. And a kid. And we're putting a lot of pressure on him. I don't think any of that is conducive to rational decision making."

"I guess we can't argue that he isn't violent," said Patterson, making a face. "But what can we do? We can't definitively say what's going on."

Captain Jones glared at his desk as if it had offended him. Maybe it had. It was a horrible mess.

"We need to keep investigating," said the captain. "But I want you, all three of you, to be circumspect. We need a different explanation for why you're asking questions."

"Why?" asked Patterson. "Phantom already knows."

"Because of his 'enemies.'" Air quotes again. "We don't know who they are, or the real reason he's so anxious to keep everything quiet. We don't even know if he's talking about humans or ghosts. And," said Captain Jones, after a significant pause, "I don't want the Guys in White to get wind of this at all. They can have that corpse over mine, you got it?"

.

To Collins' great relief, the captain had chosen to deal with the Cult Division (aka Cameron Daily and his computer) himself, which left him and Patterson free to strategize on other fronts. Specifically, to whittle down which children they should interview, how they should be interviewed, and whether or not it was possible that any of them were Phantom.

"If he can shapeshift, then he can shapeshift," grumbled Collins, massaging his temples. It was far too early for this, and he'd been here until midnight yesterday, getting paperwork together and sending for class lists from the school. They'd had to explain why they wanted them. "His body type could be anything." He reached for his coffee. He was almost out.

"But," said Patterson, "we have his body. The body types match."

"He could have changed over two years," said Collins. "Teenagers usually do. He could have, I don't know, simulated a growth spurt in his human disguise, or whatever."

"Still, he couldn't have changed that much, not while escaping suspicion," argued Patterson.

Collins grunted. "Maybe," he agreed.

"And he's got to go to Casper High, he gets to ghost attacks there too fast for him to go to school anywhere else."

"Mhn," said Collins. "Sure, I guess."

"Has to be someone who's been there for two years, because of when everything started. So it can't be and of the freshmen or sophomores. Has to be someone who's an incoming junior or senior."

"Or someone who graduated last spring," said Collins.

"You're right," said Patterson. She tugged on the end of her braid. "That might complicate some things. Still. I think these are the most likely candidates." She pushed a list of circled names and pictures across their shared desk. "We can interview them today."

Collins glared at it, the way he glared at everything that wasn't coffee at this time of day. "Patterson, I thought we were doing interviews with kids to find the conspiracy theory kid."

"Well, we can do that, too, and ask around to see if anyone's been acting ghostly."

"Fine," said Collins. He squinted. "'Wesley Weston?' Dear god, who names their child that?"

"I don't know. It's better than some celebrity baby names that I've heard of," said Patterson, shrugging.

Collins put the list down and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "What was the theory again, anyway?" he asked. "That Phantom was the Fenton kid?"

"Daniel. Yeah. I've got him circled, here." Patterson tapped on the list.

"Do you think there's any merit to that?" asked Collins. "The Fentons are ghost hunters. You'd think they'd either notice and stop hunting him, or, well, you know."

"It would explain the ectoplasm, though. And maybe the electrical burns. They're inventors, too, and that thing on their roof has to have some kind of fancy wiring."

"That would be-" Collins wracked his brain for a suitable adjective and came up empty. He shook his head. "I don't think we can make that conclusion from a forum post you barely remember, Patterson. It sounds good, but-" He shook his head again.

"But it is pretty unbelievable. I still think we should ask him."

"Just like that?"

"Why not? You saw how he reacted to your question yesterday. His poker face needs work."

Collins' desk phone rang. He picked it up. "Detective Collins speaking," he said.

"Hey, this is Molly."

"Yeah? You have something new for us?"

"The body is gone."

"What?"

"Phantom's body. It's gone. I think there's been a break in."