They had asked the Fenton parents for an interview with Daniel Fenton to ask him about things he might have seen at school. They had agreed, heartily, but had insisted on staying because 'the kids are a little biased towards Phantom, teens, you know,' and they wanted to keep the record straight.
The other two children had, with extreme reluctance, gone home. His sister, however, had refused to leave, saying that she knew just as much about things at the school as Danny, and they might as well question her at the same time. Collins couldn't really argue with that, and he had elbowed Paterson when she tried.
Daniel looked very small and meek against the large armchair he was perched on. Nothing at all like Phantom, who projected personality and confidence even when nervous.
Collins could see how he had gotten away with... whatever he had gotten away with... for so long. He still wasn't entirely convinced that Fenton was Phantom. It seemed pretty incredible, and there wasn't any physical evidence. Especially with the body gone.
Paterson took out a pad of paper and a recorder. "Do you mind if I record this?" she asked. "For record keeping purposes."
"Not at all!" said Jack, grinning. "We're glad to be of help!"
Daniel looked at the recorder as if he thought he'd be ill. He looked pale. Almost green. Was that because he was a ghost, or was he really just that nervous?
"Alright," said Collins. "Do you see Phantom around Casper High?"
"Not really," said Daniel.
"Everyone does," said Jasmine.
The siblings glanced at each other.
"I try to stay away from the ghost fights," said Daniel, shrugging.
"Yes. Your classmates seem to think that you have some kind of sixth sense, as you always leave class right before an attack."
Daniel's eyebrows pinched together in genuine confusion. "They think what?" He shook his head. "I just leave when I need to go," he said.
Paterson looked up from her notepad. "Go as in...?"
"You know, go," said Daniel, a blush dusting his features with pink.
"I see," said Paterson. Daniel blushed harder.
"Have you ever spoken to Phantom?" asked Collins.
"Yes," said Jasmine, crisply, to murmurs of disapproval from her parents. "He saved me from from Spectra. The ghost who masqueraded as a psychologist."
"I remember that," said Paterson. "Old Elroy had that case." It was from before the existence of ghosts had been widely accepted, even in Amity Park. "You were one of her victims?"
"I'm the one she tried to blow up."
"Ah," said Collins. "And what did you talk about?"
"Nothing much," said Jasmine. "Not that I remember, anyway. It was over a year ago."
"Try to remember," said Collins.
Jasmine shrugged. "I think it was basically just agreeing that Spectra was terrible."
"Have you had any other interactions with Phantom?"
"None worth mentioning," said Jasmine.
What a strange way to phrase that. Collins decided not to call her on it, yet. Even with Paterson pointedly poking his ankle with her toe.
"Daniel, what about you?"
"It's Danny," the boy corrected. "I've never really talked to him. Unless you want to count things like 'look out!'"
"Nothing about his origins, then?"
"No?" said Danny.
"Have you heard anything about his origins from anywhere else?"
"We already told you about that," interrupted Maddie, frowning. "His origins are unknown, but he's existed for hundreds of years, at a minimum."
"Yes, but we'd like to hear from Danny and Jasmine," said Collins, giving Maddie his best professional smile. He turned back to Danny, expectantly.
"Someone once told me they thought he was a plague doctor, but, like, updated. I don't remember who, though."
"Right," said Collins. "Now, we'd like you to think back to about two years ago. Call it late summer, early fall. Did anything strange happen around that time?"
"Yeah," said Danny. "The Lunch Lady attacked the school for the first time. I don't remember the exact date, but it was right before the meat-vegetable protests."
"It was that early?" asked Collins, surprised. "That's months before the first recorded attack! Are you sure there was a ghost?"
"Pretty sure, yeah," said Danny, crossing his arms.
"Hey! That's about when we saw Phantom for the first time!" exclaimed Jack.
"Is it?" asked Collins.
"Yeah! He stole our prototype Fenton thermos! I still don't understand how he got it working." The last was a grumble.
"Interesting. And did anything strange happen other than that? Anything out of the norm?"
"Well," said Maddie, thoughtful, "we got our portal working about a month before that. Danny did, anyway."
"Did he? How?"
"Knocked a loose wire back into place!" boomed Jack, laughing. "That's my boy."
Danny's face was whey-colored again. Interesting.
Oh, hell. The portal definitely had something to do with all of this, didn't it.
"How does your portal work, exactly, anyway?"
Fifteen minutes later, Collins had no better idea of how their portal worked except that it involved a great deal of ectoplasm and electricity, both of which they had found on the corpse. He couldn't help but think that he had finally discovered how Phantom had died.
And hearing Jack and Maddie, the boy's parents talk about the portal with such obvious pride while Danny squirmed in the armchair, looking for an escape...
"Thank you," said Collins, quickly, while Jack drew a breath. "I think that's all we need for today."
"But-" started Paterson.
"It's really all we need," repeated Collins. He saw Danny relax, marginally. "Just one more thing. Do you know anything about the break in at the city morgue last night?"
Various expressions flicked over the Fentons' faces. Jack's and Maddie's were blank. Danny's was was angry. Jasmine's was, surprisingly, guilty.
Did she steal the body? Collins would have never guessed it. The image she presented was too neat and mannered.
"Was it a ghost?" asked Maddie. "I'm afraid we can't do anything about it, otherwise."
"Right," said Collins. "We'll contact you if that evolves to be the case. And-"
"Oh, I can't take it anymore!" exclaimed Paterson. She pointed at Danny. "Are you Phantom?"
Danny jumped about a foot. "Wh-What? Nooooooooo. No, I'm not Phantom. I'm alive, aren't I?"
Damn. If that wasn't all but a confession.
The other Fentons started to laugh. The adults heartily. Jasmine uneasily.
"You've been listening to what's-his-name, haven't you? The West boy?"
"Weston," corrected Maddie. "No matter how many times we explained things to him..." She sighed. "I think there's something wrong with him, to be honest. But just to assuage your doubts..." She stood up and walked over to Danny. "Danny, do you mind."
"Nope," said Danny, standing up and holding out his wrist.
Maddie beckoned the detectives forward. "Here," she said, "feel this." She tapped her fingers on Danny's wrist.
"Go ahead," said Danny, staring up at him with a mix of apprehension and determination.
Collins put his fingers on Danny's wrist, on his pulse point. Danny's skin was smooth and cool, but not at all corpselike, or what Collins imagined a ghost would feel like.
"I have a pulse," said Danny. "Ghosts don't." Sure enough, Collins' fingers detected a slow but steady thump thump thump.
Maddie nodded. "Their closest equivalent is more of a constant rush. I could explain the science... but you were just leaving."
"Yes. Sorry about that. My partner can be a bit susceptible to conspiracy theories. I had to talk her out of hiring a psychic, once."
"Thank goodness you did," said Maddie, smiling. "Almost all psychics are fake."
"They don't believe it," said Danny, watching the detectives pull away from the curb below from the window of his room.
"Mom and dad? Of course not," said Jazz. "They won't believe you're Phantom unless you show them outright."
"No, the detectives. They don't believe I'm human. They still think I'm Phantom."
"Danny," said Jazz, cautiously. "Don't do anything rash."
"It isn't like I can make this any worse," said Danny. "I'm going to talk to them."
"What was that?" complained Paterson. "I never tried to hire a psychic!"
"Yeah, but you did agree that we wouldn't out Phantom in front of his parents. He said he doesn't want his family to know about him, and I don't want an angry ghost trying to throttle me! He can bench press a bus! I don't want his hands anywhere near my throat." He inhaled deeply and sighed. "At least we know what did him in."
"Do you?" asked a very cold voice.
It was a testament to Collins' steely nerves and rigorous police training that he didn't immediately crash the car upon finding a ghost in the back seat. Paterson nearly threw herself out of the car.
"Hi, Phantom," he said, instead, looking at the young ghost in the rear view mirror. "I don't suppose you know what happened to your body."
The ghost scowled. "It wasn't me. I told you to stop messing with stuff."
"Who, then? Your sister?"
Phantom's scowl deepened to something like rage. "Leave her out of this."
"Oh, god, you really are Fenton," said Paterson.
In her defense, Collins hadn't completely believed it, either.
Varied emotions passed over the ghost's face. "Come on, you don't believe Wes, do you?"
"There's other evidence," said Collins, voice wavering just a little. "I don't know how you're keeping up a pulse, or the rest of your human disguise, but you died in that portal, didn't you?"
Phantom was silent for a moment, then he reached through Paterson's chair and neatly plucked her recorder from her jacket, along with her phone. He tossed the phone into the seat next to him and crushed the recorder. Then he started riffling through Collins' pockets.
"Is that really necessary?" asked Collins. He guided the car to the side of the road and put it into park.
"You made it necessary," said Phantom. He pulled out Collins' phone as well and gave it a once over. "Look," he said. "I'm sort of," he paused, "upset that you guys dug up my body and then freaking lost it."
"Fine. Got it stolen from you by one of my enemies. One of my most dangerous enemies. Okay? Happy? Are you starting to understand why I wanted this left alone?"
"Are you trying to say that this isn't about your family not knowing you're dead?" asked Collins.
"Of course it's about that!" exclaimed Phantom. "It's just about half a dozen other things at the same time! You knowing about me could get me killed. Knowing about me could get you killed. The only reason Wes isn't dead is because he's completely ridiculous and no one believes him! You're credible!"
"By that enemy you mentioned?" asked Paterson, having regained some composure.
"Yeah," said Phantom. "He's got an interest in it not getting out."
"Why?" asked Paterson.
"Reasons," said Phantom, stubbornly.
"Does he have the same thing going on as you?"
Phantom crossed his arms and shrugged.
"One second," said Collins, "what do you mean, kill you? You're already dead."
"It's a figure of speech," mumbled Phantom. "Either way, the GIW would be more than happy to cut me open. Do you have any idea what they do to ghosts?"
"You- you're not actually dead, are you?" asked Collins. "Holy-"
"Yes, I am," said Phantom, quickly.
"How did you manage the pulse trick, then?"
"Lots of ghosts can do that. My parents don't know everything."
"You're a terrible liar. How the hell does that work? This- Ghost powers while alive?"
"I am dead," repeated Phantom. "How do you explain the body?"
"Half of it was missing," said Paterson.
"I'm begging you to let this go," said Phantom. "People are going to get hurt. I'm going to get hurt."
"You don't think we'd let the GIW have you?" asked Paterson.
"I don't think it's a matter of 'let.' I-" he sighed and buried his face in his hands. "Ugh, I can't believe I made this even worse. What are you going to do?"
"We-" said Collins. Honestly, he had no idea. He looked at Paterson, who shrugged. "It isn't up to us, it's up to the captain."
"You can't tell more people!"
"Then you tell him. Come with us," said Paterson. "It's just one more, and he knows all of our suspicions, anyway." That wasn't completely true.
"If you really wanted to convince us not to, you could tell us more about your terrible enemy who may or may not be like you."
Phantom shook his head. "It's not worth it," he said, floating halfway out of his seat. "I'm going home."
"Wait," said Collins. "Your accident- It really was an accident, wasn't it? Your parents didn't-"
Phantom's face scrunched up. "Of course it was an accident. I was messing around someplace I shouldn't have been because of a dare. Are we done, now? Right up until you decide to ruin what's left of my life, anyway."
"Do you have a cell phone?" asked Paterson. "So we can call you, instead of your parents, if necessary." She offered up her notepad.
Phantom jerked it out of her hands and scrawled something on the paper. "Goodbye," he said, shortly, before flying out of the car.
Paterson swore, loudly.
"Yeah," agreed Collins. "Yeah."