Danny slipped into the police station invisibly, trailing after the two detectives. They seemed like nice people. Good people. Dedicated people. That last was a problem. He didn't want them to be dedicated. Not about this.
What he wanted was for his body to be put back in the ground and forgotten about. He wanted his mystery to go unsolved.
The problem was, how to convince these two, and the rest of the Amity Park Police Department while he was at it, that it was better for everyone if the mystery went unsolved?
It really would be. Between Vlad and the GIW... Danny's secret getting out would have nasty consequences. But he couldn't tell them about Vlad, and the consequences concerning the GIW weren't immediately obvious without knowing the solution to the mystery.
Maybe Sam was right. He should forgo this whole 'interview' nonsense, come back when he actually had a plan. As it was, he would just give them more clues he didn't want them to have.
But if he left them alone...
He listened to them making plans to interview his human self and other students at Casper High. They were going to interview him, anyway. He bit his lip. At least, he could distract them from that. Perhaps he could make out that he was older? Too old for the students at Casper now to have known him? No, that wouldn't work. They had his body. They'd be able to tell how long it was buried. Even he knew that.
"Does it feel cold in here to you?" asked the younger detective, Patterson.
The other tilted his head, frowning. "Maybe," he said. "Phantom?"
Well, he wasn't going to just appear out of thin air in the middle of this giant room full of desks. Over half the police in town had to be there.
Some of them must have noticed Detective Collins question, because there was a wave of whispering, and the room began to fall quiet.
Despite being invisible, Danny felt very exposed.
"If you're here," said Patterson, raising her hands, "we just want to talk. Will you talk with us?"
"It doesn't have to be here," said Collins. "We've got private rooms. We can talk there."
After a few tense seconds, Collins began to walk away.
They're right over here. Interview rooms. They're actually pretty nice, not what you usually see on TV."
With some reluctance, Danny followed. He could just leave.
But that wouldn't accomplish anything, except, perhaps, to make them more suspicious of him.
The room was indeed nicer than Danny had expected. The floor was carpeted. The walls and furniture were wood. There was a mirror, a one-way window, on one side of the room. Danny wondered if the purpose of the room was to lure interviewees into a false sense of comfort.
He blinked at the one-way glass a few times, adjusting his vision so he could see what lay beyond. As expected, it was rather crowded. It looked like a good number of the other detectives had squeezed into the booth.
"You realize," said Collins, out of the side of his mouth as he situated himself in a chair, "that if he isn't here we'll look like idiots, right?"
Danny sighed, heavily, and the detectives stiffened. He faded into invisibility. "You aren't idiots," he said. Then he remembered what he had come here for. "About this particular thing."
"Ah," said Patterson. "Well, thank you for coming and doing this interview."
"Yeah," said Danny, crossing his arms, "about that. I could do without the peanut gallery." He nodded towards the mirror.
"The-" Collins glared at the mirror. "Oh, for the love of god. Patterson, can you clear them out and get Captain Jones? He's the only one who should be here for this."
Patterson rolled her eyes but left the room.
"Well," said Collins. "While we're waiting for her to get back, let's make ourselves comfortable. You can sit down if you want."
"I'm fine," said Danny. He watched as Patterson started shooing people out of the room behind the glass and the captain walked in.
"Alright, that's okay. I'm not sure we've been formally introduced. I'm Detective Collins. My partner is Detective Patterson."
"I know," said Danny. "You're the homicide team. Well, this, me, it wasn't a homicide. Okay? So you don't need to do this."
Collins spread out his hands. "I'm not going to pressure you to talk about it," he said. "I gather that ghosts don't like that particular subject. But we have to investigate any suspicious death we come across. And yours? It's pretty suspicious."
"I'm telling you, it isn't. It's just dumb," said Danny.
Patterson came back into the room. "Hi," she said. "I'm Detective Patterson."
"Yeah," said Danny. "I know."
She leaned up against the wall next behind Collins. "So, what should we call you?"
Danny shrugged. "Phantom, I guess," he said. Was that an unsubtle attempt at finding out his real name? "Look, I know that you want to know who I am, and how I died and all that, but I'm not here to talk about that."
"Then what are you here to talk about?" asked Collins.
Danny closed his eyes briefly. "It would be dangerous if you knew those things. I want to talk you out of it. I'm sorry I left my body in a public placel. If you want me to do community service to make up for it, I will. But I'm not planning on pressing charges, and there's not anything else that would come of looking into it. Like I said, it was an accident, and not one that's going to happen again."
"Because you'll make sure of it?" asked Patterson.
"No," said Danny, annoyed, "because it was freak chance. One in a million, or even less. Most ghosts aren't sticking around to avenge their deaths." Revenge was a boring Obsession, Vlad's notwithstanding.
Okay, so maybe the portal accident wasn't quite as 'one and done' as Danny was claiming, but that was why he didn't want anyone to know about it.
"So, why is it dangerous to know about?" asked Collins.
Danny puffed his cheeks out. Why, indeed. "It's dangerous to me," he said, finally. "If you haven't noticed, I have more than a few enemies, and there is a reason ghosts don't like to talk about their deaths."
"So why don't you tell us?" asked Patterson. "We're not going to tell anybody."
"No, but you'd have to confirm it, and people would know," said Danny. In retrospect, this was a pretty good cover for why he didn't want his manner of death to be investigated, and he'd come up with it on the spot! Well, he always did do better under pressure.
But just as Danny started to pat himself on the back, Collins sighed. "Phantom. What happened to you wasn't 'just' an accident. Half of your body was missing."
Danny raised an eyebrow. "It looked pretty whole to me," he said. "All three times."
"According to our ME, it only weighed about half what it should have," said Collins, leaning forward.
Static filled Danny's brain. Half. Half the mass gone. Stop. He already knew- It was not time to panic.
"So?" asked Danny.
"There was also a lot of ectoplasm in the body," added Patterson.
"Well, this is Amity Park, and I am a ghost."
"More than it should have gotten just from you handling it."
"What, and you're suddenly an expert in ectology?" scoffed Danny. It was a good thing he didn't sweat in ghost form.
Patterson leaned forward, stepping away from the wall. "Were you killed by a ghost?"
Danny blinked. "No," he said. "That's stupid. Ghosts know better than anyone that someone dying doesn't necessarily mean they're gone." He rubbed his eyes. "This was a bad idea. You're not going to listen to me." He turned to go.
"Wait, Phantom," said Collins. "Just one more question, please."
Danny glowered from his position near the ceiling. He'd been just about to go through. "What?" he ground out.
"Is the reason you don't want anyone to know that you're dead because..." he paused, apparently searching for words, "because no one even knows you're missing? Because you're still trying to live your life? Because you're pretending to be alive?"
Danny's very alive heart hammered in his chest. "That's more than one question," he said.
Written for the Dannymay 'Bones' prompt.
"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."
"Phantom's body. It's gone. I think there's been a break in."
This chapter was written for day 25: break.
The call came shortly after Danny had informed Tucker of his (disastrous) interview with the police and had left to go fight a giant bird ghost that had made its way to Elmerton. That bird wouldn't know what hit it. Well, it would know that Danny hit it, presumably, but not that Danny was hitting it so hard due to repressed anxiety regarding his body and the fact the police had it.
Tucker had been, as it so happened, waiting for the call.
"Hey, Sam," he said, not bothering to so much as look at the caller ID.
"So, Danny's gotten himself into a mess."
"Yep," said Tucker. "A pretty big one. Not all his fault, though."
"He did make it worse."
"Yeah. What are we going to do about it?"
"How do you feel about breaking and entering?"
"You're going to have to be more specific," said Tucker. He rolled over on his bed to stare at the ceiling. "We do that pretty frequently."
"The city morgue. ME's office, specifically."
"There'll be guards," said Tucker, "what with the rumors and all."
"I've got the Box Ghost in my thermos. He's a good distraction."
"Working on it. You'll take care of the security cameras and locks?"
"As long as they're digital," said Tucker, pulling up his data on the city cameras as they spoke. "The outside ones are, but I don't know about the insides. There might be analog machines in there. Tapes. Can't do anything to anything not on a network."
"I know, I know. Hey, maybe you could send a text to whoever's supposed to be guarding it tonight? Get them to leave?"
"Mmm. Maybe. If I could figure out who that would be."
"That could backfire, though," said Sam. "If they don't send messages like that. Sorry, I'm just thinking out loud."
Tucker pulled up a building map in another window. "I think we'll probably need more than just us, though. Remember the first time we had to move... it?"
"Yeah, but who else are we going to get to do this?"
"Jazz, maybe? She has a car, too. She can be transportation."
"Tucker, we're not looping Danny in on this. Do you really think that Jazz is going to be any more cool with this than Danny?"
"I don't know, Jazz can be pretty savage when it comes to protecting Danny."
The phone made Sam's considering hum crackle with static. "We do need transport," said Sam.
"Yeah. What were you looking into for that, anyway?"
"Ugh. Cult connections."
"Dude. Danny would not be happy if we gave his you know to a cult."
"Yeah, but he can steal it back from the cult with no guilt, unlike with the police."
"But what if he just gave it back to the police?" asked Tucker, looking up the city's purchasing records, trying to determine if they had any cameras that used tapes or that weren't internet connected in or near the morgue.
"Come on, he wouldn't do that."
"Probably not, but he does do weird stuff, sometimes. Like agree to an interview with the police and almost give away his secret identity."
"Yeah," said Sam. "You keep checking how feasible this is, and I'll call Jazz, okay?"
"Sure," said Tucker. "Talk to you later."
Jazz eased her car into the alley behind the building that housed the city morgue and ME's office.
"Stop here," said Tucker. "I can see their network."
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Jazz whispered, putting the car into park.
"You don't have to whisper," said Tucker, sitting in the passenger's seat and typing away at his mobile workstation (he insisted that it wasn't a laptop). "No one is going to hear you. Okay, yeah, I'm on their wifi. Give me a minute."
"Take your time," said Sam, who was lying down in the back seat, dressed in blacks and grays, thin gloves over her hands. "Were you guys able to sneak out okay without Danny?"
"Yeah," said Tucker.
"It was a bit trickier without him," said Jazz. She was lucky that her parents wore earplugs to sleep, and she was fairly certain Danny was out of the house entirely. Fighting a ghost, probably. She always told him to wake her up before he left, so at least one person knew where he was and could help him, but he never did.
"Okay, Jazz, you can get closer, now, then Sam can hop out and Box 'em."
"That was fast," said Jazz, starting the car forward again.
"What can I say?" said Tucker. "Pure talen-"
Something in the car started shrieking. Jazz jumped, momentarily pressing too hard on the gas, and the car lurched forward. Sam swore.
"What is that?" asked Tucker, hands over his ears.
"Who care?" shouted Sam, over the noise. "Turn it off, turn it off!"
"It's the- It's the anti-ecto alarm! I told them not to put it on my car!" She leaned across Tucker and opened the glove box. Sure enough, a sleek chrome-and-green monstrosity sat in her poor, innocent glove box, flashing screens, dials, and indicator lights at them. The car cabin lit up like a disco.
Jazz and Tucker jabbed at buttons until the thing shut up.
"Okay," said Tucker. "I think we're going to have to abort. I'm gonna bet my aunt in Chicago heard that."
Jazz blushed. "Sorry guys," she said. She was going to have words with her parents after this. What if she'd been on the highway when that thing went off? They really didn't think these things through.
"We can't abort!" protested Sam. "We need to get the thing! Before they start running tests on it!"
Jazz started backing up the car.
"Yeah, I know, but we needed stealth. We don't have that anymore. Hold up, Jazz, I need to erase my presence from their system."
Sam grumbled. "What set it off, anyway. Boxy?"
"No, it looks like this was calibrated to only go off for a class seven or above," said Tucker, peering at the alarm.
"Class seven?" repeated Jazz. "But... You don't think Danny-"
"No, he's in the suburbs, dealing with Skulker." Jazz looked over at Tucker's computer to see the Ghost Watch app icon blinking in the corner of his screen. "This is Vlad. Crap."
The door made a thunk when Sam swung it too far out and it hit a wall. Jazz winced, but rolled down her window. "What are you doing?" she hissed.
"We can't let Vlad get away with it!"
"And what are you going to do? Sam!"
"Getting back into the cameras," muttered Tucker, typing furiously.
"I'm calling Danny," said Jazz.
"Won't answer, he's fighting Skulker."
"Well, maybe he's finished!" said Jazz, dialing.
There was a flare of blue white light from up ahead and an angry shout. A glowing silhouette joined Sam's dark one. She had released the Box Ghost.
Jazz groaned. "Why did she do that now?"
"Shhh!" said Tucker. Something began to make little beeping noises. "Oh, jeez."
"My ghost detector. It's tuned to Vlad." He opened his door half way. "Sam!" he shouted. "Incoming!"
She pressed herself to the side of the alley just in time to avoid a dark, horned figure swooping down on her from above. The Box Ghost was not so lucky.
"... and it's got a lower range," said Tucker, faintly.
Vlad Plasmius, rimmed in fuchsia light, floated twenty feet in the air. He had one hand around the Box Ghost's neck, the other full of neon pink fire. "Oh," he said, his voice echoing clearly in the alleyway. "It's you. What are you doing here, pest?"
"Uhhhhh," said the Box Ghost as Sam tried to make her way back to the car.
"And with Daniel's little friends no less?"
Sam broke into a run, slammed Tucker's door shut, yanked open the passenger door behind him, and slid in. Jazz wasted no time in slamming on the gas. If her car got a few scrapes, so be it.
There was a second Vlad behind them. She dropped her phone and slammed on the brakes. It was still ringing.
Smiling like a villain from a slasher movie, this second Vlad stepped intangibly into the car.
"Well, now," he said, smoothly. "What's this? Daniel's friends, but no Daniel? Whatever are the three of you doing here of all places? And at this hour?"
"What are you doing here?" asked Sam.
"No need to be rude, Samantha, dear," said Vlad. "Daniel doesn't know about your little excursion, does he? He's still across town, occupied with Skulker. You can tell him he won't have to worry anymore. I'll take good care of his body."
"Dude," said Tucker, "do you have any idea how gross that sounds?"
Vlad scowled and flicked his fingers. A ray of pink burned a quarter sized hole in the back of Tucker's headrest.
"If he had a problem with me taking it, he should have hidden it better," said Vlad. "I have no desire to have the existence of half ghosts revealed simply because Daniel hid his corpse in same park the police have their annual picnic!"
"Actually," said Tucker, "they usually have it in Marley Park. Aren't you the mayor? Shouldn't you know this?"
Vlad's scowl deepened further. "Drive safely, Jasmine." The duplicate dissolved into magenta and pink mist.
Sam sneezed. "Gross, I think I got him in my nose."
"Guys," said Tucker. "I've got alerts on the police lines, someone reported a disturbance. We really need to go."
"Vlad stole my," Danny waved his hands in the air in place of the word. "Are you serious? And you guys know, because you were going to try to steal it, and you didn't tell me?" His friends and sister looked sheepishly at the ground. "Why did you wait 'til now to tell me? I've been having anxiety attacks about it all night. I thought that the stupid ME had, I don't know, insomnia or something! It was Vlad?"
"Yeah," said Sam.
"Argh!" said Danny, starting to pace. Thank goodness his room was large enough to have a good pace in, even with three other teens in it. "I don't even want to think what he could be doing with it, but I am! What if- What if he goes full-bore Frankenstein and freaking reanimates it? What am I supposed to do then? And the police! They're going to think I did it, and there goes my credibility with the police!"
"You were on Ghost Watch fighting Skulker when it happened," offered Tucker.
"Ghosts can be in two places at once! The police know that! That's not a good enough alibi!" He put his hands on his face and groaned. "Am I going to have to break into Vlad's house? Again? He has to have a ghost shield up around it by now. And a human shield. And a ghost-human shield. I'm dead."
"You're not dead, Danny," said Jazz.
"I am dead. In ever sense of the word. Dead, I tell you, dead."
"Deep breaths," said Jazz. "You're hyperventilating."
It was true. He sat down on his bed and buried his face in his hands. "I don't even know what secret lair he's brought it to."
"Wait, you mean, you can't tell where it is?" asked Sam.
"No," said Danny. "If I could, I would have known when Vlad took it."
There was a howl from downstairs as someone rang the doorbell. Danny jumped up. "I'll get it," he said. The group bundled down the stairs, trying to keep up with him.
Before opening the door, Danny glanced out the window.
"Oh, heck, it's them."
"Them who?" asked Jazz.
"Them. The detectives!"
"Alright," said Jones, looking at the place where Phantom's body should have been but wasn't. "This is officially too big for just one team. Paterson, Collins, what were you going to do today?"
"Interview high school kids," said Collins.
"Right. You're still going to do that. I'm going to get Murphy and Madison on the break-in, talking to witnesses, but first, your opinions."
"It wasn't Phantom," said Collins. "He could have just come in and taken it, at any time, not just the middle of the night."
"And he wouldn't have needed to take out the cameras and security system," said Paterson, looking over her shoulder at the tech people set up in one corner.
"It was a human. Or a ghost who didn't want us to know who they are," finished Collins.
"Great," said Jones. "That's what I thought, too. I was hoping you'd tell me I was wrong."
"Sorry, cap," said Collins.
"Go on, get out of here," said Jones, making a shooing motion.
"Still can't believe that his name is Wesley Weston," said Collins. "Or that he has a record for trespassing and stalking a classmate and claiming that he's a ghost."
"Want to bet that the classmate in question is Fenton?" asked Paterson.
"No thanks," said Collins. "It would have been better if the victim's name hadn't been withheld." He avoided the word 'wish.'
"Yeah, yeah," said Paterson. She knocked on the door.
A balding red haired man with thick glasses opened the door. "Oh," he said. "Please tell me this isn't about Wesley again. Do I need a lawyer?"
"He didn't do anything," said Collins, quickly. "We just want to ask him a few questions."
"It's unrelated to the stalking charges, which were dropped," added Paterson.
"Great," grumbled the man. He turned. "Wesley! The police want to talk to you!"
"Well," said Collins, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. "That was enlightening."
"His room belongs on a movie set," said Paterson. "Jeez Louise, we're going to have to keep an eye on that kid. He has a freaking conspiracy theory board."
"It was pretty convincing, though. The kid can talk."
"We need to confirm his data, though."
"Yeah. Talk to more witnesses. See if Fenton really does run off whenever Phantom shows up."
"Fenton?" asked Paulina Sanchez, wrinkling her nose so prettily that Paterson suspected she practiced the expression in the mirror. "What about him? I thought we were talking about Phantom. Mi amor." She leaned a little farther into the doorway. She had not let the detectives inside. "Not Fenton."
"We're investigating a number of different angles, Miss," said Collins. "Now, if you could tell us, does he seem to leave class before ghost fights break out."
"Yeah," said Paulina. "He's got some kind of sixth sense thing going on, but he's such a coward. He only ever uses it to run away. Doesn't even try to warn anyone else! I don't know how his friends stand him."
"You're talking about Phantom?" asked Sophia LaMar. "You'll want my parents. I'm only an initiate. I'll go get them." She closed the door.
"Do we run away from the cult house?" asked Paterson.
"No, it'll make us look bad."
"You know," said Paterson, "if I'd wanted a lecture on how time doesn't exist, I'd drive over to the university and sit in on a class on relativity. Not whatever that was."
"At least now we know that ghosts can time travel?" asked Collins, weakly.
"Let's hurry up and get to Fenton's house," said Paterson. "Do you think he'll even talk to us?"
"Who knows?" asked Collins.
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."
"What?" said Captain Jones, as Collins and Paterson finished explaining their understanding of the situation to him. "What? What?"
"That was my reaction, too," said Paterson. "Just, you know, internally."
Jones waved one hand, the other supporting his forehead.
"Er, sir?" said Collins, leaning forward, trying to catch the captain's eye. "How should we, you know, proceed on this? I don't think there's any precedent."
The captain bit back a groan. "No, there isn't. He was insistent that the Fentons, his parents, didn't do anything to him?"
"But it still can't be- can't be healthy for a ghost or- or whatever he is to be there," said Jones. This was making his head hurt. "They have weapons, and even if it was an accident, he died and they- No one noticed!"
"That is pretty messed up," agreed Paterson.
"That's got to be child neglect, at least, right? Negligent homicide?"
Collins nodded. "We can't really charge them with that, though, can we? Not without revealing he's a ghost and getting the GIW and whoever stole the body coming down on us."
"That could just be something Phantom's saying, though," said Paterson. "We don't know if it's true or not."
"It felt true," said Collins. "He sounded like he was actually scared."
"But can we just let a kid- two kids, with his sister- be in a situation like that? Even if one of them is dead. Especially if one of them is dead. Or whatever Fenton, Phantom, whatever, is claiming to be."
"He didn't really claim to be anything, really," said Collins.
"Look, I already have a headache as it is. What it comes down to is, I don't want a kid to be living under the same roof as people who regularly and publicly shoot at him."
"So, what do we do?" asked Collins. "He doesn't want to leave, and I don't think we can make him, physically."
"No, we can't. But does he know that?"
"I think he's aware of his laser murder powers," said Paterson.
"He kept coming to talk to you, though," said Jones. He massaged the bridge of his nose. "There's something here..." Suddenly, it all came together. He clapped his hands. "He wants to keep his secret from the public, right? That's our leverage."
"Leverage?" asked Collins, dubiously. "Captain... he is still a teenager."
"I know, I know, but hear me out. We tell him, he has to let his parents know, and his parents, they have to make their house safe for him. If they're reasonable, they'll do it. If not, we can get them for, I don't know, going crazy and thinking their kid is a ghost, or having weapons all over their home. Obviously, he isn't. That's the position we'd maintain." Jones took a deep breath. "No need to expose him publicly, and, as long as he isn't, he'll have to act like he's human, right? If he wants to maintain the illusion?"
"I guess that would work," said Collins. "But... do we have to get child protective services involved? I don't see that going well."
"Not if everyone is reasonable," said Jones, a crazed look in his eyes.
"Hold up," said Paterson. "Doesn't this hinge on getting him to, you know, tell his parents?"
"Weapons. Home. Around children. And- We'll agree to bury the rest. Tear up documents. Hide everything. Cover for him. We already know what killed him. What's the point of bringing it into the light?"
Collins and Paterson both nodded slowly. "I'll call him," said Collins.
There was a knock on the door. The three glanced at each other.
"Come in," said the captain.
One of the officers stuck her head in. "Sir?" she said. "The mayor is here to see you."
Danny would have been at home, plotting with Jazz about how to get his body back, but, no, Skulker had to show up, again. He should have wrecked his suit instead of just sucking him into the thermos last night.
"Hah! Ghost child!" shouted Skulker. "Today I will have your pelt! I have new-!"
Danny screamed in frustration, the harmonics of his voice almost touching a ghostly wail. "Can you leave off about my pelt for like five seconds?" demanded Danny, attacking more aggressively than was his usual wont. One of Skulker's arms flew off his body, clattering on the tiles of a nearby roof. "Didn't you have enough of that, helping Vlad steal my corpse yesterday?" There, after days of dancing around the word, he had finally said it.
"Wait, your what?" asked Skulker, pirouetting awkwardly to avoid another barrage of ectoblasts.
"My. Corpse!" screamed Danny. "You helped him steal my corpse!"
"You don't have a corpse, you're still alive!"
"Shut up!" It was a good thing they were so far up. Even at the volumes they were speaking, they wouldn't be overheard. "You don't know anything! I'm half dead, so I have half a corpse, and I had to bury it, and then the police found it, and you helped Vlad steal it!" Danny was basically in tears at this point, hands clenching the metal of Skulker's chest so hard it buckled and warped, holding the unfortunate ghost above his head.
A number of complicated emotions passed over Skulker's face. "Uh," he said. "Time out?"
"What?" snarled Danny. He was more than ready to rip Skulker apart.
"Your body, whatever there is of it, did Plasmius really take it?"
"He basically gloated about it to my friends," said Danny.
Skulker's face twisted up, the metal plates it consisted of glinting in the sunlight. "Disturbing the remains of another ghost is... distasteful, at best." He shifted, obviously trying to get out of Danny's grip. Danny held on, tighter. "Let me go," he said. "I'll spread the word. There won't be a ghost in the Zone who'll work for Plasmius after this."
Danny sniffed. "I want it back," he said.
"Of course you do," said Skulker, nervously. "Just- let me go, alright, ghost child?" He paused. "Phantom?"
Danny relaxed his grip. Before Skulker could recover, he whipped out the thermos and sucked the other ghost in.
"I'll let you go," he grumbled. "Right into the Ghost Zone."
Jones did not like Mayor Masters. A complete outsider, a stranger to Amity Park, the man had somehow wormed his way into the mayor's office. Jones had always suspected bribery, but had no evidence.
This visit of his... it was suspicious. Incredibly suspicious. The timing felt rotten. Masters had barely set foot inside the station before this.
Well, the timing and the questions he was asking. Jones was glad he had told everyone to deflect questions about the body and Phantom beforehand, no matter who was asking.
Jones fixed a grin onto his face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Masters," he said. "We can't discuss ongoing investigations."
"I think," said Masters, "that, as mayor, I am exempt from that rule. I am, after all, your boss."
"That's true," said Jones, "but this case is especially sensitive, and everyone is a suspect."
"I can't possibly be," said Masters. "I didn't even live here two years ago. I believe you are dancing around the subject, sir. Let us not have our personal feelings get in the way of things, hm?"
This bastard- There was no way he should have known that particular detail. Not without suborning the ME or her assistant.
Or stealing the records. The initial reports had gone missing with the body, and the computer system had been hacked.
Jones pressed his teeth together so hard they ached. He could feel them grinding inside his head.
"Why don't I give you an overview of what we know so far?" he asked, voice as sweet as he could stand to make it. "We'll start with Cameron over here. He's the head of our cult division, and a real wizard with computers."
If anyone could drive the man off, it was Cameron.
"I didn't think babypop even had a corpse," said Ember, crossing his arms. "Are you sure he isn't just delusional?"
"He could be," said Skulker, "but that's not the point. He believes it. Do you really want to be dealing with him as a restless spirit?"
"Oh, god, no. He's already such a spoilsport. Can you imagine?" The blue flame her hair was drawn back into shuddered.
"I don't have to imagine," said Skulker. "He tore my arm off."
"He always tears your arms off," said Ember, dismissively.
"He's only going to get worse though," said Skulker, "if it really is his body. If Plasmius is doing anything to it. That anxiety. A person's body should be taken care of properly, not messed about with."
"Hey!" said Technus, who was on the other side of the room, fixing Skulker's mechanical body. "I donated MY body to SCIENCE! I'm perfectly fine."
"Yeah," said Ember. "Some people would disagree with that, but the thing is you chose to do that. Those're the rites you wanted."
"Do you think I, the great TECHNUS, master of all things technological and-"
"No, actually, I don't think you knew," said Ember.
"Ohhhhh! I'll alter all your auxiliary cables, you little-!"
"Can we get back on topic?" asked Skulker, his high-pitched voice cutting above the argument. "We need to get Phantom's body back! Otherwise he'll be completely unbearable!"
The ghosts looked at each other. "Agreed," they said.
Danny leaned over Tucker's shoulder. "Are you sure?" he said.
"Positive," said Tucker. "Sorry, man, but Vlad's super secret super villain stuff isn't online. Your body isn't mentioned at all. Nothing is. His internet enabled stuff is all pretty bland, compared to what we know he's doing. I mean, some of it is kind of sketchy, but it just isn't the same level."
"Anything we can blackmail him with?" asked Sam.
"Not really. We can't exactly say how we got it, after all, so he'd have plausible deniability."
Danny groaned. The groan turned into a long plume of blue mist. Danny growled. "Whoever is interrupting this time-"
"Whoa, calm down, man," said Tucker. "This is pretty normal."
Danny's phone began to ring. If this was those detective he was going to-
It was Jazz. "What?" he asked.
"The ecto-exodus alarm is going off," said Jazz. "Where are you?"
"Tucker's," said Danny. "I'm going to check it out."
"Be safe. Mom and Dad are out there with blasters, and they've notified the GIW."
"Noted," said Danny. He hung up, then turned to Sam and Tucker. "This is a big one, apparently. You might want to stay in."
"Good luck with that," said Tucker, pulling a ecto-rifle from beneath his desk. "I've been wanting to try this baby out."
"Please don't name it," said Sam.
"I think I will!" said Tucker.
"Just don't shoot if we're not fighting, okay? They might not be here to cause trouble. Don't give me that look, I'm trying out some optimism."
Before his friends could say anything about that, he flew up through the roof. From there, he had no problem picking out the crowd of ghosts who had just passed by.
Skulker was leading them. Danny scowled, and flew forward to intercept them, too angry to process whether or not confronting a group of ghosts that large was wise.
"Hey!" he shouted. "I thought you said you'd leave!"
"Chill, babypop!" shouted Ember. "You're a cold core, aren't you? We're here to get your body back."
That brought Danny up short. "Wait, really?"
The other ghosts, largely the rabble of the Wastes, the region of the Ghost Zone right outside the Fenton portal, gave a ragged sort of cheer.
"Yeah. And trash Plasmius's crap."
"Oh," said Danny, taken aback. "He has a ghost shield around his mansion, you know. A human shield, too, before you say I can get past that."
Poindexter floated up, over the mass of the crowd. "He can't keep them up all the time, can he?" he asked adjusting his glasses.
"No, I guess he can't. One sec." He pulled out his phone. "Hey, Tucker, can you find out where Vlad is right now?"
"... and these are the cults that believe ghosts are divine messengers, there's a lot of variety in them, too," Cameron was saying, pointing eagerly at his computer screen.
"Excuse me," said Vlad. "But I don't see how this is relevant. At all. To anything."
"Oh, it's very important," said Collins, nodding sagely. "We got some of our best leads in this case from the cults."
"I am myself quite familiar with the local cults," said Vlad. "If they become relevant, I'm sure I can come back to-"
"No, no, Mr. Mayor," said Paterson, "you won't understand without context."
Several dozen ghosts suddenly entered through the roof. Everyone dove for cover.
"Hiya, grave robbers!" shouted a ghost with fiery blue hair. Ember McClain. "Or one grave robber in particular."
Actually, come to think of it, she'd masqueraded as a human for a while, too. Collins was going to have a crisis about how easily ghosts could blend in with humans at some point in the near future. Not today, but before the end of the week. He'd need to talk to a shrink. Preferably one who wasn't a ghost.
Oddly, the ghosts weren't attacking.
The sound of Mayor Masters clearing his throat issued from behind a sizable desk. "What are you here for?" he asked.
"You know, grave robber. We've got a bone to pick with you, until you give back what you took."
A few feet away from Collins, Jones inhaled deeply. He stood up. Collins resisted the urge to drag him back down.
"We don't have Phantom's body," said Jones, "if that's what you're here for."
"We know," said Ember. "That's what this's about. We know who took it, and we don't want to deal with Phantom while he's freaking out over some jerk having his body. So. We're giving an ultimatum-"
"Hey, guys," said Phantom's voice. "I found the shield deactivation button. It was in his car, next to his garage door opener."
"Oh, cool. You trash his car?"
"Nah, I let these little gremlin dudes do it. They looked like they were having fun."
"Whatever, babypop. Let's go get your body!"
As quickly as they came, the ghosts were gone.
Mayor Masters swore, and started for the door.
"Hold up," said Jones, putting a hand on the taller man's shoulder. "Where exactly do you think you're going?"
"To call some competent ghost hunters, since those menaces are clearly after my belongings!"
"Nuh uh," said Jones. "We've got some questions for you."
"Yeah," said Collins, "like why you seem to think that they're going to your house, when they could have been talking about anyone."
"Wow!" said Cameron, smiling. "That was exciting! I'm glad I was livestreaming, like you told me to, Paterson!"
"Well," said Vlad. He paused. "I need to call my lawyer."
"Better make sure they're a competent one," mocked Jones.
Collins was surprised when Phantom materialized in the middle of the room with a long, dark plastic body bag in his arms. So were most people. Across the room, next to the coffee machine, one of his more caffeine-addicted coworkers do a spit take, and Jones burst out of his office in an avalanche of paperwork.
"I want a burial," said Phantom, finally. "A real one, this time."
"I think I can arrange that," said Captain Jones.
Unlike many of the eating establishments in Amity Park, Cecilia's Diner didn't cater to ghost-hunting tourists (To be technical, they didn't cater at all. It was a strictly sit-down establishment. They didn't even do take out.). Its clientele was strictly local. Pointedly so. The proprietress maintained a strict policy of banning all ghost hunting paraphernalia from the premises. A tourist could, theoretically, come in and order a sandwich, but if they gave any sign that they were there to hunt ghosts, they were summarily ejected.
There was a reason for this: Cecilia's Diner had the dubious distinction of sitting across the street from the cemetery. No one wanted ghost hunters watching them while burying a loved one, and Cecilia refused to add to what she considered to be a veritable plague.
The diner was not Danny's usual haunt. But it was useful, and gave him a good vantage point to watch the comings and goings in the cemetery. Of which there were many, even if the funeral had ended over an hour ago.
"Hm?" said Danny, not taking his eyes off the window.
"Are you going to finish your fries?"
"Tucker!" scolded Jazz.
"What?" said Tucker.
Danny finally turned back to his friends. Jazz was giving Tucker a rather severe glare.
"It's fine," said Danny, "I don't want them."
Tucker reached out, but Jazz intercepted him. "Danny," she said, "you've hardly eaten all day." She nodded significantly at his plate full of fries and the sandwich he'd only taken two bites out of.
"I'm not hungry," he mumbled.
"You need your strength."
"I don't want to throw up all over myself when I do this," said Danny.
"You are doing it, then?" asked Sam. She hadn't eaten much, either. Then again, the diner didn't have a lot of vegetarian options. "Telling your parents, I mean."
"I don't really have any choice," said Danny. He picked up a french fry, and let it hang limply between his fingers. "I have to, don't I?"
"You do have a choice," said Sam. "I know you want to stay with your parents, and I like them too, but..." She drummed her fingers on the table. "I'm worried about how they'll react."
"I know," said Danny. He looked back out the window. "This is so weird. People are mourning for me, but I'm right here."
Sam and Tucker exchanged a glance. "Well, you get to do what you want," said Tucker. "It is your fune-" There was a meaty thump, and Tucker fell over, clutching at something beneath the table.
"I guess so," said Danny. He closed his eyes and sighed. He did feel calmer, now, with his body safely beneath the earth. Vlad might try to steal it again, six feet of soil and a couple inches of wood didn't do much to deter a person who could simply phase through them, but between the layer of Ghost-Zone-sourced paint Danny had stealthily applied to the inside of the coffin and the continuing threats and disdain of the ghostly community, Danny didn't think that he'd be terribly successful.
Danny would know if he was, anyway.
Tucker straightened out and pulled his PDA from his pocket. "When are those officers supposed to come get you again?"
"Detectives," corrected Danny. "Any minute now."
As if Danny's words had summoned them, the bell on the diner's door rang. They looked up to see the detectives walking in.
Jazz slid out of the booth, followed shortly by Danny.
"We'll call when it's over," said Jazz. Danny tried to smile and gave them a little wave, before turning to greet the detectives.
The ride to Fentonworks in the detectives car was long and mostly silent. Mostly.
"Can you stop staring at me?" asked Danny.
"Sorry," said Paterson.
"Mhm," said Collins, who, as he was the one driving, had much less of an excuse for staring.
The car pulled up in front of Fentonworks.
"During our investigation last week," started Collins, undertaking to explain why their children had been brought home by the police, "we came across certain facts that made us, and our captain, concerned for the safety of Jazz and Danny. Especially Danny." Of course, Collins was only doing the initial explanation. Danny was going to do the big reveal himself.
"What kind of facts?" asked Maddie.
"Facts about Phantom?" exclaimed Jack.
"Well, yes-" started Collins.
"That no good spook!" roared Jack, pulling a wicked-looking gun from... somewhere. "I'll teach him to mess with Fentons!"
"Whoa!" said Collins, leaping to his feet and holding out both his hands. He did not miss Paterson reflexively reaching for her own weapon. "No! There's no threatening going on! No threats! Let's put down the guns!"
"Don't worry, detective," said Maddie. "It's designed to only hurt ghosts."
Collins took a deep breath, and kept himself from glancing at Danny. "Why don't we continue this conversation once you've put all the ghost weapons away," he said.
Jack frowned. "Why?" he asked.
"I just think it'll make everyone involved more comfortable," said Collins. "Just as a general proposal."
It took some time for Jack and Maddie to divest themselves of all their weaponry, and every second just made Danny more nervous. He wanted to just get this over with. He wanted it to be done. His mind whirred, trying to come up with the best way to start explaining, and, oh, he should have decided earlier. He should have written a script, or a letter, but he didn't, thinking that the right words would just come to him.
So when Jack and Maddie came back into the room, Danny blurted out, "It was my corpse."
Jack and Maddie stared at him. Jazz put her head in her hands.
"What?" asked Jack. "What was your corpse?"
"That they found, in the park." Danny waved his hand in Collins and Paterson's direction. "The body." They still looked bewildered. "I've been dead, sort of, for two years."
Maddie stepped forward. "Danny... I don't know what's going on, but you're just- You're confused. You have a pulse, Danny. You're alive." She turned on the detectives. "And you! You know he's alive. How could you-?"
"Mom," said Danny. "I'm not lying. Look." He held up his hand and slowly rendered it invisible. "When I turned the portal on," he said, "I was- The button was inside. I was inside. It turned on right on top of me."
"Oh, Danno," said Jack, eyes wide.
"The best I can figure is, ectoplasm replaced half of the mass in my body and the other half... just sort of..." He made a splitting gesture with his hands. "Fell out. I kind of freaked out and buried it in the park. I didn't know what else to do."
Maddie sat down heavily on the couch, one hand over her mouth.
"So, like, the parts of my body that are still there, they all work fine," said Danny. "So, you know, pulse and stuff. And the ectoplasm is pretty well integrated. It's, you know, the thing keeping me together. But I'm not one-hundred-percent dead. Just, like, half." He paused. "Also, I'm Phantom."
Collins cleared his throat. "This being the case," he said, "we're going to have to ask you to make some changes to your home and behavior."
A week later, Danny sat in the same booth at Cecilia's Diner, looking out the window again. The cemetery was much quieter this week, but he could still see people stopping by his grave.
"Have you decided what you want yet, Danno?" asked Jack. Danny turned away from the window, to smile at his family.
"No," he said. "Not yet."