“…Sir Henry died over a hundred and twenty years ago,” said the tour guide, “but –“
“Hang on,” Abigail said, pitching her voice to the tone that had brought looks ranging from resignation to terror to the eyes of her schoolteachers. “This place wasn’t even built until after the First World War. What’s this Victorian bloke doing haunting it?”
The guide, who was a white guy called Simon probably not too much older than Abigail was herself, had smiled politely when she’d opened her mouth. By the time she was done, the smile had gone a bit thin.
“I think you must have got it mixed up,” he said, with a chuckle. “Look around at this Gothic Revival -”
“They didn’t just all down tools one day in nineteen-oh-one and start on Art Deco buildings the next,” Abigail said. “My cousin’s an architect, he goes on about this stuff.”
That wasn’t exactly true but Peter had done his degree, right, it was just that jobs were hard to get. His tours were way better than this one, too.
Simon’s eyes narrowed, although he managed to keep up the smile. Some of the other people on the tour – all tourists as far as Abigail could tell, mostly white and a few East Asians – were starting to look uncomfortable.
“Look, do you want to hear about the ghost of Sir Henry or not?”
“I just think if you’re going to tell ghost stories they should be real ones,” Abigail told him. She meant it, too.
“As I was saying,” he said, loudly and firmly and making eye contact with everybody to draw them back in, “this building was occupied by an advertising firm before the Second World War, and the copywriters used to report -”
Abigail stopped listening and edged towards the back of the group, trying to look appropriately abashed. Nobody looked at her; they wanted to pretend she hadn’t said anything. Which also meant, she was betting, that when someone eventually noticed she was gone, ten or fifteen minutes from now, Simon the tour guide wouldn’t be interested in finding out where she’d gone to. He’d think it was good riddance.
She sidled down a hallway, tried two doors before finding one that was unlocked, and settled in to wait in the office inside. Nobody even walked past the door – they hadn’t noticed she was gone. Perfect.
She gave it half an hour before she went back down to the main foyer. Peter had done a ghost tour for a couple of years – he’d given it up for strict history because he said it got too many people who took it seriously – and Abigail had asked him about this place. One of the things he’d told her, or more like let slip because she was pretty sure he didn’t know what she’d been planning, was that there were security cameras but they weren’t infra-red or anything. And ghosts didn’t show up on camera, not the real kind, so as long as she didn’t turn any lights on she’d be fine. Now it was just a case of waiting until her ghost – the real one, not whatever that story had been – showed up. She sat down in one of the less-comfortable-than-they-looked chairs to wait.
Twenty minutes later, she thought she heard something – a door creaking – but when she strained to listen, there was nothing else. Then she thought she heard people talking quietly, but that went away, too.
That was the worst bit about ghost-hunting; you got worked up looking for things and started to hear things that weren’t there. Real ghosts, Abigail had found, were not subtle at all, and didn’t require any special equipment or concentration or anything like that to see them. They were just…there.
She shifted a bit, because her left leg was starting to go numb. Without warning, the door across the foyer from her opened – not the main one – and a torch flashed right into her eyes. She tried to spring to her feet, but her left leg gave out, prickly with pins and needles, and she stumbled, putting up a hand against the light. “Aaaaaahhh!”
“Well, that’s not a ghost,” said a sardonic female voice. “I’m disappointed.” Abigail couldn’t make out anything else after half an hour in the dark. She could barely see figures behind the torch, let alone details.
“Excuse me,” said a second voice – a man's voice, very posh, in a way that made Abigail hopeful neither of them was the building’s night manager, but not very hopeful that they’d accept her back-up excuse of having got lost from the ghost tour. It sounded more like a voice that was going to tell her to wait for the police to be called. It was, all things considered, probably a good time to make a bolt for it.
“Hold on,” said a third voice, and the torch dropped; Abigail blinked, trying to focus at the same time as she tensed to turn and run. “Abigail, is that you?”
“Peter?” She turned back. “What – you don’t do the ghost tour anymore!”
“No, I don’t,” said her cousin Peter, sounding baffled. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s for a story,” Abigail said, shrugging like it was totally normal to be found in an office building in central London at quarter to midnight by her cousin who did walking tours and – who were those other two people, anyway? “What are you doing here, then?”
With the torch directed at the floor, now, she could see that the woman – whose expression was about as sardonic as her voice had been – was tall for a girl and wearing a black hijab and a very cool leather jacket. Posh Voice was a white man in a three-piece suit carrying an actual silver-topped cane, which would have made him a good candidate for the ghost she was trying to interview if he hadn’t obviously been not a ghost, and instead a real person studying her with a frown of mild confusion.
“I take it you know this young lady?” he asked Peter.
“Yeah, this is my cousin Abigail, she’s studying journalism,” said Peter, like a complete traitor. “For a story, Abigail, really? What the hell?”
“I am!” Abigail insisted. She could live with Peter thinking she was breaking and entering; she wasn’t going to tell him she was here to interview a ghost. He’d never let her live it down. He probably still remembered when she’d tried to tell him about the ghost on the train tracks, five years ago. “Come on, why are you here? You don’t do the ghost tour anymore.”
“Favour for a friend,” Peter said. “The night manager still remembers me, and there’s two law firms in this building so they’re not thrilled about warrants…does he know you’re here?”
“I –“ Abigail was already figuring out how to answer that when she processed the rest of that sentence. “Wait, warrants?” She took a step to the side, so the chair wasn’t blocking her path to the side door. It was probably futile with Peter right here and telling all and sundry she was his cousin, but still. She turned her attention to Posh Voice and the hijabi woman. “Are you the filth?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Posh Voice. “May I ask what sort of story you’re following up?”
“It’s for a class,” Abigail said quickly. “I’m a student.” She had a flash of inspiration. “I was supposed to meet someone, but I guess they haven’t shown up.”
“Mind telling us who that someone is?” asked the woman in the hijab. She looked familiar but Abigail couldn’t remember where from.
“I wouldn’t want to reveal a source. And you haven’t told me who you are.”
The woman made a hmph noise and looked away, like she was trying not to laugh. Which was just insulting, really.
“Quite right,” said Posh Voice, and showed her his warrant card, which said he was Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Abigail made a show of inspecting it like she’d seen Peter do once when she’d come with him on a research trip and someone had made a fuss about them being there, but she didn’t know what she was looking for, really. It was just a way to gain a second, and see how Peter was taking this. He looked exasperated, and slightly suspicious, but not really worried. So maybe it would come out alright, if she could just persuade them to go away, somehow.
“Okay, Detective Inspector Nightingale,” she said. “And who're you?” she asked the woman.
“Detective Sergeant Sahra Guleed,” said the woman. “Hey, that’s where I’ve seen you – you live on the same estate as Peter’s parents, don’t you?”
“Maybe,” said Abigail.
“Yeah, all her life,” said Peter. “You’ve probably seen her round. Sahra lives near me,” he explained to Abigail. “So she’s fine, and Inspector Nightingale’s a friend of mine, so – look, you shouldn’t be here, it’s nearly midnight. How about I walk you out?”
“I can find my own way out,” Abigail said, trying to look dejected. “It’s fine.”
“Ms - Abigail,” said Inspector Nightingale. “As Sergeant Guleed said – would you very much mind telling us who you were intending to meet? In general terms. I won’t ask for a name.”
“A guy,” Abigail said, figuring she could work with this. “Who had some things to say about…a cold case.”
“It wasn’t, by any chance,” he said, “John Geraldson?”
Abigail tried really hard not to react to that but she wasn’t sure she succeeded. “Uh…who’s that?”
Peter narrowed his eyes. He’d known her way too long. “Abigail. You know a few years ago when you told me about that thing, near school, on the train tracks…is it like that?”
“You didn’t believe me then,” Abigail said, and knew she sounded bitter and was annoyed at herself that she did. “Why are you asking about it now?”
“You changed your mind and said you were joking,” said Peter. “I thought I’d give you the benefit of the doubt.” He paused. “Also, fine, I didn’t believe you then, but I’ve had reason to change my mind since. So. Anything like that?”
“Are you telling me,” Abigail said, incredulous, “that these are the ghost police?”
“Wow,” said Sergeant Guleed. “That’s actually worse than anything I’ve heard down at Belgravia.”
“In that case,” said Inspector Nightingale, “perhaps -”
That was when the ghost threw the chair Abigail had been sitting in across the room, so things got a bit complicated after that.
Because it was after midnight they retired to an all-night caf and Peter bought Abigail a Coke, which was frankly the least he owed her.
“It’s that annoying time when I really want a drink but it’s too late to start,” he said, looking around. Inspector Nightingale made a noise of agreement.
“You’ll live,” said Sergeant Guleed, not very sympathetically. “Besides, you can’t tell me Abigail’s old enough to drink.”
“I am so,” said Abigail, which made her sound like she wasn’t, but it was one of those things you had to push back on. “What, you want to see my ID?”
“Sure,” said Sergeant Guleed, putting out a hand.
“She is, not that it matters right now,” said Peter, gesturing the sergeant to put her hand down. She did, with only a brief sideways glance. “Was that an exorcism, then?”
“Not really,” said Inspector Nightingale. “More like handing out a red card. Although hopefully it lasts for longer than eighty minutes.”
“Now I’m going to have to go to a library and do research,” Abigail said, still feeling aggrieved. “You could have let me talk to him.”
“He didn’t seem to be in the mood,” said Sergeant Guleed. “In my extensive experience of ghosts.”
“Three months is rather more extensive than anybody else on the force at present,” said her boss. “So I’d say you’re qualified to make that judgement.”
“Oh, fantastic,” she said, and eyed Peter dubiously. “Have I thanked you again lately for getting me into this?”
“Every time you see me,” said Peter. “Abigail, look - I’ll put you in touch with someone at the British Library, I bet she’d love to help. She’s friends with Mum. And she knows all about ghosts and – all about ghosts, so you can just tell her the whole story.” He paused to take a bite of his kebab. “Isn’t this all a bit excessive for a first-year assignment, though?”
“It’s not just for the assignment,” Abigail explained. “I mean, it is, but sometimes I can publish things online, and sometimes I even get money for them, and that’s gonna look way better for my portfolio than just assignments.” Especially when there were people who had parents who worked for newspapers and things and got their stuff in them. She had to try harder, that was all there was to it.
“What sort of website was going to publish a story with a ghost as an interviewee?” Inspector Nightingale asked, like he was just curious, but his eyes were sharp.
“I wasn’t going to put that in the story,” Abigail said. “Then all you get is, like, really terrible tabloids. I was going to figure out where I was supposed to have found things out after I found them out.”
“That doesn’t sound like great journalism,” said Peter.
“I wasn’t going to write anything that wasn’t true.”
“Ghosts,” said the Inspector, “are not always reliable witnesses, anymore than humans are – in fact they’re often worse.”
“Yes, but they’ll talk to you, and sometimes people won’t,” said Abigail. “Talk to me. And I know nobody else is out there interviewing ghosts, so it’s something I’ve got they don’t. Totally worth it.” She paused to sip her Coke. “But Peter just said ghosts and, so tell me, Inspector Nightingale. What’s ‘and’?”
“How about,” he said, “we won’t discuss and, and we also won’t discuss breaking and entering.”
Peter made a noise of protest at this – at least he was good for something.
“I didn’t break and enter anything,” Abigail said, not breaking eye contact with Inspector Nightingale. “I paid to go on a perfectly legit walking tour which had permission to be in the building, and I got lost on the way out.”
“Oh, Jesus,” said Peter. “Was that Simon’s tour? Were you heckling him?”
“Only at that last stop,” Abigail said. “So he wouldn’t be sorry I was gone.” She sniffed. “He was totally making everything up, anyway, it was embarrassing just listening to it.”
“It’s embarrassing knowing he’s in business, is what,” said Peter, “but I’m really disappointed in you, Abigail.” He paused for emphasis. “You should have heckled him at every stop.”
“Then he would have asked me to leave early,” Abigail said, but she grinned at Peter, and he grinned back, so at least they were all right and he wasn’t going to tell on her to her dad, which would be the worst, or to his mum, which would be the same thing except he could claim he hadn’t. Even Sergeant Guleed made an amused noise.
“I’ll accept there’s an argument about the legalities,” said Inspector Nightingale, and he was smiling a little bit too.
“So,” Abigail said. “And what?”
“She’s very persistent,” said Peter. “Fair warning.”
“A family trait, I see,” said Inspector Nightingale.
“She also did see you do sort of an exorcism,” said Sergeant Guleed. “I think it might be faster if we came clean.”
Inspector Nightingale sighed. “Ghosts, and – I’m a wizard.”
He said it very matter-of-factly, as if he were saying I’m a policeman or lovely weather today. Abigail took a moment to consider it.
“Why are you hanging out with a wizard policeman?” she asked Peter. She glanced at Sergeant Guleed. “Two wizard police officers.”
“They have a very interesting library,” said Peter. “And he’s right, we are a very persistent family.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” Abigail said, and sat up a bit straighter, and decided that, even though it was nearly one in the morning and she had class tomorrow – today, this might be something worth being persistent about.