The dead woman’s name was Dana Palmgren, and her nightly cries had been causing terrible distress among the residents of 73 Royal Duchess Mews in Balham, South London. Its landlord had finally made a call around four in the morning—the gravelly-voiced, desperate call of a man too haunted to sleep.
The ghost appeared to be a recent one. Until about a month earlier, the second storey flat had been occupied by Miss Palmgren: a pretty, placid woman in her mid-twenties and, by all accounts, a solitary soul. She rarely left her flat and rarely had company over, although—and we took this with a grain of salt, since no building was without its gossip—there had been mentions of a male friend coming and going. All in all, Dana had been a quiet presence in a peaceful building. That is, until the day she walked in her door and locked eyes with an armed burglar. Moments later, she was dead on the floor, a bullet lodged in her stomach; the burglar had shouldered his bags and run for it. The whole encounter lasted maybe twenty seconds.
Now, only a month later, it seemed gentle Miss Dana had returned to the scene of the crime.
There would be plenty of space to work; everyone in the building had been moved to a safe location for the night. All except one, of course—and that particular resident was probably going to need a bit more coercing than her neighbours. That’s why the psychic detection agency tasked with doing said coercing—Lockwood & Co., if you hadn’t guessed—came fully equipped. The agents? Lockwood and myself.
It was an overcast day. Afternoon had dimmed into dusk with only a hazy greying of the sky. The ghost-lamps lining Royal Duchess Mews were already on; a row of nearly identical terraced blocks, presumably converted from old stables, ran along the street. Their windows were broad and panelled, their front doors painted in pleasant greens and blues. Their residents would all be inside clutching their ghost-wards by now. Lockwood and I stood in the gravelled courtyard of number 73, close together; we would have been shoulder to shoulder if Lockwood didn’t have a good six inches on me. As I mentioned, we’d brought the full array. Our work belts were stocked and ready, rapiers strapped to our sides. Holly had picked up a fresh batch of magnesium flares; Kipps, enjoying a boring afternoon, had helped refill our canisters of salt and iron filings. We’d remembered the chains, too. So far, so good.
“From what the landlord told Holly, residents have complained of ‘screeching and squawking’ coming from inside the flat. They’ve been hearing terrible screams—‘too hollow-sounding to be natural,’ one says.” Lockwood refolded Holly’s notes and tucked the papers in his coat pocket. “Reckon we’ve got a Screaming Spirit?”
“Sounds noisy enough.” I checked the Velcro strap on my sword once more. “That’d be ironic. The girl who died was quiet as a mouse, apparently. Hardly ever spoke.”
“I find it’s the quiet types that often have more inner rage than anyone else. But we’re not here to psychoanalyse the dead. That is to say, we do psychically analyse them… You know what I mean.”
“Screaming Spirit or not,” I said, choosing to ignore that last bit, “it’s going to be the ghost of a murder victim. And we know what they’re like.”
“Well, Luce, don’t lump them all together now. Miss Palmgren could be a perfectly pleasant murder victim. Maybe she’ll point us straight to the Source, and then you and I can go home for tea.” He glanced at me sidelong and smiled. It was one of the cute grins he reserved for me.
“Yeah, Lockwood. That’s what she’ll do.” I smiled back at him, slipping on my fingerless gloves. “If it is a Screaming Spirit, can we please have an easier go at it than the one in that vestry? That was horrendous.”
“St. Sepulchre’s Parish? I keep telling you, that organ fire was fully contained. And I thought the clerk was quite amenable about the whole situation.”
“If by ‘amenable’ you mean ‘weeping in the front pew’, you’d be right. Also, George was washing candle drippings out of his hair for a week.”
“George showered. I don’t see the downside.” Lockwood gave my shoulder a light bump. “You did great that time, Luce, and you were more plagued by the screaming than any of us. You’ll do just fine tonight. I feel good when it’s the two of us.”
There was fondness in his eyes and I flushed a bit, looking at the building instead of him. I lifted my bag and started toward the gate. “Let’s find out how amenable Dana Palmgren is.”
The anxious landlord had already left with everyone else, and we locked ourselves in using the key he’d provided on a quick visit to Portland Row. That’s when he’d given Holly the full report, too. Nobody had been inside the second storey flat since the last officer had peeled away the police tape and seen off the forensics team. Proper precautions had been taken with Dana’s body, but her belongings had yet to be cleared out. Tonight’s Source had to be hidden among them. We opened the door, switched on our torches and began the survey.
Inside was the unassuming lounge of a young woman who could afford to live comfortably, but didn’t care for splendour. It was a modestly sized flat, which meant there wasn’t much space for us to get lost or separated in. It also meant there were very few places to run or hide.
Miss Palmgren’s flat didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a haunted house—in my experience, though, the nicest exteriors could sometimes hide the deepest psychic traumas. We were well aware of the horrible thing that had unfolded here, of course. Still, it was a pleasant sitting room. The walls were papered with pale and pretty bluebirds. The floor was wood parquet in a herringbone pattern. The furniture was sparse and light in colour; a butter yellow sofa and comfortable chair sat beside an oak bookcase filled to bursting. A tiny kitchen opened through a square-cornered archway on our left; here, a baby blue refrigerator and old fashioned gas cooker were collecting dust. One countertop held a wicker basket with balls of red yarn and knitting supplies. Dana must have been a hobbyist. To the side of the kitchen, a narrow hallway led to a small, unpretentious bedroom. It was the sitting room that interested us, though—especially after we pointed our torches at the wall opposite the sofa and found a chest of drawers with dark stains blotching the wood. On the wall above it, a cluster of bluebirds had been dyed red by a starry spattering of blood. Lockwood and I glanced at each other. This was where Miss Palmgren had been shot.
“And there’s the death-glow,” said Lockwood, squinting against the dark spots on the wall. “But you might have guessed that. God, it’s bright.”
I said nothing, running my fingertips along the curves of the chest. It was a sturdy-looking thing made of light wood. I closed my eyes and opened myself to its psychic energies, letting them spirit me away to the past. My fingers made contact with the dried blood stains; images and sounds whirled into my head. The face of a woman, youthful and mousy—messenger bag slung across her shoulder, keys in her hand. The very same wooden door Lockwood and I had entered through, opening with a slight creak. Then, at once, a crouching figure—dark hooded sweatshirt, fingers gripping a bulging sports bag, a frenzied stare as eyes met…
A great, metal-ly bang thundered through my mind, rattling my very being and painting my vision scarlet red. In that same moment, an almighty wave of sorrow washed over me; the grief it brought was so profound, so marked by loss, I felt I should never be happy again…
I wrenched my hand away as if burned.
“Lucy? Are you alright?” I opened my eyes to see Lockwood crouched at my side, his face close to mine.
“I’m okay,” I said, a slight tremble in my voice. “It’s just so grim, Lockwood, what happened here.”
“I know it is, Luce,” he said, lending me a hand to stand up. “But we’re here, and we’re together, and we’re fully kitted out. We can focus on doing what we do best.”
Lockwood’s confidence was infectious as ever. I returned his smile. “Let’s get to it, then.”
We did everything by the book; defences were soon set up all around the flat, including a grand circle of iron chains by the front door, burning candles on various surfaces, even lavender crosses. Our initial readings had turned up no results. It was chilly in here, but it was the chill of abandonment rather than ghostly activity. I checked my thermometer. 12 degrees. It would seem we were still alone.
Dusk turned to darkness, and the first stars arrived in the sky. High among them, the moon rose bright and clear. I approached the large window adjacent to the front door, running my fingertips over its iron panelling. To calm my nerves while anticipating the arrival of a Visitor, I sometimes liked to stare out at the night sky for a bit; consider the constancy of the moon and stars, that grand stability that illuminated the night. It reminded me that it wasn't all ghosts and gloom out there. Even in darkness, a great deal of light fell on everything. It also reminded me of my little attic cocoon back home at Portland Row, of late nights spent sitting and thinking by the windowsill. It was a peaceful thing. Once, I probably would have considered this a waste of time, but now I treasured every moment of restful contemplation I could get. Behind me, Lockwood was taking readings around the lounge, long coat billowing about his legs. As always, his presence soothed my heart.
We sensed nothing. Other than a good few cobwebs strung between corners and a black mound of dead spiders in the kitchen—always a good sign of spectral activity—the place may as well have been ghost-free. I might have believed it was, if not for the death-glow hovering by the blood-stained wall. It seemed we were in for a long wait, and boredom was setting in. Lockwood had brought a few paperback novels, and I had my sketchpad. We ate sandwiches, drank tea, checked our supplies, and went about our vigil. The hours passed slowly and without incident.
Sometime after midnight, Lockwood and I ended up in the iron circle, sitting together with our backs against the door. The grand window above our heads allowed moonlight to douse the room. Inside, candles flickered in tiny, overlapping spheres. And Lockwood’s warmth was right beside me. Despite my growing restlessness, I felt quite at ease.
“Do you find it different?” he asked suddenly. “After Marissa.”
“What, the job?” I said.
“The job, being an agent. Carrying on as before.”
“Yes.” I pondered a bit. “And no, I guess. Not really.”
It was strange. Having faced a deranged capitalist inhabiting a stolen body and nearly died by her hand hadn't changed the simple mechanics of how we did our job. The hidden clockwork of taking clients, prepping supplies, using our Talents, setting up defences... It was much the same. And though 'Penelope' had fallen from grace, Marissa Fittes was still being mourned by a nation blissfully unaware that—by starting, then upholding the Problem and feeding on Sources to cultivate her empire—she had essentially committed genocide.
Lockwood shuffled. “I don’t know whether I expected everything to be different. I mean, nobody knows the full truth of what happened except us. I still think that’s for the best, and I’m certainly not complaining about all the buzz Lockwood & Co.'s got. But…” He trailed off.
I stared at a candle balanced on top of the bookcase, its faint and distant glow. “Now we’re left to pick up the pieces and live with that experience without being able to share it?”
“Something like that, yeah.” He scratched at his ear, then began fiddling with his tie clip. You rarely saw Lockwood so unsure. It wasn’t exactly the way he liked to be seen. I felt a pressing need to comfort him, take the weight off his heart.
“Well, we have each other,” I said softly, then looked away. “And George and Holly and Quill, of course. Even Flo. And Lockwood… I won’t ever leave like I did that time. You can be sure of that.”
We looked at each other. I tried not to think about the smallness of the circle or the heat from the candles or the way his slender thigh pressed against mine.
“I know,” said Lockwood, giving me that sweet and honest smile I loved so much. “Even if I do think it was the right choice now. Temporarily, of course. I hadn’t been treating you well at all, and… Frankly, I think I deserved that kick in the ass.”
“We both needed a dose of reality, I think. Everything worked out in the end, anyway.”
“The time was right for change.” Lockwood paused, taking a slow breath. “Kind of like now.”
“Yes.” My cheeks warmed as if exposed to an open flame. Suddenly it was hard to look him in the eye. “But even so, I know things were tough on you when I left. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
“In a way, you were.”
I smiled, looking at my feet. “Now I think the boredom’s gotten to your head.”
“I could never be bored with you around, Luce.”
“Or maybe you never quite recovered from the time I knocked you out that window with a water bottle.”
“You know, that must be it. Everything has been a bit fuzzy since then.” He grinned, biting his lip. I hugged my knees and rested my head against them, watching his bottom lip turn white, then bloom into rosy pink as he dragged his teeth against it.
I tried not to think of anything at all.
“Truth is,” he went on, “we’ve been so busy it’s all been sort of a blur. Since Fittes House, I mean. Cases, ghosts, places, people… It all blends together.” He looked at me. “Of course, other things have gotten clearer.”
Then he sat back and closed his eyes, probably to rest his Sight; our Talents had been on alert for many long hours. I looked at him, his sweet face, bathed in clear blue moonlight. It made him look younger. Seeing it brought me back to a different time, years ago, to the young Lockwood I had met that first day at 35 Portland Row. The strange boy who had welcomed me to his strange home. Well, he’s not bad looking, to be sure, I remembered thinking. That observation held up. In fact, if he’d been cute then, he’d since grown aggravatingly beautiful. But more importantly, Lockwood had become a confidant—someone who took me seriously, who trusted me more than anyone. Someone I was… close with.
And, unless my ability to take a hint was broken beyond belief, maybe a bit more than that. Maybe that closeness had deepened beyond my usefulness in the field, beyond my company and conversation. Beyond friendship. When? I’m not sure; but he’d made it obvious enough, in his own Lockwood-y way.
I pulled out my necklace, which hung safely underneath my top. I stared into the watery heart of the sapphire pendant that had once belonged to Celia Lockwood; a gift from the great love of her life.
Exactly two months ago, Lockwood had passed it on to me.
For two months, nothing more had happened.
I wasn’t sure there was an exact definition for what we were now.
“We’re going out of our minds, Lucy. Act, already!” That’s what Holly had said over post-case tea for two just last week. Judging by her increasingly exasperated tone whenever the topic of ‘Lucy and Lockwood’ came up—which was just about every time Lockwood left the room—she was getting nearly as frustrated as me.
“It’s just not that simple, Hol,” I’d said, staring into the murky depths of my mug.
“You’ll have to talk about it eventually.”
“It’s Lockwood. I don’t know how to… ask that of him.”
“Why not? What the two of you have is special. We all know it. Now he’s gone and given you a priceless piece of jewellery—”
“Well, that’s not the same as…”
“As confessing he loves you? Lucy, that’s exactly what it is.”
I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night.
Now I was equal parts impatient with Lockwood and annoyed with myself. You’ll have to talk about it eventually. Right. I knew that. Of course I did. What I hadn't known was how much courage it would take—courage it seemed neither of us possessed. Surely, we’d been up against worse. We’d faced immeasurable horrors together, both living and dead. So why did opening my heart to the person I cared most about feel like the cruelest challenge of my life? Why would I rather be ghost-touched than admit to something so private, so intimate?
I held up the pendant and pressed it lightly against my lips, just once. Then I stuffed it back under my roll neck.
It wasn’t fair.
“What time’d you make it?” Lockwood’s voice broke my reverie. He opened his eyes, stretching his neck.
“Oh, uh, it’s past one. Do you find that odd? She’ll have us waiting all night at this rate.”
“I do hope not.” Lockwood sighed, checking his watch. “Maybe we’ll find another pile of dead spiders. Thrill follows thrill.”
“That’s an understatement,” I said, grinning as I got up to fill my thermos, turning my back to him. “The bloody things overlap. How will we ever keep up?”
“Sometimes our job just gets too exciting. We’re stuck waiting for now. Stay alert, Luce.” I could hear the smile in his voice. Even if I hadn’t, I’d still be feeling its warmth on my neck.
I was just beginning to think we might not meet Dana Palmgren tonight when, around three o’clock, the atmosphere shifted. A malign energy entered the flat, prickling at my skin and lowering the temperature notch by notch. Lockwood and were taking readings by the sofa; we shared a glance. Something was coming. We both sensed it.
I craned my head and squinted out at the living room, its light furnishings and pretty pastel colours. Now a heavy darkness, deep and melancholy, seemed to be seeping through every crevice, spilling over every surface. Nothing tangible was here quite yet; but it’s the buildup that really gets to you. After so many hours of nothing, my muscles were raw and rigid, my senses itching. I was quite ready for action, for something to happen. Anything.
Then, from the corner of my eye… an insubstantial shape, glittering faintly. I looked into the narrow hallway, and there it was. The spirit of Dana Palmgren had finally manifested.
Wordlessly, I reached out behind me; I felt Lockwood grasp my hand, squeezing once before letting go. Drawing our rapiers, we walked with careful feet; me on one side of the hallway opening, Lockwood on the other. We pressed our backs against the wall, making sure to keep a clear escape route to the circle of iron chains. Our breaths plumed before us. The spectral chill had iced the room like the cold breath of the dead.
I sensed the apparition moving more than I saw it. As if entering from the wings of a stage, she appeared in front of the hallway and moved toward the blood-spattered wall. A cold cloud of other-light surrounded her, rendering her features indistinct. Her form was vaguely female, her countenance shadowy; only her eyes stood out from the rest. There was a deep, dark ache behind them. They seemed to be fixed on the wall in front of her. For what we assumed to be a Type Two, she was oddly passive, detached from her surroundings. She paid us no heed. Still, we kept on our toes. It wouldn't be the first time a Visitor took us by surprise. I looked to Lockwood, who was visibly squinting at the spirit. His Sight was heaps better than mine.
“Lockwood,” I said softly. “What do you see?”
“That’s her, alright,” he said, “But it’s hellishly bright by that wall. I can hardly—oh, Lucy.”
“What? What is it?”
“When Miss Palmgren died…”
“Did the landlord mention that she was pregnant?”
My heart dropped like an apron full of boulders. Pregnant. That overpowering sense of loss I’d felt when I touched the chest of drawers, the pain that seemed like it would never cease… “No,” I said weakly. “No, he didn’t.”
Just then, like a magician’s vanishing trick, the ghost curled in on itself and dematerialised in a glimmer of other-light. We stared bloodlessly at the spot where she'd faded away.
“Don’t hold me to it, Luce,” said Lockwood, lowering his blade. I thought he looked very sad, and paler than usual. “This is one of those situations where I’d really love to be wrong.”
We fell silent. The ghostly after-light lingered a while, casting a dull haze over the room. It was odd; sympathy for ghosts wasn’t usually something Lockwood was known for. The question of whether they deserved such compassion was probably where he and I clashed the most. After all, his sister had died by ghost-touch. I wondered if he was thinking about his family now; lives taken by force, purposes left unfulfilled. A once lively house, robbed of all except one young life. I remembered the face of that little boy—I'd seen him in a vision, one I wasn't likely to ever forget—as he realised he was alone. The hollow stare that, when he was lost in thought, still flickered past his eyes sometimes. This flat, too, could have been the home of a happy little family. But that had been made impossible by a single, senseless tragedy. My heart ached for Lockwood—and for Dana.
But, unlike her, he was still here. He was not alone and never would be again. I was going to make damned sure of that. It was something I'd realised over the years—through the pain of seeing him suffer, through the joy of living by his side, and through the simple effort of loving him.
Another tiresome hour went by without a second manifestation. Now that we’d seen our spirit—and realised the full truth of it—the place had us in an iron grip. Our senses were on high alert as we made another watchful round. The knowledge that, at any moment, a powerful apparition might appear was shiver-inducing. Some spirits tested your endurance that way, playing tricks on your psyche by manifesting at random intervals. We had to be on constant psychic guard, straining hard against the silence. Only Lockwood’s proximity was comforting to me. It was clear he found comfort in mine, too. We’d agreed to stay low and keep our heads down for now; we took a break to share a bar of chocolate and collect our thoughts, then went about checking our defences.
“Pregnant,” I said softly. I had begun inspecting the candles, relighting where necessary. “So that bit about a bloke coming and going wasn’t just gossip. Dana really must have kept to herself a lot if none of the neighbours had a clue. Holly said the landlord had gotten testimonies from everyone.”
“That’d have been some news,” said Lockwood, turning over sofa cushions in search of potential secrets. “What if she never got a chance to share it with anyone? Might make for a decent motivation to come back.”
“It would.” The candle on top of the bookcase had snuffed out; I stood up on tiptoes to reach it, turning my back to Lockwood. “I’ve still no clue about the Source, but there could be baby stuff around somewhere.”
“You’re right. Let’s take another look around. I’ll be watching the wall, and—we’ll—uh—we’ll search for… clues.” His voice cut off weirdly.
“What’s the matter?” I said, my eyes focused on that damned candle. I was still reaching for it when, all of a sudden, I became aware of the way my skirt slid up the backs of my thighs as my arms stretched upwards. I became hotly, acutely aware of it.
Lockwood, I figured, already was.
I lost my footing for a moment, taking a wobbly step backwards. He cleared his throat and stepped in front of me. “Here, let me get that.”
I stood there, cupping my blazing cheeks and watching him relight the candle without trouble. He looked as if someone had lit a bonfire in his throat. Before turning back to me, he wrapped his long coat tighter around himself and held it there.
Something prickled inside me, but it wasn’t the cold shivers of imminent psychic danger. I wondered if it was normal to be this embarrassed and have such a deep sense of accomplishment at the same time.
Avoiding my gaze, Lockwood began sorting out his work belt, though I was pretty sure he’d already checked it twice before nightfall. His pale skin was tinged with pink, ears and cheeks glowing red-hot. There was a lot I wanted to say to Lockwood, many things I wanted to ask him. Most of all, I wanted to reach out and touch him, to throw shyness and reserve to the winds and decide to hell with it. To know what that hotness would feel like against my skin.
But it never felt like the right time.
“We’ll search for clues,” he finally said, “for anything pregnancy-related. Anything we might have missed on our first rounds, before we knew that bit. I’ll do the kitchen. Will the hallway work for you?”
“Sure, that sounds good.”
“Marvellous.” Lockwood headed for the tiny pastel kitchen, smiling at me as he did so. That smile was a hot knife, and I was made of butter.
I turned on my heel and strode across the room, mentally kicking myself the whole time. We had to get back to work, of course we did. A ghost was around here somewhere—a dangerous, possibly very angry, Type Two ghost. This was fine. It was all perfectly fine.
At least it was until I caught that trace of shadow at the corner of my eye and my veins filled with ice. A splinter of a second zipped by…
And then a sudden gust of psychic pressure hit me like a violent gale and robbed me of my balance; I was blown back by the force of it. My ears rang furiously. I burst through the kitchen archway, knocking the basket of knitting materials off the counter as I stumbled wildly backwards… and careened straight into his arms. Well.
“You alright there, Luce?” Lockwood was right behind me, pressing close to my back, rapier scraping at mine. His long arms were still clamped firmly around my middle. In my flustered state, I only just registered one of his hands sitting dangerously high. A few inches further north and the night would have seriously crossed the awkward event horizon. Lockwood seemed to realise this after a few seconds and let go with an uncomfortable shuffle.
“I—I’m totally fine,” I said, turning to face him and brushing imaginary dust from my skirt. “Uh, psychic boom. She’s not going to go without a fight. And she’ll be back soon, I can feel it.”
“Right.” Lockwood met my eyes. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. “Change of plans. Let’s see if we can’t find a way to get, uh, closer. I’ll keep watching that vanishing point. Do you want me to go first?”
“Yes, please.” And then I’d like you to come back and hold me until I can’t remember my own name, thank you.
“And you’re sure you’re good to go?”
“Promise.” Step over here. Make me blush a little more.
“Okay,” he said, taking a step away from me and into the sitting room. When his smile returned, I wished he would touch me again.
I caught myself. It was stupid. Why was I acting so stupid? Mooning away like some village girl with a crush! I could barely brush against Lockwood without my heart swelling like it was never going to stop. It was painful. I didn’t like it. Where the hell was my agent training? There was no time for this rubbish. I knew we weren’t alone in here, and so did Lockwood. Nothing was going to happen. Nothing was ever going to happen…
Intrusive memories of Aickmere's department store choked at my mind, and my throat tightened. I didn't want to be a liability again. I was too good at what I did.
I stood behind the archway, performing monumental feats of strength to stop the flow of tears. Not now. I shook my head, taking deep breaths to calm my system. Then I looked out to see Lockwood by the blood-speckled wall, facing me—
And I saw her. I sensed her. Right there, by her vanishing point.
About to sink her phantom claws into him.
Raw desperation led me to do something very, very dumb. It was one of those moments where some split-second impulse takes control of your body and shoots through your limbs as if conducting lightning. Like a death-defying animal leaping to save her cub, I sprang out of the kitchen. My right hand darted to my belt just as my left grabbed hold of Lockwood’s arm, yanking him to my side and ducking behind the archway.
I flung the magnesium flare across the room before I could stop to think. Lockwood gave a cry and threw his free arm across my body, clutching me tight just as an almighty blast split the air—then, a spectral screech of pain.
We looked out into the sitting room. It had been a low-powered flare, not of the will-burn-down-a-house sort, but it had certainly left a mark. White smoke rose from the now scorched floor where the sofa and bookcase lay demolished. The blood-stained wall had cracked from floor to ceiling, bits of plaster showing through like the raw skin of an open wound. The chest of drawers beside it was technically still a chest of drawers, only now severely deconstructed. Its drawers lay around in steaming piles, most of their contents—photographs, papers, spare cables, old gloves—littering the floor. The spirit had vanished.
“Lucy, what the hell?” He lowered his arm, then grasped at my shoulders. I could tell he was fighting to keep his voice level. “What were you thinking?”
At some point during the long wait, my muscles had tensed. Now I realised how restive I’d become, how hard I’d had to strain against malaise and creeping fear. My eyes prickled, threatening tears again; my heart was pushing its way up my throat when I spoke. “I—I don’t know. I lost my head. You were right in her way, and…” I trailed off.
“And chucking a flare against the wall seemed the sensible thing to do? Well, she’s gone now, that’s for sure!”
“There’s no fire, at least. What the hell was I supposed to do, Lockwood? Just stand there?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I don’t know. What if you’d missed her? She could have gone straight for you instead. We weren’t ready—“
“But I didn’t miss! All I know is you were right there and I had to do something, and you didn’t want to act at all even though I was waiting for you, because you run away from things when you’re scared, and I… I get sick of waiting!”
Lockwood’s eyes fell. The silence between us now was almost tangible.
I opened my thermos with the air of someone about to throw back a shot of whiskey and took a big gulp. Was I trying to burn my tongue or drown myself? I would be fine with either.
I swallowed my tea, twisting the lid shut. We had to control our emotions or the spirit would feed on them like a predator sniffing for sustenance. “I’m sorry, Lockwood. She’s got me on edge. I swear I was trying to stay in control.”
“The plan was to keep our heads down. When I said we should get closer, I meant carefully. I know you don’t need my permission to go off script, but that… just wasn’t the time. You didn’t have to risk it.”
“You would have. You take risks all the time.”
“With my neck, Lucy. Not yours.”
I blinked. Now, what did he expect me to say to that? In the five seconds of silence that followed as I tried to think of a response—one that would perfectly communicate the high regard in which I held Lockwood’s neck—the house settled into an eerie quiet.
And then a spectral shriek thundered into my head, threatening to tear through my eardrums like lightning through a tree trunk. I clapped my hands over my ears on instinct, and Lockwood rushed to my side. If he called my name, he may as well have whispered it from the depths of hell. All natural sounds were wiped from my universe. Now there was only her.
Dana Palmgren was back.
The air crackled with psychic power, making the hairs stand up all over my body. The room was electrified, and the shrieking overpowered everything. Lockwood and I shared a glance; there was no doubt now. We were in the company of a Screaming Spirit.
Since it would be impossible to hear each other over the psychic clamour, we could no longer rely on verbal communication. My head was spinning. I took a deep breath, then gave Lockwood a nod. With a reassuring squeeze of my arms, he left my side and took up position by what remained of the sofa. I unsheathed my rapier, sidling over to the iron circle by the front door. It was time to get to work. The Screaming Spirit hovered next to the ruined chest of drawers, filtering the red stains through her own translucent form. Now I saw her more clearly than before; a flowing ponytail, jumper and casual skirt—and there was the swell of belly. She looked to be about four months in. I swallowed my sadness, looking over to see Lockwood drawing his sword.
We locked eyes. First, a distraction.
He nodded to me as if to say now, and my hand zipped to my belt. A salt-bomb would make a fine opener—no more flares for now. My throw was quite good, instantly catching the spirit in a rocky white flurry and leaving a scent of burned ectoplasm. Lockwood seized his chance, raising his blade—and, like a pouncing predator, he took her on. His face was a lesson in focus and determination as he sharply parried, dodged and swung against her, whipping up a storm of precise attacks. My heart raced to see him. The ectoplasm twisted and contorted in pain—but in her rage, the woman was ungodly strong. Her shrieks came in violent bursts now, scurrying in and out of my ears. I pressed my back against the door, careful not to stumble outside the circle. Suddenly the noise dove with a sickening lurch, as if disappearing into the floor… and then the spirit was hovering above us, wounded and wailing. Other-light glittered about her like cold flames around a hollow sun.
Lockwood was leaning against the kitchen archway, panting so hard his lungs were damn near showing through his mouth. His eyes were telling me he knew exactly what I was going to do. My eyes were telling him to back off and let me do it. He stayed where he was.
We were dealing with a Screaming Spirit. As a Listener? Not my favourite ghost. Not even my favourite Type Two. But here’s the kicker: A strong spirit like that could sometimes leave more clearly constructed impressions on you. Still not tangible, exactly, but something to grab at more easily than the strangled sighs of your garden-variety Shade or Cold Maiden. A movement of thought, an action of the mind, captured through the power of memory. I’d entered into countless actions like that before. I’d engaged with ghosts of nearly every variety and come out wiser than before (plus a bit rattled in the head, but I took that in stride). The Lucy Carlyle Method™ was effective, even Lockwood had eventually come around to that fact. It’s just that funnelling the rage of murdered spirits through your mind was bloody exhausting. I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for long, so I hoped Miss Palmgren would be cooperative. I began by casting my rapier aside, opening myself to her.
The woman’s eyes were spent and wild as if suspended in that terrible moment when it dawned on her that she was going to die. I felt her presence filling up my being, every fibre of her spirit charged with heartbreaking anger. Everything in me bled with psychic sensation, but even through her rip-roaring rage, I sensed vulnerability. Her death had been a chaotic and pointless one; two lives terminated with one shot. She was screaming through the senselessness of it all, and under that layer of despair, I found a foothold.
“We can help you, Dana,” I began, careful to keep my voice steady over the noise. “We can help you, if you let us.”
Her wailing was like a physical thing, looming over me and threatening to swallow me up. But I persisted, and the noise became tinged with uncertainty.
“You’re going to be able to pass over, Dana. You’re going to find rest. But you need to trust me.”
I was getting through to her. Layers of rage were peeling away, revealing an undercurrent of deep, black grief. Then she spoke.
“The drawer. My baby… I never got to tell.”
I passed these words on to Lockwood, who immediately began scanning the room. The drawer? Could she mean…
“What drawer, Dana?”
The faintest whisp of movement; a finger of ectoplasm curled toward the blood wall. The phantom voice spoke again. “I never got to tell. My baby… My baby…”
Lockwood spun around. Beside him was the steaming mess of timber that had been a fine chest of drawers until it had fallen victim to my panic-flare. He dropped his rapier, got on his knees and began scrambling. A few drawers had survived the blow, hadn’t they? Now to find the Source among the debris…
“Luce!” Lockwood called over the lessening noise. “I think—I think this is it. Oh, definitely. It’s bloody freezing.”
Behind the spirit, I glimpsed something small and soft and red in Lockwood’s hands.
“Looks like a hat,” he said, staring at the thing. I strained to hear him. “It’s a tiny knit hat—for a baby.”
My heart lurched. That explained the red yarn and knitting supplies on the kitchen table. It had to be the Source. Dana must have been planning to share the news with her loved ones. And she’d knitted a little baby hat for the occasion. My older sister, Claire, had done the same when she’d announced her pregnancy.
An unresolved life. Things left unsaid. I felt queasy.
Then, like a bomb being dropped, the shrieking started up again.
I didn’t dare take my eyes off the ghost, but I was really banking on Lockwood having a silver net ready right about now. Steadying myself the best I could, I drew my rapier; and then poor Miss Palmgren turned toward that damned chest of drawers… right where Lockwood was crouched, rolling out his net.
Yeah, it was officially time to end this.
I didn’t think. I didn’t plan. All I knew was that Dana Palmgren needed her rest, and I needed my Lockwood. My body was electrified, limbs moving too fast for my brain to keep up with. I sprang to pick up my rapier. Then I dove forward, blade first, slicing the Screaming Spirit open down the middle. Now a writhing mass of disembodied ectoplasm, it gave a strangled cry; then, like the world’s worst spear thrower, I hurled my sword back over my shoulder. I didn’t care where it landed. Exhausted and sad and with a sound like crashing plates and gunshots filling my head, I threw myself to the floor, shielding Lockwood’s body as he swaddled the tiny circle of fabric.
Then he looked at me, really looked at me, and there was exhaustion and relief and tenderness and love in his eyes. I put a hand to his cheek. We clutched at each other, letting silver do what silver does.
Above the cacophony, one last sliver of disembodied noise entered my head. “You listened. Thank you.”
Then the spirit of Dana Palmgren was torn asunder with one final boom that wrenched us off the floor and sent us rolling across the room to safety.
Plates stopped crashing in my mind; dust settled around us. My ears gave a mighty pop as if I’d been falling through air and had come to rest on a cloud. In the corner, our tiny Source lay safely wrapped in silver. The Visitation was over.
Lockwood and I lay in a crumpled heap, him on top of me, our arms clamped hard around each other. We had landed in an interweaving mess of arms and legs; I was greatly aware of his heart beating hard against my breast. Groaning slightly, we helped each other up into a sitting position. He was still holding me at a slight angle when I peeled my forehead off his shoulder—and that’s when our eyes met.
Maybe it was the leftover adrenaline spurring us on. Maybe all we needed was a moment alone and a bit of disaster, classic Lockwood & Co. style. But in that moment, sitting among the smoke and ruin of a bad haunting, I felt a sharp, joyous burst in my heart. After everything we’d been through, everything that had happened since I’d first arrived at 35 Portland Row, I was so grateful to be alive and with him. Frankly, I couldn’t believe he’d lived to see Marissa Fittes defeated—that he was still here with me and not with his poor family in that empty grave. I thought of Dana Palmgren, of everything she hadn’t been able to say before the lives of her and her child were taken from her. Maybe there was never going to be a perfect time to say the necessary words. Maybe things would always be a bit halting and uncertain at first. But as long as we took care of each other, nothing else mattered.
And for a tiny eternity, Lockwood’s dark eyes flitted to my lips. He inched closer, then hesitated, gauging my reaction. But I knew better than to linger on a threshold. I took a breath, pulled him closer—and then we were kissing.
Some part of me that I wasn’t even aware I was holding taut relaxed. My eyes fluttered shut on instinct, eyelashes brushing against cheeks. Our legs were still caught in a slightly awkward tangle—knees and feet splayed out, my legs practically hooked around his middle, and I couldn’t even think to check the state of my skirt—but I didn’t mind. Between Lockwood tightening his arms around me and my hands gathering at the back of his neck, something clicked into proportion. Something that had been smouldering inside me for years, waiting to be kindled. And in those two months since the battle at Fittes House, it had become almost unbearable. Two months of shared looks, knowing silences, secret implications. Two months since he’d given me that necklace worth more than words could express. The thought that this was what he’d meant by it made me dizzy.
The cold had vanished from the room. In fact, there might have been a furnace in my chest, I felt so warm. Lockwood was kissing me. We were kissing each other. And it felt like finally, finally, finally. I made a little noise of giddy content. It was quite chaste at first, like what I’d seen at my oldest sister Emma’s wedding as a little girl. The idea hadn’t exactly appealed to me back then. Now…
Lockwood drew back for a moment, open mouth ghosting over mine, then tilted his head to deepen the next kiss. I responded in kind, holding him tight around the shoulders to keep him close; what had started rather shy soon turned open-mouthed and breathy. I sighed into him, smiling as I did so. Beneath my clothes, my necklace pressed against the hollow of his chest. Undying devotion—no gaps left between us.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how long this went on. Much like the first time Lockwood had properly hugged me, in the kitchen after George’s attack, time became a gauzy blur. This new familiarity was so, so good. I leaned into Lockwood, feeling and tasting and knowing only him, quietly rejoicing in the throb of his heart against me. We were alive, and this was what it meant.
When we drew apart, we did so slowly, as if afraid to break the spell too suddenly. His lips hovered over mine, our noses still nuzzling together.
Then, somewhere behind him, a slab of plaster fell from the ceiling with a dry thud, causing a flurry of dust and debris to rise from the scorched floor. It was definitely time to call it a night. With all this ruckus, DEPRAC would be rolling up soon. I didn’t know if Inspector Barnes was on duty, but best not to risk it. Somehow I didn’t fancy the idea of him walking in to find Lockwood and me snogging on a dead woman’s parquetry.
I looked up at him, his rosy lips and mussed-up hair. The fact that he’d let me mess it up spoke volumes. I suddenly felt shy again. My hands slid from the back of his neck to his chest, and I stared at them, smiling nervously. “So…”
“So…” Lockwood’s grin was awkward and cute. “Can you stand? We took a bit of a tumble there.”
“I think so. You?”
“Just fine. Let’s be off, then. It’s no house fire, but it isn’t exactly our neatest job to date.”
“Oh, I’m sure the paperwork will be barrels of fun.” I didn’t pay it much mind, though. Holly could sort us out. Clumsily, our hands fell away; I moved to pick up my rapier where I had thrown it. It hadn’t lodged itself in anything or crashed through a window, which was a win.
So there we were, casually gathering our things and getting our business in order as usual. Except what had just happened between us was completely unusual. Was Lockwood clamming up again? I didn’t want that. If I didn’t say something now, the cab ride home to Portland Row might well be the most awkward drive ever shared by two people. “Lockwood…” I began.
He rose from picking up his sword, which he now held slack against the floor. While we’d been cuddled up together, a million words had gone through my kiss-frenzied brain. Now reality had numbed the magic, and I didn’t know quite what to say.
Until something snapped and sprung out of me. “Come closer.”
Lockwood lifted his bright-dark eyes. He looked at me as though I might be snatched away at any moment and he had to be ready to save me. He took a step, and a distinct rasp scraped noisily across the floor.
“Oh, uh—your sword,” I said, noticing the fresh groove on the floor from Lockwood’s rapier, which he’d accidentally been dragging.
“What? Oh.” He sheathed his blade, nudging the floor with his shoe as if trying to erase the evidence. “Well, that’s on there. Hardly the worst bit of damage I’ve ever left on a job, though.”
“Nah. Miss Palmgren probably wouldn’t have minded.” I tucked my hair behind my ears, taking a breath. “Listen, I don’t think I can go much longer without talking. About this thing. Going on.”
“Yes. That thing.” Having abandoned all attempts at making the scuff go away, Lockwood walked the rest of the way over. His proximity now was a strange mix of familiar and foreign. “I’m sorry, Lucy.”
I gulped, nerves setting in. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sorry for acting like such an oaf. I should have been honest with you a long time ago, but I could never keep my cool. I was just stuck in place. After the battle with Marissa…” Lockwood trailed off, lowering his gaze. I was reminded of the day he’d turned up at my flat, back when I was working solo, and asked me to rejoin Lockwood & Co. for a single job. Back when I still thought I could stay away from him and be happy. He’d seemed so diffident then, so vulnerable. Now he was laying himself bare for me again. I wanted desperately to kiss all his doubts away, but words were needed now.
“You were honest with me,” I said softly, carefully drawing out my necklace from beneath my collar. A clear blue brilliance like a tiny ocean, glittering between us.
Lockwood caught his breath, visibly flushing. “You don’t have to wear that,” he said. “I don’t mind, you can just—“
“Shut up, Lockwood. I’ve had it on every day since you left it for me.” I lifted the pendant and looked at it fondly. “And I’ll wear it forever.”
“That… That means a lot to me.” Lockwood looked like he might cry. In the pale dark of early morning, his features were snowy and delicate. “When I first showed you that necklace, I tried to be casual. But I knew Jessica was right—about why my father had it made for my mother. I remember perfectly well. I even remember my father showing it to me once, when I was very young. When I saw it again, I realised… I knew how he felt. I knew what it meant, to care that much for someone.”
“I think I know, too," I said, my voice near to a whisper. We both paused for a little while. Then I looked up at him. “You didn’t give it to me in person, though.”
“After the battle.”
“Shit, Lucy. I’d lost my nerve by then.”
“No, I get it,” I said. “I got it. Who could forget that story? This necklace meant so much to them. To your parents. I guess the thought that you were passing it to me for the same reasons… You don’t know what that did to me.”
Lockwood’s eyes shone. “It doesn’t bother you? That I didn’t tell you outright?”
“It really doesn’t.”
He paused, a hitch in his breath. He put a hand to the side of my head, smoothing down my hair. “It’s all been quite tricky, hasn’t it?”
“We were always busy doing something. There were always people about. Holly’s been, uh, inquiring.”
“Is that right?” Lockwood gave a laugh. “Yeah, so has George.”
“Oh God.” I scratched at my cheek. “Really, we should have been more like him. I still can’t believe he hooked up with Flo, easy as that.”
“And right under our noses, too. Bastard.”
“I know.” I laughed, then took a breath. He did the same. We were both smiling, because we couldn’t stop. Then Lockwood took my hands in his.
“Lucy Joan Carlyle.”
“This isn’t an easy thing for me.”
“But if you did want to hear me say it outright… I couldn’t very well deny you that, could I?”
“You know what? I don’t think you could.”
“You’re absolutely right. I can’t keep it in much longer, anyhow.” Lockwood raised our linked hands. “Lucy, I think I’ve gone and fallen in love with you.”
Something in the air shifted, brightened. The sky was slowly turning blue outside, night preparing to make way for dawn; but inside, with those words lingering between us, it was like our own personal sunrise already.
Anthony Lockwood, not being able to hold back from expressing his feelings.
I made a noise low in my throat which, to me, sounded like relief. Simply put, I was happy. So happy I could hardly speak—but I did.
“Well, that’s good.”
“Because,” I said softly, finding my courage in his expectant eyes, “I think I’m in love with you, too.”
We allowed the universe to process this for a few silent seconds. Our fingers quietly played, settling into this newfound intimacy.
At last, I trusted myself to speak. “Lockwood, I… I always meant to say something. Maybe I just thought it would come up naturally. Maybe it turned out I didn’t know how to go about that.”
“Maybe I wasn’t sure either, Luce.” Lockwood’s hands went to my upper arms, gently squeezing. “Maybe I was scared and stupid and you deserve more.”
“Maybe we should give it a go now,” I said, my hands gathering at the small of his back.
“I think maybe we should.” When he touched his forehead to mine, his smile was contagious.
We both nodded approvingly, which made me laugh, and that laugh contained my last bit of air before he took my face in his hands and kissed me. Sweet and soft and slow. I found I had to stand on tiptoes to reach comfortably.
I understood now. We had both been locked inside ourselves for far too long, and there was no key except us. Now it seemed the door had finally opened. When Lockwood’s lips moved to my cheek and toward my neck, I swear I was at melting point.
And if the cortege of DEPRAC vans hadn’t arrived, headlights flashing through the window beside us, that lovely tingling magic might never have ended. But as it was, they did. Our bliss was cut short by a flood of light shining through our closed eyelids. We drew apart, and sure enough: In the doorway stood Inspector Montagu Barnes, moustache drooping wearily like the hirsute equivalent of a sigh. We froze in place. The inspector, hand still on the light switch, glanced between us for a seemingly everlasting five seconds. Our flushed faces, reddened mouths, and the fact that Lockwood’s nose was still hovering over my neck may not have made for the most convincing display of professionalism.
“Mr. Lockwood,” Barnes greeted dryly, pulling out a pen and notebook. “Miss Carlyle.”
Lockwood cleared his throat, giving his best I-am-the-licensed-owner-of-a-professional-company smile. “Morning, Inspector. We were just finishing up here.”
“So I see.” Barnes clicked his pen, looking like a man who would love nothing more than to forget having just caught two agents about to exchange love bites at the scene of a haunting. “If you’d like to gather your things and clear out, we’ll pick up the mess from here.”
Barnes began scribbling notes as more DEPRAC personnel filed into the room. Lockwood scrubbed a hand through his hair; I suppressed a smile. At least we’d got off the floor.
Outside, night was kindling itself into dawn. Darkness was fading; the ghost-lamps would be turned off any minute now. The air was clear and bright and dreamlike. We shouldered our bags. And when Lockwood offered his hand to me, I took it.
Together, we stepped forward into morning.