PART FOUR: THE BOY IN THE SMOKE

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It was a typical December day in London—dark, vaguely rainy. Constable Stephen Dene walked quickly, head down, through the confused crowds clinging to the outer regions of Harrods, all of them moving in confused, pointless patterns with their green signature Harrods bags. The lights that outlined the building were already illuminated, even through it was only two o’clock.

The uniform was fairly warm and comfortable. It was still new and despite two ironings still had some of the creases from the packages it had come in. Still, it was the best outfit he had ever worn. Once it was on, he felt different. He felt right. People stopped him and asked for directions and help and occasionally, for photos. Some people his own age sneered at him, and most people seemed a bit confused by his youth.

The training had been intense, but as Thorpe had pointed out, Eton did nothing if not prepare one for intense training. For six months, he had done nothing but study, train and practise. He was moved around a lot so no one really got to know him for long. One day, Thorpe just told him it was done. He was given the uniform, the identification, the car, access to the databases—all the keys to the kingdom. It was time to build the team. He was to look for people his age or younger who had recently had accidents and claimed to see people that weren’t there. He was to put feelers out at A&Es around the city.

But there were two things to do first.

The police database, he was amused to find, was called HOLMES—the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System—a somewhat redundant name that had been made to fit the acronym. The information he needed wasn’t on this, so he had to look through several sub-systems until he got the address he was looking for. It had happened in Knightsbridge, in some maisonette round the corner from Harrods. It had since changed hands and was now owned by a couple based in Dubai.

Stephen rounded the corner and checked his notes. Number seventeen. That was the one he wanted. It looked like every other building on the street—gold and red brick, expensive, quiet. The flat was the one on the third floor. The lights were off. With his uniform and new abilities, it would be easy to get into the building and get the door opened. The flat was likely vacant.

But he found he couldn’t quite move. He stood looking up at it for a very long time.

“No one’s there,” said a voice behind him.

Stephen turned to see the woman from the bookshop, the one with the steel-grey hair. The clothes were the same. Every single thing about her was the same—washed out, grey, almost blending into the December sky and the pavement.

 “I thought you might turn up here,” she said.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“That’s not something you need to know. But I think you know what I am.”

 “Why were you there in the bookstore that night?”

“Also not necessary for you to know. But I think I know why you’ve come here. You’re looking for your sister.”

Stephen turned back to the dark window.

“Who becomes a ghost?” he asked. “Is she here?”

“Though related, those are two different questions.” The woman folded her arms over her chest and looked up at the building. It appeared as though she would offer no more information, but then she opened her mouth again.

“It’s not that common,” she said. “Those of us who are lucky or unlucky enough to achieve this status . . . we’re a rather select group.”

“Is it because you have some unfinished business, or—”

“What utter rot!” She laughed a laugh that was somewhere between a cough and a roar. “Unfinished business. Whatever do you read? No one knows why. Something just goes wrong. It’s not meant to be this way. It’s like being stuck in a doorway, never being able to go in or out, unless someone helps you along.”

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