No Such Thing as Ghosts

Cast: date: '14 September 2012'
place: Bayswater
participants: 'Edith, Jack, Mattie'
synopsis: 'Interviewing nine-year-olds yields a few answers and uncovers a few lies. '
log: "It's not quite a cold case in police parlance, but it's getting chilly enough and long enough with no leads that the local detectives have all but given up. It's been a month since the two children were murdered in this place. Enough time has passed that the solemn hush that permeates the halls has started to wear away; kids giggle and fight and yell in their queues without feeling like they've somehow done something wrong. Things are starting to get back to normal. \n\nIt's been a couple of weeks now since the children here at Lancaster Junior School were interviewed — every single one, in small groups of fours and fives and also some alone, had met with a detective or two or three. But the Watch knows that those police ask the wrong questions all together, so while they've only gotten the file recently from a source in the police department, they didn't consider the case too cold to try their own hand at it. \n\nRecess is a controlled chaos. The nine-, ten-, and eleven-year-olds play outside during a break in the rainy day, while teachers stand around the perimeter of the yard watching. A security guard, newly hired after the tragedy, stands close to the wrought-iron gate; no doubt there is another near the basement restroom where the two girls had been killed.\n\nEdith is no stranger to schoolyards. She supplements her Watch stipend with a meager teaching income, and so she doesn't need to fake the brisk confidence with which she strides across the grounds, Jack at her side. A solitary crow soars overhead. \n\nA wool peacoat and pencil skirt paired with modest-looking pumps and a battered leather satchel bag make her look like she belongs there. Maybe if the Gloom hadn't steered her life in the wrong direction, a place like this might be where she could have ended up. \"Do you see them?\" she asks her companion of the two girls their police contact identified as the closest friends of the victims.\n\nJack on the other hand hasn't seen a schoolyard since he was 10. Well, not the inside of one anyway. Shaking down kids outside doesn't really count. His confidence comes from just. Well. Being Jack. His tolerance for playground insults is high and he likely has just as foul a mouth as the tiny little human beings here present.\n\nHe's even dressed up for this assignment, not a spot of engine grease in sight. Nearly new looking smart black jeans, semi-polished black steel toe caps with a thick, dark jacket ontop. It's not raining, so it might look odd perhaps that he has his hood up and pulled down low. He does it enough not to feel at all self conscious about it. Hands stuffed into pockets as he peers about.\n\nA couple moments pass, then there's a nod off to the side. \"There you go. I think. They all look so bleedin' samey.\" The uniforms. That'll do it.\n\nEdith's and Jack's unseen companion travels alongside. \"They're so little,\" Mattie's voice comes, whispery and sibilant in this form. \"I'm going to see what I can see. Will catch up to you later.\" \n\nIt's hard to tell if she's gone or not but one can assume she is. \n\nThe lot Jack has pointed out wouldn't be a bad bet even if they didn't have photographs of the little girls. With routine returned, most of the children play loudly — screaming on top of the jungle gym or running about and squealing in a game of tag. There's always the cool group of little girls in training to be divas who find running and such too \"juvenile\" — a cluster of those stand near the building, and the giggles and glances at some of the boys makes it easy enough to guess their conversation's topic. \n\nBut a bit apart from the others sit two young girls on a bench; Heather Torrance, in blond braids, chews on her nails while Lani, small and brunette, draws something on a piece of paper. \n\nThe guard glances at the two grownups. Edith doesn't get much of a second glance but Jack has him moving. \"You guys got passes to be here?\"\n\nEdith drums her fingers against the flap of her satchel and runs her tongue across her teeth behind her top lip. Her legs want to carry her toward the two girls, but the security guard is suddenly there; she places a hand on Jack's arm and under her breath murmurs, \"Ask them what Devi and Angela were doing in the bathroom. I'll handle this.\" \n\nTo the security guard, she offers her other hand. \"Elisabeth Johansson,\" she says in that faint Swedish accent of hers that justifies this choice of surname. \"I'm with Ofsted.\"\n\nA nod, sure. Jack can do this. Nothing says 'don't be afraid, little girls' like a big bloke with creepy eyes. Still. It's probably better than him talking to the guard, so he keeps on heading in that direction while mustering up the old cockney charm and accompanying smile.\n\nComing up on the bench from the side, Jack attempts to peer at the paper and see what's being drawn, surreptitiously of course. He offers a greeting once close enough, \"Alright, girls. Jim Butcher. How's it going?\" There's a big, bright, reassuring smile. His head tips back toward Edith, \"We're here doin' some investigating, trying to find out what's happened to your mates. You wouldn't happen t'know what Devi and Angela were up to in the bog, now would you?\"\n\nIan — is apparently his name because it's embroidered in his jacket — looks over at where Jack has gone, and then back to Edith. \"All right, then. Be sure to sign in at the office when you get inside, yeah?\" he says, apparently buying the agency name along with the fact that Jack happened to hone in on the best friends of the girls who'd died. They obviously know what they're doing. \"Let me know if you need anything.\" \n\nHeather looks up with big eyes and she shakes her head at Jack's question. \"We were mad at them that week because they told Chester that Lani liked him so we weren't talking to them,\" she whispers. \"We were going to forgive them though but we didn't have a chance to and now…\" \n\nThe tears begin in earnest, and Lani wraps an arm around the chubby blonde. She glowers fiercely at Jack for making her friend cry. The picture shows the five friends holding hands — each child named neatly above their head. Devi, Angela, Gemma, Lani, Heather. There's nothing too telling except that two of them have wings and the other three sad faces and tears.\n\n\"I'd like to speak with the administration about making long-term counseling available for the students through our organization if they haven't already arranged to,\" says Edith. \"Children have a different way of managing their grief than adults, and sometimes it manifests in ways we don't immediately recognize.\" She turns a look over her shoulder at Jack and the girls, her thin mouth creasing with concern. \"Have any of the students reported seeing or hearing something strange?\"\n\n\"They wasn't in the bathroom with this Chester bloke, were they?\" Jack asks. He should probably feel bad, wilt under the fierce stare of the tiny human but he just keeps smiling. More people to add to the list. Hating him is definitely fashionable these days.\n\nTaking a seat on the edge of the bench he at least attempts to look supportive, \"Listen. It's a tough gig, yeah? But you can still forgive 'em. S'the thought what counts. Somethin' happened to 'em right? Wouldn't you rather we found it what it is? An' take care of it so it can't happen to someone else?\" A thought strikes, and is blurted out, possibly ruining the sympathy aspect. One man good cop, bad cop. \"They wasn't smokin' weed or anything?\"\n\nIan nods again and waves a hand toward the building. \"They had grief counseling but don't think none got it from your people. Miz Andrews is the one you'll wanna see about that.\" The question has him thinking, his eyes moving across the children playing as he does so. \"No, not that I know. At first, you know, they were nervous about anyone they didn't know, but it's starting to get back to normal around here. Some of them are afraid to go to the bathroom. We've had a teacher stationed in them so the kids won't be afraid to go, you know, ever since.\" \n\nLani giggles at the thought of Chester being in the girl's room but shakes her head. At the question about smoking weed, Heather's round eyes get rounder. \"Why would any one smoke weeds?\" she says incredulously. That probably answers that question, but Lani gives Jack another sharp-eyed look and a shake of her head. \n\n\"We're nine, mister,\" the more savvy little girl says, then she nudges Heather. \"It's that smelly stuff my brother smokes sometimes.\" \n\nHeather glances at Lani, then returns her gaze to Jack. \"I was mad at them about something else. Something besides the thing about Chester,\" she whispers, and this is news to Lani, who turns that fierce expression on her friend.\n\n\"As you should,\" says Edith, navigating her satchel's latch with the tips of her fingers. She produces an Ofsted business card that has her assumed name and cell number attached and offers it to Ian between two bony knuckles. \"Please give me a call if you notice a change. Any talk of monsters, ghosts, imaginary beasties - that sort of thing. We have specialists on hand to help the children work through it.\"\n\n\"That's good. Enjoy bein' nine. That stuff's bad for you.\" Stuff. Just barely covered from 'shit' with a long s. Still, he at least tries to play the role of responsible authority figure. Jack rests his elbows on he knees as he looks sidelong at the two, raising a brow at this new revelation.\n\n\"What was you mad at them for then, Heather?\" he asks, doing his best 'coaxing information out of children' voice.\n\nThe card is taken with a bit of an 'oh, shit, I should have asked for that,' sort of expression from Ian, but school security doesn't usually attract the brightest crayons in the box. \"Thank you, miz. I'll let you know. They're always believing in ghosties and ghouls, this lot. Maybe because it's such an old building or just the nature of kids their age. Telling ghost stories was the big thing for a while, I guess, I don't know 'cause I just got hired after the thing, but that's what some of the teachers said. And that it's sort of lost its charm I guess, when most of 'em for the first time ever've lost someone they know.\" \n\nThe card is slipped into his pocket and Ian shakes his head. \"Poor kids.\" \n\nHeather looks apologetically at her friend for having kept the secret. \"You were sick the day before, remember?\" she tells Lani, before looking back to Jack. \"They were talking about going down in the basement and doing some chant that's supposed to bring a ghost in the mirror. She's really angry and looking for her dead babies or something.\" The little girl takes a shuddery breath and once again the tears begin. \"I didn't want to and they called me a baby and so I told Lani that they told Chester that she liked him but they actually didn't!\"\n\n\n\"That was the day of it then? When they went down?\" This question Jack asks of himself, since there's blubbering and a dramatic reveal that will no doubt inspire some kind of disagreement between the duo. He uses a little pause to peer over toward Edith, seeming glad that she's coming to provide backup. The gloom ain't got nothin' on nine year olds politics.\n\nStill. There's important information there, \"Ghost in the mirror? What? Like Bloody Mary or somethin'?\" he asks, all casual like, trying to affect a tone of 'ghosts, they're nor real, right?'.\n\nLani jumps up, tiny but fierce as she points at Heather. \"You lied to make me mad at them! And they died that day thinking I didn't like them!\" The tears well up in her dark brown eyes and the inevitable words come: \"I hope you die too!\" \n\nShe runs off and into the building, a concerned teacher following quickly. \n\nHeather covers her face and begins to sob. \"They didn't go the first day, but said they'd go with Lani when she came back to school, and I didn't want to be the only one left out. I didn't wanna see no bloody lady. They said nothing would happen, but it did. Just like they said.\" \n\nFalling into invisible step with Edith, Mattie makes herself known again, a tiny whispery voice in Edith's ear. \"The bathroom's clean of anything I can see but I found a note from Devi in Gemma's desk,\" says the invisible burglar who apparently had been checking out the classroom. \"They said to meet at the bathroom and not to chicken out. It was planned, whatever they did.\" She's apparently missed Jack's break through with the tweens.\n\nEdith watches Lani's flight from the bench and starts to steer that way until the teacher scuttles after. She redirects her course, headed toward Jack as she and Mattie leave the security guard behind. \"Good work,\" she says, \"Let's hope that means Mitchell's got something.\"\n\nWith one kid running off, Jack is glad that there's ladies approaching who can provide some comfort for the sobbing girl. He does the brief and awkward pat on the shoulder thing but then stands and shuffles off to the side incase Edith wants to have a go at this.\n\n\"No real leads. The girls were down in't basement tryin' to call up Bloody Mary in the mirror.\" he states quietly, infusing it with a tone of 'we all know ghosts aren't real. Like proper adults should.\n\nThe little girl hugs herself tight, tears streaming down her face as she watches Jack move to report to Edith. \"Will the police be mad at me for not telling them?\" she sniffles. \"I didn't think they'd think Bloody Mary was very important. Do you need to take me to jail?\" \n\nA teacher frowns at the little girl's hysterics and begins to move from the wall toward the trio, just as a bell rings calling the children back inside for the afternoon session. There are groans as children leave their games and stop their antics to shuffle toward the building.\n\n\"No, sweet dove,\" Edith tells Heather, reaching down to peel a strand of tear-soaked hair from her cheek. She tucks it behind the girl's ear. \"You're all right. Come on, back inside with you.\"\ntoo boring!\"\n\nLeaving the soothing reassurance to Edith, Jack moseys away and keeps an eye out on the approaching teacher. Hunkering down in his coat the hood drops a little lower over his face as he mumbles quietly to Mattie, \"Reackon it might be best if we come back after hours, maybe see if that is the deal. Although this Gemma bird might also know more.\" A little shrug of his shoulders as he stuffs his hands into pockets.\n\nAgain, likely best if Edith handles the teacher. The cockney is ready to mosey. Made two nine year olds cry, unsettled a teacher and is all set to shout 'I've got your baby.'. His work here is done.\n\nLuckily for Jack, he's not in for a scolding. Once the bell rings, the teary child heeds Edith's words and moves toward the school building, her head tucked low. The school marm wraps an arm around Heather and bends down to talk to her as the two take the steps up and go inside. \n\n\"She should, but apparently she can't or won't talk. Maybe they're not asking the right questions to get her to communicate,\" Mattie's ghostly whisper sounds in their ears. \"I'll see if I can find anything in diaries or notes of all the girls at their houses. C'mon, let's compare notes over lunch. We've been spending way too much time at schools lately.\"\n"
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