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The Ghost of Manchester: Chapter One

The Ghost of Manchester
Post "The Reichenbach Fall"
Gen, no pairing.
Word count for Chapter One: 3,200+

Chapter One

My sister is a six-foot tall Amazon of a woman. On her better days she would refrain from causing too much damage to some sod’s ego when he tried a pick-up on her. Harriet Jane Watson is three years older than me and a few pounds heavier in sheer muscle. A veteran of Granby, she was my inspiration for joining the army. She was also my inspiration on what not to do when one returned home from combat. I’d watched her descend into a hole she never really could recover from but she was at least functional during the morning hours, for the most part.

It was with her that I reluctantly stayed after . . . after I left Baker Street.

The “Bachelor John Watson” had been written about in the days and weeks following the headlines, the aftermath. The event. Anyone reading this knows the event I’m referring to and if you don’t recall the particulars you can just do a web search if you need a refresher.

Everyone wanted questions answered and expected me to know them. I didn’t know anything worth knowing but people with questions never believed there could never actually be any answers. It was the nature of a question: it had to have a response. Why is the world round and not square? What is light speed and why should it matter? Why aren’t dogs, cats? Who knows? Science is based on questions no one had to tools to answer and now is slowly answering.

Why did that man do all of this?

That man. The invective. The curse. The villain. That man.

My lack of knowledge, a feeling I had never known growing up and during my years of practice but felt acutely in the year and months I spent at 221b didn’t satisfy the questions, particularly those of one Miss Kitty Reilly. She was a shark circling the motel I’d stayed at in those early days. I couldn’t leave my room without her being right there on my doorstep. I had nowhere to turn and my head wasn’t in the best place at that time so I was a moment away from committing some very bad deed of homicide when one day, Harry came to visit me.

This is where the beginning meets the end.

In a dress, Harry just seems tall, willowy. The drinking gave her skin a flushed appearance, making her seemingly younger than she was. A regular observer would say her eyes were lively but I knew she was more paranoid than anything. She had a long, smooth walk, but it was a deliberate affectation so she could hide the wobbling. All in all, my sister looked like a blonde ex-supermodel ballerina and no one would have guessed that she was a blonde ex-military police officer who was currently employed as the regional director of an international construction conglomerate. I’d seen her chew out the new guys on a site who had no idea she was their boss. The language she could employ was at the least, colorful, at the most, sufficient enough to qualify her as bilingual.

“I’m outside,” was her ‘hello’ at the end of the line. I wondered if my phone was physically capable of mimicking a human voice and lying to me.

“Harry?”

“Your mobile still has caller ID, I assume,” she said and I heard the door of a car loudly shut. I ran to the window. There was her flash black Mercedes. So she hadn’t been drinking that morning. She only drives when she’s dry. Her dress was short and tight and her legs were an extension of her pointed stiletto heels.

“I’ll meet you there,” I said quickly, hoping to stop her in her steps. “At back.”

“You’d think I was a piece of ass and not your sister, Jack.” She set her alarm and I saw at least five men turn to look at her and four women glared. I heard a kissing sound through the receiver and I’m sure it was aimed at a set of glares. It was June and she was dressed for the weather. A few more men turned as she crossed the street. One whistled. She turned and for the appearance of an angel in a red dress, the lewdest most disgusting gesture was drawn from her hands so fluidly that it was like watching an artist put the final flourish of color to his greatest piece.

“Did you—did you really have to do that?” I asked her. “Honestly?”

“Of course not.” She skipped onto the pavement and being so taken back by the scene, I forgot to stop her. “I hope you showered already because I get distracted when I wait.”

Her word for ‘corrosively biting’ was ‘distracted’ and it made me glad I’d been on a strict regimen since the event. Wake up, coffee, breakfast, teeth, shower, face Kitty as I went out to get the paper, face Kitty as I walked to the surgery I currently worked at, face Kitty as she threw questions at me between patients, face Kitty on the walk home, lock my door, eat dinner, watch telly, teeth, sleep. Rinse, repeat. At the moment, at this early hour of morning and on a Saturday, I was post shower, pre-Kitty.

I quickly grabbed my room keys and said, “I’ll meet you downstairs—”

“I want to see your room.” I heard steps. Harry hated elevators. She built skyscrapers and she still hated elevators. That made me greatly suspicious of elevators, being that outfits like her company installed them, but unlike Harry, I wasn’t built like a gazelle.

“Why?”

“I’m your big sister and it irritates you. Do you need a better reason than that? I don’t.”

Oh God, this was going to happen, wasn’t it?

“Okay, alright, I just want to warn you—”

“I’m not afraid of a messy room—”

“No, Harry, please, stop, just stop for a minute!” I pleaded with her but my voice was barely above a whisper. That finally stopped her ascension on the steps.

“Jack? What the hell is wrong?”

I went to my door and looked out the peep. There she was. When reporters are called ‘dogged’ it’s still miles away from ‘fanatically obsessive.’ The story would soon be a memory of yesterday and her tactics had increased in severity in hopes of pushing a response from me before the news of the event was no longer ‘new.’

I quickly and quietly explained the situation. I don’t know why. I told her the truth and having known my sister my entire life I knew how she would react, how unfortunate looking the woman outside of my room would be at the end of it. How certain threats would be made that ensured the police wouldn’t be involved. How Kitty Reilly would no longer be my problem. Was it worth the blood and the pain?

Well. Yes. I suppose that’s why I told her. It wasn’t my blood or pain and my sister was about to save me from a court case.

I watched the entire thing from that little peep but it was like watching the most epic film on an IMAX screen. People in the other rooms came out to the hall but a single look from Harry sent them back.

I only opened the door when the reporter began to limp away.

Harry rolled her neck and I heard a pop. She rolled her shoulder and there was another pop. She cracked her knuckles. There was blood there. Not hers.

“And you didn’t tell me about this earlier because—?” She asked, her dark blue eyes flashing with the excitement.

“I didn’t want to be arrested for premeditation and conspiracy?”

She grinned. That night I checked out of the motel and moved in with my sister.

---

It was September when I got the call. It was odd calling Harry’s flat a, well, flat. When I said a regional director of a construction company that built skyscrapers, I wasn’t exaggerating. That my sister could be careless with a phone that cost as much as a month of rent wasn’t exactly the nature of her personality but rather, her respect for the relative cost of the phone. Clara had been a good woman and had tried to fit into Harry’s world but Harry knocked about in the company of wealthy and aggressive men and an expensive phone engraved with love meant little in that world.

Penthouse? Yes, it was a penthouse, technically. It was the entire floor in fact, so pentmansion was more accurate.

Living with . . . my friend at Baker Street gave me a deeper understanding of the mind of an addict. Those months gave me the tools I needed to live in relative comfort with Harry. When she drank, she got moody, but by then I was well used to moods. When she drank she got belligerent but it wasn’t so very unlike the belligerency my friend evoked in others so it was a familiar thing. Aggression, emotion, tears. I wasn’t used to those. Not in him. But I’d been an army doctor so I fell back on previous experience. My sister was a culmination of my life’s lessons and I would imagine the steady hand of fate had moved me in such a way as to better prepare me for what I imagined my life was to be for the foreseeable future. I was grateful. When I thought I had nobody left . . . well.

I came home to an empty pentmansion and there was a message on the answer phone for me from Harry. Wining, dining, and locking down a deal with the UAE. I didn’t have to ask if she meant the entire UAE because I was sure she did.

I ordered a take-away and expected to spend the night reviewing that day’s case files and falling asleep to late-night telly when my phone rang.

Yes. My phone still had caller ID.

“Yeah?” I might have said but my voice wasn’t the strongest at that moment.

“I’m sending a car for you—”

“No, you’re not. You can ask me if you want me at the Yard but you don’t just—”

“John,” DI Greg Lestrade cut me off. “I need you at the Yard.”

There was something in his voice that had me nod into the phone without consideration that he couldn’t see me.

“Yes, alright.” It had been months since we’d last spoken. The house phone rang. By the ring I could tell it was the lobby. “Hold on.” I answered it and it was both my food and the police. “A bit of warning would have been nice,” I said to him, tossing on my jacket.

“I’ve dialed your number about fifty times before I finally hit send so, if that’s an explanation,” he offered.

“Yeah. Okay.” I understood what he was saying without having to hear him say it. Unlike the others in his office, he hadn’t been a sadist after the event, expecting explanations I didn’t have, and I had no intention of being one with him.

I paid for my food and handed it to the doorman. My appetite was shot. I was led away from the pentmansion at the back of a police car.

---

I didn’t hold any grudges against Sgt. Sally Donovan. She was a good cop with good instincts and had only known my friend when he was being a sniping smartass so her opinion of him had been colored by that, and for good reason. In her place, I couldn’t say I would have come to different conclusions about him so, to be fair, I extended the courtesy of complete understanding. To me, she offered equal empathy.

When I walked onto the floor and she saw me, she walked away. It was a mutual appreciation for the fact that every time I saw her, I saw what the world now thought of him. She was a decent person and she fully accepted the fact that I absolutely couldn’t stand the sight of her.

Greg saw me through the window glass in his office and stood to welcome me. We don’t shake hands. Not anymore. He gestured to the seat across from his desk and while I sat, he shut the shades and closed the door.

“What’s this about, then?” I asked. The ‘how are you’s’ and ‘how’ve you been’s’ weren’t welcome.

“Right,” he said, as if in confirmation of his own suspicion that I’d want to get to the point. Sitting across from me, he passed over several documents in manila folders with the Greater Manchester Police crest on them.

The documents were internal memos, some witness statements, dark mobile photos of some shadowy figure apparently roaming Manchester as if he were Heathcliff on the moors.

“The Ghost?” I asked, looking up to Greg. “The GMP are tabloid writers now?”

“They had to call him something, apparently.”

“Him, who? What is this—?”

“Go to the witness statements.”

I admit, my sigh may have been on the petulant side but I flipped to the affidavits. There were few. Apparently most would not give interviews and the bit that did weren’t what anyone would call ‘reliable.’ They all described roughly the same figure: tall man, long coat, beating about the city like a comic book vigilante.

They were all the same, all generic, until the last. This one had managed to slip out of his drunken stupor long enough to add an addendum to his statement. The Ghost of Manchester had been avoiding identification through the artful use of a ‘flappy hat’ as the witness described it. An artist’s rendition of said Ghost in said flappy hat gave the charcoal impressionist impression of a profiled figure, his collar turned up; a Deerstalker perched atop black curls.

I tossed the file to the desk and rose to stand.

Greg stopped me from leaving and I hadn’t been sure if that’s what I’d intended but I looked down to see him between me and the handle.

“Ghost? Yes, a ghost. Call a paranormal investigator because if you expected me to confirm or deny this—” Not sure what I did next but a file was in my hand and I was gesticulating. “SHIT!” The next thing I knew I was sitting quite quietly again with my head in my hands.

“I was sure it was a copycat or something,” he said. He was back behind his desk again.

Was sure?” I asked. I pointed to the file. “Unless we’ve dropped into an alternate dimension, dead people stay dead so what the hell do you mean, was sure?”

“John, you weren’t the first person I called. No one here knows I’m on this. A buddy of mine, works up in Manchester, knows my connection to . . . the case. He floated it to me. Wanted my opinion. I wanted to tell him to piss off but,” he shrugged, letting his words fall away. “I suppose I felt like, if this guy, this Ghost, managed to get himself in the papers up there, soon enough everything would be brought back up down here and I couldn’t let that happen.”

Was sure?” I repeated. “You’re convinced and you were convinced before I even walked in here. You’re looking at this long-distance and without even referring to one of the only witnesses you knew was there, right there when it happened, saw it all, but somehow you’re convinced the dead are wandering about in the north country. You’ve got a bunch of flashes of shadow and no one credible will give a statement and somehow—explain that to me.”

“I called Molly,” he said.

“Good. Great. I assume you talked to her after she autopsied him so a refresher couldn’t hurt.” I was trying to breathe through this certain amount of rage that was pumping through me. “Dredge up all those emotions again, she must have loved that.”

“I called her at Bart’s,” he continued, “but she didn’t answer.”

“Conclusive, clearly.”

“So I referred to the head of the department. Molly transferred from Bart’s after the inquiry died down.”

There’s a little place in ones guts that holds up everything above it. That little place within me felt like it was about to give way. “Transferred? She’s left Bart’s?”

“She’s left London, apparently.” He passed over a file folder with the seal of the Manchester Royal Infirmary on it. “So, yeah, I was sure it was a copycat but I didn’t get to Detective Inspector by letting coincidences slide by.”

I was quiet. I may have completely forgotten how to speak which would be a decent explanation for why I was quiet but I couldn’t be certain. Molly Hooper, Manchester, the Ghost. Was there a connection? How could there be?

“I watched him die.” I’m almost positive that’s what I said. Whether I said it aloud or in my head, that’s a separate conversation.

“You watched him die. A lot of people watched him die. Molly confirmed he was dead and produced the weight of his liver, brain and heart. Normal. Imagine that. Then we buried him. Yeah, I know.”

“So—?”

“So, if there was anyone clever enough to do it, it was him.”

“You still think he was clever?”

“I know he was. Even if, strong if, he wasn’t what he presented to us, he would still be clever because it worked, didn’t it? Not a lot of space between genius and evil genius, right?” He laughed and I saw that he immediately dropped the ‘evil’ from consideration. We both knew he hadn’t been emotional. Perhaps not really capable of it. He didn’t care what others thought so he came off as cold but never evil. Being that he didn’t care, both I and Lestrade completely understood that someone like that didn’t need confirmation even though they sometimes relished in having an audience. A great actor will know he’s great, with or without applause. He had hated applause.

“Past tense,” I said, noting how he’d been speaking. “I thought you were sure?”

Lestrade seemed uncomfortable for a moment. “I’m being rational, not hopeful. He taught me that. Listen, I’ve got two train tickets. One has your name on it. Will you come?”

All of a sudden, a siren was ringing between my ears and from the steadiness of Greg’s features I realized I was the only one who heard it. “Right. Well—” I exhaled. Distance. Just a little more. Just a moment. “And, and what if the Ghost, what if the Ghost is alive? Then what?”

I could see he’d thought about it too. “Well, then the Ghost should consider himself lucky that my badge says ‘London’ and not ‘Manchester.’ Granted, I don’t know if that’ll protect him from me ramming a fist into his face, but we’ll cross that bridge and all that.”

I suppose I would have smiled if I could have just then but there were two things I was now dreading and it was a feeling that eclipsed the panic I would feel back in the days of being stalked by Kitty Reilly: if the Ghost was an imposter then my friend would still be dead. If the Ghost wasn’t an imposter then my friend allowed me to think he was dead.

The question was, which did I fear most?

Selfishly, the latter. Oh, God, I was terrified of the latter.

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes?”

“The ticket. Yes, I’ll take the ticket.”

Chapter Two

Comments

awomanofletters
Jan. 16th, 2012 11:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you! More about The Ghost coming soon!

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