was barely audible and there was no sign of fresh paint being laid down. When he paused to shake the can the rattling sound was muffled.

Lesley’s werelight dimmed and reddened in colour.

‘Give it some more,’ I told her.

She concentrated and her werelight flared before dimming again. The hiss grew louder and now I could see what it was he was spraying. He’d been ambitious – writing a sentence that started up near the entrance.

‘Be excellent to …’ read Abigail. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

I put my fingers to my lips and glanced at Lesley, who tilted her head to show she could keep up the magic all day if need be – not that I was going to let her. I pulled out my standard-issue police notebook and got my pen ready.

‘Excuse me,’ I said in my best policeman voice. ‘Could I have a word?’ They actually teach you how to do the voice at Hendon. The aim is to achieve a tone that cuts through whatever fog of alcohol, belligerence or randomised guilt the member of the public is floating in.

The young man ignored me. He pulled a second spray can from his jacket pocket and began shading the edges of a capital E. I tried a couple more times but he seemed intent on finishing the word EACH.

‘Oi sunshine,’ said Lesley. ‘Put that down, turn round and talk to us.’

The hissing stopped, the spray cans went back in the pockets and the young man turned. His face was pale and angular and his eyes were hidden behind a pair of smoked Ozzy Osbourne specs.

‘I’m busy,’ he said.

‘We can see that,’ I said and showed him my warrant card. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Macky,’ he said and turned back to his work. ‘I’m busy.’

‘What you doing?’ asked Lesley.

‘I’m making the world a better place,’ said Macky.

‘It’s a ghost,’ said Abigail incredulously.

‘You brought us here,’ I said.

‘Yeah, but when I saw him he was thinner,’ said Abigail. ‘Much thinner.’

I explained that he was feeding off the magic Lesley was generating, which led to the question I always dread.

‘So what’s magic, then?’ asked Abigail.

‘We don’t know,’ I said. ‘It’s not any form of electromagnetic radiation. That I do know.’

‘Maybe it’s brainwaves,’ said Abigail.

‘Probably not,’ I said. ‘Because that would be electrochemical and it would still have to involve some kind of physical manifestation if it was going to be projected out of your head.’ So just chalk it up to pixie dust or quantum entanglement, which was the same thing as pixie dust except with the word quantum in it.

‘Are we going to talk to this guy or not?’ asked Lesley. ‘Because otherwise I’m going to turn this off.’ Her werelight bobbed over her palm.

‘Oi Macky,’ I called. ‘A word in your shell-like.’

Macky had returned to his art – finishing up the shading on the H in EACH.

‘I’m busy,’ he said. ‘I’m making the world a better place.’

‘How are you planning to do that?’ I asked.

Macky finished the H to his satisfaction and stepped back to admire his handiwork. We’d all been careful to stay as far from the tracks as possible but either Macky was taking a risk or, most likely, he’d just forgotten. I saw Abigail mouth Oh shit as she realised what was going to happen.

‘Because,’ said Macky and then he was hit by the ghost train.

It went past us invisible and silent but for a blast of heat and the smell of diesel. Macky was swatted off the track to land in a crumple just the below the X in EXCELLENT. There was a gurgling sound and his leg twitched for a couple of seconds before he went quite still. Then he faded, and with him his graffiti.

‘Can I stop now?’ asked Lesley. The werelight remained dim – Macky was still drawing its power.

‘Just a little bit longer,’ I said.

I heard a faint rattle and looking back towards the mouth of the tunnel I saw a dim and transparent figure start spraying the outline of a balloon B.

Cyclical, I wrote in my notebook, repeating – insentient?

I told Lesley she could shut down her werelight and Macky vanished. Abigail, who had cautiously flattened herself against the wall of the tunnel, watched as me and Lesley did a quick search along the strip of ground beside the track. Halfway back towards the entrance I pulled the dusty and cracked remains of Macky’s spectacles from amongst the sand and scattered ballast. I held them in my hand and closed my eyes. When it comes to vestigia, metal and glass are both unpredictable but I caught, faintly, a couple of bars of a rock guitar solo.

I made a note of the glasses – physical confirmation of the ghost’s existence – and wondered whether to take them home. Would removing something that integral to the ghost from the location have an effect on it? And if removing it did damage or destroy the ghost, did it matter? Was a ghost a person?

I haven’t read even ten per cent of the books in the mundane library about ghosts. In fact I’ve mostly only read the textbooks that Nightingale has assigned me and stuff, like Wolfe and Polidori, that I’ve come across during an investigation. From what I have read it is clear that attitudes towards ghosts, amongst official wizards, have changed over time.

Sir Isaac Newton, founder of modern magic, seemed to regard them as an irritating distraction from the beauty of his nice clean universe. There was a mad rush during the seventeenth century to classify them in the manner of plants or animals and during the Enlightenment there was a lot of earnest discussion about free will. The Victorians divided neatly into those who regarded ghosts as souls to be saved and those who thought them a form of spiritual pollution – to be exorcised. In the 1930s, as relativity and quantum theory arrived to unsettle the leather upholstery of the Folly, the speculation got a bit excitable and the poor old spirits of the departed were seized upon as convenient test subjects for all manner of magical experiments. The consensus being that they were little more than gramophone recordings of past lives and therefore occupied the same ethical status as fruit flies in a genetics lab.

I’d asked Nightingale about this, since he’d been there, but he said hadn’t spent a lot of time at the Folly in those days. Out and about in the Empire and beyond, he’d said. I asked him what he’d been doing.

‘I remember writing a great many reports. But to what purpose I was never entirely sure.’

I didn’t think they were ‘souls’ but until I knew what they were, I was going to err on the side of ethical conduct. I scrapped out a shallow depression in the ballast just where Abigail had made her mark and buried the glasses there. I made a note of time and location for transfer to the files back at the Folly. Lesley made a note of the location of the hole in the fence but it was me that had to call in to the British Transport Police on account of her still, officially, being on medical leave.

We bought Abigail a Twix and a can of coke and extracted a promise that she’d stay off the railway tracks, Hogwarts Express or no Hogwarts Express. I was hoping that Macky’s ghostly demise would be enough to keep her away on its own. Then we dropped her off back at the flats and headed back to Russell Square.

‘That coat was too small for her,’ said Lesley. ‘And what kind of teenage girl goes looking for steam trains?’

‘You think there’s trouble at home?’ I asked.

Lesley jammed her index finger under the bottom edge of her mask and scratched. ‘This is not fucking hypoallergenic,’ she said.

‘You could take it off,’ I said. ‘We’re nearly back.’

‘I think you should register your concern with Social Services,’ said Lesley.

‘Have you logged your minutes yet?’

‘Just because you know her family,’ said Lesley, ‘doesn’t mean you’ll be doing her any favours if you ignore the problem.’

‘I’ll talk to my mum,’ I said. ‘How many minutes?’

‘Five,’ she said.

‘More like ten.’

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