I turned the radio down. Classic rock hits blared faintly in the background, and I flipped my Paranormal Investigations Badge between my fingers. Ever since the Event, when the Foundation went public and started outsourcing all its work, I've been swimming in jobs. A monster over here, a zombie animal over there… the endless parade of ghosts. It was shocking to me that they'd managed to keep it a secret for as long as they had.
Once dead bodies started turning into solid spirits… not just sometimes but every time someone died, the world changed. It meant my degree in the paranormal wasn't just a conversation starter anymore. I could put it to use. The Event made me relevant again.
My parents were happier with that than they had any right to be.
I struck a match off the desk and lit my cigar. It wasn't an expensive brand, but it looked cool, and that was the primary effect I was going for. My assistant, a mousey little gal with a solid gold heart and a memory like a steel trap, burst in just as I lit the end.
She put her hands on her hips and gave me a subtly disapproving look. "Jim. Those things'll kill ya. And I thought you quit?"
"I did," I snapped back, pointing at the cigar. "This is an illusion."
"Whatever. Your 5 o'clock is here."
My assistant left the room, leaving the door swinging. It was at that very moment an angel from heaven made her way into my office. I looked at the appointment book for a second as she floated into the room. I put the cigar into the ashtray before standing up to greet my guest.
"Miss Malkin, yes. You can call me Amanda if you'd like," she said, taking a seat on the other side of my desk. This woman was almost everything a man could ask for. Blond, buxom, beautiful… just one problem.
She wasn't alive anymore.
Ectoplasm shimmered around her very tangible clothing, and the transparency of her body underneath them was evident. This was a spirit. I sat down again and leaned back in the chair. Today was looking to get interesting.
You get used to this sort of thing after a while. She certainly wasn't the first beautiful dead woman I'd met, or wanted to get to know better. But then she told me her story and how she'd been murdered. How her husband had invoked the marriage escape clause from the Bhoot Act.
"Believe it or not," I'd told her, "I took a murder case last year under similar circumstances. This Bhoot Act nonsense is not doing a lot to ensure the safety of the living. Or the dead."
She nodded, and the radio in the background started playing an ad. The Gary City GhostBuster's squad. Oh fuck.
"Could you turn that off?" Before she asked my hand was already going for the dial.
"Sorry." I'd voted against the pricks who supported the 30th amendment. I'd worked around the dead long enough to know how that was going to work out. But it was over now, and Bhoots were second class citizens. This lady lost most of her rights the minute she dropped dead.
"It's alright. I feel like such an idiot. I actually liked Thompson when he was running for President." She shook her head as she talked.
"Eh, a lotta people did, else this never would've happened. It was just shortsighted thinking."
"It doesn't seem fair," she said so softly I almost couldn't hear.
I'm not so good with the subtleties of emotion. I shift uncomfortably in my seat as she looks at me expectantly, before breaking the silence.
"What's your husband's name?" I asked, trying to get this conversation back into familiar territory.
I put my hand up to stop her for a second. "Mark Malkin. Inventor of the Ecto-Containment units?"
Mark Malkin wasn't just a hotshot new money inventor. Nobody knows how this ghost nonsense started, or how a breath mint company made the transition into making ghost capturing technology but the timing was just a little too convenient for my taste. Malkin Mints was quickly becoming the richest company in the world, all off the backs of ghosts.
"I didn't marry him for money," she volunteered, probably knowing where my thinking was likely to go. "We used to love each other."
"You think he had something to do with your death?"
She paused and took a moment to think. "I think he had a lot to gain. I think he was scared I was going to ask for a divorce. Our marriage wasn't working out. And now he doesn't have to pay a cent."
I nodded, and pulled out a pen. "What was the name of the investigating officer?"
"Detective Murray," she said, her eyes lighting up. "So this means you'll take my case?"
"Yes ma'am. But I'd like to make a suggestion. Things aren't exactly safe for spirits around here anymore. Take some of the money I'm sure you've been saving and buy a one way ticket to Brazil. It's the last country that still accepts spirit immigrants. And it doesn't have any of this Bhoot nonsense."
"Don't worry about me, I bought a ticket yesterday," she said, jumping up and reaching out her hand. "Nobody wants me here anyway."
I looked her up and down once before winking. "I dunno if that's true. I'll be in touch. Leave your contact information with my assistant before you leave." I reached out and shook her hand. Then I sat down and watched her walk to the door, before reaching out and grabbing my cigar.
She paused at the door, before turning around and saying, "You really shouldn't smoke. It's bad for you."
I laughed. "Babe, we all gotta die sometime."