ETHEREALS

PART ONE

DS Destiny Fortuna stifled a yawn as she entered the station, head banging and guts queasy she knew she'd overdone the celebrations last night; but it wasn't often a major sex killer got convicted, one less maggot on the street.

"You look rough," desk sergeant Ken Bradley was not one to miss the obvious, he was a wind up merchant she normally ignored, "Someone to see you," he added with a wink, "Side office," he cocked a thumb.

Not really in the mood Destiny sighed, "I need a coffee first."

"Said it was the about the missing kiddie," Ken raised an eyebrow and Destiny stiffened, her lethargy lifting. Ben Foster aged 4 had disappeared 48 hours ago from a busy shopping mall, he had top priority and the media wolves were gathering.

This was one of her cases and she didn't intend to blow it or miss any leads, "fine," flouncing past Ken to the door she composed herself, put on her game face and entered.

Stopping dead on the threshold she glared at the woman sat waiting for her – forty, spinsterish, dark clothing and a thin eager face – Destiny almost swore.

"You," she said with utter dismay looking at the last person she wanted to see, "This is hardly the time," she began but Florence Dunleavy pushed aside her cup of canteen tea to say.

"Hear me out DS Fortuna, I know you're not one of my fans but believe me I can help you."

No thought Destiny I'm not a fan far from it, "How, a psychic vision, let me guess you saw it all in a dream," tone snide and dismissive she could have kicked Ken Bradley, why in heaven's name had he let this fraud in, "I haven't got time for this Florence, this is a serious and urgent case a child is involved."

"I know," Dunleavy cut in, "And I won't detain you for long but there are things I must say."

"Listen," Destiny squared her shoulders, "I'm only interested in facts, evidence, things that can be checked and verified not inspired guesses or cosmic insights."

"But you want to find the boy don't you, then let me help you."

Knowing she was going to regret this the DS thought of all the other things she could be doing – calls, online searches, talking to people who'd been at the mall – why was she even entertaining this harpy? Psychics were fakes, publicity seekers or just plain crazy maybe this woman was all three.

"Go on," she said flatly.

"You have CCTV from the mall I believe."

Loads of it hours and none of it helpful, they'd seen the kid with his mum many times then for some reason he wasn't there, mum looked away and when she looked back Ben was gone.

"It doesn't tell us anything," said Fortuna.

"Yes it does, let me see it," Florence pleaded.

"Why, what can you see that we can't; angels?"

"More like demons actually," said the medium. Eyes rolling Destiny felt like hitting something, a good session in the gym would help kicking that heavy bag.

"Go home," she said, "If we need you we'll call."

"Ben isn't dead," the words stopped the DS in her tracks. Perceived wisdom was that after 24 hours a kid was dead even Destiny had accepted that they wouldn't find Ben alive. For this woman to claim otherwise made her a person of interest, she sounded so sure of herself.

"You can't know that," Destiny began to object but something about Dunleavy caused her to make a snap decision, "Come with me."

She led the way to a door that could only be unlocked electronically, inputting her code she went up a flight of stairs knowing she was taking a bit of a gamble but if there was any chance of finding Ben alive she couldn't ignore it.

"This is our video suite," she opened an orange door marked PRIVATE CCTV, within were a double bank of TV screens 8 in all with a uniformed constable sat before them, a guy with rolls of fat and a balding head.

"Dave," she said and turning Dave Rossi offered a weak smile.

"Sarge," then he noticed the civilian; they weren't normally allowed access to this hallowed portal.

"Witness," Destiny didn't want to try and explain a psychic medium or why she was trusting such a weirdo.

"She'll have to log in," said Russo reaching for a clipboard but taking this Destiny signed it herself.

"Give us a minute will you Dave, go get a coffee," this was against the rules Russo was meant to stay on station at all time. But this was the sarge and she was reliable, a high flyer the DCI's poster girl.

"Okay," reluctantly the big guy rose removing his headphones, "Ten minutes," he negotiated.

"Fifteen have a cup cake on me," she knew about his sweet tooth; Dave never said no to a cake.

"Oh cheers," emboldened he left the room after giving Florence another quizzical look. Would he rat on her; she doubted it not with a cake inside him and she knew he fancied her, half the guys here did.

When he was gone Destiny locked the door and went to screen 3 the biggest, she hit rewind and typed in some commands, "This is video from the day Ben vanished, I'm just going to rewind to 10.45."

On screen a busy shopping mall bustled with people, men, women and kids of all ages, bored teenagers mixing with pensioners and uniformed security grunts, most hopelessly out of shape.

As someone who kept fit and trained daily Destiny was offended by their big bellies and red faces, useless tossers she thought no wonder they hadn't seen anything.

"Ben's coming up now" she waved, "That's him and his mum Karen."

A little boy with corn coloured hair wearing a red and black check shirt and blue trainers came into view. The woman with him was slim and blond in a lemon coat and blue striped skirt, she looked irritable and harassed but then so did many working mums.

Freezing the image Destiny turned to her guest, "How does this work, do you sense vibrations or something," more mockery?

With a sigh Florence ignored the DS and began to open up her psychic senses, the stomach centre first then the third eye. She couldn't let Fortuna get to her, anger blocked receptivity.

Mum and son looked totally normal, "Why were they at the mall," she asked?

"Ben needed something for school I think."

"Shouldn't he have been at school," Florence asked?

"Karen kept him off," impatient, "Look, are you getting anything or not?"

"Move the video forward," Dunleavy offered a weak smile and saw the couple approach a shop. Turning Karen spoke to her son, she seemed to be saying wait here then off she went into the shop.

"Why leave him," Flo exclaimed?

"It's only for a few seconds," Destiny defended although she knew the medium had a point, why hadn't Karen taken Ben into the shop?

Ben stood there bemused fidgeting and anxious, as Flo watched he began to turn to the left and then it happened, suddenly he was no longer there he winked out of existence.

"Oh my god," she breathed, "What just happened, has the film been edited?"

Destiny rewound the disc and Ben reappeared just as Karen was leaving him still anxious and fidgety, he began to turn to his left and...

Gone just gone it was weird and inexplicable like he'd been teleported away. Destiny mentally rebuked herself, get a grip you're a DS.

"Let's see it again only slower," Dunleavy suggested.

Ben returned and off his mum went in slow motion not looking back once, why was she in such a hurry what was it she needed in that shop? Ben stood alone one hand to his mouth the other fiddling with a top button; he stamped a foot, blinked a few times and seemed to mumble something.

Slowly he began to turn, "freeze it," Dunleavy's command made Destiny jump but she complied, "Can you zoom out," the medium asked?

Destiny could and worked a mouse; Ben grew smaller as more of the immediate mall came into view showing a brunette, two teenage girls, a bald man, a cleaner and one of the fat security drones.

None were approaching Ben or even paying him any attention but Dunleavy seemed tense, her breathing had altered and she was slowly shaking her head.

Destiny felt her own heart racing, "Got anything," she couldn't believe she was asking, "Florence?"

Reaching forwards Dunleavy touched the screen just above Ben's head and seemed to mime the word yes then the word no, eyelids fluttering she gave a low gasp then touched her own throat.

"There it is," she nodded but Destiny couldn't see anything.

"There what is," she snapped a little sharper than she'd intended but for a second she could see a grey shadow or outline near to Ben homing in on him, it wasn't clear and seemed blurred, indistinct maybe a reflection.

"You see it too don't you," the question was knowing?

"I see a shadow a blur," Fortuna couldn't let herself be swayed by this odd woman, she knew all about the power of suggestion and how easy it was to see something that wasn't there because you badly wanted to.

"Yes," Florence moved a finger down towards Ben, "He's been targeted," the shadow swooped on Ben seeming to smother him like a blanket and blurring his features, then there was a brief flash sudden and short, Destiny blinked and Ben was gone.

"What the hell was that," she demanded, "It wasn't a person," it hadn't been clear enough for that and she wasn't going to ask the obvious – was it a ghost – she couldn't go on the record using the G-word or her boss would think she'd lost the plot.

"Move the film forward slowly," Dunleavy answered and the grey smog or outline drifted away moving slower now and seeming darker, more substantial. It was heading past the guard and north towards exit 3b.

Flicking to 3b Destiny saw the spectre approach and pass through the door without opening it or triggering the sensor. Good god it was a ghost. She changed to an exterior camera and there it was again moving across the forecourt to a pedestrian exit.

"Florence, what is that what are we seeing," a touch of hysteria now and shock?

"An ethereal," the answer was not helpful.

"Excuse me," the last thing Destiny needed was mumbo jumbo she wasn't a spiritualist?

"A sort of mental projection not exactly solid but able to interact on the physical plane."

"You're not making sense; that was a person right?"

"Part of a person, something exteriorized."

Dunleavy had lost her, "In English please."

With a frown Florence stood back, "Some people, not many, can project part of themselves away from the physical body it's like a kind of copy or thought-form."

Crazy utterly bonkers, Destiny could hear the laughter upstairs now the snide remarks and pitying looks from her colleagues. It had taken her ages to win the guys over to become part of their inner circle, but she risked losing all credibility with this.

Cops didn't believe in the afterlife or ghosts or ESP; all that mattered was hard evidence this was the life's blood of the legal machine, what would stand up in court.

"You expect me to believe that crap," cheeks flushed and mouth tight she turned away from her visitor.

"You saw an ethereal yourself," Dunleavy argued.

"I don't know what I saw Florence it was a grey blur."

"Yes, and then Ben was gone taken," the medium was also flushed keen to win this young detective over.

"How can we hunt for a spook," Destiny's fists were clenched and her posture combative.

"You can't," Flo conceded, "But I can."

"How," it was a direct challenge and Destiny wondered how things had come to this?

"We need to go to the mall now so I can pick up any residual energy," it sounded like science fiction talk, like the kind of garbage on those ghost-hunter shows.

"Come with me," Flo requested her tone softer.

"I'm busy," this was true Destiny had a raft of cases on the go and reports to write.

"You want to find Ben don't you, you need to crack this case, it isn't just another job for you is it Destiny not after Errol."

Freezing on the spot her heart missing a beat Fortuna gave a low gasp as she turned and threw the woman an almost menacing stare. How the hell...?

Errol had been her half-brother and the same age as Ben when he just vanished one day from his play group. She'd been in uniform at the time and had done all she could to find him but she never had and it haunted her; it probably always would.

There was no way this woman could know about Errol or that they were related unless her gift was real; could it be? Had Destiny been wrong to dismiss Dunleavy, to disparage her and mock psychics in general?

PART TWO

The mall was quieter, well just a little, it was still busy but Destiny could see things clearer. Florence turned, "That's where Karen went after she left Ben."

She was pointing to a kiosk that sold pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries. Why would she be going there thought Destiny but the medium's next words answered this?

"Pregnancy testing kit," said Dunleavy with total assurance.

"Karen's having another baby," shocked Destiny blinked at the kiosk, "But she doesn't have a regular partner anymore."

Ignoring this Dunleavy moved in a small circle then stopped facing the opposite direction, "This is where Ben stood when he was taken."

"Are you picking anything up," moving alongside the woman and looking where she looked Destiny saw nothing untoward. Then Flo began walking heading directly for the exit the wraith had used. Once through it she peered at the forecourt beyond.

"Ben was targeted on purpose; there was nothing random about any of this."

That had been the conclusion of the profiler the police had brought in, "But why take a 4 year old," Destiny felt an ache deep in her guts, "Paedophile," she asked?

"There are all kinds of predators DS Fortuna," the reply was a bit cryptic.

"What kind are we dealing with here then?"

"One who has paranormal gifts; he knows how to project his etheric body so nobody will see what he's doing."

"Except you," Destiny cut in, "Does he live close by?"

Nodding Flo moved across the forecourt, stopped and quarter turned, "I feel him," she shivered, "He can see us."

Instantly Destiny was scanning beyond the perimeter of the forecourt looking for lone figures anybody who stood out, single guys in hoodies or anybody who shouldn't be there.

Nothing at least not yet, she had a good eye and remarkable powers of observation but ground her teeth in frustration.

"Come on," Flo began to jog towards a gate; she couldn't outrun Destiny and didn't seem all that fit so that by the time they were through the gate she was wheezing hard and holding her side.

"You need to join a gym," the DS remarked flippantly.

"Yes I do," Flo huffed wincing with pain, "He's very close."

"How close," Destiny wheeled around ready to run, fight or dash for cover.

Lifting a hand the medium swung it to the left then the right, "This way," she moved through some saplings to another gate, the lock on this was broken and beyond it was a weed strewn patch of ground with a rusting shopping trolley lying on its side.

A yard or so ahead was a narrow road and beyond them a row of flats and cheap houses, some of which looked deserted.

"Dump," Destiny remarked knowing that many of the properties were marked for demolition.

"He's in there," Flo sounded sure, "Ben is with him," she winced as if in pain, "Ben and others."

This was hardly news Destiny wanted to hear, "Other kids," she cried?

"No just others," Flo mumbled.

"Other what, other creeps who prey on kids," maybe they needed back-up?

"My head is hurting and I feel a bit sick," hugging herself and looking a bit pale Dunleavy sagged against a lamp post, "Oh this is bad," she said, "They know I'm here and are trying to keep me out."

Confused Destiny went over to her companion not sure what to do, should she get medical help, "How can I help," she asked softly her tone no longer so confrontational?

"You're helping by just being with me," said Flo wiping her eyes and taking a deep breath then her eyes lit up and she pointed, "In there."

They entered together, the place wasn't locked and all the time Fortuna thought about calling for back-up. Yet what if she did and Flo was wrong, she'd look an idiot and how would she explain to her boss being with a psychic? No best to sniff around on her own first.

Climbing some narrow rickety steps they came to a door that was locked, padlocked in fact.

"In here," Flo pointed.

"You expect me to just," but Destiny cut herself off hearing a low sound a sort of moan, it sounded childish and in pain. Reservations gone she gave herself some room and kicked the door once, twice; it flew inwards and in a cramped, unlighted room that stank of urine and decay she saw a small figure huddled in the corner.

He wore the same clothes that he'd been abducted in now stained with muck, grease and a little blood. "Ben," running over to the boy with tears stinging her eyes Destiny didn't even bother to look around to see if they were alone.

Awake but woozy the kid had a bloody nose, a black eye and was shivering he stank of urine, his hands and feet bound by twine, "Ben," she called but his eyes wouldn't focus, "I'm a police officer," phone out she began to poke buttons. Now she needed back-up and an ambulance.

"Damn this isn't working," she couldn't get a signal, "Flo, stay with him while I pop outside."

But Dunleavy was rooted to the spot looking around with terror-filled eyes, following something Destiny couldn't see.

"What is it," asked the DS?

"Can't you see them, feel them; they're all around us."

Apart from Ben the room was empty the whole building seemed to be a rundown tenement dirty and decaying, "I need to make this call."

Then she felt it a strange all over body chill and a pressure on her skin, her ears popped and she began to swallow. Something brushed against her left arm then her right leg and she could just hear a sound, a vibration.

"Yes," said Flo, "That's it."

Make the call part of Destiny's brain screamed at her, get medical help and a forensics team but then she saw something in the air around her, shapes, shadows, dark grey things without real form or mass they didn't seem real but she couldn't deny they were present.

Four or five of them – wraiths or vapour – vaguely human-like yet not what she would call people, "I see them," she could hear them to their muttering voices, their chuckles and she knew they were bad, they felt dirty, nasty and toxic.

"Ethereals," said Florence, "They are projecting part of themselves here to feed on the boy's fear and pain like emotional vampires."

"Are they ghosts," Destiny shuddered no longer feeling like a big touch CID officer?

"No living minds," Dunleavy moved up to her, "Perverts like the man who brought Ben here."

Speaking of which, "Where is he," she asked?

"Close," Florence touched the pendant around her neck an odd symbol not Christian by the looks of it but made of gold, "He knows we're here," she said.

"Then why doesn't he show himself," Destiny had some cuffs on her and was itching to use them?

"He will," said the medium, "soon."

She went to Ben and began to untie him, "He's been drugged," she turned over a thin wrist to reveal a raw looking pinprick.

Trying her phone again Destiny swore, still no signal, why was there never a signal when you needed it?

She left the room and was grabbed; strong arms wrapped around her lifting her off her feet, even as she kicked and squirmed the man carried her easily back into the small room and threw her against a wall. The impact knocked all the wind out of her and when her head smacked against the plaster she saw stars.

For a moment she was dazed then she saw a tall burly figure, hood up, gloves, dark boots. He was breathing heavily but also chuckling, he didn't look old or weak.

"You," he snarled at Flo, "Get away from the boy."

Not moving Dunleavy stroked the child's pale cheek, around her the wraiths continued to circle and to whisper, angry now and from the way he cocked his head it was clear the creep could hear them too.

"You see them," he grunted, "See spirit."

"Yes I'm a medium," Florence admitted, "This is a police officer," she nodded at Destiny who lay there still winded, "It's over for you Darren."

Tensing up the creep swore, startled by the use of his name, a knife appeared in his left hand, If you know who I am then I'm afraid neither of you will be leaving here – alive."

PART THREE

To Destiny's amazement the shadows or wraiths coalesced around the man welding themselves together into a kind of dark ghostly aura, muddy grey and toxic looking. They hung around him like a shroud or cape and for a moment his blue eyes flashed the same muddy grey.

If she hadn't seen itself herself she'd never have believed it. There was no place for the paranormal in the police, no ghosts or spooks or ESP everything was logic based, evidence that could be proved.

Yet Destiny could not deny what she was seeing with her own eyes, non-physical entities combining to ally themselves to a flesh and blood psychopath as though he and they had some supernatural link, some psychic bond. Birds of a feather if you like, he was on the same low murky frequency as them.

It was incredible but as she watched the sickly grey aura began to bleed into the man, he was absorbing it sponge-like into the cells of his body.

She threw a desperate look at Florence and saw the medium rise to her feet standing between maniac and boy like a guard, and around Dunleavy there was also an aura but this was made of glistening silvery light. It couldn't be sunlight as there was no window and the room itself had no bulb, light streamed through the doorway but it was defuse and pale.

Flo's aura was bright, luminous and sharply defined and as she watched it grew thicker and brighter. The madman could see it to that was obvious from the way the sneer melted from his mouth.

"What are you," he grunted?

"A spiritualist medium," Dunleavy said proudly, "I channel spirits from the afterlife, just like you Darren only mine are of a higher vibration."

The knife was thrust forward, "That won't help you."

"I think it will."

That's it Flo keep him talking, Destiny was already thinking about jumping the guy and using her kick boxing skills or making a run for it. She needed him distracted, focused totally on Dunleavy.

"You can't hurt me," Flo declared boldly, "Or this child."

"I can do anything I like," Darren's roar filled the tiny room.

"Not anymore," give the medium her due she had guts, a kind of insane courage based on nothing no spirit would save her from this lunatic or that big steel blade of his.

"What are you going to do then," he demanded?

"Bring some light into your dark dismal life Darren and the silvery aura continued to expand outwards and upwards rising above Florence and circling her.

Destiny heard something a whispering voice, no many voices a chorus and it sounded anxious for it chanted kill her kill her kill her over and over in a mad litany.

Darren took a step then another, Destiny saw her chance she had a window and she took it, sprinting forwards exploding off the blocks just like she'd done at school to win the 400 meter race when she was 15 against all the odds.

But nobody there had a knife or was a nutcase, reacting with equally impressive speed Darren pivoted and his arm shot out. She felt a burning brand across her side, a searing pain and moisture ran down her hip and leg.

With a cry she fell into the door jamb and slid down it her legs suddenly useless, Christ he had cut her and she was bleeding. Worse; he was coming towards her, crimson on the blade and he was lowering it to stab her.

"NO," a man's voice not Dunleavy and Darren froze to look back.

In the expanding silver light field was a tall muscular figure, dark skinned, pinched features, high cheekbones and two feathers in his long black hair. Destiny blinked sure she was in shock suffering some hallucination brought on by blood loss.

She couldn't be seeing what she was seeing, no way. There could not be a bloody Native North American Indian in this small room some Apache brave or whatever he was.

Darren too looked on agog, his eyes wide and mouth open in shock. But the Indian stood there, over six feet tall and powerful, paint on his cheeks and chest war paint, he was an awesome sight and looked solid yet he couldn't be. No way could there be an Apache warrior stood in 21st century London.

The warrior held something in his right fist, not a tomahawk as you might expect but some sort of luminous rod like a light stick used in gym class only brighter, pulsating somehow alive and energized, the light the same silver as the aura only turning to gold, the fiercest gold Destiny had ever seen.

The ghostly chorus around Darren were now very agitated indeed run run run run they chanted but he just stood there transfixed gazing at the rod of light, his whole body rigid and features bleached white.

Then with a cry he raised his knife and lunged at the spectral Indian brave like he could somehow cut him down.

Showing no fear the ghost (and what else could he be) lifted his rod to meet the knife and when the two touched metal hitting golden energy there was a powerful blast, a blinding flash that caused Destiny to turn her head away, squeeze her eyes shut and drop into a ball on the floor.

She wasn't sure how long she squatted there arm across her face, seconds or minutes, maybe she passed out but when she glance dup the light was gone and so was the apache.

Darren was on his knees, arms down, head thrown back gazing up at the ceiling. He no longer held the knife, indeed there was no sign of it. Destiny blinked looking around, where was Ben what had become of him?

Footsteps made her jerk around and there was Dunleavy holding poor pale Ben by the hand, in her other hand was Destiny's phone only now the screen was blue with power, "I've called paramedics and your people," the medium smiled, "If you hold still I'll give you some energy for that cut."

Destiny shook her bemused head, "What the hell just happened," she gulped.

Letting go of Ben the other woman knelt down extending her free hand to the cut on Destiny's side, "Darren won't give us anymore trouble," she said.

"I saw," but Destiny censored herself, not wanting to babble like an idiot. How could she repeat what she'd seen, she sure wasn't telling her CID colleagues?

"I'll be gone when everyone gets here," said Florence, "You can tell them that you found Ben and made the arrest."

Yes that was probably for the best, she didn't want to try and explain a civilian being involved and certainly not a psychic.

"You saved my life," she admitted but was waved quiet, "Where did the shadows go those grey wraiths?"

"Back to their hosts who, by the way, won't be able to project like that in future," Darren was eyed, "Nor will he."

Gaze flitting to the silent boy Destiny wondered what had been done to him, how much he'd seen? She hoped he wouldn't start blabbing about ghosts, lights and an Indian brave.

"I'm sorry," she managed to get out, "For the way I doubted you," and the rest the sarcasm the dismissal and the cold shoulder.

If it bothered Florence it wasn't evident on her face, "Forget it," she said, "Is that better?"

Blinking, not sure what she meant, Destiny realised her injury no longer hurt and she couldn't feel any fresh blood running down her thigh.

"I'll be off," upright Dunleavy made for the exit.

"I have questions," Destiny's head was full of them.

"You know where to find me," said the older woman without looking back.