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the ghost of molesworth street

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Wellington Central Police Station has fairly good operational security, in that it’s hard for civilians to get anywhere they shouldn’t be (at least without nicking someone’s lanyard, and in that case there’d be several uniformed officers on the culprit as soon as the staff monitoring the security cameras got wind of it).

That operational security does not extend to the Paranormal Unit, which, despite being host to a range of deeply sensitive information, is still located in an unlocked former storage cupboard. It’s something Sgt Maaka wants to get sorted, and thankfully he’s now made strategic connections with a couple of colleagues who work up at National HQ on Molesworth Street. Allie Scott in particular is a good detective and an excellent conspiracy theorist, and she’s read most of his case notes now and wants to be kept in the loop with regards to any future developments involving property damage, randy taniwha, or the partner of the Prime Minister.

“Yeah, so, it turned out to be one of those New World reusable bags,” Maaka’s explaining to her over the phone.

“One of the jute ones?” Scott asks.

“Yes,” Maaka confirms.

“They’ve got good handles,” she says. “So, nothing supernatural, then?”

“Just bad air conditioning and someone not recycling properly,” Maaka says.

Scott sighs. “Oh well. Good investigation, though. It’s always worthwhile to confirm these things.”

“I agree,” Maaka says.

“Anyway, this isn’t why I rang,” Scott says. “I think we’ve got something going on up here at HQ.”

Maaka holds the phone closer to his ear. “Werewolves? The Dark Arts? Blood on the walls?”

“Someone’s been printing off copies of briefings to the Minister and leaving them covered in red ink corrections,” Scott says. “We’ve checked the security logs and there’s nothing. We can’t even tell whose logon is being used to do the printing.”

“I’ll get my best crew on it,” Maaka promises. “We’ll come up this afternoon.”

*

 

“So, to clarify,” O’Leary says. “An unknown person or persons is logging on to Police systems, printing out draft Ministerial briefings—”

“—and Cabinet papers—” Minogue interjects.

“And Cabinet papers,” O’Leary adds. “And they’re printing them out—”

“Suppose they’re printing out emails too,” Minogue says. “That’s a waste of Police resources.”

“They don’t seem to be concerned with Outlook,” Scott says.

“Oh, well, that’s okay then,” Minogue replies.

O’Leary looks slightly exasperated. “No, it’s not okay, Minogue,” she says. “They’re printing out In Confidence documents and writing all over them.”

“Yeah, but there’s much worse things than proofreading out there,” Minogue retorts. “Nobody ever complained about a bit of free proofreading.”

“Detective Scott is complaining about it right now, to us,” O’Leary says. “And it’s not the proofreading that’s bad, it’s that unknown persons are reading documents they shouldn’t be reading.”

Minogue looks marginally less confused. “Oh, yeah, that is bad,” he says. “We’ll look into it. Do you have any clues?”

Scott pulls out a manila folder. It’s stuffed full of draft papers covered in ink, mostly red. Some of the writing is comprensible, but a lot of it looks like weird symbols and dots under words and marginalia saying things like UC and STET. “Could be a code,” Minogue says, glancing at it.

“It is,” Scott says. “It’s standard editorial notation.”

“You’re familiar with it?” O’Leary asks.

“Yeah, from Year 10 typing,” Scott replies.

“Me too,” O’Leary says, and they exchange a conspiratorial grin.

“They didn’t teach that at Boys’ High,” Minogue says.

O’Leary sighs. “Anyway—hang on a moment,” she says, pulling out a particular briefing which has a small piece of paper clipped to the top corner. “What’s this?” It’s about 10x15cm and has an old version of the Police logo and WITH COMPLIMENTS printed on it. Written on it, in black fountain pen ink, is ‘Some comments for your consideration.’ The full stop is very firm.

“There’s a few of those in there,” Scott explains. “We don’t know where they’re getting them.”

*

Unlike most Government departments and entities of the wider Crown, Police National HQ is never completely empty or silent. There’s always several shifts working, because crime never stops and neither do traffic incidents. This is why it’s so concerning when a comprehensive search of all relevant security footage, a careful look through the printer logs, and a series of interviews with all relevant staff turns up absolutely no clue as to the identity of the mystery editor.

The whole thing ends up on the backburner for a while as an escaped alien space elf traumatises the staff of Wellington High, and then a pohutukawa somehow becomes sentient and starts taking over the water system of Tawa.

It moves very quickly off the backburner on a Wednesday morning when Sgt Maaka gets an urgent phone call from Detective Scott. “We’ve just got word our mystery editor has hit the Beehive,” she says.

*

The Beehive is one of the most unfortunate public buildings in Wellington.

It’s certainly worthy of its name, and indeed has something of a legitimate architectural lineage; but Minogue gets very confused by the security gates, and lost in the lift lobby. Even the scones at Copperfield’s—purchased when it becomes clear that O’Leary will need some emergency sustenance to get over almost walking into Kiri Allen—don’t make up for it.

It becomes clear within half an hour that none of the private secretaries are responsible for the pages of red fountain pen ink all over the latest draft of a Cabinet paper; for one thing, none of them own a fountain pen, and for another, none of them write in beautiful copperplate. “We just can’t have people sneaking up here and reading draft papers—” one of the staff says.

“—what if we’re OIAed?” another adds.

“Shit,” the first one replies.

“Shit,” the second agrees.

“Would that be bad?” Minogue asks.

Before anyone can explain to him the myriad of ways in which that would, in fact, be bad, a woman walks in from a little meeting room, poking at her phone. “There’s weird stuff going on at Bowen House too,” she says. “Same thing, someone’s scribbling over everyone’s drafts.”

“We’d better get over there then,” O’Leary says, and they’re led through a complicated maze of tunnels, corridors, escalators, and lifts to come up on the 17th floor of a building across the road.

*

They decide to do an old-fashioned stakeout. It’s not a sitting week, so there aren’t a lot of MPs around the place; and the Beehive is reasonably quiet by mid evening. A flurry of emails between Parliamentary staffers has revealed that the office of the Minister of Finance is expecting some draft papers by close of play, so that’s where they set up shop. Constable Parker is sitting over at Treasury just in case the editor comes by, and has apparently found himself a good spot in one of the hot desk areas.

“There’s nobody here, O’Leary,” Minogue says, at 1am when he’s really feeling the lure of McDonalds Bunny Street. He could go for some chips and a cheeseburger. And it’s only a five minute walk, and the security staff will escort him back up. Oh, and maybe a McFlurry.

“Shh,” O’Leary says. “I think I hear something.”

They carefully edge around the corner when the scratching sounds persist, and shine their torches in the direction of the noise. And there, sitting in the Private Secretary’s office chair, is a middle-aged man in walk shorts, calf socks, and sandals. “Sir, what are you doing?” O’Leary asks.

“Corrections,” the man says, without looking up. “This is incomprehensible.”

“How’d you get in here?”

“In the usual way,” he says, sounding puzzled.

O’Leary stares at him, and especially at how the light of the torch isn’t bouncing completely off him, and is in fact going through him somewhat. She has seen this all before. “Sir, are you a former public servant?”

“Well, I never exactly retired,” the man says. “My apologies, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Charles Simpson, head of Ministerial Services at the Ministry of Works.”

“Um,” Minogue says. “Yeah, unfortunately that was, uh, privatised about, oh, 30 years ago, you reckon, O’Leary?”

O’Leary shrugs. “About that, I think? Wasn’t it the 80s?”

“Yes, yes,” Mr Simpson says. “But the work hasn’t stopped, has it?” He picks up his latest bit of printing and starts quoting. “‘I propose to clarify the situations in which the chief executive is able to issue directions to licensed entities.’ But it isn’t a clarification, no, it’s a substantive change in policy. Imprecise! Misleading! Waffle!”

“Alright, calm down there, Mr Simpson,” O’Leary says. “The thing is, you’re trespassing—”

“I am not!” Mr Simpson says, pulling out a laminated card from the breast pocket of his cardigan. “I have a officials’ identity card to enter the precinct.”

Minogue takes it and has a careful look. “This expired in 1986, Mr Simpson,” he says. “You can’t use this to enter the building any more so my colleague is dead right—sorry—but you’re trespassing and accessing in confidence material without proper authorisation, and that’s not acceptable.”

Mr Simpson looks at them. He’s clutching a pile of papers very tightly in one hand. “But hardly a police matter, surely. An employment matter only.”

O’Leary and Minogue look at each other. “Well, fact is, trespassing in the Parliamentary Grounds is a matter for the police, but I’m sure we can escort you across to the State Services Commission after we’re finished with you.”

Mr Simpson goes a whiter shade of pale. “Not them,” he says, horrified. “You really think they’d be interested?”

“Well, you’re trespassing and performing unsolicited editorial services for a range of government agencies, aren’t you, Mr Simpson,” O’Leary says. “That’s not very good.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Minogue says.

O’Leary flicks a glance at him. Anyway. “And that’s the thing, isn’t it, you’ve got to be respectful of other people’s boundaries. There may well be a lot of people in Wellington who’d be very grateful for your assistance, but you haven’t asked them, have you?”

Mr Simpson shakes his head, looking ashamed of himself. “No. Well, I didn’t want to scare them.”

Minogue shakes his head. “But you did, though.”

“So we’ll escort you off the grounds, and you can think about maybe starting up some kind of consulting service, do things the right way,” O’Leary says.

Mr Simpson sighs. “I just wanted to keep being useful,” he says. “But very well.”

*

Explaining to Sgt Maaka that there was in fact a ghost who, concerned with modern changes in the English language, had taken it upon himself to provide terse and highly critical editorial services around Parliament and government agencies takes longer than a person might otherwise think. The difficulty lies mostly in convincing him that a dead public servant wanted to keep coming in to work. Which, really, is fair: neither O’Leary or Minogue understand it either.

Explaining that Mr Simpson was very willing—and at very low cost, no paperwork involved—to provide report-writing and editorial services to the Paranormal Unit went down much smoother, and that’s how the Unit gets its fourth staff member. He’s also very big on filing, and never hogs the cheese scones.