The reception area for the Bureau of the Lost looked deserted. The old-fashioned radio microphone lay on its side, half-buried beneath a sheaf of computer print-outs showing what looked like pie charts. There were moisture rings all over the glossy wooden surface of the front counter, and instead of the comfortable high-backed chair that had sat behind it the last time Mars had been there, there were three cheap office chairs in utilitarian grey jumbled haphazardly in the corner. Drifts of fast food wrappers and discarded paper cups occupied the corners of the room, and there was a fine layer of dust on everything.

"You two keep watch," said Simon, and dragged the kick stool over to the nearest cabinet full of tiny wooden drawers. Marshall regarded them enviously. One day, he thought, I will have a cabinet like this, full of tiny little drawers containing thousands of tiny little cards that will relate to all the many and respected articles I'll have written about my research into the Parabelievable.

Then he heard the Reject alarm blaring.