CW: References to suicide.
After five minutes of staring at the dark green wood panel door, I found the confidence to knock on it. The door opened instantly to an older woman with carefully groomed shoulder-length grey hair and a loose cream pant suit. Her brown eyes were hard behind her wireframed glasses as she looked at me. “Why are you standing outside my house?”
“I’m Dexter.” I thrust my hand out towards her as though she was supposed to know who I was. Great first impression. “I need to speak to Wendell Milton.”
The hardness left her eyes as she looked at me for a long moment, frozen. “Dexter?”
“Do you think Detective Milton has time to talk to me?”
“Detective Milton. No one’s called me that in twenty years.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.” I felt a wave of dizzy embarrassment as I realised how much the woman before me resembled Milton. The Milton in the photo of his retirement party Dorian had hung above his desk.
“It happened after Dorian passed.” She shook my still outstretched hand. “I go by Irene these days, and I have time to talk to you. Not a hell of a lot to do these days now all my cool friends are dead.”
I shifted uncomfortably. Was I supposed to laugh? Was that a joke? Was it appropriate for me to laugh when I didn’t know her?
I followed her slack-jawed as she led me to a modern living room. A glass of lemon juice was sitting on a wooden end table beside a black leather recliner beside a phone. An episode of Vikings was paused on the TV. I’d seen Eli and his friends watching it, but I never joined them, watching random episodes of tv shows I didn’t know just left me bored and confused.
I took a seat on the couch beside the recliner as Irene waved a hand towards it. “I’ll get you a drink.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
She came out with another glass of lemon juice in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. She held out the bottle of vodka. “Top up?”
“I’d never say no.”
“I’ll just give you a little to start.” She handed me my glass and took her own before she sat down. Once she sat down again, her face became serious. “Why are you here? No fluff or bullshit, I want the truth.”
For a second, I thought the glass she was holding would slip from her fingers. “And what do you know about Alissa Thornton?”
“I know she was killed on the corner of Short and Main Street and her murderer wasn’t convicted. I know I’ve had to avoid looking at her ghost my entire life until two weeks ago when she was exorcized.”
“Which is common for ghosts.”
“The night a group attacked my husband. I used her ghost to hurt them long enough for us to get away.”
“You used as a ghost to attack people?”
“I thought they would kill him over a stolen potion.”
“You feel more guilty about her exorcism than the damage you caused living people?” She spoke so matter of fact it scared me.
“Just whose side are you on? I thought they would kill him. All I gave them was temporary hearing damage.”
She held up a hand. “Okay.” She added an obscene amount of vodka to both of our half-filled drinks. After she was done, she looked up and met my eyes. “If you live long enough to see what I have, you’ll have a drinking problem too.”
“If?” I gagged slightly as I forced the disgusting mixture down my throat and kept eye contact. It was a power play, and I wouldn’t lose.
“This magic shit is twisted and dangerous. I’ve seen Dorian angry. Fuck, I’ve seen him angry but never the way he was the day he found out about Evelyn teaching you magic.” She took a long breath. “Or on the day he died. It was like that rage came back for one day.”
“She said they were never the same after he found out.”
“He had a theory that magic stripped the humanity from a person. What Evelyn taught you is a dangerous magic. Not something she should have been teaching a little boy.”
“I’m past the point of no return. The Agency knows about me and has forced me into working for them. I was brought to their attention after a demon almost killed me. I’m under suspicion because it killed high school kids in a house I had keys to.”
“The idea that you weren’t already on their radar with your connections is blissful ignorance. Grandson of Edwin Arkwright and Evelyn Patton plus married to a Lacy.” She took a long sip of her drink. “Maybe the origin of that demon is a better mystery to occupy yourself with. Know anyone who can open dimensional portals?”
An emerald suited rogue mage called Dark Matter. “The Agency is already on it and investigating it will only bring undue suspicion to me.”
“If you’re half as stubborn as Dorian, I can’t tell you to leave this alone.”
“That case was Dorian’s white whale as a father with similar-aged daughters.”
“You make it sound like someone could only care about a victim if they can connect them to someone they care about.”
“It’s human nature. How would it feel if it happened to us? We had to imagine what it was like to have a murdered child. I no longer have that luxury, and I’ll regret not trying harder to get a conviction on that case. Sometimes I wonder if karma is real, and I received my punishment for joining everyone who encouraged Dorian to back off.” She downed the rest of her drink without taking a breath.
Had she lost someone after the Alissa Thornton case? A child? I wanted to ask, but the words tasted rotten in my mouth. How did you ask a person if their kid was murdered?
“It was a hit and run. Two years after I helped a boy go free when he had brutally murdered a teenage girl, my son, Phil was killed in a hit and run on his sixteenth birthday. I didn’t see her as human like Dorian did until I was on the same side of it as her parents. I understood how they went to the lengths they did to bring their daughter back.”
“I’m sorry.” My voice shook. I hated hearing people say that about my dead loved ones, but I didn’t know what else to say.
She blinked back her tears and cleared her throat. “I guess you haven’t made it far in the journals yet.”
“I haven’t finished reading them, but I’ve started to gather my own evidence.” I looked at her, startled at what she’d just said. “How do you know I’ve seen the journals?”
“I noticed things moved in the Bunker.”
“Dorian’s letter said you’d been looking after the place.”
“How come I didn’t know about it? Shouldn’t I have signed something when I turned eighteen?”
“Evelyn told you it was yours?”
She gave me a thin smile. “We co-own the property.”
“Dorian knew the case would be a hard sell and kept some evidence in a safe place. I don’t know what he did with it. He blocked me out at the end when I took their side over his.” She looked down at her dark hands. “No one cared about a conviction. There were many powerful people involved in that case. The details were kept from the press. Alissa’s murderer is now an adult with a powerful job, not a teenaged boy who escaped being charged as an adult by two weeks.”
“Powerful people? Siegfried Thornton threatened to kill my cousin and me when he discovered we knew about Alissa.”
“Bad for business if people know information he can blackmail someone with.”
“Hasn’t anyone told you what business Siegfried is in?”
“Blackmail. I bet he knows who killed Alissa and they’re worth a pretty penny.”
“Do you know who killed Alissa?”
She looked at me, then her glass for a long time, but didn’t answer.
“Did Dorian kill himself?”
Irene looked at me for a long time before she spoke. “Apparently.”
“I don’t want you getting any ideas in your head.”
“I can’t prove anything, but I think someone cursed him.”
“He came to me the day he died claiming to be chased by creatures no one else could see. No one would take him seriously, and my only suggestion was for him to get in touch with his ex.”
Irene let out a lengthy sigh. “You really haven’t read many of those journals. Save yourself a lot of work and read them.”
“Did he cheat on Gran?”
“No.” Irene sighed. “I definitely shouldn’t be telling you this, but you’re a big boy. You’ll manage with the information. They had an open relationship after your Uncle Harry was born. They both hated Nate Island and its chokehold on magic, but they had fundamental differences in their philosophies. I guess eighteen-year-olds shouldn’t run off and get married after knowing each other a few weeks.”
My head spun, but I recovered long enough to speak. “Why shouldn’t you have told me that?”
“Your family won’t like you knowing. They still have you in the kid box. Those in the kid box can’t know about stuff like polyamory, even though it’s common in the magical community.”
“I’m well aware they still see me as a child.”
“Their opposing philosophies wore at their relationship. Some people aren’t supposed to be in love forever. If I didn’t divorce my first wife, I would have never met my second, and we had a better relationship. I would have settled for comfortable and missed the best years of my life.”
“She died last year.”
“Do you think he got in contact with his ex?”
“Honestly? No. If he had, he’d be missing rather than dead.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“When we became partners, they placed a spell on us. We’d always be magically connected to one another. The connection vanished that day.”
“You could feel his emotions?”
“More like presence. We could track each other with it if we were separated in a dangerous situation.” Irene said.
“That doesn’t tell me what I want to know.” I said.
“Do your reading assignment and come back to me. Dorian has all the answers to your questions in his writing project. I’m too lazy and old to tell you what you’d already know if you put the time and effort in.”
She had no idea I knew about the missing journals and pages. Was she trying to protect or hinder me? Or did she honestly not know they were missing?
“You think he killed himself because he was cursed?”
“That man wrote down just about every thought he ever had. He wouldn’t have neglected something this important.”
“The last journal from his collection has to be missing. There’s no journal for the last six months of his life.” I said. “There’s at least ten I’ve noticed missing.”
She hummed and walked over to the sink to wash her glass. “Put the puzzle pieces together and make sure everyone knows about Alissa Thornton.”
“I plan to.” If you’d actually help. She was the only person apart from Dorian who could have the missing journals. Unless someone had discovered them on his body, or he hid them somewhere else. She was acting too calm not to know.
If she knew they were missing it didn’t mean she’d taken them.
She’d have long noticed them missing.
Was this some kind of test?
I carefully thought about what I’d say next.