Out of all the dumb shit I did, this one was high on the list. After Cory left me at my car after an afternoon of shopping, I drove into town and parked behind the pub. Then walked into the pub and snuck out the back through the kitchen while something distracted the staff.
I walked from the pub towards Herald Park. Even though I had an excuse to be in the Town Hall, I knew I was being watched, and I didn’t want anyone to see me enter. I had the feeling Alexander Lowe worked for the Beckham Agency rather than Dunn, maybe even Nate Island directly. Lacy Senior, Grandfather and the other board members of the Agency who I was sure included Mayor Chesterfield’s father wouldn’t want him indicted on fraud charges. I was shaking by the time I reached the edge of Herald Park. There was a small wooden footbridge over the river hidden from view. I’d used it to go to the park and play cricket with Kat, her siblings and Ned while we waited for Grandfather to finish work. That had been before we learnt its sickly secrets. Back then we’d been clueless about why Aunt Olivia was spitting mad when she found out her children had been playing there.
I was alone in the dark park, but every step I took, I expected to come face to face with a knife-wielding ice addict.
I inserted the key in the lock and let myself in. I closed the door so quickly I almost caught myself in it. I’d still be welcome, right? I knew now there had to be magic guarding the place. A man like Lowe wouldn’t stay out because of a silly insignificant thing called ‘breaking and entering’ being illegal. I knew that he was the type to run around in a red ski mask, pushing Nate Island’s law on anyone who strayed across his path. I wondered when he’d approach me; now I could no longer help him.
I had to be ready to make the first move.
I walked through the abandoned corridors until I reached the back of the library.
The phone was still sitting in my desk; it was silly to even hide it. No one would expect its purpose. As I touched the phone, I wondered what type of magic someone would need to know regarding the intentions of anyone who touched it. I’d bury it somewhere, then take it to my office in the morning. I wasn’t stupid enough to take it to the Lacys’ house. It was an oddly technologically advanced phone for a throwaway mission. Maybe someone else had asked him to get dirt on the Lacys’ or me. As though Nox the feared criminal Death Mage would be dumb enough to carry a strange phone in his pocket. Had this Nox targeted me on purpose, or did he just have the misfortune of looking like me? I carefully placed the zip lock bagged phone into my backpack, covering the cameras with my hand.
Then cleaned out the rest of my desk as it would be the perfect excuse if I ran into anyone. The building had been dark when I arrived, and the cleaner should have been finished an hour before. He wouldn’t question my presence if I said that I was cleaning out my desk. I’d just have to crack a joke about wanting to avoid Mrs Gregory, and anyone I encountered would laugh. We’d carry on, and they’d likely forget they saw me before they could tell anyone that I snuck around the place at night.
I paused at the backdoor, my hand wrapped around the door handle. If Chesterfield and Gregory were guilty, I’d have an advantage over them if I found the information that Lowe was looking for. I’d also have something Lowe would want. I’d have the most power in the situation if the photos weren’t on a device Lowe could have a back door into. I turned off my phone’s access to the internet and placed it on flight mode to be extra safe. It couldn’t send any files or give someone a back door while I had the photos on it. If they gave someone in the family the right reason, the phone could have been snuck away. They could have installed God knows what on it without me noticing. I hardly touched the thing when I was at home. I could factory reset and break it before it reconnected to the net. I pulled the sim card from the side. Safely having this information was worth giving up my phone, everything on it was automatically backed up. I could easily buy another one. I hid my backpack near the door and walked upstairs. After a careful look through Mayor Chesterfield’s office, I didn’t find what I was looking for. I didn’t understand why I thought it would be easy. This wasn’t a book or one of Eli’s games. Labelled evidence wouldn’t be sitting in his top drawer.
Where would I place the information if I was Gregory or Chesterfield? I know I wouldn’t trust the other to have it in their home.
Where was the safest place in this building?
I found myself in the records room. I carefully walked to the back of the room. The oldest documents that weren’t in the Historical Society Museum were housed in a vault that the public couldn’t access without supervision. I had the key because I did most of the supervision working from the bottom of the hierarchy. I had keys to almost every room in the building because of Mrs Gregory’s sheer laziness. I also knew where to access the keys I didn’t already have on my keyring. I put on a fresh pair of white cotton gloves and unlocked the vault. I carefully looked over every book housed on the shelves. No one would look for a modern book on these shelves.
God, this was a silly idea.
I still skimmed the pages of the books half an hour later. My stomach sank as my eyes landed on a book that looked off. As though someone who didn’t quite know what they were doing had artificially aged it. They had the theory memorised but had physically never gone through the process. As I focused on the book, I had an overwhelming urge to pull it from the shelf.
I pulled the book from the shelf and opened it. It listed information for two bank accounts, one under Mayor Chesterfield’s name and the other under Mrs Gregory’s name. A percentage of any money that came in would be siphoned into their accounts through a shell department.
I flipped through the books and took pictures on my phone. I’d been so close to this many times including the other day when I was here for hours looking for the identity of the Short Street Ghost. I knew the handwriting in the book belonged to Chesterfield and Gregory. Once I had the photos, I carefully put everything back in its place.
“Lovely night for a stroll in the creepy park.”
I screamed and almost fell over the bridge’s knee-length railing. The thing that saved me was a firm grip on my arm.
I spun around and hit the guy who spoke to me with my key armed hand. For a sick second, I thought he would let me fall into the river below when his grip loosened as the end of my keys hit his arm. When I took in the red of his suit, I tried to pull myself free and jump into the river.
“We need to talk about what you just did.” He dragged me to a spot on the bank and spun me around to face him.
“Addicts shoot up here, I hardly think it’s the place.” I met his eyes. “How about another day?”
“You know most of that bullshit is just to keep kids in at night. You can’t tell me that’s why you’re so scared.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I deplore a pretty mouth being used in such a crude way.”
“Oh, for shitting, gods fuck.” I took a step back and almost fell backwards, down the bank. He grabbed the front of my shirt to keep me from falling. After I recovered my footing, I pointed a finger at him. “You are the most annoying arsehole I’ve ever met, Cory Corvin.”
He put a finger to my mouth and pointed to his red ski mask. “Shh. It’s supposed to be a secret.”
“What do you want from me?”
“To make sure you’re not an evil Death Mage named Nox.”
“I just needed to get some stuff from my old place of employment.”
“By walking through a park that you’re terrified of?”
“Just leave me be. This has nothing to do with Nox and everything to do with toeing the line for your precious Nate Island.”
“Hang on.” He flicked a device and turned back to me.
“What was that?” I tried to get a better look at the object as he slipped it back up his sleeve.
“At least four other groups are watching you. It gives us some privacy.” He said. “It looks suspicious, a decent boy like you coming to a place like this after trying to shake off your followers.”
“Four other groups? They’ll see you.”
“We’re still in a blind spot.”
“You were talking before.”
“There’s an enchantment on my mask that only allows someone to hear me if I want them to. I also used a Teleportation Mage to teleport to this spot so no one would see me.” He focused on me. “I can’t help but think you keep changing the topic.”
“You said you’d answer any question. I want you to tell me who is following me.”
“If you tell me what I want to know.”
“I’m here because I’m on a team following your Hubby and his extracurricular activities. We followed him as he tracked you down. He must have wondered where you were.”
“How did he find me?”
“I don’t know. You might want to get that checked out.”
“Eli wouldn’t believe the rumours about me.” I heard my voice shake.
“You don’t sound so sure about that.”
“The Head Detective on the case investigating the claims you’re Nox and the Head of the team looking into the Demon that almost killed you. Plus, their backup.” He said. “The Templar group in charge of the Nox. Last group? No idea. I know they aren’t from our side.”
“This is mental.” I waved my hand towards the park where I assumed they were. “Don’t you lot have anything better to do?”
“Not really. Dunn’s rather sleepy.”
“Well, I know what I’m getting you for Christmas.”
I knew I’d won when I saw his lips twitch as he tried to hold back a smile. “A man called Alexander Lowe gave me a phone. He asked me to take photos of anything that could be account records in the Town Hall.” I said. “He was obviously a cop and said he wasn’t welcome in Town Hall.”
“It seems counterproductive to record your fraud somewhere it can be easily found. This isn’t some kid’s movie where the poorly locked bottom drawers in their desks will have the evidence to convict them. Give me the phone, and I’ll deal with Lowe. I know who he is.”
“He said that he could take me down too if Mayor Chesterfield and Mrs Gregory were found guilty of fraud.”
“I don’t think you have as much power as you think you do. You aren’t from an old family, and your position at the Agency isn’t very high.”
“This position carries a lot of power, and I’m one of only a handful of people in the country trained to do my job at the Agency. I know who to talk to.”
I pulled the phone from my bag. “If anyone from Eli’s family finds out about th-”
“That’s what you’re worried about?”
“I don’t like either of them, but I’m not about to aid in sending Eli’s uncle to jail. I know he might have committed a crime, but I don’t think I could stomach it. I’m weak, and I could never look Eli in the eyes again if I did it and he found out.” I said. “His mother and uncle are close.”
“I understand, but I will have to log, that you gave me this officially. They will sense that someone teleported here and I don’t want to give them the wrong idea.”
I gave him the phone. “If you truly want to help me fix this and become a valuable asset to the Agency, honour our deal. I just want people to stop trying to mould me to fit their political goals. Is that too much to ask for?”
“They will not stop. People will push their politics on you because you’re a weak target with a powerful family. Do you know how many people would kill to be born an Arkwright or marry into the Lacy family?”
But I wasn’t really an Arkwright by blood. Eli and I were two of the only people who knew.
“Are you okay? You went quiet.”
“I’m just tired; it’s been a long day, and I want to go home.” I turned away from him to look into the river.
When I turned back to look at him, he was gone, and I was standing in the cold park alone. I felt a little safer with all the eyes I knew were on me as I walked back through town to my car.