Eli had sent me a text about coming home late, which left me with plenty of time to figure out a plan. The day before I’d stopped by an office supply store in Tallow and bought supplies for my new office. I also bought a large whiteboard and a set of erasable markers. I needed to visualise what everyone wanted from me. I was sick of being passive and reacting to the things that happened to me. I needed to slowly get rid of the people who were the worst because they weren’t going to leave me alone on their own.
I’d slowly bring a few needed people deeper into the layers of the plan I’d create when I decided I could trust them. Eli would be the first to the centre. I needed him to fully trust me, so I would extend an olive branch slowly to find out about this other life of his.
As for Kat, I had faith she was outside of this, and I could use her skills to solve the murder of Bethany Thornton. I could pull Jonah into the surface level murder investigation to find what his game was. I’d consider it mundane revenge regarding his sister, but that email I’d read just after my accident connected him to that house.
On one half of the whiteboard, I drew a table. I wrote Templars and Law Enforcement with a column for both in the middle.
At the bottom, I wrote Nox, Jonah, Portal Opener and Subject H372 on the bottom of the board with a question mark beside them.
I wrote Gran’s name besides ‘taught me magic’ because they’d drawn her into this situation; thus, she was a person of interest. Had anyone tried to talk to her yet, or were they leaving that to Mason? I also had neither column for Kat.
White Suit was the only person clearly working for the Templars without a Law Enforcement goal, as far as I knew. I had no idea who the guy was. Could I have met him before? Lowe was the right age, but Cory still had the phone in his desk, if Lowe was his boss, he would have given it to him.
I filled in the names, many of them were in the ‘Both’ column, but I put a question mark next to Eli’s name. I knew the Templar’s were forcing him to spy on me but were the Detectives on the Nox case? I wrote the willing names in green marker and unwilling names in red. I included Grandfather and Mason on the list, unwilling on the Law Enforcement and Templar lists. They were two more clear names, Grandfather was too old to be a Templar, and I didn’t think this was Mason’s department. As far as I could gather Mason had a similar job to Eli, protection or security. I reluctantly added a question mark next to Mason’s name. I had no idea about the truth of Viola’s claims against him. They were friends through his wife and had known each other a long time, but what if she was wrong and I couldn’t entirely trust Mason? My next thought sent a chill down my spine and rolled my stomach. Mason could be White Suit. Surely there was no way he would have talked to me like that if he was though; even if he was trying to cover up our connection. How would I know? I didn’t really know my brother as a person. He’d always grudgingly accepted me and played through the surface motions of being an older brother. We’d never been close the way Ralph and I had. Ralph had been the opposite of Mason, the perfect attentive older brother that any boy would dream of.
On the second half, I wrote Nox, Detectives, Templars and Jonah’s names. I carefully brainstormed what the goals of each group or person could be. Why did Nox want to frame me? Was it only the Detectives who thought I was Nox? Surely, they were going on a stronger suspicion than our similar magic and his physical resemblance to me. I only wrote ‘frame me?’ and ‘be evil!’ beside Nox’s name.
The Detectives wanted to catch Nox for his crimes, but would it suit the political ambitions of someone higher in the food chain if Edwin Arkwright’s grandson was Nox? I needed a list of the board members; I only knew that Grandfather and Lacy Senior were on it. I knew one of Eli’s Chesterfield relatives had to be on it, and Jonah had mentioned Norma Dominquez. Was she on the board? The Dominquezs’ were one of the oldest, thus magical families in the area. There would have to be one on the board. Jonah was right; the entire family hadn’t been vilified because one member was a murderer. The only people who openly didn’t like the Dominquezs’ had been Gran and her father. Maybe there were political power plays with the old families that I didn’t know about. Grandfather seemed worried about being out.
I still didn’t know who Subject H372 from the email was. Could they be the person who let that demon into the house? They’d connected H to Gran and me. I didn’t really know anyone whose first or last name started with an H.
Maybe some distant relatives who I didn’t really see outside of family events. I wrote down the names of everyone I knew with an H in their name. I crossed names off the list until I reached Ralph and paused.
Ralph’s middle name was Henry, but I hadn’t seen Ralph since I was in Perth, and his responses to my recent emails had been sparse.
Who was H?
I’d have to find out how the identities were created. The last two letters had to be something to do with the birth year. Mine was 1994, Jonah’s was 1991, and Gran’s was 1946. H’s birthday would have to be in 1972 if I was right about the number convention. I’d have to ask Eli about the email and how the suspects at the Agency were numbered. Why did he have that email? Had the detectives approached him too? I added Subject H372 to the questionable motive list.
I needed to read more of those emails if Eli had them. I wouldn’t have connected Jonah Wit to all of this without them. Without that email buzzing around in the back of my mind, I might have almost believed him about wanting to re-connect because of Tara. Why now? Why would he suddenly want to enter my life again nearly a decade later? Why would he only realise that his response to Tara’s accidental death was psychotic now? I knew that Jonah would be easier to trick with the idiot act than Cory. Jonah wanted, maybe needed me to be the fool and play along with his bullshit. He couldn’t have known I’d be taken into the Agency as he’d offered me the one thing I’d wanted more than anything a month ago.
Kat, Jonah, Cory, and Eli would investigate the murder of Bethany Thornton with me. I still wanted to give her justice, and her similarity to Tara might make Jonah crack and reveal something. I could also find out just what he knew about magic. He’d went to Tallow High School with me, and he wasn’t a Mage, at least, not a legal one. I needed Cory to trust me and believe I was innocent. Cory would play along with the investigation because he wanted me to be more empathic. What was more empathic than getting justice for a forgotten murder victim? Cory’s skills would help in the investigation of Jonah. If I plead scared and got Cory to help me with it. Some strange, almost foreign part of me desired Cory’s protection. A distant, desperate need for him to care about me. It was a distant emotion; one I’d felt in another life.
Eli and Kat would be my real allies; they would know all the layers of the plan. I had to trust that someone wouldn’t use magic on them and discover the truth, but if someone could do that, they’d know I was innocent of being Nox. There was information Kat and Eli could get me, and my plan wouldn’t work without them.
While I was investigating the ghost, I’d get as much information on Nox as I could and discover why someone high in the Agency needed me to be him. I knew it was too dangerous to go to someone like that directly, even with Eli by my side. I’d be a liability he’d have to protect if he even had power equivalent to Nox. Theft was so distant from serial murder; it may have well been another planet. I’d spent a lot of my entire life trying to ignore the fact that Eli had always been a little bit of a kleptomaniac. When we were kids, it’d been toys and small amounts of money. Was this stuff he was involved with a natural extension of those tendencies? At least when my things went missing these days, they were easy to find. I wasn’t sure if it was kleptomania or a severe disrespect for boundaries. From what he’d told me about the true nature of his family, he hadn’t the best role models. The Lacy family honestly considered themselves the centre of the universe.
I dropped the marker and laid down on the couch. None of this would really help me; it would just distract me. My life was being torn apart by forces I couldn’t control, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d been in free fall since I’d walked into that house and slipped in that dead woman’s blood. I’d already thrown off the cliff by the time that thing opened its eyes and started chasing me. To get solid information, I’d have to play along. Keep pretending that everything is normal, and my weird true crime obsessed arse can’t help but solve a murder everyone else forgot about. I was a semi goth, death mage obsessed with true crime. Why would my desire to solve this case be seen as abnormal?
I had to start with someone at my level, and that was Jonah Wit. I could string the rest along until they got bored, or I brought them to Nox’s door.
Eli seemed surprised to see me awake when he walked into the bedroom after midnight. I was sitting in bed watching a movie and sipping a glass of red wine.
“You stayed up just to see me.” He winked and smirked at me before he threw himself down on the bed beside me in only his boxer briefs. “You know I wouldn’t mind spending some time with you.” His fingers had wandered to the top of my pyjama pants.
I looked him in the eyes. I rested my hand on his and moved it away while staying focused on his eyes. “There’s something I need your help with. Something serious.”
The smile fell from his lips. “What’s wrong?”
“Dex, you’re scaring me a little. Are you okay?”
“Please follow me.”
He nodded and pulled on his robe. “Okay.”
I took him to the room with the whiteboard, and I pulled it from behind the thick drapes I’d hidden it behind. “I’ve come up with a plan.”
He was looking confused at the board. “To do what exactly? I can’t read your mind, Dex, you will have to start at the beginning.”
“When you were attacked by the Templars.” I stopped speaking when I noticed the colour drain from his cheeks.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but we said we’d be open with each other, and that time starts now. Absolutely starts now.” I tapped the whiteboard with the marker. “Please, listen to what I have to say.”
“I don’t know how much you remember that the thing that hurt your ears was a ghost I controlled. I thought they were going to kill you. So, I used a spell Gran taught me on that ghost.”
“I’m sorry I scared you.”
“You scared me? You didn’t attack yourself, Eli. I met Cory the next day, and he pretended to accidentally crash into me. That was at the same time I realised that the ghost I’d used had been exorcised. She reminded me so much of Tara; I decided I had to investigate her death and find out what killed her.”
“And you’re sure it was a murder?”
“I’m not sure yet, but if it was, I want to find out who did it.”
“What if someone already has?”
“Cory and I think we’ve identified her as Bethany Thornton, but she died of cancer,” I said. “How does a girl who died of cancer end up haunting the street corner?”
“Have no idea. Doesn’t your new friend know?”
“Cory. The two of you seem pretty chummy.”
“He’s helping me. I want to know what his game is.”
“He was one of those Templar Fuckers who tried to take you in.”
“How do you know this?”
“He told me. After you told me about them trying to bribe you into spying on me, I realised this was about me. I think the entire thing was about me.”
“They think you’re this Fucker called Nox,” Eli acknowledged.
“I was getting to that part. How do you know?”
“A concerned colleague sent me some information just after your accident.”
“The prick told me to cut my losses.”
“Cut your losses?” I could hear the disappointment in my voice.
“Yes.” He hissed the word through clenched teeth.
“I will use this investigation to get closer to Cory,” I said. “He needs to trust me and believe I’m innocent.”
“Are you sure he wasn’t the Templar freak who broke my nose?”
“You think I’d give him the time of day if he was?”
“How do you know for sure he isn’t?”
“He made a deal with me the other night while wearing the red uniform.”
“And your logical conclusion is that he can’t be the white suited creep? That’s absurd logic, Dex.” Eli sighed. “How does he suddenly have the authority to make deals with you? If he’s such a lowly pawn?”
“I don’t know.” I looked at the carpet for a minute to still the black spots dancing in my vision. “Would absurd logic also mean believing a hidden but conveniently placed book is proof that Mrs Gregory has been stealing from the council?”
Eli shook his head at me, mouth agape. “Yes.”
“I love you, Dex, but I honestly thought you were supposed to be the smart one.”
“Even if Cory is that… creep. We need to dance the Agency’s dance. They seriously think I’m Nox.”
“Let Cory believe you fall for his crap. Play the naïve fool blinded by his attraction, and it’ll play on his heartstrings a little. He’s a honey pot. The goal is to make you spill your guts to him. I say we give as good as we get.”
“I don’t know how to play sexy,” I said. “And he’s already using my attraction to him to his advantage.”
“Sexy to a guy like that is a submissive bloke who finds him attractive. I’ve seen the way he looks at your arse, he’s definitely queer and attracted to you. Just act desperate for him.”
“He knows I’m loyal to you.”
“I’ll make hints I don’t mind sharing. It’s not cheating if you have permission.”
I gave him a confused look; he didn’t mean what I thought he meant. Did he? “Don’t mind sharing what?”
“Your arse. As long as I get a slice of his.”
“Is there something I should know?”
“If you ever get the overwhelming urge to spread your legs for him or anyone else, invite me along,” Eli said. “If he tries anything and you’re comfortable with it, play along.”
This wasn’t the time for this conversation. I waved my hand towards the whiteboard. “Elijah, this is serious.”
“I am serious.”
“I know you were in a certain mood when you walked into the bedroom but,” I tapped his forehead with my finger. “I want you to think with this head for a few more minutes?”
“What’s your plan then?”
“I’m due to meet Cory at Kat’s house tomorrow. We will try to figure out how Bethany Thornton ended up haunting that street.”
“Surely you have better things to do?”
“You need a second pair of eyes on this guy,” Eli said. “That group has been playing cat and mouse with my crew for ages. I’ve known the man you call White Suit for a while now. He’s known as the White Count. Why? Because he’s a Blood Mage. How many people do you know that can do that?”
I felt sick to my stomach and barely made it to the couch before my legs gave out. “I don’t think I can go anywhere near Cory. I’ve never been so angry at and scared of a person.”
“We don’t know that it’s him. He honestly didn’t hurt me too much.” Eli lifted my chin so I could look him in the eyes. “I didn’t think he’d have the gall to show himself to either of us without his disguise. If it is him, maybe he thinks he can get the both of us.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong, and I don’t want him to hurt you again.”
“He said I couldn’t truly know or trust anyone.”
“He’s right,” Eli agreed.
“I trust you more than anyone I’ve ever known, and I’m sick of people telling me not to. I love you more than anyone I’ve ever met,” I said.
He sat down beside me and wrapped his arms around me. “I love you, too. We will get through this.”
I relaxed against his warm, soft body as I told him the rest of the plan.