When I arrived at work, there was a printer, furniture catalogue and a pile of textbooks on my desk. In front of the furniture catalogue was a note from Grandfather, ‘pick something nice and get studying’. Below the sentence was a schedule for classes that didn’t start until July. They had pressed the restart button on the life I’d barely begun. Two months until I could start at the university. I hoped they didn’t expect me to sit here like a good little boy until then.
I sat down at the computer and turned it on. The last account signed in to the computer was now ccorvin. Cory had set up the printer. I logged into the computer and opened my email. The email from Cory was comprised of a single wink emoji and several attached forms relevant to writing a report about the exorcism of Nora Rowe. Forms that had to be handwritten. The directions document clarified that only printed forms filled with the worker’s own hand would be accepted. Beside my mouse was a fresh packet of pens.
I threw the furniture catalogue in the bin. The last thing I needed right now was my colleagues seeing me getting new furniture.
I was halfway through the forms and almost ready to get lunch when there was a knock at the door. “Come in.” I looked up. I had expected Cory, Grandfather or maybe Mason. The person who walked into my office was Detective Dominguez. She’d interviewed me after Nox and Dark Matter had stolen those books.
Why was she still interested in me?
My head spun.
The reason a member of the Dominguez family had murdered Gran’s Grandfather was because they were part of a magical law enforcement branch aggressively against ‘Forbidden Magicks’ like Death & Life Magic along with a host of others. I forced myself to keep a straight face. I couldn’t let her know I had anything to fear. The old families never changed; ancient history like Jonah had called it wasn’t a thing. Here the status quo was very slow to change, especially with magic. Gran had no reason to assume the Dominguez family had changed its stripes. She had to be investigating the murders committed by that demon.
Maybe this Andrea Dominguez was one of the people Cory had noticed following me.
She placed an open file on the table between us. “I’d like you to work with me. I believe that you are a smart but inexperienced man with friends in prominent places. You have a bright future if you move past the criminal element that you have found yourself embroiled with.”
“Criminal element?” I had to force myself not to hiss the words. Gran wasn’t a criminal element; she just wanted to live a peaceful life practising magic on her own terms. Surely they couldn’t honestly expect me to be Nox.
“We know you’ve been illegally trained in Death Magic. You should tell us who opened that portal and let the thing that killed those kids into our reality.”
‘We know’? Of course they knew. I wasn’t here for the fun of it. They had caught me out. What was she trying to prove? I grabbed the wrist that was about to open the file and looked into her wide hazel eyes. “I have no idea who opened that portal. It was like that when I got there.”
She made a tsk sound and yanked herself away from my grip. “You have balls, I’ll give you that. You might just survive your future career if you choose the right path. The only reason we are giving you a chance is because you can’t be expected to know any better. You’ve been lead astray by people you were expected to trust.”
‘You have balls, I’ll give you that’. Her voice was just as mocking as Cory’s only the humour had been replaced with hostility. “There’s one thing I need you to look into as a woman of the law. Have I ever shown a propensity to do the crime you’re accusing me of? It’s not a crime to know something I shouldn’t. That’s why I was offered this job. You can’t prove I aided in or committed any crime regarding that house because I didn’t. I was a victim, the same as those kids. In the wrong place at the wrong time. Only I had a number I could call for help. Why would I stick around and not just flee if I knew who opened that door?”
“The sharks are circling, and you need an out.” Dominquez slowly glanced around the room. “The lame-duck act won’t work with me, I’ve dealt with people worse than you, kid.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you sound like a TV stereotype?” I said.
“What’s more stereotypical than a black-clad, masked Death Mage named Nox?”
These people honestly ran around in masks, like discount supervillains from the Comics Code era? If I weren’t being accused of multiple accounts of murder, I’d laugh. If it hadn’t resulted in the shit being bashed out of Eli, it would be funny.
“Nothing to say?”
I heard a chain jingle as she ran a hand along the handcuffs attached to her belt. She’d adjusted her unbuttoned tan blazer so I could see them. As I looked away from her hand, she met my gaze.
“There’s nothing I could say to you.”
“Why did you leave the clinic without being formally discharged? Did you know I was coming to question you?” Dominquez asked.
“I felt suffocated and alone. Ask anyone, I run away when things get stressful.” I said. It was not the desired personality trait of a master criminal.
“What were you doing in Dunn Town Hall last night?”
I felt sick working with the Templars’, but Cory had been the only person with the power to make all this go away who had listened to me. “I’ve already found the department I’m cooperating with. If you want to know what I was doing last night, ask them.”
“I’ll find out what it was.”
“Go for it,” I said. “Tell Alexander Lowe he’s free to come to my office and speak to me anytime he wants. I forgot to tell the last person I talked to, to pass on the message.”
“It seems many people want to use me for their own gains and I’m not about to play that game. I may not be Nox, but I’m no pushover either, and you and your little buddies better be careful about who you’re messing with. Because I can be one vindictive cunt.”
Dominquez stood, “it is a crime in the magical world to know something that you shouldn’t. We have used knowledge of magic as a justifiable reason to have some unconnected mortals executed. If you refused to work with us, we could have taken you by force. Ask your Grandfather about his deadline.”
“Just knowing about magic is a crime?”
“Yes. If you were an unconnected mortal, the person who told you would be executed, and if your memory couldn’t be wiped, you’d join them. Remember that before you let your traitorous tongue waggle. Tell someone you shouldn’t about magic, and we put you to sleep forever. You’d get a public trial first, but that’s usually just a formality designed to allow everyone to see you for the person you really are.” She left the office without looking back at me.
I threw the pen I was holding across the room. I’d had enough of this bullshit. After giving her plenty of time to leave, I stood up and left the office heading for the rooftop cafeteria.
After I grabbed my lunch, I noticed Eli sitting alone with a distant look on his face as he looked through the glass railing of the balcony. It faced the ocean even though we were too far away to see it. I could almost imagine what it looked like. Maybe there was a speck of blue I could see in the distance. I blinked my eyes again, and it was gone. From the hill the building stood on, I could see the entire valley that held Dunn. The houses and livelihoods of over 9,000 people took up an oddly small amount of space.
I walked over to Eli, who didn’t notice me until I sat down. His eyes were a kaleidoscope of colour in the early afternoon light. The way they managed to be three colours at once had always taken my breath away. In the afternoon light, the golden-brown was the most predominant colour in them. Today there was something in his gaze that made my heart ache. Part of me wanted to find the person who’d done this to him and punch them in the face.
I smiled at him. “Hey.”
“Hey.” He smiled back.
I placed my hand on his and met his eyes. I hadn’t talked to him at all the night before, I’d been asleep when he got home, and he was awake and gone before I was in the morning. “Are you okay?”
“I had another talk with my suited friends last night.”
“It’s okay. They were a little nicer. Daddy was off somewhere else.”
“The White Suited prick who broke my freaking nose.”
“I hate the Fucker. If we meet on an even playing field, I’ll show him, but those Templar Fuckers won’t allow that to happen.”
“They want me to spy on you, and they’ll forget about the potion they claim I stole.”
“Spy on me?” I bit my tongue before I could tell him I was dancing to Cory’s whims. Cory, who was taking directions from our white-suited friend. “What are we going to do?”
“I’ll spend every night with you until they get bored. A creative way to keep me out of trouble too. When that Nox prick strikes while I’m watching over you, the surveillance teams will have no choice but to admit that you aren’t some kid murdering psychopath.”
“Did you know?”
“The Nox thing?”
“That they were accusing you officially? Not until last night. How did you know?”
“Someone I thought I could call a friend told me.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m just a stupid fool everyone is trying to use in their political games.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Why haven’t you been answering any of my messages?”
“I broke my phone. I need to get a new one.”
“I was reading in the bath, and it slipped out of my hands. Even waterproof phones don’t like epsom salts.” I’d tell him what really happened later when we were alone in our bedroom. I didn’t feel safe revealing anything secret here.
“Don’t you have one of those waterproof e-readers?”
“I was using a subscription app that’s only on phones.” I took a sip of my coffee. My phone had met the bathtub after I copied the files over and factory reset it. If they dug through my bin, they’d find a phone damaged by hot water and magnesium salts. They were spying on me even though I was already cooperating with them. I angrily pinched my leg under the table. Why was I so stupid? Cory wasn’t looking out for my best interests. It was the whole playing into that attraction thing again. He’d flat out stated that he was manipulating my needy arse. He knew I wouldn’t cheat on Eli, but he also knew I was desperate for a friend. The only people I hung out with were Eli, Julie and our families. A bubbly, nerdy friend who liked books and tea was the perfect match for me. Someone I’d be desperate to hang out with—a mentor, but approachable.
I had to get that phone back. No one could know that I had those photos in another place. If I threatened Lowe with the photos and the phone was empty, they would turn my entire life upside down. They’d have enough to get a warrant. That phone or a USB stick was my carrot on a stick. I’d break it when cornered, destroying what they’d think was the only copy. They needed to think I had only one copy. That I could only possibly have one copy. Would the phone be in his office or had he handed it over to his boss? Had he gone to Lowe himself?
There was a small chance that the phone was in his office.
After I ate with Eli, I found an almost empty USB stick in my backpack and placed it in my pocket. I made sure the gesture was an open one in case I wasn’t paranoid about the cameras. In this place, the paranoia probably wasn’t unfounded. I walked to the end of the hall where Cory’s office and the morgue stood. I carefully pushed open the door and let myself in. Thankfully, I was faced with a pastel yellow hall rather than him dissecting a body. I took a deep breath to still my beating heart and walked down the hall, following the sign that pointed to Dr Cory Corvin’s office. I’d bargain with the actual photos when or if the time was right, a time when I’d have reason to use them. Long after Lowe didn’t have a justifiable reason to search through everything I owned looking for them. If he looked through mine and by extension Eli’s things, he might find enough to incriminate Eli for his own crimes. Access to our house meant access to accidentally looking through Eli’s stuff. My loyalty to Eli came first, even if it made me look more guilty.