The idea behind the USB stick was simple. I’d copy the photos onto it, and I’d get caught by Cory. Everyone would think I had taken the pictures on the phone even though mine had its last bath around the same time. I would break the USB stick and give it to Cory when he caught me in the act. I hoped he hadn’t looked at the phone or given it to Lowe. I hadn’t seen him, which meant he had more important things to do than deal with my bullshit.
I wanted to piss him off.
His disinterest in me meant he wouldn’t come looking for me in my office. While that Fucker was distracting me, the rest of his gang had been terrorising Eli, and his boss had been off doing God knows what. How was I supposed to prove my innocence if they never gave me the chance? Every time I crafted an excellent defence of my actions, the Templars, detectives like Andrea Dominquez or someone else pulled the rug out from under me, levelling a new accusation. How the fuck did they expect me to trust them?
Even Cory was just pretending to believe me so he could be the one who unmasked the evil Death Mage. I guess he wanted bonus points with his boss. Could their primary intention with going after Eli be me? Was that potion thing a trap? Had I played into their plan by revealing my powers? The way Cory had acted at Nora Rowe’s house when I got angry, he was ready to fight for his life. He saw me as a potential threat. Did he believe I was bluffing about the extent of my abilities? That the way I used the Short Street Ghost was a distraction, so they’d think I was powerless? Cory’s words slipped back into my mind, ‘If I want something from someone, I use magic to sense what actions arouse the person I’m talking to. If you’re even reasonably attractive, you can use it to your advantage when working with people. It’s a subtle manipulation’. If he wanted to believe I was playing him, I would use the idiots’ gambet. I couldn’t pull off Cory’s brand of male femme fatale. What I could pull off was an idiots’ gambet. I was willing to play the idiot and sacrifice my reputation to get out of this in one piece. I could make a plan after no one had an inkling I had those photos. I didn’t know how yet, but I felt like that request from Lowe tied into all of this as he knew about the suspicion of me being Nox. He’d asked if what they said about my powers was true and if he should test it. Was he a member of the Templars, or was this a sting operation from the Detectives to get me for another crime? They got Al Capone on unpaid taxes. Who was Alexander Lowe working for and why had he been sent my way?
I walked into Cory’s empty office and closed the door behind me. I went straight to the top drawer of his desk. If I was right about the person he was, he’d have his unnecessarily complicated password written somewhere. Even if he’d memorised it, there’d be a forgotten notebook, post it or slip of paper with it written. I carefully read every piece of paper in his desk drawers. It made little sense to me, most of it was spells, information about cases I didn’t know about and medical jargon. Notebooks filled with information I didn’t have the knowledge to fully understand. If I didn’t get caught, the IT department would see that something had been copied from the phone using Cory’s login and computer. They’d see he wasn’t in his office at the time and realise it was me. That I’d gotten the photos I wanted so badly back. I’d delete the photos just before they caught me. Why would I have another copy if I went to all this effort to get them? I wasn’t looking to convince Lowe, just anyone who’d give him a warrant.
I touched a thick, softcover A5 book at the bottom of the drawer and instantly pulled my hand away as pain shot up my arm. A spell had burnt the tips of my fingers. The pain and bright redness of the digits made me second guess trying to touch the thing again. I wondered where the nearest sink was, then realised the only sinks would be in the morgue. I wiped the tears from my eyes with my sleeve. I’d have to push through it. I noticed the phone beside the book in an official evidence bag. I used the thumb and index fingers on my opposite hand to pull it from the drawer without touching the book again.
The leather-bound book was obviously a Grimoire. The leather was a dark mauve, and it was held closed with only a long braided piece of tan suede. The edges of the pages painted with a metallic black colour that reminded me of the suit he’d worn the day before. The longer I looked at the book, the harder it was to pull my eyes and thoughts from it. It was really the most beautiful book I’d ever seen… did it have a fore-edge painting? I reached out to touch the book, the part of my mind that knew something was wrong losing the battle with my curiosity. What was wrong with me? I forced my shaky arm back to my side. My burnt fingers still outstretched towards the book. I could feel a headache slowly building in my mind, my eyes dry from staring at the book. My heart pumped so erratically I could feel each beat throughout my body.
“Didn’t anyone teach you manners?” Cory grabbed my shoulders and turned me away from the book. He pulled his glove off and dunked his thumb in a small pot of black ink from his satchel. He placed the soaked thumb onto the middle of my forehead, drawing a simple sigil as he said a few quiet words. He’d gripped my chin firmly to stop me from looking back at the book.
Suddenly the urge to look at the grimoire was gone. A weight I didn’t even notice had been wrenched from my mind. The headache slowly faded as I looked at the grey carpet, unable to face him. What the hell?
My nose was assaulted with the potent smell of the alcohol wipes he carefully used to clean the ink from my forehead. Sometimes he looked at me like I was something he’d lost behind an unbreakable glass wall. It unnerved me more than it should have. The cynical part of my mind reasoned that it had something to do with what I’d forgotten, the gaps inside my mind. When would we have had the chance to meet before?
“What made you think it was a wise idea to go through a Mage’s things?” Cory said.
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do.” He looked down at me through his glasses; his arms crossed over his chest.
“I came to visit you.”
“And you just developed an overwhelming urge to go through my desk?” Cory pushed his glasses down slightly and massaged the bridge of his nose. “You honestly think there wouldn’t be security measures in a magic users desk? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Glad we’ve established that because I don’t know what’s wrong with you either.” He looked at the phone for a minute before he picked it up from where I’d dropped it on the fluffy carpet. “What unhinged idea have you come up with this time?”
“Unhinged? You’re the two-timing arsehole who’s working for the people trying to get my husband to spy on me.”
“He told you?”
“Yeah. He told me.” I said. “Were you there when they abducted him?”
“I was making a deal with you while they were talking to him.”
“I just want proof that you honestly don’t think I’m Nox before I trust you.”
He waved the phone towards me. “How does this get you that?”
“I wanted Lowe to think I had the only copies of the photos.”
“You wanted me to believe that too. I would have noticed you were in here. There are security cameras.”
“I was angry.”
He looked down at me for a long time. I could almost see the thoughts rushing behind his emerald eyes. “Do you want to identify that ghost?”
“You still want to help me after seeing my crazy?”
“Yes.” He said. “I’ll talk to my boss and get the others to back off Elijah.”
“Lead the way.” I waved my arm towards the door. I had to convince him there were never photos. That I wanted something to hold over Lowe. An empty phone would throw up enough red flags to hold a parade.
His eyes widened as he saw my fingers.
I looked down at my hand. “I’d forgotten about that. The pain went away when you cast that spell on me.”
“Let me fix it before it causes permanent damage. I should have realised you would have touched it.” He walked over to the hulking sage filing cabinet behind his dark mahogany desk and pulled a large first aid bag from the top of it.
Cory led me back upstairs and into the library where the staff set us up with a private reading room. They delivered every yearbook and school photo collection from Dunn Academy for the last fifty years. Cory opened the first book, the 1968 school photos. “We start with the photos and then use the yearbook to find out any extra information on her.”
“Excellent idea.” I sat down and opened the 1969 one and started scanning the photos. Many of the names I recognised startled me. At least this would give me a good rundown on the people who were Mages. Two hours later, I’d found her. The girl in the photo looked younger than the ghost, but she was in year seven in the year 1973. Her name was Bethany Thornton.
“What was that?”
I realised I’d read the name out loud; I turned the book over and showed him the page of portraits. “Bethany Thornton.”
Cory pulled the yearbooks for 1973 to 1979 from the pile and handed me 1973.
“You‘ll want to look at this.” Cory was looking at me, his brow creased in confusion. I looked at the book as he turned it to me. My heart stopped as I realised what I was looking at. Bethany Thornton had died in 1974 from leukaemia. I was looking at a two-page tribute to her memory.
“This doesn’t make any sense. Does it? How could a girl who died of cancer end up haunting the corner of Short and Main Street?”
“I won’t know without studying it more.”
“We have the wrong girl.” I started flicking through the book.
“I don’t think we do.”
“I refuse to believe that. There has to be something more to this. Please, I need your help. You know more about ghosts then I do.”
He sighed. “I’ll keep helping you.”
“I want to see my cousin Kat on Saturday. She’s a journalist, so she must know how to find out things other people don’t.”
“What exactly is our next move?”
“I want to find out as much as I can about Bethany and the Thornton family during the sixties and seventies.”
“I guess you want me to come on this field trip with you.”
“Yes. I need your skills and the second pair of eyes.”
“I’ll get a copy of her death certificate.”
“You can do that?”
“I have access to those kinds of databases,” Cory said. “I think we should see what your cousin can do before I reach out to any of my contacts. We’ll look like idiots if it’s easy to get information.”
“Okay.” I wrote Kat’s address and handed it to him. “Meet me here at eight.”
I left the library before he could catch up with me.