2.16: Off to the Races

The weather turned in Tortus Bay. Morning frost clung to the eaves of the shopfronts on Main street, as well as the auburn leaves of the trees in the park. The sun shone in a clear sky overhead, but despite the light it was a frigid day. Despite everything that had happened, the village still felt more like home than anywhere else in the world—and returning was a joy.

Aria Bethel wore an overlarge, puffy white sweater which covered most of her body. In person the sharp lines of her face were softer than they appeared via phone screen, and the red of her lips was a gentler pink. “So you’ve returned from your sojourn to Greenfield.”

“I have,” Henry said. He shifted to make himself comfortable in the hard plastic chair on the opposite side of her office desk. It felt like a bit of an afterthought, as though she didn’t take meetings in her office very often. “And I know what I’m doing.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“A newspaper.”

She smiled. “A lot of people aren’t going to like that idea.”

“I don’t care about a lot of people. I care about you, right now.”

Aria leaned back in her chair. Behind her, wall-length windows revealed the breadth of inHale’s open space office space. It wasn’t a large operation; perhaps five other people worked for her, flitting from desk to desk to lean and chat. “I take it you mean to publish the truth?”

“Nothing but. About magic and Mathas Bernard and anything else that I can get my hands on.”

“A print newspaper?” she asked, then shook her head. “Of course a print newspaper. You want people around here to actually read it. Well, it’s not at all what I had in mind when I initially offered you a job, but I’m willing to help.”

“You’ll print it?”

She nodded. “Give me a little time, I think I can arrange printing and distribution. You realize this is going to make us supremely unpopular individuals?”

“I believe I’ve already accomplished that. Is it worth it for you?”

Aria lifted herself out of her seat, flicked closed the blinds, and sat back down. “I’m not a stupid person.” She spoke very softly, leaning forward over her desk. “And I cannot tolerate being willfully ignorant. Not any longer. Even a person—such as myself—who is not touched at all by the magic of this place cannot live here for long without encountering some aspect of it. I tried to deny it, for much of my life. Even after I accepted it personally, I pretended publicly not to know. I’m the tech person, for God’s sake. What would people think?

“That worked well enough, for a long time. Now things are changing. There are storms over the park. Nothing like that has ever happened before. Nothing like that could have ever happened before.  I don’t know how you stopped that thing from enveloping the entire village, but I’m glad you did—because while it was swelling, about ninety percent of the population was determinedly looking in the other direction.

“I’ve been tossing it all back and forth in my mind since then. Everyone in this community needs to be on the same page, if we’re going to deal with whatever happens next. I don’t think I can keep looking in the other direction any longer.”

Henry found himself mimicking her body language, leaning into the conversation and responding in an equally hushed whisper. “Is the sheriff, or the mayor, going to try to shut us down?”

“I’ve no doubt they’ll both try. We’ll do this thing in secret. I have contacts out in Jungston who should be able to print. We’ll do distribution through the Anderson, assuming Kara and her cohort are happy to turn a blind eye.”

“I don’t think that group will take much convincing.”

She offered her hand. “Then we’re partners. Fifty-fifty, after I recoup losses.”

He took it. “Partners.”

“The trick now, Henry, will be convincing as many people as we can, as fast as we can and as thoroughly as we can, so that the powers that be will be unable to shut us down when they inevitably route us out.”

“A race against time.”

Aria grinned. “A race against convenient ignorance.”

***

Kara nearly lifted Henry off his feet with the ferocity of the hug she administered when he stepped into the warehouse. “Of course we’ll do it,” she said. “This old place was practically constructed out of hidey-holes. Trust me, you only know a couple of them. But where in the hell did you get the idea for a newspaper?”

“Always struck me as odd, that Tortus Bay didn’t have one. I think it’s been on my mind since I saw that bulletin board in the cafe.” 

“Just took you a mini mental meltdown to put the pieces in place?”

The Anderson was freezing. Much of the art was still hanging in exhibition, but here and there pieces had been moved. Paint cans and drying racks were once again making their way back out onto the floor. “I’m sorry I missed the exhibit.”

“It was nothing special. Lot of folks milling in a circle, reciting old art terms they learned in high school. The mayor bought Cigarette Break.”

Henry looked to the far wall, where the mural of the young boy smoking a cigarette was hanging in a partially deconstructed state. “I didn’t know that was for sale.”

She shrugged. “Neither did I, but he made a very generous offer. Wants it installed in his house.”

“What a house that must be.”

“The man is a long-term supporter of local art.”

“Rings a bell. That makes him a friend?”

Kara arched a brow. “Of course not.”

Henry took a long look around the warehouse. They appeared to be alone. “Listen, there’s something else that I need to do. Something I didn’t mention to Aria. And I might need your help.” 

“What do you need?”

“To find Clair. She’s a part in all of this, and there’s a lot more that she can tell me. There has to be. She left me a note with directions on where to find her, but I don’t know if it’ll be good anymore. It’s a place to start, at least.”

She leveled a shrewd look in his direction, and folded her arms. “You mean business.”

“I can’t hop from place to place,” he said. “Not anymore. For whatever reason, Tortus Bay is the only place I’ve ever found that feels right. It’s the only place where the bullet wound in my shoulder doesn’t ache. But I need to help it as much as I think it can help me—and now I know how.”

 She nodded. “You’ve seen how I work. What I do. The magic that I imbue into the things that I create is carried out into the world by people who believe in me, and once a month we are connected through that craft. All magic works like that. It’s a connective force.”

“What are you saying?”

“Clair has a particular tattoo on her leg. It wasn’t something of mine, but it is something of the magic of Tortus Bay. And so it is connected in some way to the village.” Kara began pacing, arms still tightly crossed, as she talked it through. “I know exactly where everyone who bears one of my trinkets is, on a festival day. Tracing that at the right time, in the right way, might clue us in to her location. I don’t know the first thing about how to tap into that, but someone with a deeper understanding might have the secret to get it started. Someone like Teresa Bramble.”

***

They didn’t make it to the Bramble estate. As Henry and Kara walked down the street, a squad car pulled up beside them. Sheriff Leia Thao jumped out, her face a mask of determination. 

Henry knew what was about to happen the second before it did, and his overwhelming reaction was confusion. He should have had more time. Did she know that he’d skipped town? Had she already dug up his fake plot in the park? 

He didn’t have to wait long for the answer. In a single motion, Leia fished a pair of manacles from her belt with one hand and pulled his arm behind his back with the other. “Henry Cauville,” she said, “you are under arrest for the assault of Howard Drucker. Anything you say now can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

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