2.22: Logistics and Crime

The number of days until the next festival—the next unpredictable confluence of magic—steadily ticked down. Something shifted about the energy in Tortus Bay, and Henry was astounded that he had not noticed it last time. Perhaps it hadn’t happened then. Or perhaps he had chalked it up to the newness of life in the village. 

The streets thinned out early in the day, transforming the usually bustling A.M. Bazaar into a sidewalk event. Yellows and greens snaked into the sky, ushering along with them the repressed electricity of a coming storm. Henry’s main focus, to everyone’s general frustration, continued to be finding Clair. Aria encouraged him to focus on the paper, Kara insisted that he go back into hiding, and Teresa wanted only for him to rest. But he was certain that if he could only find the girl, and hear what she had to say, that it would resolve every other one of his issues at once. She would be the linchpin.

“Why not talk to this Taylor person, then?” Teresa asked, with a sigh of frustration. She had herded her daughters upstairs to afford her guests a private conversation. They spread out, as usual, in the Bramble’s kitchen, sipping strong black coffee as they spoke. “If you think he knows where she is, that should be your first step.”

“No good,” Kara said. “I talked with him the other day. He got Henry’s covert message alright, but the only thing he did with it was hide a note for her in her house.”

Henry held his head in his hands. “We could have done that.”

“Only reason he got in is because he’s a deputy. Supposedly Leia is in and out of there every day. Top priority surveillance.”

“Then we use him to get back in,” he said, “at least to look for clues.”

Kara shook her head. “Leia is suspicious. Of everyone, I think, but especially Taylor. He used to get all the drudge work—now he gets no work, period.”

“But Clair must have seen the message,” Teresa said, “or else where did Emmaline Cass’ body go?”

Henry had been through all of this, over and over again. It only led in circles. “The fact is, we don’t know anything. Anything could have happened to that body. We can’t assume that we were the only people who knew about it. Not after what happened with the Mayor.”

“Yes,” Tersa said, “the man who can consort with wolves. If what you have said about him is true, then we have a much bigger issue on our hands.”

“It’s true. What else could it have been?”

She shrugged. “He lured you to that spot in the forest specifically to show you that scene. He wants you to know what he can do. But let me ask: how is it that you managed to outrun an entire pack of wolves? And why didn’t you clearly see any of them?”

“You’re saying it was a trick.”

“A glamour, perhaps. The ability to exert control over animals, especially that number of animals simultaneously, is vanishingly rare. Especially outside of the confluence.”

“So, as you’ve said, is bringing a dead man back to life.”

“That is not necessarily what we are dealing with there.”

Kara cleared her throat. “Okay, we’re getting off track again. What is our plan for right now? For today?”

“We don’t have enough information,” Henry said. “If Emmaline’s body isn’t in that park when the festival dawns, we’re in for a repeat of last month. And Mathas might only be a nuisance right now, but who knows what will happen to him then. We have to find Clair. Teresa, are you willing to help?”

“The girl is alive, at least. And not too far away from the village. Every bit of magic leaves a trace, and I am familiar enough with her to know those things. For anything else, we will have to resort to a bit of trickery.” She drew a small, plain brown strip of leather from her pocket, and pressed it into Henry’s hands. A strange symbol was burned into the face of it, blackened around the edges. 

“What is this?”

“Call it a totem, if you need a name.”

He turned it over in his hand. “And this symbol?”

Teresa pursed her lips. “Kara, why don’t you tell him?”

“It was a secret,” she said. “I was never supposed to know. Clair came to me one night a few years ago, after she found out what it is that I can do. She told me she had something tattooed on her, and she wasn’t sure if it was safe. It worried her. She wanted the opinion of an outsider, of someone she could trust.”

Henry held the swatch face-up in his palm. The symbol was similar in design to the charms he wore around his neck, and the sigils he’d seen carved onto the Cass headstone, but it was more intricate. More fleshed out. The longer he looked, the more it seemed to resemble a pair of legs. “What does it do?”

“Never found out,” Kara said. “She needed to trust, so I didn’t ask. It wasn’t a threat, which I told her. Then I forgot about it, until the day you told me you saw her floating outside of your window.”   

“Who gave her the tattoo?”

Teresa clicked her tongue. “Now who’s getting off track? We don’t know anything more than that she has the thing. The point is that we can track her. All magic calls out, and responds when called upon. What the girl has on her leg is almost certainly experimental, and so also assuredly unique. The tattoo and the leather will recognize one another, if they should get close, and they will sing to one another.”

***

There was no singing that day. Henry and Kara ventured into the woods, starting close to Clair’s house and radiating out from there, but the leather totem remained inert. Neither of them knew what they were waiting for, exactly, but Teresa had repeatedly assured them that they would recognize it once it happened.

“Could we make more of these?” he suggested, several fruitless hours into the exercise. They had circled the village twice, and his legs ached. “Then we could split up, and cover more ground.”

Kara shook her head. “Weren’t you listening? If this is going to work, then it will be because these two symbols are the only two which exist in the area. If there were three, then they would interact with each other and spoil the whole thing.”

“Meaning that if there’s already more than one, we’re just wasting our time out here.”

“Quite right.”

They walked in ever widening circles, until the sun began to fail. The yellows became goldenrods and the greens became purples above them. It wasn’t long before Kara called it quits. “We have a few days left,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to burn ourselves out.”

Henry continued despite that logic, worrying the leather in his hand until it was damp with sweat and warm with the heat of his body. His breath fogged into a cloud. Whatever anybody else said, he knew they were running out of time. And it was he who wasted it. It would be him with whom the fault lay, if anything bad were to happen. But Teresa’s plan was not his only option.

He frowned down at his phone, but followed the directions he’d been texted regardless. They brought him through the wild woods and into the more tamed horticulture of Glosspool Lane, where Niles sat waiting for him on a white park bench beside a small, still pool. “You made it!” he said, jumping up and visibly restraining himself from initiating a hug.

Henry went in. The man was warm, and pleasant, against his chest. As usual, he smelled like the delicious intersection of a bakery and a sawmill. “We’re allowed to do this.”

“Only this?” Niles whispered into his ear.

He coughed, breaking their embrace, and was thankful for the obscuring dark. “Why are we meeting here?”

“Lucy Brihte invited me over to strategize for the next TBHWAS meeting. I think that means she just wants to go over the food options, but still—I can stretch it out for a while.”

Henry blinked. “So?”

“So, Lucy is Beth’s sister, and she always hated Mathas. I even thought she knew something about how he’d been killed, don’t you remember?”

“Do you still think that?”

Niles nodded. “I’m sure of it. Listen, I told you that I had an idea to help you track Mathas down again. This is it. There’s information here, and Lucy is home alone. I’ll distract her, and you sneak in. I can probably buy you an hour to snoop around. I have a lot of elaborate and important opinions on cake.”

It was crazy, dangerous, and unlikely to work—but no less crazy, dangerous, or unlikely to work than wandering around the forest at night. Henry nodded. “Okay, get me inside.”

Niles smiled and took the lead, bringing him across the expansive backyard of the Brihte Estate. Outside the patio door Henry crouched to the side. Niles waited until he was in place, shot him a thumbs-up, and rapped on the wooden frame. After a moment, lights flashed on and footsteps approached.

“Niles!” Lucy said, swinging the door open. “I’m glad you made it. We really have to discuss our next hike. Come in, come in.”

Niles followed her inside, taking an extra second on his way to kick the mud off his shoes. Henry caught the corner of the door and held it ajar. He waited there, crouched and shivering in the cold, heart in his throat, until he could no longer hear their footsteps. Then he exhaled, and slipped inside.

The Brihte Estate’s famed opulence was obscured by the dim light in the hallways through which Henry crept. He slowly tip-toed through the house, trying to avoid making noise while straining his ears to track Niles and Lucy’s conversation. From what he could tell they were in the kitchen, still working their way through pleasantries. He steered himself in the opposite direction, through a well-appointed parlor and several smaller rooms which he could only guess were studies, until he found the stairs.

On the second floor he knew there would be several bedrooms, but only one would be unlocked. Only one was still in use. He walked with less caution now, so far removed from the kitchen, but tested his weight carefully with every step. Old houses were creaky houses, and one creak might give him away. He found himself surrounded by less lavish decorations; this area was clearly meant for family, not guests. There was a small secondary kitchen and dining room, followed by a crooked hallway.

As promised, Henry came upon locked door after locked door. His sweaty hands slipped off of polished brass. Then, finally, a doorknob gave way, and opened with a slight click. He stepped into what was the least decorated and most plainly lived-in section of the enormous house. Clumsy, unframed landscapes hung on the walls. Clothes lay scattered on the floor. In the corner sat a single mattress, its sheet twisted up in the middle, covered in colorful pillows. On the shelf beside the bed there was an old-fashioned landline, where Niles must have overheard the conversation which originally roused his suspicions.

There was no better place to start. Henry opened the top drawer of the shelf, and thought at first that it was a junk drawer. He saw scattered, uncapped pens, bobby pins, and the bottom half of a stapler. But underneath, there was a slim black notebook. He reached for it.

Behind him, the door opened. “You’re not supposed to be here,” Lucy Brihte said. 

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