Lucy Brihte looked the same as she ever did: pale and slight, in old faded clothes. Even caught in a moment of obvious rage, her eyes still seemed somehow detached from reality. They didn’t focus where they should have. Henry stood stock still, hand hovering above her bedside notebook. Neither of them spoke.
Niles, panting slightly, jogged down the hallway. “Ahh,” he said. “Henry, uh… she’s coming.”
Henry straightened up, retracted his hand, and bumped the drawer closed for good measure. “Thank you for the heads up.”
“She, uh, she went to the bathroom and must have…”
Lucy nodded. “Heard something from my bedroom. What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for Mathas Bernard,” he said. “I need all of the information I can find.”
“And you think that makes it okay to break into somebody’s bedroom?” She spoke in her characteristically serene voice, but her cheeks flamed red and her hands balled into fists at her side. “Is this for that childish new project of yours? The newspaper?”
“Of course I know about the newspaper. And of course I know that you’re the one behind it. Who else? When I heard that you were looking for testimonials about Mathas, I chose not to participate.”
“Because you don’t know anything?”
She scoffed. “I know more than anyone who’s spoken with you yet. I can guarantee that. I didn’t come forward because of this. What is this? As incompetent as it is illegal. You can’t steal people’s notes. If you’re going to be a journalist, you have to act like a journalist.” Her fists relaxed. “That’s the problem with this village. A journalist who doesn’t know how to do an interview, and a sheriff who doesn’t believe what she sees in front of her own eyes.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I said.” The rest of the red drained out of her face. “Niles, at least, knows how to bake a cake. That’s why he’s a baker.”
Niles had slowly backed down the hallway. “That’s true,” he called.
Lucy glowered at Henry for a moment longer, but then seemed to tire at the effort of it. “I should throw you both out. I should call the police.
“Tell you what: you can leave, and I won’t even call the sheriff, but first you have to tell me how you knew that I know anything worth stealing about Mathas. And why didn’t you just ask me? Unless…” Her eyes widened. “You think that I had something to do with it, don’t you?”
Niles peeked around the corner, waving his hands. “No, no, no, no, no.”
“Yes,” Henry said.
“Yeah,” Niles amended, “that’s right. I overheard you talking on the phone last month. You said that your sister was home on the night that Mathas died.”
“How long have we known one another?” Lucy shook her head. “You should have just asked me. I was talking to Leia. Truth be told, at the time I did think that my sister might have done it. I was scared. And a little proud. Come on, let’s talk about this somewhere other than my bedroom.” She turned and strode out of the room, leading them back through the upper kitchen and down the stairs while mumbling under her breath about Leia Thao. In the main kitchen she offered them chilled wine in thin stemware. “Whatever I might tell you will not be quoted to me directly. Are you at least competent enough to manage that?”
They arranged themselves around the corner of a table that could easily have sat twelve. It looked as though it had not been used in months. A thick film of dust had settled around the golden candelabras in the center, which apparently proved too difficult to clean. Henry knew that the estate was Lucy’s in everything but name. Nobody besides her stayed in the place for long. And yet she sat ill at ease, as though she was as much a guest there as them. “Nothing identifiable will be printed.”
She took a long drink. “I’m sure you realize you’re making targets of yourselves. Have you thought about the attention you’re going to throw on anyone who chooses to contribute?”
“That will all be anonymous.”
Lucy sighed. “Good luck with that. Oh, I suppose there’s nothing to be done about it. When you have an incompetent sheriff, the people will inevitably start taking investigations into their own hands.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
She refilled her wine, and then topped each of them off, though neither of them had taken more than a sip. “You must have been pursuing this for a while, if you know about the phone call. I understand why you didn’t approach me back then, if you thought I was close to the murder. What changed?”
“I’m running out of time,” Henry said. “The festival is happening in a few days.Mathas is up and walking around the village. I don’t care what happened to him. I’m trying to find out where he is.”
Lucy leaned back in her high-backed table chair, and closed her eyes as she spoke. “I never liked Mathas. That was never a secret, except maybe to him. I’ve known him all my life. I couldn’t help it; we both grew up in the village. But he was always one of those low-level assholes you try your best to avoid. You know the type. He made an aggressive pass at my best friend while she was drunk at a party, and spent the rest of his high school career dedicated to convincing everyone that it hadn’t happened. Including her.
“He was the one who dragged me back here. I made it out, you know? Off to college, and then from there off to backpack through the Balkans. That was how I wanted to spend my life. Then I heard that my sister was marrying that same asshole from high school, and I decided I had to come back for the wedding.
“I did my best to talk her out of it, of course, but she wasn’t having it. I assumed that he was after our family money, at first. But things had changed since I’d left. He had some fancy title at the bank, and more than enough cash for himself. Everyone was talking about the generous donations he made a habit of splashing around town. He saved the coffee shop from bankruptcy. He was halfway through a deal to secure the Anderson warehouse and donate it to a local art troupe. I was surprised. I almost understood the marriage.”
Niles brows knit together. “I’ve never heard that side of it.”
“You wouldn’t have,” she said. “That man’s reputation was as important to him as all of the money and power in the world.”
“Is that why you still didn’t approve of the marriage?” Henry asked.
Lucy bit her lip. “It’s hard to put into words. Once you’ve smelled someone’s bullshit, it sticks with you. And it gets easier to pick up in the future. I think he was – is – a power hungry man, no matter how talented he was at putting on an unimposing face. I did not approve of him marrying my sister, and I certainly did not approve of him trying to leverage what minuscule magical talents he might have had by employing the tutelage of the Bramble daughters.”
Henry choked on his wine. “He did what?”
“Oh. You didn’t know.” She bit her lip a little deeper. “It was a secret. Teresa refused to help him, as did everybody else with an ounce of intelligence.”
“How did you find out?”
“Like I said, people start doing their own investigations when they lose faith in the proper channels.”
“Where did they meet?”
She shrugged. “Not a clue. At his house, I assume. But that is all I have to tell you. Do something with it, okay? Caring is nice, but it’s not enough. We need somebody who can get things done.”
Henry and Niles rose from their seats, but Lucy waved Niles back down. “I still intend,” she said, “to talk about the route tomorrow. And I think we should have a discussion about your security access, as well.”
Niles slowly slid back into his seat, his face frozen in a grimace.
It was the middle of the night when Henry left the Brihte Estate, to stumble by the light of the stars across their expansive lawn into the surrounding trees. His brain buzzed with what he’d just heard, but he didn’t know what to do with it. Didn’t know if there was anything to do. He didn’t want to bring an accusation to Teresa yet. He wasn’t ready.
All he knew was that he was no closer to finding Clair. He wandered out into the forest, moving slow, holding aloft the strip of leather which he had come to think of as a tracking device. In his mind, he imagined it would start beeping and emitting red lights if he got close. If it worked at all. The girl is alive, Teresa had said. And not too far away from the village.
How was that possible? Was she a secret naturalist? Or was she getting help? Who would help her? Why was she staying in the area? Henry walked that night like a man convinced that worry might be expressed through the soles of his shoes. He walked undisturbed until finally his exhaustion overwhelmed his anxiety, and then he headed home.