2.25: Treetop Confessional

“I’m not a wolf,” Henry said, “I promise.” He was looking up at Clair’s face, hidden amidst a great mass of branches and leaves in the canopy overhead. It was tough to distinguish details, but he thought she was still scowling at him.

“If that’s true,” she said, “then tell me something to prove it. Tell me something that a wolf would never know.”

He scratched the back of his neck. “The safe internal temperature for chicken is one hundred and sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit.”

“One of these wolves could know that.”

“Then I’m afraid they’re as smart as me. What are you doing up there?”

She definitely scowled, now. “Staying away from tricksters.”

“I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

“Have you? Okay, come on up then.” Her face disappeared.

He considered the tree standing before him. “I don’t know if I can. I haven’t climbed a tree since I was a kid. Not to mention the bum shoulder.”

Clair’s face reappeared. “That’s exactly what a wolf would say!”

“A wolf would tell you that it can’t climb because it has a bad shoulder?”

“It would tell me whatever I needed to hear, to make me come down to the ground,” she said, and was gone again.

Henry called to her several times, to no avail. Finally he sized himself up against the trunk. It was a gnarled old thing. Thick strips of bark peeled away like strips of cloth from a sweater. He set his feet against them. If he could climb a lighthouse in his condition, then he could certainly climb a tree.

It was a slow and painstaking process. He pushed himself up with his legs, using his good arm to keep balance. Five feet off the ground one of his holds fell away, the bark sloughing from the tree like blistered skin, and he swung like a rock climber—but wrapped his thighs around the trunk to stabilize himself, preventing a fall. Once he reached the branches it became easier. He had only to hoist himself from one seat to another, steadily rising into the sky. It smelled like cold, fresh air, and the coming of a placid night.

Clair watched him the entire way, the expression on her face gradually transforming from disbelief to skepticism to wonder. When finally he hauled himself onto the wide branch upon which she sat, she wrapped him in a tight hug. Her smell was overwhelming. It was like an expired egg-salad sandwich which had been dunked in a vat of hair grease and left in the sun for a week. He held his breath, and narrowly managed not to gag. “I can’t believe it’s really you,” she said. “I can’t believe you found me. I can’t believe it was you who found me. How did you find me?”

She released him, and he drew the leather swatch from his pocket. It was inert, now, for having been joined with its pair. She marveled at the symbol burned onto its face. “How did you know?”

“Kara.”

“Of course. That was supposed to be a secret.”

“She didn’t tell me who gave you the tattoo. Nobody knows.”

Clair smiled at him. With her suspicions gone, a warmness emanated from the woman that sat at odds with the rough state of her body. Her clothes were torn and dirited. Shallow cuts and bruises ran up and down the length of her arms and legs. Her hair was a matted bunch, and she had clearly lost a great deal of weight. That was nowhere more apparent than in the tendons straining against her emaciated neck. “The secret doesn’t matter anymore. Marjorie Gauthe gave me the tattoo.”

“Gauthe,” he said, “as in…”

“As in, the daughter of the mayor. We were friends growing up. That was how I learned about magic. No, even those who grew up in the village don’t get told. Marjorie was just bad at keeping secrets. Back then, I was certain that it was the difference between what I was and what I wanted to be. Magic. The Gauthes and the Brihtes both knew about it. Used it. That had to be why they were the wealthy families.”

Henry dug out the last of his jerky while she talked. “Was it not?”

“No,” she said, gratefully accepting and then immediately gnawing on the dried meat. “But when we got older I made her promise to help me get some, or I would tell everyone how bad she was at keeping secrets. I don’t know where she learned the pattern. I guess you already know that Teresa and Kara don’t recognize it. Some hidden Gauthe family trick.”

“Did it work?”

“Was I not floating outside of your window last month?” She swallowed the last bite of the jerky. “I’m sorry about that, by the way. Secrets have weight in Tortus Bay. We all feel compelled to keep them—even if simply telling the truth would save someone a great deal of pain.”

Night fell rapidly around them, stealing the color out of the sky and the warmth out of the air. “There aren’t going to be any secrets much longer,” he said. “I’m starting a newspaper for the village. Everything is going to come out.”

Clair gave him a wild look. “Is that right?”

“The first issue went out the other day.”

She whistled. “Then I’m impressed. It must sound like madness to you, if you can’t feel it for yourself, but telling people certain truths about Tortus Bay is hard. The village wants to protect its secrets as much as any of its people do.”

“I’m sure you did what you could,” he said, “that first night we met. But I wish you could have done more. I wish I would have asked more, afterwards, but I thought—well, I thought you had something to do with Mathas Bernard’s death.”

“Oh.” She crossed her arms, balancing on the branch with only her legs. “I did.”

Wind whistled through the trees, trailed closely by the rustling of leaves. Henry shivered. “We should talk about this back in the village,” he said. “I came to bring you back.”

She shook her head. “I can’t go back. The wolves would never let me. They started acting strange, the moment I entered the forest. I was just going to camp out for a day or two. But then they were surrounding me, chasing me. At first I thought I was really lucky, to keep getting away unscathed. Then I realized they were shepherding me. I can’t go too deep in the woods. I can’t get too close to the village. I don’t know why they want me here, but here I am.”

“Clair, I don’t think they’re real. I think they’re like the ones we saw in the park. Don’t you remember?”

She continued shaking her head. “When they come in large groups, they are not real. Not entirely. But one or two? Real enough to sink a fang into your calf. And every day that passes, those teeth get sharper. How long until the festival now?”

“We have to try.”

“We don’t. And I will not. The wolves bring me food. They brought me blankets. And I’m safer out here than I would be in the village.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Aren’t you listening? The festival. The wolves are spreading out. They’re surrounding Tortus Bay. Something bad is about to happen.” Clair leaned back, making herself comfortable. “So I’m glad you found me. Believe me, talking to a real human being after a month is a real treat. Ask me whatever you want, and I’ll tell. No more secrets. But once we’re done, I feel like I’ll be safer out here than in there. If you’re smart, you would stay with me.”

Henry chewed on that. Clair was so stick thin and bruised that he thought he would have no trouble at all in throwing her over his shoulder, if he wanted to. But then agaa\in, he only had the one good shoulder. “You had something to do with Mathas’ death?”

“Yes,” she said, as matter-of-fact as if she were discussing the weather. “I wasn’t the one holding the knife, or anything like that. I wasn’t there, when it happened. I told you the truth about the lighthouse. I thought I was the only one who knew how to get in. Then one day, just before you showed up in the village, I went for a look around and found the scene.”

He nodded. “I’ve seen it.”

“Horrible, isn’t it? First thing I wanted to do was scream. Then I really saw it, and I knew that it had to be kept a secret. I’m pretty good at those, if you’re not following along.”

“I don’t understand. You let everyone think his death was an accident.”

“And everything would have been better that way. I never liked Mathas. Anybody who says they did let themselves be bought. He was a mean, nasty old man.”

“Did he do something?”

“Oh no, nothing specific. No, never anything specific. He was too careful for that. But whenever you left a room, you felt his eyes on you. We went to school together. That was years and years of lingering eyes and drool.” She sighed, gazing blankly out at the sky through the leafy canopy. “I hated the Gauthes because Marjorie left me. She used her family’s money to get herself out of Tortus Bay, and she never looked back. I hated the Brihtes because they let Mathas marry into their little club. That’s why I let everyone believe the murder was an accident.”

“Was he really bad enough to deserve that?”

“Someone from the community did it,” she said, “and I’m sure they had their reasons. I’m sure he deserved it. If you’re looking into the truth because you want to punish someone, then you’re going to do more harm than good.”

“I hear that he was taking magic lessons from the Bramble daughters.”

A dark look crossed Clair’s face, briefly making her beaten body look healthy by comparison. “If you want to punish someone,” she repeated, “you’re going to do more harm than good.”

Henry ran a hand through his hair. “I thought finding you was going to be the key to all of this. I don’t know, I guess I built it up in my head. Things aren’t good in the village. Emmaline’s body is missing again. Along with her locket. And Mathas Bernard, or his animated corpse, is up and wandering around. I’ve seen him myself.”

Clair listened intently, that dark look creeping back onto her face. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know.” 

“I’m sorry if you thought I was going to be able to help. Last I knew, Emmaline and her locket were safe and sound in the park, and Mathas was rotting in his grave.”

“I’m starting to think he never made it into that grave. Or if he did, he got bounced right back out.” He massaged his temples. It felt as though the cold was seeping into his skull. “You’re sure you won’t come back with me?”

“I am. Are you sure you won’t stay here with me?”

He smiled. “You said it yourself: In a few days, these wolves are going to be more than illusions in the dark.”

“And you’ve seen it yourself: In a few days, I’ll be more than helpless.”

Henry positioned himself for the start of a difficult journey back down the trunk of the tree. “Keep your eye out for that locket, will you? And Emmaline and Mathas, while you’re at it. At this rate I think we’re about to have another repeat of the park incident.”

“Then we’ll deal with it like we did back then.”

He started down, then stopped. “Clair?”

“Yes?”

“It was good to see you again.” 

“It was good to see you, too.”

2.24: News

The Tortus Bay Examiner

Issue One

Important! Missing items and personages of great value! Have you seen:

  1. Clair Knoss;
  2. Mathas Bernard (dead or alive or both); 
  3. A locket inscribed with the name of Emmaline Cass; or
  4. The skeletal remains of Emmaline Cass?

If so, please contact the staff of the Tortus Bay Examiner at the address listed below. All that is missing must be recovered before next week’s Golden Goose Fest! Why? Keep reading for details!

***

The front page of the Tortus Bay Examiner caused a ruckus when the first issue landed in the village. If Henry had thought that the initial wave of readers would be able to keep the paper under wraps, he had been mistaken. The street outside of the cafe once more exploded with people, a reformed A.M. Bazaar, and each and every one of them seemed somehow to have obtained a copy. They traded them back and forth, gossiped about who had said what, and lamented that every story got certain details just a little off.

Nobody needed to speculate at all about who the editor-in-chief might be. Everyone in the village knew that Henry had been collecting stories about Mathas, and this was the logical conclusion of that. Some of them were perturbed that no credit was given for their testimonies. Many more were relieved. In the back room of the Anderson warehouse, the editorial staff was already working on their next project.

“As long as we don’t slip up,” Aria said, “Leia won’t be able to track anything back here. It’s one thing to know who’s responsible; it’s another to be able to prove it.”

Kara smiled. “And our sheriff doesn’t have a good track record with finding evidence..”

“Is the printer ready to go with what we have for the next issue?” Henry asked. He held a half-drained coffee mug in his hand. The morning was young, yet, but the day was long ahead.

Aria frowned. “Yes. They’re waiting on the word. But are we really going forward with that?”

“Only if we don’t find anything today. People deserve to know what could happen on the festival day if we don’t find Emmaline or her locket.”

“And if you find what you need?”

 “Then they need to know what it was. We write a new article.”

You write a new article,” Aria corrected. “I will continue maintaining our front, so that our printers do not become aware that we are running a clandestine operation.”

***

Henry and Kara spent the entirety of what turned out to be an unseasonably sunny day out in the woods. He let her hold the leather strip with which they were trying to track Clair, on the basis that perhaps her connection to that type of magic would help their chances. They had run out of all other ideas. “There’s nothing more to do than walk,” he said. They went deeper into the trees than they ever had before, and were having a difficult time keeping track of what ground they had covered already.

“Walking I’m fine with,” Kara said. She held the strange, hopefully unique, symbol above her head as though it were a treat, and it was a lost dog they were seeking. “What I need is for us to talk about something less depressing than the impending destruction of my home while we do it. It’s still early. I’m not up to doom and gloom yet.”

“What did you have in mind?”

A wicked grin lit her face. “You went to visit Lucy Brihte with Niles the other night. So… you’re seeing Niles again.”

Dense vines and thorny bushes slowed their progress, compounding and multiplying the further they pushed into the woods. They were often thrown off course by ditches, muddy cricks, and the rotting trunks of fallen trees. Henry had a compass, so as not to get lost, but he wished with every step that they had someone along who knew even the first thing about what they were attempting to do. “I like working with Niles,” he said. “I like talking to him. I like seeing him.”

“Statements as true as they are short, and evasive.”

“He wants something casual. He’s not ready for a commitment.”

Kara yelped, yanking her foot free from a bush she’d just attempted to step through. “Thorns,” she said. “Stay away from that one. So what, you’re looking to marry?”

“I’m looking to date. I don’t need another relationship where I give one hundred and twenty percent effort, and my partner gives ten.”

“I see.” She fell back to walk beside him. Her pants were torn at the calf. “It’s smart, to examine old relationships and watch out for toxic patterns in the future. A lot of folk don’t do that.”

He eyed her. “Is there a ‘but’ to that statement?”

“No. Full stop,” she said. “You know, I’ve only ever dated one person in my time in Tortus Bay. Devin Yerie. He was tall, rugged, and a little too clever for my taste. Worked down in the orchard. Still does, as far as I know. He doesn’t come into the village very often, but you might have seen him once or twice.”

Henry shook his head. “I’ve never heard you talk about this before. I assumed you were…”

“I’m not uninterested. At least, I tell myself I’m not. But I suppose if you’re not interested enough to make time for it, then what’s the difference? I have a full life here. And when I first arrived, I’d just discovered that the lousy little craft projects I’d been doing my whole life suddenly held magical power. It was insane. It was all-consuming. Devin wanted a little piece of my time. He got upset when I forgot about our plans. I was certain that he was about to demand that I give up what I cared about to be with him. So I didn’t give him the chance. I ended it right then and there.”   

Henry chewed on that story, while they explored. It was a nicer thing to ponder by far than what he was currently doing, but it filled him with no less hopelessness. The sun crested above them. They stopped to eat a lunch of beef jerky and apples, and shortly continued walking. The sun began its slow decline. Their emblazoned leather strip remained a leather strip. “Damn it,” Kara said, after clearing a bug-infested stump. “Check the compass.”

“Why?”

“I think we went in a circle.”

And so they had. At some point they had turned themselves around, and come back around to the edge of the village. Henry eyed the horizon. “We can do another loop.”

“It’s no use doing this at night,” Kara said. “It’s dangerous.”

“It’ll be dangerous to let whatever is going to happen -” he fell silent. Suddenly the silent trees around them were filled with noise. Dozens of pairs of feet, running in dozens of different directions. Scattering. “What the hell is that?”

“One of them’s coming this way.”

He didn’t know whether to run or to hide. In the end, he didn’t get the chance to make the decision. Tod burst through the undergrowth, belly swinging and mustache bristling, and barrelled straight in their direcion. His face was red. His eyes were wide. “Wolves!” he cried, already streaking past them in a khaki blur. “Wolves! Run!”

All that happened next was a confused blur of motion and sound. Henry ran, trying to follow Kara, but that immediately proved fruitless. A good number of the TBHWAS had followed Tod, and were now streaming through the forest in the opposite direction, screaming about wolves or else screaming just to scream. He ricocheted off of them, bouncing between bodies and vines and trees, terribly aware that whatever had set them off wasn’t entirely hysteria.

There were thin yellow eyes in the forest again, now accompanied by slobbering maws and the low thrum of howls. The wolves panted. They circled. They ran alongside the fleeing mass. But they did not emerge from the darkness.

One of them darted behind him, keeping apace with bounding leaps and then sinking into the underbrush, threatening to pounce. Whenever he turned to follow a fleeing figure, the wolf was already there. Blocking the path with a snarl. Henry slowed to a jog, then stopped altogether. The instant he stopped moving, his pursuer vanished into the forest. 

A stitch cried out in his side, and his shoulder throbbed painfully from where he had knocked it against a tree. All was still and silent around him. In the distance he could still hear muffled footsteps, but he guessed that most of the club must have made it back to the village. They weren’t that far away to begin with.  

He stood there a moment, to catch his breath. Then he straightened. “Kara!” he bellowed. “Kara, where did you go?”

At the sound of his voice, the eyes in the trees reappeared. They fixed him a terrible glower. The wolf’s body tensed, and lowered – ready to strike.

“Kara! I’m here!” he continued. The wolf stared, unmoving. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

Nobody, human or animal, answered his call. And in the confusion, he had become lost again. So he took his eyes off the forest lurker to grab his compass, but as he did his fingers brushed against the leather strip beside it. It was warm.

The symbol gently pulsed against his skin, and let off mild heat. Henry gripped it in his hand, all thoughts of anything else temporarily forgotten, and took a step to the left. The pulsing stopped, and the leather grew colder. He stepped back, and went instead to the right. Again, nothing. When he moved forward, the heat intensified. It beat like a heart in his palm.

In that maddening fashion he walked like a blind man through the trees, until after many careful steps the leather boiled in his hand and vibrated so hard that he thought his whole arm might shake off. Still he saw nothing.

“Henry?” The voice came from up in the canopy. He craned his neck, but there was only green. Then, something rustled the leaves, and Clair’s face poked through. She looked down at him with some combination of relief and incredulity. “Is that really you?” she asked.

“Yes.”

She frowned. “If you’re a wolf you have to tell me, okay? I swear if you’re a wolf under that skin I’m never going to come down again.” 

2.23: The Missing Link

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?”

“You know…”

“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. 

“We’ll leave.”

“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.

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. 

2.21: Temptations

Henry stood paralyzed in the hallway, staring down the unblinking gaze of Mathas Bernard. The man’s eyes, he could now see, were not quite right. They were filmy, and unfocused. Yellowed. And there was dirt in them, clumping along the ridge of the eyelids.

Niles waved to get his attention. “In here!” he mouthed.

He beckoned Into the living room, which would require Henry to approach Mathas. But even as he pondered the thought, the man’s head turned away, once more resuming what looked like a blind search of the counter-tops.

Henry took a deep breath, steeled himself, and darted across the hallway into the living room. To enter, he had to vault over a sort of barricade which had been set up. The armchair sat toppled on its side, blocking the entrance. A few boxes had been piled on top, for weight. He sat with his back against it, waiting for the inevitable sound of the dead man’s approaching footfalls. It did not come.

Bruce lay huddled in the corner, soundlessly whimpering. Niles sat on the floor behind the couch, clearly trying to decide whether it was worth the effort to add it to the barricade. Sweat poured down his face. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “I mean, obviously I believed Jenny, and you, but I didn’t believe, you know? Now he’s here.”

“We have to get out of the house.”

“No,” Niles snapped. A rare hardness entered his voice. “No, he’s not kicking me out of my own house.”

Henry peered over the top of the armchair. From his angle, he could only see the faint reflection of movement. Mathas was still safe in the kitchen. “What happened?

“I didn’t realize anything was off until Bruce started whining. I thought he was sick, at first, but he kept nipping at my heels and staring off at the kitchen. I walked in there, Henry.” He shuddered.

“What was he doing?”

Niles covered his face with his hands. “I don’t know.”

He wanted nothing more than to crawl over to the couch, and take the man by the shoulders. But he stayed where he was. That would be too much. “Did he come in through the front?”

“No, through the back. I had the door open. I was baking a cake, and I wanted to air the place out.”

That settled into Henry’s mind. “You were baking a cake?”

“Yes. What does that matter?”

“Where is it now?”

Niles drew his hands away from his face. “I think he ate it.”

And he’d stayed in the kitchen since, looking for more. “You used to bake cakes for his birthdays, right? How often did you do that?”

“Every year. And more, besides. The man had a sweet tooth.” 

“I think he still does.”

Niles’ eyes widened in understanding. “He’s looking for the things he used to love.”

“Which explains why he was caught circling his old house.” Henry leaned over and pulled the bookmark out of the ratty paperback copy of The Alpha Aliens Save Jupiter… Again! A photograph, featuring a slighter younger Mathas Bernard standing in a crowd of people. Most notably amongst them was his wife. Beth Brihte beamed out of that photo as Henry had never known her to in real life. He stood, and whistled.

“What are you doing?” Niles hissed, but the trick had worked. Mathas looked again into the stove-top mirror, and saw when he did the photograph which Henry held above the barricade.

In this way they lured the man out of the house. He moved with a limping gate, but a surprising speed, once he was focused on a target. There was a single-mindedness to it which recalled a cat, or a toddler.

“Now what?” Niles asked, when they had moved a good distance down the road. They kept a comfortable pace ahead of Mathas. There was no longer any possible way that the man could still see the photograph, but it did not appear to matter.

“The Anderson,” Henry said. They could hold the man there. Lock him in one of the back rooms, and call the sheriff to come see. He smiled at the thought of Leia Thao coming face to face with the reality of the dead man walking. But it turned out to be a premature fantasy.

On the corner of Fuller, where the road curved away from the forest border to connect Tortus Bay’s northernmost neighborhood to the rest of village proper, there came a scuffling from the grass. It was a substantial noise, like a deer jumping up from where it had settled or a flock of birds scattering from a bush. Either way, Mathas turned at the commotion, and stepped off of the road into the obscuring night.

“Get him back!” Niles said.

Henry raised the photograph further above his head, and whistled. “Mathas! Hey, Mathas!”

By the time they jogged over to where the man had stepped off the trail, there was no sign of him. Not a sprig of displaced grass nor a depression in the damp earth—at least, not that they had the ability to see. He had disappeared into the trees. Henry looked out after him. Pale yellow fingers of light streaked over the sky, the herald of a cold morning approaching, but it was not yet bright enough for him to see anything. Not by far. “What’s out there that he’s more interested in than Beth Brihte?”

“A picture of Beth Brihte,” Niles corrected. “Maybe he was trying to stay out of the sun.”

“Maybe. Was he a hunter?”

“People around here need the support of a dedicated club just to set foot in the forest. No, he wasn’t a hunter.”

The two of them lapsed into silence, looking out over the cusp of the forest into the coming dawn. Adrenaline drained out of Henry’s body. Exhaustion did not rush in to fill the void, as he expected. As it deserved to. He found it nearly impossible to feel tired, while standing out in fresh air, watching the birth of a new day. 

Instead he was overcome with the desire to turn, grab Niles by the shoulder, and spin the man into his embrace. To kiss him. To run his hands over the nape of his neck, the small of his back. In that moment it felt like the most natural and correct thing in the world, like it had before their first kiss in the trees, and like it did in his dreams. But Henry mastered himself, and simply looked on in silence—until Niles cleared his throat. “You can walk me home.”

“That’s fine. I’ll probably head off. I’m already halfway back to the Anderson.”

“Sorry, I meant… will you walk me home?”

Henry nodded, and they turned back at a leisurely pace. Perhaps they were more tired than either of them were willing to let on. Perhaps it was the dread of the arrival. “I looked for you at the exhibition,” Niles said. “Thought for sure you’d be there.”

“I was meant to be.” He gave the whole story: Howard, the fight, his parents, Ray, and Greenfield.

Niles gasped and groaned at all the appropriate moments. He cheered, at the part of the retelling when Henry punched Howard. Then, naturally, he chose to focus on the least pleasant aspect of the entire ordeal. “Who is Ray?”

There wasn’t much to say about that. Infatuation and passion, followed by zero commitment and inevitable heartbreak. Like everybody else’s first love story. By the time Henry was through telling it, they were walking through Niles’ front door and setting to work righting his belongings. 

The armchair had to be flipped over and set back in its intended position. Scattered paperbacks had to be collected and returned to the coffee table. The kitchen was a mess. Mathas may indeed have consumed a sizable portion of the cake, but more than that had been smeared on the counter-top and across the cupboards. They coaxed Bruce out of his hiding spot with treats, and kept up with pets and encouraging voices until he became comfortable loafing around all of the rooms of the house. Immediately after performing such a loop, he curled up on the couch and fell asleep.

Niles ran a hand through his hopelessly ruffled hair. “Listen, what I was trying to say earlier is that I’m sorry about -”

Henry took him, then, and pulled him close. Ninety percent, and then he let Niles close the gap. It no longer felt right. It felt necessary. There was a balloon expanding between them, whose vibrating tension needed to be punctured. Their lips met with a delayed electricity, like the heartbeat between lightning and its thunder. “I’m sorry, too,” Henry said, stepping back. “I don’t want to be the thing that makes your life difficult. I don’t know, because I’ve never had to live it, but I can imagine the reactions you’d get in a place like Tortus Bay.”

“Anybody who matters, knows. Everybody else could guess. I’m sure they already have. But I’ve done a lot, to make myself comfortable on my own. I’ve never tried it any other way.” Niles paused, and looked around the room—at the slightly off-kilter furniture, and hastily re-arranged books. “Nothing is going to be the same, no matter what I do, will it?”

“I don’t think so.”

He breathed. “I can’t tell you exactly what I want. I don’t know if I know exactly what I want. I like being around you. And I like kissing you.”

Henry took another step back, and looked into those warm eyes. How easy it would be, to give in. To give him everything he needed. Whatever he wanted. But Henry had been down that path before. “I don’t think I’m comfortable with that.”

Niles smiled, then, in a mischievous sort of way. “What if I told you that I have a lead on tracking Mathas down, and a great story for this newspaper of yours to boot?”

The sun had fully risen. Its warmth blanketed the small, comfortable living room. “Then I’d say that you have my continued attention.”

2.20: Connections

Eyes continued opening in the forest surrounding them, glowing like fireflies, illuminating the lumbering forms of shaggy four-legged bodies. Henry took a step back. He didn’t want to run. Not yet. Information is what he came for, and information is what he would get. “What did you do with Clair?” he asked. “Where is she?”

The Mayor smiled, serene. “I honestly haven’t the faintest impression. Clair does not concern me. She is a part of the balance. There is nothing more important than maintaining that delicate tight-wire act. Do you understand?”

“No. No, I don’t. What are you?”

“There’s more at play here than the Bramble’s folksy remedies, or Kara’s quaint charms.” Noel raised his arms, palms up. “I’m only me. And you, I presume, can only be you. Why is it that you returned from Greenfield?”

As far as Henry could tell, the surrounding field of eyes was no longer multiplying, but had begun shifting around. The wolves were spreading themselves out. “I’ve made friends here.”

“So you came back to see them. How charming.” The Mayor paused, lifted his chin into the air, and breathed in deep through his nose. “Do you know that everything has a smell? Sorry, perhaps that seems obvious. I am not speaking only of physical objects. Do you know that ideas have scents? And words? Intentions? They are faint, like a lemon wedge squeezed into a gallon of water, or a single sprig of lilac laying over a distant hill. But they are distinct, and they do not lie. Unlike you.”

It was time to run. He knew that, but couldn’t convince his feet to part the ground. “It wasn’t a lie.”

“And people, of course. Each and every one of us has a particular scent—beyond the sweat and the salt and the bacterial mass of our bodies. We had you pegged from the moment you stepped foot in the village. Trouble, one way or another.”

“Who’s we?” 

The Mayor inclined his head, and a howl went up through the woods. One, to start, then joined by another and another until the sound filled the air in a deafening, unified cacophony. Birds shot out of nearby trees. Squirrels dove into their hidden holes. Henry regained control of his body, turned, and sprinted in the opposite direction. Back toward Tortus Bay. Back toward safety.

He kept his eyes trained on the ground in front of his feet. He never looked back to see, for he didn’t want to know, if he was pursued. 

***

“It’s quite the story,” Aria eventually said. Her chin was planted firmly in her hand, her eyes closed. She was sitting on a metal folding chair in the loading bay of the Anderson warehouse. Beside her, Kara was pacing in a circle. Tortus Bay’s inaugural editorial board meeting had been rapidly convened in the middle of the night.

“You believe me, don’t you?” Henry asked.

“Of course I do. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the Mayor is up to some spooky shit. There are worse rumors than what you just told us. But there’s a difference between pissing off the powers that be, and coming right out of the gate with a left hook for their face.”

Darkness poured through the windows like an invasive stain, shrouding the flickering fluorescence. “What I’m worried about,” Kara said, “is believability. If people pick up the first issue of the Tortus Bay Examiner and see a headline story about their Mayor being some sort of dark magician, what are they going to think?”

“That we’re some sort of click-bait organization for the physical print crowd,” he said. Unfortunately he could not entirely disagree with the reasoning. More unfortunately, it seemed as though the name Tortus Bay Examiner had stuck. “I want to publish the truth.”

“And we can do that,” Aria said. “But maybe it’s a better idea to earn trust first. Run with the first-hand stories you collected about Mathas Bernard. Those are from the people who will become your first wave of readers. They’ll respond well.”

Henry chewed his lip. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He ignored the call. “I don’t know.”  

“It’s your decision. You’re the one in charge.”

He joined Kara, in pacing. Making decisions was easier with some blood flow. They could work up to the big truth. He didn’t know enough details about what he’d just seen, anyway. If he only waited, and dug in deeper, what he ultimately published could be that much more complete. And yet….

His pocket buzzed again, jolting his thoughts off track. “What the hell? Who thinks it’s okay to call me at -” He saw the number, and answered immediately. “Niles?”

“I’m sorry.” He spoke in a quavering whisper. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be calling you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

Henry was already headed for the door. “What’s wrong?”

“I know you’re looking for information about Mathas.”

Kara and Aria stood to join him, but he waved them back into their seats. “You’ve seen him?”

“He’s here. He’s inside my house.”

***

Henry wondered if he would ever get any sleep. The reflective purple of the sky told him that it was sometime pre-dawn, but he dared not glance at his phone to check. He didn’t want to know. It stood to reason, if some significant part of his life was going to include chasing down Mathas Bernard, that he would have to get used to staying up all night. That’s when nearly every sighting had so far occurred.

When he got within eye-shot of Niles’ comfortable bungalow, he slowed and fell into a crouch. Naturally he hadn’t thought this far ahead. All of the momentum which had propelled him halfway across the village from the Anderson drained out of his system, as he slowly approached the front door. It hung ajar.

No sign of Niles. No sound of Bruce. There was not a hint of motion anywhere. Henry slipped into the front hallway as quietly as he could manage, and stalled in place. There, finally, was a noise: faint snuffling, and that of fingers being dragged across linoleum.

Niles’ face appeared, from around the corner leading into the living room. His hair was mussed, his eyes wide with terror—and so disarmingly warm. The fear and unease roiling in Henry’s gut were overpowered by something more familiar. More pleasant, at first, until it too began to kick and writhe inside him. “Over there,” Niles mouthed, nodded toward the kitchen.

At first, there was nothing to see. Then, creeping forward another inch, Henry found the angle of reflection from the stove-top mirror. Standing unperturbed amongst the cutlery, running his flat hands back and forth across the counter-top, was Mathas Bernard.

The man did not look much different. There was a sallowness to him, which perhaps had not been present that day at the park. His skin looked stretched, where it was not wrinkled or doubled up on itself. Dirt covered him from head to toe, giving his bald head the appearance of a poor toupee, and his grey suit the appearance of being brown. Clumps of grass sat atop his shoulders. Something wriggled around his coat sleeves.

Mathas looked up, and turned his head to gaze into the mirror. They locked eyes.   

2.19: Following Directions

Teresa Bramble met Henry and Kara at her door the next morning, bearing a half-concealed scowl and a pot of what turned out to be exceptionally strong coffee. She beckoned them inside regardless. “My daughters spoke with you?”

“They did,” Henry said. “Paying you a visit was pretty high up my on priority list in the first place, but they made it sound especially important.”

“Are they around?” Kara asked.

“No.” Teresa led them through to the kitchen, where she set to work hunting down three mugs. “They ran off before I got up. Who knows what they get up to recently. Kids love their little secrets.”

They lapsed into comfortable silence for a time, arrayed haphazardly around the room, sipping coffee. They were a rough and disheveled trio. A casual observer might have reasonably guessed that all three of them had spent the last few days of their lives in jail, when in fact only one had. Neither Henry nor Kara had eaten breakfast, and he was just starting to wonder if it would be rude to ask to raid Teresa’s pantry when she suddenly set down her cup and smacked her lips. “Alright, let’s see it.”

Henry didn’t need to ask what she meant. He promptly pulled his shirt over his head; he hadn’t bothered to wrap the wound that morning, and he regretted it as the cloth pulled away at drying blood.

Teresa swooped in like a hawk, circling him as she had before, but it did not take long for her to pull back. “You got the new ointment?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“And you used it? Last night and this morning?”

“I did.”

Her scowl returned, full force. “Well, fuck.” The word hung in the air. She caught their aghast expressions. “What? I told you, my kids aren’t home.”

“Is something wrong?” Kara asked. “I mean, more wrong than normal?”

“It’s gotten worse.”

He knew that. Somewhere deep down, he knew that. Over the past few days he’d avoided looking at his shoulder. Took care to wrap and unwrap it in dim lighting. “I think it happened when I left Tortus Bay.”

“Exacerbated or not by your leaving,” Teresa said, “the fact remains that it is destabilized, changing for the worse, and not responding to treatment.”    

“What does that mean?” Kara asked. She was a good checkup companion. The important questions seemed to filter into her head so much quicker than they did into his.

Teresa sighed. “It’s worse than I thought.” 

“How bad?”

With a caliper and a notebook in hand, she resumed her hawkish circling, prodding him occasionally and taking notes. “Difficult to say. I’ve done all of the research that I can, at this point. There’s not a lot of records of wounds like these. But they do exist. And they’re grim. You could lose the arm.”

Henry felt capable of fielding the next question. “How do we stop it?”

“There are things we can try,” she said, poking away with abandon, “on the next confluence. The festival. I need to learn more, but I know where to look now. Do you mind if I take a blood sample?”

He nodded. “What are my odds?”

“I’m not a doctor. And even if I were, I wouldn’t give odds on a procedure I haven’t yet learned and never heard of being performed before.”

“So, low.”

She inserted a needle into his arm, just beneath the red-raw rim of his eternally festering wound. He jumped, and bit down hard on his lip. “I never said that.”

“Have you heard anything strange lately?” he asked. Kara shot him a look, but he continued on. “Anything about Mathas Bernard?”

Teresa pulled the needle out of his arm and tottled over to the counter, where she began working on something he could not see. “I think you need to work on resting and recuperating. If what we’re going to try on the festival is going to work, we’ll need you at full strength.”

“So you have heard something.”

She shot a look at Kara over her shoulder. “Can you talk some sense into him?”

“Wish I could,” Kara said, “but your help here might do more good. Without it, I imagine Henry will be tripping and stumbling around the forest by himself.”

“I saw Mathas on the day that he died,” Teresa said, with a distinct note of reluctance in her voice. “I was the one they called, you know. And I can tell you that he most certainly passed away.”

That took some of the wind out of him. “But I’ve seen him.”

“Yes. A good number of people are saying that.”

“Then is it possible? Could he be… I don’t know, back somehow?”

Teresa paused in her work, and turned around. Her face was no longer a scowl. Something more speculative, and perhaps tired, had taken over. “I don’t know. I’ve never heard of anything like it, and I hope it is not as it appears.” She spread her hands. “I truly hope not.”

“We need to find Clair.”

“You need to rest.”

Henry shook his head. He didn’t yet know how to explain what he felt, but he felt it with a certainty which would not let him go. “It’s all connected. This wound, Mathas, Clair, Tortus Bay, and Emmaline Cass, somehow.”

“Do you know that? Or does it only feel that way because it’s all happening to you at the same time?”

Kara coughed. “Or are you in a manic state after a bad breakup?”

He turned on her. “Whose side are you on?”

“Yours, of course” she said, “but I don’t know why both couldn’t be true. Teresa, is there a way you can find Clair? She can’t be far from the village. Probably out in the woods somewhere.”

She began grumbling, resuming her work on the counter with extra vigor. “Nobody listens. I tell them to eat a vegetable, they go out and buy a bag of potato chips. I tell them to rest, they want to stay out all night romping through the forest. Yes, I could probably track the girl down. But it will take time before I’m ready to start.”

“That’s alright by me,” he said. “I’ve got a different lead to follow.”

***

Henry had long since crumpled and discarded the cryptic series of directions he’d fished out of the can of beans in Horizon Foods, but he remembered the hastily scribbled words perfectly. Two miles east of the graveyard. Follow the boulders.

Finding the old graveyard wasn’t difficult. Now that he knew to look for the towering marble Cass headstone, it proved nearly impossible to miss. The area called to him, and he briefly considered stopping to peruse the graves, but he resisted. Instead he plunged eastward, deeper into the trees, eyes peeled for signs of the next clue. There were large rocks on either side of him, and scattered at random further afield. Is that what Clair had meant? How was he meant to follow them?

He skirted around a dense copse, and understood. Before him stood a weathered and mossy boulder, with the faint indication of an arrow scratched onto its surface. It pointed left. Then perhaps thirty feet in a straight line leftwards, there was another boulder, this one pointing him to the right. And so on, boulder after boulder, turn after turn. The marks were rough and faded, as though they had been etched with the edge of a sharpened stick. It was lucky anything remained of them at all. 

As the scenery swirled together and he started to think that he was going in circles, the boulders ceased and the forest opened up onto a small, beatific lake. The regular sounds of the surrounding woods fell away, replaced by the distant chirping of grasshoppers and the faint sloshing of water. The sky overhead went yellow. A memory surfaced in Henry’s mind, of someone telling him of a nearby lake they enjoyed visiting.

By then it was too late. The Mayor, in his casual sweater and well-pressed slacks, had already turned from where he had been gazing out over gently rippling waves. “I’ve been waiting for a long time.”

Henry was rooted to the spot. He couldn’t speak.

“There is a delicate balance to our lives here in Tortus Bay,” Noel continued. “I believe you yourself have stumbled onto that truth. It exists, as you no doubt know somewhere deep within yourself, between the haves and the have-nots. Between those who know, and those who refuse to see.”

Words returned to him. “You’re the one who left me all of those notes.”

“What is the expression? It takes all kinds. I believe that to be true. My newest friend, my dearest child, nobody here could begrudge a man with the strength of spirit to seek the truth.” As the Mayor spoke, pairs of yellow lights appeared in the shade of the trees around them. Eyes. Tens of them, then hundreds. “What we might take exception with is a man who uses his knowledge to upset a balance that we have worked so long to establish.”

2.18: Respect

The scraping of a key into his cell door lock interrupted Henry’s frantic dreams. There had been something about… teeth? Or had they been streets? He shook dense cobwebs from his mind, and sat up as Leia Thao swung the door open. Her mouth was a thin line. Her face was red. She was livid. “Explain yourself.”

“Excuse me?”

“The park,” she hissed. “The supposed burial site of Emmaline Cass. There was nothing.”

He blinked, struggling to get up to speed. He hadn’t expected that shoe to drop so soon. 

The sheriff dropped into a squat, to lower herself to his level, and spoke softly. “I don’t give a shit about recovering any Cass bones. The Mayor doesn’t care very much either. But the village sure as hell does. Those people want answers, and they know enough to realize that those answers have been coming from you. It’s them you have to worry about.”

“That’s funny. I thought it was you, who threw me in here.”

“And if they want me to keep you in here, I won’t cry about it. Do you understand that?”

“I gave you the wrong location.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Is that right?”

“If you want, I’ll bring you to the real place. No tricks this time.”

“This is your last chance,” she said, straightening herself up and speaking once more in a normal tone. “One more mistake, and I’m going to make it my life’s work to bury you.”

***

Henry figured she was telling the truth. He brought her to the park and flagged the area beneath the old gnarled oak where he had first seen Clair unearth her special cache. There were so many things he’d meant to do, before giving up the real location. Speaking with Taylor and finding Clair were chief amongst them. If he hadn’t left the village, perhaps he would have had time.

He shook his head. There was no time now to dwell on past time wasted. Or on why he’d wasted it. Or on hearing Ray’s voice again. The deputy who was not Taylor drove Henry back to the station, and locked himself out of the building after securing him in his cage.

Then there was nothing to do. No visitors. No books. No phone. Nothing. He browsed through the notes he’d taken over the previous day, trying to synthesize some sort of trend out of the mess of stories, but there was little to work with. It seemed as though Mathas Bernard liked to go out at night, and had some sort of affinity for routing around in trash. Perhaps he was hungry. Perhaps he was lost. He either despised, or was intrigued by, light. And he was sometimes seen chasing someone. Or being chased.

Useless thoughts and theories flitted about his mind, colliding and ricocheting off one another, until finally the station doors clattered open—and two pairs of footsteps made their way down the hallway floor. “Of course you can see him,” Leia said. “You can take as much time as you need.”

That was all the warning Henry got, before Howard sidled into the room. He had a nasty sort of grin plastered on his face, and an even nastier welt on the side of his nose. What had before been a red complexion was now verging on cherry. The man stood in front of the cell, arms crossed, saying nothing.

“You’ve come to gloat,” Henry said.

“Not worth it anymore, is it?”

“Howie, if I could go back in time, I would do everything in the exact same way.”

His face twisted into a scowl. “I actually came here to be reasonable. To offer you a way out of this mess you’ve found yourself in.”

“Is that right?”

“It is. I’ll drop the charges, if you apologize. To me, and to everyone else in this village.”

Henry laid back on his cot, and considered the man standing before him—from his beady focused eyes all the way down to his anxiously tapping feet. “Howard,” he said, “how in the hell is that going to help you?”

He missed a beat. “What?”

“I told you this already. You live a sad life, Howard, and you have no clue how to make it any better. Nobody respects you. Did the sheriff look you in the eye when you called her with a bloody nose? I think, deep down, you know that what I’m saying is true. And I think, deep down, that you understand that my punching you in the face was far more than you ever deserved. I treated you like an equal. Which you are not. That’s the most respect you’ll get out of me, and that’s more than you’ll get from anyone else, either.”

His face contorted even further. His meaty cheeks curled into dense folds. “I came here,” he spat, “to offer you a chance. I came here to be the bigger man.”

“Howie, you don’t have to try for that. You’re already the bigger man.” 

***

Little else of note happened that night. He was fed—takeout from the buffet. He wondered if that was their standard procedure. There was no kitchen in the station, as far as he knew. Nobody bothered him. Off and on there was the noise of the main door sliding open, presumably to let Leia in and out, but nothing beyond that.

Henry eventually found comfort in the silence and boredom. It wasn’t so different, laying on a cot instead of a cheap hotel mattress. The calm was arguably the superior companion to the background noise of basic cable TV. He drifted in and out of light sleep.

Through the window the sky lightened to a pastel purple. Hours or minutes had passed, he wasn’t sure. It was the break of dawn, and the sheriff stormed into the station with her characteristic fury. He sprung up, prepared for what was about to happen. 

“We found the damn casket,” she said. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her uniform hung loose around her shoulders and waist. Had she been up all night? “Want to take a guess what we found inside?”

“Nothing.”

She gave a hoarse bark of a laugh. “Not exactly. An empty bottle of whiskey. What kind of joke is this?”

“I keep trying to tell you, it isn’t a -”

“Why the hell am I even asking? You’ve done nothing since you got here but lie. You should have stayed out in Greenfield. Yeah, I know you took off for a couple days. Against my explicit directions, mind you. It isn’t hard to keep track of people in a place the size of Tortus Bay.”

Except she hadn’t been able to track him down, at the Anderson. “But the casket is proof that -”

“I don’t want to hear anything more out of you,” she snapped. “I don’t know what I’m charging you with, but I’ll have something.”

***

Henry had plenty of time to wonder how Emmaline Cass’ body had been moved from her casket. Perhaps Taylor had passed his message on to Clair. Or maybe more people than he thought knew about the burial site. He had no opportunity to ask anyone about it. The sheriff sat at her desk for the entirety of the day, loudly turning away potential visitor after potential visitor. Even Kara had no luck. “Tell the Mayor, then,” Leia yelled. “March him down here and let him sort it out, but until that happens you’re not getting back there.”

It took until nightfall for someone to finally break the sheriff’s will, by which time Henry had already given up hope. He heard someone enter, and the pursuing lilting noise of a conversation, but the words were too soft for him to decipher. Gradually they got louder. “I don’t understand what you think your authority here is.” It was Aria’s voice. “The charges were dropped.”

“I have the authority,” Leia spat the word, “to hold him for as long as I need.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“Listen, I’ll tell you what I told Kara: if you don’t like it, you can go to the Mayor.”

“The Mayor? What’s he got to do with it? If I go somewhere—and I will—it will be to the State. I do a lot of business out there in the wide world. How are they going to like a report of indefinite detention?”

There was silence. From his cell, Henry thought he could feel the seething anger. Then there were loud footfalls down the hall, and Leia unlocked his cell without meeting him in the eye. “Mathas Bernard is out there,” he said, instead of stepping out. “That’s what you need to be worried about.”

“Leave.”

“Look for him,” he pleaded. “A word from you could mean a lot.”

Her voice was cold. “Stop spreading misinformation in my village.”

“Next time you bury me, right?”

She had nothing to say to that. Aria met him by the entrance, with a brief smile and a harried look about her face. “The charges were dropped?” he asked.

“Early this morning,” she said. “Some people went to intervene with Howard on your behalf, but he’d already done it. Wouldn’t tell anyone why the sudden change of heart.”

He grinned. “Thank you for talking sense into the sheriff.”

“That was never my intent.” She held the door open, and they stepped together out into the blustering autumn air. “Simply wanted to give a business partner a quick update, but she wouldn’t let me back to see you.”

“There’s an update?”

“Everything’s set up. All we need is the copy for the first issue, and we’ll have the Tortus Bay Examiner out in people’s hands by the end of the week.”

“The Tortus Bay Examiner?”

“Yeah, I thought of it myself.”

“Doesn’t that make it sound a little bit like, I don’t know, Turtle Fancier?”

“You’re going to need more imagination than that, my friend, if you want to succeed in the publishing business.”   

2.17: Stories of a Dead Man

Henry was thrown directly into a cell—his cell, as he disturbingly now thought of it. No sarcastic remarks from the sheriff. No interrogation room. He made himself as comfortable as he could on the thin cot, rolled out his aching shoulder, and waited for the first sign of deputy Taylor. If anyone would listen to him, it would be Taylor. He might even be able to provide a clue about Clair’s whereabouts, if their significant eye contact during Henry’s last incarceration had been anything more than the product of a desperate imagination.

But Taylor never materialized. Nobody at all walked down the long hallway that connected the cells to the main body of the station. He was, apparently, forgotten. Night fell, and his stomach grumbled. No food came. For a time, he considered calling out. Certainly somebody was on duty. But it felt undignified, so instead he curled up and fell into fitful sleep.

A slight commotion roused him in the morning. There were a pair of voices arguing in the station. “I have every right to be here,” Kara said.

The sheriff sounded tired. “I get to decide that.” 

“No, you don’t. I’m allowed to be here, and he’s allowed to have visitors. What would the mayor think?”

There was a pause. “Fine. You can have ten minutes.”

Henry managed to sit up and blink most of the bleariness out of his eyes before Kara rounded the corner. “You decent in there?”

“Not really.”

“Well, what’s a little indecency between friends?” Kara pulled a stool from the corner over to sit in front of his cell. She was smiling, and holding a small bundle of white towels and bandages. “How’re you holding up?”

He laughed. “Better in here than a two-star hotel in Greenfield.”

“Yes, well. I made it out to Teresa’s last night.” She handed over the bandages, along with a fresh vial of the ointment. “She figured you might be out.”

“Thanks. Mind blocking the view?”

Kara obliged, turning her back on him to cut off the narrow line of sight from the main room to the cells. Leia didn’t need to know about his shoulder. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that you punched Howie.”

“Seemed like a minor piece of information, at the time.”

She shrugged. “Seems fairly important now. Word on the street is that he’s pissed. Wants to take this thing as far as he can.”

“If that man scared me, I wouldn’t have hit him in the first place.” Henry dropped his shirt back over his head. “Alright, we’re good.”

Kara reached through the bars to retrieve the ointment and the used bandages, and stuffed them neatly under her shirt. “I also come with a present.”

“That wasn’t the present?”

“Of course not.” She fished in her pocket, and after a moment produced another pendant. This one was different from the one currently hanging around his neck, or any of the others that he had ever seen. The metal was a glittering gold. The design was simple: three concentric circles, connected by double bars. “This is a secret,” she said. “I’m serious. Nobody gets to see this. Not even a glimpse.”

Henry nodded. “What is it?”

“I don’t make these. And if anyone asks, even Teresa Bramble, you tell them I wouldn’t even know how.” She sighed, wrapped the chain up in her palm, and handed it over. “It amplifies power. I know you’re curious about whether you’re connected with the magic of the village or not. If you are—even by just a hair—this will make it obvious to you.”

He put it on, and felt the metal sizzle, if only very slightly, when it made contact with his skin. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Thank me by not thinking about it too much. I started work on that charm a few weeks ago, well before you had this idea of yours for a newspaper. You know as well I do that you were brought here. And that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t needed. I don’t think it matters if you end up having any ‘power’ one way or the other; this thing you’re trying to do is going to be more important.”

“This thing I’m trying to do might never happen, if I can’t get out of here.”

The smile on Kara’s face widened. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I’ve been spreading the word around town.”

***

Tod, the most prominently white-whiskered and pot-bellied member of the TBHWAS, was the first to brave the Tortus Bay Police Station to speak with Henry. “I’ve seen Mathas Bernard,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it at first, but it was definitely him. Walking through the park, like he was going somewhere, you know? I didn’t call out to him or anything. Something felt wrong about it. About him, I mean. There’s something the matter with the man, isn’t there?”

Then came Patty, from the cafe. “He tried to get in,” she said. “I haven’t told anybody else. Nobody would believe me, right? It was late at night. I stayed to finish up a load of dishes.” She shuddered. “I haven’t stayed past nightfall since. There was a scuffling from outside, and I figured it was an animal trying to get into the trash. I opened the back door, and there he was: Mathas Bernard, looking exactly like he always did. Except for the grimy clothes, I suppose. He looked up at the light from the door, and jumped at me. I slammed it in his face, ran to hide in the kitchen, and he was nowhere to be seen by the time I got the courage to go look again.”

Jamal was next, beaming from ear to ear and sporting a grease-stained apron. “Knew you’d be back,” he said. “Felt mighty guilty after you left, but I told everyone you wouldn’t be gone long. Shame about this.” He rattled his fingers against the bars, and his smile faltered. “There’s no sense I can see in locking somebody up over a well-intentioned punch. Not like you broke anything. But that’s not my expertise. I only run a bar.

“Anyway, I hear you’re collecting stories. You know I’m good at that. And this one’s true. I was out late a few nights ago, helping… well, helping someone up into their room, and I saw a strange figure sort of loping across the street. Didn’t think too much about it, until I noticed two more figures behind it. Kind of chasing it, I thought. When that first figure passed under a streetlight, and I was that it was Mathas Bernard… let me tell you, it was almost me who needed to be carried to bed.” 

The woman who ran Cycler told him that she had seen Lucy Brihte chasing Mathas Bernard down Main Street. The man who worked at the Pale Moon Buffet swore up and down that Mathas Bernard had faked his death to be with the woman he truly loved—though he had not actually seen the man himself. Just about everyone in the village seemed to have one story or another, and Henry diligently wrote them all down. He had no idea how he was going to go about verifying anything he heard, but he figured that recording it was the right first step.

Sofia and Lola, the daughters of Teresa Bramble, visited him late that night—and had to spend a good amount of time arguing with the sheriff before being allowed in. The concern, it seemed, was both with their number and the time of day, but in the end Leia relented. They were the only ones to visit him that day without a sighting of the not-dead man.

“Our mother wanted to come herself,” Sofia, the elder daughter, said, “but she got caught up. Did you get the ointment?”

“Yes,” Henry said. He eyed Lola, the younger daughter, for signs of distress. The memory of her panicking at bolting at his slight movement was still fresh in his mind, but she seemed fine at the moment. “Tell your mother that I appreciate it.”

“We will. She wants you to come to her as soon as you get out of here. It’s important.”

“I understand. I will.”

The girl hesitated, biting her lip, and Lola spoke up to fill the ensuing silence. “You’re looking for Mathas Bernard.” Not quite a statement, not entirely a question.

“I am.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t think he’s really dead.”

Sofia cleared her throat. “You’ve seen him?”

“I have.”

Her expression was unreadable. “That’s interesting. If we see anything out there, we’ll let you know. Please, try to get out of here as soon as you can.”

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.”