A Helping Hand
Jane Feral had searched through the police archives for nearly an hour before the shouting began. She didn’t pay much attention. For one thing, it was on the main level above. For another, it would likely distract Mr. Newland, the police archivist. The human was as precise and dusty as the file cabinets and stored evidence he looked after. If he found her, there was no chance he’d let her stay without written permission.
Just as she found the right files, an alarm blared from somewhere within the room. Jane flinched, resisting the urge to cover her ears against the piercing noise. Harsh fluoride lights flickered into life. Then came the heavy, metallic thump of doors locking into place.
At the first hint of human panic, she shrank back into the nearest shadows, remaining perfectly still as Mr. Newland hurried past. The man patted sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief while the alarm rose to a new pitch and pulsated in an obvious countdown. Jane watched him disappear into the special collections room just before its door slid shut. The glyphs etched into its surface brightened into the color of flames.
Above, the muffled shouts moved in all directions. It was easy enough to guess that someone had either attacked the station or tried escaping from it, and the archives were now locked down to protect their contents. Excellent. She now had plenty of time to read without disruption.
Jane checked her bandolier to make sure her safety charms were active and then returned to the file cabinet to collect the folders. They were of varying ages, some battered from being thumbed through so many times, and a few fresh enough that she could still smell the people who had handled them. Only the name on the labels was the same: Harold Beaumont.
The police hadn’t exaggerated about following him for years. It took her several trips to transfer all the files to the nearest reading desk. Sam would have laughed to see how few she could carry at a time; physical strength had never been one of her talents, and she hated exercise too much to try changing that. Gunfire rang out as she switched on the desk lamp, but her focus had already narrowed to Beaumont and all that the police had on him.
His first brush with the police had been when he was twenty-two and still known as Harold Granbury. He had been caught stealing bodies from a cemetery. Since the graves had all belonged to the unidentified dead, and since Harold was a bright, young university student from a renowned family, he had avoided any serious charges for his ‘tasteless joke.’
That had changed when he did it again, this time from his family’s mausoleum, and was found to be using the bodies as raw material for experiments with bio-thaumaturgy. In response, his family had publicly disinherited him. Friends in high places had helped lighten his prison sentence to under a year, and afterward he had changed his name to Harold Beaumont and began life as a freelance enchanter. He had never been caught again due to lack of evidence, but police suspected he’d played a part in many black market magic cases that remained unsolved… especially the ones that suggested a certain madness at work.
For Beaumont was a madman. What was impossible to see in the dry police reports grew crystal clear once Jane began studying the notebooks and ledgers collected from his apartment in Ragbag Way. His work might have been considered brilliant if it had been practical enough for those who demanded reliable results in return for their money, but no one would ever call him sane. His jumps in thought and blatant disregard for what was impossible gave him an edge over professionally trained enchanters, who all crafted their magic in the same manner. He was willing to try anything if the client offered enough money.
He was also an alcoholic; as smoke-stained as these papers were, she could still catch traces of cheap whiskey. A few were even stained. Despite this, Beaumont was surprisingly neat and detailed with his records, keeping them for every commission he’d ever had and even cross-referencing the research materials he’d used. Each commission had a number instead of the client’s name, but he had made the mistake of dating them, and Jane quickly flipped through the pages, her interest deepening into an excitement she only felt while hunting.
Sam had done his part in finding Isaac Marshall’s secret ledgers to pinpoint when the sigil had been placed on Cora Marshall and how much it had cost. It was all Jane needed to find Beaumont’s notes for that commission. As the gunfire above intensified, she began copying his words and adding her own notes in the margins. If she was about to battle wits with a madman, then she intended to collect all the information possible.
Her attention didn’t waver until her ears registered total silence. Then she noticed the crick in her back and stiffness in her limbs, and knew hours had passed even before checking her watch. The doors might open soon. The lights were already back to normal. Carefully, she tucked away her notes and replaced the files, her gloved fingers making sure nothing was out of order. Disappointment bit at her while she worked, and she wasn’t sure how to tell Sam that she had learned everything about the sigil, could even replicate it now… and yet, she wasn’t any closer to getting it off Miss Marshall.
By the time all the doors unlocked, releasing Mr. Newland, she was back in the shadows, waiting patiently to see whether it was safe for her to emerge unnoticed. Fresh air washed into the room along with all the smells from above. Gunpowder, of course. Burning wood and hot metal from spent bullets. And… magic. She stiffened at its familiarity. Several of the nuances were exactly the same as back in Freddy Davenport’s ritual room. Beaumont’s work yet again.
Just as she risked taking a step toward the exit, one of the labels on a nearby cabinet caught her eye.
Curiosity won out over anger, and she slipped over to it instead. Captain Dempsey kept insisting that they knew very little about the Saxby Pack, and she wanted to see how true that was. It didn’t take long to find the right file, or to see that both she and Sam were included in it as “former members.” Just as she began reading, a voice spoke from behind her shoulder.
“Find anything useful?”
She snarled from being caught unaware, and snarled again at the sight of Sam standing there, obviously amused. “Damn it. You and your guard training. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
He glanced around at the endless shelves and filing cabinets. “Your scent has filled the room. How long have you been in here?”
Despite her lingering annoyance, she was gratified to see that a day with Miss Marshall had left him looking less grim than usual. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d seen him smile—truly smile. “Hours. Why?”
“Then you don’t know why the station is shot up.”
“Not a clue. Do you?”
“No one is willing to tell us.”
“Us? Look, take off the scent scrambler. I’m tired of asking questions.”
For a moment, she thought he wouldn’t. But then he removed his wrist watch and set it on the nearest shelf. As soon as the enchanted object lost contact with him, his scent grew clear. So did another—Miss Cora Marshall’s, all over his skin. The implication was as obvious as the frustration in both scents.
Jane grinned at him. “You couldn’t even last a day. Why’d you stop?”
Sam shot her a look. “The phone rang. It was Dempsey telling me that Freddy Davenport had just died. By the time we made it over to the station, it was locked down. They didn’t let us in until after sunrise.”
“You should have gone back home and finished where you left off.”
“Jane,” he growled. “I got lucky that something stopped us. It would have been a mistake.”
“Hmm.” She picked up the watch, absently checking the enchantment to see if it needed repairs. It didn’t but had a new scar on the wristband. There was probably a new one on him, too.
“I disagree,” she said, without looking up. “All you need to worry about is making sure the sigil doesn’t see you as a threat. Other than that, it won’t care what you do. In fact, it might help to be unprofessional with Miss Marshall. You would appear to be like the previous men in her life—interested in that and that alone.”
He shook his head. “Not all of them. One was going to marry her.”
“If he exists. You’ve been searching for him from the start.” Even as the words left her mouth, she caught a new thread in his scent: resignation.
“Roland Archer,” he said, quietly. “Worked on the estate as an assistant gardener.”
All her hopes to get him to stop being stupid and admit his feelings for Miss Marshall suddenly felt as fragile as cracked glass. “What? The last I heard, you were still looking through Isaac Marshall’s paperwork for any servants who left during the right time frame.”
“I narrowed it down a while ago. The head gardener remembered when Archer left and why: he’d received an inheritance from a distant relative and hoped to restart his life with it. I later confirmed it with the relative’s lawyer.”
“But are you sure? Really sure? The timing could be mere coincidence.”
He paced along the shelves of stored evidence, revealing his tension. “I found a minister that Archer contacted as part of the elopement plans. Yesterday, he finally called back. He remembered the situation well enough. The marriage would’ve been done quickly and secretly—in the dead of night, in fact—because the bride came from a wealthy family that knew nothing about it and wouldn’t approve.”
Then Sam stopped and faced her. “Jane, it’s him. Roland Archer is the man she fell in love with.”
Jane sighed, wondering whether it was worth pointing out that it didn’t matter what Miss Marshall had felt about this man since those memories had long been erased. “Obviously, she can’t know about this until the sigil is no longer a concern.”
“Agreed. So how close are we to getting it off her?”
Now it was her turn to fidget, and she knew he noticed. “I don’t have anything encouraging to say. Isaac Marshall had several conditions for the sigil, and they included that she couldn’t even think about removing the sigil, much less hire an enchanter to do it. If someone found out about it, she had to direct them to him, presumably so he could buy their silence.”
“And if anyone tries to take it off her?”
There was no way to soften the answer. “Then the sigil must immediately terminate itself and any part of Miss Marshall’s mind that might recall it. With no further specifications, it seemed Harold Beaumont took that to mean Miss Marshall’s brain should be absolutely fried.”
“Goddamn it,” muttered Sam, unable to keep the heat from his voice. “And there’s no way around it?”
“I can’t give you false hope. He was quite thorough in his research and showed special interest in what doctors are doing with lobotomies. The best I can do is see if I can neutralize it. And before you ask, I don’t know how good our chances are with that. I’m still deconstructing how he crafted the sigil. It’ll be easier now that I have his original notes. In the meantime, we have to remain careful about who learns about the sigil. Help her keep her secret, Sam, because if she ever realizes you’re trying to free her, so will the sigil.”
He nodded, wordless once more. His eyes remained hard with repressed fury.
Jane hesitated, wondering if she should try to distract him. She had always been terrible at emotions… outside of provoking them. “However, I have been wondering whether we should reveal more about the pack.”
Then she almost bit her tongue at the stupid slip. The pack. She had never felt any particular loyalty to the Saxbys despite being born and raised as one; Sam had certainly been much more dutiful and earnest about his role in the pack and what he could do for their king. Yet it was she who unthinkingly spoke as if they were still part of the Saxbys. He never made that mistake.
He was also much kinder than she, and instead of pointing out her word choice, he merely said, “Which parts and who to?”
She brandished the Saxby file still in her hand. “I think we should enlighten Captain Dempsey about what happened to us.”
“Going soft on a human, huh?”
“Of course not. But I dislike the fact that the Saxbys are being seen as an innocent party in this situation, and the police captain is the only one willing to listen to a wolf.”
Sam took the file from her and glanced through it. When he remained silent, she added, “We both know they must be involved. Their bluster about wanting justice for the Saxby wolves killed by Tierney is a laughable excuse. At least, it is to us because we know better. The humans seem willing to accept it. If they’re so desperate to remain involved in this case, then they must have played a part in it.
“At the very least, I’m sure they’re the ones who passed on information for Beaumont to use in making his version of berserker wolves. He has no notes for the bio-thaumaturgy used in Tierney’s transformation. More than that, none of his other enchantments reuse elements of it, even when he modified the cultist’s bodies. No enchanter creates from scratch every time. We build upon what’s already worked. But trying to explain this sounds like a desperate attempt to blame the Saxbys unless we reveal the things they’ve done before.”
“Because none of their myths include those of the berserker wolves. And a wolf pack known for their rich mining deposits would never need to sell information to humans.” When she growled in frustration, Sam raised his eyebrows. “So, you’ve already brought this up with Dempsey.”
“Barely. I told him about the death of Princess Liana and what Alpha-king Saxby did to his advisors in response. I didn’t include the fact that he knew the Sinclair prince was insane and covered up the information because he hoped for that outcome. Or what your part in it was.”
She fell quiet as fresh anger burned in Sam’s scent. Not toward her; it was the same rage and helplessness that had lived with him from the moment he’d realized the level of corruption in his pack. That he had been loyal, blindly so, to a king willing to let his daughter die if it meant declaring war.
In a softer tone, she said, “What I told him only made the Saxbys seem more like victims instead of what they really are: a pack willing to try stupid plans that fail.”
“Fail? They got exactly what they wanted.” Sam flipped through the pages in the file with that distracted manner he took on whenever he tried keeping his emotions in check.
“I don’t see how. The alpha-king not only lost his daughter and saw his pack reduced by half, but their strongest ally was pulled into the mess and lost everything for it. And although the Sinclair Pack was destroyed, the Saxbys were too weak to even take over their territory.”
“I doubt that was the goal.” Then he finally looked up at her with that cold, shrewd expression that had unnerved even the other royal advisors of the pack. He was always so easygoing in his manner that it was almost a shock to witness how fierce and pitiless his assessments truly were. “The alpha-king’s plan only failed if you think he wanted the land. He didn’t. The feud with the Sinclairs had long been over personal grudges, not greed. Winning meant everything to him, and that war not only got rid of the Sinclairs but the Bacas as well.”
“The Bacas were our strongest ally. We celebrated for weeks when Princess Lorelei mated with their king. I had to wear my formal uniform each day. It was terrible.”
“He was willing to lose Liana. What’s one more daughter? The Bacas expected gold in return for their military support. Once one dried up, so would the other.”
“And our mines had been dwindling for years.” It all made sense as he laid it out, so much so that Jane almost felt embarrassed for not seeing it sooner. “All right. So the alpha-king got what he wanted. Can we say the same about this situation?”
Sam considered. “The answer depends on why the Saxbys are so anxious about Isaac Marshall. Are they hoping he’s still alive, or do they want to make sure he’s dead?”
Just then, Mr. Newland appeared from behind one of the shelves, his spectacles flashing beneath the harsh lights as he shook in indignation. “What are you two doing down here? You certainly don’t have permission.”
Sam offered the folder. “Just curious about the official opinion on us. I’ve been waiting for hours to speak with the captain. Is he free yet?”
The man took the file and quickly checked it for missing pages. “If you want a conversation with Captain Dempsey, try waiting upstairs. Now will you please leave?”
It wasn’t a conversation. It was a full-blown argument, audible even as Jane waited out in the hallway while Sam and the police captain went at it in his office. She wasn’t alone; Cora Marshall and what looked like a retinue of lawyers waited there as well. So did a few police officers, who seemed edgier than normal while guarding them. Miss Marshall greeted her, sincerely so. The lawyers didn’t bother, instead casting suspicious glances at the fresh bullet holes in the walls. Repairmen already worked on shattered windows.
“So. What happened?” said Jane, to no one in particular. Sam was stubborn as hell and Dempsey didn’t sound ready to back down, which meant she’d have to learn the answer from someone else.
One of the officers glanced at her, but it was Miss Marshall who answered. “They won’t tell us. Whatever happened, it was quite the firefight. There are spent bullet casings everywhere and of different calibers. I don’t understand why so many shots went into the ceiling, though.”
Jane could smell the officers’ surprise, and felt some herself over the shrewd observation. She really couldn’t tell how much of Miss Marshall’s bubble-headed personality was a mask and how much was a life of being expected to do nothing and know nothing. “Very astute of you. Notice anything else?”
The girl was also good at deflecting sarcasm. A spark of fight in her eyes was the only sign she’d understood it. “Well… Detective Hayes’ voice doesn’t rise at all when he’s angry, does it? It just grows deeper. I haven’t met many fellas like that. Usually they sound like children throwing a tantrum.”
Jane didn’t miss how one of the lawyers all but rolled his eyes in despair.
Just then, the door to Dempsey’s office slammed open. Then the police captain stalked out, snarling over his shoulder as Sam followed. “We need her. She’s the only one left.”
“Police protection won’t be any safer,” growled Sam. “If anything, Davenport dying right here in the station should reinforce that.”
The police captain scoffed while lighting a cigarette. Despite the exhaustion in his face, Jane noticed how steady his hands remained. “Let me tell you what happened to Freddy Davenport. His lawyer met him at his request, just as he has twice before without an issue. Only this time, Davenport took the man’s pen and stabbed himself in the throat. Repeatedly.”
“Suicide?” said Jane, already suspecting it was the wrong answer.
The police captain turned his glare on her. “No. An enchantment.”
Jane raised an eyebrow and glanced up. “Did it make him crawl on the ceiling like a lizard?”
“Not him. His hand.” In the silence that followed, Dempsey took a long drag. His voice continued to seethe as he added, “We took the body to the morgue. Despite being dead, one of Davenport’s hands managed to strangle the morgue attendant and then sever itself using autopsy equipment. All hell broke loose once it reached the main levels of the station. It choked out two more men and felt up a secretary.”
“So it had some form of sentience.” Jane examined the bullet holes again. “And could travel over any surface.”
“Like a rat. And it hid just as well. The station was in lockdown for hours while we searched for the damn thing. It was trying to escape.”
“An enchantment that didn’t want to be examined,” she murmured, feeling the first spark of possibility light up her thoughts. “Who finally shot it down?”
“The captain,” replied one of the officers. “In one try.”
Dempsey waved the comment away. “That’s beside the point. What’s important is that more of this unknown magic killed Davenport. Not only that, it used a figure he trusted. We can’t take any more chances. Miss Marshall has to be put under our protection and isolated until we find Beaumont and can nullify all his goddamn spells.”
Jane’s gaze flickered over to Sam. A muscle jumped in his jaw as he listened in silence, and she knew they were both thinking the same thing. The first police enchanter who examined Miss Marshall would set off the sigil’s defenses. In trying to protect her, they would certainly kill her instead. Then again, trying to explain the situation to multiple people would mean trusting all of them to keep a secret successfully. Jane didn’t think that could work.
One of the lawyers cleared his throat. “If our client agrees, we are willing to work with you to iron out the details, Captain.”
All attention fell on Miss Marshall, who hesitated. She didn’t seem frightened so much as concerned for Sam, who was still obviously irate. “It doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy, but I suppose if I have to…”
“You don’t,” said Sam, his voice still closer to a growl.
“She does,” snapped Captain Dempsey. “Which you’d realize if you looked at this situation as a professional instead of a lovesick puppy.”
“Captain,” Jane quickly interjected, recognizing the dangerous way Sam fell still. “May Sam and I have a brief discussion with you? We’re concerned about the Saxbys and how they might react to this news.”
It was an outright lie, but with Miss Marshall in plain hearing, she didn’t dare reveal the true reason.
The police captain shot her a look that suggested she was pushing it, but after a moment he threw open the door to his office again. “This better be worth it. Hanover, find a chair for the lady in case this takes a while.”
As soon as the door closed behind them, Jane raised a finger to her lips. “We need total privacy for this conversation. Miss Marshall can’t overhear a thing.”
Dempsey’s eyes narrowed, but he tapped one of the glowing glyphs on his desk without comment. The walls around them shimmered slightly with ghostly light. “All right. No one outside will hear us even if we pick up our shouting match again. Now get it through your thick head, Sam. This has grown too big. You have to move out of the way.”
Sam scoffed. “You swore you’d play fair if I did. You got us over here by claiming the details of Freddy’s death were too sensitive to trust to the phone. That has nothing to do with putting Miss Marshall under city protection—the same city that was ready to hang her under a month ago.”
“That was playing fair. Again, look at things professionally. I know you’re smart enough to see the signs once you do.”
Jane growled softly, sensing Sam’s increasing rage. No wolf liked feeling trapped. She just hoped the captain wasn’t stupid enough to keep goading him.
To her surprise, Dempsey seemed to sense the danger in Sam’s lack of a response. The anger didn’t leave his voice, but he did sit behind his desk to give Sam some space. “I don’t care about whatever you and Miss Marshall are doing or not doing with each other. It’s irrelevant. I’m talking about getting too damn protective over your client to see things clearly. You want to know what happened in between chasing down that hand? The commissioner told me to call you with orders to turn over Miss Marshall to us. He also told me to ignore whatever happened next. He’s not the only city official tired of this case. They want you out of the way, and they have their own men ready because I never let them use mine.”
Sam didn’t react, but Jane felt her heartbeat speed up until it thumped in her throat. “Let’s be clear here. Are you saying the other city officials are willing to kill Sam?”
The question left her under the full weight of the police captain’s gaze. His scent was muddied by his constant smoking, but right then she caught his frustration and regret that it had all come down to this. “Sure. What consequence would come of it? You two have the combined arrogance of an entire wolf pack without the safety of belonging to one. Did you really think you wouldn’t step on any toes?”
Jane didn’t answer, hot bitterness filling her full over the fact that wolves without a pack would always be seen as weak.
Dempsey turned back to Sam, who had also remained silent. “In your professional opinion, would you be more helpful to Miss Marshall as a body that’ll never be found, or as someone who can work on her side unnoticed while all the attention is elsewhere?”
When Sam did finally speak, he sounded calm and flat, all internal struggle smoothing into a firm decision. “Trust me, Al, we understand our position in human society. It’s more than that.”
Then he glanced at Jane.
She understood. There was no other choice. They had to reveal the sigil’s existence, and it would be safer if she did it. If the police captain broke their trust and the sigil became widely known, it was better to have the enchantment identify her as an enemy, not him. “The truth is, Miss Marshall is in danger. Can you keep a secret, Captain?”
“Too bad, because you need to know this one. There’s a spell on Miss Marshall. It’s been on her for over a year and was meant to invisibly control her. If your ham-handed enchanters poke and prod her for hidden magic, they’ll trigger it and kill her.”
Dempsey rubbed at his head. “Who put it on her and how did you two find out about it?”
“Her father, and now that he’s disappeared, it desperately wants to find him. Because of that, it let Miss Marshall tell Sam about its existence and purpose. I don’t think she realized how unusual that was. I don’t think she’s able to realize much about it at all.”
“But she’s aware of it?” Then the police captain’s expression changed. “You’re talking about a goddamn binding sigil, aren’t you? And Isaac Marshall was the one who controlled it. Why didn’t it fall apart with his death?”
“Why would it? He was trying to prevent scandal, Captain. That would include the public learning that he did such a thing to his daughter.”
Dempsey swore and leaned back in his seat, absently staring at the far wall while he thought. The cigarette in his hand burned unnoticed.
Sam had been pacing around the room, but he now stopped and faced the police captain. “So. Will you help keep our secret, or will you be the cause that kills the final prominent figure in a case that’s already being called ‘the crime of the century?’”
Just then, a brief knock sounded on the door, followed by it opening. Jane arched an eyebrow as Cora Marshall entered with a determined expression. “I’m sorry for the interruption, Captain, but I think you’ve yelled at Detective Hayes far long enough. If you’re going to make such a fuss, then fine, I’ll go into police protection.”
For a moment, the police captain only rubbed at his temple while staring at her. “Believe it or not, Miss Marshall, I’m open to a compromise. You can’t stay with him, but considering the recent chaos, a safe house might be better than the station.”
Jane sensed Sam relax a fraction, but both their gazes remained on Dempsey, even when Miss Marshall said, “What?”
“We don’t know what Freddy Davenport was about to discuss with his lawyer, only that it triggered magic that our enchanters failed to detect. Rather than risk the same thing, I’d like you to stay at one of the private nursing homes we have connections with. Sometimes we send witnesses there if they’re in danger. I’d say this counts.”
Miss Marshall glanced at Sam, obviously unsure.
“It’s the best we’re going to get,” he told her quietly, and then gave her a faint smile.
Jane almost shook her head at the amount of trust visible in Miss Marshall’s expression as she nodded. How the hell had the girl survived this long when she was so openhearted?
If the police captain also noticed it, he made no comment as Miss Marshall turned back to him, her voice turning brisk. “Well, I have heard of those places. They’re more like private retreats, aren’t they? I’ve had quite a few friends go to some to settle their nerves.”
Dempsey nodded. “You’ll have your own room, but you can’t leave it or have visitors of any kind. There’ll be a guard outside the door to make sure.”
“Not even Hayes?” Miss Marshall sounded stricken.
Jane bit back a grin and glanced at Sam, who gave Miss Marshall a reassuring look before focusing on the police captain. “What about the police, the commissioner, or even Miss Marshall’s own lawyers?”
Dempsey stared back for a moment as if to say, I know what you’re really looking for, you son of a bitch. A promise you can hold me to. “No one can see her, and no one can cross my orders. She has to be completely isolated until we find Beaumont.”
“Well, I suppose it only makes sense,” said Miss Marshall, accepting it with another firm nod. “I accept as long as I can take all my luggage. I’m not wearing whatever shapeless gown and dreary robe they offer.”
“Why would you need—” Then the police captain cut himself off. “Fine. Whatever you want. We’ll make sure your bags are brought over.”
“I’ll do that while the lawyers work out the details,” said Sam, his fingers already brushing Miss Marshall’s arm.
“Fine. I’ll send a few men along to help,” said Dempsey, the look in his eyes promising that any objection would be ignored.
Jane followed them out long enough to share a parting glance with Sam. The last glimpse she saw of them was Miss Marshall smiling at him while tucking her arm into his, and the way he couldn’t resist moving closer in response. God, she hoped he would at least tell the girl how he felt about her.
Uninterested in dragging around Miss Marshall’s suitcases a second time, she instead began walking around the station, taking in the sight of the damage. The bullet holes made an interesting pattern, suggesting the hand had been zig-zagging to avoid being shot. No one she asked would talk about what they’d seen, although apparently only the morgue attendant had been choked completely to death. The two officers just had marks around their necks. The secretary had already quit.
Once more, she found herself wondering whether this bizarre enchantment might just be the key to solving the problem of the sigil. Most enchantments were crafted to self-destruct if their creator didn’t want others to be able to examine them. Yet Harold Beaumont had decided to have his merely scamper away…
“Enjoying yourself?” Dempsey’s sardonic tone cut through her examination of dark blood left on a broken window.
She ignored his question to ask one of her own. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
“No. Have you?”
She shook her head. “What happened to the hand?”
“We have it in our lab. It’s being studied right now.”
“Then it’s still alive? Intact?”
“Intact enough to scratch at its glass jar, anyway.”
Jane fully turned toward him, hoping he’d hear the urgency in her voice. “I need to see it. Right now.”
“Our boys will send along anything they learn.”
“That’s not fast enough. Please, Captain.”
He sighed and checked his watch. “All right, but let’s make this quick.”
The police laboratory was nicer than the Saxby Pack’s, and much nicer than her own cramped little space. Jane glanced over the equipment with envy, but most of her attention remained on the cluster of enchanters Dempsey led her towards. They all surrounded a steel table that held a large glass jar lit from all sides.
“Give us a few minutes, boys,” said the police captain, sending them away with a jerk of his head.
They left in a cloud of sullen mutters, but Jane had already forgotten about them, instead completely absorbed in the specimen before her. It was a hand all right, but a terrifying version of one. The fingernails had sharpened into claws, and the skin over the knuckles had split, oozing a blackish-purple slime. The palm had a large bullethole, but that didn’t prevent the hand from jumping and twitching like a spider, crawling all over the glass in rage.
“Ugly little thing, isn’t it?” murmured Dempsey.
“Ugly? It’s the best thing I’ve seen all day.” Then she looked over at him with a grin. “It transmuted itself.”
“The enchantment that killed Freddy Davenport transmuted itself. Your men will find no hint of magic left in his body. All the bio thaumaturgy and spells on him pooled into this hand. That’s why it severed itself, so that it could get away.”
“Back to Beaumont?”
“Of course not. To keep you away from him. He’s been caught by you once, Captain. Do you think he ever wants to face a conviction again? Most enchanters don’t want competitors to study their work and steal from it, but that’s not Beaumont’s concern at all. He’s paranoid and fears being caught above all else. I bet every damn one of his enchantments has this condition put into it. If it’s about to be caught, it’ll tear itself away and disappear. I need to see the archives again. Right now.”
The police captain eyed her. “What do you mean, ‘again?’”
She could feel herself glowing with excitement. “If I’m right, then I can modify this clause. Turn it into something less… destructive.”
“And why would you want to do that?”
She raised her finger. “Client confidentiality.”
His grimace acknowledged that he understood she meant the sigil.
She could have left things there, and normally would have. Perhaps it was the euphoria of the moment. Perhaps it was the mere fact that he was actually listening to her ranting. Regardless, she found herself asking, “Where are you from, Captain?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Mild curiosity. Sam got you so mad that an accent slipped into your voice. There isn’t one, normally.”
At first she thought his answer would only be a long-suffering sigh. “I was born in the country. Rosewood, if you want to get specific.”
Ah, one of the forests further out than Corpsewood. Also, one that had rural packs. “Then I’ll assume you knew about wolves before coming to Crescent City.”
“Sure did. It was one of the reasons why I relocated here after the war. I didn’t realize city packs were nothing like country wolves. Ten times as neurotic and amazingly passive-aggressive for creatures with big teeth. Hell, I didn’t even know many city wolves can’t shift form.”
“The war? I’m learning all sorts of things about you today, Captain.”
He just scoffed and lit a fresh cigarette. “Seems to me you should be concentrating on other things. How’s that gun prototype coming along?”
“Swell. How about your investigation into the Saxbys’ potential involvement in this case?”
Jane gave him another smile, pleased to kill two birds with one stone. “Then let me give you a few more details to help you along…”