The Missing Link
It felt wonderful to be back in Sam’s office. Mabel, the secretary, was out for the day. Jane had already holed up in her side and only the faint crackle of electricity indicated she was even in the building. It left Cora feeling very cozy while they sat together at his desk, and her focus kept slipping to him instead of the files he handed over.
He had shrugged off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves but still looked businesslike while opening and reading the morning mail. Her heart felt ready to burst from the mere sight of him. Eventually, though, she learned all that had happened while she’d been trapped with her father, and each piece of information sobered her further.
When she realized the last file contained the transcript of Sam’s final conversation with Isabelle, she hesitated.
He noticed in between letters and shook his head. “It means nothing to me. And it’s accurate. I typed that up myself after leaving the execution.”
A few sentences in, indignation replaced her doubt. “Every word out of her mouth was meant to hurt you. I can’t believe you kept your temper. I would have slapped her silly.”
“I was more concerned with the ‘missing links’ she mentioned.”
“Do you think she was being honest?”
He leaned back in his seat, expression absent. “I do. She seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t have the full picture.”
“Hmm.” Cora read through the transcript again. “Well, if Freddy wasn’t working with the Saxbys for money, then he must have had another source. The last time we went out together, he couldn’t even pay the bar tab at his boating club.”
“What about your friend Violet? She admitted to having a big hand in his cult.”
“She spent money worse than he did. Her nature was more suited to enticing the right people into the cult and growing it into what it became. And since Harold Beaumont is her cousin, she was the only source needed to find an enchanter willing to perform illegal magic. I’ll bet she simply bullied him into helping her. That’s what she did when we were all children.”
Sam stared at the opposite wall, running a thumb over the scar by his eyebrow while he thought. She found the small movement to be distracting in the most delicious way, but his voice drew her attention back to the problem. “Even so, they would have needed money. Jane was paid top price for the materials she sent to Davenport’s ‘Admiral Antwerth’ alias.”
“Through a bank account?” said Cora, hopefully.
He grimaced. “Cash. Impossible to track.”
“I suppose someone else connected to Freddy or the cult could have funded them. It’s just that I’ve read through the list of acolytes and others tied to it. I didn’t see one name that wasn’t connected to outrageous spending. A few were already disinherited from their families over their bad behavior even before they joined the cult. They’re all just like Freddy and Violet—constantly bleeding money.”
“Not all,” said Sam, suddenly straightening in his seat. “There’s someone who knew about the cult long before it became anything. You said it yourself while telling the Frosthound alpha-queen about your uncle: he got into plenty of fights with your father over forming the cult and losing money through it.”
Then he leaned toward her, eyes sharp with a hunter’s intensity. “Bunny, I think we’re all turned around. We’ve been looking at who Freddy Davenport could have begged money from. Maybe we should be thinking about who could have approached Davenport with money as a lure. Do you remember when I asked you what happened the day your father left? And what you said in response?”
“Oh, yes.” She didn’t even have to find the right file. That entire day remained clear in her mind. “He told me he was going to New Obsidian for business reasons and would return the next day. At the time, I didn’t think that was strange. It was normal for him to spend the night if he travelled out of the city.”
“But was it normal for him to tell you this while the sigil controlled you?”
“I… no. No, he never bothered. It’s not like I could ask him anything. He would simply recite what I should do while he was away.” Cora felt herself stiffen as the implication grew clear. “He wanted me to know, didn’t he? And not because he was worried. If he had been suspicious about his well-being, he would have simply ordered me to call the police and report him missing once he didn’t return.”
“Misdirection,” said Sam. “He never planned to go to New Obsidian at all.”
“But there’d be no reason to lie about the general location of a secret meeting. Businessmen have them all the time. Unless… it wasn’t with another human,” breathed Cora.
Sam nodded. “The Saxby Pack. The Frosthounds weren’t lying and neither was the informant who tried to get them to pay for details. A human was financially backing the Saxbys, but it wasn’t Freddy Davenport like we thought.”
“That’s another thing: the fact that Freddy was killed just as he was about to give a new interview. In previous statements, he freely talked about the cult, the serum, and planning Father’s murder. So what was he about to say that triggered the enchantment to kill him? Maybe something else about Father. Maybe that he was involved beyond being an innocent victim.”
Sam’s excitement didn’t show in his voice but in the way his teeth flashed when he spoke. “Your father had the money. The Saxbys had the idea about the berserker serum. And then they went to Freddy Davenport for his connections and know-how in hiding illegal magic under the city’s nose. True to form, the Saxbys backstabbed Isaac Marshall as soon as they felt it was safe, something Davenport also wanted so that the path to using you for his ritual was as smooth as possible.”
Cora beamed. “But they didn’t expect us to ruin their plans. The pieces all fit, don’t they?”
The glint in Sam’s eyes warmed as he focused on her, but his words remained cautious. “They do, but there are still plenty of question marks, like your father’s motive for getting involved. He seems like a deliberate man, and one who doesn’t like wolves. What did he want out of this? And how did he convince Harold Beaumont to keep him in hiding at Mallow Manor?”
“That’s right, he was with Beaumont for weeks. What did he say about that?” Cora quickly looked for the latest interview transcripts with her father, reading parts out loud. “I don’t remember the car wreck or how I escaped it. I don’t remember my driver acting out of order. I woke up in the room you found me in. Food or water would occasionally be given to me through a slot in the door. That’s all I know.”
Then she huffed. “It sounds like utter faff to me. There’s no detail at all. But he’ll never reveal what really happened. Father’s not the type of man to crack.”
“It’s all right. We can find out if he’s the missing link Isabelle mentioned even without a confession from him.”
Determination filled her full. “What do we need to do?”
To her surprise, Sam gave her a wry grin. “You really enjoy this, don’t you?” he murmured. “Helping with detective work.”
“More than anything,” she said with complete honesty, caught by how his gaze warmed in response.
He was able to hold onto his focus much better than she was, his voice quickly returning to something more professional. “We need evidence that your father worked with the Saxbys and Freddy Davenport before they turned on him. Our options are narrow since Davenport, Violet Granbury, Harold Beaumont, and the only Saxby willing to talk are all dead.”
“There’s Father’s lawyer, Mr. Forrester. Remember when you got him to admit that he and Father had a terrible fight over a potential ‘shadow venture?’ Perhaps I can pester him for more. Maybe he knew it was the Saxbys that Father was interested in, and why. If I threaten him with the knowledge that I’m free of the sigil and am about to go public with it, he’ll know Father won’t be a figure worth keeping quiet over.”
Sam shook his head. “No, we’re not going to put you in danger. Let’s stick with your original plan of getting that lawyer and telling the police about the sigil before anything else. I like the idea of talking to Mr. Forrester, but afterward.”
“But that means waiting,” she protested.
He raised an eyebrow. “I can think of ways to stay busy in the meantime.”
His tone was teasing enough to bring a smile back to her face. “Such as?”
The sudden intensity in his eyes was answer enough, but before she could toss the file aside, his phone rang.
It was the lawyer she’d met earlier that day. Mr. Snaith had been busy in the brief time since their meeting, having a representation agreement ready for her to read and sign as well as a proposed team of lawyers, each from a different branch of legal expertise that would be needed for a complicated case like hers. All were willing to meet with her in an hour at Mr. Snaith’s office. Cora had to admit, there were benefits to having a renowned father hated by so many. More than a few appointments must have been hastily rescheduled to make room for hers.
When she hung up, she looked over at Sam, who still thumbed through files. “I have a very good feeling that a bunch of lawyers will be helping me before the day is out. Mr. Snaith asked me to bring as much information about the sigil as possible, including the nasty little thing itself if it still exists.”
They both looked over in the direction of Jane’s office.
The she-wolf rolled her eyes at the sight of them but let them inside. “Don’t touch anything.”
Her workspace was brightly lit and painfully neat. Each vial and jar that filled the steel shelves looked precisely placed. Some were glass and some were blacked out to prevent light passing through. Reference books waited within easy reach of a workbench. Blueprints of what looked like a submachine gun were tacked to half the walls alongside handwritten notes. There was even an area sectioned off by what looked like hard plastic. Two holes were cut into it at arm-height, and there were thick rubber gloves attached to them so that Jane could work on whatever was inside without contaminating herself or the rest of the room. At the moment, the transparent box looked empty, and the various bottles of powder, wiring, and metal parts on the workbench suggested she was in the middle of something less experimental in nature.
The she-wolf’s next words confirmed it. “There goes any hope of working on my own projects today.”
Despite her dour tone, Jane looked happier than usual while pulling files from a massive black cabinet. Sam had moved over to the workbench, studying the half-built items there, but Cora was more interested in how Jane seemed to be irritated with her neck, one hand drifting to the skin above her collar before dropping away again. If Cora looked closely, she could just see a smudge of foundation makeup on the leather itself.
Before she could comment, Jane turned in their direction with a handful of files. “Here we are. Copies of Harold Beaumont’s records about the sigil and my own notes about the enchantment I made to break it. I hope you’re not looking for the memories burned away. Beaumont didn’t list what they were. Most likely, Isaac Marshall was there directing him verbally on what to erase.”
When Cora flinched at the words, they both noticed, and Jane actually sounded apologetic as she added, “Sorry, but it’s true.”
“It’s all right. I’ve just been reminded of it a lot today, and it isn’t very pleasant to think about what might have been taken and how I’ll never know for sure how much of my mind is left.”
Sam’s expression turned grim, but in the next moment, the phone in his office rang yet again. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he murmured to her.
Once he left, Cora sighed, feeling a bit silly. “I’m really all right. I just feel like I hate my father more by the day.”
Jane shrugged, glancing over the nearest blueprints. “Understandable. Cruel people are easy to hate, especially when they have power over you.”
Cora was again struck by the lack of bitterness in the she-wolf’s voice. She didn’t know Jane nearly as well as Sam, but the she-wolf had never veered from a caustic attitude toward the world. Cora studied her again, taking in the relaxed way Jane leaned against the workbench. Then she found herself saying, “How are you, Miss Feral?”
Sharp yellow eyes looked her over, but Jane’s tone remained mild. “Well and good. I wasn’t going nuts like Sam in your absence, though I was equally busy.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” said Cora, sincerely. “You’re a miracle worker to free me. If I can ever pay you back…”
“I appreciate the sentiment but don’t see how you could. We’re not much alike, Miss Marshall. I’ll admit, your areas of expertise run deeper than I thought when we first met, but I doubt I’ll ever need help in any of them.”
The she-wolf’s words sounded so stiff and proper that Cora almost smiled. Sam was so easy-going and confident that she found it easy to forget he and Jane were both strangers to the world they now lived in. She wondered how much of the she-wolf’s prickliness was from the discomfort of her situation.
She looked over the she-wolf again and decided to take a gamble. “I don’t know about that. For example, I’d advise trying a concealer with a green tint. It will hide the suck marks like a dream, and your skin won’t feel irritated from layers of caked-on, sticky makeup.”
Jane froze. Then her face flushed scarlet, and she pulled her hair free of its bun to let it tumble around her shoulders. “I didn’t have time this morning to craft a cosmetic enchantment.”
“We’re all very busy these days.”
Now Cora did smile, relieved that the she-wolf sounded tentatively curious instead of offended. “It neutralizes redness on fair skin.”
“It does make sense,” muttered Jane. “Thank you.”
“Of course. I take it Captain Dempsey will be in good spirits if I see him today?”
Jane stared at her in disbelief. “How did you—Sam hasn’t even figured it out yet.”
“He might be a detective, but he’s still a man. They never notice that glow of satisfaction unless they’re the one who caused it.” Then Cora set her purse on the workbench and perched on the nearby stool. “Don’t worry, I won’t spill your secret. I’ll admit to being very curious, though. When did it start?”
“Soon after he got out of the hospital,” admitted Jane.
“Was it at the police station?”
“Of course not.” The she-wolf sounded offended by the mere idea. “We’re both consummate professionals. He found me in the station’s archives one night when I wasn’t supposed to be there and escorted me out—all the way back to his place. You can infer the rest. How did you guess it was him?”
“Female intuition. He’s always shown much more patience with you than with Sam.”
It was Jane’s turn to smile wickedly. “Oh, it’s ‘Sam’ now? For the record, I approve. Do you have any other advice for my neck?”
“The concealer should be enough. You could also try convincing the captain to suck on parts that won’t be seen in public.”
For a moment, she thought she’d shocked the she-wolf again. Then sudden humor glinted in Jane’s eyes. “Who says he doesn’t?”
They both burst into laughter.
Sam reappeared in time to catch a final giggle from Jane. He stared at her. “Can’t remember the last time you really laughed, Jane.”
“Call it satisfaction,” said Jane, turning enough so she could raise an eyebrow at Cora without him seeing. Before he could respond to that, she brandished the files. “These should satisfy even a lawyer’s scrutiny. I’ll bring the sigil out in a moment. It’s still in the jar.”
“You were able to preserve it?” said Sam.
“Of course.” Jane didn’t bother hiding her smugness. When he gestured at her to hand over the files, she tucked them beneath her arm and added, “Do you really think I’ll trust you to explain this level of thaumaturgy? Or to answer any questions they might have about it? I’m coming with you two. I assume the phone call just now wasn’t anything important for us.”
“Not as important as this,” he said, and then turned to Cora. His smile made her feel like she could take on the world. “Ready to hunt down the truth, Bunny?”
She grinned back. “Absolutely.”