The World Keeps Turning
“Maisie, what time is it?” asked Cora, absently braiding the fringe of her lace shawl while the maid entered the room with a tray of coffee and cookies.
It was a question Maisie had heard all morning, but her answer remained as neutral as before. “Ten past eleven, miss.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Cora settled her hands in her lap and looked back at the letter she was supposed to be reading. Now that her chances of being arrested and charged with her father’s murder had faded to nothing, his battalion of lawyers, advisers, and estate managers sought her out when a nod of approval was needed. It was all very boring, but she hated waiting with nothing to do.
After reading the same paragraph twice without taking in one word, she realized the futility of pretending everything was fine. And she was braiding her fringe again.
With an impatient huff of breath, she reached for her appointment book and checked it. She had thumbed through its pages nearly as often as she had asked Maisie for the time, even though the entry she sought out remained the same.
9:30 - Detective Hayes.
He had never been late before. Worse, her two attempted calls to his office had gone unanswered. Something must have happened.
She couldn’t help thinking of the expressions on those brutes from the day before. The way that she-wolf had so ruthlessly smashed in his face. What if one of them had slipped into city limits? Yes, she was safe with her name and connections, but what stopped them from going after him?
She thought she heard the other girl grind her teeth before appearing in the doorway. “Yes, miss?”
Cora quickly scribbled on the back of the nearest letter and handed it over. “I’m going out. I don’t know for how long. Tell anyone who asks that I’m off shopping. If I’m not back by tonight and haven’t rung you about it, then call the police and give them this address.”
Then she picked a coat and hat in record time and left in the car. Normally, she would have been lost in the thrill of speeding along while the engine growled and the wind whipped at her face, but today even those couldn’t budge her worry. What if he was dead? She couldn’t even imagine how awful that would be.
Perhaps Hayes was too reserved for his own good, and certainly too stubborn, but he was also fearless, and clever, and determined, and she didn’t want to see all that reduced to a lifeless body torn apart by savage teeth. The thought of finding him like that left her mouth trembling, and she quickly distracted herself by checking her lipstick in the rearview mirror. If she was about to face a police interview for finding a body, then at the very least she could look fantastic while doing it.
She knew the address for his office, having found it back when she was still looking for private detectives. It led to one of the industrial sections close enough to the port that brine tinged the air and rust splotched cars. A few gulls wheeled overhead as she turned down a street crowded with offices, cafes, and shops.
It was a nice area, quiet except for the distant echoes from the docks, and nobody even glanced at her as she found the right place—a two-story brick building as bland and well-kept as its neighbors. She didn’t see broken windows or any other signs of violence.
The address led her to the upper offices. There were two nameplates on the door—Hayes’ and someone called J. Feral. The window revealed an unlit front office, empty of movement even when she knocked.
At the lack of an answer, Cora tried again, surprised at how badly her heart pounded. Then she pulled a hairpin free and crouched before the lock, her fingers deft and sure. Within a minute, she heard the click that meant she had succeeded, and cautiously opened the door.
“Detective Hayes?” She spoke clearly, eyeing the covered typewriter on the front desk. That would explain why her calls hadn’t been answered; the secretary had never shown up for work. Nearby file cabinets were open and still spilling out paper, and she toed at some of the bigger piles left on the ground, wondering if they covered bloodstains or something else equally nefarious.
Instead, she found a glass. Then an empty whiskey bottle. Her worry melted into relief as she picked it up and glanced over the label. Cheap and strong, the kind of hooch used only when someone wanted to drink away all awareness. Or heartbreak.
She began opening window shades and turning on lights, now moving with purpose. She no longer expected to find a body bled out, but one that was, not to put too fine a point on it, soused.
The office door marked with J. Feral was locked, but Hayes’ was open and that was where she found him, slumped over a desk full of files and papers. The blinds behind him were pulled shut, leaving everything in shadow.
“Hayes?” she whispered, abruptly afraid again. What if she’d gotten it wrong? Not death by teeth, but by self-inflicted bullet? He had looked like his heart was cracking in two when they’d left the meeting.
When she moved closer, she noticed another empty bottle near his feet, as if he’d knocked it off his desk or dropped it. His jacket and waistcoat were crumpled on the floor, one of his suspenders had been pulled off and the other was twisted askew… but he was breathing.
Carefully, she ran fingers through his hair, deathly afraid of them coming away bloody. But his scalp and skull felt whole, and her dread evaporated into something much more impatient.
“Hayes.” She shook his shoulder and received a slurred groan in reply. “Hayes, wake up this instant.”
A harder shake, and finally he stirred, pushing up off his elbows enough to blink at her with bloodshot eyes.
“You’re hideously late for our meeting,” she said, surveying his unshaven face and wild hair.
“Miss—” Then his voice gave out, and he cleared his throat before trying again. “Miss Marshall, I apologize. I—”
“Drank yourself silly,” she said, and dropped her purse onto his desk. “I can’t say I’m surprised. You wouldn’t talk to me at all about what happened yesterday, so you had to get rid of your thoughts in some other manner.”
“Oh, it’s all right. We all make mistakes. At least you don’t look too green in the gills.” Then she walked past, finding a few back rooms that connected the two offices. They were tiny but obviously meant to allow him or his office partner to live there in a pinch if they couldn’t be torn away from their work. “Is this stove working? I’ll make you breakfast since you obviously missed it.”
Hayes rubbed at his face, leaving his voice muffled. “That’s… very nice of you, but I don’t want any.”
“Nonsense. You’ll feel better after eating.” She took off her hat and then her coat, dropping them on the cot by the small closet before returning to his office. “To be quite frank, I thought I was coming here to find a dead body, not one pickled on whiskey and buried in papers.”
A growl entered his voice even as his face remained buried in his hands. “Food won’t do a damn thing for me.”
She watched him for a few moments, not liking how he still hadn’t met her eyes. He was still hunched over his desk, too. He looked… defeated.
Somehow, that was more upsetting than seeing him covered in his own blood, and she found her voice growing soft with words that had hidden in her heart for quite a while. “I know what it’s like to lose someone you love. It doesn’t seem fair that the world keeps turning while you feel dead inside. The sigil controlled what I said and did but couldn’t touch what I felt. I was very miserable, of course, and didn’t know how to find any measure of peace.”
That riveting gaze of his was now fixed on her, unwavering despite his sick condition. She sucked in a breath and kept on, wishing someone had told her such things when she’d been lost in her own grief. “Eventually, I realized the only way out of something is through it. To just trudge along and use whatever you can to keep going. When my father first put the sigil on me, I couldn’t do anything without his approval. It was terrible, and for so many nights, I just wanted to close my eyes and not wake up the next morning.”
“But I didn’t die, so I had to get out of bed, and keep myself clean and fed, and remember how to speak to others, and soon I started the most boring, harmless hobby possible—arranging flowers. It was such a stupid little thing, but I still had something to do, even if it was just changing the appearance of a room. It was a reason to keep moving forward in life.” Her gaze had dropped to his desk, but now she looked right into his face, daring him to dismiss it all as nonsense.
He didn’t. In fact, he said nothing, leaning there on the desk as if every syllable out of her mouth had drawn him closer to her.
It was his expression that struck her, though, and she found herself placing a hand on his forearm, wanting him to feel the sincerity behind her next words. “You woke up today. So take a shower, and comb your hair, and pick at the breakfast I’m about to make. Because the world is turning, and you’re still a part of it.”
For a long moment, those wild, gold eyes only studied her, so intense that she felt like the ends of her hair were about to crisp under his attention. Then he nodded and pushed himself upright, something like life coming back into his movements. “There’s probably nothing in the larder.”
She gave him a sunny smile. “We’ll see.”
By the time he was out of the shower, she had coffee, toast, and an omelette ready on his desk. When he reappeared in the office, dressed but still buttoning up his waistcoat, she said, “Is this where you live?”
“Technically, I have an apartment of my own. My job keeps me from using it much.” Despite his terse words, he already looked a little better. In the bright light and with his face freshly shaved, it grew clear that his wounds had already healed into one small scar by his eyebrow.
Cora found herself wondering how normal this was for him, and if those he shared this space with were used to it. “Who’s J. Feral? Another detective?”
“No, a thaumaturgist and inventor. We work together on cases if magic is involved.”
“What about the secretary? I saw her desk out front.”
“Mabel is a sixty-year-old battleaxe who knows what it means when I show up bloody. She’s not coming in today.”
Cora glanced around the office again, finding nothing personal in it. “No photos, no mementos… don’t you have any time for fun?”
He shrugged while straightening his tie. “Not many people like detectives, Miss Marshall.”
“Oh, no. Not more wallowing in self-pity.” Then she sat on a stack of cardboard boxes near the desk, primly crossing her legs. “Let’s talk about something more cheerful.”
At that, he glanced over, some of the usual humor returning to his eyes. “Like your father’s murder?”
She smiled brightly. “Exactly.”
“As it turns out, there are new things to go through. The city police finally sent over all their files.” He grabbed one of the boxes and set it between them on the desk. Then he sat down, hesitating at the sight of the food.
When he looked back at her, something in his expression had changed. “Thank you.”
Cora knew he meant much more than the breakfast. “You’re welcome. You seem much better already.”
“Wolves recover faster than humans, whether it’s from injury or their own stupidity.” Then he rubbed the back of his neck, now looking embarrassed. “In my case, you could call it stupidity either way. You saved my life, Miss Marshall.”
Her heart flipped in her chest over the words as much as the way his deep voice spoke them, but she tried to sound merely playful. “Cora. I think we’ve been through enough together to have some sense of familiarity. Don’t you?”
He shook his head but also smiled, almost reluctantly so. “You’re still my client.”
She sighed and rose to her feet. “You really are the most stubborn fella I’ve ever met. All right, Detective, I’ve never been a good girl, but I suppose I can give you a break and pretend to be proper. Now eat up while I clean all the papers out front to keep your secretary from quitting on the spot.”
It really was impossible to read anything in that striking gaze, but as she began to leave, he suddenly said, “Forget it.”
“Forget about it,” he said, and then he really did smile, a genuine one that left her feeling as sweet as syrup. “Instead, why don’t we look through these and figure out what everyone is trying to hide from us?”