Category Archives: 5.02

Conviction 5.2

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“Boots off,” the officer said.

“Huh?”

“No boots, no belt.”

I frowned, but I removed the boots.  The lawyers had given them to me, after I’d lost my last pair, before my return to Toronto.  I lifted  up my shirt to show the lack of a belt.

He slid the iron-bar door into place.  The clang joined the cacophony of voices, shouts and drunken howls.

I’d been placed in the last cell in a long row.  Many of the others had three to five people in them.  My cell and the cell opposite were empty.  A single desk and chair sat at the end of the hall.  The officer placed my boots on top of the desk, then sat down.

I looked down at Evan, then up at the officer.

“No way out,” Evan whispered, in his replay-of-a-memory voice.

There was no need to whisper.  He couldn’t be seen or heard.

“Have to escape,” Evan said, as if to himself.

A skip, because he couldn’t tap into a part of himself that referred to a ‘you’.  He’d been too isolated.  He’d learned ‘you’ since, or he could tap into his memories when he was close enough to his body, but not like this.

I couldn’t reply without the cop hearing me talk to myself.

Instead, I scratched at one of the scabs on my arm until blood welled out.  I sat down on the cot and bent down, making it look like I was adjusting my sock.  I drew the thin line of blood on the ground, between myself and the cop.

Breaking the connection between me and him.

Nothing happened.  He remained where he was, ignoring the jeers and complaints of the other people in the cells.  They seemed to be drunks, by their behavior and smell, which made them a bit more loud and complain-y than the typical sort.

I waited, wracking my brain for options.  I needed a break.

The cop took a drink of his coffee, grimaced, and then stood, coffee in one hand, boots in the other.

Without even looking at me, he headed down towards the door at the end of the hall.  The noise level rose as he passed, then fell as the door banged shut, well out of my view.

We had a moment.

“Trouble?  Did-” Evan flickered, “-do something wrong?”

“Yes and no,” I murmured.  “They think I killed you.  I’m being set up on that front.  Other stuff… well, it’s mostly to do with my family.  My grandmother was a person of ill repute, and I’ve inherited that reputation.  Kind of.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t have to be here,” I said, and my voice was nearly drowned out by the noise from other cells, “not with me.  You helped me against the Hyena, against the so-called wolf, and this is only my own thing.”

“You don’t want my help?”

“I really want help,” I said.  “But I don’t want to force you to help.  I don’t want you to help because you think there’s no choice, or because… I dunno.”

“Okay,” Evan said. “I-I.”

I waited.

He seemed to come into himself.  He spoke quietly.  “My body.  Tear-cut- things after I die…”

“What?” I asked.

“Right now.”  Flicker.  “Right here.”

“Oh,” I said.  I leaned back.  “Yeah.  Checking you for evidence, and then the autopsy.  Are- are you weaker?”

“No.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Mom and dad.  I-” flicker, “-don’t-” flicker, “-want my mom and dad.”

“No?”

“Please.  I- help come.  Thank.”

“You helped against the Hyena.  You, in absolutely no way, owe me anything, understand?”

He was silent for a moment.  The room remained noisy.  One guy was shouting out cuss words with a peculiar sort of rhythm.  One of the homeless mentally ill.  I felt a pang of sympathy.

When Evan spoke, it was with more focus and direction than he’d had a moment ago.  He’d been summoning up strength.  “You found me.  I can’t go home.”

“Why not?  I mean, I get that you can’t go home, conventionally, but… can’t you be with your mom and dad for a bit?”

Rather than give me a straight answer, he replayed a scene.  “It’s- my fault.”

“You’re not to blame for what the Hyena did.”

“I got lost.  I saw something… someone?  I went to look, and I got turned around,” Evan whispered.

I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him, to give my words more weight.

“You’re not at fault,” I said.  “You have no reason to feel guilty, okay?”

He didn’t move a fraction.  Not even the slight movement of breathing.

“When I was younger,” I said, “Not as young as you are… but younger… I ran away.  Bad things happened to me too, after that.  I blamed myself.”

He was still frozen.

“I can’t remember if I said, but… well, there’s two things I want to say to you, but I feel like each of them is the thing I say first.  I’m not doing this well.  Um.  One of the rules, if you want to use magic like I do?  It’s that you aren’t allowed to lie.  Bad things happen.  You understand?”

Evan nodded.

“The other thing?  I don’t think I ever said this out loud.  Even to myself.  I’m kind of unsure… not sure if I should say it, even, because I might be breaking the rules, and making bad things happen.”

“Don’t- have to.”

“Evan… Neither of us should feel guilty.  The bad things that happened to us are not our fault, understand?  And if you tell yourself that it is your fault, then you’re kind of saying that what happened to me was definitely my fault.  Because you were lured out, but I made the choice to run away.”

“No,” Evan said.

Not the answer I’d expected.

“Don’t do that,” he said.  “I… listening- that- I’m so tired.”

Weaker?  My reassurances were making him weaker.

“Evan, you could move on.  I declare your debt to me paid.”

“I don’t… I can’t.  I want- I want to…” he trailed off.

“Evan?”

He only shook his head, adamant.

He had nowhere else to be.  He couldn’t be with his body, and he felt too guilty to be around his parents.  He didn’t want to move on.

“Okay,” I said.  “Okay.  I’m not sure I get it-”

“I don’t want to die,” he said.  An echo of a memory.  “I don’t want to die like this.”

But you’re already dead.

Or was moving on another kind of death?

He’d survived on raw tenacity.  He’d struggled so he wouldn’t die, isolated and undiscovered, a riddle unsolved.

Now, it seemed, he carried that desire and tenacity forward.  It applied, perhaps, to the great unknown that waited beyond.

Nevermind that.  I had other pressing issues, and I wasn’t going to devote more time to figuring out how to turn down and get rid of the only help I did have.

“Okay, Evan,” I murmured.  “You’ll help?”

He nodded.

“Thank you.  Here’s the deal… I’m on something of a quest.  The Hyena was the second out of three monsters I’m supposed to stop.  I have until midnight to bind the third one and bring it somewhere.  My enemies figured this out, and they’ve framed me for your murder.”

He nodded again.

“I can use magic.  Not much, but I can use magic.  My enemies can use better magic.  They’ve stuck me in here, and they want to keep me here until my time is up.”

“-Need to get away,” Evan said.

“Ideally without the cops after me,” I said.  “So I can go back to my friends when all is said and done.”

“-Want to go home,” Evan said.  A statement echoing a memory.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What- can’t go home,” Evan said.

Was he telling me?

No.  I was just having trouble reading his tone.  He was asking me a question.  What if I couldn’t go home?

“If I can’t go home, if the bridges are burned and there’s no way to get away, then… I guess I have to settle for getting away.”

He nodded.

“I don’t want to do that, though.  I don’t want to be a fugitive.”

“Yeah,” Evan said.

“If I use a trick, my enemies are going to use better tricks.  They manipulate time, and I don’t really know how that works when they don’t have big rituals going on.”

“Okay,” Evan said.

“Can you start by scouting the area?” I asked.  “Stay out of sight of the… there’s a cop with black hair.  He’s the guy who put handcuffs on me.  Remember?”

“Yes.”

“Escape routes, places to stay away from, places the cops don’t look, and just where different things are, so I can find my way around.”

“Okay.”

That said, Evan was gone.

I needed help.  Evan wasn’t enough.

Couldn’t call Fell or Conquest.  Not without risking some kind of retribution.

The Knights?

I rested my forearms on my knees, sitting on the edge of the cot, and stared down at the concrete floor.  Moisture had stained it with overlapping, misshapen rings of brown and rust-red.

Probably not water.

“Knights of the basement,” I said.  “Knights… Knights… knights…”

I was going to try and stop the monster that had ruined their lives.  I had one monster under my belt – they already knew that.  They’d given me a ride to see Evan after dark, so I could ask if he wanted to be my familiar.

I hadn’t asked, because I didn’t want to ask for favors only to not need them, but the plan had been to borrow their books, their know-how, or both, if and when it came time to bind him.

I’d figure something else out.  For now, I needed to cash in any favors they might be willing to grant.

With luck, they’d reach the station, realize what happened, and piece together a strategy.

With less luck, they’d get here, decide I wasn’t worth it, and turn around.

“Knights,” I murmured.  “Knights of the basement.  Nick with the wind shotgun, shotgun’s son, the knights of Toronto…”

I shifted position until I was lying down.

I was tired.  Drained.

For a moment, I felt alarm surge through me.  The same momentary panic that came with a sudden sensation of falling, lying in bed.  Was I being manipulated?  Enchanted?

I checked for connections, and found nothing.

I pushed up my sleeves and looked at my tattoos, instead.

Still pale, with a vivid background.  No sign of anything suspicious affecting me or the tattoos.

I let my head rest on the too-thin pillow.

“Knights,” I murmured.  “Knights…”

I was too tired to stay awake.  I’d given up blood, paid a price, I’d been out running through the woods for however long, and even with the power that Rose was feeding to me, I was out of gas.  A seductive part of me told me that I’d be woken up for my lawyer, or if anyone came.  That I needed to recharge, before tomorrow rolled around, if I was going to put up a fight.  If I was going to sleep before dealing with the demon, if I even got the chance, then I might as well use the otherwise wasted time here.

My last thought, before sleep took me, was about Rose.  If I was out of gas, how was she faring?

Blake Thorburn.

I sat upright, nearly smashing my head into the cot above mine.

Connections.

A group of them, outside.  One coming closer, faintly connected to me.

Blake Thorburn.

One of the ones outside was saying my name.  The connection was the strongest, suggesting it was Nick.  The guy who’d had the shotgun, the leader of the Knights.

“Shotgun guy,” I said.  “Nick.”

I felt the connection solidify.  He reacted on some level.

Verifying my location?

I looked around.

Evan sat in the corner.

I looked.  The cop wasn’t at the table next to me.  The cell opposite was occupied by two girls who looked rather sloppy, their makeup streaked by sweat.  Both slept, despite the ongoing noise in other cells.  Less shouting, more conversation.  One girl snored.

“Sorry, Evan,” I murmured.  “Didn’t mean to leave you waiting.”

“…Tired,” he said, after a momentary struggle.  “Need to sleep.  I can’t sleep.  Tired… won’t let me sleep.”

“What’d I miss?”

He shook his head.  “Tear me up after I die…”

It took me a second to make the connection.  Before I’d drifted off, he’d use the same term.  His autopsy had apparently finished.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to distract you.”

“Tear me up…  I’m tired.”

“I know,” I said.  Your body is less intact, and your body is… some kind of vessel that’s keeping you anchored here.

The lone Knight was entering the building, approaching the front desk.

“Evan.  Would it help if I gave you something to do?”

He nodded.

“Front desk.  Some, er, colleagues of mine, they sent someone to the front desk.  Hurry, look for them, listen for my name.  If you can’t find them, come back to me, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.  Get as much information as you can, then come back?”

He nodded, then disappeared through a wall.

“Good job,” I said, even though he was already gone.  “Thank you.”

I had the vaguest sense that it was sunny out.  My general awareness, in the most basic sense, was too active.

I’d slept through the remainder of the night.  I was now working with limited time.  Sixteen hours at most, before my deadline hit.

Sixteen hours.  Fuck.

There were too many bases to cover.  How did I protect myself from something that attacked existence?  How did I bind it?

How did I get out of here?

How did I help Rose?  Was it a question of wrapping up the job and asking Conquest?

Could I preserve my real life?  My connection to Joel, to Alexis, to Ty and Tiffany, and all the rest?  Get my bike?

The Knights were here.  They were, I could only hope, helping.  But here I was, stuck in a cell.  Not just that.  I was stuck in a cell, all too aware that Duncan Behaim was out there.  Fucking with me, attacking my efforts.

Had he been working on plans and countermeasures while I’d been resting?

I felt good.  A little too good.

I paced, thinking, but the number of problems made for a muddle I couldn’t decipher.

The change in ambient volume told me someone was coming.  Some conversation stilled, while some of the periodic shouting got louder.

It was Duncan.

“Good morning,” I said.  Please don’t tell me it’s afternoon.

“Good morning.  Up early, are you?”

“I have company, huh?”

“Your lawyer.  And a witness has come forward.”

“Fantastic,” I said.  “I didn’t think you were allowed to talk to me.”

“Apparently my supervisor is no longer concerned about that,” he said.  He smiled a little.

“Ah.”

The door was open in a second.  I was tense as I stepped out into the hall.

He didn’t look worried.  Was the person at the desk not one of the Knights?

We passed by desks and officers in cubicles, and I managed to sneak a glance at the bottom-right corner of a computer screen, seeing the time.  Nine in the morning.

I was led back to the interrogation rooms and sat down in the same room and spot I’d been in before.  He shut me in.

I had no way to track the passage of time.  Evan didn’t turn up, and I worried he’d returned to my cell to find me absent.

He and Duncan Behaim were a little too close to one another.

This was hell.  Being made to stay still, being confined, trapped… it was everything I loathed.  I’d run away from home to escape a kind of pressure very similar to what I felt right now.

A sick feeling welled in my gut, as I imagined being sent to prison, facing this each and every day, knowing I had ten or fifteen years before I would get out.

I knew this was about mind games, tricks, manipulations, to make me look more guilty, or to put me in a position where I’d maybe make a mistake.  Just as they’d done when they’d pressured me in terms of my personal space, the very layout of this room.

I knew it, but I was having trouble distancing myself from it.

It didn’t help that every single second that passed was one second that I theoretically needed for tonight.  For taking on the lesser demon, the abstract thing.

By the time the door opened, sneaking suspicion told me it had been a minimum of an hour, on top of my wait in the cell.

“Good morning, Mr. Thorburn,” Mrs. Harris said.

“Good morning, ma’am,” I said.  “I appreciate your coming.”

“No choice in the matter, not really.  But you’re welcome,” she said.  “I’m hoping you’re a little more helpful to the officers and yourself today.”

“Exercising my rights,” I said.

“Just because they’re there doesn’t mean you need to exercise them,” she said.

She was followed by Duncan and Max.  I could tell that people were filing into the other room, on the other side of the one-way mirror.

I wasn’t sure what was going on.

“A few questions, if you will,” Max said.

“Questions?”

“It’s fine,” Mrs. Harris said.  “Answer to the best of your ability?”

“Maybe,” I said.  “I still have the right to remain silent?”

“Section eleven,” she said.  “Yes.  You still have all rights and privileges afforded by the law.  Nothing has changed.”

Evan appeared, walking through the wall.  He stopped beside me.

He seemed clearer.  Were we closer to his body?

He saw Duncan, on the far end of the table, and his eyes went wide.  An expression that was recorded from his time in the woods.

“It’s fine,” I said.  “Alright.  Let’s do this.”

I glanced at Evan.  “Let’s all do this.”

He stayed.

I could see Duncan frown a bit.

“Yesterday, you were asked to visit the woods.  By who?”

“The lady said her family asked you to go,” Evan said.

What?

She’d lied?

“I believe I refused to name them?” I asked.

Buying time, time to think.

“Perhaps a night in a cell has given you a chance to reconsider?” Max asked.

I made a bit of a show of sighing.  “A family at a convenience store a little bit away wanted my help.  I maybe got one partial name, nothing useful to you.”

I saw Duncan’s expression change.  A deeper frown.

“Elaborate?” Max asked.

“Let me think,” I said…

“I needed some advice from them, for a project I hoped to tackle today… a project I still hope to tackle today, given the chance.  I’m… I’m not sure exactly what happened to them.  I do know that they lost someone in their family.  The man I talked to, his son lost a girlfriend, maybe?  It was vague.”

I was thinking a hell of a lot more clearly than I had the night prior.

I had an advantage here, and Duncan didn’t like it, going by the look on his face.

Trick was figuring out how to get the most out of it.

They were all looking at a single piece of paper.

“What’s going on?” I asked, trying to buy time before the next set of questions.

Mrs. Harris said, “Someone came forward to give you an alibi.  We’re making sure the details match up.”

“Okay,” I said.  “What do you need to know?”

It was Duncan who spoke.  “Last night, you suggested you see goblins and demons…”

“I didn’t say that,” I said.

“You answered all questions, until you adamantly refused to answer questions pertaining to that,” Duncan said.

“Can we get back to my alibi?” I asked.

“I don’t see the point of this,” Mrs. Harris said.

“Mr. Thorburn,” Duncan said, ignoring her.  “Do you believe that particular group of  people you talked to last night are affiliated in any way with the supernatural?”

“Do you?” I asked.

“Don’t be combative,” my lawyer said.

“Yes or no?” Duncan asked.

“I think they’re-”

Yes or no,” he interrupted.

Now who’s being combative?” I asked.

“You’re not doing yourself any favors,” my lawyer said.

Fuck you, I thought.  I couldn’t let him control the flow of this discussion.  I continued, heated, “The family said something about being involved in board games or something like that.  Maybe it was a Dungeons and Dragons or Weaver Dice thing, maybe it was an Ouija Board thing.  I don’t really know.  But you could probably stretch the definition.  Yes, if you have to ask.”

“Do you associate with the supernatural in other ways, Mr. Thorburn?” Duncan Behaim asked me.

“What’s with this line of questioning?” I asked.  “I thought we were talking about my alibi.”

“My suspicion is that there was a supernatural or pseudo-supernatural element in young Evan Matthieu’s death-”

“So you do believe in crazy stuff like that?” I cut in.

“Quiet,” Officer Max said, a little hostile.

“I believe that errant teenagers can and do get involved with such nonsense, leading to the harm of unwitting bystanders,” Duncan said.  “We searched your apartment and found ritualistic drawings on clothes and at the border of the apartment.”

Balls.

But I was a little more mentally agile than I had been last night.  Enough that it worried me.  There was only one good source for the power I had at hand, and it boded ill for the donor.  “Much of what you saw on the floor was done by artist friends of mine, and not by me.  The building landlord can put you in touch with the guys who did the tape thing.

If Duncan was taken aback at all, he didn’t show it.  “And the clothes?”

“My.  Friends.  Are.  Artists,” I said.  Hostile, firm.  “We dick around.  We experiment.  I blue-tack mirror shards to the walls and nobody bats an eye.  It’s how I am.  It’s how my friends are.”

“I don’t know that they’re so friendly anymore,” Duncan said.  “They seemed genuinely taken aback that you’d been arrested for the murder of a child.”

I stiffened.

“Let’s return to the subject of the alibi,” my lawyer said, as if she was reading my posture, changing the subject for my sake.  “We can cover these points after.  It’s moot if he had a reasonable excuse for being where he was.”

“You ate lunch there yesterday,” Max said.  “What?”

“Sandwich and coke,” Evan supplied, somewhat pointlessly.

“Sandwich and coke,” I said.

“The store’s owner helped you out,” Officer Max said.  “What did he give you?”

“A chain,” I said, “and rides here and there, including a ride to the park where you found me.”

“And tips,” Evan said.

“He also gave me a bit of advice,” I said.

There were nods from Officer Max and my lawyer.  Duncan frowned.

He shifted position, and when he settled again, he had a little salt packet in hand.  One of the paper ones that you found in restaurants.

I didn’t wait for him to make a maneuver.  The only Other in the room was Evan.  I glanced at him, and gestured with one hand.

He disappeared through a wall.

“What advice did they give you, out of curiosity?” Duncan asked.

On runes?  Abstract demons?

I couldn’t say that.

“Some stuff on a project I’m supposed to get done today,” I said.  “A few tidbits about language…”

“What’s the project?” Duncan asked.

Fuck.

“Does that have anything to do with the alibi?” I asked.

“Could,” Duncan said.

I glanced at my lawyer, but she wasn’t jumping in.

I wished I had a better lawyer, if only because I wanted someone with more of a spine.  Someone who would have my back, instead of me having to stand up for myself and keep Duncan from dragging the conversation off track.

“Quite frankly,” I said.  “It’s very complicated, and I could be here for some time, trying to explain the ins and outs of it.  On a very basic level, though, the project I’m doing has to be kept discreet for a number of reasons-”

“You’re meandering,” Duncan cut in.

Interrupting my flow of thoughts.  Hard enough to pick the right words without outright lying.

“I’m doing favors for the sake of a very… eccentric person.”

“Who?” Duncan cut in, again.

“An eccentric, powerful person who most likely wouldn’t appreciate the attention he’d get if I shared his identity.”

“Why?” Duncan asked.

I saw a chance, but stumbled over my thoughts in my efforts to answer the question while getting to my point of attack.

“He’s who he is,” I said.  “It’s related to-”

“He is who he is?” Duncan asked.  “What kind of answer is that?”

I talked over him, “-the house I inherited.  The very same house that has your uncle, Officer Behaim, making my life miserable.  Police Chief Laird Behaim of Jacob’s Bell.  I thought you weren’t permitted to be here?”

Pressing him on the subject, I saw the connections shuddering within their confines.  Him to me, him to this room.  Firmly set.  Gilded.  He’d manipulated something, fixed it all in place.

Nobody picked up on the question.  Nothing came of it.  I was pushing against a brick wall, here.

“Nevermind that,” he said, dismissive.  Maybe a little smug.  “Does Evan Matthieu speak to you, Mr. Thorburn?”

“We’re on this again?”

“You’re not answering the questions, necessitating that we ask them again.”

“As I understand it,” I said, “You wanted to know why I was there, with the body.  Someone asked me to go there.  They also asked you to go there.  They-”

He interrupted again, his tone insistent.  “Does Evan Matthieu speak to you?  Are you involved with occult practices, like speaking to the dead or binding demons, Mr. Thorburn?” he interrupted me.

“Quite frankly,” I said, staying calm, “I’m wondering if this is on the up and up.  You’re pressing rather hard on this supernatural thing-”

“You haven’t denied it,” Duncan said.

“-and,” I said, pushing on, “We know you’re Laird Behaim’s nephew, and he’s involved in something hinky, with charges against him for my cousin’s murder, and-”

The connections rattled again.  A little harder than before?

“And you’re here right now.”

“With an alibi,” I said.  “Why am I still here?”

“It’s thin at best,” he said.  “Very little is explained, the woman who came in on your behalf has not named the person who passed on the message.”

“Can you name the person who gave you the tip to walk in the woods and find me there?” I asked  “Because as I told my lawyer, this reeks of conspiracy…”

It was thin, a contrived, glancing blow at best, but I wasn’t about to waste time, and I needed to hit his weak point.  “… conspiracy like one shady-as-fuck police chief getting his nephew to incriminate someone.  How is this okay!?”

Mrs. Lewis had told me that theatrics were important.  How you said something could have an impact on the power of a statement.

So I raised my voice, and I slammed my hand down.

With the impact, the bindings around the connections shattered.  Ones binding me to the center of the room, me to Duncan Behaim, me to my cell…

And one on the underside of my chair?

Either way, the third time’s a charm.

I saw a dark look cross Duncan Behaim’s face a moment before there was a knock on the one-way mirror to my left.

Duncan stepped out.  A moment later, the older police chief came in.

They’re off balance.  Take the advantage.

“What the fuck is going on?” I asked.

“No need for foul language,” the older man said.

“I have an alibi,” I said.  I turned to my lawyer.  “Don’t I?”

She moved as if stirring from sleep.  “Not quite.”

“You remain a prime suspect,” the older man said.

He was delayed in responding.  Slightly confused.

Was this a backlash?  A price paid, or some kind of penalty?  Duty might be compelling him to keep me here, but now the scales that had been tipped in Duncan Behaim’s favor, keeping me here, were helping to drive me out.

“No,” I said.  “I think what you mean to say is that I’m the closest thing to a suspect you have.  Is it even murder?”

“Those details are private,” he said.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A place I have an excuse to be in.  You’re doing sketchy stuff by sticking that guy in a room with me, when you know there’s something questionable about his uncle and my cousin.  There’s the camera, and nobody told me, but I believe it was tampered with, with a suspicious amount of footage missing?”

Enough,” the older man said, sufficiently firm to put me off my stride.  “This is us talking to you, not the other way around.”

I looked to my lawyer, “Can I be held like this, on grounds this sketchy?”

“You can be held for twenty-four hours on suspicion.  If you’d like, I could reach out to the Crown Attorney.”

“How long would that take?”

“They have busy schedules.  I imagine it would take a little bit of time.”

Fuck.

“There’s a bail hearing in the early afternoon,” my lawyer said.  “You’ll meet with a justice of the peace, and at that point in time, you can waive or pursue a bail hearing.”

Early afternoon.

Even if it worked and I was able to get bail from somewhere, while charged with murder and alienated from my friends…

That left me very little time.

It all came down to time.  I needed out now, and I needed to use the tipped scales, while the winds were still blowing in my favor.

I frowned, staring down at the table.

“Do you have more questions for me?”

“None.  You can return to your cell.”

“I have a solid alibi, don’t I?” I asked.

“No,” he said.  “The woman hasn’t explained who supposedly asked them to pass on instructions to you.  It seems to me that you have an individual, or a group of individuals, who might be complicit in a boy’s disappearance and death.”

“You’re avoiding the word murder,” I said, seeing a chance.  “Was he murdered?  You have evidence?”

“The animals got to his body,” the police chief said.  “We looked it over-”

“Anything?  I think the term Officer Max there-”

“Officer Vargis,” ‘Max’ said, his response delayed slightly.  He was just as out of it as the others.

“-Officer Vargis, he used the term reasonable doubt.  If this goes to the justice of the peace this afternoon, are they going to uphold it, or are they going to hear the basic evidence and throw it out?  Are you holding me out of spite?  Because-”

“Enough,” the older man said.  I bristled, ready to press the attack.  “The charges may well be dropped.  However, I trust Officer Behaim’s-”

“You’re bringing up the guy who may well be conspiring with his uncle,” I cut in.  “Again.”

He bristled this time.  “That’s-”

“Maybe you could contact the Crown Attorney after all?” I asked my lawyer.

“No,” the older officer said.  He shook his head, as if trying to clear out cobwebs.  “There’s no need for that.”

“No need?” I asked.

“For now, we can drop the charges.  However, as you remain a person of interest, a possible witness or potential suspect, with the possibility of another arrest if new evidence comes forward, we’ll be in contact with you on a regular basis.”

My heart soared, even as I kept my expression stern and still.

I glanced at my lawyer.

“It sounds acceptable,” she said.

“Good.  I’m sorry for the, um, confusion, Mr. Thorburn.”

“Okay,” I said.  I wasn’t about to accept his apology.

They opened the door to the interrogation room, then froze.

I pushed my way out past them.

Officer Behaim stood in the hallway, head hanging, arms limp at his sides.  His fingers had black blotches on them.  Everyone in the area was lingering at the edges of the room, staring.

More alarming were the spirits that stood around him.

A child, a matron, an older woman, each holding one part of a length of thread.

A giant with gray skin and a veiled face.

A tin man with a clockwork body, his head rotating around three hundred and sixty degrees, moving a set distance each second, like his overly pointed nose was a hand of a clock.

A man that bore a startling resemblance to Laird’s familiar, but fainter, slightly more tattered.

Duncan held something in one hand.  A container?

What was it?

“-completely lost it, sir,” someone at the edge of the room was saying.

“Behaim,” the older man said, his voice steady, gentle.

Behaim moved, and I realized what the container was.  A spray can.

I saw the wall beside him, the doors, bulletin board and wall painted with black lines.  A diagram.

“Fuck,” I breathed.  I searched the room for options.

“Can’t let you go, Thorburn,” Behaim said.

I saw a cop with a coffee in hand and bolted.

I seized the coffee from the officer’s hand and flung it, coffee and all, at the diagram.

Duncan Behaim and each of the spirits around him moved in sync, reaching out, placing their hands on sections of the diagram.

He said something in a language I couldn’t understand, then he said my name.

The coffee cup didn’t get halfway to the diagram.

Blake Thorburn.

I sat upright, nearly smashing my head into the cot above mine.

Fuuuuuuuuuuck,” I swore, long and loud.

Blake Thorburn.

The Knights, outside.

Me, back in the cell.

“No, no, no,” I said, standing.  My complaints joined those of the other prisoners in the holding cells.  “No, fuck, shit, fuck, balls.”

Everything was moving in the same direction, except for one individual.

Duncan Behaim.

I could sense him converging on the woman, the Knight who could lie.  The both of them moved in the direction of the other Knights.  Duncan having a bit of a chat with them.

“Knights,” I said.  “Nick.  Nick…”

The connection broke as quickly as I formed it.  Blocked.

I wasn’t sure if it was Nick or Behaim that broke the connection.  The Knights, however, turned to leave.

I sensed them go.  Getting into a car and driving away.

A threat, a deflection, a distraction.  I couldn’t say.

Behaim headed back to the building.

Where was he going?

He stopped in one room, paused for a moment, then changed direction.

A connection flared between Duncan Behaim and Evan.

He was after the ghost.

I looked at Evan, sitting in the corner.

“Sorry you had to go through that again,” I said.  “They… tore you open?”

The look of confusion on his face was enough for me.  He didn’t remember the last few hours.  Still, he said, “Yes.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “Just me and Behaim, then?”

He stared at me, uncomprehending.

“Nevermind,” I said.  “You want me to give you something to do…”

He took it as a question, and he nodded.

“But I’m kind of stuck,” I said.  “Maybe… are you good at finding things?”

“Not so much.”

“You found the fencing.  Surely you found a little bit of food?”

“Barely any.”

“Okay… but… you were good at figuring out where the wolf was, weren’t you?”

He nodded.

“I need you to go looking for other things.  There might be spirits somewhere in the building.  I don’t think they’re bad spirits.  Some might be animals, but they’d be the wrong sort of animal in the wrong sort of place.  Others might be attached to objects, like watches.  There’s a giant with a covered face, three women in the same dress, holding a thread, a mechanical man with a spinning head, and a faded old man with an amazing beard, okay?”

He nodded.

“It’s too many animals and objects for one person to have with them at one time.  If I happen to leave this cell and get to them first… it’ll help.  Go look around the building, but keep your distance from any policeman with black hair, okay?  I’ll call your name if I need you.”

With that, Evan was gone.  Duncan stopped in his tracks, then changed direction.  A different target, this time.

I paced in my cell, feeling time yawn on.  I had nothing to occupy myself with except vague worries.  The knowledge that Duncan Behaim was borrowing power from his family, from his circle.

Using that power, he had reset my day, and he’d turned away my chance at victory.

“That asshole,” I muttered.

The girls opposite me woke up.  One proved to be very hung over while the other was still drunk, even after a partial night’s sleep.

It was later in the morning than it had been when Duncan had come for me, the last time around.

Much later.

The lawyer wasn’t coming.  She’d been diverted.

Something told me I wasn’t about to get a meeting with the justice of the peace.

He was diverting any help that might come my way.  If he saw Evan, he’d probably banish or divert the ghost using salt or some other binding.

Sticking me in a fucking groundhog loop, I thought.  Countering my plans in advance.  Motherfucker.

Threes.  He was working on Laird’s behalf, using Laird’s assets, among others, to best me.  Already, I was pretty fucked.  Then I’d broken the simple connection manipulation by way of three rejections.

But this loop…

I was willing to bet my eye teeth that he was holding his trump cards for a third round.  He’d pull out all the heavy weapons to make the third loop a success, and get Laird his third win at the same time, while removing me from the picture… it seemed like a good strategy to have in play.

I wasn’t sure what form that maneuver would take.  Unleashing the full power of the borrowed spirits and powers, perhaps.  Or simply shooting me.

There was no fucking way I was doing another loop.

Option one was removing the spirits from play.  Take away the power sources he needed.  Evan was on task.

Option two… well, I needed help.

All things had a price.  This would be pricy.

I bent down, searching my cot.  Metal frame… wire mesh beneath the thin mattress.  I ran my hand over it.  Nothing.

That was a problem.

Problem number two was more vague.  I wasn’t sure I’d get a response when I called.  Even with the price I was paying.

Toilet.  I searched it as I had the cot, running my hand over every surface.

There.  Almost what I was looking for.  The tank of the toilet had a recessed area that served as a sink of sorts.  Where it fit into the tank proper, there was something of a lip of metal.  Raised enough I could feel it.

“Excuse me, ladies,” I said, gesturing at the toilet.  “Would you give me a moment’s privacy?”

The hung-over girl groaned and turned over, pulling the pillow down over her head.

“You want some privacy so you can fondle the toilet?” the drunker of the two girls asked.  Apparently she had been watching me.

“The opposite,” I said.

“That…” she paused for far too long before making a decision, “…That doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m worried it doesn’t,” I replied, meaning it.  If this doesn’t work…

I was going by instinct here.

“You’re crazy,” she said.

“What I’m about to do is definitely crazy,” I said.  I gestured, asking her to turn around.

“Don’t want to know,” she said.  She sat down with her back to the cell door.

I unbuttoned my pants, then thrust my pelvis forward, using the edge of the button to pry at the raised lip, drawing it further out.  I ran it back and forth, eliciting a metal on metal screech.

“God!  What the fuck are you doing?” she asked.  She must have turned around, seeing me wiggling my hips left and right with my pelvis pressed against the side of the toilet, because she squeaked, “I don’t want to know!”

I used the edge of my jeans, a bit fatter than the edge of the button, and did the same.  It was quieter.

I’d raised the metal lip away from the toilet itself.

My hand swept over my forehead, catching the moisture there.

I was hoping I had some glamour still there.

I was hoping a lot of things.

I ran the sweat along the edge of metal, visualizing.

Sharp.

Then I placed my forearm against the ridge and slashed the back of my arm.

It worked.

I did the other arm.

I wanted to grunt, to make noise, but I couldn’t afford the attention.

Sitting cross-legged on the ground, my back to the girls, I moved my fingertips to where the blood fell on the concrete floor.  I drew a line.  Except this time I drew it from myself outward.

“Rose Thorburn,” I murmured.  “I give of myself to you.”

I let more droplets fall.

“Rose Thorburn,” I said.  “I give of myself to you.”

Pauz had apparently screwed up the connection.  I was drawing from the vestige I was supposed to be powering…

This was me giving back, in the crudest form possible.

I eyed the connection, watched it change with each repetition.

It had been flowing one way, the wrong way.  Now… that altered flow was being remedied.

At something of a cost.

Could I cancel the Imp’s effect if I put in enough power to match its flow?

Minutes passed.  I kept feeding blood into the connection.  The blood ran down my fingers, sticky.  A dangerous amount to give.

“Rose Thorburn,” I said.

My vision wavered.

Not Rose’s arrival.  I’d slipped some.

Disorientation, perhaps, or a loss on some other front.  Disconnection?

I spoke again.

“Rose Thorburn, I give of myself to you.  I call you from the clutches of Conquest to my presence.”

My vision wavered again.  A little more intensely.

Not all of it was me disconnecting from reality, giving up my very being to work against an effect.

The connection had altered.

“Blake.”

I couldn’t focus enough to look.

“Blake,” Rose said.

“Glad to have you back,” I said.

“Oh- oh wow.  You’re bleeding… in a jail cell?  What happened, Blake?  Did the Sphinx-”

“Rose,” I said.  “You missed…”

I swayed, very nearly losing my balance.  Odd, when I was sitting cross legged.  A hard position to lose one’s balance in.

“You need to staunch those wounds,” Rose said.

“I need no such thing,” I said.  I sounded drunk.  I hadn’t given that much blood.

I mean, yeah, the cell looked like a murder scene… I smiled at that image.  Duncan’s face when he looked in and saw.

“You need to stop the bleeding,” Rose said.

“Nope,” I said.  “Nope.  Need to keep giving.  Take all you can.”

“Blake?”

“If I… if I happen to be incapacitated… There’s two bound, gotta get the abstract demon.  Kid named… named Evan.”

Stop the bleeding!

Rose’s scream somehow got attention.  Or it was coincidence.  The girl behind me turned, and she screamed.  She screamed a lot.

“Ghost named Evan,” I said.  “Good kid.  He’ll help.”

“I can’t do anything without you, Blake!”

“You’re going to have to do something,” I mumbled.  “I’m going to be less useful here.”

I looked down.

Probably enough.

I fumbled for the mattress, tried to stand, and failed.  I managed to find my feet the second time, and leaned over, pressing my arms down with my body weight.

“He wants to trap Blake Thorburn?  I… give of myself until Blake Thorburn almost isn’t there,” I said.  “Evan.  Evan Matthieu.  Come.”

No response.  No connection.

“Call him,” I said.

Someone came to the cell and threw the door open.  An officer.  “Medic!”

I dragged the toe of my sock against the blood that pooled on the floor, drawing a line.

Breaking the connection.

When I staggered out, he didn’t notice me.

“Blake-”

“Call Evan.”

“Evan…  Evan?  Ev-”

The ghost appeared.

“You’ve lost your mind,” Rose said.

I lurched. “Rose, meet Evan.  Evan, Rose.”

“Hi,” Evan said, “The monsters got you.”

I got me,” I mumbled.  “Show me the way.  And hurry.  Only get one chance, like this.”

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