My head snapped up and I looked at his glowing face, eyes wide with relief. But before I could ask where Faye was, he spoke: “Like a prisoun simulating nature. Prisoun is the French word for prison. And what type of thing is like a prison that simulates or imitates nature?”
“—A cage, I guess,” I said.
“Right. A big cage for animals always has trees and other stuff to imitate their natural habitat.” He jumped off the chair, holding the map in his hands. “So I wondered why they used the French spelling of prison and knew it must have some connection.”
God he was smart . . . and gorgeous, and—Focus, Drake!
“I looked at yesterday’s clue, Apus, and that’s when it clicked. The English meaning is ‘bird of paradise’. So, curious, I checked out what ‘bird of paradise’ is in French. And it’s ‘Paradisier’.”
Everytime he said bird, I shuddered a little.
He came around with the map of Drupes and laid it out in front of me. With a finger he pointed to the middle of the map. I squinted to see what was written there. “Paradisier, is a zoo, Drake. That’s where Faye is.”
Right then I just wanted to kiss him. Wanted to wrap my arms around him and hug him tight and then some, but I couldn’t, because at the same time I was watching his finger brush lightly over the map, and I was filled with queasiness and rage. I slammed my hand down on the table.
“How could they do this to her? Put her in a zoo? She’s not an animal!” I punched down again, this time so hard my tea knocked over. “What were they going to do? Feed her to the lions if we didn’t do what they said?”
Jack picked up the Drupes Herald and chucked it over the puddle of tea before it spread to Faye’s laptop. “We know where she is now, so we can get her out before anything happens.” He rested a hand on my arm, trying to calm me down. “Then we’ll figure out who did this to her . . . to us.”
“Why didn’t I pay more attention to that first threat?” If you don’t let this case go, death will come. The words sent new, sharper shivers through me.
Jack hit my arm. Hard. “Drake, get over yourself. You’re not the only one who wanted to solve this case. Faye more than anyone wanted to be involved. She felt it was her fault in the first place. We all knew the risk . . . ”
His voice trailed off and I looked up to see Terry had entered the room. Huge black rings under his eyes. He crumpled to the table. He didn’t look at me. “Tell me you figured it out.” His voice cracked, coming out a whisper.
“We know where she is,” Jack said. “She’s—” but Terry cut him off, lurching to his feet.
“What are we waiting for?” He sprinted out the room.
As I stood up from the table, I picked up the soaked Drupes Herald. It was opened on the page with the article about the Dragon Slavery Abolition movement. I shivered as my eyes passed over the passage:
Sixty-seven Dragons have been sentenced and put to death this year for speaking out against cruelty and segregation. Only the mayor has the decision making power to stop dragons being treated as slaves.
I rung out the tea into the sink and hung the tea towel newspaper to dry. Jack was stuffing biscuits into his shoulder bag. “Drake, grab some juice, would you.”
I handed him a bottle, frowning. “It’s for Faye,” he said, at my confused look, no doubt. “She might be starving.”
The queasy, angry feeling came over me again. What conditions she might be kept in? I grabbed a fleece blanket off the sofa and rolled it up. She might be cold, too.
“Make sure you take the lock pick,” Jack called and headed downstairs.
No one said anything as we strode down the dank Drupes alleyway. Jack had given Terry the map and he was leading the way. At an incredible speed. I was worried Jack and I would have trouble keeping up.
Seriously, I was getting into some sport after this.
What’s with all this people? Jeez,” I cursed, zig-zagging through lines of people waiting outside churches. “It’s the middle of the week.”
Terry pointed to a placard pitched on a nearby fence. “Elections,” he said, just as annoyed.
“Elections in the middle of the week?” Jack said, surprised and then quickly went back to being silent.
Lonely. That’s how it felt as we made our way across the city to Paradisier. Despite that the streets were full of people lining up, chucking signs about, shouting things like: “Dudley Chemming for Mayor!” and “Vote Bernlak Fitzroy Out!” Despite the brilliantly sunny day, warming the fruit on the trees and making the city smell of sweet apricot. Despite the kids playing on the street, happy they didn’t have to be in school.
Despite all that, it was lonely. We missed Faye.
That made everything look a murky brown.
To me the shouts were angry hisses, the smell came with a cold sharp wind, and the kids were brats pulling each others’ hair and crying.
Admittance to the zoo was free on Election Day. We slipped through the gates and stopped in front of a map outside the otter enclosure.
“Why does it have to be so fuckin' big?” Terry said. He leant against the map, closing his eyes, taking a deep breath.
“Where to now?” Jack murmured.
Terry looked at him. “I’ll break into them all if I have to. I’m not leaving without her.”
I agreed. My head was spinning as I looked at the map. We were at the beginning part of the zoo. On the other side of the path from us there was a peccary, the path forked, one leading to servals, meerkats, and chimpanzees, and the other leading up past monkeys, tamarins, a reptile house, birds, and zebras.
“Guess the third clue was meant to tell us where,” Jack said, then his brows pushed together. “Apus . . . Birds of Paradise . . . could that have a double meaning?”
I gulped. Of course she’d be in the place I least wanted to go. Where else?
“The bird section,” I said with a twist of my dread wrapped up in it. “Let's go then.”
It didn’t stop my hands from shaking.
I could do this. For Faye. I’d do anything for her.
As we walked toward the reptile house, I knew we’d soon be approaching the birds. I took deep breaths. My fears are irrational. Think about Faye. Focus on finding Faye. I kept repeating it, hoping it would help me stay in control.
I caught sight of a sign hanging crookedly on the outside door of the reptile house.
Use of cameras in here prohibited.
Underneath it in a friendlier tone it read:
No taking photos, please. It frightens the animals.
For some reason the sign tickled at a memory, but before I could lay a finger on it, Jack spoke, “Keep your eyes peeled. She could be anywhere around here.”
Just ahead on our left was the first bird cage. Something white fluttered. I jerked my gaze away, staring down the path.
Because that’s going to help me find Faye.
Look up! Don’t be a wuss.
I moved as far from the birds as I could get. “Surely they wouldn’t . . . wouldn’t stick her with them,” I said.
“It’s a public zoo,” Jack said.
“People would notice . . . She’s probably in a maintenance shed or something.”
“That’s where we’re heading then,” Terry said weakly. He pointed toward a narrow path between two bird cages on his left. From here I could see it lead to a dark green shed. Another shudder rippled through me, but this time it had nothing to do with the birds.
Jack spoke my thoughts precisely.
Terry sprinted down the path, banging on the door and calling Faye’s name as I, holding my breath, sidled down after him and Jack. A bird croaked at me on my left and I surprised myself by not jumping. Once I’d passed through, I ran to Terry yanking at the door.
I pulled the lock pick set out and handed it to him. He jammed the pin into the padlock.
I grabbed Jack’s hand and held tightly, the comfort keeping me calm.
There was a faint click and Terry was in. He heaved the door with so much force it banged against the outside.
We stormed in.
“Faye?” Terry called out. “Stop moving,” he said to us and we froze. “Faye?”
The room was as large as Terry’s garage but instead of tools and mechanical gadgets it was lined up with packs of bird food. The smell reminded me of a bit of oats and molasses. A small window looked out onto a set of bird cages, letting enough light fall into the room to ensure it wasn’t completely dark.
“Faye?” Terry called again.
A humming and a bang came from a back closet. Terry was over there in a flash. He ripped the door open and all I saw was a mess of blonde hair crushed up against Terry’s shoulder. Terry quickly ripped the masking tape from her mouth. There was a short cry of pain and Faye’s head lolled back as if it were too heavy to support. Jack was already bent over undoing the ropes around her arms. I jumped down beside him and undid at the ones around her feet.
Deep black bruises cuffed Faye’s ankles where the ropes bit into them. Her body trembled—convulsed.
How could they do this?
Terry held her in his arms, cradling her as she sobbed.
“What do you think you’re doing?” A large man blocked the light of the doorway, legs apart. He ripped at the Soundimer around his wrist. “No one takes the girl till tomorrow!”
“Like hell,” I muttered, dropping the rope and jumping up. The man narrowed his eyes on me and struck. Tins dropped from a shelf above me. I caught them, protecting Jack and Faye—then lunged for Tiger-Eyes. I knocked him off balance but he braced himself on a wall. With a swift kick, his foot met the backs of my knees.
Whoop! The wind was sucked out of me: I was on the floor. Someone shouted. Jack stood with his finger pointed at the man as if he were a naughty child. “Leave us the hell alone!”
The man snorted, taking a step to tower over him, my body switched to automatic. I tackled Tiger-Eyes’ feet, yanking them hard. He crashed to the floor, his Soundimer flying to the side, a couple of meters from my left.
“Let’s get out of here!” Terry swept Faye into his arms and barged out the shed. I motioned for Jack to follow but he seemed frozen to the spot.
The man stirred and I wasn’t sure how long I could hold him down. “Jack, get out!” I yelled. Why wasn’t he snapping out of it?
In one quick movement, the man shrugged me off, his foot kicking me in the mouth. I tasted blood. He heaved himself onto all fours, scanning the floor.
Ignoring the pain, I sprung for the Soundimer. The man looked confused for a moment, before realization dawned on his face. “Give that back!” He spun around and grabbed Jack around the neck. He let out a gurgling gasp.
My heart raced and I felt like I was choking too.
What should I do?
The real magic of the Soundimer. It can read our minds. Jocelyn’s words came back to me. I jammed my eyes shut, trying not to focus on Jack but the man choking him. I squeezed the Soundimer and thought of his arms breaking. I opened my eyes but nothing was happening.
Everything you need must be within a ten meter radius.
I glanced at the wall behind him and saw the rows of bird food. “Jack, shut your eyes!” I shouted, and in the same moment imagined food rained over the man. Packets exploded and bird food whizzed like hail toward him. He let Jack go, throwing his hands up to protect his face.
Jack scrambled to the side, gasping for air. While the man was distracted I thought about the ropes and the masking tape on Faye mouth and imagined them doing the same to his skin. Within seconds, ropes tightened around his arms and legs.
Jack lightly touched my arm. “L-let’s go now.” But I couldn’t take my eyes off the man squealing through his nose on the floor.
Jack tugged on my arm again. “He’s not worth it, just leave him.” He tried to pull me toward the door.
“He hurt you,” I said, “he’s a piece of filth—”
“I’m fine, Drake. Think of Faye. Let’s leave.”
Faye. We had to take her back home. Make sure she’s okay.
Jack was right.
But this was the man who’d kept her locked in a closet.
I spat at the man. “Don’t you ever hurt my friends again.”
I left him squirming on the floor and followed Jack out.
This time, I didn’t hesitate walking through the narrow path between the bird cages. I caught up to Terry, unrolled the blanket from my bag and draped it over Faye, who had her head buried in Terry’s chest.
Jack tried giving her something to drink, but it was impossible.
Looking at Terry, I wondered how he was handling it with so little sleep, where he got the strength. His face was hard, eyes stony. Then he closed his eyes a moment and kissed the top of Faye’s head.
I slowed, keeping Jack with me; I wanted them to have their privacy, and I wanted to check he was okay.
“Now I get what you mean. Why you wanted to figure out the mystery,” I said. He studied my face. “Whoever did this has to pay.”
“They will,” he said but there wasn’t the same conviction in his voice. He looked even, perhaps, a bit frightened. I stopped underneath an apricot tree outside the zoo entrance and pulled him toward the trunk.
Lifting his chin, I got a closer look at his neck. There’d be bruises there tomorrow. I lightly ran my hands from his neck to his shoulders and, meeting his eyes, said, “Are you alright?”
His gaze dropped from mine and he shrugged his shoulders. “Faye’s the one who’s . . .”
My arms enfolded him, and he leaned in and sighed. I gripped tighter, staring at the zoo entrance over his shoulder. I gritted my teeth together. Now I had even more reason to hate zoos.
Jack extracted himself from my grasp and gave me a fleeting glance. Just as he was beginning to walk, a crackling static came out of the nearest lamppost.
“A midday update on the electoral vote count. It’s looking like current mayor Bernlak Fitzroy is in the lead with 52% of the votes in his favor. Meanwhile, his main contender Dudley Chemming is well behind at 33%. Mayor Fitzroy, how are you feeling right now? Do you think you have it in the bag?”
“I certainly look forward to the possibility of a new term in office.”
The voice sounded familiar.
“And Mr. Chemming, do you feel disappointed by this outcome? Were you expecting a closer race?”
“Indeed I was.” —The sound of gracious laughter—“But the day’s not over yet, and if I’m not elected this time, I’ll be back next round.”
We trudged down the streets, Terry in front. His arms looked like they were shaking. I reached out. “Hey man, pass her here. I’ll carry her for a bit.”
“No, it’s fine,” Terry said through a clenched jaw.
I took a larger step forward to see him more clearly. “I’m not going to hurt her. Look, I’m sorry I made you come out yesterday. Really sorry. Believe me. But you’ll collapse if you keep this up. Just ten minutes. You can gather up your reserve strength and have her back.”
Terry’s eyes lost their icy exterior, and he blinked. I locked my arms under Faye’s arms and knees and Terry gently placed her sleeping head on me.
“It’s not your fault,” he whispered to me. “I’m sorry too.”
We walked through the park. When we past the now dragonless chapel, Faye’s head rolled back. It moved so fluidly I stopped in my tracks. I put my cheek close to her mouth to make sure she was still breathing. Slowly, my pulse normalized.
With Faye in my arms like this, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Raphael.
This time it would be different. Faye would be okay. We’d saved her.
I’d carried her less than twenty minutes and Jack fifteen when Terry got agitated. “Let me take her again,” he said, striding alongside me. “We’re almost home.”
He looked a wreck and tired as hell, but there was determination set in his posture. He wasn’t going to have it any other way.
As I passed her back to him, Faye woke up. She jerked her body. “Let me go! Let me go!” she screamed.
“Hey, hey, it’s us,” Terry soothed, helping her stand up rather than struggle free.
She cowered back from us, and something in her blue eyes was different; there was a look I’d never seen there before. It was cold and distant, and as she eyed each of us wearily, I thought I understood what it was.
Terry had his hand around her wrist and she wrenched it free, taking a step back. “Just... don’t touch me,” she said, looking around to gauge where we were before setting off toward the house. I wasn’t sure how good she was going to be on her feet, but either she didn’t notice her hurt ankles or she ignored it.
Terry picked up his pace, but I grabbed his arm. “Give her some space.”
I heard the sound of his teeth grind together, but he forced himself to trail behind with us.
* * *
Faye had locked herself in the bathroom by the time the rest of us got through the door. I heard the sound of the shower being turned on, the pressure of the water hitting the plastic walls somehow violent, like spraying gravel.
Good for relaxing though, and winding down. She’d need that after what she’d been through. Hell, I needed it, and I was the least ragged of us all.
“Terry, she’s safe now,” Jack said. “You really should go rest.”
He raised his fatigued face, his expression pained. His eyes grazed the door where Faye was showering and he hesitated. “She might need to talk about it.”
“We’ll be here for her,” I said to him, leading him down to his floor. “If she asks for you we’ll wake you up . . . but you really need to—” I stopped short.
What the hell had happened in here?
Terry’s room looked alien to me. Bed sheets were twisted and thrown onto the floor, his drawers were turned upside down and his clothes strewn everywhere, even his model robots were smashed, the little parts spread out all over the floor.
“Jesus. Get robbed?” I was shocked, and for the first time in the last couple of days there was a faint, ever-so-faint line on Terry’s face that suggested a grin.
He flipped on his stomach onto the mattress, face in the pillows. “Gimme. . . other blanket.”
I passed him an additional throw-over and was almost out of the door when he patted the empty side of his bed. “Sit for a sec?”
Turning back around, I climbed onto the bed, jeans scraping over the tangled sheets and blankets, and sat next to him, back against the wall. “Yeah?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I asked, picking at a feather coming through his pillow.
“For being such an ape—I get really worked up when it comes to Faye.” He paused. “I’m sorry I let her down.”
I dropped the stem of the feather. “Let her down? You did everything—”
He tried to shake his head but it didn’t work with his pillow in the way and he gave up. “It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I should have never left her out of my sight.”
I firmly shook my head. This wasn’t his fault, he had to see that. “You can’t always be there, Terry. That’s not healthy.”
“I promised myself I’d never let her go through that again. It was just like what her parents had done,” his voice broke, “locked her up in a closet . . . I love her so much and I feel like I failed, like it may as well have been me to put her there in the first place.”
“That’s not—” true.
“And I know I’m still hurting her.”
I waited. I wasn’t sure what my role was for the conversation, but I was beginning to feel like I was just meant to let Terry get it all out, just to listen.
“I think—I’m pretty sure she likes me, Drake. Likes me that way.”
I nodded. Because, yeah, I’d thought they were close. I wasn’t sure on the details though. “So she likes you, how does that hurt her?”
“Because I . . .” He squirmed and shifted himself into a sitting position, eyes downcast and mouth opening and closing like he wanted to explain, but wasn’t sure of the words. He found the feather jutting out of the pillow I sat on and tugged it out. “It’s just that I don’t like her back.” He paused a moment before quickly adding, “Not that way.”
I stared at him pressing and flattening the feather against his thigh, his Adam’s apple bobbing hard as he kept swallowing, and processed his words. I didn’t get it. “You don’t, but—I mean . . . and you just said you love her, so . . . ?”
Terry bit his bottom lip, concentrating seemingly harder on the feather. “I know I”—His voice came out rough and he coughed—“I don’t help things. I love spending time with her and being close. I cross the line maybe, make it blurry. She hasn’t told me she likes me yet, but I know it. It’s going to come, and I don’t know how I’m going to break it to her.”
“I’m sorry, can I ask why not? I mean, you two flirt and get on really well and she’s attractive. . . . ”
“It’s just—” He shrugged.
“It’s just what?”
“Nothing, it doesn’t matter.”
“Are you sure?”
He shook his head and a tear flung onto my leg with the force. Whoa, this was really hard for Terry. I shuffled closer and wrapped an arm around his shoulder.
“It’s just,” he breathed again, “she reminds me of my sister.”
“What?” My first thought was you see Faye as a sister? And my second thought had me gasping and saying aloud: “You have a sister? But—but you’ve never mentioned her.”
Terry rested his head on his knees and tears leaked over his pants. “Don’t tell anyone—especially not Faye.” He choked on a sob. “I lost my sister to leukemia. She was fourteen. We were really close. But no matter what I did, I could never protect her from it.” He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. “And Faye, she doesn’t know it, but she has the same eyes as Rebecca and I’ve always just—just . . . it was like a second chance, you know, to have a sister again.”
He curled himself onto the bed and I slid into a lying position next to him. “I’m so very sorry,” I said, stunned.
“Thanks for listening,” he kept murmuring into the crook of my arm as he sobbed and I patted his back. Terry’s revelation put a whole new view on him and Faye and it made sense, why he insisted he go with her on her date, why I had the feeling he wouldn’t have liked her to go with any guy even if they’d met in person—he was protective of her. Like a close brother would be. Now that I knew, I could see it.
But I could also see how Faye would mistake it, like he had, for something else—something romantic. I sighed, not knowing what I could do or how I could help except to be here until Terry drifted off to sleep. And to be there whenever he needed him in the future.
* * *
Back upstairs, the table was covered in piles of paper, just the way we’d left it. I grunted and sat down. Time was running out and Jack and I were going to have to work fast.
I was glad he was here—if I had to have chosen only one of my flatmates to help solve a mystery it would have been him. They were all clever, but Jack was determined, sharp as a knife. Or some better comparison. I was too tired.
“Here’s your tea.” Jack plunked a mug in a gap between some piles and sat back down at Faye’s laptop. He rested his forehead in the palms of his hands, and then, as if not to let on he had a weakness, ran his fingers through his hair.
I gulped some tea. “Crap that’s hot!” I took a deep intake of air to try cooling my burnt throat.
“Need a caution sign indented into the cup?” Jack said in an almost normal snarky-Jack way; but it was immediately followed by a sigh.
I frowned. “If you’re not up for this, take a breather. I’ll hold fort a while.”
Jack laughed. “No offense. Or at least not much offense, but you need my help. We’ve only got like eighteen hours to figure this out and find the thing. Or bye-bye third floor.”
Have I said how much I hated the Berlin City Council?
Faye stomped into the room, ignoring us and heading for the fridge.
“Hey, Faye,” I said gently, “Um,” I paused, not sure how to ask the next bit, “don’t want this to sound insensitive, I know it must’ve been a hard couple of days for you, but . . . did you notice anything about who took you? Anything that could help us find them?”
Looking at her expression made me wish I’d never opened my mouth. Her face was rigid and cold. She looked at me as if I was the one who’d locked her up.
Maybe she really did blame me.
“You know it must have been hard?” She shook her head. “You don’t know what it was like, so don’t pretend you do.”
The venom laced into her words made me want to shrivel into a cocoon and hide. Never in the time I’d known her had she sounded so hostile.
Brave lion heart (Stupid?) Jack stuck his paw in. “Of course we don’t know. But right now we have to find who took the jewel.”
Watching Faye’s face contort and darken made me kick Jack’s foot under the table. Just quit, maybe this isn’t a good idea.
That’s what I was trying to say.
Pity Jack just didn’t get it. Such a clever lad, and so dumb sometimes.
He turned to me, shaking his head. “What was that for?” Then continued on to Faye, “Any info you have would be helpful.”
“Shut up, alright?” Faye shouted. Jack cringed. “You left me there. For two days!”
“We did everything we could,” Jack said bravely.
“Like hell you did. You don’t care about what it was like for me, all you want to know is anything that gets you that stupid jewel. I could’ve, could’ve died, and here you two go on with this silly, stupid mystery!”
She took a deep breath before continuing her rant. Both Jack and I sat speechless. “And Jack.” Her blue eyes were icy slits in Jack’s direction. “You’re a fucking awful person. So . . . cold-hearted.” Her voice went up an octave. “You know Drake and I are vegetarians. Why can’t you show some basic consideration and stop trying to force meat down our throats! And that’s only a small example of how much of a dick you are.” She made to leave the room, but swiveled back round to face Jack again. “And just admit that you’re in love with Drake. It’s so damn obvious.”
Jack’s face paled and his hand resting next to the computer shook; he drew his hands to his lap looking down, blinking rapidly.
The door slammed behind Faye, and Jack jumped with it—or maybe it was a shudder.
“Don’t take anything she says personally,” I said, coming around to his side of the table and crouching in front of him. “She’s just upset. She’s had a rough couple of days.”
Jack gave a strained laugh. “Don’t take it personal? How much more personal could she get, Drake?”
Tentatively, I laid my hands on his knees. “If it helps, I don’t agree—”
“Of course you agree. At least you should. I know I’m unthoughtful about your choices. I always say and do what I think even if it’s hurtful.” He turned his head away from me and between his teeth said, “She was right to call me a dick.”
I placed a finger under his chin and made him face me. His eyes were glistening through a thick layer of tears that threatened to spill through his lashes. “The real truth is, though, that you do care. You have the most peculiar way of showing it, but I know it’s true. You want us to be healthy by making sure we eat iron, and you stole from me only to help me break a habit. Even if Faye doesn’t get that, right now, or ever . . . I do.
“As for the other thing,” I started. His body stiffened. “It really wasn’t so obvious to me. And now you’re over it, so . . .” I shrugged, “Whatever.” It hurt to say the last word.
But I swallowed it for him, like a friend should.
“I’m not . . .” Jack’s voice drifted off, leaving the rest of the sentence unfinished and me praying he’d continue, with something like ‘I’m not over you, you know.’ Instead, he said, “I’m not upset with her, Drake. All I want to do is find who did this to Faye and get even.”
I nodded, whipping my hands off his knees and shifting back to my seat, trying not to feel the disappointment as it jerked at my heart. “Right with you on that one.”
I sifted through clues. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Jack pick up the green card with the handwritten threat and turn on the laptop.
Absentmindedly, I picked up a tea stained news paper.
Only the mayor has the decision making power to stop dragons being treated as slaves.
The mayor’s voice from the interview this afternoon made its way back to memory. It had sounded so familiar.
“Jack, could you play me anything with mayor Bernlak Fitzroy’s voice? I think we have part of an interview recorded from when Terry and Faye talked to Rohesia.”
He clicked on something, then cursed under his breath. “Stupid computer.” He knocked the back of the screen as if that would miraculously fix the problem.
After a minute, he murmured a “yes!” to himself. Then I heard voices. Jack turned up the volume.
“ . . . another round of campaign policy interviews,” the radio interviewer said. “First up we have Bernlak Fitzroy talking to us about his energy policy. Mr. Fitzroy, this must be the hundredth interview you’ve done in the last few months, all leading down to the election.”
Then I heard his voice again. “This would be my 127th to be exact.”
“That’s full on, not to mention you are running as the current mayor and have just introduced the compulsory child-immunization program. When do you sleep?” The interviewer and mayor laughed together.
“As you well know, I have a full set of agendas for the coming term, should I get elected. One of these is my energy policy. I believe we have to start heavily investing in alternative energy sources . . .”
“He supports the Dragon Slavery Abolition Movement, right?” Jack’s fingers rolled over the table sounding like the pitter patter of rain.
‘...Dragon-energy will be phased out...”
“Never mind,” Jack said.
I grinned. “His voice is giving me a headache. There’s something about it . . .”
“Know what you mean,” Jack said, muting the sound. “It’ll come back to me—er, us.”
There was that boyish grin again.
“Yeah, it’d come back. Probably in the middle of the night when it’s the last thing we’re thinking about.” Didn’t it always happen like that?
Jack sat up straight as if my words had electrocuted him. His grin widened to a full-out smile. “I know where we’ve heard him before. Oh, that’s . . . interesting!”
He gave me a wicked smile. “I sort of like watching you suffer.”
I threw a pen at him.
“It all makes so much more sense now!”
I scowled and he chuckled.
“Okay, okay,” he said, “I’ll give you a clue. But I want it known for the record that I’m so much smarter than you.” He winked.
“So,” he said, “think dark like the night—that’s what tipped me off from what you said—and think of narrow spaces.”
Narrow spaces? The dark? The mayor’s voice?
He must have seen my confused expression because his face lit up some more. He practically glided his way into the kitchen. “Almost forgot I haven’t eaten in ages.” The fridge door swung open and Jack pulled out some leftover rice.
“Stop being so smug. Tell me!”
I left the table and was by his side in a flash, so close I could smell his shampoo as well as his spicy deodorant. I wanted to touch him and dived to wrestle him, but he ducked under my outstretching arm, and put the container of rice on the bench.
This time, when he faced me, I grabbed his wrist to stop him dodging me, the feel of his skin silky and supple under my thumb as if I could move it anyway I wanted and he’d let me. “Tell me.” I breathed in his ear.
He looked up, searching my eyes, his own seeming to smile, then he closed them a moment, eyelashes kissing his skin, and cheeks slowly flushing with color. My face was inches from Jack’s, and I could feel his unsteady breathing.
“If this,” he said quietly, “isn’t a big enough clue, you really are stupid.”
I gasped inwardly, heart galloping.
It all came back to me, the night at the dragon protest. The narrow staircase, pitch black save a small slither of moonlight against the building wall. Hearing Professor Quincey arguing with someone.
That other voice! It was the mayor’s.
I looked into Jack’s brown eyes, leaning forward just a bit more.
I remembered kissing him. How the heck could I not?
My hands touched the sides of his face. We were so close now it would take only a tilt of my head to feel the sizzling-ness of contact in all its intensity.
“The argument was between Professor Quincey and the Mayor,” I managed to say.
“Damn, I was hoping to call you stupid.”
He said it in a whisper, inching closer.
“Never mind, I’m sure another opportunity will present—”
I brought my mouth to his.
My lips moved against his, softly at first. Then he grabbed my neck and slid his fingers through my hair, lightly pulling at the roots. The slight pain only concentrated the feel of him right there in front of me. I leaned in closer, the pull toward him so strong it was hard to resist meshing my body with his completely. I gasped.
He dropped one of his hands, elbow hitting the rice container behind him. It clattered as it fell to the floor. We withdrew from each other, the moment broken.
We bent down to clean up the mess. Rice had managed to disperse itself a good way around the kitchen floor. We both went to grab the container at the same time and our hands brushed.
Jack seemed to be shaking as we straightened. “I thought you didn’t want this?” he said.
Didn’t want this? God I’d been stupid to ever think that.
I was shaking my head and lifting my hands to gently cup the sides of his lightly stubbled jaw.
Holding his gaze steady, my heart thumped hard against my chest as if to urge me just that much closer. I couldn’t ignore it and I didn’t want to. It was speaking so clearly and—
A gasp left me as the dream I’d had on my birthday came swirling back to mind. In the centre. It’s where the case is, it’s where it should be solved. Do you feel it?
I did feel it. This was the case, this is what I had to solve, and it was right there, in the center. It was in my heart all along. I took a deep breath, brushing his cheek with my thumb. “Sometimes you shouldn’t think. Sometimes you should just let yourself fall.” I stepped into him and said softly. “I want to fall with you. Let me?”
Jack let out a small gasp-cry and he turned his head to kiss my palm, breathing a warm ‘yes’. I cocked my head to see his better and steered him to look at me. His eyes were moist and he looked so serious, I couldn’t help but ask, “What’s wrong?”
He slipped his arms around me and drew me closer. “Absolutely nothing.”
He leaned in and when his mouth met mine I thought I would melt at the softness, the carefulness that was in that kiss—even, especially, the tiny amount of shyness coming through in our shaky breaths made me love it that much more.
Our hands traced each other’s backs, neck, spun through our hair and soon we were both pressing more tightly against each other, as if the layers of clothes between us were vast empty space between us that we could eliminate if we just pushed hard enough.
I let my lips off his enough to trace over his jaw and neck. God he smelt so good, I drew circles over his skin with my tongue. Jack was shuddering the same way I was.
It was beautiful and it wasn’t enough.
Then somehow we’d sunk to our knees, uncaring of the bed of rice under us, and moments later Jack pushed me back onto the ground and pulled away from the gentle kisses to explore the contours of my chest with an achingly light hand. “You’re beautiful,” he said simply, and I wanted to shake my head and tell him he had it wrong—because the smile he gave me just altered the meaning of beauty, and he was it.
With one more kiss, I sighed against his lips. He must have mistook the meaning of it as he removed himself off me with a worry soaked frown and flushed face. “Too much?”
I hurriedly pushed myself into a sitting position, brushing rice off my arms. “No, but—”
He said with a sad smile, “There’s always a ‘but’ with you and me.”
“No. It’s nothing like that. I meant what I said before. I—I want to be with you like this. . . Really. The sigh—it was only I wish it didn’t have to end, but we really should be cracking this case right now. There’s a lot at stake.”
Relief smoothed away his frown and he shoveled up the rice with the container. “Of course.”
He flittered back to the laptop, but before he sat, I snatched his hand. “Wait a tick, I thought you didn’t want this?”
His eyes twinkled with the tears welling in them. He shook his head. “I was never over you. That first time we kissed?” He looked at me. “One of the best moments of my life.”
I released a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.
“But I respect you too, and you didn’t want this.” He stepped back.
“I didn’t get it. I thought you decided we were better as friends. Maybe you didn’t like me that way anymore.”
“Oh,” he said almost as a laugh, “I do, Drake.” He gave me a smile and slipped on the chair, and added softly, “It’s been hard being around you the last week.”
“It wasn’t only you,” I answered just as quietly. “Every time I was around you—even when I wasn’t around you—you were always on my mind.”
“Really?” He blushed and looked down, a smile flirting at his lips.
He looked up again and we held each other’s gaze, bathing in its intimacy until the sensation was too strong to take anymore.
Nodding, he focused on the computer.
And just before he flicked the switch to work-mode, as I knew he would, I leaned in and kissed him once more, lightly on the forehead.
His face lit with a melt-worthy smile.
* * *
“The Mayor didn’t want Professor Quincey to demonstrate,” Jack said. We were an hour into our investigations and I had only marginally recovered from the Kitchen Floor Revelation, as I would heretofore refer to the moment. It’d been hard to concentrate when I’d been playing, oh say, about a hundred different ‘extended’ versions of the scene—and the way Jack kept biting the end of his pen really wasn’t helping to snap me out of it.
So it was his fault I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
“Huh, what’s that? Quincey not demonstrate what?”
He chuckled. “I’d love to know where your head is,” he said, glancing briefly toward the kitchen. “But I said, it explains why the police didn’t interfere when it got violent.”
Oh right. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the facts. The case.
I can’t give you any support just now. I wondered aloud, “But what did he mean when he said, things will change, but you’ve got to wait a few more days?”
Jack gave a short laugh, “Looks like the opportunity has come much sooner than I expected, stupid.”
I gave him a baffled glare, reddened, and said, “Okay. Point Jack. Elections, of course. He’d help if he won.” I bit back the: I’m only stupid right now because the only thing I can concentrate on is you. Because there was no way I’d ever say something as corny as that. Ever.
“Sounds pretty arrogant if you ask me, assuming he’d win.” Jack picked up the green card and flicked it open to reveal the scrawled writing.
Stop prying into matters that don’t concern children.
Think of this as a warning.
“Children,” I scoffed, honing in on my annoyance as a way to side-track me into some real work. “We’re nearly adults. Besides, their actions are hardly mature.”
On the laptop the video footage was still rolling. I focused on the image of Jack and me walking ahead. Neither our heads nor feet were in the shot, we were too close to Faye, so only our middles showed. I watched myself twist and walk backward. On screen Professor Quincey charged behind me, his face cast down.
The camera stopped moving as Faye came to a halt. There I was, wobbling and almost falling to the ground. Terry’s hand thrust out and grabbed me by the arm, keeping me from tipping too far, Professor Quincey extended across the cobblestones at my feet.
When he stood up, I noticed how red he was. Strange how flustered he’d been, not to notice someone in front of him.
“Must’ve had something on his mind,” I mumbled.
Jack murmured agreement. He made the video window smaller, taking up half the screen. On the other half he opened a second video of Walter’s house.
“That’s where I want you,” he said. Pressing play, Faye entered Walter’s office.
My eyes jumped from footage to footage, watching as Terry and Faye walked up to Rohesia’s house. A bird soared from one of the branches landing on a little patch of green lawn to suck up a worm.
On screen, Terry came into view, pressing Rohesia’s doorbell. The door opened, and there was Rohesia, dwarfed in Terry’s shadow until Faye pulled him back.
Jack’s low voice cut my concentration, but what he said next made me cold, “It’s, without a doubt, Walter’s handwriting on this card.” He’d paused the video on a shot showing a hand-written letter on Walter’s desk.
Jack and I whipped our heads up to see Terry standing in the doorframe, eyes patchy and red from tears.
“What did you say? Walter did this?”
I looked at Terry so forlorn and pointed to the green card Jack held.
“It was Walter’s hand—”
The rest of my sentence hung in the air.
Flashes of everything we’d seen and collected over the past week patched themselves together like one massive patchwork quilt, and I was in the middle of it as it slowly cocooned around me, smothering all unnecessary thoughts but those of the case. More and more patches kept attaching themselves until they all were fit together and had formed a larger picture.
It seemed to take forever for me to comprehend it; although to Jack and Terry it was probably not much longer than a few seconds. I gasped.
“I know who did it.”
Terry and Jack both looked dumbstruck. Neither of them said anything.
“So we know who’s done it. Now all we need is that little bit of proof.”
And I was pretty sure I knew how to get it.
“Jack, is there any test you can do to check the concentration of Soundimer magic?” He was still sitting there, staring at me but not at me.
Finally, he spoke, “Sure, I can check for traces of ultrasound radiation.”
“Good. Terry, I know you’re sleep deprived, but your skills would be handy. Um, but only if you’re up for it?”
Terry nodded, he knew what I was really asking. “You think I’m going to let you two have all the fun?” he said, snapping to his stoic Terry façade. “They hurt Faye and I want to make sure they pay.” His jawline was hard and his stare cold. “What do you want me to do?”
“Eventually, I’ll need you to get onto the same receiver as the Drupes public radio channel to override their frequency. Plus, we’re going to need your walkie-talkie creations. Are they ready?”
“You bet they are.”
“If things don’t go our way, I’ll need you to play a recording.”
“What recording?” Jack frowned. The way his eyes glazed over told me he was trying to figure it out.
“We haven’t recorded it,” I said, grinning at them, “yet.”
* * *
“You pack that book I gave you?” I asked, scanning the rows of picket-fenced houses.
Jack slapped his hand on his shoulder bag, and I heard it thud against the hard book underneath.
To Terry I said, “You’ve turned it on? We’ll get into their frequency when the time comes?”
He nodded. “I’m practically a pro at this stuff. Faye taught me well.”
It was the first time since Faye had been kidnapped that Terry sounded remotely himself.
I smiled and looked up at the dragon-less house behind Jack. “Let’s pay Rohesia Auber a little visit.”
I had hardly knocked once on the door when it swung open. Rohesia stood on the other side, hands on her hips, her diamond earrings glittering in the evening light. “Why am I not surprised?” she said when she took us in. She sighed. “Come in, come in.”
Surprised at how easy that had been, I led Terry and Jack into Rohesia’s hallway.
“Where’s the other girl, anyway?” Rohesia shut the door behind us, ushering us into the living room.
“She’s at home,” Terry said in a dangerously low voice, stepping forward. I threw out an arm, stopping him from lunging at the woman. Too traumatized to confront you herself, after what you did to her.”
“Just a tick, Terry . . . I’m not sure yet she knows what you’re talking about.”
I didn’t want to get into this with him right now. I turned to give Jack the signal, but he was staring, mouth agape, at the living room.
I scanned the room; the two shelved walls stacked up with books were the only things that looked the same as at our last visit. I dropped my gaze to the empty clean floor and sofa. None of her clothes or food lay strewn about, and there was a strong potpourri smell wafting from the coffee table.
Catching Jack’s eye, I winked.
He coughed, then said to Rohesia, “Can I use your bathroom?”
Rohesia smiled coyly, plonking herself onto the sofa. “I’m sure that is an excuse for you to ravage through my things and find the proof you need. Up the stairs, first door on the left.”
I kept the frown I felt coming from forming. Rohesia was testing me, checking whether I’d give away any sign I knew the bathroom wasn’t there. That those were the directions to her bedroom.
Jack disappeared and I walked over to Rohesia’s degree. Next to it on her pinboard was a flyer to Cinderella has Syphilis. “Tell me,” I said. “How important is family to you?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Rohesia was petite, but she spoke with a strong, steady voice.
“I’d imagine Thomas is very important to you, for you to go to such lengths.” It felt weird to call Professor Quincey by his first name and I stumbled over my words. I turned away from her pinboard, pacing the length of the clean room, gathering in a breath to continue. “He must be very fond of you, too, not to give you in,” I paused, and as an afterthought added, “or maybe he’s selfish.” I heard the satisfying sound of Rohesia sucking in air. “Yes. I think that’s definitely a part of it.”
“Why don’t you get to the point?” Rohesia said, but her voice was now shaky.
I moved back to her degree and tapped on it. “You’ve taken some of Beatrice Courcey’s courses.”
“I’m interested in geology and geochemistry.”
“Not enough to major in it though,” I said.
She pushed herself to her feet, crossing the room to me, she glanced at her degree. “Doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in it.”
I smiled, looking down at her—she was a good half-head shorter than me. Come a little bit closer, Rohesia. “I imagine you were very interested. Until you found out everything you needed to know about dissecting and reconfiguring precious stone properties. After you figured out how to do that . . . ”
Jack entered the room, holding up a pair of platform boots. “Just as you said, Drake. They reek of ultrasound radiation. It centers from the right boot.”
I backed away from Rohesia’s paling face and took the boots off Jack.
Lifting them, I weighed them in my hands, dropped the heavier one, and measured the distance between the inner and outer sole on the other. “Funny, don’t you think,” I said to her, coming closer as if to show her the secret she already knew “if you were wearing these boots, you’d be my height, and even taller than the guard you stood next to at the Berlin Museum of Natural History.”
I pushed my finger through a cut out hole on the inside of the book and yanked the fake inner sole out. “As I expected. A nice hollow compartment for your Soundimer and Red Eye.”
I laughed, throwing my hands about her pristine living room. “It even explains why your house was such a mess the last time we visited. Taking the stone and rearranging its properties, that took a lot of energy, didn’t it? Blew a fuse in your Soundimer?” I shook my head. “D plus, Rohesia, I’m sure professor Courcey wouldn’t have been impressed. Well, it must be good to have it in running order again; this place truly was a pigsty.”
“Professor Courcey thinks I did the right thing.”
“She said that?”
“’Course not, but she saw me there. She’s a smart woman—brilliant mind, she must’ve known what’d happened when the jewel disappeared.”
I thought about Courcey at the execution, protesting. She believed in the means were worth the cause too.
Terry tapped his leg impatiently on the floor. “Let’s just get the jewel and get going. We’ve got enough here to prove she did it.”
“But it’s not here, is it, Rohesia?” I lifted a brow.
She looked at me with large curious eyes. There was a hint of surprise mixed in with annoyance. “I didn’t expect you to get it, but I’m impressed. You’re clever, kid. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
I glanced at Jack who smirked back at me, holding his thumb and finger in a ‘just a bit’ sign, before he said, “Want the book?”
I shook my head. “Later. First, we’re going to see the man in charge who’s using the Red-Eye. The man who seems so idealistic but really is so . . . corrupt.” I narrowed my eyes and added between gritted teeth, “Who kidnaps and tortures those in the way of his goals.” I looked at Terry and Jack. “Rohesia’s going to take us to him.”
“You’re clever,” she said, “but I’m not stupid, and you said it yourself, I’m loyal. So why would I do that?”
I thought about her answers to Terry and Faye’s questions. How sincere she’d been that criminals be integrated back into society. Then I thought of her at the dragon protests and how she had no dragon on her roof. With this in mind, I answered, “Because you’ll want to protect your cause.”
“If I take you to see him, we lose anyway. The dragons lose.” Her eyes pierced mine, firm, “This is much bigger than me. I’m expendable. I believe, will always believe, I did the right thing. I’m sorry, but I won’t do it.”
“This is your best offer at redemption.”
Rohesia looked down at her shoes, shaking her head.
“You want to protect your cause,” I repeated, and she frowned. “So trust me. Get your coat.” Then I turned to Terry, pulling himself off the couch, and asked, “Did you get the recording?”
* * *
Jack and I waited in a small backroom of a shoe store being used as a makeshift office. We could hear the whoops and cheers of triumph and the clattering of glasses as people celebrated the election results. Music turned on, drowning chatter and elated voices to a buzz in the background. I tapped my foot to the beat, hoping it didn’t give away my nervousness.
“You alright, Drake?” Jack asked, leaning on the wall next to me. We were both looking out a large square window, overlooking a pylon. “Do you think Rohesia won’t do it?”
“That’s not the problem. Terry’s at the square with the recording and if she doesn’t bring him it’ll be bad for them both.” I moved to the desk chair and sat, swiveling. “I remember how disgusted I was when I first found out this jewel was stolen. I couldn’t understand anyone who would want to steal from dying children. And don’t get me wrong, that sucks. But . . . I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t let them keep it.”
I thought Jack would gasp and ask me how I could think such a thing, but he nodded. “You may be right, but what about our house, Drake?”
My teeth clenched at the image of the red and white cordoning off the front of Faye’s door. “I don’t know.”
Jack stopped the chair swiveling, standing behind me. I leaned my head back to see him upside down. “Even if we did leave it with them,” I said, “he shouldn’t just get away with it. What he did to Faye was wrong. He doesn’t deserve a break.”
“Not personally, no . . .” Jack paused, then said softly, “But should the cause suffer? Don’t they deserve their freedom?”
Like we deserved ours.
The door handle rattled and I jumped up. Rohesia entered the room with the man who’d kidnapped Faye behind her. I swallowed my urge to lunge at him.
Didn’t stop me imagining kicking him in the groin, though.
“Bernlak Fitzroy,” he introduced himself, stretching out an arm. I ignored it and he used it to straighten the jacket of his pin-striped suit. In real life, the mayor looked much older and less attractive than in his campaign pictures.
“I’m sure you know who we are and why we’re here,” I said.
He smiled, but it stunk of impatience. It was obvious he felt he had nothing to fear. “Rohesia told me of this little . . . predicament,” he said, as if unnerved with the consequences. Like he’d rather get back to celebrating his electoral win. I wanted to kick him more, and felt Jack’s hand on my shoulder restraining me.
I took a deep breath. “Ironic, isn’t it? You kidnapping my friend because you didn’t want us to find out you have the Red Eye so soon, and yet it was only because you took her we pieced everything together so quickly.” A shadow briefly passed over his face. I was getting to him. Good. “You see, it’s all about motivations. Actions really do speak louder than words.” I faced Jack. “The book and the tape recorder, please.”
Jack passed me the palm-sized grey machine and Uses of Mystical Minerals. I pressed the play button and watched as Bernlak Fitzroy’s eyes widened at hearing his own voice. “This would be my 127th to be exact.”
Then came the interviewer: “That’s full on, not to mention you are running as the current mayor and have just introduced the compulsory child-immunization program. When do you sleep?”
I paused it and opened the book to the earmarked page and read:
‘Dissolved in citric acid and taken in small doses, Red Eye has the ability to boost one’s energy without the need to sleep.’
Bernlak Fitzroy almost looked relieved. “There are plenty of drugs that boost energy. There’s nothing here that paints me as a criminal.”
I smiled back at him and continued to read,
‘While Red Beryl’s capabilities to alter electric circuitry could be useful in technological advancement, it can be abused to manipulate technologies such as computers, cell phones, voting machines. . .’
I let my voice trail off.
Bernlak Fitzroy’s face had turned sour. “You have no proof.” He barely kept his voice steady.
His attention turned to Jack as he spoke, “There is a very simple test for that. If anyone were even remotely suspicious, if anyone even mentioned the possibility of you having cheated, people will look into it.”
“Perhaps we should tell you,” I said, “we have a recording that we’ll present on air, should this . . . transaction not go smoothly.”
“Really?” I motioned Jack to open the window, and pulled out the walkie-talkie Terry had given me. “Start it up.”
From the pylon outside, a static snapped the air and my voice sounded. ‘. . . the man in charge who’s using the Red-Eye. The man who seems so idealistic but really is so . . . corrupt. Who kidnaps and tortures those in the way of his goals.”
Bernlak Fitzroy glared at me.
“Do you want this to go on, or should I stop?”
He looked like he wanted to snap that still wasn’t proof, but wasn’t sure what would come next, if we had more.
His jaw hardened. “What’s this about a transaction?”
I told Terry to quit, and the static disappeared.
“You can’t expect the jewel back,” Bernlak said. “It’s used up.”
“You’re getting way ahead of us,” I said, smiling. “Calm down.”
I loved the effect patronizing an adult had, the way their faces twitched and their voices rose in pitch almost to a whine.
I turned to Rohesia. “His motivation,” I pointed to Bernlak Fitzroy, “was to win the election. But that wasn’t the reason you stole the jewel.” Again, I saw the image of the bird sucking up a worm and then giving it to its young. “You stole it and manipulated the jewel for him to use,” I quoted the piece from the Drupes Herald, “because ‘Only the mayor has the decision making power to stop dragons being treated as slaves.’ That’s what you were promised.”
Rohesia shoulders slumped, but she nodded slightly. I turned back to Bernlak Fitzroy, who now looked a funny shade of green. I heard Professor Quincey’s words as if he was in the room, your means to the end are questionable and a little more than self-centered. “We overheard you talking to Professor Quincey.”
Bernlak Fitzroy’s head snapped up. “Did he tell you this?”
“No. You threatened him not to.” Keep your mouth shut and you won’t have to worry about that. “Not that he would have said anyway. He loves his sister too much to do that.” And that’s why he was so flustered when I’d bumped into him on the way to her house. He must have just found out what she’d done.
“No,” Rohesia spat. “You’re wrong. He doesn’t love me too much. He hardly loves me at all. I stole it because I wanted him to take me seriously. For him to know just how much I cared about him. He barely treats me better than one of his students. No. The reason why he didn’t—wouldn’t say anything is because he loves dragons too much.”
I looked into her eyes and saw the hurt spilling out of them as if she were crying.
“It was because you went to see Cinderella has Syphilis that you knew we were detectives. You heard Avice shouting at me and you recognized Terry and Faye from their visit. You followed us—saw we went up to your brother’s office. That’s when you got scared. When you thought we were catching on.” I paused to catch my breath and continued, “You found our email addresses on the university contact list and sent us the first threat. If you don’t let this case go, death will come. But you weren’t trying to threaten us with our lives. You meant more and more dragons would die and you thought we already knew that the dragons were connected to the missing Red Eye.”
Jack walked up to Bernlak Fitzroy. “But when Rohesia warned you we knew something about what was going on, you were the one to organize Faye’s kidnapping.”
He sneered. “I didn’t care who it was, it just had to be one of you.” I felt my nails dig into my flesh. “Actually I hoped it was the one frightened of birds. Yes, Rohesia passed that tidbit onto me too. She really isn’t as sweet as she seems. She can be quite the bitch.”
Jack turned to Rohesia, “You knew that we were going to be at the execution and you told him. Question is, did you have any idea what he was going to do to us? That he tied up our friend and locked her up in a zoo?”
Rohesia shook her head, and when she spoke, she directed it to Bernlak Fitzroy. “That’s why you wanted to keep tabs on where they were? Is that true?”
Bernlak Fitzroy straightened his back and squared his shoulders. “Sometimes the end speaks louder than the means.” He threw me a disgusted look. I heard my blood pumping faster when he continued. “I would have released the girl tomorrow. I just needed you others preoccupied until the election was over. After I won.” He smiled. “Of course, now it is over now. And I did win.”
Jack turned to me. “Did you get all that, Drake?”
I pulled out the walkie-talkie again. Rewound and hit play. “Safe to say I did.”
Then I swung my fist, hitting Bernlak Fitzroy in the nose. He stumbled backwards in surprise. Scowling, he rolled his fist into a tight ball and thrust it toward me. I jumped, but not quickly enough, and felt the blow land on my chest. I gasped for air. At the same time he threw another one.
Pain exploded on my lip and nose, and I tasted blood.
Jack was shouting behind me, but I couldn’t make him out, my rage had taken over and nothing else mattered. Another couple of blows came to my face and I retaliated by kicking him in the groin. He doubled in pain and I felt the edges of my lips rise.
I went to kick him again but chairs appeared between us. I glanced round to see Rohesia with her Soundimer moving things around the room to barricade us.
Jack grabbed my arm. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
I shrugged out of his grip. “He hurt Faye. I owe it to her, to Terry to make him pay!”
“You got him. Now lay off,’ Jack whispered, then raised his voice toward the others. “We are here for a transaction. Give us what we want, and we won’t leak this piece of evidence.”
“You won’t get anything if I take that from you.” The walkie-talkie I held disappeared from my grasp, reappearing in Bernlak’s. A smile stretched his cheeks and he twirled his Soundimer around one finger.
I cocked my head and smiled.
“See, we might be kids,” I said, “but we aren’t stupid.” I motioned to Jack, who pulled his walkie-talkie from the back of his pants. “And there’s no use taking that, too. The recording has already been sent to others.”
Bernlak Fitzroy froze, for a second I thought he might jump the barricade and charge at me. Then Jack spoke:
“Consider it a win-win, Mr. Fitzroy.” He faced Rohesia. “You stole the jewel to get your brother to recognize you, and that is incredibly selfish. That jewel was going to be sold for little children who are dying of cancer, who have parents and siblings they might never get to see again. At least you’ll still have yours. Try going to therapy or something. There are people who have it worse.”
Jack spun to Bernlak Fitzroy. “You—you wanted the jewel to tamper with the voting booths so you’d win; that’s not only selfish, it’s harmful and undermines the meaning of democracy. You should be ashamed—should be made to step down. And, by the way, you deserve Drake to kick you in the groin a hundred times over. But as much as I’d like to see you writhe in pain, I don’t want Drake anywhere near you, because if you so much as scratch him one more time, I swear I will hurt you much worse.” He motioned to the walkie-talkie. “Starting with this.”
Jack stepped to my side, motioning for me to continue. “You getting what you deserve,” I said sharply, “isn’t all at stake here. You will make good on your promise to end dragon slavery and phase out using them as an energy source, won’t you?”
Jack waved his walkie-talkie.
“And not only that” I said, looking between Rohesia and Bernlak Fitzroy, “if we keep this little secret, we expect you to pay for it. Triple its value.”
* * *
It was four in the morning by the time we got back. Terry swayed, waiting for me to open the door. “Would have liked to bring him down completely. Or at least get to be the one to throw the punches,” he grumbled.
For the fiftieth time since picking him up after confronting Bernlak Fitzroy.
“Just be glad your face is still pretty.” I waited until Jack passed me and closed the door. “I look like I’ve been graffitied on by amateurs.” I put a hand to my swollen eye and traced over my cut lip. “This is so much worse than the black-eye Avice gave me.”
“He better hope he never sees me again,” Terry said.
Jack yawned. “Totally knackered, Christ, don’t think I can keep my eyes open.”
“Not even for a victory drink?” I pulled out three soft velvet pouches from my bag and jiggled them in front of their noses.
“I wish.” He leant on the staircase, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
“You’re probably walking dead, too,” I said to Terry.
“Swaying dead. I gotta crash, man . . .” But first Terry disappeared up the stairs toward Faye’s room.
I lead Jack to his room.
“You can celebrate in here, if you want,” he said as he flopped back on his bed. He kicked off his shoes, blinking in a stream of sunlight hit his eyes. I wondered how he managed sleeping on this floor and living by British time. I shut his curtains, but still a little light framed the edges, giving the room a slight orange glow.
In half sleep, Jack unzipped his jeans and shimmed out of them.
Yikes, that was hot.
I quickly sat myself on his armchair (piled high with clothes just like my own) and looked away.
I waited until I heard him dive under the covers before looking at him again. His dark hair vividly contrasted against the white pillowcase. With his eyes shut he really did look like an angel.
Not wanting to wake him, I tiptoed out the room back to mine.
Sliding into some boxers, I made sure my alarm was set for 7:45, and jumped into bed.
Just as I started to doze, a loud base thumping above me made my bed jump. Four-thirty in the morning? The walls reverberated and I heard a whiny singing. It was definitely coming from Faye’s room. Even through the pillows I’d jammed over my head, I heard the pumping music.
“Faye!” I pulled on a T-shirt and stomped up to her room, although against the music she couldn’t have heard my footsteps. My teeth ground together and I thrust the door open, ready to storm in and take her stereo away.
Faye was heaped in the middle of her bed, bawling her eyes out. She hadn’t noticed that I’d come in. My jaw slackened and guilt pricked my insides.
I really could be a prick.
Poor Faye. Something was up with her. I thought of her outburst at Jack and now this. I’d have to check with Terry what he thought about it; whether she’d be okay.
I stepped out the door and shut it carefully. None of us really had any idea what she’d been through. Whatever it was, something within her had snapped, and I bloody well hoped we would be able to help fix it. Make her whole again.
I rummaged in my drawers for some earplugs and my hand clutched onto a packet of cigarettes.
God, to have one right now. Just one.
You have had a hard day. . .
I flipped it open and drew one out. My fingers shook with the temptation, wavering between bringing it closer and pushing it out of reach. Finally, I had the filter between my lips. I reached for my lighter.
I flicked it on and stared at the flame warming my thumb knuckle. All I had to do was let the hot orangey tongue lick my cigarette, then with one breath I’d have smoke caressing my throat and lungs, soothing my insides. It would be so easy.
But I couldn’t bring the lighter any closer. As I clutched it, the hard metal reminded me of plunging my hand into Jack’s pocket to pull it out, and how much I wanted to be with him right now.
I could replace one addiction with another, and I had the one I really wanted now.
Dropping the lighter, I wiped the tobacco grains from the squished cigarette off my hand and jumped back into bed.
I’d make sure I got a dose of my new addiction, first thing in the morning.
* * *
Violin screeches of Faye’s doorbell woke me in the end. I twisted in my sheets and my leg caught. Off balance, I tumbled to the floor. “Crap!” It was only half past seven. I’d slept three hours if I was lucky.
I slid into some jeans, grabbed the velvet pouches and ran up to Faye’s floor. It looked like I was the only one up. “Detective Wurz,” I greeted, yanking open the door, a much more cheerful tone coming from me than I’d anticipated. Especially considering the red-tape and construction vehicles I could see over his shoulder.
“Come in.” I gestured him into the house and lead him to the kitchen. Once he’d sat himself at the table, I threw two of the pouches to him keeping the third to myself. “Red Beryl is gone. There’s no possible way of reclaiming it.”
He was staring at me with a thoughtful expression. “What happened on your face?” he said.
“The cost of truth.” I could still feel the sting of my cut lip and the tenderness of my cheeks. “We did everything we could, but there is no Red Beryl anymore.” I pointed to his pouches. “Instead we got you compensation for the kids with cancer.”
Detective Wurz’s eyes widened when he opened a pouch. He pulled out a diamond necklace and matching earrings.
“They are worth two times as much as Red Beryl.” I watched him study the jewelry and added, “It’s the best we could do.”
The door to the kitchen opened and Jack waltzed in, his hair spiking out in all directions, rings under his eyes, wearing only his boxers. “Drake, you couldn’t turn off your alarm?”
I grinned. What? And miss seeing him like this? Never.
Detective Wurz moved and Jack jumped. As if suddenly conscious of his dress, he jumped on the sofa, pulling a blanket over him. “You’re early.”
Detective Wurz gave him a short nod.
Jack looked at the diamonds in his hands. “They are real, you know. I checked. You better stick to your end of the bargain.”
“When these make as much money as Red Beryl, then I help you. You get to have your house a bit longer,” Detective Wurz said.
“How much longer?” Jack asked.
“Maybe three months.”
I sucked in air. “Maybe? Is that all?”
“Berlin City Council—it’s tough to make them to listen. Pain in the—what do you say?—butt? But I know someone. Three months should be good.”
“Is there no other way to save it?”
“Can you afford to buy the place?”
I gripped the last pouch. “If we could?”
He snatched up a stray, doodled bit of paper from the table and scrawled something down. “Ring this man, he can help you.”
I took the number and held it like a lifeline. We were going to get a long term solution.
Our home was safe.
“I go now.” Detective Wurz stood up and stuffed the pouches into his pockets.
Thank god he didn’t want to stay any longer. I had no idea what else to say to him. At the door I watched him rip off a part of the red and white cordoning to pass through the gate. Faye would be relieved that her floor was safe, even if she wasn’t in the right mind to fully appreciate it.
I sighed and shut the door. Jack had straightened his hair, but still wore only boxers. What was he trying to do to me?
I cuffed his wrist and pulled him down the set of stairs to my room. Before he could let out a ‘what?’ I pushed him up against my wall. “You want to know what better addictions there are to help me stop smoking?”
I looked into his smiling, teasing eyes.
“What?” he said, glancing at my lips and licking his own.
But as I leant down to kiss him, he smuggled his way out of my grasp. I swung round to see him grinning. Now it was my turn to ask ‘what?’
“It’s going to cost you,” he said.
I met his grin. “Darn, I was hoping to save a few quid with this no smoking business.”
He jumped into my bed, kneeling in its middle. “Come here.”
I climbed on the bed next to him. “Just how is it going to cost me?” I leaned in to kiss him, but he clapped a hand over my mouth.
“How about you can have a kiss for every question you answer?”
I pretended to think about it for a moment, weighing up the pros and cons.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I rather like it when you don’t know everything.”
He punched me lightly in the arm, and we play-wrestled each other until we were horizontal. Me on top of him (for about five seconds), then him pinning me down.
“I’ll ask again. You willing to pay?” he almost brushed his lips across mine, pulling back too quickly.
“This is extortion.”
“You love it.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Tell me about the threatening note Walter wrote. I’ve been trying to piece it together myself and it’s getting to me. I just have to know.”
I smiled. No one else could be so Jack.
He really was such a nerd.
“A couple of things made me understand.” I tried to nip a kiss from him, but he wasn’t close enough. And jeez, he was strong!
“Good try. But not good enough.” He leaned to my ear. “Spill!”
“Fine. It bugged me for ages, too. There was always something about their fight in the museum I thought I’d missed. And I had. It wasn’t about Walter dying at all. It was about Avice.”
The conversation played in my head. How much longer? I cleared my throat and explained, “She was impatient about how long it took to snag a guy.” Not long. You’ll see. Don’t worry. “Her Grandpa assured her it wouldn’t be too much longer.” Don’t you think mum should know? So she’d understand? If she found out any other way. . . . “Avice wasn’t sure if she should tell her mum about her plans to pretend to fall in love with a guy to get him to marry her. She tried to convince Walter her mum would be pissed if she found out what she was doing, but Walter told her it was nearly all done anyway, she may as well go through with it.”
“She acted her relationship? It was a lie?”
I wanted to smooth the frown on his face, but, you know, that was sorta impossible with his knees locking my arms to the bed.
“Don’t know if it was all a lie. But certainly it wasn’t all honest.” You can’t always trust an actor.
“What tipped you off?”
“When I first went into her room scouting for evidence, I looked at her music collection, and it sucked.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“A lot. It seems that when she met Jerry, she suddenly developed musical taste. She just loved everything he did. Now, while his style ain't quite my thing, it was a hell of a lot better than what I saw in her room.” I just love Mozart. You have no idea how much it excites me that you’re also a fan. “When he proposed to her he said ‘I like dancing with you to our favorite songs.’ But it was a lie. There was no way those were her favorite songs. She was playing him the whole time.”
Jack levied all his weight on my chest as he leaned in to hear more, his breath flittering over my face, lips curling into a teasing smile. I hurried to explain:
“The tipping point came with Walter’s threat. Avice was sick of having us lingering around and pushing our noses into their lives. There was so much worry in her voice at the bar when she’d asked me what we knew about her, and she’d been so angry at the theatre.”
I squirmed under him, trying to get his lips just that much closer, but Jack just laughed and sat back up.
“Keep going,” he said.
I gave him my best evil-eyes. “Fine. Remember how she came alone to the theatre without her boyfriend or friends, even though they were visiting Drupes for the first time? She didn’t want him to know about us. Detectives finding out her true motives for dating him . . . That’s why she and Walter wanted to threaten us; they wanted us to keep our distance so we wouldn’t disturb their plans. So Walter followed us and slipped this threat in my bag.” I remembered being shoved at the dragon execution. It had to have been then.
“In the end, things fell into place because of the color of the card Walter wrote the threat on.”
“Green card,” Jack said and jumped, almost enough to let me free but not quite. “Their whole motivation laid out for us and we were blind to it!”
“Yep, she loved New York, she wished she could walk through her door in Drupes and be there. I read that in her diary. I knew taking it would come in handy.”
Jack glowered at me; but it didn’t last long.
“So she was after a green card. Poor Jerry. It’s quite sucky for him.”
“Yes, sucky for him. But knowing the answer isn’t quite so sucky for me.” In one quick motion I jerked, throwing him off-balance enough to gain the upper-hand. I grabbed his arms and pinned them above his head. And I have to say, he wasn’t fighting that hard.
“Not so sucky for you, eh?”
“Well, I guess that depends on how I kiss you,” I said and felt, so much as saw, the response to that.
But if he could tease. . .
So could I.
The little devil on my shoulder couldn’t be shushed this time, no matter how hard Jack tried.
I lowered my face and ran my eyelashes across his neck, butterfly-kissing him all the way up to his chin. He laughed. “Shit, it tickles! Stop.”
I stopped his shrieking with a light kiss on the mouth and drew back. “Hmm, I do like this payment method. I want another one. Next question!”
He pushed herself into a sitting position and rested his head against the wall. “Now I wish I had more than three questions.”
“Sure we can come to some arrangement.”
Jack nudged his foot into my side, smiling. “What about Beatrice Courcey? Why was she wearing an extremely large coat when it’s obvious she takes her figure seriously?”
He certainly liked all loose ends tied up. A true sleuth! A nerd of mega proportions.
I twisted onto my belly and took one of his feet. “Wow, you have hairy hobbit feet.” Jack yanked his foot out of my grasp. “I’m kidding,” I said. “They’re not that small.”
Growling, he hid them under the blanket.
“Guess that’s what you get if you fall for someone from New Zealand, huh. Did you ever audition for—”
“Shuddup.” Then after a moment added, “I was only an extra.”
I cracked up. The good belly-tightening kind.
“Maybe I don’t want to know any more answers after all,” Jack said, scowling. But he was also grinning. Whether he’d admit it or not.
“Fine.” I threw up my hands. “What do you remember about Beatrice Courcey’s office?”
“There were a lot of rocks, precious and semi-precious jewels.”
“Did you notice the screen behind her desk showing stones being zoomed in on from all angles?”
At the zoo I saw a sign on the outside of the reptile house. ‘Use of cameras in here prohibited; no taking photos, please. It frightens the animals.’ At the museum they had similar signs prohibiting the use of digital media.” I looked at Jack’s curled lip and I knew he’d gotten it.
“She wore the large jacket to hide her video camera.”
I grinned mischievously. “Yup. That was easy. Now for my next kiss!” I seized his foot from under the blanket. Jack laughed and tried to squirm free. He grabbed a pillow and threw it at me, but I continued bringing his foot closer. “Really?” he said, another pillow ready in his arms.
Looking into his eyes, I ran my tongue over his large hairy (okay, not that hairy) feet, ending with a kiss on his ankle. “Really.”
Jack buried his head into the pillow, then peeked out the top, and said in a quiet voice, almost a whisper:
“You rock my world, Drake.”
My insides melted and plummeted into some never ending abyss. It was like thrill you get when you freefall and little electrical shots combined together.
I pulled on his legs until he was lying flat on the bed and held him close. I didn’t—
couldn’t let him. Couldn’t stop lightly pressing kisses into his neck and then on his lips. My arms tightened around him and his around me and our breaths bounced against each other’s and it was perfect. I wasn’t sure how long we stayed that way, but soon Jack was asleep, and not long after, so was I.
* * *
When I woke up, Jack was gone and my muscles ached from sleeping in jeans. I looked at the alarm clock, it was already evening; I’d slept the day away. Yawning, I dragged myself to the shower, and after I freshened up, spent a good two minutes scrubbing my teeth and tongue—didn’t want to repel Jack with sleep breath.
I found Terry and Jack sitting at Faye’s laptop at the kitchen table. Jack was wearing a black shirt and jeans, hair-brushed and generally more groomed. Had he dressed up? Hot.
“Anything interesting?” I asked them, suppressing the urge to grab him then and there.
“If paying bills is interesting, then yeah, we’re having a hoot.” Jack rolled his eyes, but flashed me a smile.
Terry went to the fridge. “Man, I’m starved!”
“Bunch over a sec?” I pushed my hands in front of Jack, onto the keyboard, and opened up my eBay account. “Excellent!” I cried. “The Shape of Punk to Come made us 450 pounds.”
Jack’s face darkened.
“Isn’t it good that we have enough for food this month?” I asked.
“That’s great, Drake,” he said, and in a low voice added, “Just wish you didn’t have to sell such a meaningful possession.”
I heard Terry gasp, but there was no way he could have heard us. I looked up and my mouth dropped open. Faye strode into the room with dyed black hair, shimmering blue.
What the hell?
Terry wore that exact expression on his face. The juice he’d been pouring into his glass began overflowing. “F-Faye,” he stammered. “Your hair.”
“What about it?”
I wasn’t so sure I’d call it nice. It wasn’t that it looked bad, it was that it looked badass.
And that just wasn’t the Faye I knew.
Terry, finally aware of orange juice spilling on his shoes, grabbed a kitchen cloth and wiped it up, but I could tell he was carefully watching Faye from the corner of his eye.
“Anything you’d like for dinner?” Jack asked, staring at the back of Faye’s head, eyes wide. Was he trying to make it up to her for his past dinners?
Faye didn’t answer, just opened the fridge, took out a yoghurt container and left the room without even getting a spoon. Terry frowned, obviously agitated. He hung the cloth over the tap and followed her. I blocked his way.
“Don’t think she’s in the mood for talking right now. Leave it a bit longer.”
“This isn’t right,” he said, voice shaky.
“I know,” I said, “It’s not—this isn’t her—and we will all do our damndest to get our Faye back. But for now, maybe she needs a little time to vent?”
“But—” He looked wistfully over my shoulder. “She’s my Faye, I can’t just stand here when I see she’s hurting.” With that, he pushed past me. A couple of seconds later, I heard him stopping Faye on the stairs.
Jack came over and swallowed me in a hug. “Terry needs this,” he whispered. “I know if it were you, I’d be on your heel, too.”
I nodded. “You’re right. I just—I don’t want to make it worse, you know?”
Then we heard Terry and Faye talking. “I just don’t understand,” Terry said. “You seem different, this isn’t you.”
“Isn’t it, Terry? Then can you tell me what is, because I just don’t know. This Faye might be closer to the real Faye than anything I’ve tried yet.”
“And maybe this way, you don’t look at me like a . . . like a sibling anymore.”
I heard his shocked intake of breath or maybe it was my own.
“How did you—”
“I came down wanting to apologize for being shitty to you for carrying me home, but you were with Drake and your door was open—I heard everything.”
“Oh Faye, I’m so sorry.”
“No. Look, I can’t do this right now. It hurts too much, because you were right about me, about what I thought of you. And, the truth is, I’m just going to need some time.”
The doorbell rang, covering Terry’s words.
“What does she think of him?” Jack murmured against my cheek.
I entwined my hand with his, now that Faye knew we’d have to let Jack know the truth soon too. Now that I knew Faye knew, her lashing out over the last couple of days made more sense. Like how she’d snapped at Jack; maybe it wasn’t really about him at all. I felt sorry for her, for having been kidnapped and then worse, on top of it, having her heart broken.
I kissed Jack lightly on the lips. “No matter what Faye said to you—no matter what she might say, I want us all to be there for her.”
He squeezed my hand. “We will be.”
He tried to pass me, but I shook my head. “I like you right here.”
“I like being here.”
Our eyes flirted a moment, and I cocked my head. “Earlier you said there were three questions you wanted me to answer. What was the third?”
He looked at me, then over my shoulder to the stamping of ascending feet. “We’ve got company.”
“Was it about the mystery?”
“No. This one was . . . private.”
I gulped. “Private?”
He leant in, our bodies meshing as he whispered in my ear. “Tell you later.”
“I just knew it,” a chirpy voice called from the doorway. We both jumped apart in time to see Chrissy wink.
Band practice! How could’ve I forgotten?
“Ah—” I started.
I looked at Jack’s smug face and I knew he was happy Chrissy had caught us. He clutched my hand tighter and raised a bloody cute brow.
Ah, my competitive, nerdy, buzz kill.
How did I not fall for him sooner?
I detangled our hands, nervously glancing over Chrissy’s shoulder.
“Oh, is it a secret or something?” she asked cheekily.
I looked Jack. Was it a secret? Should it be a secret? I didn’t think Terry would have a problem with it, and Faye seemed to know or at least to have guessed already.
Still, I wasn’t sure I was ready to have things official. Wasn’t quite there yet. Jack seemed to read my mind because he frowned ever-so-slightly, then nodded.
“My lips are sealed,” she said, drawing an invisible zip across her lips.
Ben and Simon came in the kitchen chatting with Terry. “Have you read the Manic Hedgehog review?” Simon threw a magazine at me. “Page twelve.”
My hands were shaking as I scanned the review. “A touch derivative?” I scowled and continued reading. I grunted at the word amateur, but then again, wasn’t that what we were? My lips curled up at the last sentence. “All in all, a band with promise.” I chucked the magazine to Simon. “Not bad, I suppose.”
“Not bad? Not bad! That’s a crazy good review. I’ve read what that guy says about others, and believe me, he can be a real ass.” Simon turned to Ben. “Let’s get to the garage. Meet you down there, Drake!”
“Well come on then!” Chrissy cheered, yanking mine and Simon’s arm toward the door. “Let’s get on and rock this place.”
Just before I disappeared downstairs, I turned, smiling at Jack, mouthing and confirming his promise: “Later!”
Thank you so much for reading, peeps. I hope you enjoyed this Oxion House mystery! :)