Edison waited impatiently as the minute hand of the wall clock declared only half an hour had passed since he made the call. He weighed his options in his mind and tried to come up with a back up plan that didn’t depend so heavily on Jeremy Hayde’s whimsy. He was unpredictable, as Edison knew only too well, and he could refuse to play along.
“Mr Gage,” said one of the technicians, walking up to him with a phone in her hand. “The Director wants to speak to you.”
She held out the white cordless to him and Edison considered his options again. Was it too late to pick up the body and run?
“Good evening, Director Reiner,” he said in his steadiest voice.
“Good evening, Master Gage,” said the woman who controlled the very nerve system of Astir Hall. “I have a report here that says you found a human victim of a ghoul attack at 17:05 today.”
“I found a human victim, yes.”
“Of a ghoul attack,” the Director repeated.
“That…hasn’t been determined yet,” said Edison, suppressing a wince.
“I see. And now there seems to be some question about whether she is human at all. One of the Touched, Mage Herring seems to think.”
“It might explain the statis-state. They’re running more tests now.”
“Hmm…” Edison heard the soft tapping of a stylus over a screen. “Interesting that you should come across a ghoul victim, weeks after the attacks stopped and just when you were on the trail of Emma Carmen.”
Edison’s insides went cold and he leaned back against the white wall of the room. “Yes.”
“And how is that search going, Master Gage?”
He took a bracing breath. “We followed her to the eastern quarter of the city and found a trail in the theatre streets. She seemed to have stayed a few days with a group of students in the Learman area. We checked them out. They have no specific memory of her. Nothing to suggest they were abetting her. Most probably they were sustenance for her.”
“And then this afternoon…?” the Director prompted gently.
Edison closed his eyes and said, “and then this afternoon, we found a trace that suggested she might still be in the neighbouring area. She’d obviously spent some time there. The streets were familiar to her. Maggie Holland claimed to have caught her scent.”
“And had she?”
Maggie Holland was a new recruit with the sharpest scent sense Edison had ever seen. “No. It appeared she was mistaken.”
There was a long pause and then, “Are you quite sure?” The tone was gentle, non-threatening.
Edison gritted his teeth and thought through the consequences. The lie wouldn’t hold. The rest of the team would be interrogated and sooner or later, Observers would conclude that Edison was covering for Emma Carmen. And then they’ll hand over the case to someone less…involved.
“No.” He took a took a silent lungful and said, “No, I’m not sure. Maggie said she lost the scent and we decided to do a perimeter search from the point where she last scented Carmen. Arch Kohler found the girl a quarter mile away, behind a popular local inn.”
“Thank you, Master Gage. A few specialists from the Night Kind Behavioural Study branch of the Academy will be with you shortly. They would wish to take a look at the girl. Perhaps lend Mage Herring their perspective. You will cooperate, of course.”
“Of course,” said Edison through clenched teeth.
And then the Director hung up, leaving Edison to spend the next few minutes clutching the phone hard enough to put deep cracks in it.
When the technician returned to take the phone from him, Edison left her with five pieces of the device.
He walked outside the mortuary wing and took the elevator up to the ground level. He found a door that opened to one of the many intersecting concrete lanes around the mammoth building and leaned against the wall outside with an unlit cigarette in his hand.
“Fudge-cake,” he muttered viciously, thudding his head hard against the freshly painted wall.
“Swearing so early in the night, my friend?”
Edison looked towards the voice, unsurprised. He’d heard and recognized the light footsteps heading towards him. Now the lean silhouette morphed into Jeremy Hayde sauntering towards him, dressed as if he was about to walk into a photo shoot for a gentleman’s rag. Edison decided he needed to light that cigarette after all.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jeremy as he watched his friend pull in a deep lungful of smoke. He studied Edison’s face and the obvious tension coiled inside him.
“We found a trace of Emma, then we lost it. During the search we found a girl, recently killed with a wound to the jugular.”
Jeremy considered that and nodded. “Badly dealt blow, wasted blood…”
“Yes, and not another scratch on her.”
“But you know it was Emma.”
Edison paused a moment before answering, his senses pricked for any presence nearby. “Maggie’s the only one who can scent her. It’s very faint.”
Jeremy ‘hmm-ed’ and squinted up at the waning moon in the sky. “So her first kill. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
“You’re surprised,” repeated Edison tonelessly.
Jeremy shrugged, fingers flexing in his pockets. “She’s had weeks of freedom. Weeks of unsupervised meals. I’m impressed she held off the bloodlust for so long.”
Edison ignored that and said, “I brought the girl to the morgue here six hours ago. Jeremy,” he murmured in a quieter voice. “She’s in statis now and there’s not a trace of the Touched in her.”
As Edison continued, Jeremy’s eyes narrowed. “If by some chance, some ironic hand of fate, Emma did to this girl what they’ve been trying to make her do for the last three years…”
Jeremy suddenly stepped back and threw up his hands. “Stop.” A small laughter, half bitter escaped him. “So this is what you wanted to consult me on.”
He shook his head as he looked up at Edison.”I said I’ll help you with Emma. I’ll help you track her, I’ll help you find her, I’ll even help you subdue her if it comes to it…but by the lost gods!”
“Come on, Jer. You don’t care? You can’t tell me you approve of what they’re trying to do,” said Edison intensely, throwing down the cigarette and crushing it under his shoe. “You don’t care that they’ve turned your kind to a series of experiments?”
“Shut up,” said Jeremy taking a step forward. All humour gone from his face. “Shut the hell up. So this is what our friendship comes to. You’re going to manipulate me because you feel guilty.”
“I’m asking you for a favour,” said Edison, quietly. “And yes I do feel guilty. I thought you felt some responsibility too.”
“I do. For Emma.”
“What if I’m right? What if this is history about to repeat itself?”
Jeremy’s hand curled into a fist and stared hard at his friend. “What exactly do you think this will do? Wipe our slates clean?”
“Jeremy.” Edison grabbed his arm. “You have to…”
“No,” he said, raising a hand to stop Edison. “I don’t have to. That’s the beauty of it. I’m not you, Eddy. I like being invisible to Astir Hall. Why would I do something that would mess with the balance? I’m not even the hero in this story. I mean, I don’t even get the girl!”
Edison glared back in frustration. Then his cell phone beeped. He pulled it out and read the message.
“I have to go in. NKBS just arrived.” He looked at Jeremy and tried to think of something to persuade him. “At least come and see her for yourself.”
Jeremy flashed him a humourless smile. “No, thank you. Goodnight and good luck, Eddy.” With that he turned and walked away.
And this is why he should always have a Plan B, thought Edison. “Bleeping, fudging, rat basket,” he muttered as he walked in, but without much satisfaction.
© 2013 Paroma Chakravarty