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chapter thirteen

Ed was chatty. He thought it was wonderful that the two were eloping. It was romantic. He loved romance. He'd never been in love himself, but he'd always liked the idea of it. He wasn't from around there, so he didn't know where the bus stations were, but he could take them to the highway. That was fine with Iris and Billy, who sat in the backseat together, holding hands to keep up appearances. Ed kept glancing back at them, going on about the weather and the beauty of the country.

He wasn't watching the road, and Billy had to tell him a couple of times to look back at it. Ed always yanked the wheel back just in time. He narrowly avoided going over a cliff and running into another car�a red convertible. He apologized, claiming he wasn't used to these roads. Where he came from, everything was flat and straight.

Iris hoped he didn't wreck the car. She wondered how a girl on her way to elope might feel about it. She should probably be happy. Not happy that they might wreck, but happy in general. After all, she was going to get married, and most people were happy about that. Was it suspicious if she and Billy were too quiet?

"So," she said. "You're on vacation. Where do you work?"

"Magic Management," said Ed.

Shit! They had the worst luck. First they were nearly killed by the witches, and now they'd been picked up by the pixie police. "Oh," said Iris. "Do you like working there?"

"Used to," said Ed. "Now I'm mostly just frustrated. You two watch the news much?"

"Sometimes," said Iris.

"Have you seen anything on the escaped murderer recently? Jaqueline Schmerfeld?"

Oh God. He knew who they were. He had to know. He was playing games with them now. "Um . . ." said Iris, stealing a glance at Billy. He just shook his head.

"That's my case," said Ed. "Technically, it's not my case. Technically, I'm on vacation. Realistically, I think I might be getting fired."

He was getting fired? Maybe he didn't know who they were after all. "Fired? Why?"

"I went to the press with the case. I had to. The organization wouldn't recognize the connection between Schmerfeld and Tanner and Jordan. Are you familiar with what I'm talking about?"

No connection? This was cool. Maybe at least one thing was going right for them. "Yeah," she said. "I've heard people talk about it."

"Well, then you know that all three of them were seen on this road. And they found William Tanner's car. That's hard evidence. The organization won't recognize it, though. They say there's no connection between the three of them."

"Really?" said Iris. "Why do they say that?"

"Price�my boss�doesn't seem to want to listen to anything I have to say. I think it's a personal vendetta, honestly. He told me to take two weeks off, so I'm not going into the office. But I'm combing this road until I find them. They've got to be here somewhere. They've got no car. Where could they have gone?"

Not so cool. Whoever this guy was, he knew too much. He was in the pixie police, so he could probably get them arrested and/or executed anyway. Maybe it was time for a subject change. "So," said Iris. "If you were going on a real vacation, where would you go?"

"I probably wouldn't. Vacations aren't too fun alone," said Ed. "It's just so odd. I can't figure out where they could have gone. I have a heat sensor running in case they're invisible, but I haven't picked up anything."

Trying to change the subject really hadn't worked. This guy was obsessed. Maybe he should go on a real vacation. "You know," said Iris. "Maybe if you spent less time thinking about work, you'd meet someone to go on vacation with."

"Nah," said Ed. "I don't really like people. I like pixies. That's why I thought I'd like to work for Magic Management in the first place. But, I guess I wanted to study the pixies, not kill them . . ." He trailed off wistfully. "Obviously, if pixies use their powers to harm others, something needs to be done about it. And humans don't have the capability to imprison them. God knows they don't have any form of discipline themselves. I read once about a pixie queen, but I've never seen any evidence that she disciplines her subjects.

"So," Ed sighed, "it falls to us to do so. That's why I'm here. Justice." He paused. "They don't have a car. There isn't any public transportation. They could be hitchhiking�" he broke off, and locked eyes with Iris in the rearview mirror.

Oh, Jesus Christ. She knew this was a bad subject. Maybe she should try to change it again. "Maybe," she said, "you could write a book about pixies and sell it for lots of money. Then you wouldn't have to work for Magic Management anymore."

"My heat sensor didn't pick up a third person," said Ed. "Who�s not with you? It's Tanner, isn't it? What'd you do to her? Did you kill her?"

He did know. Sort of.

"We don't know what you're talking about," said Billy.

Iris concentrated on making Ed want to let them out.

Nothing happened. "Ghoul magic?" he said. "Then, you ditched Schmerfeld?"

"Humans can't resist the magic," said Iris, unsure of why Ed wasn't letting them out. Maybe Ed wasn't human.

"I'm not resisting," he said. "I want to let you out of the car badly. I'm simply not acting on my desire. Drop the illusions."

"Don�t do anything he says," said Billy. "He's got nothing on us.

But Iris already had.

"There you are," said Ed. "Looking just like I saw you in the coffee shop."

"Jesus," said Iris. "Is that how you figured it out?"

"Stop it, Iris," said Billy. "Listen, Mr . . . ."

"Buckingham."

"Mr. Buckingham. My girlfriend Iris and I were shocked to discover my ex-girlfriend Jaq had escaped from prison. When we were erroneously linked with her disappearance, we found ourselves in a very awkward position. We ran. With the pixie police after us, we feared for our lives. But we'd done nothing wrong."

Billy was right! Buckingham had just admitted the organization was going to fire him. They didn't have to admit anything!

"Drop it, Jordan," said Buckingham.

"It's the truth," said Billy. "We haven't seen Jaq." He squeezed Iris' hand.

Billy could say what he wanted. Iris knew Buckingham was convinced otherwise. Who knew what he'd do to them?

"Don't be ridiculous," said Buckingham. "You've been with Schmerfeld since her escape. Where is she now?"

Billy didn't reply. The two were silent as Buckingham drove. Buckingham continued to question them at first, but when it became clear that they weren't going to answer, he fell silent as well. Iris knew he hadn't given up, though. The man was obsessed. Buckingham pulled into the first gas station they came to and handcuffed them. He kept one eye on them as he dialed on a pay phone.

"Don't worry," said Billy to Iris inside the car. "He said his boss doesn't buy our involvement. He's got nothing."

"We're handcuffed in the car of a Magic Management officer, and if we get away, we don't know the location of the daion queen. Everything we've done, we've done for nothing."

"No," said Billy, "that's not true." But he didn't sound convinced.

* * *

Buckingham eyed the backseat of his car warily, while holding for Price. When Price finally did come on the phone, he didn't sound happy to hear from Buckingham. "You're supposed to be on vacation," he said.

"I've got them Price," said Buckingham. "I've got Tanner and Jordan."

"And Schmerfeld?"

"They've ditched her someplace, but I'm sure we can get it out of them in interrogation."

"They told you they left her?"

Buckingham clutched the phone tighter in excitement. "No, but she's not with them."

"What did they say about Schmerfeld?"

"That they hadn't seen her. But of course they'd say that."

"What exactly did they tell you?"

This wasn't going the way that Buckingham thought it would. He'd expected Price to tell him to bring both of them in immediately. "That they'd had nothing to do with it. But criminals don't just confess, sir. They�"

"And why did they say they were in whatever godforsaken place you found them?"

Was Price serious? What did any of this matter? "They said they were running because of the news coverage."

"Ah. Well, that would make sense, wouldn't it?"

"It would also make sense if they were lying." Price wasn't going for it. Buckingham couldn't believe it.

"Either way, you have nothing conclusive."

Nothing conclusive? "But they were sighted with Schmerfeld."

"With what someone thought was Schmerfeld."

"But their car�"

"They're there, aren't they? Are you surprised that the car is too? All you've proved is that William Jordan and his car are in the same area. Congratulations, Mr. Buckingham."

Buckingham sputtered in disbelief. Price was deliberately obstructing justice here. If Price had his way, these two would just go free.

Price continued, "I distinctly asked you to take some time off. What I meant by that was that you step back from work. Your mind isn't clear on this case. You're making huge leaps from conjecture to conclusion. You will release both Jordan and Tanner immediately. You will refrain from making any more inquiries into the case. And, when this sensationalism that you've stirred up dies down, the officers assigned to the case will be able to make some progress. Though they will be significantly impeded by the time they've lost due to your little fiasco."

Buckingham took the phone away from his ear for a minute and stared at it. Price couldn't mean this. "Sir�"

"I think I've made myself clear. If I find that you have not followed my instructions to the letter, you will find that you have no job to return to."

Buckingham didn't answer right away. When he did, his voice was serious. "Then we shouldn't play games," said Buckingham. "I will not be releasing them. They are criminals."

Price sighed heavily. "Reconsider. You have a long history of excellent service in this organization."

"I'm afraid I can't."

"Then regretfully, your employment with Magic Management is terminated." Price hung up.

Buckingham stood with the phone still at his ear for a few moments, shocked at his own actions. What had he done? Numbly, he placed the receiver back in its cradle and trudged back to his car. Once inside, he addressed his prisoners. "A request for a court order has been placed for both of you. It should be approved by this afternoon."

"You're lying," sneered Jordan. "Iris, he's lying."

"I assure you, I am not lying," said Buckingham. "I will say that I have some experience in working these sort of things out. If you two were to cooperate, tell me where Schmerfeld is, I might be able to get the order revoked."

"I haven't seen Jaq in two years," said Jordan. "And you already told us the pixie police don't think there's a connection between us."

Yes. He had been sloppy earlier, when he'd first picked them up. They had more information than they should.

"Billy," said Tanner.

"Just be quiet," Jordan said to her.

"Maybe you should listen to Tanner," said Buckingham. He started the car, pulled out of the gas station, and drove. Neither Tanner nor Jordan said anything more, despite Buckingham's threat. Internally, he was panicking. He'd just lost his job. Worse. He'd been fired from his job. That kind of thing just didn't happen to him. So he drove aimlessly, taking turns at random, unsure of where he was or what he was going to do.

His only hope was to get the two of them to give up Schmerfeld. If he brought Schmerfeld in, all would be forgiven. He was sure of that. He was fairly sure of that. But he'd undermined himself by blathering to them. How could he have been so stupid? He should have known who they were right away. But he'd been looking for three people, not two. It was an unforgivable error, but an understandable one. Tanner was the key. She seemed ready to spill everything, probably because she'd been coerced into this situation in the first place. If he could only get Tanner alone, he was sure he could make her crack.

Unless . . . What if he were wrong? Really wrong? What if Price were right, and he wasn't seeing this case clearly? Maybe Tanner wouldn't crack because she and Jordan truly had nothing to do with the escape.

No. That wasn't true. He was fairly certain of that. He'd put this together himself, and his reasoning was solid. He went over it in his head. The coffee shop sighting. Listening at Tanner's door. The car. Finally, the presence of the two of them in his car. It added up. He was right. Wasn�t he? Why wasn't Price convinced? He glanced in his rearview mirror. Jordan was sleeping?! He couldn't believe his good luck.

"Your 'boyfriend' seems very comfortable, sleeping in a situation like this."

"We walked all night," said Tanner.

"You're not sleeping."

"No."

"Did he threaten to expose you?"

"What?"

"As a ghoul. Is that how he got you mixed up in this?"

Tanner laughed. "Of course not."

"Did he give you money?"

"Don't bother. I'm not going to tell you anything."

"I see. But there is something to tell."

"Everyone's got a story," she said.

"And yours is one of near success and stifled dreams?"

"Sounds like you already know all about me."

"I don't know why you're involved in helping a convicted murderer. Your friend Mr. Martin said it wasn't like you."

"Mr . . . . Oh, you mean Scott. So you did get to Scott."

This wasn't going very well. He was giving her information and not the other way around.

Iris yawned. "Maybe I'll go to sleep."

Buckingham wracked his brain, trying to think of a way to get her to crack, and then gave up. Maybe Tanner had done it because she was crazy. He supposed being a ghoul could do that to a person. Buckingham had always felt somewhat sorry for ghouls. The ones he'd run into had generally been pathetic creatures, skulking in the shadows, searching for food, using their powers only to keep themselves from being discovered. He had to admit that he felt sorry for magical creatures more often than not. He guessed it was ironic that he made his living killing them.

Of course, if Price had been serious (and Price had sounded pretty damned serious) then he didn't currently make a living at all. He wondered if the rest of his "vacation" would be paid. Buckingham was starting to feel pretty sorry for himself.

He'd never been afraid to take a stand. Hell, he'd lobbied for court orders of execution, and that hadn't been a very popular opinion to take in the organization at the time. But he'd been younger then, the prospect of getting another job hadn't seemed nearly as daunting. Now he was terrified, he realized. He toyed with the idea of letting Tanner and Jordan go. He'd call Price, say he'd come to his senses, and go to Bermuda for a week. Simple. But would he be able to live with himself, knowing he'd come so close? Even if he did drop them off, he might not be able to find a phone ever again. So he wouldn't be able to call Price. Buckingham didn't think he had any idea where he was.

Suddenly, Buckingham was choking. Tanner was behind his seat, the chain on her handcuffs stretched tight against his throat. "Slow the car down and pull over," she whispered in his ear.

* * *

What Buckingham didn't know was that while he thought Billy and Iris were sleeping, Billy had set up an illusion, so that Buckingham couldn't see or hear them. "Iris," he'd said. "I have a plan."

He'd instructed Iris to get her hands in front of her body. (Both of them were handcuffed behind their backs.) She had to thread her legs through her handcuffed arms. "Like you're jumping rope," he'd said.

"That won't work."

"It will so. I saw it on MacGyver."

To humor him, she tried it, but she was beginning to suspect that Billy had an unhealthy obsession with MacGyver. It did hurt her arms and back, and it wasn't easy, but it worked. From there, she knelt behind Buckingham's seat, put her hands and the handcuffs over his head and pulled the chain against his neck.

Billy dropped the illusion.

Buckingham was startled. "How? What?"

"Magic, Mr. Buckingham," said Iris. "I thought you studied it. Now pull over."

"If you kill me with that�" and Buckingham was now gasping for air� "I'll wreck. We'll all die."

"Seeing as you've got an order in for our execution, we aren't too worried about that," said Billy.

Buckingham's face was turning red. He pulled over, which was good, because Iris had been worried that he wouldn't, and there was no way she was actually going to kill him. She'd never killed anybody.

"Very good," said Billy. "Now put the car in park."

Buckingham complied, the color of his face approaching a purplish color. Iris looked at Billy, and he nodded. She loosened her chokehold. Billy looked at her hand, and a pistol materialized in it. She put it to Buckingham's temple.

"You're an officer with Magic Management," said Billy, "so I don't know if I need to explain this to you, but I will anyway, so there's no confusion. The gun and the bullets in it are nothing but an illusion. However, when I instruct Iris to pull the trigger, I can make it feel as if you have actually been shot. You will see and feel the blood, the brain matter, oozing from the hole in your head. You will feel the pain. I'm told a shot to the head is quite excruciating. The human mind is an amazing thing, Mr. Buckingham. This fake bullet could actually kill you if your brain believes my illusion well enough. Are you willing to take that chance?"

Jesus, God, what was Billy's thing with threatening Buckingham's life? Iris wasn't going to pull the trigger. She didn't care what Billy said.

"Give Iris the key to the handcuffs," said Billy.

Buckingham fumbled in his pockets and came up with they key. His hand trembled as he gave it to Iris. Iris used her free hand to unlock the side that held the gun, then she switched the gun to the opposite hand and repeated the process.

"Iris, handcuff Mr. Buckingham," said Billy.

Iris did. They put Buckingham in the back seat, and then Iris unlocked Billy's handcuffs. They used those to handcuff Buckingham to the door handle.

Iris and Billy got in up front. Billy drove.

"Where the fuck are we?" said Billy.

"Mr. Buckingham?" prompted Iris, peering into the backseat.

Buckingham's eyes grew wide. "I don't know. Honestly."

Iris realized she was pointing the gun at him. She shot Billy a glance, and the thing disintegrated in her hand.

She turned back around in the seat. "He doesn't know where we are."

Billy and Iris argued about directions. Billy said that her not knowing which way was west was just like a woman. She was livid.

"The two of you really are dating?" Buckingham asked from the backseat.

"No," said Iris and Billy together.

"Good," said Buckingham, "because that really wouldn't have made any sense."

"Why not?" said Iris.

"Don't talk to him," said Billy.

"Shut up," said Iris. To Buckingham: "Why not?"

"Because I can't see why any woman would help her boyfriend break his ex-fianc� out of jail," said Buckingham.

"I didn't help," said Iris.

"Iris, Jesus," said Billy. "Pretend he's not there."

Not only was Billy insulting her sense of direction, but also he was ordering her around like a child. She gazed at him witheringly, but he was driving, so he couldn't tell. "What the hell does it matter?" she asked. "He's our prisoner. He's gonna figure it all out sooner or later."

"He will if you keep talking to him."

"What I don't understand," said Buckingham, "is what you are doing here, Miss Tanner. I had thought it was your magic that camouflaged Schmerfeld's escape. But now I see that Jordan was quite capable of that on his own. What did he want you for?"

"Moral support," said Iris. "That's what he told me, anyway. He didn't mention he was going to break her out of jail."

"Iris," said Billy.

"What? He's going to know that your little story was lie when we go get Jaq."

"Who said anything about going to get Jaq?"

"Well, we can't just leave her there."

chapter fourteen >>

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