Detective Inspector Mordan leaned back in his chair and frowned at the tidy stack of paper before him. The Lacey investigation had grown into a distinctly untidy mass of accusations, counter-accusations, and contradictory evidence, punctuated by a thorough lack of respect for the laws against murder and littering. The problem with humanity, Mordan had long ago decided, was its lack of respect for law. The world would be a far more orderly place if people stopped putting personal concerns ahead of duty and justice.
Quick footsteps crossed the hall outside. Mordan straightened, aware of dawn’s grey light seeping through his window. Good news rarely arrived so early.
“Sir.” A stout-boned woman halted in the doorway. She tucked her helmet under one arm, her blue tunic rain-spotted in the gaslights’ glow. Mordan gave her the nod to speak. “I’m Constable Kerr, sir, from Isleton Street. Commander Brant sent for you. We’ve a body in Safton Circle.”
Mordan let his eyes narrow. Safton Circle lay halfway across the city, and the local patrols were quite capable of handling fresh corpses. Indeed, in that section of the capital, it was an unusual morning when they failed to encounter any. There were only two sorts for which they would summon Mordan.
“Do you have a dead wizard,” he said, “or someone killed by a wizard?”
The constable’s upper lip twitched, wanting to curl, but her voice remained even. “A wizard, sir. The commander thinks he’s from Clan VanMere. Shot to death, so far as we can tell, sometime last night.”
Mordan rose and lifted his leather case of tools from its shelf. VanMere? Interesting. Usually they were more courteous than to end their disputes in the public squares. Cavenaugh would have scathing things to say. If internal Clan politics had led to the death, though, at least Mordan’s unofficial partner would be a reliable source of information on them.
“Has anyone summoned VanMere Richard Cavenaugh?” Mordan asked.
Constable Kerr shifted her weight back, not quite bracing herself. “It’s his gun they found at the scene, sir.”
Mordan stiffened, sharp questions caught on his breath. The constable stared at the oak paneling behind him.
“Commander Brant says the dead man looks to be someone else, sir, and there’s a gun in his own holster, but no one can be sure of anything and they want you to look it over as soon as possible.” She cleared her throat. “There’s a hansom cab waiting, sir.”
Mordan snatched up his hat and strode past the constable with a haste just shy of indecent.
Mordan ducked under the ropes strung across the street. The constables guarding them gave him harassed nods; the traffic around Safton Circle was both snarled and snarling, as trapped wagoneers expressed their opinion of the route closure. Mordan regretted the necessity, but they dared not open the area until it had been cleansed of magic. Though wizards infected others primarily through sexual contact, objects might be contaminated by simple exposure.
Especially to something like, say, a wizard’s spattered lifeblood.
Mordan tightened his jaw and scanned Safton Circle. He spotted Commander Brant, a man whose figure bore unmistakeable resemblance to a wine barrel, flanked by two others in dark police coats. They stood beside one of the narrow brick buildings that ringed Safton Circle. Those had been old and fine houses, a century ago; now smoke from the nearby factories stained their walls, and they served as shabby but sturdy warehouses. The area must be deserted at night, Mordan judged, which rendered it convenient for any number of illegal activities.
He crossed the cobbles toward Brant, soot crunching underfoot. Also from the factories, Mordan was inclined to suspect. VanMere magic rarely involved fire or its side effects.
“Detective Inspector,” Brant said as soon as Mordan entered earshot. “Welcome. I had officers go about, but no witnesses made themselves known. All evidence of the crime seems confined to the immediate area.”
Brant saw no point to idle chatter, one of the qualities Mordan appreciated about the man.
“I thought you’d want to see this first,” Brant added, and extended a hand. Over his palm stretched a linen handkerchief, and atop it lay an ivory-handled pistol.
Mordan leaned closer, not touching it. Likely enough people had already handled it to destroy any useful residue, but he need not add to the mix. “This was found near the body?”
“Two strides away.” Brant’s voice slowed. “I recognized VanMere Cavenaugh’s sigil from the Lastninth Bridge case you and he worked, do you recall?”
“Quite.” Four years ago, Mordan noted; Brant’s memory matched his sharp eye. Mordan studied the sigil inked into the pistol’s hilt. The crossed knife and half-mask marked every VanMere enforcer, but only one ringed them with V.M.R.C. in flourishing copperplate style.
Mordan straightened. “And the corpse in question?”
Brant led him around the building’s corner. A streetlamp burned there, not yet extinguished, and beside it a man’s shape lay curled. The cobbles around him sparkled silver with broken glass.
Mordan caught himself trying to make out the wizard’s face. He scowled; appearance was guarantor of nothing, among VanMere, and he ought to focus on the task at hand.
He pulled out a notebook and recorded observations of the scene. The constables who’d discovered the body had scuffed trails through the glass, destroying any hint of its original pattern. They had, fortunately, failed to step into the pooled blood; Mordan disliked having to confiscate boots for burning. He might need to anyway, though, depending on the glass shards’ nature.
Mordan pulled on his boot covers, canvas sheathes dipped in seawater and dried, then picked his way forward. The broken glass neither whispered nor slithered after his feet: a good sign. He crouched beside the dead wizard.
The man lay sideways, his face turned to the grey sky. Half that face was blood and ruin; the other half showed sharp, bony features. Curls of blond hair strayed over his remaining temple. Mordan inhaled and drew a vial of salt from his pocket.
He sprinkled a pinch over the wizard’s face, watching for the shimmer of a disturbed illusion, a shift of mis-reflected light.
A second pinch of salt followed the first. The wizard’s cheeks did not broaden; his hair did not darken to gold-brown. The crossed leaf and half-mask on his coat lapels did not alter to knife and half-mask.
Mordan pressed his elbows to his knees, head bowed. It was not Cavenaugh, lying here dead in the drizzle.
He capped the vial of salt, his knuckles only a little white, and in his notebook carefully wrote unknown wizard of Clan VanMere. The metallic scent of blood and rain weighted the air.
Given that Cavenaugh was alive, or at least that his corpse was not presently decorating Mordan’s crime scene, the question grew more pressing: why was his pistol here?
“Please send a messenger for VanMere Cavenaugh, if you would,” Mordan said over his shoulder. Brant, watching from the corner, nodded and stepped away.
Mordan donned his gloves, cotton stiff with seawater, before touching the dead wizard. His predecessor had neglected such niceties, which resulted in a remarkable demise involving suffocation by shadow. Mordan turned the stiff corpse onto its back and began going through its pockets.
Those revealed nothing of interest, only the usual supplies a VanMere might carry–coins, twigs, scraps of silk. Mordan logged them in his notebook. The wizard’s hands were covered in small cuts, damage consistent with a mirror-based defensive spell. His pistol contained the full six rounds; no blood smeared its oak handle. He’d had no time to draw it after his spell’s destruction, or had been otherwise constrained from doing so. If he knew his killer, perhaps he’d expected a chance to plead for his life.
“There’s a bloody lot of traffic out there,” a deep voice said. “I ought to have known you were responsible, Mordan.”
Mordan packed up his tools and stood. “Cavenaugh.” The tall enforcer ambled toward him, flanked by a pair of Brant’s constables. “I apologize for summoning you from your bed, Richard.”
Cavenaugh slowed, brows drawing in. They never called one another by given name, which–Mordan tracked the comprehension in Cavenaugh’s face–made it a test of identity.
“Well,” the wizard said. “Among VanMere, as you say, appearance is guarantor of nothing. Good morning, Mordan.”
Mordan released a breath. An imposter might have replied with Mordan’s first name, Mordecai, or let the remark pass unchallenged; few but the true Cavenaugh would navigate the exchange correctly. Even Brant, head bent as he lit a cigarette, frowned at his matches in puzzlement.
“Welcome,” Mordan said. “Would you care to identify your comrade?”
Cavenaugh stepped to Mordan’s side, leather duster swinging, and studied the tableau of blood and glass.
“Cyril Gillivray,” he said. “Someone finally shot him, then. Can’t say I’ll weep over it.”
Behind the wizard Brant lifted his head, eyes narrowed, and exhaled a drift of smoke.
Mordan kept his expression neutral. “He was your enemy?”
Cavenaugh shrugged. “Mine and half the Clan’s. I’d not be surprised if he earned enemies in every other Clan, too. Cyril had a knack that way.”
“Do you know his business here last night?”
“No.” Cavenaugh frowned at the body. “His patron was Charles Gillivray. That one might have a notion.”
“And where were you last night?” Mordan asked.
Cavenaugh slid the frown sidelong to him. “On private Clan business.”
“Really,” Mordan said. “Would that Clan business explain why we found your pistol beside VanMere Cyril Gillivray’s body?”
Cavenaugh stared, an instant of blank stillness, before alarm jolted his expression. His hands dropped to the gunbelt slung around his hips. When both palms found ivory hilts, he blinked and scowled. “Beg pardon?”
Brant stepped forward, his prize displayed in one outstretched hand. Mordan darkly suspected the commander of latent theatrical tendencies. He restrained a glower, while Cavenaugh squinted at the pistol bearing his sigil.
“Look at the fang scars there,” the wizard said at last. “I know this gun. I lost it years ago.” His frown deepened; he glanced once at the dead man, and his eyes narrowed further. “I lost it up north, before you ask. A pack of us were hunting a rogue. I don’t know who got hold of the gun afterward.”
Mordan stared at him in silence. Cavenaugh tried to match the gaze, but after a moment tilted his face away. Mordan took icy satisfaction that it at least discomfited Cavenaugh to lie to him.
“You might have lost that gun,” he said, “but Cyril Gillivray will wake up and demand tea before I believe you suspect nothing about its path here.”
Cavenaugh pressed his lips thin. “I didn’t shoot Gillivray.”
“No,” Mordan said. “You simply identify the dead man as your enemy, acknowledge the gun as your own, and give your whereabouts last night as ‘on private Clan business.'”
Cavenaugh glared. “Private is private, Mordan. I didn’t shoot Gillivray.”
“And procedure is procedure,” Mordan snapped. With effort he moderated his tone. “I have no choice but to order you taken to the central station house. Commander Brant, please send to Clan VanZharsa for a pair of wizards to escort VanMere Cavenaugh.” Brant outranked him, Mordan remembered, and added, “If you would.”
Brant gave him a dry smile. “And the body?”
“The VanZharsa can also escort it.” VanDrake’s hall was closer, but that Clan needed no encouragement to involve itself in smaller Clans’ affairs. They were the most effective at decontamination, however, given their preference for fire. Mordan surveyed the darkening sky. He’d face a larger mess if rain washed so much wizard blood into the sewers. “Once the scene is cleared, request aid from VanDrake in cleansing it.”
Brant nodded. “You’re departing?”
Cavenaugh, sunk in angry silence, looked over at that. Mordan lifted his leather case of tools. “I go to Clan VanMere’s headquarters,” he said coolly. “Someone must give Charles Gillivray news of his subordinate’s death.”
The Clan hall, formally Glamourglass Court, lay in a neighborhood lined with ancient trees. Cavenaugh maintained that they were ordinary trees; Mordan distrusted any greenery so unnatural as to thrive in the city air.
“Detective Inspector Mordan to speak with VanMere Charles Gillivray,” he told the door guard, an enforcer with Cavenaugh’s height and pale eyes. She waved him into the entry hall. A boy of perhaps ten waited there, equally pale-eyed. Clan VanMere was notorious for drawing its apprentices only from a certain nest of bloodlines. As Mordan understood, the associated families gave their firstborn to be wizards the way others might send a second son to sea, or a third son to the Church. Other Clans mostly drew apprentices from among the street children, those desperate enough to risk magic’s infection and young enough to usually survive.
At the enforcer’s word, the apprentice darted off. He returned shortly and led Mordan to an office of polished wood and marble.
Mordan scanned the room before he crossed its threshold. A man in shirt and waistcoat stood behind the desk; a woman sat in the window alcove, her lap spread with strips of leather. Grey hair marked the man’s temples and lines marked his hands, a multitude of thin scars that matched Cyril Gillivray’s wounds. This VanMere had survived his fights, however.
Mordan stepped forward. “Charles Gillivray?”
“I am,” the man said, and nodded to his companion. “My wife, Sabine Fairfield.”
Mordan removed his hat politely. The woman smiled at him and returned to her tangle of leather–a horse’s bridle, Mordan realized, that she was knotting with rook’s feathers and iron nails. A spell to prevent a rider from going astray, he would guess, although there were less innocuous possibilities.
“Mr. Gillivray,” Mordan said. “You are Cyril Gillivray’s patron?”
Charles Gillivray inclined his head. “I am.”
“I am sorry to inform you that we found him dead this morning,” Mordan said.
Sabine barely glanced up, wisps of golden hair falling about her face. Charles frowned at the air. “Found Cyril dead?” he said eventually. “Found him killed, I presume you mean. He would hardly permit it otherwise.”
“The matter is under investigation,” Mordan said. “What might–”
“Is this why Richard Cavenaugh was called out earlier?” Gillivray said.
Mordan restrained a disapproving stare. Police ought to be the questioners, not the questioned. “VanMere Cavenaugh is assisting us, yes. Which of Cyril’s enemies would you consider most likely to kill him?”
Charles tapped the desk edge, then cast a contemplative look at his wife.
Sabine spat a ribbon into her palm. “It was none of my people.”
Charles shrugged, a cat’s irritated twitch of motion–there, at last, the anger of a Clan lord with a dead subordinate and thus a provocation to his power. He returned his gaze to Mordan. “In that case, Inspector, I advise you to ask Cavenaugh. He and Cyril had a shouting match halfway to knives the other day.”
“In the front hall,” Sabine said, frowning at a cheekpiece. “Eminently tasteless. Though if Richard Cavenaugh chose to commit murder, I’d expect a crime too clever to be identified as such.”
Mordan, caught between offense and agreement, occupied his hands pulling out a notebook. A fight between Cyril and Cavenaugh–an unwelcome fact, if true. Did Gillivray know about Cavenaugh’s gun at the scene? Perhaps he had ordered his own subordinate’s death and was using it to incriminate an enemy enforcer.
It was a comforting theory, which meant it was most likely false.
“What did they fight about?” Mordan said.
“Clan business.” Charles narrowed his eyes. “As is this entire matter, Inspector. We apologize for the inconvenience to which you’ve been put. The Clan will deal with this issue further.”
“Convenience is irrelevant to pursuit of the law,” Mordan said sharply. “Despite your opinion, Mr. Gillivray, wizard Clans are in fact subject to the legal code. This matter will be fully investigated and the appropriate actions taken.”
“You may certainly attempt to do so.” Charles Gillivray consulted a pocket watch on a plain silver chain. “I wish you good day, Inspector.”
There were many responses Mordan might have made, and several he was tempted to. Instead he bid the pair a polite farewell–Sabine looked up from her spellwork long enough to nod in return–and made his way out to the central staircase.
Another wizard leaned against the banister. Mordan slowed warily. The man watched the coin he was flipping, a piece that flashed gold. He caught it in his palm, displayed a bronze penny, and slid it into his coat.
“So,” he said. “I hear Cyril Gillivray is dead.”
“Thomas Cavenaugh.” Mordan halted, appreciative: the Cavenaugh faction head had recalled the signal to prove his identity. “You are informed correctly. I was about to send for you.”
The wizard slanted a glance at Mordan, any expression hidden by a face as weather-creased as a sailor’s. “Oh?”
“What did Richard Cavenaugh and Cyril Gillivray argue about the other day?”
“Clan business,” Thomas said.
There had been a fight, then. “What was the nature of that business?”
Thomas sighed and folded his arms. “The Gillivrays are involved in the sort of enterprises that earn our Clan an unsavory name, Inspector. If you want further detail than that”–malice touched his voice–“isn’t your own Cavenaugh answering?”
The VanMere facility with appearance lent itself to illegal yet lucrative activities, for those so inclined: smuggling, sabotage, untraceable assassination. Mordan considered it in grim silence. Richard Cavenaugh felt strongly enough about magical wrongdoing to consistently aid officers of the law, despite his allies’ disapproval and every wizard Clan’s opinion on siding with outsiders. Now a man deeply involved in such crimes was dead after a personal clash with him.
“A last item.” Mordan kept his voice neutral. “Where was Richard last night?”
Thomas Cavenaugh, old VanMere, paused hardly a moment before giving Mordan a pleasant smile. “A fair question. I’ll ask around, Inspector.”
The rawest constable could translate that: Cavenaugh’s own kin didn’t know if he’d shot Cyril Gillivray, but by sunset there’d be five wizards willing to swear to his innocent whereabouts.
Mordan made a rather chilly farewell and went back to the station house.
Cavenaugh’s guard was a lean woman as dark as the VanMere were fair. The two-headed firebird of VanZharsa emblazoned her black coat, its scarlet vivid against the cell block’s grey stone.
“Your partner?” Mordan asked.
“Helping examine the corpse,” she said dispassionately, and unbolted the cell door.
Cavenaugh sat at a scarred wooden table, arms folded. They’d confiscated his coat and weapons, but had not inflicted the indignity of manacles. Mordan crossed to the chair facing him and sat.
“Where were you last night?”
Cavenaugh gazed past him. “On Clan business.”
Another lie, Mordan now knew. He drew out his notebook and laid it on the table, and aligned their edges with stricter care than necessary. “I spoke with Thomas.” His voice came out almost even. “Clan business of which your own faction-head is unaware, Cavenaugh?”
The enforcer glanced at him and away, a flick of guilty apology. “My whereabouts have nothing to do with your murder investigation, Mordan. I swear it.”
Cavenaugh had already lied to him at least twice, Mordan did not point out. “According to others, you recently had a notable fight with Cyril Gillivray.”
Cavenaugh scowled. “That. Yes. I’d almost gathered sufficient testimony to have him up on charges before the Clan. Then I lost my witnesses.”
“Lost?” Mordan said, lifting his head sharply.
“Cyril did nothing physically or magically to them.” Cavenaugh narrowed his eyes. “But all mysteriously decided they had been mistaken about crucial events.”
Mordan grimaced in commiseration, before he remembered he was still angry with Cavenaugh. “That instigated the fight?”
“The fight, yes. But I didn’t shoot the man.” Cavenaugh glowered at the air, or perhaps the memory of Gillivray. “A lot of people would’ve liked to. Cyril was ambitious enough even Charles Gillivray might have seen the advantage.”
“An easy explanation,” Mordan agreed. One that did nothing to account for Cavenaugh’s reticence about his whereabouts. He tapped his pencil on the page, staccato irritation. “You suspect something about your gun’s path there. Who had it?”
“I don’t know,” Cavenaugh said, and at Mordan’s glare shook his head. “I don’t. There were six of us up north, when I lost it, and most answered to different kin-heads. My pistol could have made its way to any of them.” He folded his arms tighter. “I can’t tell if this incident was specific or general–if it was intended toward me, or if my gun and the argument with Cyril merely provided a convenient means to stir trouble between the Cavenaughs and Gillivrays.”
“Hm.” Mordan scrutinized his partner. “Who would gain from that?”
Cavenaugh frowned. “Charles Gillivray, possibly. In the Clan’s eyes he’d have the right to retaliate.”
And likely not by a legal method. Mordan sniffed and noted the reply, then listed the other VanMere Clan heads. “What about Thomas Cavenaugh?”
“Picking a fight against himself?” Cavenaugh squinted. “If he wanted to provoke a war with Charles Gillivray, I can think of more useful attacks.”
Mordan consulted his list. “Charles Gillivray, Thomas Cavenaugh. What of Sabine Fairfield? Would she gain from conflict?”
Cavenaugh’s brows twitched. “Maybe so,” he said, after a moment. He shrugged and uncrossed his arms. “Maybe so.”
Mordan, mouth already open to ask about Robert Kelling, another VanMere power, halted his question. That easing of Cavenaugh’s posture, the defensive stance unfolded, seemed more relief than should greet merely a new line of inquiry.
“Sabine,” Mordan said again, more slowly.
The skin around Cavenaugh’s eyes tightened. He’d wanted her passed over, included among the guilty–and why should he be glad she was suspected, unless it prevented suspicion of something else. Mordan considered Sabine Fairfield’s bright gaze and elegant hands, and reasons Cavenaugh might hide his whereabouts of a night.
“Really, Cavenaugh,” he said. “Another man’s wife?”
Cavenaugh set his jaw. Mordan sighed. He enforced temporal law, not spiritual, but there were standards of decency.
He tapped his notebook. “You may as well speak. I’ll have the facts out eventually.”
Cavenaugh glared at Mordan, the wall, the profile of the VanZharsa wizard. Voices filtered from the cell block down the hall. “I confess,” he said.
Mordan stared. “I beg your pardon?”
Cavenaugh folded his arms. “Cyril and I argued over private Clan matters. We decided to settle it with an unregistered duel. I won.”
Mordan continued to stare, disbelief pinning his voice. Cavenaugh not only lied to Mordan, he now sought to mislead justice itself? A false confession was an affront to all, a betrayal of truth that worked to divert the law’s rightful course. It protected the guilty; it punished the innocent. It contravened every principle under which he and Cavenaugh served.
“Write it down, Mordan.” Cavenaugh stared past him, jaw tense. “Please.”
“I will not participate in your willful perversion of this inquiry.” Mordan gripped his pencil. “What possible reason–”
Cavenaugh canted forward, chair scraping, fast enough to draw a warning hiss from the VanZharsa. He pressed his palms flat to the table. “Mordan, the Clan cannot learn that Sabine and a Cavenaugh enforcer were consorting.”
Over petty deceits, he betrayed the law. “Why?” Mordan said bitterly. “You fear for Sabine’s reputation?”
Cavenaugh glared at the wall. “The Cavenaughs and the Fairfields are blood enemies, Mordan. As soon as they discover this, our kin will start killing each other over the dishonor.”
“How splendidly barbaric.”
Cavenaugh shrugged, a tight jerk of his shoulders. “The feud’s a century old. Someone broke a deal, someone else got shot, and the retaliation involved an associated-family’s massacre. VanMere don’t forgive that. There’s been plenty of blood since.”
Mordan gave him a withering look. Under such circumstances, his and Sabine’s decision constituted a remarkable piece of folly. Mordan could not bring himself to comment on Cavenaugh’s choices, much less his moral integrity, and so only said, “This has nothing to do with Cyril Gillivray. Once I establish the gun was out of your possession–”
“How, Mordan?” Cavenaugh clenched his fists on the table. “You may seek evidence, but any discussion of the scene elicits the very question I dare not answer.” He looked away, voice low. “I cannot risk my cousins over this.”
“And so you ask me to abandon the truth,” Mordan said, “and accept a confession I know for false?”
“Yes,” Cavenaugh said.
Mordan stared at him, words strangling in his throat. “A man is dead,” he managed at last. “His murder deserves an honest and impartial inquiry, the same as any other. The law requires no less.”
Cavenaugh shook his head, shoulders an unhappy hunch, but kept his silence.
“The law is the law.” Mordan rose, his spine so stiff it ached. “My investigation proceeds as it must.”
Cavenaugh watched the wall. Mordan gathered his notebook and dignity, straightened his coat, and crossed to the cell door. The VanZharsa extended her hand.
Mordan offered his own. She pricked his fingertip with a silver needle, her face professionally distant, and tapped the drop of blood into her palm. The blood ignited, a candle’s brief flame. Whatever secrets of identity it revealed to the wizard remained obscure to Mordan, but she nodded and stepped aside.
Mordan tipped his hat and went to see what knowledge her partner had gleaned from the corpse.
“Not much, I’m afraid.” The other VanZharsa rubbed his chin and frowned at Cyril Gillivray’s body. It lay seemingly untouched on the stone slab, though the cellar reeked of cinnamon and burnt feathers. “I can tell you someone intended that outcome, though. There was salt all over the man.”
Mordan tensed. “I sprinkled a little on his face, to ascertain his identity.” Had he destroyed his own evidence?
The VanZharsa tapped callused fingers on the slab. “Unless you flung a double handful over the corpse, the damage was already present. Rain touched it all as well. I could hardly tell the dead man cast the mirror-spell, much less who broke it.”
Mordan scowled at the ivory-handled pistol beside Gillivray’s body. “What of the gun?”
The VanZharsa grimaced. “Too much rainwater and handling destroyed any hint of its wielder. It was indisputably used to kill this wizard, though. There was a strong taste-correspondence between it and the bullet I called from his skull.”
Against the far wall, the coroner’s deputy shifted and looked slightly pale around the lips. Mordan cast a grim look at Cavenaugh’s gun. So ended the hope that it had simply been planted at the scene, not used in the crime.
“I thank you for your assistance,” Mordan told the VanZharsa. “Please write up your tests and findings in a thorough report, then dispatch the corpse to Clan VanDrake for burning.” He turned toward the stairwell. “And I expect a receipt for its arrival there,” he added.
The wizard gave a faint, regretful sigh. Trafficking and use of wizard body parts was strictly illegal, but no VanZharsa would voluntarily let such a trove pass from his hands.
Mordan returned to the upper hall, pondering his options in frustration. Perhaps he could determine the wizards present on that long-ago mission, and thereby trace their patrons–
A man with a soldier’s bearing stepped from the side passage. Mordan glimpsed silver shoulder insignia, an instant of warning, and smoothed his expression.
“Detective Inspector,” said Lord Pryor, high commander of the watch and Mordan’s immediate superior. “Just the man I hoped to find. I am informed that you have a dead wizard in the cellar, and not one but three live wizards wandering my station house.”
“Sir,” Mordan said. “Technically one of those wizards is confined.”
“Any damages are coming out of your department budget, Inspector.”
“Of course, sir.”
Pryor tamped down the tobacco in his pipe, then gave Mordan a flat stare. “I want this resolved as soon as possible.”
“Sir.” Mordan swallowed and stared back. Pryor would take acute interest in Cavenaugh’s confession, should he learn of it. “My inquiries are proceeding, sir.”
Pryor’s clerk approached and murmured in his ear. The commander grunted. “A correction, Inspector. It seems there are now four live wizards in my station house.”
Mordan tensed. “Sir?”
“One is visiting your prisoner, it seems. Gave the name of Thomas Cavenaugh.” Pryor stepped aside. “Do carry on, Inspector.”
Mordan hastened down to Cavenaugh’s cell. The two VanMere stood within it, facing each other stiff as angry cats, while the VanZharsa looked on. Mordan slowed, his pulse still fast.
“–a fool, Richard,” Thomas Cavenaugh said, before he spotted Mordan and fell silent. He turned a last glare on his kinsman and stalked out, halting just long enough to let the VanZharsa burn a drop of blood.
The VanZharsa watched him go, then waved Mordan into the cell. Richard Cavenaugh leaned against its stone wall and folded his arms.
Mordan resisted the urge to fold his own. “Thomas doesn’t approve of your plan to enjoy Westmoor Prison?”
Cavenaugh’s jaw worked. “Seven years isn’t so long.”
“That is irrelevant,” Mordan said sharply. “It does not matter whether you are sentenced for illegal dueling or executed for murder. You did not commit the killing in question, and so punishment is unjust.”
Cavenaugh blinked, his scowl losing definition. He eyed Mordan sidelong. “It doesn’t matter whether I’m executed?”
“If you committed murder, I would escort you to the gallows myself,” Mordan snapped. “And if I committed murder, I hope you would do the same.”
Cavenaugh smiled. “Fair enough.” The smile faded, and he bent his head. After a long breath he said, “Thomas and the others would provide an alibi. So long as I told them my true whereabouts last night.”
And thus caused the very outcome he feared. Mordan considered him, tight-lipped. Cavenaugh was stubborn as a bulldog, he well knew. Even if Mordan turned up evidence indicating the actual killer, Cavenaugh would maintain his confession to safeguard his kin. What jury could be asked to disregard a man who claimed guilt and convict one who claimed innocence? Mordan needed to debunk Cavenaugh’s story entirely.
There was, he realized, a wizard quite capable of doing so.
Mordan crossed to the cell door, not looking at Cavenaugh. “If you will not remove yourself, there remains one person who may.” The VanZharsa pricked his finger and performed her test.
“Mordan?” Cavenaugh said warily.
Mordan stepped past the VanZharsa, then forced himself to look back. “Perhaps Sabine Fairfield will care to render assistance.”
Cavenaugh shoved away from the wall, eyes wide. “Mordan, don’t!” The cell door slammed shut, a harsh clang as Mordan turned away, and Cavenaugh’s voice mingled with the echoes. “Mordan. Mordan!”
Mordan set his jaw and strode onward.
The halls of Glamourglass Court remained tranquil, even at midday. An apprentice fetched Mordan upstairs to a door painted pale green.
VanMere Sabine Fairfield answered it at the first knock. Or at least, Mordan corrected, someone wearing her face and blue walking dress did. “Good day, Inspector. May I ask your purpose?”
He removed his hat. “Merely some further questions on the death of Cyril Gillivray, Mistress Fairfield.”
She tilted her head, unsmiling. “I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time. As you heard this morning, I know nothing about the matter.”
Mordan held her gaze. “I find that unlikely, given your associates.”
Only the true Sabine would know he referred to Cavenaugh, not the Gillivrays. She regarded him a long moment, then opened the door wide.
Mordan concealed relief. The first hedge cleared: he’d had no promise she would not claim Clan business and leave Cavenaugh to his own fate.
He stepped past Sabine into her office, or perhaps workroom, given the assortment of objects on shelves. She latched the door and gestured him to the room’s center.
Mordan obeyed, matching her silence. She lifted an item from her desk–a scarlet object that appeared variously a knife, a stone, and a cord–and circled the chamber once. Upon completing the circuit, she turned the mirror above her desk so its glass faced the wall.
Sabine tucked the red item, now a feather, into her chignon. “Speak freely, Inspector.”
Mordan folded his hands behind his back, throat dry. He might speak freely, but if he spoke wrongly he would never gain her cooperation. “An old gun of Richard Cavenaugh’s was used to kill Cyril Gillivray,” he said. “Under questioning, Cavenaugh confessed to an unlawful duel rather than reveal he spent the time with you.”
Sabine’s face remained still. “I see.”
“I do not know what attachment lies between you and Cavenaugh,” Mordan said carefully, “but–”
Sabine turned such a venomous stare on him that he froze, afraid she would order him out. “What is your request, Inspector?”
“I have no evidence to disprove Cavenaugh’s claim.” Mordan realized he was clutching his hat brim, and forced his fingers to loosen before he crushed it. “Another wizard murdered Gillivray, Mistress Fairfield, but as it stands Cavenaugh will absorb the guilt. Illegal dueling earns seven years in prison.”
Sabine studied him, her lips thin. Considering seven years, Mordan hoped, spent far away and cold.
“That is not a request,” she said.
“I ask you to offer your own statement,” Mordan said. “You know Cavenaugh did not kill Cyril Gillivray. Who did?”
She puffed air through her nostrils, a faint scornful snort. “My wager would be Robert Kelling. He’s ambitious, and he would gain from tension between the Gillivrays and Cavenaughs.” Her gaze sharpened. “But I have no evidence, Inspector. My statement could not help trap the guilty.”
“No,” Mordan said, and swallowed. “But it could free an innocent man.” He gripped his hat tighter. “Cavenaugh told me of the blood feud. I understand what you risk, Mistress Fairfield, and I do not discount it.” Cousins that were close as siblings, parents, children: the nearest family a wizard ever had. Their actions were their own, but Cavenaugh would never forgive him the bloodshed. “I still ask you to speak the truth.”
Sabine turned her face aside. She did not dismiss him, however, and long moments slid past. Serpent hope stirred in Mordan’s chest. Sabine cast him a sidelong glance, once, twice, before she lifted her chin in sudden decision.
“This choice is not mine only.” She turned a clear-eyed stare on Mordan. “Richard has spoken of you, Inspector. Tell me: what does he wish?”
Mordan went still. Cavenaugh wished none of this; Mordan remembered the shouts after him, the desperate cry. That mattered nothing to justice. He ought to tell Sabine that Cavenaugh wished freedom, that he required only Sabine’s permission and aid. It was not illegal for police to lie to civilians.
Sabine would speak, if Mordan pressed her. He ought to do so, in pursuit of the law; he ought to leave Glamourglass Court with her statement written and signed and irrevocable. It would serve justice. It would destroy Cavenaugh’s wrongful sacrifice.
Sabine watched him, her gaze steady with expectation of truth. Richard has spoken of you, she had said. She expected truth only due to Cavenaugh’s reflected faith in Mordan.
He ought to lie to her.
“Cavenaugh stands by his confession,” Mordan said, and looked away.
Sabine drew a swift breath. She sat on her desk edge, a rustle of skirts, and stared downward. Seven years, her tight-clasped hands said; when she lifted her head she wore a smile that was almost steady. “Thank you, Inspector. Unfortunately I am afraid I can be of no help to you.”
“I had thought not.” Mordan’s voice scraped at the edges; he coughed it clear and donned his hat. “Good day, Mistress Fairfield.”
Cavenaugh sat alone in his cell, head leaned against hands. He straightened warily as Mordan approached.
Mordan halted across the table. He met Cavenaugh’s waiting gaze, but could summon neither glare nor smile. “Sabine will not gainsay you.”
Cavenaugh shut his eyes an instant, then slid over a pen and sheet of parchment. “It’s all written. You need only sign and the case will be sent to the court.”
Mordan stared bitterly at the confession, at the tidy lies in beautiful copperplate hand. So simple, to certify their truth and finish sundering every oath he held. He took up the pen.
“Thank you,” Cavenaugh said softly.
Mordan signed the sheet and went to file it with the magistrate.
The next morning, when Mordan was certain Cavenaugh had been safely ensconced on a train to the moors, he went to Pryor’s office.
“Sir.” He laid his badge on the desk. “I must offer my resignation.”
Pryor gave the badge a quizzical look, as if it might wish to explain; when the object remained mute he turned his gaze on Mordan. “Inspector?”
“I wrote a full report, sir.” He offered the sheaf of paper. Pryor took it, but continued watching expectantly. Mordan cleared his throat, cheeks cold with shame, and launched into a complete account of the Gillivray investigation.
“In conclusion, sir, I have broken the oaths I swore to uphold the law. I have engaged in unethical and illegal conduct, betrayed my duty to seek justice, and disgraced the profession in which I serve.” Mordan inhaled. “I must step down from my post.”
Pryor leaned back, surrounded by pipe smoke, and studied Mordan through the haze.
“No,” he said.
Mordan stared. “What?”
“I refuse to accept your resignation,” Pryor said. “You’re the only wizard hunter we have, Mordan. I don’t care to draft an unwilling replacement.”
Mordan drew himself up. “I actively connived against law and order,” he said stiffly. “In point of fact, I should be arrested for assistance to perjury and intentionally certifying false documents.”
Pryor inspected his pipe bowl. “A wizard killed someone, and a wizard went to prison for it. It’s close enough to even, isn’t it?”
“It is not.” Mordan choked on outrage that anyone, much less a senior officer, could make such a statement. “The rule of law requires its honest application to every citizen, regardless of station or status. To act otherwise is a mockery of the very concept we serve, and”–in for a penny, in for a pound; he glared coldly at Pryor–“I find it both shameful and dishonorable that you would suggest so.”
“And that is why you’re keeping your job, Inspector.” Pryor lifted the report. “I will place this in your file, along with a reprimand so severe it will blister the eyes of anyone reading it. Now.” He leaned his elbows on the desk. “This Robert Kelling. You believe he had your victim murdered?”
Mordan blinked. “I have no case beyond hearsay and logic. Sir, my resignation–”
“Is irrelevant,” Pryor said. “With that reprimand you’ll never rise above your current rank, which is precisely where you do the most good. Consider it your sentence.” He puffed on his pipe. “If Robert Kelling is having fellow wizards shot in the street, he’s up to other things. I want a thorough report on his associates and activities, criminal and otherwise, and I want it as soon as possible.”
Mordan looked at his badge, feeling adrift. He had failed his duty; the cleanest answer was to surrender it. “Sir–”
“Investigating is your job, Mordan.” Pryor took another puff. “Get out of my office and go do it.”
Mordan looked again at the badge, sturdy polished brass. He had failed his duty once; would he also abandon it?
“Sir,” said Detective Inspector Mordan, and tucked his badge safely into his coat before he went.