Over a Barrel: Part 2

(First visit? Stop by the archives. The story begins with The Huntsmen.)

By this point I had learned my lesson. I finished my beer and left shortly after she did. Drinking myself into a blind stupor had its appeal, but I was going to have to be sharp the next morning.

I hate rush jobs, but then again, I hated everything about this one, so what was one more detail?

The good news is that there’s an upside to a daylight break-in, especially in a building with more than one flat. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? But look, here’s the thing. To get caught doing something you’re not supposed to be three things have to happen: someone has to see you, someone has to know what you’re up to, and someone has to care enough to do something about it. If you’re jimmying someone’s door at two in the morning, you’re less likely to be seen but anyone who does see you knows you’re up to know good and is more likely to act on that knowledge.

People aren’t as watchful by broad daylight. Add in the fact that most mages tend to choose living quarters with very unobservant neighbors and Emma was right: this was likely to be easy. I had to wear my street clothes, which was a bit odd but would aid the camouflage. Plus, there is something mildly entertaining about picking a lock in a silk waistcoat. It’s like seducing a bridesmaid: half the fun of the thing is the incongruity of it.

Ahem. Not that I’d do such a thing.

Because it was a mage’s flat, I did take the precaution of lining my boots with powdered marsh reed. (It’s because of Hermes, right? When he stole the cattle of the sun, he… oh, never mind.) I waited until nine-thirty to be safe, and sure enough, when I got there the place was empty. At least it felt empty. I would’ve been happier if I could’ve sat on the place for a day or two, but the faster this was all over the better.

I held the ward-breaker flush up against the door. It looked like a small stone, flat on one side and domed on the other. It flashed, I popped open the mechanical lock, and I was in.

It was a small flat, and generally unimpressive. Not much in the way of furnishing: a couch, two chairs, some bookshelves, bedroom through the back. It had the lingering scent of magic, but nothing too distressing.

I asked Stephen about that once: how he handled the smell. Magic smells like… well, cinnamon—a bit, and frankincense, and then whatever kind it is. Casmin smells a bit like brimstone and wood-ash. Stephen’s is almost the same, with a trace of ozone. But when I asked, he just looked at me oddly. I don’t know, maybe it’s like smelling yourself.

The scent in here was too faded to identify beyond mage. But something about this place was unsettling: it was familiar somehow. It wasn’t that I had been here before; I knew I hadn’t. But it didn’t feel like a stranger’s place. I looked around quickly for anything obviously identifying but didn’t find it.

That in and of itself was strange. Think about it: an entire flat with no mail, no photographs, no mementos, not even a monogrammed towel. I didn’t go through the man’s drawers because I didn’t want to take the time, but whoever lived there was a cagey bastard.

Emma was right, the statue was sitting on the bookshelf just opposite the door. I took a piece of wool out of my bag and picked it up, wrapping it carefully before stowing it. I grabbed a few other small statues off the same shelf in order to cover my real purpose and got out of there.

I almost took the statue to the client right after lunch, but had a second thought. This statue was all I had on her, and I wanted to know what I was handing over. Off to visit the family it was.
Higgins opened the door before I could even reach the handle. I swear, that man has a sixth sense.

“Is my sister in?” I asked.

“Miss Greyson is out, sir, but she should be returning momentarily.”

“I’ll wait, then.” I went into the parlor and sat down at the piano to amuse myself for a while.

Yes, I play the piano. Don’t look at me like that. It keeps the fingers nimble.

I was halfway through a nocturne when Wils came in. She handed her coat to the maid, and sighed.

“Chopin again?” She sat down next to me and let me play on for a while. That’s the thing about my sister. Most people would write her off as another silly girl. She knows it, too, and plays the part well: she can chatter on with the best of them. But while she does she sees and hears everything.

She also knows how to sit in silence.

I’ll miss her terribly when that great oaf takes her away from us. That will make two pieces of my heart he’s holding, and I can’t even bring myself to dislike him for it.

“Woman problems again?” she asked when I finished.

“You could say that,” I said. “I’ve got something I want you to take a look at.” I grabbed my bag and fished the statuette out. Willamina has on at least one occasion lately been able to see more in an object than I could. I unwrapped the Isis and showed it to her.

“It’s pretty,” she said. “But I didn’t know you were interested in Egyptian art.”

“I’m not particularly,” I said. It wasn’t even a very good knock off. Somebody had probably gotten it at a market for tourists. “So there’s nothing… unusual about it?”

“Not that I can see. But I have no idea how I do it in the first place.” She suddenly looked suspicious. “Why are you asking?”

I grimaced. “I got hired to do this job, and…”

“Oh, Rafe,” she said. Her disappointment was, possibly, the worst part of all of this.

“I didn’t want to,” I said. I took the statue back, wrapped it up, and tossed it back into my bag. “But it’s… complicated.”

She gave me a look that reminded me far too much of our mother for my comfort. “It always is, isn’t it.”

“Frequently, yes, but in this case—”

I was interrupted by the arrival of Casmin. He usually came by mid-day for Stephen, and god only knows what they got up to for the rest of the day. I asked him once and he told me it was considerably more dull than you would think.

“How are you this morning, Professor?” Willamina asked him. He was scowling. Even more so than usual.

“Not at all well, I’m afraid,” he said. “Someone broke into my apartment this morning.”

Well, that explains that. I couldn’t even muster surprise at this point. I managed not to put my head down on the keyboard, even though I wanted to.

“You have no idea how sorry I am to hear that,” I said.

“That’s terrible!” my sister added. “Was anything taken?”

“Just a few statues, nothing terribly valuable. I don’t keep anything of real value here. But it’s more that I’m baffled. No one should have been able to get in the door.”

“What will you do?” she asked, wide-eyed.

I told you there was more to her than you’d think.

“If Stephen will help, I’ve got a tracking spell I want to try,” Casmin said. “Is he upstairs?”

After he left the room, she turned to glare at me. “Did you neglect to mention that part?”

“I didn’t know!” I protested. “I’ve never been to his apartment before.”

“Well, you’ve got to tell him,” she said.

I groaned. “What a fucking mess.”

“And watch your language.”

I got up and hauled my pack over my shoulder. “I’ve got to think.” I kissed her goodbye, ducked out the back, and tried to keep the panic banked down.

I was in the thick of it now, wasn’t I. I’d never be able to live with myself if I took the money. I’d never be able to look Casmin in the eye again. Well, that’s not true. I would. I’d just hate myself for it. I liked the man, and I owed him a great deal. On the other hand, I couldn’t exactly go back to Emma and tell her I’d changed my mind. The bitch had me over a barrel, and I had a feeling she knew it.

I’d walked for over two hours now, and my feet had brought me back to Casmin’s place. Caught between two mages I decided to go with the devil I knew. I broke in again, put everything back where I found it, and sat down on the couch to wait. Time to take my medicine.

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