“How do you always recognize me no matter what shape I wear?”
“The eyes,” I told him. “They give you away every time.”
He was silent for a long minute. “I see. Very well. I should be free in about three hours. I would like to begin my evaluation with the scene of the Steel Mary’s last appearance. I’ll require the presence of at least five witnesses.”
“It will be arranged,” I told him. “I’ll see you at the Guild in three hours.”
“I’m changing my face as we speak. Good-bye.” He managed to infuse the word with so much innuendo, I needed a rag to wipe it off my phone.
I hung up and turned to Ted. “You went through my evidence behind my back.”
He treated me to his best impersonation of a statue from Easter Island.
“You don’t trust me.”
The attack poodle snarled, punctuating my words. I glared at him and he lay down.
Ted leaned back. “I don’t trust you not to fuck up. You aren’t a fast learner and I don’t have time to teach you, so I put you on a short leash.”
The steady anger inside me flared into a full-blown rage. I worked hard. I pulled my own weight. I’d earned some fucking trust. “I can’t work if you stand over my shoulder.”
“And that’s your problem, Daniels. You have an ego. Every day you walk into this office as if you own it. As if you’ve earned it. The truth is, you couldn’t go the distance in the Academy. You don’t have the education and discipline necessary for the job. You aren’t a knight and you never will be. You have yet to prove to me that you’re worth something.”
“I’ve proved it.”
“You fought in the Midnight Games and you led Nash into it.”
I stared at him.
“Did the two of you really think that you could fight in front of hundreds of witnesses and it wouldn’t get back to me?”
“It was necessary.”
Ted rose. His voice dropped low. “The world is full of monsters. They’re stronger than us. They have better magic. The only reason why we, humans, remain on top is because of our numbers and because the monsters fear us. That’s the order of things. That’s the way it has always been and that’s the way it must remain. Do you know what the Midnight Games really are? They’re a way for the monsters to make humans into prey. They keep seeing us die on that sand, and pretty soon they’ll get an idea that we’re food and we’re easy to take down. They’ll stop fearing us and throw this world into chaos. And you went into that ring and fought on the side of monsters. You’ve betrayed everything the Order stands for. You fucked up.”
“I fought on the side of shapeshifters.”
“The shapeshifters are cans of dynamite, ready to go loup any moment. They aren’t human. It’s convenient for us to let them think they’re human for the time being, but in the end, there is no place for them in our society. They must be kept apart.”
The world slid into crystal clarity. I was a hair away from sliding my sword out and carving a new mouth across Ted’s throat. “So you would exile them. Shall it be reservations or labor camps?”
“I would remove them from the picture entirely. They are a threat to us. They can kill us and infect us. To survive, we must retain our dominance.”
He would exterminate the shapeshifters. He would kill the lot of them. I could see it in his eyes.
Ted straightened. “I gave you an opportunity to add meaning to your life. You think you got in because you’re good. No. I gave it to you, because I respected Greg Feldman. He was one of my best, and to honor his memory, I made sure that you wouldn’t embarrass his name. And anytime you forget yourself, or forget our mission, and start thinking that you’re hot shit and you know better, come see me and I’ll set you straight.”
I exhaled rage slowly. “Ted?”
He stopped, presenting me with his wide back.
“When you walk a dog on a short leash, she’s close enough to bite you. Keep it in mind.”
He stepped out. I spun to the window, trying to contain the urge to break something. At the Midnight Games, when I circled the sand with Hugh, he’d asked me why I took orders from people weaker than me. Back then I had an answer. It escaped me now and I grappled with my memory trying to wrench it free, because I needed it badly.
I had to kill the Steel Mary. It was personal now, and I would finish it. But I could track Mary on my own, without the Order’s help. I had to get Saiman to analyze my parchment and then I could leave the Order. It would feel good.
If I left, the case would go to Andrea. Ted didn’t have anybody else. If the Steel Mary released his magic, Andrea’s secret half could panic and run. Best-case scenario, the city would burn up in an epidemic, and she would be exposed and booted from the Order. Worst case, she would be mistaken for a loup shapeshifter, hunted, and killed.
My mind painted a gory picture of Andrea’s beastkin body riddled with bullets, with PAD standing over her.
“She’d gone loup. Never seen anything like it. Had to put her down.”
My mess. I’d handle my own shit.
The phone rang. It was probably Christy. I picked it up. “Kate Daniels.”
“I’m in lockup in Milton County Jail,” Andrea said. “Come get me.”
A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER I WALKED INTO BEAU Clayton’s office, carrying a long parcel wrapped in rags.
Beau grinned at me from behind his desk. In 1066, ancient Saxons met ancient Norwegians in a bloody battle over Stamford Bridge. The legend said that the Saxons surprised their enemy, and as the Norwegians tried to rally, one of their warriors, a giant of a man, stepped onto the bridge and held it by himself, killing more than forty Saxons, until someone got smart and stabbed him with a long spear from below, through the planks of the bridge. Looking at Beau, I could totally picture him on that bridge swinging a giant axe around. Hulking, six feet six, with shoulders that had trouble fitting through the door, the Milton sheriff had the face of a bone breaker. He sat behind a scarred desk that was organized to within an inch of its life. The only item out of place was a large can. The label on the can said, CANNED BOILED GREEN PEANUTS.
I sat in a chair before his desk and put the parcel on my lap. “Canned boiled peanuts. That’s pushing it.”
“With a name like Beau, a man has to be careful,” he said. “Someone might mistake me for one of them Northern boys. The peanuts help to avoid misunderstandings.”