“People in his line of business get paid more when they don’t ask too many question.”
“Like guys who sell guns,” I interpreted with a grimace.
“In any case, CSI was able to persuade him to turn over crucial security footage—-”
“And you saw Unidentified Woman,” I exclaimed. “Case solved then?”
“Would’ve been, if UW was still alive.”
“She was the reason why I had to go to the morgue.”
I dug into my lasagna (and yes, he had it delivered by the time we arrived back at the apartment because he’s sweet and perfect that way) as I chewed on the newest roadblock in his case. Why would MS and UW bother with a swapping spell if all it would accomplish was changing the place where they died?
“Did MS, in UW’s body, end up in an accident?” It would be a freakish coincidence if so, but karma was karma, so—-
But then I saw Hadrian’s lips start to move, and it formed a single word. “No.”
Shit. So karma wasn’t at work then. I fed myself another forkful of lasagna. “What’s the cause of death?”
I almost choked on my lemon soda. Heart attack? Considering how complicated this whole escape plan was turning out, I had a hard time imagining that either or both MS and UW would push through with a swapping spell, knowing that one of them was at risk of cardiac failure.
This didn’t make sense.
“Is it possible another swapping spell was used? Or just any other kind of spell that would—-” I saw Hadrian’s gaze gleam, and I was instantly suspicious. “Wait a minute.”
His eyes were openly laughing at me now.
“You already know all of these, don’t you?” I accused.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to be…how was it that you put it…” His voice became mockingly polite. “The perfect Watson to my Holmes, wasn’t it?”
“Grr!” But this quickly turned into a squeal of laughter when he scooped me off my seat, and I quickly flung my arms around him when he started walking.
I pulled back a little so he could see me pout. “I wasn’t done eating—-” But when I felt Hadrian about to lower me back to my feet, I said quickly, “I’m just kidding.”
Hadrian’s head lowered as he whispered into my ear, “I know.”
SO, A LITTLE RECAP: Missing Subject and Unidentified Woman swapped souls. Unidentified Woman died in Missing Subject’s body, which the fiery waters of Phlegethon had reduced into a couple of – say it with me – phalanges. Meanwhile, we were able to trace Missing Subject, now in Unidentified Woman’s body, with the help of a catoblepas seller. We should’ve solved our case at this point…if only Unidentified Woman’s body hadn’t ended up in a morgue.
Also, Unidentified Woman was, well, no longer unidentified now. Her name is Edith Crown, a mid-twenties schoolteacher who regularly commuted to Portland for work. 100% human, CSI records further showed, and with no known “magical” affiliation.
Last but not the least, this meant all our suspicions about Edith were incorrect. She was the real victim here, and this new twist had hurtled us back to square one and with a different person of interest: a willing accomplice (WA) of our missing subject, and whose body MS now occupied.
“I can feel you frowning,” Hadrian murmured from behind while massaging my scalp as he shampooed my hair.
“I am frowning.” Which I wasn’t supposed to be, considering I was having my first bathtub date with Tall, Dark, and Hot. But I just couldn’t help it. “I feel so bad for Edith,” I confessed. “Did she really die of a heart attack or is that just some kind of magical cover-up?”
“The former, most likely,” Hadrian answered flatly. “Living human bodies, without proper magical enhancements, aren’t designed to endure Tartarus’ climate. Just think of it as going out of space, without a suit and an oxygen tank.”
“Which worked to MS’ advantage, no doubt,” I said darkly. A dead Edith couldn’t exactly call 911…or could she? Water splashed over the tub’s edges as I flipped around to look at Hadrian, asking excitedly, “What if Edith’s ghost—-”
“Is no longer with us,” Hadrian finished, and before I could even ask if he was sure about this, he went on to add gently, “I’ve already checked with the system. She moved on the second she died.”
My shoulders slumped. “I really thought she’d linger around, considering she was murdered and all.”
“That’s simply another myth Hollywood perpetuated,” Hadrian dismissed.
“So what now?”
“I’m meeting with another CSI agent tomorrow—-”
“Can I come with?” I asked eagerly.
“Wouldn’t even dream of leaving my Watson behind,” Hadrian drawled.
And that’s how I ended accompanying him the next day to Edith’s home in the suburbs, where a guy in a suit was already waiting for us by the front doors. He introduced himself as Tristan Green and added that his superior Dike had already briefed him about the case.