Wade's gaze looked off into the past. "I was chastised pretty bad. Over and over, all my superiors kept telling me how wrong it was for me to even think things like that about the Moroi, let alone talk about them. They didn't send me to re-education, but they suspended me for two weeks, and each day, I had to listen to lectures about what a terrible person I was and how I was on the verge of corruption. By the end, I believed them . . . until I met Marcus. He made me realize I didn't have to be in that life anymore."
"So you left," I said, suddenly feeling a little more kindly toward Marcus.
"Yes. But not before completing the mission Marcus gave me. I got a hold of the classified visitor list."
That surprised me. The Alchemists were always hip deep in secrets. While most of our goings-on were recorded diligently, there were some things that our elite leaders didn't want the rest of the society to know about. Again, all for the greater good. The classified list would detail people allowed access - that the higher-ups wanted kept secret. It wasn't something the average Alchemist could see.
"You're young," I said. "You wouldn't be allowed access to something like that."
Wade snorted. "Of course not. That's what made the task so difficult. Marcus doesn't have us do easy assignments. I had to do a lot of dangerous things - things that made me glad to escape afterward. The list showed us the link to the Warriors."
"Did it say 'Top Secret Vampire Hunter Meeting'?" asked Eddie. Things like that, aside from his deadly protective skills, were why I liked having him along.
Wade flushed at the jibe. "No. It was all coded, kind of. It didn't list full names, just initials. Even I couldn't get the actual names. But one of the entries? Z. J."
Marcus and his Merry Men all looked at me expectantly, as though that were supposed to mean something to me. I glanced at Eddie again, but he was just as baffled.
"What's that stand for?" I asked.
"Zebulon Jameson," said Marcus. Once again, there was an expectation. When I didn't answer, Marcus turned disbelieving. "You were there with the Warriors. Don't you remember him? Master Jameson?"
I did, actually. He was one of the Warriors' high officials, an intimidating man with a salt-and-pepper beard who'd worn old-fashioned golden ceremonial robes.
"I never caught his first name," I said. "But isn't it kind of a leap to assume that's who Z. J. was? Maybe it was, I don't know, Zachary Johnson."
"Or Zeke Jones," supplied Eddie.
The cat came by with a refill for Marcus's lemonade, and I soon had proof that it was a woman. "Thanks, love," Marcus said, giving her a smile that nearly made her swoon and drop the tray. When he turned back to us, he was all business. "That's where Sabrina comes in. Not long before Wade got the list, she overheard Master Jameson talking to one of his cronies about an upcoming trip to St. Louis and how he was going to find out about leads on some missing girl. The timing lines up."
"It's an awfully big coincidence," I said. Yet even as I spoke, I was reminded of something Sonya Karp always said about the world of Moroi and Alchemists: There are no coincidences.
"What missing girl were they talking about?" asked Eddie carefully.
I met his eyes and immediately understood what he wasn't saying. A missing girl that the Warriors were interested in. There was one missing girl that the Moroi were very, very interested in as well. And whom the Alchemists were determined to keep safe. She was the reason I was stationed in Palm Springs in the first place. In fact, I was pretending to be her sister.
I said nothing and focused on Marcus again.
He shrugged. "I don't know, just that finding her would create a lot of problems for the Moroi. The details aren't important yet. First we have to prove the connection."
Those details were immensely important to Eddie and me, but I wasn't sure how much Marcus and friends knew about Jill. I wasn't about to show too much interest.
"And that's what you want me to do?" I asked, recalling the arcade discussion. "How would you like me to do that? Go visit Master Jameson and ask him?"
"Every visitor is recorded on video if they're going through the secure access point," said Wade. "Even the top secret ones. All you have to do is steal a copy of that footage. They store it all in their computers."
These people had a very different idea than me of what "all you have to do" meant.
"I'm a field Alchemist in Palm Springs," I reminded them. "I'm not a computer hacker. I'm not even in St. Louis! How would I walk in and steal something?"
Marcus tilted his head to study me, allowing some of that golden hair to slip forward. "It's more of that resourceful vibe I get off you. Couldn't you find some way to get to St. Louis? Some reason to visit?"
"No! I'd have no . . ." I trailed off, flashing back to the wedding. Ian, with his lovesick eyes, had invited me to visit him in St. Louis. He'd had the audacity to use church services as a way to further his chances with me.
Marcus's eyes sparkled. "You've already thought of something, haven't you? Brilliant, just like I thought." Amelia looked mildly put out at hearing me complimented.
"It'd be a long shot," I said.
"That's kind of how we roll," said Marcus.
I still wasn't on board. "Look, I know someone there, but I'd have to get permission to even go, which wouldn't be easy." I stared at each of them in turn. "You know how it is. You were all in the Alchemists. You know we can't just take vacations whenever we want."
Wade and Amelia actually had the grace to look embarrassed, but Marcus was undaunted. "Can you let this chance pass? Even if you don't want to join us or alter your tattoo, just think about it. You saw the Warriors. You saw what they're capable of. Can you even imagine what could happen if they had access to Alchemist resources?"
"It's all circumstantial," argued the scientist in me.
"Sydney," said Eddie.
I turned to him and saw something in his eyes I'd never expected to see: pleading. He didn't care about Alchemist conspiracies or Marcus's Merry Men. What he cared about was Jill, and he'd heard something that made him think she was in danger. That was unacceptable in his world. He would do anything in his power to keep her safe, but even he knew stealing information from the Alchemists was out of his league. It was pretty much out of mine too, but he didn't know that. He believed in me, and he was silently begging me to help.
Marcus pushed his advantage. "You have nothing to lose - I mean, if you aren't caught. If you get the footage and we find nothing . . . well, so be it. False alarm. But if we get hard proof that Jameson was there, then I don't have to tell you how big that is. Either way, you should break your tattoo and join us. Besides, after a stunt like this, would you really want to stick around?" He eyed me. "But that part's up to you. Just help us for now."