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“Hm?” Matthias prompted. He smile widened, showing the edge of sharp teeth against his lower lip. “Sounds like you’re considering it.”
“No, I mean, I was just… wondering about the guy I’m meeting later,” Tam said. He tried to phrase it carefully to not ask for help but prompt for it anyway, afraid of ending up in some sort of implicit contract without his consent. “His name is Antoine… he said he was a regular?”
“Oh, yes, I know Antoine,” Matthias said immediately. “Lovely man, good tipper. Really addicted to our scones. Always trying to get the recipe, but Kearney says we’re not allowed to give that out, you know how it is.” He began to draw the coffees, long fingers elegant and talon-tipped on the taps. “On the other hand, he is a witch, so one can understand why you’d be nervous. He’s a good sort, though. Nature and herbs and the natural flow of life and death, that sort of thing.”
The reassurance didn’t do much to pull Tam’s stomach up from where it had dropped. “A witch,” he repeated. “What’s his full name?”
As soon as he’d asked, he winced, waiting for a what’ll you give me for it, but it didn’t come. “I shouldn’t really give out customers’ names,” Matthias said apologetically instead, giving him a dazzling smile. “One does try to have a little discretion, no drink-and-tell, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, of course,” Tam stammered hurriedly. “I didn’t think—I wasn’t thinking. It’s just that the situation was a little sketchy, so I was nervous, you know—”
Matthias handed the tray of drinks over, the steam from their lids weaving in four distinct trails in front of his face, almost hypnotizing. “I should still be working tonight, so I can keep an eye on your table,” he said. “Would you like that? I’m sure we could work something out—”
Of course it was tempting. Still—Tam didn’t know Matthias well enough to use him for backup, and certainly didn’t trust the idea of ‘working something out’ with him. “It’s fine,” he said. “Thanks though.”
“Any time, sweetheart,” Matthias said. He leaned on the counter, resting his chin on one of those long-fingered hands and grinning up, heavy-lidded. “Anything else?”
“No, uh, that’ll be everything,” Tam said, holding the tray a little tightly. “Thanks, have a good one.”
“I’ll see you later.”
Tam hurried back outside, keeping his head down as he headed back to the library.
So Antoine was a witch. And he’d somehow been in contact with Ash. Neither of these things sounded good, and he couldn’t help but be suspicious that this Antoine might have been the guy who picked up Ash. It might seem odd for one witch to do another’s dirty work, but if it ran in the bloodline, he might have been her son, as his father had theorized. Or maybe even unrelated entirely and some kind of rival; all he’d had for proof was a picture, and that could be staged.
Tam made it back to the library in record time, walking furiously uphill, the anger and fear fueling him. This time, when Sceana saw him enter, she didn’t wait for his approach, just darted off, presumably to get Sahil. He had to admit he was a little relieved; he didn’t like being afraid of snakes, but that didn’t make the fear go away.
Sahil hurried up a few moments later, giving him a tense smile and taking the tray from Tam. “How goes it?”
“A few possible leads,” Tam said. “When looking into witches, can you look up the name Antoine too?”
Right, he hadn’t got the name until he’d already parted from Sahil. “The texter gave his name as Antoine, and the barista down at Beanheadings mentioned he was a witch. Given the circumstances…”
“Suspicious,” Sahil agreed. “I’ll toss it into the search. The barista didn’t know any more?”
“I was afraid to ask,” Tam admitted. “He was a demon and I didn’t want to get into any kind of implicit contract…”
“You’re probably safe as long as you clarify terms,” Sahil said. “Demons have a pretty strong need to keep their deals legitimate. Just asking for information won’t harm you unless he tells you there’ll be a price, and you can always back out and refuse to agree to whatever he says. I mean, it’s understandable to be worried, though! And there are some less reputable demons, but I don’t think Kearney Dillon would hire one. He’s too savvy a businessman.”
“Got a good head on his shoulders?”
“Tam,” Sahil chided.
Tam felt himself blush, ducking his head. “Sorry,” he said. “Just trying to keep my spirits up.”
“That’s understandable,” Sahil said, more gently. “Sorry I don’t have more for you yet—we’re trying to get enough things together to be useful resources.”
“No, jeez—” Tam stammered. He reached out and squeezed Sahil’s shoulder lightly. “It’s barely been an hour since I left, you can only do so much. I seriously appreciate it.”
This time, Sahil was the one blushing. He turned away to put the tray of drinks down on the circulations counter, then muttered, “Still. Of course I’m worried too.”
“Of course,” Tam said softly. “Ah—I’m going to head over to the theatre unless you think I’d be any use here. I don’t want to wait until everyone’s busy with dress rehearsal. I saw on Ash’s Facebook that he knows a Joanne Cooper, are you familiar?”
“Oh, yes, Joanne comes here a lot,” Sahil said. “Most of the theatre folk do. Even Lithway comes in sometimes. She’s very loyal, so if they decided to add each other, she’ll probably help. Don’t take her too personally, she’s very brisk. Go on—I’ll email if there’s anything you need to see right away.”
“Okay,” Tam said. “Thanks, Sahil. You’re a hero.”
Sahil let out a squeak. “Not hardly!” he protested, then swept up the tray. “I’m going to get this to the others before it gets cold…!”
As Tam showed himself out, his phone gave a buzz. It was a new email reply from Jared, and he opened it quickly as he walked down the street.
What the hell, my dude? That is horrible! Jesus Christ, I gotta go hug my sister after this. I can’t even imagine what’d drive parents to do that. Listen, I can meet in about half an hour if you want to talk, and depending on what you want to do I can try to get you into the vamps as soon as tonight. But if you can’t meet me asap, we’ll have to aim for tomorrow instead, I checked with my go-between and she’s only free for a limited window tonight. LMK. – J
Tam hesitated, frozen on the theatre steps. If he went to meet Jared in a half hour, he’d have to leave now, and probably wouldn’t get back in time to talk to Joanne before rehearsal and final checks, and he strongly suspected that if he tried to interrupt the theatre crew when they were actually busy, she’d be less inclined to help him. Lithway would definitely be in this evening, so if he went now, maybe Joanne could introduce them. He could still get in tomorrow to meet Lithway with his tickets, but if so, he’d be going in without help.
On the other side of things, a vampire sounded like a more powerful ally than a famous actor, even if they were one of those strange shadowfolk. Except, of course, if he had to go after the witch during the day, when a vampire would be useless.
Still, even outside the Valley, everyone knew how much sway the vampire lords had; that’s why Jared had done the interview in the first place. They were probably some of the most powerful monsters outside of the gate itself.
But if he went, he’d be missing out on both Lithway and, quite possibly, depending on how late he had to go to meet the vampires, the chance to meet Antoine tonight.
He stared up the steps as he tried to come to a decision.
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[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]