Gideon twisted and tugged on the handcuffs keeping her left wrist attached to the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. This wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind when she’d fantasized about being cuffed, and worst of all no one was around for her to tell that shitty joke to. Then the universe delivered to her a mass of death and darkness which she could torment with jokes all she wanted.
Harrow didn’t agree with her role in this scenario.
“Nav, please,” she groaned as Gideon made another lewd pun and jangled the metal confining her to the bed. “I’m trying to have a serious conversation here.”
“I’m being accused of two murders; jokes are the only things keeping me sane.”
Harrow sighed and pulled out a folded piece of notebook paper from her trench coat pocket. She tossed it into Gideon’s lap then held her finger up to her lips, motioning with the other for Gideon to open it up. She did so. Printed in big letters at the top were the words:
There is a microphone in your room. Someone is listening.
Gideon’s blood roared through her ears as panic flooded her system. She opened her mouth to blurt out something that would most likely alert whoever was on the other side, but psychic Harrow launched forward and clamped her hand over Gideon’s mouth.
“The cops searched the store and your room today,” she said, louder than normal. Whatever she had to say was some type of performance for the eavesdroppers. “Cytherea got the golden flower she gave you after the finale out so it wouldn’t get broken. She’s holding it at the apothecary until the cops realize you didn’t do this.” Her hand was removed from Gideon’s mouth and she nodded to prompt her to respond.
“Uh, yeah that was nice of her, I guess.” Harrow indicated down to the paper and the paragraphs of neatly printed handwriting underneath the warning. She mouthed the words ‘read it’ before moving back to the door.
“Don’t worry Griddle, everything’s gonna turn out fine.” With those not so comforting words, Harrow left.
Gideon frantically scanned the note, her still fuzzy head forgetting how to English for the first few sentences. Leave it to Harrow to write her an essay after she sustained massive head trauma.
Do not panic. As the above warning states, there is a microphone in your room. For once in your life, watch what you say and please think before opening your mouth. (That’s rude, Nonagesimus. I always think for exactly 0.5 seconds before I talk.)
Cytherea, Dulcinea, Palamedes, Camilla, and I have a theory about what is going on. (Big surprise, the smart people have solved the case.) We have evidence of a smuggling ring. We believe someone is illegally mining gold from under the Dominicus Faire and disguising it as apothecary metal flowers. (That’s actually pretty cool.) The one Cytherea gave you is real gold, (What?!) and is the last piece of evidence that gold is being smuggled. (Oh, fuck.)
We are setting a trap. I have now alerted the smugglers to where the flower is, and when they come for it we will catch them. (Harrow you moron! They’ve already killed two people!)
Again, do not panic. (How?!) I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.
Cam gently placed the flower in a glass vase and set it on the table of the living quarters in the back of the apothecary. She arduously twisted it around until the light from a window caught the petals just right and cast small red and green rays across the surface. She took a piece of cloth and gently brushed the dust from the crevices where the leaves met the stem. All in all, Cam was a perfectionist and it was starting to piss Cytherea off.
“Caaaammm,” she whined from her chair across the room. “It looks beautiful, now please stop.”
Cam scrutinized the poor object for a few minutes longer before tossing the towel aside and declaring, “It’ll do.”
“Of course it’ll do; it’s pure gold.”
Cam sighed and crossed to sit beside Cytherea. The look in her smokey eyes gave Cytherea the horrifying thought that she was about to get some kind of life-affirming talk. “How are you doing Cyth?”
“My head is still pounding and I’m hungry, but otherwise fine.”
Cam shook her head then took Cytherea’s hand to gently squeeze it. “No, I mean, how are you doing with everything going on? You and Gideon are involved; I’d imagine it’s hard for you considering her situation.”
Cytherea instantly went to agree, but something stopped her. The way Cam had said ‘involved’ wasn’t settling in her chest. Of course she liked Gideon, but they’d had the ‘what are we’ conversation too many times with the same outcome. “We’re not involved, Cam. I am worried about her though.”
The other girl looked almost shocked by the revelation. “Gideon seems to think you two are involved.”
“Wishful thinking on her part.” When Cam’s penetrating gaze refused to move, Cytherea felt obligated to continue. “It’s not that I don’t like her, but I don’t like her enough to call her my girlfriend.”
“I’m truly hoping you worded that nicer to her face.”
Cytherea winced at the memory. “No, I really didn’t. Gideon’s great, and I know I take advantage of how obsessed she is with me, but there’s not enough spark on my end to warrant a relationship.”
Cam had her one hand absently drumming on her thigh, deep in thought. After a minute of silence she breathed out roughly and said, “Why do you keep clinging to her then? If there’s no spark, why don’t you just let her go?”
“Because she still looks at me like I’m the sun, and if she finds someone who treats her better—Cam, I don’t think I could handle it if she started hating me.”
Cam scoffed. “I don’t think Gideon’s capable of hating anyone. Look at how awful Harrow treated her, and now they’ve been basically attached at the hip for two days.”
That thought wasn’t helping. If Cytherea had to lose Gideon at least the universe could do her a favor and not make the person she lost to be Harrowhark . Gideon deserved far more than that uppity goth freak could give her. And Harrow was too much of a bitch to deserve Gideon.
“Cyth?” Cam was eyeing her warily. “You alright?”
Cytherea felt a painful tenseness in her shoulders and rolled them to relax her muscles. “Just thinking Cam; don’t worry about me.”
“Are you upset Harrow and Gideon like each other?” The question sounded more like an accusation under Cam’s narrowed grey gaze.
Cytherea awkwardly turned from the eyes as she softly whispered, “No because it’s impossible; they despise each other.” When Cam didn’t speak she tacked on a pitiful, “Right?”
“I don’t know, Cyth.”
The silence in the room was disrupted as Palamedes and Dulcinea came bustling in carrying cameras, microphones, wires, and a large net. Cam and Cytherea both watched as the jumble of technology and the—quite basic—trap were dropped to the floor. “Night vision cameras, a heavy duty trapping net, and entirely too sensitive microphones: just like you said.” Palamedes presented the mass of supplies to Cam with his ‘please tell me I did good’ smile.
Cam lifted the “heavy duty” net before saying in her monotone way, “How’s a net going to help us, Pal?”
“You drop it on people to catch them.”
“This isn’t Scooby Doo; anyone can get themselves out of a net!”
“Well they weren’t selling elaborate smuggler snatching kits at Wal-Mart!”
Cam pinched the bridge of her nose and huffed. “Alright fine, fair point. But we need something more than this ”—she waved the limp netting—to hold someone.”
Dulcinea was untangling the wires and hooking them to the cameras when she offered their saving grace idea: “What if we didn’t catch them? I mean, there must be a group, and they’ll probably only send one or two to get the flower. We could just trail whoever takes it back to their headquarters.”
“Dulcie,” Cytherea said softly, “the stakeout went wrong in so many ways, and that was us on our own turf with a decent plan of what we were against. How much better do you think walking headfirst into their territory would be?”
“Cytherea’s right,” Cam agreed. “But, and I do say this tentatively, we don’t have many other options. Gideon’s life is at stake here; we need ideas no matter how crazy.”
“Speaking of crazy,” Cytherea said, noticing a lack of brooding wraith, “where’s Harrow?”
“Harrowhark!” Her mother’s squakish voice rang from the other side of Harrow’s bedroom door. “What nonsense is this ‘second stakeout’?” Harrow froze from where she was brushing out her hair and near teleported to the door. When she yanked it open her mother stood on the other side waving Harrow’s phone in the air, a message from Palamedes on the screen.
“What are you doing reading my texts?!” Harrow tried to snatch the phone, but her mother’s reflexes were faster.
“Answer my question, Harrowhark.”
Harrow swallowed nervously as the monster flickered between the lines on her mother’s tired face. “None of your business.”
The eyes darkened till they could be mistaken for visible black holes. “Harrow,” she growled warningly.
Deciding the last thing she needed to show up at Gideon’s room with was a black eye, Harrow mumbled,“I told you yesterday we’re investigating the two murders at Canaan.” She kept her eyes trained on the ground, counting the carpet fibers under her.
“If you ever answered the phone when I called then you’d know what happened last night!”
Her mother rolled her eyes and sighed, “Fine, we’ll do this your way. What happened last night?”
Harrow searched her mother’s eyes, but the monster seemed to be fading. Still, she kept her hold on the bedroom door, ready to slam it shut between them. “Judith Deuteros is dead, by the same people who killed Ebdoma. Gideon is being framed for them and we’re going to clear her name. And, not that it matters to you, I spent the morning in the hospital after getting my brain bashed in!”
Her mother nodded along with her words before saying dryly, “I see it didn’t improve anything.”
Harrow slammed the door shut. Fuck her phone; it wasnt like she had anything remotely resembling a life on there. She returned to her mirror and resumed brushing out her hair. It was much easier to do when it wasn’t oily and full of knots. She should really shower more.
At least her mother hadn’t questioned why she suddenly looked more alive.
Harrow was doing everything right: she’d showered, eaten a sandwich for dinner, drank three glasses of water, and even washed weeks of old makeup from her face. She put on her most striking black trench coat and jeans her parents had bought her when they’d ‘still had hope she could be loveable to someone’. Harow was forced to admit, excluding her face and figure, she looked decent.
Harrow finished packing her backpack with supplies: the gorgeous knife Gideon had gotten for her, a few books, and a whole bag of Twix she’d bought at the store. If she was going to give this a shot, then she was going to go all out—as was her brand.
Of course, it was also very on brand for Gideon to say, “No, I don’t think you’re hot and no I don’t want to see anymore of you once this whole murder thing is sorted out.” Harrow frantically shooed the thought away.
Before the night had been royally fucked up, Harrow had felt like someone cared about her for the first time. The touch of Gideon’s skin on her own had lingered for hours. That had to mean something.
Harrow had been reading over an anatomy paper by a professor at the college she was to attend, and had found herself being distracted multiple times thinking of that insufferable, annoying, stupid redhead. That had to mean something.
Harrow had been ready to skip dinner when she remembered how adorable Gideon in her muscle shirt had been sitting next to her while they ate, prompting her to decide on a sandwich. That had to mean something .
If it meant nothing, Harrow didn’t know what she’d do.
After checking her mother had vanished, Harrow took her bag and keys and left for the hospital.
Cam readjusted so Cytherea’s elbow stopped assaulting her ribs, but consequently, now Pal’s knee was deeper in her back. The group was crushed inside the animal enclosure down from the apothecary, eyes glued to the computer displaying the perfect bait of the golden flower. Night vision cameras had been positioned around the room to see who entered. A small tracker had been nestled inside the rose’s petals—painted gold to escape detection. Cam hoped this was all enough.
“How much longer is this going to take?” Cytherea whined as her sister’s legs tangled with her own. “I’m sore and tired!”
“Join the club,” Cam grumbled.
“Hey, you’re not the one who got bashed in the head!”
“Guys!” Dulcinea squeaked. “This isn’t the time!”
The group fell silent. It had been hours and still no one had arrived to take the flower. Cam was beginning to worry Harrow hadn’t gotten the message across.
Then a shadow moved at the entrance to the room. Cam shot forward to the screen to watch as a hooded figure stepped into the apothecary. “They’re here,” she whispered, heart beating against her skin. Everyone crowded the computer to watch the green hued figure cross the room and gently lift the flower from the vase. The golden evidence was tucked in an inner pocket on the large coat and the figure left.
“They’re going out the back!” Palamedes voice stirred the group into action, leaping from their hiding space and racing through the apothecary to the exit. Cam gently opened the door to watch the lone dark figure continue up the gravel path and to the faire exit. She placed a finger to her mouth, even though none of them needed a reminder. The figure stopped at an inconspicuous black car that had a blown out tail light before driving off through the faire parking lot.
Palamedes opened the tracking app and they watched the blinking dot on the map leave the grounds and turn towards town. Pal looked between the group and asked, “Alright, who’s driving?”
Gideon’s glassy gaze and loopy smile made Harrow’s stomach twist and jump. In an oddly good way though. Whatever medication they’d put Griddle on had effectively made her calm and quiet; Harrow needed to find some for future use. She’d been sitting in the room, reading from some of her books, as the redhead drifted in and out of consciousness. Every so often, Griddle would murmur something along the lines of ‘bone queen’ or ‘skeleton empress’ or ‘witch of the undead’, then promptly fall asleep again. Harrow thought it was decently cute.
Harrow’s phone buzzed with a text from Palamedes: The bait was received and is currently progressing to its second location.
Harrow: You really can’t just say ‘they got the flower’?
Sextus: You talk like this all the time and hate when people complain about it.
Harrow: I don’t sound like that.
Sextus. Yes you do.
Harrow turned off her phone and mentally flipped Palamedes off. From across the room, Gideon stirred and her eyes seemed more focused when she opened them. Her smile widened when she saw Harrow, which of course forced Harrow’s heart to pound harder. “Hey Nonagesimus, you still here?” Her voice was hoarse and shaky, but still annoying as usual.
“Of course. Someone has to make sure your heart doesn’t give out.”
Harrow rolled her eyes and wordlessly offered the bag of Twix. Gideon lit up when she saw the golden wrappers. “You remembered?” She gasped.
“Of course you moron.” Harrow dumped the candy into Gideon’s free hand, her mind running over the rehearsed words a dozen times in the few seconds it took Griddle to get her teeth on the chocolate. “So, Gideon, there’s something we—er, I—need to talk about.”
The gold eyes took on a hint of concern. “Harrow, did something happen?”
Harrow shook her head quickly, despising the look of fear in those orbs. “No, it’s not bad, per se. It’s—uh...” Harrow trailed off, her throat constricting in on itself. She coughed and muttered, “I’ll be right back,” then disappeared into the hallway.
C’mon, c’mon! Pull yourself together! Harrow chided herself as she stumbled down the short hall into the sitting area. A vending machine whirred in the corner louder than a jet engine. Harrow put her hand on the side, the vibrations soothing her quaking muscles. Worst case scenario, she laughs at me and we never speak again. Yeah, that’s not helping. Harrow clawed at her scalp until tendrils of blood formed under her fingernails.
Once she had grounded herself, Harrow sucked down a gulp of air and decided to go back to Gideon. The ding of the elevator opening startled her, but the form of Lieutenant Crux stepping off and into the hall scared her even more. What was he doing here so late?
The monolithic man walked past her without a second glance, his deep eyes focused on some distant vantage point. He thudded down the hall and into Gideon’s room. Harrow, as silently as possible, followed. She lingered just outside the doorway, listening to the man’s bellowing voice as he said, “So it has come to this, Nav.”
Gideon’s handcuff jangled, signaling she was moving a bit. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m here for your confession.”
Gideon laughed, but it was so forced it stung Harrow's heart. “Look, Lieutenant guy, I know you have a job to do, but you’re barking up the wrong tree. Ask anyone, I’m not—what’s that?”
Gideon’s voice trailed off and Harrow peaked her head around the doorframe. The Lieutenant had set a piece of paper on the table next to Gideon’s bed. After the paper was properly positioned, he fished around in his pocket before pulling something out, but Harrow couldn’t see what. “Like I said”—his voice sounded sad—“I’m here for your confession.”
There was a sudden thrashing as Gideon started trying to move. The medicine in her veins made her limbs slow and groggy, but there was no mistaking the frenzied movement as anything other than panic. “What—stop!” The Lieutenant’s hand closed on Gideon’s handcuffed arm and brought a thin shiny knife right against the chestnut skin.
Gideon screamed, “Help! Harrow!”
Harrow pulled the black knife from her pocket and without thinking launched her body at the hulking man. The small blade plunged itself into his shoulder, making him roar and spin wildly around. The knife came loose and slid across the floor, slick with blood.
Gideon’s arm was bleeding moderately and she was struggling to stem it with the thin bed sheets. Harrow kicked away the scalpel the Lieutenant had dropped before grabbing for her own knife. The man was holding his shoulder as he stumbled to the door. “Don’t you dare!” Harrow plunged the knife into the front of his shoulder once more and he dropped to his knees. Harrow rushed back to Gideon’s side, wrapping the sheets around the wound.
“What the hell is going on?” She whispered.
Cam pulled her car into the hospital parking lot and parked. According to the tracker, their target was going inside. “Maybe he’s going to plant the flower on Gideon?” Dulcinea wondered. “Try and make her look even more guilty?”
“What is their obsession with Gideon?” Palamedes said, asking the most important question as usual.
The group made their way inside and past the unsupervised check-in desk. Pal checked the app again and whispered, “Dammit, whoever it is, they’re going up to Gideon’s room.” Cam hit the elevator button and they piled in, the machine crawling slower than a snail dipped in molasses up to the ninth floor. They stepped out and Pal instantly threw up his arm to stop them. The hooded figure was slowly backing away from the hall where Gideon’s room was. Step by step it rounded the corner before turning and dashing towards the elevators.
Upon seeing them, the figure froze. It’s head swiveled, not knowing where to go or what to do.
“We know you have the flower!” Cam blurted out, pushing past Palemedes and his spaghetti arms. “Now who the hell are you?”
The figure ran.
Cam bolted after it with Cytherea hot on her heels. Palamedes shouted something, probably along the lines of ‘no, you morons!’ The figure was slow and Cam easily tackled it to the ground right outside the room.
When she looked up she couldn’t believe what she saw.
Harrow was wrapping a blanket around Gideon’s wrist where blood was flowing. Red spots decorated the floor and bedside where Gideon was sitting on the edge, struggling to get out of the cuffs. Laying on the floor, groaning, was Lieutenant Crux with a small black knife lodged in his shoulder. Palamedes and Dulcinea appeared to help Cam haul up the figure, and Harrow looked up at them with fear and confusion etched over her face.
It was a testament to the situation itself that everyone shouted at once, “What the hell is happening?!”
Harrow pointed to the Lieutenant as he pulled the knife from his body, “He tried to kill Gideon!”
Cam yanked the hood off the figure, not having prepared for a situation like this, and faintly recognized the man underneath. The glassy looks of shock and betrayal on Gideon, Dulcie, and Cyth’s faces hurt Cam to her core.
“Teacher?” Dulcinea whispered. The old man sighed and hung his head, the golden flower falling from his pocket.
Cam led the Canaan Faire owner over and dropped him into one of the chairs in the room. Him and the Lieutenant exchanged a look, but Cam swiped the bloody knife off the floor and brandished it forward on shaking hands. “Don’t even think about it,” she forced out. Her mind was whirring with hundreds of questions: why would this ‘Teacher’ kill two actors? Why was the Lieutenant involved? Why was he trying to kill Gideon?
Instead all she could get out was: “What the fuck is going on?!”