The Twilight Twenty-Five
thetwilight25 dot com
It was a dark grey Thursday afternoon, and there weren't any fresh murders in the Emerald City. That meant I was stuck in the bullpen, finishing up paperwork from my last case. Usually, I enjoyed the quiet little moments when I could focus on wrapping everything up; but the paperwork was about an open-and-shut incident where a man had shot his girlfriend three times in the chest, and then walked out onto the lawn with the firearm in hand, screaming to his neighbours that she'd made him do it.
It was ugly and sad, and there's never any satisfaction in cases like that. All you can do is make sure everything is air-tight and hope that the son of a bitch dies in prison. Charlie, my dad, was a cop and he'd always told me that most of the job was doing paperwork that kept people safe. Not glamorous, but necessary. Screw it up and someone might manage to walk on a technicality.
But what was really on my mind while I filled in the blank spaces on the forms, and what had been occupying my imagination for the last couple of days, was the murder of Aro Volturi.
Aro had been an old style racketeer - the kind they don't make any more, and probably won't ever again - with business dealings in stolen goods, counterfeit money, gambling, and anything else on the list. Except narcotics, or so the gossip went. In fact, it would probably be more appropriate to say that these were his alleged business dealings, since nobody in law enforcement had ever been able to pin him down with any charges.
Certainly not for lack of trying, either. The FBI's Organized Crimes task force had a file on him so big, it probably took up its own computer. Aro had been a clever, slippery, amenable and well-liked criminal personality. He was known for his brutal efficiency, tactical mind and profound loyalty to his family. The stuff of legends. The kind of guy Coppola or Scorsese would make a movie out of. There wasn't a fed alive who hadn't hated the man's guts.
On Tuesday night, he walked out of a nightclub that he owned and was hit in the head with a 30mm bullet from a distance of 250 yards.
It was a perfect single shot. There hadn't been any witnesses.
I was one of the first officers on scene. Seattle PD homicide congregated there within ten minutes of the shot being fired. We were accompanied by emergency services, who declared Aro dead almost immediately upon arrival. I could still remember how he'd looked, lying there with a halo of blood around his skull. I interviewed a few onlookers and bystanders. Nobody had seen anything useful. A perimeter was set up, the shell casing was placed in a sealed evidence bag, and the body was barely inside the Medical Examiner's van when the FBI showed up to take the case away. I would have been more pissed off about the injustice of it all, except for the fact that Jessica Stanley was the agent assigned to the investigation.
Jessica and I were friends from way back. Ever since I'd transferred from Phoenix. When we first met she was the bureau's liaison with local police, one of the worst jobs you could get. We'd bonded over being women in a man's world, and sometimes we'd grab a couple of martinis at one of the cop bars. It didn't take too long for either of to us to start climbing the career ladder, but we always managed to stay friends.
The phone on my desk rang just as I was tying my hair in a ponytail. I cradled the receiver between my neck and shoulder and answered.
"You'll never guess what happened to me," Jessica said cheerfully, "I met a guy!"
I couldn't help but crack a smile as I glanced at the little clock in the bottom right corner of my computer screen.
"Shouldn't you be working, Agent Stanley?" I asked.
"That's the best part! I am working!" You could practically hear her gigantic smile through the phone, "It was the Volturi funeral today, and a few of us attended. You, know at a distance…"
"Uh-huh." I finished with my hair and adjusted the receiver so that it was more comfortable.
It wouldn't be unusual for a handful of investigators to try and see if they could learn anything from the attendees at the service. Grief was a surprising motivator for confessions. Particularly when several of the parties concerned were Catholic.
"Anyway, I saw one of the mooks hanging back from the crowd, so I wandered over to see if I could talk to him, you know, get some information. Maybe an off-the-record kind of tip. But before I get there, this second guy shows up. I guess he was in the crowd, and I missed him. And this guy, Bella, this guy…"
"What about him?"
"He's like… an Adonis or something," Jessica practically purred, "He's pure sex, I'm telling you! He has this hair, it's kind of red but more like copper than orange. He looks like a model. Like the kind of guy that doesn't really exist. And his eyes! They're like nothing I've ever seen before! I didn't even know somebody could have eyes like that! They are - I shit you not - golden. They must be some kind of pale brown, or maybe it's like they're hazel but with no blue so the green turns yellow and gives them a kind of gold shimmer…"
"He doesn't sound like my type," I told her, hoping to stem the tide of gushing praise, "So what did he do at the funeral?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. He walks over to Felix - that's the big guy's name - and says something to him, just kind of short and simple, and heads away. I thought maybe he was a friend of the family, or maybe he was a friend of the family, and I was going to talk to Felix anyway, so I ask him who the guy was. And Felix says he doesn't know him, so I ask what he said. 'Three o'clock at the bar around the corner,' he tells me. I said that I thought it sounded like a message, and he said that if it was one, Edward got the wrong guy because…"
She was talking too fast and trying to say too much. It was a side-effect of her brain running at a faster speed than human speech was capable of. It was also annoying, but harmless.
"Wait, wait," I said, "Who's Edward?"
"The guy," Jessica sighed angrily, "Haven't you been listening?"
"Right. Sorry. Go on."
"So I offer to buy Felix a drink, because he looks like a man with something on his mind. And he jokes that he doesn't want to go to the bar, because he's worried that Edward's message was a come-on. So I tell him that if he's with me, he'll look as straight as an arrow. I didn't tell him that I thought he was bullshitting me and that we were going to go see what was supposed to happen at three o'clock even if I had to force him to that bar at gunpoint.
"Anyway, we show up, and at first there's no sign of Edward. So Felix gets to drinking, and I mean some serious drinking. On the bureau's tab, I might add. But I don't think they'll mind, because I got something pretty near to a confession out of him. I'm positive he's the one who shot Aro Volturi. I called in for back-up just before I phoned you, they should be here in a minute or two. Anyway, about fifteen minutes ago, Edward does show up…"
There was a sudden pause.
"Jessica?" I asked.
"Hang on. Something's not right."
"What do you mean?"
"There are two guys on the street, I can see them through the window. They're in black suits, trying to look like agents, but I don't know them…"
Then, suddenly two popping noises, like corks exploding from champagne bottles. But I knew from long experience that it was the sound of gunfire.
"Jessica?!" I was frantic. The helplessness of the situation hit me square in the chest. There was a second of ugly shock before I managed to react. I clutched the phone in a white-knuckled grip as I shouted down the station, and opened another line to dispatch. Jessica's back-up was already on the way, but maybe there was a patrol car closer by.
Two more shots, some crashing glass, a scuffle.
A faint gurgling noise, the sound of laboured breathing. A beep like somebody had accidentally hit a button on the cell phone, and then my friend's voice - weak and barely audible.
"Bella… it was Edward… told them where… to…"
"Jessica, hold on! Help is coming!"
"Felix… dead… should have… known better… stupid…"
In the background, there was a new set of noises. Frantic shouts and cool professional voices radioing for an ambulance. It seemed the backup Jessica had called for had arrived in earnest. But a moment too late.
I could hear a man telling her to relax, and that she would be alright.
"Find Edward…" She said, so weakly it was almost impossible to hear, "Edward…"
There were a few bars near the cemetery, but it was easy to find the one I was looking for. It was the one with the ambulances and black sedans parked out front. It also had the crowd. That crowd of morbid voyeurs that always seemed to gather at the scene of any crime or accident to whisper about what was happening and who had died. Denying everybody and anybody the privacy of agony or grief.
Usually I didn't mind the crowd, since there was always one among them who had seen something or heard something. But this time, I despised them and their goddamn indecency. They reminded me of another crowd I had seen in Phoenix, just before my transfer. A crowd whose faces had also been lit up by flickering blue and red lights.
The crime scene was still being photographed.
The thug who'd been named Felix was lying with his body twisted half out of a broken window at the front of the bar. His head dangled towards the street, and hung limp and lifeless.
"Detective," A stern voice called, and I turned to see Agent Eleazar de Sevilla and two sour-faced goons in suits coming towards me, "Local PD has nothing to do with this…"
Eleazar was the head of the Seattle branch, and had a reputation for being a little promotion-crazy. Dressed in a navy blue suit with a black tie, he also had a reputation for being more concerned with his appearance than the average department director. Jessica always said that he was probably a good person when you got to know him, but nobody in her offices had the time to spare on it.
"I'm not here to play jurisdiction hockey," I told him, "I just want to know what went down. She was my friend. I was on the phone with her when the shots were fired."
"It's better if you don't go inside," He said in a gentler tone of voice, "You don't want to see it."
I glanced towards the broken window and the open doors. Beyond an overturned chair, I could see the fingers of a feminine hand. They were stiff, pointing aimlessly up towards the ceiling, with a perfect neutral manicure.
He was right. I didn't want to see any more.
I followed Eleazar over to one of the black sedans. Cars so subtle, they always stood out. He leaned against the hood, and looked tired and pensive. It couldn't be easy to lose one of your people; and Jessica had ignored protocol and gone to that bar alone, with the rest of her team hanging back at the cemetery. Her backup had taken over fifteen minutes to arrive from the time she called them. Two gunmen, who'd been impersonating FBI agents, had killed a key witness in broad daylight and had not been apprehended yet. It was a bad day to be the man in charge.
"You're saving me some time," He explained, "We found her phone in her hand, but we haven't gone over the call history yet. It's too much of a mess in there."
"She called around five to three, said that she'd as good as gotten a confession out of Felix," I explained, "Told me there was another guy in the bar with them. Edward Something, she never mentioned a last name to me. I don't know if he told her one. Gave me a description, though."
Eleazar thought for a minute, then shook his head:
"Bartender survived," He said, "Older guy, suffered a heart attack that knocked him right down under the counter and none of the shots got him. Trading one kind of death for another, I guess. The paramedics took him away, but we got a couple of answers out of him first. He didn't say anything about a second male…"
I gave him a less fawning description of the man Jessica had told me about, leaving out all the Adonis comments. I also told him about the message this Edward guy had given Felix at the funeral. It was pretty obvious to both of us that whoever Edward turned out to be, he was part of the set-up to gun down Felix at the bar. Poor Jessica had just gotten caught in the crossfire.
After I finished bringing him up to speed, Eleazar whistled sharply at one of the agents coming out of the bar. It was the kind of whistle somebody might hail a taxi with.
"Laurent!" Eleazar called.
The agent walking towards us was a handsome young man with latex gloves on, and a closed crime scene kit in one hand.
"New guy," Eleazar explained to me under his breath, "Transfer from New Orleans."
"Somethin' you need, boss?" Agent Laurent smiled amiably. He had one of those faintly French southern accents. Maybe a Cajun. At first he seemed nice enough, but his face tightened and got a little more serious when he noticed the badge on my belt.
"This is Detective Swan," Eleazar announced, and I shook hands with Laurent, "She was good friends with Agent Stanley, and was speaking with her on the phone when it all happened."
"Oh," Laurent nodded, "I'm sorry for your loss, Detective."
"She says Agent Stanley identified a second Caucasian male drinking in the bar, who had also attended the funeral. Have your guys found anything that might support that?"
"Victim one was drinking at the bar. Ouzo shots. It looks like Agent Stanley had two Cokes, one at the bar and one at a table near the door. Her lipstick's on the straws. There was also a glass of whiskey at the table where we found Stanley's second glass."
"You sure it wasn't Felix's?" Eleazar asked. It was a routine kind of question.
"You ever known a man to drink ouzo and whiskey in the same sitting?" Laurent raised an eyebrow.
"Stranger things have happened. Did you find any prints on the glass?"
"A few. They could belong to the bartender, they could belong to Agent Stanley. Can't say yet. The glass is full. I swabbed it, but I will be entirely surprised if we find anything. If there was somebody else at the scene, he was pretty careful not to leave too much of himself behind."
"Shit." I said, and shook my head. If there was no DNA to place another person in the bar, and the old man didn't recover from his heart attack or had poor eyesight and couldn't confirm the description of Edward, then they might never catch him. And that meant they'd probably never catch the gunmen who'd killed Jessica, either.
"Thanks, Laurent." Eleazar nodded at the other agent, who nodded back and walked away.
"You need to track down this Edward. Somebody at the funeral must have seen him, maybe ask people in some of these buildings…" I said, motioning at the other stores and restaurants on the block.
"I know my job, Detective Swan," Eleazar replied, standing up straight and adjusting his jacket, "Now get out of my crime scene. And stay where I can reach you."
There was a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Didyme's. It was so earnestly Italian American in its décor that it could probably pass for kitsch. The table cloths were red and white check, the bread was served in wicker baskets with burgundy linen napkins, and every table had its own tapered candle held in a short, fat wine bottle covered in dribbled wax. I'd been inside once or twice before, but I'd never had the food. People said it was pretty good.
It was named after Aro's sister, and had been her pet project for a number of years until her untimely death from cancer. Since then, it had been in the hands of her widower, Marcus - who had also been Aro's loyal right-hand man. He was nicknamed The Mourner by law enforcement and the small time crooks in his organization. He hadn't changed a damn thing since he inherited the restaurant. Not even the peeling and out-of-date wallpaper. The place was a shrine.
There was a crowd inside, and every table was packed with people dressed in all black. Drinking red wine and eating seafood dishes. All of them had come straight from the funeral. Some of them even seemed sad.
When I walked in, a girl with dark hair and hazel eyes who was dressed in a crisp white shirt and a black skirt stopped me at the door. She had one of those plastic claw hair clips, and a bronze nametag that read Gianna.
"I'm sorry, Miss," She smiled, "We're hosting a private function today. We don't have any tables available."
I moved my jacket aside and tapped my badge.
"Where's your boss?"
The smile fell away from the waitress's face at once. She glared daggers at me, then motioned towards the door to the back room with an overly flourished gesture. It was the most sarcastic body language I'd seen in a while. For some reason, the airhead waitress at the money-laundering restaurant had a problem with cops. I couldn't think why.
I wove through the crowd of diners, behind chairs with coats thrown over them, and little children sitting on the carpeted floor for no reason, until I got to the closed mahogany double doors. They were next to the swinging door that led to the kitchen, which nearly hit me square in the face when a waiter passed through without looking.
"I'm so sorry, ma'am!" The waiter squeaked, "Please forgive me!"
Gianna, who had followed me in silent contempt, scoffed at her co-worker.
"She's a cop, genius."
This piece of information caused the clumsy waiter to shrug his shoulders, and go back about his business without any further attempts at civility. Who cared if you knocked some cop onto her ass with the door? You should probably get a medal for a thing like that.
Gianna knocked on the closed doors, and when a voice answered for her to come in, she motioned me in ahead of her.
Three men and two women were sitting around the office. One of them, leaning against the wall nearest to the door, was a man named Caius, who'd spent five years in prison for weapon smuggling. The more dolled up of the two women was his wife, whose name I didn't know or care about. She was sitting with Aro Volturi's widow, whose name I also didn't know or care about. Septicaemia or something.
Behind the desk, looking up at her with expectant and numb eyes, was Marcus himself. To his left was an empty chair, which was probably where Felix was supposed to be sitting, and to his right was seated the third man in the room. I didn't know him. He was handsome in that sleazy Casanova kind of way.
"Detective Swan, Seattle PD," I said, "I need to have a word with you. In private."
Marcus looked vaguely annoyed, but he nodded.
"Why don't you two go get something to eat?" He suggested to the women, in a soft and kindly voice.
They exchanged an uneasy glance with one another, but got up and breezed past me without so much as a polite glance at my face. No need to look at peasants or enemies, I guess.
"Who's this?" I asked, nodding at the man I didn't recognize.
"Demetri," Marcus said, "He's a cousin of mine. You can speak freely in front of him. Please, have a seat."
I plunked down in the chair across from the desk, and adjusted my shirt a little so that I was comfortable. The phrase a cousin of mine usually referred to some young goon who was being groomed for a higher position. It didn't really matter to me, I was just curious. It was somebody else's problem to keep tabs on those guys.
"Your friend Felix is dead," I announced, "Gunned down an hour ago, at a bar by the cemetery. Right after everybody had cleared out of the funeral."
Marcus leaned back, his eyes a little wider, but the rest of his face betrayed no emotion.
"That's a terrible shame," He said, "Felix was a dear friend. A good man…"
"Before they shot him, he confessed to an FBI agent that he'd been the gunman who'd killed Aro Volturi. Apparently, it wasn't sitting well on his conscience. The FBI agent is dead now."
"Bullshit!" Caius sneered, "Felix was as loyal as a dog. He couldn't kill Aro anymore than he could kill his own mother!"
Marcus raised a hand to quiet the other man.
"He makes a good point, Detective," He noted, "I can believe somebody would kill Felix. God rest his soul, he was a reckless boy. But I can't believe he would kill Aro…"
"We figure it like this," I explained, "Whoever hired Felix was beginning to get nervous about him having some regrets, so they started watching him. They put a pointer on him, a guy called Edward. No last name. We're working on identifying him. When he went into the bar with the FBI agent, they figured he was going to spill all the nasty details. So they made certain he wasn't going to be able to tell anybody anything. Ever."
Marcus mulled over the information for a few moments, while Caius recklessly paced the floor behind him.
"Edward?" Caius scoffed, "I don't know any goddamn Edwards. Guys named Edward go to country clubs or play Dungeons and Dragons. It's Eddie or nothing around here…"
"Why are you here?" Marcus asked, looking me in the eyes with an unsettling steadiness, "Why are you telling us all of this?"
"A couple of reasons," I shrugged, "The FBI agent Felix was confessing to was my friend. Just like Aro was your friend. I want to see justice done, and I want whoever killed her to pay for it. I figure the key to all of it is this pointer, this Edward. But I can't find him alone, with no last name and only a vague description. I thought you might want to know who killed Aro, and so you'd be more friendly than under normal circumstances…"
"I understand." Marcus nodded.
"I still can't think of a single fucking guy that goes by Edward in full," Caius grumbled, "You sure it wasn't just Eddie?"
"We got it as Edward. In full," I told him, "But if you want to go around hassling all the guys called Eddie, I won't stop you. He's tall, handsome, red hair and light brown eyes."
Caius looked like he was searching his memory for anybody who matched the description and might be assigned the job in question. He came up empty.
"Shit." He shook his head, and shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Thank you for coming by, Detective," Marcus said cordially, standing up and showing me to the door, "We'll do our best to keep in touch."
The next stop was the hospital, where the old bartender had been sent after the shooting. It took a few minutes at the front desk, and some more badge flashing, to find out what room the old timer was in. The nurse was sour-faced, and determined to be as minimally helpful as she could. Maybe it was because it was well after visiting hours by then, and most of the patients were supposed to be resting.
I did feel a little ghoulish, walking through the quiet hallways with their dimmed lights. Hospitals always made me uncomfortable.
"Excuse me," A young and fresh-faced nurse said from behind me, "Can I help you?"
The badge was getting quite the showing that day. I gave the nurse a good look at it.
"Looking for Mr. Gomez. Room 417, they told me at the front desk. Shouldn't there be a guard on his door?"
"Oh, you're with the FBI!" The nurse declared, not taking much of a look at the badge, "The agent that was here earlier told us to tell everyone who wasn't one of you that Mr. Gomez had passed away."
"Agent de Sevilla?" I asked.
"That's the one! That's a pretty charming boss you have," The nurse smiled, "Did you need to ask the patient some more questions?"
"Yes. Is that alright?"
"Wait here. I'll have to check with his doctor."
Obviously, I had no intention of waiting. If the doctor showed up in person, and asked to take a proper look at my credentials he might call the department to confirm my identification. Or worse, he'd call the FBI branch and find out that I wasn't supposed to have anything to do with Mr. Gomez at all.
As soon as the nurse was out of sight, I hurried quietly down the hall to room 417. Making sure nobody else was around, I slowly opened the door and stepped inside.
The room was mostly dark, the only light streaming in softly from the hallway through two small windows on either side of the door. The old bartender lay in the hospital cot, with a blanket over top of him. The blanket was the same colour as Kermit the Frog. Gomez looked like a good man, a grandfatherly type, with white hair and the kind of wrinkles you got if you spent most of your time smiling. He also looked drawn and weak, which wasn't too much of a surprise since heart attacks aren't known for giving people a fresh spring glow.
He wasn't alone.
Next to the bed was a tall, handsome man with smooth pale skin as white as a marble statue's. He had hair that was a colour right between red and brown, an elegant set of features, and a strange golden colour to his eyes. He looked like he was barely part of the room. Almost like a ghost.
The old man was talking to him softly, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. My heart was probably beating too loudly.
"I know," The young man replied, in tones as rich and soft as the voice of some heartthrob actor's, "It'll be easier now. You'll see."
Gomez feebly reached for a nearby glass of water, but his arm didn't have the strength to grab it.
"Here," The young man took the glass and gently raised it to the old man's lips, "Drink slowly."
This had to be him. The man Jessica had described to me in her final moments.
I didn't like that he was there, in the hospital, with the only living witness to the shooting. And I especially didn't like that he was calmly helping the man to a drink of water. Something about the way he handled that glass made me nervous.
"Seattle PD!" I almost shouted, pulling my firearm from its holster and pointing it at the mysterious man.
The glass of water clattered to the ground, the clear liquid inside of it spilling on the worn old linoleum floor. But the old man had already drank. He began convulsing, and the machines attached to him beeped wildly with alarms that would summon all of the nurses and doctors on duty.
Panicked, I rushed to his side. I had some first responder training, like all police officers, and my CPR certification had been renewed only a month before. But I had no idea what to do. If he'd been poisoned, maybe it would be best to induce vomiting; then again, sometimes that was the worst thing you could do.
I felt helpless and flustered in those few seconds as the machines blared, and I had no choice but to wait for the doctors.
The old man reached for my hand, and looked up at me with large and sympathetic eyes.
"Confia…"He said in a raspy whisper,"…el hombre de los ojos de oro…"
It didn't mean anything to me. I don't speak Spanish.
The doctors were upon us then, pulling me away as somebody demanded to know what I was doing in there and the nurse from before angrily shouted at me to leave. They began trying to help the old man, but it was clear from the limpness of his frail old body and the sounds of the machines that they wouldn't be successful.
My senses finally snapped back into full force, and I looked around the room for the golden-eyed man.
He was gone.
I hurried into the hallway, listening for footsteps and making my way towards the elevators, but there was no sign of him. I'd had him, right in front of me, and he'd killed Mr. Gomez. Just like he'd killed Jessica. And then I'd gotten sloppy, gotten distracted, and now he was gone.
"Damn it!" I cried angrily, and pounded my fist into the elevator door.
The next morning, I was in no way surprised when Captain Platt walked up to my desk and sternly raised one of her well-groomed eyebrows at me.
"We need to talk," She said, "My office. Now."
Captain Esme Platt was a woman who did everything in her power to not look half as softly beautiful as she actually was. It was a tough climb to the rank she'd achieved, and she'd done it by busting through one of the thickest glass ceilings a woman could come across. She liked to give other female cops a chance in her department; so when one of us disappointed her, that disappointment ran deep.
I followed her into a cozy, well-decorated office with photos of a recently restored lake cottage on the walls. The captain's hobby was architecture and design. She seemed to have a knack for it. She closed the door behind us and motioned for me to have a seat. Taking her own place behind the desk, she drew in a deep breath and tapped a pen against her thumbnail. Like she was waiting for me to do the talking.
"Would you like to tell me what exactly is going on?" She finally asked, when she realized that I had no idea what I was supposed to say.
"Captain?" I went with my best imitation of innocent confusion.
"Swan, I don't like people who take advantage of my goodwill. I don't like people who make waves with the FBI, and I don't like people who sit in that chair and lie to my face. And I want to like you. I want to like everybody. So the ball's in your court."
The captain was a good ally. She'd accepted my transfer without asking too many questions, and she didn't give me any grief or glory for coming from a cop family. I figured I owed it to her to be honest, so I told her the whole story from start to finish. Except the part about my little visit to the Volturi family, since it was a slightly more serious indiscretion and knowing about it would put her in a tight spot.
When I was done, she just kind of stared at me.
"You realize that absolutely zero percent of your behaviour was acceptable, right?" Captain Platt said carefully, "You know that I can't condone any of it. But, I understand what it's like to lose a friend, and I understand your frustration with the system right now. That being said, it's not your case. It's not this department's case. So hands off. Got it?"
"What about Mr. Gomez?" I asked.
"What about him?"
"That was a homicide, and we solve homicides."
"We haven't received any information indicating that a crime took place, which means that the death certificate says natural causes." She said.
"He was poisoned! I saw it!"
"Swan, I'm not going to devote resources to digging up an old man who had a heart attack, having the ME run tox on him, sending somebody to go get a water glass that's probably covered in who knows how many fingerprints, and checking it for a residue that probably got washed away by hospital staff last night," She told me very plainly with a shake of her head, "The only person who thinks Mr. Gomez was murdered is you. When the doctor on duty telephoned me last night, while I was at home, he mentioned this Edward you keep talking about…"
"There. The doctor's another witness."
The captain shook her head again.
"He didn't see anybody. He says you kept insisting somebody else was there, but nobody on the floor saw him. None of the patients reported anybody matching the description passing by their rooms…"
"Half of them were asleep! How they hell would they know?!" I slammed her hand against the desk in outrage. Here it was again, the man who had helped kill Jessica, the man who had poisoned poor old Mr. Gomez, was slipping through my fingers. Like smoke.
"Detective," Captain Plat replied calmly, "Take the day off. And for the love of god, stay away from the Volturi cases."
"Can you do one thing for me?" I asked her, suddenly exhausted and defeated.
"Put out an APB on this Edward guy? Just a description and that he answers to the first name. Please. If anybody sees him, they'll call it in, and if nobody does then there's no harm done."
"Fine. Write it up."
The next few days were bitter and useless. There weren't any hits on the APB . Nobody from the Volturi organization called with any tips or spare pieces of information. The FBI was exercising its right to be a bunch of total bastards and not giving me any case updates. Maybe they would have been nicer, but they didn't care for my cowboy stunt at the hospital. They even tried to get the captain to write me up.
The captain smoothed it over, but she made sure to tell me that she could have just as easily suspended me.
It was a pain in the ass that so many people were taking the time to chastise me, instead of chasing down the leads I'd given them. Nobody seemed to care if they caught Jessica's killers or not.
On a rain-soaked evening, when the sky was the colour of wet concrete, I found myself sitting in a hotel bar getting thoroughly, unpleasantly drunk. Or that was the plan. I'd really only just sat down and was starting in on my first drink when something caught my attention.
I saw him at first out of the corner of my eye. He was gliding through the nearby lobby, like he had somewhere to be but wasn't in a rush. I couldn't believe my luck. It was the golden-eyed man. The same man I'd seen at the hospital. Edward.
For some extra courage, I slammed back the rest of my martini before getting to my feet to after him. I was off-duty so I didn't have my gun or even my badge, there wasn't really a plan for how to stop him or to detain him until help arrived. I used my cell phone to call for some backup while I pushed through a crowd of businessmen who were entering the bar. The captain couldn't complain about the use of resources - after all, he was officially wanted for questioning. Still, I didn't tell dispatch exactly what the backup was for. Just that it was needed.
By the time I caught up with him, he'd slipped into a crowded elevator. He didn't see me coming towards the doors just as they began closing. I stopped, feeling my frustration tick up with each passing microsecond. Time seemed to slow down. If he went up, I'd never know what floor he was heading for. Then I'd have to ask my backup to block all of the exists when they arrived, and god knew how long we'd have to stake him out…
"Fifteen." Edward said softly to the man who was standing closest to the panel of buttons, and I ran straight for the stairs.
My thighs ached by the time I made it to the fifteenth floor, and my heart was pounding wildly in my chest. I'd taken the stairs too quickly, but it didn't matter. All I cared about was catching this guy and finally getting answers. And justice for my friend.
When I burst out of the industrial-looking stairwell door, I found the hallways of the fifteenth floor as empty as the Mary Celeste. The identical room doors were all shut, and there was no sound - not even the faint chatter of a television - other than my own ragged breathing. I looked at the floor indicator above the elevator. It was clicking up from seventeen to eighteen.
I'd missed my chance. Again.
There was a chance that he was a guest at the hotel, and if that was the case, the manager could look up his room number. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself and turned back towards the elevator, there was no need to rush anymore.
I found myself staring right into a pair of unearthly golden eyes.
"You've been looking for me." He said, with a sort of sad and sort of wistful smile.
It was strange, but his voice did something to me. Not the way a smooth and sexy voice somehow warms up a girl's blood. Something deeper. It reminded me of that green ball of light in Sleeping Beauty, that leads the princess up the staircase and to the spinning wheel. Almost mesmerizing. I didn't like it. Two seconds ago, I had hated him with everything I had. And now…
Now I knew why Jessica had been so taken with him.
"Of course I've been looking for you," I said, "But you're a difficult man to find."
"I have to be."
"What is all this you're mixed up in? What do you have to do with it all?" I asked the question without even thinking about it.
He shook his head a little, and that smile of his got a little wider but still didn't look very happy.
"I can't tell you."
"Why?" I pleaded, "You seem like you could have the world at your fingertips, if you wanted it. I bet you could make yourself any kind of life that you wanted. Why get mixed up in murder?"
The smile faltered, and the golden eyes flickered a little.
"You think I'm a murderer?" He asked.
"What else could you be? I saw you with Mr. Gomez, and he was the only witness who could tie you to the bar when Jessica was gunned down…"
"I don't suppose you'd believe me if I told you that you were wrong?"
"I'd like to," I said, part of me surprised at the truth of it, "But what else could it be?"
He didn't try to answer. He just tilted his head a little, like he was hearing someone calling from far away, but the hallway was still silent. And then he said:
"I have to go, Bella. Please don't try to find me again."
Even though I'd been searching for him desperately, even though he'd answered none of my questions and given me no help at all, I just stood there and watched as the elevator doors opened behind him and he got into the empty cab.
That's when I realized that there was something familiar about his face. It wasn't just that I remembered him from the hospital, or Jessica's fawning description of him. I felt like he and I had met before any of this started happening. My gut told me it had been in Phoenix, but other than that I couldn't place where or when we might have met before.
Still in a kind of dizzy trance, I waited for the second elevator and headed back down to the lobby.
The place was buzzing with activity, but I wasn't paying much attention. Outside the glass doors, patrol cars were lined up on the street with their blue and reds flashing. My backup. I had no idea what to say to them, and then I noticed that one of the uniformed officers was sectioning off part of the road with yellow crime scene tape. He shouldn't have been doing that, if they were just responding to my call.
"Some woman just jumped from the fifteenth floor!" Somebody whispered loudly nearby, and I looked over my shoulder to see to college aged girls gossiping with one another.
The fifteenth floor. That was where Edward and I had just been talking. That's where he'd been for who knew how long before I'd caught up with him. I wondered if he'd pushed that woman, and if he had…
How could I have just let him go? Why didn't I stop him?
What the hell was in those martinis?
Didyme's was a lot less crowded than the last time I'd been there. A handful of elderly couples having early lunches, scattered around so they could feel like their conversation was nice and private. Without the faceless men in black suits, it felt surprisingly genuine. Just your average Italian-style family restaurant. Nothing to see here. Try the spaghetti.
"Oh," Said the girl called Gianna, walking over to where I was waiting, "It's you again. What do you want?"
"Great customer service. They must come from miles around just to bask in your charm."
She sighed and rolled her eyes at me.
"You wanna see the boss?"
I smiled like I was impressed that she was so clever, and fought the urge to clap sarcastically.
Without the goon squad looming behind the desk, the back office felt much more spacious. And without the unashamed violence of a man like Caius, or the sleek and charming lethality of someone like Demetri to compare him to, Marcus looked a lot less like a caricature of his own sadness. That notoriously weepy aura was still there, but a sharpness was more obvious.
It was easier to see that I was dealing with a dangerous man.
"Detective Swan," He said, graciously motioning to the seat across his desk, "Please."
"Would you like a drink? A dish from the kitchen, perhaps?" He smiled politely.
I was getting a little hungry, but I didn't want him to think we were on friendly terms. So I shook my head and told him:
"All I want to know is if your boys know anything about Edward."
"The golden-eyed man," Marcus chuckled, "There are a few rumours. Mostly that the cops are looking for him, but he hasn't turned up. If he was working in this town and he had anything to do with the restaurant business, we'd know about him by now. And we don't."
I smiled at the choice of words. Restaurant business. Always such creative patter with men like Marcus.
"I guess that's all," I stood up and straightened myself out, "Thanks for your time."
He went to say something, hesitated sharply and narrowed his eyes.
"Are you still interested in finding out who killed Jessica Stanley?" He asked, "Or is it different now?"
"It's never going to be different," I said, "Know something?"
"Maybe, but right now it's all my business and not yours. If it has anything to do with Stanley or this Edward character, I'll give you a call."
He stood up to show me out of the room, but before he could the big double doors opened up behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see Caius. Blond, cold as winter and looking like somebody just punched him in the stomach.
"Detective Swan came by to see how we're doing finding out who killed poor Felix. She's leaving now."
"Sure," Caius nodded, "Nice to see you, detective."
My apartment had always been comfortable enough. A one-bedroom in a grey building with planters on the balconies, just off a busy street that always seemed to have cars driving on it. Even in the dead of night. There was a galley kitchen that got used mostly as a place to organize Chinese food containers, a living room that I'd somehow managed to cram both a sofa and a loveseat into, and a bathroom the size of a filing cabinet. I hadn't gone in for much decorating, and the few pictures hung on the walls were either of me and my dad on the day I graduated from the academy, or things I'd bought from Ikea because they didn't look stupid enough to offend me.
When I got home, I collapsed face-first into the sofa with my keys still in my hand. All I wanted to do was stay there for eight hours, but instead I made myself a Lean Cuisine in the microwave and ate it while I watched some TV drama that took place in a hospital where nobody practiced any medicine. After that, I got ready for bed by changing from one T-shirt into another T-shirt and slipping on a pair of flannel shorts.
My dreams were strange.
A sky full of stars, pale purple at the edges. Desert roads that stretched to a distant horizon and wove between tall cacti with yellow flowers. The feeling of being upside-down, with the seatbelt digging into my skin and the smell of gasoline all around me. Patrol cars flashing blue and red. Blue and red. Blue and red. Wheels on the other car still spinning, even though it was turned on its side. A crowd of faces. A pair of golden eyes.
"Bella." The voice didn't come from the dream. I sat up, startled, and reached for the gun on my bedside table.
"Don't move," Edward said, standing in the doorway to my bedroom, "If you do anything other than stay where you are and listen to me, I'll leave. Do you understand?"
"How the hell did you get in here?" I asked, still groggy.
"That's not important," He smiled that strange, almost tragic smile, "And I won't stay long. But I thought… You've been looking for me so doggedly, I thought you deserved to know that you're going to know everything you need to know about me. Not tonight, but soon."
"What?" I shook my head, "Why not tonight?"
"Soon," His voice sounded sympathetic for some reason, "Sooner than I'd like…"
"And you'll tell me who you work for? How you fit into all of this?"
"I don't work for anyone, Bella."
When I woke up the next morning, I wondered if that conversation had been part of my dream. I couldn't remember him leaving, and I couldn't remember falling back asleep. There was no way he could have gotten into the apartment, since none of the windows opened, and both the front door and the balcony door were locked from the inside.
But, for whatever reason, I couldn't fully convince myself that it hadn't been real.
The call came in on my cell phone, at about two o'clock the next afternoon. It was listed as a private number, but I answered anyway. I was surprised to find out that Caius was on the other end.
"What are you doing tonight?" He asked.
"I'm flattered, but you're married," I answered dryly, "Besides, the whole Batman/Catwoman thing doesn't do it for me."
"Funny," I could tell that he wasn't even smiling, "But you might want to cut the shit when you hear what I have in mind."
"Marcus thinks he knows who killed you friend and Felix, but he won't tell you. I know for sure that he's right, and I'm willing to tell you all about it."
"You know who killed Jessica?"
"Same person who killed Aro," Caius said coldly, "Do you know the Zodiac Club?"
"No, but I can find it."
"Be there at nine o'clock. No feds, no wire."
He hung up without saying goodbye.
My heart was pounding like a drum, and it didn't stop until that evening. I toyed with the idea of letting Captain Platt know about the phone call, and in the end I decided not to. I'd been warned to stay away from the case - and the Volturi family. She'd probably try to stop me, and she'd probably succeed. I couldn't let the chance go. I needed this. It was the only way I could think of to thank Jessica for her friendship.
The Zodiac Club was underground. Literally. It had probably been a speakeasy back in prohibition days, and the door was down a flight of stairs that came off a skinny little strip of sidewalk. There wasn't anybody inside when I opened the door. Just round tables with chairs flipped over so that the seats rested on top of them. There was a stage for a band, but no band. There was a bar, but no bartender.
I started to get goosebumps on the back of my neck, and I was just turning to leave when I noticed him. Standing off in a corner by the coat check, standing in a long shadow that made his skin seem paler and his eyes shine with an eerie glow. In that light, they looked more golden than ever before.
He didn't smile or speak. He just tilted his chin in acknowledgment.
I walked over to him, determined to get some answers. If he wasn't mixed up with the Volturi, what was he doing? I didn't want to believe that he was mixed up in hit squads and fake suicides, but he wasn't giving me anything else to believe instead. For some stupid reason, even though my mind was screaming at me not to trust him, my heart couldn't let go of hoping that there was some misunderstanding. I wanted him to be innocent.
"Who are you?" I asked, not bothering to hide the desperation and confusion in my voice, "Please, tell me what's going on."
"Do you think I'm… evil?" He asked.
"No," I said, "I don't."
It felt like part of my heart was being poured into his, like sand shifting from one half of the hourglass to the other. The only trouble was, I didn't want any of it to slip away from me, because I couldn't be sure that he could take care of it.
"Bella," He shook his head, "I have to go. Only for a moment, while you meet with Caius. Then I'll be back."
I head a door opening somewhere behind me, so I turned to look. Nobody was coming yet, and when I turned back Edward had already slipped away somewhere. There was the sound of footsteps then, coming out from the back room.
Caius stepped into the light where I could see him. Behind him were two men I'd never met before; but I'd seen their mug shots in the rogue's gallery at the station. They looked friendlier in their pictures. Both of them were holding 9mm handguns with the serial numbers filed off the sides.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"You wanted to know who killed Agent Stanley," Caius said, "So I brought the two gunmen who I contracted for the job."
I could feel my eyes widen as the realization dawned on me. So Caius had hired the men who'd gunned down Felix, which meant that he was the one who'd put Felix up to killing Aro in the first place. I remembered the performance he'd given when I first told Marcus that Felix was about to confess. Bullshit! Felix is as loyal as a dog!
"See, Aro was getting too set in his own ways," The threat of violence sparkled darkly in his eyes, "So old-fashioned. So proud. He was going to bankrupt every single one of us and drive this organization into the ground, all for tradition's sake. I arranged it so that Felix would kill him, and then I'd be free to take over…"
"What about Marcus?" I asked.
He looked at me like I was a kid that was getting a little too old to still believe in Santa Claus, and then he smiled.
"Marcus isn't a threat to anybody but himself. In two months time, he'll be just as devoted to me as he was to Aro. He's got no stomach for leadership," He chuckled, "As for your friend, I saw her pumping Felix for information at the funeral. I was going to have to get rid of Felix sooner or later, he had too much of a conscience, and he'd always liked Aro. It was a shame your friend got in the way, but I couldn't let her head back to her bosses if she knew something, could I?"
"And Edward?" I finally asked, "How does he fit into all of this?"
"Jesus!" Cauis laughed, "Is he real? I thought you made him up as an excuse to come asking questions! You know, get close to Marcus and piece it all together."
"But…" I said helplessly, watching the two goons behind him ready their weapons.
"You made too much of a nuisance of yourself…" Caius was saying, and there was probably more to it. He seemed like the kind of guy who planned out a speech when the occasion called for it, but I wasn't going to stand around and hear it. I didn't have time to draw my own gun without encouraging them to fire, but I was still pretty close to the door. It was a good, solid door. The kind that might have a metal core in it. I ran.
After only a second or two, while the goons waited for their brains to deliver information about what was happening, I heard the pops starting. I smelled that acrid smoke on the air, and felt a warm and angry pain tear through my back and just above my elbow. Everything was blurry. Unfocused.
I was on the street and the air was cold. There were voices shouting, everywhere. Some from behind me, some from in front. It was hard to keep going, and I felt myself collapsing into a man's arms. Without looking, I knew which man. Edward.
"You can't keep running," He said, "You've got two bullets in you."
It came to me then, the memory I'd been searching for since I'd found him on the fifteenth floor of that hotel. The first time I'd ever seen his face. Back in Phoenix, on the night a fellow officer and I had been in a car accident while pursuing a fleeing suspect. My fellow officer had died, and I had seen Edward, leaning down by his window. Talking to him as the life went out of him.
And I finally understood.
"That's right." He said, as though he'd read my mind.
He wasn't evil. He didn't kill. It was just his job to be there…
I wasn't frightened.
It was nice to be in his arms.