**Episode 18 comin’ atcha. Won’t be much longer now. But enjoy!!**
I stared at the smart board hanging on the wall in the conference room where the team had set up. Every piece of evidence was on display, including the timeline, but all told, it wasn’t much. Fiona was the only one not treating me like a pariah, but I ignored everyone. I didn’t care what they thought about me. I was here to work the case, not make friends.
I clicked on the desktop interface to change the view, bringing the surveillance pictures back up. I went through them for probably the fifth time since I’d arrived that morning. There was something about them that was bugging me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Across the room, Agent Toddington let out a snort, something he was very good at as a bull shifter. Just as I had every time before, I pretended I didn’t hear it.
After a very long moment, I leaned back, not taking my gaze from the screen. “Anderson’s body was kept in the morgue, under protective sigils, until three days ago. The sigils were removed, and the body was prepared for cremation, since it was no longer needed and was unclaimed.”
“Right.” Fiona’s voice held a hint of exasperation. I ignored that too.
I started clicking through the photos again, stopping at the one that was bothering me the most. I could see why now, but it didn’t make sense. So I continued with my summation. “The morgue was unattended for a grand total of an hour and fifteen minutes, but the guard never left her post down the hall. But somehow in that time period, the body vanished. No magic was detected. No other person was detected by scent, even though the best noses in the agency were asked to sniff around.”
Toddington let out a near growl sound, Fiona’s sighed heavily, and the two other agents—who I’d been introduced to as Meeks and Combs—made sounds of disgust. One of them, I wasn’t sure who because I didn’t look, muttered under their breath. It sounded suspiciously like “We’ve been through this.”
Once again, I ignored all of that.
“What about non-magical means?” It was the one thing that hadn’t been brought up yet.
“There’s no way,” Toddington bellowed. I turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow.
“Because it’s not possible,” he said, as though I was the stupidest person on earth. “Every inch of this building is warded completely. There is literally no way for someone to get in, snatch a body, and get out again without being detected.”
“And yet, we clearly have a missing body.” I didn’t even try to hide the patronizing tone. “It didn’t just disappear. That is actually impossible. And between the chemicals, the decomp, and the amounts of people going through the morgue, it’s hard to detect scents that shouldn’t be there. Even for the best.”
“This is pointless,” Meeks growled, his hulking frame towering over me as he leaned in. I was sure he was trying to intimidate me, but that wouldn’t work. “If you don’t have anything of value—”
“What are you seeing, Willis?” Fiona interrupted sharply.
“This right here.” I gave her my full attention since she seemed to be the only one who was willing to listen. I clicked through the photos again until I found the one I was looking for. Right at the edge of the frame, there was just the hint of a shadow that shouldn’t be there. I used the mouse to point it out.
The other agents surged forward, almost blocking my view, as they inspected the photo. Truly, it wasn’t much to go on. And it could mean nothing at all. But it couldn’t be dismissed. To the other agents’ credit, no one did that. But they also clearly didn’t think it was worth much either.
“It could be just an artifact,” Combs said thoughtfully.
“Maybe, but…hang on.” I pulled up the video and ran it at two-times speed until I reach the right part. It was a blip, a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Just a weird sort of split-second stutter in the video. Which could be nothing at all and just a simple malfunction. But that combined with the tiniest hint of shadow that was also there and gone led me to believe it was something more.
“If the feed was hacked through strictly human means, which you haven’t checked for because the magic is supposed to prevent that….if someone was cloaked with a pallium ligatum spell….then the few moments of opening the door and getting the body would go unnoticed.”
“That’s impossible!” Toddington was back to shouting.
“Improbable,” I countered. “Highly improbable, even. But not impossible. And if you’ve eliminated the impossible, then whatever is left, is the truth.”
I mangled the quote, but that wasn’t important. My brain was still trying to put all the pieces together, and I wasn’t worried about correctly quoting the fictional detective.
“That’s a hell of a reach,” Combs mused.
Fiona stepped into my field of vision and I blinked to focus on her. She’s pursed her lips in her “thinking” face and studied me for a long moment. Then she pressed her thumb to the middle of her forehead and closed her eyes. “Walk me through it.”
I nodded. “We always suspected that Anderson had an accomplice, but we never found any evidence of it. To be fair, though, since we couldn’t prosecute her for the crimes we found, her investigation was secondary to Leighton’s, right?” I waited for Fiona’s nod before I continued. “It got punted to other agents, and they never turned up anything either. But I’ve been trying to figure out who would want her body. And the only thing I can come up with is someone who has magic tied to hers. When a mage dies, most of the magic dissipates, but not all. Some is tied into the very core of the mage’s being.”
“As long as the body is intact, the magic remains,” Fiona said, picking up my thread. “If the body is destroyed, by cremation for example, that last bit of latent magic goes with it.”
“Right. And there are only a few spells that can hang on that way. Pallium ligatum being one of them.”
“But it’s still a hell of leap.” Meeks didn’t hide his derision. “That spell is never used, it’s too damaging to all parties involved.”
“Anderson was a dark mage in the extreme,” I snapped, finally out of patience. “If it served her purpose, she would use it. And I can think of a hell of a lot of reasons a mage of her caliber and ilk would want to have a permanently invisible person bound to her.”
“You can’t just jump—”
“I’m putting together the pieces!” I took a breath and modulated my voice. “There is something going on with the video, and I’m not adept enough to know what it is, but it’s likely been tampered with in some way. If this person could slip in undetected, because that’s the whole point of the pallium ligatum, once they had hands on Anderson’s body, it would be undetectable too. They could carry Anderson’s body right out the door and never be seen.”
I had to breathe again, and I lifted my gaze to Fiona, staring her right in the eye. “Yes, it’s improbable. But you all have gone at this every other way. You asked me here to look at it with fresh eyes, and I’m telling you what I’m seeing.”
“Get Jones on trying to trace a non-magical hack,” Fiona ordered, and when no one immediately responded, she pointed at Combs. “Make the call. Get the FBI involved if we have to, as they have more capabilities in this area. I’m going to call the director and have her initiate an in depth sweep and core level magical probe. There should be slight traces of that kind of spell passing through our wards. We just have to look for it.”
Everyone moved then, a flurry of activity. Fiona reached for her cell, unclipping it from her belt, but paused when I stood and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?”
I squinted at her. “Home. You can call me back in if this doesn’t pan out and you need more help.”
She tilted her head, staring at me. “You’re that sure of your assessment?”
I was, but I didn’t respond. It might not shake out exactly like I suspected, but I was certain this would be the lead they need to crack the case open. At any rate, they didn’t need me anymore.
“You know, the Willis I knew wouldn’t just walk away before the case was solved.” Her tone was neutral, but there was something in her eyes I couldn’t define.
“The Willis you knew was an investigative agent. This one is just consulting, who has a mate at home who’s worried,” I said in the same tone.
Fiona stared at me for a long time, then let out a tiny breath. “Go home to your mate. I’ll let you know what happens.”
With a nod of thanks, I turned and strode out the door.