**Episode 20! I keep thinking it’s going to end, and it keeps not ending. But as it stands now, there’s probably about two episodes left. Enjoy!**
I didn’t make eye contact with anyone as I headed straight for the director’s office, but that didn’t mean I missed the looks others were shooting me. Some were sympathetic, as though they were sorry I was about to get in trouble. Some were what could only be described as gleeful for the same reason. Only a few were encouraging, and those were the ones I took real note of of.
Annika, Director Mitchell’s admin, glanced up when I entered the anteroom. She immediately returned her attention to the computer screen but said, “She’s expecting you.”
I took that to mean I was cleared to go in. I knocked on the door and waited for permission to push it open. The director squinted at me as I entered, then shut the door behind me. I crossed the few feet to her desk, never breaking eye contact.
“Sit.” Mitchell said, gesturing to the chairs. I did, transferring Oscar to my lap, but I didn’t relax.
I watched her play with her pen as she stared at me. Flipping it between her fingers, then clicking it a few times before she set it down on the pristine surface of her desk. It was another moment or two before she spoke, and I waited that out, not willing to be the one who broke the silence.
I didn’t know what this was about, which way this conversation would go, and I wasn’t going to reveal my hand until I had to.
Eventually, she spoke. “What made you think of pallium ligatum?”
I didn’t know if I appreciated the lack of preamble or not. Outwardly, I remained calm, because I’d had a lot of practice. Inwardly, my stomach was a mess. I wanted answers about why I’d been called here and what was going on with the case. But I decided it was best to go with the direction of conversation.
“It wasn’t a new thought,” I admitted, glad my voice sounded even. I buried my fingers in Oscars fur. “During the initial investigation, it was something we explored. Along with servus ligatus, anweledig, and falaichte.”
Her expression didn’t change. “I read your initial report. My question is why?”
If she read the report, then she knew why. But if she wanted me to repeat it, I would. “It was clear that it was nearly impossible for Anderson to do what she did without help. But there was no evidence of an accomplice. So we looked at ways that could be accomplished.”
“But there was no evidence of that either.”
I fought my frustration. We’d been explicit in the report, and I knew for a fact Fiona had to have explained all this again. I didn’t understand her need to reiterate it again here. Was she just checking to make sure my story hadn’t changed? That didn’t make any sense either. So I took a breath so I could remain calm.
Mitchell nodded, her hair swinging. She tapped at her keyboard for a few moments, then turned the monitor around. The mugshot of a haggard looking man was prominent on the screen. He was bruised and battered, and he had the sunken eyes and cheeks of someone who had been deprived.
“Who is that?”
“Frank Alcott.” Mitchell turned the screen back to her, studied it for a moment, then zeroed in on me. “Anderson’s apprentice, who was under a pallium ligatum that took our best mages a considerable amount of effort and time to break. They’re still recovering from the magical overload. He was Anderson’s apprentice. When we apprehended him, and broke the spell, we found Anderson’s body as well.”
The sense of vindication was swift but fleeting. I didn’t like the piercing gaze Mitchell fixed me with. Since she was a hawk shifter, it was quite intense. It was all I could do not to look away. Oscar felt my unease and scrambled up to perch on my shoulders, curling around my neck in a comforting way. Of course, it would be easy to draw power from him that way as well.
“So I was right.”
Mitchell pursed her lips. “You were. But I still want to know how. No one else even entertained the idea. We had some of our best agents on the case, and yet you were the only one that came to the right conclusion.”
I bristled, because the accusation was in her tone. I had a feeling the next words out of her mouth were going to be that I had to undergo a soul search to prove I wasn’t using black magic. Because that’s what she was implying. That the reason I figured it out was because I practiced it too.
“With all due respect, Director Mitchell,” I began, my cold tone unavoidable, “that’s my job. Or it was. To look at cases and explore every possible angle to get to the truth. You called me in, not the other way around. I’m an exceptionally good agent. I worked hard to become so. I close cases at a higher rate than ninety percent of the agency. But it’s because I’m good and can see things other agents don’t.”
She squinted at me. “You break protocol often.”
“I bend the rules when it’s necessary and right.” The conviction was strong in my tone.
Her eyes blazed. “You don’t get to make that decision.”
Technically, she was right. The protocols were in place for a reason, and I didn’t get to pick and choose which ones to follow. Except I did on a regular basis. And yes, it meant I solved cases. It meant that the bad guys ended up behind bars and victims got justice. But did that make it right? I used to think so.
“I don’t know what you want from me, Director.” I kept the sigh in and did my best to make my tone respectful. “We’ve had this conversation before. Or an iteration of it. Multiple times. You want me to solve cases, but when I do, you don’t like the way I did it. Even though I follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit. I respect that. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want my badge, just say so.”
“We have protocols in place for a reason,” she said, anger still present in her voice. I knew that, but didn’t acknowledge her statement. It took a minute, but the heat in her gaze died. She let out a sigh, a soft little sound that I thought she didn’t want me to hear. After a few beats of silence, she said, “A position has opened on AIC Wright’s team.”
“I…what?” I heard her words, of course, but they didn’t make sense. What did that have to do with anything?
“You’re wasted in archives.”
I had to agree. But she couldn’t mean what I thought she meant. It couldn’t be that easy. Suddenly, they wanted me back as an investigative agent, all because I’d managed to crack a case her best agents had trouble with. I didn’t know how to feel about that, because I’d been doing that before they shuffled me down. They’d wanted to teach me a lesson.
“Look, Wilis,” she paused and offered me a small smile before it disappeared. “Delaney. The MBI is a lot of things, but we don’t waste talent. The Special Victims Unit would be a better fit for you. It means a new partner, a new AIC, and a refresher class on protocol. What do you say?”
I stared at her. There had to be a catch. Yes, she’d said a refresher class, but it couldn’t be that easy. My gut said to take some time, even though my heart was screaming to say yes. My whole life, all I’d wanted was to be an MBI agent. I’d spent the past fifteen years becoming the best one I could be. But I didn’t want to regret my choices, and I couldn’t just jump at this.
“I appreciate the offer, Ma’am. I’ll think about it.”
There was that squint again. “Willis, this isn’t an unlimited time offer.”
I nodded. “I understand that. But I cannot make a decision like this without speaking first with AIC Wright and then my mate.”
A beat of silence, and then, “You have forty-eight hours.”
It wasn’t long enough, really, but I didn’t want to push for more. If I couldn’t come to a solid decision in two days, then it probably wasn’t the right choice anyway. I agreed with a nod.
“Is that all, ma’am?”
She sighed like I was the most exasperating thing she’d dealt with today. Maybe I was. But this was my life, my mate’s life, and I wasn’t going to just make decisions without the proper discussion. I wouldn’t do that to Walker.
“Fine, yes. But do me a favor and talk to Wright before you leave today, will you?”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
And then without waiting for a proper dismissal, I stood and left the room. Once again, I made sure not to make eye contact with anyone. I didn’t want to see their faces. But as I headed up to AIC Wright’s office, I shot a quick text to Walker, letting him know everything was all right but that we had things to talk about.
This day had not turned out at all like I thought it would.