The Blackwater Conspiracy


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Chapter One

“Now you see that was a masterpiece of theatrics!” The couple seated in the corner of the movie theater snickered even as a crowd of kids in front of them gave them withering glares. Simon only waved back cheerfully as the teenagers began to file out through the rows. He had been the one to make the comment, much to Taylor’s amusement.

She moved to stand up, but her fiancé’s arm slung around her waist to stop her. “Hang on, hang on,” he murmured with sudden seriousness. She sat back down, looking intently over her shoulder.

“What is it?” Taylor whispered back. “Is it those kids?” The theater wasn’t in a bad part of town, but there was still some tension about being in the city after the sun went down. Taylor kicked her foot, checking that her purse was still tucked between her ankles.

Simon leaned over and tugged her ear over to his mouth. In a hoarse murmur he said, “We don’t want to miss any extra stuff after the credits. You know how all these new movies are with their clever scenes and mysterious cliffhangers.” Taylor rolled her eyes and pushed him away by his shoulder.

Standing up, she chuckled. “You’re ridiculous. I can’t believe we spent twenty bucks on this movie,” Taylor complained. She beckoned her fiancé up with a twitch of her head. Simon rose with exaggerated reluctance. The man was a comedian at heart, constantly striving to get the people around him to laugh. His wavy, auburn hair and deep brown eyes had attracted Taylor to him, but it was his sense of humor and fantastic smile that kept her around. While his jokes were a nuisance to some of his more touchy co-workers, Taylor had only smiles for him.

Simon gestured for her to go ahead of him, making her huff. “I’m going! You’re the one who was sitting and wanted to watch till the last animator was credited,” Taylor exclaimed. It didn’t actually bother her, she just wanted to give him a hard time right back.

They exited the theater by one of the side doors. The sudden change from the dull yellow lights and sad blue carpeting to the crisp darkness and bright light from the streetlamps made Taylor shiver. Fall was well on its way and the temperatures had been dropping steadily since Halloween a few weeks ago. Taylor fastened her wool pea coat and plunged her hands deeply into her pockets. It would be warm in the car, but for now she relished in the thick fabric. Her long, curly hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. Otherwise, the brunette strands would have been blowing every which way in the icy breeze.

Simon seemed oblivious to the cold, a trait that Taylor envied. His shoulders were squared against the wind and that was it. They made their way back to the car with Simon ragging on the more memorable screw ups of the film. His impersonation of the main character, a reedy thing who couldn’t give a line without sounding like he’d wet himself, was spot on.

Taylor was giggling like a schoolgirl when they rounded the last corner in the garage. “All right, maybe the twenty bucks was worth it after all, Si,” she acquiesced.

“You doubted me when I said we’d have fun? I never said the movie was good. I just said it’d be a nice night out,” Simon shot back. He unlocked the car, a tiny two-door sedan that he’d bought off his parents when he’d moved out nearly eight years ago. Taylor called it the shitbox, but the damn thing hadn’t broken anything worse than a dead battery while they went Christmas shopping. She slipped inside the passenger seat, stamping her feet as she waited for him to start the engine and consequently the heat.

“I’m working on it. Don’t fuss,” he said good-naturedly. After pecking her on the cheek, he revved the engine and put the air vents on maximum. Taylor wiggled further into her coat, but she didn’t complain any more.

Their conversation faded to a comfortable silence as Simon pulled out of the garage and gave the attendant the five dollar fee for the night. Taylor looked out the window, marveling at the bustle of the traffic around them. “It’s ten at night,” she bemoaned. “Where are all these people going to? Like honestly, I don’t get it.”

That got Simon to laugh. “Who knows? You do realize that others might go out to see movies as well, right? Or, as scandalous as it sounds, go to a night club, get drunk, and go dancing?” He teased her, his dark eyes twinkling even in the car. Taylor nodded slowly, tired of rolling her eyes for one night.

“Hey I’m going to close my eyes for a bit, grab a few winks while we sit in this traffic,” she murmured, leaning back into the seat. Simon made a soft grunt of approval and turned the radio down a couple of clicks. “You can keep your stupid jazz on,” Taylor added as she turned the collar of her coat up to let her rest her head on the seatbelt. “It’ll just help lull me to sleep.”

“I like my music. It’s not that boring,” he grumbled under his breath. “No worse than your stupid C-Span making me fall asleep at dinner.” Okay, he had her there. Taylor was a news nut, constantly watching to see what was going on in the world. But jazz music? That stuff was boring.

As they inched closer to the next intersection, Taylor closed her eyes and relaxed. Date nights were the best.

The sudden jerk of the car made Taylor’s amber eyes fly open as her body screamed at her to wake up. “Hey what the Hell!” she barked, trying to tell what was going on. The car was spinning out and Taylor could see the guardrail approaching at a speed that didn’t even give her enough time to blink twice.

Simon was clutching the steering wheel, trying desperately to pull the car out of the spin. “Tay!” he yelled just as the front bumper

Bright lights flared before running away, trails of yellow and white painting across a dark canvas. More appeared to run in the same direction, chasing each other in an endless loop of tag. Taylor felt her face twitch, fighting against a hand that was holding her head still. Far away, someone shouted that the girl was waking up. Taylor didn’t really care, she just wanted the lights to stop flashing.

"Someone needs to get this girl to a room, now!" a voice said, this time with a bigger echo. If Taylor didn't know better, she would think that they were really concerned about someone. Whoever she was, she must have been pretty stupid to not be moving along and getting up. Or to choose to wake up in a quieter, less excitable building.

"Wake up, Taylor!" a third voice joined in the cacophony. This one was deeper, more familiar. It sounded close, like right next to her ear. Taylor moaned a complaint, wishing that the people would just stop talking. Why weren't they trying to help that girl wake up? Shouting didn't seem like it would be very helpful. And the lights really needed to stop flashing. And the world should have stopped moving some time soon, too.

It seemed the gods were listening to her, as even as she tried to tell the shouters to keep the world still, she felt her body slow and then stop entirely. They rounded a corner, bringing her to a rest in a room where the lights weren't flickering. "Thank god," she gasped, the words coming out this time.

"Taylor? You really are awake, Tay!" the deep voice said again. It sounded like Simon, but it couldn't have been. Simon was driving and wherever Taylor was, it wasn't a car.

She opened her eyes, wincing as the lights burned at her retinas. She tried to move her hand to cover them, but someone was holding it by the wrist. "What, what's going on?" Taylor spat out, feeling more than a bit confused. Looking around, she spied the bright lights overhead and a bunch of people in silly pastel jumpsuits. One of them had wavy auburn hair and eyes that held the concerns of the world, but he also had a silly sling on that clashed terribly with his jumpsuit.

Simon, for it must have been Simon under that pale blue jumpsuit, seemed to fade as she squinted. "Oh, hey Si," Taylor managed to spit out. A pounding wave of pain suddenly erupted in her skull and she slammed her eyes shut. Oh god, this was unbearable! That's why she had taken a nap. Yes, she needed to get back to the car and finish her nap. Then Simon could get out of his stupid looking suit and take them home to snuggle under the coverlet.

But she didn't keep her eyes shut for long. Someone with bright purple gloves - purple? they sold purple gloves? - tugged open an eyelid and shone a flashlight into her eye. "Ms. Blakely, we need you to stay with us," they said. Their voice was muffled through the thing covering their mouth - what was that called? - and the light made her head pound again with equal ferocity of the first wave.

"I know it hurts, Ms. Blakely, but you need to keep awake," they insisted.

"Tay, please listen to them," Simon begged, his good hand squeezing her shoulder. Taylor tipped her head, confused and alarmed by the whirlwind of things going on. She closed her mouth, since they just kept interrupting her and blinked past the light.

The orderly stepped back and scuttled past Taylor’s limited field of vision. The more she looked around, the more her thoughts came back to her. She was in a hospital. That much was obvious from the pastel scrubs and the face masks. That’s what those were called: masks.

Something was buzzing in her ear, and Taylor tipped her head to the left to look. Simon was talking, his mouth not covered by a mask. He was clearly upset and Taylor fought hard against the slowly weakening waves of pain to listen to him. “So when I saw that you weren’t opening your eyes, I didn’t know what was going to happen to you. I thought you’d never wake up. All I could think of was that you went to sleep and that you’d wake up and it’d be over and you’d never wake up at all,” he babbled, clearly incoherent.

Taylor coughed, the motion causing another wave of pain to cascade through her. “I’m awake though, Si,” she managed to breathe. He stopped talking, his eyes welling up with emotion. One of the nurses took him by the arm and directed him back.

“You can speak with the patient once she has been stabilized, Mr. Finster. Until that point you won’t be able to see her,” she said. She directed him into the hallway where she then closed the door behind him. A pain in Taylor’s hand distracted her and she turned to see a second nurse calmly inserting an IV into the veins there. A bag of bright blue liquid was suspended from a pole to her right. The nurse did something with the bag and the IV line. Within seconds a cool sensation trickled into her hand and Taylor sighed involuntarily. The pain in her skull faded to a dull ache and the lights weren’t searing her eyelids.

“Twenty minutes of treatment and she’ll be good to leave,” the IV nurse said to the other, ignoring her patient entirely. Normally this would have irritated Taylor, but she was more focused on watching the bright liquid flow into her blood. She lifted her hand, staring as the thinner skin showed the blue liquid slowly fading to match the dark color of her veins as it entered her system. It was uncanny. A soft noise caught her attention and Taylor looked back at the nurse who had directed Simon out of the room. She had pulled down her mask, revealing a narrow nose and set jaw. She was young, probably only a few years out of school.

At this point Taylor realized there was no one else in the room besides herself and this nurse. Without her headache to distract her, she was far more curious and wanted to know what had happened to her and Simon. Whatever happened to her during the accident, Taylor’s head was beyond unhappy. The nurse smiled blandly and settled onto a short stool. Taylor laid on the gurney, not enjoying the scrutinizing look on the young woman’s face.

“Ms. Blakely, I’m afraid that I will need to ask you a few questions. Then the doctor will come in and you’ll do it all over again,” she said coolly. If she was sorry, the nurse had a funny way of showing it. “So the quicker we can get through this, the better.”

Taylor moved her head to nod, but thought better of it before the motion got too far. “Okay,” she replied instead. Her voice shook, but her ability to think was clearing up. “Can I just ask what happened to me?” she added quickly before the nurse could talk again. “Where am I?”

The nurse tapped her pen on her clipboard, her lips pursed. She looked irked, at least form Taylor’s angle on the bed. “My name is Nurse Janice. You’re at Bedford Hospital, in the north end. You were brought in after an automotive accident out on the edge of the city,” she replied quietly. Janice looked back down at her clipboard and sat up straighter.

“Thank-“ Taylor began, but the nurse had already begun her questioning.

“Name and occupation?” she asked insistently.

“Taylor Blakely. I’m a graduate student at Bartlet College,” Taylor replied in a much more slow manner. “I’m an economist, or at least that’s my field that I’ve been studying. I was a business major for my undergrad work.”

Janice looked less-than-interested, her pen scratching on the clipboard only for a moment. “And you don’t work?”

Taylor moved to sit up, hissing as her head protested the motion even through the IV of drugs and painkillers. “I work during the day. I’m a, dammit ow, a clerk for a law firm. Malina and Foley Law,” she grunted. Her hand moved to cradle her head, but the IV line made her pause.

“They practice what sort of law?” Janice’s pen scratching hadn’t resumed. Taylor didn’t know if that was good or not.

“Marital law, for the most part. A bit of estate, I think, too. It’s a small firm. I’m just a clerk,” Taylor replied. She’d propped herself against the wall at a very uncomfortable angle. The questions about her work seemed stupid since she hadn’t been doing anything related to work in any stretch of the word tonight. “What’s that-“ she started, but Janice interrupted again.

“Back to you. Your records indicate that you’re on a university health plan, and I can’t help but notice that quite a lot of information is missing or outdated,” the nurse said quickly. “So I need you to fill in the blanks for me. Ms. Blakely, what is your race?”

Taylor’s heart started to pound. During the whole incident, she hadn’t actually thought through the situation. “I’m Irish-American,” she answered evasively. Of course, that’s not what Janice was asking about.

The nurse wanted to know if her patient was human or if she was something else altogether. Something else could have been easily fixed by non-typical medical measures. Something else wouldn’t need to be using the expensive cocktail of drugs that was feeding into her veins right then and there. And if she wasn’t something else, they wanted to know if they could track her down to pay for it.

Janice looked up from her clipboard, a slim eyebrow raised in should have been amusement. Instead, the nurse looked irked. “You know what I mean, Ms. Blakely. Are you human or are you supernatural? I would like to remind you that your answer will help us to properly care for your wounds.”

Taylor managed a weak smile. “Human,” she squeaked. Her stomach dropped about ten feet into the ground when the nurse’s expression suddenly changed from cold to heartbreakingly warm.

“Well, Ms. Blakely,” Janice said in a low, cheerful tone, “then I can tell you we’ve got another option for your condition. One that isn’t so restrictive,” she growled, her eyes flicking to the IV bag hanging next to Taylor’s ear.

Taylor tried to edge herself back, but she was already pressed against the wall. Janice had stood and was walking, no, stalking, towards her with a very intent expression on her face. The nurse placed her hands on top of Taylor’s shaking ones, leaning more than casually towards the other girl. Her eyes, which had seemed dark and foreboding earlier, were now disks of the deepest black. Sucking in a deep breath, Taylor pushed her head back, against the wall, in a last ditch attempt to get away.

“I don’t want your magic, ghoul,” she spat, terrified of the creature that had sat so peacefully under the guise of a mortal woman just a few moments ago. “Medicine’s good enough for me, thank you very much.”

The ghoul-nurse tipped her head and frowned. “But my method is so much easier. I can just take the pain away. You won’t even know that you were in a car accident, much less suffered a debilitating head injury,” Janice replied. Ghouls were creatures of minimal power, capable of feeding off of human’s life force in exchange for magical favors. Her offer to heal her would probably cost Taylor a few hours of exhaustion or numbness, depending on the ghoul’s abilities.

Taylor yanked her IV-less hand out from under the nurse’s palm and shoved the woman back. While the motion wasn’t very strong, it made the ghoul back off. “I know my rights,” she added, feeling her confidence slowly trickle back. “You can’t do anything to me without my permission. And I am not giving it.”

The whole situation was pretty damn nerve wracking. Only ten years ago and Janice’s actions would have had Taylor questioning whether the drugs in the IV bag were street legal. Creatures of the underworld like ghouls had no place in modern society back then. However, when a European leader was assassinated on a Tuesday and attended an awards ceremony on Wednesday, well then the common people started asking questions. Investigations yielded a rather terrifying secret: humanity wasn’t the only race that thought itself the top of the food chain. The exposure of ghouls, witches, and even the occasional summoned planeswalker brought the social system into a full on emergency stop.

People had to rectify that notions of the supernatural world of magic and things that go bump in the night with their idea of business as usual and family night. Families that thought they were nothing but the average Joe’s of the first world suddenly had to deal with the fact that weird Uncle Jack wasn’t gay- he’d been alive for the past two centuries and didn’t want to marry someone who would age much quicker than he would. Governments in more fragile nations collapsed before being brought under martial laws. In America, Taylor had watched as the federal government wrenched control from the states and consolidated into a solely federally managed country. The removal of the Senate left only the House of Representatives to carry the “will of the people” to the executive branch.

However the federally managed system did install a working, evolving judicial system that worked to keep all races onto some sort of equal footing. Regulations were strictly enforced regarding when magic could and could not be used on anyone. Consent was generally required for anything dangerous or potentially persuasive. This was aimed to protect people in Taylor’s situation. And right now she was very appreciative.

Smoothing her scrubs with a quick motion, Janice stomped back to her stool, picking up the abandoned clipboard. “Right then,” she murmured. Her voice was shakier than before, but Taylor wasn’t falling for the nice-girl routine. “Next question.”

The rest of the questions were more routine, involving her detailing her memory of the crash. While she couldn’t recall anything other than the sound of the car careening towards the side of the highway, Janice was insistent on asking the same variation of “What do you remember?” Taylor didn’t dare take her eyes off of the ghoul, feeling no more relaxed when Janice finally clicked her pen closed.

She tossed her hair back and tucked the pen away in her scrubs’ pocket. “Well, then you’re all set. I’ll send the doctor in once she’s available,” Janice quipped, already moving to the door.

Taylor watched the woman warily, not easing from her tense position until the door swung behind her to close. Moments later, Simon was dashing in. His face wasn’t as pale as she remembered from the gurney ride, which was a welcome sight.

“Hey Simon,” she breathed as he wrapped her in an awkward one-armed hug. She closed her eyes, breathing in his presence. He didn’t let go, instead burying his face into her shoulder as he tried to speak.

“I thought I’d lost you. Your head was bleeding so much from the glass and they couldn’t get you to wake up,” he moaned. His uninjured hand was gripping her hair, keeping them twined together. Taylor felt her throat tighten and a wave of guilt rushed through her.

Gently tugging him to look her in the eyes, Taylor managed a small smile. “Hey now, it’s all alright. I’m fine. See? I’m getting the best medicine they’ve got here,” she replied cheerfully. “They’ve probably even crammed it with all sorts of weird things that your mother would hate.” Her voice cracked at the mention of his mother. Mrs. Finster was a staunch pro-human advocate that was convinced that the whole outbreak was a staged coup by the supernatural community. As such, she was constantly asking Taylor if she was certain she was full blood human and that she be careful around “those damn imposters.” At this junction, Taylor wasn’t certain that the woman was wrong in her prejudices.

Simon followed Taylor’s lead, stretching a smile across his face. “I couldn’t care if they were pumping crack cocaine into your system. As long as you‘re okay, it’s all Kosher to me,” he laughed. With his familiar laugh filling the room, Taylor’s shoulders dropped. They were both alright. Not perfect, but they would survive.

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Chapter Two

The ride back to their apartment was a blur to Taylor. She had been checked out of the hospital after picking up a prescription of some extra strength painkillers and a lecture from the doctor, a blessedly normal human being, that she shouldn’t do anything strenuous for a couple days. Simon had called his friend, Kevin, to drive them home. Simon’s car had apparently been towed from the scene. Taylor was less than excited to see the shitbox any time soon, so the ride was a welcomed relief.

Kevin was a heavy-set guy who was constantly into the newest home-gym fad. As such, the backseat of his car hadn’t been all that comfortable with Taylor sharing space with his empty water bottles and half-assembled Crunchmaster 40K. When they pulled up to Simon’s apartment, Taylor nearly leapt into the frigid night air. Simon stayed a moment to thank Kevin for driving them home and then followed his fiancé to the front door. She had already unlocked the door. They had been living together for about two months, ever since he’d proposed and Taylor’s lease with her college roommate had lapsed.

Moving through the dark with comfortable ease, Taylor dropped her purse onto a small end table in the narrow hallway. “Wave to Kevin for me?” she called over her shoulder, already halfway into the kitchen. She heard Simon calling something out to his friend before shutting the door. Once in the kitchen, Taylor turned on the light over the small table in the corner and slid tiredly onto one of the chairs. None of them matched, but they were all astoundingly comfortable.

She chucked the paper bag of medication onto the table and pressed her forehead into her hands. The night had vanished under their noses and all that she wanted to do was go to bed and pretend nothing had happened.

A hand pressed on her back, causing Taylor to jump slightly. Simon had come up behind her and was rubbing the sore spot between her shoulders. “I know you’re tired, love,” he murmured. “But the doc wanted you to stay awake for just a few more hours to be sure that your head isn’t messed up.”

Groaning, Taylor nodded once, still holding her head in her hands. “I know, Simon. But I’m exhausted between the accident and this week in general,” she replied.

She felt him move from behind her to sit, huffing, into the chair next to her. He was quiet for a moment or so and Taylor could hear the ticking of his watch. “They try to get you to take some alternative treatment too?” he eventually said in a soft voice.

Taylor moved to look at her fiancé, surprised that he hadn’t mentioned it earlier. Then again, neither had she. “I- yeah,” she said quickly. “The nurse. She was a ghoul or something.”

“Whatever she was, I was not prepared for it,” Simon breathed. He glanced at his arm, grimacing. It wasn’t the reaction that Taylor was expecting and she considered something she’d noticed in the car. Simon had been moving his arm quite a lot in its sling, without much wincing.

Narrowing her eyes, Taylor reached across the corner of the table and gripped his injured forearm. “I’m just glad you’re OK,” she said in a syrupy voice. Watching his face, she noticed that his twinge of pain was more than a few seconds delayed. Devoted as Simon was, he wasn’t the best as subterfuge and deception.

Simon’s smile became a wince as he looked at his sling. “Yeah. They’ve got some strong stuff there,” he evaded. He was definitely trying to avoid telling Taylor something, a fact that wasn’t sitting well with her.

Trying a less direct approach, Taylor gestured with her head to the sitting room behind them. “You wanna watch something? I think that a show might keep me from falling asleep,” she offered.

The change in topic was welcomed by Simon who immediately grinned, the sparkle back in his eyes for the first time since the accident. “Only if I get to pick the channel. You’re notoriously bad at selecting the home and garden network for ‘fun’. If I want to watch someone else plant a garden, I’ll look out the window,” he retorted.

Temporarily distracted from her plot, Taylor cocked an eyebrow. “Been holding that in a while, Simon?”

He ran his free hand through his hair, chuckling. “Only a little,” he admitted. Taylor moved to stand, but her footing “slipped,” causing her to careen forward, her arms flailing as she tried to reach the table.

“Ack!” she cried out. Simon grunted, lurching out of his own chair to stop her from falling to the ground.

She looked up at her fiancé from inside his arms, a sad smile on her face. “You’ve got to be more careful,” Simon breathed heavily. “You did just have a major head injury you know.”

Taylor poked him in the arm, wriggling to a standing position. “And you’ve just broken your arm, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering you,” she countered.

Simon, standing with both arms out and an ashen expression, tried to speak. Taylor shook her head, still smiling. “I don’t care that you had them fix you up with magic, Si,” she said. “I just wish that you had told me instead of pretending that you were still hurt.”

She walked over to the living room and sat down on the couch. Her head hurt, but she wasn’t about to admit that. The fall, however false, had made her heart race and her skull pound. “I didn’t want you to think I was a cop-out,” he finally replied. That made her chuckle half-heartedly.

“Using treatment offered is a cop-out now, eh?” she asked, trying to keep her breathing even. The pain in her head wasn’t fading and her stomach was nauseous. “I’m half wishing I’d accepted the ghoul’s way out myself.”

“Ghoul?” Simon asked, plopping next to her with a sigh. The useless sling was lying on the coffee table, staring up at Taylor. “The guy who approached me was some sort of magic user. I can never differentiate between them. A warlock or something.”

“Mmm,” Taylor replied non-committedly. “Perhaps that’s why you took him up on it. This chick was more threatening than helping, if I’m being honest.”

The television clicked on, a reporter filling the screen holding a microphone and looking chilled. The story was lost in the wind noise in his microphone, and Simon put the sound down to a quiet murmur. “At least they were using the drugs that I paid for,” he added in an afterthought. “As if it wasn’t expensive enough to get him to heal my arm. Two little sticks rubbed together than I could move it better than I had all day.”

Taylor nodded, her suspicions confirmed. The blue color of the meds had been a big tip-off that they were doped with magic. Now if only she could get some of that now to make her headache fade again…

“Tay?” Simon asked, looking at her with concern. “I asked if you wanted to watch Iron Chef.” His expression didn’t change even as she managed to put a small smile on. She’d closed her eyes for a moment and apparently missed what he’d been saying. The clock in the corner of the news broadcast was nearly twenty minute off from when she’d last looked.

The newscaster still looked miserable, his hair all disheveled. Taylor noticed this time that he was standing outside of one of the smaller ER clinics in the city, looking over his shoulder at the ambulances that had pulled in, siren's blaring. "What's this about?" she asked, ignoring Simon's query about Iron Chef.

"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I wasn't paying the best attention. Wanted to make sure that you were alright." Taylor flushed, feeling appreciative of her fiance's attention. She looked over and noticed that in her zoned out status, he'd gone and fetched her medication and a cup of tea.

"Well then turn up the volume," Taylor replied, trying to ignore his attention now. She might need to be fussed over, but that didn't mean that she wanted to be fussed over. “They might be talking about that weird virus that your mother was worrying about the other day.”

Simon kicked her with his sock-covered foot. “Not until you’ve at least tried that tea. I had to learn how to use that damn kettle of yours finally and you’re going to have to pretend that the tea I made you is fantastic,” he grumbled.

Sending him an appreciative look, Taylor picked up the “I <3 NY” mug and saluted him with it. A tentative sip didn’t leave her cringing in pain or poor taste, so she popped the pill he’d also gotten into her mouth and swallowed it with a swig of the tea. Satisfied by her actions, Simon turned the volume up. The screen flashed to the station’s logo before changing to a commercial about hair loss medication.

“Well that’s a bummer,” he said with a sigh. “I guess we’ll have to look for it in the paper.” Taylor nodded, touching her head as the doped medication seemed to take effect instantly. Her skull was no longer pounding in time with her pulse, a good sign to be sure.

She wanted to ask just how much the additives in the medication was going to cost above and beyond their respective health insurances, but Taylor also felt that now might not be the best time. Simon had been hiding the fact that he’d even accepted supernatural help. He definitely wouldn’t want to talk cost for the venture.

Instead, she settled in next to him, her head resting on his shoulder. “I’d be fine with Iron Chef,” she finally answered. “Your shows aren’t as painfully boring as mine.” That got him to chuckle and he changed the channel wordlessly.

Simon had made her stay awake for a good portion of the night. Whenever she drifted off for more than a few minutes, he’d woken her with a gentle nudge and a promise to brew more tea. After the third or fourth nudge, Taylor told him where he could shove his tea if he didn’t let her sleep. She resisted his protests with as much logic as a sleep-deprived grad student could, growling about his “sneaky magic” being “damn good enough” to fix her up so she could sleep without dying.

He didn’t wake her up again after that.

Taylor did however awaken around five thirty when she felt Simon’s warm presence at her feet move away. Thinking he was getting up to go to the bathroom or something, she didn’t say anything. It was the sound of the front door unlatching and quiet murmuring that made her stomach flip and her sleepy mindset disappear.

She opened her eyes, blinking from the brightness of the television kitchen on screen. “Simon?” she asked quietly, not really wanting for him to answer. Her fiancé talking to someone at the door at five in the morning? There wasn’t any good and simple explanation that he could give to give her a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Moving quietly, Taylor pushed off the blanket she’d pulled off the couch’s back. With her motions as catlike and burglar-esque as the grad student could imagine, she made her way to the door that linked the living room and the hallway. It was blocked by the couch Simon had put there so he could actually watch television, but the frame was still there and the sound from the hall still travelled well.

Feeling silly, Taylor tipped her head, trying to make out the whispered words between her fiancé and the stranger outside. “I understand,” a low voice hissed, “but there are certain motions I need to go through before I have the payment.”

Through the wood of the door, it was difficult to make out certain words. The person who replied had a much more whispery voice and Taylor had to hold her breath to listen better. “…not a chance everyone gets…appreciate it…” was all that she could catch.

The low voice spoke again and this time Taylor realized it was her fiancé. “Trust me, we are eternally grateful-“

“Then you’ll get the payment with no problems or excuses.” This was a third voice, one that made Taylor’s skin crawl. “Or you’ll experience the full consequences of your actions.”

Full consequences? That phrase wasn’t exactly instilling Taylor with confidence with Simon’s decisions. He’d clearly picked some strange and dangerous company, something that the goofball personal assistant that he was did not mesh well with.

She moved to look out the window in an attempt to see who it was that Simon was talking with. The drapes were thick and heavy, perfect to hide the fact that she was peering through like a cheap detective. The perspective was poor, the living room window being flush with the wall and the front door; however she could at least see one of the people on the stoop. She was a wiry woman, a wool trench coat draw up about her neck and long red hair spilling over the tall collar.

The woman on the stoop suddenly tipped her head, her mouth open. Taylor squeaked, trying to duck back behind the curtains. The third person spoke again, asking "What was that?"

Simon's voice spoke up, sounding scared even through the muffled doorframe. "Please leave, my fiance is trying to rest in the next room. It would be best for everyone if you could just leave," he insisted.

There was a scuffling noise and then the woman spoke once more.

"We shall depart, Mr. Finster, however if words gets out, even if you tell your precious fiance, of this meeting then we will be forced to execute our contingency plan." Taylor sucked in a breath, wishing that she'd just stayed asleep on the couch. Simon appeared to be just as distressed, beggging again that the pair leave the porch, thank you very much.

The door shut with a definite snap, breaking Taylor from her frozen position crouched on the floor. She propelled herself quickly back to the couch, wrapping the blanket about herself with shaky hands. It wasn't her usual desire to hide things from Simon, but if these two were as eager to punish Simon for mentioning their visit... Silence was the better plan.

Shutting her eyes tight and wishing that she looked at least slightly asleep, Taylor listened as Simon slowly walked back into the room from the kitchen. She heard him pause in front of her, his hand moving the blanket to tuck more under her chin. "Oh Taylor, I hope you're going to be all right," he breathed, even quieter than his words in the hallway.

After another moment, he stood back up and padded away, perhaps upstairs. The pipes began to gurgle and Taylor realized he was taking a shower. She opened her eyes, shoving the blanket back off with a viscious shove.

What the hell was going on? If she confronted Simon about the people on the step, he'd surely panic about the unknown "consequences." However, if she just pretended that nothing was wrong, then how could she help him at all? Taylor was torn, staring down at her hands.

The back of her palm still had a bandage from the hospital IV mark. The corner had started to peel up, but Taylor resisted the urge to play with it. The pieces fell together as she stared at her wounded hand - the mysterious woman and man on the steps had clearly been the ones to "help" Simon at the hospital. She'd bet her best mug that the man had been the wizard to heal her fiance.

So her fiancé had made enemies. Dangerous ones with magic and a desire for some sort of unknown payment. They probably wanted money, if they were like most of the wizards in Westborough. The revelation of magic hadn't helped most magic users or creatures in the states. Many had been fired from their jobs and were hard pressed to find work elsewhere. There were laws and regulations in place to stop workplace discrimination, but there also were a lot of federal police agents who didn't put up much of a fight if the Humanity Alliance stood with the discriminating company.

The Alliance was a political group in the same way that the Klan had been a political group in the 1900s. They were staunchly against supernatural involvement in government, jobs, social gatherings, and pretty much everyone else. They wanted the social norm to go back to a more equal footing between people.

Taylor didn't agree with the principals of the Alliance and that allowed her to understand the pressure that non-humans felt to perform a certain way in public. That pressure was the exact reason why Simon didn't want to tell Taylor what he'd done at the hospital. Modern medicine was good enough for the Alliance and for most humans. Asking for magical assistance for himself and his fiancé would be a death wish to his career if he ever wanted to be hired by an Alliance business.

Groaning, Taylor held her head in her hands for the fourth time in as many hours. She couldn't let him suffer like this, hiding things from her for fear of her reacting poorly. But nor could she very well approach him about it. The group he'd been speaking to certainly were monitoring him.

Resolved to do nothing, Taylor stood, bundled the blanket into something resembling a folded object, and made her way through the kitchen to the upstairs rooms. She entered the bedroom, her eyes on the closed bathroom door that was far from the door. When Simon came out, he'd find her curled up in the bed, asleep and none the wiser of his whispered conversation. That's what she told herself as she pulled back the covers and slid into the bed.

The pillows and sheets were far more comfortable than the downstairs couch, but Taylor couldn't fall asleep again. She waited, listening as Simon turned off the water and slowly made his way out of the shower. His footsteps faltered, most likely when he noticed her. But eventually he, too, got into the bed. His arms wrapped around her waist, hugging her tight to him.

"I love you, Taylor," he whispered into her ear, his forehead pressed to the back of her head. She could feel his damp hair through her curls. She cuddled into his embrace, feeling secure in his arms.

"Love you too, Si," she whispered back. He sighed and his grip became less tense. She stared at her alarm clock for the rest of the night, waiting for her own body to relax.

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Chapter Three

Breakfast was hurried and unpleasant, with Taylor bustling around the little kitchen trying to find a clean knife. In one hand she held a piece of toast and in the other, a jar of strawberry jam. It was her favorite flavor and she was not going to start this new day without having at least some on her toast.

"Did you turn the dishwasher on before we left last night?" she called out to Simon. He was storming downstairs and didn't reply. "Simon?" Taylor called again.

He burst through the doorway from the hallway, his coat haphazardously on with the lapels crooked and only one of the buttons done up. "Sorry, what was that, Tay?" he asked in a rush of breath.

She was already pulling the dishwasher open, the toast now living in her mouth. After only opening an inch or so, she grumbled to herself. The top layer with glasses was practically full to the brim, but all of the glasses still had juice residue within them. Slamming it shut with her hip, she took the toast back in her hand.

"I was asking about, oh!" she exclaimed. Simon had moved to stand directly behind her, reaching for one of the disposable bowls of cereal that he brought along for his carpool ride when he didn't have enough time to eat. Neither of them had been eager to awaken when their respective alarms had gone off that morning. "Sorry," he said with a good-natured shrug.

Thankfully Taylor's head didn't pound even as she breezed past her fiancé to put her toast back down onto its plate. "Knives?" she asked simply. Simon pointed to the side of the sink where an overturned colander was lying. Tucked underneath was a pair of knives, five forks, and an apple peeler. With an appreciative noise, Taylor kissed him on the cheek.

“I’m off for the day,” Simon announced, a bagel clutched in his hand and his backpack slung about one shoulder. He was halfway down the hallways before he stopped in his tracks. Shouting over his shoulder, he asked, “Are you going to be able to drive yourself today? I didn’t ask how your head was.”

Taylor, with her newly-acquired knife midway frozen between her toast and the jam, called back to him. “I’m fine you idiot! Go before you’re late to work, too,” she replied. The front door opened and closed with a sharp snap. Taylor sighed when she heard Simon’s carpool pull away. It was fortunate that he didn’t drive to work, otherwise she would have had to sit in the car with him for a good twenty minutes to drop him off first.

Her toast suitably coated, she began gathering her own work things with one hand. Taking intermittent bites, her thoughts once again turned to the same cycle she’d been obsessing with for the past few hours.

Simon was messed up with something big. The people he was involved with were calling on the house at five in the morning and didn’t want him so much as breathing their interactions to his fiancé. Her extrapolated intel wasn’t very extensive. They were from the magical community and had enough pull to get both her and Simon treated with more than just modern medicine without the doctors and nurses so much as flinching. That meant they had to have a lot of money or a lot of muscle.

There wasn’t much time to continue this cycle of thought, though. Taylor had to get going as she was going to be late as it was already. Slinging her shoulder bag on, she quickly hustled out of the apartment.

The office she worked at was a small-ish law firm. Malina and Foley, Attorneys at Law was not the most popular firm even for the segment of law that they practiced. Taylor hadn’t even really met Malina or Foley, having been hired by the head accountant. Her job was to clerk for the accounting department and make sure that they were making enough from the paid cases to justify the pro bono cases that were necessary to try to make their name.

Her desk was situated in the middle of the office, between the open front office where potential clients hovered and the back offices where the lawyers and paralegals did their magic. Here was the bullpen of the firm, a collection of brown-toned desks that weren’t all quite the same fake wood paneling.

Situated between the two accountants and the PR rep, Taylor went about her day in a daze. Her inbox was packed sky high, yet all she seemed to be doing was working on the same bit of writing. Each time that Taylor looked at the clock she wondered how it had jumped so quickly to the next hour. She was jarred to her senses by a phone call. Just about noon, her desk phone rang to indicate an outside line was calling her number. Peering at the caller ID, Taylor frowned. It read Scranton PD, a fact that did not play well with her plan to avoid confrontation and pretend like her fiancé wasn’t making black market deals for magic cures.

She stared at it for a moment more, her eyes wide. The angry glances from her surrounding desk-mates made her smile apologetically before finally jerking her hand out and picking up the receiver.

“You’ve reached the Law Offices of Malina and Foley. This is Taylor Blakely speaking, how may I help you?” she said quickly, her fear and tension making her words run together.

A low voice greeted her on the other end. “Ms. Blakely, this is Officer Gregory Rant from the SPD calling,” he said less exuberantly.

“How can I help you, Officer?” Taylor replied, quickly ducking her head and twisting the phone’s cord nervously in her hand. Regardless of the circumstances, a clerk receiving a phone call from a police officer didn’t bode well within a law firm.

“I’m calling with regards to an incident that occurred last night on Quarry Road, Ma’am,” the officer said politely. “You were involved in that motor vehicle accident, correct?”

Taylor blanched, her mind conjuring machinations of the police becoming involved and asking questions on how Simon suddenly recovered from a broken arm in under a day. “Y-yes,” she confirmed. “My fiancé and I were hit by another driver.”

She heard rustling paper on the other line and tried not to panic. “We would like to have you come down to the station and confirm your story,” Officer Rant continued. His next words helped somewhat to calm Taylor’s fears. “It’s a routine procedure. We would have done this last night at the hospital, but there was a mix-up and the officer who was on scene ended up taking another call.”

“Oh, alright,” Taylor breathed. “And it’s just to confirm our statements? About the crash, I mean.”

The officer shifted some more papers and Taylor though she heard the sound of something being drunk. He replied hurriedly after the pause, saying, “Exactly. We’d just like to get a chance to have everything down on paper to protect you and the others involved legally.”

And to cover their own asses for having failed to get the statements that night, Taylor mused. Her heart felt a bit lighter than when the phone call had begun all of two minute ago.

She began to collect her purse and things, planning on heading over to the station while she was still available. Knowing her boss, they would find her something to do that would take her the rest of the day, lunch break be damned.

"I'm heading out for my lunch break early, Carol," Taylor said quietly to the PR rep whose desk was closest to hers. "I shouldn't be too late. I also have to stop for an errand that won't take very long."

The rep nodded her head, having barely turned to look at the brunette. With a shaky smile, Taylor wove her way around the office. It wasn’t even noon, but she didn't think she'd be able to eat much during her lunch break anyways with how her stomach was churning. As she got to her car, Taylor noticed light on her cell was flashing slowly. A voicemail. How she'd missed a call, she wasn't certain. Then again, she hadn't been paying the closest attention for most of the morning.

She clicked her car open and sat down, hitting the speed dial button for her voice mail box. It asked her for her password, the electronic voice crackling despite the relatively good reception that she had in the city. Being in the garage always seemed to make her phone's reception poor, despite her carrier's claims otherwise.

Listening to the phony woman's voice, Taylor impatiently waited for the message to begin. It finally ticked to the saved message as she was pulling out of the garage complex. "First new message."

The voice changed to a more familiar tone. "Hey Taylor, it's Simon. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be heading over to the police station in a few minutes. They called my office a while ago asking for my statement. I'm at home right now, but I'd like to meet you at the station," his voice said cheerfully.

Taylor frowned, her attention torn between the recorded message and the traffic around her. He didn't sound too stressed out, but then again it didn't make much sense that he'd have been home mid-morning.

"I'm leaving in about ten minutes and it's... ah..." he paused, apparently looking for a clock, "just after 11:30. Gimme a call if you're around." Taylor looked at her dashboard clock. He'd left the message about twenty five minutes ago. If he'd left when he said he was going to, it was likely they'd be arriving at the station at the same time. Maybe then she'd be able to ask him what was up.

"Anyways, I'm borrowing Jake's car. I'll see you later then. Love you!" The message ended and the electronic voice was back, asking Taylor if she wanted to save the message.

She looked down, poking the number for delete. When she looked up, a car was pulling into her lane, practically hitting her front end as it did so. "Jesus Christ!" she yelled, slamming on the brakes. Her heart was in her throat. Two accidents in less than twenty four hours would do wonders for her insurance rates, and she certainly didn't want to get involved with the guy in front of her.

He flipped her off through his rear mirror, and she could see that he was shouting something, too. With nervous motions, Taylor switched lanes herself, darting into the slower lane as they approached the light. She watched as the asshole raced through the yellow, still visibly irate even from a distance.

At this point she relaxed her death grip on the steering wheel and dropped her cell phone onto the seat next to her. "Relax, Taylor," she whispered to herself. "It's just traffic. Nothing to freak out over." A few deep breaths later and she felt much less stressed, though she was still cautious. Her car glided through the comfortably green light and she drove the rest of the trip with no further incidents.

There thankfully was a parking lot next to the station which was situated next to the courthouse. It must have been the perfect arrangement for the police. They could pick up perps and just walk them to their arraignments without any trouble. Then again, it could have been re-arranged since the transition to the federal police system.

Picking up her purse and tucking her phone into it, she looked around the lot for Simon's borrowed car. Jake's car was difficult to ignore, being a bright yellow classic sports car. He had a newer version of the same model, which was why he let people borrow the older one. Jake was one of Simon's work buddies, just like Kevin. However unlike the workout freak, Jake actually kept his cars clean and accessable.

Taylor hovered by her back bumper, still looking for the yellow car. When she noticed a guard hovering at the end of the aisle she was in, Taylor gave up the search. It was possible that he'd gotten stuck in traffic and was going to arrive after her.

With this thought re-assuring her, Taylor made her way to the entrance of the station. The stone exterior betrayed none of the high-tech, high security measures that were inside. She had to go through two sets of detectors. The black archway she went through first didn't look much like a metal detector, and she was certain that the odd hush in the entrance way was due to the carved runes that "decorated" the molding.

The officer who manned the entrance was a cruel looking woman who glared at Taylor even as she managed a polite smile. The uniforms that the police wore also didn't help the uneasy feeling. They were outfitted with a dark navy ensemble that was nearly black. From their belts were handcuffs, a thick nightstick with a silver sheen, and pouches that were leaking a sickly green glow. None of this was standard issue ten years ago, evidence of the changes that the supernatural world had rendered to the nation. The nightsticks were coated in charmed silver and the bulky shape of their uniform wasn't so much bulletproof gear as it was anti-magic gear.

Feeling very exposed, Taylor took her purse back from the woman once she was done prodding it with a thin rod. "Thanks," she managed to squeak, determined to be polite even if the officer wasn't. She received a curt nod in response, which was a welcome relief.

The receiving desk had no line and Taylor walked up to it, fighting the unease in her stomach. "I'm here to give a statement. I was called by an Officer Rant?" she said nervously to yet another menacing woman. This officer however at least spoke.

"You're going to go through that door," she said, pointing to a heavy steel-framed door, "and walk until you see the bullpen. Ask the clerk, who will be to your left, to see Officer Rant. You may have to wait for a bit, depending on his schedule." The woman stared at Taylor, tired patience emanating from her.

Taylor nodded and thanked her. She turned to go through the door before a thought crossed her mind. Pausing, she looked back at the officer. "Did my fiance come yet? He was supposed to give a statement, too," she asked.

The officer stared at her for a moment before looking down at something. "What did he look like?" she asked, flipping pages. "I'm afraid that we don't record every person who comes in unless they speak to someone officially."

Shifting on her feet, Taylor replied slowly. "He was supposed to come sometime around noon. He's about three inches taller than me, auburn hair. He's kind of goofy, so he's kind of memorable," she said hopefully. She was still hoping that he was there, missing car aside.

The guard shook her head, flipping her pages presumably back to where they were supposed to be. "I'm sorry, but I haven't seen anyone with that description coming in," she admitted.

"The only other man who has come in within the past hour was a redhead who was about forty," the grouchy woman from the detectors said loudly. Taylor turned to look at her, her hands still clasped on her purse. The guard woman shrugged, still at attention. "Sorry, Miss."

With her polite smile still in place, Taylor also shrugged. "I guess he's just running late. Thank you both," she said sadly.

Not wanting to spend any more time with the guards, Taylor made her way to the door she'd been directed to.

Despite its heavy appearance, it opened with ease. Like the entrance, the hallway she was in now was covered in heavily carved runes and sigils. They were meant to dispel any harmful magics and were very popular with public buildings. Taylor couldn't pick out any of the symbols specifically, but she'd been watching them slowly coat buildings for the past decade.

Armed with solely her purse, she marched down the hall, amused when it opened into a wide office space very similar to her own. The exception being that her office wasn't the size of a small auditorium, and no one went to work armed. She walked over to a receptionist’s desk, this one manned by an officer in civilian clothes. He was drumming his pen on the desk, frowning at something on his computer’s screen.

Taylor didn’t see a weapon on his person, but the pendent about his neck gave her pause. It was a small arrowhead, a totem-like object that was popular among magic users.

Taylor stopped at the desk, keeping her hands tucked in her pockets. "I'm looking for an officer Rant?" she said with a questioning tone. "I'm supposed to give a statement about a motor vehicle accident?"

The officer at the desk looked up from his computer and nodded silently. He immediately went back to his computer, clicking on a few different things. The silence between them stretched for a moment longer than Taylor was comfortable with and she cleared her throat. "So is he here right now?" she asked curiously. "If he isn't then I can just wait in the lobby or something."

Looking up again from his screen, the receptionist raised an eyebrow. "He's over in traffic," he said simply.

Taylor's shoulders fell for a moment as her confidence wilted. "Yeah, but..." she began. The receptionist only continued looking at her inquisitively. "I haven't a clue what he looks like, so if you could tell me where traffic is, that would be much more helpful," she finished. Taylor tried to match his expression, her mouth curved in a mocking smile.

This had a better effect than she'd hoped. "That I can do, Ms. Blakely," he said tipping his head to the left. "If you follow this opening in the rat maze, you'll be heading towards homicide. Turn right when you see the windows and keep walking until you get to the corner of the office. Rant is the redhead."

"Thanks," Taylor said genuinely. "That's very helpful." She turned, following his directions across the floor. His oddness disturbed her, though not much more than any of the other staunch faces that glanced up at her. Taylor maintained her plastered-on smile, hating the sensation that they were all staring at her. In all actuality she was pretty invisible, but she couldn’t shake her unease.

She arrived at the designated desk after following the secretary's directions. The officer sitting at the desk was a grouchy looking man, his nose inches from the screen in front of him as he worked. His desk was tucked into a corner, walled off from the rest by a set of filing cabinets that faced out to the hallway. There was a metal chair across from his seat, but otherwise there wasn't much other than his desk and a wooden coat holder. Rant looked up at the sound of Taylor's arrival and his facial expression immediately changed to be vaguely hospitable. "Ms. Blakey?" he said, standing up with a hand extended.

"Yes, I'm Taylor," she replied, shaking his hand quickly.

Rant nodded, sitting back down with his hand holding his tie in place. "So sorry about your accident," he said quickly. "I've been assigned to your case." Taylor sat down at the indicated chair. He clicked the monitor off and clasped his hands in front of him.

"My case?" Taylor asked in response. "I'm not sure if I fully understand why I have a case." Her voice was shaky. The past twelve hours were weird and her fiance definitely wasn't telling her everything, but a full investigation?

Rant nodded again. "Your accident last night. We're investigating to be sure that the only fault was on the part of the other driver," he said. "After the accident occurred, he was taken to the hospital for drug tests. They confirmed he was intoxicated."

That certainly explained why the accident had happened. Simon might have been a prankster, but he was never reckless when driving. "Well I wouldn't know anything about the other driver," she admitted. "I wasn't even awake when the whole thing happened."

"That's certainly fine, Ms. Blakely," Officer Rant acknowledged. "We just need your account of everything that you remember. Including prior to the incident and after." He pulled out a pen from the cup on his desk and a plain notepad. The return to normalcy from the strangeness of magic tokens and strange detectors was a relief.

"Okay," she admitted. She settled back into the chair, her arms folded. "I'll tell you everything that I remember."

Taylor detailed the night out, skipping over boring details like the annoying kids in front of them and the slight traffic they went through. The actual scene of the accident was harder to remember. Rant was more than alright with her memory blanks and didn't press for details that weren't there. As for after the scene, she didn't have much to say.

"When I woke up at the hospital, it took forever for me to remember what happened," she admitted. "They told me I'd been in a car accident and that I had a head wound." Taylor paused, thinking back.

"A head wound?" Rant pressed, sensing her pause. He leaned forward, and Taylor realized she wasn't dealing with a gentle hound dog who wanted to help out. He was a Rottweiler, grabbing on to his prey and refusing to let go. "This hasn't affected your judgment in this statement?"

Taylor brushed her hair behind her ear, shaking her head. "They gave me very good treatment," she said vaguely. "You know how the medical system is now. Something mixed with eye of newt and penicillin. I'm not a medical person whatsoever." She might be rambling, yes, but that was excusable.

"And your recovery? How has that been going?" Rant asked, his pen flying across the paper as he made whatever notes he needed. "You seem to be doing fairly well, as I called you at work."

Taylor shrugged, fiddling with the strap on her purse. "Like I said, I had good treatment," she said evasively. "Nothing illegal, sir," Taylor added. She forced him to make eye contact with her, a single eyebrow raised. If he had a problem with her choice in medical treatment simply because it was magic based, he had no case for anything.

Rant raised both his eyebrows, seeming amused. "I meant no offense or implication of the sort, Ma'am," he said gruffly. "I was merely curious. It's my job."

Taylor smiled meekly. "Nor did I mean any offense to you."

An awkward silence passed between them, Rant tapping it pen on the table as Taylor drummed her fingers on her purse's strap. The officer broke the silence. He halted his pen's tapping, clicking it off with a sharp jab on the desk. "Well that's all that I needed to know. Once your fiancé comes in to confirm his story, you'll both be able to get on with your lives," he said with sudden cheerfulness.

Taylor nodded. Her curiosity about the other party wasn't sated though, and Rant's mentioning of his intoxication was strange. "So the other fellow involved, was he hurt too?" Taylor asked. Her fingers stilled and she looked down at the officer's desk to see if there was another paper with notes from that interview.

Rant shook his head, a curious smirk on his face. "You ask smart questions, Ms. Blakely," he commented. "No, he wasn't. So you don't have to worry about your insurance rates skyrocketing. His, on the other hand, will. Lying about driving under the influence will have that effect on you."

He had lied about being drunk? That wasn't unheard of, of course, but it was pretty damn stupid to do in the world of breathalyzers and sensory charms. Taylor followed Rant's lead and stood. "That's one of the worst things he could have done," she admitted. "And he thought that no one would notice he was drunk?" Rant hadn't said specifically what the influence was, and Taylor was betting from the fact that they tested him at the hospital that it was something a bit stronger than some booze.

The officer shook his head, actually walking around the desk to walk Taylor to the door. “I didn’t say it was liquor,” he said with a smile. “And you’re not getting me to tell you anything else,” he added. Taylor laughed nervously, her hand moving to brush her hair out of her face again. Rant looked at her, smiling like a kid who got away with stealing the cookies from the jar. “You might not be a lawyer, Ms. Blakely, but I know not to take clerks from any firms lightly.”

Right now Taylor couldn’t care less about his opinions on clerks or law firms. She was in autopilot, smiling right back and shaking his hand pleasantly. “I’m just trying to make sure that my fiancé won’t get blamed for some crack-head’s mistake,” she insisted.

"Trust me, Ms. Blakely," Rant said tiredly, "no one will be blaming your fiancé for the accident. We will notify you of any developments, but otherwise I hope that we don't meet again. Not that I dislike your company, Ma'am."

Taylor shook his hand one final time and said a curt goodbye. She walked past the receptionist, nodding to the quirky officer. He didn't even look up, but his hand rose up in a silent farewell.

As she left, Taylor looked around the front office once more for Simon. The grumpy woman at the sensors shook her head when she saw Taylor leaving. Simon hadn't come in. Mouthing "Thank you" to her, Taylor left through the front door. She stopped on the steps immediately, casting her head to the side to continue her futile search for him.

There was no yellow car and no sign of her fiancé.

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Chapter Four

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