“I don’t suppose you have a twin?” Detective Foley lets his question hang in the air as I stare into the unseeing eyes of my own dead face. The corpse is burnt down its right side, clearly the effects of lying on the street in front of the building that, until recently, roared with fire. The Goddess of Winter steps forward and stops at my side, earning her an immediate hard stare from the overweight mortal. He’s almost daring her to say something after he’d advised against her joining me to see the body.
I feel like I should say something, but I’m not sure what. This is not what I had planned for tonight. There’s a sense of urgency within me, a keenness to get on with my own scheme. Yet, this is something I can’t ignore.
My phone rings, pulling me back to the present, the demands of my day job interrupting my chance to contemplate this moment any further.
“Will you excuse me?” I step away from the others and fumble to pull the device from the depths of my suit. To my surprise, it’s not my office but the all too familiar number of reporter Jade Jones. I sigh and accept the call.
“Which one do you want a statement on?” I ask carelessly.
“There’s more than one video?” I can hear the uncertainty in her voice.
“Wait? Why were you calling?”
Jones suddenly sounds exasperated. “I want to know what you have to say about this video of you confessing to election fraud, Mayor Till. It’s all over the internet.”
“Me doing what?” I certainly did not, and if I had, I wouldn’t—couldn’t—have confessed to it. I flip my phone away from my ear and start checking online. It seems I’ve missed a lot in the short time I’ve been dealing with the fire. “Can I call you back?” I hit the red button before Jones can respond. I’m swiping across the screen when Khione appears at my elbow.
“Dolus, what the hell have you gotten yourself into?” she hisses at me. I turn, my face creased with concern. “What is it? Don’t tell me there’s something worse than a dead version of you.”
“Where’s Foley?” I demand, worrying about him hearing anything I have to say to Khione.
“He’s talking to the fire chief about who has rights over your dead body,” she says with a tiny giggle. “You know, you really do look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Why don’t you take a look at this?” I turn my phone so she can see the video qued up there. I hit play, and the black-and-white images of Foley and me start to move. You can see him clearly from his position on one side of the table in the pokey police interview room. The view includes the back of my head, but the hair and jawline are clear enough to know it’s me. The detective shuffles some papers, and I recognise the moment immediately. It’s when I first went to see him about the crimes committed by Kinnesberg, my Chief of Staff. Foley looks up from the documents, pauses, and hits me with a question.
“And for the record, did any of this illegal activity have any bearing on the election campaign you just won?”
“I cheated,” I tell him, and immediately the video ends.
Khione lets out a long whistle. “You are going to need much more than some bad weather to sort this out.”
“How is that helpful?” I ask sarcastically, contemplating what I’ve just seen. It’s not how that meeting played out. I had asked Foley if I would have come to see him if I had been implicated in any way. He’d taken my point, and we’d moved on. I never said those words. Well, not at that time. I pull the screen close and rewind the tape. I listen again, first to Foley’s question and then my response.
“What is it?” Khione asks, giving me a very odd look.
“Would you believe me if I told you I said those words, but not in that context?” My mind drifts back to an earlier meeting in that same room at the police station. When I’d faced down the father of the woman I’d killed, and convinced him I had no part to play in her death. During that meeting, Brian accused me of cheating on Lily. In my exasperation, I snapped the question ‘I cheated?’ at him. I remember it clearly. I may have done a lot of wrong in my time, but I would never have cheated on Lily. I try to explain this to my friend. “What if I said those words, but not then? What if it was some other time?”
She nods, knowing me well enough to know when I’m not really asking. “Let me see that.” She slips the phone from my hand and watches the video a few times. With each replay, she moves the screen closer to her face. “Look,” she suddenly presents it back to me. “Your chin doesn’t move as you speak. It’s only just opening as the clip finishes.” She pauses the playback just in time for me to see the dropping of my jaw.
“Why has no one else spotted that?” I demand as if she’s some expert in these matters.
“Probably because we see what we want to see.” She shrugs. “You sound weird as well. Not like you.”
“I wasn’t annoyed when I originally said those words.”
Khione plays the clip again and nods thoughtfully. “Do you think this has something to do with that dead doppelgänger?” she asks. I suck air through my teeth and glance away. I can feel her looking at me, and I try to busy myself, putting my phone away. “Dolus…” There’s menace in her tone.
“There’s something I shouldn’t tell you about that body.” I grin meekly as Khione’s face contorts in anger.
“Do you mean to tell me that corpse is your doing?” She wallops my arm, and I yelp in pain. She stares at me, and for a moment, I think she’s going to dump a blizzard on my head. “Well?”
“Did I say this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done?” Her foot taps impatiently, and she crosses her arms across her chest.
I sigh, finding it harder than I expected to try to explain what I did.
“You know I’ve never done anything like this, right? Did I tell you how challenging I have found it? Do you realise how much is involved in running a whole city?”
“And you thought that you’d amuse yourself by creating a replica of you and killing him?” Her tone is very icy.
I try a cheeky grin and add, “Do you remember how much I struggle with failing?” She cracks a little at that. Khione gets that I’m a perfectionist and that I have to achieve what I set out to do. I meet her look and let my eyebrows hitch up a little. “Can you blame a trickster for wanting a good escape plan?”
She steps closer, laying her hand on my arm. The touch is soft, concern resonating from it, and for a second, I wonder how much she’s been through over the years. We haven’t really caught up. I’ll have to take her for a drink at some point. After I get all this sorted. As I consider this, Khione’s eyes widen.
“Hang on,” she glances over her shoulder, where Foley is still arguing with Fire Chief Beckett. “Where were you keeping that body?” I indicate my head towards the charred warehouse. “So, someone took the corpse out, and then blew up the building?” I nod slowly, “And now a doctored video of you is circulating on the internet. Dolus, I think you might have pissed off the wrong person this time.”
“Looks like it, doesn’t it?”
It’s at that moment that there’s a brightening of the sky above me. I turn to take in the city’s skyline. The usual ambient background of lights switched on in lounges, bedrooms, and bathrooms, organising themselves into a precise design. Across the buildings that rise up around me, the message ‘THE MAYOR CHEATED!’ is illuminated.
“Someone really wants you out of this job,” Khione observes dryly. “Who did you scam…” The end of her sentence is lost as her mouth drops open. “Oh, no!”
“What?” I stare at her, waiting for her to explain.
“Someone stole your escape plan, then they hacked into the police security system, combined two different recordings, adjusted your voice, leaked it all over the internet, and is now controlling the power grid.”
“I think it might be Seth!”
“Autolycus! You haven’t spoken to him recently, have you?” I shake my head. “He’s very different. He’s moved with the times. All of this, everything that’s happening to you would be well within his powers!”
“If you’re right, why’s he doing this?” She gives me a look, knowing I’m aware of the answer to that question. It’s the reason I haven’t seen him in so long. “Alright then, what now?” I demand.
“I don’t know. You’re the trickster. What would you do if the tables were turned?”
I let my eyes flit round, trying to ignore the dazzling lie above my head. I’m glad my powers are at full strength because I need them now more than ever. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes to help me focus.
Seth has removed my easy escape route. That means he wants me here. I could just run. Scam a car, and get out of this situation. Yet, I hate leaving things unfinished. That goes both for my plans for the city and Seth. If I don’t confront him now, who knows what he could do to me in the future? How many more nights like this I’ll have to go through. No, this ends now. I clench my eyes tighter, my mind working at full speed. The video, the lights, they are to put my job at risk, threaten what I’ve come to hold dear. It’s designed to goad me. Rile me up. Make me lose focus. Make me vulnerable. I open my eyes and see Khione waiting for an answer.
“I’d want to carry on pushing my buttons, wouldn’t you?”
“You mean there’s more to come?” Conflict plays across her features.
“I don’t need to stop him.” My eyebrows arch up. “For that, I don’t need to work out where he is. Where would I be?” I muse out loud. It would be somewhere that would annoy my target. That’s obvious without being in my face. I look up at the sky, my focus caught again by the lit-up message. Then I spot something. “Do you see that exclamation mark?” I point.
“Hard to miss it.” Khione deadpans.
“Do you notice the dot at the bottom is only one window?”
“Your point being?”
“Would you be surprised to know that’s my apartment?” I turn and take in my friend’s conflicted face. I’ve always felt that she liked Seth more than me. Yet, we have just made up, and, of course, right now, Seth is the one threatening me. I don’t know if Khione had seen the thief in all these years, and if she has, what their relationship is. I do know that she doesn’t owe me anything. She’s already helped me tonight and then some with the fire. A look of determination appears on Khione’s face as if she’s just read my mind.
“Do you want me to get us there quickly?”
I glance over my shoulder. Foley and Beckett are now staring at their phones, disbelief hardening the detective’s features. The Fire Chief looks ecstatic.
“Can we do it where no one will see?”
“Absolutely.” Khione grabs me, and we run towards the darkness of a side alley, readying ourselves for whatever awaits us in my flat.