Autumn Whispers (Page 37)

“Don’t say anything for a minute,” I told her, grabbing the bags and carrying them into the kitchen. “I know something, but I need to figure it out. Sit down while I try to find the words.”

Camille slipped off her coat and sat down at the table as I paced. Quickly, I filled her in on everything Carter and I had discussed.

“Okay, so, what’s running through my head is this: when I was in Gerald’s mind, I saw a Fae woman, in a cell. She was locked up and Gerald was thinking about how much money she would bring. In another memory, he was talking about replacing a toy and whatever it was, was expensive. What if Supernatural Matchups . . .”

“White slavery.” Camille paled. “He was selling that woman.”

“Right! What if Supernatural Matchups is a cover up for a sex slave operation? And what if they are finding their merchandise through the dating site?”

“But if he was running it, then when he died . . .”

I snapped my fingers. “But he’s not running it. I need to check something.” I jumped back on the laptop and scanned through the Supernatural Matchups site again. The dating service had been formed . . . “They started the company the same year that Gerald sold the building to Lowestar. Lowestar’s the one in charge of it. I’ll bet you anything.”

I quickly tapped out a few inquiries into the search engine and sure enough, the Washington State Secretary of State’s site gave me all the information I needed. Under the Corporations Division, I was able to find out that the president of Supernatural Matchups was, indeed, Lowestar Radcliffe. Gerald Hanson had been VP. There it was, in black and white pixels.

“Here—look at this. One guess as to what’s happened to Violet.”

“I wonder if she’s still alive.” Camille peeked over my shoulder. “But this can’t be what Grandmother Coyote was talking about with something ancient waking up. This is new, and as far as things go, yes it’s bad but it’s not the worst thing we’ve gone up against.”

As we were puzzling things through, Vanzir burst through the door. He actually looked flushed, as well as soaked through to the skin.

“Okay, here it is. I talked to Trytian—”

Camille bristled. “Fuck, just what we need. Bring him into this.”

“Listen, toots, you want information fast? You go to the person most likely to know. So I did.” He folded his arms across his chest. “You want to hear what I have to say or not?”

“Yeah, yeah, go on.” I tossed him the hand towel off the counter. “And wipe up, you’re dripping all over Hanna’s clean floor and she’ll kill you.”

“Big fucking deal.” But he quickly wiped up the water and muddy footprints he’d tracked in. “Okay, here’s the scoop. Trytian knows perfectly well who this Lowestar Radcliffe is.”

“And how does he know?” Something in Vanzir’s tone told me we weren’t going to like this.

“Lowestar is your daemon—a very high-placed, intelligent, and powerful daemon. He doesn’t like Shadow Wing but he’s not working with the resistance. But he is out to carve himself a niche here Earthside, and he’s always out for his own agenda.”

My stomach dropped. “He’s really the daemon. The one who the Farantino family pledged themselves to.”

“Then why didn’t I catch it when we were at the coffee shop and met him? I knew there was something uneasy about it, but none of us caught it—not even Shade.” Camille rubbed her knuckles on her arm.

“He’s powerful and old and probably very good at shielding his energy. Apparently, he’s been attached to the Farantino family for a couple of hundred years. Looks like he’s been using them to establish a home base for himself. He also happens to be leader of a cult, and their focus is . . . ?” Vanzir leaned against the table, waiting.

“Let me guess.” Camille paled. “They’re trying to wake up something that’s been sleeping for a long time?”

Vanzir nodded. “Spot on. And that something would be an ancient demigod named Suvika. He’s one of the triple lords of vice and debauchery and he’s been sleeping for millennia. Lowestar Radcliffe happens to be the high priest of the cult. Trytian told me that the Farantino Building is probably—not guaranteed—but most likely, a temple dedicated to bringing Suvika out of his slumbering state to rejoin the world of the waking. And when he does . . .”

I sighed. “Let me guess. The mighty will fall, Suvika will rise up and take control, and Lowestar, his prize priest, will reign in terror. Old story, heard it before.”

“Actually, no. They aren’t out to control the world, just sort of . . . take over the corporate structure. Suvika is also, not so conversely, a lord of business. I think Lowestar may be combining his love of debauchery with his love for money and he’s aiming to become the Donald Trump of hedonism.”

With a snort, Camille dropped into a chair. Tears ran down her face and I couldn’t figure out whether she was laughing or crying. After a moment, she caught hold of herself and wiped her eyes.

“Great, we’re taking on big business now.” She sobered. “Put two and two together and this makes sense. Lowestar is running a white slavery outfit. He is high priest in a cult that worships a demigod of vice, debauchery, and business. What better way to marry several loves while trying to bring your patron god back to the world of the waking? But that means he’s probably trying to get his hands into other businesses. Quite possibly, the threats against the Wayfarer—trying to intimidate Menolly so she’d take the lawyers up on the offer to sell? We need to know how deep his pockets are, and what holdings he’s invested in. If he’s been meddling in human affairs for a long time, there’s no telling what he has control over.”

“And think . . . waking the demigod of vice and business? That’s going to put a big monkey wrench in the balance. No wonder Grandmother Coyote wanted us involved. I wonder why she picked me, specifically?” I frowned. “But honestly, it doesn’t matter because we’re all in this together. So . . . now that we know this, how does it help us find Violet?”

“If she’s still around to be found. He’s in the business of selling people. Supernatural Matchups is focused on the Supe world, so we can assume—though we may be wrong—that he’s interested in procuring Supe men and women. I guess the place to start would be to find out who’s going to replace Gerald. They’ll have to have a new lawyer and soon. Lowestar will have to replace him.”

Vanzir shifted. “I’ll get on that. I can go visit Carter again.”

“Please. And tell him everything we’ve learned.”

As he headed out the door, I turned to Camille. “You think we’ll be able to find Violet alive?”

She pressed her lips together. “I don’t even want to bet on that. Thing is, alive or dead, she’s never going to be the same. I can tell you that from experience.” A cold look passed over her face, and once again, I knew she was flashing back to Hyto and the torture he’d put her through.

“We’ll bring them down.” I put my hand on her arm. “We’ll stop them.”

“Maybe, but the corporate world is thick and fast with corruption. It’s that way here, just like it was in Otherworld. The nature of the beast. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for much of anything right now. I guess our biggest hope is to put a stop to the cult, and prevent the reemergence of Suvika.”

I sat beside her and leaned forward, propping my elbows on my knees. “Is it just me, or does it seem like the harder we fight, the worse it gets?”

With a shrug, she shook her head. “The world is a complex web, Delilah. There is no answer to that. The deeper we go, the darker things get. But we have to keep trying. Too many people need us for us to ever give up.”

“Then, it’s simple. We don’t give up. We don’t lose. We get knocked down, and we try again. We dust ourselves off and we fight the good fight.” I laughed. “Easy, huh?”

And then she smiled, her face lighting up. “That’s the spirit. So yes, we fight on. And now, let’s get this meat outside for Ivana. Because as you say, we don’t want to welsh on our debts to the Elder Fae. So not a good idea.”

As we carted the meat out to the appointed place, the rain began to pour in earnest. I gazed up at the silver sky. We were in for a long, hard winter. I could feel it in my bones.

• • •

Once Hanna was home to watch Maggie, we decided to go through with our plans to meet with Tanne Baum, even though we now had a handle on what was going on. He was gruff on the phone, with a thick German accent, but when we met him at the Supe-Urban Café, he was handsome, tall, and blond as spun platinum. He was also pleasant—far more pleasant than I’d thought he’d be.

“We wanted to talk to you about Violet.” I wasn’t sure how to launch into what we thought had happened to his girlfriend.

Camille had made a valid point on the way to the restaurant that we should make certain he wasn’t in on the slavery operation before we spilled our suspicions to him. The last thing we needed was for Lowestar to get wind that we had puzzled out what was going on.

Tanne cast a long look at us. “And I want to talk to you. I know who you are. And I know you’re looking for Violet. Know this: She lives.”

I almost choked on my drink. That was the last thing I’d expected to hear. “Since you know who we are, and that we’re looking for her, let’s skip the formalities. How do you know she’s alive? Do you have any proof? We came here to ask if you’ve heard from her lately.”

He tapped his forehead. “I know. She and I are linked. I know she’s in trouble, though I don’t know what kind, but I also know she’s alive. If she dies—I will know that, too. We have been through certain rituals together.”

Camille inhaled sharply. “Like the rites of Eleshinar Trillian and I went through together.”

“I know what those are . . . Slightly different, but yes, the same principle. You will find her?”

“Well, it helps to know she’s alive, but if we could ask you some questions?” I frowned, but Camille gave me a nod and I could tell she believed him.

“Whatever I can do to help.” He played with the scone in front of him. “I do love her, you know. Tad is jealous, but truly, she has no taste for vampires. He would not stand a chance whether or not I was out of the way.”

I decided to bypass the whole jealousy issue. “Then tell us what you know. When did you last see her? And where? Have you noticed anybody suspicious hanging around her house?”

We talked away the afternoon. Tanne was engaging, without any of the angst that Tad and Albert showed. He was polite, and very European in action. Even the Fae from over the other side of the pond were different than the Fae on this side of the ocean.

By the time we finished, we had a pretty good feel for the guy and we both believed him and we liked him. He didn’t play games, didn’t bother with challenges unless they intrigued him. He didn’t have any jealousy toward Albert and Tad, and in fact, treated them like teenagers. And even though he knew she still lived, his loss and worry were obvious. But none of the information we gathered from him was anything we didn’t know, except the fact that she lived.

Approaching him about the dating site was a gamble, but it turned out to be okay.

“I know she hung out there. We don’t have an exclusive relationship. In fact, we have playmates together.” He shrugged. “It’s our way.”

“Not an issue. I have three husbands.” Camille pointed to my notebook. “But can we get their names, just in case?”

After he gave us the names of everybody he could remember—a tidy list, at that—he leaned back. “Do you think . . . do you think you’ll be able to find her, to save her?”

I glanced at Camille. She caught his gaze and stared for a moment. He hung his head and turned to me.

“We’ll do everything we can,” I whispered. “Since we know she’s alive, there’s a chance. If you pick up anything more on her, let us know. We’ll keep in touch.”

As he stood to go, he gave us a curt nod. “I understand. Thank you for not sugarcoating matters. If I can sense anything more—if I can somehow reach out and touch her—I’ll call you immediately. There are ways . . . they require preparation but the Fae of the Black Forest have many secret rituals and I can perform some of these. They are dangerous at times, but I’ll do anything I can for her. Violet is special. She’s . . . she’s Violet.” And with that, he turned and left the restaurant.

Camille and I finished our drinks, not knowing what else to do.

When Marion came by, she brought a plate of cookies. “By the hangdog looks on your faces, I think you need these.” She set them down on the table.

“Thanks.” As Marion left, I turned to Camille. “So, what next?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. I guess . . . we eat cookies, then go home, and decide how we’re going to stop a demigod from waking up to take over corporate America. We know that Violet’s alive, so we do our best to figure out where the fuck they’re stashing her.”

“Or if they’ve sold her already.” I stared at the table, tapping it nervously with my nails. “Trouble is, Radcliffe isn’t the worst menace we’re facing.”

And on that sober thought, we ate cookies.

Chapter 19

Ivana had picked up her meat by the time we got home. We trooped in the house, dropping our stuff on the bench in the hallway. Morio was sitting on the sofa, sorting through a bunch of papers. He glanced up as we filed into the living room. Shade was leafing through a book, Chase was sitting in the rocking chair, holding Astrid, and Vanzir was playing with Maggie on the floor.