01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 10, 2022, Red Ages

Rubalia Devonshire raises one rigid finger at me, asking me to wait a moment while she finishes chewing out the maintenance department for not fixing the vent issue in Xavier’s office. As Special Assistant, Rubalia fills the role of research assistant, office manager, and magnificent reception commander. She rules the department with an iron fist, or a rigid finger, depending on the day. Right now, her gold-tipped, wavy brown hair bounces as her head moves in accord with her agitation.

Rubalia sits behind a reception counter in our lobby. It’s a warm space, decorated with beige carpet and flooded with natural light from the same floor to ceiling windows that line our offices. I let my eyes rove the space and they snag over the brown leather furniture in the seating area. I notice Rubalia’s brought in another bright piece of artwork, making the space even cheerier. As always, her taste is impeccable.

When she snaps the phone down, she lifts her glittering ruby cat-eyed specs off her deep brown eyes and flicks through her organizer. She finds my tab and hands me a stack of memos.

“Thank you, Rubalia.”

I’m inspired by her decorating, and when I reach my office, I give it a critical eye. It’s sparsely furnished with my comfortable office chair, two guest chairs, a sturdy oak desk, and two matching file cabinets. Besides that, there’s only the brown leather bed Rubalia made for Varg that sits by the wall of windows and my lush fern in the corner. The space really could use some personal touches and color, but that will have to wait for another day.

I sit down and rifle through my messages. One slips out of my hand and falls in the crack between my desk and my filing cabinet. With a shove, I push the file cabinet to the side and see the message lying on the carpet next to another slip of paper. I wonder what that is. I grab both memos and move the filing cabinet back in place.

The second piece of paper is a note in Rubalia’s elegant handwriting where she’s listed the name and number of the Internal Investigations Officer with the City of Crimson Hollow. I’d asked her for this contact during the Blackwater case, so the note must have slipped into that spot some time ago. It would never take Rubalia months to finish a piece of research like this. Her entire deportment screams perfectionist, which anyone can see from her sleek skirt suits and the deathly stilettos on her tiny feet, but it’s most obvious in her running of the office.

I drum my fingers on my desk as I read the name: Rita Hardgrave. Well, Rita, let’s have a chat.

Someone picks up after half a ring. “Hello, may I please speak with Rita Hardgrave?”

An assertive, professional voice answers, “This is she.”

“Rita, this is Inspector Bluebell Kildare from the Supernatural Investigation Bureau, Homicide Unit. I understand you’re in charge of Internal Investigations with the city. Is that correct?”

She says, “That’s correct. How can I help you?”

“I’d like to stop by your office tomorrow. I don’t have anything to report. I just have some questions.”

“Sure, stop on by,” she says. “I’m pretty open tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Rita. I’ll speak with you soon.”

I flip through the rest of the messages and find one that I was hoping never to see. The young man I tried to rescue outside of the Glenwood mansion had made it through surgery, but had some bleeding in his brain from a concussion. When I visited him, he was in a coma. His name was Matthew Pruit, and he was only twenty-three years old. The message says he passed away early this morning.

I lean my head on my hands and fight the tears prickling my eyes. It’s so senseless. Why are we fighting amongst ourselves? My mind drifts back to the prophecy. “When man wrongs man . . . ”

A tap on my door interrupts my grieving. Jack stands in the doorway with furrowed eyebrows. “Are you okay?”

I shake the memo at him. “Matthew Pruit. It sucks.”

Jack scans the memo briefly; then his eyes soften slightly at the corners. “It does suck. Do you need a minute?”

“No, come on in.”

Jack remains where he is, and frowns. “Actually, we have a woman here reporting her husband’s gone missing. He’s a Gifted forest ranger. I’d like you to sit in on the interview.”

The thrill of a new case rushes through me. Great, a chance to be useful! “Okay, let’s do this.”

Varg follows us into the interview room and lounges in the corner, taking up far too much of the small space, while I settle down in a chrome-wheeled chair and await our next mystery. The door pushes open and Jack is preceded by a petite brunette woman sporting a sleek angled bob. An infant clings to her hip, and a young girl clutches her skirt. Even so burdened, she stands with rigid determination.

After Jack introduces Brigid to me, he holds out a chair for her. Instead of taking it, Brigid pats it, “Becky, You sit here, right by Mama.”

Becky is all of five years old, a shy girl with long, dark hair pinned in pink plastic barrettes. With a lot of effort and wiggling, she manages to climb in the chair and sits on her knees with her elbows on the table. When she’s settled, she notices Varg in the corner. With a little squeak of surprise, she says, “That’s a big doggy!”

I answer, “Yes, he’s a protector. He protects people, so he has to be big.”

Her adorable mouth makes an O-shape in wonder.

When Brigid is seated, she shows her resourcefulness by pulling a pad of paper and crayons out of her bag. Becky starts drawing immediately with an endearingly tilted head and tiny eyebrows scrunched in concentration.

“Brigid,” Jack starts, “why don’t you tell us what happened.”

Brigid shakes her hair out of her face and bounces her baby boy on her knee gently as she starts her story. “My husband is missing. He was supposed to be home by six o’clock this morning and he never arrived. He worked third shift last night, and it isn’t like him to be late. By the time he gets home, he’s exhausted and falls asleep right away. Now it’s past four o’clock in the afternoon, and I know something must have happened to him.” Her sharp energy saturates the air; she’s tired, worried, and more than a little scared, but her resolve wins.

I ask gently, “What does your husband do for a living?”

A gleam of pride shines from her eyes. “He’s a forest ranger for the Western Blue Ridge District. He fights forest fires. I called his work and spoke to his boss, and he left work at five in the morning as usual.”

“Who did you speak with?”

“Randy. He’s the Station Supervisor.”

I jot some quick notes down as I go through my questions. “What’s your husband’s name and date of birth?”

“Joe Powers. He was born January 20th, 1992”

I puzzle a moment, bouncing the eraser off of my notepad. “That name sounds familiar. Was your husband a prominent political person?”

Brigid scowls. “No, he always kept a low profile, until yesterday that is.”

“What happened yesterday?”

I feel her irritation and fear spike. “He did an interview for the local jazz station. He’s a fire control expert.” She pinches her lips. “I told him not to do it, but he insisted it was an important public awareness piece.”

That’s where I heard the name. They must have announced his interview on the radio when Jack and I were listening to the news yesterday. “Why didn’t you want him doing the interview?”

Brigid indicates Becky. “I think my daughter may be Gifted, and with so much craziness about the Gifted lately, I don’t think it’s smart to advertise gifts in the family.”

Becky is clearly Gifted. I can feel the vibration of her magic humming far louder than I’d expect from a child her age. If it were a bit more developed, I might even be able to tell what the gift is. However, her mother seems to still be struggling with the fact that her daughter is Gifted, so I keep my curiosity to myself.

“What is your husband’s gift?”

She hesitates a moment, her reticence obvious. “He controls fires. He’s in charge of all the controlled burns in the region.”

“Exactly how does he control the fires?”

An expression of pride and admiration gleams from Brigid’s eyes. “He can start fires and regulate their consumption of energy to stop them. That’s why the Western Division of the Blue Ridge Forest Service hasn’t had any deaths in the last five years. Joe supervises all the controlled burnings and can stop any forest fire. He recently won an award at the station for saving a local family, so his department has been pressuring him to do some publicity.”

Brigid’s feelings of pride quickly transform into resentment.

“You’re angry with him about it. Did you two fight?”

Brigid stiffens in her chair as she clarifies, “We argued. We disagreed. We did not fight.”

Her baby takes this moment to pat her cheek and slip his fingers into her mouth, tugging at her lip. She takes his hand out of her mouth and gives his palm a quick kiss before turning back to me.

My heart softens at her touching display of maternal love. “Brigid, is there any chance he’s mad, and just staying at a family member or friend’s house?”

Brigid’s lips tighten. “He would never do that. I told him how I felt about it and my reasons why. He’s free to make his own decisions. I’m not a shrew.”

I sympathize, but these questions are necessary. “I have to follow every angle. I mean no offense. Is there anything else important that has happened in the last week?”

She thinks for a moment and shakes her head.

“Was anyone angry with him? Does he have any enemies? Work competitors, perhaps?”

She shakes her head vigorously this time. “No, his work buddies are practically extended family. They’re all worried about him too. This isn’t like him at all. He isn’t answering his chimerator or work phone either.” The baby starts to fuss, wiggling anxiously, obviously bored with this interview.

I give her a reassuring smile. “I believe you. But I have to ask a few other questions that are going to be uncomfortable. They’re just standard procedure, though.”

“Okay,” she consents.

Then little Becky asks in a timid voice, “Mama, can I have a red crayon?”

Brigid fishes a red one out of the bag for her, then entertains the little one by playing itsy-bitsy spider on his back as I go through my list of questions. I ask about substance abuse, mental or physical illness, financial stress, extramarital affairs, and recent insurance policies, the whole nine yards. She answers negatively to them all.

When I’m done, Jack clears his throat. “Brigid. As far as we can see there’s no clear sign of foul play. Sometimes adults just decide to leave, and by law, it’s their right. I’m not saying that’s the case with your husband. However, our laws are designed to balance an individual’s right to leave with the concern of the people who notice them missing.

“There are things we can do, like check credit card usage, cell phone records, and his phone’s GPS. But we can’t do any of those things until we can officially list him as missing. When there’s no clear sign of foul play, the law requires we wait forty-eight hours before we officially declare him missing and start invading his privacy. You’ll need to bring in your marriage certificate, financial records, and credit card numbers and sign some forms at that time.”

Panic fills Brigid’s eyes. “But he could be stranded on the side of the road somewhere, dying!”

Jack’s face fills with empathy. “If you know his regular route, we can send a car to scout it out, just to make sure there wasn’t an accident. That’s something we can do now.”

Some small measure of relief fills Brigid.

Jack straightens his papers. “Aside from that, I think you should head home and be there in case he comes back. If he doesn’t, then come here in about thirty-six hours and we’ll finish the paperwork.”

Jack turns to me. “Have Ernesto run that route ASAP.”

He turns to her again. “Ernesto is a Vampire, so he can track scent and see further than a regular agent. He’s my best man for this.”

Brigid sits stiffly, and Jack leaves me to gather the route information from her. When I’m done and she starts gathering her things together, Becky pushes her drawing across the table toward me, staring at me with worried eyes.

I pull it close and am astounded at the extraordinary detail for a five-year-old. It’s a picture of a burning church with fire shooting from the windows.

Becky asks in a small voice, “Do you like it? I made it for you.”

I smile at her. “Yes Becky. I love it. In fact, I’m going to hang it in my office.”

Becky’s face breaks into a smile, revealing one charming gap from a missing front tooth. Oh, I just want to squeeze her up. “You really are quite talented, and I hope you keep practicing.”

Becky scoots down from her chair. “I will.” Then her expression grows serious. “You’re a nice lady. Please find my daddy. He needs help.”

Oh how my heart breaks at her grave, little face. I glance at Brigid as a thick cloud of worry crowds the office.

She squeezes her daughter’s hand. “Come along, Becky. They’ll do everything they can, I’m sure.”

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