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Everett's good at what he does. He, which is being one of the Occult’s most effective agents, and one day he wants to be the boss. Only his sister – ranked above him and always smug about it – stands in his way.
When they are targeted by the infamous Illusionist, they must decide where their loyalties lie. To each other, to their overbearing father, or to the new member, who seems to know more than he’s letting on.
Warnings: Mentions of crime, non-graphic violence, spoilers for The Occult
There was a horrible pause.
Everett felt like he could barely breathe, suspended in the alley—waiting for the hooded men to make a move. Their guns were pointing, unshakenly, at the side of his head. He tried not to jolt in fear, but sweat had broken out over his temples.
Noah’s appearance had startled them. They were looking to the man from the gallery for direction. Was he the leader? Were they associated with the Illusionist?
His mind was racing with possibilities, but he dared not say anything—not with guns pointing at his head. Even he knew when to cut his losses and live to fight another day.
The man stared at him—Everett didn’t break his gaze—then back at Noah, who was holding up his hands in apology for his interruption.
“Come,” said the man.
There was shuffling in the shadows and the men were gone.
Everett let out a long sigh of relief.
He hadn’t been taken so off guard in a while. Particularly without weapons. It was not a situation he wanted to repeat any time soon.
He turned to Noah, annoyed, and hissed, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Noah looked taken aback, but adjusted quickly and, with a nonchalant shrug replied, “Helping you.”
For a man who’d been so timid on the boat, he didn’t cower under Everett’s intense gaze.
Nothing made sense. Everett was not sure if there was anything about him that was genuine, and Everett always trusted his instincts.
“I had it under control,” Everett told him.
He would have thought of something. He always did. He wasn’t this high in the Occult just because his father was the Head, he was good—and he thrived in proving it to his father—and to the Consigliere.
“It didn’t look like that,” Noah said.
Everett bristled at the underhand insult and grabbed Noah by the lapel of his very expensive suit. The material crumpled in his grip, and he lifted Noah onto his toe tips.
“Where’s Prue?” Everett, he pressed.
Noah looked alarmed and Everett felt a stab of satisfaction.
“With Nate,” Noah croaked.
He tried to wrestle Everett’s grip off his collar, but Everett did not budge. The skin on Noah’s face started to go red—spreading across his cheekbones and down his neck. A reaction he could not disguise.
Everett did not think Noah would hurt Prue—she was Noah’s greatest ally—but he needed to make the warning clear. If Noah touched her, if he hurt her, Everett would not let him escape.
Prue was annoying—frustrating—but she was family.
“You didn’t need to get involved,” Everett shook him. “What are you playing at?”
Noah blinked back, guileless. “Nothing,” he insisted. “I was just trying to help.”
Everett did not believe him. Noah’s knowledge of the gallery and his appearance in the alley seemed too good to be true.
“I’m sorry,” Noah tried again.
Everett released him, “We almost had him!”
He was more upset with himself. He was going to have to go back to Damian and explain how their culprit got away. The thought made him break out in a cold sweat. He was going to have nightmares.
“I don’t think getting captured by his men is ‘almost had him’,” Noah pointed out, recovering his breath.
Everett did not get to say anything more as, to his immense relief, Prue and Nate appeared. She looked unharmed, if a bit windswept and out of breath. If he wasn’t imagining it, she might even look a little worried.
“Everett!” Prue called, hurrying up to them, heels clicking on the cobbles. “Where is he? What happened here?”
“He had backup,” Everett replied.
Prue looked confused, but he couldn’t explain any more out in the open. Anyone could be listening. The hooded men could have left spies behind—it’s what Everett would have done.
“We need to get out of here,” he said.
It wasn’t a long journey to the other side of the city, but Everett made them stop for a burger on the way. His stomach had growled during the mission and he needed some warm and delicious comfort after the events in the alley.
He was feeling sorry for himself. He was going to have to find some way to explain it to Damian—and possibly his father. He munched hard and cheese dripped down his chin.
As soon as they were back at headquarters he headed to his room. He needed a hot shower and comfy sheets. He’d not suffered injury, but it felt like he had. Now the adrenaline was gone, his limbs felt like lead—heavy and unresponsive.
“What are you doing?” Prue asked, as he turned away.
Nate was peering at him from over her shoulder. He had been injured in the fight with security and was sporting a blue bruise that was spreading across his eye socket.
“Going to sleep,” Everett replied, raising his eyebrow.
He wanted desperately to sleep. To remove the image of the hooded men from behind his eyeballs; he was familiar with violence, but he was not familiar with being caught so off guard. He felt ashamed by his weakness. His failure.
“Now?” Prue replied, her disapproval was clear. “What about what we were told at the gallery?”
“We can’t do anything about it tonight,” Everett told her. “We can debrief in the morning.”
She was referring to the arrow and the mansion. It was trying to lead them there. A possible clue from the Illusionist. It already appeared to be working. Prue wanted to follow it, despite the danger it posed.
Everett would try to get his head around it in the morning. Now, he was too tired and too slow.
Still, Prue did not let him go that easily. She couldn’t just leave him in peace to lick his wounds; she always had to have the last word.
“Aren’t you going to thank Noah?” she asked, pointedly.
“I’ve seen the footage from the alley,” she told him. “He saved your ass.”
Everett rolled his eyes. He did not need saving—particularly by Noah.
“I’m going to bed,” he repeated, firmly.
“I’ve moved Noah out of his cell as thanks for saving you,” she continued.
“Goodnight,” Everett insisted.
The next morning, they assembled in the boardroom, deep underground.
Everett felt revived after a long and dreamless sleep, but Damian’s sharp and disappointed eyes made him think he should have stayed in bed. Prue looked bright as always, in white shirt and black trousers; Nate stood solemnly behind her.
“What happened?” Damian asked, without pleasantries.
He was dressed in a navy suit, shoes shined and jacket freshly pressed. Everett squirmed in his black jeans and boots, hot under the scrutiny.
“We tracked a suspicious man out of the gallery,” Everett told him. “But he had backup.”
“So, you failed,” Damian summarized.
Everett looked away, swallowing hard. He had no defense—no justification. He hoped his father didn’t hear about it. He did not want to be punished.
“We were ambushed,” Prue explained.
Everett felt a dart of relief when Damian’s attention turned away from him. He could breathe again—if only for a moment.
“Was it the Illusionist?” he asked.
“His identity was unclear,” Everett couldn’t help but point out.
He didn’t know the connection between the man in the alley and the Illusionist. He didn’t know whether he’d been friend or foe.
They could easily have killed Everett in the alley; yet the man had sent the hooded soldiers away.
“We believe someone is leading us to the mansion,” Prue said.
“It could be a trap,” Nate said. “They seem to be trying to provoke you.”
Everett had considered that too, of course, but he didn’t care. He needed answers about the Illusionist and an opportunity had presented itself.
“Yes,” said Damian. “I suggest taking only those you trust on this mission. Who knows how many spies are in our midst?”
Everett and Prue bowed.
“I’ll bring Sam,” said Everett. “For extra muscle.”
“And I’ll bring Noah,” Prue suggested.
“He saved Everett in the alley.”
To be continued…
The mansion was on the outskirts of the city.
Everett did recognize it, not only from the painting, but it did not look exactly like he remembered. In his childhood memory it had been magnificent. One of the most beautiful buildings in the city, with arched pillars and a garden overflowing with flowers and vegetation. At its center had been a water fountain that glimmered in the summer sun.
It did not look like it had been maintained in a long time.
The once-thriving gardens were overrun with weeds. The fountain was still and the water stagnant. There was no light or movement from the windows.
It didn’t look like anyone lived there.
When Everett had researched it, he could not find a record of ownership.
Everett turned to the team. He’d been split up from Prue, Nate, and Noah, who would be using the back entrance. They had to make sure that nobody would be able to run away.
He turned directly to Sam, who was leaning casually against a lamppost, assessing the mansion from under his cap. Like Everett, he was prepared for anything; wired up to the main command and with weapons strapped beneath his clothes.
“A word,” Everett ordered.
Sam raised a brow but, unusually, followed without complaint.
“Are you clear on the plan?” Everett asked.
“Sure,” replied Sam. He did not look worried about a potential ambush, in fact, he looked excited at the prospect. “Scout the mansion, look for any clues about the Illusionist.”
“They’re leading us here. It could be a trap.”
“Understood,” Sam shrugged. He took the information in his stride.
Everett did not share the same blithe confidence, especially not after what had happened in the alley. He would not make that mistake again.
“Don’t let anyone get away,” Everett ordered.
“The rest of the team will be outside,” Sam said, patting him on the arm, either in comfort or mockingly. Everett went rigid but did not remove it. “They’ll ensure nobody escapes.”
“Sam,” Everett said. “I’m trusting you on this. We can’t fail again.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Sam replied. “We’ve got this.”
He felt reassured—until Noah ruined it.
Everett was approached on the street adjoining the mansion while the team were doing a final sweep of the area. The orange sun was disappearing behind the horizon. The darkness would provide them with cover, particularly if they ran into trouble.
The fewer witnesses the better.
“You ready?” Noah asked, looking a little self-conscious and uncomfortable dressed for possible combat in a thick leather jacket, gloves and trainers. He kept straining against the confines of the outfit, as though it didn’t quite fit him.
“What?” Everett asked, taken aback by his appearance. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Prue?”
“I could come with you instead,” Noah suggested.
He looked strangely insistent. Even less like the meek and frightened person he’d seemed on the boat; the change was stark. Which one was really him, Everett wondered?
“I don’t think so,” Everett replied.
“I can help!” Noah insisted. “I did before!”
“I didn’t want you in the team,” Everett said, because he was not a liar. “And I didn’t want you in the Occult. I don’t trust you.”
“I understand,” Noah replied, looking frustrated. “But you need to be careful.”
Everett stared at him in surprise. Why would Noah, of all people, be giving him a warning? Yet, Everett could see no trace of a deception on his face.
“Careful with what?” Everett asked.
Noah struggled for a moment, as though contemplating how to verbalize it. “With Sam,” he said, at last.
“Sam?” Everett echoed. In disbelief. “What about him?”
“I’m just saying.”
“What?” Everett repeated.
“Look, Prue’s calling me back,” Noah said. “I’ve got to go.”
Everett was left with more questions than answers.
Everett was relieved to be partnered with Sam for the sweep of the mansion.
There was always tension when he was partnered with Prue or Nate, and he trusted Noah about as far as he could throw him. His partnership with Sam was familiar. He had been his closest friend as a child, and Everett felt comfortable in his presence; Noah’s words had not changed that.
There was some resentment and jealousy there, Everett knew, since he was so high in the Occult, but he could take Sam’s challenges. He always rose to them. It was part of their history—part of their dynamic. It was nothing to worry about.
“Hello, Everett, can you hear me?” Prue asked, her voice crackling in the mic.
“I can hear you.”
Night had fallen, and a full moon was peeking through the cloud cover as they hurried toward the mansion. The garden path was overgrown with weeds and Everett had to use the heel of his boot to wrestle through the wild undergrowth.
Sam was beside him, looking extra pale in the moonlight. His red hair, normally so distinctive, was hidden beneath his cap.
“We’re approaching the entrance now,” Everett told her.
“Understood, we’ll come in the back,” hissed Prue. “Watch out.”
“I know,” said Everett, again. Why did everyone keep telling him that? Did he look like an idiot?
“She cares about you,” Sam interrupted Everett’s grumbling.
“I don’t think so,” Everett replied. “She just wants to make sure I don’t take all the credit.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “You know that’s not true.”
They reached the front of the mansion. Its once grand entrance looked little more than rubble—thick with dust and with the door sealed shut. Everett didn’t really know what they were looking for, but it didn’t look like the mansion had been used in years.
What was the connection to the Illusionist?
Without much difficulty, they forced their way through. The door was jammed rather than locked, but Everett managed to wedge a knife into the door frame and pry it open.
Once inside, they swept the main entrance.
They were stood in a giant foyer. It had a high arched ceiling and a chandelier hung from the rafters, covered in cobwebs. The air was thick with dust. Any former beauty had been stripped away. The once opulent furniture looked like it hadn’t been used in years.
“It looks like your father’s place,” Sam said.
“It’s too messy for my father.”
They couldn’t see anybody. The vast emptiness of the rooms magnified the echoes. The stairs creaked as a draft came in the open door.
Everett stepped onto the foyer carpet and there was a flash of movement.
Pots of paint swung down the stairway and exploded against the opposite wall—splattering red and blue paint all over the stairway. Everett jerked out of the way to avoid them, purely on instinct—at their blinding speed, a blow to the head could have killed him.
“What the hell?” Everett cried. “Stay still Sam!”
“This place is dangerous,” said Sam.
“We heard something?” came Prue over the mic. “Are you OK?”
He was just about OK. At least this time the paint had not ended up all over his head. There were only splashes on the heels of his boots.
“We’re fine,” Everett replied, frustrated again. “It’s full of traps.”
He had the distinct feeling the Illusionist was mocking him.
“We’re stuck in the garden,” Prue replied. “There are some out here too.”
Everett sighed. They would have to be more careful. Any movement could set off a trap.
They padded into the living room.
Everett was not sure what he was looking for—what clues he needed to find. Was it a painting again? That seemed to be the Illusionist’s MO.
As soon as Everett touched the living room carpet, the floor opened beneath him.
His legs swept out from under him and he landed with a cry on a pile of half-packed cardboard boxes in the basement. Air was knocked from his lungs. He gasped desperately for breath, shocked at the impact.
He stared upright and realized he was stuck in a dank hole.
“Sam. Help!” Everett cried. “I’m stuck!”
Sam’s head appeared over the precipice.
“You were right, Everett,” said Sam. “It is a trap.”
To be continued...
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