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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
Everett hated being backup.
He hated it even more than he hated working with Nate, who was silent and surly—and not at all entertaining. While his old friend Sam might have been annoying and frustrating, questioning Everett over every move, every order, he was at least never boring.
Thanks to the Consigliere he was now on a mission to find the Illusionist with two people he disliked and one he didn’t trust.
They were sat in one of the Occult trucks, parked outside the gallery Noah had recommended—watching the monitors.
Everett did not know much about artwork, although Prue was a big fan—she sketched and painted herself. He was not particularly interested in viewing the paintings; he only cared about catching the Illusionist.
She was messing with him. Her painting with his number in it had been a warning. A call out.
Everett did not want to disappoint her.
He was going to find her.
Then, he was going to make her pay.
Prue and Noah were in their finest outfits, ready for the gallery. Prue was in a gold dress and strappy black heels—her dark hair twirled up into a braid. Noah was wearing a suit Prue had purchased for him just before the mission—he was tall and very lean. He looked completely different to the ragged man Everett had found on the boat.
They were both fitted with small mics and cameras. Noah’s on the frame of his glasses, and Prue’s on one of her magnificent headpieces. On the monitors, Everett and Nate could see a blur of motion as they walked.
“Prue looks amazing,” Nate noted, from beside him.
“Ugh,” replied Everett, because that was his sister.
The gallery itself was beautiful—on the most expensive street in the city. It was only for the most upmarket of clients. Everett looked down at his own black boots and leather jacket and was suddenly thankful he didn’t have to go inside. He was not interested in social climbing. He didn’t need to be. He let his work do the talking.
“Do you know what we’re looking for?” Prue asked, over the mics.
“I think so,” replied Noah, which did not exactly fill Everett with confidence.
Door security led them in. It hadn’t been hard to get tickets. The Occult had great influence—great power—and a greater purse.
Inside, vast flower arrangements towered up into the arched ceiling. At the center of the lobby was a glittering chandelier and an array of servants—all carrying flutes of champagne and canapés.
Everett’s stomach grumbled.
“This is going to be dull,” sighed Nate.
“Not a fan of art?” asked Everett.
“Like you are,” argued Nate.
Well, that was true.
Everett watched, with his head in his hand, as Prue and Noah navigated the art gallery. There was a variety of paintings—from modern pieces to the classics. If Everett had been more sophisticated, he might have appreciated them more.
“Big fan of art, are you?” Prue asked Noah, their voices crackling through the mics.
“Not really,” replied Noah. “Why?”
Prue raised a brow. Her questions were never totally innocent. She asked when she wanted something. When she needed information. She would probe with a smile. It was devastatingly effective. Except perhaps to Everett, who was acclimatized to it.
“How else would you recognize the painting?” she jabbed.
Even over the monitors, Everett could see Noah’s surprised face.
“Ah—I just visited here before,” he replied, awkwardly. “Worked here actually.”
“As what?” Everett asked.
Everett was not very good at disguising his probing questions. He was blunt, and Noah visibly stiffened.
“A server,” he said at last.
“If you need money for your mother, then why didn’t you stay?” Everett pressed.
There was a pause. Then, Noah said, “I was fired.”
“Everett,” Prue scolded. “Let the man breathe.”
Everett didn’t want to let the man breathe. He wanted answers.
Prue smiled and moved on, but the questions and answers rang in Everett’s head Noah did not seem overly interested in the paintings for someone who had worked here; he was sipping champagne and devouring the canapés.
“Try to pay attention to the mission, Noah,” scolded Everett. “And eat less of the canapés.”
“They’re so delicious,” Noah replied, as though that made it OK.
Everett was so hungry. He hoped the mission wouldn’t take long, so he could indulge in a burger before he returned to Occult headquarters.
He was busy daydreaming about it when there was a crash. He looked up and saw Noah colliding with another man in an explosion of champagne.
“Oh, I’m so sorry—I didn’t see you there!” Noah cried and turned in a flurry of motion, to come face to face with a man with fair hair—wearing glasses and an earpiece.
He was deaf.
His suit, which was expensive and designer, was splashed with Noah’s drink.
“Oh—umm—sorry!” Noah blubbered, as he tried to pat down the man’s suit with his bare hands, but he was only spreading the mess.
The man pulled away with a tight smile, “It’s OK. I can read your lips.”
“Ah—well sorry again,” Noah reiterated. “I can get you a new suit.”
Everett almost snorted. Noah did not look like he could afford even the pocket of that man’s suit, let alone the rest of it. Everett certainly wasn’t going to be lending him the money.
Then Everett saw the man’s hands. His suit might have been immaculate, until Noah had spilled on him, but his hands were covered in smudges of black paint.
Perhaps he was one of the artists. A successful one.
“That’s OK, really,” said the man.
“Sorry, I have to go, my sister is waiting for me.”
He nodded again, and walked off, looking not at all angry at the mess Noah had made of him.
“That was weird,” said Everett.
“Let’s just find this painting so we can all go home,” Noah pressed.
“That was embarrassing for you,” laughed Everett.
Through Prue’s camera, Everett could see how flustered Noah looked—redness blooming on his ears and spreading down his neck. Such tells were normally dangerous in their family . Soldiers had to be stoic in the face of their enemies.
Noah was not a soldier, and never would be. Not if Everett had anything to say about it.
At last, they found the painting.
It was in the very last, almost empty, room at the far side of the gallery, hung against stark white walls. Or at least the room appeared empty.
A large painting on the far wall swirled with blues and greens.
Upon it was a number, just like the one Everett had seen on the boat. Instead this time it said:
Like the painting on the boat it was a warning. But not for Everett.
“Number three,” Prue murmured, over the mics. “This is for me.”
Everett’s heart started racing. Not in fear, but with indignation and resentment at his own confusion. He didn’t like not knowing the answers. He didn’t like being played with. He didn’t like Prue being played with either.
There was only one person allowed to threaten Prue and that was him.
Nate was now sat bolt upright. “Do you want me to join you?” he asked.
“No,” replied Prue. “We’re in a public place. I don’t think they’d attack here.”
Nate did not look much reassured, and Everett wasn’t either.
“We don’t know much about them,” Nate pointed out. “We don’t know what they want, or what they’re trying to tell us.”
“The painting is pretty similar to what I found on the boat,” said Everett. He was not an art expert, but he could recognize the similarity of style.
“Except the arrow.”
“What’s it pointing at?” asked Prue.
“The painting on the opposite side of the room…” Everett said.
He watched Prue turn and look at the opposite wall. There was only one painting there, so not much room for interpretation.
It was a painting of a mansion. Everett vaguely recognized it as one of the old landmarks of the city. He thought it had been deserted for years.
It had once been magnificent, and the painting represented that. It showed its once celebrated beauty; its entrance surrounded by four columns and topped with a sculpture. The grounds around it were vast and full of green trees and yellow and orange flowers.
What exactly was it telling him?
“I know that mansion,” Everett said. “Why is the painting pointing at it?”
“I don’t think the painting had an arrow on it originally,” Noah said mildly.
Noah was right. Even to Everett’s uneducated eyes, the arrow did look out of place. The number was painted with elegant brush strokes, colorful and bright. The arrow was black and painted with a less steady hand.
The image of the deaf man’s painted hands flashed up behind his eyelids.
“Wait!” cried Everett. “That guy you bumped into had black paint on him.”
There was a moment of realization, and then he and Nate moved at the same time.
That man must be associated with the Illusionist.
To be continued…
Everett and Nate flung themselves out the truck, losing their visual of Prue and Noah.
They needed to get inside the gallery as soon as possible. If they caught the man who’d painted the arrow on the Illusionist’s painting, he might lead them to her. Or he might be dangerous, and Prue was inside without weapons—with a man Everett did not trust.
Prue might be part of the Occult—ranked above him and good at defending herself—but he still felt a jolt of panic at the thought of her in danger.
He sprinted across the car park and to the gallery entrance, Nate alongside him.
The air was bitter, a typical winter night.
“Prue!” Everett called over his mic. “Where are you?”
“By the painting still,” she said, not sounding flustered, but she was a much better actress than Everett. It was perhaps one of the reasons their father favored her—one of many, it felt like.
“I’ve lost sight of the man,” she said. “He must be heading to the exit.”
“We’ll cut him off,” replied Everett.
They flung themselves up the steps and were stopped by the security guards—two burly men who were just as tall as Nate. They peered at them mistrustfully.
Everett tried to smile, but their expressions did not flicker.
“Tickets,” one asked.
Although Everett trusted his ability to win a fist fight, he didn’t want to attract too much attention. He was taught by his father that first he should try the more subtle approach: bribery.
He pulled a wad of notes from his jacket pocket and shoved it in the guard’s hand.
Feeling pleased with himself for not jumping into a fight and for holding his nerve, he tried to shove past them.
He had given the man a lot of cash. Surely it had been enough?
“I don’t think so,” said the guard, holding his forearm in a vice-like grip.
Everett stiffened. He didn’t like anyone touching him without permission. Particularly not in a threatening way. People had died for less.
He didn’t have time to delay.
The painting man could be getting away. Or worse, he could be after Prue, who was accompanied by a new recruit that looked like he’d get blown over by a stiff breeze.
“I’ll handle this,” said Nate, evidently thinking the same thing. “You need to get to Prue.”
Everett did not wait another moment.
He saw Nate draw back his arm and swing it at the nearest guard.
There was an almighty thump, and the guard reeled backward, almost going down with the force of it.
As the other guard rushed to help him, Everett darted between them, rushed up the remaining steps and dove through the doorway.
He could hear scuffling behind him. He had full faith that Nate could overcome the guards and, once he had, Everett needed him to guard the entrance.
He needed to get to Prue and the back exit.
He sprinted through the foyer, sending visitors and servers scattering. He was attracting attention in his leather jacket and jeans, but stealth was no longer possible. Canapés were upturned onto the carpet as he headed to the back of the gallery.
“Nate?” he cried, into his mic. “Are the guards secured?”
“Yes, Entrance secure.”
“Stay there,” said Everett. “Don’t let him leave that way.”
He darted around a curtain and entered a room lined with paintings.
On the other side was the man with fair hair and an earpiece who he’d seen over the monitors. He was moving swiftly away from Everett and then disappeared around a corner.
“I have a visual on the man,” Everett hissed. “He’s trying to leave.”
“Follow him,” ordered Prue.
“But what about you?” Everett asked.
He didn’t want to leave her unprotected. Particularly when there were enemies in the building.
They had identified one, but who knew how many more there were. If they had come with backup, then undoubtedly the enemy had too.
“Noah and I are fine,” she reassured. “Get the target.”
It wasn’t really Noah he was worried about, but he didn’t argue.
He rushed through the crowd to where the man had disappeared and followed him down a spiral staircase. Everett was breathing heavily now, but he was gaining on him. The man was not as fast.
Everett could see the top of his head as he descended.
“Hey!” Everett called out. “Come back! I just want to talk to you!”
The man said nothing, and Everett wondered if he could hear him; he was wearing an earpiece and had said to Noah that he could read lips.
Everett saw the man reach the bottom floor. There was the banging of a door, and an icy breeze swept up the stairwell.
Everett reached the bottom and burst out through the fire escape into the cold.
The man was running toward the end of the alley.
“Hey! Was it you who put the arrow on the painting?” Everett called again.
The man did not turn.
Everett had enough of trying to talk.
He didn’t have any weapons, but he didn’t need them.
With only a flicker of regret that he was attacking a deaf man from behind, he dove at him and caught him in the back. They plunged into a pile of rubbish from the gallery.
The man rolled away from him with surprising speed, and Everett lost his grip.
He did not look alarmed by Everett’s attack—in fact, barely a hair was out of place.
Everett could see the black paint on his hands.
“What are you doing here?” Everett asked again, slowly, so the man could read his lips. “What are you pointing us to?”
“Follow the arrow and find out,” said the man.
Everett lurched forwards, determined to bring him in for questioning and get some answers about the Illusionist, when there was a familiar click in the darkness.
Everett froze. He knew that sound. He felt the familiar flicker of dread.
Hooded men emerged from the shadows. There must have been half a dozen guns pointing at him.
Of course the man had backup. It was a lot of backup for a single man. Who was he? Perhaps he was more dangerous than Everett had first anticipated.
He held up placatory hands, “I just wanted to talk. I meant no offense.”
The man did not react, neither did he seem angry or offended. He looked almost as though he’d been expecting Everett’s actions. He was almost smiling.
The hooded men, however, did not lower their guns.
Everett’s heart was racing. He’d been in fights before; he’d even been outnumbered, but he had never been defenseless. It was a terrifying feeling.
There was a bang and Noah rushed out of the door behind him, panting, hair stuck up in the wind. Prue was not with him. Everett didn’t know whether to be relieved.
“Oh—um—sorry,” Noah croaked, looking like a lost tourist. “I just wanted some fresh air.”
The men looked from Everett to Noah and cocked their weapons.
Everett held his breath.
To be continued…
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