Anne

“The reservation should be under Schneider,” Anne said to hostess.

“Of course, ma’am. If you would wait just a moment,” the woman said, looking down at the screen in front of her. Anne restrained the urge to fidget. When the note had been delivered to her room, Anne thought it had been from Lady Maritza. The envelope reminded her of a wedding invitation. It was actually sealed with a wax imprint of a coat of arms. She’d carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the note.

Anne, would you do me the honor of having lunch with me? I will have reservation at the Brown Hat at 2. and Kurt’s signature. Okay, maybe there was something to formal courting. At least, she hoped that was what Kurt was doing. It was a nice surprise at least. Anne was sure Kurt and the others were doing something with that corpse they’d recovered. Erik had been pretty firm that Anne should stay in the hotel until they contacted her. Well, if Kurt was there, she should be safe enough from Arem or whatever they’d fought last night.

“If you’ll follow me,” the hostess said. The Brown Hat was on the low end of upscale. It had started back in the forties as a swing club, and then matured into a restaurant known for its warm atmosphere and excellent steaks. The old stage was still used on occasion. The last time Anne had been in the Brown Hat was when her parents had taken her out for making detective. The lunch crowd was mostly business people who worked in the nearby skyscrapers.

Kurt was hidden behind one of the large, colorful menus as the hostess seated Anne. As the hostess left, Anne loudly cleared her throat. Okay, maybe she didn’t expect Kurt to jump to his feet to seat her, but he could’ve at least acknowledged her presence. The menu dropped, and Anne clenched the tablecloth as she looked into the dark eyes of Arem.

“I apologize for the ruse, but I very much doubted that you would come meet me if I signed my own name,” Arem said in a warm voice.

“I should just shoot you,” Anne said in a strained voice.

“That would just be foolish,” Arem said, “You would disturb all of these humans’ lunch. You would also not find out what happened to your sister.” Anne froze for the briefest moment.

“She was murdered when we were both infants,” Anne said coldly, “What could you know about it?”

“They never did find the person who kidnapped the both of you,” Arem said. “I know it’s been part of what drove you to become the detective you are today.”

“What do you know?” Anne demanded, barely keeping herself from screaming at Arem. The handsome elf gave her a smile.

“Power isn’t the only thing that the Dark Towers can provide. Answers are another service we can provide,” Arem said, coyly. “Come with me, and all of those questions that have been haunting you can be answered.” Anne was tempted. She couldn’t remember when her twin sister and her had been abducted. She’d only been six months at the time. What Anne remembered was the after effects when she’d been found alive, but her sister brutally murdered. The mournful looks from her parents on her birthday when they couldn’t help but think of the daughter they’d lost. The whispers in school. Arem was right. Her sister’s murder was part of what had driven Anne to join the force. The temptation stopped cold as she remembered the crime scene photos of her last three murders.

“Your allies have murdered four people in my city. There’s no way in hell I’m going anywhere with you,” Anne growled. Arem looked affronted by her words.

My allies?” Arem snorted. “Those weren’t my allies.”

“I killed an elf last night that responded to their summoning spell,” Anne said.

“And you assume that all elves work together? Or that all of the Towers work together? You’re laboring under a faulty premise. Two actually.” Arem asked. “The first is that all elves work for the Dark Towers. No. There’s actually a sizable community that lives in the occupied lands, as well as the Empire’s allies. That elf you killed could’ve been from either of those. For the sake of argument, let’s say this elf was part of the Dark Towers. Do you know how many Towers there are? Thousands. Each with their own agenda. Mine has not allied themselves with the criminals you’re hunting with the Avalonians.” Anne stared hard at the elf. She could usually tell when someone was lying to her, but there was something about the elf that made it hard to tell.

“Excuse me Detective, I’d like to have a word with you. Would you mind stepping outside?” Detective Jason McMurtry asked. Jason’s sudden presence startled Anne from her concentration on Arem. Her fellow detective eased Anne out of the chair and led her out of the Brown Hat.

“Who was that?” Jason asked as soon as they were outside.

“You don’t want to know,” Anne said. Jason seemed to consider that and mentally file it away for later.

“You’ve been ducking me Anne,” Jason said.

“Maybe,” Anne said. Dale had warned her that Jason was digging hard into her apartment’s explosion and her murder cases.

“No maybe about it,” Jason said, a hint of anger in his voice. “Damn it, what the hell is going on? First there’s a gunfight at the docks, but no bodies, then the explosion at your apartment, then a mysterious fire at the Menendez murder scene. You know what’s actually going on. Tell me. I don’t care how crazy it sounds.” There was a pleading in Jason’s eyes that scared Anne. It was like he knew and just needed Anne to confirm it for him. She shook her head. That was crazy. Almost as crazy as telling him about the Avalonians, the bargainers, and the Dark Towers.

“Look Jason, I like you as a friend, but I don’t know anything,” Anne said, “If you think I was responsible for any of that, then take it up with IA. Otherwise, I’ll see you in a few days when my medical leave’s up.”

“Anne, please. I don’t think you committed any crimes, but you know the missing pieces in the puzzle. Why won’t you help me figure this out?” Jason asked.

“We’re done here Jason,” Anne said, dashing to grab a cab back to her hotel.

“Don’t try to protect them Anne,” Jason said as she shut the cab door. “You’re in over your head.” Anne spent the ride back to her hotel wondering what Jason’s parting words meant. She dreaded it didn’t mean anything good.