Twin Cities, Gemini
When Cadence stepped out from the portal, she knew she was back on the streets of the Twin Cities. After all, she could taste both the salt from the nearby seaports and the soot from the nearby conductor manufacturing plant. Instead of spitting as she normally would at the flavor, she embraced it. Fresh, polluted air never tasted so good.
As she inspected the area around her, she realized that she was in an alleyway just outside of the Casa de Bambolle. There were provocative posters peeling from the wet walls, and the floor was littered with broken champagne bottles and occasional articles of clothing. Although Cadence could barely see the crack of the skyline from in between the high-rise buildings, she could tell that it was around sunset. The alleyway was empty, surprisingly, and a steady stream of pedestrians crowded the streets on each end.
The two police officers conversed with one another just a step in front of her, while Tau looked up and down the alleyway.
She had to get away from them. Tell the authorities. No, Tau was the ‘authority’ here. She had to get this information to Ophiuchus. Wait. Jericho could do that. Faster than she could. Exactly. Had to do it quickly. Get the Foxmans and Fortuna out of there. Before anything happened. And Francis—Theta…
Cadence was just about to join the officers’ conversation so she could insert a reason for leaving when Tau abruptly reached into his coat, whipped out a black handgun, and pointed it squarely at her forehead.
“C-Chief,” Cadence stammered, hands raised. “What are you doin’?”
Had he seen through her disguise? Damn. Cadence admitted that her acting was sloppy this time around but the situation was to blame.
But then Tau pointed the gun at the woman officer instead. The woman popped her hands up in the air immediately with a frown.
“What are you doing, Chief?” the officer asked.
Tau swiveled the gun around wildly at all three of them before he clicked his tongue in frustration and stomped his foot. “Dammit! I know one of you isn’t who you say you are!” He cocked his gun and pointed it at the male officer. “You better come out now or I’ll blast a hole through all of you!”
“Saint’s, Chief!” the male officer snapped. “Seriously?! Are you crazy?!”
So Tau was just guessing, Cadence surmised. The commissario was definitely a loose cannon. And this was a tight situation. Just like her situation with Verga a couple months back. No, this was even tighter. She’d stepped out in front of Verga back then, but only because Verga was an idiot and predictable so she’d managed. ELPIS and Tau—not so much.
Cost-benefit analysis. Benefit: answers, understanding. Cost: death and dragging the other five with her. Chance of death if she remained hiding seemed about equal to her chance of death if she revealed herself. Cost to benefit ratio given everything that had happened so far—maybe 70 to 30? Good enough.
“Sorry, commissario,” Cadence said, stepping forward and snapping her fingers to dispel her transmutation, “but can ya really blame me for hidin’ after what I saw?”
The two police officers leapt away from her, reaching for their holsters.
“Cadence Morello,” Tau greeted her with a nod, pointing the gun in her direction. “The Romano Family’s rat. I suspected it was you.”
“‘Tau,’ I’m guessin’?” Cadence returned. “Does roll off the tongue smoother than ‘Vincente Giustizia,’ I’ll give ya that.”
“What did you do to the man you were disguised as?” Tau pressed.
That was surprising. So he cared for his subordinates? Had she made a bad gamble in revealing herself? Her luck wasn’t so good recently.
“Don’t know. I just made myself look like him,” Cadence answered. She glanced down at the still bleeding wound at his chest and resisted swallowing. “No foul play.”
A beat of silence.
“You’re pretty relaxed for someone who has a gun pointed to their head,” Tau observed.
“Ya didn’t shoot me on the spot, so ya must want something from me,” Cadence returned slowly. “It didn’t sound like ya wanted to go with the whole ‘swallow up the city’ spiel your group had goin’ back there—whatever that means.”
Tau lowered his gun. “You more so than me.”
Damn. He didn’t take the bait.
Abruptly Tau lifted his gun again. “If you tell anyone about what you’ve seen here then I’ll riddle you with so many bullets they won’t be able to identify your body.”
“Well, sounds fine ta me since it’s soundin’ like you’re gonna let me live—”
“From the files down at the police station and from street gossip,” Tau drew evenly. “Sold to the Campanas by the Romanos from the Casa. Played at the Sognare. Very important to one Cadence Morello.” A smirk. “Currently staying at the fancy five-star hotel just across the street from the Abaccio.”
And with that, Cadence’s heart roared to life, thundering monstrously, hammering furiously. No, no, no. This was bad. She had to get the Foxmans and Fortuna out of there but Alma—what about Alma?
Then an eerie feeling of calm crept over her heart. A patchwork of ice locking everything in place.Werner. He was peering in, lightly synchronized, just barely getting caught up on everything that had just occurred. His presence was kind of a comfort.
Calm down. Think.
Right. Let him talk.
“I want you to look into the Campana Family,” Tau stated. “I’m sure you’ve already heard from eavesdropping but Omicron is dealing with them on her own. She insisted on it from the very beginning. She’s hiding something. I know it. I don’t care how you do it but find out what that is for me. Do that and you and your lady friend will live. For the time being at least.”
“Decent blackmail request.”
Tau gave a noncommittal grunt.
“Okay,” Cadence continued. “It makes sense that ya want me to keep quiet about ya guys, but what’s with askin’ me ta look into the Campanas? And what’s with not revealin’ me in front of the ‘leader’? What would your leader say if he saw ya askin’ me to do this?”
Tau stiffened, eyes wide.
Had the guy really not thought that she’d asked that?
“Also I’m wonderin’ why you ain’t takin’ the whole Campana investigatin’ thing yourself. Or why you ain’t askin’ the broker. I mean you’re an officer and ya’ve got the resources,” Cadence continued, studying the man’s minute changes in expression carefully. She figured he probably couldn’t get the information from the broker but she wanted to see how he’d react to be sure. “Guess ya wanna hide your suspicion and misgivings? Can’t trust ‘em? Don’t blame ya. Never thought ya ta be the full-heartedly-loyal-to-the-cult type anyway—”
Tau pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and glowered at her causing a shiver to go down her spine. Without another word, the man stooped low so that he was eye-level and opened his mouth wide.
She arched a brow at the officers standing behind him and hesitantly peered into his mouth. Her heart skipped a beat. Printed at the roof of his mouth was a familiar white tattoo. Burning hot anger erupted in her chest immediately flaring outwards, and—
—and then a cold, calm.
Werner was holding Jericho back. Cadence could feel them buzzing at the back of her head. And she was most definitely grateful.
“How did ya even get a tattoo like that there….”
“Don’t you even dare say I’m disloyal,” Tau growled, closing his mouth. “That’s an insult. I wouldn’t expect people who roll around in these infested streets like you to understand the meaning of loyalty.”
A ghost pang of guilt rattled Cadence’s chest. It was from one of the others. It had to be. None of this was her fault. She had no other choice. For real this time.
“That being said,” Tau continued, pulling away from her, “as much as I respect Omicron, the truth is that as soon as you start worshipping someone too much you lose all your freedom and reason. Doesn’t matter if that’s through love or idolization or whatever damn perverse things people are into nowadays.” He rubbed his mouth and mumbled to himself. “Whatever Omicron’s hiding, she’s hiding because of Theta.”
Omicron and Theta’s intimacy flashed together in Cadence’s mind. If Omicron and Theta really were that much of an item, then Cadence knew she could use that to her advantage.
“Anyway, I want that information by the end of the week,” Tau stated, holstering his gun. He added casually: “I’ll slit Alma’s throat and then yours if you fail. You’re both still filth anyways.”
Usually, insults didn’t bother Cadence but this time the words felt like a slap to the face, and she had to let out a quiet breath to control herself. She managed good-naturedly, “Got it, commissario. Ya better get that wound checked out by the way… It’s lookin’ pretty awful. Gotta say you’re pretty resilient. Ya got any tips for me?”
Tau merely narrowed his eyes at her and turned away.
“Watch yourself, Morello,” he said with a wave, starting out of the alley with his officers at his tail. “Your Alma’s life is in your hands.” And with that, the trio disappeared into the clogged streets.
Cadence stared after them for a moment before her knees gave in and she fell back against the wall behind her. She leaped away a second later and stared nervously at the black door painted there. If she didn’t know any better, she would’ve thought it was graffiti. She backed away from it slowly before breaking out into a mad run and stumbling out of the opposite end of the alleyway and into the busy streets. Passing pedestrians gave her only a spare glance. Heart hammering, she straightened her suit and headed for the nearest phone booth a block away. She stumbled inside the windowed box, ripped the phone from the receiver, placed it to her ear.
“Detective!” she stammered into the mouthpiece. “Dammit, detective! You were rearin’ to throw me into a suicide match and now ya got cold feet? Detective, come on!”
Jericho appeared beside her in an instant, expression blank and unreadable. She was in no state of mind to pay attention to his surroundings and turned to face him immediately.
“What in saint’s name is goin’ on?” she snapped. “Why is ELPIS here? The modified conductors—is that it? ELPIS wants to take out the families because of the business they do? Or is it the vitae reservoirs?! Why is Francis—or whoever that is—with them? I’ve always been nice ta ya, detective. Never asked about your past or anything like that! But this is too much now! What in saint’s name is goin’ on?!”
“They were there,” he stated.
“Yes, they were there!” Cadence snapped despite herself. She quickly reigned herself in and offered a tight smile. “And they’re still there. And I’m out here. So I’m a bit confused at how this is all workin’ out is all.”
Another wave of cool and calm washed over her suddenly, and two more figures appeared in front of her. Werner and Atienna. Now it was getting cramped.
“Are you both all right?” Atienna murmured.
Cadence could tell that Atienna was reaching out in an attempt to increase their synchronization. Cadence was, however, in no state to let her own erratic thoughts and feelings be known even more so to the others so she tried her best to pull away.
Shrugging, Cadence offered a half-grin. “Well, it obviously ain’t all sunshine and rainbows but we’re all in one piece, ey?”
“You three were involved in the same incident involving the same Specialist,” Werner stated. “An incident involving ELPIS.” His lips tipped downwards. “No, leaders of an ELPIS sect. The fortunate news is that neither of you were their targets.”
“Leaders…” Atienna frowned in thought. “From what I have read about the Ophiuchian language, words like ‘theta,’ ‘beta,’ and ‘omicron’ are actually letters in the Ophiuchian alphabet.” She turned to study Jericho. “Is that the case, Jericho? Did you recognize any of the leaders Cadence saw? Perhaps… would you be able to guess what their next move would be?”
“Yes. It is the alphabet.” Jericho stared blankly at her. “I am not sure about your other questions. Theta was the name of the one who took me in. She was a woman. She died six months after I met her.”
The silhouette of a white hooded figure extending a hand flashed into Cadence’s mind. The heat of the beating sun paired with the tattoo that glowed on the right side of the person’s face became burned into her retinas.
Cadence shook the memory off with a grimace.
“I didn’t recognize any of the ones Cadence saw. But their names, I recognized. I knew someone named Tau. Briefly. It was not the commissario. It was someone else.” Jericho shook his head once. “I have no information. I only took orders. Missions.”
Werner glanced at him.
With each word, Jericho’s face became more and more stolid. His answers were more stilted than usual too. It was eerie.
Atienna seemed to stiffen at this, and guilt rolled out from her like a wave. “I’m sorry, Jericho. I didn’t mean to be so forward.” She placed a hand on his arm. “Alice will be alright. You will be alright.”
“… ‘Theta,’ ‘Omicron,’ and ‘Tau’ are most likely code names,” Werner surmised after allowing a pause of silence. “They might be titles passed down onto individuals who become leaders of ELPIS.” His frown deepened but he continued on calmly as he met Jericho’s gaze. “Ophiuchus has been investigating the case with Verga here, correct?”
“Yes,” Jericho replied. “But they haven’t reported findings. The ELPIS Department.”
“If they haven’t found anything, they may consider closing the case here. That would be an error.” Werner covered his mouth in thought. “The best choice would be to report this incident to Ophiuchus. But we need to do it cautiously since Leona is the chairwoman of the department, and we still don’t know where she falls in this.”
“Wait a minute,” Cadence interjected, startling a passing pedestrian. She pressed the phone closer to her ear. “Tau literally just threatened Alma! If Ophiuchus barges back in here and starts waving around their conductors, he’s gonna think I let it slip. There’s no way I’m gonna put her in danger!”
“So you’re suggesting we let things continue on as they are? What will happen to the executives? To the city?” Werner questioned, eyes sharp and unrelenting. “If they succeed here, what makes you think they won’t expand their activities?”
Allen, Carl, and Fortuna flashed into Cadence’s mind, and her stomach twisted.
Werner pressed further, “There is no guarantee that the commissario will keep his word. And this is ELPIS we’re dealing with. Alma is in danger just by being in this city. There is a bigger picture.”
Right, right. Werner was probably concerned about what this would spell for the business deal between his Capricorn and the Romanos. She didn’t blame him. He had other priorities.
Werner’s eyes narrowed.
“But there’s still too much of a risk…!” Cadence argued. “Besides, ya said that we couldn’t rely on authority figures, didn’t ya? Well, this sounds a lot like relyin’ ta me. And what if Ophiuchus finds out about Capricorn bein’ buddy-buddy with the Romanos and Foxmans while they’re investigatin’?”
“Calm down, Morello,” Werner stated. His tone came out somewhat gentler. “Unraveling like this is not like you. You were clever and rational to move to this phone booth before synchronizing. I need more of that side of you.” After another beat, he amended, “I did say that we needed to be cautious around those in authoritative positions since there are too many unknown variables, but this incident is much larger than just us. Whatever ELPIS is planning will clearly affect this city and inevitably our countries. We cannot be selfish, and we must make sacrifices. And, Morello, I am very aware of the implications this has on Capricorn.”
Cadence stared at the man’s image for a second before she found herself chuckling nervously. His off-handed praise felt better than she’d thought it would.
“Well, when ya start throwin’ out big words like that, ya sound real convincin’.” Cadence ran her fingers through her hair and met his eyes. “But there’s gotta be another way, Lieutenant. I mean ya’ve got five stars in strategy in my book.” She dropped her hand and cocked her head. “At least let me find a way ta get Alma somewhere safe away from this mess first.”
Come on, Werner.
A strange look passed over the man’s face, and after a beat he nodded slowly. “All right. Do it as quickly as you can. Meanwhile, I’ll think of a way to get this to Ophiuchus’s attention without implicating any of us.”
Atienna was now giving her a look of something akin to disappointment, but Cadence ignored it.
“I will come to the Twin Cities,” Jericho interjected.
Cadence resisted doing a double-take.
“No,” Werner objected immediately, “I understand your intentions, Jericho, but there’s no evidence that Alice and the other ELPIS leaders are actually in the Twin Cities. They only have intentions here. With Theta’s Specialist abilities, they may not even be in Signum. If you come here too, you could be putting the entire group at risk. There will be too many of us in one place.” He added after a pause: “Besides, you are not in the ELPIS Department. This goes beyond you.”
Atienna offered Jericho another hand on the arm.
Jericho stared at Atienna for a moment before he nodded at Werner. He then turned to Cadence startling her somewhat. “I am sorry, Cadence,” he said. “You are… like Alice.”
“Important. I think,” Jericho stated. “I will not do it again. The almost override.”
‘Important’? He was calling her that? Well, that was…
Cadence stared at Jericho for once unsure of how to respond.
Morello, look out—
Abruptly, Cadence was ripped out of the telephone booth by the back of her suit—ripped out from her synchronization with the others—whirled around, and lifted a meter or so off the ground by the scruff of her shirt.
“Cadence Morello,” came a spit. “Now where’ve you been hidin’?”
Wiping the saliva from her face, Cadence blinked up to find one sneering Feliciano Donato baring his teeth at her. The skyline behind him was a dark blue, and the street v-lamps were beginning to flicker on.
“Well, what do I owe the pleasure of seein’ ya?” Cadence asked. She squinted over his shoulder to see how many of his lackeys were behind him, and she immediately felt her heart sink.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Behind Feliciano stood Caporegime Donato senior, and beside Donato stood Caporegime Cavallo looking as pale-white as ever. The two men were surrounded by a ring of suited men and women. It was obvious even from this angle that they were all armed. The sidewalk was empty. They had cleared it out fast. Probably didn’t even need the weapons to do it.
“We’ve been looking for you, Morello,” Donato said, rubbing his bad leg.
“Want me to transmute another lottery ticket for ya?” Cadence chuckled good-naturedly.
Donato nodded his head at Feliciano, and Feliciano released her. Cadence stumbled backwards and found her footing, brushing off her suit and offering Feliciano a cheerful smile as she did so. Feliciano bristled.
“Agape’s just been reported missing,” Cavallo drew. “Fortuna hasn’t been into her office since she left this morning. It’s not like her to be gone for so long without ringing in. She’s responsible.” He waited a beat before meeting Cadence’s eyes. “After asking around, we’ve had several witnesses say you were seen entering the Sognare with her and with Allen and Carl— both of whom have also been reported missing.”
“Yea, that’s right,” Cadence said, “Fortuna asked me ta hook her up on a double date with the Foxmans. Left right after I got ‘em together. Ya mean they haven’t turned up yet?”
“No, they have not,” Cavallo returned. He studied her for what seemed like hours before sighing. “It seems as if the Campanas are bolder than we expected them to be.”
“Bolder?” Cadence arched a brow.
“One of our conductor-part-housing warehouses was hit this morning,” Cavallo explained. “One of the Campanas lower-tier executives was seen on the scene though they’re denying it. And now that Fortuna and the two elder Foxmans are missing, it’s clear what the Campanas intentions are. They’re simply trying to pull wool over our eyes at this point. To think they’d try wasting our time with a proposal to unite our families.”
It clicked: the warehouse Theta said they had already hit. Perfectly framing the Campanas. Falling one-by-one into Theta’s plan—whatever plan that was.
“Ya think the Campanas are behind this?” Cadence raised her hands up in the air. “I mean, from a marriage proposal ta just shootin’ up the place and kidnappin’? Ain’t that comin’ outta left field?”
“If you feel so indignant about it, Miss Morello,” Cavallo drew, “then continue Fortuna’s request on investigating the Campanas. You haven’t turned over much on that front, and I’m sure you understand that your failure is partially to blame for what’s happened. I’ve already rung the commissario to look into the affair, but I’m sure with your abilities you may be able to dig deeper than that and find out what exactly they’ve done to our family’s inheritor.” A pause. “And what locations they’re planning to hit up next.”
It was clear to Cadence which Cavallo valued more. She didn’t blame him. They all had their priorities. And yet still her stomach twisted into knots.
“If it is a war they want, then it is a war they’ll receive.”
“I’m not so sure about that, Cavallo. We shouldn’t be so rash,” Donato rebutted calmly. “Miss Fortuna did meet up with the Foxmans beforehand. I think we should turn our attention to their group instead. I mean, look. The brothers were unhappy with our relations with the Campanas, and it doesn’t seem too out there to think that they’d hit one of our warehouses to try and frame the Campanas. And we can’t ignore the fact that Francis happened to not be—”
“Mr. Donato,” came a familiar voice from behind, “what’s this about looking into me?”
They all turned their heads towards the voice, but Cadence didn’t need to turn her head to know who it was. Still, at the sight of Francis Foxman—Theta?—surrounded by his men, Cadence felt faint.
“Ah, Francis, I see you’re finally feeling well enough to be walking around outside of the usual meetings,” Donato greeted him casually.
“Despite your choice of topic for conversation, I’m glad to see that your leg hasn’t been giving you as much as trouble as usual, Mr. Donato,” Francis returned.
“I apologize for Donato’s insinuation,” Cavallo drew, greeting Francis with a handshake. “I understand you’re also dealing with your own loses. We’re relying on your support, Francis—”
“I can apologize myself, Cavallo,” Donato interjected. “I am still senior to you, after all.” He turned to Francis and offered a genial smile. “We just need to touch all of our bases, Francis. Since you’re clearly uninvolved, an investigation’ll turn up nothing, right?”
Francis’s smile thinned, and he inclined his head. He then nodded at Cadence. “I was actually looking for Cadence here. If you’re done, would you mind if I borrowed her?”
Cadence tensed inwardly. What did he want from her? Who was ‘he’? Theta or Francis? Or were they the same person or not? Yeah, it’d be great to talk to Francis—but not Theta, and most definitely not if Francis was Theta.
Donato frowned but Cavallo waved a hand and said, “Yes, we’re done with her.”
After giving only a handful of words of farewell, Donato, Cavallo, Feliciano, and their men went on their way leaving Cadence alone with—Francis? Cadence stared after the departing group, mind racing in search of an escape. If she appeared too avoidant and frantic, he might suspect something. But if she was too flippant then—
“Cadence, you look like you could use a drink,” Francis noted as he drew near to her. “How about I treat you for a round?”
Startling, Cadence chuckled and resisted back-stepping away. “Well, ya know, actually I…”
“ Please, Cadence,” Francis said quietly, desperately, under his breath, so quietly it could almost be mistaken as passerby chatter. “I need to talk to you.”
* * *
A record player was droning out a slow, melancholic tune inside Francis’s office. A saxophone solo with a touch of piano sauntering around in the background. The twirling brass sounds filled up all corners of the room as did the smoke curling up from Francis’s v-cig.
The man was leaning against his desk facing Cadence with loosely crossed arms. Cadence stood across from him, hands in pockets, watching as he puffed. It was just the two of them in here. Faintly she could hear his men bustling around the casino just outside the doorway.
There was a gray haze floating above their heads from Francis’s cigarette. Ash rained down from that cloud onto the papers stacked up on his desk and the papers strewn sloppily around the floor. If the state of his office was the state of his mind then—well—Cadence figured they were both screwed.
Cadence resisted swallowing. Best to act ignorant and natural. “So, where’s the drink—”
Francis stared at her long and hard. “Did you really leave after you got my brothers and Fortuna together?”
Cadence’s heart skipped a beat. She nodded.
“So you didn’t see anything?”
She shook her head.
Francis turned away and stared down at the papers at his desk. Then, without warning, he let out a shout and shoved the papers off his desk. The papers fluttered through the air, slicing through the thin smog. Francis sank down into a crouch and pressed his head against the edge of his desk.
Cadence startled and then stared wide-eyed. “F-Francis? What in saint’s name are ya doin’?”
The saxophone was playing on a higher scale now, accentuating the room’s silence in between its notes.
“I’m losing my mind, Cadence,” Francis finally whispered—and he sounded so unlike himself that Cadence’s nerves immediately became replaced with confusion and concern. “I don’t know what to do.” He fisted his hair. “They’re gone. I don’t even know if they’re alive, and—and all the men are asking me what to do next.”
Cadence stared at him frozen.
“I don’t know what to do next!” There was a crack in his voice. H e threw his v-cig against the wall, and it rolled around the floor uselessly.
Cadence stared at him unsure of what to do. She’d only seen him like this once before when Carl had been caught by a stray Projector’s ray during a shootout. But that had been years ago when they had barely exiting adolescence. Francis had reigned it in since then, had become more level-headed and controlled. Mature. On the surface at least.
What had she done back then when Francis had broken down? Cadence couldn’t remember. Had she cracked a joke? Bought him some sweets and cheap beer? Too many childhood memories that were not her own were in the way. Too crowded for her to recall. Should she—
Cadence’s body moved before she could stop it and suddenly her arms were enveloping him. She stiffened at this and felt him stiffen with her. But he didn’t resist. And after a moment, she stopped resisting too.
“Allen and Carl are more likely ta put Death himself in a grave than anything else,” she said. “And if you’re worried about Fortuna, I don’t even need ta put a comment on that one.”
He didn’t respond, and so Cadence held him there, listening to the record player continue to drone on. A terrible song. Had to buy Francis a better record.
But what exactly was going on here? Cadence could see a liar from a mile away, and she knew for certain that Francis’s grief was very real and that he clearly had no idea what had happened to his brothers and Fortuna.
Francis began to unfurl, and she pulled away from him.
“Sorry you had to see that,” Francis said, rubbing his eyes. From up close she could see that bags were beneath them again.
“Well, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. What are ya apologizin’ for?” Cadence chortled. “Not everyone gets ta be buddy-buddy with an executive of the Foxmans. Gotta invest, right?”
Francis smiled wanly. “The stocks are plummeting in this case.”
“Bah, don’t say that. If stocks go red, ya just gotta keep with it till they green up again.” Cadence reached into the man’s suit pocket, pulled out his packet of v-cigs, and shook one out for him.
Francis stared in surprise before he let out a fond sigh, selected one, and lit it for himself. “You really are keeping on your whole abstaining thing, aren’t you? Never thought you the type.”
“I’m doin’ it for a pal,” Cadence said, slipping the packet back into his pocket and nestling beside him. She lifted her hand, revealing that she had plucked a v-cigarette out for herself. Lighting it with a shake, she pressed it to her lips and said, “But I guess I can take one up for a pal too.” Grimaced. “Like I said. Not as good as normal cigs.”
Francis let out a musical chuckle before his eyes darkened and he focused on a point on the wall. “Some of the Romano’s executives have already sent some men out to hit up a couple of the Campanas’ joints.” He paused to take drag. “Cavallo came by to ask me to lend him some assistance before he shook you up. Donato also came by to tell me to hold off. Odd move—asking someone to do something for you and then throwing you under the bus.” He flicked the ash off his bud. “Part of me wants to spite Donato and put our men on it straight on the dot.”
“There’s a ‘but’ coming.”
“But as much grievance I have with the Campanas, I don’t think they’re behind this.” A stricken look passed over Francis’s features again, and Cadence could tell he was thinking about his brothers and maybe even Fortuna. “Dammit, if only I was there…”
“If you were there then ya would’ve been whisked away too,” Cadence said, unsure of how much of a lie that statement was. “Gotta ask though… Where were you when all of that was goin’ down?”
“I was sleeping,” Francis replied after a brief pause. “The doc’s got me on terrifyingly powerful painkillers.”
“You still hurtin’ from that?” Cadence looked away and gestured to his abdomen.
Francis absentmindedly placed a hand over the area. “Sometimes it feels like it’s still stuck there, but it’s probably just a phantom pain.”
Cadence’s gut twisted. “What… what happened to that knife you were stabbed with?”
Francis gave Cadence a confused look. “Don’t know. The person who ganked me probably took it with them as a trophy. Why?”
Cadence shrugged, popping up to a stand and throwing her right hand out for him. “Just askin’. Tryna lighten’ the mood and all that.”
“By asking how I was stabbed?”
“That not a good ice breaker?”
Francis let out a soft chuckle before reaching out his own right hand to accept the gesture. “Thank you, Cadence. You’re a good frien—” He cleared his throat, thought for a moment, and shook his head. “Yeah, you’re a good friend.”
Cadence paused, retracted her right hand, and extended her left hand to him instead. He arched a brow, switched over to his left hand too, and allowed her to pull him up to his feet.
His left hand was smooth. Not even a hint of a wound or a transmutation of a wound on his palm.