“I’m tellin’ ya,” Cadence snapped, slapping her hand over her chest. “Check me over again! You definitely missed something!”
Doctor Fabrizzio continued to shuffle slowly through the files on his clipboard undeterred.
The two were in the man’s office again sitting opposite of each other. The illusion of normal doctor and patient in place once again.
“Doc, come on!” Cadence pressed. “This is serious! I’ve been—”
“You’ve been seeing things. Yes. I heard you the first time and the subsequent times after that.” The doctor nodded as he continued to rifle through the papers. He hummed and tapped his chin. “You hallucinated a woman speaking to you. And you had a lengthy talk with the woman after you realized the bartender did not see her.”
Cadence paused, mouth half-open. “Well, that’s because—”
“Because she charmed you her conversation,” the doctor finished. He peered over the clipboard. “You’ve always had trouble with that type.” He set the thing aside and leaned forward with a smile. “Seeing as you had a lengthy conversation with her with little harm or consequence, I don’t see the problem.”
“The problem is that she wasn’t real!”
But what exactly was ‘real’? The only real thing that she could be sure of was herself. Her existence. And since her existence was the only certainty, didn’t that mean that the world belonged to—
“What is it that you want me to do, Cadence?” The doctor pressed. “You seem more amused by this situation than distressed.”
Cadence shook away the pain that pricked her temple and smoothed down the smile that had climbed up her face without her notice. “What if this is some aftereffect of that explosion in the bar? What if I knocked my head real good or somethin’?”
“Physical ailments, I can heal, Cadence. That is what I’m interested in. But you have no lingering physical injuries of concern that I can see, and you know that I am always thorough,” The doctor murmured, leaning back in his chair with a smile. “Things of the mind and heart are not my profession, Cadence. I cannot help you with that.”
Cadence frowned, pulled back into herself, and crossed her arms. “And what are you implyin’ by ‘heart’?”
“I wouldn’t know,” the doctor replied. “As I’ve said, I’m not an expert in those matters. But in the physical realm of things, I must say you are perfectly normal. Functioning physically properly.”
Cadence sighed and lifted her hat to ruffle her hair. “As much as I love spendin’ time with ya, doc, if I knew you were just gonna send me away I woulda spent my time elsewhere. There’s a lot goin’ on ya know. The city’s a mess.” Cadence peeked at the doctor and found that he was back at flipping through his clipboard. Cadence merely shrugged.
“Nico called again,” the doctor said suddenly. “Maybe you could convince him of what I could not.”
Cadence frowned. “Convince him?”
It took less than a second for Cadence to connect to Nico on the phone.
“Nico, what do ya think you’re doin’?”
“Cadence?” Nico’s voice crackled. “Are you okay? Why didn’t you tell me about Francis’s bar? I had to hear from Francis about it! Wha—”
“Am I okay?” Cadence huffed. “What about you? Why am I hearin’ from your pops that you didn’t leave with Clive and Rino?”
“Because I didn’t…”
Cadence leaned against the wall and pinched the bridge of her nose. “And why would ya do something like that?”
“I’m going to come back…” Nico tried to reason in a quiet voice. “I just hung back—”
“Just? Whadya mean ‘just’?” Cadence leaped from the wall and began to pace. “Nico, I don’t know if ya noticed but you’re in the middle of a war-zone. The longer you stay there the closer you’re inchin’ to death’s door!”
“I know that…!” Nico’s voice was rising. “But if you just saw the people that’re here, Cadence… I—And I’m a transmuter. I’ve been training like a medical Conductor my entire life. I…”
So that was what it was. Cadence returned to her place against the wall and swallowed a sigh. She twirled the extension cord around her finger as she glanced at the wall opposite her. She turned over numerous responses in mind and played out their reactions in turn. Nope. Nada. Bad ending. It took her a while to settle on a response that’d get her the response she wanted: “Nico, you’re a kind person. You wanna do what ya can for others. And ya feel guilty. Guilty because you were the one deliverin’ the goods that may or may not have gotten them into that situation.”
“That’s not it. That’s not it at all.”
As expected, Cadence thought. Hook. Line. Sinker. She crossed her arms and rolled her neck before asking, “Then what is it?” A practiced pause. “Is it that you wanna rebel against your old man? Usin’ the stuff he taught ya to do things he wouldn’t want ya to do? Nico, there’s better ways of doing that stuff than that.”
There was a long and lengthy pause. And then— “Cadence, what are you doing?”
Cadence started. “What do ya mean? I’m just tryin’ ta understand—”
“You didn’t think I’d notice?” Came the quiet, calm tone. “Cadence, I’ve known you for years. I know how you sound when you’re tryin’ to twist someone around your finger.”
Well, that much was true. Cadence would have been more surprised if he hadn’t figured it out by now.
“I can’t believe that… that you’d try to do that to me… of all people…”
Was that judgment? Disappointment?
Cadence shook her head.
No, it couldn’t be. Nico would never. Maybe, it’d been hurt then. But, she was only acting out of concern—
“I get that you’re concerned, Cadence,” Nico murmured. “But you could’ve just said it instead of…”
“Fine, I’m concerned, aight?” Cadence half-sighed, half-snapped. “I’m concerned that you’re makin’ a reckless decision and that you’re gonna get yourself killed.
“Reckless? Cadence, who do you think we work for? It comes with the job—and didn’t you say the city was too small for the both of us? Shouldn’t you be happy that I’m going off on my own outside the city?” There was an almost audible frown with the question. “Or were you just tryin’ to string me along then too?”
“Look, I ain’t tryin’ to string anyone along,” Cadence said. “I just don’t understand why you’re doin’, but by the sound of it, it really does sound like you just want to get at your pop—”
“Cadence—I want to help people, Cadence! Help people beyond the ones that the Family and my dad say are ‘worth saving’! What does that even mean? Everyone is worth saving! If not, then what’s even the point of being alive?” A deep breath. “Cadence, this is what I want to do. My choice. I can’t stand standin’ here and doin’ nothin’. My drea—”
“If you’re saying that your dream is to go out there and play on death’s door, then that’s a stupid dream, Nico!” Cadence snapped despite herself.
“Stupid…?” A shaky, deep breath. “I thought you said there was no such thing as a stupid dream.”
A loud drone blared through the speaker causing her to jerk back with a wince. It took a moment for the meaning of the sound to settle in.
“He…” Cadence stared at the phone. “The jerk hung up on me!”
Cadence stepped out from the office building and squinted up at the crack of skyline. Orange light bled down from there just barely reaching her face.
“You look like you need to take a step back inside and have another round with Doctor Fabrizzio.”
Cadence turned her head and feigned a lopsided grin as she registered Francis Foxman standing at the mouth of the alleyway. “Same to you. Look like work’s been stressful.” She glanced to Francis’s right and then left. “Where’re Carl and Allen? Feels wrong not seein’ ‘em by your side.”
“Oh right, you were in the doctor’s so you probably haven’t heard.” Francis reached into his pocket, pulled out his v-cig, and lit it with a shake of his hand. “Some Ophiucian agents have come to the city. Requested an audience with us and Ricardo.”
Cadence whistled. “Geeze, no wonder you look like you’ve had a bad morrowheat trip.” She slid her hands into her pockets and kicked a stray wad of paper aside. “So the boss too, huh? Man, bet he’s not too happy ‘bout that.”
“Yes, it’s rather sudden.” Francis took a drag of his v-cig. “Apparently, they’re here because—”
“An Ophiucian agent’s gone missing and was last seen in the city,” Cadence murmured. But how did she know that? Her mind went to Atiena. ‘Problems of the mind and heart’, huh? If anything, Cadence figured that the doctor’s words had created more problems for her than the hallucinations did. The doctor’s words and Nico. Damn, Nico. What in the world was he thinking? Was there any way to drag him back? Probably not, seeing how the doctor hadn’t lifted a finger yet. The doc probably thought he’d sit back and see how this played out. And seeing how that phone conversation ended… Damn… Did Francis even know…?
“Yeah. Exactly.” Francis replied from beside her. “How did you know that?”
Cadence cracked a grin automatically and shrugged. “Y’know me.”
“I’m not sure I do even after all these years,” Francis chuckled. “Anyways, Allen and Carl are getting ready for the meeting.”
“Skippin’ out then, Francis? That’s surprisin’.”
“I wish that were the case but I’m here for something else.”
Cadence quirked a brow, and Francis chuckled in turn.
“Unfortunately, I’m not here for you either, Cadence.” He said, twirling his cigarette in between his fingertips. “We got a lead on the TwinStars incident.”
Cadence grinned, arms spread with hands in pockets. “Now what’s with ya doin’ my job for me? I’ll be replaced with ya before y’know it.”
Francis chuckled. “You know that I don’t have your skill sets.”
“Which is why you’re here, I’m assumin’.” Cadence made sure that her smile did not reach her eyes. “One of these days I’m hopin’ that you’ll swing by with a bottle of champagne to invite me for a double date instead.”
“Maybe one day,” Francis said with a thin smile.
With that Francis led Cadence through the city streets and into a well-furnished brick building on a rather busy street. The inside was set up like an office. A couple of nice desks lined the walls, and there was even a potted fern plant growing in the corner. One of the men sitting at the closest desks jumped to a stand and approached them nervously.
“M-Mr. Francis, Ms. Morello, you arrived here faster than expected,” the man said.
“Did we now?” Francis raised a brow.
Cadence pushed past him and placed a reassuring hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Come on now, Stefano, how many times have I told you now to just call me Cadence.” She threw a glance over her shoulder at Francis. “No need to change things up just ‘cause the boss man is here.”
“Uhm, sorry ma’am that’s—”
“Alright now, Cadence, you’ve had your fun.” Francis took a drag of his cigarette and nodded at Stefano. “I take it our guest is still in good condition?”
“Oh, yes, sir, but Mr. Allen did have to pull Mr. Carl off of him earlier when they were both here…”
Cadence spread her arms wide. “Well, show me what ya got.”
Stefano then led Cadence and Francis through a door at the very back of the office. The door led into a hall which led into another room that was dimly lit. The room had a window built into its farthest wall that peered into another room.
A two-way mirror probably, Cadence thought as she peered through it.
“What—y’know the brat?” Came a voice from behind.
Cadence turned her head and found a familiar figure leaning against the wall behind her. She raised a brow. “Well, Verga, can’t believe you got invited here before me. Gotta say I’m hurt.”
“He helped us bring him in when we first got word of him,” Francis explained. “Do you know him, Cadence?”
Cadence rolled her neck and covered her mouth with her hand. She studied the boy who sat in the other room with hands bound, with purple bruises kissing his eye and lower lip. Studied the scar that ran across the boy’s face. Stupid kid. Getting caught like this even after she’d given him the money. What a waste—but it was what it was. “Not really. May’ve seen ‘im on the street once.”
“Well, the info broker said he was seen leaving the scene right after the tavern went up,” Francis said. “Obviously seeing his age, he most likely isn’t working alone. So—”
“Surprised you didn’t beat the answer outta him,” Cadence muttered. “I mean, I’m surprised Carl didn’t.”
“Oh, he was very close to it.” Francis smiled thinly. “But I don’t think that would be the appropriate punishment nor would it get the answers we need so—”
“So, it’s about time to put your skills to use, Morello,” Verga grunted. “Always wanted to see how you worked.”
Cadence snickered. “Well, ya got me flattered.” She turned to Francis. “Got a face I can use?”