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Chapter 4: A BargainJonathan didn't reply to my email until the next morning. Same time is fine, he wrote back. But can we meet at the cafe by the park instead? He added an address, one I recognized as the cafe where I'd be gigging this summer. Hopefully he doesn't go there often . . .
I responded in the positive and headed out. Saturday or not, I had work to do: six hours at the craft store and then another three at the music store. I wished occasionally that it could be the other way around, but I was lucky to have the music store job at all. Sometimes it seemed like every freshman and sophomore music major at college wanted to work there as well. And I had to admit: the craft store was a much easier environment; the temperamental musician might be a stereotype, but it’s sometimes an accurate one.
Both stores were busier than usual, with hardly a slow minute all day. If I wasn’t running the register, I was being called to work stock, and if I wasn’t doing that, I was helping Rebecca Coburn with the kid’s craft demo— friendship bracelets today— or trying to explain to high schoolers that if they’re going to mess around with the music store stock but not buy anything, then they should at least be careful.
After my shift at the music store ended, I had just enough time to run home, change, put on my makeup, grab a sandwich, and dash out the door. I ate on the move, walking as fast as I could, but even so, I reached the café nearly ten minutes late. This time, however, Jonathan was alert and watching for me. He waved me over when I entered, and when I reached the table, I found an extra mug of coffee on the empty side of the booth. “For you,” he explained, waving a hand at the mug. “Kenyan blend, with cinnamon.”
“Thanks. Do you usually buy random strangers coffee?” I sat down and raised the coffee towards my mouth, but didn’t drink. Instead I sniffed. No odd scents, just delicious coffee and cinnamon. Was it really just a nice gesture, then? Nothing sinister?
“You seem like you could use it, no offense, and this place’s Kenyan blend is amazing.” Jonathan shrugged. “If you don’t want it, I’ll drink it.”
“I wouldn’t turn down free coffee in a million years, thanks.” I sipped the hot brew. Jonathan was right; it was good. “So, what more did you have to tell me?”
“Give me a minute to pull it up.” Jonathan tapped keys on his laptop. “By the way, did whatever you had to rush off for work out?”
“It . . . it turned out fine.” His tone suggested that he knew . . . something. About my powers, maybe? About what I’d been doing? He can’t. There’s no way . . . I was careful. Wasn’t I? Not careful enough, maybe. But how do you draw the line between saving others and keeping yourself safe?
“Glad to hear that.” Jonathan glanced up from behind his laptop. “So, yesterday I told you about how Welsh’s travel seems to line up perfectly with various insufficiently explained deaths, including the one you told me about— which was in my records, by the way, but none of the reports I read suggested anyone had seen anything suspicious before the girl’s death. If they had, I would’ve tried to reach out to you sooner.”
“I told you I called the police. They just thought I was imagining things. It happened in the middle of the night, after all.” The fact that I didn’t tell them the whole story probably didn’t help matters. “Anyway, you also said that you had more information, and some kind of . . . offer.”
“Right.” Jonathan turned his computer, showing a similar spreadsheet to the one from yesterday. This time, however, the list of names was shorter, and all of them seemed to be located in Foundry City. “You see, I believe Welsh committed one of the classic blunders—”
I couldn’t resist. Business or no business, that was too good an opportunity to pass up. “He got involved in a land war in Asia?”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I? No.”
“Oh, so he went up against a Sicilian with death on the line?”
“Good grief.” Jonathan gave me a distinctly annoyed look. “Do you want my help, or do you just want to quote The Princess Bride at me?”
“Yes. I do want your help. Sorry.” I tried to look and sound contrite, but I was pretty sure I failed. “What classic blunder did he commit?”
“Potentially commited, and he killed where he lived.” Jonathan flipped back to the spreadsheet he showed me last night. “Almost all of the kills that I think can be attributed to Welsh occurred in other towns and cities, places where he was known by few and was passing through quickly enough that he would remain unknown. All, that is, except these ones.” He clicked back to the shorter list. “Some of them worked at his company; it’s possible that he killed them because they got close enough to figure out what he was up to. Others . . . there isn’t a connection that I can see, but I’m working on a theory about that as well.”
I took another sip of coffee. “Which is?”
“I’m not ready to share it yet.” Jonathan glanced around distractedly, found his own coffee, and pulled it closer to him. “They all do fit the description of those he killed elsewhere, however: outsiders, people who would never be missed, or at least who wouldn’t cause much of a stir if they died because they’re already living on the edge.”
“Makes sense.” It occurred to me that, if I hadn’t seen Welsh kill Lacey, I would probably think Jonathan was crazier than I was. Nearly every death on either list could be easily explained by other causes. Some had apparently been homeless; others, hard partiers and addicts; still others, old folk living along; and others again, decent folk who, evidence suggested, had been in abusive homes or relationships. But for each person, Jonathan also listed reasons why their deaths didn’t add up: someone supposedly dead from drug overdose had been on the road to recovery; a teen supposed to have killed herself hadn’t shown any signs of being suicidal. “How did you get all this information anyway?”
“Plenty of hard work and bothering people until they answered my questions.” Jonathan took a drink of his own coffee. “Knowing where to look helps as well.”
I guessed I wasn’t going to get more information than that. “Right. Well . . . you mentioned you had an offer. What was it?”
“Simple.” Jonathan sat back in the booth. “I continue to share information with you. In return, you help me with the legwork, and I get first claim on whatever story comes out of this.”
“Sounds fair.” More or less what I’d be doing anyway, but with direction and a partner. “What kind of legwork are we talking?”
Jonathan gestured at the list. “For one thing, speaking to the friends and family of the deceased, particularly those who don’t fit the usual pattern and who had connections to Welsh. I have a list of those too that I can give you. It’s possible that some of the deceased might’ve mentioned something that can help us. Beyond that, keep doing whatever you’ve been doing and share your information with me. Agreed?
I considered a moment— but only a moment. Jonathan seemed trustworthy enough, even if he was a reporter. And he had resources I needed. “Agreed.”
“Excellent.” Jonathan turned his laptop to face him once again. “I’ll send the information I have to you, along with a ranked list of those who I’d like one or both of us to interview. Look over the list and tell me who you’re willing to try to contact; I’ll take the others. We can keep up to date on each other’s activities via email, then meet back here in, oh, let’s say a week to touch base and plan our next moves.”
Well, you certainly take charge. I couldn’t really argue, though. And it was kind of nice to have someone else taking the lead. “Thanks, by the way. Are you sure you’re willing to keep going with this, though? Digging too deep could be dangerous for you.”
“I’ve come this far; I’m not about to stop now.” Jonathan looked up from his screen. “I can’t just let a murderer run loose without doing something to stop him, nor can I stand by and let a girl do the dangerous work for me.” He paused. “Er. Not that I meant to suggest you’re incapable, it’s just—”
I cut him off. “You’re fine.” With a bit of a grin, I added, “I’m all for being a strong, independent woman and all that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate chivalry.” Goodness knows I don’t get offered it much.
“Good.” Jonathan cleared his throat. “From a more selfish perspective, releasing a story on the investigation and capture of a rampant serial killer would do wonders for my career.”
“I bet it would. Might even top Jason Keller’s super scoops.” I forced a laugh. The last thing I needed was for Jonathan to realize and report that I have powers. I'd have to be doubly careful whenever I worked with him. “Well, I guess you probably need to get going? Stories to chase down and that sort of thing?”
“Not really, no. There aren’t a lot of big stories going down right now. Now, if I could figure out who super sank a mugger four inches into the tile at Fifth Street Station, that would be something.” Jonathan gave me a look I couldn’t read. “It doesn’t fit Starlight’s M.O., and no other known supers have that kind of power. I don’t suppose you saw anything after you ran out last night?”
“Not a thing.” I silently ask God’s forgiveness for that blatant lie and wonder if He’s sick of hearing me pray the same prayer over and over yet. “I’d guess whoever did it didn’t want anyone to know, if they didn’t stick around.”
“Probably not. Still would be nice to know, though.” Jonathan took a long drink of his coffee. “Since you asked . . . do you need to go?”
“Sort of, yeah.” I stood, picking up my coffeecup. “I should probably look through your list, if you email that to me. And there are other things I need to do.” Actually, I just want to get out of here before he asks too many probing questions, but I’m not about to tell him that. He needs to think that I have nothing at all to hide.
“Right.” Jonathan resettled himself in his seat. “Well, have a nice night.”
“You too. I’ll keep you updated with who I can talk to and all that. Thanks for the help.” With that, I headed for the door. I officially had an alliance now. Maybe even a partner, if you could call it that. I could only hope I wouldn’t regret it later.