Lee waved at me as I walked into the diner. The place went for a country theme with black and white photos of farms hanging everywhere and gingham tablecloths. I pointed to Lee, and the host smiled and nodded, ready to greet the family coming in behind me. I’d imagined a lot of different ways this could go. Lee smiled, and I smiled back. I tried to push all expectations out of my head. If I let him speak first, maybe he’d tell me what he liked about our last date without me asking.
A server took our order right away. Lee ordered a protein-heavy breakfast platter. I hadn’t eaten since Lugh’s hot chocolate, so I ordered the largest stack of pancakes on the menu. Our server left us with instructions to holler if we needed anything.
“Did you release your friend’s spirit?” he asked, skipping the small talk.
“Yeah. He moved on,” I said. “How did editing the security footage go?”
“Easy-peasy. I owe you a thank you, actually. The Bentons gave me waived my vendor fees for the next three months for doing that,” he said. “I think they might use me again next time they need a technomancer, too.”
“Oh, good,” I said. They’d done it for themselves, but I silently thanked the Bentons for that.
“Really, thank you. You have no idea how much that extra money will help.”
“So you’re not bothered about what happened?” I asked.
“I mean, I’m not happy about it, but it wasn’t our fault. That guy messed with a power he didn’t understand, and it bit him in the ass,” he responded.
“And I didn’t scare you?” I asked.
“If I’m honest, a little. You got really intense, but you also tried to save him,” he referred to the chest compressions I’d performed. I did that because we didn’t get all the necessary answers, not because I wanted to save a life. I considered pointing out the distinction. “And I knew you were dangerous. I’ve seen you fight, remember?”
“Right,” I said. Was Lee in this for a thrill? Had our first date made him think I’d drag him on adventures? Considering that I wanted to ask another potentially dangerous favor from him, I couldn’t deny it. But he had a sibling to take care of. I’d be selfish to ask him to help again when it could put him in danger.
“So what happens next?” he asked.
“What?” I snapped back to our conversation.
“Do you have a plan to find Noah Smith?” he asked.
“A couple, actually,” I said. “I wanted to talk to you about them.”
“Really?” he asked. “What were you thinking?”
“The DPI wants to try tracing Smith’s screen name on the Specternet, but they don’t have a technomancer on their team. If you’re open to it, Agent Boone will pay for you to consult,” I said.
“Is the other plan not with DPI?” he asked.
“No, that one is mine. I want to set a trap for Smith,” I said.
“Well, I can always use side incomes. I’m willing to meet with your agent,” he said. “How can I help with your other plan?”
“My friend Lugh is helping me build a website to attract Smith’s attention. If there’s anything you can do to make ours stand out more, that will help,” I said.
“Sure thing,” he agreed too quickly.
“Lee, I can’t pay you for that one. And I should warn you before you agree to any of this; he killed another witch.”
His smile dropped. “So he’s definitely targeting witches, then?”
“We’re pretty sure. I don’t know if he’s specifically looking for witches who specialize in contacting spirits or if they’re just convenient targets. That’s how I plan to lure him, though. If I can get him to hire me for his next seance, he’ll see what happens when the witch is ready for him,” I explained.
“All right, I’m in,” he said.
Our server delivered the food and left us quickly. People had filled in quite a bit since we put in our order. It didn’t look like they had enough staff. As I watched the workers speed around, I made a mental note to leave a little extra for our tip.
“Are you sure?” I asked. Part of me wanted him to change his mind.
“Yeah. He’s not gonna stop at two witches. If I can help stop him, I want to. I mean, what happens when he branches out? Some technomancers make house calls. I don’t want to be afraid whenever one of my friends goes on a job.”
“Okay,” I said. I couldn’t argue with him. He made it sound noble. He wanted to protect our community. I just wanted revenge. “Do you have any time after we eat?”
“Yeah, I don’t open the tech booth until ten,” he said.
“I’ll take you with me to meet Agent Boone from here then if you’re up for it?”
“Yeah,” he confirmed.
I reviewed everything DPI didn’t know about the case while we ate. I wondered if we’d get a chance at a normal date when this ended. Would dinner and a movie bore him after I’d dragged him into a murder investigation on our first two dates? I shouldn’t worry about it. For now, I needed to focus on catching Noah Smith. Whatever happened after that, I’d deal with it then.
Agent Boone let us into the DPI office early. I handed him a coffee for his trouble. His cheerful mood from the previous day carried over despite yet another early morning call from me. I reminded myself again that his personal life wasn’t my business unless I wanted to offer information from mine in return. Still, I wanted to know what had changed. He hadn’t been an angry person before, but the difference was still noticeable. If anything, I’d have expected him to get more somber, given the increased body count associated with our investigation.
“I’m glad Casper got you to come in. Our techies can’t figure out how to get onto the Specternet,” Agent Boone said. “We could really use an expert.”
“If you want some help to get DPI’s computers Specternet compatible, I can do that too,” Lee said, handing Boone a business card. “For now, though, let’s track that screen name.”
I put my hand on Agent Boone’s shoulder so that I could share what I saw. Lee’s pink and purple magic flowed over his skin, covering him in the circuitry pattern I’d seen last time. If not for the shifting colors, it would look like he’d tattooed every inch of himself with the circuits. When the magic reached his face, his eyes glowed neon pink. He smirked, and I knew he’d found something. When he handed Peter’s tablet back to Agent Boone, it displayed a map with a pin dropped.
“No wonder our guys couldn’t access it,” Agent Boone said quietly.
“That’s the location of the device your killer used,” Lee said.
“I’ll send a retrieval team,” Boone said.
“We’re not going now?” I asked.
“He’s not there,” Boone said. He zoomed in on the pin, and I read Waste Management South Transfer Station.
“He tossed the device,” I said.
“We might still be able to get something off it,” Boone assured me.
I held in the impulse to scream. I doubted they’d find anything useful off a ditched phone. My plan to lure Smith had to work. I needed this to be over.