While we waited for the retrieval team to bring in Smith’s phone, Boone put me to work on a different case. I wanted to argue but couldn’t think of anything to get me out of it. Peter’s murder investigation was the only case I wanted to work on, but until they found a new lead, there was nothing to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to pick and choose my cases. Agent Carson needed help to track down a forger. When I walked into his office, Carson’s look made me thankful he’d moved off Peter’s case. I couldn’t imagine dealing with him every day and not wanting to put a curse on him. Boone didn’t come with us. I glared at him as Carson led me past his office on our way out.
“Boone says you can see magic energy that normal people can’t,” Carson said once we got in the car.
“Yes,” I said. I waited for him to go on, not wanting to give him information unnecessary to his case.
“Can you distinguish one witch’s magic from another?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“All right, so if the same person committed multiple forgeries, you’d be able to tell, right?”
“As long as they used magic to do it,” I said.
“We’ve had stores reporting counterfeit bills. The person responsible has been handing over plain paper, and the cashiers accept it without question. I don’t know exactly how they’re tricking the cashiers.”
“When are they discovering the fraud?”
“Why? What does that tell you?” he asked.
“If the cashier notices it on their next transaction, it could mean that the witch is messing with their perception at the moment. But if the paper doesn’t change until well after, it’s more likely they’re working the magic on the paper itself,” I said.
“Good to know,” he said. His frown eased a little. I wondered if he’d revise his opinion of me if this went well. We’d never be friends, but if I had to keep consulting, I’d rather not have an enemy in him. “I’m not sure when they’re figuring it out.”
“Where are we headed?” I asked.
“First place is a jewelry store,” he said. “Our witch is going for big-ticket items.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence. I didn’t mind. It gave me time to give more thought to the Bentons’ request. I’d remembered the spell I needed to rework to provide them with alerts if the DPI planned a raid. The original magic focused on people on an individual level, but I had an idea of how to enhance it to work on organizations. The tricky part would be testing the spell out. Arranging for DPI to make a needless trip to their market didn’t seem like a good plan.
“You ready?” Agent Carson asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“Sure,” I answered.
Agent Carson led the way into the jewelry store. Nothing looked out of place. The witch might be going for big-ticket items, but they didn’t clear the place out or anything. I wondered what made them leave behind the evidence of the paper. Why bother with a transaction at all? My pickpocketing spell would work better without leaving a trail if they weren’t going to take large quantities. The salesperson immediately walked us to her manager’s office.
“Hello, I’m Agent Carson, and this is my consultant, Casper Clark.”
“Thank you for coming. I’m Melanie Marshall,” the manager said. She shook our hands. “We’ve never had anything like this before.”
“Can we see the paper they paid with?” Carson asked.
“Of course,” Melanie said. She opened a desk drawer and pulled out a plastic bag containing a stack of paper roughly the same size as a dollar bill.
“May I?” I asked, holding out my hand for the bag.
Melanie handed me the bag. I opened it, and a sour smell rose out of it. That alone told me what we were dealing with. The witch cast a faulty illusion on the paper. They needed to work on the intention they put into their spells. The illusion would have lasted if they’d focused on their goal more precisely. When I concentrated on the paper, I could see the residue of their spell. The faded image of hundred-dollar bills clung to the paper like a ghost image. I sealed the plastic bag and cast a preservation spell on it. At the rate it decomposed, there wouldn’t be any evidence of the magic in a few hours otherwise.
“Do you have security footage of the sale?” I asked.
“We’ve reviewed it, but nothing looked out of place,” Melanie said.
“Casper’s an expert in identifying magic. He might see something we’d miss,” Carson said. I wondered if he actually believed that or if he’d just wanted to smooth things over.
“Oh, right,” Melanie said, chagrined. She pulled up the video for us. “Based on our sales for the day, we’ve narrowed it down to two transactions.”
“We’ll need to take these videos and the paper into evidence,” Carson said once the videos finished.
“Of course, whatever you need,” Melanie said.
“We’ll contact you as soon as we can,” he said as she handed him the plastic bag of paper and a jump drive.
“Thank you,” she said.
We left after a bit of small talk. Agent Carson popped the trunk and put the evidence in a bin.
“So?” he asked once we were back in the car.
“You’re dealing with an amateur. Their spellwork is sloppy,” I said. “The blond man in the suit is your guy.”
“All right,” he said, smiling for the first time in my presence. “So if we can match him in videos at the other locations, we’ll have all the evidence we need.”
“When do you track him down?” I asked.
“When we’ve got a name to go with the face,” he said.
“I might be able to speed things up a little if you want,” I suggested.
“If you can spare one piece of paper, I could use it for a locator spell,” I said.
“Why didn’t you say so before I put it in the trunk?” he asked.
“It’s not a guarantee,” I said.
“But if it works, it’ll take us right to the guy?”
“All right,” he said. He got out of the car and retrieved the paper.
I folded the paper into a triangle and placed it on my left palm. If enough of his magic still lingered, my power would treat it like a compass needle. I cast the spell, and the triangle floated above my palm, pointing us to the left. Agent Carson backed out of the parking space and steered us in that direction. He listened as I navigated. We eventually pulled up to a ridiculously expensive restaurant.
“If this guy is as green as you think, what kind of tricks will he try to escape?” he asked.
“If he does know any combat magic, it won’t be anything I can’t handle,” I said.
“Public safety is your first priority, understand? Don’t risk anyone else getting hurt to catch him,” Carson said.
A man in a clean-cut uniform held the door for us. Agent Carson pulled the host aside and showed his badge. We followed his instructions to a booth to the right. The server smiled and walked away from the blond man’s table with the bill in hand. Agent Carson walked determinedly to the witch. As soon as we got past the closest surrounding guests, I cast a barrier spell between them and us.
“Sir, I need you to come with me,” Agent Carson said, holding up his badge.
The man’s eyes went wide. He cast a push spell, and I stepped forward to catch it. The energy collapsed in my grip, and I fed it into the barrier spell. The man hadn’t waited for his attack to hit. He’d jumped up from the table and ran face-first into the wall that trapped us. The barrier knocked him on his ass. I almost felt bad for him.
“Shit,” the witch said, holding his hand to his face.
“This doesn’t have to be any more of a scene,” Agent Carson offered.
The witch threw a fireball at him. I held up a hand, and the fire deviated from its course. I caught the fireball and turned it to smoke with a wave of my hand. The witch glared at me. His eyes accused me of betrayal. I didn’t feel the least bit bad. This man wasn’t trying to survive. He’d used his magic to cheat and steal. If he kept going, how long would it be before he committed worse crimes? I cast a power binding spell on him. It would only last a few hours, but that’s all Agent Carson needed. I nodded, and he pulled the man to his feet and put him in handcuffs. We steered him to the car and headed back to the DPI office.