On Friday, Aunt Addi is cooking breakfast. As soon as she sees Eli, she gives him a bone-crushing hug.
"Addi?" he asks. It's not his face, that he does know. Whatever Zoe put in her potion, it worked, and now Eli's skin is as healed as it was on Tuesday. Maybe better, given the way his acne seems to have vanished along with the bruises.
He gets one more squeeze before Aunt Addi takes a step back, still holding onto his arms as she regards him with soft pride. Addi is five-foot-nothing, all neat uniform and tight braids. Not stern, exactly, but Eli doesn't think he's seen quite this expression on her face since . . . since he came to live here.
"You're a good man, Elias Drake," she's saying, apropos of nothing Eli can see. "Your daddy would be proud of you. I want you to remember that."
"Um," says Eli. "Thanks, Aunt Addi."
It's a strange interaction, but it's followed by a plate of waffles, so Eli doesn't think too much more about it. Particularly not when Addi says, "You might see Lacroix at school today."
It takes Eli a moment to realize Addi means Ms. Lacroix, not Arthur or Morgan. "Is it about the murder?" he asks, trying to not appear too interested.
Judging by Addi's sigh, he fails miserably. "Murders," she corrects. "There was another overnight."
The shiver ripples up Eli's spine before he's even really processed the words. Like something shifting just beneath his skin, hot and angry. "Another?" he says, his voice a strange almost-growl. Funny, how he doesn't feel frightened.
If Addi notices anything amiss, she doesn't show it, just nods. "In the woods behind Old Coe Road."
Eli's heart stutters, just once. "Who?"
"Old Mr. Lawrence," Addi says. "I don't think you knew him."
Eli shakes his head. "But . . . if Ms. Lacroix is going to be at the school . . .?"
Addi sighs, heavy and frustrated. "Lacroix sees cults and serial killers in the burn marks on her toast," she snaps. Then her eyes go momentarily wide. "Don't tell her I said that."
"In fact, best you don't tell her much of anything."
"Aunt Addi?" Eli feels there's something he's missing.
"She's not a cop," Addi says. "You just remember that, okay?"
Addi's brow is furrowed, and she's looking at Eli with the sort of intensity she normally reserved for evidence reports and suspect confessions.
"Eli?" she prompts. "Promise me you'll remember."
"I promise," Eli says, and wonders what she means.
He finds out about ten seconds after walking into school property.
"Mister Drake, with me please."
Eli has always liked Principal Malek. He's middle-aged and overweight, with greying hair and the sort of eyes that still sparkle with mischief and wonder. Eli figures any guy who can look like that while being the boss of a school like Rosemont must be a-okay.
Today, Principal Malek has no hint of good-natured joviality; his eyes are shadowed and there's a tense set to his jaw. Eli knows that expression. It's the watered-down version of son, there's been an accident, and it never bodes well.
"Principal Malek?" Eli says. "Is everything okay?"
"Fine," Malek says, and Eli knows it's a lie. "Everything will be fine."
He takes Eli to the councillor's office. Eli knows the place well; walls painted in the big, looping street art of kids long-since graduated, floor covered with brightly colored bean bags and large plush Pokémon toys. The school councillor is a woman named Miss Fleur, and looks like a refugee from a photograph of Woodstock by way of a Tim Burton film about faeries. She's kind of spacey, but she's always nice to Eli and she does try.
Today, Miss Fleur is nowhere to be seen. Neither are her bean bags and plush toys. Instead, they've been replaced by a single table and two chairs, set up like a TV cop show interrogation room. The blinds are shut and only the graffiti on the walls reminds Eli of where he is.
Principal Malek leaves Eli in the room with a squeeze to his shoulder and a very distressing murmur of, "Good luck." Eli is suddenly sharply reminded of Addi's warning, and he knows who he's going to see even before her designer heels click-clack into the room.
"Sit down, Mister Drake," says Yvonne Lacroix. "This will go quickly if you cooperate."
Lacroix looks like an older version of Morgan, albeit one carved out of ice and razor blades. Everything about her is some variation of designer off-white: her pantsuit, her hair, her skin. Even her eyes are a bleached sort of grey Eli's never seen before. She looks like the CEO of Ghost and Skeleton, Incorporated, and Eli hates her immediately.
Eli does not sit. Instead, he walks to the window and peers out through the blinds. The sky outside is low and dark with clouds. So much for finding the peryton's master by their shadow.
"Do you know who I am, Elias?"
"Arthur and Morgan's mom," Eli says, a slightly petty edge creeping into his voice.
Lacroix continues as if he hadn't even spoken: "I represent a private consulting firm specializing in assisting law enforcement with unusual crimes. I'm currently investigating a series of six murders in Rosemont and the surrounding region."
Eli can't help the little jolt when he hears six murders, and has half-turned to face Lacroix before he can stop himself. She gives him a razor-gash little smile that says gotcha as clearly as if she'd yelled it out loud.
Her lipstick, Eli notices, is the same color as the rest of her face. It doesn't do anything to make her look less like a corpse.
"Tell me about Lance Marlowe."
Eli feels the anger like a physical pain, a bubble forming deep inside and bursting across his skin almost as quickly. Of course this is Lance Marlowe's fault. Of course that asshole had to go tattle to Arthur's mom.
The anger goes as quickly as it comes, popped and dispersed, the source pushed back down and caged and sealed. Never let them see you angry, Dad told him once. Never give them the excuse. Eli says nothing, just resumes staring out the window. Not that there's much to see. Class has started and he's missing History. He likes History.
"You assaulted Lance the other day," Lacroix says. "He has quite a serious injury to the neck. It's a sensitive area; if the wound had been positioned slightly differently, it would've hit his jugular. It's unlikely he would have survived it."
The words set a slightly queasy roil in the pit of Eli's stomach. Marlowe is an asshole but Eli doesn't want to kill him.
"You could be charged," Lacroix continues. "Assault if you're lucky. Attempted murder if not. How lucky do you feel, Elias?"
Yellow eyes and sharp teeth and Eli's voice saying: "If I'm accused of something, then send the cops. I know my rights."
Lacroix shifts, sharp nails click-clacking against the table. "That's right," she says, as if just remembering something. "Your father was a lawyer, wasn't he?" Then, when Eli says nothing: "Such a shame, what happened." But she's smiling, pallid and ghoulish, and the sight of it sends every single hair on Eli's body standing on end.
What do you know about that? he wants to scream. He doesn't, but he's looking at Lacroix now, eyes wide, and her smile says she knows she has him.
"I know you think you're very smart, Elias Drake," she says. "But this is a serious investigation. Failure to cooperate could be perceived very negatively. I know your aunt works for the Sheriff's department. If it were more widely known her nephew was being obstructionist in the pursuit of a dangerous serial killer, I think that would go down very poorly, don't you?"
Eli feels hot and cold, all at once. "I want a lawyer," he says. What he means is I want Dad. But that's not an option, not any more, not ever again.
Lacroix just gives a small sigh, like a tired mother dealing with an obstinate toddler. "Very well," she says. "If that's how you want this done. I was hoping we could have had a more . . . productive engagement, off the record, but it seems not. Keep in mind that the next time we speak, the stakes will be much, much higher."
Eli manages to catch the tail end of History, then Music after that. Which is okay. He doesn't think he could've forgiven Lacroix if she'd made him miss Music even if, as it is, he can barely concentrate on the keyboard in front of him. They're supposed to be doing jazz improv today; listening to some old stuff, writing it down, then working their own arrangement over the top. Eli flubs it so bad Mr. Browne asks if he's doing okay once everyone else has left. Eli nods and mutters something noncommittal, the scampers out as soon as he can.
Just soon enough to round a corner and run straight into Arthur Lacroix and his wall of goons.
"You listen to me, Drake," Arthur is saying, although it's hard for Eli to hear. His head is still ringing from where Arthur has slammed him up against the wall. "Here's how it's gonna be. When Mom asks you a question, you fucking answer it. When you waste Mom's time, people die. If people die, I'm gonna start to think you want it that way. You hear me?" Over Arthur's shoulder, Lance pounds a fist into his other palm.
"Fuck you, Lacroix." Eli shoves forward. He's taller than Arthur but Arthur is easily twice as broad. Which is why Eli feels a thrilling jolt of shock when Arthur stumbles backwards. "You don't get to touch me," Eli adds, voice hardening with confidence. He faced down a murderous monster. He can deal with Arthur and his backup dancers. "And you don't get to threaten me, either. You think I'm scared because Marlowe ratted me out to your mom—"
"I did not!"
"—well I'm not, Lacroix. I've done nothing wrong. Self-defense isn't a crime."
Arthur's face twists into something ugly, like raw dough caught around a bicycle wheel. "Your daddy teach you that, Drake? Before he smashed his brains out on the steering whee—"
He doesn't get to finish. Not when Eli's fist is making friends with his turned-up little nose.
Arthur goes down. Hard. The force of it surprises everyone, Eli most of all. He's thrown punches before—not often, and not proudly—and it was never anything like this. Mostly, he'd just ended up hurting his hand.
Today, his hand does not hurt. Which is good, because Lance and Val are on him in the next moment. It's nothing coordinated or particularly effective, just a kind of awkward shoving match in the hall. Eli is massively out-muscled and yet, when Val grabs his arm, he twists out of it with ease. When Lance goes for a punch in the gut, Eli barely feels it.
That's . . . not normal.
"What the—?" Lance is backing up, shaking his fist like it hurts.
"Jesus, dude. Look at his eyes . . ."
"Get back!" Arthur is on his feet again, scrambling backwards and gesturing for his goons to do the same. "Holy shit she was right." He's staring at Eli like suddenly he's the peryton. Then, before Eli can react: "I know what you are, Drake!" he says, and for the first time there's real fear in his voice. "Mom warned me. She'll hunt you down, man. That's what she does. Keeps the world safe from things like you."
"What the hell are you talking about, man?" Except Eli knows what it sounds like Arthur is talking about, so: "And you wanna repeat that into a mic for me? I'm sure a lotta people will be real interested in words like those."
Arthur looks confused for one moment. Then his eyes go very round and all the color drains from his already-pale face. "I didn't mean—" he starts. Then visibly stops himself, summoning back up the angry. "Nice try," he says. "But it won't work. I'm keeping my eye on you, Drake. You'll slip up eventually. Your kind always do."
Eli would have a witty retort, he thinks, but for the fact he's too busy trying to pick his jaw up off the floor. "Excuse me?"
Arthur, of all things, goes bright red. Even Val and Lance are starting to look at him oddly. "I— You—" he splutters. Then makes a sound halfway between outrage and disgust, and storms off.
Eli just watches him go. " . . . the hell?" he finally asks. The empty hallway declines to answer.