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Chapter One

An eerie silence takes over as I cut the engine on the motorcycle. I hadn’t realized just how much the hum of the engine was keeping me company on my way home—a familiar sound to fill the void as I drove through the darkened streets of Edinburgh. Now that it’s gone, there’s a stillness in the air that sends a chill down my spine, despite the evening’s warm summer breeze.

            Good thing for my music. 

            Climbing off the motorcycle, I dig through the pockets of my favorite jacket that I wear despite the heat—the army surplus jacket given to me by my best friend, Colin Marwood—for my earbuds and shove them in my ears. Dear Rouge’s “Live Through the Night” ignites, and the eerie silence dissolves once again. You wouldn’t think it would be so quiet. The night is young—barely past ten. It was a hot day even by August standards. This close to the opening of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the streets should be teeming with people. But I saw very few on my drive home. These days, only the reckless or obsessive venture out after dark. So I guess it makes sense that I’m not safely indoors, because if you know me—and you should by now—you know I’m a little bit of both.

            Colin’s jacket flaps open in the breeze, revealing the purple hoodie I’m wearing underneath. Before anyone can spot it (not that there’s anyone around) I hug the jacket tightly around me. I shouldn’t have to. Wearing a purple hoodie isn’t a crime. A few months ago, everyone was wearing one. But it’s a different story these days. Wearing purple has become political. There’s a war going on and the color of your sweater is a declaration of which side you’re on. The purple side—the side that supports Black Iris in her mission to see Lorenzo Kirby, a.k.a. Loki, put behind bars where he belongs—tries to help by spreading Black Iris’s message in any way they can. Mostly through social media and peaceful protests outside Parliament House. The other side—the aptly-named Tricksters—who have accused Black Iris of being a liar, and who never miss an opportunity to terrorize anyone in purple, wear black. So while I may be brave enough to wear purple in my videos, I hide it now because I have no desire to run into anyone from the other side tonight. With my skinny frame and even scrawnier arms, the odds are strongly against me in a fight. Plus, it’s been a long day.

            Making my way up the stairs to my third-floor flat, my legs and back ache painfully. I might as well be eighty-two, not twenty-two, as I lean on the rail and fight the desire to knuckle my lower back. You’d understand if you knew the day I’ve had, but that’s the last thing I want to think about. Right now, I’ve got work to do and only a short time to do it. 

            Switching on the light in my flat, I squint as I’m blinded by a sea of stark-white canvases—blank rectangles leaning against the walls, reflecting the light overhead. These are the ones that have yet to be painted. The lucky ones. The unlucky ones, the ones that are no longer here, ended up with Loki’s face, or the faces of Loki’s friends and known associates, like Krispin and Scarlet. Instead of faces, some of them revealed different locations around Edinburgh, like Loki’s house or the café on Cockburn Street where Loki’s associates were dealing drugs. But while each of the unlucky ones may have been painted differently, they had one thing in common: they were all destroyed.

            I sigh because that’s the fate of each of my paintings. Instead of showing them off in a gallery or selling them for extravagant prices that only elite buyers like Edinburgh’s power couple, Philip and Vanessa Leighton, could afford (and, let me tell you, I’ve had some offers), my paintings are doomed to be smashed, torn, or burned to ashes. All these innocent blank canvases staring at me now are just waiting for their turn to die like they’re part of some twisted Shirley Jackson­–style lottery, viewed in 1080 HD.

            It wouldn’t be my first choice—destroying my art in such a public way, just to get my voice heard. I’d like to do it the safe, quiet way. Actually, scratch that. I’d rather not have to do anything at all. But I’ve got things to say, and if I’ve learned anything in my short life so far, it’s that only the daring, bold, or strange get heard. “Normal” gets dismissed, forgotten, ignored. Trying to be “normal” (i.e., seeking therapy) nearly got me killed. So I’m done with “normal.” Loki and his friends have gotten away with too much, and I’m going to make sure everyone in Edinburgh knows what he’s done and where he can be found. My public displays have already put Krispin and Scarlet behind bars. The police were quick to pick up those two after Black Iris revealed their crimes. But the biggest fish—Loki—has yet to fry.

            Locking the door behind me, I drop the bike keys on the counter and let Colin’s jacket slip off my shoulders onto the floor. After this long, exhausting day, I’d like to drop down onto my bed and close my eyes, but I still have work to do, so I fill the coffee pot and let it brew as I set myself up in front of my laptop at my desk. I prerecorded three videos tonight—each of them showing Black Iris destroying a different painting. Each of them needs to be edited and uploaded, and ready to release at the click of a button. Twenty minutes and two coffees later, I’ve only just finished when a news release pops up on my screen: NOT-GUILTY PLEA PREVAILS FOR LEILA BLANCHET. YOUR MOVE, BLACK IRIS.

            It’s not breaking news. The announcement of my ex-therapist’s release came this morning after weeks of speculation about whether she was guilty of the murder of Jasper Sawhney and the attempted murder of Black Iris. This morning, Leila proved you don’t need friends in high places to beat the system, you just have to say and do the right things. Being a highly skilled therapist, Leila knew exactly when to bat her eyes, when to cry, and when to reveal just the right amount of cleavage to the appreciative members of the jury. She had everyone believing Jasper was murdered in self-defense, and that what appeared to be a livestream of her torturing and attempting to kill Black Iris was all a misunderstanding. She never intended to kill, she claimed, and the torture was staged. She manipulated the judge and twelve jury members into believing everything she wanted them to believe, just like she did to me …

            I shake my head.

            This particular news report doesn’t say anything I haven’t already heard, but watching the video makes me groan. The reporter interviews a group of Tricksters outside Parliament House just after Leila’s release, each one of them dressed in a black hoodie with a red V hand-painted on the back. When asked what they think of the verdict, one of them says, “See? See what we’ve been tryin’ tae tell ya? Lorenzo Kirby was framed and so was Dr. Blanchet. It just proves what a liar Black Iris is, yeah? She’ll say anythin’ to get attention, won’t she? But she’ll get what’s comin’ tae her, ye’ll see. We’ll keep fightin’ for justice as long as she’s spreadin’ her lies. Justice for Lorenzo!”

            Leila also appears in the video. With her unctuous solicitor standing proudly beside her, she dabs at her eyes with a tissue and says, “I am overcome with emotion after this morning’s verdict. It is simply … incroyable. I am just so fortunate to have had such an understanding jury who could see that I was another victim of Black Iris’s lies. Truly, I am blessed.”

            “And,” the reporter asks Leila as her solicitor offers her a comforting pat on the shoulder and a fresh tissue, “what are your plans now that you’ve been released?”

            “I will be returning home to Marseilles as soon as possible. I fear it is too dangerous for me to remain in Edinburgh with Black Iris on—how you say—the war path?”

            As Leila breaks down into tears, and those gathered around her nod sympathetically, the reporter goes on to say that, “While some may find the not-guilty verdict cause for celebration, the city of Edinburgh ought to prepare for another Countdown Night, because”—in his humble opinion—“Black Iris is unlikely to take this news well. Back to you in the studio.”

            Disgusted, I slam my laptop shut.

            As I cut off the reporter, a knock comes at the door. My heart rate skyrockets and my right hand shakes so violently I have to squeeze it with my left to keep it steady. You’d think I’d be used to this by now—the racing heart, the shaking hand. It happens a lot these days, especially when someone knocks on my door when I’m not expecting it. But as long as Lorenzo Kirby remains free, I live in constant fear that, one day, I’ll open the door and find him standing on the other side. After this morning’s verdict, I can add one more worry to that list. 

            Instead of answering the door, I go to the window and use two fingers to make a small gap in the blinds. The sky outside is inky black and the windows of the flats across the street are glowing warm and bright. But it’s not the windows across the street I care about. Rei always tries to park his blue Toyota near a streetlamp where he knows I’ll be able to spot it, even in the dark. It wasn’t there when I parked the motorcycle out front, but it’s there now, so that must be him on the other side of the door.

            My phone pings in my back pocket with a text message.

            REI: It’s me.

            Followed by:

            REI: Moose Jaw

            I smile at the codeword we’d arranged months ago. I chose a city on the Canadian prairies as our codeword because it’s not a place that many people here would know about; Rei certainly hadn’t heard of it when I suggested the name. It means he’s standing outside my door. 

            Unlocking the door, I open it just wide enough to see black hair and a black leather jacket. Black, but not a black hoodie with a red V painted on the back—that’s good. I open the door wider to let Rei in.

            “Sorry I’m late,” Rei says, squeezing inside. “I had to take a detour. A group of Tricksters set up a bonfire in the middle of Princes Street and are burning a bundle of purple—” Rei’s eyes narrow. “You’re shaking. What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing. It’s just …” I bite my lip as my hand shakes with even more vigor, revealing my response for what it is: a lie.

            Rei sighs, wrapping his arms around me. “It’s getting worse,” he says. “All this Trickster nonsense. And then Leila’s trial ending the way it did …” Rei falters as he feels the shudder run through me, significant enough to make him flinch. “Sorry. We don’t have to talk about it tonight. But I for one will breathe a sigh of relief when you’re on that plane tomorrow and far away from all this.” 

            Rei’s right. I can’t remember the last time I felt relaxed. I shudder when the neighbor upstairs crosses the room and makes the floorboards creak. I feel sick to my stomach when a dog barks at me on the street. I want to scream every time I walk past a person sporting a black hoodie.

            Still in his arms, my head against his shoulder, I say, “I’m only going away for two weeks, you know that.”

            My bags are on the floor near the front door. My flight leaves from Edinburgh Airport first thing in the morning. In less than twenty-four hours, my brother Mason and Aunt Katie will pick me up at Pearson Airport in Toronto and from there we’ll drive to Muskoka, where Aunt Katie has rented a quiet cottage on the lake and I won’t have to hear about Loki, or the Tricksters, or trials gone wrong due to technicalities.

            “I’m just not sure it’s the right time,” I say. “I’m afraid that without me around, the Tricksters will gain momentum.”

            Rei pulls back so he can look into my eyes. He holds my cheeks as he says, “You have to go. You don’t sleep, and when you do, it’s nothing but bad dreams. You barely eat. Plus, all the videos you’ve been making lately are starting to take their toll.” He pulls back the sleeve of my purple hoodie, revealing a fresh bruise on my forearm—one of many from all the smashing and slashing I’ve been performing. “You need a break before you collapse.”

            I snort. “Thanks for the update.”

            Rei laughs. “I’m worried about you, that’s all. It’s best if you lie low for a bit, at least until Leila has left the city. Did you prerecord your videos like you wanted to?”

            “My aching muscles will be regretting it for a month, but yeah, I’m all set to go away. With any luck, I can keep releasing videos while I’m gone and no one will notice Black Iris has left the city.”

            Rei kisses me. Normally it wouldn’t bother me—kissing Rei—but this time the kiss takes me by surprise. I try to hide my discomfort, pretend I don’t feel a million little worms writhing under my skin—the sensation I call the taint. I don’t know how much Rei can feel and how much is in my head, but he must feel something because he pulls away.

            “Sorry,” he says, and instead he presses his forehead against mine in the way we’ve become accustomed to—intimate, but not so close that his touch sends the taint into a frenzy. “I just wanted you to remember me while you’re away.”

            I sigh, keeping my forehead pressed against his. “I wish you were coming with me.”

            “I wish I was too, but my uncle—”

            “I know, I know. Your family needs you more than I do. It’s just that I always sleep better when you’re around, that’s all.”

            Rei nods. “Think of it this way: instead of me, you’ll have the breadth of the Atlantic protecting you. Did you pack your sleeping pills?”

            Wordlessly, I groan.

            “Take them,” Rei says sympathetically. “I know you don’t like the way they make you feel, but at least they keep the dreams away, right? With any luck, once you’re soaking in the sunshine and breathing in that fresh air on the lake, you won’t even need them. Maybe then you’ll dream about me instead.”

            He kisses my forehead.

            “True,” I say, trying to sound reassuring. “Two weeks at a cottage overlooking the lake, relaxing in the sun, reading books. And seeing my brother again. If that doesn’t help me de-stress, nothing will. And by the time I get back, Leila should be far away in Marseilles.”         

            Rei’s phone pings with a text message.

            “Damn,” Rei says, reading the text that I know is from Colin without even seeing it. Who else besides a private investigator working a case would text at this hour? “Looks like I’ve got to run. Colin’s bail jumper is on the move. But I’ll be back at seven to drive you to the airport. Promise.”

            I shrug. “It’s fine, I’ve got my music. I won’t even notice you’re gone.”

            With one hand on the doorknob, Rei stops to look at me, eyebrow lifted. I didn’t lie, but he knows me well enough to spot the tricks I use when I’m trying to disguise the truth. “Don’t stay up all night,” he says.

            “I wasn’t—” My hand starts to shake, revealing my lie before it’s even left my tongue. I tuck my shaking hand under my armpit to hide it, but not fast enough. Rei sees it and gently pulls my hand back out, holding it up between us.

            “Try again,” he says. “Tell me a lie.”

            He’s done this before—helped me practice, trying to weasel little white lies out of me. So far without success. I appreciate him trying again, but as much as I’d like to break down this mental barrier I’ve got when it comes to lying, I don’t have the energy for it tonight. “Do we have to do this now? I’m so tired.”

            Rei smiles and lets go of my hand, nodding. “We’ll keep working on it when you get back. But if you’re that tired, all the more reason you should take a pill tonight. You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow. You need your sleep.”

            “Fine. I’ll take a pill if it will make you happy.”

            “Take it now, so I’m not worrying about you the rest of the night.”

            “Rei …”


            Showing my annoyance, I dramatically grab the prescription pill bottle off the kitchen counter and pop a tablet in my mouth. I swallow and, to prove I didn’t cheat, open my mouth to show Rei it’s empty. “Happy, Dad?”

            “Beyond belief, Juliet,” Rei mocks, using the name my parents stubbornly refuse to shorten to Jules. “Now promise me something.”


            Rei cups my cheeks again. “If being away helps you finally get some sleep, and you panic at the thought of coming back, or if Leila doesn’t go to Marseilles as she claims, promise me you won’t come back.”

            I pull away so fast that Rei’s hands drop from my face. “You don’t want me to come back?”

            Rei sighs. “It’s not about what I want. With all the Trickster riots and the long hours you’ve put into defending your side, we both have to admit that leaving Edinburgh might be the best option … for your health.”

            “I just need a vacation, that’s all. By the time I get back, I’ll be refreshed, Leila will be gone, and I can finally finish this. Leila might have fooled everyone, but Loki’s not going to win, no matter how many Tricksters he has selling his lies.”

            “You can’t fight him if you’re dead.”

            “No, but I can die trying.”

            Rei turns his head. “Please, don’t talk like that. This feud between the Black Iris supporters and the Tricksters has already divided the city. I’d hate to see it get worse. There’s no telling how far the Tricksters will go if they feel threatened.”

            “Nothing’s happening for at least two weeks,” I say reassuringly, giving Rei a kiss on the cheek. “You’d better get going. Colin needs you, and my sleeping pill is about to kick in.”

            Rei nods, looking at his watch. “I’ll be here at seven, with coffee.”

            “Now you’re talking,” I say, smiling.

            Rei lets himself out and I lock the door behind him. Moving to the window, I watch as he gets into his blue Toyota and drives away. When he’s gone, I briefly consider checking for the thousandth time that my passport is in my carry-on bag and that I’ve packed everything I need, but my sedative has other plans for me. Yawning, I stumble to the bed, head starting to spin, and quickly change into pajamas. Safely hiding Black Iris’s outfit behind the hidden panel in the closet, I shut off the lights and climb into bed. With my earbuds playing “Leather Jacket” by Arkells, my alarm set, and Rei’s kiss still lingering on my lips, I settle into the mattress and let darkness overtake me.

* * *


            I wake with a start, groaning as overwhelming pain wreaks havoc along the edges of my skull. My limbs are trapped, tangled in the bedsheets, and there are noises all around me that I can’t explain. Freeing my arm, I slam my fist over the alarm clock on the nightstand, but hitting the button doesn’t kill the incessant banging. Confused, I force my heavy eyelids open.

            The clock reads 3:11 a.m. It’s too early for my alarm.


            What the hell is that?

            Sitting up, I bury my head in my hands, trying to soothe the pain by cradling it, but it’s no good. Somehow, I have the world’s worst hangover without drinking a single drop. But god, it feels like I did. As the banging continues, every vibration makes my skull feel like it’s on the verge of shattering. Why do I feel so—

            Shit … where are my clothes?

            Bile surges up from my stomach as I pat myself down and find nothing but skin. I’m naked. Why am I naked? My pajamas are strewn across the floor. I’m sure I changed into them before bed, but I must have stripped them off at some point during the night. Panicking, I scramble out of bed to gather my discarded clothes, but a wave of dizziness washes over me as I bend over, bringing me down to one knee. The pounding in my skull increases. My throat also feels like it’s on fire. 


            Oh my god, will someone stop that incessant noise? I don’t know what’s—

            “Juliet Morrissey?”

            I freeze on one knee, clutching my pajamas to my chest. I don’t recognize the voice, but the voice knows my name. It’s … it’s coming from the front door.

            “Open up, Miss Morrissey, it’s the police.”

            The police? Why would—


            “Okay, okay!” My voice sounds rough, raspy. I cough to clear it, rubbing my throat. “I’m coming!”

            I slip into my pajamas with shaking hands, making myself decent. Then, holding my aching head with one hand and rubbing my sore throat with the other, I make my way to the window facing the street. Peering through a gap in the blinds, I see four police vehicles, blue lights flashing in the dark, parked on the street below. Letting the blinds snap back into place, I make my way to the front door, but I don’t unlock it.

            “What do you want?” I call out.

            “My name is Detective Sergeant Nathaniel Hilliard with the Edinburgh Police. Open the door, Miss Morrissey.”

            My head hurts enough that I’m tempted to tell them I don’t care if the building is on fire, I’ll take my chances and go back to bed, but then I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror by the front closet. My breath catches in my throat and I rush over for a closer look. Wincing, I pull back my hair and dab at a large purple bruise on my neck.


            “Open the door, Miss Morrissey!”

            “Okay, okay!”

            I quickly grab Colin’s jacket off the floor at my feet and slip it on, wrapping it around me like a bathrobe, lifting the collar to cover the bruise on my neck. When I unlock the door, opening it just enough to peer out, I find three uniformed officers alongside a man with slick blond hair, dressed in a cheap suit, standing in the corridor.

            “What’s this about?” I ask.

            The door bursts open, hitting my chin. I stumble backward, thrown off balance as a fresh wave of pain threatens to explode my skull. Two of the uniformed officers rush inside. One of them twists my arm behind my back and slams me against the wall.

            “Hey! What are you—”

            A pair of handcuffs is slapped around my wrists. The officer keeps his arm on my back, pressing me against the wall as the man in the cheap suit steps inside.

            “Juliet Morrissey,” the man says, a triumphant grin spreading across his pockmarked face. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Dr. Leila Blanchet.”

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