The sandwich was gone all too quickly, leaving Naomi’s hunger more awakened than satisfied.
“Another?” Innis offered, seeing the unfinished look in her eyes. “I’ve got plenty of bread. Knock yourself out. I can grab some cheese or something, too, if you want.”
Naomi didn’t need much encouragement. She set upon the rest of the food like a starved lion released into the Roman Coliseum.
Innis plunked some cheese down. “Sure you don’t want anything, Emily?”
“No thanks,” snapped Emily.
Naomi shot her friend a glare. Now who was being the grumpy one? It wouldn’t do any good to be rude to Innis. They were in his territory here, and they still didn’t know how far he could be trusted—though he seemed to be treating them pretty well. In fact, he was being much more friendly than creepy. Maybe Naomi really had misjudged him before.
“So, while we’re all sitting around,” said Innis, “do you think you girls would mind telling me what you’re doing here, exactly?”
The girls exchanged glances. Emily began, “Well…”
“I found out that Mrs. Leighton was planning to come see you,” said Naomi. “I saw a cop give her your business card and recognized it, and kind of put two and two together, and realized that Mrs. Leighton was coming to you without her husband’s knowledge, so we came to talk her out of it. Not because of who you are, of course,” she added hastily. “We just thought it would be better if both of Candace’s parents were on the same page.” As the torrent of words poured out, Naomi cringed inwardly. Perhaps she’d included more of the truth in there than she’d intended.
But Innis didn’t react much. He just cocked his little half-smile and said, “I see.”
“We were concerned that she might not be thinking clearly, and we didn’t want to see the Leightons’ relationship get strained because of it,” explained Emily, in an attempt at damage control. “We don’t want to steal business from you or anything, but going behind each other’s backs and sneaking around in the middle of the night… That’s not good for a marriage. And waiting around for Candace’s kidnappers to call in a ransom has to be stressful enough for them without that, don’t you think?”
Innis nodded sagely. “That’s very noble of you. Of course, if I had known that Mrs. Leighton was coming to me without her husband’s knowledge, I would have cautioned her against meeting with me, for those very reasons, but I suspect she would have come regardless. A mother won’t let anything stand in her way when her child is threatened, even the child’s own father.”
“What could you do that the police can’t, though?” asked Naomi.
“Under the current circumstances? Not a whole lot,” admitted Innis. “I could give her plenty of information, but on the ‘doing’ front I confess my capabilities are a bit limited at the moment.”
“What kind of information? What do you know?”
“I know that sitting by the phone waiting for a ransom call is pointless. By the time the police admit there’s no call coming, Candace will be long gone.”
“How do you know that?” demanded Naomi.
“The same way I knew that you had a special ability,” Innis explained. “The same way I know where Candace is being held right now, in fact. It’s my business to know things—about people, and especially about specials, and yes, that extends to knowing things about the enemies of specials, too. This is what I do. I make a living based not only on what I know, but whom. I provide a service that benefits a lot of different people, both my clients and my employees, generally by putting them in contact with one another, and as you saw earlier today, Naomi, that list of clients sometimes includes the police, though they have too much institutional pride to feel comfortable admitting it formally.
“By the way, Naomi, you haven’t reconsidered my offer yet, have you?”
“Oh, uh, no, not really,” said Naomi. “I’ve had my mind on a lot of other things this evening…”
Emily leaned forward on her chair, eyes flashing. “If you really know as much about these kidnappers as you say you do, then why shouldn’t we think that you’re one of them?”
“If I was on their side,” said Innis, “why would I be telling you any of this? I probably would’ve had you both tied up by now, with some of my partners on their way to bring you to the same place as Candace. She’s not the only one who would bring in some cash on the specialty slave market.”
Emily sat back, narrowing her eyes nervously. She perked her ear towards the front door, as if expecting to hear masked men rushing through it at any moment to tie her up and take her away.
“Relax,” said Innis. “Trust me, I don’t have anyone hiding around a corner waiting to throw a black bag over your head. I’m on your side. I think it’s sick what these people do to specials. But like I said, there isn’t much I can do about it right now.”
“Sure there is,” said Naomi. “If you know where they’re keeping Candace, why not tip the police so they can go rescue her?”
Innis shook his head. “That wouldn’t do any good. Like I said, these people are really well set up. It seems kind of ironic, but they’ve got specials working for them, people with abilities that can easily fool the police into thinking there’s nothing suspicious going on at all. I know: the thought of specials helping kidnap other specials seems kind of sick, doesn’t it? But it’s those specials we’d need to defeat to have any chance of freeing Candace—and whoever else they’ve got locked up, ready to ship out as soon as they hear from a buyer.”
Naomi chewed thoughtfully on the crust of the last slice of bread. “But if you told the police about those specials, the ones who are tricking them, couldn’t they do something about it?”
“Maybe, in theory,” said Innis. “A couple of years ago I tried to explain the whole thing to them, actually. These same people had taken one of my employees, someone I cared about, but the cops wouldn’t listen. They’ve got a deep bias against specials—maybe you’ve noticed.”
Naomi thought about the way Officer Waddins and Detective Jacklin had treated her. It wasn’t hard to believe that attitudes like that might be the norm rather than the exception among the police force.
“It can’t really be as hopeless as you’re saying,” Naomi insisted. “There has to be some way to get Candace back, doesn’t there? If you know so many different specials with all kinds of different abilities, shouldn’t at least one of them have an ability that could get past the kidnappers’ defenses?”
Ian leaned back against his kitchen counter. “I’ve been looking for that one person for a pretty long time,” he admitted. “As a matter of fact, I thought I’d found someone recently who might, in time, be able to fill that role, but…”
Naomi frowned. “But what?”
“But,” said Innis, gazing piercingly into Naomi’s eyes, “I got the impression she wasn’t interested.”