Author’s Note: So I said I was celebrating the release of The Consultant and the Cat. I am. This is one possible sequel to that story. I’ve got another alternate one; we’ll see if either makes it to a full novel’s worth of story or not.
This one also features some characters that visitors to the site might recognize, though Fi’s a bit out of character, though I think that’s understandable under the circumstances that led her to Randolph’s office. For more of Fi’s story, start with The Loss of Eight Years.
“I think you have the wrong impression about the kind of consulting I do. In fact, I think you may even have an incorrect idea of the kind of degree I possess,” Randolph said, shaking his head as he shifted in his chair, trying to keep his side from aching as much as possible. If he admitted it was troubling him, he knew far too many people who would be willing to usher him right back into bed—if the migraine he was certain to have after he got done with this interview didn’t put him there first. “I am not someone who can counsel you about giving up your child for adoption. I am not someone who can prescribe medicine nor can I—”
“I knew I should have had someone come with me,” the woman across from him said, putting a hand to her head. She leaned back in her chair, taking a few breaths to calm herself. “If the only person who seemed to understand even part of it wasn’t out of the country, I would have dragged him back here, made him do the talking… I’m sure I sound hysterical.”
Randolph reached for his pen, about to write down the number of a counselor who could do a far better job of this than he would. “I would not call it that. Hysteria is a term that has a few negative connotations, especially, I believe, for someone of your gender, and it has fallen out of favor in the medical community. What we call hysteria—Forgive me. I almost started on one of my infamous tangents.”
The woman managed a short laugh. “It… that actually made me feel better for some reason.”
“I’ll blame my accent. Some people think the Oxford in it is very soothing.”
“Perhaps a little.”
He smiled, getting ready to tear the paper off the pad for her. “As I was saying, I’m not the sort you need for any kind of consultation in that respect. My skills are… They’re more suited to a different purpose. I am not sure I’m the one you want to help you deal with the loss of your baby—”
“She’s not my baby,” the woman said, and Randolph frowned. He didn’t think he understood any of this. How had he missed the part about this not being her child? She’d sounded very much like the mother a moment ago. “The truth is, I have no legal claim to her whatsoever. That’s part of my problem—not the only one, but one of the bigger ones—but it’s not… Oh, I wish I’d been able to have Darren explain this. He’s got the emotional detachment… He called it like it was from the beginning.”
“He’s the one that’s out of the country?”
“Yeah. I didn’t want to wait because I know these things can’t wait, but every time I try to explain it to someone, they assume the hysterical part and ignore the rest of what I need to say. Even my brother did, but then again, my brother tends to assume I’m incapable of handling anything on my own,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “Sorry. I guess I should have had my translator. I’m still not getting to the point. It’s not like we have time to wait for him to get back.”
“I’m sure a few hours delay would—”
“He’s terrified of flying. He’d have to sail back.”
Randolph grimaced, but before he could summon a response to that one, the door opened, pushed by a large black head, and Katya slinked her way into his office, each of her paws padding against the floor as she crossed to his side. She gave him a look, and he frowned, but she ignored him as she walked over to the other chair.
The woman took one look at the leopard, blinked, and shook her head. “Just when I thought I had a handle on things—if you commit me, will you please make sure that Darren gets notified? I did kind of promise to tell him what happened, so…”
“I assure you, the leopard is real, though I was hoping to keep her out of the office while we talked. This is Katya.”
“Katya.” The leopard purred at the sound of her name, putting her head in the woman’s lap. “You’re a bit too adorable for your own good, too, aren’t you? Damn it.”
Randolph wanted to send the cat for Persephone, hoping another woman’s presence might help, but he didn’t think he’d get the leopard to listen, not now. She thought she belonged right where she was, and he’d never change her mind about that. “You said—”
“I think my husband’s baby was stolen.”
“Ah, Reynolds, love, thank goodness,” Randolph said, rising from his desk and coming to Persephone’s side, pulling her into the room. She had only meant to find out where the leopard had gotten to—she knew they could not afford another incident with her mother’s neighbors, so Katya needed to be supervised—not get involved in his case, whatever it was. “We have had some trouble getting this matter sorted out.”
“Which is his polite way of saying I’ve been a near incoherent mess,” the woman in the chair said, glancing at the leopard. “I’d stand and shake your hand, but I can’t right now. I’m Fidelity Purcell. You can call me Fi if you want. Just… not Mrs. Burns.”
Persephone frowned. “I thought your name was Purcell.”
“It is. My husband’s was Burns,” the other woman explained. “I am making a huge mess of this… Okay, in short, simple terms—my husband had an affair. He got that girl pregnant. Both he and the mother ended up dying, and I had the baby at the time. Long, long story there. Social services said they’d find one of her relatives to take in the baby, and supposedly they did.”
“I don’t think we’re going to like this supposedly, are we?” Persephone asked, and Randolph nodded, reaching for his chair. He sat back down with a wince.
“Someone impersonated Chloe’s aunt and took the baby. Chloe’s aunt told me she never wanted anything to do with the child, but she doesn’t care what happened to it. The local police don’t seem all that concerned. No one does.”
“No one except you.”
Fidelity looked to Randolph, sighing. “I… I kind of bonded with the baby against my will. I had good reasons for giving her up when I did, and I still mostly believe that was the right decision, but she… I was told I could at least know what her progress was, only when I spoke to the aunt, I found out she never took the baby. I don’t know who has her or why they want her, but I can’t imagine that it was for any kind of… good reason. I’ve seen stuff on television about people selling babies—Richard told me he’d buy me one once as a joke, the bastard—and I suppose she could have gone to a good home, but I don’t know that. All I know is that someone lied and stole her.”
Persephone crossed over to Randolph’s side, knowing they needed to discuss this in private. “What was the name of the officer you spoke to? Do you have a case number with the department? I’m a detective, and I didn’t hear anything about this missing baby.”
Fidelity took in the badge clipped to Persephone’s belt and shook her head, trying to get up from the leopard. “I shouldn’t have come. I… It’s not like I have a legal claim to the child. I don’t. She’s not my blood, I never adopted her, and I was separated from my husband when he died. Not that any of that matters. They all took one look at me and decided I was hysterical. You agree with your colleagues, don’t you?”
“I just look like an ice queen,” Persephone said, feeling defensive, the same way she always did when she felt like she was being judged by her looks. Death warmed over, the white witch, all assumptions that added up to her being cold and unfeeling. “I’m not heartless.”
“You can save your pity. I don’t want that, either.”
“Persephone was not talking about pity. While her department may have officially declined to pursue an investigation or to keep you informed of their efforts in this regard, I am not bound by their restrictions. I make my own decisions about the cases I take—well, when the leopard allows me to, that is. She has her own mind about these things.” Randolph took hold of Persephone’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “You and I shall discuss this ice queen nonsense again later.”
“Randolph, I swear, if you try to—”
“I do enjoy making you melt,” he said, and she knew she’d gone red again. She shook her head, pulling her hand from his. He shrugged, turning back to his client. “My apologies. She is very sensitive to the discussion of her looks, and I rather insist on challenging the myth every chance I get.”
Fidelity shook her head. “I didn’t even… I guess I was too distracted. I take it that’s… natural?”
Persephone nodded. “Recessive genes.”
“Oh. Cat, please, let me up already. I—It wasn’t about the way you look. I didn’t even notice. I just… I don’t want to waste any more time. If you don’t or can’t help me, that’s all I really need to know.”
Randolph let out a breath, looking at the leopard. They both knew what the cat’s actions meant. He didn’t have a choice. He was taking this case. “I’m going to need more information from you.”
I love this cat. Fascinating and intriguing opening, m’dear.
Yeah, the leopard is awesome. I’m starting to think she’s going to end up demanding a whole series of her own and stealing the show the entire time.
Thanks. I was looking for a different sort of case for them to take on, and this one just seemed to fit.