Chadwick chuckles. “He might as well be, the way Ernest has been talking my ear off about his campaign.”
Dad snaps out of his focused hatred. His expression shifts, like night and day. He morphs into the Dad I know and love, banding an arm around my shoulders and giving me a fatherly squeeze.
“Nonsense, Chadwick. I wasn’t talking about my campaign nearly as much as I was talking about Delphine’s. Soon she’ll be district attorney.”
“Polk is imploding,” Chadwick says. “It’s no surprise. He’s been DA for years. He’s allowed himself to become stale.”
“Truer words have never been spoken. Cities like Northam and Easton need new blood and fresh faces. Keep that in mind for your campaign in Easton.” Dad nudges Chadwick in the ribs with a keen nod.
I don’t miss the quick side glance he cuts in my direction… or how puffed up Chadwick’s chest becomes at Dad’s praise.
Chadwick glances at me too, for different reasons. He wants me to see him in a good light. For me to be impressed.
I have no interest in playing along. Dad would love nothing more than for me to start dating Chadwick. Chadwick would love nothing more than for me to give him another date. There’s a real chance this run-in was planned.
I tune them out as they discuss more about the upcoming election. I had one objective tonight. Uncover who is behind the NorthamNeptune123 mantle.
My attention returns to the others in attendance, searching out where he or Salvatore could be.
The event planners have built a stage at the back of the main room, usually reserved for the most popular exhibits. Tonight the manmade stage will be where any entertainment performs and any guest speakers give their speeches.
I spot many familiar faces, ironically in spite of their masks.
Mayor Bernstein himself is on stage speaking to one of his assistants. Despite his Venetian-style mask, he’s recognizable by not only his bald head and pot belly but his penguin-like waddle.
I skim the rest of the area, traveling from person to person.
The Deputy Mayor with the Channel Nine News Director. District Judges and business executives. Some fellow ADAs. Brenda among them. All socializing.
And then there’s Commissioner Flynn—he sticks out like a sore thumb because unlike everyone around him he’s not socializing. He sips champagne from the sidelines, his trademark bushy mustache sticking out underneath the Phantom of the Opera mask he dons. He drains the last of his drink and then dips out a side exit, unseen and unnoticed by everyone else.
He’s been looking distressed and nervous for months now.
Almost as if he’s worried about something. I bet I know whose made him that way.
“Excuse me. Lady’s room.”
I push my way between Dad and Chadwick. They’re both so engrossed in building the other up they don’t notice I’ve walked off until it’s too late.
NorthamNeptune123 reveals he’s watching me. As I march off to follow Commissioner Flynn, my phone vibrates. Another message my secret admirer has sent me:
meet me on the second floor in the head curator’s office. ten o’ clock. i’ll be waiting.
I check, no one’s watching me. Everyone is far too busy being fabulous and wealthy, mingling and flaunting, they don’t notice a thing.
No wonder Flynn snuck off so easily.
* * *
Sneaking up to the second floor is less easy than sneaking around the crowded masquerade downstairs. Museum security stand as sentries at different elevators and staircases leading upstairs, dressed in all-black with earpieces they take orders from.
The top floor is for museum personnel only.
I manage to sneak by when a white-haired woman in pearls needs one of them to escort her to the nearest bathroom. I wait for him to turn his back to explain where they’re located before taking a chance and scurrying past him and up the staircase he’s guarding.
The second floor of the museum feels a world away from the masquerade downstairs. Whereas the attendees on the main floor socialize among art displays that cost more money than the average person has ever seen in their lives, the second floor is dim and practical.
Offices and storage rooms. A couple safes protected by steel doors with spoke handles.