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Chapter 13: Political Explosion
Mum commandeered the lot of us for a trip to the Maiden Launch gallery and then to dinner that evening. I really didn't want to go. I was ready to head straight for Wyn Ellery's house, which Hatchcock had given us the address for, but Dad caved in to Mum's high-handed tactics. I think he was starting to miss her talking to him and just didn't want to admit it. She was still not speaking directly at him, instead making me tell him things as we walked through the gallery. A few times she even told Scorpius to 'tell Mr. Weasley', but he just turned red and grinned a bit.
Probably that 'I can do all the talking' comment from earlier was on his mind. Thanks for the mental image there, Dad.
There were a few people wandering through the gallery still, and I noticed several paintings were missing from their displays. I hoped that meant people were buying things. Scorpius looked rather gleeful as he counted the empty spots on the wall. He, of course, knew exactly how many were missing, and probably exactly which paintings they were as well.
“Seven, Rose,” he told me with a grin, not troubling to keep his voice down. “I'll have to owl Yuvia when we get back to the hotel. Last count she gave me was five sold.”
A twinge of guilt squeezed me at that. I hadn't even known about the first five sold. Now he was up to seven and counting, which was good for us as we could certainly use the money, but I felt bad that I'd been so wrapped up in my case that I'd all but forgotten Scorpius's show. I leaned over and gave him a kiss, and he put an arm around my waist, pulling me to his side as he gazed around the gallery proudly.
I also felt guilty because I was hoping this gallery visit would put him in a good enough mood that he wouldn't get upset when Dad and I went off to interview Wyn Ellery tonight.
Mum was examining a portrait of an old and wrinkled Muggle woman. “This is wonderful, Scorpius, honestly. You must be so proud.” She gave a gentle cough then and added, “And your parents? I'm sure they're proud as well?”
She wasn't sure, though, or there wouldn't be a question in her voice. Scorpius's parents didn't approve of his career as an artist, and never troubled to hide their disapproval.
Scorpius only nodded vaguely, obviously unwilling to discuss it. His hand tightened on my waist. “A bit, yeah. But I'm glad you got a chance to see it, Mrs. Weasley.”
Dad was pretending he wasn't impressed as he looked around the gallery walls. Scorpius's paintings showed well under the professional lighting and all, but Dad had never liked him much. Apparently the idea that he and Mum were seeing the gallery show when Scorpius's parents couldn't be bothered with it made him feel bad, because he cleared his throat and managed to say gruffly, “Well done, Scorpius.”
Scorpius's ears turned a bit red. Dad leaned over and gave him a brief clap on the shoulder. They both looked away then, pretending nothing had happened.
Honestly, it was enough to make one choked up. Mum rolled her eyes at the two of them, and went back to looking at the paintings.
Ramses was too young to be impressed by any of it, of course, and he had no patience for looking at his father's paintings, so once he'd eaten all the sweets Dad had on him, he started to fuss. People gave us dirty looks, so Mum herded us all off to dinner.
Dad waited until Mum had eaten a large slice of chocolate cake, and Ramses had fallen asleep face-first in his plate of spaghetti, before he announced that we were off to Wyn Ellery's house.
Mum pursed her lips, but she managed not to speak to him directly. She turned to me ostentatiously. “Rose, be very careful. If this man is the sort of politician you think he is, he feels that he's above the law. He could be dangerous.”
“Don't worry, Hermione, I can handle it.” Dad leaned down to kiss her on the temple, and her nostrils flared a bit.
“Rose, tell your father that I'm sure he thinks he can, but he doesn't have back-up here. Or jurisdiction.”
“Never stopped me before,” Dad said cheerfully.
I was pretty sure Mum was grinding her teeth as we left.
Wyn Ellery's house was just as large as his brother's. Possibly larger. It looked like it was half the block. The facade was pale stonework, with ornate columns at the entrance. It was a little gaudy. I liked the judge's brownstone better. Still, I would've happily traded either of the Ellery brothers' city mansions for my little run-down flat in London. I've always wanted a place in the city.
Dad stopped on the pavement in front of the house and said to me in a low voice, “Do as much of the talking as you can. Don't tell him you're a bounty hunter, say you're investigating and leave it at that. If he presses you, you're a private investigator. Don't tell him I'm an Auror. I'll just be your old dad along for some help and general escort.”
“Got it.” I nodded. “You don't mind me lying to him?”
“Might as well play to your strengths,” my father said. “Do you have a plan of attack for this?”
“I don't really plan things.”
Dad smiled a bit. “Somehow that doesn't surprise me. Go ring the bell.”
It was only a few seconds after the bell rang before the door swung open. A middle-aged man in nicely tailored robes stood there, looking quizzically at us. He had the distinct air of a butler about him, but I hadn't thought Americans had butlers. Maybe rich Americans had them.
“Can I help you?” he asked, with just the right amount of condescension. Definitely a butler.
“We'd like to speak to Mr. Ellery,” I said, giving him my best trustworthy smile.
“May I ask what this is regarding?”
“Protecting his business concerns,” I told him.
The butler blinked, and indicated we should wait in the foyer. He disappeared down a corridor, and Dad said under his breath, “Good one, Rose.”
“Thought it would get his attention,” I whispered back.
The butler returned less than ten minutes later, followed by an older man who greatly resembled Judge Ellery, though without reminding me of my father this time. He was tall and steely, with grey hair and a strong jawline. He wore a dark grey Muggle suit that I could tell was very expensive. He smiled at us, and his teeth were very white and even, and the smile didn't reach his eyes.
He certainly looked like a politician.
“That will be all, John,” he said to the butler, who nodded and made himself scarce.
Wyn Ellery turned to us then, with the practised smiled on his face. “What can I do for you folks?”
I gave him my trustworthy smile, hoping it didn't look as fake as his. “Can we speak privately?”
We followed him back to his office, a large room lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves, dark green carpets, and an enormous desk polished to a dark sheen the same colour as the shelves. Everything seemed to be decorated in dark greens and darker woods. It felt like a very large, very expensive cave.
Wyn sat down behind the desk, leaning back in his chair with his fingers laced across his lap. He looked comfortable and confident; I wondered if he'd practised it.
“I assume you both know who I am, or you wouldn't be here,” he began. “Perhaps you'd do me the courtesy of introducing yourselves?”
“I'm Rose Weasley,” I told him. “This is my father, Ron. I'm investigating the death of your nephew, Noah Ellery.”
Wyn's face didn't change, but I saw something close off in his eyes. “You told John that this was a business meeting.”
“I said we were here to talk to you about protecting your business concerns,” I corrected him, keeping my smile pleasant. “Not quite the same thing.”
“What on earth does the death of my nephew have to do with my business concerns?” Wyn asked, and I knew from the look in his eyes that he knew exactly why his nephew had been killed. Suddenly the entire thing bloomed in my head, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, as the pieces snapped into place. I was sure I knew what he'd done.
“I think we both know the answer to that,” I said, hoping I was right about this. “It has to do with your new business partner, the one who took over from your old friend Charles Rocke. Anastasia Leatherby.”
This time Wyn's face twitched. I felt Dad stir beside me, and wondered if he was fidgeting (which he didn't normally do) or if he was getting ready to pull his wand. I kept my eyes on Wyn though. I didn't want to look away and break the connection.
“I don't know anyone by that name,” Wyn said, his voice perfectly normal. He was obviously well-practised at denying knowledge of any of his activities. Typical politician. “What is your interest in the matter? Did my brother hire you?”
“I've spoken with Judge Ellery.” I wasn't an MLE, I could imply I was working for his brother and there was nothing illegal about it. Dad stayed silent, since he couldn't say the same. “Why don't you tell me what you know about Anastasia Leatherby?”
“As I said, I don't know anyone by that name.” Wyn's voice was smooth, but I could see the fear in his eyes. If I pushed him just right, he was going to open up. I was sure now that I was right, that I knew what he'd done.
“Oh, she's got a lot of names, but that's the one she's been using in New York. We spoke with the Rock. He's not too pleased with you right now. Knows you threw him over for Anastasia Leatherby. The new rising star of the criminal underworld, was she? And you hitched your star to hers.” I was on a roll. I couldn't stop talking. “And when she wanted your brother the judge in her pocket and he refused, Noah Ellery got to be the sacrificial lamb to convince his father to play along. The only thing I haven't decided yet is if killing Noah was your idea or hers.”
Wyn stared at me. The colour had drained from his face, and he opened and closed his mouth soundlessly.
“Does your brother know?” I asked. “That you're the reason his son is dead?”
Wyn was still pale, but he whispered, “He knows.”
He turned in his seat, and I saw Dad twitch again and glanced over at him. His wand was in his hand, held surreptitiously at his side, ready to leap to our defense if Wyn Ellery drew his wand. Dad caught my eye and tilted his head at Wyn, as if to say keep going.
“I can't help you if you don't tell me what happened,” I said to Wyn's back, watching him pour a glass of whiskey from a narrow table behind his desk chair. His hands were a bit shaky. I supposed even a politician might baulk at murdering a family member. “Anything you tell me is off the record.”
Dad shot me a glance. Well, I hadn't promised that anything he heard was off the record, but I couldn't point that out to him in front of the Congressman. He'd figure it out soon enough. Dad had years of experience with listening to people hedge the truth, and not just me, either.
“I never intended Noah to be hurt,” Wyn said solemnly, apparently taking me at my word. He turned back to face us again, though this time he didn't meet my eyes, and downed almost half of his drink in one gulp. Wiping a bit of sweat from his forehead, he went on, “It wasn't my idea. It was hers. Anastasia's. She wanted my brother to throw the cases on a few of her men, that money launderer and a few of her hired guns, or to recuse himself. But Greyson doesn't do that, high and mighty Greyson would never step back. Even when he gets death threats. I tried to tell her what he's like, but all she would see is that he's my brother. Like I have any influence on him. We hardly see each other. He doesn't like to be reminded that he's got a relative like me. I was never good enough for him. And her, she got angry when I suggested trying for a new judge. She said we'd just have to put pressure on the new one, and why do that when we already knew Greyson's pressure points. She wanted him to declare them not guilty. He would never have agreed to it. I told her, but all she said was to think of a way. And I... I was afraid of her then. I've known a lot of hardened men in my day. In Congress, in business. And she is something else.”
That was the truest thing he'd said yet. I supposed Ambrosia had scared the crap out of the Congressman. “She's a sociopath.”
Wyn nodded. “I didn't know what else to tell her, so I said his pressure point was his children. That if she told the judge his sons might be hurt, maybe he would bend. It was the only thing I could think of that might get that hardass to agree. She had me pass on the message. She never had any direct contact with him. I told my brother that something bad might happen to his family if he didn't agree to her terms. I thought she'd threaten them, I didn't think she'd follow through.”
I could see that lie in his eyes, too. He'd known there was a better-than-average chance that Ambrosia would do something to one of the Ellery boys. And he hadn't done a thing about it.
He finished off his drink, and set the glass down on the desk with a dull thud. “He told me to go to hell. And Noah's body turned up the next day.”
I watched him for a moment. That had been more than I'd hoped to get out of him. The fact he was having a drink and talking might mean he felt guilty for causing his nephew's death, or it might mean he'd gone completely over the edge and planned to kill us. Bad guys, in my experience, like to talk a lot when they think they can kill you at their leisure.
Wyn didn't look like a man about to commit murder, though. He looked like a man who had hit rock bottom. I didn't think he was going to try to fight his way out of this one. And I was completely sure, as Wyn knocked back his whiskey, that Dad would be able to take him down if he did. Wyn Ellery was a politician. He was a talker, not a fighter.
“She'll probably kill me when she's through with me,” Wyn said. “I thought she was more like Charles. He was a real businessman.”
“Your brother put him away as the biggest crime boss in the city,” I said without thinking.
“He respected the old traditional values. You don't mess with policemen's families, with judges' families, because then there's nothing to stop them going after yours. In the old days, everyone knew that. It was an unspoken code. When someone stepped out of line with it, things got bad quickly. Everyone learned to keep the boundaries.”
“She doesn't have any boundaries,” I informed him. “She's a sociopath.”
“It was too late before I saw that in her. She's got a lot of dirt on me, dirt I didn't even know she had until she killed Noah. I said I wanted to sell my concerns in our mutual business endeavours, and she... She laughed at me.”
Wyn Ellery was definitely spooked. I was starting to think it wasn't just guilt that was making him talk. It wasn't that he thought Ambrosia had crossed a line, broken the gentlemen's code of being a crime boss. It was that he thought he was next.
The saddest thing was, after meeting Charles Rocke, I knew that if Wyn had suddenly tried to 'sell his concerns', he wouldn't have gotten out of that partnership either. When you were involved in organized crime at that level, you were in until you died or went to prison. He didn't even know how trapped he really had been, from the first time he'd taken a bribe from a mobster. He thought Charles Rocke was his friend, even now. It was only business to him.
It wasn't just business to Wyn's partners. And it wasn't just business to his brother, either.
Wyn had managed to make a lot of enemies for himself. No wonder he was spilling his guts.
“I don't think you can get out of your mutual business concerns, short of dying,” I told Wyn, as gently as I could. I didn't like him, but I wanted him to keep talking. “Do you know where Anastasia is right now? What do you know about what she's up to with this Russian arms dealer?”
“Radoslav Stanis,” Dad added in a quiet voice.
Wyn shook his head. “I don't know anything about that. I don't do weapons. I'm in real estate and investments. I'm a politician, not a criminal.”
I raised an eyebrow at that, but he didn't seem to notice.
“I don't know where she is right now. I've always met her at restaurants. The more expensive, the better she likes it. At first she picked up the tab – thousands of dollars – but now she always leaves it for me.” Wyn obviously felt he was getting the worse end of that deal, but getting stuck with the cheque was definitely preferable to getting struck with a shovel.
“You never had anyone look into her when you started your 'mutual business concerns'?” Dad asked mildly. I could hear the quotation marks in his voice. Dad didn't think much of this bloke, which came as no surprise. Dad was very serious about family loyalty. Having lost his brother to war at a young age, he was not going to look kindly on a man who'd got his own nephew killed.
Wyn looked over at Dad, assessing him. He seemed to have forgotten Dad was there. After a moment's silence, he said, “I did, actually. There wasn't much to find. She was an up-and-comer, so I was leery at first, but she was taking over the old rackets so swiftly. Out with the old and in with the new.”
He wanted to stay new. No surprise there either, he was a typical politician. But I saw what Dad was getting at. “And when you looked into her, where did you find her headquarters?”
Even if she didn't have a permanent place she was living, she would need someplace regular to do business in. Maybe a series of places, knowing her. Ambrosia had been caught out in her takeover plans last time, so she was probably being more careful about it this time. Well, obviously, since she was succeeding in New York where she had failed in London.
“Not a single place,” Wyn hedged. “She rents buildings in various places. She doesn't have an office, or an apartment that my investigator could find. He had to be very discreet, so she wouldn't know he was there.”
No kidding. She would have killed him as soon as look at him.
“Where did you find her, Mr. Ellery?” I asked again.
He was silent again, rubbing his temple. Then he looked up at me, and our eyes locked.
The door burst open behind us. Wyn Ellery clutched harder at his drink. Dad and I turned in our seats, his wand drawn and aimed at the door, but there was no danger. Not to us, anyway.
Judge Greyson Ellery stood there, looking surprised to see us.
“Miss Weasley,” he said, staring at me. "I didn't expect to see you here."
I jumped to my feet. “Just an interview, sir. This is my father, Ron Weasley. Dad, this is Judge Ellery.”
Dad got to his feet and they shook hands.
“I've heard of you, of course,” the judge told my dad.
Dad gave him a crisp nod, and then we all stared at each other in silence. Wyn downed the rest of his drink and glanced over at the bottle of liquor. Whatever rapport I'd managed with him was gone now, the spell broken.
“I'd like to speak to my brother alone,” Judge Ellery said quietly.
“They were just on their way out,” Wyn muttered, finally getting to his feet as well.
I didn't really want to go; I was dying to hear what the judge had to say to his brother, since Wyn had told us they rarely spoke, but the judge's face was impassive. It was obvious he wasn't going to say a word in front of us.
Dad gave a nod over his shoulder toward the door, and we left. The butler was standing outside in the hallway, and I glanced back as he closed the door behind us. The Ellery brothers were both standing like statues, facing off across the desk, and I could see the fear in Wyn's eyes and the pain in Greyson's.
Dad and I waited until we were back on the street our hotel was on before we started dissecting everything Wyn Ellery had said.
“You did really well with that interrogation,” Dad told me proudly. “Sure you don't want to come work for the Ministry? You could have actual jurisdiction. Back home, anyway.”
“I don't want to be an MLE, Dad. I like my job. But thanks,” I added, grinning at him. “What did you think of his story?”
“I believe it. He's scared. Politicians who think they're about to get killed will tell the truth, or enough of it anyway, to someone they think can help. He obviously thought you were someone who would help.”
“I don't know why he'd think I would help him. He got Noah Ellery killed. He all but told her to do it.”
“He claims he didn't realize she wouldn't use it as an empty threat.” Dad paused to lean against the building.
“That's no excuse.”
“I agree,” Dad said quietly, scuffing the toe of his boot against the pavement. “Wyn Ellery's a son of a bitch, no question. Not sure he ought to die by shovel to the head, but he ought to be in prison, that's for sure.”
America didn't have a terribly long history of putting rich politicians in jail, whatever they had done. Somehow I didn't reckon Wyn was headed there. Maybe if we got Ambrosia arrested finally, she would implicate Wyn Ellery in enough illegal activities that he actually would do time. I wasn't holding my breath, though.
“What do you reckon about the judge?” I asked. “Why d'you think he was there?”
Dad shrugged. “I could come up with some theories, but they'd only be guesses why he was there. Maybe he wants to find out the truth about his brother's involvement in his son's death. Maybe he wants to give his brother a chance to make things right. Maybe he just wants to sock him in the eye for some revenge.” He shook his head. “Could be damn near anything.”
I was pretty sure Greyson Ellery did want to sock his brother in the eye, and I couldn't really blame him. “Maybe we can go visit the judge and find out.”
“I only got a minute to size him up, but I'd say he'd be a tough customer to crack. It'd take more time than we have to get on his good side. I'd definitely need to throw some political weight around to get that bloke to talk quickly. Shame we're not back home where your mum and your uncle and I have more influence. We'd probably be able to get something out of him. Here, though, I doubt it.”
“He did know who you were,” I pointed out.
“True,” Dad said thoughtfully. “We'll keep it in mind, if we can't get a better lead, but there isn't likely to be much point. If the judge knew anything concrete, he'd be off at the Auror Department, making them do something about it.”
I nodded, though it was disappointing. I wanted to talk to the judge again. I still thought he knew more than he'd said, but Dad was probably right about the likelihood of him talking to us freely.
“Come on, let's go inside,” Dad said, nodding his head toward the hotel. “Your mum's probably chomping at the bit to not speak to me.”
“Wyn really thought he could just tell Ambrosia he quit, and walk away?”
“Sell his stake in their businesses? I reckon he thought exactly that.”
“He's an idiot,” I said in disbelief as we headed into the hotel lobby.
Dad shook his head. “No. Just very, very self-assured. He's a politician.”
We bumped into Mum and Scorpius, with Ramses in his stroller, in the lobby.
“Where are you going?” I asked, surprised to see them.
“Ramses is out of nappies,” Scorpius told me. “And your mum fancied a walk.”
“Trying to avoid me?” Dad asked her with a wink.
“You should have just sent Mum out for them,” I told Scorpius in a low voice. “Shouldn't the baby be sleeping?”
He looked slightly annoyed that I was questioning his parenting. “He wouldn't go to sleep. I thought a walk might settle him. It's no wonder, with your parents coming, and you being in and out all day, it's a lot of excitement for a little guy.”
Before I could respond, there was a deafening boom, and the hotel shook down to its foundations. We all ducked instinctively, and Dad put up a Shield Charm over our heads just in time as chunks of the ceiling rained down on us in a cloud of purple dust.
“Was that an explosion?” Mum gasped.
“Outside,” Dad barked at me. “Take Ramses. Now! Hermione, help me get these people out of here.”
“Of course,” she said, so unnerved that she forgot not to speak to him directly.
Scorpius was already heading for the door, and I dashed after him. Mum and Dad cleared the lobby quickly, and the small crowd of witches and wizards in various states of disarray spilled out onto the pavement, where the Muggles undoubtedly wondered what was going on.
“Cosplay probably,” I overheard someone mutter to their companion as they passed a witch in a particularly old-fashioned set of green velvet robes and matching hat trimmed in black lace. “Must be some kind of convention.”
“Are you all right?” Scorpius asked me. He had a small cut on his forehead where a piece of debris must have hit him. I reached up to touch it.
“I'm fine. Do you want me to try to heal that?”
“It's fine.” He leaned down to kiss me. “I'm glad you're all right, Rose.”
The hotel's assistant manager was one of the last out, escorted by my father. I pushed my way through the crowd to them, with Scorpius (and Ramses in his pram) at my heels.
“I don't understand,” the assistant manager was babbling. “Someone planted a bomb. In my hotel! Who would do such a thing? It's a miracle no one was killed! We're going to have lawsuits coming out our ears from this.”
“Where was the bomb?” I asked Dad, a sick feeling swooping down on me. I was sure I knew the answer already.
“Fifth floor,” he answered grimly.
Mum's face was pale as she stood beside Dad, her hand on his arm. Scorpius's eyes were wide as he stared at Dad.
Our rooms were on the fifth floor.