Of all the characters in The Ceruleans, Cara is the one I’ve found the hardest to walk away from – because she loudly berates me for not giving her a story of her own. (“Look at me, Wilson: I’ve got heroine written all over me. I’m like Katniss Everdeen without the perma-scowl. Well, and the arrows… ooo, Arrow! Felicity Smoak. I can do geek chic – just give me a shot.”) So here you go, Miss Cavendish: a glimpse of what’s in store for you.
Gabriel Knight leaned back in his leather chair, took a swig of black coffee and stared out of the window. The view through the floor-to-ceiling glass in his eighteenth-floor office was of higgledy-piggledy Chelsea rooftops and a dreary grey sky. Situating his workspace on the south side of the tower would have afforded him a much prettier view, over the Thames and across to Battersea. But Gabe wasn’t interested in the picturesque image of London portrayed on picture postcards. It was the city beneath the mask to which he had devoted his life.
Now, while he stared, he did not see the view in any case. He was far away, in the graveyard of an old church, cradling the broken body of his son – his son…
A knock on the door ripped him from the reverie. He put his coffee back down and checked the schedule his PA had left on his desk that morning. His finger touched eleven a.m. and tracked across to the name in the next column:Cara Cavendish.
‘Mr Knight?’ called a voice loudly from the other side of the door over the sound of yet more knocking. ‘It’s Cara.’
‘Come in,’ he barked in a tone that was anything but inviting.
The door swung open and in walked the girl. She was in the most ridiculous getup: a tiny pleated skirt paired with a polka-dot shirt that reminded him of curtains in his old bedroom on Cerulea.
‘Hello,’ she said, beaming brightly with glossy lips. ‘I’m Cara.’
Reaching the desk, she thrust her hand out at him to shake. He ignored it.
‘Cara,’ he said. ‘We’ve already met. In the graveyard, the day Michael died. At the Come Together Party, after his funeral. At Elizabeth’s bedside, the day Scarlett gave up her light for her mother.’
‘True,’ she said. ‘But now we’re meeting in a business capacity, I thought we could start afresh.’
‘Business?’ He smirked. But then he saw the hurt flash in her eyes and forced himself to look serious. This was his daughter’s best friend, after all.
‘Sit down,’ he said, gesturing to the chair set opposite his. ‘Please.’
‘Thank you.’ She plomped onto the seat and looked all around. ‘Nice office,’ she said. ‘Great wallpaper. Killer rug. Oh, killer – ha ha!’
She laughed. He didn’t.
‘Cara,’ he said. ‘My time is short. Let’s get down to… business.’
‘Of course.’ She sat up straight, squared her shoulders, looked him right in the eye and said with great dramatic aplomb, ‘I want you to be one of you.’
Gabe’s eyes slid heavenward and he took a deep breath before replying in a tone that to his ears was heroically patient. ‘I’m well aware of that, Cara, given that you’ve sent me several emails on the subject in recent weeks. And telephoned. And sent a giant cookie with your desire laid out in icing. What the baker must have thought…’
‘I told him “Turn Me” was a DJing reference.’
‘Turn me? Cara, this isn’t some teenage paranormal fantasy world. We’re not creatures of the night with bites that can magically turn you.’
‘I know,’ she said seriously. ‘I can tell the different between Teen Wolf and real life. But in this real life where people like you and Sienna and Jude exist – people with power over life and death – you can turn me.’
Gabe was shaking his head. ‘I know you were on the periphery of everything that happened with my daughters – and my son – this past year. But you must understand enough of our world to know that I can’t make you into a Vindico. You either have to be a direct descendant of one, or you live a good life and maybe, just maybe, die and re-awaken as one.’
‘Or,’ said Cara, leaning forward, ‘someone passes you their light. Like Scarlett. She turned her mum. And Scarlett’s grandfather, Peter – she told me that he turned you.’
Gabe’s mouth twisted at that, but she ploughed on.
‘So maybe one of your Vindicos doesn’t really want the light. Maybe they’re like Scarlett and struggling with the life that comes with it, or the choices they have to make. Or maybe they’re just old and ready to retire. So they could pass the light to me – who really does want it.’
Cara clasped her hands together on the desk and waited. Her eyes, Gabe saw, were steely with determination. He liked that.
‘Tell me,’ he said. ‘Why exactly do you want to be one of us?’
He picked up his mug of coffee and sat back in his chair. Sharp as she was, Cara quickly understood the subtext: Go on then, sell it to me. You, a Vindico. One of us.
She was like a geyser uncorked: for ten minutes words tumbled from her mouth. She told him all about the car accident in which her parents had died and she had been horribly injured and Luke had been brought back from the brink of death by Jude. She told him about her subsequent disability, and then the miraculous healing of her legs. She told him how guilty she had felt ever since.
‘Don’t you see?’ she finished. ‘Jude left me in that state in the car wreck because he knew he wasn’t meant to heal me. And when he did finally heal me, to win Luke’s trust, he was scarred horribly for going against what he knew to be right. So I really wasn’t meant to be healed. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t. These legs’ – she lifted one above the desk and waggled it – ‘they’re not meant to be so bloomin’ beautiful.’
Gabe refrained from glancing at said beautiful leg, and kept his eyes locked on Cara. He was good at reading people based on their body language, their tone, and their words. But it was the eyes that never lied, and he saw in Cara now that she was telling the truth, though that truth was painful to admit.
‘So you want to be a Vindico as penance for having been healed?’ he said.
She cocked her head and thought about that. ‘Kind of, I guess, though I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just want to make it right that Jude healed me – by being worthy. It’s like you said earlier: some good people become Vindicos when they die. They’ve proven they’re worthy and that they’ll help others. But I didn’t do anything to deserve Jude healing me. Now I need to.’
Gabe managed to resist the urge to roll his eyes. ‘You know,’ he said, folding his arms, ‘I don’t buy into a lot of the stuff Jude’s lot do. Worthiness. Some people meant to be helped, some people meant to suffer.’
Cara shrugged. ‘Doesn’t matter what you believe. The fact is, maybe if Jude hadn’t healed me I’d have done something amazing despite the disability. Been an inspiration to other people with dodgy legs or arms or whatever. But now… I’m just this.’ She gestured vaguely to herself. ‘And while I love my job at the theatre, it’s not making a difference. Life’s about balance: I was helped, so I should help. Loads of people.’
‘So train as a nurse then. Or a doctor. Or a social worker.’
‘I could. But…’
‘But I’d rather be part of this.’
She swept her hand around the room, as if his office were the hub of something deeply meaningful and exciting. He supposed, in her young eyes, it really was.
To buy himself some thinking time, Gabe picked up his coffee and sipped it slowly. He eyed the girl over the rim of his mug. She had the subtlety of a banshee and the stubbornness of a mule, but she was bold, she was blunt and she was brave. He liked her a lot.
He put down his drink. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I have a proposal for you.’
Cara jerked in her seat. ‘You do?’
‘I can’t make you a Vindico.’
Her face fell, and he watched her closely. When he saw her chin come up, he nodded a little and continued, his voice stern.
‘Passing on the light: that’s exceptionally rare – and extreme. Besides, even if you could find someone who wanted to give up their power, in order to take it on you’d need to have Potential.’
‘What, like Scarlett and Sienna, because they were part-Cerulean?’
‘Exactly. Elizabeth’s father had been a Cerulean – the Potential was in her, to some degree, already. Do you have Potential in you, Cara? Were your parents, your grandparents…?’
She shook her head. ‘The Cavendishes are all just ordinary.’
The word, and her bleak delivery of it, elicited a rare smile from Gabe.
‘Perhaps,’ he said. ‘But sometimes ordinary people can be a part of something extraordinary.’
Cara blinked. ‘Say what?’
‘Are you ready to hear my proposal now?’
When she nodded, he pushed his coffee mug across the desk towards her.
‘Come and work with us,’ he said.
She frowned at the mug. ‘You want me to be your tea lady?’
Gabe snorted. ‘You in a pinny? No, Cara.’ He turned the mug a little so that the logo was fully visible.
‘Batman?’ she said.
‘Sienna bought it for me. Her idea of a joke – you know, the crime fighting. But Batman has no superpowers. He’s just an ordinary bloke in a costume.’
Gabe saw Cara glance down at her suit and could just imagine her picturing her very own couture costume. When she looked back up at him, her eyes were shining.
‘Yes!’ she breathed.
‘Now, it’s just a part-time job,’ he said quickly, to quell any romantic notions she was cooking up. ‘I have several non-Vindicos working with my investigative team. You’d be doing a little digging for them into shady characters.’
‘And safe. Nothing dangerous.’
Clearly, nothing he could say would deter her. This was a girl desperate for a purpose, and he’d given her one. He knew that deep down she must be disappointed that she wouldn’t be leaving Vindico HQ with the power of the heavens in her hands. He remembered well enough from Scarlett’s stories that Cara was somewhat obsessed with the paranormal. But she hid her feelings well. She was tough. She’d need to be as part of the Enforcer team.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Then I’ll speak to Daniel and he’ll get you started.’
‘Thank you.’ Cara stood up. ‘Thank you!’
He saw emotion glittering in her eyes and nodded brusquely before she could even think of blubbering.
Again, she thrust her hand across the desk at him. This time he took it and shook it once, twice.
‘Welcome aboard,’ he said.
She grinned idiotically at him.
‘Now go!’ he boomed. ‘I have work to do.’
‘Yessir!’ She stood, gave a wonky salute, turned on her heel and marched to the door. With her hand on the door handle, she turned and added, ‘I have work to do too. I’m thinking black satin with pink sequins for my cape…’
With that she exited, closing the door behind her with such energy that the artworks on the walls trembled.
‘She’d better be joking,’ muttered Gabe, reaching for his schedule. But he already knew that with Cara Cavendish, he should expect anything and everything within the realm of possibility – and perhaps even beyond.