Big wide halls, thick red carpets and all the effort a building made in two thousand and five could put to look like it’d been standing since the sixteen hundreds didn’t hide things from Tally. Of course, Tally wasn’t using eyes to see – holding a smartphone in hand, browsing wireless information. The whole estate was built with Old World Charm, which seemed to mean terrible wireless access. There was wi-fi, sure, but it was bad, bad enough that it dipped in hallways and only seemed to improve when Tally approached an actual access point.
Next to Tally, the maid walked with the steady steps of someone who was going to be at it all day, but didn’t want to be at this.
“You think you’ll be able to find Ms Persephone?”
“Probably,” Tally murmured, watching the signal, only half paying attention. Normally, reception levels didn’t fluctuate quite so clearly – bars on a phone were almost always an educated guess at best, and the phone did its best to seem better than it was. Around in this house though, it really did seem that the signal only worked at nexuses of hallways – and down those hallways it was awful. Emergency reception only.
Joanie was talking, and Tally wasn’t listening. It wasn’t rude, per se. It was just that Tally didn’t do that sort of thing. There was something that needed focus, and Tally knew that Joanie wouldn’t really get it, or get why they reacted the way they did, so the important thing was finishing quickly. Still, occasional words filtered through. Money. What Mr Marshall did for a living – stockbrokering – and what Ms Persephone did to keep from crawling the walls bored – which was mostly charity work. No big deal there, and made sense that the business leant right while their charity donations leant left. And then she said –
“Well, there’s always her phone.”
“… Thaaaaat would definitely be an option,” Tally said eyebrows raising. Swallowing and trying to not seem too eager, Tally plucked at the air with a nervous fingertip. “You, uh, you wouldn’t happen to know where it was…?”
“Oh, yes. There’s a charger closet.”
“… There’s a charger closet?” Tally asked, trotting on after Joanie. “What…?”
It looked like any normal door, over near the drawing room, a little walk-in robe. Joanie stood in it, checking shelves up and down. There was a router there, clicking away, a great big beastly machine that seemed designed to last through a direct nuclear strike. There were a handful of tidily set up little charger ports – four or five on one side of the room, one on the other – and sitting in the right hand side, was a rather lovely little dusty rose case, in which sat an iPhone.
“Is it okay if I…?” Tally asked, gesturing down at the phone. There was an itchiness in their fingertips, as if a treasure chest had been slid in view with a large, conspicuous lock, and Tally’s pockets were full of keys.
“Mr Marshall is very protective of his phones, so I’d have to ask him – but this is Ms Persephone’s, so it should be okay.” Joanie said.
Fishing the phone out of its stand, Tally squinted at the reception. Not just nothing, not even emergency contact. The hell? “The point of a phone that’s so…” Tally muttered, stepping out of the closet – and a weak signal bubbled up as the door opened. “… Are all the phones stored in here overnight?”
“Oh, yes.” Joanie said. “I pick them up before I clock out for the night.” She gestured up and down at the shelves. “It keeps them all charged. They don’t ring while they’re in here anyway.”
“They… wouldn’t, no.” Tally murmured, closing the door, giving it a few test swings. “… Okay. I think I gotta find Jude, okay?”
Joanie nodded. “Alright, I’ll… I just need to go with you, okay?”
“… Why? I mean, I think I can find my way back.”
Joanie drew a deep breath, “Look, uh,” she shrugged. “Mr Marshall isn’t… very keen on visitors.”
“… Especially black ones.”
“… Yeah.” She said it in That Way. The indignity of it, low and subtle. Just one on a giant pile of moments just like it.
Tally shrugged and sagged a little. It was hard to find anyone who didn’t recoil at at least one part of what made them who they were. “… Yeah, I get it. C’mon, then.”
Snow smashed under Eris’ boots as she stomped her way out of the main building and across to the garages. Hands jammed into the pockets of her coat, she fumed and grumbled before elbowing open the door, following the path left by Sparrow’s feet.
“Sparrow!” she called then stopped short, listening to her voice echo. “Jesus Christ, how big is this place?”
Across four car lengths, Sparrow was hunkered down on his knee, looking underneath a car – and he called back, “Need a lot of space for a big car collection, I guess?”
“Christ,” Eris grumbled, shoving the door closed behind her, walking past a literal turntable the size of a car. “How the hell does someone ever even… like…”
“You own a machine shop,” Sparrow grunted as he scudded underneath the car.
“I run a business. You need space for metal presses. This is… this some decadent sh—“ Eris was cut off by an audible thunk and an ‘ouch.’ “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Sparrow squeezed out. “That’s a bit embarrassing. Figured maybe there’d be some sign in here if someone kidnapped Ms Persephone –”
“You … normally look under strangers’ cars?”
“No.” Sparrow stood up, brushing off his vest. “Except when, you know, I’m doing my day job of repairing cars.”
“Oh, yes.” Eris grumbled, looking around. “Guy has his own workbench, though, can at least respect that.” The bench in question though, was easily twice the size of any work space Eris had had herself. A remarkably clean countertop, too. “Weird.”
“Yeah, guy’s actually got his tools out.” She picked through them, one by one. “Doesn’t know how to use them though.”One bright red handle amongst a bunch of black, turning under her fingers as she drew it out.
“Why you say?” Sparrow muttered as he tugged aside some tarpaulin, looking up and down at folding ladders. “… Who needs three ladders?”
“Yeah, he’s got a hex-key screwdriver here,” she said, turning it around in her hand. “Don’t really need those if…” she squinted at the tip. “Christ on toast, did someone chew on this thing?”
“I mean, sure, you can do a Phillips heads’ job with this if, like… you need to,” she grumbled, turning the device over. “But this is been like… stabbed.” She sighed. “Think we found how they did the lock on the uh, window.”
“But why this? There’s a flathead right there, better, bigger grip. And if you can get into here, why can you get – ”
“Eris, we need to leave.” Sparrow said.
“What?” she turned, raising her hands, bareknuckle stance like she could punch his fear.
Sparrow stood back, pointing, holding the tarpaulin wide. Behind the folding ladders, one pristine and unused, the other muddy and sludged down the base, there stood a tall, mesh-wrapped bundle, as tall as Sparrow. Normally a pile of anything as tall as Sparrow wouldn’t threaten Eris, but in this case, the pile, tucked in behind a metal cabinet, was of stout red sticks, with long white fuses, and bright yellow and black danger tape wrapped around the crown.
“… I… I didn’t know anyone stored it like that.”