The bright yellow and red sign outlined the famous shapes, in those famous colours. Glowing like a bug light out in the southern summers, the light served the same purpose, more or less, of attracting things that had nothing better to do but draw near and indulge. In the booths by the front, a few late-night workers were having a very strange lunch break, laughing over milkshakes and familiar, greasy fast food. Yellow and blue in their uniforms, blue and green in their tattoos. Kristen noticed them as she pulled on her coat, looking in the dark glass of the restaurants’ windows, looking at herself, seeing her eyes, looking yellow and brown.
“You gunna get some sleep?” Shannon laughed behind her. Shannon was a great co-worker, a lovely friend, but she’d come in at eight PM to manage the overnight, and it showed in even the verve she used for basic speech. “You look dead on your feet already.”
“Okay, double shifts? Not exactly the best thing in the world.” Kristen managed, patting down her pockets, checking for her phone, her wallet, her house keys.
“You going to walk home?” Shannon asked, looking out into the snow. “It is just graveyard shift here. You want to nap in a booth?”
“You know I can’t. And I can’t exactly get a cab,” Kristen laughed. “It’s only two blocks, it’s late – don’t sweat it.”
Slush, slush, slush. There were days when she was just too tired to worry any more. She’d been on her feet for sixteen hours, and she had eight hours to get some sleep before she needed to be ready for the morning. The first time Kristen had done this walk she’d heard hiccups and bumps with every step. Skirted wide on the sidewalk away from the alleyways, because well you never know. It was just past midnight, after all, no reason to be unsafe. All the time she’d slushed home, though, she’d given up on heart-in-throat fear at every unforseen sound. Something fell off something else, unrelated to her, and she didn’t break into a run. Just keep walking. Most of the time, it was nothing.
Do be prepared to run, of course.
After all, you never knew.
The stone front step was steep with snow, and she wiggled her foot in it as she stepped up, up, up, making her way through the front door. Creeping dark outside, bright and gold inside, she walked up to her apartment, her hands jammed deep into pockets. Under all the layers, her thin work shirt wasn’t doing much – but hey, home, time to get it off, and get into some warm clothes, read some of her book, and get some sleep.
Kristen walked in, didn’t bother touching the light until she’d yanked off her coat, and draped it over the back of her tattered easy chair. Pulling the door locked behind her, she put thumb to the light, and with only the faintest hesitation… pressed.
Sighing, she rummaged around on the floor for the letter, the inevitable letter. Finding it, she tore it open, looking by the light of her phone.
Due to non-payment-
Kristen sighed. Maybe she’d be able to charge her phone at work in the morning.
Outside, the snow still sat on every flat surface, and on several sloped ones. The main thing the snow rested on was more snow, thick and deep drifts that swallowed feet and fridges while the people went about their scowling, angry business. It wasn’t their fault the city had grown over the years on a spur of land that recent years had seen fit to freeze colder than Cania’s shores.
Tally was also scowling, though they weren’t outside.
“It’s very hard to know what to do here.” They said.
“You’ll find,” Jude said, turning his knife backwards and using it to slide diced vegetables off his cutting board, and into the soup pot, “That generally, it is very hard to know what Ms Mycroft wants at the best of times.”
“How do you do it?” Tally puffed. They’d redone their hair recently, a rich deep purple that contrasted with their dark brown skin. “I mean, you’ve done this for a while.”
“I listen when I am told.” Jude murmured, stirring slowly with a ladle.
“Why did she even hire us?!” Tally groused. “I’m trying to find things she doesn’t mind working on, but she keeps shooting them all down!”
“Why?” Jude asked, pinch of salt dropping into the soup.
“Well… okay, let’s see. I had a disappeared teenager; she claimed they were running from abusive parents just looking at the photo. I had a weird murder in a locked apartment across town, which she said was a plumbing accident after seeing the crime photo. And she refused to look at this credit report for one of the mayor’s aides which has these weird payments out of town. I mean, what kind of crime does she even find interesting?”
“I don’t know.” Jude lifted the soup ladle to his lips. “Ms Mycroft is very particular.”
“That’s a lot to not say, Jude.” Tally groused.
“… What’s it take to get you to talk, huh?”
Jude turned to look around the kitchen. It was large, well furnished, and exceptionally well stocked. It never prepared food for more than three people, and, prior to Tally arriving and setting up in a basement room, never more than one at once. It was on the same level as Ms Mycroft’s indoor swimming pool, which had large, arched windows, that did not face out into the street but had large, white lights behind them to give the impression of a blazing sunlight outside. Jude’s own ‘room’ was a quarters designed for a large number of house servants, and had never had more than two beds slept on at a time, and one of those occupants had been a cat for years.
“Consider if you will,” Jude noted, lifting the heat slightly, “That Ms Mycroft collects things around her with a very peculiar sense. She exercises because she doesn’t want to carry excess weight, but doesn’t ever bother leaving the house to do it. If I had to take a guess at anything, I would suggest the reason Ms Mycroft is the way she is is because she is in a fashion, extremely lazy.” Jude murmured.
It had the strangest air of a rehearsed speech to it.
“Did she have you doing things like this much, earlier?” Tally asked, leafing through folders of paperwork. A morning of suggestions, all shot down. It was quite demoralising, to feel that everything you tried was wrong.
Stir stir stir, “Not really.”
“What did she have you doing…?”
“Truth be told?” Jude lifted the ladle and inspected it. “Ms Mycroft has mostly had me doing quite plain, domestic things. I occasionally picked up dry cleaning or spoke to people who were bothering her.”
“… And before that?” Tally screwed up their face, trying to work out just what made Jude any kind of manservant. He was polite, sure, but the dude was huge, and he didn’t have the look of a polite manservant.
Jude shifted the pot slightly, “I was a monster.” Clink went the burner as he turned the heat all the way up.
Tally swallowed quietly.
The doorbell rang. “Do keep an eye on that.” Jude murmured, gesturing at the pot. “If it starts to boil, please turn the heat down to the minimum, alright?”
“Oh! Uh, yeah, “Tally murmured, giving a kind smile.
A few moments later, amidst rattling and the scuffling of paper bags, Sparrow and Eris shuffled in, laughing and talking, moving ahead of Jude. “I’m serious, selfie-ing in public like that is so girly.”
“What’s wrong with being girly?!” Sparrow grumped, “I saw my opportunity and I took it!”
Jude closed the kitchen door behind them, smiling at Tally, perched on the kitchen counter, and skirting around the pair tearing open a paper bag with a logo on it. “You uh, you sure you wanna eat that, here? Jude’s making soup!”
“They can eat it,” Jude said, looking into the soup pot. Strangely, the way he said it had a strange restraint to it. “I am after all cooking for Ms Mycroft.”
“Aw, it’s okay,” Eris said, shifting her weight. “You can snob out over there while I eat a half pound of meat.”
“I thought they sold quarter pounders.”
“That’s why I bought two,” she grinned, punching her knuckles together.
Tally gestured over to Sparrow. “So, uh, hey, why’d you selfie?”
“Hm? Oh, you know the statue they have in the foyer?” Sparrow asked, eating a handful of fries, fishing for his phone while he did so.
“The really creepy looking one?” Tally asked. Clowns were never comforting things at the best of times, painting them bright yellow and red and leaving them frozen in a rictus of joy didn’t help.
“Yep!” phone on the table, he flicked through the pictures, one, two, three, muttering as he tried to find the funny selfie, with the clown statue, and cussed at the ones that didn’t quite work.
“There’s a thief in that restaurant.” Ms Mycroft said.
Everyone except Jude jumped. Ms Mycroft was not a small woman; short, perhaps, but she occupied quite a lot of space, both width-wise, and in the volume of air around her that she clearly claimed as mine. But somehow she’d walked into the kitchen, around the table, and stood behind Eris and Sparrow, leaning over to look at the tiny screen, her chest resting gently against a faintly blushing Eris’ shoulder.
“I-It’s… it’s not really a restaurant.” Eris began.
“… What would you call it?” Ms Mycroft asked, her words very, very slow.
“Well, an evil global corpora-“ Eris began, starting on dudgeon to compensate for embarrassment, like she’d been caught doing something.
“Yes, we know what you’d call it,” Sparrow grinned. “I like them.”
“I like them too, but they are pretty evil.” Eris shot back.
“How interestingly divided. Jude? Do go fetch me the special of the day. And have a look around while you’re there. Tally will want to notice something there.”
“I will?” Tally tilted their head, blinking in surprise.
Jude looked at the soup pot, slowly putting the lid on it and shifting it so only a corner rested over the burner. It was just pretext, he had to know that. Tally couldn’t help but grin at the strange snobbishness of it. “… if you’d rather, yes.”
“Yes, Ms Mycroft.”
“Good boy. You may go.”