“Ms Mycroft does not see visitors.”
“Come on, you jackass, this is about my wife.”
“Did I stutter?” Jude asked, tilting his head and stepping down to the snow-sloughed top step.
“Is this about an appointment? Fine, I’ll make an appointment. Who do I call? I need to talk to her.”
“Ms Mycroft,” Jude emphasised, stepping forward, pushing into the white-haired man’s personal space, “Does not,” he took another step, and there was nothing for it but to step back or fall into the snow, “See Visitors.”
Jude stood still on the bottom step, his arms crossed, looking down at the man, holding totally steady, unmoving, his breath misting in the air. It was hard to look threatening in an apron, but some people were made to do it.
A car pulled up, and while the tension mounted, the snow on the sidewalk was suddenly scuffed up by three sets of footprints. Sparrow closed the car door after him, wearing one of the stiff, tall greatcoats Jude associated with the Canadian ex-military supply stores he’d visited from time to time. The pockets were enormous, but then, the coat was huge on Sparrow – a coat designed to come down to the wearer’s knees brushed the kerb when he stepped up to it. Sparrow was continuing a conversation that had clearly been going on in the car for some time. “No, it totally is.”
“That’s gotta be total crap.” Eris growled, her arms crossed across her body, her hands tucked into her elbows. She was dressed for the cold, but the strawberry blonde girl still managed to look like she was going to headbutt the sky for getting snow on her. Today, she had a sticking plaster across the bridge of her nose, and her strawberry blonde hair was tucked up behind her head, falling out over the top of her scarf.
“Yeah, go on, lecture the Japanese guy about Japan,” Tally giggled, walking behind Eris. While Eris was bundled up warm, Tally looked like a pile of laundry. Their baggy pants were folded at the ankle, showing underneath them, the bottoms of tracksuit pants, which was tucked into Tally’s socks. Tally wasn’t wearing shoes as much as they were wearing duct-tape reinforced ugg boots, black at the toe and heel. Their entire upper half however, was swaddled in an enormous fleece-lined hoodie, which looked quite comfortable, but Tally was holding their arms out to the side with the slightly helpless air of someone who was wearing a few too many layers underneath. “Sure that won’t make you look silly.”
“King of the Hill is absolutely an anime in Japan – oh, hey there Jude!” Sparrow said, grinning as he slipped past the coated man on the front step. “Killing it with the apron,” he said, and it was probably just Sparrow’s natural style that meant he didn’t sound sarcastic.
“Who the hell are –” the man sputtered, watching Tally step behind Jude and put their hand on the door. “Is Ms Mycroft accepting visitors today or not?”
“Ms Mycroft does not accept visitors,” Jude reaffirmed. Throughout the arrival of the other consultants, he hadn’t so much as turned his head. There wasn’t any threat or escalation there, either. Jude looked like he’d stay on the front step until he looked like a snowman, an implacable and simple No. Tally had their hand on the doorknob, but stood still – blocking both Eris and Sparrow from entering the Estate as long as Jude was still outside.
“Hey, asshole,” Eris called around Jude’s back. “Lady says no, don’chu know better than to hang around?”
The man stood there, glaring past them, and then changed gears. Reaching into his pockets, he produced a handful of business cards, pressing them into Sparrow’s hand. “You. You, young ma-an…?” he said, his face wrinkling up like he was being inflated with jam. “Please, please tell Miss Mycroft about me. Please. My wife is missing, and the first forty-eight hours are important, so—”
“Heeey there buddy,” Sparrow said, looking briefly helpless, shrugging back into his coat. “I’m not, I mean, I don’t think Ms Mycroft would appreciate –”
“Please.” He said. Looking back to Jude. “I’ll… I’ll go.” He said, stepping back, back down the street, turning to look at Sparrow, mouthing something he didn’t catch before slowly walking backwards a few more steps, turning, and walking to his own car, a deep black beast that purred as it pulled into the street.
“… Who the hell was that?” Eris asked, glaring down at the card in Sparrow’s hand.
“Says here his name is Sprague Marshall?” Sparrow asked, squinting at a minimalist card. “Some kind of bigwig?”
“Sprague And Marshall,” Jude said, turning to the front door, gently resting his hand on Tally’s, turning it and letting them all inside. “That’s Mr Marshall, half of that particular firm. Now come on, you all look freezing.”
It was all those sounds, piling together. Into the building, the scuff of boots on scrapers, brrs and shakings and grumblings about the cold. Coats yanked off shoulders, hung on hooks, the grunts of effort of pulling layers off the body when the house inside was somewhere in the region of warm spring weather.
Jude stopped short, holding Sparrow’s coat in his hands, about to hang it on a hook. “Yes Ms Mycroft?” he asked.
The dark woman stood on the stairs leading down to the front room. A tablet in one hand, her expression was unreadable, tapping idly on the surface. “What did he want?”
“Ms Mycroft?” Jude said, his tone cautious.
“What did he want? The man who just tried to come in here.”
“Just another caller, Ms Mycroft,” Jude said.
Sparrow hadn’t seen this often. Ms Mycroft was mostly a voice on a phone, to him. Not this walking tension that stood over them like an empress. Without even looking at them, she’d locked everyone in the room still. Eris was looking back and forth between Jude and Ms Mycroft, and Tally was just trying to hide in the coat that Jude was still holding.
“Yes. What did he want?”
“Well, he said,” Jude stopped, and restarted. “Ms Mycroft, he told me that his wife had been kidnapped.”
“More than forty-eight hours ago.”
Ms Mycroft stopped, turning on the top of the stairs, starting to walk away. “Contact him and tell him you’re coming to his estate for a consultation. Take Sparrow and Eris. Tally will assist you remotely. And make sure you’re wearing your body camera.”
A moment later, she was out of sight. Eris broke the silence that followed with a grunt. “Well, fine, but couldn’t ya have said that before I got out of my coat?”