It wasn’t a long drive back to the Estate. Pull over, pull into the underground garage. Sit there for a moment, check everything, wait for Sparrow to turn off the engine – because he was plenty fastidious about that – and then the doors opened, and three people piled out. Bitter complaints about bitterer snow sloughed off into the concrete space.
Three people got out.
Upstairs, the three went and in the kitchen, the, paper bag hit the counter. The goods within distributed. Jude looked at the fries with a slightly disdainful air. The burger was inspected. Sparrow couldn’t help but laugh at the display, watching Jude squint at the food that he, at least, had eaten dozens of times. The property was placed – in as best a presentation as he could manage – on a silver platter and set of plates, before he brought it up the stairs.
Two people walked up the stairs.
Sparrow had his hands tucked behind his back, bouncing alongside Jude as they went. “This has to be the most fuss that burger’s ever seen. Hell, the most fuss a burger like that’s ever seen!”
“Hush,” Jude murmured, standing tall over him, holding the platter steady in one hand.
“I’m serious, these things are four bucks each, and you’re treating it like it’s hort cuisine.”
“Haute.” Jude corrected him. “And Ms Mycroft appreciates a certain… effort in presentation.”
“Sooo is that why you wear the suit.”
Jude raised an eyebrow, putting a fingertip to Sparrow’s forehead. “That’s why you wear the suit, isn’t it?”
Sparrow opened his mouth, blushing hot, then closed it again. “I’m not here to impress Ms Mycroft,” he said, crossing his arms petulantly. “In case you forget, I’m gainfully employed at this business.”
“And I’m not?” Jude asked, leaning back now, eyebrow raised, emphasising the height between them.
“Yeah, you’re not.”
“… What an astute observation.” He laughed. “Now stay here.”
One person went into the room. And Jude stood there, waiting for Ms Mycroft to address him.
The woman sat behind her desk, her expression in that permanent scowl she favoured. Paperwork leafed between fingertips, a pair of tablets resting by her, and a cup of tea. “Do put it down, Jude.”
“As you wish, Ms Mycroft,” he said, setting it on the table, in a clear space. “Do you want anything taken away?”
“You really shouldn’t have unwrapped it and all. It was going to lose heat on the way over,” she turned a page, “And these types of food going cold makes them worse.” Another turn. “Of course you’re probably quite aware of that, and now you’re giving me the faintest edges of a look because I rumbled your petty gesture.” She didn’t even bother to look up.
Jude blinked twice, and in the way of someone concerned that he couldn’t not, tried to reaffirm a neutral expression.
“It’s interesting,” she murmured. “These types of food are seen as very everyman, very universal. One taste worldwide, that’s their motto.” She shook her head. “They serve them with Sushi in Japan, with spam in Hawaii, with beetroot in Australia,” she turned to the burger and lifted the bun with a fingertip. “It’s a phenomenon, you know… the illusion of universality.” She shook her head. “Thank you, Jude.”
Surprise punched through the neutral expression.
“Now go back down to the carpark and talk to Tally. They’re probably in a mess trying to work out what I assigned them.”
“Ah, yes then.”
“Yes, Ms Mycroft.”
“Good boy. You may go.”
The carpark was still a quiet, cold little concrete chamber when Jude came back down. Perched in the back of the car, Tally sat with the tablet on their knees, purple hair in their eyes, and an expression of uncomfortable concentration. Pulled up between the seats of the car, they sat with their knees pressing against the back of the front seat, toes dangling over empty space, head almost down in the seat itself.
“Tally?” Jude asked, leaning down and looking in the window.
“What the heck was she looking at?”
“Tally?” Jude asked again.
“I keep going over it. We went there, we have the photo that Sparrow took. Over and over and over. Only people in the shot were employees, and we went and looked at all of them.”
They squirmed around and held up the tablet. “I’ve gone over everything in this and I… I mean I can tell you a ton of stuff about them, all of them, but I can’t work out who the thief is. Or why she said that.”
Jude leant forwards, shrugging and resting his elbow on the roof of the car. “Tally, come up into the house. It’s cold down here.”
“I…” Tally huffed a sigh. “I don’t …”
“… want to let her down.”
“I don’t want her to give me that smug look again, unless like… I have something.”
“A win, huh?”
“Yeah…” Tally looked up at him and pouted slightly. “Is there any food left?”
“… I’ll make you something.” Jude murmured, opening the door, and reaching into the car, bundling Tally up in his arms. Closing the door with his rear, he carried them upstairs, shaking his head. “And you can tell me all about what you found.”