Ugh, I am so sorry for the lack of post yesterday! My day completely got away from me, and by the time I sat down to start formatting and all of that it was so late that I figured it was pointless to post it. It won’t happen again.
“Oh. Oh, aye, just gimme a hold-on.”
Chloe’s gaze traveled up and down Chess’s body before transferring back to him. “Only a minute, really. We’ll be late. And I was really counting on you giving me some advice and stuff, you know, telling me what to do. I’ve never done this before, so…I need your help.”
So much for the relaxed, happy feeling engendered by drugs and orgasms and Terrible himself. Chloe was really irritating, wasn’t she? And there was nothing Chess could do about it, because it was work—they were setting up some new supplier or something—so she couldn’t go along and she couldn’t ask him not to go.
Chloe kept standing there. Apparently the notion of privacy wasn’t familiar to her. Or she just didn’t care. Or she was just really nosy. Whatever the reason was, Chess wished she would go away.
Whether Terrible felt the same way she didn’t know, but he took a half step away, letting his palm slide down to the back of her neck as he did. “What you doing now? Want me walking you to you car?”
She could stay at Trickster’s for a while, watch the show. She could go see if Edsel was still in the Market; he’d gotten out of the hospital the week before and was back to work, albeit working shorter hours until he fully recovered.
Or she could go home and read or something, look over her Randall notes and see if she’d missed something, or if there was anything she should be particularly mindful of when she went back. Which would probably be the most productive. And, again, the sooner she finished this case the sooner she could get a better one.
Or a worse one, but she didn’t really want to think about that. Either way, she wanted to get through the Randalls as soon as possible.
“Yeah, okay,” she said. “I think I’ll go home for a bit.”
Chloe finally stepped out of the way. Up close she wasn’t quite as pretty as Chess had originally thought, but skillful makeup and carefully styled hair more than made up for it. She was a little taller than Chess, a little heavier—not hard, really, since Chloe probably swallowed more food than pills, whereas Chess tended to do the opposite even with Terrible pushing her to eat more—and bustier, which was also not hard. Her eyes met Chess’s with the flatness that told Chess that Chloe was tougher than she looked, that behind that sweet face was a crafty mind that looked out for itself first and always.
In other words, looking into Chloe’s eyes was like looking into the eyes of pretty much everyone in Downside.
Whatever. Chloe could give her that dead calm look all she liked, and be as charming and please-help-me and eyelash-batt-y with Terrible as she liked. She wasn’t going to get anywhere. It would have been funny if it weren’t so…well, so irritating, and so much something Chess hadn’t dealt with before in any real way.
If she was even dealing with it. For all she knew Chloe was just trying to get a job done, and was being friendly to Terrible just because she wasn’t a total bitch, and maybe sensed Chess’s suspicion and so was hanging back. Maybe she was afraid of her; that whole witch thing again.
The garbage-and-smoke scented breeze ruffled her damp bangs when they got outside and started up the street to where she’d left her car. Crowds were forming outside as the first band started to play, people hanging around to hear the music for free, to meet up with friends, to score—she saw two of Bump’s street men doing brisk business—or just to have a place to be, something to do. Any gathering attracted people, like ants swarming to sweet poison. She wondered if any of them were going to be dead by the end of the night; fifty-fifty, probably.
She knew she shouldn’t, but once they got clear of the last stragglers she said, “So Chloe…you’ve been doing a lot of stuff with her?”
“You said she knew some people, is that why she’s involved?”
“Got she a job with some people lookin to get business done, dig. Them knowing her, so she needing to be there.”
“Just you and her, huh?”
She felt his glance, but kept her own eyes turned resolutely ahead, glad the darkness hid the heat on her cheeks.
“Aye,” he said finally. “Cepting when Bump gets heself in, giving us he decisions an all.”
Chess raised her hand toward the right, letting him know they needed to turn up Fifty-sixth to get to her car, and wished to fuck she hadn’t mentioned Chloe.
Most of the time—well, okay, some of the time, maybe more than half of the time—her total lack of experience when it came to actual relationships wasn’t a big deal. She didn’t know much about them, no, but she knew Terrible, and she was getting pretty good at being with him. It was easy to be with him, anyway.
But other times… Other times it was like she kept blundering into cobwebs and getting trapped, with sticky embarrassment all over her face and body and no clear way out of the mess. He knew what she was asking him and why, and she knew he knew, and she felt like she’d just hung a big “I don’t trust you” sign over her head. And that wasn’t the case, at all.
But she couldn’t come out and say that, when she hadn’t come out and said anything else. And she knew he was waiting to see if she had a response before he spoke. So every second of silence went on forever, the air between them thick with unsaid words.
Damn, she hadn’t remembered her car being so far down the street. Had the street gotten longer while she was inside Trickster’s?
They passed a gang of kids sitting around on a broken porch, playing some sort of game that involved scraps of paper and a knife. It didn’t look like a very fun game, but who was she to judge? It was probably the best thing ever.
Certainly it was better than what she was doing, walking without a word being exchanged, feeling awkward and stupid.
Terrible waited until they were out of the kids’ hearing to speak. Casually, like it didn’t matter. Like it was okay. “Only gots me a problem, aye, workin with she.”
“Oh?” They’d reached her car, finally. She looked down at her keys, fiddling with them. If she got to the piperoom fast enough, she could spend maybe twenty minutes there and still be sobered up enough to investigate the Randall house later. It was only just past nine, she had like five hours to kill. And she needed something, anything, to wipe this whole humiliating conversation from her memory. She had enough shit in there already; it was like a fucking storage unit crammed full of garbage. Overflowing with it, until it spilled out onto everyone and everything close to her.
“Aye.” He touched her cheek. “She ain’t you, be the problem. Dig?”
Warmth flooded her face again, but a different kind of warmth. One that made her happy and uncomfortable at the same time, and both for the same reason: because he knew her so well. “Oh,” she said again.
“Love you, Chessie.” He kissed her long enough for her to feel the words, to feel what they meant, then stepped back so she could unlock her car and get in. “Text me, aye? When you get done. Or iffen you don’t go.”
She nodded. “I love you.”
One last kiss and she drove away, wishing he could go with her—or that she could stay with him—but feeling better just the same. Not because of what he’d said about Chloe; that was nice, but it wasn’t the thing that really helped. What really helped was that he’d known to say it, that he hadn’t judged her or gotten angry. What really helped was that he’d said it in a way that made it seem like it was his idea, just making conversation, and not a response to her unasked question. Even though they both knew damn well it was.
But he’d pretended anyway. Because he loved her, and he was hers.
Now if only her case could be solved as easily.
What was that she’d been thinking about solving her case easily, again?
She knelt on the floor in Maria Randall’s abandoned bedroom and contemplated the object exposed by her flashlight’s beam. A recorder.
Not just any recorder, either. An expensive one, a high-end one, sleek and shiny silver and totally out of place in the tangle of dusty stuffed animals and ribbons and general teenage detritus on the floor against the wall.
Had she missed that earlier? How could she have missed it, though—she’d looked there, and hadn’t noticed anything even remotely modern, much less modern and worth about what she’d be spending on drugs in a week if she didn’t get some of hers free from Lex. That was a considerable amount.
But she had to have missed it, because why in the fuck would the Randalls have planted it after she left? Yeah, the way Debunking investigations proceeded wasn’t really common knowledge, but only a couple of real idiots would move incriminating evidence from a decent hiding spot to one that didn’t even qualify as a hiding spot after the Church got involved. The Randalls didn’t seem like geniuses, but she didn’t think they hit that level of dumbass, either. That was professional-level dumbassery, like picking-a-fight-with-Terrible dumbassery: too stupid to live.
She reached out and touched the Play button. Static crackled into the room, followed by a few muffled rattling sounds and some metallic clanks. Hmm. According to her notes the Randalls had reported sounds like that, but not, apparently, in this room.
Okay. White spots erupted in front of her eyes when she took pictures with the flash; she blinked them away with difficulty and picked up the recorder in her latex-gloved hand. Its smooth surface revealed not a single smudge or fingerprint, nothing that might tell her who put it there. Of course there were other ways to tell, spells she could do, but spells like that were tricky and time-consuming, and required supplies she didn’t have with her. Usually she didn’t need to do them; usually it was obvious who’d set up the various recorders or projectors or whatever else.
And usually she was able to capture them on recordings of her own, too. In her bag were six or seven little Church-made cameras, motion-sensitive ones designed to be easily hidden. Plenty of hiding places in the Randall house, too, which was good. No need to sneak any of the Randalls’ belongings out of the house and ask the Church to make replicas with cameras inside, or make new cameras to fit into those belongings.
Several shelves were mounted on the wall above the dresser. Chess fixed one of the cameras under the top one, next to the bracket where it couldn’t easily be seen. Another went above the door. She’d already set up two in the living room, two in the kitchen, and drilled a hole in the shower curtain rod to place one there, facing the sink and mirror.
She hadn’t found any recorders or anything else in those rooms, though. So why was one in here?
She guessed she’d find out.
Nothing hid in the seams of the unattractive clothing in Maria’s time capsule of a closet; nothing but the limp sadness of fabric that hadn’t been washed or worn in years, anyway. Nothing on the floor but shoes with cracking leather. The top shelf held a few yearbooks, a shoebox with pictures in it, a couple of stuffed animals. Chess gave those a squeeze to see if they concealed cameras or speakers or anything else, but they didn’t.
Cool air hit the back of her neck. She froze. The Randalls couldn’t have woken up, because the candle in the palm of her Hand of Glory still burned. That meant her spell was still active.
She might have thought it was a ghost—the ghost—but her tattoos weren’t itching or burning or any of the other things they did in the presence of ghosts, so no, it wasn’t that, either. And it wasn’t the air conditioning switching on, because it had been on already.
So where…the window. It came from the window, open the tiniest crack thanks to a faulty latch—not really a latch, just a brass hook which fitted into a metal cup or eye or whatever it was called mounted to the inside wall.
Or was that latch faulty?
It took her a second or two to figure out how the windows worked. They were actually several panels of glass on either side of a fixed pane, so only the side panels opened. On the indoor side of those panels a set of screens slid in a track. Okay. The trick was to push the screen aside, open the window—they opened outward—and set the metal bar-thing to hold the window open the correct amount. Then the screen was slid back over the space. To close the window the process was basically the same: slide screen, close and latch window, slide screen again.
But this window hadn’t been hooked shut. The screen was closed, and the panel had been pushed back into place, but the hook hadn’t been placed into the eye. It definitely hadn’t, because when she gave the panel a light push it swung free.
How long had it been like that? She ran her gloved fingertips over the hook; dust rolled off. Unlike the windowsill, which was spotless. That was weird, wasn’t it? The dust-free sill indicated it was cleaned regularly—had been cleaned recently—but wouldn’t the person doing the cleaning notice the hook dangling free?
Maybe. Maybe not. It was possible for people to miss all kinds of things. They saw what they wanted to see, heard what they wanted to hear; they didn’t pay attention to shit and then wondered why everything fell apart or disappeared. Unlike her. She didn’t wonder why. She knew.
Not the time to think about it. She pushed that thought, and the ones that followed it, aside, and focused on her case. That window wasn’t up high. Just about anyone could climb through it.
Not just about anyone would know how the windows opened, though. Or about the hook, and that it was the only lock.
Maria would know. Looked like Chess should go ahead and give her a call, see what she had to say. See if she’d popped back into Triumph City for an unannounced visit, or if the Randalls were lying about their lack of communication. Maybe Maria had spoken to old Pete Holding-A-Torch across the street there, and he’d told her about the haunting, and she’d come to snoop around herself. Or to plant a recorder that might make her parents look guilty.
That last was probably pretty unlikely, but she wasn’t going to discount it, either. It never paid to underestimate how low people would go.
Lucky for her, she never did.
…more tomorrow! (I promise.)