Aaaand we’re back this week, with more story. This one’s sort of an in-between chapter so not too much excitement.
But it’s still advancing the story so hey.
So far in the story, we have hinted at intrigue involving some sort of evil organization and wings. What will happen next? Catch up here:
And have a collage before we get going, since we’ve got a new/old character showing back up here.
Searching for tuxedos and answers
I didn’t call ahead before driving over to the Den.
Maybe it was the weird secrecy of that note. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t want it to go to News’s head that he’d actually given me some mail that had me really fascinated.
But I mean, it was a quick enough in and out mission. Just see if that tux was still stuffed away in some closet. Nobody needed to make a big deal over that. And News was out working the evening shift at his ice cream place anyway.
I couldn’t quite pin down what secrets I thought my old bloody tuxedo held, but something . . . some faint memory pulled towards that. And really, it was more than I had with the lack of any sort of contact information on the envelope. Seriously, there wasn’t even a postmark. It must have been hand delivered.
I felt goosebumps on my arms again and shifted my shoulders uncomfortably.
The exit towards Logan came up on my right and I turned the steering wheel, angling my car onto the ramp. The silver wing keychain jangled in my cupholder, where I’d left it.
It took a few more minutes to get myself onto the back roads out of town that led to the Den. No other cars were along the last stretch and . . . well I was impatient, so I did my own creative interpretation of the speed limit.
At the abandoned end of a dead-end road, there was the old grocery store, same as always. The ivy had overgrown it a bit more in the past year and Roy had decided to grafitti a little smiley face on the side of the building in celebration of the gang’s redemption, but other than that, it looked just like it always had.
Spooky. Grimy. Abandoned. And – in an odd way – homey.
I steered the Mustang into the old parking lot, bracing as I went over the bump of cracked pavement near the entrance. No truck of News’s. Roy’s car wasn’t there. Liza . . . well Liza didn’t have a currently functioning vehicle of her own so there was no earthly way of knowing.
I pulled up right near the front like I always did and jerked the car into park, checking the clock before I hopped out. Just after six.
Yeah, News shouldn’t be back for a while.
“Just in and out. Check the pockets or something,” I muttered to myself. I yanked the keys out of the ignition, stuffing them in my pocket and ignoring the muffled chirp of the Dalek keychain to “exterminate!” The slamming sound of my car door echoed dully across the lot and I started for the door.
I got close enough and the old doors wobbled and rattled as they rolled open. Liza had got them working again and was quite proud of herself.
The old smell of baked goods, alcohol, cigarettes and motor oil washed over me as I stepped inside. No sounds but the dim rattle of the air conditioner.
I stopped just inside and looked from side to side, craning my neck. No movement or glimpses of turquoise hair caught my eye. None of the mechanical clanking sounds that usually accompanied my Australian friend and her projects.
I let out my breath and started towards the back. Still, some deep-rooted feeling that I was doing something bad pressed me to keep my steps quiet as I walked.
Where did I see that tux last? Somewhere in my closet? The last memory I had of actually seeing it was when I was changing after the opera, so . . . I mean, that wasn’t the most recent of updates. I’d probably hung it up and left it in there. Or . . . maybe I hadn’t hung it up, since I had been pretty exhausted and the state of my tuxedo hadn’t been the most of my worries just then.
I turned the corner into the small hallway that led to the back rooms. I let out my breath a little and ran a hand through my hair as I walked.
Definitely had memories here. And they definitely weren’t all good ones. I’d shot all the holes in that wall when I’d been particularly ticked off one day. A few glass shards still glinted from the corners from broken old alcohol bottles. Some old bloodstains. More bullet holes.
I winced and focused on watching my shoes. Just more reminders that “the Wolf” and the accusations people kept throwing at me were all true. True and then some.
Not here for that. Just get to the stupid room.
Back past the old meeting room. News’s little medical bay and another hallway down to the other converted bedrooms.
And there was my room. The scratchy old paint sticker that used to read “storage” and now read “rage” was in place as always. Claw marks from Lucius.
I twisted the handle, pushing in through the door.
Yup, same old grimy curtains and uneven walls. None of the mess that usually accompanied my current bedrooms, though. I could see the broom tracks in the dust that covered the floor. The closet door hung partway open and I walked over to it, my shoes leaving imprints in the dust that remained on the floor.
The door creaked as I pulled it the rest of the way open and looked inside. Lighting was bad and it took a second for my eyes to adjust enough to see around the dark area properly.
Nothing. The closet was as empty as the room was. Just a piece of crumpled paper in the corner.
News could have just thrown it out.
I muttered quietly under my breath, looking around the closet one more time. “Where else could it . . .?”
An icy hand gripped the back of my neck. “Boo.”
My heart almost stopped for a second.
I jumped and spun around, letting out a loud curse, a bit higher pitched than normal.
My turquoise-haired attacker had seen it coming and jumped back to keep clear from getting hit. She laughed and put up her hands, showing one flesh and bone, one sleek metal.
I gulped in a breath, trying to bring my heart rate back down as I glared at her.
“Well, I caught a dangerous intruder on the premises, it looks like,” Liza drawled, her mouth still pulled sideways in a grin. Craning her neck, she peered around me into the closet. “Find anything worth stealing?”
I don’t know what I’d expected her to be. Someone from whatever creepy organization I’d unwittingly joined coming to take my soul or something. Obviously it couldn’t have been anything like that, but with all the thinking I’d been doing on the way here, I’d sure considered it in the fraction of a second when she grabbed me.
“Liz, you’re gonna kill me one of these days doing that, I swear,” my voice cracked, despite the growl I tried to project. She noticed and her smirk grew.
Of course she just had to be in here doing something quiet so I’d missed her. Nice one.
I pushed past her, heading for the door.
Liza followed right on my heels. “Somebody’s on edge today,” she remarked. “What’s the mission, Mr. Grumpy Pants?”
“Just looking for something,” I answered in a mutter, not bothering to shut the door as I came back out into the hall. I shoved my hands in my pockets, clenching them in fists to stop the shaking I felt coming from the sudden spike in adrenaline.
I could check the old back meeting room next, maybe. We shoved a lot of stuff we didn’t use anymore back there. I started walking that way.
Liza sped her pace until she was keeping stride with me and tilted her head sideways to get a look at my face. “I know the old place better than you at this point. Think it might help if you tell me what you’re looking for?”
I stopped walking, biting my tongue for a second.
“Come on,” she coaxed, clasping her hands behind her back in an attempt to look dutiful. “I probably know where it is anyhow.”
Well, not like keeping the secret would really work with her following me around the whole time I looked.
I let out my breath. “My . . . my old tux I wore to the opera last year.” I finally looked over and grudgingly met her gaze.
Her eyes narrowed in part thoughtfulness, part confusion and she opened her mouth a second before speaking. “The one covered in blood . . .?”
“That’s the one.”
“I don’t suppose News saw fit to keep it around?”
“Oh, he keeps everything,” Liza waved a hand and started walking, leading the way this time. She turned, walking backwards. “What’s the question is why you’re looking for it. Have you got a date?” She delivered it like an honest question, grinning only when I rolled my eyes.
I shook my head. “I mean, not like I have much better things to wear for a date, honestly. But I think I left something in the pocket. At least I . . . want to check.”
One of her eyebrows raised slightly, but she didn’t say anything, turning back around to the front as we walked out into the open space of the main store area. “Should be in the storage room in back of the kitchen. A bag near the back.”
Well, kitchen storage would have been pretty close to my last guess. So it was a good thing I told her what I was looking for.
We walked back over to the kitchen. My shoes and her bare feet slapped and scuffed unevenly on the cement floor. Her brightly colored hair swung back and forth in a thin braid down her back. I noticed that her roots were growing out, showing a few inches of her natural blonde.
She swung around behind the counter, weaving back towards the storage room. I reached over and tweaked the end of her braid. “Haven’t re-dyed your hair in a while, blondie,” I remarked.
“I been busy,” Liza shot back, pulling her braid over her shoulder and turning a little to make a face at me. “If we want to go there, you don’t look perfectly shaven yourself, Wolfy.”
“Maybe I’ve been busy too.” Or maybe I’ve just been trying too hard to get myself busy. I reached the door before she did and shoved it open, reaching around inside to flick on the lights.
Mounds of bags and boxes were lumped into the corners and spread out over the floor of the small room. The room smelled faintly of laundry soap and must. Sort of like a thrift store. Only I wouldn’t want to even think about the sort of awful thrift store News could open up with our old stuff.
I scanned the piles, looking near the back. “And it would be . . .?”
Liza just edged in past me and climbed in over the junk until she reached the back. She had to dig down past a few other things and do a bit of searching, but she finally lifted her metal arm up triumphantly, an old plastic grocery bag in her grip.
I could see the stain-mottled black and white through the plastic. That was it alright.
I flashed her a thumbs up as she hopped back over the boxes and bags, holding the tux. She landed next to me after a final jump and straightened up. “Well. Here it is.” She raised her eyebrows as she handed it over, asking the unspoken question of what I wanted it for.
Not that I wanted to break any unspoken rules either. Maybe if I let her in on this classified thing, I’d end up siccing some creepy guys from “the organization” on her. And that wasn’t happening.
“Thanks.” I unknotted the handles, stepping back out of the room.
All there. Right down to the unused jacket and the bloodstained bowtie.
I studiously ignored the fact that Liza was still trying to follow and peek over my shoulder, turning out into the kitchen again. I got to the counter and dumped the heap of black and white clothing out on the slick surface, the buttons clicking together.
I hadn’t expected anything worn in those circumstances and then left alone for a year to really smell pretty, but these actually . . . didn’t smell like much of anything. Actually they smelled like . . . they smelled like laundry soap. I froze for a second. “Oh damn,” I muttered. “News put these through the wash, didn’t he?”
“You wanted to wear a year old, unwashed, bloody tuxedo?” Liza drawled, leaning up against the counter next to me and folding her arms. “Now I’m really curious about the occasion.”
“Shut up. I wasn’t gonna wear it,” I shot back, fumbling to find the pockets and check them, just in case.
I mean, under any other circumstances, News most definitely should have put these in the wash. But I had something in the pockets and . . . as good of a housekeeper as Baden was, that was his one weakness. He never checked anyone’s pockets before throwing the clothes in the wash.
Back pockets were empty. Left front pocket, nothing. Right front pocket . . . My fingertips caught against the warped, soft edges of something paper. It felt like a business card.
I pulled it out from the pocket, flipping it over in my hand and hoping to heaven it was still readable.
The ink was blurred together, especially around the edges. But I could make out two things still.
One, a name that looked like “Franklin” with an incomprehensibly smudged last name.
And two, a phone number, right in the middle of the paper. Still legible.
I didn’t remember putting it in my pocket. I didn’t know anyone named Franklin, and this seemed like the only possible way that agency could think about having me contact them.
In other words, I didn’t know a thing about it, so it fit right in with the rest of the pieces I had to this crazy puzzle.
Liza pushed off the counter, moving over next to me and getting a peek at the card before I shoved it back in my pocket.
“What’s that?” she asked, all joking tone gone out of her voice now, replaced with keen curiosity. “Who’s that a card for?”
I ran a hand over my hair and shook my head, then starting to stuff the tuxedo back in the bag. I didn’t answer her.
She leaned in closer. “I mean it, Wolfy. Who’s it from? How’d you know where it was?”
I shrugged noncommittally. “Just . . . I got a letter and needed to find it again.”
“Wolfy, you only wore that tuxedo once. And you told me yourself you barely even remember most of the time you were wearing it.” She propped her right hand on the counter with a clank and raised her eyebrows. “Why’d you come back for that card?”
We had a staredown for a few seconds.
“There was something that came up. Something referring back to last year that I wanted to . . . check on.” I raised my eyebrows back at her.
Liza tilted her head. “And what came up exactly?”
“A contact.” I pulled out the card again. “A reference back to this card and I needed it.”
“So who’s Franklin?” She pointed to the card.
“I’ll tell you as soon as I know,” I handed her the bag of clothes, slipped past and headed out towards the door.
“Wolfy, seriously . . .” Liza called out after.
I walked backwards for a few steps. “I’m fine. Nothing you need to worry about. Seriously.”
I turned around and jogged down one of the empty aisles towards the door, but skidded to a stop. News stood in the doorway.
He stopped in surprise as he saw me, then a grin broke across his face. “Well. Didn’t expect you to be moving in so soon.”
“I’m . . . I’m not. Just . . .” I started walking again, going to edge around him. I gave a forced smile. “Seeing that new heat proofing on Liza’s arm you told me about. Pretty cool.”
It didn’t hit me until after I’d made my escape that what I’d told Liza didn’t line up with what I’d just told News.
Well. They probably wouldn’t leave me alone very well about that.
I slid into my car and stuck in the keys, letting out my breath. The card trembled in my fingers a little and I stuck it back in my pocket.
I’d figure something out.
-dun- -dun- -DUN-
Well, come back next Thursday and we’ll have more. -fingergun-
Hope you guys enjoyed! Have a good day. ❤