The Bahsin twins and Officer Jack Sallow uncover new, vital information that could bring a whole new light.
“Hey! I’m running this case!” Jack was pushed out in front of the auto, trying to turn to the Defender holding a literal weapon to his head.
“Who are you?” The older officer who’d dragged Clive out frowned.
Ivy’s hands dropped, and Clive prepared to throw himself. Before anyone could react, she ripped the pin off of Jack’s jacket. “Officer Jackson Sallow,” she said, holding it out the officer.
Clive mouthed her to stay still, but she ignored him.
The Officer took the pin. “Oh, right, the kid.”
Jack forced a smile and shrugged. “Are we good now?”
“You might be running this operation, but you aren’t executing it. Proper clearance must be given—“
Clive whipped around to see a small girl bounding down the large driveway. She was young, maybe seven by the looks over it, with two braids hardly containing her dark brown curls and pink glasses bouncing on her nose, and the most bright and dazzling green eyes he’d ever seen. “Don’t touch him, Officer!”
She tore fearlessly through the Defenders, and threw herself into Jack’s arms, his face going blank. “Silvia, what are you doing?”
The little girl turned around fearlessly to what Clive assumed was the head of the Alvarez Manor security part of this whole mess of an investigation. “This is my uncle, Jack,” she said, with full confidence as she took the Officer’s hand. “And that is my best friend, Sparky.”
She grabbed Clive’s arm, pulling it down to hold his hand.
Ivy smothered a laugh.
Now it was Clive’s turn to ignore her.
The officer gave her a skeptical look.
“I invited them,” she said, batting her eyes. “Please don’t turn them away.”
A boy had burst from the doors, his face red from running, and most likely from the stuffy suit he was wearing. His blazing red hair was untamed in short cut curls, freckles dominating his face, though they looked like they had been artificially tamed with a sort of makeup.
He didn’t stop running till he was at the little girl's side, loosening his color as he attempted to breathe.
“These are my friends! Right Kyllian?” Sylvia cast him a big smile.
The boy, seeming to be the younger girl’s servant of some sort, looked up bewildered to Jack, his face forehead scrunching with recognition, before his glance switched to Clive, then to Ivy, who gave him a kind smile, holding his gaze.
“Yes,” he said, once he seemed to have gathered his breath. “Mistress Syvlia’s friends.”
The Officer raised an eyebrow. “This is a crime-”
“Yeah,” Sylvia snapped. “It’s also my house.”
Kyllian deadpanned the Officer, shaking his head. He was a good foot shorter, but had no fear stepping in front of his charge. “Sir, it’s really not worth fighting with her.”
The Officer grumbled something under his breath. “You’re responsible,” he said, pointing to Kyllian, making his fist bump against his chest. “If anything goes wrong.”
Kyllian didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. “Yes, sir,” he said, with a nod.
The Officer stepped back, watching them with hard eyes. Clive held back a relieved sigh as Sylvia pulled him and Jack along. Clive now got a full view of the house. It was enormous, but he expected no less from a man of Alvarez’s esteem. It had enormous white pillars, carved out to unfamiliar swirls tha held up the roof. Enormous windows lined the first floor. Clive’s eyes stopped, seeing a multiple of them shattered. Defenders’ autos and Officers stood guard of it, planks of wood being applied by bots to cover the gaping hole...but not enough to hide the glaring scorch marks.
They rushed up the steps of the porch and burst through the doors.
A huge chandelier that put the one at the apartments to shame. A staircase with a cold railing. Bookcases full of ancient-looking books.
Kyllian shut the door, immediately spinning on them, his entire freckles face red.
“What is Jackson doing here and who the he-”
“They can explain,” Sylvia said, taking a step back with a small smile.
“I’m Ivy, and this is my brother Clive,” Ivy said. “We’re here to investigate.”
Clive wanted to groan at how stupid she made that sound.
“You’re detectives?” Sylvia’s dazzling eyes grew wide.
“No.” Clive shook his head at her.
“We’re here to help. They offered, and I thought it’d be worth the chance,” Jack said, smiling to Kyllian who didn’t return it.
“We’ve had flocks of people show up,” Kyllian said, crossing his arms. “All for that silly reward Mrs. Alvarez put out. They all think they can—” He stopped himself, his eyes falling to Silvia.
“Yes! Fix the hole! Aunt says a pipe busted,” Sylvia said, proudly.
Kyllian’s eyes fell away.
Clive’s eyes widened, meeting with his sister’s with the same realization. The girl didn’t know. He swallowed hard.
“Yeah, Detective ... mechanics,” he said, sealing the empty silence.
“Who is this? Jackson?”
All five of them whirled around to a woman, her skin brown and hair swept up in a messy bun that didn’t match her icily assembled attire, standing on the steps, her face blank, her lips, which were painted red, open in a gasp.
“Auntie, look it’s Uncle, and these are the Detective Mechanics!” Sylvia exclaimed. “Ivy and Clive!’
The woman’s face twisted, pressing her lips together, a scowl beginning to vibrate her brow. Clive stepped forward. “We’re here to help,” he said, the word falling out before he could think of something better.
“Everyone’s here to help,” she said, cautiously stepping down with a scoff.
“Not a word from you, Isaias!”
Clive frowned at Jack, who didn’t notice his look. The Officer quickly stepped toward his sister. “I know this has been distressing for you, but I promise I have this—”
Sylvia grabbed Clive. “But, Jack, he’s a Detective Mechanic. Auntie doesn’t need to be distressed anymore.”
Clive didn’t have the heart to crush her hopes right then, but he also wasn’t exactly thrilled when Candela’s glare settled on him. “Kyllian,” she said, summoning the red-head forward. “Take Sylvia to her room.”
Sylvia groaned. “But Auntie, I just met them!”
“They’ll play another time.”
Clive wasn’t sure of that.
Sylvia pouted, turning to Clive. “I’ll see you later, and we can make flower crowns,” she whispered before running off with Kyllian, who didn’t give them a second look.
“You aren’t any different from every other street boy who’s come barreling in here. I have no idea why my brother is pitying you,” she said, her voice heightening. “I’m sorry you’re in a poor financial state. I’m sorry you’re too lazy to just get a job, child, and get out of this mess.”
Clive felt his face heat.
Keep your cool.
“Candela, I know Horacio’s disappearance is stressful, but hear me out,” Jack stepped forward his sister.
“Hear you out? What do you know of hardship, Isaias?” She stepped forward, and Jack staggered back, his expression faltering. He clenched his fists.
“Don’t lecture me in my own home,” she snapped, watching her brother flinch. Her eyes darted to Ivy. “Perhaps running back home to Mama would be better than consulting a few street scum you picked up on your way here, that seem to hardly be able to put themselves together enough to even hide—”
“No!” Clive snapped, stepping in front of his sister.
His voice echoed through the room. Jack and Candela froze.
He cursed himself. Was he stupid? The grievous woman looked about ready to kill him. Heck, she was probably at any moment going to scream for one of the Officers standing around.
“No?” Her brow quirked.
Jack’s eyes darted from Candela to Clive.
Clive held his face firm. “Ma’am. We’ve been outside for two days,” he said, praying she’d understand. “We’re from the OHS, and oh boy, I know hardship if that’s what you want. And that’s my sister you’re insulting without even having spoken to her.” He stepped to reveal Ivy, her face stricken. He placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “She’s the one who wanted to get Alvarez back.”
Ivy nodded. “I spoke to him last. We both are interested in Wraith Weed.”
Clive was about to scramble to cover his sister’s odd quip of information when Candela’s eyes widened. Clive couldn’t read the solemn expression that had rested on the woman’s face, as her eyes darted to Jack, who shifted closer to the two of them. She muttered the plant’s name under her breath, as she stepped forward, her eyes intent on Ivy.
“Was Alvarez a friend of yours?” Ivy said.
“I am Mrs. Alvarez,” the woman muttered through her teeth, with impatient agitation.
Ivy nodded politely. “I am very sorry.”
“I am sure you are. And now why does my little brother want me to entrust my reputation, my family, and my husband's life to two orphans with two days on their own?”
Geez. It’s been two days since our birthday. Maybe consider it a gift? This is why Clive left the talking to Ivy.
“Because we might be your only hope,” Ivy said. “We have a fresh view on the world. We could-”
“We’re observant,” Clive said.
“Ivy is very knowledgeable on botany, which I know Horacio had an interest in,” Jack stepped in quickly.
“Clive writes,” Ivy blurted out.
The doors behind them flew open with a bang. Clive scrambled out of the way. The main security Officer marched in. “Sallow!”
“You’re needed,” he grumbled.
Jack’s face lit up for a moment before a man was thrown at his feet. Clive staggered back as Candela stifled a cry.
“We found this man lurking on the premises,” a Defender said, stepping in the doorway, his hand on his weapon in his belt.
The man pushed himself up, breathing heavily, looking around the group with startled eyes...one of which was bruised. His hair had a gold tint to it...a style Clive didn’t think was popular.
“Interrogate him. Immediately,” Candela cried, now behind her brother, her face firm at the man whose hands were being locked in the magnetic cuffs behind his back.
“We can’t. We don’t have a lie detector. Unless you still have your scribe and digital recorder on you, we have to send him back to the base for the night,” Jack said.
“Do it now,” Candela demanded, her breathing heavy. “Before he has a chance to catch his breath...and let me get a—”
Jack grabbed his sister and pulled her back.
“The household scribe was killed during the blast,” the main Defender said.
Clive's eyes darted between the man staring at the voice muzzle hovering seconds from his face and Mrs. Alvarez, ready to shred Jack to bits.
“I can scribe!”
“What?” Jack said, with a frown.
“He’ll do!” Candela shoved Jack off of her. The Officer stared at her bewildered, exchanging a glance with Ivy. “Prepare a room!”
“Yes ma’am.” The man was hauled off, and Jack ran after them.
Candela spun on Clive, her fists firm in the folds of her skirt. “Impressive, boy. Stay smart and perhaps you will have a chance. You don’t want to see me vengeful.”
Clive spun the stylus in his fingers, letting the tip hit the tablet with a satisfying thud.
The room was large, and mostly empty, the walls still half painted, construction bots powered off in the corner. A grand piano sat in the corner by a large window, its cover fallen off to the concrete floor.
A few hover stools had been set into the room, and Clive was trying not to be distracted by the fascinating device that seemed to know exactly how he liked to sit and move. Which was preferable with his legs crossed, back straight, and head low enough to where he only had to move his eyes slightly between his subject and the screen.
Ivy was given permission to sit in the back, and to Clive’s surprise, hadn’t immediately started rocking back and forth in her hoverstool, and drooling over it in excitement. She sat hunched, her eyes firm on the man whose cuffs were stuck to his seat, and his eyes darting everywhere but anyone’s face. Two Defenders stood at his side, one with a recorder to be analyzed for lie detection later, and Clive in front of him to make sure the record was correct in case of destruction. And then there was Jack, who couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off his sister for more than a few moments.
Clive couldn’t blame the Officer; Candela looked like she would tear someone to bits as she stood firm in the doorway.
So far, they hadn’t gotten the man’s name, which didn’t prove to be too vital since they’d already taken a blood sample to identify his file. He didn’t look over twenty.
“Where are you from?” Jack asked. His voice was too gentle, and Clive was sure that’s why they were twenty minutes in and hadn’t received one valuable takeaway. He didn’t comment, just scribbled away on the tablet.
The man’s face hardened, glancing to the still unused taser in one of the guard’s hands.
“The faster we get this done, the faster we can prove your innocence.” Jack took a step closer.
“I came from the university,” the man spat out quickly, squirming as Jack moved in closer.
“How long have you been on the premises?”
Jack held the man’s gaze for a long moment until it fell. “Since yesterday evening.”
Candela scoffed. “Only a few hours short of the attack on Horacio. He’s lying, Isaias!”
What reason did the man have to lie by a few hours?
Whatever soothing Jack had done was immediately erased, as the man stiffened to Candela’s voice.
“Who sent you?”
“A professor,” he answered shortly.
“I don’t know his real name. I-I did it for some cash.”
“Answer nice, and we’ll pay you better,” Jack said, with a smirk, sitting down on a hover chair, his eyes now level with the man’s. “What were you sent for?”
A long moment of silence as the man stared at the floor below him, biting his chapped lip in long thought. “Information. He thought maybe with the disappearance of Alvarez, I could get answers from his colleagues.”
“His university group hasn’t gathered here in over a year,” Candela said. “Whoever your provider is is a bit late on the times...or you’re lying.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Candela.” Jack shook his head and turned back. “What kind of information?”
“He didn’t give me much details. He gave me a drive of questions I was to review, but—” the man’s face flushed. “I lost it.”
Clive tried to keep his face cool. He’d what? If the jobs were that easy, Clive might as well go into it if this was their standard of messenger.
“How?” Jack said. “Doesn’t have anything to do with the eye, does it?”
The man blinked, as if he’d forgotten already about the swelling back eye. “I don’t remember. I just woke up here this morning, saw the drive was gone, and hid. I can’t go back empty handed. I can’t.”
“It’s alright,” Jack said. “We just need to know if you know anything about what he was looking for.”
They thought for a moment. “He did mention something about weeds.”
“Wraith Weed?” Ivy jumped from her seat in the back. “That was the last thing I talked to Alvarez about.”
“It’s a coincidence,” Candela said quickly. “He adores that silly plant and every fairytale about it. It’s no surprise he talks about it.”
“Apparently this information was urgent to him.” The man sat up more comfortably. “And it had to be from Alvarez for some sort of...thing.”
“You really couldn’t have listened better?” Clive grumbled, copying down the man’s words.
Jack sat back in his seat, running his hand through his brown curls. He finally let out a sigh and got to his feet. “Thank you. You’ll be debriefed at the base. If your story checks out, you’ll be paid.”
“It will,” the man insisted as he was taken from his seat. “And I only need enough for a SpeedRail ticket. I’m getting out of this place.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Maybe you’ll find out.”
The voice muffler clipped to his chin activated, clamping his jaw shut, the two Defenders grabbing hold of his shoulders and jerking him to his feet and out the door.
“You got everything?” Jack said, spinning in his stool to face Clive.
“Of course I do,” he scoffed. “You expected me to be behind?”
“Just checking.” The Defender took the tablet from Clive, tucking it with the recording device into his bag. Clive brushed himself off, breathing off the nerves that trembled to his fingertips.
Ivy stood, her chin in her fist and eyes at the floor. “Why Wraith Weed? Why did Alvarez prefer it so much? And why is he the source they’re going for? Many others studied it.”
“I don’t know, but I want it to stop,” Candela said. “And you are going to make it happen.”
Clive blinked. “Wait..Ivy?”
“All of you. So far, this is the most progress we’ve made.” Candela wiped her sweaty palms onto her skirt as she moved slowly into the empty room, her gaze drifting out the window that surveyed the grey sky behind the busy Sycamore city. “I don’t care if it takes a bunch of strange children. I want my husband brought home, and whatever information they think he had found.”
Ivy nodded, and Clive could tell it was taking effort for Ivy to hide an excited smile behind her sympathy. The fact she hadn’t burst out in attempted Wraith Weed encouragement facts was astonishing. “I have ideas where to start.”
“Good,” Candela said. “Besides, you’re already required to come back?”
“They are?” Jack frowned.
“Sylvia will be expecting her friends.” Candela smiled over her shoulder through her swollen eyes. “And our new scribe’s shifts start in the morning.”