Random


Chapter 10: So Many Shades

When I set out on my bike for a five-mile ride, I know that I'll come home with invaluable material I didn't have before. Which is also why I take a notebook and pen out every time I go dancing. -No Plot? No Problem!

 

When November fell, it was always dark early in the afternoon, and it had been dark for a long time whenever Tildeworth left the studio. She needed supplies. The vending machines tried, she reminded herself, but they just couldn't get the tea right.

She was still sifting through the letters. Her staff had been wonderful, but they'd been pushing themselves too far, and she'd had to remind them all to go home at a reasonable hour. It wasn't their fault, after all. She was the one who'd asked for them, and she'd had her wish granted. It was just taking time, that was all. So what? That was just what NaNoWriMo was all about, taking on big impossible tasks. It was just that other people's involved words, and hers involved... well, letters.

Hah. Letters. Everything was funny when you'd been working this long.

Well, at least she was doing something. Mr Ian Woon might try to convince his mother to listen more, but he was always so busy, and she still felt like the only Personification who was taking an interest in things. The worst thing about it all was the way they all seemed to be so nice about it. They didn't tell her to be quiet, just that they were sure she and her friends could handle it. And they could. It would just be nice not to... well, to be the youngest Personification sometimes.

But she'd been through the Business, and she could get through this too. She just needed supplies.

She headed back home to the apartment she shared with Sue. Its position was rarely stable, but at this moment in time the block had a wonderful view of the Midway Mountains. Maybe in December, they'd have a chance to sit down and enjoy it together.

The door was half jammed with adverts and fast food menus when she pushed it open and switched on the light. The whole place could really use a dusting and a vacuum, but then again, wasn't housework for December? Yes, yes it was, that was what she always told her viewers, and Tildeworth liked to think she lived by her own advice. She opened the kitchen door, and remembered there was no tea here.

"Blast," she said, and then her eye fell on the grinder and coffee sachets on the far shelf. She knew it was a dreadful thing for a Personification of NaNoWriMo to admit to, but Tildeworth had never been a coffee person. Tea was so much more subtle, more fitting her, but sometimes she would just have to make do. She felt a stab of guilt as she put away the grinder and sachets in her bag, but she'd buy more for Pilcrowe in December. The really expensive stuff, no junk.

More December promises. At least something was normal around here.

She tried the bedroom next. Most of it was taken up by a huge double bed, one side with rumpled and dishevelled sheets, the other as neat as a hotel room. She tried not to look at it as she opened the wardrobe and pulled down a tightly rolled sleeping bag. It never came out except for Camp sessions, and right now it was neatly packed enough to fit under her arm as she walked back to the station.

It was just like the old days, before they moved in together. She'd had a little place of her own then, but she'd spent much of her time at the station, getting used to the new place and new everything else, and composing bad love poetry to a beautiful detective from the local pub...

There just hadn't been so many emails to sift through in those days. But NaNoWriMo grew bigger every year, even without all this. She rubbed her eyes and sat down in her office again, the sleeping bag on the couch and the coffee and grinder on the desk amidst the framed photos of its owner. It didn't help the guilt very much, she had to admit.

Well, time to get moving. She opened the laptop, and scanned the wall of new emails. Her eyes began to unfocus...

-only to snap back again, when she heard a ringtone and opened the call.

She blinked. There was someone on her screen, but she was so tired that her eyes refused to focus on them. "Hello?"

"You look worse than me! What's wrong?"

Tildeworth blinked again, holding a hand over her eyes to shield them from the light. She still couldn't make out the caller's face, but that was now perfectly normal. "Mr Ian Woon? Is this important?"

"Not if you look like that! Hasn't anyone noticed?"

Tildeworth sat up a little straighter and pushed a few locks of unwashed hair from her face. "Everyone's been busy, myself included. Things will get back to normal. Now what was it you wanted? Did you get Marni to help?"

"Not particularly," said Mr Ian Woon, caving in despite the obvious reluctance in his voice. "But I thought, I've been in plenty of novels, and I've had a few brush ins with the Shovel - yes, I'm being careful, that's why I'm still here! - and I thought you'd like some of what I gathered..."


A weak sun cast its pallid light over a desolate plain. The wind howled and stirred up whirls of dust over the bones of fallen fantastic beasts. There was no water here, no life, no hope. Only distant jagged mountains, far upon the horizon, marked the end of this place of death and fear. To cross it would be a foolish trial, one for only the bravest and best prepared of souls.

On this day, the bleak lands rang out with the sound of distant voices, carried by the wind over an uncaring land.

"This is all your fault, you know."

"My fault? Might I remind you that I was the one to negotiate this?"

"Yes, and look where it got us!"

"If you want to go go chasing after a cold trail, so be it."

"I don't! I just... will you stop this?"

"Do you think I want to be here? They could have at least made sure the chains don't chafe."

"Yeah. You're right there."

Random craned her neck to look over her shoulder. It wasn't easy. Pilcrowe was chained up almost directly behind her, so all she could see was a blackened wooden stake and a bit of elbow and hair behind it. It was amazing, she thought, how much irritation could be conveyed by a few small body parts.

"We could strike a deal," said the detective. "No more dark fantasy."

"Good idea." Random gazed out over the desolate plain. "What would you do with a shovel around here anyway?"

"Rawnimoon was just as perplexed as you are."

A deep pit yawned before them, from which sulfurous fumes emitted, drifting in the wind. It glowed with the promise of a terrible fire deep, deep below. And now a dreadful growl rose from the depths, causing the very ground to shake and tremble.

"Dark Lord Rawnimoon, excuse me," Pilcrowe went on.

grooowwwwllll...

"...Dreaded Beast of the Pit, Scourge of All The Land, Spawn of the Stars and Master of The Terrible Void, yes. Look, the point is, he needs a sacrifice to maintain his dreaded power upon the land, and I need information. We both win."

"Yeah, I suppose there's another bright side to all this, too," said Random.

"And what would that be?"

"We've still got all our clothes on."

"That is true."

The wind screamed across jagged cliffs. Dust rose and fall, and a chill settled upon the land.

"Anyway, we'll probably get rescued," added Random.

They stood in silence, arms pilled above their heads, as they considered the possibility of two random drop-ins running into a convenient protagonist at just the right time. It didn't sound good. It wasn't that Random was afraid. Tildeworth had been very clear that the only dangerous way to die was via the Shovel, and those weren't a common sight in dark rituals. But at times like these, she was damn well going to hold onto the hope that there was a handy kid with a destiny wandering about.

Then again, maybe Pilcrowe was right. It was just business, after all.

She was still contemplating this when Pilcrowe's phone rang.

The stake jolted as Pilcrowe shifted, trying to look down at whatever pocket it was in. "Excuse me? I have a call. Can we pause for a moment?"

A rumble passed across the dark altar, and Random felt a click as Dark Lord Rawnimoon, Dreaded Beast of the Pit, Scourge of All The Land, Spawn of the Stars and Master of the Terrible Void agreed that it was probably an important phone call and it ought not to go to voicemail. Random rubbed a little life into her suddenly freed wrists as Pilcrowe answered.

There wasn't much to listen to on her end, just the odd "Yes?" and "Really?" and one "Okay, send it along," and so she was only half listening when Pilcrowe hung up and said, "Cedilla's sending a data sheet along. Says she can't make any sense of it except it's a co-ordinate trail, but she thinks you have a chance." She pointed to the shovel detector still slung around Random's neck. "She asks if you can... do science with that."

"What?"

"Her words, not mine."

Random studied the phone screen, the only bright light in this place, as Pilcrowe let her look at it. She saw lines and columns of numbers, and blinked, and with that intermediate motion, they suddenly made sense. "They're novels!" she said. "And really recent too! Look, these dates are from today! I bet if you and me worked together we could figure out the next-"

"Random."

"-novel it's going to! I bet we could even get there-"

"Random!"

"-before it hits! Hey Dark Lord Rawnimoon? Thanks for all the help, but-"

Grooooowwwwaaaaarrrrrrr! The ground shook, the skies darkened, the land itself a manifestation of wrath. Random looked up at Pilcrowe's nonchalant expression.

"I don't think he's very pleased about that," Random said.

"No, he is not."

"That's what you were trying to tell me about, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was."

"We should run, shouldn't we?"

"Yes, we should."

Random felt her feet move as if without any input from her thoughts. She backed up a few steps and ran, away from the shaking pit, in Pilcrowe's wake. "What do you think?" she yelled. "See any patterns?"

Pilcrowe's eyes never left her phone. "Let me think!"

The ground shuddered and cracked open, a fissure spreading between Random's feet. She leapt to one side to avoid falling into the red hot, faintly glowing depths, and hoisted the shovel detector into her hands, gazing down at the screen. "If I had a list of full co-ordinates I could run an analysis on the genre/style compatibility and reverse the flow of the stream so as to-"

"That doesn't even make any sense!"

"It doesn't need to!"

"Well say something that does! I'm trying to be clever here!" Pilcrowe's fingers were a blur over her phone screen as she scrolled, her feet dancing over the shaking ground as if by instinct. Random ran faster to catch up, keeping one eye on the display, stumbling over an uneven path. Down they ran, to a door nestled in the cliff face overlooking that desolate plain, a door cast in black iron and covered in symbols that twisted the eye to look too close. Boulders slammed to the ground far below as Pilcrowe pulled it open and ushered Random through before following and slamming it closed behind her.

They took a few deep breaths together, back in the calm and silence of the library, with the twisted mental door at their backs. Little motes of dust danced in calm sunlight.

"Romance," Pilcrowe said, eventually.

"No thanks," said Random.

"Ha ha. I mean the next novel. It's going to be in the romance genre. The pattern fits. Now if you did your reversing the thing with the thing-"

"That's not what I said."

"Then do the thing you did say."

Random was about to reply, but the floor began to tremble, and a few books slid from their shelves behind her, crashing to the floor in clouds of dust. She looked back at the door.

Neither of them needed to speak. They darted forward, as the door crashed open and a darkness as thick as ink flooded the library. Faint curling shapes, shadows of gaping tooth lined maws and bared claws, cast themselves upon the wall. Random felt the roar through her feet as much as she heard it, a deep, rumbling sound that reached into the depths of the mind and brought back thoughts of nameless, fanged terrors lurking in the dark.

She tried to focus on the screen. "You do realise that's a highly theoretical piece of science?"

"And we need it, so it's going to work!"

"If you say so!" She turned a corner, deeper into the library's book-lined passages, as her fingers tapped upon the screen. "Come on, please, come on..."

Ding

"Got it!" The screen showed a green tinted radar, and she turned again, Pilcrowe on her heels. The books here had a distinctly pink theme. "You were right!"

But there was no time to celebrate yet. As a bookshelf behind them, twice as tall as Pilcrowe, toppled over, spreading broken wood and books in an avalanche across the hall. "Keep going!" yelled Pilcrowe. "It doesn't matter!"

"What doesn't matter? What's that noise?" A crackling of white light resolved itself into the shape of a librarian, arms folded. "What have you done to my library?"

"No time to explain!" Random hurried past the angry librarian, as another shelf crashed to the ground and a roar shook the library's foundations. "We'll get you one later!"

Leaving the librarian behind, they ran on past pink lined bookshelves, as tendrils of shadow reached out. Random urged her legs to keep going, but she wasn't as fast as Pilcrowe, who was now several paces ahead and widening the gap every second. "That way!" Random pointed, to a door in the distance, a sleek glass affair with a pattern of chains etched across it. "Keep going!"

Pilcrowe reached the door first and opened it, revealing blue skies beyond, but Random was far behind and Dark Lord Rawnimoon, Dreaded Beast of the Pit, Scourge of All The Land, Spawn of the Stars and Master of the Terrible Void was gaining with every second. "I said keep going!" Random yelled, willing herself to go faster, faster, as fast as she could. The door was closer, closer, and Pilcrowe had vanished behind her. She could make it too, Only a little further. She'd worry about the exhaustion later...

A dark claw slammed into her back, the momentum propelling her forward, and she fell through the door as shards of glass rained down all around her.


Random opened her eyes, but there wasn't much to see, only darkness.

Let's see. There'd been the shovel detector, and something about a lead, hadn't there? Yes, a very fresh lead. Something else was happening too, something very important. What had it been again? She'd been asleep, hadn't she? That wasn't right. Supposed to be chasing the shovel, not going back to bed... no matter how good bed felt right now...

Come to think of it, though, this bed wasn't exactly comfortable. Sure, she'd had some interesting sleeping places over the last few days, but nothing that felt like... what was this? Plastic? She ran a hand over its surface, and found it to be slightly ridged and bumpy.

"Leather?" she murmured. "Who covers a bed with leather?"

She'd been asleep for a while. Her mouth was dry, her head felt as if it had been overstuffed with fluff. "Sue?" she whispered. There was no reply. "Sue?"

She rolled over. The shovel detector was gone.

Immediately she shot upright and fumbled in the dark. Her hands hit upon a bedside table (the top was softer than usual - more leather?) and a lamp. More fumbling, and it switched on, and she was left blinking in the light.

Whoever lived here, she thought, really liked the colours black and red. And leather, but that was a given already. It was someone's bedroom, though the impact was lessened by the fact that she still had all her clothes on and nobody else was there.

So what had happened to Pilcrowe, and what was she doing here?

She'd been investigating the last shovel leap after Tildeworth's tipoff. She knew that much. And she remembered going back to the library. The co-ordinates had been excellent this time around. If she'd had more time, she'd have grabbed the champagne, but not now. Leave it until December. Right, so there'd definitely been no alcohol involved here. Another good sign.

Whoever had taken the detector hadn't bothered to give her phone back. Not such a good sign.

And now the door knob was turning, and she could feel a familiar sensation of plot taking her hands and pulling her along. "Oh, no," she hissed. "Not now! Sue, if that's not you out there..."

It wasn't. Of course it wasn't. "Why, good morning," purred the newcomer. "Did you sleep well?"

"No."

He was a young man, immaculately dressed in a perfect crisp suit and a perfect tie, his hair slicked back, his pale blue eyes gazing down at her. She drew the lab coat closer around herself in response. "Oh, what a shame," he said. "Perhaps this was all a mistake after all..."

"Yeah, I think it was. What happened?" She got to her feet. "And don't give me any crap."

"Nothing happened, nothing at all! Only that you were there, with your beautiful fiery hair, and..."

"That line had better end with 'and I didn't do anything else apart from shut you in a room full of dead cows'," said Random. "And my hair is not beautiful."

"I didn't, but... but... oh, don't you get it?" The newcomer flung his hands in the air. "You're supposed to be madly in love with me! You mean you're not the girl who was meant to show up?"

"I'm a scientist. I'm investigating a murder." Oh. The genre had been romance, hadn't it? Crap. This was one of those early scenes, where the alleged love interest runs into the heroine late at night, and takes her home to stay overnight. Somewhere, the plots had become crossed.

"But you're supposed to be in love with me!"

"Somehow I can't bring myself to agree with that."

"Look, you don't get how this works," snapped the romance protagonist, hands on hips. "It's really simple. I'm a young, handsome billionaire with just enough psychological issues to make me both interesting and highly attractive. You're a young woman who doesn't know where she's going in life, but has stumbled upon me and can't believe I - young, handsome billionaire, remember? - would ever take a second glance at you. Now you're swept away on a raft of romance, unsure if-"

"I'm investigating a murder," said Random. "If you don't want it to be yours, shut up."

"Well there's no need to be like that. Okay, so you're not the girl who was meant to show up, but you wouldn't mind-"

"Murder, remember?"

"Oh, fine. But if you ever change your mind, young handsome billionaire, psychological issues, etc?"

"I'll keep it in mind, or rather I won't. Now, I came here with my colleague, and my detection equipment. I'd like to know where they both are, and you are going to escort me to the scene of the crime, understand?"

"Well, I'd love to," said the romance protagonist, "but I don't know of any crimes around here."

"You don't know anything about the Travelling Shovel of Death?"

"I know exactly what is it, but there's no way it would be here. This is a romance novel!"

After a few more pushes from Random, insisting that if he didn't want to be starring in a crime novel instead he had better get a move on, Random finally pushed past him and into the hallway, only to be greeted by plush carpets and geometric chandeliers. Well, he hadn't been lying about the billionaire part at least. "Come on," she said. "We're going to find them."

If the romance protagonist did know where Pilcrowe and the detector were, he was hiding it well. Random didn't trust him not to be. He probably thought withholding vital information about someone's friends and vital scientific equipment was romantic or something.

Out of the ground floor of what turned out to be a glittering skyscraper (what was this, his office slash weekday place?) they stepped into a shining city. Random's first thought was that it contained altogether way too many shoe shops.

Now, what would Pilcrowe do in a situation like this? Take one look at Mr Romance Protagonist and work out exactly what he was up to, no doubt. Okay, then what?

"Listen, why don't we go back inside?" he said, drawing closer. "I don't know of any murders, but sooner or later one of us-"

"Get out!"

Random had barely enough time to look up before she felt a lurch of joy. A familiar figure in a tan coat was running toward her, shovel detector under her arm. "Don't need to tell me!" she called back, but Pilcrowe kept going, and snatched at her arm, pulling her away and off her feet. "Hey, what-"

A shovel shaped shadow blotted out the sun for the tiniest fraction of a second.

There was a terrible crunching noise.

Random got to her feet, and looked down at what remained of Mr Romance Protagonist. "I did not see that coming."

"Neither, I believe, did he. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I- hey! I'm missing some important scientific data here!" She snatched up the detector, heaved it back into its rightful place, and tapped the screen as fast as she could to calibrate it. She caught a glimpse of black metal by the corpse, but it was gone the instant she laid eyes on it. No matter, the trail would tell her where. She held it out over the late protagonist, circling his body.

"No, are you okay?" said Pilcrowe. "He didn't hurt you?"

"No, just shoved me in a room with some rubbish upholstery. Think he had me confused for his love interest. Agh, wait a minute here." She tapped a few buttons on the screen, plugged in a few more commands, and, for good measure, whacked the whole thing on the side with her fist. "Important scientific data, hello? Wake up and give me some?" But no matter what she did, the screen remained blank.

Pilcrowe was staring up at the sky, into the spot where the shovel had fallen from.

"I don't think you're going to find your answers there," she said, and one look told Random this wasn't about a simple disdain for forensic methods.

"What do you mean?"

"You've got your powers, doing your... scientist science, there." Pilcrowe waved a hand in Random's direction. "I have them too, remember? And right now, I'm using them. Give me a moment, and meet me in that corpse's office."


Random knew Pilcrowe was planning something, so she gave her some time to prepare before she went back inside. She had something planned, she was sure of it, but she kept scanning the corpse, hoping for any hint of a signal. The trace must be too high, she decided. It must be overloading the instruments.

She detached the phone and sat down on an ornate bench, overlooking a fountain in the shape of two swans spewing water, which to her eyes was a very gross misrepresentation of biology indeed. Stupid businessmen. They just didn't care. She took her mind off it and whatever it was that Pilcrowe was up to in there by typing out some altered code on the phone. She let her instincts guide her. Just a few added commands, a patch to help the machine handle the influx of data it must no doubt be handling. It had taken the last jump here well, but perhaps now she'd hit the threshold.

The code finished, she slotted it back into the machine, and fired it up. The spinning graphics came back to life, and she smiled. She loved the spinning graphics. She had no idea what they were, but that didn't matter one bit.

She approached the corpse. His eyes were wide open, staring blankly at the sky. He looked surprised, which probably made sense. Protagonists, when they did die, rarely had to list their cause of death as "inexplicable falling gardening equipment." She might have found it in her to feel sorry for him, if it wasn't for everything else.

She scanned the body. The Shovel was long gone, but she could see the cracked stone where it had landed, and the shattered shoulder on the former protagonist. If only she'd had more time to look! But if not for Pilcrowe, she might be the one lying there, and she was well aware of it.

She held her breath as the scanner whirred and chirped, and the first lines of data began to scroll over the screen...

There was no ding.

"Oh, Baty, why now?" she hissed.

There was nothing for it. Time to see what Pilcrowe had cooked up.

She stepped back inside into a marble floored lobby. The last time she'd been through here, she'd been too busy arguing with the deceased to pay any attention. Now she could see the whole place in all its glory - desks, more fountains, and impossibly green plants in neat little rows. There was nobody here. The story's influence had gone, but perhaps it didn't care about little details such as staff when there was a steamy and allegedly romantic tale to tell. The marble floor shone, almost mirroring her as she passed over it. It seemed designed to cause anyone wearing heels to skid and trip in some sort of cute and clumsy way, but Random was wearing perfectly sensible shoes and strode over it with no trouble at all.

Now, where would someone like this keep his office? Probably on the same floor as the World of Leather Show Room. There was a lift at the far end, so she gave it a try. The door slid open to reveal the same plush, red velvet lined interior that she'd seen earlier. She pressed the number for the floor she remembered last time, and the doors slid shut with no sound at all.

She went back to fiddling with the detector code as the lift rose. She was missing something here, something that she'd never thought of before. There was a piece to this whole puzzle that she'd never considered, and if she could only just consider it, then she'd be on the right track. It would help an awful lot if she knew what I was.

But that was what being a scientist was all about, wasn't it? Not knowing, but not caring, because there was always room to find out the answer.

Come to think of it, that was probably what being a detective was all about, too.

The lift came to a graceful halt, and the doors slid back open. Random recognised the floor as soon as she stepped out. Broad corridors, lit by warm mood lights, stretched out before her. Where would Mr Protagonist's office be? Probably at the end of the fanciest one.

She was proven right when she followed the broadest passage, lined with more impossibly green pot plants, to a pair of tall double doors, and pushed them open.

Inside she found a long office room, tiled with marble like the lobby, half its floor covered by a clearly expensive woven rug. Random ground a little dirt from her shoes into it, just because.

She had never seen a desk as big as the one at the end of the room before, made of the same deep coloured wood and inlaid with more marble, its surface topped with, surprise, more leather, although this time it was a rather more tasteful deep green colour. A high backed chair behind it had its back turned to her, and beyond that, a set of tall French windows led onto a broad balcony with a prime view of the glittering city and the shore beyond.

There was also a small mobile blackboard sitting next to the desk, and as Random watched, a familiar dark hand appeared from behind the chair, a slim piece of chalk held elegantly in slim fingers.

"I suppose you're wondering why I called you to this ridiculously opulent office." Said Pilcrowe, as the chair spun slowly around to reveal her sitting in it. Points for style, Random had to admit.

"Yeah," she said. "I mean no, not really, because you're probably going to tell me what's going on, I just don't know what's going on. So yeah, I'm wondering about that. Hey, that's a really cool chair. Can I have a go on it?"

"Suit yourself. I'm done with it now." Pilcrowe stood upright and went to stand by the blackboard. "Sit yourself down and listen."

Random sank into the chair, feeling it curve around her spine in just the right ways. "Mmm. This, I like. Okay, I'm listening." She set the detector down on the expensive leather topped table. It made a quite satisfying dent.

"Good," Pilcrowe said. "Now I've gathered you... I realise there's only two of us here now, but just go with me here... to tell you that I know where the shovel just went. More so, I know why you can't track it."

She strode over to the blackboard. "One. Bagels," She wrote BAGELS in big letters over the top.

"Bagels?"

"Yes, bagels. This is why you pay attention to things. Think back to Fred the Pirate and his ninja friends. And then don't, because you weren't very productive that day, I have to admit."

Random shrugged. She had a point. There's very little productivity to be had in throwing your lunch overboard. Or any other meal, come to think of it.

"Around the scene of the crime, there were some very distinct crumbs, do you remember? Now I don't think anyone would be eating a packed lunch in the middle of a fight between pirates and ninjas."

"Of course not," said Random. "They'd save that for later."

"Exactly! And when I took a closer look at those crumbs, I found out that they were bagel crumbs."

"Pirates don't eat bagels."

"Exactly. Fred the Pirate himself told me he was not that anachronistic. Question - what would bagel crumbs be doing on a pirate ship? Answer - I don't know. Or I didn't."

She turned back to the board, and wrote PIGS.

"Pigs?" Random said, swinging the chair back and forth.

"In the second novel we visited, you wanted a bacon sandwich. You couldn't get one. The protagonist helpfully reminded you that in that setting, pigs were extinct."

"Are you saying the Shovel is being co-ordinated by some sort of pig mafia?"

"Nothing so ridiculous."

"Would make a great story, though."

"Maybe, but that is beside the point. Now on my investigation around the second crime scene, I found several short black hairs on the ground, coated in a slick substance. A form of hair gel, I believe, and quite a distinct brand. As a scientist, I assume you are familiar with some of the ingredients that go into cosmetic products."

A flash of thought, unbidden, from the depths of her story granted knowledge. "Pig proteins."

"Precisely. The gel in question was of a brand that used these exact ingredients, and therefore could not have originated within that novel. Furthermore, it was a specific brand of which I have some familiarity with."

She walked in a circle around the blackboard, hands clasped behind her back, still holding the chalk like a half burned cigarette. "At this point, the pieces were starting to fall into place. But I couldn't be sure, not yet. I hoped I had more to find, but it led me onward. Only today did I find the last piece of evidence. It is outside. Outside here."

Random swung the chair around so that she was facing the balcony. "Out there?"

"Yes. When I saw the shovel fall toward you, that was when I knew what was happening. The trajectory was aimed right at you and your unfortunate companion."

"You saved my life." Random stared over the balcony. Behind her, she could hear the chalk scratch over the board again. She turned her head to look. TRAJECTORY.

"I did, but thank me later, this is important. "I saw it all, then, when it fell. The path it took through the air, the precise speed it fell at. It could only have fallen from that balcony, over there. Question - why is this significant?"

"Someone threw it from out there?" Random snatched up the detector. "What are we sitting here for then? We should be-"

"Question - what gives me nightmares?" Pilcrowe stood with the chalk in hand like an irate schoolteacher. "Answer - you sometimes. But no, no, that's a reasonable thing to ask. I asked myself too, I looked, don't you think I looked!" She held out her hands. "There was nobody there on that balcony. But that's not the problem. There probably doesn't need to be anyone there. The Shovel's been attacking of its own free will lately. Assuming it has one. No, it didn't need to be thrown. But that's not what I'm worried about. What caught my mind was that I'd seen this all before. The exact trajectory. The exact drop from the exact same height. This. Exact. Murder."

With one last flourish, she drew a wide circle over the three words. "This was a murder that I investigated before, a long time ago. It's come back. I think whoever is behind this wanted me to notice."

She laid the chalk down. "The reason why you can't track the Shovel from this point is that it's gone somewhere your little beeping machine was never meant to track! You ever get the feeling that you're missing something? You see what you missed?"

"I have a feeling you're about to tell me."

Pilcrowe rested her hands on the desk's edge. "The Shovel has gone to a novel that was never completed. It was written, and abandoned, a long time ago."

She took a deep breath. "It's my novel."