Chapter 11: Try Science
It's a speed bump, not a brick wall. -No Plot? No Problem!
Random stared back into wide, dark brown eyes, focused through thick rimmed glasses. Pilcrowe gripped the desk so tight that her normally warm brown knuckles turned pale. "You were in a novel," Random said. "Like me?"
"No, not like you. You chose to leave, for some stupid reason!"
"Stupid reason? I'm trying to find my friend here! Why didn't you tell me there was something going on?" Random hugged the shovel detector close to her chest.
"You don't know how this works, do you? You have to gather the evidence first and put it all together. What kind of idiot detective brings everyone together at the end and says 'I've called you all here because I have a hunch about who did it but nothing to confirm it?' You're a scientist! You should know about proper results!"
"I know, but..."
"You have no idea!" Pilcrowe snapped back to her full height, and slammed her fist on the desk so hard it shook.
"What do you mean, no idea?" Random held the detector closer. "I came to find you, I walked out of everything I had... I lost my friend! You can call me whatever type of idiot you want but don't you dare... don't you dare tell me I don't know anything here. Not once. Have you got that? Not once!"
"Then why did you hire me?"
"Good question! Want to know?" Random got out of her seat and slung the detector back over her shoulder. "I was this close to leaving you on the first day. I thought you didn't care. But then that girlfriend of yours had to call and get me, and she asked me to give you a chance. And you know what? I listened. I don't know what it is she sees in you, or ever saw in you, but she asked me to give you a chance so I did, because she was so damn nice! Well, I tried, and you can just.. you can just stop all of this right now, because I'm taking my stuff and I'm going to find Neo myself." She was shaking by the time she reached the end, and a hot, prickling sensation rose behind her ears. "He's... he's gone, don't you remember?"
She didn't want to sink back into the chair and hold her face in her hands, but her body overcame her. A hand came to rest, tentative and fleeting, on her shoulder.
"Don't you touch me!" Random snapped, muffled through her fingers. "Don't you dare touch me! He's gone, don't you remember? And for a while I thought it was this big adventure but then..." Her voice trailed away into muffled and broken sobs, her hands wet with tears.
She didn't say anything.
"One last run, and then it's all over," said Pilcrowe. "We're going to-"
Briiing went Pilcrowe's phone.
"Oh not now, not now!" Through her quiet cries, Random heard Pilcrowe take the call anyway. "S. C. Pilcrowe?"
"Oh dear," said Tildeworth's voice, all tinny through the phone speakers. "Am I interrupting something?"
"No, I mean... I don't know..." Pilcrowe went on. Random didn't move, didn't look up. "Listen, I think I'm in the middle of something but... it's a thing. Can I talk to you?"
Their voices grew quieter as Pilcrowe's footsteps diminished. In the distance, the door swung open and closed.
Random still didn't look up.
Pilcrowe paced back and forth in the corridor outside the plush office, dislodging a couple of perfect potted plants as she went. "I can talk now."
"Sue? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, everything's perfect, what else would it be? We're doing well. Found the last link. Tied up the origin of the shovel murders in one neat wrapper and now we're off!"
"Normally I'd say that would be cause for celebration, but I'm not sure you're telling me the full story here."
Pilcrowe stopped in her pacing, let out a wordless cry of frustration, and stared down at the screen, where her Cedilla looked up from the phone's display. "Things became a little complicated."
She looked again. She couldn't help it. Every day, every night, she was watching, observing, finding all the little cues that most people kept missing out on all the time. But it didn't take her senses to see what had happened to Tildeworth. Dark circles ran under her eyes, only part obscured by the glasses that Pilcrowe was sure she didn't need. Usually she wore them to look smart, but now, she couldn't help feeling she was trying to cover up. "Dear Chris Baty," she whispered, "what happened to you?"
"An awful lot of letters, and a show that must go on," said Tildeworth. "Enough about me, what about you?"
"What do you mean, what about me? What about you? Have you been sleeping?"
"Dear Susan, it's always hard to sleep without you there. But that's not the point. Look, I'm sleeping on the couch in my office these days anyway-"
"Oh don't worry, it's very comfortable..."
"No, no, no!" Pilcrowe started pacing again, posing a potent threat to the remaining plants. "This isn't right, I've got to get back there now! I've done everything I can here..."
"You've found it, then?"
"Yes. In a manner of speaking."
"Meaning... meaning yes, I've found where the trail leads. Meaning I had my suspicions there for a while. I didn't say anything, how could I? I didn't have all the pieces in place yet. And I... Baty, I didn't want to tell her! I didn't want it to be true! I mean, of all the places that damn spade could have come from!" Holding the phone in one hand, she leaned against the wall and rubbed her forehead.
"You know, don't you?"
"Yes..." Tildeworth said "I think I do. As I once said, I'm not a detective, but I'm close to someone who is. Very close."
"Cedilla..." Pilcrowe pulled off her glasses and wiped her brow. "I don't know if I can do this."
"You shouldn't have to go there."
"Oh, I wish." She held her free hand over the screen. She wished so many things right now. She wished that the screen wasn't there, that she could run her hands through Tildeworth's hair and forget everything else. But what was it they said about wanting things not making them real? "I have to," she said. "I promised her. Or, I was going to promise her, and then she threw me out of the room, and then you called anyway, so I didn't get to say it. But I meant it. I'd promised her in my head."
"Wait, threw you out? What did you do?"
"Nothing! I mean... I might have called her an idiot and told her she didn't know anything and then she started crying-"
"Sue, I really don't want to say this while you're going through so much yourself... Baty, not when you're going through this of all things, I almost understand you here, but I think it would be a nice idea if maybe you went back in there and said sorry?"
"Then do it. And.. I can't believe I'm saying this, I don't want you to go, but... you have to go through with this. Go there, find out what's happening. You owe her now. And if... if there's any way I can still reach you, while you're in there, I'll do it. I'll call you over and over, you remember that?"
"I will." She'd never doubt that, not for one moment.
"And... and I love you, and stay safe. Both of you. Please."
The door swung open. At the end of the room, Random looked up, brushing tangled red curls away from her face. "What do you want now?"
"I've just been on the phone. To Cedilla."
Random glared down the length of the office.
"Got a little personal in there. Told her what we'd found." Pilcrowe stood in the open doorway, hands shoved into her suit pockets, tan coat swept back behind her. "And she thinks I ought to say sorry to you. And well... I think I should say sorry to you as well. So. Um. Sorry."
The glare softened a little.
"Look, if you wanted fancy words, I'm not the person to give them. I wish I was. But I... I promised you I was going to find your friend. And you can say what you want about me. Don't mind. Probably asked for it, what with everything I did there. But I did promise you and well, last thing I want anyone saying is that I don't follow through on a promise. You can go where you want. But I'm... I'm going back to my novel. I'm going to find your friend."
"You told me I didn't know anything."
"I was wrong. There's a lot you know. Maybe things I could stand to know too."
"I'm still not forgiving you," said Random. She was sitting up straight now, hands folded over the desk around the detector. "Not now. Maybe not ever."
"But... okay. You and me, let's go. I've got nothing here, we may as well go for it, yeah?"
"And... you're a jerk, Pilcrowe. You're an utter arsehole. But anything happens to you, we're working together, I owe you for this one. So anything that happens, I'll be there and I'll get you out. Provided it's not all your fault and you deserve it. I can't make any promises about that."
"I know. Same for you. Apart from the bad parts. You've... you've never done anything to make me think those apply to you."
"Damn right I haven't. You okay to go now?"
I'll never be okay, Pilcrowe thought. "Yes."
"You know the drill," said Pilcrowe, holding out her phone so that the librarian could see. "Take us here."
The librarian's glowing face pulled itself into a frown as he studied the screen. "I'm sorry, I don't think we have that novel on file."
"You do. Look again."
"Now, I'd love to help you," said the librarian, "because after all it's not as if I've been doing anything else all month, except from clear up after tentacled monstrosities..."
"And we're very grateful," said Pilcrowe. She was probably being honest, Random thought. Pilcrowe was nothing if not honest, at least most of the time. The gritted teeth and strained voice were probably because she was out of practice. That was all. Probably.
"But that novel doesn't exist!" protested the librarian. "You're asking me too much! I simply cannot work under these conditions!"
"It does exist. It was never finished. Take us there."
"That is against regulations!"
"Listen," said Pilcrowe. "I'm not feeling at my best today, but I'm making an effort to be nicer to people. So I'll offer you a choice. Either you take us to this novel that is written so plainly on my screen, or my client here, who I might add is a very talented scientist, will personally rewire your circuits until you do. Take your time."
"Right this way," said the librarian.
He crackled and shot from shelf to shelf, stopping every now and again to let Random and Pilcrowe catch up. Random had been in the library enough times to know her way around all the main genres, and although she wasn't sure where crime fiction would sit under the librarian's baroque system, this wasn't it.
She'd never been so deep into the library. Tall shelves, lined with ancient, leather bound books, blotted out the light. Falling motes drifted in what secondhand illumination filtered to the floor and settled on shelves undisturbed for years.
"It is here," The librarian crackled back into humanoid form. "You're on your own opening it." And with that he was gone, leaving the two characters alone to ponder the door. It was covered in locks spanning across the wood, most of them rusted shut. Even an inexplicable skill in lock picking wasn't going to help them here.
"It's a metaphor," Pilcrowe leaned over in a crouch, hands resting on her thighs, and studied the door.
"These locks. Metaphors, all of them. Need a good metaphor breaker to get through, that's all. Now if we were on the inside, no trouble. From the outside... oh, that's something... You! Your thing! Your... machine thing! The one that goes ding!"
"What, this?" Random held up the shovel detector.
"Does it do doors?"
"It does shovels." But there was a thought again, a creeping hypothesis that entered via the back of her head and slowly worked its way into her thoughts. "It's a trail detector. It... opens up channels in the fabric between novels. And I've got infinite battery power!"
"Right onto it." She settled herself down on the floor and unhooked the phone from the detector and laid the now inert mass of metal aside, and opened the program. "Here goes."
It made sense now that she thought of it. In a way, she was doing the opposite of what she had done that morning at the last murder scene. Then, she'd been trying to dampen the onslaught of data from the trail. Now, she needed to expand it. The groundwork was already there, but it was simply a matter of reprogramming to accept a greater input, and to leave a greater output in it wake.
Pilcrowe paced up and down, occasionally turning her attention back to the door. Once, she gave it a kick, slamming her boot into the densest configuration of locks. Random didn't look up.
She had no idea what would happen when she slotted her phone back in, but the detector didn't explode immediately on contact. "Okay," she said. "Lets see what this thing can do."
"Ready for it?" said Pilcrowe. Her kicking hadn't done anything to dislodge the door.
"Yeah," Random got to her feet, hooked the detector back over her shoulder, and hefted it up in her hands. "Better stand back. I'm going to try science."
It wasn't like all the other times. Random had tuned it in to the only thing she knew to have passed through the door, and that was Pilcrowe herself, using her long ago trace to open a link.
How long had it been? She should have asked, she thought, as the detector began to shake and the screen flickered through patterns faster than the eye could discern. But maybe it was better not to. She just had to force he way through with what she had...
The handles were hot in her hands, threatening to burn...
Her eyes screwed shut...
She let go, slinging the detector back over her shoulder to let it cool off. "What happened, we did it?"
"If your definition of did it is melted the locks into nothing, then we have achieved it."
Random opened her eyes. Trails of molten metal, still glowing in places, ran down a door that now hung ajar from the heat. "Wow."
"You remember earlier," said Pilcrowe, "when I said I was ready."
"I may have lied to make you feel better."
"I'm cool with that."
Random let Pilcrowe go first. It seemed like the right thing to do.