Glosspool Lane was quiet and deserted that evening. Everyone with business to do, or gossip to share, was still out and about in the village. Everyone else had presumably turned in early. Like every other street in Tortus Bay, Glosspool was meticulously neat. Unlike any other street, a line of cars were parked along the length of it.
Henry and Kara used them to their advantage. They leap-frogged down the lane, crouching behind one vehicle before taking a deep breath and sprinting to crouch behind the next. “Do you think he’s seen us?” he asked.
Kara took a sly peek over the hood of a cherry red pickup. “He’s reading a book. Hasn’t seen anything. And we’re in luck.”
Henry cast his eyes over the canopy of overlooking windows. None of the blinds stirred. “Lucky how?”
“They put Taylor on the beat. My favorite. Thought they might. He’s always getting the drudge work. Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
She straightened herself up and strode out into the middle of the street, waving at the parked patrol car. It took Taylor a moment to notice. When he did, he tossed his paperback into the passenger seat and rolled down his window. “Kara!” he said, beaming. “What brings you down this way?”
“Taylor!” she said. “They got you keeping the riff-raff off the street?”
“Ah, Beth hasn’t been doing so well lately. Getting a lot of unwelcome visitors. We’re just here to help offer a little privacy.”
Kara leaned up against the hood, keeping his attention forward. “Well, it’s a piece of fortune either way. I’ve been meaning to talk with you.”
While they were distracted, Henry moved as silently as he could manage around the bumper of the truck, and out into the street behind the patrol car. He just had to cross unnoticed, and he would be home free.
“I wanted to get you alone.” Kara was whispering now, forcing the deputy to lean out of the window to hear. “Have you noticed anything different about the power lately?”
Taylor matched her whisper. “I think it might be getting stronger.”
“So you’ve noticed that too.”
“Yes, yes, I totally have.”
Henry slinked his way across the street and up to Mathas Bernard’s homely estate. It was nothing at all compared to the Brihte residence—it looked more like something a reasonable human being might actually live inside—but it was stately nonetheless. Miniature statues of goblins and lions lined the walk up to the steps. At the base of the stairs one of them lay broken in a pile of its own dust.
Beth Brihte answered the door with a wide-eyed stare. She was wearing a wrinkled bathrobe. Her skin was as pallid as ever, but now it almost glowed with a waxy shine. “Who is it?”
“I’m here to take a look at your internet,” Henry said. He wondered, idly, if he should have put the effort into a fake uniform of some kind.
Her eyes focused. “That’s right. There was a… an issue, of some sort. Aria sent you?”
“A good girl. Always has been.” Beth wavered for a second, then pulled her robe a bit tighter and stepped aside. “Where are my manners? Please, come in.”
The widow’s house had once been gorgeous. That much was plain to see. Wide spaces, sweeping arches, and highly detailed woodwork belied the amount of time and money which clearly went into the home. There was also the stench of human sweat; the thick layer of dust; and the pillows and blankets which had been chucked all around the living room. “The internet stuff is over there,” she said, with a vague waving of her hands. She didn’t seem to be in the mood to lead a tour.
“Can you show me?”
They picked through the mess into an adjoining office, which clearly had not been used in some time. The air was stale, a spider had spun a large web on the face of the bookcase, and the bay windows overlooking the messy yard were streaked with grime. On the desk beside an old-fashioned computer sat a router with three blinking green lights. “I’m sorry about the mess,” she sighed. “I haven’t been feeling much like myself lately.”
“Why is that?” He approached the desk, wondering how he was going to pretend to be doing something consequential to the woman’s perfectly functioning internet.
“Since Mathas passed, and all the affairs… the costs of it were, were unexpected,” she spoke in a lilting and broken manner, occasionally so softly that she became inaudible. “The house, I love it—lived in it, for a long… for my entire life. And it’s huge, you know, it’s hard to—it can be difficult to keep up.”
Henry switched the router off, waited a few seconds, and turned it back on again. Up close, he could see through the muck on the windows to the lush garden beyond. Where the heart attack happened. Supposedly. “I understand that,” he said. “So you want a little privacy, while you’re getting everything sorted out?”
She said nothing to that. The lights on the router went from red to orange to green again. He turned, and found her with a dumbstruck expression on her face. “I recognize you.”
“From the cafe. You’re the new person. You’re Henry.” Beth spoke with a renewed sense of energy, pacing the office. “You’re the private investigator. Aria didn’t send you at all!”
He should have faked a uniform. “I can assure you that she did.”
“You know you did such a shitty job with my husband, I didn’t even consider you, but now that you’re here…” She stopped pacing. “Why are you here?”
He took a step back. “For the internet. Only that.”
“You’re still looking into it, aren’t you? That’s always what you were looking into, wasn’t it? That’s what I didn’t understand.” Beth rushed forward and took his collar into her surprisingly strong hands. Her breath smelled of mint, and figs. “You could have told me. I haven’t slept in days. You could have told me that he would be back.”
“I found him here.” Tears slid down her face, but she gave no indication that she noticed. “Not in this office, in the kitchen. Face down. Already dead. The cops wouldn’t listen. They still won’t listen, they never do.”
He tried to speak in a soothing voice. “What didn’t they listen to?”
“Me!” Her grip tightened around his throat, then eased and fell away entirely. She sloped back. “They parked a car out front to try to chase him away. Or was it to keep me from being able to talk to anybody? It doesn’t work either way. Here you are. And he comes around whenever he pleases.”
“You’ve seen Mathas Bernard?”
She crumpled down against the wall. “At night. He never comes in. Even when the doors are open, he never comes in. Just rustles around in the garden. Taps on the windows. It’s him. I see his face in the moonlight. He doesn’t let me sleep, you know?”
“I don’t know what he wants. He never speaks. He never does anything, but walk and tap. Walk and tap.” Beth’s eyes were wild again, wide and staring. “Do you believe me? Nobody believes me. Please, tell me that you do.”
Henry took her into his arms, and let her cry on his shoulder. “I believe you, Beth.”
He left not long afterwards, feeling distinctly like he had just poked a beehive to no apparent benefit for anybody involved. His shirt was soaked through with her weeping. Of course he believed her, but the woman was clearly distressed. He needed proof as much as she did, but that was something that neither of them could offer the other. Unless he staked out their garden. That idea rolled around in his head,
Brain preoccupied with half-formed plans, Henry shut the front door behind himself and stepped out into the cool night air. There, standing nonchalantly in the middle of Glosspool Lane, was sheriff Leia Thao. She had her uniform on, and a wicked grin on her face.
He fished his phone out of his pocket, and saw a missed call and a missed text from Kara: Sheriff here. STAY INSIDE. “Whoops.”
“Evening, Mr. Cauville,” Leia said. “You’ve been a hard man to find.”
“I like my privacy.”
She clicked her tongue. “I’ll make sure it’s nobody but you and I, down at the station.”