Despite the extra few hours that Poppy had so kindly offered him, Walter was unable to get back to sleep. It might’ve had something to do with the overwhelming excitement that he was feeling. After all, Walter was now a fully fledged detective or, at least, he was the assistant to one of the best. In the end, that’s how you break into any worthwhile industry, right?
Speaking of breaking in, Walter felt awfully uncomfortable about breaking into an abduction victim’s personal address. It made him feel like the villain in the situation. After all, when do you see a hero with a set of picks in his grip? And the muffled voice in the canals of his right ear offered little in the way of personal support.
His everything still hurt.
Sweet Tooth took absolutely no prisoners when it came to her identity, but where did Poppy learn to beat somebody up so ruthlessly? It was like she had taken an A Level is arse-kicking and, considering how blunt she was about it all, there was a clear method to the madness. Nobody would take on that level of secrecy lightly, perhaps she hid an extensive military career? Like he said though, Walter wasn’t interested in her shady past.
To even think about it would be overstepping his boundaries, and she didn’t even seem to have the free space in her head for that nonsense so, for the both of them, the topic was sealed away for good once the detective returned to Walter’s office that morning.
She wouldn’t tell him how she managed to squirm past Amiin without getting caught in his web of suspicion but that alone filled Walter with confidence about his next mission. Poppy arrived with three things in tow: a beige laptop bag over her left shoulder, a small metallic case in her right hand, and a white polyester shirt draped over her shoulder to replace the one she ruined.
The shirt was a little restrictive…
In fact, it was literally child-sized and Walter could hardly button it up, almost as though Poppy was punishing him for her own misdeeds. She didn’t consider this a problem, obviously, and took no notice of his incoherent grumbling or the tearing from behind him.
“What’s with the bags?” he asked, standing in the corner of the room as he attempted to enlarge his new attire with the stretches he remembered from high school P.E classes: arms across the head, arms across the chest, and that one that kinda looks like you’re saying ‘up yours’ to whoever is nearby you. In the end, Walter just had to pull his trousers up higher than they naturally sat, making him look disproportioned and elderly.
From the left-hand bag, Poppy produced a thin, silver laptop whose chassis bore the scars and stains of previous cases. As it began to boot up, she set it on the floor and sat down on her knees in front of it, tapping at the keyboard like that’d make it run quicker. “I’ll be guiding your journey from here,” she said. “In this case, you’ll find a small earpiece about the size of an old penny. Place it deep within your ear canal, I’ll be using it to communicate with you for the duration of the investigation.”
“You really are an armchair detective.”
“I can’t risk getting compromised again,” Poppy squirmed as she spoke, the hardwood proving to be more than a little uncomfortable on her kneecaps. “You’re going to be doing my heavy lifting today.
“You can sit on the bed, if that’d be more comfortable.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why I offered,” he pulled a sour face. “If I knew you were coming I’d have cleaned the place up a bit, maybe offered you a sack of tangerines, or some gauze.”
“W— we don’t have time for jokes, Walter.” Poppy began rapidly tapping on the keyboard like some kind of expert movie hacker but, at least from Walter’s perspective, it looked like she was just checking her email and keeping up the techno-detective facade. Walter finally did as he was told, retrieving the tiny earpiece from the aforementioned case, pinching it between two fingers, and holding it up to his face for a better look. A small blue light pulsated and chirped out in an odd, satisfying frequency. “Okay, now put the bud in your ear and get ready to leave. I’ll be able to track your location with it, so I can talk you to the apartment complex if you need directions.”
“It’s so small. It’s not like, gonna get stuck in my ear, is it?” The very thought made his entire body shudder as it half-expected the device to transform betwixt his grasp, spawning eight segmented legs and a pair of bifurcating pincers, or mechanical drills.
And that sick, anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach hadn’t let up yet, even as he tinkered with the victim’s locked door. It was a special kind of mechanism, custom-built and unlike the standard digital locks which the building seemed to pride itself on. It was as though she was expecting to be burgled in the near future but her suspicions weren’t enough to request one of those ‘impenetrable’ digital locks.
He imagined that Poppy would be able to ‘hack’ her way through one of those anyway, but she was in no mood to answer his stupid questions. Instead, he twisted and shoved the feeler pick around the cylinder until he felt a wiggle. His concentration was not aided by the large, artistic addition to the hallway: a clear, glass segment through which sunlight was amplified fifteen times, forcing rays down the side of his face and possibly causing some kind of early-onset glaucoma.
“Excuse me, sir?” called a rather irritated voice from behind him; brash and unfamiliar, slightly accented towards the north of the country. “Do you have business here, or should I be calling the police?”
Walter began to turn around slowly, stuffing his legal-to-possess-but-don’t-use tools deep into the tight sleeves of his button-up wondering whether or not this was accounted for in Poppy’s initial plan. As he faced the man, he was revealed to be Daniel the Doorman whom Walter had previously encountered. He appeared to hold himself and his occupation in high regard, donning a full suit fit with waistcoat and pocket watch straight out of the Victorian era, pulling the entire ensemble together with a sleek, one-eyed Personal Imaging System mounted to his head.
It was cool, but you wouldn’t go around telling your friends that you bumped into a cyborg if you met him.
Poppy sparked up in Walter’s ear, “tell him it’s official police business.”
“This is official police business,” he repeated, stepping closer to Daniel. He had only slipped by him earlier because the dedicated doorman was busy tending to an outraged resident who wasn’t able to get her hot water working, but he must not have been subtle enough. “I’m Officer Welles, I’m heading up an investigation into the abduction of Ms. Poisson.”
“Too far,” said the voice in his head.
“Abduction?” he tapped the side of his Smart Glass System and visibly cycled through the week’s emails as he spoke, “I’ve not been informed of an investigation regarding Ms. Poisson.”
“Daniel, she’s been missing for weeks.”
“As far as I’m aware, Mr. Welles, Ms. Poisson is on vacation.”
“Just follow my direction,” Poppy ordered, offering up exact sentences which Walter had to push through his lips despite not matching his dishevelled persona. It felt like he was learning another language phonetically, “and you don’t believe that it’s suspicious she has just disappeared?”
“Suspicious?” he repeated. “I suppose that it is a little odd, but Ms. Poisson rarely uses this apartment. It’s left as a back-up in case her and her husband’s new place takes longer than expected to be complete.”
“Her husband believes that she’s missing too. You understand that, correct?”
“Of course he would believe that, they’re very much in love. I’ve seen them together, never here, but they’re like high school sweethearts. You couldn’t pry them off each other with a crowbar but that’s hardly grounds to break into her apartment. She could’ve been gone a day and he’d be worried.”
“If he could, he’d have her on a leash. I don’t know about him, but as far as I could tell, Ms. Poisson has always been an independent woman. It’s no surprise that she needed an unannounced holiday.”
“All right Walter, you need to make it clear that Ms. Poisson’s life is in danger. We’re losing him because he knows more than we do, I can tell from his voice.”
“Not a great start, Walter.”
“We’ve got evidence that Ms. Poisson is in danger. I need access to her apartment so we can figure out whether or not she’s just buggered off somewhere, or if she’s been strewn across London in freezer bags.”
Daniel didn’t budge, “I cannot let you in unless you show me a warrant and, if you cannot, I will be forced to call the police.”
“Okay, okay!” launched Walter, “I’m not a police officer.”
“What are you doing!? You’re not listening to me Walter, this is not a good way to start a professional relationship.”
“I’m her partner.”
It was a rough play, but its effect was clear. Daniel’s eyes darted to the ground to convey a little bit embarrassment over the situation, and he slapped his face. Walter continued, “she’s just gone out of town for a couple of weeks until the ‘heat dies down’. She hasn’t been abducted, okay? She’s dropping off the face of the earth so she doesn’t have to break the news to her husband. Then, we’re gonna run off together and maybe move to Tenby or something, y’know? I’m just here to pick up some of my things so that, when the police do get off their arses, they don’t start asking questions.”
“What are you doing? This is the most suspicious thing anybody has ever said!”
“I— yeah, okay…” Daniel let his guard down and stepped backwards from Walter, tapping at the frame of his Smart Glass System. “I guess that would make sense.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I understand. I know how embarrassing this must be for you. My husband and I, we did the same sort of thing back in the day. I mean, he wasn’t the head of a big law firm or anything — and, by the way, good luck with that — but it happens, right?”
“Do what you have to do but do it quick.”
“Of course,” Daniel began to walk away as Walter slipped hi stools back from under his shirt sleeve but he had one final thing to say.
“Smile, you’re on camera.”
“Don’t worry about me,” said Walter. “And cheers for understanding.”
The lock-picking puzzle continued as Daniel the Doorman fled the scene, refusing to take the downright intense atmosphere with him. A few clicks further, and the rod would turn, unlocking the latch with minimal damage to the mechanics themselves.
“For what? Cracking the toughest lock in the world or squirming through the strangest conversation of my life.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
“I have to say though, that was super impressive. I figured you were floundering in that conversation,” he said, pulling his tools out from the cylinder. “You know exactly which buttons to press to get information out of people, don’t you?”
“It’s all part of the job.”
He stood from the required kneeling position and cracked his back, looking out upon the city through the glass segment. The nearby offices all scraped the sky, towering over this apartment block which stopped one further floor up. It was a city of giants, and none of them had any character.“How did you even get into this line of work?”
“This isn’t time for chit-chat, you’d better get that door open before that Doorman comes to his senses. I mean, really…” she mumbled as he leant down on the front door handle, unlatching the door and causing a heavy, unusual thud on the other side. “What was that?”
A security device?
As whatever it was hit the ground, it made two significant sounds against the continued carpet. Two thuds, so it was a straight object which landed directly on one side first. It could’ve been some kind of Red Herring, “it didn’t sound good, did it?” asked Walter, “do I go it? Should I be expecting danger?”
“You should absolutely be expecting danger, this could be a crime scene.”
Walter didn’t get the feeling that it was a trap but rather a notification. If somebody tried and failed to break in, they would’ve knocked over this item and alerted Maika when she returned, if that was the case. “Any words of advice?”
“Just get in there, Walter.”
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