I meandered to the concrete pylon where I’d locked up Terry’s bike and pulled out a key from my pocket. In a haze, I unlocked the first chain and started on the second. The lock was stiff and the stupid key wouldn’t fit. After a few more unsuccessful attempts to jam the key in, I started to think less about Chrissy and Jack, and focus more on the chain.
Damn it. Wrong key.
I reached into my pockets for the second set, but they were empty.
“You idiot!” I slammed my hand against the pylon, then cradled it as the pain lanced up my arm.
The key must have fallen out when I’d sat on the park bench. Reluctantly I walked back to the park, with every step the scene with Chrissy replaying in my head. I’d wanted to act on impulse. I’d swept her out of the diner in an effort to stop thinking about him.
I fumbled in my satchel for the packet of cigarettes and lighter. Right on the spot where I had made out with Chrissy, I inhaled the smoke. But looking at the sweet rounded white and warm orange paper between my fingers drew my thoughts back to Jack. Shit.
Why did he have to care about my bad habits? Why did he have to be such a buzzkill? Why did he have to have a thing for me?
Why did I care?
I got onto all fours and felt for the lost keys in the dark. They’d fallen at the rear wrought iron foot. As my fingers gripped around them, I heard a couple of girls talking. One of them sounded extremely upset.
“He used me,” an upset girl said. “I feel like I need to shower for a week.”
“Men. They’re so shitty,” her friend tried to console her.
“I don’t want to believe that. I want there to be a special someone out there.”
“I know, honey, and there is someone for you. Just don’t date an actor. You can never trust an actor.”
I pulled myself to my feet, those last words ticking at my mind. You can never trust an actor.
I didn’t believe the statement as such, but it had given me something to think about. . .
This time I jogged back to the bike and, thankfully, had no problem unchaining it from the pylon. I gripped the handlebars, feeling the sting where I’d hit my hand, and cringed. Ouchy. Stupid pylon. I was going to have a bruise in the morning.
After I got inside and stored the bike in Terry’s garage, I bolted up the stairs to find him and Faye laughing at the table.
“How was your date?” Faye cried.
“Terrible. Anyway, I was in the park when I overheard these two girls—”
“Terrible? What happened?”
“Sorry, man,” Terry chimed. Then waggled his brows. “What’s this about two girls?” Faye gave him a shove.
“Hey yourself,” she said. And then added something for the life of me, I never thought I’d hear her say. “Horny devil.”
Judging by the look Terry turned on her, he hadn’t expected it either.
“Takes one to know one,” Terry guffawed.
“Anyway, these girls—” I started but was immediately cut off.
“I just think you could keep some of your thoughts to yourself. You know, it might help you keep a girlfriend. Just saying.”
Terry pressed his lips together, thinking about it. “Like you’re one to talk.”
“What does that mean?”
“Haven’t seen you have a boyfriend, let along keep one. Between the two of us, I think I could keep one longer than you.”
“How is that ‘between the two of us’? Drake is sitting right there!”
Yeah, uncomfortably, I might add.
“But, you’re on, Terry. You’re on.” She faced me, cheeks still flushed. “What about these girls?”
“Yeah, they were talking about not trusting actors, and it gave me some new ideas for our case,” I said, waiting for another interruption and more bickering. It didn’t come. Terry only looked at Faye out the corner of his eyes, a slight frown cutting his brows.
“Huh?” Faye said to me.
“Terry, remember when we were at the bar and Avice knew we were acting?”
Faye said, “She does go to Julliard. That’s like a really, really good school for performing arts and stuff. She’s bound to spot a fake.”
“Sure. But it would be harder for us, right?”
“So?” Faye asked, her eyebrows pushed together.
I smiled and looked at them. “Isn’t it a bit too much of a coincidence we see her at the uni theatre?” I said. “And alone? I mean, if her friends were staying in Drupes only for the weekend or whatever, why didn’t they go, too? When she saw us afterward, she was angry, sure, but she didn’t sound surprised.”
I paused a moment to catch my breath. “I don’t know how, but I think she was following us.”
“We came late to the theatre. I don’t think she was following—”
“Unless she snuck into the theatre after us.”
“What are you saying?” Terry asked.
I thought of the two girls in the park. “You can’t always trust an actress.” She didn’t like us snooping. Why? Because she knew where the jewel was?
“Oh my god,” Faye said. Exactly the response I was expecting. But Faye’s words seemed to be wafting over my shoulder. “Are you okay?” she added.
I turned to see Jack, his face pale. Before I could process much more, Terry asked, “What happened?”
He dropped a piece of paper on the table. Terry grabbed the paper and as his eyes scanned the page, his hand whitened against the table-top. He glanced up at Faye and me.
“Probably just an empty threat,” Terry said, but the tone of his voice worried me. I snapped up the paper and read.
If you don’t let this case go, death will come.
“Got it in my inbox,” Jack’s voice crackled. He coughed.
Before anyone could stop her, Faye had left the room. It was no surprise where she was going either, and we all followed to her computer lab.
Faye’s cheeks lost the color and her teeth clattered as Terry slipped on the chair next to her and squeezed her hand.
“We all got one saying the exact same thing,” she eventually said.
“Can you find out who sent them to us?” I asked.
“Pretty sure whoever sent these would’ve forged the sender. The IP address looks gibberish, random numbers . . .” She hiccupped; it was only then I noticed that tears were streaming down her face. She was freaked.
Jack was freaked.
Hell, I was freaked.
“Sends fucking chills down my spine,” Terry said.
We all were freaked.
“Wait a sec,” I said, suddenly realizing something. “If we all got the email, then whoever sent these knew all our addresses. And who have we given all our addresses to?”
“Beatrice Wymer,” Terry said, eyes cold.
Faye put a hand over Terry’s. “If Beatrice entered our names into the university email database, anyone who knows our names could have access to them. If they know a thing or two about computers. It may as well be Rohesia, Avice or Walter that found them.”
“Except Rohesia doesn’t know our names. Only Avice and Beatrice. Maybe Walter if Avice has said anything,” I said.
“So, what do we do now?” Faye asked. “Continue with the investigation? I mean, we still need to save our home.”
She was right. We couldn’t afford to stop with the case. But maybe we could afford to have a few less people working on it.
“I’ll take over the case. You guys can focus on getting jobs and stuff. But I’ll be the only one who should go into Drupes.”
“You think we’d let you do this alone?” Jack glared at me, which was the most eye contact I’d had with him all day. “If we’re careful, we can all keep working. If anything, all of us need to work harder to get this solved finally.”
There was the determined guy that made the rest of us look like lazy buggers. I couldn’t hold back a grin. Jack was just so . . . Jack.
“What are you thinking, Drake?” Faye asked.
My face warmed up. I spoke quickly, “Uh huh. Yeah, I think he has a point.”
“Agreed,” Terry said, “I don’t like it.”
* * *
I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get to sleep that night. Terry and Faye were using my library and I could hear a faint murmur of their chatter well into the night. I wasn’t sure about Jack; Faye’s floor lay between ours. No matter how much I strained my ears, I couldn’t tell if he was sleeping or not. Occasionally I thought I heard the faint squeaking of the staircase, but it always disappeared again.
I tried closing my eyes, convincing myself relaxing was almost as good as sleeping, but it didn’t fool me the way I needed it to. I tossed and turned, got too hot, too cold. The worst of it, though, was in my head: I couldn’t turn my freaking thoughts off.
The panic of losing part of our home, my nerves for the gig we had on Monday, how weird it would be seeing Chrissy again at band practice tomorrow, the threats we were emailed and above all: the messed up situation with Jack.
It must’ve been close to three when I got so fed up, I started counting sheep. I was in the three hundreds when, mercifully, sleep cradled me.
Too soon, a shrill beeping rudely interrupted said sleep-cradling. I whacked my palm down on the alarm, pressing all the buttons at once to turn the frigging thing off. As soon as I’d managed and snuggled into a fetal position again, I heard the familiar rap-a-tap-tap of Terry knocking at my door. That only meant one thing: it was flat cleaning time. He never forgot about it, not even now.
I groaned and may have cussed a few words in his direction. Sundays came around way too fast.
“Sooner you’re up, the sooner you’re done, man. Shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half.”
An hour and a half!
“You’re on toilets this week.”
I groaned again.
Once I’d gotten up and thrown a pair of shorts on, I stumbled into the hall. I could already hear Terry with the vacuum cleaner humming downstairs. Procrastinating with the chores was a strength of mine. I went upstairs to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of muesli and chewed lethargically.
Jack clattered about cleaning the fridge, still doing his best to ignore me. “Disgusting. Who puts a half bowl of unfinished muesli back into the fridge?” he grumbled.
Shoot, I’d forgotten about that.
“Morning,” Faye said, coming into the room.
She was also a procrastinator. We spent a good half an hour eating our breakfast, yapping.
Finally, I pulled to my feet. “Time to tackle,” I said, “Or Terry will terrorize.”
Good on Faye for chuckling at my lame alliteration. I ignored the other grunt coming from across the kitchen.
We had two bathrooms between the four of us, one up in our living quarters and the other next to the library on my floor. I moved past Jack and into the first bathroom.
From the cupboard, I pulled out the basket of cleaning products. There was a slapping sound as I slipped into rubber gloves and pulled them up to my elbow. I lifted the toilet seat and sprayed the lemon scented product until practically the whole toilet was covered in cream-colored spittle. The smell was so intense, I had to open the window.
Grabbing the toilet brush, I held it out as if I were in a fencing duel. Which I may as well have been—cleaning toilets was always a fight. Without looking too much into the bowl, I scrubbed. I knew if I didn’t, Terry would make me do it again.
Terry was awesome and the best flatmate ever.
I flushed twice. He’d check everything after we were done, of course.
And I mean everything.
There was not one trick we could use to make things quicker. He saw through them all. Jack had once gotten reprimanded for blowing the dust off the window sill. I had once cleaned the shower and forgotten to pull the hair from the plug and had to do it again.
And Faye was always getting into trouble. In fact, she was the worst of us when it came to the weekly clean.
I jammed the toilet brush back in its spot and scrubbed my hands ten times, staring at T.T Malley’s Oxion House on the shelf that someone had moved in here.
Snatching the book up, I plunked myself at the dining table and opened to the back cover where dates and names filled the pages.
1905—1909: Jeffrey, Heinrich, Agatha, Gerald.
1909—1912: Tom, Oli, Sarah-Louise, Mark
I fingered down the list to our names we’d added at the beginning of the year.
2011—: Terry, Drake, Faye, Jack
The pattern was 2-4 years, and the groups never fractured, when they left it seemed they left together before the next set of teenagers moved in. It reminded me that this time together, living this life, in this house was limited. I wondered why they left, whether it had something to do with age. Maybe at eighteen, that was it.
Did it mean I—we—only had another year?
“Whatcha reading?” Faye asked, dunking a tea bag into a cup.
I lifted the book so she could see.
“Does it ever bug you not knowing?” I asked, and Jack, sitting on the couch looked up at the same time Faye did.
“Yes,” she said. “But you’ve been through all the books in your library—if it was a mystery we were meant to solve, there’d be more.”
I felt the grooves of each name handwritten in the back. “I don’t get it. We’re drawn to this house, chosen somehow, by someone or something, lead here. What for?”
“Being detectives?” Faye suggested. “What else?”
I thought about how frightened we were to lose part of this house—how protective we were. How each and every one of us would do anything to keep it together.
Terry came smiling into the room and looked at the rest of us. Jack and Faye were making a cup of tea.
“Pretty good clean, peoples. Only one small thing . . .” He turned to Faye. “You should know what that is. I’ve asked you again and again, and you always forget, so there’s a little something in your room.”
Faye’s face reddened. We all didn’t like authority, but she really hated it. “Even you shouldn’t just go into my room without asking!”
Even you? What was that?
Faye stormed out the room and a minute later we heard her screech. “You put the rubbish in my bed! Ekelhaft! Terry, get your ass down here now!”
Jack and I watched Terry shake his head and leave the room. He looked at me as if uncertain that was allowed. Then he shrugged. “Want some tea?”
I know I’d been the one to initiate the whole ignoring one another thing, but I was glad he was the first to break it. He was so much more mature than me . . . sometimes. “Thanks. That would be top notch.”
“Let me guess, English Breakfast up your alley?” He smirked, but his fake British was terrible. The he said more somberly, “The Oxion House doesn’t want to be solved, Drake.”
I sighed. I knew he was right and shut the book. “I can’t help but wonder though.”
“I know. Me neither.”
“Sometimes I think if we understood it better, we could do more. Maybe then this thing with the Berlin City Council wouldn’t be an issue. I just, I just want to protect our home.”
“Maybe this T.T Malley could be found? Maybe we could ask him questions?”
“Do you think we’d be the first to think of that? Surely the others would have left more clues—or answers if there were any to be had. And the last time you looked up Malley you came up blank—it’s like he doesn’t exist.”
“Or she,” I said. “T. T—could be a she.”
“Beside the point.”
I let out a frustrated sigh. “You’re right.”
He shuffled over to the table, carefully balancing me tea, lip pouting in concentration. When he planted it beside me, I snagged his sleeve. I wanted to say something. Thank him for talking to me. Apologize for trying to ignore him. For what I said in his room. I don’t know, I just—I hated hating him. I hated him hating me.
Though neither of those should’ve been new things.
He looked at me, waiting for me to speak, but nothing came out. I dropped his sleeve. “Thanks for the tea.”
Pushing my chair back, I left the room, tea in hand. I so needed a cigarette.
But Jack hated me smoking . . .
I threw a palm to my head, suppressing an annoyed cry.
I bumped into Terry and Faye on the stairs. They were laughing about something which made me smile; I loved it how quickly they forgave each other. Why couldn’t that be Jack and I?
“Just checked my eBay account,” Faye said. “And both of us,” she flashed a look to Terry, “sold our stuff.”
“Great. How much did you make?” I asked.
“Thee-hundred and twenty pounds. Which covers the rent we have to pay in Wellington and most in New York.” I was so glad that we squatted in Britain and Germany so it didn’t cost us anything. We were relying on whatever Jack sold to scramble enough coins so we could eat, though.
What was he selling?
“We’ll be fine, man,” Terry said. “With Faye’s help, I’ve already started to design some flyers to advertise my mechanic skills.” He was definitely organized.
“Guess I’d better sort something out, too,” I said.
Faye nodded. “But first you’ve got band practice. I hope everything’s okay with Chrissy and you.”
I shrugged and gave her a lopsided grin. “It’ll be right.”
“Finished the vacuuming early,” Terry added. Why didn’t that surprise me? “So you don’t need to worry about setting up the stage and drums.”
“No rush, band isn’t for another couple of hours.”
Terry faced Faye. “Race you to the top!” He’d hardly said the first word and Faye was running up the stairs. Terry waited a tick. “It’s just not fair if I don’t give her a head start.”
“I heard that!” came Faye’s yell.
Then, taking the steps two at a time, Terry chased up after her.
The stairs creaked behind me and I spun round to see Jack. He had a bag strapped over his chest. “Terry won.”
“Where are you off to?” I asked.
“Gonna make us some food money.”
I raised one brow, but he ignored my “how?” expression. “Have a great band practice. Hope you and Chrissy can concentrate.”
I frowned before realizing he had no idea how the date had turned out. And suddenly, I really needed him to know. “We aren’t together or anything. We prefer jamming together, that’s all.”
Did I detect a slight smile on the edge of his lip? If so, he quickly smoothed it out. “It’s none of my business.”
But I . . . I wanted it to be?
I shook my body, trying to regain control of my thoughts. Come on, this wasn’t going to happen.
Jack turned around, making his way to his floor. He was heading to New Zealand?
But it was middle of the night there.
I stuffed on a pair of shoes and followed him.
It was dark and cool outside, across the street a party filled up three yards. I could smell sour booze wafting over to me, taste its acidic tang in the air. Jack weaved past groups of drunken people and trash, down a few more streets, to a deserted public park with a block of graffiti covered toilets. He stopped near the entrance of the toilets, scanning the bushes around the park. Then a shadow moved around the corner and a muscular guy came into view. He leaned against the building, reaching out a hand to Jack’s chest.
Realization caught me and left me reeling. I felt sick. The muscular guy re-arranged himself and dug a hand in his pocket, pulling out a bunch of notes.
Jack was out to make us some food money.
“Jack!” I yelled.
He jumped, startled to see me.
“What are you doing following me?”
I slapped Muscly-guy’s hand with money in it away, hard, and hauled Jack by the arm. “You’re coming home.”
“Boyfriend?” Muscly-guy said, and spat. “Or should I . . . ?”
I spun around. “Leave this guy the hell alone.”
“Would’ve over-paid anyway,” the guy muttered and stalked off, kicking a metal trash can.
My hand circled tight on Jack’s wrist and I didn’t let him go until I’d pushed him through the door, up the stairs and into his room.
“What were you thinking?” I screamed into his face, pushing him to the bed. “Are you that much of an idiot?”
Jack opened his mouth to say something, but I stopped him, slapping my palm over his mouth.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
Then I got the hell out of his room, slamming the door behind me.
Terry raised a brow on the staircase. “Don’t even ask!” I snapped.
I got to my room, reached for my guitar case, popped it open and started strumming. Angry, painful strokes.
Dammit, Jack! How could he be so stupid? How could he even think about doing it, let alone doing it? If I hadn’t have stopped him, then what—did he even pause to consider how drastic it was? For such a smart guy, why didn’t he talk to us? Tell us he didn’t have anything he could sell. Did he think so little of us we wouldn’t help him? Wouldn’t pitch in on his behalf? Didn’t he get there were some things more important than rent? Than food! We wouldn’t have starved—together we were cleverer than that, God, what had he been thinking?
Dropping the guitar on the bed, I grabbed the blue-vinyl disc from my shelf and stormed back to Jack’s room.
He was eagle-spread on his bed looking up at the ceiling. He didn’t even raise his head when I shut his door behind me.
“This,” I said, coming in, dropping the record next to his face, “is how we’ll get food money.”
I wanted to ask him why, shout at him some more, but he looked so defeated there on the bed. I thumped a hand into the wall beside across from him, where we’d been with the lighter incident. Turning to him, I waited for him to get up; for him to say something.
But he just blinked up at the ceiling.
“Whatever,” I said, leaving, just as my floor bell chimed.