There were many things ingrained into the mind of a human. Besides the necessities one needed for survival, the nature of these deeply etched things usually depended on the upbringing and surroundings of the person. For Amelia, one very set rule was that guests should always be served at least warm beverages. So Amelia automatically walked into the kitchen after calling Tad over and asking her surprising visitors if tea was okay. Brigitte had thoughtfully given Amelia a small teabag full of what she had said was mostly dried plasma fruit and told her that it was for Mimosa. And so Amelia soon had three cups of steaming black tea with orange peel and spices, and one cup of said plasma fruit blend on a tray that she took to the living room.
They sat there in the kind of stringy silence that forms between near-strangers who might want to be closer friends but who weren’t quite comfortable around each other yet. The discomfort mostly radiated from Mimosa, who avoided both Amelia and Tad’s eyes and retreated as far into the corner of the Spriggs’ old, basket-woven sofa as she could. Brigitte, on the other hand, was radiating warmth like a campfire again, and she complimented Amelia on her selection of tea and her brewing skills. She even made a few mandatory lines of small talk before she cleared her throat.
“Now then, we can’t stay for that long. It’s pretty late for the non-nocturnals. So, I’ll cut to the chase.”
She stopped to smile gleefully.
“This is pretty exciting! Like we’re being spies or something!”
“So… you found out something?” Tad asked uncertainly.
“Oh, yes. Sorry!” Brigitte giggled, “Mimosa figured it out, really. She has the knack for reading people’s minds… like most vampires do really. So she… maybe you should tell them yourself, Mimi?”
She spoke to Mimosa in a gentle, motherly tone. Mimosa pressed her mouth into a tight line and stared at her knees.
“You can talk,” she mumbled.
“Oh, but you could explain it better! I’ll help you, I promise!”
“O… kay. So… it was full moon, and it was my turn to watch Brigitte…”
“I do get a bit wonky at that time of the month,” Brigitte chuckled, “Go on, you’re doing fine!”
Mimosa nodded slowly and finally uncurled a little from her foetal position. She kept staring over Amelia and Tad’s heads, though. If Tad was painfully shy sometimes, then Mimosa seemed to be torturously so.
“So… uh… I was at home, watching Brigitte… and at one point I sensed this… presence. I smelled… well, unfamiliar blood. And I heard a thought… something that was shaped like a package, I think. But I didn’t think much of it until last night… I mean, you’d talked about it back when you visited, but I wasn’t…”
She trailed off mid-sentence, her eyes finding the floor very magnetic again. Brigitte gently nudged her shoulder.
“It’s fine. I can talk for a while. So Mimosa was taking her nightly walk, looking for herbs…”
“Wild vegetables,” Mimosa muttered.
“Yes, wild vegetables this time,” Brigitte beamed with pride, “Mimosa is an amazing cook! She’s going to be a chef someday.”
A hint of colour appeared on Mimosa’s cheeks. Amelia assumed that it was her body trying to blush but not finding enough circulation to do so.
“I smelled the guy again,” Mimosa said quietly, “And thought about your visit. This time I could see him too. I didn’t know him, but Brigitte did.”
“She projected an image of him into my head when she got back,” Brigitte explained like it was the most normal thing in the world, “The man was Tom Shallow.”
Amelia raised her brows.
“That guy who handles reports in the Doo Peas Corporation?” she asked, “He works in the same building as I do and seems totally normal. What does he have to do with this?”
Mimosa looked at her, wide-eyed.
“I don’t know! I didn’t ask. But he was there that day. That’s… that’s all I know.”
She tried to hide behind her bangs that weren’t quite long enough for hiding. Brigitte smiled at her again.
“So there we go!” she said, “Mystery possibly solved!”
Tad closed his eyes for a moment.
“Hmm… Tom Shallow… I can see him, so he does not have it… I think.”
Mimosa hid her face in her hands.
“Stop! You’re thinking too loud!”
“Oh, my apologies,” Tad opened his eyes, “I would like to talk to this Tom Shallow. Or at least be near him to make sure he has something to do with this.”
“Thank you, Miss Hewitt, Miss Faulkner.”
“The pleasure was all ours,” Brigitte said, “And thank you, Amelia, for the excellent tea. Could I possibly see which blend you used?”
Amelia nodded eagerly. At least now they were in familiar territory.
“Sure! Come on!”
She took the empty teacups to the kitchen with Brigitte right behind her. She put one of her many tin cans of tea leaves in front of Brigitte, who smelled it and smiled with approval.
“Very nice. This is from the Tiny Organic Corner, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is,” Amelia nodded, “I love that store!”
“So do I!” Brigitte said happily, but then her smile shrunk a little, and she motioned Amelia to follow her into the hallway where there was no possibility for direct eye contact from the living room, “Actually, I also wanted to talk to you a bit more in private. To make sure you were doing alright.”
“Oh?” Amelia asked, surprised, “I’m okay, thanks for asking. Sure, it has been a lot to think about, but it’s getting easier.”
“I’m so glad to hear it!” Brigitte said, “I just wanted to make sure. You do look a lot more relaxed, really. That’s good. Still…”
She handed Amelia a small, pink piece of paper.
“If you need help with anything, or just feel like you want to talk to someone other than Tad about this, then feel free to call me, or message me. You can also friend me on Simbook if you want.”
Amelia took the pink note and saw that there was indeed Brigitte’s name and a phone number written with a bright blue marker on it. She looked back at Brigitte’s smile and felt an intense wave of gratitude crashing into her chest.
“Thank you!” she said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Soon after that she said goodbyes to Brigitte and Mimosa, who disappeared into the night, the lights of their eyes the last thing she saw of them when they both turned to glance over their shoulders.
When Amelia saw Tad the next evening, he seemed especially happy. Amelia, however, was not.
“What did you do?” she asked in an almost dangerous tone.
“What?” Tad asked, barely looking up from the plant he was watering.
“I saw Mr. Shallow this afternoon at work, and he seemed very frightened! And I have a feeling you had something to do with that!”
“Oh, that,” Tad said, “He was frightened? He seemed quite fine once we were done talking.”
“So you did do something?” Amelia asked.
“The people from the Ley Line Nexus helped me talk to Mr. Shallow, and we have a new lead!” he said proudly.
Amelia pursed her lips indignantly.
“So he wasn’t even the thief?”
“No. He was just a delivery man. Though he has stolen quite a few things in his life.”
“Oh?” Amelia’s mild outrage was momentarily replaced with puzzlement, “But he seems like such a… well, a mostly decent man. I’ve even talked to him at the diner during our lunch breaks.”
“Oh, everyone is mostly decent,” said Tad, “Almost everyone, at least.”
“You didn’t… hurt him, right?” Amelia asked, “Just please tell me you didn’t hurt him!”
“Of course we didn’t!” Tad said, “I do not hurt people! And I promised you this would be handled in a civilised manner, did I not? We talked a bit over some cookies and tea, and then he just left and moved on with his dysfunctional life.”
“Oh,” said Amelia calming down just a bit, “Well, that sounds…quite nice. Then why was he so jumpy?”
“Oh, I would assume that the knowledge of somebody possibly knowing about his clandestine smuggling hobby is a bit unnerving,” Tad mused, “But I believe he is quite convinced that we were not certain of his guilt.”
“I… suppose that makes sense,” Amelia said slowly, “Alright… sorry I snapped at you.”
“Oh, it is nothing,” Tad said, “I can imagine that me starting this whole thing out with lying did not help things.”
To Tad’s credit, he wasn’t lying at all this time. But even so, had Amelia actually known the details of how it all had played out, she would have probably at least frowned a little at it.
So this was what happened:
Or well, before knowing what happened, it is perhaps interesting to know a bit more about the man named Tom Shallow.
Tom Shallow was indeed a report processor at the Doo Peas Corporation, and he was for the most part a decent man. Except for those parts that weren’t that decent. He had basically gone with the flow for most of his life. He’d married a woman he didn’t particularly care for because his mother had insisted, and he had also gone to business despite it not being his calling because it was what people expected him to do.
He had children he kept in line more out of obligation than love, and he tolerated his father’s demanding presence because he got a nice house out of it. Despite all this he was quite a respectable worker on the outside. During the days, at least. At some nights, however, he shed the leash of expectations and delved into the shady world of smuggling and other less savoury activities.
It was his own little secret. There was a phone call here, a shady back door there, and more than a few notes in inconspicuous places. There were the closer relations to the local criminal family – the Bagleys – than what people thought he had. Sometimes there was even a nightly drive out into a bigger city.
And there were of course the surges of adrenaline and feelings of importance, the feeling of being his own man which he got whenever he deposited secret deliveries around the town and sometimes outside of it. Deliveries with contents even he wasn’t always sure about. It was his thrill made of excitement, potential danger, and a heaping of denial about how insignificant and disposable he really was in the grand scheme of the criminal workings of the town. And after a delivery he could return to his normal, controlled life and none would be the wiser. No one who wasn’t supposed to know knew, because he was smarter than them. Or at least so he believed.
So that was probably why he never expected a group of shady individuals camping outside of his respectable workplace, waiting for him and talking with a mix of nervousness and anticipation.
“This is a terrible idea!” hissed Mimosa, her eyes darting back and forth behind her dark shades, “I shouldn’t be here at all!”
Brigitte put her hand on Mimosa’s shoulder.
“Calm down, Mimi, we’re just here to do some fun scouting! Just stand here, act natural, and read his mind when he comes out!”
“He probably has creepy thoughts anyway… And what if he suspects something and… attacks us?”
“He seems like an individual who does not turn to physical violence very easily,” remarked Tad.
“Exactly!” Brigitte smiled, “Besides, Dewey is watching from the sidelines.”
She turned to Tad and lowered her voice like a conspirator.
“Dewey is one of the members of our commune as well. An ex-monster hunter.”
Tad thought about it for a moment.
“Ah, Mr. Dewey Kaarne. I have met him a few times.”
“You have? Wonderful!” Brigitte clapped her hands together, “You should probably talk more, then! He’s usually very focused on his art, but…”
“Um, guys…” said Mimosa.
“…I did manage to drag him here today, too. He’s making sure that the situation doesn’t get out of hand…”
“Guys, Shallow’s right there!” Mimosa hissed.
They all turned to look at Tom Shallow, who had stepped out of the Doo Peas Corporate Tower and was heading for lunch at the nearby diner. Mimosa fixed her gaze on Mr. Shallow, but Mr. Shallow froze mid-step when his eyes fell on the three of them.
“What the hell are you punks staring at?” he snapped.
Tad raised his hand.
“Oh, I am sorry. I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about a package.”
It was, as many could point out, not the way to start talking to a suspect in the middle of the day, in the open, where there was plenty of places to run away into. For these words triggered a primal reflex in Mr. Shallow’s brain, and he concluded instinctively that his secret nightly runs were most likely secret no more.
“Shit,” he muttered, “Cops.”
He turned and started running.
“Oh, wait, sir!” shouted Brigitte, but Tom Shallow didn’t even hear it. Not that he would have obeyed anyway.
“Why do they always run…?”
Tom Shallow pushed his way past pedestrians and cursed his nerves. He should have been tougher and kept things subtle. He should have looked at the bug-eyed Goth kid in the eyes and said: “What package?” or something equally witty, and then proceed to coolly answer every probing question without once raising suspicion. But no, he’d had to run like an idiot. And it wasn’t like he could stop now; he’d already made himself look far too suspicious. But at least he had been fast enough to dodge the weird bunch who were probably plainclothes police officers – because what else explained the pale girl’s ridiculous parasol? So he’d have to skip town, possibly. And leave this life and his miserable family far behind.
His adrenaline-high-induced thoughts were interrupted when he rounded a corner and was tackled by something that felt like a cannonball with a black belt in sim fu. Tom Shallow found himself face down on the pavement, his lungs emptying painfully, and his arm being twisted back into a tight hold.
“All right, you son of a bitch!” said a gravelly yet strangely melodious voice – sort of like a talking didgeridoo – above him, “The running’s over!”
“Oh, goodness,” said the plump woman from earlier, “Dewey, let the poor man go!”
At that moment, it wasn’t easy being Tom Shallow. Just a few minutes ago he had been slaving away in his dull job, dreaming of another phone call from an anonymous source that would send him on another adventure of questionable goals, and now he was being manhandled by a crazy dude in a beanie and then helped up by who seemed like the kindest lady in the universe.
Her kindness seemed to seep into his brain like a very confusing drug and speed up time.
Because before Tom Shallow knew it, he realised that he was sitting at a kitchen table in an unfamiliar house, with a teacup and a plate of cookies in front of him. And across from him sat a bunch of people who on a second look seemed as far away from cops as he could possibly imagine. There was even a teenage boy who had come in from a school bus and taken a look at Tom’s bruised arm and immediately gone to fetch him a box of something that smelled like seaweed and aloe vera and told him to apply that to all of his injuries.
Now they all looked at him as if they were expecting something. And Tom Shallow was replaying his life in his head and wondering how the hell he had got there.
“Do try the cookies,” said the friendly woman, “Mimosa here made them, and they are just delicious!”
The other woman shifted her feet shyly. Without the jacket, the shades and the parasol she seemed at least a bit more normal. More normal than the goth kid who had taken a seat at the other end of the table and now looked at Tom with eyes that had the washed-out colour of the moon. There was something very… off about the kid. Tom had to suppress a shudder whenever he made the mistake of looking the kid into the eyes.
“Okay, so what the hell is going on?” Tom finally asked, “You guys… are not cops, are you?”
“Cops?” Friendly Woman chuckled, “Of course not! We’re just people who wanted to talk to you. There was no need for any silly running. Those cookies have cranberry and macadamia nuts and chocolate chips in them, by the way. Just heavenly!”
“No thanks,” said Tom.
“You took something from the mailman near this house, did you not?” said Goth Kid, “We would like to know where you took it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tom said, mentally patting himself on the back for keeping his head in the game at least well enough to play dumb now, “I’m not a delivery boy.”
“Yes you are,” said Goth Kid, “You are not really in trouble, Mr. Shallow. I am just asking you a simple question, and there will be no repercussions for answering.”
Tom felt his palms start sweating. He pressed them against his trousers.
“Like I said, I don’t know what’s going on. I’d just like to go back to work without anyone tackling me.”
He glanced nervously at the guy who had done the tackling the last time. The man had a scowl on his face, and what looked like elf ears on his head. They had to be fake, though. Weirdos.
“Oh, you can leave whenever you want,” said Friendly Woman, “You came here without anyone forcing you, and you can leave as well.”
Tom sighed. He had to know what was going on before he was going anywhere. Just how much did these people know, anyway? He’d just taken the package he’d been told to get and delivered it out of town into a mailbox that had definitely seen better days. He remembered that well. The rainy night, asphalt, and the smell of the almost-city. The old, worn-out letters painted on the mailbox. Hill Street 28 B. No name. He had waited in the bushes out of curiosity for a while. A man on a motorcycle had picked up the package. He hadn’t recognised the man and hadn’t expected to. Then he’d just driven back home before he could start looking too suspicious. That was it.
“I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about,” he said stubbornly, “If something of yours went missing, then I’m sorry, but I don’t know…”
“I’ve got it,” the shy girl said quietly, “I’ve got it all.”
Goth Kid nodded.
“Yes, I know. Thank you very much, Mr. Shallow. You have been of great assistance.”
“I… what?” Tom asked.
“We are sorry about this inconvenience. You may go.”
“And do take a cookie with you,” said Friendly Woman.
Then Tom Shallow was standing at the familiar farmhouse’s porch, a cookie in his pocket, and feeling very confused.
He was almost happy to get back to his boring job and his lukewarm-at-best family life that day.
“All right, I suppose I should trust you a bit more,” Amelia said with a sigh, “So what did this… talk with Mr. Shallow reveal?”
Tad’s eyes shone with excitement.
“We know the address where he took the spells. He also saw the person who picked the package up, but he did not know the man. I, however, do.”
“So… you found the thief?”
“Possibly. Or at least the next step to finding the real culprit. This one is not veiled by the gemstone either.”
Tad hummed thoughtfully.
“I believe we would have time to talk to him as well today, now that my plants are taken care of.”
“Oh?” Amelia asked, “Are you going to ask Brigitte and the others to help again?”
Tad shook his head.
“No, they have done enough. I do not want to disturb them any more than I already have. However, I do think it is time to inform Miss Leifsdóttir about this like I promised.”
Tad opened the door of the greenhouse.
“Thank you again, Amelia.”
He turned to leave, but the memory of the rattled look on Mr. Shallow’s face pushed Amelia’s feet to move as well.
“Wait,” she said, “I’ll come with you.”
Tad raised a thin brow. Then he smiled softly.
“Very well. I suppose somebody should be there to… help me speak.”
And so, with only slight hesitation in her steps, Amelia followed him into the darkening night and let herself be flung into the midst of the supernatural mystery again.
Author’s Note: Well, now we’ve got glimpses of all the (current) members of the Ley Line Nexus. Yay! And some random insight into Tom Shallow, a townie that I picked to be my unfortunate suspect for this one. His traits and story seemed to fit into this the best, seeing how it was easy to make him into an insignificant newbie who was tipping his toes into the criminal world but who wasn’t exactly yet fully in it. By the way, all of the screenshots taken from the Shallow home was them just doing whatever they wanted independently and me snapping pics. It was a lot of fun. They’re a pretty entertaining family with all their evilness and whatnot.
Thank you all of you lovely people who have stopped to even take a second look at this! 🙂
Next it’s time for more action, I believe!