Rachel’s train to Philadelphia is supposed to be pulling out of Penn Station in two hours, so she’s keeping close track of the time.
“I cannot believe we are doing this,” Elean mutters, skulking along behind her. It’s not easy to pull off a skulk in the Upper East Side in broad daylight, but he’s managing it all right. “Would he be pulling this kind of stunt for us? You’d be a fool to bet on it and that’s all I am going to say.” It’s probably not all that Elean is going to say, given how much he has said already. Rachel could point out that the whole enterprise was his idea to begin with, but it doesn’t really seem worth it. Some people just feel better when they’re complaining. Rachel’s never been one of those people, but she doesn’t judge.
Instead, as they turn onto 65th Street, she glances at her watch and then drops to one knee on the street to methodically retie her bootlace. They’re a minute or two early. Better early than late.
They can’t break into Senator Beriam’s townhouse from the ground floor, not with the kind of security he can afford to buy. From the upper floors, though – there are possibilities there. The aging silent film idol who owns the place next door to the Senator’s is out in California this week in a last-ditch attempt to resurrect his career; the back door of the Plaza Athene on East 65th has access to the strip of open space that runs between the set of 65th Street townhouses and the ones backing up against them on 64th; and the concierge at the Plaza (the building in front of which Rachel is now tying her shoelace, ignoring the dark looks of the doorman across the street) abandons his post for two minutes every day at quarter past five to run to the corner and wave to his girl as she comes off-duty at the upscale hatter’s across the way. Once you know all that – and the information brokers at the Daily Days do, of course, know all that – it’s simple.
Next to her, Elean twiddles his fingers and scowls down. He’s bearing the brunt of the doorman’s stinkeye, and visibly restraining himself from shooting an answering glare across the street. “To top it off he has to go get himself tied up in the Upper East Side of all places? Inconsiderate through and through.”
Rachel carefully loops one length of bootlace around another. She can see his point. The Daily Days doesn’t cover these streets; New York has its society papers for that. This isn’t her beat, or Elean’s, and while they’ve dressed to make their presence as plausible as possible, a thousand details small and large make it all too clear that they don’t belong. Nonetheless, thanks to Nicholas, here they are. You could theoretically make the argument that Nicholas didn’t choose to get himself locked up in a millionaire’s townhouse, and he certainly didn’t have a vote in the address. But considering that it was his own pure idiocy that got him there, Rachel feels pretty comfortable with blaming him all the same.
This morning, 10:15 AM
“Senator Beriam,” Nicholas says, oozing smiles. “So glad you were able to make time to see me. You won’t regret it, I promise.”
The Senator eyes him with brusque distaste. “I really don’t have much time, so can you make it quick?”
“I wanted to talk you into reconsidering your plan for the Daily Days.” Nicholas hitches his briefcase a little higher. “I think I’ve got some pretty compelling arguments on my side.”
“Unlikely,” says the Senator, “but go on.”
“Just hear me out, all right?” Nicholas sits down uninvited in the empty chair and opens up his briefcase. Artistically slow, he draws out a document with smooth ink-splashed hands and lays it down on the Senator’s desk like a playing card. “Let’s see, what do we have here?” He makes a show of squinting down, and mimes surprise. “Well! Looks like an eyewitness account of your contract to smuggle illegal explosives into the state – using a twelve-year-old boy as an agent, no less. That’d go down great with the voters, right, Senator? They just love to hear about your rapport with kids. And, look, here’s the report about what you said when you found out your wife and daughter were in danger from –”
As Nicholas talks, the Senator sighs and presses his fingers into his eyelids. Then he rings a small bell, and Beriam’s large butler and powerfully-built secretary promptly appear to seize the reporter’s arms.
“That was the least subtle blackmail attempt I’ve ever been subjected to,” Beriam informs the now-gaping Nicholas. “And believe me, I’ve experienced several.” He waves a dismissive hand and his employees start to drag the scrawny reporter off, leaving a trail of incriminating documentation scattered like breadcrumbs behind him. Nicholas jolts out of his stunned silence and starts to shout something – it’s probably going to be ‘you’re not going to get away with this!’ or ‘get your hands off me!’ – but the butler raps him hard on the head and the sound cuts off smartly.
Beriam shakes his head, watching the unconscious reporter disappear around the corner, and then calls after his secretary. “Come back right after you’re done – I need to send a telegram to the Daily Days.”
Today, 5:17 PM
“Extremely inconsiderate,” Rachel agrees.
“Though,” Elean says, switching his position, “I guess he was just trying to help. You know, in his way.”
Yesterday, 12:13 PM
Nicholas jumps as if the seat below him has suddenly caught fire. He’s not the only one, either. “Financial problems? How is that even possible?”
“We are in a depression,” Elean snaps, “in case you didn’t notice. And all those firearms didn’t exactly come cheap.”
Nicholas whips his gaze back to Elean, eyes narrowing. “Maybe if some people weren’t so squeamish about actually selling information –”
Elean, visibly deciding to pretend Nicholas doesn’t exist for the moment, turns back towards the front desk. “Sir – you’re talking about the financial control of the business completely changing hands. Aren’t you?”
“We can’t do that!” Yafeng, one of the younger employees and idealistic in the Elean mode, turns his hat around and around in his hands. “The information we have, we can’t just let some crooked politician –”
“That’s why the senator is so interested in buying us out,” says the president. He sounds perfectly calm, and it’s not like any of them can see anything in his face to contradict that impression. Rachel has a suspicion he might be pretty glad of that impenetrable pile of papers on his desk right about now. “With the election coming up, the information we have stored on him could be a serious liability if we decided to sell it.”
Rachel remembers the crunching cardboard feel of train tickets ripping between her fingers, and tightens her hand on her lap. She waits for the next lull in the chatter and exclamations before asking, “Do you think he had a hand in some of the troubles we’ve been having recently, sir?”
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” says the president, and the room explodes once again.
Nicholas and Elean have gotten into another one of their regularly scheduled glaring contests, eyebrows shoved forward and foreheads nearly butting, but they both jerk their eyes forward again now. “How long do we have?” demands Nicholas, and Elean says, “Sir, is there anything we can –“
There’s a smile in the president’s voice as he answers, “You’re all very ingenious people, with a number of resources, or you wouldn’t be working for us. You can feel free to pursue your own paths on this.” He sounds like he’s dismissing them to go investigate any standard story, rather than to save the institution that employs them – and it is a clear dismissal.
In twos and threes, the reporters file out, hissing to each other. Rachel leaves with the rest of them, though out of the corner of her eye she can see that Sugar Cube stays behind, shuffling his amiable way around back of the president’s desk. Rachel supposes that if there’s any time the president could use a lump of sweetener to improve the taste of the world, it’s probably now.
Today, 5:15 PM
“I mean, you might as well blame the president for saying – hey! Rachel,” Elean interrupts himself, “why didn’t you tell me I’d left my hat in the room?”
It’s their prearranged signal, and Rachel, still kneeling on the ground, can feel a fast-moving shadow pass over her as the Plaza doorman hastens by. She waits until he’s past her to straighten up, and then moves with a ground-eating gait towards the door of the Plaza, following Elean. He’s not skulking anymore – during this part they need to project confidence.
He holds the door for her with exaggerated chivalry and she steps inside, Elean close on her heels now. They don’t look to the left or right, just move quickly through the lobby, ignoring the tootling round-cheeked cherubs squinting down at them from the upper corners and their own reflections flashing through the mirrors on the walls. There aren’t many people in the hotel this time of day; the receptionist looks up as they pass, but goes back to her newspaper (not the Daily Days) when it becomes clear they know where they’re headed. After all, who’s going to rob a hotel in the middle of the afternoon? And Rachel makes for a semi-plausible guest at first glance, though the illusion vanishes if you look too far past the pretty white dress and the headband that disguises her unfashionably-chopped hair.
They turn the corner out of the lobby towards the discreet hallway that leads to the service dumbwaiter, where by unspoken agreement Rachel takes up the post of lookout as Elean fiddles with the lock. In a few moments they’re through, and into what feels like another world after the gilded elegance of the lobby – plain whitewashed walls, unvarnished brown doorframes, a few rolling metal caddies left unattended. Rachel sees Elean’s shoulders relax, and feels the tension disappear from her own forehead. She takes off the embroidered headband as they move through the corridor, crumpling it up in her hand, and shoves it into the pocket of the short trousers she’s wearing under the dress.
The back door isn’t locked, and soon they’re safely in the alleyway, looking up. Rachel holds out her hand, and Elean passes her the rope; she knots the end and hurls it upwards, swinging it around the edge of the second-floor balcony of the townhouse behind the Plaza. It’s strange to be doing this on a surface that actually holds still. Most of her skills have been honed on the rails, and she keeps half-expecting the brownstone bulk to start tilting and picking up speed, hurtling her into another wild chase like the last one – but this adventure should be tame by comparison.
“Ladies first,” says Elean gallantly, and grins at her. Rachel slides him an answering smile and then shucks her dress without self-consciousness, tossing it over to him. Underneath she has the trousers and an unembellished, fitted shirt that won’t snag. Elean folds the dress up dexterously and puts it in one of his own capacious pockets as Rachel starts to climb hand-over-hand, bracing her feet against the side of the building. Elean takes up a position beneath her, ready to catch her, she knows, if she falls. But she won’t.
She reaches the balcony and swings over, and then it’s Elean’s turn. He’s not as confident in the climb as she was, and he has to halt a few times to grab at a protruding piece of plumbing or decorative stone twiddle and re-situate himself, but he refrains from looking at the ground and shows no inclination to panic. As he ascends, Rachel leans over and extends her hand to swing him over the rail. “Nicely done,” she says, once he’s settled on the balcony, and she means it.
“Whew!” Elean wipes sweat off his forehead. “I’m out of practice with that kind of thing.”
Rachel makes a mental note that some time in the future she should ask Elean about when it was that he got in practice. Daily Days reporters don’t tend to share a lot of their backstory voluntarily. But Elean and Nicholas know some of hers now (though not nearly all), and she’s finding herself curious. Right now they’ve got other things to worry about, though, like making it across to Senator Beriam’s building next door – which after the climb they just made, isn’t actually all that difficult. In New York City, even the millionaire’s houses are located conveniently close together, and in not much time at all Rachel’s at Mary Beriam’s closed window.
Best-case scenario, the room is empty and she and Elean crack the window and slide on through unchallenged. She peers in. This isn’t the best-case scenario, but it’s not the worst-case either; Mary Beriam is alone, lining up her dolls carefully on her bed. Rachel raps quietly on the glass of the window, and the little girl jumps up, looking around her. Her eyes widen almost comically when she sees who it is. She runs to open the window without further prompting.
Rachel smiles at Mary, but mimes closing her lips. “We have to be quiet.”
Mary nods obediently, and then glances over her shoulder, biting her lip. “But I’m at home,” she whispers back. “Are they outside? Did they break into my house?”
It only takes a moment for Rachel to grasp what Mary’s assuming, seeing her come in through the window again. Quickly, she says, “There’s no danger. I’m only here to visit.”
“Oh!” The excitement flushes back into the little girl’s face, as if it had never gone. “I’m glad! I asked Mama if we could see you again –” She remembers, abruptly, to bring her voice back down to a child’s hissing whisper. “And she said maybe but maybe usually means no but I wanted to show you, look!” She’s already running back over to the bed, pulling out the doll that sits in pride of place. The doll has stiff blonde hair and painted-on eyelashes and is wearing a green velvet dress. “Mama got me a doll that’s in green so I could name it Rachel!”
Rachel controls her face, and tells herself that it’s nice to be loved.
“When Sukey and Sara get in trouble,” Mary says, happily oblivious, “Rachel comes to help them. It’s not that they get in trouble a lot,” she adds, earnestly, “but sometimes they do even though it’s not their fault.”
“That happens sometimes,” agrees Rachel. “Mary – is it all right if a friend of mine comes in? I think he’ll be happy to meet the other Rachel too.” And that’s not even a lie.
The puzzled cloud on Mary’s face clears with the explanation. “Oh! All right.”
Rachel leans back out the window, and beckons to Elean, currently dangling uncomfortably off a gutter.
“Finally,” grumbles Elean, hauling himself over into the room, and then aims his most disarming grin over at Mary. “Hi there. You must be Mary, right?”
“Y-eeeees.” Mary’s a little more nervous, now that she’s seeing Elean, but willing to be friendly. “Rachel said you wanted to meet Rachel?”
Elean shoots Rachel a glance out of the corner of his eye, and Rachel says, in resignation, “You want to meet Rachel.”
“Rachel!” says Mary, holding up the doll proudly, and Rachel has the dubious satisfaction of learning that the expression of hysterical delight that flickers briefly over Elean’s face as he puts two and two together looks exactly the way she’d imagined it would.
But he earns points from Rachel and Mary both by checking his hilarity, and stepping forward to solemnly shake the doll’s hand. “I’m very pleased to meet Rachel,” he says, and Mary beams. “And you too, Mary.”
“Mary,” says Rachel, half-kneeling until she’s at eye level with the girl, “We’re here to look for a friend of ours that we think got lost in your house. Do you remember a man coming to visit yesterday?”
“Lots of people come to visit,” says Mary. “Papa knows a lot of people.”
She should have expected that. “Is there anywhere in the house that you aren’t supposed to go?”
Mary takes a moment to think about this. “The kitchen. And Mama and Papa’s room. And the front parlor when Papa’s friends are here.”
“I see,” says Rachel, aware that Elean is trying to catch her eye.
“Oh, and the fourth floor,” says Mary, “because that’s where Papa does political things and we’re not supposed to disturb him.”
Rachel opens her mouth to thank her, and Elean murmurs, urgent, “Rachel, someone’s coming down the hall.”
It’s important not to underestimate the intelligence of children. Mary looks at them with sudden shrewdness, and then pulls open the door to her closet. “You can hide in there, okay?”
Rachel and Elean don’t need to be invited twice.
There’s a short, undignified, silent struggle for position after the door closes. Both Elean and Rachel want their ear up against the wood, and the closet isn’t all that large. They manage to settle into a sort of compromise, Rachel low against the ground and Elean stretched up over her, both listening with all their might.
“Yes, Mama?” Mary is saying, and Mrs. Beriam’s soft answer comes – “I’m sorry, dear, I know I promised to take you to the park, but Papa wants me to entertain a visitor for him.”
“If you get lonely, let Cynthia know and perhaps you can come say hello to Miss Genoard,” says Mrs. Beriam, at which point Elean almost falls over straight onto Rachel.
Rachel braces him hastily back up before he can start clattering things around in the closet, and holds her finger to her lips – probably a wasted effort, as she realizes a second later, since neither of them can see much of anything in the extremely faint light that trickles in under the closet door. Still, if she focuses, she can just make out Elean’s contorted facial expressions as he mouths, ‘Miss Genoard?’
Rachel shrugs in response, and focuses again on listening to the retreating footsteps, fading off. A few moments more pass, and Mary comes to pull the door back open. Elean and Rachel, both braced against the door, tumble with predictable slapstick down to the floor, elbows squashing into the printed pink roses on the plush carpet. Mary blinks down at them.
“That was Mama –”
Elean’s up again before she can even finish the sentence, his eyebrows jumpy with agitation. “Mary – did your Mama say she’s entertaining Miss Genoard? Is that what she said?”
“Yes, she always entertains people Papa doesn’t want to talk to.”
“Eve here!” Rachel’s just started getting to her own feet when Elean grabs her arm and hauls her the rest of the way up, mostly, it seems, for the sake of having something to grab. “This is all my fault!”
Yesterday, 3:00 PM
Elean sets his teacup down; his gaze follows it. “I'm sorry – maybe I shouldn’t have come here to bother you with our troubles.”
“No – Mr. Duga, of course you should have!” Eve clasps her hands together, leaning forward. Some of her hair is escaping from its ribbon. “I’m only sorry I can’t help. I wish I could repay –”
“You don’t owe us anything. More like the opposite. It was us that got you into trouble, after all.”
“And helped me out of it,” says Eve quietly.
“I’m just worried there’ll be more trouble for you. If Senator Beriam has the controlling interest in the Daily Days and all the information we’ve got – there’s a lot of people won’t be safe. It’d be nice to have somebody trustworthy holding the purse strings.”
Eve flushes, and Elean quirks her a smile. “Look, I know you can’t take that on. Just a pipe dream, as they say.”
“If my money wasn’t all tied up in the waterworks project – but you know, you know I can’t abandon that. But maybe there’s something else I can do to help. I could try to talk to the Senator for you – he’s interested in Dallas, maybe he’ll listen to me, and –”
“You don’t need to do that,” Elean says, cutting her off hastily. “Trust me, you don’t want to do that. We’ll figure out something else.”
Eve picks up her teacup, and then settles it carefully back down on the table without drinking from it. There’s a considering look on her face. “It means a lot to me. That you think of me as – as someone who’s able to help other people.”
Elean laughs at that, sudden and unexpected. He thinks he can pick out the word she didn’t use. “Miss Eve – after seeing you face down the whole Gandor organization like that, someone would have to be crazy to think of you as a little girl.”
This gets a pleased and slightly awkward silence across the table, broken in a few moments when Elean pushes himself to his feet. “I better go – I have a few more calls to make. You’re not the only high-up contact the Daily Days has, you know. Don’t worry too much. We’ll work something out. I’ll make sure to keep you updated, too.”
“I’ll say hello to Samantha for you,” says Eve. He doesn’t turn around as he leaves, and therefore doesn’t see the thoughtful look that’s still settled on her face.
Today, 5:45 PM
“She’s a Genoard,” says Rachel, extracting her arm. “She’ll be fine.”
“Her father and brother were Genoards too,” says Elean darkly.
“Senator Beriam’s –” She glances at Mary, who is listening with clear interest, and checks what she was going to say. “Not an idiot. It sounds like all Eve Genoard has to worry about is the prospect of a cup of tea with Mrs. Beriam. I think she’ll survive it.”
“You think,” mutters Elean. “Sure. That’s what would happen with most girls. But Eve, she’s got this habit of –”
“We’re here for Nicholas,” says Rachel, and looks at him. Does Elean want to finish what they came for, and rescue their colleague from his own extreme lack of common sense? Or does he want to rush in to save Eve Genoard from a situation that, as far as they can make out, she has no need of being saved from?
It’s no contest, of course. “All right.” Elean makes a fumbling gesture towards his face, like he wants to push the tinted glasses he is currently not actually wearing back up on his nose. “Let’s go. The fourth floor?”
Mary, used to being left alone, doesn’t protest their going, but she does look rather wistful. “Are you going to bring your friend back here when you find him?”
Rachel and Elean look at each other. “Probably,” says Rachel.
“Though we’ll be in a hurry, and you probably won’t be happy to meet him,” says Elean. “So apologies in advance, Mary.”
“Then why do you want to find him?”
It’s Elean, now, who crouches down to look the little girl straight in the eye. “Here’s a life lesson I want you to learn, Mary,” he says, very seriously. “Sometimes, life turns out so you find yourself making friends with an ass. It’s one of those things that happens, so you may as well get used to it.”
It’s not how Rachel would have put it, but she supposes she can’t argue. Mary looks confused, but nods and then runs over to the door. “No one’s coming,” she reports. Elean and Rachel turn towards the hallway, and then Rachel turns her head quickly back. For a second, she could have sworn she saw a flash of something moving past the window, out of the corner of her eye –
But that’s probably just another flashback to that night on the train. Which wasn’t, after all, the kind of thing you forget easily. She shrugs at a puzzled Elean, and they make for the stairs. When they’re halfway down the hall, Rachel hears Mary’s voice pipe up again, presumably starting another solitary game of make-believe.
Nicholas, as it turns out, is not on the fourth floor.
As it turns out, Senator Beriam’s secretary is, peaceably transcribing shorthand notes.
Fifteen or so minutes later, they find themselves unceremoniously tied up and bundled into a very small room, where space is exceedingly cramped because Nicholas is already there. The multitalented secretary locks the door and vanishes, presumably to fetch the Senator. It’s dark, and they might not have known where they are if it weren’t for the smells of must and cinnamon and flour, and the rustling sound of onions shifting against each other every time they brush up against a bag. There are worse qualities, in a dungeon.
“The pantry?” demands Elean, spitting out his gag. “He keeps his hostages in the pantry? Who does that?”
“They were probably planning on moving him tonight,” says Rachel, twisting her wrists carefully back and forth. You can’t really carry unconscious bodies around the Upper East Side in broad daylight without attracting notice – something that Nicholas was probably banking on when he conceived his moronic plan to begin with.
She can just make out a movement in the dark that’s probably Elean shaking his head. “I hope the cook wasn’t planning anything fancy, since for all we know Nicholas has been bleeding all over her potatoes.” The flippant words are layered over concern, and Rachel shifts herself, again, to make sure that she’s not squashing any of the unconscious Nicholas’ vitals, before she goes back to methodically working her hands out of the ropes. “I found his wrist and his pulse is all right, but – what do you think happened to him?”
Today, ten minutes ago
There’s the faint clicking sound of someone doing deft work with a lock. Then the door to the pantry opens, and light floods in; after several hours of darkness, Nicholas is almost blinded, and he squints painfully up through his lashes.
“Oh, it’s you,” says the black-clad man framed in the doorway, the red of his hair blazing like a candle. “I guess you don’t know where the Senator is.”
Nicholas lets out an undignified half-shriek in the back of his throat, behind the gag, and promptly passes out.
The red-haired man scratches the back of his neck, vaguely puzzled. “That’s happening all the time these days,” he remarks, apparently to himself. Then he steps back out of the doorway of the pantry, considerately re-locking it behind him. It’s an amateurish lockup job, sure, which offends his professional sensibilities a little, but when someone’s gone to that much trouble to set something up it’s only polite to leave things where you found them.
Today, 6:05 PM
“Not to be rude,” says Rachel, “but in a way, getting out of here might be easier if Nicholas stays unconscious.” Then they just have to carry him. Annoying – but less so than actually putting up with him talking.
Elean thinks about this. “That’s a point.”
He might have said more, but at that moment the pantry door swings open. It doesn’t let in much light; Senator Beriam’s lean figure wouldn’t block out very much on its own, but the set of dangerous-looking persons in suits behind him perform that function admirably.
“The whole purpose of keeping this one was to prevent this kind of thing,” he says, disapproval written over his face. “My telegram should have made it clear.”
Elean glares up at him. “Very clear. Why do you think we’re here?”
“I suppose I won’t make that mistake again,” sighs the Senator, and turns to his secretary. “D’Arcy –”
“Senator!” shouts out one of the men, and another says, “Ma’am, this isn’t –” and a third voice, female, says, “Manfred?”
The senator swivels fast on his heel. “Natalie,” says Manfred Beriam, a flicker of something – it might be dismay, or just irritation – breaking the hard mask of his face.
“Eve!” says Elean, who apparently just feels the need to add to the numbers of people calling out each other’s names in significant tones. Or no, now she looks for it – and now that a few of the Senator’s staff have sidled out from in between the spouses – Rachel can make out the small figure of Eve Genoard standing straight-backed next to Natalie Beriam. The girl’s eyes perceptibly widen as she takes in the set of imprisoned reporters in the closet. This wasn’t a planned rescue attempt, then.
“I’m sorry, sir,” says the secretary, shamefaced – which is only appropriate, in Rachel’s opinion. It’s extremely unprofessional to just leave a crime scene unguarded like this. Then again, they’re probably not entirely used to this kind of thing. Senator Beriam’s not a white hat no matter how you look at it, but grimy, sneaky crimes like hostage-taking are generally too risky, for a man who needs his reputation.
The Senator’s wife glances over at Eve Genoard. “You were right,” she tells her, and then lifts her eyes back to her husband’s. “Did you not expect this? There’s only so much one can ignore under one’s own roof.”
Today, twenty minutes ago
“I’m so pleased you’ve called on us, Miss Genoard,” says the senator’s wife. She wears a political smile below her newfangled lip gloss, but it reaches her eyes, too. “I know my husband will be happy to speak with you if he manages to make the time – his schedule of course is very busy – but I’ll confess that I’m glad to have you to myself for a while. You’re still quite a figure of mystery in New York society, you know.”
“I’m not very mysterious,” says Eve Genoard. She looks like one of Mary’s dolls playing tea-party, settled in the delicate filigree parlor chair, hands quietly folded in her lap. “I think you’re more mysterious than I am, Mrs. Beriam.”
“Me?” The small pearls hanging from Natalie Beriam’s ears swing as she laughs. “Not at all. When Manfred first decided to run for office, I accepted that we’d have to give up all mystery. The price of being a public figure.”
Eve looks at her steadily. “Senator Beriam isn’t very mysterious to me. A friend of mine has told me a lot about him. But you seem very kind, and I wonder –” She breaks off, tugging fretfully on the lace-trimmed ends of her sleeves and ruining the illusion of poise. “Mrs. Beriam, you were in trouble not all that long ago, weren’t you? On a train?”
The senator’s wife stills. The details of this incident are not supposed to be public knowledge. “Yes, but –”
“My friend is a reporter who works with Rachel,” says Eve. “She’s the person who helped you, isn’t she? Did she tell you anything else about that night on the train?”
“It was a very traumatic memory for all of us.” Natalie Beriam’s tone has a clear, dignified finality to it. “I’m sure, like myself, she wouldn’t want to call it back by discussing it.”
“Maybe not.” Eve takes a breath, and persists. “Only, you see, my father and brother did some awful things, and I never knew. And I do wish I’d known. I don’t think it was fair for people to try to protect me by not telling me. It meant I couldn’t make my own decisions about it. It was – patronizing.”
Mrs. Beriam’s face remains blank for several moments. She picks up her teacup and takes a small, slow sip – a useful social maneuver, to buy herself time to decide that she wants to continue the conversation. “But of course,” she says, “I must understand how they felt. You were only a child, then.”
“You aren’t,” says Eve.
There’s an even longer pause, this time, before Mrs. Beriam inclines her head just slightly; on her face is a combination of wariness and resignation, and, perhaps, something of relief. “No,” she murmurs. “I’m not.”
Today, 6:10 PM
Senator Beriam is much taller than his wife. Rachel wonders if he ever manages to switch off that general impression he’s giving of looking down on her. “We’ve had these discussions,” he says. “I thought we’d agreed there were some things you were happy enough not to know.”
“Not to this extent. And not to the extent of putting Mary in danger. ”
All the eyes in the room, by this point, are thoroughly fixed on the Beriams, which is very convenient for Rachel, who has just managed to work her hands loose of the ropes.
“I would never put you or Mary in danger,” says the Senator. His tone is calm, reasonable.
It’s matched by his wife’s. “I don’t want to have a long discussion about it in front of all these people, Manfred,” says Mrs. Beriam, with as much composure as if they’d been at a cocktail party instead of in the middle of an interrupted (presumable) assassination. “I’ll be taking Mary to my mother’s, and we can set an appointment to follow up at –”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Natalie.”
Senator Beriam’s secretary ties fairly simple knots; it’s just the work of a moment or two to free up first Elean and then (after a moment of hesitation) Nicholas, on the principle that if he ever wakes up he might be able to make himself useful. Of course, there still remains the question of how they’re going to get out of the pantry; free hands or not, they’re outnumbered and extremely outgunned. Rachel briefly and wistfully considers throwing Nicholas at the Senator’s back, but, while it’s rather satisfying to imagine Manfred Beriam being bowled over by a large lump of unconscious reporter, a pitched battle isn’t likely to turn out well for them. It would be a lot easier if they could somehow manage to disappear. Sadly, this is a much more difficult thing to manage in a crowded house than on a moving train.
. . . but then, they do have tools at their disposal, Rachel remembers, as her gaze, coming down from the solid ceiling (no exit there), settles on the second shelf of the pantry, where the Beriams store all their baking materials.
She touches Elean on the shoulder to pull his attention away from the senator – who’s currently saying something about hasty judgments – and makes a quick gesture. Elean blinks at her, and leans over to mutter in her ear, “Good call. I got a little idea for a bonus, too.”
Rachel doesn’t think they have time for him to explain his bonus. Mrs. Beriam looks as if she’s about to walk out any minute, removing their convenient distraction. “I don’t see what else needs discussing here,” she says, already half-turned away, when another one of Beriam’s people pops in the door.
“Apologies for interrupting, boss, but it seems like someone’s called the cops –”
“Fine!” The Senator’s voice is, finally, starting to lose its reasonable edge and take on a note of extreme exasperation. “They can deal with these home intruders. Natalie, you and Mary are not going anywhere in the middle of this –”
All the more reason to hurry, then. Rachel jerks Elean a nod to let him know that he should go ahead with whatever plan he’s come up with, and reaches up to grab the first of the jumbo-sized bags of flour on the second shelf.
Elean follows suit and holds up his hand to tell her to wait for a second while he grabs another, smaller bag and dumps its contents into the larger. That done, he folds all his fingers down, then flips back up first his ring finger, then his index. One, two - and on the count of three, Rachel whacks the Senator over the head with one bag while Elean throws his out into the room as hard as he can.
Elean shouts, “Eve, cover your face!” as the bags explode into covering clouds of white powder – and the room just as suddenly explodes into fits of coughing and sneezing. “Pepper?” asks Rachel in a low tone, prudently pulling out her headband from her pocket and fitting it over her nose; the unholy answering grin that she can dimly see on Elean’s face before he ties a strip of potato-sack around his own face is response enough.
The reporters toss out another flour-bomb each for good measure, and then Rachel grabs Nicholas’ shoulders and Elean his legs and they launch themselves out into the kitchen. Rachel, in the lead, knocks something heavy as they rush forward into the haze of dry goods and realizes a second later that it must have been the Senator. The impact is followed by a satisfying crashing noise, so either he fell over, or fell into one of his bodyguards; Rachel decides that this result is almost as pleasing as if she had followed her initial impulse to throw Nicholas at him.
The sacks of flour, sadly, are not as effective or far-reaching as a smokebomb, and it doesn’t take them long before they’ve exhausted their cover. The door is straight ahead of them, but they’re clearly visible now, and two of the Senator’s people who avoided the main flour-and-pepper blast are heading in their direction –
And then, suddenly, the way is clear again, as a dainty foot in a slipper that was probably once pink intervenes at just the right time and trips the goons sprawling to the floor. “I think you’d better be going,” says a flour-covered Eve Genoard to Elean, looking like a surprisingly poised ghost. “We were just leaving too.”
“Thanks, Eve,” gasps Elean; Rachel manages a nod, and they hustle through the door and crash straight into a figure in black sauntering in the opposite direction.
Rachel and Elean reel against the wall; Nicholas, who has been starting to stir, lets out a kind of gurgle and goes limp again. “Hey, Rachel!” says the figure, waving a hand behind him, and vanishes into the mass of sneezes, shouts and flour that currently makes up the Beriam kitchen, leaving the two conscious reporters to stare at each other.
“Either I am crazy,” says Elean, “which I am not, or that was –”
“Come on.” Rachel hoists Nicholas’ torso higher. They can’t afford to dawdle any more than they could ten seconds ago. “If he’s here, it’s not for us.”
Elean is staring harder now, with sudden suspicion. “Rachel,” he says. “Rachel, you didn’t –”
Yesterday, 3:15 PM
“Looking up tomorrow’s trains?” asks the casual voice from behind her.
“Don’t worry,” says Rachel flatly, not looking up. “I’m planning on buying a ticket.”
“That’s good,” says Claire Stanfield, or the Rail Tracer, or whatever he’s calling himself these days. “I’d hate to have to kill you after all we been through. Wanna grab a sandwich?”
Grabbing a sandwich is not on her agenda for the afternoon. Nonetheless, Rachel shrugs and follows New York’s deadliest assassin over to the cold-cuts-and-pickle vendor in the back of the concourse. “How’s the courtship going?”
“Great!” Claire’s face lights up. “That suggestion about the gifts, that was great, I really owe you one for that. I mean, every time I see her in that dress I bought her – how much is that gonna be, fifty cents? Just a sec – or she takes one of her knives outta those holsters I gave her and she gets blood all over those gloves, it’s like, you know how it is, when your insides just start doing high jumps, you know, like that?”
“Don’t mention it,” says Rachel.
She accepts the baloney sandwich that Claire hands her, and they sit under the glass roof of the concourse as businessmen hustle by.
“So.” Claire rests his elbows on the table and takes an enormous bite out of his sandwich. With his mouth full: “What’s in Philadelphia? You running away from some kinda trouble? Not to be rude, but I’ve seen you looking better, and considering when I’ve seen you, you should know that’s pretty serious.”
“Actually,” says Rachel, “that was pretty rude.”
Claire either ignores this or genuinely doesn’t notice. “Well, are you gonna spill the beans? I’m pretty curious what would put an abnormal girl like you on edge.”
Rachel sighs. Confiding in Claire Stanfield isn’t exactly on her to-do list for today either. On the other hand, not confiding in Claire Stanfield when he wants you to start confiding is probably not a great life plan either. “Let’s just say that if things go the way they’re looking to go, my new boss and I might not exactly see eye-to-eye,” she says. “I’ve got a contact at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I’d rather get out of the city before things get complicated.”
“You mean at the paper? The Pres is stepping down?”
“More like getting bought out,” says Rachel, and, as Claire chomps down, adds – she’s not exactly sure why – “By Senator Beriam.”
Claire swallows, noisily, and gives her one of those bright, engaging smiles that are all the more unnerving for being so patently genuine. “Hey, there’s nothing to worry about then,” he says, and waves his hand grandly in the air. “I owe you one anyway for the good advice, right? And the way I hear it the guy ain’t exactly a stand-up citizen. If you think about it, if those explosives had gone off, that would’ve taken a good chunk out of the passengers - I mean if it didn’t kill all of them. Blood and guts and those little blown-up gobs of muscle and skin and blubber all over the place.” Claire’s hands are very expressive when he’s discussing gore, and the chewed-up baloney that shows every time he opens his mouth adds conveniently to the effect. “Sure, there’s plenty that were no loss, but a couple decent passengers on that train I don’t know any reason why they should end up splashed all over the side of the rails in little pieces.”
Rachel privately thinks Claire is one to talk, but decides against saying so out loud.
“So to get right down to it,” the Rail Tracer concludes, swallowing the end of his sandwich, “it ain’t like he would be missed.” He pushes himself up from the chair and waves a hand at her. “So hey, sorry to rush off but I got a date with my girl.” He’s clearly delighted just to say the words; his sudden grin is half bashful teen, half cat-that-ate-the-canary. Rachel, observing this, can only nod belatedly as he adds, “Don’t worry, you’re covered,” before striding off.
Rachel stares after him silently – for once, not due to her usual cautious choice, but simply at an utter loss for words.
Today, 6:16 PM
"Don’t you tell me you hired an assassin to fix our problems!”
“I didn’t,” Rachel says shortly, as they heave Nicholas around a corner. It feels like he’s getting heavier the farther they have to carry him. “Well – not exactly.”
Had she known what would happen when she mentioned Senator Beriam’s name? As Claire had said, it isn’t as if it would be any great loss if he were to vanish from the picture. She’d certainly thought about calling after Claire that he shouldn’t bother about it, but in the end, all she’d done was sit there and eat her sandwich, and then bought her train ticket to Philadelphia. It’s not as if she’d really expected the assassin to do anything about it. Mass murderers are not known for being reliable.
Though if there’s an exception to that rule it’s probably Claire Stanfield, within his field, and for a given definition of reliable. She wonders what’s going on in the kitchen now.
Today, one minute ago
All of the Senator’s staff members have either tackled or been tackled by someone whom they firmly believe is a renegade reporter, which means, of course, that when the flour clears, half of them turn out to be sitting on the other half.
Nobody is sitting on Eve Genoard or Natalie Beriam, largely because the ladies have prudently made their exit and are right now on their way up to Mary Beriam’s bedroom. Nobody is sitting on Senator Beriam, who, white with rage as much as flour, has just managed to push himself upright again by grasping the lintel of the pantry. And nobody is sitting on the black-clad man who has taken comfortable possession of the table in the center of the kitchen. Infuriatingly, he doesn’t even appear to be covered in flour.
“Who,” says Senator Beriam, “the hell are you?”
“It’s your lucky day, Senator,” says the man in black, with a wide, wide grin, and, as the two more currently non-suffocated staff members scramble to their feet and attempt to take aim, he launches himself into the air. Nobody quite sees how he does it – nobody should be able to move that fast – but a second later, he’s got his arms wrapped around the Senator like a lover and a hand settled on the man’s throat. There aren’t any weapons in sight, but somehow nobody can muster up the smallest conviction that a knife in the assassin’s hand would make any difference at all.
Claire Stanfield’s grin broadens, and in Manfred Beriam’s ear, he whispers, “I’m not here to kill you.”
Yesterday, 9:47 PM
“So this Senator Beriam joe,” says Claire, leaning back against Will Shakespeare’s pedestal. “I’m thinking maybe I’m gonna kill the guy tomorrow.” Chane above, sharing the statue’s perch looking out over Central Park, freezes; Claire chatters on, not looking up. “You got any objections I should know about? Seems a pretty clear-cut to me – guy’s a troublemaker, causing problems for a friend of mine, not to mention he coulda blown the whole train to smithereens before I ever even got to meet you and that would’ve been a real disappointment to me. So that’s a double –”
He’s interrupted by a streak of white and silver, as Chane leaps down from her perch on the statue in one fluid movement. She twists around in midair and lands on her feet, knives a barrier between the two of them – a warning gesture.
“Ahhhhh,” says Claire. “Okay, I see. Your father thinks he’s pretty useful, huh?”
Chane’s chin jerks down in a short, deliberate nod. The rest of her stays frozen, still as an ice sculpture.
Claire’s shoulders move in something that’s half-sigh, half-shrug. “Well, then,” he says, and smiles at her, “I guess that’s a different story. Given this delicate stage in our relationship and all, the last thing I wanna do is to make him uncomfortable with any of the people I’m killing just yet before we’ve all gotten to know each other better.”
Like an ice sculpture cracking, Chane relaxes; the knives slip back away, and she steps forward, bringing one pale hand up to touch Claire’s cheek. His flush is bright enough to clash with his hair, even in the dimness of the park at night. “You’re welcome,” he tells her.
They stand there like that for quite a while, but, as always, Claire remembers something else he wants to say. “So Chane,” he says. “So I’m not gonna kill him. But your father wouldn’t mind if I taught the guy a little bit of a lesson, right? Like he’s not real attached to him or anything, is he?”
Chane thinks about this, tipping her head to one side, and Claire reaches up to brush her flyaway hairs back out of her face with roughened fingertips. She smiles at him, and shakes her head slightly as he slides his hand back around to the nape of her neck – no, he wouldn’t mind.
“Okay,” says Claire. His grin is foolish, endearingly so. “I guess that’s okay, then.”
Today, 6:17 PM
Natalie Beriam hears her husband’s scream coming from the kitchen as she’s bundling a change of clothes for her daughter into a bag, and hastily covers Mary’s ears.
Rachel hears it too, and ignores Elean’s reproachful look. She didn’t ask Claire Stanfield to do anything. What he chooses to do is his own affair; they’re observers, not enforcers.
“Well,” Elean says, after a moment. “I guess now all we have to do is hope we don’t run into the –”
“Hands up in the name of the law!” bellows the police officer who jumps out onto the stairs in front of them.
A shriller echo follows: “Yeah, hands up!”
Elean stops in his tracks; Rachel says, calmly, “We can’t. We’ll drop him.”
The two officers blink and tilt their heads in synchronized puzzlement. Then the one with mutton-chops says, slowly, “Well, then . . . . don’t move!” He points a finger-gun at them, threateningly.
Inevitably, a second, slenderer finger-gun accompanies it. “Don’t move!” agrees the blonde.
“You know,” says Elean, “there’s something kinda familiar about these cops.”
Rachel sighs inwardly, and pushes the headband over her nose down to dangle around her neck. “Isaac Dian,” she clarifies, “and Miria Harvent. They’re thieves.”
The false cops stare at her for a moment, before Miria shrieks and collapses into Isaac’s arms, in an impressive slow-motion tumble; he clutches at her and staggers backwards.
“We’ve been found out!”
“We’ve been caught!”
“But –” Isaac swings Miria back onto her feet, and the two of them lean forward, zooming anxiously towards Rachel. “How did you know?”
“How did you know?”
Elean’s face has been growing more and more incredulous, as he witnesses this performance; finally regaining his voice, he rips off his own makeshift canvas mask and splutters, “What I want to know is, what are you two doing here?”
“Oh,” says Isaac, straightening abruptly again and gesturing out broadly, narrowly avoiding hitting Nicholas in the nose with the bag draped over his arm, “That’s easy!”
“Yeah!” agrees Miria, and beams, bright and sunny. “We’re following you!”
“What,” says Elean.
“You may well gasp,” intones Isaac. “Because we’re about to commit the greatest crime of all!” He leans forward, glances conspiratorially from side to side, and beckons Rachel and Elean to come closer. Rachel and Elean exchange a glance and a shrug nearly as synchronized as Isaac and Miria’s – a fact which rather unnerves Rachel, when she notices – and do as bid. “We’re going,” hisses Isaac, “to steal fame!”
“Steal,” whispers Miria solemnly, “fame!”
Yesterday, 6:11 PM
“Miria,” Isaac says, marching up to her with his finger in the air and then turning around smartly, “we need a new plan.”
“A new plan!” agrees Miria, marching past him and then turning around smartly.
“Something new to steal!”
“Something new!” agrees Miria, and then stops abruptly, wrinkling her nose. “You mean . . . something that isn’t money?”
“Miria, my dear,” says Isaac kindly, stopping as well and turning to face her. “We’ve stolen money lots of times already.”
“Lots and lots of times!”
“It’s time to broaden our horizons! Stretch our wings! Soar to greater and greater heights, like a pair of mermaids breaking free of the tangles of seaweed that keep them in the depths!”
Miria pauses. “Mermaids with wings?”
Isaac pauses too. Then he gives an extremely solemn nod. “Exactly!”
“Isaac, you’d make a beautiful mermaid!” says Miria, thrilled. They fall into each other’s arms and spin around, barely noticing the tall figure shuffling past until he’s even with them.
“Sugar cube?” says the man, and holds out a box and a newspaper.
“Why, thank you!” exclaims Isaac, accepting both. He hands a sugar cube to Miria, takes one for himself, and squints at the newspaper. It’s an old edition, from several months back, and features a picture of two robbers wrapped entirely in bandages, giving the camera an enormous thumbs-up.
“Why – what’s this?”
“Isaac!” gasps Miria, eyes widening. “It’s us!”
“Us . . . immortalized!”
“Immortalized!” breathes Miria.
The two of them fall forward again, clinging to each other’s hands.
Today, 6:19 PM
“Yes but,” Elean says, “I don’t see how that translates to following us.”
Isaac draws himself up to his full height, assisted by the crisp brim of the policeman’s hat. “Why, it’s simple!”
“Simple!” puts in Miria.
“What does fame mean? Why, nothing but having your pictures in the paper all the time! And who puts your pictures in the paper?”
Rachel and Elean’s eyes swivel reluctantly towards each other.
“Exactly,” proclaims Isaac. “No one but a reporter, of course! So the only way to steal fame . . . is to steal a reporter!”
Miria does not actually say ta-da, but the pose she and Isaac strike to punctuate this revelation rather implies it anyway.
Rachel, sadly, has no free hands with which to slow clap.
“He’s always brilliant,” Miria explains, in a stage whisper, “but he’s been really extra-brilliant recently!”
“My planning muscles must have been boosted by the energy in the sugar cube,” Isaac muses, tipping his cap thoughtful down his head; Miria tips hers, too, in near-exact time. “Just like when Jesse James eats spinach, and his muscles –”
“Wait,” says Elean. “Wait, hold up. Sugar cubes?”
Yesterday, 11:00 AM
“Now take a look,” the President of the Daily Days says to his quietest reporter, “at these past three or four major incidents. Do you notice what the happy resolution of all of these has in common?”
He allows the thoughtful, chewing silence to stretch for a reasonable amount of space before providing the answer: “Strangely enough, it’s the involvement of a pair of completely clueless thieves who have somehow stuck their nose into every pie from here to the California gold mines. Do you catch my drift?”
Today, 6:21 PM
“All unknowing, an inspiration,” sighs Isaac.
“And we never even got his name!” mourns Miria, tears beginning to form in her eyes.
“So if you’re just here to come after us,” says Rachel, interrupting the incipient grieving before it can really begin, “what are those bags you’re carrying?”
Distracted, Isaac and Miria look down at the large bags they’ve each got slung over their arms.
“Well,” says Isaac, “we came in through the window after you, and we met the little girl who looked quite a lot like our friend Just Eve, and we thought it would be terrible to ever see her crying in the window, and there wasn’t anyone else around, so –”
“We thought we might as well steal all the money out of the office while we were at it!” explains Miria, beaming again. "There wasn't anybody else around, so it was easy!"
“Is any of this making any kind of sense to you,” says Elean to Rachel, rather despairingly. .
Rachel has a train to catch in an hour. She looks at Isaac and Miria, who are certainly entertaining – and who have probably done a pretty good thing in stealing the Beriam fortune – but who are also blocking their way out of the Beriam house. “All right,” she says. “You’ve caught us. Now what?”
Isaac and Miria look at each other.
“You . . . follow us around?” hazards Isaac, rather more slowly.
“And take pictures of us!” offers Miria.
“Wait,” says Elean, eyes flying wide open. “Wait wait hold on just a minute wait.”
Rachel is a fairly patient person, but she’s starting to have to dig into her reserves. “We don’t really have time to –”
“How about,” says Elean, a manic glint in his eye, “you go one better than stealing a reporter?”
Rachel looks at Elean.
Then she looks at Isaac and Miria, who are wearing twin expressions of puzzlement on their faces.
Then she looks at Isaac and Miria’s large, convenient bags of stolen cash – some or all of which, presumably, Senator Beriam was planning to use to dramatically assert his majority ownership of the Daily Days.
If you watched Elean and Nicholas together most of the time, you’d think they did nothing but butt heads, but every so often they’re totally in sync; you can always tell because they get this fiendish shared grin on their faces. It looks quite a lot like the grin Elean’s wearing now. Rachel’s more deadpan by nature than Nicholas or Elean, but she thinks she can manage to give Elean a small, discreet thumbs up for what’s a reasonably brilliant idea – at least once her hands are free.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s get out of here, and then we can talk about stealing a paper.”
Tomorrow, 10:30 AM
Today’s staff meeting is small; just the President, Rachel and Elean, and Nicholas will be joining them soon. The rest will be told the good news this afternoon, the President tells them, but he wants a word with them now personally.
“So do you know where Mary and Mrs. Beriam are?” asks Rachel.
“Officially, they’re with Natalie Beriam’s mother. Unofficially, I believe Eve Genoard has offered them temporary hospitality while they decide what they want to do next. The Senator, unfortunately, won’t be in much of a position to discuss the situation for some time.”
Then it’s Elean’s turn: “And sir, you’re sure there won’t be a problem featuring the new financial backers’ photos in the daily? The FBI won’t recognize them?”
“They decided to have their official pictures snapped wearing superhero masks,” explains the President smoothly. Which answers that question.
Rachel wants to ask the President: did you know all this would happen? Did you set it up? Is the Daily Days really that good? Or was it all just a stupid, lucky coincidence, beginning to end?
But whatever answer she gets, she knows she won’t be able to believe it. Better just to stick with the Daily Days, she thinks, and keep her eyes open, and come to her own conclusions. As she’s thinking this, the door opens; Nicholas comes in, and takes a seat, eyeing the two of them warily.
“Good morning, Nicholas,” says the President. “You have something to say to your colleagues, don’t you?”
Nicholas frowns, hands resting on his knees. He’s unusually hard to read this morning. “So I hear you two pulled a rescue for me.”
Elean leans back on the sofa, arms stretched up behind his head, and grins. Everything’s breezy with Elean right now, although Rachel’s willing to bet that within a half hour Nicholas will have him glaring again. For the moment, though – for the moment he’s untouchable. “You’re a pretty miserable excuse for a human being, Nicholas,” says Elean, “but, well, you’re our miserable excuse for a human being.”
“Thanks,” says Nicholas. “That really touches me.” But there’s maybe an answering smirk to Elean’s lurking around on his face somewhere, too.
After all, Rachel has to admit she’s really just as happy not be looking for work in Philadelphia.