"Didn't the Aztecs do human sacrifices?"Late afternoon
"Insured for a half million dollars."
"We're investigators, not exterminators."
"You'll get everything you need. As of this moment, I am paying you, not Alex."
"Where is your laptop, Kieu?" Kristi sat down on the faded couch in the middle of her living room. "I've never seen you without it."
Kieu parked in an overstuffed chair faded red, sinking deep in the cushion. "Mom took it away. She said I needed to get out and meet real people. Go out with someone."
Kristi grinned. "You're in luck. I met these two guys who want to go meet up with me and a friend. You just have to dress up for dancing."
"Why not Blondie?" Kieu struggled to sit up in the chair. "And where is she?"
"She's working at her coffee shop." Kristi curled up on the couch. "I'm surprised you're not working somewhere."
Kieu gave up on her struggles, sinking further in the chair. "I made some good investments, apparently. And something I made is still paying royalties. Not sure what."
"That's good, no?" Kristi saw Ginger creeping up on the chair. "Your tuition is covered."
"I suppose." Kieu sighed. "Anyway, what was with the videos? Okay, the one from the back, that wasn't us at all. But the reception? That was us. Except there wasn't any us on screen."
"I have an idea of why." The tawny-haired woman pointed at Ginger.
Ginger launched herself at Kieu's leg, wrapping her arms around it. "Hi!"
Kieu peered down at the tiny woman. "Right, our own little anomaly." She waved at Ginger. "Hi."
Kristi rolled off the couch and walked over to the television console. She inserted the disc marked "Reception" into her DVD player. "Ginger, maybe you can explain this?" Kristi started the playback of the scene in the warehouse's reception.
Ginger sat down and watched as the door opened and closed seemingly on its own. "This isn't a good movie."
"It's not a movie, Ginger. That's where we were two nights ago. The video was taken when we were there, except the cameras didn't see us."
The tiny woman adjusted her tea towel. "I thought you didn't want to be seen."
"We didn't," Kieu said.
Ginger looked from Kieu to Kristi, then back to the television. "Then we weren't."
Kristi sat down on the floor beside Ginger. "You hid us?"
"Of course. It was easy."
"What about in back?" Kristi reached for the other DVD from the warehouse.
"The back of what?"
Kristi ejected the first disc, swapping it out for the second. She let the new video play, watching Ginger for her reaction. When the figure with the melting face appeared, she pressed Pause. "What about him?"
"Did you know he was there?"
"No. Was I supposed to hide him, too?"
Kristi stopped the playback. "Not really, no. Thanks, Ginger."
"What now?" Kieu asked. "We're at a dead end, Kristi."
"Not yet." Kristi picked up her phone. "What are you doing Friday night?"
Ayel wiped down the back table for the third time since she began her shift. In her head, she tried to piece together the puzzle the warehouse provided, leaving her body to run on autopilot. The problem she had wasn't having not enough data; she had too much and nothing to remove the extraneous bits. She half-hoped that the problem was with the Aztec carvings. Having a crazed murderer intent on sacrificing virgins was at least a solution, if a little grisly.
"Ayel, clean there anymore and you'll wear a hole right through."
The blonde woman blinked as she returned to reality. "Thanks, Tabbie." Ayel stepped away from the now sparkling clean table.
Tabbie, a tall lean woman with pink hair, joined the blonde woman. "Something on your mind? You're not normally this distracted unless you have a major assignment, and I know school's out for summer for you."
"Don't tell anyone, but I have a side business."
The tall woman's eyes widened. She embraced Ayel. "I knew you'd do that! I knew it! Congrats! What's the business?"
"Nothing big. Just helping out someone else on the business side." Ayel squirmed out of Tabbie's hug. "I just don't want Sara knowing. She gets all weird about moonlighting."
Tabbie mimed zipping her lips shut. "Mum's the word." She leaned down closer to Ayel. "What sort of problem do you have with the other job?"
"At this point, logistics. Shipping stuff around and all that. And none of it makes sense."
"I see." Tabbie pouted as she thought. "Maybe you could go to U-Haul or something like that and just drive the stuff around yourself? Or maybe use your parents' van. It must be big enough. It carries all of your sister's hockey gear."
Ayel blinked. "Tabbie, thanks! That's what I was missing!" She pulled out her notepad and jotted a quick note.
Tabbie squealed, pulling Ayel in close and dancing around with her. "We're a great team!" The tall woman looked back at the line growing at the counter. "Um, can you take care of that, team mate?"
Kieu closed the front door as quietly as she could. She slipped off her shoes. On tiptoe, she crept towards the kitchen. The floorboard squeaked as she set her weight down on it. Wincing, Kieu waited to see if anyone heard. After a few moments with no one reacting, she continued her pace. In the kitchen, she knelt down at the cupboard under the sink.
"It's not there, Kieu," her mother called. "Nice try."
Kieu's head dropped. "Thank you, Mom."
"You know what I want before you get your laptop back, dear." Kieu's mother walked into the kitchen. "And sneaking around won't help. Not if you want to keep your tablet."
"Mom, I need my laptop." Kieu straightened up. "I have some work to do on it."
"Does this 'work' involve getting a date?"
Kieu turned to face her mother. "Oh, that. I have one for Friday. Now can I have my laptop back?"
"Oh, really?" Kieu's mother looked into her daughter's eyes. "You're going out on a Friday night."
Kieu returned the stare. "It's a double date with Kristi. You can even ask her yourself. She set everything up."
"Well then, I'll get your laptop for you." The older woman opened the over's drawer and brought out Kieu's red and silver computer. She began to hand it over, but kept a tight grip on it as Kieu tried to take. "I want proof your went, though."
"I meant a receipt. Such a dirty mind, Kieu."
Kieu tucked the laptop under her arm. "Thank you, Mom." She retreated to her room before her mother could change her mind. Once she had closed and locked her door, she flopped down on her bed. Her hair formed a blue-black nimbus on her pillow. Kieu allowed herself time to rest, closing her eyes for a moment.
When she opened her eyes again, it was dark outside. Kieu checked the clock on her nightstand. Somehow, several hours had passed during her blink. She shrugged, then fired up her laptop. It beeped a low battery warning. Kieu plugged the device in, making sure the machine was charging. She then retrieved the two DVDs from the warehouse. The first, the footage from the reception desk, showed no sign of being altered, even checking the video frame by frame. The second, however, did have some oddities. There was a short break in the video, lasting at most two seconds. A hiccup in the playback when viewed, in a video filled with hiccups and artifcating from using a low quality camera.
Kieu leaned back, stretching. The hiccup wasn't anything added, as far as she could tell. The image never changed until the cloth appeared. Kieu replayed that section several times at different speeds, even going frame by frame, trying to see what changed. The cloth, though, blocked the camera's lens each time. She set aside the laptop and rubbed her eyes.
Someone's alarm clock blared. Kieu checked her own. Once again, she had pulled an all-nighter without realizing it. Maybe her family and friends were right; she did need to get her sleep patterns together. Still not feeling tired, she went downstairs to start the coffee pot and put on some toast while her family upstairs woke up.
Quyen was the first down. He stole the toast as it popped up from the toaster. Kieu tried to swat him, but Quyen danced out of her reach. Having to be satisfied with just sticking her tongue at her brother, Kieu put in two more slices of bread in the toaster. She did, however, beat him to the coffee pot and filled a steaming mug for herself before letting Quyen get a close to the maker.
Kieu's father was the next down, dressed in a grey business suit highlighted with a red tie against a black shirt. "Looking good, Dad," Kieu said before she took a sip of her coffee.
"And good morning to my wayward daughter," he replied. "Are you just getting in?"
"I've been here all night."
Kieu's father sat down. "We have missed you, Kieu. We need to spend more time together."
"Tell Mom that. She's making me go out on a date."
Quyen gasped. "You have a date? The world's ending!"
"Eat your breakfast," their father said. "I hope you have a good time, Kieu. Just not too good. It would be a shame if your special friend were to wind up buried in a farmer's field."
Kieu scowled at her father. "I'm just going dancing. I think."
"I hope not just dancing, dear." Kieu's mother entered the kitchen. "I'm sure I can get what you need tonight." She winked at her daughter.
Kieu rolled her eyes. "I knew there was a reason why I liked sleeping in." She took her mug of coffee and stormed out of the kitchen.
"What's it like, hunting ghosts?
"I was hoping we could get to know each other a little over dinner, then go dancing."
"We'll be right there."
"We're not about to have a lover's spat that ends in a hail of gunfire, if that's what you're worried about."