"And they're both alive."Sunday morning
"I'm sure we can find the fake ghost."
"Looks harmless enough."
"Getting drunk seems like a good idea right now."
Kristi yawned as she made her way downstairs, her bare feet taking the steps one at a time to avoiud making any noise that could wake up her roomies or her guest. She reached the bottom of the stairs and started creeping towards the kitchen. The tawny-haired woman froze on hearing Kieu stir.
"Hello?" Kieu said, her voice soft.
"It's just me," Kristi said. "You can go back to sleep."
"Kristi, I can't move my arm. Something's wrong with it."
Hurrying, Kristi reached the faded couch. "Can you wriggle your fingers?"
After a moment, Kieu answered, "I can. I can also feel the blanket. I can't move my arm. It's too heavy."
Kristi peered at Kieu, only seeing her friend's head, the rest of her body covered by a grey blanket. "I'll take your covers off so I can see what's going on." With deliberate care, Kristi rolled the blanket back past Kieu's shoulders. She stopped on seeing Ginger's nude form draped over Kieu's arm. "I found the problem. It's not you."
Kieu tried to push herself over with her other arm. She twisted her neck to get a better look at herself. "Is she asleep?"
"Looks like it." Kristi walked around to the front of the couch. "Ginger, sweetie, Kieu needs to get up."
Ginger stretched, then collapsed back on Kieu, not once opening her eyes. "Comfy," she mumbled.
"Kristi, I really need to use your bathroom," Kieu said.
"I've got this." Kristi started walking to the kitchen. In a louder voice, she said, "I'll go put the coffee on."
Ginger bolted up. "Coffee?"
"Only if you let Kieu up."
"Coffee!" Ginger scrambled off Kieu, climbing up the back of the couch.
Kieu swing her legs out so she could sit up. "Thanks, Kristi."
"I'll go get breakfast started. Go do what you need to do." Kristi continued her walk into the kitchen. On the small dining table, a stack of clothes, all the size of dolls, greeted her. Kristi picked up a pale green backless dress. She held it close to her eyes, admiring the tight stitching involved.
"Coffee?" Ginger asked as she entered the kitchen.
Kristi set the dress back down on the table. "I'm getting to it. That's a great looking dress. I almost want one in my size."
"There isn't enough fabric left." Ginger climbed up on the table. "I'll need more." She eyed the tawny-haired woman. "That colour doesn't suit you."
Kristi laughed. "Probably. Now that you have proper clothes, can you get dressed? I'll get the coffee going while you do that."
Ginger started grabbing items from her pile of clothes. "Coffee!"
With the tiny fae busy, Kristi set at starting breakfast. The coffee was the easiest for her to get going; all she did was turn on the coffee maker. She grabbed some eggs from the fridge, making a mental note to get more later in the day. While still in the fridge, Kristi brought out the milk, cheese, and a bell pepper and began making omelettes.
Kieu entered the kitchen as the coffee maker stopped perculating. She reached the coffee mugs a few steps ahead of Ginger, who now wore a blue pull-over and a long cream A-line skirt. Kieu poured some coffee into an espresso cup for Ginger, then started working on brewing her own tea. She sat down at the dining table, moving some of the clothes aside. "Someone was busy last night."
Ginger sat down on the counter, her legs dangling over the side. "Thank you." She eyed Kieu, who still wore the same clothes from the night before. "You need some, too."
"I have some at home. I'll change when I get there."
The tiny woman looked over at Kristi. "Kieu needs new clothes."
"It's okay, Ginger." Kristi pulled the frying pan off the burner. "She stayed the night last night and didn't bring anything to change into."
Kieu arched an eyebrow. "I think she's complaining about my taste."
"I'm sure she isn't, because that would be rude, right Ginger?"
Ginger sipped at her coffee. "Right."
Kristi retrieved plates from the cupboard. She served an omelette to Kieu before getting one for Ginger and herself. "Do you have any plans for today?"
Kieu shrugged. "I think Mom has something in mind for tonight, not sure what. I have those readings from the device to figure out, too. I'm close to figuring them out. You?"
"Working. I've got reports to write, numbers to crunch, and art to catalog. I may have to go in today, too. I also want to give Aidan a call."
"Aidan? I thought Ayel said our work was done."
Kristi smiled. "Ayel also told me when we were putting the ghost hunting business together that we might need someone who is licensed as a private investigator, just in case we crossed the line. That's why we have Aidan on retainer."
Kieu laughed. "Blond-- er, Ayel should have remembered that."
"We all forget things." Kristi checked the time on the stove's clock. "Aidan should be up." The tawny-haired woman found Aidan's contact information on her phone and hit dial. She set the phone down on the counter as the other end rang. In the middle of the third ring, Aidan answered. "Hi, it's Kristi, I hope I didn't wake you."
"Kristi, hi! No, I was already up."
"Great! Aidan, I have Kieu with me."
"Hi, Aidan," Kieu said.
"Hello!" Ginger added. She waved at the phone.
"And Ginger, too. Aidan, I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
"No, nothing. Why?"
Kristi grinned. "It never takes you this long to pick up your phone. Who do you have there?"
"Kristi, I'm alone. I was just doing some research."
"Well, while you're researching, can you look into the warehouse and its employees a bit more? It feels like we're leaving the contract unfulfilled if we don't at least figure out who our mystery Phantom is."
There was a brief pause on Aidan's end. "Actually, I'm ahead of you there."
Kristi stared at the phone. "You're what?"
"I'm already looking into the warehouse."
"Why?" Kristi exchanged a glance with Kieu.
After another pause, Aidan answered, "I'm working a hunch. Whoever the Phantom is has to know fireworks, right? That would explain the explosions without anything catching on fire."
Kristi leaned against the counter. "I guess. Wait, can you expand that search? What it the Phantom knows something about theatre?"
Kieu raised her hand. "Theatre? You mean, like being all dramatic?"
"I mean, having worked in theatre. There's fireworks and knowing how to put up and tear down scenery. It fits, right?"
"I can see that," Aidan said. "I'll add that to my searches."
"Thanks! And don't tell Ayel what you're doing, okay? If this works, I want it to be a pleasant surprise."
"She won't hear it from me."
"Thanks, Aidan. Talk to you later." Kristi held the phone up.
"Bye, Aidan," Kieu said. "Thanks again,"
"Bye bye, Aidan."
Ayel emerged from her basement bedroom shortly before noon. She staggered into the kitchen to put a kettle on. As she waited for the water to boil, she sat at the kitchen nook, slumped over, her head on the small table. Her sister dashed through, being chased by Benedict Fluffybutt. "Hey, Benny, look who is finally up! Maybe she'll go get you treats."
Without raising her head, Ayel said, "You can drive."
"I have homework."
"Which you're doing so wonderfully, I see."
Tiffany scooped up the the fluffy calico cat. "I'm busy. Benny has been neglected. You can see he's starving. Someone needs to care for him."
Ayel lifted her head up. "Oh, yeah, he's wasting away." She reached out to scritch Benedict Fluffybutt's ample belly. "Maybe you should take him out to get fed."
"I was out earlier. It's your turn."
The kettle whistled. Ayel got up to pull the kettle off the burner and pour water to brew her tea. "I just woke up, Tiff. I also have to write a report and get ready for tonight's shift. What could you possibly have homework in?"
Tiffany raised the calico cat to drape him across her shoulder. "History. I have Mr. Ferguson. You remember what he's like."
Ayel nodded. "Yep. You're doomed if your homework's due tomorrow. Might as well go get Sir Fluffybutt's treats yourself for all the good working on your assignment will do."
"Maybe if you could help me?" Tiffany batted her eyelashes. "I mean, you do want to see your favourite sister pass so that she can go to university in Toronto like she's dreamed about."
"Can I wake up first?" Ayel picked up her cup of tea. "I am too tired to negotiate over your lack of planning."
Tiffany threw her nose into the air. "Come on, Benny. Let's go see someone who cares about you." She walked out of the kitchen.
Ayel glared at her sister's retreating back. "Don't listen to her, Benny. She's only using you." She sat back down, letting her tea cool before drinking it.
Janet strolled into the kitchen, fully dressed. "Good morning, hon. Nice to see you up."
"Hi, Mom." Ayel point at the kettle. "There's still hot water if you want."
"I'm good." Janet sat down across from her eldest daughter. "What time did you get in last night?"
Ayel shrugged. "Three, I think?"
Janet frowned. "Ayel, that's a little late. I know, you're old enough to decide on your own what you can do, but still."
"I wasn't out drinking all night, Mom. I just had two beers while I waited for a friend. He had to clean up, so I helped him."
"Oh? Do I know your friend?" Janet leaned forward to get the juicy details.
Ayel took a sip of her tea. "No, Mom. And, technically? He's an employee. So whatever you're thinking, stop thinking it."
Janet sat back in her seat. "You haven't been seeing anyone since Kyle."
"When am I supposed to have time to see anyone? If I'm not working, I'm studying or doing homework. By the time I'm done, I'm too tired. Talk to Tiff if you want dating drama."
From the living room, Tiffany yelled, "I heard that!"
Janet took Ayel's hands into hers. "I just worry at times, honey. Kyle kept cancelling on you and you missed out on so much."
"I cancelled on him a few times, too." Ayel gave her mother a smile. "I'm good. Honest. Maybe later this summer I'll have a wild fling. It's too early in the break for one."
"Not too wild a fling, I hope."
"Tiffany will never hear the details, promise."
Janet got up. "So, employee? What sort of employee? This isn't a code word for prostitute, is it?"
"Mom, no!" Ayel set down her tea cup. "It's that partnership I set up. We keep this one guy on retainer just in case we need his license for something. He's good for security if we need him."
"Security? Honey, just what sort of partnership do you have?"
"One that is hard to explain and could lead to falling under some provincial regulations about security and private investigation where we don't have the proper licensing." Ayel fell back against the wall. "It's complicated and boring and I'll give you a copy of the final report that I'll be submitting for marks once the summer is over. Okay?"
"You're sure it's not dangerous?"
"I deal with more danger at the coffee shop with all the hot liquids and sharp knives and weird people than this partnership." Ayel waved to her father as he entered the kitchen. "Hey, Dad."
"Morning sweetie." Her father stopped to kiss Janet. "Ready to go?"
"In a moment, Brad. Ayel was telling me about her second job."
Brad turned to his daughter. "Two jobs? Getting ambitious there."
"Dad, it's nothing, really. I'm testing out some ideas my group had in my business practicum last year. We'll be using them next year anyway, so why not? Mom's just making a bigger deal out of it than it really is."
Janet walked over to stand behind her daughter. "A partnership that has an employee who has a security license." She loomed over Ayel. "Does he carry a gun?"
Ayel let her head fall back so she could look up at her mother. "No. I don't think he even owns one."
"Ayel, your mother's just worried about you," Brad said.
Janet held up her hand to stop her husband. "Is your employee licensed to carry a gun?"
"Yes, but so is Kristi." Ayel sighed. "Mom, really, if we ever get to the point where we need someone with a gun, I'll be calling the police first. Just like at the coffee shop."
"Alright." Janet backed away from the nook. "Just don't stay out late like last night without calling again."
Brad hooked his arm around his wife's. "We better get going. The Munroes are waiting for us." He walked over to the nook. "Be careful, though, okay Ayel?" He kissed his daughter on the top of the head. "And no fighting with Tiffany today."
"I won't if she won't." Ayel smiled. "I'll be too busy anyway. Oh, and can you pick up cat treats for Sir Fluffybutt? Tiff says we're out."
"More? That cat doesn't need more. He's out of shape."
"He's not out of shape," Janet said as she grabbed her purse.
As husband and wife left the kitchen, Brad said, "I suppose if you count round as a shape."
Ayel let herself collapse in her seat. She stared at the door, waiting for the next interruption. her reward was to see Benedict Fluffybutt tearing through the kitchen, one end of a white ribbon in his teeth, the other trailing well past his tail. Tiffany ran through after the cat, shouting at him to drop the ribbon. Ayel sighed.
Kieu arrived home in time to smell dinner cooking. She hung up her jacket and kicked off her shoes. "Hello? I'm home!" As she walked in her sock feet to the stairs, her mother came out from the kitchen. "Hi, Mom!"
"Kieu, you're home? But it's still light out."
"It is?" Kieu looked out the window. She shrugged. "I thought you wanted me home."
"I do, but I also know how you are." Her mother pulled her into a hug. "I've been waiting to see you."
"I've been home before, Mom."
Her mother dragged her to the couch, pulling her down to sit. "I haven't seen you since Friday. I know you get busy, but is it too much to ask you to be around after your big date? So, tell me, what happened?"
Kieu's cheeks flushed red. "It went."
"Now, now, Kieu, details. Where did you go? How was he? Did he treat you properly? Where did you go afterwards?"
"We went to a club. We danced. We had a good time. Then I came home. Nothing happened."
Her mother sighed. "Nothing else? Did he do anything else with you? Did he try to get into your panties?"
"Would've been a waste of time, Mom. I wasn't wearing any. Nothing to get into." Kieu sat forward on the couch. "Can I go clean up? I need to change my clothes."
"Go. Dinner will be ready at six. I will drag you down if I need to, Kieu."
Kieu dashed up the stairs. Just as she reached her room, her father came out of his bedroom. "Kieu, good, I was hoping to see you."
"Hi, Dad. Can it wait?" Kieu fingered her t-shirt. "I really want to get a clean shirt."
"This won't take long. I need you to look at my camera. Something's not working with it."
Kieu sighed, then followed her father into his bedroom. "Not long, okay? Mom wants me to eat dinner tonight."
Her father held up his camera, a large digital model with an extended lens mounted on it. "I just figured out the low light setting. But it's not showing up. Everything is washed out."
"Let me see?" Kieu took the camera from her father. She examined the display on the camera's back. The image was bright, the whiteness obscuring details. "Dad, can you turn off the light? Maybe just leave a lamp on?"
"Sure." The overhead light went out, leaving the room in growing shadows. "How's that?"
Kieu looked at the display again. The image still didn't have great details, but anything Kieu pointed the camera at was recognizable. She turned to wards the remaining light, watching as the image became more and more washed out until it was just a white light itself. "Dad, have you printed any of the low light pictures?"
"Not yet. Why?"
"Do you mind if I try?" Kieu took a few photos of her parents' bed. "It's for that business I'm in with Kristi."
"Sure. Kristi likes photos of beds in dim light?"
Ignoring the non-sequitor, Kieu took the camera into her room. She plugged the camera into her laptop and pulled up the photo of the bed. A few clicks later, her colour printer roared to life. Kieu grabbed the page as it came out, holding the printed picture beside the image on screen. There were some differences, the image on screen being sharper, but the two were close in colour. The dark-haired woman tossed the paper over her shoulder, then dug through the pile of stuff on her desk to find the disc from the warehouse. She sat down, replaying the recording frame by frame. As she watched, she sent a quick text message to Kristi. /Found something interesting. Call you later./
"Hiding's fun for a bit, then it gets boring."
"Everything that I've been able to find suggests that salt is the best way to cleanse the carvings."
"Right. I think I know who our Phantom is.
"It works on Supernatural."