I wake in my bed with no memory of how I got there, the sheets tangled around me and two blankets piled on top of me. I should be sweating in the heat, but I still feel cold; I can scarcely feel my toes. It takes a few minutes to untangle myself, and on the bedside table, on top of a pile of books I’m reading on and off, is Bark’s glossy brochure from last night, so I guess he must have put me to bed. In all my clothes.
Even a hot shower doesn’t really push the chill away from me, though when I get fresh clothes on and boil the kettle I’m starting to feel like I’m warming up. The memory of the Ilmatu at my front door hasn’t left me, though the thing I’m obsessing about is that it knocked. What inhuman, sense-stealing monster knocks politely at a front door? Based on my experience, which is probably more than most people’s, the monster usually knocks down the door and anyone getting in its way.
What do I do with myself today? Normally I’d be reading books, thinking about going over to the British Library to request some of their more esoteric tomes for research purposes and carrying on with my papers. I write academic studies of the occult, and I’m published here and there, not in any of the major journals, but in smaller ones, both parapsychological and sociological. I’m not affiliated with any university or institution at the moment, but there are positions I’m applying for, and application forms to fill out. And none of it seems appealing, or the right thing to do. Then I remember Bark asking me to find out if DeeDee has the stolen violin, and my heart sinks. The last thing I want to do is go anywhere my sister or DeeDee at the moment, and yet this is important. I sigh. I’d better get it done now.
It would be easier to phone the school and ask them if DeeDee has a violin, but then I’d need to convince them over the phone that I’m a relative, and that’s assuming Melanie hasn’t pre-emptively told the school I’m not allowed near DeeDee. It’s probably more sensible to go over there and ask to talk to her music teacher instead, so I grab the brochure and head out, catching a bus which conveniently stops outside the school. The playground is empty, and there’s a buzzer at the gate that I have to push to gain admittance. When the gate opens, there’s a demurely dressed woman with a motherly face stood on the other side holding a piece of paper.
“DeeDee’s mother has told us that you might attempt to reach DeeDee this way,” she starts, so I hold up a hand and she pauses, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m not here to see DeeDee,” I say quickly. “I want to talk to her music teacher. DeeDee had borrowed a guitar of mine, and now my violin has gone missing. If she has it, then there’s no problem, but I don’t want to get the police involved in a family affair. And, as you can probably tell, my sister has issues with me at the moment.”
“Well, that’s the problem,” says the woman, but she sounds a little apologetic now.
“This does sound like a family affair, and I don’t think the school should be getting involved.”
“I’m trying to keep you out of this,” I say. “I just want to talk to her music teacher, describe the violin to him and see if he’s seen it. It’s very unusual, so I think he’ll be able to very quickly identify it. Actually,” I remember Bark’s glossy brochure, “I have a picture of it I can show him. You can be there too.”
“I intend to be.” She looks like there’s an internal debate going on in her head. I’m ready to wait it out, but I find the brochure in my pocket just in case, and after a few seconds I take it out and offer it to her.
She looks at the violin, and then at me. “It’s very distinctive,” she says quite quietly, “and it looks to be rather valuable. You say you didn’t give this to DeeDee?”
“Ah. Well, you don’t have to speak to Mr. Hayward. I’ve seen DeeDee with this violin, or one that looks very much like it. I hope you understand that the school had no idea that she didn’t have your permission to have this violin; she turned up with it saying that her guitar had been damaged and this was a replacement. I’m sure Mr. Hayward would have asked her where it came from, and her answer must have satisfied him.”
“I won’t be accusing the school of anything,” I manage a smile this time, and she produces a half-smile back. “This is between me and my sister, but I am relieved that DeeDee has the violin and it’s not been stolen.” Her smile widens very slightly.
“Thank-you for your help.”
The gate closes before I’ve finished turning away.
I call Bark while I’m waiting at the bus stop, waiting a couple of minutes for him to come to the phone, and tell him about the violin.
“Right, good,” he says. “Are you busy now?”
“Not really.” I still have no enthusiasm for work or application forms.
“Can you come to the Library? There’s someone here I think you need to meet.”