The door into the house opened and Maggie was standing there, backlit with a scent of fresh bread wafting out around her. I blessed her mentally- she could make a cave on the dark side of the moon seem homey and welcoming.
“Well, come on in- it’s cold out here and I have hot chocolate for you that’s not improving by cooling.”
I fell behind Rose. The closer it got, the more I was dreading her seeing me.
Maggie had already helped her out of her jacket by the time I got in and shut the door. I set her suitcase down next to her discarded backpack moving a lot slower than I usually do. Rose sat down at the table and accepted a cup of chocolate gratefully- curling her hands around it to enjoy the warmth.
“Ok. You said you would answer my questions when we were ‘safe’ and now you’ve said that we’re ‘safe’ so it’s time to start answering them.” In spite of everything, Rose sounded like she still had the remnants of the anger she had obviously been feeling in the cab.
“It’s late and I’m sure you’re tired. Wouldn’t you like to wait until morning?”
“No, I would not. You haven’t told me any of what this is all about, I don’t know your name and I haven’t even seen what you look like yet.”
Maggie looked at me, astonished. “You haven’t even told her your name?”
I scrubbed my toe on the floor, feeling suddenly more like a school-boy than I did even at school. “An oversight on my part. I apologize. Rose, my name is Thorne. And this is Maggie, my housekeeper.”
“Ok. that’s a start. Why don’t you take off your jacket, sit down and have some of this excellent chocolate and answer my questions?”
“Um. I’m not sure you want me to take off the jacket. I am really extremely ugly.”
Rose looked taken aback. “You mean you’ve kept that hood up because you didn’t want me to see you?”
“Mostly. The other bit is that I’m pretty memorable, if you see me, and I wanted us to vanish.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “Just take off the hoodie. I promise, I’ll be able to handle what ever it is that you think I can’t.”
Moment of truth- no more hiding. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my whole life as I was right at that moment. I turned away, just so she would get a little warning, and pushed the hood back, then took it off and hung it on the coat tree next to the door. I turned around and I swear my heart was in my mouth. Would she run away screaming?
I could barely look up at her but when I did, she wasn’t screaming… or even scared. She did look at me pretty closely- not quite staring but almost.
“Pretty gruesome, isn’t it?”
She took a deep breath. “I’ve seen worse.”
Ok, now that was not the reaction I had expected at all. Someday I would have to ask her just what it was that she considered ‘worse’… but not tonight.
“Now, please, sit down and talk to me!”
So I sat down. Maggie handed me a steaming cup of chocolate and when I tasted it, I almost choked. She’d laced it with something alcoholic and sweet- maybe Irish Cream. Not enough to do more than be relaxing but it was a big surprise. A second sip told me that it was delicious.
“Why am I here?”
Ok, skip the small talk, why don’t we. “What did your father tell you?”
“That’s not germane to the subject. I love my father… but he lies when it suits him and it usually does. So I want you to tell me the truth. Why am I here?”
“The short answer is, you’re in danger. Or you would be, if you stayed with him.”
“I can pretty much take care of myself so in danger from what?”
Oh this was tough. I wanted to be truthful… but I didn’t want to tell her that her father had murdered a man. “Some men that your father does business with. They threatened to kill you.”
She went a little pale. “Why?”
“He did something to piss them off. So they were going to get back at him through hurting you. I told him that I could protect you.”
“So you’re an old friend of my father’s? He’s never talked about you.”
“More like a very recent friend of your father’s.”
“Recent. How recent?”
“Very. I heard the threat and offered to keep you safe.”
“And he just said ‘sure’?”
Not without some arm-twisting… but I wasn’t going to tell her that. “I think he was scared to death for you.” And scared to death of me but we won’t say that either. “I know how to hide very well.”
Rose studied me for a long moment. “I guess you do, at that. So, what was all that nonsense about getting on a train and then getting off again?”
“Ah. There were several men following you from the time you got into the cab.”
“There were? And you knew it?”
“I expected it. They followed us to the train station and were searching the train when it pulled away.”
“So what was with the stopping to tie my shoe? I’m not even wearing shoes that tie.”
“Best way to hide your face in case one of them looked out the window.”
She looked thoughtful. “You’ve used that before.” It wasn’t a question but I answered it anyway.
“Yes. It’s quite effective.”
“What was with the scarf?”
I smiled. “People see red, that’s what they remember. If you think about it, we got on the train as a cabbie and a girl with long brown hair. We got off the train as a guy in a hoodie and a girl with a red scarf and a hat. Not the same people at all.”
She laughed suddenly. “How long did it take for you to plan all that?”
“Not very long, you were only threatened last night.” Was it only last night? It seemed ages ago.
“Wow. And the cab?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Why a cab?”
“Cabs are everywhere and cabbies are invisible. You see the hat and jacket and that’s the end of it. It could be anyone.” I grimaced a little. “I have to confess, I stole that idea.”
Rose grinned and bounced a little. “From Sherlock! I thought that line about needing a cab sounded familiar.”
I smiled back. “Yes. Although I promise I won’t be offering you a choice of bottles. So you’re a fan?”
“Huge. First season or second?:
“What a choice… I want to see how Sherlock survived. So, maybe, third season?”
She snorted. “You can’t choose third season, it hasn’t even been filmed yet.” She sipped chocolate again. “About the phone. You said it was encrypted. But there’s no such thing as an unbreakable encryption.”
“Maybe, maybe not. There are some codes that have never been broken. But the encryption I used is not one of them. I even made it fairly easy to break. Here’s the catch though. When they break it… and they will… the GPS for that phone is somewhere in Bogotá in a garbage dump or will be soon and the IP address will give a location in Helsinki that doesn’t actually exist.”
“Whew. How did you do that?” I started to answer but she stopped me. “Never mind. I don’t think I could understand the technical details.”
“I am certain that you could… but you might have to learn more than you currently know about computer programing. I could teach you.” With some help from Will. I knew the information but I was not the teacher that he was.
She laughed. “Not something I want to learn about right now, thank you. I’ll just trust you on it.” And how good that sounded- she would trust me.
“Was there anything else? I asked.
“About tonight? Well, I want to know what my father did… and you may know but not want to tell me or you may not even know… I want to know how long this has to go on… I want to know why you are doing this… and I want to know what happened to your face.” She clapped her hand over her mouth.
“Don’t worry about it. I know I look like the lead in a slasher film… and I expect Maggie has put something in the chocolate that’s not exactly kosher.” I looked around. While Rose and I had been talking, Maggie had done her ‘slow fade’ trick and we were alone. “The only one of those questions I can answer is ‘why I’m doing this’ and it’s because I care what happens to you. Although I do want to tell you, the face was not my idea.”
Rose yawned then apologized.
“It’s ok, it’s late and it’s been a stressful day for you. Why don’t I show you to your room so you can get some rest?” I would have liked to keep talking… although maybe with a little less of the quiz session… but she did look tired.
I took her suitcase and led her upstairs to the room at the top of the house. I wished her a good night and went back down stairs trying not to bounce enough to make noise.