"Well... I think it's too nice to be a villain's house. It's too... shady..."
We were standing nearby sixty-six 6th Avenue Melbourne, Australia. The sun was struggling up, and there was a fog, which was to our benefit. Still, I was peeking at the house over the top of a newspaper so to appear far less suspicious, especially since an early-morning jogger had already passed by and glanced at us curiously.
"Not all villains hang out in abandoned factories and castles..., I suppose." Raven murmured.
The house was fancy, two stories, set a little apart from the rest of the houses. The backyard was enclosed within a rather tall, white fence, but the front yard was open and exposed for observation. Grass, which was a vibrant green, even in the dimness and fog, was pedicured to perfection, and an enormous oak tree dominated the yard, providing shade, even when there was very little sunlight to shade from. Flowers and shrubbery decorated the area.
"Hmm..., ok," said Israel, "I'm going to make a phone call. In the meantime, Raven, why don't you look around for the best vantage point to see and maybe shoot from." She nodded. "And Kal? Browse the perimeter, see if there aren't any backdoors or sidedoors or trapdoors- alternate means of entry and escape. But be careful, ok?"
"Sure thing, boss! 'Careful' is my middle name you know. That's me! Kallista Careful Pendragon!" I saluted- a habit I'd recently picked up. Israel gave me the eye and nodded.
"Well, ok... And Jericho!" Jericho raised his eyebrows in question. Israel sort of waved his hand vaguely, "You go... do your..., you know, your thing..." Jericho crossed his arms, amused but saying nothing. Israel shrugged and took out his phone.
"What?" I asked.
"My phone broke." He showed us the cracked screen. "And I just got a new ringtone too. It was epic." I patted his shoulder sympathetically.
"Probably broke from your skydive and crash landing." Raven said. "Here, borrow mine." She tossed him hers.
Israel caught it and stuffed his phone back into his pocket for later examination. "Thanks."
Raven shrugged and turned, walking down the street to examine potential vantage points. Israel turned around also, typing in a phone number as he walked in the other direction.
Jericho looked at me, a glint in his dark blue eyes. I tilted my head, wondering what he had in mind, but he was silent striding past me. He crossed the street. Into our subject's front yard. I murmured "Sacre Bleu," as he rang the doorbell, and I slid behind a Japanese magnolia blooming with pink petals as the door opened. I looked back and forth at Raven and Israel, but they hadn't seen. I crouched and looked around the base of the tree. A very typical butler was standing in the open doorway of Sixty-six 6th Avenue. Jericho pulled the rifle he had at his thigh from its holster and, a moment later, nodded. The butler nodded. Jericho entered the house, and they closed the door behind them.
"This is a Model 1887 sawn-off shotgun." I looked down at it admiringly, "It's my very favorite gun." I glanced back up at Harris-the-butler. He was watching me hesitantly, and by his expression, most likely wondering if he should attempt slamming the door in my face and hobbling away as fast as possible. "Do you really think you can outrun the twitch of a finger?" He didn't reply. "If you don't want to be shot, nod- like this-and let me in." Harris nodded.
I smiled, entering. I was some kind of parlor with a couple of sofas, a coffee table, and a clock on the wall. There were two doors, both closed, one on the right, and the other on the left. Harris turned to me skeptically. "Take me to your master." Harris paused again, nodded again, indicated the left door, and opened it. The next room was big and open with a grand staircase sprawling upwards. Harris ignored it and walked past to a door.
"Shall I announce you?"
I waved the shotgun, "Why not? Jericho Matteus. He should be expecting me."
The butler didn't reply. He closed the door, and I heard unintelligible conversation for only a moment or two before he returned and opened the door wide enough for me.
This room was obviously a study. Bookcases lined the walls to either side, and a window with a curtain pulled only half-way across was a behind a desk with neatly stacked papers and a statue of a man holding up the world on his shoulders. Behind the desk was a young man, smug, greedy, cruel- I could tell with just one look at him. He wore a white shirt and a vest with slacks, and his booted feet were propped up on one corner of the desk.
"Will you be requiring anything else, Master Curtis? Coffee? Wine? Police?" Harris asked from the door.
The man behind the desk laughed and shook his head, "No, thank you, Harris. I have been expecting this man..., as well as some others." Harris-the-butler half-bowed and left the room, closing the door behind him.
"So..." I said.
"Indeed!" replied the man. "Please, please, have a seat, Mr. Matteus."
"I'm comfortable standing, thank you. Besides, I find it's easier to shoot someone while standing. You know, better view and all?"
Mr. Curtis smiled and shook his head. "You're not going to shoot me."
"Oh, no? You know, I've heard that one before, and the fellow didn't live very long afterwards. You have every right not to trust me- after all, I did come barging in with a shotgun at the head of your butler- but believe me when I say I have no qualms shooting a man when I deem it necessary."
"I have no doubt! But you have no reason to do so, do you? You don't even know my name!"
"Judging by your previous statement, I think you have do have some doubt, or, as it were, false hope. I don't have any reason to shoot you yet unless that smirk of yours stays put for very much longer, and I know you're called Mr. Curtis… Care to elaborate?"
"Timothy Curtis. My name is Timothy Curtis."
"Well, at least we've made some progress, ay?"
"You're joking. This is a joke. It's one of those jokes when I know you're joking." I was aghast. Surely Jericho wouldn't have sauntered up to the front door and rung the doorbell without even surveying the area?
No..., wait, this was the man who had told Kallista and me to "Push that big red button and point down" before strapping on a parachute, shouting, "Pick us up at ground level!" and leaping off a flying ship in thirty seconds flat. Was I really surprised he'd "jumped in" without preparing? No..., I just couldn't... believe it. I facepalmed.
"I'm telling you!" Kallista's voice was a notch above its usual octave. "He pulled his shotgun on the butler and waltzed right in. I couldn't believe my eyes either, Raven."
Israel hadn't spoken, but now he laughed. I stared at him.
"What?" he asked, "I would have done the same thing under slightly different circumstances! I just wish I could have seen his face!"
Kallista laughed, "It was a mix between disbelief and 'Oops-I-left-something-in-the-oven! You-just-wait-right-here-while-I-go-get-that.'"
Kallista pulled an expression supposedly like the butler's, and I couldn't restrain the laugh anymore. "Ok... Ok," I said, "You're right. It's brilliant! But seriously! What are we going to do now?"
Israel grinned. "Check out the backdoor maybe? Raven, have you found a nice view of the back of his yard?"
"No, but I suspect that house over there has potential." I nodded to the one I meant.
"Alright, Kal and I are going to get a ground-level look. Why don't you get an overview? Check if you can see through any of the windows." He shrugged, "Maybe we'll get lucky and find out how Jericho's doing."
I nodded, "'K,”and turned back.
I crossed the street and into the shadows of the house next to the one I needed to be on. Nearing the back, I heard voices behind a window and paused, back against the wall. I peered through and saw a woman and young boy eating breakfast. They were looking in the opposite direction. Easy-peasy, I slipped by unnoticed and, re-adjusting the bow and quiver slung over my shoulder, shimmied up the convenient vines sprawling all the way to the top. When I got there, I glanced back to see if Kallista and Israel were where I left them. They weren't, and the fog was still abounding, curling about. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see them if they were there so, crouching behind the pinnacle of the house, I padded across it to the edge. The distance between the houses was a few yards at least, and my head did a see-saw thing when I was estimating whether I could make it or not. I decided I could.
I backed up a few paces to get a running start and boosted myself with power of wind. My feet slammed down harder than I would have liked, and I took two steps before I could freeze. I flinched, ducking low again. Nothing. It was silent. After a few minutes and no curious voices echoing up, I scurried across a house for the second time that day and found the best vantage point I could, and it was actually quite a good one with a full view of backyard and all potential windows.
I wished I had binoculars. Oh well, I could still see the backyard through the milky fog and the backdoor as well. There were… I counted… fifteen windows in the back, seven downstairs and eight above; nine windows on the side of the house I could see. A curtain twitched. My eyes caught the movement. There was an older man in a suit dusting downstairs. The butler. Again, my eyes fogged over, looking at nothing in particular and everything at once to catch some motion behind the few uncurtained windows. Nothing. Then something, but it wasn’t in one of the windows. Kallista was sliding down the fence into the backyard of sixty-six 6th Avenue. What was she doing? And where was Israel? There, this side of the house, walking towards the backyard, his head moving back and forth. He didn’t know where Kallista was. She must have slunk off again, and Israel didn’t know. Back to the yard, Kallista was down low, standing by a tree and looking into a window. She crouched down all of a sudden, and a moment later, slipped back to the fence, slinging herself up and over with her wind again.
Israel saw her, and they started arguing, I could hear murmurs on the wind from up here. Someone was going to hear them. I felt sweat on my brow and looked back at the house. The butler had stopped dusting, standing with his head to one side in consideration. He walked out of sight, and the backdoor opened. Israel had pulled Kallista behind one of trees, but he didn’t know someone was coming. They had quieted somewhat, but it wasn’t enough.
The butler had stepped out. Was crossing the yard slowly. I cursed and pulled the bow from my shoulder, an arrow already nocked. I looked back and forth, and stood up a little taller. I took a breath, took aim, and breathed out as I released.
The whiz-thwack of an arrow soaring and finding its mark was common to me, and I sighed a pent up breath when it did so, reverberating in the tree by Israel’s head. He was ducking down, and looking at me. I put a finger to my lips and crouched down. The butler had paused, waiting a moment… Then he shook his head and went back inside.