(A/N: I'm sorry that this one is so long, but I don't really have the time right now to go through and find a place to split it or to edit it down, so it is what it is I guess)
Buzz, Briar’s phone jolted her awake. Before her eyes were even open, the gun she had fallen asleep holding was up and aimed at the air in front of her with the safety flicked off. Her moment, however, also managed to trigger the motion sensors for the hidden basement lights.
Temporarily blinded and feeling quite like shooting something, Briar felt around for her phone and blinked in the bright artificial light.
She then typed in her password and read the notification that had woken her.
TheFactsOfLife has posted an update.
She tucked the phone into her back pocket and got up from the training room floor. Every muscle in her body ached with her every movement, but she had grown accustomed to ignoring this particular kind of pain.
With as much grace as she could muster, which wasn’t much, she dragged herself to the room adjacent the one she had fallen asleep in and choose a place on the padded floor to start her warm-ups. She placed her phone on the ground, tapped the text-to-speech icon next to the new post, and began the familiar cycle.
“Hey guys,” the robotic voice read, “I just wanted to keep you as up-to-date as I can. I made a pretty big breakthrough a little while ago on the Wenton case. I can’t tell you what it was yet or anything, but just know that it’s big. By the end of next week, I plan to have this thing cracked. Fingers crossed.”
Briar frowned down at her phone. The screen stared back with the words she had just heard it say, then it went black.
She finished her warmup.
Halfway through the day, when Briar found herself once again at the top of the elongated pillar that served as a climbing wall on one side and a tumbling ledge on the other, the conversation she had had earlier played through her head.
“An F,” Carlson had said quietly, as if he couldn’t believe his eyes, even as the proof lay in his hands, “Fourteen-hundred dollars for that school and you fail an assignment for the first time your senior year…” he trailed off, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Will you allow me to defend myself?” Briar asked, quieter than he.
He set the paper down gently on his desk as though it were a bomb, set to go off the moment a sudden movement mixes the volatile chemicals within, “Alright, give your defense.” He crossed his arms.
Briar was suddenly very aware of his superior size.
She chewed on her words for a minute. She couldn’t place the blame on him, and she had to get it off herself. He wouldn’t believe Queenie had anything to do with it, and she wasn’t supposed to be looking into who hurt Jackson.
I can’t put the blame on him directly, she realized, but no one can prove an indirect accusation was made without a viable counter argument. His lessons would be used against him.
“I was worried about Jackson,” she said, finally.
“I know who he is, I was asking why you were worried,” he said this sternly, but she saw his crossed arms loosen over his chest.
She looked to the floor, surprised to find a feeling she hadn't been visited by in a long time stirring inside her and flushing her cheeks, “He avoided me at school. I assumed his attack may have had something to do with me.”
“I know father but-”
“Did I ask you to speak?”
Her voice died in her throat and that feeling, shame, she decided, intensified, turning her even redder.
“Your grades will go back up, do you understand?”
“And you will continue to practice your drills nightly as you do so.”
Her eyes snapped up to his face and she opened her mouth to speak. She knew her mistake before her protest could form in her mouth.
“Do not argue with me,” Carlson snapped, “If you’re lucky this will give you less free time to worry.”
Briar looked down at the floor, defeated, “Yes father.” She stayed where she was, awaiting her dismissal. A maid scurried down the hall behind her. Carlson moved suddenly, circling around Briar to close the door to his office.
She resisted the urge to look up.
She tracked Carlson’s movements through her peripheral vision as he opened one of the large ledgers that sat just out of her reach on his bookshelves, which he retrieved easily, being of much superior height to Briar. He carried the ledger to his desk and left it open in front of him. He gestured to the empty chair on the other side of the desk, “Sit.”
She did as she was told.
There was a pause, just a beat too long and filled with just enough tension to choke the air between them.
“In addition to your drills and the extra credit assignment that you will request to make up your grade, I have a task for you.”
She stared down at the ledger, trying to make sense of the upside down number and words, or maybe she was just avoiding his eyes.
“What do you need me to do?”
The answer, as it always was, ended with violence.
No one really cares when a strait-A highschool senior with no friends-or, one friend, possibly- skips a day of classes.
Briar didn’t have the benefit of a parent who would call in a false appointment for this. Such a claim can be disproven, Carlson always said when either of the girls made the rare request.
She did, however, have the benefit, despite her nearly childlike stature, of being mistaken for an adult regularly. The logic was likely that no child would ever speak like she did, move like she did, answer questions like she did, or generally act like she always had.
Thus, by her father's command and her own merit, she found herself with a newspaper tucked under one arm, an overpriced coffee in her hand, and a pair of off-duty homicide detectives just within hearing range.
“- hope there’s nothing really going on there. I mean, teenagers are hard enough to understand by themselves, but add relationship drama in the mix and suddenly it’s world war three.” She was finally able to put a face to the name and voice of detective Latimer, a middle-aged man who bore the overworked-dad look of dark stubble, bruised under eyes, and a cup of black coffee permanently fixated in his hand.
Detective Blunt, Latimer’s friend and co-worker who didn’t live up to her name, responded, “Well, she is a teenager. And you know how they are, teenage girls, they’ve got one thing on their minds all through high school. You should just be glad yours isn’t at one of the public schools. My daughter, Kathy, was surrounded by all these boys all asking her out all the time and trying to get her to do things she didn’t want to. I’m just glad she came to me about it rather than giving in to all the peer pressure around her, you know?”
Latimer nodded along, “I know that Natalie, but this new friend of hers still worries me. I mean, I don’t even know if they’re a him! She won’t tell me a thing about them and when I ask she just runs off to her room to browse around on the internet or whatever it is she does in there.”
Detective Blunt, Natalie, inclined her head and picked out her response as Briar let them get a few more steps ahead of her as she turned to a shop window as if to admire the floral sundresses there.
“You should have a chat with her. Just sit her down, just the two of you, and talk about this new friend of hers. If it’s a boy, though, maybe, I mean, I don’t like to pry, but it would probably be best if you didn’t allow them to hang out without supervision, you know, just in case.”
Briar scanned the newspaper, pretending to underline something here and there with a red pen, all the while dotting morse-code notes in the margins and between the lines. Just little blots of ink, perhaps created by the absent hand of a pen-tapping computer or simply on accident by the tip of an uncapped pen being held against the paper.
“Maybe. But it’s so hard to get her to sit down with me anymore. All she does is do her homework and retreat into her room to work on some project or other.”
“You’re her father, Nolan, just tell her to come out.”
Latimer took a sip of his coffee, not because he particularly wanted to, Briar suspected, but because he didn’t want to answer.
“I know Natalie, I know,” he sighed, defeated in what shouldn’t have been a battle to start with.
“Anyway,” Latimer changed the subject, “were you at that seminar at work the other day? I could have sworn I saw you there.”
Blunt nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah, I was. Did stick around for that bit on the Cross case?”
“The robbery or the murder?”
“The one in 2000, um...” Blunt frowned in concentration as she dug around for the memory.
“The murder then.”
She snapped her fingers, “Yes, that one. I cannot believe those detectives left the force after that, remember? They make this huge case, get all the promotions they want, and they just up and leave,” she shook her head, “Honestly, some people just baffle me.”
Latimer downed the rest of his coffee and tossed the empty cup, “What were their names again?” he asked, not sounding particularly interested.
As they approached a crosswalk, Briar flipped her hair so it better covered her face and pretended to focus intently on the crossword as she came to stand right beside them.
“Um, I can’t remember the first names for nothing, but most of the time they were just called detectives Reboux and Ringly.”
The walk signal flicked on.
Briar was nearly knocked over as the hoard of people searched forward against her frozen frame. Her feet remained planted in the ground, one with the asphalt as if she had grown from it.
In a movement only just quick enough to keep up with her reeling mind, Briar turned and took off.
Ringly. Her thoughts echoed, detective Ringly. The year 2000 was included in the stolen journal that remained hidden, nearly forgotten in her room.
Cross, she heard it in the voice of a dead man.
Cross, she heard it in the voice of a homicide detective.
Never believe a coincidence, her father’s advice might have her digging where he didn’t want her. But she was already breaking his commands, what was one more infraction.
An image of Queenie with that old relic atop her head, grinning like the winner no one cheered for crept into her mind. Briar shoved it out.
She arrived back onto the property in a maids uniform (changed into quickly in the bathroom of a coffee shop) with her hair still cascading down her shoulders impractically and a pair of sunglasses fixed over her eyes. Father wouldn’t explain why he didn’t want her seen leaving or entering the house. She hadn’t the nerve to ask about the list her latest victim had mentioned.
In her room, Briar found where she had stashed the journal in a hidden space within the frame of her bookcase and flipped to the final entries.
February 4, 2000,
Stephen and I have been assigned a new case. I fear that this one might not be solvable, or, in the very least, it will take far too long. The media will be covering every last detail. A mistake could end both our careers.
Though there is cause for concern on that front, there is truly good news as well. Stephen is engaged to Maria. Though, it was her who proposed, a fact which many would scorn for lack of traditionalism, but I know my friends well, and Maria is far to brazen to have been the flustered fiance accepting the ring.
There are no plans for a wedding just yet, and I assume there won't be for a long while, knowing Stephen. He will wait for the stars to align, and the galaxy to sing its approval before he makes any big decisions.
He has, however, requested I be his best man when the day finally arrives. I said yes, of course, but now I worry that I will not be able to afford a nice enough suit for such and event. It feels silly to be worried about such a thing.
And then it ended.
There wasn’t a word written after that, just blank page after blank page.
Briar’s phone buzzed on the desk. She picked it up and read the text that stared up at her with a furrowed brow.
“Why weren’t you at school tod…” The text limit of the notification cut it off. She signed into her phone and read the rest.
“Why weren’t you at school today? I met some new friends and I’d like to introduce you.”
Briar didn’t respond.