“Yay, another old mansion. What a surprise.”
Despite that comment, it was only a mansion in my opinion, because Naru had corrected me in saying it was little more than a chateau or larger home, which only brought up the question of what kind of house he lived in. Eight bedrooms, four full bathrooms, and the glorious golden oak grand staircase filling up the majority of the main hall was a mansion to me.
Not to mention we had been greeted by a suited butler, who acted as though he didn’t hear my comment and instead focused on Lin.
“You must be Mr. Shibuya.”
“No.” And there we have it! Another eloquent and beautifully delivered speech from our favorite perpetual rain cloud.
The butler only faltered for a moment before redirecting his bow to Naru.
“Excuse me, I did not expect my master’s guest to be so young. Right this way.”
We didn’t go up the polished, red carpeted staircase. Rather we slipped around it to an open door, which revealed a small, but lavished and comfortable study within. A thick man sat behind a desk the same beautiful polished oak as the staircase.
“Shibuya Psychic Research,” he bobbed his head as though testing the taste of the words. “Right on time. Since I have yet to meet you in person, would Mr. Shibuya be so kind as to show himself?”
Naru stepped forward with all his expected self-confidence. “That would be me. I presume there has been a room set aside for us to set up base?”
The thick, mustached man merely blinked. “Yes. Did you get my email on the details?”
“Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
“You have proof of credentials?”
It was the most formulaic meeting we had ever had with a client. Usually Lin or Naru had all the paperwork signed and worked out before hand, but for the first time one insisted on finishing the paperwork at his home and in person, for whatever reason. Thus, after I signed my own name on the dotted line that showed I wouldn’t be suing the crap out of him if I got hurt on his premise and that he could sue the crap out of me if I was a lying jackweed, I got to sit in the corner and be bored out of my mind.
By the time they finally finished and we got to unloading the van, I had memorized every swirl in his study’s maroon rug.
“What are your impressions on the house?” Naru asked me as he handed me a bundle of poles for our compactable shelves.
He gave me a familiar droll stare.
“What? You asked.”
“Then forget I asked.” He handed off a box to Lin, then took one of his own. “Those who can will be arriving tomorrow. Until then I’d like you to pay attention for anything strange.”
“Why me? Oh, wait, don’t ask. Latent psychic, yadah yadah. You know not to expect much, right?”
He just gave me another one of those droll stares, the ones that called me an idiot with the least expenditure of calories. It never failed to make something tick above my eye. One of these days—
“Shouldn’t you be taking that to base?”
“Yeah yeah, I’m getting to it.”
Base turned out to be an unused sitting room in the back of the house. It basically consisted of a squashy, expensive looking brown leather couch, another one of those maroon Persian rugs, and an ornate fireplace. The paneling in the walls was the same warm oak, but interspaced with your normal wallpaper. A fire was already lit in the grates and I thankfully thawed my hands on it after dumping the shelves in the corner.
I shouldn’t be so ungrateful. The fact that I was being paid to stay in a fancy house for a few days, food included, should have been a blast. But after the last mansion case we had, where doors and staircases led to nowhere and a monster prowled the halls for blood…
I shuddered, suddenly very happy that this house was boring—and technically not a ‘mansion.’
“Mai, I’d like to be done before dawn.”
Naru stood behind me in the doorway, that imperious set to his shoulders and his chin lowered in just the right angle to drop his bangs to his eyes. Even with the obvious arrogance, he was still handsome enough to make my stomach heat up, and it irritated me to no end.
I shoved my fists to my sides. “Jeeze, you’re so impatient! I’ve probably only been here for thirty seconds, tops!”
“That’s thirty seconds you could have been carrying equipment. I don’t pay you to loaf.”
“Rwar, you’re grouchier than usual. Don’t like paperwork or something?”
“I’m going! I’m going!”
But even as I slipped past him, I had meant what I said. Yes he was a bossy asshole with perpetual PMS on some days, but usually starting a case put him in the best of moods. It was the possibility, I supposed, the opening of a new mystery which he loved so much.
Outside in the early winter chill, I watched my breath rise as Lin put a box into my arms. I sagged under its weight and protested, so Lin sighed and handed me a monitor instead. I was just stepping over the threshold when I heard it: a baby, crying from somewhere on the second floor. I couldn’t help but smile.
“So he has a family.” Our client hadn’t looked the type, at least to me. But that just went to show how first impressions could always be wrong. Either way, I absolutely adored babies! The cooing, the little baby feet, that unique smell of Johnson’s baby shampoo, the tiny little onesies—maybe, if things got slow I could, you know, offer to help…
Naru had the first shelf set up against the right wall. I couldn’t help but notice how the firelight played on the sheen of his black hair.
“Hey, Naru, do you know how old his baby is?”
He paused from snapping a shelf in place. “What?”
“Our client’s baby. I heard it crying when I just came in and was wondering.”
I put down the monitor besides the shelves, thinking he was just trying to remember. But when I looked up he had his head cocked to the side, ear up to hear.
“Did you hear me?”
“Of course I heard you. Our client doesn’t have any children. Never has.”
A chill crawled up my spine. I could hope that I was hearing things, but it was rarely the case. That was just to be expected when you worked for a ghost hunter.
Still, I wanted to hit my head against the stupid aluminum shelf until it bled. What happened to that nice streak of not so creepy cases we had been having? The obviously boring big house? Did I jinx us somehow?
Sigh. So much for boring.