Whack. Whack. Whack.
Emma gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the rubber ball bouncing off the wall just a few feet away. Oblivious to her discomfort, Jacob kept tossing. And tossing. And tossing. Emma's grip on the computer mouse tightened, and her typing slowed to a snail's pace.
Ignore it and it will go away, she told herself without conviction. Ignore it and it will go away.
Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack.
She couldn't take it anymore. Emma slammed her palm into the desk hard enough to smart. Jacob looked over, startled, deftly catching the ball without seeming to try. Emma stared back, feeling the fight slowly drain out of her now that it was quiet. What had she been about to say? Had she even thought of anything?
The sound of the front door opening saved her from having to continue their awkward staring match. She straightened up intertwined her hands in front of her.
Two men ducked through the doorway and stood in the center of the room, apparently waiting to be acknowledged.
"Hello," Emma said, smiling warmly. "I suppose you're here about a case?"
One of the men nodded. The other was still looking around, almost as if he were searching for something.
"Please," she said, gesturing to the chair in front of her desk. "Sit."
She stood up and grabbed the folding seat, setting it next to the first one. When both the customers and she were seated comfortably, she smiled again.
"What can we help you with?"
"Are... You... the detective?" the first man asked, looking around almost nervously.
"I am the assistant to the detective," said Emma. She nodded over the second man's shoulder. "That is Jacob. He's the one you're looking for."
Both of the men turned in their seats to get a better look, as if Jacob were some sort of rare creature.
"My name is Amal Gahli, and this is my brother, Itamar," the first man began, still looking over at Jacob. "We are here because we've heard that you're very good at handling matters with all due discretions."
"Mhm," said Jacob absently, rolling his ball around in his hands.
"This is a matter of great importance. You see... my family is in the furniture business. We haven't been working here for very long - twenty years ago we relocated. We've been trying to make a name for ourselves here. So far, we have been successful. However, we have strict competition, and we're under a lot of scrutiny in our neighborhood because we still keep up our Israeli traditions. It would be very hard on us if people were to begin to discuss this," Amal said. His hands fidgeted nervously on his lap.
"We are very discreet," Emma said gently. "Nobody will have to know anything about why you're here. All of our records are private, and kept sealed away."
Amal glanced briefly at her and nodded, not looking convinced.
"You see... This morning, when one of our cleaners went to clean my cousin's room, they found him," he said slowly. The words seemed to be painful to him. "Dead."
"It appears he took his own life," Itamar spoke up for the first time.
"You're worried about the implications of such a thing on your family's status in your community and on your religious lives?" Emma asked.
"Yes," Amal looked at her like she'd just sprouted a second head and then turned back to Jacob. "But we found something interesting near his body. It almost looks as if he weren't alone at the time of his death. Because it looks so much like a suicide, we didn't think that the police would even consider it. But if there's any chance that our cousin was murdered, we will take it."
Jacob had stopped rolling his ball around and was staring blankly at the wall in front of him. He made no move to speak, despite the two men awaiting his response.
"I take it there are some... mitigating circumstances keeping you from calling the police?" Emma asked. There was no point in waiting for an answer from Jacob - he'd be asleep before he even thought they wanted one.
"As I said, our standing in our neighborhood is shaky at best. Besides, our business rivals would most likely find some way to use this against us. We are a religious family, and our beliefs consider suicide a sin. We can't have it declared a suicide if that's not really what happened," Amal answered. He looked from her to Jacob and back again in confusion.
"I understand. So you'd like us to come and take a look?" Emma smiled warmly. "I will say now, though, we cannot remove the body."
"Oh, no!" Itamar said quickly.
"We will call the police, eventually. But we need for there to be a thorough investigation of all possibilities at first," Amal explained. He fixed Itamar with what looked like a warning glare. "I'm sure... I'm sure you've gathered that this is a pressing matter that will require your immediate attention."
"Of course. Jacob?" Emma leaned almost out of her seat to survey her partner. He was tossing his ball and catching it in one hand without looking. He met her look, but didn't say anything. "I suppose you should call your Uncle?"
A million questions rose up her, each clamoring for attention, but she swallowed them quickly. Whatever Jacob wanted to do, she'd just have to go along with it. Besides, he had once said himself that what his Uncle didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
"Alright," she said, standing up and slinging her bag over her shoulder. "We should be going now, then."
As if he'd been waiting for a cue, Jacob hopped up and strode over the back room. Emma watched him a growing mixture of disdain and amusement. What was he up to now? He reappeared a moment later, carrying a huge bag which she immediately recognized as his forensics bag. Of course.
"Bring the camera," he said, eyes already focused on the door.
Emma sighed and pulled open a drawer full of odds and ends. Today was looking like an... interesting day.
'They neglected to tell us that they're rich,' Jacob thought sourly. 'Filthy stinkin' rich. How do you get this rich in the furniture industry?'
"This is Balfour's room," Amal gestured to a white door at the end of a long, bleak highway. "The body is inside, in his bathroom."
"Who has access to this room?" Jacob asked.
"Well... Balfour, the cleaning staff... I don't think that the door was locked," Amal said slowly. "I don't imagine it would be hard to get in."
"Would anyone in particular want to get into his room? Was anyone looking for him last night?"
"Well, I don't think so," Amar answered slowly. "Balfour usually kept to himself."
"Would any friends have come over? Was there anyone in the family who might have visited him?"
"No," Amar replied. "Like I said, Balfour mostly kept to himself."
"Did he have a girlfriend?"
"Balfour didn't seem to be very social," Itamar supplemented.
"Where was he when he wasn't here?" asked Emma.
"At one of the stores, I suppose," Amar said. "He worked very hard."
"Did anyone there have any problems with him?" Emma continued.
"No, no," said Amar. "Balfour was a good worker. Nobody had any problems with him. He was there, he did the job, and he left."
"So he worked for you?"
"For our older relatives, yes. All - well, almost all - of our family works at our furniture factory," said Amar.
"If you don't mind me asking, why did he work for you? He could have gotten a job anywhere, right? Why did he decide to stay in the family business?"
"I really have no idea," Amar sighed. "But I do know that Balfour didn't get much of an education. We could give him work unconditionally."
"Was Balfour popular? Well liked in this neighborhood?"
"Balfour kept to himself," he shrugged, frowning. "People didn't dislike him, if that's what you're asking."
"Alright," Emma ducked her head briefly.
"Can we see the scene of the discovery?" Jacob's patience was worn thin. Everybody was starting to sound like a broken record.
"Ah, yes. Through here," Amar opened the door and stood aside to let Jacob in, followed by Itamar.
"Ah, miss," he heard Itamar say suddenly. "It's kind of a... gruesome scene. Maybe you'd better wait out here."
'Heh. Good luck with that,' Jacob thought. Emma never did as she was told. Besides, she had a stomach of steel. There would be no unprofessional conduct from her, that was for sure.
"Don't worry," said Emma. "I promise you not matter how gruesome it is, I've seen worse. I've been doing this for quite a while."
"No you haven't," Jacob butted in automatically, surveying the room for any signs of a disturbance.
She heaved a sigh.
"Well, not compared to you, who's done this your entire life, but for as long as I've worked here I don't think that I have done anything besides investigating, other than schoolwork," she answered wearily. "Let me in. Please."
Jacob heard the rustling behind him of Itamar stepping aside slowly.
"Did your cleaning staff move anything? Do you know how far along in their cleaning they were before they discovered the body?" Emma asked.
"No, but they couldn't have gotten far. The door was wide open when we came in. The body is in there."
Jacob didn't have to look to know that Amar was pointing towards the bathroom. Not waiting for an invitation, he strode over to the other room.
The bathroom was small, with a sink immediately jutting from the wall, a small matching toilet, and a shower stall. Through the deliberately-warped glass, Jacob could see a dark-haired man curled up in a puddle of crimson.
Because the bathroom was so cramped, he had to step back out to set down his forensic bag. He reached into one of the external pockets and pulled out a pair of rubber gloves, snapping them on quickly. Emma stepped around him gracefully and peered inside.
"Was the door shut when you found him?" she asked.
"No, the door was open," Amar said, using the same tone a teacher might use with a student. Jacob straightened up and nudged past Emma.
"Was there any water coming from the shower?"
That was a stupid question - the blood would have been mostly washed away if there was. Jacob had to bite his tongue to keep from pointing this out. She probably wouldn't appreciate the input.
"Hmm." Jacob could practically hear the ideas forming in her head.
He tuned out anything else that was said and set to work, opening the shower door carefully and scanning the sight in front of him.
The man on the floor was small, probably no taller than five feet five inches standing up. He was thin and tan, with a small, delicate face. His dark eyes stared towards the drain flatly. His lower half was covered by a towel, once white and now stained, probably permanently. His left wrist had a gash in it about six inches long that began at the radial artery, as far as Jacob could tell. In his right hand was a razor, rusty red from blood that was beginning to die.
But the thing that really had his attention was the stray blood.
The man's face had three small freckles of bright red drops that continued on into his hair. Jacob knew from their size and shape that they were gravitational drops, fallen from above. From the wrist maybe? His eyes flickered back to the gash. No, that would have bled a lot more than just these little bits. Besides, their position indicated that whoever had made them had moved towards the back of the shower. With the angle of Balfour's head, it would have been impractical to move his left arm. The razor could have left blood on him, but considering the size of their drops and the amount such a small object could hold, that was unlikely.
"Did you move anything after you found him?" Jacob called loudly.
"No," called Amar. "We didn't touch anything."
"Did you examine the body yourselves?"
"No. We thought it would be best to let you do that. We only opened the door to confirm that it was Balfour."
"Tell me, was there anything on his face when you found him?"
"On his face?"
"Yes, the side of his face."
"You mean the drops of blood? Those don't seem to have come from Balfour, and they don't belong to any of us."
Hmm. This might be an interesting case after all.
"Emma. My bag."
Emma materialized quickly and set the bag down at Jacob's side. He heard the telltale sound of her knees hitting the floor and realized that she intended to stay. That was unusual - she normally tried to squeeze as much information out of the people around her as she could.
Well, whatever. No point in shooing her out - sooner or later she'd have to examine these scenes herself if she ever hoped to become a great investigator. Might as well show her the ropes early.
Jacob switched his focus back to work and gingerly reached for the victim's index finger. He tugged on it ever so slightly, and the muscles gave no noticeable protest.
"Judging from the amount of rigor and the state of the eyes, I'd say he probably died 8-12 hours ago," Jacob said aloud, not intending it for anyone in particular. "That means sometime early this morning."
He turned towards his bag and looked at Emma for the first time since she'd joined him. She was staring at the body, barely blinking, face frozen without emotion. She was probably trying to get a read on the victim.
Jacob unzipped his bag and grabbed two sealable test tubes and two cotton swabs. He set the tubes down, opened them, and propped them both up so that they could be reached easily. Then he gingerly brought the cotton swab to a small dot of red in the victim's hair. He twirled it slowly, giving the swab time to absorb, and when it was a satisfying shade of red he withdrew, set it in the first tube, and sealed it. Next, he dipped the second swab in the sea of blood that had obviously come from the victim. This one darkened immediately, with very little prompting from Jacob. He put this one away quicker than the first and sealed it to keep out potential contaminants.
"If worst comes to worst, we can send away for a DNA test," Jacob said, more to himself than anyone else. "It's expensive, and it takes a while, but it works."
He pulled out a plastic bag and carefully placed the test tubes inside. He pushed them into a corner where they would be out of the way and started rifling through his bag for some fingerprint powder.
Emma stood up.
"I'm going to talk to the family and see what I can find out about Balfour. I'll come back when I've learned as much as I can."
Jacob didn't bother responding, and she didn't bother waiting. She was gone as quickly and quietly as she had arrived.
"I would like to speak to your family," Emma could hear the demanding edge in her own voice. She suppressed a wince and tried to tone it down. "Could you please take me to whoever Balfour was closest to? Perhaps his Mother or Father?"
Amar looked off to the side and made a face like he was debating saying something. Itamar seemed to have no such conflict.
"Both of Balfour's parents are dead," he said.
"Yes, it was a long time ago," Amar sighed. "No, not a long time ago. Perhaps... five years or so? A little more?"
"I'm so sorry," Emma responded, storing that detail away for later musings. "Does he have any brothers or sisters?"
"No. Balfour was an only child," said Amal.
"Well, who was he closest to in this house? An Aunt, Uncle? Cousin?" she tried.
"I don't know. Balfour was usually alone," Amar said, sighing again.
"By choice?" she studied both of their faces carefully, looking for any trace of a lie.
"Well, yes, I guess," said Amar. He seemed genuinely taken aback, and Itamar just looked confused. They didn't seem to understand why this was relevant.
"Alright. If he hasn't got any parents, who takes responsibility for him?" she tried. She bit back a sigh at the looks of pure confusion on their faces.
"Me, I guess," said Amar. "I arranged for his immigration to this country."
"He was born overseas?" she'd suspected as much, but she couldn't very well just come out and ask it without feeling rude.
"In Isreal," said Amar. "We all were. Like I said, we immigrated a couple of years ago."
"What was his life like back in Isreal?" asked Emma.
"Balfour probably had a harder time than the rest of us," said Amar almost hesitantly. "About..." he paused and counted something off on his fingers. "... Probably six years ago, both of his parents died. They got very sick. One of their neighbors, he had some kind of... disease. They must have caught it from him. They were dead within a month. Balfour was left alone in his apartment. He was only fifteen. He got a job at the local market. We'd have given him work, but we were in the process of immigrating, you see? He was barely able to support himself. Our aunt great Abbighael gave him some extra money, but it was barely enough to get by. Three years after we got here, we convinced Abbighael to join us. She said that she would, but that Balfour had to come with her."
"Is Abbighael here?" Emma asked.
"She is, but...," Amar trailed off uneasily.
"Alzheimer's," Itamar finished for him.
Emma ducked her head sympathetically.
"Is it so severe that she wouldn't have any recollections of Balfour?" she asked.
"It's in it's early stages," said Itamar. "She will probably talk to you, but she forgets things. She can't remember what year it is, what day it is, how old her nieces and nephews are - things like that."
"Would you let me speak to her for a few minutes?" Emma made her tone as polite as humanly possible. "If she starts to get tired or absolutely can't tell me anything I'll leave immediately."
"Come with me."
Emma followed him down a hallway full of beautiful watercolors and glossy photos of Israel. He stopped in front of two shiny cherry-wood doors with golden rungs to open them and looked back at her.
"She should be in here," he said. "I don't know how she's feeling today. She can get a little... frustrated on her bad days, but she's harmless. You probably won't be able to talk to her for more than a few minutes."
"I understand," Emma said respectfully. Itamar studied her intently, as if he were looking for something in her face. Whatever it was, he found it. He gave a small nod, more to himself than her, and pulled the door open. He stood back, holding it open.
Abbighael Gahli was a tall, thick woman with a tan, deeply-lined face. She was sitting in a large rocking chair, staring off into space. For a second Emma thought that she didn't realize she was here, but before she could clear her throat to announce herself the older woman turned her head and fixed Emma with a severe look.
"Who are you?" she seemed to be trying to place Emma in her mind.
"My name is Emma," she smiled gently. "I am a private detective. I need to talk to you about... Balfour Gahli?"
"Balfour?" Abbighael asked curiously. "What about him?"
"May I ask you a few questions about him?" Emma kept her tone as light as possible.
Apparently no one had told her what had happened. Which was just as well, because grief would probably make her memory worse.
"It's related to the company," she lied quickly. "Amar and Itamar hired me. Do you want me to go get them so you can ask?"
Abbighail shook her head.
"What did you want to know?" Abbighael asked.
"I understand that Balfour's parents are dead," Emma began. "Do you know when that happened?"
Abbighael scrunched up her face thoughtfully.
"Oh, when he was young," she said. "He was... fourteen I think. I'm not sure."
"Was Balfour close to his parents?"
"I... don't really know," she answered. Her eyes took on the faraway quality of someone who was summoning a memory from a very long time ago. "I know that after they died, he got sick. I took care of him, you know... he didn't take care of himself after his parents died."
"Do you remember when Balfour came to this country?"
"Not exactly. My memory isn't so good anymore," she answered matter-of-factly.
"Amar told me that he came here around the same time you did. Do you remember your immigration?" Emma watched her face carefully for any signs of recognition.
"I remember a little bit," Abbighael said. "It was hard to pack all my things. I brought my best rugs, but I had to leave some of them behind. And my artwork - my husband's brother gave us artwork. I had to leave that behind. My house - I miss my house sometimes. Sometimes when I wake up I forget where I am. I think that I should be at home, in my bed, but I'm not."
She let out a rusty but sincere laugh.
"You must have loved Israel very much," Emma said, smiling softly. The fondness seemed to emanate from Abbighael like light from a lamp.
"Yes," a cloud of sadness passed over her face. "I miss Israel very much."
"Did Balfour feel the same way?" Emma asked.
"Balfour?" Abbighael looked confused.
"Your nephew?" she'd gotten too far off topic.
"Balfour, my nephew Balfour - oh yes, I remember Balfour!" she positively beamed. "Such a nice boy. But quiet. Balfour is very quiet. Are you his friend?"
"I'm a private detective," Emma reinforced patiently. "Amar hired me to deal with a company problem."
"Company problem?" Abbighael frowned.
"Just a little thing. Don't worry about it - myself and my partner know what we're doing. Now, about Balfour?"
"Oh yes, Balfour? He's so quiet," Abbighael shook her head. "You can barely get the boy to talk."
"Have you talked to him recently?"
"I don't know. You'd have to ask my nurse. Cindy. She comes in every Tuesday and Thursday," Abbighael said. "My memory's not very good any more."
Emma nodded. It looked like she wouldn't be getting any more out of this woman today.
"I have to go talk to some other people now, okay? You have a nice day, Ms. Gahli," she said gently. The woman surveyed her blankly. She didn't wait for acknowledgment - she'd be waiting for a long time if she did. She turned and left quietly.
"Who are you?" Abbighael called after her. Emma paused in the doorway and smiled gently.
"I'm a private detective," she said. "I'm going to go talk to Amar now."
She tugged the door shut behind her.
Itamar stood to attention.
"Did she talk to you?" he asked with poorly-concealed eagerness.
"Yes. She was a little bit confused, but she recalled Balfour, and she recalled details of her home," Emma replied. "I don't think she can tell me any more, at least not right now."
"Thank you for respecting her," he said. "Would you like to take you anywhere else?"
"Do you think that there's anyone who can tell me any more about Balfour?"
"Honestly, no," Itamar sighed. "They may be able to tell you a few little things, but nothing that would help. Balfour really did keep to himself."
"I understand," Emma nodded for emphasis. "Would you mind taking me back to his room? Right now I think that would help."
Itamar nodded enthusiastically and practically jogged down the hallway. He stepped in front of Balfour's room and once again stood aside so that she could enter.
"Thank you," Emma nodded her recognition and slipped inside. Itamar remained, almost as if he were waiting for something. Was she forgetting some trivial nicety?
"If you need to go anywhere else, I would be glad to take you," Itamar said quickly.
Oh. That was it.
"Yes, I'll be sure to find you. Thank you for your help," she nodded again and flashed what was probably a slightly awkward smile. She shut the door almost before the words were out of her mouth.
"This may not be a suicide after all."
Emma's footsteps paused. Jacob slid the camera towards her without turning away from his latest discovery, a small stain on the edge of the shiny shower door.
"Blood?" she asked. And then, "can you tell how recent it is?"
"The blood is dried, but that doesn't say much for such a small quantity. I don't think it's been here very long. It hasn't began to chip, and it hasn't been diluted, as far as I can tell. Look closely."
"There's not much of it. What is the significance of this?"
"That's not the most significant part. Look closer." He finally turned to face her, crossing his legs uncomfortably. He could barely feel them. How long had be been sitting on this floor, with no better light than the florescent ceiling bulb? It was beginning to catch up to him.
"I don't know. Can you please tell me?" Emma asked drily.
"Directional marks," Jacob sighed. Sometimes, Emma was a genius, and other times, she was denser than a rock.
"Oh. I see it now."
"What did you find out?" he sighed again. If he spent his entire day in here he was going to be pissed.
"Not much. Balfour really was a loner. His parents died when he was about fourteen. He lived in Israel by himself for years. He got a job at the market to support himself, and his great-aunt helped him out. She seems to be the person who cared about him most, but she's in the early stages of Alzheimer's (although it seem more like the middle stages to me) and is starting to deteriorate functionally. It couldn't have been easy for him to see. Also, did you see his room?"
"What was the most unsettling thing?"
"Everything looked fine to me," Jacob replied. What was she on about now?
"The bed was made. The blankets were tucked in evenly, as were the sheets. His dresser drawers were all shut. There were no clothes anywhere. There were no pictures. There were no souvenirs. There is nothing out there to prove that anyone was ever living there," she said.
"You think this wasn't his room?" he asked.
"No," said Emma, continuing almost as if she hadn't heard him. "And look at this bathroom. The only mess is the blood in the shower. The floor is clean, the towels are clean and hung up carefully, each folded the same way. There is a toothbrush sitting perfectly parallel to the sink. There are no toothpaste stains, no hairs - nothing. It's as if there's no one living here."
"Could they have cleaned up?"
"Depersonalization," Emma said cryptically. "Sometimes depressed people fail to amass possessions. They want to be surrounded by things that don't make them think of themselves. They hate to see reminders of themselves because they hate themselves. In other words, it's a reflection of their feelings of sadness and emptiness. The room is a canvas of his mind. There is no happiness and no self inside."
"You think that it could be a suicide," Jacob stated plainly.
"Yes," she said. She studied him with a look that he couldn't decipher. "I'm not discrediting what you found. For all I know, it could be a homicide. I'm just saying that I wouldn't be in disbelief if it were a suicide."
Jacob stood carefully, ignoring the painful protest his muscles let out.
"I guess in the end, it's up to the blood," he said. He zipped his gym bag carefully and slung it over his shoulder. Emma got the hint and handed over the camera, which he placed in a special outside pocket.
They fell into step easily, neither one making any move to speak. They closed the door behind them without looking back once.
"Are you leaving?"
Itamar had ghosted up behind them without either one of them having heard.
"Do you know where Amar is? We'd like to talk to him about our procedure," Jacob said, adjusting the bag on his shoulder to a more comfortable position.
"No," Itamar sighed. "If you tell me I'll relay it."
"We're going to do some blood tests," Emma said. A stab of irritation shot through Jacob. There was no 'we'; she had no idea how to send a sample off for blood tests.
"Yes," he said, when it became apparent that Emma had also realized this helpful tidbit. "There's a private laboratory that will do this for a fee. They won't pry into why it's being done, so you don't have to worry about any intrusive questions. To ensure that you have the maximum amount of privacy, this will be done through us. You'll have to pick up the bill. If you can't or absolutely don't want to have this done, make sure you contact us in the next two days."
"I suppose this means we need to call the police," he said. He didn't exactly seem thrilled about this. Jacob couldn't blame him. Whether he'd realized it or not, he was going to have a hell of a time explaining to the police why it had taken them so long to call. They really hadn't this through very well, but it wasn't his place to say so. So long as he was being paid, it was no skin off his nose.
"Thank you. I'm grateful for your help, as I know we all are. I will see you out," he stepped past Emma carefully and lead them exactly the same way they had been going. Not a bright guy.
When they arrived at the front, Itamar pulled open the door, stepped back, and gestured for Emma to go through. He flashed her a smile that showed the majority of his teeth. All of a sudden Jacob understood. He may not have understood people, he may not have been able to read facial expressions, and he may not have been able to put people at ease, but he was a man, and as a man he could tell when another man had a thing for a woman. And this man just happened to have a serious thing for Emma. Jacob had to turn his face into his shoulder to hide his huge smirk.
"Please be careful on your way out," if Itamar noticed Jacob's struggle to keep from laughing, he was doing a good job pretending that he didn't. "Some of the children were complaining about a stranger standing outside of the gate."
"A loiterer?" Emma asked. "All right. We'll be careful."
For a minute it seemed as if Itamar was going to follow them. Jacob forced his expression into something more stern and brought his face away from his arm just long enough to say that they'd be able to see themselves out. The crestfallen look on his face almost brought back his laughter full force. He picked up his pace and swung open the first gate quickly, using the metallic noise of the hinges to mask his a snort of laugher.
"What's wrong?" Emma stared up at him, head tilted to the left slightly.
Jacob couldn't help it - he started laughing harder.
"Oh, my god. Are you in the market, Emma?" he smirked.
"The market for what?" she furrowed her brow.
"E-excuse me," came the meek voice from behind her. Jacob couldn't help but feel a little annoyed. Finally, something he could give her grief about. This was the only highlight of his cramped, miserable day, damn it!
"Do you need something?" Emma turned around.
A small, short-haired brunette, probably a year or two younger than her, was wringing her hands furiously. She looked desperately worried, though there was nothing apparent around to warrant that panic.
"I-is... I mean... there's... Did you...," the girl struggled. Her hands danced in front of her even more quickly. Jacob noticed a band-aid on her right palm.
"How did you hurt your hand?" Emma asked gently. The girl froze and stiffened visibly. Her eyes widened, and for a moment it seemed as if she was about to bolt.
"Something happened here. Did you know that?" Emma continued. The girl leaned back, and Jacob prepared himself for a chase, reaching out to push Emma out of the way the moment the stranger bolted.
"Sweetie, did you want to see Balfour?" Emma continued. She didn't seem to notice the girl's discomfort, but Jacob didn't believe it had gotten past her. A new appreciation for her rose up in his mind. She always knew how to address even the most desperate people. "It's alright. Did you know they haven't called the police yet? He's inside, sweetie."
The stranger locked her hands together desperately. Her face seemed to collapse. She relaxed, no longer preparing to run.
"Wh-why?" she asked. He could hear the tears in her voice. "Wh-why is he still inside? Why didn't they call..." her voice fizzled out. "Why didn't they call the police?"
"I don't know the exact reasons. They're a close family, sweetie. It's not a decision made by one person, but a one made by several representing all," Emma said. "You know, don't you?"
That was it. The girl began to cry huge, heaving sobs that left her shaking so badly she seemed about to fall. Emma acted quickly, crossing the distance between the two of them and pulling her into an embrace. The girl melted into her shoulder. Emma rocked her gently, as if they'd known each other forever and were sharing a moment of mutual grief. It was nearly incomprehensible to Jacob. She'd just pulled a stranger into her arms and was comforting her like a sister. He'd seen similar scenes before, when he and his uncle had confirmed the deaths of loved ones. It had been awkward, standing outside of a close circle and watching such blatant displays of loss and intimacy. Once his Uncle had turned to him and murmured so quietly that it was hidden beneath the sound of sobbing.
"Always stand aside," he'd said. "Even if they reach for you, hold back. You don't understand how they're feeling. Let them cry to themselves."
But Emma fit into the picture so easily that Jacob comprehend it. How did she just know these things?
The girl gently disentangled herself from Emma's arms. She sniffed loudly and blinked, causing even more tears to fall down her red, swollen face.
"Sorry," she croaked in a voice as rough as gravel.
"It's all right," Emma responded, smiling with a boundless understanding. "I can't imagine what you're going through. You knew Balfour, didn't you?"
For a second, the girl looked like she was going to start bawling again. But then she seemed to get a hold of herself and remember the question.
"Yes," she sniffled. "He - he saved me."
"Saved you?" Emma asked.
"I was in the park one night, and these - these guys started hitting on me. I tried to walk past them, but they moved in front of me. I was starting to get scared when he walked up. He told them to leave me alone. I thought that they were going to fight him, but he looked so strong. I guess he scared them," she chuckled. "He waited until they'd all left, and he asked me if I was okay. I said yes, and he asked me if I wanted him to walk me home. I said yes."
"You talked on the way home?" Emma questioned.
"Yeah. He came here from Israel a few years ago. His family owns a furniture company. He was getting off of work when he saw those guys hassling me," she grinned at the memory. "I cut through that park every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We ran into each other a few more times."
"You loved him," she stated, rather than asked.
The joy instantly melted off of her face.
"Yes," she whispered.
"How is it you came to find him this morning?" Emma continued.
"I ran into him last night. He started talking weirdly. He said - he said to be careful, and not to cut through the park as often. He said good-bye, and to be careful where I go. I got worried. He didn't have a phone, so I couldn't call him, but I knew where he lived. I came down here looking for him. A little boy was playing in the yard. I almost left, but... I didn't want to risk something having happened to him, you know? I asked the little boy where Balfour was, and he lead me to his room. I knocked a couple of time, but no one answered. So... I went in. I-I found him in the bathroom. I couldn't believe that he was dead. I opened the - the door, to see if it was really him, you know? I must have cut my hand, but I didn't notice that until later. I-I wanted to close his - eyes, his eyes, they were open. I wanted to close them because he was dead. They were open and he was dead."
"I understand," Emma whispered. "It was your blood on his face."
"I didn't know I was bleeding. All I could think was - was... he was dead." The girl started sobbing again. This time Emma hung back. She sent Jacob a look that he wasn't sure he understood.
"Is this congruent with your findings?" she whispered. He could barely hear her. He thought about the question for a moment - the blood hadn't been in the eyes. But then again, if she had slipped, she could have unknowingly gotten droplets on his face, up to his hairline. It made sense, and it explained the smudge on the far shower wall. Jacob had initially chalked it up to poor cleaning, but now that he thought about it, it could have been a little bit of blood smeared when someone fell and caught themselves.
He nodded to Emma.
"I don't know why I didn't call the police. I know it's bad, but I just thought... He's already dead. What are they going to do?" the girl continued.
"I know. I understand," said Emma soothingly. She stepped back so that she nearly shouldered Jacob's collarbone and spoke out of the corner of her mouth.
"Does she have to talk to the family?"
Jacob took in the sight in front of her. The girl was tiny, red faced, shedding comically large tears and clutching her palms, one of which was damaged by a cut received trying to shut the eyes of a dead loved one. Logic told him to say yes, but...
But what? He was a detective. Nothing must get in the way of the truth.
But would acting on this girl's behalf really be a miscarriage of the truth?
"No. We'll talk to them on her behalf. But get her information and check it twice," he said back. The girl looked at him, confused, but before she could ask Emma stepped forwards again.
"We're going to need your information so that we can call you to confirm details. But if you'd like, we'll talk to the family about this. Okay? So you don't have to."
"Yes," the girl whispered.
The bus ride home was awful. Something was obviously wrong, and they was crawling along while occasionally being jerked like the road beneath them had jumped forward. Jacob could feel a headache forming behind his eyes like a supernova. It was gonna be a bad one.
"Do you think I'm getting soft?" he asked suddenly, almost before he'd thought about it.
"Soft?" Emma stared at him like she'd never seen him before in her life. There was a stabbing pain behind his left eyebrow that felt like a nine inch nail had cracked bone.
"Am I letting my pursuit of the truth be ebbed away by the steady flow of desperate customers?" this time he tried to approach from an angle that she would understand. He barely knew what he had just said. He squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath, waiting for the sharpest edge of the ache to recede.
"No. Not at all. You've been getting sharper, as far as I've seen," Emma answered. They lapsed into a comfortable silence. "Jacob?"
He pretended to be asleep.
"I'll make you a cup of tea when we get back. The caffeine will help. After that, take a nap. And a pain reliever."
Sometimes, Jacob doubted his decision to take an assistant. Maybe it wasn't a good idea. Maybe this wasn't the best time. Maybe his Uncle should have been the one to pick, whenever he got back from wherever the hell he was traipsing around. Sometimes he'd even gone so far as to regret his choice.
But then sometimes he knew that he was right and that his Uncle couldn't have chosen any better even if Jacob had consulted him.
He just hoped she didn't put half a cup of sugar in that tea like she usually did.
Emma pulled the door shut as quietly as she could manage.
A quick glance up at the sky revealed that it was late, much later than she was used to leaving. Great. She had a chemistry report due in three days that she'd barely even started on, and if she remembered correctly, she had also had a math sheet to do. How wonderful. She swore mentally and adjusted her bag over her aching shoulder.
"Excuse me! Emma?"
Emma stopped and turned around. A young man was standing by the front of the detective agency. He smiled nervously at her and jogged over.
"Hey," he said. An unruly strand of blond hair fell into his eyes, and he swiped it away. "I just happened to be walking this way, and, well, I remembered that you said you worked here, so-"
"I'm sorry," Emma said, struggling to stay polite. "Do I know you?"
The boy's face fell.
"Oh, um...," he faltered. "It's Isaiah. From the café?"
The memory shot through Emma like a bolt of lightning. The Sarah DeLago case... One of the cafes they'd gone into... a handsome blond boy who had started a conversation...
"Oh, yes!" she said. "Isaiah! I haven't been back to that café yet. I keep running out of time."
"Well, I was heading around that way, so maybe... we could go now?" He asked, grinning hopefully.
"Uh, I can't now," she said. "I'm not hungry, and I have a report due soon."
"Oh," Isaiah replied, visibly deflating. "Well... some other time then?"
"Uh, yeah," said Emma, already starting to turn away. "Maybe. I'll see you later."
She flashed her best apologetic smile and started walking before he could reply.
She'd barely gone ten steps before Jacob's words suddenly played through her head.
'You're a teenaged girl. You should have friends, boyfriends, social engagements... what do you do there, stare at the wall and thing about cases? ... I don't think you ever DO go anywhere... Why let it stop you from making friends?'
Before she'd even thought it out, Emma had whirled back around. Isaiah was walking away with his hands shoved in his pockets and his shoulders hunched up.
"Isaiah?" she called. "Isaiah?"
Isaiah turned and looked over at her, his expression a mixture of caution and hope.
"Now that I think about it, I am a little hungry," she said. "If you wouldn't mind, maybe we could go for some coffee?"
He grinned hugely, his smile making him look even more handsome.
Emma smiled back shyly. So much for not having any friends.
A/N: So in summation, Jacob is good at his job, Emma isn't always awful, and sometimes you make friends unexpectedly.
Since I can't end this without acknowledging the elephant in the room: I am so sorry. My senior year of high school kept me busy, and I was very worried about the future the whole time. For a while, I just didn't know, and the uncertainty was killing me. But enough excuses! Seriously, I am picking up the pace. I've been working a lot harder on my writing lately, so you will see more of this without the ungodly delay. I've said that before, but this time I honestly mean it. I am trying something new to keep myself motivated and so far it has been working great. So I'm at least somewhat confident in my ability to deliver.
Please drop a review and let me know what you think! Reviews make me so happy!