TW for ableism again. This is just a running theme, I suppose.
Feel your mother at your side
Don't you know you got my eyes
I'll make you fly
You'll be happy all the time
I know you can make it right"
-Glass Animals, "Youth"
Sahil curiously explores the living room of the agency. Brushing dust off items and turning his head at plants and pictures on the walls, he circles the room like a shark. He peeks through the blinds to look at the view out the window. Then he walks into the kitchen and knocks on the fake marble counter-top. Irving and Ira haven't moved from the front door as they watch him.
"It's very nice and spacious," the forger finally says. "But there's so much hair on everything."
"We have cats," Irving states. "I hope you're fine with them, because they're not going anywhere."
The man cocks his head in his typical bird-like manner. "I'm sure it'll be fine."
Ira has her arms folded uncomfortably when Nel steps out from the hallway. The young woman freezes mid-step when she notices the forger standing in the kitchen. Her eyes widen, and looking around the room frantically for an answer, she finally locks her gaze on Ira.
"What is he doing here?" Nel squeaks as quietly as she can.
"I'm sure Irving can explain," Ira says loudly. "Why don't you tell her about this situation you've gotten us into?"
Bickering fills the next few hours. Ira argues angrily with Irving, Nel popping into the conversation now and then in attempt to calm the squabble (with little success). She looks nervously at Sahil across the counter-top. He hovers awkwardly from a distance, not sure whether to intervene on this loud conversation about him or not. Eventually, Nel gets heated too and the tension rises to a breaking point.
"Did you even consider Cecilia?" Nel wonders irritably. "She's going to be so upset when she finds out about this. You know how stressed out she gets."
Irving throws up his arms, "I don't know what to tell you! She broke the law too!"
"Who shattered your moral compass?" Ira spits, "Accidentally forgetting to do something isn't as bad as intentional forgery and theft!"
"And what did you want me to do? Let the police deal with a grown man having a violent anxiety attack?" Irving gestures towards Sahil, who is currently pulling at his tie. "Because we all know how that would end, don't we?"
Ira picks up a pillow from the couch and heaves it at Irving, who takes it heavily to the face before catching it. Nel looks tired. She glances up sympathetically at Sahil, who shakes his head at her and shrugs.
"He's right," Nel says suddenly.
"I mean yeah maybe, but..."
"I don't agree with his decision," Nel explains, "but I don't blame him for it. Considering the circumstances...if he was concerned for the safety of Sahil, it was good to get him out of there."
Ira sighs unhappily and approaches Irving. She tears the pillow from his grasp. After threatening to hit him with it again and not even getting a flinch in response, she chucks it back on the couch.
"We'll work it out," Nel assures her tiredly, kneading her forehead. "We'll figure out something if Plan A doesn't end well."
Irving rubs a finger under his nose and clears his throat in the following silence. "How about we all have a nice cup of tea?" he then offers, his own exhaustion apparent.
"Yes, please," Ira and Sahil say together.
Irving scoots into the kitchen and puts on a pot of tea, his back to Sahil. Ira and Nel sit down next to each other on the couch. Sahil looks between the girls and Irving before cautiously making his way around the counter. He just stands there.
"Sit," Ira orders with a downwards thumb.
He obediently collapses onto a tall, red chair. White cat hairs litter the red fabric, and he picks at them before clutching his hands together stressfully.
Irving eventually sets a teapot on the glass coffee table. He brings four cups and a bowl of sugar afterward, and proceeds to drag the chair in front of the TV around.
"I hope everyone likes green," he states, plopping down and grabbing his usual red cup before anyone else can.
Everyone nods and says nothing. They drink their tea in peace. Sahil swirls his tea for a long time and watches the steam rise. Irving and Ira are already done drinking by the time he takes his first sip.
Pouring himself another cup, Irving breathes in the strong, leafy smell. He puts no sugar in to balance the bitterness of the steeped tea. With no sensation of heat, strong tastes are comforting to him.
The silence makes Ira anxious, and so she rises and goes outside. In a moment, she returns with a wad of letters in her hands. Tossing them on the table besides the teapot, she sifts through them. It's mostly bills and useless advertisements. Her movements stop when she reaches a small, plain envelope. Flipping it back and forth as if waiting for something to appear, she blinks at it. Ira then hands the envelope over to Irving.
"Here," she says. "It's for you."
It is indeed addressed to Irving Margraves. There is no return address. Irving's name and the agency's location sit alone on the white space. He tears it open gently and curiously, ripping it as cleanly as he can (which isn't cleanly at all). On the little piece of paper inside, it says:
To Irving Margraves and Whoever Else it May Concern,
I have important matters to discuss regarding a long missing person. I am aware you have ties to Greenbrooke, and that is why I am requesting you. If you know anyone else with similar relation to that place, you may bring them. Come alone otherwise. I understand letters are archaic, and I am not sure when you will read this, but they are also secretive. Do not call me. You can find me at 208 Winetree Ln. Come whenever you like; I enjoy guests.
Mrs. Daisy Frisbee
P.S. I hope you aren't allergic to cats.
He folds the paper in his scarred hands thoughtfully. The woman's last name rings a bell, but he can't recall where he knows it from. He opens the folded paper and reads it again, and as he does, his eyes flick up to Sahil for a moment. The man is busy with his tea and doesn't notice.
"What is it about?" Nel asks quietly.
"I think we have a new client," he responds. Pausing, he thinks for a moment, giving Sahil another look. "I'm supposed to go alone."
"That's suspicious," Ira scoffs, crushing a paper ad in her hands.
"It isn't when you read it," he continues.
Ira sticks out an open palm, but he refolds the paper and puts it into his hoodie pocket.
"Sorry, my eyes only," Irving tells her.
She waves him off. "Fine, then. Keep your secrets."
Sahil looks at the ceiling thoughtfully and then lowers his cup to the coffee table. "I know I've already been enough of a hassle today," he says, "But can someone drive me home so I can get my things? My clothes at least."
The three detectives exchange looks. Ira launches her paper ball towards the kitchen. It lands in the sink and she stands up.
"That means I have to drive, of course," she complains. "Irving, you have to come with me."
Irving nods and puts his cup down too. "If you wouldn't mind dropping me off somewhere on the way back, I'll go."
"Where exactly?" she gives him a look and folds her arms.
"The address in the letter."
They drive off together, leaving Nel in much needed peace. Ira lets Irving sit in the passenger's seat. She wants to keep herself and especially Irving away from Sahil after what happened that morning. Sahil tells Ira his address and she plugs it into her phone.
When they reach his apartment complex, Ira and Irving keep their comments to themselves until they get out of the car. The complex is in shabby disrepair. Rust creeps up the metal railings, and some of the shingles on the roof are gone. It looks like a multi-floored motel, the kind you'd find in the middle of nowhere. As Sahil goes ahead of them and makes his way up a staircase, Ira leans in towards Irving.
"This is," she mutters, "impressive."
They follow Sahil from a distance. His apartment is on the second floor of the complex. He knocks on his own door before muttering "oops" to himself and pulling a set of keys from his pocket. It takes a solid kick for him to get the door open.
Close together, Ira and Irving follow him inside and look around. All the blinds are closed and it's very dark. It smells a bit musty. Sketches of different things are taped to the walls, and it seems they're organized by subject. Ira recognizes some of them to be famous drawings. She sees a copy of Michelangelo's Vitruvian Man and stares at it curiously. Irving carefully steps over a line of colored pencils as he makes his way into the tiny kitchen. Piles of stacked canned goods cover the little counter space Sahil has.
Sahil rubs his forehead. "Sorry. This is a mess. Just wait a few minutes."
The man runs off into a room and closes the door behind him. Left alone in the low-light, Ira and Irving exchange glances.
"Has he always been like this?" Ira whispers, looking down at a dried paint pallet on the floor.
"I," Irving falters, "I don't think so. I don't know what happened."
Ira picks up a crumpled sketch lazing on the couch. She takes it to the kitchen in search of a trash can, but before tossing it, she finds herself unfolding it. On the crinkled sheet, there are sketches of faces. The same dark haired boy and girl are drawn several times. Then, there is a dark haired woman. Her face has been frantically scratched out, but through the marks, Ira can still see her eery expression. She crumbles the paper back up and finally throws it away, unable to erase the woman's face from her mind for a moment.
Sahil comes out of his room with a plain black suitcase rolling behind him. He's wearing a new change of clothes, this time khaki pants, a plain white button-down, but with the same orange tie as before.
"S-so sorry," he stutters. "I'm ready now. We can leave."
And so they do in silence. Sahil gently places his things in the trunk and returns to the back seat, his hands folded in his lap. Ira and Irving look back at him when they sit down. He looks away from them and out the window.
"Take me to Winetree Lane, if you don't mind," Irving requests as Ira pulls away.
"Well, mind telling me the house number?"
"Just drop me off," Irving commands.
"You're taking this secrecy very seriously."
He shrugs. "Well, I like taking my clients seriously."
When Ira reaches the street sign for Winetree Lane, she kicks Irving to the curb and drives away without another word. Sahil waves him goodbye, but Irving doesn't notice. Pulling the paper out from his pocket, he reminds himself of the house number.
"208, 208," he repeats to himself as he runs down the street.
House numbers never seem to be in the order they're supposed to be in, and after ten minutes of not paying as much attention as he should, Irving finds the address. It's a significant upgrade from Sahil's place. A grassy yard accompanied by a small garden greets him. Flowers have just started to poke their stems out of the mulch. Some purple crocus are already in bloom on the lawn. He makes his way up the stone path and steps onto a small porch, and in the window to the right, a fluffy white cat watches him with critical eyes.
He rings the doorbell and waits. A minute after it buzzes through the house, he hears footsteps shuffle in his direction. The brown door is cracked open, and a small woman peeps through the crack.
"May I ask your name?" she says.
"Irving Blakely Margraves, ma'am," he answers, pulling the paper from his pocket again. "You sent me this."
"So I did!" she says happily, surprise exposing itself on her face. "Come in, come in."
The woman fully opens the door and shuffles to the side. He nods thankfully at her and steps inside. She smiles at him, her face wrinkling up under her blue eyes. She's an older woman, her curly hair thinning and white. Her face is round and her build pudgy, and paired with her colorful clothes, it makes her comes across as very cordial. Her house is pleasant in the way one would expect of a friendly old lady. Most of the walls are covered in a pale floral wallpaper. She has glass cabinets filled with decorated plates and tea sets. Her white cat swishes its fluffy tail from atop a patterned couch. This cat has a pink collar.
"Hello," Irving whispers to the cat. As he approaches, he peers at the collar to see her name. "You're a very pretty kitty, Miss Vanilla Bean."
The cat turns her head away from him indignantly. He chuckles at her. "I have a few cats myself. Their attitudes never cease to amuse me."
"She's quite friendly once she gets to know you," she laughs. "Please sit, I'll get you some tea."
He sits down a cushion away from the cat. He doesn't have the heart to tell Mrs. Frisbee that he's already had two cups of tea that day. As he waits, he observes the room some more. There is a picture of Vanilla Bean as a kitten on the wall next to an ornate cross. A picture of a man and a woman sits in a frame on a closed piano. With all the dust, it seems like the piano hasn't been used in a long time.
She returns with a glass pot of tea and then goes back into the kitchen for cups. "Would you like jasmine or rose?" she asks.
"Oh, rose!" Irving says excitedly before clearing his throat. "I, uh, love roses."
"You're in luck, then," Daisy smiles as she returns to him. She pours some dried rosebuds into the pot. "They'll bloom for you in a minute."
Irving stares at the pot in wonder as the buds start to absorb the hot water.
"As for what I've called you here for," she brings up wearily, "I'm sure it's a tricky subject."
"That's alright," he assures her, sitting back up. "I suppose that's my specialty, tricky subjects. I've encountered some strange things in my time as a detective."
She nods and holds her hands together sadly as she watches the buds. "It's about my son. He's been gone an awfully long time."
"Oh, yes. Of course. You were speaking of a missing person," he says, leaning back. "And of Greenbrooke."
"Yes," she hesitates. "I sent him there myself. It was...a mistake."
"So he was a student, too?" he puts a hand on his chin. "I assume that's why you requested for me."
Daisy nods again. "I sent him there when he was nine. I had just hit a rough patch in my life," she looks over to the piano, "My husband had recently passed. I was having such a hard time taking care of my son on my own, so I thought it was the right thing to do."
"I'm sorry about your husband."
She shakes her head and rejects his consolation, "Oh no, that was such a long time ago. It's alright."
"How long ago was this, that you sent your son away?"
Daisy looks up at the ceiling. "Twenty-one years, now," she admits.
Irving blinks at the number. It was larger than he expected it to be, and he draws his hands together, clutching them. Milling the number over, something clicks in his head. The roses are finally blooming in the teapot.
"I should've been there at the same time as him, then," he says.
"Precisely," she agrees, crossing her legs. "I was wondering, if perchance, you knew him? Once he went there, I'm afraid I never heard from him again."
Irving watches the roses bleed and make the water grow darker. "Greenbrooke is like that," he explains distantly.
The woman unfolds her legs and heaves herself from her pink chair. She shuffles away to pick up a picture frame hiding on a bookshelf. Walking over to Irving, she lingers on the photo before handing it to the detective. Vanilla Bean hops down beside him as if coming to look.
In the picture, he recognizes a younger version of Daisy and a man who he assumes to be the late Mr. Frisbee. Between the two adults stands a little boy. He has a white head of hair and stands crookedly, his head hanging. He holds his mother's skirt. As soon as Irving notices the vivid violet in the boy's eyes, Irving's lips part into a surprised O.
"His name is Clarence," she tells him. "Do you recognize him?"
"Yes," Irving responds shakily, gripping the frame. "Yes. How could I forget Clarence Frisbee?"
Mrs. Frisbee puts a hand on her chest in relief. "Oh, thank goodness. I'm so glad someone still remembers him."
Vanilla Bean meows as Daisy goes to pour some tea for herself and her guest. Irving hesitantly puts the picture on the table and takes the cup she offers him. He eyes the frame as he starts to take a sip.
"It's hot, dear," she warns, caressing her warm cup in her hands.
He takes it away from his lips, "Ah. Of course."
The white cat yawns and curls up besides Irving. He watches some petals dance in his cup. "Have you tried to contact people about Clarence before?"
"Yes. I tried to get in contact with Greenbrooke but they wouldn't speak to me," she explains sorrowfully, "No matter how much I pestered them. Then they started to trying to convince me that I'd never sent him there."
"They're terrible," Irving commiserates. "I'm sorry."
"As I am for you, dear," she tells him. "I'm sorry your parents made the same foolish mistake as me."
He smiles up at her sullenly, "At least you understand your mistake."
After a sympathetic silence, Daisy asks reluctantly, "What do they do to you there?" After a pause she adds in a quieter voice, "It wasn't really a school, I presume."
It's funny how it suddenly feels like they're being watched. Irving swallows and then blows on his tea, trying to formulate an appropriate answer. How could he possibly explain that place to this poor woman?
"It was a school," he starts. "But not just a school. They did therapy and recovery there, too. It was more like...a mental institution at times."
Taking a tiny sip of her tea, she looks out the window, "I thought so. And how was Clarence? What was he like?"
"I'm not sure," Irving admits before taking a long gulp of his tea. How to explain? "I only ever saw him. I was told not to interact with him, but he seemed timid enough."
"Was he all alone?" Mrs. Frisbee asks morosely.
Irving knows exactly what she means by this, but he decides to answer it the wrong way, "No. There were always nurses taking close care of him. He was with the other children like him, too."
Daisy sighs knowingly, "So, he had no friends?"
"I…," Irving falters, "I don't know. He was always with the other difficult children"-
"Oh. Difficult," she repeats into her teacup.
"I don't mean it that way," he says, "but that's what they called them." He laughs scornfully, "They didn't think I was difficult at first, but I sure proved them wrong."
"No, I understand. I realize Clarence was a handful," the poor mother worries, "but you were, too? What was it like, being 'difficult' there, pray tell?"
"Mrs. Frisbee," the detective lowers his voice and his eyes, "it's best I keep those experiences to myself."
She looks up at the ceiling with watery blue eyes. A tear slips down her wrinkled cheek, and she frees a hand from her cup to wipe it away. "Dear Clarence," she whispers to the air.
"I'm sorry if I've upset you," Irving tells her unsurely. He lifts his cup to his lips and keeps it there, letting the floral smell waft over him. Vanilla Bean sniffs his leg and looks up at him.
"It's alright, dear," she assures him tearfully. "Deep down I already knew it. It's comforting to speak about it, honestly. I was starting to think I was misremembering things."
Irving takes another sip of his tea before placing the cup down next to the old frame. He looks at the image of the strange boy one more time. Then, leaning back against the couch, he stares up at the ceiling.
"I don't know if I'll be able to help you, Mrs. Frisbee. Looking into this could get me into an awful lot of trouble," he explains, "but I will certainly try my best. I want to help, really, I do."
She nods and wipes away the last of her tears. "I thought so. If it's too much trouble, I understand."
Irving stands up suddenly, giving Vanilla Bean quite the fright, and puts on his best smile. Placing his hands on his hips, he assures her, "Don't worry, I'll keep you updated if I find anything."
The older woman smiles up at him as Vanilla Bean irritably crawls under her legs. "Remember," she chuckles quietly, "only by letter."
Irving waves goodbye to Mrs. Frisbee and her upset cat after thanking the woman for the tea. She watches him go and then closes and locks the door, returning once again to her silent, lonely schedule.
Waiting at the street sign, Irving sits in the grass and texts Ira. It takes her a while to show up. Irving has been picking at the grass all the while, and she nearly drives past him.
"Get in the front seat," she demands after rolling down a window. "Our guest is still here."
Irving hops into the front. "You don't have to take him everywhere," Irving tells her as he peers over his shoulder.
Sahil is sitting where he was before, tiredly looking out the window.
"I don't want to leave him alone with Nel," Ira clarifies as she drives away from Winetree Lane.
Irving scoffs, "You really don't think he'd do something to her, do you?"
"God only knows."
"Don't worry, Irving," Sahil says softly. "I came with her because I wanted to see you."
Ira grinds her teeth and mumbles. Irving completely ignores the remark, and Sahil looks back out the window dejectedly.
The police were surprisingly lenient that morning. Once Irving made the suggestion to take Sahil, they ran with it. It seemed like everyone was very happy to get rid of the forger. Irving and Ira wondered what he had done earlier to make them that ecstatic. They didn't give Irving a second to process or back down. Sahil belonged to Tailor Street now.
Everyone at the agency knew that it was difficult to deal with Unusual criminals. Sahil didn't seem to be in the right mind (he came across as rather fragile), and his shapeshifting powers just made the situation harder. Still, it felt wrong the way they dropped him like a hot potato. Sahil clearly needed help. Frankly, Ira was just as worried about his institutional background as she was about his crimes. The way he seemed to obsess over Irving also irked her.
There were two rules the police had placed for Sahil. One, he was not allowed to get paid. His work at the agency would be considered community service. He was at the mercy of Irving and the other agents, who would be responsible for housing him and giving him food. Secondly, he had to send a letter of apology to all the people he had stolen from. Preferably, he had to meet them face-to-face too. This was easy enough in theory. But, Sahil seemed a bit socially inept to Ira. Especially after seeing his apartment, she was sure he didn't do a lot of interaction with other human beings.
"So," Ira asks while focusing on the road, "did we get a new case?"
"Sort of," Irving wavers. "It's complicated."
Ira lets out a long sigh as she turns onto Tailor street. Two boys are kicking a soccer ball to each other on the sidewalk. "Whatever. Let's just deal with our house guest problem for now."
Irving nods in silent agreement.
Ira and Irving leave the car and don't even consider opening Sahil's door. He awkwardly pushes the door and slips out into the open air. It's awfully difficult maneuvering himself out of such a small car. Upon entering the townhouse, they can hear Nel talking loudly. She paces in and out of the kitchen, holding her cellphone to her ear.
"No, I'm sorry it's on such short notice," she apologizes, "i-it's sudden, I was surprised too. No, no it's nobody's fault."
Charlemagne approaches Sahil and smells his shoes, keeping him pinned by the door. Ira shrugs her sweater off and places it on a coat hanger. Irving sits down on the sofa and listens to Nel.
"It's just... there's a complication," Nel shifts, eyes flicking towards Irving, "he's an, um, ex-criminal. The shapeshifter who took the painting, actually. I just thought I'd warn you."
Nel nearly jumps out of her skin at the response. She pulls the phone away from her ear. Everyone can hear Cecilia's voice shouting fuzzily through the cell.
"I'm sorry Cecilia," Nel apologizes profusely, "I really am. We're trying to work it out. It's alright. I'm sure he's a perfectly okay person."
All eyes turn to glare at Sahil, who presses his back against the front door as the black cat rubs his legs.
"Sahil," Irving states, rolling his head over the arm of the couch to look at him sideways, "I'm starting to get tired of your face. Go upstairs."
Irving points at the ceiling and Sahil looks at him confusedly.
"That's where you get to live. Upstairs away from everyone else," Irving continues with an upside-down nod. "Get your suitcase and stay up there for a while, will you? I'm sure you're fine with being alone."
"A-alright," Sahil agrees, nervously clutching his orange tie as he steps over the cat. "I guess I'm going upstairs."
The man hurriedly lifts his suitcase from against the wall and stalks off to the staircase. He looks around once more at all the angry pairs of eyes (Ira's are the angriest) before setting off quickly up the steps.
"Why not try writing some of your letters?" Irving calls after him, sitting up. "How about you write one for us while you're at it?"
They hear a door close upstairs. Nel puts the phone back against her ear and keeps talking, more quietly. Irving hugs himself.
"Perhaps I was a bit harsh?" he wonders unhappily.
"You haven't been nearly harsh enough," Ira criticizes him, going to dig through the fridge. She moves her dark braid over her shoulder. "If you keep taking it easy on him, Irving, I swear to god... You're giving him exactly what he wants."
"And what the hell would that be, Ira?" Irving snaps. He starts rocking side-to-side a bit. It's been such a long day already. "Letting him leave his trashy apartment for once in his life? Stop insisting this is somehow my fault."
Ending the call and lowering her cell, Nel mutters, "I hate phone calls," before slouching in front of the TV. She turns the little set on.
Ira pulls a cheese stick from a drawer and wags it at the detective. "You're his friend. You're the reason he did all those stunts," she accuses, "it doesn't matter if you didn't know, it's still at least partially your fault! You think he's even mentally capable of taking the blame on his own?"
"Look, I didn't expect the guy to go searching for me!" Irving proclaims over the TV sound. "Shit, I didn't even know he was still alive. What do you want me to do? Abandon him?"
"Maybe, yeah," Ira bites the plastic protecting her cheese stick, and through it she angrily continues, "maybe letting a shapeshifting criminal stalker live in your house with two young women and the person he STALKS isn't a good idea!"
An enthusiastic British announcer shouts about a football score on the television. Irving squeezes himself harder.
"You make it sound like you know he'll…" Irving suddenly lets out a loud sigh, "Confound it, Nel! Turn that thing off!"
Nel clutches the remote tiredly and says in a dull voice, "Okay. Sorry. But can you please
lower your voices?" She looks down at the floor and mutters, "Close the fridge. Th-the air is getting out."
Ira blinks before realizing what she forgot. Slamming the fridge door closed (causing Nel to jump), Ira says huffily, "You think you can get away with whatever you want."
Nel turns off the TV and grimaces at the continuing argument. Moo appears suddenly and the pudgy cat decides to cower behind Nel's feet.
"I. Do. NOT," Irving insists with growing frustration, gesturing frantically with his hands. "You think I know why this is happening? Why the hell any of this is going on? I swear to god, I've never been more confused in my life!"
Irving flaps his hands violently a few times before hitting himself very hard on the cheek. In the lingering brevity of this painless impact, his anger morphs into sadness. "I'm going to my room!" Irving concludes with the last breaths of his rage.
As he marches away, Ira decides, "I'm going back to the museum soon, and I'm taking Sahil with me to say sorry. You'd better come."
He says nothing as he slams his door. Nel sinks further into her seat.
"Do you think he heard us?" Nel suggests morosely, "Upstairs...did he hear everything we said about him?"
Ira bites into her cheese stick unhappily, placing a palm on her forehead. "Why should we even care?"
After an hour of peace, Ira, Irving, and Sahil pack back into the car. Sahil holds a folded piece of sketchbook paper in his hands. Irving has changed out of his hoodie into a pink button-down, which he has tucked into his ripped jeans. He stares out the window grouchily as he listens to a Lady Gaga song playing on the radio.
I'm your biggest fan,
I'll follow you until you love me,
The irony ticks Irving off, but he stays silent until it changes into something softer, something less relevant. He lets the rhythm flow over him until the traffic outside the window is the only thing on his mind.
By the time they reach the museum, the sky is starting to change colors. It's probably near closing time, and so Ira hurries ahead of the two men. She wants to see the Picasso exhibit for real. Irving lags behind to make sure Sahil doesn't make a break for it. It doesn't really seem like the shapeshifter is going anywhere. He reluctantly drags himself through the front doors of the museum. No more sneaking through windows for him.
Ira is already at the front desk. The regular receptionist is there, and she looks up in surprise at Irving and the new man. She whispers something to Ira, who nods subtly in response.
"Miss Kennedy is coming," the woman informs Irving distantly, unable to take her apprehensive gaze away from the tall, spectacled forger.
Soon enough, Madelyn approaches from the western wing of the museum. Today, she doesn't wear her usual heels. Rather, she's wearing ballet flats, for which Ira is rather grateful. She looked so uncomfortable stuck on those tall shoes all day. She's still slow and out of breath, though. This time it's for an entirely new reason. The curator carries a big frame along with her.
"Detectives!" she calls out happily (if not very breathlessly).
Irving's sullen face lights up just a bit. "Miss Kennedy! So nice to see you in such a good mood!" he greets her.
"Thank you two so much," she tells them gratefully when she joins the group. "I'm so relieved you got the Picasso back in piece. I really can't express my gratitude enough."
"Aw, well…" Ira rubs the back of her neck, flustered.
Irving blushes a bit and puts a hand to his cheek, "You pitched in a lot of research, too."
"Perhaps I did, but still," Madelyn smiles as her eyes flicker away. The curator lowers the frame to touch the floor and she leans it against her leg. The back of frame is to them, but the detectives and the forger are sure of what it is.
"I...I'm sorry," Sahil says suddenly, thrusting out his letter with both hands. He ducks his head down. "I'm the one who took it and messed up all your security cameras."
"Ooh," Miss Kennedy oos with a surprised gasp. She takes the letter from his hands and stares at it. "So, that's who you are. I thought so."
"Thank you for returning it safely," she smiles up at the forger. "Here. I have something for you too."
Ira is flabbergasted at the peacefulness on the curator's face. The woman turns the frame around, and as expected, it's the forged Picasso. Sahil is surprised too, despite expecting it.
"M..my piece?" he stutters. "W-why do you still...why didn't you throw it out? It's worthless."
"Oh no, no," she disagrees, "I couldn't possibly do such a thing! It's such a masterful recreation. It makes me wonder about how other pieces looked like, well, fresh off the press."
Sahil grasps the frame and looks down at the woman in the painting. He remembers enjoying this piece quite well. It was cathartic, almost, drawing the woman's splitting, abstract face. Sometimes he felt like that too. He grins sadly at it. Then, he notices the smudge in the corner.
"Oh dear, it's been smudged," Sahil despairs quietly.
"Sorry about that," she chuckles, "but maybe don't put fresh oil paint on display next time."
He nods and looks up from the frame at the curator, unable to stop fussing internally when looking at the smudge. Her hair is orange like the lady in the painting. Sahil looks down again and adjusts his big glasses, leaning the painting against himself.
"T-thank you," he says. Sadness and manic leak into his tired voice. "I'm more sorry."
Ira looks frankly distraught. Irving is just confused, and has been staring at the two of them back and forth.
"You're not mad?" Ira scoffs incredulously.
Madelyn rubs the back of her neck, "I know it's probably wrong of me, but I've found all of this...rather fun."
Ira makes a face as Irving starts to laugh.
"Oh my, Miss Kennedy," he hiccups, "how very detective of you! Very eccentric."
He keeps chuckling to himself and Ira rolls her eyes. "Would you mind if I take a peek at the Picasso exhibit now that it's open for real?" she decides to ask.
"Of course, be my guests!" Madelyn replies excitedly. "I want as many people to see the pieces as possible."
To Ira's surprise, the curator links arms with her and starts to pull her away. Irving hurries after them.
"I know a lot more about the paintings than what's on the descriptions," Madelyn talks, "if you'd like to hear more about them, I'll gladly explain."
"Yes please!" Ira accepts enthusiastically, dark gray eyes lighting up.
Sahil has to lug his frame around with him during the whole tour. He doesn't seem to mind one bit.
It's mostly dark by the time they return. Nel has been kind enough to make a meal of spaghetti and meatballs for them. Shredded cheese drenches Irving's pasta. Ira happily digs into as many meatballs as she can, eagerly going over all her new Picasso facts in her head. Nel eats quietly and slowly across from Sahil, who doesn't seem to have much of an appetite. He carefully separates the meatballs from the spaghetti. He pushes the meat to the side of his plate and doesn't eat it.
Ira reaches over and pokes one of his meatballs with her fork. "Be more grateful," she orders through a mouthful. "Eat up."
"Ah," Sahil mumbles uncomfortably, "I forgot to mention this, but...I'm vegetarian."
Ira swallows what she has in her mouth. "You have got to be kidding me."
Quiet finally consumes the agency once dinner is cleaned up. Nel washes up and Ira hits the bed like a rock, sleeping easily. Sahil slinks upstairs and goes into his new room. It's odd being in a new place. Almost uncomfortably so. It's so empty too, the guest room. There is nothing but a plain bed, a wardrobe (empty as of now), and a mirror. His suitcase sits next the wall, where he has rested his forged painting.
Everything is so new, the day so overwhelming, and the potential of tomorrow so great, that Sahil struggles to sleep. He sits up in the dark. His night vision eventually kicks in, static snow filling the air. The woman in the fake Picasso stares back at him with her warped face. He likes her more in the day, when his thoughts are better under his control. At night she seems like a monster. Looking onward at her, it feels like Sahil is staring at a reflection. The man forces himself under the dusty sheets. His muscles ache as he thinks about her, and him, and the smudge. Twisting the sheets around him into a tight cocoon, he forces himself to remain calm.
Irving is struggling too. He stares up at the ceiling, stripped down to his boxer shorts. His hands are folded over his chest, and he listens to his music as usual. Thoughts must be fought back at this hour. Especially after the wild day he's had. Everything from his childhood was coming back, it seemed. Sahil. Greenbrooke. Even Clarence Frisbee. It was funny, he thought, how he was sure he'd never have to worry about these things again. But, life is funny like that. He knows this only too well.
It's midnight, and he's now digging through the internet. His music still plays and plays, the lyrics blending into nothing as his eyes cross. Greenbrooke is in his search bar, and he scrolls miserably through too many simple, deceiving articles. A "helpful" school, his ass. Rare opinions of the frightened students are far and few between. The trauma these secret stories dig up from within Irving is almost addicting, and he reads and reads until he can't process a thing anymore.
It's funny, Irving thinks as he drifts to sleep, how a single mention of Clarence Frisbee is nowhere to be found. How could everyone just forget about person as unusual as him?