My grandmother's old clock, sitting in the downstairs hallway chimed ten or eleven, I was not counting. It was late, but I did not care, I was in my own bed. Around me my room was doing nothing abnormal, all the furnishings were obeying the established rules of the universe. The only thing that could drag me from this bliss was the thought of a nice hot shower.
I had been home thirty-six hours, mostly doing laundry and melting myself in the shower. My mind was still far away, watching the light play through the trees of a magical glade or walking with Miranda, spying on wildlife and talking about anything. Egg had taken most of a week to recover his strength, but it had taken that long for Machwa to move the truck using a combination of rope and ants so we could get it out of where Egg wedged it.
Somehow it had only taken a day to drive back to Nairobi, but Egg said this was because it was on maps and so easy to find. Two flights had brought us home, we grabbed our luggage and left the airport into a land that somehow felt like a cardboard cut-out. A cardboard cut-out with a hot shower.
The clock was chiming again when I finally made it downstairs to discover that I really did have nothing edible in the fridge and the congealed mass that was left from last night's take away was distinctly unappetising. I decided I would go to the shops, buy myself an expensive coffee and a muffin and then get some supplies. After that I could slouch in front of the television and consider my options.
I sat, staring out through the plate glass window of the over-priced coffee shop, sipping steamed froth and reminding myself to nibble at the muffin and not just inhale the whole thing. People passed by, intent on their daily business, but I did not really see them, filling my mind was a camp fire burning in the African night and Machwa being forthcoming about her family.
“Be careful,” she had said. “What you have experienced, the strangeness and subtle attacks, scheming and infighting, that is just normal life. If it too much for you, then walk away now, while you can, otherwise you'll be part of it and then you'll find it difficult to leave. All this business with Mother's disappearance is part of a deeper power struggle. Remember, for all the people not telling you everything, there is one person outright lying to you.”
I had put it down to the rum we had drunk, she had excused herself shortly after that and been snoring within minutes, but it has stuck with me. Although I had meant to ask her more, she had woken up with a grotty hangover and the moment had never arose again.
Finding myself sitting with a plate of crumbs and a tall glass adorned with a light covering of cold scum, I roused myself and spend half an hour drifting around the supermarket hypnotised by bright colours but indecisive. Eventually I filled my basket full of the unexciting things that would last the longest in my cupboards, paid for it and then cursed myself for buying slightly more than was comfortable to carry.
Still immersed in my own head I did not notice the sound of a car which had the misfortune of having an owner who would never be satisfied that it was loud or low enough. It was only when the window rolled down and muffled bass and thud noises turned into a full aural assault that I realised I had bumped into my ex-, Jason.
“Cassie,” he called over the volume. “Need a lift home?” I was going to decline, but noticed the sky had gone an ominous colour and so acquiesced. It was another bad decision.
With the music turned down to something less than deafening we had the polite but awkward conversation about how we had been, had we heard about a mutual friend and did we remember that thing as he drove me home. I thought I had escaped the worst of it, but as I got out of the car and muttered my thanks he gave his heart-felt apology for the way he had treated me, told me how he had been thinking about me lately and asked if we could not go out for a drink sometime, just as friends.
Staring the barrel of the doomsday weapon in the face, I told him I was sorry, but I was with someone else now, but maybe I would see him at that party I had already resolved to avoid. He hid his disappointment well in the belch of smoke from his exhaust and the manoeuvre he had to take so that the speed hump at the end of Acacia Avenue would not take another chunk out of the front bumper. I told myself it was not a lie, even though I had already ignored two texts from Egg.
Inside, I stuffed food into cupboards and thought about filling the place with the noise from the television, but then the phone rang. I answered it without thinking and entered into a long drawn out conversation with my mother. Yes, I was back home. Yes, I had a wonderful time. No, I did not know what had happened to poor Jane at number seventy six.
In the end, I just managed to refuse an invitation to join her pottery class, because I had plans with Egg. That meant Egg and I were still a thing, strangeness or not, once I tell my mother something it is official.
Sorry, phone under bed. You busy? My thumbs typed.
Nothing that would not be improved greatly by presence of your beauty, my good lady. Came the reply, shortly follow by: Bracken stole my phone, but basically that.
When I got to Egg house, I pulled up on the drive in my little hatchback, blocking in a severe looking black German saloon. Bracken opened the door as I was about to knock on it.
“Announcing the Lady Cass of Saint Bartholomew's Row, countess of the section between the roundabout and the shops and wielder of a wicked moonbeam,” he called. “Scandalously unaccompanied.”
“Hi, Bracken,” I said. “Nice car, is it yours?”
“No, it's my cousin Vermillion's company car,” he replied. “I kind of stole it after I sacked her.”
“They let you have the power to sack people?” I asked.
“Not really, but she needed to take the weekend off and was determined not to, by Monday morning she will have worked out that I couldn't do that,” he said. “Besides, wearing a tie restricts the blood-flow to my brain and I get a bit megalomaniacal.”
“You've moved the furniture,” I told him redundantly as we walking into the living room.
“Yes, it's been in one place for so long that slowly it will work its way back into the original positions,” he explained. “What I have done is added some potential energy to the room.”
“At least you've not repainted it purple,” I said to hide my lack of understanding.
Egg came in from the kitchen bearing a tray of mugs of tea and some cookies that I vowed to eat without asking what was in them. Displaying a waiter-like skill, he placed the tray on the coffee table whilst giving me a kiss.
“How's your dad?” I asked.
“Weak,” he said. “They've been talking about surgery, but are not sure he would survive.”
Egg rescued me from not knowing how to respond by offering me a cookie, I filled a couple of minutes trying to eat it demurely and forget all I had eaten that day consisted of sugary baked goods. Bracken was poring over a blueprint of some description, the oversized sheet covered the coffee table underneath the tray and spilled out onto the carpet.
“Building something?” I asked.
“This is the proposed new company structure,” Egg explained. “If we can't find some reason to stall this until Mother reappears or Dad recovers the remaining board members could change the company into something else entirely.”
“It's a family feud, except there's more business meeting and insincere handshakes than raised voices and snubbing Aunt Jemima,” Bracken clarified. “Although Aunt Jemima isn't going to be too happy at being moved to the hygiene department.”
“Oh,” I said bending over to look closer at the diagram. “Surely if your acting head of finance is also head of internal audit and communications officer, then he or she can just hide any irregularities in the books and no-one ever need find out their secretly filling their Cayman Island retirement fund with the companies money?”
“Brilliant!” Cried Bracken. I fended him off as he tried to kiss me. “I need to make a few phone calls and then I am going to vow to spend the rest of my days sleeping at your door in order to protect you from assassins in the night. And also order pizza.”
“Cass,” said Egg as Bracken started mostly shouted phone conversation in the next room. “Would you like to spend a couple of days in New York? I have to do something over there really important, but it won't take long and I won't involve you. Except for that we'll just do touristy things and they'll be no car chases or spider fighting. It's a kind of thank you.”
“Sure,” I said, half-convinced I was still making bad decisions, but at least I had dodged my mother's pottery class.