:: previous – Curious Honey
“Hello again, Emilian and East.”
Synthetic Soul Veronique says as she buzzes us in.
“Lock up, E-G-L-one-zero.” I tell her.
Every window turns black, and the exterior doors lock shut with an in sync metallic sounding confirmation.
“Grim Systems is secure, Emilian.”
“They’re in the suite, correct?” I ask East.
He walks with me while scrolling through messages on his watch. “Yes. Tehanie confirmed. Just waiting for your dad.”
We get into the elevator and head for the basement level when I notice my blurred reflection in the door. My blood is raging. “What the fuck is this about?” I growl.
“Hey.” East calls behind me.
I watch his reflection in the door. His eyes are a calm blue, almost like Dad is standing there without a cowboy hat.
“You’re good. Alright? We took precautions,” he reminds me. “Soldiers would be here already if it were about that.”
All I can think of is Misa. Her calming presence, her happiness, her big smiles, her cute laugh. The gold light that radiates from her heart I love to be in.
Even when I stopped at home just now, I could feel her as if she were beside me.
God… What if I never saw her again?
She’d be living in our house alone. Depressed. Childless. I can see the tears falling from her cheeks into the crease of some book. A chapter she’s reread over and over and can’t get through…
Paper would come sniffing around… Fixing things around the house. Doing yardwork. Eating stew.
“You’re thinking too much, Emilian. Get ahold of yourself.”
I nod and clear my throat, forcing myself to get back into a professional headspace. The last thing I need is an angry outburst.
“You’re untouchable.” East reminds me, patting my back.
The weight of his hand helps ground me, and I believe him. He’s always a straight shooter.
We see Lux’s smiling face when the elevator doors open. For a moment, I think she’s a crown soldier with the head to toe black she’s wearing.
“Hey, they’re inside.” She says unworried, which sends more waves of relief through me. “Tee is watching her like a hawk. Some weird alpha female vibes going on, I think.” She laughs. “I dunno, man… Good luck. Feels like drama in there. I’m going back up to monitor the network.”
She gets in the elevator and waves us goodbye as the doors close.
East smirks. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
We head into the basement suite.
A woman with flowing chestnut hair sitting at one end of a long glass table looks up. Her lips are deep crimson and the sleeveless dress she’s wearing resembles stained glass that fits her toned body like a glove.
“Emilian Grim.” She says sweetly, similar to how Misa says it.
“Crown Secretary Velia.”
“Winter, please.” She rises from her seat to shake my hand. It’s firm. I expected a flimsy, delicate handshake. “Pleasure to meet you face to face.” She tightens her grip. “I read about your little sky adventure. I hope your fiancée is well after that close call with your drone.”
“Misa is well. Thank you, ma’am.”
She smiles and I notice her earrings are tiny gold squares.
She releases her grip, but not without scratching my finger with a sharp part of her ring.
East extends his hand as he greets her.
I take a seat near Tehanie at the opposite end of the table and check my finger. Luckily, there’s no blood.
Tee gives me a lopsided smile and shrugs. If she knew what this was about, I would’ve received an essay of information in a text message hours ago.
“Well, well!” Dad swings the door open, rubbing his hands together greedily. East closes it behind him and lingers by the door like a guard. “Wasn’t expecting winter in Black Mountain today! I enjoy summer myself. Sexier weather.” He smiles big. “Heh. Weston Grim, Crown Secretary.” They shake. He assesses the room but doesn’t sit or remove his hat. Instead, he looms over Winter’s seat at the table, making her uncomfortably gaze upward at him while he gazes downward at her. “I see you met the family… Now what can House Grim do for a member of the crown?”
“Mr. Grim, thank you for extending your time on such short notice. I understand a visit from a crown official is something that is planned far in advance–”
“Uh-huh. Your pops know you’re in Black Mountain? Probably whoop your behind if he found out you were at Grim Systems.”
“Well, I am far too old to receive the treatment you speak of, but my father is a person of interest I would like to discuss with you.” Dad opens his mouth to speak, but Winter interrupts. “But first, I didn’t come empty-handed today.”
Dad studies her as she opens her portfolio, pulling out a gold envelope from the inside. A black crown emblem is on it.
Tehanie walks over with slim rubber gloves on, snatching it from her grasp.
“Regarding your missing ex-wife, Khiana Grim,” Winter continues, “I have assigned an investigator to her missing person case. You’ll find their information inside.” Tehanie opens the envelope carefully. “Since Ms. Grim was a high-ranking official, it is our duty to locate her, as she was privy to confidential crown material, which classifies her disappearance as a security concern.”
Inside the envelope are the credentials and contact information for the investigator.
Dad looks at Tehanie and she looks at him with a confirming nod.
“Wow. Y’all something else.” He shakes his head. “Why didn’t this happen when we first asked for help? What changed?”
“Forces beyond my control barred you from answers. For that, I apologize, on behalf of the Crown.”
Dad glances at me and Tehanie.
“Yeah, well, that ship has sailed for most of us. But House Nightbell will appreciate your investigator.”
Winter studies him, seemingly perplexed with his nonchalance. “I realize this is a slight gesture, considering the length of time Ms. Grim has been missing. Yet, I question the judgment of some and am now focused on healing old wounds–”
“The King’s the force that stopped you.” Dad interrupts. “What was the real problem between him and Khiana?”
Winter keeps quiet and her face is hard to read, although the silence alone speaks volumes.
“Uh-huh. You’re risking your life, darling.”
“I disagree. I’m helping a family in need.”
Dad’s uninterested face says everything.
“And honestly, I… selfishly thought if I extended House Grim kindness, you’d be willing to do the same for myself in return.”
“Now we’re getting to the true reason for your surprise visit.”
“Yes… I’m hoping you can take me to Earth to retrieve my father.”
“Girl, please.” Tehanie mutters.
Dad looks at Winter suspiciously.
“I thought September went on the expedition to Earth with the King? He didn’t return?”
“No. He has not.”
“Was the King even on Earth?” East blurts what we’re all thinking.
“I am not here to speak about our King.”
“Uh-huh. And how would I shuffle the face of the crown a world away? People will talk if they knew. They may say we’re in a relationship.”
Tehanie clears her throat so loud everyone turns to make sure she’s okay.
“I don’t like whispers about me.” Dad grins.
“I am free to travel as I please, although I’d prefer if we kept this matter quiet.”
“Ah, a clandestine trip. Where’s your shadow boys at? They stuck in the stained glass? Can’t get out and give you a ride to Earth?”
“West.” He corrects her.
“West, this is important to me–”
“What’s in it for House Grim?”
“Payment, of course.”
“How? Y’all broke.”
Winter’s face twists. “Pardon?”
“We see the high prices at the grocers.” He scoffs. “In the long run, we’re gonna get something better than payment.”
“And that is?”
East takes out a single piece of paper from his own portfolio and places it on the table in front of Winter.
“Change.” Uncle says. “That you can be a part of.”
She reads the paper with a grin, careful not to touch it.
“I appreciate how prepared you are, Mr. Grim, with these cryptic delusions, but this is… These changes cannot happen. I’m powerless, myself.”
“Where certain financial burdens can be eased, we are quite convincing,” East suggests quietly.
Winter scoffs. “Convince whom? King Resolut?”
“It’s not like we need to.” Dad says, smirking. “Right, brother?”
“Correct.” East grins ear to ear as he stares at Winter. “We don’t.”
“You’ve lost me.” Winter says.
Winter frowns at her.
“You just wait and see.” Dad tips his cowboy hat.
Winter squeezes the bridge of her nose. “This is absurd…” She shakes her head, looking at the paper with frustration. “And what of my–”
The way she stares at dad looks cold as her name.
He huffs. “Well… You know I saw him down at this tech expo years back. Quiet fellow, handlebar mustache. Tall. Fit. He had on this sharp navy-blue suit–looked a little uppity, though. Anyway, I was a young man promoting Grim Systems, and he came up to a booth East and I had set up. Back then we’d take our prototypes–”
“Weston.” Tehanie smiles at him.
He sighs and stares at Winter, lost in thought.
“Yeah. I might help you find your pops. But I’ll need more details, last known whereabouts, the purpose of his trip. Earth isn’t how it used to be. It’s best one doesn’t spend much time there.”
“I thank you, Weston Grim. I can get you whatever information you require.”
“When were you planning to go?”
“After the artifact gala. I have a leave planned, so my extended absence won’t cause suspicion.”
Dad looks over at East.
East looks at Winter.
“The gala is in two weeks.” East says.
Winter nods. “Yes, it is.”
“Do you think you’ll be alive in two weeks, Winter Velia?”
She looks at East foul. “Excuse me?”
“For your safety, you will remain in Black Mountain until your departure to Earth.” East continues, still blocking the door.
“We heard about Inga Incognicio.” Dad says coolly. “She’s hospitalized. Damn near died from that chunk of her neck ripped out. She thinks it’s because the crown killed a link to her—that red anaconda. Not every camera at that press briefing went off. Y’all had it. That shadow boy took it somewhere.”
Tehanie nudges my arm. “See that?”
“I did.” I whisper. “She knows.”
“You’re at risk, Crown Secretary.” East continues. “King Resolut is unstable.”
“He’s my kin, he wouldn’t–”
“Hah!” Dad looks at Winter like she’s lost her mind. “Resolut is full blood Dumisani. Fire and fury runs through his veins. You can see it in his red eyes. Besides, we can’t let anyone else get hurt.”
“I drove here for hours undetected. No one knows I’m–”
East cuts her off. “You will remain at a private location. You will surrender your communication devices. Necessities, food, drink, and comfortable lodging will be provided at no cost to you–”
“Listen–” Winter turns to dad.
“Until your departure to Earth.” East interrupts her.
“You want me to find your pop or not?” Dad snaps.
“Yes, of course, but–”
“Then you’ll remain here in Black Mountain. Safe. I’m not having anyone else involved with your raggedy ass crown hurt on my watch. First it was my ex, now missing, then my boy’s instructor, eaten. Don’t think you’re untouchable.”
“West, be realistic. You know I can’t stay here. If I’m not in the district tomorrow, expect a visit from soldiers since your ex-wife is a repeat subject of great disdain by the King, in addition to your House…” Winter looks at me. “There would be no investigator, and my father would remain missing–” She looks at the paper East handed her again. “And your delusions under the guise of change risk being compromised.” She rises from her seat defiantly. “Your concern for me is appreciated, and it won’t be forgotten, but I cannot stay here. It’s best for all of us I don’t.”
“If trouble finds you outside of Black Mountain, we can’t help.” East’s voice is bitter.
“I’m always in safe hands, I assure you.”
“It’s your life.”
“Exactly.” She nods and turns to Dad. “I’ll be in contact. Soon. Only me.”
He stares at her. “Hm.”
“I hope to see you all at the gala?” She looks around, smiling, her voice more upbeat.
“On TV, you said the King would be there. Who wants to miss that?”