Georgie had us meet him at his house the next morning, around 11.
We came to his gate, and security asked us who we were, just like in the movies.
Our car, was, obviously, the worst one on the property, but we parked it right there next to the Maserati anyhow.
Cooper hesitated before getting out of the car. “I can’t let these guys know who I am,” he said. “If the force found out what I was up to —”
We didn’t get it at first. “Do you want to stay out here?” Julian said.
Cooper gave him a look, and held up plain black ski-mask, just a little awkwardly.
“Too much?” he asked.
Neal twisted in his chair to get a better look at him. “Are you asking me if I want to roll into a successful, cold-blooded gangster’s house with a super hero, because YES I want to do that.”
Cooper glanced at Julian. “…so not too much?”
“Oh no, it’s way too much, I just love it.”
Cooper rolled his eyes and jammed the mask over his head.
I’ve seen some wealthy people’s houses at this point. I’ve seen some ostentatious wealth — the emporium makes little effort not to be anything other than the old mansion that it is. But this was… just something else. There was a stream running through the main room, for one thing. Clearly this guy wanted to be a Kardashian.
Georgie was in a green velvet robe, drinking mimosas on his sofa. His entourage was visibly hungover, playing Playstation games, and potentially already stoned. They looked up at us suspiciously, but otherwise didn’t acknowledge us.
“Oh, right,” Georgie said, clearly having forgotten we were coming. “You didn’t tell me you were bringing company.” Georgie was talking specifically to me, which made sense, since I was technically the point person on this mission (??????).
“You couldn’t expect her to come in by herself,” Neal said.
Georgie curled his lip. “You got scars under there or something?” he asked Cooper.
“Or something,” Cooper replied.
Georgie narrowed his eyes. “You’re not that narc in the mask are you, because I am too hung over for that shit.”
“We’re just here for the fawn,” Julian said, even as ever.
“Right.” Georgie gave us a long look-over. “I guess we should talk somewhere.”
He got up and picked his way between his friends, and when a big guy peeled off and followed us, I didn’t think much of it until Julian pointedly put himself between us. Ah, a body guard. Sure.
Georgie brought us upstairs, to another place to sit, where he leaned back into an armchair.
“Alright,” he said. “You think I killed that little Valentina girl, huh?”
I glanced at Neal, but he just smirked and nodded at me to go ahead.
So my reward for going way out of my comfort zone was, apparently, going even further out of my comfort zone. I think potentially if they’d told me I was gonna do the talking I would have stayed in the car because I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO FUCKING SAY hahahaa.
“That’s right,” I said. Actually, what I said was, “that—” and then my voice got all squeaky, and I had to clear my throat and start again because I’m so embarrassing.
“Despite having no evidence,” he said.
“I don’t need evidence,” I said. “We’re not here to arrest you.”
He hesitated. “Okay. What are you here for then?”
“We just want the fawn,” I said.
Georgie narrowed his eyes at me.
“So last night when I said you can’t have her,” he said. “What exactly was unclear about that?”
“Nothing,” I admitted. “We’re just gonna take her anyways.” Then I glanced at Neal. “Right?”
He gave me the thumbs up.
Georgie looked between us suspiciously. “Who exactly am I talking to, here?” None of us answered. “You said last night that I owe a friend of yours money.”
Now, I’d forgotten about that little stroke of genius, so the Hawthornes and Cooper all stared at me, confused as shit. OOPS.
“Uhhhh,” I said. “She goes by many aliases.” Which was a total guess, but like it seems like Cara probably has lots of names, right? I very much doubt he knew her real name anyway. “And has a a knack for impossibilities.”
Georgie’s expression darkened. “Oh. Her.” He passed a hand over his face. “She sent you to take away my pet?”
I glanced at Neal, who’s expression said that he had no idea how we’d gotten here, but he was happy to watch me get us out.
“…yes?” I said.
Georgie scowled. “Well you can tell your boss that I don’t have to buy all my exotics from her. And you can also tell her that I paid a premium for that animal — not to mention all the shit I’ve gone through to handle it — and she’ll get her payment in cash, just like we agreed.”
So I said, “I believe the concern is that it’ll kill you before you manage to pay her.” Check me out!!!! Remembering my stories and lying my ass off!!!!!
Georgie rolled his eyes. “I assure you, she is handled with the utmost care. She’s carefully sealed away where she can’t hurt anyone.”
I didn’t totally understand what that meant, but when I glanced at Neal he was visibly very, very angry.
“What are you feeding her?” he asked.
“I don’t know, fruit and shit,” Georgie said. “She eats like a queen. I take good care of her. She’s the reason I have all this.”
“You have her in a box,” Neal said. “A sealed box. Is that right?”
“Yeah, so she doesn’t kill us all,” Georgie scoffed. He rolled his eyes. “What are you, like animal activists or something?”
Lol, I mean that’s not not what we are.
“When was the last time she went outside?” Julian asked, quietly dangerous.
Georgie laughed. “You crazy? She’d kill the whole neighborhood. My girl’s a little killer. Better than any damn dog.”
Neal took a long, deep breath. “I’m going to give you three opportunities to tell us where she is,” he said. “And if you don’t, you’re going to find out that the creature you have is a kitten, an absolute bunny rabbit, compared to what’s out there. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
And I just want you all to take a moment and imagine what this guy was looking at, because it’s honestly like… kind of funny. Julian was wearing a turtleneck for goodness sake.
“She’s not on the property,” Georgie said.
Neal rolled his eyes. “Georgie, baby,” he said. “You don’t want to lie to me, alright?”
“I swear to you, I swear, she’s in my estate out of town —”
Neal stood up. “See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” he said, conversationally. “That’s a lie.” Georgie’s body guard placed himself menacingly between Neal and the rest of the house, to which Julian responded by also getting to his feet, and listen, Julian might weigh a third less than this guy and be wearing a cozy, cozy sweater, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see the wildness around the edges when he sets his mind to it.
And listen, Julian was the tallest, looming-over-you-est of us. But it was Cooper who could have kicked this guys ass sixteen ways from Sunday.
“Listen man,” Cooper said, deceptively casual. “We’re not here to cause a scene. But you’ve already won. No one is fucking with you right now. Let the creature go. You don’t want the kind of trouble we can cause.”
Georgie started to laugh. “The trouble you can cause? Look around my friends. What kind of trouble are you going to cause in my house?”
So I took off my sunglasses. I fixed him dead on with my demon eye and said, “Do you want to find out?”
He hesitated, but ultimately my demon eye was terrifying enough to convince him that immediate action was necessary.
“Fine, I’ll show you,” he said, and then smirked. “At your own damn risk though.”
He led us down the hall and opened the door. Inside, the room was empty except for the closet at the far end, which was padlocked shut.
We all hesitated at the door.
“She’s in the closet?” Julian asked, because Neal was visibly furious.
“Mmhm,” Georgie said. “If you want her, you can get her out yourself.” And he stalked off, obviously thinking he’d won.
Neal took a deep breath. “Alright,” he said. “I’m gonna need an extra pair of hands to get her out. Shiloh, you up for it?”
The answer was obviously yes, but like with a real sprinkling of absolute terror.
“You sure that’s a good idea?” Cooper asked.
“Julian can’t risk exposure,” Neal said. “And Shiloh has a good deal more experience handling wild creatures you than you do. If she’s willing to come in, SHE’S THE RIGHT CHOICE 😭.”
(Emphasis is mine not his hahahaha, I’m just really excited to be THE RIGHT CHOICE!!!!)
“I’m assuming that there’s a second enclosure in the closet,” Neal said.
“Yeah,” Georgie said.
“How are you remotely opening and closing the box?”
Georgie took his keys out of his pocket. On them was a little remote control, which he un-clipped and passed over. “The big button opens and closes the gate. The little button flashes a light in the crate, which is how she knows to get back into it.”
“Thank you,” Neal said. “Now, we’re going to need some fruit.”
Turned out we actually needed a fair bit more than just some fruit. Neal sent Cooper to the grocery store and set up a literal jungle of fruit. We covered the ceiling light with a sheet to make the light in the room less bright. We also raised the temperature in the room to like almost 80 degrees which was total agony.
“Heat, water and food will help her feel safe,” Neal explained, as he set up our Bluetooth speaker with running river sounds off his phone.
“How are we gonna get her out of the room?” I asked and Neal smiled and held up what looked like a little leather hat.
“You know how you put blinders on a horse to keep them calm,” Neal said. “Or hoods on a falcon? Similar idea. Hopefully this will fit, we tend to just keep a few around just in case.” He looked around the room, frowning slightly. “Alright,” he said. “I think we’re good to go here. We’re gonna need things to stay calm and quiet outside.”
“Yeah, we’ve got that under control,” Julian said.
Georgie was still scowling. “You’re insane if you think I’m letting you leave my property with her,” he said. “I paid a fortune.”
“We can compensate you,” Julian said. “Money isn’t an issue.”
“You’re taking an untraceable weapon—”
“You’re keeping a living creature in a tiny dark box,” Neal interrupted. “She’s going to die in there. How long have you had her?”
Georgie hesitated. “A few months?”
“And the guy you bought her from, he had her in a similar set up, yeah?”
Georgie didn’t answer, but the answer was obviously yes.
“I give her a year, max,” Neal said. “And she’ll lose her capacity as an assassin much sooner than that. Months, but more likely weeks. Have you even seen her?”
Georgie hesitated. Neal curled his lip, disgusted.
“Your options are to allow us to buy her off you now, or to keep her until she eventually dies in that box,” Julian said.
Georgie scowled. “She’s worth a lot to me.”
Julian said, “Money isn’t a factor,” with this air of practiced dismissal that was just like… I mean the sheer arrogance, hahahah it was glorious, and I think it was that above anything that made Georgie finally give in, no violence necessary.
When we were ready, Neal shook himself out and grinned like he was going sky diving. “You keep it quiet out here, alright? We’re gonna be in there for a while, and we’re gonna need silence the whole time.”
“We’ve got it,” Julian promised, and then, right as we were opening the door: “Neal.”
“Be fucking careful in there.”
Something I’m finding about myself: I always underestimate how dangerous a thing is going to be until it’s too late, and then the terror hits me all at once.
Neal just grinned. “Always.”
Inside the room, Neal unlocked the padlock, and opened the closet.
“Alright Shiloh,” he said. “Here’s how it’s gonna go. This is a very small prey creature, who has been locked in a dark box for many months. They’re social creatures, but they’re at the bottom of the food chain. You can convince a wild rabbit to come up to you with enough patience, and that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing here, do you understand?”
“It might take hours, but that’s okay. We’re gonna just leave the door open, and the two of us are gonna sit out here with the food, very still and quiet, and talk to each other.”
“Talk to each other?” I asked.
“Yeah, if we’re silent, it’ll startle the moment we open our mouths, and then we’re dead, you understand? So we’re just gonna read to each other in very calm voices for the next few hours, until it gets comfortable. Then we’re gonna ply it with honey.”
“Honey?” I asked.
“Yeah, fawns are huge suckers for sugar,” Neal said. “She’ll likely start by eating the fruit, but she’ll smell that we have honey the moment we open that door. We just need to wait until she gets comfortable enough to approach me for the sweets, and then we can start working on getting the hood on her. That’s where I’ll need your hands.”
I nodded again.
“No sudden movements. No sneezing. Just reading and taking long slow breaths, okay?”
I nodded a third time.
Neal smiled at me. “Alright let’s do it.”
We sat on the couch cushions we’d set in the corner. We stretched real quick. Then Neal pushed the button on the remote control and the box opened with a soft, mechanical hiss.
“Don’t look at the box,” Neal said. “Just face me. Do you want to read first?”
The book was a bound copy of the whole Golden Compass series, which was nice because it was relatively easy to read and also I’ve never read them before. Plus it’s a world where you have an animal companion that follows you around which is the dream and also sort of appropriate, given we were trying to convince a little animal to start following us around.
Within a few pages, I was able to almost forget what we were doing, or that any random thump in the house was likely to get us killed, and just keep reading.
“Shiloh,” Neal said very softly, a few chapters in. “Don’t move your head, but just look up.”
Peeking out of the closet was a tiny, delicate little creature. It was essentially a very small deer, with a nose like a bunny and what I first thought were two sets of ears, but as I was able to see it better it became clear that it had one pair of tall ears like a rabbit and then a pair of fluffy, greenish antenna, which it swiveled around its head independently of it’s ears.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Keep reading,” Neal said, and I did so, though I’ll tell you, all I really wanted to do was watch the little guy nibble on melon.
I kept reading for a solid to hours before the fawn was comfortable enough to start strutting around the room for real. At that point Neal said, “I’m going to start moving around a little bit,” he said. “You stay very still.”
By a little bit, he really meant a little bit. He was like one of those living statue performers you see outside museums. The little fawn watch him from the corner of her eye, sidestep nervously, and then ultimately decide we were okay. Neal smiled.
“There you go,” he murmured, not turning directly toward her. “Hi there, is it nice to be out of your box?”
Her ears twitched and swiveled towards the sound of our voices, but she didn’t shy away. Neal dipped the end of an apple slice in honey and very slowly set it as far away from us as he could reach.
It took maybe ten minutes for the fawn to haltingly, flinchingly, tiptoe towards the honey. I kept reading. Neal kept pretending not to notice. He leaned against the wall with his legs out in front of him, with the honey in his lap, open and tilted just barely towards the fawn.
It took me so much effort not to squirm with joy as that little friend delicately picked its way towards us. On the other hand, I was literally so full of terror I could barely keep reading much less move, because despite the fact that she is literally the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, she also has the power to instantly scare me to death, so we must be wary hahahaha.
Still though. She stood there, looking up at us with these big curious eyes, and I couldn’t help it, I wanted to squeeze her until her adorable little head popped off.
Neal dipped a finger into the jar of honey, and very slowly lay his hand on beside him on the floor, and within just a few minutes she was lapping the honey off his fingers.
“There we go,” Neal murmured, “that’s pretty good, huh?”
After that everything happened really fast. Once she’d figured out it was safe to get the honey off Neal’s fingers, she was ready to go straight for the source, and clambered into his lap to stuck her head in the jar.
“Bingo,” Neal said. “Mk Shiloh, very slowly, go ahead and close the book and move a little closer. I’m gonna have you hold the honey and distract her while I wrap her antennae.” I shifted closer, heart hammering, moving as slowly as I could to take the honey jar. She didn’t seem to care or notice, so long as she got to be face first in the honey.
“She’s so skinny,” Neal said, very gently beginning to stroke her back with his fingers. “What do you think little one, should we let you kill that son of a bitch?” But she only had eyes for the honey. “Her antennae is where the danger comes from,” Neal told me. “So what we’re gonna do is just cover them. It’s not a perfect system, but it should at least curb some of the danger. Then we’re gonna put a hood on her, and hopefully together we should be able to get her to the car.”
“Hopefully?” I said.
“We might still die,” Neal said cheerfully, coaxing her antennae down her back with his finger tips. “Go ahead and lift her chin.”
I couldn’t help but giggle when I lifted the honey up a little and made a little, almost duck-like noise of protest.
“There we go,” Neal murmured, wrapping leather around her neck so that her antennae were gently pinned down her neck. “Now I need her head I’m afraid.”
Which meant she needed to get her head out of the honey jar, which she did NOT like, and lick honey off my fingers instead ❤️😭❤️
Neal slipped the hood over her eyes, and flipped her little ears through the holes.
“There we go,” he said in a normal tone. “You should be able to pick her up, now. Gently. And don’t put away the honey, keep her nice and calm. Are you good to carry her out?”
I nodded. It took a few minutes, but hooded and distracted by honey, she was barely even skittish. Neal got the door, and hissed directions at everyone. I don’t really remember how that all went down, because I was entirely focused on the fact that the fawn was sucking on my fingers like a baby goat.
When Georgie saw that we had her out of the box he put up something of a stink, and I don’t totally know how that ended because Julian pretty much had me by the shoulders and was leading me out to the car, so there’s a pretty serious possibility that a little bit of ass kicking went on in there when I wasn’t paying attention. Neal and Cooper joined us a bit later, maybe a bit flushed, and we got the fuck out of there.
That was yesterday. We’ve been on the road since. We said goodbye to Cooper, who promised to stay in touch, and that he’d keep talking to Cosima, and then we were off, headed for the Emporium. We should be there soon, which is excellent because I still haven’t seen the MUSEUM.
The fawn, who we named Speckle because of the little spots on her back, has been pretty much in my lap since. She’s eaten the entire jar of honey, which definitely was not good for her stomach, and while I think she’s felt some mild fear, because I keep getting super sudden unexpected anxiety attacks (though to be honest, when am I not getting sudden anxiety attacks?) for the most part she’s been getting stronger. She’s definitely already put on a little weight, and her fur’s a little shinier.
I would literally die for this trembling little sugar fiend. I love her in her little hat, stumbling blindly around the back seat. She needs literal constant attention because she has no vision in her hood and if she like… fell off the edge of the seat, she might kill us even through her little leather antennae trap. But listen if I let Speckle feel fear I’D DESERVE DEATH.