Quarantine Day Three, Part One
Six in the morning was an ungodly time to be awake, and yet, there Agent Ambrosia Raine sat filing her nails to stiletto points. A bottle of fire engine red sat on the table next to her, ready for a final coat. While Ambrosia would rather be asleep than giving herself a manicure, she was grateful for a moment to herself. Those were so rare, and about to become even rarer thanks to this quarantine situation.
Ambrosia blew on her nails, sending the fine dust of filings to the floor.
A pointed cough drew Ambrosia's attention to the stove where a very unhappy Saori glared down at the floor. She didn't say anything as she stirred this morning's chicken broth, but the intention was clear: Ambrosia better be cleaning that up. Ambrosia was far enough away from the food that there was no worry for contamination, but Saori did not like disorder in her kitchen.
Using the side of her heel, Ambrosia ground the dust into the wooden floorboards with a smirk. Saori looked murderous, but remained quiet. Choosing her battles, most likely. That, or plotting on how to poison Ambrosia's soup.
She made a mental note to have someone else taste her bowl first...just in case Saori was the murderer.
Footsteps on the servant's stairs drew Ambrosia's attention.
"Oh, hello there," Ambrosia purred, sitting up a little straighter at the sight of the handsome guard walking through the door.
"Keep your winks to yourself, Agent Raine," Sosa said with a roll of his eyes. He was already in uniform, all that black kevlar fitting to him in the most delicious ways.
Ambrosia relaxed back into her chair. Such a shame he was so hard to ruffle. One of these days she was going to get Sosa to break a smile...and maybe her back.
He held two coffee cups in his hands and placed one in front of her. What a gem.
"I would kill a man for a vanilla cold brew."
"Well, I only got the kitchen sludge."
Saori whipped a towel so quickly Sosa didn't see it coming until the end stung against his ear. He yelped, quite a high pitched sound for someone so strong. Saori leveled him a fierce glare, though her lips held back a smile. "I heard that."
They had a rapid-fire exchange in some New Asian dialect that Ambrosia was not caffeinated enough to interpret. Not that she knew the language at all, but it was amazing how much tone and posture gave away. She might not have a talented tongue, but she was an expert in body language.
Was Ambrosia also an expert in double entendres? Yes. Yes she was.
By this time, the kitchen had started to come a little more alive. Saori wasn't the only servant messing with pots and pans. The smells and sounds of breakfast made Ambrosia's stomach grumble, but chances were this coffee was the only meal she'd get until dinner. There was too much work to be done these days. Everyone in this kitchen was in the same spot, working their asses off...except for one.
"What's her problem?"
Ambrosia nodded her head towards the back of the room where, at the servant's dining table, a blonde woman held her head in her hands and cried. Times were tough, but shit, it wasn't worth crying over. They weren't dead yet.
"You leave Rhaena alone," Saori warned, and though she may have been young, she meant business with that towel. "She's had a hard two days."
"We've all had hard days."
The only people who had had an easy two days were the spoiled brats who lived here. Ambrosia would choose her apartment downtown with her three German Shepherds over this glittering hellhole any day. Yet, there she was, running on caffeine and annoyance, doing her civic duty and trying to keep everyone in here alive. Someone should make her a saint.
More footsteps on the servant's stairs and suddenly Seth came barging in, his crisp suit a little less crisp than usual. He looked like he was about to pop the vein in his forehead. "What is everyone doing just sitting around like - "
Immediately, she rose from her chair, the whole room quiet with tension in the intimidating presence of the man who spoke her name.
She didn't dare call him "Dad", not in front of all these 'subordinates'. He wouldn't show it, but he would be highly displeased at the lack of formality. There was no telling how long he had been watching, waiting. The lecture about wasting time sipping coffee and talking to servants in a capacity that was not an interview in the face of an ongoing murder investigation was already on his thin lips.
"We are needed in the basement immediately. Time is of the essence."
"Of course," Ambrosia said with a nod, gathering her blazer in one hand and her kitchen sludge in another. "After you."
As awkward as this walk was about to be, she could not help but feel she got the better end of the deal. Seth was an absolute beast when stressed, and he was at his wit's end. If she was a better person, she could offer some good old fashioned stress relief and do everyone a favor. But she had ridden that horse before. Never again.
By the time the painfully silent walk to the basement was over, a crowd had already formed, including the councilmen stuck in the palace as well as King Henry, himself. They stood around the dead girl, talking over her as if she were the mahogany table in the board room. Ambrosia half expected one of the men to pound his fist down into the poor girl's ribs.
"Ah, good. You've made it," King Henry said upon spying the father-daughter duo, though he only paid the father mind. That was the infuriating thing about working under one's father: you were always the shadow. "Explain your theory to us again, Doctor."
A thin man in a white coat who looked two steps from death inched forward and inclined his head to the king. Bony fingers manipulated the corpse, turning her head to the side.
"The initial cause of death was believed to be blunt force trauma to the back of the head, as indicative of the size and shape of the wound." A boring was to say the grapefruit-sized dent in the back of Cameron's skull. Needless to say, the heiress was not as air-headed as Ambrosia believed. "However, new evidence as come to light that the blunt force was applied after the victim was already dead."
The head was abandoned for the arms.
"See the needle marks here?" The pinprick was so microscopic, it was hard to see even on the projector. But once the image sharpened, there was no denying that a tiny scab had formed over a point of penetration on Cameron's left forearm. "It is my belief that Miss Garcia was poisoned before she was hit over the head."
Well, that surely changed things. Though, from the skeptical looks on the faces of everyone in the room, they were hesitant to believe.
"Is there any way to prove this theory?" Agent Raine the elder asked. He rubbed at the dimple in his chin. "Can we discern a specific substance?"
"Hard to say without a definitive analysis. The palace laboratories are not equipped to run such tests. Normally, it would be a simple matter of sending blood samples out to the labs at UCLA or Stanford, but with the barrier of the pandemic - "
" - such luxuries are not available, I understand. An unfortunate setback."
Her father kept rubbing at his chin, and everyone kept looking at him, the Head of Security, to tell them how to proceed.
"Do you think you could replicate the tests?" Ambrosia asked, one hip cocked against the wall as she studied the shelves of compounds on the wall. "Surely a handful of scientists with as many letters after your names can flip through a few books and run the chemical tests the old fashioned way."
The Doctor frowned, shaking his head at her as if she were some stupid girl. "Agent Raine, that's hardly a good use of time - "
"No, she has a point." Ambrosia thanked all the forces of the universe for her father, though it was frustrating she needed his voice just to be heard. Her father turned to King Henry and said, "We have nothing but time now that we are trapped within these walls with a murderer who at any point could turn serial killer if they get too bored."
The King and Agent Raine came to some silent agreement. It was strange how in tune they could be, how like-minded they were. Seeing them work together, seeing that implicit trust, there was no doubt as to how Agent Raine became so favored.
King Henry turned to the Doctor. "Make a list of possible toxins. Get your best minds on video conference and find ways to recreate tests with the resources we have. This is a direct order from your king."
The Doctor spluttered, his eyes wide behind wire rims. "Your Majesty, all due respect, shouldn't we be putting all our efforts and resources into making vaccine?"
"If this killer is allowed to continue, they'll wipe us out before the virus gets the chance." King Henry's somber timbre did nothing to improve the mood. He turned to Agent Raine the elder and said, "I want you investigating this full time. Devote as many agents or guards in the building as you need."
"Understood, Your Majesty." He gave a sharp bow, eyes hardened into sapphires as he honed in on his mission. "Rest assured, we will find the killer."
Not many people could get away with touching Agent Raine, but the King was one of the few. Ambrosia tried not to be jealous as he placed a large hand on her father's shoulder and squeezed. "I would expect nothing less, old friend."
The crowd followed King Henry as lamprey do a shark, the bottom feeding urchins fleeing the scene, desperate to be of use to the king. Ambrosia would never understand the need for such ass-kissing. Though, she supposed, it was one way to pass the time.
"Kinda obvious, don't you think?" Ambrosia asked once the basement belonged to just her, her father, and the dead girl.
"Someone's running around poisoning people, and there just happens to be a big time drug dealer running around." Ambrosia pulled out a worn copy of the guest list, a name at the very bottom scribbled in. "Laurencia Dankworth is here in the palace, and she wasn't invited to the party."
"Too obvious," Agent Raine mused, running his cold eyes over the list as he weighed his options. "It's hardly ever the obvious ones."
"And sometimes it is." Ambrosia took the list back and folded it into a square. Her father didn't need it; he'd memorized the list same as she had on the first day. "She's offered everyone in the palace roofies at least once. They're pretty good..." Agent Raine shot her a hard look, and she backpedalled. "...or so I hear. That one girl, the preacher's kid, she was very loud about the subject - "
"We need credible sources, actual leads. Not the drug-induced mutterings of a teenaged zealot."
"I know," Ambrosia huffed, a little offended at the lack of faith. Did he think that she wasn't taking this seriously? That she wasn't capable? "I am actually good at my job. You should know, you trained me."
"I know, and I - " He pinched the bridge of his nose, sighed from the very bottom of his closed-off soul. "I just don't want to see you mixed up in the wrong end of this business."
That was about as close as Agent Raine ever got to admitting he didn't want Ambrosia to get hurt. After the traumatic death of her mother, he never really moved on, never learned to process that grief, never learned how to be at peace. Ambrosia got the brunt end of that emotional stuntedness. Now, that left them standing across a cadaver, looking at each other with what could be constipation but what was probably concern.
"The wrong end of this business is exactly what I was born to do." She stood up straighter and gathered all her confidence. "I promise, I'll be careful. Nothing bad is going to happen to me, or you. We're Agent Raine. Nothing breaks us."
Too much emotion.
Agent Raine nodded curtly, and with a final look at his daughter, took the stairs up to the ground floor by twos.
Ambrosia could follow him, could chase him back to his office or whatever dark corner of the palace he decided to start this crusade. But the better option was to let him go and pretend none of this happened. After a couple cigarettes and pointless interviews, she would find him for dinner and they'd eat in silence and everything would be back to normal.
Besides, something else had caught her eye.
There, underneath the metal table, was a yellow bumblebee headband.