This was the end result of a strange series of ideas sparked when I was remembering an old SF story. I had no choice but to let it come out to see what would happen. Not sure what else may happen, but I'm fairly sure something will sooner or later... :D
With apologies to Reginald Bretnor :)
"I wish they'd drop dead," Taylor Hebert muttered viciously under her breath as she stomped in through the back door of the house, absolutely drenched and covered in mud along with far less salubrious substances, then slammed it behind her hard enough to rattle dishes in the kitchen. Somewhere something fell over with a thud, but the fuming teenager ignored it. Today had been one of the worst so far in the ongoing bullying campaign her former best friend and two sidekicks had been running for nearly eighteen months, and Taylor was close to the snapping point despite her attempts to keep her head down and not do something… excessive.
She so wanted to do something excessive sometimes. The Hebert temperament was a slow to ignite one but burned like magnesium if you managed to push it far enough. She'd inherited that from her father, along with her height and her subpar eyesight.
From her mother she'd got her eye color, her hair, her far higher than average intelligence (not that her father wasn't smart, he was, but her mother had been the real brains of the family,) and the flute she was now gingerly and carefully extracting from the bag she'd carried it home in.
A silver flute, a family heirloom that had been in her mother's side for five generations, and an instrument that after over a century of loving care had finally met someone that didn't look after it one little bit.
Taylor felt hot tears in her eyes as she assessed the damage. Those little bitches had somehow stolen the thing from her locker after she had unwisely taken it to school, although she had no idea how. And by the looks of it they'd smashed a rock or something onto it several times, not to mention dropping it into the sewer outflow down at the edge of the river that ran into a culvert beside the school before finally ending up in the bay. She's scrambled down right into the mess to retrieve the poor flute, heedless of the muck.
The thing was dented, warped, and stank. As did she.
Trying not to scream in frustration, Taylor took a deep breath, put the flute in the kitchen sink, and spent over an hour patiently cleaning it, carefully dismantling the instrument in the process and checking all the parts were there still. Rather remarkably, nothing appeared to be missing, and once all the crud was cleaned off and she'd dried the remains the damage wasn't quite as bad as she'd feared. Bad enough, true, but not to the point first impressions had given.
Very gently she arranged the partially dismantled and now dully gleaming flute on a clean cloth, then finally went to have a shower and put her clothes in the washer. Some time later she was clean and dry and warm for the first time since just after school let out, filled with a righteous simmering rage that left her thinking up ways to make all three girls regret ever meeting her.
She knew she shouldn't think like that, but her heritage and the back of her mind egged her on, while her patience was hanging by a thread.
Making sure to document the indignities heaped upon her mother's treasured flute in her diary, she put the book back in its hiding place then went downstairs again to sit at the kitchen table and stare at the bits and pieces lying there. Sighing heavily, she retrieved the roll of paper towel and some metal polish and started going over each part one by one, making sure they were completely rid of the gunk and gleaming. By the time her father got home, at nearly eight in the evening, she was slowly and with extreme care straightening out some of the smaller bent components then reassembling the instrument.
Her dad stepped into the kitchen and headed for the kettle, grunting a tired hello at her. He rummaged for the coffee, his back to her, then stopped dead as she watched.
After a few seconds, his head slowly turned and his eyes fixed on the flute. They narrowed behind his glasses, before raising to meet hers. His mouth opened but just as he was about to say something, probably something rather angry, he seemed to notice the fury boiling in her own gaze and paused.
Apparently thinking better of his first comment he very deliberately put the can of coffee beans he was holding down on the counter, turned around and walked over to the table, pulled out a chair opposite his daughter, and sat. He reached out and picked up one of the pieces of flute, turning it over in his fingers for a moment while inspecting it, then met her eyes again.
"What happened to this, Taylor?" he asked with care, his voice both sad and angry at the same time.
Taylor stared at him for quite a few moments, before finally dropping her eyes to the table. She tiredly rubbed the side of her nose, trying to work out what to say, and how, to someone she'd somehow lost touch with since her mother had died. Neither one of them had taken that at all well and being far too similar to each other for comfort had both retreated into themselves, which hadn't helped at all. The bullying on top of that had left her more or less just going through the motions for months now.
Abruptly she sighed, shrugged, and thought fuck it. And told him the whole story.
He took that much less well.
But, crucially, he listened and more to the point he heard. And, weirdly, for the first time in longer than she liked to think about, she was able connect with her only remaining family.
"I'm sure there was a special toolkit that Annette had for the thing up here somewhere," Danny commented, looking around the dusty attic before coughing a little. The single bare bulb hanging from the roof was the only illumination and while it did a decent job directly under it, the areas further away were dim and indistinct. Taylor shifted a cardboard box and the resulting cloud of dust made both of them cough frantically for a while.
"God, this is horrible," Taylor wheezed as she waved her hand around in front of her face. "We really need to clean things up here."
"I haven't been in the attic for… well, since…," Danny sighed, still unwilling to put a name to what they both understood. Taylor nodded, glancing at him and clearly feeling the same. The talk they'd had late into the night had cleared the air remarkably well but he knew damn well that it was going to take quite a while for them to properly deal with their own mistakes and each others.
At least they'd firmly decided to try. And his daughter wasn't lost to him, or he to her, no matter how awkward things had become.
"Well, Mom would have given both of us a kicking if she'd seen this, so I guess we'd better do something about it at some point," Taylor mumbled, fumbling around in her pocket. She pulled out a cloth rag and tied it across her nose and mouth. He raised an eyebrow causing her to add, "I was using it to clean the table and put it in my pocket then forgot about it."
He smiled a little. "Good idea. I'll get one myself." Shortly he came back with his own improvised mask, to find his daughter poking around at the far end of the attic. "Any luck?"
"Not so much," she called, bent over one large box right at the back and digging through it with both hands. "Wow. There's stuff here I've never even seen before. Where did all this come from?"
He joined her, pointing the small flashlight he'd brought at the box and seeing it was full of various odds and ends, like old metal cigar boxes from the fifties, smaller cardboard ones that looked to be so ancient they were in danger of falling apart from sheer time passed, wooden cases with brass fittings that rattled when shaken, and any amount of other junk. Ancient spools of wire mixed with old electrical fittings, random clockwork, rocks with strange patterns on them, pieces of wood in various textures and shapes, you name it. Danny scratched his head with the end of the flashlight in his hand, trying to remember where this particular box had originated. It had certainly been up here as long as he'd lived in the house, when he and Annette moved in when they got married. The house had been in her family for a long time and it was entirely possible that the thing actually predated them.
Looking at the obvious age of a lot of the stuff, he came to the conclusion that 'entirely possible' had to be 'completely certain.' He reached in and retrieved what looked like a toolbox, made of sheet metal and dented to hell and gone but still intact. The dark green paint it was covered in was clearly a good brand as it was surprisingly unchipped although extremely dusty. Wiping it with his sleeve revealed a faded partial name scrawled on the top surface in white paint, which seemed to read '...melhor…'
Taylor leaned over and peered at the toolbox, her expression past the bandanna quizzical. "Melhor? That's a weird name."
He chuckled. "I think I know what this is, actually. Your mother's mother's mother's maiden name was 'Schimmelhorn,' and originated in Switzerland. I'm pretty sure this stuff belonged to your mother's mother's brother, or in other words your great grand-uncle. I can't remember his name offhand, mostly because from what I recall everyone called him Papa. He was a real inventor type, came up with all sorts of crazy ideas. The family legend is he even had the military interested in some of the more bizarre ones sometime after the war." Danny shook his head at the memory of his wife's retelling of her family stories and how they'd collapsed in laughter more than once. "Apparently he was also something of a horndog, and his wife was always tracking him down and pulling him home by the ear while lecturing him. Even when he was in his eighties."
His daughter laughed.
"You could probably write an entire book about his adventures, but no one would believe it," he chuckled, putting the toolbox on another box and fiddling with the simple latch. Taylor was listening closely, wearing a small smile, and watching his efforts. After gently smacking the latch with the side of his hand he managed to dislodge it from decades of disuse, allowing him to open the box. Both peered into it as he held his flashlight close. "He vanished sometime in the early seventies, from what your mother told me," he added as he inspected the glittering array of tiny tools which looked in excellent condition inside the toolbox. Time hadn't apparently caused them any trouble, and despite the battered outside of the thing, old Papa had obviously looked after his equipment. Picking up a minute pair of pliers, he stared at it in mild wonder. He'd never seen something of that nature that small, but then if it was intended for working on clockwork it made sense.
"Vanished?" Taylor echoed, looking at him with her eyebrows up.
"Yeah. So the story went. No one ever saw him again, but there was no evidence to show where he'd gone or how. And nothing to suggest he'd met a nasty end either. Mind you, he was at least ninety by then so even odds he wandered off and dropped dead in a ditch or something and wasn't found," Danny replied with a shake of his head as he put the tool back. "And he'd be long dead by now anyway."
"Or about a hundred and twenty and really wrinkly," Taylor giggled, causing him to grin.
"True, I guess." Closing the toolbox he put it on the floor, then both of them went back to rummaging through the box, which had a truly astonishing amount of odds and ends in it. More tools appeared, along with a number of dusty books, including half a dozen that were handwritten in a tiny but clear script. He leafed through one, realizing after a moment it was Schimmelhorn's notes on various inventions, complete with remarkably detailed diagrams, all annotated in almost impossibly small lettering. Squinting at one, he turned the book sideways, then whistled through his teeth. "Man, he was a damn good sketch artist. I wish I could do half as well," he commented. After inspecting a couple more drawings he added, "Although I haven't got the vaguest idea what he was sketching." He shook his head as he studied one image that seemed to be a drawing of something that looked a bit like a mouse but clearly wasn't. The creature didn't quite line up with anything he was familiar with.
Taylor was reading another one of the handwritten books with an intrigued expression, slowly puzzling out some of the less obvious words. The old guy had written in a weird mix of mostly English with a bit of German thrown in here and there, and every now and then she had to pause and think hard, judging by her expression. Annette had taught her a fair bit of German in her younger days but she didn't study it in school, and like Danny was probably somewhat rusty.
Both of them flipped through the rest of the books for a little longer, finally putting them to one side. Taylor stacked the whole set of handwritten tomes on the floor, and when he looked quizzically at her, smiled a little. "I'm going to read them. I don't know enough about Mom's side of the family…" He met her eyes and smiled back rather sadly. "Or yours, for that matter."
"We should do something about that," he chuckled, nodding. "I can dig out some of the old family albums and other documents. Maybe we should have an evening of family history or something. Over pizza, probably."
"I'd like that, Dad," she replied softly, looking pleased. They stared at each other for a moment then by mutual unspoken consent went back to looking through the rest of the box of long-forgotten stuff. Eventually, after nearly half an hour, they'd reached the bottom and piled a quite surprisingly large amount of things around them on the floor of the attic. Both were sitting on it and examining their treasure. "I had no idea we even had any of this, and look how much there is!" Taylor exclaimed, peering around them. She had a wooden box with multiple drawers in it on her lap and was sorting through the contents with interest, coming up with all manner of unidentifiable metal, glass, and ceramic parts. Holding up one of the more complex ones, she pointed her flashlight at it and tilted her head to the side. "I wonder what this is for?"
Danny looked at it as well, seeing what seemed to be an old vacuum tube that for some reason was filled with a delicate-appearing mass of clockwork. He shrugged. "I have absolutely no idea."
"There's about a dozen of them in here, whatever they are," she added, looking in the drawer, then putting the widget back very carefully. Closing it she opened the next one down. "Ooh. Crystals… or something." The girl held up a glittering little L shaped transparent prism that sprayed a rainbow of colors around the room when the flashlight beam hit it. "A whole drawer full of them in all these weird shapes."
"He had some bizarre crap," Danny agreed with a grin. Putting the cardboard box he'd been looking through, which was full of old black and white photos, to one side, he retrieved another metal toolbox, this one about half the size of the first one they'd found. Opening it he smiled. "Aha. This is more like it. It's not Annette's one, but I guess that flute was in the family for a long time, and they looked after it." He tilted the box towards her as she looked, showing her the various silver parts that looked a lot like spares for the damaged flute, along with a pile of felt pads, small screws and quite a bit of other clearly musical instrument related things. There were a lot of worn but cared for tools in the box too. "Seems like they probably had other instruments," he added, pulling out the top section of the toolbox and looking deeper in. "There's part of a… recorder or something? And some guitar strings too."
"That might help us fix Mom's flute, at least as far as the damaged valves go," she nodded. "I don't know how we'll get the dents out though."
"If it comes to it we'll pay an expert, Taylor. Don't worry about that," he assured her. She was scowling again, clearly thinking about the girls who had done so much to her over the last year or so. Reaching out he patted her hand. "Stop thinking about them for now. It's the weekend tomorrow and you don't have to go back to school until Monday. We'll have a go at fixing the flute, and talk about how we're going to deal with the other problem. One way or another we'll figure something out."
Taylor sighed, but nodded slowly. She started putting all the little bits and pieces back into the box of drawers, while he closed the toolkit. Shortly they'd packed most of the Schimmelhorn detritus back into the big box, rather more neatly organized this time, and were heading downstairs with the small toolbox and a stack of old journals in hand.
"Have a shower and go to bed, Taylor. It's late and you need the rest. We'll look at the flute tomorrow, all right?" Danny said as they stopped on the upper landing. Taylor, who appeared very tired as well as very dusty, smiled a little and after a moment, slightly hesitantly, hugged him. He returned it and they stood there in silence for a few seconds, both feeling that this was something long overdue. Releasing her after a while he stepped back, then reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek. "I'm sorry, Taylor," he said quietly. "I promise I'll try to fix this."
"I'm sorry too, Dad," she replied with a sigh but a smile too. "I should have told you a long time ago."
"What's done is done, all we can do is move forward, right?" he smiled. "I'll see you in the morning."
She vanished into her bedroom as he headed downstairs for a drink of water. Not long afterward he heard the shower start, and by the time he went back up her door was closed. He could see a faint light under it and called, "Don't stay up all night reading."
"I won't," she called back, slightly guiltily. He grinned to himself. That was something that had never changed. Annette had done exactly the same thing many, many times.
Soon he was in bed, the dust and grime from the attic having been washed off, and lying in the dark thinking balefully about certain bullies and their parents, while trying to come up with a good method to bring a permanent halt to the whole thing. In the end he rolled onto his side and fell asleep, with a few ideas percolating around in the back of his mind.
Taylor lay reading one of her great grand-uncle's journals, musing on how she'd never even heard of the guy before. So much of her family history had died with her mother, things she'd have learned over the years abruptly gone just like that. She'd never really thought of it in those terms before but finding that box of stuff in the attic had driven it home on the spot. The journals were a real gift, a way to connect to her ancestor that she'd not expected at all, but was going to take without questioning. And in a little way it made her feel her mother's presence again, almost as if they were curled on the sofa reading with her mother stroking her hair as she'd done so many times…
The girl wiped a little tear from her eye with the edge of her hand, tried not to let melancholy overwhelm her, and kept reading.
Old Papa had clearly been brilliant in a way, although she got the impression from his writings that in some other ways he was very… odd. Which matched what her dad had said. The notes were a mix of anecdotes, often revolving around women which he seemed to have been rather keen on, scientific observations which were mostly well beyond her understanding, and a weird sort of not quite science but almost mystical knowledge, which oddly enough she could almost follow. She found herself puzzling out German phrases, having to resort to her German to English dictionary more than a few times, and English ones that were nearly as bizarre, but underlying all the peculiarities she could sense a sort of logic. It was a very strange logic but it was definitely there.
By four AM she'd finished one journal and half of another, finally putting them on her bedside table, turning out the light, and closing her eyes. As she drifted off, she wondered to herself what a Gnurr really was.
And why the history books didn't mention them, considering what Papa had written on the subject...
Just as she dropped into slumber, she had another thought.
'Can you make a gnurr-pfeife from a flute?'
"I think that's nearly got it," Danny said as he handed Taylor the last key, which she carefully assembled onto the mechanism, before tightening the final screw to hold everything in place. His daughter inspected the final result, shaking her head sadly as her fingertips ran gently over one dent in the body of the instrument. "It's not perfect but it looks pretty much intact. See if it works."
The girl nodded, while wiping the metal with a clean cloth to get the last traces of polish off, before dropping the cloth onto the table and raising the flute to her lips. Positioning it correctly, she inhaled, then gently blew. A clear tone sounded, causing both of them to smile. Running through a simple set of scales she frowned when one note sounded sour, lowering the instrument to inspect it. "The F sharp key is sticking, I think," Taylor commented, working the action a few times. "Or leaking."
Danny took the thing when she handed it to him and peered closely at it, before nodding. "The pad is damaged, looks like. Didn't I see some spares in the box?"
"Yep, pretty sure there were… Aha, there you are!" She rummaged through their toolbox and emerged triumphantly with a small metal canister, which when opened revealed the part they needed. Shortly the faulty felt disk had been replaced and she tried again. This time the sound was correct, slightly to his surprise considering the damage to the main body. Apparently a few dents and dings didn't really affect the tone all that much.
"Sounds good," he smiled. Taylor returned it radiantly, hugging the repaired flute to her chest.
"I thought I'd lost it for good," she said in a low voice. "The last thing of Mom's I really have to remember her." Looking up at him, she added, "Thanks, Dad. For helping with this, and not being angry. And… listening."
Getting up he went around the table and sat again next to her, putting his arm over her shoulders. "I'm sorry it took so long for me to hear you, Taylor," he assured her gravely. "I should have noticed much earlier that you were having trouble and found out why. But we're much too much alike in that regard, we stew over our problems and don't ask for help when we should. It's the Hebert Way, after all."
She giggled, leaning against his side. "Maybe I can help you too," she said, "somehow. We both lost something important that day."
"I know, and we both somehow forgot we still had each other," he sadly replied, hugging her close. "That's more my fault than yours, I'm the adult and I should have remembered my responsibilities. But grief is… not easy."
"Yeah," she sighed, burying her head against his chest. "I miss her too."
"You always will, but hopefully it will eventually be a pain we both can live with rather than it taking over our lives," he replied after quite a long silence. "But I can promise you that I'll do my best not to fall to depression again. And if I start going like that, you give me a kick and tell me to stop it, right? We'll work through this together. And get professional help if we need to."
Taylor nodded, straightening up and putting the flute, which she'd been holding like a lifeline the entire time, on the table. "I'll try not to keep things bottled up so much myself, Dad," she told him firmly.
"Excellent. In that case, I declare this family meeting slash instrument repair session successful," he grinned. "I think that calls for a little expedition into the great outdoors to seek sustenance. Possibly of the Italian variety."
Giggling at his over the top comment, she agreed. "I could go for some pasta."
"Let's put all this away then and we'll head to Gino's."
They cleared the kitchen table quickly, putting all the tools away in their places and the flute into his study, to await a new case to replace the one the little shits had lost when they'd stolen it from her locker. Only twenty minutes later they were in the car heading deeper into the city.
"That was amazing," Taylor said with satisfaction, wiping her mouth with the napkin and leaning back in her chair. The empty plate that had contained a seafood carbonara lay in mute testimony to how much she'd enjoyed her meal. Quite a lot of garlic bread had vanished between them as well. Her father was just eating the final part of his risotto with every sign of having thoroughly liked his own meal.
"They really are exceptionally good," he agreed, wiping up the last of the sauce with the final piece of garlic bread and popping it into his mouth. "We should come here more often. It's been… two years?"
"About that I think," she nodded. Drinking the remaining water in her glass, she put it down and looked around. "Hasn't changed though."
"This sort of place never does, and the customers like it that way," he smiled. Looking over his shoulder he motioned to the waiter who was at the other end of the room doing something, the man nodding to them and vanishing into the back for a moment before coming over with the bill. Her father looked at it, pulled out his wallet, and put some cash on the table before standing up. "Thanks, Guiseppe, it was as good as ever," he said to the waiter.
"Glad to hear it, Danny," Guiseppe replied, nodding. "Hopefully we'll see you sooner next time."
"Count on it." Her father smiled, waiting for Taylor to get up and put her coat on, before heading for the exit with a wave to the other staff. Outside, both of them adjusted their coats against the chilly sea breeze then started walking towards the car which was parked on the next street. Taylor was feeling pleasantly stuffed and in a much better mood than she'd experienced for quite a while, partly from the excellent meal but mostly because of fixing the flute and reconnecting with her dad.
Halfway to the car, her father looked to the side at a small shop, then stopped, his expression suggesting he'd had an idea. "I've had an idea," he commented. Taylor giggled. He peered at her with an eyebrow up but shook his head and went into the store, which was one that sold all manner of electronic devices, both new and used. "Wait here, I'll be right back," he added as he walked through the door. True to his words he returned under four minutes later, putting a small box into his coat pocket. At her quizzical expression he smirked slightly. "Tell you at home."
Despite her prodding him on the trip he remained resolutely silent on whatever he'd bought, which made her both amused and annoyed. In the end she stopped asking and sat back to digest her excellent meal while ruminating on some of the ideas Papa's journals had sparked. They led her down a rather odd mental path as she closed her eyes and tried to wrap her mind around a few of the concepts she'd come across the night before. It was weird in the extreme but the more she went over his words the more sense they seemed to make, in a very at-right-angles-to-normal way.
When the engine stopped she jerked slightly, having nearly ended up in a sort of meditative doze during her cogitations. Opening her eyes she found herself looking at the closed garage door, then glanced at her father who was watching her with a small smile. "Nearly fell asleep there, I see," he commented as he took the keys out of the ignition.
"I was thinking," she retorted with a grin.
"Sure you were. Thinking so hard I could almost hear the snoring." His comment made her laugh for a moment as they both got out, then went into the house.
Shortly both were sitting at the kitchen table. The small box was in front of her father while she was examining it curiously, wondering what was inside. "I had a thought last night about your… issue… and came up with one possible solution, or at least a partial solution," he began as she listened intently. "And I saw exactly what we needed in that shop." Opening the box he pulled out a pair of small devices, about half the size of his thumb, which he put on the table in front of her with a faint click. She picked one of them up and turned it over, seeing a small black rectangular thing with a tiny display and several buttons on the side.
"What is it?" she asked, somewhat confused.
"A cheap little voice recorder," he replied, causing her to glance at him with her eyebrows up, then look back at the thing in her hand. "It's got sixteen gigabytes of flash storage, which the guy said is enough for well over a solid week of high quality audio recording, and two or three times that at lower quality. The battery is good for nearly twenty four hours of continuous use too. And the microphone is apparently sensitive enough to pick up a normal voice anywhere within about ten feet without any trouble at all."
Finding the power switch, she slid it up with a small click, watching as the display lit up with a few tiny icons. One of them showed the battery was about half charged. Another switch was labeled REC/PLAY, so she slid it to the REC setting, which resulted in a minute graph jumping up and down when she tapped the thing. "Cool," she commented, watching the display register her word. "But isn't it illegal to record a conversation in secret?" Taylor vaguely recalled reading that somewhere at some point. She'd immediately realized what her father was thinking with this device.
"The law varies from state to state, and there are some subtleties to it in most places depending on what you intend to do with the recording. For example it's usually going to cause problems if you sneakily record a third party without their knowledge then put it on YouTube or PHO," he replied with a nod. "It also depends on whether you're in a place where it's generally considered private or somewhere that's public. Lots of different things are involved, and it can get quite complex. But…" He trailed off as she looked up.
"Well, the school is not a private place, it's technically a public one, even if the general public doesn't wander around, for a start," he began. "Secondly, recording a conversation without the knowledge of all participants in it, if you're doing it for evidence gathering reasons for a legal case, falls into one of the somewhat complex but technical exemptions of the two party thing, at least in this state. And, of course, if you actually tell everyone you're recording and they keep talking, well, then…" He spread his hands with a small smile. "Perfectly fine in that case."
Her dad got up as she mulled over his words, and rummaged around in one of the drawers for a few seconds. Bending over the kitchen counter next to the fridge he did something, then came back and sat down. He held out his hand, and showed her what was in it. Taylor took it from him and stared at it, then him.
"Hello, I'm recording audio at all times," she read out loud from the ID badge he'd dug out of the drawer and written on having turned the expired DWU card that was in it around to the blank back. The thing was on a neck strap so it could be worn. "What the hell?"
"Knowing your little bastards as well as you do, what do you think they'll do if you turn up on Monday wearing that around your neck with the recorder in your pocket?" he asked with a sly grin.
She looked at it again, then slowly began smiling rather evilly. "They'll probably assume it's a bluff and get even more vicious," she replied after several seconds. He pointed at her and nodded.
"Exactly. From what you said, if you showed them the recorder they might shut up, but that Sophia character might simply try to steal it. So you don't. You've given them fair warning, along with anyone else present, and you can always make that very clear if anyone objects. If a teacher gets upset about it tell them to phone me, and don't say anything else. They have no expectation of privacy while in school, that's established law in this state. I can point you at a dozen cases in the last decade that prove that beyond doubt. Wave that card at them, smile, and get on with your day. If anyone wants to then say something which, for example, a lawyer might wish to bring up as exhibit A in a lawsuit, that's their problem." His smile was at least as evil as hers was.
"What happens if one of the teachers wants to confiscate the recorder?" she queried.
"Tell them it belongs to me and you have my full support and cooperation to record your interactions due to ongoing bullying, and that if they attempt to take it I will consider them to be aiding and abetting that activity," he said immediately. "I'll write a letter saying exactly that which you can take and show them. If they persist, let them take it but tell them you'll be informing me immediately and I will be calling the police to report a theft on the spot. I bet you that gives them pause at least. And if it doesn't, that's why I bought two of the things. Give them one, keep the other one and don't mention it."
Taylor laughed a little, seeing exactly what he meant and admiring the sneakiness of his plan.
"I've already spoken to the DWU legal team to check all this, and to get everything in place for when we have the cast iron evidence to show what's going on in that damn place. Your own documentation is good proof, this will add enough that we'll have them by the balls."
He scowled as she listened with mild shock, as he was clearly very serious about the whole thing. It made her wish she'd had the guts to open up to him months ago, but she realized with a certain amount of sadness that neither of them had been up to dealing with this sort of thing then. "And once we have that, we start squeezing," he added with a small smirk of anticipation. Putting his hand on hers, he looked her in the eyes. "One way or another, Taylor, we're going to put a stop to this."
"I hope it works," she finally said, turning the recorder off and putting it on top of the ID badge.
"Should do. And if not we'll think of something else." He shrugged. "But this seems like a decent method to start with. The reaction to it should show us what we need to try even if it fails. From what you've said there's something very odd going on at that school even aside from the obvious complete incompetence of almost everyone involved. Even a place like Winslow shouldn't be quite that idiotic."
"It's a shithole," she replied darkly, shaking her head.
"So I now realize. I'm sorrier than I can say that you didn't go to Arcadia," he sighed. "Or basically anywhere else."
"So am I," she mumbled. He got up and hugged her briefly, then stepped back.
"We'll fix it one way or the other, sweetie," he assured her. "Hey, want some hot chocolate? It feels like that would be a good idea right about now."
"Do we have the mint stuff?" she asked hopefully, looking up. He checked, then grinned.
"Yeah, we do. I'll make it, you go find a good movie to put on, and we'll lose ourselves in mindless entertainment for a couple of hours, OK?"
"Sounds good to me, Dad," the girl replied as she got up, feeling a lot happier than she was used to and liking the sensation.
Later that night, in a good mood and very comfortable in bed, Taylor idly listened to the wind making the house creak as she leafed through another of old Papa's journals, turning it sideways every now and then to examine one or other of his little sketches. Occasionally she looked to the bedside table and the polished if dented flute that lay there under the lamp, a small smile coming every time she did. She could almost imagine her mother playing it as she read, phantom music welling up from her memory.
After a while she picked up an empty school notebook and a pen and started making some notes of her own, referring to the journal and a couple of the other volumes here and there. Occasionally she paused to think, tapping the pen on the paper, before beginning writing again. It was very late when she finally stopped, having finished that journal and the next, and filled about ten pages with her careful writing. She read it over, making a couple of small corrections, nodded, and put everything next to the flute before gently touching it and turning the light off. She fell asleep with a smile on her lips and some interesting ideas percolating at the back of her mind.
Her dreams were really quite entertaining and equally strange, but that was the nature of dreams after all.
"Everything set?" Taylor's father asked as he looked at her. She nodded.
"Recorder one is around my neck," she replied, pulling on the thin cord she'd fashioned a necklace out of and tied the small electronic device to via the holes in the bottom of its case for exactly that purpose. "Second one is in a little pocket I sewed into my shirt, right here." She pointed at her chest. "Both in plastic bags in case the bitches pour liquids on me again. Got the warning label here too," she added, holding it up from the strap around her neck. "And I've got two copies of your letter in separate pockets."
"Great. I'll drop you off on the way to work if you want, save you taking the bus."
"I'd like that, Dad," she smiled as she finished her breakfast then stood. He swigged the last of his coffee and did likewise, both of them piling the plates in the sink for later. Very soon afterwards they were sitting in the car heading towards Winslow. When they arrived Taylor took a moment to glare at the edifice before sighing heavily and taking her seat-belt off.
"Remember the plan, keep your temper, and let's see what happens," her father advised, looking at her. She returned his gaze and nodded.
"I hope this works," she said.
"It should do, and even if it doesn't we'll think of something that will," he told her with a small smile. "Good luck."
"Thanks, Dad." Taylor took a deep breath, grabbed her backpack, and got out of the vehicle. With one last look at his face, she stiffened her resolve and trudged towards the school, well aware of the various students watching and whispering to each other as they always did the moment she entered the grounds. An internal sigh came and went although her impassive face showed nothing. Behind her she heard her father drive away.
Both the recording units were turned on, and the batteries fully charged, so she should be able to record the entire day without trouble. She wasn't certain she'd get anything useful but based on the normal routine it seemed likely. And the badge around her neck was unlikely to prevent anything, that much she was sure of. Her father was right, Emma and the others would probably just see it as a bluff and escalate their shit. Which in a sense was exactly what they needed, although she wasn't looking forward to seeing what happened.
But if it let her get her own back, she'd take whatever they dished out. She'd been doing that for a year and a half already and how much worse could it actually get?
A chill went down her back for a moment, causing her to slightly falter in her steady steps, but she pulled herself together and entered the school itself, seeing out of the corner of her eye a couple of the hanger's-on nod in her direction then hurry off.
"Game on," she whispered almost inaudibly to herself as she headed towards her locker before home room. More students came in behind her as the first bell rang, most of them also going to their lockers although a small cadre was certainly following her instead, again as usually happened.
It was enough to make someone paranoid, she thought with momentary black humor, but she kept going. Again, nothing here was out of the ordinary for her, as sad as that was.
Arriving at her locker she quickly opened it, checking for any booby traps or anything missing. For once nothing seemed out of place, so she took the ratty textbook she needed from the top of the pile inside and slipped it into her pack, before slamming the door. Even as she locked it she heard a familiar voice from behind her.
"Oh, look, it's back," Emma said gleefully, her voice full of malice. Yet again Taylor wondered what the hell had made her oldest friend turn into someone she didn't recognize, even as she turned around. "At least it managed to wash the shit off." The red headed girl sniffed ostentatiously. "Mostly."
"Did you find your flute, Taylor?" Madison, who was standing on Emma's right, asked solicitously, her eyes gleaming with a nasty shine of excitement. On Emma's other side Sophia was staring at Taylor with the usual almost hungry look as if she was waiting for something to happen.
"Yes, thank you," Taylor replied without emotion, glancing at each of them then looking down again. She had all too much experience at keeping her true fury bottled up to the point no one could tell she was desperately trying not to grab her backpack and beat the shit out of them with it.
"How nice," the smaller girl smiled. "It was very careless of you to lose it like that."
Emma laughed darkly as Taylor fixed Madison with a look that made the other girl step back involuntarily before averting her eyes once more. "Ooh, that touched a nerve, didn't it?" she exclaimed. Taylor didn't reply, merely standing there waiting for them to either do something or get bored and move off. There were now half a dozen other students gathered around, blocking her path of retreat, so all she could really do was wait for them to finish the routine.
"She almost looked for a second like she might actually try to fight back," Sophia commented with a chuckle. "Like she could do something. Pointless gangly weakling like her."
"She smells horrible," one of the other background girls said loudly, sniffing just like Emma had. Taylor almost pointed out that Emma had already used that one but restrained herself.
"Of course she does, she never washes herself properly," Emma laughed. "No matter how much I tried to teach her."
"What's that?" Madison suddenly queried, having apparently only just noticed the badge around Taylor's neck. Everyone followed her finger.
Taylor looked down, then lifted the badge and showed it to them. It had been clearly on display the entire time, she'd made sure of that before she came in, but no one had seemed to pick up on it before Madison did. They were just too fixated on the bullying. "What it says," she replied evenly.
"It says you're recording us," the petite girl said suspiciously, as she and the others exchanged glances then looked her up and down. Most likely looking for signs of some sort of recording device.
"Correct," Taylor responded neutrally. "I'm recording all audio around me all the time."
"You can't do that, it's illegal," Emma snapped, stepping closer to her and glaring at her face. Taylor straightened up from her habitual slouch a little and looked down at her former friend with a blank expression, which seemed to somewhat unnerve the other girl.
"Public place, no expectation of privacy, and I'm telling everyone involved that I'm doing it. Perfectly legal. If you don't want to be recorded just walk away." She waved a hand over Emma's head, indicating the entire corridor, which was currently blocked in both directions by a cluster of cronies, all of whom were listening and whispering to each other.
"She's bluffing," Sophia put in with a snarl. "I can't see any recording device, and she doesn't use a phone."
"She's scared of them," Emma sneered, "Because she thinks they killed her mother."
Taylor's fingers twitched but with great effort she restrained herself from grasping the red-head by the throat and squeezing.
"I bet it's in her backpack," Julia, one of the second-level bitches, said slyly while pointing at the thing. Sophia glanced at her, then looked thoughtfully at Taylor, before lunging for the backpack. Taylor moved it slightly so she missed and slammed into the wall, unable to help herself, then hid a nasty smirk as Sophia swore viciously. It was small revenge but it still amused her. The other girl snarled at her and punched her in the stomach, then wrenched the pack out of her hands as she involuntarily bent over from the pain. Unzipping it she turned it upside down and shook it violently, pencils, books, and everything else cascading onto the floor. She stirred the mess around with a foot as everyone watched, then shook her head.
"Nothing. She's bluffing, like I said." Throwing the pack at Taylor's head, she deliberately twisted her heel on one of the books, tearing the cover off, smiled nastily, and stepped back. With an almost inaudible sigh Taylor bend down and started picking everything up.
"Did you have to snatch my backpack and dump it all over the floor?" she asked mildly, for the benefit of the recording more than anything else.
"You want me to do something worse?" Sophia inquired with a psychotic grin. "I could set it on fire, maybe…"
"Or flush it down the toilet like we did last time," Madison suggested.
"Or dump it in the sewer, like that stupid flute," Emma added, getting caught up in the game. Taylor kept her mouth shut as the rest of them made increasingly stupid comments about what they should do to her possessions, many of which they in fact had done at one point or another. She just kept picking things up and putting them back in her pack, then zipped it up with some effort as Sophia had damaged it when she ripped it open. Eventually she straightened up, more than a little surprised that no one had taken the opportunity to kick her or something. They seemed too interested in the current idiocy to have thought of it. As she did so, the final bell rang, causing most of them to stop before heading for their own classrooms, tossing a few last cruel comments over their shoulders.
"You're pathetic, Hebert," Sophia put in, shaking her head, then punching her very hard on the shoulder. "Stupid bluff. Don't think we'll forget this."
Taylor merely watched her, Emma, and Madison head towards the home room, past Mr Gladly, one of her least favorite teachers. He was utterly ineffectual and in her mind someone she had no respect for at all. She met his eyes, then trudged towards the door. As she drew level with him, she said quietly, "You were standing there for the last three minutes, Mr Gladly. Why didn't you stop it?"
"I can't do anything unless you ask for help, Taylor," the man replied after a moment, looking momentarily a touch ashamed. She glared at him in disgust.
"I asked for help dozens of times in the last year. No one ever did anything. You've seen what happens, every single day. Why don't you do your job?" She couldn't help her words, she was just so furious, and he appeared to realize he was on thin ice.
"Taylor, I…" he began, then trailed off into silence. His eyes dropped, before they stopped on her warning badge, then widened slightly. "What is that?" he asked.
With a sigh she explained again.
"You can't do that."
"I can, and I will," she replied without any emotion. "If you have a problem with it, call my Dad." With that she pushed past the man, leaving him staring after her, and headed for her seat. She was in time to see Madison pouring glue on her seat, which made her stop and glare. The other girl gave her a sweet smile.
"Really? Again? Glue on my seat, Madison? Can't you think of something original?"
"Why mess with a classic?" Madison retorted with a grin, before going back to her own seat. Taylor turned her head to look at Mr Gladly, who looked at her, then the desk, then Madison, before shaking his head and going to his own desk.
"Thought so," Taylor muttered under her breath. She looked around, seeing that there was a free desk at the rear of the room, where a boy named Frank normally sat, presumably as he was ill or something. Whatever the reason, she shrugged and went to that position before sitting down. Mr Gladly watched her along with the entire class, opened his mouth, then shut it again when she gave him a poisonous glare.
"Asshole," she murmured very quietly, without looking away from his eyes. He flushed slightly but didn't do anything else, which slightly amused her for some reason. Apparently the man was so weak willed that he wasn't willing, or possibly capable, of even doing anything to her if she showed a bit of backbone.
Pity that probably wouldn't work on anyone else, especially the three shits, who sat next to each other and were leaning close together whispering and eyeing her. Knowing that things were going to get worse, she mentally prepared herself for dealing with it, then started half listening to the teacher as he blathered on about something or other while spending more of her attention going over the various things she'd learned from old Papa's journals.
It was a very, very long day.
"You were right, Dad," Taylor said when Danny got home and found her in the living room, after greeting him. "They assumed I was bluffing, Sophia stole my backpack and looked through it, didn't find anything, and doubled down on the shit they were spouting. Three teachers queried the badge, I showed two of them your letter, and they backed down. Looked really confused too. Gladly didn't even do that, I just ignored him and he gave up. Did anyone call you about it?"
"No," he replied as he sat down with his coffee and a plate of cookies. He offered her the plate, his daughter taking a couple of them then nibbling one. Putting it on the coffee table in front of him he sipped a little before lowering the mug. "Didn't hear anything."
"Interesting," she mumbled. They sat there for ten minutes while he finished the coffee, eating all the cookies between them, and discussing her day. By the sound of it she'd probably got enough evidence in only a few hours to prove her case rather effectively, and he winced at some of the things she said. When he'd finished he stood up. "Got one of the recorders?"
"Yeah, here you are," she replied, pulling one of the little devices out of her pocket and handing it over.
"Let's see what you got." Danny headed for his study with her following. Taylor leaned on the wall beside the door while he turned his elderly but usable computer on and waited for it to boot up, then plugged the recorder's USB connection into the cable lying on the desk. With a ping it connected, and he opened the file manager to drag several hours worth of audio recording into a directory on the desktop. Very soon they were listening to it.
Five minutes in and he was pale with fury. Ten minutes later he was highly tempted to take a can of gas and a road flare and make his displeasure extremely obvious, but managed to keep his temper under control.
The worst part was how Taylor seemed to just accept this as normal. She almost looked bored, in fact, although when he put his hand on her back he could feel her shivering with either rage or sadness or more likely both. Her emotional control was unbelievable but he was appalled that she'd had to learn to hide it like that.
And nearly as furious with himself as he was with every single person at that fucking school.
After twenty minutes of listening, and skipping around a bit to get a good sampling of the sort of things that happened, he shook his head before hugging Taylor very hard. "I am so, so sorry, sweetie. No one should have this sort of… horror… happen to them. Especially a kid your age."
"I'm used to it, Dad," she mumbled into his shoulder.
"You should not have to be used to it, Taylor," he replied, putting his hands on her shoulders and looking her in the eyes. "And we're going to put a stop to it one way or another."
"I hope so," she said after some seconds. Her eyes were a little bright with tears and he sighed as she wiped them away.
"Have some faith in your old man," he smiled. "Even though I let you down before. I won't again, trust me in that."
She smiled a little and he nodded in satisfaction. "I need to call Michelle and let her know what's happened so far, then email her these files. We'll collect as much as we can. The more evidence we get, the better. And when we get enough evidence we hang them out to dry. I'll also need to borrow your own notes and take them in tomorrow to photocopy for her, if that's all right with you."
"I'll get them," she nodded. Standing up from where she'd sat on his desk, she went upstairs, returning a few minutes later and passing over a very thick stack of paperwork, which he'd already read quite a lot of over the weekend before he'd had to stop in case his temper took over. Putting it in his briefcase, he smiled at her.
"Great. Put this, and the other one, on charge for tomorrow, then we'll have supper, OK? I'll call Michelle. Steak sound good?"
Taylor grinned. "Steak always sounds good."
"Yeah," he chuckled, while picking up the phone. "Can't disagree there."
After a twenty minute conversation with the DWU legal rep, he put the phone down and went to find his daughter, finding her lying on her bed intently reading one of Papa's journals with an expression of concentration on her face, surrounded by notes. He watched her fondly for a few seconds, thinking how like Annette studying for college she looked, then silently went back down to the kitchen.
He was going to fix the problem he'd ignored for far too long, and anyone who got in the way was definitely going to regret it, he vowed to himself.
"Hmm," Taylor hmmed, studying her notes, the relevant journal of her ancestor's, and a pile of bits in front of her on her desk. "So… if I put this thingy here like this and somehow make something to hold it in that position, it should resonate across the gnurr axis when I play the flute. No reed, so that's a bit awkward, but I think I calculated the right angle. Assuming I understood that part of the notes right, of course…" She held one of the L-shaped crystals from Papa's trove of parts in the right position at the end of the flute, the flute in her other hand, and turned both of them around and around while trying to work out the best way to get everything connected.
Eventually she nodded to herself, turning to rummage through the various toolboxes and other containers she'd shuttled down from the attic over the last couple of weeks, as she learned more and more bizarre things from the old journals. A surprisingly large amount of the weird information in them seemed to make more sense than she'd expected, if she stared hard enough at it for long enough.
She thought she was on the right track but it would take some practical experimentation to prove it one way or the other. Taylor wasn't really certain why she was so interested in the old guy's bizarre psuedo-science, but it struck a nerve somewhere deep inside her and she found it absolutely fascinating. At times she wondered if he'd actually been a Tinker, but his stuff far predated Scion's debut, and aside from anything else she actually seemed to understand quite a bit of it, which as far as she knew pretty much ruled Tinker Tech out. And she was certain she wasn't a Tinker, or had any powers at all.
Finding the parts she'd been sure she'd remembered seeing when she'd gone through everything the girl smiled, then looked for the tools she needed, along with the good glue. It took her another three hours but in the end she'd managed to combine some random off cuts of copper tubing with a few small scrap pieces of some very dark wood, the glue, and a couple of tiny screws to make a device that slid over the end of the flute quite solidly while acting as a holder for the little oddly-shaped crystal. Looking into the end of the thing she poked a screwdriver down inside it and carefully adjusted one of the screws a couple of turns, referring to her notes a few times in the process. Putting the screwdriver down she held the instrument to her mouth and gently blew, a perfect Middle C sounding.
"Not resonating," she muttered, lowering it again, then making another small adjustment. "Maybe it's too tight?"
Another test produced the same note, but this time it had a very odd overtone to it, a sound that was right on the cusp of audibility and seemed to get right inside her bones. She smiled widely. "That's more like it," she exclaimed. Tweaking the screw again she tried once more, finding the overtone was louder and had harmonics around the edges that made the windows rattle slightly. It took four more tests until she was satisfied, the final result an eerie moan with the original note laced through it in an unnerving manner, but somehow she knew at the back of her mind it was right.
Sliding the crystal holder off the flute, she tried a scale, finding it sounded perfectly normal. She refitted the thing, took a deep breath, and quickly played the same scale.
The house shook very gently as dust rose from the carpet, hanging in the early evening sunbeam coming through her window, while outside a couple of crows cawed horrendously before flying away. In the distance a dog barked. The window whined faintly as the glass vibrated, the sounds dying away seconds after she lowered the flute.
"Yeah, that's definitely got it," she commented to her reflection in the mirror over her desk, the girl on the other side winking at her.
"Taylor, what the hell was that?" her father's bemused voice sounded from behind her as her door opened.
"I made a gnurr-pfeife," she replied contentedly, holding the flute up. He stared at it, then her.
"What on earth is a gnurr-pfeife?" he queried a little peculiarly.
"This is," she said with a grin as she pulled the copper widget off the end of the flute and dug around for some metal polish. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"All right. Let's try again. What do you do with a gnurr-pfeife, then?" he asked patiently. "Aside from make the entire house feel like it's about to throw up."
"It calls gnurrs," Taylor smiled, looking up from carefully making the copper mirror bright. "They come from the woodwork out, you see."
He gave her a very hard look, causing her to laugh, then reach out and hand him the relevant journal of Papa's. Taking it with a puzzled expression, he sat on her bed and started reading, occasionally pausing to sound out one of the more complex German words which were annoyingly scattered through the text. Taylor kept polishing patiently as he read.
Eventually he looked up. She met his eyes.
"You are not calling gnurrs from the woodwork out in this house, young lady," he said sternly.
"I wasn't going to," she protested mildly. "I was thinking more like somewhere in the docks, maybe an old warehouse. No one will care if it works there, will they?"
Her dad stared at her for quite a long time while she finished putting a perfect shine on her little bit of copper tubing, before closing his eyes and shaking his head. "I am probably as nuts as Papa clearly was, but for some reason I want to see if this works," he grumbled as he stood up, dropping the journal on her bed.
Taylor smiled brilliantly, hopped to her feet, and followed him while clutching her flute and highly non-standard add on.
After thirty seconds, she ran back into the room, grabbed her backpack and a change of clothes just in case, because of what else she'd read in the journal, then dashed out once more.
Standing on the slightly rickety catwalk overlooking the large lower floor of the warehouse that they'd found their way into, about half a mile from the DWU area, through a smashed open door, Taylor peered down at the broken crates and machinery all over the place. Half the roof was missing and everything down there was wet and rusty from the rain a couple of days before, and showed ample evidence that various people over the years had scavenged everything even remotely usable from what seemed to have been an old factory or something of that nature.
"This should do," she said to her father, who was standing next to her watching somewhat apprehensively. Raising the flute with the gnurr-pfeife addition fitted to the end, she went over the tune she'd carefully practiced dozens of times, The one Papa had said was needed, then started playing.
The notes of Come to the Church in the Wildwood moaned out across the huge empty space, the weird resonances from the special crystal making everything waver and the single flute oddly sounding like there were far more instruments playing. Taylor felt the platform they were standing on quiver gently underfoot, while pigeons burst from the rafters above them and flew in a noisy flock out the holes in the roof, somehow not drowning out the music.
Seconds later, out from the woodwork the gnurrs came.
And how they came.
Millions upon millions of tiny mouse sized but very definitely not in any way mice poured from nowhere, all across the warehouse floor. Tiny shimmering creatures that didn't seem to quite be there but clearly were came from somewhere just around a corner that didn't exist, making an uneasy creaking sound that filled the entire space. The ghostly light of their shimmering fur illuminated the whole place in a way that was impossible to properly describe. Taylor's eyes widened in surprise and shock mixed with glee, while her father muttered something very rude under his breath while watching.
And the gnurrs didn't just arrive, they arrived hungry. Very
The creaking sound was accompanied by a crunching, and a gnawing, and a munching, as the innumerable horde of unreal creatures dug into literally everything they encountered. Old crates almost evaporated they vanished down tiny gullets so fast. Crumbled masonry lasted little longer. Old broken machine tools began to collapse further, subsiding into the frantically chewing mass like sand castles when the tide came in.
"Holy shit," her father mumbled in impressed shock.
Before Taylor was three bars into the music, half the floor was cleared of debris. Another two bars and the gnurrs were starting in on the floor itself. Three more and her eyes widened again as she felt the catwalk start to shake, looked down, and realized with worry that the gnurrs not only out from the woodwork came, but seemed rather keen on consuming that same woodwork.
Her father followed her gaze and hastily said, "I think you've proven it works, Taylor."
She nodded, still with the flute to her lips, and began playing a different, very strange sounding series of notes. The eerie overtones echoed out across the wide space, the discordant tune underneath, the same song played backwards which had taken a lot of practice to get good at, causing the gnurrs to pause, look around, creak even more loudly, then retreat from whence they came. Strange visuals once more occurred as something very bizarre happened to reality, the little shimmery creatures vanishing in seconds.
Moments later they were alone. Taylor played one last bar, just to make certain, then lowered the flute. Both Heberts peered over the now somewhat shaky railing, very carefully, and examined the utterly empty room below, before meeting each others gazes.
"I think it worked," Taylor said with deliberate calm.
Her father slowly nodded, looking more than a little stunned. "Yeah, can't disagree with that, I have to admit." He looked around again, whistled through his teeth, then added, "I think we should probably get out of here before someone comes to find out what happened."
Taylor looked through the catwalk, then up at her father. "How do we get down? They ate the stairs," she pointed out.
He followed her eyes once more, sighed, and put his hand over his face. "Damn it, Papa, this is all your fault…"
Taylor was still giggling when they finally managed to get back to the car and drive off. But she was feeling justifiably pleased with herself.
And thinking very seriously about showing three specific girls how she'd repaired the flute they stole.
Half way home she was struck by a thought and started wondering what would happen if she played a different tune on the gnurr-pfeife…
"I think I'm going to need to find another warehouse," she said very quietly, pondering the intriguing idea, and not paying attention to how her father glanced at her and frowned with a certain amount of worry.