A/N: Cheno was injured on the set of The Good Wife :( This never would have happened if PD was still on air! Hope she gets well soon...
We pick up where we left off, with Chuck fleeing Papen County, Ned and Olive growing closer in the absence of their significant others, and Emerson pursuing the mystery of the Deadly Dozen...
Chapter 8: Dearly Departed
Charlotte Charles had a fear of flying. Which she discovered exactly thirty-six seconds after takeoff. As Lily and Vivian stretched languidly in their seats, she gripped an armrest and stared at the ceiling, wishing her father was there with them...
"Breathe, kid," Lily chuckled. "You're turning blue."
Vivian nudged her side, smiling. "Is the great adventurer afraid?"
"No," Chuck lied guiltily, trying not to focus on the fact that they were trapped within a mass of metal, rocketing skywards at incomprehensible speeds, their fate in the hands of some faceless pilot...
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned off the Fasten Seat Belt sign, and you may now move around the cabin..."
Chuck stole stealthy glances out the window, not moving to loosen her restraints as a refreshment cart rattled down their aisle. Upon arrival, the flight attendant smiled stiffly and offered them drinks.
"Red wine, scotch on the rocks, and the strongest shot you got," Lily ordered. "My daughter needs it for medicinal purposes."
"I do not."
"She does," Vivian insisted. "This is her first time on a plane."
"What? No way!" the redhead chirped, suddenly animated as she served them. "How old are you?" Before Chuck could answer, the girl paled, pressing a hand to her pretty face. "Oh, I am so sorry, that was rude!"
Chuck laughed limply. "No, I know it seems weird. I always wanted to fly but...I had these agoraphobic aunts that kept clipping my wings."
Lily and Vivian exchanged sheepish glances as the flight attendant continued blithely.
"Well hey, would you like to see the cockpit?"
"Um..." Chuck toyed with her belt buckle, torn between fear and excitement... "Is that allowed?"
"Not during the flight, no. But our Captain is a little more...relaxed than most. Maybe when we land?"
Chuck took a bracing breath, knowing that Charles Charles would never forgive her for missing this...
"Sure," she exhaled. "Take me to your leader..."
"Back from the dead, sleepyhead?"
Ned blinked obtusely as he shuffled downstairs, stunned by the unexpected cheer of his only employee. For her part, Olive bustled round the Pie Hole, behavior betraying no signs of a broken heart…
"Are we opening today?"
"Yep!" she said, leaning across the counter to wipe it down, her skirt hiking up slightly in the process. "Vacation is over, pie guy."
Ned nodded, grabbing an apron as he glanced around the spotless patisserie. "Where did Emerson go?"
"Home hopefully. I woke up and he was gone." She turned towards the fridge, eyes drifting over everything except him. "Say, we seem to be running low on sweetmeats. Storage room is stocked, right?"
The Pie Maker hesitated, watching and waiting for her to talk to him, instead of at him.
"Uh, it should be," he offered feebly, fumbling in his pockets for the keys. As he found them and unlocked the heavy black door, a proverbial light bulb lit up his mind: Olive had no idea how they stocked their fruit. Here lay the last of his magic tricks. And sharing it might make take her mind off…things…
"Ol, can I show you something?"
"Mm-hm?" the waitress murmured.
He gestured towards the room and she followed him in, brow furrowed…
"What the hay…?"
Ned winced bracingly as Olive surveyed the assortment of decaying strawberries, blueberries, apples and plums, stacked in barrels and bowls. She turned to him, green eyes wide.
"Is this why you always kept it locked?"
He nodded. "Sorry for not-"
She waved the apology away and scurried to a shelf. "Just show me, green fingers."
Ned pulled his hands out of his pockets and rubbed them together theatrically, hovering over a cluster of strawberries. He picked one up and they watched it redden and ripen, life coursing through it like a heartbeat.
"Wow," Olive giggled, plucking it from his fingertips. "Talk about recycling!" The Pie Maker laughed a little, relieved to see her smile. "So this is why you never eat meat, huh? I always thought you were herbivorous by choice..."
"Not exactly. I could touch it twice, but seeing animal corpses wriggle round on a plate tends to kill the appetite."
Olive grimaced, eyeing the strawberry. "Well, at least I can eat this in good conscience..."
With that she bit in, lips wrapping round the fleshy fruit and sucking at its see-
Ned blinked, as if snapping out of a trance, and realized that he had been staring rather rudely. He looked away awkwardly, listening for the sound that brought him back to his senses: a customer.
"Well," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Back to work."
She sighed and smiled. "You're the boss…"
They left the room with bunches of fruit in hand and as Ned locked the door behind them, he realized it had been over sixty minutes since he last thought of Chuck…
Emerson Cod- having cleared the cobwebs of fatigue from his mind and silenced the hungry grumbling of his stomach- sat knitting thoughtfully.
Over the past few years he had taken a begrudging liking to Ned. A liking that almost looked like friendship. Thus, he felt duty bound to protect the Pie Maker from himself. To keep him from ever finding out that his trigger finger was responsible for the Deadly Dozen.
Emerson never told white lies, preferring brutal honesty to soothing half-truths. But this was a special case. One he intended to solve on his own...
At that very moment, three sharp knocks sounded on the door.
Cod set his crocheted creation down, reached for his holster and had barely said "come in" before a man entered. He was similar to the PI in size; big and barrel-chested, with skunk-like hair streaked black and white.
"Afternoon," he said, shutting the door. "My name is Godfrey Gillard. I was told that you, and only you, could help me find out how my physically- if not mentally- healthy daughter dropped dead, along with eleven others."
The PI narrowed his eyes, not sure what to make of this stranger or his demeanour. "Come again?"
"My name is Godfrey Gillard. I was told that you-"
"Yeah, I got that," he said, standing slowly. "You say your daughter dropped dead, along with..." Eleven others. "Was she, by any chance, a member of the Poppy Temple People sect?"
"Cult, Detective Cod, let us be quite clear on that."
Emerson frowned. "My condolences, Mr-"
"Dr Gillard. But as far as I know the coroner came up with nothing."
"Well I want you to find out what the coroner could not," said Gillard, staring unblinkingly with beady black eyes. "My wife needs some sort of answer. Some form of closure."
The man shrugged a shoulder. "Gloria died the day she walked away from her family."
Emerson recoiled, trying and failing to mould his face into a mask of apathy. As a father fairly familiar with the pain of losing a daughter, he could not accept this attitude.
But there were more important matters to consider, facts that tugged urgently at the PI: Godfrey Gillard had questions. He thought Emerson would have answers. Someone sent him here. Who?
"My apologies, Dr Gillard, but I don't know what you want me to do."
"Your job," he stated, his face as still as a frozen lake. "I hear you're good at it. If that's true I will pay accordingly."
"Money ain't the issue," said Cod, surprising himself. "You want me to chase a ghost, Doc. But nothing I do will bring her back."
At that Gillard seemed to smile, so slightly Emerson wondered if he imagined it… "Thank you for your time, Detective. I'll be in touch." And with that he opened the door, disappearing through it before the PI could protest.
Emerson stood still, letting the last few minutes sink into his mind. Something wasn't right here. In fact, something was seriously wrong.
A/N: Dun dun DUUUUNNN!