The Last of August

Page 17

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Holmes’s gaze flicked over me, assessing. “You saw him last.”

“I did?”

“Leander. He wasn’t at dinner. Neither were you.”

I’d taken two pieces of bread from the kitchen and gone to my room, unable to face a room full of scrutinizing eyes. “I guess I wasn’t.”

“No, the two of you were—” She peered at my hands. “Chopping wood? Really, Watson?”

“It was an outlet,” I said. She was shivering, so I pulled the duvet from the bed to put around her shoulders.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she snapped, tossing it off. “I forgot that if we don’t talk about your feelings every few hours, you devolve into a hipster lumberjack. Never mind how I’m feeling.”

“Yes, in fact, never mind how you’re feeling. Because it’s so easy to talk to you while you’re hiding from me all day, playing your violin in invisible closets, barricading your door and pretending you’re not there. I’m a marvel of sensitivity compared to you. You’re the one who picks a lock and kicks out a chair to sleep on my floor.”

“I did not,” she said. “I climbed in through that window.”

The chair was, in fact, still under the doorknob. “Why? Can you even tell me why you came in here last night?”

“I wanted to see you. I didn’t want to talk to you. So I waited until you were sleeping.” She said it like I was a moron. “How is that hard to understand?”

“Come on, weirdo,” I said, but my voice came out strained. Despite her blithe words, her eyes were full of something that looked too much like pain, and I hated that I had caused it. I was causing it now, just standing here. “Let’s go find your uncle. He’s probably sweet-talking the gardener, or teaching the neighborhood squirrels to sing.”

He wasn’t in the garden. He wasn’t in the kitchen, or the parlor, or the room with the pool table that everyone, horribly, referred to as the “billiards room.” The marble floors were cold under my feet, and so I walked quickly after Holmes, who had wrapped herself in a long, trailing robe the color of dust.

“He might’ve gone to run errands in Eastbourne,” I said as we approached the front hall.

With a sigh, she gestured to the window overlooking the grounds. “Of course he hasn’t. It rained last night, and there aren’t any fresh tire tracks in the drive. We might as well ask my father. There’s more than one way to leave the house, and Leander might’ve been in a hurry. We don’t know everything he’s found out while he’s been here.” She took off again, this time up the stairs to her father’s study.

“Everything? You’ve been listening in?” I asked, hurrying to catch up.

“Of course I’ve been listening. What else is there to do in this miserable house?”

“You weren’t avoiding me? You were eavesdropping?”

She thought about that one. “I might have been doing both.”

“Whatever. Keep going.”

“From what I can tell, Leander’s been gathering information to bolster the persona he’s adopted in Germany. Which cartels have which connections, which low-rent artists are known to forge on the side, who has connections to other cities and which ones. He’s tracking two forgers in particular, a Gretchen, and someone named Nathaniel.” She frowned. “Though maybe that’s his current boyfriend. Or both? That would be fascinating.”

“Holmes. Leander? Disappearing?”

“Right. Well, I kept hearing that name through the vent, but not with enough context to figure out exactly who he was to my uncle.”

“The vent?”

Holmes swept around a corner. “The vent that leads from my closet up to my father’s study.” It made me remember her eerie, omnipresent violin, the way the sound had come from nowhere. It must have been snaking up through the air ducts as Holmes played in her closet. I imagined her in a nest of clothes on the floor, her head tipped back against the wall, playing a sonata with her eyes shut. “Still, none of this tells us anything we need to know at the moment. Ergo, my father.”

“Holmes,” I said. I did not want to deal with her parents if I didn’t have to. “Wait. Did he leave you a note? Have you checked your phone? He could already have explained it all.”

Frowning, she dug her phone out of the pocket of her robe. “I have a new message,” she said. “Five minutes ago. An unknown number.”

We stopped in the hallway, and she played it on speaker. “Lottie, I’m fine,” Leander said, all bluff cheerfulness. “I’ll see you soon.”

She stared down at it, unbelieving. She played it again.

“Lottie,” it said. “I’m fine. I’ll see you soon.”

“That isn’t from his number,” I said, peering at her screen. “Whose number is that?”

Holmes immediately hit the Call Back button.

The number you have dialed is disconnected. She tried again. Again. Then she flicked back to the message—“Lottie, I”—and before he could say the rest of it, she put the phone away. I could hear the tinny voice playing out of her pocket.

“That isn’t what he calls me,” she said. “He never— I need to see my father.”

In the hall that led to the study, the long line of paintings glowered down at us. I was just about to ask Holmes if she’d overheard anything else when the door at the end of the hall opened.

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