Alice was starting to regret giving up that drink. She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there going through the photos, but the sun was setting, and the light coming in through the windows was growing dim and taking on a reddish hue. Alice stood. She was hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything since before she got on the plane that morning, and her body was protesting.
She had trained herself to handle going hungry for lengths of time, to ignore her needs so she could focus on the job. But it was foolishness to do that when she didn’t have to. And from the reception she had gotten here, it seemed like they were expecting her to face something serious, and she should make sure she was rested, full, and hydrated for whatever that was going to involve. Alice wasn’t exactly going to take a nap here just yet, but she could at least deal with her hunger and thirst. Looking around at the state of the sitting room, Alice thought longingly about the restaurants she had passed up to get here more or less on time. Well, they would at least have water she hoped.
There was a closed door set into the wall. Alice set the photos down on the end table and walked over to try the handle. It was locked, and she could feel the cold radiating off of it, like the storm brewing outside was also in the next room. She backtracked out to the hallway and walked down to the next entryway past the stairs.
The kitchen was well appointed and well kept, complete with an island, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops. Alice was taken aback. Bruce was sitting, reading a newspaper in a small breakfast nook where light from the setting sun was streaming in through bay windows. He had a glass of wine in front of him, along with a half empty bottle next to it. He looked over the paper at Alice as she stepped into the room, then went back to reading. Alice had a few follow up questions for him, but he didn’t look like he was going anywhere; she could ask him after she got some food.
The refrigerator was exceptionally well stocked; someone had gone to great lengths to fill it with healthy food that was also easy to eat. Bruce didn’t seem to notice or care about her ransacking the fridge, so Alice helped herself to whatever looked filling. She took two hard boiled eggs from a bowl, along with a container of yogurt and cut carrot sticks. There were bottles of water, and she helped herself to two of them. This was the board part of the room and board deal, right?
Next to the fridge was another shut door, positioned so that whatever room was off the sitting room she couldn’t get to was behind it. She could feel the cold coming off it, just like the other one. Alice set her assembled snacks down on the counter and opened one of the bottles of water, taking a swig before speaking. “Bruce.”
He folded the top of the paper down, revealing his black eyes and reddening bald head and looked at her. “Hmmm?”
“What’s through this door?”
“Why is it locked?”
“So nobody goes in there.” He unfolded the paper as though that was the end of the conversation.
Alice tried to keep the irritation from showing in her voice. She couldn’t tell how successful she was. “Bruce, what is it about the dining room that makes you want to keep people out of it?”
Bruce folded down the paper again and did nothing to conceal the irritation in his voice. “Hmmm. You think if I was gonna tell you that I woulda said just now when you just asked. Hmph.” He put the paper back up between them. “It’s off limits. that’s all you need to know for now.”
Alice started to say something, then stopped herself. She considered her options, and none of them were particularly appealing. Her first instinct was to cross the kitchen and show Bruce what happens when she isn’t treated with respect. But she didn’t know where he stood with Esther. She could push him on the issue, but he had made clear he wasn’t going to answer, and she suspected he would just piss her off more. And then she might really do something stupid. She grit her teeth and turned back to her food.
She opened drawers until she found a spoon, and started to eat her yogurt, thinking. “Bruce, did a package come for me?”
Bruce didn’t lower the paper. “Yeah. It’s in your room.”
Alice finished her yogurt in silence, then took the rest of her bottle of water and left the kitchen in silence. The stairs were hardwood and creaked as she walked up them. At the top, the hallway stretched out ahead of her, doors staggered on either side, all closed, before ending in the open door to a bathroom at the end of the hall. Alice walked down, listening, and not hearing a thing coming from any of the doors she passed. The hallway was dark, even with the electric sconces set into the walls between the doors.
As she approached the door to the room. Her room, the third one on the right, she could see that the hallway didn’t end with the bathroom. It branched out in either direction, but she would explore later, after she had inventoried her things and saw where she would be sleeping.
Like everything else she had encountered so far in this god forsaken city, the door handle was cold, but it turned easily and door swung inward. Inside, the room was sparsely appointed, much like the hallway. The walls were bare of pictures, but there were two wall sconces, one next to the door and one on the opposite wall, between two windows, set above a small desk with a simple chair. She shut the door behind her and turn the lights on. They slowly buzzed into life, and filled the wood paneled room with light. Against the wall on her left was a bed, made, complete with comforter. On top of it was a large box. Looking out the window, she could see the skyline of the city.
Alice paused to reflect on why her new employer would give her a room with the view. Not thinking of anything, she shrugged to herself and stepped over to the package on the bed. Alice pressed the edge of a nail into the tape and listened to the pop as she pulled the flap back to open the box. In here were most of the things she thought she might need, but which she didn’t want to try to explain to airport security. And she didn’t want them sitting around to be collected by the police if the police wound up searching the house. For all Alice knew, Esther really was the murderer. Or Bruce, for that matter. She didn’t have enough information.
She pulled the items out of the box and set them on the bed. It was a heavy package. Her silk underclothes were on top, nearly impossible to cut, useful for keeping her from getting incidental scrapes and for popping out the stray buckshot that might find its way to ricochet back at her in close quarters. They were surprisingly warm, too. More useful now than she had anticipated when she packed them.
Her kevlar vest was next. It was heavy, but good for taking the direct hits. It wouldn’t stop anything more powerful than a handgun. Anything more powerful, and the vest would only really be good for keeping her organs inside her corpse. Still, if she was going to get shot, she’d rather be wearing it than not. The thought reminded her of what had happened to Janice and she put it out of her head.
Her infrared goggles were in the package, useful for night vision, and for some limited ability to look through walls. It was a battery hungry device, so she really couldn’t use it for long.
Her matte black .45 was packed, in the shoulder holster. Two boxes of hollow point ammo were tucked in with it, and a small plastic case with six silver bullets inside. She didn’t know if silver bullets were something she would ever need, but they were a gift from Ed, so she had kept them with the gun. Alice didn’t like guns much, but being able to respond to a threat at range was useful. “Besides,” she said to herself, “It’s like a condom. Better to have and not need than the other way around.” And anyway, she did like the feel of the .45. A high caliber weapon that hits hard and leaves a big hole will work pretty well on anything. She set the gun on the bed.
At the bottom of the box, she had a few cases. One contained a of knives for utility and combat, including a multitool that she immediately pocketed. Another case had a set of lock picks and tension rods. The last held her taser and two extendable batons. She set them all on the bed and looked over her assembled gear. “Well, I’m not batman.”