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§7 Enigma HQ

       We sat for while in semi-drunken silence, one of those silences that that just keeps counting. Jesse, immortal? Not even my Jesse. Some other one, with a completely different history. It was hard to wrap my mind around. 
      Inside my head, Jesse too was silent. I couldn’t read how he was taking it. The shock had to be tremendous, though. At last he spoke to me internally.
      “Oct, I guess I am going to be going for a bit. There are some things I need to figure. I’ll be in Malo, or thereabouts. Leave a note in the Sacred Cow if you or Miss Andrews can’t reach me. Oh, and Oct. Try not to get in any more gun fights, at least ‘til I get back,” he said with a grin.
      Yeah, Jean, following Jesse was how I found the Outbact originally. He would vanish every so often, sometimes for a week or more. Wouldn’t answer the tether. Andrews was the one who guessed in the end that he must be dream-walking, leaving my body to visit the bridge lands on his own. 
      He had a crew there too. The Others. Some lost souls, some down and out Jann, and a shockingly fat river spirit named Bear. Never found out what they were up to. The only thing I ever saw them do was lounge about in these broke down tin shacks on the outskirts of town, smoking opium and playing Badugi, whining about the bad old days.
       It was weird, seeing him after all those years of being just a voice in my head. Seeing him in the spirit, if not the flesh. We stood there a few feet apart, just staring at each other, sharing a “you know that I know that you know” sort of look. Only a practitioner could have dream-walked there. Eventually he just grinned, and grabbed my hand, shaking it with both of his.
      “Okay, Jesse. Until then,” I said. I wanted to say more, but nothing would come out.
      I felt something like a terse nod, and then he was gone.
      “Rooms are already made up, you two. Just straight down the hall, take whichever you like. I need to go down to the cellar for a bit,” said Laurent, standing.
      To check on the prisoners, no doubt.
      I nodded, and we called it a night.
       “Andrews, can you book us a couple of flights to London?” I asked when I was alone. Or as alone as I ever get at least.
      “And a hotel, Oct?” she said.
      Any place other than Enigma HQ, she meant.
      “You don’t have to talk to him, Letty,” I said. That is her first name. Leticia. 
      Andrews sighed. “Oh but I do. You know I do. I wish I didn’t, but I do. Lord save me from “sweet” guys. Especially when they’re sweet on me,” she said. Exasperated.
      “Letty, you…” I started.
      She cut me off.
      “We need information, Oct. Something about this isn’t right. The Labyrinth moves seem too precise somehow. Almost prescient. Too aware of what Enigma is, and how they operate. They have to have someone on the inside. Or several for that matter,” she said.
      Yeah, prophetic I suppose. I had wondered about it myself. Who Guarded what hunk of junk was far from common knowledge even in the organization, much less to any of the independents. I knew that they had to have a serious source of information at the very least, magical or otherwise.
      “Wilfred is not just at the center of this. He is the center. The Council, they are not going to trust you with any real information. You basically walked out on them. For all they know you could be at the heart of it, the attack on you staged for An’s benefit. So they will milk you dry, but say nothing, is my guess. But Wilfred – Wilfred hears everything, Oct,” she said.
      “Well at least save me some caviar,” I said. Last time we were there, while I was checked out overnight, Wilfred had feted her more or less from dusk ‘til dawn, tray after tray of fine wine, delicacies, chocolate, cognac. I woke up with all the aftereffects of that little indulgence, but none of the pleasure sadly. Just empty bottles and crumbs. Some damn nice bottles too. I sometimes wonder if he kept it all on reserve just in case she shows up.
      “Ugh. Not an issue. I don’t even like regular eggs, much less rotten fish ones,” she said.
      “Well I won’t let it go to waste, I promise you. Andrews, I'm completely blown. Wake me if you need me. Also, don’t feel like you have to take one for the team here. We can always figure out this information some other way,” I said.
      “Well, the wine is not bad, to be fair,” she said with a laugh, “I just wish he wasn’t so moonstruck.”
      I gave her the keys to car with a flip of the coin, and checked out to the land of nod. 
      My chest ached terribly when I woke up. It felt like I could feel every line, every poke of the needle from yesterday. The ink seemed heavy somehow, and still fluid, swishing around just inside my skin. It wasn’t pleasant. 
      I checked my phone, the flight information was already in my email. Morning flight, but we wouldn’t need to rush. I found An’s room and gave her the schedule, then we went into the living room. Laurent wasn’t around. He had however left an oval silver tray of food on the table, a breakfast of some sort of porridge with honey and big bowl of dates. There was also a note written in his large flowing hand, the first letter elaborately illuminated with strands of ivy by way of a signature, in case I was worried someone had forged the thing, I guess. Or just to show off.
      “In the desert. This is my private number. Don’t leave it so long next time, you’re dying. Safe trip. LL”
      An saw the number and said, “You mean we could have just done this whole thing over the phone!?” 
      “Didn’t even know he had one,” I replied, to which she just groaned.
      She is not exactly a morning person.
      A couple hours later found us back in the Palm Springs airport. Then San Diego, and then direct to Heathrow, business class, happily.  An, who is never without some sort of game, had some old rubber banded collectible card decks in her bag – Shaman Chief or something – so we passed the time that way. Nora, Callum, and a couple of the other tenants love cards, so after a few games I just snoozed and let them play.
      It was close to a day later that we dragged ourselves through customs. A car was, of course, waiting, the balding driver holding up a large sign that read, “Wells, and company.” I am sure he would have been shocked to know exactly how much company.
      An had called ahead, so two fresh faced Watchers were waiting outside to welcome us when we got there. I didn’t recognize either of them – someone’s kids probably. You know how it was at the time – practically Mafioso. You were either family, or you were on the outside. 
      We stepped inside the small foyer, our shoes sending up echoes from the marble floor. The old electric lights on the wall seemed very dim after the brightness of midday, but then it has always seemed pretty dark in there to me. Even in the library, with those huge chandeliers. Maybe it is just the lack of windows. Maybe it was those corridors, that fading floral pattern seeming repeating off to infinity, that just sucks all the light out. Or seems to, at least.
      The older one, Jessica I think, handed us today’s map, which was already turning brown and was hard to make out. The younger one, I forget her name, gave us each a placard and long pin. My placard was set in an expensive wooden jewel case. The pin was set with a decent size ruby and was likely antique. An’s pin looked like it had just popped out of a cheap sowing kit. I recall being impressed at how well they masked their embarrassment at the discrepancy.
      “Your rooms are marked… there. In red. Should be stable enough for the next day or so. Sort of a full house so there weren’t two adjacent, I’m afraid,” said Jessica.
       “Nine lefts from anywhere should get you to the main dining hall. Three rights and a left for the loo,” said Jessica, ”But you probably already know all that. If you need anything, you can tell Master Wilfred and someone will bring it to you.”
      “Thanks,” we said in unison. They waved, then set off down the corridor, their heads down as they tried to pick out their destination on the maps in their hands.
       I twirled the placard over a few times in my hand, without focusing on it. When I was a kid, I had loved this place. The adventure of it, of never going the same way twice, of never knowing what was around the next turn. Right now, though, I just wanted to find my room and have Wilfred ship us a decent bottle or two. Still, it had been so much fun. And the library! Even in my reduced state, thinking about that library made my heart race.
      “Just do it already!” snapped Andrews in my head.
      “So eager! Don’t worry, Letty, you have a whole night ahead of you,” I replied. 
      She would have hit me if she could, I am sure.
      Relenting, I pricked my finger with the $100,000 pin, which still hurt despite all that glitter, and smearing it on the circle in the center of the placard. You know the drill. A few seconds later, the placard began to smoke. It never really leaves your nostrils, that smoke. Thick, black, oily. Looks like is should sink instead of float. But I did what you do, and inhaled it. An had done hers too – I saw her leaned up against the old wood paneling, waiting for him to come, her pupils dilated.
      No, you’re not the first person who has asked this, my friend.  Wilfred’s voice, in your head, was nothing like the voice of my tenants. It was a lot less, well, personal I guess. And large. Really large somehow. Which is not too surprising I guess.
      “Octavian! Welcome! We were all so worried!” said Wilfred. “And Leticia! It has been so long! You still remember your old friend, Wilfred, I hope?”
      “It would be hard to forget,” said Andrews, rather dryly.
      “Well I have saved the best of everything for you!” he said, then added quickly, “For the both of you! Just step inside me and you will see!”
      But we were already inside, of course. Inside Wilfred, the House Unfixed. Inside Enigma HQ.

Part 8. "Vault"