This is the beginning of a very bizarre idea that popped into my head today. The idea itself doesn’t quite make it into the text, but the character it created does.
The door was opened by a man whose suit and loose tie gave me the impression that he was, in fact, the man who had called me and thus the owner of the house, so I skipped the “Are they in?” routine and went straight to the introduction. “Rhiannon Pearce, supernatural plague investigator.” (In this business, we don’t talk about being an exterminator; supernatural plagues aren’t sapient near as often as the customers assume they are, but enough of them seem harmless and even personable until the point of no return that we feel we need to sidestep the potential hesitation due to compassion.) I extended a hand to shake; he took it. Strong but a bit shaky; since he was asking for my services, nerves rated somewhere between “highly probable” and “foregone conclusion”. “And this is Lyn, my assistant,” I added, tilting my head to indicate my right shoulder, and the gray rat perched thereon. He took her presence calmly, particularly as she was wearing her embroidery floss harness, but kept an eye on her as he welcomed us in.
There was glitter on the floor of the entry hall. “I keep telling Martina to clean up, but…” my host said apologetically, attempting to sweep it under the rug with his shoe. I shook my head and leaned down to collect a sample. Glitter on its own, in a house with a seven year old girl, isn’t necessarily evidence of a problem. It’s more dubious when it’s as fine as this, with specks that look more like pearlescent dust than like the little square sparkles of my misspent youth, but manufacturers have been refining their product for years; they already make the stuff. Even knowing what they’re imitating probably wouldn’t make them stop. Lyn ran down my arm to investigate the remainder; as her nose slipped in just above the sparkling pile, she sneezed. Not a good sign—but not a bad way of ingratiating her to the host, either. Even people who shrink away from rats have been known to find it adorable when she sneezes.
“She does art projects like this a lot?”
“Yes, absolutely. Our glue budget….”
“Say no more. Does she usually do them in here?” I let Lyn run back up my arm as I asked him, and stood up. Eye contact was next to impossible from down here.
“I don’t think so,” he said. He colored slightly, and didn’t quite meet my eye. Most people would assume he was hiding something. It wasn’t impossible—I don’t know of any enemies I’ve made in my time as a plague investigator, but traps aren’t unheard of in this business—but it was just as likely that he was embarrassed about not being familiar enough with his daughter to know where she did her crafting.
It would be best to eliminate the most likely possibility first. At least, I hoped I could eliminate it.