Chapter Five: Tibo
Tibo had no idea why Sean was whispering to his band mates. He was, what? Five feet away? But everyone was tiptoeing around him like he was deathly ill or something.
"It's only three more cities. Won't kill us to cancel." Eck said in a more normal tone. "He's all in, Sean. He can't keep going like this."
"Cancel them, Sean," Rolly said with finality. "He's headed for a breakdown if we don't. We've all been pushing too hard, but he's at his limit."
"He's right here!" Tibo waved his arms from his spot on the couch. "I'm not dead and I'm not deaf!"
Rolly fixed him with a stern look. "Sean, go start on cancellations. Dave, get on the phone to room service. Breakfast. Lots of it. Before Tibo faints from low blood sugar."
"Eck, get your husbands up and see if they want to join us. Let's get everyone in one place."
Tibo stood so he could poke Rolly in the chest. "Who put you in charge?"
"Crisis situation, Ti. I'm staging a coup." Infuriatingly, Rolly patted his shoulder and planted a kiss on top of his head. "Sit down and rest."
"Wait. No. There was something…" Tibo flailed and finally latched onto what it was. "Sean! I want a name and number for Shandi's family. Address, maybe. Something."
Sean turned tired, harried eyes on him. "Ti, you can't get involved in this."
"I'm not getting involved. I just want to make sure the family's okay. Please? For my peace of mind?" If he let his voice quaver, it wasn't all faking, though he did slump against Rolly as if standing up had become a chore.
"I'll see what I can do. Give me a bit." Sean trundled out with his various marching orders, shaking his head.
"Sit, you manipulative little tyrant." Rolly gave Tibo a not-entirely-gentle shove back to the couch. "We're going to have a nice quiet morning. Family breakfast, everyone relaxed. There will be no drama, no shouting and no deaths, even if it kills me."
"And he calls me a tyrant," Tibo muttered, but he flopped back onto the couch and pulled a blanket up around him. Tired. Just gonna rest.
When he woke up again, everyone had crowded around the coffee table that groaned under a massive breakfast and several carafes of coffee. Eck, who had won the marriage lottery with one adorable little kobold, Dieter, as husband number one, and a heartbreakingly beautiful nymph, Paulie, as husband number two, had commandeered the loveseat for the three of them. Dave sat on the floor, on the phone with his wife, Suzy, if the nauseating cooing was any indication, and Tibo had somehow ended up sprawled half in Rolly's lap.
Some over-wound spring inside Tibo uncoiled as Sean came back in to join the feast. Family. He might've lost his first one years ago, but the one he'd built was the fortress that allowed him to keep going.
"I have the contact info you wanted, Ti," Sean said between bites of cream-cheese stuffed French toast.
"Good. I'm going to see her this afternoon."
* * * * *
The building where Shandilevinar Kass had lived was predictably shabby. Not the worst one on the block, but a tired, aging tenement that looked like it wanted to lie down for a last nap. Tibo checked the address one last time before he climbed the broken, crumbling stone stairs to the front door.
There had been a lot of arguing, especially about him going alone. But Tibo was going to go see a single goblin mom in a goblin neighborhood. The band and Sean finally had to accept that everyone involved would be more comfortable this way.
The elevator didn't work, so Tibo took dingy, poorly lit stairs to the fifth floor. The place reminded him uncomfortably of where his family had lived when he was small. At the correct apartment, he knocked softly and the door opened on the chain, while a bloodshot goblin eye peeked timidly out at him.
"Yes, ma'am. Mom Kass?"
She nodded and closed the door so she could remove the chain and usher him in. "You didn't have to."
"I ken but I— It's right to do. I was last she logged with." So many years trying to rid himself of the shortened phrasing of goblin slang, and here he was, sliding right back into it like a comfy shoe.
"I ken." She gazed up at him, surprising Tibo since so few people had to, and waved wearily to the ratty sofa. "Sit. Log with me a 'mo. Nice you came."
He perched on the edge of the dilapidated piece of furniture, afraid if he sat back, he might break it, and accepted the fennel tea she offered. Such an old-school gob thing. Fennel tea. But it was a scent ingrained in his DNA and he would never have considered refusing it.
"So sorry," he murmured as she sat in a plastic chair.
She shrugged, the gesture hopeless and spare. "None of your fingers in it. No reason for sorry."
He nodded, acknowledgement and solidarity. "Mom Kass, hap you ken why Shandi flitted last night? She squirrel on you?"
The grieving mother shook her head, silver flashing in her shining black hair. "Hap I don't. Good girl, my Shandi. Honors. Teachers always say she's no fool. Didn't ken she was gone until the beaters banging on my door."
Good gods. Middle of the night, police knocking, she must have been scared out of her mind. They couldn't call? "They tell you any?"
"Speck or two." She sipped her tea, obviously struggling, her dark eyes wet with the tears she held back. "Mostly asked. Did Shandi do drugs? Trouble in school? Told them. Go look. Ask the school. Why skeeter me with things like that when my child is dead? You tell me."
He told her, in halting sentences, about what he had witnessed and the little Shandi had said. "She kenned me. Her last words…"
A smile tugged at Mom Kass's lips. "Of course she kenned you. Come peep."
They both put their tea down and Tibo followed her down a narrow hallway to a room that would've been a linen closet in a larger house. Typical for a goblin child with a shelf bed and a den underneath with Shandi's computer. He recognized the model as one the schools gave to gifted poor kids. A concert poster, Tibo in his black leathers, head flung back as he sang, was taped up on the ceiling.
"Oh. Clears that then." A flush of embarrassment surprised him followed by a wave of sorrow. Shandi had been whip smart, but still a typical kid, collecting little treasures in her room, following her favorite bands. "The beaters? They check her files?"
Again the little shrug. "No. Never asked."
"Mom Kass, I know it's abnormally. But I'm asking. Could I cart it with me? Peep through some things?"
She patted his arm, her voice heavy with sorrow. "You cart it, Tibo. Better you than the beaters."