Chapter Nine: Tibo
Tibo woke with a jerk, sprawled on his front with his phone buzzing beside his pillow. He fumbled for it and managed to knock it to the floor.
"Fuck…fuck…" He leaned over the bed for it, half fell out, and ended up sitting on the floor. Not my bedroom. Not a regular hotel. Steady. Breathe. "'Lo?"
"Who's asking?" Right. Larch Top or whatever the cute B & B was called. That's where he was.
"You called me," the voice purred and his static-twitching brain connected it to the Pearl person he'd called earlier.
"Yeah. Sorry. Sorry. Fell asleep." Tibo scrubbed a hand hard over his face as if that would help him wake up. "Can we meet?"
The answer was curt and abrupt. "No."
"What the f—" Tibo didn't even get out the curse. He was speaking to a disconnected phone. "Well, nice to meet you, too, I'm sure."
He crawled around on the floor a bit to find his shoes, remembering something about tea being served at four. Tea meant more than just tea, right? At least in a hotel? Tibo sighed as he managed to clamber back to his feet. Not that he minded visiting London. He liked the city, but this trip had been a waste of time.
Mrs. Doncaster fussed over him with tea and milk, sandwiches and cookies that she called biscuits, telling him he was too thin and he needed a bit of feeding up to put some proper green back in his cheeks. He did manage a smile for her and felt better to have someone to talk to, someone who wasn't trying to suck up or get something from him. When he told her that he was a musician, she simply said it must be a terribly exciting life. She had no idea who he was.
While Tibo was enjoying his second cup, a young woman entered the room and sat down across from him. In a gray business suit with brown hair pulled back, she was unremarkable in every way. She placed a folded piece of paper on the table between them, snagged a biscuit, and left without a word.
Flabbergasted, Tibo picked up the paper and unfolded it to read:
Hyde Park. Achilles
"Mrs. Doncaster?" He called out, finding his hostess in the front lobby. "A…friend wants to meet. Does this mean anything to you?"
"Of course, love. You scurry across Cumberland Gate to the park and take that first path to the left. Just keep on until you near the other side. You'll see Achilles with his great shield. Though I do feel bad for him in this weather, poor old dear."
"Well, they made him without any clothes, didn't they?" She tsked, shaking her head and admonished Tibo to wear a coat if he was going out.
Damn nice for a city park. Tibo stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked as quickly as he could without looking out of place amid the strolling park visitors. He felt a little pang of regret that it wasn't spring with all the beds promising blooms everywhere. As Mrs. Doncaster had said, Achilles was difficult to miss, rising from the landscape on his huge plinth. He stopped nearby, puzzled. There weren't any benches where someone might be waiting. Certainly wasn't anywhere to sit around the statue itself.
He walked around the monument and finally spotted an unlikely someone sitting in a camp chair in the grassy area nearby. The lovely mahogany skin and eerily glowing violet eyes marked the person as djinn, and as with many djinn, gender was ambiguous. Zhe wore a long, tailored gray skirt and jacket, and a sapphire blue top hat with a canary yellow band. For djinn, every color worn sent a specific signal from gender preference in sexual partners to profession and social standing. Tibo felt horribly ignorant not knowing much beyond whether a djinn liked boys or girls, but the whole matrix of combinations made his head hurt.
"Misc.?" Tibo said as he approached cautiously. "Were you expecting someone?"
"You, my dear." The djinn smiled, showing perfect, dazzlingly white teeth. "Come sit by me."
A second camp chair appeared, and Tibo could've sworn that wasn't there before. Reality got a little skewed around djinn sometimes, though. He sat gingerly, half expecting the chair to dematerialize out from under his ass.
"You're Misc. Pearl?"
"No offense, but that was kinda rude. Hanging up on me."
"Mmm. Yes. It was." Pearl turned to face him and the smile vanished. "Nothing over the phone lines, dear boy. You don't have a secure line and someone is always listening. Meerah says you have something to show me."
"I do? Oh…yeah." Tibo struggled to get his phone out of his pocket. Damn tight jeans. "It's a picture, though. On my phone."
"If you have managed to keep it on your phone and not share it across half the world, then it's simply data." Pearl held out an elegant, manicured hand. "Show me."
Tibo swiped over to the correct set of images, he'd managed two as the car sped away, and sat fidgeting while Pearl stared at the screen.
Finally, zhe handed the phone back. "Give me a few days. I'll contact you."
"A few days to what? You don't even have a copy of the pics."
The blinding smile returned. "You're adorable. I have it. Don't worry." Zhe rose and, since he did have some manners, Tibo scrambled to his feet. The camp chairs vanished. "London is a lovely place to be a tourist. I hope the weather holds for you."
Zhe meandered away, out of sight behind the Achilles statue, and Tibo took the hint. He'd been dismissed. The wind picked up as he headed back toward Larch Top, making him wish he'd brought actual luggage and some warmer clothes. He thought he'd be in London for a day, maybe two, but now? He had no fucking clue how long his stay would be. Irritated by all the secrecy and sneaking around, he stopped in at a couple of nice men's shops nearby and picked up a few changes of everything, some better gloves, and a heavy, selkie-knit sweater.
The streets were busy this time of day. Maybe they always were. With Larch Top in sight, Tibo had to scramble out of the way of bikes as he crossed the street and around a pack of yelling movers who were lifting furniture up to a fourth floor apartment. Flat. They called them flats here, didn't they?
As he was ducking around the last movers, a shout and a sickening crack came from overhead. The workers scrambled toward the street, yelling something at Tibo that he couldn't understand. Some change in air pressure made him flatten himself against the wall of the building as a huge, oak armoire crashed to the ground, sending up shards of wood and cracking the sidewalk in the exact spot he'd been standing.
Holy fucking troll balls.