Connie hated remote controls. As the nadir of human design efforts, they represented a breed of device that tested the patience of even the most tech savvy of users. Tam, being considerate of her new teammate, had thought ahead however and rigged a more user friendly version of the standard remote by ripping off the keys which were never going to serve a useful purpose. That left only a few keys on the remote Connie was expected to control the various projectors and monitors she had at her disposal for the meeting, which made the whole presentation a more manageable problem.
“This is an impressive amount of information you’ve compiled on someone who we know nothing about,” Anna said, gesturing to the thick packet of information Connie had placed in front of them all.
“Thank you,” Connie said. “I know it’s probably too much to read through, so I thought we’d go through the summary page on top and you could ask questions from there. The rest of the packet is in case you need help falling asleep on the flight out.”
“Where are we going to be flying?” Val asked, skimming through the packet more care and attention to it than Connie had expected.
“Madrid,” Connie said. “At least if you all agree with the research I did.”
“I can promise you her research is solid,” Tam said. “These dossiers are bigger than the ones I usually give because she tracked down a ton of things I don’t usually look for.”
“We know so little about what’s actually going on I felt like I had to go pretty far afield,” Connie said.
“Why don’t you bring us up to speed then,” Anna said. “I gather that our previous mission included locating several individuals who were afflicted with an unusual disease?”
“The Living Husk effect is a curse rather than a disease, which means we can’t rely on the usual medical options for affecting a cure,” Connie said. “Instead we have to turn to the supernatural. I can claim I’ve brushed up against some magical things, but nothing like what you folks deal with regularly, so if I get any of the magic stuff wrong, please correct me.”
“No worries,” Tam said. “There’s a lot to take in there. I ask James to fact check for me all the time.”
“Ok, so, we’ve got about fifty seven people afflicted with a curse that they ingested when they were left to starve in a series of subterranean catacombs. The curse selectively shuts down their higher brain functions, and causes their bodies to appear withered, while at the same time sustaining them at full motor efficiency for an undetermined period without food, water, or sleep.”
“It sounds like that could have some useful applications,” Val said, looking up from the dossier.
“It could, if reversing the effect didn’t generally kill the victim,” Connie said. “But, thanks to Tam’s index, we’ve found a viable recipe for fixing the condition. Or rather we’ve got a line on a book which has a recipe like that. The only problem is that the book is lost.”
“Can we find another copy of it somewhere?” Val asked.
“According to the index? No,” Connie said. “The book we’re looking for was the personal journal of a Benedictine monk, and wizard, who traveled to New World in the 1600s. While there he roamed a lot farther than any official explorers traveled, and encountered the Living Husks during his passage across the Andes. His guides though they were a bad omen and confused them with a number of different demons and monsters, but Brother Davos saw the humanity that remained in the husks and managed to create a cure for the condition.”
“He didn’t leave any record of it?” Val asked.
“It’s not a strictly nature cure. The summary didn’t list much beyond the fact the meal requires a skilled wizard to prepare. Being a Benedictine monk, Brother Davos wasn’t terribly interested in spreading around the idea that he could also work magic, so the original journal is the only copy of the cure that the index knows of.”
“Does the index have a listing of all the books that have been made?” Val asked.
“No,” Tam said. “It’s only interested in books that contain information on magic and even then it’s far from complete. If a book’s not registered with the index directly, or recorded in a ledger the index can access, the index won’t have any connection to it. So there might be another copy of Brother Davos’ journal out there, there might even be a hundred, but we’ve got no leads on them if so.”
“That’s about typical isn’t it?” Val said and went back to reading.
“Fortunately we do have a lead on this copy,” Connie said. “It’s lost!”
“That sounds less like a lead and more like the definition of the absence of one,” Anna said. Connie expected her to look at Tam, but Anna didn’t. She was focused solely on Connie.
“I would agree, but the index knows where all of the books it catalogues are,” Connie said. “So a book that’s ‘lost’ wouldn’t be listed in the index, unless the book itself wasn’t lost, meaning it’s owner knows where it is. The lost designation doesn’t refer to the book therefore, it refers to the owner. Or at least that’s what I was able to piece together after talking with the book for a while.”
“They’re lost in Madrid?” Val asked.
“Yep, and since it’s kind of hard to be lost in a city these days, we had to look for another explanation beside ‘they’re roaming around the streets in a drunken stupor’,” Connie said. “It turns out asking the right questions is enough for the Index to solve that particular riddle.”
“You asked it what other books the owner had and where they were?” Val guessed.
“That was my first thought, although that didn’t give me the answer we were looking for,” Connie said. “It turns out they own books in several cities around the world. Kind of a disturbing number in fact.”
“Why disturbing?” Anna asked.
“Anyone wealthy enough to have multiple homes around the world should be wealthy enough to afford a smartphone with GPS to tell them how to get where they need to go,” Connie said. “A more likely alternative, in light of their wealth, was the possibility of their being kidnapped, possibly for ransom, or possibly for something relating to the book, since its apparently still with them.”
“Easy enough to believe,” Anna said. “Though Madrid’s not a particularly common spot for kidnappings to occur.”
“Only takes one to mess up a given person’s day,” Val said.
“It gets weirder,” Connie said. “The houses where the owner stores their other books don’t actually exist. At least not on this Earth.”
“And this is where we usually call in James,” Val said.
“Yep, he’s still working on tracking down what the story is with our missing person’s homes,” Connie said. “Since I couldn’t help with that, I kept digging and that’s how I turned up Madrid. See the other thing the index could do is say which book is closest to the book you’re asking about. I think it usually answers that in terms of content – basically suggesting a book that’s most like the one you asked about. In this case though it was able to tell us the closest physical book to the one we need, hence why we’re going to Madrid.”
“How precise was the index able to be?” Anna asked.
“I have a street address and apartment number,” Connie said.
“Jimmy B has our tickets ready I presume?” Anna asked.
“Two tickets for the next flight out and as many as we need for the one after that,” Tam said.
“Excellent. Connie, you’re with me. Let’s find our missing book and its owner,” Anna said.
The Madrid-Barajas Airport took more time to leave than it had taken the inbound flight to get there, though in a large part that was because both Anna and Connie made separate stops to help English speaking tourists navigate the confusion of one of the world’s largest international airports.
In one case, a bus load of children from New Jersey had somehow managed to get separated from their chaperones. The children weren’t displeased with this but the chaperones were in a panic until Anna helped them communicate with the airport staff. Reuniting with the children was more time consuming than expected as a resourceful young boy had taken it on himself to arrange transportation to their hotel, reasoning that the chaperones would find them there and it would be a fun joke to be the first to arrive.
The chaperones saw the matter in a somewhat less amusing light. With Anna’s help the found the children just as they were boarding a private shuttle which was being billed to one of the chaperones credit cards.
The other delay involved Connie playing translator for a group of women heading to a fabric arts tour of Spain. The customs official wasn’t happy with the crafting implements they brought and thought their story was suspicious until Connie was able to convey that they weren’t looking to travel around the countryside stabbing interesting people but rather looking for locally produced fabrics they could bring samples of back for their various projects.
“Now for a long slow drive into the city,” Connie said as they stepped into the car rental agency where Jimmy B had a vehicle waiting for them.
“Don’t worry about that,” Anna said. “I know a shortcut.”
Connie didn’t get motion sick. As far as she knew she was biologically incapable of experiencing motion sickness due to a quirk in how her inner ears worked. That still seemed to be true, but it didn’t really help make Anna’s driving any less terrifying.
“I get to drive back,” she said as she staggered out the car.
“Certainly,” Anna said, hiding a small smile. “If we wind up having a car to drive.”
“Why wouldn’t we have a car?” Connie asked.
“These sort of affairs tend to end unpredictably,” Anna said. “I like to avoid making assumptions, or getting my hopes up.”
“Fair enough,” Connie said, examining the building they’d parked beside. It was a newer structure for the road it was on, having been remodeled within the last six months from what Connie’s research turned up.
The remodeling had cost a small fortune. Since it’s owner had several large fortunes that hadn’t proved to be a problem, but Connie had to question his taste. The accents and styling of the buildings sharp angles and harsh color palette screamed of a need to be noticed and recognized as special in the same manner than a five year old might make that demand.
“It’s nice to see that Santiago hasn’t changed in the last twenty years,” Anna said, clicking the automatic locks on the car as she headed towards the front door.
“I still can’t believe that you know Santiago Martin,” Connie said. “Or that he’s the one who owns this place. I was only able to track it back to a holding company.”
“Santiago has a complicated relationship with taxes and personal liability,” Anna said. “When I knew him, he was still creating the layers of isolation that were required to allow him retain the phenomenal wealth he’d inherited.”
“You said you worked in finance before being part of the club. Is that how you knew him?” Connie asked.
“No, we met through a mutual friend who thought we would hit it off,” Anna said. “Nothing ever came of it though. Santiago was charming, but not the right kind of charming I’m afraid.”
“Will he remember you?” Connie asked.
“I should hope so,” Anna said. “If not for me he’d be in a Polish prison still.”
“What had he done wrong then?” Connie asked.
“Not kidnapping,” Anna said. “Which means if he has indeed abducted our book owner, this will be a new venture for him, but it seems out of character for the man I knew.”
She knocked on the door and the speaker next to it squawked to life.
“Yes?” a burly voice asked in Catalan.
“We’re here to see Santiago,” Anna said. “Please tell him Anna Ilyina and a guest are here.”
“One minute,” the man said.
Precisely sixty seconds later the door opened. Inside stood three armed men with automatic weapons pointing at Anna.
“Oh good, he does remember me,” she said.