Vlad grabbed Lord Axel's arm and steadied him. Nastasya took his other arm all the way through the maze, then made him grab the railing and walked down backwards in front of him. The big armored Cyborg seemed to find something funny in the whole procession.
Clearly he knows Lord Axel well, and apparently all those horrible movies with the Special Forces Cyborgs having nicknames was based on facts, except everyone had them. From "the Boss" through "Igor." The Inquisitor was never addressed by name, either.
Pig and Tiger were peeling out with the beacon as they got to the front doors. Apparently the arrival of the troops, followed by an Inquisitor was enough to clear the Grand Hall, even of door men.
Forty-one stirred when he spotted him.
Vlad shook his head. "Should I send the cops home? Are you guys taking over?"
"Probably, but leave them for now, no need for us to repeat work already done. We'll talk to them and send them home." Murph grabbed Lord Axel's arm and marched him out the front doors.
Vlad glanced up and spotted half the staff glued to the windows. They're probably sure Lord Axel and Nastasya have been arrested, and maybe even me.
Lord Axel snorted. "Whole different investigational aim, now. Well, I was not looking forward to having to dig for a few receipts . . . now I'm going to be digging for . . . every little detail. 8673 Canyon Drive. It's just east of Juniper."
Vlad did a double take . . . that's . . . next door to my parents, the house that occasionally shows lights but is empty most of the time. Mom calls it mystery house, and Dina thinks her favorite fictional character lives there.
I remember it was pretty decrepit for awhile, then it got fixed up--probably when Lord Axel bought it. And only used it occasionally.
And Dad . . . was he being coy about "I always wondered what happened to that boy . . ." No. I think he genuinely doesn't know that Lord Axel is . . . not actually living there, but these week long absences are looking a whole lot like he really wasn't out chasing women.
Damn. I totally misread this man . . .
And luckily at two in the morning not too many neighbors will see a big black armored military vehicle drop a neighbor, a pretty woman, and a staggering drunk off at the wrong house.
Or maybe they all will. There are so very many nosy old ladies on that street.
But the big vehicle was actually rather quiet, and coasted up to stop at the house he'd walked and driven past a million times.
The houses had all been individually designed, and built into their bit of the jagged cliffs, fifty to sixty feet tall. This house had a garage and possibly workrooms or servant's quarters on the ground floor, then three floors above. He'd always wanted to see if there was an actual yard on a cliff ledge, as it had looked from the street.
He took Lord Axel's elbow and steadied him up the broad steps to the front door. Where the man shoved at the door and frowned. Looked at his wrist. "Oh damn. I fried my watch." Then popped open the panel and tapped in a code. Locks clicked and the door gave to a shove.
"Home again. Whoop-de-do."
Nastasya wrinkled her nose. "What?"
"That signals the security system that you're friends." Lord Axel flopped onto the couch. "You'll have to do the self-guided tour. Your host is incapacitated."
Nastasya grinned and headed for the stairs. Murphy followed her and Vlad shrugged and joined the parade.
The second floor was obviously unused, but it did have a door out to a small yard , as he'd suspected. The third floor was open plan, bed, a couch looking out over the lights of the city, an office nook defined by the wall of the fancy bathroom, and on the other side of the bathroom a door to a small patio, rough cliff walls opening to the view over the city again.
Nastasya was digging in the closet and pulled out a jacket. The high necked, thigh length, black with gold embroidery, full formal wear for the highest of the high. "Wow. I've never seen him really dress up. He rarely went to the high class parties."
Murph looked around and shook his head at the bed. "The perfect bachelor's pad and he doesn't have a super sized bed? The man's weirder than I'd thought."
Vlad nodded. "I've got bloody whiplash. In twenty-four hours I've gone from thinking 'cold-blooded money-grabbing snake' to 'nice fellow trying to save his cousins' financial future' to 'secret agent.' Of what, I'm not sure I ought to ask, and even less sure I'd get an honest answer."
Nastasya put the jacket away. "We knew he was a strong Mentalist, but we just thought he was marking time until he was fifty." She eyed the big Cyborg. "We didn't expect . . . this."
"Heh. Yeah. And no good asking me where he falls in the heirachy. The man's . . . fluid and hard to pin down. But he started low and climbed fast." Murph chuckled, and headed down the stairs. "I always figured he was no-show exec. Obviously not a Lord. And now? I'm going to have start being respectful."
"Ha!" From the couch. "I'll believe that when I see it."
Yes, friends and battle companions.
Lord Axel groaned and pried himself upright. "That's the front door. I hope it's just neighbors . . . actually I hope it not neighbors, the only ones I've met are nice people with a handicapped daughter . . ."
He's met Mom and Dad! And Dina?
Lord Axel grabbed Murphy's extended arm and teetered to his feet and over to the door. Peered through the spyhole. "The daughter had a bad grow in and no matter what, please remember that's she basically a nice little girl who is at my door with her poor parents rushing up to nab her." He pulled the door open.
"Red and Brown!" Dina threw herself at Lord Axel, wrapping her arms around him. "I didn't know you were here!"
"Oww! Please stop! I sort hurt myself today."
"Oh! Oh!" Wide eyed and flinching back. "I saw my brother and came to tell him I remembered how to talk!"
Vlad blinked. "So I see . . . hear. Umm. Hi, Mom and Dad. How long have you known Lord Axel?"
Dad glanced at his watch. "About ten hours."
"And we never did get around to proper introductions. Come in won't you? I'm Axel Vinogradov, this is Miss Nastastya, and Murphy who drove me home after I fell down a flight of stairs. And now I see why the senior detective gave me these odd looks when I gave Murph the address."
Mitty was eyeing his son. "Mitrofan Gargarin, my wife Lady Aliona, and my daughter Miss Dina. Vlad . . . what is going on?"
Oh shit. I can't tell him anything.
Lord Axel snickered. "Did you know he's investigating my Uncle's death? That oversized . . . building has been remodeled and walls moved and Uncle Vladimir didn't want anyone messing with his side of the house . . . well, Miss Nastasya and your son went exploring and got lost." He gave Nastasya an amused glance. "There have may have been kisses involved."
Vlad huffed in disbelief at the sheer magnitude of the misdirection. Not that I didn't think about it . . .
She straightened indignantly. "He did not kiss me!"
"Ah. That's why you're in a bad mood."
Nastasya sputtered. Dina eyed her frowning.
"Anyway, I went up and showed them the way out, then I slipped and rolled down most of a long flight of definitely uncushioned stairs. Bruising my dignity badly. And everything else too, so they toted me home."