When the doorbell rang, Cath groaned openly. "Who's THIS one?"
The Knightie nearest the monitor checked -- and instantly suspicion clouded her face. "I don't know. Never saw her before. One thing's sure, though: She's no Ravenette." Through the intercom: "Who goes there?"
The answer came back neatly. "Nina Smith. Direct beneficiary of the power of repentance, and consequently, reliable if ignorant Knightie. Allison Percy will vouch for me."
Perri groaned from where she was getting her things together for the raid. "What the hell. Send her up."
A few minutes later, the elevator opened and a Knightie stood there, blinking.
"Good, you're here." Nina barely had time to put down her luggage before Perri and two other Knighties blew past her. "Come on, you get to help us search Natalie's apartment."
Nina blinked. "O-kaaaay." She shrugged and followed the other three out the door.
"Perri, hurry up with the lock."
"Amy, every time I have to pick a lock, you stand over me and tell me to hurry up. Has that ever done any good?"
"No. But it's fun."
Perri threw a dirty look over her shoulder and stood up, swinging the door open. "Voila."
Polite applause from Carrie and Nina, a smirk from Amy D and they filed into the apartment. Carrie tried a lightswitch and sighed in resignation. "Power's off -- guess we do need the flashlights."
"Now that's a big surprise," Perri groaned. "At least ours will be on today."
"Did you all notice the piles of mail at Natalie's box downstairs?" Nina said. "Looked like about two months' worth."
"Yes, we did," Amy told her, running a finger along a dusty tabletop. "Looks like about two months of dust too. Hey, Perri, this looks kind of like your bedroom."
Perri ignored her. "What's really weird is that there's a war on and no NatPackers in Nat's apartment. Where could they all be?" Three identical shrugs; Perri sighed. "Split up and let's search this place."
Carrie took the kitchen, Amy headed for the living room and Nina and Perri took the bedroom. They called quietly to each other as discoveries came to light.
"I found cookbooks -- mostly unused. Except for 1001 Ways to Make Protein Shakes."
"Let's take that one for Nick -- Nat wouldn't mind."
"Junk drawer! Let's see...five years worth of tags for Sydney, three scrunchies, ticket stubs from The Sound of Music, more ticket stubs from The Sound of Music...hey, fake fangs way in the back. Nat, we didn't know you had it in you. Some official-type coronor forms -- blank...."
"Dust bunny heaven under this bed."
"Those aren't bunnies -- those are cats! Think she and Nick have the same cleaning service?"
"Speaking of cats, where's Sydney?"
"With Grace or the NatPack, probably."
"Or with Natalie?"
"Blank video tape, still sealed, a couple more scrunchies, some plastic thingies, broken mini-radio -- hmm, tuned to CERK. Bet she threw it against a wall. Flea collar for Sydney..."
"There's stuff in the refrigerator. Mummified lettuce, some cloves of garlic..."
"We can smell that, thanks."
"...very old yogurt..."
"How can you tell?"
"...and very old milk. Well, it used to be milk."
"What is it now?"
"Rubber bands, pens, pencils, a couple of Queen tapes without cases -- Natalie listens to Queen?"
"If you leave any tape in a car or junk drawer long enough, it'll turn into a Queen tape."
"Right. Another scrunchie, some blue surgical gloves, a scalpel...."
"Found some more books! The Making of Dracula: The Series, everything Emily Weiss ever wrote, Native American Myths and Legends, Seances for Fun and Profit, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus...."
"Well, they've both got it -- did they just not, like, read it or something?"
"More scrunchies, I think she was collecting them, a couple of cards -- but, um, none from Nick, not even the 'With Affection' one -- batteries, stale candy cigarettes, some of those peppermint altoids and -- ah-hah! Notebooks!"
She handed them over her shoulder to the other three, who had been staring at the contents of Natalie's junk drawer in absorbed fascination. Carrie flipped through hers first. "It's blank. And there's pages missing," she observed.
"Same here," Nina said.
Perri flipped hers back into the drawer with a flick of her wrist. "Same here, dammit. There is nothing in this apartment that relates to Nick in any way, shape or form."
"Except maybe the snake," Nina said, looking behind Perri.
She pointed at the small wiggling shape in front of the sofa. "That snake."