It was about seven o’clock when I got back to the hotel. Carver and I had parted amicably, he to go to his dinner engagement and I to return to my hotel suite and brood. The beloved quartet was at the door as I walked in.
“Oh my god,” said Heather, staring at me in alarm.
“What is it?” I said.
“What happened to your head?” asked Matilda.
“You look like shit,” Gertrude chimed in.
This explained the odd looks I’d been getting on the street and in the lobby. Matilda placed her hands on my head and began pouring her soothing power into me. It was heavenly.
“Did Carver do this to you?” asked Sara.
“Yes, he did. But we parted on good terms.” I explained about the Armored Bilge. By the time I had finished my explanation, we had all sat down in the sitting area of the suite.
“So,” said Gertrude, “it’s nice and all that you have these new weirdo allies, but what does it get you?”
I shrugged. “It’s more than I had before I talked with Carver.”
“But it still doesn’t lead us to some kind of next step,” said Gertrude. “What are we going to do now?”
“We’ll just have to think of something,” I said, slightly annoyed at her tone.
“‘Think of something?’ We’ve been ‘thinking of something’ for days and nothing’s gotten rid of the fish.” Gertrude was speaking quite loudly now. “And meanwhile, there’s no toast.”
Matilda put her hand on Gertrude’s shoulder. “Easy, Gertrude,” she said soothingly.
Gertrude forcefully shrugged off Matilda’s hand. “Easy my ass,” she snapped, jumping to her feet and glaring down at us. “The God of Toast is dying or dead, and we haven’t done a damn thing about it. We need to do something. I need to punch someone. When are we going to do something?”
No-one said anything for a few seconds. Gertrude stood, breathing heavily and silently challenging us to refute her. I slowly got to my feet and looked her in the eye. “You’re absolutely right,” I said.
Gertrude blinked, her anger diffused by surprise. “I am?” she said.
I nodded. “Yes, you’re right. It’s time to do something.”
“Okay, what?” asked Heather.
“I’ve been going about this case all wrong from the beginning,” I said. “I haven’t been playing to my strengths at all.” I held up my right pinky finger. “This,” I said emphatically. “This is what I do. No more cloak and dagger.” With that, I strode to the door.
“Where are you going?” asked Matilda.
“Yeah, what gives?” demanded Gertrude.
“I’m going to the Complex, and I’m going to get to the bottom of these fish in the sky once and for all.” I put my hand on the door knob.
“Wait,” said Heather, taking my arm. “Let us come with you.”
“Yeah, I want a piece of this action,” said Gertrude.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “It’s too dangerous. Promise me you’ll stay here.”
In the end, I got their promise, albeit grudgingly. I left Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude in the hotel and made my way to the Complex, grim with purpose.