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Chapter 22

“What do you think?” Bastian asked, proud of his research skills. He was showing Fyre his whiteboard, the planner that he often used to plot down important aspects of his assignments.

“Umm isn’t all this available on the Internet already? Why go through the trouble to actually make this?” Fyre enquired.

“One of the things that you will see which is not actually on the internet is this,” he explained, pointing to the ‘observations’ section amongst other information that included Erska’s parents, family, properties, social media e.t.c.

Fyre took some time to peruse through the points before looking blankly at Bastian. “This seems pretty normal. It’s obvious that she is different from her friends.”

“I just thought it would help you since I already have some experience with her,” Bastian offered.

“I kind of understand why they switched assignments. Fleur’s airheaded and Erska’s much more of a challenge to handle. And look at you,” he said, gesturing towards the whiteboard. “You call this research. I could have had this all in my head. That’s why us younger recruits are entering the field sooner than you are.”

Bastian bit his lips. That was partially true and he was pissed off yet he wasn’t giving up. “I asked for a reassignment if you didn’t know and may I know what amazing methods are you using, Mr. Fyre?” he dragged, exaggeratedly rolling his eyes.

“Now, you want to know my methods? You are growing old, Bastian,” Fyre teased, wearing one of his annoying grins.

Now was Bastian’s chance to wring his neck despite thinner chances of winning but that drama was for another time because it was interrupted by Bastian’s Draphacon. Fyre did a quick salute and left him.

“Hello, Vidya,” Bastian answered, “Sorry that I haven’t called in a while.”

“Not surprised but how is it going?” she asked.

“A progress for sure. I’m getting closer to understanding her.”

“Her cause of death? Medical reasons and stuff?”

“Fleur takes sleeping pills and I believe it is going to be an accidental overdose. Besides that, I’m unsure what drug overdose could possibly refer to as. And like all my previous assignments, it’s love that she wants and as usual, I’m going to be her perfect boyfriend,” he sighed.

Vidya paused before cautiously saying, ”Funny, it seems like you aren’t exactly happy with your assignment.”

“Why would I be happy? I’m tired of playing the boyfriend role every time. That’s all. Remember vacation? Can I have that after this? Please,” he moaned.

“Bastian, this was simply a punishment. Since there was a mix-up earlier with a different assignment, there could be a chance, under my recommendation for you’d get some additional benefits. Anything you want at your disposal. What do you say?” buttered up, Vidya.

“Oh, wow! That gets me fired up, alright! I’ll do my best as soon as possible!”

“You can go back to whatever you are supposed to do,” Haruhi replied, wiping the glass counters of Solitarie.

“Are you sure you have nothing for me?” Erska asked, pleading.

“I’m definitely sure about that. You can use this space,” she said patting down the counter on her left. “The store’s pretty calm mostly. You’ll have no distractions and you could use a change of scenery.”

“Alright,” Erska dragged, going back to her blank sheets. It wasn’t too blank because of all the tiny doodles that were accompanying the white space, created during the time she spent lying on the bed after which Haruhi had forced her out of the comforts of the mattress.

A slight tingle chimed as the door opened. The mailman set a heavily wrapped box in front of Haruhi to her dismay. She had just wiped those smudged counters after a long time.

“This is for Bastian Piscine. I was told this is the address I’m to deliver to,” he said, patting the box and leaving.

“Great,” she muttered and punched some numbers on her phone. “Bastian, you’ve got delivery. From Felicia, Canada. Get this off my counter as soon as possible.”

“Piscine? That’s Bastian’s last name? Seriously?” Erska questioned, baffled.

“Uhhh.. yea..” Haruhi answered, distracted by the numerous thoughts running in her head.

“Where’s it?!” Bastian exclaimed, opening the door with such vigour that it scared the living daylights of Haruhi and Erska. Carrying a wooden box in one hand which he set on the table, he began perusing the package with childlike delight which amused Erska, having never seen him like this before. It aroused her curiousity about the package’s contents.

“Looks like the old woman kept her promise after all…” he whispered to himself as he ran his fingers across the sender’s address card pasted onto the box. He opened the wooden box which had carved motifs running down its left side while the other side was covered in bronze, containing a script of some sort. He took a small knife-like instrument and carefully ripped open the package. The next ten minutes were spent in taking off all the layers that guarded the content inside. While Erska watched the unboxing eagerly, Haruhi wasn’t sharing the same intention. In the end, both of them were disappointed when at last a black rectangular case of a pen’s length emerged made of velvet-like material. Bastian cleared the mess he had made on the counter by casually throwing it on the floor and set the case before him. He exhaled deeply before opening it. From inside, he took a singular rusted pin with a bejewelled head – made of a singular ocean blue stone shaped like a bud from which strings of white beads strung on thin chains hung when slanted. This temporarily vanished Haruhi’s usual intentions. Both Haruhi and Erska sat closer to marvel at the ornament.

“That’s a hair pin?” Erska whispered, afraid she was interfering.

“No, that’s a hat pin. This is a really rare one. The usual ones aren’t this decorative. And if I’m right…” he said, fishing a pocket microscope out of his wooden box and directed it towards the ornament. “Aha! I was right! That’s aquamarine and those are little pearls. Maybe if I cleaned it up a little bit, the silver would shine perhaps…”

“I never knew you were interested in jewels,” Haruhi said.

“Not exactly. Just some old ones that interest me,” he replied, replacing it back in the case. “Do you know there were even laws restricting the usage of hatpins because women used it to defend themselves from men. There were special boxes just for these, called a hatpin holder box and that was a beauty all of itself.”

“What are you guys up to? And Erska how are you doing?” asked Fyre as he peered into Erska’s sheets. Erska lurched forward, grabbing it out of his hands. “Half the plot and I’ll get you chocolate beignets. You complete the whole thing, I’ll take you out stargazing. What do you say?” Fyre wagered.

“Chocolate beignets? Stargazing? Aren’t these common?” Erska asked.

“I can get you the ones that are in secret menus. I’m sure no five star hotel can remake that. As for, stargazing – honestly, tell me. Have you been to one?”

“You make good deals alright. I like that,” she said as sat back in her former position with newfound determination.

“Aren’t you supposed to guide her rather than make these cheap deal kinda thing?” commented Bastian.

“Well, I believe if we work towards small rewards, it feels like we’ve achieved something. So, I just threw some random things she might like I suppose,” he said, scratching his head.

“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Erska replied, high fiving Fyre.

“Maybe you should focus on your thing,” Fyre snickered as he walked towards Solitarie entrance and opened up the door for Fleur.

“Hey baby!” cooed Fleur in a high pitched voice, attracting everyone’s attention as she hugged Bastian from the back.

“Heyyyy,” he dragged, landing a soft peck on her cheek.

“What have you been doing?” she asked as she surveyed the mess around.

He opened the black case and showed her the hatpin. “Isn’t it pretty?”

“Very pretty. Can it be used though?” she asked, turning it over and over, letting the pearl beads swirl in the air.

He carefully took it from her hands and replaced it. “I’ll clean off the rust and see if it can be used. Do you have something in blue or white? I believe this will go well if you had something specifically feminine, like a dress or something. And you can wear that cream coloured hat from last time.”

She clapped her hands in joy. “You’re right! We should match similar colours!”

“We will, alright!!” Bastian replied, patting her head.

Erska began scratching the back of her neck, exhaling. Are you guys high schoolers or something? I’ve never seen anything more irritating.

“Looks like you are back into playing with your playthings,” commented Quincy as he walked in, peering at Bastian’s wooden toolbox. “Ah. Am I disturbing you love birds?”

“Not really. Actually, I have something that might interest everyone I think,” Fleur said as she produced brown paper wrapped bundle from her bag. Taking it off one layer by one, an antique comb with red rose were revealed.

“Can I have a look at it?” Bastian asked in all earnestness, his face lighting up.

Erska couldn’t help but stare at the way how Bastian handled it with such delicateness as if the comb would break at the slightest contact, turning it over, awed by the intricacy. Isn’t this the first time I’ve seen him be genuinely happy with something?

“How did you get hold of something like this?” he asked, touching the singular rose adorning its top which when looked upon closely indicated that it was made of tiny red crystals. Either sides of the bronze comb contained etched swirls.

“It was passed down. Probably my great grandmother or something,” Fleur replied.

“Do you mind getting me some more information. I believe this has an interesting connection to a different continent if I’m right,” Bastian said, his eyes all twinkling.

“Absolutely. I knew you’d like something like this!” Fleur rejoiced, clasping her hands in his.

“Thank you, really. It’s been a joy.”

“Has he always liked stuff like this?” Haruhi asked Quincy, unable to interrupt Bastian’s fervour.

“He travels a lot due to work, right? That’s when he began collecting all this. Antiques and stuff. Not a lot know about it. They comment and sneer. Things that Bastian likes can come to down to three : vacation, sleep and old things.”

Erska’s mind zoned out, the image of Bastian’s childlike delight etched in her brain. That’s correct. We’ve talked a lot and not once did I know he loved stuff like this. And what’s all this travelling? Then.. if Fleur knows, they must be real close, huh?

“Must be a nice way to sell your body. Going around, acting like a perfect boyfriend according to each girl’s tastes,” whispered Fyre rather cruelly, loud enough for it to fall on Bastian and Quincy’s ears.

Bastian’s spine went erect as soon the words hit his ears. He slowly closed his kit, putting away the comb and hatpin inside swiftly. Quincy, who was watching all this grabbed Fyre’s collar and led him outside the store and pushed him against the tree outside.

“Look,” Quincy warned in a hoarse whisper, his left arm pressing hard against Fyre’s neck. “The reason he’s one of the best Draphas is not because he can charm anyone and get his job done. He treats each of his assignment like how a human should be treated despite their flaws, love them for the affection they’ve lacked their entire life and bring them peace which is something not all of us are capable and certainly not you. He shares with them his real self and pushes them to find their way to their desires, without shortcuts. You better respect him or I’ll rip you, you hear me?”

Fyre held his breath, his pupils quivering while his fingers hurt from clutching onto the tree’s irregularly textured bark. He could overthrow Quincy, even Quincy knew that but there he was, absolutely blank in the face of fierce berry shaded eyes. He lowered his head as he pushed Quincy back and walked away from Solitarie, looking at the pavement.

“What the hell just happened?” Haruhi asked as she opened the door, astonished at what had gone down for the past few minutes. Everyone had stood up dumbfounded by Quincy’s sudden actions. When Quincy’s eyes met Bastian’s, he looked away.

“I don’t really like him, nah? I thought it would be fun to fool around with him. I guess I took it a bit too hard. I’ll go look for him,” he said, jogging in Fyre’s direction.

“What do you mean nothing exists?” Alice asked, bewildered.

“I’ve used my usual routes to get my information but I’ve hit a dead end everywhere. There is simply no trace,” conveyed the voice patiently from the other end of the phone.

“No trace? You are talking as if they could be criminals!” she exclaimed.

“Maybe. That’s what I’m confused by. Some shop keeper and her acquaintances now seem like dangerous people. All I got to know was Haruhi had fled Japan from her parents and was taken under the wing of Francois Pierre, the previous owner of Pierre Wineries. Now, Pierre Wineries is Solitarie, the jewellery store run by Haruhi. She seems to have a good rapport with the local people. Though Bastian and his friend, Quincy seem jobless, they have no bad reputation. And none of them have proper last names except for Haruhi taking after Francois.”

“If what you say is true, then I can’t have my daughter around these people possibly. I asked you to dig me some dirt but this turns up!”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Saphine. I have some other ways. I’ll get back to you soon.”

“Had enough of her playing truant. The swifter the process, the better.”

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