“Here we are. Home sweet home.” Lennie unlocked the door to her apartment. “Bathroom is at the end of the hall; towels and washcloths in the cabinet under the sink.” She set several bags on the floor.
“Wow! You have more books here!”
Lennie smiled. “Feel free to read any of them, but use a bookmark. You’ll sleep in the spare bedroom. The other spare room is my study. Go take a shower and put on your new clothes. After that, we’ll go eat, maybe do more shopping.” Lennie kicked off her shoes.
Nickie rooted through the bags. “Thank you, Lennie.”
“You’re welcome, Nickie. Now hurry. I’m getting hungry.” Lennie headed to the study; mail and bag clutched in one hand. Among the bills and ads, a light blue envelope caught her eye. She ripped it open and pulled out a new ID card. “Looks like Brant came through for me!” She placed the card in her wallet. “Now I can access the Artifact section of the Archives.”
Nickie stepped into the shower as the steam filled the air; tension drained away. The water sprayed on her face, and she closed her eyes. Oh! This is wonderful! I can’t remember the last time I took a shower.
Clad in clean clothes, Nickie felt human again. She grabbed the old stuff and headed to Lennie’s study. “I’m finished in the bathroom.”
“You look much better.” She eyed the old clothes. “We’ll toss those in the trash.”
“Okay. Should I put away the rest of my new clothes, or can we eat first?”
Lennie turned off the computer. “Let’s eat. I have a craving for a burger, fries, and a chocolate shake.”
“That sounds good.” A rune-covered piece of paper on the desk caught Nickie’s eye. “What’s that?” She pointed.
“Some runes found in an abandoned building in the old part of the city. I haven’t been able to figure them out.”
Nickie followed her to the kitchen area and tossed her old clothes in the trash. “I saw runes like that in one of the buildings I bedded slept in.”
“Where was this?” Lennie put her shoes back on. “Don’t forget to put on your new high tops.”
“Oops!” She found the bag and put on the shoes. “The building is on Harbor Street. I think it used to be a workshop. There are old pieces of machinery in there. Not a bad place when the weather is hot, but not good when it’s cold.”
“Maybe we’ll check it out after we eat. That’s one of my jobs as an Archivist. Wait here. I need to get something from my study.”
“All right.” Nickie leaned against the wall. I could kill for a cigarette.
Lennie grabbed her fieldwork bag, before she retrieved her Glock from the wall safe. She recalled the nicotine stains on the younger woman’s fingers. I better grab some cigarettes.
In the living room, Lennie tapped Nickie on the shoulder. An old map on the wall enthralled the young woman. “That’s a possible location for the ruins of Atlantis,” Lennie said. She held out the cigarettes and lighter.
Nickie accepted the items and lit a cigarette. “Thank you.”
“No problem. Tomorrow we’ll buy a couple cartons and a better lighter.” She headed for the door. “Let’s go to the diner. After we eat, we’re going that building you mentioned.”
“Okay.” Nickie followed her down the stairs.
Lennie parked at the diner, a smile on her face. “Good. We’re here before the dinner crowd.” She waited for Nickie to snuff out the cigarette.
Behind the long counter, a small man with jug-handle ears watched them enter. “Hey Lennie! You’re early.”
She stopped at the counter. “Hi Pete. Got off work early. My friend and I are starving. Need three burgers with everything, two orders of fries, and two chocolate shakes. Is there any pie?”
“Yep. Apple and cherry. Take your pick.” He dumped the fries into the deep fryer. Three burger patties slapped onto the grill.
“I’ll take a slice of apple. Nickie, which do you want?”
They sat in a corner booth. “There’s no smoking in this diner.” Lennie pointed to a sign when Nickie brought out a cigarette.
She sniffed the air. “Those burgers and fries smell great.”
“Pete is a wizard when it comes to cooking. I eat here a lot.” She grinned. “I’m not a good cook, so I often get take out.”
“If you don’t cook, you don’t have to clean up the mess.”
“That’s a good way of looking at it.” Lennie leaned back and drummed her fingers on the table. “How long ago did you see those runes?”
Nickie scratched her head. “I think it was four days ago, but I can’t be sure. There are gaps in my memory. I wish I knew why, since I don’t remember hitting my head.” A waitress approached with the two large milk shakes. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Food will be up in a couple minutes.” She winked at Nickie and returned to the counter.
Lennie rolled her eyes as Nickie’s cheeks flushed. She took one of the shakes, eyeing the young woman. “I take it you have no interest in boys?”
Nickie met her eyes. “Not in the least. Although a group tried to make me think otherwise.” She drank some of the shake. “That’s delicious.” She turned her attention back to Lennie. “What about you?”
“That is none of your business,” Lennie answered, cheeks red. Just my luck to be unattached now. I hope this won’t complicate things. She recalled the look on Brant’s face when he said she was the only suitable female available. Is he trying to fix me up? She sensed Nickie watching her, and her face grew hot.
Nickie snickered. “You answered, Lennie.”
Tactfully, Nickie changed the subject. “What will I be doing while you work?”
“Helping me. We need to get you tested to find out what skills you have. Wonder if I can fit another desk and chair in my office.”
“Here you go,” the waitress set their plates on the table. “Enjoy your meal.” She winked at Lennie who blushed.
Nickie grinned. “You’re just about drooling over her, Lennie.”
“Shut up and eat!” Lennie took a bite of her burger.
It didn’t take Nickie long to finish her first burger. “This is one great burger! The fries are perfect too.”
“Yep. They deliver as well.” She took a mental inventory of what she had in the fridge. Need to do some grocery shopping tomorrow.
“Do you think we’ll find more than the runes at that building?” Nickie wiped her mouth with a napkin.
“It’s always possible. One time I found a small pillar of stone carved with those runes.” Lennie squirted ketchup on her fries. “With all these strange things appearing after that comet fly-by, you never know what might turn up.”
“It would be neat to find something like that. Or a chest of gold.”
“We have found gold and silver coins in two of the ruins outside the city.” They’re still being studied by the people in Artifacts.”
Nickie worked her way through the fries. “Could we get coffee to go with the pie?”
“Sure.” Lennie finished her meal. “Nickie, when we go to the abandoned building, you stay close to me.”
“Okay.” She eyed Lennie. “What about the guards in those areas? Will we sneak in?”
Lennie waved to Lisa. “Two coffees, please.”
“Sure thing.” She ran a speculative eye over Lennie. “I heard you and Diane broke up. She was in here three days ago.”
“Yeah. It’s over between us. I know you’re interested in her.” Lennie glared at Nickie who snickered.
“Maybe I’ll ask her out next time she’s here. Or maybe your friend here would like to go out.”
Lennie held up her left arm and displayed the bracelet. “She’s under my care. Sorry.”
“Too bad.” She poured two cups of coffee. “You two want anything else?”
“We’re set. Leave the bill, please.” Lennie started on her pie.
Lisa set the bill under the sugar container and walked away.
“Who’s Diane?” Nickie added sugar to her coffee.
“An ex-lover, okay? Drink your coffee and eat your pie. I want to reach the building before dark.” She stabbed the pie with her fork.
“All right. You don’t have to get snippy. I wasn’t the one who brought her up.” She sipped the coffee. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“What question?” Lennie kicked herself.
“What about the guards near the abandoned buildings? Will we have to sneak in? I know a couple of ways to avoid them.”
“I’m an Archivist. I have complete access to places others aren’t allowed to enter. That’s another reason you need to stick close: I don’t want the guards picking you up.”
“All right.” Nickie shoved her plate away. “That was a great meal. Do you eat like this all the time?”
“Pretty much, yes.” Lennie finished her pie and coffee. She signaled the waitress who hurried over. The noise in the diner increased with the dinner crowd.
“You two need anything else?”
“We’re set.” Lennie pulled out thirty dollars and handed it to Lisa. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks, Lennie. Take care, both of you.” She gave a wink and a smile to Nickie before she hurried away.