NaNoWriMo 2020: Episode 22-b

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(Read a summary of the story up to now here. Or start at the beginning here.)

It is a soft little sound and it takes forever to recognise. The high-pitched short bursts have a certain urgency. Something is expected of her, but what is it? Helena half opens her eyes but closes them again immediately. The thin curtains are dyeing the sunlight a pale shade of green, but it is still grating across her eyes and boring into her brain. Helena groans and pulls her blanket over her head, but it doesn’t stop the weird little sounds so she makes another attempt to brave the dawn and peers around her. Something is moving in the basket beside her. She hauls herself up on one elbow and gazes down at the kittens. They are meewing at her, and each other. Most of the kittens have their eyes open now, although they probably still don’t see much.

“Ah good, you are awake!” Marina is upbeat as ever as she comes in with a tray.
“Is that good?” croaks Helena. She lies down again and clutches her head. It has been a long night. Her muscles are twinging already and she hasn’t even moved yet.
“Aw poor thing. I know it has been hard but at least you are safe here. I have to get to work in a bit and I didn’t want to have to wake you. So you see, it is good that you are awake already!” She puts the tray on the table.
“Right.” Helena sits up and waits for the room to stop spinning before she makes an attempt to get further upright. Meanwhile, Marina picks up the kittens that are now making their own attempt at mobility by climbing out of the basket and around Helena on the floor. She puts them in the basket and carries them to the table where a box is waiting for them. She carefully lowers the basket in, and takes out one of the kittens.
“And this way you can also help me with the feeding,” she says and hands Helena the tiny animal along with a feeding syringe filled with warm milk. “There you go!”
“Oh. Right. Right!” Helena handles the kitten clumsily but manages to get into a more comfortable sitting position so she can feed the little cat without squirting warm milk all over her. “Thanks, Marina.”
“Uh huh” Marina nods but she is already busy with the second kitten.
For a while it is silent in Marina’s kitchen except for the meewing of the last, still unfed kitten, until it is switched with its brother or sister by Marina.
“Wow, you have become really good at feeding these!” Helena says while she is still grappling with getting her kitten to eat.
“Ay, you have no idea!” Marina chuckles, “we have been squeezing the feedings in all day in between helping customers and everything.”
“How do you mean ‘we’? Who else knows about these critters?”
“Oh, Rick has been extremely helpful!” Marina says brightly.
Helena swallows. “Oh crap, he knows about the kittens then?” The whole episode before she left for Amsterdam comes flooding back and she cringes.
Marina gives her a look. “Yes he knows. I know he may be a little bit, what do you call it, corporate in his thinking? But he is not entirely stupid. Once he had figured out that customers in the gift shop do not, in fact, always appreciate him hovering over them he started looking around for other things to do. Well, he started harassing me instead.”
“Oh I am sorry!” Helena grimaces.
“Ha! No need! Okay it was annoying at first,” she concedes, “when he was still pointing out all the things I could do better-“ she rolls her eyes “-but that didn’t take very long because I am good at what I do. So I told him that if he was going to hang around the café he might as well make himself useful, and I sent him around clearing and cleaning tables and things like that.” She looks smug as she tells Helena.
“He did that?” Helena laughs, “Our big shot corporate guy! Him and his suit.”
“The suit is still there, but he is a softy really,” Marina smiles fondly, “especially when he found out about the kittens. He was bringing some cups into the washing area, but they had woken up and Greyskull here was hungry…”
Greyskull?” Helena laughs incredulously, “You named the kitten Greyskull?”
Marina blushes. “Rick did, really. He is a fan of He-Man, if you can believe it. So this one is Greyskull, because of its fur, see? And that one is Adam, or Prince Adam. And the other one over there, that is She-Ra.” She is laughing too now, “I couldn’t help it! And once they are named…”
“They stay named!” Helena wipes her eyes. “Okay, then, so he found Greyskull” she chuckles.
“Yes! And I didn’t know what to say so I just told him to put some milk in the syringe and feed it.” She shrugs. “And he did.”
“What did he say about where they came from?”
“He never asked.”
Marina wipes her hands on her apron and hangs it on the door. “I think Rick will open the shop again today, since you are not back yet, so you might as well stay here for the day. You can rest a bit after last night. Will you feed the little ones today, or shall I bring them along?” She looks at the box on the table with the crawling tiny creatures. “I will miss them, see, so I need to know if they will be okay?”
“I will take care of them, Marina, I promise,” Helena smiles, “Also, could I use your computer?”

When the front door opens at the end of the day, Helena stretches her back and notices how cold she has gotten. It has been hours since she last got up to fetch herself a sandwich, and it feels like she will never stand up straight again. The room has gone dark again except for the light over the desk and the computer screen.
“Coo-ee!” Marina calls at the door.
“In here!” Helena answers and stumbles to the hallway, hand on her lower back. There in the hallway is not only her good friend Marina but also Rick – whom she last encountered in his office as she was effectively telling him to shove the giftshop job because she had better things to do. “Oh hello, Rick” she says awkwardly.
“Ah. Yes. Hello Helena,” he replies, and tries to shake her hand while also holding a bag of groceries. She takes the bag from him instead and smiles.
“How are my kittie kiddies?” Rick croons as he walks into Marina’s kitchen. The little cats are on the floor by the window on top of Helena’s blanket, exploring the world through tiny eyes and noses. He boars down on them immediately and picks them up one by one. “Hellooo little nosey-woseys! Did you miss me?”
Helena turns to Marina with eyes wide, her friend just smiles back.

It isn’t until dinner that the subject turns away from the kittie-kiddies. “Did you find anything interesting in Amsterdam at all?” Marina asks.
“Sure,” Helena says noncommittally, “but I found some other stuff also today. In fact,” she turns to Rick, “it is good that you came here tonight! Not only am I now in a position to thank you for being a good sport about me walking out on the gift shop like that-“ she grins awkwardly “-but also because I have some questions about the trust we work for.”
Rick, in the middle of chewing a rather large bite, nods encouragingly.
“We know that the Hertogsbos was purchased from the Craay family about a century ago, but as I understand it, it was partly a purchase – and partly a gift.”
Another nod.
“From the Craays to the Trust, directly. But do we know why?”
Rick shrugs.
“Why did he just give such a large and valuable piece of land away? This was a sudden move, although not unequalled among rich families at the time. Yet Theodore Craay, who made the donation, had never been particularly interested in preserving the landscape or nature or anything like that. Would you know more about it?”
He shakes his head. The large chunk of pie he is chewing on won’t budge.
“I checked the statutes today, to see what if there were conditions attached to the gift, but couldn’t find them. They must be in the original documents though. So I was wondering” she looks at him sweetly, “do you think you can get your hands on them so you can copy them for me?”
Marina gasps. Rick has stopped chewing. He swallows, hard and with difficulty.
“I wouldn’t really know where to look,” he says, gasping for breath, “except maybe the old archives in the basement. But they go on forever, it seems.”
“A century at least, I reckon,” says Helena. “Do you know if they are labeled?”
He shrugs. “No idea. I have been down there only once, with Mr. Vreeland the director. He has the key, see?”
“Does anyone else have a key, that you know of?”
“The janitor, I imagine.” He stops and stares. “Why are you asking?” he asks suspiciously, “Are you planning something?”
Helena smiles gently. “Not really, Rick. I don’t want to drag you into anything you don’t want to be dragged into.” She takes a sip of her wine, letting him take a few more calming breaths. Then: “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

The security guard’s name is Henry, and he didn’t choose to do night duty for nothing. Night means no people and that is fine with him. So when Rick arrives at the door, he has already been watching and frowning from the front window from the moment the car turned off the main road. He continues to watch as Rick waves his security pass and begins to punch the access code into the pad at the entrance. Nothing happens, of course. The code doesn’t work after hours. Henry watches impassively for a few moments as Rick keeps trying, but eventually he feels himself forced to respond to Rick’s increasingly frantic waving and knocking. He opens the door a fraction, hand on his walkie-talkie as if it were a weapon.

“Good evening!” Rick wavers.
“What do you want?” Henry grunts.
“There is something I forgot to take with me at the end of the work day today that I absolutely need tomorrow and it is vitally important that I have it early in the morning before I go to…” Rick leaves the sentence hanging in the air but Henry is not prepared to go out of his way to help this office prick who forgot his own stuff, and stays quiet. “So if I could just pop up to my office to fetch the, uh, things…?” Rick’s voice goes up an octave.
“This is against company policy,” Henry says and he makes to close the door, but Rick pushes back and places his hand on the lock.
“Well, that’s a bit of a problem because I know it isn’t. You see, I helped write the company policy!” He beams brightly. “And not only that, but I am sure you are supposed to assist me if I want to get extra work done on whatever hour of the day” – he looks over his shoulder to the darkness of the evening outside – “or night.” He grins. “So you better escort me to my office. Just in case I plan on doing some nefarious deeds.” His white teeth shine in the gloomy entrance hall.

Helena pushes the door open gently and silently. He hears the footsteps of both men climbing the stairs to the second floor. Rick takes his time on the landing upstairs to loudly tell a tall tale about working twenty hours a day, while Helena looks for the door under the stairs that leads to the basement. There! She finds it and opens it slowly, in case it creaks. A small grunt escapes but she manages to pry it open far enough to squeeze through and pull it shut behind her, leaving only a small strip of light pouring from the entrance hall into the total darkness before her. She lights up her phone and a number of steps can be seen, disappearing into the gloom beyond. The basement is completely still. She had half expected some movement of mice or other creatures here in the middle of the natural park, but the silence is complete. It reminds her for a moment of the unnatural silence she heard out in the field, on the day they still thought there was a wolf in the area. She grins. How silly that seems now. She gives the wool ball in her pocket a small squeeze. It has not heated anymore since she the last time in Amsterdam, at least not that she knows of.

The boxes are packed neatly on shelves stretching away in the dark. The beam of light from her phone illuminate dates and departments. ‘Finances 1980-82’ and ‘Flyers 2003-05’. There seems to be little organisation regarding the departments but at least the years go back the further she gets from the door. That would mean that she would have to find it right at the beginning. Not the beginning of the Trust, but the beginning of Hertogsbos as a Trust domain. Scanning the shelves, she walks on. Until, all of a sudden, she feels something in front of her on the floor. Something is there! It is soft and yielding but her feet cannot make it out. When she shines her light on it, she sees a grey cloth, like a blanket, lying in a bundle on the floor. It looks like it is covering something…

tl;dr Helena, with Rick’s help, decides to enter the Trust’s head office to see the official documents in which can be found the conditions of the original donation. It is night time, Rick is distracting the night guard, and Helena just bumped into a bundle of cloth in the darkness…

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