My employer and I got to Claudia's house first, and Erika opened the door to our knock.
"Come in," she said, holding the door for us. "We were hoping you were going to come by. I was curious to go to the big vampire meeting, but Claudia said I should stay here, because you had said you were going to be coming."
"And of course I made fun of her for even thinking of going," Jason said, standing up as we entered the living room, and we all laughed.
We sat, Erika went to get us coffee, Claudia offered Jan a cigarette, and Jason came over and sat with us. He had been sitting at a rolltop desk in the corner, a pad of paper and a large book on the desk in front of him. Claudia had been reading a newspaper – not the u-town newspaper but one of the dailies from the city – but she had folded it and put it on the end table when we'd come in. They had all been drinking coffee, but the cups were mostly empty and then Erika came in carrying a full coffee service, with two fresh cups.
"I am sorry," my employer said as Erika handed her a cup, "I should have mentioned that there are more people coming."
"Not reporters, I hope," Claudia said as Erika refilled her cup.
"No, the only reporter here is me, and I won't be reporting on this. No, we're expecting Doc Morse, Jack Longstreet, Ray Stone, and Vicki Wasserman."
They all looked surprised – and understandably, since it was basically the entire u-town government showing up to solve a murder – but my employer continued, "They are coming carefully, to make sure they are not followed, and when they are all here, we will go up to your bedroom, Claudia, and settle this. And the solution will not be reported in the press, or anywhere else."
There was silence for a moment after that, as we sipped our coffee, and I wondered about the cozy scene before our arrival.
Jason had been working, Claudia and Erika had been sitting together at one end of the sofa (based on the position of the coffee cups, though now Erika sat at the far end of the sofa), all drinking coffee. It was a very comfortable scene, and I wondered if Ryan had fit in so easily when he'd been alive.
I also wondered where Claudia got her newspapers (there were a few on a small table, and the one she had been reading was today's), since city newspapers were not delivered reliably, but then I realized that Jason probably brought them for her, since he had to go into the city to teach.
There was an interesting silent exchange at that moment. Claudia, looking somewhat distracted, stubbed out a cigarette and immediately lit another one, and the reactions from her housemates said that this was not usual. Jason noted it but did not react, but Erika looked concerned, and then Claudia noticed her expression and smiled wanly. "I'm sorry," she said. "I guess there's no way to resolve this down here? I would really prefer not to go into that room again."
"I understand your feelings," my employer said (which was appropriate but almost laughably untrue – other than bed, there was no place in the world Jan Sleet wanted to be more than a room where a murder had taken place), "but we have to finish this there. The question of Who can't be answered without establishing How, and for that we need to be where it happened."
Erika slid down the sofa and took Claudia's hand. Claudia smiled sadly at her, and I sensed that she was glad enough of the contact that she wasn't going to chide Erika for doing it in front of us.
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