Gretchen proudly showed me and Dichall her moth, her eyes glistening with joy and pride.
I stroked the new familiar’s back gently. “Emerson…She’s beautiful, Gretchen. Congratulations.”
She held the moth close and whispered to it. “I’ll never let anything happen to you.”
Waffles sighed. “Come on. Get down in my fur. We’re going into the house.” He nosed open the dog door as we nestled in. We felt the welcome blast of warm air coming from inside.
Waffles went into a gallop, his nails clicking on the tile of the kitchen floor. “Stay down!”
“Waffles! Where have you been?” An adult woman’s voice came from the other room.
We felt Waffles turn a corner in the house and we heard his footsteps turn from a clicking to a padding as we entered a carpeted hallway. “Okay, off, off! She’s going to come pet me. Go hide. I’ll find you later.”
We leaped down and scrambled under through the crack between the floor and a door. Emerson buzzed in the threshold until Gretchen gently pulled him through. We were in a bedroom.
I gestured under the bed. “Let’s hide and warm up.”
We hid in the dark, listening to the humans pet and fuss over the dog. I didn’t relax until I heard them go back to the main living area. I stepped out from under the bed and looked around the bedroom. “Something doesn’t look right. It doesn’t look… lived in.”
Dichall and Gretchen followed me out. Emerson perched on Gretchen’s arm. She held it up and the moth crawled on to her head, between hear ears, like an insect crown. “It’s a guest room. Nobody sleeps here, usually. That’s why it looks so empty.”
I nodded. Huh. Guest room. “Let’s find Vivian’s room. Maybe we can find some clues there.” I poked my head under the door and looked into the hallway. The coast was clear. “Wait here. I’ll find the right room and then call you over.”
I wriggled under the door and into the hallway. The ice in my fur and cloak had melted into water. I shook the last of it off and crept along the hallway, keeping close to the wall. I was very exposed, with nowhere to hide if someone entered the hallway. I looked at each door. One was open; it led to the bathroom. I saw a door with a poster of some cartoon princess on it. That’s got to be it. I turned back and saw Dichall and Gretchen peeking out from under the guest room door. I motioned to them to follow, and we all crawled through the crack under the door into Vivian’s bedroom.
Now this was a room that looked lived in. She had a beautiful pink canopy bed and lots of toys neatly stacked on shelves. I pointed to a kid-sized drawing desk. “Let’s check up there.”
We leaped up onto her bed and then over onto the desk. Dichall wiped the table with his paw. “No dust. The parents must have cleaned this room.”
That was likely true. The room didn’t have the disordered mess of the few other kid’s rooms I’d seen. The table we were on was empty but for a holder full of pencil crayons. I looked around the room and sighed. “I don’t even know where we should look, or what we’re looking for.”
Gretchen pointed to a shelf full of stuff. “I’ll take a quick look through that with Emerson. We can take our time. I don’t think anybody’s going to come in here.” Gretchen sat down and slowly closed her eyes. She took one big breath in, then out.
On the top of her head, Emerson perked up and took flight off her head. She flew toward the shelf and started weaving in and out of the toys and books there. Gretchen, sitting still, with her eyes shut, saw the world through moth eyes.
Dichall put his paw on my back. “How are you feeling?”
I looked down to my belly and was reminded that I was carrying a litter. I felt guilty for being on a mission when I was carrying such precious cargo. “I feel good. I just want to get this mission over soon so we can have these pups in a safe place.” I took his paw in mine and squeezed.
“Me too. I know you’re our warrior, I just…”
I looked at him. “What?” My voice had an edge I hadn’t intended to be there.
Dichall just smiled. “Nothing.”
Emerson flew back to the desk and hovered for a moment before landing in front of Gretchen, who then opened her eyes. “Nothing. But there is a desk drawer. Maybe it has something we could use.”
We walked to the edge of the desk. I stuck Grim’s blade in over the top of the drawer and tried to pry it open, but it was wooden and much too heavy for even three mice. I strained harder, pulling.
Dichall put his paw on my arm. “Eve. Please don’t strain yourself.”
He was right. I stopped and wriggled my blade free. How are we going to get this open?
I climbed up the pencil holder and looked in. On the bottom were a few paper clips, a pipe cleaner, and there!, a length of twine. I went in, got it, and brought it out. “I have an idea. We tie one end of this twine to the drawer handle, and then get Waffles to pull the other end of it from the floor. He’s strong enough to pull it open, I bet.”
My teammates looked from the string to the drawer to the floor and then back to me, nodding.
Dichall started toward the edge of the desk. “I’ll get Waffles.”
“I can do it.”
He turned back to me. “Let me. Please.”
He didn’t have to say anything, but I knew: he was trying to protect the pups by doing potentially dangerous things for me. I didn’t like it. I was the warrior. My job was danger. I had a gnawing feeling that this was going to be an ongoing problem. I have to pick my battles. “Okay, we’ll tie up the twine here. You’ve got to get that door open so Waffles can come in.”
Dichall sighed and looked at the door handle high above him. “Right.”
Gretchen held me by the tail as I leaned over the front of the desk and tied one end of the twine to the desk handle. It took a few tries, but I finally got it nice and tight. We hid behind the pencil holder until we heard Waffles scratching at the door. I peeked to see if Dichall had come in, but the bottom of the door was not visible from where we were on the desk.
Muffled voices from the rest of the house, coming closer. “… he’s so concerned with over there.” It was the mother’s voice on the other side of the door, now. “What do you want in there?”
“He probably lost his ball or something. Just let him go get it.” That was dad, shouting from the living room.
The door opened and Waffles ran in, looking around. “Guys?”
We didn’t dare respond, of course.
The mother put her hands on her hips and looked around. “Well, where is it, Waffie?”
Waffles turned and looked at her, wagging his tail.
The mother just shook her head. She looked around the room. Tears started to fall down her face. She turned and left Waffles in the room. A moment later Dichall came in, too.
I got out from behind the pencil holder and looked down at Waffles. “Grab that string in your mouth. We need to get in this drawer.”
Waffles padded over to the desk and sniffed at the twine. He took it in his mouth, and walked away until it was taut, then started to pull. The drawer wasn’t budging, and the string kept coming out of his mouth. “I can’t get a good enough grip on this string with my mouth!”
I started to get worried that somebody was going to come back in. I jumped down and got on Waffles’s back. “Let me tie this to your collar.” Now the twine was tied to Waffles’s collar in a double knot. I yanked it. It wasn’t going anywhere. “Now pull!”
Waffles dug his paws into the thick carpet and pulled. The drawer started to open.
Gretchen was looking into the drawer from atop the desk. “Just a little more!”
But then, suddenly, it was too much. Waffles gave a sharp tug and the whole desk tipped forward toward us, falling over with a crash.