The team stayed in town for several weeks after Riley first met Timm. Timm wanted to ensure he got a decent amount of training done with her before they moved on so she wouldn’t be at risk of overdoing it as she had in New Mexico.
Ethan would take the rest of the team on a few short cases in the area, ones that weren’t a top priority but would keep the lights on while the team took this little break. Riley was disappointed she couldn’t come on the cases herself, but made sure to work hard to keep their notes organized and everything up to date between the cases.
It also gave Ethan a chance to catch up on research and get a few more papers written. He liked the practical aspects of the job so much more, but knew that his backers wanted him to keep publishing and keep himself at the forefront of the academic world.
After they had been in Washington for a few weeks, Ethan knocked on the door of Riley and Emily’s shared office.
“Do you want to come on a consultancy case with me?” Ethan said, looking at Riley.
“I have a choice?” Riley asked back in confusion.
“Yes, they can be rather dull, which is why I would not mind the company. It would get you out of the office, and get you,” Ethan paused, “Well, it would not really qualify as experience, but it would get you something.”
Riley laughed at that. “Sure,” she said, grabbing her bag and joining him. She was happy to spend more time with him. She missed the group when they were gone, and while she would likely never admit it, she missed Ethan especially.
The two made their way down to Ethan’s car and got in. They traveled through the main part of the city while Riley mostly observed. She was still getting used to the new place. When they were in a more quiet part, Riley finally broke the silence.
“So what does a consultancy mean exactly?”
“It means they are likely not haunted, but we can go over for a quick trip and assess the situation.”
“To what end?”
“There are a few reasons we do this. One of the biggest is to have a record. A house may appear unhaunted, then a year or two later, we get another call. Having a record will help us to know if we should prioritize it and give us a few leads if we require a real investigation. It can also just help the people in the home to feel more comfortable. We can show them common causes of things that make people believe they are being haunted, and knowing they have a bit of a lifeline can be comforting. After The Event, a lot of people have been scared, and seeing or hearing things they might not have otherwise. It is good to help calm them.”
“How much do they have to pay?”
“The investors hate it, but the fee is reasonable. In all cases, I try to charge as little as I can while still keeping the team well paid and equipped. I am not in it to make money, but there are certain realities, including you all.”
“Investors,” Riley paused, “I never thought about it because I had heard you were independently wealthy.”
“Not sure how I feel about the fact that even distant acquaintances apparently know that about me,” Ethan replied, getting a little uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry and not judging. There is just a lot out there about you.”
Ethan sighed, having to concede the point. “It is fine. Since the business is fairly public, you are right I cannot hide completely in the shadows. But to your point, yes, I am wealthy, but not that wealthy. Not even close. The business is designed in such a way that with this branch, I have final say and more weight than the board combined, but I cannot shut them out and am sadly not the majority owner. I wanted silent investors, but it was not meant to be.”
“Maybe not at the time, or even now, but in the future, it could happen.”
“I would likely have to start over from the ground up.”
“Would that be the worst thing?”
“If I got to keep the team, no, it would not be so bad. If I got to keep the team and my research, I would not give a damn.”
Riley smiled. “The team rates higher than the research.”
“I am a bit ashamed you are surprised.”
“I never said I was, but I am allowed to bask.”
Ethan smirked at that.
“Also, we aren’t distant acquaintances anymore.”
“No,” Ethan said quietly and gripped the wheel a little tighter, hoping she would not notice.
The two arrived not long after at a small house in one of the towns surrounding the city. The family greeted them with nervous excitement and explained the things they were experiencing. Riley could understand what Ethan meant by the haunting being unlikely, most of what they described seemed pretty normal and low grade.
Still, Ethan took the time walking them through the whole house and using various tools to check the rooms. As they passed through room to room, he pointed out certain things. A baseboard that looked like it might expand and contract a lot at night. Window sealing that was old, allowing just enough air in to move things. They also talked about the general age of the house and how older homes tended to make noises. Various things to explain what they were experiencing other than a haunting, things that before The Event were easier to recognize, but fear took over in the last years. Riley followed along, impressed with his patience and the effort he took to explain what might be different if it were really a haunting.
“Riley?” Ethan turned towards her.
“I haven’t felt anything, but I haven’t tried. Would you like me to?”
Ethan gave her a brief nod, and Riley closed her eyes and inhaled and exhaled a few times deeply, reaching out to feel around her. She could sense Ethan and the couple, also their two kids outside playing, but nothing else.
She tried a few more times and even moved around the house a little but nothing.
“We’re sorry to drag you out here,” the wife finally admitted looking a little ashamed.
“You have nothing to apologize for. You are concerned, and that is fine.” Ethan showed them a folder and a quick glance at some notes he took. “This is everything we went over, and I will keep it on file, if things start to change at all, feel free to call us at any time.”
“So a haunting is still possible?” the husband asked, seeming nervous.
“Possible, but unlikely,” Ethan agreed.
Riley was watching the kids closely and felt something, a nervousness she was unsure of. “Is one of your kids upset?” she finally asked.
The young mother looked surprised but nodded. “She said her friend is having a hard time at school, and everyone is nervous of her, the friend I mean, now.”
“Why nervous?” Riley pressed.
The couple looked at each other then seemed to come to an understanding. “The friend’s mother was going to call someone like you, maybe it’s connected?”
“Do you happen to know who they called?” Ethan asked.
“No. Nor the specifics really other than some strange things seem to happen sometimes around the girl. She seems so sweet though I don’t think she is trying to do anything.”
“Kids with supernatural powers rarely are.” Ethan pulled out a second card. “I do not make it a habit of trying to undercut my competition, but consider having the friend’s family call me. If it is a haunting, we will want the child to be taken care of as soon as possible. If she is showing certain abilities getting training is the best option. We can help with both.”
“I apologize for prying,” Riley added.
“No, it’s fine, when we made the appointment, Mr. Hill informed us something like this might happen.”
Riley nodded at them, but begged off of any physical contact when saying goodbye. The family had not been much, but with training and her hopes to get back on the road, Riley didn’t want to risk overwhelming herself over something as silly as a handshake.
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