"If there're no demons involved, why can't I come?"
Buffy stopped rolling up a shirt to look at Dawn. Her sister was slouching against the doorframe and scowling. At first, Buffy was annoyed, but then she realized that if her sister wanted out of Sunnydale, that meant she didn't have any mischief brewing in Sunnydale. Dawn hated to be bored, but Buffy liked her that way. Dawn rarely got kidnapped when she was bored.
"We're just going to talk to some lawyer and see if she has any idea why someone would have stolen a corpse. It probably won't be very interesting." Buffy put the shirt in her backpack and looked around to see if she'd forgotten anything she might need for an overnight trip.
"So why does Spike get to go?"
"Because it's 40 miles away and he has a motorcycle." Buffy slung the backpack over her shoulder and went past Dawn and down the stairs. Dawn clumped behind her unhappily.
"Dawnie!" Willow burst out of the living room, chirping with good cheer. "Have you decided what movie you want to watch with Tara and me tonight?"
Dawn responded with a mutter and slouched into the kitchen. Willow's face fell. "Nothing seems to keep her happy lately."
"That may have to do with our impending eviction." Buffy dropped the backpack on the floor and peered out the window. It was dark now; Spike would be arriving soon. "Keep an eye on her for me, Will. She's been in a bad mood, and I'm worried she'll do something crazy."
"Okay." Willow looked nervous about taking on this responsibility, and Buffy couldn't blame her.
"I remembered to charge my phone, so call for whatever: Dawn getting suspended, apocalypse, shoe sale at the mall."
Willow smiled at that. "Okay. And you be careful. Just because this is a human problem doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. Sorta the opposite. This is someone who moves around dead bodies but doesn't want them for a ritual or to make them into zombies or anything like that. It could be a really twisted freak."
Buffy shrugged. "All I know is that the cops identified the body from the fingerprints they took when they found her. She's some missing woman from a little town north of here called Craftsbury, and her family is really upset that the body's gone."
Willow nodded. "I can understand that. It all seems so … disrespectful. And they can't have a proper burial."
At the sound of a motorcycle roaring up in front of the house, Buffy picked up her backpack. "I suppose. I think the whole idea of burying the dead is overrated. But I'm getting paid a thousand dollars if I find her and five hundred even if I don't."
Five minutes later, Buffy stopped complaining about Spike's insistence that she wear a helmet, rolled her eyes in response to his obvious pleasure that she was going to be snuggled up behind him for the whole ride, and climbed onto the bike. She leaned against his back, wrapped her arms around him tightly, and closed her eyes.
Then she pushed all thoughts of mortgages, demons, and corpses out of her mind and spent the trip to Craftsbury enjoying the roar of the engine, the speed of the journey, and, most of all, the sensation of being so close to him.
"Wow." Buffy pulled off the helmet and stared.
"Nice digs." Spike sounded impressed too. He'd stopped the bike momentarily back on the country road when he'd spotted the mailbox with the name "Worp" neatly painted on it, but a glance at the drive had had him kicking it into gear again and cruising the additional half-mile to the old Victorian house that sat in the middle of a very neat yard. Security lights mounted near the front and rear allowed Buffy to see that it too was neatly painted. The gingerbread woodwork that decorated its many gables and porches was patterned in a deep red and grey, while the rest of the house was a slate blue. Lacy curtains fluttered in the windows, and flowers grew in orderly rows along a gravel path.
Through the big bay window at the front of the house, Buffy saw people moving around inside. "Somebody's home." She climbed off the bike and headed for the front door.
Spike followed her up the stairs of the largest porch and stood behind her as she raised her hand to knock. "Shouldn't think they'd be suing anyone for money. Maybe they really are upset that they can't have a proper funeral for sweet old Auntie Harriet."
"Now she's finally gone, I can get rid of all this crap."
At the sound of the harsh male voice, Buffy's hand froze an inch away from the door.
A slightly-higher pitched, but equally male and equally angry voice responded. "I don't care what you do with the bitch's stupid stuff, but that painting is mine. And I'm taking the Ferrari back."
"None of it is yours, you freeloading gigolo! She bought it all!"
"And gave it to me!"
"She didn't put it in your name! Which makes it mine now."
"No, it's mine!"
Spike reached around Buffy and opened the door. She followed him through a small entranceway and together they peered into a large, messy room.
It seemed like a room that was used to being comfortable, but not nearly as cluttered as it was at the moment. One wall was lined with shelves filled with books of every size and shape. On another was a large painting of a cottage with light glowing in every window even though it was set in a daytime landscape. Buffy thought that it looked like a greeting card and that it was out of place with the rest of the furnishings, which were big, comfortable chairs and sofas, sturdy side tables in dark wood, and a couple of abstract paintings in vibrant colors.
All over the floor were boxes filled with more books, some small statues that could have come from the Magic Box, and what looked like toys.
Standing over the boxes were two men, who were so busy arguing they didn't notice they had company.
The stocky red-headed one spoke first, pointing dramatically toward the rear of the house. "You are not getting that car, that stupid Hallmark picture, or anything else. If she'd given you any of that in the divorce, it would be out of here already."
The slender blond one showed his very white teeth as he snarled back. "We weren't divorced!"
"Come along, mates, this is no way to have a row!" Spike's voice cut through the nursery-school level argument. "Let's see one of you throw a good punch and give the lady and me something worth watching."
The two turned to stare at Spike and Buffy, their mouths open. "Who…?" the red-head started to ask before he was interrupted the sound of a car driving quickly over gravel. Brakes were slammed on and someone ran up the steps and entered the house without bothering to knock.
"What are you two doing here?" A small, dark-haired woman dressed in a business suit whirled into the room, almost running into Buffy and Spike. She turned. "And who are you two?"
While Buffy tried to decide how to explain her presence, the two men she and Spike had found in the house began to talk at once, each accusing the other of trying to move in and steal everything of value.
"Stop it!" The small woman shouted. This, combined with a very severe "mom look", silenced them. "Neither one of you is moving in here or taking anything away from here. Harry hasn't even been declared dead yet."
"They found her body before they lost it," whined the red-head. "And I'm the next of kin…"
"No, I am!" was the predictable response of the other man.
Once again, the middle-aged woman's air of authority cowed them. "We don't know who the next of kin is, and until the courts decide, I am in charge as her executor. Now get out before I call the sheriff and have you thrown out!"
Grumbling, the two men stomped to the back of the house, and soon car motors were heard starting up. The small woman rushed to the bay window and looked out, heaving a sigh of relief as two sedans drove up the gravel drive. "Good. Neither one of them had the balls to take the Ferrari." She dropped into a large armchair and looked at Spike and Buffy as if she'd forgotten they were there. "Who are you?"
"Um, I'm Buffy Summers." Buffy looked at her companion. "This is, uh, my boyfriend. Spike. He drove me here."
The woman's lips twitched. "Any particular reason?"
Buffy decided that this woman would see through any lie she could tell at least as fast as Giles could, so she opted for the truth. "The undertaker who lost the body asked me to come and look for it."
"And he asked you because…wait a minute!" The woman brought her hand to her forehead for a moment, obviously trying to recall something. "You're the people the sheriff told me about. He said he called Sunnydale and they told him that mortician had hired someone who had a reputation for dealing with this kind of thing. Whatever kind of thing this is." She dropped her hand and looked Buffy over. "And that's you?"
Buffy winced at the woman's tone and looked down. She wished her leather pants weren't quite so tight and that the top she wore under her jacket was a little more substantial, but it was too late to do anything about that now. "I suppose."
"She can do anything." Spike spoke to the woman for the first time.
His tone of quiet conviction made the woman smile. "Sit down." She pointed at a sofa that was clear of boxes. "I'm Charlotte Wiggs. I'm the lawyer who threatened to sue your employer."
"Oh." Buffy sat, wondering what the etiquette was in this situation.
Spike was less tongue-tied. "And who were those two charming blokes?"
"The one with red hair is Arnie Worp, Harriet's cousin. This is … was…Harriet's house, and he believes it should be his now. The other one is Jim Rogers, who was married to Harriet. And he thinks the same thing."
"Neither of them seemed to like her much. Relatives…well, how often do they like each other, especially when one is richer than the others? But what about the husband? What did she do to him?" Spike arched an eyebrow. "Besides marry him?"
"She made him sign a prenuptial agreement. And the divorce was her idea."
"Ouch." Spike looked around the spacious room. "So when she told him to hit the road, she probably kept his ride and a lot of other goodies."
Ms. Wiggs nodded, pleased at his understanding. "He's a stockbroker, and it turns out he's not very good at his job. But even after she paid all the credit card bills he ran up during the marriage, Harriet was extremely well off. She had a solid trust fund that was barely touched, and she owned this place outright."
"Were they divorced?" Buffy frowned, trying to remember exactly what each man had said. "He doesn't think so."
The lawyer paused a long time before continuing. "They've been talking to half the town, and the local paper has the whole story, so it can't do any harm to tell you. The divorce was final yesterday at noon. The last person to see Harriet alive was the maid, when she left the house the night before. And no one knows what happened between then and the time her body was found in Sunnydale late yesterday evening."
"So Rogers had a lot to gain if Harriet died before noon." Buffy was watching Ms. Wiggs' face. "Except I bet cousin Arnie is in the will and he has a lot to gain if she died later."
Ms. Wiggs leaned over and opened the cardboard lid of a box nervously, then closed it again. "My firm has represented the Worp family for many years, and I don't like to say anything against a member of the family, even when he is not actually my client, but…"
Spike brought his less delicate sensibilities to her aid. "But Arnie needs the loot."
"Not needs, precisely, but he's made no secret of the fact that he's had to…economize lately. That's not a crime, of course. And if Harriet died after the divorce was finalized, then Arnie inherits most of her fortune. That's not a crime either, of course…"
It was Buffy's turn to finish Ms. Wiggs' sentence. "But murder is."
"We don't know if there was a murder. And if there was, we don't know that Arnie is guilty. But if he is…Please." Ms. Wiggs' eyes met Buffy's pleadingly. "The sheriff said you're good at…at sorting things. And if this isn't sorted out, it's going to turn into…"
"A production of Bleak House." On cue, Spike finished the thought for her.
This confused Buffy, but Ms. Wiggs smiled at him gratefully. Whatever Bleak House was, it apparently removed her last qualms about asking for help from someone who looked like Spike.
"Yes. This could go on forever, and both Jim and Arnie would remain suspects. I feel that I owe it to whichever of the two is innocent to find out which one is guilty. However annoying they may be." She paused. "And I owe it to Harry to make sure that no one profits from killing her, if she was murdered. Harry, that is Harriet, was…well, she was considered a bit weird, but I liked her." She stood up and walked around the room, looking at the mess Jim and Arnie had made. "And someone needs to make sure those two vultures don't come back and pick the place clean in the meantime." She met Buffy's eyes. "I wouldn't trust the only detective we have here in Craftsbury to do more than act as a process server, and the man in Sunnydale talked like you were some kind of ninja superhero." She laughed at the absurdity of this, but went on, "Would you consider staying here as caretaker while you investigated? I'm having someone come in tomorrow to change the locks to the house and the garage, but I'd feel better if someone was on the premises."
"Um…." Thoughts of other responsibilities flooded Buffy's mind. Sunnydale. Demons. Dawn. Job-hunting. Mortgage.
"It's not really a conflict of interest. Both that poor mortician and I want the same thing, to find the body. It's true I might eventually have to sue him, but…"
Sunnydale. Demons. Dawn. Job-hunting. Mortgage.
"There's a very nice guest house out back you could use."
"Um…" Sunnydale. Demons. Dawn. Job-hunting. Mortgage.
"I'd give you a retainer, of course."
Buffy opened her mouth to ask what a retainer was but Spike stepped in front of her. "Seven hundred dollars a day."
"Seven…" Ms. Wiggs looked doubtful.
Spike awarded her his most charming smile. "My lady's giving you a discount, of course. Seeing as you mentioned we could stay on the premises so there wouldn't be hotel costs."
"Oh, if that's the discounted rate… Yes, of course. I'll need itemized bills, though, for the probate court."
"Not a problem." Spike smiled again.
All Buffy could think was, Seven hundred dollars a day. No demons. No Dawn. No job-hunting.
"How long…I mean, when can I start?"