Not wanting to attract unwanted attention, Tara called Kendra to discreetly ask her to check on Lily. Kendra reported back that the younger girl hadn't come into work. It was not unusual, given that many of the hostesses and dancers were casual workers. Tara didn't want to raise any alarm and simply asked Kendra to let their bosses know if no one had heard from Lily in another 24 hours.
The email from Lily was puzzling.
sistersunshine = vampires
It was a message, a warning or, since Lily mentioned an account, most likely access credentials, but they couldn't figure out what it was.
"You kept her voicemail?" Willow asked.
"Absolutely," Tara confirmed.
Willow's face grew serious. "We need to save it, it's evidence."
"Isn't it already saved by my service, or on the phone?" Tara asked curiously.
"Yes but we have no control over what the phone company does with it. And it's not saved on your phone," Willow got busy with the laptop. "You don't often get to see Geek!Willow at work," a grin was accompanied by a wink. "I'm gonna dial your voicemail on voip, stream, save and upload it to my server. We can access it anywhere with an internet connection."
Tara watched in fascination as Willow dialed her cell number on her laptop, then using another application turned Lily's voicemail into an audio file. Listening to Lily's message sent a stab of worry down her spine and it was disconcerting to hear the girl's voice cut off abruptly at the end. What were you trying to tell me, Lily? I have to find you, you're my responsibility, I won't let you down.
When Willow was done, Tara kissed her soundly and pinched her arm.
"Ow! What did you do that for?" Willow was pleased at the kiss but was not expecting the painful pinch. She rubbed the reddened area and proceeded to pout, though not very convincingly.
Tara pat Willow on the arm, making the pain go away. "You're too good to be true, Willow Rosenberg. I just want to make sure you're not some sort of Mary Sue."
Willow laughed. "Oh Baby, I'm not perfect, not by a long way. If I were, I wouldn't have let you get away all those years ago."
"Well, you're still my hero," Tara said. Turning back to Lily's plight, "I think we should go back to New York, try to find Lily ourselves."
Willow nodded. "That's what I was thinking too. We can't do much over here and I have a bad feeling about it."
"I feel responsible for her. She may have been nosing around and got discovered," Tara shivered at the thought.
"There are a thousand reasons, don't start blaming yourself."
Tara took a deep breath. "I'll try. I know I shouldn't. The sooner we get back the better. Will you change our flights while I'll start packing?" Tara said over her shoulder as she made her way upstairs.
Twenty-four hours after receiving the message from Lily, Tara and Willow were back at the club. The girl hadn't been seen, although no one was overly worried at that point.
"Having domestic problems already? Which one of you can't get it up?" Faith planted herself in a chair and stuck her feet up on the next chair, her usual cocky smirk even more pronounced. "Wait, don't tell me. I don't give a shit."
I can kill her. Now, where she stands.
Tara's grip on Willow's hand tightened and it took an enormous amount of self-control for her not to sweep Faith's feet off the chair and wipe the smugness off the girl's face with a well-timed backhand slap.
Willow took one step closer to Tara, strategically placing herself between her lover and her alleged attacker. "We had a wonderful time. Thanks for asking, Faith."
"Yeah whatever, Red," Faith shrugged and turned her attention to the TV, bored with not having the last word.
They made their way to the office. Willow was officially not supposed to go there, but she argued that there was no point their being stealthy. They might as well be open about their sneaking.
Lily was still missing, and a quick chat with Kendra confirmed that. Tara found Lily's home address in the personnel database - she didn't live at a boarding house like many others, the address was in Brooklyn.
They discussed their next steps on their way across town. If they came up blank, and if Lily hadn't shown up by the time the club opened that night, they would call the police.
They found themselves staring at a building with peeling paint on the outside walls and a huge sign that proclaimed Jesus was indeed their one and only savior. The ground floor was taken up by a convenience store that had two layers of steel netting covering its storefront and swing door. At the side of the building was a narrow doorway leading to the apartments upstairs.
"We're looking for Lily," Willow pressed the intercom button underneath a handwritten label for "Steele" and announced officiously into the speaker when it was answered.
"Not here," the indistinct voice slurred back.
"Do you know when she'll be back?" Willow continued.
"Can we come in, leave her a message?"
"I ain't no secretary," the voice whined.
Willow deliberately kept her finger on the intercom. "Ah well. I suppose we'll have to tell the family no one was there to claim the money."
She and Tara turned to walk slowly away, the corner of their eyes peeled on the front door.
"Who said what about money?" A disheveled man in his twenties yanked opened the door with a bang and staggered out.
Willow turned around and affected her most pompous messenger manner. "We have a message for Lily Steele from her family's lawyer regarding an inheritance. That's all I can say without speaking with Ms Steele herself."
The man tried to straighten up but had to utilize the support of the wall. "You can tell me. I'll tell her."
"And you are?"
"Ricky. Ricky Thomas. Her boyfriend," he declared.
Tara's eyebrow shot up questioningly. Lily hadn't mentioned any current romantic attachments. "Mr Thomas, we need to get in touch with her. Do you know how we can contact her?"
"What's it to me?"
Willow hid her smirk and asked in a low voice. "Perhaps it's better if we discussed this inside?"
This snapped Ricky into action. He winked dramatically at the duo as if they were co-conspirators and led them up to the apartment. Or rather, he stumbled up while they walked carefully, cringing at every creak of the stair.
It was a tiny one bedroom apartment, and Willow scrunched up her nose at the smell of alcohol, stale food and dirty clothes that hit her. Tara looked like she had seen a ghost and Willow's heart cried out for her lover - it was Aunt Marie's all over again.
"I'd offer you a drink, but I don't know where it is," Ricky flopped on the sofa with the ease of someone who spent a lot of time on there. Willow quickly searched around the room to find two rusty and rickety dining chairs. Looked around the living room she noted that aside from empty beer bottles and greasy pizza cartons there wasn't much else. No photographs, no decorations to give a clue about its occupants.
She decided not to wait for Ricky to give them the information. "Mr Thomas. Ricky, when was the last time you saw Lily?"
Ricky seemed to be having a hard time staying awake. "I dunno. May be a couple of days ago."
"Do you know where she could have gone?"
"No. She never tells me."
"What about work?"
"I dunno where she works."
Willow's eyes met Tara's. "You don't seem to know a lot about her, considering you're her boyfriend."
Ricky had the sense to look embarrassed. "Uh, well. We were. She broke up with me. Right after she got out of the loser preacher's church."
Tara nodded. "But she still let you crash here."
"Yeah, a real ball of sunshine she is. Say, is she gonna be rich? She better come back soon, rent's due this week," Ricky hiccuped.
He looked like he was about to pass out, so Willow took advantage of his weakened state. "Ricky, is it okay if my associate and I looked around? Perhaps we can find some clue as to where she is?"
He was too out of it to question them. "Knock yourselves out." And promptly fell asleep.
"Shall we?" Willow asked Tara.
A quick search revealed very little. They were about to let themselves out when Ricky started singing loudly in his sleep.
"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone. It's not warm when she's away." His singing voice was like the catcall of a bagpipe filled with gravel.
Willow was about to shut the door when Tara pulled her back. "Listen," she said.
Willow made a face. "Do I have to?"
"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone. And she's always gone too long anytime she goes away." The squawking continued.
Tara hushed her.
"Ain't no sister sunshine she is. Fuck you, Lily," Ricky muttered drunkenly.
"Sister Sunshine," Tara whispered. "The email."
They let themselves out.
"Didn't Lily say she was a member of a religious cult before she got into being a vampire? And wasn't Sister Sunshine her cult name?" Willow said excitedly.
"It must be a clue to this account she mentioned. But what account is she talking about?" Tara fretted.
"I think it's time we did what innocent people will do. Tell your boss and call the police," Willow answered.
They agreed that Tara would go back to work and meet Willow back at her apartment.
Tara had two pieces of astounding news for Willow when she returned.
Wilkins told her there was no need to worry about Lily. According to him, she called in sick with a stomach bug and would be resting at home for a few days. Tara knew that to be a lie since Lily wasn't home, but didn't want to reveal her hand by calling him on it.
Secondly, she was in the kitchen when Luke, one of Wilkins' personal bodyguards, brought in an uneaten tray of food for disposal. Upon questioning, the kitchen staff told her that a tray of food had been prepared twice a day for the last two days and Luke had taken it away. Each time, it came back untouched. It was not fancy food, more like something a hospital patient would be served.
Or a prisoner.
Someone was being held prisoner somewhere in the building. Unfortunately it was probably Lily. Fortunately it was probably Lily. It meant she was alive.