Kian woke late the next morning to find Lucky sitting by the mysterious package.
But then images of Uncle Jacob’s tortured body flooded back. Kian buried her face in Lucky’s soft black fur and forced herself to hold back the tears. She needed a distraction, she decided. Think about something else until the pain subsided. Then she’d figure it out.
In the six months Kian had been back in the house, she had done a lot of thinking about how to redecorate, where to move what, which things to keep, and what to throw away. What to do with her parents’ room on the second floor, for instance. If she cleaned it out, their disappearance would feel final. She would be condemning them to stay “vanished.” So she had done some rearranging, moving her dad’s favorite armchair into the corner and her mom’s knitting supplies into a basket by the closet.
Truth be told, sometimes she would just walk into their room and sit. It felt as if she could talk to them in there. She would tell her mother about her day and tell her father what she had been reading because, along with her red hair and freckles, she shared his love of books. Wonder what you would make of ebooks. Bet you would have filled up 10 clouds by now.
Today Kian planned to attack a second bedroom, the one overlooking the deck and garden. It had been a combination guest room and catchall when she was young. There was a private bath, as in her parents’ room, and a private porch. It would be perfect for her “grown-up” bedroom. All she needed were new linens and curtains. She would sleep in her new bed tonight. Tomorrow she would make the attic into her study, if she could get all the old furniture down and get a desk up there. She’d been hoping to ask Jacob’s son for help. Now that did not seem like such a good idea.
But she did want to call him about the package. Besides, he’d know what the police had discovered, and she could make sure it was okay to open the package “for the Big One.”
Again she pictured Jacob lying in his bedroom. Lying in a pool of blood. Again, she pushed the images far from her mind. Time to get up and move. Think about something else, she reminded herself.
Kian showered and went in search of something to wear. She put on a pair of rolled khakis, a golden cami-top, and a vibrant orange scooped neck tee over the top, adjusting them so that the cami showed. She surveyed herself in the hall mirror. Not bad. With that she headed for another cupboard at the end of the hall and grabbed a pair of orange and gold sandals. Slipping them on, she hopped down the steps and stopped at the front door long enough to grab her oversized backpack and rummage for the keys.
Once outside, Kian double locked the door and gave it a jiggle. Then she remembered the package. She went back to get it, stuffed it in her backpack, and, as she walked to her Jeep, she punched Stephen Steiner’s number into her cell phone. Again there was no answer and no way to leave a message. She decided to try later ending the call before she noticed she had a message. She retrieved the message, but the reception was not good. “FBI” and “coming over” were the only words she could understand. They were enough.
“I thought we settled this,” Kian mumbled to herself. “You got no jurisdiction here. You want to know something, you go through Owen.” Kian tucked her phone back into her pack, unlocked her Jeep, pulled herself up and in. Seated comfortably, she started the engine and took off for the mall.
Just past her driveway, Kian turned onto the dirt road leading to the two-lane highway into town. That was when she saw a cloud of dust up ahead, a sure sign someone was coming to visit her. She slowed down and pulled over to make room. A Land Rover barreled toward her. She pounded her horn fiercely. The Land Rover swerved. As it passed, she saw Mr. FBI. Without hesitating, she lurched forward at full speed, throwing more gravel back in his direction.
Because there was nowhere wide enough for a Land Rover to turn around, Mr. FBI would have to go all the way to the house before he could swing around to follow. Kian also knew all the short cuts. So, instead of heading toward the highway, she turned onto a dirt trail hidden by a huge pine tree. Here she picked up what her parents had lovingly called the “back road,” but it was more like a back ditch. She drove through a puddle, watching as the mud splashed the sides of her Wrangler. Next came the stream, washing some–but not all–of the mud away. Finally she drove through the pasture. Tall blades of grass whipped at the sides of the Jeep. Must get this cut, Kian reminded herself, as she turned onto the highway, now significantly closer to the mall.
Once at the mall, Kian quickly selected a new comforter, sheets, curtains, and a few throw pillows. She was not an enthusiastic shopper. Usually she got what she needed in a store and left as soon as she could. Having taken care of the linens, she grew more and more distraught as thoughts of Uncle Jacob kept intruding. As hard as she tried, she could not keep them at bay.
She had had enough of the mall. She bought a slice of pizza and a coke, devoured these quickly, and hurried back to her Jeep. As she tossed the bags of linens on to the passenger seat, she remembered the package. She slipped it into one of her over-sized shopping bags. She’d try calling Stephen again when she got home.
The drive back was boring, at least compared to the drive out. Kian smiled a bit as she remembered leaving Mr. FBI in the dust. She wondered if he might be waiting for her at the top of her road, so she took the short cut, splashed back over the stream and through the puddles, and turned onto her road. No sign of Mr. FBI. She turned left toward her house.
As soon as she got to her driveway, she felt a knot in her stomach. Must be the coke and pizza, she reasoned.
Her body tightened. She wanted to stop the Jeep. But, shaking this off as just more craziness, she pulled in front of the house and was about to stop the car when she noticed her front door wide open. She thought back. Yes, she remembered locking it. Kian reached for her cell phone just as two people bolted out of the house. It took a moment for the full impact to hit her. The two were racing toward her and one had a gun.
Kian dropped her cell phone, put the Wrangler into reverse and spun 180 degrees. Then, she floored it, kicking back more gravel and dust. She hoped it would obscure her assailants’ line of sight, but through the rear view mirror she saw one of them take aim with the gun. She swerved back and forth across the road just like she’d seen in the movies. Her eyes darted back to the mirror. She saw the second man shove the first to the ground. The bullet went wild. Flooring her jeep, she spun around the bend. No short cuts this time. Better to be on the normal road. When she spotted the highway ahead, she started to think she might live after all.
Then she saw the Land Rover parked off to the side. Please be FBI, please!
Aidan Scott was leaning against his vehicle inspecting his nails. As Kian braked sharply, a cloud of dust kicked back in his direction.
“Watch it!” he yelled brushing off his perfectly pressed Khakis.
Having driven past Mr. FBI, Kian threw the Jeep in reverse, backed up, and flung open the door. “They broke into my house. They shot at me. My cat is there. You gotta do something.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“Two men. Ugly ones.”
Kian spotted a cloud of dust coming down the road and pointed it out to Aidan.
He grabbed her by the arm, pulled her from the Jeep, shoved her behind the rear end of his Land Rover, and pushed her to the ground. “Stay there and don’t move!”
Aidan grabbed the Sig-Sauer from the retention holster attached to his belt and crouched beside her. “Don’t move,” he repeated. “Not until I say so.”
Swerving to miss Kian’s Jeep, the two men, now in a maroon SUV, sped past. Turning onto the paved road, the SUV scraped a tree. Two seconds later, Aidan maneuvered himself around Kian. Still crouching, he inched his way until he could see past his back bumper. By then, the SUV had vanished.
Aidan holstered his weapon and turned to Kian. Breathing heavily, he asked, “You ok?”
“I…I think so,” Kian stammered.
Aidan reached for her hand and pulled her up. “That was one hare-brained stunt you pulled this morning, running off like that. You could have gotten yourself killed.”
“And how was I supposed to know there were people going to shoot at me?” Still shaking, Kian brushed the dirt and leaves from her pants.
“Well, if you had stopped this morning, I could have told you.” He waited for his statement to sink in before he continued. “Someone broke into the Steiner cabin last night. It had been ransacked. So I called to see if you might know what they were after. Plus I had some questions for you. I’d say you’re damn lucky.”
Visions, dreams, murderers, midnight burglars, gunshots, garbled phone messages, it all terrified her. Things were out of control–way out of her control. So this time Kian did not try to ditch the agent. Whether she liked it or not, she was beginning to think she needed him.
By Wayfaringemu (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons