Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 10

Abbott_grocery.JPG

 

Aidan pushed Kian back against the building. He took one more quick glance around the corner before saying, “Let’s go.” He pulled her back the way they had come.

When they got close to the Jeep, Aidan surveyed the area again. “Now. Quickly.” He set a swift pace across the parking lot. “Darn, couldn’t you buy a car with a remote?”

“Real Jeeps don’t have clickers,” Kian replied, trying to keep up. She wanted to remove her dainty sandals, and would have, but the pavement was hot enough to fry an egg.

“Always have an escape,” Aidan said as Kian jumped in the passenger side. He piled his bags on her lap. Then he climbed in the driver seat. Turning the ignition, he jammed the Jeep in reverse and spun 180 degrees. The Jeep jumped wildly as he took the curb without stopping, and then swung left onto the road.

“The highway is in the other direction,” Kian reminded him as they sped past the ice cream stand. “And slow down, there are kids around.”

Every few seconds, Aidan glanced out the rear view mirror. When he got to the intersection, he turned to Kian, “Does a left get me back to the highway?”

“Sure,” she replied.

Aidan spun the Jeep left.  “Where to, now?”

“Go past those trees up ahead and turn left again.  You’ll come out at a light at Buckston High. Slow down, Aidan.”

Aidan saw an intersection. “Griffith Field Road? Is that what I want?”

“Yes.”

Aidan ignored the stop sign and jerked left again. He spotted the school track and then the high school. “Kian, when we get to the traffic light, get down. You hear me?”

“Why? What are we doing?”

Aidan glanced out the rear view mirror again. “Back at the motel, I saw that SUV.  They could be at the light.”

“Why didn’t you say so? Turn into the drug store parking lot.  There’s a back road. You can take that for a couple of miles, then pick up the highway. And slow down, okay?”

After they turned onto the patched road, Aidan did slow down. He grabbed his cell, held the button and waited for the familiar chirp. “Call JL Power.”

“Calling,” chortled the cell phone.

The line only rang once. “Director Power’s office. How may I help you?”

“Agent Scott here. Give me the Director.”

“Right away, sir.”

Power answered on the second ring. “Yeah, what is it?”

“Listen, sir, that maroon SUV? Well, I think it’s a Mercedes and it is still in the area. I saw it at the motel. Can you get the locals to pull it over and check to see if it scraped a tree?”

“Sure thing. License plate?”

“New Mexico. Maybe 2-5 something. Too far away to see clearly, and I was in too big a hurry to get my…,” he paused, “…to get Ms. Buchanan out of danger.”

“She with you?”

“Yes sir.”

Power’s voice turned smooth, almost syrupy. “Well, howdy, ma’am. Thanks for your help, sweetheart. Are you doing okay? Everything okey-dokey with you?”

Okey-dokey? Kian looked amused. “I’m fine.”

Power continued. “Yes, sweetie, I’m sure you are. I train my agents well. Now if that Agent Scott gets out of line at all, you just let me know and I’ll send him off to Power’s Finishing School.” He chuckled.

“Power’s Finishing School?” Kian mouthed the question more than voiced it.

“Old joke,” Aidan told her. “Power’s sister went there in the 70s. She was expelled, ran away, and joined a commune or something. She got disinherited. It’s my boss’s way of reminding everyone he’s part of the horsey set, and could get us expelled from the D.C. office any time. Right, boss?”

“Right, son. And don’t you forget it either. Have you got anything else to report?”

“Not immediately. I’ll call you later.”

The connection went dead.

“What about that SUV? Is he going to pick it up?” Kian asked.

“Probably,” Aidan replied. But to Kian, Aidan did not sound so sure.

“Look,” Aidan quickly added, “We need to pick up a few supplies. Food and stuff. Where can we go that isn’t obvious?”

“There is an old grocery store up ahead. Hardly anybody goes there anymore. When you get to the next road, take a right,” Kian replied before adding, “I really don’t think your boss has any intention of finding that SUV. Your boss gives me the creeps. I don’t like him.”

“Yes, well, Jimbo would certainly agree with you. You know, he actually did get ‘expelled and disinherited’ from Power’s Finishing School a few months back. He aggravated Power and was sent to some god-forsaken place out west to do background checks, by phone no less. About as low level an assignment as he could get. He quit the agency right after that and has been working freelance ever since. Suits him better anyway.”

“What did Jimbo do to aggravate Power?”

“Don’t really know. He won’t discuss it.”

Minutes later, Aidan turned into a pothole-ridden parking lot beside a rundown grocery store. He hoped the meat, at least, was fresh.

 

 

Photo credit:

By Lothar1976 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 9

 

2006-08-23_-_Road_Trip_-_Day_31_-_United_States_-_Oklahoma_-_Route_66_-_Pawn_Shop_-_We_Have_Guns_and_4889067653.jpg

 

 

Kian and Aidan rode in silence until they reached the highway. All of this, the death, the break-ins, needing law enforcement to protect her–it all frightened her. All she wanted to do was to run to Uncle Jacob, have him comfort her like he always did. But Uncle Jacob was gone now. Once again she felt the tears welling up and once again she fought them back. Not now, don’t think about that now, she told herself. Think about who did it. So Aidan can arrest them and this would all be over. And she bet he knew more than he was saying. Yes, it was definitely time for an interrogation of her own.

“Okay, Mr. FBI, tell me what this is all about. This isn’t just a routine murder, is it?”

Aidan seemed to hesitate a moment before saying, “Kian, I don’t think so. I am afraid this is very serious business. We need to open that package and see what is inside it.”

“Fine, but tell me what you know about this ‘serious business.'”

“In a minute, fast food first.” Aidan pointed to the burger joint up ahead. “Dainty bites of pizza are fine, but I needed more. Volume, that’s what I am after.”

At the microphone, he leaned over Kian and ordered a triple size, quintuple decker something-or-other, and then looked at Kian.

“I want a single size, one deck, and I’ll take a coke. A real coke.”

Aidan handed Kian money so she could pay. He pulled up to the take-out window where they were handed a large bag and their drinks. After taking the food from Kian, Aidan pointed to a spot facing the road. “Will this buggy make it over that curb?”

“You bet, but I know better off-road trails if bruising your butt thrills you.”

“Rule number one. Always have an escape route, my dear,” Aidan replied. “Always know a way out.”

“Don’t tell me you are ex-military, too.”

“Jimbo and I did Navy SEALS together.”

“So, you guys have known each other a long time?”

“Actually, we met in second grade. Neither parent had much use for kids. So we got shipped off to private school, camp, you name it. We just made sure we landed in the same places so we could be together.”

“Parent? Not parents?”

“His mom bolted before he turned two. Left him with a drunken father. My dad died before I was born. In combat. Left me with a drunken mother, too self-absorbed to care. I think Jimbo and I spent our entire youth keeping our parents apart,” Aidan chuckled. “That would have been some combo.”

“It looks to me like you and Jimbo make a great pair.”

Kian took a hearty bite of her hamburger before turning back to Aidan. “Ok, spit it out.”

Aidan’s eyes grew wide and he put his napkin to his mouth.

“The story, not the food,” Kian responded with playful exasperation.

Aidan swallowed and wiped his mouth. “If I talk and eat at the same time, it slows us down. Rule number two. Never stay in one place too long.”

Great, this guy has a rule for everything. She knew she wouldn’t get the story until Mr. FBI was ready, but that did not mean she couldn’t push him in the meantime.

When they had finished, Kian gathered the trash and opened the door, but Aidan grabbed the handle and pulled it shut. “Rule number three, don’t expose yourself until your life depends on it.”

#

The motel was out of the way. “Inconspicuous,” said Aidan. One of those long, lean structures out of the mid 1950s, it was now updated hoping to catch overflow from the more modern versions closer to the parkway. Kian suspected a booming “no-tell” trade.

Aidan drove around back and parked the Jeep near some bushes. He hurried her to the sidewalk. They stayed close to the building as they walked toward Aidan’s room.

“You got the package?” Aidan asked. She patted her backpack. “Good,” he replied.

The room was small, twelve by twelve, with two twin beds, a dresser, and a small round table under a curtained window.

Aidan reached behind the table to switch on the air conditioner and motioned for Kian to sit. With no forest shade to keep the earth cool, it was always warmer in town, but the heat beating off the blacktop outside was like a furnace. The cool air felt good on her bare legs. She reached in her backpack and removed the package.

Aidan sat across from her. “Tell me again, how long have you had this?”

“Since Wednesday, the day before yesterday.”

“If it was a bomb, it would have exploded by now,” he said. “Still, we should be careful.” He leaned over and pulled a leather kit from his duffle bag. When he unzipped it, Kian saw a number of electronic gadgets inside. Aidan pulled a small cylinder out. “This should detect any bomb residue,” he said as he passed it over all 6 sides of the package. “Seems clean.”

“Is that thing 100% accurate?”

“Good enough for government work,” Aidan replied and broke into a wide grin. He handed her a pair of sharp scissors from his kit. “Yes, it’s safe. Open it.”

Kian cautiously slipped the point of the scissors under the transparent packing tape plastered to the folded brown paper and white string. Taking care, she sliced across the top, then down each side. This allowed her to pull the wrapping apart, revealing a solid ebony box. It was hinged and well constructed. She touched the clasp, but before she could open the hook holding it closed, Aidan grabbed it. He moved the box closer to the window and, standing back, used the pointed scissors to unlatch the hook from the eye. With the point of the scissors, he lifted the lid an inch. When nothing happened he used the scissors to throw the hinged lid open. Inside was a small chest with two figures kneeling on top. One was gold, one was silver. Kian’s first thought was that they formed a handle of sorts. “What is this thing?” she asked.

“Some type of Ark,” Aidan said.

“You mean like a boat?”

“No, a chest or box to hold something important, like the Ark of the Covenant.”

“Oh, you mean like Indiana Jones?”

“Kinda, I guess. Before the movie, Moses brought an object called the Ark of the Covenant out of Egypt. It was believed to have great power–although what that power was is open to speculation.”

Kian reached in removed the Ark from the ebony box. For some reason unclear to her she asked, “Aren’t there supposed to be wings or something?”

“The one in the Bible had Kerubim on top, a type of angel. So, yes, there should probably be wings. May I hold it a minute?”

Kian’s impulse was to pull it away, to guard this thing, and not let it get away from her. A strange reaction. It puzzled her. Hesitantly, she handed the Ark to Aidan.

“Look,” he said, “There are slots for wings. Check the box.”

“They’re not here.” To show him, Kian turned the box upside down. Two note cards fell out. One was addressed to Jacob and the other to Kian.

Kian picked up her note first and read it. A tear came to her eye and she started shaking. “It’s from my mom and dad. It says, ‘Dearest Kian, this Ark has been in our family for more generations than we can count. We should have explained all of this to you when you reached your first moon cycle, but we could not get back home to you. The Ark always goes to the new Keeper when she turns 28. So it is yours now. Jacob will explain it all to you.'”

Tears rolled down Kian’s face. Her voice trembled as she read the next few lines, “‘And, darling, know it breaks our hearts that we could not come back home to you. Know we love you so much. Light and Love, Mom and Dad.'”

Kian touched a dried stain on the paper. Her mother’s tear? “The note was dated ten years ago,” she said.

Moments passed before Kian finally looked up at Aidan again. “Shall we read Uncle Jacob’s note? Is that legal?”

“Legal enough for government work, I suppose.” Aidan picked up the note and handed it to her.

“My dad wrote this one,” she said and began reading. “‘Dear Jacob, by now you know that Cat and I did not return to you. We are alive and well but unable to leave this place we’re in. Or at least I am unable and Cat refuses to leave without me. If you have not already told the Little One, explain it all to her for us and help her shoulder her immense burden. I only wish I could have seen the Ark opened after all these millennia. Give Kian a kiss for me. I miss her so much. In Light, Red.'”

Kian sat quietly for a few minutes. Confusion set in. She did not know how she felt. This was so different from what she imagined, from what she feared. For the last eighteen years she’d alternated between thinking they were dead and thinking that they had abandoned her as unworthy after their last evening together at Jacob’s.

The note was written ten years ago. Were they still alive? And why couldn’t her father leave from wherever they were? She supposed she should be hopeful, happy even, but that old guilt simmered underneath.

“I should have kissed them good-bye,” Kian said. She shrugged and pointed to the two kneeling figures on top of the Box. “So those are angels, right?”

“Actually, I don’t think so. See this symbol?” Aidan pointed to the headpiece both figures wore. “It’s the ‘Throne of Isis.’ So that makes these two figures of the Winged Isis.”

“Isis. Isn’t she an Egyptian goddess, not Jewish? I thought the Ark was Jewish.”

“The Ark–the one in the Bible anyway–was brought out of Egypt. Moses was raised by the Pharaoh’s family, and may have been a Pharaoh himself, before leading the Jews out. The Ark was first and foremost Egyptian. But you are right. The Ark in the Bible had Kerubim on top. The figures on this one look like the Winged Isis, in her Dark and Bright aspects. There must be more than one Ark. Are we ready to open this one?”

“Give it to me. There must be a latch or keyhole or something.” Kian took the Ark and turned it over and over again, but was unable to find any way to open it. Then, she inspected the slots on the back of each figure. They were slots for wings. Then it dawned on her. “It won’t open, not without the wings.”

Aidan looked at her, his dimpled grin spreading slowly across his face.

“Uncle Jacob’s wings,” they both said in unison.

“Okay, do you have any idea where the wings are?”

“No, but probably in the cabin somewhere. Buried among his other treasures.”

Kian placed the Ark back in its ebony box, secured it, and placed it in her backpack. “Get your stuff. We need to go get those wings. Remember, never stay in one place too long.”

“Okay, okay. Just let me pack up first.”

Aidan layered his clothes in his duffle, grabbed his toiletries, and tossed them on top. Then he picked up his computer bag and checked it. His files and computer were neatly packed inside.

Aidan moved to the door and opened it. Kian tried to follow, but he held her back as he looked left and then right.

Squinting, he walked out into the bright sun.

Waves of heat wafted off the sidewalk and caught Kian by surprise. The temperature was climbing quickly.

“I need to check out,” Aidan told her as he headed toward the lobby. When he got to the end of the building, he peered around the corner. And froze.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit:

http://www.cgpgrey.com [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 8

Screenshot 2017-06-07 09.15.25.jpg

 

 

Aidan was the first to reach the Jeep. “I hope you didn’t have anything valuable in there.”

“The package. Oh, my god, the package.”

Aidan stopped in his tracks. He turned to her. “What package?”

“I got it in the mail the day Uncle Jacob was killed. The note on it said to take it to the ‘Big One.’ That’s what I called Uncle Jacob sometimes.”

“Yes, I remember you saying that.”

“So, yesterday I took the package with me when I went to the mall. I tried calling Stephen because I thought maybe I should take it to him or something. When he didn’t answer, I put it in one of the shopping bags. Aidan, I left everything in the Jeep.”

Aidan picked up the comforter, still secure in its wrapper, and handed it to Kian. He looked around and found a shopping bag blown against the horse barn. “How many bags did you have?”

“Two.”

“What was in the other one?”

“Um, I bought two sets of sheets, three throw pillows, um…, curtains. Besides the comforter.”

Aidan circled the Jeep, but did not spot the second bag. He took a sight line from the front porch. He had “felt” someone last night and there was only one way for that person to escape without being spotted. Behind the horse barn and into the forest. “Kian, stick close,” he said as he headed around the large wooden structure. There, in a heap, they found more missing items. The shopping bag was caught in a nearby laurel bush.

Kian kicked off her delicate sandals and ran to the pile. One set of sheets, the curtains, and three throw pillows. No package.

They loaded the items in the bag before returning to the Jeep. There, demoralized, Kian plunked down on a nearby rock. That was when she spotted the second set of sheets. She got down on her hands and knees and struggled to keep her skirt from rising above her panties as she reached under the Jeep. She pulled the sheets out and handed them to Aidan. Then she crouched down again, tugged her skirt down and this time her head and shoulders disappeared under the vehicle. “I got it, I got it,” she announced and, before Aidan could stop her, she pulled out the missing package and smiled at him.

Kian noted Aidan’s body alert.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I don’t like the creep I feel up my spine. It’s not the first time this morning, but this time it’s not going away. We’ll open the package at the motel,” he said. “Someone’s watching us.”

Uneasy now, Kian moved closer to him. She could feel his warmth, smell his closeness. She actually liked it. “I am not leaving without Lucky,” she told him. “Besides, we should booby-trap the house. If they come back, those two will be in for one HUGE surprise.”

Aidan pondered her suggestion a moment. “I’ll admit it is a good idea. Get those bastards off our tail. Okay, let’s set that trap.”

Kian imagined jagged metal jaws clamping an unwary ankle, but she figured that wasn’t what Mr. FBI had in mind. Did not matter, any trap was good. Aidan, still standing close, spoke softly. “Can you wrap a box, make it look like the package?”

“Sure. That should be easy.”

“Good, I’ll act like I’m hiding it in that shed over there. Anything of value in it? The shed I mean.”

“Dad’s push mower, hoes, rakes, things like that.”

“Good. Won’t matter if those guys do their thing in there, will it? Should buy us time and keep them away from the house.”

“Aren’t we going to capture them?”

“Not without back-up, I am not capturing them,” Aidan told her. “And, you aren’t capturing them even if I could find an army to back you up.”

 

 

Five minutes later Kian emerged from the house with the wrapped decoy. She handed it to Aidan.

“Make sure nobody comes up the drive,” he told her loudly as he took off for the shed and pulled on the door. It almost fell off in his hands.

He turned around and again spoke loudly as he said, “Good. Nobody will suspect it’s in here with a broken door.”

Kian returned a thumbs-up and watched Aidan as he crossed the rickety threshold.

The corrugated metal shed was not big, Kian knew, about six by six. There were rusted holes in the roof, allowing sunlight to dance off dust particles that spun in the air currents. She watched as Aidan added to the dust by throwing things around. He made quite a ruckus.

Finally, he emerged with a big grin on his face. “Done,” he announced.

Kian followed Aidan into the house. He was still grinning ear-to-ear. “What’s so funny, Mr. FBI man?”

Laughing, he reached under his polo shirt. “Can’t find something not there, can they?” He pulled out the faux package she had so carefully wrapped. It was now flattened. “I didn’t leave the box for them to find. Wonder how long before they give up. Hours, I bet. Time enough to make our move.”

“What move?”

“Don’t know yet. Won’t know until we see what’s in the package.”

Moments later Kian spotted an enormous cloud of dust coming up her driveway. Horn tooting, gravel flying, a huge white monster truck sped toward them. At the last minute, a siren was thrown in for good measure. Kian grabbed her backpack, shoved the package and her purse inside, and followed Aidan out the door.

The man who greeted them was as monstrous as his truck. Six foot six if he was an inch. Kian guessed he weighed maybe 250, all muscle. Shaved head, dressed in green fatigues, and sporting combat boots. She sensed he was more ex-military than FBI. She liked him instantly.

“This is Jimbo,” Aidan said by way of introduction.

Jimbo reached out his huge paw. “James Cameron, at your service. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

Jimbo took her hand and with a childlike grin, kissed the back of it, before turning back to Aidan, “Fuck! ‘Drop-down-dead-gorgeous’ is an understatement.”

“Hey, watch your language.” Aidan grabbed his elbow. He turned to pull Jimbo toward the woods. “You’re in mixed company.”

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Jimbo said, not budging. He grinned at Kian. “He wouldn’t say ‘shit’ if he had a mouthful of it. Oh, I did it again,” Jimbo replied, feigning chagrin. “Sorry ma’m.”

Kian winked at the tall burly man. “No problem. It’s not like I’ve never heard a four letter word before.”

“See, Scotty Boy, no problem,” Jimbo said before allowing Aidan to yank him away.

They talked quietly under the tall pines, Jimbo stealing grinning glances back at Kian. He gave Aidan a thumbs-up as he winked at her. Trying hard not to laugh, Aidan pointed to the shed. Jimbo nodded. Then he marched out of the woods, got in his truck, and pulled it into the shade. He grinned mischievously as he got out again and stretched like a sleepy bear. He pulled out his shotgun and stationed himself, legs outstretched on the hood of the truck with the shotgun propped on his knees. He had a clear sight line to the shed. “By the way, Scotty, I saw a maroon SUV hauling ass out of here. Mean anything to you?” There was a distinct twinkle in Jimbo’s eye.

“Are you telling me our perps left?”

“Sure. Did you really think I’d make such a big target of myself with bad guys hanging about? They are long gone and won’t be back for a while. I can feel it in my gut. Now get going, I need my shut-eye.” With that, Jimbo settled himself against the windshield and closed his eyes. “Man needs his beauty sleep.”

“You are such a clown.”

Jimbo let out a loud snore.

Aidan turned to find Kian casting apprehensive glances into the woods. “Are you sure?” she asked. “About what he said, I mean. Maybe they’re still out there.”

Aidan put his arm around her shoulder. “Let me tell you about his gut, it never lies. Hell, I’d trust his gut long before I’d trust the evening news. Come to think about it, I’d trust a roll of the dice before I trusted the evening news. Well, you get the point anyway.” He chuckled. “Come on, hop in the Rover.”

Kian eyed his car and then eyed her Jeep. “That thing of yours bullet proof?”

“The Rover? Nope.”

“We’re taking my Wrangler. It turns on a dime, can go where no man has gone before, and it saves me from seeing people I don’t want to see. In this case, ones with guns.”

“Is that how you got away from me before?”

“You bet. While you were looking for a place to turn around, I was hopping puddles in a single bound.”

“Then it’s the Jeep!”

“Good.”

 

 

 

Photo:

Dave Pinniger [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 7

 

IMG_2094.jpg

 

August 3rd

 

Kian was careful as she got out of bed. She did not want the floorboards to creak. “Shhh,” she said to Lucky, “Mr. FBI needs his sleep.” She dabbed a little lotus oil onto her inner wrists because it always soothed her and, with that, she tiptoed downstairs and past the living room where Aidan slept contentedly on the sofa.

Once in the kitchen, Kian fed Lucky and made herself a cup of coffee which she took to the deck. She sat and rubbed her eyes. Had the last 48 hours been real? Uncle Jacob murdered. She’d been chased and shot at. Who would want to shoot at her anyway, and why? And why Uncle Jacob? None of it made any sense at all.

Kian was about to go for a second cup of coffee when she saw Aidan watching from behind the screen door. “Sorry,” he apologized, “you looked so peaceful in the morning light.”

“Compliments will win you a place on my deck. Come on out.”

“Hope you don’t mind,” he said holding up one of the few unbroken mugs in the house. “I fixed me some coffee.”

“Do you fix breakfast, too?”

“Only when there is something that goes in a microwave.”

“Ah, can’t cook, can you? Bet I can whip up some mean pancakes with real butter and maple syrup. Stay here. I’ll be back.”

Kian pulled down a box of pancake mix. The intruders had broken all the eggs and spilled out the tin of flour so she could not make them from scratch. She was stuck with the mix and boxed egg whites. It was easier anyway. And less cleanup.

While the pancakes were on the griddle, she poured two glasses of orange juice, found some blueberries, threw a few on top of the pancakes, then flipped them over. She grabbed the real butter–nothing fake–and the bottle of genuine maple syrup. She placed them on the tray and then dished out four pancakes for Aidan and two for herself. With that, she backed her way out the screen door to the deck where Aidan sat at the patio table obviously enjoying the sun on his face.

They both dug into breakfast, the silence companionable once more. Actually, Kian liked having him there. He knew how to think quietly. But, what was he thinking? “Any new thoughts on Uncle Jacob’s murder?”

“No, not really. I do need to ask you about some stuff though. Do you mind?”

“Fresh coffee first.” With that, she cleared the table. Once inside she placed the dishes in the sink. When the coffee was done, she headed back out onto the porch with two fresh mugs.

“So what do you need to know?” She sat across from him.

“Well, first, how are you and Jacob related? You said he’s your uncle, but our records don’t show any blood connection.”

“No. I did not say he is my uncle, I called him Uncle. It was a childhood thing. He and my parents were close, close friends. So we all just started referring to him as my ‘Uncle’ Jacob.”

“Tell me what you remember about him, starting from your earliest memory.”

“Wow, long assignment. Let’s see. I remember crawling around his cabin, getting into everything. Mom would try to stop me but Uncle Jacob would say, ‘The world is to be experienced, my dear. She’s fine.’ He was big on me learning. Not just book stuff, experiencing things too.” Kian imitated Jacob’s professorial voice as she continued, “He’d say, ‘What did that feel like, Little One? Remember the feeling too, not just what you saw or did or heard.’ Or whatever. You know, it might seem odd now, but at the time it just seemed normal.”

Kian looked up. Aidan had a crooked grin on his face. She’d seen those types of grins before. Had she said something crazy? She cocked one eyebrow, “What’s up with you? Are you making fun of me?”

“Not at all. I know exactly what your uncle was telling you.” This startled Kian and she was about to ask why, but Aidan pressed her, “Keep going.”

“Ok. Let’s see. I think things went on like that. Pretty much the same, until my parents vanished. That was in…”

“Hold on a minute. How often would you go over to Jacob’s?”

“A couple times a week at least. I begged Dad to take me when he went. Then, when I got older, maybe school age, I stayed with Uncle Jacob when my parents went on trips.”

“How often was that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It was sporadic. Not for months and months, and then a few times over the next month or so.”

“Where did your parents go?”

Kian crossed her arms over her chest and her voice raised a notch. “Are my parents involved in this?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “There is something you are not telling me.”

“That’s true, and I will explain. But can we finish this first?”

Although wary, she continued. “I do not know where they went. It was business, but what business a language professor could have, I don’t know either. After I went to live with my aunt in Boston, I would sometimes pester her. All she ever said was, ‘Ask Jacob, I bet he knows.'”

“Did you ask Jacob?”

“Yes, but he said he didn’t know either. Then after my parents disappeared, Uncle Jacob started to go on trips.”

“Where did he go?”

“I used to ask him, but he always said it was safer if I did not know.”

“Safer? Why?”

“Who knows?”

“Okay, so let’s go back to just before your parents left. When was the last time they saw Jacob. Were you with them?”

“Yes, we had dinner and then I was going to stay with Uncle Jacob because they were leaving very early the next morning.”

“Think about that night. Even the smallest detail might be important. What did your parents do?”

“Uncle Jacob brought out two of his treasures, his artifacts, and they were talking about them, how they were important or something. I remember because I wanted to know why they were important and Mom said one day when I got older they would explain. I got really mad and told them I was old enough now.” Tears came to her eyes. “I was still mad at them when they left.” She hung her head. “I refused to kiss them good-bye. It makes me feel rotten just thinking about it.”

Aidan reached out and touched her hand. “Kian, I’m sure they understood. Just try to think about what Jacob had. Do you remember what you saw?”

“It was like two pairs of beat-up wings, one gold and one silver. I don’t know why they thought it was so special, he had nicer treasures than that, believe me. Why is this important?”

“Sometimes it’s the smallest details that count. Do you think those wings could have had anything to do with why your parents left?”

“I don’t know.“ Kian fidgeted. “Can we just move on to something else?”

Aidan looked at his file again. “Our records show that Uncle Jacob administered a trust fund for you until you were 21. Tell me about that.”

Kian looked at the thick file Aidan had in his hand. “Look, Mr. FBI, how do you know this stuff about me? You’ve been watching me or something?” She uncrossed her arms and leaned forward. “And what else do you know? The color of my panties, maybe?”

Aidan thumbed through her file, pretending to look for that piece of information. “Nope, underwear color is not in the file. Wanna tell me?” He grinned. His surprising playfulness was infectious. She relaxed a bit.

“Kian, a man was brutally murdered and we look into things like this. Your name had to come up–he managed your parent’s estate and then your trust fund. Did you know the arrangements for the trust and the estate were made two weeks before your parents disappeared?”

“No.”

“I think that is more than a coincidence, don’t you?”

“Maybe.” Kian fiddled with her mug. “I really don’t know much more.”

“Two more questions, and then we quit for the day, okay?”

Kian nodded.

“What did you and Uncle Jacob do when you were with him?”

“Now that’s really weird stuff.” Kian chuckled. “You know Uncle Jacob was a bit eccentric, right? Well, he always took me to old places and we would sit and he would have me make up stories about what happened there. Mostly it was a lot of fun. A lot of times he would write down what I said, and then we’d type the story for my parents.”

“Are your stories still around?”

“Yes, Dad collected them, put them in this big book he had. Called it the Book of Knowings.”

“Where is that book now?”

“That’s question number four and it’s in Dad’s library. Why?”

“Because I think that’s what our perps were after yesterday.”

“What would they want with a bunch of stupid childhood fantasies?”

“Kian, did this book also have journal entries?”

“Yes, it’s like a family history.”

“I can’t explain why, but I think maybe this Book of Knowings can give us a clue about what’s happening, why your parents disappeared and why Jacob was killed.”

“Do you think the two are related?”

“Most coincidences aren’t coincidental. Ready for the last question? Tell me about Uncle Jacob’s son.”

“That’s not a question, it’s a statement. But I’ll tell you anyway. I only met Stephen a couple of weeks ago. Stephen lived with his mom in London, if I remember. Stephen’s mom left Jacob before Stephen was born, so I was surprised when he came back to take care of Jacob. He seemed concerned enough. Uncle Jacob had made me his Power of Attorney and I was going to see if maybe Stephen should do that when… well, you know.” As an afterthought, she added, “I still need to call Stephen and give him my condolences.”

“Don’t bother. Stephen, or whatever his real name is, left town. Nobody knows where he is. And he is not Jacob’s son. We contacted his son, the real Stephen, who is still in London. He never had any contact with his father. From what I gather, he doesn’t know anything about him, or even care. Said all his mother told him was that his father was crazy and she was glad to be rid of him.”

Kian, stunned and speechless, flopped back in her chair. Stephen seemed so normal, so ordinary. Yes, that was the word, ordinary. He could not be faking it. He wasn’t clever enough. Stephen’s wife, maybe. She was aloof most the time, and when she wasn’t acting bored, she was impatient. Impatient with Stephen, with Jacob, with the whole dying process. At least, that was what Kian observed. But Stephen?

“Tell me, Kian, any chance one of those two intruders was our fake Stephen?”

“I don’t know. I left so fast I did not get a good look at either of them.”

“Could one have been a woman?”

“One was smaller than the other. But I can’t say for sure.” Unnerved, Kian got up and grabbed both their coffee cups. It was logical–she had to admit that. But she would think about it later.

Besides she had questions of her own. “Okay, Mr. Aidan FBI Scott, I answered your questions, now it’s time for you to tell me what’s going on.”

“Okay, I’ll answer that but it’s getting late and we need to think about your safety. Do you have anywhere to go? Your aunt’s?” He stood and brushed some crumbs off his pants.

“Guess you did not snoop hard enough. She died a few years ago. And, you, FBI man, are stalling! You promised to tell me.”

“No, I am not stalling. Here’s an idea. Your sofa was pretty comfortable last night and you should not be here alone. Too dangerous until we clear this up. I can camp out here, or I can see if another agent is free to guard this place 24 hours a day. Frankly, I doubt that, so if I don’t stay, it would probably mean moving you to a safe house.”

“No way. I am not leaving.” Kian headed for the door. “You can camp on the sofa,” she said over her shoulder. “And you are stalling, so tell me what you know.”

Aidan held the door for her. “Okay, okay, I’ll explain on the way into town. How long will it take you to get ready?”

 

After showering, Kian surveyed her closet. She rummaged through the stacks of tees and crops and cut-offs. Nothing felt right until she spotted her favorite sundress, a bright olive combed cotton that contrasted perfectly with her copper red hair. Fitted to the waist it was belted in gold above a short pleated skirt that showed her long lean legs to their best advantage. She paired it with delicate gold sandals and a dainty shoulder bag, leaving her more cumbersome backpack sitting on her bed. After a quick shake of her head to loosen and fluff her hair, she dabbed a bit of lotus oil on her wrists and headed down to the second floor.

But before she could descend the steps to the first floor, she heard Aidan on the phone.

“I got a bad feeling about this buddy,” Aidan said. “Things aren’t adding up. How long until you get here?” There was a pause. “Okay, see you in an hour. If I’m not here, I’m at the motel getting my stuff.” Another pause. “Yes, well it isn’t the worst babysitting job I ever had, I’ll tell you that right now.” Another pause. “More like drop-down-dead gorgeous. I gotta go. See you.”

Kian smiled as she whirled down the steps. She thought she saw his jaw drop as she breezed past him just close enough to allow him a whiff of her perfume. Did he just whisper that I clean up good? She stood next to him and was relieved to note that, even with heels on, he was still a bit taller. He quickly jumped in front of her to open the door. Cute and chivalrous.

Suddenly, Aidan whipped around and pushed Kian back inside, slammed the door and threw the dead bolt. “Did you lock your Jeep?”

“I…I don’t remember. I was so worried about Lucky I….” She stopped mid sentence and peered out one of the two long glass panels that framed her front door.

There was chaos around the car, the same kind of chaos that had been in her house the day before. Kian started shaking. Not again. Why won’t they leave me alone?

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 6 continued

Screenshot 2017-06-07 08.58.36.jpg

 

 

Aidan sorted through the scattered papers until he heard Kian’s bedroom door lock. He waited a few minutes to be sure she was not leaving her room again before he crept out onto the front porch. With all his senses, he felt around into the night air. He always seemed to know when someone was creeping up on him, when someone was watching him. Tonight he felt nothing. The only sounds were the crickets. He loved that sound, he always had.

Aidan pulled out his cell phone, brought up his contacts and punched number 2. He waited three rings before he heard his boss answer.

“Scotty, boy, about time you checked in.”

“Yes, sir,” Aidan replied.

“The locals report there was some shooting up your way.”

“Yes, sir.” Aidan was not sure why he always addressed his boss as “sir.” Must be military training.

“So what do you know?”

“Nothing that would not be in the report filed by the local police. Someone broke into the house, trashed the first floor before Ms. Buchanan interrupted them. They shot at her during their escape. She’s upstairs sleeping now, but it’s been a rough two days for her.”

“What’s she like?”

“Miss Buchanan?” Aidan was not sure how to answer that question. “Headstrong when she wants to be. Moody. Drinks too much for my taste.”

“I want you to keep an eye on her.”

“So am I babysitting now?” Aidan chuckled.

“Not exactly,” Power replied. “I need to know if she’s gotten any packages lately.”

“Not that I know of. Why?”

“Just keep your eye out for any suspicious packages.”

Aidan felt that familiar creep up his spine, the one that said something was not right. “What is it you suspect?”

Power did not answer, so Aidan tried another tack, “Do you know what might be in this suspicious package?”

“No idea.” Power was clearly irritated now. “You have anything else to report?”

“No, sir. I’m sure the local police report was quite comprehensive.” Click. His boss ended the call.

Aidan sat on the porch and listened to the crickets. His boss was withholding something–about that he was sure. And he was also sure that his spine creep meant something. But what?

Finally deciding the answer to his question would continue to allude him until he had more information, Aidan crept back into the house and, too tired to resume sorting through the scattered papers, grabbed a book from the library and made himself comfortable on the sofa.

 

 

More a shadow than a person, a single lithe figure dressed in black descended from a nearby tree and crept from the woods to the front porch. Crouching down, the shadow peered into the front window. Someone was lounging on the sofa, absorbed in a book.

Satisfied, the figure stole over to the Jeep and tried each door. When none of them opened, a jimmy was pulled out and the back hatch pried. It popped. The figure entered the Jeep and, one-by-one, began tossing the contents out onto the gravel driveway. After emptying the Jeep, the figure methodically checked under the seats and into every compartment, every crack and crevice. Satisfied the package could not be inside the Jeep, the shadow figure emerged again and started a meticulous examination of the items tossed out. A bag of tools was emptied on the ground. Nothing. Nothing with the emergency equipment either. That left two large shopping bags. Just as the figure upended the first and a comforter with sheets fell onto the ground, lightening flashed, illuminating the driveway. The figure ducked and peered around the vehicle. Shit, the agent had come to the window. The shadowy figure felt the agent send out his senses. Fuck! Lightening again, followed by crashing thunder. Stealing another glance, the figure noted the agent had left the window. Two seconds, that was all the time there was before he’d be at the door. The figure kicked the spilled comforter and sheets under the Jeep, silently closed the back hatch, grabbed the second shopping bag, and raced into the shadows, disappearing into the forest.

 

 

Aidan opened the front door but found only the magnificent power of a distant storm. Still, he was uneasy. There had been someone out there, he was sure of it. Should he call his boss? No, the man was more interested in some strange package than in the shooting and break-ins. Aidan pulled out his cell once again and this time punched in number 1.

His buddy Jimbo answered on the first ring. “Yo, Scotty boy. Fancy hearing from you. On a case?”

“That I am. What’re you doing? Busy?”

“Nope, bored as hell. Want some company?”

“Only if you want a fun-packed vacation in the Hudson Valley. Camping. Looking for perps. Getting shot at. Covering my butt.”

“Sounds exciting. Seriously, what’s up?”

Still on the front porch, Aidan plopped down into a wicker rocker and explained the situation.

When he was finished, Jimbo had one question. “Power have you ‘off the grid’ on this one?”

“Yup, another one of those.”

“Buddy, I’m on my way. Should be there in six hours.”

“No, wait until morning. No sense in driving through the night.”

“Got it. See you tomorrow. Be there before noon.”

 

 

 

Photo:

By Katsushika Hokusai derivative work: AMorozov (Hokusai_sketches_-_hokusai_manga_vol6.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons