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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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?