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Rated: 13+ · Sample · Sci-fi · #1457256
The hardest part about discovering someone’s well-kept secret was the boredom.
CHAPTER ONE
The hardest part about discovering someone’s well-kept secret was that they lead a monotonous life, showed you a flat landscape with no variation. The exciting part was obvious: planting the microscopic surveillance devices in home, laboratory, and office; the following; and the questioning of sources. From the fruits of the more exciting labor came the decidedly unremarkable computer files.

Dr. Reginald Clark, PhD., of Genik Technologies, was a person who kept at least one secret, had one aberration in his otherwise humdrum life. My assignment was to find out what that was. Most nights, I sat at my computer, running hours-long sound files, scrolling down extensive lists, and reading transcripts. Other days and nights, I trailed Clark like a jealous girlfriend all over town, home to work to grocery store to coffee shop to children’s schools -- all in the hopes of bearing that one magical fruit: one muttered name, a name to give me a direction, any direction.

Clark spent his non-work, non-sleep hours – and there were few of them – either with his family (a scientist wife, three quiet children) or sitting in his office quietly squinting through a multitude of science writing. He had no mistresses, no night life, did not drink alcohol beyond an occasional beer, a seemingly apathetic political stance if not concerning science, only one half-hearted hobby to speak of (chess), and never took one holiday during the length of my assignment. His Net activities ranged from scientific topics, the occasional shopping, to games of chess. Even his children never strayed from their over-involved pursuit of their studies, hobbies, and sports.

Clark’s first passion was his research in genetics, followed by a second passion: to vocally support a pro-science political climate. These, however, were not secrets. Despite the thorniness of his field’s history, Clark and his employer were enormously successful in educating and convincing anyone who cared to listen about the benefits of genetics research. They were so successful that a few laws made fifty years ago by strong religious ideals were overturned in the sub-research fields of cloning, mutation, and gene therapy. Currently, cloning of any nonhumans and of any organs or organ systems was legal. Cosmetic mutation was legal, but controlled, for a select group of approved conditions. Gene therapy was legal for all life-threatening diseases, all cancers, and some non-life-threatening.

All of this was available to the public. Nonetheless, I downloaded and read all of his articles, interviews, and opinion pieces; perhaps I could get a better sense of the man. However, the only sense I could get was certain drudgery and reluctance about examining his life.

On a Friday night, one of many in succession, I found myself again shifting through files. There had been nothing to report to John for this week. John gave me assignments, was my manager who approved or got things approved for me, and had often given some brief insights into past assignments.

I sipped my cooling black tea, sat back on the worn couch I’d found at a secondhand store, and let my mind wander. In all my years of different living places, different cities, and different furniture, this one was my favorite. I’d caught sight of it through a shop window only two days after moving in, liked its simple dark grey velveteen mass, its high armrests, and decided to purchase it as soon as I sank down into its softness at the store. A good place to think, this couch, already worn in by its previous owner, already loved. Now it fills up half the main room.

The other half contained a large KloneOak coffee table, solid and heavy, with its surface covered by a piece of glass cut exactly to fit the tabletop. My mother’s idea, this glass – it protected the precious oak, and made the surface of the table perfectly even. On top of this glass, my computer, and its components, waited. The rest of the condo was sparsely decorated, but I barely glanced at the walls to care. I owned a sound system and a flatscreen, but was rarely home enough to truly enjoy them. My kitchen contained only the essentials for non-extravagant meals.

I found myself staring out of my darkened windows. I’d drawn the thick, off-white curtains for privacy. When I moved in, I’d requested a replacement of all old windows, locks, and the entrance door with newer, more secure models. In response, my employer, The Amanita Securities Group, installed products that made my condo a difficult place to penetrate. The security technician installing my system grasped a handle on a window and pushed. Nothing happened, but a screen formed on the window with a profile and likeness of the technician. "Henry Cavanough," I read. "Employed, Amanita, 09 July 2205." In fifteen minutes, Henry had made a new account, recorded my eye-print, finger-prints, and general body landscape. Then he had me push, pull, slide, and turn the various handles and knobs.

"The entire system extends throughout your place and reads your biological signals," Henry advised, "and it has no code to work with. Actually, the code is your body, and few things can perfectly imitate your body. If someone cloned you, they can enter, but I’ve heard that’s a far distance to go to break into a single small condo. If you have a twin or more, they can break in more easily, as well as for a person with a profile in your system."

Before he left, he had had me learn to access the controls and erase his account. "All technicians have semi-viable accounts on the products we install. They expire automatically if the owner doesn’t erase them, anyway, but customers feel safer if we all asked them to erase them." Henry explained.

Back to work.

Clark had, in the last week, given a commencement speech to his alma mater, published one article in a scientific journal, and another article for a scientific magazine. The scientific journal article described more mutation research, and lightly hinted at future research to come. I decided not to look at the other two pieces. Perhaps I should look at his financial activity, or the last few days’ phone activity.

I closed files down, connected to the Amanita databases, downloaded files, and opened them. Phone activity – I rubbed my eyes, felt myself sliding into a pre-sleep slowing down, a sort of anti-anticipation. Earlier this week, Clark had called his mother, his contact at the alma mater, a science magazine, his colleagues, the editor at the scientific journal, his wife, his children, some laboratory suppliers, and one time to his distant brother who lived in across the country. I squinted. The longest call Clark made was one of the most recent ones, from this morning, to one ChemWares. The length of the call was noted at thirty-three minutes long. Otherwise, the rest of the calls stayed within the standard Dr. Clark time of under fifteen minutes. Yet the thirty-three minutes was a spike, albeit a small one, on an otherwise flat-lined case.

Skipping the normal length calls, I searched through the sound files to that date and time. Clark’s voice floated out of the computer, a reedy but strong tenor that had become too familiar to me over the past months. Clark sounded tense and tired. After ten minutes, I realized exactly why Clark needed half an hour: he was ordering what seemed an entire laboratory’s worth of supplies. Names of chemicals and objects flew by me, like a familiar but incomprehensible foreign language. Then there had been a repeating of that immense list (How could he afford all this?), discussion of shipping, putting the order under Clark’s account, and something new: Clark would be out of town the week after next, but his colleague Natalya Wilson would receive the supplies, so would it be possible to make a note of that? The clerk agreed, Clark obtained an order number, and the call ended.

Immediately afterwards, I opened files generated from Clark’s financial activities. On Friday afternoon, someone had gone to a popular youth’s boutique at the Regency Mall and purchased a hefty amount of merchandise. Subsequent transactions made a trail to a dining establishment, and an entertainment center. His daughter, I thought. Sometimes Clark gave in, perhaps feeling too much like an absent father, and gave random financial access to his children. Nothing significant.

Now, that was new. This one not-so-simple call triggered a heartbeat on this otherwise numbing case. I closed all open files, made sure all were secured and locked, turned off the computer, and disassembled it. Computer had come a long way; I was glad they were easy to carry in a pocket, and not the heavy, lap-covering size they used to be in the past. I brought the now-empty tea mug to the sink, slumped through the dark into my bedroom, and crawled into bed. I sighed, and smiled. Sleep came easily.

***

Despite a mostly solitary existence, I had my friends. One of them was a family, living four hours outside of the city, in a solid, warmth-filled country house presiding over enough ancestral land on which to lose one’s self for half a day. The skies promised crisp, cool sunshine, and I had not visited Julia since the start of this new assignment. She’d often asked me during our brief calls when I could come “relax, because all you think about is work!” but I’d always deferred, precisely because work was the reason. But this weekend offered time. Within an hour, I’d made the call to Julia, packed a light overnight bag, detoured to a small specialty shop for guest gifts, and settled into my car for the drive. I chose an upbeat, jazzy folder to play from, keyed in my destination, and sat back.

Julia and I had met five years ago, when I had been on my first assignment with my employer and my orders at the time were to track the activities of a local crime gang. Julia’s younger brother James had been one of the main players in this group, and Julia had become my source. She did not see her brother often, but she did not support her brother’s “doings.” She did not know exactly what he did, yet he was making more money than a mechanic should. For instance, she reported, he suddenly owned a fancy watch, sets of fancy furniture, and a big new flatscreen, all within a few months. He offered to pay off her education loans, but she declined, unwilling to allow “illegal money to support my life.” He dealt in drugs, everyone knew that, but lately it seemed his capacity for criminal life had intensified. There had been an increase of “gang-related killings” in the towns close by, and neighbors whispered rumors and double-locked their doors. But for Julia, the rumors and stories were enough, and her only outlet was me.

Julia’s outrage stemmed partly from helplessness, a certain righteousness, and jealousy. I sensed that there was a moral barrier Julia kept for herself, a line she never crossed over no matter how tempting the prize. Perhaps this made her angry during the times she saw her brother prosper while breaking the law, while she felt herself was law-abiding but having to endure the punishment of everyday financial struggles. Part of her was also a caretaker, a giver, and it must have pained her to be related to a cold, violent gang member. She believed me to be some sort of law enforcer, although I told her I was a private investigator. Neither was true, yet this lie became truth for Julia when her brother became injured and he and his posse ended up being sent to prison.

I wasn’t even present the night James was shot down, nor was I there when he received his prison sentence; my assignment was simply to gather information and pass the files on. Over months, I’d followed James and his friends. After sending some information to my employer on a Thursday, John called me the next day to cease my activity, after which he gave me my next assignment. The Saturday night after, a transfer of goods soured. In the fight, James suffered severe burns on his abdomen, face, and legs; colleagues of his and members of the other party lay dead or dying. Law enforcement concluded a deal gone wrong.

There was curiosity, but then there was also self-preservation. John did not enlighten me, and I let his silence be a message to me to let the matter lie. Try as I might, I couldn’t conjure up any feelings of guilt, not for James, whom I knew to be a murderer. James knew he was playing dangerous cards, and I wanted to think that my lie to Julia would somehow save her in the future.

Despite her brother’s ordeal, Julia welcomed me into her home, into her life. Greg – who was not yet her husband then – protested. He thought I would bring trouble to them. He thought me “strange,” but Julia also possessed a stubborn streak, wearing Greg down in the beginning until the years softened him up to me. During the week her brother was imprisoned Julia entered into a baking and cooking binge, and she invited me to dinner, during which she reminisced and regretted not having been “a better older sister.” And I offered what comfort I could, given I was an only child, and given that I had a suspected role in her brother’s lifelong prison sentence. At first, I thought she considered me an emotional charity case, being alone and in what was, to her, a dangerous profession, but as my assignments changed, she remained constant in her calls. I never gave her any details of my work, and she knew I was evasive for good reason, so we compromised: I would tell stories, and she would never question the truth of them.

I did feel a twinge of unease about cracking open Dr. Clark’s life. He seemed straightforward, harmless, and thus far, a complete opposite of James. Maybe there was a soft spot inside of me for those like Clark, who cared enough to spend time creating a commencement speech and advocating life-saving changes in law. I felt that my presence would create storms that need not exist. Let Clark live his life, I thought. He’s not hurting anyone. The old question surfaced, re-surfaced: should I continue this? Do I have a choice?

***

Julia’s children saw me first. They ranged wild over their parents’ land on weekends and after school, only succumbing to home when hungry or threatened by punishment. Both screeched out “Kay!” before Gregory, Jr. – Gee – wrapped grubby, muddy four-year-old arms around one knee and giggled hysterically when I swung him with my leg, while seven-year-old Christine hung at my waist and began a monologue about her various pets. It is amazing how kids seem bigger than they are; the two clutching at me felt like four. I dragged both luggage and children into Julia’s home.

Wafts of paint smell drifted through the house, buoyed by gusts from the open windows of the newly painted entertainment room to the left of the front door. To my right, the kitchen opened into a windowed and tiled open space, where I found my friend pulling a pie out of a restored antique. She was wearing paint splattered yellow slacks, a clean, crisp white shirt, and a yellow flowered scarf over her dark red hair. Green eyes twinkled at me in greeting. Somewhere not so distant, I heard hammering and male voices.

“Hey, Kay, can you put this over on the table? And have a bite? It’s the best when it’s fr – Gee, Chris, will you please let go of Kay? Thank you.” Julia flashed a smile and I couldn’t help but grin back.

“Mommy, can Kay sleep in my room tonight?”

“Kay, UP!” yelled Gee. I picked Gee up, and he wrapped arms and legs around me.

“And Mommy, can I have a chocolate? Just one?”

Gee suddenly twisted away; I put him down so he could make his demand. “Choclate! Choclate! I want choclate, too!”

Freed from children, I set my bags on the floor to help Julia, who fielded multiple requests from her children like an emergency call center. She denied them candy (“It’ll ruin your dinner and your health!”), denied Chris my sleeping in her room (to my relief), but allowed them pieces of fresh fruit. I handed the toys I’d bought to Gee and Chris, who screamed with glee and pelted outside for experimentation, then placed three large bottles of red wine on the table.

“What’d you get them?” Julia peeked through her kitchen window, and saw Gee and Chris clumsily fighting each other with soft, floppy toy swords. “Great, they need to burn of all that energy. They drive me crazy some days! So… you got some time off? Finally, huh?” She turned back to the counter and began to slice potatoes. I offered to help, and she handed me a knife and pointed to a stack of vegetables. “How’s the work?”

“This one’s pretty boring,” I replied, “The one about your brother was more direct, on my part at least. This one has been mostly dull, or the person is hiding their activities extremely well.” I grabbed a large knife to carve out a pie slice for myself.  “Mmm, this pie is good. You were always the pie queen.”

“Well, they say you should stick to what you know…” She paused. “Maybe things are hard with your case because there’s no ‘bad guy’ and no ‘good guy’, like with James. It’s just one ambiguous person.”

“Maybe.” I didn’t tell her that James was one piece in a grand puzzle, that all I was looking for was details on that one piece, and that I thought nothing was ever “good guy” or “bad guy.” But she did have a point.

A sudden puff of paint smell drifted into the kitchen, even overpowering Julia’s dinner preparations.

“Sorry for the smell, the kids found Greg’s paints, and then I found that whole room covered in kid art. They may take after their father in a decade or two, but not now. Greg’s out back now; his new project is to fix up that damn shed. Finally. If he doesn’t fix it this year, it’ll fall down around him. And Darren is with him.” Julia emphasized that last part with a chin-lowering and a knowing look.

“Oh, no,” I blurted, “No. He’s not my type. He’ll be fine as a friend – I, there’s no interest whatsoever.”

“He couldn’t shut up about you last time. He was always asking what you were up to.”

“Well, that’s nice, but it wasn’t mutual. He’s a nice guy, but… you know, his life is not complicated, and mine can be. It’s too much trouble. Why don’t you set him up with that neighbor? The one that used to come over all the time?” It was always like this that Julia would focus on my perpetual, non-normal single life and try to connect me with various male acquaintances. And I always said no, because my life was so different. Boring at times, too exciting at others, but always hidden. There were a myriad of reasons not to involve myself with romance, and only loneliness to do so. I felt that loneliness was not a great reason to complicate life further. I could not imagine putting a burden, such as my strange life, onto someone else’s shoulder. I could not imagine someone else understanding the twists and turns of what I did for a living.

In the background, the hammering stopped, and the voices seemed louder.

“Amy? She still comes over. Not so much anymore -- she’s got someone now. Met him at the farmer’s market.”

“A farmer?”

“Nah, I think he sells farm machinery. Makes a decent living, and treats her like a princess. So, you never know these things.” Again, a hint.

Right then, I heard the typical heavy tread of work boots; Greg and Darren strode in through the back of the kitchen. I received a kiss on the cheek from Greg and a “Hey, what’s going on?”, then an easy handshake from Darren, who looked awkward but asked a soft, “How are you?” Greg loomed over all of us, his sandy-blond head making shadows on the ceiling, a wide smile splitting his stubbly face, blue eyes bright with sarcastic humor. Darren, quite a bit shorter but still taller than me, was dark-haired, quiet, and possessed intense brown eyes but a gentle demeanor. I caught whiffs of people who had spent an entire day outside.

“Nothing much and good,” I responded to Greg and Darren, “work is mostly boring, if you can believe it, so I gave myself some time off. I haven’t seen Julia in months, so it was a good time to visit.”

“You’re welcome any time. Sometimes, the same ole thing gets boring here, too. We’d go on vacation more, but it seems like there’s always something that needs fixing around here. Like that shed. Jules is always on me ‘bout that shed,” Greg leaned over his wife’s shoulder, and snuck a finger into a pot to taste.

“Greg! Your fingers are filthy!” Julia lightly slapped Greg’s arm and he curled away, laughing. He quickly ran his hands under the sink faucet, and caught sight of the wine on the table.

“Hey, nice wine! How’d you know we like this brand?”

“You mentioned it last time,” I reminded him.

“I must be getting old -- I don’t remember, but thanks! Jules, where’s the opener?”

“Drawer right under the silverware drawer. And dinner’s in an hour.”

The four of us sipped wine and tried to help Julia, until she considered the bubbling pots and fragrant oven was “almost ready”, at which time Greg stood in the front door to holler to his children to come to dinner. The wine had eased the feeling of awkwardness between Darren and I, which was a relief; we joked easily as acquaintances-becoming-friends, which would be an acceptable path. Yet I was afraid of smiling too much, giving too much to Darren, too afraid to mistakenly mislead him, so some distance remained.

Steaming dishes mysteriously plunked themselves onto the table, promising to induce after-dinner lethargy. I desperately wanted to call this food “soul food”, appropriating the phrase from history; eating at Julia’s was not only soothing to the stomach, but to the spirit. I did not look forward to the small, bland tasting meals I made for myself at my condo. Gee and Chris fell asleep sometime near eight o’clock. We drank the rest of the wine on the back porch, and listened to Greg’s unceasing chatter. Greg had good stories. He’d traveled the world before he met Julia, studied art and architecture, nurtured a current painting hobby as well as periodical carpentry. The house they lived in was his design. Julia was also a woman of talent: she was a botanist, a landscape artist, and a mean cook. While neither was especially adept at interior decorating (perhaps their children showed promise), the grounds and the house itself was stunning.

The lounge chairs on the deck faced the sunset until the last wisp of midnight blue deepened to black. Flower beds and vegetable gardens flowed from the back of the solid, thick-walled house out onto the land, caged in by cobblestoned footpaths. I could not understand the logic of the different ways Julia arranged her gardens, but the shape of each garden complemented the shape of the land, as if a flowing river of plants started from the house and cascaded downhill.

I leaned back in the cushioned chair, another design of Greg’s. If I tilted my head back, I could see the arched window of the guest bedroom I always slept in. In my mind I recalled the dimensions of the room. There’s the antique bed in the corner, the dark blue quilt always laid out for me, and the small desk directly underneath the window. The quilt always smelled freshly laundered, faintly of lavender. Although I never used it, there was also a dresser on the wall opposite the bed; I never stayed long enough to fill it.

Greg’s stories and everyone’s jokes lasted until we had no more wine; everyone said sleepy good-byes and goodnights. Fortunately, I did not have to tell my stories this time. Darren shook my hand again, and I felt the regret in the grip, but let it go. Greg and Julia slowly made their way upstairs and I visited the kitchen for a drink of water.

As I walked in front of the large windows facing the backyard, an extra shadow jerked to the left. In an instant, I dropped my weight. A sharp hissing noise sliced the darkness – I’d gasped. Awareness expanded. Nothing. Stillness, then a faint creak from the house itself. The skin on my back itched, the silence of the house bore down. I glanced over my shoulder, and back. Nothing. Who is here? I lunged to the right, and almost collapsed in relief as I realized that the different soft lights downstairs had cast multiple shadows of me on the glass. There! I had three layered shadows. I turned off the lights and gave a good examination through all the back windows before scolding myself that I’d been spooked by my own shadows and some good wine.

I crept upstairs with my bag, fuzzily changed, and let my thoughts wander over this roomy house. Briefly, I thought of Dr. Clark, sitting in his home office, face lit up by the computer display, as he did every Saturday night since I was given his name. I wondered about the thoughts flitting so rapidly behind those grey eyes. Where are you going? I thought. I let the question lull me into a sleep of noiseless, shadowy movements.

***

Julia had enough of an influence on her children to prevent them from waking me, so when consciousness slowly surfaced, it was on my own time. The scent of hazelnut coffee and the sweet warmth of fresh baked bread permeated the room. Morning sun gently filtered in through the gauzy white curtains, which I pulled aside to let the heat strike my face. I’m too pale, I should get some more sun in my life. Outside my door, I found a hand-woven basket with bath towels in it; I took the opportunity to have a long shower in the upstairs guest bathroom, with its antique bathtub and shower head that dropped water like rain.

No one was in the house when I finally slipped downstairs. Typical Julia had laid out a queen’s breakfast for me: hot coffee, cream, juice, eggs, bread, toast, bacon, and pancakes; she’d also written a short note – “In the gardens” – on the WipeAway board in the kitchen. I ate all I could and wandered outside, luxuriating in the feel of my skirt’s hem, flowing about my calves in the crisp spring breeze.

I heard Julia working before I saw her, crouched in one of her flower gardens, plunging hard, round bulbs into the ground along an edge. She didn’t hear me until I was almost on top of her, and at that point she screeched, then put a dirty hand to her chest.

“Kay, you scared me!”

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to sneak up on you. I thought you could hear me. What are you doing anyway? Working on the weekend? I thought I was the one who worked too much.”

“Nah, this is relaxing. And also Greg took the kids to the park, so there’s some quiet around here. C’mon and help me, here, just dig a hole – like this – plunk this sucker in there, and cover it up. Easy. Are you feeling okay this morning?”

I dug, plunked, and buried. “You know, I almost never get hangovers. It’s a stupid thing about me; I just feel a bit sick before I get drunk, and then I feel fine. Yesterday night I hadn’t even started to get sick yet.”

“Well, the boys did drink a bit more than us gals. They take gulps, and we take sips. But I still feel a small bit off.”

I laughed.

Suddenly Julia’s face sobered, and another, more serious, focus surfaced. “Kay, I couldn’t talk to you about this with everyone else around… but… it’s about James.”

“He’s still in prison, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is. But there’s something that James is saying. I don’t know why it took him so long. But I visited last month, and he’s saying that he thinks there was someone else there when he got hurt. He’s not completely sure, can’t even tell me if it’s one or more people, but he thinks he saw other shooters. Kay, it’s so horrible, all this stuff with guns… but you have to tell me, were you there that night?”

I was silent for a moment under my friend’s intensity. “No, Jules, I wasn’t. I didn’t even know about a third party there, if there was one.”

Julia nodded, then sighed distractedly. “It’s just that – thinks he got involved in something he can’t control. I think James went against someone or something that he didn’t know about, or that he had no idea of.”

“That’s possible,” I lamely stated. I knew I was being evasive. What else was there to say, when someone was involved in a dangerous game and lost? And why talk about it now, years after, but keep silent in between?

“Kay, is it possible for you to look into this?” Her earnest green eyes pained me.
“Well, I’ve never gone back to a case, and I’m not sure about the consequences if I did, without my superior’s knowledge. How did he seem? Anxious, crazy?”

She thought a moment. “He wasn’t hysterical. He was quite sure what he saw, confident. And he was scared because of this confidence, and frustrated, because no one is listening to him. He didn’t seem crazy to me, though. Not raving crazy, but anxious.”

“Is he the only one who thinks he saw something else happening?”

“James never mentioned anyone by name. He said he wasn’t the only one who thought they saw extra people. Other than that, he didn’t say much.”

“Was he frightened for his life?”

“No, I don’t think so. He was close, but he wasn’t that scared. He didn’t act like he was in danger, that someone actually threatened him. He’s angry that he ended up there, he think that night should’ve gone smoothly. I mean, I think he belongs in prison, he did do… things… but he never was someone who got scared easily.”

“But I don’t think he’d welcome my help. I know, and you know, that my work wasn’t to keep him out of jail. If he’s angry at being in jail, I might not be the best person to help him.”

Julia ducked her head in a reluctant nod. We worked in silence for a bit, finishing up the bulb burying and starting on another garden. A few hours passed, too quickly, as both of us were deep in thought. We stood up, Julia massaging a sudden spasm in her back. She gathered her tools into a basket and we started back towards the house.

“Thanks for the help, and go wash up,” she invited, “I’ll get some lunch ready before you leave. The kiddos will want to say good-bye!”

“Sure, I’ll just wander a bit.” Since I was not a botanist, more than half the plants remained mysterious. Some I did recognize, such as basil, parsley, chives, tomato, and zucchini; the rest passed in a haze of leafy green. I’d almost reached the back entrance of the house before an irregular brick along the edge of the nearest garden patch distracted me.

Julia lined each garden patch with a neat row of small bricks, ensuring that weeds and grass would not encroach too quickly into her plants. On this particular patch, I’d noticed that one brick had toppled forward, and I bent down to adjust it. I pushed the muddied brick upright. Further searching revealed no other bricks so dirtied, no other bricks out of place, not one downed plant or smashed vegetable. It looked as if the single offending brick was out-of-place on purpose. When I looked up, the realization came to me that I was crouched in front of the house’s back windows, in a spot that could, when the lighting was right, render me into a shadow when viewed from inside the house. I felt my forehead and the skin on my back go clammy.

The icy, shivery feeling on my back remained. I chatted with Julia, accepted a large package of food (yesterday’s leftovers, a light pasta sauce that “promises the world,” and fresh vegetables), said good-bye to Gee, Chris, and Greg who had returned, and left with a sense of urgency. A rounded swell of pain radiated from my chest up into my throat; I swallowed but the lump stayed. Looking down, I saw that I’d clenched my hands into white knuckled fists. I forced them open and wiped damp palms on my skirt.

After twenty minutes on the road, I called Julia.

“Julia? Kay.”

“What happened? Are you okay?”

“Jules, I have an idea. I can visit your brother with you the next time you go, if he’s willing to talk to me. Just tell him I’m a friend of yours. I know you don’t like to lie, but if he knows who I am, he might not want to see me at all. I don’t know how much I can do, but at least I can try to see if he needs to be that scared.”

“Oh, are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll talk to him, to see if I can do anything.”

“Oh, thank you so much. I’ll ask him. And I’ll call you when I have an answer. I won’t be lying if I say you’re my friend. Thank you. This might not be a murder mystery” – I smirked – “but it will ease my heart.”

We said our goodbyes, and clicked off. I hope the answer is simple, I thought, but I had my doubts.
© Copyright 2008 Jennifer King (kampfwespe at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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