As Sierra stood at the end of the Smiths' driveway trying to digest what she'd just learned from Sarah, her phone pinged with a message from Jordan. It read:
Smith called Luke - hemmed up in town for night. Wants kids to go home - CREEPY! I told Luke they can stay here. They'll need some stuff. Called Deputy Jones, he's coming out with some detective to document what kids take in case it comes up. You almost back?
Sierra texted back with her own location by the Smiths' driveway; Jordan replied they'd be right out. Sierra went ahead and did her post-walk stretches while she waited. Within a few minutes, she saw Jordan, Luke, and Hannah walking around the curve of her driveway toward the road. Kahra gave a soft whine and wagged her tail as they crossed the road to the Smiths' driveway. Hannah asked if it was okay to pet the dog -when given permission, she sat in the soft grass and began to pet Kahra and scratch behind her ears. Luke looked incredibly irritated and stood to one side of the small group, so Sierra approached him.
"Luke," she said softly, "I don't mean to be rude, but Jordan said in his text that your dad wanted you to stay at the house tonight. That seems kind of odd to me. Do you know why he'd say something like that?"
Luke snorted. "Bob's been acting really weird for months. This is just one more thing
in a whole string of weird stuff. He told me it was because we shouldn't impose on the neighbors, but seriously? I'm going to take my sister and stay at home where who knows what could happen next? No way, dude."
"So does he know you're staying with us?" Sierra asked.
"Pfff - no way. I told Mr. Jordan about it and asked if we could impose, or if you could take us somewhere else. He said you'd be cool with us staying at your place for the weekend." Slightly unsure now, Luke asked, "Is that okay with you? There are some guys here in the neighborhood that I kinda know from the bus, before Mom pulled us from school; I can see if I can take Hannah to their house instead."
"Absolutely not!" Sierra replied. "You are both more than welcome to stay with us. I know you don't know us well either, but at least you'll be closer to home if you need something. Do you have family anywhere nearby? And did your dad say why he's staying over in town?"
An odd look crossed Luke's face. Looking past Sierra to Hannah and Kahra under the flowering cherry tree, Luke dropped his voice further. "We have an aunt nearby, but she's not answering her phone. I've been trying to reach her since we woke up to the news about Mom. I just keep getting voicemail right away, like her phone's turned off. I don't mean to be rude, but could you not call Bob my dad, please?"
Time to get to the bottom of this Bob thing, Sierra thought.
"I don't quite understand your relationship with Bob, Luke," she began. "Is he your father or your step-dad or what? You keep saying he's not your dad, but Jordan overheard him tell the deputy this morning that he's your father. What's up?"
With a sigh and another look at his sister, Luke leaned in a bit. "That's why we aren't in school any more. Our father went away for work about a year ago. When he came back, he wasn't the same. We were already getting ready to move here, and things got really weird. He started acting like he didn't even know about the move, acting really oddly toward me and Hannah, and being really, really strange toward my mom. They'd have these conversations, real quiet at night, and one time I walked out of my room and he had her up against the wall. Like, really in her face, really menacing. Mom brushed it off when I tried to talk to her about it, saying it was something work related, but it really wigged me out. When we moved here, Bob started sleeping on the couch in his office."
Sierra nodded, wondering if Bob was dealing with some kind of trauma or PTSD. "Where did your dad work, Luke?"
"He works for a company that does research for the government and some other agencies. But that's only part of what clued me in to how different things are now, Ms. Sierra." Luke glanced over his shoulder and at his house. "That's why Mom pulled us from school. I noticed that there were other things about him that were different and I tried to talk to her about it; when she wouldn't discuss it, I went to the school counselor. The counselor thought it was so weird, and said I must watch too many movies. She called my mom about it, and then during the Christmas break, we were withdrawn from school to homeschool."
Sierra's brow furrowed. "What other things, Luke? This does sound pretty odd to me too."
"Physical things. We went to the Liberty Heights pool and took Hannah swimming. In the locker room I noticed that a birthmark we all have - Dad and Hannah and I - was gone. Like, seriously, poof! gone. It's a weird little blotchy thing on our backs, you'd never know we have it unless we have our shirts off - which we did, to swim. We got it from him, he got it from his dad; there are like generations of us that have it. I'm telling you, he seriously is NOT my dad. I tried to talk to my mom about it and she said she couldn't explain, just let her handle things. That's
when I started calling him Bob instead of Dad; I figured it'd make him
mad and he'd slip up and I could figure out what is going on. Everybody just wrote it off as teenage rebellion. And now Mom can't 'handle it ' - she's GONE." Luke's voice had gone up and Jordan and Hannah looked over. Sierra met Jordan's concerned glance with a slight shake of her head - no need for intervention.
As Sierra opened her mouth to reply to Luke, she heard a vehicle approaching. Looking up the road, Sierra saw a silver Ford Explorer with the county sheriff's department logo on the side approaching their group. The deputy driving gave a wave to Jordan as he pulled into the driveway and passed them. A woman in a dark colored suit rode in the passenger seat and gave them a nod.
Sierra turned to Hannah and said, "Hannah, I'm sure Kahra has appreciated your attention, but she's back on duty now, okay? If it makes you feel more comfortable, though, she'll stay near you while you get your things from your house."
Hannah nodded and smiled slightly. "Thank you, Miss Sierra. I'd like that. I know Mom was attacked outside, but - yes, please."
Sierra nodded. "When we go inside, she'll go wherever you go, okay?" Sierra offered her hand and helped Hannah up from the grass; they all walked to the SUV parked halfway down the driveway as the occupants got out.
The deputy driving got out, put on his hat, and shook hands with Jordan. "Thanks for calling me about this, Jordan. I know the kids will need some things for the weekend, but we appreciate you not just sending them in willy nilly if we have to go back for anything for the case. Ma'am," he said with a nod.
Turning to the woman approaching from the passenger side of the Explorer, he said, "This is Detective Kincaid. Detective, Jordan Fitzpatrick and his wife. Mr. Fitzpatrick is the neighbor who responded to the noises this morning - you've seen his statement. And these are the Smiths' children."
Detective Kincaid shook hands with the children first. "Luke and Hannah, right? I'm sorry for your loss. We'll do what we can to find out who did this to your mom."
Luke's face flushed with anger as Hannah teared up. Detective Kincaid squeezed her shoulder and turned to Sierra and offered her other hand. "Fitzpatricks, eh? I'm a Murphy, originally - married over to the Scots side."
With a soft laugh, Sierra took her hand. The detective had a firm grip and solid handshake. "Sierra Fitzpatrick, neé Mac Craith. I'll confess to a few Scots in the line myself."
"Wouldn't have known it from this fine wolfhound you've got here," the detective joked as she shook Jordan's hand.
"That's Kahra," Hannah said, reaching for the dog, whose shoulder stood as high as hers. "Miss Sierra said she can go to my room with me if I want."
"I'm sure she'll be an excellent escort for you, Miss Hannah. Would you like to go get your things now?" Detective Kincaid replied. At Hannah's nod, she continued, "Do me a favor and humor Deputy Jones and me - we'd like to go into your house first for a minute, alright? We won't touch any of your things, we'll just make sure everything's still how you and your family left it. Then we'll have you come in."
The adults all exchanged knowing looks and Jordan said, "We'll stay out here with them while you clear the - ah, take a look."
Luke gave Deputy Jones his house key and they waited while the officers cleared the house. Within a few minutes, they were back at the front door and telling the children to come on in. Luke told them that he mostly needed his scooter from the garage, as his first day of his new apprenticeship at Foxwood was Monday - he'd prefer his "ride" rather than walking or having someone take him. Sierra, remembering Sarah's final comment, offered to go with Hannah to her room. Perhaps she would see what Sarah referred to and could show it to Detective Kincaid. Hopefully it'll be something really obvious, Sierra thought. How do I explain that a ghost texted me a clue?
Hannah gladly accepted the offer and Sierra and Kahra walked through the house with her. Crossing through the main living area from the foyer, Sierra admired the Smiths' home; Susie clearly had an eye for good design. A set of glass doors closed off a room off the dining area - Bob's office, perhaps? Through the lacy drapes on the doors, she could see what looked like a dark colored couch and a desk. Down the hall from the living area, they walked past a bathroom door and a room Hannah proclaimed to be Luke's, with an admonishment to not "go in there without plugging your nose - it smells like boy stink." Sierra laughed heartily - with four boys of her own in one bedroom, she knew exactly what Hannah meant. The next doors were across from each other; apparently Hannah's room took the back corner and the master suite took the front corner of the house. Hannah hesitated slightly at her parents' bedroom door, then turned into her own room. Kahra walked in right behind her and began sniffing around.
"Can you get my bag down from the shelf, Miss Sierra? I can't reach that high and my mom would be mad if I stood on the desk chair," Hannah said. Realizing what she had just said, the ten-year-old's lip trembled a bit.
"I'm sure she'd understand," Sierra said softly, "But I'm happy to get it for you." Looking up, Sierra saw a lavender suitcase and pulled it down for the girl. Setting it on the bed, she added, "Why don't you go ahead and grab a week or so worth of things? Just on the off chance you need to stay with us a little past the weekend while your dad gets things settled for you. I can be your extra hands and eyes - just tell me what all you'd like and we'll pack together."
Kahra settled on the floor near the door and watched as the two set clothing, some favorite toys, and a few books in the suitcase. Hannah walked to her desk and pulled a glitter-encrusted journal and a handful of pens from a drawer. As she did, a piece of paper became stuck in the edge of the drawer.
"Oh, something's jammed there," Sierra pointed out as Hannah fought with the drawer. "Let me see if I can get it for you."
Gently working the paper from the drawer rail, Sierra handed it to Hannah. "Here you go - just a little tear."
Hannah smiled. "OH - thank goodness. That would've sucked!"
"Oops! Something important, huh?" Sierra asked.
"Oh, definitely!" Hannah slipped a manila envelope out of the desk, a staple holding. "It's the cover sheet for my mom's work stuff. She asked me last night to tuck it away for her until she could take it to work today. I figured nobody's going to look under a glittery diary, y'know? Dad says 'glitter is from the devil'." As she turned the paper back over, Sierra realized what it was: a letter with the name of a chemical company and someone's contact information at the top.
"Hannah, we should probably give this to Detective Kincaid. If it's for your mom's work, it might be helpful for her in some way," Sierra told her.
"Okay. If she doesn't need it, maybe she can give it to my mom's office or something," Hannah replied. "Do you think they'd let me take her pillow from the bedroom?"