“Can we go by my house, Mr. Finley?” Brian asked. “There’s something I need to do over there.”
“Sure thing, kid.” They drove to Brian’s house. “Want us to come in?”
Brian hesitated. He wasn’t sure how to answer that.
“Yes,” Jordan said. “Why wait in the cold? Even with the heat on, it’s nicer in the house. And it saves gas.”
They went inside together. Brian was glad Jordan had done that. He hadn’t wanted to admit that he was a little nervous about going in the house alone. Mr. Finley was big and muscular. He reminded Brian a lot of his father. By his mere physical presence, Brian felt better.
“I have to get something in Dad’s office,” he said. “Y’all make yourselves comfortable.”
“Want something to drink?” Jordan asked, playing hostess as if it were her house.
Brian appreciated her taking over. He walked down to his father’s office, hands in pockets. When he got to the door, he saw it was slightly ajar. He knew he’d latched it tightly when he left. His mother hadn’t been near it when they came home to pack. Wary and curious, he opened the door and headed toward the desk. The computer was gone.
Frustrated and upset, Brian groaned. Moments later, the others rushed down the hall.
“Are you okay?” Jordan asked.
“It’s gone! Dad’s computer isn’t here. What am I going to do? That was the only other copy of the research!” Frustrated, he knocked papers off the desk. They fell, skittering across the floor.
Jordan bent to pick them up, and froze. Slowly, her hands reached for a piece of paper. Its glossy finish caught Brian’s eye. Jordan stood, handing the picture to Brian. With a trembling hand, he took it from her. It was the photograph from the stones file. Closer inspection showed that the entire stack of paper was a complete print out of the files his father had left him.
“I swear,” he whispered to Jordan. “That wasn’t there yesterday.”
She shivered. Taking a deep breath, Jordan bit her lip. “You know what you’re saying, right?”
“I’m saying—someone printed that out and left it there for me.”
“Hidden in plain sight,” Jordan breathed. “Your dad’s a genius.”
“Too bad he has such a dumb ass for a son,” Chase said as he sifted through the papers.
“Thanks so much,” Brian said, sounding hurt.
“I’m serious, dude. Stupid. How is any of this important?”
Mr. Finley took the papers from his son. “Because you’re looking only at the surface. You have to look for the deeper meaning. Can you do that, Brian? Can you look below the superficial facts and see the pattern?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Finley. I don’t even know what the pattern is.”
The older man closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. “Read this, absorb it. Don’t consider it at face value. You have to look deeper. I can’t tell you more than that, Brian. You have to figure this out on your own.”
“Because that’s how it’s meant to be,” Mr. Finley replied. “I want to tell you, Brian, but I can’t. Believe—you must believe, or none of this will mean anything.”
“Can’t you give me a hint?”
Mr. Finley said nothing more. Shaking his head, he gathered up the rest of the papers and searched the office until he found a satchel for them. It was battered and old, red leather that fastened with brass clasps. Brian recognized it as his father’s. He used it for all his most important papers. It was fitting that these should be housed in it.
“Don’t let that Deidrich fellow anywhere near this,” Mr. Finley cautioned. He closed his eyes again, laying his hand on the case. He murmured a few words before opening them again. He handed the case to Brian. “Probably the best place for this is with you at all times. Take it to school, leave it in your locker. Sleep with it, if you have to. Keep it in this case.”
Brian didn’t know what to think. It was obvious that Mr. Finley knew more than he was saying. He couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t tell them.
“There’s another storm coming,” Mr. Finley said as they walked back out to his car. “There won’t be school again tomorrow. You two read through this tonight and tomorrow. I don’t care how long it takes you. When you’re done, if you don’t see the pattern clearly enough, I’ll do my best to explain.”
He dropped them off at Jordan’s house in time for dinner, cautioning them not to eat anything Mr. Deidrich touched. “Don’t let him serve dishes, set the table or handle the glasses. If you can’t avoid it, say this—glan dom. Can you remember that?”
“Yes, sir,” they answered together.
© 2016 Dellani Oakes