Chapter 3 (Sections 1 and 2)

3.BigSkySiren3C Chapter

Nervous energy had kept Keeva going until mid-morning when lack of sleep and tiredness took over. Her muscles felt limp and no amount of coffee kept her eye lids open. Her mind had long since disconnected from the bustling café. The story of the previous night’s attack had spread in the small city and had attracted the curious. Most were looking for bits of gossip after having heard rumors connecting the café to the crime. She avoided mentioning her involvement with the attack to her staff, allowing them plausible deniability.

Keeva pushed aside the thought of calling a cab to get home when Mac stepped through the café’s kitchen door. “Oh, am I glad to see you. I’m exhausted and need a ride home.” She professed as she dragged a stool from under the work counter and dropped onto it.

“You okay?” Mac wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a tight hug. Gratitude for her brother’s support surged through her.

Keeva pulled back and looked up at Mac. He felt so thin. She wondered if he had lost even more weight since his return from Afghanistan.

Mac’s hair, a shorter version of hers, fell in curls around his face and his lips lifted to a grin. The twinkle in his hazel eyes matched his upbeat mood. An instant rush of relief washed through her. The world felt right when Mac smiled at her. He looked just like their mother when he smiled.

Her mother. She swallowed the painful memory. The moment of contentment washed away and her roller coaster emotions screeched to a halt. Right now, she had to focus on life at this moment, not the past.

“Did the police talk to you?” She asked and pulled away from him.

“A detective stopped by and woke me up at 3 a.m. Jimmy Smith said he saw me out running the same time the kids were hurt.”

Needing something to distract her from the memory of the night before she stood, grabbing some pans that were drying in the industrial dishwasher and put them up on the shelf. “Where you running around here?”

“Yes, and no, I didn’t lose it and hurt those kids.” He sounded annoyed. “Don’t worry sis, I’m not that crazy. Yet.” He playfully punched her shoulder, but the spark in his eyes disappeared.

“Don’t call yourself that, and I’m not accusing you. I know you’d never hurt anyone.”

She shook her head. How could he think that had been her concern? Thankful as she was he had come home without any physical injuries, she still knew the mental and emotional toll PTSD had taken on him. The problem of how others saw him did bother her. Some of his friends spoke to her about his isolation and worried for him. But others avoided him and treated him like a leper. In the café, she had overheard two of his former friends say he had come back weird. Keeva had wanted to scream at them, but she had known it wouldn’t do any good. Jimmy, surprisingly, had been one of the few people that had called her aside and offered to help. She hoped his sincerity had been real. Too tired to think it through, she decided to let the subject drop.

“Anyway, why would they think I wouldn’t have recognized you?”

“I think it’s just Jimmy. He still acts as though we’re in high school and he’s the hall monitor. Don’t worry, what’s he proving? That I’m a bat shit, crazy vet? Hell, that’s old news.” He jumped up to sit on the counter, his long legs dangling almost to the floor. “And what were you thinking running into that situation? Do you have any idea how dangerous it was?”

“You sound like Tony. He said the same thing.”

Tony? His eyes widened, the light in them returning when he chuckled. “You’re on a first name basis?” He arched an eyebrow. “Does my little sister have a crush on the big bad detective?”

Keeva felt heat rise up her cheeks. Turning her back to him, she hung her apron on a hook. “He told me to call him Tony, so stop teasing.”

He grabbed a pastry from the cooling rack and jabbed it in her direction. “Never, it’s my life mission to tease you. Anyway, he probably has a black book full of girlfriends.”

“Don’t be an idiot. I am not interested in him. Just drive me home without the wise cracks. I’m exhausted and left my car at home. I slept here last night, or rather, hardly slept, after all the drama.” No money to pay the insurance premium meant her car stayed in her garage, a small bit of information Mac didn’t need to know.

“Ha, and you give me a hard time about running in the middle of the night. You’re the one who jogs to work at o-dark-ugly. And let’s not forget running right into an attack in that alley.”

“Oh, please. You’d have done the same, Mr. Macho Marine.” She giggled at their bantering. It felt good to put her attention on something other than the previous night’s gruesome events.

“By the way, I saw Henry yesterday. He says you run funny hours.” She rested against the counter next to Mac.

“I swear that crazy old man is following me.”

“He’s not following you. And don’t call him crazy, he’s,” she tried to think of a nice way to describe the eccentric man, “just a little different.”

Mac rolled his eyes. “That’s an understatement.”

“Betty and Nana looked after him like a brother,” she reminded him. “With Nana dead, and Betty in the senior citizens apartments, he’s a lost soul and keeping an eye on us makes him feel important.”

“It’s not normal to be watching grown people and reporting all their actions like we live in a police state.” He bit the pastry he held.

“He doesn’t report anything, and who would he report it to?” She stifled a giggle. “He just watches us and makes sure we’re okay. And right now he doesn’t think you,” she poked a finger at him, “are okay. So he tells me.” Her laugh escaped when Mac made a fake attempt to bite her finger.

Keeva grabbed her purse from a cupboard. “And you owe me for a couple dozen pastries.”

He grinned, finishing off the pastry before grabbing a second one.

She spied the basement door open and the light on downstairs. All the employees were out front working or in the kitchen where she could see them. So who was down there? A feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed Keeva and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. The memory of the knocked-over tray rack from last night made her wonder if someone had broken in again. She pushed her concern aside. No one would break in with everyone here. Lucy had probably forgotten to lock the door to the basement. She held up a finger, a signal to Mac she would need a minute.

The ceiling dropped lower at the last step, forcing Keeva to duck before entering the basement. She stopped short at the last step where a large stack of newly delivered boxes blocked her way. The number of boxes stunned her. The café rarely placed orders this large. Pulling out several packing slips so she could view the contents without opening the boxes, she was surprised to see the slip listed expensive cake pans and decorating equipment. To her further surprise, behind all the boxes was a brand new industrial mixer. It had to be a mistake. The two-year-old café didn’t need new equipment.

Not wanting anyone to open the boxes before she looked into it, Keeva decided to put all of it in the locked storage closet for now. While she was padlocking the door, Mac called down the narrow stairs telling her he would be in the car waiting.

Returning upstairs, she locked the door behind her, replacing the basement key and pocketing the padlock key in her purse. Lucy was pulling some cookies from the oven. “Luce, there is a large order downstairs. Do you know anything about it?”

Lucy, stretching to place a tray of cookies in the top level of the baking rack, stilled before turning to Keeva. “I thought you placed the order.” Lucy’s brows furrowed over her eyes. “They were delivered during this morning’s rush. If you didn’t, and I didn’t, then who did?”

“It must be a mistake then.” Keeva shook her head. Her weariness made it difficult to concentrate. She really needed sleep right now and not to have to tackle someone else’s screw up. “I locked them in the closet so no one opens anything. I’ll take care of it tomorrow. Mac’s waiting and I need to go home and get some sleep.”

****

The street lamp illuminated the white clouds made by her warm breaths as Keeva jogged to the café the following morning. The weather station had revealed it was a chilly twenty-two degrees when she’d left her apartment, but the computer had promised her a warm sunny day in the high forties. The springtime weather for southwestern Montana could be schizophrenic in its unpredictability.

She jogged up Last Chance Gulch, slowing to a walk when she reached the back of her building. She peered around the building to the alley and suppressed the urge to hurry inside as she remembered the horrific scene she had run into two nights ago. She’d called a friend who worked at the hospital and had learned Madison had gone home and that Todd had been stabilized and transferred to a large city hospital. A cold chill spiraled down her spine and she shivered.

Something tapped her shoulder and Keeva jumped, drawing in a startled breath. She turned to see Henry, an oversized coat hanging from his wiry frame and wavy grey hair escaping from his stocking cap. She let out a relief filled breath. “You scared me Henry.”

“Sorry, Mizz Keeva, I didn’t mean to.” He lowered his head and pushed his hands into his pockets.

Keeva felt a pang of guilt for having snapped at him. “It’s okay, I’m just a little jumpy after,” she hesitated, not sure how much to tell Henry, “after those teenagers got hurt. You should be careful, too. You shouldn’t be wandering around in the dark. I don’t think they found the man yet.”

“It’s okay, Mizz Keeva. I know who that man is. But I don’t go near him.”

Henry’ few attempts at conversation, bordered on strange on a good day. Mildly schizophrenic and a little paranoid, he functioned well enough, though his rare conversations were like trying to understand a foreign language. She had known him since childhood and still had trouble comprehending his jumbled communication. But she tried to understand him; she owed him that much.

Two years ago, on the eve of the café’s grand opening, Keeva had stood alone facing the café and contemplating the future. All the hope and happiness that should have lay ahead of her, had been muffled by a deep, empty ache. Though close to her mother through most of her years, they had begun to fight over what her mother had perceived as Keeva’s lack of goals after graduating college. Keeva had worked part-time temporary jobs since graduation but had refused offers to make them permanent. Her mother had encouraged and cajoled Keeva to find full-time employment. But she had wanted satisfaction, not just a job. Her mother’s mantra: You worked because you needed to, not because you wanted to.

After one long and heated argument on the matter, Keeva’s parents had gone out for a drive. The words she had yelled at her parents that day had been the last she had ever spoken to them. With pain in her heart, like a diploma from hell, she’d set out to make them proud. Taking her half of the inheritance, she’d turned her grandmother’s house into the café, working twelve to fifteen hour days to open in six months.

On the cool night before the grand opening, she’d stood in front of the cafe, aware for the first time that no matter how successful the cafe would become it wouldn’t assuage the guilt that lived deep in her soul. Believing she had been standing alone, mustering her inner strength to face the future, she had felt a tranquil presence. Henry. He had not said a word, he’d just stood there alongside her. She didn’t know how long they had stood together but it must have been quite a while. And in that act, Henry had offered her the comfort and support she’d needed to move forward.

She had always thought Henry to be crazy, often reminding Betty and her grandmother of her opinion. But that day, she’d known, somewhere under his quirky speech, somewhere buried in his delusions, resided a caring and insightful soul. Since then, he had remained endeared to her.

Henry shifted his weight, crunching the gravel of the parking lot under his worn sneakers. The noise, conspicuous in the quiet dawn, drew Keeva’s focus back to him. “You saw him? How do you know who he is?”

“I was under the bridge by the railroad. Then the police told me to go, so I hid on the side of Mizz Barbara’s ’s house. Well, it’s yours now.”

Keeva suppressed the urge to rush him along knowing it would rattle him and then he would never get to the point. “And when did you see him, Henry? How did you know it was him?” Though she spoke quietly and calmly, she didn’t feel calm. Keeva edged closer in order to hear him better.

“It had to be him, like the cougars that hide in the mountains stalking their kill, hiding. I saw him in the dark. By that tree.” He pointed a crooked, arthritic finger toward the alley.

A cold shiver ran down Keeva’s back. Would he come back? Her heart skipped a beat, because something told her Henry was telling the truth.

“Did he stand in the alley?” Dawn’s light made it easier for her to see his lined face before he looked at the ground and kicked the dirt with his tattered tennis shoe. She worried he would forget the details. “It’s important you tell me anything you saw.” She sucked in a quick short breath, holding it in anticipation.

As though reading her thoughts, he looked up at her eyes. She put a reassuring hand on his arm and smiled. Letting her breath out slowly, she tried to convey comfort to Henry with a smile of support. Though his state of mind could be precarious at times, he still might be the one connection they had to finding the attacker.

“I won’t get in trouble, will I, Mizz Keeva? Will the police be after me for seeing him?” His eyes searched hers, like a lost child looking for help locating a missing parent.

She read the fear in his eyes and felt a stab of guilt for causing him any distress. “No, you won’t get in trouble. You didn’t do anything wrong so the police won’t be after you. But if it is the same man who hurt those kids, it might help the police.” She bit her lower lip. His eyes remained focused on her face, and she wondered whether he was thinking, or was confused.

A sudden smile put a twinkle in his grey, life-worn eyes. “First, he was in the alley.” He pointed. “Then, over there.” His arm moved, pointing away from the alley’s entrance. “By that tree. The moon was big so I saw real well.”

He shuffled his feet some more. “After the police hollered, I walked here. Always before, it was safe here. But with that man hurting those kids, it don’t feel safe no more.” Keeva knew he was right. Something had changed two nights ago. He placed his clenched hands on the sides of his head and his shuffling intensified to a side step. “I prayed for them. Do you think it will help them, Mizz Keeva?”

The expression of faith surprised her. “Yes, I do believe prayers will help.” She paused to consider how to phrase her question, knowing how easily the wrong words could unnerve him. “Could you see if the man wore a coat, a hat, anything?” She doubted he could have seen much in the dark, but hoped for a little something. She rubbed her arms as the chill seeped through her windbreaker to her damp running shirt.

“No, I don’t see real good in the night.” The exaggerated movements continued a few more seconds, and then he suddenly stilled. His face brightened and his mouth parted. “I remembered.” He beamed, not saying another word.

“You remembered what, Henry?”

“He had on a Unabomber shirt.” He stood, as proud as if he’d just won a prize for knowing the answer.

For a brief second, dread passed through her. Could he be confusing another event with this situation? “I’m not sure what you mean.”

He widened his eyes, looking at her as though she were the one behaving oddly. “You know, one with the hood?” He tapped the top of his head.

“A hoodie?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, a hoodie.”

Unlike her childhood nightmares of ghosts chasing her, fears which never materialized, this nightmare had just become real. “Did you see the color?” She felt light headed and placed her hand on the building to steady herself.

“Dark, real dark, like at night. Did I do good?”

“You did great.” Steadying herself, she faced Henry. Knowing what the attacker was capable of doing, she now worried for him. “Please don’t walk around at night anymore. It isn’t safe.” She opened the door, but turned at the sudden memory of her conversation with Betty. “Betty asked about you. She would like to see you and asked if I would drive you over to The Crossroads Apartments.”

“I’d like that, Mizz Keeva. We’d sit here on the porch with your granma, Mizz Barbara, and talk about Capital City when it used to be our day.” He stared into the distance as though recalling some distant memory.

“Do you want coffee, Henry? It will take me a few minutes to make it, and I can get the rolls for you.”

“No, thank you, Mizz Keeva. I’ll just take the rolls and go.”

She unlocked the cafe and stepped inside. Each day, at her request, Tighe left a chain of bags on the counter near the back door. Henry’s was the largest of the group.

“Here you go, Henry. It’s always nice to see you.” She handed Henry his rolls. “Stop in later in the day and let me know when I can take you to see Betty.”

“Okay, Mizz Keeva.”

Keeva’s heart tugged as she watched Henry limp away. He blended into the quiet darkness.

****

After changing, she returned to the kitchen and picked up the stack of sticky notes. “Tighe’s daily litany of complaints” she called them. The first, he chastised her once again, for supporting the city’s freeloaders, which he claimed would cost her the business. In truth, she suspected he only worried about losing his job and didn’t care at all if she lost her business.

Next, a complaint about the cleaning crew and a phone number for his girlfriend who could do a better job. “Right, she also costs twice as much,” she said to the little yellow note. She crumbled them all, flinging them into the center of the trash bin.

None of the other employees were due in until six, leaving Keeva a few minutes alone. Ripples, like a tickle ran through her stomach. She had to call Tony. She needed to tell him about Henry, and she wanted to see his face and know he understood the precariousness of the situation.

The anticipation of speaking to him, let alone seeing him, made her stomach flip.

“Loh,” the voice sounded half asleep.

She hesitated, her mouth felt dry. “Hi, Detective, it’s Keeva Ryan.” The phone got quiet and she heard a thump.

Carajo!” The word sounded distant, followed by some fumbling. “Keeva?” he said into the phone.

He didn’t elaborate, so she continued. “Yes. I’m sorry to wake you, but I need to talk to you.”

“Um, now?” He sounded a bit more awake.

“Yes. I’ll be very busy later and won’t have time to talk. This is the only time that works for me.” She bit a fingernail. Staring toward the back door she saw a bright piece of yellow paper on the floor.

Keeva picked up the scrap. Ignoring the writing, she walked to the trash to drop it in as Tony responded, “It’ll take me about half an hour.”

“A half hour at the café is fine.” She pocketed her phone and let the paper fall into the trash bin.

As the paper floated into the bin, she spotted a crude drawing of stick figures on the reverse side. One of the figures had a riot of curls with tendrils sticking out. It struck her that the drawing resembled her. Curious, she picked the paper up, flattening out the wrinkles, expecting to find a comical picture made by an employee. She was wrong.

The drawing was of a male-looking stick figure and the curly haired figure touching, as though holding hands. Her breath cut off at the sight of the third figure. The prone figure had dark lines snaking from the head. Was it meant to be blood? As though wafting off the paper, the memory of the smell of Todd’s blood returned. Her stomach roiled.

She flipped the paper over. In bold letters, were the words:
I see you, you see me
we are one
you are mine, only mine
mine or die
my brave and pretty Keeva

She swallowed the bile that had risen in her throat. Who would write this? From its location on the floor, just to the side of the door, it must have been in the door jam. It had probably blown in when she’d opened the door.

The twisted words and drawing seemed to jump off the page, as though it was a viper ready to attack. Her focus was so intent, on the horror of the bizarre note, she didn’t hear Lucy open the back door.

“Keeva, are you all right?” Lucy dropped her purse on the counter and walked over to Keeva. Looking over her shoulder, she pulled the paper from Keeva’s hand. “Oh, my God. Where did you get this?” She held the paper up, shaking it in front of Keeva.

Keeva pulled back in fear, the poisonous intention had hit its mark. “I don’t know.” Her voice was raspy. The words didn’t want to come out. “It was on the floor. I think someone put it in the door, and when I opened the door it blew in.”

“You need to call the police. I’ll make us some tea.”

“The detective is already on his way here.”

****

The café felt familiar to Tony the second time he walked through it. Something savory mingled with the sweet and yeasty aromas.

Anticipation propelling him, Tony took the stairs two at a time. Stopping at the top of the stairs, he took a moment to take a breath before…before what?

Nothing rattled him. Ever.

During covert ops with Delta, he’d walked into nests of Al-Qaeda, knowing he would die a slow painful death if they discovered his identity. He had always kept his calm. As a CIA agent, ruthless warlords in Chechnya’s back alleys had never caused him to twitch. The bigger the challenge, the steadier he had held his nerves. Until now.

One response to “Chapter 3 (Sections 1 and 2)

  1. Pingback: Chapter 3 (Sections 1 and 2) | L.A. Ramirez·

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