Chapter 5: The chapter wherein Kyle makes a confession and Hero is left confused.
Kyle and I made the short drive back to my place in uncomfortable silence. I wasn’t sure how we’d gone from nice detective checking up on the house, to a string of uncomfortable double entendres. Next, I’d be saying he should stay the night because I’d been knocked out and shouldn’t be alone because that would be suave and not at all awkward.
Kyle parked in front of my apartment and turned off the car. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but can I come up?”
I gaped at him. After all the unintentional flirting, he was asking to come up? Would he ask to stay for drinks too? I was glad for the murky light because he couldn’t see me blushing. Before I could answer, he continued.
“I just want to make sure you get in okay. You seem pretty shaken up.”
“Um, sure,” I nodded and opened the car door. The overhead light turned on and saw that he was blushing. It made me feel better, but I would have thought that a guy who looked like him would be a little more immune to being hit on, even unintentionally.
He walked up the steps with me and waited a step behind me as I unlocked the door. I flipped on the lights and found everything as it should be. I gestured for Kyle to come inside. We both stood around awkwardly for a moment. “Um, you want coffee or a beer?” I paused, “I guess beer’s against the rules for you.”
He blinked and smiled. “Only if I’m on duty and I’m not. A beer sounds great.”
I pointed him toward the couch, glad that I’d been too drunk the night before to unfold it. I grabbed two beers and paused, putting one back. Drinking with a hangover and a possible head injury seemed like a bad idea. Instead, I poured a cup of lukewarm coffee. I splashed a little milk in it, hoping that would make it taste better. It didn’t.
I carried the drinks back to the main room and sat on the opposite end of the couch. I watched him drink in silence for a minute, and then I pounced with my questions. “Kyle, why were you at my aunt’s house?”
He choked on his drink. “I told you, to check up on it.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, “Do you always check up on houses?”
He looked away. I knew it. He was up to something. Suddenly my mouth went dry, what if he was the one who broke into Dee’s house? Maybe he took me home to steal whatever he was looking for in her files. I felt my imagination spinning out of control. Pretty soon, I’d be convinced he was part of some international identity theft ring, a criminal kingpin with the perfect cover as a cop. Even forcing my thoughts back to reality didn’t help. I reminded myself that I didn’t know this guy at all, and he’d twice shown up around Dee’s. Twice for no reason that I could figure out, anyway.
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. He leaned his elbows on his knees and looked at me. With his freshly tousled hair and chagrined posture, he looked amazing. Again, I reminded myself that checking out the hot guy was not appropriate at this moment. Especially since the hot guy was probably a criminal genius ready to kill me to hide his secret.
“You got me. I wasn’t just checking up on the house.”
I blinked, I really hadn’t expected that. I assumed he’d insist he was really checking on the house. “Go on,” my voice was a little raspy.
He blushed again. “This is a little unprofessional, but I was checking up on you.” He caught my incredulous expression and went on. “You seemed so upset and then when I brought the papers over for you,” his eyes traveled to the empty vodka bottles. “I was worried about you.”
“You don’t even know me,” I mumbled. “Why would you care?”
He took another drink, and I figured he was stalling. But was he stalling to come up with a plausible story or to delay the truth? I waited for his answer.
“First, Dee asked me to.”
He let his eyes drift to the floor. “It’s totally unprofessional and inappropriate and I’ve already broken a lot of regulations over this, but she was a friend of my family. My uncle knew her for years. And we, my family, owe her. I thought you knew…” His voice trailed off and he looked confused.
“You knew Dee?” I muttered, “And she asked you to…” I paused looking for the right words, “To stalk me?” He still wouldn’t look at me. I set my coffee mug down before I spilled it in my haste to move a little farther away from him. Dee had a lot of friends in unusual places, but why would she ask a guy I didn’t know to watch out for me? What had Dee known that I didn’t?
He jerked his head up, “No, god no, nothing like that. I just thought that I could keep an eye on the house for you. And if I brought you the papers, I could see you again,” he paused and smiled a little, “Which was my second reason for checking up on you.” He hurried to go on, “But I guess that does sound like stalking, but I wasn’t. I swear. She really was worried about something in the last month or so.”
Oh, he swears, so that makes it true? I tried to offer some cutting response but only managed to stutter indignantly. How could he just sit here and expect me to believe that he knew Dee and that he knew stuff about her that I didn’t? What could Dee have been worried about that she wouldn’t have told me? But I remembered the papers she’d left out on her desk. Maybe she was worried about something?
“Look, I know the timing is terrible. And Dee wasn’t very forthcoming with information, but she asked my Uncle to help ‘cause he was a cop. But he retired a few years back, so he sent me.” He met my eyes this time. “She asked me to watch out for you if something happened to her.”
I found myself staring into his very earnest green eyes. My thoughts warred between demanding that he take his stalker-ass out of my apartment and actually believing him. I knew one of those responses was the right one, but at that moment I couldn’t decide which one to go with.
He set the bottle on the floor. “I should probably go. I didn’t mean to freak you out or anything.” He stood up and looked down at me, “I’m actually pretty awful at this stuff. Sorry?” He ran his hands through his hair. “I was trying to help, without being intrusive. But I’ve probably blown it.” He shook his head again.
I sat staring at him my mouth hanging open. I didn’t know if I believed him, but some part of me really wanted to. It wasn’t just that I wanted to think he was honest, just because I liked him, or something inane like that, but he seemed so honest. I managed to close my mouth, but couldn’t figure out what to say. But what did you say when a guy you met yesterday saved your life and declared he was supposed to protect you? I watched him walk to the door, hanging his head. And then it hit me, his second reason for hanging around was to see me? That didn’t make any sense at all.
“Wait, Kyle,” I jumped up from the couch. “This is really, um, unexpected.”
He stopped at the door and looked back at me. He nodded.
“I mean Dee never said anything about being worried or about you. And I don’t know you.” I watched his face fall.
“I thought she told you. She said…” He broke off his thought, “I guess it doesn’t matter. But, I’m not sorry about checking up on you. If I hadn’t been driving by her house, you might have been hurt.” His eyes drifted to the bag of ice I still held, “Hurt, worse.”
“Why would Dee be worried?”
He shrugged, “As I said, she really wanted my uncle’s help. But Dee didn’t seem like the kind of person to be in any trouble. I can ask him, and if it’s not too weird, we could meet up and I’ll tell you what he had to say. We could go for coffee or something.”
It sounded reasonable enough although the coffee part made me wonder if he meant a date. I pushed that thought aside. More concerned with the idea that Dee really was worried about something. Maybe she knew that she was sick and wanted to make sure I’d be ok if something happened to her. I just didn’t know and my headache seemed to be getting worse.
I found myself nodding, “Ok, talk to him and call me. I’m not promising anything, but maybe we can meet up.” I watched his face transform. He went from wounded puppy to hopeful in two seconds flat. “I’m not saying this isn’t weird and really, just back off a bit, and stop following me?”
He swallowed and nodded. “Really, you’ll get coffee with me?”
Again I was torn. I should really tell this guy to bug off, and I could just hear Jenny now. She’d be ranting and raving about getting him fired for this and she’d never buy this story. But, I found myself nodding, “Really, coffee. Once you have information for me.”
“I should go,” he paused and I nodded. “You know where to find me if you need anything. And I’ll call as soon as I find out anything.”
Again, I nodded and watched him leave. I locked the door and the deadbolt behind him. I wasn’t sure if I’d made a huge mistake by encouraging him, but at the moment, it felt right. I sighed into the empty apartment. I had enough to worry about without adding Detective Kyle Smyth to the list.
“Being productive,” I guffawed. All I had managed to do was create more to deal with tomorrow.
I woke up the next morning without the headache I expected. I sat up, only to have everything come rushing back. Dee was still dead. Someone had broken into her house and was looking through her papers, and a cop claimed that she asked him to watch out for me. I rested my head in my hands for a moment and got up to take a shower. There was just too much I didn’t know.
I felt a little less overwhelmed once I was dressed. I checked my phone and found five messages from Jenny. Each was more urgent than the last. I sent off a quick text saying I’d slept late, but she could drop by and check up on me whenever. My phone chirped a response from her faster than I would have thought possible. I noticed that Kyle seemed to be respecting boundaries since he hadn’t called. Or maybe he was parked in front of my apartment. Either way, I’d have to worry about him and his story later.
However, Jenny’s message said she was on her way and bringing lunch, so I’d have to deal with her soon. I sighed and began folding the sofa bed up. I debated picking up the apartment or going through the papers from Dee’s office again. I even reminded myself that I still had a job, and if I didn’t finish the pictures, I wouldn’t get paid. I finally settled on the couch with the papers. Maybe there’d be something in them to prove Kyle’s story.
I remembered the phone book. I dug that out too, and I quickly flipped through the pages. I probably should have asked Kyle what his uncle’s name was. I found a Sgt. Ron Smyth listed. The first address and phone number were dated 1975 and then crossed out with a new with a local address and phone number dated for this year. I stared at the entry, was Kyle really telling the truth? But if he was, what had Dee been worried about?
I abandoned the phone book for the moment, and I leafed through the papers Dee had left on her desk again, wondering if they could give me an answer. I set aside my birth certificate, I was already familiar with the dearth of information it contained. Mother: Thana Dorothea Fortier. Father: Unknown. Nothing surprising there. I glanced at my mother’s birth certificate. Like mine, no father was listed. But I was surprised to notice that she was born in Las Vegas. That was new. I’d always assumed that my grandmother and Dee had come to California together. Dee had never mentioned any time spent in Las Vegas. Other than telling me about how she and my grandmother had “come out West,” I had no idea where they actually came from. It reminded me of the picture of Dee and my grandmother. I dug it out of my purse and looked at it again. Nothing in the background gave a clue of where the picture was taken.
It really could have been anywhere, just a nameless café with two women standing arm and arm. I looked at the back again. The faded pencil was a little easier to read. Dorothea and Ellenore, 1941. Underneath that, in pencil, the end of Soso… I squinted at the faded pencil. What the hell was “Soso?” I glanced at the photo again. Maybe it was the name of the café they stood in front of. Maybe it was closing down, or maybe this was when they were leaving the east coast, and it was part of the name of the town they came from. I wished I could make out the last of the name, but the pencil had rubbed off over the years. I stared at the picture, but it didn’t offer up any more clues. Deciding that was yet another mystery for another day, I laid the photo aside.
I read over the adoption papers a few times but didn’t really get anything new from them. I wasn’t sure if my mother’s declaration of being “unfit” was genuine or code for something. Of course, being an unwed mother back when I was born may still have been enough to qualify as unfit. I set the adoption papers on top of the stack of mysteries and began flipping through the final papers.
When I’d picked them up in Dee’s office, I’d thought it was just the deed to the house, but I discovered more. The deed was paper clipped to another sheet. I glanced at it and found Dee’s will. It was even notarized and signed by an attorney. I checked the signature and date. It was two weeks old. The will, the papers left out, what had been going on with Dee? And if something was wrong, why hadn’t she said anything to me, she had always told me everything. But the small voice in my head reminded me that I didn’t know everything about her. Even without Kyle’s story, I knew Dee kept a lot her life private.
I started reading the will ignoring all the legalese at the top. It wasn’t a long document. Other than making certain that any outstanding manuscripts were returned to Nekyia Press, everything went to one Hero Adams. Me.
I stared at the page. She didn’t mention any other family or friends, just me. I started to shiver. Was I really the only person she had left? Or was she just that worried about me being able to take care of myself? I wondered if the attorney, Mr. Nix, was listed in her phone book. I should call him and at least let him know about Dee.
I flipped through the book and found a number for Mr. Nix at the Law Firm of Erinyes and Furie. I picked up the phone and started to dial, but the idea of having to say the words aloud, to say that she was dead, made me feel sick. The tight band around my chest started to come back and I couldn’t breathe.
I sat on the couch and clutched at my chest, and tried to force air into my lungs. I suddenly really wanted to call Kyle. That was enough to shake me out of the impending panic attack. I took a few deep breaths.
Why would I want to call him? I couldn’t deny that when he was around, I was calm, and I hated to admit it, but I felt safe around him. It didn’t make any sense at all. I’d only just met him, and even with his declaration the night before, it didn’t make sense that he was my first thought to call. I wasn’t even sure I believed his claim that Dee asked him to watch out for me. I was still choosing to ignore his claim that he wanted to see me again. Currently, I was cataloging that under “things I must have misunderstood” because there was no way a guy who looked like that would be interested in me.
What was happening to me? My emotions were out of control. I was going from a panic attack to call a boy in two seconds flat. Dee had raised me to take care of myself. I could change the oil in my car, fix most plumbing and electrical problems in my apartment, and kill my own spiders. That I wanted to call him meant that nothing made sense anymore.
I was still sitting on the couch holding the half-dialed phone when Jenny arrived. She came in with a bag of takeout, took one look at me, and dropped everything.
“Hero, what’s wrong?”
I looked away from the floor. “I don’t know. I mean, Dee’s gone. She’s not coming back and I don’t know what to do.” I felt my voice start to crack. “My emotions are out of control. I’m having panic attacks, and checking out a guy, and getting assaulted all in the span of two days.” I ran my hands through my hair, “It’s like I’m spinning out of control.”
Jenny dropped to the couch beside me, “Hero, it’ll be fine.” From her tone, I knew she believed it. Before I could say anything she continued, “And wait, what are you talking about?” She looked me over, “Assaulted?”
I nodded and took a deep breath. I’d forgotten that I hadn’t told Jenny about my adventure at Dee’s last night. She was going to be pissed I went to the house alone. “Um last night, after you left…” I paused, “I needed something to do, I just couldn’t sit here,” I glanced at Jenny. Her face was fast taking on her disapproving look, the one that always made me squirm. “I went over to Dee’s, just to be around her stuff, I guess.”
“You went over there alone, as in by yourself?”
I cringed a little at her tone. “Yeah, and well there was a break in and I got knocked out.” I watched her eyes widen and then narrow, I knew she was preparing a tirade, so I kept going. “I’m ok, and Kyle was driving by, and they didn’t take anything.”
Jenny sat with her eyes still narrowed, “Wait, who’s Kyle?”
“That detective who was at Dee’s. He was driving by the house on his way home.” My voice grew weaker. I’d never seen Jenny really angry before. Annoyed, sure, even pissed off, but never angry. Her face was chalk white but her eyes were icy blue. I’d swear they were almost glowing.
“He was just driving by?” She bit out each word.
I nodded, almost afraid to say anything, which was crazy because Jenny was my best friend. She may be cutthroat in business, but she’d never hurt anyone. She wasn’t capable of being dangerous. But at that moment, she was scary.
Jenny closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. I’m pretty sure she was actually counting to ten. I waited.
She took another breath and finally opened her eyes. I could tell she was still angry but not rabid anymore.
“Hero,” she paused, “You have to stay away from him. He’s dangerous.”
I could tell she was serious. This was the same tone she used when talking about chamber of commerce meetings or wedding dresses.
“Be honest with me, do you know him? You’ve been weird about him since he showed up.” I was getting a little tired of all the secrets. If Dee had told me what was worrying her, I’d know about Kyle and I know what she wanted me to do with the papers she’d left out. I really wanted to start demanding that people just tell me the truth.
Jenny dropped her eyes to the floor and seemed to be thinking. “No, I don’t know him, but I know about his type. You can’t trust him. Now that Dee is gone, you’re going to have to be more careful.”
“What do you mean be careful?” I asked, suddenly feeling very cold.