“Very important,” Number Two chimed in, still smiling. “Something’s come up and the Navy feels your uncle would be the best man for the job. It would really help his career if we could talk to him.”

“Really? Like top-secret stuff?” Anna didn’t let a hint of anxiety show. She was on stage, after all.

The Agents locked eyes behind their shades, communicating something Anna didn’t understand. Did they believe her? Jared sat quietly next to her. Only he knew how Anna’s hand was beginning to sweat.

“Something like that,” Number One answered. “The problem is, we don’t know where he went. We thought you or your father might know.”

“Wow. I’d hate for him to miss something big,” Anna said, excited. “You should ask my dad. Want me to call him?” She reached for her cell.

Number One stayed her hand. She was pretty good, he thought. She might be telling the truth. Anna, of course, had no way of knowing that her father was being questioned right now, too. The CREW had timed their visits so father and daughter wouldn’t have a chance to talk beforehand.

“You don’t need to call him,” Number One added. “We’ve already put a call into him.” Number One gazed at the zoo animals and visitors for a moment.

Anna didn’t dare look at Jared. She knew he was totally confused. And she couldn’t risk any conversation with him. Not until these two CREW agents left. Even then, she wasn’t sure what she would tell her friend. She didn’t like keeping secrets from Jared. But this was really important. She also didn’t want anyone to take her Uncle Joe. Especially now that she saw these two Agents. They were being untruthful to her. She could feel it. She didn’t feel bad about deceiving them. Not one bit.

“Gosh,” she said.

“Yes, it’s a shame we can’t reach him,” Number Two declared. Number One nodded in agreement. “If only we knew where he was, I’m sure he would jump at this opportunity.”

“Chance of a lifetime,” Number One sighed. “Maybe there’s a place he likes to go to get away? An old cabin, or maybe he likes to fish?”

“Hmm,” Anna tried to think of the least helpful information for these guys. “I know he used to go to Mexico, but not anymore. He would take me to SeaWorld sometimes.”

Neither Agent commented on this. Instead, Number Two changed the subject. “You’re home-schooled, Miss Carter?”

“Y-yes,” Anna wasn’t expecting this. How did they know?

“And you live here? With your dad, right? Do you live here all the time, or do you stay somewhere else?”

Jared could feel the electricity pulsing from her hand to his. He’d waited patiently until now, but he could feel she was becoming upset. “Hey, she already answered your questions. Why do you want to know where she lives? Don’t you need some kind of permission? I mean, we’re minors and all that.”

Number One’s smile fell away for an instant as he scrutinized the boy. It was only a second, but both Anna and Jared caught the deadly gaze.

“Well, aren’t you the clever one?” Number Two asked rhetorically. He suddenly didn’t sound very nice. The two Agents in Black stood.

“My apologies,” said Number One. “I’m sorry we bothered you. We didn’t mean to impose or make you uncomfortable.”

Anna gave Jared a dirty look as Number One reached into his coat and pulled out a card. Anna took it. “Have your father contact us, by all means. We’re just trying to help your uncle.” He smiled easily.

“Sure,” Anna said.

“If you do talk to your uncle, would you ask him to call us?”

“Sure,” she said again.

“Thank you for your time. And have a great day.”

* * *

“What do you think?” asked agent Number One.

Agent Number Two regarded a couple of giraffes in their limited domain. The smiles were gone now.

“Either she’s a very good liar, or she doesn’t know anything.”

“I agree on both counts.”

“Either way, we have nothing new. That won’t please the Boss.”

“I know.”

They walked in silence, heading toward the exit. They’d checked out the Carter’s small bungalow prior to talking with Miss Carter. Nothing there, either. Carter and his daughter lived in a very spartan way. Almost no belongings. Maybe their other place at the observatory was more homey. But he was informed that they spent more time sleeping at the zoo bungalow than at the observatory. It was a strange way to live, indeed.

“Well, we can always hope,” Agent Number One surmised.

“Hope for what?”

“That her father can’t lie as well.”

* * *

The Agents in Black strolled away as casually as they’d come. Anna and Jared watched them go.

Jared whistled. “What was that all about?”

Anna just shook her head.

“You should call your dad,” said Jared.

Should she? Anna knew her father was trying to help Uncle Joe and his friend. She didn’t want to interrupt that. And she felt she’d done a pretty good job with these men.

“Anna.” Jared brought her back from her thoughts. “What’s going on?”

She closed her eyes. She’d seen her father do this when he had a decision to make, and she’d picked up on his technique through intuition. She held her eyes closed and focused within. She weighed which felt better inside: Telling Jared or not telling Jared.

After a moment, she looked into Jared’s eyes and started talking.

Chapter Eleven

It was noon when I arrived at the observatory.

I wasn’t officially on duty, but I wanted to see Carla, who was sometimes assigned to the observatory. The thing about Carla was that we connected on a different level than the other cops I came in contact with. That, and she was damn cute. Mostly, I thought to myself, I trusted her. Considered her a friend, in fact. Perhaps even more than a friend, but that might just have been my imagination.

She was also fun to be with, and she respected me as a single father. I tried to keep our conversations light, but lately, I’d confided in her about Anna growing up. Carla knew Anna, too. Anna came with me on my routes several times a week, and spent a lot of time at the observatory. She liked Anna.

I hadn’t really been involved with anyone since the divorce, mostly because my trust in women in general had deteriorated since parting ways with my ex-wife.

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