Lies mixed with truth, I thought to myself. He was sick, but did they really have a cure?

The second agent said, “We’re certain you’d like your brother to be healthy? It’s very serious. Without treatment, he could die.”

I was about to respond when Carla spoke up. “He’s already told you he doesn’t know where his brother is.”

They ignored her. Agent Johnson said, “Jack, we understand your need to protect your brother. Family and all that. We get it. But your brother is Navy property. We would hate to see him dishonorably discharged. You wouldn’t want that either, would you?”

“We’re only here to help,” the second agent chimed in.

I was about to do it. Maybe they were right. It certainly made more sense for my brother and his friend to have contracted some rare infection than their story about the damn space rock. If my gut wasn’t screaming otherwise, I just might have.

Except…I always listen to my gut.

“I wish I could help you, boys.” In a sense, this was true. But I couldn’t. Yes, Joe was my brother. And, no, I wasn’t going to sell him out, even if he was sick.

They’re not going to help, I suddenly thought. And it wasn’t so much a thought as a knowing. No, they’re going to make them disappear.

“Well, that’s a shame, Mr. Carter,” Agent Johnson concluded. “If we don’t find your brother and his buddy, this will develop into a criminal investigation.” For the first time, he took off his sunglasses. He polished them and took in the magnificent view. “We’d hate to waste valuable government time and money watching your every move.”

“I can’t stop you from that,” I said.

Johnson faced me. “That includes your family, including your daughter, Anna. She seems like a fine young lady.”

“That’s harassment,” said Carla, stepping forward. “I’d like your badge numbers, please.”

Johnson chuckled. He took out a card and pushed it into my hand. “If you do see your brother, or hear from him, it would be much easier for everyone involved if you called.”

“Involved in what?” I asked.

He ignored my question, and they turned to go. I was about to call after them when Carla stopped me. “Let them go,” she said.

I looked down at the card. Nothing but a phone number. No name, no military insignia. I tried not to think of conspiracy theories. “Do you believe me now?” I asked her as they stepped into their Lincoln Town Car. Black, of course.

“I believe something. One thing is certain, though, your brother is in some deep shit. You, too. And now, probably me. An accessory after the fact.”

“Welcome to the club,” I said.

“Thanks. We need to figure out what the hell is going on.”

“We?” I said.

“Hey, we’re in this together.”

“Sounds romantic.”

She snorted. “Mostly, we need to get your brother some help.”

I nodded, my grin faltering. My poor fucking brother. Jesus, what had he gotten himself into? My crime investigations were often nature-related, or gang-related. But I still had what it took to solve mysteries. Maybe I needed Carla, maybe not. Either way, I had to look at my brother as a case. Take my emotions out of it. I also had to take care of Anna. That these clowns knew enough about me to know about her enraged me, but it didn’t surprise me. I had to be as tough as they were. And smarter.

I took a deep breath, centered myself. “Okay. First things first. I want to check on Anna. For what it’s worth, do you have time to do a little snooping around?”

Carla smiled, and for the first time she took my hand. “It would be a pleasure, Mr. Carter.”

Chapter Twelve

“I love you, too, Dad.”

Anna hit “end” on her iPhone, then shoved it into her jeans pocket.

Jared looked at her expectantly. “Well?”

“I’m supposed to stay here, and later, I go home with Brice when he’s off work.”

“What about your uncle?”

“My dad and a lady cop friend are going to try to get more information about what’s going on. I think. Honestly, he didn’t say much.”

“He probably didn’t say much on purpose,” said Jared.

Anna nodded. That seemed about right.

They were quiet. Jared knew that Anna only put on the angelic facade for her father. He knew better than most that Anna was much more independent than her dad believed or imagined. Jared, for instance, could tell by the look on his friend’s face that the wheels were turning inside that pretty head of hers.

“That gives us four hours,” she said.

“You mean before Brice is off?” he asked, catching up.


“You want to do a little research yourself?” he asked.

Anna smiled. She knew Jared was a whiz when it came to computers. “Yes, and I want you to help. How do you search the Internet without being tracked?”

“It’s not that hard,” he replied confidently. “Easier if you have a large database, one that’s accessed by more than one person.”

“Not my laptop, then?”

“Right.” He had an idea. “How busy are the observatory offices today?”

“Tuesday afternoon? Should be fine.”

“Can you get us in? Without seeming...obvious?”

“Of course. I’ll just say I’m working on my astronomy project.”

“Ah, the mysterious Dark Matter.” His voice took a sinister tone.

“Oh, shut up. It’s important research. Did you know that there is ten times more dark matter out there than there is regular space? That—”

Jared held up his hand. “Save the lecture for later, Einstein. As long as we can get in there, uninterrupted.” Jared suddenly thought of other uninterrupted times he’d like to have with Anna and blushed mightily. Fortunately, she didn’t see. She was, to his frustration, thinking of something else. As always.

“First, I want to go home,” she said.

“But your dad told you not to.”

“No. He specifically said that I shouldn’t come near my uncle. There’s a difference. Besides, how can we research anything if we don’t know what we’re looking for?”

“Anna, he sounded pretty serious about that. This is no ordinary situation.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, and patted him on the face. “I’ll protect you.”