Innocent Eyes

Tom Parker is a top-notch FBI agent and his 17-year-old niece’s hero. When he suspects a former agent of plotting for revenge, Tom makes full use of Carrie’s interest in his work. Before she knows it, Carrie is living three hours from home, attending a gymnastics camp with the suspected man’s step-daughter. Everyone in the household loves her, except for the person whose help she needs most. Toran Sweeney is a year older than Carrie and the first boy she has ever been interested in. Unfortunately for her, he thinks she is there to work with the step-father he hates. And that is only the beginning. As the summer goes on, Carrie begins to realize that nothing is what it seems. Innocent Eyes beings and ends with a chess game, but it is in between that the true game is played, with much higher stakes than bragging rights.

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2. Polka Dots and Hiding Places

June 9th


    “I still don’t know how you did it,” I told Uncle Tom as I swung my second duffle bag—mostly full of gymnastics stuff—into the back of my truck.  My mom was still far from happy with me going, but at least she had quit protesting.
    However, I had witnessed her pulling her brother aside and threatening him with severe mutilation if I got hurt.  Needless to say, I was glad that Dad had decided I could drive myself.  A couple hours in the car with Mom would probably have been as stressful as the rest of the summer put together.
    “Just be smart and safe,” Uncle Tom said, giving me a one armed hug and kissing my forehead.  “I don’t think all the FBI training in the world could save me if Brenda was out for my blood.”
    I grinned back at him.  “Don’t worry.  See, she’d come after me when she was done with you, to get back at me for scaring her.  I happen to like my body the way it is.  No major scars necessary.”
    He tapped the end of my nose.  “I mean it, Caroline.  I don’t want you hurt anymore than your mom does.”  He hesitated—checking to see that I was sufficiently serious, most likely—then added, “You have everything you need?”
    I knew what he meant, and it wasn’t extra leotards.  “Lock picks, voice recorder, cotton gloves, mini camera, et cetera, et cetera,” I said.  “I’ll be fine.  I even put your number on speed dial,” I added, waving my phone in front of his face.  “You’re number six.”
    “I hope you really know this isn’t a game.  It’s serious.”
    I lifted my eyebrows.  “Oh, yes.  I’m a very serious young gymnast.  I am the word serious embodied.  I don’t have time for games.  Other than chess, of course.”
    If it was my mother I had been talking to, she would have hated my flippancy.  So I was grateful when Uncle Tom nodded.  “You’ll do,” he said.  “Knock ‘em dead.”
    Somehow sensing our conversation was finished, my brother Jason wandered over to the truck.  He’d been out of college for a week, and I hated to say goodbye so soon.  Still, I was already looking at him like a spy would, noting that I looked more like Uncle Tom than I did like my brother, how he was a mix of my parents while I took after my mom’s side.  Then I blinked and the world of spies, lies, and innocent eyes that I had constructed for myself flipped and I saw only my brother.  
    “Take care, Care,” he said, pulling the end of my ponytail lightly.
    “Ha ha.  I will.  Don’t let Mom overreact.  And please Jason, do not feed my bird to the cats.”
    We grinned at each other and then I reached out to hug him.  “Bye, Jason.”
    “Bye, Carrie.”
    It took forever to say goodbye to my parents, or at least that’s how it seemed.  Finally, though, I climbed into my truck and started it up.  “I have my phone,” I called out the window.  “I’ll call when I get there.  Love you guys!”  Then, before Mom could find some way to stop me, I shifted into first gear and pulled out of the driveway.
    It finally felt real.  This wasn’t just a novel—it was something I was really going to do.  Now that was a scary thought.
    The pretty Iowa landscape sped past, the bright green fields of young corn complementing the sky, blue with poufy clouds.  Bird’s Foot Treefoil and field clover gave the ditches bright colors of their own. 
    I drove with the window down and the radio turned up, switching back and forth between pop and country to avoid commercials.  
    I stopped for gas and lunch about two hours into the drive.  I stretched briefly while the gas tank filled, then grabbed my purse just as my phone went off with the ringtone that meant I had a new text.
    Sure enough, Ben had sent me a message.  Hope you haven’t hit any cows yet, it said.  Good luck with gymnastics and w/e else ur up 2.  I gritted my teeth.  I’d had a close encounter with a cow when I was learning to drive, and Ben would probably never let me live it down.  Tom had forbidden me to tell Ben—or anyone else—what I was supposed to do, but of course Ben had figured out something was up.  He was the only person who could constantly sort through my lies.  
    No cows yet, I sent back, picking out a turkey and cheese sandwich and gummy worms for lunch.  I can’t wait 2 get 2 the gym!  Getting back in the spaceship—ttyl.
    I paid for the gas and food, grimacing at the memory of Uncle Tom forcing gas money on me, but he had reasoned that it was part of my salary.  I still wasn’t happy with the idea, even if it did make sense.   It felt like I’d sacrificed part of my independence.  
    My phone went off again as I got back in the truck.  Ben had replied, ;-).  
    The landscape was flatter than it had been this morning, signaling my definite arrival into the northern part of the state.  I had to switch radio stations as I passed a billboard advertising the Amana Colonies.  Finally, I saw my exit and pulled off the interstate.  There was a town visible to my left; according to MapQuest, I went right for 3.8 miles then turned left and went another 1.4 miles.  
    “And then I have arrived, like it or not,” I said aloud, reaching over to turn the radio down.  “Now or never, Carrie.  Let’s go.”
    I spent the next 5.2 miles shifting into my innocent gymnast mindset.  If I could convince myself that nothing was amiss, I wouldn’t really be lying to my host and hostess.  If I wasn’t lying, nothing would give me away.  Simple logic, Uncle Tom called it.  I thought it was probably similar to some serial killers’ mindset, but I couldn’t deny that it worked.
    “Wow,” I said as I pulled into 1793 Lawrence Drive.  A large white two story house was shaded in front by a towering oak tree.  An attachment jutted out on the east side, turning into a garage at some point.  Behind the house I could make out the edge of a red building—a barn, most likely.  I wondered what it was used for now—Uncle Tom had said the Grahms rented out their forty acres of cropland to a neighbor.  Apparently Mrs. Grahm—or Addie, as my uncle called her—was allergic to most fur-bearing animals  At least I wouldn’t be tripping over cats or being barked at by dogs.  That had to be a plus.
    The front door flew open and a slim, preteen girl with a gymnast’s build ran out.  She skidded to a stop, grinning, as I climbed out of the truck.
    “Hi,” she said, looking shy all of a sudden.  “You’re Carrie, right?”
    “Yep,” I said, grinning back.  “You must be Jayna.”
    Jayna looked pleasantly surprised that I’d remembered.  I looked her over swiftly.  With smooth skin the color of light caramel, large dark brown eyes, and delicate features, Jayna looked a bit like a doe.  She was thin, but muscled, and the top of her head reached my shoulder.  Curly dark brown hair was pulled back into two pigtails.  Every inch a gymnast, I decided.  Even more than that, there was a light in her eyes that spoke of excess energy and spirit.  In short, an American sweetheart/cheerleader personality.  I liked her immediately.
    The door opened again, and a woman walked out.  “It’s a good thing you came on a Sunday, or Mom would be at the studio,” Jayna said.
    “Oh, yeah, she’s a photographer,” I said, as if I’d only just remembered.
    “Yeah,” Jayna said.
    “You look so much like Tom,” were the first words Adriana Grahm spoke to me.  I pictured myself as she must see me—a fit girl of medium height, dark blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, blue eyes, heart-shaped face.  Mom had said that if Tom and I were the same age, we could pass as twins.  
    In turn, I saw an older, lighter version of Jayna.  Addie had grey eyes to her daughter’s brown, and her light brown hair was straight, not curly.  Jayna undoubtedly had gotten her coloring from her dad, who had been from the middle east.  
    “He said to tell you hi,” I responded to Addie.  “Apparently he is forever in your debt.”
    Addie smiled.  “That sounds just like him.  How is he?”
    “Good—I think.  I’m never really sure, you know?”
    Her smile widened.  “That sounds like Tom Parker, too.  Good heavens, excuse me.  I’m Addie Grahm and this is Jayna.  Call me Addie.  And you’re Carrie, of course.  Did you have a nice drive?”
    “It was great, thanks,” I said.  I bet that as a photographer, Addie was good at getting little kids to smile.
    “Well, that’s good.  You might as well bring your things in now—do you need a hand with anything?”  She peaked into the back of the truck.  “Here, let me get one of your bags.  Does it matter which one?”
    “I’ll get the purple one,” I said, extracting my purse from the front seat and pocketing the keys.  “I don’t need to lock up, do I?”
    Addie flapped a hand at me—of course not—and shouldered the strap of my blue duffle.  “Jayna, be a dear and get the door,” she said.
    I closed the door and grabbed—carefully—the purple gym bag.  “That’s your window, Carrie,” Jayna said, pointing to the second floor.  “The one with the light blue curtains.  Mine is right across the hall—like my curtains?”
    “Orange with pink and purple polka dots?” I asked, grinning.  “They’re wild.  How come I don’t get curtains like that?”
    Jayna giggled as she opened the door and stepped against the wall to let Addie and me into the entrance hall.
    “This is beautiful,” I said, setting my bag down.  The floor was hardwood, with a rug in front of the door.  Another door I assumed led to a closet stood across from a small table and a mirror.  Farther down the hall there were two doors almost opposite from each other, and there was a third one at the end of the hall.  A carpeted staircase next to that door led upstairs.  
    “Oh, thanks,” Addie said.  “We like it here.”  She turned to her daughter.  “Will you show Carrie around?”
    Jayna nodded and picked up my blue duffle.  “You have to take your shoes off before you go upstairs,” she said.  I followed her down the hallway.  Sure enough, there was a neat row of shoes on the other side of a hallway I hadn’t noticed that led off at a ninety degree angle.  
    “That goes to the garage,” Jayna told me, kicking off her shoes.  I copied her and readjusted the strap of my sports bag on my shoulder.  No way did I want to drop that down the stairs.
    The stairs turned to the left halfway up.  A painting of an oak tree hung on the landing.  My dad would love it, I thought.
    “That’s Toran’s room,” my guide said, pointing to a closed door at the top of the stairs.  “He’s running errands in town—he should be back soon.  That’s the bathroom,” indicating the door next to Toran’s, “Caleb’s study,” was across from the bathroom.  That door, too, was closed.
    The last two doors were near the window seat that ended the hall.  Both these doors were open.  The right-side one was the most colorful room I had ever seen.  Besides the eye-popping curtains, there was a rainbow tie-dye comforter, a lime green rocking chair with a purple fuzzy pillow, and a red lava lamp.  
    “Great room,” I said.  I had a feeling if I stared too long my head would explode.
    Jayna grinned.  “Thanks.  Caleb hates it.”
    “I completely understand,” I said.  “Do you not call him ‘Dad?’”
    She made a face.  “He hasn’t specifically requested it, although I do get a disproving look when I call him Caleb.  I don’t think he really wants to be called ‘Dad’ though.  ‘Mr. Grahm’ is more his type.  Mom’s the one who wants me to call him ‘Dad.’”  She stared out the window at the end of hall for a moment, then gave a little shake.  “Anyhow, this is your room.” 
    As fitted with the rest of the house—Jayna’s room aside—the guest room was a like something out of a magazine.  There was a wooden chest and matching desk.  The bed was neatly made with a blue coverlet and several poufy pillows.  A rocking chair like Jayna’s—this one not green—sat by the window.
    “Wow, Jayna, this is… spectacular.”
    She set my bag down.  “Do you need any help?  Mom said feel free to use the closet and dresser.”
    “I’ll be fine, thanks.”  No way was anyone helping me unpack.
    “’Kay.  I have to clean my room, but then if you want I could show you around some more.”
    Just what I needed.  “Sure,” I said calmly.  “That would be great.”  Silently, I added, just don’t ask why.

    I took my time unpacking—refolding my clothes into the dresser, moving all my gymnastics stuff into my gym bag.  I put my toiletries on top of the dresser and set all my shoes in the closet.  I didn’t need to take up space downstairs, too.  I’d simply carry them down before I put them on.
    The rest of my things were harder to put away.  A voice recorder, miniature camera, and cotton gloves were the least suspicious of my items.  I doubted anyone would search my things, but I wasn’t taking any chances.  If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t associate Jayna and Addie with a drug dealer either.
    I had a shoe box that everything was packed in, and I considered putting it next to my shoes—hiding in plain sight.  I didn’t trust that idea, though.  It would be too easy to find if someone should come looking.
    In the end, the solution literally fell into my lap.  I hadn’t used the bottom dresser drawer for anything, and when I bent over to pull it out, it wouldn’t move.  I kneeled down and tugged harder.  
    I’d almost given up when there was a grinding noise, as if stuck mechanisms were considering working again.  Gritting my teeth, I pulled one last time—
    And fell over backwards, the drawer landing on my legs.  I shifted out from underneath the heavy oak, making a face.
    “Good thing I’m limber,” I muttered.  The stupid drawer had knocked me almost flat on my back, legs still tucked under me.  
    I lifted the drawer to put it back into the dresser—no need to use that drawer—when I noticed something.
    Beneath the bottom of where the drawer on my lap would go was a good eight inches of empty space.  The shoebox was six inches tall at most.  And while the drawer was danged hard to pull out, it had made hardly any noise except for the grinding.  
    Perfect.

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