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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1. Unusual Propositions

April 25th


    “Checkmate,” I said, looking up from the board for the first time in minutes.  In doing so, I caught a glimpse of the clock behind my uncle’s head.  My gosh, how could it be 11:15 already?  No wonder both my parents had both vanished.  They were probably asleep by now.
    I took all this in, blinking, and then looked back at my opponent.  My uncle grinned at me, his blue eyes a mirror reflection of my own.  “Damn, Carrie,” he said.  “You’ve been practicing.  I don’t know the last time anyone beat me in an honest game.”
    “Aw, you’ve just gotten lazy,” I said.  “You’ve been too busy tracking down criminals to keep your skills top-notch.”
    Uncle Tom chuckled.  “Don’t give me an easy out, Caroline.  I might take it.”
    I rolled my eyes, then yawned.  “Ugh.  I am so ready for summer, if only so I can finally sleep past six o’clock.”
    “Another Dunville summer?” Tom asked, resetting the chess board.
    I groaned.  My uncle had escaped from here as soon as he could.  I was counting the days until I could follow him.  “Please, Uncle Tom.  Don’t remind me.”
    He set the last piece—a white pawn—on the board and leaned back in his chair, regarding me with his piercing gaze.  “Let’s say I have an anecdote,” he said casually—too casually for the first rate FBI agent he was.  I immediately sat up straighter.  
    “Oh?”
    Uncle Tom glanced around briefly, and I realized there was a reason he’d let the game drag on so long: he wanted to talk to me alone.  “I’ve been working on drug dealers lately,” he said in the same casual tone.
    I waited—the more questions I asked to begin with, the longer he would take to get to the point.
    Of course Uncle Tom saw right through my technique; no seventeen-year-old was going to fool a trained agent for long, especially not one who knew me so well.  He chuckled again.
    “There’s a man who lives about three hours from here, up near Iowa City.”
    “You think he’s a dealer,” I said, unable to help myself.  Shazam, one of my mom’s two cats, jumped up on the chair next to me, and I petted her absently, eyes still fixed on my uncle.
    “I do,” he said, “and most of my colleagues agree.  However,” he continued, “we can’t simply nab him off the street and demand he either confirm the rumors or deny them.  We need tangible proof.”
    I nodded.  Ever since I was a little girl, I’d loved hearing about Uncle Tom’s work.  “So how do I fit in?”
    “Caleb Grahm is a highly intelligent crook.  He’s been arrested before, but was released again because of a lack of evidence.  He knows how the system works.  He’s not flat-out cruel, though.”
    “You want me to find enough evidence to convict him.”  Maybe that should have scared me, but the shiver that shot down my spine had nothing to do with fear.  I trusted my uncle; he wouldn’t ask me to do this if I might get hurt.
    Tom nodded.  “Yes, Carrie.  That’s exactly what I want.”
    “And how exactly am I supposed to do that?  March up to him and ask to be a summer intern?”
    My uncle chuckled for a third time and I shot him a look.  I wasn’t joking.  That, of course, only made him laugh harder.
    “Sorry, Caro,” he said after a moment.
    “You are not,” I shot back.  Shanizzle, Shazam’s brother jumped, into my lap and I turned my attention to him.  I loved the cats—when they weren’t trying to eat my canary Tweedle-Dee, that is.  
    “You weren’t far off,” Uncle Tom said.  I continued to pet Shanizzle, but I listened closely to his quiet voice.  “There’s a two-month gymnastics camp of sorts in Iowa City.  Grahm’s daughter is going—I thought perhaps you could go as well and stay with them.”
    “His daughter?” I asked, looking up.  This didn’t fit into my picture of the mastermind drug dealer.
    “Step-daughter,” Tom amended.  “Jayna is eleven, almost twelve.  I knew her mom in college.  If you’re willing, I can set up all the arrangements.  Grahm should be none the wiser.”
    “Robert White’s gym?” I asked.  “Lisa told us about that at practice last week.”
    “That’s the one,” Uncle Tom said.  “How’s Lisa doing?”
    “Good,” I answered.  I liked my new coach.  However…  I frowned.  “Uncle Tom, if we could afford for me to go, I’d already be signed up.  Lisa especially wanted me to go.”  I didn’t add the rest—that I would love to attend the five-day-a-week program.  But with my brother Jason in college and me about to finish my junior year of high school, money was tight.  
    “Then you lucked out.  The bureau is paying if you take the job.”
    I looked at him from the corner of my eyes, slightly suspicious.  “Just how unorthodox is this?” I asked.  
    “I almost think you don’t want to go,” my uncle said.
    I gave him my best teenager look.  “I want to know what I’m getting into by agreeing to this.”
    “That’s why you’re perfect for this.  Carrie, how long have you been playing spy games with me?”
    I glanced at him, startled.  He was serious.  “You became an agent when I was five,” I said, “so twelve years, I guess.”
    “Still remember how to pick a lock?  Search a room without leaving a trace?  Lie without being caught?”
    I nodded at each of them.  About the time I turned thirteen, I’d gone through a definite ‘spy phase.’  After a weekend of begging, Uncle Tom had taught me to pick the lock on the front door.  It was the same with finding evidence and leaving the area as I’d found it.  The lying… well, I’d picked that up on my own, and it wasn’t a skill I bragged about, although my favorite Abercrombie and Fitch shirt read ‘Good girls are just better at lying.’  Mom hated it.
    “It’s already been okayed by the bureau, if that’s what has you worried.”
    “My parents?”
    “I wanted to talk to you first.  Carrie, understand it might be better to not even tell them.  Just let them think you’re going to the gymnastics camp.  You know Brenda would rather I was anything but an agent.”
    I gave him my teenager look again.  Master liar I might be, but there were some things I just wouldn’t do.  “Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically.  “That’ll work.”
    Uncle Tom smiled.  “That’s my girl.  I’ll tell them in the morning—if you want to do this.”
    I bit my lip, thinking.  Thinking about another boring summer in Dunville, waitressing at the only decent café restaurant in town.  Hanging out with my best—and only—friend, Ben, on occasion.  We’d run out of new things to do ages ago, and he’d be gone for three weeks.  And gymnastics, of course.
    “I’ll do it, of course I’ll do it,” I said.  Uncle Tom’s eyes told me he’d expected nothing different.  “Tell me what I’m getting into, why don’t you?” I asked.  
    Tom glanced at his watch.  “It’s late, Caro.  I’ll do that tomorrow, after I talk to John and Brenda.  Go get your beauty sleep.”
    I stood up obediently, making Shanizzle protest.  “Good night, Uncle Tom.”
    “Night, Caro.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”  He stood up as well.  
    I switched off the lamp as we left the living room, me headed for my room and Tom for Jason’s.  It would do no good to demand information now, to tell Tom that my blood was humming, that suddenly I was not tired at all.  

 

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