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Joshua wished he could be part of Darren and Daria’s wedding celebration, but the investigation into Skylar’s disappearance was the highest priority in his life, aside from his own family. As soon as he learned about Ricky’s encounter with Skylar the day after she went missing, he gathered a team to investigate the scene. He chatted with Thandi Lee, one of the residents of Harmony House who worked with him at the Agency. “What does your gut tell you about this case?” he asked her.
“I don’t know,” she replied hesitantly, before she opened up. “Something just doesn’t feel right about this case, Agent Lords. I arrived here via the Tube, and it’s just a short walk from the platform to Mr. Jordan’s front door.”
“He stated that she came from the river,” Joshua explained. He pointed out, “However, if she rode the Tube here, she would’ve had to walk by the front door, unless she got off on the far platform, near the quarry.” Thandi agreed with his assessment, and he told her, “You go around the front, and I’ll scope out the path back this way.”
Thandi followed his instructions and searched along the side of Ricky’s house. Joshua carefully inspected the small area at the back of Ricky’s house and made a voice recording of his observations. When the young agent met up with him again, he requested that she make a mold of what appeared to be an impression of a bare foot in the sand near the back door.
He walked over to the edge of the rocks and looked down at the river bank, while he continued to make audio notes with his cellphone. “From the back of the residence, there’s a clear view of Highway 7. Closed circuit cameras at Burger Stop would’ve had a perfect view of this location. Why wasn’t she seen on any surveillance cameras?”
He looked over his shoulder at the young agent making a cast of the impression in the sand. He added to his recording, “Agent Lee continues to be the most impressive rookie, in my opinion. She’s the only one I see really thinking about the evidence and what it means, while her peers still refer to the Agent’s Protocol Manual to figure out what they should be doing on a case. Remember to put in a recommendation for Agent Lee’s promotion.”
Joshua called Thandi over and said, “While that cast dries, let’s examine the river bank for other impressions.”
“Sure thing!” Thandi agreed enthusiastically and raced toward the river.
“Report any thing you see that isn’t supposed to be there!” Joshua reminded her.
Joshua took his time when he got to the river bank. He remembered what it was like to be a rookie agent–fresh out of basic training, and almost fanatical about the job—but it wasn’t like that for him, and this case was also personal for him. He needed to take his time and completely absorb every detail of the scene.
When he stood at the edge of the river, he felt a surge of emotion come over him. He felt alone, and a sense of anxiety quickly transformed into intense terror. He resisted the urge to scream and focused his mind on the soothing sound of the flowing river. Just then, he noticed a small book of matches in the tall grass beside the water.
Joshua reached down and picked up the matchbook with a pair of tweezers. Just as he sealed up the evidence in a plastic bag, he heard another male agent shout, “Hey, stop them! Don’t let them get away!” He ran up the hill to Ricky’s backyard, and spotted some youngsters run around the corner of the house.
“What’s going on?” Joshua demanded to know as he reached the back of the house.
One of the other rookies who was out of breath managed to reply, “A couple of kids—they were poking around and might’ve tampered with the evidence.”
Joshua chased after them and ended up following them into the Tube as they tried to evade him.
“We did it!” the rebellious teens cheered together after their exciting sprint across Oasis Springs. They successfully eluded the intelligence agents that followed them into the Tube, and then decided to visit Desert Bloom Park to avoid looking suspicious.
“I can’t believe we made it out of there without getting caught!” Jessalyn Riese exclaimed.
“The way you handled that guy was totally epic,” Dade complimented her.
“You think so? Thanks.” She smiled before saying, “I’ve never done anything like that. I mean, I always used to sneak around when I was little, but that was something else!”
“I guess so, but you could be a secret agent someday.”
She laughed nervously. “Maybe… So what now? Do you want to go back home?”
“Nah… I was thinking we could just hang out for a couple hours, until school lets out, and then we can sell this stuff to Jared.”
Jessalyn nodded and smiled, saying, “That’s a great idea! I didn’t want to go home yet. Actually, the thought of seeing my mother’s hideous face makes me sick.”
“I know what you mean,” Dade sympathized as they walked across the street to the park. “My mother has the world’s deepest voice of any female ever, and sometimes I’d rather eat glass than hear her talking!”
They went inside the clubhouse at the park, and Dade asked, “Hey, can I borrow your phone and copy the videos you took?”
Jessalyn nodded and handed her phone to her friend. She watched him make a quick copy of the videos she’d recorded while he was taking photos of the agents searching the river bank. As she watched him, she thought about how experienced he seemed to be when they were spying on the intelligence agents, and it gave her an idea.
“This is great material,” he said again before passing the phone back to her.
“Can I ask for your help with something… personal?” she asked.
“I’d be happy to help you with anything. Seriously.”
“I really, really hate my Mom,” Jessalyn began.
Dade interrupted her by joking around. “I should let you know that I don’t do hit jobs.”
She laughed nervously. “No, seriously. I want to find my Dad.” She looked down when she said it, and he heard vulnerability in her voice.
“That’s all I’ve wanted my whole life, as long as I can remember,” Jessalyn confided, and Dade listened respectfully. “I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know his name, and I don’t even have any memory of his face.”
Dade’s heart went out to the girl he considered his dream date. “I can relate,” he said as he nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “I guess there must be records somewhere. Were your parents ever married?”
“I don’t think so,” Jessalyn shook her head. “If they were, my mother never took his name.”
“Another thing—I don’t think my baby brother, Owen, has the same Dad. He has different facial features, and my Mom treats him different than me.”
“Oh… I’m really sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t worry about it. But just keep this between us, okay? Please don’t tell anyone else about this!” When he promised to keep her secret, she stood up and thanked him before embracing him.
His heart raced out of control as he held her in his arms, barely able to believe it was happening. Just as he began to wonder if he should pull away, she sighed and told him, “You’re such a great friend, Dade.”
“You too, Jess!” he replied with a bright smile. He broke the awkward tension he felt by suggesting, “Let’s take a picture of our first successful spy mission, shall we? This could be history in the making.”
She playfully teased him, “You’re as geeky as I am, Dade Starr!” before posing with him for a photo.
Meanwhile, Varvara met up with her former housemate from Harmony House, Ariadne Stavros. “Hi, Ariadne! Thanks for meeting me,” she greeted her friend at the edge of Desert Bloom Park.
“Thank you for inviting me, V. How are you?”
“I’m doing all right,” she answered, then corrected herself. “I’m happy.”
“That’s good to hear, but everyone’s worried about you,” Ariadne explained. “Zaida is a worried mother hen, and Martialis is getting prepared for some kind of fight!”
“I don’t mean to make anyone worry,” Varvara swore to her friend, “that’s why I called to let everyone know I was safe.”
“I know, but we’re going to worry regardless,” Ariadne explained. “We’re like a family here, and we all care so much about you.”
Varvara frowned and apologized. “I’m staying with a man I met,” she explained. “He’s a former military man, so he’s able to protect me and then some! Please tell everyone to stop worrying about me.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Ariadne offered. Finally she changed the subject and shared her own news with her friend. “Dustin and I are dating now, and he’s just as sweet as you would’ve imagined him to be.”
Varvara finally looked happy when she congratulated Ariadne. “He has such a mad crush on you; I bet he’ll treat you as well as Jared treats me!”
“We should go on a double date sometime!”
Varvara looked heart-broken when she replied, “I don’t know when I’ll be able to do something like that. I’m only out right now because I know my enemy is at a wedding as we speak, but I really need to stay out of her sight. Maybe in a few weeks.”