They sat down across from agent Fisk and Kevin did a double take, “What is this about, Evelyn’s manuscript?” He looked at Kate. His mouth felt like he had just licked lint off of an old carpet, he was having trouble concentrating, and she was sitting there looking pert and perky this morning not concerned at all. Her big dark eyes were opened widely and she was staring, apparently fascinated by Agent Fisk.
Kevin nodded in Kate’s direction, “ask her where it is,” he said sourly as yesterday’s blackmail came rushing back at him a jumble with everything else that happened later that evening. He couldn’t believe he’d smoked pot. 25 years and no drugs one night with her and not only did he do drugs he got caught. If agent Fisk thought anything he said to the local police would spare Kevin he was sadly mistaken. Kevin recognized one of the city police officers. He would definitely be hearing more about the drugs all right.
“Oh yes the manuscript,” said Kate wide eyed trying to look innocent. Agent Fisk focused on her, “you are Kate Sanchez, 22 recently graduated from University of Central Florida and hired for one year as an intern for the grant funded City Works project 3A799-2 Topeka is Awesome?” he raised one of his eyebrows and looked at her expectantly.
“Yes that is exactly right, you memorized that?” she continued to stare wide eyed at the agent.
His face remained stony and passive not buying her act. “Where is the rest of the manuscript Miss Sanchez? We have Evelyn Blackmon’s computer showing you logged in yesterday morning for 3 hours between 6 and 9 am.
We know you were in touch with your European contacts at approximately 2:30 am this morning when you called Sergio Bagrov son of the Russian minister of finance and whose known associates include a long list of similarly connected Eastern European college students. One of them is even the daughter of a Ukrainian mobster. Did you transmit the rest of Ms. Blackmon’s manuscript to Bagrov? Who are you really working for?”
“Whoa what, hold on a second,” she said all of her innocent demeanor disappearing in an instant, “I never saw any more than the first few chapters of her manuscript. That is all there was that and some timelines and plans for publishing and publicizing the book when she took it to Los Angeles next summer.
Serge and his friends don’t have anything to do with this. I drunk dialed him last night to see if he was interested in Topeka as a tourist area. He is not my,” she paused and air quoted, “European contact he is just a friend I made last year on my college work study program.”
Kevin turned to Kate. “Kate they have the logs on the computer they will eventually be able to recreate everything you did. Just cooperate.” He urged her.
“Well good then they will know I didn’t remove any of the chapters of her horrible book or transmit them to anyone” She said.
“Miss Sanchez we are also interested in your relationship with Ms. Blackmon. There have been a number of emails between the two of you and phone calls” prompted Agent Fist.
Kate sat up straighter, “that was just work mostly. Evelyn seemed so friendly and really excited about the project and having me join. We hit it off. I was really looking forward to meeting her and working with her. I have actually been kind of surprised she hasn’t contacted me since I’ve been here.”
Agent Fisk wrote down everything she said and turned to Kevin, “Mr. Emile what is your involvement in the manuscript. You seem to feature prominently in the text. Were you involved in a personal relationship with Ms. Blackmon?”
“What? No she’s my mother’s age. We barely even spoke. The first I heard about this manuscript was yesterday when Kate brought it to my mortified attention.”
He focused now on Kevin, “What do you know about steganography Mr. Emile?” asked agent Fisk.
“You think Evelyn has hidden a secret code in her book?” asked Kevin.
“So as a computer programmer you are familiar with steganography?” Fisk asked.
“I am a web designer not a computer programmer and I am familiar with it because I read.”
Agent Fisk changed tacks, “has Evelyn Blackmon contacted you since her termination at City Hall? I understand she has close personal ties with your family. Your mother and she were co-workers for a number of years before she accepted a position here with you at the city.”
“No Agent Fisk Evelyn has no reason to contact me or anyone in my family. We didn’t work closely together or socialize. She and my mother were not friendly when they were employed at the county. Listen what is this all about? Is Evelyn missing; has she committed some sort of crime?”
“That is what we trying to find out,” The agent stood. “I’ll be checking on your stories. I need to inform you that you are both persons of interest in an ongoing federal investigation. Neither of you are to leave town without express permission from my office or the Midwest regional FBI office. If you hear from Evelyn Blackmon or receive any materials from her you are to contact me immediately.” He handed them both business cards. “I also need your cell phone numbers in case I have more questions.” He waited as they both wrote down their numbers. “Thank you for your cooperation.”
Kate walked him to the door and Kevin listened as she locked up behind the agent. He followed Kate into the kitchen where she put a kettle on for tea. She turned around and started to talk. He held up his hand, “No wait stop right there get me aspirin, ibuprofen, anything; and you better have coffee somewhere in this house.”
Kate glared at him but stomped out of the kitchen and came back with a bottle of Tylenol that she tossed at him. She got out a couple of mugs and some instant coffee.
Kevin winced but took a drink as soon as she set it in front of him. “Not great but better than nothing go ahead.”
Kate let out her breath in a whoosh, “what in the hell was all of that? FBI, stenography, secret codes? Who exactly is Evelyn Blackmon?”
“It is steganography and very simply it is hiding encrypted messages in everyday things like pictures or documents. It can be pretty sophisticated these days with what computers can do it is virtually undetectable unless you know exactly what you are looking for.” He downed a couple of the Tylenol looked at the bottle and then ate a few more. “What is all this about Serge being the son of a Russian finance minister and having ties to the Ukrainian mob? I thought he was just your Euro trash buddy. Who exactly are you Kate?”
“Oh please, I have no idea what all of that is about. Serge is just someone I hung out with in London and went clubbing with. I had no idea who his father is or his associates,” she huffed.
“Please tell me you have a copy of that manuscript,” said Kevin. “Or were all of your threats of multiple printed copies just you talking big to get your way at the office.”
She looked up at the ceiling thinking, chewing on her rainbow hair, “No I wasn’t lying when I said I had a few copies stashed; but they searched my place pretty thoroughly. I am sure the ones I left at the office are gone if they have taken the time to look through Evelyn’s computer already. There might be one they haven’t gotten though.”
Kevin sighed and slouched with relief “where is it?”
“At my neighbor’s house,” she pointed with her thumb over her shoulder. “Mrs. Johnson, we were talking yesterday when I came home for lunch she is a big reader and I thought she might get a kick out of it. Hold on I’ll run over and see if she still has it.” Kate kicked on some flip flops by her kitchen door and went out the back.
“Does the word discretion mean nothing to you?” he yelled at her back.
Kevin got up and headed for the refrigerator as his phone rang. He looked at the readout, his dad. He stood motionless for a moment and contemplated not answering. Yeah that would work. He sighed no sense in putting off the inevitable. “Hi dad, listen I can’t talk right now I am kind of in the middle of something,” he paused and rubbed his forehead as his dad started in.
“Oh yes I heard about what you were in the middle of. Do you know who was at the house earlier? Bill Nolan, you remember Bill the police officer you played football with in high school. He just informed me that the FBI requested their assistance in approaching a local witness and when they found you passed out amidst drug paraphernalia the FBI waved them off and sent them home.”
“Dad it wasn’t drug paraphernalia it was, well we smoked one marijuana cigarette,” he interrupted.
His dad barely paused, “you think that makes it better? Thank God your mother wasn’t here. I just came from talking to the chief and he says if you will both agree to community service he won’t pursue charges against you or your new friend or publicize what happened. You are not a kid anymore. What were you thinking; you could have lost your job?”
Kevin could hear the exasperation in his dad’s voice. “Wait dad you said the Chief agreed he would keep things quiet?”
“Yes word is getting around the city that you two are involved in a civic improvement project and no one wants to see that fail or you get fired. We thought community service sounded like an appropriate way to help you out. You are trying to figure out how to make the city look good maybe you should spend some time getting to know it better.”
Kevin took a deep breath and sat down, “what do you have in mind?”
“There is a volunteer community cleanup project going on right now. Once a week they are focusing on a different city or county site monuments parks that kind of thing. You two will be joining them. Those are the terms,” finished his dad.
“I’ll talk to Kate. It sounds fair and we can say it is part of the project we are working on. Thanks Dad,” he heard Kate coming up the stairs of the back porch. “I have to go I will talk to you soon,” he hung up as Kate came in the door.
She pulled her shirt up and took the stack of printed papers out of her waistband, “success, they didn’t think to ask Mrs. Johnson. She hasn’t even read them yet,” Kate noticed him staring at her, “I didn’t want them to see these. What if they are watching us?” She handed the sheets to Kevin, “so what are we looking for?”
He took them and sat down. “As my dad would say we are looking for the kernel of truth. Do you have any sort of magnifier?” She rummaged around in her kitchen drawer and handed him a magnifying glass. He started examining individual letters closely. “It’s not enough does your computer have a scanner?”
“Sure over there,” she pointed to her living room. He handed her the first sheet watched as she scanned it into her computer. “Okay so what are we doing here? What if we do find something?” she asked.
“Well it seems as though agent Fisk is convinced he has enough to implicate each of us in whatever Evelyn was involved in and I am hoping we can find something to prove we were not.” He tapped the keys on her computer as the image appeared on the screen. He picked an area of the page of text and zoomed in repeatedly. Some of the letters started to look a little patchy and he focused in and a fuzzy image started to become apparent in the dot on top of a lower case letter i the more he zoomed in on it. “Oh man I don’t believe this,” he said. There really is something hidden in this. I don’t have any idea what it means though.”
“What, what is it?” asked Kate looking over his shoulder at the fuzzy image.
“It is the flagpole at the high school. It is a spar from an old frigate ship,” he said.
“Are you sure? How could you possibly know that?” she asked.
“Well I sat there every day after school waiting for my mom to pick me up my freshman year of high school.”
About the Author
I have been writing for about eight years and have completed a Nanowrimo first draft five times since 2004. I’ve always been addicted to reading, especially romance and supernatural fiction and have started to really enjoy YA fiction. My favorite non-fiction is popular science and writing technique books. This will be my first published piece.