Lila sat there for several minutes thinking about this new information. Pearson continued to purr and knead his claws on her leg.
“Ouch,” she exclaimed as his claws cut through the material in her pants to the skin underneath. Carefully dislodging the cat, she set him gently on the floor.
The time until Ian arrived home passed quickly. Lila settled into the couch to read a research article that she was co-writing with a friend of hers to boost their academic street cred. Hearing the door creak open, she set aside her laptop and petted Pearson, who had nestled in next to her leg.
“Hey,” Ian greeted her tiredly.
“Hey, yourself,” Lila replied. She hoisted herself up off the couch and followed him into the bedroom, where she sprawled on the bed to watch him change out of his work clothes and into his workout gear.
“So how did your day go?” Lila asked casually.
“It was okay,” Ian said dismissively. “Nothing special. How about yours? Did you get your paper proofread?”
“Not quite. Still working on it.” Plucking at the quilt cover, Lila inquired nonchalantly, “When did you see that drone demo last month? Was it the 23rd?”
“I think so,” he said sitting on the bed beside to lace up his running shoes. “Why?” He turned to look at her.
Lila announced bluntly, “Someone got murdered that day.”
That got Ian’s full attention. “What do you mean?” His eyes sharpened on her.
“The guy visiting from HQ, Todd Regelmeister. There was an explosion during the exhibition that apparently killed him.”
“It’s tragic,” Ian paused. “But that doesn’t mean it was murder.”
“I got this in the mail.” Lila passed over the paper that she had brought in with her.
Ian studied it carefully and handed it back to her. “Who do you think sent it?”
“I don’t know, but it seems to have something to do with that project you were working at the time.”
“You know I can’t talk about that,” Ian remonstrated.
She held up her hand in a stop gesture. “I know, I know. I’m just saying, maybe you can think of someone who may have wanted to stop that project or keep that company from moving forward with its design.”
“There are lots of people who would fit that bill,” Ian said looking pensive. “Every competitor they had would’ve killed…” His voiced trailed off. “I see what you mean. I’ll give it some thought.”
The doorbell rang at that moment and Ian rose up to answer it. The FedEx employee handed him a standard paperboard express envelope and pushed the signature pad at Ian. Before signing his name, Ian examined the address on the envelope.
He closed the door and walked back into the bedroom where he sat beside Lila. Opening the envelope quickly, he fished out a single sheet of paper and read aloud the writing on it:
San Jose. Computer History Museum. Hour of Code.
Ian looked at his watch. “That’s tomorrow.” He quickly pulled up the details on his Smartphone. “How about a trip to San Jose this weekend?”
“Sweet.” Lila perked up. “I’ll bring my article and edit on the way.”
“Looks like we’re in for a December surprise,” Ian said, smiling slightly.
Lila leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. “Always an adventure.”
“Pack your bag and catch a few hours of sleep before we head out,” he suggested.
Lila reached for her mobile phone, which sat on the bedside table. “I’ll call Josie,” she said referring to the cat sitter, “ since I’m figuring we’ll be gone at least through Sunday.”
Ian took Lila’s hand in his. “How about making an early anniversary weekend of it? We can stop in Monterey on the way back.”
“Nice idea.” Lila returned his smile. “Never a dull moment with you.”
Lila trudged her way up the stairs toward her front door where she nudged aside the usual conglomeration of fliers and other useless items thrown onto the doormat. Reaching into her large handbag, she scrabbled around finding nothing but a bunch of old wrappers, receipts and packets of instant coffee mix.
Rolling her eyes and muttering epithets under her breath, she glanced around to see if anyone was watching before reaching up to run her hand along the piping that ran next to the door and up to the roof. She pulled loose a magnetic key holder from behind it, quickly removed the key, and unlocked the door, hurriedly replacing the holder to its former position.
Sighing, she pushed open the door, and deftly sidestepped her cat Pearson, who as usual was waiting at the door to greet her. Lila dropped the mail she had tucked into her elbow onto the table and plopped down into a chair. Pearson stared fixedly at her lap, waiting patiently for her to notice. She leaned back to make a place for him, and he leaped up to walk in a circle, kneading and purring before settling onto her lap.
One of the letters on the table caught Lila’s eye. It had her name written in wide black letters in black marker, with Ian’s name scrawled underneath in blue ink. Hesitantly Lila reached for the letter, examining it carefully before ripping the flap open with the tip of her finger.
She drew out a piece of paper with a series of numbers printed on it. On the left side of the paper was the column title “Expenses,” while on the right appeared the word “Contractor.”
The figures were astounding; it was more money than she would see in her lifetime she was sure. Some of the names looked familiar to her – she had worked on projects for a couple of the organizations. As she scanned the list, she noticed a phrase written with a bold flourish at the bottom of the paper:
She wrinkled her forehead confusedly. What did that mean?
Pulling off the top sheet of paper, she found a printout of a news article beneath. The main gist of which was that a minor contracting firm had gone out of business due to putting all its money in a project to develop small drones for deployment in hostile environments to gain atmospherics before troops or civilian groups moved into the area.
Apparently there had been a fatal accident with one of the drones exploding directly over the seat of a senior official during a product demonstration. Lila pulled out her Smartphone and keyed in the official’s name. Immediately she pulled up a list of conspiracy theory sites from which she randomly selected an entry.
A few minutes later, Lila gazed into the distance and scribbled a name beneath the phrase: