First of all, I’m okay. You know, more or less. But I wish I could’ve taken your advice and gotten out; more on that later.
To put it shortly, that could have gone better. At least there's no legal penalty for pissing off an FBI agent.
Oh, I'm sorry. Special agent.
Let's begin at the beginning, then.
Today, I was out on assignment when I got that message I showed you from Vi. When I got home, there was a strange car in the driveway, a black SUV of some kind. I went inside and immediately felt sick; the first thing I saw was my father and stepmother sitting at our kitchen table. The second thing I saw was the two men in suits sitting with them. When they saw me, they rose.
"Celie --" my father began.
"Is this your daughter, Mr. McLachlan?" the first man spoke with a heavy Virginian accent.
"Yes," he said.
"Miss McLachlan," the second man sounded vaguely Pennsylvania Dutch. They both reached into their jacket pockets and took out their ID badges. "I'm Special Agent Neil de Vries, this is Supervisory Special Agent Leslie Keaton. We're with the FBI."
I barely had time to see the big "FBI" print on the badges before they had them away again.
"If you don't mind, we'd like to ask you a few questions," said Keaton.
"Questions about what?" I asked.
"Don't argue, Celie," Angel said. I wondered whether I was the only one in the room who heard the warning in her voice.
"I'm not arguing," I said. "I'm just asking."
"Nothing to worry about," Keaton said. "Just a few things concerning some friends of yours."
"Can I go upstairs and change first?" I asked. "I just got home from work. It'll only take a minute."
"Of course. We'll wait for you here."
I went straight over to the hallway and up the stairs to my room. At the top of the stairs, I saw Milo standing at the door to his bedroom.
"What's going on?" he whispered. I told him I didn't know, then went into my room and shut the door.
That's when I jotted down that last post, so that I wouldn't forget that Vi may have warned me about the agents in my kitchen. Then I changed and went back downstairs.
I reflected on the oddness of him asking me to sit in my own house as I went over and, reluctantly, placed myself at the end of the table closest to the door from which I'd just entered. SA de Vries looked to my father.
"If you'll excuse us, sir, it's sometimes easier for young teenagers to answer questions about their friends when their parents are not present."
"I'm nineteen," I said. They ignored me. These guys were already starting to rub me the wrong way.
Dad and Angel exchanged a look before they both sort of nodded and left the room. Milo, who I hadn't even heard follow me down to lurk in the hallway, looked at me searchingly. I gave him a nod -- I didn't want him to see anything or hear anything that he shouldn't -- and he left with them.
Keaton sat in the chair directly across the rectangular table from me, the farthest possible place. De Vries took the place in the middle. At this point, all I can think of is Zeke; he's the only person I know who's got the FBI after them. My heart rate increased and I committed to watch what I said; one wrong word, and they could get to him, and Ulryc and Jeff and Baibre and Jacky, and everybody else who's even tried to help him or me. At the time, I didn't really think about them getting to me, too, but now I'm sure I had a sense of it.
Keaton leaned forward. I felt myself tense. What kind of things would he ask me about Zeke? I didn't know any more than anyone else who knew his story.
"Miss McLachlan, are you aquainted with a young lady by the name of Violet Marshall?"
I blinked. What did they want with Vi?
"Yes," I said before I could stop myself to think.
"From what your parents tell us -- "
"Angel isn't my parent -- "
"-- we understand you two are quite close."
I paused. "Yes," I said.
"It came as a shock, no doubt, when she left a few weeks ago," he said.
"She'd been talking for a long while about leaving."
"Did she say why?"
I paused again. Were they setting me up?
"She didn't like it around here. Said everything had started to give her the creeps. She needed a change of scenery."
"Is that all?" de Vries asked.
"More or less."
"Exactly what had started to give her 'the creeps?'" Keaton said.
"She's an artist. Who knows what kinds of things she can dream up to fill shadows?"
They stared at me as if to say, Oh, we have an idea.
"We have reason to believe," Keaton said, "that Miss Marshall was, or still is, involved in criminal activity."
"Why do you believe that?"
"That's not important."
"Yes, it is."
He ignored me.
"Do you have any idea where she might be?"
"She's in Ohio with her aunt."
"According to her aunt, she left sometime last week."
"Then I don't know."
"She didn't tell you where she was headed?"
"No. Why don't you guys trace her yourself?"
"Use her bank card records."
"Miss Marshall has not made any purchases with her bank card since a considerable ATM withdrawal on the eighteenth of this month."
So she knew someone was after her. Oh, Vi, why didn't you tell me?
"Then trace her phone. Hell, ask her parents where she is. Have you even talked to them? What are you really here for?"
"Miss McLachlan," he said. "We know that you know where your friend is going. Now, are you going to tell us willingly? If not, we're just as content to report you for obstruction of justice."
Something in me clicked.
"You can't do that." I sat up a bit straighter.
"You see, unlike most hillbillies who use the phrase, I don't get all my legal information from Law & Order, so I actually do know my rights. And the Fifth Amendment isn't just a celebrity cop out; it protects me from being coerced into being a witness against myself. You're asking me questions about Violet, but I can't be sure that I'm not a suspect in whatever you're investigating. I have no obligation to speak to you. I haven't since I walked in the door."
That shook them. They exchanged a look before de Vries pulled something out from his jacket pocket and put it in the middle of the table. It was a tape recorder. He hit play.
"-- sn't your jurisdiction," a voice came from the tape. An angry voice. A familiar voice.
"It became our jurisdiction the minute Violet Marshall crossed state lines." I recognized the second voice as Keaton's.
"She's of age and hasn't been in trouble a day in her life. She has every right to travel."
"We would greatly appreciate a little more cooperation on your part."
"Maybe I would be more willing to cooperate if you would tell me exactly what Marshall is being charged with! She's a teenage girl, for god's sakes, how bad can it be?"
A long pause, and then a vague shifting sound on the tape.
"How familiar are you with Miss Celeste McLachlan?"
"She has nothing to do with this."
"We believe she may know where Marshall is hiding."
"You can't be sure of that."
"Their relationship has been rocky within the past few months."
"Because of the disappearance of Rosephanye Powell?"
"That contributed to it, but Marshall also felt that Cel -- that Miss McLachlan -- was keeping secrets from her."
"How did you aquire that information?"
There is a long silence.
"We understand that you have grown quite close with Miss McLachlan in recent months."
"My relationship with McLachlan is not -- "
"We never suggested it was. How did you two meet?"
"She was a witness in a case."
"The Annie's Playground case?"
"She was the one who made first contact with Mary-Ann Compton, wasn't she?"
A shuffling sound.
"Since then, Miss McLachlan has reported to you a suspicion that she is being followed?"
"Did she say what was following her?"
"You mean who was following her."
"But she was convinced that they meant her harm?"
"She seemed so, yes."
Another shuffling, like of papers.
"You encouraged Miss McLachlan to seek the help of a psychiatrist, did you not?"
"Detective, do you believe that Celeste McLachlan is mentally unstable?"
"She's been through a lot."
"You mean the disappearance of Rosephanye Powell?"
"Well, yes, and the experience involved in the case."
"You believe that she's suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?"
"She has displayed some symptoms."
"And what did she say when you suggested seeking help?"
"She said she already had people to talk to who she could trust."
"What did she mean by that?"
"I assumed she meant myself and her priest, Father Gabriel Kelly."
"And which church is he with?"
"Saint Ignatius in Forest Hill."
SA de Vries pushed the stop button on the tape recorder. For a long moment we all sat in silence.
"Why did you show me this?" I asked.
"Detective Goldman is very protective of you," de Vries said.
"Why did you show me this?"
"To put things in perspective," Keaton said.
I glared at them coldly. I'd been getting angrier and angrier since the tape had started, and now I'd reached a boiling point. It didn't matter what they did now; no way was I helping them. I was in full-on crouching-nerd-hidden-badass mode.
Keaton pulled a thick file from his briefcase and flipped through it for a moment. Not looking up, he said, "Miss McLachlan, are you aware of the case of Ezekiel Strahm?"
My heart nearly lunged out of my chest.
My heart nearly lunged out of my chest.
"I think that this is the end of our time here."
"What about one Robert Sage?"
"And you certainly know nothing of a young man who, until recently, called himself 'Zero?'"
"We. Are. Finished. Here."
I stood up and walked out of the room and up the stairs. Not the most mature act, I'll be the first to admit. But I needed out of that situation. My father and Angel came out of their bedroom as I rounded the top of the stairs and they went back down. I could hear them apologizing for my behavior. They said that I was just traumatized and stressed. Even from upstairs, I could hear that Angel didn't believe what she was saying.
I spent the next few hours explaining to my father and stepmother that no, I didn't do anything that would warrant an FBI visit and for the last time no, Vi hasn't done anything wrong.
At around midnight, I called Vi.
"Hey," she said on the line.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I'm sorry," she said.
"They came to my house! They talked to my dad! Milo was scared to death!"
"I had to make them think I tricked you too."
"How does it feel?"
There was a long, silent pause.
"So where are you?"
"Around Chicago. I'd wanted to head south, but I couldn't resist. I'll be going down after I leave here."
I almost smiled. "How is it?"
"Amazing. It's my kind of town, Cee. I wish you were here."
"Me too, after what just happened."
We shared something like a laugh.
I certainly wanted to get out of the house, but I knew I wouldn't be able to pull it off. Today, after work, I went to Allie's house, and I'm still there now. I know I can't stay here forever; they're probably watching my house, so they'll notice if I don't come home.
Of course, it doesn't help that this morning when I left for work, I saw something odd sticking out of our mailbox. I stopped the car and went over to see what it was. It looked like a scarf partially hanging out. I opened the mailbox to find that I was right -- but it wasn't just any scarf. It was a certain color, a mixed pink-and-orange, like coral, covered in lace. It smelled like Noir perfume. It was Rose's scarf. It was wrapped around a note that said:
i'm so terribly sorry for the bad manners of my friends. please, take this token as a gesture of apology.
This scarf still smells like her. Jesus. Where did he get this?
I know it may be too late for this, but...I now fully admit that I may be in over my head here. I'm scared. Vi was right, I can't do this alone. I'm sorry that I fought you guys on this. I promise I'll trust you more now.
Especially Zeke and Ulryc. Despite your...flaws, you guys have never led me wrong before. And I have a feeling I may be needing you all quite soon.