Oct. 15 –6:45am
The sunlight filtering through the closed drapes warmed Alex’s face and urged her to wakefulness. In an effort to get the sun out of her eyes, she rolled over and then immediately regretted it. Her head throbbed, her eyes were dry and scratchy, and her mouth felt like she’d been chewing cotton balls all night. If she didn’t know better, she’d think she had one hell of a hangover. Gingerly, she opened her eyes, wincing at the light. The Library, even more beautiful in daylight, still served to remind her of the events of yesterday: the detective, Samuel, that awful text message, and the strange but fascinating man who owned this house. Except for her intriguing host, she had really hoped it had all been a horrible dream. Unfortunately, she saw al-Zahir dozing in a nearby chair, a book resting across his chest. Damn. Not a dream then. As she sat up, she noticed the book’s title: War & Peace. No wonder he fell asleep.
The detective awakened when she sat up and, seeing her wince and hold her head, he offered her some water and a couple of white tablets. He knew the after affects of the sleep aid and was prepared. Not quite fully awake, Alex hesitated to take the pills but al-Zahir assured her they were merely pain relievers. He even passed her the bottle so she could verify he was being truthful. Not quite satisfied but wanting to get rid of the gnomes pounding in her head, she tossed the pills in her mouth and washed them down with the cool water.
“I’ve made a pot of coffee if you want a cup, Miss Roberts. I’ll show you the kitchen and, if you’d like breakfast, you can help yourself to whatever you’d like.” With a nod, Alex followed him into a sleek and modern kitchen. It was almost the size of her bedroom in her old apartment and she quickly fell in love with the lay-out. At least here you didn’t have to open the dishwasher in order to access the silverware drawer.
Not really all that hungry but needing something to do, Alex looked through cupboards, the refrigerator, and the ice box for something to make for breakfast. Frowning at the sparse selection, she did manage to find enough ingredients for a decent southwestern style omelet. While chopping the ham into small cubes, she apologized for last night.
“I can’t believe I fell asleep while we were talking. I usually have better manners than that.”
“Don’t worry about it; it was quite understandable. You had a long and stressful day.” Al-Zahir thought it best not to mention that her sleep had been helped along by something in her water.
“Oh! Will Mr. Devereaux be up soon? I’ll make extra if so.” She glanced over at the detective who was filling her coffee mug from the carafe.
“Erik left early this morning; he wanted to see your apartment before it was further compromised,” al-Zahir handed Alex a steaming mug of coffee.
“But he will be back soon, right?” The thought of being left alone in this huge house in the middle of God-knows-where was almost as frightening as returning to her apartment.
“I believe that was his intention, Miss Roberts.” She nodded and poured the onions, tomatoes, peppers, and ham into the pan, letting them sere for a few seconds before cracking the eggs into it. Moments later, she eased the omelet onto a plate and covered it with salsa.
“How long do you think I’ll have to stay here? Will I at least get to go to my brother’s f…funeral?” Alex stuttered over the last word, somehow talking about it made it a lot more real.
“That remains to be seen.” Erik’s melodic voice nearly made her choke on her breakfast as she jumped in surprise.
“Jeez, make a bit of noise when you enter a room!” She clutched at her heart as if to keep it from hopping out her body and running away. Her host was lounging against the doorframe in loose black trousers and a black dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The daylight had not dimmed the golden hue of his eyes; if anything, they seemed brighter and more intriguing than before. She realized she was staring again when his eyebrow arched in amused query. A faint blush touched her cheeks as she turned back to her breakfast.
“I’m going to grab a quick shower, Da’ud,” Erik dragged his gaze from his new houseguest, “and meet you both in the Library after you’ve finished your breakfast.” He left as silently as he arrived.
After she hurried through breakfast the detective showed Alex the guest room so she, too, could take a quick shower. She rarely used make up unless she was going to a special event and her hair usually did fine if she let it air dry, so she simply toweled it dry and threw on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and her best sneakers. Barely fifteen minutes had passed since she left the kitchen and still she returned to the Library after her host. Erik was standing at the window and she hoped he wasn’t upset with her for taking so long. With a murmur of apology for being late, Alex sat on the sofa and nervously gripped her hands together.
Erik turned from the window and handed her some papers. Most were pages ripped from Sam’s 365 day calendar he kept on his nightstand; one was a crumpled bit of scrap paper with what appeared to be random numbers, while the last was half of a postal form for requiring a signature on a package. The postal form was dated for the twelfth, two days before Sam was killed. The package had been mailed to Alex.
“Have you accepted that package, Miss Roberts?” Devereaux leaned a hip against the desk, his golden eyes never wavering from his new guest.
“No,” she shook her head in confusion, “I didn’t even know Sam had mailed anything. Usually I’d ship his packages on my way to or from class.”
“We’ll go this afternoon. Da’ud, I’ll need someone at the post office watching for anyone interested in Miss Robert’s mail, inside and outside is preferable.” The detective nodded and Erik returned his attention to Alex. “Whatever’s in that package is probably what got your brother killed. We’ll pick it up and bring it back here for evaluation. Since we’ve had no further contact from the killers, I’m positive they’re waiting on you to retrieve the package.” Alex paled at the mention of Sam’s murderers but gripped her fingers tighter to hold back a fresh wave of grief. And fear.
“Will…um, will you be with me, Mr. Devereaux? At the post office, I mean.” Her voice shook slightly as the only thing going through her mind was that she was being used as bait. No matter if a detective was nearby, she really didn’t want to go into that building alone.
“If you wish.” At her nod, he motioned to the crumpled piece of paper. From what Alex could tell, it was ripped out of one of her sketch books. “I found that in the waste basket by your brother’s bed. Do you recognize anything on there?” She smoothed it out on her thigh, frowning slightly in concentration.
“Hmm…I think so. One second,” Alex dug through her purse and pulled out a small handheld GPS receiver. Turning it on, she stood and walked to the window where she laid it down on the sill to boot up. “I want to be sure but I believe these are GPS coordinates. I’m more familiar with DMS but this looks like it may be the Degrees format so I want to double check. If they are, it’s nowhere in the US; that’s too far east of the Prime Meridian.” Once the unit had acquired the needed satellite connections, she plugged in the numbers and waited for it to show up on the small map. “Yes, they’re coordinates, but for somewhere in … Russia, maybe? I’m afraid I don’t have that map pack installed but you should be able to plug it into any online mapping program and it will give the exact location.” Alex handed Erik the unit and returned to the sofa. At the detective's shocked expression, she shrugged. "I don't know much about computers, Detective al-Zahir, but I'm a geocacher so I know my GPSr. Plus I tend to get lost a lot.
“As for the others…this one near the top is probably an IP address somewhere. Due to the conditions of Sam’s parole, we don’t have internet access at the apartment and I keep my laptop locked in my car. As for the rest, I’m not sure.” Alex shrugged and set the slip of paper aside before picking up the calendar pages. “These are just old pages from Sam’s calendar. He always liked to…to read the trivia and ask me about it later.” She covered her eyes and worked to get her emotions back under control. Taking a deep, calming breath, she wiped her eyes and whispered an apology.
“Shhh. You’re doing great, Miss Roberts,” Erik handed her a handkerchief and retrieved the pages, placing them in the drawer with the photographs of the crime scene. “Da’ud, I’ll scan these and send you a copy; together we should be able to add to Miss Roberts’ excellent information.” The detective nodded and rose to his feet. “I need to speak to Da’ud privately for a moment, so if you’ll excuse us, I’ll walk him to the door. Feel free to go anywhere on the bottom floor, Miss Roberts, but do not leave the house. Until we know for certain who we’re dealing with, I want you to remain inside where I can keep better watch over you.” At Alex’s nod, Erik left the Library with the detective.