Keeping Secrets—Part One
Kohl’s Department Store
Saturday , January 19, 2002
“Jenna, no.” Dad shook his head. “It’s out of the question.”
“But why?” Jenna protested. “Dad, it’s just a pair of jeans.”
“Just a pair of jeans?” Dad repeated, staring at the garment that Jenna held as if it was some alien creature. “These jeans come down past your bellybutton. “
“But that’s the style—that’s what people are wearing.”
“Yeah—older people, maybe. You’re only twelve.”
“But I’m going to be thirteen soon.”
“Yeah, I know that, munchkin. But thirteen is still way too young to be showing the world your midriff.”
“Da-ad—I’m not going to be showing the world my—” a saleswoman gave them a curious stare as she passed by—Jenna lowered her voice. “I’m not going to be showing the world my midriff, okay? I wouldn’t buy a midriff top. I just want the jeans.”
Dad ran a hand back through his hair—he’d done that so often since they started shopping that his hair practically stood straight up. “Jenna the whole idea of buying jeans like this is to show something. Otherwise, what would be the point?”
He really couldn’t see, Jenna thought—he didn’t understand. Jenna let out her breath in an exasperated sigh. “Dad, the point is that this is what everyone is wearing now. This is the style.”
“No, no—for older girls, maybe—but for someone your age—I don’t buy that.”
“This is the teen section,” Jenna reminded him. “In eleven days I’m going to be a teenager.”
There it was—that face that Dad made whenever she said the ‘t’ word.
“Barely a teenager,” he admitted finally; begrudgingly.
“But I’ll still be one,” Jenna said. “And these are the clothes that people are wearing. Dad please—just this pair of jeans with a really long sweater or something?” she put on her best pleading face. “Pleeasse?”
“I don’t know.” Dad held the jeans up, studying the garment from all angles. “You know, even without the midriff they’re still awfully tight.”
She couldn’t win; Jenna thought bleakly. No matter what she said he wasn’t going to give in.
“Hey—look at these here, huh?” Dad picked up a pair of jeans from a nearby table, unfolding them as he spoke. “Now these are for teenagers too, munchkin—but I think they’re still very suitable.”
“Dad, they’re baggy. No one is wearing baggy jeans.”
“Someone must be wearing them or else they wouldn’t sell them.”
“Well maybe—but none of my friends will. Not Lisa or Christy. I don’t want to be the only person wearing weird jeans.”
“These have flares in them—you like flares.”
“But not those flares. Dad—I’ll wear any top you want but I still want these jeans.”
Another long silence.
‘Please say yes, Dad,’ Jenna said to herself silently. ‘Just say yes.’
“We’ll wait until your Mom gets home,” he said finally. “Then we’ll decide.”
So not fair—Mom would probably take Dad’s side—Dad, who wanted to keep her a little girl forever and ever. “When will Mom be back?” she asked him.
He didn’t look at her as he spoke, putting the clothes back. “She’ll be back soon.”
“Yeah, but how soon?” Jenna pressed. “This next week? The week after? When?”
“Soon.” He repeated. “I really—I can’t get any more specific than that.”
That’s what he said—Jenna couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t telling her everything. “I still don’t understand why I can’t call her or anything.”
“I told you why,” Dad said. “She’s doing a shoot in a very remote location; she can’t get a cell phone signal there.”
“What kind of a shoot? Where is it?”
“I don’t know, all right?” Jenna could hear the exasperation in his voice; she knew that she should probably let this go but now that she’d started it was like a compulsion—one which was almost impossible to stop. “I swear, Jenna—I know as much as you do. All I know is that it’s very remote—she’ll call us when she can. All right?”
Jenna looked down at her feet. “All right.” She said quietly.
“Hey,” Dad patted her shoulder—she looked up at him. “What do you say we pick out some cool shirts and then we’ll get some ice cream at Baskin Robbins? Sound like a plan?”
Jenna smiled. “Yeah. It sounds good.”
“Good.” For a moment Dad stared off into the distance—almost like he saw something—but before she could ask him what the look was gone.
“Munchkin, here—” he steered her towards a rack of clothes. “Why don’t you look at these right here—these tops—and pick any three that you like. I have to go to the restroom.”
“Any three you want—you pick them out and I’ll pay for them when I come back. Just be careful—don’t talk to any strangers or anything.”
“Dad, believe me—I know that.”
He ruffled her hair, his expression suddenly serious. “Yeah, I know you do. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay.” He left and Jenna turned her attention to the tops. The green top with the three quarter sleeves was nice—there was a matching one in blue. Did blue or green look better on her? She wished Mom or Grandma was here—they were better at answering those type of questions than Dad was. A flash of lavender caught her eyes. Her favorite color. She grabbed the article from the rack—it was a spaghetti strap tank top—a really pretty one too. Too cold to wear by itself just yet but she could always wear it layered under a sweater or maybe as pajamas with a pair of sweat pants.
‘Dad will never let you get that,’ her inner voice warned—and it was probably right, too; he would take just one look at that top and pronounce it off-limits till she was like thirty or something. But he did say any three tops, right? Maybe she could remind him of that.
“Hebt u de informatie?”
Dad’s voice—at least it sounded like it. But it couldn’t be, Jenna thought—as she followed the direction of the voice. Because that had sounded like another language—and as far as she knew Dad didn’t—
But it was him—she could see him clearly now; standing near the dressing rooms, talking to a short stocky man with hair so blond it was nearly white. Whatever it was he didn’t look too happy—his arms were crossed and his chin jutted out—even from this distance she could see that little knot in his jaw.
What could he be doing? Jenna’s heart pounded loudly—instinctively she ducked behind some clothes so no one would see her.
“Volgende Week—ja?.” The blond-white man replied in a funny accent. Something week? Jenna wondered. But maybe it just sounded like week—she had no idea. And the ‘ya’ thing at the end could’ve meant something like ‘yeah’.
‘What on earth is he doing?’
Dad sighed, running his hand back through his hair. “Ja.” He repeated the same word. “Vaarwel.” The blond-white man nodded curtly and left.
‘I shouldn’t be here,’ Jenna thought wildly—and she certainly didn’t want Dad to find her like this, skulking behind racks of clothes like she was spying on him—even though that’s exactly what she’d been doing. Dropping to her knees she crawled along the carpet towards where Dad had left her. A two year old boy, grasping tightly to his mother’s hand, gave her a curious glance. Jenna just smiled at him—trying to look normal—just your average twelve-year old who enjoyed crawling across a carpet. A threadbare carpet at that, she realized—the placement of the clothes racks did a lot to disguise the wear and tear. And gum—Jenna saw a dried wad stuck to the bottom of one of the racks—a rack holding prom dresses, no less. Too gross.
“Jenna?” Dad’s voice echoed though out the store. “Munchkin?” Jenna winced at the worry she heard in his voice—after all that had happened this last year scaring her Dad was not something she ever wanted to do. Slowly she stood—she could see him now—hands on his hips, his head turning as he searched for her.
‘Act casual—stay calm.’ There must be a reason for what she’d seen—maybe Dad would explain what he’d been doing all this time.
“Dad,” she called out. “I’m over here.”
“Jenna,” he strode over as soon as he spotted her. “Did I or didn’t I tell you to stay right here? For a minute I thought—” he didn’t have to say what he’d thought—Jenna knew the answer only too well.
“I’m sorry,” she told him.
“What were you thinking, going off like that? Huh?”
What were you thinking? Jenna wondered as she looked into her Dad’s face. What were you doing; talking to that man? Things she wanted to ask but she didn’t. “I thought I saw some really cool blouses over there,” she replied lamely. “I just went to have a look. That’s all.”
“That’s all.” Dad repeated. “You know that you nearly scared me half to death?” his expression softened. “Well anyway, I’m just glad you’re all right and—what happened to your pants?”
Her pants? Jenna looked down at her black slacks. Formerly black slacks—it seemed as if every inch of fabric was covered with little white speckles of lint. That’s what crawling on a carpet got you—not that she could tell Dad that. Her mind raced.
“A—um—blouse I was looking at fell on the ground under the clothes rack—I went under there to pick it up. “ That sounded plausible. Would Dad believe it, though? Jenna held her breath.
“Was that one of the blouses you wanted to buy?” he asked her.
Jenna shook her head. “No—when I got a really good look at it I thought the color was all wrong and the material felt scratchy.”
“Well that’s understandable. Did you see anything on this rack here that you liked?”
“Yeah—these here,” Jenna selected both the blue and the green top hastily—since she couldn’t decide on the color she decided to get them both. “And this one.” The lavender tank top. She saw the look on Dad’s face as he looked at that particular garment. “I know how it looks, but if I wear it under things, or maybe to bed—you know, like pajamas.”
“Munchkin—I’m just not so sure.”
“You said I could get any blouse I wanted, remember?”
“Yeah, of course I remember,” Dad replied. “I’m just not so sure—the straps are awfully thin for—”
It was going to be just like with the jeans, Jenna thought bleakly—at this rate she’d probably end up dressed as a nun or something. “Dad, if no one sees the straps,” she began, her voice fading off as she realized he wasn’t listening. He was silent, staring straight ahead like he had before—the same thing he’d done before he’d ‘Gone to the restroom.’
“Dad, what is it?” Jenna asked. He was silent. “Answer me—please.”
“Nothing,” Dad told her. “For a minute I thought I saw someone—but it’s nothing.”
Nothing—she wasn’t sure if she believed that or not. “You don’t need to go to the restroom again, do you?”
He looked at her sharply.”What? No—I don’t have to go anywhere—except to Baskin Robbins, of course. So these are the three tops you want to get, right?”
“Yeah,” Jenna said. “I thought you weren’t so sure about the tank top, though.”
“Well—” Dad hesitated briefly. “As long as you promise not to wear it out in public like this. Deal?”
Jenna grinned. “Deal.”
“Good.” Dad put his arm around her, steering her towards the nearest sales counter. “Let’s hurry—I could really use some ice cream right now.”
“Yeah, me too,” Jenna admitted. But as she and Dad both lined up behind the other shoppers a twinge of unease persisted.
What had Dad been doing talking to that man? She wondered. And who was that man, anyway? She was pretty sure she’d never seen him before. Jenna looked up at Dad—at his profile—his hand resting protectively on her shoulder.
Could he be hiding something? And if he was—what was it?
Jenna had to find out for sure.
SMK SMK SMK SMK
4247 Maplewood Dr
“He didn’t have a damn thing for me, Billy,” Lee paced the length of the patio as he spoke, the cell phone clutched in his hand. “All he said was he’d have it by ‘next week’. And that’s not even the worst of it.”
“What do you mean?” Billy asked.
“He approached me in public, when I was—” Lee paused, looking up at his daughter’s room. Her window was closed, he could hear music playing faintly—what she called music—he usually called it ‘noise’. She probably couldn’t hear him but he lowered his voice just in case. “When I was out shopping with Jenna at the mall.”
“What??” Billy exclaimed. “She didn’t see him, did she?”
“No—I don’t think she saw anything.” At least he was pretty sure that she hadn’t—Jenna had been a little quieter than usual at the ice cream parlor but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. She was approaching adolescence, after all. Wasn’t it Amanda who had once told him that teenage moods could be as changeable as the tide?
Adolescence—the very word caused a lump to rise in his throat. In his mind Jenna was still a little girl—his little girl—the thought that she was becoming a teen—a young woman—it all seemed to be happening so fast. Wasn’t it only yesterday that he’d been learning how to change her diapers? Dropping her off on her first day of Kindergarten?
“So it turned out okay, then,” Billy’s voice brought Lee hurtling back to the present.
“That is not the point! She could’ve seen us—and it could’ve been very dangerous for her. My daughter doesn’t need any more danger.”
“Believe me, Scarecrow—I know that.”
“Groesbeck’s got a hell of a lot of nerve, you know that?” Lee’s fist clenched. “I swear—I’m starting to think this guy is just jerking us around.”
“Lee, you and Amanda did a full background on Caspar Groesbeck, remember?” Billy contended. “We know that he’s very high up in the Vrees Network.”
“Yeah, I know that, but still—”
“And we know he would be privy to a lot information that could bring that Network down.”
“So why isn’t he coming through with it, then? Huh? And why all these games—these surprise meetings in public?”
“Perhaps he thinks he’s in danger—that a public meeting place would be safer. And maybe he doesn’t fully trust us yet.”
“I don’t know if I fully trust him yet.”
“Until we know differently I’m afraid we have to,” Billy said. “I don’t need to tell you that any information regarding this terrorist cell is vital to national security—especially now.”
“Yeah,” Lee ran a hand back through his hair. “I know how vital it is. Okay, Billy, I’ll play along—for now, anyway.”
“See that you do,” Billy replied. “I’d like to see us shut Vrees down if we can.”
“So would I,” Lee said fervently. “Billy has there been any word from—” he let his sentence hang—even on a secure line he didn’t want to risk giving too much away.
“Not yet,” Billy said. “Believe me—when there is I’ll let you know.”
“I know.” A blind trust operation, Lee thought. Deep cover—no contact allowed. He knew that Amanda could handle herself—he knew it deep down but even that knowledge didn’t stop him from worrying.
“How’s Jenna handling this?” Billy asked.
“She doesn’t really understand,” Lee told him. “I’ve told her she’s on a remote shoot but she’s asking a lot of questions, Billy. And if Amanda’s not here for her birthday I don’t know how I’ll explain it.”
“Well, hopefully you won’t have to,” Billy said. “Chances are this could all be wrapped up by then.”
“I certainly hope so. Talk to you later, Billy.”
“Will do—and Lee—just hang in there. Things will work out.”
Things will work out— As Lee hung up his cell he whispered a silent prayer for his wife’s safe return—and that she was having better luck on her end than he was.
SMK SMK SMK SMK
“So, did you like the frittatas?” Lee asked as he stacked the last of the dishes into the dishwasher.
“Mmm hmm,” came his daughter’s reply. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she bent over her notebook, pen in hand, French textbook open beside her.
‘Look at me, Jenna—just look up at me—just once.’
“Is that a yes?” he asked aloud.
She nodded. Nodded but still didn’t look up. “That’s a yes,”
“Well that’s good, munchkin,” Dad said. “I guess I was a little worried that they might be a little burnt—I left them on the broiler longer than usual.”
“They weren’t burnt,” Jenna‘s eyes remained fastened on the book. “Seriously, dad— they were fine.”
“Well that’s good.”
Something was up, Lee thought as he studied his child. The quiet mood that had started at Baskin Robbins had progressed through the evening. At first he’d thought it was just a phase, but now—
‘She’s doing homework—homework on a Saturday.’ Usually Jenna would be watching TV or talking to friends. That wasn’t like her—this was not normal at all.
He just had to figure out exactly what was going on here.
‘Easier said than done, Stetson.’ His inner voice reminded him—Lee shoved that thought aside, reminding himself that in his lifetime he’d interrogated KGB agents, hit men, terrorists and mobsters—
How hard could one twelve-year-old girl be?
Taking a deep breath in and letting it out again, he sat down at the table facing her. She didn’t look up—her hand went up to rub at her forehead—something she tended to do when she was stressed. “So, how’s the work going?” he asked.
“You usually don’t do homework on a Saturday.”
A long silence—he could practically see the wheels in her head turning. “Well—it’s just that I have a lot to do this time. I didn’t want to leave it till the last moment, you know— like I sometimes do.”
“That’s understandable, munchkin.” More silence. He decided on a more direct approach.
“You know,” he told her, “If there’ s anything at all that you’d like to talk about—or anything you want to ask me— I’m right here.”
That did the trick—her head shot up, dark eyes looking into his. There was an almost pleading look on her face—for one split second he was sure that she would finally open up.
“Thanks,” her eyes returned to her book. “But there really isn’t anything. Everything’s fine.”
“You sure?” he pressed. “Nothing you want to talk about?”
A small sigh. “Not unless you count this homework as something.”
“What’s wrong with the homework?”
“Oh, everything,” came Jenna’s reply. “You know, I thought this class would be cool when I chose it but now I don’t know.”
“Harder than you thought it would be?”
“Not just harder,” Jenna said. “Impossible. Maybe I’m just not cut out for French—maybe I’m not cut out for any foreign language at all.”
He was making progress—Lee felt his spirits rise as he looked at his daughter. This had to be it—what was bothering her. “Jenna, don’t put yourself down,” he said. “Some things in school are harder than others. That doesn’t mean you’ll never get it.”
“Well I’m not getting this.”
“Well, maybe I can help—I do know a little French,” he explained hastily as she gave him an incredulous glance.
“Well—okay,” Jenna replied. Lee rose from his chair and came to stand behind her—looking over her shoulder.
“Are you sure your teacher doesn’t mind purple ink?” he asked her.
“Yes I’m sure—but that’s not the problem. The problem is the ‘H’s’.”
“That’s it,” Jenna pointed to a list of words in the textbook. “We’re supposed to figure out which ones are—”
“Which ones are aspire and which ones are muet?” Lee answered automatically.
Jenna looked up a him. “Yeah—she said that with some of these the la or le is abbreviated and in some of them it’s not.” Again Jenna rubbed her forehead. “I just can’t seem to figure out which ones are supposed to be which.”
“Ahhh—” Lee tried to remember what his old French professor had taught him. “Well most of the words that have l apostrophe –that are ‘h’ muet are traditional French words. The ones with le or la in front of them tend to be foreign—borrowed from other languages.”
“Is that always the rule?” Jenna asked. “Our French teacher told us that we’d have to write down the most common words and memorize them.”
“No, it’s not always the case,” Lee told her. “For instance, see this word here? Now hero is French but it has a ‘le’ in front of it. But the word heroine has an ‘l’ apostrophe.”
“But they sort of mean the same thing, don’t they? Except that one is male and the other one is—well that’s just mean.” Jenna pouted.
He ruffled her hair. “Yeah, I know. But I promise you—if you work at it you will get it.”
Jenna smiled. “Thanks. Hey—you’re really good. You pronounce the words just like my teacher does.”
Lee smiled back. “Well, I try—you’ve got to remember that I spent quite a while in France when my uncle was stationed near Cherbourg and I—”
“Do you know any other languages?”
The sudden intensity in Jenna’s voice surprised him. “Some,” he replied cautiously. “When you’ve travelled as much as I have you tend to pick up things here and there. Why do you ask?”
Jenna shrugged. “No reason,” she said quickly. “I guess I was just curious, that’s all—I’ve never asked you that before.”
“That’s true.” Lee said. “Finish up—you need to do your exercises and go to bed soon.” The relaxation exercises were still very much a part of their life—by now Jenna had learned how to do them on her own.
“I will, Dad,” Jenna replied. “Just a few more minutes, okay?”
He patted her shoulder briefly, kissing the top of her head. “A few more minutes.”
SMK SMK SMK SMK
Once Dad had left the dining room Jenna opened her notebook to the very back—practically the last page. On the top of that page she’d written in neat purple script ‘Strange Things’. She’d even underlined it. Jenna’s pen was poised over the paper, chewing her bottom lip as she’d looked over what she’d already written.
1. Dad lied about going to the restroom—met with strange man—blond/white hair? I never saw him before.
2. Dad and the blond/white haired man were speaking in another language. What kind? (she didn’t know—she still didn’t know)
3. Dad very good at French—said he only knew a little but he knew a lot??
4. Mom somewhere and can’t contact—even Dad doesn’t know (or isn’t saying).
5. He said that he only had bits and pieces of other languages—I heard more than bits and pieces when he was talking to that man.
Jenna stared at what she had so far—not a whole heck of a lot. Did it mean anything? Maybe it just meant that she was letting her imagination get away from her. That she was imagining things—and even patterns that just weren’t there.
Was that what she was doing? Then Jenna thought back to that meeting—the way Dad had looked at that man Jenna sort of doubted that they were exchanging pleasantries.
After a moment’s hesitation, Jenna wrote across the bottom of the page in neat script:
What are they up to?