Dan wouldn’t let Aida go back outside to play later that afternoon. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Pendergrath’s son now knew where he lived, and thoughts of what could’ve happened clawed under his skin. The Leslie children never made another appearance either. He laid on the couch for the rest of the afternoon with Halia sleeping soundly in a little ball on his chest, while Fionna and Aida cuddled on the loveseat and watched old movies.
“Mommy, you made my shirt wet.” Aida leaned away from Fionna in the middle of Gidget goes Hawaiian.
“Oh, my gosh. I’m so sorry,” Fionna panicked, and Dan tried not to laugh. Aida had been lying against Fionna’s chest, and she’d leaked all over both of them. “Go get changed. I’ll pause it.” She sighed as Aida bound up the stairs pulling the shirt off on her way. “When will it go away?”
“Adeline said it would take a week or more, sweetheart,” Dan reminded her gently as she stomped up the stairs to change.
His heart seized as a knock sounded on their front door at dusk. Aida was seated at the coffee table coloring, and Halia was lying in her bassinet sound asleep again.
His pistols were in the case in their closet, but even Pendergrath Jr. wasn’t stupid enough to show up before the cover of darkness. “Take the girls upstairs,” he ordered. Nodding, Fionna urged Aida to her room and lifted Halia from the cradle.
Dan eased the door open a half-inch. “Hey Fi,” he called as he opened the door wide to allow Chris and Carrie Leslie into their living room.
Fionna reappeared with Halia.
Carrie offered them a broken smile. “We just wanted to bring you some dinner. I know it’s so hard right after their born, and we wanted to thank you again for saving Annabelle.” The tears that had been threatening began to spill over her lashes.
“Oh, goodness.” Fionna handed her a tissue. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“We wanted to,” Chris assured her.
Carrie was gazing at Halia longingly.
“Would you like to hold her?” Fionna offered.
“Do you mind?” Carrie looked as if Fionna had offered her oxygen after drowning.
“Okay, but five is enough.” Chris chided.
Carrie settled on the edge of the love seat and accepted the little bundle of Halia and her blanket.
Dan carried a huge pot of chili along with all of the sides into the kitchen. Chris followed after them.
Fionna began probing Carrie for information on when she would stop leaking and when her backside would stop hurting. Chris and Dan stayed in the kitchen trying not to overhear.
“Do you want to stay and eat?” Dan offered. “No, we can’t. We left Matthew in charge, so we have to get back before he declares his lordship over his siblings and tries to force them to become his slaves, which always ends in revolt,” Chris explained. “My house is very much like the Roman Empire.”
Dan recalled trying to talk all of his younger sisters into doing his bidding as a kid. Maybe every house eventually became the Roman Empire. “I talked to the police. They’re out looking for them.”
“I still can’t believe it. It was so fast. I didn’t even have time to think.”
“They had no business joy riding over ice,” Dan spat. His stomach churned, and the bands of his shield continued to pulse a fierce green. Thankfully, Chris was Non-Gifted and couldn’t see Dan’s energy.
“Chris, don’t you just want one more?” Carrie called from the living room. The men rejoined the ladies.
“Honey, not two days ago you were threatening to put three of ours out for the garbage pickup when they finger painted the antique rocking chair.”
“I know but she’s so cute, and she smells like a newborn and a little baby coconut,” Carrie cooed.
Fionna grinned. “That’s probably the coconut oil I put on her tushy to keep her from getting diaper rash.”
“Does that really work?” Carrie sounded intrigued.
“Yeah, it works great.”
“She’s just so sweet.” Carrie kissed Halia’s forehead as she slept.
“Okay, okay but if you want to try for another one, we have to go home and let the Vindicos eat.”
“Yeah, please don’t work on that here,” Dan goaded.
By eight-thirty, Dan and Fionna were both exhausted. Aida was worn out from the snow and the terror she’d experienced that morning. Dan helped her with her bath, and she fell asleep half way through the first story he read her.
He fed Halia her bottle while Fionna soaked in another bath. When her tummy was full of the warmed formula, he laid her in the bassinet and collapsed into bed. He was asleep when Fionna curled up on his chest. He managed to kiss the top of her head before they were both out.
He shot upwards as Aida raced into the bedroom, and Halia began sobbing loudly. They’d heard it as well.
“What was that?” Fionna was shaking as Dan handed her the baby and Aida crawled into bed beside her. He slid his Glock from the case in the closet.
“Stay in here. Do not come out until I come to the door, and I tell you our anniversary date. When I leave, slide the chest in front of the door.” He pushed the blanket chest that sat under one of their windows as close as he could get it to the door, so that Fionna wouldn’t have to move it far after he left the room.
Wood rattled against metal. “There it is again,” Fionna gasped as Halia continued to wail, and Aida shivered beside them.
The banging was coming from the back of the house. Whoever was trying to get in was trying to be quiet without much success.
Dan edged into the hallway. He waited until the lock on the knob turned, and he heard the chest slid across the carpeted floor.
Sliding along the wall with his arms extended downward, he clutched the trigger and listened intently. After clearing Aida’s room and then the nursery, he heard another jiggle of door, louder now. The sound was coming from the floor below.
Silently, he heel-toed down the stairwell, clearing the kitchen. When he heard a crash that sounded like it was coming from below him, he knew. The storage room.
“He’s here,” Dan spat as Portwood answered the phone. It was just after midnight.
“Where?” Portwood demanded.
“He thinks he can get in the house from the half-basement room.”
“I’m at the office. I’ll be there in five minutes. Ericcson’s with me. Turn your ringer off. I’ll call you when we get there.”
True to his word, Dan’s cell vibrated three minutes later.
Dan raced out the front door as Ericcson and Portwood sprinted around the house from the driveway.
Ericcson had someone by the scruff of his neck. He threw him on the ground forcefully. “You really stupid enough to think you’d break in Vindico’s house, punk?” he spat.
Dan summoned and lit his outdoor lights illuminating the area brightly. He saw the footprints through the snow that led to his storage room door. It was badly dented.
But it wasn’t Clarence Pendergrath lying on the ground under Ericcson’s boot. It was Fred Scheckles.
Chris Leslie raced over from next door. “Everything okay? I got up with Hannah. Her stomach hurt. I heard something banging and saw your lights come on.”
“I was just curious.” Fred’s eyes goggled over Dan’s gun aimed at his head and Portwood’s aimed at his heart.
“You weren’t kidding were you,” Chris also seemed bewildered by the fierce demeanor of the Elite Iodex members and the high powered guns they were all carrying.
“I swear, I was just curious. I didn’t mean to wake them up. I slid on the ice,” he lamented. “I was gonna check it out when they were gone, but there’s always someone here.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Dan growled. “You woke up my babies and scared my wife to death because you were curious what I keep in my storage room.”
“Curious about what?” Portwood demanded hotly.
“Well, you know he used to be in the CIA,” Fred tried to explain.
“Uh huh,” Portwood spat. “Guess who we work for.” He gestured to himself and Ericcson.
Fred paled dramatically. “Well, he has some kind of elaborate security system. I decided that’s what threw me back that day when I came over with Betty’s cookies.” He sounded like a child tattling. “I was just trying to make sure he wasn’t some kind of crazy.”
Realizing what had obviously happened, Portwood shook his head and shared a quick glance with Dan. “What’s his name?” he quipped.
“Fred Schekles.” Dan and Chris supplied simultaneously.
“If you’re arresting him, can I add some kind of charge for him loitering around my house, staring at my wife and kids, and basically being a pervert?” Chris huffed.
“I’m sure I can come up with something.” Portwood narrowed his eyes at Fred. “Do you know what this is called, Fred?” He gestured to the half door.“We call this breaking and entering. Not to mention trespassing. It sounds like Mr, ...?” Portwood waited on Chris to supply his name.
“Leslie, Chris Leslie,” he stated quickly.
“Mr. Leslie might have a voyeurism charge in the works.”
“Oh, and add ‘intercepting mail belonging to another,” Dan huffed.
“Damn man that’s ten years or up to $250,000 in fines. You got that kind of cash?” Ericcson joined in.
“I was just picking up their mail. It’s a neighborly thing to do,” Fred argued frantically.
“No, it’s against the law,” Portwood drawled. “As is trying to enter another person’s property in the middle of the night while he and his wife and his kids are asleep. So, listen up, unless Mr. Vindico or Mr. Leslie want to press charges, I’m gonna let you go. But you already know Dan’s former CIA, so if I were you, I’d stay the hell away from his house and I’d make damn certain that I stay away from Fi and his girls. Because if you don’t, when he gets done with you, you can take on all of the Elite force. That won’t end well for you.”
“Well, back in Sioux Falls we don’t keep things from our neighbors. We’re nice and open. I mean if Betty’s in the back yard, I wouldn’t get upset if he took a gander,” Fred threw his hand out to Chris who scowled his disapproval. “I’m just keeping an eye out. Keeping the crime away from the neighborhood.”
“You are the crime in the neighborhood, moron,” Ericsson taunted.
Dan stifled a chuckle, but his acrimony returned when he thought of Fionna up in their bedroom having been awoken from a deep sleep five days after giving birth to comfort and protect their children.
“Guess what,” Dan snarled. “This isn’t South Dakota. Do not come back on my property. Stay the hell away from my wife and my kids, and keep your nose out of my life.”
“Well, you don’t have to be rude,” Fred huffed.
“Go home, Fred. If I get called back out here, man, I’m not going to be so nice,” Portwood said.
Fred made a quick escape as everyone standing in Dan’s backyard shook their heads in stunned disbelief.
“So, you can just call the CIA out whenever?” Chris stammered.
“I try not to abuse that privilege,” Dan assured him.
“No, no I’m good with it. I’m just not certain if I feel like really, really safe being your neighbor or just a little freaked out.”
Portwood, Ericcson, and Dan all chuckled.
“Dan’s a good guy, the best really,” Portwood vowed. “As long as you don’t mess with Fi or the baby girls you’re golden.”
Chris’ hands went up in mock surrender. “Got no issue with that. I’m just gonna go,” he gestured his thumb back towards his own home. “And no joke, that Scheckles guy is crazy, but I didn’t mean to intrude. I guess I’m still a little freaked by the car thing this morning.”
“It’s fine,” Dan assured him. “It’s nice to have neighbors that aren’t insane.”
With a wave, Chris rushed up the steps to his back deck and disappeared inside his own house.
“You know that Fred guy is gonna keep trying shit like this.” Ericcson shook his head.
“Yeah, I know,” Dan huffed. “Hey, what were you doing at work so late?” He couldn’t help himself. He’d been addicted to work for years and not being on the Force was starting to rub him raw.
Portwood stowed his gun in his holster. “So, I hire Jeff on the contingency that he passes his exams. I figure I’ve got a freaking tech genius, so why not see what he can do. In the past week, we’ve rounded up three high-end retail hackers and several fraudulent credit card cyber-stalkers. He and Logan are looking over the Venton stuff one day at lunch. The day Halia was born actually,” he recalled. “Somebody’s trying to hack the school’s databases. Jeff’s pretty certain it’s Wilshire, but every time we set something up to catch them, some kind of good guy hacker, or whatever Jeff calls him, he keeps getting in the way. Governor Haydenshire wants Wilshire caught if it is him. He just filed for separation basically to force his paychecks to be divided since your dad set it up so his wife’s getting the money right now,” Portwood explained the urgency. “I’m sure Jeff would’ve told you, but we figured you wouldn’t want us to interrupt Fionna’s pushing with ‘hey, Dan we got something on Wilshire.”
Laughing, Dan nodded. “Yeah, I was a little preoccupied.”
“Speaking of Fi, she’s holed up in our bedroom with the girls. I need to go tell her it wasn’t Pendergrath’s spawn.”
“Neighbors are either great or horrible. They’re never anything in between,” Portwood explained.
Thanking them for coming out so quickly, Dan raced back inside.
“Hey baby, it’s me and March 12th.”
The door flew open as Fionna and Halia fell into his arms with Aida wrapping her arms around his waist.