The girls reached the driveway as Candace’s mother was opening her car door. Naomi called out, “Mrs. Leighton, stop!” Her voice echoed through the nighttime darkness of the subdivision, its volume catching her off guard. She cringed, but pressed forward, putting herself in Mrs. Leighton’s way before she could exit the vehicle.
The woman’s eyes were wide, and her hand was covering her heart. She was evidently more than a little on edge. “Naomi!? What are you doing here?”
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” Naomi apologized. “Just… Please, please don’t do this. Go home! Don’t talk to this guy. I know you’ll regret it.”
“We already talked about this,” said Mrs. Leighton, leaning out of the car and putting one foot on the ground. “This is my choice, and my risk. I don’t want you to get involved.”
“It’s Mr. Leighton’s choice, though, too, isn’t it? What are you going to say when he finds out?”
“Are you threatening to tell him?” Now Mrs. Leighton had both feet out of the car, but Naomi still wouldn’t budge.
“Maybe I should. Maybe he could talk some sense into you!”
“Go ahead,” said Mrs. Leighton, calling Naomi’s bluff. “It won’t make any difference. Fred doesn’t feel any differently about this than I do—not deep down, anyways. He just takes longer to make decisions sometimes. But I’m sure he’d appreciate you waking him up for nothing.”
Naomi tried another tack. “You can’t trust this Innis guy. You heard what Detective Callahan said when he gave you that business card… You know what ‘grey areas’ means just as well as I do. He’s a criminal! If you hire Innis, you won’t be making any friends in the police department, and you might be putting yourself in legal danger, too.”
“Don’t be so naïve,” said Mrs. Leighton, and it was practically a snarl. “I’m not here to commit a crime, Naomi. I’m here to get help defending my daughter from one! After all the time you’ve spent in my house, I can’t believe you don’t know me at all. How can you think so little of me as to believe that I would willingly involve myself with criminals? I’m here for a meeting with someone to whom a police officer referred me, and if I don’t think this man can help me, or I feel that he is, as you seem to believe, really some kind of evil mob boss or something, then I’ll walk away. And that’s what I suggest you should do right now.”
Naomi stepped back, exasperated. But maybe Mrs. Leighton was right: maybe Naomi was overreacting to this whole situation. All she was going on were the hints and gut feeling she’d gotten during her conversation with Innis and that one phrase Detective Callahan had used. And calling something a “grey area” wasn’t the same thing as saying it was out-and-out illegal, was it? Mrs. Leighton was an intelligent woman, capable of taking care of herself and making her own choices… But still, everything about Ian Innis seemed wrong, from the way he’d approached her on that bus and the look in his eyes to the fact that he had cops surreptitiously handing out his business cards for him—with subtle warnings attached, no less.
Mrs. Leighton was out of the car now, and only now noticed Emily’s presence. “You’re here, too?” she said, with a sigh. “Girls, really, go home. I’m not in danger here. I’m not the one you have to save. Candace is the one in trouble, and I’m trying to help her. For all we know, you could be these kidnappers’ next targets! I don’t want to have to explain to your parents what happened to you…”
Emily stepped up. “You really aren’t going to listen to us, are you?”
“Emily…” Mrs. Leighton shook her head. “It’s like I told Naomi before: if you were a mother, maybe you’d understand. Candace’s safety is too important for me to give up this opportunity. Your mothers feel the same way about you, I guarantee it.”
Emily glanced at Naomi and raised her eyebrows, as if asking a question. Naomi interpreted her meaning right away, but only shrugged in reply. Would it really be such a good idea for Emily to tweak Mrs. Leighton’s emotions right now, frightening her or relaxing her or putting her into whatever other mood might be most effective in convincing her to go home? What if Innis actually turned out to be the only way to get Candace back? What if he wasn’t a villain after all?
But Naomi’s shrug must have seemed, to Emily, less like indecision and more like resignation, because she turned and met Mrs. Leighton’s eyes with a hard stare and a heavy frown. The look had an immediate effect: Mrs. Leighton stumbled backwards a step and raised her arms as if to fend off an invisible attacker, letting out a terrified yelp. Both girls rushed to subdue her, grabbing her arms and supporting her weight as she sank down onto the driveway.
“Nice going!” hissed Naomi, looking up and down the street to see if anyone had heard. People might think they were attacking the woman!
“What?” protested Emily. “We had to do something!”
A light came on in an upstairs window of the next house over, and then another in a house across the street. Naomi saw blinds being raised and silhouettes peering out. She tried to look innocent, innocuous, but that was hard to do when the only thing those people could probably see were two shadows bending over a third person. Even if people assumed it was a medical situation and not a mugging, this wasn’t a good time to be drawing a bunch of attention—and perhaps more importantly, it wasn’t a good place to be doing so. What if…
Too late. Naomi heard a door open behind her, and light washed down across the driveway. “Smoothly done, ladies,” said Ian Innis. “You’ve successfully frightened the poor woman into a panic, and woken up half the neighbourhood in the process.” He sighed. “I think you’d all better come inside.”