Naomi and Emily looked at one another in some discomfort. Had Ian Innis really just invited them into his office (or his house, or whatever it was?). They’d come here to prevent Mrs. Leighton from talking to him, not to facilitate a meeting between them…
Candace’s mother, terrified beyond any normal form of fear, yelped again and writhed in the girls’ grip, kicking her feet against the pavement as she tried to escape from some unseen horror.
“Emily, can you…?”
“I’m trying!” Emily was staring hard at Mrs. Leighton’s face, trying to make eye contact, but the woman was madly whipping her head from side to side, making it impossible to catch her gaze for long enough to calm her down.
The neighbours were opening their windows and stepping out onto their front porches now. Ian Innis came down into the driveway, shaking his head. “Keep her arms back, Naomi,” he said, then reached in and gripped Mrs. Leighton’s face between his hands, forcing her to look forward. She blinked and snorted furiously, but Emily had her now: a penetrating glare instantly erased the fear, and the woman fell limp, then dopey, then…
“…Did she just fall asleep?” said Naomi.
“Er,” said Emily. “Whoops?”
“How did you even do that?”
“I just wanted her to be relaxed! You know, calm, peaceful… I guess I overdid it a little.”
“Just a little,” offered Innis, dryly. “It’s okay; from what I gather, she could probably use some rest. You’d better be ready to answer a few questions from her when she wakes up, though.” He stood and waved to the watching neighbours to assure them that everything was all right. “We’ll be lucky if no one’s called the cops yet,” he said. “I assume that’s something you girls would prefer to avoid. Help me carry her inside. We can’t just leave the woman lying here.” He grabbed Mrs. Leighton under her shoulders and lifted.
Naomi hesitated, but Innis was right. It wouldn’t do to leave her here, and it seemed cruel to wake her up when she was apparently sleeping so peacefully—if it was even possible to awaken her from such a deep sleep as she appeared to have fallen into. It would look pretty suspicious to load her into a car and drive away, too.
So, Innis was just trying to be helpful. But there had to be an ulterior motive, didn’t there? Criminal types always had some kind of scheme in mind…
Despite Naomi’s misgivings, there didn’t seem to be a reasonable alternative available, so she took one of Mrs. Leighton’s legs, and Emily took the other, and the three of them carried the woman up the driveway and through the front door into Ian Innis’s house. They passed through a wide entryway decorated with a long floor mat, a stack of old newspapers, and two large, abstract paintings. A staircase led up to the right, and beyond that Naomi saw a glimpse of a kitchen, with a sink full of dirty dishes and a refrigerator literally covered with scraps of paper stuck on by magnets. Innis led them to the left, into a living room with two shabby couches and a matching chair. The blinds on the windows were closed and more than a little dusty. There were three tall stacks of binders in the corner and two overflowing bookshelves standing against the wall.
They laid Mrs. Leighton down on one of the couches and Innis propped her head up with a throw pillow. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “Oh, are you girls hungry at all?” He looked right at Naomi as he said it.
Naomi glanced quickly at Emily, who shook her head. “Um… Yeah, I am, a little, actually,” she replied, despite her friend’s warning.
“I’ll grab you something,” Innis offered, and disappeared down the hallway past the staircase.
“What are you doing?” hissed Emily.
“I’m starving!” said Naomi. “What’s he going to do, poison me?”
“We can’t stay here,” Emily protested.
“Well we can’t leave Mrs. Leighton alone, either…”
Emily seemed ready to make some retort when Innis returned, carrying a blanket. He handed it to Naomi and gestured to Mrs. Leighton, then popped into the kitchen.
Naomi spread the blanket over Mrs. Leighton and whispered to Emily, “I don’t like being here any more than you do, but we’ve got to make sure Candace’s mom gets home okay.”
Innis stuck his head back around the corner. “Maybe you two should come over here so our talking doesn’t wake Mrs. Leighton up, eh?”
Naomi shrugged. Emily sighed. The girls stood and followed Innis into the kitchen. The glimpse of mess Naomi had seen before had only been the tip of the iceberg. Every dish the man owned seemed to be spread out across the counters with some kind of food residue encrusted onto it. The table was clear, though, and Innis had a loaf of bread out sitting on a cutting board along with some peanut butter, jam, and margarine.
“Sorry about the mess,” said Innis. “The maid’s coming tomorrow. She can do some real Mary Poppins magic, and I tend to take that for granted… Here, Naomi.” He proffered a butter knife. “I wasn’t sure what toppings you’d prefer.”
“Thanks,” said Naomi. She took the knife and slathered a thick layer of peanut butter onto one of the slices of bread, then crammed it into her mouth, tearing off nearly half of the sandwich in her first bite. Food… Glorious food…
Emily rolled her eyes and sank into a chair, but Innis chuckled as he watched Naomi devour the bread. “Long day?” he said.
Naomi stopped chewing for just long enough to reply, “Longer than you could imagine…”
Innis’s eyes twinkled.