Aidan exclaimed, “Oh no! You’re gonna ask for a divorce! No, wait, were only pretending to be married…”
I assured him, “I don’t wanna break up! Thank goodness! I can’t imagine being stuck with an ex during Witness Protection!”
“Yeah, it’s not fun!” Aidan huffed.
“Aidan! Are you coming in?” Minna called out to him. “I’d like to know when to go upstairs… So, are you staying outside, or…?”
Aidan sarcastically told her, “No! I’m gonna camp out here from now on!”
Minna complimented him, “Good choice! I wish I could do that!”
Aidan shook his head at her ineptitude, and we heard my mom’s muffled voice address her shortly afterwards, so we could only assume she was getting informed on the correct situation. Meanwhile, I still needed to discuss something with Aidan. “Listen, about these pranks…”
“You’re not enjoying them?” Aidan gazed at my expression and made an inference, “That’d be a no! I’m sorry, I’ll stop doing them!”
“Why did they start in the first place?” I petitioned him.
Aidan shrugged. “I dunno! Once we got a hang of the planting, I got so bored! I’m used to masterminding schemes to thwart bad guys’ plans, and now I have all this pent up energy and, like, I just needed to outsmart somebody!”
I sympathized with him, “I understand that! Initially, I kinda liked it ‘cause it’s a very peaceful activity, and I can see why Mom loves it! It was a nice break from this chaotic household too, but maybe it’s a bit too peaceful! I’m used to constantly engaging my brain in order to solve crimes, and this job they have us doing really isn’t challenging enough! I’ve tried to subtly interrogate Kaleo and Kalani about that disappearing lake, but they always find a reason to separate themselves from me! I can’t tell if they’re onto us or if they simply don’t like me!”
“We can always investigate the issue tomorrow when we visit that desert town,” Aidan suggested. “Maybe someone out there saw something, or maybe they picked up on some rumors that can help us get a lead! Yeah, maybe if we spend the weekend working on this case, we won’t feel so burnt out with this farm work!”
“That’d be good!” I chirped. “Let’s get it out of our system before Monday!”
Aidan agreed, and then he inquired, “Was that all you wanted to talk about?”
I replied, “Basically! Your jokes were a little annoying, and more importantly, they were a terrible influence on the kids! Like they need more ammo to cause trouble!”
Aidan chuckled, “True! Alright, shall we go join in whatever trouble is presently brewing in there?” He indicated towards the abode, and while I didn’t detect anything too precarious, I still dreaded going in and enduring whatever chaos might ensue for the night! I nodded and braced myself for the worst as Aidan announced, “Entering!”
When we came inside of the building, I expected to see everyone hastily shifting to various different behaviors as though they hadn’t been attempting to eavesdrop on our conversation- I didn’t anticipate all of the occupants staring at us in avid curiosity! I canvassed the group, “Uh… What’s going on?”
“Don’t you two have something to tell us?” Mom asked.
“No…” Aidan and I answered with heavy confusion in our tone.
My mom genuinely appeared surprised by this! “Oh! Okay, I’ll go get dinner then!”
I guessed, “Were you all expecting an update on the case?”
“Doesn’t matter!” Laraleigh asserted. She held out what looked like two of her children’s wands so that we could see it clearly. “You can use these! Mason and Harper’s punishment for the water balloons is using the crappy sticks Agent Hearne gave you!”
“Awesome!” Aidan jovially reacted. We handed her our old ones and took theirs very eagerly! Aidan test drove his new wand by procuring a bouquet of flowers for me! “Perfect!”
Harper defiantly spat, “This isn’t gonna change a thing! I can cause mayhem with whatever wand I use!” She strove to create a spell on my old twig and fell thoroughly short! She pouted mightily, but the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief! While we waited for dinner to be ready, I thought that perhaps living in this hovel would become slightly more bearable going forward!
In an old pickup truck, I sat between Mom and Aidan as Aidan drove the vehicle with an overly dour mood. My mother peered at her phone and then directed him, “Turn left here.” Aidan heeded her command and went left on the small, dusty road we were heading to. “Oh, the other left…” Mom corrected him.
“I did go left!” Aidan barked.
“Oh, you’re right! I meant to say right!” Mom conceded.
Aidan growled and made a u-turn. Concurrently, from the truck bed, Jackson went up on his knees to get a better view of the sandy cloud that Aidan’s maneuver created, and Laraleigh cautioned him, “Sit down and pretend like y’all have seatbelts! We don’t wanna get pulled over by a cop!”
Jackson retorted, “You could’ve left out the ‘by a cop’ part- who else is gonna pull us over?”
“Other people can pull us over, but cops are the only ones who can do it legally,” Kinsey pointed out.
“Back on those true crime sites that I blocked?” Laraleigh questioned.
Kinsey denied that allegation, “No, I saw that on tv! There’s a whole channel dedicated to murder shows! Did you know once some dude killed his gardener by taking a hose and-?”
Laraleigh cut her off, “Can we hold off on the gruesome subjects? This is supposed to be a happy occasion!”
“Talking about murders makes me happy though!” Kinsey stated.
“Don’t worry, she doesn’t show any real signs of benign a serial murderer,” I reassured Mom.
Mom didn’t seem too bothered by her remark. “Sweetie, do you forget who I was married to? Of course, when we were together, I didn’t see the signs…”
Aidan piped up, “Speaking of seeing signs, do we turn at this intersection or go straight?”
“Straight… I think…” She squinted at her screen, and then she confirmed, “Yeah… no… yeah!”
“There’s a sign there that says Kauhale Maloo is two miles ahead.” I gestured to the post on the side of the street.
Aidan grumbled, “You can’t see signs anywhere! Why did we put you in charge of the navigation?”
Mom grew sullen at that slight. “For whatever reason, I’m the only one who got a decent signal out here! And at least I got this hunk of junk that stayed unused in the Hekekias’ garage for years to run!”
“How did you manage to do that?” I wondered. “Usually, you’re not very good at spell-work!”
“I had to know how to repair cars ‘cause Wade had a habit of buying clunkers. He prided himself in getting amazing deals, but in reality, he just got sold lemon after lemon! Why was he smart in killing victims and dumb everywhere else?” my mom griped.
Kinsey’s ears perked up at this. “Did I hear someone mention something about killers?”
All three of us responded in unison, “No!” She didn’t appear to believe our claim, but oh well! We weren’t about to talk about this terrible topic with a teenager!
When we got to the small village, we parked in a tiny lot beneath some shade trees in front of a twenty-four hour pharmacy that was inexplicably closed. Aidan noted, “Well, it’s lucky none of us are sick!”
As if on cue, Willow leaned over the edge of the truck and hurled! Laraleigh begrudgingly notified us, “It’s alright, I’ll get it!”
That episode made me slightly nauseous, so I got out of the pickup and glanced around at my surroundings in order to distract myself. We stood below a giant banner that read “Welcome to Downtown Kauhale Waloo,” and from what I could gather, the entire sector consisted of a single boulevard! The antiquated buildings all seemed to be built with outdated wood, and the gray slabs that made up the sidewalk all had cracks with red dirt between them. A variety of inhabitants roamed the avenue, but no one acted very pleased to have a presence there! I was about to comment on the lack of enthusiasm from the visitors around us when I saw him- the hooded figure from the reservoir! I couldn’t see his face, but I got the impression that he was grinning maliciously as he held up a couple of plush animals as if they would terrify me! What in the world did that mean? I had no time to contemplate this- I had to alert everyone! “He’s here! He’s here!”
“Who is?” Kinsey queried as she mimicked my focus.
“There! The person over-!” Prior to me finishing that sentence, he disappeared from my view! “He was there a second ago! He had teddy bears!”
Before anyone could delve into what I had been referring to, Mom’s phone rang. “Why is the IRS calling me? … Oh!”
I attempted to advise Mom, “Maybe you should go some-.” It was too late, she accepted the call! “Whatever!”
“Hello?” My mother greeted the person on the other end.
“This is Agent Hearne. Are you somewhere private right now?” Agent Hearne wanted to know.
Mom gazed around the perimeter, and when she didn’t observe anyone other than us within earshot, she reported, “The coast is clear!”
Agent Hearne informed her, “I just wanted to let you know that we had a potential sighting of Wade Toonella earlier today.”
We all listened intently to this development, and Mom enquired, “Where was he?”
“An anonymous tip had him in a hospital in Oklahoma,” Agent Hearne revealed. “My team is still trying to substantiate this claim, but if he has been admitted for serious care…”
“If you’re calling me to say he’s on his deathbed, tell the doctors that I’m his legal wife and I give them full permission to pull the plug!” Mom asserted.
A group of locals happened to pass by when she said that, and they stared at her quite quizzically when they overheard this! I recommended to Mom, “Maybe you should take the rest of this call in the truck.” She acquiesced as Agent Hearne began expounding on how they had to verify the identity of the possible suspect prior to anything else commencing, and after Aidan handed her the keys, I propositioned, “We should go check out these shops…”
Aidan concurred, “Yeah! We need to get to the bottom of this whole lake thing!”
My mind was speeding down a single track at that moment, so I completely forgot about that issue! “Huh? Oh yes, definitely!” I wasn’t lying, but I also intended to investigate the area and see where Wade was hiding and, possibly more importantly, why in the heck he had been holding up those cutesy toys! Aidan strolled to the locale with the brisk bounce that accompanies the onset of pursuing a juicy lead, but my heart was pounding as I contemplated a potential battle with our adversary using a child’s wand!
When we went into this souvenir shop, a few characters were engaged in a lively chat, and they fell silent upon our arrival! They gawked at us in total awe, and then one of them blurted out, “E! We actually have some tourists!”
“We better get back to our stores!” another proprietor affirmed.
“Hey! Please don’t go!” Aidan beseeched them. “We were hoping to ask you some questions.”
The man behind the counter briefed us, “The restroom is closed to the public.”
Aidan waved that off. “No, no! We’re fine there! Although… Nah, I can hold it! We were interested in finding out about an odd event that took place near our new home…”
As Aidan talked to this lot, I spotted a bin full of teddy bears with flowery shirts and sunhats on! I examined the stuffed creatures, and nothing about them seemed very remarkable! So, what could have conceivably drawn Wade to purchase these items? Or steal them, who knows!
“Do you mean Lake Ana Wai?” a tradesman pondered.
“Yup!” Aidan confirmed. I set the toys aside and gave this response my utmost concentration! The men glimpsed at each other unsuredly, and…