Chapter 2
“Let the investigation begin.” Scipio and I were standing outside my house the next morning, and Scipio was gazing at the house, eyes shining. I shot him a sour look, “I’m glad your enjoying this.” “My dear Troy, I would never take pleasure in the mysterious disappearance of your cousin, the prospect of an investigation however, like one would see on CSI make me very happy indeed.” I glared at him. “It’s a wonder I put up with you.” He shrugged, “Come on. Let’s go.” We walked in the house. It felt weird to be there without Jennifer. Except for when she was waitressing, which wasn’t too often, she was always there. I followed Scipio, not really paying attention to where he was going until he had his hand on the door. “Uh…what are you doing?” “It’s like the first thing cops do when they need to find someone right? They go through the person’s bedroom.” “You are not going through Jennifer’s bedroom.” “I promise I won’t be creepy. You want to find her don’t you?” “Yeah but…” “Well alright then.” He pushed the door open. “I really don’t know what you hope to find.” I said as he began going through the messiness that was Jennifer’s desk. She kept the whole house in tip top shape, except her own room, that, well, not so much. Scipio shrugged. “Who knows man? Maybe she is part of the government or involved in some shady mafia business. She may even be like a secret ninja or something.” Sometimes I had trouble remembering that Scipio was the same age as me. “One, that’s ridiculous, two, this is Jennifer we’re talking about.” I snapped. I felt my throat burn and I swallowed hard. “She didn’t even graduate high school. She’s a waitress. She’s, she’s just Jennifer.” My voice cracked. Scipio stopped rummaging around her desk to look up at me. “We’re gonna find her Troy.” “How Scipio!” I exploded, “We’re kids! We’re just stupid kids!” “I resent that.” Scipio said, going back to his search. “Kid I may be but stupid I am not.” He changed tactics and dropped to his knees to look under the bed. “Aha,” he said after a while. “This looks decidedly secret and like it would have to do with a mysterious disappearance.” Scipio tilted his head to grin up at me as he pulled out from under the bed a small wooden box. Etched into the cover was lion like you would see on an old European family crest, reared up on hind legs, ready to do battle. Scipio held it out to me. “Do you know what this is?” I shook my head and took it from him. “I’ve never seen it before.” I pulled at the lid. “It’s locked.” “Well of course it is. Why would it ever be conveniently unlocked?” Scipio ran a hand through his dark hair and looked around Jennifer’s untidy room. “I don’t suppose the key would be somewhere in here.” “If it is, we’ll never find it.” I said feeling hopeless. “She’d lose her head if it wasn’t attached. Anything of value she usually gave to me to hold on to.” Scipio’s thoughtful face snapped into focus. “Maybe she did give it to you.” “What do you mean?” “Think Troy, did she ever give you a gift that you thought was strange or out of place? Something that might function as a key for a box like this?” I shook my head. Most of the gifts that Jennifer and I exchanged were doing chores for the other. We didn’t have much in the way of cash. I stared at the box cradled in my hands trying to ignore Jennifer’s presence, so strong in the room. The smell of her cheap perfume, the jeans she’d worn the day before discarded carelessly across her bed. The knuckles of my hand turned white with my tightening grip. I blinked rapidly against my blurring vision. “Let’s go Scipio.” His eyes were on me. He was a lot of things but as much as he pretended, insensitive was not one of them. “Okay Troy.” We walked back to his house without a word. ~ An official investigation was launched but with no clues there was little hope. It was decided that I would stay with Scipio’s family. The police and most of the town settled with the impression that the pressures of raising a 15 -year-old kid got to Jennifer and she’d pulled a runner. But I wouldn’t, couldn’t believe that. It just wasn’t Jennifer. Besides, that left far too many questions unanswered. The days passed slowly with me waiting desperately for news and trying to distract myself with work and baseball. I was beginning to think it would be just another mystery cold case in some dank forgotten office basement somewhere. Then my birthday came. I was turning 16 and I really, really wanted my cousin. I found myself standing outside the house we shared. I don’t know what, if anything, I was hoping to find. I just wanted to be as close to Jennifer as possible and this was it. I walked up the front steps feeling oddly nervous. When I reached the porch I saw it. It was an envelope, resting against the doorframe. It was brown, one of those package envelopes and small. There was no name, no stamp, no return address. I picked it up heart in my throat. The rationally part of me kept nagging at me to contact police, after all, this could be something dangerous from the people who took Jennifer. This could be just the evidence they need. But I wasn’t in the mood for rational. I unlocked the door and stepped inside. Except for the layer of dust that covered everything the house hadn’t changed. Pushing aside resurfaced emotions, I went to the kitchen. My hand trembled as I opened the envelope and peered inside. For a brief, terrifying moment, I thought it was empty but then I saw it, snuggled in to the bottom corner, a small key chain. I dumped it out onto the counter where it fell with a tinkling clatter. It was an old style design, like what would be found on a medieval family insignia. It took me a full 3 seconds to realize where I’d seen that same symbol. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears as I snatched up the rearing lion and raced back to Scipio’s. A few hours later a knock sounded on my bedroom door, or rather the guest room that had been functioning as my bedroom. I grunted a, “Come in,” from where I lay huddled miserably on the bed. Scipio entered, “Hey, man. You okay?” I sat up with a shrug. “Aunt Anita said you came back in a rush. Did something happen?” “I went back to the house.” I said quietly. A pained expression crossed Scipio’s face but only briefly before he gave a nod. “Did you find anything?” he prompted, clearly not believing that I would’ve. His face was priceless when I said, “Yeah, actually I did.” I told him about the envelope and the key chain I’d found inside, then held it out for him to see. His expression told me he’d immediately made the exact same connection I had. “It’s a key Troy! For the box! Did you try it?” I nodded. “And...?” he asked excitedly. “What did you find?” “Nothing.” I said bitterly. “The box was empty.” “Empty? What do you mean its empty?” “I don’t know Scipio. How would you like me to put it? THERE. WAS. NOTHING. IN. THE. BOX.” I was frustrated, angry even. “Well, was there a note or anything with this?” He held up the dangling lion. “No!” I snapped, “No note, no letter, no return address, no nothing. I have no idea where it came from, who sent it or what, if anything, it has to do with Jennifer!” I had thought this would help. I had thought that this would lead to the answers that I so desperately needed, but all I had were more questions. “Can I see the box Troy?” “What for? I already told you it’s empty.” “Humor me.” I exaggerated a grumpy sigh and tossed him the box. For a several minutes Scipio played with it. Flipping it back and forth between his hands, opening and closing it. Shaking it even. I was about to remind him that the box was in fact empty when he suddenly grinned at me. “Eureka.” He said and began tugging at inside bottom. “Hey!” I cried, jumping to my feet. It may have been an empty box but it had once belonged to Jennifer. “Don’t break it!” “I’m not breaking it.” A second later he was holding a small wooden square, that looked distinctly like a broken piece of the box. He gave me a wolfish grin. “Do you know what this is?” I glared, “Yeah, a piece of the box that I specifically asked you not to break.” “No.” he said patiently, “This, my dear Troy is a false bottom. And this…” he held up a folded piece of paper. “Looks like a letter.” “Scipio. You are a genius.” He waved dismissively, “I know.” He tossed the letter and the box into my hands. With apprehension, I opened it.