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Ground Work: A Kira Brightwell Short Story

Ground Work: A Kira Brightwell Short Story

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Kira Brightwell thinks she knows her best friend and roommate pretty well—better than anyone else, at least.

Rob’s life seems straightforward from the outside. He stays in the apartment and keeps to himself, preferring the company of his laptop to most other people (Trevor Wright in particular).

He gathers information from behind the scenes, while Kira takes the lead out in the real world in her ongoing search for the serial abductor known as Procurer.

But Rob has a secret. Something he keeps even from Kira.

...And an unexpected case threatens to expose everything.

A fun, stand-alone story from the Kira Brightwell Quick Cases mystery series.

(This adventure takes place between the Kira Brightwell novels Split Decision and Black and Blue.)


Rob shook the plastic cup. He let the dice rattle around inside for a few moments before dumping them onto the linoleum table in the midst of a pair of empty Big Mac boxes and some discarded fries. He watched as the dice tumbled out and shivered to a stop under the dim light of an ancient lamp with a fringed, orange shade that must have come from the Seventies—three fives, a one, and a two.

He pursed his lips. He could probably do better than that. He still had another shake left. Besides, he needed to maintain his lead, not that it would last for long. He scooped up the one and the two and put the pair of dice back in the cup.

His gaze snagged on the sleeve of his hoodie. Some Mac sauce had dripped onto the worn, burgundy fabric, overlaying an almost artistic array of older food stains that had been too stubborn to come out in the wash. He snatched up a paper napkin to wipe at the pale-orange glob before the woman sitting across from him might notice it.

The lingering scent of the spiced mayonnaise and salty fries overlaid the underlying mixture of aftershave, floral perfume, and traces of urine, body odor, and a healthy helping of Lysol that permeated the shadowy confines of recreation room—old-people smell. Rob would have wrinkled his nose, but he was used to it by now.

The napkin rustled against his hoodie despite his best efforts, but his opponent took no notice. She was too busy tapping the tip of her pencil against her scorecard and muttering to herself. Rob’s eyes narrowed.

He had a feeling he knew what was coming.

The woman shook her silver-curled head. “Oh dear,” she said in Spanish. A faint expression of distress marred her lined, nut-brown face. “It seems my math is wrong. How did that happen? I’d better add it all up again.”

Her pencil squeaked as she recorded a number in her running total column that was five points higher than before.

“Abuela Rosa,” Rob said in a wry voice. His grandmother looked up, her brown eyes wide with a look of innocence he knew all too well. “You changed that three to an eight.” He dropped his napkin and reached across the table to tap the number in question with the tip of his own pencil.

“Berto, how could you say such a thing?” She clutched at the front of her fuzzy, pink bathrobe and gave him a wounded look.

Rob rolled his eyes at her. “Because you always cheat.”

He ignored her use of the nickname ‘Berto.’ She was the only person he let get away with it—aside from his mother, who he had just about given up on at this point.

“I? Cheat?” She drew herself up in her seat across from him. “I would never do such a thing.”

She managed to maintain a straight face, but Rob could see the corners of her lips twitching and there was a glimmer in her eye.

She had always been an outrageous cheat—even when Rob had only been a child. He had stopped playing Scrabble or any other word-related games with her long ago (unless he was in a particularly masochistic mood). She had a tendency to claim certain ‘words’ she came up with were in fact esoteric Spanish terms that Rob was not familiar with. And since the retirement home didn’t have a Spanish dictionary he could use to challenge her, she usually got away with it.

He could have just used Leia—his laptop—to look up the words, of course. He gave the familiar bulk of his laptop bag a comforting pat from where it sat on the plastic chair beside him without thinking.

But watching her cheat and trying to beat her fairly was at least half of the fun.

“Did you get something on your shirt?” she asked.

She reached across the table with a napkin of her own to dab at his sleeve with a faint ‘tsk’-ing sound—in an effort to distract him, no doubt. His gaze drifted to the large, round clock hanging from the wall in the empty recreation room. He could barely make it out in the dim light—2:25.

“It’s late,” he said as he gently pulled his arm away. “You should probably get to bed.”

His grandmother stifled a yawn. “Yes, I suppose so. Before I beat you too badly, eh?”

Yes, there was a definite twinkle in her eye as she uttered the last sentence.

She stood up with a faint scrape of her plastic chair and began gathering up the paper bag, napkins, paper cups, and cardboard containers from their meal. Rob rushed to his feet to help her. She reached up with a soft, wrinkled hand to give his stubbled cheek a fond pat.

“Thank you for coming to see me, Berto. And for the food.”

He felt himself flush and pulled away. “You’re welcome,” he mumbled. “Are they still feeding you OK here?”

She shrugged. “It isn’t bad, but they have no idea how to use spices.” She gave a mock shudder. “So bland, and everything healthy—or so they say.”

Rob gave a shudder of his own at the thought of an unseasoned meal of lean meat and steamed vegetables. He practically lived on junk food. He had no interest in cooking for himself, and his roommate Kira was no chef either.

After they had cleaned up, Rob turned off the light, plunging the scattered tables and chairs of the rec room into darkness before escorting his grandmother back to her room. The hallways of the retirement home were lit by humming, fluorescent lights, but only every second one was turned on at this hour. They reflected dully against the beige linoleum floor.

Rob walked with his laptop bag over one shoulder and his grandmother on his opposite arm. She didn’t need the support. She shuffled along in her slippers in a sprightly fashion, despite her age, but Rob knew she appreciated it when he played the role of gallant knight for her.

The rest of the retirement home was silent. It had been locked up for the night hours ago, and all the staff and residents had gone to bed—an ideal time for Rob to visit.

He and his grandmother had always been kindred spirits, and he had done his best to visit her often, especially since his grandfather had died of a heart attack a few years ago. But Rob had never been a people person, and the crowds of elderly residents that roamed the retirement home during visiting hours, all hungry to make a connection with a younger face, put him on edge.

So his grandmother smuggled him in through her window late at night instead.

No one else knew about his visits—not even Kira, or his parents and sisters. As far as any of them knew, he never left the apartment.

And Rob aimed to keep it that way—much easier than having to deal with awkward questions or raised expectations. If word got out that he was leaving the apartment to visit his grandmother, everyone would expect him to start traipsing around town to socialize.

He suppressed a shudder at the thought.

His grandmother slid her arm free from his and ducked into her room to make sure the coast was clear. She had a roommate, but the other woman usually went to bed early, and was a deep sleeper with poor hearing. Rob waited in the shadows of the hallway.

His grandmother reappeared a few moments later with a frown.

“What’s wrong?” Rob asked in a low voice. He had never encountered anyone else inside the retirement home during his nocturnal visits, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.

His grandmother shook her head. “It’s Helga.”

Rob gave her a blank look.

She waved her hand toward the doorway in an irritated gesture. “The woman who shares my room.”

Her brown eyes met Rob’s with a look of concern.

“She’s gone.”

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