Episode 8: Grasping Secrets
By Lauren Derrick
The Pensieve Editor's Note: This is a continuation of the Marvelous Mind of Marilyn Hansen series.
Brigham fidgeted with his phone, cycling through a series of cameras that showed entry points in the hotel and individual rooms. A buzz of vibration sounded, and he pulled a flip phone from his pocket and lifted it to his ear.
“The search isn't going so well. I need Marilyn. Get them to New York, and we'll have you switch out with Quentin.” Monica's voice was terse and clipped.
Brigham licked his lips. “I-I-I...I w-want t-t-to st-stay wi-w-wi-with th-th-them.”
Monica sounded surprised. “I thought you were interested in the job for Hank next week?”
“I w-wa-wa-was. B-bu-but...” Brigham took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I can...can he-he-help.”
Monica sighed. “Honestly, we could use your mind on this if you think you're up for it. Marilyn does like you. I'll work on getting approval. We need to find Madelyn Gray, and quickly. You understand that if you stay then you will work towards that end at any cost?”
“O-of co-course.” Brigham said, wide-eyed.
“We traced the email back to New York. Marilyn's lead looks promising, but I need you to ascertain her motives. If she is trying to recapture Madelyn, let her know we will back her up. Otherwise, use her to get to the target first.” Monica growled softly, then mumbled, “This would all be so much easier if Marilyn wasn't on probation and I could formally assign her to finding her sister. You're sure you want to do this?”
“Y-y-yes.” Brigham stuttered excitedly.
“Fine. I'll be checking in.”
The next morning, Marilyn and Byrd waited in line at the Salt Lake City Airport. Behind them, Brigham had lent Finley an ear bud. The two were watching something on his phone, and Finley was snorting and giggling at it. Byrd discreetly rubbed at his eyes, and Marilyn made eye contact with him.
Did you talk to her about your husband yet? Byrd asked through the telepathic link.
Marilyn sighed. No. Last night we ended up having a long chat about ethics. She was wondering how I decide when it's appropriate to use my telepathy.
You need to tell her. Byrd insisted. I get why you've kept everything secret for so long, I really do. But inviting your granddaughter on this trip means you need to trust her.
I will. Marilyn defended. I'm still trying to get a grasp on what I do and don't know about my own husband. How am I supposed to talk to her about it? Everything I knew has been turned upside down. I'm still struggling with how I could have been so thoroughly duped.
Byrd squirmed. I'd love to say that I knew something was off about that guy—but I think I only met him once or twice, and I was too busy being jealous...
Marilyn looked up at him with tired, sagging eyes, and Byrd cut off.
He was good. That's all I'm trying to say. Byrd sent after a good pause. A class act.
But it was all just an act. Marilyn thought flatly. Her eyes dimmed. And I thought it was real.
Brigham took a seat next to Finley, about three rows back from Marilyn and Byrd. Byrd eyed Brigham suspiciously as the younger members of the party took their seats. Brigham met his gaze and smiled. Byrd’s eyes narrowed.
“What do you think that kid wants with your granddaughter?” Byrd asked in a low voice.
Marilyn glanced back at them and rolled her eyes. “Oh, Robert. He probably just wants to watch movies together. They became friends yesterday. Finley told me all about it”
She paused briefly. “Speaking of which, there's a bit of a problem. Finley isn't great at lying or keeping secrets. Brigham already knew about everything we were up to yesterday, anyhow. But it's important to remember that Finley's untrained. We should be careful what we share with them.”
Byrd muttered. “They seem to be sitting awfully close together.”
“Phones have small screens.” Marilyn said dismissively.
Reluctantly, Byrd let it drop. Ladybug crawled over his lap to look out the window as the plane took off. Once they had reached altitude, Byrd removed some M&Ms from his pocket and offered them to Marilyn. She took a handful and threw a few of them into her mouth.
So. Byrd thought to her. If Brigham knew what we were up to yesterday, then the agency has tabs on your email account and will know if you try to contact the person who provided the photo of Frank in the Soviet uniform.
Knowing Brigham's motives would be useful. Marilyn’s shoulders and chin dropped. I suppose he could be getting close to Finley to gather information.
I don't know what his game is, but I don't like it—I'm guessing Finley doesn't want knowledge of her telepathy to go public. Hopefully she doesn't give herself away. If he's as smart as you say, though, he's going to start to wonder what Finley's really doing here.
Finley can't actually read minds, at least not yet. I'm not sure I've told you about that. Marilyn reluctantly informed him. She can read feelings, however. And...and she can influence the feelings of others.
Byrd's eyebrows raised. So she can make someone who's initially calm start to panic?
It would appear so.
Can she make someone fall in love? Byrd asked. That's a lot of power. I hope she took your ethics discussion last night to heart…
She's just now realizing what she's been doing subconsciously for the past couple of years. Marilyn rubbed her forehead. She needs to learn what exactly she is doing before she can work through practical application and ethical use. But we're diverging from the problem at hand. What do you think my sister is up to?
Ladybug grew tense and whimpered. The little dog's bugged eyes fixed on her owner's face, looking for comfort. A voice came over the intercom, explaining that they were experiencing turbulence. She asked that all passengers remain in their seats and secure their safety belts. A baby started crying from somewhere behind them.
The baby in the seat right behind Brigham and Finley began crying louder and louder. The mother tried to soothe him. “Shhhh… It’s all right,” she said as she offered a pacifier. The baby continued to bellow as though the device was not there. She swapped the pacifier for a bottle. The baby did not seem to notice. Lightning flashed from far away outside the window.
A boy sitting on the aisle seat frowned as he gently wiggled a bottom front tooth. He shoved the red package of crackers he had been eating into his sweater pocket and stared at the window. His voice squeaked. “Mom...are we going to crash?”
The mother looked up from the baby with eyes bruised from lack of sleep. “Of course not—it's just turbulence. Don't worry. It’ll be over soon.”
The plane shook. Young brown eyes shot from side to side, then up to his mother. “What was that? Mom! What was that? Why is the airplane shaking?”
The baby shrieked.
“It's just turbulence. There's rough air outside.” The mother said, pulling a strand of stray hair behind her ear.
“Why is Andy crying so hard?!” the boy asked, his words gaining speed and volume. “And why is the air rough?!”
“Andy's trying to get a tooth,” the mother answered patiently. “And the air...”
The plane shook more violently, accompanied by an unsettling metallic rattling. The boy shrieked. “We're going to CRASH! We're going to CRASH!”
He let out a high-pitched scream.
“No, no! Cam! We're fine!” The mother grabbed at the boy's arm, but he was writhing. He clawed at the armrests and screamed. The baby wailed all the louder, as if competing for attention. Passengers nearby grimaced and tried to look away.
Finley turned awkwardly in her seat to face the screaming child. Loudly she said, “Hey! Do you like cats?”
The boy's tear-streaked face was reddening. It took a moment for him to notice the offering in Finley's hand. Eventually, though, he paused his panicked bellows for a brief second to see a worn key chain with a knitted black cat head on it. Finley repeated her earlier question, which caught the boy off guard. He looked from the cat's head to Finley's warm eyes. She smiled, gently passing it into his hand, even as she was maintaining her awkward twist to the back.
“It seems a lot scarier than it actually is,” Finley told him. “The plane just makes a lot of loud rattling noises—but it's a strong plane. Just noisy.”
As if to prove her point, the plane shook again, not quite as hard this time, and it rattled a little. The boy sniffed and fingered the yarn that made up the keychain. “Is it a panther?”
“Uh...sure.” Finley said. “It's my good luck panther. You can give him a squeeze if you feel scared. He'll help keep you safe.”
The boy took a deep breath. The plane shook once more, and he squeezed the key chain but did not cry out. His mother’s shoulders loosened in a slow breath and she shot Finley a grateful look as her baby finally began gumming his bottle. The chaotic screaming and crying had died down to near silence.
Suddenly, a soft whimper made Finley stiffen. She looked down at the aisle at a small pug. “Ladybug?”
The little boy's eyes lit up and darted to the little animal. “A PUPPY?”
Ladybug put her paws up on the boy's seat and wagged her curly tail. The boy sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve before reaching to pet the dog.
Finley turned to the boy's mother. “Sorry—this is my grandma's dog. She loves kids. I'm sure she just wants to help.”
“Can I hold it?” The boy asked excitedly.
His mother looked to Finley. “Is that okay?”
“Sure.” Finley said.
The boy scooped Ladybug up by her middle. She licked his face and he giggled. The ravenous animal then began sniffing around the boy’s pockets, licking up tiny orange crumbs. He squealed in delight. “She likes crackers!”
Finley turned back around and rubbed her neck. The plane shook a little, and she stiffened, holding her breath.
The mother tried to retrieve the cat keychain to give back to Finley, but her son was not willing to part with it. He kept the metal ring around his finger as he held onto Ladybug.
Finley stopped the woman's trying. “I-it's all right—he can keep it.”
“Thank you so much.” The woman said, sinking into her seat with a sigh. “That was so kind of you—you were amazing with him!”
Finley licked her lips. “Uh...thanks. I'm glad I could help.”
The light indicating that passengers must stay in their seats with belts fastened turned off minutes later as the turbulence subsided. Brigham stared at Finley as a person might stare at a long lost relic–or perhaps a poisonous snake–eyes wide with awe. She reddened, mouth parting as if to answer the unasked question.
“He...he was really scared.” She finally said, her voice faltering.
“A-and th-th-then...then h-he was-wa-wasn't.” Brigham replied quietly.
Finley bit her lip, her eyes wide and face rife with worry. Her gaze quickly flew from Brigham to her own lap and stuck there. Silence seeped between them for a moment. Finley's hands shook as she opened the airline-provided cookie package and began nibbling on one as the gravity of the situation began to sink in. She pointedly avoided looking at Brigham, the previous coloration slowly draining from her face.
Brigham kept glancing at his nervous travel companion, his fidgeting fingers and mouth working as to say or do something. No words or actions came.
So first we focus on Madelyn's contacts, and we figure out where our security guard stands. If he's going to cause problems, then we ditch him. Next we locate the person who posted Frank's information on the genealogy website.
Yes. Madelyn’s top obvious choices for help are all in the New York area. I'm sure the agency is already watching each of them. I'm not confident we can approach any of them without drawing attention. Madelyn is probably avoiding them for that same reason.
So who else do we have? Byrd prompted.
Marilyn sighed, eyebrows furrowed. Maddie befriended a group of war veterans back when she was going after politicians. Most of them have either passed on or are in assisted living facilities, but Jonathan Dewey is still living in New York. If Maddie has some sort of cause right now, my gut says he's the one she would look for.
Byrd licked his lips. I trust your gut. Let's look for Jonathan first.
Madelyn thought, What should be our strategy for determining whether to trust Brigham?
You could read his mind. Byrd grumbled.
You don't think you can figure out what his instructions are without me looking directly into his mind? Lost your edge, have you?
No, Byrd thought defensively, I'm just looking at our laundry list and figuring out how we're going to get it all done.
I don't feel right about invading his privacy. Marilyn insisted. Besides, I've worked with him enough that he can tell when I'm reading his mind.
Did you tell Finley that? Byrd asked, throwing his whole head to face Marilyn with wide eyes. I hope she hasn't tried to read him.
Marilyn paused. It didn't occur to me.
Okay, before we do anything else in New York, you and Finley better have a girls' day. She needs to be better informed. You’re throwing her into this blind.
Marilyn winced at the criticism. Right. You're right. I’ll tell her everything tomorrow.
You take a day with Finley, and I'll spend a day with stutter boy and try to figure out his MO. Byrd griped. Top of the list of things I wanted to do tomorrow.
Don't underestimate him, Marilyn warned.
Yeah, yeah, you've told me.
Marilyn glanced down the aisle towards Finley and Brigham and frowned. “Where did Lady get to? She should be back by now.”
Finley tried to make hollow small talk over the sound of happy giggles behind them, but with little success. The halfhearted conversation died down as Marilyn began inching her way towards the back of the plane, catching Finley's eye. Once she reached her granddaughter, Marilyn quickly spotted Ladybug in the seat behind.
The little pug was sitting at attention on the seat, facing her newfound friend. The little boy who had been screaming in horror only half-an-hour before was now grinning ear-to-ear. In his sweater pocket, barely visible, was a red package. His eyes fixed on Ladybug’s bulging pupils as he slowly reached down into the red package, retrieving a single orange cracker. The little pug's eyes followed his hand down into the pack and back up again. The boy then drew a circle in the air with the cracker, shaking with soft laughter as Ladybug rolled her head in a circular motion, tracking the cracker. She licked at her nose, and the boy snorted. Finally, the boy popped the cracker into his mouth and offered his hand to Ladybug, who cleaned it off for him with lizard-like speed.
Before the process restarted, Ladybug made quick work of a few crackers that had fallen out of the boy's pocket when he had last pulled one out. Soon, however, she was once again watching the boy's hand as it dipped down into the pocket, drew shapes in the air, and deposited food into his mouth. She watched, that is, until she saw Marilyn standing in the aisle. The little pug lay down and dipped her sniffing nose underneath the boy's arm. Her movements mimicked that of a small child hiding his face and expecting to become invisible.
“So that's where you went.” Marilyn said dryly. “I should have known you'd be stealing some poor child's snacks.”
Ladybug whined and sat up. The jig was up.
The boy's mother spoke up with an embarrassed smile. “She really helped cheer him up—you probably heard him screaming earlier.”
Marilyn smiled warmly. “I'm so glad she helped. I'm supposed to keep her with me, though—I'd better take her back.”
“Of course.” The mother answered quickly.
Ladybug whimpered and put her paws up on the boy's shoulders, looking deeply into his eyes. The boy frowned. “Maybe we could take care of her for you? She really likes me.”
As if to confirm this, Ladybug rested her head on his shoulder, licking another crumb from his chin as he hugged her close.
His mother piped in. “We don't want them to get in trouble, Cam. There are special rules for animals on planes. They have to stay with their owners.”
“We could be her owners!” Cam argued. “I would take care of her and feed her...”
“Cam,” the mother replied, “We can't steal the nice lady's dog. Besides, I don't think our hotel in New York allows dogs. We didn't bring any dog food with us or anything.”
“We could buy some! Crackers could work. She likes them, see?”
As the boy and his mother argued, Marilyn and Ladybug stared one another down.
“Ladybug, it's time to go back to our seat.” Marilyn said quietly. “The stewardess gave me a funny look a minute ago, and I don't want to get into trouble.”
The little pug slowly shook her head. She sniffed around the boy's pocket. Marilyn scowled.
“Now, Lady.” Marilyn hissed.
Ladybug snuggled in close to her food-laden companion. Marilyn turned to face her granddaughter.
“Finley,” Marilyn said sweetly. “Could you help? I know she'll listen to you.”
Finley stiffened, still pale. “Me? Oh, uh...sure.”
She gulped, turned around in her seat, and whistled softly. She met the small dog's eyes as Ladybug turned to face her. “Ladybug, come. You don't want Grandma to get in trouble with the flight attendants.”
The little dog's ears drooped a little, but she hopped down from the aisle and allowed Marilyn to pick her up.
“Awwww!” The boy whined. “Bye, puppy!”
Marilyn thanked the boy for being good to her dog and began the march back to her seat, softly scolding her pug all the while. Finley kept her eyes down and didn't look at Brigham as she turned back around in her seat. She quickly finished off the last of her in-flight cookie, pouring the crumbs into her mouth. Then she pulled a couple of pills from her pocket and downed them.
Brigham watched her carefully with a neutral expression. Then he took his phone out and opened up a note app.
You seem like a nice person and like a good friend to have. I can see why your grandmother brought you along on this trip. It's my job to protect you and your grandmother. To do that and to work effectively together, I need to understand exactly how you've been influencing me, and others too. My ignorance could potentially put us all at risk.
He passed his phone over. Finley's face fell as she read his note. Her lips parted.