Steven winded up an Anastasia-style music box. His eyes closed and his head lolled onto his pillow as the metal keys began to sing. His thumb rubbed against the photo on the lid.
As the little dancer spun, the picture fell.
"No, no, no," he said, fumbling for the photo.
He found the picture face down. "Hmm?" he continued.
Rylee rushed to the door, throwing a t-shirt over his damp hair. "What's wrong?!"
Holding up the photo, he answered, "What's this?"
"A photo of mom and dad on their first anniversary?"
"I know what the picture is! I meant the writing on the back: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
"I don't know, buddy, but we gotta go or we'll be late."
At the word 'late', Steven jumped off his bed, with the photo and music box in tow.
"Thought that'd get your butt in gear. I have the present in the car. You got your cake done."
Steven stopped in his tracks, jabbing his hand onto his hips.
“Stupid question!” he yelled, disappearing from the doorway.
"Extremely," Steven called after him. "Can you start the Jeep's Air conditioning! I don't want melted frosting," he continued, following his brother into the kitchen.
"Anything else?" he asked, opening the door to the garage.
"Can you drive the speed limit for a change," Steven answered, with his head in the fridge, "I don't want cake roadkill."
"No, promises on that, but I’ll try to skip the speed bumps."
Steven's head peeped above the fridge door. "Had to try."
After fishing the cake container out, Steven found Rylee in the driver’s seat, tuning the radio as the air tussled his hair. Steven slid the cake across the back row then sat next to it. He grabbed the seat belt next to him, tempted to buckle his creation in. “Ready?” he said, releasing the extra belt.
The radio clicked to Queen’s “Under Pressure.”
True to his word, he only went over the unavoidable bump on their no outlet street. They winded through the streets, getting to their location later than Rylee. “Hurry,” he announced, helping Steven out of the back seat.
They both leaned back in: he for the gift bag behind his chair and Steven for the cake.
Rylee raced ahead, opening the building’s door. “Can’t you walk any faster?” he spazzed, with his eyes wide as he stared into the parking lot.
“Your sticks are longer than mine,” he whined.
"I can't wait till you're taller," Rylee said under his breath.
Walking past him, Steven remarked, “No you don’t. You like carrying me around too much.”
“I wish I could now,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“What ya arguing about now?” Jaxon asked, meeting them at the second set of doors.
"He's being irate," Steven blustered, trouting past.
Jaxon threw an eyebrow up at Rylee.
"Hey! I'm allowed to be; she pulled in right behind us!" He stomped past.
“That’s not what I meant!” he burst, following them.
Steven turned back. “Irate means-”
“No,” Rylee interrupted, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder, “there’s a dictionary in my office if you need it.”
“I agree with Steven. Whatever he said.”
“Let’s go, she’s here,” a man in a medical examiner uniform said, beckoning with his hand.
The medical examiner led them to a large room with four long tablecloth-covered folding tables. A dozen or so people stood around with quiet whispers that stopped at their presence. “Get ready,” he said, helping Steven place the cake on the middle table before they hid behind it.
A woman in a deep blue long sleeve mid-thigh shirt and jeans. “Hello!” Her voice echoed.
“Surprise!” they all shouted.
She grabbed the handle of her bag as she gulped back tears.
Steven ran up to her. “Happy Birthday, Bridget!”
“Thank you.” She smiled, pulling him into a hug.
“I know you said no presents,” Rylee said, walking up for a hug, “but when Steven gets an idea in his head.”
“You can’t resist,” she finished, tipping up Steven’s chin before grabbing the bag.
She handed Steven the tissue paper - he folded it up piece by piece. She gulped again as she removed the last piece.
Twiddling on his feet, Steven asked, "You like it?"
"Love it," she said, pulling a silver metal trinket box with roses engraved on it. "It's just like the one when I was your age."
"Now, before he makes you cry," Rylee interrupted, "there is chips and sandwiches, Lisa's Christmas punch - which you won't touch Steven - and cake."
"Homemade!" Steven interjected.
"You didn't have to do that," Bridget said.
"Us," Steven babbled, pointing at Rylee.
"He woke me up with the smoke detector at 2 am. So please enjoy and make the sleepless night for both of us worth it."
After a few sandwiches and half of the cake vanishing, Bridget scanned the room like a watchdog. "Where's the boys?" she asked Jaxon.
He mimicked her gaze. "Hey Doc, ya seen the boys."
"They went upstairs after the cake cutting."
"I'll check his office," Jaxon grumbled.
"I’ll check the break room,” Bridget added.
“I’ll check the second floor,” Doc blurted, following them to the stairwell.
He was the first one out as the other two pushed on to the third floor. They took separate ways: Bridget left and Jaxon right.
He swung into one of the offices, nothing was out of place but a dictionary on the desk opened to the I’s. With an eye roll, he left, leaning against the mezzanine railing.
Across the way, Bridget ran out of the break room, beckoning him her way.
“I guess you found them,” he said, meeting her in the doorway.
“I think that’s the best birthday present,” she stated, pointing into the room.
With Steven wrapped in a blanket, both brothers were cuddled up together on a couch, asleep. Rylee’s arm hung down into a backpack that had the folded tissue paper stick out.
“Those two never cease to amaze me.”
A long scream rang out behind them followed by a gunshot.
They raced to the railing.
Doc was hanging off the second-floor railing and a man and a gun laid in a circle of guests on the main floor.
“Hold on!” Jaxon yelled, sending them down the stairs.
Safe on the main floor and paramedics taking the man with the gun away, the three searchers huddle.
“What just happened?” Doc spazzed.
“It makes no sense,” Jaxon huffed. “It’s Sunday. The evidence room is locked tight. The elevators are shut down. And you can’t even go above the third floor. What could they have hoped for? Why today?”
“Jaxon,” Bridget squeaked, “there is one thing that’s here that isn’t here on any other Sunday.”
They spread out into a line, surveilling the crowd. Then it dawned on them: who were the only ones not protected by the group. Dashing off again, they found the break room vacant, even the pack was gone.
Rylee and Steven were still asleep but in the back row of a car. Rylee’s head was resting against the window. Steven kept nuzzling his face into Rylee’s leg as his blanket moved with the vibration of the car on the dirt road.
They both shuttered awake when the car stopped.
“Rylee?” Steven shook.
“It’s alright, bud.” He patted Steven’s head. “Vincent, where are we?”
“Office in Las Vegas.”
“Vegas? That’s an hour away!” Steven wrapped his blanket tighter.
“Don’t worry we won’t tell anyone you took a nap for an hour and a half. I promise,” he said, taking his brother's hand.
“What are you guys doing... Why are we here?” Steven asked, following Rylee out of the car.
“Long story short,” Vincent started, closing his door, “some bad people think you know something that will help them find something dangerous.”
“Why would they think that?” Rylee protested.
“Let’s talk inside,” Miles said, surveilling the sidewalk across the way.
It was a small adobe-like building that held one large room and a tiny one hidden behind a locked door.
“I thought you worked in California,” Rylee muttered.
“It’s just an emergency office. It links to our home office,” Vincent answered.
Miles sat behind the desk and computer, mumbling, “It’s better than a seven-hour drive.”
Steven settled into the corner of a banquette bench along the front wall. He cradled his pack in his lap.
Rylee slid next to him. “Now, what’s going on.”
Miles rotated the computer screen. “This morning someone leaked that your parents hid a weapon of mass destruction ten years ago.”
“Oh yeah -” Rylee rolled his eyes - “two librarians, parents of a three and eleven-year-old did that.”
“Well, someone believes so.” Vincent sat on the edge of the desk. “They sent mercenaries to collect you from the Octagon.”
“Excuse me!” the brothers said.
“I need Jaxon!” Rylee continued, patting his pockets. “My phone’s still there.”
“Use mine,” Vincent said, holding out his phone.
Rylee waddled over to the far corner and Vincent took his seat. He placed a hand on Steven’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”
He answered by rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Do you need anything?”
Steven shifted his pack.
He started to stand up, but Steven grabbed his hand.
"What is it?" he asked, sitting back down.
Steven unzipped the front pocket of the backpack. With a small sniffle, he handed Vincent the music box.
He held it out on his flat palm. "You had this with you the last time we met."
Steven opened the lid and the picture was stuck between the dancer and the top. "They weren't just librarians."
Vincent took the picture and gave Steven back his music box. As he walked towards Miles, Steven rested his head on the bench while running his thumbs against the designs on the box.
Rylee walked up to the desk alongside Vincent.
"How are they?" Vincent asked.
"They're fine," Rylee said, so only the three of them could hear. "One nearly pushed Doc off the second floor but no one got hurt. That's better than what I can say for my home. It was ransacked while we were gone." His gaze dropped. "Why do you have that?" he continued, glaring at the photo of his parents.
"Maybe a clue. Miles, run that!" Vincent said, holding the back of the photo above the monitor.
"Okay," Miles droned, "It's a quote by Emma Lazarus… about the Statue of Liberty."
"And the Colossus of Rhodes," the boys blurted.
After some long glares, Rylee continued, "Had a very zealous history teacher that made us read that poem in 5th grade?"
"The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of the sun god Helios in the Greek city of Rhodes… made of iron and brass ... In 225 bc it was destroyed by an earthquake … and according to our database, one remnant piece when thrown can cause an earthquake of that volume of which it was destroyed by."
"How could our parents get something like that?"
"Who?" Miles and Vincent asked.
"He's a family friend," Rylee explained.
Steven dug into his pack. "Ethan McGill is a Scottish Archeologist. Mom and Dad helped him research one of his digs in Greece - he invited us to come see, once they found some artifact. And…-" he pulled out a letter - "he's currently at a dig on the edge of Death Valley a few miles west of here … and is staying at a motel on the outskirts of Vegas."
Vincent and Rylee gave Steven a beaming grin but Miles sank back in his chair with a finger to his lip.
“Can I borrow your phone, Vincent?”
“There’re men looking for you. It’s best that no one knows where you are.”
“He’s a man on Sunday. Probably should make sure he’s decent. Rylee wouldn’t be if it wasn’t Bridget’s birthday.”
The astonishment faded from Rylee’s and he passed on Vincent’s phone.
The four of them pulled into a spot in the motel parking lot.
“He’s in room 3,” Steven said, popping his head into the front row, pointing towards one of the doors.
“Did he say he would leave the door open for us?” Vincent asked.
“No!” he spat, shaking his head.
“Stay here,” Miles said, opening his door, “both of you.”
Rylee threw himself back into his chair with his arm crossed. “Only because my gun’s with my phone.”
“Where are you going?” Steven asked.
“Stay put,” Miles repeated, pulling his gun out.
“Oh.” He mimicked his brother.
The men walked towards the door. They entered and a clamor of shouting rang out.
After a bit of listening, Steven ran out his door.
“Steven!” Rylee tried to grab the handle of Steven’s pack, but his fingers hit nothing. “Get back here!” he yelled, crawling out the door after Steven.
Steven was already in the door before Rylee could round the door. The shouting had stopped and Rylee picked up his pace.
Standing in the doorway, he panted, “Steven!”
Vincent and Miles had put their guns away, causing Rylee to scan the room of overturned furniture. He sighed as his gaze fell on Steven in the arms of a man with ember red hair and a matching mustache.
“Aye, Rylee, my boy, come in.”
"Now, want is all this hullabaloo about. Someone had a pub brawl in my room and then these two came in like highland bandits."
"Something happened and we need your help," Steven squeaked.
"Why don't you two skedaddle aff and let us talk," he said, staring down Miles and Vincent, "Especially you Sassenach!"
"Why I oughta," Miles said, as Vincent's arm went up in front of him.
"We'll be in the car if you need us," Vincent added, wrenching Miles' arm out of the room.
"That wasn't nice, Ethan." Steven pulled away.
"Oh-" he set Steven down - "I didn't mean it, but it was the fastest way I could think of to get those guns out of here. Now-" he clapped his hands together - "there was a couch in here somewhere."
After turning over some furniture, the boys sat together and started explaining what had happened. Ethan's head was bouncing off the walls as each brother took their turn telling their story.
"And here I was worrying about this pathetic room." He gestured around. "I can't believe this is happening but I guess it was only a matter of time." He trailed off.
"Ethan?" Steven gulped.
"Is a whiskey okay with you, Rylee?"
"On a day like today I would usually say yes, but I think two waters for us will be just fine."
Ethan disappeared and returned with three glasses on a tray. "You remember when we first met?"
"Of course," Steven said.
"Who could forget a bumpy 12-hour flight to Greece in 1994?" Rylee added.
"We were near the city of Rhodes. Oh, your parents gave me a fright that day. I expected a lovely couple of librarians and not a rambunctious boy who nearly fell in one of our holes after 10 minutes of being there and a toddler with jet lag."
"Frankly, I think the next morning was worse," Rylee said.
"I don't remember that way," Steven barked.
"You weren't the one who found your parent's in tears after they found your bed empty that morning. But I think the face of my assistant when he found that a three-year-old put together his week-long pot puzzle in one night was priceless," he laughed.
The boys joined in the laughter but all that came out were giggles.
Steven squeezed Rylee's hand. "I'm feeling nap-ish again," he whispered.
"Yeah," Ethan interrupted, "sorry about that, but it needed to be done. Can't have you running away this time."
"This time!" Rylee snarled.
"I hope you can add two and two together, my boy. My dig was in Rhodes. I had the piece of the Colossus. Then your parents came and then it was gone. I didn't want to admit it but after thinking about it for ten years, and it's the only explanation."
"There's two government agents outside. How do you expect to get away with this?"
"The dozen of Scottish Separatists outside the rear door say I will."
The boys found themselves zip tied to wooden chairs on top of lumpy dirt under a canvas tent. Two men stood by the flaps of the tent, playing with their guns like cowboys in a duel.
"Rylee? Do you have your pocket knife?"
"I'd rather not say."
"It's with your gun and phone, isn't it."
"I'd rather not say."
"You better get in a talking mood fast-" Ethan walked in with a tray table - "or this is not going to be a bonnie day for you."
"Jokes on you, Ethan, we don't know anything else."
"I know you think that-" he picked a knife off his table - "but I know better. They left you enough clues to get the what and I'll get the where."
"Not with that," Rylee laughed.
"No, I guess not." He placed the knife down, making Steven sigh. "What about this?" he asked, holding the music box under Steven's nose.
"You wouldn't," Steven pleaded, pulling at his restraints.
"I'm a desperate man. And this is such a fragile box. You wouldn't let it go in Greece and I doubt you're ready to do so now."
"He doesn't know anything!"
Lifting a hammer, he said "We'll see about that."
Steven watched as the hammer came down. "Stop!"
"I need a screwdriver. The ones in my pack."
Ethan snapped his fingers and a man came with it. "No games," he whispered in Steven's ear as he snipped the ties.
"No games," he repeated, starting at the screws.
Time ticked by and by.
"What could be in there?"
"The names of the people my parents left the piece with."
"Hands up, McGill!" Miles yelled, coming in the flap, guns blazing.
"Took you long enough."