B or G?

Wylie Brant

c/o The Province Hotel

Villa Armata

355 Hammond Lane

Palm Beach, FL 44380

RETURNED TO SENDER. INVALID ADDRESS.

***

“Jimmy Martins, what are you doing?”

I spun around, the envelope I’d been holding over the teakettle’s spout clutched in one hand. “Can you not sneak up like that?” I huffed.

“What were you doing?” My sister repeated.

“Gathering information.”

“By steaming open someone’s mail?”

“Who, me?”

She flashed me a disparaging look. “Why else would you give the mail a steam bath?”

I grimaced. “Alright, alright.” I looked at the envelope, then at her. “Hey Jenny, do you know a Wylie Brant?”

“Wylie Brant?” She frowned. “I don’t think so… Why?”

“There’s just something familiar about the name.” I sighed in frustration, tapping the Manilla envelope against the palm of one hand. “This was in our mail today. It’s return addressed to the villa next to ours, but that’s been empty for three days.”

“Let me see.” I passed her the letter, warm and slightly damp from the steam. A large “return to sender” sticker obscured all but a few words of the recipient’s address. “So,” Jenny said, examining the envelope, “you decided to just open it?”

“I decided I’d peel off that sticker to see the original address.”

“Is that why the back flap is half open?”

“I can’t help it if steam melts all the glue.” I flashed her an innocent look, which she ignored. I could charm most people, especially boys, into doing or believing anything I wanted. Not my sister though. Sadly.

Jenny fiddled with the envelope, her expression showing her sense of responsibility was struggling with her curiosity. “I suppose,” she said finally, “Wylie Brant won’t know if we do glance at it…”

***

Dear Mr. Martins,

We request a meetinb with you rebardinb $5 million on July 15 at 12:10 am, BM of the BP.

Don’t be late.

“Martins!” Jimmy and I exclaimed. We weren’t the only Martins family around, but still…

I scanned the rest of the letter. “Rebardinb?”

“Regarding. I think Wylie needs to replace his G key,” my brother said, reading over my shoulder.

Replaced key. I narrowed my eyes. “If all the B’s are actually G’s in the letter, then…” I checked the envelope again. “Who’s Wylie Grant?”

“He’s CEO of that company dad’s working wi—Oh! It’s Grant not Brant!”

I held up the envelope, trying to peer through the “return to sender” sticker. “If Grant is working with dad, then dad’s probably the recipient of this.”

Jimmy wrinkled his nose. “But what’s ‘5 million’ about? And what’s ‘GM of the GP?’” His eyes suddenly lit up. “Wait, isn’t their deal for something near the old Great Mall of the Great Plains?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but it’s on thin ice because Grant discovered someone is embezzling funds, and he won’t close until he catches the culprit.”

“Embezzling funds?” Jimmy echoed.

We both looked at the letter. “Does he think dad’s the culprit?”

***

For once, Jenny didn’t complain about my greater-than-legal driving speeds. We’d called dad six times to ask him about the letter, but he didn’t answer. Finally, Jenny called mom, who was at a company cocktail party. She said dad had left the party to fly back to Kansas, and without giving her a reason for his abrupt departure.

Maybe we were overreacting, but an hour later Jenny and I were on the last flight from Palm Beach to Kansas. We’d tried calling dad during the torturous hour and a half layover in Atlanta, but he still didn’t answer. When we reached the Great Mall of the Great Plains (without getting caught for speeding, thank you very much) there were four cars in the darkened parking lot.

“Are you sure this is right?” Jenny whispered as we slipped through an unlocked door. The mall was a ghost town, made more ghostly by the early hour. A few lush carpets still lined the silent hallways between barred shops, the memory of signs declaring their names.

“…No.” I peered around a corner. Ahead, a rectangle of light fell across the hallway, and men’s voices drifted faintly toward us. “Look!”

“What shoul—Jimmy Martins, where are you going?”

“To eavesdrop, obviously.”

“You’re impossible,” Jenny muttered.

“Who’s there?” a new voice called. We both froze.

***

A twenty-something guy stood in the lit doorway, squinting toward us. Before I could react, Jimmy stepped forward, flashing his most blinding smile. The other boy’s eyes bugged. Jimmy had the same delicate features and slim build as mom and I, and people didn’t always realize he was a boy. He was also wearing the short-shorts and backless crop-top he’d had on in Florida, which bared a lot of sun-tanned skin.

“I’m here to see Mr. Grant,” Jimmy purred.

“I—I don’t know—”

“He’s expecting us.” I stepped forward, flashing my own smile. The guy stuttered, and stepped back.

Inside the room were a half dozen people, including dad, whose harried expression turned to shock when he saw us. “What’s going on?” another man demanded. He’d been facing dad across a card table strewn with papers, but was now frowning at us.

“We got a letter from you,” I answered, holding it up.

Grant blinked, then his face cleared. “Ah, I wondered where that had gone.”

“You think dad’s the embezzler,” Jimmy snapped, clearly personally affronted.

Grant spread his hands placatingly. “The facts do suggest it.”

“Prove it,” I challenged.

Grant hesitated.

“You can’t, can you?” Jimmy said, jamming his hands on his hips. “Maybe you’re just looking for a scapegoat because you’re the embezzler. You certainly have access to all the funds, unlike dad.”

“Jimmy—” dad started, and paused.

Grant’s face had gone white. Then he crumpled into a chair, babbling incoherently as we all watched in astonishment. “My wife…divorce…her fifty-one percent…fire me…had to do something…”

Next to me, Jimmy fidgeted with his choker collar.

“What?” I hissed.

“Would…this be a bad time to mention I was bluffing?”

Isabel Nee loves reading, writing, science, birds, and mythology. She sporadically practices archery, and is known to research bizarre genetic disorders which she then inflicts on her characters. Isabel has had prose and poetry published in elementia magazine and Showcase Selections ~ 2016. She is currently writing a YA fantasy novel, and hopes to some day become a professional novelist. Isabel lives in Kansas where she hatches chickens and (she would like to think) great ideas.

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