In The Mail
In her afternoon science class, Maddy was suffering through a mind-numbing presentation on a scientist nobody in class had ever heard of. Doing her best to show courtesy to the presenter, Maddy took diligent notes.
“While attempting to synthesize an anti-malarial drug,” Maddy’s classmate read, “William Henry Perkin inadvertently produced a purple-colored dye in the process. This purple dye, the first synthetic dye ever produced, has multiple names: Mauveine, Aniline Purple, and Perkin’s Mauve. Since its discovery, Perkin’s mauve has been widely used to dye many types of fabrics such as silk. Ultimately, Perkin’s accidental discovery made Perkin filthy rich, and also gave rise to the synthetic chemical industry. And that concludes my presentation.” The presenter looked up. “Are there any questions?”
Not a single hand went up.
“All right.” The teacher clapped. “Thank you, John. Very nice job.”
The last bell of the day finally rang. In a hurry to get out of the school, Maddy shoved her notebook into her backpack. She made her way to her bike and rode back to her aunt’s house. When she walked through the front door, she saw Aunt Janet heading towards the stairs. Appearing to be deep in thought, she didn’t even notice Maddy had arrived.
What’s she up to? Maddy wondered.
With a sneer, Aunt Janet walked up to her bedroom. She called for Mr. Zhang to join her and locked the door behind them.
“Pay close attention,” Janet ordered. “I’m about to make a very important call that you need to hear.”
Mr. Zhang, a Chinese-American who sported a crew cut, a goatee, and a muscular frame, nodded. Since being hired as Janet’s caretaker, Mr. Zhang refused to divulge any details about his past other than the fact that he was the son of Chinese chemists that immigrated to the United States when he was young. Despite this, when Janet first met Mr. Zhang, she was impressed by his wide-ranging talents as a martial artist, gardener, chef, and handy-man. Overlooking his secretive past, his usefulness around the house, combined with his cooperative nature, was sufficient to hire him on. Though their relationship was frosty at times, it was functional. To Janet, that was all that mattered.
Janet pulled out her smartphone and initiated a video chat. The call was quickly answered by a young woman named Sarah. Behind her were two thugs that went by J.J. and Sam.
“Afternoon,” Sarah said.
Janet, who was always dressed the hilt in her best business attire, was in no mood for courtesies. Her thin, pursed lips matched silver hair, tightly bound in a bun. Her heavily made-up face peered menacingly over her half-rimmed glasses as she scanned her audience. “Is everything on schedule?”
Sarah nodded. Sporting an athletic build and long, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, her complexion suggested too many hours spent in the sun. “We got into EIS a week ago after Phil—the security guard—left for the night. Nearly ran into a physicist that’s always working there after hours. Some guy named Seth that has no life.”
It mattered not what Janet said. She commanded the room with every word. “And?” she demanded.
“Nobody saw us. Used my key to get into Isaac’s office but wasn’t able to get into his safe. The secret is still in there. Maddy will have to do the quest.”
Janet pursed her lips even tighter together. “You’re Isaac’s secretary. I expected you to get that secret even if you had to kill him to do it.”
Sarah shrugged. “That doesn’t mean I have access to his safe. I told you that might happen. I looked everywhere in his office but found no access code.” Sarah held up a piece of paper. “But I was able to print off a copy of this letter. It invites Maddy to go on the quest earlier than Isaac intended. I mailed the original to your house a few days ago.”
Sam, a washed-up Navy Seal, held up a large red backpack. Reaching a height of 6’5”, he sported a military buzz cut, beady eyes, and biceps that intimidated anybody who got in their way.
“We also found this backpack underneath Isaac’s desk. It’s full of stuff that’s gotta be for the quest.”
Janet nodded curtly. “And when did Isaac plan on sending Maddy on the quest?”
“Not for at least a few months from now, maybe more. Since she’s orphaned, she’s next in line to inherit the company. Isaac wanted her to be as old as possible before he retires and sends her on the quest. But he’s getting up there in age and can’t wait much longer. Hopefully she’ll believe the letter and go on the quest before Isaac figures out what we’re up to. Once the quest starts, nobody can stop it. Not even Isaac. If she actually gets the secret somehow, we’ll be waiting for her and force her to hand it over.”
Janet smirked. “And my idiot brother will finally be finished for good.”
Sam, a short, stocky brawler with a muscular build and a tattoo of an eagle on his forearm spoke up. “Isaac’s your brother?”
Janet snorted. “Not the brightest crayon in the box, are you? Of course he’s my brother.” Janet’s eyes narrowed. “I will stop at nothing to see that he fails for all he’s done to me. And if I have to use my great-niece to bring him down, so be it. I can’t stand that little wretch anyway.”
“Why can’t we just go on the quest ourselves?” J.J. asked. “Why rely on your niece?”
Janet rolled her eyes. “Are you for real? You don’t even have a fraction of the intellectual capacity she does. Don’t make me laugh.”
J.J. put his arms up in a sign of submission. “I was just asking.”
Janet spoke directly to Sarah now. “How do you know for certain that the quest is ready for Maddy to go on?”
“Because I’ve been spying on Isaac every day I’ve worked there. His office is right next door to mine. He’s had regular meetings with four scientists recently about the quest. I overheard them talking about working together to set it up. When they last met, each of the scientists confirmed their part was ready to go.”
Janet nodded. “And why doesn’t he just get the secret and hand it over to Maddy directly? Or is my brother being his typical self and insisting on doing things the hard way?”
Sarah stared hard. She was surprised Janet didn’t know the answer to this. “It’s got something to do with company policy that requires Maddy to prove she’s deserving of it. My guess is Isaac can’t just hand the secret over for some reason. That’s all I know.”
“Fine. Let’s move on.” Janet turned to her caretaker. “And what is your role in all of this Zhang?”
Mr. Zhang bowed. “Once the quest begins, I am required to secretly follow Maddy wherever she goes and periodically report back to you on her progress.”
“Correct. And what,” she asked as she turned back to her phone, “do you all need to remember about the time allowed to finish the quest?”
“One week, and no more,” Sarah answered. “I’m positive about that. I overheard Isaac emphasize it more than once.”
Janet smirked. “Well, then. It appears we’ve got our ducks in a row. Before I disconnect, I must reiterate that you will all be handsomely rewarded should you do your job and steal the secret. I want my brother’s life work taken from him for good. Are we clear?”
The criminals nodded.
“And what happens should you fail?”
“We will wish we had never been born,” Sarah replied wearily.
Janet smiled. “I believe that means we’re done here. I must now go and have Maddy check the mail. Good day.”
Maddy walked into the kitchen and found an apple to snack on. She went back into the living room to watch television until Corbyn and Aaden arrived. While she was looking for the remote control, Aunt Janet walked stiffly back down the stairs. She was hiding a smirk under all her makeup.
“Hey,” Maddy said. “How was your day?” Maddy always forced herself to remain pleasant with her great-aunt.
Aunt Janet quickly put her grumpy face on. “You know how it is for an old lady like me. I’m too old to have good days.”
“Why don’t you go out and take a walk?” Maddy suggested. “Get some fresh air? The weather’s perfect.”
“Don’t be foolish. You and I both know that walking inflames my arthritis.”
“I suppose so,” Maddy mumbled. No matter what I do, I just can’t win with that woman.
“By the way, did you get the mail yet?” Janet asked. “You know I can’t walk all the way to the curb.”
Before Maddy could respond, Aunt Janet turned and walked away. Maddy could’ve sworn there was a smirk on her face again.