(To read from the beginning go Here.)
The doorknob twisted. Anne released the lamp and whirled. She had to get out. She slipped into the kitchen as the front door swung in. Her fingers trembled as she shoved the window up and open. Confident steps sounded on the wooden floor of the living room, coming straight for her.
She sat on the window sill and thrust her legs out onto the fire escape. Her heart seemed suddenly to plunge from her chest to the ground twenty feet below. Dear God, she’d forgotten all about Jilly sleeping peacefully in the bedroom.
She turned back just as the kitchen door eased inward. No time. No time. She twisted her torso to flee through the window.
She stiffened and looked back. “Erik?”
Eyebrows raised and mouth pursed in bemusement he stood in the middle of the kitchen carrying a brown paper sack. “Something wrong?”
Hand to her chest, Anne clambered back into the apartment. “Only that you scared me to death.”
“I know I don’t look my best in the morning, but don’t you think that’s an exaggeration.”
Anne smoothed her hands over her skirt. She must have looked like an utter idiot. “I thought you were one of the gang.”
“Why would you think that?” He plunked the bag down on the table.
Anne licked her lips. He had lectured her for at least twenty minutes about the dangers of going back to her apartment unaccompanied. Best to sidestep the question if she could. “I guess my imagination got the better of me. It’s the writer’s blessing and curse, you know.”
He continued to eye her oddly. “Maybe next time you have an uncontrollable craving for lemonade we ought to send someone else.” He reached for the bag and upended it. A dozen or more, sunny, yellow lemons bounced and tumbled onto the table.
“Why did you get so many?”
He huffed air through his nostrils. “Better to many than too few. So what’s with the demand for citrus?”
Anne grinned and pulled Carol’s papers from her skirt pocket. “I’ve been thinking about it and the answer may lie in The Adventure of the Notorious Note.”
He continued to look mystified and Anne held up one of the lemons. “Lacey Carew solved that one by using lemon juice to reveal a message that had been written in invisible ink.”
Understanding lit his eyes then and he grinned.
She laid the papers out and he handed her a knife and a clean kitchen rag. She cut the lemon in half and squeezed juice over the cloth. The fresh scent of lemon filled the kitchen. Carefully she dabbed at the first page, covering every inch of its surface. Hardly able to breath, she waited.
She repeated the process with the other pages, as Erik looked on expectantly.
She slumped into a chair. It didn’t make any sense. She’d been so sure. So if there wasn’t a hidden message, what about these papers made them so special that VanDyke’s gang would resort to kidnapping and maybe murder to get them back.
Erik sat beside her and patted her arm in commiseration. He picked up the slightly damp pages and held them up to the light. “Maybe it’s faded.”
Anne shook her head. It was nice of him to try to make her feel better, but there were limits. “No. It’s not.”
He frowned and lowered the papers. Now she’d hurt his feelings. He hung his chin, thumb and forefinger rubbing the document in absent contemplation. It was on the tip of her tongue to apologize when he lifted his head and met her gaze. His grin was so infectious that she couldn’t help but respond.
“It’s the paper.”
She swallowed her smile. A late night and an early morning errand for lemons had obviously left him overly tired. “Um, yes. It’s paper.”
“No.” He waved a hand. “They want the paper. There’s no code or hidden message. It’s the paper itself that is important.”
Anne shook her head.
“U.S. currency is printed on a special kind of paper made from cotton fibers. This kind of paper.” He thrust the pages under her nose.
Her jaw dropped in the manner patented by actresses everywhere to indicate surprise.
“This is the proof we need. I’ve got to get it to the office. Will you be okay if I head downtown?” He looked at her and then glanced at the window. “Maybe it would be best if you come with me.”