The jolt of the uneven pavement rattled through Barb’s knees with every pounding footstep she took. She needed a better pair of shoes, one that wasn’t so worn out.
The salty sea breeze cooled her heated face and flapped in the breathable fabric of her shirt. She mounted the last rise before the relative flatness of the scenic overlook and slowed to jog. Her breath came in short, tight gasps as the exertion from the last three miles caught up with her.
At the edge of the railing that gazed out over San Francisco Bay, she stretched her arms out over her head, reaching fingers for the clouds that danced in the blue skies.
A beautiful summer morning.
Another week passed without a hint of David Malcolm’s whereabouts.
“Stop that.” She clenched her fists and started her slow, steady walk around the scenic overlook. “You’re not thinking about the case today.”
Turning her wrist over, she glanced at her watch.
Where was Jim?
She shook herself and gazed over the bay waters again. San Francisco shone across the bay, white and clean and fresh and alive. She could almost hear the ringing of trolley cars from Land’s End.
Thrashing motion at the trail head drew her attention away from the city. A tall, skinny teenager with wild blond hair flailed awkwardly up the hill to the overlook. His shallow, heaving gasps carried to her on the wind. His fair-skinned face glistened red as a tomato.
With legs and arms too long for the rest of him, Jim would forever look like a giraffe trying to tango.
Jim struggled to the nearest bench and collapsed with an agonized huff.
“Good morning, drama queen.” Barb snickered.
“Barb, I think I’m dying.”
He lay face down on the bench, his hands dragging in the dirt.
“Exaggerate much?” Barb crossed her arms. “Get up and walk it off, Jim. You’ll cramp.”
“I can’t move another inch.”
“You’ll be sorry.”
“I hate you.”
“Geez, you’re such a baby.” Barb rolled her eyes and started toward the Corvette parked in the lot beside the overlook.
The early morning runs had been her idea. At first, Jim had been all for it. Anything to make him look tougher. But he hadn’t put in serious gym time since the agent exams four years earlier. Back then, when he was thirteen, he’d spent every spare moment in the gym, running the obstacle courses, doing sprints, lifting weights. And even then he’d barely scraped by.
Barb reached the Corvette and grabbed two bottles of water from the back seat. She uncapped one for herself and drank some of it, and she started back toward the overlook with the other bottle in hand.
Four years was a long time. And even though Jim was far from out of shape, his endurance wasn’t what it needed to be. Even he admitted it, though he wasn’t super excited about fixing the problem.
Barb stopped at the back of the bench and looked down at him. He rolled over and stared up at her piteously.
“Water!” He reached for. “Water!”
He looked like a baby bird.
Barb dropped the water bottle on his head.
Jim yelped and sat up. “Jerk!”
“Wuss.” She sat down on the bench beside him as he bent to retrieve the water bottle from the ground.
“If you were a nice sister, you wouldn’t do stuff like this to me.”
“What? Bring you water when you’re thirsty?” She poked his leg. “Help you get in shape so you don’t die of a heart attack the next time we have to chase Phoenix Munroe through a market in Dubai?”
He swatted her hand away.
Barb tousled his sweaty hair instead. “If you were a good baby brother, you wouldn’t give me so much grief.”
“You’re not even two years older.” He leaned away from her, and he yelped as he fell off the edge of the bench.
Barb shook her head.
From the ground, Jim sighed. He opened his water bottle and started drinking it.
“You’re going to choke yourself.”
“Are too.” Barb chuckled and stretched her arms out. “At least the weather’s nice.”
Jim scoffed and coughed as he swallowed wrong.
While he rolled to his knees and tried to breathe, Barb folded her arms across her chest. She shut her eyes and listened to the wind, feeling its gentle touch across her face.
There were no answers in the wind. There were no answers in the files at headquarters either. Or the eyewitnesses, who really hadn’t seen anything. The whole David Malcolm case just didn’t make sense.
Muttering angrily under her breath, she leaned her head back on the bench.
“I thought we weren’t going to think about David Malcolm today.” Jim chuckled as he pounded on his chest.
“Shut up, Jim.”
“That’s what you’re thinking about though, isn’t it?”
“How did you know?”
“You get that constipated look when you’re thinking about it.”
“I do not.”
He lifted his head enough to grin at her. “You totally do.”
“Have you choked on your water yet?”
“No, do you want me to?”
“Do you want me to answer that honestly?”
Jim cackled and got to his feet. He flopped down on the bench next to her. “Barb?”
“Can we go home now? I smell bad.”
Barb sniffed him. “You sure do.” She stood up.
“Ha, ha.” He followed her and yelped, grabbing at his left knee with a grimace stretching his face. “Ouch!”
Barb raised her eyebrows at him.
“Cramp!” He whimpered. “I’ve got a cramp, Barb!”
“Don’t look at me.” Barb lifted her hands and walked away. “I told you to walk it off.”
“Oh, why did I think this was a good idea?” He grumbled, limping after her. “I thought we could just go and run a little, and I’d look really cool.”
“Jim, you have never in your entire life looked really cool doing anything.” Barb laughed and stopped so he could catch up to her.
Jim set his hand on her shoulder, and Barb helped him limp toward the Corvette.
“Well, that’s just not true. When I gave that dissertation on the linguistic peculiarities of Farsi dialects at Stanford, I thought I looked really cool.”
“No, you looked really geeky.”
“Only in your mind, Jim. Only in your mind.” Barb shook her head. “Hey, I’ll make a deal with you.”
“You don’t even know what—”
“Your deals stink. They always stink. And they always make me look dumb.”
Barb snickered and helped him around a fence post. “Commit to another month of morning runs, and I’ll give you cool lessons.”
“You’d have to know how to be cool to do that,” he spat.
Barb arched her eyebrows at him.
“Shut up,” he muttered. “Just because you were born cool doesn’t mean you get to rub it in.”
They reached the Corvette, and Barb opened the passenger door so Jim could sit down. He fell into the seat with a sigh and rubbed his leg.
Barb ruffled his hair again. “Have we got a deal?”
“I don’t know, Red.”
“There are some things even you can’t teach.” He flashed a lop-sided grin at her. “And there are some things even I can’t learn. Coolness may be one of them.” He leaned back in the seat. “I think I’ve got a better chance of finding a girlfriend than I have of ever being cool.”
Barb flicked his forehead. “Don’t sell yourself short, Jim.” She stood up and grabbed the side of the door. “Maybe I can find you a geeky girlfriend and the cool factor won’t matter.”
Jim sighed heavily. “So glad you’re looking out for me, Sis.”
Barb shut the door and walked around to the driver’s side, sliding into the seat.
Jim was already asleep. Big baby.
“Be afraid, David Malcolm.” She turned the key in the ignition and smiled. “We are Peregrine. Hear us snore.”