"Do you know what I do for a living, Hailie?" asked me Vince. He was speaking clearly but quiet enough only for me to hear him.
I had to think a bit about the answer.
"Will told me that you have a family business." I answered not convinced.
A shadow of a smile appeared on Vince's lips.
"Will put it very nicely."
"So it's not true?"
"Oh but it is."
I got quiet, not knowing what to say next. Vince was watching me for a moment and at the first sight he looked serious but I couldn't get rid of the impression that he was actually amused.
"What else have Will told you?"
That's when I hesitated.
"T-that after your father's death you took over his place in the company and that the boys help you..."
One day I accidentally managed to get from Will the information I handed now to Vince but it was the absolute maximum of my knowledge about their business. Which makes it equal to nothing. Besides, I'd been more interested in the fragment about the father, that is the man who was not only their parent but also mine. The man I've never had the chance to meet. I was curious about what type of person he was but it was really hard to have any serious conversation with my brothers. Even Will cut off my questions.
"He's also your father, Hailie." pointed out Vince in a severe voice.
I nodded, escaping an eye-contact.
"Okay then. Did you know that we have more than one business?" he asked, back with his half-serious, half-amused attitude.
Now, I shook my head, looking at him puzzled.
"And not all of them are legal. Do you understand what I mean?" he continued slowly.
I was gaping at him with wide eyes and out of lack of idea on better reaction, I shrugged, trying to hide all emotions growing inside of me.
"Hailie if you're not going to answer my questions verbally then we'll finish this talk right here and now." Vince informed me, suddenly speaking in a much colder manner.
I was sitting frozen in my spot, not being able to say a word. Don't ask me why. Obviously, I didn't want him to stop. I wanted to know more. It's just I was probably too scared of the truth.
Vince didn't waste time. He was looking at me for a while and then he nodded as if he accepted my decision and got up.
"We're leaving." he commanded and started to button his coat.
That's when it came to me that I am losing my chance to discover my brothers' secret, something that I've been struggling with for months.
"No! No, I'll be answering, since now, I swear!" I called out quickly.
"Get up." he just said, looking at me expectantly.
I stood up but only to get closer to him and I caught his hand with mine, stopping him from doing the last button.
"Please, tell me more, please." I begged, looking up to meet his eyes.
They were blank. He raised them and glanced around the cafe. Then, he looked at me back again, towering over me. He was considering something.
"We're leaving." he finally repeated and when I opened my mouth to protest, he added "We'll finish in the car."
I left his hand with relief. It wasn't all washed up yet. Vince took advantage of my absent-mindedness and, in a quick move, he grabbed my phone from the table and pocketed it, saying nothing. I didn't comment on it either as I half expected it. After all, I was skipping school.
I followed him to the exit and we headed towards his black car parked on the tiny lot. I slipped into the passenger's seat while he took the driver's one. There was a bunch of workmen standing in the circle, apparently having a break to smoke and at Vince's sight, they all got silent, staring at him until he didn't start an engine and left.
I was impatient. I wanted him to continue. At the same time, I didn't want to rush him. I already started to think that he lied to me and he'd not tell me anything more when he pulled over at some empty roadside in the forest.
That's when I realized that I'd prefer to stay in Starbucks.
"There are people who don't like what I do." he stated suddenly. He was sitting comfortably, looking ahead with one hand on the wheel and another laying on the armrest. I gaped at it. Or actually, at his signet. Its color was silver-black with some weird symbols. Not knowing why, it was making me anxious.
"You mean the police?" I asked naively, raising my eyes at his face.
He smiled with kind of leniency, still peering through the windshield at the forest.
"Hailie, I am on perfect terms with the police." He replied and then turned his head to face me. His look sharpened when he added "Better remember it."
I dropped my gaze at my lap because I realized that just a moment ago I really did consider sneaking on him to the police. What a wrong move that'd be! Vince and this whole sheriff guy seemed to be in really good relations. I had no idea if Vince knew what I was pondering over in my mind earlier or just warned me for the future but one thing was sure. I was going to remember it indeed.
"Some of these people are dangerous. That's why every time you're alone and out of the school area, I have someone to make sure that no one kidnaps you."
"S-someone wants to kidnap me?" I asked weakly. Now I was starting to be really scared.
"Oh, many people."
I felt shivers going through all over my body. What was that he was telling me?!
"But why, I haven't done anything, I-I..." here my voice let me down.
"Your name, Hailie. That's enough."
Vince wasn't looking at me worried or ruthful, although he had to see how much his words frightened me. He was a master of controlling his emotions.
"We have to notify the police..." I mumbled, trying to think straight.
Vince shook his head.
"The most important games are played out of their reach."
It was getting too much for me.
"Why do they want to kidnap just me? What about you... and Will... Dylan... and the twins? We all have the same name..."
"It's obvious, Hailie. You are the easiest target. You're little, naive, defenseless..."
"I'm not naive." I blurted out, cutting in on him.
Vince pursed his lips, unpleased that I broke in. He was looking at me meaningly for a moment, letting me know that it's unacceptable. I muttered "sorry" and then he continued.
"But of course you're naive, dear child. And you have every right to be as you have no idea about anything. That's why you have to obey. Because there are things you don't know. And most of them you'll never know."
I frowned in an attempt to understand what he was talking about and by the way not to forget the questions I wanted to ask.
"Why haven't you told me earlier that I have a bodyguard?"
"Not to scare you."
"Why are you telling me now?"
"To scare you."
I stared at him confused.
"Hailie, you cannot leave the school just like that. You can't go anywhere at all without informing earlier me or any of the boys. If you'd come across someone unwanted, it could have ended up badly. That's why you skip school one more time again and I'll have you homeschooled. I'll lock you in the house. I'm not joking. Is that clear?"
His last words sounded like a full threat and a thrill ran through my spine just at the thought of him carrying it out.
"Crystal." I whispered, still trying to put all the information together.
We were silent for a moment. Now I was looking ahead, at the forest. With the corner of my eye, I noticed Vince taking out his phone and checking his notifications.
"We're coming back home." he informed me while putting it back.
It worked like a boost for me.
"One more moment, please, will you tell me what you actually do?" I immediately asked. It was the first time that Vince actually let me in on his mysterious life and I really wanted to wring from him as much as I could.
"No." he answered strictly, starting an engine. That was a short answer but said in such a decisive and full of authority tone that I got quiet and didn't say anything more until we reached home. For the whole way back I was analyzing what Vince told me and now I had a slight headache because of the overload.
"Vince, please, can you tell me one more thing?" I pleaded when he unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door, getting off the car.
He turned his face to me with one of his feet already stepping on the ground. For a moment he was gazing me and I (only half-unconsciously) made a puppy eyes.
"What if someone will really kidnap me? What then?" I whispered, feeling a lump in my throat and fastened heartbeat. I thought about everything Vince shared with me but this one part was making me the most anxious. I was afraid of the answer.
Vince looked at me with all seriousness.
"Then I'll personally kill them."
He got off, closed the door and went into the house, heading straight to the stairs.
I stayed in the car for the next few minutes, trying to calm down and feeling shivers all over my body.