Home > Curious Minds (Knight and Moon #1)(9)

Curious Minds (Knight and Moon #1)(9)
Janet Evanovich, Phoef Sutton

She stripped off her executive uniform and got into her sweatpants and big, roomy Batman T-shirt. She’d wanted to grow up to be a superhero, and in a left-turn kind of way she felt like she was on track. She was going to be a financial superhero, helping people invest in their future, safeguarding the country’s monetary system. At least she had been on track last week. This week she wasn’t so sure. This week she was chauffeuring a goofball around town.

She sat at her small kitchen table and unwrapped the turkey breast and Swiss cheese sandwich she’d picked up at Potbelly on her way home. She switched on her laptop and Facebooked her mother and brothers while she ate. When she’d caught up on her family she went into Oracle mode. Oracle had been her favorite comic book character when she was a kid. And truth is, Riley still loved comic books, and especially Oracle.

Oracle was Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. She was Batgirl first, but after the Joker put her in a wheelchair she became a computer whiz who could find any information about anyone with just a few clicks of her keyboard.

Riley could do almost the same thing. She typed in “Emerson Cranston Knight,” and sources of information flooded her screen. The Knights had been newsworthy for several generations, not just for their wealth but also for their eccentricities.

Emerson was described as an American business magnate, investor, inventor, and philanthropist, the only child of communications and aerospace mogul Mitchell Brown Knight. If Riley read every article on the Net about Emerson’s father she’d be up until dawn, so she skimmed Wikipedia and kept her research to articles that addressed Emerson particularly.

The Knight fortune stretched back to Emerson’s great-great-grandfather Lamont Knight, one of the legendary robber barons of the Gilded Age. Emerson’s father was a confidant to presidents and a close friend of Professor Bertram Grunwald, the architect of the U.S. economy in the post-Vietnam years.

Riley thought it was curious that the Knight-Grunwald connection went back two generations and yet there didn’t seem to be any warmth between Emerson and Werner.

Emerson’s mother, Sophia Delgado, was a supermodel from Spain. She and Mitchell separated when Emerson was two, and she went to live in Paris with soccer star Ronaldo Diaz.

Riley scanned some tabloid articles and found that Emerson was raised by a variety of stepmothers and went to a variety of boarding schools.

The most intriguing article was an extended obituary on his father that included a short paragraph on Emerson, the new heir to the Knight fortune. It stated that Emerson was best known for his dramatic disappearances. Following graduation from college he had sailed off on a luxury yacht for points unknown. The world lost track of him completely for a year. After that Emerson would resurface from time to time but always suddenly vanished again. The obit ended by saying that Emerson had returned to his Washington, D.C., home following the death of his father, and that his whereabouts during his absences remained a subject of conjecture.

At the risk of being cynical, Riley couldn’t help but speculate that maybe Emerson had been at home all along but in his cloud of invisibility. Or maybe Emerson had removed himself to an alien astral plane. Or maybe he periodically checked himself into rehab.

At six A.M. Riley finally gave up hitting the snooze button on her bedside clock and dragged herself out of bed. She had to be at Mysterioso Manor in an hour. She had no idea why. What on earth was Emerson going to do so early in the morning?

She took a shower and dressed down in skinny black slacks, a pin-striped fitted shirt, a little black wool jacket, and Jimmy Choo ankle boots she’d found on sale. She chugged a cup of coffee and ate some toast, brushed her teeth, swiped on some lip gloss, and was on her way.

At precisely seven o’clock, Riley parked in the paved area behind Mysterioso Manor and hiked her messenger bag onto her shoulder. The RV was still in the same location, and a big, impressively muscled guy was working on the engine. His dark hair was cut into a mullet, and his T-shirt advertised beer. She guessed him to be around thirty.

He stopped working when she walked by and gave her a big, good-natured grin.

“Howdy,” he said, with the same cheerful mountain accent as Aunt Myra. “You here to see Emerson?”

“Yes,” she said. “Are you Vernon?”

“That’s what they call me. My mom said you were here yesterday, and you were sweet as tea. And she was right. You sure are pretty.”

“Thank you. Do you live here with your mom and Emerson?”

“Sometimes, but mostly I live in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That’s about a hour from Charlottesville. I come up here when Emerson needs something fixed. I keep all his cars running spit spot.” He grinned again. “That’s from Mary Poppins.”

Riley smiled back. “One of my favorite movies.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said. “I like when that guy dances like a penguin. If you’re looking for Emerson, he’s probably out in the conservatory at this hour of the morning. Just go around the house till you see the zebras, then turn right.”

Before yesterday, Riley would have thought she’d misheard him. Now she went looking for zebras.

Riley counted eight zebras behind a fence. The gate to the enclosure was open, and they could have wandered off, so she guessed they were pretty content where they were. She turned right as directed, and the walkway led to a giant greenhouse. It was a glass and iron structure of intricate design with a big Victorian cupola on top. It looked to Riley like a massive crystal wedding cake.

The glass panes were shattered in spots, and vines grew through the gaps and wrapped themselves around the outside of the building as if they wanted to swallow it whole.

Walking through the open door, she heard the booming seventies funk music that she now associated with Emerson. The interior was humid and crammed with ferns, fruit trees, and flowering plants.

“Hello?” she called. “Mr. Knight?”

No answer. She punched his cell number into her phone, waited while it connected, and heard the phone ringing somewhere on the other side of the jungle. She cautiously crept along the stone path, brushing ferns aside, keeping a watchful eye out for spiders and lizards. She reached an open area that had two pretty white wrought iron benches and a small table. Emerson was sitting cross-legged on the table, eyes closed, his mind obviously somewhere far away.

Riley sat down on one of the benches and watched Emerson. He didn’t seem to be breathing, but he was most likely not dead since he hadn’t toppled off the table. She checked her email on her cellphone and organized her messenger bag. She went back to watching Emerson and decided he had a nice mouth. Sensuous. And she’d kill for his thick black lashes. Too bad he was so weird. Not that it mattered to her date-wise because she’d decided to put that part of her life on hold while she got a grip on her career. She checked her watch. It was almost eight o’clock. She could have slept an extra half hour.

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