:: previous – Grim Spirit
“Well, well, as I live and breathe… Inga Incognicio, a snake in Grim Systems.” Dad’s grin stretches from ear to ear. He extends his hand. They shake with hesitation and swiftness. “It’s been a while. Can’t remember the last time I laid eyes on you.”
“No need. You missed nothing, Weston Grim.”
His comeback makes her do a double take.
They were never fond of each other, due to mom’s poison down Inga’s ear regarding their sour marriage. Regardless, Dad sits opposite her at his desk maintaining a sense of calmness like Lux and I instructed him. However, in the event Dad doesn’t listen, I positioned myself beside the door for a quick escape in case Inga snake charms us today.
She’s as unpredictable as he is.
“It’s safe to be here, correct? Your brother gave assurances it would be when he reached out.”
Inga looks around the room.
Our eyes meet.
Her face is round with a kind smile. She’s wearing a dark blue long-sleeved dress that goes down to her sandaled feet, and her hair is in a neat, electric-white braid draped over her shoulder. She seems to be in good spirits. Nothing like at the press briefing.
“East is correct.”
“Mm.” She shakes her head. “Too bad he wasn’t when your ex-wife went missing here.”
Ignore it, Dad.
“Thank you for coming today, Inga. You’re looking well—”
“What do you want to know, Weston? I have papers to grade.”
He scoffs. “Alright. Well, first, where you been? We reached out to you last year when Khiana went missing. Never heard back.”
“I’m a busy university instructor. I’m often deep in learning material and writing lectures.”
“You must’ve drowned and died then. One would think the best friend of the missing would reach out to the family seeking answers. Share any information that could help with the search, things like that.”
“I had my reasons for silence at the time.”
“And those were… what?”
“Safety reasons.” She glances around the room again.
I’m sure being the only woman in a room of men is unnerving.
“Something got you hoppy today, Inga? You’re looking around the room a lot. Nothing to be afraid of here. We’re all friends.”
“I’m not afraid. I just like to know who’s in the room.”
“I am. So, eyes on me. Now you know what I’m gonna ask…”
“Well, what you waiting for? Sing.”
She sighs and looks down at her hands.
“Spit it out, Inga.” Dad presses. “I know you know something.”
“Khiana made me promise not to tell, ever. Which is why I kept my mouth shut all this time.”
“No one will judge you here for breaking a promise. Keep going.”
“Well, Khiana… She was involved with someone.”
I look over at Dad. His face is hard as stone.
“Ah. So… I take it you didn’t know. She never gave me a name, so I’m unsure who it was.”
Thom and East whisper to one another over by the window while Ehren scribbles notes from the couch.
“Hm. And how long did this involvement last?”
“A few months, I believe. The way Key spoke about him… It seemed serious at first, and she was happy. A happy I hadn’t seen in ages. I could hear it every time we spoke. Every visit I made to the District that year she’d go on and on about the new things she tried—”
Dad’s face scrunches up. “What new things?”
Mom hated change. New things meant fresh changes.
“Different things. New places, new food. They went to Cherri Cremonesi quite a few times. There were some… personal romantic firsts. I won’t get into that.”
“Pfft.” Dad rolls his eyes.
“Whoever the gentleman was changed her. I wish they would’ve made it, but… they crumbled.”
“Was this gentleman’s name Timothy Hollow or Pace?”
“I’m not familiar with those names.”
“Was he a bald guy? Blonde? Fat? Younger?”
“Khiana didn’t give a description, other than he was handsome, gentle, and sweet. Intelligent, too.”
“Hm. You said that year, when was this involvement? How long ago?”
“Three years ago.”
“Hmm… Well, me and Khiana were divorced then, so she was free to do as she pleased… Hmm.” He pauses and leans back in his chair. He’s trying to manage his anger versus exploding.
Since he started exercising with Lux, he discovered new breathing techniques which help him maintain a good countenance.
Judging by his demeanor currently, it’s working.
“Khiana was private about many things. But since she never gave me a name, and how long she’s been missing, I thought… What if this gentleman held a grudge against her and did something? Maybe because of how their relationship ended… It was him or the crown responsible for her disappearance. I mean, I’m assuming. Khiana never told me what happened between them, just that they were over. Your mind goes crazy thinking about the possibilities when you’re left in the dark.”
Dad nods. He looks over at Ehren, who’s staring dreamily at Inga.
“You writing this down, man?”
Ehren diverts his eyes fast. “Mm-hm.” He mumbles.
“We’re recording, West.” Thom says, tapping on the camera. The solid black ball hovers around us, capturing everything. “It works now.”
“The crown on the other hand…” Inga continues. “Their unwillingness to assist when I inquired about Khiana last year—”
“They didn’t help you either?”
“Not one bit. And the reason I think something shady is going on…” She digs in her purse and retrieves a paperback book. “Is because of this.”
“Redemption of the Accountant. Isn’t this a movie?”
“Yes. But the movie doesn’t follow the book completely. Have you read it?”
“Why would I read this?” He squints at the fine print on the back of the book. “Romance novel… Flowers on the cover. Looks like women’s shit.”
“I believe it’s about Khiana. The stories she’s told me about the crown… I re-read it recently and realized events in this book are eerily similar to what she’s experienced over the years. Did you know Khiana was fired? The same thing happened to the main character!”
“No… No. Khiana wasn’t fired. She was employed there the day she went missing. We talked about her quitting, though.”
“Well, she lied. Khiana showed me her termination letter, and the Crown Secretary confirmed when I asked at the press briefing. She was released, Winter Velia said…
When it came to Khiana and King Resolut, there were always disagreements. That young king, he isn’t like the Crow, the Wolf, or Rain. It’s always his way.”
“Why would she lie about a job she hated?”
“Khiana is prideful, West, you know that. The termination crushed her after how many years she gave those people. You don’t get retirement savings either if you’re fired. It was embarrassing. Plus, there was some accident she got in a while before that. She believed the crown found out and used it as leverage to cut her loose.”
Dad’s eyes meet mine.
Fucking knew it.
“What accident?” He asks.
“Apparently, she hit someone with her car on a business trip. Said it was an accident… She was speeding. She thought she was being followed, intimidated by the crown because of some argument she had with the King’s advisor regarding the budget. I remember her saying that one spooked her.”
“Because September Velia told her he knows about House Grim, apparently.”
“She didn’t say, but he insinuated the crown would take some sort of action if she didn’t shut up about the budget. And I don’t know your house’s secrets, assuming there’s any, so this is all hearsay. Okay?”
Dad looks over at his lawyers. “You hear this shit?”
“Heyoo.” Thom nods. “We hear it, man. We hear it.”
“Knows about House Grim…The fuck does that mean? Man oh man. Wait till I get my…hm.”
He opens his desk drawer, likely to retrieve his belt. It only comes out when he’s stressed.
“Easy, Dad.” I remind him.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” He slams the drawer shut, empty-handed. “What happened to the person she apparently hit?”
“Don’t know. Khiana never said. But after that, she really changed. Always irritated. Down in the dumps. I remember this one time I visited her in the District and we were out clothes shopping. I had a bag of Chewy Cheezy chips, and I chew with my mouth closed, okay? But the sound of crunching caused her so much distress she cursed me out, abandoned me at the store and didn’t speak to me for three days because of it. I had to apologize for eating chips! And sometimes she’d have vanishing spells where I wouldn’t see or hear from her for days.
When she was reported missing, I thought, the crown got her… Once the hourglass appeared… I felt it was high time to raise questions. I had nothing to lose, except a few parts of me.” Her cheeks flush. “My snakes. They regenerate…”
She smiles and shrugs, holding back tears.
“I wanted to fight for Khiana. To speak up like I should’ve a year ago. I mean, she’s a bitch sometimes but, I love her…” Ehren offers her a box of tissues. “Thanks.” She pulls two out and wipes her eyes quickly. “So, I reactivated my old press credentials and lifted her name. It was my only play. I thought, maybe if I speak on the crown stage, the world will hear…someone could help… Do you understand?” She smiles a little. “I don’t regret it at all. I know Khiana would do it for me if the tables were turned.”
“Well, I thank you for it, Inga.” Dad says. “Did Khiana mention if she filed a report with the authorities? Or where the accident took place? Going back to the person you said she hit.”
“Could she have lied about the accident, or anything that was happening at the crown that also appears in this little accountant story?”
“I suppose just the one thing we disagree on, which is her termination. Other than that, I believe every word she told me. And you and I both know how she changed over the years working for that foul crown. That was clear as day.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Read that book West, I’m telling you. I don’t know if she shared whispers with other folks about things, or if she was being watched. But something is off.”
From my phone, I search for Redemption of the Accountant. It’s written by Beesbury, a pseudonym for an anonymous author of growing fame.
Misa loves this movie.
Great. Now I’ll have to watch it and read the book.
“I hope you find her. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
“You’ve been a tremendous help, Inga. Thank you. I’ll have my people comb over this book and investigate this secret relationship Khiana had… But another thing. That statement you made about the king… at the press briefing?”
“Ah. Yes. There are whispers the crown is putting on a song-and-dance. For what reason, I don’t know. Resolut’s quote unquote absence, a sudden journey of Earth? I just… I had to throw in something more to get the attention I felt Khiana deserved. Although, I didn’t expect to unleash myself. Every day, I think forces will be at my door to arrest me…”
“Hm. I don’t think they will, but stay close, okay? We can get you protection—”
“I’m not afraid, but I won’t go down quietly either if someone tries something.” She rises from her chair. Dad does the same. “Besides, I have another year left at the university before I begin my retirement. I plan on seeing it through.”
Dad nods. “Keep in touch?”
He kisses her on the cheek goodbye.
“Good to see you, Inga.”
“Likewise, cowboy.” She looks over at me as she heads out. “You too, Grim. And congratulations. Give Misa my best.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” I smile. “I will.”
“Oh, and you should know… It was your mother who made me promise her to sit you beside a pretty girl in class. Remember how I kept my promise, Emilian Grim.”
She grins and pats my shoulder.
“Take care, Instructor Inga.” Uncle Ehren blurts out of nowhere.
Might as well have SINGLE MAN plastered across his forehead.
Inga gives him a funny look as she heads out.
She isn’t so bad.