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Carson Breuer Carpentry & Odd Jobs

I handed the card back to her.

“I can’t pay anyone at the moment.” Nellie waved it away. “Don’t worry. You and Carson can come to an arrangement. Believe me; he’ll be happy to get the work.”

There was a tone to her voice that worried me.

“Why? Doesn’t he get hired much?”

“He’s a bit eccentric. But he’ll do a good job, and he’ll work within your budget.” Nellie climbed into her car. “Ciao.” With a brisk wave, she drove away.

My budget? Until I pried some cash out of my aunt’s freeloader clients, my budget was zero. Who would work within that? I ran a hand through my hair and drew my head back to appraise the roof. “Eccentric,” on the other hand, was good—downright reassuring, in fact. You’d have to be a little eccentric to take on a project like this.

I went into the house for another crack at my aunt’s laptop. As I heaved aside a book on perennials to make room on the desk, a flattened rosebud slipped from the pages and fell to the floor. I bent to pick it up and twirled it between my fingers. It was curled at the edges, its fragile papery petals turning brown. I set it on the mantel, next to the china spaniel, and walked into the kitchen. A caffeine hit might spark some password ideas. As I turned on the coffeemaker, a movement in the garden caught my eye. I peered through the window. A man was in the yard, holding a spade. His back was to me, but I recognized his gray topknot. I walked out onto the porch.

“Gideon,” I yelled. “Are you looking for something?”

He turned to face me. “You’re home,” he said in his usual garrulous manner.

“I hope that’s gold you’re digging up. I could use good news.”

He raised the spade in one hand and walked toward me, chuckling. “I’m returning this.” He gestured at the garage with the spade. That didn’t explain his presence in my aunt’s garden—or the freshly dug holes in the ground.

I took the spade from him. “Thanks.”

He turned to go.

“Gideon?”

“Yes?”

“Did you take a keepsake box from my aunt’s mantel?” He spluttered, and I held up a hand. “I don’t mind, although you could have asked me. But while I’m posing questions—what are those for?” I pointed at the holes. “What are you looking for?”

“Nothing.”

Did I look stupid? Wait, scratch that.

“You’re not searching for land mines, are you?” “What? Why would you… never mind.” He dug into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a scrap of paper, which he held out. “That box had a message in it.”

“A message? From who?”

“Adeline.” He stepped closer and pressed the scrap of paper into my hand.

I stared at the word on it:

AVE

I looked up at him. “This doesn’t make sense.”

“In Spanish, ave means bird.”

I thought of the computer’s elusive password. “Let’s try this on my aunt’s laptop.”

When ave didn’t work, we typed in every bird species native to Leafy Hollow and dozens that weren’t. Then we typed them again, in Spanish. No luck. I closed the laptop and dropped the scrap of paper on top, tapping my fingers on the metallic surface.

When I was a child, my mother taught me dozens of Latin words and

phrases. So many that Latin became our secret language, a habit that infuriated my auto-mechanic father, who felt shut out by our circle of two. I pushed the laptop away.

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