Part P, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
The storm raged all night, hurtling unseen objects against the sides of the mansion and challenging even Ferraro’s underground power grid. But the electricity stayed on and eventually the storm wore itself out in the wee hours before dawn.
Zoey didn’t sleep, even after the thunder and winds subsided. The quartz on her nightstand glowed deep purple, distracting her. It was matched now by the amethyst hue of the sea glass on the chain around her neck, which was so warm against her skin as to be almost uncomfortable. She’d never put much stock in the healing properties of crystals, but she was recovering remarkably fast.
She dressed just as the first few streaks of dawn lit the sky, grabbed an apple from the bowl on the kitchen counter, and walked outside to see winter had been replaced by spring.
All the snow had melted, even on the inland side of the mansion where the mountain’s shadow prevailed. The avalanche that had blocked the road was gone. Grass was thick and lush underfoot, leaves were budding in bright shades of green, birds chirped and flitted as they gathered nesting material. The air felt freshly washed, just a hint of cool lingering on a soft breeze, the sun warm on her face.
And down on the beach, there was no trace of the wrecked junk.
Ferraro had given her the morning off, declaring she needed time to recover, so she headed to the far side of the cliff to search for steps down to the beach. She found them, concealed by an overgrown tangle of bushes and vines. Broad and smooth, the stones formed an easily navigated path to the cove. Not visible from the beach, she’d never have known they were there if Sam hadn’t mentioned them.
At their base was a small shed, cleverly built partially into the side of the cliff. Also undetectable from a distance. The door was padlocked, but peering through one clouded window Zoey made out shapes that appeared to be a small boat, a couple jet skis, and some fishing tackle.
Zoey climbed back up the face of the cliff — fewer weeds to deal with — and determined to ask Benton for a key to the shed.
After lunch, she joined Sam in the sunroom for “lessons.”
Sam was wearing that same uniform, a navy blue and gray version this time. Didn’t the poor girl have any normal clothes?
“So, what’s on the curriculum today?” Zoey asked.
“Physics,” Sam said, with a tone of defeated boredom.
“At your age?”
Sam just glared at her, as if insulted. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the really complicated stuff. Zoey picked up the textbook and looked at the page Sam had been reading.
Wow. “This is some pretty advanced physics, Sam.”
“Well, I understand it,” Sam said. “I just don’t get it.”
Zoey frowned, not sure of the distinction. “In what way don’t you get it?”
“I don’t get why it matters. I’m never going to need to know this stuff.”
Zoey looked at the page, distant memories returning of Newton’s second law, and formulas for mass and velocity and acceleration and standard trajectory calculations, and could sort of see the girl’s point. Sort of.
“Tell you what, let’s go outside and see if we can put some of this into practice.”
Sam grumbled, clearly back to petulant teenager mode, but followed Zoey outside.
Zoey picked up a fist-sized rock and said, “catch,” before tossing it in a high slow arc to Sam. Sam caught it, glare firmly in place.
“Throw it back to me, as hard as you can,” Zoey said. She saw the glint of satisfaction as Sam wound up and threw it back. She didn’t have much of an arm and Zoey caught it easily. “Did you notice the difference between the arcs of the two different throws? How the velocity affected the trajectory?”
Sam shrugged. “I guess. But it’s not like I plan to spend time throwing rocks.”
Or playing sports, apparently. Zoey thought about the archery and trap shooting ranges she’d seen on the other side of the mansion and wondered if all that equipment was locked up as well.
“Come on,” she said with a quick grin. “Let’s get Benton to unlock some toys for us to play with.”
The archery would have been an interesting lesson, Benton’s reluctance notwithstanding, but Sam was simply not strong enough to send an arrow to the target with much force. Zoey resolved to work with her on that. Later.
For now, she persuaded Benton to get out two of the trap guns. Not much strength needed for those.
“Have you ever fired a gun?” Zoey asked.
Sam’s eyes were wide, with apprehension or excitement, Zoey wasn’t sure. “No, where would I get a gun? They’re dangerous, Zoey.”
Ah. So apprehension it was. Good. “Yes, and you will never do this unsupervised. Guns can be extremely dangerous. Deadly. Which is why I’m going to teach you about gun safety and proper handling before you even touch one.” Which she then proceeded to do.
She was showing Sam how to break down and inspect the gun before loading it when she saw a blockage in the barrel. She turned to where the butler stood nearby, looking on with disapproval. “Benton? Bit of a problem here.”
She handed the shotgun to him and watched his face blanch as he looked down the barrel, clearly understanding the magnitude of the problem. “This is not possible. These guns are kept in a locked safe.”
“Might want to change that lock,” Zoey said dryly, and checked the other gun, which was fine. She went back to instructing Sam on the basics of trap shooting. And how it pertained to her physics lesson.
“I don’t like the idea of shooting at a clay bird,” Sam said. “I don’t want to even pretend to kill one.”
“It’s actually a disc, not a bird shape at all. And just pretend you’re aiming a spacecraft at some distant planet and the survival of humanity depends on you not missing it.”
Sam looked at Zoey for one startled moment and then her eyes took on a gleam of interest. “Is this rocket science, Zoey?”
“Er, sort of. Minus the gravity and a bunch of other stuff. But yeah, it’s the basis for it.”
Sam really got into the spirit of it then, enthusiastically calling out, “Pull!” when she was ready. Turned out she had a good instinct for tracking a moving target, and managed to hit several of the clay discs. Zoey could tell the girl was fading fast, though, muscles unaccustomed to holding up the heavy shotgun.
Zoey didn’t want to end the lesson on a down note by mentioning that, so she announced it was her turn to shoot. She walked over to Benton, who was standing by the gun locker. “I think I’ll try this one,” she said, reaching for a gun she’d spied earlier.
Benton actually sputtered. “Ms. Prescott. That’s a rifle.”
“Indeed. Is this a shipping lane?” she asked, motioning to the vast expanse of sea extending out beyond the range. Knowing darn well it wasn’t.
She smiled up at the man. “I think the fish are safe.”
Zoey got into position, admiring the rifle even as she went through the mental checklist. What a fine piece of workmanship it was. Making sure Sam was well behind her and still wearing the protective gear, Zoey settled into her zone. Oh, she’d missed this.
She fired and just nicked the disc, sending it spinning into the sea. “The sight is a little off,” she murmured, and heard Benton clear his throat. She winked at him.
“Pull!” Direct hit this time. She called for several more, hitting each one dead center, feeling the rush of satisfaction. She finally signaled to Benton that she was done and lifted the goggles, pulled out the earplugs, huge smile on her face.
Until she heard the voice behind her, tight with fury. “Ms. Prescott.”
She turned, gun properly lowered. “Yes, Anton?”
“What in the name of–” he paused and glanced at his niece, then turned back to Zoey. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Zoey was showing me the practical application of mathematical physics, Uncle Anton. You know, rocket science.” Sam was beaming, cheeks slightly flushed, eyes sparkling. Seemingly oblivious to her uncle’s anger, it was the most animated and happy Zoey had seen the girl.
Ferraro studied her for a moment before he spoke. “Go inside and wash up, Sam. Dinner in a half hour.”
The girl headed inside, a spring in her step, and Ferraro zeroed back in on Zoey, fire in his eyes, mouth set in a hard line. “Ms. Prescott. I’d like to speak with you in my study.”
“Sure, right after I clean–”
Zoey reluctantly handed the rifle to Benton, who had come to stand next to her. “You’ll take care of it?”
“Indeed. And thank you.” He nodded slightly toward the range, a glimmer of respect in his expression.
Zoey grinned. “My pleasure.”
That voice came again, hard and clipped. “Ms. Prescott.”
Zoey sighed and followed Ferraro into the mansion.
P is for Pull