Authors: K. T. Bryan
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction
Tuesday, January 4, - 6 months later.
Cradling her sleeping child against her chest, Sara Caldwell glanced over her shoulder as she opened the door to yet another cheap motel room. Always looking, always searching, checking her back had become a way of life and she despised the monster behind her. Despised the life she’d been forced to lead. Sleeping days while the city worked, working nights while the city slept, and maybe, after work, having a drink with a kindred soul, mourning loss, mourning life.
“It won’t always be like this, you know,” Craig Duncan had said.
“It’s been almost a year.”
“A year is not a lifetime.”
It sure as hell felt like one.
“When can I call my husband?”
His gaze settled on her face with a look of resignation. “He…doesn’t know you’re still alive.”
“What?” Surely she’d misheard. Craig wouldn’t--
Not Craig. No way. He was supposed to be on her side. And Dillon’s.
But the look on his face, the flatness in his eyes said otherwise. “You lied to me? All this time?”
Even though things had gone all wrong between her and Dillon, even though she was still angry and confused an entire year later, for the DEA and government officials to let him think she’d died…
To not let him know he’d fathered a child…
She sank to her knees on the thin carpet. “Fix it. Fix it now. You tell him I’m alive, you let him know.
Jesus, Craig, how could you?”
She couldn’t believe the cruelty.
well, yes, she could.
The government didn’t have to abide by civilian standards. They could do whatever they wanted to Dillon. Or against him. He was officially their property.
And by marriage, to a certain extent, so was she.
Craig’s jaw tightened.
“We had to let him think you were dead.
Otherwise, he’d bust his ass looking for you, and then you’d both be targets. Or more likely, you’d both be dead. Not to mention Ellie. I’m protecting you.”
“You actually expect me to let this ride?”
Kind eyes turned cold. “I don’t need your consent.
We have to find Sanchez, and we have to find the leak.
Do you want Dillon to die? Or Ellie?”
“Of course not, but what you’ve done is--”
“Let it go, Sara. This won’t last forever.”
She’d believe him later. When she wasn’t on the run, hiding, waiting for the next call telling her to move, to go now, yet again.
For a year now, she’d been living with a bomb on her shoulder, tick, tick, ticking, counting down time before full detonation.
How long before it went off? Another year? Ten? Thirty? Would she have to live like this forever?
Sara dropped her suitcase on the floor and laid her sleeping baby on the chintzy floral bedspread. She gently pushed downy blonde curls off Ellie’s forehead and her heart stood still, filled to overflowing with a deep and wondrous love.
Everything good in life, everything hopeful and pure, lay right there in front of her.
In a cheap dive where hope was a rare occurrence.
Ellie deserved more. She deserved pastel walls lined with ducks or kittens. She deserved to be rocked in a real rocking chair. She deserved a place in the world, a place she could call her own, a place where she felt secure, a place that didn’t change every day or week or every month.
Most of all she deserved to know her father’s gentle touch, his voice, his very smell.
Question was, what did Dillon want? More, what did he deserve?
Sara sat down, feeling fear and grief bubble through her veins.
She took the wedding band she never wore in public out of her pocket and slipped it on. Some days she just needed the reminder.
Once, a lifetime ago, she’d been a regular woman with a regular job, married to a not so regular guy. But the not so regular hadn’t mattered. Until Sanchez. Now it mattered a lot.
The heat in the motel room was stifling, and she punched the air-conditioning button to dark blue. In one practiced move, she ripped the brown, bobbed wig off her head and tossed it toward the dresser. It landed with a swish and slid across the walnut veneer until it bumped up against a square green lamp. She unfastened the clasp at the top of her head and let her blonde hair spill free.
Freer now, but still so hot.
God, she missed the cool water and gentle breeze floating inland off the Pacific. The feel of soft sand between her toes.
She needed sleep but was too wary of the nightmares to even try. Instead, she peered out the window at the scorched landscape. The shimmering asphalt took her away to another time, another place. A happy place she hadn’t seen in forever -- a place where sun-kissed kites soared high above the heads of laughing children. A place where sailboats raced across the horizon.
A place where the sun gilded a man’s bronze shoulders as he took her hand and guided her into the sea to splash and play. To love and be loved. To know a look, a smile, a touch, was a love so pure it was almost not real. The power of the place, the man, was neither fantasy nor imagination. It was real. And it was hers.
In her heart.
A place where dreams came true and sandcastles held a million memories.
But those memories now stabbed with a pain so deep they almost broke her.
She stepped away from the window, letting the drapery fall closed.
There was a sad kind of sordidness in this small desert town. Nothing she could smell or hear, but present nonetheless. People striving to survive or looking for a way out.
Maybe it was the used syringes and piles of trash forgotten in the gutter. Or the vacant lots where children eyed each other, already wary, soon to fall through the cracks into social exclusion. Or maybe it was just the sense of desperation and despair floating like mute history on the very air she breathed.
She wanted the wind. A fierce wind of monstrous proportions to cleanse the despondence from her soul.
As she turned toward the bed, toward her child, glass shattered.
The door flew open.
She lunged. Grabbed the gun from her handbag.
The bomb finally blew
January 7 - Present day
Dillon’s office at the complex in Coronado was furnished in hunter green and trimmed out in magnetic slate. The chairs were leather, the furniture wood, the carpet thick, and all of it was understated, plush, and expensive. This building was the admiral’s refuge, and he’d spared no expense for his team.
Each office had its own touch-screen control panel for lighting, security, blinds, and temperature. A fitness center occupied the rear left of the building, while a state-of-the-art conference room, fitted with an 84” screen for full video conferencing capabilities, resided rear right.
The security measures alone included motion sensors, silent alarms, armored glass and
steel doors, and a Humatrek system that could all but read your mind.
Dillon was glad it couldn’t. This ‘being assigned to temporary desk duty’ gig didn’t sit well. Not only was he itching to find Sanchez, but he’d take a third-world jungle or a hostile desert any day of the week if it meant being where the action was. Not that there wasn’t plenty of action on the SEAL training base in Coronado, it was just that the action here compared to the real world was like listening to an old man telling war stories – often interesting, but mostly repetitive. Maybe if he’d been assigned to weapons training or demolition
but no, he’d gotten assigned to teach psychological warfare from inside a SEAL classroom. Which was kind of like teaching the Third Reich meets Hannibal Lecter. Pass the Chianti.
But, Dillon knew, this was the admiral’s way of keeping him safe. Tying him up on base, out of reach of all the scum who’d love to have his head. Since his team had missed Sanchez six months ago, John was keeping a big-ass safety net around Dillon.
While he appreciated the thought, the reality was smothering. If he didn’t get out of here, and soon, he was going to lose his friggin’ mind. His reasoning was simple--Sanchez was out there, free to do as he pleased. Dillon wasn’t. And the longer Sanchez was free, the longer Dillon wouldn’t be. Even if someone other than Sanchez had put that bounty on his head, which Dillon doubted, the end result was the same. Sanchez had gone dark and the admiral had nixed all ops to do with the SBC until he sorted things out. And all that sorting had been going on for six freakin’ months now.
Everyone has a story--it makes them who they are--but so far Dillon’s was nowhere near what he’d expected. Some people identified with music. Some with books. They hear the lyrics or read the story and think, huh, that could be my life. Music especially tended to trigger memories and most people could almost always link a song to certain events in their lives.
Dillon, however, had gone the movie route. Not that he’d planned on it, or even wanted to, but life had handed him a hell of a script over the last few years.
Dillon was the dedicated government operative. Sanchez, the world’s most notorious drug lord who had murdered Dillon’s family.
No face transplants, no bomb in L.A. or New York, no remote cement prisons or any other Hollywood coolness. But the hate, the need for vengeance, ran parallel to pretty much every good-guy-bad-guy movie ever made.
Dillon’s twist -- somewhere along the way the lines had blurred and he’d become the bad guy. The really, really bad guy.
He’d let his job, his obsession with Sanchez, spin out of control. What had started as a one-year assignment had dragged into three, and he’d crossed over that professional line and let things get personal.
And his beautiful, lovely wife had died.
He stared hard at the framed wedding photo taken seven years ago, the picture he kept on his desk and refused to remove despite the gentle coaxing of well-meaning friends and coworkers. He traced his index finger over the image of Sara before he set the picture down and poured another two fingers of Crown.
Getting shit-faced drunk wasn’t going to bring Sara back, but by God, it sure as hell helped him live through the pain. Problem was, he was stone-cold sober and the pain in his chest was still as tight and bitter as ever. He’d never actually had a drink on the job before, but today he’d cancelled his classes and said fuck you to the world in general. Then he’d borrowed a bottle from the admiral’s guests-only reserve.
Today was the one-year marker of Sara’s death, their seventh wedding anniversary, and whoever said time heals was not only full of shit, but obviously had never lost a wife. Time didn’t heal, it just gave him too many empty days, too many empty hours, to remember and ache for what he no longer had.
What he’d lost because he’d failed. As a son, a brother, a husband. A protector.
The whiskey mocked him. He downed it in one long swallow, felt the burn, and thought about pouring another.
Today he’d stay sober. For Sara.
He hurled the crystal rocks glass against the wall.
Lungs bursting, Sara gasped for air, fighting against the ocean’s choppy, storm-tossed current as it hauled her under once again.
She’d been running scared for twelve miserable months now, she’d somehow managed to survive, and after all that, now she was going to drown.
Dammit, she wasn’t ready to die.
She defied the sea’s giant grip, surfaced, and gulped in another agonizing breath. Her eyes stung. Her throat burned. Rain hammered down, blinding her.
Swim. Keep moving.
The swells grew bigger and rougher with every stroke, but she pushed on. One arm, one agonizing kick at a time.
If only Dillon had told her, warned her.
If only she’d never gotten those horrible pictures.
She never should have followed him.
Their last day together still haunted her and she wondered if they could ever get past it.
“Meet me at Delmonico's tonight at eight o'clock, okay? Please, Sara, we need to talk.”
Another wave hit, lifting her higher and higher before dropping her with terrifying speed into a five-foot trough. Water flooded her nose and mouth, and she coughed and choked as a hysterical thought bubbled up inside her.
There had to be sharks this far out. Great Whites, Makos, Hammerheads. Not that she’d see one coming. No, she’d feel it first. Razor sharp teeth slicing into her leg or maybe her torso. And she’d go under, silently screaming.
The waiter at Delmonico's served her another glass of water with a kind smile. She'd been waiting for well over an hour and the man must have figured she'd been stood up. Which apparently she had.
Was this it then? Was her marriage actually over?
Did she want it to be?
No. No, she didn’t.
Sara checked her watch and saw that it was twenty after nine.
It wasn’t like Dillon to pull a no-show. Except that, well, maybe these days not showing up was a big, fat, in-your-face fact that they really were over.