“Daddy”. He spun around instinctively, she had not called him that in a long time. Not since the divorce anyway. They’d gone without talking for a couple of years, and he was just glad to have the chance to meet her and the grandkids for a few hours. “Yes?” “You should start dating. Even Mom says so…it’s not good for you to be alone so much”. “Okay Beth, I’ll think about it”. Beth smiled, closed the van door and was gone.
That he hadn’t been dating was a sort of penance he was doing to himself. Most nights he’d come home from the office and sit at home, lonely. It didn’t feel good. He didn’t think he deserved to feel good. So he worked out, went to the supermarket and occasionally met an old buddy for a beer. Lately he had taken to hanging out in the local library. He could sit there and read, and though he rarely spoke to anyone, at least there were people around.
The one person he did speak to was the woman at the circulation desk…nothing heavy, just pleasantries. But he’d thought she might be fun to get to know. She was one of those people who works in a library because she loves books. Now he was looking at her in a different way, like someone he might have asked out when he was good at that sort of thing; back when he was cheating on his wife. But what’s done is done he told himself. He had made peace with his ex-wife, he was rebuilding his relationship with his daughter and he’d cleaned up his own house. He knew he would never cheat on anyone again, but that’s easy to say when you’re not in a relationship.
Her name was Annette. She was pretty; with sandy blonde hair, a broad smile, and a friendly voice. What else did he need to know? Oh, and she exuded confidence. He asked her if he could buy her a cup of coffee after her shift ended. She smiled and said “no, but you can buy me a beer.”
It became a ritual, he would stop in after work about an hour before her shift ended, he’d read for awhile and around six o’clock he would ask her to dinner. She said yes. She said yes 14 times in a row until she finally said “this is ridiculous, you know I am going to say ‘yes’. She could tell he was hesitant because of the trauma he had caused himself. He had told her everything having vowed not to keep a secret from a partner ever again. So she took the lead: “It’s about time I saw where you live”. He still showed up at the library after work but now it was to walk her home…his or hers, whatever they were feeling that night.
When he invited her up to the cabin he shared with his ex-wife, she seemed hesitant, a bit out of character for her but he figured it was because of the connection to his ex. Once she got there she settled in but still seemed a little on edge. He turned on a movie, lit a fire, broke out a bottle of wine and she started to relax. Before long she was dozing with her head on his arm while he watched an old movie. Then he dozed off.
Annette shot upright, on full red alert, eyes fixed on the patio door overlooking the lake “did you hear that?” No, he hadn’t heard anything. “There it is again.” Still, he heard nothing, “there’s a lot of wildlife out there, bears, bobcats, thats what you’re hearing”. She shook her head, “no…thats a human. Where’s my bag?” Her voice was calm but her tone was urgent. “I put it on the bed upstairs…” She tore up the stairs after it. Uh oh. Now he was hearing something, and she was right, it was starting and stopping, being careful…definitely not a wild animal. She reappeared carrying some sort of automatic weapon. “What the fuck!?” “Let’s go, out of the house before it’s too late!”. She dragged him out the side door and he made for the truck, “no, get away from the truck. Into the woods, follow me”. As they made the edge of the woods the truck went up in a ball of flames. She dove behind a downed tree and he jumped in after her. “You’re not a regular librarian are you?” She grabbed the back of his head and kissed him hard on the mouth. “No. I’m not.” She shoved his face into the mud. “Keep your head down”.
He tried looking at his watch but she’d swatted his arm down. She was right, the watch face lighting up would have been like a floodlight out here. Instead he watched the sliver of a moon moving across the sky and knew it had been at least two hours. That was two hours of quiet because the carnage had been over in seconds. Still, she had put in a fresh magazine and they sat there and waited…just in case. The weapon made little noise, but he could still smell the cordite and hear the screaming of the one that took two shots. Five attackers. Six shots. All were down, and she was calm…her breathing slow and steady. They were so close that in the silence he could make out her heartbeat. It was slow. Who the hell was she? She had tied her hair back in a ponytail and it showed up off her perfect silouette in the half-light. He was either in love or terrified…or maybe both.
The sky was starting to brighten in the east when she finally thought it was safe to get up. They walked the perimeter of the clearing around the cabin until she found all five kills. Then she started searching the bodies. When they got to the first one he could see that he was wearing kevlar, with a helmet and a windbreaker. She ruffled through his front pockets and asked him to help her flip over the body. He froze. She must have seen the look on his face “its not what you think.” There were three large letters on the back of his jacket: ATF.
He was on autopilot just following directions now. She had found what she wanted: two sets of car keys and didn’t find what she knew she wouldn’t: any kind of ID. “Did you see any badges?” He shook his head, unable to speak, “Feds carry badges. Always.” His voice came back to him “then who were they?” “I don’t know but I know who sent them. I’ll explain later. We need to get out of here before someone comes looking for them. These clowns were sloppy, they’ll send the “A” team next time”. She took one set of car keys and threw them in the lake, then she grabbed her bag and told him to get a move on. There were two identical vans at the end of the driveway, just like she knew there would be. They jumped in one and took off.
Nine hours later they were on their third “borrowed” car and about 450 miles west of where they’d started. They stopped about once an hour, first using one of her credit cards, then her ATM card to take out cash and buy supplies. Then they used his cards, leaving a trail of transactions heading due west. They cruised a dark residential neighborhood until she found a grey van, a ubiquitous type. She had it started in under a minute, drove down the road, parked, then took off the plate. She replaced it with one she had taken off the van they took from the snatch team. “Why did you do that?” “It’s the one plate that no one is going to report stolen.” They stopped and filled up the van, this time being careful of security cams and using a card that was under a false name. She made a call on a burner phone she had in her bug out bag, and had a conversation in Russian. Not surprising; she had told him she had immigrated from Russia as a young girl. When she hung up, the phone went out the window into the woods and she just said “I got us a safe place to stay”. Then they headed back east.
He didn’t ask many questions on the way back, but she explained a few things without much detail. She once held a dangerous job in law enforcement and there were people that wanted to see her dead. She thought she knew who set up the grab and he was extremely dangerous, and evidently had held a grudge for years. “That’s all I can tell you for right now. I need to know if you are going to leave because if you are the less you know the better”. “To be honest, I was wondering that myself. I shouldn’t leave you alone, though you seem to be able to fend for yourself.” For the first time in hours a smile crept onto her face. “I can, but we need to decide what’s safest for you. Those creeps would have called in your plate before they attacked so you can bet whoever sent them knows who you are. You’d have to run.” “For how long? What about my daughter, my grandkids?” “Well, I was the one that killed five of his guys, but he’s gonna assume you helped. He’s really after me so he might get tired looking for you after awhile. On the other hand…he may never stop” It was a pretty stark choice; go on the run and hope someday he may be able to contact his daughter, or stay with this woman that he cared about but obviously didn’t know. He looked at her across the front seats “you’re not gonna run are you?” She shook her head, “no, I’m over this shit.”
After driving another 6 hours back east, they hopped off an interstate exit in the middle of nowhere, then turned onto a dirt road that wound up a steep hill for 3 miles. At the top was an abandoned ski resort; there were dilapidated buildings, old lift towers that looked creepy in the moon light, and a huge gravel parking lot overgrown with weeds. They rolled up to a cabin on one side of the lot that was in surprisingly good shape. “Welcome home”. Annette got out and stretched her legs then motioned for him to follow her through the front door. Inside was a sparkling clean living room with a modern TV. He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of his favorite beer. “Seriously, you had them stock my beer?” “We could be here for awhile, might as well be comfortable.” He nodded and guzzled the beer then helped her drag in her bug out bag and the few supplies they had brought along the way with the now useless credit cards. She had been driving for hours, not to mention the activities of the night before, so he told her to relax and he would make dinner. He hadn’t checked the pantry yet, but from what he saw in the fridge he wouldn’t have a problem finding ingredients. She kissed him on the cheek and went off to take a bath.
They’d finished dinner and were still at the table enjoying a glass of wine supplied by her “friends”. “I know you’re hesitant to give me details, but I’m here, and I’m trusting you with my life. Time to fill me in.” She sighed, “I was undercover for two years. This was an extremely bad guy and we wanted him.” “Two years and you couldn’t grab him?” She shook her head “thats not the way it works. He supplied money, inititated some things, but there was a huge network of people with blood on their hands. We needed all, or at least most of them. We were getting close, really close, and then it all went to shit. They’ve murdered so many more…because we didn’t finish the job”. “So…he wants you dead? Why would he bother? You were a Fed doing your job. Why would he risk bringing so much more heat on himself?” Annette got up and stood at the window; looking at the moonlit mountains with her back to him. “He holds a special grudge for me. I was his mistress.”
Neither of them said anything for a long time. Finally, he got up and said “fuck this, I’m going for a walk.” Annette had never been angry at him but that changed in an instant “you bastard! Are you fucking judging me? Mister ‘I screwed everything in a skirt while my wife and little girl were at home waiting for me’?” “Excuse me, I’m having a hard time processing that your job involved putting some thug’s dick in your mouth.” “I did what I had to do, if you don’t like it, there’s the door. You can fuck yourself on the way out”. He took a deep breath and turned back towards her. “I’m sorry. Someone just tried to kill me, I’m in hiding for fear of my life, I haven’t slept in 24 hours and I found out instead of a librarian I’m dating fucking Atomic Blonde.” She took it down a notch “I really am a librarian. I never lied to you”. He nodded “no you didn’t lie. You just left out all the interesting parts”. They both started to laugh, “go for your walk before we kill each other. Don’t be alarmed, the friends that helped with this place are coming by to try and help us get out of this alive.” “Are there going to me more surprises?” She shrugged, “Yep”. He nodded and headed outside to clear his head.
He was back in a minute…”tell me these are your guys”. He was followed into the cabin by two tall lanky men who looked like the kind of guys you call when you need something fixed in a hurry. She spoke to them in Russian then turned to him “sorry, we’ll speak English from now on. This is Sasha and Yuri”. They all nodded at each other and he asked “so do the Feds use a lot of Russians?” Sasha spoke up “we are not with Feds.” He looked at Annette “but you said you were a Federal agent…” “No, you said that. I said I was on an undercover assignment. You filled in the rest.” He started to freak out, “oh that’s just great you’re all Russian spies, you kill people and now I’m on the lam with you.” Sasha asked Yuri “what he means ‘on the lam’” ? Yuri shrugged. He started yelling, “who the hell cares??? If I don’t get killed I’m going to jail and will probably share a cell with Boris here”. Annette intervened “we’re not spies, we’re police, or I should say we were police”. His head was spinning, “Russian police working in the U.S. and this is Kosher?” Yuri wiggled his hand “sometimes is Kosher sometimes is not”. “Which time is this?” “Sometimes your police work in Russia. Sometimes government says ‘okay come get these guys’. Sometimes government says ‘no’”. “And now?” “Sometimes government doesn’t want to know”. He looked at Annette “I need a drink”
They were all staring at him and he shook his head. “You’re crazy. I get it, he killed over 200 Russian children, now I want the guy too. But they’re just gonna kill me and then torture and kill Annette. There’s just three of you.” “We have other help”. “Who”? “Good help”. Yuri bent close and whispered to him “let’s take a walk”. They got up to leave and Annette wanted to walk with them but Yuri stopped her: “Just us, we are going to talk”. Annette shrugged and sat back down while they headed outside.
Yuri put his hand on his shoulder; “I am going to tell you the truth. This is dangerous.” “I know. So whats the plan?” Yuri filled him in…it made sense but who was he to judge? It seemed like there were a lot of assumptions but what choice did he have? “Are you in or out? You could be killed. I am just being honest.” “Yes, I know, but these guys are after Annette and my god those children…”. Yuri nodded, “Look, not everyone is supposed to be hero and you have a daughter and grandchildren. Are you sure?” He nodded “I’m in”. “Thank you my friend, we will do our best to protect you”. “Just get that guy and take care of Annette”.
The next morning, Yuri and Sasha had dissappeared, having risen early and presumably off to set the plan in motion. They would be intentionally giving away their location, so he was all in now. The irony was that he and Annette had slept together for the first time that night. It wasn’t the romantic moment he had envisioned, but they made up for a lot of time that they both knew they may never get. But now it was all business, they drove to the nearest town, walked into a diner and ordered lunch. They couldn’t see him but they knew Sasha was outside somewhere where he had a good view of the restaurant. They took their time eating and when they were done, Annette got up to leave, kissing him goodbye and headed out the door. He wondered if he’d ever see her again.
He ordered another cup of coffee as two grim faced men came into the diner and picked a table between him and the door. He pretended to watch a video on his phone but he was really watching for a text from Sasha. It came about 10 minutes after she left. “They have her”. He glanced up at the two men that were presumably watching him: no reaction. Just then three teenagers came in the restaurant, a boy and two girls. One of the girls gave him a big hug, then sat down in the booth next to him. The other two plopped down opposite and he called the waitress over and they ordered food. The kids all knew each other and talked about some drama at school. He noticed the two goons starting to get restless. He had to smile; the kids were part of the “help” that Yuri had told him about.
Suddenly, the goons were gone. The kids had distracted him ordering food and he hadn’t noticed. He texted Sasha letting him know. “Good. Stay there with the kids for another hour but I am sure they’ve decided you’re not a threat.” Then one more update “everything going well. Don’t worry.” Easy for him to say. Part of his job was done, he had drawn off a couple of the bad guys and kept them occupied. He was probably safe but Annette could be dead any minute and if Sasha and Yuri didn’t make it, he’d never know what happened. They didn’t even know where this guy was, though Annette was sure he was in the area. “This is the best place to hide, there are so many spies around here he would just blend into the background noise. Besides, the US isn’t looking for him”. He hoped to God she was right.
He got a message from Sasha. It was an address and he knew exactly what to do; it was a town in the next state. He looked up the local police department then pulled out a burner phone and gave them a ring. He avoided calling 911 so they couldn’t see where he was calling from. “I’m not sure but I think someone fired shots at me after I dropped off a package”. He pulled out another phone and handed it to one of the girls. She did a great job sounding hysterical: “someone chased me and tried to grab me when I jogged by the house”. She gave the name of some girl she had found in an internet article about local high school sports. The result was predictable. Within a few minutes another text from Sasha “Police pulling up. You should leave now. There is a room for you at the motel down the street. Check in and hang tight. You are clear.” “Clear” meant that he had no tail waiting outside the diner, not that he was out of danger. How Sasha could know that or where he was he would love to know but he’d been told the less he knew the better. He assumed it was more of that “help”.
He wanted to talk to Beth, but of course he couldn’t. He’d been using a phone he’d gotten from Sasha and Yuri along with the burners because he didn’t dare turn his on. So he spent a sleepless night eating microwave dinners, snacks and cheap beer he’d gotten from the motel lobby. He fell asleep and woke up just after eight the next morning and still nothing on his phone. Yuri had told him that if he didn’t hear something by 10am to walk down to the Amtrak station, take the 10:30 and to run and keep on running. He packed up and walked back to the diner to get a proper breakfast. That was part of his own plan. Supposedly Sasha had swept the area but in case someone was watching him we would look relaxed…not like someone that was going to run to the police. When he was done eating that would put him that much closer to the train station. He hoped it wouldn’t matter. He grabbed a newspaper and read every story in the sports section. Apparently the local high school team had a hot baseball prospect, a pitcher, and he’d signed with the Reds. It was 9:50, and despite trying to remain calm he was shaking. Even when they were being shot at he wasn’t that scared but now he could feel fear burning a hole in his stomach. He pulled himself together, paid the check and headed for the station, trying not to think about his life spiraling away from him.
He started walking and pulled the phone out. He hadn’t heard it or felt it buzz but he looked at it desperately hoping there was a message anyway. Nothing, just a text from Beth…wait, he looked at the phone again, he’d pulled the wrong phone off the charger in the morning! He went through his day pack and came up with the phone Sasha had given him, it was dead. It was 10:05, shit, they would think he’d gotten spooked and run if he didn’t answer and then what? He sprinted back to the diner and found an outlet and waited for the phone to get enough charge. Finally an apple appeared on the screen and it started up…so slow, damnit hurry! Finally he unlocked it and waited…a string of text notices flew by on the screen…he went to the last one: “Where the fuck are you? We have to leave NOW” he couldn’t type straight but finally he typed “Dine” frigging spell check, he was starting to retype when a car rolled up and screeched to a halt “get in!” It was Sasha and Yuri, with a woman he didn’t recognize and more importantly without Annette. “We almost left you, we have to move. What the hell happened”. “I’m an idiot, I had the wrong phone”. Yuri shook his head but was sympathetic, you are not professional, nerves make us do funny things.” He was afraid to ask “where is Annette and who is this?”, jerking his thumb at the backseat. “Annette is fine and this is ‘Miss you don’t need to know’” He looked over at her “she just shrugged but smiled. She didn’t look like someone you wanted to tangle with so the smile was clearly just to calm his nerves.
“Annette is okay. You should go home now, the police will be looking for anything out of place and this town is not so far from where he was. That includes people checking into motels and strangers eating in diners.” “But we used a fake name.” “Correct” said Sasha “ but not a fake face”. He nodded “why are the police looking around and did they arrest the guy?” The three Russians laughed. “He won’t be bothering anyone anymore.” “You killed him?” “No, police killed him. Such a shame. Is crazy to shoot at police, they’re always going to kill you”. “You said the guy was smart why would he shoot at them?” “I never said he did.” His mouth fell open…YOU shot at the cops?” Yuri shrugged “just over their heads, no harm done”.
They had taken him to the bus station “how did Annette get away?” Sasha laughed “she is good looking woman with Krav Maga skills. Young meathead guards with guns are no match”. He could only imagine. “So when will I see her again?” Sasha put his hand on his shoulder “thank you my friend. Now go to your home”. He shook hands with both of them, but the woman remained in the car giving him that odd smile.
“So what’s this?” Beth was fingering a bronze medal with a red star imprinted. It hung from a red ribbon and there were Cyrillic letters around the outside. “It looks Russian”. “Oh I picked it up at an antique store. It looked interesting.” Sasha had given it to him as an award to thank him for his help. “You should find out what it says.” “Yeah maybe I should”. He already knew what it said “Finisher, Sochi Marathon 2014”. That was Sasha’s sense of humor but he knew it was actually heartfelt by all of the Russians. “Well, she seems nice”. They had just gotten back from dinner with Annette who had taken a walk so that he and Beth could have some time alone. “You actually found someone age appropriate but it’s hard to believe she’s 60, looks forty.” He put two fingers up in the air “honest to God”. Beth laughed, “I believe you. What did you say she does?” “She’s a librarian”. Beth put her arms around him in a hug. “I’m happy for you Daddy. Just what you need; nice and calm and no drama”. “Thanks honey, you’re right. No drama.”