“The children? Wha...whats going on?” I still didn’t quite believe Danya could still be alive. That I could actually see her face again, hold her hand, and tuck her in bed. And then I realized, ten years had gone by, and she would no longer be the young Danya I once knew. Would I ever really know this new Danya, ever really love her in her new form?
Looking at my surroundings, a habit I had developed because of my training, I noticed we were pulled off from the main road on a gravel pullout, and just outside of a large grove of trees. Robert stood, the headlights whitewashing his features, and for a second, I feared it might not really be him. But then the car lights went off, Lockly having taken the keys out, the contours of his face were illuminated by a nearby street light, and I could see that this man was truly Robert.
The two of them stood stalk still, staring at me, as if to see if I would run. Again, I spoke.
“Robert?” Should I hug him? Kiss him? Shake his hand? Silence. They seemed to be both wondering what exactly they were going to do, too.
“Robert, if that's really you, what's going on? I thought--” I began to feel this wasn’t the Robert I used to know. He hadn’t embraced me, hadn’t said how much he missed me. His curls, those lovely curls, were now shaved off to a buzz cut. He wanted to say something. I could tell because he curled his lips into his mouth, chewing them slightly.
Suddenly, he whirled around, and marched off over the cracking pine needles into the shadowed woods, and eventually his form was swallowed up by the darkness, leaving only the sound of his footsteps breaking the eerie silence. I looked back at Lockly, who raised his eyebrows, shrugged like he didn’t know what was going on either, and pointed after Robert into the night. What he hell, and I stepped out of the street lamp’s glare, and into the unknown.
Eventually, I ran into Robert. I had been following what must have been a thin, rough path through the woods, a thin line of white in a blanket of ebony. The dim light from the moon barely penetrated the canopy above, and his crouching form was invisible to my eyes. He merely gave a grunt, which was followed by a metallic clicking noise, and then he stood up.
“A ladder goes down twelve feet from here. When you reach the bottom, if you want, you can find a seat, or wait for me and I’ll show you your seat.” No emotion. No indication that we had ever been partners in life. Something was definitely wrong. Nervousness rang in his voice.
Robert had apparently been crouching to unlock some sort of trap door, built into a concrete slab. Slipping my feet down into the small square of blackness, I found the first rung, then a second, and descended. I paused only long enough to see Lockly waddling up the path, breathing heavily, before my eyes passed below the horizon or the square.
At the bottom, I flailed around until I found a chair, and I quickly sat down in it, the darkness seeming to force a heavy weight upon my body. Soon Robert, coming down after me, turned on a light switch. A small room was illuminated, roughly ten by ten with cinderblock walls. In the center was a plastic coffee table, with four folding chairs scattered around it’s edges. I was already seated in one of them.
When we were all settled in separate chairs, Robert finally decided it was time to explain what was going on and I suddenly realized how much of a predicament I was in. There was no escape from this room. There was probably no cell phone reception. I didn’t even know if Robert was on my side, and I assumed for the worse that he wasn’t. This was not a situation an agent was supposed to let herself get into. How could the presence of Robert have cut down my guard?
“Hello, again. It’s nice to see you, Maribel,” Robert said. Sad eyes shined back at me with a glint of excitement. “Sorry for the inconvenience, but you were about to leave.”
And Finally, a genuine smile cracked, as if being in that stuffy room opened up the past for him. I made no reply, remaining wary, but was relieved to see he was still some of his old self.
Noticing I was keeping my mouth shut, he continued.
“Lets go back ten years, real fast, if you don’t mind.” He didn’t wait for my permission. “Of course,” he said, flipping his head in the direction of Lockly, sitting in the corner. “We know your an agent. Not an occupation I expected you to take, but whatever.”
Expected? He had this all planned! His death, my daughters death! That little--
“Ten years ago, actually ten years ago and three weeks, I ran into a little trouble. The gangs don’t like people who mess with their banks. Fortunately for me, people in gangs are relatively stupid, and it took them forever to find out where I lived. Thank god,” and he smiled at me again.
Gangs? Robert has messed with a gang?
“So my options were to fake my death, or be dead. Easy choice, really. And, to make a long story short, I set up the sniper attack. With everyone angry at those planes anyway, it was pretty simple.”
“You what?” I couldn't believe it. Now that the truth had come out, I went crazy. “You killed yourself to get away from a bunch of god damn gangs! How could you do that do me, Robert, how could you do that! What kind of man were you, are you, that can just get up and change his life in a matter of seconds! And what about Danya? Was that all set up, too?”
Suddenly his face changed. Suddenly the room went black with regret, shed like an exploding orb from his head. Suddenly, I knew I had said something that killed his heart. It felt so good, to put the blame onto Robert for all the pain I had been through, and not feel guilty. It was his fault! His fault my life was so different from how I had planned.
But Robert wasn’t only filled with regret. He rubbed his eyes, tears seeping out, and I felt awkward watching him from across the table.
“I’m...I’m sorry,” I stammered, not sure what to say. He pulled himself together and managed to utter what I feared.
“She isn’t here. I...I...it was an accident! She wasn’t s’posed to die!” and he rose up in anger, hate for himself so visible I had to fight the urge to calm him. But it wasn’t my place anymore to do that. Ten years was too long for only a ten minute reunion.
“I just wanted to keep you guys safe. I thought if I was dead they would leave you guys alone. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Danya, god damn Danya, why were you in the house when the plane crashed!” Again, anger began to poor out into the room, almost tangible.
Out of no where his fist came down and slammed on the table.
“But it didn’t work, no, no, no! They still had to get their revenge. Not by killing you. Not by diving another knife into my heart, fast enough and painless. No, they had to use you, they had to get you from t he inside, and you still haven’t figured it out. They dug their knife into my thigh, and there it still is twisted and turned! They gloat, every day, they gloat about how you betrayed me, how you were cowardly enough to give into them. No, you aren’t cowardly, you were just ignorant!” He collapsed in his chair, as if his task in life was finally complete, and gave a long sigh, his mighty speech finished.
“I really don’t understand this, Robert. What are you talking about?” This time Lockly replied.
“Your FBI agents, or whoever you work for, they aren’t who they say they are. Have you talked to an agent Chromsky lately?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Damn him!” Robert shouted, then apologized and returned to silence.
Lockly glared at him before he continued. “As Robert explained, the gang, which we’ll call the Godds, has tricked you into working for them. They use you to find information out about other gang or mafia activities. You’re their inside man, er, woman, who doesn’t even know who you’re working for. Think how safe that is! It can’t be traced back to them. It’s ingenious, unfortunately.”
I considered this. A giant blow to my conscience. What had I been doing! Had I gotten men killed? Had I signed off someone's life for him to be shot by a bunch of mass murderers! I couldn’t believe it. How could I?
But there it was. The memory of two plainly dressed men at my door. Asking if I would like to join law enforcement. Saying they were terribly sorry for my husband’s and daughter’s death, but that now that there was no family to tie me down, would I like to fight crime so things like this don’t happen to other people? How could those to men possibly be part of a mafia? They had even shown me their FBI badges. And yet, it all made sense.
“Say, well, just for now, that I don’t believe you guys. What would happen?”
“You climb back up that ladder, take the bus to wherever you were going, and get shot,” Robert said, matter-of-factly. My god, this is not good I thought.
“Who wants to kill me?” I asked calmly, though I already knew the answer.
“Your boss, of course. They’ve heard that we’ve found you, and your cover is blown. And killing someone is what they do to someone they don’t need anymore. Terrible, huh?”
“So what do I do? What are you guys doing?” So many questions, so little time!
Lockly answered, again explaining things at my level. “We want you alive, for one, and it would be nice to have the Godds out for good. But since the latter is almost impossible, we’ll settle for simply the first. The problem is, the Godds are everywhere, know what you look like, and want you dead. They don’t want you on our team, because they know of your abilities in finding the unfindable.” I liked this new word.
“What about the experiment you were talking about, Robert?” I pestered on. Robert’s eyebrows raised to their full height, and he let out a long oohhhhhh, sitting up after having slowly slouched down in the chair. Apparently he had forgotten.
“That,” and he gave a wicked smile, “is how you are going to survive. This little experiment of ours is how we are going to be able to get out of this town, and avenge Danya’s death, in one mighty blow. It’s for all the children who are forced to live with evil. Forced to live in situations that end in death!”
Jake’s face, a blank stare eerily staring back at me, materialized in my mind. Lucy’s flashed behind him. Then there were hundreds of children, Amy’s, Christopher’s, Paul’s, all staring back at me, as they had done at the bus stop. Children with drug addicts for parents. Children who had no home. Children who’s fathers were probably part of organized crime. And they were waiting, waiting for something.
Before Robert could explain the details of the “experiment”, a beeping emanated from Lockly’s jacket.
“Already?” he yelled. “Let’s get out of here!” Lockly jumped out of his chair and began folding up his chair.
“Damn! Maribel, you’ll just have to see for yourself. Get up that ladder!”
And there was panic in their voices.