The story so far:
Pete just chuckled, the same laugh I had heard him laugh a hundred times.
Shaking his head, “Now Ms. B, they ain’t really your kids, now are they?”He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at us, as he reached into his pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He was still smiling as he put one in his lips and lit it. I raised my hand and stepped forward to wipe off his grin with the butt of the gun, but the sound of Robert’s voice stopped me. “Maribel, wait.”
I paused and immediately felt the hard round end of a barrel in my back. I glanced over my shoulder at the two armed men that now stood behind us. I recognized them immediately - Mr. Tyler, the new guidance counselor and Coach Bennett, the gym teacher. My mind fought to make sense of it all. Robert, my Robert, the one I had lost over a decade ago was here. I was here, working here in this small town, teaching classrooms full of children; children that were just like my Danya. And the school seemed to be a literal viper pit of agents. It was all a bit too much to be coincidental.
“I’ll be takin’ that,” said Pete as he put his hand out, palm up, waiting for me to hand over my weapon.
I hesitated, and Pete just smiled at me again. “Come now Maribel,” he said using my real name, shaking his head, “Don’t be stupid, my friends here will put a bullet in you and your husband here quicker than you spell ‘shoot’.” I imagined pulling the trigger and putting a bullet in his smug face, but then sighed and handed over the gun.
The rifle in my back pushed me forward and I took a few steps and then turned back to Pete. “So all this time, the FBI was just using me then? All this time, all these towns, just a ploy to help draw him out?”
Pete took another drag off his cigarette. “Ms. B for being a teacher you sure aren’t very smart.” He dropped the cigarette and crushed it under his work boot. He leaned in close and I could smell the tobacco on his breath and the lemon scented industrial cleaner on his jumpsuit, “I don’t work for the FBI, and neither do you.”
His laugh started quietly and then got louder as he mocked me. It was all I could do not to put a fist to his face. He turned to Robert, “The Society isn’t the only one with deep pockets and long arms. It took some time, but we are a patient type, and looking back at it all it almost seems too easy.”
He turned back to me, “We’ve been narrowing down our search, and you’ve been helping us do it.” He took another cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lit up. He took a long drag and blew the smoke in my face. I didn’t cough even though my eyes watered, I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. “Even small towns have school and hospital records. I give him credit,” he said thumbing in Robert’s direction, “the trail was hard to find at first, but once we got a hold of it, well,” he chuckled, “It was just a matter of time.”
Robert and I just looked at each other. They’d played us against each other, from practically the very beginning. The Society had taken Robert so they had turned to me, the only person who could lure him out. This ‘they’ that wasn’t the FBI, even though everyone, including me seemed to think they were.
“Shall we take them out back and shoot them, Pete?” asked Mr. Tyler as he shoved his gun into the center of my spine.
“Her you can shoot, we may still need him. Just find a place to put him out of my hair for a while. I’ve got some phone calls to make.”
I made eye contact with Robert one last time and then walked forward. I was struggling to keep from crying. They had trained me, whoever ‘they’ were, to be stronger than this; to keep thinking, to keep my mind moving, to find a way out. But the fact that I had been a pawn in a game that had cost me my family had taken the fight out of me. It was like waking from a bad dream to find that fighting the boogeyman was just a walk in the park compared to the real nightmare of your life.
I walked slowly, dragging my feet, biting my lip to keep back the tears. I couldn’t give up, Robert was alive and he needed me. He needed me. My fists balled up as I shook the cloud of self pity, fighting to return to the cold and calculating mind of a trained agent. I knew where we were, “Think Maribel, think.”
I could see the faint yellow grey light of dawn through the double glass doors at the end of the hallway. He was taking me out to the blacktop. My mind raced, there was nothing there, just a couple of basketball hoops, 60 feet of blacktop and an old shed that held all the playground equipment when it wasn’t in use. We reached the door and I stopped in front of it, not moving.
The barrel of the gun moved up to my cheek, “Open the door, teach,” said Mr. Tyler. I looked at his face and wondered how I hadn’t seen the propensity for this kind of violence in him before. The man and I had sat and chatted over coffee more times than I could count, and I never once suspected. But then I had been in their midst from the start of my “career”. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I hadn’t learned to smell their particular kind of stink.
I pushed open the door and felt the cool morning air on my face. My eyes scanned the open empty blacktop for some weapon, something to aid to my escape, but found nothing. Not even a stray jump rope or basketball.
I considered begging, pleading for my life but I knew it would be useless. I had seen the cold eyes of killers before, and Mr. Tyler’s gaze had been as cold as iced tea in winter. We stopped a couple of yards shy of the shed and he hit me in the shoulder with the tip of his rifle. “Turn around.” He looked me up and down and licked his lips. I’d seen that look before too, and my stomach did a flip. “You know, I’ve never shot a woman before,” he leaned in and licked my face. The smell of his breath and cheap cologne was enough to set me off and I head butted his face and felt the cruch of his nose breaking as my forehead bashed the center of his face.
“Bitch!” he screamed putting a hand to his nose. He leaned against the shed keeping his gun on me, but wiping his face with his gloved hand. Standing up straight he raised his weapon. Well, at least I died fighting I thought.
I closed my eyes. I pictured Danya and Robert and our home as it had been. I remembered their smiles and the love I had felt in that house. I took what was sure to be my last breath. I heard a gun cock and exhaled hoping his aim was good and that death would come quickly.
The dull thump of a body hitting the pavement hit my ears and my eyes snapped open. I stood face to face with Jake’s dad, Marcus Thomason.
“Ms B, C’mon, we gotta get out of here.” I quickly bent down and took the dead guidance counselor’s rifle and followed Marcus.
“Wait,” I said as we started running away from the building towards the back parking lot. “We’ve got to get Robert”
“No worries, we’ve already got him.” I debated whether I should trust him, but the man had just saved my life so I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides I had a weapon in hand again and my mind was clear, I could defend myself if need be. We crossed the blacktop and the small snow covered field that separated the school from the teacher parking lot. There a single bus, engines runnin, waited.
“C’mon their waiting for us, we gotta go before the rest of them get here.”
The bus started moving before we got to it, but we raced up the stairs as it started to pick up speed and the doors closed behind us. I bent and put my hands on my knees to catch my breath and took in the passengers that filled the bus. Parents and children from various classes over the last couple of years, and Robert, looking no worse for wear in a seat near the back. I stood and walked slowly towards him, making eye contact with each seat’s occupants. Smiling at parents and touching the heads of my former students. Jimmy sat in the seat across from Robert. “I’m glad you’re not dead Ms. B.,” he said in his bravest 8 year old voice. I sank down to my knees and looked at his sweet face. He was smiling, but the tears were streaming down his face. I hugged him tightly and reached out and squeezed his mother’s hand. “Irene, I don’t even know what to say,”
“There’s nothing to say dear, we’re just protecting our own. And that includes you. We are counting our blessings that Jimmy here hates gym class. He was hiding in the hall closet when he overheard the janitor talking on his cell phone. We knew there was a mole here in town, but we were never able to figure out who it was. A bit of luck really that Jimmy here was in the right place at the right time.” I pulled back from my hug and looked Jimmy in the face. “You are my hero, young man. But I better not ever catch you skipping class again, you hear me.” I said, using my stern teacher voice and wagging a finger at him. He nodded and we laughed. I kissed his cheek and stood up.
I sat next to Robert and turned to face him. We didn’t say anything for a minute or two, we just looked at each other. Despite the slight gray at his temples and the dark circles under his eyes, he was still the same handsome man I had fallen in love with. He touched my face and pulled me in for a kiss that made my stomach drop.
I heard giggling from across the aisle and we both laughed and turned to look at Jake. His mom shushed him and smiled at us. I turned back to Robert, taking his hand in mine.
“Where do you think we are going” I asked.
“I don’t know” he responded, but my guess is somewhere out of the country. The bus turned down a familiar road and they found themselves driving up to a large charter plane sitting on the runway at the small municipal airport.
“We’ve always had a backup plan in case something like this happened. The Society will see us all safe to a new location.”
The bus stopped and the loud hiss of the airbrakes announced to us all that is was time to get off the bus and onto the plane. Within 5 minutes we were all seated and buckled in and our plane was speeding down the runway.
The lack of sleep was starting to make my mind fuzzy and I allowed myself to settle back into my chair. I was wound tight but we were airborne and for the time being, safe. I looked around the cabin and had I not just lived through a night where my dead husband had come back to me and the school janitor had tried to kill me, I might have just assumed I was on a flight to some new town, some new assignment. I had to smile to myself, I guess in a way I was.
My body began to relax and I drifted off to sleep, not even trying to guess where I would be when I woke up.