Echo, Part 25

Within five minutes of being home, the doorbell rang.  Henry and Ana went to answer it together and smiled at the two men, the same two from the restaurant days earlier, standing there.  Henry opened the door wide and ushered the men in with a friendly wave.  They seemed surprised by the reception but stepped inside and moved aside so Henry could shut the door.

“Hello, again.”

The men smiled tentatively at Ana and the one who’d taken his sunglasses off at the restaurant said, “Thank you for letting us in.”

“How can we help you?” Charles asked while leading the group into the living so they could sit down.

“Well, this is a bit awkward, but we are trying to find two people who have fallen off the grid.  They look very much like the two of you.”

Henry laughed, “Well, you know what they say.  We’ve all got a doppelganger out there somewhere.”

They all sat and this time the two men both took their glasses off.

“if we can cut all the pretense,” the man who spoke at the restaurant started, “we know who you are and we don’t care.  If you are happy with your lives now than we are happy for you.”

Ana asked, “You aren’t feds?”

The men laughed and they both said, “No.”

“You’re with the system,” Henry stated.

They nodded yes and the man who’d spoken before said, “We represent their interests on occasion and they’ve asked us to check in with you.”

Henry immediately wanted to ask why but the man continued before he could get the question out.

“Things are beginning to happen on the legal side of things and there may be an opportunity for you to come forward and reclaim your real names.”

“Ana and Henry are our real names,” Ana said firmly.

The man held up an apologetic hand.  “I’m not saying they aren’t.  We’re just here to see if you are happy with your new lives or if you want to come clean, for lack of a better word.”

Henry glanced to Ana.  Her jaw was set and her eyes burned.  He felt much the same.  To discredit their current names was to threaten their life together.  Neither of them would stand for that.

The men seemed to sense their agitation and the speaker quickly added, “We aren’t here to demand you come forward.  We’ve been given assurances that enough of those who were helped into hiding will come forward that the legal process can happen without everyone participating.  In other words, if you want your old life wiped away, forgotten, we can make that happen.”

Henry had no idea how they would accomplish that but he said, “We are Henry and Ana.”

His wife added, “Exactly.”

The men considered that for a moment, their eyes looking back and forth between Henry and Ana, and then they nodded almost in unison.

Standing up, the put their sunglasses back on and the speaker said, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Henry and Ana.  Congratulations on your growing family.  We wish you the best in your future together.”

Henry walked the men to the door and turned the dead bolt once they were gone.  He leaned his head against the cool, smooth wood and breathed deeply.  Could it be that easy?  Was that truly the end of it?

Returning to his wife, who had remained in the other room, he didn’t need to ask what she was thinking.  Fear and doubt were etched in her features.

He reached for her and she curled into his arms without a word.

They stayed that way for several minutes before she asked, “Do you believe them?”

“Not entirely.”

“Me neither.”

After another moment of quiet comfort in each other’s arms, Henry said, “At least we know they aren’t in our heads anymore.  If they could read our thoughts still they wouldn’t had to ask.”

Ana looked up at him with a half-smile.  “Silver lining,” she murmured.

“So we know they are out there and maybe they are planning something that will put us out of our hidden life here.  And, maybe they will leave us alone.  And, maybe they can erase who we used to be.  And maybe the feds are still hunting us and they will knock on our door next.  What can we do?  I’m Henry.  You are Ana.  That is our child,” he put one hand on her belly.  “And that is our truth regardless of what came before or what happens next.”

“Exactly,” she said in an echo of what she’d said to the men.  Then she pushed herself on her toes and kissed her husband.

Echo, Part 24

“I think those guys were with the system.”

Ana nodded in agreement and added, “If they were the feds, they would have taken us into custody.  And they probably wouldn’t have been so out in the open.  But why would the system want to spy on us?”

Henry scratched his chin where a small amount of stubble had begun to come in.  After leaving the restaurant, they had ended up walking the few blocks back to his office where he told his boss he needed to take the rest of the day.  From there they had taken a cab to the closest mall where they hoped they’d be able to slip away, figuring their home and his office and their normal routes in between were being watched.  They ended up at a nicer hotel on the far side of town and Henry probably could have gotten a razor to shave with but it hadn’t been a priority.  They’d been there a day and a half, trying to figure out what was going  on and what they should do next, along with seeing if they had been followed to their new location or if they had gotten away clean.

“I haven’t figured that part out,” Henry replied.  “Maybe the system just wanted to see how we were getting on and didn’t think they would get a straight answer if they reached out directly.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know,” Henry laughed.  “But none of this really makes much sense.”

Ana countered, “I think the system knows that something is coming and was trying to figure out how we would respond to being spied on, to know if we need to be worried about again.”

Henry had considered this possibility, too.  He hadn’t wanted to vocalize it but agreed with his wife that it was the most likely conclusion.  If the feds were close to tracking them down, the system would need to know how much of a liability they were.  If Henry and Ana were captured, would they hold to their new identities or would they admit to who they used to be and talk about everything the system had done for them.  The system hadn’t been in the news much lately and that was probably exactly how they liked it.

Carrying the conversation forward as if Ana could read his thoughts, Henry said, “It could be something good.  Perhaps the moment has come for the promised battle to reclaim our old lives.”

She smirked.  “Neither of us care anymore.”

“Maybe that’s what they were, are, trying to figure out.”

Ana, who had been pacing around the room, stretching her legs and back, came and sat next to Henry.  She leaned against him and he wrapped his arms around her.

“So what do we do?”

He shrugged.  “Go home.”

She looked up at him with her brows furrowed.  “Just like that?  Just that easy?”

“It probably won’t be easy.  If it is just the system spying us, whatever their reasons are, we will have to deal with whatever comes of that.  The least of which is the knowledge that they are out there watching us.”  He closed his eyes and shuddered before continuing.  “If it is the feds trying to figure out if we are who they are looking for, perhaps the best thing to do would be pretend we don’t see them and go on living our lives.  Let’s not give them any reason to think we are more than we appear, right?  Either of them.  I love this life with you and have no interest in going back to who I used to be.”

Ana relaxed into him, evidently pleased with what she’d heard.  “Okay, let’s do it.”

They stayed that way for a long time, enjoying the closeness, the touch.  Only when Ana needed to get up to stretch again, something she needed to do more and more frequently as the baby grew within her, did they finally break apart.  Even then, Henry lingered.  He was loathe to leave the room without her, though there had been no evidence that their flight to the hotel had been spotted.  The fear of leaving the room either to be captured himself or to come back to find that she had disappeared suddenly loomed large over his heart.  The odds were low and the fear illogical but he couldn’t help the way he felt.  His resolve to return home slipped ever so slightly.

There was nothing else to do, though.  So, trying to suppress the sigh he felt rising up, he said, “I’ll go check us out.”

Ana reached out to him.  “This is the right move.”

He nodded, “I know.”

“It’s all going to be okay.”  She squeezed his hand.

“I know.”

“Then smile.”  And with that, she smiled herself.

Henry was powerless to do anything but smile in return.

Echo, Part 23

“Should we make a run for it?”

Henry shook his head.  “No, I don’t want to risk it.”

Ana instinctively caressed the bump where their child was growing.

Henry reached out for her and she took his hands.  He hoped they still looked like they were having a casual, intimate conversation over lunch.  He hoped that they were just being paranoid and the men who had walked in with their dark suits, sunglasses, and ear pieces were not what they seemed to be.  He hoped that somehow he and his beloved would find a way out of this mess.

“Maybe that’s the answer,” he mumbled.


She squeezed his hands to get his attention, demanding an answer.

“Maybe,” he started to repeat himself but then stopped.  He looked over at the men who looked like federal agents and then looked back to Ana.  “Maybe we don’t have to do anything.  Maybe our new credentials are so good they can’t prove who we used to be.  Maybe we can just ride this out.”

She shook her head.  “If they take is and run our prints, those will tie us back to who we used to be.”

Henry frowned.  He hadn’t thought of that and, while they could argue that the database wasn’t necessarily accurate, it would be a tough sell.  They couldn’t run, though.  That was too risky.  And if they couldn’t run and they couldn’t just pretend like they were only their new identities, that really left only one option as far as Henry was concerned.

“We’ll have to fight back.”

“What?  How can we do that?”

Henry pushed away from the table.  Ana, managing to keep hold of one of his hands, kept him from leaving.  With her eyes she asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to talk to them.”


He cut her off.  “What’s the worst that can happen?  Whatever it is, it would happen whether we sit here and wait for it.  I’m tired of waiting.  I’m going to ask them what they want.”

Ana seemed about to argue but then nodded in agreement and let go of Henry’s hand.

He smiled, mouthed, “I love you,” and then walked over to the table where the two men sat, still holding their menus in front of their faces.

“You need help picking something?”

Henry wasn’t trying to flippant with the question and wasn’t quite sure where he was getting this burst of courage and aggression.  It was the first question he’d been able to think of on the short walk between tables.

The two men tried to ignore him which just made Henry more certain that they were there to watch and gather information.  A normal patron would have at least acknowledged the question or looked up to make eye contact and then tell him to go away.

Henry pulled out a chair and sat down at their table.  That forced them to pay attention.  They could no longer pretend that Henry wasn’t talking to them.  They folded their menus and placed them on the table.  The one on Henry’s left took his sunglasses off as well.  The other agent did not.

“Really, pretty much anything on the menu is good.”

“You shouldn’t be talking to us.”

The man was more direct than Henry expected.  He’d thought they would continue to play ignorant but since they’d been direct, he chose to as well.  “What do you want?”

“We’re just here to observe.”

“What does that…”

Henry was cut off before he could finish his question by the man’s partner.  “What are you doing?”

The man without sunglasses held up his hand to calm the other agent and then said, “Our cover is already blown.  We could have pretended not to know what he was talking about but based on how we look and his suspensions, there’s nothing we could have done or said to convince he we were anything other than what we are.”

Henry asked, “And what are you?”

“We aren’t authorized to say but you aren’t in any danger from us.”

Henry frowned.  This all seemed like a dream.  Plus it seemed like they wanted to be seen or they wouldn’t have come into the restaurant, dressed like they were, and sat so close to where he and Ana were sitting.  Henry suddenly had a very bad feeling about all of this and he quickly pushed away from the table.

He wasn’t sure if Ana had been able to hear the short conversation or if she was just reacting to his body language but he saw her getting up from the corner of his eye too.

“Leave us alone,” he demanded.

“We can’t do that.”

Henry didn’t want to turn his back to the two men but he had no choice.  He quickly collected his wife and together they left the restaurant.

Outside on the sidewalk, Ana asked, “What happened?”

“I don’t know.  I just suddenly felt like we were really in trouble.”

Henry directed them down an alley that ran behind the shopping center they’d been in.  He needed time to think and he hoped that getting off the busy street would help clear things up.

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know yet but we can’t go back to the car.  You didn’t leave anything important in it?”

“Of course not.  I know better than that.”  Her reply was half-indignant but Henry knew that was just from her fighting the same nerves he was.

He squeezed her hand lovingly.  “And that’s just one of the reasons I love you.”

Echo, Part 22

Henry held Ana in his arms and was glad that she drifted off to sleep rather quickly.  She needed her rest.  Growing a child was hard work.  He, however, found it rather difficult to fall asleep.  His thoughts kept drifting to the car across the street and, his eyes kept opening and turning towards the window.  In the worst moments of the long night, his imagination had federal agents bursting through the glass, the shards scattering across the room and ripping the sheets on the bed.  He knew that wasn’t likely.  As he and Ana had discussed, if whoever was out there had wanted Henry and Ana in custody it would have been a simple thing.  The subterfuge meant they were waiting for something.

Ana stirred next to him and Henry turned towards her. Her breathing was slow and regular, her chest rising and falling in a rhythmic pattern that was enchanting.  He blinked several times as his eyelids grew heavier and when he opened his eyes again sunlight was peeking through the blinds to splash in long rectangles on the far wall of the room.  Ana still slept and Henry carefully got up to not disturb her.  Stepping over to the window he peered through the blinds to see that the car had left at some point in the night.  Or, at least, it wasn’t parked in the same spot.

Without disturbing the blinds, Henry twisted his head to look up and down the street as far as he could.  The car was nowhere to be seen.  That didn’t mean it wasn’t out there still.  That didn’t mean it hadn’t been relieved by a different crew in a different car.  That didn’t mean that if they left the house during the day they would be followed wherever they went.  The car wasn’t where it had been.  That’s all he really knew for sure.

He went through the house, checking doors and windows to make sure they were still closed and locked.  It wasn’t too far off from his normal routine, if anyone happened to be watching or listening to his movements.  He checked the doors and windows every day.  Just because they’d had two years of quiet didn’t mean everything was as it seemed.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary and the remaining windows that looked out on the street showed no sign of the car or any other cars that looked out of place.  Not many people parked on the street on his block so he thought he’d recognize if any weren’t the normal ones.  He didn’t want to be overly confident about it but he was fairly certain he did recognize the few cars out there.

He made his way into the kitchen, placed a cast iron skillet on the range and lit a fire under it to let it warm up while he pulled food from the fridge for an omelet.  Ana wondered in shortly thereafter and got the coffee started.  They worked in silence, enjoying the quiet and the company without having to disturb either with words.  While coffee wasn’t something Ana drank much of anymore, she took great pleasure in making it each morning.  She loved the smell to start each day.

When they sat down to their plates of food, Ana asked, “How’s the weather today?”

Henry smirked.  “Sunny for the moment.  Haven’t heard the forecast for the day so I’m not sure what it’s going to look like later.”

“Got a busy day at work?”

“Yeah, couple meetings I’m presenting in and a few projects I need to put some time in.  I could meet for lunch, though, if you felt like getting out later.”

“That sounds good.”

Henry was impressed with their own cleverness.  The weather question had actually been about the situation out front, of course, and everything after that had been setting up a way to meet outside later so they could talk about anything that’d seen that morning.  They hadn’t planned the conversation, it had just happened.  Perhaps those first days when they’d been on the run had left more of a lasting impact on how they thought and reacted to things than they’d known.

Another comfortable silence settled in while they finished their breakfast and sipped on coffee.  Henry read the newspaper and Ana was halfway into a thriller she’d read several times before.  Once he’d finished the article he’d been reading, he got up, collected their dishes, kissed the top of her head, put the dishes in the sink and went to get ready for work.

Ana was still at the table buried in her book when he was ready to go.  “Text me later if you want to do lunch.”

Without looking up she said, “Good plan.”

He smirked again and went out the front door.  He tried to scan the street without breaking stride, without making it obvious that he was looking around more than he might on a normal day.  He wasn’t sure how well he did.  It felt awkward and he eventually stopped looking around to just focus on getting to his car.  As far as he knew, it was just a normal day.

The morning passed quickly.  The work helped him push aside his worries for a few hours.  Then the call came in from the front security desk that Ana was there and he locked his computer to take his wife out to lunch.  She didn’t normally meet him at the office when they dined together but it made sense that she would today.  They could walk down the block to the slew of restaurants there.  The walk would give them time to talk without having to worry about a car being bugged.  And since they hadn’t talked about where they would eat, it was unlikely a team could have been put in place to monitor them.  They would still have to be mindful, though, because if they weren’t being watched their conversation could easily be picked up.

Ana picked a small Italian restaurant they hadn’t eaten in before and they got a table away from the windows and doors, in a dark corner where they could see the rest of the dining area and watch as people came in.  They settled in and ordered two items off the lunch special, a plate of gnocchi and a large piece of vegetarian lasagna.  The pictures on the menu made both look very appetizing.

For a few moments they chatted about the day so far, what they had done, the random things they had heard and seen, all the normal gossip of a few hours spent apart.  Then, after their water glasses had been topped off, Ana leaned across the table and whispered, “Did you see anything else this morning?”

Henry shook his head.

Ana pressed on, “And any thoughts about what we should do next?”

Again Henry shook his head.  He frowned, opened his mouth, shut his mouth, and frowned again.  He had no idea what they should do.  He didn’t even have half-ideas.  The few thoughts bouncing around the back of his mind were barely more than whispers of their own.  He couldn’t hear them well enough to give them voice.

“I had a thought,” Ana said, leaning even closer to Henry as if she was going to peck him on the cheek.

“What was that?”

Before she could answer, two men wearing dark suits walked into the restaurant.  Despite the low-light, neither took off their sunglasses.  Henry and Ana watched from the corners of their eyes as the two took a table nearby.  A wire dangled behind the left ear of both men.  The men appeared to be looking at the menu but neither did more than hold the open binder in front of them.

Ana turned her attention back to Henry.  Fear flared in her eyes.

Echo, Part 21

Ana stirred behind him.  Her hand found his without getting out of the bed and she asked, “What is it?”

Henry didn’t immediately answer.  He was about to but then thought better of it.  If those men were out there to spy on Henry and Ana then it would be a mistake to be vocal about their presence.  It was better that they were out in the open.  If they knew that they had been seen perhaps they would leave only to be replaced something more hidden, something unseen.

Ana sat up and said, “What’s the matter?”

“Can’t sleep.  Going to go get a drink of water,” Henry mumbled.

He didn’t let go of her hand though and tugged on it gently, indicating that she should come with him.  With only the slightest hesitation she responded, “I’ll get a glass too.”

Together, hand in hand, they walked the dark hallway from their bedroom to the kitchen.

“While we’re up, I’ll just watch these dishes,” Henry said, turning the faucet on full blast.  He clanked the plates and forks in the sink together noisily and Ana stepped close to him.

“The car is back,” he whispered.  “Two men, I think, sitting in the front seat just across the street.  They were doing something.  Some sort of device was glowing in there with them.”

She whispered back, “Are you sure it’s the same car?”

He nodded that he was.

Ana frowned and bit her lip in thought.

Henry dumped some soap onto the sponge and actually began to wash the dishes.  His hands were already wet so he figured he might as well.  Plus that would give him something to do while Ana thought things over.  The sink emptied quickly, though, and then he forced to turn off the faucet.

Ana, poured two glasses of water and handed him one, “Thanks for doing the dishes.”

“One less thing to do in the morning.”

“Anything else got you up?”

She practically purred the question and leaned further into him, tucking one of his legs between her own.

“Now that you mention it…”

“I was thinking about jumping in the shower, care to join me?”

Henry didn’t bother answering, he downed the rest of the water and placed the empty glass on the counter, and then followed Ana into the bathroom.  She turned the water on and quickly disrobed.  Henry stripped off his own clothes and joined her in the tub.  They stood facing each other beneath the showerhead, their eyes locked.

“What should we do?”

Ana’s whispered question was fervent, impoloring.  Her eyes flicked back and forth between his own, searching for comfort, for an answer, for anything that could alleviate the fear he knew she was feeling.  This wasn’t just about Henry and Ana anymore.  They had to protect their new lives so they could protect their child.

“We could run,” Henry answered but he shook his head as he said it.  “No, we can’t.  We should pretend we don’t see them.  We should watch them while they are watching us and see if we can figure out who they are and what they want.  And then maybe we can make a better decision about what to do.”

“How are we going to do that?”

Henry stuck his head under the flow of water and let it soak him.  The sensation was relaxing, calming, and he desperately needed that.  His heart was racing.  His mind was reeling.  After he had collected himself a bit, he moved out of the stream and looked back to his wife.

“We could reach out to the system, see what they know, see if they can help monitor things for us?”

“Not my first choice.”

“We could go back to the people we got our credentials from and see what they have that might work for us?”

“We couldn’t trust that they wouldn’t go running to the system to tell them what we are up to.”

Henry shrugged.  He had considered that but, as far as he could tell, there was no clean way to do any of this.  No part of this was clean anyway.  They were being watched.  That wasn’t paranoia.  That was a fact.  And that was dirty.

“You don’t think they’ll do anything tonight do you?”

“No, if they wanted to do more than watch and listen they would have already made their move without risking being seen.  They’d have shown up lights blaring and handcuffs at the ready.”

“That’s what I was thinking to.  So, we don’t have to figure this out right now.  Let’s see what the morning brings.”

Henry nodded and then reached for the faucet handle.  Ana stopped him.
She smiled and winked.  “Ready to get out so soon?”

“Now that you mention it…”