Fantasy Football Part 22

How many parts should a fantasy football story have? Trick question! As many as possible, of course. And here we are with another installment.

…..

“Why aren’t you at the game?”

Plex realized it was a ridiculous question to ask, given the circumstances, but he couldn’t top himself from blurting it out.

“Nobody ever pays attention to the comings and goings of gnomes,” Vinyard replied, somewhat coolly.  But then he smiled and added, “That does have its advantages from time to time.”

Apparently seeing that Plex wasn’t satisfied with his comment, Vinyard continued, “I’m not at the game because I was needed more here.”

Plex frowned.  Once again he had been caught worrying about that stupid game.  It was a game he hadn’t wanted to play in the first place and then had gotten so involved that he had let his emotions get the better of him.  That outburst could have landed him in the dragon’s belly but instead he had found his way to meeting with some sort of underground resistance.

“Look, maybe you can go around unnoticed,” Plex stated, trying to get back to the thread of the conversation he’d been having with Frukeld, “but my presence at any of the other teams’ training facilities will most certainly be noticed.  I’m not even sure I’ll be welcome back with my own team…”

“We will have to see about that, yes,” the aged dwarf interjected.  “Depending on the outcome of the game, Lavalandinarial may not care to punish you further for your transgression against her.”

Vinyard snorted, “Depending on the outcome of the game, she may just eat the rest of our team anyway.”

Plex hadn’t forgotten about the dragon’s promise to eat the team that lost by the greatest margin after the first round of games were over but with everything else going on it hadn’t been at the forefront of his thoughts.  The gnome’s comment made his stomach drop. He felt helpless and afraid for his team and for his sister’s team.

Frukeld said, “That’s it.  That right there. I can see the turmoil you are in.  The people you recruit will see that too. Use it. Use it to add fuel to the emotions they are fighting as well.  Grief. Anger. Righteousness. Bring them to our cause and together we can bring down the beast. Together we can defeat her and keep anyone else from becoming her next snack.”

Plex still had more questions than answers.  Could he trust Frukeld and Vinyard? Why were they fighting the dragon?  Could they really defeat her? Would the world be better off without her?  How was he going to convince anyone to join this crazy crusade when it likely would lead to their death?

That was it, though.  Those who would join up would have come to the same conclusion.  Living under Lavalandinarial’s rule death was always present. From the wars she waged on whims, to the death sports she started for her own personal entertainment.  Death was never far away. Fighting her at least gave the various kingdoms an option to start something else, to hope for something better, to try to create something better.

“Okay,” Plex said, “I’m in.  How are you going to get me in to meet with the teams?”

“We’re not,” Frukeld said, confusing Plex.

“How do you expect me to meet with them?”

Frukeld smiled. “Plex, the elven quarterback, won’t leave his team’s facilities. Vinyard, along with a few others we’ve already recruited, will testify to that fact, should it come to that.” The old dwarf motioned to Vinyard, who had moved to grab something from the magic using dwarf. “But,” he continued, “one of Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guard will be going from team facility to team facility to talk to players.”

Vinyard stepped before him, an Honor Guard uniform in his hands. Absentmindedly, Plex grabbed it from the gnome. As his fingers touched the fabric, terror shot through his system. He gasped, the air becoming harder and harder to breathe in. His head swirled around and he felt his rapid heartbeat pounding inside his skull.

Then, as quickly as it came, the feelings went away. 

Plex looked down at the uniform in his hands with contempt. It almost felt like it did when the dragon had messed with his mind before. He briefly wondered if the uniform had some type of magic attached to it, if what he had felt was the result of a curse put on the clothing to keep those not in Lavalandinarial’s employ from wearing the garment. Or, maybe what was being asked of him had caused him to have a panic attack. Either explanation could’ve been true.

“You want me to put that on?” Plex asked. Frukeld nodded, causing the elf to raise his voice when he added, “Are you insane?”

“You’ve already agreed to help us,” the old dwarf shrugged. “Why balk now when all we’re doing is giving you a disguise?”

“That’s not just a disguise,” Plex spat out. “That’s a symbol of the dragon’s power. It’s a representation of her rule, her law. Do you remember what happened to the last person who got caught wearing that uniform without being one of her people? The orc launderer who thought it would be funny to take one of the uniforms he was washing?”

Frukeld lowered his eyes to the ground briefly before looking back up. “Yes, I do. The dragon took the orc to each of the race’s lands where she burned the poor orc until it was almost dead, then healed it so she could do it over again at the next one.”

“And I’ll share that fate if I got caught in it.” Plex stopped. “Actually, mine would probably be worse because the damned dragon is already angry at me to begin with.”

“So, don’t get caught in it,” Vinyard chimed in.

“Thanks for the helpful tip,” Plex shot back.

“This is how the dragon keeps winning,” the gnome chuckled sadly. “That fear you’re feeling? The one that’s keeping you from simply putting on a uniform? That’s how Lavalandinarial keeps us all in check. She uses that fear like she would her foot, crushing us all underneath it. It has us pinned down, unable to move. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of living in fear. I’m tired of being afraid all the time.”

“I don’t see you rushing to put it on.”

“First of all, I’m a gnome. That uniform is far too large for me. Second, you’re not the only one taking a risk by doing this. Do you honestly believe that I’ll escape the dragon’s wrath if she catches me helping you? Hell, she could have me tortured and killed if they notice me gone from the sideline, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take if it means the possibility of living a life without being under the dragon’s heel.”

“I don’t like it,” Plex stated flatly.  “I wouldn’t trust anyone wearing this uniform.  Why would anyone else? That would be just like the dragon to try and trick people into betraying their hidden desires to dethrone her.”

“There’s that fear again,” Vinyard replied with a sad smile and small shake of his diminutive head.  

“I’m not afraid.  I’m logical. I try to avoid doing foolish things when some clear moments to think could come up with a better alternative.”

The gnome said nothing further but the sad smile remained.

Plex glared at Vinyard and then shifted his head to look at Frukeld.  “Sure. You’ve been at this game longer than I have. You’ve already had the moments to think this through clearly.  Obviously, right? That’s how you already have the uniform. You’ve thought through all the best ways to build your army and this is the conclusion you’ve come to.  This is a suicide mission.”

“Only if you fail,” Frukeld said.

Plex was furious again and practically screamed, “How can I not fail?  

“You are painting a target on my back by wearing this uniform.  Even if I make it in to see each of the teams, they will report back to the dragon that they met one of her honor guard and she will know there was an imposter.  She will know something is going on.  

“She will find me and destroy me!  She will destroy you all!”

“And if she does,” Frukeld said through clenched teeth, “then those who survive will raise up stronger and they will be the ones to destroy her.”

“Or the kingdoms will spend another thousand years under her rule.”

Vinyard said quietly to Frukeld, “Perhaps he is not the leader we were looking for.”

The dwarf strummed his fingers together in front of his face, apparently in deep thought, while his eyes seemed to pierce through Plex.  Plex held the dwarf’s gaze. He wasn’t sure why he was so opposed to this course of action but he would not be bullied into changing his mind.  As he had said before, he was logical and would take the necessary time to think things through.

The weight of the uniform in his hand seemed to grow.  He wanted to toss it aside and yet he did not. He could not let it drop to the floor.  The idea of letting it get tarnished, an insult to the dragon herself to sully the uniforms of her honor guards, was something he found difficult to do.

Perhaps I am afraid, the elf mused.  

He let his own eyes slide away from the dwarf and gnome to rest on the uniform once more.  If he could set aside his own concerns, the uniform would offer him a great opportunity to strike at the dragon.  His Queen had requested he join the football team to help bring honor to the elves. If he could help orchestrate the downfall of Lavalandinarial that would bring even more honor, and a chance for the elven nation to rise out of the shadows and become prosperous again.  

Plex, without further comment, pulled the uniform on.  “I am the leader you’ve been looking for.”

Fantasy Football Part 20

And, after a slight delay of game, we’re back. Read on to see what happens next with our favorite elven quarterback and the rest of his team.

…..

The roar of the crowed was being slowly replaced by a confused hush as a rush of whispers sped around the stadium.  It seemed to Plex that the switch the Honor Guard had made at the behest of the dragon had not gone unnoticed and word was spreading that the dragon was interfering with the game.

Plex scanned the crowd and found the pocket of dwarves he had noticed at the beginning of the game, the ones who hadn’t be cheering, who hadn’t looked like they were interested in the game at all.  He finally spotted them and they were huddled together in a spirited conversation with much gesturing and pointing amongst themselves. The elf wondered what they were up to but couldn’t imagine they would do anything now in the final seconds of the game.

Lavalandinarial shifted her weight on her stage.  The platform creaked and all eyes moved to rest with the beast.  She had once again adopted an expression of indifference but Plex was certain that was far from the truth.  The dragon very much cared.  

She let out a sigh and a puff of smoke billowed from her mouth.  The crowd quieted and shifted uneasily in their seats. A small smile, barely discernible, twisted the dragon’s lips.  At first Plex had assumed she would be upset that her interference hadn’t gone unnoticed but now he realized that she was still enjoying this spectacle.  

The whole thing, the teams, the game, the crowd, all of it was for her amusement and her amusement alone.  

Plex’s anger reached a new level.  

Needing to do something to calm down he turned his attention back to the field where the healer was still working with the dwarf who had been robbed of the ball and then punched twice by the Honor Guard.  The dwarf shouldn’t have been that injured but his face was white as if he were in a great deal of pain and on the verge of going into shock.

“It isn’t pain,” Plex muttered.

“No,” Coach Sprout said, suddenly at Plex’s side.  “It’s fear. He doesn’t need to worry, though. She won’t need to eat him to keep him quiet.  She obviously doesn’t care who knows she is cheating.”

Some of Plex’s rage had been tempered by Sprout’s arrival at his elbow startling him.  He could still feel it burning slow and low in his gut. It wasn’t just the charade of it, the destruction of the game and the waste of time and lives it had already cost.  The anger was churning hotter and hotter because there was nothing he could do about any of it.

Looking briefly down to his coach and then back to the field, where the healer was finally getting the dwarf to his feet and the Honor Guard was signaling for the teams to take their places to resume play, Plex asked, “What do we do now?”

Sprout didn’t answer and, surprised, Plex looked back to his Coach.  The gnome had always had an answer before. Plex couldn’t believe that Sprout wouldn’t have some sort of plan. “Well, Coach?” he prompted the still silent gnome.

With a sigh, Coach Sprout looked up at Plex with defeat on his face. “Now, we try our best, despite knowing that it might all be for nothing if the dragon decides she wants the other team to win.”

Anger began building up in Plex once again. He watched as his defense did their best to stop the offense of the other team. While he couldn’t be sure, he thought he saw a couple of instances where magic had moved a ball out of a defender’s reach or into an offensive player’s hands. Each time he saw it, he became more and more angry.

The whistle blew as the other team called their final time out. Plex looked up and saw that there was only time for one more play. Gilania’s team sent out their kicker to attempt a mid-range field goal. If it was good, the game would go into overtime and only the dragon knew what would happen if the game made it to overtime. Without realizing it, Plex found himself running out onto the field to try to block the kick. He heard Coach Sprout yelling at him to get back to the sideline, but he ignored it. Finally, the gnome called for another player to run off.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his teammate exit the field just as the other team got set up for the try. Plex kept going over everything that had happened in the game up until this point and felt his face turn red in anger. He focused all of his energy on that rage. It built up inside of him until he felt like he was going to burst. 

A primal scream erupted from his throat as the ball was snapped back to the holder. Plex took two steps forward and jumped over both his teammates and those trying to block them. He couldn’t remember ever jumping that high before, but didn’t take the time to dwell on it. All he could focus on was using his rage to block the kick. Just as the kicker’s foot touched the ball, Plex felt something trying to touch his mind. It was the same sensation he had felt earlier in the game, right before the dragon had used its magic to mess with his head. “Not this time,” he roared as he flooded his thoughts with his anger.

Somehow, some way, it worked. His rage had allowed him to fight through the mental intrusion. Whatever magic the dragon was using still hurt him, but it wasn’t debilitating like it had been last time. Plex leapt again. The ball hit his swinging arms and went flying back the way it had come from. It landed on the ground ten yards behind the kicker and rolled towards the sideline. Before anyone from either team could get to it, the ball rolled out of bounds.

Stunned silence filled the stadium. All eyes slowly made their way up to the dragon’s platform, where a low growl was beginning to form.

The honor guard blew their whistles and then huddled together in deep discussion.  Plex trotted to the sideline with the rest of his teammates, away their decision. Almost absentmindedly, one of the honor guard threw a flag without care of where it landed.  

Plex’s head throbbed in time to the blood flowing through his veins.  Pulse, pulse, pulsing with his still boiling anger. The momentary outlet of athleticism had done little to assuage his rage.  The dawning realization that his attempt to stand up to the dragon’s interference would not be allowed to stand made him even angrier.

His teeth ground together.  His fists clenched. The muscles in his lengths twisted tightened until he lost feeling in his feet.  His vision shrunk to where he could only see the huddled honor guard circled by a blurry red.  

The head of the honor guard walked over to Coach Sprout and told the gnome something.  The coach nodded his head once and then started calling out instructions. There was a ringing in his ears that kept Plex from hearing what was being said so he trotted over to stand next to the Sprout.  Before he’d made it to the gnome, Plex noticed that his sister’s team was setting up to retake the kick, and a few yards closer at that.

Before Plex could ask what happened, his coach said, “We were called for a penalty.  Too many players on the field or something like that. Also, it has been suggested that I bench you for the remainder of the game for insubordination.  Given the alternative to benching, I feel like we have little choice. I’m not going to leave you out here, though. You are too exposed. Head back to our camp.”

Plex opened his mouth to protest but all his anger left him and he felt suddenly deflated.  The game was out of his hands. The game always had been. His own indifference, how he had felt before his queen asked him to join the elven team, returned and, with a shrug of his shoulders, he turned his back on the field and walked away.

He heard murmurs running around the stands and wondered how much of it was directed at him.  He wanted to look back to see if Lavalandinarial was watching him but didn’t want to give the beast the satisfaction of seeing his face in defeat, in retreat.  So, Plex kept his head down and left the stadium.

He hadn’t gone very far when the stadium erupted in a new wave of cheers.  He assumed that his sister’s team had converted the field goal to tie-up the game.  A part of him hoped they would go on to win. His refusal to be ruled by the dragon had likely sealed his death anyway.  It would be better if his sister won and then could live on.

Lost in these dark thoughs, Plex nearly missed his whispered name.  Whipping his head to the side he saw a dwarf motioning to him from a dark alleyway behind the business that had sprung up around the stadium.  The elf didn’t hesitate. He wanted to know what the dwarves were up to. And, if he was powerless on the field, perhaps he could find his power again off of it.  He quickly stepped into the shadows to join the dwarf.

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.

“What?”

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.”

“But…”

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.”