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…”

Echo, Part 20

Leaving a doctor’s appointment, where the mom-to-be was given a clean-bill of health and they’d gotten to hear the baby’s heart beat again, which was always exciting for Henry who could never feel as connected to the child as Ana, he noticed a dark sedan following their car home.  He didn’t even know why he noticed the car.  He had stopped looking for the feds a year ago.  But, for some reason, he saw the car making the same turns and kept watching, his heart rate increasing with each followed movement as the car followed them onto their street.   As he turned into the driveway, Ana, who had been daydreaming while looking out her window, noticed that he was agitated.

“What’s wrong?”

Hendry didn’t immediately answer.  The car didn’t stop behind them but continued on down the street and then turned at the end to head deeper into their little slice of suburbia.

“Nothing,” Henry said and breathed a sigh of relief.

Ana looked startled.  “What did you think was wrong?”

“I was just being paranoid.  I thought a car was following us home from the doctor’s office but it didn’t stop behind us.”

Ana craned her head to look back onto the street and see if she could glimpse the vehicle but it had already turned out of sight.  “What did it look like?  Did you get a look at its license plate?  Did the rear plate have tags?”

Henry held up his hands defensively, “Hey!  Everything is okay.  It was nothing.”

“You don’t know that!”

It was true.  He didn’t.  He didn’t want her getting upset over this.  It was getting closer to baby time and she needed to keep her own blood pressure under control.  He reached out for her and pulled her hand into his own.  “I did get the license plate.  I’ll write it down and put it on the fridge so we can be on the lookout for it.  And I’ll put the make, model and color of the car too.  I was being paranoid and I’m sure it was just a relative or a friend or something like that going to visit someone and it was a total coincidence that they happened to be behind us as we drove home.  But, I’m still me, so of course I noticed all those details.”

She seemed relieved.  “Good.”

He smiled at her and a moment later she smiled back, while one hand absentmindedly rubbed her belly.  She had been doing that more and more.  It was endearing and he couldn’t help but lean over and kiss her cheek.

She pushed him away playfully and got out of the car.  Henry exited as well and hurried his steps to get the front door.  When he turned around after unlocking the deadbolt he saw that she hadn’t followed him all the way to the door.  Her gaze lingered at the end of the street where the car had disappeared.  Worried that vehicle had turned around he practically ran to stand next to her.  There was nothing there, though.

“Come on, I’ll make you dinner.”

“You better.  And massage my feet, too.  And put on my favorite music and movie and read me a book and…”

Henry laughed and let her ramble on for a bit.  That she could so quickly get back into her normal joking banter meant that she wasn’t as worried about the car as she had seemed.  That was good.  He had just been paranoid and there was no reason she needed to worry needlessly.

Ana drifted into the home and Henry reengaged the deadbolt behind them.  Not for the first time he wondered if they should look into moving.  The place was plenty big enough for their growing family but moving would mean that they could completely walk away from the system.  They could abandon the car and look into renting a place of their own somewhere else.  It would be tricky because even renters had to have their background checks run for most places and that would create a public record that the system could find and use to track them down.  But, there were ways around that.  And renting would create far less of a paper trail than owning.

“Where’s my dinner?” Ana called from the living room.

Laughing, Henry went to the kitchen and promptly forgot all about the car and his concerns about the feds and the system tracking them down while he meticulously crafted a gourmet meal for his beloved.  They dined and laughed the night away, talking only of the future and the possibilities to come.  Then later, as the day waned towards morning and Ana slumbered peacefully next to him, Henry woke with a start and stared into the darkness.  Headlights splashed against the ceiling and the muffled rumble of a car filled the silence before both sound and light faded away.

He carefully got out of bed so as to not disturb Ana and then Henry went to the window and peeked through the blinds.  The car that had followed them was parked across the street.  Two shadowy figures sat in the front seats.  The glow of equipment pulsed against their nearly invisible faces.

They’d been given two years of relative peace but now it seemed that Henry and Ana would have to start running again or figure out how to fight back.  Who would they be fighting though?  Had the feds found them?  Why weren’t they knocking on the door with warrants and handcuffs?  Was the system just trying to keep tabs on them since they were no longer connected?  Was this something else entirely?  Was he just being paranoid?

The glowing light clicked off and the two figures in the car disappeared into darkness.  Henry backed away from the window, unsure what he should do next.

shameless self promotion 3

As mentioned last week, The Erratic Sun has a sequel… and this is it.  And it is every bit worth the read as well.  TES was Revis and I figuring out how to tell a story together and The Information Broker is Revis and I at our finest.  It’s a big book.  It’s a big story.  Haven’t read it yet?  Go!  Go now!

Captain Terry Dadam and the crew of the Erratic Sun returned to their home planet of Spiron after surviving the largest manhunt the galaxy had ever seen. Scarred from the harrowing ordeal, they hoped to reclaim some semblance of their previous lives. They soon realized that the eyes of the powerful were still watching them and going back to the way things had been was impossible.When Joules, the foremost information broker in the galaxy, reaches out to them for help, they are presented with a dangerous opportunity. If they agree to help Joules, he will get them back their lives. In the process they run the risk of facing the very people they have tried to avoid. Dadam and his crew must race from planet to planet to stay ahead of everything coming their way and, along the way, they discover that the cost of doing business with Joules may be more than they are able to pay.

You can buy it here.

And then leave a review.  Because, you know, indy writers don’t have the huge financial backing of major publishing companies to buy reviews for their authors.  We have to beg and bribe and blackmail… and, wait, what were we talking about?

Echo, Part 19

– Two Years Later –

She lounged on the patio, one leg stretched over to rest on top of the table and the other leg tucked underneath.  She held a book in her hands, with it gently resting on the small bump forming at her belly button.  He was fascinated by how quickly that bump would change in the coming months.  It had already been half the time and she was only just beginning to show.  The life within her would grow so much more before she came to term.  Or, perhaps it wasn’t any faster in these final months, it just seemed that way because the child had started so incomprehensibly small?  A smile tugged at his lips while he studied her and she, perhaps sensing his gaze, peered over the top of the book.  Her eyes met his and they burned with intensity.  Mischief.  Love.  Hope.  There were many facets to Veronica and Charles loved them all.

She wasn’t really Veronica anymore though, just as he wasn’t Charles.  The people they had been before were long gone in more than just name.  Veronica was now Ana.  Charles was now Henry.  They were friends with their neighbors.  They both had jobs.  They were a part of this new community they had been moved to.  Their lives had become even more tangled.  Their new identifications had stood up to the scrutiny of getting married, a civil ceremony six months before, and with each passing day Charles and Veronica were further and further lost and Henry and Ana were more and more solid.

When he’d asked her if she would marry him, Ana had said, “As Veronica I would have said no.  She distrusted such things.  She was known.  As Ana, however, in this new beginning we have together, I will say yes.  My distrust in the world has not changed but I do trust you and that’s reason enough.”

Henry had been surprised and happy that she’d agreed and had booked them an appointment at the court house two weeks later.  They hadn’t discussed doing it any other way.  While they had their new friends, having only that small group at a wedding just would have led to questions of where their families were and where the rest of their friends were.  Those were easy questions to deflect away from in normal conversations but at a wedding they would need answers.  Besides, while they were friendly with their neighbors and coworkers they weren’t so close that they’d want to share their special moment with them.  There was something poetic about two former loners not sharing their wedding as well.  It suited them.

The pregnancy had been decided on, though.  No accident there.  Once they were married their conversations had turned towards children quickly.  At first they had agreed that it would be a mistake to bring a child into their messed up lives.  It wouldn’t have a name that wasn’t real.  It’s parents were living a lie.  It would be at a disadvantage to every other child.  That view softened though as their conversations continued.  Henry and Ana had seen some of the worst society could throw at them and had come through it and their child would benefit from their experience.  And it would be loved.  Perhaps that was the only thing that really mattered.  So, they had changed from their initial positions and decided to get pregnant.

Now halfway through term, they were slowly changing things around in their home to prepare it for one more life.  It would be a challenge but they knew they had years to figure it all out.  When they child was small it wouldn’t care that its parents were living under false names.  Since their marriage hadn’t raised any flags they had little concern that having a child would be a problem either.  Their neighbors and coworkers were all excited for them.  Everything seemed like it was falling into place and would be okay.

It had been so long since they had heard from the system that they had half-forgotten about it.  It would have been impossible to completely push it from their minds of course.  Their two years of bliss together could not overwrite the years they had lived before or the harrowing weeks of their journey to freedom.

Henry and Ana had initially made a habit of taking turns going to sit in the car for a few minutes at a time once a day.  That became once a week and then only as they thought of it and then not at all.  They still used the car to get around town, run errands, go to the movie theatre, and so on.  They no longer sat in it while at home to see if the system had any news for them.  Henry hadn’t asked Ana but he no longer cared to get his old life back.  He wouldn’t turn down the chance to drop the charade and become Charles again but he wouldn’t pick up stakes and move back to his old home and he was sure she felt much the same.  Thinking of the future, once the baby came Henry doubted he would even care about getting his old name back.  Once he held his son or daughter in his arms, Charles would cease to exist entirely.  There would only be Henry, Ana and the baby.