If there was one thing Karrigan Taylor hated it was mediocrity. She was happy with her life mostly. She was a thirty year old . . .OK a thirty one year old, stay at home mother with two wonderful children and a devoted husband. And yet, she still found herself staring intently at the clouds and wondering if she was meant for something more. The car behind her laid on their horn to let her know the light was green and she was apparently ruining their life by not paying attention. She pressed on the gas and moved tardily through the light.
Jon would scold her relentlessly if he had been there, her daydreaming was something that weighed on him constantly, which made sense she guessed, I mean, what husband wants a wife who always daydreamed of something more? Jon was a good fit for her, he was tall so he complimented her above average height. His hair was a shade lighter than her raven hair, and his smile was full and bright. He was a terrific father who loved spending time with his family, and his job at the investment firm was solid. The finances were good, sex was a smidgen above average, and they lived in a good neighborhood. Most of the women she knew were envious of her, and she was pretty sure they had even attempted to coerce Jon into illicit affairs. She was lucky, she knew she was lucky, and yet . . .
Her parking place at the grocery store was mid-to farther back. She would have hoped for a closer spot, but for some reason she chose to pass up numerous open spaces that were closer to park further away. She turned in her seat to address the two in the back.
“You two ready to go?”
“Yep,” came a gleeful response from the eight year old. Charlie was a bright eyed kid, his sandy blonde hair she was sure came from Jon’s side of the family. She couldn’t remember one person on her side with it. He was pudgy, not alarmingly, just slower than most to lose some of the baby fat. He was always energetic and had an odd obsession with boxes. He played in them all the time. Since he was a boy Christmas morning was his paradise. He pulled his toys out of the boxes and discarded them, only concerned with the cardboard packaging.
“Whatever.” And the thirteen year old. From the moment he opened his eyes, there was a rebellion shining back from Jack’s stare. He was the child who learned lessons his own way. Jon and Karrigan had decided long ago that if they ever wanted him to do something, the best bet was to tell him not to. Their relationship had been strained lately, partly due to his rebellion, partly due to her steadfast dedication to the rules. But mostly due to the mother/teenager right of passage.
“Watch your brother,” she said as they stepped out of the SUV and she huddled them together for the trek across the lot.
Once inside it was a game of wits. She had learned quickly as a mother that saying yes to everything was dangerous, but saying no to everything was disastrous. She obviously didn’t want them to eat the boxes of cereal with nothing but sugar, and they obviously didn’t want bran flakes. So she made an internal compromise to suggest and hint to the sugary but not over the top Apple jacks and avoided the battle. The beverage isle was different. They were Hell bent on Coke, her on tea or at the very least a sports drink or Cool-Aid, but there was no arguing when Jon drank the hard soft drinks as if he was storing it up for a desert encounter.
The grocery list was satisfied with minimal struggle as they made their way to the checkout counter. This was usually the final showdown, the realization of the children that this was their last opportunity to procure a snack off of the candy rack, and the parent’s last ditch effort to exit the store with no bloodshed. As they got there though, there was another battle raging.
The man in the ski mask was holding onto the clerk’s collar and pushing him back towards the cash register. Karrigan stopped cold in the isle when she saw the gun gripped tightly in his hand. She began to slowly back up when the man turned and took notice of them. She pleaded desperately for him to take the money and leave, but as the man pondered the situation Charlie made a step forward, causing Karrigan to instinctively jump to his aid. The movement was subtle, but enough for the masked man to spook and make a move toward them all. As he stepped forward, his gun raised to her face level, and as she prepared for the sound to deafen her, her world plunged into darkness.
Sean Ramey entered the secure facility with a determination that can only be caused by an unavoidable panic. It wasn’t a fearful panic, he had learned long ago that fear was something that was unable to be allowed in his line of work. Fear caused hesitation and hesitation was a good way to die badly.
There was a rush of air as the doors opened and let him into the lobby. It was a small and plain room which held nothing but a receptionist’s desk and a man who was anything but. He appraised Ramey top to bottom, not with any interest other than what his job allowed, which was to locate any threat and dispassionately eliminate it.
Ramey, who fortunately knew the guard well enough to give a simple nod, passed by the desk to the elevator. After pushing the button, he stepped into the small compartment and rode it down five floors. There was nothing on the other floors, because they didn’t exist, only soil compacted against the elevator shaft and more motion and seismic sensors than the Pentagon occupied the space.
When the doors opened again he was let out into a different world. The people around him were all dressed as if they were unaware they worked in intelligence. One person to his left was wearing a full jogging suit, her name badge and gun both clipped to her elastic waistband. Sean thought briefly about how they were being held up, but then moved on to the next analyst. He wore a black t-shirt that scrawled Dropkick Murphy’s across the chest, ripped jeans, and a backwards ball cap that revealed his loyalty to a baseball team out of Boston.
“It’s her,” Kris Dickerson breathed as he adjusted his hat on his head. It covered a mop of long brown hair that Ramey despised, but his grown out hair and three week old beard wasn’t enough for Sean to condemn the exemplary magic he could work on anything electronic.
“Adriana,” Kris responded as he rubbed his chin.
“Is that supposed to be a joke?” Sean Ramey’s panic at the call he received at home was caused by the knowledge that there was a misfire in their program. When he heard the name of the agent who misfired it was no longer a panic that honed his senses and focused his mind. It was an unbelievable, borderline uncontrollable panic that teetered on rage.
“It’s not a joke, Sean,” he said as he tapped a few keys.
The image on the screen was a grainy black and white security footage of what looked to be a grocery store. A man came out of the bottom right of the screen and approached the register that was centered in the camera’s viewpoint. He pulled a gun and began threatening the clerk, waving it around like a madman. It was pretty standard for most robbery footage, until the customer came in from the left. She stopped her cart and began to retreat.
It happened so fast that Sean had the analyst replay it three times. The moment the customer began to step backward the man in the mask attacked her. Typically, the video would end with either a woman who was beaten, or a mother with a hole in her head. But this one was different. With almost lightning speed, she pushed the gun into the air with both hands, the man releasing two rounds harmlessly into the ceiling. Once the gun was pointed upward, she brought her hands back down and slammed something sharp into the mans neck. With the amount of blood that was coming out of his neck, she had obviously struck his artery. The man was dead in less than a minute.
There was a moment of stunned silence, both on the video, and in the analyst’s cubicle as the customer stared at what looked like a nail file covered in blood. She dropped it and frantically spun for her children. She grabbed a hand of both of the boys and they sprinted out of the view of the camera.
“That’s it,” Kris said.
“Play it again.” Kris obliged, then twice more before Sean stood from the chair. It was unmistakable, unbelievable. It was impossible. He had watched his partner Adriana take a bullet and spill over the edge of a bridge. He watched as she fell into the icy water three years ago. Her quick reactions, and jet black hair were just little bits of information that made it undeniable in his mind. He saw her picture on the grainy screen and his memory flashed her image across his brain and he knew. She was alive.
“What do we do?”
“Nothing,” Sean snapped. “We have to be sure of some facts before we send it up the chain.”
“We can’t sit on this Sean,” Kris dropped into a conspiratorial whisper. “We have a rogue sleeper on the run. She has misfired. You know how dangerous that is.”
“What is more dangerous, a misfiring agent who most likely has no idea what is happening to her right now, or going and telling the director that the agent we reported dead three years ago is alive and, well, killing at will?”
Kris said nothing.
“Keep it quiet for a day or two. I’ll figure something out.”
“Well our choices are few, but most likely, this story will have the same ending as before, only three years late.”
Jon Taylor pulled his thirty-thousand dollar BMW into the driveway and killed the engine. He loved the car but it was becoming apparent that he would need to trade it in for something a little less expensive. He could definitely afford it with the money he made, but with his oldest son Jack hitting the teenage years, he would need to start saving for a car for him, then college. That was, unless Jack was going to exceed all his expectations and get a football scholarship to a big school. That would be nice, but the odds weren’t good enough to bet on.
When he stepped out of the car, he immediately knew something was wrong. The garage door was still open, which wasn’t that big of a deal in itself, but the SUV was parked at an angle with the back open. He walked into the garage carefully and peered around the door jamb into the house. All at once, he saw his wife Karri barrel out with a duffel in her hands.
“What the Hell?”
“We have to go Jon, get in.”
“What are you doing?
“Please, just get in the car,” she pleaded. “I will explain when we are on the road but we cant stay here. It isn’t safe.”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?” Karrigan Taylor already had the bag in the back, and the children, which he was noticing for the first time, were secured in the back seat. He looked closer at Jack and noticed his shirt stained red. “OH MY GOD! What happened to you?”
He asked no more questions, just got in the passenger seat and slammed his door. He hardly noticed when his wife pressed the gas pedal and they flew out of the garage, nicking the front driver’s side fender of the BMW. Once they were driving away he spun in his seat to evaluate his children. He started feeling Jack’s torso in search of a wound that wasn’t there.
“It isn’t mine Dad,” he said meekly. Jon wasted no time going for Charlie’s torso and head. “It isn’t his either. We’re fine Dad. Just chill out for a second.” The sound of his son’s calm voice was beginning to slow his heart rate, but he needed answers and he needed them fast.
“What the Hell happened? Are you OK,” he asked his wife, who was staring intently at the road.
“OK? Dad you should have seen her,” Jack said.
“Seen her what?”
“Jack!” Karrigan was still trying to work out what had happened. She couldn’t remember any of it. She remembered the man in the mask, the gun in his hand. Then time disappears and she is holding her nail file gripped tightly in her right hand. The blood was everywhere. She doesn’t remember any of it, but she is sure she killed the man.
“What happened Karri,” Jon said calmly. He had never seen her this panicked. “Tell me what is going on. Let me help.” She told him everything, the man, the blackout, the blood. “OK, so it was self defense. Why in God’s name are we running? We need to go to the police.”
“No we can’t,” she said.
“Because, we are no longer safe.”
“What are you talking about,” Jon Taylor was a patient man, but the cryptic way she was speaking with him now was driving him crazy. “Will you just TELL me what is going on?”
“OK, but we have to get to somewhere safe. We need to find a motel. Somewhere off the grid.”
“Off the grid? What the Hell are you talking about?”
“Jon, there is something about myself that I never told you. I have been lying to you since the day we met.”
“OK wait, start over.” Jon Taylor was pacing the floor in the seedy motel room while his two sons cleaned themselves and their clothes in the bathroom. His wife had just dropped a huge bomb on him and he needed her to repeat it to ensure this was actually reality.
“I was working as a waitress in a night club in Brooklyn, New York. It was a jazzy place, mostly business men and couples. Nothing shady. It was owned by a man named Anthony Sabato, who I later found out was a mafia don. The club was a front for his money laundering and by the time I figured out what was going on it was too late. I walked in one night, made my way back to the office to put in my notice and I walked in on him with a gun to the piano player’s head. He pulled the trigger just as I opened the door to his office.
“There was so much blood. I had never seen so much. I ran, found the closest cop I could and told him everything. He took me in, I gave a statement and they arrested him. Two days later my car blew up, then my neighbor was murdered because he came to my apartment door at the wrong time. I was in a lot of danger so they put me in witness protection. I have been running for fifteen years because they could never get enough to bring him to court. There was no body, no forensics. It was my word against his.”
“How could you keep this from me?”
“You don’t understand, he has people everywhere. If it got out where I was, or who I was now, we would all be in danger. I couldn’t risk that.”
“You made the decision for me. You should have trusted me.” He walked to the bathroom, knocked on the door and after a moment, opened it to check on the kids. Satisfied, he returned to the bed. He sat next to her.
“I’m sorry,” Karrigan pleaded. “I should have trusted you. I thought I was protecting you.”
“It doesn’t matter now. We don’t have time to give apologies or regret anything. We have to get our children to safety.” She could feel his anger radiating off of him. She had never seen him so upset and she couldn’t really blame him.
“What do you suggest.”
“I have no idea,” he said wiping both of his hands across his face. “I have never run from the mafia or the cops before.” He turned and faced his wife, who all of a sudden looked like a stranger. “You said you have been running for fifteen years . . .you should be an expert by now. What do you suggest?”