Early morning flights are a son of a bitch. It’s not the fact that it’s early. It’s the ungrateful assholes around me. I have to resist the urge to remind them how lucky they are to even have the freedom to step out their front door.
Watching them as they muddle through the airport like cattle, I almost feel sorry for them. They’re completely disillusioned to the dangers they face on a daily basis. I watch them as they rush through the airport as if their problems are more important than anyone else’s. They pull their luggage with one hand, while drinking coffee with the other. Earbuds securely fixed in most of their ears, they think that will somehow keep out the rest of the world. If it were only that easy. They know nothing of the real problems of this world. It’s best they don’t. The meek and mild couldn’t stomach half the shit I know, let alone see day-to-day. The mundane is no longer my world, and I hate acting as though I belong.
I take my seat in first class on a commercial Boeing 747 heading to Los Angeles, my birthplace for yet another mission. It’s 6:30 in the morning and the plane hasn’t finished boarding. Always hyper-aware of my surroundings, I quickly scan the fourteen seat first class section of the plane. People assess me as they make their way to the other sections of the plane. I can almost feel their judgement and preconceived notions as I sit alone in first class. It’s a natural human reaction to make snap judgements when first seeing a person. Society has made us a jaded species. Nevertheless, it has me contemplating the numbness a scotch on the rocks will bring. My conclusion is, fuck it, I deserve it after dealing with the rude early morning commuters. Besides, it’s 5:00 P.M. somewhere in the world. This is the main reason I hate not flying in the Collective’s private jet. Unfortunately, this new point of infiltration, or P.O.I. is an F.B.I. agent, and very thorough. If I’m going to get close to her, I better have a paper trail for her to follow.
Ignoring the looks I’m getting as the passengers pass, I pull out my computer to go over Agent Chandler’s profile one more time. First class stays empty, a stipulation of mine if they want me to fly commercial. I let the tray down, and set my computer on it. Relaxing, I kick my feet up on the roomy grey leather reclining seat, thinking:
This isn’t too bad, soft chairs, elbow room, and no interruptions.
I thumb through the profile, and it reads:
P.O.I.: SPECIAL AGENT SHYIRA CHANDLER.
RACE: IRISH & AFRICAN AMERICAN.
Glancing at the picture above her description, I can see her mixed heritage. Her build is slim, but athletic. Her eyes are a deep green, and her lips full. She has long curly hair, the color of brown sugar. Beautiful women do make my job easier, but it isn’t a criteria. She could look like Attila the Hun and I’d still fuck her if it got me to my target. I continue to read the profile.
TARGET: SPECIAL AGENT JOHN RANDOLPH.
TERRORIST GROUP: BLACK HAIL
CLAIMED ACTS OF TERROR: BOMBINGS IN PARIS AND EAST ASIA.
THREAT LEVEL: RED/IMMINENT
PRESUMED NEXT TARGET: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
“I’m sorry, sir. I must ask that you stow your belongings until we have finished our ascent,” I hear the flight attendant say.
Irritated, I peer up, putting a face to the voice. Her breathing becomes a little erratic as I look her in the eyes, a typical reaction of the women I meet. I suppose it’s the reason the Collective sends me on missions where sleeping with women is a requirement. Not that I mind.
She stands there dumbstruck in her navy-blue skirt and jacket, covering the standard white blouse underneath.
“Sure,” I respond.
There’s a look in her eyes I’ve seen many times. It’s called lust. I bet she looks at me and thinks, money. Buying out all of first class, tailor made Armani suit, the way I carry myself, all turn ons for women. Her type of woman isn’t my type, if I had a type that is. She’s too easy, too boring. She must feel like I need more explanation, because she continues to speak, “I’m sorry, sir, its policy. As soon as we level off you’re free to continue your work,” she explains smoothing out her skirt.
“Thank you.” I nod my head at her.
This is another reason I hate flying commercial, all the damn rules. I put my computer away like a good little boy, and wait. I sense the flight attendant behind and to the right of me. It’s been ingrained in me to know what is happening around me at all times. In my line of work, you can almost always bet on someone trying to kill you.
I clasp my hands in my lap and wait. Closing my eyes, I lean my head against the seat knowing it’s only a matter of time before she’s back wanting something. She appears to be straightening the magazines on all the empty seats around me and just wandering with no real purpose. Feeling her presence, I slowly open my eyes.
“So, are you going to L.A. on business or pleasure Mr.--” She let the rest of the sentence fall away, in the hope I’ll give her my name.
“Pleasure,” I smile, looking her in the eyes. “And you may call me, Michael.”
She nervously grabs the bottom of her blazer, pulling it taut against her body as I continue to smile at her. “M-my name is Emily.”
I nod, and wink at her before going back to ignoring her. It’s fun playing the game, when I’m in the mood. Right now, I’m not. I feel her hand on my shoulder. I guess it’s too much to ask for her to simply go away. Turning slowly, I look down at her hand before looking into her eyes.
That’s what I get for trying to be nice.
The warning in my eyes must’ve frightened her because she releases me immediately.
“I’m sorry to keep bothering you, but I was hoping you might be free this evening? My flight doesn’t leave again until tomorrow afternoon. And if you aren’t busy, I thought maybe, we could get a bite to eat?”
I don’t look at her when I answer. “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested.”
I’m not indifferent to her reaction. I return my eyes to hers, gauging her response. Human interaction always fascinated me. My upbringing never afforded me a reason to express kindness because I was never shown any. We all have a path in life, and my childhood was a dress rehearsal for my present. Seeing the happy shit makes me uncomfortable. Pain is where I live, and I offer it to Emily. She looks down before nodding her response. She starts to leave when I drive my point home.
“Emily, I would appreciate not being disturbed for the duration of the flight. Thank you”
“Yes, sir,” she says before quickly disappearing behind the curtain.
Finally, the plane levels off, allowing me to get back to work. I need to figure out the best approach to get close to Agent Chandler. Looking down at my watch, I notice the time. I love my job, but again, there are rules. A kind of law and order. You certainly can’t have a bunch of professional assassins running around unchecked. Miss a check-in, and they’ll send a whole platoon to get your ass. All I know is, you better have a pretty solid alibi for not checking in, like you’re dead, kind of alibi. The small ear bud annoys the hell out of me, but in this job cell phones just aren’t practical.
“Vivian, you copy?”
The sweet voice I expect to hear comes through loud and clear. If anyone doesn’t deserve to be here, it’s her.
“Michael, report,” the 5’2” woman says through the comm.
The image of her sitting at her station flashes across my mind. The comm unit placed firmly atop her short curly blond hair. Her gray eyes staring intently at her computer screen behind her small frameless glasses. Jeans and a t-shirt is all she ever wears. My guess is, it suits her teenage boyish figure.
“I’m in route, if there’s any new intel send it now,” I say, typing in the password, allowing me access into the FBI mainframe.
“You’re current, Michael,” Vivian replies.
“Okay, I’m going dark until I land.”
The pause in her voice lets me know she’s waiting on permission from the General. No one does shit without the General’s approval. I know I don’t need it for such a trivial request. He understands I deal in real time situations, and by now trusts my instincts; however, I give Vivian the time to get his nod of approval. Law and order. The General hears my words for what they are: a statement, not a question.
“Copy that, Michael.”
That’s all I need to hear before yanking the annoying comm out my ear. I relax in my chair again before continuing with the profile.
Hmm . . . She graduated top of her class at Quantico, and valedictorian at UCLA, she may be a worthy opponent.
Her pride I can use to my advantage. It’s no fun if they don’t take their responsibilities seriously. Her personnel file indicates she’s not married, nor is she in any real relationship. Just like most government agencies, the Bureau keeps a pretty close eye on their agent’s personal lives. I smirk. If they don’t own your ass it means you’re not a worthy asset. And if you are, they want nothing hindering you getting the job done.
Agent Chandler lives alone in a one-bedroom condo in Santa Monica, and drives a silver BMW. That knowledge isn’t part of the profile I’m reading on my tablet. That little tidbit, I got from the shadow team the Collective dispatched a few weeks prior to my arrival. Their job is to watch from a distance, letting me know her routine. With this intel I can figure out the most effective way to make contact. Her routine consists of early morning runs, work, and home, with the occasional stop at the store, or for takeaway.
Her morning run will be the perfect moment to insert myself into her life.
Closing my computer, I stretch out, enjoying the rest of the flight. The plane touches down on time, and being in first class I don’t have to fight the people getting off the plane. I head to baggage claim to grab my one suitcase. I don’t plan on being here for too long. This is the lightest mission I’ve had in awhile. If for some insane reason it takes longer, I have my black Amex card for any necessities. Money and sex are two perks never lacking in this job.
LAX is its usual crowded entanglement of people, security, and baggage. I make my trek to the car rental company, all while smelling different foods as I pass the restaurants, making me realize how hungry I am. Forty-five minutes later, I’m on the 101 freeway in my rented black Escalade. Thankfully, I miss the rush hour traffic. I wouldn’t want to get arrested on my first night in L.A. for shooting some poor schmuck just trying to get home to his family.
The leasing office of the apartment building the Collective arranged for me is closed for the day. My stomach is grumbling, so I head to a burger joint before checking into the Comfort Inn for the night. I’m out of the hotel by eight, stopping by Starbucks for a much-needed vanilla bean latte. It sounds soft, but I like what I like.
I pull into the high-rise apartment building on Lankershim Blvd. shortly after they open. It’s still early enough I don’t have to deal with having to wait for a leasing agent. A bellman stands at the entrance of the building, greeting me as he holds the door open.
“Thank you,” I incline my head.
Walking into Studio 77, the leasing office has the feel of a five-star hotel. You can see right into the front office as the entire front wall is comprised of glass. The light brown hardwood floors run the length of the office, with a cream sofa resting against the left wall. The red of the pillows match a tall vase with sticks in it, sitting next to the sofa. The red and cream-colored rugs are strategically placed under each dark oak desk. The three desks are staggered with three eager agents sitting behind them. Walking up to the first desk I come to, the gentleman stands to greet me. Glancing down, I see his name badge, and it reads: RJ. Shaking his hand, I take a seat across from his desk.
“My name is Michael Varro. I rented a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor. I need to pick up the keys.”
RJ smiles. “Of course, Mr. Varro. I’ll just need your ID, have you sign a few papers, then I’ll grab your keys.”
“Of course,” I say, pulling out my ID.
RJ takes out a packet from his desk drawer about thirty pages thick with highlighted areas indicating where my signature is required. As I start to thumb through the multitude of pages the cell phone on RJ’s desk rings. He stands, excusing himself from the room to take the phone call. I sign and initial everywhere indicated. All the while being forced to listen to what’s equivalent to elevator music as I wait--impatiently--for RJ to return. After five minutes, too long, he walks back in the room.
“I apologize for the interruption, Mr. Varro. My wife is pregnant and due any day now. Consequently, whenever she gets a contraction, she calls me. It’s our first,” JR smiles, hoping it will explain. It doesn’t. I don’t give a shit about his family issues. I care that he wasted my time.
“You have my keys?”
RJ glimpses my face before quickly gathering the paperwork. “I’ll go grab them for you. Give me one second, sir.”
He returns, handing me three keys. One for the apartment, one for the mailbox, and one for amenities, like the pool and gym, which I won’t have time for. The last thing he hands me is a remote to get into the underground parking. RJ stands with me, extending his hand.
“Welcome to the complex, Mr. Varro. I’m sure you’ll be very happy here.”
“Thank you.” I acknowledge, knowing I won’t be here long enough to care. I shake RJ’s hand before exiting the office.
The underground parking is numbered, making it easier to park. Grabbing my suitcase from the trunk, I head to the fourth floor and the furnished apartment I just took possession of. The apartment is beautiful with its polished dark wood floors, and black sectional sofa. The throw pillows are blood red and white to match the curtains, which cover the oversized windows behind the sofa. The 55” plasma T.V. is mounted over the fireplace. In the dining room to the right of the living room sits an elevated black dining table that seats six. Each place is marked with a red wicker placemat, and a top that sits red, white and black dishware.
I take my belongings into the bedroom, which is decorated in more earth tone colors, with an Egyptian motif. This place is way more than I need to get the job done, but I’m not going to complain. It’s more than what the Collective provides me with back in London. Maybe, they think if I bring Agent Chandler here she’ll be impressed. Upper management has no idea how all this works. Usually, once I get the woman back to the apartment she doesn’t give a shit what it looks like.
Hanging up my last pair of slacks, I notice the time has grown late, and I have an early start in the morning. I throw the very nice, but useless decorative pillows on the floor, pulling back the gold sheets. It doesn’t take long before it’s lights out. Of course, as soon as I do the dream starts.
My friends and I are at my neighbor, Joey’s house sitting around the kitchen table because his mom baked chocolate chip cookies for Santa and a few extra for us. His house is brilliantly decorated with garland, train sets, and other nic nacs. But that isn’t what keeps my attention, it’s the huge tree, it has his house smelling of a forest. It sparkles and shines like a pirate’s treasure. Licking my lips, I quickly jot down ‘a tree like Joey’s’ because we didn’t have a tree at my foster mom’s place, and if I didn’t ask for one how would Santa know?
We finish our lists, cookies, and milk. I fold mine neatly, tucking it in my pocket before tearing out the front door to play until the sun disappears. Tomorrow is Christmas morning, and I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself.
I’m out of bed and meeting the sun, racing toward the living room. My heart is in my throat as I stare at the empty room. It looks the same as the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year. There’s no tree, and no gifts. Tears have already started down my cheeks as I take off towards my foster mom’s room, waking her.
“Nancy,” I shake her, waking her up.“Santa missed our house,” I shout, crying.
Nancy barely opens her eyes while lashing out, “Go back to bed you little shit. Santa cares no more about you than he does about me. Besides, what have you done to deserve any gifts? All you are is a constant headache.” Nancy rolls over, pulling the covers back over her head.
I run back into my room, climbing into my bed. I hug my bear, Bernstein, as hard as I can. I’ve had him since my very first foster home. He’s my best friend.
“Don’t cry, Bernstein,” I say, comforting my bear. “I’ll get us out of here. I’ll protect you, always.” I kiss him, closing my eyes tight trying to block out the sounds of the neighborhood kids outside playing with all their new toys.
Opening my eyes slowly, I lie silently in bed. I can almost hear the faint laughter of the kids playing outside, like some ghost of Christmas past come to haunt me. I switch on the television, trying to cover up some of the white noise playing in my head. All the people I’ve killed in my line of work, and never have I dreamt about any of them. No, my torture is reserved for my childhood memories, alone. Most nights I dream of my past. This night is no different. It’s easy to not think about what happened to me as a child during the day. The Collective keeps me way too busy. It’s at night, when my mind is relaxed that my past comes out to play. I take a deep breath and sigh. “Michael, you have one sick mind.”
Getting out of bed, I head to the kitchen for a drink of water. The clock on the microwave reads 5:12 A.M. Agent Chandler will be at the pier for her morning run at 6:30. That gives me a little over an hour to get myself together. I soak in the Roman tub for about a half an hour before getting out, shaving my face, and dressing for the part of a jogger. Throwing on a navy blue and white Nike sweatsuit, and navy Nike running shoes, I grab a banana before heading out. The time is 6:15 A.M.