"I like this," Annie said from the other side of the island.
"And by this, you're referring to?" Auggie asked, finishing his cereal.
"All of it. This. You and me, eating breakfast, sharing the morning. Getting ready for work. Neither one of us having to wear the same clothes or needing something from our own place. Driving in to work together. You know. This." She'd walked around the island and tapped his chest as she ended the sentence.
"Oh," Auggie said, smiling. "This."
It had been a few weeks that they had been in their house, and while there had been a few hitches, they both were really becoming comfortable being homeowners together. They'd worked out what needed doing daily and had mostly delegated jobs. Mostly. There were still a few minor details to work out.
Danielle had left them at least at a beginner-capable level of preparing meals for two people. They had both been living on their own for so long that neither one of them ever did much more than snacking on mini-meals and eating out.
"You have another person to take care of now," she had admonished them both.
She was right, of course. They had to stop grabbing food on the run, and have meals like real people. Danielle had hugged them at before she left, telling them it was nice that her children were finally growing up. Auggie kind of felt that way, too. He'd thought about the idea of this for so long, it felt like such a huge step and accomplishment. And everything about it felt right this time.
"Did I do it right?" Annie asked, tapping a piece of heavy paper on Auggie's hand.
He took it, flipping it over and running his hands on her latest attempt at punching out a random word he threw at her. n-e-f-a-r-i-o-u-s.
"It's all right," he said. "Perfect Grade One Braille."
"I don't think I'll catch on to more than Grade One Braille, Auggie," she said.
"I'm not asking you to," Auggie said, catching her hand and pulling her toward him. She reached up and took his jaw in her hands, guiding him in for a kiss.
"Tonight," Annie said, without adding anything.
"You'll see," she said.
"No I wo-on't," sang Auggie, back at her, receiving the customary smack to his shoulder. He grinned at her. "You're making me wait?"
"Of course. That's what spies are good at. We wait. We wait and wait and wait and—" Her words were muffled out by Auggie, who had brought his hand up behind her head and pressed his lips into hers. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hmmmmed contentment to him.
Auggie was always slightly reluctant to break away and head in to Langley. While he loved his job, he could imagine just staying in this beautiful home all day with Annie, doing as they pleased. He knew that realistically, he'd get bored pretty quickly, and he knew realistically that they'd probably just end up on each others' nerves after a while. But it still made for a very compelling daydream.
"We can't search every warehouse on the Potomac," Auggie said. "Time is passing, Joan. What other means do we have?"
"So, how do we set up a deal if we don't even know if they're here?" Joan asked.
"We send Decker down to the last known gun deal. He can infiltrate a bike gang. Find out where they are coming from before they cross the border. If we can find the key holding warehouses, we can hopefully find Belenko, and his delicate cargo. If it's here."
"That's a lot of ifs," Joan stated. "Too many ifs."
Auggie shrugged desperately. "He's here. It's all coming here, Joan, and if you don't stop it, it's all gonna go bad, really fast. That whole Russian thing, it was only a front. His bigger picture was more than Russia, more than Ukaine. His biggest goal is here. And he gets to take Decker and me down at the same time, it's a perfect set-up."
"Auggie, you know I'm concerned for you and James. I'm not taking this lightly. But we've moved into different territory. We don't know anything. We don't even know for certain that there was such a thing, or if it left that site before the building blew up. There are no details; our two men over there haven't turned up anything. No-one knows, or no-one is talking. Why is it that Decker's informant has such different information?"
Auggie had had the same thought. He'd rolled it over and over in his head.
"Do you know who his informant is, Auggie?"
Auggie raised his face to her. "No. I don't. But don't ask me again if I trust Decker. I trust him with my life."
He heard Joan pause. He tried not to let the dismay show on his face. Instead, he set his plan in motion.
"We just have to go in and find out," he said. "I think we should send Decker."
"Belenko knows Decker."
"The biker gangs don't know Belenko. He's not been seen, even heard of, in those circles. They only know one name."
"Ortsa Maskhadov," Joan said.
"Yup," Auggie said.
He heard Joan sigh.
"Joan," Auggie started, raising his hands to the side. "What else? Decker knows Belenko. If he's here, Decker will know."
"And you think James Decker will leave it at that and let us take him in?"
Auggie chewed his lip. He remembered that slim moment as his mind went from killing Khani in his anger for killing Jason and Chris and taking his sight, to a moment of clarity to do the right thing. Don't do this, Auggie, she'd said. He'd heard her. He knew he wouldn't be the same man if he'd killed Khani then in cold blood. It would all be for revenge. He thought back to Decker, and he knew it would be the same thing. They needed Belenko alive, and Decker had to give up his own feelings for the better of everyone else. Did Auggie trust Decker? He thought about it for less than a second.
"I do," he said, sincerely.
Joan was quiet for a moment. Auggie listened as she moved across the room and then turned. "This one's all on you, Auggie."
"I'm okay with that."
Joan waited until the grin she felt at the edge of her lips subsided. "So what is your plan?" she asked, moving back towards him.
Decker was to go in as a patch member from the north. He needed some credentials and some history, so that any inquiries would be substantiated. He would be looking to be recruited to the Corpus Christi chapter of the Skulldiggers, and the Agency supplied him with a motorcycle, which Auggie knew had cheered Decker up considerably, and cash and stash to spare. An insider in the local Skulldiggers chapter had managed to get him the patches and a signature to address Decker's jump from north to south. Decker had been a boxer, a street fighter; he had the brawn for the part. He would be stamped with a Club tattoo which would last the week. He knew the trade. He had the background to know their details. They would just be wrong about the side he'd learned it from.
Auggie drilled Decker about all the things he had to remember, that he absolutely had to not do. Decker assured him repeatedly that he would ship the bastard back to Langley in rough shape but he'd still be alive.
"We have two of our guys going in behind you. They'll stay out of sight," Auggie said, making physical contact with Decker again to reorient himself. He heard the instructor moving back their way again, and he once more did the three steps in attack and held his position as they had been asked. Then they relaxed, and did it again.
Auggie had convinced Decker to join him when he'd re-taken up his Judo classes. He promised Decker a hot instructor and a new set of calm skills for fights. He'd told Decker that he'd learned a lot there, because hand-to-hand fighting was really all he could manage properly now, and Judo took the best of that and made it even more powerful.
"When it all comes down to it," he'd told Decker, "this is all we have. Stripped down, last resorts, last person standing. What we have left, we need to perfect."
So the two of them, clad in their gis, attended their classes together twice a week and practiced in the gym at Langley at least once more a week. The positioning training, while important, especially for Auggie, who couldn't watch the examples in front of him, was monotonous. They did the preparation moves without actually throwing their partners at all until well into the exercises. Decker was getting used to Auggie's constant re-orientations and also to letting Auggie know exactly where he was, in practice and in rest. Auggie never commented. He noted it quietly and gladly.
The one-on-one time gave Auggie plenty of space to make it clear to Decker that he was working as an arm of their team. He read all the signals he was able to from Decker and he knew that the man was loyal to him. He'd never once had that fear he wasn't. Decker had wanted out, but he'd never once jeopardised any of them. He may have turned away from the Company, but he'd never put any of them in harm's way. He'd never turned on them. He'd been staying quiet, living a smaller life that gave him a reason, and Auggie admired him for it.
Auggie turned back again, as the instructor had them sit to do floor routines. They were taking turns pinning each other by different means and turning out of each lock, and Auggie wasn't giving any breaks. He wanted to show Decker he was no slouch, fighting blind. He had a thought that maybe Decker would really get to witness Auggie's fighting skills in some action combat, but then he shook the thought from his mind. He wouldn't be in action; he was staying back, being Decker's handler and directing the traffic, as it was to be.
"I can't believe you got Joan to consent to your plan," Decker said as they headed back to the locker room to shower and change.
"I'm a persuasive guy," Auggie said, shrugging. He was glad he'd been coming to this studio before and knew the layout of the locker room.
"No shit," said Decker.
"Annie?" Auggie called, folding his cane and putting it on the credenza in the alcove in the staircase. He felt and heard the paper he set his cane on top of in the tray, and he touched it with his hand. Braille. A smile painted his face immediately.
Grab a wine glass, first on the left.
She'd written it perfectly, with punctuation, but not contracted. He moved to the kitchen, listening, but he heard nothing. He reached up to the shelf where the wine glasses were, easily retrieving the first one on the left by the divider. He took it down and again, felt a piece of paper curled into a tube, stuck in the flute.
Better bring a fork, it read. He moved to the island and pulled out the drawer, and sure enough, there was another sheet of paper lying over the forks.
The swinging bed has secrets. Well, thought Auggie. Give the woman an idea, and she really takes it to the next level. He moved along the wall and skirted the stove, making his way to the double doors. He stepped back out into the warm evening air, and then turned, his free hand running along the length of the mattress. Nothing there. He slid his hand up the chains holding the four corners, and as he reached where they joined together on the nearest end, he found another piece of paper tied with a string to the chain.
Take the stairs and when you reach six steps down the lawn
Auggie wondered if he should go back and get his cane. He smiled and shook his head. He trusted her. She was here, somewhere, watching him. He found the railing and began his way down the stairs. Taking a breath, knowing there was nothing there to run or fall into, yet still feeling wary, he took six steps down the lawn, and then stopped, listening.
At first, all he heard was trees above him. The wind was painting the landscape above into an image in his mind, the sound swirled over from right to left, although down where Auggie stood, the wind was only a breeze. He could hear the willow to his left, and the ash to his right, the wind combing their long branches and leaves. And then, softly, he could hear music. It got louder, and he turned his head, trying to get a better angle on the sound. Jazz music. He didn't recognise it. He felt a presence beside him and a tap on his shoulder and he turned his face to her.
"Hey, handsome. Care to dance?" she said in a soft voice, first taking the glass and fork from his fingers, and then taking up his hand and placing the other around her back.
"You're putting your feet at risk, dancing with a blind man," he said.
"I'll risk it," she replied. "It's worth it."
Auggie felt her body pressing against his, her temple against his cheek. His hand resting in the dip of her back felt the light fabric of a summer slip-dress, and her skin was warm. She smelled like grass and mint and coconut, and there was another smell, like capers and garlic, somewhere in the air. A robin was singing into the evening just above them, to their right. Annie said nothing, her breathing was calm and steady and her hand holding his was strong as the love she felt for him passed though it into his own hand. Every touch conveyed something. She always kept a tactile connection with him, she had from the start. He felt her head tilt, almost rubbing against his cheek, and he was reminded of a cat, taking all the affection it could from a loving touch.
As the one song ended and another set started up, Annie led Auggie a few steps to the left and then she sat, still holding his hand, so he knew to kneel down beside her. He felt the blanket under his knees and smiled.
"A romantic picnic dinner for two?" he asked, hearing her pour the wine and then feeling the flute of his glass touch his hand.
"Is there any other kind of picnic dinner for two? Cheers." She chimed her glass to his.
He raised his momentarily, and then took a sip.
"So, we have a crisp Cæsar salad, on your nine, and in front of you is thinly sliced fried chicken breast with a spicy crispy side. I used paprika."
Auggie's mouth opened to express his surprise and then he closed it again. Then he gave it a third thought and replied, "You made all this? Yourself. Tonight."
"I told you you'd have a surprise."
Auggie pretended to look around. "Wait. Is Danielle here? Danielle?"
"No!" Annie laughed, tapping him in dismay. "It was all me! I read a recipe and everything."
Auggie sat, as if stunned, a smile dancing around the corners of his mouth. "Incredible," he said.
"Auggie!" she groaned. "Can I finish?"
"Please," Auggie said, raising his hands in defeat.
"Okay, thank you. There is potato salad on your three, and if I'm not mistaken, you may find it to be exceptionally perfect."
"I find you exceptionally perfect. So this is bound to be wonderful. It smells pretty good, that has to mean something. It can't taste bad if it smells good."
"I thought it was all in the presentation," Annie mused.
"Lost on me, Cupcake."
He raised his eyebrows at her. "Annie?"
"I want to thank you for getting me back."
"You don't have to thank me for that, Annie."
"You never gave up on me, after all that I did. And after I stopped listening to you. And even when you gave up on you, you never gave up on me. And now, we have this. I come home and I just want to scream in excitement. Oh, and I can admit now that Danielle and I did just that, probably four times, when she was here helping us. But... it was the right thing. It all was the right thing. The times we second-guessed ourselves were the times we went in the wrong direction. We go with our gut out in the field, every day. And yet, when it came to us, we kept second-guessing."
"No more," Auggie said. "We're on this right track now. We're going down the road we wanted to be on the whole time. I even get a picnic supper to come home to in my back yard. We're not guessing wrong. We're back on our game, Walker. We lost our priorities there for a while."
"I was always yours," Annie said.
"Yeah, you were. You still are."
Annie was quiet, and Auggie reached his hand out. She took it. "You need anything?" she asked him.
"Nope," Auggie said. "I think I have pretty much everything I need."
"Good. Because there's dessert," Annie said with a grin in her voice.
"Thanks, Man," Decker said for a twentieth time to Auggie.
"I trust you, Decker. You don't need to thank me. Okay? Now, you have the whole thing down, right? Your name is William "Hawk" Hawksport. You split from your chapter over a bad hit and they wanted to keep you safe, so they're moving you out. You're a good member, just had some bad blood go down."
"I know, I got it all, Auggie."
Auggie smiled. "Can I check out the vest?"
Decker stepped forward and took Auggie's outstretched hand, placing it on the patch on his chest. Auggie grinned, tracing the outline, following the lines of his leather vest until he'd found the patch on the back as well. He walked back around Decker. "Tattoos?"
"Yup. I'm all affiliated."
"I heard about the sweet ride," Auggie said.
"Yeah, you heard all right," Decker said with a chuckle. "I know you set that up."
"Hey, I listened all those nights you were harping on about Harleys and Indians and chrome-on-chrome choppers. I figured it was about time you had your chance. It's being shipped as we speak," Auggie told him. "You, Halburn, and Sanders are booked on the next flight to Corpus Christie. You have the three burner phones?"
"Yes. All hidden."
"And the wires?"
"All in. It's all a-go, Auggie. I got it all covered."
"Change that to we and we're all set."
"I won't let you down, Brother."
Auggie kept his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I know you won't, Brother," he said to Decker, and he hoped Decker heard it and remembered. "Now, I want you to check in as soon as you land. I need to keep contact with you at all times, Man, because I don't know what you're going into. I don't know where the guns are coming from, I don't know what they're covering up, and I don't know how much any of the runners know. We don't know if Belenko is on US soil yet. We don't know if there are biological weapons, and if so, where they are. So, you can understand my reluctance to let you go down there. And yet, you're the only one who can. I'm gonna worry about you. So keep me in the loop, Buddy."
He gave Decker a quick hug, slapping him on his new patched vest. They were going into a war together, in a whole new way. Decker would be the eyes and ears, and Auggie would maintain the brain, processing the information Decker gathered and giving Decker the best direction he could. It was a whole new way of working together, and Auggie hoped that they both weren't too bullheaded to be successful at it. This had to work. They both knew their survival depended on it. Belenko had his fingers in many pies, but his most prominent intention was to rid himself the last two men that took his big brother down. And, as they had all seen before, nothing would stop him from trying again and again until he did.