It was Monday morning and the fishing trawlers would still be out until noon, there was no need to rush down to the marina. Instead, Callen took the time to spend it with Alyssa and Molly and to get to know his in-laws. He’d avoided them when they’d come to Los Angeles to visit Joelle in the past, he couldn’t face the fact that he had failed Alyssa. But now it was time to get to know them and from what Jo had told them, they realised that he’d spent eight years searching for their daughter. They’d been told how it was him and his partner who’d found Alyssa and Molly hiding up a tree from the Russians and they saw how determined he was to protect them.
David and Joan Taylor also saw the guilt that Callen carried with him from the lost years of not being with them They saw him carry the burden heavily on his shoulders and the fact that he blamed himself for the danger that he’d put them in, just by being associated with him. Callen was aware he’d also put Joelle in danger, if he’d known, he would have kept his distance from all of them. But he couldn’t change the past, like Alyssa had tried to get through to him earlier. It was David who stepped in and pulled Callen to the side.
“Listen, son. I can see that you are blaming yourself, but from what I understand, you are as much a victim in this as they are. Joelle has told me all that you’ve done to find Alyssa and we appreciate it, more than words can ever say. You’ve displayed nothing but love for our daughter and granddaughter and we’re happy to have you as part of our family.” David rested his hand on Callen’s shoulder. “Now, I know that you might think it’s none of my business, but we’re family, so I will speak my mind.” David’s clear blue eyes met Callen’s vibrant ones. “I see that you are hurting. But you are not the only one. Your father, I see it in his eyes too. You’ve both been through a great deal in your lifetime. I know from my own position as a father, and in time you will see that too with Molly, what extent a father will go to keep his children safe.”
He took in a deep breath and slowly released it. “We had no idea about Alyssa working for the FBI. If we had, we would have tried to persuade her otherwise. But she’s always been the adventurous one, we shouldn’t have been surprised. But we’re here now and I’m willing to do what it takes to ensure my girls stay safe.” It had been hard for David to see his daughter injured from two bullet wounds, once Joelle had called them to give them the news. The past eight years of hearing nothing about their daughter’s whereabouts and if she was still in fact alive, had taken a toll him him and his wife, Joan. But they had worked through it together and they had become closer for it.
“I don’t expect for you to protect them, David. It’s my job…”
David stopped Callen and held his shoulders square on, he had no choice but to look at him and listen to what he had to say. “It is my job to protect them, son. As their husband, father and grandfather. I will fight beside you even if it kills me. I will protect them if we are found here.” Callen furrowed his brow, he wasn’t used to having a man (who from what he knew of the man, had never served in the military or in law enforcement), have such determination to protect his family.
“Have you ever fired a weapon before?”
“I have. I went on a couple of hunting trips with my father when I was a boy. It’s been a while, but I think I remember how to shoot.”
“Shooting an animal or bird for food is different to killing a person for survival.” Callen heaved out a sigh. “It creates a void inside of you,when you take another person’s life. But it’s either them or you. If you don’t, they will kill you.” It wasn’t the part of the job he liked, but it had to be done and he had been good at compartmentalising those things that bothered him and shutting it away. Well that was the plan. But in the quiet of the night they came out to haunt him, creating a problem for his insomnia, a result from growing up in foster care.
“I realise that, but if it means keeping my girls safe, I would shoot to kill. No hesitation.”
Callen observed Alyssa and Joelle’s father. He supposed that was where Alyssa got her guts from. From her father. Jo never displayed the strength he’d seen in Alyssa from the word go. She was naive in comparison and soft. Patient and gentle. They were the words that he would use to describe Jo, although he’d also witnessed Jo bossing Alyssa around like a mother hen. He supposed it was those qualities that made her good at being a Kindergarten teacher. He was still curious to know what career path his sister-in-law would choose now that they were in Morro Bay. His decision to be a fisherman had been an easy one, it was better than being a farmer working alongside his father.
“I’ll spend some time with you to practise shooting at targets. I’ll find out where would be the safest place to set things up for you.” Callen walked over to Alyssa and kissed her. “I’m heading into town for a while. Do you want anything while I’m there?”
“Some more books would be great, Greg. Thanks. Stay safe.” Alyssa looked up to him and she saw the need for him to escape for a while. She respected that need and she wished that she was up to joining him. They needed time alone, to be just Greg and Sarah again, although now that they were back in Morro Bay, they were Julian and Hannah Miller.
“I’ll see what I can find.” He kissed her softly on the lips, he lingered longer than he’d intended, but the fact was, he really wanted more from her. Fire and passion, like it had been years before. But she needed to recover from her injuries first and they both needed the time to adjust to being back together again.
He entered the house and bumped into Arkady.
“Callen, where are you going?” Arkady had watched his nephew speak with Alyssa and he suspected that he was going somewhere.
“I’m heading into town. The fishing trawlers should be back in the marina by now.”
“Are you going to buy some fish?” Arkady was curious to know what was going on in his nephew’s mind.
“I might do. I’m looking for work. I’ve got to do something while I’m here.”
Arkady raised his brow. “Why do you need to look for work? There is plenty here for you to do.”
“No offence, Arkady, but fishing is more me than farming.” He looked at the key rack searching for the keys belonging to the old pick up truck he noticed earlier in the barn. He selected what he hoped to be the keys and started to walk away.
Arkady stopped him by holding onto his arm. “I’ll drive you.”
“No offence, Arkady, but your vehicle is out of the league of Julian Miller. He needs something more rustic. I spotted an old pick up truck in the barn, it will do me perfectly.” Callen glared back at the man who had lied to him for many years of who he really was. He wasn’t in the mood to pick a fight, he really wanted to walk away peacefully.
“Another time then.” Arkady stepped back, he knew how much he could push his nephew and when to give him the space he needed. He’d hoped he could have some alone time with Callen to present Nikita’s defence to him. He was worried about his older brother, who appeared to be acting strangely. Like he’d given up on hope.
Instead, Arkady watched Callen walk away towards the barn and climb into the old pick up truck. “Trust you to choose that truck.” Arkady might have been talking to himself, but Nikita overheard him.
“Where’s Gale going now?” Nikita stepped out of his office and watched his son leave the farm.
“What’s caught your interest in his choice of vehicle?” Nikita watched his younger brother with curiosity as he turned his attention to him.
“The old pick up truck. It reminds me of a time I found Gale in Russia. It wasn’t the first time, but a few years later. He had moved from the DEA to NCIS by then and he arrived with a man who appeared to have taken a liking to your boy. Everyone calls him Gibbs. The pick up truck was the type of vehicle Gibbs would have chosen to drive. I believe Gibbs drives one back in D.C. I think Gale’s trying to tell us something.”
“This man, Gibbs, I’ve heard you mention his name before. He and Gale are close?”
“Very. I suppose you could say, Gibbs was like a father to Gale.”
The news hit Nikita hard. His son was fighting back at him and he was losing the battle. His son didn’t want him as his father. Nikita held onto the doorframe to keep himself upright.
“Nik, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’ll be out in the shed if anyone is looking for me. I need to check in on my workers to see how they’re going with things.” He grabbed his boots and exited the house.
Arkady watched his brother with concern. So much alike, Arkady observed. Like to keep things to themselves. Both stubborn. He needed to do something to resolve the tension between both men before it was too late.
The town of Morro Bay had grown since he’d last visited all those years ago, but it still contained the same feel of home to him. He pulled up beside the marina and climbed out of the pick up truck. He strode along the jetty and found the fishing trawlers soon enough. Some of them had returned from their early morning start and were unloading their catch. Salmon laid in iced boxes on the jetty, ready to be sold to local fish markets and restaurants. He spotted a lad of around nineteen, struggling with a box.
“Let me help you.”
The lad looked up and smiled. “Thanks.”
Callen helped him off load the rest of the boxes that he’d been tasked to do. “I’m looking for the captain.”
“Are you looking for work?” The lad inquired. “My dad, he’s the captain and we’ve just lost one of our workers, he had to head back east due to some family matters. We could use the extra hand.”
Callen realised now why the lad was loaded up with so much heavy lifting on his own. “In fact I am. I’ve just returned home and I’ve got plenty of experience fishing in Maine.”
“I bet that was cold over there. Crazy in the winter.”
“It’s not something you want to do in the winter, that’s for sure. But here you can fish all year round.”
“Hey dad. This is?”
“Julian. Julian Miller.” Callen stretched out his hand to shake with the captain of the boat.
“Mike Hobson. You’re Dan’s son?”
“You know my father?”
“We’ve been friends for a long time. He mentioned that you might be coming home. It’s been hard for your father to be separated from you, Julian. It’s grieved him for longer than he’s lived here in Morro Bay. I’ve heard a great deal about you. He’s proud of you, I know that much.”
Callen stood there with his hands in his pocket. It was a hard thing to hear from a stranger. He felt awkward to discover that his father had talked about him, when he had no idea who his father was or if he was even alive. But Callen worked hard to keep his emotions hidden from this man, who he had yet to determine if he could be trusted.
“The winter had been hard back east with very little work and it’s been tough for us. So after my mom died, I had no reason to stay. My wife’s family have come with us. Our daughter is their only grandchild.”
“A family man is the kind of people we like working with us. We’re a family business too. But I have to ask, why aren’t you helping your father on the farm?”
“Fishing has always been my thing, I’ve never been a farmer.”
Mike Hobson nodded. “I understand. But are you sure you don’t want to learn the family business? You’re father’s not going to be able to keep running the farm on his own, not with his health as it is.”
“My father-in-law has come to help him. He’s keen to learn the business.”
“Good to hear. Welcome aboard, Julian. We set sail at four-thirty in the morning. We meet here at four to gear up. See you tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mike.” He turned to the lad. “Thanks.”
“The names Jake.”
“Jake, it’s nice to meet you.” Callen waved goodbye and headed into the main shopping precinct in town. He hoped he could find a good bookstore or even the library to sign up to for Alyssa. Soon enough he found one and pulled over to the side of the road and parked.
He was intrigued when he entered the small entrance to find the bookstore was much bigger than it first appeared. It was quirky and made him feel like he’d jumped inside a book or three as he explored the shelves of books. It was a second hand bookshop where you could buy or exchange a book for another. Perfect for Alyssa who was an avid reader. It will help her pass the time until her arm and foot healed. He guessed her foot would take longer, seeing the bullet had lodged against some bones, compared to the through and through in her arm.
“Can I help you?”
Callen turned and observed the woman who had walked up beside him. Petite with a dark bob, her black clothes reminded him of Abby Scuito. The woman must be a goth, he decided.
“I’m looking for some mystery novels for my wife. She’s injured at the moment so she can’t come in and look for herself.”
“Well you’re looking in the right section. We have many murder mysteries, by Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag, Steven King, Lee Child, Jeffery Archer, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, James Patterson and so on. Do you know who she likes or what period?”
“She’s reading Tess Gerritsen at the moment, it’s part of the Rizzoli and Isle series, ‘Ice Cold.’ Do you have any more in that series for her to read? And she loves Lee Child and Steven King too.”
“You’ve come to the right place. Here we go.” The woman pulled out some novels from the shelf. “If she’s reading Ice Cold, maybe you could buy her the ones that precede it, just to make sure she’s up to date. The Surgeon and The Sinner are the first two, and we happened to have both of them. Now…” Moving along the shelves, she pulled out some of Steven King’s thrillers. “We have Steven King’s Salem Lot and…”
“She’s read most of the older Steven King novels. Anything more recent?”
The woman smiled, pleased with Callen’s knowledge of what books his wife had read, unaware that Callen hadn’t a clue, but he was just going by what he knew from eight years earlier. He hoped that if Alyssa had read the books, he could always return them and swap for a different one. He took note to research with her later for the next time she asked him to get her some books to read. At least he knew what genre she read.
“Yes, we do, as a matter of fact.” The woman pulled out Mr Mercedes. “This one was released last year.”
“Thanks. These should start her off for a few days. I can alway come back and buy some more.”
“Not a problem.” The woman led him to the counter. “Anything I can interest you in?”
“I prefer old classics. I’ve got a few things to do, but I’ll return and take a good look for myself next time. Do you have a website with a list of what you have in store?”
“We do as a matter of fact.” The woman picked up a bookmark and handed it to him. The details are on here.”
“Thanks.” Callen paid for the books and headed back outside into the mild Californian air. He scanned the area and relaxed when he saw it was safe. Yes, he mused. Morro Bay was a safe place to hide out from Russian armed soldiers who were out to hurt him and his family.