Morro Bay - March 11, 2015
Like every other morning, Callen dragged himself out of bed in the early hours and moved stealthily through the house and into the truck. He rolled started it down the country lane and headed down to the marina. Michelle and Kamran had moved in with them at the farm, with there being plenty of room on the property. It helped him, Callen realised, having two people from his other family there too. He felt more relaxed around his father and Arkady was getting ready to return home. He’d stayed longer than he’d expected, but after bringing his nephew and his family to the farm, he felt that he should at least help with the transition. And it had gone much smoother than Arkady had ever envisioned, although Callen had him worried at first.
A steady rhythm came over all the new additions to the farm and laughter could be heard around the place. Molly and Kamran became firm friends, which lifted Callen’s spirits a great deal. Alyssa was healing well, a local doctor came to check on her once a week. Michelle helped on the farm and appeared to like the change. Joelle surprised Callen when he’d arrived off the boat one morning and he’d seen her working inside a local florist. His face lit up and he waved, leaving her to focus on customers. Of course, he thought. She always had a beautiful flower arrangement in her home back in Los Angeles.
Like every other morning since the Tuesday the week before, he motored out to sea to catch fish. The air was getting warmer and the days longer, as spring became more apparent in the air. He knew what day it was, well, the day of the week, but with all that had gone on recently, he had no idea that it was his birthday. With no Hetty, Sam, Kensi or Deeks around to remind him, or no surprise gift left on his desk from Nell although she said it was from the team - he had no one to remind him.
Back at the farm the workers were busy. So were the family as they prepared the surprise birthday party for Callen. Michelle, Joan and Alyssa fussed, cooked and arranged party decorations up in the house. Molly and Kamran were busy painting him pictures and Nikita and Arkady were being secretive out in the barn.
Alyssa had to smile to herself about the two Russians. They busied themselves when Callen wasn’t around, preparing for this day. She knew it wasn’t the truck, because Callen and Nikita worked together on it every afternoon.
She felt bad not being able to go shopping for his present, leaving it to her sister and mother to do it for her, but as she cut the ribbon and curled it, she was satisfied with her gift. She’d been onto the bookstore website that Callen had told her about and found the perfect book for him. It was an old book written in his home language, Romanian. A novel influenced by the challenges from his home country, Moromeții, by Marin Preda. She knew he would enjoy it, since he’d told her about remembering that was where he was from. She had been surprised to see it available in a coastal town book store, but from what she gathered from the kind of books on their website, they had quite the collection. But she knew that this had been a great find, both volumes in the one book, it was very thick and heavy.
Although Callen worked hard on the boat, another boat that caught his attention. He narrowed is eyes and studied it. It wasn’t from around here. Nonchalantly, he continued on his daily duties onboard the Kristina, while he kept his eye on the occupants of the other boat. Wherever Mike Hobson moved to throw in the net, the boat followed, although they kept their distance of about a half a mile. But Callen noticed and he had the feeling of being watched.
He was relieved when they headed back to shore. He couldn’t help it but worry. The boat didn’t follow them in which was a relief. But he didn’t stop thinking about it as he headed back to the farm. He kept a look out for tails, and he was relieved when no one followed him. With this on his mind, he pulled up in front of the house and climbed the steps. Molly ran out and greeted him with a hug and giggles.
“Close your eyes, Daddy.” Molly made him stay on the lower step as she tied a scarf over his eyes.
“What’s going on?” Callen thought the girls were playing a game and dragged him into it when he arrived home. He could hear both girls giggling as they led him inside the house, each holding a hand.
“You can take it off now, Daddy.” Callen pulled the scarf down from over his eyes.
“Surprise. Happy Birthday.” Everyone in the family stood around the decorated room with smiles on their faces. He’d forgotten it was his birthday.
Alyssa stood and hugged him. “Happy Birthday, honey.”
Callen stood there is shock. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a birthday party, let alone having it with his family. His Family. His eyes welled up with emotion as he watched them all come forward to hug him and wish him a happy birthday. He hadn’t expected this. None of this. With everything that had gone on, he’d forgotten about his birthday. It was a day he tried to forget. Except when Sam and Hetty decided to do something for him after he’d admitted to Sam that he’d never received a birthday card before. Not one he could remember that is.
“Thanks.” He lifted Molly up into his arms and hugged her. “Was this your plotting?” He asked her.
“No. Mom and Aunt Jo arranged this, and I think Papa has been up to something for a few days. But I don’t know what it is.” Callen placed her down and hugged Kamran as well.
“Thanks, Kam. Your Daddy would be disappointed he missed this.” He looked over to Michelle and caught her gaze. She could see that Callen missed Sam and wished that he was there too. He could see that she wished the same. He gave her a smile and hug. “Thanks for being here, Shell.”
“Happy Birthday, Callen. He would have wanted to be here.”
The party celebrations involved loads of seafood and fruit, before Joelle brought out a birthday cake. It was a boat and it had Callen sitting on it, fishing with a rod. It was appropriate considering the career choice that he’d made since arriving in town. They sang happy birthday, posed for photographs and then the gifts were revealed. Callen was speechless by the thought everyone had gone to in their choices. Arkady had given him a new tool set to help him work on the old truck, Alyssa’s parents had given him a photo album of family, which he knew he would treasure at the odd hours of the night when he couldn’t sleep, Molly and Kamran gave him the pictures that they’d painted for him and Jo had found an unusual scrabble board that she’d found in a gift shop in town. The letters were from the Russian alphabet. He looked over at her with surprise.
“How did you know I can read Russian?”
“I found a few novels beside your chair one time, when I opened them up, I couldn’t understand what language it was. I still didn’t until I found one of the exact same novel here on the bookshelf. Sevastopol Sketches by Lev Tolstoy, I think. I recognised the name of the author.” Callen slightly knitted his brows, he looked over at his father who merely shrugged.
“I can’t help myself. I love that book.” Nikita smiled, please to see that although his son had grown up away from his family, the pull to his heritage had won out.
“I do too.” A smile grew on Callen’s lips. He had something in common with his father, a love for ancient Russian literature.
“Here, son. I made this for you.” Callen carefully unwrapped the gift and his eyes welled up when he saw what his father had made for him. A chess set.
“I know you left one back home. Maxim told me how much you love the game.”
Callen nodded and he hugged his father. “Thank you. I’ll treasure it always.”
This had to be the best birthday yet, although it wasn’t the same without his team. Alyssa hobbled over to him and handed over her gift. Callen pulled her onto his lap and pulled on the ribbon. The smell of her soothed him and he couldn’t have asked for a better gift than to have his family with him. But still it was his other family that kept entering his mind that day.
Callen removed the paper and looked at the leather bound book. The Romani letters were embossed in gold, Moromeții by Marin Preda. “Both volumes?” Callen asked surprised. He’d started reading the first a few years back, but hadn’t managed to finish it, as it was one he’d found in a book cafe in Venice.
“Yes. You know the book?”
Callen nodded and smiled. “I found the first volume in a book cafe in Venice. I’ve read some of it, but then the book vanished. I’ve been wanting to find this to finish it. Thank you.” He kissed her softly, savouring this moment. He needed to absorb her and this day. To take the memories with him when he left. He’d made his mind up that morning, watching that boat hover them out at sea. The threat of the Russians weren’t going to go away unless he did something about it. He missed his team and while hiding in Morro Bay sounded ideal, it wasn’t him. He needed to face this enemy head on and end this now. He knew that his uncle was leaving the following day and he was going with him. He just hadn’t told anyone yet.
Michelle’ cell rang and caught Callen’s attention away from his family as he followed Michelle outside onto the deck. “Sam?” Callen looked worried as Michelle listened to him on the other end of the phone.
She listened as Sam explained all that had been going on. “Whatever you do, don’t tell G. Hetty will kill me if he finds out and comes back here.”
But what Sam hadn’t expected was that Callen had snatched the cell from Michelle and had heard him. “What’s going on, Sam?” Fear for his team swelled inside of him.
Sam cursed himself. This hadn’t been why he called.
“Happy Birthday, G. We all wish we could be there today to help you celebrate your first one with family.”
Callen tensed his jaw, he picked up on the strain in his partner’s voice. “You are my family, Sam. What’s going on?”
Sam sighed. It was no good in hiding it from him any longer. “We’ve been under attack from the Russians. They’ve targeted our team, we’re on lockdown at the mission and I’m on guard duty for Deeks and Kensi.”
“I’m coming back….”
“We’re not in L.A., G.”
“Where are you, I’m coming to you.”
“Hetty’s going to kill me for talking to you.”
“You were talking to Michelle. You just didn’t expect for me to take her cell off her. Tell me, Sam.”
Sam gave him the details and anger surged through him. He looked over at Michelle and he realised now why Sam had sent his family to him. Los Angeles wasn’t safe.
“How are they?” His voice quavered, if any of them died because of him, he couldn’t live with himself.
“Deeks woke up yesterday. Kensi’s tough, she’s keeping Deeks company. They’ll both heal, they are happy with how Deeks’ wound is healing. But Deeks will be in here for a few more weeks.”
“Where are you?”
“Camp Pendleton Medical Centre. It happened nearby and considering the threat, it was deemed the safest place to hide for a while.” Sam licked his lips and took in a deep breath. “The mission is on lock down. You won’t be able to get in.”
“I need to end this, Sam. I need your help with my plan. I was going to fly back with Arkady tomorrow anyway. We’ll leave tonight instead. Is Granger up for some action?”
“Yes. But your family, they need you…”
“Michelle can protect them. I’ll meet you at my house in three hours. Is that enough time for you to get there?”
Sam looked at his watch. “Yes, be safe, G.”
“You too, Sam.”