Morro Bay, California
Nestled in the hills, back from the town of Morro Bay, sat Nikita Reznikov, pouring over the files of his business. It wasn’t much, just an orchard of avocados and apples, to keep his days filled with honest work. He looked out the window at the view that had him thankful for every day he had alive on this planet to appreciate it’s beauty. His life had started out simple once upon a time, until he was pushed into working for his country, who in turn locked him up in a Siberian prison. Those years were the darkest and coldest that he could remember. Word had just reached Nikita that his beautiful and happy wife was dead, when he was taken captive and stripped of his title of Major for the KGB. His younger brother had come to his children’s rescue and had taken them to America and placed them under his wife’s family name for protection. But the fact that they were scared and alone, grieved him greatly. However, he had his brother, Maxim, to thank for his freedom and life.
Maxim had no choice but to change his identity long ago for protection, after Nikita had been burned by their own countrymen. He would have been painted with the same brush as Nikita if he hadn’t become Arkady Kolcheck. His new identity gave him the opportunity to help Nikita escape and watch over the boy.
Nikita stood up and continued to stare out over Morro Rock and the township that he’d come to love as home. He knew the people, just as they had come to know him. He’d worked hard to get rid of his Russian accent and became Daniel Miller. He’d learned the trade of farming of avocados and apples in France, where he lived for a while after he’d been freed. But he wanted to be closer to his children. It was then that he’d discovered that his daughter drowned when she was only eleven. The girl who lived with her name was a scared girl, obviously hiding from someone in her own life. He’d left it be and accepted and mourned for his daughter’s death, leaving flowers on her grave whenever he came to Los Angeles.
Maxim had found his son, grown up into a man, working for the U.S. Government. If it hadn’t been for Maxim working alongside Gale in a joint task force back in Russia, he still might not have found him. He lived like a ghost, who was hard to find and follow. There was nothing that he could find on him, it was as if he didn’t exist. He lived with a letter for a name and that in itself broke pieces off his heart. Why didn’t his son remember his name? Was it because his family name changed and he got confused? Did the boy go into shock after witnessing his mother’s death on the beach? He had no answers and he knew that Maxim couldn’t even let it slip out that he knew who Gale was, in order to protect him.
Nikita thought about visiting his son in his home, to tell him that he was loved and who he was. He knew where he lived after Maxim had someone check out that he was living in the Rostoff’s home, in Los Angeles. Where he knew his son had fond memories. They were Russian and Gale had told Maxim a long time ago, that the girl, Alina, had taught him the language. But Nikita knew deep down that his son knew the language from a babe. He and Clara had spoken three languages to their children. English, Romanian and Russian. Both of his children were fluent by the age of four. His son had forgotten his life before he arrived in America, and that saddened Nikita deeply. If he couldn’t remember his name then he had no memory of any of his family. In addition, the risk was too great, not just for himself, but for his son. No, he decided, it still wasn’t safe for them to be reunited, although it ate at him continually that he had let his son down.
A car travelling along the long windy dirt driveway, caught his attention. Maxim. His brother wasn’t due to visit for another month, he was surprised to see him so soon. He stepped out onto the front door step and waited for him to step out of the car.
“Maxim, what brings you here today?” Arkady Kolcheck stepped out of the car and hugged his brother.
“Your son. He needs you.” Nikita knitted his brows together and studied his brother. There was concern in Maxim’s eyes for Gale.
“Come and sit on the deck. We can talk out there.” Arkady had to admit his brother did know how to live his life. The view caught his breath each time he came out to visit. Morro Rock was glowing from the lowering sun hitting it from the west. Here in the hills to the north east of the town, you were in the perfect position to see the rock turn to gold. “Are you staying the night?”
“I might as well.” Arkady was still amazed at how American his older brother sounded. His Russian accent was thick, but he’d lived in America for far less time than Nikita.
“Why does my son need me?” Nikita sat back in his chair watching his younger brother shuffle in his chair uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry, Nik, but she knows I know. Whether she tells your boy or not, I do not know.”
“Henrietta? You told her about me?”
“I tried to deflect that I knew who you were the last time the Comescus came into town, Nik. You’ve got to understand, your son is in trouble and I trust her to protect him.”
Nikita stood and walked over to the railings. “They’ve found him?”
“Yes. They’ve heated up the search. This morning, six armed men raided his house. Fortunately, he was out of town. Then they raided another woman’s house, but she escaped also. From what Henrietta told me, they were Russian. But that’s not all, they were looking for a woman up in Solvang, the same woman they tried to kidnap, eight years ago.”
Nikita caught his brother’s eyes. “His wife?”
“Yes. But she escaped. Gale is with her and they’ve gone into hiding. But she suffered two bullet wounds. Nik, there’s more. They have a daughter, Molly. She’s seven. Beautiful and just like Gale.”
“I have a granddaughter?” The sparkle returned to Nikita’s eyes, he was a grandfather. Something he never thought he’d get to be.
“Yes.” The gentle breeze swept over them as they pondered over the scenic view.
“I need to see them. Where are they?”
“I don’t know. I think Henrietta was sending a helicopter in to take them somewhere safe.”
“We need to know where they are, Max. I thought if I stayed away, he’d be safe. But instead I’ve placed him and his family in danger.” He sat back down in the chair and rested his head on the head rest. “I thought they’d stop looking for me by now. Is this ever going to be over?”
“I thought so too. But someone is stirring the pot back home. I don’t know if I am safe anymore, even under my alias. Someone tried to kidnap Henrietta a while back to take her back to Russia. Gale came to visit me, hoping I would have answers for him, but I had to tell him that even I wasn’t safe. I hardly see him these days. I think he doesn’t trust me.”
“That is my fault, Max. I’ve put you into a tight corner to watch over Gale, but not allow yourself to be known to him. I think it’s time. Contact Gale and see if you can arrange for him and his family to come here. They should be safe in this place. It’s served me well for a long time.” For hirty years, Nikita had called Morro Bay home. But the years had been long for the former Russian who missed his wife and children greatly. It was time to change the tide, as the saying went. He’d done all that he could to keep his family safe from his enemies, but it was too late for that. They’d found Gale anyway. It was time to bring his family home to keep them safe.
Maxim stood up and pulled out his cell. He dialled a number and waited. He was surprised when he heard the familiar voice, he’d expected the number to have been disconnected.
“Callen. How are you my friend?”
“You’ve heard something, haven’t you? What do you know?” Callen stood from the chair and exited Alyssa’s room. Molly was fast asleep beside her mother and Joelle had drifted off in the armchair.
“Where are you?”
“I can’t tell you where I am. But you know about the Russians who are after me, don’t you?”
“I need to know where you are, so I can send for you. I have a safe place, no one will find you there.” Callen furrowed his brow, should he trust Arkady, or was he leading him into a trap.
“No. I’m sorry, Arkady, but I can’t trust you. For all I know, you’ll lead me to them. I want names, places, so my team can deal with them.” He wanted to say kill, but he didn’t want people around the ward to be startled.
“I don’t know names or places of who is after you, Callen. I only know of safe place.”
“Safe place. Why do you keep saying that?” Callen’s patience was running thin with the Russian. “For once, Arkady, stop playing games with me. This is my life here.”
“I know about your family. Henrietta told me. Call her. She’ll confirm that I can be trusted.” Arkady disconnected the call and banged his hand on the railing. He turned and faced his brother. “This is your doing. If you had let me tell him from the beginning who I was, he’d trust me.”
Nikita sat in silence as he thought over the situation. “How much does Gale trust Henrietta?”
“More than anyone. Well, except for his partner, Sam Hanna. They’re like brothers.”
“Good. This is good. Then Henrietta can tell Gale to come here. They will be safe.” He stood up and entered the house to make them dinner. He worked his way around the kitchen, washing vegetables for a salad, chopping tomatoes, cucumbers and an avocado. He washed the mixed lettuce leaves and added feta and pomegranates. He pulled out the roasted pumpkin and quinoa salad from the fridge and added the fresh ingredients. He grabbed the fish from the refrigerator and placed them in a tray. With both hands, he carried the fish and barbecue utensils and headed back out onto the deck. Eating with his brother was more enjoyable than on his own.
Nikita ignited the barbecue and walked back inside for the oil, lemon and chardonnay. By the time he’d returned, Max stood by the grill, ready to give him a hand and passed the oil over to him. The salmon fillets sizzled on the grill, the outsides searing from the oil, lemon and chardonnay. Nikita returned with the salad, plates and cutlery. He set the table and opened a fresh bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. He poured into two glasses and offered one to his brother.
Max’s cell rang and a smile edged on his lips when he noted Callen’s id on the screen. “Callen, what took you so long.”
“I don’t know what you told Hetty, but she told me to trust you. You said you knew about my family. What do you know?”
“Henrietta told me that you found your wife, Sarah, and that you have a daughter. Congratulations.”
“It’s a bit late for the wishes, Arkady. Sarah’s real name is Alyssa Taylor. She was using an alias when we met.”
“Like you then. Living with that ridiculous name, what is it again, Walinky?” Arkady knew exactly what name it was, but he couldn’t resist jesting with him.
“Walinski. Hetty chose it, not me. Eight years ago, Alyssa disappeared soon after we were married. She spotted armed men go enter her house, causing her to run. She thought it was to do with her work until today. We have found out that they were enemies of my father’s.”
Callen observed how silent Arkady was on the other end of the phone. “You still there?”
“I am here, Callen. Go on.”
“Where is this safe place?”
“I cannot tell you over the phone. I will send a small plane to you and pick you up. Where are you?”
“Inside a hospital.”
“Henrietta told me about your wife being shot. How is she doing?”
“She lost a good amount of blood, she needs to stay put for twelve hours while she receives the new blood. After that, I’m hoping we can move her.”
“And the girl?”
“She’s safe and uninjured. Scared to let go of me. It was a rough night last night.”
“Stay where you are. I’ll send a plane to you in the morning. I just need your location.” Arkady waited, he knew it was tough for his nephew to trust him, but the fact that Callen called back, confirmed to him that Hetty had told him to accept his help.
“San Francisco. Her parents live up here. It’ll be hard to take her away from them, they thought she was dead. Eight years is a long time to be apart.” The family reunion earlier had been a tearful one. Alyssa’s parents hugged and thanked Callen over and over for finding their daughter. They were surprised to find out that he was their son-in-law and father to their granddaughter. The danger that they were in was kept hidden from them for the time being. But he knew that he would have to tell them in the morning exactly what was going on. It was the only way to get them to agree to move to a safe location with them and here he was going out on a limb trusting Arkady. They had Russians chasing after them, killing those who got in their way, yet he was trusting a former KGB officer to keep them safe. He must be going mad, but he trusted Hetty. And she firmly told him to trust Arkady and to accept his offer of help.