Morro Bay, California
Callen looked out the window and observed the scenery. He’d recognise the rock of Morro Bay anywhere. He was surprised for the choice of location by the Russian, but Arkady was known for his skill in hiding people. The small jet descended and before long they landed. Alyssa squinted her face as the impact of landing shot pain through her body from her injuries. He looked over at her with concern, but she quickly masked the pain and gave him a smile.
How hadn’t he seen it when they first met. The strength in her to override pain was a common factor in trained agents. Had he spent too much thought in hiding his own true identity that he’d not seen that she was just like him? It appeared to him that they were both as surprised as the other that they were both feds. He supposed it reflected that they were both so accustomed to hiding their true identity that it came naturally. It wasn’t from being deceptive, but it was what the job required of them. To protect their covers and to protect those whom they loved.
The door opened and a familiar face smiled, greeting them. “Callen, it’s good to see you again, my friend.”
The Russian was too happy for Callen’s liking. He was hiding something and that made him nervous. Had he made a mistake by coming here and trusting him?
“Arkady. You have a lot of explaining to do,” Callen growled. “You and I need to talk.” He left his now extended family on the jet, until he’d cleared a few things over with Arkady. He turned to Alyssa and Molly. “Stay with your parents and Jo. I’ll be back soon.”
Alyssa nodded, she understood Callen’s need to check with this friend of his, that he was legitimate and that he wouldn’t double cross them.
Callen stepped onto the tarmac and nodded over to the SUV. “Why are you here of all places?”
“I happen to be visiting an old friend of mine. He owns an orchard and when I heard about your situation, I thought where better to hide your family but here with Daniel.”
“Miller. It’s okay, Callen. He’s above board and wouldn’t hurt a fly. Hetty knows you are here and she’s happy for me to help you. Isn’t that enough?”
Callen studied the older man. He was definitely hiding something from him, but he’d leave it for now.
“For now. Who are we while we hide out here?”
“Now you are talking. I love it when we talk business.”
“This isn’t business, Arkady. This is the lives of me and my family. I swear, if you double cross us, I will hunt you down and kill you myself.”
“Whoa! Callen. No need to get so defensive. Have I ever done anything to make you doubt me? I am here as your friend.” Arkady held his hands up in the air in surrender.
“You’re hiding something from me and I don’t like it.” Callen narrowed his eyes.
“We all have secrets, Callen. Now, here are your identifications. I did my best to get them for your in-laws too with the late notice. I have a car for your family to follow us. You and I will continue our talk. This time you will listen to me.”
“I will go with my family, Arkady.”
“I’m sorry, Callen. Not this time. They will be safe in the second vehicle. You and I need to continue our private conversation. We’ve been here too long already.”
Callen noted how firm Arkady stressed this and his heart raced with fear. But the Russian appeared relaxed and smiled happily over to him. Either the man was a genius or a clown, Callen wasn’t sure which.
Callen climbed the stairs and nodded to his family. He entered and lifted Alyssa out of her chair.
“I’m not an invalid, Greg. You don’t need to carry me all the time.”
“Just till we get you settled into the car, okay?” She saw in his eyes the need for him to do this so she capitulated. There was something bothering him and she wondered if it had to do with his friend. He buckled her into the rear passenger seat, expecting him to jump into the front, but instead he kissed her and whispered into her ear.
“Arkady wants me to go with him. You’ll follow in this car with your family. I’ll see you when we get there.”
“Greg.” She held onto his arm for a moment. “Can we trust him?”
“Hetty says we can, I have no other option.” She nodded and accepted that for now that was the way it was to be. Callen slipped his spare gun into her left hand. “Just in case.”
“Thanks. Be careful.”
The drive was uneventful and all eyes remained glued to the scenery around them. Rolling green hills with cows, orchards of avocados and apples and then the Pacific Ocean. Morro Rock stood out like a giant against the town’s backdrop, catching everyone’s attention. They drove through the town and headed north until they turned east up a country road. It winded through rolling hills and they spotted horses running free in the distance. After ten minutes, they turned off onto a dirt road, canopied under apple and avocado trees.
“We’ve driven all this way, and you’ve not said one word to me, Arkady. What’s going on?” Callen pulled out his service weapon and held it pointed at the Russian who was driving. It was only the two of them in the vehicle, his father-in-law drove his family in the vehicle behind.
Arkady pulled up in front of the house and killed the engine. “I haven’t been honest with you about many things, Callen. But the one thing I’ve have been up front with you is how I feel about you. I care about you and I hate to see you or those you care about hurt. I need you to trust me and this friend of mine. This place has offered him a home and protection for thirty years. He, like you, does not live by his real name. But while you need to hide, you and your family will be his family. Daniel will be your father and you’ll be his son, Julian. Don’t screw this up.”
Frustration ran through Callen’s body, he was annoyed with the game that Arkady was playing with him. He followed him out of the car and pinned him to the side door. “Stop playing games with me. Why here? Why do you want me to play happy families with this friend of yours?”
“The people here know and trust him. Being his family will allow the people to accept you into their community.”
Callen shook his head. “No. That’s not it.”
Callen heard footsteps exit the house and descend the few steps from the front door. He turned and stared at the man before him. He studied the man whom Arkady wanted him to play happy families with. He furrowed his brow, there was something familiar about the man, but Callen couldn’t put a finger on why.
“Welcome home, son. It’s been too long.” The man stepped forward and hugged him as if he was really his father. It felt weird to be in this situation, but as the man hugged him, memories returned in flashes. Emotions from long ago resurfaced causing Callen to step back.
“Who…who are you? Why do I know you?” His breathing became rapid as he looked at this Daniel Miller.
“I know it’s been a long time, son, but I hadn’t expected you to have your forgotten who I am?” Daniel slightly knitted his brow as he studied his son, who didn’t appear to like the situation. He turned to his other guests. “I see you’ve returned home with a family of your own. I would very much like to meet them.” The man appeared in control of his emotions as he talked to Callen. Callen was usually good at hiding his emotions too, but not at this moment. Something had stirred inside of him and he couldn’t work it out. His heart pounded heavily in his chest as he looked from Arkady to Daniel. There was something familiar between the two men but he couldn’t figure out why.
Alyssa hobbled out of the vehicle and looked over at a very confused Callen. A mixture of emotions flashed over his face as he stood there dumbfounded at the man who they were to live with. She read the file that Arkady had given Callen on who they were to be living in this new town. She thought it was odd to place them with this man, a loner, from what she could see. Lived on his own for thirty years at least in this quiet part of the country.
“Greg, are you okay?”
Callen turned and looked at his wife. The look he gave her said it all. There was more to this man than met the eye. Her instincts kicked in and she raised the gun that Callen had given her. She pointed it at Arkady, not sure who was the risk.
“Alyssa, what are you doing?” It had been a challenge to explain the situation to her parents on why they had to hide. She and Callen tried to explain to them that they were on the run from some Russians who were enemies of Callen’s father. Alarm for their safety and the realisation on what had happened to their daughter sunk in. But now, her father stood beside her, trying to figure out why she held her weapon on the man they thought was there to help them.
“Callen, you married a feisty one. I should have known this would be your type. But you’ve got this all wrong. You need to tell her to drop her weapon. You’re making a big mistake here.” Arkady looked over to his brother and Nikita realised it was no use. His son had grown up in a world without him, he had no reason to trust him.
“Moy syn . YA znayu, u vas net prichin doveryat’ mne . YA podvedu vas slishkom dolgo. Pozhaluysta , davayte idti vnutr’ i pogovorit’ . Ne kazhetsya li vam vasha doch’ proshla cherez dostatochno v techeniye poslednikh dvukh dney?” [My son. I know you have no reason to trust me. I’ve let you down for too long. Please, let’s go inside and talk. Don’t you think your daughter’s been through enough in the past two days?]
Callen’s head snapped around, he glared at the man who addressed him in Russian. It couldn’t be? After all this time he’d searched for his father, but here he was living as an American just outside of Morro Bay. How many times had he made the journey to this place and felt a connection here?
“Geyl. Pozhaluysta, prosti menya.” [Gale. Please forgive me.]
“Papa?” Flashes from another time came to the forefront of his mind. Tears escaped his welled up eyes as he realised who Daniel Miller was. His father, Nikita Reznikov.
Alyssa knew the language and looked over to Callen with concern. She understood every word this Daniel spoke to him. Molly cuddled up next to her. Her hand that held Callen’s spare weapon, dropped. They were safe, that much she knew.
“Go to Daddy, sweetheart. He needs you.” Molly looked up at her mother and did as she was asked. Callen picked her up and held her in his arms. She was a barrier between him and his father. He had so many questions on why his father never came for him.
“Why now? After all these years, I’ve searched for you, why now?”
“I had to hide to keep you safe from my enemies. I didn’t know about the Comescus until it was too late. It broke my heart not being able to be with you and your sister.
“Amy’s dead. But you already knew that, didn’t you? I found the flowers and your note on her grave. You made the effort to go to her grave, but you never came to see me.” Anger replaced his shock, his voice remained low and steady.
“You were a hard one to find, my son. If it wasn’t for Arkady here, I would never have found you.”
Callen looked back at his old friend. “You lied to me. You told me you’ve never met my father.”
“They were not my words, Callen. I said, no one ever introduced themselves to me as your father.”
“You are playing games with me again, Arkady. I should shoot you right now for lying to me. Whose to say those armed men aren’t on their way here now to kill us all.” He held Molly more firmly and whispered softly soothing words to comfort her.
“I would never do anything to hurt you, Callen. I moved to Los Angeles to keep you safe. I even sent Alina to warn you. We’ve been through this already. What do I have to do to earn your trust.”
“Tell me the truth for once.”
Arkady placed his hands in the air and nodded. “Okay. I will tell you. It was I who brought you and your sister to America to hide you from your father’s enemies.”
“I was the only one your father trusted to keep you safe. But then you vanished in the system. I didn’t find you until you arrived in Russia to work on the joint task force. I couldn’t believe my eyes when you showed up like that. All grown up into a man. Just like your father.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that you knew my father.”
“It wasn’t safe to. I had to change my own identity to protect myself from being traced back to your father.”
Callen furrowed his brow, he looked between his father and Arkady. He saw it now. The similarities.
“Who are you?”
“I am Maxim Reznikov, your uncle.”
It hit Callen hard. All these years he’d known his uncle but he had no idea that he was family. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”
“It wasn’t safe for any of us.”
“Because Henrietta came to me yesterday to tell me about the armed men who raided your house after their shooting rampage in Solvang the night before. The reasons for keeping you apart are no longer valid. Your father’s enemies are desperate to hurt those close to you, to lure your father out. It’s time to reunite father and son and for your father to meet your family. Thirty-nine years is way too long for you to be apart.”
“Hetty came to you?”
“Yes. She thought I could tell her who they were and that I could help find them to keep you safe. But the truth is, Callen, I have no idea who these men are. Only that they were hired by the Russian Government. Someone there is stirring the pot and I have no idea who.”
“You found Amy and I on the beach?”
“Amelia and I were in the water when your mother was shot. I heard the gunshot and ran with Amelia. We found you beside your mother. You stood there in shock and you refused to leave her. You didn’t talk the whole journey to America. I couldn’t keep you with me, it wasn’t safe, not with the problems your father faced. So I hid you with your mother’s family name, in hope to keep you safe. I had to separate you from your sister. They were be looking for a girl and a boy. Your fair hair and blue eyes stood out. I had no idea the shock of what happened to you on the beach made you forget your name and your family.”
“So you decided to bring us here, to play happy families?” He gently placed another kiss on Molly’s temple. This really wasn’t a conversation to have in front of her, but what choice did he have? This was his life, his fate.
“You need each other, Callen. You and your father both need each other. It’s been too long.”
Callen turned and nodded to Alyssa. She and her family needed to be kept safe. If this place had kept his father safe for thirty years, then it would do. But it didn’t mean he had to accept his father back into his life as if nothing had happened. Nikita had let him and his sister down. Their uncle had too, he should have done more to protect them. He looked at his daughter as she held onto him. They were the last of the Callens and Reznikovs. They had to survive, or else this had all been for nothing.
“Okay. We will stay. But don’t…” He looked over to his father. “No hugging. I don’t know you.”
Nikita nodded. He would accept this condition for now. He’d give his son time, things always worked out in the end. He hoped.