The crackling and hissing of the fireplace echoes off the walls in this tiny cabin, the glow from the fire casts a somewhat eerie darkness over the box of Joshua’s life. How can a man like him possibly fit into a file folder box like this at the end of it all? If someone as great as him fits into a box this small then I’m going to need only a matchbox to settle my affairs at the end of my life.
I pull out a folder with keys taped to the inside, all have different labels for three different addresses and cars based at the addresses. One is for an apartment in New York, there is one set belonging to a house in Maryland—just outside of D.C.— and the last one is for a ranch property in West Texas. The last one seems a bit strange for him but then how well do you ever really know someone.
There is a manila folder marked investments that have all the appropriate paperwork to transfer all his stocks and real estate holdings into my name. As I dig into the box I find a couple of photo frames and a stuffed toy and I laugh a little. The toy is the stuffed rat I gave him—as a joke because he was terrified of them—after we finished up our last assignment together. The first photo frame is a sepia photograph of a girl about sixteen laughing and hosing her younger brother on a hot summer’s day in the yard of their home. The boy is a twelve year version of Joshua with an innocent smile superman shorts.
A tear forms in my eye as I see the protective love from an older sister and the trusting love from her younger brother at a time before Joshua knew how cruel the world could be. I open up the back of the photo frame and scrawled on the back of the photo is; Lucy and Josh fighting summer boredom and heat. I carefully place the intact photo back into the box as though it’s as delicate as a snowflake. I pull out the next photo and find a much more recent photograph in a scene I recognise instantly. The photo is from ‘The Red Fox’ bar in New Orleans and in the picture is Ruby and Joshua behind the bar with their arms wrapped around each other and their faces squished together causing a fit of laughter in them both.
They both looked so happy and it seems strange for that place to actually produce such a beautiful friendship as theirs. I leave that photo out of the box and decide to have it handy for a conversation I plan to have with Ruby in the very near future. The rest of the box contains things from his desk at the Bureau, case file notes et cetera. Then I find the envelopes, one is addressed to Ruby, and the other is addressed to me.
After I take another big drink I open the letter addressed to me. I place Ruby’s with the photograph of her and Joshua, I won’t read her letter. It will be the last thing he ever gets to tell her, and it should be for her alone, I refuse to take that from her. I unfold my letter carefully like I might break it, and I see his handwriting and my heart drops as I realize that this letter is the last thing he will ever get to say to me as well.
Well if you’re reading this letter…then that really sucks. I’m sorry about this, I know it’s generic and we’re all supposed to leave these letters to be delivered to our loved ones in the event something tragic happens while we are on assignment.
I’m really only doing this to get my superiors off my back, you know how it is. I’m actually writing this before we go on our road trip tomorrow. The best thing ever would be for us to find Ruby before I have to go, but if we didn’t then I have complete faith that you found her long before this letter found you.
I wrote a letter to my mother as well this time. Seeing the way you’re fighting every day to find the one you love gives me hope that one day I can mend bridges and find my own love. Until then I’ll just bask in the overflow from you and Ruby.
I really thought love like yours didn’t exist in our world, at least not since Shakespeare was alive. I can’t wait to see the child created by two of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. Well this is getting far too soppy.
Anyway I don’t plan on letting anything happen to me while I’m on this assignment, in fact I’m going to try to set a new record for an undercover closure. In the event that this letter is delivered I don’t want you to blame yourself, I know the line of work I’m in and I’m so happy that you found someone in your life that doesn’t make the risk of this job acceptable for you anymore. Having you and Ruby in my life makes me consider giving all of this up as well. You’ve been more of a family to me than my own ever was save for my sister Lucy.
Feel free to do what you like with my estate, I had a fair chunk left to charities and I just couldn’t think what to do with the rest. You know how it is in our line of work, we accumulate so much and need nothing. Well I look forward to having a strong drink with you both when I get back and having a good old laugh about these stupid letters.
Thank you for everything brother
Yours faithfully Joshua Matthew Denton
P.S. I’m really sorry for putting you through this, you don’t deserve any more grief in your life and if the roles were reversed I would be so pissed at you, but you’re stronger than I am. And so is Ruby.
Oh Joshua I do blame myself, I should’ve killed Viktor so long ago. If I had you would still be alive with all the potential for a full life ahead of you. I will live it for the both of us brother, I raise my glass in the air to toast my unspoken vow. I close up the box, leaving out only the photograph of him and Ruby and his letter to her. I continue drowning myself in my sorrow and whisky for the rest of the night until sleep swallows me.
It’s mid-afternoon by the time I crawl out of my blanket of bourbon and despair. I get in the truck and drive to the diner for some food. Leon greets me with a stern look of disapproval,
“What did you do to her?” He hisses questioningly and I respond with a look of confusion. “Well she called me up last night and said she isn’t well and won’t be back to work for the rest of the week. This is my busiest week of the year, the big sled dog race is this weekend.” He tells me furiously. I know he’s not actually mad at Ruby for needing time off, he’s just over run at the moment.
“Look why don’t I lend you a hand this weekend.” I try to offer and he laughs at me.
“Do you have any experience?” He questions me doubtfully.
“I can cook, and I can most certainly crowd control, which is what you’re mainly going to need over the four day weekend.” I tell him.
“I don’t mean to be ungrateful, and yes you can help me out this weekend. Just show up when you can.” He says more gratefully.
“So is she at home?” I ask.
“No I think she went to see the doc and then she said something about taking the dog to visit her pups before the big race.”
I leave the diner and start driving towards the hospital to see the doc. I don’t see Ruby’s car in the lot and I assume she’s been and gone already. The lot is packed as I make my way into the even more packed emergency intake room. Apparently lots of tourists plus snow and icy roads are a combustible mix. I can’t help but smile wickedly the tangled mess of people in the emergency room trying to make sure they’ll still be fine for the race.
One guy is literally standing in a blood soaked shirt talking smack to the bleeding guy next to him about whose dogs are going to win this year’s race. I’m intrigued, I wasn’t aware sled dog racing was such a bloody sport, I may actually go and watch some of the race. I find Doctor Connors in his office elbow deep in medical charts when he looks up and sees me. He holds his hand up to silence me and thumbs towards the exam room next door. I peer around the doorframe quickly and see Ruby sitting—with her back to me—on the exam table.
I hold my hands up to the doc in a what-happened gesture and he shakes his head silently and scribbles a note down for me the signals for me to hide behind the door connecting his office and the exam room. I pull the door quietly in front of me and I can’t help but feel like sixteen year old boy who just told to hide from his girlfriend’s parents after sneaking into her bedroom.
“So Miss Andrews, now that we’ve checked on the baby why don’t you tell what this traumatic memory is that you remember.” I hear the doc instruct Ruby. Even from his office I can hear everything clearly.
“Well when I heard those shot guns at the funeral I thought the sound reverberated in my head until I realized it was a different sound, a closer shorter gunshot. Then I screamed out loud in front of everybody, and my mind filled with these images as I remembered the night I was shot.”
“So it was night?” Doc asks and I can hear a pen scratching furiously on a notepad.
“Yes, and it was on a dock and I was surrounded by people. But I can’t see any of their faces like they were wearing masks or something.”
“Could you tell me how many other people?”
“Dozens at least but I don’t think I knew them, except for the one standing in front of the others.” She says doubtingly
“So there were dozens of people, wearing some kind of masks and you don’t know them. But you believe you know one of them.” He says to her in all seriousness like a doctor just trying to get the facts.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I think the one standing in front of the others was trying to help me. He was blocking the gun fire from them.”
“What where the dozens of others wearing besides the masks, can you tell me?” He queries.
“Black, it was just a groups wearing black, there was smoke everywhere and loud noises and yelling.” She says irritated as she tries to recall more detail. The continuous scratching of the doctor’s pen is starting to grind on my nerves.
“What was being yelled?”
“That’s what scares me, I know the voice clear as a bell,” she says and I hold my breath that she might recognize my voice from that night.
“It’s a dark threatening voice that turns my blood to ice, he calls a name; James Carson.” Holy shit she remembers Viktor calling me out on the dock that night. James Carson was my undercover identity while I was in New Orleans, only Ruby knew my real name as well.
“So is it the dark voice that scares you or the name he called?” Doc asks her and I can hear her breathing heavily.
“Both really, I just started to try to move on with my life and now I know his name. What am I supposed to do, he never came for me and now I know he was there that night.”
“So you believe that the name James Carson belongs to the one you knew, then man who stood in front of the others. What makes you believe this connection?”
“Because of the way I felt when I heard the voice say the name, it felt like someone stabbed me in the chest and I couldn’t breathe at the thought that he was among this carnage.” Ruby says sadly. “I need to know what happened to him, what if he was killed after I was shot and that’s why he never came for me. Oh god.” Her sobs turn into cries and I want to run to her.
“There, there Miss Andrews. I know how we can fix this.” He comforts her and Ruby’s cries turn into hysteric shrieks.
“How in world can you possibly see a way to fix this, you know less than I do about me.” She scolds him.
“We both know who would have the details of that night, why don’t we give the Marshall a call and ask her to fill in what happened?” He tells her calmly and her crying turns into quiet sobs.
“There’s more that we need to tell the Marshall,” Ruby confesses, “When I said I recognize that dark voice it wasn’t just from my distant memory it’s from recently as well.”
“What,” the doc exclaims and I’m glad he is loud because I’m pretty sure I just swore out loud.
“I don’t know when exactly, but I definitely remember hearing that voice and looking down at my arm because the hairs were standing on end.” She says her voice trembling.
“Are you sure this isn’t an old memory?” Doc asks with hope leading his voice.
“No, I was wearing my diner uniform. I just can’t remember when exactly this happened, I’m mad at myself for not following my instincts, I should’ve written in down.” Ruby says abashed. “Mason told me that I should follow my instincts until I get my memory back, he’s really been so sweet to me.”
“I’m calling the Marshall right now, get your things and meet me in my office.” He tells her urgently and I take my cue and bolt from the office, I call the doc later. I scramble back through the throng of injuries in the entrance to the hospital and make my way to the truck. It’s a slow drive home trying to make my way through the tourists packing into this tiny town for this weekend.
As the evening rolls around I pull out my phone to call the doc, I punch in the first few numbers until I see his car pull up in my driveway. He storms into my house like a mad man on a mission.
“I can’t believe their stupidity!” He yells as he paces back and forth across the living room without so much as a hello. I grab the whisky bottle off the floor and hand it to him. He opens the bottle and takes a swing.
“Do you know what those bastards just told her,” he spits the words out through spatters of booze. “They just told her that James Carson doesn’t exist, and that they can’t assign more protection to her based on a maybe memory that she has of a voice that she can’t remember for sure who it belongs to.”
“That’s bullshit,” I echo his feelings, “James Carson was my undercover identity on that case, and I’m fairly certain I exist. And if it’s true that Viktor has contacted her recently then he has to be aware of her memory loss, and he’ll use that to his advantage. He’ll toy with her.”
“I’m going to have to tell her, I’m her doctor I can’t let her remain at risk like this. This revelations may either slow down or speed up her memory recovery but it’s a risk we’ll have to take at this point.” He says firmly.
“So you didn’t tell her already?”
“No, after we listened to that line of bullshit from the Marshall contact she started to have a go at us because Ruby left the state without informing the Marshall beforehand.” He says angrily. “After that Ruby told me she’s headed up to the mountains for the rest of the week until the race. She’s gone to stay with the racer who bought all of her dog’s pups.”
“I have to go after her, she might be in danger.” I tell him urgently and he shakes his head at me.
“The only one who’ll be in danger is you if you go anywhere near that place. The racing teams get very paranoid about sabotage this close to the race and they’ll shoot first ask questions later if they catch any strangers on their property. Ruby is more than safe there and in truth you and I are going to need to get our story straight before she comes back.” He assures me. I have pleasant thoughts about some guy shooting Viktor on site and letting the dogs tear his body to pieces.
I start to fill doc in on the events at the funeral as they concern to Ruby. The way she trembled and broke down as she remembered being shot, and he reminds me that it could be sounds that trigger memories like that. Then I remember the highlight of my day,
“I felt my baby kick for the first time yesterday.” He nods at me approvingly.
“Yes she did mention there was a much happier start to the day, Miss Andrews was quite excited about the baby’s movement and the ones since.” He tells me.
“It was such an incredible feeling, I wish I could just fall into that feeling and stay there. Instead I’m going to have to search for Viktor and make sure Ruby is safe, but how can I keep them safe when I can’t see them.” I say exasperated. The doc pats me on the shoulder heavily.
“When Miss Andrews comes back, I’m going to show her the medical file and explain that I came across it in a Jane Doe database and recognized her picture. I’m not sure how I will explain knowing the man who caused her extensive medical treatment.” He offers swallowing another gulp of whisky.
“What if we get Leon to show her the news alert about the escaped prisoner, she doesn’t have to know him to be afraid of him. Then she’ll at least be aware of a potential threat.” I offer.
“You know Miss Andrews believes you’re secretly married.” He says out of the blue and I nearly choke on my drink.
“What? Why does she think that?”
“She told me about a lawyer who expected to find you with someone named Alyson, and she also believes you’re too good to be true.” He laughs at me.
“That lawyer was unexpected,” I try to explain.
“I know, you were hoping to catch a psychotic killer using her as bait not a lawyer.” His sarcasm in unbefitting.
“Did Ruby happen to mention when she’ll be back,” I ask ignoring his jibes.
“February ninth, the day after the race.” He confirms. That doesn’t give me long to find Viktor.
“You’ll let me know when you tell her.”
“Of course, I’ll leave you to your hunting. Good luck. Please be smart, it would be terrible for her to finally remember you and you’re imprisoned for life for ridding the earth of that scum.” The doc warns me and I just smile at him reassuringly. There is no way Viktor Nolikov will ever be the reason keeping me from her again.
It’s race day—well start day. The race takes place over the next few days. People travel from all over the country and even the world to compete in the Apostle Island Sled Dog Race that kicks of here in Bayfield. I’ve been helping Leon out at the diner to help feed the masses of people that have flocked to this small town for the event. I haven’t heard from Ruby all week, which would worry me if Leon hadn’t told me he spoke with her this morning. Apparently she’s enjoying her break and has a great view of part of the race from where she’s staying.
I’m finding myself grateful for the distraction of the diner work, with Ruby not here and my search for Viktor coming up empty, my mind has been running in circles. I’ve been talking with Agent Greenberg daily since the funeral trying to help find him. I still haven’t mentioned exactly what I’m doing in Bayfield or the fact that there is a huge draw card for Viktor here. I do tell Greenberg he should search surrounding areas for him, in case he’s looking for me.
Greenberg has been trying to convince me to come back to Washington D.C. to work on the case where they can keep an eye on me. I keep declining, I know why I stay here. As much as I want to use the Bureau’s resources to find Viktor, I don’t intend to let him be taken into custody, especially not now that I know he’s been in contact with Ruby since she came here.
After a hectic four days of crowds of sled dog racing fans. I’m appreciating the quiet of a deserted diner.
“Thanks for helping me out the past few days, here’s a little something for your trouble.” Leon says as he hands me a couple of hundred bucks, I push it back to him.
“Put it in the girls tip jar.” I smile as I grab my coat on the way out the door. Leon waves goodbye and I can’t wait to see Ruby, but I refuse to go by her house and I know her first stop will be the doc when she gets back. As I sit reading by the fire my peaceful solitude is broken by my phone ringing,
“Well, she didn’t take it well,” I hear docs voice, “And I don’t think she quite believes me about how I came across the information. She asked me if the file was based over so many years why wouldn’t the treating doctor have recorded her name anywhere and I tried to think quickly and said it may have been under criminal threat. Which she may have taken that I implied she was the criminal.” He concludes.
“That’s great doc, now she’s probably more confused about her identity.”
“I was hoping you could provide me with an intelligent FBI scenario that may be able to fill the holes in my story for her next visit.” He asks desperately.
“Maybe you should tell her the truth —mostly—that the file was sent to you anonymously and you were worried about the reaction from the Marshalls so you didn’t share the information.”
“You are far better at this than I am, I wish you would talk to her.” He tells me.
“Well I might get my chance, she just pulled up in my driveway,” I tell him hanging up as I look out the front window. The knock on my front door is frantic and I hear Kida’s barking as well. I open the door and Ruby storms in furiously and Kida jumps on me. At least one of the ladies seem happy to be here.
“I’m so sorry I just showed up here.” Ruby apologises upset.
“It’s fine, are you alright?” I ask knowing how upset she must be.
“Have you ever had that feeling that a rug was just pulled out from under you?” She asks rhetorically and I try to gesture for her to take a seat as Kida keeps jumping up on me.
Ruby seems exhausted and strung out and she practically collapses into the arm chair upon my gesture. I settle Kida down and I take a seat on the sofa opposite Ruby.
“I can trust you Mason,” she states questioningly and I look seriously at her.
“I need to tell you something,” she says warningly. “I’m actually in witness protection.” She pauses awaiting a dramatic reaction from me.
“I was FBI for fifteen years.” I remind her so she knows I will be able to handle whatever she wants to tell me.
“Right,” she shakes her head, “so you’re used to dealing with criminals.” I nod allowing her to continue. “Do you think I’m a criminal of some sort?” She asks discouraged.
“Absolutely not.” I tell her certainly.
“Would you be able to find out if I was, with your FBI connections or something?” Her voice is soaked with desperation and I reach out my hand to pat her shoulder.
“You’re not, like you said I’m used to dealing with criminals. Besides if you were a criminal and you made some kind of deal for witness protection your file would be sealed by US Marshalls. Where is this coming from?” I encourage her.
“Basically you know I can’t remember anything from the past eight years or so, but then I remembered being shot. Only criminals get shot, and today Dr Connors showed me a medical file that had my face al through it, but I was badly beaten in every photo. The file had no name attached and the doc said it may be because of criminal intent.” She says with her voice turning slightly hysterical towards the end of the rant.
“Whoa, slow down here. Firstly I can guarantee that a lot more innocent people get shot than criminals do. Secondly did you read any of the medical file that explained your appearance in the photos? Thirdly how in the world did you put two and two together and come up with nine?” I ask her with a smile and she lets out a deep breath and smiles.
“You always know how to calm me down.” She says gratefully. “I just feel like nobody will tell me anything truthful. I don’t know what I did to land myself here and my mind instantly drew the worst conclusions.”
“So did you still want me to check the FBI’s most wanted for your picture?” I ask tentatively. Ruby laughs a soft laugh.
“I’m breaking the rules by telling you about this, I could be in big trouble and they might even relocate me,” She confesses solemnly.
“I know,” I tell her, “I can keep a secret if you can.” She smiles in wicked collusion with me.
“Speaking of secrets,” she bites her lips, “who is Alyson Morgan?” My heart stops beating hearing Ruby speak her real name.
“My wife,” I say seriously, “she’s at home with the four kids right now while I’m out exploring the country side and finding myself.” I crack a twisted smile at Ruby’s shocked face and she throws a pillow from behind her back at me.
“That’s not funny,” she scolds playfully.
“I’m sorry, she was someone who was a great help to mine and Joshua’s last case together.” I tell her hoping she’ll drop it.
“Were you two a thing, is that why the lawyer expected to find her with you?”
“I don’t think it could be called a thing,” I tell her dismissively.
“So you don’t have anyone in your life right now?” She asks curiously and I think back to our subtle moments together.
“I wouldn’t say that,” I tell her with a smile. Her face flashes with regret as she remembers herself.
“I’m sorry Mason, I don’t want to lead you on it would be too cruel. I remembered the name of the man I loved before all of this happened to me.” She says sadly.
“I’m happy for you,” I tell her honestly.
“I at least owe him a chance to explain what happened between us, especially considering,” she trails off as she caresses her belly.
“I’ll make you a deal, the moment this prince of yours shows up I’ll back off like a gentleman.” I tell her with a confident smile and she mistakes it for arrogance.
“So what you’re just going to be a fill in boyfriend until the real one shows up, how very chivalrous of you.” She snaps as she gets to her feet and makes her way towards the door.
“That’s not what I meant,” I plead grabbing her gently before she reaches the door. I turn her to face me and I put on my best I’m-sorry-I’m-an-idiot look. “I just mean that I would consider myself lucky for anytime that I get to spend with you.”
“That’s not fair to you Mason, not when I’m not sure of anything least of all my own heart.” She whispers into my chest.
“I’m a big boy I can handle it, besides I have a feeling that you’re worth every bit of any potential suffering. Of course we could continue being friends, until I fall madly in love with you then end up having to duel that prince of yours to the death.” I tell her.
“Please don’t joke about this, I’m sick with worry about everything.” She pleads.
“I’m sorry, I just know how amazing you are and I just want to be a part of your life I don’t care how big or small a part.”
“Oh god please don’t tell me you’re ready to be a father to my baby or I will lose it.” She whimpers.
“Now who’s making jokes?” I ask. “Besides all I know is that I want to be with you here in the present, no haunting past, no worrying future, just us here and now.”
“I really don’t know what to say to that, I need to think about it.” She tells me and I plant a light kiss on her forehead and Kida jumps up on us breaking our hold.
“I better go,” she smiles at me. I wave contently at them as they carefully back out of my driveway. I meant everything I said to her, I’ll talk whatever time I can get with her. I want her to remember me but maybe I need to help her remember with a few familiar scenarios.