Sipping my tea, I watched as my neighbor ran to her Chevy Camaro in the pouring rain. Her long red hair was soaked by the time she ducked into her car, her overnight bag stopped the door from closing as she struggled to yank it in. Frustrated, she stomped out, chucked the luggage into her passenger seat, and slammed the door.
I chuckle aloud to myself, the sound echoing off the empty bland walls of my house. The walls were devoid of clutter, a side effect of my profession. Sighing, I plopped down into a black lazy-boy and flipped open the book I had been reading.
My house had a little personality. It was a two-story building, nestled into a small neighborhood of quirky misfits in a hick-town called Angels Creek. It was far from my usual scene and at first, I detested the small city in the Foothills of California. After almost two years on assignment here, I dreaded having to leave and go back to the city.
The book, a grisly detective type, bored me at the moment, so I tossed it on the scuffed coffee table and drug my feet to the kitchen.
“Tea is pointless,” I muttered to myself, pouring the liquid down the drain. I traded it for a mug of hot chocolate and decided to call my mother, who insisted I check in every week. I’m thirty-one years old, not seventeen. Still, I smiled as my finger hovered over her thumbnail picture in my phone’s contacts.
My mother, Alinta Jannali-Kovac, grew up in Australia. Her bloodline was of the Alura peoples, indigenous to the Northern Territory. She loved to tell stories about her family. My younger twin sisters and I would gather around her before bed, and she would tell us tales that had been passed down to her, and sometimes she had stories of her own life growing up.
My mother was a bubbly sweet woman: full of life, positivity, and always took care of those she loved before her own self. My father adored her. She was probably the only person who could get away with telling my father, Antonin Kovac, to “take a chill pill” as she’d always put it.
I thought back to the last time I saw her, which was briefly last Christmas. She wore a bright red and gold colored dress which had contrasted admirably against her umber brown skin. She had embraced me in a warm hug, tighter than such a slight woman is expected. I remember the smell of the coconut oil based conditioner I had inhaled as she hugged me, her curly black hair tickling my nose. Mom was five-foot-four, so her head only hit my chin standing. She was so beautiful, and her eyes and voice made you feel like her soul was wafting in the air surrounding her.
My father, on the other hand, was a no-nonsense businessman. He grew up in Slovakia, working his tail off on whatever jobs he could procure until he scraped up enough money to migrate to the United States. Only nineteen at the time, he worked for a farrier and developed quite the eye and heart for horses. Creating his own business, Antonin began to save up as a single man and found that he had a mind for investing his money. With that, was birthed his true first child: Kovac Estate. I loved my father deeply, but often I questioned how my mother had such an unwavering love for such a hard shell of a man. They were the epitome of the saying, “opposites attract”.
He was an inch taller than I, standing at six-four. His salt and pepper hair was always neatly trimmed and his beard rarely grew past a stubble. The strength emanated from him, and his presence commanded authority and respect from nearly everyone he encountered. For all his outward appearances, he was a sucker for charities, children, and my mom.
I called my mother, smiling as I awaited her greeting.
“Eli! Baby!” her voice chimed over the phone. Sometimes I almost forgot my real name was Eli Kovac, not Gregory Harrington.
“Ma,” I replied, a genuine grin spreading across my face.
“How are you my baby boy?” I could just picture her pinching my cheeks as if I were still in diapers.
“I’m doing great, Ma. Finally feeling settled in, and getting over this damned cold,” I flinched, realizing I had used a forbidden word to my mother.
“You owe me a dollar twenty-five now; I’ve been keeping a record,” she scolded gently, a little bit of her accent slipping into her words. You had to really listen to pick out her accent now. When I was born it seemed as if she would always have that thick accent, but that was three decades ago.
“Fine. Sorry mother,” I felt like such a bitch as I apologized. She loved me, and her rules followed me subconsciously everywhere I went for several years into my adult life.
“So, have you met anyone special? Is she beautiful? When are you going to give me some grandkids, honey?” She was talking a mile a minute.
“No, sorry. I’ve been a little busy.” I lied. I had met someone special. My eyes gazed toward the side window in my kitchen that had a perfect view of my neighbor, Desiree’s, home.
“Well, you really should. Time is not on your side, love. You know I love you, but isn’t this career thing taking up too much of your life?”
“You mean is the ATF taking over my life?” The answer was yes. The ATF had, in fact, taken over the majority of my life. In some way, I felt it my duty to keep it up. I was already six years in, so I might as well do what I was good at until I could cash out with a decent retirement.
“You know you could always just use the money your father has put aside for you. You haven’t made a single withdrawal since you were a teenager.” I heard my mother hiss at my father to keep his mouth shut on the other end until she was done.
“Thank you, but I want to save that for when I meet her, have kids, and buy a house. It’s my family money mom, so it should be used on my family.” Explaining it out loud, I felt a little sad. The her I wanted was so close, yet felt so untouchable.
“Well, anywho, Christa is getting married.” Christa is one of my twin sisters. She was dating one of our father’s associates sons, and they’d been going strong for the last two years. I thought he was alright, but my mother and father both thought he was perfect for her. If he’d had a brother, they would have probably set him up with Lila, my other sister.
Alinta talked to me for the next thirty minutes before handing the phone to my father. As usual, my father did not have much to say, so it made for a short conversation. He was still holding a grudge after nearly twelve years because I decided to serve my country instead of taking on the family business. I neither wanted his money nor his legacy.
Hanging up, I plugged my cell phone into its charger and headed for my bedroom to take a shower. The stairs were cold on my bare feet. Maybe that’s why I got sick, I mused to myself.
Tossing my clothes in the basket, I turned on the hot water and let the steam fill the bathroom as I stared myself in the mirror.
My hair had grown out quite a bit. What used to be stubble on my chin this summer had turned into a raging forest of thick brown hair. My hair had even started to curl like my mother’s does because it was so long.
I sat down on the bench I built into my bathroom, and rubbed my sore right thigh. The place where my leg from the knee down used to be was now a cold piece of prothstetic limb. I quickly removed it along with the sock and moved carefully to get into the shower. If I thought about it too much, my mind would be bombarded with the memories of the events that led to landing me back in the States.
Sighing, I let the hot water run over my overgrown face and head. I couldn’t stop thinking about Desiree. We had first met around two years ago, in 2018, and hadn’t had our first interaction until six months after when I saved her hide from a sniper vigilante who was running from Saul, the local detective.
I remembered it clearly.
The truck I was tailing came to a stop across the street from a quiet gas station. Liam McIntyre got out and trudged across the road into the store. The sweat gathered under my hands on the steering wheel as I readied myself to jump out. Crouching, I followed the scraggly bushes up to the passenger side of the stolen truck, and impatiently waited for him to return. The girl he’d kidnapped, Desiree, was thrashing around under the tarp in the tailgate, and I was itching to save her. I had to debilitate Liam first.
Once he returned to the truck, I yanked the door open and climbed inside, my Sig-Sauer pointed straight at his temple in my left hand. I placed him in a chokehold and waited for him to succumb to unconsciousness. The knife I gripped in my right hand glinted in the sunlight as I carved a symbol of traitors into his arm. He was a vet, like me, but he had betrayed his country by murdering those who inhabited the U.S., instead of protecting them.
Desiree was crying when I released her from her binds, and she melted into my chest for a few minutes before she came to her senses.
That was when I knew she was it.
I knew Desiree should be with me, but not yet. Maybe not ever, if she knew what kind of things I had done both in the past and present. She was recently widowed anyway. I was fairly positive she wouldn’t be receptive to my advances only seven months after the death of her husband, Detective Saul Perez. He was the head detective of Angels Creek, a marine vet, and an old flame of Desiree’s. After the incidents that caused chaos in their lives two years ago, they quickly were in love and married. Saul was called back in December to be deployed to Syria, and four months later, in March of this year, Desiree was given the notification that he had been killed in action. Naturally, it crippled her.
Her saving grace was her sister, Ava, who moved out of her boyfriend’s house and back in with Desiree. Ava found out in July she was four weeks pregnant. Of course, her boyfriend wanted nothing to do with any of that, so Ava permanently lived with her older sister.
The pretty redhead had a lot on her shoulders. Two stalkers, being kidnapped briefly, and the death of her husband. She had the awful task of going through all his things and selling his house. I was able to catch enough of what was going on in small talk as we came and went from our respective homes. She even had that giant black dog of Saul’s.
Frustrated, I turned off the faucets and dried myself off, determined to get her out of my head. Just then, I heard my phone chirp. Wrapping the towel around my hips, I descended the steps and flipped open my screen.
Dominic, a man I had become friends with at the company I was currently working undercover in, had called me. I pressed the dial back button and leaned against the counter.
“Yo! What’s up, man? Want to go out tonight? We need to meet some ladies and spend some of this money. Oh, and get hammered.”
“Yeah let’s do it. I’ll be ready in ten,” we disconnected and I went back upstairs to change.
It was raining so I chose clean waterproof dark leather work boots, which I used in lieu of dress shoes or the like. I liked the comfort and look of them. Ladies were fond of them too, although I hadn’t taken a girl back to her place in nearly a year, I still occasionally enjoyed the attention I got. Most of it had to do with the southern accent everyone claimed I had. My father’s estate is in Tennessee, but I had been gone so long I never thought I really had it anymore. I guess alcohol helped to reveal my roots.
Getting dressed in a clean pair of black wranglers, a long sleeve black cotton shirt, and a dark brown leather jacket, I trotted back down to the front door, grabbing the essentials just as Dominic pulled into the drive.
Stepping into the rain, I tossed a wistful look at Desiree’s house and prayed I could forget, at least for tonight.