I closed the oven door, picked up my glass of red wine, and I stared at the chipped tile backsplash behind. A week passed. Then two, and Harkins stubbornly refused to abandon his ‘honey trap’ idea.
Slowly I sipped from a wine glass, but its contents did nothing to calm my nerves – or make me happy. Nothing made me happy. Sean’s phone call had been a surprise – and that had made me smile. But that was weeks before and nothing since.
I turned to the granite center island and began breaking off leaves of lettuce for a salad I planned to compliment my roast. I ripped the vegetable aggressively. The same thoughts plagued my mind that had before and my brain seemed to race a mile ahead of my body.
‘Did I still want the job with The Bureau?’
‘Why would I give it up?’
‘Being with Sean would never be an option. The Bureau will bug my home – without my knowledge. I couldn’t live with the constant paranoia. Eventually, that would kill the relationship – and then I’ll have nothing.’
‘Josh would never leave me alone. How violent would he become – especially if I continued with Sean.’
‘Sean would kill Josh. Or Josh would kill Sean.’
I poured myself another glass and jerked the largest knife I owned from a butcher block. I stabbed a tomato without bothering to place it on a cutting board, not caring if I etched a scratch in the counter as I sliced angrily.
“Oww! Damn it!” I shouted and stuck my finger in my mouth to suck up the blood that oozed from the fresh slice in my finger. “Ouch.” I whined, headed to the sink and ran my wound under cool water. The cut was deep. Another event I blamed on Sean, Josh, and the JBI for clouding my mind, rendering me incapable of focusing on simple tasks.
“I guess Sean’s not the only one you plan to leave behind. That’s pretty shitty of you.” I turned toward the voice.
Tina stood, inside my home, without invitation. She dropped her purse on the chipped table and plopped down in one of the torn vinyl chairs. “Then again, we were never really part of your life?”
“I guess knocking is beneath you?” I grabbed a grater from a drawer and a chunk of cheddar from the fridge. “I didn’t leave anyone. You’ve been ignoring me and you’ve done a great job of avoiding me – why break the silence, today?” In no mood to have the dishonesty of my false identity ridiculed, I offered nothing that resembled our former friendship as I continued my task.
“What are you cooking?”
I didn’t speak to my unwanted guest and scooped up my ingredients threw them into a large bowl and tossed vegetables together.
“I get it. You’re too good to talk to me now that I know what you really are.”
“I’m not in a talking mood today. Excuse me if I’m not entertaining enough for you.”
“Oh, I know you’re not taking out your frustrations on me?” Tina stood, stuck out her hip and her hand landed on it sternly.
“You know the way out,” I snapped at the woman again.
“Girl, is it that time of the month?” I gawked and Tina smiled, causing me to laugh.
“I thought you were done with me?”
“Well, I was pissed, but that didn’t stop me from missing you.” Tina snatched a cucumber slice from the bowl, squeezed out a bit of dressing from a nearby bottle and popped it in her mouth.
“You missed me? A lying cop. You don’t like cops, Tina.” I pulled the bowl away. “Stop eating my food!”
Tina grabbed the bowl of salad from the table and launched its vegetables, making them rain down on me.
I swatted leaves of lettuce from my shoulder. “Oh, that’s real nice,” I spat and grabbed the broom from the corner so I could clean up the mess.
Tina grabbed the sprayer from the sink and turned on the water. “You know what I think?”
“No, what do you think, Tina?”
Her answer came in the form of cold water hitting me in the face.
“I think you need to cool off.”
“Cut it out!” I squealed, but Tina didn’t stop her attack, until I was cowering on the floor, laughing hysterically.
I wiped the water from my face. The front of my tee-shirt and jeans were soaked and a puddle of water stood on the floor, our friendship rekindled as if nothing had caused us to quarrel. “I can’t believe you did that!”
“Well, I did,” Tina giggled and tossed me a dry towel from the counter. “So, how do you feel now?”
“Surprisingly, much better,” I admitted. It was nice to laugh. I had felt so much despair that I had feared I would never smile again.
“Friends.” We hugged in the middle of the puddled floor.
“And I do hate cops. Well, one cop.”
“David. He really is Jamal’s father, isn’t he?” I asked, sympathetically touching her shoulder. Tina nodded and held a breath. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“You’re smart. I think you get the idea.” Tina, as always smiled away the bad and she continued to do so. I admired her even more for love she gave her son despite the circumstances in which he was conceived. “So, what’s your real name, Jessie Lawson?”
“Cicconi. I’m Jessie Cicconi.” Picking up the kitchen as an instant diversion.
“I know that name.” She stated, thought intensely a moment before her mouth formed a big oh.
“Yeah – he was my dad.”
“Girl people in the badlands still talk about that guy.” She laughed. “And what about that guy you were engaged to. Does he really exist?”
“Josh Tucker,” I admitted and again my tears threatened to escape.
“That sleazy pig? I heard he smacked you around, but I had no idea he was your fiancé.” I raised a questioning eyebrow. “I saw you – once. I saw the marks on your neck, and I should have said hi but I just wasn’t ready to talk to you then. I’m sorry.”
“I’m still undercover, Teen.” I admitted. “But, I guess you know that. I’m sure you’ve seen me even though I haven’t seen you.”
“Actually, I haven’t been avoiding you. I haven’t been at the club or here. Jamal got sick. They put him in the hospital.”
“What? Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s great. Now.”
“Pneumonia and wouldn’t you know my kid would fall into the ten percent that the medicine doesn’t work for?” She shook her head with an unbelievable expression and raised her eyes to the ceiling. “They kept him a little over a week, but I still needed to be home with him – I didn’t go out for anything – I don’t know what I would do if I lost him.”
“You didn’t.” I squeezed her shoulders.
“Yeah. I didn’t.” She wiped away a tear. “So why are you still playing stripper?”
“The agent in charge wants me to ‘use my feminine talent’ on Carl Bolivar.”
“The bald headed pervert who can’t keep his hands to himself.”
“The creep? Gross.”
“He constantly demanded that I use Sean’s feelings against him … but I … I’m just glad he left town.”
“But isn’t that what you were after? Information to put Sean in jail? You could have got …”
“No. I was just trying to find out who these Bolivar people were. They’re going to be a lot of trouble.”
“I know. I’ve already seen it.”
“I know this is a cop question, Teen, but what have you seen?”
“Not much. Honestly. You know me. I pretend I don’t see shit, put my head down, and keep walking – but I’ve seen thugs raiding a few shops. They go in, guns drawn – and girl I knew it wasn’t an ordinary robbery when I saw that bald headed guy with them a couple of times. I mean I was sure he worked with Sean until I saw that. Seany would never – ever shake down the locals – You didn’t hear this from me, girlie.”
“Of course.” I let out a deep breath. “I don’t want to keep doing this – and I flat out refuse to do what that asshole Harkins wants me to do.”
“Maybe you should.”
“You need to get that asshole off the streets in a hurry, girl. Anyway you can.”