“Hey, Baby Doll.” My God-father, Rick Cornell entered my apartment without knocking. Immediately, he outstretched his arms and I stood from the couch and went to him, burying my face in his soft shirt.
“Hey, Pops,” Rick raised an eyebrow. I rarely called him that. Rick had always treated me as his own. He’d been in my life since before I was born. He was my father, Alex Cicconi’s, partner from the day he joined the JBI until the day he and my mother perished in a car accident.
“That bad, huh?” His presence was more than likely job related. Rick held the position just below Andrew Harkins, but he was the only one I could call family.
“Okay kiddo, what’s up?” He rubbed tired eyes that sunk into once vibrant skin. The job had caused premature lines and creases, and grey streaked his dark brown hair, which he often said was my fault with a teasing grin.
“Why does something have to be up for me to hug my God-father?” I retorted.
“Spill it.” Rick pulled a handful of trail mix out his pocket and chewed on it.
“I can’t spy on Sean anymore … and … I cannot get Carl Bolivar’s attention the same way I did Sean’s. I won’t do that – I wouldn’t know how – I didn’t try to attract Sean’”
“Jessie, as much as I hate you doing this. Harkins is right. You are our best hope. Hell, I’m not as worried. Not like I was at the beginning because I know Sean would never let anyone hurt you … or …”
“You always talk about him like he’s the victim instead of the criminal.” I snatched a raisin from the concoction in his hand. “And it really doesn’t help me right now.”
“Maybe I should confide in you for once.” Rick gave a weak smile and lowered himself to the worn sofa. “I know how you are feeling about Sean right now. Hell, at one time I broke a few rules to protect him myself.”
“You…wanted to protect Sean Gianetti?”
“It sounds crazy. I know. But that poor kid went through hell. His father beat the shit out of him. I always knew when it happened. He’d walk down the sidewalk, his eyes down and when he got to the park on those days, he didn’t play. He just sat there, twisting in the swing, staring at his shoes. It took all I had not to snatch him up.”
“You should have.”
“Once. I almost saved him once,” he sighed. “I thought we’d finally put Adrian away for good. Sean was a small child at the time. He would have ended up in a group home, but I stepped up as a foster parent. He was my son.” He brushed a tear from his eye. “Damn that Adrian and his lawyer. Someone mislabeled a piece of evidence at the scene. I don’t know how that was enough to get him out – It shouldn’t have – but whisper the right amount and it will tickle any judge’s ear. Adrian Gianetti used wealth to win his freedom … and Sean.”
He touched my cheek in a soft, fatherly manner. “When you took this job, my heart sunk. I didn’t want you anywhere near him. I wasn’t worried that he would hurt you – I knew he would love you – just as he loved you before.”
“Before?” Of course, I didn’t remember. The same accident that had taken my parents left me in a decade long coma. I remembered a good bit of my childhood but there were a lot of missing moments.
“When he lived with me, you two played together. He was so protective over you.” He chuckled. “I remember when some bratty kid stole your pail in the sandbox. You cried and Sean went after him. I had to move fast to stop him from pushing the kid off the top of the slide.”
“So, Sean knows who I am?” The instant attention I received from him suddenly made sense, but how much did he know about my life?
“No,” Rick stated with complete confidence. “He thinks that little girl is dead. And you … you don’t look anything like her. They had to reconstruct your entire face after the accident.
“Had to or needed to?” He’d omitted so much that I was instantly suspicious. Why did I have to appear different? When doctors could have easily reconstructed me as I had been.
“Jess,” He begged. “It had to be done.”
“To hide me?”
“I had to sweetheart – Sean walked up to my car a few weeks after the wreck. I told him you died too.”
“That’s horrible. Why would you do that?”
“It was safer. And I was right. Adrian liked to inflict deep wounds – deeper than any made by a gun or a knife. He took what meant the most to a man’s heart. I didn’t want that to be you.”
“No – it was Sara.” I suddenly felt guilty. If past events had played out differently, it would have been me that day and perhaps the outcome would have been different. My father had taught me how to handle any situation. I’d been able to take down a full grown man since I was a tiny girl. Disarming a gunman would have been child’s play.
“When he and Sara ran off – I was like – good for him.” Rick continued to divulge hidden feelings that I doubt he’d ever uttered aloud before. “The Bureau tapped everything. I’d listened to what went on in that house for years. I heard casual conversations. Phone calls. Arguments. Fights. So many things over the years. Adrian started sending his son on errands when he turned twelve or so. Sean protested every damn time – it didn’t matter. Adrian forced him to commit every single crime and sent enforcers to make sure he did as commanded. Sean never had a choice – so when he married Sara – I downloaded every last shred of evidence the JBI had against him – that’s what’s on that disc Josh keeps asking for.”
“Why didn’t you delete it?”
“I was just an agent back then. I couldn’t get rid of anything without a senior agent’s approval … but I could move it.”
“So you have it?”
“No. Those damn discs The Bureau uses can survive massive bombs. But Alex knew how to erase it. He was our computer expert at the time. He had programs on his home computer that Max King hasn’t even begun to dream up – But I don’t know if he got rid of the information – I gave it to him the night before the accident.”
“But how would Josh know that Daddy had it?”
“All he had to do was look through the files on the computer. The Bureau keeps up with everything. When I transferred the information to the disc – it was numbered and assigned a locked box in the evidence library. I put in place. Made sure I did everything by the book so there no one would suspect. The plan was for Alex to check it out, erase it or corrupt it – whatever he had planned – then replace it.”
“Wait, Josh only knows that Daddy checked it out last. How would he know the information is that important? Unless someone told him.”
“You know who your father was in The Bureau, Jessie. If he had that disc – anyone would assume it contained something worth checking out.” He sat forward and brought tented fingers to his lips. “I searched for it after … I never found it … I guess it really doesn’t matter now … Sean became exactly what his father wanted.”
“You can’t straddle the fence in that world, Baby Doll.” He gazed sadly. “You’re in it or you’re not.”
“Sean is not like his father, Uncle Rick.” I defended. “He is good. I think he is just stuck. He didn’t want this life. He was forced into and then he became trapped by it.”
“That’s why I am begging you, Jessie. Play Harkins game. If Bolivar goes to jail, it helps Sean more than us. And if Sean goes to jail … right now your love is the best weapon we have.”
“Weapon? You want me to toy with him? Trap him? Like Harkins wants?”
“No that’s not it. Damn it!” Rick let out a loud, frustrating moan. “I’m just tired. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I swear everything I just said here contradicts something else I’ve said.”
“Why don’t you go home and get some sleep.”
“I will.” He went to the door and paused. “Sean’s going to end up in jail … or dead. Which would you rather have? Think about that, Baby Doll.”