Six Months Ago:
“What kind of deal?” I ask in optimism that my men and I get something good out of this.
The Detective sneers, thinking I played into his hand. “I want to hire you to be a bodyguard for my daughter,” he deadpans.
A split second goes by before I laugh. It’s not a snicker, not a chuckle - I shamelessly laugh in his face. A bodyguard? Me? He must be on crack.
A few seconds later, I sober and take into account the bored look on his face. “Shit. You’re serious?”
“Quite,” he says, taking something out of the front pocket of his shirt then tosses it on the table in front of me. I look down and see a picture of a young girl with wide innocent blue eyes, shoulder-length blond hair, and freckles on her nose. “This is Elena, my daughter.” He leans forward in his seat and taps a finger on the girl’s face. “Marcus has been threatening her life with nasty letters that he sends me monthly. He’s trying to get me to stop tracking him.”
“Maybe you should take the asshole’s advice,” I spill while leaning back in the frosted chair. My skin is so hot from all the adrenaline that I’m beginning to welcome the icy bite.
“I’ve been trying to track this monster for five years now. I’m not giving up until he’s put away for a very long time. It’s why my daughter and I are moving here.” Detective Cochran strokes his goatee in thought. “I’ve finally been able to find where he lives, not just where he operates - he operates all over the country.” He knocks his knuckles on the aluminum a few times before continuing. “I know he resides in this town, your town; I could use your help in keeping a close eye on my daughter so I can concentrate all my attention on locking up Marcus. Elena is going to be a senior this year, she’ll need a friend and someone to protect her; that’ll be you,” he tells me like he’s thought a lot about this. “When I’m not around her, you’ll be around her. You’ll make sure she gets to school and back safely; when she’s home, and I’m not there, you’ll be home to keep an eye on things.”
“My home is at the clubhouse. You know, the one that y’all tore up. How will I be able to keep an eye on her from there?” This is ridiculous.
He leans back in the chair and takes out another couple pieces of paper then places them in front of me; he points at a particular house. “This is your new home,” he tells me with celebration like I just won a million dollars.
The place is a dump. Shrubbery is all over the place, the paint job needs a lot of attention, and there’s a broken window.
“This one.” He points to the house next door, which also looks like a fixer-upper with a saggy front door and siding missing. “Is our new house. They both need some fixing up. It’s how I was able to afford both of them. I’m sure you and your boys can get them looking nice, though,” he says, clearing his throat; I roll my eyes. Of course, he wants us to do all the dirty work. “The only problem is, is that your house only has two windows. There’s a large one in the front of the house overlooking the driveway and the road, and then there is one in your bedroom. I suggest that you create another window, one that you can use to look into our family room and kitchen so that you can keep an eye on things from the comfort of your home,” he says haughtily like I should be happy for this opportunity.
“Hold up. You want me to spy on your daughter through a window, deliberately? That’s just fucked up. You know she’d be able to see me, right?” I can’t believe he wants this, that he wants me.
“I suggest a two-way mirror; you’d be able to install one. You’ll be able to flip me the bird as many times as you want behind my back.” He shows his teeth in a tight smirk while I scoff. Clearly, he was the one on the other side of the mirror, watching me. “You are only to keep an eye on the place. If someone comes over, you need to be able to see whether or not she is in any danger. Hunting Marcus is a twenty-four-seven job, and I need to be able to do it without having to worry about my little girl. Can I trust you or not?” His voice is grave.
Even though this is all crazy to me, I nod my head. I suppose, given the circumstances and what kind of man he’s dealing with, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to do what he suggests in keeping an eye on someone precious to him.
“For how long?” I ask.
“As long as it takes for me to actually be able to catch the son of a bitch.” His voice is un-wavered and sure. “This is a job, Michael. You are not to touch her, date her, or fall in love with her. You are only to be her friend. Then when all is said and done, you disappear; no ties.”
Easy enough, I glance at the photo of the girl. My lungs take in a deep breath before letting out, “What’s in it for me?”
“Freedom,” he retorts. “You and your men get your slates wiped clean.”
Freedom. Sounds too good to be true. If any of these ideas backfire, I need to have something to fall back on. He also wants me to fix up two houses. I still have to repair our tattered clubhouse, my home.
“I want sixty thousand dollars and paid surgery and recovery for Paul,” I demand while leaning forward and interlocking my fingers.
Now it’s his turn to laugh in my face; I pull the same stunt he did in looking bored.
The Detective’s laugh stops short. “Boy, I’m already wiping your slate clean. You get to start over. I’m not giving you any money or paying for someone’s medical bills.”
A sly grin plays on my lips. “In watching over your daughter, I’ll be losing time at work. I need insurance in case all this shit hits the fan, you know?” I lean back to get comfortable while he thinks of an argument. He may have had a straight, but I’m holding the royal flush. “Plus, Paul was unarmed. Your men shot at an unarmed nineteen-year-old. I’ll go to the presses with that; your department will get an uprising for what you guys did. No one was even shooting at y’all; you just decided to come in guns blazing.” Pun intended. “You also want me and my men to fix up two houses. We ain’t gonna use our hard-earned money for that.”
“Hard-earned?” Detective Elijah Cochran raises a brow.
“Fine. Earned money.” I roll my eyes at his need for technicality.
He thinks about it for a moment, stroking that damn goatee.
“Okay. Sixty thousand dollars and paid medical bills for Paul. Do we have a deal?” He shoves his hand in my direction for a gentleman’s agreement.
I grin, and just to be an ass, I say, “I would have done it just for the clean slate.”
Cobra smiles at me. “Your dad has taught you well.”
The grin on my face falls from the mention of my father. “How do you suppose we plan all this out? I mean, look at me. I’m not exactly someone that would run in her circle of friends. I am older than her, too,” I change the subject.
“Let me worry about all of that. I’ll text you the information.” He gathers up the papers to stuff back in his folders then stands up. “You’ll be hearing from me. Keep out of trouble, will ya?” he throws the comment over his shoulder as he pulls open the door and walks out.
I stare at my busted knuckles, hoping that all of this is worth it.
That girl is our golden ticket to a fresh start.
Looking over my shoulder and up at the camera, I give a wink and my best smile just because I can.
There is no breath going into my lungs. Is it possible for my heart to sink so low when it has just shattered? This didn’t happen. This can’t be happening. Not to me. Not right now.
I stare at Mike’s frozen smile on my phone. It’s the smile that he uses when he’s amused. The smile I have come to adore is now twisting my insides into knots. I’m nauseous.
"Not everyone is who they say are.”
”He’ll break your heart, El.”
"But there’s something I need to tell you-”
The statements made by Ovid, my father, and even Mike are downpouring all over me. A part of me knew something was strange, missing in fact, but I ignored it because I had so much blind trust towards my father and Mike. I never thought in a million years that my dad would be the one who would break my heart first.
My heart is pounding loudly in my ears; the room is suddenly so small, it’s shrinking again. Where is all the air? I can’t breathe. I’m literally gasping for air as the reality is hitting me. I was too trusting, too naïve, too in love with a man that I refused to see it.
He’s older than me. How much older?
He was hired by my father to be my friend. To be my bodyguard.
Someone’s been threatening my life. Marcus.
My father didn’t move us here for a safer job. He was hunting Marcus.
Why would Mike take the job so far? I gave myself to him last night.
Oh, this can’t be happening. It was all a lie. I’m nothing but a job for him. My father paid him money! All the affection, all the ‘I love you’s,’ the way he took care of me that night I was almost raped, the dates, the fun we’ve shared, and the making out, even the sex! It was all a lie. He was just doing his job at keeping me close.
Another day with me was just another dollar for him. Who else knows about this? Did Ovid know? Rose?
He spied on me? The painting. I’m willing to bet the two-way mirror is behind the painting.
My mind is jumbled. I can’t think straight. There’s a clatter of the front door opening and closing from the front of the house. I hear a familiar deep southern drawl greeting my father.
I can’t do this.
I need to get out of this house. I need to get away from my father, from Mike.
With anger fueling my need to flee, I grab what’s left of my dignity. With my phone in hand, I text a real friend, and I walk with uncertain steps towards the men at the kitchen table.
Welp! I feel so bad for Elena!