CHAPTER THREE SHADOWS
Jazz lay in bed, her thoughts continually returning to Aidan. It thrilled her that he called her “love”, even though that was akin to “How are you?” in the States. To her it was captivating and created pleasant tingles where she wanted him to touch her. She grabbed her cell from the nightstand when it buzzed.
“Good morning, love,” Aidan chimed.
Jazz almost laughed, but she wasn’t prepared to admit she’d been thinking of him. She rattled off events of the last two days since he left.
“Can you come visit?” he interjected, chuckling about her enthusiasm. “I got you a plane ticket, hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind. I’d love to visit.”
“Bloody fantastic. I like your spontaneity.”
Time crawled over the four days until the flight. Jazz stayed busy with finishing photo shoots, buying a few things for the trip, cleaning her house, and any other mundane task she could find. She feared she was being impulsive, visiting a guy she just met, but somehow he made her comfortable.
Jazz left the turboprop plane and crossed the tarmac to enter the Aspen airport which was tucked between immense mountain ranges, their peaks still blanketed with lingering winter snow. Aidan beamed as she walked toward him.
“Hi, love.” He kissed Jazz on her cheek. “How was your flight?”
“It was so beautiful flying over the Rocky Mountains,” she replied, her eyes dancing.
They hopped into Aidan’s red jeep and headed north on Highway 82. The road followed the course of the Roaring Fork River, delivering the spring run-off to the Colorado River. Pine-covered hills surrounded them on both sides. Aidan described the small towns they passed: Old Snowmass and Basalt. At El Jebel the valley widened, opening to red rock hills dappled with sagebrush. The air was dry, the sun bright.
A few miles past El Jebel, Mount Sopris burst upon the scene in all its glory, the largest mountain mass in Colorado. Jazz gazed out her window sensing what Aidan and the Ute Indians understood. In the mountains’ dynamic presence you’d be drawn to live a life in tune with nature.
Aidan pulled off Highway 82 and traveled through the quiet town of Carbondale that lay in an open plain below Mount Sopris. They entered a narrow valley dotted with homes and farms spread out in the lowland alongside the brimming Crystal River. Aidan left the road that led to McClure Pass and drove across a bridge over the river. Jazz watched with anticipation as Aidan’s home came into view. His house melded into the setting with hefty logs, rock, and stucco. He parked under a portico, its roof supported by mammoth log posts.
Aidan grabbed Jazz’s bag and guided her through the double front doors to an expansive slate- tiled entry and into his living room. Mount Sopris stood perfectly framed in his floor-to-ceiling windows.
“This is spectacular,” said an enthralled Jazz.
Aidan reminded Jazz of a young boy cheerfully presenting his treasures. He showed her the guest bedroom with attached bath, placing her bag on the Brazilian cherry wood floor. Next, he led her past the kitchen to his deck where they settled on lounge chairs. In the nearby pasture, quarter horses munched on grass, swishing flies away with their tails.
“I see why you call this your dream spot.”
“Great place to unwind after working with my clients.”
Jazz found it hard to relate to working with people with such severe problems and wondered how he stayed so upbeat.
Aidan gathered carrots from the fridge, took her hand, and led Jazz to the pasture. They climbed between the white fence rungs and walked carefully to avoid droppings. The air held a fertile scent of alfalfa and decaying manure. “Here’s one for you, Charlie boy.” The stallion’s massive teeth chomped the carrot. As if to thank him, Charlie rubbed his muzzle against Aidan’s arm.
“This is Lucky Lady.” Aidan introduced the chestnut mare anxiously awaiting her treat. Jazz chuckled when Lucky snatched the carrot off the flattened palm of her hand.
“I want to show you something.” Aidan guided her through clumps of grass to a large wooden platform suspended from a branch of an ancient, twisted oak tree. Placing his hands above her hips, he lifted her onto the flat surface and gave the swing a firm push before jumping on.
It impressed Jazz how easy this was for him. She released a high squeal as the giant deck moved like a pendulum, making a wide sweeping track under the oak tree. They lay together, holding on to each other, laughing. Jazz smiled to herself, pleased that Aidan enjoyed sharing his world with her.
Later that day, Jazz hung her new dress in the closet, combed her hair, and straightened her clothes while glancing in the full mirror. She picked off stray bits of grass from her jeans. Aidan planned to barbecue, so she went to join him. As Jazz passed by his office, she heard him on the phone.
“Harvey, I’m not comfortable with this.”
Jazz listened with a guilty conscience.
“Well, it’s not what I agreed to,” he continued. “I didn’t predict this, it just happened―all right, I’ll call you tomorrow.” Aidan hung up with an angry grunt.
Jazz hurried outside and sank into a patio chair. His voice sounded so serious that she wondered what was going on in his life. Since she’d been eavesdropping she couldn’t mention it. Clearly, she needed to get to know him better.
Aidan came to the deck carrying a bottle of wine, opened it, and poured a glass for Jazz. He seemed distracted. He lit the barbecue then sat opposite Jazz.
“Do you have any brothers and sisters?” she began her inquiry.
“Only five sisters.”
“You must understand women.”
“Oh, not really, that’s one of the big mysteries. I gained respect for women though. It wasn’t easy,” he grinned. “My dad and I were outnumbered.”
Jazz noticed Aidan enliven as he discussed his family.
“Do you have any siblings?”
“No, just lots of imaginary friends.”
“You should introduce me.”
Jazz chuckled as Aidan disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a platter of food. He stood quietly at the barbecue, placing shrimp and asparagus on the grill. Jazz noted a strange look in his eyes, but couldn’t interpret it. She hoped he wasn’t having second thoughts about asking her here.
After dinner, Aidan leaned back in his chair, cleared his throat, and said, “I need to tell you something.”
His tone startled her. The ambiance shifted. Images of a wife or girlfriend flitted through her mind. “Go ahead.” Jazz braced for a certain blow.
“Not sure where to begin.” He refilled her wine glass as if to ease the pain.
“What is it, Aidan? You’re scaring me.”
“Sorry, love.” He hesitated. “The seminar in Sandpoint was arranged so we could meet.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
“An agency you worked for hired me to help you remember your experience with them.”
Jazz’s jaw dropped. She stared at Aidan in disbelief.
“We were to meet, and hopefully you would trust me so I could help you. It was a mistake not to tell you the truth from the beginning. Harvey said to wait until you were comfortable with me.”
Jazz felt deflated, foolish for thinking Aidan cared for her and crazy for visiting him. She glared at him. Suddenly he seemed like a stranger.
“Jazz, we need to talk, darling. There are things you don’t remember.”
“Where does ‘darling’ fit in, Aidan? What am I doing here? Is this my therapy session?” Jazz wanted to run, always her first response, not fight, but flight.
“I invited you here to tell you the truth. But, also because you’re always on my mind and I had to see you again,” he admitted. “I’ve never, ever been involved with a client.”
“So, I’m a client.” Her trust vanished like water in the desert. “Who hired you to do this?”
Aidan lowered his eyes. “Well, a counterintelligence division under the CIA.”
“What! Oh my god. What interest do they have in me?”
“They hired you a few weeks ago to join their remote-viewing team.”
“That’s impossible. How could I not remember that?” Jazz stood and went inside. Aidan followed. “Please take me to the airport. This trip was a total mistake,” she announced, going to get her suitcase, hoping he would cooperate. She’d been naive to think she knew him well enough to visit. In reality, she had no idea who he was.
“Wait, Jazz, let me explain.”
She stopped with her back to him. A part of her still wished him to be that great guy she envisioned.
“People who’ve forgotten traumatic experiences are usually shocked to find out they’ve repressed the memory.”
She turned to face him.
“Let me show you something.” Aidan left the room.
Jazz froze, waiting by the hallway, unable to move forward, grab her bags, and run. His story was ludicrous. Why am I hesitating?
“Take a look at this,” he said when he returned, handing her a file with her name printed on the cover.
She placed the file on a table and shuffled through the pages with numb disbelief as if reading about someone else. Allegedly, Harvey Boone, of the National Clandestine Service, had hired her. The NSA had given the CIA intel on an underground organization that threatened to assassinate powerful American figures. Her first mission was to find the assassins and name their targets.
“I can’t believe this.” Jazz stared at a photo of her standing beside Harvey Boone. She closed the file and handed it to Aidan. “It’s too much.” Jazz sank onto the couch, holding back tears, trying to make sense of things. She hated to admit it, but Harvey seemed familiar. Not in a pleasant way either.
Aidan sat beside her. “It’s okay, love. You’ve buried stuff. It’ll be good to let it go.”
He urged her to stay the night and eventually she agreed. She couldn’t fight what she didn’t understand. In the morning, she would figure out what to do.
Jazz climbed into bed disheartened. Her excitement had turned to dust, and she felt very much alone. All night she slept fitfully and found herself in that dark alley being chased by someone. Again, she got away, but she woke feeling vulnerable and confused.
Aidan was making waffles for breakfast. He offered her coffee, which she accepted with a mumbled thank you. She sipped the drink and played with her food while he loaded the dishwasher. A thick silence pervaded the kitchen.
“Aidan, I need time to myself. Can I borrow your car?”
“Of course, love. Where are you going?”
“Am I a prisoner now? Maybe it’s none of your business.”
“I guess I’m just worried. You’ve had a hell of a shock.”
Jazz rose from her seat, her thoughts racing, and her anger growing. “I need to sort this out. I’m going up there.” She pointed out the window toward Mount Sopris.
Jazz attached the seat belt over her chest, grabbed her sunglasses, and backed the jeep out of Aidan’s driveway. She drove across the bridge, then turned onto the highway heading toward the turn-off to Dinkle Lake. The open window let in the warmth of the high elevation sunshine. She left the highway, and sped along a winding road past huge custom homes on old farmland, now covered with tall grass, Indian paintbrush, and an occasional columbine.
At the crest of a plateau, the twin peaks of Mount Sopris appeared above the horizon. Jazz loosened her grip on the steering wheel, gazing at the exquisite scenery around her. The pavement turned to dirt and Jazz slowed, watching for the trailhead near Dinkle Lake. After rounding a corner, she pulled into an empty parking lot.
Jazz put on her pack and followed the wide trail through open range and the aspen trees with their fresh spring leaves twirling in the breeze. When she left a stand of aspens, the turquoise Thomas lakes emerged before her, in a valley below Mount Sopris. The pinnacle was close and she’d gain clarity there.
A tattered old raven sat perched on a branch of a soaring blue spruce. She’d seen him before, at the trailhead, and imagined he was protecting her. The night her mother died a raven swooped across her bedroom. Maybe it was a dream; she never knew. Sometimes a raven entered a dream or appeared out of nowhere, flying overhead. Indians had animals that were kindred spirits, perhaps ravens were her totem. For whatever reason his presence soothed her.
The trail meandered between the lakes, opening to a treeless incline. The azure sky held only the sun and a few wisps of clouds that surrounded the twin peaks at 13,000 feet. Jazz hiked several steep switchbacks to a ridge above small patches of snow. Past the ridge, she traversed layers of rock. The heat reflected off the rocks, so she stopped midway to take off her jacket. She crossed another ridge, carefully maneuvering the rocky trail, before reaching the east summit. A magical place.
At the summit, the Flat Tops wilderness dominated the scenery to the north. Deep forests sheltered everything west and east of her. Due south stood the jagged mountains by the town of Aspen.
Jazz sank onto a grassy patch at East Sopris Peak and inhaled a full breath of the crisp air. Her mind quieted, and she noticed distant eagles calling and the occasional chatter of chipmunks. The soft wind whistled across the rocks and the low, green grass. There were no sounds of man. The intense sunshine warmed her, then the breeze cooled her. She could sit forever in this serene place.
Aidan’s actions confused her. How can I trust him now? She reflected on how he loved his family, was a successful psychologist, intelligent, and happy. His deceit was what plagued her, and she wanted to be rational, not lust struck.
She sat motionless, closing her eyes, beginning her meditation routine of clearing her energy and grounding. Once that was complete, Jazz paused as if ringing the bell at the gates of heaven. Immediately, she felt lighter, at peace, connected to pure essence while angels and guardians gathered round offering the gift of their assistance. Her awareness primed, she waited. At length, she decided she would rather err on the side of forgiveness and give Aidan another chance.
Jazz had no memory of what Aidan described, like a black hole took the place of the events of which he spoke. He wanted to help her remember and maybe he could. Without knowing what happened, it was hard to determine her next steps. She might contact the NCS. Better yet, see what she’d discern in a remote viewing.
She visualized Harvey’s face, and as she drifted away from any cognizance of sitting on top of Mount Sopris, an image of a room with dark mahogany walls and thick burgundy carpet unfolded. Harvey sat in a swivel chair, leaning his elbow on a shiny wood desk, talking on the phone.
“The NSA isn’t sure who’s making inquiries about Jazz. Nonetheless, Aidan, we want to bring her in.”
Startled, Jazz abruptly pulled out of the viewing. She was again at the top of the mountain, gazing across miles of uninhabited forests. What does that mean?
Jazz shook her head, resolving to prevent anxiety from resurfacing. She stood, brushed off her pants, reached for her daypack, swung it onto her back, and started down the mountain. Jazz put one foot in front of the other, practicing enjoying the moment because right here, right now, everything was fine.
After following the ridge, she retraced her steps along the switchbacks, finally entering the trees at the Thomas lakes. A flat rock rested by the shore. Jazz retrieved the lunch Aidan made, and ate, while sitting on the rock, dipping her toes in the frigid water.
She slipped on her shoes, left the lakes, and walked through aspens into open range. As she entered the clearing, she heard a whirling sound. A helicopter flew low toward her. Jazz remembered what Harvey said and an instinctive fear struck her. After scrutinizing the nearby landscape, she retreated into the aspen grove. The copter hovered, then touched ground. Inside the window, someone waved her over.
When she recognized Aidan, she plodded through the gale to the helicopter. Jazz climbed in and Aidan pointed to a chair, but the noise of the spinning blades prevented them from talking. A pilot, dressed in black gear, slammed the door shut with a thud and it grew quieter.
“What’s going on?” she demanded.
“Can we wait until we get home and I’ll explain?”
“Just tell me why you’re here, Aidan.”
“Harvey called and said someone is looking for you. We wanted to make sure you weren’t followed.”
Jazz clinched her teeth, trying to sustain the calm she attained. The helicopter rose, made a tilted turn heading south, and Mount Sopris faded behind them.
At the Aspen airport, they met Jason, a polite muscular man. He escorted them to a Hummer and drove to Aidan’s house. Jason walked behind Jazz and stayed unobtrusively close by the rest of the evening.
Later, after unwinding in warm, steamy bubbles in Aidan’s hot tub, Jazz excused herself to shower. Aidan was on the couch finishing paperwork. He watched Jazz disappear down the hall.
Harvey never mentioned her parents’ death. He told Aidan that Jazz wanted to help others, so she agreed to try out for his team. Jazz told Harvey she didn’t fully understand this strange phenomenon, but came to accept her ability. She did remarkably well on the tests and went home to work on her mission. When Harvey called to check on her progress, Jazz sounded confused and hung up, stating he had the wrong number. It was then that Harvey asked for Aidan’s assistance.
Deep remorse for betraying her, grabbed at his gut. His moral compass had twisted from black and white to shades of gray. He should have been honest. Aidan sensed her fear and isolation, which only made his regret worsen. Jazz fought to convey an air of strength and independence, but underneath that facade was a fragile, wounded woman.
Jazz reentered the living room and Aidan lifted his head. She appeared delicate in his thick white robe, her cheeks red from the heat, her long hair damp, dripping down her neck as she towel dried it. Her eyes held his until she turned away, and Aidan noticed her uncertainty. Again, he cursed himself for his deceit, wondering if he would ever regain her trust.
He welcomed her to the couch. “How are you doing, love?”
“Do you recall anything about the NCS?”
“No, but Harvey seems familiar.”
“What about the remote-viewing group in Spokane?”
“Yes, I remember that.”
The group’s practice sessions entailed using codes that referenced different locations. Jazz learned to seize the relevant image that came to mind and expand on it. In Extended Remote Viewing, she’d go beyond a deep alpha state. Her success rate and accuracy improved.
“Do you remember Harvey wanting you on his team?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Harvey approached you because you were the most proficient remote viewer he’d ever found. Years ago, the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command ran tests on remote viewing. The results of the study plus tests run by a university confirmed its validity. The government claims to have ended the CIA program, but that isn’t the case. It was merely transferred to the NCS. A few weeks ago, Harvey hired you and wanted you to find assassins who threatened American citizens. Do you recall any of that?” Aidan asked hopefully.
“I’m sorry, Aidan, I don’t. It sounds very foreign.”
The impassive soldier, Jason, appeared, finger to his lips, signaling them to be quiet. With a glock nine-millimeter pistol in hand, he led them to the basement wine cellar. Jason locked the door and Jazz and Aidan huddled inside, waiting.
“Aidan, who are we supposed to be afraid of?”
“I don’t think anyone knows, love.”
Jason checked the security system and inspected the doors and windows. Everything seemed in order, so he went to retrieve Jazz and Aidan. Jason explained that he had heard a noise, but it was probably a deer or elk.
As they headed upstairs, Jazz turned to Aidan. “I’m tired; let’s get some sleep and talk tomorrow.”
“That’s a good idea.”
They walked toward their bedrooms. Jazz left the door open behind her and Aidan entered. She peeled off the robe and draped it on the chair, then slid into bed in her silk boxers and T-shirt. Aidan positioned the spread to tuck her in.
She reached her arms around his neck and pulled him close. “I don’t want to be alone tonight,” she whispered.
Aidan stood, removed his jeans, raised the blankets, and lay beside Jazz.
She snuggled into his arms. “Can you hold me?”
Aidan smoothed her hair, holding her close. His emotions caught in his throat when he realized she was trembling. He rocked her back and forth, ever so slightly. “It’ll be okay, love.”
At daybreak, Jason came in to rouse Aidan. Jazz woke and heard them talking. “What’s going on?”
“Harvey wants us to go to a more secure location near Colorado Springs,” Aidan relayed.
“Oh, is that necessary?” Jazz envisioned all last remnants of her romantic vacation evaporate.
“We should go, Jazz. Harvey said the people searching for you are dangerous.”
“Who are they?”
“NSA chatter revealed they might be assassins.” Jason didn’t sugar coat the truth.
“Oh god. Do they plan to kill me?” Jazz’s throat tightened and she choked on the words. She snatched breaths to slow her racing heart and stifle a panic attack.
“We don’t know their intention. Our focus is keeping you safe,” Jason remarked.
“Thank you Jason; you’ve been great.” Jazz forced a weary smile.
She got ready, gathered her things, and reluctantly followed Jason and Aidan outside. Aidan grabbed the suitcases, and put them in the rear of the Hummer. As Jazz was climbing into the backseat, she saw two masked figures running toward them from the side of the house. Aidan and Jason fell hard to the ground. One of the men came up behind her, wrapped a husky arm around her chest, and put a white rag over her mouth. The heavy, metallic odor sent a shock wave into her nostrils, blasting her brain. She struggled, then collapsed in his arms.