They took the highway north. Jim watched the highway go by, counting three exits up from where they were. After getting off the exit, they went down a few streets.
Earl stopped the truck in front of her apartment, which was on the second floor of a futon shop. “Want me to wait here?”
“No, just go on home. I’ll try and contact the rest of the crew and see if they know anything that’s going on.”
“I will.” Alyson got out of the truck and went to the rear of the building. She went to the side of the door, and pulled out one of the shingles. Behind it, and taped to the shingle, were two keys, one for the main door and one for the apartment. She unlocked the main door and trudged upstairs.
She opened the door, letting it slowly tilt inside. She stood in the doorway, waiting, looking inside.
It looked just as she had left it on that morning before they went to DC.
She exhaled, slowly and stepped into the room. That’s when she noticed the note on the table, a note she had not left there before. She closed the door and went to the table.
“Turn Around” the note said in block letters.
She turned slowly, and saw a Man in Black standing there, pointing a gun at her. “Hello, Miss Packard,” he said.
She looked around to see if she could use anything for a weapon. Even if she could, that gun would get her first.
“Hello,” she said.
“Please come into the parlor.”
The parlor was her living room, which the windows lit out to the street. She started to go inside, feeling that gun at her back. Sitting on her couch was another Man in Black, looking through her mail.
“We were getting worried about you, Miss Packard,” he said, tossing down her vice, Good Housekeeping. “We wondered if we would be able to speak with you.”
“Where’s the quarry?” demanded the one with the gun.
“Mr. Black,” said the one on the couch, “Let’s not be too hasty.”
“We’ve been here long enough. Where is he?”
The Man in Black got up from the couch. “It seems my partner here is over hasty and would really like to know where Mr. Woods is.”
Alyson said, “Probably with Earl, heading to a bar, knowing Earl.”
“Probably? A little more definite would be good.”
“Definitely? Then heading to a bar, knowing Earl.”
“Ah. Which bar?”
“The Celtic Pub. It’s two doors down from his apartment.”
“Very good. You are going to warn him, aren’t you?”
“I am, yes.”
The man gave a small nod, and Alyson felt a pain in her temple, then saw black.
Earl drove south, back into Boston. “I have this feeling that I should have gone into the apartment with her,” he said, while Jim hung out the window, finally getting some air. “But she’s a big girl, you know what I mean?”
“Yes, but sometimes it’s a good idea to go by your gut feelings, don’t you think?”
“Yes and no. Your gut most of the time won’t get you killed.”
They found themselves snarled in traffic, but it was nothing like Washington. “Can I call my wife when I get to your place?”
“I have some extra phones there. You can call her. Is that acceptable to you?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Then it’s fine.”
“I think we should get something to eat. I’m going to talk to O’Keefe, too, see if he knows anything that happened. Maybe Alex is down there too.”
“The Pub I go to. He makes a mean shepherd’s pie.”
Jim put a hand on his stomach, which growled. “All right, then…”
Earl got into Boston and drove around for a bit, looking for a parking spot. He hissed and growled at not finding one, so turned into a parking garage. “My place is six blocks down.”
“Welcome to Boston.”
He got out of the truck, and Jim got out as well, locking the door. “Let’s get some food first.”
“Food, yeah.” Earl started walking, and Jim walked side by side with him. The sidewalks, however, were not wide enough to walk more than three abreast, so whenever a couple came by Jim dropped back to let them go.
Earl turned into a storefront, which Jim glanced up at the sign. The Celtic Pub.
“Paulie, a Guinness.”
“Hey, Earl, where’ve been been all my life?”
“Had a trip. This is Jim. What’s your poison?”
The man behind the bar nodded, and Earl bellied up to it. “Serving any food?”
“Cook’s on break, but I can get you something.”
Earl looked up at the menu above the bar. “Aw, no shepherd’s pie?”
“Nope, but the roast beef is good.”
“I’ll take that,” said Earl. Jim nodded and held up two fingers.
Paulie nodded to the two and went into the kitchen. Earl sipped his beer and turned his attention to the TV. “Alyson said that I could help you.”
“I’m sure you can. We’d have to train you a little, though.”
“A little?” He laughed. “More like a lot.”
“Did you want to call your wife?”
Jim thought about it. “You know, I don’t think I need to.”
“That’s good. Because it sounded like you were her whipping boy, man.”
“It did, didn’t it?” Then he sat up straight. “Men in Black.”
“Heading this way.”
“Ah, shit,” Earl said, sliding off the stool and running to the kitchen. “Paulie, Paulie!”
“Paulie, trouble coming.”
“Oh, you… Out here.”
Jim got off the stool and ran to the kitchen. Paulie was holding open the back door and Earl and Jim both ran out.
“My place,” said Earl. “Book it!”
Jim followed Earl down the alley, stopping a couple of doors down. He turned and went into a back door, took a left and headed into a basement. He grabbed Jim and dragged him down into the basement. They walked past a couple of places with locked in wire cages.
“Heading into the pub.”
“Okay. Paulie can take care of it.” He went out of another door at the end. This one led into a children’s toy store. The woman behind the counter turned to look. “Oh, hello, Earl.”
“Do you have my key?”
“Of course.” She went into the cash register and pulled out a key. “Here you are. Who’s your friend.”
“No time, Lydia.” He gave the woman a peck on the cheek, and went to the front of the store. “They inside?”
Earl left first, and dragged Jim with him. He stood at the front door somewhere, tried the key and it opened. They went up a set of well-worn stairs, and at the top was another door. He opened it, and took a step inside, closing the door in Jim’s face.
“Alarm,” said Earl through the door, and then let Jim inside. Jim looked around briefly before he was led into the bedroom. There, along the wall, were all sorts of weapons, from swords to guns. Earl took down a gun, checked it, and handed it to Jim. “Aim low.”
Earl went into the foyer, and waited. “Tell me when they’re coming.”
Jim “watched” as the Men in Black went into the pub. Paulie said something, one of the men said something back. Paulie shrugged and talked some more. The two men left and stood out on the street.
A car came by, and more of them got out of it. Then the car sped off. “There’s six of them now.”
“Heading this way?”
“They’re talking about where to go, I think. They’re just mulling around.”
Earl backed off and went into the kitchen, picking up a cordless phone from its charger. He pressed a button and waited. “C’mon, answer--”
Jim held his hand out for the phone. “Let me try.”
“You think you can see her through the phone?”
“I won’t know until I try.”
Earl handed the phone to Jim, who closed his eyes and concentrated. As the phone rang on the other end, he heard it pick up - voice mail. He could see the room the voice mail was in: “Does she live in a place with a large computer room?”
Jim shook his head. “I got to her voice mail.”
“Next time, I’ll tell her to get an answering machine.” He hung up the phone. “She’s probably in the shower. I’ll give her a few more minutes.”
He waited, and Jim waited. The gun felt too heavy in his hands, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like the waiting, and how hot it was in the apartment. He didn’t like the fact that he might have to shoot at something.
Jim didn’t want to shoot at anything. Jim didn’t want the gun. But if he was going to work for Alyson and Earl, he was going to have to learn how to work with their weapons.
The phone rang, making him jump. Earl didn’t, but reached over and picked it up. “Yeah.”
“Earl, Jesus Christ, man, where the hell you been?”
“Hey, Jakko. How’s your dad?”
“Dad’s fine, did you see what happened to the place, man?”
“Yeah, I did. I got the payroll backed up on my computer so--”
“I don’t care about that. Steph’s been trying to get a hold of you. She’s got a tape on who did it. You know you connected your surveillance to her computer, right?”
“She’s got video of who broke in, who did it. She showed it to me, man. You pissin’ off the feds again?”
“I’ll explain it all if you come down here.”
“On the way.”
“Oh, and come loaded.”
“Shit,” Jakko said, and hung up.
“What about our guys, Jim?”
“They’re still in front of the pub.”
“Should have told him to come in like a ninja.”
“Does he know what that means?”
“We all have code words. You’ll learn them as you go along.”
It seemed like just a few minutes when Jim heard someone knock on the door. He “looked” beyond the door to see a big black man in a black t-shirt, brandishing a shoulder-holster with a pistol in it.
“Come in, Jakko,” said Earl, and the man pushed open the door.
“You got a party goin’ on?” He nodded to Earl holding his pistols and turned to see Jim. “Oh, hello.”
Jim said, “Hi.”
“This is Jim. He’s our quarry.”
“You brought him home? Jesus Christ, son, put the gun down if it’s that heavy.”
Jim gingerly put it down on the kitchen counter. Earl picked it up and put the safety on. “I brought him home because his cage was shot.”
“In DC, on the mall.”
“Oh, you were supposed to go to that lieutenant?”
“Two people were shot, a civvie who worked for the DoD, and a lieutenant in the Army. The civvie’s dead, but the lieutenant’s in critical condition.”
“And the guy who shot them?”
“Muslim extremist. Allegedly. People are going crazy again.”
“So what happened to our warehouse?”
“Steph showed me the tape.”
“You pissed off the feds again. Did you kill any of them?”
“Jesus H. Christ, Earl. Now we got a war.”
“We can move somewhere else, start somewhere else, keep it under wraps.”
“Are you dreaming?”
Earl grinned, “Maybe a little. I’ll make it right to them.”
“So right now, they’re standing outside and you’re going to find yourself on the receiving end of a tear gas bomb, I guarantee it.”
Jim looked from one to the other, and put his head down.
“So are you just going to stay holed up in here in the bunker?”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Go talk to them. Find out what they want. It’s what I do with the gangs.”
“Then you talk to them, Mr. Negotiator.”
Jakko laughed. “All right, what do you want me to tell them?”
“That Jim’s going to work for us, and we’re sorry about their men, but destroying my place makes it even. Their men were out to kill us.”
Jakko nodded. “I’ll be right back, then.”
He went outside, and the phone rang again. Earl picked it up. “Mr. Packard,” said an Indian accented voice. “We would like to interest you in--”
“Not now,” snapped Earl, and hung up.
“Who was that?”
“Telemarketer or bill collector.”
Earl nodded. There was another knock on the door. “Yeah?”
It opened, and Jakko came in. “They want Jim. They said they were supposed to get him anyway. They said they had him in California, and the DoD sent you guys to get him, but it was supposed to be someone else from the Agency.”
“How about...he works for us, and when we’re done training him, we give him over to the Agency?”
He looked at Jim. “How long do you think, Jim? Once you go into the Agency, you don’t come back out.”
“They’ll never go for that,” said Jakko. “One year.”
Jim thought about it. One year would be long enough for him to find out what was going on with his wife and kids, and whether they still wanted him in their life. “Two years.”
Jakko sighed, “Be right back.”
Earl sat down at the kitchen table, placing both guns on it. Jim finally came out of the doorway of the bedroom and went to the kitchen, pulling out a chair and sitting down.
“Do you think they’ll go for it?”
“I don’t know. This is the feds now.” He frowned. “They could destroy me.”
Jim got up, “Do you have anything to drink?”
“Beer, water in the fridge.”
Jim went and got some water.
“Want to hand me a beer?”
Earl turned his body, opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle opener. Jim gave him one of the bottles of beer, and Earl opened it with the opener. “We’ll get you an apartment here in the city. We’ll get you a car, or you can take the T everywhere.”
“You mean to leave me alone?”
“I think everything will be fine.”
“I still have people after me.”
“Once we get the feds off our backs, everything else is easy.”
“Easy? There’s terrorists.”
“We can beat terrorists.”
“We think like them.”
Jim stopped drinking the water and the door opened with Jakko coming in. “Two years,” said Jakko, shutting the door.
Jim “looked” to see that the men were gone. Jakko walked into the kitchen and went to the fridge. He came out with a beer, sitting at the kitchen table. “Ok, so what’s so important about this guy?” He waved the beer bottle at Jim.
Earl pointed with the beer bottle. “Jim, Jakko. Jakko, Jim.”
Jim nodded. Jakko said to him, “So? What’s your deal?”
“He can see into the fog of war,” said Earl.
Jim said, “I can see, in my head, what’s going on next door, or a block away.”
“And through the phone line.”
“Though I haven’t really tested that out.”
“It worked for us, didn’t it? You saw the room with the computers.”
“Hold on,” said Jakko, “Hold on just a sec. You can see what’s in the place next door?”
“Or downstairs. I could see the Men in Black coming to the pub.”
“Speaking of which, I’m starving.” Earl got up and peered in the fridge, then the freezer. “Hot dogs and mac and cheese, it seems.”
Jakko said, “Come over to my place. Mama will cook you up something fine. You know she loves you, chief.”
Earl glanced at Jim.
“You know her. She cooks for an army when you come over.”
Earl shook his head. “Something, my gut, says I need to check on Aly.”
“Then we’ll check on her after dinner.”
“It’s a bit out of the way.”
“About time I see her anyway.”
“Nah, I’m going back to the pub, get my sandwich, and then we’ll go see Aly.”
“Suit yourself. Mind if I come along?”
“Not at all. I’ll buy you a beer.”
He drained the one he was drinking, “Ahhh...Just one?”
Earl finished his, and he and Jim got up. “Round two.”
They went back to the pub. Paulie was waiting for them, and poured another beer for Earl, and another lemonade for Jim. “You’ll be having?” he said to Jakko.
“What he’s having.” He pointed to Earl.
“Right. And let’s try another sandwich? All o’ ya?”
“Just me and him,” said Earl.
As Paulie went in the back, Jakko asked, “So when did this all come about?”
“Well,” said Earl, “Some guy from the DOD came into HQ and hired our services to escort this guy to them.”
“Couldn’t the DOD do it themselves?”
“That’s a question I’ve been asking. Because we’ve been chased not only by feds, but Pakistanis or some such, Chinese, and Jihadists. They tried to kill us.”
“Us you, or Us him and you?”
“I’ve been asking myself that, too.”
“Aly went with you?”
“Which left Steph alone.”
“We’ve left her alone before.”
“Yes, but not recently. And we were always in contact with you.”
“Are you saying I fucked up here?”
“I’m saying, chief, that you’re supposed to be in charge, and we’re supposed to have contact with you. When that place went up, we could--”
“What was I supposed to do? I was in...Kentucky or something?”
“You could have told the rest of us what to do. You forget that, all the time.” Jakko sipped his beer. “If you wanted to stay in the field, you shouldn’t have hired employees.”
“Speaking of which, have you heard from Juryrig?”
“He’s still working on some toys. Alex and Mullet are due in tonight, right?”
“I don’t know, I don’t have the schedules.”
“You never backed them up?”
“They’re on Google.”
“Well, shit, then…” Jakko whipped out his iPhone and started searching. “The plane lands at Logan tonight. They’re going to debrief tomorrow morning.”
“They’ll have to come over to my place for that, then.”
Jakko grinned putting the phone away. “Just like old times, isn’t it? When you used to meet people out and about and get jobs, and we’d all go and do them.”
“I guess I kind of missed that. You got Steph’s number?”
Earl held out his hand. “Gimme. I gotta call her.”
Jakko handed him the phone. Earl selected her as contact and called her. She picked up on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Mr. Packard! Is everything all right?”
“None the worse for wear. Hey, listen...it looks like we’re going to be out of business for a little while, so I’m going to have to lay you off.”
“That’s all right, summers off are good.”
“I don’t know when we’ll be back up and running, so if you get another job, that’s all right.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Packard. I like working for you.”
Packard smiled, and his voice carried that smile. “Thank you, Steph. Just go down to unemployment and let me know when you have the paperwork. Good thing we got a PO Box in Chelsea.”
“Yes, sir. Is Ms. Packard all right?”
“I don’t know.”
Alyson felt like her head had a jackhammer through it and was stuffed now with cotton. She first realized she needed to get up. Her arms felt around her, and she felt the edge of the couch near her hand.
Concussion. I have a concussion, she moaned, as she moved her head. What did that guy hit her with, brass knuckles? Finally, she opened her eyes, and immediately closed them, feeling nauseous. Definitely a concussion.
She lifted herself up from the floor, like a pushup, and crawled to the edge of the couch, resting her cheek on the cool fabric there. Her head felt like a ripe melon, ready to burst. She could see the light through the window, so it was still daytime.
Alyson moved along the couch, laying down on it. She felt at her head, felt no wetness, so she hadn’t been hit by a two-by-four. It felt like, it, though.