Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vengeance: Chapter 4

               He dragged me, not to the woods like I first thought, but to a nearby building. As he pulled me in, I realized that it was the school, the same school where Henry had worked. Why would I be brought here? I first realized that Jude was my attacker as we went through the door.

                “Figures it would be you. Asshole,” I hissed through my teeth. We went through a door, into a classroom. As soon as he turned to close the door, I shoved at him, trying to break free.

                “Stop it,” he shouted. “Just stop, let me talk. If you don’t settle down, I’ll tie you up.” I didn’t want to acquiesce but I felt I had no choice. I perched cautiously on the edge of a desk.

                “I’m not the enemy. I’m a double agent.”
                “Why should I believe you? You somehow found me in the woods, you’re meeting with Henry’s killer, you’ve kidnapped me again. I don’t trust you,” I cried, fighting to hold back the hot tears of anger.
                “What choice do you have? I’ve got you now.”

                I ran for the door again. I couldn’t just sit there and let him use or hurt me. I had to fight with everything I had. I felt myself slam into the wall in front of me. He spun me around and there he was, pressed close again. Without summoning or desiring it, I felt that hot rush again. I must be a masochist for wanting my jailer to ravish me.

                “I’m not who you think,” his words came out strangled, as if admitting this was physically painful. I looked him in the eyes and suddenly, I saw him. I truly saw him for the first time since our meeting in the woods.

                “Henry?” His almost imperceptible nod confirmed my suspicion. I shoved him, shaken that the man in front of me was the same man I had married and the same one I thought dead. Mostly though, I was disgusted with myself for still wanting his burning kiss, even knowing his betrayal. Not expecting my reaction, this time he ended up on the floor.

                “Please, just listen,” he begged without rising.
                “How could you have done this to me? How are you alive? Why are you working with Rockwell?” I had so many questions and didn’t know which I wanted him to answer first. He moved to a chair and sat dejectedly.
                “We never should have been together. I’m neither Henry nor Jude. My father was killed, when I was a teenager, by the efforts of this terrorist cell. I vowed revenge. I changed my looks, became Henry. Trying to get intel, I was led to your father and, in turn, you. You and I, we were always forbidden love.”
                “So, you married me, just like I thought, as part of a way to get information,” my tears ran freely now.

                “No,” he cried out. “I fell in love with you. And when I found out that they planned on using you, I knew I had to take drastic measure. Never take an oath unless you're sure you would rather die than break it; that is the creed I live by. My oath to you was real and I would surely rather die than betray that or let harm come to you.”
                “But…how…,” I asked, not understanding.
                “I’ve been undercover all along. Only the police commissioner knows of my involvement after suspecting inside cohort within the department. A drug dealer, about my size, was killed giving me the ability to fake my death with fire and dental records. They had to think I was out of the way. ‘Jude’ took care of Henry, simultaneously earning trust and saving my ass.”
                “You look different? Why do they need me and my father? What are you going to do?” The questions continued to tumble out of my mouth.
                “They need more material. They’re planning a bomb at the diamond mine, to prove their outrage.” His tone leaked sarcasm.
                “Why do you say it like that?”
“It’s never been about the environment.”
“Then what’s it about,” I asked, confused by everything now.
“What’s it always about? Money. It’s never been about the environment. If a bomb goes off just right, they can clear the mine and quickly insert some operatives to gather millions of dollars. They’re uncut meaning untraceable so they’d never be linked. As for my appearance, light plastic surgery, contacts, hair dye. All simple changes that go a long way.”
                I felt the layer of ice I had built around my heart melt. I stepped over to him, put my hands on his face. Again, my heart started an erratic staccato against my ribcage. I gazed into his eyes and could tell this was the truth. I don’t know how, but I knew. The stress, the fear, the emotional turmoil of the past few weeks built into a passionate storm, there in the classroom.   

                Our frenzied lovemaking was unlike anything in our marriage but I understood: Henry had only been a part of the man I loved. Now, he hid nothing and gave everything.

                “What now,” I asked, as I lay in his arms on the floor, after we had exhausted ourselves.
                “Now, we get revenge.”

                We went back to the woods, which I started thinking of as ours. Each day, Jude would trek through town to meet with Rockwell while I stayed behind. Each night, we sat around the campfire, discussing our plans and making love. It felt good to have my husband back. I found that, though he was not the person I had married, he was more in so many ways. I loved him even more, knowing all of his secrets.

                He didn’t tell me his real name and, honestly, I didn’t care. I understood his need for revenge. He spent one night telling me that, until the cell had been put away, he was only whatever man he needed to be. So for now he was Jude, no one else.

                Finally, it came time to set our plan in motion. Jude tied my hands together, as gently as he could, but tight enough that it would be believable. 

                I was to be delivered to the cell and used as leverage so they could get the materials they needed. Once the bomb was ready, Jude would help the cell set it up and the commissioner would be looking on to catch the key members in the act. If things went according to plan, everything would end and Jude and I could start a real life together. If not, well…we just had to hope they would.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vengeance: Chapter 3

                I stepped behind a tree to change. As much as I hated to admit it, it would feel nice to have on clean clothes again. I heard Jude rustling in the brush and peered around to see what he was doing. He had cleared some of the weeds and was setting up a tent. I quickly pulled back to finish dressing. When I looked up again, he was staring at me.

                I was so startled that I froze. The look in his eyes was liquid fire and somehow, it transferred to me. 

                I felt my blood start to boil but, shockingly, it was not an unpleasant feeling. I verbally gasped and, as quick as the moment had begun, it ended with him spinning around and marching off.

                “I hope you don’t think we’re both sleeping in that tent, together,” I snapped in his direction.
                “Don’t worry, you can have the tent. I’ll catch naps here and there when I can.” His response lacked the brashness that I had been expecting and caught me off guard.
                “Um, no, you need to sleep too. I’m, uh…” I trailed off, not willing to apologize but feeling guilty that he wouldn’t be getting sleep. What was it about him that made me have such drastic emotional turmoil? I shrugged it off, sure that it was due to the train wreck my life had become.

                That night, we sat around a campfire, making food (Jude had apparently come prepared for life in the wilderness) and not talking. I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t care to speak. Yet, I hated the silence and wanted nothing more than to scream just to hear noise. My mind immediately went back to Henry, and our wedding day.

                Henry had been a fun, lovable man. Always making jokes, always making people comfortable, he had never had a lack of friends. When he chose me to be his bride, I was so proud and honored that I never could have imagined that he didn’t love me.

                I remembered walking down the aisle towards him. 

                My father had been sniffly that day. Teary because he was giving away his youngest daughter, the older two having moved on to the city lights and glamour the minute they had become of age. I had been the homebody, the girl who just wanted to settle down in a small home and have the family life I had lacked as a child.

Looking back, I realize that my father must have been aware of the situation I was getting myself into. As much as I wanted to hate him, I couldn’t. I felt letdown by him and his choices but I knew that he had tried. What I couldn’t forgive was Henry. How he could have watched me dedicate my life to him, how he could have used me to satisfy his own needs to be a first class citizen, no matter how righteous his intentions were?
I felt a small relief that we hadn’t had the opportunity to start a family of our own. How far could he, would he, have taken this scam?

“What is it,” Jude asked, interrupting my painful memories.
“What do you mean?”
“You look like, I don’t know, like you’re in pain.”
“Just remembering,” I replied dismissively. I had no interest in discussing my memories with a man I barely knew and certainly didn’t trust.
“Remembering what?” He obviously wasn’t smart enough to take a hint.
I wished to be loved by another, but I desire no man's pity,” I responded. “Henry pitied my situation and, on top of that, he used me. For someone who grew up reading fairytales, my life sure wasn’t what I expected.
Jude didn’t bother responding. I had thought he would defend Henry, his friend or partner or whoever they were to each other, but his face took on a reflective, soft expression and then faded away, back to his hard angles.

After that first night, we didn’t talk again about the past. Jude would disappear for some time during the day while I stayed in camp, usually melancholy and lifeless. I didn’t bother asking where he went and he didn’t care to ask me how I was doing. Then, one day, it all changed. We heard noises in the brush, noises that reminded me of when Jude had found me. Suddenly, I found myself on the ground, Jude pressed on top of me.

“Shh, don’t make a sound,” he whispered. Too scared to move, I just lay there, staring wide eyed at him. Our breaths mingled and somehow seemed to become one. All of a sudden time was standing still. I could feel my heart beating, was sure that he could feel it through my thin shirt. All of a sudden, I wasn’t frightened anymore. Not of what was out there in the woods, not of him, not even of this crime ring. No, frightened was certainly not what I was feeling. Whatever I was feeling, Jude seemed to be feeling it to. His eyes were searching mine, questioning what was going on. He leaned closer and I was sure he was going to kiss me. And I wanted him to.

The noise thundered past us, breaking the trance that we had been in. It had been a horse, grazing nearby and now trotting off towards the stream. I pushed Jude back, embarrassed by what had nearly happened. 

How could I have felt those things? This man was a reminder of what I had lost and involved in it, in some way. I forbid myself from allowing him to get close again, barred myself from allowing those feelings to rise to surface. There was no way I was going to start an illicit affair with Jude.

After our near kiss, I suddenly was even more suspicious of Jude’s intentions. He had never explained to me why we were living homeless in these woods. Why couldn’t I go home? Why did I have to live out here, without a shower, without a bed, without any normal comforts? My misgivings led me to follow him one day. I couldn’t help myself. I made my way into town following slowly behind him. His purpose led him in a straight, quick line and my submission seemed to have lulled him into never thinking I may break out and question him one day.

He finally stopped near an old, rundown shack that was close to my father’s home. My whole life it had been abandoned and still looked so to me. I quickly ducked behind a tree as Jude looked around and disappeared into the house. I crept close, pressed against a wall. The door hadn’t been shut all the way so I could hear the conversation with little effort.

“Rockwell,” I heard Jude say. Rockwell, where do I know that name, I thought to myself.
“Campbell. I’ve heard a lot about you. A new rookie on the force. Taking over the Ridgefield case I hear.”
“Yes sir. The father has been very helpful though he still doesn’t know where the daughter disappeared to. Would be a shame if we couldn’t use her life to persuade him to help us,” Jude answered.
I bit back a gasp, barely believing that Jude had been using me all along. I was surrounded by betrayal and lies.

“Can you believe they call the leader of this cell the Emperor of Evil,” the first man chuckled. “If only they knew just who he was.”
“You mean, if they knew you and he were one and the same,” Jude replied sarcastically. “Have you heard from Lilianna,” he continued.
“Lilianna was a fool,” the mysterious man spat. “She thought herself coy and got careless. That was the reason Henry was able to penetrate the cell. Luckily, we took care of it.”
“Taking care of that though is what netted the loss of the girl in the first place.”
“Yes, well, we couldn’t very well have let him continue gaining information. It was all fun and games until he caught a glimpse of me at the station one day. Once he knew who I really was, his fate was sealed.”
“What of the father? He obviously has no idea where she is,” Jude pointed out.
“We should have killed him years ago when he walked the first time. But now we have use for him. We just need leverage. Find the girl. Bring her to me. Do it quickly.” His tone obviously indicated that Jude had been dismissed.

I snuck around the house, trying to get away before they came out. As I went past a window, I caught a glimpse of the man called Rockwell. I did know him! 

He had come to the house to tell me about Henry’s murder. Now I discover that he was likely behind the whole thing. As soon as I rounded the corner of the street, I began running again.

I made it only as far as a small park before hands grabbed me from behind. I screamed but the public park was deserted and the unsavory neighborhood was unlikely to have many residents and those it did have were not likely to come to my rescue. I wrenched my body, trying to slip out of the grasp of my assailant but he was too strong. He dragged me towards the woods and there was nothing I could do to stop him.

I had been found.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vengeance: Chapter 2

I don’t remember how long I ran for. Night fell and still I continued deep in the woods. Deeper in fact than I had ever been before. Finally I found that I could just not continue on any longer. I heard a noise up ahead of me that sounded like the roar of water. I slowly made my way to it. Collapsing on the ground, I began to recall what the…agents had said to me.

My father, my very own flesh and blood had once been a member of this crime ring and had urged and persuaded both the local authorities and my husband that they needed to be stopped. He said he had “retired”; his words, not mine, because of something to do with my mother. My entire life, and my marriage had been a lie. My father a thug, my husband an agent, me, a pawn? Had Henry ever really loved me? After thinking on it, agonizing over it, I came to the conclusion that he had. He had loved me, I knew he had. At least that was something I was certain of.  

I fell asleep among the logs and brush, not really caring enough to move or wondering if animals may try to gnaw at me in the night, perhaps thinking I was dead. I felt dead, at least on the inside.

I awoke to some noises, about halfway through the day. Part of me couldn’t believe that I had slept that long, but another part realized that, between the physical exhaustion of running through woods and the emotional toll from Henry’s death, it was a wonder I hadn’t slept longer. I hunkered in a ball, willing the noises not to come any closer. I had no such luck. I looked up to see a man towering over me. 

“Mrs. Ridgefield,” the question sounded like more of a statement from him. How he had found me, I had no idea but, suddenly, I was worried.
“What do you want,” I stood defiantly, trying to convey anger without fear, but I was afraid I was failing miserably. 

“We need to talk,” he stated, again without question and headed over to a nearby felled log.
As I cautiously sat, he began talking. Almost immediately, I wished he had never found me.

“My name is Jude Campbell. I…worked with Henry. You met his “partner” but I was the one who really knew Henry and knew what he was going through. He felt like he had to protect you which is why he was so easily convinced to take part in the undercover op. Your father had been involved with some really bad guys, all your life. Before even. Your father was one of the right hand men of the leader. They were tasked with building lives all through the country, and then, when everything was in place, they were going to cause mass destruction from one coast to the other. Environmentalist terrorists you could call them. Real nutcases. Your mother was a part as well. Ole pops got cold feet when the last of you kids were born. Sweet mom threatened his life and you kids if he ever breathed a word of the cell’s existence. To her, the cause was more important; the kids just another layer in her cover. She walked, he stayed. Your dear dad kept his important science career though, hoping to atone for the crimes he had already committed.”

“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Campbell,” I said, trying to sneer, to show my disgust, “but what does this have to do with Henry? And me?” He stood and faced me, presumably to explain more. Though, as I thought of it, I presumed I had a pretty good idea.

“She came back,” I whispered. I remembered a blonde woman visiting my father, a woman I had never seen before. He had told me they were dating and, indeed, I had seen them laughing together and one morning, had awoken to find them together at the breakfast table in robes. I had thought he was happy with her…Lilianna. I sank onto the log that Jude had so recently vacated.

“Yes. Your father actually loved her and, when she came back, she convinced him that she needed help. She seduced him and managed to get the materials the cell needed at that same time. Materials only a scientist would have access to. Well, you and Henry had just started dating. He overheard an argument between her and your father. Your dad had discovered her true intentions but she was threatening that the four of you would die if he told. Same threat, different decade. And it would have worked. Except, Henry didn’t know enough to keep it to himself. After she left, he went to your father and demanded an explanation. Scared out of his mind and worried for you girls, your father spilled his guts. Henry, being the law-abiding, country-loving man that he was, went to the police and offered himself as an agent. Even though he had no experience, he knew enough to be helpful and knew what Lilianna looked like now, which was more than the police had ever had. So they swore him in.”

“So Henry kept courting me. He knew that I was a target. He knew that my father was a target. He knew that he needed a good reason to stay close. Oh what a fool I’ve been,” I closed my eyes in despair. Jude said nothing; neither confirmation or denial and I could feel the tears build up behind my eyelids.

My father had betrayed his country and then, when he had finally made a good choice, he betrayed it again and his family by letting my mother back into our lives. And my mother! I could barely contain the bile that rose in my throat as I thought of her. Henry. Even the thought of him came with such conflicted feelings. The love I had been sure was real yet the betrayal knowing that it had all been a ruse. I heard a strangled cry and realized it was me.

“When is the funeral,” I heard myself asking in a tortured voice, barely above a whisper. Gone was my false bravado, gone was the strong woman I had pretended to be when Jude first approached. Now all that was left was a tortured, haunted shell who had lost her faith and ability to trust that anything was, or had been, real.

“There won’t be a funeral,” he answered.
“What? What about his family, his mother,” I asked. I wanted to spit on the man’s grave for using me, no matter his intentions but he had at least been a good person and his family deserved better. I stood and jabbed a finger at Jude, as though it was his fault Henry was dead and his fault there wouldn’t be a funeral. My anger seemed to ignite his own but almost as soon as I saw it, he calmed down.

“They were told that he died in a fire. Indeed, the cell set a fire after his murder, buying them some time and making identification difficult. If we hadn’t known who he was really working for, it all would have been chalked up to an accident. And that’s what his family will still think. The department doesn’t want anyone knowing that he was undercover. His family was given ashes and they held their own private memorial yesterday. Your…disappearance caused you to miss it.”

“I brought a change of clothes for you.” He suddenly was holding a bag in his hand. I hadn’t noticed it before and realized that he had probably been by me while I was sleeping longer than I had realized. 

“What are you talking about, I’ve got to go home,” I snapped, suddenly wary of his intentions and mysterious arrival to where I had finally collapsed, exhausted.
“You think that Lilianna won’t know about your connection to Henry? His entire gimmick was that he was tricking all of you. Someone found out something, or they wouldn’t have killed him. You’re not safe. And, I knew him well enough to know that he would want you protected. We’re staying out here.”

I looked around at our surroundings; trees, wildlife, and more trees. How were we to live out here? How could I be sure Jude was even telling the truth? I reflected on this and realized that I didn’t even care.

Some say it was better to know the worst than to wonder but I think they are fools. Twenty four hours ago, I was happy. I was loved and in love. I had a quaint, honeymooner’s cottage with a picket fence and patterns picked out for curtains. I had dreams and beautiful memories. Now, I had nothing except the truth which certainly wouldn’t keep me warm at night. The truth dashed all of my memories to sharp slivers that I didn’t even want to examine any more. No, it was certainly not better to know.