of Book Four
of Book Four
Do Not read if you haven't already read the first three books.
The rain hadn’t let up for three days so I packed up my things and headed back to the cabin. I’d finally gotten tired of being cold and wet and was looking forward to sleeping in a real bed again. This and the thought of other amenities had me slogging through the mud and rain with purpose. I knew I wouldn’t make the cabin tonight but I should be there by early morning. I’d really put some distance between myself and civilization.
Red had condemned me to isolation training right after I’d completed four months of EOD training. Explosive Ordinance Disposal training had been fun but taxing.
Brown had doubled up on me to include flight training. However, it hadn’t been him teaching me. It had been Will, White’s little brother. Him and I were very compatible in many ways but I’d promised my heart to White, at least internally. But White’s absence for months had me questioning my internal decisions.
Then Red had demanded I complete my isolation training as soon as I got back. I hadn’t had contact with White since I’d gone off for EOD. I knew this couldn’t be good for our relationship. Granted, the relationship had never really gone anywhere to begin with. We’d shared a kiss and a few private moments before I was slotted for EOD but his lack of contact had me wondering if he wasn’t behind all this. Maybe he’d wanted to keep me away. Maybe he’d tired of me before we even made it to the bedroom. I didn’t know how to react. There were days I cried and days I purposefully broke everything in sight and days when White was completely absent from my mind, replaced by thoughts of Will.
I stopped for a moment to scrape off the mud collected to the bottom of my boots and took in the view. I had always understood why Black loved to come to the cabin but being up in the mountains alone had opened my eyes to so much more. It was a gray day and the rain was coming down in sheets but I had never seen anything more beautiful. The water running down the bark of the pine trees, the smell of the wet earth and the harmony of it all made me forget my bad mood.
Maybe I wouldn’t kill Red for putting me out here, if they ever wanted me back. At this very moment, I didn’t care if I ever saw another human being ever again. Then the moment passed and I wondered how long they’d make me stay out here, alone.
My pace had quickened after excavating the mud from my boots. I’d probably lost two or three pounds. The rain and overall dreary feeling it created had made me moody the past few days making my thoughts center on my White dilemma. Now that I was headed back to the cabin my mood had lightened some and I began to count the days I’d been gone.
As I calculated I picked up my pace even more. I went over it in my mind again and again to make sure I was right. By the time the sun was setting I was in a full jog.
Red had never given me a time-line, so I had that in my defense but I’d also forgotten the satellite phone at the cabin and didn’t realize it until I was already two days out. I had opted not to go back for it, thinking they wouldn’t be calling for at least a week. The week I planned on being out had somehow turned into more than a month.
I’d had an inkling of the time passing but had pushed it down in part because I was angry for being forced to be away and in part because I loved it out here. Who knew when I’d get a chance to come back?
Now that I was returning to the cabin, reality had set in. I was going to fail my isolation training. Had I gone temporarily insane out here? How could I have done this? Yes, I was upset with my partners for various reasons, but nothing was important enough to warrant me disappearing for more than a month.
When the sun had set I had to slow my progress to avoid hurting myself and this just made me more anxious to get back. I suspected the men would be at the cabin, fretting and searching. This made me wonder if White would be worried.
I stopped short at this last thought. I knew I was distraught over White but came to the realization that he was the reason I had pushed the passing days from my mind to remain in the wilderness. I did not want to face him. I did not want to know that he loved me. I did not want to know that he didn’t love me. I did not want to tell him that I loved him.
“What’s one more day?” I said aloud and jumped at the sound of my own voice. It was scratchy from neglect and sounded unfamiliar among the trees. I found the driest place I could and settled in for the night. Somehow, I shut off my thoughts and fell asleep.
I awoke before the sun and stretched out my kinks before I started back toward the cabin. I glanced at my watch to see that it was 3:00 AM. I’d be back at the cabin shortly after the sun came up. Then it hit me. I was wearing my watch with a built in GPS locator. The guys could find me any time they wanted to. This revelation flooded my brain with a whole new set of questions. Why hadn’t they come to find me? Did they not care?
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter. I might not fail this training after all. Maybe they hadn’t even tried to contact me yet. I took my time returning to the cabin, making sure to take it all in.
It was late morning before I reached the lake that lived near the cabin. The chopper wasn’t anywhere to be seen and the cabin looked undisturbed. Still, I opened the door with some trepidation but was met with an empty building. I was both relieved and disappointed. I sighed and went to my room to put my stuff away.
The satellite phone was lying on my bed with a piece of paper underneath it. It read:
When you get this note please call the office immediately.
I did as the note directed and Gabriella answered in a cheery voice, “White and Associates. This is Gabriella. How can I help you?”
“Alex!” She shouted. Maybe I had been missed. Then the questions started. I couldn’t keep up with them so I tried to answer the first one, “Where are you,” when White’s voice interrupted her.
“Yes, Mr. White?” She replied.
“I’ll take it from here.” He was abrupt.
“Of course,” I heard a click and knew she’d hung up her receiver, leaving me to fend for myself.
“Hi,” I said cautiously.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I didn’t know what else to add and there was an uncomfortable silence.
“Good. Are you ready to come back?”
“Is my isolation training complete?”
“The isolation part. Red will want to talk to you, of course. Are you sure you’re okay?” His voice held genuine concern, making my heart ache.
“I’m fine.” I wanted to ask him all kinds of questions but I couldn’t spit them out.
“Good. Then, can I talk to Black?”
“Black?” I was confused.
“Didn’t he bring you back?”
“No. I haven’t seen him. I just got back and found the phone on my bed with a note to call the office,” I explained.
“Hold on,” I heard White put down his phone. Within a matter of seconds he was back. “Okay, I’ve found him. Check your watch.”
I did as I was told and found Black’s blip not far from the cabin.
“Found him,” I confirmed.
“You two are impossible when it comes to this,” I could picture his disapproving look paired with a shake of his head. “I sent him up there two weeks ago to get you and you’ve not even seen him?”
I knew the question wasn’t meant to be answered, but I did anyway. “No. His location isn’t anywhere near where I’ve been either. But I did head out that direction when I first got here,” I mused.
“I know what he’s been doing,” he was still annoyed. “He’s been tracking you without the aid of the GPS. If he only knew…” His tone became more ominous. He was hinting at my skills as Penumbra, the infamous sniper/assassin role I’d fallen into. I could just see him with his eyes narrowed wearing that evil grin of his. This made me smile my own evil grin as I realized I’d out foxed Black’s tracking skills without even trying.
“You really think he was trying to track me?”
“Don’t get any ideas, Alex. I’m not so sure you’d find him without the GPS either. Don’t forget, he’s playing the game and will be actively hiding all traces.”
“But…” I started. If I could track Black out here without the use of GPS I’d have something to brag about.
“I said no.” Even if I had wanted to disobey White at this point, I knew I couldn’t after he used that tone on me.
“Fine,” I gave in.
“I miss you.” Again, he left me speechless. Before the silence became too much he followed it up with, “You make things more interesting. No one else puts up much of a fight.” I could actually feel his humiliation.
“I miss you too,” I finally managed.
“It’s been a long time.” He sounded regretful.
“About six months, I think.”
“Five and a half, actually.”
“Have there been any job offers?” I wasn’t ready to hear what I’d wanted to hear so many months before. I hadn’t completely worked through my new found feelings for Will. To top it off, I was still covered in mud and had begun to shiver from being soaked to the core.
“No. Well, I might have a company job lined up for you but nothing else.” White had become all business. “Could you just get out there and retrieve Black? I’m going to send Brown in to get you. Hopefully you’ll be back to the cabin before he gets there.”
“According to Black’s GPS location, we won’t be back here for a couple of hours. When do you plan on sending Brown?”
“I’m not kidding, Alex. You can’t do this right now. I need you two back here. I’m sending Brown right away. Please don’t make him wait very long.”
“Yes, sir.” I said this more out of defiance for not being able to play the tracking game with Black but instantly regretted it. What if White took it as a dismissal of everything private we’d ever shared?
“See you soon,” he replied and the connection was gone.
I didn’t take any time to get cleaned up. It was pointless, anyway. Instead, I strapped the phone to my belt and went directly back out into the rain.
As soon as I stepped outside I started searching for traces of Black. I knew where he was so this wasn’t going to be a challenge, but I couldn’t resist looking for any remnants of Black’s passage.
He was good. I hadn’t found any indications and I was almost upon him. I slowed my pace and started to circle his location. Within a few minutes I was on top of his blip but there was no Black to be found. His watch was hanging from a tree with a piece of white cloth tied to it to make it easily visible.
“Okay,” I spoke loudly to the surrounding forest. “You win.”
“Not really,” Black’s voice came to me from behind, making me wheel around.
“I didn’t find you, even though I was cheating,” I pointed to my watch.
“I didn’t find you either and I actively searched for ten days.”
“White said you’d been out here for two weeks.”
“It’s been sixteen days. Thought I’d take advantage of the time up here for a couple more days while you were still doing your thing.”
“I already called the office and Brown is probably already at the cabin, waiting for us.” I replied in a saddened tone.
“Yep. Better get back.” Black reached up and retrieved his watch before taking off at a brisk walk.
“What’s the hurry?” I called after him and he slowed. We walked back together at a more leisurely pace.
When the cabin came into view, Black asked me if I’d packed yet.
“Better,” he pointed to the chopper blades visible through the trees.
“About time,” Brown greeted us as we entered.
“I’m going to shower,” I made my way toward my room.
“No time. White wants us back, already.”
“What’s ten more minutes?” I complained.
“Ten more minutes,” Black answered me. “Go pack.”
I did as instructed but not without a bad attitude. We were in the air in less than fifteen minutes and back at the office building before I was ready.
Once inside the elevator I pressed the button for my floor.
“No time for that either.” Brown said as he pushed the 7th floor button that would take us to the office.
“Come on!” I hadn’t showered for longer than I’d ever admit and was beginning to feel self-conscious.
“Straight to Red. That’s what I was told. You two are in big trouble. You know that don’t you?”
I looked at Black with mock shame and he shrugged.
“Yeah, that’s what I think too.” Brown grinned.
I was escorted to the interrogation rooms instead of the office. Brown opened the door and ushered me past him with a flourish and a bow.
“Red will be here in a bit.” The door made an audible click when he shut it. I supposed the sound had been purposefully amplified somehow to mess with the heads of the people we put in here.
Within five minutes I’d checked my watch three times. My isolation training hadn’t taught me patience for situations like this.
Instead of counting the seconds on my watch, I closed my eyes, leaned back in my chair, and started counting them in my head. If I knew these men, especially Red, I’d have a long wait ahead of me.
The rattle of the doorknob roused me from a sound sleep and I slowly opened my eyes to see Red walking in. I sat up straighter and checked my watch again. As I suspected, more than two hours had passed since I’d last checked.
“Did you have a nice nap?” Red asked as he placed a manila file on the table and slid into the chair opposite me.
“Yes, actually. Now, if I could only shower.” I indicated my now stiff, mud caked clothes.
“You certainly need it.”
I didn’t respond. He was obviously baiting me. An accidental yawn escaped and I didn’t even attempt to hide it.
“What’s with the bad attitude?” Red asked.
“What’s up with making me come straight here without a shower?”
“You’ve been under observation.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Really? Why?”
“Why the M.I.A. stunt?”
“Why won’t you answer my questions?” Now I was getting frustrated. This was a tactic my father, Admiral Robert S. Stanton, had used against me many times before.
“You haven’t answered any of my questions. There,” he took a breath, “I answered one of yours, now answer one of mine.”
“Fine.” I didn’t like Red trying to get info from me but I gave in because he was just doing what he was paid for.
“Good. What is today’s date?”
“Honestly. I don’t know. If you told me what day of the week it is I could figure it out.”
“Do you know how long you were gone?”
“Forty-seven days, give or take a day or two.” I answered immediately.
“So, if you’re aware of how much time has passed, why did you make yourself unreachable for so long?” His eyebrows arched with the question.
“I don’t know. I guess I was having a good time out there, alone.” I didn’t want to admit I was hiding from White and my feelings for him.
“I’ll let that slide, for now. However, I believe there’s more to it than that.” Red went on with his questions about what I did at the cabin.
It took some concentration but I managed to tell him, in chronological order, what I’d done for a month and a half. After I’d run down my days for him it all seemed like a massive waste of time.
“I want to move past this and say you have no troubles with isolation,” he closed his file folder and folded his hands on top of it. “But, I still need to know why.” He cocked his head to the side, his eyebrows went up again and I couldn’t help but believe he wasn’t trying to trick me into talking about my personal feelings for research purposes. He seemed genuinely concerned.
I let out a deep breath, making my cheeks puff out. “If I tell you that I know why, will that be good enough for you?”
“Not really. What if voices told you not to come back? Just because you know it was voices doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.”
I couldn’t help it, I laughed. “I promise I don’t hear voices.”
“I believe you or I wouldn’t have used that as an example,” he smiled. “Was it because you were mad about being thrown into isolation training without being told about it first? Given your track record, that’s a believable reason.”
What the hell? Was he giving me an out? Just agree, I told myself, but I couldn’t do it.
“No, not entirely,” I heard myself say.
“Okay,” he sat back in his chair waiting for more and when the more didn’t come he asked, “Well?”
“I really don’t want to explain it. I didn’t even realize I was avoiding something until the day before I called the office.”
“Okay. Now that’s good enough. Unless you would like to talk about it.”
“Nah, I’m good.” I replied. “Thanks,” I added as an afterthought.
“White wanted me to send you directly to him but I don’t think it would hurt to let you shower first.” He’d already stood up and gathered his file before he said this. “Talk to you later,” he winked at me as he left the room.
I thought about my interrogation while I rode the elevator up to my apartment and all the while I showered and made myself presentable for White. Red had always been all about pulling information out of me and he’d gone about it all differently this time. He was recognized as a top interrogator and that had always made me very leery of him. But, this time he’d won. He’d used a different tact and gotten me to talk. Took him long enough, I thought to myself and giggled out loud at actually being tricked by Red.