"So, what do you think?" queried Jack Johnson as he sprawled lazily across a chair in Marty's office. His flat tone and casual demeanor belied a wonderfully inventive and devilishly devious mind, which was exactly why he'd been hired in the first place.
"About what?" asked Marty, as she busily entered information into her computer. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as her eyes studied the screen. Jack watched wondering just how many jobs her mind was working on at the same time. Where some people had one track minds, hers seemed to occupy many levels, which she calmly described as the ability to multi-task.
"About nightmares, writers, rogue agents and extra-terrestrials."
Never missing a beat, Marty answered, "Hidden meanings, hidden messages, hidden agendas, and just plain hidden."
"Aha! I knew it." Jack sat upright. "You have been reading the reports I've turned in."
"I read everything you turn in, Jack," Marty grinned, turning sparkling green eyes on him. "Even the dirty jokes that you add in the reference areas." She regarded the brownhaired, brown-eyed young man sitting across the desk from her and fondly recalled his father. And, Paris. Jack was so like his father, the same quick, dry wit, the same outrageous sense of humor, and the same dedication to his job.
"You are coming to the Andrew's party with me?"
"Wouldn't miss it." His tone changed quickly. "Jared still refusing to come back to WEB?"
"For now," Marty answered. "He's still having nightmares."
"Which is really weird for him." Jack's tone was almost reverent. Jared had been, and was still his idol, his mentor, a man whose skills were legendary, whose calm and creativity had been mythical in their business. "He was always so laid back."
"He's as laid back as you are," Marty observed, "which means that his mind never fully shuts down. And, right now, Jack, he desperately needs peace of mind-time to sort out whatever happened."
"As always." Her face was concerned. "Jack, something happened that day, something that Jared can't quite remember, but it was enough to shock him to his very soul."
"It really has you worried, doesn't it?" Jack was almost surprised to see Marty express concern, though he knew that she felt deeply for all her agents. Hers was a dedication that went beyond the employer/employee relationship, went to the very heart of their existence.
"Yeah, Jack, I'm concerned. I've known Jared for...a long time. A very long time, and to see him like this tells me that there is something extremely dangerous afoot. Jared is not the kind of man to buckle under pressure. That's where he is at his best."
"But the shooting?"
"Is under investigation."
"You need to ask?"
"What aren't you telling me?"
"Jack, you know that I don't tell you everything." Their eyes met, and she continued, "And much of what you don't know is for your own good."
"You should let me be the judge of that."
"Someday, maybe," she told him, seriously. "But not today."
There was something there, something that one longed to ask, and one longed to answer, but both knew that this wasn't the right time. So, Jack stood up, stretched, and said, "Sevenish?"
"Under the circumstances, Jack, I'll have my driver pick you up a little early and we'll take the limo."
"Anybody besides me riding shotgun tonight?"
Their eyes met again and both smiled, acknowledging the facts of their lives. Tonight both would leave this office and venture out into what appeared to most everybody else as a glittering world filled with wine, excellent food and merriment, and for most of them, it would be just that. But, for Marty and Jack, the world was a different place, one that concealed dangers about which others dared not even dream, and for their friend and associate, Jared Andrews, had become a place of unending nightmares. "Precautions have been taken, Jack," she assured him. "As always."
Justin Devereaux adjusted his tie and studied his reflection in the mirror. Not bad for a man pushing fifty, he decided. A little gray hair, but that only made him look distinguished, Rosemary said. And, his body was fit and trim, actually in better shape than when he'd been in his twenties. That was one of the benefits of hard work and attention to his diet. And, he thought, to a carefully orchestrated martial arts workout daily. It was amazing the ends to which a man would go to create a new life for himself when it was time to walk away from the old one. He hardly ever thought about the old days now, so immersed was he in his new identity. He had even come to regard his new face as familiar, something that he'd never thought he'd be able to do. Even his voice was different, and the southern drawl seemed natural to him now. Yes, life was much better now, and with any luck, it would continue to improve.
He thought of Rosemary, the lovely dark-haired woman he called boss, and was daily wishing to call something more intimate. He'd seen the shadows beneath her eyes, shadows which had grown more pronounced since her husband, Gilbert, had wandered off to do whatever he was doing. It would be easy enough to find the truth, Justin thought. Just a bit of discreet checking on his day off and he'd know for sure, but it wasn't his to do. No, Rosemary needed to learn some things for herself, if she really wanted to know.
Justin thought about another dark haired woman from his past, and for a few minutes, let the pangs of regret wash over him. Mistakes he'd made had forever altered his life, and altered the lives of the people he'd come to love and value over his own life. But, time had a way of forgiving, and for opening up windows where doors had been slammed shut, if a man was patient. And, he was patient. So, he told himself, he'd wait for Rosemary. And when she'd decided to free herself of the encumbrance she called her husband, he'd be there, ready to erase the shadows, and to make her smile again.
Justin looked at the dour countenance in the mirror, and forced a smile. For a second, he saw the man he'd been, but only for that brief flicker of time. Then, Justin Devereaux, tall, dark-haired man with his secrets forever locked away, was back. Yes, Justin would have Rosemary eventually, and he'd cherish her like that fool, Gilbert Andrews, did not. That thought in mind, Justin went to the closet and took out the box where he kept his gun. He thought of the promises he'd made, the woman to whom he owed his life. First things first, he vowed.
"I'm surprised you made it," Rosemary greeted Gilbert as he entered the ballroom where she'd been greeting their guests for the last half-hour. "Have you seen Jared?"
"Considering that he's the guest of honor, I'd have thought he'd already be here."
"This is your brother we're talking about. The one who hasn't shaved for months, and barely has a civil word for anyone."
"I know." Gilbert was worried about Jared, and was ashamed that he hadn't spent more time with him, but not sufficiently that he'd done anything about it. "I'll go find him."
"Don't bother," Rosemary said, looking over Gilbert's shoulder to see the aforementioned brother stroll in. "At least he shaved."
"He still needs a haircut," Gilbert noted. "But I guess we should be thankful that he got dressed for the event."
"Gilbert, the man's wearing jogging shoes with his tux," Rosemary shuddered.
"Rosemary," came a voice from behind her. Turning, she saw Justin approaching, and a smile curved her lips. "Justin! I'm so glad you came."
"I wouldn't have missed this party for the world," he assured her, as he studiously ignored her husband. "Would you care to dance?"
"I'd love to," she answered. "Gilbert, will you greet our guests?"
Gilbert watched as the tall, dour man swept his wife onto the dance floor, and experienced a momentary pang of something. What was it? Not jealousy, he admitted, reflecting that a man really should be jealous if his wife preferred another man. But, he had no such feelings, and hadn't had them for some time. No, what he felt was a sort of relief.
"She looks happy," Jared commented as he watched Rosemary whirl around the dance floor in Justin's arms. "And you look like hell."
"Spoken by one who has been spending considerable time there himself," Gilbert observed, turning to his only brother. "Decent of you to show up tonight." He looked down at the shoes and then back at his brother.
"If I'm going to have to dress up in this monkey suit, at least I'm going to be comfortable."
"You look fit, if a little tired." Gilbert cleared his throat and added, "I appreciate all that you've been doing lately."
"No problem," Jared answered. "I appreciate your letting me come back."
"It belongs to both of us," Gilbert told him. "We inherited equally."
"Yeah, but you've been the one who worked it."
"And I wouldn't have made it through the rough times without your financial contributions," Gilbert acknowledged. "It all evens out. So, where's your date?"
"No date, really. Rosemary invited a few of my friends."
"Anybody I know?"
"Marty, Jack Johnson and maybe Les Cooper." Jared looked at his brother who stood watching Rosemary and Justin dance. "Why aren't you cutting in?"
"Because she looks happy," Gilbert admitted. "And I've come to realize that I'm not the man she wants, or needs. Oh, I've known it for years, but..." He shrugged. "There's always been something missing between us."
"I do love her," Gilbert told him. "But it's not enough for either of us, and I think that she's beginning to realize that."
"I see." And, he did. Jared knew that while love could exist, there was something more that was demanded of a man and a woman, something that he himself had only shared with one woman before. There was something unspoken, something understood that would exist regardless of the constraints of the law, or of society's rules. It simply was, and once a person had experienced that, nothing else would do.
Just then, he caught sight of Marty, who had entered the room with a young man he recognized. "Excuse me, Gilbert." And, it was there, that quickening of the soul, that invisible link that bound people together for all time. He smiled, hurried towards her, but as he did, he heard the words once more, this time uttered loudly enough for many of his guests to hear.
"Murderer!! You murdered my daughter! Murderer!"
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