Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Temporary Home

My eyes widened and a smile broke my face in half. 


He looked like he'd just been through hell.  He had bags under his eyes, his hair was shaggy and unkempt, and he was dressed in super baggy jeans and a massive tshirt. 

I took a quick step towards him and jumped at him, and he caught me.  I wrapped my legs around his waist and kissed him hard.  He kissed me back, just as passionately, but cut the kiss short. 

He let go of my legs, letting me settle back to the floor.  I made eye contact with him and I could tell something was wrong.  His eyes were hard.

He looked at me, then at Sarah, and back at me.  "I don't have a lot of time to explain right now.  You both need to come with me."

I looked past Aaron and saw a blacked out, non-descript SUV parked along my curb.  I furrowed my brow at him.

"I'm serious, Aleah," he said sternly, but I could see the urgency written across his face. 

"Are we coming back?"

"I'm not sure."

Sarah asked, "Can we at least pack a bag?"

"No.  I promise I'll explain more in the car, but we have to go, now."

She and I exchanged a look, grabbed our phones and purses, slipped on flip flops we had by the door, and followed Aaron to the car.

The door opened as we got closer, Aaron climbed in first and we slid in behind him.  The front seats were filled by two men whom I didn't recognize.  They weren't smiling, were in street clothes, and I could see the driver had a gun on his waist.

I was in the middle between Sarah and Aaron, and Aaron slid his arm around my back protectively, and kissed the side of my head.  I turned and whispered in his ear, "What name am I supposed to call you?"

He cracked a half-grin at that.  "Aaron."

Sarah and I sat in silence as the driver navigated through town and got onto the highway.  We were headed south, away from Omaha and Lincoln.

I finally broke the silence, because Sarah and I were both nervous, as evidenced by our bouncing legs, me picking at my nails, and her twirling her hair.  "Sooo... um, it's really good to see you?"

Unknown man #2 in the passenger seat spoke, "Aaron, you can tell them, minimally, what's going on."

Aaron sighed, and I felt his body tense.  "Some things... didn't go as planned.  A few days ago, somehow, Tito or one of his men figured out who I was.  And they quickly figured out who you were, then."

His head dropped to his chest and he put his palm on his face.  "He was threatening you, and I reacted.  There was a shootout..."  He trailed off.

Unknown man #2 picked up where he left off.  "We think that the information Tito found out was contained between him, his girlfriend, and the other guy in the house.  Not Aaron's partner, but another guy who was involved in Tito's ring.  We aren't positive, though.  So until we can verify that, we are putting you three up in a hotel.  It shouldn't be too long, because we have some leaks, and also a few other carefully placed undercovers."

"How long is 'not too long?'" Sarah asked.  "I'm supposed to be at work on Monday."

"We're hoping by mid-week you guys will be back home, unless there's an issue.  When we get to your destination, I'll get your employer's information and take care of it for you."

"Is your friend, the guy from the bar, is he okay?" I asked.

"He's in the hospital."  Aaron didn't elaborate, and I didn't push.

We drove in silence the rest of the way until we pulled up to a little dingy hotel in the middle of nowhere.

Unknown #1, the driver, turned around and looked at us, "Well, here's your temporary home for the next few nights."

Sarah and I exchanged glances.  Aaron grabbed my hand, and opened the door to exit.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Something Just Feels Off

I jerked awake, my eyes opening wide.  Where was I?  I was laying on my side, facing a wall with a window on the edge of a foreign bed.  My eyes darted around wildly, trying to center my thoughts and remember where I was.

I had been asleep, deeply.  I felt more tired than I had before I'd gone to sleep, I think.

The dingy plainness of the room reminded me I was in a hotel.  I felt a random arm fling over my side, casually, but no other movement.  I squeezed my eyes shut tight, wondering if this was actually a dream.  I bit the inside of my cheek sharply, and the pain resonated through my senses, letting me know this was for real.

I eyed the arm that was draped over my waist, cautiously; the events of the past 24 hours were rushing back like a tidal wave, overtaking my thoughts.  As much as I wanted this arm around me, it came with a lot of repercussions.

~~~~~~~24 hours earlier~~~~~~~

Sarah and I had woken up early, and with hangovers, after downing a couple bottles of wine the night before.  Drowning our lonely sorrows.  However, something about wine makes me more hung over the next morning.  I think it dehydrates me.

We were trying to sneak through the grocery store as unseen as possible, in our sweats and oversized t-shirts, our hair looking like we had just woken up after sleeping on it.  Pretty much because we had.  We were craving biscuits and gravy, eggs, and bacon, so we were trying to pick up what we didn't have, so we could gorge ourselves without having to be in public for too long.

I felt uneasy while we were walking around, haphazardly throwing things into the cart, but blamed it on my pounding headache.  "We need Advil, too," I groaned to Sarah, who gave me a guttural caveman sound in agreement.

We were not fit for public.

I grabbed a carton of eggs, and was checking them for cracks when I felt I was being watched.  I looked up to see a man, about my height, slightly overweight, blatantly staring at me.  I squinted my eyes at him and gave him what I imagined to be a snarl-y look, and went back to my egg checking.

Like I said, not fit for public.  I'm not known for my friendliness and hospitality on the rare occasions I'm hungover. 

We trudged back towards the aisle with the medicines.  I was squatting, looking for a supersized bottle of Advil (because obviously we were going to need the largest size possible...), and Sarah was idly staring off in the distance, when I looked down the other end of the aisle and Mr. Judgey McJudgerson was standing there watching me (or us?) again.  He wasn't even trying to hide it by fake looking at items on the shelves.

"Sarah!" I whissped (whisper/hissed).  She was still blankly looking the other way.  "Sarah!"

She slowly forced her gaze to look down at me.  I grabbed a box of bottled Advil and stood up.  "Dude, check out Mr. Creepy behind us."  She started to turn and I grabbed her arm.  "Don't be obvious!"

She rolled her eyes at me, but started looking at the pregnancy tests, that were on the opposite side of the aisle.  I saw her look down there, and I looked up, and he was gone.  I frowned.  She turned and looked at me, and gave me A look. 

"I swear he was just down there."

"Yeah, okay," she said, again rolling her eyes. 

I scoffed and we headed towards self checkout.  While checking out, I saw him standing there again, by the door waiting to exit.  Still looking at me, but this time he was on the phone.

We went to leave and he was still standing there by the door.  Still staring.  As we walked past him, his gaze didn't leave mine.  I wasn't going to back down.  Right as we walked past him I snipped, "Take a picture, it'll last longer."

Sarah snapped at me, "Aleah. Rude!" at the same time the guy said, with a sneer on his face, "Already did."

Chills immediately ran up and down my spine and goosebumps popped up all over my body.  I gave him another long look, Sarah tightly gripped my upper arm and we sped walked out to my car.  I felt Sarah turn and look behind us.  "I don't see him," she said.  "And that was super creepy.  Although, that was probably uncalled for by you."

I ignored her last comment.  "Do you think I should call Brad?"

She scrunched up her face.  "Why?"

"Um, you DID just see what happened back there, right?"

"Duh.  But I think maybe you're being a little paranoid because of... you know... everything that's happened."

"Okay, if all that happened was the last exchange, I'd agree with you," I argued.  "However, you didn't see the other two times he was creepily staring at me."

She shrugged.  "You're right.  I didn't.  If you think you should, go ahead."

As I backed my car up, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the creeper standing back behind my car, holding out his phone.  I gasped.  "Sarah, the fucker just took a picture of my license plate."

She whipped her head around.  "Call Brad."

Since it was the weekend, I figured Brad wouldn't be in his office.  I called his cell, and he answered, his voice ringing through my car speakers.

"Hey Aleah, what can I do for you on this fine Saturday morning?"

I didn't waste time and immediately told Brad what had happened at the store, my body tensing up, as I recounted everything.

Brad's voice was light.  "Oh okay, can you tell me what he looked like?"

Sarah and I took turned describing him. 

When we were done, Brad said, "Alright Aleah, thanks for letting me know.  I'm sure it was just a uniform keeping an eye on you, but I'll call you back if there's anything to tell."

When I hung up, Sarah commented, "He didn't sound very worried."

"No, no he didn't.  But, something just feels off."


Sarah and I were wrapped up in blankets on opposite ends of the couch, binge watching The Walking Dead on Netflix in anticipation of the new season starting in a few weeks.  It was now late in the afternoon, and we'd been napping off and on, still in our pajamas.  I had my phone next to me, waiting to see if Brad got back to me, but he still hadn't.

I was trying to take the approach that "no news is good news," but I just couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. 

We were right at a tense moment in an episode, when there was a banging at the front door.  Sarah and I both jumped, and she let out a shriek.  We looked at each other, eyes wide.  "Who is it?" she whispered to me.

"How would I know?  I've been sitting right next to you!"

There was another pounding at the door.

We got up, together, and made our way to the door.  She grabbed one of my tennis racquets, and I grabbed another, which I kept in my bag next to the door.  We held them back, and I tentatively opened the door.  The racquet in my hand fell to the floor with a loud clatter, shock freezing me in place at who was standing on the other side.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

From a Distance

Sarah and Matt’s break up had come as a shock to me.  It stemmed from Sarah being at Matt’s house, and Matt was showering.  His phone had lit up with an incoming call from his ex-girlfriend, whose name Sarah happened to know.  She didn’t answer, however, she did get curious and opened his texts and read a quite lengthy text conversation that had occurred between the two of them that spanned over a week and a half or so.  The conversation wasn’t outright sexual, but there was subtle flirting with an open ended invitation from her for them to have dinner which he hadn’t turned down.  She was mad at the inappropriate conversation, and he was mad she had read his texts.  It blew up from there and they broke up and neither had spoken since.  Sarah was feeling guilty and felt that it was her fault, and she shouldn’t have read the messages. 

I tended to lean towards the side of my bestie, and be fiercely loyal to her, and said Matt shouldn’t have been text-humping his ex-girlfriend.  Maybe a little extreme wording... but maybe halfsies true.

After she had shared all this with me, I unfortunately had let my mind wander that night while in bed, and started imagining all the more-than-likely-inappropriate conversations Aaron was having in the name of his job, and I shuddered.

But that was a week ago. 

And the thoughts were still present.

My phone rang and it was Detective (Brad) Stratton.  He asked me to come and speak with him down at the station. 

Once I got there, he didn’t waste any time cutting right to the point.

“Did you see Aaron recently?”

I gulped.  “Yeah... I was planning on coming and telling you about it, I just got busy.  I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“I’m not mad,” he quickly said.  “I understand why you would tell me, but unless his cover was blown, you would’ve had no reason to come speak with me immediately, I suppose.”

“Aaron and I did talk.  And he told me to tell you.  I was just scared of the repercussions for him, that he might get pulled if I did.”

“Oh, no, Aleah.  He’s in way too deep.  He’s not getting yanked out, yet.  But I do need to make you aware that the main person of interest that Aaron is after is trying to have one of the other undercovers find you.  It’s being handled, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, but I would avoid Omaha in case you run into them again.”

I looked down at my hands, fidgeting in my lap. 

Brad leaned over and patted my shoulder.  “Keep your chin up, kid.  I know this is hard for you.  And I can already tell that you want to run out to Omaha and try to run into him again.  Don’t do it.  It won’t help the fake id that was created for you.  You were just visiting here and live in Florida.  I’m telling you this, just in case you do run into them again.  Your name is Kim Smith.”

I smiled at him.  “You guys could’ve chosen a better name for me at least.  Kim Smith?” I wrinkled my nose.

“Hey, we needed something very generic that would be next to impossible to search and find out that it really isn’t you.”

“Got it.”

“So tell me what happened with Aaron.”

I detailed what happened, only glossing over the bathroom experience (we met in the bathroom, and, um, talked briefly... and stuff).  Brad laughed when I told him my last exchange with the Tito guy.
We briefly touched base about Luke’s case.  Trial was officially scheduled for February.  For now.  It kept getting delayed.

Before I left, Brad made me promise to not go to Omaha, and if for some reason I had to, I was supposed to take Sarah, since she was my “cousin,” and Brad wanted to come along as my dad.  I told him I’d avoid it, and let him know if for some reason I couldn’t.

Even though I was still struggling with Aaron not being around, after speaking with Brad, I felt more secure knowing that I was being looked after from a distance.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I Wouldn't Regret It: Aaron's Perspective

A/N: Hey all, I've decided that when I do bonuses on the weekend, they are going to be from Aaron's perspective, so that way we all have insight into what's going on with him :)  Hope that's okay!  If I need a bonus from Aleah, I'll post an additional one during the week, and as always, give you guys a head's up!  ~A


"Lorenzo, over here, brah," Jose called out to me.

I took one last, long look at the stargazer lilies and strode over to him.  "Sorry, man."

He raised his eyebrow at me and snickered.  "Didn't know you were so into flowers."

I shook my head.  We were at the store picking up groceries.  Jose and I usually went shopping for groceries on Sundays for our small apartment.  To our knowledge, Tito didn't know where it was, but we weren't sure, so we couldn't ever talk about personal things there.  That's why we talked (quietly) about real life when we shopped.  Still didn't use real names, and spoke in code a lot, but it helped being away from our families. 

Jose had been under for a lot longer than I had.  He had been more than a year when I came in.  This operation was originally for guns.  There was a huge illegal gun ring out of Omaha, ran by Tito.  I got brought in because it was discovered that there was also a secondary drug cartel, also being ran by Tito.  His big one was coke.  From what I'd learned so far, he would sell anything for the right price, but he mainly stuck with blow.  The story was that I was Jose's second cousin from Chicago, where I deal, though not quite as big time as Tito.  I was brought in, because before I was on the homicide unit with Brad, I had worked briefly in the narcotics unit in Lincoln.

Jose's real name was Brian.  He's really from LA, and on the PD there.  He's married and has a now 3 year old.  Luckily, for him, being more involved with the gun side, he got to fly around the country, and to travel to San Bernardino and Santa Barbara, so he would a lot of times leave his phone in the hotel room, in case it was tracked, and go overnight to see his family.

Originally it was thought that I would fly "back" to Chicago often, since that's allegedly where I'm from, giving me time to really go home and see Aleah.  However, turns out Tito really likes me and trusts me and asked me to stay out this way to be his right hand man.

We were part of the way through the store.  "Hey, 'Zo.  What was up with the girl in the bar a couple weeks ago?"

I rolled my eyes.  "When is Tito going to get off that?"

"No shit answer."  That was Jose's code for he wanted the truth, and he knew there was more to the story than I was letting on.

"Ok, so this is really fucked up," I ran my hand through my hair, then grabbed a bag of chips and threw them into the cart.  "It was my girlfriend."

"Are you fucking me?"  he looked at me incredulously. 

I shook my head.  "In the flesh."

Although we knew a lot of personal details about each other, one thing we kept private were names of anyone we knew, and our last names.  That way if something were to go down and the other was tortured, we didn't have to worry about personal details coming out.  We trusted each other, but it was just better this way.

"That's why I need Tito to let it go, and I keep blowing it off."

"Dude, he must be suspicious of something, because he asked me to find her."

I widened my eyes at him.  "Are you shitting me right now?  You can't do it."  I was starting to panic a little, internally.  "How would you anyway?  I had her leave there shortly after I spoke with her."

He sighed.  "He took a picture of her friend's license plate.  He said he thought you two looked at each other differently.  He didn't say he thought you knew each other, but he thought you two had a connection.  He said he 'just had a feeling' about it."

"What are you going to do?"

"I already contacted my home station.  They're getting me some fake papers with names, and it's going to trace to your girl with a fake name and she'll be living out on the east coast somewhere.  Don't worry, I got you.  I didn't want to involve some innocent girl in this, but now knowing who it really is, I'm definitely going to make sure all bases are covered."

I nodded at him, remaining cool on the outside, but internally I was still freaking out.  I decided I would somehow get a hold of Brad the next time I was meeting with my superiors, so he could look out for Aleah.

Because if anything happened to her, at the hands of Tito, I would kill him.

I wouldn't regret it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Worst of Both Worlds

"You're gonna fuck him again, and you're gonna like it," Tito said through gritted teeth, pressing the cold barrel of the gun under my chin, making my jaw hurt.

I felt the hot tears streak my face that were falling from my eyes, evidence of the fear that I was unwilling to verbalize.  I shook my head no.  

I wasn't sure where I was.  It was dark with a single light hanging from the ceiling.  I was pressed up against a wall with my hands tied behind my back.  

"Mmm," he growled, nipping at my ear.  "Would you rather have me instead?"

He licked my neck, and with his head to my side I saw over his shoulder and gasped.  There, under the light, blind folded and duct taped to a chair, was Aaron.

My eyes shot open and I sat up with a start.  My tank top was soaked in sweat, and I wiped at the real tears that had trailed down my face during the nightmare.  I looked over at my clock, and it was only 4 a.m.

It was more or less the same one every single night since I'd ran into Aaron and Tito at the bar.  I think I was nervous that something was going to happen, and was combining what Aaron had told me with Luke.  So Tito was the worst of both worlds right now.

I was tired from sleeping restlessly and waking up constantly.  I was having a hard time remaining optimistic due to the stress from my dreams.  I had an appointment with my therapist the next day, so I was hoping he would be able to help me out, as I was at a loss.  I had been doing a lot better, and so the medication I was originally on I had gone off of, but I was thinking about asking to be put back on it again.  Or at least some type of sleep aid to keep me asleep at night.  I also decided I needed to talk to Detective Stratton to let him know about my run-in with Aaron and Tito.

I'd had my interview a few weeks ago at the Department of Health and Human Services for a position investigating child abuse and neglect.  They told me that they were waiting for a new "cohort" to start training, and had some more applicants to interview, but as soon as they heard about the new cohort and had made a decision, they would give me a call.  I tried to focus on how my interview had gone, to distract myself from everything else.  It was easier to think about that than anything else.

Eventually I must have drifted off, as I woke up to the sun trying to break through my curtains.  I stretched and yawned, still tired.

I made my way downstairs and saw Sarah was sitting on the couch, not at work.  "What are you doing here, slacker?" I asked through a yawn.

She shrugged, but didn't answer me and didn't look at me.  I poured a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and dumped milk in it.  I grabbed it, along with the box, for when I ate the cereal and then could add more to my leftover milk, and went into the living room.  I sat in a chair, and took in Sarah's appearance.  She still hadn't looked at me or spoken to me.  She looked rather disheveled, her blonde hair unkempt and matted from sleeping on it, smeared eye make-up, and wrapped up in a blanket.

"Are you sick?"

She shook her head no.

"Don't make me come over there and beat it out of you," I joked.

She then shot me a look, but burst into tears.

I looked at her alarmed.  I put my cereal aside, no longer important.  I got up and went over to her, and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her close to me.  "Sar, what is wrong?"

She sniffled.  "Matt and I broke up."