Sunday, April 14, 2013 | By: Jenny

In Pursuit Chapter 3 & Pics

Chapter 3
Marie POV
Jesus, it had been a long day. I scrubbed my hand over my face, trying to wake up enough to focus on what Ben was saying. He’d just gotten to the motel, and not only had he brought our bag from the other place, he’d also stopped and picked up dinner. We had fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, green beans, and biscuits, as well as drinks from the pop machine outside the motel office. Way too much food, especially since neither Mary nor I were particularly hungry, but apparently Ben could put away food like he was a football player.
“So, after checking all your stuff for bugs, the guys helped me get free of the tail I picked up as I left the hotel,” he explained around a mouthful of potatoes and green beans. “From there, I parked in a garage, picked up the borrowed car that my friend Tyler brought me, and let him take my car back to the station.” Taking a big swig from his can of Coke, he finished, “I changed jackets and put on a hat and sunglasses, so in different clothes and a new car, no one recognized me, so no one followed me out of the garage.”
“Did you talk to Shelly?” Angela had the grace to wait to take her bite until she’d finished talking, chewing the piece of chicken slowly while Ben nodded.
“I did. It’s ours if we need it. She’s going to call the neighbor who has a key so she can get in to water the plants and tell her that someone will be by to get it in the next couple of days. She didn’t ask what we needed it for, and I didn’t tell her, of course.” He looked over at Mary and me. “Assuming Edward and Jasper approve it, that’s where we’ll move you next and where – hopefully – you’ll stay until the trial is over.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Edward and Jasper?”
“U.S. marshals,” Angela answered. “We’ve known Edward since high school. I know you haven’t made the decision yet for sure that you want to go into the WitSec program, but Ben and I need help keeping you safe, and Edward and his partner Jasper are your best bet at that.”
“Can you...” Mary’s voice trailed off as she looked at me. At my nod, she continued. “Can you tell us some more about witness protection?”
Ben nodded slowly. “We can tell you what little we know, sure. Edward and Jasper will be able to fill you in on more.” He swallowed another drink of Coke before speaking again. “Basically, you would sign on with the Witness Security Program, and after the Department of Justice approves it, the marshals will protect you and keep you hidden up to and throughout the trial. You’ll be assigned new identities, including names, social security numbers, birthdays, and histories. They will help you find a new place to live, a new job, and you’ll be given a stipend to help you start out your new life.”
“And we would never be able to come back to New York?”
Mary looked slightly upset at that, but I wasn’t nearly as sad at the thought. Sure, New York had been great – until recently, of course – but it wasn’t home. Home had been with Gran in Florida and, before that, with our parents. I’d never had a lot of friends here in the city, so as long as I had Mary with me, I didn’t give much of a fuck where we lived.
“What about our names?” I asked. “You said new names...”
Angela nodded and answered for Ben. “Edward and Jasper can tell you more, but you’ll definitely get a new last name. Whether or not you can keep your first names, I don’t know.”
“And we won’t be safe here, even after we’ve already testified?” I pushed, wondering why we couldn’t just be protected through the trial and then be allowed to go home.
Angela shook her head, frowning. “I don’t think so, honey. I’m sorry. If it were a regular citizen you were testifying against, I’d say yes, absolutely. But with Caius Volturi, I’m afraid the Volturi family will want to exact revenge for your testimony and will go to great lengths to find and kill you, then use your deaths as an example of what happens to people who go up against them.”
Grabbing my hand, Mary asked, “But we’d get to stay together?”
Ben spoke this time, pushing his plate away. “Yes, Edward assured me on the phone that if you chose WitSec, you would be able to stay together.”
Mary looked at me, tears in her eyes, and squeezed my hand. “We have to do it, Ree. We can’t take the chance. We’re the only family we have left, so whether our names are Marie and Mary Brandon or Gladys and Barbara Smith, as long as we’re together, we’ll be okay.”
Feeling my own eyes well up with tears, I took a deep breath and then nodded, looking over at Angela and Ben. “Okay, then. I guess we’re in.”
After filling out the paperwork needed to officially put in our request to be admitted into the WitSec program, Ben excused himself. “I’m going to send this in to the DOJ and then catch up on paperwork from some of our other cases. I’ll be back with Edward and Jasper in the morning.” He kissed Angela quickly, smiled at Mary and me, and then left the room.
Mary stood and looked around. “I’m going to take a shower,” she mumbled, turning to the bag on the bed and pulling out her sleep clothes.
As soon as the bathroom door shut, I grabbed my tablet and opened up the book I was in the middle of reading, the latest in a popular romance series. After Mary finished in the shower, I planned to do the same and then try to get some sleep. It had been a damn long couple of days.
By the time I had read three chapters, I realized I hadn’t heard the shower start yet. I didn’t hear anything from the bathroom to indicate Mary was even in there. Scared, I dropped my tablet and raced to the bathroom, sure that one of Volturi’s men had found the little window at the top of the wall and somehow dragged my sister out of there without us hearing.
Knocking quickly, I said, “Mare? Everything okay?”
There was a sniffle, but nothing more.
I tried again. “Mary, come on, sweetie. You’re scaring me. Are you hurt?”
A louder sniffle came through the door, and then she answered, “I’m fine. Go away!”
I waited, trying to decide what to do, when I heard the sniffles turn into a cry, and when that cry turned into a sob, I decided to hell with it and opened the door, glad she hadn’t locked it.
Mary was curled up on the floor of the bathroom, face buried in her knees as she cried. Her body was trembling, her fingers gripping her arms as she held them wrapped around her knees.
“Oh, Mare, please don’t cry,” I gasped, dropping down in front of her and trying to pull her into my arms; she was stiff and unyielding, not moving an inch from her position. “It’s all going to be okay, I promise,” I tried to assure her. “They will keep us safe, and then we get to start over. Reinvent ourselves, ya know? We’ll get to see a part of the country we’ve never seen before, get to be whoever we want to be, and—”
Mary’s head flew up, and the expression on her face was one I hadn’t seen since Lisa Francis had deliberately thrown her punch on Mary’s new dress during our junior prom. “It is not going to be okay! Quit saying that!” She scrambled to her feet, tears coursing down her cheeks as I started trying to calm her. “It’s not! If we aren’t killed before the trial’s over, our lives will be over anyway. We’ll never be Marie and Mary Brandon again.
“You said we would get to be whoever we want to be.... You may not like being Marie Brandon anymore, but... What if I like being Mary Brandon? Did you ever think of that? You may not like your life, but I like mine! I have a great job. What am I going to do, wherever they decide to move us? Huh? Did you ever think of that?”
“Mary, I... You’ll find something. We don’t know that you won’t be able to—”
“It won’t be the same!” Mary yelled, whirling around to face me, finger pointed at my chest.
I knew what she was about to say, and while I couldn’t disagree, I knew it would still hurt to hear.
“This is All. Your. Fault,” she seethed. “If you hadn’t forgotten your damn cell phone – again! – we wouldn’t have had to stop by your office. You’re the reason I’m having to uproot my entire life and move somewhere I won’t know anyone. And you just stand there acting like it’s no big deal, that it’s an adventure. Well, it’s not!” she screamed. “It’s not going to be an adventure, and it’s not going to be okay!”
Before I could blink, she turned around and ran out of the bathroom and to the door of the room, where she fumbled with the locks.
Angela held her hand up as I started to run after her. “Stay in here and lock the door behind me. She needs space, so I’ll go with her and keep her safe while she gets some air.”
Then she was gone, leaving me with nothing but the pain in my heart and the echo of Mary’s angry words in the empty room.
Once I’d locked the door, I collapsed on the bed, my own tears flowing in earnest now. Mary was right. I was constantly forgetting my cell phone – either at work or at home. She had been on me for years to be more responsible with it, especially after I’d lost the first iPhone I’d ever bought...and then the second. If I had just listened and learned my lesson, we never would have been at the office Friday night. Eleazar Denali would still be dead, but we wouldn’t be in danger.
Mary hadn’t been right about everything, though, I realized as my heart clenched in my chest. I loved being Marie Brandon. For the most part, I loved my life. I didn’t want to start over as someone new in a brand new place any more than she did. I knew we would survive – thrive, even – as long as we had each other, but... I was scared down to my soul that something would happen to one or both of us before they could move us across the country.
Of course, if Mary never forgave me, the Volturis wouldn’t have to kill me. Heartbreak alone would do it for them.
With that thought, I finally gave in to all the stress and let my tears swell into sobs come that I’d been working so hard to hold back, and with the tears came the nerves and sick-to-my-stomach feeling that had been plaguing me since Friday night. Holding my hand over my mouth, I ran to the bathroom and barely made it to the toilet in time.
My stomach finally settled enough that I felt like I could stand without vomiting, so I moved to the sink and rinsed my mouth out as best I could. Mary had brought in the bag with our toothbrushes in it, so I pulled mine out and cleaned my teeth, thanking the Lord that my sister had thought far enough ahead to include the mouthwash we both liked. Once my mouth tasted clean, I went back into the room and quickly changed out of my jeans and put on my sleep pants before crawling onto the bed and hugging the extra pillow to my chest.
It wasn’t long after I’d climbed into bed that the door opened and Mary came rushing into the room. I heard Angela close and lock the door, but my attention was totally focused on my sister.
“I’m so sorry,” she chanted over and over again as she threw herself into my arms. “I didn’t mean it, really. It’s not your fault, and I shouldn’t have said it was. Please forgive me! I’m not mad at you, Ree, I swear. I know we’ll be okay – Angela swears Edward is really good at what he does and that she would put her life in his hands. And I know we’ll be together in Seattle or wherever they put us, and that’s what matters. I’m sorry!”
I clung to her as she shook in my arms, clutching the back of my T-shirt in her fists. “Mare, it’s okay. I’m not mad. I know you didn’t mean it, sweetie. Come on, Mary Alice. Remember what Dad always said?”
Mary laughed through her tears, pulling back to look at me. “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. Although wasn’t that originally Gregory Peck?”
“Yeah,” I laughed, shrugging. “And Mom always said: Don’t look back with regret. Look forward with hope.” Sighing, I hugged her tight again. “We have to be tough and have hope if we want to make it through the next few months. We can do it if we do it together, yeah?”
Nodding, Mary sighed, finally relaxing against me. “I’m so tired, Ree.”
“I know, Mare. Me, too. Go change clothes, take a shower if you want to, and then come to bed, okay?”
She nodded again and then got up and made her way to the bathroom.
I waited, hoping she wasn’t going to break down again, but it wasn’t long before the shower finally turned on.
Looking over at Angela, I sighed. “Sorry,” I mumbled, not sure exactly why I was apologizing but feeling the need to do it anyway.
She smiled gently and shook her head. “Please, no apologies. It’s about time you both cracked. You’ve been holding it all in. I would have been worried if you hadn’t gotten it out there.”
Nodding, I picked up the television remote and started flipping through channels, trying to find something light and easy to take our minds off real life, if only for a moment.
Mary and I were curled up on the bed, where we’d been the last hour. Angela was sitting at the table reading something on her phone. The movie we’d been watching ended, and I looked over to see Mary asleep beside me, the dim light in the room barely hitting her face as she burrowed farther under the blanket. Turning the volume down as some new random movie began to play, I cleared my throat and looked over at Angela.
“What are...Edward and Jasper like?” I was curious about the two men who would be putting their lives on the line to protect us.
Angela smiled and set down her book, pulling her legs up under her and folding her hands in her lap. “Ben and I have known Edward since we started school. He and Ben became friends the first year of middle school, and it wasn’t long into that year that I joined their little duo. The three of us became close then and stayed close all the way through our senior year.
“After graduation, Edward went to UW – the University of Washington in Seattle – while Ben and I came here to New York to join the NYPD. It had been a dream of ours for years to be a part of the best police force in the country, and we decided it was worth coming straight here, rather than going to college first. Anyway, once Edward graduated from UW, he spent a year in Georgia at the Marshals’ training facility. He’s been in Seattle since.”
“What’s he like? I mean, you guys are so great, he has to be a good guy...and I doubt you’d have called him if he were bad at his job.”
She chuckled. “He’s...tough. He may come across as gruff and he can sometimes be an asshole, but he’s damn good at his job, and he’s as loyal as the day is long. He loves his family and is here for us when we need him, no questions asked. When...” Her voice broke. The pain in her eyes was evident, even in the low light of the lamp from the bedside table. She cleared her throat before continuing. “When Daniel was killed, Edward took a leave of absence and came up here to stay with us for several weeks. I’m not sure what we’d have done without him.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I just nodded and stayed quiet.
“Anyway,” she said with a sigh and a shake of her head, “Edward met Jasper in Georgia during training, and they became quick friends. Edward told his uncle – he’s Edward’s direct boss – about Jasper, and they were both placed in Seattle as partners after training.” She grinned. “Jasper is a true southern gentleman, born and raised in Texas. We’ve only met him a couple of times, but he’s a charmer, that one. He doesn’t always let his cute little southern accent through, but when he does... Whew!” She fanned her face and giggled.
“Oh Lord,” I huffed, laughing along with her. “Mary is a goner, then. She’s a sucker for a southern accent.”
Angela grinned. “He’ll be a professional – they both will – but he’ll charm her, I’m sure. Edward, on the other hand... I don’t know. He’ll probably seem aloof, a little standoffish, but it’s only because he feels like that’s all he can be when he’s trying to do his best work. He really does have a soft, marshmallowy center under the tough outer exterior.”
I smiled, thinking that he sounded a lot like my dad had when he was alive.
“He was always sticking up for whoever needed him when we were in school. His sister Rose...she’s the same age – stepsister, not twin – and...well...she, uh, developed pretty early. By the time she was twelve, she looked about sixteen. So guys were always coming on to her. One time, the four of us – Edward, Rose, Ben, and I – went to the movies in Port Angeles, about forty-five minutes from our small town of Forks. Edward’s mom dropped us off and bought all the tickets, then said she would be back after the movie was over to pick us up.
“While in line for popcorn, Rose started getting hit on by these high school boys. She tried to tell them she was only twelve, but they wouldn’t listen. Edward stepped in and told them to leave his sister alone, even though they were almost twice his size. They knocked his drink out of his hands, calling him names like little boy. When one reached out to tug at Rose’s hair, Edward punched him. Luckily, the manager stepped in then before the guy could retaliate, and the older boys had to leave the theater, but Edward truly became Rose’s hero that day.”
I smiled, thinking of a little boy, not even a teenager yet, standing up to older boys in defense of his sister. “He sounds sweet,” I told her softly.
Angela nodded. “He was already Ben’s hero before that, even before they truly became friends... You’ve seen my husband.” She chuckled. “He’s never been a big guy. When he was a kid, he was short and scrawny, always one of the smallest in our class. In third grade, a new kid moved to town. He was a real bully – biggest kid in class, tough, smart mouth... Anyway, like all bullies, he picked on the easy targets first, and Ben was definitely an easy target back then. The kid cornered him on the playground, and Edward was the only one to come over and make him stop. He got a black eye for it, but he shook it off like it was no big deal.”
I laughed through my yawn, feeling my eyes growing heavy. “My dad would have liked him. He was all about standing up for the little guy.”
Smiling, Angela said, “Get some sleep, Marie. Morning will be here before you know it.”
I nodded and relaxed back against the pillow, feeling myself falling asleep as soon as my eyes closed.
Sometime later, the ring of a cell phone woke me, and I listened as Angela quickly answered.
“Hey,” she said, her voice quiet. “Oh good, they got here okay?...Yeah, I bet...No, why don’t you see if you can grab the room next to us. They’re asleep, so there’s no point in—”
“We’re awake,” Mary said from beside me.
I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. “Mm, yeah. We’re up. Have ’em bring coffee.” I didn’t usually drink the stuff, but I needed the jolt of caffeine.
Angela looked at us. “They can wait until morning. It’s only three o’clock.” When we shook our heads, she said into the phone, “All right. Go ahead and come here, then. And stop at the gas station down the...oh, you heard. Okay, then. See you in a few.”
Edward POV
“Get in my office! Both of you,” Al snapped the second we walked in the door. He pointed toward the hallway, but his cell was pressed to his ear.
The bullpen was a beehive of activity – phones ringing, computer screens being scrutinized, dry-erase boards filling with info, and loud conversations. Jasper and I walked through the large room, catching advice thrown at us from several directions. Some of it was good, some of it was joking, and some was stuff we knew already. But every bit of it was a wish for good luck and a goodbye of sorts because we didn’t know how long we’d be gone.
Uncle Al followed us to his office, slamming the door once we were all inside. He spun to face us after tossing his cell to his desk.
“Tell me again, Edward, why you want this WitSec detail,” he commanded, his voice leaving no room for nonsense.
I frowned, adjusting my tie and then suit jacket. I wasn’t used to having to dress up all the time. Usually, it was jeans and a USMS T-shirt. But I cleared my throat and met my uncle’s eyes.
“Ben and Angela lost their child to a drug deal gone bad. It was Volturi’s men, but they could never prove it. He was two years old,” I told him, holding up two fingers. “A fucking stray bullet caught him and his babysitter in a park. It was the middle of some random fucking day at the goddamn park, Al. They’ve busted their asses to catch Volturi, and now, they have the chance. I’ve known them since grade school...people that I grew up with...and they’ve never asked me for anything. I can fucking do this,” I stated, pointing a finger to the top of his desk.
My face was fierce; I knew that much. Even Jasper shifted a little. What I didn’t say aloud, what I’d never say aloud, was that I understood why Ben and Angela wanted to keep those witnesses safe. Guys like Volturi took and took and took, never giving anything back but to themselves. They cashed in on other people’s loss and misfortune, and it was fucking ridiculous. I’d lost my real father to an asshole like Caius Volturi – something that had caused my mother nightmares for fucking years...well after she’d married Carlisle. Ben and Ang had almost lost their will to live after Daniel died. If somehow the witnesses that we were about to meet could put one of the biggest mafia guys away for life, then I’d gladly stand guard.
However, what I didn’t have to say out loud, my uncle knew perfectly well, because he studied my face for a beat or two before nodding in acquiescence. He walked over to his desk and picked up an accordion file folder, handing it to me.
“Study that. It’s the case file. You’ll have enough time on the plane to do it,” he stated, taking a deep breath and letting it out. He cracked his knuckles before going on. “You’re lucky that New York was willing to concede this to me. In fact, they agreed that the city was riddled with Volturi’s men. I’ve got a favor called in to another friend at the Department of Justice to expedite the approval for new identities. As soon as I know, you’ll know. Got me?”
“Sir,” Jasper and I answered immediately.
“I have a pretty ugly feeling about this trial,” he groaned, grimacing a little. “Volturi will pull out every lawyer trick in the book...and I do mean every trick. It’ll be motions to suppress evidence and your witnesses, and he’ll most likely pay whatever amount of bail to get back out onto the streets. He’ll drag it all out, not because he’s innocent, but because it’ll give him enough time to find you, find those witnesses.”
I nodded, agreeing with that theory.
He pointed at the two of us. “I need you sharp, on point, and at your absolute best. Not only did we fuck up all sorts of protocol doing things this way and have to show we can handle it, but you’ll be a moving target.” He snorted, shaking his head and walking to me, placing a heavy hand on my shoulder. “That...and I don’t want to have to tell your parents if something went wrong. You and me clear on this, son?” he asked me specifically.
“Yeah, Al. Crystal.”
“Good,” he growled, walking back to his desk. “That’s why I’m personally overseeing this. You’ll report directly to me. No other. If it’s not me, then don’t you believe shit that you hear. You can ask me questions to verify I am who I say I am.” He bent down, grabbing a small black duffel bag. “This has a few throw-away phones. I’ll keep you posted through those, unless they’re compromised. There are a few other personal gadgets in there, as well – a free and clear laptop, a couple of unregistered guns, and two old-school walkie-talkies. Those are for the two of you...just in case you need to separate.”
“Sir,” we said, and Jasper took the bag, riffling around inside of it before zipping it back up and tossing it onto his shoulder.
“Okay,” he said, clapping his hands together once. “Let’s get you on a plane. I’ve spoken to your friend Cheney. He’ll be expecting you at One Police Plaza as soon as you land.” He grabbed the doorknob, pausing to look us over. “Ben seems to think he’s got a leak at One PP, so watch what you say and who you say it to. Sharp, gentleman,” he stated one more time before opening his door.
Jasper left the office, but Uncle Al stopped me, turning me around.
“Did you see your parents?”
I grinned. “Yeah, dinner, laundry...everything.”
“Good. What about Rosie?”
I sighed, my brow wrinkling. “I called her on my way here. She’s worried, but she gets it. Promise me you’ll watch over her, Uncle Al. If anything goes wrong with the baby, I’ll...”
“I got you,” he vowed, patting the side of my face. “Maybe you’ll skip all those crazy mood swings and come back to the title of Uncle yourself, huh?” he asked with a wink.
I frowned and stared at the floor, hating that I could possibly miss so much, but this was the life I’d chosen.
“Well, one day, maybe you’ll return the favor and make Rose an aunt, yeah?” he chortled.
Glaring at him, I then rolled my eyes. “Not happening, asshole.”
He laughed at me, but it stopped quickly. “Edward, I love you like you’re my own son, but you’re almost twenty-seven – too old for this college bullshit attitude you have. One day...” He grinned at me. “One day, a girl will come along and knock you on your ass.”
I scoffed, shaking my head. “Oh, you mean like Jane?”
He popped the back of my head. “Jane was a mistake, though having Katie salvaged it. No...I tried to replace Irina, and it’s impossible. I wanted everything with Irina.”
The sadness at the mention of his college sweetheart was hard to miss. Al had been on his own WitSec detail when she’d been driving home from work during a rainstorm. She’d lost control of the car, plowing into oncoming traffic. She’d only been twenty-eight years old...and expecting their first child.
As much as I felt for him, I simply shook my head. I never found the Irinas of the world...usually, it was the Janes. Or the Maggies. I sighed at the thought of her, trying my damnedest not to sneer. No...I’d tried the “everything” once. All I got out of it was an empty bank account and an STD scare, not to mention a black eye when I beat the ever-loving shit out of my college roommate.
Al’s eyes narrowed on me for a moment, but he simply nodded. “You’ll get it.” He smiled sadly, hugging me roughly. “You’d better come back to me. Understand?”
“Completely, Uncle Al,” I told him.
He patted the side of my face one more time. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
“And people say Seattle is gloomy,” Jasper muttered, giving the damp night a scathing glare as we made our way to the car we’d rented. It was well past two in the morning, New York time.
I grinned, shaking my head and tucking the file folder under my arm. “Whatever. You drive. I still want to look through this file.”
“We had eight hours on that plane. You should have it memorized,” he argued, though he still walked to the driver’s side door.
“I do,” was all I said, tossing my bags into the trunk and falling into the passenger seat.
Jasper merely snickered at me and cranked the car and made his way out of the parking lot. Cracking open the file, I perused it again. Eleazar Denali was working late at his office. He was found with three bullets – two to the pump and one to the head. Typical hit. Marie Brandon, who worked for Denali, had shown up at the wrong time with her sister Mary. According to the girls’ statements, they’d seen not only Caius Volturi, but his right-hand asshole, Felix, walk out, discussing getting rid of the murder weapon.
From what I could put together from all the records from Denali’s office, the man had been fudging numbers for Volturi for years. He’d been laundering money – taking in dirty funds and sending them out into the world to have it all come back squeaky clean. And no one had been the wiser. Not even Ms. Brandon.
I shut the file and slipped it under my seat, turning to Jasper. “We’re going to have serious problems with vengeful goons,” I stated, smirking at his chuckle. “Seriously. Volturi is still in holding until first appearance tomorrow. If his lawyer asks for bail, then he’ll send out everyone he fucking knows to find those girls. Every bastard that’s ever owed him anything will be called in.”
“All true, Ed,” Jasper agreed. “Wonder what the accountant did to set him off?”
“I can’t tell,” I replied, gazing out the window, finally giving in and cracking it so that I could smoke. “Maybe he was skimming for himself off the top.”
“That’d do it.”
We stayed pretty quiet the rest of the drive through the city. Despite the late hour – or early, really – the streets were still busy. We parked, securing our shields in the front of our belts and our guns in the shoulder holsters.
“We’re here to see Ben Cheney,” I stated to the officer at the front desk.
I was too wired to sit down, so I paced slowly in the front room until the side door finally slammed open.
“Edward,” Ben said with a grin, reaching out to shake my hand, but I pulled him into a rough hug.
“How’s it going? You remember Jasper Whitlock, right?” I asked, stepping back.
“Yeah, of course. Jasper, it’s nice to see you again,” Ben greeted, and Jasper nodded, but my old friend looked back to me. “It’s been rough, Ed. Follow me to the back. I need to grab a few things before we head out.” As we wandered down hallways to an elevator, he explained a few things. “We can’t keep them anywhere for long. I got a leak some-damn-where.”
“Here?” Jasper asked.
Ben snorted, but his eyes were dark. “Probably.” Once we were in the elevator car, he sighed. “I’ve had my car tracked, every hotel discovered, and those poor girls were attacked in their own home.”
My brow furrowed. “And this place you’ve found...”
“Long Island.”
“Who have you told about it?” I asked.
“Ang. That’s it.”
“Keep it that way. Not a word. To anyone. Got me? If anyone asks you, it’s now our jurisdiction, and you can’t say...or don’t know.”
He nodded, stepping out when the doors slid open. “Trust me, I’m glad you’re here, Edward.”
The large office was fairly busy for the middle of the damn night, but what was even more interesting were the looks Jasper and I were receiving. We weren’t really stepping on toes, but sometimes, cops could be fucking territorial when it came down to cases.
“Who knows that you called specifically?” I asked him softly once we made it to his desk and no one was nearby.
“You.” He grinned. “I’m not stupid. As far as these assholes go, the U.S. Marshal Service is here to take possession of two witnesses. That’s it.”
Ben gathered up some files, took out a set of keys from his pocket, and opened a side drawer on his desk. He pulled out a lumpy manila folder and handed it to me. “Hold onto that.”
“Yup,” I stated, not even bothering to look at it. “So what can you tell me about these girls?”
Ben smiled, and this time, it was warmer. “Marie and Mary. I swear Ang will adopt them before this is all over.” He chuckled a little, shaking his head, but went on. “They’re scared shitless, Ed. They’re tired and overwhelmed, and I swear the light in their eyes dimmed even more when we filled out the WitSec paperwork.”
I grimaced, glancing over at Jasper, whose eyes were narrowed in on a cop in street clothes, badge hooked into his belt and shoulder holster clearly visible, across the room. The guy looked like he was trying his damnedest to eavesdrop.
Ben noticed but went on. “They’re good girls. Polite. They’ve followed every rule and precaution we’ve slung their way. Ang called a bit ago.” His eyes met mine. “They’re melting each other and themselves. They need rest and quiet and safety, shit I can’t give them if I’m moving them constantly.”
Nodding, I sighed. I was just about to ask another question when we were interrupted.
“Ah, the Feds are here,” the guy from across the office said with a grin.
My eyes narrowed on him as the hackles on the back of my neck prickled. The guy was young – younger than Ben and me – clean cut, with an expensive haircut and a smarmy smile. What was more interesting was the Rolex on his wrist that most likely cost more than a year’s salary for an NYPD detective.
“Detective Riley Biers, meet U.S. Marshals Cullen and Whitlock,” Ben introduced, his voice void of any inflection.
Jasper and I shook the guy’s hand, nodding in greeting.
“Damn shame,” he murmured, still wearing that fucking creepy smile. “I’ll miss seeing those girls around here. Hottest things to walk through that door in a long time,” he stated, huffing a laugh.
“Oh, I don’t know, Riley,” Ben sang while he rummaged through his desk. “You seemed to like that bust we did on that prostitution ring.” And I could tell Ben didn’t trust this guy any farther than his scrawny ass could throw him.
“I didn’t know that was a man!” Riley snapped, and I couldn’t help but laugh, which earned me a glare. “Whatever. You’ll enjoy this case, gentlemen. Those girls are... Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t mind being the meat in that sandwich. Every man’s fantasy, right? Twins? Two girls?”
Ben’s head snapped up, and he was fighting a smile. He knew me all too well.
I sniffed, shrugging a shoulder. “Hmm...been there, done that. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Someone usually gets jealous,” I stated nonchalantly. “Although, twins...” I grimaced, shaking my head and looking to Jasper. “You think about twins?” I asked innocently.
Jasper scoffed. “Nah. Where I come from,” he started, letting his thick Texas drawl out in full force, “they call that incest. Damn, and I thought Southerners caught hell for that type of shit. That’s illegal in most states, including this one. Cousins are one thing, but sisters?” He pretended to shudder.
Fuck, I loved Jasper. That shut Riley Biers up quickly, especially when Ben snorted softly to himself.
Riley paled a little but then turned serious. “Well, I guess you’ll be registering with the NYPD when you get your witnesses settled. Per protocol.”
My eyes narrowed again. The fucker was fishing. “We will,” I told him vaguely. “That’s if we stay in the city, or even this state. I’m aware of protocol. It’s up to the discretion of the federal officer in charge as long as no threats are posed. But it won’t be now, and it won’t be with you.”
Biers nodded once and left us, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “Fucking asshole.”
Ben watched him, finally looking to me. “Let’s go.”
When we got to our rental car, Ben made a sweep of the wheel wells, the trunk, and the bumpers. “Watch for tails,” was all he said before falling into the back seat.
Once we were out on the street, I started to hand him the package back.
“Keep it. And you can give it back to Marie,” he stated wearily.
Cracking open the envelope, my eyebrows shot up when I saw a nine millimeter inside. “What the fuck?”
Ben smirked and nodded. “It belonged to their father. It’s unregistered, no distinguishing marks, and I never logged it in. Marie used it on the asshole that tried to break into their apartment.”
“No shit?” Jasper chuckled.
“None. Got him, too. I just haven’t told her,” he stated. “Tony Carmine was found in the East River with two bullet wounds from that gun and a fatal shot to the head from another. He’d failed. They killed him.”
I turned the gun over in my hands, finally slipping it into the waistband of my pants at the small of my back for safekeeping. Ben pulled out his phone, telling Jasper to watch for tails and just keep driving for a bit.
“Hey, babe,” he sighed into the phone. “Yeah, yeah, they’re here. They’re ready to take this over...” He paused a bit. “I’ll see what the motel manager can do for us about the room next door until the girls wake...” He grinned and snickered. “Yeah, I heard them. No problem. I could use a cup myself.” After saying goodbye, he tapped Jasper’s shoulder. “Up here on the right, there’s a little store. Stop and we’ll grab some coffee for everyone. The girls are awake, so you can meet them now.”
We grabbed six of the biggest cups the store had and enough cream and sugar to probably make ice cream. The Friendly Motel was not in the best of neighborhoods, nor was it exactly a respectable establishment, but at least we hadn’t been followed. Or if we were, Jasper had lost them with all his twists and turns getting there. However, not trusting anyone or anyplace at this point, I didn’t want to stay there for long.
Ben wanted to grab us the room next door, but I turned to Jasper. “Leave our shit. We’re not staying long enough to need it.”
“Don’t knock the Friendly,” Ben said with a chuckle. “It’s been the safest place yet.”
“I’m not.” I laughed as we made our way into the room. “But it’s time to get them out of this city.”
“Definitely,” Jasper agreed, glancing around as Ben knocked lightly on the door.
I grinned at the sight of Angela when the door swung open. “There she is.”
“Edward!” she said, running to me, and I hugged her tightly. “It’s so good to see you,” she gushed, kissing my cheek. “Thank you for doing this...”
“You guys needed me,” I stated with a shrug, following her inside as Jasper shut the door behind us.
I gave Ben shit all the time about how pretty his wife was because it was true. Angela was very pretty, a brunette with brown eyes and a sweet smile. However, she’d loved Ben from the get-go, and Angela was easy to like due to the fact that she’d accept people for exactly who they were, without judgment. Looking at her now, I could see that the loss of their son had aged her a little. Sadness still lingered in her warm eyes.
“It’s good to see you, too, Ang. Is Ben treating you okay? I asked him, but he’s a little liar. ’Cause if he’s not...” I teased, grinning when she smacked at my chest.
“Yes, always. Come meet the girls, Edward.”
I nodded, but when I looked up, I could see the girls already standing up from the beat-up little table in the corner, sipping their coffee tentatively. Their eyes were taking in Jasper and myself, but with hardly any reaction.
“Girls,” Angela said with a smile. “Edward Cullen, Jasper Whitlock, meet Mary and Marie Brandon.”
She pointed from right to left, distinguishing between the tiny thing with short, almost-black hair, to the brunette with tired brown eyes. Both were very pretty, almost beautiful, dressed in jeans and T-shirts. From the file, I knew that they were fraternal twins, twenty-five, and had grown up mostly in Florida with their grandmother. While Marie was the logical numbers girl, Mary was the creative mind, a dancer. They were opposites, yet...not. There were similarities between them, and I could see they leaned on each other a lot.
I nodded once to both of them, sipping my own coffee, as Jasper shook the girls’ hands. I rolled my eyes when he let his drawl out for the second time that day. Though, it worked. He calmed them a little.
“Well, that’s who we are as of now, I guess,” Mary stated wryly with a shrug of her small shoulder, but I noticed Marie’s flinch at what her sister had said.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as we all assessed each other. I understood it. They’d grown attached to Ben and Angela, so being handed over to two perfect strangers was making them nervous. It didn’t help that they were exhausted. I could see it all over their faces.
“Girls,” Ben started gently as I walked to the window to take in the parking lot. “I think it would be best if you started to get your things together. Once you’re awake and ready, we’ll get some breakfast.”
I watched a kid with the shakes wander down the sidewalk across the street, and I shook my head. Where there were addicts, there were usually dealers. And dealers were usually connected. It didn’t help that there was a constant flow of traffic in and out of the motel’s parking lot.
“No breakfast,” I stated, shutting the curtain. “We need to move. ASAP.”
“Edward, they should eat...” Angela started to argue.
I nodded. “They will. But not here.”
“It’s okay,” Marie murmured softly. “I’m not really hungry yet,” she added, and her sister nodded in agreement. “Come on, Mare. We’ll get our things together.”
They stepped into the bathroom, and I could hear zippers of luggage opening and closing and water running.
“Hey,” Angela whispered, poking my chest. “Go easy on them. This hasn’t been exactly fun. They’re losing everything.”
“I’m aware, Ang,” I told her. “But I’ll feel better once we’re out of here. Okay? We’ll stop somewhere along the way.”
Surprisingly, the girls were ready – bags and coffee in hand – within minutes. A part of me felt badly that they’d already gotten used to being on the move. It didn’t seem fair, but unfortunately, that was how it would be for a while.
Mary turned to Ben. “Are you leaving us now?”
“No,” he told her. “We’re coming as far as the next house.” He turned to me. “We’ll help secure it with you before we head back. Okay?”
“That works,” Jasper conceded, smacking my shoulder. “But I’m hungry.”
“We’ll stop,” I vowed, rolling my eyes. “But not in this fucking city. Ben, we’ll follow you and watch your six.”
Ben led us down the motel’s hallway, and I reached down to take Marie’s bag and then Mary’s. Jasper popped the trunk, and I tossed the bags quickly in on top of ours, slamming the trunk closed.
Turning to the girls, I said, “Hop in.” I gave the parking lot a long, slow gaze as I held the back door open. The two slid in one right after the other at the same time Jasper took the driver’s seat. Once I was in the front, I turned to Marie and Mary. “I know you’re tired and scared. And I know this is a lot of fucked-up shit to take in, but I need you to listen to everything Jazz and I tell you. Okay?”
Both girls nodded, wide-eyed and quiet.
“Good,” I huffed with a single nod. “Buckle up.”


Evelyne-raconte said...

YES, THE meeting. It's always great to have an alert of your new fiction. Thank you for sharing.

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