By Dan Domench
He was ten yards behind her when she heard him. In the cutaway on the back of her bathing suit he saw a braid of muscle tighten. He stopped and she turned to him, eyebrows arching as if only curious, her right hand moving in the L.L. Bean canvas bag hooked on her shoulder.
He gently lifted the tails of his shirt up with his left hand to show her there was no weapon at his waist. He kept his right hand loose and away from his body.
“I’d like to ask you,” he said, “to leave my girl out of this.”
The woman stepped to where she could watch him and also look far down the shining sand at the edge of the waves for the girl she’d been following. Gone. He watched her work out the problem. She committed to a decision and walked away from him toward where she had last seen the girl. He followed, just out of her reach.
“There’s an athletic confidence in your gait,” he said. “You’ll have to dampen that if you hope to improve at surveillance. You must have heard it before, from a trainer maybe, but perhaps you can’t help yourself. If it makes you feel any better, your partner at the hotel is worse. He wants people to notice his authority which, of course, becomes no authority at all. He likes his gun quite a bit, likes to touch it. He needs to be chained to a desk, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know what you’re on about,” she said, her voice TV American with a British rhythm.
He moved to her left, closer, keeping her body between him and the gun in her bag.
“Let her go home,” he said. “You give me that and I’ll give you something.”
“You want to bargain,” she said, “you should make a call.”
“This is the call,” he said. “Don’t be mad at me. You knew there was a chance I’d circle back on you. You took a risk and so did I. It was wrong to ask her to meet me here, but I needed to see her. Now I’ll do what it takes to keep her out of this.”
“She’s important to you,” she said. “I need to know who she is.”
“She has nothing to do with us,” he said.
“Us?” she said. “We’re old friends?”
“The problem with you guys,” he said, “is you have too much money. Old days, you wouldn’t track me here. You’d wait until I arrived in Boston, let me have my vacation. There’s no thought to this at all.”
She scanned the ground ahead. “You’re a branch on the tree,” she said. “I follow branches to the trunk, cut the tree down, stand on the stump.”
“What’s that?” he said. “A song? You’re smarter than this. You need to stop marching long enough to hear what I’m saying.”
“This is you?” she said. “The guy they warned me about?”
“Funny thing,” he said, “I was warned, too, but I didn’t believe it. They said you guys would be all over me. Said all you cared about was doing O’Brien because maybe he passed some money around and someone is talking and now you look bad because your boss said Boston was clean. I will tell you that O’Brien’s taking responsibility and wants help, wants this to work out. I can help him and we can help each other.”
She followed the girl’s footprints up a dune.
“You might get her,” he said, “maybe find out where she lives or go after her at work. But she won’t be easy. She knows what to look for, who to contact. And there’s nothing there so it’ll look weak and you don’t want that. I’m asking you to make a decision here. Call it professional courtesy. She walks away.”
“You do your job,” she said, “I do mine. Nothing personal.”
“I made a mistake meeting her here,” he said. “I wonder if you’re making a mistake right now. You’re from a military family, is that it? Proving yourself? I know you had to be twice as good as the men to get this far. But all of us have blind spots. No exceptions. And blind spots tend to be personal.”
“This what you do?” she said. “This psyop shit works on people?”
“I’m being practical,” he said. “Give me a couple days and O’Brien will meet with your guy in Boston. No violence. What I’ve done in the past, special circumstances like this, what I’ve done is I’ve let someone come in the room with me. How would that sound to your boss? You in the room with O’Brien.”
She did not slow, said, “I’m supposed to believe that?”
“You’re the only one who saw my girl,” he said. “Maybe you took pictures or have her voice. I’m asking you to stop and we’ll talk to O’Brien together.”
“I don’t care what you offer,” she said. “I saw you romancing her, that crap, what is she, twenty-two?”
“What did you see?” he said. “Me kissing her hand? Hugging her? Is that what you saw?”
“You’re a talker,” she said. “I know what I saw and I know what you do.”
“You want to protect her,” he said, “that’s what this is. I like that.”
“You’re taking advantage,” she said. “She’s a kid.”
“She’s twenty-four, my girl,” he said.
“My girl,” she said, mocking him.
“Was it you?” he said. “A sister? Your mother? A daughter? You’re carrying something extremely painful…stop.”
He stepped in front of her, forcing her to stumble, react. Her left arm punched and her fist slammed into his chest. He fell to his knees and she kicked him aside. Kept walking.
‘There are people,” he called out after her, “that you die for.”
He heard a long rolling wave break on the sand and hiss as it pulled back. Then he heard the woman moving toward him. He looked up and she was looking down at him, her eyes reflecting the ocean, her bare feet inches from his face.
“She’s your daughter,” she said. “You wouldn’t say it, let me think things, made me hit you. What am I dealing with here?”
“With me,” he said and stood up, brushing sand off his shirt.