Adult themes contained within this, the end of one journey ...
The small suburb was quiet and still. The dull orange glow of occasional street lamps picked out empty front drives and cast long shadows along the neatly trimmed lawns.
It looked like average middle class America. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual. The same as a thousand other streets in a thousand other towns.
And it begged the question of what the neighbours would think if they knew that behind one of these doors was a dangerous gang member.
Okay, so Terry Rawlings of 1121 Jefferson Avenue was not himself a dangerous man. He was a faithful husband and the proud father of two daughters and another one on the way. He paid his taxes, washed his MPV every Sunday and co-funded the local baseball team.
Average, middle class American. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual.
Except last week he had received a visit from someone he would have described to his friends as somewhat strange and mysterious, had he not been warned to speak of it to no one.
The man had had an odd accent and nervous manner and had wanted details about one of his former employees. Terry worked at the local news station, a subsidiary of IWN that broadcast the latest comings and goings of the small suburban community. Nothing more than knitting bees and coffee mornings. Boring, in fact. At least, that was what Terry's friend and former colleague had said of the daily magazine show when he had left to pursue greater things.
Terry had understood. He had no great ambitions of his own but he could understand his young friends keen desire to move up in the world. And he knew his cousin who worked up at the main hub of the news network in Washington was looking for a new cameraman.
And a short while later, Terry had been very proud of his friend when he had watched the live feed coming in from an amazing rescue operation in Costa Rica and knew that the infamous Lisa Lowe was talking into Anthony's camera. He had told his wife as much and she had been suitably impressed. He had bragged to colleagues at the station and had even been called long-distance from a delighted Anthony, thanking him for creating the amazing opportunity.
He had had no idea that in helping his friend he had put him in harm's way. He had no clue that the strange foreign man had been seeking Anthony's home. And Terry was blissfully unaware of the tragic car accident that had almost killed Anthony's girlfriend. No one did. Anthony had been warned not to tell anyone or next time she would certainly die.
And so it was of great surprise to Terry when he was awoken by the sound of gaffer tape being stripped from its roll. And the first he knew of the people that had broken into his house was the tape being forced over his mouth and bound about his hands.
A torch was switched on and he gasped (or tried to) as he saw in the beam his wife lying beside him, similarly bound and a gun at her forehead.
Two photographs were then held in front of his face and the torch shone at them to highlight the pictures. Terry stared in wide-eyed shock at the familiar face in one of the images and it seemed that this was all that the intruders needed.
Well, not quite.
Terry shook his head in confusion: His name? His wife's name? Whose name?
The photograph was tapped and the gun at his wife's head cocked.
Terry shook his head more vehemently and shrugged as much as his bound hands would allow. The man had given no name. And Terry had thought nothing of it. Until now.
He watched as the two intruders nodded to one another and left as quickly as they had entered.
Terry lay still in the darkness for a long moment, too terrified to move. Then the soft crying of his wife pulled him from his stupor and he rolled towards her, freed her hands and let her trembling fingers return the favour. Together they rushed into the hall, checked on their unharmed, peacefully sleeping children and then returned to their bedroom, huddled together in fear.
In the shadows behind the high garden hedge, the two intruders had paused. Leaping over the fence had proved difficult and stopping long enough to catch his breath had given John time to think about what they had just done. And that was a mistake.
Alex turned back at the end of the alley and saw him. She trotted back and pulled off her ski mask, the cool night air washing over her hot face, her skin then pulling into a frown as she knelt down beside him. John had sunk to the ground and was crouched against the fence, chest heaving and hands shaking as he stared at the gun in his tight grip.
"Don't." Alex offered quietly.
John shook his head and closed his eyes. "This is wrong."
"No." Alex nudged his shoulder and he looked up at her through the ominous slits in the black woollen mask. She held up the photograph Terry had picked out and groaned softly. "What this man did is wrong. What we have done is necessary."
"But - " John nodded to the house behind them and again shook his head.
"I know." Alex placed her hand on his shoulder and could feel him trembling beneath the thick black jumper. "I know."
John let his head fall into his hands and let out a sigh to try and steady his rapid breathing.
"We have a good lead now." Alex offered softly, "We need to find out who this guy is." She looked down at the photograph of the middle-aged, Eastern-European-looking man and frowned in thought. "Wherever he is … Trangh won't be far."
John laughed suddenly, "Oh, Al, there's no way in hell that it's gonna be that easy!"
"Maybe …" Alex smiled thinly, "But it's still a good lead."
John shrugged and looked down at the photograph. "I hope so."
Alex watched him in concern and then gently took hold of his arm to help him to his feet. She slipped her arm about his waist and led him back along the outer edge of the garden and towards their waiting car.
There was no movement in the quiet cul-de-sac. They waited for a moment to let the gentle thud of car doors closing ebb into the night. And still nothing. Deciding to chance using the canopy that the row of trees and the 'nothing happens here' provided, Alex opened the laptop and blinked in the semi-brightness of the dulled screen.
"This guy is the third person to recognise our friend here." She began idly, nodding to the photograph on John's lap and the identical image that she called onto the screen. "I'm guessing he's a key player."
John pulled off his ski mask and took a deep breath, frowning as he peered at the image. "Still no match?"
Alex shook her head and then gave a wry smile. "Which can only conclude he's high up there in the pecking order."
John nodded slowly, "Trangh will have learned from his previous errors and no doubt wiped clean all the slates of the key players."
"Like Mishka." Alex agreed.
John shuddered and closed his eyes.
Alex felt the air in the car somehow become chill and she turned to see him battling the onset of another flashback. She chanced a gentle touch of his shoulder and held her breath, recalling all too well the last time she had made contact during one of John's 'episodes'.
John took a deep breath and seemed to be forcing the nauseating memory back into the far reaches of his thoughts.
Silences like these were becoming more awkward and the uncertainty of it all too worrying. There would be a point when nothing would keep the trauma at bay and Alex could not help but dread what might then occur. She preferred the open, active anger of his sudden outbursts to this. The quiet was unsettling. And the inevitable damage from fighting the need to react was disconcerting.
And suddenly she felt so completely out of her depth and wondering how the hell she had ever agreed that this was a good idea. There was only so much she could pull him back from. And she had seen what his temper could do.
But temper was healthy. Shouting seemed good. This noiseless calm was unnatural.
"Okay …" John sighed a signal that he had pressed reset and was now back on track, back with her.
Alex turned back to the laptop. "We need someone who can give us a name."
John nodded in agreement.
"We need Anthony."
John frowned. "He's in FBI custody."
John considered this for a moment. "So we need a back street contact. I.D.s."
"Right …" John sighed and held out his hands, taking the laptop from Alex and frowning in thought. "Here's hoping there's someone in the local area …"
Alex watched him working on breaking into the encrypted files and then looked up into what she could see of his focused face. He looked so different, so eroded. The brunette dye had been her idea, as a way of removing the white trademark and the issue of instant recognisability. It made his face darker, his eyes clearer. It would have been a good look were it not for the pain that was somehow intensified.
Alex was pulled from her musing and glanced back at the laptop.
"Penny's closest guy is in Manhattan." John noted the address and phone number, submitting the data to memory and again marvelling at the irony that made genius and crime the perfect partners.
"Do we shoot up there and use him to create a clear entry path? Or find another way?"
John turned to her and considered the choices for a moment. The 'find another way' option was becoming increasingly more violent. And violence increasingly more easy.
"New York." Alex submitted quietly.
John looked back at the file and nodded slowly.
Alex leaned across him and frowned at the dashboard display. "We'll need fuel." She sat back in her seat and arched her back, delving into the pocket of her dark jeans. The fistful of cash seemed sufficient and she sighed in relief.
"I hate this." John muttered suddenly.
Alex turned to watch him warily.
John closed his eyes. "I hate all of this."
"I know …" Alex turned in her seat as far as she could and reached up to touch his face. Long stubble caught on her fingers as she stroked his cheek and he sighed as he leaned into her touch. "Say the word and it ends …"
John smiled and a short laugh croaked forth. "It's too late for that."
"Yup," Alex declared suddenly, "In fact, we are in some pretty deep poo."
John laughed loudly, "Hell, yeah!" He turned to see Alex suddenly grinning up at him, glad for the reprieve that merriment offered. But there was no hiding the fear and sorrow in her eyes. "But it can't be all that bad … not if you're with me."
Alex's grin grew and she mimed sticking her fingers down her throat.
John rolled his eyes and sat back from her. "Okay, no more soppy stuff."
"Good. We are hardened criminals, after all." Alex chuckled, "Even though only one of us actually looks like one."
John stuck his tongue out at her and then turned back to the laptop.
Alex glanced at the clock and frowned in thought. "We should go. While it's still dark."
John considered this for a moment.
"Not that you really have a stealth mode." Alex added merrily.
"What the hell does that mean?"
Alex shrugged, her grin returning.
"I have been quiet and sneaky." John defended, "That I'm not a pro like you is perhaps a good thing."
Alex gasped, "Police training and nothing more, I'll have you know!"
"Yeah … I'll bet."
"I know, I know – I'm kidding." John giggled happily, "Your suspect 'previous experience' has proven most beneficial."
"As has your geeky computer nerdiness."
John grinned in delight and nodded in acknowledgement of the stale mate. He closed the laptop and passed it to her before then starting the car. "But …" He took the car out of gear and turned to her, a sudden thought creasing his brow. "Not for the last target … quiet and sneaky won't do …"
"Oh no. No way." Alex agreed, her attention taken on snapping her seat belt across her and she chuckled as she shook her head. "He is going to see us coming."
John nodded in agreement, his throat tight and tears brimming.
Alex turned to him and now saw the sudden change in his demeanour. "Oh, babe!" She leaned across and took hold of his chin, straining against her seatbelt as she turned his face towards her.
John lowered his head and sank into the awkward embrace.
"It'll be alright." Alex pressed her lips into his forehead. "I promise," She continued, her words murmuring against his skin, "We'll blow that bastard back to hell and everything will be alright."
"Yeah." John husked, "That's what I'm hoping."
"What if it's not, Al …? What if we do all this and do get to him and then … what if there's nothing left but this big empty … nothing …"
Alex closed her eyes. "Then I'll shoot us both and we won't have to worry."
John sniggered suddenly, "Thought you said no soppy stuff." He chided and lifted his head to smile down at her.
"That was before."
Alex studied his face for a moment. "Before I caught a glimpse of the man I used to know and realised just what I'm fighting for."
John held her gaze and swallowed back the sudden rush of further tears. "Yeah … he's in here somewhere."
John frowned as he regarded her and then seemed to understand. He took her face in his hands and kissed her hard, tongue parting her lips and a tight groan signalling just how far this could lead.
And none of it mattered. Not the sleeping residents of the quiet street, not the uncertainty of the world that lay beyond and nothing of what they had done and were prepared to do.
In that moment there was only the two of them. No memories, no fears, no pain. Simply the closeness of their mouths and the promise of hands beginning to wander under black clothes.
And then it was gone.
John leaned back suddenly, breathless and full of the need for the moment to continue but now also acutely aware of their situation and the necessity to flee. He shook his head, tried to ignore Alex's slight groan of disappointment and desire, and slipped the car into gear.
He rolled them slowly through the still neighbourhood and only when they joined the main highway did he chance using speed and switching on the headlights.
They set out for New York in silence, John fixed on the road ahead, Alex deep in thought and neither one knowing quite what to say.
And neither one noticing the patrol car that sped past them in the opposite direction, begrudgingly answering the frightened call of some guy in Jefferson Avenue who had reported a vague story about an armed intruder. Yeah. Like that happened around here.