The light blared in Jackson's dilated pupils, and against the blue-black of the darkness, it was somehow orange. He felt dizzy, pulsing. A door behind the metal chair he had been tied to opened once and slammed shut. He heard the scrape the second metal chair near the light as the man sat down with a sigh, taking a sip out of a blurred, tan-colored paper cup.
"I ran out to get some coffee," the man said cheerfully. "Been a long night," he yawned lackadaisically. "I would've grabbed you some, but you know, with the drugs kicking in and all, I didn't think it'd be very healthy for your system."
"Fuck you," Jackson snarled, trying to keep his head raised as it grew heavier.
The man folded his ankle over his knee. He took a sip of the coffee and chuckled pleasantly, a warm sound that was off kilter and misplaced in the large, empty warehouse. "Well now, I think you're about ready to tell us the truth. What'd you think, man?"
A rough hand seized the back of Jackson's hair, raising his head. Blood trickled from the corner of Jackson's mouth. "I think he'll be singing us Disney songs in the next few minutes if we want him to," a harsh voice snarled in Jackson's ear. X and Y, as Jackson had dubbed them, were playing good cop, bad cop. Only they weren't just cops, and he was in some serious shit.
"You don't want to hear me s-sing," Jackson managed to deliver before his brain scattered in all directions.
"I'm sure I don't," X said smoothly. "Let's see if some other things are true as well, shall we? What were you doing three months ago?"
"W-watching Liiiisa," stammered Jackson, and the words flowed from his lips loose and unbidden like a white water river. "S-she w-woke up and made s-scrambled eggs."
"How touching," X observed, and he sounded sincere. "What did you do on April 21st, two months ago?"
Jackson struggled to keep the words down, but he was now a puppet in the hands of the drug, simply opening his mouth as it spoke for him. "I f-followed her and in-instigated the operation. Boarded the plane."
"An operation that you failed, Jackson. Who do you work for? Who hired you?"
"Cut the bullshit. We know you're government. CIA? DEA? Or did someone contract you on the side?"
Jackson twitched, struggling to keep his resolve. He felt the cold, steel blade of the knife press against his throat, and close behind him Y growled, "Answer the question, or I'll slice off a bit of your ear."
Through a blanket of inebriation, Jackson bore his icy blue stare into X, unmoved. He rattled, "S-so this is what FBI guys do on their day off? I th-thought you go climb trees at Q-quantico."
X slapped his knee as if it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard, and threw his head back laughing. "This guy's funny as hell. Too bad we're going to have to hurt ya, Jack, I was beginning to like you. Fine. Slice him, get him to talk. It's nothing personal, kid," he winked at Jackson.
Now! Jackson's mind cried out.
Before anyone could move, Jackson kicked his feet out in one swift movement, spilling the searing hot coffee all over X. He bucked his chair back towards Y's lap, ducking his head mere millimeters beneath the blade as he brought his foot up to kick Y hard in the face, falling back hard on the floor as Y's face began to bleed and he staggered several feet away, dropping the knife as he cried out in pain.
Jackson managed to slide his bound hands up the chair, lifting them over his head and in front of him. X was charging towards him, still screaming from having been burnt.
It was over the second Jackson picked up the knife, and five minutes later both men were dead as he stumbled out of the warehouse into broad daylight, his white shirt bloodied and torn. He raised his hands to the blinding sun, and his head throbbed, but he managed to hold onto the knife. His throat was parched and sore, and he needed food, sleep, and somewhere safe until he got organized and could plan his next move. That ruled out pretty much everywhere but one place.
There were two cars parked nearby, a red Lexus and silver Ford Fusion that faced each other. Jackson slumped heavily against the Fusion, gripping the keys in hand that he had taken from the dead body of X. He lost his gravity somewhat leaning against the door, working up the strength to unlock it. His left leg bled and stung, and he fought with consciousness, but somehow made it inside the car, shutting the door and starting it up. As he turned it onto the freeway, he found black designer sunglasses X had left on the dashboard.
He slid them on, flashed a killer smile to himself in the rearview mirror, and turned the turbo in the direction of utter devastation – Florida, a two hour drive.
"Here I come, Leese," he smiled amidst the pain. He couldn't wait to see her again.
It had been a busy week; the Regional Medical Center was using the Lux Atlantic for their annual Leadership Retreat, and overworked executive assistants swarmed around the lobby like hectic bees with last minute requests, trying to get their people squared away. In the midst of working with the frustrated Catering Manager, Lisa smiled confidently, no problem too big. Business was busy, but it was also booming, and some of the higher ups were starting to really notice her uncanny ability to make things happen.
Her life since the Keefe Incident, as she privately referred to it now, had become increasingly better. She no longer spent her nights watching old movies or tread carefully in the parking lot in the middle of the day; she was now armed with a .357 in her purse, and she knew how to use it. Things were looking up, Jackson was safely locked away in maximum federal confinement, and she was moving on with her life.
Lisa had always had the ability to smile in the face of adversity, and today was no exception. What to some would be enough to pull their hair out, to her was merely another minor problem that could be dealt with. She checked her email at the end of the day, sliding the pumps off her tired feet, and kicking her feet up on her office desk as she perused her email.
There were three messages, two from her friends and one from Brian. She'd met him at a party a few weeks ago, and there was definitely chemistry between them. He was a stockbroker from New York, tall and handsome with Italian features. She'd gone out with him twice, and had kissed him on the last date. She was still quite guarded about getting too involved with someone unfamiliar with her past, and she was taking it slow with him.
Her cell phone rang, and Brian's name flashed on the caller id. "Lisa Reisert," she said carefully.
"Brian Douglas," he copied her in a serious voice.
She smiled, taking her crossed ankles off her desk and walking to the window barefoot. "Hey you."
"Hey, how's your day going?"
"Oh, busy, insane, the usual," she joked.
"Haven't forgotten about our dinner plans tonight then, huh?"
"Nope, I've got my dress waiting in my closet at home. I can't wait for the break it's going to give me from the nutfarm."
"And I can't wait to see you in it. I'll pick you up, your place at seven-thirty?"
"Sounds good," she said with a smile in her voice.
"Great. See you then, beautiful."
She held the closed, silver clamshell in her palms, looking out at the water outside. Things were definitely looking up.
Jackson found her apartment easily enough; of course she hadn't moved – she had probably been watched by a black and white for about a month, and changed her security code, but there was no real threat to her or her father anymore with him 'locked up', and she had undoubtedly developed enough crass to see her through harder times than the one she'd had with their encounter.
He found a coat to cover his blood-soaked white shirt in the trunk of the Fusion, and taming his hair down a bit, he casually approached her apartment. It was a new security system, and it was on. He knew she'd be working, and he had a few hours to kill, so to speak. A few finesses with the security pad, and he was in, shutting the door behind him and turning the system back on so it wouldn't throw her off.
She still had the cat, a dark grey furball by the name of Spencer. He picked the cat up under his arm, kissing the top of its head. "Nice kitty."
He stood in Lisa's living room for a moment until the cat squirmed out of his arm, holding his coat tightly around him so as not to bleed on the carpet, and he inhaled the sweet air. It smelt like her, soft and clean.
Smiling, he made his way to the bathroom, pausing for a moment on his way to look at a recent framed 4 x 6 award given her by O'Keefe that she had displayed proudly on a lamp table. There was that commercial grin, those large, dark limpid eyes, the thick auburn hair about her.
"Hello, Leese," he said softly to the photo. "Oh, you're not going to like what I have to tell you – not one bit." He would not touch the photo, but he looked at it for a considerable while, then eyed the clock.
She got off at 5:30, which would give him enough time to take a shower and do a little first aid on himself.
He set her first aid box from the medicine cabinet onto the bathroom counter and slid his clothes off carefully, a knife wound in his leg and several bruises and cuts all over begging for proper medical treatment. Wincing under the sharp pain that came with the water, his trained mind turned to Lisa.
It was true, he harbored a soft spot for her. She was elegant, and surprisingly agile. In the eight weeks he'd had her under surveillance, he had not just watched her, but had become a part of her life in a way he never had before with anyone else.
Her world was honest, clean, quiet, sincere. Like him, she believed in her job and always gave it her best effort.
When he'd told her on the plane three months ago that he thought she would be in first class as opposed to coach, aside from it being a smooth impromptu pick up line, he'd meant it. How could he tell her, how could he surmise in a mere sentence how out of her league he was?
Lisa had grown up with two supportive parents who adored her and had been there every step of the way for her, despite their divorce.
Jackson didn't even want to think back to the holes in the dingy apartment walls growing up, the old dirty bedsheets used in place of doors that had been broken down, the yelling and screaming at night, the fingernail indents in his arms from his father.
He had been trained to be invisible – he could fit in almost everywhere, in all classes and societies because he had been honed to do so.
But he would never be one of them, one of her kinds of people, and he knew it. They were one and the same, but he was out of her element.
Still, he could not help smile, thinking about how surprised she was going to be.
An hour later, he took a screwdriver and approached the security panel by the door, stopping along the way to cuddle the cat.
Lisa hoiked up the brown paper bag of groceries as she made her way up the stairs. Switching the car keys to her free hand, she depressed her security button, and heard a high pitched beep from within her apartment as she approached it, along with the unlatching of the installed security bolt. She could hear Spencer meowing inside.
"Just a minute, sweetheart, I know you're hungry," she muttered, finangling the key into the normal lock and opening the door. Spencer could smell his tinned cat food, and worked his way between her ankles as she got inside and closed the door. Something made her pause, and she looked around silently, not moving. Something was different. Was that the dryer going?
Living by the old adage that it was better to be safe than sorry, she set the keys down silently on the table by the door, cross reaching with her free hand into her purse and bringing out the .357, which was small but powerful in her petite hands.
In slow motion, as in a dream and looking like her dream guy, Jackson stepped out of her bedroom into the hallway facing her, bare-chested and in dark slacks, his dark hair falling in his face. Fear leapt into her heart; though she could see no weapon in his hands, she remembered their last encounter all too well.
Jackson smiled wide, insouciantly, looking like a Hollywood movie star. "Hi Leese," he started.
Lisa didn't waste time. She brought the .357 up and fired a shot at him. He ducked just in time to miss it, but strangely enough stood his ground.
"Now, Lisa, is that any way to say hello to me after all these months? No hug?" he pouted, darting quickly into the bedroom as she fired another shot. "You know, I'm not armed, so technically you don't need to be shooting at me," he hollered calmly.
Lisa shot once more. "Oh, I don't know, Jack, breaking and entering looks pretty good from where I'm standing," she said, and her voice came out shakier than she wanted it to. Damn. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears. She kept her eyes forward as she approached the bedroom, but the ground swept from under her as she tripped over a phone cord he had stretched from the couch to the table, and her head collided hard with the carpet as the gun let off another shot, this one quite close to her.
"Lisa!" She heard concern in Jackson's voice, and the next second he was next to her, kneeling and turning her over on her back, looking with concerned eyes for some sign of a wound. He saw the gun before she did, and he slid it across the nearby kitchen floor out of harm's reach. He looked down at her, holding his hands up appeasingly.
"Look, I'm not here to hurt you, okay."
Lisa had to laugh. "That's good. I suppose you just wanted to have some tea and talk about the weather, then?" she sat up quickly, and her head ached. She put a hand to it. "Ugh. Why is it I always get head injuries when I'm around you?"
"Because – you just can't get me out of your head?" he said quietly. Despite herself, the charm in his voice made her almost want to laugh. Almost. She stood up carefully, pushing him away when he actually offered to help her up. She walked to her phone. "All right, Jackson, I don't know how you got out of prison, but you have 10 seconds to get out of my house. I'm calling the police." He just watched her dial 911 and press send, his icy blue eyes glittering at her, amused.
"It, uh, won't work," he said kindly, and she grew afraid when there was no dial tone. "I've disabled all communications."
Lisa turned quickly to the door, her fingers flying over the security keypad to get her out of here.
"I uh, dismantled your security system as well," Jackson said even more softly. Tears filled her eyes as she turned to him.
"What do you want?" She swallowed, hating how vulnerable she felt.
Again, Jackson held up his hands, and she saw sincerity in his eyes. "Just to talk. I want five minutes. That's it."
The dryer stopped, and suddenly the house was quiet, and her heartbeat seemed to fill the room. She wondered if he heard it. "You've got three," she said sharply.
Jackson shook his head, smiling. "Outstanding. That's all I need. First, can I get my shirt from the dryer?" Who was she to stop him? Truth be told, he looked magnificent with it off, but the fact that he was stone cold crazy kind of outweighed his sex appeal, but not by much. "Do you mind if I-" He motioned to her closed laundry doors. She rolled her eyes.
"You've pretty much let yourself in so far, who am I to stop you?" He grabbed his shirt from the dryer and put it on, fixing the collar as he began to button it up. She noticed the bandages around his chest and hard abdomen.
"I'll make it quick, Leese, I know time is money. To answer your question, I didn't break out of prison. They let me go."
Lisa blinked. "No," her thoughts exuded outloud. "No, that's not possible. You're locked away for life for attempting to assassinate a government official and kidnapping. There's no way they would-"
"Lisa," he said softly, and something in his tone grabbed hold of her. "You may want to sit down for what I'm about to tell you." He had the upper hand, and all she could do was stay safe and play along.
She sat down on one of her couches, and he sat down on the opposite couch on the other side of the coffee table, wincing as he did so. "I'll get to the point. I'm not who you think I am," he breathed, touching his tender leg. He leaned forward. "Everything I told you on the plane is true, but you need to know that my boss, the one I work for, isn't a terrorist."
Lisa watched him, his crazy, clear blue eyes stark and bright in the afternoon glow that washed through the apartment. Did she want to hear this? After all this man had brought into her life? Did she have a choice?
"Lisa, what I'm about to tell you has brought about the death of thirty or so men, and is extremely top secret. I'm probably going to die tonight, but before I do, I wanted you to know the truth. It doesn't make me a better man or even a decent one, but it will give me peace of mind knowing you know. I'm ex-CIA, disavowed, and Charles O'Keefe hired me to stage his own assassination attempt to boost his ratings."
Lisa's jaw dropped open.
Keefe was the one who ordered it. It was planned. He knew.