Chapter Twenty-Two: Unexpected Developments
It took an entire month for Jackson to be able to walk on his own and he didn't ever remember being so happy to see the inside of the cabin again. Mia, the nurse, and one of the doctors, Simon, had stayed behind to make sure his recovery continued on the right path. As much as he wanted the place back to just him and Lisa, he was grateful for the full house as Lisa seemed to come down with flu. Simon was worried about Jackson catching it and moved him downstairs on the pull out couch. Every time he heard any sound from the upstairs, he couldn't help but try to get up to investigate. Remy and Declan took turns climbing the stairs to check on Lisa, every time they would return with a "she's fine."
Finally, three days into waiting for her to feel better, he couldn't take being stuck on the couch. With Remy out getting more firewood and Declan conversing with Simon in the kitchen, Jackson slowly made his way up the stairs. He paused at the top, looking in the nursery. Remy must have replaced the window and thrown out the blood stained rug. The picture of Joel he had been holding when he was shot had been cleaned was hanging on the wall once more. The sound of Lisa retching pulled him out of his reverie of the nursery and into the master bathroom.
She was sitting on the floor, half draped over the bath tub, no doubt resting from her latest vomiting spell. He knew if he sat down on the floor he wouldn't be able to get up again and from the exhausted stance of Lisa, she wouldn't be much help either. So he settled for sitting on the edge of the tub. Lisa's head turned in his direction when he sat down and she rested a clammy cheek on his leg while he placed a hand on her head.
"How are you feeling, Leese?"
She emitted a half hearted grunt. "How are you doing?"
"Better each day, which is more than what I can say for you."
"Mia took a vial of blood from me this morning."
That didn't sound good. "What for?"
"I don't know. I thought you were her, coming in to tell me what is was all about."
"I hate to disappoint you."
She smiled weakly. "No, no disappointment. I've missed you."
"I've missed you too."
"There you are," Mia stood in the doorway of the bathroom. "I found him, Mr. O'Malley!"
Jackson let out a dramatic whimper. "We were so close to escape, Leese!"
Thankfully, she laughed slightly and sat up, pulling her disheveled hair back out of her face. "You know they would have shot us going over the wall."
Mia helped Lisa off the floor with a grin of her own. "We're not that bad. Jackson, Declan wanted to speak with you for a moment. And I need to talk to Lisa."
Jackson pushed himself up from the side of the tub and straightened his back. He was starting to get used to being hunched to keep tension off the muscles that were damaged in his chest. It still hurt to walk straight but seeing Lisa washed out and weak was the drive he needed to get himself back to one hundred percent. He started back down the stairs and saw Remy, most likely coming up to get him. The Cajun had a huge grin on his face.
Remy rubbed his hands together. "Uh-oh, what? This is gonna be great!"
Jackson followed his easily excitable friend into the dining room where Declan was sitting, speaking into his cell phone.
"Yeah, he just walked in. I'll tell him. Good bye." Declan closed his phone and set it down on the table. "Vicky says hi and she's glad that you're doing better."
Jackson slid into the chair next to Declan and Remy sat down across from Jackson. "How's she doing?"
"Well, very well." Declan smiled broadly, very similar to Remy's previous grin. "She's retiring."
"Retiring?" Jackson gave them both a skeptical look. "Isn't that a bad thing in this business?"
"Not anymore," Declan answered. "Remember that business I had to attend to over Christmas? Well, it was the only time that the entire panel could meet, that week before Christmas. We were discussing a new order of operations. The panel worked well enough but we were finding we each had our personal loyalties to clients and operatives. We had already stumbled across some...touchy issues stemming from such involvements so a new chain of command was decided on and is about to implemented."
Jackson refused to let his hopes get up. "What's the new chain like?"
Declan smiled. "Ingenious, I believe. The panel settled on one candidate to run the entire operation. Of course, the person must met certain requirements, such as experience, connections and his personal belief in the work that the Agency carries out. Once that person is chosen, then he hand picks his own 'cabinet' so to speak."
"Basically, you've set up the controllers of the Agency like the Presidential office?"
"Exactly," Declan confirmed. "Only when the Director, which is what we're calling the position, is ready to step down, he or she then hand picks the replacement, which would bring in an entirely new cabinet. It will keep the leadership fresh and still be able to use the vast network of connections that we hold in the world. I believe it is a very good move."
Remy was practically bouncing in his chair. "Tell him who the new Director is."
Jackson watched his mentor's face carefully and understood when the older man just shrugged. "You're the new Director."
"Yes, I am. Which means," Declan leaned forward, "I now have the authority to call off the manhunt on you and Lisa. Of course, there's going to be many people who are going to be opposed to this and may try to take matter's in their own hands. From what Vicky was telling me, that is how the sniper found you out here. We think he was hired by someone on the panel but we don't know who."
Remy snorted. "Hunter Reynolds, I'd put my money on it."
Declan gave a half nod. "But we can't be sure."
Jackson crossed his arms and immediately winced. "So basically, nothing is going to change for Lisa and me? We're still going to be looking over our shoulders."
"For now," Declan acquiesced. "But once the Agency sees I'm not willing to put up with any bullshit, you and Lisa should be safe enough to come back out in the open."
So that was it. He had spent most of life watching things he cared about slip away or be violently ripped from his hands. Now, as fate would have it, life was handing him some of those things back. He didn't know if he should grab a hold of them immediately and hang on for dear life or if he should back away nice and slow before it all was taken from him again.
"Jackson," Declan gave him a serious look, "I want you on my cabinet, when I'm certain it's safe for you to resurface."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Be a diplomat. No unsavory jobs, I promise. You can travel if you want or stay Stateside but I want you to keep up with the communications with clients." Declan laughed. "You could sell an orange grove to an Eskimo, son. I need someone with that kind of charisma."
It sounded so good. Too good. And he didn't know what to do with it. Thankfully, Declan must have seen his struggles and clapped him on his good shoulder.
"Take some time to think about it. Talk it over with Lisa and let me know."
Lisa...That brought another matter to mind. "Declan, when could Lisa and I get married without it being used against us?"
"Anytime now. I can make sure the paperwork stays out of the wrong hands."
Jackson stood up from the table just as Mia was coming into the kitchen. "Lisa wants to talk to you," she said with a big grin. With all the good news that had just been thrown into his lap, he was skeptical about talking to Lisa. What if the blood work Mia had done showed something serious like cancer? What if she wanted him out of Agency business completely? It would seem appropriate in the way his life had unfolded that he was about to lose everything but the huge grin that was on Mia's face just didn't jive with ill news. As he walked out of the kitchen, he heard Remy call after him.
"Can I plan the reception, bud?"
Jackson turned around, peering around the door frame. "Uh...no."
He climbed the stairs a little more slowly than earlier, fatigue and dread pulling at him. He paused at the bedroom door that was shut and listened closely to any sounds on the other side. He heard sheets and blankets being rearranged...Lisa coughed slightly but he heard the sniffle and threw the door open. Just as he feared, she was sitting up in bed with tears running down her face. Her eyes widened, most likely in surprise at his sudden entrance.
She waved him over. "It's good news, don't worry."
The air whooshed out of his lungs in wary relief and he shut the door behind him. He sat down next to her on the bed and she halfway climbed into his lap careful of his still healing wound. Before he could ask her what the good news was, she kissed him and any thoughts he had at the moment vanished. It was such a blessed relief to feel her lips against his and her soft skin beneath his fingers.
"Leese," he murmured against her mouth.
"Hm?" She started trailing kisses down his neck.
"As nice as this is," he swallowed loudly, "I can't do much more than sit here."
She leaned back slightly and smiled wryly. "I know. I'm getting kind of dizzy anyway. Mia said you were going to have some good news yourself."
"You go first."
She bit her lip and shook her head. "No, you."
He resigned himself to her stubborn streak and told her what was discussed at the dining table. She listened intently, thoughtfully. Repeating everything that Declan had said to him made the decision for him: he would do it. No more working for various clients with asinine demands. He only hoped Lisa would be okay with the decision. "What do you think?"
"You would hand pick the jobs from clients?"
"Yes. Declan would have the ultimate say, of course, but I trust his judgment. He would never support the loss of innocent life, only those who deserve it."
She was quiet for a moment. "Do you want to do this?"
Lisa nodded. "Then that's what you should do."
The relief he felt was enormous but he quickly shoved it aside. "So what's your news?"
Her smile was huge, giving some coloring back to her washed out face. "When Mia first took a vial of blood from me it was to see I was a match for you if you needed more blood. Well, she noticed an elevated level of hormones in the blood but it wasn't anything that out of the ordinary. She and Simon are getting ready to leave within in the next day or two and she wanted to double check the hormone level in my blood before they left."
"And my blood work came back with a higher level of hormones than the first vial which means..."
And just when he thought life couldn't hand him anything else as it had given him his life, Lisa, certain safety once Declan started his directorship and a job, it gave him one more thing.
Hunter Reynolds hated the cold weather. He had grown up in Albany and had seen enough of single digit temperatures and snow to make his trip to Washburn, Maine far from pleasant. He had received a call from the brother of the girl sitting across from him in the beatnik coffee shop. He had drug the sixteen year old girl half way across the country, alternating between threating and playing mind games with her. He forgot how fun it was to play with a young and impressionable mind. Her family would be paying therapy bills until she was a senior citizen.
The merry little cluster of bells rang as the door to the shop opened and he watched with sadistic glee as the girl shuddered at the sound. He saw her tall brother make his way over to the table, his face red from the cold and thunderous. He bypassed Hunter, which was fine, and knelt down next to his sister.
"Katie, are you alright?"
Hunter had warned her about crying and making a scene in the coffee shop. She remembered and pulled herself up, straight backed and proper.
"Yes, Simon, I'm fine."
Simon Rutger looked less than convinced but let it go. "What do you want to know, Mr. Reynolds?"
"How are my good friends Jackson and Lisa?"
"Fine. May my sister and I go home now?"
"Oh, don't be like that," Hunter said easily. "Sit down, have a latte. Katie's in no rush, are you sweetheart?"
She shook her head a little too quickly but Simon dropped into the chair next to his sister's, keeping his arm protectively around her. "Jackson is healing up from the sniper's shot very well. He should be about eighty percent better by Valentine's Day and a hundred percent by spring."
"And Miss Reisert? Or is it Mrs. Rippner now?"
Simon shifted uncomfortably in the wooden chair. "They signed the marriage certificate last night."
"Ah, that's sweet. I heard she had the flu."
Hunter frowned into his coffee cup. "Doesn't take Rippner long to do anything, does it? And their house guests? O'Malley and LeFever?"
"O'Malley is heading back to Arizona this afternoon and LeFever decided to stick around for a couple days more until Lisa was up and on her feet again." Simon leaned across the table. "I don't understand why you wanted me to heal him if all you want is Rippner dead?"
"Simon, let me ask you something. What is the game in hunting a wounded animal? There is none. I assure you, the occupants in that cabin will live happily for a while and when all the wounds are healed and complacency returns, I will strike. Now," Hunter pulled out the local newspaper that was still running an update on the lack of identity of the man found half frozen in the stream that ran through town, "take your sister and leave."
The young doctor and frightened teenager quickly left the coffee shop and Hunter smiled behind the paper. The yokels couldn't find anything on the dead man and chalked it up to an unfortunate hiker who died from hypothermia. Hunter had never met the sniper he hired to take out Jackson and Lisa so returning the body to a family was a moot point. He finished his coffee, left a decent tip on the scarred wood table and headed out to his Land Rover. He would wait, out of sight, as O'Malley gathered his cabinet and went to work overhauling the Agency, the Agency that Hunter's father had built from the ground. He would wait until Rippner felt safe enough to show himself in public again and he would make good on his promise to Simon Rutger. The waiting didn't bother him in the least.
Hunter Reynolds was an extremely patient man.
Okay folks...that's the end! I will say, I am working on an outline for a sequel...if you guys would like to see one. I have to see how the outlining part goes. Any thoughts and suggestions are more than welcome so please, send them my way! If you don't want to on your review, by all means PM me!
I do want to say, once more, a huge heartfelt thanks, complete with hugs, to all my reviewers and my readers! You all have been so very special to me during this process. I would like to think I've made some friends as I have totally enjoyed my conversations with many of you through PM's and review replies. You all have been such a huge encouragement to me. Thank you!
And, here is the playlist that I promised to include at the end:
Animal I Have Become by Three Days Grace
All Around Me by Flyleaf
Stand in the Rain by Superchick
Won't Go Home Without You by Maroon 5
She Will be Loved by Maroon 5
Same Mistake by James Blunt
Ballad of Micheal Valentine by the Killers
Mr. Brightside by the Killers
My Confession by Josh Groban
Now or Never by Josh Groban
Love Song for a Vampire by Annie Lennox
My December by Josh Groban (and Linkin Park)
Leave Out All the Rest by Linkin Park
Stop and Stare by One Republic
Signal Fire by Snow Patrol
So I Thought by Flyleaf
Never Alone by Barlow Girls
Once again, a huge thank you to everyone!