This was not what he signed up for.
Joe Tucker had done a lot of questionable things over the course of his life, but kidnapping and imprisoning innocent civilians had never been on that list. Except now it appeared he had been complicit in doing just that. He had survived thus far by telling himself he did what he did to make the world better for people, not harder.
Growing up, his family had barely been able to put food on the table, with a distant, alcoholic mother and abusive father who was in and out of jail. It had made sense that he'd sought stability after scraping through high school (phenomenal test scores, abysmal grades. Like so many people in his situation, he'd just stopped caring). The army had seemed like the ideal choice…only he'd never made it past the entry tests.
Apparently, he'd scored very high on certain portions of the test that indicated an aptitude for learning a particular set of extremely specialized skills. He'd been trained, learned more than he thought he was capable of and quickly became a…well, you could say he was a name in his field.
Not that the name people had known was Joe Tucker…no. He'd been James Torre, Maurice Volpe, Joshua Tunney…and many, many more.
He traveled the world, saw things he'd never even dreamed about, done things he was proud of and other things…other things he wished he could forget.
Of course, he appreciated the life he'd had, the escape from Southie and his family. His mom and dad dead before he hit 25, little sister in and out of rehab 3 times before she disappeared in New York. He hoped for the best but suspected she laying in a paupers grave out at Potter's Field. He didn't doubt that he would have met a bad end had he let himself get mired down in the old neighborhood, maybe working for one of the local made guy….
Still, his job didn't encourage keeping or forming attachments to anything or anyone. Family, friends and lovers could be used as leverage against you. In the beginning, it didn't matter. In the beginning it was all a rush.
After 20 years, he was just tired. Tired of death and blood and never knowing who to trust. Tired of never using his own name. Tired of being the guy who got a call when it was time for a coup or a hostage extraction or there was sensitive intel in the hands of the enemy and his bosses needed it back yesterday.
Getting shot at, blown up, stabbed and otherwise assaulted on a nearly daily basis was a job for the young, not a guy whose back ached in the mornings and knees throbbed at night.
When he broached the idea of retirement with his superiors, they had not been pleased. They were not the sort of men who took losing one of their assets lightly. Eventually, they came to an arrangement.
Their world was more dangerous than ever. They were losing assets at an unprecedented rate and there had been an unusual amount of burns among their number in recent years. So they had begun looking into alternative methods of recruitment and screening of potential assets.
It was like a giant social experiment, they explained to him and he was to be the control subject. Each of the men and women involved had volunteered and had been assigned a roll that they were required to maintain no matter what was thrown at them. The idea was to see how they would perform in treacherous situations while having to maintain their covers.
'Cause a blown cover usually meant you ended up dead.
When they'd woken up in this messed up nightmare of a town, he assumed the test had begun. His employers weren't big on sharing information and it was not the first time he'd woken up in an odd location with no idea how he'd come to be there. He'd found the group he was with to be odd choices but he soon decided they were decent enough actors, all scared and scrambling and trying to trip each other up by asking questions. He figured the less he said the better.
But it soon became clear that something was off.
His ability to read people had been honed by a need to survive and his gut told him these people were most definitly not here of their own free will and they certainly weren't looking to join the Company. Well, Bill was sleazy enough but weak and Charlie had a well hidden dark streak. Graham was a good man, a good soldier. He wouldn't go through a back door like this to serve. Moira and Tori seemed generally harmless, though Moira wasn't being straight with them about some things…And Janet was a sweet, single mother.
Those weren't covers…at least not all of them. Graham, Janet, Tori and Charlie…he was sure they were who they said they were. And they were truly scared and confused.
Clearly, his bosses had plans for these people…he just had no idea what those plans were.
Someone had lied to him.
Probably the same someone who'd instructed Janet to shoot him and then pumped that cabin full of bees. Someone who'd decided things would be easier to just eliminate him.
Now, after his brief visit with Tom, he sure he was no better off than anyone else here. He knew, without a doubt, had he chosen to withdraw, his old associate would have put a bullet in his brain.
So he chose to return to the others, chose to try and protect them but he certainly couldn't tell them what little he knew. That would shatter any trust they had in him and without that trust he'd be no good to anyone.
All he'd wanted to do was get out, have a normal job, a normal life. He wasn't too old to have a family…maybe too damaged, but he didn't know for sure.
He returned to the hotel, a cold feeling in his gut telling him that was the last time the Bok Choy code would be valid. He was as much a pawn as anyone else.
Janet was still sleeping, curled up in the bed they had shared the night before. It had been a very long time since he'd slept through the night beside someone and here he'd done it two nights in a row.
Slowly, silently, he pulled off his boots, coat and jeans and pulled his sleep ants back on before easing back down onto the bed beside Janet. Still exhausted from their trek in the cold, she didn't wake but snuggled back toward him for heat.
Equally tried and chilled, he sighed and let his arm drape loosely over her waist. For the moment, there was nothing they could do, so it made sense to sleep while they could. They'd need their wits about them to survive the sort of sick mind-fuckery his bosses were capable of.
And they were going to survive. He was going get her home to see her daughter.