Title: The War at Home
Category: Covert Affairs
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's note: This story is loosely based on some real-life CIA misdeeds from some years ago.
The title is shamelessly borrowed from a song of the same title by Josh Groban, although this is not a songfic. Give it a listen.
Henry Wilcox paced the conservatory, moving back and forth among the carefully tended palms and ferns, resembling nothing so much as a caged tiger. After two long years of exile, redemption was finally in sight. He glanced again at the phone gripped tightly in his fist. "You're on the shortlist," was all the message said.
Never one to hesitate, he punched in a number. A familiar voice answered. Wilcox bypassed the usual greetings and courtesies. "We have some tidying up to do. Do you remember your mission?"
A fierce, feral smile spread across his face. "Then get to it."
Dr. Ashleigh Bell puzzled over the information on the screen. As a researcher for the National Institute of Mental Health, she was accustomed to compiling endless streams of data from strange and curious case studies. But there was something about the cases before her now… VA patients, broken men and women who presented symptoms that went beyond the usual heartbreak of PTSD, of wounds that left no visible scars, beyond the depression, the grief and the paranoia. Something was off, but she was damned if she could figure out what that was. Defeated, she'd sent off an e-mail to her former professor at Bethesda. Maybe he would recognize something, see a pattern she had missed and make sense of the data.
She glanced at the clock. Almost ten o'clock. No point in sticking around. She wouldn't have an answer to her query before the morning. She copied her data to a flash drive, shut down her computer and headed for the exit.
Swiping her i.d. across the scanner at the security station, she called out to the security guard. "You still letting that machine beat you at Solitaire, Mike?"
"Not this time, Doc," he answered. "Have a good night, or what's left of it."
"G'night. See you tomorrow".
"Careful out there. There's likely to frost on the bridges."
"I'm always careful," she grinned.
She turned up her collar against the chill. September would soon give way to October, she mused, as she hurried down the stairs to the parking lot. A hint of winter, not too far off, gave an extra bite to the cold autumn wind. All of a sudden, without warning, her feet flew out from under her. As if in slow motion, she realized she was falling, and wondered why the stairs were iced over so soon. She saw the stars whirling above her head, felt a moment of overwhelming pain as her head crashed into the unyielding stone steps, then darkness and oblivion.
Danny Bolduc shot a quick glance at his rear view mirror. The black SUV was still there. He'd first noticed the tail as he was pulling out of Burlington's Church Street. This wasn't the big city. Anyone following him would be hard pressed to disguise his moves in the sparse traffic of the quiet Vermont college town. A few quick turns brought him onto Highway 2. The SUV was still there.
Maybe it was just his overactive imagination. His new therapist had warned him about letting his heightened awareness get the better of his common sense. For all he knew, this might simply be a harried mom driving her kids to hockey practice. This was Vermont, for cryin' out loud, not Fallujah! Still, in spite of months of therapy, the old instincts kicked in. Without thinking, Captain Danny Bolduc, (ret.), of the U.S. Army Rangers fell back on his training and the evasion tactics he had learned years ago.
Twenty minutes later, as he sped past the quiet farms and rolling hills towards Montpelier, the SUV was still tailing him, keeping a discreet two-car distance. Dammit! He didn't have the stomach for this crazyassed spook shit anymore. He had a family, a home, and for the first time in a very long time, a future that didn't involve killing.
Bolduc considered his next move. He knew these roads. There had been a time when he'd explored every inch of them. He still knew them better than any outsider. He spotted a familiar curve up ahead, a long banking turn he used to love to race through back before his time in the Army, before the black ops. Tucked inside the curve lay the hidden entrance to one of the smaller rural routes. It would lengthen his journey home to Woodbury but those tailing him would never see him leave the highway. He slowed just a tad. Then, checking his rear-view mirror one last time, he swung the wheel around sharply, and sped onto the narrow side road.
To be continued