Burn Notice: I don't own it, I just like to play with it.
Seeking Shelter From the Storm
His sleep was filled with tormenting dreams lately. Between those and the real nightmare that had become his life, he was a wreck. After another restless night in a cheap motel in the middle of a dusty Texas town, Sam Axe, a.k.a. Jake Baldwin, peered at himself in the mirror. The lines on his face deepened, the scruff could almost be classified as a beard, and he hated the way he looked. He wished that it would all end soon. He missed his friends. He really missed Elsa! He wanted to go home, but at this point, if he did, everyone they left behind would be fair game. Anson's destruction and death brought the CIA down on their shoulders; now all they could do was run.
It quickly became apparent that he, Michael, and Fiona needed to split up and maintain silence, and God willing, maybe they would reunite in the predetermined place in four months, which was coming soon. He kept that information locked up inside his memory, because it would be too dangerous to record somewhere. Until then, he was on his own.
He stared at himself in the mirror. I wonder how Elsa is taking this. Leaving her alone in the middle of the night, half asleep, with just a kiss and a goodbye... and one last "I love you". What kind of man does that to the woman he loves? I should have taken her with me! But it was too risky. Better to put only my life in danger, and the worst thing she'll have to deal with is agents watching her for the next few months, hoping that I get stupid and come back. I love her to death, but I wouldn't be doing either of us any favors if I slipped off back to Miami to see her.
Thoughts like that were what invaded his dreams at night and left him off his game, at least until he had at least a couple of cups of coffee in the morning.
He groaned, ran a hand through his dyed hair, and reached for a razor. The stubble on his face wasn't matching the hair on his head. He had to rid himself of it or risk attracting undesired attention. When he finished, Sam studied himself in the mirror. He couldn't get used to the reddish brown hair. It wasn't him! But until it was safe to come out from under, he was stuck with it, or until he needed to alter his appearance again.
His finger traced the scar on the left side of his chin, and for a moment he contemplated risking a visit to a plastic surgeon to have it fixed. Not that he could afford it, and besides, it was such a part of who he was, if he lost it, he was one step closer to losing himself.
He slipped into a pair of jeans that fit like a well worn glove and stretched a dark blue, plain t-shirt over his head. His hair was still damp and lay in cowlicks that he straightened out with his fingers. He hated the cut. It reminded him too much of his military days. Before going out the door, he glanced at his right upper arm, checking to make sure the tattoo was covered. The Hawaiian shirts Sam loved so much covered it nicely, but they would have been a red flag to the people trying to find him. Jake Baldwin wore t-shirts, and sometimes if the sleeves were a little short the tattoo peeked out. He'd already had one question about his tat, and he managed to hold it off with a mumble that he'd rather not talk about it.
"Mornin', Jake." The cheerful voice greeted him as he entered the diner. A few eyes turned his way, and some nodded a greeting or raised a hand in hello.
"Mornin', Vonnie." He slipped into a booth in the corner where he could sit with his back to the wall and keep an eye on the door. He'd been doing this for long enough that the regulars always made sure "his" booth was empty.
Vonette, a forty-something redhead with a heart shaped face and a ruby red smile hustled over to his table to pour him a cup of coffee. "Same old thing, Baby?"
Her endearments always made him smile. "Yeah, thanks."
"Alrighty, comin' right up!" She sashayed her behind back to the kitchen, where she yelled through a window. "Two eggs over easy, toast, and a fruit bowl."
Sam almost called out, "With yogurt." But he restrained himself, because since he arrived in Grandy, Texas, he hadn't even seen a carton of the stuff in the grocery store. Mike and Fi would go nuts here without yogurt! I'm not sure how I've been able to stay here as long as I have with nothing familiar and comfortable. But as long as I'm not found out, this place is as good as any to be.
Grandy was a town so small it didn't even show up on a map, and Sam wound up there by accident. He'd been chased by agents from Dallas southward, and if necessary, he would have found a way to crash the border into Mexico in order to escape. But somehow, he lost them. Then the truck he was driving, an old beater that never should have gone as fast as it did in the chase, blew a cylinder. Thanks to a kindly old man, he got a ride into town, a tow truck pulled his heap into the service station, and he found himself a few hundred dollars poorer. That was money he couldn't afford to lose. When the shop owner learned he knew his way around an engine, he made a deal with Jake to pay back in sweat equity what it cost to fix the truck.
"Hey, Jake, you already order?"
Jake looked up at his boss. "Yeah, Darrin, I ordered. Go ahead, sit down. Vonnie? Darrin wants to order."
"Be right there, Sugar." Her smile was as thick and sweet as the syrup in the container to the left of Jake's elbow. Neither man spoke again until she took Darrin's order and walked away.
Darrin leaned forward, his forearms on the table. "Are you thinkin' of movin' on soon?"
"Yeah, I was thinkin' about it." He was never good at southern accents, but if asked to do a Yooper accent, he was all over that. It was a little too distinctive for his taste though, so he stuck with no accent at all. When keeping undercover, simple was always best. It was bad enough he couldn't use Chuck Finley as his false identity. Too many of the wrong people knew that one. "Why'd you ask?"
"You're doin' a great job at the shop, Jake. I don't wanna lose ya."
"I worked for what I owed you."
"I know that." Darrin slurped his coffee. "I'm just askin' if you can stay a week. Just until I get another guy in here."
"You got somebody in mind?"
"Yeah. A friend with a shop in Lake Platte, 'bout ten miles north of here, he's got a guy who wants to move to Grandy. He's marryin' Sarah Jean Cooper, and she wants to stay in town, so that ole boy's gonna have to move way down here."
Ten miles. Sam could drive that going from Coral Gables to Miami Beach. It was all in the perspective. Jake said, "Okay, well, when this guy is ready to start, I'm out of here. I've got something to do, and it's not going to wait." The first place on his friends' list of meeting was Topeka, in two weeks, and he needed to make that meeting as desperately as he needed to breathe.
"I really appreciate it, Jake. I'm really sorry ya gotta leave, 'cause you've been doin' a great job."
"Those newer cars, though, they're not easy."
"I know! Thank God for all the old trucks around here, or I'd be out of business in a few years."
The men chatted about trivial stuff, while Jake kept his eyes roving around the diner and out the windows. Darrin watched him. Something was up with that guy, but whenever he tried to ask, Jake blew it off as an old habit from his time in the military. Darrin asked him once which branch he was in and where he served, but Jake didn't like talking about it. He didn't like talking about a lot of stuff. He was a pretty quiet guy, but there was a hardness about him. Darrin suspected he'd been through some lean times and he'd fought through them. A guy his age should be thinking about retirement, but Jake was all about surviving.
Jake finished his breakfast and laid his fork on the empty plate. Vonnie swooped in, grabbed it, and asked, "Jake, you want some more coffee?"
He hesitated. Then he looked at Darrin and nodded. "Sure. Thanks, Vonnie."
A loud blast shook the diner windows and caused everyone's heads to swivel toward the front to see the source.
"What the..." Darrin choked on his coffee. He recovered and stared with his mouth hanging open at the sight of a fireball that rose up from behind the buildings across the street. He noticed Jake had gotten out of the booth, crouched down below the table, and reached behind him for something that wasn't there. Frustration showed on his face.
"Where is that?"
Darrin replied. "A couple blocks down. Looks like the Jackson twins are at it again."
"Tryin' to blow up stuff." Darrin's brow furrowed. "Only this time, I think they really did some damage."
"Ya think?" Jake shot up, picked up his ball cap from the bench, and hurried outside.
"Jake! What d'ya think you're gonna do?" Darrin followed him and called to Vonnie on his way out the door. "We'll take care of the bill later!"
He ran after Jake, who charged full speed around the market, through a couple of back yards, and leaped over a short chain link fence. For a guy in what Darrin assumed was his late 40s, he was in great shape. Jake tore around the garage and stopped in front. Black smoke billowed out of the structure when Darrin arrived huffing. But Jake wasn't there. He was already inside.
"Jake! Be careful!" The heat from the fire pushed him back, which was a good thing. A gas can exploded, sending a small fireball up into the rafters and setting the old dry wood on fire. Darrin peered into the acrid smoke as he continued to call Jake's name.
Suddenly, one of the Jackson twins popped out from the smoke cloud and landed on his hands and knees on the gravel driveway, coughing and choking on the fumes he inhaled. A couple seconds later, Jake came out of the billowing cloud with the other twin in his arms. The kid was unconscious, his arms and legs dangling from Jake's grip. He trotted him down to the curb and away from the fire before he put him down. Darrin picked up the other kid by the collar and towed him over to where Jake lay his brother on the grass.
"Corey, Casey! What on earth have you boys done this time?" Mrs. Jackson came out of the house, screaming at them. She stopped on the sidewalk and stared down at the prone figure and the stranger bowed over him. "Corey! My Lord, what's wrong with him?"
No one answered. They simply watched as Jake laid out the kid, checked for a pulse and respiration, and when he found him unresponsive and turning blue, he started breathing into him. All around them, fire trucks and police arrived. Firefighters and officers scurried about their business. One cop stopped at the curb and looked down at the scene.
"What's he doin'?"
"He's savin' Corey's life, that's what he's doin'!" Darrin answered. "Call for the ambulance!"
Grandy's fire department was small, made up of volunteers with two trucks and a chief's SUV. The police department had only one squad. If they needed an ambulance or a hospital, Lake Platte was the closest town with both. The officer got on his radio and dispatched an ambulance.
"There's one on the way. What were these boys into this time?"
"Who knows. They do a lot of experimentin'."
While Darrin conversed with the cop, Jake worked to get the kid breathing again. When he started to see spots, he sat back on his heels and heard the satisfying sound of a child's cough. He covered his face with his hands and took a few breaths to avoid passing out himself.
"You okay, Jake?"
"Yeah," he answered after a few moments. "I'm okay. Where's that ambulance?"
"Still probably ten minutes out, at least."
Jake muttered something under his breath and returned his attention to Corey. The boy had a serious gash on his arm and was bleeding profusely. "Ma'am." He looked up at the boy's mother. "Can you run into the house and get me some towels, gauze, tape and scissors? And some water."
"Y-yes, sure!" She whirled and ran for the house.
While he waited for her to come back, he pressed his bare hand to the wound, hoping it was enough pressure to make it stop. What did these kids do? I haven't seen shrapnel wounds like this since Afghanistan! A couple minutes later Mrs. Jackson returned with everything he requested. She dropped it all beside him. Jake looked up at her. "It's gonna be okay. Just try to relax."
Eventually, the firefighters put out the flames and soaked down the smoldering wood to prevent a flare-up. The twins went to the hospital with their mother. Darrin and Jake stood to the side in the shade of an old oak tree watching the commotion.
"That was somethin', what you did, Jake."
Jake coughed. "It was nothing."
"Are you kidding me? You saved those boys lives!" Darrin slapped Jake on the back and winced as Jake pulled away. "Hey, what happened to you?" In all the excitement, nobody paid attention to the fact that his friend might have been hurt.
"Nothing. I'll be okay."
Darrin turned him away a little and saw a small hole in his t-shirt. Blistered flesh poked through. "Jeez, Jake, you're burned!"
"Yeah? Until you touched it, I didn't even realize it." He flexed his arm and the back muscle moved with it, causing him to suck in his breath.
"Dang, better get you over to Doc Harper's place and get that looked at. Come on, Jake, no arguments!"
"You won't get any from me." Jake followed Darrin back to the diner where his boss left his truck. They took care of the bill and Darrin watched as Jake carefully got into the truck and sat with his back away from the seat. Darrin drove him to the clinic. It was unusually empty, so there was no wait to see the doctor. Dr. Harper treated Jake's burn and gave him some medication for the pain, then sent him on his way.
Outside the clinic, Darrin turned to Jake and said, "I know you were thinkin' of leavin', but you know, once word gets out about this, you're gonna be the local hero for the next week or so!"
"I'd rather not be," Jake mumbled.
Darrin laughed. "Then boy, you gotta stop tryin' to save people!"
Jake nodded and fell silent. You're right, Darrin. If I'm going to survive being on the run, I have to be careful about what I do. It goes against my nature, but I might have to curb my instincts in order to keep from drawing attention to myself.
"Hey, you look like you better take it easy today. Why don'tcha go back to the motel and get some rest? Or better yet, come on over to my place! Katie'll take good care of ya."
Until this point, Jake had made it a practice not to get too close to anybody, not learn too much about them, or let them learn too much about him. His sixth sense told him that going to Darrin's house and interacting with his wife and kids was not a good idea. But the pain meds were blurring his judgement, and he surrendered.
He said, "Sure, Darrin. I just need a little rest, and I'll be good as new tomorrow."
"Alrighty! Let's go!" For some reason, the idea of Jake meeting his family at last really made Darrin's day.
Despite himself, Sam liked Darrin. Maybe a small part of him hoped he could dig in here in Grandy and stay until things cooled down in the outside world. But he'd been in the spy business long enough to know that when you're on the run, no place is ever safe until the reason you're running is neutralized.