The End of Me
Page 3

 Tara Brown

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The momma bear anger lashed out. I shoved him back, "You leave my fucking kids out of this. You tell your boss to go fuck himself. Whatever James did, he did on his own. I had no hand in it."
He put his hands in the air, "I am the messenger, I didn’t have to warn you. I wanted to warn you. You have to run, Mrs. Evans. Run and never look back."
I looked down at my feet, still keeping my eyes on him and shook my head, "You have to be mistaken. You have to be at the wrong house. My husband may have been a lot of things, but he wouldn’t endanger his children."
The emotion crept back into his eyes, "He obviously didn’t think he had a choice, and I think if you stay, you'll see that you don’t either. Knowing my employers, James did what he did to keep you and the kids safe."
I scowled and walked back toward my house, "He died." It was bullshit, somehow it had to be.
He called after me, "He did. His usefulness must have run out." He snatched my hand lightning fast and pulled me back to him, "No matter what, if you stay, don't let your usefulness run out."
I looked at the severity in his eyes and jerked my hand free. I jogged back to my driveway. I turned and watched him climb into his Saab and drive away. The empty cold inside of me grew as I wondered what the fuck had just happened, and what the even-bigger fuck James had done to me? Was I really that stupid? Had I really been that blind?
Chapter Two - The Con job
The phone rang from inside of the package as I sat on the bed and stared at his pillow. I wanted to burn the damned pillow in the outdoor fireplace, but I was scared of the smell and the possibility it would get out of control and burn the house to the ground. Ideas flashed through my head as I wondered if we could fake our deaths? I knew how, but I needed documents and passports and things I didn’t even know where to get anymore.
I looked at my Lulu yoga pants crumpled on the floor in a pile, next to my PTA binder and laughed. Who was I kidding? I hadn’t worked in too long to remember how to do any of it. I grabbed his pillow and threw it across the room. The smell of him wafted in the air. I gagged but it turned into a sob. The ringing of the phone in the package never seemed to stop. It was trying to drive me insane.
We had been partners once. How could he have kept secrets so serious that they endangered his kids and me? I wondered if the bad man knew about the mistresses? Did they know he had affairs? Were they tormenting those women too or just me?
I racked my brain to try to remember a moment from when James spoke of work to me. I needed to try to remember if any of it seemed out of place and would trigger a work memory.
There was nothing. He had kept his work away from the house. I assumed, out of respect for me, the stay-at-home mom who had given up her dreams of being an intelligence officer. I could see that was not the case. Had he talked to me about the cases he was on, perhaps I would have seen the discrepancies in what he was doing. Then I would have known he was corrupt.
The fear grew as I watched the package shudder with the vibration of the ringing phone.
I mentally slapped myself. There was a very strong possibility this was a con. I could be about to be ripped off by hackers. I needed to go to the police like any civilian.
I wasn't an idiot; I wasn't born yesterday. I was a strong ex-military, mother of two. Those traits were far more important than the fact I was now a widow or a cuckolded fool. Could women be cuckolded? It didn’t matter—the result was the same.
I lay on my side of the bed and planned my next move. If I didn’t answer the constantly-ringing phone, I could pretend it hadn’t happened for the next little bit, while I planned. I wasn’t going to be the victim of a con artist, set on stealing from lonely widows. Before I could go to the police, I needed to know what I was dealing with. The military was amazing at creating the outcome they desired. If it was a prank, they were messing with the wrong widow. But then again, how did they know about Macy Green? I yawned and all the fight in me slipped away. The tired depression crept back in. I fell asleep with my face in my pillow and denial tucking me in.
I woke to Jules crawling around on the bed, poking me.
"What's this?" she asked. "Mommy." She shook me.
I opened one crusty eye and noticed the phone in her hand. She held it to her face.
"Helloooooooo," she spoke into it exaggeratedly.
I sat up, swaying from the dizziness of the sudden wake up and shook my head, snatching the phone from her hands, "NO!" I shouted. I looked at the screen and jumped when I saw a face.
A young man's face.
He smiled pleasantly, "Hi."
I panicked and wildly tapped at the red button on the bottom of the screen. I dropped the phone in my lap. The face… did I know it? Did I know him? He looked young and seemed polite even. Maybe it was a number she accidentally dialed. She had FaceTime on her iPad. She had done it before with my mom and James when he was off on mission.
I lifted my face from the phone to see her eyes getting red. Her eyes watered but she refused to cry, like I always did when I was her age. The closer I got to forty, the more likely I was to cry at even a commercial.
I pulled her in, "Sorry, Jules. It's not my phone. You can't touch it."
I needed to get the phone to the police. I needed to report the whole thing, before they conned another woman who would buy the whole bullshit. But first, I needed to know if pounds of coke would be found in my underwear drawer, because I didn’t play ball. If they knew about Macy Green, they must have known about the things I’d done. If they could hack the system well enough to find out about my alias, then they could hack it for the other things and frame me.
The house phone rang. I almost shouted not to answer it, but Mitch walked into my room, looking sleepy and tossed the phone at me. He turned and walked back out, no doubt going back to bed.
I grabbed the phone and looked at the number before answering, "Hi, Mom," I sighed with relief.
"Honey, I had to leave early this morning, but I wanted to tell you, that nice lady from the flower place called this morning. She said that the cheque you gave her bounced." She sounded confused. I would have been too, had I not spent the morning stressing about a certain con job. They had already stolen my money.
But then a terrifying thought flashed through me—what if it was real, and it was one of two scenarios? One, being my husband, who had not only had affairs on me, but also must have betrayed someone high up, who was bent on getting revenge. Or two—he actually sold secrets. Either way, I was screwed.
My eyes flickered on our daughter on my bed. I couldn’t lose it yet. I had to remain calm. I sighed like I was inconvenienced and muttered, "Can you stop by and give her some cash? I'll pay you back."
I heard traffic in the background of her cell phone, "Sure, sweetie. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I must have used old cheques or something. I don’t know where anything is. You know James did everything like that." I was kicking myself as I spoke; how could I have let him have all the power? How could I have trusted that man with everything? How could he leave me with all this to contend with?
"Sure thing. You have some catching up to do then I guess, huh?" Her tone was the mom-tone that still had not accepted the fact I was an adult. Not that my life looked that way. It looked like children were running it. I had more faith in Jules and Mitch, than their father.
I covered my eyes and held my face tightly, as I clicked the phone off and slumped.
"Who was it?" Jules asked in her squeaky voice. I lifted my face and smiled, "Grandma."
She climbed off the bed and ran out of the room. I heard her playing with Monster High dolls, as I fell back to sleep. Denial still felt better than coping.
I woke to a strange sensation. The room was dark, which meant the day was gone. I wasn’t certain what my kids had been doing for most of it—okay all of it. I blinked up at the ceiling. Something vibrated under me. I fished the moving thing out from under my butt, when it vibrated again. I turned it in my hands only to see the same face staring at me. I must have pressed accept to the FaceTime call as I grabbed it.
His voice was pleasant, "You look lovely, Mrs. Evans, those pajamas are becoming on you. You must meet Mr. Cooper in an hour at the Ritz, in the Boston Harbor hotel district. I'll meet you in the lobby." The handsome young face was gone instantly.
My fingers shook as cold sweat covered me. I picked my cell phone up from the bedside table and dialed my mom's cell. Instead of ringing, an automated message spoke, "Nine-ten-three-two—we are sorry but your phone is not activated. Please call to speak to a representative."
I pressed the phone off and looked at it. My phone wasn’t active. Chills ran up my spine. Chills caused by memories of taking away people's rights. I had done all of this before to other people. I grabbed the house phone from my bed and pressed it on. A busy signal rang through it.
I scrambled from the bed, throwing on a pair of yoga pants and a sweater. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and ran from the room pulling on my socks.
"Mitch?" I called. "Mitch, Jules?"
My stomach dropped.
I ran down the stairs screaming, "MITCH!" Oh my God, my kids were gone.
"Mom?" he called from the kitchen. I stumbled in seeing him with a spaghetti noodle across his lips like a mustache and Jules trying to make one with the noodle in her hand. She sat on the counter next to my mom who was stirring a pot.
I took a breath, clutching my chest.
All three wore the same confused face.
I stammered, "Uhm…I-I gave the wrong cheques to everyone. I have to run out and give cash to people."
My mom gave me a look. I shook my head. She sighed and turned back to the pasta. She knew the look on my face. She knew the tone of a well-laid lie.
"Sorry!" I yelled and ran for the garage. I shoved my feet in sneakers, jumped in James' car, and hit the garage door opener. I clutched the phone in my hand and backed out like a madwoman.
"Mr. Cooper?" I muttered while drumming on the steering wheel. The name meant nothing to me, "Who is Mr. Cooper?" I got out onto the 90 and was just passing Auburndale, when I realized how similar it all felt. I had done a job just like this one. I knew there was still a distinct possibility I was being conned, but I was doubting it more with every mile I drove.