The End of Me
Page 7

 Tara Brown

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I woke to the sound of a man's voice.
"James?" I stirred and wiped the drool from my face.
"No. Come here."
I blinked and saw Coop standing in the doorway. I blinked again and wondered if I was hallucinating.
He had on a hoodie and sweats. I jumped when I realized he was truly there and banged my head on the toilet.
He winced and stepped to me. He lifted me off the floor, "You don’t follow orders very well, Evans." He carried me from the bathroom and laid me on my bed, shaking his head, "And your breath stinks."
I started to cry again, rubbing my head. I stammered, "H-h-how could you let-let-let me watch that-that? She was my best friend," I heaved. I wanted so badly for it to be his fault.
He walked to the bathroom and turned the tap on. He came back in with a glass of water, "We saw you find the other evidence. You knew he was a cheater. You've known for a while."
I slapped at him wildly, "Did you plant the other evidence so I would find it? Did you?"
Even in the darkness of my room, I could see the cruelty in his eyes. "Evie, you have hours. I'm not kidding—hours. They are going to come for you or send word about the meeting. You need to remember who you are and shut off the parent act." The words echoed in my mind.
I curled into myself and shook my head when he offered me the water. "She was in my wedding. She was with me when I found out I was pregnant. Her desperately, sad face makes sense now. I thought she was sad ‘cause she knew I would leave the army if I had a kid. Fuck, I didn’t know. I'm such an idiot. I didn’t know, all this time. The PTA moms and Mel. I’m so stupid. I thought he was the lucky one. I was the better catch," I snorted, "How fucking arrogant is that?"
He sat on the end of the bed, the weight of him made me rock back a bit. "You are the catch. He's a dumbass. Luce always called him a douche nozzle. None of us liked him, not even Jack. That takes talent. Jack likes everyone."
I laugh/cried; I didn’t even want to know how that was an insult. I'd seen douche nozzles. They didn’t seem offensive. I ignored my rambling brain and whispered, "What did the file say? How long?"
He knew what I meant. I knew he would. He sighed, "Does it matter?"
I nodded, "Yeah, it does."
He looked down, "The whole time. He played you and her hardcore, apparently. He was found out and told to break things off with you both or he would be dishonorably discharged for fraternization. He told the commander you were pregnant."
I gasped, "My father was the commander then!"
"The file says it was recommended he do the right thing. I am assuming that was your father's recommendation." His voice was cold and hollow. It made the news easier to take somehow. I remembered the look in my father’s eyes, when we told him we were pregnant and getting married.
"So he married me and screwed her for a decade, and our whole marriage was a lie? A lie my own dad knew about? What the hell?"
He sighed, "Yeah."
I closed my eyes and nodded. I got up from the bed, but he grabbed my hand when I walked past.
"You need sleep." He pulled me back toward the bed, ignoring the fact I was pulling back.
I pointed towards the door. "I need to get the papers and video. I left it all downstairs."
He shook his head, "No. I told you that you don’t follow orders. I already got rid of it all. I took a huge risk coming here. I told you to burn it, not leave it next to the chunky monkey you were eating right from the container. That was a disturbing sight."
I bit my lip and fought the chuckle that slipped out, "You're a dick."
He pulled me onto the bed, "I know. I get that a lot. So do you want me to just tell it all to you? That was my idea from the beginning, but the commander thought you would want to be alone when you heard the sordid story."
I pulled away from him and crawled into the covers. When I was comfy, he looked down at the floor and started talking quietly, "When you were in, did you ever work on a file pertaining to a man named Gustavo Servario?"
The light bulb came on. I smacked my forehead, "That was him in the pictures. Damn… Servario filled out his khakis. Yeah, I remember him well. He was a young, cocky little shit. His mom was Italian and his dad was an Italian-Serbian arms dealer who owned a shipping company as a front. They were sort of a small-fry operation."
He looked back, "Wow, that came back fast."
I laughed bitterly, "Bad things stay with me."
He narrowed his eyes, "I'll remember that. Anyway, the small-fry operation lasted a little while, but when his old man died, he took over. Everything changed then.”
I nodded, “Yeah, I worked his files then. It was 9/11 and he was a gunrunner, so we kept a close eye on him. We knew then, he would outgrow his dad. He was smart and savage.”
Coop shrugged, “Well, after that he went underground. Then we heard he was not only running arms, but he was also dipping into prostitution and drugs. We could handle those things, stop him here and there, make it look like we were putting in an effort. The orders were to let him run it, and if he slipped up, and got carried away, to slap his wrists."
I shook my head at how much it hadn’t changed. We didn't want to stop them and end the wars; we wanted the appearance of trying. Funding was dependent upon supply and demand. No demand, no supply.
He shrugged and continued talking, "We kept an eye on him until three years ago. Then, things changed again. He got harder to trace and then he would pop up somewhere. It was like he was putting himself in our way, trying to be noticed."
"Diversion," I said softly.
He looked back at me: our eyes met in the dark, "Exactly." I noticed the way the light hit his lips when he pursed them, "He was toying with us. We sent James in, not as a spy obviously, but as a rogue informant. Trying to create misinformation amongst his people. We wanted to see how his line of command went and how he reacted to the lies we created. We wanted to know, who we could get to. We think it was then, that James went rogue for real."
"Not to sound disinterested, but when the hell do I come into the picture?"
He chuckled, "The video you saw, we were watching him, and we caught that transmissions between him and Melanie Ashcroft. It was dumb luck..."
I cut him off, "Bullshit. You knew he was cheating, and you kept close to blackmail him if you had to. You were building a file against him."
His lips curled, "In the yoga pants, it's easy to forget you used to play this game. We had more than enough to charge him and ruin his life, but then we caught wind of him and Servario talking about the Burrow. Then again with Melanie; you heard it there on that video. It was taken only a couple weeks before he died. We don't know what the Burrow is, and we don’t know where it is. We think Servario believed that James had it or had access to it, through you…"
I cut him off again, "Why would he kill James, if he believed him to have it? Who does that? Who kills the man with the answers?"
He sighed again, "We think it was you he was after. Kill James and get control of your whole life. Then he could make you his pawn and make you give him the Burrow. All I know is, we didn’t kill James, and the only actual proof we have of you being mentioned, is that video. I said it wasn’t enough to bring you back in. I honestly think, he might have suspected us watching him and made the video to lead us off the tracks, or to bring you in. But higher-ups feel like you have the answer, and they’re willing to gamble with you."
I sat up fast, ignoring everything he had said, "What? Wait… If he died in the line of duty, I'm not paying for the whole funeral." I felt outraged. I didn’t even want to go to the damned thing anymore. I was angry on a whole other level of angry. I covered my eyes and massaged my temples.
He started to laugh, “Did you hear the rest of what I said?”
I shook my head, "I’ve never heard him or anyone mention the whole Burrow thing. I think it might be some bullshit he was doing, ‘cause he knew you were on to him. Where the hell is Melanie? I was told she was on mission. Why haven’t you all brought her in? James is probably still alive and with her. Burned-out bodies in cars tend to be someone we found along the way to replace us, when we fake our deaths. Typical cover-up."
“I know that.”
Of course he did. I wouldn’t be surprised, if they never suspected James dead at all. But they had no problem letting my kids think it.
I looked up at him, feeling the years of abilities and skills finding their way back to me. Granted they had to crawl through layers of bake sales and fuckerwear parties. I made a duckface and processed the fact, I should have bought a dildo at that last one I went to; it had been almost half a year since I'd been laid.
I mentally slapped myself. I was losing my mind.
I started to giggle.
I gathered myself and wiped my face of the tears I hadn't realized I was crying, "What a night."
The awkward silence was broken by his voice, but it was softer than before, "More like two months. I'm sorry this is all happening to you."
I nodded, "Me too. I feel bad for Melanie. Her heart must be broken. Will you be bringing her in? You never answered me.”
He cleared his throat, "If it was really him in the car, then she was in there with him. It was a bomb."
I was frozen again; she had been one of my best friends in the whole world. I wouldn’t let her be dead in my mind. It was easy to suspect her of faking her death with James, after seeing the video. If she had actually died, I wasn’t sure I would recover from it. I muttered emptily, "What evidence do you all have, that it was actually them in the car? I'm assuming the bullshit I was fed from the two men who notified me of his death wasn’t real?"
He crossed his arms, "The notification wasn’t staged, but what we told you wasn’t true.”
I pointed at him, “I mean it—I’m not paying for that bastard’s funeral.”