It all happened too quick, too premeditated, too detailed, denying Colt the chance of a riposte.
The four-runner had guided them onto a plain desert, now muddy from the lashings of rain, and the three, Colt, Kim, and Jon, went about the journey without a verbal exchange. Facial dialogues, aplenty.
“We might need a stop,” Jon said.
The four-runner lurched and skewed to a stop, as a horse starved of water.
Kim led the path in panic. “What’s it?”
“The beast needs a break,” Jon said.
“Beast? You call a car beast?”
“Oh. Forgive my humor, ma’am.” Jon fumbled for an instrument in the dashboard.
“I’d agree it is a beast,” Colt said.
Colt gave his satisfactory ‘hmm’ smile.
The dashboard yanked open, and just as Kim about turned to behold the cause of force, a pffft held her suspended. Colt registered the silver bullet striking flesh, stinging like hot water centered upon skin.
He registered Kim’s numb movements, her mouth parted in shocked surprise, her fingers midway between helping Jon with the dashboard and helping Colt with the shot.
Then Colt registered a rushing pool. A dark rushing pool.
$ $ $ $ $ $ $
One. The number of hour it’d been since her agent, her protector, her guardian, jerked as if electrocuted and went cold, his eyes blank. He’d gone without a parting word, a last advice, a note of humor.
That Colt would cross from agreement to death in such span of seconds only reminded Kim of Colt’s warning. I don’t trust him. How then had Colt being so off-guard?
Two. The number of questions Jon permitted before strapping a blanket over her face. She’d asked why he killed Colt. It was necessary, for the saving of others. Who was he? The answer arrived in a smile delivery. Jon Osback. Also Jon Gardner. Also agent Gardner. He was addressed as the latter by boss.
Kim would have asked who boss was, where they were headed, what was to happen to them. Jon permitted none.
Three. The number of questions Jon asked before applying the sky blue blanket. What did she know about Armastus? Nothing much, other than its function as a password. How did she come about the password? Her dad gave her, with the warning of guarding it more than she’d guard her heart.
As if that were possible.
What did she remember about being nine or ten, and about her dad?
Kim was unable to commit a response. Yet.
Useless, she’d travelled back. Back to the days when she sat on the concrete doorsteps, awaiting the whirrs that signaled her dad’s arrival. Back to the days when she stood akimbo beside Lena as her mum did the large blue buttons knitted on her dad’s suit. Back to the days her dad was a respected officer in an occupation that was all but sangfroid.
Her memories of the past were pieces and scratches, feeding her wandering mind with details disturbing enough to make her scream or tear at her clothes, if she could. Her arms were taped onto the seat where she rode shotgun.
“Dad, are you running late today?”
The initial question that would eventually bring a lot more complications than Kim could ever bear, thrown at her dad when she was a ten-year old.
Her dad, eyes set on the minute hand of his watch, managed a smile. “I don’t know, Kimberly. Do you mean, am I late already, or would I be late to return?”
“Why must you return late, dad? Mum says you’re working on an important project.”
Lena yelled from the kitchen. “Kimberly. Don’t you disturb your father.”
“Okay,” she’d responded, smiling. “So, is it true?”
“What?” Dad was by the door, eyes not leaving the watch, waiting.
“Are you working an important project?”
“Depends on what, dad?”
The gaze moved from watch to Kim. “There are some things a ten-year girl should not know.”
Kim stretched on a toe. “And there are things she should. Her dad’s occupation, for instance.”
Dad had finally broken a smile. “Come on. You know what I do.”
“Special Engineer For Research and Development.” She smiled at her dad. “SEFORD.”
“What are you working on?”
“Kim, have you done your homework?” Lena leaned against a post in the doorway leading to the kitchen.
Kim jumped. “No ma’am.”
A taut silence.
Kim’s face swept over the flowered tablecloth laid on a round table made from birch, over the black cuboid box that was the television, presently off, over the three apiece chairs draped in chocolate leather, over the toolbox in one side of the living room, over the ancient Persian carpet her grandmother – father’s side – gifted them during a courtesy Christmas visit when she still sucked, up the white flannel gown Lena donned, into caramel eyes, like hers.
The next minute, Kim was fleeing the living room via the right door. She heard her mum say, “Bruce, you pamper that child,” before the roar of threaded wheels blazing through a field announcing the arrival of Davies, Bruce’s workmate.
That was the last conversation Kim would hold with Bruce until four years, when Lena announced she was leaving Bruce, and six years after, on her sixteenth birthday, when Bruce hit her with the flat of his palm and stormed out of the house, never to return from SEFORD’s base.
A screech, thicker in intensity than that of Davies’s snapped Kim out of the reverie.
She opened her eyes and beheld darkness. Her face rubbed soft material with few rough patches. Cotton. Blanket. She remembered their position.
A gruff voice spoke. “Boss. I have her.” Quick responses. “Copy.”
The call must have ended for Jon reached for the blanket and pulled it off. Piercing blades of sunrays drilled her face. A quick stare revealed they were driving by a road with beaten grasslands on both sides. Brown dust-coated grasses.
“Rise and shine,” Jon said.
“How am I supposed to do that when my hands are taped?”
“They aren’t.” Then as if he wasn’t smiling a minute back, Jon added, “Change of plans, my friend.”
It took half a second for his response to set in, and ten for Kim to process. She pulled her arms from behind. Her left landed before her, swinging, free. The other was not so lucky, slapping the armrest.
Jon drove the car by the shoulder to the side of the road, fumbled for his bag, and kicked the door open.
Kim followed, wondering what she was getting into.
“What happens now?” She yelled.
“Wait,” Jon said, then walked south three meters, east five paces, and stopped. He stooped, and Kim saw his hand draw on the pale grasses.
“What happens now?” Kim asked when Jon returned.
“Transport arrives in twenty,” Jon said.
“So we just leave the car?”
She paused, then dared herself on. “Why did you kill Colt?”
The answer came immediately. “It was necessary.”
Kim didn’t know what earthly force overpowered her. Just the feeling of lifting your legs off the asphalt in a mad dash and the feeling of being snatched by a finger heavy as a fallen log.
Jon wasn’t grinning, which was bad. He wasn’t spitting venom either, which was good.
“Listen, kiddo. There are some things you shouldn’t know. Colt wouldn’t have reasoned with me.”
He was sounding like Bruce.
Jon flung. Kim landed with her butt at an angle. She could only think a few seconds before the tears came. Whatever it meant, Colt had been something to her. It was wrong for Jon to just kill her. Just.
“Besides, he isn’t dead.”
Kim flew up. Jon was leaning against the four-runner’s fender, chewing on a stick. “What did you say?”
“Hey Mr. Gardner. I want you to repeat what you said.”
Jon stared at her like she was a pesky fly. “Your Colt is not dead.”
“What? How do you know this?”
Jon didn’t answer.
Kim slapped him in the chest. Just a slight flinch before, “I threw him out, okay? I know the bullet’s trajectory. I know Colt has a thick brain and a thick heart.”
The answer demanded a pause. Kim offered none. “So, you just know he isn’t dead? No evidence?”
She settled into her skin. Sobbed. Hoped. Sobbed more. The seconds rolled into minutes. A descending whir caused a lift of face. She caught sight of a mass of bats coming towards them, bats with a fan.
“Time to move,” Jon said, pushing from the car’s fender. He reached for Kim and taped her wrists, Kim’s resistance only being fuel. “Don’t you ever lay a hand on me, kiddo.”
“Or you might try it out,” Jon said, then walked away.
Kim waited till he was gone four feet. “Where are we headed?”
Jon looked back. “Minaru.”
A smack and a right hook could not have sucked life out of Kim faster.
Afterword: This morning, I was afraid. Afraid of what would become of the story. This is the point where I wonder what comes next. Anyway, ‘Minaru’ has ignited new threads… And a theme, ever so hidden.
#Question: Do you think the past goes away? Go figure. Thanks for reading.