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“Veggie burger?” the waitress said.
“That would be me,” I said, reaching out and taking the plate.
The waitress put the beef burger down in front of Tom, asked us if we wanted anything else, and then left us alone in our corner booth, tucked away at the back of the diner.
“How much of your memory has returned, Danäe?”
“I told you, Tom. I’m not not saying another word until you’ve explained yourself.”
“Can you at least tell me what Judith said?”
“Why, so you can get your story straight?”
He lowered his eyes and took an intake of breath, then lifted the hamburger bun and squirted ketchup on his burger. He proceeded to bite into the bun, slowly savouring each mouthful, paying no heed to my burning stare. When his plate was clean, he took a paper napkin out of the silver dispenser and wiped his mouth and fingers.
“I thought you said you were ravenous?” he said, finally meeting my eyes.
We stared at each other for several seconds and then I stood up.
“Where are you going?” he said.
“Juke Box,” I replied, pointing to the other side of the diner.
I flicked through the music catalog at a leisurely pace, indifferent to Tom’s impatient glances, and finally chose Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. I stood in front of the psychedelic box, suspended in the space between the diner din and the initial blast of combined keys and strings, until the box exhaled and released a tidal wave of sweet melody over me.
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on now
There’s too many places I’ve gotta see
‘Coz I’m as free as a bird now
and this bird you cannot change
I rested my chin on my hands, and my hands on the jukebox, until the song had played to its theatrical end before I walked back over to the booth, sat back down opposite Tom, and took a bite of my veggie burger.
“Okay,” Tom said, crossing his arms, “we’ve both made our points. Where do you want me to start?”
“Judith said that my parents were nothing more than a convenient cover story.”
She’s right,” he said, giving me a slight nod of his head. “I did NOT want you to find out this way. I can’t imagine what she’s playing at.”
“Judith is another subject for another day, Tom. Right now, I just want to know about my parents.”
“I’m afraid Judith is very much part of the story, Danäe.”
“Why? What has Judith got to do with my parents?”
“We all worked together, said Tom, running his long fingers through his greying hair.”
“You mean my real father was an agent?”
“Yes. Your father and I were partners. The three of us – your father, myself and Judith – all came up the ranks together. We were all great friends, up until the point that Judith took the opportunity to start a new organisation. That’s right,” Tom said, nodding at me, “Judith built Sterling into what is it today.”
“Well…” Tom said, throwing his hands in the air. “I wouldn’t go that far. I mean, Judith and Sterling are motivated by money, that’s true, but their targets are very often worthwhile. More often than not, our targets overlap, as you well know.”
I raised my eyebrows, but said nothing, as I chewed another mouthful of my burger.
“It was during one of those overlapping cases that your father met your mother – Adele. She was the daughter of a European business tycoon. Your father and I were both tasked with protecting the family; I protected the Primary, and your father protected the Secondary.”
“My father protected Adele.”
“That’s right. The job continued longer than we were anticipating. I didn’t see him much during that time because we were always in different places. We had been on the job for 11 months when your father broke the news to me.”
“Don’t tell me. They fell in love, had me, end of story…”
“Not exactly. They spent one night together. Adele fell pregnant…They tried to keep it from the father for as long as they could, but, obviously, he eventually found out. He was furious. Not so much with Adele, more your father. That’s when Judith got involved…” he stopped talking and looked at me.
“Are you saying that Judith was hired to kill my father?” I asked, my foot twitching under the table.
He lowered his eyes and nodded.
“So, what happened?” I said, gesticulating with both hands.
“Your father’s only concern was you, Danäe. He was smitten with you. You were his little unplanned miracle. You know,” Tom said, smiling and looking up as if to capture a memory from above, “it was your father who named you. Do you know what Danäe means?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“She who judges,” he said, smiling broadly like a proud father. “Amazing, isn’t it? How did he know to choose such an apt name?”
“She who judges,” I repeated. “I like the way that sounds.”
He smiled and nodded in agreement.
“So how did it all end?”
“Well, as I said before, Adele’s father hired Judith to kill your father…but, Judith screwed up and killed your mother by accident. Your father was furious and devastated. He found a couple to look after you and raise you as their own, and he made me swear to watch over you. Then, he went after Adele’s father.”
“Did he get him?”
“I’m afraid not. Judith intercepted and killed your father.”
“So Judith is responsible for the death of both my parents.”
“Which begs the question. If you were meant to protect me from Judith, then how the hell did I end up working for her?”
“You were a young rebel, Danäe. I couldn’t stop you without telling you the whole story – and TRUST ME – you were NOT ready to hear this story back then,” he said, holding out his hands to me.
After several seconds of eyeing him, I gave him one of my hands.
“Please, Danäe, don’t be angry with me. I have spent the past seven years trying to extricate you from Judith’s clutches.”
“I’ll accept that for now,” I said. “But I can’t help think that there’s more to this story than meets the eye.”
“I assure you, Danäe, that is the story,” Tom said, squeezing my hand.
“So, Tom, do you have a plan?”
“I’m sorry? A plan for what?”
“A plan to kill Judith.”
To be continued…
© 2013 B.G. Bowers All Rights Reserved