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Babes

“Hey Vic.”

I looked up as Carol approached my desk. She was frowning as she looked over the papers in her hand.

“What’s up?”

“I was doing some research on these latest donations. They keep getting larger and I thought that was odd since we’re in a recession. So when I started digging, I noticed the last five donations were in different names, but they all pretty much came from the same parent company.”

I glanced at the papers in her hand, my heart racing. How had she uncovered that? She wasn’t supposed to be able to trace them all back to Tae and her Grandfather.

“Really? That’s odd.”

“Yeah, right? I’m just worried we’re gonna get audited if someone at the IRS notices this.”

I took the papers from her, pretending to look them over.

“I’ll look into it.”

“I don’t mind doing a little more digging if—”

“No, it’s okay. Let me take care of it,” I smiled. “It’s my job. I don’t do much around here anyway.”

She chuckled, glancing at the papers in my hand in an unsettled way, but then turning to leave.

“Thanks Carol,” I called after her.

“No problem.”

*

I wanted to speak with Tae about this latest development, but she was busy opening a new nightclub…and it slipped my mind. I had other things I was working on, Carol didn’t mention it again…I assumed it was over. So, when I was summoned to Tae’s office one afternoon, weeks later, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I walked in, a smile on my face, until I saw her Grandfather standing near a window. The look on their faces made me nervous.

“What?” I dove in.

“Lawyers called. Our contact at the FBI mentioned that we’re being investigated for fraud.”

That was Tae…and my heart started to pound, hard.

“Uh…what?”

Her grandfather turned to face me fully.

“Someone from your office contacted a ‘friend’ at the FBI asking about numerous increasingly large donations that she traced back to the same source. That started the inquiry.”

I closed my eyes, swearing under my breath.

“Fuck. I thought she let it go.”

Tae raised a brow. Her face was completely calm, but I could see the surprise in her eyes. “Babe, what the fuck? Who?”

“Carol. My Assistant Superintendant. She noticed a problem with the donations a few weeks ago. I was going to talk to you about it, but—”

A second later the breath was forced from me as Don Carlos slammed me against a wall, his very strong hand curled around my throat, squeezing.

“You fucking stupid puta, you knew about this and did nothing?”

The sound of a gun cocking echoed loudly in the suddenly deadly silent office. I turned toward the sound, shocked that Tae would pull a gun on me…even more shocked when I saw whose head it was pressed against.

“Con respecto, Abuelo, take your hands off her.”

The three of us were frozen, taking each other in for a long moment, until Don Carlos removed his hand. My breath returned as I gasped and Tae slowly lowered the gun. He turned to stare at Tae.

“You pull a gun on me?”

He whispered harshly, his voice reflecting shock, anger…and hurt.

“Perdóname, Don Carlos,” Tae answered softly…carefully. “Please let me take care of this.”

He stared at her for another moment, swallowing angrily, before he turned and left the office, closing the door behind him. I watched Tae release a breath I hadn’t realized she was holding. This was not good. We were in trouble. I was in trouble.

“Tell me what happened,” she demanded quietly.

I did, quickly, anxiously, trying not to react as she watched me stoically. When I was done, she just stood, watching me for a moment, before she ran her hand through her short, soft curls. I noticed her hand was shaking a little and felt my stomach pitch.

“Babe, you know we have to kill her, right?”

My eyes must have reflected that I knew no such thing.

“I’ll talk to her—”

“The damage is done. They will come after her. They will pressure her to get them proof. Documents, banking records…shit she has access to. She has to go.”

I shook my head…but a part of me knew this would happen eventually, didn’t I? Wasn’t it inevitable, given the life we led, the crimes I took part in, that I would have to kill someone I knew, someone who was trying to do the right thing…an innocent?

“Tae, she had no idea,” I argued desperately. “I wasn’t allowed to tell her or she would never have said anything. She didn’t mean—”

Tae was just watching me…and I knew I wasn’t going to persuade her to change her mind. I wasn’t sure if I could…or should. Not if I wanted to protect her grandfather…or her. I sat down heavily on one of the leather sofas, my entire body trembling.

“Tae…we can’t,” I whispered.

She didn’t respond…and I knew. I just knew.

*

I thought I had time. Time to think of a solution to this problem. I spoke with Carol the next day…she really güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri had just reached out to a friend who was a researcher at the FBI. It was all innocent. She had no idea they would launch an investigation. She was just trying to protect us…to protect me. My head was swimming with possible ideas as I assured her it was not a problem, that I understood…but part of me knew I was talking to a dead woman unless I could think of a solution, and fast.

Two days later, Carol didn’t show up for work. No call and no answer when I phoned her.

*

“You didn’t even give me a chance to fix this!”

I was hysterical, tears staining my cheeks as I continued to rant and rave at Tae. She was standing in front of one of the floor-to-ceiling length windows in our bedroom, staring out into dark nothingness.

“Tae? What did you do? Did you give her money to run? Please…”

I was begging now…but I knew. I knew. I would never see Carol again…and another piece of me died inside.

Tae didn’t answer. I just watched as she raised a hand to pull on the joint she’d lit earlier. I’d forgotten she even had it.

“Tae, please…”

She turned to me, but didn’t say a word, those stormy grey eyes I loved so much cold…dead.

I dropped down on the bed heavily, trying not to fall apart. This was my fault. I’d had a chance to fix this and I’d done nothing. And now Carol was dead. I thought about her mother who was elderly and infirmed, living in some shitty nursing home. Carol had complained about it all the time. She was an only child, and she’d been paying for part of the cost of that place…I needed to find out where her mother was so I could have her moved to a better facility. I would have to figure out a way to pay the bill anonymously. And although I wanted to, I knew I could not visit her or the FBI would link me to Carol’s disappearance. The fact that this woman would now die alone, without her daughter by her side, sickened me. The entire situation sickened me.

“I need to go.”

Tae’s voice, no emotion in it, as if this was a normal day. I closed my eyes, swallowing down the anger, trying to accept that this was my fuck up, not hers. I’d given her no option, right? God.

“You gonna be okay?”

I was laying down, my arm over my eyes, my body trembling with…the horror of what I’d done. Was I going to be okay? No. Probably not.

“Sure,” I spit out.

I needed to get out of here. Go and hide for a few days, maybe weeks…I needed to get my head back on straight.

As if she knew what I was thinking, Tae stopped when she was standing near me, and I heard the tension in her voice.

“You can’t run, Vic. Do you hear me? My Grandfather…” She shook her head. “You run right now and he will send men to kill you.”

I removed my arm and sat up a little, staring at her. She was not joking.

“What?”

“You heard me. You run, you’re dead. You have to deal with this. This investigation could take us all down. You have to deal with this, ride it out.”

She was serious. Oh my God…

“Tae…you would let him do that?” I asked softly.

“Babe, I can’t watch you 24/7. Jari can’t either. He has access to every part of our lives, including this fucking apartment, your job, where you go to school. Our security company is his security company. You getting the picture? He’s watching us. I pointed a fucking gun at his head. He’s pissed and he’s worried…he will kill you. And then Miguel will happily kill me. Do you understand? Do. Not. Run. Do not freak out like you usually do. You have to stay and deal with this.”

I swallowed, remembering that Don Carlos’ former second-in-command, Miguel Cruz, was always waiting in the wings to remove Tae from the picture. He only needed one excuse…one chance. Jesus, what had I done?

I swallowed. “I won’t run,” I promised.

She closed her eyes for a moment and I realized just how worried she’d been. I watched her stiff form as she moved around the room, preparing to leave.

“Was it quick?” I asked softly.

She turned to me, her expression softening a little.

“Babe, I know she was your friend. I did it myself. She never knew what happened.”

And that should have comforted me…except I realized she now had more blood on her hands because of me. I closed my eyes, nodding to reassure her that I was fine. That I could do this.

But I had to admit a part of me, a huge part, was wondering how far I could run before they caught up with me. Benjamin would help me. And I was pretty sure he wouldn’t sell me out to Marcos. And Jari…well, I wasn’t sure about her…

Before she left, she pulled me up from the bed, lifting my chin with a strong, warm finger, her grey eyes intense as they stared down at me.

“Vic, do not run. I’m serious.”

She knew me. She knew my instinct would be to flee. She was letting me know, in every way possible, if I ran she might not be able to help güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri me this time. If I ran, I was signing my own death certificate. And maybe hers. Or, even worse, he might send her after me, to kill me, to prove her loyalty to him. I could not run, I could not run, I could not run…

As soon as the front door closed behind her, I knew I was going to run.

*

I wasn’t surprised when Jari called. I knew she’d run. I fucking knew it.

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

I swallowed the rest of the whiskey in my glass…and then threw the glass across the office. The sound of it shattering, the ding it left in the wall…none of it helped.

I couldn’t believe I’d pulled a gun on him. It had been instinctual. I would always protect her, I couldn’t seem to help it. She’d brought that out in me from the moment I first met her and had to save her from that fucking idiot boyfriend. The need to protect her, comfort her…rescue her…love her. I sighed. I’d said once before she’d be the death of me…seems I’d been right. She’d just killed us both if I didn’t move quickly, before my grandfather figured out she was gone.

Fuck.

***

Benjamin hadn’t helped. He said he wasn’t touching this with a 10-foot pole. When I begged, when I pleaded, he said if he helped, if he knew where I’d gone, they would make him talk. He would have to sell me out to Marcos. And so I ended the call so he didn’t have to make that choice.

Jari had been trickier. Believe it or not, I gave her the slip at one of my study sessions. A fellow student with a wonderfully handy fire escape. My friend stashed my bag on the fire escape before our session began and when Jari went to the bathroom…I just took off. I changed cabs three times before arriving at a bus station in Queens (it wouldn’t have made sense to leave from Manhattan). Why the bus? They didn’t insist on the use of credit cards. Probably the only mode of transportation left where I could pay cash and they didn’t ask for ID. I caught the first bus leaving New York…heading to Florida.

From Florida, I took another bus to a tiny little town in Texas where I met with a friend of Ben’s (the only help he was willing to provide). His friend provided me with a driver’s license, birth certificate and social security card, all in a different name. And so it was under that name that I bought a plane ticket to Puerto Rico and found my way to a tiny little town called Aguadilla.

*

I had money. Benjamin had shown me a few tricks of the trade, helping me hide money from my wife…from Don Carlos. But I didn’t live in luxury. I rented a small one-bedroom in a relatively run down part of town. The best part of the place? It was a five minute walk to the beach. The apartment had the oddest windows. They were layers of slatted glass…my neighbor, the only one that spoke English, explained to me it was the best type of window for hurricanes. It just so happened I arrived in June…the rainy season…also hurricane season. I was more concerned that the windows didn’t allow for an air conditioner. And Puerto Rico was not only hot, it was humid. Like I could probably reach out, grab part of the air, and wring it out, humid.

After finding a place to live (and I was happy to find the apartment considering the motel where I’d been staying had a serious cockroach problem), I bought cheap clothes from the local stores. Shorts, tees, a few bathing suits. I had to furnish the apartment, including the appliances, so I bought almost everything from Sears (one of the only stores willing to deliver to the tiny town). And finally, I bought a used car. This was an absolute necessity considering the closest, decent grocery store was about 30 minutes away by car. The car turned out to be a real lemon and I spent more money fixing it, with its shitty breaks, rusty radiator and temperamental cooling system, than I’d paid to buy it.

So, about a month after I’d fled, I had an apartment, a car (for what it was worth), and a job. My job? Walmart. They were always looking to hire. And because Aguadilla was a town made somewhat popular for surfing, they were desperate to hire someone who spoke English so I could deal with the tourists.

And that was my life. Going to work like a regular person, watching boring, uninteresting television (I had splurged on the cable package so I could have every channel), learning the language…and trying to keep a low profile. I had no idea how long I would stay here. It couldn’t be forever. Who knew if Benjamin had already sold me out or not? But I would probably be okay for another month or so…and then I would go back to the States and figure out my next move. It couldn’t be North Carolina or New Mexico. I’d always wanted to visit Vermont or Maine…maybe I would give the most northeastern tip of the country a try? Or Seattle…Seattle seemed like a nice place to live. Or I could relocate to Canada. That was an option also…

These güvenilir bahis şirketleri thoughts were in the back of my mind every minute of every day. During my first shower, when I washed away the sweat that covered my body from the hot evening’s tossing and turning, during my modest breakfast (if I wasn’t running late for work), during my thirty minute lunch break, after my evening shower, when I was sitting on the beach, as I did almost every evening it didn’t rain, during dinner, during my final shower of the day…

Those thoughts…and Tae. Tae…Tae…Tae. God I missed her. I didn’t think I would. I was so sick of that life, so sick of her…and when she admitted she killed Carol, I thought something had died inside of me. Something I would never get back. And I think something did die…but it wasn’t my love for her. I don’t think I would ever be free of that…

It was my illusion.

My illusion that I was a good person. My illusion that the world was, ultimately, just and fair. My illusion that good people, innocent people, were protected from horror. My illusion that I could remain Victoria Longman in the world I’d found myself living it.

My illusion. All of it. A huge, gaping hole had been torn in it…and I would never be able to repair it. It had been happening slowly…but Carol’s death had been the final straw. I could no longer just pretend. I could no longer shower, brush my teeth, eat my meals, go to work, finish up my degree…I could no longer live with the pretense that everything was fine.

And so I found myself having to shit or get off the pot. And I hadn’t been willing, or able, to decide…and so I’d run. As fast and as far as I could get. And with Tae’s resources, I could get pretty far. It’s just…there was a part of me that didn’t want to be too far away from her. A part of me that needed to be within a reasonable distance…whatever that might be. And there was also a part of me, buried deep (or maybe not that deep), that was waiting for Tae to come find me. Before her Grandfather’s men, before Ben sold me out to Marcos…Tae had always rescued me…protected me…had always set me on the right path. I was hoping she would do it again…I needed her to do it again. If she didn’t save me…I didn’t know what would happen this time.

And I didn’t spend any time considering she might not want to save me. Or worrying that she might not be able to…

Or at least I pretended not to spend any time thinking about either of those realities.

*

The hardest part of living in Aguadilla? Not being able to speak the language. Some people, most people, could muddle through a few English words. But to have a full conversation with a person? Not really possible. I was the only person who spoke English at my job. And while I had some opportunities to speak with tourists (I was told the rainy season wasn’t ideal for tourists, it would be better in September…but I expected to be gone by then), I didn’t really have anyone to talk to on a regular basis. It was lonely. I’d bought two prepaid phones in the Florida airport. I’d used one right away to let Ben and Jari know I was alive. I’d left that phone in a trashcan at the airport in Texas. The second phone? Well…I used it to text Tae of course. Stupid? Yes. But after four weeks on the run…I couldn’t help myself. I knew she was worried, I knew she was looking for me (or maybe I just hoped)…and I was missing her terribly. So I gave in and texted the following: I love you. I’m sorry.

I wasn’t really expecting an answer…it was more like I was hoping for one. And I probably should have destroyed the phone before she was able to answer. But about 15 minutes later, she responded…

Where are you?

When I didn’t respond, she texted…

Contract out on you. Ben dead. Need to bring you home safe.

Again I didn’t respond, although I felt my heart break just a little more at the thought that I’d cost Ben his life. Then finally…

Keep moving. Low profile. Text when ready to come home.

I removed the battery and tossed the phone into the ocean.

*

I cried for days after receiving those texts. For Benjamin…for Carol…even for Dylan. For every bad decision I’d ever made. For every life I’d ruined. Including Tae’s. If it hadn’t been for that snow storm, if it hadn’t been for her rescuing me that very first time…she’d still be a law-abiding citizen living in Pennsylvania. Her life would not have taken a 180-degree turn in the wrong direction. Meeting me had altered her path. I would go so far as to say that it had sent her down the wrong path, although she would not agree. But all of it, all the changes (good and bad), all the chaos, the crime…all the death…it was all because of me.

God, what was wrong with me?

A week later, I began making plans to leave. I didn’t care about breaking the lease. And I planned to leave all of the appliances behind, so that would be some compensation. I still had no idea what part of the States I would try out this time around…and there was a part of me that wondered if the Caribbean, or some part of South America, wasn’t a better idea. I did know, like Tae has suggested, I needed to keep moving. It felt like I’d already been in one place too long…

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