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Clandestine Affairs, Part Four
Chuck invites Ani to relax with him and Noelle in Nassau, but this is just the calm before the storm.
In the Uber on the way back to the Setai, I get a text from Chuck.
Noelle will meet you at OpaLocka in three hours. See you in Nassau bright and early!
I send back a thumbs up and sink into the seat. I rarely get the location via text, so I imagine there isn’t much waiting for me in my room, as far as details go. Just doing what I’m told… I’ll show up, with bells on.
Sometimes though, I’m tired of doing what I’m told.
I nap for exactly forty minutes, or so I think, when Noelle gently taps my forearm. “We’re about to land, Ani.”
I sit up, stretch, and ask the attendant for a coffee. Noelle is looking out the window, admiring the glittering waters below us, sparkling from the sunrise. I’m so tired. I slide my sunglasses back over my eyes, pop an Advil, and drink my coffee quickly in hopes the caffeine will send my headache packing. I need a day — or a week — off. But even if I got it, what would I do? Sit on a beach somewhere? I mean… I’m probably doing that today, if I had to guess.
Okay, so my life isn’t that bad.
I try to keep this in mind when I feel like complaining. My life is anything but the boring mess it used to be, which I am grateful for… but sometimes, I’d like to slow down. I push the thought out of my mind and sit up as we descend toward the tarmac.
We land and collect our things. As we exit the plane, we see our ride parked no more than fifty yards away from where our plane came to a stop. The salty air wakes me up, giving me a third wind. (It was probably the coffee.) Noelle and I climb into the back of the car to find Chuck waiting.
“Ani, hello. Noelle, my love,” he says, taking her hand and kissing it sweetly. “Sounds like everything went as expected last night?”
Noelle is quick to answer, and I let her. “Yes, Charles, Sebastian has been collected. Ani, the folder?” She holds out her hand as I retrieve the documents from my tote. I hand them over and Chuck takes a look through the loose papers, pausing to flip through Sebastian’s passport. He grumbles. “He’s been everywhere. Hard to tell the fallout. He’s elusive, this one. Ani, did you find anything else in the safe?”
I shake my head. “No,” I say as I dig through my tote. “But his wallet, well, it’s loaded. He has at least six bank accounts.” I hand over the wallet. “Not to mention several credit cards, with most of the aliases we know about. I found a couple more names he uses: Dante Mariano, Seth Castor are the two I remember. You’ll see them.”
“Good work. We’re just getting started,” he says, clapping his hands and grinning.
The car makes another left turn through a gated complex. We’re heading down a long driveway when finally, we arrive at the house. It’s breathtaking. Stark white against the bright blue sky, palm trees sprinkled around it, with lush, tropical flowers accenting the terra cotta pathway to the front door.
“Alright ladies, I know you must need some R and R after the last couple of days. You’ll find everything you need inside. Please, Ani, make yourself at home. Noelle, you know where everything is, can you make sure she’s comfortable?”
“Of course. Come on, sweetie, let’s get you settled. You’re going to love your room.”
Chuck disappears down a hallway and Noelle leads me down another one, with large floor-to-ceiling windows. To my left is the beach, and to my right are doorways. This place is massive. We finally reach the end of the hall and go up a winding staircase to a loft that overlooks the sea.
“In there,” she points toward the French doors, “is the bathroom and beyond that, the infinity pool and hot tub. It’s private, too, so enjoy yourself,” she winks.
I can barely acknowledge. The room is stunning, high ceilings and sheer curtains swaying in the breeze. I peek in the bathroom and I know what I’m doing first: a hot bath. Then, a nap.
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I’m not sure how much time has passed when I finally wake up to a knock at my door. A voice I don’t recognize calls out to me. “One moment,” I say, groggily. I wrap myself in the robe and make my way to the door. “Yes?” I say, as I open the door to a short woman carrying a tray.
She hands me the tray with an elegant teapot, teacup and saucer, milk, sugar, and some snacks. “Here you are, Miss Ani, Chuck sent me. Don’t miss the folder there,” she nods toward it, placed under the plate and napkin. “Dinner will be served in about an hour.”
Dinner? It’s only then I realize the sun is starting to sink into the sea. I thank her and set the tray on the credenza near the door. I pour some tea and think about how I’m much more involved in this job than any of the ones before. For the most part, I handle the initial contact and then I’m whisked away to another location for another job. A new week, a new mark. Given this folder includes more information on Sebastian, I can only assume my work isn’t complete. I’m not sure how to feel about it, if I’m being honest.
I flip through the pages in the Sebastian folder. A list of people he has taken advantage of, victims in several countries. More horrific photos. My stomach turns. I clear my throat and continue flipping, finishing my tea. He’s a real bastard. He’s not only left behind a trail of bodies, but even more people in the wake of his brutality. I see names of people who work for him, people who will most certainly be wondering where he disappeared to…
As I get myself presentable for dinner, I start overthinking again, like I do when I’m alone. My thoughts land on Bryan. I’m wrapping my dress around my frame and I realize I’ve lost some weight over the last couple of weeks. I think about how sad Bryan looked in LAX. I can’t shake it. But I have to. I have to stop going back to it, revisiting that memory over and over… I can’t do anything about it, now or ever, so I have to push it out of my mind. At least for the night.
This is how I’ve adapted — get through quadrants of the day. Focus on this morning. Then the afternoon. Then, the evening, and finally, the night. Start over when I wake up again.
I walk through the long hallways and search for anyone to tell me where dinner is being served. I see the woman who brought me the tea and she ushers me out to the terrace, where Chuck and Noelle are sitting. She asks me if I want a drink and I ask for water, for now. I walk up to the table and take a seat next to Noelle. “This place is gorgeous, Chuck.”
He smiles warmly. “I trust you rested well?”
“Yes, thank you. I needed it. I didn’t think I was that tired.”
“Ah, but once you hit the down pillow and let that breeze lull you to sleep, it’s over.”
“Exactly,” I say. I clear my throat as the woman brings me the water I requested. I take a sip and ask, “what’s next?”
Chuck and Noelle laugh. “Let’s enjoy dinner first,” he says.
A response I hate. I just want to get into it, find out what’s coming my way. But I understand. Maybe this is why I excel in this position — I’m eager for the next round, always ready to rock. I’ve learned when to cool the jets, though — a very powerful thing. I sit back and sip my water as the woman starts bringing out several plates of fresh seafood, a big bowl of salad, and some bread. “To soak up the cocktails,” Noelle says, taking a piece and tearing into it. “What are you drinking tonight, Ani?”
“I’m not sure yet. I might take the night off after all the tequila the last few nights,” I say, raising my water glass. “This might be enough for me.”
“At least have a Switcha, Mathilda makes them so well. Have you ever had one?” I shake my head and she calls out to Mathilda and I discover she’s the woman who brought me the tea earlier. “Tilly, would you bring Ani one of your delicious Switchas?”
“With pleasure, Miss Noelle.” She disappears back into the house.
“Tilly’s version is to die for. You’ll be in heaven. Here,” she passes me a plate. “Help yourself.”
I think she can tell I’m being cautious, overly polite. I’m unsure of my place in all of this, given it’s the first time I’m spending time with them outside of an assignment. I fill a plate and try to relax, rolling my shoulders back. Tilly brings me the Switcha and Noelle is right — the tart key lime really stands out and the strawberries Tilly added are a perfect accent. I’m addicted immediately. Must be all the cane sugar, I think as I take another generous sip through the agave straw. This will bring me back to life. Tilly comes back and laughs. “Another one, Miss Ani?” I nod enthusiastically.
“Told you,” Noelle says through a grin. She raises her drink. “To us, and to all the rest!”
We clink our glasses and suddenly, things feel much more chill. Maybe I am finally relaxing. We engage in some small talk as we nibble on our appetizers. Chuck tells us the history of the house and how he came to own it (a gift from an old friend and past client). As our dinner arrives — a classic surf and turf — he is telling me how he met and eventually fell for Noelle. She glows as he recounts their story and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t touched. They met on a job about twelve years ago, when they were both fresh in this world. They were paired by Chuck’s predecessor, Anderson, who has long since passed away. I can tell it’s still an emotional subject so I don’t press for details, but I gather he died suddenly, without warning, and it affected them both deeply.
Once we finish dinner, Chuck and Noelle invite me to join them on the beach for a fire. Guarded by the sounds of the sea and the fire crackling, he tells me it’s the best place on the property for a private conversation. Noelle hands me a knit blanket as we leave the terrace saying it will come in handy. Once we reach the fire pit, it’s time to get down to business.
“Ani,” Chuck begins, “what we’re about to share with you is… sensitive. It will bring you deeper into the fold, so to speak, and I want to give you the opportunity to walk away now if you’re so inclined, because what you learn tonight… you will never be able to unlearn.”
Everything he shares with me is sensitive, I think. I’m hanging on every word and the anxiety of learning what’s next has me absolutely giddy. This is why I keep going. He pauses to give me a moment to consider my options… but he knows I’m too curious to head back into the house, pack my things, and catch a flight. Where would I even go? Live with my mother, at the age of thirty-three? I don’t need to say anything. He watches me silently weigh the option of leaving but knows as much as I do that I’m not going anywhere.
That’s the thing about this world. Beyond being interesting, it’s thrilling. Even though I complain to myself that I’m tired of doing what I’m told, that I wish I could just disappear and start over… I get a fresh start constantly. Nearly weekly. In every city, with every assignment. I see so many amazing things, meet lovely people, and get a chance to do some good behind the scenes, undetected. The only things that stay the same are the rules, and I have a feeling those are about to change. Only a fool would walk away now.
When I don’t say anything, he smiles at me and squeezes Noelle’s hand. “Good… good,” he finally says, delighted. “I knew you wouldn’t disappoint, Ani. Come, sit.” He pats the seat to the right of him, and Noelle plants herself on his left. “Now, I know you’re going to have questions, which we absolutely will answer… but please, just read everything inside before you say anything. I am asking you to trust us. Can you do that?”
I nod, skeptically, but I know Chuck has my best interest at heart. He has never done anything to show me otherwise. So much of this game we’re playing relies on the unbreakable trust of your team, which I believe we have cultivated over these many months of working together.
He takes an envelope out of his breast pocket and hands it to me. I feel their eyes burning into me, watching me, to see how I react to the name on the outside.
It isn’t Sebastian’s. I incorrectly assumed it was going to say his name, as I thought this was the reason we were here. I know that job wasn’t complete, given the additional information I read about him and his counterparts before dinner.
My vision blurs — I blink several times to make sure I’m not seeing things.
It’s my father’s.