Bill sipped his coffee at the oak dining table and looked past his friend through the picture window at the fall mountain morning. The low clouds partially covering the hills meant a temperature change was coming. Gray bare trees extended below the cloudline and into the brown valley below.
John sat holding Bill’s phone, lost in thought as he read the document on its screen.
He put down the phone, “That seems more than generous.”
Bill nodded in silence and stared blankly out the window.
“I thought you’d be relieved to finally hear from Clark and Company.”
Bill looked over at John. “Sorry, I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“I understand,” John took a sip of his coffee.
Bill asked, “Do you think I’ll ever be alright?”
John reached over and grabbed his friend’s forearm, “Look at me.”
Bill looked into John’s penetrating eyes.
“You’re going to be fine. Will things be like they used to be? No, but everything changes, including us. Give yourself some time. Give God a chance.”
John let go of Bill’s arm, and Bill pulled it back.
Bill’s fingers started to drum on the table. “Look, I know what I said last night, but so far, God hasn’t shown up in my life since I was a kid. I’ve always taken care of myself, but now things are different. I’m told people screwed with my head. I’m not even sure who I am anymore.”
John answered, “If you obsess over it, you may have bigger problems with your brain from all the added stress.”
Bill took his phone back and slipped it into his pocket. “What do you suggest. Just sit around here and wait for a couple of men to show up wearing sunglasses on a mission from God?”
The doorbell rang. Bill and John’s mouths dropped open.
John asked, “Aren’t you going to answer that?”
“What for? This is your house.”
John stood, “I’m not expecting anyone, are you?”
The doorbell rang again.
Bill pointed at the door, “Now who’s overthinking. Just look out and see who it is.”
John walked over and looked through the peephole, blinked, and looked again. The doorbell rang a third time, and John opened the door. Bill could hear a quiet exchange of greetings.
John looked over his shoulder, “They’re here to see you.”
Bill hesitated, but then stood and slowly walked towards the front door. When he was halfway across the room, John took a step back, and Bill froze in place. Two people stood on the front porch. The woman was close to Bill’s age, but he thought she was possibly a little older. She was Bill’s height, wore a khaki pantsuit, and was built like an athlete. Next to her stood an man that Bill guessed was in his late fifties. He was in decent shape for his age. He wore jeans, a flannel shirt, and a trucker’s cap with a local bait shop’s name. Both people wore sunglasses on this overcast morning.
John smiled and patted Bill on the back as they walked past each other. The two strangers held out identification.
The man said, “We’re with the CIA. I’m agent Garcia Hernandez, and this is agent Darla Brown.”
The woman removed her sunglasses and shook his hand. “I hope we haven’t startled you. I imagine we’re the last people you’d expect at your front door.”
Bill asked, “How’d you get past the gate.”
Garcia smiled and answered, “Please, Mr. Johnson. We’re CIA.”
“What do you want with me?”
Darla replied, “May we come in?”
The two agents came in and sat next to each other on the couch, and Bill took the loveseat.
John stepped over, “Do I need to leave?”
Darla answered, “Please, join us. This will impact you, as well.”
John sat, and Bill noticed Darla tap her cheek. Agent Garcia removed his sunglasses.
Bill asked, “How can I help you?”
Garcia replied, “We’re here to help you. Dr. Adam Klein called Dr. Joshua Zeev. I believe you’re familiar with their names.”
Garcia continued. “Joshua is currently in protective custody. I’m afraid I can’t disclose more than that. When Dr. Zeev explained to us the urgency in finding you, we flew him up here so the two of you could meet.”
Bill looked towards the front door. “Where is he?”
Darla responded, “He isn’t in the car. We need to take you to him.”
John interrupted, “How did you find us? Did you speak to my wife?”
Darla said, “We tried, but she wouldn’t tell us where you were. You have a very protective spouse.”
John answered, “She’s the best.”
Garcia said, “Yes. Well, fortunately, we had Bill’s phone number. I tracked the location of his phone.”
Bill asked, “Is that legal?”
Darla’s eyes seemed to penetrate Bill’s soul, and something inside him told him not to ask that again.
Darla answered, “We have a wide latitude with this case.”
Both agents stood up, and Garcia said, “Please, both of you, pack up. We need to leave. If I thought to track your phone, others might try as well.”
Bill and John asked, “Who?”
Garcia answered, “It’s need to know. Mr. Palazzo, we don’t believe you are in any sort of danger, but I think you should go back home, just in case. We’ll leave an agent in the area to watch this house for a couple of days. If things change, we’ll be in touch.”
Bill asked, “What about me?”
Darla answered, “You’re coming with us.”
Bill folded his arms across his chest. “I’m not sure I like the way that sounds.”
Garcia answered, “We’re taking you to Joshua.”
Bill nodded and walked briskly towards the bedroom. He could hear John exchange words with the agents and then hurry upstairs. In a few minutes, he had everything tossed hastily into his suitcase and zippered it closed with some effort.
Bill returned to the agents with his suitcase.
Darla said, “Let’s go.”
Bill put up his finger and hollered from the bottom of the stairs. “Do I need to help with anything?”
John poked his head out from the upstairs bedroom and said, “I’ve got it. Let me know that you’re safe wherever you end up.”
Bill nodded and then followed the agents outside. A black SUV with tinted windows sat at the entrance of the driveway. Bill noticed a black sedan with a man standing next to it in the house’s lower driveway.
Bill pointed, “Who’s that?”
Garcia answered, “Frank. He’ll keep an eye on things. Please, we need to leave.”
They loaded his suitcase and put Bill in the back seat. The two agents slipped inside the front seats, put on their sunglasses, and were driving down highway two-twenty-one in a couple of short minutes.
Bill asked, “So, where are we going?”
Darla answered, “You’ll see soon enough.”
Bill’s cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and asked, “May I answer it?”
Darla turned to face him. “Please don’t say where you’re going.”
“That won’t be hard, I don’t have a clue.”
Carol’s voice was shrill on the other end, “Are you working with the CIA?”
Bill stammered, “Wait, what?”
Darla turned back to Bill and said, “Please ask Ms. Lewis not to shoot our agent.”
Carol sounded insistent. “There’s a Frank Jones at your door. He claims he’s with the CIA. Do you know about this?”
Bill asked, “Why are you at my house? I thought you’d be at work.”
Carol answered, “I got laid off, so I thought I’d come over and check on things. Five minutes after I got here, some guy in sunglasses is telling me he’s CIA, and I have to leave.”
Bill said, “Hang on.”
He covered the receiver and asked Darla and Garcia, “How’d you know she’d be there.’
Garcia said, “Please,”
Darla interrupted, “Remember, CIA. We’ve been keeping track of Ms. Lewis since the attack. She was an early person of interest, but we cleared her.”
Bill’s eyes widened, “Person of interest? My admin?”
Darla turned and faced the front.
Carol’s voice sounded irritated, “Don’t put me on hold. I’m debating whether or not to shoot this guy.”
Bill’s voice rose an octave, “You have a gun?”
“Baby, I’m a black woman in the south, of course, I have a gun. Don’t worry, it’s legal.”
Bill took and deep breath and said, “He’s CIA. It’s about the office shooting. Please do what he asks.”
Carol’s voice grew quiet, “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
Bill answered, “No.”
“Are we in danger?” asked Carol.
Bill answered honestly, “Not if we listen to them.”
Carol sounded calmer. “Alright. You better call me later and tell me what’s going on.”
Bill replied, “When I figure it out myself, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Don’t make me call you.” Warned Carol.
“I won’t. I need to go.”
Bill hung up the phone. He looked out the window and noticed them passing the only Walmart in town. The car made a left on to highway four-twenty-one business, and they were soon puttering through downtown North Wilkesboro. Bill spoke up as the vehicle turned left on highway eighteen.
“We’re headed to the airport?”
Darla turned towards Bill. The surprise on her face lasted only a second. “How do you know that?”
Bill shrugged, “It makes sense. You said you flew here.”
Darla and Garcia looked at each other. Garcia asked, “Do a lot of people use this airport?”
“I don’t know. It’s not like it’s Charlotte Douglas.”
Darla’s posture relaxed, and the three sat in silence as they approached the airport. Bill could feel a knot forming in his stomach. He wiped his palms on his slacks as the SUV slowly made its way through the hangers. They pulled up next to a Honda Jet.
Bill asked, “Is he in the plane?”
Neither agent said a word. They exited the vehicle, and Garcia opened Bill’s door. Bill got out of the car.
Garcia pointed at the hanger’s small door, “Joshua’s in there. Darla will join you. I have an old friend to visit.”
“Who?” asked Bill.
“It’s need to know, and you don’t need to know.”
Bill stepped around the vehicle next to Darla, and Garcia got in and drove away.
Darla asked, “Nervous?”
“Yea. I don’t know. None of this makes sense.”
Darla placed her hand gently on Bill’s back, “Don’t worry. Joshua is one of the best men I’ve known. He’ll help you sort this out.”
Bill stood there. Darla pressed harder against his back, and he started making his way towards the closed door.