Normally 5AM is too early to get up, but I’ve always been an early riser. Plus, not being able to sleep at night doesn’t help either. The nightmares continue to haunt me, so it’s easy for me to look forward to the mornings. And besides, I’m getting a new agent to follow me around today.
Yay! Not. I’d like to say he’s got to be better than the last one, but I don’t want to jinx it.
I get up, make my bed, and get my clothes ready for the day. I keep it simple: light blue jeans, a white button-up shirt, and a dark gray sweater with sleeves that seem too long—but I like them that way. I tend to hold on to the cuffs; I think it’s a security thing. I pull my hair into a ponytail, grab my books, and pad downstairs to the kitchen.
One of the things I like about being up so early is the quiet stillness of the house. No commotion and no noise. It’s one of the rare times I can just enjoy some amount of peace. Everything is usually so hectic throughout the day. This morning, my parents are already up and sitting in the kitchen. I hear them talking but I also hear another voice. A man’s voice. A familiar voice.
“Good morning, Miss Hart.” It’s Hecht. That just ruined my morning.
“It was,” I say lazily. “So when is the new agent supposed to be here?”
“Shortly. He’s on the way.”
“So,” my dad cuts in, “is there any new developments in the investigation, Agent Hecht?”
“Nothing so far, Mr. Hart. Things seem to be fairly quiet right now. Don’t worry, we’ll catch them—“he looks directly at me“—one way or another.” He smiles.
I really hate this guy.
I roll my eyes, turn, and leave the room. I sit on the couch in the living room. The news is on the TV. I watch the weather person going through his motions of today’s forecast, but I don’t hear a word he’s saying. My thoughts are on John: missing him; wondering what he’s doing and where he’s at; hoping he’s safe; and wishing I could see him again.
After several minutes, I hear my parents and Hecht get up from the kitchen table. I see them walking out towards the front door, Hecht leading the threesome.
“What’s going on?” I ask. My heart starts beating a little harder.
“They’re here,” Hecht says without looking at me.
“Really? I didn’t hear the—“and the doorbell rings, cutting me off.
I mute the TV and walk towards the foyer. Hecht opens the door—like it’s his house—and in walks this very large man. He looks to be in his late 40s with salt-and-pepper colored hair that’s in a buzz cut, and he’s built like a tank. I don’t mean muscular; he’s not overweight but just has a very large frame. He looks like he could lift a small car if he really wanted to. Black and gray stubble line his squared jaw, and his hazel eyes survey the room taking in all the details. A serious expression seems like a permanent fixture on his face. As he and Hecht shake hands, I notice how large his hands are. One hand could probably cover my entire face with ease.
I hope this is not the new agent! I look over at Hecht and he’s just grinning at me like, you asked for it.
Hecht looks to my parents and introduces the man as Detective Will Murphy. He says Murphy was responsible for making sure the new agent arrived here without any problems.
Whew, he’s NOT the one. A wave a relief surges over me.
“So, where is he at?” Hecht asks looking behind Murphy.
Murphy huffs a short laugh. “She’s coming,” Murphy says emphasizing the she.
“She?” Hecht straightens up and says almost in growl, “What happened to McBane?”
“Palmer sent someone else instead.”
“Palmer….” Hecht looks down at the ground shaking his head. “I don’t like it when those boys get involved in my investigations.” Hecht sighs. “Who did Palmer send over?”
Murphy gives a crooked smile and raises an eyebrow as if saying, take a guess.
At that moment, we hear footsteps coming up the porch. All of us turn our attention to the door and in walks in a tall woman wearing white Nike running shoes and a purple warm-up suit with white pinstripes down the sides. She has an athletic build, her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she looks like she just finished running. She takes her pulse and looks at her watch as she walks through the door. No one says a word—not even Hecht. He just looks at her—no, he glares at her. Apparently they know each other. She stops in the foyer and continues taking her pulse. After a few seconds, she finally looks up.
“Good morning,” she says. “How’s everyone doing?” She smiles, a very warm and welcoming smile.
Agent Hecht clears his throat and begins the introductions. He turns to my parents, “Mr. and Mrs. Hart,” he turns to me and narrows his eyes, “Miss Hart,” and he turns to the female agent, “this is Agent Gloria Ducei.” We shake hands.
Agent Gloria— what?
“I’m sorry. What was that last name again?” my mom asks.
“Ducei,” Hecht replies effortlessly like it’s not a big deal.
My mom and I share the same expression: How do you say that?
The female agent sees our expressions and gives a slight laugh. “It’s Ducei … like saying ‘do’ and ‘sigh’ together: Ducei. But you can call me Gloria,” she finally says.
“Is that French or something?” my mom asks.
“It’s….” Gloria pauses. “It is a foreign name.”
Hecht cuts his eyes over at Gloria then looks at me. “Agent Ducei is assigned to you now, Miss Hart … and there will not be anymore changes. Understood?”
“You’re in charge,” I say, a smirk on my face and a slightly sarcastic tone. I peek over at Gloria as she gives me an approving smile.
“Well,” Gloria cuts in, “now that the introductions are out-of-the-way, I’ll be back at seven to officially start the day.” She turns to head out the door.
“Agent Ducei,” Hecht cuts in, obviously annoyed by her self-dismissal. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I am going to run back to the motel, shower, and change clothes. You don’t want me working in this, right?” She holds her arms out displaying her warm-up suit. Her tone is direct but not disrespectful. “Besides, I don’t officially start until 7AM … that gives me another hour.” She turns, steps around Murphy, and jogs out the door and down the street. She doesn’t even wait for Hecht to say anything else. She just leaves. I’m beginning to like her already.
Hecht clears his throat again, “Yes, Agent Ducei will be back at seven to pick you up.” He looks directly at me.
“Pick me up?” I ask. “Why? I normally drive to school.”
“After your little stunt with Agent Tatum, I don’t think so. Agent Ducei will be driving you from now on.” He puts his hand up, stopping me before I can say anything else. “It’s not a request and it’s not up for discussion, Miss Hart. Get used to it.” He nods to my parents and then gestures to Murphy that it’s time to go. They turn and head out the door.
Something tells me Hecht doesn’t like Gloria for some reason. At least she’s not another Tatum or Murphy.
At 6:45AM, the doorbell rings; it’s Gloria. In place of her warm-up suit, she now wears: black, low-cut boots, dark slacks, a beige top with a low-cut neckline, and a lightweight beige jacket that barely conceals the gun and holster attached to her belt. Her auburn hair falls in loose curls to the middle of her back. A modest amount of make-up, sharp eyebrows, and a slightly elongated face add to her already attractive image.
I always thought they only looked like that in the movies. I now stand corrected. Gloria looks like she just stepped off the silver screen.
“Sorry for being early,” she says. “We can wait a little while to leave if you want to.”
“No, that’s okay,” I say. “We can go now. It takes about 20 minutes or so to get there.”
“Sounds good.” She smiles, a warm friendly smile. “Ready when you are.”
I grab my books and follow her out the door. We climb in the standard-government-issued black SUV. I ask her if she knows the way; she does. After riding in silence for a few minutes, I feel like I should make conversation.
“So, Agent … Ducei? Did I say that right?” I ask, making small talk.
“You got it,” she says with an approving smile.
“That’s actually kind of cool. I like it,” I add.
She laughs. “Thanks. I like it too.”
“What’s up with Hecht anyways?” I ask. “He doesn’t seem to like you very much.” I don’t know why I blurted that out. But she didn’t seem affected by the thought of it.
“He doesn’t,” she says flatly. “Sometimes I think Hecht is a different breed of his own. Unfortunately, we’ve worked together on similar cases before.”
“Who’s Palmer?” I ask. Again, the words roll off my tongue before I realize what I’m saying. She just seems so easy to talk to.
“Who?” she asks. “Where’d you hear that name?”
I suddenly feel like I’ve overstepped my boundaries. I reluctantly say, “Oh … I um … heard Detective Murphy say it. He said Palmer sent you. And it sounded like Hecht doesn’t care for him very much either.”
She smiles like this thought is funny. “Palmer is my boss. We’re in…” she pauses for a moment. “We’re in a different section than Hecht. And no, he doesn’t care for Palmer at all.”
Different section? What kind of section?
I get ready to ask about it, but Gloria says, “Is it okay if I just drop you off at the front of the school?”
The question catches me off-guard.
“Oh, um … you’re not coming inside with me?” I sound like a first-grader going to class without my mom.
“No,” she laughs. “I have some things to take care of. You’ll be okay, right?”
“Sure. Yeah, I’ll be fine. I just thought … since the other agent….”
“Sarah,” she looks at me. “I don’t need to shadow you everywhere you go.” There’s that friendly smile again. “I’m not Tatum, and I’m certainly not Hecht. I’m sure you’ll be fine at school.”
I still want to ask what she meant by “different section”, but I keep the conversation on something else.
“So, where are you from?” I ask. “You said ‘Ducei’ was foreign.”
“For the most part, I’m fromSoutheast Asia. I tend to move around a lot.”
For a brief moment, I notice a quick glimpse of sadness in her eyes. But that changes as we near the school. Now the sadness is in my eyes.
“Here we are.” Gloria says, pulling up to the front of the school. She notices my changed expression. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“School hasn’t been the greatest place in the world for me right now. The other students are relentless at reminding me what kind of person they think John is. It hasn’t been easy.”
“Since when has high school ever been easy?” she asks, trying to cheer me up.
“Besides, they can have their opinions. You know the truth, right?”
I smile. I know she’s right.
“You got this, Sarah,” she says. “I’ll be back this afternoon to pick you up. Here’s my number”—she hands me her card with a hand-written number on the back—“if you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to call.”
After I thank her, I climb out of the SUV and head to my first class.
For the most part, the rest of the day is uneventful. Despite the usual snickering and evil stares by the other students, the day isn’t that bad. I am just thankful I don’t have a creepy guy following me all over the school. Although, I will miss making Tatum run after me during gym class. I couldn’t do that with Gloria. She’d probably run laps around me. I still can’t get over her nonchalant attitude when dealing with Hecht. That in itself makes me like her all the more.
At lunch, I sit with Emily and Mark—as usual. They are really the only friends I have at this school. Mark knows the truth about John, so it’s not a surprise that he would still talk to me. Emily still doesn’t know and still stays at my side. Now that’s a true friend. Everyone else still treats me like a disease—even the ones that were my friends before everything happened. I guess this really shows whom I can really rely on.
After school, Gloria picks me up at the front of the school—right on time too. She asks about my day, and I tell her about the good things—which aren’t much, but I avoid the negative things. I want to ask her what she did all day, but she probably wouldn’t tell me. Instead, I make small talk; I ask about her job, her interests, and the places she’s been. She’s really free to talk about those things which set me at ease. She’s very easy to talk to.
The next two days are the same: Gloria drops me off at school; she does her thing while I’m at school; she picks me up—right on time; and we ride home and talk the whole way. We talk about everything—well, almost everything. And we talk about nothing.
In the three days I’ve spent with Gloria, she feels more like a friend than an agent who’s been assigned to me. I still don’t understand why I need someone following and watching me all the time. I assume by now the FBI’s interest in me would’ve died down. But it hasn’t. For some strange reason, it seems like they think John might come back to Paradise. And it almost feels like I’m the bait. And there hasn’t been any breaking news that involves John, Sam or Six.
Maybe they’re long gone by now. Maybe they’re out of the country. Maybe the Mogs….
I shake that thought from my mind before it takes hold. I refuse to believe anything close to that.
But … if the Mogs did get to them, how would I even know?
A cold shiver runs down my spine. It’s thoughts like these that keep me up at night.
“Don’t give up hope just yet,” I tell myself out loud sometimes. Those were Henri’s words to John once….
Now they’re mine.