Behind Blue Eyes

byTodd172©

Somehow at the next stop we not only bought down comforters and pajamas, but a foot-tall battery-powered Christmas tree ended up clamped to our little dining table.

She seemed a little dreamy after that - she'd been cooperative about the whole thing, but the Grand Canyon was obviously important to her. I got the impression it symbolized something, something she'd lost maybe.

She was a little quieter. Almost shy.

We didn't really discuss anything serious for several days after that - sticking to harmless subjects and meaningless trivia. Still, things felt more comfortable than I'd have thought they could.

Until we ran to central Illinois for a hamburger.

It was called Moonshine Diner. I'm not even sure where we heard of it, but it was supposed to serve amazing burgers. And they are really good. Maybe not quite as good as the hype, but just finding the place in the maze of country roads makes it success.

Exactly the sort of meaningless side trip that would kill time and fit our "two hippie road trip" cover story.

Get there before 1230, though - that's when the grill gets turned off and you're relegated to cold sandwiches.

Which is why we had to spend the night at a mostly empty campground so we could be on time to get lunch the next day.

Central Illinois in the winter time is not exactly camper friendly. The wind almost never stops. There's just nothing to really slow it down. No hills, no ridges, nothing but bare, open fields from horizon to horizon. Just a few sparse lines of mostly barren trees separating endless bare fields. Even in a solid house, the sound and feel of the wind sneaks through.

In a 1970 RV camper, you feel every bit of it.

We'd already turned in, as usual, facing away from each other, each covered with one of the comforters, our Great Wall of Pillows separating us.

The camper seemed to shiver and tremble as the wind stepped up its effort.

I heard her shift a little.

"I'm cold."

The camper shuddered at a harder gust and she began to pull pillows from The Wall to insulate her side of the camper.

The wind kept coming, rocking the camper a little. The chill seemed to settle deeper over us.

After a moment she sat up.

"Ken, we're both adults and you've been more than accommodating to my... concerns. Maybe tonight, we can just pile our comforters on top of each other and sleep back to back?"

I agreed and we settled in with her back pressed firmly to mine.

The next morning was a bit trickier. We woke up at the same time. At some point we'd rearranged ourselves and ended up with me on my back, my arm around her, as she nestled into my side with one hand gripping my shirt.

I couldn't imagine sleeping so heavily I wouldn't have noticed our rearrangement, but it had obviously happened.

We untangled ourselves slowly and wordlessly; from the bemused look on her face, she was as surprised as I was.

She ventured a comment in a wry tone. "I must finally be developing Stockholm Syndrome."

"If it helps any, I don't plan on robbing any banks in the near future."

She sat on the corner of the bed and looked over at me thoughtfully.

"So what is our plan?"

"'Our' plan?"

"Stockholm Syndrome, remember?"

I considered her for a long second. "No real harm in telling you. You've never been the 'stay-at-home-mom." She winced at that, but I continued on "Most of your stuff is on automatic, but you do sit on some boards and cast votes. Important boards, substantial votes, even when Reinhardt is present. Unless I miss my guess, Reinhardt can't vote for you."

I paused until she nodded slowly.

"So if you don't show up at the meetings, what happens? Odds are, if you're incapacitated or dead, someone will pick up the proxies, but if there's proof of life coming out periodically, it'll make things complicated. It'll add uncertainty to decisions, put off long term plans. All of that will impact Reinhardt's bottom line. Over the long term it will cost him enough to provoke a response."

"It's not like he'll come for you himself, he has people for that. People like you."

"They won't be coming for me at all. They'll be coming for you."

Her eyes widened slightly at that. She'd started to feel that we were allies of sorts, maybe; maybe a real touch of Stockholm Syndrome. I shook my head to forestall a response.

"He won't get to you. I'm choosing the battlefield, and unless we do something really stupid, he won't be aware there is a battle until it's too late."

"So, I'm bait?" a hint of suppressed disbelief, coupled with a weariness that seemed deep and profound.

"Partly. Mostly, at first, but now I'm starting to hope you might be an ally. Maybe even a partner."

She looked down meditatively, "Are you going to kill him?"

"If everything goes right. But I want to hurt him first, make him feel some of the pain he's inflicted on so many people."

She stood up wordlessly, picked up her clothes and went to change in the tiny bathroom.

By the time she reappeared, I'd changed and poured two cups of coffee.

She stood staring at me for a long moment.

"If you want cooperation, I have conditions."

"You still don't get the whole 'kidnap victim' role."

She didn't bat an eye; this was the woman who'd stared down boards of directors repeatedly, much more the person I'd expected her to be when I met her. "I know ways to hurt him you haven't even considered."

I could respect that. "What do I get in exchange?"

Her clear blue eyes seemed to radiate ice and cold. She ignored my question. "Emma and her family. He'll lash out at them to get to me. If we do this, I want them where he can't get to them."

"Moving them would be too obvious. But I can put real protection on them, call in some markers. If Hawthorne is as fond of her as you say, she'll probably help. If not, I can force her."

She didn't ask, but raised one eyebrow in question.

"I have video of her killing an official in that Macau raid. One of my snipers got it on gun camera when she stepped on him. He deserved it, but that won't matter, he wasn't actually attacking her. I'd rather not use it though."

Blackmailing the Deputy Director of the FBI should always be used as a last resort. Nobody gets to that position as a delicate wilting flower. And I'd reviewed that video; she hadn't hesitated at all. I doubted she'd mellowed that much.

She shook her head and reached past me to pick up her cup of coffee. "Maria warned me you'd be ruthless."

We drifted over to the little table. "I'll take that as a compliment from her."

"You're sure you can find people to protect them?"

"One of my former team members runs a private security firm. He owes me a favor."

I'd passed Kurt lots of small contracts after he'd left the Army and started his firm. He wouldn't mind more business. Katie would probably be a little less ambivalent about it, but she was a pretty practical girl.

Evie traced a random pattern on the table to next to the Christmas tree.

"Erich isn't just about money, his weakness is his pride." She seemed to come to a decision. "It's also what makes him dangerous. That's why I'm here, really."

My turn to raise an eyebrow. "Really? I distinctly remember kidnapping you at gunpoint a few weeks ago."

"And if I hadn't already decided to talk to you, maybe work with you, Maria would have had a team there. Maybe they'd have gotten you, maybe not; Michael said you're good enough that it wouldn't be a sure thing. But, either way, I wouldn't be here."

True enough. "So why?"

"My grandchildren. And Emma. Erich will go after them eventually, especially if something happens to me. Emma defied him, did what nobody else has ever done. She told him to fuck off and take his money with him. He is patient, but not forgiving. Never forgiving. He'll never let that go."

"And you've protected her."

"I've been the only one that could. Until now, all I could do was be a shield for them and wait for him to act. Shields aren't the best weapons." She fixed me with her suddenly icy eyes and I knew what she was about to say.

"I needed a sword."

I got up and refilled our coffee to buy myself time. It made sense. I hadn't known about Emma's rebellion until Evie told me. After that, I'd assumed Evie was offering herself as a martyr just to protect her grandchildren from me. But in her eyes, I was a minor evil, hardly a monster at all. She'd been married to a real one for decades. And with Hawthorne's input, she'd just realized how dangerous he was.

I sat back down with our coffee. "So, partners."

She smiled a grim little smile and reached across the table to grip my hand lightly. "Partners."

We headed over to get our special burgers.

***

We headed toward Dallas where Kurt's firm was headquartered. A quick stop at a McDonald's, to Evie's suppressed chagrin. She knew we needed access to Wi-Fi, so she didn't complain. At least not out loud.

I just ordered a couple coffees though and waited for the reply to my dinner invite. It didn't take long. While it was tentatively positive, I had the feeling Katie wrote it.

There was a cold undercurrent to the email that was completely unlike Kurt.

That evening, when we stopped, we ended up laying down back to back again.

"Ken?"

"Yeah?"

"I didn't choose any of this. I was born into it."

"That's pretty much what I thought."

"I wasn't like Emma, I wasn't strong enough to fight back."

"Did you even want to?"

"For a while... but it just seemed impossible to even begin."

"Tough life."

"Don't be condescending. I didn't get to choose anything. The one time I tried..."

He voice trailed off.

"What happened?"

"I was seeing a guy, Nick. He seemed perfect. Until he disappeared. I thought my parents approved. He was a Yale educated lawyer and came from a well-connected family. We were planning on going to hike the Grand Canyon, and he just didn't show up."

That at least explained that.

She sighed. "My father had a talk with his father, and they decided that that both families would benefit if we parted ways. My family had been approached by Erich's father about a match. Like some 17th century royal family. Father made it clear to me that it wasn't optional."

"You could have walked away."

"From everything. I'd have lost everything. Nobody ever said it outright, but it was clear. Money, privilege, status. Like I said. I'm not Emma. She has Erich's willpower. I didn't."

I smiled to myself. "That's changed."

"I suppose it has. But it's a bit late."

"So, whatever happened to the other guy?"

"He found someone else and married in less than six month. About three months before my family was joined to House Reinhardt. I guess I thought he'd pine for me for years. That killed any romantic notions about life I might have had."

She grew quiet for a while, then nestled back against me a bit harder. "I wanted it to be something it wasn't - you know the old love stories where the two people who have nothing in common are forced together against their will and eventually fall in love? It started off just like that - we disliked each other on sight. But it never got better."

"Just not right for each other, huh."

She laughed, a single sardonic, soft bark of a laugh. "He tolerates two types of women. The weak little submissive girls he can - and does - force to do the vilest, most degrading things. And the hardest, lowest, most experienced, and crudest street whores he can find. They reinforce everything he already believes about women."

"Must have burned him to have a daughter."

"My second, unintentional, act of defiance. My first had been to refuse to take his family name. My third was to refuse him another child, after he gave me gonorrhea."

"I can see that would be a problem. But people get over infidelity all the time."

"Infidelity wasn't the issue. He never promised fidelity, and frankly, after meeting him, I didn't expect it of him. We lived separate lives, our marriage was almost strictly a financial arrangement, but I agreed to two children. After the disease, I refused him another child. We'd had trouble conceiving and I'd been tested over and over again. He'd never consider that he might be the problem. I paid - very dearly - for the privilege of viewing his medical records. Emma was almost literally a miracle."

"Are you certain that she really is his."

"Fair question. I wasn't as bad as he was, but I had my share of very discrete liaisons. Still, I was careful, and Erich had her tested to be sure. Trust was, for obvious reasons, in short supply."

"Any bastard Reinhardts running around?"

"No, thank God. I've kept a very close eye on that."

"So, I'd guess that brings us to his third weakness. Money, Pride. Now his Legacy."

"How did you know?"

"Seriously? Hundreds of years of Reinhardt merchants growing Reinhardt IG, a demand for two children? His fury over Emma? I don't have to turn that over to the G-2 to figure it out. Legacy is important to people like that. If Emma has completely rejected him, what can he do?"

"I'm not sure. I know he's started to depend on the Board itself to reinforce him. The bloodline is important to him though, he may have designs on Ellie."

She spoke with perfect control, perfect volume, the cadence never wavered; but underneath it, her fear coiled waiting like a venomous snake.

She was terrified.

It was quiet after that and I felt her slip off to sleep behind me; she'd voiced her fears, made them easier to deal with.

But my nightmares had just gotten far worse. I'd very nearly handed the Reinhardt exactly what he wanted. If I'd killed Evelyn, Emma and Emma's husband, it'd have left him the guardian of the girls. They were innocents, and despite my threats, I doubted I could kill them. With no parents they'd have been easy to shape. He could have used their anger at my actions to turn them into whatever he wanted. He'd have had three of them, three Reinhardts to work with; certainly one of them would become what he wanted them to be.

I needed to revise my plan. Long term suffering just couldn't be in the cards. Too many variables, too much chance. He needed to feel the pain, loss and hopelessness, but he couldn't be left alive.

We never really talked about it, but the pillow wall never went back up between us. And as we retreated south from the cold, we just kept sharing a single blanket.

***

I never had any intention of actually entering Dallas. Maneuvering the camper through Dallas traffic wouldn't have been appealing at the best of times. More importantly, cities are covered with cameras - bank cameras, store cameras, traffic cameras.

So I'd arranged to meet Kurt at a steakhouse several miles out of town.

As I expected, expected Katie showed up with him. Kurt had let me know that she ran the business side of the firm; I was more than a little certain she didn't trust me at all. Not that I blamed her.

She kept her expression carefully blank as the two of them walked over to the table. Kurt scanned the restaurant with a professional eye.

He seated Katie opposite Evie, then sat down. A curiously old-fashioned gesture for his generation. I'd done the same for Evie, but that was a little less unusual for our generation.

"Colonel."

"I wasn't sure you'd show." I nodded over to Katie.

Katie gave an utterly plastic smile. "Business is business."

Like I said, practical girl.

Kurt gave a slight smile. "How's Pogo?"

"Married."

Both Kurt and Katie jolted at that. Pogo - Sergeant Major Godek - had been the perennial bachelor forever.

Katie stared in absolute shock. "Seriously, what girl would be crazy enough to..."

Kurt put his hand over hers with a soft smile. "Katie."

She slouched back in her chair just a bit. She'd obviously been demonizing us over the last few years. We probably deserved some of it, but Kurt was what he was. We'd just harnessed it. Maybe a little too long.

Evie watched the whole exchange with fascination.

Katie restarted. "So who's the lucky girl?"

"He met her on leave about 15 years ago or so."

Kurt shook his head. "I ran into him about 10 years ago and he never mentioned her. "

I shrugged. "It's a long story. She was tied up for about a dozen years before they managed to really get together."

Katie gave a sardonic smile "You make it sound like she was in prison."

"Not quite." But not far off either. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to go into.

Fortunately a waiter arrived to take orders, forestalling any further discussion. And when we picked back up, it was back to business.

Katie's plastic smile disappeared. "So what can K2 Executive Services do for you?"

Kurt pulled out a notepad.

"We need a long term protective detail on a family."

"How long term? And what kind of detail?"

"A year, maybe more. Full package; drivers, panic buttons, armed escort. I think the father is capable of protecting himself, the mother will probably have an official - or at least unofficial fed with her. So primarily the home and three children."

"We'll have to recruit. I can put a three man detail on them immediately; it will have to expand it to six, but this is going to be pricy."

Evie leaned forward, locking eyes with them. "There is no such thing as too expensive on this. Make it twelve men if you have to. Twenty. Buy armored cars."

Katie gave her a soothing smile, she'd obviously dealt with concerned customers before. "The cost for a six man team is nearly 800 thousand a year, and that's just the baseline man-hours and overhead."

Evie turned toward me. "Did you bring your tablet?"

I handed it to her after checking to see that the restaurant had Wi-Fi.

She tapped rapidly on the tablet. "What bank do you accept payment at? And do they have your cell number?"

Katie gave her the name.

"You should be getting a call soon."

"Banks are closed."

"For some things, banks are never closed."

Katie gave her the kind of look you save for the dangerously unbalanced just as the salads started to arrive.

Her phone rang a few minutes later. She talked quietly for a few minutes then checked something on her smartphone. Her face went very grim.

"Who the hell are you, and tell me why we shouldn't be running for the door right now."

"A very concerned grandmother. I just need my grandchildren protected at all costs."

"Why us? We're a small firm, you can afford Cass Global or Clark International. They may be better suited..."

"But Ken doesn't know them. He knows you and assures me you can do this."

I think Katie was seriously considering stabbing me with her steak knife. But she kept glancing at her cell phone - undoubtedly at their business bank balance.

I pulled my own memo pad out, and opened it to the list I'd written up on the way.

I passed it to Kurt.

"All the former team members who might be available. The red stars owe me favors."

Kurt glanced over the list "Hollywood... Needles... "he paused and looked up at me "You sure about him?"

"You see that hideous camper on your way in?"

"Seriously. The Deadhead Express out there?" He seemed to really notice Evie's tie dye blouse for the first time and broke into a grin. "Still has that warped sense of humor."

Katie leaned over and looked at the list. "That's an awful lot of favors. But with the money your lady here just dropped into our account, we can make it worth their time anyway." Then she looked at Evie. "You have a personal banker who was willing to call the president of our bank direct?"

"No, I have a personal bank. I'm the only customer." She paused, "Actually, I own five banks, but I trust one more than the others."

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