No More Swedish Meatballs Pt. 03byKrenna Smart©
Christmas melted into New Years along with the snow which had kept them happily occupied for almost two weeks. New Years Eve dawned with grey ominous clouds, but it was too warm to snow. "I guess it means school on Monday Lizzy said soberly to Kristen. Most of the sparkle of the season had disappeared with the snow.
"Yeah, winter," Kristen said sourly. Winter was the most hated part of the year. "I wonder what happened to that fake cop," Kristen said while she and Lizzy were getting ready for the Phillip's New Years Eve party.
"Mr. Phillips probably killed him and dumped him into the river," Lizzy said dramatically. "I can't believe you and Rita went into the city alone. You're lucky dad didn't kill you for that stunt."
"Might as well have. I'm grounded for a month. It just better not snow. I'm not staying in if there's sledding." Kristen had been given a blistering lecture by Karl on Christmas Day about her and Rita's "unthinking, reckless" trip into the city. He'd told Rita's parents about the trip and they weren't aloud to see each other except a school for the term of their commitment. Secretly Kristen thought she'd gotten off pretty easy. Thank God I'm too big for a spanking.
The glue of a common enemy stuck and, as a result of the Christmas Eve events the Hansen family had drawn even closer together. Years later upon reflection it seemed to Karl that the world's spin began to speed up after that Christmas. Before he knew it Ned was off to college leaving Rita behind with tears in her eyes. Then Lizzy entered nursing school and the Hansen mansion was almost empty. Kristen had her choice of bedrooms now. In only two more years Kristen would be flying out of the nest.
And memories of Evelyn were like ashes in the wind when the holidays came around. No one would say her name. It wasn't as if she never existed. It was like a superstition; trouble would come if your thoughts turned to Evelyn. But she was always there in the back of everyone's mind.
One day, for no particular reason, Karl showed Kristen the little room he had constructed on the sly in the basement after the eventful Christmas Eve. It nestled behind a set of bookshelves Karl built. It was a masterful job of concealment and the best carpentry work he'd ever done.
He made the room into a comfortable study and spent many hours there working on projects from work. There was a safe hidden under the massive desk in the back of the room. That's where he kept his important papers and bits and pieces of things he was working on. He kept office work in it which he'd bring out and puzzle over during weekends and holidays. He never talked about his work now that Ned was away at school.
Kristen didn't think about her father's work. She was caught up in her own life. She was a precocious teenager who had grown into her looks early. She had Nordic skin, soft and creamy in the winter and golden tan in the summertime. Her eyes were green and her hair was the color of butterscotch candy. She always thought of herself as average – average height, average weight, average hair color, average face. But in truth she was stunning. Her skin glowed and her eyes sparkled and her laughter drew people to her.
Time flew and a new decade began. Kristen started hanging around with a bunch of kids who put together a band. She had a great voice and ear for harmony. She became the band's lead singer and played at parties and dances around the area. Karl didn't mind. He thought it was good, clean fun. He dismissed most of what he read about teenagers going wild on drugs and sex and rock and roll. Kristen was a level headed, intelligent sixteen year old who brought home good grades. If she cut an occasional class or faked being sick a little too often it was counter balanced by how well she was doing in science and math.
So Kristen learned to skate by. If everything was pretty on the surface she was good to go. She breezed through her classes, did her homework in study hall and rushed off to the band the second the bell rang. She wasn't close to anyone. Rita was a lost cause – stuck in basketball practices and mooning over the football quarterback -- feelings for Ned long ago forgotten.
Kristen's band would play their ratty music for hours. The members would toke up a few joints to enhance their creativity and off they would fly on another questionable musical tangent.
It was late June of Kristen's junior year. She should have been at school but she faked a cold and stayed home. She hated school anyway. It was boring. And lying on the dumpy old couch watching TV games shows was better entertainment. That's what she was looking for. Entertainment. At that point in her life that's all she was looking for. 16 years old. And no boyfriend.
And her dad was always so secretive locked up in his office working late at night. That is on the nights he came home from work. On many nights word would come that "daddy's a little tied up at the office tonight." This day was a sweet gift. Just her "sick" on the couch and dad working in the den. It had never happened before.
It was always the sound of a motorcycle engine that took her back to her memories of the day she met Ryan. Oh God, sweet Ryan. He was so beautiful that day. So full of light, of life. He stepped into the room like a messenger from heaven and Kristen was so intent on "The Match Game" or whatever the hell it was on television that half hour she almost missed him. Almost.
She was lying flat out on her stomach with a couch cushion under her chin, wearing bell bottom blue jeans and some kind of pastel T shirt, wiggling her feet in the air and guessing the answers when he walked into the room. "Wrong," she said. "Shit. I'd 'of got that one right you ninny. Why the hell'd you marry him?" she said in disgust to the flickering television tube.
She jumped when he laughed. That's how they met. "Oh hi, who the heck are you?" she demanded of the man behind the laugh. Ryan was young then. Still part boy. A golden boy.
Kristen was embarrassed. She was caught off guard. There she was all sprawled out on the couch watching a no-brainer on TV when the man of her dreams walked into her life.
"Hi," Ryan said, :"I'm Ryan Peters, I'm looking for...." He paused and smiled, a little uncertain whether he was where he should be
Kristen was staring at him with mouth agape. He was so good looking. He had it all. At least that's what it looked like from her perspective on the couch. The late afternoon light was streaming in behind him, which added to the effect. He was basked in golden light. Perfect. That's how she always remembered him.
Ryan was a man of light. He was six foot two and a half, long and lean, with golden hair and sunny blue eyes that crinkled at the corners in later years just like the Hollywood stars they molded after him. He could have sold breakfast cereal.
"I'm sorry, I should have knocked. I could hear the TV so I knew someone was home. I ...." His voice trailed off as he watched Kristen try to go from little girl to teenage femme fatal in about eight seconds. She's a plucky one he thought. But dangerous.
Something connected between them. Kind of a zing in the air between them. They both felt it.
"That's okay." Kristen collected herself quickly. "You must be looking for my dad. He's working at home today. I'm Kristen, Hi." She reached out to shake his hand, hoping she looked older than she did. At that moment in time she wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe, drop dead gorgeous and with tits.
As he touched her hand there was a jolt. The sound of wind rushed in Kristen's ears and something deep inside her said I KNOW YOU. Kristen looked into Ryan's eyes, puzzled. I recognize you, something whispered. It was as if something turned in her mind. Things that had always seemed blurry were suddenly clear.
Ryan felt it too. Maybe more so. He dropped her hand almost like it had turned into something else. IT'S YOU. something said in his mind. "What?" Ryan said sharply. Then he took a good, long look at Kristen. Something deep inside of him recognized Kristen in a way Ryan never even recognized himself. The good part of him. That was Kristen, to him.
"My father's close by. I'll go get him. Why don't you have a seat, make yourself comfortable?"
"Okay," Ryan parked himself in the Lazy Boy across from the couch.
Kristen passed through the living room and the swinging doors leading to the kitchen. She called downstairs, "Dad, you have a visitor."
No response. Kristen went downstairs and knocked on the door to Karl's den. "Dad, there's someone here to see you."
Karl was lost in a project he'd brought home from work. He looked up, surprised. "Who is it?" he asked as Kristen opened the door.
""I don't know. Some guy."
"Some guy like a sales person?" Karl asked.
"I don't know."
"Oh. Tell him I'll be there in a minute. I have a couple of things to do before I can come up."
Kristen was pleased. She'd have him to herself for a few minutes. She took the basement stairs two at a time in her hurry to return to the living room.
"My father will be here in a few minutes," she announced. Can I get you anything? A drink. A whiskey? Or maybe a gin and tonic." Kristen was struggling to appear sophisticated. "They're so refreshing this time of year."
Ryan almost burst out laughing at Kristen's attempt to appear older and worldly. She's a cute little filly, he thought. All legs and eyes. He felt himself falling for her. It's ridiculous, he thought. She's a child and you're a grown man. But they weren't really that far apart in age. Only eight years. Eight years was a huge gap at that time of life but almost infinitesimal in later years.
Ryan let himself take measure of the precocious teenager in front of him. He didn't realize the impact his overt assessment of her attributes would have on her.
Kristen felt her heart lurch when Ryan took that good long look at her. She tried hard not to blush and did an admirable job keeping her composure.
"I'd love a gin and tonic," Ryan said grinning at her with his broad white smile.
"You would? Okay, great, gin and tonic coming up. I'll make a pitcher so you and dad can relax. Sure is hot today isn't It.?" Kristen felt like a babbling fool.
"Yeah. Very hot," Ryan agreed. The outside temperature had little to do with the heat in the living room at that moment.
Kristen's face was bright red by the time she pulled herself away and headed for the kitchen. She mixed a batch of gin and tonics using the measurements she'd seen her mother use. Two parts tonic and one part gin plus a lot of ice. She mixed the drinks in the old crystal pitcher they never used anymore. She poured herself a sample to be sure she'd got it right. The drink brought even more color to her face. To cool herself down she set about making finger sandwiches. She was almost through with her task when Karl came upstairs.
"He's in the living room. I've made some refreshments," Kristen said.
Karl looked at his daughter. "Are you alright? You look a little flushed."
"I'm fine. I'll bring this stuff out in a minute."
Karl shrugged and went on into the living room. Kristen made a bee-line to the powder room to dash water on her face and put a little tooth paste on her tongue. She didn't want her father to know she'd sampled the drinks.
Karl entered the living room expecting to find a sales person. His brow went down in a V shaped showing his puzzlement at finding an agent in his living room. For clearly that's what Ryan was.
Ryan wasn't received with the same warmth by the father as he had been by Kristen. Ryan could see traces of Kristen in Karl's face and comportment. He stood and offered Karl his hand. "Hi, I'm Ryan Peters. I take it you're Karl Hansen?"
Karl took the proffered hand reluctantly. "That's right. What can I do for you?"
Ryan took measure of Karl. "So you're the problem solver I've heard so much about. Karl had shrunk into himself over the past four years. His hair and mustache had silvered and he'd become somewhat stooped. But he was still very fit from yard work and carpentry.
"Do you have a problem that needs solving?" he asked suspiciously.
Kristen entered the room with a tray containing the drinks and snacks. She'd decided to play hostess hoping to find out who Ryan was and what he wanted with her father. "Don't mind me," she said as she poured a couple of drinks from the pitcher. Karl gave her a look which said 'this is none of your business.'
Kristen got the message. "I'll be on the side porch if you need me." Rats, she thought, I really want to know what's going on. I'm not a child she simmered. But in truth she just wanted to be near Ryan. Who is he?"
Ryan picked up his drink and took a long pull. That kid really knows how to fix a drink, he thought as the fiery liquid coursed through his blood stream.
Karl took a sip and almost choked. I'm going to have to teach her how to mix drinks. What'd she do, pour the whole bottle of gin in here?" I take it you're from the company," he said after he caught his breath. "Look, I told them I need to work on this project alone at home. They said okay. It's coming along but it's going to take a little more time. It will be done when it's done. That's all I have to say."
Ryan looked Karl in the eye. "I'm not here about your project."
"So, what's this about?" Karl asked.
"Why don't we take a walk? I'm not sure this room is secure."
"What do you mean?"
"Humor me," Ryan said cryptically.
"I don't know who you are. Why should I trust you?"
"You trust Jim Phillips, don't you?"
"Okay, let's take a walk. Kristen," Karl yelled towards the side porch, "Mr. Peters and I are going out for a few minutes." He led the way to the front door.
They walked out into the warm June sunlight. It was late afternoon. The sun was making its way westward and there was a hint of evening in the air. They headed up the hill towards the O'Leary's house and the sharp decline that had provided so many wonderful hours of winter fun. Karl wished it was winter and he was walking with his kids for an evening of sledding. He hated the spy games. They'd given him nothing but trouble over the years. He sensed something was up and was not at all happy about it.
"So, what brings you here?" Karl said to get the conversation started.
Ryan took a deep breath. It was important that Karl really listen and accept what he was about to hear.
"I work for a group called the Guardians. I'm here to tell you that your work is in danger."
"Guardians," Karl said skeptically. "What do you guard?"
We follow the Company and another gang you came into contact with a few years ago. The Cabal., Quietly."
"You monitor both groups. Why? And why the cloak and dagger stuff? The Company's on the up and up. They've kept me clear of the Cabal all these years."
"The Cabal and the Company are two sides of a coin. They're fighting each other at present but both are working towards the same goal. As far as they're concerned it's just a matter of which one will sit at the head of the table at the end of the battle."
"And what goal might they be after?" Karl asked with a hint of a sneer in his voice.
"The construction of a 'New World Order.'" Ryan said heavily. "An order where white supremacists rule. They've been working towards this end for longer than you can imagine. They were given a hard hit when Hitler fell, but they're like a hydra. One head was cut off and two new ones appeared."
Karl felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. He'd run across the term before. Neo Nazi's, white supremacists, fascists. A skunk by any name smelled foul.
"So I'm supposed to take your word for it. What do you want from me? Are you asking me to change allegiance based on your word. Hell, I don't know you from Adam. For all I know the Cabal sent you."
"I'm not from the Cabal." The two men stopped walking. Ryan looked Karl in the eye. He was surprisingly self-composed for such a young man. "You've been badly burned. I know that. Evelyn and Max used you badly. But you trust Jim and you can trust me."
"How do I know I can trust you?"
"Here," Ryan handed Karl a letter. It was from Jim. Karl knew his handwriting. The letter explained a lot of what Ryan had been telling him."
"So why didn't Jim just come out and tell me this?" Karl wanted to know.
"He can't. He's buried too deeply. Things are changing. A lot is happening very quickly. We need to get you out of the Company."
"What do you mean?"
Ryan pulled a thick envelope out of his jean jacket. "Look, you're working on some very sensitive projects. Projects the Cabal and the Company are fighting over. A couple of scientists have already disappeared. Here," he handed Karl a thick package. "This explains everything."
They had come to a path at the bottom of the hill leading into the woods. "Read this. I'll let you come to your own conclusions."
"So I'm going to disappear? Just like that? What about Kristen? And Ned and Elizabeth?"
"Actually, what we'd like to do is stage your death. Your kids will be a lot safer than they are now."
"What do you mean," Karl asked, his chest tight with fear."
"They're pawns now. If you're dead the Cabal and the Company will lose interest in them."
"Is this really necessary?" Karl asked, desperate for a way out. "I mean, I've been working for the Company for so long…."
"Jim's been our access to your work. Every day you stay with the Company he's endangered."
"Christ. So what will happen to my kids? Kristen's only 16. What happens to her?"
"We'll take good care of her. She's smart. She's ready for college. We have a place for her. The others will stay where they are. They'll be protected. You have my promise."
"I don't know. I need time to digest all this – and read this" – he gave the envelope a shake. "I can't give you an answer tonight."
"You have to. Time is running out."
Their walk through the woods ended at the old Boy Scout cabin where Kristen and Rita used to play. Karl took a look around and found an old picnic table to sit on. "It's going to take me a while to go through all this. I don't want you hovering over me while if read this stuff. Go back to the house. I'll join you in a while.
Ryan sighed. "Alright. How 'bout if I take Kristen out to dinner? I don't want to sit around staring at the furniture. And I don't want to drink any more of those gin and tonics. Where'd she get that recipe, anyway?" he said with a laugh.
Karl joined in the laughter. "She must have watched her mother fixing drinks. Evelyn likes a good stiff drink." He didn't want to trust Ryan with his daughter. But he didn't like the thought of Ryan having unhindered access to his home either. Dinner was probably a good idea. "Okay. Take her out to dinner but if anything happens to her…."
"Don't worry. Maybe you should write her a note. Let her know it's okay for me to take her out." He offered Karl a pen. Karl tore off part of the envelope and scribbled a short note telling Kristen it was alright for her to go out to dinner with Ryan.
Karl handed Ryan the note. "Take good care of her. I don't want her hurt."
"Don't worry, I'm good with kids."
Karl was relieved to hear Ryan call Kristen a kid. He'd seen the impact the young man had on Kristen and didn't like it. Karl wanted to keep her a kid for a few more years. Hell, he thought, if things are as Peters says I won't get to see her grow up. God I hate this. I'd like to grab her and make a run for Canada. But that wouldn't resolve anything. Karl felt like he was a thousand years old. He opened the envelope and started reading. He didn't even hear Ryan leave, so immersed he was in the information contained in the package. He almost broke down when he got to the part about Evelyn's death. He wondered how they got their information. Jesus. Wheels, within wheels, within wheels. I thought I knew Jim. And Hurst – I thought he was a stand up sort of guy.