tagRomanceThe Perfect Pieces Ch. 12

The Perfect Pieces Ch. 12

byDreamCloud©

Author's note: Chapter 12 of 13. Thank you Tim413413 for selfless editing.

The Perfect Pieces - Chapter 12

You know your life is right when everyone in it is happy. That is not a difficult thing to accomplish when you don't have many people in your life. After nearly a year at school, Lizzy was fully settled in. I had lost my office and gained a happy girl. She negotiated more than bunk beds, and I truly feared her entering high school. We were the strangest and happiest family you would ever want to meet. That is how I saw us now. A family. We didn't seem to need the paperwork that satisfies most people. The school easily treated me like a father, even though I was listed as a legal guardian. They didn't care as long as Amber and I put in some time once in awhile.

Something broke in Amber and she began telling me everything. I had to get her to stop. Some things I was better off not knowing. It was just nice that trust was in full effect. Lizzy treated me like a father, but always called me Mark. It worked best that way. I wasn't exactly father material, but I wanted to be able to put my foot down if I thought she was doing something stupid. Luckily, she wasn't a stupid girl.

We were a little on the doting side. I guess that comes from there only being one child. I could have made her ride the bus. Instead, we took turns driving her. It cut her trip down by fifteen minutes and gave us time to talk together without competing with Nickelodeon. Our life became a set of comfortable patterns. We would hit the town on the weekends and make a day of it. It always included to stop to see Tracy and lunch or dinner. I liked the routine and Lizzy needed it. Amber was simply in love with the family thing. From what I could piece together, her mother was not completely stable. She had moved Amber constantly from place to place when she was growing up. Things made more sense when Amber's history began to emerge. I thought it best that Lizzy didn't follow that pattern.

I was driving Lizzy home from school when she informed me her best friend wanted her to sleep over the coming weekend. I had bought Lizzy a phone, all the other kids had one, to shorten the distance between her and the friends she met at school. This particular friend, Melinda, was a bit on the chatty side. I felt she was teaching Lizzy to talk with no purpose. Entire text conversations with nothing but acronyms for the sake of using acronyms. I let it be. Amber said she had to find her own way with her friends. I guess it wasn't hurting me. Maybe I didn't like sharing one of my few friends.

"So would it be okay?" Lizzy asked me. I could hear the apprehension in her voice. Yep, I didn't like the idea of her spending the weekend with someone else. Our routine would need to be altered. I thought it was a really bad idea.

"It's fine with me," I lied and lied well, "you'll have to check with your mother." I was hoping Amber would find fault with it. It hit me that if Lizzy was gone for the weekend, Amber and I wouldn't have to be so quiet. Lizzy did need a social life, after all. "We'll see if we can talk her into it," I added with vigor. I was horribly selfish.

"Thank you," Lizzy announced, "I going to tell Melinda you said it was okay." Her fingers moved like lightning on her phone.

"I'm sure your mom will want to talk to Melinda's mom," I added. Lizzy nodded and kept typing. I was smiling as I pulled down the drive. My thoughts were on the weekend. I didn't expect the two sedans parked in front of the house. "Visitors," I warned Lizzy. She looked up.

"Who's here?" Lizzy asked.

"I have no idea," I said. They looked like government vehicles. We parked off to the side since my usual spot was already taken. I headed toward the house as soon as Lizzy came around the car. For some reason, I felt it was important she be close. Two men, cheap suits, exited the house and Amber followed, in handcuffs.

"What is this about?" I called as I approached. Two more men exited the house. I held Lizzy back as the lead man produced a folded paper.

"Warrant for the arrest of Samantha Donaldson," the man said, "I'm Agent Thorton, Drug Enforcement Agency." I knew the paper would be legit so I didn't touch it. Amber was falling apart at the sight of Lizzy.

"Mom!" Lizzy called. I held her in front of me.

"Where are you taking her?" I asked.

"Stay with Mark, baby," Amber cried. Lizzy was shaking as she watched her mother be put in the backseat of the first car.

"We have a warrant to search the premises," Agent Thorton continued. I handed him my keys, workshop key held out.

"That's to the workshop," I said, trying to remain calm as I nodded to the garage, "lots of glass in there so be nice. Again, where are you taking her?"

"DEA holding cell in St. Louis," Thorton said while taking the key, "Can I ask you to wait outside while we search?" I nodded.

"There's a .45 in a locked file cabinet in the utility room," I continued, "key is on the chain. Permit is in my wallet. May we speak with Am.. Samantha?" He looked at me for a moment trying to judge if I was a risk.

"From outside of the car," Thorton said, "she has been advised of her rights. No physical contact." I was surprised he was going to let me at all. Maybe my cooperation with the search was worth some tolerance.

"Thank you," I said as I moved to the car.

"Don't let them take Lizzy from you," Amber said quietly as I approached.

"Where are you going?" Lizzy asked, panic rising in her voice.

"I have to go away, baby" Amber said, tears flowing down her cheeks, "you stay with Mark. He will take care of you."

"Don't say anything," I advised, "I'm going to send a lawyer to you. I will get you out of there as soon as I can." She looked at me and shook her head.

"They arrested Pablo," Amber said, her eyes finding the floor, "he's talking." I should have killed the bastard.

"Say nothing," I said, "and don't give up hope. I will get you out of there."

"Don't let them take her," Lizzy's tears matched her mother's.

"It's okay, baby," Amber soothed poorly, "you listen to Mark." I did the only thing I could do. I pulled out my phone and called Frank.

==========================

Amber had been gone two days when Frank got back to me. The DEA had nailed Pablo red-handed and he was talking for a lighter sentence. Others were doing the same. They had arrested Samantha on conspiracy charges. They were going to make an example of her. There was no hope for leniency from any quarter. The lawyer I had sent knew less than Frank, but agreed with the sentiment. He recommended she plead guilty and serve ten years. Bail was denied. Samantha's history proved she was a flight risk.

Lizzy wouldn't stop crying. My heart was torn to shreds. Anger filled me. My country owed me. I decided to become very un-American.

"We are going to get your mother back," I told Lizzy. Her red eyes ignored me as I turned on the computer and began typing. My memory was good, too good. They trained me that way. They should have taught me to forget. I remembered most of the names. Federal officials, targets and even some of the pilots. The dates, times and locations were etched in my skull. I was surprised how quickly it all came back. It took most of the night, but I emptied my brain into the computer. Then I printed. Seventy-eight pages of memories in neatly ordered lists sorted by date and time. Ten copies. I didn't have enough paper for an eleventh copy.

I encrypted and stored a couple of digital copies in two online drives just in case. I bound each paper copy with large rubber bands and put them into the same manila envelopes I ship patterns to customers for approval.

"You ever been to Washington DC?" I asked Lizzy. She shook her head. "We need to take a trip. I'm afraid you're going to miss some school and your weekend with Melinda."

"Will it help Mom?" she asked.

"I hope so," I said. Either that or I'll be in prison myself. I had no idea what would happen to Lizzy in that case. I was waiting for a call from family services. I'm not sure they would let me keep her as it was.

"I want to go then," Lizzy agreed. We packed and left the next morning. I stopped at Hamond's Country Store and spoke with Tom. He agreed to hold the packages for two weeks, then mail them if I hadn't returned to pick them up. I assured him it was a monumental conspiracy that would make the shooter on the grassy knoll look like a boy scout. He smiled and put the envelopes in the safe. Okay, I now had five friends and one lover.

==========================

It is fairly difficult to find someone to talk to in the State Department. There were receptionists who would barely give me the time of day. People to talk to about going abroad for travel or a possible job. Not many people thought me credible since I had a ten-year-old girl in tow. I finally convinced a secretary for the Coordinator of International Information Programs that I needed to meet with someone. It was a place to start.

They brought me into a room to placate me. I was a taxpayer after all. Lizzy and I shared some ice water as we waited. After about ten minutes, a young man with dusty blond hair entered with the idea that we needed a presentation of what their department does. It took me a few minutes to turn it around. I handed him the envelope filled with my memories and watched his face as he began skimming.

"Ah," the blonde stammered, "I need to get someone else."

"I suspect you do," I said. He left quickly. I looked to Lizzy and smiled. "The ball is rolling now."

"Are they getting Mom?" she asked.

"Not yet, sweetie," I said, "but hopefully soon." It took a few more hours of climbing up the chain of command. Each person reading a few pages before they realized it was above their pay grade. Lizzy was incredibly patient. By the afternoon, I was seated with the Deputy Secretary of State and two FBI agents.

"What the hell is this?" Deputy Singer asked. She wore a pencil skirt suit, her face as starched as her blouse. She was waving my report at me. I could see the disappointment in her eyes, the government wasn't as righteous as she had assumed.

"Language please," I said, smiling a Lizzy. Singer paled and then smiled at Lizzy.

"Maybe the child should wait in another room," one of the FBI agents suggested.

"She's not leaving my side," I said. Lizzy scooted her chair closer to me. "You recognize those addresses?" I asked Singer. I had printed off the addresses of six embassies representing the countries I was most active in. At the bottom of the list were the addresses to the New York Times and Sixty Minutes.

"This can't be true," Singer said, "we don't work this way." The State Department may not work that way, but the DEA does. Her pride in her country was weakening. I disliked being the cause of the sadness in her eyes.

"I am sure the FBI now knows who I am," I said, "that's your first verification. If you cross reference the names and dates in that report, I think the relevance will become evident." I leaned back and watched them think.

"You took an oath," one of the FBI agents pointed out.

"Yes I did," I agreed, "but I was young and the DEA wasn't trying to put Lizzy's mom in prison at the time."

"You would do this to your country?" he continued.

"Sorry, I love Amber," I said. Lizzy smiled at me. It reminded me of Amber's smile. I looked up at the Deputy Secretary. She quickly hid a brief smile. Her brain was digesting the international incident I was about to unleash. I could see the pain in her eyes. She didn't want the report to be true.

"This is blackmail," Singer decided.

"Yes," I agreed.

"How do we know you won't come back and demand more later?" Singer asked. It was a valid question. I hadn't thought much past getting Amber back. I wasn't sure I could reassure them of my sincerity.

"Samantha and Lizzy, then my country," I said clearly, "I would die for them in that order." It was the best I could do. I truly loved America. I just loved Amber more. I wanted my family back. Singer was sizing me up. I could see she didn't trust me. I didn't trust me either. A redheaded man poked his head into the room and signaled for the Singer. She excused herself for a moment.

"It's people like you who weaken us," the taller FBI agent said with disgust. I looked at the Kool-Aid drinker and felt only pity.

"Did you read that report?" I said, pointing at Singer's seat, "look at page 63. This isn't a perfect union. We make mistakes and I have been paying for that one for twenty years. I want my family back. This country owes me that." I could see it in his eyes. He hadn't read the report and was most likely told not to. Ignorance makes the Kool-Aid taste good.

Lizzy was getting antsy. We hadn't eaten since breakfast. I wasn't sure how much more of this she could take. Singer poked her head back into the room.

"This is going to take a few minutes," she said. She looked at Lizzy for moment. "Agent Stiles, can you get see if you can get something for Ms. Donaldson to eat. She has been more than patient." Lizzy traded smiles with Singer.

The short agent grunted and left. I suspect I was not to leave the room yet. Lizzy thanked the agent when he returned with a Hershey bar for her. I saw the beginning of a smile on the agent's face, but he forced his scowl back. Lizzy made short work of the candy.

"Well, Mr. Winslow," Singer said, when she finally returned, "I have been authorized to negotiate with you." The tall FBI agent rolled his eyes. He was thinking handcuffs. "How do we know all copies of this will be destroyed?"

"I guess that would be a trust issue between us," I said. I wasn't a very experienced blackmailer. Singer laughed.

"How many were created?" Singer asked.

"Ten printed copies, two encrypted digital copies and the original on my computer," I replied. Trust had to start somewhere. She nodded as she took notes.

"The other printed copies, where are they?" Singer asked. This time I laughed. I was a lousy blackmailer, but I wasn't stupid. Singer smiled. She had tried.

"What do you want?" Singer asked. I had thought I had already made that clear. I added something more ironclad since she was allowing me to rephrase.

"Full pardon for Samantha," I said, "and no retribution. We all go our separate ways and pretend this never happened." Singer smiled and shook her head. The pardon was out. I hate negotiations.

"Suspended sentence," Singer countered, "if this report or anything that looks like it sees the light of day, you and Samantha will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There will be no leniency. You will both spend your last days in prison." Harsh, to say the least. Then again, I was a blackmailer.

"No additional retribution?" I asked, "IRS audits, surveillance?" Singer smiled.

"I would like to say yes," Singer said, "but after reading this report, I can only say that nothing overt will occur." I nodded. Of course they would keep their eye on us. I could live with that.

"I can agree with that," I said. It was not all that I hoped, but much more than we deserved. I was demanding they release a drug lord. They had no interest in how happy she made me.

"Is Mom coming home?" Lizzy asked. I was about to answer, but Singer jumped in.

"Yes, dear, your mother is coming home," Singer seemed pleased to say. Causing children to smile made your day a little better. Singer needed better after me. I had damaged her opinion of her country.

They released Amber, but the DEA wasn't very nice about it. Essentially, they sent her out the door in downtown St. Louis. They were not pleased. Amber wasn't even sure what happened. One minute she was being interrogated and then the next, they dropped all the charges. Lizzy and I were headed home when we got the call from her. She had to borrow a phone.

"I'm in St. Louis," Amber said, "they let me go."

"Is that Mom?" Lizzy shouted from the passenger seat. I handed Lizzy the phone. There was no way she would let me talk until she said her piece.

"Mark made them let you go," Lizzy was talking a mile a minute, "they said we would go to prison forever if he didn't stop his letters. They don't like him much, but they did what he said. Where are you?" Lizzy took a breath, "St. Louis? Aren't you coming home? The lady said you were coming home." More breathing. I was trying not to laugh at the conversation. Lizzy was so happy "We have to go to pick her up," Lizzy told me. Then she proceeded to tell her mother everything she saw on our trip.

Lizzy needed to hear her mother's voice. The arrest was pretty traumatic for her and Amber's voice seemed to heal the pain. I let them talk. I headed toward St. Louis and waited for Lizzy to run out of things to say. It took awhile.

"You took her to DC?" Amber asked.

"I wasn't going to leave her at home," I replied, "it was educational. She got to meet the Deputy Secretary of State."

"I love you," Amber said.

"I love you too," I said.

"He does," Lizzy shouted, "he told the deputy lady he did." I heard Amber laughing, though it could have been crying. Hard to tell over the phone.

"When can you get here?" Amber asked. I think she was crying. I heard it in her voice.

"If I drive all night, I could be there early tomorrow morning." I replied. I wanted the car to move faster.

"No," Amber said, "I want you two here alive. Stop for the night and make sure she sleeps."

"Yes, dear," I said like an old married man.

"Whatever you did," Amber whispered, "I can never repay you." Yes she could. It came out without warning. I wanted a lock. I didn't need it - I just wanted it.

"Then you will have to marry me," I said. Lizzy's sucked in her breath, smiling. There was silence on the other end. I thought I had lost her. "Amber?"

"Okay," Amber replied. It was barely audible. I wasn't sure she wanted to.

"You...you don't have to," I backtracked. More silence. I thought I just screwed everything up.

"No," Amber cried, "I mean yes." There was more silence. "I can't talk and cry at the same time. The answer is yes, I'll marry you. Just get here." The line went dead. I was engaged.

"Did she say yes?" Lizzy asked, worry in her eyes.

"She did," I said with a big smile.

"The you will be my dad," Lizzy said. Responsibility hit like a freight train. I hadn't thought of that. I doubted I could be a good father. I was going to drive through the night and risk Lizzy's life. What kind of father does that? I mean, I could make sure she's fed and buy bunk beds and things. But how do you know if you do it right? I could screw it up, and she could come out all mean or something. "I like being your daughter, " Lizzy continued. I looked over at her. Maybe she shouldn't be in the front seat. Aren't there rules about that? There must be a manual or something I could read. "Are you going to have a big wedding, you know, where I can be a bridesmaid for Mom?" Lizzy asked.

"I haven't thought that far," I said, "I don't think I thought it out at all."

"I can help," Lizzy offered, "you have to get a ring. I know want Mom likes." Her face brightened, "We should shop for a ring." It was all moving so fast. It seemed so right when I said it. I wasn't thinking wedding and daughter when I asked. I was thinking Amber and me. Lizzy needed someone who knew what he was doing. I could fail her in so many ways.

"What if I am not a good dad?" I asked.

"You already are," Lizzy laughed, "you just need a ring." I was floored by her words. They came out without thought. She didn't have any doubts, except for the ring. I smiled at the road. I may suck as a father, but Lizzy would make it work.

"We need to find a place to eat and a hotel," I said, "I promised your mom you would get some sleep tonight."

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