Skeletons

Episode 15 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

Chapter 1

 

It was the same old stuff. Reports of deficits in the city’s budget, organized crime problems, and one of Gale’s sports teams losing a game at the very last second. Yule wasn’t sure why he felt the need to read the newspaper cover to cover, but he did, every single morning.

Part of you will always be Black Torrent, his mind spoke. Though now his moniker was Blizzard, and he was okay with that.

A scent caught his nostrils and he inhaled deeply. Sara had been flitting around the kitchen all morning. She didn’t cook much, so he thought she was making her normal toast and coffee for breakfast. However, there had been clinking and clanging, and now the sound of sizzling.

“That smells good. What is it?”

“Farofa de ovo e cebolinha,” she said. “I used to have this when I lived with my foster family in South America. It’s traditionally a side dish, but I make it for breakfast.” She placed a plate with two wraps in front of him. “I shove it in a burrito so it’s easier to eat.”

Taking a bite, Yule closed his eyes. “This is incredible.”

The door swung open and Michael entered dressed in a black Armani suit and dark red tie—his power suit. He placed his briefcase on the chair and motioned to his sister. “I didn’t know you stayed over last night.”

“I got a lead on a gang killing not too far from here. Since it was late, I came by to crash.” She poured him a cup of coffee. “Do you want some breakfast?”

“No. I have a meeting, Can’t be late.”

“Is that the zoning committee for the Jefferson property?” he asked.

“Yeah. I want to get there before Daniels has a chance to talk to the city guy.”

Daniels was a snake in the grass, and Yule didn’t trust him one bit. He was happy his son shared the sentiment.

Placing a bowl of eggs on the table, Sara slid into the chair next to him.

“Did you talk to your sister about the gallery viewing?”

“What gallery viewing?” she asked.

Michael chugged down his coffee. “There’s this Latino gallery down on Seventh that we’ve purchased a few paintings from. They just signed a new artist and invited us to a showing. Dad thought you might want to come along.”

“It’s tonight though,” Yule added. “Ray and Mel are going.”

Sara thought for a moment, then nodded. “I should be able to make it.”

“Great.” The CEO grabbed the remaining burrito and shoved a fourth of it into his mouth. “See you tonight.”

Watching his son leave, Yule stared back down at his plate. “He stole my breakfast.”

Sara laughed. “Want me to make you another one?”

“Make two. Those are really good.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Sara leaned her head on her hand, struggling to stay awake. Even though she had spent the night at the penthouse, she had gotten in at 4 AM and had only managed two hours of sleep. After three cups of coffee, she was still zoning out.

The life of a superhero, she thought wistfully.

The phone rang—a direct call bypassing the switchboard, but there was no identification.

“This is Sara,” she answered. She expected to hear the voice of Michael or Melody. Instead, she heard...

“Más dulce que una rosa, mi encantadora, Lily.”

Snapping awake, she clenched the receiver. “Papi, cómo estás?”

“I’m fine,” the man answered in English. “But disappointed I haven’t heard from you. I was starting to get worried.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just been very busy around here.”

Though she couldn’t see his expression, Sara knew her foster father was frowning.

“Well, we missed you at Christmas. Lucia had her baby, another boy.”

“That’s wonderful. How many do they have now?”

“Six. They’ve beaten me and Gaby.”

Though the chatter was light, Sara’s heart raced. General Lira never called without a reason.

“So, how are things in Gale?” he continued. “I was hoping to hear of your family connections. Have you told them about me yet?”

Always a reason.

“No,” she admitted, feeling like she was twelve years old. “I haven’t had the opportunity.”

The man was quiet for a long time, and Sara was on the verge of panic when he finally spoke again. “It’s been six months.”

“I know.” She hoped her tone was sufficiently apologetic. “It’s just that things didn’t go well at first.”

The man was quiet again, but this time only for a moment. “I understand. I would hate to think you weren’t telling them because you’re embarrassed of me.”

Panic struck. “Papi, please don’t think that. I love you. It’s just that—”

“No worries, mija,” he said with a laugh. “All in good time, eh?”

“Si, papi.” She felt her blood pressure stabilize. “All in good time.”

The man shifted gears. “I was hoping that you could come back home and visit soon. Perhaps this summer. I’ll cover the expense.”

For the first time in her life, Sara didn’t have to worry about money. Despite her protests, Michael and Yule had set up a trust fund for her, and provided her with a generous monthly stipend. Even though it was nothing compared to their vast fortune, the extra money gave her the ability to afford things she couldn’t just a year earlier.

“No, Papi, I can pay for a ticket. And I’d love to come see you. Let me get my calendar and we can set a date.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The Seventh Street Gallery was one of the smaller galleries in Gale, but it held an impressive collection of ethnic art. As the evening got under way, the four connecting rooms filled with people; the crowd moved from piece to piece, chatting casually among the different displays.

Sara Wolff made her way across the far wall, glancing at each painting. She stopped in front of one depicting a small village. Each house was painted a different color, and the sky was splashed in yellows and blues; in the distance, a mountain range lined the horizon. A sigh escaping her lips, she was amazed to realize she was getting homesick. Years earlier, she had counted the days before she could leave South America. Now, a part of her missed the land of her teenage years, and she yearned to return to it’s quiet and beauty.

Moving to the next painting, she stared at a serpent-like dragon with heads on each end. It was both scary and beautiful, and she felt herself lost in its hypnotic eyes.

“Te gusta?” a man asked as he moved to her side.

“Yes, I do like it,” she answered. “Though it reminds me of a monster I once saw in a nightmare.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to bring up such a bad memory.”

“Why? It’s not your fault.”

“I think it is. I painted that.”

Sara blushed and turned to face the man. “You’re Francisco. I’m sorry, I should have recognized you from the sign in the lobby.”

“Don’t worry, I can never remember faces. But perhaps if you tell me your name, I’ll remember that.”

It was a smooth line and Sara blushed harder. “Sara Wolff. I’m here with my brother, Michael Bruce.”

“Ah, I’m lucky then. I thought you might be his date.”

The artist was being incredibly forward, but Sara didn’t mind. He was quite good-looking and had the most amazing accent. Before she could think of a witty comeback, one of the gallery staff appeared and pulled him aside. The man’s expression became serious.

“If you’ll excuse me. Someone important just came in. Perhaps we can chat later?”

Without waiting for an answer, he hurried to the lobby.

Fighting the urge to be nosey and follow after him, Sara returned her attention to the room. Michael was standing near a statue of a large Incan head, so she headed over.

“Was that guy hitting on you?” he asked, his eyes never leaving the plaque he was reading.

“Maybe. Why? Were you eavesdropping?”

“Didn’t have to. Your body language. You can learn more by watching people than talking to them.”

“Always in crimefighter mode,” she whispered.

“Or nosey brother mode.”

Melody and Ravenswood joined them, followed by Yule.

“Well, I’ve seen everything,” the detective announced. “When is it not rude to leave?”

Michael chuckled and looked around. “Not too much longer. I think we need to chat with a few more people, be fashionable, then we can head out.”

“Good, I’m starving. Maybe we can hit the drive-through on the way back to the Tower.”

“I think we can handle th—” Michael stopped mid-sentence, his eyes focused beyond his friends. “Oh, my God. Is that who I think it is?”

Sara turned to look, but the crowd was blocking her view.

“Who?” Melody asked, craning her neck.

Apparently, Yule had also caught sight of the individual. “I think it is.”

Sara was getting frustrating. “Who are you talking about?”

“Him.” Michael pointed discreetly. “That’s General Lira.”

Sara felt her heart skip a beat.

“General Lira? Holy shit,” Ravenswood croaked.

“Who’s General Lira?” Melody asked.

“You don’t know General Lira? He’s a ruthless dictator. He’s slaughtered tens of thousands of people. He’s the Stalin of South America.”

Sara’s heart pounded so hard it thundered in her ears, and she had to hold her breath to keep from hyperventilating. Across the room, she caught sight of the man. Her first thought was to duck into the crowd and hope he didn’t see her. But it was too late. Lira’s mouth turned upwards as his eyes met hers; she forced a smile back, even though she felt like crying.

“Oh, my God, he’s heading this way.”

“Act casual,” Yule instructed in a stern whisper.

The dictator approached the four, nodding to the others before turning to the redhead. “Sara!”

“Papi,” she said, trying to keep her voice from cracking.

All eyes turned to her.

Embracing the man for a moment, she pulled away and turned to the group. “Everyone, this is General Tauro Lira... my foster father.”

Michael’s jaw hardened, while Ravenswood shuffled his feet and Melody sucked in a deep breath. Though it was just a few moments, the silence became deafening, and Sara feared she might have a heart attack after all.

What she didn’t expect was that it would be her real father who would come to her rescue.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Yule said, his voice upbeat and diplomatic. “I’m Ulysses David, and this is my nephew, Michael Bruce.”

“You’re Sara’s brother,” Lira interjected.

Michael’s gaze moved to the dictator, but he remained silent.

“And these are our friends, Ravenswood and Melody Cadavre.”

Extending his hand, he grabbed their palms. “I would love to say I’ve heard so much about you all, but I haven’t. I hope to rectify that soon.” The General smiled at Sara, and at that moment she wished the ground would open up and swallow her.

Yule squeezed her arm. “Sara’s been very busy, I’m sure she meant to mention us. Nevertheless, it’s nice to meet you. Have you had a look around the exhibit yet?” Motioning for the General to follow him, Yule led the man to the far end of the room.

Since she had first met her father, Sara had been in awe of him. Yule was smart and charming, and knew how to handle every situation. Her adoration already ran deep, but now she found herself loving him even more.

Catching Michael’s gaze, Sara felt her heart sink again as his mouth turned downward. Without a word, he walked away.

“Holy cow,” Melody said in a loud whisper. “General Lira is really your foster father?”

Feeling numb, Sara nodded. “He certainly is.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The group lingered at the gallery for another half an hour. Once Sara regained her composure, she joined Yule and Lira as they looked around. It was nearing eight o’clock when they all gathered at the door.

“I enjoyed viewing the collection with you, Ulysses. I hope we can get together sometime and actually talk, get to know each other better.”

“I’d like that,” Yule said.

“Excellent. How about tomorrow night at your house for dinner? I usually dine around five.”

Michael had been quiet the whole evening, refusing to talk to the man or Sara. However, as Lira invited himself over, the CEO sneered, “That’s a bit rude, don’t you think?”

Sara cringed, wanting to crawl under a rock again. Fortunately, Yule took it in stride. “Five o’clock will be perfect. Let me give you all the details.”

Turning away from the group, Sara caught sight of Francisco. So much had happened, she hadn’t gotten a chance to talk with him again.

“Hey, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your work. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

The man’s flirtatiousness from before was gone, his expression neutral. “Someone said you’re General Lira’s daughter.”

“Foster child,” she corrected. “I lived with him for a few years when I was a teen.”

“I see. Well, thank you for the compliment and for coming. Have a good evening.”

Watching the artist head back into the gallery, the redhead sighed. I guess being the daughter of a terrible dictator doesn’t make you good girlfriend material.

“Sara, we’re leaving,” Ravenswood called.

Hoping she could keep from crying until she got to the car, Sara pulled her purse strap over her shoulder and headed for the door.

 

The group walked to the parking lot in silence. Melody and Ravenswood held hands, trailing a few steps behind. Yule had pulled out his phone and was jotting down notes for the gathering he had to plan. Michael walked ahead of them all. Sara could see the tension in his shoulders and how tightly his fists were clenched. He was silent, his face stern, his gaze fixed forward... until they made it to the car.

“I cannot believe you did that!” he screamed. Sara shirked back, never having heard him yell outside of costume. “You hid that from me, from all of us. All that screaming and crying about how devastated you were that we kept Black Torrent from you, that you couldn’t believe someone you loved would hide such a secret. Do you know how that made me feel, how mortified and guilt-ridden I was? Then to find out that you were keeping this a secret all this time.”

“Michael,” Yule whispered harshly, glancing around the empty lot. “Keep your voice down.”

“I know,” Sara stammered, the humiliation and embarrassment of the evening crashing down upon her. “You have every right to be mad—”

“I’m not just mad. I don’t even know if there’s a word for how infuriated I am.” He glared at her, his eyes cold and hard. “Or how hurt I am.”

Michael’s anger was palpable, and Sara couldn’t hold her composure any longer. Tears slipped from her eyes and she struggled to keep from breaking down into sobs. She wanted to tell him how sorry she was, and how she had never meant to hurt him. But he didn’t give her a chance.

“Do you think I can ride home with you?” he asked Ravenswood. “I really don’t want to be with her right now.”

The comment was meant to hurt, and it stabbed straight to the heart.

“Stop being such an ass,” Yule ordered.

“And you stop protecting her,” he shot back. “She brought this on herself.”

Ravenswood and Melody were silent, their eyes fixed on the ground.

Noticing a cab down the street, Sara touched her father’s arm. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll get my own ride home. I’ll see you tomorrow at dinner.”

Before Yule could protest, she rushed to the sidewalk and waved her arms. The yellow checker cut over two lanes of traffic to pull in front of her. Jumping in, she glanced back to see her brother’s pained eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered as the cab drove away.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It had snowed earlier. On the streets, most of it had been pounded into grey slush by tires and boots. On the building rooftops, however, it remained pristine white, blown into drifts against the sides of service hatches and HVAC units. Ravenswood brushed some of the powder off a duct near the roof’s edge so he could watch for crime below. Except he was too lost in thought to pay any attention. The fact that General Lira was a dictator didn’t upset him. What bothered him was that the man was a killer. That’s the type of person Overcast, a superhero, was supposed to take-down. Unlike Michael, he didn’t blame Sara for not telling them. He would have kept it a secret, too. But he was having trouble reconciling that Sara was the daughter of a man who murdered people.

You can’t choose who your family is, he reminded himself for the hundredth time.

He crossed to the next building and began heading uptown. After several blocks, he came to a rooftop with footprints in the snow. Everything was in shadow, but he could make out the form of Dark Flame sitting on a water tank at the other end. As he made it to a point where he could be seen, she looked up and said, “Good. I was afraid you might be Michael.”

Ravenswood looked around, but it was pretty clear they were alone. “How are you doing?”

Sara’s gaze moved to the horizon. She looked like she had been crying earlier, even though she wasn’t now. “I should’ve told him.”

Overcast shrugged. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world to tell somebody. I never tell anyone about my dad, and he’s not a dictator. He’s just a big jerk.”

Ravenswood had hoped Sara would laugh at that, but she didn’t even smile. She let out a long sigh. “Sometimes I think it would have been better if me and Michael hadn’t found each other.”

“What makes you say that? Sure, some bad things have happened. But overall, it’s been good for both of you.”

“Good?” her voice trailed off, just above a whisper. “He hates me.”

“Nah, he always gets like that when he’s upset. You know, if I had a dollar for every time he said he hated me... I’d have twelve dollars.” Sara couldn’t help herself and laughed. Ravenswood felt good about that. “There, at least I got you to smile.”

She took a deep breath. “Are you guys coming to dinner tomorrow?”

“Of course. Actually, I don’t think I have a choice in the matter. Mel’s all excited. It’s not every day you get to break bread with a dictator.” Sara’s face flashed dark for a moment, and Ravenswood quickly added, “Look, your father is a dictator. That’s just a fact we all have to accept. You know, like my cousin Dolan is a little person. If he reacted every time someone used the word ‘dwarf,’ he wouldn’t have enough time left over to accomplish anything else. It’s just some superficial trait he has. Like you have red hair, you have green eyes, your foster-father is a dictator... Actually, this explains something.”

“What?”

“Not to jump tracks, but when I was looking into your past, when we first thought there might be a connection between you and Michael, there was a big hole missing out of your life. I could track you down from birth until about twelve years old, then you disappeared. Then at the age of eighteen, you reappeared in Gale. In between, all I could gather was that you were in a foster home somewhere, but nobody had any information.”

“I’m sure the General made sure I was well-hidden.” Sara sighed. “You know, to this day, I still don’t understand it. I mean, all I knew was that this man took me in. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I even realized who he really was.” She rose and Ravenswood could see the confusion in her eyes. “It just never made sense to me how I ended up with ‘Lira the Ruthless.’ Even when Michael told me about Dad’s history, I knew that had to be the connection, but I still don’t know why.

Ravenswood had to admit, he had wondered the same thing, but it didn’t seem like it would help matters to say so aloud. Instead, he just nodded sympathetically and hoped it was enough.

A crash sounded from below and the hatted hero ran to the roof’s edge. An animal had knocked the lid off a trash can and was busy digging for food.

“Just a cat,” he informed, a moment before he realized he was alone.

As much as her disappearing act normally upset him, Ravenswood didn’t mind so much this time. With a sigh, he continued his patrol.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

There was a knock at the door and Yule flinched. It was only 3:00, so too early for General Lira.

Crossing the room, he was surprised how nervous he was. Though he had spent a good deal of his life dealing with tyrants like Lira—even spending two decades in service to a such a man—the truth was he still wasn’t quite sure how to act. When Michael had first spoken to Sara about their family relation, she had mentioned her foster father knew of her Bruce connection. Yule had assumed that meant her adoption records had been shared. He now realized it was something deeper; it was likely Lira knew details of their past which even they weren’t aware of. While he didn’t want to look desperate, he was eager to learn what knowledge the General held.

Opening the door, he smiled as his daughter entered. She was dressed in a patterened South American blouse and dark brown slacks. Her auburn hair was smoothed straight, and she wore a light beige gloss on her lips.

“I like that shirt,” he commented, taking her coat.

“Papi, I mean the General, sent it to me for Christmas. I figured it was probably best to wear it.”

“You know, it’s okay to call him Papi around me. I’m not jealous or anything. Besides, he was more of a father to you than I was all of those years.”

Waving her hand, she sniffled back the tears. “Don’t say stuff like that, you’ll make me cry again. I already had to re-do my makeup three times before coming here.” Walking deeper into the room, she nervously glanced around.

“Michael’s at the office,” Yule informed. “He’s finishing up a few things, but he’ll be here in time for dinner.”

“So he’s coming?” she asked.

“He may be stubborn and upset, but he’s too curious to miss out on this.”

A man stepped from the dining room, a silver platter in his hand. “Mr. David, where would you like me to set the appetizers?”

“On the sideboard,” he answered.

Sara cocked her head as the waiter hurried back into the kitchen.

“I brought in some staff to cook and serve. Figured we’d be too busy entertaining.”

“All this trouble,” she sighed.

“No trouble. Like it or not, Lira’s family, so we need to be accommodating.” Yule took his daughter’s hand. “Listen, it’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this. Goodness knows we’ve all gotten through much worse.”

“I know, it’s just that—” Tears running down her face, she threw her arms around his waist. “I love you, Dad.”

Gently pulling from the hug, he led her to the library. “Let’s talk go about what I should and shouldn’t say tonight.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It wasn’t every day one “broke bread with a dictator,” as Ravenswood had put it, and Sara realized she would have no clue where to begin planning such a dinner party. Fortunately, Yule had taken care of everything. They gathered in the formal dining room, an array of fresh flowers and plants surrounding them. The menu consisted of prime rib, braised chicken, and steamed fish in broth. There were potato croquettes, capellini with gorgonzola, long-grain rice pilaf, and myriad of vegetables dishes. A rich creme-filled cake, sorbet, and chocolate-dipped oranges rounded out the meal.

The General ate well, as did everyone else. Despite Michael’s grouchiness, he finished off two platefuls, and would have worked on a third if he hadn’t been stopped by the decadent desserts. Sara was jealous. Everything looked and smelled wonderful, but she was so nervous she only managed a few bites of potatoes and carrots.

As the staff cleared the plates, coffee was served. The General passed on the sugar and cream, preferring his black. He sipped the brew and leaned back in his chair.

“That was an excellent meal, Ulysses. I must commend you. American food can be touch-and-go for me, but everything was delicious.”

“You don’t care for American cuisine?” Melody asked, dabbing the corners of her mouth with a napkin.

“Oh, I do. I just tend to be picky about how food is cooked and seasoned.”

“Very picky,” Sara said under her breath, then realized it was still loud enough for everyone else to hear.

Lira smiled. “Sara had quite a time adjusting to South American food. It’s much stronger in flavor than British fare. Of course, it looks different, too. You should have seen her face when she first saw an avocado.”

“Oh gosh, you’re going to tell that story,” she said, hiding her face. The General did like to embarrass her.

“Sara saw it was bright green and totally refused to taste it, and nothing any of us could say or do would convince her otherwise. Though curiosity did get the better of her. She ended up sneaking into the kitchen one night and trying one. After that, avocados started disappearing and our cooks couldn’t understand where they were going. We ended up finding the pits in her room—turns out she loved them.”

Snickers came from around the table and Sara blushed. “I still love them,” she admitted. “But they don’t eat avocados in South America like they do here. They use them in desserts and smoothies.”

“Eew,” Melody said with a wrinkle of her nose. “I don’t know if I’d like that.”

“It’s actually really good. Though, I still prefer my avocados in guacamole.”

The conversation hit a lull and Sara felt she should start the chatter again. She wondered if she should tell the story of how Lira had a gotten a chef fired from a 5-star restaurant, all for putting too much salt on his pork. But it didn’t seem appropriate, and Michael was still giving her dirty looks, so she simply resorted to fiddling with the handle of her coffee cup.

It was the General who finally broke the silence, and when he did, Sara wished she had started to talk about something... anything.

“So, now that we’re all fed and feeling good. Let me ask you a question: What do you all know about Team Torrent?”

The room was already quiet, but a different silence fell. The uncomfortable kind where everyone feared that speaking might give something away. Sara could see her teammates putting-on their best poker faces, but the question had been unexpected and their expressions were more than telling.

Forcing a smile, Yule rose. “I think we should let the staff clean up. Why don’t we move this conversation to the study.”

“Good idea,” Michael sneered, tossing his napkin onto the table.

As the others left, Lira walked up to Sara and pulled her chair out. “Shall we?”

 

The library was dark. With its mahogany walls and lack of windows, it was the perfect place to curl up with a book or work in quiet. It was also the ideal location for private conversations.

On the way there, Lira had excused himself to use the washroom. The rest of the group had entered and seated themselves, with the exception of Michael, who chose to stand near the desk in the corner. Yule had watched Sara throughout dinner. His daughter had done a fine job maintaining her composure, but he could tell she was still struggling. He hoped to use the moment alone to offer her some encouragement.

Michael didn’t give him a chance.

“You told him our secrets,” he said as he glared down her.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Then how the hell did he know about us? You told him just like you told Madge.”

“Madge was different and you know that. I didn’t say anything to him, I swear.”

“You’re lying,” Michael growled. “I thought I could trust you.”

Sara was on the verge of tears, and Yule was about to step in when another voice spoke.

“She’s not lying.” Michael’s eyes narrowed towards the General, but he remained quiet. Lira moved to the center of the room. “Perhaps I’m biased, but Sara is one of the most trustworthy people I know.”

Sara tried to force a smile, but her heart wasn’t in it. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“My sons used to play soldier when they were children,” the dictator explained. “Sara would join them in their games—except instead of fatigues, she would dress as a superhero named Flare. When I saw the reports of a costumed hero named Dark Flame operating in Gale, it wasn’t a big leap to guess it was her.” The man walked over to a leather wing-chair and seated himself. “I knew of Sara’s connection to the Black Torrent. When she called to tell me she had discovered you were her brother, I suspected you had taken up your father’s role. Of course, I didn’t know for sure until I walked in a moment ago.”

Michael’s face flushed red and he shot his father an embarrassed look. While such slips might have upset him under normal circumstances, Yule wasn’t angry. In fact, the exchange had made him curious. As much as Lira seemed to know, he was still under the impression that the original Black Torrent was dead.

The General turned to look at Sara, his face filled with quiet pride. “I always wanted my sons to grow up to be soldiers. I never guessed my daughter would become one too.”

“Our daughter,” Yule said.

Lira turned to meet his gaze, his eyebrow arching in question. “Excuse me?”

“I’m Sara’s father. And I’m the one who was the Black Torrent.”

A smile cornered his mouth. “You’re the one Williamson was protecting.”

It was a name Yule didn’t expect to hear, and it caused his heart to skip a beat. However, at the mention, things started to become clear. “You know Williamson.”

Across the room, Sara’s brow furrowed. “Williamson.”

“Who’s Williamson?” Michael asked.

Lira ignored the younger man and turned to face Yule fully. “Then, you’re—”

“Matthew Bruce.”

The General’s smile widened, but this time he also gave out a laugh. “I see this is more complicated than I thought.” Rising, the military leader headed to the credenza and grabbed a bottle. “May I?”

“Of course.”

The room fell silent and Michael started to tense. “You know, this secrecy stuff is bullshit. Wasn’t Williamson your friend in the military? What does this all have to do with Sara... or with any of us?”

It was obvious the General was used to a different level of respect—he was not tolerant of such outbursts. “Perhaps we could continue this discussion alone.”

Even though he knew it would upset the others, Yule knew Lira was right. They were getting into dangerous territory. “I agree.”

Ravenswood and Melody had been sitting in awkward silence throughout the conversation. The detective took the cue and rose. “You know, we really should get back to the shop and check on things. It was a great dinner. Thank you for inviting us.”

Melody grimaced as her husband pulled her towards the door. “Why are we leaving?” she whispered. “Things were just getting good.”

As the two disappeared, Michael shook his head. “What the hell is this? I’m not ten years old. You can’t just shoo us out of here like we’re little kids.”

“This doesn’t concern you,” the General said in a tone that left little room for argument.

Michael argued anyway. “It concerns my sister, and it concerns my family, so it is my business. I want to know what the hell is going on.”

Sara rose, her voice small. “I’ll be upstairs.”

“What? Wait! Sara, don’t leave.”

“Michael,” Yule pleaded.

Clenching his fists, the younger Bruce sneered. “This is bullshit, Dad. Bullshit.” Turning, he hurried out. “Mel, Ray, wait-up. I’ll walk you down.”

Once the others were gone, Yule locked the door.

“So you’re Matthew Bruce,” the General said. From the sound of his voice, it appeared things were things were beginning to make more sense to him as well.

“At one time,” Yule answered. “I guess it’s safe to say he’s dead—that part of my life died in Switzerland.”

“But you didn’t really die, and that’s what Williamson was trying to hide.”

“Apparently he was trying to hide more than that.”

The General nodded but was silent.

“How did you end up with Sara?” he finally asked.

Finishing his drink, the Latino man leaned back in his chair and made himself comfortable. “Do you know a Nancy Miller?”

“She was part of the Torrent project years ago. She was a nobody.”

“Well, apparently she became a somebody. And Williamson was scared to death of her.”

 

<<< The party was boring. It was the same people wearing the same clothes talking about the same things as the last party he attended. The only thing that was different was the food... and it was far worse than before.

Tauro Lira hated Arnaldo Gomes. He had managed to become the Brazillian consulate in England by blackmailing key high-ranking officials. He was not liked by most, but had enough power to force people to pretend they did. He was an obnoxious human being, and unfortunately, his get-togethers were just as intolerable.

Finishing his wine, Tauro noticed a young blonde woman who was making an obvious effort to smile each time he glanced in her direction. A bit on the short side, she was thin and showed off just enough cleavage to get him interested. But he had promised Gabriella he wouldn’t stray during this trip. She was still hurting from her miscarriage, and didn’t want to think about him in the arms of another woman.

Pushing any sexual thoughts from his mind, he continued to scan the crowd. Vicente, the son of the consulate, was hitting on one of the busboys. The Ambassador to Uganda was drunk and telling dirty jokes. Crystal, the chancellor’s much younger wife, was flitting around the room, making sure everyone was having a good time.

Lira had just motioned for a waiter to refill his glass when he noticed the man in the corner. He casually walked over.

“Agent Williamson. It’s been a while.”

The man was lost in thought and flinched at the sound of his name. “General, I didn’t know you were here.”

“I had business in London and decided to stay a few extra days. Unfortunately, Gomes caught up with me and invited me to this party.” Though Williamson snickered, Lira could tell it was forced. Glancing around to assure no one was nearby, he leaned in close to the man. “You look agitated, my friend. What troubles you?”

“I have a problem I’m not sure how to handle.”

“What kind of problem?”

His eyes darted side to side as his voice dropped. “A ‘no survivors’ type of problem.”

“Ah, yes, I see. I am quite familiar with that type of problem. Sometimes on a weekly basis.” He took a drink of his wine. “I’ve come to learn most situations are manageable.”

The agent locked his gaze on the dictator’s. “The problem is a twelve year old girl.”

Lira rubbed his chin. “I can see where that would make things tricky. Not impossible, but certainly less palatable.”

“I don’t know what to do. I have to act soon.”

“How soon?”

“Tonight.”

Eight years earlier, Lira had uttered similar words. Though the situation had been far less severe, Williamson had helped him then, allowing him to avoid a public incident. Whether it was a fair trade or not, he owed the man. “Why don’t we say our goodbyes to Chancellor Gomes and head over to my hotel. Perhaps I can offer more than words of encouragement.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It took a bottle of wine before Gavin Williamson was relaxed enough to open up. Clearly feeling the liquor, he leaned back in his chair and pulled a cigar to his lips. “Twelve years ago I was involved in the Black Torrent Project. You’re aware of it?”

“I’m familiar with the Black Torrent. I had no idea it was a military project.”

Williamson smiled wide. “Good, then we did our job. To the outside world it was to appear as if the man was working on his own, but behind the scenes he was a puppet of the government.” The man’s smile wilted. “That is, he was in the beginning. By the end, it was a man working on his own.”

Lira pursed his lips, but remained quiet.

“Matthew Bruce, big time real estate guy back in the States. You might have heard of him—his father-in-law was Rick Frank. The guy was built like a brick house and was a true military man, so Frank selected him to play the part of the superhero.”

“But he decided that running military jobs wasn’t what he wanted to do?”

“He got a heart,” Williamson said, crushing out his cigar. “Started doing humanitarian missions, protecting the public. He started to defy top brass. I honestly can’t blame him for what he did—he was a good man and he wanted to make a difference. Problem was, he was doing it on the military’s dime. They marked him and his family for elimination.”

Lira was familiar with the story of the Bruce family. He had spent some time with General Frank in Africa two decades earlier, and had grown an affinity for him. When Lira had heard the news of the Switzerland disaster, he had followed the story closely. Williamson was right, they had done a good job. He never once suspected it was a government strike.

“So, the family was blown to smithereens, except for a young boy, if I recall.”

Rising, the agent moved to the window, peering down at a double decker bus that drove by on the street. “The boy was rescued by his aunt, who also survived. She happened to be pregnant.”

It was becoming clear. “Your twelve year old girl.”

“I should have let them take care of her, too, but... There was an operative, Kevin Wolff. His wife was struggling from depression because they were trying to have another baby and couldn’t. He’s the one who suggested it, taking the baby as his own. It sounded like a good idea. Full-out adoption, her birth records would be sealed.” His voice trailed off. “I should have known better.” Williamson glanced at his watch, his cheeks flushing. “Listen, I don’t want to cut this short, but I don’t have a lot of time here.”

“Why is this girl so important?”

Williamson grabbed the gin and poured himself a glass. “Because someone suddenly started to get an interest in the project again. Asking questions, trying to find out how and why it failed. It’s only a matter of time before they find out about this girl. I can’t let that happen.”

The clock on the wall read 10:30. Lira nodded. “If you can get her to me, I’ll make sure she disappears.” >>>