“What?” she asked, turning her head to follow my gaze.
“The window in that SUV…it rolled down just as it stopped and someone snapped a picture.”
She shook her head. “No. I didn’t see it.”
I watched as it drove to the next stop light and turned right, disappearing around the corner behind us. The paranoia had reached a tipping point with me. Diane had actually had to beg me to get out of the house. We had been out for less than an hour and I already felt panic rising, prodding me back to the farm.
“It was probably my imagination,” I said finally, trying to pacify her fears of my slipping sanity. I only wished I could calm them in myself. I got up to go in and use the bathroom. “I’ll be right back,” I muttered, signalling the waitress that we were ready for our check.
On the way in, I looked out through the window on the other side of the shop—the black SUV was parking.
I had spent the last nearly twenty years of my life trying to unprogram the first thirty, but lately, it felt more like my old life was reaching up from the grave to try and drag me back in. I had been so careful—so conscious of every action, reaction, movement and habit, but it seemed it had been wasted effort. There I was again, looking over my shoulder, tensing for action and wondering who would get hurt if I wasn’t prepared. This is not how I wanted to spend my retirement years.
I stepped into the bathroom and waited quietly in front of the urinal without unzipping. A moment later, the door opened and two men in jeans, sport shirts and jackets stepped in—jackets on a 90 degree day. Without looking at them, I could feel the violence coiled up in their bodies as they stepped toward me.
“Hey, old man,” one of them said.
Old man? I thought. Jesus! I’m only 48
I turned my head as the other one moved behind me.
“Having trouble getting the flow started?” he asked. The other guy stepped up close—too close for polite bathroom etiquette in a men’s room.
I looked back at my crowder. “Would you mind taking a step back?” I asked as I tightened my grip around the heavy brass trench lighter in my fist while still pretending I was trying to urinate.
“Well since you can’t seem to get a stream started, why don’t you just turn around… We want to have a little conversation with you.”
Homeland Security? I thought. FBI? Private Security? CIA?
“I’m sorry fellas,” I said. “Though it’s flattering, I don’t swing that way.”
The guy behind me put his hand on my shoulder…a clear violation of bathroom etiquette—a lesson was in order. As I turned, I brought my hand up sharply, striking him under the chin and sending him backwards to the floor. He didn’t even try to catch himself–a one punch wonder. His buddy’s fist was already mid swing when I turned. It caught me in the ear but I braced myself against the urinal to keep from falling as I lashed out with my foot, catching the second man in the groin.
“Damn!” I said as I righted myself grabbing my ear.
I gave him a slight shove to send him backwards, doubled over in pain. “That looks like it hurts.”
He fumbled under his jacket with the one hand that wasn’t cupping his balls, but I quickly reached over and shoved his hand away before pulling his weapon from its holster. Keeping it leveled at his head, I stepped over his unconscious partner and did the same. As I squatted down next to the one with the broken jaw, I felt my knees pop and strain—I was really not up to this kind of shit anymore.
“You clowns…” I muttered as I pulling the wallet from his back pocket. As I opened it, the guy with the sore nuts made a fast move toward me.
“It’s been a while since I put a bullet in anyone, but I think I remember how to do it,” I said without looking at him. He settled back down as I examined his ID; a green military ID.
“Really?” I asked, glaring at the lump on the floor who was still holding his crotch. “DIA, I’m assuming.”
His lip curled in response.
“Well I don’t care,” I said as I stood. “Unless you have the ability to track every file I’ve copied over the past thirty years, you better tell your handlers to back off of me and my family.”
“You’ve got a big mouth,” he muttered.
“I write fiction,” I said, stepping toward him and then pressing the barrel of the weapon against his forehead. “It says so at the beginning of every novel. I’ve written nothing that I haven’t found on Google or pulled out of my head. So I’ll tell you again, unless you want my greatest hits to be released, back the hell off.”
“You’re making a mistake,” he said, glaring at me.
“No, my friend. I’m covering my ass,” I replied quietly as I heard the other guy moan. “As long as I’m in the spotlight and my insurance policies are floating free, I’m safer than if I just quietly faded away.”
He shook his head.
“Tell your handlers what I said. They’ll know what’s at stake even if you don’t,” I continued, dropping the magazine out of the HK and then ejecting the round from the chamber.
I left the bathroom, dropping the weapons and the magazines in the trashcan on my way out. When I got back to the table, I grabbed Diane by the arm. “We have to go,” I said, lifting her rudely from her seat.
“Why? What’s happened?” she asked as I guided her to the parking lot without saying anything.
As we passed the black SUV, I pulled my pocket knife out and unfolded the blade before sinking it into both driver’s side tires.
“What are you doing?” Diane asked fearfully.
As I got in on the driver’s side, I noticed the two men exiting the shop. As soon as Diane closed her door, I sped out of the parking lot and onto the street.
“Sweetheart,” Diane pleaded. “What’s going on?”
“I have to make a call,” I replied as I tossed the green military ID into her lap.
She looked down at it and then turned sheet white as the significance struck her.
“I thought you were cleared,” she said quietly as she continued to look at the ID.
“I thought so too. But I guess my fiction is too close to what they did with the section after I left.”
“How could you have known that?” Her words were shaky and muted with fear.
“I couldn’t have…until they started stalking me.”
And that’s what worried me most.
Originally posted, September 2014.