A warm summer breeze blew from one end of the passageway to the other. Raisa Hewitt could feel it gently caress her face and flow like fingers through her long, dark hair. She could hear the friendly chattering of birds from outside the arch ahead of her, the rustle of leaves in tree branches, she inhaled sweet almond and jacaranda blossoms. The scene was supremely idyllic and she realized she couldn’t be in more danger.
She’d dressed casually like a tourist, an American on holiday taking in the ruins of Spanish castles and churches. Soft canvas shoes made not a whisper as she padded like a cat across the flat stones beneath her. Jeans over a black leotard and a light cotton shirt afforded comfort and mobility. The Springfield XDM Compact in the holster at the base of her spine offered both maximum portability and stopping power. She hoped she wouldn’t have to use it.
Raisa had slipped away from the rest of the tour. Technically, this structure was off limits for repairs, but it was a Sunday and there were neither workers nor security to stop her.
She’d walked halfway from the entrance behind her to the exit in front. The darkened arches on either side of her could conceal a dozen enemies, and windows from above afforded snipers an excellent vantage from which to kill. If she drew her weapon now, she might save her own life, but then she couldn’t claim to be a lost tourist if seen by an antiquities employee. She’d have to bank on him not ordering her dead before they spoke.
Birds casually fluttered above her unalarmed which was a good sign. No sounds of hammers being pulled back, no breathing other than her own, no rustle of clothing, her every sense told her she was alone. She continued her steady, cautious pace. Sunlight struck her forearm and then momentarily blinded her and she cursed her foolishness. That would have been the perfect time for him have them strike or to fire the kill shot himself.
But the moment passed and there was nothing except the ruins, the natural world, and her.
She neared the arch. On the other side was a low balcony and if she climbed over, a serene pastoral expanse graced by late morning sunlight. He had said to meet him by the tree, but after ten long years, she learned not only that he couldn’t be trusted, but that he was superbly lethal, a combination that raised the tiny hairs on the back of her neck.
She ducked down beneath the low wall after she passed through the arch, unwilling to allow herself to be in the light and open, exposed to terminal threats from any direction. She listened. The breeze, tree branches creaking, bird calls, were those voices?
“You might as well come out now, Raisa. I was sincere when I said I wanted to talk.”
He couldn’t be trusted but he didn’t always lie either. Besides, he had something she wanted and that was the only reason she agreed to come here in the first place.
He wouldn’t kill her in cold blood right in front of their son, would he?
“Silas?” She was trembling as she called his name from behind the wall.
“Mommy, it’s okay. You can come out now.”
She had to risk it. It was her only hope of seeing him again, but she could still be dead in the next few seconds. Raisa stood up. Beneath the tree was her nine-year-old little boy and his father.
“Please, Raisa. I have brought our son. Certainly you can set aside your misgivings and come give him a hug.”
Ahmed looked almost the same as the last time they’d met. They had tried to kill each other that day and for the sake of Silas, they both chose to fail, though she still had the scars of two bullet wounds on her right side close to the bikini line to commemorate the event. She hoped he was still occasionally bothered by the reminder of the .45 slug she’d put in his thigh.
Raisa vaulted over the wall and landed on her feet in the dirt. She quickly assessed her situation. No sign of anyone else except the three of them. He wouldn’t have her murdered right in front of their son. She had to believe that.
Then she started walking toward them.
“Mommy!” Silas ran forward toward her. She looked closely at Ahmed’s face. He didn’t seem alarmed at losing physical control of their boy. Now they were both in the open. What was his game?
“Mommy!” Silas leapt into her arms. It felt so good to hold him again but embracing him meant she would be slow in reaching her handgun if she needed it suddenly.
“I’ve missed you so much, Mommy!”
“I’ve missed you too, Silas. Have you been a good boy? How do you like third grade?”
“It’s Year Four in the UK, Mommy.”
So that’s where they’ve been living.
“Come over here, you two. I would also like to greet my wife.”
Hand-in-hand, mother and child approached the man dressed in a casual summer suit. Ahmed always looked like he should be on the deck of a yacht, scanning the distant shores of the Mediterranean while sipping on a dry martini. One of her weaknesses was being attracted to wealthy, charismatic men.
“I suppose a hug for me is out of the question, eh Raisa?”
“Let’s talk first, then we’ll see.” She was immediately safe so she relaxed just slightly, but after they parted, he could easily have her killed.
“It’s never been easy between us, has it darling?”
“You could say that.”
“Mommy, try to be nice.” Silas was still holding her hand and now he was squeezing it.
“I thought we might patch a few things up today.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“It is summer holiday and Silas is between grades. I thought perhaps the two of you might spend some time together.”
The boy jumped up and down in excitement. “Can you take me back to the States? Where do you live now? Is it in California? Do you think I can learn to surf?”
“How do you know you can trust me? I could take him and disappear, just like you did.”
“I took him and disappeared because your bloody CIA wanted to lock me in one of your private dungeons and throw away the key.” They both knew that certain high profile international targets, when captured, bypassed the usual court and prison systems and were permanently incarcerated in phantom institutions never to be heard from again.
“Should we have this conversation in front of him?”
“I’m right here, Mommy. Daddy told me all about what happened.”
“I…well, gave him the abridged version. He’s only a child after all.”
“I’ll be ten next October, Daddy.”
“To answer your question though, I realize you could vanish with our son and I have no intention of stopping you.”
“What’s the catch?”
“None. I have provided a car. It is at your complete disposal. All of Silas’s belongings are packed in the boot. You can be in Madrid in less than two hours. Where you go after that is up to you.”
“What about you?”
“I am hoping you realize that he loves us both. Why do you think we are here? I’m not a monster. I couldn’t bear to watch him pine for his mother so.”
“You want to share custody.”
“Nothing involving the courts, you understand.”
“I understand given your…history with certain law enforcement agencies.”
“I’m sure we can arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. In the meantime, spend the summer with Silas, have some fun. Maybe you can learn to surf together. I’ll be in touch in a few months.”
Raisa reached out with her senses looking and listening for any sign. Ahmed was good, he was very good, which was why he was wanted by seven national governments and Interpol but then, she was an independent for hire as well. If this were a trap, it was better than any she had been in or set up. As far as she could tell, they were the only three people within a half-kilometer in any direction.
She knelt down, a tremendously vulnerable position, especially this close to Silas. “Do you understand what we’re saying? You’d come to stay with me for a while. You might not see Daddy for months or even longer.”
“Daddy explained it to me, but I haven’t seen you in almost four years. I miss you so much.” Now he was crying and the mother hiding inside of the assassin wanted to cry too.
Then Ahmed knelt and Silas turned and embraced him. “I’m going to miss you Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you too, Silas. I’ll miss you very, very much. But it was unfair of Daddy to keep you for so long and not let you see Mommy. I promise we’ll find a way for you to see us both.”
He let go of the boy and stood. “For what it’s worth Raisa, I’m sorry for everything that’s come between us.” He extended his hand.
She took it but instead of shaking, they just held on to each other for a long few seconds and then let go.
“I’m sorry too. I wish I knew how to fix it.”
“Today hasn’t been such a bad start. Let’s see where we can take it from here. You’d better go now. The car is waiting in the parking lot. I had it parked near your tour bus. The keys are under the driver’s seat.”
Raisa took a few steps back and let Silas and Ahmed say tearful farewells. Then she held her son’s hand and they walked back toward the ruins, went over the wall, and then through the arch. At the other end of the passageway, they would step again into the sunlight and begin a new life together.
I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt – Arch #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Every week, Sue posts one of her photographs as a prompt for participating authors to craft a poem, short story, or other creative work.
I suppose this being International Women’s Day, I wanted to write a tale specifically about a woman protagonist. Although Sue’s photo looks very peaceful and pleasant, something inside of me said “trap,” so I had Raisa enter cautiously. I only had a vague idea of what the story should be about so I let it unfold as I tapped on the keyboard.
I got some of my inspiration from the 2005 film Mr and Mrs Smith starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but decided to intensify the conflict between them and also to give them a child.
Neither Raisa nor Ahmed are terribly trusting or trustworthy, but that goes with their careers. However, at some point that has to give way for the sake of their son Silas. He’s the child of two international assassins, although I’ve created the sense that Ahmed has crossed the line more times than she has, thus his being a wanted man.
In the end, the needs of their child won out and who’s to say what will develop in the future.