The next day, River was determined to go see the chief, but Melody blocked him at every attempt. “You need to be resting,” she would say, or, “Can you not think about work for one day?”
He laughed at her persistence and assured her he wouldn’t be gone long and reminded her he was on leave and shouldn’t receive a new assignment yet.
She offered to go with him as he was still in a great deal of pain and found it difficult to move. “What about the stairs?”
He hadn’t thought of that and was almost discouraged. “I’ll get stiff if I don’t move. It’ll be good for me. Besides, you need to stay here with her.”
Harmony was still badly shaken and slept with them. River wanted her to sleep in between them so they both could hold her, but Melody didn’t want her to accidentally elbow him in the ribs or something. Good thing too because she had several nightmares.
After hobbling out of the house, making his way to the office, and staggering up the stairs, he finally landed in the chief’s office, sweating with heavy breaths and pain written all over his face.
“The man of the hour! I should have known you’d turn up sooner rather than later.”
River attempted to smile. “Tell me something good, chief.”
He would relive that day a thousand times if it kept Harmony safe, but part of him wanted his wounds to amount to something greater. The case had dragged on long enough and did more damage than he ever anticipated; he was weary.
“Well, you’ve done it, Agent Pitts!”
River knew what he meant, but it took a minute for it to register. “I’m sorry…what?”
“We got her. The interrogation team was relentless! They got one of those cowplant snots to sing like he was in a karaoke contest.”
If he weren’t so shocked and felt like crying, he would have laughed.
“The team is making a play to nab her within 24 hours, River.”
Hearing the chief say his name struck him. It almost sounded fatherly. He wanted to crumple over and cry or even hug the chief, but he couldn’t do any of those things without yelling in pain. It was finally over! They were safe. At least from that particular sect.
“Part of me wants to ask who it is, but the other part knows I don’t want or need to know.”
“It’s Zoe Patel. Do you know her?”
Another acquaintance? All the air in his lungs escaped and his head dropped. They weren’t close at all, but he was so tired of hearing about all these people mere fractions of degrees away from him turning out to be dangerous. It made sense though. When he first met her, she had just gotten a job at the hospital as the receptionist but quickly became the Chief of Staff. No one was that good.
Something occurred to him. “Aiden! My friend Aiden Renteria. They’re really close. Was he involved?”
The chief pulled out a file and flipped through it. “If he was, he was probably unaware. He’s clean as a whistle.”
River felt relieved. There was no way he could ever have a normal friendship with those men again–especially Eric Lewis–but at least he knew they were legit.
“I have to ask…how did they know we’d be at the hotel? Did they bug our phones or something?”
The chief held up his finger as if to put River on hold. “I got the report just an hour ago. Only had a chance to glance through it, but that part was amusing.” He licked his finger and flipped through the report. “You won’t believe it, but it sounds like a game of telephone if you ask me.”
River rolled his eyes and braced himself for the tomfoolery he was about to hear.
“If I read the report backward,” he flipped through more pages, “it looks as though your wife talked to someone named Presley–“
“Yeah, that’s her best friend.”
“Ms. Laughlin spoke to someone named Imani who told someone named Ryder who is the roommate of Zoe’s lover, Nicholas.”
River shook his head.
“And, apparently, Zoe is also good friends with your mother-in-law.”
River’s breaths got shallow, and his fists balled up. As soon as he was able, he wanted to pack the family up and move far far away.
“I can imagine you probably wouldn’t be interested in another assignment when you’re back from leave.”
Although he knew the chief was trying to be humorous, River couldn’t help but feel trapped. He didn’t want another assignment, but he didn’t want to be a disappointment either. Afterall, he wasn’t a contractor they could call whenever they needed him. They never said he was free to go once the case was closed.
“I’m sorry, chief. I know what you guys want, but I really need to fix my family. We can’t handle another case like this.”
The chief nodded. “We hired you to lead us to our target. It’s unfortunate your family got involved in the process, but by this time tomorrow, we’ll have her. You’re the real deal, River. We need more men like you…and your father. It would make my day if you decided to stay on, but I know that isn’t what you want.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. “These are the terms of your separation.”
Although he was getting what he wanted, River couldn’t help but feel like he was being fired.
“It states that you are on long-term disability. You will receive 60% of your salary for as long as you are disabled.” He looked up from the paper and smiled. “Luckily for you, ribs almost never completely heal.” He frowned. “Oh…maybe unluckily.”
“It also states that you are entering into a classified protection agreement which means we will relocate you and your family to an undisclosed location. Housing will be provided.” He put the paper down. “I added an addendum which I’m sure you’ll appreciate.”
A zing of nervous energy shot through River’s body.
“You did incredible work, Agent Pitts. I’m not sure we could have done this without you. Your dedication and work ethic is something to be admired. We are adding a hefty bonus to this package as a thank you…and goodbye.”
The chief stood and came from behind his desk. River did his best to stand.
Chief Huntington shook his hand. “It’s been a pleasure to know you, River. We’ll be looking out for you as always, but best of luck to you and your family.”
“Thank you, chief.”