Ingrams & Assoc #4: Beneath the Surface
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2016 by Jezzaz

Drama Sex Story: Chapter 1 - April and Megan get caught up with a sanitation engineer, under the tunnels of Boston, with the Irish mob hot on their tail. How can anyone want to hang out with THIS guy?

Caution: This Drama Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Romantic   Heterosexual   Fiction   Violent  

I sat there, in shock, wondering what the hell I was mixed up in. Had she just asked me... ?

My little office – with its tiled walls, fan in the ceiling and no natural light, - was my cocoon, safe and secure. And I'd just been asked to abandon it, and fight for my life. Well, their lives. Everyone's lives.

April Carlisle and her blond – and very chesty, I couldn't help noticing – companion stared at me both pleadingly and defiantly at the same time. I don't know how you can actually mix those two, but they managed it. I guess I'd just not seen it on any of the TV shows I watch, which is most of my exposure to the world above. I still can't quite believe I managed to get a web connection working down here. Took two weeks of wheedling and whining with the cable company, but in the end, they caved (pun intended) and installed it.

"Look, they are going to be here any minute, will you help? Please. If you won't, we need to know right now so we can be on our way."

The funny thing was that in the past six weeks, the only person I'd actually seen in person besides Mike, my supervisor, was April,. And Mike only came once a week or so. Even he can't tolerate it down here very much, and he's been doing this for over twenty-five years.

We were thirty feet below the surface of Boston, sitting in my little office/apartment, which has a small en-suite bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen unit and a sitting area. All windowless – obviously – and accompanied by the constant quiet hum of the air conditioning system.

Why this space existed at all was a mystery to me. But I'd been living there for the past eight years, alone, removed from society. I was just fine with that. Prior to being converted to the little apartment, it had been storage rooms. I never knew why it had been changed. Bear in mind that we were sitting on top of a major connection of sewage and utility tunnels under Boston, so it was not complicated for it to have a bathroom and shower system – it's not like the water had far to go, though I was always amazed that we got fresh water down here. What made it tolerable was air conditioning. Let's face it, the stench from the sewage system that was just below us could be overwhelming – even unhealthy. But with the really good HVAC, it didn't bother me at all.

There were stairs that took you up to street level, plus there were a couple of rooms which acted as storage for sewage suits, air cylinders and all the rest of the equipment required to keep the system working properly, plus excess storage for other users of the sewer system. There was even a board on the wall in my office, with a map of the tunnels within a ten-mile radius that had little indicator lights on it. It looked like something out of 1964. Then, under that, there was an up-to-date Macbook pro laptop, tapped into everything I was allowed to see. There is a lot I wasn't allowed to be connected to. This is Boston, and there are lots of things going on that were classified above my clearance. To be honest, I wasn't much interested in it. I had access to whatever I needed for my job, and I was no hacker. I couldn't even play one on TV.

Right, so now you've got the set up. This is where we were. And there were these two women. I knew one of them, very slightly. April Carlisle had come to find me about two weeks earlier – she was looking for a briefcase that might have found it's way into the sewer system, and was wondering where it might have ended up, and if I might be able to 'procure' it for her. That was the word she used, 'procure'. She even offered me a lot of money to find it.

She explained it had gone in the system through the street grate on Massachusetts Avenue, around Cameron – about a mile from Tufts University. I pulled up the tunneling system on my laptop – just to confirm where my memory said this would probably end up, you understand – and found that yeah, it probably be in the filters at the processing filters near the Mystic River. There were lots of filters along the Boston sewage system – one of the oldest sewage systems in the US. April fluttered her eye lashes at me, and tried lots of patronizing verbiage attempting to get me to find this briefcase, which must have had something pretty damn important in it.

In the end I said, "Sure, I'd go look", just to shut her up – and because she was very nice looking. And it's nice to have a pretty girl be nice to me rather than just staring at me or laughing behind my back.

Yeah, I should talk a little about that, so you have the complete background. I'm Thomas. Thomas David Avaline. The second, apparently. I think I'm supposed to put a 'II' after the name or something. The name, really, is the only thing I have from my parents. That and a violin.

They were killed when I was four, and since I was an only child of two only children, there was no one to take me. Into the system I went.

The thing is, I was in the car when it got crushed. Somehow even though my parents were instantly killed, I was "just" injured. Just. My whole head was partially crushed – the skull cracked and broken, a cheekbone smashed and more. But I lived. The surgeons did their best, and while they managed to push the bones of the skull back together, there was a lot of surface damage that, I was later told, was too much to fix at the time. I could 'get plastic surgery' when I was older. I guess they were just pleased I could still use my jaw and didn't loose an eye or an ear. Easy for them to be content. They weren't a little kid in the Boston public system, shuttled from foster house to foster house, orphanage to orphanage, clutching only the violin that was in the car with us. They couldn't find where we had been living – both my parents were somewhat 'unconventional' so I was told later. I don't know what that means. Whether it means they were homeless, or just didn't keep up the paper work with the authorities I don't know. Add it to the list of things I'll never know

Anyway, I have a nice scar down one side of my face, and a patch at the scalp line on the left side of my face where hair won't grow. There's scaring over one cheek, and down the left side of my face, plus my ear is messed up. It functions well enough, but it looks like I've been in one prizefight too many.

Anyway, so the face stuff, that was a black mark against ever really being adopted. Then add to that the fact that I shot up in height, around when I hit puberty, and you've got a real winner on your hands. The fact is, I was six foot when I was fourteen. I was six foot four by the time I was eighteen. I stopped growing at six foot six, thankfully.

I tower over people. And what's worse, it's not like I'm built like a brick shit house. I'm tall and slender, and it sucks. If I was built like the Jason Momoa guy from Game of Thrones, I might have stood a chance, but I'm not. So I have all the Tall Guy issues – two collapsed lungs in my life (it's a common aliment for tall willowy people, so I'm told), lots of pulled muscles, and I cannot for the life of me find a bed that'll fit me. I had to have one made. Getting it down into the small living space where I reside was a nightmare.

And that's when I can sleep. I've never been able to sleep well. The nightmares are still there. The repeating one, in a car, being chased and never being able to get away, trying desperately to dodge other cars coming at me, like some demented video game. I get that one at least once a week. I wake up bathed in sweat and I'm a miserable dick for the rest of the day. I figure it's something to do with the accident, but beyond that, I just endure it.

So that was my life. I was a kid; damaged; traumatized; disfigured; freakishly tall; poor; alone. Not the stuff that dreams are made of.

So, it should be no surprise that I am a loner. First by necessity and now by choice. I honestly don't know any other way to be.

I tried to live differently. To fit in as best I could. I didn't just give up and feel sorry for myself, well not entirely. I did well in school. I was accepted to a fine college here in Boston. But it became painfully obvious by the second semester that I was a figure of ... not fun, so much as an oddity. I did get asked to be on the basketball team, and at the time I thought, "Why not?" I had thought it would give me exercise and –more importantly –companionship. I couldn't have been more wrong. Everyone just expected me to be great at it because I was tall. And I wasn't great at all. I tried working out, but that got really awkward when I couldn't do all the things the littler guys did. I thought some humor might help, but calling people "little guy" isn't funny, apparently. After the third time I was laid out in practice, I gave it up.

As for women, forget it. There was another tall women the year ahead of me. She was six foot four, and mutual acquaintances wanted to push us together because, well, two tall people belong together, that's the way it's meant to be, right? Like two old people or two fat people.

Except she was a bitch. No, she was a Bitch. With a capital B. While my face and height had caused me to just be quiet and withdrawn, she'd declared the world at fault for her being tall, and the world had better look out. To start with, it was ok, since she assumed I felt the same way, and none of her vitriol was directed at me. But that soon changed when I didn't join her in making the world feel my wrath. So, that ended badly.

I finished my degree online. Easier by far.

Oh, I can play that violin, by the way. I made myself learn. Interestingly, once you've got the basic finger positions learned, you can do lessons all via Skype, since it's all listening anyway. I have three Violins now – a really nice Karl Willhelm Model 64, an electric Yamaha SV 200, and my parents', which sounds like shit, but I'll never part with.

So I watch TV – I have a penchant for 60's and 70's TV shows, particularly spy shows. I love Man from UNCLE, Mission Impossible and I Spy. And I play Violin and I sometimes try to write, both music and stories. Neither are very good, though.

I write music. Well, I don't write it, per se. I have lots of tunes rattling around my head, and I carry a small digital recorder, and record little rifts as they come to me when I'm wandering the tunnels. I know all the best natural echo spots in the tunnel system. Not that that is particularly useful information, but you pick up what you pick up.

Sorry, I'm rambling a bit, but it's important if you are going to have any understanding of why I live the life I do, beneath the streets of Boston, only coming out when I have to. I know I'm viewed as some kind of freak by the other people who work for the same agency as I do, but I don't really care any more. I keep to myself, get the job done and just hope that's enough.

My degree is in water management. Weird, right? I still, to this day, have no idea why I chose that. But it is a vocation that has jobs. Not necessarily glamorous jobs, but jobs that are steady and pay okay. Once I graduated, I started as a roving water tester, and then when this job came up – the old guy who was the Tunnel Treatment Manager retired – I jumped at it. I was never really part of society anyway – all I did was go to work, test water, write up reports, go to the movies (it's dark in the movies) and go home. I was more and more withdrawn anyway, so I just ... left.

But back to these two women. I did find the brief case that April had asked about, - in her breathless way, - although it took me two days of sloshing around in a hazmat suit through the filters – which it turned out needed a cleaning and removal of some of larger items caught in them anyway. I called her, and she came right away, giddy as a schoolgirl. It was one hell of a briefcase too. Someone had had to force it through the grate, because it was just slightly larger than the grate gaps. Very slightly. What was even more interesting was that the case itself was actually made of steel. Even though it was covered in leather, like a normal briefcase, it had a steel frame. And the locked looked like a normal number tumbler lock, but was anything but. Normal tumbler locks are easy to open, but this one – this was the real deal. No one was getting into this brief case unless the owner wanted them to.

This wasn't the first time I'd had people request stuff like that. It happens several times a year. I have had the Secret Service ask me to find a box for them, and the FBI had been in the tunnels with me, looking for both corpses and backpacks. They even had me examine maps and mark up where, if I were looking to bomb Boston, I'd put charges. I think they were just covering themselves, but still, it was interesting thinking like a criminal. It got me thinking about all sorts of possibilities – how I would make a getaway if I robbed a bank (I knew where all the bank vaults were, that had tunnels going past them), how I'd be able to bring Boston to a halt if I wanted to bomb the sewage tunnels (I did idly wonder what the Boston city council would pay for blackmail), or, most insidiously, where I'd drop a chemical weapon to have the most effect, before being flushed into the harbor. I read a book about that once, by Neal Stephenson, called Zodiac. He got a lot of it right, although there were the minor niggles that any professional has, when an amateur writes about his business. And, when those brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, well you'd have thought I was suddenly popular, I had so many cops, federal agents and soldiers going through the tunnels with me looking for anything that might have been shoved into the sewer, or anybody who might be hiding.

Anyway, April picked up the briefcase, and was all pleased and even sat and had coffee with me. Well, she invited me out to have one, and I said no, and so we did it in my little bijou palace. She was pleasant enough – nice to look at, tall-ish. Red hair. Well spoken. Well dressed. Seemed like a together woman in todays world. I assumed I'd never see here again.

And yet, here she is. Dressed up for an evening on the town, with this other woman – Megan? – in tow.

And they both seem to be in distress.

I was just microwaving some dinner, and the door bell pinged, and so I checked the hidden camera that shows who is at the door, and there they were, Megan looking around and April smiling at a camera that she should not have known was there.

And so here they are,, Megan looking around checking out my abode, and April smiling beseechingly at me.

"So, let me get this straight. There are 'bad guys' chasing you," I said, using the air quotes around the 'bad guys' phrase, "and you need to get away because if they catch you, they'll do unspeakable things to you. Do I have this right?"

April nodded impatiently.

"Yes. That's the gist of it. There's a lot more to it than that, obviously, but the bottom line is that these guys are looking for us, and if and when they find us, well, I'm not sure we'd survive the experience. I'm being honest with you. I really didn't know where else to go – Boston is not really my stomping ground. I figured we could hide out here for a bit. No disrespect, but I don't think anyone knows this place exists."

"And you. You agree on this?" I directed the question at April's companion.

She nodded, eyes wide.

"Absolutely. We are ... involved, in this thing, well, it's something. Something bigger than we expected and it's ... coming back to bite us. We underestimated the people we were ... dealing with, and this is seriously bad for us. We just need a little time. Please? If you don't help, I don't know what we are going to do. They know us, they were following us and they are actively looking. They know Boston and we ... well, we don't."

She was very carefully choosing her words. Being specific and vague at the same time.

"So, are you with an agency? One that uses a lot of letters, I presume? Look, I have some clearance, not a lot, but I have worked with law enforcement. I can call people."

"Sort of. Look, we don't really have time for this, and you don't have enough clearance at all and you certainly can't call anybody. I am getting worried that they know we are here. They could well be trying to follow us. It may not even be safe here."

At that, I sighed. "What the hell have you got me into? I didn't ask for this. I just wanted to eat dinner and watch TV. Now there are people looking for you, intending you harm, and I'm in the middle of it? Way to go. Thanks a lot."

Megan smiled apologetically.

"I'm sorry. I really am. But ... can you help? Please, Tom, can you?"

"How do you know my name?" I asked at this Megan chick, still in a belligerent mood.

"It's on your desk plaque," replied April, nodding at my desk.

Oops. I deflated a bit.

"The thing is, how do I know you are on the up and up? How do I know you aren't the bad guys here, and the people following you aren't federal agents? Or men in black, for all I know?"

Megan actually got the reference. "We aren't aliens Tom. You can pull my nose and see if it's a mask."

I smirked. April said, "Here, Tom. Use the phone on the desk. Call this number, and say 'Field Agents Carlisle and Bromley are out of play.' Then just listen. You can then decide if we are bad guys or not."

She gave me the number, and I looked at her suspiciously – no doubt whomever I was calling would be in on this mess. But what the hell. I didn't have anything to lose.

So I called, and I got someone on the other end saying, "Good evening, this is the Field Institutes answering service. Can I take a message?"

Even more suspiciously, I said, "Hi. Um, so I'm supposed to say that Field Agents Carlisle and..." I looked at April again, who hissed, 'Bromley!' back at me, "Bromley, are out of play? Does that mean anything to you?"

There was silence for a second, and then the voice said, "Please stay on the line. I am connecting you."

I seriously expected someone to say "Opening channel D" at this point. Extra points if you get the reference, but I doubt most of you will. Most people who would are almost dead these days.

Seconds later a male voice, with a Scottish brogue, answered and said, "Hello? You are calling about some field agents?"

"Yes, Carlisle and Bromley?"

"Where are they? Are they safe? Who are you? What's your connection to them?" asked the voice, in quick succession.

"Um, they are here with me. They say they are being followed, and they want my help. I'm just trying to figure out if they are the good guys here?"

"Sir, all I can tell you is that you would be doing your country a service by aiding these ladies. They are involved in something I cannot discuss with you – I'm sure you understand – but anything you can do to help here will be gratefully received. And when I say grateful, I mean grateful. Can I speak to either one of the ladies?"

I handed the phone to April, and said, "He wants you."

April took the phone and said, "Hello Dermot ... Yes, fine for now ... No, I think they are onto us. We were followed ... Yes, we have it. Well, Megan does. I think she's blown though ... Yeah, she's here too ... No, we aren't harmed. But they are coming. I came here, it was the safest and most out of the way place I could think of ... No, it's pretty safe I think. It's in the sewer system ... No, part of it ... No, it's not smelly. Really, that's what you think to ask? ... I don't know ... No, he's the guy who runs the place ... Yes, I think he's trust worthy. He's helped me before ... Well, yeah, it's not like we have a lot of choices here ... Ok. Hang on..."

She handed the phone back to me saying, "My boss wants to talk to you again."

I took the phone and said, "Hello?"

"Hi again. Ok, so my name is Dermot, and you are... ?"

"I'm Thomas. Not Tom, Thomas."

"Ok Thomas. I need your help. These ladies are very capable, but even they are not likely to deal by themselves with the people that have been sent out after them. Now, Megan is in possession of something we very much need, to prove a case against some very bad people - that's going on here. This is not normally what we do, as an agency. We've been put in a situation we don't want to be in, and as such, we need help. And hopefully, you can help us. Am I correct in assuming you are in the Boston Sewer system?"

"Waaaaait a second there Dermot. Back up a little. I still don't know that you guys are the good guys? Convince me?"

"Yes, I get that. Let me think for a wee minute ... Ok, so do you, perchance, have access to a computer right now?"


"Ok, so I'm going to post a picture right now, at a specific web address. Can you pull that up for me?"

He gave me the address, and I put it in. Almost instantly, a picture popped up.

"Ok, so that's April, along with the current Chief Justice. You can corroborate by that googling him. If you scroll down, there's another picture. That's Megan with head of Apple, Tim Cook. Now these pictures will be removed in a second, because we don't allow pictures of our field agents on the Internet. I'm just letting you see who you are currently sheltering. I'm only asking you to help hide them and let them get away with their skins intact?"

I thought. Did I really want to get involved?

Right then the door chime pinged. I switched the laptop image to the front door, and saw three large gentlemen, in dark suits with long coats, all clean-shaven and squared jawed. One was on his phone. The other two were looking at the door very intently.

All three of us stared at the image on the screen.

I was suddenly aware of Dermot's voice again. "Thomas, are you there?"

"Yeah, I think your bad guys found them. Us."

"Crap. Can you get out? Is there another way out? We can't get any ... assistance there in any time soon. It would take at least half an hour. Is there a back way out? Or some place you can barricade, or a place where they can't find you?"

I thought for a second and then said, "Well, this is the sewer system. Can you have some guys meet us elsewhere in Boston?"

"Name the place, we can be there within 30 minutes."

"Ok then, the corner of Main Street and Church, in Watertown. 30 minutes. Don't be late."

"We'll be there. Thanks. Good luck."

I hung up, and looked at the women. They were wearing heels, which would be a problem.

"Ok, take the heels off, you need to get into hazmat suits. We are going into the sewers."

The doorbell rang again. I looked at the screen – the guy on the phone had put it away and was looking around. One of the other guys pulled a crowbar from his jacket – that must have been fun to carry around.

They were obviously going to force entry, which just gave me more impetus.

"Ok ladies, chop chop. There is a room outside that has the hazmat suits in. You'll need boots, and the ones I have are too large, so it's lots of socks for you, so you'll fit."

I hustled them out into the storage room, and dragged out three hazmat suits – thankfully they do come in three sizes – well, four, if you count the specially made one for me – and they fit. Both women struggled into the suits quickly, and then started putting on socks so the boots fit.

We all heard the wrenching noise in the distance, where the front door must have been jimmied. It made us work faster.

My suit fit easily, since I was practiced at putting it on, so I went to get the other things we would need –air masks and air tanks. Not like you see Scuba divers or fire fighters wearing. More like a small tank you wear on a belt and a set of goggles with a nose covering.

While the sewer system is designed with some ventilation, it still smells awful, and there are places where methane (sewer gasses) builds up. It's not usually at toxic levels, and the system is designed for it to vent out, but it's an old system and there are some places where new tunnels meet old tunnels and methane does collect at the junctions where mismatched tunnels sizes meet. So we take air, just in case.

I also grabbed light bars. These are special neon based lights designed to not produce any spark. Again, methane is not usually concentrated enough to explode but it doesn't do to tempt the gods. It's also why all the equipment you carry is either plastic, leather or metal covered in plastic or leather, so it can't spark if you hit it against a wall or drop it.

We could start hearing footsteps down the stairs towards where we were – we were out of time.

I turned and looked at the two women – both were suited up, and I handed them each a light and the mask and air bottle.

"Put them on as we go, ok?"

They nodded – somewhat frightened eyes staring back at me, although April's also had an amount of calculation and trust in them.

"Ok, where we go."

I opened a flat manhole in the ground, and instantly the smell wafted upwards, and both women wrinkled their noses.

Megan was about to say something but I stared her, and shook my head while holding a finger up to my mouth. They'd be able to hear us now, and we needed to go silently. Tunnels echo. Noise amplifies. They'd figure out where we were before long anyway, but there was no point in helping them along.

I motioned for them to go down the hole; there was a ladder into the actual tunnels. They went quickly and efficiently, folding their masks over their heads and attaching the air bottles to their belts as they went.

I watched them both go down, and then followed them. The footsteps on the stairs were getting louder. I think I managed the get the manhole cover closed about twenty seconds before the three men arrived. Thankfully it was well oiled, and also there was a rubber edge around where the manhole sat – more for stopping the fumes coming up than for sound deadening, but it was good for that too. So there was no clanging of the cover as I closed it.

I sat under it at the top of the ladder, listening for a moment and was satisfied that they hadn't heard us go down. They'd find it soon enough; there was nowhere else we could have gone. But we needed as much time as we could get a good lead on them. I knew the tunnels well, so I knew which way to go. That would help, of course. I just wanted to be far enough ahead and round enough corners that they wouldn't see out lights ahead of them.

April and Megan were looking at me anxiously as I came down the ladder. Both had their lights in hand, but neither had fired them up. I did mine by touch and they followed suit.

"Ok, go this way. There's a grate about twenty feet in the other direction, so this is the only way to go. I'll lead. Right now we can use the side walkway, but those are only on the newer tunnels. The old ones are more like a hole in the ground, and we'll be slushing through some pretty nasty stuff," I said, as quietly as I could.

I walked ahead and they followed, keeping close.

We walked for about three or four hundred feet, turning three corners, when I heard a small echo. I knew what it meant. The tunnels echo for miles, and locating where the sound came from would be totally impossible – but the fact we'd heard it at all meant they'd have found the manhole and had opened it. They were coming.

I wondered if they'd found the hazmat suits, or if they were ruining their nice black suits. Probably the latter. People imagine the sewage system to be something it's not – inch deep water with a slightly nasty smell. It's not. It's way nastier than that. Shit, refuse, the kind of stuff you want to put down a toilet, over spills, dead animals, everything finds it's way down here, in far greater quantities than you would think. Well, they'd find out soon enough how dank and dark and plain nasty it really was. They'd never get the smell out of their clothes, in fact.

I stopped, a thought occurring to me, Megan bumped into me.

"What?" she said.

"Ok, level with me. How 'bad' are these guys?"

Megan glanced at April before replying.

"In what sense?"

"Are they killers? Will they hurt us if they catch us? To what degree? Are we talking about a beating here, or are we in fear of our lives?"

Megan looked at April again, and bit her lip. April nodded at her.

"Honestly? We'd survive for a bit. I don't know how long, but at least until they got what they want. After that, all bets are off. You ... well, you would be collateral damage. If it isn't shooting you or beating you to death, it wont be far off. They are pissed off and being sent out and this," she gestured around her, "won't be putting them in any better of a mood. We aren't making it easier and they won't be happy about that."

"So, ... It's a life or death situation then? Do they have guns? I assume so?"

"I'm sure, yes. Why?"

I grinned, and realized she couldn't see it under the mask.

"Well, I ... have an idea. Look, here's what I need you to do. Keep going forward. There's a junction about three hundred yards from here. It's a T-junction, so you have to pick a direction. Go left. Keep going another two hundred yards and go right. Then just go straight until the tunnel widens out, and when you get to where it does, look up. There should be rungs in the wall that'll take you up. It's not far, about 30 feet, and there's a manhole cover at the top. There's a lever there that'll push it up and rotate it so it uncovers the hole and you can climb out. That's where I said we'd meet your people."

"What about you?" asked April.

"I'm gonna lead them away from you. I'll catch up - don't worry, I know these tunnels well and they don't. But don't wait for me either. If you get to the wall ladder, go up it and get the hell out. One other thing. There could be some ... fire, coming your way. There shouldn't be, but if there is, duck into the water. In fact, put your masks on now, and keep an eye behind you. If you see flames, drop into the water. It'll protect you, and breath through the mask. It's not really designed to be submerged, but it should be ok for the few moments you'll be under. Let the flames pass by – they'll be gone real quick, but – and this is important – when you come back up, do NOT take off the masks. There'll be no oxygen in the air since the flames will have burnt it all. That's why the flames won't last long – not enough oxygen in the air to burn. Ok? Right. Go..."

I could see they still had questions, but they'd have to work it out for themselves. This Dermot character said they were capable; well, now they'd have to prove it.

We all slushed our way to the T Junction, and then I pointed to the way they needed to go. April went straight for it, but Megan stuck around for a moment, grabbed my arm and just looked into my eyes, before taking off after April.

I knew that I had to get these guys good and mad at me. I made sure my rubber gloves where firmly attached and then rooted around in the muck I was standing in, groping around for anything solid to pick up. I found something – a busted motorcycle helmet. It was solid and could also hold some muck in it as well, which was a bonus.

I heard motion and noise and some voices, and shut off my light, squinting until I acquired some night vision. I could see lights in the distance, waving around. They'd obviously found some of the hand lights. I turned my light back on, and balanced it on the edge of the walkway and the tunnel itself. They'd see it and presumably would follow it. I didn't need the light – I knew the tunnels and where I needed to go, and it wasn't that far anyway, if my plan worked. It was a big if. It was risky, but I did have a backup plan. I knew of three small cubbyholes nearby that I could squeeze myself into that they'd never even see.

I drew myself into one side tunnel off the T Junction, the opposite side from where the ladies had gone – I checked and they'd already turned a corner, so their lights weren't visible any more – and concealed myself, waiting for the 'bad guys' to arrive.

And they were coming, slowly. I heard them wading through the sludge, rather than using the side walkway – we were in the newer tunnels, which had a side walkway that was slightly elevated, so when the tunnels were not overflowing there was somewhere dry to walk. So much the better for me, since I was using the walkway and it would mean I could move much faster then them.

As they neared the junction, I could hear them swearing bloody murder out on all of us. I leaned around the corner and shouted, "Hey motherfuckers. You are real assholes, you know that?" and then I threw the busted helmet in their direction, as hard as I could.

As I hoped, it arced in the air, spraying shit from within the concave part of the helmet all over them. And then it had the added effect of hitting the third guy square in the chest, knocking him back and, hopefully, over.

There was more swearing and then suddenly light and deafening echoing noise, as one of them fired a weapon at me. He had zero chance of hitting me – he couldn't aim since there wasn't enough light and I was already around a corner anyway. But it had the effect I wanted – pissing them off and drawing them in the direction I wanted them to go. And now I knew they were armed, which I expected but needed to confirm.

Now I had to make sure they followed me to where I needed them to be. The gun shot had the added effect of both scaring the bejesus (I'd have said shit, but considering where I was, that might be redundant) out of me. Lets face it, clever plans are all very well to think up, but another ting entirely to put into practice. While my plan seemed to be working so far, they had fired a gun at me. A gun! With bullets! In the dark! I was a reclusive sewer engineer and I was getting shot at and was bragging to myself that my plan was working. Was I nuts?!?

My destination was the corner of Drexel way and Shit River Drive. I sometimes gave my own name to tunnels. There was no point in trying to name them for the roads above, since the tunnels crisscrossed and went in all kinds of directions – often where roads were when the city was built, but had long since been changed.

Drexel –named after a guy on my college basketball team who was hell bent on making my life a misery - was part of the older sewage system with narrower tunnels– whereas Shit River Drive was the tunnel we were currently in. Drexel was a feeder, which dumped nasty stuff into the main tunnel, and there was a small pocket there were the older tunnel connected to the newer one, pushing the new tunnel ceiling higher than it otherwise would have been. Because of that, it was one of the few places where the tunnel air filtration system couldn't reach, and thus a place where methane would collect.

That's were I was leading the 'bad guys'. What would happen if they took another shot at me? I had often wondered about trying to get the Mythbusters guys down here, to see if they could get any of the methane pockets to go up. Now I was doing the experiment myself. My college chemistry teacher would be proud of me – if only I had ever met him other than through email.

We found out what would happen soon enough. I made it to the junction, purposely making just enough noise so they could follow me. Then I hid again, in a small alcove just inside Drexel Way. The older tunnels were full of these small alcoves. They were designed to be opened to become smaller feeders into the old system, but almost none of them had ever actually been opened. I rooted around to find something else to throw, and this time found an old sneaker. Then I waited.

I saw the lights come closer, and as soon as I thought they were in the right place, I heaved the sneaker at them, took a deep breath, pulled my mask down tight and dived into the muck.

They reacted exactly as I hoped. Obviously pissed off, they again fired at me. And the methane pocket reacted as chemistry and physics would have expected.

There was a massive and instant fireball above me, in all sorts of interesting yellow and orange colors. I lay just barely below the surface, but could still see the glow through the muck. It hung for about eight or nine seconds, then disappeared. I surfaced and could see the fire carrying further down the tunnel, consuming what little oxygen was left in the air, combined with any methane that was there. It didn't travel far before just burning out; there just wasn't enough methane in the normal air of the tunnels. Only in these very few pockets did enough collect to actually catch ignite, which was my whole purpose in luring them here.

I took a moment and thought about what I'd done. I found I really wasn't that concerned. I'm not a psychopath, and had never hurt another person before. But they'd been firing at me, not the other way around. If they hadn't fired the gun, they'd be light headed and have a hell of a headache an hour from now, but they'd be fine. Their actions precipitated this, not mine. Ok, I'd led them into a dangerous situation but I was ok with that. It was –in my mind –self defense. Their actions made self-defense necessary and their actions made it deadly.

I waded to where their lights bobbed in the water, keeping my mask on.

I came across one body, floating face down. I pulled him over and saw no sign of life. I looked around and found another man with burns all over his face, smashed against the wall. There was a lot of blood on the wall and it was obvious to me that he was dead too.

I found the third guy a little farther down the tunnel. He was still alive, although barely. I might have killed in self-defense, but I wasn't a killer, so I took a deep breath, removed my mask and put it on him. I dragged him along, towards the junction and back toward my office, alternating the mask from his face to mine.

It took me almost fifteen minutes to get him back to the manhole cover, and then another ten to get him up the ladder. I'm tall but not particularly strong, and this guy was at least two hundred pounds. I managed to get him up through the cover, and then went to call the cops. I had decided that my story was going to be that I'd found him and the other two while doing a sweep after hearing a bang, and then let them sort it out. I highly doubted he'd admit he and his pals were chasing me and firing at me.

I did wonder what happened with the April and Megan. They'd obviously taken off without me as I had told them to. Once the paramedics arrived, they took the barely alive guy and the cops went to retrieve the other two. I was told that the guy who survived wasn't looking good, and there was a fair chance of brain damage due to lack of oxygen. If he did recover and talked, well, I'd deal with that if/when the time came. It's not like I had any great connection to Boston or the area. Or to anything. Or to anyone.

I wondered if I'd ever see those women again. I didn't have to wonder for long. For about three days, there was some furor and interest. But then it died down, and the people with cameras had finally left – I had been showing where it went down, but declined any interviews except from law enforcement. Things were back to routine, and I had just finished as shift examining older tunnels that were starting to crumble, and would write up recommendation for new construction, which would piss off the city fathers since it was under a new mall, making it really hard and expensive. But as they say, every crisis is an opportunity, and a fire with two dead in the sewer probably made it easier to get some things done, so we were going to try to seize that moment. When I returned to my office and found April with her feet up, sipping some of my cocoa. She was with some older dude who sat a little less familiarly in my office chair.

They both stood as I walked in, staring at them.

"Don't people knock any more?" I asked, wearily. I was tired – the last few days had taken a lot out of me, and I was sleeping even worse than usual. Other than my nightmares, wading through the crap all day wore me out, and when bedtime came around, I didn't need any of the adverts for Ambien I'd seen on TV. I was out cold and slept like a log – a phrase I'd no idea where I'd picked up, could it have been Mom? But the last few days, I'd been tossing and turning, and having lots of nightmares, but different than the usual ones. I had drowning dreams, a few buildings on fire type stuff, and one – that had ended my night of sleep entirely – about the accident. Only this time, I was driving, and my parents were in the back. And when the truck loomed out of the darkness, I couldn't turn the wheel, despite trying to. When I woke from that, I spent almost an hour in the shower, trying to rinse off the sweat and bring my heart rate down.

The guy reached out his hand to shake mine, as I took off my heavy sewer-suit. I just stared at his hand, looked at him and said, "seriously?" at which April snorted.

"Sorry," he said, with that Scottish twang. This was that Dermot guy who'd been on the phone, obviously.

"I'm Dermot. I need to thank you for taking care of my ladies. What you did ... well, it was way beyond what we needed. I mean, I do thank you for taking care of the situation." He added, hastily, seeing me recoil when he said it was 'way beyond' what they needed.

I just looked at him and then said, "I'm going to shower. We can talk when I'm clean. This is a shitty job. Pun intended."

And I went and showered in my little bathroom, luxuriating in the hot water and wondering what the hell these people wanted now.

Once I was done, I got dressed and in doing so, noticed someone had been through my closet, and most of my clothes (which really wasn't that much, to be honest)were packed in a large suitcase that wasn't mine. What. The. Fuck?

So I stalked back into my living area, interrupting a conversation between April and Dermot. April was sitting with her feet up on my second chair. Dermot was leaning against the main desk, both hands by his sides, gripping the desktop.

"So?" I said, holding out the suitcase. "Are we going somewhere?"

"Weeeeell," said Dermot, trying to smile, "You are. We have a bit of a ... situation, you might say."

"Might you?" I asked, sarcastically. I was not warming to these people. I had killed in their defense – although I wasn't too cut up about that. They had tried to hurt me, so I was returning the favor, I thought. Plus, people who shoot at other people without having a clue who they were not good people, and the world is probably better off without them. I was pretty sure these were the good guys, but that didn't mean I liked them very much. They had –after all - put me in the situation where I could have been killed, and where I'd had to kill to avoid that.

"Yes," said Dermot, sitting back down.

"Thomas, please sit down for a second. We have things to discuss."

I glared at April, who reluctantly pulled her feet down, with a wry smile.

I sat, looking expectantly.

"Look," said Dermot, leaning forward and being earnest, "what you did the other night was remarkable. The guys chasing April and Megan were ... not nice people. Obviously. And they work for even less nice people. And, unfortunately, now they know you exist. The guy who survived? You were very decent in saving him, and he has woken up and he remembers everything. Oh, he's not talking to the cops, but he is talking. And the people he is talking to are quite unhappy with you."

I digested this. Great. No good deed goes unpunished.

"I think it's time you tell me who exactly you people really are" I said.

Dermot and April exchanged a look.

"Who we are doesn't matter. We are an agency, like all the rest, and that's really all you need to know right now. What you don't know can't hurt you."

"Oh really," I declared, exasperatedly, "and you get to judge this, do you?"

"Yes," said Dermot, unflinchingly, "in this case, I do."

"So, they are coming for me? Be serious. The guy has no idea it was really me who did that."

"You don't get it," said Dermot, shaking his head. "It doesn't matter what they know. It only matters what they think YOU know. The thing is, it's worse than that. That web page I sent you? To convince you we are the good guys? Well, we took the pictures down, but it was still open on your laptop. And they saw it. So April and Megan's covers are blown now, too. They want April and Megan – well, mostly Megan, since she was onsite with them – desperately, and they think you have something to do with it. There she is, pic of her on your laptop, she comes to you for help when she's being chased. And what you did doesn't seem like the work of an amateur, even if it was. It's not hard to see how they look at this, is it?"

Fuck. I began to understand. Double fuck.

"The thing is Thomas, we feel responsible for this."

"Well, to clarify, I feel responsible for this, Thomas. I'm the one who came with Megan to your doorstep," interjected April, in a serious tone.

"And we will take care of this. Take care of you."

"By taking a trip?"

"Yes. Literally. You need to finish packing and then we must leave. It's not forever. What we did learn the other night has been shared with the responsible agencies so that they can do what needs to be done. These guys ARE going down, no question. But it's ... going to take some time. When it's done you will be safe and fine and can come back and resume your ... life."

"Such as it is", she murmured, under her breath. I heard her and I stared at her till she looked away, embarrassed. The bitch.

"Think of it this way, Thomas," said Dermot, trying to get my attention back on him. "It's an all expenses paid trip, to exotic climes, all on us, for three or four weeks."

"Exotic climes?" I intoned. "What the fuck? You people ... I mean really. I got a fuckin' job here. That's pretty much all I have and it doesn't just stop or go away."

"We are an agency, Thomas. We have resources. We've already been in touch with your boss Mike and have arranged things. He knows you are going away for a while, and he knows it's for good reason and you are covered. Your job is NOT going away. It will be here when you get back. But right now, for your own safety, and for our peace of mind, you really need to go. And it is exotic. I know for a fact you've never been out of the northeast, except for one trip to Las Vegas. This is an all expense paid trip all the way up the west coast, from San Diego to Seattle. Different towns, different locations ... come on. This is pretty awesome. Hell, I want to go."

He looked at me, and then carried on. "And –to be blunt - they know who you are. They'll have found out what you look like, and, Thomas, with the best will in the world, the way you look, you stand out like a black man at Klan meeting, you know? You won't be that hard to find. I say this with utmost respect, but you don't exactly blend in, you know?"

He smiled mirthlessly and leaned back.

"And you aren't going alone," said April, with a mischievous smile on her face.

"What, you get to come with me?" I asked, petulantly.

"No," she replied. "I'm required here. I wasn't in as far as Megan, so I can move around a bit and be less ... noticed. No, you will go with Megan. She needs to be off the grid also. Go travel, Thomas. See some different things. Maybe get a tan."

I just looked at both of them and shook my head.

"I need to call Mike," I said. So I did. And he pretty much confirmed what they'd said about it being okay to go. He wished me bon voyage and said he'd see me in a month. "Or whenever."

Well, this sucked.

I didn't really like it, but I realized the reality and I packed up. Grabbed my Ipad,, my laptop and violin; finished packing my clothes and realized that, in fact, that was pretty much it. Everything I did was online –I made full use of iCloud and Kindles and all the rest of it. My book collection was digital and in the cloud, as was my music collection. TV and movies were all Netflix or Hulu, so they could go with me easily.

The one thing I did not have was a smart phone. I mean, what's the point? I don't have any one to talk to or text with. There's little point in a smart phone when you don't have anyone to be smart with.

Plus there was zero cell signal down there anyway, so there was just no need.

I was literally packed in about five minutes flat, which was a sobering thought. I remember reading a blog about a guy who made a point of never having more possessions than he could fit in his SUV. With what I had, you could fit it in the front seat of a convertible. I couldn't decide if that was pathetic or awesome. Probably both.

Two hours later I was sitting at Logan Airport, opposite Megan, who was obviously less than thrilled at her traveling companion, and an hour after that, we were airborne.

We sat together in business class, which was nice, since the trip was six hours in the air. It was the furthest I'd been from Boston. The only other time I'd been out of the area was to go to Vegas, a few years back. I got the obligatory looks from the travel crew, but since we were so far forward, we were seated first and everyone else didn't get to see me, since they came in the door behind us.

I played with the inflight entertainment while we traveled – I'd seen all the movies, but some of the TV shows were new to me. In my little dungeon I didn't have cable or satellite; I did everything on the Internet, and not everything was available to stream. So often I was behind the curve on TV shows, and it was nice to be exposed to something new.

After landing, Megan and I collected our bags, me with the shiny lime green hard case they'd provided me with and her with a black leather thing that looked all menacing. No doubt it dispensed hand grenades when you prodded it correctly. We trundled to get a rental.

Megan knew her way about; she'd obviously been here before, and I just followed, with a cap pulled down over my face, trying - and failing - to be inconspicuous.

Megan rented a red Mustang convertible. I was glad, because it was warm, sunny, and we could put the top down and I could actually be comfortable. Cars are an issue for me – they are to anyone who is my height. Folding a six foot six frame into a car takes practice; the only way I can be comfortable sitting in the back is if it's a big long car, like a BMW 7 series. It's why when I discovered we were traveling business class I was so pleased. There's just no way I can sit in economy without my knees sticking in my neck.

Again, Megan knew her way around – we climbed in the car, put the roof down and we sped off, somewhere up the coast to a town called Encinitas – a lovely by-the-sea town, all sandy and with awesome views, and even more awesome house prices, I discovered later. We pulled into a house up on a hill, overlooking the sea. It was an older house, with a veranda and it was just ... nice. So far from what I was used to. The kind of house and view you'd see on TV shows.

Megan said to me, "This is home for the next four days. Lets unpack."

I asked, "Does the agency you work for own this? Is this like a safe house or something?"

Megan paused, grabbing her bag out of the back seat of the Mustang and looked over at me, strangely.

"No, it's a rental. Dermot's group found it on the Internet. Probably AirBnB or something like that. The whole idea here is to go somewhere we aren't known, and lay low. We don't have 'safe houses' as you think of them. This isn't Mission Impossible, ya know?" And she lugged her bag out and walked over the main door, knelt down and fished around behind a set of flowerpots and then said, "Taadaa!" as she showed me a key, with a smile.

She opened the door, we went in and checked the place out.

It was very nice. Well, of course, for me pretty much anything would be nicer than I was used to, but this seemed as nice as some of the places I had seen in movies or on TV. Well outfitted, nice furniture – well used but very comfortable. There were even pictures of a family on the wall. We checked out the bedrooms, and she claimed dibs on the master bedroom; I got what was obviously a guest bedroom. I looked unenthusiastically at its queen bed– I was going to have my feet off the end. Oh, well.

Then we looked outside, and boom, there was the view. It was a great view of the sea. Megan went inside to figure out if they had coffee or tea or something, but I just sat there, staring at the sea. I'd never seen the Pacific Ocean – in person - before. Not that it was that different from the Atlantic. But still, there it was. And here I was. This was different than anything I had ever done. The reasons I was here may have sucked, but I was here. Me. Wow.

Megan came out again, bringing two cups of what looked and smelled like coffee, but was too hot to sip. She sat down in the wicker chair, at an angle to me, looked out at the view and sighed.

"Wow, it's nice to be off the job for a bit. What a view. Man, this is gonna be great. You and me, nothing we have to do. Lovely..."

She took a sip of her drink and made a wrinkled face. "Shit, that's hot. OK then Thomas. We should talk a little, I think."

I tore my eyes from the calming view of the sea and looked over at her, questioningly.

"Ground rules. Ok, so there are people looking for us. It's doubtful they are looking for us here, but they do talk to other criminal enterprises. People have probably been informed, even those as far west as we are now. I doubt highly anybody out here will be actively looking for us, but still, better safe than sorry. So no phone calls or emails, ok?"

I just chuckled, mirthlessly, in response.

"Yeah, I know. No one to email, right? Either way, it had to be said. Our safety depends on it. Oh. While we are taking about that, here." Megan rummaged in her bag and pulled something out and threw it to me. It was an IPhone.

"That's yours. You know how to use it, I've seen you with an IPad. It's the twenty first century Thomas. You should have a real phone. We've taken care of the account. You need one because we may get separated. Either way, that's yours now. My and Dermot's numbers are already programmed in."

I looked at the sleek device and was amazed at how strong yet light it felt. I still had no one to call or email but I was a tinkerer. New gadgets were always welcome.

"Play with it later. Next, we'll be here a few days, and then we start meandering our way up the coast. I'm not setting up places to stay in advance, 'cause if we don't know where we're going, there's no way the bad guys can. We'll just stop where we feel like it, and find a bed and breakfast, or look for an AirBnb or something. We'll make it up as we go along. We may have to pose as husband and wife; are you okay with that?"

She was looking at me too intently for my liking.

"I guess I'll have to be," I said, guardedly.

She gave me a dazzling smile and said, "Good. I didn't think you would mind."

"Not likely anyone would believe it, though," I added.

The smile went away.

"Why wouldn't they?"

"Oh come on. Look at you. Look at me. Who's going to believe we are together? Does Dermot have enough money so I can buy some gold teeth and an expensive watch? Because that's the only way they would."

Megan put down her drink and said, intensely, "Thomas, don't put yourself down. I don't doubt that life has been hard for you. The loss of your parents, your injuries, your height, life in foster care. It stinks. But, you chose to give up being part of society. The world is still out here and you'd be surprised who can look past your issues."

I just snorted and tried the coffee myself. It was still too hot.

"Seriously," she persisted. "Yeah, a lot of people are superficial. Maybe even most people. But not everyone."

It was then I realized she knew way too much about me. How did she know about the accident and my parents? She must have seen the realization come over my face, because she said, "What? You didn't think we'd check you out? After what you did? You really couldn't think I'm going to be with you for god knows how long, and not know all I can about you? Come on Thomas, you are smarter than that. I know you are. I've seen your SAT results, and your final grades."

I glared at her.

"Well, I have. I know as much about you as it's possible to know in the three days we had to gather information. I work for an agency you know. What do you think we do?"

"Which agency is that again?" I asked, trying to at least create some kind of interchange in the conversation. It was all too one sided for my liking.

"Does it matter? A big one. With resources. One that is grateful to you. Very grateful. So grateful, in fact, that they've just pulled you out of a very dangerous situation..."

"That you put me in," I interjected.

" ... yes, that we put you in," she acknowledged, without rancor, "and are giving you a free vacation, and then when that's done, we've got you an appointment with a first rate plastic surgeon who is going to do what you should have done years ago, which is fix your face. I'm still amazed you haven't done it before. Why not?"

There was nothing like grabbing the bull by the horns, I thought. I just shrugged and said, "It didn't seem important. I'm still ... well I still work in shit, and I'm so stupidly tall. I just don't see..."

" ... why any woman would be interested, yes? Or why people would want you as a friend? You chose to drop out of normal life when you were 19 years old. Nine fucking teen. You took the reactions of teenagers seeing a bit of a scary face and projected that to the rest of the whole world? You stopped trying and you ran away."

There was silence after that.

"And then you killed some people." She said, flatly, after taking a sip more the coffee.

I honestly didn't know how to react to that.

"What is this? Therapy?" I said, trying to lighten the conversation.

"If you like," she replied, sitting back and looking at me intently.

"And you, Mata Hari, are qualified to be my therapist, are you?" I scoffed.

"Actually, I am" Megan replied, quite unruffled by my remarks. "I have a degree in psychology and a masters in psychiatry. I was getting a PhD in criminal psychology when this ... other opportunity, came up. So yes, I would think I am more than qualified."

After that revelation she continued to look at me, without expression in her eyes.

"Um. Ok then. Umm..." I didn't know what to say to that.

"Tell me Thomas. You are a smart guy. Do you think people don't take you seriously because of the way you look? Because of your height?"

I laughed bitterly and said, "What do you think? If you can pose the question, you know the answer."

"Right," she responded. "So, imagine what it's like for me. I look like this," she gestured to herself, "yeah, I know I'm a hottie. I work damn hard at that, too. It's not free. But in return, while I get some advantages in life – people open doors and guys are nice to me because they think they might get some – but nobody takes me seriously. I am half-way to a PhD, and I'm a field agent for a major agency, but the only reason I'm effective is because EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, doesn't take me seriously, or think I am anything more than a hot bod and a pretty face. All I get are guys who either want a one night stand so they can boast to their friends, or guys who want to 'take care of me'. So, Thomas, no, you aren't alone in your frustration in the world. And you just did it to me, too. So what does that say about you... ?"

I had my eyes open as she recited all this, without a lot of expression. She wasn't pissed, she was just pointing out her point of view. And ... she wasn't wrong. I had done exactly as she said. I had to say something.

"I'm ... wow, I'm sorry, Megan. I didn't ... yeah, you are right. I just did exactly that. I can only apologize. You deserve more than that."

She just nodded and said, "Good. Got that out the way. Now. You killed people Thomas. Doesn't that bother you?"

I was taken aback a bit. I hadn't really considered it very much. It was only a few days ago, and they'd been pretty busy days, what with police investigators, internal reviews by the sewer authorities and then being quasi-kidnapped "for my own benefit."

"I ... guess? I really don't know. They were bad people right? You said so. They were shooting at me. I am here now because they are too dangerous for me to stay where I was. I did to them what they would have done to me. You and April told me that I would be collateral damage if we got caught. So, no, I don't think I was wrong"

"Oh, Thomas, I don't think you were wrong. You are right, they would have killed us, and you first. My point was only that these were living human beings. And now they aren't. They mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, and now they don't. And you did that."

"Are you actively trying to make me feel bad, Megan? What the fuck?"

Megan sat back and the chair, and studied me.

"No, I'm not. Really, I'm not. But the fact is Thomas, for all the blasé you are displaying now, all of this is going to occur to you to. It is going to hit you. You are a decent guy. I know that. You helped us when you didn't have to. You saved the third guy when most people wouldn't. So it will hit you. And when it does, well, you will need coping tools. The reality is that three people are now dead because of actions you took."


"Three. I heard from Dermot. The other guy died this morning."


"Yes. The thing is Thomas, you are entirely correct in everything you've said. But until you've dealt with the feelings that are coming – well, unless I miss my mark and you are a complete psychopath – then you are going to have some issues. So ... you need help. And thankfully, I'm good at that."

I laughed without humor. Was she serious?

"Aren't we supposed to have a long couch thingy for me to lie on?" I asked, trying to lighten the mood.

"If it makes you feel better, sure!" replied Megan, equally jovially. "Might have a bit of trouble finding one long enough though. And I don't know how we'd take it with us?"

"Oh right. Yeah, moving on."

"So, have you considered at all the impact of your actions, Thomas?"

I thought carefully. I had, but mainly in an effort to avoid from thinking about it too deeply. I had reacted in the heat of the situation. I hadn't fired the gun, only maneuvered them into a situation where if they did, then it would all come down on them. And I wasn't sure they'd die. I knew it was possible. But my objective was to stop them, not necessarily kill them. On the other hand, yeah, I did recognize they were humans too. And now they weren't. I had rationalized it so far as a video game. They were the bad guys, I was the good guy, and I had been very afraid for my life. For ALL our lives. I did what I had to, and they were gone now.

The hardest part of the whole thing was seeing the bodies. I had to admit I still saw them, when I closed my eyes.

This was heavy stuff. I was very aware that if I looked into the abyss too much, it would look back at me, in a significant way. So I was doing my best not to do that at all.

But she was right. I woul have to deal with this at some point. It was strange – I'd been dumped on my whole life; one foster home to another, being made to feel like I was from outer space when I was at college. I'd just run away the whole time, because there just wasn't anywhere else to go. Or nowhere I could imagine.

Now someone was here, offering to help me. Almost insisting. And I was resisting. Why was that? Lack of trust? Or what? Was I like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables? Had I "come to hate this world? This world that always hated me"

She could see it all in my eyes and I could see it in hers. She relaxed, and nodded, approvingly.

"Good. I can see you have. Look, I won't tell you that what you did was bad. I wouldn't be here if you hadn't done it. It WAS a kill or be killed situation. But you have to accept that conclusion on your own, not just by me telling you. And I think intellectually, you already understood it. But not emotionally, and the two are different. And you need to, or this will come out in strange ways. And you won't know why. Given your lack of interaction with the rest of the society, I'm even more concerned about how it might emerge. The point is I'm here to help. Look at this vacation as an extended therapy session, if you like. There are other issues you are dealing with that I'd like to help with too. Your self-image, your connection to the world – they are issues screaming for attention and by pure luck, here I am!" she exclaimed, brightly.

I sat there, considering this.

"Greeeaat. I thought it was going to be a relaxing time, on the run from mobsters who want to kill us. Instead, I'm going to have a hottie with a PhD running through my head every day. Terrriiifffiiiccc." I said, attempting to inject some jollity into the proceedings for a second time. It was that or really face this.

She looked at me with a little frown on her face. It was cute.

"Thomas, would that be so bad? I'm just trying to help. I owe you at least that. And the agency owes you a lot too. Like I said, they are going to cover the cost of any facial reconstruction for you – and you are taking that, like it or not. I'll chloroform you if I have to and bundle you in the OR, and don't think I can't. For once, you are in a place where you are NOT being judged because of your face or height. Believe me, I've had to deal with far worse than you." The last statement she delivered with a smirk, and I made a mental note to explore that again sometime.

In the end, I just nodded, and then after a moment, got up and got some more coffee.

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