The phone was ringing. I heard it in my mind...a dream from which I had not yet awakened. The dream was filled with wonders: clouds turning into cotton candy, grown adults sliding down whimsical slides that led into endless possibilities...all on an island. I think everyone was on an island. No matter, the phone rang and while at first, it was incorporated in my dreaming, it didn’t take long.
It didn’t take long for me to come to my senses and wake up to the reality of my miserable life. Danny had died and my mother was still in the hospital. Dad was still nowhere to be found and my best friend wasn’t speaking to me. I was alone in the world and the best part of my days were when I was asleep, not wanting to wake up.
Yet, here I was, unfortunately, awake again and faced with the responsibilities of being an adult. I was only 25, I still had time. I still had time to be young and free but no, everyone wanted me to grow up, or maybe I had no choice. You will be my age when I had you, my mom started telling me at 22 and now here I was at 25, still single and still trying to figure out who I was.
My brother’s death was ruled an accident, although I doubt it. My dad had many enemies, and I wasn’t surprised by his disappearance. I believed it was intentional. After Danny’s death, my mom had reached her limit and went into total madness. She wanted to kill herself and only found safety in the hospital rooms, laced on some pills. I didn’t want to live much either, but I figured hospitals weren’t for me. They would only make me want to die more.
My best friend accused me of stealing her man, although I never asked for him to like me. I told him multiple times to leave me alone but the boy liked a chase. She wouldn’t believe me when I told her there was nothing between us. I was used to guys drooling over me, anyway. It wasn’t like I was a model, more like, I was irresistible because I was impossible...impossible to catch.
I frequently told guys off and gave them the cold shoulder. Apparently, they like those kinds of things. I was also a self-proclaimed workaholic. I guess being consumed in your work turns a guy on too. I wasn’t trying to get their attention; maybe that’s another reason I did. It didn’t matter now though; I didn’t have time for boys or the energy. I didn’t really have motivation for anything.
Every time the phone rang, I felt like I was going to throw up. After the unexpected call about Danny, I hated the sound of the phone. I changed my ringtone to the happiest, most peaceful sound I could but it didn’t matter. It still sent waves of uneasiness throughout my body. Who would be dead this time? I would wonder. They found dad’s body, they’d tell me. Mom had found a way to take her life in the hospital, I’d hear.
I looked at the phone. It was the same annoying number from Texas. Spammers. They probably wanted to steal my identity. I ignored it. If it was urgent, they’d leave me a message. It rang again. Sheesh. Do these people give up? I hit ignore and plopped my face back into the pillows. The bed felt like the safest place to be.
I knew my dad was Intelligence. As a kid, I was told he worked for the government doing top-secret work and fighting bad guys. My dad may have lied to everyone else for a living but he couldn’t lie to me. We were close, real close. He was my best friend and when he wasn’t out doing god knows what, we were a team.
He taught me how to fight and defend myself. He also taught me the importance of a healthy breakfast at Grandma’s Cooking almost every Saturday morning. I loved my dad very much, and I told him everything. He would tell me as much as he could, without it being dangerous. I feel like I knew more than my own mother. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up, a spy.
Then, he went missing three years ago. Mom thinks he walked out on her. They had been fighting a lot. She seemed to have forgotten the fact that he was CIA and spies don’t always live long, honest lives. His life was shredded in secret, and sometimes I’d hear him sneak in real late. I’d even spy on him as a little girl and see his clothes messed up and stained with blood.
I told myself my dad was a good guy. He had to be. I knew my dad. He would never kill someone but I wondered…
Danny was in a car accident. His car “randomly” went off the road but no one seems to have a good explanation of why. They said it was some mechanical malfunction, but that doesn’t make any sense. My brother loved cars. He was obsessed and spent most of his spare time working on them. He was even planning on opening up his own shop.
I went to see my mom just about every visitation. She appeared joyful and tried to convince me that the meds were her salvation. I feared what would happen if she ran out of them. They had released her multiple times but she kept checking herself back in, saying she wasn’t ready and she wanted to still hurt herself. I think she was just afraid of coming back home and facing reality.
So, here I was alone in the house I had grown up in. After Danny’s death, I had moved back home to be there for mom. Well, turns out she couldn’t even be there for herself. Now, here I was, a stranger in an empty home that was once filled with loving parents and the best older brother a girl could ask for.
Danny wanted to also follow in my father’s footsteps but I don’t think he would have been any good at it. Everyone knew he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but he was good with his hands. Dad encouraged him to follow his own dreams of fixing up cars but I think Danny wanted to prove to dad that he could be a good spy too.
More than that, I think Danny would think my dad would be proud of him for following his example. But I know my dad, he wanted Danny to just be happy living his own life. So Danny had just begun making plans for opening his shop when he was killed. We had grown up playing Hot Wheels together and now I couldn’t believe he was gone.
It had been three painful years of missing dad and now Danny too? Not to mention Clara, my best friend hating me and my mom? It would kill her if I gave into my despair, so I suffered silently and quietly, sometimes wishing my dreams would take me away to the mystical, magical worlds that they took me to when I was asleep.
The phone rang again waking me from my sleep once more. I must have drifted back to sleep...not uncommon for me. I sat up straight in my bed. I guess I should get up for the day. I looked down at my phone to see it was the same caller. What a nuisance. But I thought, why not? Maybe if I just answer it already, they will leave me alone.
“Hello? Who is this?” I said, apparently annoyed.
“5:00 PM. Central Station.”
The person on the other line hung up, leaving me to wonder what that could possibly be all about. I immediately called them back but the phone made a noise like it’d been disconnected. Weird.
I laid back down and contemplated getting up. It was now 2:00 pm. I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow this call was related to my dad and possibly even connected to Danny’s death. Why else would someone mysteriously and persistently call me like that? It sure seemed suspect and the detective in me needed to figure it out.
I forced myself out of the bed and into the shower. A cold shower should do the trick. I was awake now. I sat down and thought through this. Dad lived a mysterious life and I had sometimes felt like we were being watched. Danny had felt it too. He even told me about some weird cars with blackout windows driving slowly by our house shortly before his own death.
Danny was always at our parents’ house; I think he spent more time there than his own place. Now, I was here. What if I was being watched now? What if I was their next target? What if this was all a setup? I couldn’t help but need to know the answer to those questions, so, despite rational thinking, I got ready.
I ran through my mind some different scenarios and practiced some old self-defense moves dad had taught me before I left. I still felt like this was different though. I had the slight intuition that this mysterious caller was trying to actually help me.
I pulled up at the old train station and waited before exiting the car. Nobody in sight, no phone call, nothing happening. I reluctantly got out and walked towards the old, giant double doors of what once stood a proud and mighty station. Before I could get up all the steps and to the doors, my phone buzzed. It was a text.
“Turn around and come to the green sedan on the edge of the woods.” What? I turned around and saw a lonely car in the distance, right before you enter the woods. Great. I thought. Perfect scenario for my death…
Once more, despite my better judgment, I forced my legs to move reluctantly towards the green car. Please God, don’t let me die...
I started to hyperventilate the closer I got to the car but before I could approach it, a man about my dad’s age, sharply dressed, got out and waved me towards him. Oh no. This is the end…
“Tessa? Tessa Reynolds?”
“Yes?” I asked, like who the hell are you.
“My name is Arthur Hemingway. Agent Hemingway that is. I’m a friend of your fathers. I have information on him. Please.”
He waved his hand towards the open seat, as he opened the passenger’s door for me. “Uhhhh,” I hesitated.
“Look, I don’t have much time.” He anxiously stated.
“I don’t expect you to believe me, so ask me any question that not just anyone would know about your father.”
I did believe him, at least I really wanted to, but I decided to accept his challenge nonetheless.
“Uh, okay. You said you’re an agent so what was the name of the last case my dad was working on before he went…”
“Missing? Yes, I am aware you don’t know where he is but I think I do and it’s actually all related to the last case.”
He leaned in. “Look, this is classified but Mr. Reynolds was a personal friend of mine and he raved about you all the time. He was really proud of you kid. The case, the case that took your father away, (he looked around to make sure no one was watching) it’s called, “Operation Raven.” I have a feeling you already knew that.”
I nodded. My dad had told me that one, whether or not he should have. I think he trusted me enough to know I could keep my mouth shut, no matter what.
“Now, we don’t have much time. Please, allow me to show you something.”
I got in the car. I don’t know why but I did. I had to.
“I can’t say much, but this last case, Operation Raven, well let’s just say it was a risky one. Your father, he…(Mr. Hemingway sighed like he was bothered by something) he trusted me. We were close...partners. I encouraged him to turn down the assignment but your father, your father was never a man to turn down a challenge.”
Agent Hemingway continued, “He always wanted to do the right thing, even if no one else would, even if it put his life in danger. I imagine you know that already though.” He smiled.
“Right before he went missing, he started to act real strange. I knew he had gotten in over his head but in this profession, you can’t talk about it, not even to your colleagues. I left him alone, of course, but I was worried. One day, the last day I saw him, he left me an envelope. He said not to open it unless something went wrong. Well, something went wrong.” He pulled out the envelope.
He handed me a handwritten note by my father.
“Hemingway, I regret to inform you that if you are reading this, something has gone horribly wrong. However the case, I want you to do something for me. My daughter, you know who she is, also has a message from me. I’ve left the key inside this envelope. You know what it goes to and I want you to give it to her.”
“May I take you there?” Hemingway turned and looked dead serious at me.
“Take me where?”
“Somewhere you will have to just wait and see. It’s too hard to describe. I’ve never even been there myself.”
“Okay,” I said, at a loss for words from the whole scenario.
45 minutes later, we pulled up to an old, abandoned building on the outskirts of the ghetto.
“Whoa, what is this place?” I wondered, amazed at the size.
“Some men have man caves. Your father, he told me about this place once, said it was his man cave but this, this looks more like a Batcave.” Hemingway seemed just as amazed as I was.
“Shall we?” He asked. I nodded.
“If you want, I can let you go in alone,” he added. “It’s really for you, not me, after all.”
“No, no, it’s okay Hemingway. I want you to come.”
“Okay,” he smiled.
We entered the old building and both stood at the door in awe.
There were exercise machines, bars and weights scattered throughout. There were also maps, and hand-scribbled notes and drawings hanging on the walls. There was a large desk, disorganized with notebooks and office equipment. I also saw a couch with the cushions popping out of it. It looked like my dad had a secret.
“He only briefly mentioned this place. He said it helped him at his job, gave him a place to escape to and do his own work on the side. He was a hell of an agent, so it looked like it worked.”
“Yeah,” was all I could manage to say.
“Anyway, I can leave you to explore if you want.”
Hemingway turned to leave.
“Hey Agent?” He turned around. “Thanks. Thanks for bringing me here.”
“No problem, kid. Hey, maybe I’m crazy but I believe your father is still alive. Maybe you can find a clue here to help.”
He walked out the door and I was left there, in the middle of an old warehouse, to explore the secret office/workout center that my father had apparently kept from everyone. Surely there had to be something here to help me figure out what had happened to him.