Sitting on a porch swing, Steven looked at his watch. Barely past one. Only seven hours since he woke.
All alone in this big house in a new city. No one to talk to. All the boxes unpacked. Nothing to do.
The minute crawled then stopped. He rocketed off the swing and down the steps. If there’s nothing to do here, he was determined in step and mind to find something.
It was a chilled January day. No snow was on the ground, but the wind pierced like ice picks. His bare hands shook even in his pockets.
The house and streets went by in a blur. His legs moved like a damless river until his shoes hit sand.
The lapping of the waves filled the air. His shoulders sank with warmness of Home. He found a place to plant himself.
He stood out on the bench. Not only because he was the only one there but because of his suit. It was like the white sails across the grey sky. Or the little rowboat fighting the waves towards the shore.
A single-occupant rowed. Their body was obscured by a trench coat but moved and flexed like the waves below. They were mesmerizing.
As Steven watched, the rowboat exploded. He took off his jacket and dived in. He disappeared into the wavy mess.
A couple came running from their house off the beach. He had silvery hair and was wearing a dress shirt and suspenders. She had dulled red hair and a flowery wrap dress.
Steven popped out of the water with the rower's limp jacketless arm around his shoulder. The older gentleman ran up to them when they reached the shallows. “What's going on, Steven?” He asked with a thick British accent.
“I don't know, Mr. Corbyn.” Steven slipped a bit.
“Stay with me lad. Bring him into the house.”
Mrs. Corbyn ran in front of the men to the house. “Set him on the couch, dear,” she said, with the same accent as her husband.
“Set him down slowly, Steven.”
Mr. Corbyn took the blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over the stranger. “Gracie, can you start the kettle? You don’t mind tea, do you, Steven?”
“I prefer it. Thank you.” He shivered.
Placing a hand on Steven’s back, Mr. Corbyn ordered, “Go in the last room down the hall, some of the boys' old clothes are there, they should fit you."
"I don't want to impose. I can change at home." He tugged on his shirt.
"No!" Grace snapped. She and her husband exchanged looks. His' an intense glare and Her's a wide puppy. "No, dear, don't be silly. Your house on the other side of town."
"And the constables will want to talk to you. You might as well save them a trip and my floors from your dripping."
"Okay-" he put his hands up, "okay."
After Steven closed the bedroom door, Grace played with her apron. "What are we going to do, Archie? That's Sterling's son-in-law in there."
He sashayed closer, with his arms open. "Gracie," he whispered, pressing his forehead on hers, "we have never let a colonial make a fool of us and we aren't going to start now."
Steven came out to find the Corbyns in the kitchen, lovesick giggling. He tried to find the closest thing to what he was wearing before: a pair of khakis and a blue shirt.
"Steven, why do you always dress like you on the way to mass?"
"Shut it, Archie, he looks wonderful.”
“Thank you,” Steven said, running a hand through his still-damp hair.
Grace came around the kitchen island, looking Steven up and down. She had a smirk and glassy eyes of memories. It all faded when her attention was drawn. “You cold, dear?”
“A bit, dear, you’re shaking.” She put her hands on his arms. “Archie, can you get a blanket?”
Without a word, he went to the closet, and she moved Steven to the living room as if he was a simple leaf. She settled him down in an armchair. “The tea will be done soon. That’ll warm you up.”
“Here you go.” Steven jumped as Archie placed a blanket on his shoulders. “Captain Moore and Officer Brocsin will be here soon.”
The Corbyns went back into the kitchen, and Steven pulled the blanket closer. He leaned his head against the wing of the chair. His eyes drew towards the stranger.
A voice made him jump to attention. “Steven!”
“Tea’s ready,” Archie said, placing a saucer and teacup in his hands.
“Thank you," he said, bringing the trembling cup to his lips.
“Why am I not surprised you’re here?” a voice asked.
“Hello, Captain Moore.” Steven adjusted the blanket.
“Would you like some tea, captain, officer?” Grace asked.
“No, thank you, Mrs. Corbyns,” Moore said, making a stop motion with his hand.
“Yes, please,” Brocsin said, taking his hat off.
As she poured another cup, Brocsin pulled his Captain aside. “I’ll take them if you talk to Steven.”
“You know I can barely understand what they say.” He pushed away.
Moore pulled out a notebook and sat in the chair next to Steven. "Do you mind talking to Harry, Mr. Corbyns?"
"Not at all," he answered, shaking a hand through Steven's hair.
Steven gasped and tried to shrink away. Placing his cup down, he swatted Archie's and tried to pat his hair back into position.
"You're one strange kid, Steven," Moore laughed.
"Very insightful, Captain," he replied, taking a sip.
Moore aggressively thrust his thumb down on the pen's button. "Why were you on the bench this afternoon?"
"Out for a walk."
"Walk to the beach in the middle of winter?"
Staring towards the couch, Steven answered, "Good thing I did."
"Good thing you did. Do you know who he is?"
"Not in the slightest."
"You jumped into the ice-cold Potomac to save a manyou didn’t know."
"I feel a little stupid now." He pulled the blankets closer.
"Why don't you start from the beginning. What was the first thing you saw at the beach?"
"I was just watching the boats when I saw him getting tossed like dust in the wind, rowing this little wooden… I wouldn't even call it a dinghy." He paused and placed a hand on his head.
"Take your time. What happened after you saw the boat?"
"Not much. He was just rowing. He wasn’t too far offshore, inside the swimming area when it exploded. No warning-" he yawned- "just the sound of the waves then fireball."
During another of Steven's pauses, Moore asked, "Are you sure there was nothing before the explosion?"
"The waves were crazy after Tuesday's storm. I couldn't hear a thing. Seeing was difficult as he got closer. Looking at his clothes I can tell you it originated from the rear of the boat."
"The Stern," Moore said, sharp and quick.
"Oh, yeah, stern."
"I have Emelius and Ariana working with the Coast Guard to find the wreckage. We'll know if you're right in a few hours."
"If there's any left. I didn't see much of anything down there."
"You know even the littlest thing can help," Moore added, as Steven's eyes blinked shut.
Moore smiled and used the armrests to hoist himself up. He walked over to the others.
"You done, too, Captain?" Brocsin asked.
"I'm not but he is." He swung his head back to the living room, making them do the same. "Will you have him call me when he wakes up?"
"The very minute," Archie answered.
"The Hospital will send an ambulance as soon as one’s available."
"Oh, no need for that. Grace is still a registered nurse. No need to add another costly travesty to his life."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, if he gets worse we'll run him straight there."
"I can come back and get his fingerprint and Identification later, after we check in with the guard," Brocsin told Moore. "And I can take the rest of Steven's statement."
"Sure. We should get a move on. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Corbin's." He tipped his hat.
"No problem at all," Grace said.
"See you later," Archie said.
“See ya later,” Moore said, opening the door for Brocsin and himself then closed it hard in the wind.
“That went smoother than I thought,” Archie said, planting a kiss on his wife’s cheek.
“You’re just lucky Moore interviewed Steven and that he fell asleep before they could start wondering why Pearson was rowing towards our home.”
“Don’t you have a patient?”
“Don’t you have a loose end that’s coming to?”
“Touché,” he said, rolling towards the other end of the island.
He walked towards the empty armchair. He watched Steven’s eyes flutter, heavy on the down. He sat. “Well,” he said, jolting Steven's eyes all the way open, “we’ve gotten ourselves in quite a mess, haven’t we?”
“When did Moore go?”
“Not long ago. Brocsin’s coming back later to finish talking to you."
"I think I should get home. Clearly, I'm very tired."
"Sit. You just pulled a man at least twice your size out of a freezing river."
"I've imposed enough."
“Yes, you have,” Archie said, folding his hand in his lap.
Averting his gaze, Steven used his cup to hide his face.
“Why did you have to be on that beach this afternoon?”
Steven’s eyebrows raised.
“He would be dead. Grace and I could get along with our work. And you… you would be safe at home, never the wiser.”
Steven took the cup from his lips. Staring at its little contents with enlarged eyes, he said, “You drugged me?”
“Very much so.” He smiled as Steven shrunk. “We need you here and can’t afford you conscious.”
“W…” Steven stammered.
Archie rose, taking the chattering cup and saucer out of his hand. “Why? Quite simple. Money. A lot of it. And with all of this gone-" he looked in the cup- "you'll give us enough time to come up with a solution for you." He finished, giving Steven's hair a shake that he couldn't defend against.
Pain waved across the stranger’s body as he sprang awake. He rolled onto his side, coughing up what little water remained. His eyes looked - head cocked to the side - at the dank cement floor.
The sides of his mouth went up then straight down. He was alive, but alive where?
The room was dimly lit by the winter sun coming through a small window at the top of the wall. Two of the four walls were chain-link fences and the others were cinderblock. Sitting on a cot against a fence, his eyes were drawn to another cot under the window with a sleeping occupant.
“Oh,” he gasped as he ran a hand through his wet bed-head hair. He remained hunched over himself, waiting for the throbbing to stop.
“Hello?” It was barely a squeak.
The man raised his head. He saw the once sleeping form was sitting, balled up against the wall. “Hello,” he said with a British accent, looking at Steven’s scrunch up shoulder and petrified expression, “how are you?”
Steven unclenched. “Good,” he stammered, with a slight shake of his head no.
Giving him another once over, he asked, "How old are you?"
"19-" he rubbed his wrist where his watch used to be - "back on the first."
“Are you hurt?”
“Just my pride. You?”
“Just a nagging ringing and a headache.”
“You’re lucky,” Steven stated, templing his fingers in front of his face, “your coat took most of the blow.”
“You're the kid from the beach,” he said, facepalming.
In their silence, two heavy boots humped down the stairs and made the floorboards to their cage creak. “Officer Brocsin?!” they both said, racing to their feet.
"Good your both up," he announced, "now I only need to explain this once."
"How much did the Corbyns pay you to abandon your loyalty?" the man snarled, grabbing the gate.
"Well, Hughes, or should I call you Pearson - Agent Jesse Pearson of MI6 - they didn't buy me. They didn't have to," he explained, as Steven walked back to his seat with a finger to his lips.
"You changed the Y to an I," he mumbled.
"What?" Jesse asked, turning his head.
"You changed the Y to an I! You're their son Harry Corbyns. C-O-R-B-Y-N-S," Steven explained, pointing to the letters on his name tag.
Jesse shifted his gaze back and forth.
"Bravo," he said, slipping into an accent of his own, giving him a hand. "Oh, don't be mad Pearson, he's the first person in 33 years to realize. Not everyone can be as smart as he is or as danger-prone."
“And that’s why he’s here?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Pearson, you’ll be dead before this is all over. The only reason you’re not is Steven. If he was anyone else, father would have killed you both as soon as the door was closed.”
Jesse turned, staring at Steven.
“I think you two can fill in the rest for each other. The fun begins at dusk,” he said, with a laugh and a spin on his heels.
Jesse walked back to his seat, keeping his eyes on Steven. The intensity made Steven ball back up. "MI6, huh?"
"Yeah, the last eleven years."
After another period of silence, Jesse asked, "Tell me, how does a 19-year-old get stuck in the basement of smugglers?"
"That's what they were doing, " he said under his breath. "It's an extremely long story… um… I think captain Moore puts it the simplest 'I have a compulsion for Nancy Drew shenanigans'."
"You're an amateur detective?"
"Last eight years. I consulted with the Octagon. With the FBI for the last few months."
“I guess not so amateurish. What put you onto the Corbyns.”
“Actually I tried not to,” he said, spinning his wedding band around, “they’re friends of my wife’s family. She went to school with their kids. They’ll definitely be surprised at what they do.” He looked around the room. “Well, maybe not Sterling.”
“My father-in-law. My wife is an FBI agent. Her brother is a police captain. He, on the other hand, is the suspect head of an organized group in D.C.”
“That’s why they’re friendly enough not to kill you, but not enough to let you go.”
“My life in a single sentence,” Steven said, falling back against the cot.
Leaning back, Jesse said, “I think it’s a good one for our type of life.”
After Steven stared at the ceiling for a time, they started talking again. How it was across the pond; at the office. How it was at the Octagon. About Steven’s brother, Rylee, and his coma due to on-the-job-injury. And about the awful yellow house Steven and his wife, Gwen moved into.
“I’ve only been here for the past month, but Gwen’s lived here for most of her life. I was just getting used to Angel’s Haven.”
“Don’t count yourself out yet.”
“Oh, yes, please don’t,” Harry said from the gate. “Your buyer won’t be too happy.”
“Buyer?” Jesse asked.
Hearing it a second time sent a pain through Steven's body like a sword to the abdomen.
“I thought you guys didn’t deal in human trafficing,” Jesse continued.
“Not usually, but desperate times.” He choked on his words. “Now get up, it’s dusk.”
Nearly in tears, Steven stood with the part of him that still saw Harry as a police officer going into overdrive.
“Why should we?” Jesse said.
Harry pulled out his gun and shot. Steven tumbled back into Jesse’s fast moving arms. He quickly checked where Steven’s hand grabbed at his abdomen. A tranquilizier dart rolled into his hand.
“Next time you don’t listen, it’s going to be a real one.” He unlocked the gate.
“He can barely move,” Jesse said, shifting his arms.
Harry came to their side. He opened Steven’s left eye with his thumb and index. “I might’ve overestimated his weight. Well, luckly-” he pulled a different gun out, taking out the bullet maganize and putting it back - “I know you’re strong enough to deal with it.”
Harry walked them out of the house to a nearby dock. In the dark, a boat rocked ridiculously soothing for the doom that was about to plague it. Harry nudged Jesse with the barrel of his gun to get him to climb aboard.
He did it again to make him go below deck. “Put him on the bed!” he ordered shutting the door behind him.
After it was done, he barked, “Now get in the chair!”
Jesse crossed his arms.
Harry shifted his gun towards the sleeping Steven. “How long do you think it’ll take for him to recover from a bullet to the knee. Your partner’s been out of the game how long after his?”
With a roll of his eyes, he complied. Harry followed, cuffing him to the chair. “Now, if you're good for our guest maybe you’ll be thrown in a bogo deal,” he said, tying a gag and blindfold.
With Harry gone, the motor shot them across the waves. Then nothing. Then more nothing. And some more.
When people came down the steps, it sounded like a thunderstorm. “Here you go,” Harry said.
The steps went from the door to the bed. The floor squeaked as the figure knelt next to Steven. He moved Steven’s hair from his forehead. “Perfect.”
More steps followed, but Jesse jumped as he felt someone’s breath on his neck.
“Hello old friend,” he whispered.
Jesse knew the voice but eleven years of working in law enforcement blurred them all together.
“This is the closest we’ll ever be again. Have a nice swim.”
“This time of year,” a different voice sayd, “you’ll catch your death.”
Bright lights filled the space. “Police! You’re surrounded!” Moore shouted through a bullhorn.
Hurried steps fled the room but a set came walking towards Jesse. They made quick work of Jesse’s binding. “Hi, Sterling Burns at your service.”