She had only slept five hours but she felt they had been the best five hours in a long time! Feeling the chill in the air she pulled the hood of her jacket over her head and took a sip of the steaming liquid. Real coffee! Taking another sip she smiled remembering cousin's first taste of the bitter, black brew. Her face had screwed up into a look of utter disgust and she had tossed the rest of the mug down the sink.
“How can you possibly drink that stuff?” Sharon asked in a demanding voice as she stuck out her tongue at the taste left on it. Sarah looked at her younger cousin and rolled her eyes.
“It’s strong and that helps keep you awake and alert.” Sarah said. Sharon made a face at her.
“I’ll find better ways of staying awake.” She said.
“How do you stay awake at college? Every college student I know lives on the stuff! Or is it different at Harvard? Big Ivy League girl too good for the drink of the common man?” Sarah teased. Sharon tossed her blonde hair and looked up at her older cousin with her blue eyes sparkling in defiance.
“Yes. As a matter of fact. I’m smart enough to know that making my taste buds shrivel up and die from disgust won’t help me in the long run!” She put the mug back down on the counter harder then necessary and walked out of the kitchen. Sarah laughed and followed her, calling after her she was sorry.
Smiling at the memory Sarah uncurled from the large iron chair and stretched. Sharon had been touchy about their wealth. For some reason, she wanted to pretend that it and the benefits that came from it, like her first class education, didn’t exist. Sarah could understand. People had treated both of them differently when they found out they had money. Or rather, had inherited it. Picking up her coffee mug she looked at it and sighed. It had only been a few weeks later that Sharon had disappeared.
Sarah had already started working with The Company by then. That spring break had been a special treat, the two of them being home at the same time. She had come to live with her aunt and uncle when she was only a couple years old. She was seven when Sharon had been born and had adopted her cousin as her own from the first day. It had been well the two had grown up so close. At eighteen she had become her cousin’s parent for real. Scowling into the mug in her hands she wondered if she would ever be able to remember the car accident without feeling like her whole world was collapsing.
Shaking herself she set the mug on the table by the chair and walked the long width of the terrace. It spanned the whole back of the house. She tried to clear her head of all the memories that were cluttering inside. The accident, the funeral, the years that followed of taking care of Sharon, going through college a little at a time herself. Giving a small growl, Sarah turned and started running. Off the terrace, through the gardens and beyond the stables. Running would clear her mind. She pictured the cool air pushing all those memories away and soon her mind was free. But she kept on running. If only for a little time, her mind was her own when she ran.
* * *
The General checked the clock in his car as he drove up the long drive to Sarah's house. 6:30 am. She should be up by now. Normally he would have waited for Sarah to come to him after her debriefing but this couldn't wait. He stopped in front of the house and looked at the mansion that would have looked better in the english countryside then the rolling hills of northern Virginia. He hadn't been to this house in years. Even now he hesitated getting out of the car but eventually climbed out of the suburban he preferred to drive over the standard government sedan.
He was an older man, his hair long ago gone completely white. He claimed it was more from the stress of the job then his actual age. But who was he kidding? Walking up to the door he fished a key from his pocket and hesitated before turning it in the lock. It had been over thirty years since he had done that. The motion was still familiar. He went through to the kitchen and saw the coffee maker on. She was up. Probably out running. He went to the back terrace and seeing the empty coffee mug on the table, he started to pace impatiently. He had things to do but he also owed her the information he had. Considering leaving the file with a note he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and saw her running towards the house.
He stood there watching Sarah approach and absently tapped the folder on the table next to him. She hadn’t seen him yet and he took that time to study her. Physically she seemed fine, if a bit harder. The General frowned and his dark eyes were clouded with concern for a few minutes. His white hair made him look more like a grandpa then the battle hardened man he was. When he had been assigned to running The Company after 9/11 he had already had his eye on Sarah; for years in fact. Clearing his throat he nodded as Sarah saw him. She slowed to a walk and looked at him confused as she approached. He had never come to her house that she remembered.
“Out for a run I see.” He said. He stood and picked up the folder.
“I didn’t know you even knew where I lived.” She said, breathing hard. She walked past him towards the house.
“You haven’t figured out by now I know everything Sarah?” he said, following her.
In the kitchen she filled a glass with water and drank it down, not looking at him. He stood there waiting. He knew what was going to come. She thought she was good at hiding her temper when really, it was her greatest weakness. Slamming the glass down hard enough to make him wonder if it was cracked she rounded on him.
“No more missions! I finally have a real lead on Sharon and I need to follow up on it!” she said, pointedly not looking at the folder. She relaxed a little. “Besides, I haven’t even started debriefing and writing up this last one.” Leaning back against the counter she crossed her arms and her glared at him, her green eyes daring him to disagree with her. He tapped the folder on his hand and then set it on the counter.
“No mission. I did some digging myself after that reporter told me what he had found. He isn’t the only one who can ask innocuous questions. I am in the intelligence business.” He smiled a little and pulled a mug out of a cupboard and poured himself some coffee. Sarah stared at the folder for a minute before picking it up. There were pictures of two men in it. Brian Kirland and Richard Suton. She looked up at the General in shock.
“How did you get this?” she asked. “Have you found them?”
“Not yet. But I have people out looking for them. The FBI is helping out as well. Everyone wants in on this hunt for you Sarah.”
“Do we know anything about these guys?” she asked, sitting at the table and pouring over the folder. “Ties to terrorists? The mob? Any reason they would take a college student and keep her hidden for five years?” She never could find even a hint of a reason for the kidnapping. The most obvious would have been for money but no demands were made and no movement on Sharon’s trust fund had been attempted. The fund was fully available to her now. She was well over 25 by now. Thinking of that made a lump raise in her throat. Five years! Would she even be the same person as before? Would she still be Sharon? She felt the General put his hands on her shoulders and squeeze lightly.
“Sharon is not a quitter. She’ll be ok.” He said as if he could read her mind.
“Five years. How can you possibly know that?”
“Because she’s related to you and something tells me stubbornness runs in the family.” Sarah smiled and closed the file and stood up, facing the General. The look in his eyes was a mix of concern and determination. For a split second she had the urge to reach out and hug him. But in that second of hesitation, his eyes went back to the hardness she recognized and she realized a hug would have been the worst idea she had ever had!
“I hope so. I better get dressed and head in.” she said, handing him the folder back. He took it and nodded.
“I hear you had some success in Afghanistan. That’s good. I think you’ve earned a break. When you finish the paperwork, take a couple weeks. Maybe connect with that reporter. He is a little useful to have around right now.” Sarah looked at the General and nodded. “I’ll see myself out.”
*** *** *** ***
The Watcher eased back behind a tree as the old man left the house. They had been sitting on the house for two weeks, waiting for movement. It seemed the hunter was finally home from the wars. The Watcher held their breath as the car left through the gates that stayed open. Not very good security for someone who had made enemies around the globe, and at such a young age. Settling down in the shadows The Watcher considered the information they had. A note from two years ago had been found by that journalist and now Sarah was about to start running about looking for her cousin again. Emotional. Emotions got in the way. But perhaps they could be used. Drumming fingers thoughtfully on the tree, The Watcher smiled.