Mystery and Crime Fiction posted January 4, 2022


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Lost love reborn in international Narco enforcement.

Fleeting Nuances

by Yardier


The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for sexual content.

 A few blocks from  Monterey's Cannery Row, Eric Stone stood on the front deck of a seventy-year-old house smoking a cigarette, waiting for Elyse.

Deep in thought, he heard her pumps click rhythmically as Elyse Cartier walked across the hardwood floor of the living room. Finally, she opened the entry door and paused. She did not disappoint.

Sensing her presence, he exhaled and watched the whimsical trail of smoke drift upward toward grey clouds soft with mystery.  Clouds without answers  reflecting city lights and muting late-night automobliles whispering over streets wet from rain,  they drifted toward Salinas with a moist goodbye.

Eric tried to put the last three days into perspective, but his thoughts and emotions were like waves of a confused sea. Uncomfortable thoughts buried five years ago were emerging. They revealed not only a broken heart caused by her disappearance in the highlands of Afghanistan's Helmand province but memories of hope that had been stolen and hidden from his view, seemingly forever.

The aroma of tobacco beckoned her. All day and the night before, she had rehearsed this moment, acting out all possible angles before meeting with Eric. She knew he would be cautious if not suspicious. She needed to show him she still loved him, but she must do one more thing. She needed his support and trust to accomplish the task, and then, hopefully, they could step into the grey world of society to live and be left alone. It would be difficult; her mind and life had been a carefully constructed puzzle that had been placed together with the utmost care to not reveal the lines and flaws of the picture that fooled all but those few who knew her secret.

She was late.

The sudden October storm had delayed the train from Santa Barbara, a storm so fickle it flooded the coast highway, but as it swept north, quickly ran out of energy. By sunset, it lightly caressed the Monterey beaches. 

She stepped onto the deck, determined but cautious. Regardless the weather, the time, and the deceit, they were now back together.

He stubbed out his cigarette, turned, and faced Elyse. She exuded grace, was intelligent and beautiful. But Eric knew she was also cunning. Teamed together by an intelligence agency eight years ago, Eric knew firsthand Elyse could blend into any background unseen and could just as quickly step forward to take control of a challenging situation. But at this moment, she was also a mystery. Where had she been all these years? What really happened that terrible day the Taliban mortar rounds rained down on them? He looked deep into her vigilant eyes, searching, secretly knowing that right now, he did not want too much clarity.

Avoiding his inquisitive and wounded eyes, Elyse tipped her head forward, stepped in close, and gave his hand a warm squeeze. Then, cautiously revealing her desire, hoping to revisit the foundation of their love, hoping against time it still existed, she placed her other hand onto his firm chest and gently touched her warm lips to his ear. Tenderly she reminded him of an intimate joke they shared on their honeymoon. "Teach me, Luv, how to speak Chinese."

He had been promised the world five years earlier and, at that time, eagerly believed Elyse was that world. She was, truly, the whole world to him, but what had ultimately been delivered had been a world of confusion, lies, and destruction that nearly killed him twice, once by the Taliban mortars and then upon hearing Elyse had died in the attack. But now, instead of joy at the revelation she was alive, he kept his emotions in check as he cautiously studied her and considered there could be something sinister in her untold story. There was no question of deceit, at least not from him, yet something urged caution; some undefined danger as if he were waiting for orders. His mind wandered as if it was controlled by some unseen combat radioman desperately trying to dial in a field radio searching for a connection for air support, any support. Confused garbled radio chatter drifted in and out through the static in his mind, bringing with it vivid pictures of combat dancing between decades. Dancing between days, no sequence, no order of thought, just terrible images, and incidents swirling and morphing into flames licking at his soul and consuming his flesh as raining fire, raining mortars, raining fire!

"Chill, Luv, I'm here," Elyse said softly.

She wrapped her arms around his body, and as she pressed herself against his chest, damp with sweat and rain, a startling bolt of lightning cut a jagged swatch through the charcoal sky.

They embraced each other with urgency, clutching for security and stability.

Two heartbeats and thunder murmured close.

Again, Elyse whispered her desires but now as a plea, "Please tell me you have not forgotten."

Eric paused, then took a long deep breath and let it escape slowly, not quite a sigh, more like a silent cry of surrender.

Elyse's lips brushed Eric's temple, then rested lightly upon his cheek. Again, the silent cry. He gazed into her eyes and suddenly did not care why or how it was she came to be in his arms again, only that she is.  Another bolt of lightning cut through the  night as a clap of thunder exploded overhead, and then the rain began to fall lightly, sweetly caressing their faces as their lips met.

And, as suddenly as lightning and thunder once again split the sky, shaking the deck with insistence, they dashed into the house through the open door. Even though Eric knew doors must be closed more than ever, he didn't bother closing the door behind them. He expected, hoped really, the door would close on its own, close tight behind them.

It didn't.

As they approached the bedroom, his caution preceded him. As always, it was there. It had to be there. It must be there because there was more than an open door behind him that pricked his tactical mind. There was a loop of events from the past circling him in the present.

Worse than the Taliban mortars was the unmistakable click of an unseen enemy dialing in Eric's position as if somebody had already reconned his location.

Surely Elyse was not part of such subterfuge.

Quickly and without a word, Elyse led him to the bedroom dimly lit by a night light. She left him standing next to the dresser and full-length mirror as she stepped out of her shoes, walked to the bed, and pulled back the bedspread. Eric turned and looked into the mirror past his reflection and watched with detached curiosity as Elyse let her dress fall lightly at her feet. It was a scene he had wished for repeatedly throughout the years, trying to understand the nuances it offered. Each year that passed demanded more and more he get it right; just get it right this time, dammit!

He grimaced as her image in the mirror overshadowed a distant memory. He closed his eyes trying to understand the quandary but quickly reopened them when he saw only the emptiness of his heart.

Although only forty, lines of mistrust and deceit had begun to etch furrows into his brow. Too soon, lines of helplessness reached from the corners of his eyes toward his graying temples. His expert lies and deceit had taken their toll and now were catching up with him in a manner he had not expected.

There had been other women before, and he had perfected the lies that would keep them at arms' distance not only from his identity but also from his heart. Shamelessly, he knew if he were not trying to mold them into Elyse, he would use them to forget her. It never worked, and it did not take long for them to see through his lies and desperation. Eventually, they would leave him with ugly words spat through clenched teeth when he waited too long and denied the deception not only to them but ultimately to himself.

He did not understand what women wanted. Was it a career, family, or lover? However, he did know the love he and Elyse had shared was the foundation of the future for both. No one could replace the other.

And yet she had been killed, but now is back.

Lonely and bitter, Eric threw himself into his work as an INEA agent, but things broke up fast these days. Each morning he woke to find a slippery slope greased with mistrust and confusion waiting for him to make one slight misstep. How did it start? Did his unnerving begin with Elyse's supposed death, or were the many opium deals from Istanbul and Columbia stacking up on him?

Kilos and kilos of opium, coupled with hundreds of thousands of INEA dollars, made for some of the best damn buy-busts a Seal Team Six vet could ask for. He had faced gunfire before as a special operator and seen fellow narcs hurt, but when Jarvier was murdered, things changed for him in a way he had not anticipated. He wasn't sure how and he didn't know why. At times he worried he was losing his nerve. He knew there was more to his consternation he couldn't quite put his finger on. Maybe he had been in the field too long. Maybe he needed to take a break and sit behind a desk for a while, and yet he felt if he did, he would have given up without solving his dilemma. Deep in his heart of hearts, he knew he might need a lot of things straightened out and resolved, but an admin job wasn't going to do it. Dr. Jim Beam and Doctors Smith and Wesson were all the help he needed. Besides, he was playing with small fry now. It was safe. This single kilo dealer in Monterey posed no threat. It was just another controlled buy; get duked-in for a hand-to-hand, get a paper, kick in the door, and another turd gets flushed.

But, of all the times and all the places, Elyse. He could not help but think, why now? How is it after five years she just ups and calls and tells him she loves him and she has vital information only he can have? How did she know he still worked for INEA? Don't think about it. He admonished himself, Be grateful. Once again, he looked past his reflection and watched her light a small candle near the head of the bed.

He turned and faced her.

Nude, she smiled at him comfortable in her nakedness, and as quickly as the smile appeared, she replaced it with a pout. "Dear," Elyse teased. "You're not waiting for this storm to clear, are you?" She put her hand out to him as she sat on the bed. "Come, let's make the clouds go away."
 
He walked to her and peeled off his wet t-shirt.

Her body, bathed ever so lightly by the flickering rays of the candle, enticed him as she pulled her legs over the side of the bed and lay on her side. He undressed and lay beside her for the first time in five years as the deeply buried memory of their last lovemaking rose to the forefront of his senses. Facing her, he placed his arm around her back and pulled her toward himself. Elyse arched her back in anticipation and pressed her warm breasts against his chest.

As the rain caressed the bedroom window and the wind pulled at the open door, they began to kiss, lightly at first, then full and deep. Filled with their private longings and desires, they began to explore each other's body as the door teased by the wind began to creak on its hinges.

Abruptly, Eric pushed away from her moist embrace as passion's quick short breaths were forced through his nostrils. He sat up and listened intently past the creaking hinges while he searched the shadows of the room.

Something other than her supple body had aroused him.

Elyse's silky arm snaked up his chest and came to rest behind the nape of his neck. Her breath, too, was sharp and quick.

"Don't stop now, Luv," she pouted. "We're almost there." She tried to pull him down back to that perfect fit between breasts and thighs.

"Elyse, wait!" He whispered urgently in her ear. "Listen to me, don't move or make a noise until I return."

Instantly she went on alert... What is it, what is wrong? she thought. She had heard nothing - only the creaking of the door in the wind - the open door! In their delight, they had been careless. Her heart changed its beat from passion to one of fear. She needed to tell him something, but he had already made his move.

He slid off the bed quickly and silently reached between the mattress and box spring for his pistol. Ignoring his clothes, he slipped through the shadows of the hallway into the living room. He stopped then moved quickly from the sofa's shadows to cover at the side of a large bookcase. He noticed the storm had passed, and even though the crickets outside were beginning to sing, danger loomed. He scanned the dark room for movement - for a silhouette. He paused - slowed his breathing and listened with an experienced inner ear searching for sounds barely audible that would indicate something out of the ordinary. He remembered another night like this - in another place and time. It had been one hell of a storm, but that was a long time ago. Was there a moon or not? He couldn't remember.

A sudden gust of wind slammed the door shut. He whirled about poised, ready to fire but, there was nothing, only the flutter of the curtain and the quiet gurgle of an aquarium. In quick strides, he crossed the room and bolted the door tight, but the air was disquieting. His instincts warned him; someone had been here! Slowly, with sharp detail, his eyes once again searched the room.

His gaze settled upon the aquarium - with a gasp, he froze. The fish were dead, all of them! Their bright tropical colors were now muted and grey as their lifeless forms whirled up and around in a haphazard manner as the aquarium pump gurgled and recirculated toxic water. A familiar chill of fear spread up his spine as he recoiled from the garish sight. Elyse!

Dropping his guard and throwing caution aside, Eric sprinted to the bedroom, half expecting to find her naked body sprawled on the floor. Flushed with terror as he entered the bedroom, he was relieved when he discovered her lying as he had left her - silent and still beneath the covers. He grabbed her soft body to him, squeezing her so tight she protested. "Luv, you're hurting me!"

Elyse was too precious for him to lose again. He knew now what it was that had been hidden deep within himself all these years causing his slow and awkward descent toward the basement of despair; it was his doubt their love was still alive. It was now as clear to him as the sun at high noon. Their love was alive! He had to get her out of the house without a moment to lose. He had seen this before. This was no simple single-kilo deal. Quiet Monterey had bitten him on the ass. This was a set-up, and he had walked right into it.

What a fool. He had been too busy feeling sorry for himself and buying into the old party line; the burnt-out narc syndrome. Naw, he was far from burnt out.

"Elyse, listen carefully. We must get out of the house now. Get dressed and stay close to me!"

Elyse carefully retrieved a hidden 9mm pistol from beneath her pillow. "You said I would be safe here."

Unaware Elyse had secreted a gun beneath the pillow, Eric held her determined face in his rough hands. "Elyse, I love you now more than ever." He searched her eyes for relief but instead saw a cold resilience that caused him to hesitate. "Do you trust me?" he asked.

One heartbeat - two heartbeats.

"Yes."

Then without warning, the sick muffled report of a supressed weapon shattered the bedroom window! Elyse's body jolted at the violent action of the bullet exploding into her back, forcing her eyes wide with horror and realization.

Stunned and frozen in time, Eric held Elyse in disbelief as the bedding soaked crimson. Unable to move he heard someone run from the shattered window across the deck. A car door slammed as an engine roared, and tires squealed into the night taking Eric's hope with it.

Trembling, Eric watched as Elyse's life poured down her shoulders, She made a feeble, frantic gesture trying to show Eric something, tell him something. She grasped weakly at the growing darkness crowding her vision and reached awkwardly at the side of the bed near her dress. Close, her lips to Eric's ear, her voice barely audible. "Key," She whispered. "The key."
 
As the passing storm rolled muted thunder over Salinas eighteen miles away, Eric watched helplessly as Elyse's breathing slowed to a shallow gasp as her eyes closed softly and her hand opened - revealing a gold key.

Holding her limp body in his arms, Eric looked up through the broken window at an oily moon leering from behind a passing cloud and thought with growing rage, the storm was, indeed, not over. It had only just begun.
~~~~


Glossary:
Controlled Buy:  Law enforcement controlling all aspects of illegal transaction. ie; narcotics, weapons, merchandise, human trafficking etc.
Duked-in:  Undercover agent introduced to crime family as legitimate criminal.
Hand to hand:  Undercover agent makes direct purchase of dope/weapons from suspect.
Get a paper:  Procure a search warrant.



A First Book Chapter contest entry

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Eric and Elyse are agents of the clandestine International Narcotics Enforcement Agency; INEA. They met in Afghanistan and married in Crete. Unfortunately, they were injured in a Taliban mortar attack in Kabul. They were presumed dead by subsections of the INEA. Five years later, they reunite. This is their story.
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