My heart dropped when I finally figured out why she was so upset. The last time I’d had an accident, and she’d gotten a call in the middle of the night saying that I was in Germany. Nothing was released other than that, and it scared the crap out of her. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, myself, but she was a girl. Girls did weird shit all the time and I never understood why.
“I’m sorry, Emmie. Come give me a hug before I go. Be quick about it, they’ve already loaded everything and everyone. Now, they’re just waiting on me.” I said, then braced myself when I saw her take a running jump at me.
The hand with my duffle in it went around her back, and the one with my M-4 went to my side so I didn’t hurt her. “I love you, Emmie.”
“I love you, too. You big shit head.” Ember said from the crook of my neck.
“Take care of Payton for me. She’s going to be your sister-in-law as soon as I get back.” I whispered.
“Does she know that?” Ember wheezed.
“Not yet. Keep her out of trouble. Go hide that death scooter for me. I love you, booger.” I said, before kissing her on the cheek and stepping away from her.
Payton and Ember watched as I walked purposefully towards the plane. I could feel their stares on the back of my body, but I didn’t turn around.
“Stay out of trouble, Bubbles!” I yelled, right before stepping onto the ramp that led into the belly of the plane.
Maverick: Tower. This is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.
Air Boss Johnson: That’s a negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.
The men were seated, buckled, and in the upright position as I made my way to the front of the plane. Some were eyeing me with contempt for holding up the plane, but, mostly, they watched in curiosity as I walked to my seat. It was a tight fit and I realized that maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long since I practically had to crawl over every one of them. Murmurs followed me, and I just smiled. Of course, they were curious as to who I was, and why I was so special that I got to come in ten minutes late and not get into trouble. At the very front, I sat down in the one remaining seat that was open, and started strapping myself in.
C-130s were not comfortable. They were made for expediency in transporting troops where they needed to go. This plane was not comfortable. The seats were shit; you were lucky if you didn’t have a raging backache by the time they dropped you off. The person beside you was so close that you touched from thigh to shoulder.
“Nice of you to show, Tremaine.” Layne said impatiently.
“This your new group, Core?” I asked, as if I didn’t notice his impatience.
Layne Corey was a very good man. At five feet eleven inches, he wasn’t the biggest man around, but he was the most authoritative. He was honorable to the core, but you didn’t fuck with him, his men, or his country; if you did, you would rethink it really fast. When I first started out in the army, I was assigned to Layne’s command. Over the course of six years, I watched and learned from him. Layne taught me everything I knew about interrogation. About how to get anything out of anyone. I trusted the man with my life, just as I did Sam, Gabe, Jack, James, and Elliott. Needless to say, if anyone else had called and told me they needed my services, I would have declined. Layne calling me meant that it was something so extreme that they couldn’t take this to anyone else.
“No. I don’t have any more recruits to run. We’ll talk more when we get to The Sandbox. I have a new team over there; we’ll debrief, and then get you started on what we need you to do.”
I nodded, knowing from experience that he wouldn’t be telling me anymore. Leaning my head back, I let my eyes close, and I fell into a light doze. My mind wandered to Payton, and the night we spent together. Then I thought about how scared she looked as I left, and started thinking of the many things that could go wrong. I could die. She could die and I wouldn’t be able to get there in time. She could be hurt, or jumped on a dark street just as she was with that dick head ex-boyfriend of hers.
I stopped my brain on that thought. If I kept it up, I would be sporting an ulcer in no time. Except that my mind didn’t want to stop. It wanted to replay it over and over again. The altercation I had with Rory reiterated what I already knew about him. As soon as Payton told me the basics of the attack, I knew that Rory was a worthless little worm who didn’t deserve to live.
The night Payton told me about her attack, I’d visited Rory. I’d never intended to confront him, but I’d witnessed a fight with Rory and the new girlfriend, and felt it prudent to speak with him.
A young woman that looked to be in her early twenties came barreling out of the house, followed by a man that had on jeans and nothing else. From what I could decipher, she didn’t like being called another woman’s name during sex. It would have been funny except that the woman he was talking about had been Payton.
I waited until the woman peeled out with a screech of tires, before making my approach. It took until I was three feet from the idiot before he noticed me. He startled like a frightened cat, and I let a chuckle escape before I reined it in.
“Can I help you?” Rory asked like a whiny little child.
“So, you still have a thing for Payton?” I questioned.
“Who the fuck are you?” He asked.
I was tempted to say ’Your worst nightmare,’ but refrained since it was so cliché. “I would be the man in Payton’s bed. I’m the one who calls Payton’s name when I come.”
It wasn’t really true, but he didn’t need to know that. I intended for it to be true, so the rest was just semantics.
His eyes had narrowed before he said, “You’re not her type.”
“What is her type? You? You think she likes wimpy boys who leave her to die instead of helping like a real man would?” I asked blandly.