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5:30 p.m. - 2013-08-28
The Coach's Wife

She gnawed at her lower lip, opened the door and walked in. The chatter of people waiting for something to start fell away and the room quieted. Silence. Then the applause started.

October that year had been odd. It began with a rush of arctic air barreling down from Canada sweeping the lingering traces of summer away. WHOOSH! Instant autumn. Immediate message on the machine from his mother freaking out about the cold. John had gone over to his folks' place to take out the window units grumbling wearing a hoodie hastily unearthed from the dresser, a hoodie that had fold creases in it and smelled of anise soap bought at the farmer's market and kept in the drawers as sachet. His mother made him crazy. He swore if the weather warmed up again as it usually did and his mother bitched about the heat and how stuffy her place was he'd never touch the a/c units again. She could jolly well hire that Peterson kid from next-door to put them in and take them out and then he could deal with the carping to be careful of the window sills and don't scratch the paint and remember to close the screens and watch the cord it was dragging and...guh. Why not? The Peterson kid had little else to do. 20 years old, no job, slept most of the day and then sat around all night smoking weed and playing Halo. John knew this to be true because he'd bought the occasional ounce off the Peterson kid and had been invited to play a round or two of shoot-em-up after the buy. John always declined the video game politely but was glad enough of the dope. Good stuff. Beat the seedy scrag John and his buddies had smoked back in high school all hollow. In the back of Jimmy K's van they'd rolled enormous bombers and smoked them to roaches with the end result being just enough of a buzz to appreciate the intricacies of 'Brain Salad Surgery' or 'Dark Side of The Moon'. The weed he got from the Peterson kid (What was his name? Harris? Yeah, Harris.) was amazing. Three tokes was plenty.

Sure enough two weeks after John had wrestled the air conditioners at his mother's the weather turned. It warmed up alright but instead of the typical Indian summer of hazy warmth and golden shafts of sunlight loaded with swirls of ragweed pollen it rained. And rained. And rained. Then it rained some more. The answering machine messages were complaints about mildew and dire predictions of leaking roofs and flooded cellars. While John was at work she deleted them, he was having trouble enough with this crazy rain and the endless calls from the booster parents wanting to know what he was going to do about the messed up football schedule. As if he could. He was a good coach with a decent win record, a few of his kids had gone on to play college ball, but a miracle worker he was not. There wasn't a damn thing he or any of the other district league coaches could do about fields awash with ten inches of standing water. But try telling those idiot booster parents that. So she deleted the whiny messages from John's mother and kept her own worries to herself. Coming home after yet another long afternoon spent with the team in the weight room or practicing hand-off patterns in the gym she'd meet him at the door with a smile and a hug. Nope. No problems at this end. Dinner'll be ready in an hour. Hope he was hungry for stew.

She didn't feel dishonest about this. She loved her husband. She loved their life together. Protecting it and him was the least she could do. Keeping her other life apart from the cozy Cape Cod where she lived with John and Mingus the cat and an enormous ficus tree named Harold was second nature. She'd been keeping secrets for a long time. She had a brief flash of that first visit to The Factory and suppressed a shudder. Turning to John she asked him about his day and listened while he ran the usual litany of crazy parents, obtuse administration, equipment failures and budget woes. Today he finished with a laugh. During drill Cassidy the lumbering oafish center bent over to hand off and ripped an enormous fart right into the face of JD their pretty-boy quarterback. The entire offensive line had fallen down screaming with laughter while JD gagged and swore and Cassidy tried to apologize blushing so hard it was visible even beneath the minefield of zits on the hapless center's doughy face. She laughed too, but added a sympathetic head shake for poor dumb Cassidy. Only a sophomore Cassidy had gotten his slot on varsity when the previous center, Paulie Dunbar, had been arrested for felony DUI right before the school year started. Paulie expelled and jailed and Cassidy hastily moved up from the JVs and now unfortunate whipping boy for JD the prima donna QB who wasn't one tenth as talented as he thought he was. But good looks and a father with deep pockets, deep enough to pay for not only new uniforms and pads but chartered buses with plush seats and seatback TVs to take the team to away games too, had taught JD to think otherwise. Big Man on Campus this year, John was actually looking forward to the end of the season when JD and his deep-pocket daddy got the hard news that the only football JD was going to play from then on out was John Madden on XBox. Cassidy's stink blast to the face was exactly what JD deserved for all the ragging and abuse he'd dished out on the slow-witted center and though he'd kept a straight face on the outside secretly John had laughed as hard as the rest of the team. Telling her he'd grab a shower and then come down to help with dinner John went upstairs. She watched him go and thought again how much she loved him.

Later that night after the stew was eaten, the dishes washed, and John settled in his recliner the flat screen tuned to Sports Center she went into the small room off the kitchen and shut the door behind her. Originally a mud room when she and John bought the house eight years ago she claimed the space for herself and called it her 'studio'. John called it 'the arts and crap' room but had helped her install shelves and run extra wiring and outlets for the sewing machine and her computer. The big clunky desktop was still there and if John cared to look its history was an innocent collection of recipe sites and Google searches for quilt patterns. Tonight, however, she opened a drawer in the file cabinet and moving aside some skeins of yarn she pulled out a slim laptop. After opening it and starting it up she punched her password into the security screen and waited. A discrete beep and another password and Amos's face came up on the screen.

"Okay to talk?"
"Yes. Sports Center is on."
"The rain isn't helping."
"I know."
"Brussels confirms. Tomorrow. Will you be there?"
"Of course."
"It's imperative you deliver. The shipment cleared Toronto customs yesterday. It went through but not without many assurances from our side that Ottawa won't get any heat."
Her expression went cold. "I don't need this. Least of all from you. It'll get done. Like always. When have I ever let you down?"
"Sorry. You're right. Crossley is up my ass about it. Thinks he should bring his team."
"Them? Crossley's clowns couldn't hit water if they fell out of a fucking boat. You tell that numbnuts if he or his crew get near this I'll go straight to the big chief after I deliver the package and put all kinds of hurt on any interfering dipwads. Good?"
"We're good."
"Good night, Amos."
"Be well, dear."

She shut the laptop and put it back in the drawer under the yarn. A quick look at the clock told her she had about 20 minutes before John's show was over. Flicking the switch on the sewing machine she finished up the last couple gathers and cut it loose from the bobbin. An apron. A silly, frilled retro apron made from a goofy cotton printed all over with martini glasses. She peeled off her clothes and tied the apron around her bare waist. Stopping in the kitchen for two bottles of Corona and an opener she minced into the living room just as Sports Center's closing credits began to scroll. John whistled. Taking the beers from her hand and setting them on the end table he unzipped his khakis and pulled her onto his lap.

Sipping their beers side by side on the couch, John's khakis and briefs were on the floor but she was still wearing the apron clicking her bottle against his in a toast she complimented him on his lovemaking then sighed. It was time for The Story.

"Hon? I got an email from Joanie. She wants me to come down right away."
"Oh lord, what kind of mess has your sister made this time?"
"Not her. It's Jarrod. She didn't go into details. Anyway, she's a wreck."
"I'll bet. That kid of her is a bigger screw-up than she is."
"Hey now, she's my sister and that's my only nephew."
John kissed her cheek. "Sorry, babe. Be gone long, you think?"
"Nah, two or three days. You know my sister, a few hugs and a shove in the right direction and she figures things out. I'll leave in the morning and I'll call you from Joanie's tomorrow night, 'kay?"
"Okay. I'll miss you. And be careful, all right?"
"I'll miss you too. And I am always careful."

The next morning flak-jacketed agents from both governments swarmed an 18-wheeler approaching the border crossing from Stanstead, Quebec into Derby Line, Vermont. The joint task force took the driver alive. In the cargo box agents wearing haz-mat suits inspected crates containing weapons, explosives, and in one crate enough enriched uranium to make at least four suitcase bombs. A few miles away she kicked in the door of room 17 at the Revere Motel. Piff! Piff! Piff! Three men lay dead, neat black circles on their foreheads like bindi spots. Pressing each dead man's index finger to the scanner she got confirmation. She took a cell phone from her pocket and dialed.

"Amos? Package delivered. Send the maids and my ride. Yeah. All three. Uh huh. See you soon."

The caller ID showed the familiar number of his sister-in-law's landline. John answered his wife's call. 7:30. Right on time.

"Hi, honey. How's Joanie?"
"She's fine. Made it here in record time. Jarrod was released without bail and when I spoke to his probation officer she seemed to think it'll be okay. Dumb kid. Wrong place, wrong time, you know?"
John made a disgusted snort. "Yeah, I know. Listen, how about when you get back we have dinner at Mulroney's?"
"Oh! Prime rib? You know me so well. It's a date. Everything seems to be okay here so I'll leave in the morning."
"Tell Joanie I said hello and give that dopey nephew of yours a swift kick in the pants from me. Love you so much! Bye, babe."
"Love you too. Good night, my darling."

She hung up. Except for the phone the desk was bare. A picture of the president hung on one acoustic-tiled wall. The others, like the desk, were bare. One of the overhead fluorescent lights flickered. There was no Joanie. No Jarrod. The call to her husband made on a ghost phone. In the next room waited the directors and other muckety-mucks from a whole slew of alphabet soup agencies. Waiting to congratulate her on another job well done. The promise made to her when she'd been recruited as an orphaned teenager. A kid in serious trouble with some internationally well-connected gangsters in Honolulu. Amos saw her potential and saved her from the gangsters only to put her to work for other gangsters, these wearing badges and off-the-rack suits instead of Armani and Yakuza tattoos. Amos promised that someday she'd be allowed a regular life. She'd held that promise to her as she spent those brutal months at The Factory learning her trade. The ways of death. Someday the girl who'd known nothing but fear and violence would be safe and happy.

And so she was. She thought of her sweet husband, darling John the high school football coach. She pictured him in his recliner watching ESPN and offering snippets of ham from his sandwich to Mingus the cat and likely enjoying the time off from husbanding with loud burps and ball scratching and maybe a little porn surfing later on. She sighed wishing she was home already. But they were waiting.

She gnawed at her lower lip, opened the door and walked in. The chatter of people waiting for her fell away and the room quieted. Silence. Then the applause started. She closed the door.

The End

Many thanks to Mary for the story prompt.

Love, ~LA

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