Jason gave directions, helped out when there were problems and kept up an easy flow of chatter while they worked. Soon, the sauce bubbled on the stove, noodles cooked, garlic bread warmed in the oven. The house was full of good smells and laughter. Jason and his security team sat around sipping sodas.
“What made you become an agent?” Jason asked Greg.
Greg smiled, nodding so expansively, he bent nearly from the waist. “Clint Eastwood.”
“What? The actor?”
“Yeah. At first, I thought Dirty Harry, you know? But he’s played cops, agents, Secret Service. They all come across so strong and sexy, I thought That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”
“That was sometime last year,” Alex said with a smirk.
Greg punched him. “What about you, old man?” Greg directed to Alex.
“Who you calling old, boy? I’m not even forty!”
“I’m not even thirty. I’ll call you old if I want.”
“I grew up hard,” Alex replied. “My neighborhood was a war zone. Wasn’t surprising to have police cars all over the place most of the night. If they came when they were called, that is. Most of the cops knew to stay out. Only a handful were brave enough to face the risks. Veterans of Vietnam, mostly. Wasn’t nothin’ those men hadn’t seen. Bunch of street toughs didn’t scare them—not even me.”
“You were a gang banger?” Tim asked him, stunned.
“Was goin’ that way, for sure. I was small, fast, smart…. Lots of those guys needed runners for one thing or another. I was being groomed until I got in too deep. Couple of the cops got me off the street one night when all hell broke loose. Most of the gang I hung with got wiped out that night, the others got arrested. Me, they gave a chance. I was thirteen. I promised to clean up my act and I got to hang out with them at the station. They kept an eye on me, let me ride with them sometimes. Some of them taught me to shoot and others showed me karate and the like. They wanted me on the force, and I did that a few years. Felt like I wasn’t making a big enough difference, so I came here instead.”
“Tim, how about you?” Taylor asked.
“Nothing that dramatic or romantic,” he said quietly. “I bought into the whole make a better America schtick and joined the military. I was in Dessert Storm—sorry assed war. Saw me a little action, but not a lot. Got sent home and realized I had nothing to look forward to. So there I was, an out of work Marine, and got recruited by the feds. Found my niche. How about you, Tay?”
“You all know about my dad.”
“Well, I thought about being a police officer for awhile. I considered the military. Then I was seriously interested in the DEA and the CIA, but my mom talked me out of those. I applied for Secret Service, but declined when Obama was elected. However, I’d been through all the preliminary stuff and cleared, so they offered me this job. I liked what I saw, so I stayed.”
“How did you become a thief?” Tim asked politely of Jason.
“Oh, well… fell into it, really. I was small, fast, smart—much like Alex. I was a born con man. I could charm the wings off bees and tell the sun not to shine. I waxed most poetical, so even the bullies left me alone. Amazing, but I got through school without getting beaten regularly. Pretty soon, I had my own protection racket going. Not of businesses, of other small squirts like me. They paid and I saw they were protected. Worked slick too, ’til the school got wind. Ah well.
“By that time, things were bad at home. Both parents finally left and I was on my own. I needed food, shelter, rent money. I started by shoplifting, then picking pockets. I worked honest jobs for a while, but that didn’t pay as well. Lost the apartment eventually, lived on the streets, in flop houses, cardboard boxes—that was the worst. Then I met up with this fellow who was looking for an apprentice.”
“How did he find you?”
“I found him, more is like. I picked the old boy’s pocket on the train. He slipped his wallet back out of my pocket and slid me a note clipped to some cash. If I showed up at that address, I’d be even better paid. I’m figuring he’s some kind of pervert, but I was hungry and desperate. I went.”
“And he wasn’t?” Taylor pressed.
“Nicest old man I’ve ever met. Treated me well, taught me all he knew and gave me his fortune and property when he passed. That’s how I learned about investments. You can’t believe the portfolio he left me. He was the closest thing I had to a real parent in my entire life. Monty Philips, he went by. Wasn’t his real name, of course.”
“Did you ever think of doing anything else with your life?” Taylor asked quietly.
“Thought about being a chef once. Yeah, didn’t work out.”
“Why not?” She asked.
“Too many homosexuals. I wasn’t about to change my preferences just to get a better job. Mind you, not all of them, but enough to make it mighty uncomfortable. I didn’t really put on any size until I turned twenty.”
“Just how old are you?” Taylor asked, trying to sound casual.
“Sure you really want an answer?” He glanced at her, not quite meeting her eyes.
She smirked. “Why not?”
© Dellani Oakes