Guarded

Chapter 19 - Guarded

Paul yawned as he stood in line at Hailey Coffee Company. It was Monday morning, and he had just been relieved by the oncoming shift at the fire station. His boyfriend had already caught sight of him. Corbin grinned at him as he made drinks for the patrons ahead of Paul in line. Paul smiled back at the blonde man.

He finally stepped up to the counter. "Hey, Paul!" Karen, as excited as always, greeted him. Before he could respond Corbin handed over his 16 oz Americano with a smirk.

Paul laughed. "Hi, Karen." He turned to Corbin. "And thank you." He slid his money across the counter. Then he noticed something new. "Hey, nice necklace Karen!" A beautiful teardrop-shaped green stone dangled on a delicate silver chain from her neck. The stone glittered, and it accented her eyes perfectly.

She put her hand over it and bounced up and down on her toes excitedly. "I know!" She flinched at her own volume, but only dialed it back a tiny bit, unable to keep her joy inside. "Timothy got it for me!" A number of regular patrons in the line smiled and shook their heads at her. They were already used to Karen's brand of over-the-top happiness. She pulled on the chain and tried to look at it, and nearly went cross-eyed since it was close to her nose. "It's so damn pretty!"

Paul made an impressed face. "It is definitely pretty." He grinned at her. "Sounds like someone maybe likes you?"

She grinned artlessly and blushed at the same time. "Maybe!!?" She laughed again then shooed him away. "Go on, troublemaker! We've got more people to serve!" Her smile remained, and Paul waved as he left the counter. For Corbin, he winked, which elicited a smile from the man behind the counter. "See you later, blondie." He grinned at Corbin who waved at him as he left the shop.

Corbin was both happy and concerned for Karen. As time wore on she and Timothy seemed to grow closer. When he could Corbin carefully observed them together. He decided that either Timothy was an EXCELLENT actor, or he really liked Karen.

He didn't have much time to think about it. The line was impressive this morning, and after a few patrons, he was face to face with Bruce. The dark-haired man's eyes sparkled and he grinned. "Ciao Corbin! Vorrei una moka grande."

Corbin grinned back at him. "Buona! Moka grande, in arrivo." Corbin began to make his large mocha and he nodded at him. "Your Italian is coming along nicely, Bruce!"

The young man smiled. "Thanks, Corbin!" He blushed a bit. "I've been pretty motivated to learn it." He licked his lips. "Jenoah gave me this." He put his right hand on the counter and a heavy silver ring glittered on his middle finger. An etched symbol of a sun with eight rays emanated from the round circle of the sun. "Isn't it handsome?"

Corbin started when he saw the ring. It was a symbol of one of the Families. Specifically, it was the symbol of the Giovanni. Corbin recovered, and he nodded. "Y … yes. It's very handsome." He managed to smile at Bruce. "It suits you, Bruce."

Corbin completed the transaction and Bruce showed the ring to Karen. She made a fuss over him, while he did the same with her necklace. Corbin let them catch up a bit, and they walked to the back of the shop where their office was. He continued to work through the line, and he processed this new information.

Jenoah had marked Bruce as his. It was the first step to life in the Family, a sponsorship of sorts. Which was actually confusing. It meant he had to have gotten permission from the Don of the Family. 'Does Bruce even know? Should I tell him?' Corbin's mind churned as he made drinks and filled orders for scones from their pastry case. 'Fuck! The Giovanni!' He frowned. They were renowned for their subtlety, cleverness, and patience. 'That means, I was meant to see that ring. They meant for me to find out.'

He blinked. 'Permission from the Don.' From the start, Corbin assumed Luca was a capo. But now, he remembered the name of the Don of the Giovanni. Luca was a common Italian/Sicilian name, which is why he didn't put it together at first. But now that he knew the Family name …

'Luca Giovanni, Don of the Giovanni crime Family is here in Hailey.' He felt as if someone had run over his grave. This was one of the most powerful men in all of Europe.

He was in a bit of a controlled panic as he thought about it. The Giovanni was a very old, very powerful Family. They were also above the paltry doings of the Reina. He never knew of any association the Giovanni had with his old Family. Yet, the likelihood that they didn't know who he was dropped to near nothing. They had a reputation for knowing everything about everyone they ever encountered.

'They know who I am.' He finished with his line, and he stared unseeing down at the countertop as he wiped with a rag. 'It's really likely they know what I did. That I'm a traitor.' His hands began to tremble, and he felt that familiar fear creep in and threaten to overwhelm him.

Corbin frowned and he set his jaw. "No." He whispered. "Don't freeze up. Think."

Bruce and Karen finished up. He hugged her, and he waved to Corbin as he exited. Corbin nodded at him and managed the tiniest of smiles. Luckily Bruce seemed to be too giddy to notice.

"You okay?" Karen frowned at Corbin as she took her place behind the counter. "You look a little pale."

He nodded. "Yeah." Corbin took a breath and forced calmness to spread in his mind. "I'm fine." Saying it made it a little more real. And as he worked he began to go over options in his head.

'I could tell Harris. The Don of the Giovanni, here in Hailey is DEFINITELY something he would want to know.' Corbin frowned. 'Do I really want to do that? They have still done nothing to warrant a rat.' He shook his head slightly and wiped the counter. 'That I know of. They've done nothing that I know of.'

This Family was exceptional at convoluted schemes which often involved bribery, blackmail, and various sorts of fraud. There was very little in the way of wetwork or some of the more brutal underworld activity in their arena. Instead, they used the systems already in place against those they deemed their enemies. They would ruin people financially, or shift jury decisions through bribes, or even take video or photos of people in incriminating situations and blackmail them.

Corbin only feared a few things. He feared harm coming to Paul or their friends. And he feared that the Giovanni would leak the fact that he was here, in Hailey. If it got out to the larger Family community, Stefano would find him. There was no question about that. It would happen, certainly.

'I'll check in with Harris. See if there has been any word on Stefano's whereabouts.' Corbin nodded to himself. That was something positive, something he could do.

The rest of the day Corbin spent in an introverted sort of headspace. Karen noticed, but she left him alone. She was used to his need to think and to spend time with his own thoughts.

His shift came to an end, and Corbin said goodbye to Karen. He went to the parking lot and sat in his truck. He pulled out his phone and dialed Harris.

The man picked up on the first ring. "Hello, Corbin."

"Hi, Harris." He ran his hand through his hair. "I just wanted to see if there have been any new developments on Stefano. I know you would call me if there were, but … I just have a bad feeling." For the next ten minutes, Corbin spoke to Harris. And all the while, Corbin hoped beyond hope that Harris would tell him that he was wrong.

____________________________________

Harris hung up and looked thoughtfully at his phone. Corbin was scared. He could hear it in his voice. Corbin refused to say why he thought Stefano was closing in, but he definitely thought that.

He had already run the facial recognition program early in the morning for all of yesterday's footage, and there were no hits for Stefano anywhere near Hailey. But he decided to run it again on his partial data capture for all of the video feeds taken so far today in and around the town.

While his computer worked he stood up and stretched. His body popped in a few places and he made a noise of relief as his back cracked. He was now in his 40s, and he had begun to feel his age. He knew he had another decade of fieldwork in him, but he had to work harder than he used to in order to maintain his fitness and flexibility.

Harris' musings on his mortality were interrupted by a repeated chime. He frowned at his computer, then his eyes widened.

Stefano Moretti stared directly into an ATM camera. Harris hurriedly checked the location of the feed, and it was a machine at the grocery store, the Albertsons in town.

He threw his bag over his shoulder and grabbed his computer. He was out the door in two minutes and ran down to his rental car. On the way downstairs he sent a text to Timothy. On the off chance Timothy checked his location on their tracker app, he had to cover his bases.

'Coming to Hailey tonight.'

The trip would take over two hours. He suddenly felt Boise was too far away. 'If Stefano makes it to Corbin before I do …' He set his jaw, then shook his head. He had to beat Stefano. That was all there was to it.

Timothy replied, and he was prepared for Harris' arrival. He also offered to help with anything the agent needed. Harris stared at his phone with his hand on the ignition. 'I could send Timothy to Corbin. At least until I get there.'

He frowned. If Stefano knew Timothy was an agent, or if the Giovanni did, then sending him wouldn't be a good idea. Plus, Timothy would be a complication.

He had an idea. 'I have reason to believe Stefano Moretti is in Hailey. Corbin and soft-target associates could be in danger. I am on the way to Corbin.'

He started the car, and his phone vibrated again. 'I will pull Karen Sexton into custody.' Harris grinned.

'Good idea. Keep her safe until you hear back from me.' He put the car into drive, and he was off. Timothy wasn't thinking clearly. That woman had wrecked his objectivity, and in this case, it was playing into Harris' hand.

He wanted Timothy safely out of the way when the confrontation happened. Because Harris was not interested in taking his prize alive.

There would be death before he was done.

"Finally." He felt emotional tears stream down his face. "Finally, he will know suffering. And we will know peace."

He put his foot down, and his car sped along the highway, headed straight to Hailey and his destiny.

___________________________________

Timothy hung up and walked quickly down to his parked car. He took out his keys and made to open the door. The one thing on his mind was Karen, and that she might be in danger.

"Timothy Blevins?" He whirled at the female voice behind him. A blonde woman stood a few feet away. Timothy remembered her face from various real estate postings around town. She held out a calming hand. "Easy. My name is Robin. And I'm here to deliver a message."

Timothy frowned at her, and his hand hovered over his concealed weapon on his side. She wasn't armed, apparently, but she used his real name. He had never even said his true last name in this town. He set his jaw. "A message from whom?"

She smiled, but her green eyes were serious. "From someone who wants justice done."

Timothy stared at her, then he finally nodded. "Okay. What is it you have to say?"

_____________________________________

Harris drove like a bat out of hell. He made excellent time, but even then it still took over an hour and a half for him to get to the location of Corbin's turnoff. He pulled off of the highway a bit, so his car wasn't obvious to those coming from Hailey.

He pulled out his phone and dialed. It picked up quickly. "Hello? What's going on, Harris?" Corbin's voice carried stress. He was still amped up, but he was alive.

Harris silently gave thanks for that. "Corbin. I don't want you to panic. But, Stefano is in Hailey." He heard an intake of breath as Corbin's worst nightmare was made a reality. "Listen. Corbin, are you listening?"

He heard Corbin say something to someone with him. "I'm listening. What's the plan?" Corbin's voice had gone calm, and Harris knew he was functioning on the training he had drilled into Corbin over their two years together.

"I'm very nearby. I can be at your door in a few minutes." Harris heard a sigh of relief over the phone. "Is your friend, Paul there?"

"Yes. He's here, we're both armed."

"Good." Harris saw headlights on the highway, then the car they belonged to turned down Corbin's road. His heart rate jumped. "Corbin. You're going to have company. Are you expecting anyone?"

____________________________________

Timothy hadn't believed Robin at first. What she told him was so absurd, it smacked of pure insanity.

Instead of acting on her information, which was suspect at best, he went to Karen's home. The blonde woman was confused but happy when he showed up.

"Hey!" She said as she opened the door. Her hand unconsciously went to her neck where the little emerald dangled on its silver chain and her smile lit up his heart. "What are you doing here?"

He licked his lips. "Ah, I just wanted to make sure you were … I wanted to see you." The lanky man smiled, genuinely happy to see that she was okay. "Sorry for dropping by unannounced."

"Don't be!" She opened the door. "Come in!"

Timothy walked inside, and his eyes darted around. He was on edge, both from Harris' information and from the surprise meeting with Robin in his parking lot.

Karen was putting the finishing touches on a late dinner, and she invited him to eat with her. Timothy and Karen ate and talked. She could tell he was a little distracted, and she asked gentle, probing questions about his day. He could sense she was trying to get at what rattled around in his head.

He very nicely diverted the topic away a couple of times, and she got the hint that he didn't want to talk about it. Good natured to a fault, Karen only smiled and figured he'd talk to her when he was ready.

As they stood to clean up he couldn't help but think about that conversation with Robin. 'What if she's telling the truth?' He frowned as he put the dishes in the sink. He swallowed and thought about implications. 'If she's right, then there's something really bad about to happen.'

He stepped back from the sink. "I'm really sorry, but I've gotta run." He smiled at Karen when she turned to him. "Thank you for dinner. Can I call you tomorrow?"

Karen grinned. "Well, of course you can!" She hugged him and gave him a little kiss on his cheek. "This was a happy little bonus, getting to see you tonight." She let him go and waggled her finger at him as he walked to the door. "Make sure to call me."

He smiled. "I will. Have a good night, Karen."

He left her house. The young agent walked quickly to his car, and he opened the trunk. If Robin was right, then it was possible he'd need the piece of equipment there before the night was done.

Then he sat behind his wheel and dialed 911. It picked up. "Hello?" He looked toward Karen's house. "Yeah, I'd like to report a prowler at an address." He squinted at her house numbers and rattled off the address. When they asked for his information he hung up.

A few minutes later he was on the highway. A few minutes after that, he turned down the gravel drive which led to Corbin's cabin.

He arrived at the turnabout, and there were already two cars, in addition to two trucks parked there. He looked over the scene, and before he exited he sent a single text message. He watched the progress of the send and waited until it confirmed the message was received. Then he got out of his car.

'Well, let's see what kind of craziness waits for me in there.'

____________________________________

Corbin heard the car as it drove up his long gravel drive. He and Paul both had their guns drawn, and Zampa was safely locked in a bedroom. She was not happy, and they could hear proof of that from down the hall in the living room.

In fact, the nearly full-grown bobcat pulled and yanked on the bottom of the door. The door rattled in its frame and sounded as if she would tear out the whole thing. Corbin heard a snap of wood, and he looked worriedly toward the entrance of the hallway, but he didn't see anything.

And he currently had bigger problems. Corbin took cover from behind the kitchen counter, and Paul stood to the side of the front door. The car stopped. Two doors opened and shut. Then there were footsteps.

A knock.

Corbin licked his lips. "Who is it?"

"Corbin? It is I, Jenoah."

Corbin frowned in confusion. "Jenoah? Why are you here?"

"We need to speak to you. It is a matter of urgency. You MUST let us inside." He said, his voice insistent.

Paul looked at Corbin and the blonde man shook his head. "I don't know what's going on, Jenoah. But I'm not letting you inside." Corbin shifted his grip on his gun and still pointed the weapon at the door.

Jenoah cursed colorfully in Italian. That's when Corbin heard the second car. Two voices on the porch talked rapidly in Italian, and then the sounds of the other car stopped.

Corbin heard a third voice. After some demanding verbiage from outside, things quieted down.

"Corbin. Harris here. Open up."

Corbin's eyes were both relieved and surprised. Paul looked at him, and Corbin nodded.

Paul stepped over, unlocked the door, then went back to his spot to the side of the entrance. His gun was trained on the doorway, same as Corbin's.

"Door's open. Enter."

Both men aimed, and the door opened. Jenoah entered, hands on his head, his face in a mask of anger and fear. Then behind him, Stefano Moretti, in the same position entered.

Corbin's hands began to shake, but he kept the gun largely pointed in the direction of Stefano. "Y … you."

Harris followed, a dark pistol trained on them both. "Easy, Corbin." He motioned at the corner, and Stefano and Jenoah stepped over, their eyes on the agent.

Harris looked around the room quickly, took in both Paul and Corbin and nodded. He then smiled at Stefano. "Got you."

Stefano's brown eyes never left Harris' near black ones. "Corbin. I never killed Liam." He jerked his chin at Harris. "This one framed me. I know, from our plants in the FBI. No doubt he has instilled a deep fear of me in you. And, he was either the one who killed Liam, or he had it done."

Harris laughed as if what he said were completely absurd.

Corbin shook his head. "No. You lie." He licked his lips, and the gun steadied in his hand. "Harris kept me safe. For years. And … and there was the message from your phone."

"He kept you safe from a threat that didn't exist. And I lost my phone during the FBI raid on our home." Stefano continued. Harris' eyes narrowed at him.

"Corbin, this is idiotic." Harris waved his hand at Stefano, and he walked over to the counter.

Stefano's voice went up a register. "Don't trust him!" His brown eyes shifted to Corbin. "Corbin, you know me. I loved Liam like another son." He frowned. "I loved both of you."

Paul's gaze shifted between Stefano and Harris. As the agent neared Corbin, Paul's gun wavered, then he moved and he pointed the weapon at the Agent. "Stop." His eyes hardened. "No closer to him."

Harris' eyebrows went up. "Really? You're going to trust a mobster over me?" He smiled grimly. "Sad, really." Harris pressed a button he held in his hand and the alarm on his car he parked outside began going off.

Paul jumped and Harris moved. In a split second, he was behind Corbin and had him in a strange hold - from behind him, Harris' right hand reached across Corbin's chest, gripped his left thumb tightly, and rotated Corbin's hand. His left hand, the one with the gun was now twisted - the barrel pressed against his own chest. Corbin barely avoided pulling the trigger and shooting himself. Harris' left arm was over his shoulder and held his pistol which pointed at Paul. The blonde man had an uncomprehending look on his face.

Stefano wore a pained expression.

"But … but why?" Corbin felt utterly lost and betrayed. "You killed Liam? Is it true?"

Harris leaned forward and hissed in his ear. "I killed your little lover." His gun alternated between Paul and the two Italians in the corner. "And if your new one doesn't drop his gun, you're going to get a bullet, sooner rather than later."

Paul grimaced, and he slowly put his gun down on the ground.

That's when they heard another car. Harris cursed. "Who the fuck is this now?" He glared around the room. "Anybody moves and Corbin dies."

He pulled Corbin into the kitchen where he couldn't be seen. "Whoever it is, get rid of them."

After they heard footsteps on the porch Paul opened the door.

Timothy stood there. The agent showed his badge and held his gun down in his other hand. "I need to come inside. Now."

Paul shook his head. "You need to leave, now."

Corbin heard Harris curse under his breath.

"Are you in trouble?" Timothy asked so only Paul could hear.

Paul nodded.

"Timothy! Come on in." Harris said from around the corner in the kitchen. "Help secure the Italians. We've got Stefano."

With the warning from Robin, and from the reaction of Paul, Timothy was on high alert. He motioned with his head for Paul to step aside, and with a reluctant look, the fireman did. Timothy entered carefully, gun drawn and ready.

His firearm came up at movement from the kitchen. He hesitated when he saw Harris with Corbin held in front of him as a human shield.

"You stupid bastard." Harris' gun went off, three times in quick succession. All three shots struck Timothy in the chest and the young man crumpled to the floor face-first.

Paul looked down at Timothy, shocked at the murder. Corbin swallowed, still held by Harris. His .38 was still pressed against his own chest.

"I tried to make it so you wouldn't get mixed up in this." Harris clucked his tongue as if this were all Timothy's fault. "But you just had to be the good little agent." He almost spat the words. "Sorry, but nothing is going to get in the way of this." His gun moved to point directly at Paul.

"Wait!" Corbin pleaded. "Wait, he hasn't done anything to you! Please. Please don't."

Harris leaned forward so his lips were almost against Corbin's ear. "You know who else didn't do anything? Huh?" Corbin could hear Harris' teeth as he gritted them. "My FAMILY. My FAMILY didn't do anything. And YOUR family killed them. Like fucking animals." He breathed heavily, barely under control. "When I heard about you, and how you were going to go informant, it was the best day of my life. And with your help, we GUTTED your whole, foul clan." His jaw clenched. "All except for YOU."

This was all news to Corbin. He had no idea the Reina were responsible for the deaths of Harris' family. "But … I don't understand." Corbin was frantically trying to keep him talking. Anything to stave off what he saw coming. "Why … why wait? You could have killed me dozens of times."

"Because I wanted you to feel like you had done it. Like you had finally gotten away. Like you had a LIFE." He motioned with the gun at Paul. "I wanted you to love someone." He almost growled the next sentence. "So I could TAKE him from you. So you could watch as the light leaves his eyes. And so I could watch you BREAK. And then. Then I'll end you. The last of the Reina will be gone, and my family will finally rest."

Harris looked over at Stefano. "That one made such a good scapegoat for Liam, I thought I'd use him again for your death." He shrugged. "The FBI already thinks he's a mortal danger to you. It will be ridiculously easy to set this up and pin it on him." He frowned at Jenoah. "Though you, and that one," he jerked the gun at Timothy's body on the floor, "complicate things." He seemed to brush it off. "No matter. I'll figure it out."

Corbin was shocked. His wrist ached from the twisted position it was in, but that was the least of his concerns.

"Corbin, li staras malantaŭe, kaj iom maldekstre. (Corbin, he stands behind and a little to your left.)" Jenoah spoke in Esperanto, and Corbin could now see in his mind exactly where Harris stood.

Harris glared at Jenoah. "That wasn't Italian." His eyes narrowed, "If you speak any more of that gibberish then …"

Corbin's mind whirled madly while Harris spoke to Jenoah. He could feel the barrel of the gun, pressed firmly against his chest wall, high up. It felt as if the barrel was between his ribs, and he moved his hand a tiny bit to straighten the angle.

"... I'll start with you." Harris finished speaking to Jenoah, then turned his attention back to Paul. "Go on, Corbin." The blonde man could hear Harris' grip tighten on the gun. "Tell him goodbye. I'm giving you more than I got with my family."

Corbin's eyes locked with Paul's. The firefighter's hands flexed open and closed as he looked for some sort of opening, some sort of way to save both of them. But he wasn't going to save them. Not this time.

Corbin knew what he had to do, and a strange calm descended on him. "I love you." Corbin smiled at him. He pressed the barrel firmly against his chest. "Be happy."

Paul's face fell. "Corbin …"

And Corbin pulled the trigger.


Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

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