Guarded

Chapter 18 - Guarded

Early Saturday morning found Corbin awake. It was barely daylight, and he slipped out of bed carefully so as not to wake Paul. He took his .38 with him into the kitchen and put the weapon on the counter. He kept the gun close at hand, and though they had seen nothing obviously threatening, he was still on edge. He knew they were here at Luca's whim, and so he looked on everything with a critical eye.

He loaded the small coffee pot with water and grounds and flipped on the machine. Then he went over to the window. He moved the curtain to peek out, and he could see the pool of the spring. It steamed in the coolness of the early morning and no one was there.

He and Paul were utterly alone in this section of the resort. Corbin asked Harlan about other guests and he said that the other two cabins in this part were reserved for the whole weekend. Harlan seemed confused that the guests hadn't yet arrived for their reservations. Corbin was fairly certain this was also engineered by Luca.

'Send us out in the middle of nowhere and ensure that we're isolated.' Corbin frowned at the empty hot spring. 'Definitely going to keep my gun on me.' Though Luca had made no overt threat against them Corbin still didn't trust the man or his motivations. Everything pointed at gears turning in the background - machinations that they couldn't see.

He let the curtain fall back in place. The smell of coffee now filled the small cabin. After a quick search in the cabinets for cups, he found a few. He filled a blue enamelware mug with the black liquid. He grinned and poured a little Irish Cream he brought along into the coffee. 'I'm on forced vacation.' He justified the small amount of alcohol to himself. Corbin took his coffee and checked on Paul. The fireman was still asleep. Corbin smiled at him as he lay sprawled out under the blankets on the bed.

He took a sip and made a noise of appreciation. Then he went into the bathroom. There he pulled on his trunks which were drying on the shower rod and he grabbed a towel. He got his gun, concealed it in the towel in his hand and he went outside.

The air was chilly and he shivered. He didn't put on sandals, so his feet were cold on the mortared stone between the pool and the cabins. He hurried across the chilled obstacle, and soon his feet entered the warm water of the hot spring.

"Ahhh." He stood there. Coffee cup in one hand and the towel with his gun in the other. He bent and carefully placed his items down on the side of the pool of water. Then he slid in until he was shoulder deep in the warm, mineral-rich spring.

He looked around and he smiled. There was almost no sound. The birds hadn't quite woken up to the day, and it was still too cold for most insects. So the only sound was the quiet lapping of water as he moved, and a drip here and there from condensation. The steam rose lazily into the air, and it partially obscured the forest of conifers that grew on the other side of the pool. While the rising sun struggled to pierce what had turned out to be a foggy day.

He felt the muscles in his back start to relax from the warmth of the water. He sighed and leaned back so his neck and the back of his head dipped into the water.

"Mind if I join you?" Corbin jackknifed forward in a start.

Harlan stood beside the pool. His feet were bare, and he wore a pair of trunks. A towel was over his shoulder Corbin hadn't heard the man approach at all. Which in and of itself was unsettling.

Harlan frowned. "Oh, sorry." He looked down at his feet. "I guess bare feet are pretty quiet on this stone."

Corbin laughed nervously. "Yeah." He waved aside Harlan's apology. "No problem." He motioned at the spring. "Sure, come on in. Plenty of pool for the both of us."

Harlan smiled, and the man eased into the pool. As he did Corbin couldn't help but notice that he was very well put together. It was obvious he worked hard to maintain his body. He wasn't bulky, but rather he had muscle which was wrapped around his limbs in tight cords. He actually reminded Corbin of Zampa - the way he moved, and the way he was built.

'Strong and fast.' Corbin thought.

Harlan sighed as he settled into the water. "One of the best perks of the job." He laughed and Corbin smiled. The man turned his brown eyes on Corbin. "Your friend still sleeping?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Paul's usually an early riser, so when he actually sleeps in I leave him alone." Corbin took another drink of his coffee. And he eyed the towel with the gun safely wrapped inside. Something about Harlan unsettled him. It was an odd familiarity, not with Harlan exactly, but with the way he carried himself. The way his eyes seemed to take in everything around him - the efficiency of his movement and his careful manner. Corbin had seen men like him before.

Harlan nodded. "That's good of you." He looked at Corbin's coffee cup. "Ah, I wish I would have thought of that." He sighed. "Ah well. I'll have mine in a bit."

Corbin didn't respond. He stared at Harlan, and the man turned his head to lock eyes with Corbin. Slowly his gaze hardened. After a moment he smiled slightly but remained silent. It was a quiet challenge and designed to intimidate.

Corbin swallowed. 'This guy's Family. Not just Family. He's an operative of some kind.' Corbin straightened his spine and his own eyes narrowed. "So, what's it like working for Luca?" Corbin's hand rested near the towel. Harlan was a dozen feet away in the water. If Corbin had to he was confident he could get to the gun before the man could reach him.

The smirk on Harlan's face vanished. He swallowed and licked his lips. "I've got things to do." He hauled himself out of the pool, and without another word, he padded away.

Corbin watched him go, and when he was out of sight he let out a breath. The pool was no longer relaxing. With a careful look around Corbin too got out of the water. He picked up the towel with his gun, grabbed his mug, and retreated back into the cabin.

Harlan watched him go from the corner of one of the unoccupied cabins in this cluster. He had doubled-back and observed Corbin's flight to safety. He worked his jaw. 'Fuck. I shouldn't have tested him.' Harlan was already told the last Reina had great instincts. And if he wasn't mistaken, Corbin had a piece with him. Harlan could have ended up with a hole in his chest if Corbin were the twitchy sort.

Though now his curiosity was satisfied. Corbin was the man Luca said he was. He had a cool head under pressure, situational awareness, and courage. He would never admit to doubting the Don, but a man has to see some things for himself.

He nodded. 'He'll be perfect.' He decided he would report his observation and opinion of Corbin to the Giovanni capos. With any luck, they would come to the same conclusion. With a final glance at the middle cabin, Harlan slipped back behind the building.

___________________________________

After Paul woke Corbin told him about his interaction with Harlan. After that, they both decided to carry their firearms with them the whole time they were at the resort. They also stayed together - no more solitary trips anywhere for either of them.

The rest of Saturday passed with no other interaction with Harlan. They saw the man from a distance a few times, but he never seemed interested in them. Instead, he went about his work and chores at the resort.

They woke on Sunday morning, and they immediately packed up. They turned in their keys at the reception area to a pleasant woman behind a desk, and Harlan was nowhere to be seen. They got into Paul's truck, and they were on the road.

They went to Hailey. It was only 9 AM when they arrived. They made good time on the drive, and Corbin already called Karen to let her know they'd meet her at the coffee shop.

Paul walked in the back door while Corbin sat in the truck. He exited a few minutes later, and a very happy bobcat was over his shoulder. Corbin grinned. He could hear her purring in his mind, just from looking at her.

Once she was in the truck she lay on Paul's lap and he drove them all home, up to Paul's house.

"God, it's so good to be back." Paul got out of the truck and held the door open while Zampa jumped down to the ground. She rubbed on his legs and he smiled down at her.

Corbin nodded. "I agree." He held up his hand when Paul moved toward the door. "Wait. I just want to take a look around first."

Paul frowned at him, then he nodded. He bent and picked Zampa up from the ground and Corbin moved to the door.

Corbin was never someone the Family used to case locations or other operative work. His role was more cerebral and higher level. But he still knew some about how operatives did their jobs. He didn't know why they were forced away from their homes, but he suspected there might be someone in one or both of their houses.

He carefully looked into the windows. Then he looked at the door. After a thorough examination, he took out his key. "Put Zampa down. If there's anybody in the house she'll know it." Corbin opened the door, and Paul put the cat down. She slipped inside, and the men followed.

She stood in the living room, stretched, and jumped up on the back of the couch. Then she lay down for a nap.

Paul shook his head. "Either the house is clear, or she's the worst guard cat ever."

Corbin shut the door and laughed.

__________________________________

The week passed so slowly. But finally, the day was here. Karen was excited. Friday and the public opening for Mattone e Fuoco arrived. It was nearing time to close up at the Coffee Company, and she buzzed around nervously.

Corbin watched her. He was both amused at her twitterpated actions and concerned at the venue of her date. "Karen, you've got my number, right?" He helped through the entire shift to closing today so she could be at her date on time. "If you need a ride, or anything call me."

Karen smiled. "I'm going to be fine! Timothy is so responsible." Then she nodded. "But yes, I've got your number. If we're so boozy from wine we can't drive I'll call." She grinned. "I promise."

"Okay." Corbin frowned slightly. He wanted to be happy for her, but it was hard. She and Timothy had spent a lot of time together over the week. And from everything Corbin had seen they hit it off really well.

Still. There was something about Timothy and the situation which bothered Corbin. The lanky man didn't strike him as Family. But there was something about him …

The two of them closed the shop, and he waved to her in the parking lot. She waved back, bounced excitedly as she unlocked her car and then she drove away. Corbin got into his truck and he sat at the steering wheel. After a moment he pulled out his phone and he dialed a number.

The line picked up and a man spoke in accented English. "Hello, this is Mattone e Fuoco. How can I help you?"

"Ciao, vorrei parlare con Jenoah. (Hello, I'd like to speak to Jenoah.)"

____________________________________

Jenoah nodded, then hung up the phone. He looked up and his dark eyes took in the pair as they entered. A tall reddish blonde man in a stylish shirt and slacks smiled easily at the woman from the coffee shop. She was dressed in a pretty blue dress, and she grinned at the sight of the restaurant.

He quickly walked over and intercepted Marco, who had made to seat the couple. Jenoah sent the man away and took over.

He put on a smile and walked up. Karen's eyes lit up when she saw him and his smile broadened at her. She was a genuinely happy soul, and he found her pleasant in every way.

"Hello. Welcome to Mattone e Fuoco." He motioned them inside. "Come in. I'll be your serve tonight."

As they walked to the table Karen leaned over and whispered. "It's 'server'. But you're doing great." She smiled encouragingly at him.

Jenoah feigned embarrassment. "Ah, apology." He held his hands up in surrender. "I still learn."

"It's fine." The lanky man said and offered a smile of his own. When they got to the table, Timothy pulled Karen's chair out for her, and she sat down as if she were a queen.

Jenoah watched as she gazed up at Timothy. 'This woman is enraptured.' He observed, and he glanced at Timothy. For his part, the man looked down at her and shared her expression. 'And so is this man. Interesting.'

He got them settled, and he went to go get them both water and the glass of red wine each had requested.

He smiled as he returned with their drinks. 'Tonight should be interesting.'

_____________________________________

Corbin hung up after he spoke to Jenoah. The young man was the closest thing to someone he actually trusted in Luca's group. He told Jenoah Karen would be with a man named Timothy - a newcomer to town. And he would appreciate if Jenoah kept an eye on the both of them.

Jenoah didn't ask what his concern was with Timothy. He merely said he would take over the serving duties for them, and that he would keep the two in his sight.

Corbin started his truck. He had done all he could think to do. And he started on the drive home.

___________________________________

Timothy checked the surroundings of Mattone e Fuoco. He took in the decorations, carpeting, expensive furniture, and more importantly, the other patrons of the place. The inside of the restaurant was filled nearly to capacity. And judging from the menu prices, that should not be a regular event. Maybe in New York but not here in Hailey.

The patrons were a mix of locals - he could tell by their clothes, and a few lingering out of towners. Those were the European guests who were here since Luca's soft opening a couple of weeks back. The town must have seen a spike in spending since they descended on the place. They were all dressed in tailored clothes and had the manners of the well-schooled.

But his attention kept falling back to Karen. Every time he looked at her she would smile and look shyly away. Her green eyes were vibrant, and the tiny emerald earrings set them off perfectly. A silver necklace with an artfully wire-wrapped chunk of malachite hung at her neck, and her blonde hair, backlit by the incandescent bulbs of the space was breathtaking.

Timothy swallowed when he looked at her and his heart beat madly in his chest. 'Fuck me.' He tried to recenter, but every time she spoke, or moved, or just looked at him, he found himself back here. Back in this place where he couldn't get away from the thought of her.

He cleared his throat and picked up his glass of wine and he held it in a toast. "To Friday night."

She lit up and picked up her glass. "To Friday night!"

They gently clinked glasses, and each sipped their wine. Timothy stared over his glass at her as he did, and she did the same.

As he sat his glass down, and she turned her smile on him a single thought ran on repeat through his mind. 'Why couldn't I have met you before I met Harris?'

Karen and Timothy had a long, delicious, leisurely dinner at Mattone e Fuoco. Timothy hadn't learned much, except that there were still plenty of out of towners around. Which he supposed was useful knowledge, and Harris would want to know.

He had driven them to the restaurant, and he took Karen home to her little house in Hailey. She only lived a few blocks from her coffee shop, which made things handy for her. Timothy walked her to the door and they stood on her stoop together. He reached and took her smooth, warm hand in his own.

"I had a really good time tonight." Karen smiled up at him.

Timothy nodded and smiled back. "Yeah, me too."

They looked at one another, and Karen reached up. She pulled him down and very gently kissed him. Those same fireworks began in his mind, and he struggled to maintain some kind of control.

After a moment she pulled back and looked at him. Karen bit her lip and smiled just a little. "I think … it'd be nice if you came inside." Her eyes bored into his, a wild riot of green that filled his world.

Timothy's struggle intensified. Then he broke. He licked his lips. "I … I think it would too."

She grinned, opened her door, then grabbed his hand. He let himself be pulled into the house by the prettiest, most wonderful woman he had ever met.

___________________________________

It was early Saturday morning and Harris was up. He was bundled up from the chill of the day. He had just returned from a run he took and the sun had yet to warm Boise. He stripped his sweaty clothes, threw them into the laundry and he stood in his boxers with his cell phone in hand.

He checked his notices. No hits on facial recognition, and no messages from Timothy. He frowned. The young agent was supposed to check in with him.

He turned on an application and selected Timothy from the list. Soon he looked at a map of Hailey, and he could see within a few feet the location of the agent's phone.

"God damn it." He shook his head. Timothy's phone and likely Timothy too was at Karen Sexton's address. "You couldn't keep your cock in your pants, huh? The plan was to get CLOSE to her, not INSIDE her." He fumed. This whole thing was only a way to stay close to Corbin and to dig up information on the Giovanni in the town. He shouldn't get himself entangled in some whirlwind romance with a woman slinging coffee.

He would have to contact Timothy after he was no longer with Karen. He didn't want to take a chance she would overhear something she shouldn't. And he would definitely give the young man a piece of his mind about the breach of protocol.

He reconsidered. His connection with her could be useful. It would simply need to be used properly and at the right time. And if need be, he could use Timothy's obvious attraction to Karen as a way to get what he needed from the young agent. He mulled it over. Perhaps his transgression wasn't such a bad thing after all. After some thought, he decided he would leave it alone for now.

Harris scrolled through the names on the list and selected 'Corbin Reina'. It took a little longer for him, as he was outside the city in a location with less in the way of signal. But soon he popped up too. He was south of the road, which meant he was at Paul Boyd's house.

Harris nodded to himself. All the pieces were where he mostly expected them to be. The only thing he waited for was Stefano. And he had a feeling that he wouldn't have to wait much longer.

He hoped not. He was so close. He had been so very patient, and he would see this final bit through. It had been five long, painful years now. And, at last things were beginning to come together. At last, he would see justice came to those responsible for his pain.

All he needed was Stefano.

"Where are you, you bastard?" He whispered to his phone as he looked through the potential hits on the facial recognition software.

"Where are you?"

__________________________________

He arrived in town a little after noon on Saturday. His rental car was parked two blocks away, and he walked on the sidewalk with his head down and hands in his pockets. He turned when he got to the building, and he descended a set of stairs. His messenger bag was over his shoulder, and he checked it one final time. Everything was there. Satisfied, Stefano's eyes shifted as he entered the building, a full story below street level.

He closed the door behind him and walked through a narrow hall. A rope of LED lights on the ceiling lit his way and shed just enough light to see by. The hall ended in a door. He knocked three times, then four. He waited.

The door opened and a dark pair of eyes peered out at him. After a quick conversation behind the door, it opened. Stefano entered. Another man was inside with the one who opened the door. Stefano held out his arms and the men checked him thoroughly for weapons. They also checked the contents of his bag, then it was handed back to him. He was flanked by the large, dark-haired men, and they began walking down another hall. Neither were obviously armed, but he knew the truth of that as if it were written in stone.

They passed through an open framed doorway, and now they were inside a rough tunnel supported by heavy posts and beams and lit by more of the rope lights. Stefano could see that the tunnel was slowly being framed out as time allowed. He knew the work was sound, nothing else would be tolerated. But he was still relieved when they entered the basement of their destination.

One of the men peeled off and went back through the tunnel to his station. The other took him upstairs. They passed through a floor with a bunch of tables, chairs, and dinnerware stacked on wheeled carts spaced around the room. He nodded. It was a nice space.

He was led quickly through the room, and then up another set of stairs. Soon he stood before a door. His escort motioned at it, then turned to stand guard.

Stefano took a breath, then he opened the door.

A young man turned and his eyes fell on Stefano. Wordlessly he walked across the room and threw his arms around Stefano, and he returned the embrace.

"Padre." Jenoah squeezed him tightly and tears streamed down his face.

"Figlio." Stefano squeezed back and cried a few tears of his own. It had been so long, and now, at last, he embraced his son.

He held on with a fierce gladness, then patted Jenoah's back. They released one another, and both smiled broadly.

Stefano kissed his forehead, patted his shoulder with affection, then he stepped past his son and walked to the desk in the room.

There behind the desk Luca observed him, fingers steepled in front of his lips, and his chin rested on his thumbs. Stefano bowed his head respectfully as he got close and he stood before the desk.

"Don mio." He raised his head, and his eyes carried his emotion. "Thank you for this moment with my son."

Luca smiled and nodded. "It was nothing, nephew," his English perfect. His eyes landed on the messenger bag over Stefano's shoulder. "I trust you have the information we discussed?"

Stefano patted the bag. "Yes, Don. Our man in New York did excellent work. I would like to commend him on the job."

Luca nodded. "Good to know. I'll send word that he is to be a Made Man."

Stefano inclined his head and licked his lips. "After looking through these," he patted the bag again, "I have developed a theory. And I think we should proceed as if I am correct."

Luca nodded again. "Your intuition has always been good. And I have a theory of my own. Let's see if they match up." He motioned at the chair before him. "Sit." He looked at Jenoah as well. "You as well, great nephew. We three have a great many things to discuss."

Jenoah joined the two of them, and the three men spoke and planned, far into the evening.


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

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