“Let’s get started,” I interjected, wanting to save Matt from having to talk about this any longer. As much as I knew he hadn’t come to any kind of resolution or peace where his family was concerned, I wasn’t sure going to his father’s funeral was the answer either.
Sometimes you had to break ties with the people who had hurt you in order to find peace. Sometimes it wasn’t the family you were born to, but the one you created that carried you through the rough patches. So I sat with the five people I considered my family and somehow, despite the chaos surrounding us, we laughed as we plotted and schemed a way out of the life I’d been born into.
A crime wave has taken Washington D.C. by storm. We’re shocked by the rash of muggings and murders hitting D.C.’s elite. Is the heat spiking the crime wave or are there more nefarious forces at work?
Police found the body of a man …
—Capital Confessions blog
Blair’s comment about my father’s funeral stayed with me throughout most of the day as we went through the research Jackie had done, as Blair and Kate brainstormed for anything they could remember from their childhood that would help connect their father to Afghanistan, as we all attempted to figure out what our next move should be. The comment stayed with me after they left, and Kate and I dressed for the meeting, as I armed her and went over gun safety with her.
My mind should have been entirely on the task at hand, but instead it kept drifting … to memories of my childhood, the few times my father and I had bonded over one of my soccer games, the first time he’d ever taken me to his office and I’d seen where he worked and declared that one day I wanted to be just like him.
Maybe I should have gone to his funeral. I could have slipped in like I’d slipped into the house the night he was killed, could have managed a disguise. But I hadn’t. I didn’t feel like I was Matt Ryan anymore, like his life was mine. There was Kate, the thread between the two versions of us, and then just … nothing. And at the same time, miraculously, I didn’t feel lost anymore. It was as though hanging on to her was enough for now.
I didn’t know what my future entailed, didn’t know what kind of job I’d settle into, couldn’t really see beyond getting out of this mess we were in. But I was happy. I loved her. And even though our future looked nothing like the future we’d imagined when we were kids, it felt right. As though just having her by my side was enough. I wished I could have given her the things we’d once had, but even as the thought entered my mind, I remembered that this was Kate. She’d never cared about that stuff before, and somehow I couldn’t imagine her caring now.
“You’re distracted,” she murmured, no judgment in her tone, just the gentle prodding she seemed to have adopted around me.
I parked the car near the Lincoln Memorial, checking my watch. I opened my mouth to tell her that I wasn’t, but the truth came out instead.
“Yeah, I am. A bit. Sorry.”
“Was it what Blair said about your father’s funeral?”
I nodded. She knew me too well to bother pretending otherwise.
“I’m sorry about that. I think it’s the older sister thing; she doesn’t mean to pry, but she can’t help wanting to make everyone’s lives better. I wouldn’t take it personally. You’re handling this the best way you can.”
“I’m not upset with Blair; I guess I just keep wondering if she was right—if I should have gone to my father’s funeral. I don’t know. I keep thinking about how he died, how he did try to do the right thing even if his methods were wrong and it was too little too late.”
“It’s okay to mourn him, to wish things had turned out differently.”
“I guess. I just feel like I don’t really know who I am anymore, like I really did die in Afghanistan. They’re my parents, but they’re basically strangers. I feel like a completely different person. The guy I was before wouldn’t have been able to live this life.”
“Maybe you became who you needed to be in order to get through the things that happened to you.”
“Maybe.” I squeezed her hand. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
We sat there for a moment, and then I checked my watch again, leaving my past where it belonged. “Ready to get some answers?”
“Let’s do it.”
We got out of the car, armed to the teeth beneath our clothes, heading toward the Lincoln Memorial. I kept an eye on our surroundings, my hand linked with Kate’s.
It was busy tonight, tourists clearly taking advantage of the warm weather. We sidestepped a group of kids playing on the sidewalk, our strides eating up the pavement. I didn’t like the crowds, didn’t like how difficult the space was to contain. I would have chosen a more private location, but our source was jittery as fuck so he’d only been willing to meet in public. I hoped that the patrols of the memorial would at least deter any attacks. We’d taken the most circuitous route possible to get here, doing everything we could to ensure that we weren’t being followed.
We neared the memorial, the building lit up against the D.C. night sky. Kate’s grip on my hand tightened.
We milled through the groups of people talking and laughing, my heart racing a bit each time they came too close. I fucking hated crowds.
Kate squeezed my hand, closing the distance between us, as though her presence could chase my demons away.
“So what does this guy look like?” she murmured, her gaze scanning the memorial much as mine did.
“He’s tall. Caucasian. Big. Forty-ish. Dark hair cropped close to his head. Dark eyes. He has a tattoo on his arm.”
“Where did you guys agree to meet?”
“Near the statue.”
We walked up the steps, my body tense.
“Do you feel okay?” Kate asked, and I knew what she was really asking was, “Does it feel like the last time?”
I jerked my head in a nod, sweeping the crowd, hoping he’d actually show. My gaze ran over a couple holding hands, a family—one of the kids crying—a group of friends taking pictures, a guy in jeans and a black T-shirt. I froze.
I glanced around again, my chest tightening at the clusters of people. Clusters were not good. Clusters meant hiding spots, opportunities to blend, motherfucking danger.
“It’s okay, Matt,” Kate murmured, her voice low, soothing. She tugged on my hand. “It’s going to be okay.”
I didn’t have it in me to be embarrassed by the fact that she could tell I was close to losing my shit. I was too grateful to her for calming me. I didn’t know how to explain it, but it was like she pulled me out of whatever hell I spiraled into, reminding me of the here and now, of the need to protect her and keep her safe at all costs.
We walked toward my father’s employee, his gaze drifting over the crowds much like mine had until he settled on us and he jerked his head in greeting, moving behind the statue of Lincoln. He was ex-military, and he moved with the methodical precision of someone who’d spent time in combat.
I followed him, Kate in tow, nervous energy coursing through my body. I was ready to end this and move on.
We faced off from each other.
“I told you I couldn’t help you,” he said, his expression angry. “I’m not going to the authorities, not going to the media. I gave you everything I had.”
I’d expected this.
“We need more.”
“No fucking way. I’ve been watching the news.” He jerked his head toward Kate. “I know who she is. I know how involved she is in all of this. I want no part of it.”
Kate made a frustrated noise in her throat that almost sounded like a growl. I positioned myself between them, not wanting him looking at her, talking about her, and more than a little concerned that if provoked, there was a good chance Kate would go for the fucking jugular. She might have been a tamer version of herself with me, but I knew her well enough to know that her temper was about to explode.