The pounding of his heart began to rattle up through his ears. <It's been so long. Why is this still so strong?> Kermit suffered for a moment in silence. Karen was beside him. She wanted, no deserved, an answer. He wanted to answer. <Damn....no one knows this. Not even Paul.>
Then, she touched his back. Gently she tried to soothe him, even in the middle of her own mystery concerning his predicament. "You do know you can trust me, don't you, Kermit? If you aren't certain of anything else, you should at least know that by now."
"It's me I don't trust." He was tired, tired beyond denial and deflection. "I don't want to hurt you, Karen."
"Tell me about her." Her tone was warm, as warm as her hand moving up and down on his jacket.
<You don't know what you're asking. Or maybe you do.> With one last deep breath, he let go into the uncertainty that was confession. "In 1986, I was on an assignment for," he paused and reconsidered for a moment, "a governmental entity." Kermit twisted his head slightly, testing her ability to hold in her questions. It would be interesting to see if she would want to know which three letters of the alphabet had been his boss; interesting to see if she would have to know.
<You pass, Karen.> Once again, he looked back into the scenery. "Here in town. I had just been involved in some nasty business in the Middle East. This was, in essence, a test to see if I'd recovered sufficiently."
"Recovered from what?" Karen leaned in more closely.
The worry in her voice reassured him that he was doing the right thing. "It isn't relevant to the story. Anyway, a partner and I were to set up a phony store front on Garden Way and wait for a mark. He was a major supplier of scientific information for terrorist colonies around the world. Kind of a procurer of Dr. Frankensteins and twisted chemists. He had a penchant for antique books and anytime he was in the country, you could count on him showing up at a shop run by this dealer across the street. We were to wait for him to show up then .....handle him."
"Was the woman your partner?"
A mental picture of her fluttered by in his memory and made him smile. "No....she wasn't the agent, or the book dealer, or the terrorist." He looked back at Karen, just in time to see her shake off a mist of jealousy. A faint tightening of her jaw, but there nonetheless.
<Let go. For once, let go.> The heartbreak began to purr in his gut once more; one last grip before releasing his vocal cords again. "Her name was Claire. She made wedding dresses in her home across the street from our stake out. The neighborhood was one of those beautiful Victorian areas that slowly gave way to commercial zoning. She lived in the house she grew up in and sat in the front window sewing every day. I'd watch for hours, one eye staring at the street and waiting for our mark and the other eye watching her."
"Was she beautiful?"
"Yes, she was." Claire. Mousy brown hair leaning on his shoulder. Suede colored eyes squinting as she threaded a needle. Tiny, graceful fingers holding satin and pearls. Always looking away with a blush if she caught him staring. Nothing to draw a second look, unless you were looking for gold. <This is killing me.>
"Kermit....you don't have to tell me if it's going to hurt."
"It'll hurt either way." With that honesty splayed out for her to see, he got to his feet and began to pace. Moving was good, harder for the pain to silence him that way.
Karen stayed put, letting him journey back and forth in front of her. "Tell me what happened."
<Oh, just that? Just chop up my guts and fertilize the park with them? Why not.....>
To Be Continued...