It was Christmas day, but it didn’t feel like it.
It had been tumultuous since the day of the shoot-out, the same day Herbert kidnapped the girls, and the day he suspected foul play after Gina slipped up when Herbert mentioned ransom money.
Since then, he had always tried to stay ahead of the crazy father-daughter duo. Luck had been on his side, especially at the train station. His appeal to Gina worked, and she confirmed his suspicions when she arrived at the drop-zone with the girls, knowing that was what he wanted.
But luck could only take him so far. They were smart. He couldn’t be predictable, or they would know he was on to them.
He needed help, and he was standing in front of the building of those that could provide it.
Christopher took a deep breath before he went through the front doors of the FBI headquarters in New York. He wasn’t surprised to see a handful of agents remained to deal with the backlash of the attack on the Waldorf Astoria and the explosion downtown. The receptionist was quick to send him on his way once she confirmed his appointment with the boss so she could return to the phone desk and attend to the busy phone lines.
Because of him, he thought grimly. As he went up the ramps to the director’s office, he thought about the man who came through for him at a moment’s notice. Sarah’s extraction was swift and highly effective, but Christopher wondered how much more of this drama the hotel could take before they booted them out for disturbing the peace.
The director, Bruce Walker, had a similar build to Christopher’s. He had acquired a bad posture, probably from spending too much time plugging away at his computer or running this place, Christopher thought as he watched the man through the slightly tinted glass door to his office. Like he sensed his presence, the director looked up and motioned him in before returning his gaze to the bright screen.
‘You didn’t have to come in today,’ the director said, without looking at him. ‘Did the reception give you a hard time?’
‘No,’ Christopher uttered as he sat on one of the leather chairs in front of the director. ‘I need to see her.’ The director looked up suddenly at Christopher. ‘I suppose you do,’ he replied. ‘She’s not talking, but I’m hoping she will talk to you.’
‘She’d better, ‘Christopher said, slightly irritated. ‘I’m surprised I’m even here after the stunt she pulled at the hotel .’
The director smiled. ‘Go easy on her. She must have been through hell, and you only have to experience his bad side to know how deep his tentacles go.’
Christopher shook his head in dismay, ‘Why isn’t he behind bars?’
‘Lack of evidence and brave men,’ the director pointed out. ‘It’s tough to go against your own, especially one with his reach, but since you started shaking the tables, the right people got interested.’
‘I hope your interest lasts till we catch the bastard and my family’s safe,’ Christopher said bluntly. The director paused before he spoke, obviously stung by Christopher’s words. ‘I get that you are mad, and it’s justified. I’m sorry. It’s the politics in this place. You can’t beat them, so you pretend to be like them, but with your help, I’m sure we will see this through.’
‘Can I see her now?’ Christopher asked, perplexed. ‘I need to get back to my kids.’
‘Already on it,’ said the director, dialing a number on the landline. Christopher observed Bruce’s body language. His tired shoulders, twitching eyebrows, and trembling hands suggested he had passed up many vacations and swapped them for cups of coffee. Suddenly, he felt more relaxed, like he was with a friend.
‘Alright. We are on our way,’ Bruce confirmed before ending the call and turning to Christopher. ‘Right, I’ll take you to her. Be sure to let me know if she tells you anything of note so this can be over quickly. I don’t want to intrude.’
Christopher nodded and followed Bruce out of the office to one of the interrogation rooms. ‘We don’t keep detainees here without due cause,’ Bruce explained, ‘but from what the judge told me, she should remain in our custody.’
His heart almost exploded when he saw Sarah sitting with her head down and sobbing uncontrollably. Both men looked at each other and wondered if it was best to approach her in this state. After a couple of minutes of deliberation, Christopher stepped forward and stood in front of her. ‘Sarah,’ he said, as calmly as he could, and the director took that as his cue to leave.
‘We need to have a serious conversation,’ Christopher said in frustration while raking his hair with his fingers. Watching her cry unraveled him, and he fought hard to stop himself from carrying her in his arms and wiping her tears away.
But he had to remember why he was mad at her. ‘If I didn’t react before the Feds took you away, it was because there was no telling what I could have done to you. Why did you threaten our children with a knife?’
‘I didn’t mean it. I’m so sorry,’ Sarah said, in between her tears. She spoke. Christopher wasn’t expecting that. ‘You think sorry is going to fix things? The girls are traumatized! Penny has barely eaten anything since. What the hell is the matter with you?’
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,’ she repeated, with her head down.
‘Why scare them like that?’ He needed her answer, but she went mute. ‘I’ve had it!’ Christopher yelled, and he grabbed her shoulders with so much force that Sarah was sure his fingers would leave a mark.
‘It’s Christmas, and we are supposed to be at home, with the girls, underneath the Christmas tree …sharing gifts. But guess what? We are anything but because of your secrets! Do we even matter to you?’
‘You do,’ she whispered before raising her head so her eyes could meet his. Christopher released her abruptly and turned away from her so she couldn’t see how she was affecting him. ‘I don’t think we do, Sarah. If we did, you would be honest with me. I’m so tired.’
He retrieved an envelope from his jacket, threw it at her, and pointed to it. ‘Penny drew you a picture as a present. Daisy is rather tight-lipped about how she feels about you. Who can blame her? When she’s not sure of what brand of crazy you are. If you don’t tell me what I need to know right now, I am going to walk out of here, and you will never see us again.’
When Christopher didn’t get a response, he turned around and headed for the door then Sarah’s voice halted him.
‘He said he would kill the girls if I didn’t leave town with them.’
Christopher turned around and walked towards her. She was holding Penny’s drawing in her hands, and her tears had smudged a part of the painting. ‘Tell me everything about you and the Chief. It wasn’t just me he wanted. He was targeting you too. That much was clear at the precinct.’
She nodded briskly and fiddled with her fingers. ‘We.. we have history.’
‘Before or after we got married?’ Christopher asked.
‘Before,’ she said softly.
‘Go on,’ Christopher encouraged as he pulled up a chair and faced her.
She met his eyes. ‘You will never forgive me, Chris.’
‘Tell me, Sarah,’ Christopher insisted. What could she possibly have done that was worse than what he knew about her?
She took a deep breath before she spoke. ‘My name isn’t Sarah, Chris. It’s Annabel. Annabel Jenkins.’
Christopher’s eyebrows rose in surprise. He knew she used aliases in the past, but it never occurred to him that she used one with him. Besides, she retained the name when they reunited. Everyone knew her as Sarah. So that was a lie too?
He was ready to explode, but he remained calm when he saw that she was watching him.
‘Continue,’ Christopher managed to say calmly.
‘Are you sure?’ Sarah asked with a sheepish grin. ‘If you didn’t walk out the door with that revelation, you definitely will with the next one.’
He started to say something but stopped. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure he wanted anything more to do with this woman. Did he want to know the rest of her secrets? It was clear the woman he loved was a ghost.
‘I knew you would hate me,’ Sarah said, distraught.
‘That’s irrelevant,’ Christopher said, unable to mask his pain. ‘Why should the Chief care that you are Annabel and not Sarah?’
There’s no going back now, Sarah thought as her heart skipped a beat as she looked at Christopher like it was for the last time. ‘Because Annabel Jenkins is a murderer, and the Chief knows.’
A Penny For Christmas Chapter 37: Sarah’s last secret
It was Christmas day, but it didn’t feel like it.