“Stop looking over your shoulder,” I whispered through gritted teeth.
Jon glanced forward again and down. “We’re being watched,” he replied. “Two officers, seven o’clock.”
I didn’t bother to turn. I knew better. “Gee. Wonder why?”
Jon was next in line. A Customs agent peeked up from his post and motioned him through the turnstile.
“Stay calm,” I said as Jon started toward the counter with his bag. I hated taking new recruits, especially when there was a good chance of a situation going south like it had. I couldn’t blame Jon too much. He was doing well until the blast. Now, we were only a few feet from freedom and the best payday I ever had, if only he could play it chill.
The agent was about to stamp Jon’s passport when one of the officers approached. Great. I felt a towering presence. Behind me stood another officer, at least a foot taller than me.
“Pardon me, sir, but I need you to come with me.”
A few minutes later, we sat in a cold room at a metal table that held our bags. The officers hadn’t handcuffed us, but the tall one stood at the door with his arms crossed. His body language made it clear that we would not be leaving soon. I glanced at the clock above the door. It took eight minutes until another man stepped into the room, wearing a white button-down shirt and black tie. A badge rested on one hip and a gun on the other.
He tossed my passport onto the table. “Mr. Benjamin Anderson.”
He did the same with Jon’s. “Mr. Jonathon Warhol.”
Jon gulped and nodded.
“Why you nervous, kid?”
“I… Because… I…”
“He suffers from chronic anxiety,” I said.
“I didn’t ask you, Mr. Anderson.” The man didn’t press Jon further, though. Instead, he turned toward me. “Brazil is a restricted country.”
“Restricted,” I replied, “but not illegal.”
“You travel there often.”
“I love the culture.”
“Mmm. And the purpose of your trip?”
“I’m part of an organization that works with an orphanage in Guarulhos. I have paperwork to…”
“I’ve seen your paperwork.”
“Then, might I ask, why are we being detained?”
The man, who had yet to share his name, narrowed his eyes. “You and Mr. Warhol checked out of a hotel in Guarulhos shortly after an explosion nearby.”
I nodded. “It was very chaotic. We were fortunate to make it to the airport in time. I haven’t seen much news. Were many people hurt?”
“Yes. Five were killed.”
The man grunted. “We’re going to search your bags.”
I shrugged. “Go ahead. We didn’t have an opportunity to wash our clothes, so you might want to be careful.”
Jon fidgeted, but I leaned back and folded my arms as the tall officer approached and opened our luggage. He removed our clothing, felt around the inside of the case, and called for another agent with a dog. The dog ignored our suitcases but whined and scratched at Jon’s clothing. The officers then unfolded every item and searched through the pockets, but all they found was a pack of chewing gum. It was a waste of our time and theirs.
The man in the tie didn’t look happy. “You may go. Sorry for any inconvenience.”
I grinned as I repacked my case. “Always a pleasure.”
As we headed for the airport’s exit, I texted an unspecified number in my phone that we were ready for our ride. A red minivan met us on the loop outside the terminal. Jon didn’t say much, but I chatted with the driver. Her name was Samantha. Of everyone I knew, she was the fastest through the busy streets of Chicago.
Our destination was an office building three blocks south of Willis Tower. Samantha dropped us off outside, and a man named Bryan greeted us and escorted us to the fourth floor. We sat in another room with our bags on the table, but this room was well-lit and cozy. I prided myself on having nice furniture at home, but these chairs put mine to shame.
We didn’t have to wait long before Robert Reynolds, a chunky man who I was sure slept in a three-piece suit, entered with a big grin. “Another successful run?” he asked as he keyed a special code on the locks of our luggage.
“We had a few problems.”
“Our contact was compromised.”
“But you took care of her?”
“Of course. There was unfortunate collateral, but we weren’t seen.”
“Good. We’ll have to find a new location, though. Guarulhos isn’t safe for us anymore.”
I nodded but sighed. “Understandable. I’ll miss it. I love the nightlife there.”
“How were these new cases?”
“The dogs didn’t even find anything.”
“Good. Good.” He popped open the case, but instead of clothes, there were rows of tiny brown bags. Robert’s smile grew even larger. “Beautiful.” He tossed me a bag. “Here’s your cut.” He then glanced at Jon. “How’d my nephew do?”
“He’s not going to work out.”
“What?” Jon whipped his head toward me.
“Sorry, kid,” I said. “You’re the reason we were stopped by Customs.”
“That’s too bad.” Robert snapped his fingers.
A large man grabbed the front of Jon’s shirt and lifted him from the chair. Jon protested and begged as tears filled his eyes. The large man was undeterred in dragging him from the room. I knew better than to ask what would become of Jon.
Robert tossed me another bag. “You get his as well.” He then motioned for a woman who held a smaller case. She set it on the table and opened the lid. Leaning forward with a grin, I thumbed through stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills. “Go buy you and the Missus a nice steak.”
“The nicest,” I replied.
It was after dark when I made it home to Bourbonnais. The lights were off. It didn’t surprise me that Jacquie and Matthew were in bed. My wife worked early, and Matthew had preschool. I set one of the bags Robert gave me on the kitchen table along with the case of money. I took the other bag to the counter, ripped it open, and inhaled the aroma. Measuring two tablespoons, I hit the button to start the machine.
Soft footsteps crossed the wood floor behind me.
“Hey, babe,” I said and turned. My toothy smile faded as I saw Jacquie with a gun pointed at my chest. Tears flooded her cheeks. “What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry, Bennie. I already called the police.”
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
Her hands trembled. With her finger on the trigger, that worried me more than Jon’s anxiety.
“I saw on the news,” she said as she sniffed. “The explosion… I can’t…” She bit her lip. “I can’t do this anymore. That’s blood on my hands if I do nothing.”
I heard sirens and sighed. Then, I chuckled. “You remember our first date? We went to that little café in Evanston. I introduced you to blonde roast. You said it was the best coffee you ever drank. It was a year later when President O’Brien issued that executive order making coffee illegal. He never should have done that, but look around, babe. That decision drove up the prices, and my work is why we can afford this house and Matthew’s private school and that favorite necklace of yours.”
The sirens cut off, but red and blue lights flashed through our windows. Jacquie lowered the gun, took a seat, and sobbed as fists pounded on our front door.
“ATCF, open up!”
The door flew open, and agents rushed in. I held up my hands and lowered myself to my knees.
“I love you, Jacquie. I always will. Tell Matthew that daddy loves him. Take care of our boy.”
The coffeemaker dinged.
The government would cut me a deal. If I named names and agreed to testify, I’d only serve twenty-five years.
But as officers handcuffed me on my kitchen floor, I knew what my arrest meant. I inhaled the deepest breath I could. I loved the fragrance of coffee. Sadly, though, I had drunk my last cup.