“This is not a difficult decision!” Aurora said impatiently. “Freelancing is the way to go. Section Seven will betray you. They betrayed me. Your father was ordered to abandon me when my contacts within La Rivoluzione were rooted out and murdered. And Adrian did. He left me there ALONE!” Aurora screamed, her voice echoing off the walls. David stirred from beside Marlene at the sound.
“I had to fight for nearly a year to prove to those bastards that I wasn’t a government agent. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t a tough part to play.” Aurora cocked the weapon and Marlene braced herself for the impact of the bullet. “So now I will take the two things that mattered most to Officer Griffith,” she continued icily. “Because he and Section Seven took my freedom away from me.” Marlene prayed silently to St. Jude for a miracle.
“Drop it,” the comfortingly familiar voice of Malcolm ordered Aurora. The room was awash in flashlight beams and laser pointers.
“Do as he says,” Coulter said from nearby.
Marlene burst into tears, wondering how they found her.
“Or what?” Aurora dared to ask boldly.
“Drop it,” O’Reilly ordered her.
“On your knees,” Hannity added.
Aurora did as she was told and Marlene watched her drop the weapon in the afterglow of the flashlights. She never took her hateful eyes off of Marlene. Moving slowly forward, Savage, Hannity, and Limbaugh subdued Aurora.
Mal untied her and smiled, wiping her tears away. “We’re here baby,” he said softly.
Coulter tended to David, using smelling salts. “What?” David blurted out, jerking awake.
“Griffith, it’s us,” Coulter said in his unique basso profundo.
As Marlene leaned on Mal for support, walking out after Savage, Limbaugh, and Hannity with Aurora, she realized it was nearly morning, but no one was around.
“Where is everyone?” Marlene asked.
Mal helped her into one of the two vans parked nearby, marked with a gas company logo. “We told everyone that a major gas line had broken and they had to evacuate the neighborhood. Local media got in on it too. Worked pretty well,” Mal answered with a smile.
“What is that?” Marlene ventured, as Hannity came towards her with a black doctor’s bag. He opened it and removed a syringe.
“Something to help you sleep. You’ve had a long week,” he said softly. He cleaned up arm, tied off her arm, and jabbed her with the syringe full of blue liquid.
But even before Hannity could withdraw the needle, Marlene was already feeling woozy. Her head began to flop from side to side and her eyes were beginning to droop. Hannity smiled down at her benevolently as her eyes slid shut.
Marlene was knee-deep in seawater. The sounds of waves crashing against the cliffs pounded rhythmically in her ears. The salt water dripped down her face and she was laughing ecstatically. Marlene was short and barely cleared the breaks of the waves. She looked up and a good-looking dark-haired man scooped her up in her arms. The man kissed her on top of her head. She knew this was only a memory because that man was her father.
“Underneath the lantern, by the barrack gate/Darling I remember the way you used to wait/’Twas there that you whispered tenderly/That you loved me, You’d always be/My Lili of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene,” he whispered softly in her ear.
Maylene yelled something indiscriminate from nearby merrily. Another wave was making its way towards them and she squealed with delight as Adrian held her high in the air.
“I’ll protect you!” Adrian said in a superhero voice. And she believed him.
Marlene woke with a start in a stark white hospital bed in a neutral colored room. Her eyes swam and blinked against the late afternoon light. No one else was in the room. Grimacing from the sudden pain that flooded her nerves, in her wrists and ankles, she buzzed the nurse.
“Hi Marlene. I’m Kristine,” the pretty girl introduced herself.
“Where am I? Where’s my brother? Where’s my mom?” Marlene demanded gratingly, as her voice was still thick with sleep.
“Hold on there,” Kristine said gently. She rested a warm hand on Marlene’s arm. “I’ve notified your doctor and he will be with you in a moment.”
As promised, Dr. Williford appeared soon after Kristine helped Marlene get comfortable in the bed. Williford explained that she was in a Section Seven hospital, that he too worked for Section Seven, and that her mother and sister would be arriving soon.
“And David? I mean, Agent Griffith, I mean Jones? What about him?” Marlene asked madly. She had a million questions and this doctor was giving her the run-around.
“Agent Jones is recovering from his trauma” was all she could get out of Williford.
Lily stepped into the room and immediately burst into tears. “Ate! I’m so sorry I ever yelled at you! I promise not to bother you about going out ever again! Ever!” Marlene awkwardly rubbed her little sister’s back sympathetically. Maylene eyed her daughters, behaving as though she were keeping a secret. “Mom said the police haven’t caught the guy who did this to you,” Lily said, her face lying against Marlene’s chest. Marlene eyed Maylene for answers.
“I guess you forgot. The doctor said head trauma would do this to you. You were driving down Paradise Drive late last Tuesday and someone came barreling towards you at 80 mph. Your car was totaled and the rescue workers had to use the Jaws of Life to get you out,” Maylene supplied. Marlene nodded, knowing this was the cover story Section Seven had given her. It made Marlene more appreciative of the fact that her mother knew about her double life.
Soon after, Maylene herded Lily from the room, when Marlene’s eyes began to droop.
A soft whistling of a familiar tune crept slowly into her ears.
“Time would come for roll call, Time for us to part/Darling I’d caress you and press you to my heart/And there ‘neath that far off lantern light/I’d hold you tight, We’d kiss good-night/My Lili of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene,” sang a voice softly.
Tears formed in Marlene’s closed eyes, wondering if this was a dream. She blinked her eyes open and whispered, “Who’s there?”
“Never fear, I is here,” Leon joked from her elbow. He reached down to grab her hand and Marlene was reassured by the fact that Leon was here.
“I told you I’d watch out for you,” he whispered, plunking a kiss on her dark hair. “I always did like that song. Carly Simon did a mean cover of it.”
“How did you find me?” Marlene asked. He scraped an uncomfortable hospital chair to rest at her bedside.
“Save your strength. I heard rumors that someone had taken down Aurora and I had to see for myself. Congratulations. She’s being punished under that fancy military order your president ordered after September 11th. Rory’s going down for everything they can charge her with. And it’s you they have to thank,” Leon said, squeezing her hand.
“It’s not like I can testify against her,” Marlene reminded him.
“They have more than enough evidence against her. She’ll be in Jamestown in no time,” Leon said, using the codeword for Section Seven’s version of Leavenworth, the military prison in Kansas.
“Knock, knock,” said Mal’s voice gently from the open doorway. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”
Marlene broke into a huge grin. “Nope. I was talking.”
“To who?” Mal asked.
“To Leon,” she said, gesturing to the last spot she had seen Leon sitting. Mal flicked on a light and the room was flooded in fluorescent light. The chair was still there, but Leon was not. “Look under the bed,” Marlene said. Mal gave her a weird look, but did as he was told.
“He’s not there,” Mal reported. “’Tis okay. You had a head injury, so imagining things is to be expected.” He sat on the chair Leon had abandoned. “So how is my darling plumpkin today?”
“A little better. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Marlene began.
“Fire away,” Mal said with a grin, gripping her hand.
“How did you find me?”
Mal beamed. “The jade necklace your mum gave you? Jonah installed a nearly invisible GPS chip into it during the Gauntlet. Just in case,” he explained.
Marlene shook her head smiling. “Big Brother is watching me, huh?”
“Would you doubt anything else?” Mal joked.
“So when do I get out of here?”
“Soon. The doctors are impressed with your recovery,” Mal said. “I love you,” he whispered, kissing her hand.
“I love you,” Marlene said eagerly.
After a few days of drifting in and out of sleep, Marlene realize that life was much too valuable to just sit and wait for things to happen. She was reminded of a quote by Katharine Susannah Prichard: “Don’t sacrifice your life to work and ideals. The most important things in life are human relations. I found that out too late.”