IV. One last look at 25 years ago…
Tony Layton was not a patient man. He had served two tours of duty and now worked as a member of the LAPD Swat Team. Despite many tedious and dangerous missions that required him to sit tight he still fidgeted when things seemed to slow down too much on a job. He never could learn to trust the quiet when experience taught him things were about to get noisy.
His team had been called in to save a well-known party girl who had made the fatal mistake of partying with the wrong crowd. The silly woman had chosen terrorists to mingle with and now they were holding her hostage in her hotel’s penthouse. His team was in position waiting to storm inside all they needed was the go order. But it was slow in coming. That made Tony nervous.
As he waited, a man approached him. “Officer Layton?”
Tony nodded his head. Even though the man was dressed in protective armor Tony could tell he was probably just a suit. “You seem a little lost,” Tony chided him. He could not stand the bureaucratic pencil pushers that found ways to make his job harder.
I“No,” the man replied flatly, “I’m not. I’m here for you.” He flashed his badge at Tony and Tony recognized the man as superior officer.
“If you have forms you need me to sign they will have to wait,” Tony drawled.
The man grunted. “No forms. But I do have a special mission for you. In a few minutes, you will get the go-order. Amidst all the confusion we need you to go to the safe in the bedroom and retrieve a pill box. Do not show it to anyone. Do not tell anyone about it. You will receive instructions later on and I will retrieve it from you. Do you understand?”
“Good,” the man said and handed Tony a piece of paper with numbers on it. “This is the combination for the safe.” After giving Tony the combination he backed out of the hallway. “They said we could count on you.”
All this talk of ‘we’ and ‘they’ made Tony even more nervous. Who are they? That’s the last thing needed, more division.
No sooner had the man disappeared around the corner than the go-order came. By the time Tony entered, bodies littered the floor. No survivors including the party girl. He swallowed hard. This was a messy job. Something didn’t feel right. He waited until the opportune moment then discreetly snuck into the bedroom and opened the safe. The only thing inside was the pill box. He took it out and put it in his jacket pocket.
A couple of hours later, he sat in his car and took out the small box and studied it. He may not know much but one thing he did know. Whatever was inside this box someone wanted badly enough to kill all the witnesses. What could possibly be inside this box? He unzipped it and looked at a rather large pill.
He took the pill and put it in his right pocket. Then he put a breath mint in the box and zipped it back up. Until he knew for sure this was going into the right hands he would hide it. Although he had no idea what it was he knew enough to recognize a cleanup job when he saw one. What happened in the penthouse was someone cleaning up some kind of mess. And since he just became an unwilling witness, he had to be smart about this. He put the pillbox in his left pocket. Now he needed to find a hiding place just until he understood the situation better.
His phone rang waking him out of his reverie. “Hello?”
“Tony, what kind of uncle are you?” It was his sister Elizabeth.
“Hi Liz,” he started his car and pulled out of the parking lot.
“That’s it? You do realize your nephew was born over a week ago, right?” She asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“And you, big brother, have not met him yet. You, of all people. The Amazon delivery driver has seen him but his favorite uncle has not.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony said. “I’ve been a little busy.”
“Everyone is busy. The Amazon driver is very busy yet he took the time to meet Cooper.”
Tony sighed. “Look, I was planning on coming over when things settled down a bit at work.”
“I get it. Work is stressful and busy. You’re a hero and you got things to do. But you will always have things to do and I want my son to know a real live hero. So, you’re coming to dinner tonight. That’s that.”
He knew it was useless to argue with his little sister. In the army he could command his men. On the SWAT team he could take charge. But somehow his little sister outranked him when it came to family. “Of course, I will be there in about a half an hour.” He hung up the phone and reverted back to his thoughts about a hiding place for the pill.
After dinner, he held his nephew Cooper. “Okay, what if I break him?” He asked nervously.
“You won’t break him.”
“Ah, I don’t think I can do this.”
“Support his head like this,” Liz showed him.
“Just think of him as an antique vase,” his brother in law Jo offered.
“A vase?” Tony asked.
“Right,” Jo agreed the simile was lame. “Think of him as an explosive.”
“Jo!” Liz complained.
Tony nodded. “Right, now I get it. That helped. Thanks.” He relaxed a little bit. “I got this.” Cooper started to fuss. “Oh, I think he’s about to explode.”
“For the record, that’s a horrible metaphor.” Liz said.
Tony shrugged and handed Cooper to Liz. “Baby steps, sis.” He said. “No pun intended.”
She smiled. “That’s a good first start. I just want you to be in this kid’s life, you know. He needs to know you have his back.”
“Of course I have his back,” he looked down at the little guy. “I will always be there for you and him.”
“Ahem,” Jo cleared his throat.
“And you, too.” Tony smiled. “It’s a package deal.”
“Good,” Liz said. “Hey Tony, will you go into Cooper’s room and get me a diaper please?”
“Of course,” Tony stood up and went into the bedroom. His phone rang and he answered.
“Did you retrieve the package?” Tony recognized the voice from the man he met earlier.
“Yes,” Tony responded.
“Meet me in 45 minutes at the address I text you. I will pick it up.” The call disconnected.
Still unsure of who to trust, Tony took the pill out of his pocket. He went to the unfinished closet and looked around. It wasn’t the best idea but he was out of time to find a better spot. He grabbed a onesie and wrapped the pill in it the placed it on one of the two by four boards above his head. Just for the night, he’d come by in the morning and retrieve it.
He grabbed a diaper and headed back to the living room. “Sorry, sis, but duty calls,” he waved his phone at her as proof and handed her the diaper. “But how about I bring breakfast over tomorrow?”
“Wow,” she said. “Two days in a row?”
“Well, you’re right. I need to be a part of this kid’s life. I will do better from now on.”
She smiled. “That’s all I ask.” They hugged and he left for his meeting.
The moonless night was quite dark. The small park they were meeting at only had one burned out street lamp. Tony waited at the playground. He could hear the river nearby.
A figure stepped toward him. “You have the package?” Tony recognized the voice.
“I do,” Tony replied.
“Good work. Anyone know you took it?”
“Not that I know of.”
Just then a couple of shots rang out. The man fell to his knees and then slumped over. Tony instinctively took off running down the trail head toward the river. He could hear shots being fired at him. The night was dark and he stumbled quite a bit but finally made his way to the bank of the river.
“Officer Layton, we know you have the pill,” someone said. “Just give it to us and we’ll let you live.”
“You mean this?” He took out the pillbox and shook it. The breath mint rattled inside. “I don’t even know what it is. I was just told to retrieve it.”
“We appreciate it. Now put it down on the ground slowly.”
“I don’t know that I will,” Tony recognized a losing hand when he was dealt one. He unzipped the box and held it over the bank. “I might just let this go.”
“Stop!” the voice said and stepped closer to him. Tony could make out an older gentleman dressed in a suit. “You don’t want to do that.”
“How about you let me go and I will leave the box on my way out?”
Another person came stumbling into the clearing. “No!” he said. It was the man from earlier in the day. He was holding his side and his hand was blood stained. “We can’t let you win,” he shot Tony who fell into the river with the pillbox.
“No!” the older gentleman cried out and turned on Tony’s assailant. He shot him again and this time finished the job.
A woman walked to the gentleman. “Where’s the pill?” she asked.
He looked down at the river. “Seemingly gone. But get a team to retrieve the body. Scour the bank. With any luck the pill fell out before it hit the river.”
She nodded. Soon she was barking his orders over her phone.
“This just means it is imperative that we find that notebook. We need to make our own pill. The disc is incomplete.” He said to no one in particular. “This is going to cause a delay. Most unfortunate.”
As it turns out, Tony missed his breakfast date with his sister and nephew. But his sister made sure Cooper knew about his hero uncle who died in the line of duty. According to the official report, Tony was in the middle of a drug bust when things went wrong. Unfortunately, he was shot in the face which meant it was a closed casket. That is what Liz was told. That was the story Cooper heard.
Next: Chapter 5
A look back: