IX. Still 9 years ago…
“Cooper, do you know why you are here?” the therapist asked.
“Because my dad thought it would be a good idea,” Cooper answered.
“You don’t agree?” she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Tell me about the attack,” she questioned.
He sighed. “About two weeks ago I was attacked by a group. They jumped me at a party and dragged me into a bedroom.” He rubbed his bald head with his hand. “They then shaved my head and beat me up.”
“You know who did this to you?” the therapist asked.
“Yeah, most of them are football players. Kendrick Mills seemed to be the leader. I stood up to him a week earlier. I guess he was a little upset by that.”
“You broke his hand?”
“No, I ducked and he hit the wall. He broke his own hand.”
The therapist wrote a note in her pad. The only sound in the room was the ticking clock.
“If Kendrick was in this room right now, what do you think you’d do to him?”
“I would try to avoid him, I guess. The less I’m around Kendrick the better.”
“Look,” Cooper explained hoping to rush the process along, “the reason I’m here is because my dad is worried. Ever since the attack it has felt like I’m in some kind of fog. I can’t concentrate, I can’t do my school work, I just don’t feel like me.”
“Sounds like you are suffering from PTSD.”
“Like what soldiers get?” Cooper asked.
“Yes, but it can happen to anyone who suffered a traumatic experience.”
Cooper thought about it. “So what, you’re going to give me something I can take for it?”
“How about we start with counseling a couple of times a month first. Can I see you again in a couple of weeks?”
Cooper rolled his eyes but judging from the tone in her voice he didn’t think it would be a wise idea to decline. He didn’t need counseling. He just needed to snap out of the fog he was in. It was her professional opinion against hunch but he knew himself. More than anything he felt he just needed some time.
While Cooper was being erroneously diagnosed, Al was in a store shoplifting some bread. A hooded figure walked in. She had been on the streets long enough now to recognize trouble when she saw it and she started for the door. Best to avoid whatever was about to take place. Before she could slip out though the figure demanded the clerk give him all the money in the till.
“Dang me,” Al whispered and stepped back. It was best if she just let the scene play out. There was nothing she could do. Actually, there was nothing she was willing to do. She had a loaf of bread inside her jacket that would be dinner so she just needed the whole thing to happen quickly.
But it didn’t happen that way. The clerk didn’t want to give in to the robber and pulled out his own gun.
“Oh, dang me,” Al dropped her head and ducked behind a shelf.
“I refuse to give you thugs any more than what you have already taken!” the clerk boldly declared.
Al bit her bottom lip and moved slightly so that she could watch the proceedings.
The robber was a little surprised at the declaration but kept his gun aimed at the clerk.
Al backed down the aisle staying hunched over and went to the shelf with canned food.
“C’mon, man!” the robber yelled back. “I’m not messing around. Give me the money!”
“No!” the clerk boldly declared. “This is my store. You will not take anything more from me.”
Al sighed and took out the loaf of bread in her jacket and placed it on the shelf. She then moved back around so she could see the standoff better. Both of her hands had a couple of cans. Her hope was the situation would resolve itself peacefully but she was in position, ready to take action if need be.
The two men stood with guns aimed at each other, neither one backing down.
“Give me the money!” the robber again demanded. His words slurred and Al could tell he was losing his sensibility.
The clerk didn’t flinch.
“Dang me,” Al took a deep breath. So much for hoping for a peaceful outcome. She put two cans down and kept one in each hand. Then she threw both at the robber one after the other. They both connected with the target, one knocked the gun out of his hand the other hit him in the head. She followed her attack with ramming her head in his back and knocking him off balance. Another customer came to her aid and helped pin the man down. The clerk came around the counter and kicked the would-be robber.
Sirens could be heard outside and Al preferred to stay out of the picture. She picked up one of the cans of food, after all she still needed to eat, and slipped out the door during the confusion before the cops arrived.
She headed for the small apartment she shared with Dahlia.
Later that night, she was home alone when someone knocked on the door. She peeked through the peephole and saw a man in a suit. At first, she remained quiet to see if he would go away. But he knocked again.
“Dahlia isn’t here,” she said nervously.
“I’m not here for Dahlia,” the man replied. “I’m looking for Allison Patrick.”
Al gulped. Was she in trouble for taking that can of beans? She backed up to the window and opened it.
“You should know,” the man in the hallway said. “I have a partner that is on your fire escape.”
A man in a suit and overcoat standing on the fire escape smiled. “Mind if I come in?”
He was already in her apartment before she could reply. The apartment was too small for her to run anywhere. “Please, be my guest,” she said sarcastically.
“Mind opening the door for my partner?”
“Not without a badge.”
He smiled and flashed a badge at her.
She relented and opened the door. “All this for a can of food?” she mumbled.
“First of all,” the man on the fire escape stepped in through the open window, “you are not in trouble. So, there is no need to fight.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “There is always a need to fight.”
“Ah!” he said smiling. “See Davis? I told you she would be a good recruit. We’ve been watching you for some time, Ms. Patrick.”
She straightened her shoulders at the use of the respectful title.
“I am Agent Simmons and I have an offer for you.”
“What kind of offer?” Al asked nervously.
“A job offer. How would you like to work for the government?”
Al laughed. “What government?”
“Your government of course. How would you like to work with the C.I.A.?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“This is no joke. You do know you have been living with a former marine, right? Dahlia Smith served two tours of duty. She has taught you well. But on your own merit, you have been on our radar since you hacked into the First Security Bank last year. You accessed a bank and all you did was wipe your friend’s car loan clean?”
She shrugged. This whole time she thought she had gotten away undetected with that act.
“And then tonight at the store. We watched the surveillance tape. You disarmed a would-be robber. You have fight in you. Fight and smarts. A powerful combination. We’d like to hone your skills for doing good. Helping your country. That sort of thing. Take Dahlia’s training a bit further.”
She listened but couldn’t believe her ears.
“Well, it’s a lot to process,” Agent Simmons said. “If you decide to do this simply show up at this address 8:30 Monday morning,” he handed her a card.
He said nodded at Davis. Agent Davis nodded back and they left Al alone in the apartment.
This had to be some kind of joke, she thought. Why would the government want her? After spending a lonely weekend contemplating the offer she decided why not? Why not show up to the address on the card and see what happens. If it was a joke, so be it. She would be sure to laugh the loudest. But if it wasn’t, then maybe, just maybe she’d get out of the hole she’d been in her whole life.
There was no way she’d call it hope because she didn’t want to be disappointed. Instead, she was merely following through on the joke.
When she showed up at 8:30am Monday morning she found out it was no joke.