XII. Still January
Cooper squinted as a barrel-chested man with slicked back dark hair entered the room.
Ant Luck nodded his greeting without any expression.
Cooper closed one eye and then the other. “I never forget a face. Have we met before?”
“As I said,” Al answered, “Agent Luck has been following you for some time now. You probably have seen him in a few places.”
Ant’s brow furrowed at the thought a mere civilian would have noticed him tailing.
“In the background,” Al said quickly noticing Ant’s reaction.
“Maybe,” Cooper said unconvinced and still trying to place him. “So,” he said changing the subject and looking at his badge. “Ant is it? Is that short for Anthony or is your name more ironic in fashion?”
“He fancies himself a comedian,” Al explained to Ant.
Ant grunted. “Are you willing to serve your government?” he asked in a deep booming voice.
His voice. Cooper had heard that voice before he was sure of it.
“Mr. Baldwin?” Ant asked.
“Sorry,” Cooper shook his head to change his train of thought. “Let me get this straight. You,” he pointed to both of them, “are basically blackmailing me in order for me to come work for the government, correct?”
“We work for the government,” Al said. “We don’t blackmail or coerce.”
“We offer enticing incentives,” Ant said finishing the thought.
Cooper snorted. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
“There is a certain,” Ant cleared his throat, “skumbag that has eluded us. He is on our radar, we know him but we can never get a step ahead.”
“And what does that have to do with me?” Cooper asked.
“Mr. Baldwin, you know as well as I do you have certain strengths and skills. Skills that you have been using all over the world. You actually use the same methods for disappearing that he does. The only difference between the two of you is your victims are rich bank accounts. His victims never see daylight again.”
Cooper felt a little uncomfortable having similarities with a wanted criminal.
“You fancy yourself a Robin Hood?” Ant asked in what he considered a mocking tone but Cooper heard no difference in the inflection. “This man considers himself the next Hitler. He is organizing his followers for action. It is our duty to stop him.”
“Your duty, not mine,” Cooper corrected him. “I’m not equipped for this.”
“I believe you are and we need you.” Ant repeated.
Cooper looked at the two agents. He really regretted this little Vegas plan of his.
“I told you he wouldn’t do it,” Al said. “Once a criminal always a criminal.”
Criminal? No one had ever called Cooper that before. He wasn’t a criminal he was just having fun.
“I will turn him into casino security,” Al said walking toward Cooper. That was the happiest she sounded since she pulled her gun on him.
“Wait,” Cooper said. “What exactly do you need from me?”
“The man we are seeking is known as the Sheik. The only thing original about him is he was born here in America.”
“An American called the Sheik? That doesn’t sound very PC.” Cooper said.
“You can add it to his list of crimes. We will go to our base and we will debrief you on the subject in detail. Let’s get out of here.” Ant said surveying the hotel room.
Cooper’s eyes closed instinctively. Get out? Somewhere inside his brain a voice recognition had just triggered. He had heard this man say those two words before.
“Mr. Baldwin?” Ant asked glancing at Al and back at Cooper. “Are you okay?”
Cooper opened his eyes slowly and looked at Ant. He brought his hand up and held it in front of him covering Ant’s mouth and squinted again.
After a moment it clicked.
“You were there!” Cooper said falling back onto the bed and sitting down since his knees gave out. “You were there the night my mom was killed.”
Al looked quickly at Ant. This was something she did not know and she put her hand on her gun.
“Did you kill my mom?” Cooper asked slowly. Even though they had been partners for a few years now Al also waited for an answer.