Britney pressed her face into Tony’s chest, which was easy given their height difference. Under more favorable circumstances, she’d relish his touch. Right now, his arms were almost squeezing the life from her lungs. She tilted her head back so as to look him in the eye. If these were their last moments on earth, she wanted his loving eyes to be her last image. Maybe those beautiful eyes would be the first thing she saw in the next world.
They stayed in the closet and tried desperately not to make a sound. Britney suppressed her breathing as much as she could, but was afraid even her heartbeat was too loud. The floor creaked and groaned, and she wished they were back in their old home. She knew every inch of that house, and she could have known where they were walking. This house—not a chance.
Lights flashed under the door and she smiled. They were red, white, and blue, and Britney knew they weren’t from the Fourth of July parade they’d seen last month.
“It’s the cops,” a gruff voice shouted.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” another responded.
“But the contract,” the first said.
“Ya can’t spend money in the joint. Let’s book!”
Feet pounded, their sounds fading into the distance. Britney shivered and held Tony tight. They’d been through this before; they knew better than to come out before help arrived.
Britney sat on the couch in the living room and felt about three feet tall. Tony’s reassuring hand on her shoulder was some comfort, but Agent Grant, their Department of Justice liaison, standing over them, scolding her made her feel about twelve years old.
“Britney, for God’s sake, this is the second time the mob has found out where we stashed you, and it is again your fault! Honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do with you two.”
“Daniel, come on, cut the lady some slack,” Tony replied. “It’s not like she did it on purpose.”
“No, but she did violate one of my most basic instructions. How many times do I have to go over this: No contact with anyone from your past. Until the trial is over, you’re supposed to stay safe in witness protection. At this point, I’m at a loss as to what to do with you.”
Britney opened her mouth to speak, but remained silent when she saw Tony rise to his feet. She smiled. That was Tony, always defending her.
“Daniel, I’ve been giving this matter some thought, and I’ve got an idea that might just work.”
“The West Coast is dead to us. They found us in Seattle-”
“Because of Britney,” he snapped.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Yeah-yeah, you made your point. Now L.A. has proven bad for us, and yes, due to Britney. But here’s my idea: move us back to the East Coast and hide us right under their noses.”
Daniel’s brow wrinkled. “What, in New York?”
“No, that’s too close. Maybe Jersey or Rhode Island, or even Mass, and have us pass as father and daughter.”
“What?” he and Britney squeaked.
“Tony, what have you been drinking?” she said. “I’m thirty-two. How the hell am I supposed to be your daughter?”
“Well, he’s got a decent idea, Britney. No offense, but you could easily pass for… sixteen, eighteen, and we could say he’s forty. A father-daughter team is the last thing the mob would be looking for, especially if I set up a fake cover for you two in say… Chicago or New Orleans and just happen to let it slip out. They’ll turn themselves inside out scouring those cities for you.”
Britney chewed her lip. “Huh, eighteen you say? Okay, I can live with that. It would mean that I wouldn’t have to get a job or anything.”
Daniel slowly nodded. “Okay, here’s the thing, this is only going to work if we keep it completely confidential. The three of us know about this—that’s it!”
“What he’s saying in his not-so-subtle way, my sweet, is that you have to keep your mouth shut.”
“Yes, dear, I got that. Daniel has all the delicacy of a knee to the balls.”
And so it was decided. Daniel got them to a nice hotel and then left to set about getting their new cover created. The very second he left, Tony turned on Britney.
“Young lady, I swear, you are wearing out my last nerve!”
She jumped in surprise. “Tony, where is this coming from? One second you’re defending me and now—”
“Oh, grow up, sweetie; of course I defended you to Daniel. I, for some strange reason that defies logic, love you.”
“You love me because we’re soul mates,” she replied with a grin.
“Yes, we are that, and I would do anything to make you happy and protect you. But, sweetie, please, I’m begging you: follow Daniel’s orders this time.”
“Tony, I do not like your tone! Of course I’ll follow Daniel’s orders. I won’t put even a pinky toe out of line, and I don’t need you yelling at me about it. I’m perfectly capable of following directions without you telling me to do so and without you treating me like a child.”
He ground his teeth and took a few deep breaths. “Britney you were the attorney to some major mob bosses. Now, I was against it, I thought it was a terrible decision, but I tried to be supportive. Then you bragged to something like a dozen people about knowing their secrets. I advised against that, you told me I was being a nervous Nellie and to shut up. Again, I held my tongue and played the dutiful husband. And that led to the contract on us. I think at this point I am allowed to not only say ‘I told you so,’ but also to question your decision-making abilities!”
“Tony, it was not a dozen; it was three, three very influential colleagues. I only told them because they kept pestering me to know some details on those clients. Shit, they were all lawyers; I thought they would keep their mouths shut.”
“Yeah-yeah, okay, you made your point,” he grumbled.
“Thank you for that. So, what do you want from me, a signed apology for getting us into this mess?”
“No, just a sincere promise to stick to our cover and follow the fricking rules for a change.”
“That’s a tall order, but… I’ll try,” she said in a haughty tone.
Tony sighed and slowly shook his head. “Honey, I understand how hard this has all been for you. Maybe-maybe this scenario will work better for you.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, our previous covers required you to play at Little Suzie Homemaker, and that’s just not you, is it?”
Brit smiled. He knows me so well. “No, it isn’t.”
Tony moved closer, wrapping his great long arms about her. “That’s right. My girl can’t be kept indoors playing solitaire on a computer and waiting for her man to come home after working a nine to five job. My lady needs excitement, challenges, obstacles to overcome.”
“You got that right, my man. Challenges are what make life interesting.”
“Right, so I kind of understand you blowing our covers before. You got bored and couldn’t follow the rules those covers involved.”
“Tony, thank you for saying that. Being assigned two covers that were completely and utterly boring was my undoing. A wife who sits around the house just isn’t me! So, yes, I went online and started looking for things to occupy me, and I made the mistake of revealing myself to a couple of old friends. I misjudged them just like I misjudged my colleagues. I thought they could keep a secret. I was wrong, and for that I apologize.”
“Thank you for the apology, baby. To be honest, that’s another reason I thought of this cover. I mean, think about it, masquerading as a high school student, that’s quite the challenge for you, eh?”
Squeezing him tight, Britney rested her head once more against his chest. “Yeah, okay, I’ll meet this task like I do everything else in my life: head on. Bring it on!”
A week later, Anthony Milan and his eighteen year old daughter were in LAX getting their tickets from Travel Agent Grant.
“Here you go, folks, direct flight to Boston. I hope you have a pleasant trip.”
“I’m sure we will,” Tony said, taking the tickets. “What do we say, Britney?”
“Ah, yo, dude, many thanks,” she smirked.
She skipped off toward the gate, Tony rushing to keep up, and then they boarded the plane. She was miffed at not flying first class, but contented herself with acting like a spoiled teenager. She knew Tony hated her outfit: tight crop top, skin-tight jeans shorts, and colorful sandals. But, as she pointed out, it was a proper teen outfit. He’d mumbled his agreement, and she’d felt oh so smug.
Yeah, put another notch in the old win column for me.
Then the drink cart came by and the stewardess looked at them.
“Can I get you two anything?” she said.
“Scotch and soda,” Britney blurted out without thinking.
The lady almost fell over.
“Ah, that’s for me,” Tony said quickly. “She’ll have a cola.”
The lady nodded and smiled. “Oh, I see.”
She served them and moved on, and Britney frowned. Her frown grew larger when she saw the arrogant shit-eating grin on Tony’s face.
“You’re just loving this, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, little sweetie,” he said, and took a sip.
“Oh, you-you…” she grumbled. “I should-”
“Mind your manners and behave,” he snapped.
It really ticked her off, but she had to admit, he was right, and so she did.
Finally, landing at Logan Airport, they were met by a woman from the State Police. Britney felt rather inadequate next to her. She was close to six feet and had a figure that would make any man drool. Tony’s eyes swelled to three times normal, and Britney was certain that wasn’t the only part of his anatomy that had enlarged. Introductions followed, and they learned she was Trooper Shirley Phillips. After collecting their bags, she drove them out of town.
“So, my orders are to set you up in a nice place in a quiet spot outside of town, and to ask no questions. Of course, it doesn’t take the proverbial rocket scientist to figure out why, but, have no fears, I’m a good girl, and will obey those orders.”
“That’s good to hear—for a change,” Tony said.
“Oh, cutie, you’re in luck, the school year hasn’t started yet, and I’ve enrolled you in a very good private high school—Hillcrest Academy.”
“School? High school? Academy? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Britney, calm down now; Shirley was just following orders.”
“Yeah, right, they said the same at Nuremburg.”
“Huh, well, someone knows her history, even if she doesn’t know manners,” Shirley quipped. “I’m sorry if I messed up your plans for avoiding school, miss, but my orders were to put you in a school with good security. Hillcrest has the best in the state, and it’s only four blocks away. So, if you want, she can walk. Ah, I don’t know how concerned you are about keeping security tight. If you prefer, you can always drive her.”
“I’m sure it’ll be perfect for my daughter, and I apologize for her rudeness.”
“Yeah-yeah, what-ever. So, where are we living?”
“It’s a nice house in Arlington, and I’ve been assigned an apartment across the street. There was no word as to how long you’re going to be here, so I’ve been pulled from normal duties indefinitely. Guess your case is mega-important. Don’t worry, I won’t ask. I follow the old rule: Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”
The rest of the ride passed without incident, and soon they were pulling into the driveway of 106 Jason Street. Britney found herself actually smiling; the place reminded her of her parents’ old home in Barrington. It was a snug little house, bright canary yellow shingles, a small porch, free-standing garage, and a big back yard. Large stones created a two-tier flower garden, and a pear tree stood over a wooden swing set.
Shirley parked in front of the garage and they piled out. Britney made a beeline for the back door, but Tony, clearing his throat, caught her attention. She almost rolled her eyes. He wanted her to help with the bags. While tempted to blow him off, she decided to humor him—for once—and grabbed her suite case.
Shirley handed him some keys and a manila envelope. “Here you go, keys to the house and car, info about the school and town, and some other essentials.”
“Wait, to the car?” he said.
“Yeah, this is yours. Oh, don’t worry about me. Remember, I’m right across the street, the apartment building, and my car is already in the lot. You need anything, have any troubles, you’ve got my direct number.”
“Thank you, Trooper Phillips, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Come on, sweetie, let’s get settled.”
“Yes, daddy dearest,” she sneered.
She stormed into the house, and found herself in the kitchen. It was small, counter and appliances ringed the room, and a large table and chairs dominated its center. Tony led the way into the rest of the house: a formal dining room, large living room, and an atrium with the front door and stairs to the second floor. Up there were three bedrooms—two small and the master—a sewing room off of the master, a closet, and the bathroom.
Britney tossed her bag on the king-sized bed. “Ah, now we’re talking! Hey, and check out the view; we got a great view of the street.”
“Ahhh, yeah, that’s what worries me.”
“Huh? Oh, we’re supposed to be father and daughter.”
“Yeah. We’ll need to set you up in one of the other rooms.”
“What? Sleep in separate rooms?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “No, no, of course not, but it has to look like you use another room, and then you can just slip in here after we turn out the lights.”
“Oooo, aren’t we naughty, sneaking around in the dark.”
“Yes, yes, quite the wild ones,” he said with a grin. Looking in the sewing room, he nodded. “Nice space. I can set up my art supplies in there and get to work.”
“Ah, yeah, speaking of work, what about me? I mean, we’re not really going to go with this silly academy shit, are we?”
“And why not? Excuse me, young lady, but it is part of our cover.”
“Tony, you can’t be serious. I’m a Harvard Law graduate, and now I’m supposed to be a senior in high school!”
“Honey, we have to maintain cover,” Tony said smugly. “And may I remind you, this is our third cover in as many months. You screw this up again and Agent Grant just might toss us out of WITSEC.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay; I get the point. Ugh, so I’ll start… school in um, when?”
Tony got a thoughtful look on his face, and then torn into the envelope. “Ah, here we are. First day of class is Monday. Good, we have the weekend to get you some clothes and your uniforms.”
“Uniforms? Oh, shit. This place isn’t some Catholic school is it?”
Tony’s gaze returned to the documents. “Um, nope, but it is a private girls’ academy.”
“Girls only, huh? Eh, in that case, it’s not so bad. Last thing I need is a bunch of hormone-laden boys chasing my ass,” she said, and then laughed. “Although, think about the fun we could have fucking with their minds.”
“Think about it, honey; some boy asks me out on a date, comes by to pick me up, and you get to torture the poor prick by playing the over-protective dad routine.”
Tony laughed. “You know, sweetie, that is good. Oh, you can be so bad.”
“I prefer to think of myself as playful.”
“A rose by any other name, my dear. Now, come on, let’s get unpacked, and then we’ll see about getting settled in here. Come Monday, it’s going to be the start of an interesting week.”
Britney nodded, grabbed her bag, and headed for one of the other bedrooms. She rolled her eyes to see it. The previous family clearly had three small girls—like in the six to ten range—as both rooms were decked out in classic little girl mode. So, she had her choice: a Pixie Hollow-themed room, or Disney Princesses.
She went with the pixies. While she had no love of Tinkerbell, the forest theme was easier to bear than the girlie-girl crap. The room had two nice twin beds, so she could toss her laundry on one bed, and not be bothered with putting shit away.