Elizabeth put the car in park in the driveway and looked up at the simple blue cottage. Its white shutters and covered porch nearly brought tears to her eyes. She double-checked the bandages on her leg and ribs before she killed the engine and got out, stretching as best she could. For ten years, they lived happily off her retirement. At thirty-five, she could hardly complain, but the call twelve days ago had proved more annoying than she had initially thought.
“Beth!” Jack called as he stepped onto the front porch, a folded paper over his hand. His body relaxed when he saw her smile up at him. “I heard the car door-”
“Been a rough two weeks?” Elizabeth asked as she picked up her carryon and winced.
“Let me get that for you,” Jack said, jogging to her side. “Everything’s been good here, but I’m assuming things didn’t go as well as you hoped on your trip?”
“Korea was nice, up until complications arose with the job,” she replied, touching her ribs as she limped slightly walking with him.
“Mom!” Rebecca cried as she exploded out the front door and down the steps.
Elizabeth braced herself as her daughter slammed into her, wrapping her arms around her. Pain erupted from her ribs, and she gritted her teeth as not to alarm the smiling girl hugging her.
“I missed you!” Rebecca said, “I don’t think you should go on any more work trips. I think Mr. Yi shouldn’t make you go back to work. I didn’t like it.”
“You didn’t like spending time with Uncle Jack?” Jack asked.
“I mean, that part was okay, I guess, but I don’t want you to leave again,” Rebecca said as they walked back up to the house. “You’re limping! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, honey. I think I’m just too stiff from the plane,” Elizabeth lied.
“I’m going to call Hellen and tell her you’re back now so I can sleepover!” Rebecca said, running for the house.
“Wait!” Elizabeth called after her, but she was already inside.
“Just like her mother,” Jack teased with a chuckle as they entered the house. “Let’s get you set up in the living room, and we’ll figure out what the next step is, okay?”
“Thank you, Jack,” Elizabeth said as she gingerly sat on the couch.
“How bad are they?” Jack whispered as Rebecca’s voice emanated from upstairs.
“A knife here,” she replied, indicating her ribs, “and a bullet here. Neither were life-threatening, but still, a little close for me.”
“So, what’s the plan then?” Jack asked.
“We’ve got to move,” Elizabeth replied, looking toward the stairs, her mouth falling into a frown. “She’s not going to like it.”
“No doubt, but I think she’d be more upset if something happened to you, though,” Jack replied. “Any idea where you’re going?”
“Not yet. I’ve got to talk to some people to see how far off-grid I can get. I don’t want any of the old acquaintances to find me again. I’ve done enough work for a lifetime. At least for hers,” Elizabeth said as she shifted and winced again.
“I don’t think Yi is going to like that,” Jack said.
“It’s not up to Yi,” Elizabeth replied, pulling her bag from Jack’s hands. “I’m done. I was done ten years ago. That’s why I left.”
“I’m glad you did,” Jack nodded, “but it might be harder this time around. Now that they found you, I don’t think that they are going to let you go that easy. There are already jobs coming into the dropbox.”
“Fuck,” Elizabeth said.
“Mom!” Rebecca said as she rounded the bottom of the stairs carrying the cordless phone with her. “Hellen wants me to come over now. Can I go?”
“Sorry,” Elizabeth said. “Yes, you can go today. I’ve got some more work stuff to take care of before I can step back again. Make sure you bring your toothbrush this time.”
“Okay, Mom,” Rebecca replied, sticking her tongue out at her. She dropped the phone on the table and sprinted up the stairs again.
“Do you want to see them?” Jack asked.
“You took them!?” Elizabeth replied, “Why, Jack? We’ve gone over this.”
“I’m not pushing you to work, Beth. I rounded them up because sometimes they are actually important,” Jack said, “I’ll be right back.”
Elizabeth sat on the couch while Jack vanished into the kitchen. Rebecca came back down the stairs, gave her a hug and a kiss, and was out the front door sprinting down the street to her friend’s house.
“Here they are,” Jack said, handing Elizabeth a small box.
Elizabeth counted them first, feeling her pulse pounding faster with each additional. “Twenty-seven!? Really? Did they let everyone know I was back?” she growled as she picked the first one.
Each envelope was blank but contained a single slip of paper. One by one, Elizabeth opened them and read the scope of the job before setting it in a pile next to her. It wasn’t until she was halfway through that she saw a new one at the bottom. The envelope was familiar looking and was bulging from its contents. Ignoring the rest, she picked it up, hearing change sliding around inside it.
“What’s that?” Jack asked.
“You tell me. You grabbed them,” Elizabeth said.
“I didn’t see that in there,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Be careful opening it.”
Elizabeth gave him a look and tore the top open, and a handful of coins tumbled out. Past the odd assortment of small currency was a single sheet of paper. She opened it and read it quickly, tears brimming in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked, taking the paper gently from her hands. He looked down at the messy handwriting and the signature at the bottom and understood. “How did she-”
“Go watch her for tonight for me. I’ll take care of Castillo,” Elizabeth said, getting up from the couch.
To Whom it May Concern,
My name is Rebecca Ellis. A man named Mr. Castillo said that if I needed something very special done I should write a letter and put it in this mailbox. I don’t know who you are, but I want my mom to come home. She’s been gone for eight days and I’m starting to get worried about her. Mr. Castillo said that I would have to pay you for helping me, so I put what I had saved in here. I hope that it’s enough. I only just started saving.
Thank you for your time,