"Listen Ryder", Chris said quickly into the phone. "My wife is seven months pregnant, isn't there anything else..."
"Start packing, ok. I'll be right over to help you. You know we wouldn't do this unless we had to!"
Chris heard voices behind him, but tried to concentrate on the conversation with Ryder, though he could hardly hear a word through his daughter's loud laughs and Rita's attempts to calm her.
"Shh, honey, daddy's on the phone."
"But mommy, he has to read me a story!"
"Just wait, will you? Calm down, he's not going anywhere!"
"Yeah, all right, I'll see you then. Bye.", Chris said and hung up. He turned and looked at his women. Allison was fresh and clean from her bath, with wet, curly hair and shiny blue eyes. It was well past her bedtime, and she still look several notches more awake than her mother. Not that there was anything new about stretching the bedtime. Or any other stupid rule a couple of parents could come up with.
Rita was wearing one of his old, worn out sweat suits, it was soaking wet in the front. Allison's doing, no doubt.
They were hopeless, he thought. Rita had been right back then, when they'd found out she was pregnant the first time. None of them knew anything about being parents. Other kids did what their parents told them to. Allison just did whatever she felt like.
"What's up", Rita asked.
"Nothing important. Listen, Princess, why don't you go find a book and take it to bed. I'll be right in, I just have to make sure your mom sits down quietly first, ok?"
Allison ran towards her room and left her parents alone.
"I don't know how you do that", Rita sighed. "I can tell her or ask her to do something, and she usually obeys in the end, but only after..."
"Sorry to interrupt, Rita, but that was Ryder on the phone. They have to move us again, apparently there's a leak somewhere and this place isn't safe anymore."
"Oh no, not again!"
"I'm really sorry. Can you start putting our things together?"
Rita hung her head without answering. Chris wrapped his arms around her, pulling her in for a tight hug.
"Love you", he whispered.
"And I love you."
"DADDY", Allison yelled from her bedroom.
Rita smiled. "I think she got that from you!"
"Nah, she's your daughter!"
"Don't try and wiggle your way out of this, mister. She's as stubborn as..."
"COMING!", he yelled to his daughter. "I better go. Feeling any better?"
"Yep. Go and tuck our baby in, I'll start packing."
Rita grabbed a suitcase while gently rubbing her lower back. Years on the run had taught her how to keep the number of belongings to a minimum, but she never enjoyed emptying a house for everything that made it feel vaguely like home.
They had all hoped that the Montoya clan would give up their hunt after Chris' so called death and burial. Even her leaving town before Allison was born hadn't been enough. Five years and eleven lost homes later, the hunt continued.
And Allison was a handful, Rita yawned and massaged her back again. She never seemed to get enough sleep these days. Her hips and back were aching, and the baby always moved around like mad whenever she tried to get some rest.
Married life and parenthood wasn't what it was cracked up to be. What did other folks do to make their children behave? How did other couples manage to stay in love?
She took the wedding photo down from the wall. Her Allison-belly was showing at the time, but not much. Chris looked gorgeous. He still did, actually. She didn't, but who cared? She looked and felt like a crossing of whale and hippopotamus. Heaven only knew why he still stayed with her.
She looked at another photo, taken after a volleyball match long before they fell in love. His arm around her shoulders, both laughing. They looked so happy back then. No children, no mixed feelings, a safe life and a challenging job. Best friends make the best lovers, huh? Best friends should stay platonic. Easier that way. No complications.
Chris was still with Allison when Ryder knocked on the door. Rita let him in, holding a finger across her lips to keep him quiet. He followed her into the small kitchen and closed the door behind him.
"Little one asleep", he asked.
"Randy's in with her now. What the hell happened this time? Is it that difficult to keep our identities a secret? We've only been here for two months! This life is hell, have I told you that? We can't plan a damn thing, and..."
"Mrs. Cudwin, please."
"When will I get a new name I get to keep for long enough to get used to it?"
"Hopefully this time."
"Yeah right", Rita said in a sarcastic tone. "I've never heard that one before."
"Just hear me out, please? As you may have guessed this place isn't safe anymore. You'll be picked up at 3.am tomorrow. Pack as much as possible, leave the rest behind. It's mostly rented anyway, right? You are going into hiding..."
"Thought that's where we already are", Rita murmured. "Sorry, keep going."
"You are going to a desolate place with two other couples, and a boy about Allison's age."
"Desolate? How far from the nearest hospital? I'm due in less than two months!"
"There's one highly qualified doctor and a nurse among these people, you will be all right. And your first birth went without complications, didn't it?"
Rita nodded. "What about the others?"
"I can't tell you more. Everything is on a need to know basis this time, we have to find you a safe place to raise your children, they can't live like this, and I know this life is taking it's toll on you and your husband as well. I don't know where you're going. All I know is where to drop you off."
"Yeah, ok. Just be quiet, packing is so much easier when Al's asleep. And Ryder?"
"No prob. Just hang in there. It'll be all right, you'll see."
Just as they entered the livingroom, Chris came out from Allisons room.
"Sunshine", he whispered. "Will you do me a favour?"
"Go and lie down, take a little nap."
"Please. I will worry a lot less if I know you've had some rest."
"I'm not tired."
"Then just lie down for an hour?"
He stared into her eyes from across the room, and Rita gave in.
"That's not fair", she said as she stepped towards him. "You know I can't say no when you look at me like that."
"That's the whole idea, sweetheart."
"Let's call for a compromise. I'll empty our bedroom for whatever we need to pack, you carry Allison in there and leave her on the bed, I'll lie down next to her and leave the rest of the packing to you two well grown, strong testosterone overloads, ok?"
Ryder smiled broadly at this, while Chris groaned. Now it was Rita's turn to stare him into agreement.
"Ok, ok. Go pack, girl. But no heavy lifting. I mean it!"
Chris and Ryder finished packing around 2.30 am. A napsack with important things, fresh clothes, a little food and Allisons favourite toys. A few cases and bags with their clothes and belongings.
"Oh man, this never gets any easier", Chris complained. "I would give anything to see my children grow up safely without having to move all the time."
"Maybe this is your chance", Ryder suggested. "The farm lies far from any settlement, no tourists, no nothing up there. Not many who knows where it is either. I don't!"
"That bad, huh?"
"Yup. You wanna wake Sunny and the kid up? The car should be here soon."
"Yeah. Thanks for everything, Ryder."
"You welcome. Take care of your girls, man. They are of rare quality!"
When the van arrived, Rita got into the back seat while Chris placed a sleeping Allison next to her. Then he went back inside to help Ryder empty the apartment. Allison stirred a little in her sleep, murmuring something before she settled down with her head in Rita's lap. After a few minutes Chris joined them, pulling Allison over to his side.
"It'll be a few miles", the driver murmured. "Rest."
Rita leaned against the side window, feeling empty and alone. Chris was far away on the other side of the back seat, holding Allison. That was how life was nowadays. Father and daughter always occupied with something, shutting her out. She cried silently. He didn't notice.
It was still dark outside when the van pulled over and into a warehouse.
"This is it", the driver said, and stopped the car. Rita slowly woke, stretching her aching limbs. Both Allison and Chris were sleeping like babies.
"Come on, honey", Rita whispered. "Wake up now. Time to wake up."
"What time is it", Chris murmured. "I'm beat! Oh! I forgot, we're on the move again."
"Four thirty", the driver said. "Will you help me unload, mister?"
Another dark van drove slowly into the warehouse.
"Crowdy here tonight", the driver commented. A partially balled man came towards them with his hands visible.
"FBI", he said, and showed his badge. "We need you to move your stuff into the container over there.
"LORENZO", somebody yelled behind Chris. "Is that even possible? We buried you for heaven's sake!"
Chris slowly turned, and put his load down. The voice was awfully familiar. It belonged to a man he never thought he'd see again.
"Hi, cap. Long time..."
Suddenly at a loss of words, he hugged the older man.
"Chris, who... Harry?"
Rita came out leading a sleepy Allison, running the last few steps and throwing herself into the waiting embrace. She burst out crying with Allison clinging to her leg and both Harry and Chris hugging her at the same time. Chris finally broke free and lifted Allison so she could join the hug.
"I'm so sorry Harry", Rita sobbed. "I couldn't call when I went into labor. I couldn't call you to tell you we were all right. Oh God I've missed... I couldn't..."
"Shhh, that's all right, I understand everything", Harry whispered while stroking Ritas back. Chris backed off a little, giving them a few moments alone.
"Where's Fran", Rita said frantically. "Is she...?"
"She's in the car with young Daniel. Don't worry, she's all right. Rita, how have you been all these years?"
"Happy. Scared. On the run."
Meanwhile the two drivers had emptied their vans and carried the luggage into the waiting container.
"We're riding in that thing", Harry sighed. "For the rest of today and some of tomorrow."
"Rita", Chris interupted. "This young lady needs to go to the little girl's room."
"I'll take her. Oh, I haven't even introduced you two yet. Harry, this is Allison, and Allison, this is Harry, mommy's and daddy's old boss and very good friend."
"Yes, I'll come with you."
When they came back, Frannie had come out of the car. A little, serious looking boy stood next to her, holding her hand. He was clinging to an old teddy bear, a toy that had obviously been a favorite for many years. One ear was missing, and the fur had lost hairs.
"Mommy", Allison asked. "Is that boy coming with us?"
"Yes, Princess, I think so."
"Is he gonna be my brother?"
Rita smiled for a moment and stroked her belly.
"No, sweetheart, he is not your new brother. But maybe he'll be your new friend?"
"I'd like that!"
"Better run and say hello, then!"
With that, Allison took off like a race horse and galloped straight into her father's waiting arms. He lifted her high above his head before putting her down again.
Rita walked slowly towards Frannie, who hugged her tight for a long time.
"Don't you ever do that to me again", Frannie finally whispered.
Rita laughed nervously. "Promise."
The container looked like a caravan inside. Two-story bunks, thick mats on the floor, ventilators high up on the walls. Their luggage was piled up in one half of the room, and left some space for the six travellers.
"Allison", Frannie smiled. "Do you like apple juice?"
"And you, Daniel", Frannie continued. "Do you like apple juice?"
"Yes", the boy said quietly.
"Mild sedative", Harry whispered to Rita and Chris. "We'll be stuck in this box for at least thirty hours. We need to keep them calm."
They nodded to agree. The children drank their juice, and within half an hour they went willingly to bed in the top bunks.
"We're ready now", Harry said. The doors closed and they were left inside the container in a soft, yellow light.
"What'll happen now", Chris asked.
"They'll leave us, and in a short while we'll be picked up by a driver who doesn't know more than to get this load of "chrystal and china" to a known address. Everything we need is in here. A bit cramped, that's all. But now, Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo, what have you been doing since we last saw you?"
Rita sought contact with Chris' eyes. He smiled, and nodded in the direction of the nearest bed. "Long time since anyone have used that name..." Chris began to massage Rita's feet while they talked.
"How pregnant are you Rita", Frannie interupted. "Do you have much trouble with swollen feet? Have you been checked thoroughly before going? Did I ever mention that I was a nurse before I got marr..."
"Seven months, and everything is going by the book", Rita smiled, and with a playful side-glance at Chris she added; "Even the chapter about the over-protective daddy-to-be!"
"The beginning, guys, we have several hours to kill here."
"Yeah right, cap", Chris said with a cocky grin. "Rita, you wanna start?"
"Only if you promise not to tickle!"
"Like I would do such a thing", Chris said jokingly and tickled the sole of her foot.
"Hey, lovebirds, please! We thought you died, Lorenzo! What the hell happened?"
"It's a long story beginning with the tape I found in a bank deposit box, strong evidence against Montoya. Turned out I was followed by two FBI agents who'd been trying to nail him for years. They were there when I learned that Rita'd been kidnapped."
"They were familiar with this business", Rita continued. "I didn't know at the time of the funeral that it was a fake, that my husband was safe with minor injuries a few miles away."
"Before the shooting, I didn't know if I'd make it or not, but the agents promised they'd get Rita out no matter what. I wasn't supposed to get shot, but as it was, it made the whole deal more convincing."
"When I gave you my badge, Harry, I had gotten a call from an old friend begging me to come visit her. We had been to camp together one summer, at the age of twelve or something We wrote for some years, then lost contact. I was impressed she could remember me at all. On my way to her, I was led to Chris. Since then, we've been on the run together."
"Shush, Frannie gasped. -Did you hear that?"
A loud roar suddenly filled the container.
"Must be our transport", Harry whispered. "Get down on the beds, everyone."
"The children", Rita asked.
"They're asleep. Don't worry. Lie still."
Chris lay down next to Rita, slipping his arm over her. They could see Harry and Frannie lie in a simular position. Chris met the older man's worried glance, and sent Harry a weak smile, signalling that everything would be all right.
The container left the ground with a severe squeeking noise, hung in the air for a while, and was slowly loaded onto a long haul truck.
As the walls inside their tight quarters stopped shaking, Chris could sense that Rita had fallen asleep. With his free arm, he held a finger to his lips and rolled his eyes to Harry, who smiled, and whispered something to Frannie. She got up without making a sound, checked the children before she pulled out a few books and magazines. Chris closed his eyes, content to hold Rita in his arms. Slowly he dozed off.
"Oh God I feel so sick!"
Chris was awake in an instant. Rita sat next to him, pale, almost green. The next moment, she was across the floor and hidden in the miniature bathroom. Worried, he heard her empty her stomach.
"Is that still morning sickness", Frannie asked quietly.
"Doubt it", Chris said and stood up. He took a quick look at Allison who was sleeping peacefully, then he walked towards Rita.
"Oh hell", she whispered when she saw him. "Thought I was through with this."
"Feel any better?"
"Uh-huh. A little. How much longer?"
"Quite some time, I'm afraid. We've only slept for...", he said while checking his watch. "Two hours."
Meanwhile, Fran opened a thermos and poured hot liquid into a mug.
"Here Rita", she offered. "May taste funny, but drink it slowly, and it'll help settle your stomach."
"I need to clean my teeth. Hell, I need a shower, I feel awful!"
With that, Rita went back into the bathrom and shut the door. Fran looked at Chris, who raised his shoulders. "Pregnant women!"
"There's no shower in there", Fran whispered.
"No worries", Chris said and rubbed his forehead. "Just whish I could help her. We never planned this pregnancy, I wish... I guess... I feel so helpless! She's tired all the time, and Allison can be a pest in tight surroundings. The best I can do is taking care of Al, and that leaves Rita all alone, which isn't fair, we're both in this together, she's doing all the hard work, coping with nausea and back-ache, moodiness and fatigue. It wasn't like this when she was carrying Allison. I just don't know what to do anymore. And I'm so relieved that the kids are still asleep! What did you give them, Fran? It's not dangerous is it?"
"Chris", Fran said. "Go sit down. The children are all right. They'll wake up in five-six hours time, a little groggy, we'll feed them, read them a story and see if they'll go back to sleep. Ten hours after the first dose, they can have a second if necessary. As for Rita, I'll talk to her. Go get some rest, Chris. You look like you need it. We're all safe here."
"How can you be sure", Chris whispered, and sat down on the bunk resting his head in his hands. "How the hell can you be sure?"
"Intuition", Fran smiled, and knocked on the bathroom door. "Rita honey, can I come in? Are you all right?"
Twenty-nine long hours later, the truck came to a halt. Rita was barely awake, exhausted with nausea.
"How long now", Chris whispered to Harry and Fran.
"I don't know more than you son", Harry answered. "But my guess is our contact Bill will open the doors for us when we're on the ground and the truck driver has left."
Hearing voices outside, they kept quiet. As soon as the container was safely on the ground, the truck drove off and the doors were opened, just as Harry had predicted.
"Oh God", Rita murmured. "Fresh air!"
"Come on", Chris said and put his arms around her. "Let's get you out of here."
A bearded man climbed in. "Welcome, folks! Everyone all right? You don't look too well, ma'am!"
"She needs a lot of rest."
"Follow me", the man said. "There's a bench over there. Go help her sit down."
"What happens next", Fran asked. "We have two small children here, sedated and asleep."
"I'll help you carry them outside. My van is right over here! Listen, I see you have a lot of luggage. There's a long way to the farm, you might want to leave some behind. I'll make sure you get it later."
"What are you talking about", Harry asked.
"I'll drive you to my resort up on the mountain right away. The two other refugees will meet you there. Then there's a day's walk..."
"With two small children and one pregnant woman", Harry stated.
"They have a horse up there, and you can store everything you can't carry. At least for a while, the place will open again in the spring."
Bill and Harry carried the children from the container to Bill's van. They left them on a mattress, wrapped in warm blankets, and went back to Rita.
"Hey, ma'am, feeling any better", Bill asked.
"A little", Rita said with a grimace.
"Can you manage a few more miles? In a proper front seat this time?"
"Might as well get it over with", she said and stood up. "Got a spare bucket?"
"Nope, but several plastic bags!"
"Come on, everyone!"
Harry pulled Chris' arm to slow him down while Rita walked towards the car.
"What's up, cap", Chris asked.
"Is Rita in shape for a twenty miles mountain walk tomorrow?"
"You gotta be kidding", Chris said, then quickly added as he saw Harry's face. "You're not kidding, are you?"
"No. Bill says these people we'll be staying with have a horse, but it can't carry all of us, nor all our luggage."
"This place is beautiful", Rita murmured when Bill stopped the car outside the hotel. "And cold", she added the moment she opened the door and stepped out. Snow was falling, and the ground was frozen. The hotel looked small and cozy, a bright yellow, two story main house with several small huts and a big, brown barn.
"Let's get you and the kids inside", Bill said to Rita and pointed towards the house where a slim brunette waved from an open door. "Ah, there's Anna now. She and Fred came down from the farm yesterday."
"Anna and Fred?"
"I don't know their real names, just like I don't know yours and you don't know mine. Safer that way. But now, I'll have to hurry back to town. Anna and Fred knows how to contact me in case of emergency, but my guess is you'll all be all right."
Rita took his hand. "Thank you for all your help, Bill."
"Yeah man, thanks", Chris added with Allison in his arms. She was awake, but too drowsy to say anything. Harry and Fran were right behind them, supporting Daniel who was standing on his own two feet.
"Hi there Bill and everyone", Anna said as she came towards them. "Is everything all right at your end?"
"Yes", Bill said. "How's life on the farm? Did the sheep and poultry settle in all right?"
"As instructed. Same goes for the horse. Fred is out with him now, transporting some food to the shelter halfway."
"Good. I'll drop the goat off tonight, if you still want it?"
"Yes, I think it's a good idea. It's the only way we can get fresh milk up there this winter."
"She's all yours then. I'll see you all tonight."
"Better hurry. I'm supposedly just out on my lunch break, you see. Take good care of all these people, doc. The kids have been sedated, and the Mrs. here didn't look good when she got out of the container."
"I'll get right on to it. Drive safely, Bill."
"Will do. Bye, everyone!" ---*to be continued*---
What is wrong with Rita? Is Anna indeed a brunette? What about this Fred character, is he really out riding, or is he lurking in the bushes with a machine gun? Are our heros safe with these people? Stay tuned for part 2 ;-)
Love it? Hate it? Wanna let me know? firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Chris, Rita, Harry and Fran belong to Stu Segall, Stephen Cannell and the USA cable network. No infringement intended.
Thanks to the proofreaders, you know who you are, and you did a great job. Lisa, thanks for posting :-)
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