By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: She leaned forward, looked out the window, and said, “It’s become very dark out there.”
Samantha had followed him for the last half hour. Based on the information in the most recent encrypted file she’d received, she knew he’d head for the train station. He didn’t disappoint her.
Other agents had tried and failed to bring him in. He knew, sometimes even before they finished making their request, who they were and what they wanted. And he always declined. Politely, most of the time. Not so politely others.
Once it got so messy that after that the agency decided not to try again for at least a year.
But Samantha had always enjoyed a challenge. In training, she’d been the one who volunteered for the hardest hand-to-hand combat exercises. Sometimes she won them; sometimes she lost. Every time an instructor asked the trainees who fought the hardest, they all named Samantha. For her, that was as good as winning every time.
When the opportunity came up for her first real case, then, she wasn’t going to let a few disappointed faces and a few dead bodies stop her. She could do this; she knew she could. A few friends said she was overreaching, but she had something none of the other agents had with the target: a connection.
Now she stood in line at the ticket machine while also keeping an eye on the back of his head.
The machine beeped as it spit out her ticket. She tugged it out of the slot and jogged to the turnstiles, scanning for the one where the line moved the fastest. The anticipation of talking to him again made goosebumps ripple up and down her arms, but she forced her breathing to an even pace.
She had no desire to catch her brother off guard or for him to surprise her by turn.
Instead of rushing, she allowed herself to come level with him on the train platform and then look in the opposite direction.
Come on, I’m right here. How long is this going to take? One. Two. Thr—
She turned to her left, her face blank, just another commuter on her way home from work or shopping or a midtown rendezvous with a hot banker, and then let her jaw go slack as her mouth fell open.
“Charlie?” she said, letting her tone usher in the childhood they’d shared.
He rushed toward her, and she allowed herself to hug him back with the ferocity of missing him. That part of the encounter was real. She knew the other agents on the platform would see them and wonder. She knew she’d have to give up the information about her relationship with Charlie and probably be reprimanded for not disclosing it earlier. For now she allowed herself to be held by him again.
Oh, how she’d missed her big brother’s hugs.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, pulling back.
The air in the station changed, the way it always did when a train approached, and she glanced to her right on instinct as did many others.
“I’m in town for work,” she said. “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m talking to you. We waited so long for you to come home.”
His face withdrew into an expression she couldn’t read. The train roared into the station just then, preventing conversation as commuters and other passengers surged forward. She and Charlie exchanged a few practical words about where to sit, and she was relieved that they got two seats toward the back with fewer passengers.
They settled in their seats, but Charlie didn’t seem in any rush to answer the question she didn’t ask. Instead, he turned his attention to the platform. Within moments, a tinny recorded voice announced the departure of the train, and they surged forward from the enclosed station to the evening light. The sun had begun its embrace of the horizon, its angle lining up with Samantha’s vision, and she squinted and looked at Charlie again.
She wondered for a moment whether she should continue with the “sister missing her brother” approach. Press him for details about his “life” now. Redirecting the conversation back to him would keep him talking and keep her from lying—as much.
Samantha opened her mouth, but Charlie beat her to it.
“Who are you working for?” he asked, crossing his arms.
He still hadn’t looked back at her, but she recognized the set of his jaw.
“Charlie,” she said, lacing her fingers over one knee, “isn’t it enough that we’re talking? After all this time?”
“I haven’t run into one of you people for a while now,” he said, turning back to face her. “I honestly thought you’d decided to leave me alone.”
The sun slipped deeper into the horizon, and the sudden lack of light made a chill run down Samantha’s spine.
“What stop are you getting off at?”
“Don’t try to change the subject, and don’t try feeding me your patriotic garbage. I made my choice a long time ago.”
She held up both hands to show they were empty. “I’m just a girl happy to see her brother.”
“You don’t seem too shocked to see me. But I guess if you’ve been tracking me for a while now, you knew this would happen eventually.”
Samantha sat back in the seat and scrutinized him for a moment. What approach would be best after all? She thought she’d be able to use her relationship with him, but it struck her then that her brother had disappeared so many years earlier she didn’t know him anymore. She’d been so eager to feel the protective net of his arms. Those same arms had held people to hurt them. The same hands that dug through the dirt for worms for her and built her birdhouses out of scrap metal and wood had held weapons. Stolen goods.
Twilight coated the sky, and they rode in silence. Charlie had taken up his vigil of the outside world again, and the skyscrapers and apartment buildings gave way to retail and commercial buildings and then suburban spaces. As the train stopped at some stations and sped past others, Samantha read the names. Her mind clicked ahead to the coming stops. She knew where to get off if things went bad, if they went well, if they were a draw.
For the first time since signing up for this mission, though, she didn’t know what to do about her brother.
“I didn’t intend for it all to turn out this way, you know,” he said in a low voice. “Leaving you and Mom… I just got into a place where I knew there was only one way out.”
“There’s more than one way,” she murmured, and his head jerked so that their eyes were locked.
“Do you honestly believe that? You know me, Sam. You know I wouldn’t take risks unless I could have some control of the outcome. You know that I would only make the choices I made if there was nothing else I could do.”
He shook his head and looked back to the window. Truthfully, she did know all those things about him. But she also knew the crimes he’d committed. He might have felt justified in his choices, but that didn’t make those choices the right ones.
“It’s starting to get dark out there,” she said, keeping her voice light. “Easy enough to get lost in the dark if a person isn’t careful.”
Charlie side-eyed her. “If a person went up and down this route a lot, they’d know what stops were darker than others.”
“Any idea what stops those might be?”
Her mind clicked ahead again, and she named one. He gave her a nod and sat back in his seat, more relaxed than since they boarded the train. Her mind churned through various scenarios, but in the end she knew only one would work best. For both of them.
When the stop came, she stayed in her seat. Charlie got up and went to the door without a second glance at her. Her heart clenched, and she screwed her eyes shut for a moment to keep the pain of him ignoring her at bay. After a quick count to five, she sprinted off the train just before the doors hissed shut.
She alighted on the station just in time to see other agents wrestle Charlie to the ground. One of them glanced at her, and it directed Charlie’s attention over his shoulder. When their eyes met, his eyes narrowed.
She knew then that he’d made another choice and that he’d be coming for her next.