The note was short. Just two words. One actually -- one word and a name written on a torn scrap of envelope. There was no print other than the bold block letters of the brief message to give any sort of clue about its origin. It was delivered by an efficient and professional courier who could tell her nothing about the sender.
She thanked him politely, closed the flimsy metal door of her apartment and sank to the cold uncarpeted floor. Her heart was pounding in sudden terror and she felt hot tears stinging at the corners of her lined gray-green eyes.
'There's no time for this,' she mentally chided herself, and forced herself to stand on trembling legs.
"Follow the plan. Follow the plan," she murmured over and over. It was quickly becoming her mantra; the only thing that kept the debilitating fear at bay. She took refuge in the meticulous plan that had been devised years ago. He was like that -- meticulous. He left nothing to chance, at least where her safety was concerned. He was less cautious with himself.
Years ago she had advised against certain of his choices. He had done as he pleased as usual, seeing only the possibility of of wealth and power -- rewards too enticing for the son of poor immigrants to refuse. If he understood the consequences at all it had only been in reference to himself. The young tend to narcissism and him more than most. It was only after the irrevocable choices were made that he came to understand the dangers for those around him, for those that loved him. And with that understanding had come the terrible, frightening, life-saving plans.
There was no time now to dwell on how things might have been if the men in her life had been less head-strong, more willing to listen to a woman's advice. She glanced around her small tidy apartment, then moved with determination towards the bedroom, the note falling from nerveless fingers onto the cold linoleum floor.
'Follow the plan," she repeated as she grabbed the bag she had kept packed -- ready to go at a moments notice -- for years. It didn't hold much, just a change of clothes, a toothbrush and some soap; he had insisted that she be able to move fast and therefore not be burdened with too many belongings. There was no room for family photos or letters from loved ones. No room in her life for sentimentality, not anymore.
'...the plan," she continued as she yanked open a drawer and thrust her hands into the soft worn cotton of her nightgowns, searching until her fingers brushed cool hard steel. The Sig Saur was brought into the daylight for the first time in months.
It had been a birthday gift. Not the sort of gift a woman dreams of getting, but he had looked at her with such boyish expectancy as she opened the beautifully wrapped package, that she had done her best to appear enthusiastic. She had taken lessons. He had been pleased. She had fired the gun at targets at the firing range many times. She shuddered at the thought that she might have to fire it at another human being.
'...the plan. Follow the plan,' repeated in her head like a tape on a continuous loop as she moved into the bathroom and jerked open the door of the vanity. She knelt down and reached around to the back of the sink. Her hand emerged with a stack of cash in a plastic bag that had been fastened there with duct tape.
She took a moment to stare at the money in her hands -- nearly ten thousand dollars. There was more hidden in various bus station and airport lockers. The keys were already in her bag.
The first time he had given her money she had demanded to know where it came from. He refused, of course, though a shamed expression had crossed his face. She was no fool, she knew the kind of terrible things a man must do to be paid in large, untraceable sums of cash.
Over the years he had given her enough money for her to leave this cold tiny apartment in a bad neighborhood any time she had wanted. She never spent a single dollar of it. Now she had less scruples and she stuffed the money into her bag.
She carried the meager belongings she would be taking with her out of the bedroom when she noticed the note abandoned on the floor. She retrieved the scrap of paper and ran her fingers over the strong but erratic handwriting. It had been months since he had found a way to contact her, not since he had been forced to leave his outwardly reputable position for a less honorable existence. How much had he risked to send even these few words? She read the terse message again.
Then slipped it carefully into her pocket, the last and only memento she would ever have.
<Sasha, my beautiful son, be safe.>
And she ran.