Laying the Groundwork
Leon clicked off his phone and set it on the nightstand. He grabbed Claire around her waist and pulled her next to his chest. “They tested the vials we obtained from Doctor Downing. They were nothing. It’s a double cross. They want to move him to a safe house for interrogation. I-we-leave in two hours.”
“What do you mean 'we'?” Claire whispered.
Leon’s lips found her neck. He pressed a soft kiss onto her skin. “I’m taking you with me to a safe house. I’ll see to it you’re escorted home, with some one I trust, from there.”
“Is it really necessary? I’m no threat to anybody?”
“Downing is up to something and I won’t rest until I know exactly what he is up to--and with whom.”
“I can’t just abandon Terrasave, Leon. “ Claire twisted around in the tangled sheets to face him. “I have a job to do.”
“Angela’s brother did it for you. It will take recovery teams years to sort through that smoldering heap.”
“So I’ll move on to the next facility.”
“After I figure out this mess with Downing.” His tone left no room for further argument.
Claire scooted toward the edge of the bed, dragging the sheets with her. If it wasn’t Chris, it was Leon. Neither of them ever asked what she wanted. They always thought they knew best.
Leon pulled her away from the edge and cocooned her in his arms. “Don’t be angry. I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to you.”
“Is that why you stayed away so long, because you cared so much?”
“That’s not fair. You know why I put it-us-on hiatus.”
“Partly. Quite frankly I just don’t understand why we had to be such a secret. I don’t like hiding the truth. You should have told him. We should have told him. He needs to get over the fact that you are not only his sister, but a grown woman as well. A grown woman who, by the way, most certainly wasn’t a virgin when I first had sex with her.”
Claire ignored the virgin part. “And the other part?”
“You said no.”
“I wasn’t ready to get married Leon.”
Leon’s grip tightened. “I was.”
Claire let his words sink in and resignedly gave in to his embrace. It wasn’t worth the mental effort to fight either her brother or her sometimes lover. She was never going to make them see she could make decisions on her own. She knew in Chris’s mind she was perpetually five years old, wrapped in a blanket of innocence, and in Leon’s mind she had suffered enough in Raccoon City and Rockfort to need male supervision until the day she collapsed on her deathbed.
Chris was the rock and Leon was the hard place, and she would forever be stuck between the two. They set her boundaries. They decided which arguments she won.
When did the need to challenge and question die? Did it happen the moment she traded her gun for a clipboard? Did acceptance replace courage each time she added a candle to her birthday cake? Or had the mental regression from active participant to happy camper standby been a slow insidious process, like Alzheimer’s disease, brought about by Chris’ constant admonishments when she was a teenager?
She closed her eyes. Those had been some rocky times. Her breathing slowed to an even inhale and exhale.
Company medical didn’t cover crazy, and even if it did; a few therapy couch sessions with a no name doctor flouting a degree framed in a cheap wall mount, weren’t going to offer any more insight into her psyche than she already possessed. It was Chris’ number one rule: nobody knows you better than yourself.
The whine of the heater pumping warm air into the room slipped away… Christmas…
Claire was late. She sped to her destination. Changed lanes without a signal. Rolled through stop signs. Squealed her tires every time a red light changed green.
Her behavior, reckless and careless, and in her mind totally justified. Chris told her six o’ clock and when Chris said six o’ clock he meant six o’ clock, not half-past or quarter-two.
The problem was the dress. She bought it without his approval and it did not meet his standard of what he considered proper attire for her. It was low cut, which showed off the growing assets on her chest, and slit up the side to reveal her long legs. A double no-no. When he saw her in it tonight she would get a scowl, followed by a few words about decency, a stern warning, rounded out with a lecture, and then a good solid grounding when they returned home. She surmised this one would cost her at least two weeks, but he might just stretch it to a month because she had dared to wear it after he told her no, and because she dared to wear it in front of his coworkers at the party. In Chris’s words: ‘I don’t like the way Vickers looks at you when you drop by after school to check in. I don’t need him having nasty thoughts about you -and what he’d like to do with you.’
It had been on the tip of her tongue to reply, “his thoughts wouldn’t be anything I haven’t already done,” but she remained silent and rolled her eyes when he spoke. He recently allowed her to go on dates-actual permission-which meant no more sneaking out of the house, and she didn’t want to ruin what little freedom she had obtained by clueing him into the fact that she had already ‘done it’ a few times with a boy she had known since kindergarten.
She waited until he left to pick up his partner and then poured herself into the hip-hugging dress with a satisfied smirk.
When she finished dressing Claire stood in front of the full length mirror on the back of the door in her bedroom. She liked what she saw. Wondered if her mother had been this tall? Didn’t like her hair down, but didn’t think a ponytail would do the dress justice. She felt her stomach churn. Chris said ‘no’. The last thought made her pause, and she paused far too long thinking about what he might say, or do. When she looked up it was almost six, and she was going to be late.
Claire took her eyes off the road. She sped around a corner and flipped the knob on the radio. She looked up to find the front end of her car dangerously close to the vehicle in front of her. She hit the brakes. Too late. Her bumper smacked the back bumper of the other vehicle with a loud crunch. Metal on metal. Chris is gonna kill me.
She stopped her vehicle behind the black sports car. A man, dressed in a deeper shade of black than the car, got out and strolled briskly toward her vehicle.
Her eyes widened. The wet towel of reality flicked her in the face. Not only did she have the misfortune to rear end another vehicle, she had the extreme misfortune of rear-ending her brother’s boss, Captain Wesker. Claire tugged nervously at her bottom lip with her teeth.
Chris came home night after night and told her one story after another about his boss’s lack of personality and humor. Wesker was a rigid man with a solid attention to detail and, according to Chris, he absolutely did not believe in accidents! Claire could readily agree with every statement. She went to the STARS headquarters every day after school and would wait in Chris’s office for him to finish for the day. Wesker usually never addressed her personally. He merely watched her from a distance. In the four years she had spent in the office she had officially only ever had one conversation with him, when she was thirteen. If there were ever a more thoroughly glum individual in existence she had never met them.
If he didn’t look friendly at a distance, he looked even less agreeable up close. The jaw line of his face seemed set in stone. She wasn’t sure of the protocol in this type of situation, especially since they technically knew each other. Get out of the car or roll down the window? The menacing look on Wesker’s face made her decision for her. In no way was she getting out.
Claire swallowed hard and rolled down the window. She tried to smile. “I’m so, so, so sorry, Mr. Wesker.”
“I’m afraid an apology is not going to repair my vehicle. “ He paused, recognition spread across the harshness of his face. “Miss Redfield.”
Claire twirled her fingers nervously in her lap. The man wore sunglasses that were polished to perfection and Claire could feel the eyes behind the glasses boring into her brain. “I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so sorry. Chris has insurance. I mean-we have insurance. I’m sure it will pay for the damage.”
“So the inconvenience of the time you are going to cost me is fine because you have insurance.”
“I-I,” Claire stammered, “I don’t understand.” It was true, she didn’t understand. First he mentioned paying for the damage and now he was worried about his time. She shook her head and repeated her apology. “I’m sorry.”
Wesker leaned forward. “You have already apologized several times. My time is valuable. It has value to me. Is your insurance going to pay for my time?”
Claire caught a whiff of his cologne. He smelled like Chris. A feeling of familiarity overcame her. “I-I-I don’t know,” she said, confused.
Claire glanced around. The street was empty. She gripped the door handle. What was the worst he could do? He knew her brother. Confident in Chris’s reputation for hotheaded retribution Claire unlocked the door and stepped out of the car. Her purse, tucked between the seat and the doorjamb, went with her. The contents spilled onto the asphalt.
Claire gasped. Every item in the purse landed next to Wesker’s boots. A compact, lipstick, her wallet, a tampon; were all on display for him to see. She blushed, a tomato soup red, from her hairline to her chin.
Claire scooped the pile of items together with her hands and stuffed them haphazardly back into the black hole with a handle. That is, all the items except for one. Wesker bent down and retrieved this before Claire could reach it. Claire tugged at her bottom lip with her teeth.
“It’s a shame you don’t take equal precaution with your driving, Miss Redfield.” He dangled a package of half used birth control pills in Claire’s face.
Claire snatched the pills away and added them to the crud collection in the purse. She thought she saw the faint traces of a smile crack the concrete hardness of his face. Her blush deepened.
He rose and motioned for her to follow him. Claire trailed two paces behind and grimaced when he stopped at the bumpers and pointed to the damage. His gleaming coat of black paint was now dented and stained with streaks of blue.
“ Do you know how expensive it will be to replace my bumper?”
Claire fidgeted under his gaze. Over protectiveness be damned! Where was Chris when she really needed him? In answer to his question she shrugged her shoulders. Claire wasn’t into cars. She preferred motorcycles. Chris had taught her to ride his, and the only reason she drove the crusty old station wagon tonight was because of the stupid dress!
Wesker continued. “Do you know how busy my schedule is without the added hassle of settling with your insurance, talking to my mechanic, and taking the vehicle in for repair?”
His tone rang like her brothers in her ear, a clipped verse of words set to a tune she heard every day; a song she couldn’t stand, drummed into her brain through timeless repetition. Claire crossed her arms. She felt the part of her that was Redfield rise to the surface.
“Look, Mr. Wesker, I said I was sorry. I said our insurance would pay for it. I’m sorry you’re out your time, there isn’t anything I can do about that, but standing out here freezing isn’t going to change any of it.” Feeling confident, Claire spun away. Who needs Chris anyway?
An iron grip wrapped around her arm and forced her to face him. Claire tried to pry his fingers away, digging her nails between her coat and his hand.
“You are as impertinent as your brother, but it is what I would expect with him as your only role model. As to the waste of my time over this matter I believe an arrangement can be made to satisfy your debt.”
Claire stopped prying. She raised an eyebrow. “What kind of an arrangement?” Somewhere in the back of her mind she pulled up the images of days she felt the burn of his gaze on the back of neck and turned around to find him watching her while she waited for Chris. It reminded her of the long looks she received from boys when she went to parties with her friends. Claire pushed the images aside. Chris stated on numerous occasions he was sure Captain Wesker didn’t have a ‘dick’ and if he did he wouldn’t know what to do with it.
“Please pull your mind from the gutter, Miss Redfield,” Wesker stated as he observed her mental debate. “You are far too young and far too childish for a man such as myself.”
“I’m not as much a child as you might think,” she replied stubbornly, not caring how her words portrayed her. “I’m nearly eighteen, and I do what I want, when I want.”
Wesker arched his eyebrow. He tilted his head. She caught a flash of blue eyes over the rim of the shades. “Indeed? Your ability to spread your legs for hormonal boys does not make you an adult.”
“What makes you think they’re ‘boys’?” she challenged; somewhat miffed that he did not think her capable of holding the attraction of an older man.
Wesker released his grip and took a step back. He tipped his head and the shaded eyes traveled the length of her from her head to her shoes. Claire gripped the sides of her jacket and closed the ends tightly against his unabashed appraisal. “Agreed,” he said at last. “You are enticing enough to gain mature affection.”
Claire stiffened. She wanted him to admit it and yet it made her sick inside when he did. This man was older than her brother, and someone who was older than her brother should not be evaluating her potential to provide him with pleasure. Eager to be finished and on her way she brought him back to his original question. “What kind of an arrangement?”
“I have an inept cleaning service. The incompetent woman is always late and does not follow my instructions. I assume it is you who cleans up after your untidy sibling? It must be a real joy, if he can be judged by his sloppy work habits?”
Claire nodded. Chris was a pig. Everybody that knew him knew it. All she ever did was trail behind him and clean up mess after mess in his wake.
“I require a maid, “ he continued, “Shall we say… every other day after school for two hours, for a period of three months?”
“Three months,” Claire groaned. She didn’t want to spend two seconds next to him, no way was she going to spend a couple of hours a day, every other day, for three months. “That seems like a lot,” she muttered.
“Perhaps it will be a valuable lesson to you. I’m positive you’ll never make the same mistake ever again.”
Claire tried to back peddle. “I don’t think Chris is going to agree.”
“I’m sure once the situation is properly explained Christopher will be more than happy to oblige.”
The stomach churning sensation returned. What a mess! She was going to catch hell for the dress, a tirade for the accident, and Chris, who professed no love for his leader, was certain to unleash a torrent of anger on her if she were forced to be a servant to someone he hated. She might as well turn around and go home. Her life would be misery until graduation.
Claire was stuck. Chris would be forced to agree; therefore she would be forced to agree. “I guess you’ve got yourself a maid,” she said.
“Excellent. I’ll discuss the details with your brother and he can let you know when you’ll start.” He turned to climb back in his vehicle.
Claire’s shrill voice stopped him. “Wait! You’re not going to talk to him tonight, are you? I mean; does it have to be tonight? Can’t it wait till tomorrow?”
A thin smile creased his lips. “I never put off what can be accomplished today by leaving it undone until tomorrow. Enjoy your evening, Miss Redfield.”
Wesker stood at the window, his hands clasped behind his back. He studied the sodden landscape. Rain. Rain. And more damn rain. It was the only thing he hated about England and the only thing good about it. You could create a whole countryside of verdant greens with this much rain, and it did.
He turned away from the depressing grays of the overcast sky and faced the monochromatic emptiness of his current residence. It gleamed to perfection in polished metal, glass, and tile. Every piece of furniture and every neatly appointed decoration kept in its neatly appointed place.
With a gloved hand he ran his fingers over the leaves of the potted palm nearest to him and much to his dismay found a thick layer of dust. It seemed no matter where he went, or when he went, the cleaning staff never lived up to his standards. He let his eyes travel around the room seeking out other flaws in the perfection, and found many.
The coffee table was off by an inch. The leg indent marks shifted from their normal spot. Two pictures hung crooked above the fireplace. There was a stain on the rug beneath one corner of the sofa. The clock on the end table needed a new battery, and one light was burned out above him.
To be fair, his arrival had been unexpected and there had been no time for the staff to properly prepare for him, but that was the point: Always do the right thing even if no one is looking, because you never know when they are!
Wesker sat down on the sofa and opened his laptop. He tapped at the keys for several moments, but lost his focus when his eyes found a prominent smudge mark on the glass coffee table.
Kennedy went down an old road last night.
Wesker closed the laptop. Ada’s words bothered him. No, the meaning of Ada’s words bothered him. He studied his own reflection in the glass. Kennedy was nothing. He was average looking at best, a man who could handle a gun in a sticky situation, and not much more. What the younger Redfield saw in him he would never know.
Wesker brought up the footage of the Harvadrville disk on screen. He scrolled in on Kennedy and Redfield’s reunion in one of the halls. Claire glowed with a radiance normally reserved for a blushing bride and Kennedy’s eyes were firmly glued to her backside. Kennedy, Wesker understood. He knew all about what the young agent saw in Claire. Claire on the other hand, well, Wesker did not understand her at all…
“You really don’t need me here for two hours every other day,” she stated when he entered the living room. “There’s really nothing to clean. It’s just a waste of my time.”
“Exactly,” Wesker replied. “Now you know how it feels to have your time squandered.”
She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the television. Wesker set his briefcase on the table next to her and reached for the remote. He clicked it off and plopped it in her lap. An eyebrow shot upward; a silent dare for her to turn it back on.
Claire crossed her arms over her chest. “Now what am I supposed to do?”
“Use your imagination, but whatever it is do it quietly.” He removed a stack of papers from the briefcase and a pen and settled into a chair next to her.
“My brother won’t be here to pick me up for another hour,” she complained.
“I do believe, Miss Redfield, that speaking is the exact opposite of quiet. And, Christopher was assigned extra duties for this evening. Your ride will be here in three hours.”
“I’m not staying here for three more hours. I’ll have one of my friends pick me up.”
“Would this friend be of the female or male variety?”
“What’s it to you?”
“I have an agreement with your brother to look after you while you are in my employ. I doubt he would like it much if you were to leave here in the company of a young man.”
“Why? Can’t I be a friend to a boy? A boy can’t offer me a ride home.”
Wesker walked to the kitchen and retrieved the cordless phone off its charger. He dropped it into Claire’s lap to join the remote. “Perhaps, Miss Redfield, you should call your brother and find out. “
Her fingers fiddled with the phone for a moment and then she set it, and the remote, on the table.
“And the answer to your question is, no.”
“No, if you were my sister or my daughter, you would not be allowed, at your age, to have any friends of the male kind.”
“Well I’ll just thank my lucky stars that I’m not your sister or your daughter then.” She pulled her backpack next to her and dug in one of the pockets and removed a notebook. She flipped it open and began to draw.
“I’m eternally grateful as well,” he countered in monotone as he watched her scrawl her name inside a big heart. The word Eric joined hers. She ignored his last comment concentrating on the feathered arrow piercing the center of the heart. Wesker lowered his shades. He studied her intently. The grand scheme of his plan had been to embarrass Christopher, as well as teach the younger Redfield a lesson, but he now concluded it was he who was being punished. He was of a serious mind to send Christopher a bill for daycare services rendered.
“Why do you look at me like that,” she said, without looking up from her artwork.
“Like what, Miss Redfield?”
“Like a cat staring at a mouse hole. It’s kind of creepy.”
“I was thinking what a joy it will be to have everything back to normal.”
Claire frowned. “You aren’t the only one. I’ve got the days marked on my calendar at home. Three more weeks.”
“Three weeks and one day,” he corrected.
She folded her paper in half and put it in the notebook. “Can’t we just say three weeks and call it even. I don’t want to be here. You don’t want me here. You’re just doing all of this to prove a point.”
“Not true, Miss Redfield, your presence has brought me nothing but sheer joy, an escape from my silent doldrums… and a spotless environment.”
Claire stood and stretched. “Yeah right. It’s nothing but a power trip. You get to lord my mistake over my brother by making me clean your fridge and wash your laundry. She turned her large aqua eyes to him. “And I think you’re a pervert. Only a pervert would stare at little girls the way you do.” She smiled triumphantly at her assessment.
Wesker was on her before she could flinch. He slammed her body into the sofa and pinned her hands to her sides. He trapped her legs under the weight of his own and wrapped a fist into the long strands of her ponytail and twisted until the roots were taut, slanting her eyes. “As you have so often intimated since I have known you that are are no girl, and profess to be very much a grown woman, it would hardly be fair to label me as some child molester.”
Claire twisted her head, closed her eyes, and flailed her arms wildly at her side, only to have his grip tighten. “Get off of me!”
Wesker brought his lips to hers. “Would you like me to show you a real man, Claire?”
Claire wrenched her head to the side. “You better get off of me. I’m going to tell my brother.”
“It’s a shame our story will not match. My version will be about a tease who thought we could work out our bargain horizontally.”
Claire swallowed and looked him in the eyes. “You wouldn’t?”
“He’ll never believe you.”
Wesker left a bottle of cleaner and paper towels on the table along with a nasty note and wound his way up the spiral staircase to his bedroom. He discarded his clothes in a wicker hamper and re-dressed in an identical ensemble. He pulled out another laptop and inserted a second disk.
He let a faint smile curl his lips. A malicious idea sprouted in his mind. It had been too long since he had sent Christopher his personal regards.
Jill emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her head.
Chris peered between the window slats. “Leon’s information is always good. I wish we had found something, anything. I feel like we’ve been set up.”
Jill wrapped her arms around his chest. She placed her head on his back. “Come to bed, Chris. Even Superman slept.”
“I won’t completely rest until Spencer, and every one else like him, is eliminated.”
“They will be,’ she said simply, “but it takes time. You can’t fight to win on an empty tank. Don’t you know you get better mileage off the top?”
Chris placed a hand over hers. His thumb caressed her ring finger. “Maybe for a few hours. I am tired tonight. I have to check on Claire first.”
Jill shook her head. “Leave her alone Chris. She’s fine. Leon is with her. Nothing is going to happen.”
“That’s what she said when she went to work for TerraSave. I thought she finally found something to keep her busy and out of harms way and now-and now I’m not so sure. And knowing Leon is with her isn’t helping. I’m grateful he was there, but I’m not grateful he’s holed up with her right now. God help him if he tries to touch her. I’ll cave in his face and he’ll spend the rest of his life staring at his own ass.”
Jill cringed. It was not an idle threat. Chris was blind when it came to Claire and more than one man had been sent to the hospital on the back of one of Chris’s right hooks in regard to his sister’s virtue. “Chris, have you considered it might be time to give Claire some slack and let her live a little?”
“Nope. Every time I ease off something happens to help me realize how much she needs my protection. First it was our parents, then bullies, and then Wesker.”
“Don’t you remember when Claire hit his damn car? Son of a bitch used her for a cleaning service. Then it was the jackass that wanted her to run off with him. Then it was Raccoon City. Then Rockfort. Then it was Leon this and Leon that. Thank God she didn’t give it up to him. Now Harvardville. Do you see a pattern here?”
The veins in Chris’s head bulged. Jill pressed on. “You make it sound like you should lock her in a padded cell for her own good.”
“Believe me, if I thought I could get away with it I would. I’ll be looking for a new house when we get back. I’m not taking any chances. Not when I know what’s out there. Not when he’s out there.”
Jill sighed. Hopeless. He was hopeless. She turned back the bed covers.
Chris lifted his laptop lid. “I won’t call. I should call, but I won’t. I’ll send her an e-mail. Happy?”
Jill settled under the sheets. “If it will make you feel better.”
“Bastard! Sick, demented, dirty, mother fucker!”
Jill bolted upright. “What now?”
Chris brought the laptop to the bed and shoved it onto her lap. Jill looked briefly at the series of lewd photos and then looked away, sick. A cutout of Leon’s head was photo shopped onto the naked body of a man. A cutout of Claire’s head was equally doctored. Slide after slide of the duo engaged in sexual poses sat frozen on the screen. The last pose was the last straw. A three-way bang with Leon, Wesker, and Claire in the smuttiest scene Jill had ever seen. A caption below the photo brought bile to her throat: “If you can’t trust your friends, whom can you trust?”
She’d barely finished reading the caption when Chris chucked the laptop across the room and took out a lamp in the far corner.
“I’m going to kill him, and when I do, I’m going to rip his head off and shit down his throat.”
“Kennedy is your primary target. He’s been assigned to Downing.”
“I want double.”
“And I want broken bones.”
“Break anything you desire, except his jaw. Take him to Philadelphia. I’ll meet you there in three days.”
“Why the delay?”
“A prior engagement with an old friend.”
The line went dead. Krauser smiled.