Anja’s Rush

January’s theme was Time Loop.

Synopsis

An evacuation of Kings Bay is ordered when a foreign submarine is spotted. Going against this order, Anja rushes into town to get her son from daycare. Inspired by Run Lola Run, Anja’s Rush is told in three different “rushes,” each with a different outcome.

Anja’s Rush

By Jessica Wren

A strange ripple in the harbor caught Anja’s eye as she was leaving her office. Anja was about to leave; she had permission from her boss, Lieutenant Keith Stavely, to leave at three that afternoon. She had collected her belongings to leave the office, pick up her son from his daycare across town, and join her husband Steve in Savannah for a weekend vacation on Tybee Island.

As three o’clock turned to three-o-five, Anja found herself transfixed on the ripples in the harbor, which were increasing in size until small waves were lapping the rocks on the shore. She continued to stare, fascinated, as an object slowly broke the surface. Anja recognized it as the conning tower of an unfamiliar submarine. We aren’t expecting any submarines today, she thought. She then grabbed her purse and started toward the door, dismissing the thought. More than likely, the Lieutenant just didn’t tell her Kings Bay was expecting visitors. Anja was not privy to classified information intended for her boss.

As she opened the door, Lieutenant Stavely and a group of men whom Anja didn’t recognize were standing, looking as if they would have barged right into her office had she not opened the door first.

“Anja,” Stavely said, an urgency in is tone that she’d never seen before, “we need you to translate something.” Anja was irritated at the delay but complied nonetheless. She pointedly looked at the clock, making sure her boss was watching, as a nonverbal reminder of their prior agreement. The time was three-ten. “I’m sorry to hold you up, but you’re the only person on base who understands Russian,” the Lieutenant said apologetically.

Anja had emigrated from the city of Moskovsky in Russia seven years ago to marry Steve Jackson, whom she had met when the latter was studying abroad at Lomonosov Moscow State University. After four years of marriage to the love of her life, Anja was blessed with a son, Caleb. As the Lieutenant fumbled with the recording device, Anja tapped her foot impatiently. She had told Caleb’s daycare that she would pick him up by four, and although she had more than enough time to get to St. Marys to pick him up, each passing minute was one minute taken away from her long-awaited family vacation. It was three-twelve when her boss finally got the recording to play. Anja listened, the alarm in her eyes spreading her panic throughout the group.

“It says ‘we have orders from Admiral Alexei Petrov to occupy this city. He in turn has orders from Vladislav Pugin. We shall begin occupancy at four o’clock. All civilians are urged to evacuate immediately.’” Anja made a dash for the exit, ignoring the panicked murmurs from the men. One last look at the clock showed it to be three-thirteen. She had forty-seven minutes to get Caleb and get out of Kings Bay.

First Rush

Anja got about ten feet from her office when she ran smack into a man she didn’t recognize. The impact caused her to drop her purse, which she’d forgotten to zip, and spill its contents on the floor. Anja hurriedly scooped up the items on the floor.

“Hey, why don’t you watch where you’re going?’ Anja barked angrily.

“My apologies, ma’am,” the man said as he hurried down the hall. Anja zipped her purse and ran towards the exit. She had no idea how word spread so fast, but the parking lot was swarming with people desperate to evacuate. And the congestion at the exit gate meant she would be going nowhere fast. Yvonne, she thought. Anja dug around in her purse among the hastily shoved in items until she found her cell phone. She then called her mother-in-law,who lived in the same neighborhood where the daycare was and, provided the roads weren’t already crowded, could easily pick up Caleb while Anja fought the crowd of evacuees.

Unfortunately, her calls kept getting dropped. The cell phone towers must be overloaded, or the Russians had some sort of scrambler aboard the submarine to disrupt cell phone service.

Suka, blyad!” she screamed in frustration. The clock in her car said three-twenty-six. “Can’t you fuckers move any faster?” The vacation was forgotten, and her priority changed to reaching her son before the imminent invasion. Steve had already left for Tybee Island that morning, so he was safely away from the naval base. The fact that her cell phone showed no missed calls or texts from Steve was ample evidence of a scrambler.

It was three-thirty-three when she made it to Highway 40. Although traffic was moving freely, Anja had the opposite problem: a large white van was tailgating her. She could hardly blame the driver, who was after all in the same predicament she was. She sped up to give the van some clearance, but as soon as she did, the van sped up in turn to keep pace. What the hell are you doing? She called out mentally to the van’s driver. Anja looked in the rearview mirror in an attempt to catch the driver’s eye.

“Quit riding my ass!” she said, hoping the driver could read her lips.

It was the obnoxious honking of a horn that finally tore her attention away from the driver, but by then, it was too late. Anja was in the middle of the intersection, having run a red light. She had no choice but to accelerate forward.

She cringed as she heard the sound of squealing brakes, followed by the sickening crunch of metal.  Nonetheless, the guilt at having caused a wreck did not alleviate her fear of not getting to her son in the next twenty-four minutes.

**************

Admiral Rod Marchand, to avoid giving away his position of Secretary of the Navy to the foreign invaders, was driving a nondescript Toyota. The Russian submarine had been spotted thirty miles offshore, and Marchand had come to turn them away, to tell them they were off-course. The only person at Kings Bay who spoke Russian was Lieutenant Stavely’s secretary, who ran off before Marchand could ask her translate the message that the captain submarine was making a serious mistake and they needed to turn away. Not only that, she turned out to be a rude bitch, running in the hall and nearly knocking him over. And she didn’t salute. He would have encouraged Stavely to fire her on the spot, but he had more pressing issues at hand. That’s her there, Marchand thought, noting the driver of a car who was looking back at the driver behind her and making obscene gestures. She didn’t slow down as she approached the red light. Motherfucker! He thought right before swerving to avoid a Department of Wildlife Management van, a maneuver that had been for naught as he collided head-on with the van less than a second later. It was his last thought.

                                        ************

Anja took a right into the next residential area. She could take a direct route to Yvonne’s house and make a quick stop to pick her up, assuming she was still home. The flow of traffic on Highway Forty was normal; it was only the areas around Kings Bay that were congested. This meant that either the general populace had not received the evacuation order or was not taking it seriously. The clock said three-forty-one. Caleb’s day care center was only two blocks from Yvonne’s house, and nineteen minutes would be plenty of time to collect Yvonne and Caleb and be on Interstate 95 bound for Savannah. Anja relaxed slightly even though she could not get the hideous sound of the accident she had caused out of her head. She prayed no one was hurt.

The neighborhood where Yvonne lived was eerily empty. Because the garage door was closed, Anja couldn’t tell if Yvonne was home or not. The clock says three-forty-three.

She stepped out of the car and knocked on the door. “Yvonne?” she called out. “Are you there?” After about a minute, when no one answered, Anja mentally confirmed that Yvonne must have left for DC. An incorrigible homebody, Yvonne rarely left the house except on Saturdays to go to the supermarket or if she was seeing the doctor about her blood pressure. Or if her presence was requested by the embassy, in which case she would have been picked up by an escort. She was only called up every six months unless an emergency came up. As she returned to the car, she pondered the recorded threat and put the pieces together. The awful gravity of the situation hit her, and she quickened her pace. She regretted stopping at Yvonne’s house, a useless action that cost her at least five minutes.

Anja reached for the door handle, a touch that seemed to activate a noise that sounded like a low but menacing growl. She did not have time for tricks of the imagination, so she pulled the car door open. It was the warm, foul-smelling snort on the back of her neck that let her know this was no paranoid illusion. Focusing all her thoughts on Caleb, she slowly and deliberately continued her intended movements, trying her best to avoid provoking the creature. A sideways glance into her mirror revealed black, matted fur. Her aggressor was a Florida black bear. Anja opened the door only as wide as she needed to squeeze in. The bear seemed to offer no objection, and although she did not look back, Anja guessed it was more motivated by curiosity than aggression. She slowly put her right foot through the door, taking care not to make any sudden moves, planning to quickly slide in and slam the door shut the second she got a secure foothold.

Time seemed to go in slow motion. She willed herself not to betray her fear with heavy breathing or hand tremors, lest she set the bear off. The bear sniffed at her neck but otherwise made no motion.

Anja was nearly home free when suddenly, the bear rose on all fours and grabbed her upper left arm. She cried out involuntarily as the razor-sharp claws dug deeply into her flesh.

“Hey!” she thought she heard someone call out. Anja turned and saw one of Yvonne’s neighbors, a boy of about fifteen whose name she did not know. The bear turned in response to the noise. The youth threw something that landed three feet away from them. Is that a frozen chicken? She thought.

The bear, enticed by the new, more interesting treat, released its grip on Anja. The neighbor boy made a motion for her to leave as he slammed the door to his house shut.

Anja made a mental note to stop by and thank the boy once the crisis passed. She got in her car and pulled out into the street. The time was three-forty-nine. She was relieved that she hadn’t lost as much time as she’d thought, and attributed the lightheadedness she felt to the dropping levels of adrenaline in her system.

As she clumsily pulled out of Yvonne’s driveway, Anja’s vertigo increased in intensity. She forced herself to focus on the road. Caleb’s day care was only two minutes away. She hoped that Highway Forty was not congested, but if it was, there was a service road she could take to the Interstate. It occurred to her that if Yvonne’s neighbors were still at home, then they had not been warned of the invasion. Had this whole thing been a prank? A training exercise gone wrong? Anja found that she barely had the energy to muster up anger, and even if she had, it would quickly be abated by the site of the blue building where Caleb spent most of his day. The daycare was only ten feet away; Anja only needed to pull into the driveway. The Gates of Heaven themselves wouldn’t have been a more welcome sight. She didn’t know or care what was going on at Kings Bay. All she wanted was to get Caleb and join Steve. She would call Yvonne soon enough.

As she stopped the car, she was aware that there wasn’t any  skin on her arm that wasn’t coated in blood. The bear’s claw had cut her more deeply than she thought. Just fucking great! She thought wearily. By then she had dismissed the Russian recording as a hoax, as the blood dropped from her fingertips and landed in the floorboard in a slowly coagulating puddle, she knew the vacation was off. And if she didn’t get to the emergency room soon, her whole life would be off as well. Driving herself to the hospital wasn’t an option; she would have to ask the day care’s director to call an ambulance for her. As her left arm was injured and unusable, she reached across her chest and tried to pull the door handle with her right hand.

A glance at the daycare revealed it to be just as deserted as Yvonne’s house. The panic gave her a shot of adrenaline that helped her get the car door open and laboriously pull herself out. On the door, she could see a note. Anja stumbled towards the door until she could make out the contents of the note. She heard a motor and turned to see the same white van that had been tailgating her earlier. At least it looked like the same van. Now her mind really was playing tricks on her. She felt the first wave of unconsciousness and concentrated hard on trying to read the note: Due to several sightings of black bears in the immediate area, all children have been bussed to our sister center in Brunswick. Please call 912-261-8665 for assist—

                                           *********

A voicemail on the cell phone of Anja Jackson, with the timestamp of 2:57: “Hey, babe, just checking in. I’ve been trying to call all morning. You’re starting to worry me, so please call me back as soon as you can. Rainbow’s called me and said they’ve been trying to call you, too. Caleb’s being taken to the Brunswick location, on Newcastle Street next to the bank. The DNR’s been called in after some people called about black bears going through their trash. If they’d leave their trash cans closed like they’re supposed to, maybe they wouldn’t attract bears. Oh, and Mom called and said she has an emergency meeting at the embassy. No idea what’s up with that, but she’s headed to DC. Anyways, just checking in. You and Caleb get here safe, alright?”

*********

“I’m on my way, honey,” Anja said as she peeled her arm, stuck by the gruesome blood adhesive, off the driveway and got up.

Second Rush

Anja got about ten feet from her office when she ran smack into a man she didn’t recognize. The impact caused her to drop her purse, which she’d forgotten to zip, and spill its contents on the floor. Anja hurriedly scooped up the items on the floor.

“Sorry about that,” Anja said as she scrambled to pick the contents of her purse off the floor.

“No problem,” the man said pleasantly. “Here, let me help you with that.” With one graceful motion, the man picked everything on the floor and deposited it into Anja’s open purse.

“Thank you, sir,” Anja said as she zipped up her purse and hurried toward the exit. Behind her, she could hear the commotion as other employees of the building were making a mass exodus. If she didn’t hurry, she’d be waiting in line at the security gate. The clock on her dashboard read three-nineteen. Although she had sufficient time to get to Caleb’s day care, it was better to be safe than sorry. Yvonne, she thought. Anja dug around in her purse among the hastily shoved in items until she found her cell phone. She then called her mother-in-law, who lived in the same neighborhood where the daycare was. This would shave a precious five minutes off her flight time.

Unfortunately, her calls kept getting dropped. The cell phone towers must be overloaded, or the Russians had some sort of scrambler aboard the submarine to disrupt cell phone service.

“Suka, blyad!” she screamed in frustration after her third attempt to contact Yvonne without success. The clock in her car said three-twenty-one. Anja composed herself, feeling slightly embarrassed for overreacting. Fumbling with her phone was a waste of time, so Anja decided to just get on the road. The fact that her cell phone showed no missed calls or texts from Steve was ample evidence of a scrambler. Steve had always been conscientious about checking in.

It was three-twenty-six when she made it to Highway 40. Although traffic was moving freely, Anja had the opposite problem: a large white van was tailgating her. She could hardly blame the driver, who was after all in the same predicament she was. She sped up to give the van some clearance, but as soon as she did, the van sped up in turn to keep pace. What the hell are you doing? She called out mentally to the van’s driver. Anja looked in the rearview mirror in an attempt to catch the driver’s eye.

“Quit riding my ass!” she said, hoping the driver could read her lips.

It was the obnoxious honking of a horn that finally tore her attention away from the driver, but by then, it was too late. Anja was in the middle of the intersection, having run a red light. She had no choice but to accelerate forward.

She cringed as she heard the sound of squealing brakes, followed by the sickening crunch of metal.  Nonetheless, the guilt at having caused a wreck did not alleviate her fear of not getting to her son in the next thirty minutes.

**********

Yvonne Jackson sat in the back of the limo, worried. If Admiral Marchand had personally come to escort her to DC, there must be a serious situation at hand. He had promised to debrief her once they reached Beaufort, the closest safe rendezvous point. Other than her routine check-ins, she had not been called up for an emergency since 2008. Her father, Master Chief George Jackson, had shown his public support for the United States President during his bid for re-election around that same time, and as a reward, Yvonne got the ambassadorship. For the most part, her post was easy.

Yvonne let her mind wander. Her dreams of her son Stephen following in his grandfather’s footsteps were dashed when he announced he wanted to study computer science and design operating systems. She was equally dismayed when he said he wanted to study for a year in Russia, citing an interest in his ancestors’ homeland. Her great-grandfather had come to the United States in 1913 at age twelve with his parents and several siblings to escape the violence of the Russian Revolution in which the last Tsar and his family were slaughtered like wild game. In Yvonne’s opinion, the slaying of the family, which included four young daughters and a hemophiliac son, was all the proof she needed of inherent Russian brutality. When Steve came home with a Russian bride, she was convinced the universe had played a cruel trick on her. Although Anja was pleasant and was inarguably a wonderful mother to her grandson, Yvonne could see the fiery temperament just below the surface, like the flicker of a house fire just before the entire structure bursts into flames.

It was a little strange that Anja couldn’t be reached. When the Department of Wildlife Management came into the neighborhood and urged all residents to stay inside while they rounded up a family of black bears that had been spotted rummaging through trash cans, she left several messages on Anja’s voicemail warning her not to come in to the neighborhood; she would pick up Caleb and keep him at her house until the threat had passed. She tried to send Steve a text message, and realized her own cell phone was out of service. No sooner had she reached for her landline to call Anja had Marchand called. As she waited for her driver to pick her up, she called the daycare and urged the director to take the kids by bus to the Brunswick location for their protection. She had left one final voicemail for Anja, and hoped she received it before coming into the neighborhood and risking an encounter with the bears, who she had seen in her own backyard earlier. As her driver stopped at a red light, she noticed a familiar vehicle approaching from the east. It was Anja. And the vehicle she had sent to ensure her daughter-in-law’s safety was following closely behind her!

“What is she doing?” Yvonne said urgently to her driver? “Oh, my God! She isn’t watching where she’s going! Ivan! Follow them!” Blindly obeying instructions, the driver quickly turned to keep up with the erratic driver and the van following her.

Yvonne watched as her daughter-in-law’s vehicle barely escaped the collision. The van, unable to stop in time, skidded, creating a deafening squealing of the tires in his wake, but it wasn’t enough to avoid T-boning Yvonne’s car. All three-Ambassador Yvonne Jackson, her driver Ivan Rusef, and the driver of the van, were killed on impact.

                                ****************

Anja took a right into the next residential area. She could take a direct route to Yvonne’s house and make a quick stop to pick her up. The flow of traffic on Highway Forty was normal; it was only the areas around Kings Bay that were congested. This meant that either the general populace had not received the evacuation order or was not taking it seriously. The clock said three-thirty-one. Caleb’s day care center was only two blocks from Yvonne’s house, and twenty-nine minutes would be plenty of time to collect Yvonne and Caleb and be on Interstate 95 bound for Savannah. Anja relaxed slightly even though she could not get the hideous sound of the accident she had caused out of her head. She prayed no one was hurt.

A man in a uniform motioned for her to stop almost as soon as she entered. “Sorry, ma’am, but we cannot allow anyone to enter,” he said.

“I have to get my son,” Anja said almost hysterically, the echo of screeching tires and crunching metal still bouncing around in her head. “From Rainbow Learning Center.”

“All children have been evacuated from Rainbow Learning Center, ma’am,” he said. “Your son has been transported by bus to the Brunswick location for their safety.”

“Sir,” Anja began, trying to keep her voice calm, “when the Russians invade Kingsland, they will quickly get to Brunswick. Do you not realize that his whole town and all surrounding areas need to be evacuated?”

The man looked at Anja as if she’d grown an extra head. “Ma’am, we’re trying to capture four black bears that are roaming the neighborhood. I’m sorry, but we cannot allow anyone in this area until all bears are captured. Your son is on his way to the daycare center in Brunswick. You can find him there.” As the man walked away, he muttered “crazy woman.”

Anja turned around. At the intersection of Highway Forty, she saw a whole fleet of sirens and emergency vehicles. Her heart sank as she realized she had been the cause of that accident. She stepped out of her car to get a better look; with the emergency vehicles blocking traffic, she couldn’t move. Several government vehicles from Kings Bay pulled up. Whatever she caused, it was serious.

Caleb was safe. Certainly, Steve would come down and pick up Caleb. Ignoring her first instinct to turn around and get the Wildlife Management officer who’d turned her away to contact Yvonne for her, Anja abandoned her car and walked to the nearest police officer.

“It was my fault,” she told the officer in a trembling voice. “I was trying to get away from who was following me and I ran a red–”

“You’re Anja Jackson?” the officer asked, astonished, as Anja nodded. “Sit down. I need to explain something to you.” The police officer sat her down in the passenger seat of the police car and offered her a bottle of water. He explained that the driver of the van was a member of the security team for Ambassador Yvonne Jackson, who, unfortunately, did not survive the deadly crash. His name was Niko Rustaveli, and he was believed to be a member of a radical separatist group from South Ossetia. In spite of his shady past, he had been granted an emergency visa at the request of Ambassador Jackson when rumors of renewed conflict had begun. In the van, police and the military had found evidence that Rustaveli had been planning to create a diversion by kidnapping the Ambassador’s family. In his personal tablet, they found an email to a co-conspirator referring to the Ambassador as “a stupid old bitch” and said the kidnapping of her daughter-in-law was “so easy it was almost boring.” However, because Rustaveli had also died in the collision, he would never face justice.

“Mrs. Jackson had sent Rustaveli to pick you up. She had no idea that her own bodyguard was planning to kidnap you.”

“Sir, I thank you for letting me know of this plot against my family,” Anja said. “But my careless driving caused the death of my mother-in-law and her driver. I will turn myself in right now. But these people need to leave town now. The recording said the invaders were taking over the city at four o’clock.”

“What invaders?”

“You mean the people of Kingsland and St. Marys weren’t warned?”

“Warned of what?” The police officer was becoming impatient.

“The submarine that pulled into Kings Bay,” Anja begun, unbelieving and trying to process the information. Had the planned kidnapping been connected to the recorded threat from the submarine? Had Lieutenant Stavely and his men managed to avert the crisis, avoiding the need to evacuate the town? Or did Anja overreact? Now that she thought about it, her boss never told her the recording had anything to do with the mysterious submarine. But why would Yvonne’s bodyguard have been granted an emergency visa? And why was Yvonne being escorted in a government vehicle?

The mention of South Ossetia registered. As the police officer stepped away to find a Navy official to take over, she pondered the recorded threat and put the pieces together. The awful gravity of the situation hit her, and she sat in submissive silence as a single childlike voice, one in a den of deafening racket, kept calling out to her. “Mommy,” the voice kept saying.

Once the source of the voice registered, Anja jumped out if the car, so blissful she thought she would faint.

“Caleb,” she hollered back at the source, a boy of about three who was hanging out the bus window, “I’ll send Daddy to pick you up soon. Mommy has to talk to the police.”

“I want to stay with you,” the child declared emphatically.

“I know, honey, but it’s not safe. There’s been a terrible accident. Grandma–”Anja decided to wait until she could get her son alone to explain to him about Yvonne’s death instead of shouting it across the noise. The police officer returned.

“Mrs. Jackson,” the police officer said. “You weren’t the cause of the wreck. Niko Rustaveli ran the red light behind you in what appeared to be an attempt to keep you in his sights. He is the one who collided with the vehicle containing Yvonne Jackson and her driver. Lieutenant Stavely will be with you shortly.”

“So he’s aware there’s been a terrible mistake?” Anja asked.

“I’m not privy to military information, Mrs. Jackson, but I as I mentioned earlier, there was evidence seized in his vehicle indicating he was planning to kidnap the Ambassador’s family to blackmail her. Right now, we need to find your husband. As the next of kin, we are obligated to personally inform him of his mother’s death.”

Anja was about to speak when she heard a ruckus coming from her son’s school bus. “Hey! Stop! Caleb Jackson, you get back here right now!” Anja watched as her son escaped from his teacher’s firm grasp and ran in the direction of the wreckage. The teacher, visibly torn between running after Caleb and supervising the other children on the bus, recruited the nearest bystanders for assistance. “Get that boy!” she told the nearest adult, a tall, large-built man whom Anja recognized as the high school’s football coach.

Even the coach was unable to catch Anja’s slippery son. With the swift-footedness of a coyote, the boy ran towards the wreckage but ignored it. He seemed to be completely unaware that the mangled limousine contained the dead body of his grandmother. Caleb turned his attention towards Anja. “Mommy!” he called out.

“Caleb, you go back to Mrs. Lucille at once!” Anja shouted authoritatively, knowing it would be futile. Her boy had the same rebellious, reckless streak as her own ancestors who had murdered the Tsar and his family. A temporary stab of guilt at having hidden the secret from her husband and his family scattered her thoughts for a brief second. A puddle of bright green fluid dragged the corner of her eye in the direction of the wreckage. Radiator fluid. And Caleb was about to run right into it. “Caleb! Get back to your bus! Now!” Anja had never felt so helpless as she watched the events that unfolded.

The coach, making one final attempt to rein the boy in, grabbed him by the back of his shirt. Caleb, who was as clever as he was quick, slipped out of his shirt and continued to run bare-chested. Under other circumstances, Caleb’s quick thinking and determination would have made Anja proud. Her eyes traced the path of her son’s feet to the puddle of coolant on the road. The wreckage site was surrounded by glass that had not yet been cleared away. A slip on that puddle would result in multiple, possibly fatal cuts. In spite of the disaster that appeared inevitable, a swell of grief suddenly took over her heart. While she couldn’t claim she and Yvonne were especially close, they respected each other, if at first only for Steve’s and Caleb’s benefit.

Anja pushed the thought aside as she saw Caleb getting closer to the edge of the street. There would be ample time to grieve after the threat has subsided, Right now, getting Caleb safely to Tybee Island, where they could all be safe as a family, was the most priority.

“Caleb, baby, just wait right there. Mommy’ll come and get you. Ok?”

“Okay,” the child obeyed, and stood still in expectation of is mother’s arrivals. Anja slowly crossed the Highway 40 Intersection.

“Caleb, do not move around any of that glass. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Caleb stood perfectly still on the curb, awaiting his mother’s arrivals. Always the hyperactive child, Caleb was rolling his sneakers-clad feet against the curb. He was so close that Anja could smell his baby shampoo. Two more steps. She could make it. Then she would have the most important person in her life in her arms.

But it was not to be. Caleb took a fidgety step back, casually dipping the sole of his Spiderman tennis shoe into the spreading pool of radiator fluid. He fell back, making a desperate grab for his mother’s hands, but landed into a pile of glass.

“Noooo!” Anja shrieked as she rushed around. As soon as she saw the large shard protruding from her son’s neck, the light inside her died.

                                             ************

Grandma!” Caleb called out excitedly. He half-bounced and half-ran to his grandmother and landed into her waiting arms. Something was wrong; Caleb knew it as soon as he saw Grandma’s face. It was almost the same face she wore when Grandpa died last year.

“How’s Grandma’s little man?” she asked, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Good,” Caleb said. “I’m going to the beach with Mommy and Daddy!”

“Yes, you sure are.” Grandma said. “But first, you’ll be going on the bus to Brunswick. There are some bears running loose in the neighborhood.”

Caleb’s eyes lit up.  “The three bears? From TV? The brown one, the white one, and—“

“No, sweetie. These aren’t Grizzer, Icey, and Pandino. These bears can kill someone.” Caleb didn’t understand. Neither his teddy bear nor the three bears from his favorite cartoon ever killed anyone. “Mommy’s going to pick you up from there. I’m sending Mr. Niko to get her.”

A shiver went down Caleb’s spine for reasons he didn’t yet have the vocabulary to explain. “I don’t like that man, Grandma.” Caleb whined.

“I know, sweetie, but it’s the only way to–” Grandma put her hand over her mouth as if she already said too much. “Mommy’s going to be fine. I promise.”

“Okay,” Caleb said, unconvinced. But Grandma was never wrong.

“I have to go away for a few days,” Grandma said. “Just be a good boy and do what your mom and dad say. Can you do that for me?”

                                           ****************

“Yes, ma’am,” Caleb said as he got up from the pile of glass. the shard in his neck was nothing more than a tiny fragment.

Third Rush

Anja got about ten feet from her office. A shadow on the floor alerted her to the arrival of a person from around the corner. She slowed down her pace to avoid a collision and found herself standing face-to-face with an impression-looking man in a military uniform. She saluted; although she was technically a civilian, she had seen her boss and other office staff salute important visitors, and it just seemed appropriate.

“Rodney Marchand,” the man said. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Anja Jackson,” she replied. “The pleasure is mine, but I hope you’ll forgive me. I have to pick up my son.”

“Anja Jackson? You’re the daughter-in-law of Ambassador Yvonne Jackson. Please, allow me to give you a ride. This place will certainly turn into a madhouse soon.” Smiling gratefully, Anja accepted and walked with Marchand to his car.

“The plan,” Marchand explained, “is first of all get Yvonne’s grandson out of harm’s way. That is why when we first learned of Niko Rustaveli’s plan, Yvonne came up with the idea to release the bears from the nearby sanctuary into the neighborhood. That way, she could request the evacuation of the daycare center without causing undue alarm.”

“What is Niko Rustaveli’s plan?” Anja asked, surprised. She had only met him twice prior, and had gained the impression of him as an insufferable sycophant.

“To kidnap you,” Marchand answered calmly. “Yvonne pretended to go along with it, and our plan was to ambush him at the intersection of Highway 40 and the intersection of Millard Filmore Drive, where Yvonne and I would try to meet at the same time.”

“Kidnap me? For what? Ransom?”

Marchand chuckled. “No. Rustaveli is the leader of the South Ossetia Liberation Front. His plan was to attempt to coerce Yvonne into mediating a treaty with Georgia to recognize the full sovereignty of South Ossetia. By Georgia, I mean the Republic of Georgia, not the state. As ambassador of Georgia, Yvonne was already the agreed-upon mediator. After your and Caleb’s safety was ensured, she was headed to Washington to meet with her counterpart from Georgia.”

“But I don’t understand. Why would President Pugin order an attack on Kings Bay? It doesn’t make sense.”

“At this time, we believe that Rustaveli somehow convinced Admiral Petrov that Pugin ordered the invasion of Georgia the state instead of Georgia the republic. Petrov’s a notoriously gullible man, and it’s the only logical conclusion we can make at this time. Of course, we will be doing a full investigation. Oh, look.” Marchand pointed to a white van that was pulling up at the perpendicular red light. “Right on time for the party.”

Anja’s anger surfaced. “You were planning to use me as a pawn? Endanger me and my son to take down some jackass playing at politics? You could have gotten us killed!”

“You were never in any danger,” Marchand said gently. “Yvonne had already planted a tracking device on the van. Her ‘driver’ is actually a member of the Georgian intelligence, and he wouldn’t have recognized me in this ordinary-looking car. Keith is following behind him in another regular car, and guess who is approaching from the west?”

“Who?”

“None other than Victor Harrison, director of the CIA,” Marchand said. “We couldn’t let Rustaveli think we were on to him, so Keith ordered the ‘evacuation’ of all civilian employees from the base. Kings Bay Police should be on their way at any second. Sit back, Mrs. Jackson, and witness the arrest of an international terrorist.” Marchand suddenly became furious. “Rustaveli burned entire families alive in an apartment complex in Nizhny Zaramag.”

“So all this trouble to arrest one man?” Anja muttered. “They could have just arrested him without sending a foreign submarine to the base and without releasing bears into a residential area.”

“If only it were that easy,” Marchand said. “There’s the navy police. As soon as Rustaveli’s taken into custody, I’ll answer any questions you have. But the short answer is that Rustaveli enjoys diplomatic immunity. We had to prove that he posed an immediate threat to national security.” Marchand hopped out of the car, and Anja watched in shock as a team of military policeman dragged a screaming and kicking Rustaveli from the van. Meanwhile, a government vehicle pulled up and Anja watched Yvonne stepped out. Anja debated for a moment and then stepped out of Marchand’s car to greet her.

“Does Steve know about all this?” she whispered before adding, “Admiral Marchand told me everything.”

“Nope. And he won’t unless you decide to tell him,” Yvonne said. “If you can refrain from telling my son that I arranged your kidnapping to take down a terrorist and had bears released near his son’s day care, honey, that would be lovely.” Anja couldn’t tell if her mother-in-law was serious or facetious. As it stood, Anja was just happy that everyone was safe and the melodrama was over.

“You treacherous bitch!” Rustaveli shrieked at Yvonne as police shoved him in the back of a transport van.

Anja sighed. “Fine. It will be our secret. But only if Caleb’s safe.”

“See for yourself.” Smiling, Yvonne pointed to an approaching day care bus.” After the bus pulled to a complete stop, a small boy ran out.

“Mommy!” Caleb yelled excitedly. “Grandma!” He ran into Anja’s arms as the media pulled up and reporters elbowed each other to cover the story of Rustaveli’s arrest.

“Now can we get on the road?” Anja asked tired. “Steve is probably going to be worried sick.”

“Of course,” Yvonne said. “But you should know that you had a part in taking Rustaveli down.”

“How do you mean?”

“Rod thought the best way would be to have you translate the incoming message. Keith was opposed the idea, saying you were too impulsive and hot-tempered and would make things worse. I’m glad you didn’t run screaming from the building, or things would have been a lot worse,” Yvonne said. “Oh, and by the way, Keith agreed to give you two-weeks’ vacation, starting now, as a way of compensating for the trouble.  You also have a cruise to the Bahamas, a gift from the Navy.”

“Mommy,” Caleb whined impatiently. “When are we going to the beach?”

“Soon,” Anja said. “But be patient, son. There’s no rush.”