Episode 14: The Load You Carry
By Lauren Derrick
Editor's Note: This story is the final episode of the Marvelous Mind of Marilyn Hansen series hosted on the Pensieve.
Madelyn aimed a small pistol at Byrd. “I have no qualms about shooting you.”
“Woah, woah, woah.” Finley pushed her arms outward towards Byrd and Madelyn. “You guys… No…”
“You’re really going to shoot me right in front of the kid?” Byrd asked, cocking an eyebrow.
Byrd, have you found her?
Byrd frowned. Marilyn, I think you’d better cut off the connection now.
Robert! What’s going on?!
Madelyn threw a quick glance at a very wide-eyed Finley. The little old lady had a laptop tucked under one arm and a gun in her other hand.
Suddenly, Finley dropped to her knees. The soiled collared shirt she had previously used to wipe her jeans fell to the floor, her hands flying to her eyes. “No! Don’t!”
“Oh great thought, Maddie. So much kinder when you can’t actually see the murder taking place a few feet away from you.” Byrd’s voice dripped with angry sarcasm, but his eyes were just as much on Finley as they were on Madelyn.
I love you, Mar. Byrd thought. I hope you know that.
I am NOT dropping this connection. Stall for time, I’m coming!
In a small office in Southern California, Monica frowned, glaring down at her smartphone. She studied an email on the screen, shaking her head. She pulled a flip phone from her suit pants pocket and dialed, then pressed it to her ear.
“It’s Monica. Karen is on her way to retrieve Madelyn Gray and accompany her home.”
The voice on the other line cleared his throat. “Sounds good. Why are you using your burner phone?”
Monica drew her lips to a straight line. “My phone is compromised. Someone changed the message I sent to the New York team and ordered a construction cover instead of a simple apprehension. The security detail I sent with Byrd and Hansen caught it, and they’re with Madelyn now. Hopefully the others catch on in time to provide backup.”
He swore. “We’ve got a mole.”
“Yes, I caught that. Thank you.” Monica snapped. She glanced around her office space and absently felt under the lip of her desk. “I’ll send you a short list of people I’ve interacted with in the past twenty-four hours. I need you to find the mole now—you got that?”
“I got it.” The voice said, somewhat uncertainly. “But Monica—you’ve hired almost everyone at this office for the past ten years. That means the mole is…”
“One of our friends,” Monica said softly but sourly. “Either someone I hired or someone who has been here longer than I have. I’ll lose my job over this if we don’t get Madelyn Gray and find the mole by tonight. Don’t let me down.”
She snapped the phone shut in a huff.
“It’s for the greater good. I’m sure she’ll find a good therapist.” Madelyn aimed. “Her grandma has all kinds of references.”
I don’t want you to have to be there in my head when I’m dying. Robert thought to Marilyn. You’ve been through enough.
No, Robert. We’re putting that behind us. I want to SHARE my life with you now. Don’t you shut me out now that I’ve decided to let you in.
“Aunt Madelyn! Stop!” Finley flung her arms in front of her, her eyes unable to focus on anything, searching around wildly. “I don’t want to have to hurt you!”
Madelyn glanced back at the spectacle of a dark-haired girl feeling madly around on the ground. Her lips pinched and eyebrows slightly raised in a piteous expression. “Hurt me? Dear, you can’t even see me.”
“I’m serious!” Finley threatened, crouching low and holding her arms out to the sides, searching for something solid to hold to. “Stop the illusion and drop the gun.”
“You’re going the wrong way. Sweetheart, don’t bother. I practically invented the bluff. Sometimes bad things happen, and you just have to deal with it. Say goodbye to the old man.”
But as her finger slid down the trigger, Madelyn began to shake. She dropped the laptop and gun. She clutched her stomach, then her hand flew to her mouth.
Finley stood slowly, eyes blinking back into focus. She shook, balling her hands up into fists and marched up to the old woman.
Byrd jogged over and picked Madelyn’s gun up off the floor. Madelyn began making gagging noises.
“What did I ever do to you, huh? Why did you take that flash drive? What was SO important that you had to blackmail my grandma and put her through that whole emotional roller coaster—”
“Finley.” Byrd interrupted her, putting his hand on her shoulder. Finley blinked and took a deep breath. Madelyn had thrown up and was dry heaving.
“Oh geez.” Finley said, staggering backward a step.
Byrd squeezed her shoulder. “Good work, kid. Probably time to call it now.”
Finley bit her lip, tears threatening. “I’m still mad.”
“That’s okay–you should be. And Maddie knows that. And now she knows not to mess with you.”
“Okay. Yeah.” She took a deep breath and sniffed. “Let’s get her cleaned up. Um… maybe we should find something to clean her up with.”
Finley glanced down at the mess again and immediately turned her head away, pacing in a small circle. “Ugh. I hate puke.”
Madelyn stopped her dry heaving, but stayed on the floor. Her arms quaked in an effort to keep her chest off the floor.
Byrd looked down at the piteous sight, grimacing. He turned to Finley, his bushy gray eyebrows in a bunch. “Yeah, about that–why didn’t you say anything? If I’d known how you were feeling…”
Finley found her dirty shirt a few feet away and threw it on top of the mess on the floor.
Byrd pointed down towards a hallway near the reception desk. They helped Madelyn to her feet. She shook as she stood, but they began moving her in the direction Byrd had pointed. As they rounded the corner, the sign marking the restroom became visible.
“I knew this was important, and you guys said you needed me. It seemed like there were just more important things to worry about,” Finley finally answered.
“Well, okay, but I should have known that you weren’t feeling well. I didn’t want to put you in a situation like this. I expected you to stay outside the door where Brigham could help you out if you ran into any trouble.”
“The man… the man in the… road…” Madelyn croaked, glancing with strained effort at Finley.
Finley scowled at her. “Yeah, thanks for that. I’m glad I didn’t accidentally kill that guy.”
Byrd licked his lips, pressing the bathroom door open with his foot. “So hang on–Maddie was the one who started the connection with you. Did you have to fight for control?”
“No, not really.” Finley said, helping Madelyn shuffle onto the tile floor and towards the sink. “She was already in my mind, she could already sense all of my emotions. I just threw them all into her.”
Byrd laughed, shaking his head. “That’s great.”
He restrained the old woman while Finley began examining Madelyn’s pantsuit.
Marilyn finally arrived, running into the restroom. “Finley! Robert!”
She awkwardly wrapped the two of them in a hug which, by default, included Madelyn as she stood in front of the sink. Madelyn’s shaking decreased significantly, and her breathing grew more and more normal. She hunched over the bathroom counter, holding it for support.
“I was so worried.” Marilyn’s voice quavered as she took a small step back, but she kept one hand firmly on Robert’s back. “Finley–Finley, what happened?”
Finley wetted a paper towel and started scrubbing rather aggressively at the mess on Madelyn’s clothing. Madelyn gave no resistance. “I pushed all my nervousness, nausea, and pretty much everything I was feeling into Aunt Madelyn. Then she just kind of buckled up and dropped to the floor.”
“Yeah, your granddaughter just saved my life, Mar. It was incredible.”
A tear slid down Marilyn’s cheek and her voice quavered. “Oh, Finley–I am so, so sorry!”
“It’s alright. I mean, I still feel pretty nauseous, but it felt really good to just let it all out.”
“You should have never had to be in this situation to begin with.” Marilyn gushed. “This is all my fault. Thank you for being here to save Robert.”
Finley threw away the wad of paper towels she had been using and washed her hands as Byrd held Madelyn’s arms behind her back. She glanced down at her soiled clothing briefly, and then instead of hugging her grandmother, she laid her head on Marilyn’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Grandma. You’re not alone anymore.”
Byrd’s pocket buzzed insistently. Marilyn took over holding her sister down, and he pulled out his phone.
“Brigham has been using a mini drone to scout around. Looks like we have a license plate number for a vehicle carrying Maddie’s servers around. That kid can really multitask.” Byrd mused. “I’ll let him know what’s going on. Jonathan is still in here somewhere, right?”
“Yes. Is Brigham watching Lady right now too?” Marilyn asked.
“Oh, nah, we left her with the highway patrolman. I think he’s just sitting in his car with her and trying to figure out what’s going on.” Byrd trailed off, then suddenly darted his gaze to Finley, who was pulling her hair out of her face with a scrunchie from her pocket. “Hey, kid–Maddie had a laptop that she dropped earlier. Can you go grab it?”
“Sure.” Finley said, then jogged out.
Marilyn furrowed her eyebrows. “I didn’t see a laptop on the floor when I came down the stairs.”
Still restrained and half bent over the counter, Madelyn smirked.
Outside the building, a man in a suit and sunglasses wheeled out an older gentleman with a half-sagging face and small computer in his lap. They were followed by two men in SWAT team attire: army boots, green helmets, and machine guns. The little procession left the building from an emergency exit on the far side of the building.
The highway patrolman held Ladybug as he watched the man in the suit and the two armed men stealthily enter that emergency exit to retrieve the older gentleman. He whistled softly from his car.
“Looks like they’re taking out a hostage or a witness or something. Damn. It would be great to know what’s going on in there.” He said idly.
Ladybug glanced up with him, her tired, bulgy pug eyes warning him that he probably didn’t want to know.
The officer peered out the window as Jonathan was helped into a black car. Movement caught his eye next as the tall young man from earlier jogged in the same direction the SWAT team had gone with the old man. He watched Brigham crouch down.
A gunshot fired. The highway patrolman convulsed, nearly dropping his coffee mug. He set it down in his cup holder, then threw open his glove box and began fumbling with a mess of items. A pair of binoculars came out in his hand, and the highway patrolman peered forward.
The view from the binoculars showed that the black car had a flat tire now. Brigham ducked back around the building and shot up a tree.
“Geez, he’s like a monkey–”
The two men in their heavy SWAT gear trudged around the corner seconds after Brigham positioned himself. The highway patrolman focused his binoculars in on them.
“Hang on now–they don’t have a full set of gear. They’re wearing jeans–oh no, they’re not real SWAT!” The officer exclaimed to Ladybug in a hoarse whisper.
Ladybug gave the man a suffering look, then hopped into the backseat. A McDonald’s bag lay open on the floor, and she climbed down to stick her head inside of it. The highway patrolman didn’t seem to notice.
“They’re armed.” He reached for his radio. “This kid is toast, I’d better call for back–”
Just as one of the armed men began to tilt his gaze upward, Brigham leapt out of the tree and right into him. They went down like dominos, and Brigham quickly confiscated their machine guns. Hastily retrieving some zip ties from his pocket, He fastened their wrists and ankles together, then dashed back towards the black car. But it was gone.
The next morning, Marilyn, Byrd, Finley, Brigham, and Ladybug all crowded into a small office. They sat on metal folding chairs arranged in a semicircle around Monica’s desk. Monica’s sunken eyes were fixed straight ahead. Despite her naturally bronze Latina skin, her face looked pale and sallow, as though she were ill.
“There was a mole in the compound.” Monica began, her voice quavering. “Karen and Madelyn apparently had a special relationship that none of us knew anything about. She hacked my phone and email account. She was the one who sent the directions for how to apprehend Madelyn.”
Byrd chuckled. “And here I thought you had completely lost it.”
“Unfortunately,” Monica continued, ignoring Byrd’s commentary, “I didn’t realize that had happened until after I asked her to be the one to supervise Madelyn’s transport back to California. I thought it would make things go smoother, since Karen already knows all about her and what precautions to take. I thought, ‘the fewer people we have to inform about her the better.’”
Marilyn sucked in a sharp inhale. “So what you’re saying is that she got away.”
“Yes.” Monica nearly whispered. “And I need you. This will mean a demotion for me–if I’m lucky. But I haven’t even had time to worry about that yet. We have to get her back. And I need you two to be officially working on it. Sending you overseas, however, will require proper clearance and protocol. So it’s going to take at least a week before I can even send you after her. If it’s even me who sends you.”
Her voice cracked like pavement above a sinkhole. Marilyn, who sat nearest to her, placed a hand on Monica’s desk.
“Don’t blame yourself, Monica. I never would have suspected Karen,” Marilyn said softly, “and I’ve known her for over thirty years.”
Monica smiled mirthlessly. “Blame isn’t productive. We briefed the two armed men Brigham took down, and we were able to stop the server using the license plate number he tracked. Thanks to that, we have a small team attempting to track Madelyn’s people.”
She looked directly at Brigham now. “You were outstanding. I want to send you to Moscow. But the board isn’t with me. They want someone with flawless Russian who can do a true undercover op. I’m trying to convince them to put you in as support. I thought maybe we could brush you up on sign language and you could pretend to be deaf…but I can’t make any promises right now.”
Brigham nodded curtly, eyes darting downward. Finley glanced at him, glossy-eyed and lips parting slightly.
“We have a team working on accessing and decrypting the servers right now. Please keep your phones on you and answer all of your calls. We’ll need to move fast once we have clearance. In the meantime, I’m going to ask you to stay in New York. JFK will likely have good flights.”
Marilyn cleared her throat. “That’s just fine, Monica. There is a personal matter I need to attend to before we go anywhere. I need to see my daughter.”
Monica furrowed her eyebrows. “What?”
Marilyn nodded. “It’s high time I told her about telepathy. With Madelyn loose, it’s an important safety measure. Also–I just found out that she has a brother. I really need to speak to her in person.”
“I will ask the board to allocate funds to fly her and your grandson here and provide them with protection while Madelyn Gray is at large. I’m sure they will be eager to please you–seeing as they’ll be asking you to apprehend your own sister for a third time when you’re technically retired.”
“I can’t believe she got away.” Finley said quietly as they left the office, vocalizing the dampening mood that had fallen over the group.
Well, over all the group except Ladybug.
The little pug trotted alongside Marilyn, without a leash. Her tongue hung out slightly to one side as she panted, giving her mug the appearance of a lopsided smile. She kept glancing up at her mistress, reassuring herself that her human was still there.
“Lady is never going to let me out of her sight again. Even when I go to the bathroom.” Marilyn said with a sigh. “That’s what she’s thinking right now.”
Finley smirked. “Don’t dogs do that anyway?”
“Well, yes–but normally I duck in and shut the door before she has a chance. She’s planning to cry and howl at me until I let her in. I suppose I deserve it, though.”
The group squeezed into an elevator, and Brigham pressed the 5 button, shooting them up to the top floor. His face was expressionless, but he pressed the button forcefully.
Finley, noticing, gently touched his arm from behind. “I’m–I’m sorry about what Monica said. It’s not fair. We never would have got anywhere on this without you.”
Brigham simply grimaced.
Byrd muttered. “I wasn’t half as good as he is when I first started out. Screw the board. We’ll just take him with us.”
Marilyn smiled. “Monica made it sound like we could throw our weight around a little.”
Brigham blushed hard, shaking his head. “I... d-don’t want… to… m-make waves.”
Marilyn and Byrd stared at one another, wide-eyed.
“Brigham–that was nearly perfect. I worked with you for at least two years on that, what…”
Byrd licked his lips. “Was Finley helping you?”
“N-no. No. B-but… when she did… be-before…” He sighed. “It-It’s getting… easier.”
“Wait.” Marilyn stiffened, then turned to Byrd. “What do you mean ‘was Finley helping him’? Does he—”
“Yeah, he figured it out on the plane ride here.” Finley blurted. “Between me helping the kid in the seat behind us and then helping with Ladybug, and also with Brigham being Brigham, it just kind of happened.”
Byrd furrowed his eyebrows, staring down at Finley. “I thought you said you helped him back in Salt Lake, too.”
Finley blushed as Marilyn threw her a surprised glance.
“Um… yeah, that happened too.”
Brigham caught Marilyn’s gaze. “I w-won’t tell an–yone.”
There was a palpable awkwardness as the conversation died, and Marilyn kept glancing back and forth between her granddaughter and the tall, burly security guard. Finley and Brigham pointedly did not look at one another at all. The elevator stopped when they reached the top floor.
A Few Days Later
Marilyn’s hotel room was a mess of letters and photographs. The old red tackle box sat on the bed, lid thrown back. Finley and her brother sat at a little coffee table, scanning letters with their phones. The app they used provided a rough translation from the Russian script into English. Marilyn sat on the bed, holding a black-and-white photograph of a young blonde woman and a little boy.
Jill paced back and forth. Her graying, short curls bounced as she wrung her hands, glanced from letter to letter, from photo to photo, as if trying to take everything in at once.
“I just can’t believe you never told me, Mom.” She said for probably the thirtieth time. “About any of this. And yes, I know–I get you didn’t know he was a Russian spy at the time, but I just can’t believe it.”
Marilyn took a measured breath and smiled up at her daughter. “That’s the part that bothers you?”
“Well, yes!” Jill said, holding her hands out widely. “I mean, I always knew you were different somehow and hiding things. And it’s nice to know what all that was about. I’m still not sure I believe all of it. But my dad? I can’t believe you never once talked about him! I’ve spent my whole life thinking you had a one-night stand and didn’t even know who the man was!”
“I was hurting.” Marilyn said simply. She didn’t say it defensively as an excuse, but rather as an explanation for her error.
Finley let out a pained sigh and touched her lips. Everyone looked over at her. “It looks like Friedrick’s first marriage was an undercover op as well. That’s where his son came from. His sister was taking care of his son. It sounds like that first woman he married was assassinated when their son was really young. I think he didn’t want that to happen again.”
Marilyn’s eyes turned downward, and she smiled sadly at her hands. “There’s the hurt we are given, and then there’s the hurt we won’t put down. Maybe now we can help put all of this pain to rest.”
Later that afternoon, Marilyn put on a skirt and blouse that were much more formal than her usual floral print. The clothing revealed a more trim body type than normally appeared. When Jill saw her mother, she marched back into the hotel room and turned a floral print dress of Marilyn’s inside out. Padding had been sewn to the inside of the dress. Marilyn only smiled in response to the look of disbelief Jill displayed.
The family drove to a quiet cemetery, where an elderly woman in a wheelchair waited with her tall, lanky, blonde nephew near the headstone of Frank Hansen. The meeting went long, and eventually they moved to a restaurant where the group talked for hours.
That evening, Madelyn Gray stood backstage at a Broadway show, watching the actors from the sidelines. Extras and stagehands bustled all around her, but she held perfectly still, as if in a trance. As all the world moved about her, Madelyn Gray stood in stillness, far removed from the spotlight.
Just before intermission, a red-bearded man in a black t-shirt and jeans approached her. He slipped a flip phone into her hand. Madelyn smiled and accepted the phone, but the smile did not reach her eyes. After an additional pause and a long look back at the stage, Madelyn turned and left the theater.
Outside, Jonathan waited in his wheelchair. Madelyn approached but didn’t meet his eye.
Observing her faraway gaze, Jonathan sighed. “Quite a setback, isn’t it?”
Madelyn tilted her head slightly, considering. “Yes. Yes, it is. But an important one.”
Jonathan glanced at her from the side, studying her face. “How do you figure?”
“We’re outgunned,” Madelyn said frankly, her breath creating a light fog in the cool night air. “And I was not aware until this setback occurred. It was a heavy price to pay for that intel, but it’s well worth it. Our initial plan was problematic in ways we could not have realized.”
“So you’re not worried that the agency got the servers?” Jonathan asked gruffly, unable to mask the hints of emotion creeping into his voice.
“No.” Madelyn said, sounding surprised. She laughed. “No, it’s for the best. If I had understood what sort of power was possible then the plan would have been different from the start. We’ll do much better now, knowing about her. It’s unfortunate that the agency knows what we’re trying to accomplish now. They will make this all quite difficult, but once we achieve some success, they will have no choice but to keep our infiltration a secret. At that point, they’ll have to join our side.”
“And you’re absolutely sure? About the girl, I mean?”
“Oh yes.” Madelyn said as her smile dissolved. “What we were trying to do before would have been like trying to pull a screw out with a hammer. We could have done it, but it would have been messy. Finley is like a power drill. Her participation in our project would be invaluable.”
A few days later, a curvy woman with long, curly hair sat in a little black dress that shimmered slightly in the low lighting of a small chandelier hanging above her table. Across from her was a tall, dark-haired gentleman in a tuxedo. The bottoms of a white tablecloth swayed gently to the sounds of their laughter and animated conversation. The restaurant was dim, so that it seemed as though they were totally alone, illuminated only by the light from the chandelier.
A waiter brought a bottle of wine, poured a little for each of them, then left. The man in the tux took a sip. “Best I’ve ever tasted.”
The woman smirked mischievously. “I remember what you like.”
“I’m going to get spoiled if you keep taking me to places like this.”
“So let me spoil you.” The woman grinned, eyes sparkling. “You deserve to be a little spoiled.”
They started in on a light salad that the server brought a few minutes later. He salted, peppered, and grated cheese into the salad, then served it with a flourish.
“So Brigham and Finley—how exactly did that happen?” The woman asked.
“What do you mean ‘how did that happen’? You saw them getting all chummy together on the plane.” The man in the tuxedo answered with a laugh. “You really were distracted, weren’t you?”
The woman blushed. “Yes. I was quite distracted.”
They worked on the salad for a bit in silence, digesting the conversation they’d already had before coming back for more.
Finally, the woman sighed. “Well, I quite like Brigham. I suppose I don’t mind it if they’re going to date.”
“Date? Oh, they’re not dating.” The gentleman corrected her. “No. When I asked him about it he just got all pale and wouldn’t talk at all about it. Kind of a nervous wreck when it comes to women, I’m guessing.”
The woman pressed her red lips together and stirred a lettuce leaf with her fork. “He had a traumatic experience in high school. It wouldn’t be right for me to share the circumstances without his permission. But it doesn’t matter. I’m sure Finley would ask him—”
The young gentleman shook his head. “Nope. Too intimidated. ‘Out of her league,’ she said. Honestly, I’ve been watching the two of them like a hawk the past several days and nothing. No apparent flirting, no exchanging numbers.”
“Well they clearly like each other!” The woman said, setting her hand firmly down on the table. “Something has to happen!”
“That’s what I thought!” Her companion agreed. “I was going to get all sorts of ideas for my next novel and watch romance blossom before my eyes—and nothing. No kissing, hand-holding, nada. Had a security camera in the safe room just in case, but all they did was play video games and talk.”
“Oh Robert,” the young woman pouted, leaning in on one forearm. “I’m not sure I can leave it at that. Finley’s following my bad example.”
“This isn’t your fault, Mar. It’s hard to be vulnerable. Finley normally doesn’t have any trouble expressing herself. If she thought she had a chance she’d go for it, I think.”
Ruby lips squeezed together as her eyes wandered.
“You’re not going to leave it alone, are you?” Robert Byrd asked, a smile creeping up his face.
Her eyes met his, not for the first time that night, and he took her hand, rubbing her fingers. She grinned.
The waitress at the Village Inn stared at the elderly couple that sat in the middle of the diner, staring into one another’s eyes and whispering. The man wore tan slacks and a black golf shirt while she wore a floral print dress. The waitress hugged the menu to her chest, absorbed by the scene.
“Everything okay?” Another waitress asked in a low voice, bearing a tray full of dirty dishes.
“Look at them.” The waitress said, tilting her head and gently thrusting her chin towards the elderly man who sat stroking his companion’s fingers. “All I want in life is for someone to still look at me that way when I’m an old lady.”
Her companion turned awkwardly to look at the pair from over her shoulder. “Yeah. They’re really lucky.”
“Do you think it’s luck?” The first waitress asked.
“I don’t know. If it’s not, then I’d love to know her secret.”