In the relatively short time Sameen Shaw had been working for Root, she had come to expect the unexpected. She foolishly even tried to predict it sometimes, but she was starting to admit defeat. Root was like meteors coming at earth - there were educated guesses where she might hit, but it was not an exact science. So, when Root had Reese and Fusco kidnap her and bring her to Root’s private plane for a mini-vacation, Shaw wasn’t really surprised. And when Root volunteered them mid-vacation to negotiate a peace agreement among warring factions on the island where they were, Sameen just shook her head. No so much out of disbelief, but rather out of admiration. Root had an uncanny knack for coming up with the unusual.
Life was good for the couple. In part, because Sameen had never known anyone who went out of their way the way Root did to please her. And Root had a list of reasons why she was head over heels in love with the Persian firecracker. She had simply never encountered anyone like her in her life. No one came close … until the fateful day they returned from vacation.
A woman had visited BEAR that afternoon and when she couldn’t get what she wanted; she demanded to meet whoever was in charge. Janine, the HR associate just recently promoted to be Sameen Shaw’s private personal administrative assistant, knew she needed backup and called John.
After verifying that the woman was, in fact, who she said she was, John enlisted Lionel’s help. Her request was simple enough – she was there to see her daughter, and since she was expected to return later that day, she wanted the two men to convince Sameen to visit her that night in her hotel room. She gave them the impression time was of the essence.
This woman claimed to be Sameen’s mother – a person who neither John nor Fusco seemed to know anything about. Sameen had not only been tightlipped – as she was on most of her personal life – she had managed to have the woman erased from her files – everywhere.
“We gotta tell Root,” Lionel said because he knew this was not a two man job. It was going to be more like a job for a small army with guns and tranquilizers. And backup. Oh, and Tasers.
“Yeah,” John said and it was the first time Lionel could remember any kind of anxious tone to the tall man’s voice. “We better.”
Silence befell the room as the two men looked at each other. “How are we going to do that?” Lionel asked, hoping his friend had that part thought out.
“We will … when they land …we can … ,” the usually smooth talker stammered.
“Yeah,” Lionel said, because he wasn’t sure either.
The two men stood there; their eyes darting back and forth, and both hoping the answer would magically pop into their heads. Lionel had solved murder cases with less mystery. “Did that woman …?”
“.....Remind me of Shaw?” John finished the question. “Yeah, sort of.”
Both men were immediately struck at the older woman’s exquisiteness. Flawless skin, high cheekbones, and piecing dark eyes lent to the woman’s natural beauty. But it wasn’t just that. She had a definite tone to her voice that reminded both of them of their friend.
“Like when she’s yelling about something …,” Lionel decided.
“Or hungry …,” John concluded.
Whatever it was, both men agreed there was a similarity.
“But how can it ..?” Lionel asked and John decided they had the means and talent to find out about this woman. The question was – did they have enough time.
That private plane was landing at JFK Airport within an hour – and both men knew this was one mission they better be totally prepared for.
Unless of course, the woman wasn’t Sameen’s mother.
“Did she touch the water bottle?” Lionel asked, but John said no. She had worn gloves, which meant fingerprints would be hard to come by.
“Facial recognition!” John snapped his fingers, certain that the cameras in the building had caught her. The two of them returned to John’s office, enlisting no one’s help so as not to raise suspicion. Which was the first thing Lionel did when they ran into Iris in the hallway and he greeted her with an over the top salutation.
“HEY! WOW! Imagine running into YOU … HERE!” Lionel said, so blatantly unnerved that John put his head into his hand and groaned.
“Yes, funny since… I work right down the hallway, but you … work several blocks away,” Iris said, totally aware of the ruse that wasn’t working.
John was beginning to think he should have picked Bear as his partner in this adventure. At least he knew how to keep his cool.
“Well, I will see YOU later,” Lionel said, closing his eyes and shaking his head as he walked away, leaving a very confused Iris in the hallway. He followed John to the office and paced while John accessed elevator cameras and those in the hallway. “Do you think she suspects anything?” Lionel asked.
“Nah,” John answered because EVERYONE suspected them after Lionel’s verbal faux pas. John kept hitting keys, looking quizzically at the screen, and then hitting more keys.
“Do you know how to use that program?” Lionel finally asked.
John didn’t answer right away. He picked up the phone, dialed the security room and asked them to check the feeds. “Put it on my screen,” he instructed them so that he could show Lionel. He slowly turned to screen so his impatient friend could see for himself.
“What is that?” Lionel asked as he looked at the eight square boxes; each displaying a different part of the building where Azar Monir had to have passed to come into the building.
She was in none of them.
“The feeds have been looped,” John said – in total amazement. Only someone who was very computer literate could do that and even then, they had to be clever and devious. “It’s not good.”
“I’m starting to think maybe she’s Root’s mother,” Lionel said, his stomach started to get upset over this mess.
John turned and just stared at Lionel; his look speaking volumes.
“What?” the hungry detective asked defensively. “Would anything surprise you?”
John had to admit – it was a valid question.
As her plane circled above the airport, Root wanted to savor every last minute she had alone with Shaw. Not that they wouldn’t have their quiet time at home, but this vacation was the first time she could honestly say she saw Sameen relax. There were other small changes, too. Sameen not only seemed less tense, but she laughed more. Even after the whole peace agreement among the jungle warlords, Sameen found the humor in it. “When you handed the remote to them …,” Sameen laughed, “…and they started to argue over who would control it. I mean, it’s a universal phenomenon.”
Root loved to see Sameen laugh. Her face lit up when she did and Root was certain – it had been a long time since Sameen truly let herself enjoy something.
Sameen was very much aware of what was happening. You don’t build a wall that high, that thick, and not notice when there’s a crack in it. Sameen had guarded that wall for so long, she could barely remember life without it. If asked, Sameen would say she started to construct it around the time her mother walked out on them - when she was five or six. It was hard enough being different from the other blond haired, blue eyed kids in her school. Then she was the kid whose mother disappeared. By the time her father died in the accident. Sameen was pretty much a master wall builder. She shut down that day of the accident; never to reappear. Until Root.
There was something about Root – her refusal to be intimidated by Sameen’s threats; her unwavering attention and devotion; and a kindness Sameen had never known. Root was the dangerous combination of annoying as hell and unrelenting that Sameen could never quite control. And in the process of confusing and upsetting her, Root snuck past the wall and touched her. It frightened the shit out of Sameen. She didn’t let anyone back there – to touch that spot where she was the tenderest. But Root seemed to know exactly where she was and never pushed when she was there. She was gentle. It still unnerved Sameen when it happened, but she wasn’t freaking out as much. After all, you don’t take down a wall you took years to build – in months. Especially when the most cautious part of your brain screams not to let those cracks get any wider. “It’s a mistake,” the voice shouted inside Sameen’s head …every day.
“Isabelle is making you something special,” Root all but cooed in Sameen’s ear because she knew updates on the menu were akin to sweet nothings that Shaw loved.
“You don’t think you can entice me with food, do you?” Shaw attempted to tease back, but stopped short to hear what the menu actually was. “Okay, you can entice me – this once,” Sameen said, trying to maintain some dignity at how easily she was persuaded. “It’s like you think the way to my heart is through my stomach.”
“Oh, Sweetie …,” Root said, getting a very seductive tone to her voice and leaning in next to Shaw in the car that picked them up at the airport, “… I have found several ways to get to your heart, but I still prefer the direct route.” Root reached over and boldly slid her hand into Shaw’s low cut blouse to touch her left breast.
“ROOT!” Sameen said, enjoying the touch, but not the brashness of the move in front of people – in a car – in public.
Root withdrew her hand – slowly – and sat back as if she had been properly admonished. But she was all smiles.
Root had an equally challenging childhood; perhaps even more unstable than Sameen, who at least got a head start in a steady childhood. Of course, it was only five years of normal, but that was five more than Root ever had. But while Sameen sought solace in jobs that required discipline and no emotion and thrived on someone giving orders, Root went the opposite direction. She refused to comply with any rules; let out all her emotions instead of walling them up, and – perhaps because she knew she was smarter than most people, she took the world by the horns. And threw it.
While Shaw was making sure no one could get to her behind that wall she built, Root believed if she was erratic enough, no one could catch up. These two very different styles had crashed head on when they met. Most people wouldn’t have survived that collision.
“I just want to go to bed,” Sameen said, although her stomach disagreed.
“Okay by me,” Root chimed in, skipping over the part where Sameen was really tired. “But you might want to …,” she said, running her finger up Shaw’s toned arm, “….eat a little something to keep your strength up.”
Those corny lines never got old to Root – even when they were met with Sameen’s long sigh and eye roll.
In the elevator, Root looked at her phone and saw a text message that simply read: 4AF911. Her whole demeanor changed. “Give me a minute to take care of something, will you?” she said when they entered the Penthouse. Root disappeared into the library so quickly, that Bear only had Sameen to greet. And greet he did.
“Bear, noooo,” Sameen pleaded when the dog charged at her, but she was too late. He was so excited to see her that he weaved in and out of her legs until she fell over. “Bear, please,” the woman pleaded, but he just slobbered her with wet kisses.
Then, like the kid who’s been at daycare all day, he remembered underneath being excited they were home – he was annoyed they left. He stopped and looked down at Shaw; easily associating the person to the dolls he had been given.
“Okay, that’s enough, Bear,” Shaw said in as stern a voice as one can when they love the animal who knocked them over. She started to stand up, thinking the greeting was over, when he changed his mind and grabbed her ankle. Hard.
“Oww!” Sameen yelped, surprised at how tight his grip was. “Let go of me,” she demanded, but he wasn’t listening. “I swear, if you don’t let go of me,” she threatened, trying to grab him. And then falling right back into their sibling like relationship, she threatened to tell on him.
“Oh, welcome back, Sameen,” Daan, Bear’s aide-de-camp for all intents and purpose, said.
He was also Bear’s trainer of sorts, so Sameen was a little annoyed when the man sat down on the bench in the entryway and didn’t offer his help. She shot him a loathsome look. “Do you not see this?” she asked, shaking her head and thrusting her hand towards her captured foot.
“Yes, I do,” Daan confirmed, giving her a chance to figure it out on her own.
“Well?” Sameen said, giving him a chance to do something about it.
“He’s upset you left. You need to let him work through that,” the man advised as he grabbed his coat, welcomed her back again and said he left a report for Root to read when she had time.
Sameen could not believe the man, who could speak to the dog in multiple languages, was not going to help. “I hope there’s something in that report that states you are the worst trainer in the entire world!” she bellowed, displeasing both the man who waved goodbye and the dog who took umbrage to the notion he even needed training. In his mind, he was doing just fine and Daan was someone who liked to stop by. Shaw pulled her body over and threatened to find a gun, but this only made the dog laugh. Well, not actually laugh, because dogs can’t laugh – everyone knows that … but she swore she heard him do something like that.
Root would have been out there mediating the scene as she had often done, but she was answering the emergency text. The BEAR code name for Sameen was 4AF and when John added the 911 digits, she knew it was serious. He updated her as quickly as he could with what little they knew. He had checked the registry at the Waldorf Hotel and an Azar Monir was registered. Even though they could establish the woman’s name, there was nothing to tie her to Sameen. “I’ll be right out,” Root shouted to buy herself more time. She heard the commotion outside, but couldn’t help just yet. Root pressed John to call this woman and tell her no one was delivering anyone until they had more information. “We have no idea who this woman really is, John!” she scolded her former bodyguard.
“I AM GOING TO SHOOT YOUR DOG!” Shaw yelled … from the tiled floor of the entryway.
John apologized and said he would contact the woman and give her Root’s message.
“Give her my number. I am not even mentioning this to Sameen if she cannot provide proof,” Root said in a very unpleasant tone. “I better go. Text me if you have anything further.”
Root ended the call and looked around. She could not possible imagine who would do this or why they would. She had very little information about Sameen’s family other that what she hacked out of her personal files. It must be a scam, she decided.
Then she noticed the two homemade dolls on the floor.
“These are so cute!” Root said, her mind distracted for a moment. “Sameen, look at these,” she said, going to the door and stepping outside. “Oh ..,” she said when she noticed that one of them seem rather frayed at the ankle.
“ROOT! I am going to kill him,” came the threat when she turned the corner to see Sameen pinned on the floor; the large Belgian Shepherd holding her in place by her ankle.
“Ooh,” Root said, quickly putting the dolls behind her back. “I should have seen this coming.”