Discover the first chapter of Apache Strike Force by Camilla Monk. 🙂
1 – The Eye of Simon
“The aircraft ripped through the night air as he went full throttle. Whoever fucking dared to hurt Chanterelle better get ready to fucking die.”
—Samara Frost, SEALcopter #1 – Blades of Love
That phone call went all sorts of wrong. Although, in retrospect, I’m not sure what I expected: I had been missing for eight months, possibly dead to all who loved me, and one fine morning in December, I just called my dad out of the blue. It was 7:00 a.m. in New York, he hadn’t even had breakfast yet, and there I was, sobbing at the other end of the line, struggling to form words. I was in Paris; I was okay; I wanted to come home to him.
“Island, Island, honey, is that you? Oh God, are you okay? Are you wounded? What happened? Is there someone with you? What the hell happened?”
I had no intelligible answer to my dad’s subsequent barrage of questions, no strength left to keep my own emotions under control and reassure him. I tried to speak, but only hiccups would come out, and wiping my nose with the sleeve of my fleece pj’s didn’t seem to help. That’s when a former hit man known to most as March, who had just gotten out of bed at 1:00 p.m., came to the rescue. I hadn’t even noticed him entering the living room. He was wearing nothing but a pair of dark boxer shorts; he must have woken up when he heard me crying. I found myself cocooned into a safe haven of bed-warmed skin and springy chest hair as he carefully took the phone from my shaking hands.
March barely had the time to say, “Good morning, Mr. Halder,” before my father exploded. “Who the hell are you? What have you done to my daughter? Island! Where are they holding you? I swear I’ll—”
“Please calm down, Mr. Halder. Island is perfectly safe—”
“How much do you want?” my father barked.
His outburst only made me wail harder. “Dad, I swear I’m okay! Please, listen!”
“Don’t worry, honey! It’s gonna be okay; I’m gonna find you! And you”—I gathered that growl was for March—“I’m gonna find you too! And I’m not Liam Neeson, but if you touch a single hair on her head, the last thing you’ll see is—”
March gave the slightest wince at the rage-fueled rant pouring from the speaker. “I understand . . . but I can assure you I’m not holding Island hostage.”
“Let me speak to her!”
With a big gulp of air, I managed to hold back my tears long enough to take the phone from March’s hands. “Please, calm down and listen to me. I’m not being held hostage or anything.”
March’s palm squeezed my shoulder in silent encouragement. I swallowed hard to steady my voice. “Like I said, I’m in Paris, and I’m okay now. I promise.”
“Who’s that man with you?” my dad probed, before his breath caught, and his voice cracked into a near sob. “Honey, they told me you were dead! I need to understand what happened.”
“He’s . . . his name is March.” I gulped as a year-old memory resurfaced, of Joy catching March as he was busy roping me on my bed with my own tights. The keywords summing up this dreadful incident could be: misunderstanding and BDSM. “Joy told you about him . . . back when he took me to Paris for the first time.” I winced and refrained from adding: Remember? He’s my forty-year-old dom.
Of course my dad remembered.
This time, an unbearable silence stretched between us. I could almost see the various bricks of partial data, parental prejudice, and mild paranoia organize themselves in his brain as he murmured, “Did you . . . run away with him?”
“No! I was . . . look, something happened at the Poseidon . . . It’s very complicated, and I don’t want to do this over the phone.”
“Oh Jesus . . . Jesus . . .” I felt his ragged sigh in the speaker as if it were my own, and I had to blink hard no to burst into tears all over again.
I knew I had already said too much and not nearly enough, that every missing piece of the puzzle was absolute torture to him, but I couldn’t tell him like this, over the phone, that I had been kidnapped, brainwashed, drugged, nearly lobotomized . . . It was too difficult to put in words with 3,600 miles between us, so all I said was, “Please. Trust me. I can . . . I mean, I’ll jump on a plane as soon as—”
March stepped in before I was even done talking. “Island, it’s too early. Your wound—”
“What wound? What is he talking about?” And with this, my dad was panicking tenfold.
I had almost forgotten about it, but as if on cue, a zing of pain at the back of my skull reminded me that there was still a rather large patch of hair missing and a one-inch-long cut there. My stitches were now dry and clean, but it’d be at least another ten days before they fell off.
“Well, I got”—I bit my lower lip. He wasn’t going to like this—“I got a little brain surgery.”
A renewed string of breathless cussing reached me through the speaker. “Jesus fucking Christ . . . Baby, baby, what happened?”
My lips parted to answer, but words failed me. For a couple of seconds, I just stood still in the middle of that quiet, impersonal Parisian living room, my gaze lost past the windows and the gray weather outside. I looked up to find March’s tired and attentive blue gaze seeking mine.
Memories collided in my newly awakened brain, good and bad, as I contemplated trying to explain to my dad how some mad Norwegian scientist had been ordered by my supervillain uncle to put a neuroelectrical implant in my brain to shoot my long-term memory and how they’d locked me up and drugged me for eight months, before March came to save me in an ice-cream truck that fired rockets, and seven days ago, that same implant had been removed, thanks to the very turd who had been overseeing my captivity all this time. Also, I’d been to space. To stop the aforementioned uncle from firing a nuclear missile at Earth. There’d been a sloth . . . and Dries, my biological father . . . was dead.
No. It was too early for a detailed account of my recent adventures. I needed to ease my dad into all this. And maybe I needed time too. Everything was too fresh, too vivid, and already, I could feel knots form in my throat as I tried to put words on what I’d been through. “I’ll tell you everything,” I eventually said. “But I need a little time.”
I thought he’d explode again and insist on knowing everything, but he just said, “Wait for me, honey. I’m coming.”
That sudden gravity, the renewed strength in my father’s voice, those made me realize how much I needed him right now. “Okay, I’ll be waiting.”
I sniffed. “Yes?”
“Can I speak to . . . March?”
I gritted my teeth and gripped the phone a little harder in response.
You see, back when I was a teen and went to live with him after my mom’s death, it took me less than a couple of weeks to realize that this father of mine, who sent me Mickey Mouse postcards and cutting-edge gaming consoles for my birthday, belonged, in fact, to a different species than my mom. She was an adept of what you might call . . . free-range parenting. As in: “I’ll be away for the rest of the week; you call that trattoria down the street to order your meals. Love you, chérie.”
Now my dad . . . Did you watch reruns of Airwolf when you were a kid? I did, and I wanted Jan-Michael Vincent to marry me and take me away in his supersonic helicopter, and we’d fire at the bad guys with the chain guns and blow up enemies with our rockets. What I’m trying to say is that the first time I saw my dad explode at a math teacher who had dared to slam me with a C- for sustaining that Descartes’s equiangular spiral equation could be used to predict the size of a giant, man-eating nautilus, I came to realize that mine was an authentic helicopter dad. Hovering, droning above school personnel, orthodontists, and shop assistants alike, ready to fire at the first offense. I learned to anticipate his outbursts and associate them with Airwolf’s theme: the rotor would start spinning slowly, then faster and faster, in tune with heroic background music, before a random Jeep on the ground exploded in a blaze of flames and smoke.
And so, as my dad waited for me to hand the phone to March, I could hear the low hum of the rotor, gaining speed. I gulped.
“Island?” my dad insisted.
March’s lips moved to form a silent, It’s all right.
I feared it would be everything but, and I’m somewhat ashamed to recall that he had to pry the phone from my hands when I raised it: my fingers wouldn’t let go . . .
“Mr. November speaking.”
As soon as March’s deeper timbre replaced mine, my father’s voice went down to a threatening hiss. I caught the words jail and FBI amid what sounded like a slew of gruesome threats.
“It’s all right, Mr. Halder,” March replied, his voice even—no doubt because the slightest hint of cordiality might be interpreted by my dad as taunting and would inevitably lead to another round of fire. “Please do contact the FBI, and ask for Mr. Clifford Murrell, who recently joined the International Operations Division. I believe he’ll be able to confirm that Island is not currently being held against her will.”
My jaw probably hit the floor at the same time as my dad’s. He went silent for a few seconds, allowing March to go on. “Of course, since you don’t trust a word of what I’m saying, first you’re going to call Attorney General Matthew Jensen, who graduated with you from Harvard and heads the National Security Division. He will no doubt look up Mr. Murrell for you and confirm his identity. Once you’ve spoken to Mr. Murrell, my assistant will contact you to arrange a private flight to Paris at your earliest convenience.”
Okay. He had prepared for this. Like, really prepared. I stared at March wide-eyed while, on the other end of the line, my father remained speechless. He was probably thinking he had been dragged into one of those thriller plots where mysterious assholes call you out of nowhere and seem to already know everything about you. “Island,” he said hesitantly. “Is she still there? Let me talk to her.”
“Of course.” March gave me back the phone with a little wink.
My dad drew a few feverish breaths before he asked me in a near whisper. “Honey. I need to know . . . is he dangerous?” I decided that if March was going to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, honesty was the only viable policy. Looking up at the interested party with a tenderness I could feel warming my chest and easing the tension in my limbs, I answered, “No, he’s not dangerous—not to you and me.”