I went to Carnus, and fell into one of the beds upstairs, unable to believe my father trusted me so little that he felt the need to break into my sedan. I tossed and turned for a few hours before getting up and showering, wanting to be presentable when everyone else arrived for the day.
Everyone expressed their concern for me when I showed up downstairs, but I told them I’d explain at lunch, then Jonas and I set out. Everyone knew I wasn’t on very good terms with my father, but they were just as scandalized as I had been when I told them the story later that day when we gathered around The Round Table.
“All I know for sure is that I need an apartment,” I said, knowing they’d help me out in finding one.
“You can come live with me,” Eddie said, winking. I grinned back.
“Ignore him,” Padva cut in. “I know the perfect place. There’s an apartment available in my building, same floor in fact. If you take a look and like it, I could put in a good word for you. The landlord, Jimmy, loves me because I’m alway on time with the rent. Plus, I think he’s got a bit of a- what do you call it?- a ‘crush’ on me.”
So I made plans with Padva to go check out the apartment after work. Jonas and I finished out our day slowly, not having much to do. We circled back to Headquarters, where I picked up Padva. I knew where her building was, we’d had dinner there together before, and I’d given her a ride home on several occasions because she absolutely loathed driving.
I parked in a free space outside of her apartment building, which was only ten minutes from Carnus Headquarters. We went inside, stopping at the first room on the first floor, which was Jimmy Elliot’s -the landlord- office.
“Hey Padva, howzit?” Jimmy said when she swung open the door to his office. Jimmy was young, and I wondered how he’d come to manage a building. He had shaggy red-brown hair and thick black glasses. He was wearing sweatpants and a tee shirt, and his desk was covered in empty chinese takeout containers.
He slid his headphones off of his head to around his neck, and tapped away for a moment on his laptop before giving us his full attention. He was very obviously charmed by Padva’s good looks.
“I’ve got an tenant prospect for you,” Padva smiled, leaning on the doorway.
“Sweet,” Jimmy nodded at me, then turned to his desk to root around in the drawer. “Let me grab my keys and I’ll show you around.” After fetching a huge key ring, Jimmy stood. After locking up his office, he lead us to the elevator, which quickly took us to the third floor. He unlocked the last door on the left, three down from Padva’s own apartment.
Inside, the walls of the living area were an electric blue, which was startling, but I loved it. In the kitchen, the walls were lime green. The floors were all a light hardwood, which sort of clashed with the walls, but I couldn’t wait to see the other rooms. I was already smitten with the apartment.
“A gypsy lived here previously, believe it or not.” Jimmy rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed. “It can be painted over.”
I grinned, and moved onto the next room. It was a fairly small apartment, with a medium sized bedroom, a smaller one, and a full sized bathroom with a huge tub. Both bedrooms had purple walls, and the bathroom was red-orange, with a matching rug and toilet seat cover to match. “I love it.” I said when we finished our tour.
Both Jimmy and Padva seemed genuinely surprised. I thought the place had a lot of character. “Uh, alright cool. Come back down to my office, and we can discuss all the details.”
An hour later, I was in Padva’s apartment helping her prepare dinner, which she’d kindly invited me to. I’d paid for a rushed background check, which shouldn’t take long. Once Jimmy was sure I was clear, I would be able to sign the lease papers. The monthly rent was well within my budget and most of the utilities were included. It was a steal. I’d gotten really lucky that Padva knew of the opening.
“So exciting that we’ll get to be neighbors!” Padva exclaimed as she sauteed mushrooms on the stove. I poured us each another glass of wine.
“I know! I’m really excited. It’s about time I moved out of my parents place, anyway.” We moved into Padva’s living room, the tv playing quietly in the background as we talked.
“What’s the deal with your dad?” Padva asked, swirling her wine around in her glass.
“I literally have no idea. He’s never acted that way before. I’ve never given him a reason not to trust me… It’s all so weird. I can’t get over the fact that he owns a set of lockpicks,” I couldn’t help but chuckle as I recalled the image of my stocky father, hair askew, trying to break into my car in his blue and white striped pajamas. It was all so surreal. “I think it’s best that I distance myself for awhile.”
As if on cue, my personal cell phone rang- my mom’s picture on the screen. I excused myself to another room as Padva nodded and went back to plate our dinner. “Hi, mom.” I answered.
“Penny, what happened? You weren’t home this morning, and your father has been in a terrible mood all day! He won’t speak a word about it-whatever it is.” She harrumphed on the other end and I couldn’t help but smile a little. My anger had dissipated since early that morning. Knowing that I would have my own place in a few days had greatly lightened my spirits.
“Oh, he didn’t tell you about he tried to break into my car at three o’clock this morning?”
“What? Richard!” She called into the background, then I heard my father unintelligible grumbling. “You tried to break into her car? Why?” More grumbling. “That’s ridiculous. Unbelievable.” Mom scoffed and then she was speaking to me again. “I don’t understand you two. When are you coming home? I have dinner in the oven.”
“Yeah, mom, about that. I’m not coming home. Not for a couple days, anyway, and I’ll only be there to pack up my things. I think it’s time for me to move out.” I didn’t want to expose too many details, which would just lead to more questions from her. “I’ve got to go, I’m at a friends. I’ll call you tomorrow.” I said a hasty, guilty goodbye and hung up before she could fall into hysterics and rope me into answering more questions.
I spend the next several of hours at Padva’s. We eat dinner, watch TV and just hang out, talking about everything and nothing. She offered me to crash on her couch, but I declined because all my things were back at Carnus Headquarters. It was just after ten when I left Padva’s and I made my way back to HQ. I went upstairs when I got there, seeing Felicity was in the cubicle next to the one where I had out my stuff the previous night. We talked for a few minutes then settled in for bed.
Two days later, I took the day off and went to sign the lease for the apartment first thing in the morning. I went to my parent’s house to retrieve all my things. It took several trips to get everything, but I managed all of it except my bed. As way of making amends, dad helped me out in packing things up, then offered to take my bed and dresser in the bed of his truck. Mom and Dad helped me settle in, mom teary the entire time.
“My baby has left the nest.” She said at the end of the day, cupping my cheeks, tears spilling over.
“How about Sunday dinners? And I promise I’ll come back as often as I can.” This appeased her, and I wished them goodnight before I hurried to start making dinner. Natalie, Felicity, Padva, Eddie, and Aaron were free that night and all coming over for an apartment-warming dinner. I didn’t have much furniture, only a couple of chairs and an end table, but no one cared. We all sat on the floor with our plates of homemade meatloaf and talked and laughed throughout the night before it was time for everyone to go home.
I got settled in nicely and easily, and fell into a steady routine between work and home life. We all often had dinner together now, either at my place or one of theirs. Things were running smoothly.
We were all downstairs at HQ one day later that month, wrapping up our lunch when Holly came in, looking serious. “When you’re all finished, I’d like a meeting in the conference room.” Then she disappeared back through the kitchen door. We all finished cleaning up and piled into the conference room.
We all got seated, me between Felicity and Eddie, who kept kicking my feet under the table playfully.
“It’s time to get back to Operation Armana.” Holly said, placing several folders on the table in front of her. Silence descended on the room.
“Again?” Jonas said with trepidation. “Why? Why now?”
“There’s been an increase in activity and severity.” Holly responded. She turned to me. “Operation Armana was what your brother was working on right before he left us… well, sort of. Aramana is the name of a local crime syndicate. It sounds silly, but they’re tough, and they’ve been very, very hard to catch. Up until recently it’s been threatening, thieving, vandalism, you name it- Amana’s behind it.”
Holly pulled out a tablet and began tapping away while she spoke.
“Earlier this week a body was found.” She gestured to the TV hanging on the wall behind the table and everyone turned to look. There was an image of a dead man, his shirt torn open, with a piece of paper nailed to his chest. I cringed and rubbed my chest sympathetically, feeling sick. Holly swiped on her tablet and a new image showed up- a close-up of the note. It read: This is the beginning. -Casper.
“Casper?” I asked.
“That’s their leader. They call him that because he’s like a ghost. Never where we think, always two steps ahead. It’s ironic, because he’s anything but friendly.” Eddie told me. I recalled the stories and movies of Casper the Friendly Ghost I’d read and watched as a child.
“A while back, Toby was working to gather information on how to find them. We all worked to track them down, and finally figured out where they were stationed. Toby went undercover and befriended one of the members. He had comms on the day he went undercover and everything was going smoothly, until his comms when dead, and he phone was shut off so we couldn’t track him, and we didn’t have communication.” Holly explained slowly, looking at me. I assumed everyone else knew the story, except maybe Natalie. “We don’t know what happened. All we know was that he made it out. I begged his supervisors for information about him, about what he found out, but they wouldn’t tell me and they still won’t. Days later, we got the notification that he was missing in action. Months later, we found out he was dead.”
I swallowed, absorbing this information. “So it’s possible his death had something to do with this operation?”
“Yes, quite possibly. But like I said, they wouldn’t tell us anything. That same day, shortly after we lost communication, we went to the location, backed by the police, but the place was totally cleared out. There was nothing left behind, and everything was scrubbed down. We were back to square one, and we were told to back off, that someone else was going to handle it.” Holly sighed as she recalled the ordeal.
“I remember that.” Jacobs says. “I had just joined up here at the time. Armana is legendary.”
I nod. “More than I realized at the time. At lot more goes on in the world that civilians realize.”
“Please continue.” Olger says, looking more passive than she has all night.
“So what do we do now?” Jonas asked, running his hands through his hair.
“We’ve been given the go ahead to pick the mission back up.” Holly passed around the folders in front of her. “We’re going to track them down, and try to recreate what we did before. We’ve got to infiltrate and get information. We’ve got to find out who Casper is, and what their next moves are, so we can catch them at the right time and shut them down. One of us has to go undercover.” She hesitated a moment before looking to Jonas. “I’d like it to be you.”
Jonas looked stunned, flattered, and scared all at the same time. “Really?”
“You’re one of the best, and I think this is the job for you.” Holly smiled at him reassuringly.
“Yes, I’ll do it.” Jonas said eagerly after a few moments of thought.
Holly’s smile widened. “In the folders is all the information that’s been gathered for us thus far. We still don’t know all the details, or where they are, but that’s what we’re going to find out.” She passed another stack of folders out individually. “Penelope, I want you and Jonas to canvas some of these areas today, scope them out and see what there is to see. Don’t go asking questions yet, we don’t want to raise any suspicion.”
That was the beginning of our months long journey to locate and take down Armana.
“How’d you feel, knowing you’d be working on what supposedly got your brother killed?” Olger asks.
“I was scared at first. I hadn’t dealt with anything that dangerous thus far at Carnus. In a way, I was excited. I had the chance to help avenge my brother, and I wasn’t going to let it slip away. I doubled down, working harder than I ever had before.” I reply truthfully, uncapping the water that was recently placed in front of me before taking a drink. “I was ready to do whatever it took to help take down Armana.”
Read the next part!: Let Me Explain: Part Eight