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If There Hadn't Been You

by J.R. Zimmer

The following text is copyrighted 

Chapter One

 

 

 

June 10th, 1962.

New York City.

 

 

 

   Colten had came into this office expecting his boss to tell him to have a good time while on vacation, but when he heard what the man had to say, his jaw dropped from shock.

   “He wants me to do what?!”  Colten’s voice boomed. He all but leaped from the wooden straight-back chair, almost knocking it over in his haste.  “Is he out of his fucking mind?!”

   He began pacing. Or rather, one could call it a prowl.  His six-foot-two-inch frame reminded the other occupant of a dangerous jungle cat, gathering itself for the kill.

   Cadman Benson shrugged, ignoring the lethal expression on Colten’s face.  An expression that clearly said there would be hell to pay if what he had told him was anything other than a joke.

   With a sigh, he braced for Colten’s anger to go up a notch higher.  Because, no, this wasn’t a joke.

  Cadman said, “Listen, I’m only the messenger.”

   Colten stared at his boss.

   “They announced it during this morning’s briefing. And, by the way, everyone is still talking about the great work you did in February, with that swap.  It’s because you’re so damn good at your job, the President-”

   Colten cut him off; he didn’t want compliments; he wanted his damn vacation.

   What Cadman was referring to had been a CIA operation, not Secret Service.  But Colten didn’t work strictly for the Secret Service.  This unit Cadman headed wasn’t known to the public. It was made up of members from different agencies and allowed him to cross over from one to another if needed. Which was why he had been in Berlin; to help organize the trade for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in exchange for the American spy, Francis Gary Powers.

   It was old news. Colten had done his job, nothing more. What he cared about was the present. It was time for his vacation. He had been planning the trip for over a year. Through clenched teeth, he said, “I don’t care what the President wants me to do, he’ll have to find someone else. He approved my time off, damn it! I’m going home.”

   Benson’s hazel colored eyes roamed his office. Taking in the freshly painted walls and dark blue curtains covering the fourth-floor window, as he tried to come up with an answer. He knew nothing he said would appease the man standing before him. The stare Colten was directing his way was burning through every fiber of his being.

   When Cadman remained silent, Colten exploded with a string of curses. “God damn it!” He kicked the chair he’d been sitting in earlier, launching it a few feet into the wall. The sound it made when it hit was a resounding crunch. Without a doubt, the wooden straight-back chair would need to be replaced.

   “Why me?” he exclaimed, spinning on the heels of his dusty cowboy boots, as he once again faced his boss. He considered Cadman a friend and would want him protecting his back in a battle but, “Why me?” he repeated, hitting his right hand over his heart with a hard slap. “There are countless agents who would love, and I do mean, love this whole assignment.  Why would he pick me, for God’s sake?”

   Crap.

   His grandfather was turning 96 in a few weeks. The ancient man was spry and had his wits about him.  Colten wanted to see him before that was no longer the case. The man was a walking history book. The stories he told about his childhood, growing up in the Badlands of North Dakota, kept Colten riveted to his storytelling. They shared a love for the state of their birth, and a passion for quarter horses.

   Colten planed one day to build a home in the Badlands and open a tourist spot. One which would offer trail rides into that rugged land. The scenery was a breathtaking kaleidoscope of color at sunup and sunset. There was no place on earth to enjoy such a spectacular view, then in its heart while on horseback. He wanted to retire from this job and hoped to do so before his 40th birthday.  That was in ten years, but time had a way of speeding by. Then, suddenly, dreams were only that, vanished without having had the chance to flourish.

   Coming back to the present, and subject at hand, Colten repeated. “Why me?”

   Benson exclaimed, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t jump at the chance to be near Rosalinda Vallombrosa.  The woman is a babe….”

   “You do it then,” Colten replied. “I wouldn’t care if she were Marilyn Monroe or Jean Shrimpton.  I am not a goddamn babysitter!”

   Benson had the balls to chuckle. “Well, honestly, that’s what we are.  We just have a more glorified name.”  He used his fingers to place quotation marks around his next words, “Secret Service; we babysit diplomats.”

   “Rosalinda Vallombrosa is not a diplomat.” Colten snapped. “She’s an actress from France-” He paused, frowning.  Something about that last name seemed familiar, but he brushed the thought aside.  He strolled past Cadman to look out over New York City through the large office window.  Honest to God, he hated this city.  Wall-to-wall people and the population continued to grow as fast as breeding rabbits in the wild. For the millionth time, he wondered how he’d wound up here, employed by the United States government.  He wanted solitude and far less adventure. He was too young to be feeling melancholy.  Maybe the time to retire was sooner than he had anticipated.

   Wasn’t it funny?  Dreams had a way of turning around on a person.  Once he’d desired to be away from the heartache, but now he yearned to go back home.  Wasn’t that a laugh? He’d left North Dakota almost six years ago because he couldn’t stand the memories of what he had lost.  Now all he wanted to do was go back and have a fresh start; as though that was possible because no matter what, Caroline would still be six feet under and his son….

   He closed his eyes, feeling remorse.  When he made the trip back to the State of his birth, he spent more time with his Grandfather than his own son.  He did not know how to relate to Clinton.

   He told himself it was better for the child to be living with his grandparents.  Clinton didn’t need him in his life because what did he, Colten, have to offer him?  Being a part of the government’s Secret Service, Colten was never around, and Clinton needed a stable home.  Throughout the positive pep talk he gave himself; Colten knew it for the lie it was.  He stayed away from Clinton because he couldn’t handle the fact he had fathered a retarded child.  Harder still was not to hate that child for having been born the night Caroline had died.

  He hated himself for being such a horrible human being.  It wasn’t Clinton’s fault to have a slow-developing brain.  It wasn’t the child’s fault the umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck, cutting off his air supply during the birth.  For all Colten knew, had that not happened, Clinton would have been normal.

   Colten loathed himself for his shallowness.

   With a will of iron, he pushed the dreadful thoughts from his mind and switched back to the subject at hand.  Turning back to Cadman Benson, he sighed and asked one more time, “Why me? Surely there must be someone who would be more than willing to look out for the overrated star?”

   Benson’s eyebrows shot up.  His eyes wide in disbelief.  “Are you telling me you have never seen her perform?!” he exclaimed. “She’s a very talented woman.  Some say she has more talent than Monroe…”

   “That’s not saying much,” Colten mumbled under his breath.  He honestly did not think Marilyn had any more talent than a Tree Frog spinning around on a wire.  Others found her beautiful; he thought she was a bubblehead.

   Benson ignored the comment. “The fact is, we all thought Rosalinda wouldn’t mind having an agent who at least had something in common with her.”

   For the second time that day, Colten’s mouth dropped open.  His eyebrows flew skyward. “I don’t have a damn thing in common with her!” Seriously, had there been drugs at the meeting today with the president?

   “Well, sure, you do.” Cadman drawled. “You’re good friends with her distant cousin, Antoine Vallombrosa….”

   “Tony!” Colten roared, staring disbelievingly. No wonder the last name had sounded familiar.  “We are not good friends…”

   “But you know him.”

   “Yes. Tony’s grandparents spent time in the Badlands of North Dakota.  My Grandfather worked for them during that time, but we aren’t best buddies.” Tony Vallombrosa was definitely on his list of strange ducks.  It mattered not that the man was the current Duke of Vallombrosa since the man’s father passed away a few years ago.

   “You’re telling me,” Colten clarified, almost calmly, “That the only reason they have given me this assignment, is that I know Tony Vallombrosa?” It was another reason not to like the man, Colten thought with annoyance.

   Benson shrugged. “Yep. That about sums it up, you lucky dog.”

   “Lucky!” The word boomed out. “This is a joke, right?  During this morning’s meeting, all of you, including the president, thought it would be side-splitting, to tell me I had to guard Miss Fancy Pants.  Well, ha-ha.  I hope all of you bust a gut when you report back what my reaction was.” He spun around, grabbed his black cowboy hat, with its gold-tone accented hatband, and headed for the door. 

   “Colten, this isn’t a joke.  Rosalinda is being hassled by some crazy nut, and Kennedy wants you shadowing her for the duration of her stay in America.  The fact you know her cousin was simply icing on the cake.”

   Colten stopped short of the door.  Turning, he looked at Cadman and uttered a sound from his throat that could only be described as a growl. “Then if she is being bothered by some loony, which might I add, isn’t unusual given the fact she’s a celebrity, shouldn’t she have her own bodyguards?  Since when does the president want protection for a celebrity?”

   “She has security. You’ll want to report to the person responsible for that. But it doesn’t matter.  You know Kennedy when it comes to women, he’s a goner.  Besides, it’s at the request of President de Gaulle. I’m afraid France’s president is quite a fan of Miss Vallombrosa.”

   Colten rolled his eyes. With two of the world’s highest leaders involved in this ridiculous affair, there would be no way he could get out of this ludicrous assignment.

   He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to resign himself to the fact he would babysit some stupid actress, for God knew how long.  Oh, he was angry, pissed as hell.  He was a servant of the United States, so he would do the job.  But when this was over, he was going to the White House, and having a long talk with JFK.

   After getting the address of where Rosalinda Vallombrosa was staying from Cadman Benson, Colten decided to walk the distance instead of finding a taxi or using the government vehicle at his disposal.  He needed to walk off his anger before meeting the starlet.

   The sun was shining.  That, at least, was a bright spot in his otherwise dismal day.  The temperature wasn’t too bad, either. He had grown up where it could still snow in June if it had a mind to.  Usually, the temperature stayed in the lower 70s, so this New York high of 79 felt perfectly acceptable to him.

   As usual, the streets were crowded and the traffic insane.

   He saw it happen before the unknowing mark knew what hit him.  Cool as you please, the hoodlum bumped into the man. The young thief excused himself, and then, with the stealth of a magician, skillfully reached into the man’s suit jacket, lifted the guy’s wallet, and kept on walking.

   For a fleeting moment, Colten considered letting the young robber go. He reasoned, if the businessman was too dumb to know when his pocket had been picked, he deserved to lose whatever cash he had on him.  But then, in a split second, Colten headed after the middle-aged teenager.

   “Hold it right there,” Colten ordered as he caught up to him.  Of course, the kid didn’t comply.  He ran like a gazelle.

   Well, shit.

   Colten took off after the young pickpocket, weaving through the unsuspecting population as they cursed him for his recklessness.  He finally grabbed the kid by the shirt collar, twisted him around, and shoved him up against the wall of a dry cleaner store.

   “Hey, you dick, what’s your hassle?!” the kid screeched, trying to break the hold and wiggle free.

   “You’ve got something that doesn’t belong to you,” Colten told him, pushing him farther into the wall, letting the kid know he wasn’t going anywhere.

   “Are you in la-la land?!” The kid shouted. “I was just walking along, and you start chasing me!” His eyes darted around the now gathering crowd.  He must have thought it would be an excellent time to play it up and get this guy off his back because he suddenly exclaimed, “I thought you were going to kill me!” He let his eyes bulge as he pleaded with someone, anyone, to step in and help him get away from this guy, who was ruining his day of business. He had already lifted six other wallets, and the day was still young.

   “Hey now,” some brave soul said, stepping forward. “What’s going on here?”

   Colten narrowed his eyes at the would-be hero, and the man faltered.

   “Kid, just make it easy on yourself and give me the wallet. I’ll return it to the owner.”

   “Wallet?  Are you crazy, mister? I ain’t got no wallet except my own.”

   “Oh yeah? What’s your name?”

   The kid licked his lips nervously.

   At the end of the block, from the starting point of this whole chase, a voice raised in panic, “Hey, someone stole my wallet!”

   Colten’s grin was evil as he watched the kid squirm. “I just bet’cha, you can’t give me a name that matches any of the wallets you’ve got hidden in that coat of yours.  I also bet that guy down there,” he jerked his head toward the end of the block, “would be more than happy to give me his name. Because it will match one in those wallets.”

   By now, the fellow who had gotten his pocket picked was heading their way.

   Leaning into the kid’s ear, Colten said, “I’m Secret Service, Kid. You want to go to jail? ‘Cause I’ll make that happen. I’ll make it so you won’t see the outside world for a very long time.” He looked directly into those now honest to God, scared shitless eyes, and asked, “So, what’s it gonna be?”

   The kid laughed nervously. “Hey man, I didn’t mean no harm.” He fumbled in his jacket and pulled out a wallet, and handed it to Colten, just as the victim stopped in front of them.

   Colten used one hand to take the wallet, keeping the kid locked in place with the other, and flipped it open.  Raising a brow and glancing at the man in the business suit, he asked, “Are you Mary Ana Maria Gonzalez?”

   Business suit sputtered. “I am most certainly not!  My name is Jonathan Emmanuel Williams,” he said, and as though it were a second thought added, “The third,” in a snooty tone that had Colten wanting to adjust it right up the man’s superior nose. Instead, Colten looked back at the kid. “Would you like to try again? Another wallet, perhaps?”

   It took three more tries before the kid pulled the right wallet from his coat.  Colten handed the wallet to Mr. Williams, the Third, before patting the kid down for the rest.

   “Busy guy, aren’t ya kid,” Colten asked, handing the stolen property to the policeman who had shown up somewhere along the line. “But I’ll cut you a break ‘cause I don’t have time to write up a report. I don’t want to see or hear you’ve taken another wallet. Ever.  I’ll track you down and string you up by the balls if I do.”

   The kid’s eyes filled with tears. “You’re… You’re letting me go?”

   Colten nodded. “Just remember.  If you want to keep your manhood; you won’t be taking any more wallets.”

   “I won’t!” The kid promised, throwing his arms around Colten in a grateful hug. “Oh, thank you, Mister!” He took off down the street as fast as his legs would carry him.

   The officer shook his head. “Now, why would you let the kid go?  You know as well as I do he will get another wallet in under an hour.”

   Colten shrugged and headed back down the street.  He really didn’t know why he had let the kid go. He had been that age once himself, or maybe it was just because he hadn’t wanted to bother farther than he had.  The wallet had been returned, the others would be, and the rest was history.

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