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Rosewood

by Laura Milanovich 2 years ago in fantasy

In the beginning

The rain came down hard, nearly obscuring the road, but the driver was confident in his choices, he’d driven in this, and worse, having grown up driving on the roads in the backwoods of the UK.

This was the second nor’easter to blow in bringing rain and sleet, but his task was grave, his cargo had to get to its target and back. The driver tried not to think about who he carried, as if the bad guys could read minds, he knew they couldn’t but it was superstition. He didn’t dare to think their names, afraid that he might slip and speak their given names, even out here, in the middle of nowhere, everything had ears.

One more trip after this and all would be well. In the back, David Gardener and Lily Gardener sat, with maps and pictures, planning how to start bringing back their house from the edge of ruin. Their two children, Henry, fifteen, and Anne, four, were waiting for them back at their house. They were taking one last load of stuff to the plane, and then as soon as there was a break in the weather, they would take off.

After that, none of them ever planned to come back to the states. But things were not going as they had planned, the storm was supposed to wait one more night, but instead it came in full force and as they made the last turn, they stopped, seeing flashing lights and what looked like a downed tree in the way.

“Stay here, I’ll go check.” The driver raised the internal partition, and closed the door sealing his charges in a bullet proof shell, very aware of all the people who currently wanted them dead. He got out and spoke with the officer, a longtime friend, shaking hands and checking the ID, he wanted to know how long it would be. The officer told him it would be hours, they had to wait for the wrecker and because of the storm there were lots of wrecks tonight.

The driver nodded and returned to his car, unaware he had brought death and disaster to the car. He backed the car up and turned away, prepared to go back for the kids and hope they had it cleared by the time they got back, but he hadn’t gotten more than a few hundred yards when his hands began to tingle, and his throat close, he began to cough, and choke, as suddenly it was as if he could no longer breathe air, and he jerked the wheel hard as he passed out at the wheel.

By now the vapours had started to get into the back, causing the two to cough and choke, no one was conscious when the car hit the shoulder, or when it skidded to a mushy stop, and no one was aware when men dressed in hazardous materials gear pulled a satchel out of the hands of David. They were dead before the fire from the ‘deadly solo-vehicle crash’ in the rain.

The only witness was a police officer who died later that night, and his secret might have stayed that way except that he had his body cam running, and years later, the tape, long thought destroyed, was found. It showed the driver, stopping to talk, the crash, and moments later the dark truck that pulled up, and the people who got out to sanitize the car.

*******

Henry David Gardener was fifteen, but he knew what his father did for a living. He’d known for a couple years when his mom had tried to kill him at eight because he found out she was a spy who wanted to kill his father. He still limped a little from the injury that she meant to kill him. Fortunately his father had gotten home early, tipped off by Henry that his mom was a double agent he came home to check on his son to find her standing over him at the bottom of the stairs.

The two spies fought and David won. So when he met Lily a year later, Henry made sure that she was well checked out before he trusted her. Learning what his father did for a living didn’t just change everything, it changed his world. And he was let in on the dangerous world of espionage.

Sitting here, seven years later, he had that same churning in his gut he had when he had read his mother’s letters to sergei about the secret his father kept. He couldn’t tell what was wrong, just that something was. And he knew, he’d spoken to his dad. If things went wrong, it was his job to protect Anne, she was the key to Rosewood. He had to protect her.

Rosewood was a word he barely thought about and rarely spoke, it was a secret so fiercely guarded it had cost his birth mom her life, and him the rest of his. Now that he knew the secret there would be those who would forever watch him to be sure that secret remained safe. And there were those who wanted to possess the secret that was Rosewood, the last safe place. Some spies called it “Elrond’s house” in passing, the “last homely house” the place they could all be safe. And it was being pulled from ruin.

Henry knew what to do, now wasn’t the time to worry, he would do that later when he had a safe place for himself and his sister. He picked up the phone and rang his father. When his father didn’t answer his call, a complicated system of ring-and-ring-back, he began to pack. When he was late, he began to get ready for the journey ahead. Pulling identities he kept in case of trouble, he sorted through them and put the extras in a dead drop his father used. By the time the sweeper team got to the house, it was locked tight, alarmed and according to a neighbor, had been empty a week, as everyone was on vacation.

At the safehouse,a block away, Henry was just putting his sister into her cold-weather clothes when he saw the team on the camera at the main house.

They were out the door and down the street before the team even knew the safehouse had been there. And the fact that there WAS a sweeper team told him a lot. It told him that if his father was alive, he’d gone to ground, but it also told him, most likely his father wasn’t alive at all.

They were lost in a sea of people on public transit in moments, transferring from one to another to obscure their path until they got to a house that he recognized. It had a red roof and tan sides, and there was a certain pattern to the tiles on the stoop. Henry knocked on the door. “Our house flooded, can we stay the night?”

“I told you to get the roof fixed,” the man said as they were ushered inside. The code told them that they were safe for now. He wouldn’t press his luck, he just wanted to get a few hours sleep and a hot shower, the last of either he might get in a while, before they took off. While he was there he called a number he had long memorized.

“Rosetti Brothers Flowers.” Came the voice on the line, it wasn’t a florist shop, it wasn’t anything, but a clearing house for messages. “Mr Rosetti Please.”

“Rosetti here,” Came the reply. The man who answered wasn’t a florist, he was a specialist, a spy whose job was to pass messages from one to another.

“David sends Roses.” He said quietly, telling the man he had only met once that he was safe and so was his sister. “Why can’t he send Lilies and Hawthorne?”

“I don’t know, some men just don’t know how to do things right.” The voice on the other end was steady but worried. “But the roses came through ok? He was worried about that.”

“Yeah, they came through fine.”

“Good.”

The code said everything and nothing. Anne was OK and his parents were missing. He hadn’t heard from them. That worried him but moreso the fact that a cleaner team had come for them, that meant enemy agents. That meant that someone who knew the secret wanted it.

He left messages at several telephone exchanges they used, but some part of him knew for sure they were never coming back.

They slept for a few hours and then were off again. Unaccompanied minors under another name to Los Angeles, there were contacts there who could help, at least he hoped there were still.

*****

“Rosewood House still stands” The boy had been known as “Charles,” most of his life, but there was another name, one a lot older, one that would get these people to stop treating him like an errand boy. “It shouldn’t be written off, and the paperwork allowing access is still in the wind so we can’t assume that its fallen into the wrong hands.” He stood up, even though he hadn’t been asked. “I won’t let you invoke order one, not yet.”

“How do you know about Her Majesty’s house at Rosewood?”

“Because I was born there. Well, not the main house, but one of the small ones.”

“I thought all those born at Rosewood were dead.” The voice was that of the head of security, the tone saying that he could remedy that.

“Only in name, When my mom died, I was nine, and they brought me to the mainland I ended up in a boy’s home. They changed my name, and my history so people wouldn’t ask where I came from. But I was born knowing more about rosewood than most.”

There was a heavy silence for a moment. It was as if they were all waiting for something, and then he heard it, the voice that sent shivers down the spine of any who knew their place. The queen herself.

“Good, then I leave it into your care, impertinent boy.”

No one argued, and she had always said she wanted it in care of someone who knew the place. “But to help you, we will have another man train you until you come of age.” The man turned out to be John Pace, an elderly gentleman who considered the house nothing more than a project to keep him busy until he died. While that was true, many things slipped through the cracks in the five years that he ran it. It wasn’t until he died suddenly when Charles was 20 that Rosewood had any chance of coming back.

*******

Sergei stood looking at the papers, they were rosewood house, but nothing that told him how to access it. The satchel the man had with him had been nothing but an overnight bag. Henry and Anne still had the satchel that contained the entry documents for rosewood, a thing that saved her life.

Anne didn’t know for many years that Rosewood even existed. She and her brother bounced from city to city and country to country around the world, they rarely stayed more than six months, and had both told the story more times than they wanted to count, so much they could almost believe it.

Their father was a wealthy businessman and sent them away to school. Whenever he got posted to a new place, he put them in a nearby school. After a few years, he was able to be her adult. They would only leave when CPS got called, leaving behind only a coded message for anyone who might understand.

Neither one of them had used the name Gardener since the night of the flight. And as the years passed they both became adept at changing identities and blending in, they had worked out codes and signs for almost everything and could, with only a moment’s notice, leave everything behind.

They had come back to New York when Anne was nine. Henry was now twenty. He left that morning for his job, only to be picked up by his own people later that day. They had found a long lost relative and wanted them to meet anne later that day.

His senses screamed long and loud, and he called her, leaving a message at school. Unfortunately, in so doing, he accidentally gave himself away to the very party he was trying to avoid. The mand called himself Gerald Young. But there was no way he was anything but Russian. The man was big, built like a boxer, broad shoulders and big fists, his features were russian his hair dark, his eyes squinty, and he definately didn’t seem trustworthy.

Besides not knowing him, there was something that made his skin crawl, something about this guy that set his teeth on edge as if the eyes belonged to a different person.

It would be years before he knew what set him off, and in the mean time he was forbidden from seeing her by Gerald Young, her new guardian. All this happened too quickly for his liking and he knew something was off but his sources suddenly stopped talking to him.

******

Anne was nine when she stopped running. Her brother had given her an emergency code and then vanished. He didn’t come back right away like he usually did. And she settled in for a long term hold. They had planned for this, for one or both of them getting stuck somewhere, but usually she thought that her brother would be with her. Now all she had was the training he had given her and a plan of what to do eventually. When her brother got free he’d send word, if he didn’t she’d stay here till she could get to the consulate and give them the right passwords to get out.

Her life got busy, and it wasn’t that she forgot, it was that Gerald was very controlling, he was also very dismissive of her past. He said that he knew her dad, that he put on airs about having a place in Britian, some fancy house with a name. Her heart skipped a beat but she didn’t correct him or give him the name.

She had a visitor when she was ten, a man who knew her father’s name for her, ‘rosebud’ but his face was so badly disfigured that she didn’t know it was her brother, what she did know was that he fought with Gerald and Gerald banned him from the house.

What Gerald didn’t know was that he had given her a package before he’d been discovered. A package containing the entry documents for Rosewood, they were worth their weight in gold, or platinum or diamond or a small country’s ransome because with them came a noc list every person who could access the place, and all known cover identities so they could access the island. Only the Garderner had access to that.

Anne was not just a Gardener by name, but the Gardener by title. What most people didn’t know was that in this case, Gardener was not a name they were born with, it was a title that everyone in the family who was cleared carried. To be a Gardener was to be in the know on Rosewood.

Henry could go to rosewood but he couldn’t run it, he didn’t have the clearance to. He could know about it. He could visit it when he needed it, but because of who his mother was he was considered too much of a risk to know where it was or any of the info in the file. And the file was still sealed.

The file stayed sealed and hidden for a couple years until she got a packet of envelopes and letters. Because they were mailed to her directly in an official envelope that looked like test results that wouldn’t interest him in the slightest.

In the old letters, mostly written in Russian, a language both of them knew, was a bent, grainy picture of a man she didn’t know named sergei, but it took a little while to realize why he looked so familiar, whoever had done the work was good, but couldn’t hide the eyes, Gerald looked like sergei in the right light.

The week before her birthday, a single postcard came, on it was a number that Henry had long since memorized, but she wouldn’t know. And a code phrase. “Pests in the garden”

fantasy

Laura Milanovich

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