Children's laughter echoed through the park, rising above the buskers and the birds. Alice thought it was a natural thing that children were louder than the rest. Their maturing voices were trying to find their place in the world. Alice wondered if hers were the only ears tuned to the sound of children. She could easily sort out the various noises in the busy park and focus on the one she wanted to hear most. She followed the laughter to a group of children running in circles around a pole.
Long ribbons extended from the top of the pole to each child's hand. As they ran in circles they ducked and rose their ribbons over the other running children with smiles bright on their face. Alice guessed their ages between 4 and 8. He would be about that age now, Alice thought. She did the quick math and found the number to be 7. Jesus, she thought, had it been that long. The constant travel made time fly by. Three months in that country, two months in another, it never ended. The longest time she spent in one place was a small town outside Paris, and that was only a little over 1 year. It was tiresome all this travel. Every time they moved her she had to start all over again. New people. A new life. Nothing could ever take root, not while the cartel still chased her.
Diego was his name. The dossier the agency gave Alice was barren of details and that was the whole point of her mission. She was to seduce him, become someone he could trust, someone he would tell his secrets to. Alice did her job well, but it all went sideways. It was Diego who seduced Alice. She provided enough information to her employers back in the states, but never too much so that it aroused suspicion, and never anything that could implicate Diego. The dossier filled slowly with insignificant details, and Alice lived with the leader of Mexico's largest cartel.
Always in the back of Alice's mind was a voice telling her it wouldn't last. She knew one day Diego would find out about her. It took 5 years for that day to come. Diego, unbeknownst to Alice, had his own men working in her agency. They found her picture in a database, and Alice's world came crashing down. Diego was furious, but his love for Alice was greater than her betrayal. Diego defended her against his men, and he died for it. Alice was able to escape before they could get to her. Her agency extracted her and she had been on the run ever since. 7 years she'd been on the run. 7 years since she was pregnant with Diego’s child. The only way to keep him safe was to leave him at home. The cartel didn’t know about Deigo’s son.
Alice looked up at the children again running around their pole. Carefree. Innocent to the world around them. All they cared about was the sun finally breaking through the cold spell over the city. Alice would give anything to see her own son enjoying the same freedom.
The pathway curved around the park down a long stretch were people played sports in the grass. Up ahead, a hot dog vendor perched itself up off the sidewalk finding solace in the shade. Alice held her breath and walked towards him.
"Morning," Alice said in her broken dutch.
"Morning," the hot dog vendor replied in perfect English.
Alice stared at him for a moment as the man busied himself with turning hot dogs. She didn't want to, but the question had to be asked.
"What type of mustard do you have today?" Alice asked, as she asked every Tuesday for the past two months.
The man stopped rolling his hot dogs and looked at her behind his shaded rectangle glasses.
He responded, "I had a pure-breed Schnauzer but now he only has three legs."
Alice closed her eyes and released the breath she held before. Where would they send her now? Iceland? Russia perhaps? She didn't care. There was only one place she wanted to go, and it was the one place she could not. Alice opened her eyes and walked to the newsstands further down the pathway. She browsed the headlines hoping for some mistake, but undeniably, there it was. A three-legged Schnauzer smack on the front page of Het Parool. Alice reached inside, lifted all the newspapers, and released a secret compartment. Inside was a brown satchel that Alice wrapped in a newspaper. She walked on through the park, opening the satchel as she walked, tired of the secrecy. Sitting on top of the other items was a single note card with 5 neatly written words.
"It's time to come home."
Alice, stunned at the words, moved the note card to the side to see the other two items in the satchel. The first, a Mexican passport with her actual name inside. The second, a picture of a 7-year-old boy, smiling eagerly for the camera.