Republisher’s Note: Michelle enters witness protection program.
Mistaken Identity by Lisa Chapter 5
The ride to Ben’s office was a quiet one. Michelle wished that Ross had been the one doing the driving. The agent well meaning as he was kept droning on about something she didn’t really give a rat’s ass about. Nothing he said drew her thoughts from what lay ahead of her. The warriors for the war that waged in her mind marched on. Each side fighting for their position. The logical side of her brain weighed the consequences of her staying while the irrational side ranted and raved about being forced to leave the only place she had ever lived. There was no winning this battle. Either side of the coin left her on the losing end. If she stayed to fight for her life…….it would be just that a fight for her very existence. Michelle knew deep in her heart that she couldn’t hide from people like the Santos’ forever. Springfield wasn’t that large of a community. Sooner or later they would piece together the fragments of what happened that night on the beach. It would only be a matter of time before she met with an untimely little accident or worse yet disappeared all together. The very thought left her reeling. There was no way she could do that to Rick and Abby. She couldn’t have them waiting by the phone for some news on what had happened to her. She couldn’t take the chance that they would be left to pick up the pieces without her. At least Ross’s way would give them the comfort of knowing that she was safe where ever it was she was going to be.
Yet that side of the coin had it’s downside as well. She may have been alive but Michelle wasn’t sure if you could call it living. She was still trying to imagine turning herself into a completely different person. How was she supposed to turn off Michelle and metamorphose into a new person. That concept baffled her.
The car came to a halt at the curb of Ben Warren’s office building. She swallowed hard around the lump in her throat as the agent led her to the elevator. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Ross standing by Ben’s doorway. In a brief moment of panic she thought that he had left her too. That was a scenario that Michelle was all too familiar with. And one right now that she wasn’t able to deal with.
“How are you?” Ross asked softly.
“Better now that you are here,” she smiled.
“I told you that I would be with you every step of the way through this. Are you ready to go in?”
“It’s now or never,” Michelle sighed while Ross was sure she was about to bolt any minute.
“Michelle…..counselor,” Ben said in his usual egotistical manner. The slap on the wrist had done little to tone down his opinion of himself.
“Ben,” Ross returned devoid of any feeling.
“Let’s get started shall, we?”
“Yes, let’s get down to business,” Ross concurred.
“Michelle, again I must ask….are you certain this is the path you wish to pursue? I have to make it perfectly clear to you that after you step out of this office the person you are right now is virtually dead.” Ben enjoyed the anguish in her soft brown eyes. He was the master of inflicting pain on those around him. He felt it was his just desserts for all the pain that he had endured growing up. It gave him great pleasure to watch those around him squirm.
“Ben,” Ross spoke up, “We have been over this time and time again. Michelle is well aware of what she is doing.”
“Excuse me….big brother, but I am not asking for your opinion on the matter,” Ben turned back to face Michelle, “Am I making myself perfectly clear? There can not be any phone calls to big brother Rick…..no letters with out of state post marks. Nothing that in any way could remotely be tied to you.” his voice grew louder with each passing remark.
“Your point has been duly noted,” Michelle said with more force than she expected. No matter what happened to her, she still had difficulty stomaching the man before her. He may have been working to save her ass but it was not without motive of his own. Ben Warren didn’t do anything that didn’t in some way benefit him. The only problem with this was Michelle had no idea what was in this for him.
“This isn’t a game, Michelle,” he was angered by her fire, “You can’t just quit and come home when you are lonely. There’s no going back once you start.”
“What Ben…….do I look like a complete idiot here? Do you think that this was an easy decision for me to make? I know what I’m doing so please don’t insult my intelligence by thinking otherwise,” her nostrils flared with rage.
The pair’s eyes locked across the table. Neither intending to look away first. Michelle wasn’t about to give Ben the upper hand and he certainly wasn’t going to let some teenaged girl get the better of him.
Ross watched from the sidelines trying his best not to chuckle. He thought he was witness to a very elaborate pissing contest. A contest that he knew that Ben would lose. Michelle was nothing if not persistent.
“Do you think that we could get on with this?” Ross finally asked after the showdown lasted more then ten minutes.
“Let’s get down to business,” Ben said as he moved behind his desk. The smile that ebbed its way across Michelle’s face caused Ben’s blood to boil. Why was it that the Bauers had a way of getting the best of him no matter what he did to stop it.
“I need your driver’s license, social security, credit cards and any other forms that identify you as Michelle Bauer. As of this minute she is dead and buried,” Ben couldn’t resist the urge to twist the knife one last time.
Michelle did as she was told and emptied the contents of her wallet. In one quick slight of hand, Ben scooped up what was essentially her life and dropped it into the shredder. The sound that the blades made as they cut through the plastic documents might as well have been shredding her soul right along with them. A single tear wound its way down her cheek. She would save the sobs for later. When Ben Warren wasn’t anywhere in sight of her. She wasn’t going to let him see her cry. She wasn’t about to let him enjoy her pain any further.
“Here.” Ben handed her an envelope.
“What’s this?” she questioned.
“You’re new life,” he stated.
Michelle turned the envelope end over end letting its contents spill onto the table. She ran her fingers through the items that made up the person she was to become. She looked at the credit cards, the University ID, her social security card and driver’s license. The words were nothing more then a mass of letter’s looking back at her. She wasn’t able to make sense out of them. Or more importantly didn’t want to. Since making sense out of them would acknowledge the fact that she accepted what was truly taking place.
Her words to Ben had been true. Yes she indeed did know what she was doing but she sure as hell didn’t have to like it.
“All the provisions have been made for you. Your records have been transferred to the University of Texas. You can start attending classes once the new semester begins. We have also started a bank account for you. Here is the account information. There are instructions on how you need to access it and who you need to speak to at the bank.”
Ben’s words flooded her senses sending them into overload. There was so much information to process. She was going to Texas of all places. She wondered how and why Texas? It was futile to even ask the questions that besieged her. She had given up her right to question when she had agreed to this arrangement.
“You are booked on the twelve o’clock flight to Galveston. From there you will be taken to your apartment………….then you are one your own.”
“On my own?” Michelle repeated.
“What am I supposed to do?” she could hear the fear in her voice but couldn’t put a stop to it.
“Whatever it is young girl do when they aren’t accosting men on the beach,” Ben jabbed again with a laugh.
“THAT’S ENOUGH BEN!!!!!” Ross interjected sensing the anxiety that Michelle was feeling.
“What……………?????” Ben feigned innocence.
“Michelle did you get all of that?” Ross did his best to be a comfort to her.
“Yes,” she returned yet Ross didn’t believe her. The look on her face was one of pure shock. All Michelle was able to do was sit and stare at her new identity. She was now to look in the mirror and see Melanie Branson……not Michelle Bauer. That was much easier said then done.
Danny wiped away the mist that had collected on the mirror during his shower. This was the first time in months that he saw the man behind the mask. The shroud had been lifted. The instant that Uncle Albert had agreed to Danny’s request it was as if a thousand pound weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
He felt alive again and full of the potential that Carmen had once tried to box into what she had desired of him. He could have shouted it from the roof top that morning. Shouted that he was finally FREE. Unencumbered of all the trappings of this dark and dismal life.
Danny wrapped the towel around his waist and went to make the final arrangements for his trip. He wanted everything in place prior to speaking with Carmen. He had no intention of backing down from this.
He listened as the travel agent read back his itinerary. Everything was a go. It was hard to believe that in a few hours he would be on his way to Texas. On his way to a better life. That thought filled him with a hope that he had long since lost.
Those hopes were dashed the instant his eyes met Carmen’s fiery stare. “Morning, mother,” he said cautiously.
“Daniel, we must talk,” she brought the porcelain cup to her bright red lips. Even in the morning’s early hours, Carmen was dressed to the nines.
“About?” Danny asked foolishly.
“What’s been done….or should I say hasn’t been done to find your brother’s killer,” her tone was caustic, “I must say Daniel, I expected much more from you. Your father entrusted his legacy to you and this is how you repay him?”
“For God’s sake mother, I was fourteen years old,” Danny said exasperated. Carmen played her guilt card one too many times for him. “What is it that you want from me? I would have said anything to Papa that night,” Danny choked back the memory of his father’s dying words. Migel’s raspy voice was an all too familiar sound. Each time that Danny wrestled with this decision that voice called to him from the grave.
‘You take care of things now, Daniel. You are now the man at the head of the table.”
“I want you to find your brother’s murderer. I want to you to cut them down in the prime of life. The same way that Mick was. It’s a matter of honor!” Carmen stressed.
“Honor my ass!” Danny shot back, “What the hell’s so honorable about this life of ours? From where I sit there isn’t a damn thing honorable about it!”
Carmen eyed her son cautiously. She certainly didn’t like the things she was hearing. The expression on his face was one that she was unable to read. That was troublesome to her.
“This life as you say with such distaste has made us a family of greatness. Those beneath cower before us,” Carmen said with pride.
“Listen to yourself mother. You enjoy being feared? You take pleasure in the fact that when people look at us they see a family known for raping and pillaging those less fortunate. A family that exploits weakness and kills when we find it necessary. Well, I don’t enjoy that image. The last thing I want is respected that way. Wake up mother……it’s fear that you are getting not respect. You maybe can fool yourself into thinking differently but I’m not that foolish!”
“You father was a wonderful man. He brought this family to the forefront with his vision……….”
“That was papa…….,” Danny cut her off, “But under your leadership mother we have had nothing but turmoil. You are so power hungry that you led Mick to the slaughter just like a lamb. You fed every one of his insecurities. You knew what it did to him to know that papa expected me to take the reins of this family. You used that to make Mick into nothing more then a thug. He would have done whatever you told him to do,” Danny cried.
“You give me far too much credit Daniel. If he had done everything that I told him Mick would still be alive don’t you think?” she questioned without so much as a tear.
Danny hadn’t witnessed one tear shed from his mother for her lost son. That amazed him. The idea that even her family was expendable was a driving force in his need to separate himself from ‘la familia’ and Springfield all together.
“You are one cold hearted bitch!” the words spilled from his mouth before he had realized what he was truly saying.
“Daniel!” his remark startled her, “I am certainly not accustomed to being spoken to in that manner,” she retorted.
“Well you better get used to it. Better yet don’t because…..I am on the next flight out of here,” he dropped his bomb careful not to mention exactly where he was going. The last thing he wanted was Carmen descending on his Uncle Albert.
“I am certain you heard me,” he returned.
“You are leaving? Just like that you are walking away from your responsibilities to this family?”
“FAMILY!?!?! What a joke. You throw that word around this house like it’s supposed to mean something. It’s been a long time since we have been anything that even vaguely resembled a family,” Danny laughed half heartedly.
“We are a family, Daniel,” she cupped his face in her hands. “You are my only son now. I can’t accept that you are turning your back on what you know to be the right thing to do.”
Danny pushed her hands away before speaking, “I hate it that Mick died the way he did. It eats away at me every minute of every day,” his voice cracked as he did his best to hold the tears at bay, “But me going out and enacting our revenge won’t bring him back, Mother. It won’t return to me the Mick I remember. The brother that I loved. The Mick I knew lately was everything that I despised about this business. Everything that I despise in you,” he whispered.
Danny’s candor rendered Carmen silent. To hear those words pass from her son’s lips to her ears was unbelievable. How was it that after everything that she had done to keep this family from falling apart that was exactly what was happening. Her husband was gone, Mick was gone, Pilar was gone and now Danny was threatening to go as well.
“Daniel,” she began.
“Save it mother. It’s old news to me. The lectures and speeches they don’t’ work on me anymore. I don’t want to end up the way papa and Mick did. I want more from my life then to die with a bullet in my back.”
“That won’t happen. I won’t let it happen to you. I love you Daniel.”
“I’m sure in your own way that you do. But that’s not enough for me anymore. I won’t continue to live this life. Nothing you can say will make me change my mind.”
“What you think that you can just walk away?” she laughed the edge returning to her tone, “You know far too much for the other families to accept you bowing out now. You may have been successful in never getting your hands dirty Daniel but that won’t matter to them. You are as much a part of this organization as I am!” Carmen sassed as she played what she thought to be her trump card.
“I am well aware of all that mother. But here’s a tidbit that you neglected to think about. Yes I know it all. Dealings that range from merely suspect, those that are highly questionable and those completely criminal. I know where all the bodies are buried…literally. I have enough information on our family as well as the others to send you all away for a dozen lifetimes.”
“Exactly what is it that you are trying to say?” Carmen questioned doing her best to keep her anxiety in check. She certainly didn’t want to show any fear even to her own son.
“You figure it out,” Danny quipped.
“I can’t believe that you would even think that. You would be sending yourself to jail right along with us.”
“That’s a risk that I’m willing to take.”
“This is ridiculous!” she bellowed in true Carmen Santos fashion.
“Maybe……but I will do whatever it takes to get the hell out of this life. Even if that means going to jail,” Danny said firmly.
“So what am I supposed to tell the others? How am I to explain that you just vanished?”
“I guess that’s your problem. I don’t care what you tell them really. Just remember that if anything…..I mean anything happens to me I have enough information to bury you and the others.”
“You really think that I would let them hurt you?” Carmen gasped in disbelief.
“I wish I could say that I know you would protect me with your life, but I can’t. The only thing I knew for sure you would die protecting was this way of life. And you proved me correct.”
“Daniel, where will you go?” she asked reaching for his arm.
“That’s not important.”
“What if I need you?”
“Don’t need me, Mother!” he countered.
“You have Dietz, Mother. He enjoys doing your dirty work…..so let him do it!”
Without another word Danny picked up his bags and walked away from his mother. His emotions mixed. He was elated to be free but he was mournful as well. What he mourned for though were days that had long since passed. The days when Carmen was his mother first and Mob Boss second. It had been years since that had been the case but it was still something that he wasn’t sure he would ever truly get over.