Tightening the Snare

May 04, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert reluctantly hangs back, while Agent Coulson speaks with her wayward and on-the-run husband.

New York City - The Bronx

The only borough located primarily on the mainland of New York, the Bronx is the most city-like of all the boroughs. High rises and heavily traveled streets mark this area of the city. The sounds of the streets hold a music influenced by island nations to the south - Puerto Rico, some Cuba, and even further to the islands of Jamaica.

Located in South Bronx, Yankee Stadium is the home of the New York Yankees. In it's present incarnation it is a full, modern sports arena capable of holding about 50,000 sports fans (though this varies depending on the configuration and sport being hosted). This stadium opened in 2009, replacing the previous one which had been completed in 1923.

The Bronx River Art Center is a nonprofit organization offering art classes in various media, exhibitions and studio space to artists of the Bronx and surrounding areas. The classes center mostly on fine arts and digital media. Artistic events of various flavors are offered throughout the year.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Of all the major metropolises in the world, New York City is one of the most dangerous at night. Some call this time of night the hour of the wolf, when one's insecurities and doubts come to plague them, and all one can hear is the beat of one's heart.

Activity pinged on the surveillance that Coulson had established over the apartment rented by one Isa Reichert. Someone had very patiently and delicately picked the lock, but it wasn't a common street criminal – the cameras hidden throughout the premise show that it's the very rabbit they've been hunting.

As attractive as it might be to swoop down and pounce on him, spiriting him away to SHIELD custody, there are a number of factors that make it an unattractive choice at this time. There are just enough hints to point to Hydra operatives in the area, but not enough to isolate where exactly they are. There is also the possibility of operatives from the corporation lurking about. They don't play nice, and they seem to consider Makarov an important enough asset to pursue him.

Seizing Makarov and dragging him off might well endanger both Makarov and Coulson both; calling in a full SHIELD protection detail would simply take too long, and Makarov would get away.

So, it's a chance to talk, instead, unless Coulson has a clever gambit up his sleeve – a chance to peek into Makarov's head; to understand his motives, and maybe understand where he's going next.

For the time being, he'll find Makarov inside the apartment, the front door closed over but not latched. He seems to be going through paperwork in the living room's writing desk drawer.

Coulson's careful and methodical search of the apartment, meanwhile, had produced nothing out of the ordinary. All was more or less as she said, without much deviation. As he'd observed, she can fit her life into a duffel bag, and it seems that's exactly what she's done. Anything important was brought to the Triskelion with her.

The place looks almost unlived-in.

A chance to talk…or to slip him out of there. A gambit has, indeed, formed in Phil Coulson's mind.

That's why when he slips in he's in a red baseball cap, jeans, and a red polo-shirt, not his normal suit attire. He comes in through the building, but slips soundlessly into the building. Sending him back to the Triskelion would be madness, but…Phil has an idea.

He doesn't waste time being stealthy beyond what it takes to get into the apartment and block Makarov's access to the doors.

<"Operatives from Hydra and Icarus both are crawling all over the neighborhood tonight, Mr. Makarov,"> Phil says, in his flawless Russian. <"I am alone, I am unarmed. But it would be best not to make any sudden or panicky moves. Your wife has taken to calling you a rabbit, my friend. It would be a shame if you went running right into the snares of the people who have made your life so miserable over these many years.">

He lifts both his hands, as if to show he is indeed unarmed. <"I am Agent Phillip Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. clearance level 8. When last we met you asked how you could know I was genuine. If you will tarry a moment, I will give you the proof you seek.">

This time, he keeps his tone even and calm, unhurried, not urgent. As if this were a hostage negotiation, or a delicate arms deal that he's been asked to oversee. It gives him a steadfast air, the air of a man who might indeed be a safe port in a storm.

As the agent eases his way into the building, he'll find his quarry examining the papers in the writing desk, holding a little flashlight in his mouth as he scans over the documents. Nothing interesting, but maybe he's looking for something specific?

The flashlight bobs up as the door is blocked and the agent announces himself, in that fluent Russian, the type that doesn't betray any hint of an American accent.

His nerves must be shot. His response is a muffled yelp and to drop what he's examining, take the flashlight in one hand, and raise a worn pistol in the other. It could be a mirror to the Stetchkin that Isa carries, but it looks slightly older; more worn. So too does Makarov look worn. Somehow, he seems even more run-down since the last time he showed up on surveillance photographs.

The pistol lowers, very slightly, as Coulson explains himself; but it doesn't lower completely.

He doesn't answer, tired and suspicious eyes fixed on Coulson. The struggle is obvious on his face – weighing whether it's safe to trust this man, who seems to know his wife; whether it's truth or a lie.

"<Operatives from Hydra and Icarus are crawling everywhere that I go, Phillip Coulson.>" Makarov's voice is just a touch hoarse, and he makes an effort to keep it quiet. He does not lower his pistol entirely; where some might have nerves of icewater, his nerves are strung tight as wire. He's not going to think about lowering his weapon until he's determined beyond the shadow of a doubt that Coulson can be trusted.

He's wearing shades of charcoal; a turtleneck sweater tucked into black slacks, and combat boots a bit like Isa's. He has his wedding band on his finger, conspicuous in the gloom, glinting when the light glances off it. His face is set in a frown. The shadows under his eyes are even more pronounced in the darkness.

"<I am waiting for your proof.>" He wants to trust, that much is clear on his face, even in the poor light. But he knows better than to give in to that instinct.

Let him be in control.

Phil doesn't even twitch to have a gun aimed at him. This is an experience that he's had many times over the years. Mentally, he's calculating the distance; the move that would transfer the weapon from Makarov's hand to his. The thought is there and gone in the space of a breath. Just because one can do something does not make it the right play. Today, the right play is to stand there, unruffled and unthreatening, hoping not to get shot.

The way he is dressed pleases Phil. This will matter.

"I am going to touch my left wrist," Phil says, dropping back to English, sure that Makarov speaks it as fluently as Isa does, remembering why Russian might be a tongue to put the man more on edge than to sooth him. In slow, exaggerated fashion he brings his wrist out in front of him, touches his wrist watch. A holographic display springs up between them.

"Just touch the holograms to manipulate it, read at will," he advises.

The proof?

Raisa Ivanovna's file.

"While you read that, I'm going to tell you of my very first conversation with your wife."

And he does. In slow, even tones he describes the flight in the experimental Quinjet and the words Raisa said. He describes every reaction. He describes the points where she got exasperated with him, and the way she spoke of her life. Even the way she handled the cutting of the engines. All of it, with no detail left out, no nuance forgotten.

The proof isn't really the file.

The proof is in Phil's familiarity with the man's wife.

Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov is not a particularly violent man by nature, despite his profession. His heart isn't really in the doing of harm to others. The gun is just a little awkward in his hand, as though he didn't really want to use it… but the tightness in his eyes suggests that he won't hesitate to use it this time if he feels pushed into a corner.

There are a lot of corners in his life right now.

The pilot keeps the muzzle of his pistol trained squarely on Coulson's upper torso, watching warily as the man reaches out to touch his own left wrist. The lines around his eyes tighten as the holographic display springs to life. Those blue eyes flick between the display and Coulson himself, as though to silently question whether or not this is some kind of trap or deception… but he reaches out, oh so carefully, to touch the display and page through the document queued up.

It's all there.

Every detail, every nuance. His eyes flick through it quickly, half his attention split; first to watch Coulson, and then to listen to the story he has to tell.

Everything seems to check out. What he describes of her is accurate, to Makarov; the satisfaction is on his face. He is, much like his wife, an honest man, and one who does not hide his reactions with any particular skill. He is in far over his head into this situation, whatever it is.

"You describe Raisa Ivanovna well," he finally concedes, mouth pressing into a thin line. "This is her file. And that is what she would do, I think, yes. But I have a few questions before I will trust you. Where is she now? Is she safe? Is… oh, God. Barcelona. I heard a gunshot. Is she alright?" Mikhail Nikolayevich's eyes widen in tortured realisation. "She was not hit, was she? And, merciful God, that scarring – I only saw in part, as I fled. What…" He licks dry lips, looking at Coulson, anxious; haunted. "What happened to my wife?"

"Someone sabotaged her plane back in Russia. It went down, and she was pulled from the burning wreckage. She had to reconstruct her body, teach it how to move again. She had to teach herself to fly again with only one eye. When the Russians would not allow her to fly, she came to us. That was the only thing she felt she had left to her. Flying. Now? She feels she has something else."

Phil remembers a day over a quarter of a century ago where he held a gun in much the same way. A December day, the day his life turned a corner. He transformed on that day, from simple data analyst to budding field agent. 'Center mass, Phil, center mass.' That had been his own frightened mantra.

No, the way that Makarov holds that gun isn't particularly unfamiliar to Phil at all, but it does grow less concerning by the second. At this angle, Phil estimates, the bullet will probably nick his spleen. Survivable, if the man panics.

"As for Barcelona, yes, she took a shoulder wound. Had it been any more severe she might have suffered permanent nerve damage, but she's healing well. She is following doctor's orders to the letter in the hopes of flying once more. As for where is she? We moved her to the Triskelion quarters several weeks ago, for her own safety and peace of mind. She is my employee and my friend. I would like to be your friend too, Mikhail Nikolayevich."

The pistol isn't wavering, fixed firmly on the unassuming agent across the room.

"Jesus." His brow furrows as Mikhail Nikolayevich processes the full weight of that explanation. It went down, and she was pulled from the burning wreckage. That it was sabotaged, however, seems to garner a flicker of rage across his otherwise drawn face. "They crippled her."

His English is accented, only slightly less than Isa's, but it's perfectly understandable. He speaks as well as she seems to understand; maybe not quite fluent, but close.

Makarov eyes the agent, and there's no disguising the flinch when Coulson confirms that she had been hit in Barcelona. One hand reaches up to scrub at his face. "Oh, no, no. What have I done?" She's on the mend, though, on her best behaviour to heal up. Her goal is to pull herself back into the cockpit.

He couldn't blame her for that. It's his fault her life had turned into flaming wreckage. That she would feel she has nothing left but the sky is understandable.

Makarov lowers his pistol slowly, so slowly it almost can't be seen. He drops into the chair at the writing desk, but he doesn't put the pistol away just yet. He's not at all relaxed.

"So she is in the Triskelion now. I see." Already his mind is whirling, calculating the possibilities; how he could possibly sneak into that place to see his wife again. It's been five years, notwithstanding a brief glimpse in Barcelona. That was enough, though; enough for him to see the loss and misery on her face, the agony of those long years grieving.

If there had been any other way… being separated from her hadn't been his first choice, either.

Makarov looks up at Coulson somewhat dubiously, brow furrowed.

"I would like to be your friend, Phillip Coulson, but I cannot do that right now. You said that there are Hydra and Icarus operatives here. And that is why." Makarov shakes his head slowly, but his eyes never leave Coulson. "You see already she is in danger. Being around me is a threat to her, and I could not stand to see anything happen to her."

His eyes drop briefly to the Stetchkin he's holding. If it's true that she's a friend to this man – and he can't help a fleeting spark of jealousy at that – then hurting Coulson is likely not in his best interests. He's obviously not prepared to go willingly into any kind of custody, though.

"She could have been killed. The longer I stay close to her, the more she is at risk." Makarov gestures vaguely with his free hand. "Don't you see? I cannot endanger her…"

But his actions speak much more loudly than words. He can't stay away from her, either.

"If you won't go with me," Phil says simply, "We'll have to find another way to keep you safe while we straighten this out."

Reasonable, logical. Of course Makarov knows that for himself, Phil's tone says.

"But before we enact any plans to do that this evening, I need information. I have a great deal. I know that you're being targeted by Hydra, Icarus, and the Russian government. What I don't know is why. What sparked all this? What brought us to this point? Tell me everything you can tell me, here and now, so that I can begin dismanteling the threat against you. Then I will tell you how we're going to get out of this tonight, because sooner or later the men out there are going to get tired of waiting, and they're going to start closing in on us."

He gives a sympathetic grimace. "I know you might have an urge to play your cards close to your chest. But it is an urge you should resist, while you have the chance to unburden your cares upon an ally."

He shuts off the holographic display now that he's sure Makarov is done with it. Makarov lowers his pistol. Phil lowers his hands, but keeps them out, up, open, in place, as if he's ready to put them back into the classic surrender position the moment the Russian decides to raise the pistol again.

"This could be the only chance you get to give me the information that could protect you both. I urge you to take it."

Makarov seems to weigh his options. His eyes occasionally flick from Coulson to the apartment at large, as though he were still trying to decide just how far he can trust this smooth-talking agent. In his experiences, both past and recent, people who talk like that are absolutely not to be trusted.

Even so… right now his options are running a bit thin. Sooner or later, either Hydra, Icarus, or the Russians will close the noose that's been tightening around him for the past several weeks. One of those three are eventually going to put a bullet in his head, no matter how far he flees. Their reach is beyond his capacity to run, or will be, sooner or later.

Makarov silently passes his free hand over his face. He's obviously torn on whether or not he should trust Coulson. As it happens, trusting someone at face value is what got him into this mess in the first place.

Eventually, both pistol and summer-blue eyes fix on Coulson. He might have been a handsome fellow, if not for the stress lines on his face, or the hollow and haunted look to his eyes. Lord only knows when the last time he had a decent meal that didn't come out of a can or a wrapper was, or the last time he had a full night's sleep.

"I do not think I am finished questioning you, first, Phillip Coulson." Yet for all that he has a gun pointed at Coulson, his expression is pained, almost apologetic. He doesn't like doing this; that much is obvious. "Does Raisa Ivanovna trust you?"

Coulson could tell him whatever he wanted him to hear, of course. Even Makarov knows that, in his haze of exhaustion and anxiety. It isn't what the answer is that interests him, though – it's how Coulson answers that he's listening for.

Does Raisa Ivanova trust him?

A faint smile passes over Phil's lips. It's not quite the Cheshire Cat smile. It's something smaller, more fleeting, and more genuine.

"She told me that trust used to come very easy to her," he says. "She said that now, it's almost impossible for her. She asked me to help her trust again. She trusts me, but because she has nobody else. And also because she asked me to do a thing – looking into your case – and I did it. Though for all of that, she gave me her true name on our very first meeting, because deep down, it's just not in her nature to be as paranoid and closed off as her life has taught her to be. She craves connection. However, I think she continues to trust me because I am honest with her. I do not sugarcoat. She knows I keep things from her, but that's the job. Does she trust me 100%? No. I haven't earned 100% yet. I've only earned…"

Here his mouth twitches again, this time in an actual bit of tired amusement, "about 50%."

He finally lets his hands fall to his sides. They're starting to ache a bit, holding them up like that.

The pilot holds the pistol on the agent the entire time while he waits for an answer. That fleeting but cryptic expression is noted, and so is the apparent genuinity behind it. Makarov seems to consider it all very clinically.

That answer is given due consideration, as much so as he can do in the current situation. If he still had his pocket watch, he'd feel the second and minutes ticking by, and he would be agitated by that. It's only a matter of time until his backtrail gets picked up by the very people he's trying to stay so far away from.

But he makes time for Coulson, and he considers Coulson's answer with apparent gravity; eyes Coulson speculatively and silently as he does. It might be enough to make a lesser agent nervous, because Makarov is the one holding the gun, and outwardly he doesn't seem to reach a conclusion. At least, he doesn't reach it right away, which is enough to make a more inexperienced agent start sweating.

Phil Coulson is anything but a lesser agent. He is among the finest SHIELD has to offer at what he does, and what he does is generally whatever the situation calls for. Coulson's value lies in his ability to think outside the box, and to think on his feet.

Something in his own mouth twitches. There's a flicker of something behind his tired eyes when Coulson mentions Isa's isolation – guilt, and a great deal of it. Small wonder the man has barely slept over the past few weeks. His need to protect her and keep his distance wars with his desire to see her again, and eventually, that battle is going to tear him apart from the inside. It's a wonder he's made it this far without damning the consequences and going to her, or self-destructing.

The answer is given a little more thought, and eventually Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov nods, though the motion is very faint.

"You have obviously spoken with her, if that is what you have to answer with." Makarov's statement is slow, as though he were choosing his words with care. "I must agree with you. That is very much something that Raisa Ivanovna would say."

What he doesn't say is that he doesn't know that with certainty, because he was not there when she plunged, burning, from the sky. He was not there when she woke in the hospital, frightened and disoriented and in despair. He was not there to help her when she was at her lowest, after the Air Force had rejected her appeal to continue serving. He was not there to help her in the flight from Moscow, and he was not there for her arrival in New York City; a stranger in a strange land.

So much, he decides, that he wasn't there for. Five years of not being there, of staying away without ever knowing if she was really alive or dead, because he could not trust the word of his captors – yet he couldn't disbelieve them, either, just in case they were telling him the truth.

They'd been convincing, for the first year or two. He'd been absolutely convinced they'd had her in custody, at least until he could calm down and start thinking it through more carefully.

The gun twitches as Coulson lowers his hands, but Makarov doesn't look particularly threatened. He does look thoughtful; and tired, so tired. More tired even than Isa's been looking, lately, and Coulson's one-eyed pilot has very definitely been looking ragged around the edges.

"I think I believe you." His mouth thins. "But that does not change the situation that I am in, Phillip Coulson. I want very much to go to her, but I cannot do that right now. They will kill her. It does not matter that she is in SHIELD. They want for me to go back to them… but I cannot do that. I cannot do that any more than I can willingly place her in danger. So I cannot get too close. And I must stay one step ahead of them, always, because nothing would matter if I allowed anything to happen to her, or to me."

His voice is one of misery. He's been wanting to go back to her for five years. Five years of dreaming and longing, of remembering the good times past and knowing they would possibly never be in his reach again. Of knowing he had to let her believe he was dead; a wound that is a knife twisted in his gut every time he thinks of it.

"Ah, God, I want to trust you. I am so tired, Phillip Coulson. And I want to go to her badly. So badly. Bozhe! This is not an easy decision for me to make. But I must not go with you. I cannot afford to give them any leverage. She would not be safe." His expression is drawn; haggard. "Already she is not, if what happened in Barcelona is true. And it is. I noticed she was wearing a sling. Oh, yes," he adds, nodding earnestly. "I have been watching her. It is the only way I can be close to her, right now…"

Inwardly, Phillip Coulson sighs a little bit. This is the moment he realizes he's not going to get the full story out of Makarov tonight.

This is the moment he realizes he is going to have to see to the man's material well-being first. The man needs food. A bed. A shower. A safe place. He needs a gesture of trust from Phil. He can't keep pushing for the intel, however much he wants it.

Besides. There are other ways to get it.

"Here's the play," he tells him, just as if he is a member of his team, one of his own. "I came dressed like this for a reason. We're going to exchange clothing. I'm going to give you the key and the address to my apartment in Manhattan. I don't live on the campus. They won't expect you to go that way. As I came in I noted their routes; they actually do expect you to flee to the Triskelion, where your wife is, I think. I'm hardly ever home. I have a bed in my office."

He reaches slowly into his pocket and offers the key. "I will draw them away from you. I brought a black hat that will match your own gear nicely."

It's a little known fact. Hats and sunglasses are actually the world's most effective disguises. At this hour, in the night, a clothing swap should be all that it takes. "Go there. Rest. You'll find a bank of burners in my desk, third drawer. You'll find a bunch of pre-paid cards. I will give you my card. Text me upon activation. When you are ready to speak again, I will join you at the apartment. If you have to leave in a hurry, call me for immediate pick up and extraction. It's not a SHIELD safehouse, because I'd have to report your presence there. I do not have to report your presence in my own apartment."

And, with a certain wryness: "It will also offer you the opportunity to go through all my things." Fortunately, Phil keeps nothing classified at home, but…Makarov might well find things that give him his measure all the same. Phil doesn't know. It's less about what Makarov might find and more about offering Makarov that opportunity.

It wasn't a bad effort on part of the agent. If the pilot weren't in such poor shape, he might have been tempted to accept the things being offered him. He's too tired, though, and his judgement is not what it should be. He's very much on edge, to the exclusion of anything else, and it's all he can do just to place one foot in front of the other.

Coulson's offer is a tempting one.

What has he got to lose, really? Obviously this man really does know his wife, and if what he's managed to piece together of her situation is true, it really would be difficult to win her trust. He seems genuine in his efforts to help, although that might not be a meaningful measure of Coulson's sincerity.

Makarov sighs harshly, reaching up to scrub at his face, the other still holding the pistol, one eye fixed on Coulson at all times as he does.

"Yes. Fine. Yes, I will do that. Whatever you decide to do to me, it will not be as bad as Hydra or Icarus, or even the Motherland." His lip curls in disdain, very nearly disgust. The instructions are made note of, carefully. "In the desk. Third drawer. Pre-paid card. Text on activation."

The instructions are repeated back less out of sarcasm and more out of a genuine desire to confirm what he's hearing; something of the Navy habit of confirming instructions creeping into his exhaustion. It's the only way he'll remember. This is all new territory for him.

Really, the opportunity to search Coulson's apartment is an attractive bonus, because he really would like the meausre of this man his wife seems to trust so much; who seems willing to take really absurd risks to help both of them.

Why the sincerity; thee extension of an olive branch at the cost of the hand that holds it? He has to wonder what Coulson has to gain by it.

"I will accept your offer, Phillip Coulson." Makarov nods, faintly, though the gesture is slow and exhausted. He's too tired to run again, and even he knows he's at the end of his rope; the gas tank is rapidly approaching empty. "But I would… ask a favour, even if I do not have very much right to ask it."

"I don't want to do anything to you. I only want to help you," Coulson says earnestly. But he's already pulling off the red polo, the hat, the rest of it. He pulls a black cap out of his pocket and puts it on his head. He's wearing an undershirt under the polo, and this is all done in very efficient fashion.

Makarov repeats back all his instructions, and Phil takes it in the spirit it was intended. "You got it," he says.

Perhaps when he finally learns who Phillip Coulson is, he'll finally learn what it is, exactly, the Agent gains. Why he does what he does. It's as complex and as simple as this: he is the shield that stands before others, no matter the danger. He strives to be the living embodiment of the best his organization represents.

These are the motivations that would stump many, however, as many would see them as the motivations of a true fool.

Meanwhile, a burst of intel through his earbud. He truly would have been a fool if he'd come out here without a few people back at the home office watching the traffic camera feeds around this area. There's also all the surveillance in this apartment. All of this culminates in this moment where he sort of rolls his hand at Makarov, rather briskly. "Ask it while we dress; they're on the move. Both factions."

No sooner is Coulson pulling off various articles of clothing than the pilot does the same. He also has an undershirt, plain white, but no hat. His own attire is tossed toward Phil as he catches what's offered him, tugging the red polo shirt into place and frowning as he rakes fingers through his short hair.

It's all very quick and efficient. He probably realises that his pursuers can't be too far behind by now. Most of the time, he doesn't stop moving for this long at a time.

"I do not understand why you would risk so much to help me." Makarov shakes his head, tightening the unfamiliar belt and frowning. "Pomeshannyy." Lunatic. "But I am grateful all the same, if what you say is true, and if helping is really all you want to do."

He eyes the window before glancing back to Coulson. "I would like you to pass a message on to Raisa Ivanovna for me, if you would be so kind." The slightly sarcastic twist of his mouth suggests he's aware of the absurdity of such politeness. "I know this cannot be any easier for her than for me. Will you tell her…"

Here Makarov seems to stall, expression falling just a little. What could he possibly say to her, second-hand, that would mean anything in the face of what he's put her through? He could ask Coulson to apologise for him, but that would mean nothing after five years of hell.

It's something he really ought to deliver in person, if he can. The thought brings with it a flicker of longing. It's the little things – her laugh, the way she rolls her eyes at his dumb jokes.

Makarov manages a wan, almost sickly smile. "Tell her, Phillip Coulson, that I love her. That if I am successful, I will come home to her. I will not ask you to apologise for me for what I have put her through. I would not expect you to understand, either." Maybe he might; better than Makarov might think. Protection, at all costs; no matter what happens to he himself. "Please just… let her know I am thinking of her. Ah, God! I miss her. You do not know how much I miss her… but I cannot go to her. Not yet."

Going by the torment in his eyes, he wants to. It's not through any lack of care. Whatever he feels compelled to do, it must be tearing him apart inside.

"Very well. I will go, Phillip Coulson. Thank you. And please pass that message on to her for me." Makarov waits only long enough for an exhausted half-smile.

And then he's gone; quiet and smooth and on absolutely high alert as he goes.

If Coulson has the apartment searched again, he'll find that Makarov has left the apartment largely undisturbed, aside from some subtle rifling through drawers. Almost all of Isa's articles are left… well, if not exactly as they were found, then close enough to it.

There's only one thing missing. It's a Xeroxed copy of a newsprint clipping of Isa's last publicity photo, the one where she's laughing at the cameraman and brandishing her wedding band. Of all the copies of newsprint clippings she had left behind, that's the only one that goes missing.

Well, it's only fair. She took his watch, and it had the only photo of her he had been able to take with him.

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