Mr. Houston

At the age of 6, Courtney Jackson was stripped from his family and put into a secret government agenda to be trained to take on special missions as a "ghost"--as if he doesn't really exist in the system. When he becomes a teen, he rebels and leaves setting a new trend for the other kids who also find their own ways to leave after hi and use the skills they have learned throughout the years to help people in their everyday life. Everything is as "normal" as it can be when issues start arising bringing Courtney back to his past.

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3. HOMELAND ENEMIES

Beep.

Courtney stepped into the elevator. He knuckled his hand and pressed the eight.

 

Dallas?

Courtney had only been in the house with the other kids for only a week. Seven days since he had been snatched from his family.

The cops went through rules and instructions and a list of changes but, like most children, Courtney wasn’t listening. They put him in a house with many other kids who were left under the care of a few single women. He felt no resentment towards anyone but at the same time, he didn’t fall into a friendship with anyone either. He stayed alone and was quiet. He didn’t speak unless spoken to by an authority.

He hated the place he was even though they never told him a name for it. Everyone in the home referred to it as The House.

He only came to hate it more when Derick Locke showed up.

Derick was a big-boned kid and a few inches taller than average for his age.

“Where’s Houston?” He called out on his first day.

Courtney was sitting down on the floor staring at the news on the TV. He wasn’t listening or watching but his eyes remained glued.

“Houston!” He heard a voice calling but ignored it.

He wasn’t yet used to the name and wasn’t planning on getting used to it. He was still Courtney Jackson in his mind. The cops could only change what was written on his papers, but they couldn’t choose which name he’d respond to or referenced himself as.

A big kid stepped in front of him.

“You Houston?” The kid asked him.

Courtney didn’t answer.

“Listen.” The kid said grabbing Courtney by the shirt. “I just got here but that doesn’t mean that I won’t pound your face in until you answer me. Got that?”

“Oh, no.” Miss Taylor said from somewhere behind.

Miss Taylor was one of the younger women that was in the house. She was almost thirty though she looked younger. She had blue eyes which opened slightly under her blond bangs. She was always forcing a white smile that she seemed to perfect no matter what the case.

She went to Courtney and bent down then picked him up to his feet smoothing out his shirt with her palm though it changed nothing.

“You alright, hon?” She asked him expecting no reply.

She gave the big kid that practiced smile.

“We don’t touch other kids, OK? Now, I want you to meet Courtney Houston.” She turned to me. “Courtney, this is Derrick Locke.”

“No, the man told me I’m Derrick Dallas now. I’m from Texas.” The big boy said proudly. “Which means that one of us has to leave.”

“Oh, why’s that?” Miss Taylor challenged.

“There can’t be two Texas’. There can only be one.”

“There only is one.” Courtney said. “I’m Courtney Jackson, not Courtney Houston.”

That day changed everything. Dallas and Houston became known as the “Homeland Enemies”. They got into endless and unnecessary fights daily. Courtney finally started being active in the house.

When the police found out, they weren’t too happy. They forced the two boys to stay together in peace. Of course, that didn’t work. They came up with a plan. When the boys were halfway through their eighth year, they were put under apprenticeship five times a week. They learned how to control their anger and how to fight and defend themselves. The boys never grew to like each other but passing each other in the house didn’t involve three women pulling the two of them apart before either had the chance to rip the other’s head off.

 

Beep.

The elevator started to close.

Courtney looked up. He was on his floor. Sticking his hand in between the two metal doors, he exited and started for his apartment door. He stepped in through the front door and out through the back onto the balcony.

Minutes passed and he stayed sitting on the chair.

A blue Toyota parked and a lady got out. She opened the back door and a little girl stepped out. It was the Spanish mother and her daughter. He watched as the daughter helped her mother by grabbing one grocery bag while her mother struggled with what else she could manage to carry but still had some that she would eventually have to go back to get.

Courtney sat selfishly debating on whether he should go help her or not.

Before he could even give himself a final answer, he was standing at the elevator.

“Need help?” He asked as he approached them still at their car.

“Ah, thank you.” She replied in a thick Spanish accent.

Courtney grabbed the remaining bags and walked with them to the elevator.

“Thank you so much…” She started then waited for a name.

“Courtney.” He replied with a smile.

“I am Demi and this is Amanda.”

The little girl hadn’t taken her eyes off Courtney since they’d stepped into the elevator.

Courtney followed them to their apartment door where Demi put all the stuff down. She patted her front and back pockets searching for the keys.

“Amanda, did I give you my keys?” She asked her daughter.

No response from Amanda. Just a blink.

She dug into her purse and pulled them out.

She opened the door and Courtney helped take the stuff in and followed her lead putting them on the kitchen counter.

“Can I get you a drink?” Demi asked Courtney.

“No thanks. Do you need help unpacking—”

“No, no. I don’t wanna take any more of your time.”

“I’m not in a rush, if you don’t mind.” Courtney offered trying to get something to do to take his mind off of the news about Dallas.

He began to help.

“Amanda, come and help please.” Demi said to her daughter in Spanish.

The little girl started helping put some of the groceries in the fridge and low cabinets.

“Does she understand English?” Courtney asked looking at Amanda.

Demi lifted her eyes to her daughter.

“Very well.” She replied. “She can speak it too but ever since her father left, she speaks less and only in Spanish.”

Amanda looked at Courtney one last time before going to the living room and turning on the television.

“She was close? To her father?” Courtney asked.

“Yes. We divorced two years ago. Caught him cheating multiple times but that’s not what made me get rid of him. I found out that one of the women was carrying his kid. I couldn’t have that. End of story: he’s remarried.” She said with a pause then turned to Courtney. “You?”

Courtney lifted up his hand to show no ring.

“No, that isn’t for me.” He replied. “I’m not much of a family man.”

Demi back leaned against the counter and crossed her arms.

“What do you mean?” She asked. “Don’t you at least keep in contact with your parents? Any siblings?”

Nope. Haven’t for two decades now. He thought to himself.

“No. They’re all gone by now.” He lied instead to avoid the subject.

“Oh.”

They stood staring at each other without a word. Courtney studied the friendliness in her face. She had a mature look that made her look older than she actually would have been. She wore a smile that was fragile and had been through a lot but still stayed.

“So what do you do?” She asked finally breaking the silence.

“Graphic design.” Courtney replied without a blink.

That what was his answer for the question. People could never know his real name or real job so he was Courtney Houston the graphic designer. He could also back it up. He had a computer set up in his living room with editing software which he was capable of using. He even had business cards for his graphic design company he would give people. But only if they asked.

“Oh, really?” Amanda said intrigued.

“Yeah, I work from home.” Courtney added. “How about you?”

“I own a restaurant near here.” She said. “Demi’s. It’s just down the road.”

Courtney gave a convincing surprised look.

“You own Demi’s?” He asked.

She nodded and tried to hide a smile.

“Yeah, hence the name.” She said. “Not many people know about it.”

“Well, I can help you change that if you allow me.”

She looked up at him with lit eyes.

“You mean like making flyers?” She asked eagerly.

“Business cards, flyers. Whichever.”

She looked at him and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. Her smile slowly faded.

“Ah, but I don’t think I can afford it.” She said. “You people usually charge by the hundred, right? What’s that gonna cost?”

“You sound like you’re going through a tough time so I’ll do you a favor.” Courtney said. “I’ll drop the cost for you and I’ll do some flyers and business cards and even throw in some online ads for you with nothing having to come out of your pocket.”

She was speechless.

“Are you serious?” She asked as if he’d just played a dirty joke on her.

“I’m working on something right now but as soon as I can, I’ll create a template and come and show you so you can work on filling it in with the restaurant’s info.”

She stared in unbelief. She looked at her daughter who was still sitting.

“Thank you so much Courtney.” She said.

“No problem.” He said and moved a foot closer to the door.

 

The phone rang.

“Echo the Techo.” Echo picked up.

“Listen, we’re gonna go take a sweep of the rich girl’s house. See what we can find.” Courtney told him as he plopped himself on the sofa.

“Who’s we? You and the girl or you and I?”

“All of us. In an hour.”

“Alright.”

“I’m on my way to pick you up then the girl.”

Courtney hung up and called the phone at the house where Rachel was.

“Hello?” She said fear tainting her voice.

“I’m picking you up in two hours. Get ready now.” He told her.

“Where are we going?” She asked still fearful.

“We’re going to go check something out. And you’re going to help.”

An hour later, he showed up to the house. He had told her two hours but showed up an hour early just in case Rachel was planning something.

He entered the house and went to the bedroom door.

“Ready?” He asked.

“I thought you said two hours.” She replied.

“I thought you said your name was Camila.” He shot back.

She stared at him.

“I didn’t know if I could trust you…yet.” She said.

“Same.” Courtney replied. “So I’m here an hour early.

They got into the car and went to Bianca’s house.

It was a large house painted brownish with hints of gold along the railings and window panes. There was a gate surrounding.

They approached the gate and Echo typed something into the passcode. The white gate rolled left on wheels and they rolled in.

Beyond the gate was what seemed to be endless land in between the gate and the house. It seemed possible to fit an average sized house in the vast space.

They parked on the side then went to the back where Courtney observed the door. He picked locked the door but didn’t open it.

He stopped and looked at Echo.

“All security is shut down.” He assured him. “We’re good to go.”

Courtney twisted the handle and welcomed himself in.

“This house has cameras?” Courtney asked Echo who nodded in response.

Courtney gestured for Echo to watch Rachel. He pointed to Echo, then to his eyes, then to Rachel. He then approached Rachel.

“You see anything out of the ordinary and I want you to let me know immediately.” He said to her before letting her wander off.

Courtney walked around.

There were pictures of family hanging on a wall. Family pictures. Personal pictures. School graduation pictures. Award pictures. Pictures with celebrities.

Courtney stopped and stared at the picture of Bianca and Famke Jansson. He remembered the movie Taken. In the first movie, Kim, played by Maggie Grace, was kidnapped and her father Bryan Mills, played by Liam Neeson, used his CIA skills—though retired—to save his daughter. Then in the second movie, Bryan Mills attempts to get back together with his ex-wife Lenore, played by Famke.

Courtney stared at the picture and wondered. He wondered if Bianca knew that she would be kidnapped such as the daughter of the actor she smiled with for a picture.

But he knew she couldn’t have known. But he still wondered. And if she did know, how would that picture have turned out?

Then he thought about his sister and how he was taken from her. He stopped the thought and turned around. There were many expensive objects. None of which seemed to grab his attention suspiciously. He took himself to a long, expensive table and saw a laptop opened there.

Courtney went to the hall behind the stairs.

“Rachel?” He called.

“In the hall. Last door.” She replied.

Courtney passed a series of more pictures before getting to the door.

He opened it. It was a room. There was a pinkish-orange color on the walls. There was a bed in the middle with a table and chair immediately next to it. There was a dresser with a long shoe rack beside it. Empty. A mirror was above the dresser but there was also a mirror behind the boor. That one was a full body mirror. The closet was cracked open an inch but Courtney could see that it was empty for the most part. Some hangers did their job and hung on the railing. There was a window with pinkish-orange curtains which casted their color in the walls of the room.

“I would sometimes sleep in here when I visited her.”  Rachel said tearing up. “I loved waking up with the sun shining through the curtains casting this salmon color each morning.”

She looked around.

“Rachel, did your sister have any personal things that were stolen? A purse? A laptop? Cellphone maybe?” He asked her.

“Yes, they stole all of those things.” She replied choked up.

“Alright. Check upstairs if any of them might still be here. Also stay upstairs just in case someone knows we’re here and attacks. Don’t come down until I let you know you can. I’m gonna make sure everything’s safe.”

She nodded and headed up the stairs.

Courtney waited for her to get all the way up before dashing back to the laptop. As soon as he stopped in front of it, it flashed on and a video call came in. Echo was immediately by his side.

“Wait.” Echo said to him.

He dug into a bag and brought out a small laptop. He replaced the laptop with the call with the small one and connected a few cords to both of them.

 “Whoever’s on the other side of the video will think you’re using Bianca’s laptop camera but really I’m gonna have it here and see where the call’s coming from while you talk to them from that one.” Echo informed him typing furiously at the keys.

“Who said I’m answering the call?” Courtney asked him.

“Well, they’ve obviously been waiting for you and now you’re here. So guess what? I’m gonna answer the call for you, bro. Sit down.”

Before Courtney could fully get seated, the call was answered.

Courtney’s fist almost smashed the screen as he saw the smiling face that appeared.

“Houston!” The man said. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, long.” Courtney replied with dryness in his voice. “So long I forgot how to spell your name. Does Dallas have two s’s?”

“Wow, bitter, bitter.” Derick Dallas replied with a laugh. “Listen, I saw you hanging out with a cute girl. I was gonna guess girlfriend, but...you were never a ladies’ man.”

Courtney was already annoyed.

“How’d you know I was here?” He asked.

“I tracked you.” He replied with a smile even though Courtney knew it was a lie. “But here’s why I called: I know the girl. A Ms. West from Jacksonville, Florida. Smart girl. Cute even. Listen, I want to see her. Talk to her.”

He gave an evil grin.

“You can find a bunch of girls who look just like her on Tinder, Dallas.”

Dallas chuckled causing Courtney to hate him even more.

“You don’t understand. I know her.” Dallas said.

Courtney showed no signs of any emotion. He had been trained to hide them. Even the simplest twitch of an eyelash could give certain things away.

“How?” He asked.

“I saw her with some people. And they don’t look like good guys.”

“Well, she’s wanted by some people that aren’t exactly good guys.”

“You sure about that? You sure you picked up the right girl and it wasn’t a different girl with the same emerald eyes, Houston?”

“Where are you going with this Dallas?” Courtney asked annoyed.

“It’s not where I’m going with this. It’s where she’s going with this. And where she’s taking you.”

Silence.

“You know, we should get a drink some time.” Dallas said. “Talk. Laugh. Catch each other up on a few mystery years.”

“Alcohol kills dendrites. Nice talking to you Dallas.” Courtney said and ended the call.

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