Cotillion

Episode 12 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

Chapter 1

 

Ulysses David helped his daughter out of her coat, tossing it over the back of the chair. She slipped into her seat and picked up the menu.

“I’m not sure what I want today,” Sara said as she scanned the daily specials. “The Chicken Caesar Salad looks good.”

“I’m going to have the salmon,” he commented without looking.

“You always have salmon. Don’t you want to try something different?”

“I like what I like, I can’t help it. Besides, I’m pretty bored with the food offerings in Gale these days. We haven’t had a good new restaurant open in over two years.”

“Food snob,” she teased. Once the waiter had taken their order, she adjusted her napkin and leaned forward. “Can I ask you a question? Do you ever date?”

Yule’s eyebrow shot up. “Date? As in women?”

“Or men, I suppose, depending on your preference.”

“I’m straight,” he said matter-of-factly, then added, “Sure I do, on occasion. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you’re very handsome—though I guess I’m prejudiced in my opinion there. But I’m just curious. I mean, I know I’ve seen you with women on occasion, but I don’t hear you talk about anyone.”

“Between the office and my other responsibilities, there’s not a lot of time. Though I do have a couple of women I go out with here and there.” Before his daughter could continue her line of questioning, he pressed in the opposite direction. “What about you? I mean, I know you were seeing Martin Bling, but that’s over. Do you ever date?”

Resting her head on her hand, she sighed. “Not often. I’m busy, too. But that’s just half the problem. It’s hard finding a nice guy these days, so I just go it alone.”

“Well, that’s not what the media thinks.”

“What do you mean?”

Yule reached into his pocket and pulled out a clipping from the newspaper. It was an article by Lucy Juice, a local gossip columnist. The picture in the sidebar was of her and her brother.

“Oh, my gosh,” Sara gasped. “They think Michael and I are dating?”

The elder man nodded.

“Oh, my gosh,” she exclaimed again. “Did you read what she said? ‘This reporter is unsure who the mysterious redhead is, but she is a far cry from the women Bruce normally dates. A bit mousey, she is certainly no actress or model.’”

Sara’s lip jutted out and Yule felt bad for her. “Well, all they know is that you and Michael have been seen a lot together.”

“You mean I’m not allowed to go out with my brother?”

“Of course you are, but they don’t know he’s your brother.” Yule grabbed a roll from the basket and smeared butter on it. “This is actually a subject I’ve been meaning to bring up with you. I think we need to issue a press release or do something to publicly announce your relationship with Michael. Gale needs to know you’re part of the Bruce family.”

“Mousey,” Sara grumbled under her breath. “You know, I don’t want to be all glamorous and artificial. I just want to be me.”

“I know. But you’re part of high society now and have to get used to the scrutiny. Besides, I’ve been wanting to make a formal announcement for a while, and I think I have an idea on how to do it.”

“What did you have in mind?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“What is it again?” Sara asked as the sedan stopped at a red light.

“A cotillion. It’s a coming-out party. It’s a gathering to introduce you to Gale society. They’re usually big, fancy affairs, but Dad is keeping it low-key because he knows you don’t like it when people make a big fuss over you.” The light turned green and Michael shifted into gear. “They’re very popular. You hear about them all the time in the city column.”

“I guess it’s kinda like a quinceañera. I had one of those once.” Sara’s lips pursed. “But I’m not one of the rich people.”

“Listen, I know you feel uncomfortable about the whole money thing, but we need to let the world know who you are, not just the gossip columnists. Besides, I’m proud that you’re my sister and I want everyone to finally meet you.”

Even though her father and brother were excited, Sara wasn’t happy. She loved having a family, but part of her wished the wealth and status weren’t part of the package. “So where are we going now?”

“I want to get you a dress for the occasion. Something to make you look beautiful.”

“Not mousey?”

Michael glanced at his sister. “Sara, I think you’re very pretty. I mean, before I knew you and I were...” He blushed. “I was totally interested in you. Don’t listen to those gossip hags. They’re paid to create drama.”

The car pulled into the parking lot of one of the high-end department stores, and the two headed in.

“I love shopping,” Michael said, stopping at a rack of polo shirts. He held a dark blue one up to his neck. “What do you think about this?”

“It’s a good color for you.” Sara glanced at the price-tag. “Ninety-five dollars?!” Realizing her voice had pitched up, she lowered it to a whisper. “That’s insane.”

“I know, amazing price for a Ronald Taylor. I should get two.” Pulling a dark gray one from the group, he motioned to the escalator. “Dresses are upstairs, c’mon.”

As they made their way to the women’s department, Michael was greeted by several of the sales-people, who knew him by name. He started to scan the various displays.

“Gosh, a man who loves to help pick out clothes.” Sara sighed. “You’re a woman’s dream.”

“Not every woman.” He pulled an emerald-colored gown from the rack. “Green would look good on you, but that seems a bit cliché for a redhead. Ah, now this one...” He grabbed a dark-colored gown. “You would look amazing in this.”

It was a calf-length sheath dress, with sheer sleeves and a bit of a dip to the neckline.

“Try it on.”

Ten minutes later, Sara emerged from the dressing room. “Well?”

“You look great. Classic, conservative, and still a bit sexy.” Michael smiled in satisfaction. “Perfect for you.”

Sara couldn’t help but blush.

“Okay, change back into your regular clothes, then we’ll head to the shoe department.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The Walterhouse Country Club was located at the far end of Gale. Even though he hated golf, Yule belonged to the organization for social reasons. The large party room was filled with over a hundred executives, socialites, and other “important” people. There were politicians, debutantes, and personal friends. Normally her brother and father seemed reclusive, concentrating on work and crimefighting. Sara found it interesting to see them in a large social setting, mingling with the people they knew.

Navigating through the crowd, she was relieved to finally see a couple of familiar faces. Ravenswood Cadavre was dressed in a dark brown suit and tie, and Melody wore a sleeveless green gown, her hair pulled into an up-do.

Sara wasn’t the only one who had noticed them enter, and Michael hurried over to join them. “Hey, guys. Glad you could make it.”

Ravenswood grabbed a bacon roll from a passing waiter. “You know us, we never pass up free food.”

Melody giggled and looked around. “So many people here. It’s pretty exciting.”

“Well it’s a pretty exciting occasion.” Michael smiled at his sister. “Are you having a good time?”

“Yes. It’s lovely that you guys did this for me.”

Noticing her wine, he grabbed her glass. “You’re running low. Let me get you a refill.”

As she watched her brother disappear into the crowd, a tall, dark-haired Hispanic man approached and took her hand. “Sara? So nice to meet you. Mr. David has told me a lot about you. I’m Salvador Martinez.”

The name rang a bell and she realized she knew the man. “Oh, yes. I think we met once. It was a long time ago, though.”

“Really? I don’t recall. Where?”

“In Parai—” Sara stopped herself, the name of her foster family’s country hanging on her lips. She stammered. “Oh, wait, I think it was at a fundraiser in Bling City.”

The man grimaced but tried to remain polite. “I don’t think so. I work for Bruce International, and my home office is in Brazil. I just happened to be in town today and Yule invited me.” The man studied her for a moment and raised an eyebrow. “Though you do look familiar. Were you ever in South America?”

“Here’s your drink,” Michael said as he re-joined the group.

Sara grabbed the glass and swallowed it down. “Thank you, Michael. You know, I think I heard someone call my name from the other room. Will you all excuse me?”

“Of course,” Martinez said with a smile. “Nice meeting you.”

Hurrying away, Sara cringed. It was getting harder and harder to hide her past, and it was bound to get more difficult as she got deeper into Gale society. Sooner or later the truth was going to come out, and she was unsure how her family would handle it.

Trying to fight off a panic attack, she headed for the ladies’ room. A few moments alone and a touch-up of make-up both sounded appealing.

The main party room fed into a long hallway, a series of payphones lining the wall. As she made it to the far end, she could see two men standing by an ATM. A short man with tattoos was making a transaction while a heavier man flipped through a magazine. As she approached, both turned their heads and looked her up and down.

Slipping into the washroom, Sara moved to the sink and splashed water on her face. “Just a couple more hours,” she reminded herself.

A tall blonde stepped from the stall and moved to the mirror. “Are you here for the party?” she asked as she tousled her hair. “I heard Michael Bruce is throwing a shindig. Lots of big-shots in there.”

“Yeah, I’m here with that party.”

“I wish I was. I’d love to get close to some of those billionaires.”

Rolling on some lipgloss, Sara regarded her reflection for a moment before giving a polite nod and heading back to the door. As her hand fell on the knob, she hesitated.

“Anything wrong?” the blonde asked.

“Did you see those guys when you walked in? They were in suits and all, but they don’t look like they belong here. I’m kinda nervous to go out.”

“Well, just take a peek and see if they’re still there.”

Sara opened the door a crack. “I see one of them, but the other seems to be gone—”

A hand snaked around her waist and Sara had just opened her mouth to scream when another hand slapped across her face. Under normal circumstances, she would have been able to free herself easily. However, her attacker had placed a wet rag over her mouth and nose. As she sucked in a breath, she could smell it was some sort of chemical. Her limbs started to become heavy as her eyes blurred.

“I got her,” the woman said in a harsh whisper.

The door opened to reveal the man with the tattoos. Sara tried to struggle, but her consciousness was already starting to fade.

“Good job, Baby,” the man said, his accent thick and British.

As her eyelids descended, Sara saw him lean in close.

“Ooh, she’s a nice prize. Bennie, bring the van around to the back.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The party was in full swing and Michael Bruce found himself bored. As much as he enjoyed socializing, he couldn’t help but think he’d rather be on the rooftops of Gale. Black Torrent was a strenuous job, but he gained far more satisfaction defending the citizens of Gale than talking politics with its high-powered executives.

Scanning the crowd, the CEO looked for his sister. He hadn’t seen her since he’d brought her the wine, and that was over a half an hour ago.

“Michael!” Karen Jones was the matriarch of one of the more prominent families in Gale. She moved to his side and kissed his cheek. “Sara is such a sweet girl. What an amazing story of how you met.”

The cover story they had given the public was a semi-truth. Michael had considered the Gale Home for a donation, and through a background check had discovered the family connection.

“Well, fate has a funny way of working. I’m looking for Sara now. Have you seen her?”

“No. But, I’m sure she’s somewhere, charming the socks off of one of these young men.” The woman clasped her chubby fingers together. “You must bring her to one of my dinner parties soon.”

“I’m sure she’d like that, Karen. Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Making another sweep of the room, Michael started to get concerned.

“Hey, everything okay?”

The CEO turned to see Ravenswood. The man had an uncanny way of sensing when something was awry. “Have you seen Sara?”

“Not for a while,” the detective remarked. “She wouldn’t have left, would she?”

“No, not without telling me.” Michael could hear the worry in his own voice and he hated that his anxiety was showing.

“Maybe she went to the ladies’ room?” his friend suggested.

“I’m gonna go check. Wait here.”

The hallway to the washrooms was empty. Knocking on the ladies’ room door, Michael waited ten seconds for an answer, then stepped in. A quick scan of the stalls showed nothing out of the ordinary. However, as he moved to leave, he noticed the floor. There were dark scuff marks, as if someone had slipped, or...

Yanking open the door, he rushed back to the main room.

“Is everything all right?” Ravenswood asked.

“We gotta find Sara, now.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

Not wanting to waste time explaining himself twice, Michael grabbed the detective’s arm and looked around. Yule was in the far corner, talking with several of the company’s board members. Before he could make his way there, one of the country club’s staff stopped him.

“Mister Bruce,” the man said in a hushed voice. “I think you need to come with me.”

A sick feeling starting to gnaw at him, he followed the manager to a small area off the main entrance.

“We just received this,” the man whispered.

It was a ratty piece of paper, folded into three. The inside was covered with cut out letters from magazines, pasted together to form a message:

We HaVe YoUR sisTer. IF yOu eVEer wAnT to sEE hEr aLivE, doN’t CAll thE pOLice.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Aaron Brooks stepped out of the elevator. He’d been to the Bruce penthouse many times for parties and casual meetings. This time the scene was far different. Dozens of people filled the hallway, taking pictures and running wires. As he approached the door, a familiar figure stopped him.

“Hello, Brooks. What brings you here tonight?” Damien Hernandez was the captain of the blue light district where Crystal Towers was located. He was power-hungry and liked being in charge of the area which housed the rich and famous. Brooks smirked. His compatriot wouldn’t last a week in his precinct.

“No worries,” he reassured, grabbing the man’s shoulder. “The Bruces are personal friends. I’m not here in any official capacity.”

Hernandez hated being touched and jerked free of the hold. “All right, but keep it low-key. The feds are in there questioning the family now.”

Beyond the front door, the main penthouse was twice as crazy as the hallway. Uniformed police offices, security guards, and numerous men and women in suits milled around. Kidnappings were never taken lightly. Kidnappings of rich socialites were even more cause for concern. Scanning the crowd, Aaron caught site of Michael Bruce. He was seated on the couch, his face buried in his hands. A few feet away was Ulysses David, his eyes surveying everything going on. Ravenswood and Melody Cadavre were talking to a woman wearing an i.d. badge.

It took a few moments, but Michael finally glanced up and gave a half-smile in his direction. “Aaron.”

Shaking his friend’s hand, Aaron noticed his grip was much weaker than normal. “Are you okay?”

The CEO shook his head. “I just feel stupid. We made this big deal about throwing a party for Sara’s coming-out. I think we put a bulls-eye right on her forehead.”

“You can’t beat yourself up about that. Who could have known? I mean, there are parties every day for rich and famous people and nothing goes wrong.”

Aaron could tell the words weren’t consoling the man, and he also noticed Yule turn away to hide his own pained expression. Before the captain had a chance to think of something else to say, a woman approached. She was older, dressed in a tailored pantsuit with shoulder-length black hair.

“Mister Bruce, I’m Rebecca Caine of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m in charge here.” She raised an inquisitive eyebrow in Aaron’s direction. “And this is?”

“Aaron Brooks,” Michael introduced. “He’s a local police captain and a close friend. I don’t mind if he listens in.”

Pursing her lips, she pulled out a small PDA, a picture of Sara on the screen. “As you know, we’ll do our best to cover all avenues, but at this time we feel it’s best to concentrate our resources on the people currently closest to your sister. Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to harm her, or possibly your family?”

Something flashed across Michael’s face, so subtle that Aaron almost missed it. The CEO winced and shook his head. “Sara’s well-liked and respected. Though, through her work at the Gale Home, she has to deal with runaways, gang members, and other troubled youths.”

“She also used to date Martin Bling,” Aaron offered the agent. “He recently contacted her again.”

Michael turned, clearly surprised. “I didn’t know Bling had contacted her.”

Before Aaron could bristle at his faux pas, Ravenswood approached and grabbed Michael’s arm. “We’re going to head out soon. I was wondering if we could talk to you for a few minutes before we go?”

Across the room, Aaron could see Yule had already disappeared into the kitchen, followed by Melody.

Agent Caine didn’t look happy with the interruption. “Well, I really need to get this information. Perhaps you can wait a few minutes—?”

Aaron grabbed the woman’s hand. “You know, I work closely with Sara. I’ll be happy to tell you what I know while they say their goodbyes.”

The FBI agent seemed irritated, but agreed. “All right.”

Glancing back, Aaron watched the two men join their friends in the kitchen, his eyebrow rising.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Peeking out the swinging door, Melody assured there was nobody in the dining room.

“Mel and I want to go out and start canvassing,” Ravenswood said. “There’s got to be something out there, something someone’s seen or heard.”

Michael felt his heart sink. He was Black Torrent. His sister was kidnapped and in danger. As much as he trusted his friends, he was not comforted by the thought of them looking for her without him.

“You guys need to head back to the country club, see what you can find there,” Yule instructed. “Also hit the streets and see if there’s any buzz.” Pulling out a fold of bills, he handed it to Ravenswood. “In case anyone needs persuading.”

With a nod, the detective shoved the money into his pocket. “I assume the feds will be here twenty-four/seven for a while. I’ll contact you and give you updates on your protected phone line.”

“Be careful,” Michael said.

Melody gave the man a hug. “We’re worried too. We’ll do our best.”

Exhaling slowly, the Bruce heir watched his friends exit the kitchen. “What do we do now?”

“Wait,” Yule answered. “And keep our FBI friends in there preoccupied so they don’t suspect anything. C’mon.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

As Overcast and Zephyra approached the Walterhouse Country Club, they could see there were still two police cars in the parking lot. A uniformed officer stood by the door, looking over a clipboard before allowing patrons to leave.

“What’s he doing?” Zephyra asked.

“Making sure everyone’s been questioned. They have a list of everyone they’ve talked to. They want to make sure they haven’t missed anybody.”

“Why would they let people stay in the club if there was a kidnapping?”

“I doubt they would have said it was a kidnapping; they want as few people to know as possible. If the press were to get word, it would be all over the news, and that could mean Sara getting hurt or killed.” Slowing the car, he parked in a darkened area near the back of the lot. “The police most likely told everyone there was a burglary or something and asked them if they saw anything suspicious.”

The two crimefighters headed around to the back of the building and located a service entrance. Inside, they found themselves in a short hallway next to the kitchen. It was late and most of the employees were cleaning up. The pair made their way to the ladies’ room where Sara had last been seen. The door was propped open with a strip of yellow “Crime Scene” tape across the opening. Inside, a male officer was hunched over a sink holding a magnifying glass.

“Still looking for clues?” Overcast asked from outside the room.

Without looking up, the officer said, “I’ve found about two dozen single strands of hair from two dozen different people.” He looked up and saw who was speaking to him, but didn’t appear phased. “I’ve already checked the floor.”

Overcast took that as an invitation to enter. He ducked under the tape, followed by Zephyra.

“Are any of those the victim’s?” Overcast asked.

“We don’t know, yet,” said the officer. “We’re gonna have to take them back to the forensics lab. We do suspect Ms Wolff was here, though.” He pointed to a black spot on the floor. “Signs of a struggle. Our theory is she was kidnapped from this room.”

“So the perpetrator was a woman, then.”

“It could have been a man. Whoever it was, they would have surely had accomplices to get her out unnoticed.”

Overcast motioned to Zephyra. “If you had to carry someone the size of the victim out of here, how would you do it?”

Melody glanced around. “There’s no window and the air vents are too small to get a person through. So, out the door.”

“Right.” The two of them stepped back into the hall. “Now, there were a lot of people around. How would they have gotten her out without anyone seeing?”

“They would have had to bring this way.” Zephyra walked down the hallway and soon found herself framed in an open archway in full view of the ballroom. “But everyone would have seen them when they got here.”

“Not if she was inside something, like a serving cart or a laundry basket.”

“That’s true. Or if she was unconscious. They could have thrown a coat over her and walked out, like she was drunk or something.”

The detective looked around. “Let’s see... to get outside, they would have had to go out the way we just came in.”

On the inside, the service entrance door had a large handle with a warning printed in bright red letters: “Emergency Exit Only! Alarm Will Sound!”

“I wonder if there’s any way of opening this door without the alarm going off?” Overcast thought out loud.

“Oh, sure,” came a voice. The heroes turned to see a young Hispanic man dressed in a Walterhouse staff jacket. “I’m a busboy here. This is the door we use to take out the garbage. Here—” He pulled a key from his pocket and inserted it into the lock. The door opened easily... and quietly.

“I don’t know if a door like that is up to fire code,” Ravenswood muttered under his breath. “Does everyone here have one of those keys?”

“Nearly everyone.”

“Has anyone’s key gone missing?”

“No. The police already asked everybody about that.”

“Did you see or hear anything at all unusual tonight?”

“The police already asked that, too. I saw a van parked in back, right by this door. I was going to tell my boss to make them move, but then they left on their own.”

“Did they leave right around the time of the kidnapping?”

The young man frowned. “Yeah.”

“What kind of van was it?”

“I don’t know car brands. It was primer grey and the back was all dented up.”

Overcast mulled over the information. “Okay, did anything else unusual happen? Anything at all? Even a tiny clue could help us.”

“Well, there was one thing... I didn’t mention this to the police, because I didn’t think it was important. Freddie was bragging he got a $500 tip tonight.”

“$500? That’s huge.”

“Yeah, but we get those sometimes. Rich people come in here a lot, and sometimes they tip like crazy. Anyway, he was on cloud nine at first, then he got quiet and wouldn’t talk about it.”

“Is Freddie still here?” Overcast asked.

“I think so.” The busboy ducked into the kitchen. “Hey, Freddie!”

A young blonde-haired man appeared. He looked to be 17 or 18 and his expression was sullen. “Yeah? What—” He froze when he saw the superheroes.

Zephyra stepped forward, smiling. “Hey there, we’d like to ask you a few questions about a tip you got tonight.”

Freddie forced a smile but couldn’t maintain it long. Without warning, he darted past the crimefighters and headed towards the front of the building. He didn’t get very far before Zephyra tackled him to the ground.

“Aaggh! Get off of me!” the boy screamed.

“Well, that’s unusual,” mused Overcast. “Most boys your age would be happy to have a beautiful woman hanging over them.”

Zephyra grabbed Freddie’s arms and pinned them behind his back. “Should I let him stand up?”

“Nah, he can talk from down there.” Overcast knelt down next to the busboy. “So, who was the big tipper tonight?”

“I don’t know.” Zephyra twisted his arm behind his back. “Aah! I don’t know! Some guy from England!”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said Overcast. “How do you know he was British?”

“He talked like a chimneysweep, from the movies.”

The police officer from the ladies’ room heard the commotion and hurried over.

“Cockney accent,” Overcast said with a nod. “What did he tip you to do?”

“He wanted me to open the back door for him.”

“Did he have anything with him when he left?”

“You don’t have to spell it out for me. He kidnapped that woman. I know.”

“How did he get her out of here?”

“Listen, I swear, I didn’t know what they were doing. They told me she had gotten sick and they were taking her home. They had me check to make sure no one was looking, then they carried her out.”

“They?”

“The guy, his friend, and his girlfriend.”

“So there were three of them.” Overcast glanced over to make sure the police officer was writing down the details. “Did he say anything else? Where he was going? Anything?”

“No. Nothing. I swear.”

The officer leaned over the boy. “Do you still have the money he gave you?”

“What for?”

“I’d like to dust it for fingerprints.”

“Will I get it back?”

Overcast frisked the young man, pulling a wad of bills from his pocket. “Sorry, it’s evidence now.”

Freddie grimaced. “This sucks.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Consciousness faded back in slowly, and Sara was unsure whether she was awake or still dreaming. Her head was heavy and there was a slight pungent smell that hung in her nostrils. She coughed once and sneezed twice before her eyes fluttered open.

It took a moment for her vision to clear. From the bare cinder block walls and gray painted floor, it appeared she was in some sort of storage room. The area was mostly bare, just a table, two chairs, and a surveillance camera attached to a tripod. She was seated in a wooden armed chair bolted to the floor, with metal clamps around her wrists and ankles. Moonlight streamed in from what appeared to be two small windows, but she was unable to turn around to see them. Screaming for help was out of the question as a large piece of duct tape covered her mouth.

The urge to panic hit. Obviously, she was being held hostage. But for what? Logic would presume a simple ransom. However, there was a good chance that someone had guessed her secret identity and it was superhero related.

Fighting back the tears, Sara closed her eyes and allowed herself to get past the drugged feeling. She would have to keep her wits sharp if an opportunity to escape presented itself.

Don’t worry, her mind reassured. Your brother is the Black Torrent.

There was a noise and Sara’s eyes snapped open to see the man from the country club standing in the doorway. He was now dressed in a pair of jeans and a tank top that gave clear view of the numerous tattoos up and down his arms. Behind him walked the woman from the washroom, dressed in a form-fitting denim catsuit.

“Our guest is awake,” the man announced, his accent telling her he was most likely from the East End of London.

Even though Sara was struggling to keep a poker face, she knew she was glaring at the man. He let out a long laugh.

“My, for such a little girl, you have such a serious expression.”

The heavyset man from the ATM sauntered in, taking a bite out of an apple. “She is cute. Much better than that hag we grabbed back in September.”

The revelation was important. These were serial kidnappers.

“So, Baby, tell me. How much do you think our little redhead is worth here?”

The woman walked up to her, studying her face before moving around the chair. “I dunno. A million and a half?”

“Oh, but she’s a Bruce heir. Much more valuable merchandise.”

“Ten million,” the other man said, his mouth full of Honeycrisp.

“Reasonable, I would say, but I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves. I was thinking five million.”

“Good idea, Nigel,” the woman purred.

Despite the severity of the situation, Sara found a small relief that she was being held for ransom instead of something connected with her crimefighting. Nevertheless, being bound and helpless was terrifying, and she couldn’t help but let a few tears escape down her cheek.

With a smug smile, the man approached her. “Don’t worry, love. If you behave and your family cooperates, you’ll be home in no time.” Motioning to the other man, he grabbed a sheet of paper and gestured it towards her. “Now, it’s showtime.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The Rambler made its way into a residential district and Zephyra looked out the window, confused. “Why are we going this way?”

“I’m heading to the Gale Home. It’s possible that someone she works with is somehow connected, so I want to look for clues.”

Even though they had known Sara for a few months, Melody had never been to the orphanage. A part of her was excited to finally see it, but she felt bad it was under such dire circumstances.

The car neared a large building situated on a sizeable patch of lawn. Pulling into the back lot, Overcast parked beside a small door. “C’mon.”

It was already past midnight and most of the lights were off in the main building. It only took a moment for Ravenswood to pick the lock. As she followed her partner into the small apartment, she gave one last look over her shoulder before she closed the door.

The crimefighters froze as they heard a voice call out, “Who’s there?”

“Shit,” Overcast whispered. “Go back, go back.”

Fumbling with the knob, Melody tensed as the room flooded with light.

“Ahh!” a female voice screamed.

“Ahh!” Overcast repeated.

Zephyra turned back towards the room. A brunette she’d never seen before was standing there, clutching her chest.

“Oh my God. You scared me to death.”

Overcast bowed his head a bit. “We’re sorry. We didn’t think anyone was here.”

From the bedroom there was the sound of a child crying. “Trevor, my son.” A small toddler ran out, grabbing his mother’s leg.

“We didn’t mean to scare you, Madge,” Overcast said.

Zephyra remembered that the woman was Sara’s assistant.

“I guess I have to get used to this since Sara’s a part of Team Torrent now.” Tears escaped her eyes as she pulled her son close. “The police were here earlier and told me what happened. I always knew she’d end up in trouble as Dark Flame.”

The boy in the woman’s arms gave a smile in Zephyra’s direction. Melody felt her heart melt.

Overcast took a step forward. “The only trouble is, she was abducted as Sara Wolff.”

Placing her son on the floor, Madge sank down onto the sofa. “I guess being a rich heiress is more dangerous than crimefighting.”

Zephyra wanted to argue against that point, but decided not to. Instead, she squatted down and motioned to Trevor, who toddled over in her direction.

“We want to look around, see if we can find any clues. Is that all right?”

Madge sniffled, more tears streaming down her face. “Yes, of course. Though I have no idea who would hurt her. She’s done nothing but help people.”

“Unfortunately, good people have bad things happen to them all the time.”

The words were too much and Madge’s composure failed; she broke into sobs. Zephyra sat next to the woman and placed a consoling arm around her.

Overcast bit his lip. “Zee, stay here and take care of Madge and Trevor. I’ll do a sweep and see what I can find.”

 

Forty-five minutes later, the crimefighters were back in the Rambler, heading back to Crystal Towers.

“So, nothing?” the female crimefighter asked.

“I had thought maybe Rufus Thorn was behind this. He certainly would have a grudge against her for the sniper rifle stuff a few months back. Plus Aaron mentioned Bling had contacted her. I didn’t think either of them would make a move at a big party like that, but I wanted to be sure. Looks looks like a dead-end.”

“So, now what?”

“We go home and get some sleep and start again in the morning.”

Giving a single nod, Zephyra remained silent the rest of the ride.