Cotillion

Chapter 2

 

Michael walked into the small bedroom. He normally liked the soft teal and pink tones, but today they felt dark and depressing. Near the window, his father stood, staring down at the city below. Even in the dim lighting, Michael could see the tension in the man’s back and neck.

“Dad?”

Yule turned, his expression sorrowful. He quickly recovered. “Did you get any sleep?”

“Maybe an hour. Not much.”

“I think I managed about the same.” With a sigh, he pointed to the door. “The operatives downstairs said we should go about our normal routine. Like you can be normal under these circumstances.”

The younger Bruce was not used to seeing his father so unnerved. Closing the door for privacy, he sat on the bed, his fingers mindlessly sliding across the satin bedspread. “You know it’s only been six months since we’ve known her.”

“I know. But it feels like forever.” Yule took a seat next to his son. “I feel like an idiot having avoided her so long. I can’t imagine life without her now.”

Violent visions flashed through Michael’s mind. As hard as he tried to remain positive, he could only imagine Sara scared, hurt, or dead. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if something happens to her.” Rising, he balled his fists and paced across the room. “I want to be out there, combing the city, looking for her.”

“We can’t,” Yule reminded. “We need to trust Ravenswood and Melody. They’re good detectives.”

“I know, but I need to be out there, too.” He sighed in exasperation. “Who could’ve done this?”

“I don’t know. Anyone for extortion. I certainly didn’t have a lack of enemies in my past life. I suppose if someone figured out I was still alive.” He shook his head. “Whatever the matter, the Feds want to cover all recent interactions, then they’ll start digging back into her past to see what’s there.”

“Orphanages and foster homes?” Michael asked.

“You never know who she’s had contact with.”

There was a slight tapping sound and both men turned to see one of the FBI agents open the door.

“Didn’t mean to interrupt, gentlemen, but we’ve received word from the kidnappers.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

As the Bruce men walked down the stairs, they noticed two new agents talking to Rebecca Caine. When the woman caught sight of them, she raised her hand to reveal a disc. “A custodian at Gale International Airport found an envelope with the name Michael Bruce on it near the pay phones. It contained a DVD. We have the original down at our labs to analyze, this is a copy. Do you have something we can play it on?”

“Let’s view it in the study.”

The group followed the CEO into Yule’s library. There was a large screen television in the corner connected to an entertainment center. Michael fiddled with a few knobs, then motioned for the agent to place the disc in the machine.

The television flickered and the recording began to run. There was a white room with two small barred windows on the far wall. In the middle of the screen was a wooden chair. Sara was seated, her ankles and one wrist clamped down. Next to her stood a man with a gun, his face covered with a latex Ronald Reagan mask. Aside from looking disheveled, Sara didn’t appear hurt, which came as a relief.

Glancing up, she gave a nod and began to read from the page she held. “Michael. I want you to know that I’m okay. My captors have treated me well and will continue to do so as long as you cooperate. The cost of my safe return will be five million dollars. You will be given twenty-four hours to gather the funds in unmarked fifty dollar bills. You will receive another communication soon which will give instruction on where the money is to be dropped off.” Sara stopped, tears pressing from her eyes. The man next to her shoved her and she continued to read. “My captors know that the police are involved. They want you to know that if any effort is made to capture them, I will be tortured and killed.”

“Twenty-four hours,” a muffled voice spoke, distorted by equipment.

The image went black.

Michael stared at the screen, his mind committing the details to memory.

Agent Caine turned to the men. “I have to be honest, even though we were looking into possible local connections, given the nature of the abduction, we expected this disc.”

“This isn’t the first time this has happened?” Yule asked.

“No. Nigel Hawthorne. Professional kidnapper and extortionist. He’s abducted thirteen high-society individuals over the last seven years. He often strikes at parties or other public gatherings.”

“And you don’t warn people?” Michael challenged.

“He’s very clever and hits all over the world. He targets a wide range of social classes. It’s impossible to predict who or where he’ll strike.”

Yule’s brow furrowed. “What about his victims?”

“The good news is they have all been returned to their families, but the ransom has always been paid.”

Michael walked over to the fireplace, peering in. “So if we give in to the demands, the chances of Sara coming back are good.”

The agent nodded. “It’s our official policy to encourage families to pay the ransom if they can afford it, in order to assure the safe return of their loved ones.”

“But—?” Michael pressed, hearing the apprehension in the woman’s voice.

“Considering how long Hawthorne’s been doing this, we’d really like to see if we can ascertain where Sara’s being held and try to rescue her—and finally catch these guys.” The woman folded her hands in front of her. “Of course, we’d never do anything to jeopardize your sister, and we would urge you to get the funds together. in case we can’t locate her.”

The father and son exchanged a glance.

“We’ll have to discuss this,” Yule advised, then added, “In the meantime, I think I need to make a few calls to assure we have liquid assets.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

There was a clanking sound and Sara snapped awake. Sitting in the room alone proved both unnerving and boring. Her captors had not given her anything to eat or drink. Sara figured the tactic was deliberate. Lack of food and hydration would weaken her and make it more difficult for her to have the strength to escape.

As her eyes opened, the redhead noticed the two male captors entering. Nigel had a switchblade in his hand and was twirling it in his fingers like a baton. The heavyset man had a gun in one hand and was pulling in a long chain with the other. He walked to the wall and attached one end to a bolt in the concrete. On the other end was of heavy ring, which Sara could tell was a collar. He smiled and pulled the duct tape from her mouth.

“What are you doing?” she asked, turning her attention to the tattooed man.

Her captor didn’t answer, but instead turned to the doorway. Baby appeared, pulling a metal seat with a bucket attached to it. Sara recognized the device as one she had seen in many nursing homes.

“We don’t want you soiling yourself before your next performance,” the tattooed man smiled.

The rotund man opened the collar and clamped it around her neck, locking it with a padlock.

Nigel smiled wide. “I doubt you’ll get the best of us, but I don’t like to take chances.”

Bennie unbolted the hand and ankle restraints and motioned with the gun. “All right, missy, use the potty.”

Sara felt her face flush red. She noticed the kidnappers were deliberately standing a distance away from her, and realized it was so their captive couldn’t get a lucky swipe in on them. “I have a shy bladder. There’s no way I’m going to be able to go with you all watching.”

Nigel took a step forward. “I think you’d better get over that soon, because we’re not leaving until you’re done. And the longer we wait, the more angry I’m gonna get.”

Swallowing hard, Sara walked over and did as instructed. As she returned to her seat, her mind contemplated how she might be able to grab the gun from Bennie when he re-secured her. However, it wasn’t the rotund man who approached, but Nigel. He extended his blade towards her throat. Sara leaned backwards.

“Don’t like this, do you, love?” he asked as he motioned for Baby to re-secure the bindings.

Trying to remain composed, Sara forced a smile. “I don’t like knives or guns.”

“Yes, but you looked at this knife seven times, you only looked at the gun twice.”

Sara felt a bit of panic rise and cursed her carelessness. She should have been more aware of her demeanor.

It only took a few moments before the clamps were back in place. Baby removed the collar and tossed it aside.

“My family will never pay the ransom,” Sara said, her anger overcoming her fear. “They don’t give in to terrorists like you. I’d rather die than have them give in to your demands.”

Nigel’s eyes narrowed. “Be careful what you wish for, Miss Wolff. Though I’d love to have that five million, I’ll be honest and say I’ve often wondered how much fun it would be to cut up one of my captives and spread their pieces all over the city for their family to find.”

As Baby replaced the duct tape, Sara glanced down.

Without another word, the three left the room.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Ravenswood watched the video for the tenth time, trying to find anything to give him a hint where Sara might be held.

“So, the kidnappers just left this for you?”

“No,” Yule said, studying the screen equally as hard. “They left it for the Feds to find. They have the original, so no chance for analysis on our part. Michael was clever and streamed this into the Control Center when the agents played it—they wouldn’t even let us have a copy for ourselves.”

Pausing the video, the detective leaned back in his chair. Yule had come to the office under the pretense of taking care of business, but his real intent was to give Zephyra and Overcast a copy. Ravenswood didn’t want to let him down. “There’s tons of buildings like that all over the city. Cinderblock walls, bare floor. Could be a warehouse, a school gym, a garage. It’d be impossible to pick-out if we don’t have a shot of the outside.”

“It has to be an industrial building.”

“How do you know that?”

Yule paused the video. “The windows. They’re way too small and barred. An adult would never be able to get though them.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s why Hawthorne chose that location.”

“Yes, but Gale building code won’t allow those types of windows in a non-industrial setting. If there was a fire, people wouldn’t be able to escape, which is why you need certain types of windows in houses and schools.”

“Well, that helps narrow it down. Still, there’s hundreds of buildings that would still fit the bill.” Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Ravenswood concentrated. “This guy’s been doing this for a long time, which means he’s not likely to make mistakes.”

“I’m not so sure about that. I managed to talk to a few of my own sources. About two years ago he was in Amsterdam and abducted the son of a famous clothes designer. He was holding the boy in a high-rise hotel room and somehow the kid escaped and made it into a stairwell. Unfortunately, it was a security stairwell and the boy couldn’t open the doors to get out. Hawthorne caught up with him.”

“Poor kid. Well, that probably just made him more cautious. I mean, he has Sara locked up pretty tight.”

“True, but he was already doing this for four years when that kid escaped. It wasn’t an older kid, either. Like twelve. So there’s always a chance of him getting sloppy.”

“Sara is a superhero,” Ravenswood admitted. “All right. Melody and I are planning to go out tonight. We’ll do our best.”

The elder Bruce rose. “I’m going to head back now. The kidnappers are supposed to give us another communication in twenty-four hours, so that would be tomorrow morning. I’m going to convince the Feds to let you sit in, since you’re our security guy. Time is getting short and we need to crack this soon.”

As the door closed, Ravenswood whispered, “Yes, sir.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Nigel walked into the room, a soda in his hand. Sara found herself staring at it, desperate for a drink. With a smirk, he placed the can down next to the camera and approached her. “If you’re good and don’t scream, I won’t put this back on,” he said as he pulled the tape from her mouth.

The man’s eyes fell on her hands and Sara blushed. There were red marks and cuts on her wrists, signs she had been struggling to get out. The kidnapper’s mouth spread into a humorless smile. “I’ve stolen away many rich ones like you, and I have a perfect track-record. You’re only hurting yourself by trying to escape.”

Regarding her for a moment, the man pulled back his hand and cracked it into the side of her head. Sara reeled and she gasped in shock. His mouth twisted into a snarl as he back-handed her again, then smashed his fist into her face. The force of the punch was so powerful, Sara felt herself black out for a moment. Blood ran from her nose, dripping down her dress.

The kidnapper stepped back and regarded her once again. This time he smiled with satisfaction. “My, you look pretty. That should do nicely. Bennie, get the camera ready.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Overcast grabbed his flashlight and shone it into the window of the factory building. He knew the light might alert anyone inside, but from the looks of things it appeared the burned-out hull had been vacant for years. He just needed to make sure.

The illumination revealed three rats and a pile of debris. Grimacing, he pulled the communicator from his belt. “Another dud. We can scratch this one off the list.”

There was a pause before Zephyra responded. “This one, too. We’re running out of time and only coming up with nothing.”

He could hear the frustration in his wife’s voice. Unfortunately, he felt the same way. “It’s nearly four. We’ll each hit two more on the list and then call it a night.”

“Roger. I’ll report when I’m at the next facility.”

Clicking off the communicator, Overcast removed his hat and scratched the top of his head. Michael was understanding and wouldn’t hold their lack of success against them. But a part of him wanted to find Sara, not only for his friend’s sake, but to prove he could do it. He was a good detective, but he was no Black Torrent. For once, Ravenswood wanted to save the day.

As he was about to head to his car, he heard a distinct click behind him.

“All right, hands on your head and turn around slowly.”

He recognized the voice. “Captain Brooks.” He replaced the fedora on his head and turned to face the man.

Pulling the gun up and back, Brooks sighed. “Sorry, without the hat I didn’t recognize you.”

“Understandable. I didn’t realize this was your patrol area.” Overcast was fully aware the police captain wouldn’t be pounding a regular beat.

“I’m here for the same reason as you are, looking for Sara Wolff.” Holstering his pistol, he motioned his head towards the building. “Nothing in there but vermin and vagrants.”

Overcast nodded. “I was just about to move on to a new location.”

“The feds have their agents covering various buildings. Plus we have some of our men looking. There’s just too many possibilities in a city this large.” The police captain pulled several folded sheets from his pocket and handed them to the superhero. “You’re not supposed to have this, but that shows the areas the Feds are covering. I just don’t want you wasting your time looking in the same places.”

“Much appreciated.” Overcast started to walk away from the building, pacing himself so the police captain could follow. “Something’s bothering you.”

Aaron was trying to keep his voice level, but Ravenswood could hear pain in it. “The kidnapper’s been doing this for a long time. I know they say they’re going to worry about Sara’s safety first, but the feds are desperate to get him. I’m afraid they may do something risky.”

“And Miss Wolff might get hurt.”

“She’s a close friend and I don’t want anything to happen to her.” Stopping, he faced the superhero. “I hope you guys find her first.”

“We’re trying.”

Brooks nodded and turned. “Good luck in the rest of the search.”

Waiting until the man was in his car and had disappeared down the side-street, Overcast headed back to the Rambler.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael sat on the couch, flipping through the paper. It was a slow news day, only an article about the swearing-in of the Mayor was of any interest. Melody sat on the loveseat, filing her nails, while Ravenswood was seated in the chair, lost in thought. Yule chose to stand, staring out the picture window at the rear of the living room.

Glancing at his watch, Michael noticed it was already three o’clock. He had expected the next DVD would have been there already.

No sooner than he had closed the paper, the front door opened and a young agent walked in with a manila envelope. “They found it forty-five minutes ago at the Central South Train Station.”

Michael studied the man. The agent was trying to keep a stoic expression, but it was obvious he had seen the tape. Something disturbed him, and that disturbed Michael. Trying to stay calm, he led the group back into the study.

The DVD began to play on the widescreen television. Michael sucked in a ragged breath. Sara was seated in the same position as before, one hand free, the masked man next to her. This time she looked far different. Her face was black and blue, her left eye swollen shut, and her bottom lip was cut and ballooned twice its size—she had clearly been beaten.

“Michael. I want you to know that I’m okay. My captors have treated me well and will continue to do so as long as you cooperate.” Her words slurred from her swollen mouth. “The cost of my safe return is five million dollars. You should have gathered the funds already in unmarked fifty dollar bills.” Sara paused, struggling not to cry. The man next to her balled his fist and cracked it into the back of her head. Michael felt himself lurch forward in reflex.

“I’m sorry,” Sara sobbed, “I just lost my trains of thought.” She sucked in a breath, composing herself. “You’re to bring the money to the University Mall parking lot at three a.m. and place it next to the green dumpster behind the Dannon Department Store. Once the kidnappers are at a safe distance, there will be a phone call at the payphone located one block south with information on my location.” She scanned the rest of the paper, then looked up at the camera. “My face is just a warning. If you try anything funny, you’ll receive directions where to find my body.”

As the tape ended, Michael felt his heart sink.

Caine stepped forward. “I know this is disturbing, but you have to remember that all of the victims have gone through this and have been returned safely. On another note, we’ve just gotten word on a possible location of your sister. We’re sending in agents now.”

“Where?” Melody asked.

The agent shook her head. “We can’t disclose that for safety reasons.”

Frustrated and upset, Michael waved his hand. “I think we’re going to need some time alone, if you don’t mind.”

With a nod, Caine led the other agents out of the room.

Michael closed his eyes, the lack of sleep and worry carving deep lines into his forehead. “I’ve changed my mind, I want to pay the ransom.”

“What?!” Ravenswood gasped.

Exhaling slowly, he turned to face his friend. “It’s five million. It’s nothing. It’s worth it to get Sara back unharmed.”

There was a long pause and Yule nodded. “I agree.”

The detective rose, fists clenched. “No way. You can’t. Don’t you see, they did that on purpose. It’s all psychological. Show her all pristine and unharmed, then the next time she’s bruised and beaten. Shock value. They know most people will cave seeing that imagery.”

“Well, that’s pretty hard imagery,” Michael blurted. He lowered his voice, but the angst was still there. “It’s not your sister on that screen. Besides, two days have passed and we’re no closer to finding her than we were in the beginning.”

“Michael, this guy has gotten away with a dozen abductions. If you give in now, in few months someone else is going to be in a chair with their face black and blue. I may be off here, but I think Sara would want you to try to stop these guys.”

The silence slammed down again, and this time it seemed to last an eternity.

It was Melody who finally spoke. “What about the trains?”

Ravenswood cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“She said ‘trains’ of thought. Don’t you think that was something?”

Yule scooted forward in his chair as Michael cued up the disc.

Sorry, I lost my trains of thought...

“She did. Smart girl,” Yule said with a smile.

Michael thought a moment, then started the first video. “There, in the background. It’s faint, but that’s definitely a train horn.”

“So wherever she’s being held is near a train line,” Melody said.

“Lots of trains in Gale, but it helps us narrow it down.” Ravenswood walked up to his friend. “We have twelve hours. Give me that. If we can’t find her, you pay the ransom.”

Staring at his friend, Michael nodded. “Fine, but I’m going out, too. This is Sara’s last chance, I want to be out there.”

“How do you suppose to get rid of the Feds?” Melody asked.

“We don’t,” Yule said, rubbing his chin. “But I have an idea.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“Yes, yes,” Michael spoke into his cellphone, adjusting his cowl. “I have a meeting with my partners. They’re going to try to get me the last million. It may be late before we can get the funds, though. My goal is to have the cash by midnight. I’ll keep you apprised of my progress. Goodbye.”

Zephyra looked over at her teammate. “Did they buy it?”

“What choice do they have? As far as they know, we don’t have the full funds to get Sara back, so they had no choice but to let me go and try to scrape it together.”

Overcast seated himself at the Control Center conference table, bending over to adjust his boots. “I’m surprised they didn’t want to send an agent with you.”

“They did, but Dad told them it might spook our colleagues. They were reluctant, but agreed I should go alone if it helped my chances of getting the money.”

Do you have the money?” Ravenswood asked.

“Yes, if we need it.”

The detective adjusted his mask over his eyes and placed the fedora on his head. “Hopefully you won’t.”

Torrent stared at the map of Gale City on the computer screen. The train lines were highlighted in red. “All right, from the interior of the building, it looked like a standard warehouse or storage building. So, concentrating on buildings near train lines...” Clicking a button, half of the lines turned black. “We’re looking at this.”

“We’ve covered some of those in our regular search, as well as the areas Brooks said the police covered.” .

“Right,” Torrent nodded. With another click, more areas blacked out. Over a hundred locations remained.

Overcast sighed in frustration. “That’s still quite a bit of ground to cover in a few hours.”

Switching the screens, Torrent pulled up a series of photographs. “Well, I managed to access some satellite mapping sites. Unfortunately, they can’t get us in close to some of these complexes, but we can get an idea of the type of buildings they have and use that to rule some out.”

Zephyra slid into the chair next to Torrent and began scrolling through the photos. “That looks like a likely candidate. And that one.” She flipped through three dozen pictures, pointing out several among the bunch. “Looks like we have about thirty locations that are good possibilities.”

Torrent sighed. “That doesn’t guarantee any of them are it. Even with the three of us, I’m not sure if we can cover it all.”

Overcast grimaced. “What other choice do we have?”

“We have to think. This guy is clever, but that might be his downfall.” Torrent scanned the list of addresses that printed out. “This one. That’s one of our properties in an industrial park we acquired a few years back.” Looking it over, he saw several other familiar addresses. “That one, and that one, and that... There’s seven of our properties here.”

“Well, you do own a good chunk of the city,” Overcast said.

Torrent rubbed his chin. “So, if you’re a kidnapper and trying to avoid getting caught, and you think yourself quite clever, what do you do?”

“Hide out at a Bruce property,” Zephyra said with a smile.

“Right,” Overcast agreed. “And the Feds would most likely rule out those properties, figuring he wouldn’t risk being caught there.”

Torrent pressed his fists against the table. “Seven properties. We can handle that in a few hours. Each of you take two, I’ll take the last three. If it’s a bust, we’ll start on the rest of the addresses on the list.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Overcast placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’re gonna find her, Michael. I can feel it.”

Taking a deep breath, Torrent forced a smile. “All right. Let’s go.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Bruce Developing owned properties all over the city, but Michael was far from familiar with every building in his empire. While that was normal for a corporate CEO, it put him at a disadvantage as Black Torrent.

The first industrial park he rejected immediately. The building was adjacent to a shipping yard which operated twenty-four hours. With semi trucks entering and leaving non-stop, it would be a poor hideout.

The second building was a good candidate, but was located in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. A virtual warzone, Torrent didn’t think Hawthorne would want to be caught in crossfire while trying to collect a ransom.

Frustrated, Torrent hit the last location. Michael recalled picking the building up for a deal as it was mostly vacant and the owner couldn’t handle the taxes. Only a few units appeared occupied, and those looked like they only did business during the day. It was next to train tracks, but not near any major streets, and could only be reached by driving down a long access road. As he surveyed the area, he noticed a few cars parked here and there. They were the kinds of cars he imagined a night watchman might be able to afford: older, run-down, rusted. One car appeared to be brand new, however.

A BMW, he thought. That’s a bit fancy for someone on a security guard’s salary.

Torrent crept closer and looked in through the car’s windows. In the glow from the streetlight, he could make out something on the floor of the back seat—the heel of a shoe. The same type of shoe he had bought for his sister a few days earlier.

Hiding behind the car to avoid being seen, he pulled out his communicator.

“Overcast, Zephyra, come in. I think I found the place.”

Overcast answered. “You spotted the van?”

“No. They would have known that we’d be looking for it. I’m sure they ditched the van and stole a car.”

Zephyra asked, “Where are you?”

“The industrial park on 56th Street, near Karlov Avenue.”

“On my way.”

“Me, too,” said Overcast.

While he was waiting, Torrent checked out the building. It was a small warehouse with truck docks. The attached office had a door leading outside and a small storage area at the rear. Glancing in one of the windows, he could see there were three people inside. There was a man with rugged features and tattoos on his arms, typing on a laptop. From the Feds’ description, that must be Hawthorne. A woman was laying on the couch, asleep. A heavier man sat at another desk, playing a game on his cell phone. As Torrent watched, the fat man stood up and went to the other window. He appeared to be making a routine check, as he immediately turned and headed towards the window where the crimefighter was standing.

Michael ducked down and pressed himself against the base of the wall. After a few moments, the man returned to his chair and game.

At the far end of the building, Torrent could make out two windows that looked similar to those in the ransom videos. He headed over and peeked in. His heart nearly jumped out of his chest. He could see Sara shackled to a chair as she was in the video. A part of him wanted to rush in and grab her, take on the bad guys and free her. However, he forced himself to be rational. A solo attack could turn ugly, and the last thing he wanted was for his sister to get hurt on his impulsiveness.

Trying to be patient, he headed back to the car to come up with a plan.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The room was dark and Sara struggled to remain awake. She didn’t have access to a clock, but she figured there was about six or seven hours before the ransom would have to be paid. As much as she didn’t like the idea of her family giving in to the kidnappers, she was cold and hungry and wanted to go home.

She concentrated, trying to listen to the sounds in the room beyond. There was clicking, like someone was typing on a computer, and the sound of snoring. Nothing else.

Then she noticed the shadow.

The windows behind her let in a stream of moonlight, reflecting white rectangles on the darkened floor next to her. In a split second, a shadow appeared and disappeared. Her heart began to race. Could it be? Could someone have actually found her? She realized it might not be Team Torrent, but rather the police. Either way, she was suddenly filled with hope. She stared out the open doorway and waited.

A half an hour later, hope was fading fast. Surely if someone had seen her, they would have come already, wouldn’t they? Maybe they hadn’t see her. Maybe they were waiting for when the group would move her to the drop-off point. Maybe...

Then came the scream. There was crashing in the room beyond, grunting, and the sound of gunfire.

“Find her,” a familiar voice growled.

“Torrent?” Sara whispered under her breath.

A figure appeared. Sara hoped to see one of her teammates swooping in to save her. Instead it was Nigel. He burst through the door and locked it behind him. As he flipped on the light, she could see both anger and fear in his eyes.

“Fucking superheroes.” He raised his fist and smashed it into her head. Sara flew to the side, only her bindings keeping her in the seat. The man pulled out his keys, unlocking the shackles on her hands and feet.

A pounding came at the door and voices beyond.

Michael! Sara’s mind screamed as she bit her lip to keep from shouting out to her brother.

Pulling her from the chair, Nigel whipped her around and placed a hunting knife to her throat. “One move, missy, and I’ll cut you so deep you’ll drown in your own blood.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It had been an adequate plan. Nigel had picked a location with no window access. A direct attack through the door was the only way. The crimefighters had resorted to distraction. Zephyra had crouched down at the front entrance, scratching at the door and making cat noises. As the fat man had gone to check it out, Torrent burst in through the side interior door off of the docking bay. The woman had screamed and tried to escape, but Ravenswood overcame her. Hawthorne had tried to shoot, but he was too panicked. He pumped two rounds, then locked himself in the back room—the room with his captive.

Torrent followed the kidnapper, ramming his body against the solid wood door. It didn’t give. As Overcast joined him, they began hammering it until it finally creaked and crashed inward. Inside, the scene caused both of them to stop in their tracks.

Hawthorne had Sara in front of him, a large knife pressed against her windpipe. Rivulets of blood streaked her throat where the blade had already broken the skin.

“Stop or I’ll cut her head clear off.”

“You don’t want a murder charge,” Torrent spoke, hoping he sounded rational.

“They’ll fry me anyway for serial kidnappings! So, you gonna call my bluff?”

Raising his hands, the crimefighter stepped back and motioned for his friends to do the same.

Hawthorne tightened his grip around Sara’s waist. “I want a car. I want safe passage to the airport and a chartered plane out of the country.”

“That’s gonna take a while to arrange,” Torrent said.

“Her fucking family can afford it. Do it now!”

Overcast put his hand to his mouth, trying to make it look like a casual gesture, but it was to prevent Hawthorne from lip-reading as he whispered. “Why isn’t she doing anything?”

“Knives,” Torrent whispered back. His sister had mentioned in passing that she didn’t like knives. Michael hadn’t pressed the issue at the time, but as he studied her face, he now realized it wasn’t a simple dislike but a phobia.

“Zee,” he said loud enough for the man to hear. “Go call police headquarters and see if we can arrange to meet Mr. Hawthorne’s demands.”

“All right,” she nodded before disappearing around the corner.

Torrent faced the kidnapper, taking in every detail. Hawthorne was scared, but there was something else he saw in the man—something else that terrified him. His expression changed ever so slightly. Torrent realized the man had made up his mind...

...he was going to kill her anyway.

Trying to keep his expression neutral, Michael stared at his sister. He had to come up with a plan, to figure out how to get her away from him.

I can’t let her die.

Then Sara’s lips moved. She was facing away from her captor. She knew he couldn’t see her. A single word: “go.” Then her fist clenched.

“What else do you want?” Torrent asked Hawthorne with a small nod of his head.

The kidnapper grimaced. “I want the five million and I want amnesty—”

In a split second, Sara’s elbow shot back, ramming the man in the mid-section. Instead of jerking forward, she buckled her knees and dropped to the floor.

“Bitch—” the man screamed as a gun sounded.

Overcast had seen the signal as well. Pulling his pistol from its holster, he had managed to catch the man in the arm. Not a mortal wound by any stretch, but it gave Torrent the time he needed. Rushing forward, he tackled the kidnapper and knocked the knife from his hand.

Zephyra rushed back into the room.

“Get her out of here,” Torrent screamed.

Sara scrambled to her feet and Melody hurried her to safety.

Nigel groaned and kicked his leg up to get the crimefighter off of him. But he was no match for the costumed hero.

“It’s over, Hawthorne.”

The kidnapper spat in his face. “Fuck you.”

Torrent hoisted him into the chair, locking in his hands and feet. “How do you like it now?” Wiping the spittle from his cheek, the crimefighter turned to his partner. “Tie something around his arm to stop the bleeding, will you? I’m going to call the police.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“Here.”

Sara looked up and took the coffee cup. Aaron smiled and sat down next to her.

The mug was piping hot and burned her fingertips, but the warmth felt good. There was still a deep chill in her bones which she realized had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.

Agent Caine approached her. “We’re all through here and we’ll be going soon. I’d like you to know we’ve contacted the past victims of Mr. Hawthorne. A good number of them are willing to testify against him. I think we’re finally going to get this guy behind bars for good.”

“I hope so,” Sara said, shaking the woman’s hand. “I don’t ever want anyone else to go through what I did.”

“We’ll be contacting you next week to come in to our offices to talk before the indictment.”

Sara watched the remaining agents gather their things and leave. Even though Michael, Yule, and Aaron remained, the room felt empty.

The police captain slipped his hand into hers. “You shouldn’t be scared now. I know it’s going to be hard, but you have to remember, Hawthorne did this professionally. This isn’t the type of thing that people normally have to worry about, even the rich. I just don’t want you to be always looking over your shoulder.”

The words were true, Sara knew it. If only she could take it to heart.

Glancing over at Michael, the police captain rose. “If you need anything, give me a call. I’ve talked to a few of my guys. I’m going to have them swing by when they’re off-duty, just to help ease your mind.”

“I appreciate that. Thank you, Aaron.”

Sara watched the man leave, then buried her face in her hands. “I was so stupid,” she said, the tears finally coming. “That woman sneaking up behind me and grabbing me. I should have known better. This was all my fault.”

“No,” Michael gasped, moving to her side. “How could you have guessed that would happen? You can’t blame yourself. You know, sometimes I think we spend so much time being superheroes that we forget we’re human, too.”

Sara hugged her brother. “I was so scared.”

“So was I.” Pushing away, he wiped the tears from her cheek. “If you want, I can give you a ride back to the Home.”

The thought of sleeping in her own bed was normally comforting, but Sara felt panic grip her. She bit her lip to keep it from trembling. “I was wondering if it would be okay if I slept here tonight?”

A sad smile cornered her brother’s mouth. “Of course. Why don’t I walk you up to your room.”

“Why don’t I walk her up to her room,” Yule interjected as he moved to his daughter’s side.

With a smile, Michael nodded and helped his sister to her feet.

Sara let her father lead her up the stairs. Her room was dark and she switched on the light before entering. Slipping her shoes from her feet, she slid beneath the covers, fully clothed.

Yule pulled a chair close to her bed and stroked her forehead. “It’s going to be all right. You’re safe now.”

Sara grabbed his fingers. “Do you think you can sit with me while I fall asleep? I just don’t want to be alone.”

The man smiled, the lines around his eyes deepening. “Why don’t I sleep here tonight, so there’s someone here if you wake up.”

“I’d like that,” she whispered.

Pulling the covers to her chin, Yule kissed his daughter’s head. “Good night, Sara.”

“Good night, Daddy,” she whispered, not aware of what she had said until it had already left her lips. A moment later she was fast asleep.