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Suitable for ages 13+






Synopsis:

Ding . . . Dong . . . Ding . . . Dong . . .

 Time is ticking. Jackie paces nervously, confined to the panic room, unsure of her next move. Jack’s fate seems sealed as he lies helpless, bleeding profusely.     

The killer surprises everyone. Single handedly he outwits the Investigative Team and every officer on his trail.

Chief Williams shifts gears and formulates a new strategy, promising to flush out the killer.

 . . . the diabolical plan unfolds




Chapter 1
 

He clutched the photo in his hands. The photograph had been taken on a cruise to the Mediterranean. The trip had rejuvenated them, rekindling their passion. He caught the sparkle in her eyes. It brought back so many vivid memories. His thoughts took him years back, when their passion had sizzled into a steamy love affair. Life had taken on special meaning as their relationship had flourished beautifully. They had everything any couple could possibly desire: success, money, love, and happiness. They were the envy of the world.

Everything was picture perfect, until fate came knocking on that bitterly cold January day.

His grip tightened.

A set of rather twisted and morbid events destroyed everything, taking them both completely by surprise, ultimately sending their lives into a downward spiral. The news of her illness had been doubly compounded by the events that followed. His facial expression darkened, bitter contempt fueled an indescribable rage within him. He glared at the photo, sadly recalling her last painful moments.

For months on end, they had watched helplessly. Family and friends came to visit, offering words of encouragement. Sadly, no spoken words could ease their anguish. A deep melancholy hung thick in the air, promising to choke off their air supply.

Her hoarse voice heightened everyone’s anxiety. ‘Nooo, please help me. Why won’t anyone help me?’ She was in a delusional state, her breathing was quite erratic and her frantic cries made it heart-wrenching to bear, even for the strongest and bravest of men. She held a cold distant look as she fought to get her final words out.

‘You’re all going to rot in hell for this,’ she spoke in a vindictive tone, almost promising revenge. They looked on piously, but no one or nothing could assist her anymore, except God himself. The whole ordeal was incredibly painful, it was bloody excruciating even for a man of his stature.

The nurse watched her writhe uncomfortably, injecting another dose of morphine into her thin veins which helped to diminish the pain. Cassandra’s stark complexion revealed her excruciating agony. She had become so thin and frail, with barely any flesh to stretch over her shrunken skeletal figure. Each breath proved to be a daunting task, a woman’s desperate struggle to hang on. She fought valiantly with everything left in her innermost being to hang onto that precious thing called life. They all looked on with empathy as she struggled to remain in their realm, barely hanging on. His left hand clutched over hers, trying his best to comfort her. He had often taken life for granted, and now unfortunately it was too late. Tears rolled down his face. He was an emotional mess, realizing that final moment was soon approaching.

Each gasp became less and less frequent and more and more faint, until she drew her final one. All her pain and suffering was now history, except for the pain encapsulated in all of her loved ones’ hearts. He leaned over her, sobbing and mourning the loss of his beloved.

Now grimacing, he drew the photo next to his heart, still reliving that painful moment. A moment that would inevitably live on with him, haunting him and consuming his inner sanctity, until that day, that final day of reckoning when he himself would receive eternal sanctuary.

 

Taking small calculated steps, he advanced very slowly; one wrong step could land him in the morgue. Before anything else, he had to ensure his opponent was actually down and out, and not pulling a fast one. They had to finish the job; after all they still had to collect their money.

He stared down at the motionless figure, drenched in a pool of blood. “Hey—look who we have here. Not as invincible as you once thought. What a pity, it seems like your time is about up,” he towered over Jack. “I could take you out right now, but that wouldn’t be much fun, now would it?” the killer gloated sadistically. It was obvious that if Jack continued to lose blood at the current rate, his demise would be imminent. “Let’s make this slow and agonizing. After all, a man only dies once. By the way, you won’t need this anymore. Now you just stay put,” the man chuckled, knowing full well Jack wasn’t going anywhere. To add salt to the wound, he stepped on Jack’s wrist. Jack’s eyes sprang open as piercing pangs of pain shot up his arm. If circumstances had been different, Jack would have beaten him to a pulp. The man exerted his full weight onto Jack’s hand, before taking the gun from him.

Jack struggled to keep his eyes open, but it became more and more difficult. It felt like two blocks of lead sat on top of his eyelids. Objects soon began losing their solidness and dark shady tones were abruptly obliterated into nothingness. Jack’s thoughts took him back to a time long ago. Images surfaced, soon transforming into crystal clear pictures. It had been a relatively cool day, but Jack nonetheless eagerly anticipated the game between the Yankees and the Red Sox. He held the tickets securely in his left hand, as they excitedly made their way to their seats. His wife, Ashley had bought two front row seats, right behind home plate. The Rocket prepared to fire the opening pitch. His arm unleashed a fireball, which smacked hard into the catcher’s glove. The umpire behind home plate shot out his arm, indicating a strike, much to the delight of cheering fans. Jack sat glued to his seat, enjoying every play. It was the end of the fourth inning, and the game was knotted at one a piece, when Jack made his way to the concession stand, struggling through a jam-packed stadium. While standing patiently in line, he was suddenly startled by a light tap on his shoulder. He turned around and was surprised to see a man dressed in a trench coat handing him a folded piece of paper. Jack glanced at the note only for a split second, but before resuming his gaze the man had sped off. He had disappeared so quickly that Jack didn’t have an opportunity to question the note or get a good hard look at him. The note proposed a meeting, a time and place were clearly specified within. Jack returned to his seat frustrated. The incident left him distracted with endless questions.

Jackie paced nervously. A toxic barrage of negativity swirled inside her head. Her slender frame shivered. Desperately, she knew it was imperative that she pull herself together. It would be a cold day in hell when she would remain within the secure confines of the panic room, while Jack bled to death. Especially after everything Jack had done for her. The enormous risks he undertook bailing her out, just to keep her safe from the jaws of a cunning tyrant. It wouldn’t be morally right, not to mention fair, to simply abandon him while she remained safe inside. She had no choice but to break her promise. But she felt herself shudder, knowing full well that she had just barely escaped the two armed men. Feelings of desperation were setting in, and part of her wanted to crouch in a corner and weep, but she tried pushing away these fears. After all, it was only fear which caused her to hesitate, not her love for him. Jackie had known for some time that she was in love with Jack. Almost sobbing, she blurted to herself, “Nothing good ever comes out of fear,” over and over again. “I need to be strong for Jack’s sake.” The spoken statements gave her courage. She felt a rush of adrenaline sweep throughout her entire body.

She looked around the panic room. Her eyes fell upon the night vision goggles. A plan quickly began to take shape.

She only needed a couple of minutes, at most, to aid Jack. Experience taught her to gather bandages and other essential emergency supplies, quickly stuffing them into a plastic bag. Jackie then walked over to the computer monitor to see what was happening. Both intruders were climbing the second floor stairs. It was now or never, she thought to herself. Jackie unlocked the door, cautiously glancing around, although mostly out of fear, and then headed towards the main circuit panel box, guided by night vision goggles. The panel box flew open and with the flick of a switch she killed the power. The two men stood startled by the sudden darkness.

Jackie sped up the stairs, quickly reaching the main level.  Before making a run for it, she glanced both ways. The two men were still upstairs. She cringed and nearly stopped breathing, witnessing the dead man and the bloody mess in the hallway.

She turned the corner rather abruptly, and nearly lost her balance. The sight of blood itself did not faze her, but she prayed that Jack had not lost too much. She gasped, and her heart stopped momentarily, seeing Jack’s chest area drenched in red. Jackie quickly leaned over him. Fortunately, the bullet had missed his heart entirely, miraculously piercing his shoulder area.

“Jack, Jack can you hear me?” she cried. He was still breathing, but his pulse was dangerously low. “Honey I’m here. I’m going to help you. It will only take me a minute,” she whispered encouragingly.

Jack barely opened his eyes. His hands felt ice-cold.

“This may hurt, but I need to bandage you to stop the bleeding. The other two men are upstairs, so I don’t have much time,” she informed, fervently pulling out gauze pads and wrapping them as fast and tight as she could.

“Honey—make a break for it,” Jack mumbled. “Run.”

Jackie hopelessly fought back tears. “Shh honey—they’ll hear us.”

She repositioned him to make him more comfortable, and threw a heavy woolen blanket on him to help keep him warm.

“Jack I’ll be back. You are all bandaged up. I will get help for you. Honey, hang in there.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Tears stung her eyes. She dreaded leaving him there so helpless, but had to find a way to get him to a hospital immediately. Cautiously, she made a break into the study room. The computer was still running, now on battery backup. She prayed that it would not shut down until she called for help. She keyed the info as fast as her fingers had ever moved. She informed them that Jack Trempton had been shot by the armed men and had lost a lot of blood, and needed help fast. She also informed the police that two armed men were presently upstairs and another man lay dead. She managed to state her name and included her profession as a registered nurse. Jackie included Jack’s blood type, along with a couple of other pertinent details before e-mailing the message.

Jack’s eyes flickered a few times before they finally slipped shut. His thoughts dreamily reverted back to their initial encounter. As he drove up the final incline, he felt foolish for having accepted the invitation. Just who are these men and why do they wish to meet with me, Jack had asked himself the same question repeatedly over the last couple of weeks? He pulled into the parking lot and then proceeded towards the building. He remained on full alert as he walked towards the elevator. Jack wondered if it had been a smart idea coming all alone. He got off on the fourth floor and strolled down the hall until he stood in front of the specified suite number. Interesting, thought Jack as only a number plate hung on the outside of the door. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside. He mused if the meeting was some sort of business proposal, but couldn’t understand why all the secrecy. Oddly, there was no receptionist to greet him. Of even greater suspicion, was the mere fact that no paintings hung on the walls and no seats occupied the waiting area. Convenient, thought Jack, deducing it to be a makeshift office. Jack shuddered, wondering if it’d be better to get the hell out of there. Just as he was pondering this, a tall well-built man strolled into the front receptionist area and greeted him.

“Mr. Jack Trempton, thank you for coming. Please come this way, my associates have been expecting you,” he announced with a warm smile, just as if it was a casual meeting. Jack placed the gentleman in his early forties. His sandy blond hair was well trimmed, he wore a professionally tailored designer suit, and judging by the suit’s hefty contours, the man probably hit the gym a few times a week.

Jack suddenly realized that the gentlemen had not introduced himself, which aroused further suspicion. But before Jack had a chance to probe for answers, the man opened a door revealing three other gentlemen seated around a long oval table.

“Excuse me, but I find this meeting quite unusual. Perhaps someone would like to explain to me what this meeting is all about?” Jack asked bluntly, still standing.

"Mr. Trempton, I can assure you there’s no need for concern. Please have a seat, and we’ll explain,” the man who originally greeted Jack stated, before closing the door. Jack’s face still held a quizzical look. Hesitantly he sat down, patiently waiting for answers.





Chapter 2
 

The Chief cursed. He just received an emergency call from Terry. He could never understand why everything happened at once. There was definitely truth to the saying, when it rains it pours. As he stepped outside, he inadvertently dropped his keys onto the asphalt. By chance, he caught sight of something unusual underneath his car. He knelt down to have a closer look. He bent down further, stretching his arm all the way until he was able to reach it. The Chief stood momentarily puzzled, holding a tracking device in his open palms. What the hell! Anger and bewilderment soon replaced his initial surprise. All the way over, he was still fuming, wondering how long he had been followed and by whom.

He navigated his way through the last few roads and pulled in directly behind a police cruiser. He had heard a couple of thunder bolts, and remembered the weather man promising rain. Terry saw his car pull in and waved him over.

“What the hell is going on here,” the Chief’s voice exploded above the multitude of police sirens.

“Chief, I’m not quite sure,” Terry genuinely blurted out. “Jack went out for a walk and was making his way back home, at which point he was being pursued by three men. The next thing I knew one of the three pulls out a gun, and Jack just barely made it through the front door, literally diving into his own home. Somehow he must have caught on that he was being followed and fortunately just in the nick of time. Afterwards, the other men stormed into his home and there was a series of gunfire.”

“Now I’m real confused. If Jack is our killer, then why the hell is someone trying to hunt him down?”

“I’m just as confused, perhaps they are vigilantes,” Terry suggested trying to make sense of the whole situation. Abruptly, they drew their attention to an approaching helicopter. Blades of grass blew in every direction, as it landed on a wide stretch of lawn further down the street. The Chief looked puzzled as he instantly recognized it to be a military chopper. The noise was deafening, he blocked his ears with his gloved hands.

A tall man sporting a green military uniform, army helmet, and long black boots marched towards him. A few soldiers armed with scoped rifles followed closely behind. He spoke in an authoritarian tone, “Excuse me, are you Chief Williams?”

“That’s correct,” the Chief hesitantly answered, totally bewildered.

“I’m Colonel Stanford and I’ll be taking over.”

Terry and Chief Williams looked at each other stunned. They would have been less stunned if someone had slapped them hard across the face. Before the Chief had the opportunity to ask him for some sort of explanation, his cell rang.

“Hello Chief, we just received an urgent message. A lady by the name of Jackie Stolths, apparently a registered nurse, has e-mailed us. She’s in the house and has just informed us that Jack Trempton has been shot. She’s managed to bandage him, but he’s lost a lot of blood and needs urgent medical care. Another man is dead and two armed men are positioned upstairs. She states that she had been hiding out in a panic room and watched the armed men through a surveillance camera. They were heading upstairs, so she made a quick break to help her friend, Jack,” Officer Neally informed.

“Just one minute.” The Chief quickly relayed the news to Colonel Stanford. After a few moments, the Chief instructed Officer Neally, “Ask her to vacate the house through the front door, since we have it covered. Assure her that we have the two armed men in full view.”

“Sure Chief, I’ll keep you posted.”

Minutes later Officer Neally called back, “I’m not sure why, but she hasn’t responded. I also forgot to mention that she stated that windows have been replaced with armored glass,” Officer Neally relayed.

The Chief knew quite well that the glass wouldn’t stand up to the army’s powerful rifles.

“Damn, call me if she contacts the station again.” The Chief then called an ambulance.

 

The ambulance driver had his wipers on full blast, as the rain pelted relentlessly against the windshield. It poured viciously, nearly reducing all visibility. He leaned slightly forward, but still found it difficult staying on course. A few times he caught himself inadvertently steering into the next lane. Apprehensively, his partner feared for their safety and wondered if they would make it on time. They needed to reach the Trempton’s residence immediately. They continued to cut through the darkness with their emergency siren wailing. The beat of the rain drummed out the screaming wails, reducing their urgency and demand for attention.

The driver’s eyes widened with fear, as a car approaching from the intersection failed to give him the right of way. Instinctively, he slammed on the brakes causing him to skid along the slick roadway. The two vehicles came perilously close, with only inches separating them. It was a miracle that catastrophe was averted. The paramedic pulled around in front of him attempting to clear the intersection, when another car nearly hit him from the opposite direction. Forcibly, he was jolted, once again, back against the car seat.

“Damn it!” yelled the driver, outraged at the succession of careless drivers who failed to give them the right of way. “Are you okay?” he asked his partner who sat completely silent.

“Yeah.” It took him a minute to catch his breath. “Another close call like that and I may be the next heart attack victim.”

The driver kept his eyes peeled on the road. What a time to be caught in a storm. The Chief of Police had been adamant about rushing to the scene. He stressed the severity of the situation and the victim’s precarious position. Obviously, something pretty serious must have happened for the Chief of Police to be at the scene. He then turned onto Jack’s street.

 

Once again Chief Williams updated the Colonel, keeping him abreast of the current situation. But what he really wanted to do was to pull him aside and demand some sort of explanation. His frustration was mounting, and months of torment left him feeling like a raging bull. He took a deep breath in the hope of calming down, knowing that he really had no other choice. Besides, he rationalized that sooner or later he would have answers. The Colonel gathered his soldiers. They disregarded the rain, focusing solely on the situation at hand. He briefed them of the current situation and commanded them to shoot to kill upon his signal. Using heat-seeking devices, four armed military men watched the two male figures. The two men stood directly in front of windows, but in separate bedrooms. The soldiers took aim with their rifles, awaiting his signal. The Colonel gave the cue. They fired. But at the very last second, one of the men managed to move his head slightly, just missing a bullet while his partner’s blood splattered the walls.

The Colonel was informed that one of the men had managed to dodge a bullet. “Come out with your hands in the air,” the Colonel shouted through the speaker.

The armed man smirked at the Colonel’s command. I don’t think so. He knew if he gave himself up, he would either be killed or would spend the rest of his life in the slammer. He flew down the staircase, two steps at a time. As he reached the platform, he turned around the corner so suddenly, nearly colliding into Tara.

“Damn bird,” he cursed loudly.

Tara perched herself on the banister and descended down so suddenly, catching him totally by surprise. She lunged at him, pecking him viciously in the head. “Ahhh!” He shrieked in agony. “Damn bird! I’m going to shoot you, and then pluck all your feathers out,” he roared loudly at her. Several shots rang out, but Tara changed directions, already having reached the safe haven of Jack’s bedroom. The killer picked up his duffel bag from the front hallway; it was going to be his ticket out of there.

“I’m Agent Mathews with the CIA.” He pulled out his badge from his breast pocket to confirm his identity. “You are probably wondering why you’re here and what this is all about. As my comrades know me all too well, I’m going to be blunt and to the point. Let’s just say we have reviewed your credentials and are quite impressed.”

Jack looked a little spooked, “And just what credentials may those be?”

“Now, now there’s no need to be modest,” an older gentleman responded between chuckles, vigorously puffing on his cigar.

“We’re aware of your outstanding martial arts expertise, sharp shooting skills, and your athletic prowess, including running the hundred meters in 9.92 seconds, is let’s just say equally impressive. The service needs an operative agent in the country.” The other agents watched Jack, trying to pick up on his non-verbal language. Initially there was the element of surprise, naturally, but Jack seemed to take it in good stride. Amazingly, he maintained a relatively cool composure and continued to listen attentively. They knew they had found the right candidate. Jack remembered how the agent explained that they would never meet again, but would leave coded messages at his house. Jack was also informed that he would match the codes with a numbered code list to ensure they had actually sent them. Jack could never contact the service, or divulge his position to his family or friends, despite his circumstances. The agents would supply Jack with all the pertinent details. The information would be left at a designated warehouse, which would obviously change with each new assignment.

Jack drifted in and out of consciousness. He remembered playing with GI Joe’s at Christmas time, while his mother desperately tried to get him into bed. He recalled telling her, ‘But mom, it’s Christmas.’

Jackie’s heart jumped. There had been a loud thump from above. She was momentarily paralyzed with fear, and this hesitation would soon cost her.

The Colonel gave his men explicit orders to shoot the armed man. With rifles pointed, they took aim at the figure inside. But he moved with such swiftness throughout the house that they never had a clear shot.

Jackie had no choice but to run back to the panic room and see what the hell was going on. As she turned to head downstairs, the armed man tore after her. She fled into the basement, flying down the steps. The man heard her footsteps and dashed after her. Luckily, Jackie had the advantage. Not only did she know the house quite well, but the night goggles allowed her to move easily and swiftly. She heard a loud curse. The man must have hurt himself. Every second counted, and she prayed that this would slow him down. She bolted for the safe haven of the panic room. The man had just managed to reach the bottom of the stairs. A beam of light weaved haphazardly through a maze of darkness. He turned the corner and his flashlight caught a glimpse of her shutting a large steel door. Suddenly, it dawned on him that it was a panic room. His facial expression changed suddenly. Anger flashed across his face. Frantically, Jackie pressed all her weight against the door, managing to seal it shut. Now all that remained was for her to turn the wheel, locking the pins into place. Already enraged and with nothing left to lose, the man lunged fearlessly at the door. His strength was overwhelming, and with every inch of madness he pushed it open before she could manage to secure it shut.

He grabbed Jackie violently by the front of her shirt, yanking her right off her feet. He got right up close and personal, “Now listen here bitch, in this bag I have enough explosives to take out the entire block. You and I will be making a quick break soon, but if you don’t do exactly as I say, everybody on the block will end up in smithereens. Understand?”

Horrified by his threatening tone and solid grip, Jackie shivered like a leaf and could barely manage a weak nod. He opened the bag for her to see, and she realized he meant every word.

“I’m going to call those bastards out there and tell them we’ll be leaving soon. Now don’t try anything foolish, because I’m also pretty handy with this too.” He waved the 9mm as if it was some kind of a toy. He held her tightly in front of him and her legs trembled as she walked up the stairs to the front door. He opened the door ever so slowly, and just slightly so that he could be heard.

“Hold your fire. I have a lady here, and won’t be afraid to blow her brains out if anyone tries anything. Here’s the deal—I want a ride out of here on that chopper. Make sure no one is on it, except for the pilot. And just in case anyone is even thinking of trying something funny, be forewarned that this bag is packed with enough explosives to wipe out the entire block. I have the detonator in my hand, which can be activated by two ways. It can be activated by this little button—” He waved the remote in mid-air for a split second to show that he wasn’t bluffing. “In case anyone tries to get cute, and tries shooting it out of my hand, think again. The remote has a pressure sensor built-in. If anything hits my hand, be it a bullet or any other object, it will set off the explosives,” the man let out a low chuckle, and Jackie’s anxiety soared through the roof. It was a miracle she didn’t faint.

The soldiers looked on precariously awaiting instructions, while the madmen shouted his demands. The Colonel had no choice but to concede to the man’s insidious plan. He signaled to his men to let them through. Everyone looked on helplessly as the assailant held on tightly to Jackie, practically dragging her forward. Her tear stricken face cried out to the officers, but to no avail.  The expression on their faces was unmistakable, as they feared the worst. Her heart pounded wildly with each step forward.  It was surreal to think that the most technologically advanced nation was at the mercy of a madman. She gasped, dreading what awaited her.






Chapter 3
 

She hesitatingly boarded the helicopter. The pilot prepared for take-off, still unsure of their destination. Moments later, they took off. The only voice ringing in Jackie’s head were Jack’s last words, repeating in a valley of endless echoes, ‘Jackie go and whatever you do don’t come out!’ The intensity increased like that of a beating drum, until it felt as though her mind would explode.

The madman gave explicit orders. The pilot obliged, but his mind raced with an alternative course of action. Obviously he wasn’t planning on leaving the young woman in the hands of a madman.

Troy had served with the military for over ten years. Not only was he one of the top pilots on the force, but had remarkable defensive skills, served on the bomb squad, and could parachute in thick wooded areas. Troy loved challenges, and had originally joined the force to protect his country. Even under dire circumstances, he focused on the situation and not on his own welfare. He had no doubts that once they landed, the armed man would have no purpose for him and would inevitably shoot him. At that point, he wouldn’t need a hostage and would dispose of her as well. Troy now and again glanced back. He flipped on the one way radio switch, allowing the military base to listen in on them. Usually Troy would turn on both switches in order to allow for two way communication, but in this case it was not an option. His mind continued to reel with possible escape plans.

“Fold over your hands,” the gunman demanded in a cold tone. Jackie’s heartbeat quickened. She sat terrified. The cord bit into her skin, causing her to wince several times as he tightened it around her wrists.

 

“I’m afraid we can’t allow you to enter the house yet,” Colonel Stanford swallowed hard, still staring the Chief straight into his eyes. “I’ll have two of my men go in there with the ambulance attendants. After we get Jack Trempton out, you’re free to pull out the two corpses. But once you remove the bodies, we’ll have to ask you and your men to leave the premises. Is this understood? Don’t take it personally; it’s just that we are just dealing with matters which are highly classified.”

The Chief nodded, confused but acutely aware something else was going on. The Chief wondered why the military was so interested in Jack Trempton. “We will do everything possible to save Jackie,” the Colonel added, reading the concerned look on the Chief’s face.

Chief Williams strode between a dozen police cruisers and officers until he spotted Terry. He gave her an update with set instructions. “Another thing, I want you to head back to the station and lock my office door. Ask Officer Neally to make sure no one enters inside, for any reason, without me being present.”

“Yes sir,” Terry simply replied. She held off asking the Chief any questions. He already looked like a ton of bricks had dropped on him. She made arrangements to have the soldiers along with the Colonel driven back to their base.

The coroner arrived just as Jack was being wheeled out. The street had never witnessed so much action. Neighbors awoke from all the commotion and stood puzzled, some watched from their front lawns while others peered through windows.

One astute neighbor asked his wife why the military chopper had taken off, leaving many of their soldiers behind. Another woman cried to her husband, “Oh my—that handsome young man a few houses down was just pulled outside on a stretcher. I hope he’s okay. Something terrible must have happened. Look at all the police.” Her husband simply stared at all the commotion.

The sirens blazed to the local hospital. “Blood pressure’s dropping! Step on it!” the attendant shouted. “Still dropping.” The driver stepped on the gas. He figured something major was transpiring since the military had been pulled in. In the meantime, the hospital had been preparing for Jack’s arrival; blood bags matching his blood type were set aside. The driver breathed a huge sigh of relief as he pulled into the hospital.

The medics rushed to the back of the vehicle. They carefully set the stretcher on the ground. “Come on, let’s move it,” commanded the military officer, urging them forward. They responded to his stern voice and rushed through the emergency doors.

“Damn—there’s no heartbeat. He’s under cardiac arrest!” the doctor shouted. “On the count of three, one…two…three.” The doctor placed the defibrillator’s pads against Jack’s chest. The monitor still showed no heartbeat. “Again,” the doctor ordered.

 

He relaxed. Soon he would be a free man. After they landed, he planned to shoot the pilot. He was quite aware of soldiers’ intensive training and combative skills, and would not give Troy an opportunity to prove himself. But he hadn’t quite made up his mind of what he would do with the woman. If he hanged on to her, then he would run the risk of being pursued, and it would also be more difficult moving about. But then again, she could prove to be valuable at some point. He was still pondering his decision when the chopper began to descend.

“We will be landing in a couple of minutes, so remain buckled up,” Troy announced. The next couple of minutes would prove crucial. Troy glanced ever so slightly to his right. The armed man had searched him for arms, but luckily hadn’t bothered to check the chopper. Once the helicopter landed on the highway overpass, he would leave the engine running as not to tip the gunman off, and would then make his break. Troy realized he had one and only one chance. The helicopter descended slowly, now a hundred feet above the asphalt.

“Continue to remain seated, we’re about to touch down,” Troy announced calmly. The tires touched down. The helicopter had barely landed when Troy snatched the flare gun with lightning speed, while simultaneously pressing a button with his left hand. The captain’s seat swiveled one hundred and eighty degrees, leaving Troy and the gunman face to face, catching the other man totally off guard, much to his chagrin. The gunman remained buckled, with his gun on his belt buckle. Troy quickly took aim and squeezed the trigger. Disaster struck, as the gunman lunged to his right at the very last second. The flare missed the gunman’s chest, skimming only his left arm. The gunman roared in pain. The pilot looked on helplessly, knowing that his fate had been sealed.

“Watch out,” yelled Jackie. The gunman pulled out his gun. He glared contemptuously at the pilot, purposely waiting a few seconds before striking, in an attempt to savor the moment. The pilot stared back, defiantly, unwilling to give him any further satisfaction. Several shots rang out. The front windshield was awash in red. Jackie shrieked in horror, as the pilot’s head drooped down, now deceased. She remained unaware that flames had burst at the back of the chopper, ignited by the flare gun.

A sadistic smile took hold of the convict as he took aim at Jackie. “Damn bitch,” the gunman yelled. He squeezed the trigger, but the clip was empty. Incensed, he viciously struck Jackie hard across the face with the gun. Her head slammed hard against the side of the chopper, knocking her out cold.

The flames began to spread rapidly.

If he hauled her out, he would be forced to carry her and that would slow him down. Instinctively, he jumped out of the chopper with explosives in hand, and ran off, afraid of being blown to pieces by the raging inferno. He reached the far end of the overpass before daring one final look back.

He stopped dead in his tracks.

He focused intently at the chopper, which was now ablaze. Disbelief gripped the assailant. The large figure met his gaze dead on, and the gunman blinked several times trying to focus on the wavering image through the fiery blaze. The figure mysteriously vanished behind a plumage of thick smoke. The gunman shook his head violently, still in disbelief. He ran down the embankment and onto the side of the highway. He realized he wouldn’t get too far without a vehicle and feigned to be in need of a ride. A green car pulled over, and the driver got the surprise of his life. He stood in utter shock on the side of the road, still digesting the fact that his car had been hijacked at gunpoint.

“Let’s get down there fast,” the commander shouted. A military chopper arrived at the scene. Ten soldiers stood by. Fire trucks’ hoses were pouring out hundreds of gallons of water. It was some time before the firefighters contained the flames, finally managing to extinguish them. They found only one corpse on board. He was still strapped in the pilot’s seat.

“Colonel, it appears that the gunman has made off with the woman,” one of the soldiers announced.

“We are going to catch that son of a bitch, and then I’m going to have the pleasure of tearing him to pieces,” the Colonel roared, furious of having lost one of his men. “Did anyone see anything?”

“A man reported he was hijacked by a gunman a couple of hours ago. The man’s description matched the gunman.”

“What about the woman?”

“He said there was no woman with him.”

The Colonel stood momentarily puzzled. “Did we check the surrounding areas to see if she’s nearby?”

“We have scouted along the highway and have even brought in search dogs, but haven’t spotted her. We even checked in with the Chief, but she hasn’t shown up, nor has she called to report that she’s okay.”

“Continue searching for that car, and report to me as soon as you find it or have any new information.”

“Yes sir.”

 

News reports capitalized on the action at Jack Trempton’s house. The shootout received full media coverage. The front page headline read, ‘Wild West Comes to Town’. Several more pages of coverage gave vivid accounts of the incident, disclosing all the details. They erroneously stated that homeowner, Jack Trempton had been shot several times and might not survive. They also reported that a female had been held at gunpoint by a man and then forced into a military helicopter. Jackie’s name was never actually mentioned, since the police were not divulging any information and the neighbors were unaware that she was even living there. The reporters had also incorrectly assumed that the police had called in for military assistance. The recount resembled more of a motion picture. One of the neighbors was asked what she thought of Jack. She explained, “Courteous. Always made of point of saying hello and asking how I was doing. He even shoveled my driveway many times over the years. When I offered to pay him, he simply said that he was happy to help. I could not ask for a better neighbor. I’m a widow, and having Jack as my next door neighbor set my fears at ease. The next worst thing than choosing the wrong house is living next to the wrong person. I really hope he pulls through,” she added. Jack’s photo was inset next to the story.

 

The medication was beginning to wear off. Jack awoke feeling sharp pangs in his arm. Just then a nurse walked in. “I’m going to give you something to help ease the pain.”

His voice was barely audible. “Jackie, I want to see Jackie.”

“Mr. Trempton you are in intensive care. Everything will be fine. Please try and relax. Soon you will be feeling much better,” the nurse encouraged, hating to see him upset.

“Is Jackie okay?”

“I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Jackie,” Jack desperately called, but he soon drifted off to sleep. Two military guards still stood outside and continued to watch him like a hawk. They kept a log of nurses and doctors’ names, including the times of their visit. A few hours later Jack woke up and found Colonel Stanford sitting in a chair next to the window.

“Hello Jack, I’m Colonel Stanford. How are you feeling?”

“I’ve been better. I want to see Jackie.”

“Unfortunately that’s not possible at the moment.”

“And why not?” Jack asked, growing more agitated by the second.

“We have not been able to locate her; it seems she’s vanished off the face of the earth. We are still looking for her. Perhaps you can help us? We are trying to fill in some of the blanks.”

“I need to get up and look for her,” Jack attempted to get up, but the pain forced him back down.”

“Easy now, we don’t want you hurting yourself. You were shot and need to take it easy for a while. My men are looking for her. We’ll find her. One of the armed men escaped, and unfortunately shot our pilot after landing.” Jack looked alarmed. “After examining the evidence, we’ve concluded that the pilot shot the gunman first with the flare gun. We believe the flare only grazed the gunman and continued to ricochet towards the back of the helicopter, unfortunately causing the fire. We only found the pilot’s body on board. The gunman then flagged down a car, hijacking it for his escape. The driver of the car stated that there was no woman with him, and that the gunman appeared injured. Jack, we need to know exactly what happened at your home.”

Jack took a minute to recollect his thoughts. “I had fallen last year and injured my back, and that’s how I met Jackie. She was one of my nurses. Before I left the hospital, I gave her my number and we soon started dating. She later confided in me about her ex-beau, Pablo. Apparently he had a pretty shady lifestyle. Pablo operated a huge drug enterprise.”

“Did you say had?”

“The papers reported that he died in his warehouse after an explosion. Anyway, he sought revenge after she broke it off with him and must have kept tabs on her, waiting for the perfect opportunity. We were about to enjoy a short vacation to Aruba when two CIA agents escorted Jackie off the plane. He had planted drugs in her suitcase. He was well connected, not only did he have contacts at the airport, apparently he also had contacts within prison. It would explain them finding us, since all they had to do was look at Jackie’s release forms. My information, including my home address, was right in front of them. Anyway to get to the end of all this chaos, I hired a private investigator. After weeks of investigating, we finally had the individual confess to planting the drugs.”

The Colonel raised an eyebrow.

“Let’s just say we were creative.”

“But if Pablo is dead, who were those men hunting you down?”

“I believe they worked for Pablo. Perhaps he had set up the ambush just before he died. Once I bailed Jackie out of prison, I had her stay with me. I took all the necessary precautions to keep her safe, including building a panic room. After learning more about Pablo, I knew he would stop at nothing, and would seriously harm or kill her given the opportunity.”

“I see,” stated the Colonel drawing a clearer picture.

“Jackie and I saw a parked car outside on the other side of the street keeping tabs on us, peering through binoculars. It must have been their men spying on us, waiting for the perfect opportunity.”

He cleared his throat. “Actually, they were the police.”

“The police but—”

“They were investigating the serial killer.”

“Sweet Jesus, you mean to say that they thought I was the killer?” Jack looked stunned.

“Yes, apparently they grew suspicious and obviously drew the wrong conclusion. They had no idea about Pablo. I’m going to visit Chief Williams and explain about Pablo and his men.” Jack nodded. “I’m also going to have to do some more digging and see what we can find out. We don’t want any more surprises.”

“Please find Jackie,” Jack winced as he moved. The nurse walked in.

“We’ll do everything in our power, now just try and rest.”






Chapter 4
 

Yvonne nearly dropped the coffee pot. For a moment she wondered if she had heard correctly. She cupped her mouth with her hands. Jack had been shot. She listened attentively to the rest of the report. It was surreal. Why would anyone want to shoot Jack, she asked herself still in shock. Still reeling, she hurriedly ran outside to see if the newspaper had arrived. She grabbed it off the front porch and sure enough there was Jack’s photo splashed on the front page. Yvonne placed it on the kitchen table and fervently began reading. Apparently, a woman in Jack’s home had been kidnapped and dragged off on a military helicopter. Yvonne gasped. She strongly suspected that the kidnapped woman was probably Jackie. What the hell is going on? Yvonne had known for weeks something was not quite right, but didn’t want to appear nosy and press Jack for answers. But never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined something as dark and sinister happening to someone like Jack. She picked up the receiver.

“Hello.”

“Henri—”

“Hey sunshine what’s going on?”  Henri found it odd that Yvonne was calling so early.

Yvonne was trembling, but tried controlling her shaky voice. “Honey, I was just listening to the radio and learnt that Jack has been hurt.” She tried to break the news as gently as possible.

“Hurt?” Henri asked surprised, pulling on his socks.

“A group of armed men began shooting at him late last night. The newspaper didn’t elaborate on Jack’s medical condition, except that he’d been shot several times at his own home. Two of the assailants were pronounced dead, but one of the surviving killers kidnapped a lady and took off on a helicopter. I think the lady in question is Jackie.”

“Oh my God!”  A thousand questions hurled inside Henri’s head.

“Remember I kept telling you something was wrong, and that Jack was not himself. I think this all has something to do with Jackie and the drugs they discovered in her suitcase.”

“I can’t believe it. I’m coming right over, and then we’ll go to the hospital.”

“I’m ready. I’ll call the office and let them know what’s happening.”

“Honey I’ll be over in about fifteen minutes.”

Yvonne continued listening to the radio. She brushed away a tear. She realized if Jack had been shot several times, his chances of making it were very slim. Over the years, she had grown very fond of him. Why would anyone want to hurt him, she repeatedly asked herself?

 

The moment of truth had finally arrived. Chief Williams was moments away from discovering the serial killer’s identity. Lucas had been the sole survivor, a miracle in fact. Another inch to the left and the arrow would have punctured his heart. His death would simply have become another sad statistic, adding to the Chief’s torment. But the tables had finally turned in their favor. According to the doctors, Lucas was expected to make a full recovery. Understandably, the police were taking no chances with his life. The Chief had summoned three police officers, whom he fully trusted and known for many years, to take turns in providing protection. The door leading to Lucas’s room was equipped with an alarm, and one of the guards would have to disarm it before anyone could enter. For added protection, only certain assigned doctors and nurses were given clearance. Each nurse and doctor would have to check-in. They were expected to sign a sheet including the time of their visit. As an added precaution, the attending guard was instructed to check in on Lucas immediately after each hospital personnel left as well fifteen minutes subsequently, just to make double sure Lucas was fine. Anyone else wishing to visit Lucas would have to get special permission from the Chief himself. The Chief greeted the attending officer who quickly briefed him. He reported nothing suspicious so far. The guard disarmed the door.

Lucas was sound asleep. The Chief hated to disturb him, but they desperately needed answers. Chief Williams walked over to the bed, which lay on the opposite side of the window. He cleared his throat and waited patiently for Lucas to wake up, “Hello Lucas, I’m Chief Williams.”

Lucas was startled, and it took him a moment to recall that he was still in the hospital. “Hello,” Lucas responded softly, nodding grimly. Lucas struggled to remain awake.

“I hate to bother you, but I’ll make this as brief as possible,” the Chief explained. “Can you tell me what happened?” the Chief asked right off the bat.

Lucas nodded weakly. “I was heading back home. It was late—about two in the morning. A man appeared to be stranded, so I pulled over to offer him a ride. Just before the man entered the truck, he pulled a mask over his face.” Lucas winced, “He was about six feet tall and wore a green jacket, black pants, and dark runners. He carried a duffel bag. I couldn’t do much, since he held a gun pointed to my head, demanding that I drive him to my home. I’m guessing he’s left-handed, because he held the gun in his left hand. Once we arrived, he gagged and tied me in a bedroom, and then brought my wife, followed by my kids, one at a time. I should never have driven him to my home.” Lucas stopped. He began crying.

“I know how hard this is. Please take your time.”

Between muffles, Lucas explained, “He set a trap on the bedroom door, but left through the washroom door, which allowed him to leave without setting the trap off.” Lucas was fighting to remain awake. “Before he left he told me, ‘good night and the next time this door opens you’ll be set free with the angels, good night and sweet dreams.’” Lucas’s eyes bulged as he feared for his loved ones.

“Do you have any idea who he was?”

Lucas barely nodded, “As he was leaving through the bathroom door, he removed his mask and I caught a reflection of him in the mirror.” Lucas was fighting to stay awake, “But what about my…” Before he had a chance to complete his sentence, he was sound asleep. The Chief thought it best to return before they gave Lucas his next dose of sedatives, figuring he would be less drowsy and able to stay awake long enough just to give him a name. On his way out, he spoke to one of Lucas’s nurses to see what time he should revisit.

“Yes, we’re Mr. and Mrs. Trempton, Jack’s parents,” Mr. Trempton informed the attending officer.

“I’ll need to see some photo id.”

Mr. Trempton pulled out his driver’s license as did Jack’s mom. “I will need to confirm these documents with your son. Please wait here until I return.” The officer cautiously locked the door behind him. He was given strict orders by the Colonel himself, and was taking no chances.

“Mr. Trempton, I have your mom and dad waiting outside. I need you to confirm their identities.”

“They’re my parents. You may want to ask them in, before my mom has a fit on you.”

The officer let them in and waited a second just to make double sure. His mom flew over to Jack’s bedside. “Jack honey, are you okay?”

The door clicked shut.

“I’ll be fine. I’m just in a bit of pain. The bullet hit me in the shoulder, and luckily just missed my subclavian artery, and went straight through. There’s no permanent damage.”

“Thank God. We nearly had a heart attack; the papers stated that you were shot several times.”

“There was a lot of gunfire. They’ve kidnapped Jackie.” Jack’s emotions surfaced and a tear rolled down his face. “I’m worried sick about her. If they don’t find her and soon, that man will kill her.”

“Good God. The papers reported that a woman had been kidnapped. But we had no idea it was Jackie.”

“Any idea why those men tried to kill you?” his dad asked bewildered.

“It’s quite complicated. I’ll backtrack to the beginning. Jackie had dated this guy named Pablo. He was bad news, but quite the smoothie. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to see his true colors until later. On one occasion he grew suspicious, fearing Jackie had overheard his telephone conversation. On that particular day, she found out he was a drug lord. She left his house in such a hurry that she accidentally left the door open on her way out. He confronted her, asking if she had dropped by, but she denied ever having been there. The man has a mean streak and an abusive nature. After that day, Jackie was very careful around him. She continued to see him a short time afterwards not to make it look too suspicious, but always in the company of her friends. On the day that she broke it off, he was livid. He was the jealous, controlling type, that wouldn’t allow a woman to get away with breaking it off with him, and waited for an opportunity to pay her back.” Jack paused to catch his breath. “Apparently he has a lot of connections at the airport, and planted drugs in her suitcase on our flight to Aruba. They arrested her on the spot, but I later bailed her out. I hired a private investigator to try and build a case against him. He must also have connections within the prison walls, since he was able to get my name and address. I won’t get into all the details right now, but we had one of his accomplices admitting to planting the drugs in Jackie’s suitcase. The man’s testimony exonerated Jackie and the drug charges were dropped. Anyway, Pablo must have hired these men to come and kill me, before dying in a warehouse explosion.” Jack’s parents remained speechless, absorbing every detail and overwhelmed that their son’s life had turned into a nightmarish sequel of events, not to mention a perilous path. “Two of the armed men who were shooting at me are dead, and the other one doesn’t stand a chance. Sooner or later they will catch him, I only pray it’s sooner. Jackie is missing and apparently no one has seen her. After the pilot landed the chopper, the pilot tried to kill the gunman using a flare gun, but inadvertently hit the back end of the helicopter causing a fire. Once the firemen managed to extinguish the flames, only the pilot’s body was recovered. The gunman fled, hijacking a man’s vehicle at gunpoint. Later the police questioned the driver, but he explained that the gunman was alone. An intensive search was launched around the site with a special canine unit, but nothing turned up. So at this point no one knows where Jackie is,” Jack sounded disheartened.

“Well it seems pretty safe to assume that she’s not in the hands of that maniac,” Mr. Trempton blurted, angered that a bunch of thugs tried to kill his son.

“Honey, we’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear anything. Your dad is right, she may have managed to escape and is still afraid to come forward,” his mom suggested. Somehow Jack was not totally convinced. He knew Jackie well enough, and realized she would have gone either to the police or to her family if she could’ve. Surely she would have come to the hospital and made sure he was okay, Jackie would be next to his bedside, if she was able to. She had certainly proven her loyalty to him. But if she wasn’t in the hands of the killer, then where the hell could she be? It seemed that she had simply disappeared off the face of the earth. He gained some peace of mind knowing that the army was looking for her. He had no doubts that they had the means and intelligence to find her.

“Darn, I almost forgot all about Tara.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll drop by the house afterwards and make sure she’s okay. We’ll bring her over to our home until you’re a little stronger.”

“You will need to speak to Chief Williams and advise him beforehand. My keys to the garage are in the drawer, right here next to the bed. You’ll find her food in the bottom drawer underneath the sink.”

“Jack, I’ll get them. You shouldn’t be moving yet,” his mom picked up the set and placed them in her purse.

“The doctors will release me in a week or two. They just want to make sure my wound heals properly and that I don’t develop an infection. If it wasn’t for Jackie, I probably would have bled to death.”

“Your mom and I can certainly help you out until you get back on your feet. In the meantime, we can check your answering machine for any messages and pick up your mail?” his father suggested.

“Thanks. You guys are the best.”

“You should try resting now. We’ll be back tomorrow. If you need anything just give us a call,” his father gave him a small pat on the shoulder.

“Honey we’ll see you tomorrow,” his mom kissed him on the cheek. Jack hugged his mom. His parents had been through so much, he was just grateful he would be okay, not only for his own sake but theirs as well.

 

“We are Jack’s friends, and I work with him at Fernheights,” Yvonne explained to the officer.

“Unfortunately, you’ll need to get special permission from the Chief of Police. I’m under strict orders.”

Just as Yvonne and Henri were leaving, Jack’s parents walked out of the room. Henri had met with them on a couple of previous occasions and instantly recognized them. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Trempton.”

“Hi Henri, nice to see you,” Mr. Trempton extended his hand. Henri then introduced them to Yvonne. Often when Jack spoke about his work, he had mentioned what a wonderful worker and friend she had become.

“My pleasure. How’s he doing?” Yvonne asked.

“He’s okay. The bullet hit his shoulder area, but he’ll recover. He’s just a little weak,” Mrs. Trempton explained.

“We were about to visit him, but were informed that we need to contact the Chief of Police to be granted special permission.”

“They’re being pretty strict; I guess with one of the killers still on the loose, they’re taking no chances. We had to show ID, before we were allowed to enter. How about if I speak to the Chief myself? In the meantime, perhaps you’d like to have a coffee downstairs,” Mr. Trempton offered.

“Sure, probably a good idea, since I don’t think I could wrestle that big guy,” Henri remarked.

Before they headed downstairs, Mr. Trempton explained to the attending officer that Henri was Jack’s long-time friend. Mr. Trempton advised the officer that he was going to contact the Chief to grant Henri permission to enter.

“We’re so glad that Jack is going to be okay,” Yvonne stated, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Well it was quite the bombshell learning that our son had been shot. For a while we had the fright of our lives,” Mrs. Trempton explained.

“Imaginably so. I overheard the news this morning on the radio. The newspaper also ran full coverage. At the moment I’m just so frightened for Jackie. Do you know if there has been any news?”

“The poor girl is still missing. Apparently she’s not in the hands of the killer, thank God. But oddly no one has seen or heard from her,” Mrs. Trempton explained.

“I’m sure Jack is upset. How’s he coping with her disappearance?”

“He’s taking it hard, but has some peace of mind knowing the police are looking for her. If he had the strength, he would go looking himself,” Jack’s mom added.

Henri wanted to ask them why someone would try to kill their son, but thought it best to ask Jack himself. It would be unfair to put them on the spot, and he sure as hell didn’t want to upset them more than they already were. Although, he wondered if Jack had these answers and had confided in them. After all, wouldn’t his parents ask the obvious? Henri’s cell rang. He excused himself.

“Yes this is he,” Henri confirmed.

“This is Chief Williams, I understand that you and a young lady would like to visit Jack Trempton?”

“Yes, we’re good friends with Jack, and I have known him for many years. Yvonne, my fiancée, also works with Jack at Fernheights. Occasionally we go out for dinner. At the moment we are having a cup of coffee with Mr. and Mrs. Trempton. I’ve met with them a couple of times while at Jack’s home.”

“Well I’m sure Jack is looking forward to seeing you and Yvonne. Jack is lucky to have such loyal friends.”

“Thanks. We’ll go up in a couple of minutes. Thanks again.”

Henri returned back to the table. “The Chief called. He has given us the green light. I just can’t tell you how happy I am knowing Jack is going to be fine.”

“We’re so glad that our son has such good friends,” Mrs. Trempton acknowledged.

“I’m not sure if Jack had a chance to tell you yet, but he’s going to be my best man. Yvonne and I are getting married in June.”

“Congratulations,” Mr. and Mrs. Trempton blurted out in unison.

“That’s wonderful! I’m sure Jack will be much better by then. If there is one thing we know about our son, is that he’s very strong and resilient,” Mr. Trempton announced.

Henri smiled. Jack was quite determined. His persistence, courage, and intelligence allowed him to overcome some of life’s greatest hurdles, not only in his professional life but also in his personal. Jack was certainly not the type to sit back and feel sorry for himself.

“Why don’t you two go ahead and visit Jack,” Mr. Trempton invited.

Henri rose, “Well once Jack gets well, Yvonne and I would like to have you over for dinner. It would be nice to sit down and chat.”

“We’d like that very much,” Mr. Trempton stated. Henri and Yvonne exchanged goodbyes. Yvonne and Henri got off the elevator and walked briskly down a couple of corridors before reaching Jack’s room. The guard acknowledged them and opened the door.

Jack was sitting half upright in bed.

“Jack,” Yvonne greeted him heartily and gave him a gentle hug, being ever so careful.

“It’s good to see you both,” Jack smiled, extending his hand to Henri.

“How are you feeling?” Henri asked.

“The medication is keeping the pain at bay. The doctors say I’ll be much better in a couple of weeks. There isn’t any permanent damage, and I’ll be able to move my arm just like before. Although it will be some time before it completely heals.”

“That’s good. Henri and I are so glad that you’ll be okay.”

“You guys are the best. Sorry if I’m not the best of company, but I’m just worried sick about Jackie. It seems that she’s disappeared off the face of the earth. After the helicopter caught fire, no one has seen her. Apparently the killer took off and hijacked a car. But the driver of the vehicle stated that the hijacker was alone. The police brought in the canine unit and looked everywhere for her. Wouldn’t someone have spotted her by now? This just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Even the driver confirmed that the hijacker had been all alone. So, could it not be possible that Jackie may have run away from him, and hurried off to hide some place? She’s probably afraid and needs some time to herself. After everything she’s been through, it seems like a normal thing to do.” Henri suggested as a possible explanation.

Jack considered this very carefully. Henri certainly had a valid point. Jackie must have safely left the helicopter, since her body was not found inside. So it could very well be that she was somewhere safe and sound, but simply too afraid to come out. It made perfect sense. “I guess I’ve just been too busy worrying, that it never occurred to me that she simply could be hiding.”

“I tend to agree with Henri,” Yvonne squeezed Jack’s hand. “Jackie is smart and strong, and from everything else I read in the paper extremely clever. I wouldn’t be too surprised if one of these days she returns home safely.”

A heavy burden was lifted off Jack’s shoulder. He eased back against his pillow. He just couldn’t lose Jackie. How many times could a man find true love, he asked himself? He surrendered to a peaceful sleep.

Yvonne and Henri quietly tiptoed across the room, and knocked lightly on the door so the guard would open it.

“Poor Jack, he’s been worried sick,” Yvonne looked overstressed.

They walked hand in hand down the long corridor. “Knowing Jack, he’ll try to be up on his feet as soon as possible. If she’s not back by then, he’ll probably search for her himself.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did just that. He’s such a loyal friend.”

They got into the elevator which led them into the front lobby of the hospital. As they walked towards Henri’s car, Yvonne enjoyed the warm breeze gentling stroking her face. The arrival of spring always exited her, since it meant that summer was just around the corner. And this summer would be extra special. She only hoped it would be nice and warm, but not an unbearable scorcher on her wedding day. As they settled in their seats, Henri asked, “Did you want to grab something to eat before heading back to Fernheights?” Yvonne checked her watch. It was nearly one o’clock. “As tempting as it sounds, I better get back. I want to get some work done. Henri, with everything going on, I didn’t thank you for speaking to Mr. Matheson.”

Henri winked at her. “I’ve known him for many years, and it was easier for me to speak to him on your behalf. Besides, he’s aware of my dedication and level of expertise, and trusts my judgment. He also speaks volumes about Jack, and trusts his judgment. Thus he had no choice but to concede that there might be some truth to what we were telling him. He’s generally an easygoing guy, but unfortunately drew the wrong conclusion.”

“I agree. I’ve always liked him and found him reasonable. I guess if I were in his shoes, I would have thought the same.”

“The truth will soon come out. He’s agreed to place a couple of cameras in the receptionist area. Samantha’s every move will be scrutinized. It’s sad that she would stoop so low. Fernheights is such a prestigious company, not to mention the handsome salary it offers. It’s a pity she’d risk all that, but I guess a woman like her thinks she’ll never get caught.”

“What hurts the most is that I considered her a friend. Never in a million years would I’ve guessed that she would attempt to sabotage my career. Sure everyone likes to climb the corporate ladder, but I did so by working hard.”

“Unfortunately not everyone’s like you. She harbors a darker side, one which she keeps well hidden. Just remember to act casual. Don’t change your behavior around her. If she thinks no one suspects her, she may try again.”

Yvonne knew he was right. She rehearsed every day, watching herself in the mirror. It was crucial that her voice remained steady when she greeted and spoke to her, without any hidden undertones. “Got it. I just hope she makes her move soon, I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this charade.”

“Honey, we must be patient. Mr. Matheson still has to have his proof. We need to catch her in the act.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep my cool.” Yvonne realized that Henri had gone to bat for her and stuck his own neck on the line, as did Jack.

Henri pulled into the parking lot. “I’ll pick you up at around five.”

With everything happening, Yvonne forgot that she didn’t have her own vehicle. “Oh I’m sorry; I should have asked you to drop me off at my home instead.”

“This will be my excuse to spend more time with you this evening.”

Yvonne laughed. He pulled her close to him and kissed her.