Monday, January 14, 2008

EXPOSURES CHAPTER 34 & 35

We're almost at the end...only 2 more chapters to go...actually one chapter and the epilogue!



Chapter 34

Only the eerie green glow of the computer terminal illuminated the room as David entered the last date on Brett’s appointment calendar into the memory banks and followed up with a series of commands that would start the search. Glasses perched on the end of his nose, he ran his fingers through his already rumpled hair, wheeled the chair back, and put his feet up on the console. A steady crawl of phone numbers and dates rolled up the monitor. It was after ten o’clock, and thirty-eight stories below, traffic still inched its way across the glittering span of the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge.

David swiveled his seat slightly and turned his gaze just in time to catch the Goodyear Blimp floating past his windows. It’s sign flashed on and off and in between blinks the side of the aircraft displayed a series of colored light patterns which resembled psychedelic pop art. He returned his attention to the screen as the computer began its second run. Munching on the hamburger he had ordered, he thought about Brett and knew that this time it would all be right. He was finally free from his self-imposed guilt and soon she would be free from Jeffrey.

Brett had already found an attorney, the wife of one of Lizzie’s colleagues at GNSN, to handle the divorce. Jeffrey had agreed to the generous settlement she had offered, and now it was just a matter of time.

On the computer’s sixth run, David slammed his feet to the floor and bolted upright in his chair. There were at least a hundred calls to the same phone number, most of them made on days and times when Brett was out of the studio. He cross-referenced the number with Brett’s Rolodex file; the match took only seconds. “I’ll be damned,” David said aloud as he stared at the screen. He couldn’t think of any reason why Jeffrey had been called that frequently. He was a busy man, and Brett would never have instructed Therese to make those calls. Were Therese and Jeffrey having an affair? David wasn’t sure what the calls meant, but he wanted to know more about Jeffrey Underwood.

He stored the information on a floppy disk, locked it in the wall safe and erased the memory. All the way downtown to his apartment, he debated whether he should tell Brett or not. He really didn’t know anything yet.

He didn’t know much about Jeffrey Underwood—only that he was an attorney who worked for Brett’s grandfather. He hadn’t even met him. But he suspected that ace reported Liz Powell would know more.

“Hold on a minute, David,” Lizzie said the next morning. He could hear her in the background, scolding the twins for dumping their breakfasts on the floor. “Honestly, if one does something, the other has to do it, too,” she said when she returned to the phone. “What can I do for you?” She asked brightly.

David didn’t tell Lizzie of his discovery last night—he merely asked her what she knew about Jeffrey. All she remembered was that he was forty-one and he had gone to Yale Law School. David thanked her and promised to visit on Sunday.

On Saturday morning, David drove to Connecticut and parked his Saab a few blocks from the Yale campus. The university was almost deserted as David strolled toward Sterling Library. The imposing gray stone structure was as hushed as a cathedral inside, and his footsteps echoed on the tile floor. He approached the desk and asked the young, freckle-faced, red-haired girl behind the massive counter if she might tell him where yearbooks were kept. She asked him what years and directed him, with amazing accuracy, to the stack and shelf where he would find them.

David didn’t know whether Jeffrey was advanced or a late bloomer so he took the dusty yearbooks from 1965 to 1975 to a table. He worked his way back to 1968 before he hit pay dirt. He had only seen the photo Brett kept of Jeffrey in her office, but this was clearly the same man. Here he was younger, but his keen features were exactly the same; even the hairstyle was remarkably like the one he wore now.

It didn’t take him long to read the entry. Jeffrey had no club memberships or activities. His bio simply gave his name, his law review years, and his hometown of Warren’s Corners, Minnesota.

For three hours on Monday morning, David tried to track down the Warren’s Corners town clerk. It seemed that she also served as postmaster and county fire marshal, and she was conducting her semiannual fire safety seminar at the Fielding County Fair. When they finally spoke, David asked her if she could check the records for an Underwood family and if she could tell him if there were any family members still in Warren’s Corners. “I don’t have to check no records,” she informed him. “I’ve had this job since 1932, and my daddy had it before me. It was a real pity about those Underwoods—such a shame. Mama, papa, and the little boy, all killed in a wreck on the interstate in 1948. I remember because we’d just gotten the big road through here. You know, it was one of them projects after the war, to put our boys back to work.”

“All of them dead? Are you sure?” David asked, stunned.

“ ‘Course I’m sure. That funeral was one of the saddest things I ever laid eyes on.”

“Do you remember the little boy’s name? Was it Jeffrey?” David was afraid he already knew the answer.

“Yeah. That was him all right. He had the prettiest brown eyes you ever want to see.”

If Jeffrey Underwood is dead, then who is Jeffrey Underwood? He didn’t know what was going on, but something was wrong. He didn’t have enough information to go to the police and he had no evidence that Jeffrey had done anything illegal, but now he was sure Therese knew more.
He called her home number the rest of the afternoon but got no answer. At the end of the day he went to her apartment on West Twenty-first Street, and luckily met a neighbor sweeping the stoop in front of the building. “I’ve lived here forty years—I like to keep the place clean,” she said.

“It looks like you do a pretty good job,” he said. “Do you know Therese Diot? I’m a friend of hers, in from out of town. I’ll only he here a few days, and I haven’t been able to reach her.”

The elderly woman eyed him suspiciously, then, deciding he didn’t look like an ax murderer, said, “She’s away ‘til next week. She asked me to water her plants; said she was off to see the U.S.A. Nice girl, for a foreigner. At least she speaks English.”

“Thank you. I guess I’ll have to catch her next time,” David said.

He walked across town from Chelsea to Gramercy Park, trying to think of how to tell Brett what he had found out.

“David! What a nice surprise.” Brett smiled as she answered the door. She was dressed in emerald green cotton shorts and a matching shell. With her hair spilling from a ponytail on top of her head, she looked like David remembered her as a teenager. Her smile faded as she noted his dour expression. “Is something wrong? Did something turn up from the lists?” she asked as they climbed the stairs.

“Well, something surely isn’t right.” David slumped in the middle of the sofa.

Brett perched on the arm of the sofa and faced him. David looked tired and slightly disheveled. His khaki suit was wrinkled and limp, and his shirt was open at the neck. The ends of his loosened tie hung unevenly, and as a result of the August heat, his curly brown hair clung damply to his forehead and neck. “You look wiped out. Can I get you something?”

“No, I’ll be fine, but I am glad it’s cool in here.”

“All right, what is it?” Brett asked.

“How much do you know about Jeffrey?” David asked.

“The regular stuff, I suppose. He’s worked for Grandfather fourteen or fifteen years. He went through Yale Law on scholarship and insurance money. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was fifteen. He’s from a small town in Minnesota. It’s known for something odd, like—sunflower farming, that’s it!”

“And town clerks with excellent memories. It’s Warren’s Corners.”

“Yes! That’s it! What does that have to do with anything?”

“I called there today. Brett, according to their records, Jeffrey Underwood was killed in a car accident when he was two years old.”

“But that’s impossible. It must be another Jeffrey Underwood.”

“From a town of eighteen hundred people? Come on, Brett, I know it’s pretty strange, but I talked to the town clerk today and she gave me the whole story. She went on about how cute little Jeffrey was, with his big brown eyes. There’s something shady going on here, but I still don’t know what.”

“How did you find out where he was from? What made you investigate Jeffrey?”

David told her about the calls to Jeffrey’s private number at Larsen Enterprises from the studio, and the conversation with Lizzie that led him to Yale and, finally, Warren’s Corners.

“Do you really think that Therese and Jeffrey had an affair?” That might explain his sexual indifference toward me, she thought. But not why he wanted a child so badly. Brett had not confided the intimate details of her failed marriage to David, so she kept these thoughts to herself, as well.

“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I tried to see Therese this afternoon, but she’s away until next week.”

“I could just call Jeffrey and ask him. There’s probably a simple explanation.” Brett tried to convince herself that was true. Had she really known Jeffrey all this time, married him, and he was someone else? It was too implausible for her to believe.

“You can’t do that. What if he’s involved in these incidents that have been happening to you? I think you should postpone your trip to Santa Verde until we know a little more.”

“David, it’s my career. I don’t have time to waste. Santa Verde is a resort. Just because Jeffrey has some secret past doesn’t mean he’s out to harm me.”

“I still think you should put the trip off. Just until I can talk to Therese.”

“What would you say if I told you that you shouldn’t go to Sunnyvale or Seoul because there might be an earthquake or a student uprising? You would tell me that you had to go because it was your business, wouldn’t you?”

“This is different, dammit!” He wanted to convince her to take his suspicions seriously, but he did not want to alarm her unnecessarily. “What difference would another week or so make?”

“Obviously, you don’t understand how important this trip is to me. Nothing will happen. I’m only going to scout the location. There are no models to be canceled and there is no equipment, to speak of, to be sabotaged. I’m staying at a lovely new hotel right on the beach. I’ll rent a car, pick out spots that will make great photographs, swim a little, and come back. LARSair is pumping a lot of dollars into this place. It’s going to be a major resort and the Board of Tourism is helping to plan my itinerary. What could go wrong?”

“All right . . . but promise me you’ll be careful,” David said hesitantly. “I love you.”

Thick humid air still hovered over Manhattan when he left the house. I just don’t like the way this feels, David thought.



Chapter 35

“Your visa is good for two weeks, senorita.” The immigration clerk was charming and professional, and he smiled at Brett cordially as he stamped her passport with the official seal of Santa Verde.

“I’m only planning a four-day stay this time. But if I like it, I’ll be back.” Brett returned his smile and he directed her to baggage claim and customs. She had only a carry on and her camera bag, so she proceeded directly to the customs line.

The LARSair 727 had been almost full, but most passengers were continuing on to more well known destinations. Brett stood in line with the dozen other travelers giving Santa Verde a try, noticing that more than half of them appeared to be businessmen anxious to cut deals in the new resort.

The terminal was a one-story building with pre-fab walls set on a cinder block foundation. Two gates, one for departures and one for arrivals, had large windows that looked out onto the lone runway, recently extended to accommodate big jets. There was the requisite duty free shop, gift shop and a tiny counter with a soda dispenser and packs of chips and peanut butter cheese crackers, that aspired to be a snack bar.

She cleared customs and carried her bag, bearing a chalk X, out into the bright midday sunshine. It’s cooler out here that inside, she thought, enjoying the balmy air. Squinting against the glare, Brett could see the mountains, actually very tall hills, and a rising peak to the south that had to be Mt. Drado, Santa Verde’s requisite inactive volcano.

“Miss Larsen?” inquired a mustached gentleman wearing sunglasses and a white tropical suit.

“Yes,” Brett replied.

“I am Manuel Cissaro from the Board of Tourism. Welcome to our country. The car is just this way.” He showed her to a Mercedes-Benz limousine, which looked out of place. Most of the other cars and pickup trucks appeared ready for the junkyard.

They must be pulling out all the stops, Brett thought as she settled into the air-conditioned cool of the car. Manuel Cissaro chattered on about the great future of his country, now that they had so much help from American businesses. Brett had been told that the ride to the hotel took about fifteen minutes, so she divided her attention between Senor Cissaro and the passing scenery. Children played by the side of the road and cows, each tended by its own egret, flicked their tails lazily, discouraging flies from lighting too long.

There was little traffic on the two-lane road, but the car was forced to pause several times. Once, a small herd of reluctant goats was coaxed across the road by a young boy wearing a tee shirt, gray trousers cut off to make shorts and a blue baseball cap. Then their progress was halted when a large truck with wood-slatted sides, loaded with farm workers standing shoulder to shoulder, backed across the pavement and drove off in the opposite direction. Before long a runty litter of black piglets followed their mother, whose distended teats indicated feeding time, to the other side of the two-lane highway.

Brett glanced at her watch and realized that they had been riding for over half an hour and there was no hotel in sight. “Shouldn’t we be there by now?” Brett asked.

“There has been a slight change in plans, senorita, but we should be there soon,” Senor Cissaro said.

“What change? Take me to the hotel—now!” Cissaro pushed her down across the seat and forced a chloroform-soaked handkerchief over her nose and mouth. David was right, she thought just before she lost consciousness.

When she awakened, she found herself lying in a dark room. Her head throbbed, her sweaty clothes hugged her body, her jaws ached, and her mouth was sore and dry. With a start, she realized that she was gagged. She tried to roll over and get up, but found that her wrists and ankles were bound to an old iron bedstead. She flailed and tried to free herself, but the scratchy ropes dug into her flesh, and the rusty springs creaked in protest.

The door opened and a tall lean man wearing jungle fatigues walked into the room. “So, you are awake. I will remove the cloth around your mouth, but do not bother to scream—no one will hear you. Would you like some food?” He nodded his head toward the scarred metal table by the bed. On it was a tin plate with a mound of rice and a mango.

As soon as he removed the gag, Brett screamed. He shrugged his shoulders, replaced the gag, and left the room. In the dim light, she watched as the flies enjoyed her supper.

* * *

“What do you mean, kidnapped, Jeffrey?” Sven Larsen had retired to his bedroom suite after dinner, and at eight, when the phone rang, he was already attired in bedclothes.

“Brett left this morning for Santa Verde to scout locations. When I spoke to her at six o’clock, everything was fine. She was in her room, about to change for dinner. Then, a short while ago, I got a call from a man with some kind of thick accent, maybe Spanish. He said he had Brett and she would be dead if I didn’t do as he said,” Jeffrey explained excitedly.

“How do you know he’s not bluffing?” Sven asked, a slight quiver in his slow, steady voice.

Jeffrey paused. “He let me speak to her. She was crying so hard that I could hardly understand her. She told me she had tried to get away, but they had caught her and beat her.” Jeffrey’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and continued. “He didn’t let me talk to her long. He came back on the phone and warned me not to call the police. He said we would never find her alive if we did.”

“What does he want?” Sven asked.

“Money. He wants ten million dollars. I have five—the money you gave us as a wedding present.”

“I’ll wire you the ten million dollars, Jeffrey. Spend whatever is necessary. We have to get her back,” Sven said, the urgency apparent in his voice. Sven had lost everyone else he loved and the thought of losing Brett was unbearable.

“Thank you, sir. The man instructed me to have the money wired to myself at Banco Santa Verde tomorrow. He said he had ways of checking if it came through. I am to arrive after five tomorrow evening and check into La Raina Hotel. Someone will be in contact with me there.”

“How do you know you’re not in danger? How can he be trusted?” Sven asked.

I don’t know, but I don’t have any choice. Brett’s down there, and I have to go get her back.”

“Take one of the corporate planes. Jeffrey, just get her back. We have to . . . “ Sven’s voice dissolved. “Does Lillian know?”

“No, but I’ll take care of that. We’ll get her back, sir. I believe in my heart we will. I will be in touch in the morning, or if there are further developments.”

“Yes,” Sven said weakly, then hung up.

Jeffrey was sprawled on his imposing gothic bed. The ornately carved mahogany headboard looked like a panel ripped from the walls of a cathedral.

She left me no choice, he reasoned. Divorce was out of the question. He could never relinquish his hard won position as the grand-son-in-law of billionaire Sven Larsen and next in line to run Larsen Enterprises. If he and Brett were no longer married he was sure Sven would find a way to humiliate him.

Jeffrey sat up, opened the burled mahogany commode by his bedside and removed the locked steel box. He fished in the pocket of his robe for the key. Again he fingered the yellowed and crumbling articles. He humiliated my father, but he won'’ do it to me, Jeffrey thought. He had gathered enough information to bring Sven Larsen down, but that was no longer enough. He had to supplant him. With Brett dead, and he the grieving widower, he could succeed in doing that.

It all seemed so neat, and since Cissaro only wanted five million dollars, Jeffrey would make a profit on the deal. He replaced his mementos in the commode and settled into bed. The next day would be a long one.

* * *

“What do you mean, her reservations have been canceled? She’s there—I know she is. I saw the plane off myself,” David shouted into the phone.” Another hotel? How many are there?” His heart raced as he called the five numbers the man had given him, but when none of the hotels had a Brett Larsen registered, he knew she was in trouble.

At eleven o’clock he arrive at Therese’s building on West Twenty-first Street and found the same elderly woman out front, this time sitting on the stoop. “Oh, you’re still in town. That’s nice. I bet she’ll be happy to see you.”

Not likely, David thought as he took the stairs two at a time and pounded on Therese’s door. “Let me in, Therese. It’s David Powell.”

The door opened a crack and he shoved in the rest of the way, wrenching the security chain from its mooring. “Monsieur Powell?”

“What have you done with her?” He grabbed her by the shoulders and his fingers dug into her flesh.

“What are you talking about?” she asked, her eyes wide with fear.

“I know you and Underwood are in on this. Now, tell me where she is.” He shook her roughly. “If he’s done something to harm her, I’ll . . .”

“Oh, mon dieu! Mon dieu! What has he done?” Therese moaned.

“Come on, I know you two had something going on. Now Brett is missing. She left for a trip this morning, but she never arrived!”

“He is crazy, that one. You are right, I did work for him, but no more. He paid me to spy on is wife.”

“And the canceled models, the destroyed film—did he pay you to do that, too?”

“Yes, I did that, too, but I know nothing about this. I have been away.” The tears started to roll down her cheeks, but they only infuriated David more.

“You helped him? Why? What did Brett ever do to you?”

Therese explained that she had done it for money, nothing else, and that if Jeffrey had done something to Brett now, he had done it without her assistance.

“Okay, then, you’re coming with me.” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward the door. “You’re going to tell the police what you know.”

Their story led them through the ranks at the police precinct, until the precinct captain closed them in his office and lectured David about the seriousness of his accusations.

“I wouldn’t be here unless I believed it was serious,” David said.

With that, the officer telephoned the local FBI office. “I’ve got something here that I think requires your attention.”

David led Therese down to the offices of the FBI where, detail by detail, they related all they knew once again. After waking the town clerk in Warren’s Corners and receiving her corroboration of the death of Jeffrey Underwood, the agent decided to put a tail on the man using that name. He also contacted the CIA, since he didn’t know whether Brett’s abduction had occurred on U.S. or foreign soil. Therese was held for additional questioning, and David left with the assurance they would keep him informed.

Although it was two in the morning, David went straight to Lillian’s. She needed to know what had taken place.

That night, the supervising agent authorized wiretaps on Jeffrey’s home and office phones, and after confirming Jeffrey’s presence in his East Sixty-eighth Street apartment, two agents were posted outside the building. Jeffrey did not leave his home until the next morning. The agents followed him to Larsen headquarters and waited by the elevator banks in the lobby, but it was the phone surveillance that paid off. They taped two conversations between Jeffrey and Sven Larsen. Sven confirmed that he had wired ten million dollars to Jeffrey at Banco Santa Verde and told Jeffrey to do whatever was necessary to get Brett back. It was the confirmation they needed. They also recorded a call to the LARSair terminal at Kennedy Airport, where Jeffrey ordered a corporate jet fueled and ready for take-off, destination Santa Verde, then verified that a flight plan had been filed. At ten-thirty, Jeffrey left Larsen and was followed back home. He emerged forty-five minutes later carrying two suitcases and entered a waiting chauffeured car, which they followed to Kennedy. Then they called David.

“What do you mean, you can’t stop him? Are you going to follow him down there? . . . His plane is scheduled for takeoff at one o’clock and you can’t go until the next regularly scheduled flight at seven tonight? You’ll lose him—we’ll never find her. What if I charter my own damn plant? . . . I’ll call you back in ten minutes.” He called back in seven. “Meet me in front of West Way Airlines at one-thirty. We leave at two-fifteen . . . Oh I’m going all right.” He called Lillian, advised her of his plans and promised to call again when they got to Santa Verde.

The Santa Verdian authorities had been faxed photographs of Jeffrey and Brett by the time David and the agents left New York. They would immediately investigate her whereabouts, and planned to follow Jeffrey upon his arrival.

Agent Walker, a tall young man about David’s age, slept on the pullout bed in the rear of the airplane cabin. David paced the length of the Lear’s center aisle, almost believing that his efforts could speed their journey. Agent Morgan had tried to engage David in conversation, hoping to ease the tension he could see in him. He was a stocky, thirty-year veteran in the service of his country, and he told David that he had learned long ago not to let his nerves get the best of him. “I’d never have survived if I hadn’t discovered that you can’t do anything until you can.” He hadn’t expected his advice to make a difference and it didn’t, so he played solitaire and whistled show tunes until he could do something.

* * *

When the sun rose the next morning, Brett had been awake all night. Sounds she couldn’t identify penetrated the darkness, and scurrying that she surmised came from rats added to her misery. Now the daylight peeked through the spaces in the windowless plank walls, and she was relieved to still be alive.

Almost immediately, as if he had been watching her, the man from last night came in and replaced her uneaten meal with a chipped enamel pan of water and a rag, then untied her right hand and left the room. She mopped her face with the water, glad it was cool. She bathed her swollen wrists and, as though awakened by the water, they hurt even worse. She desperately wanted to dribble some of the water into her mouth, but decided that it might not be safe.

He returned after ten minutes and explained that she could sit in the chair. Without ungagging her, he loosened the rest of her bindings and helped her to stand. Then Brett struck out, hitting the man’s face with all her might as she tried to get to the door. He wrestled her arm behind her back and she moaned in pain as he steered her to a splintery chair in the middle of the floor, retied her, and left, shaking his head.

When she quieted down, she surveyed her prison. It appeared to be a one-room shack with a sheet of corrugated steel for a roof. It contained only the bed, a table, the chair on which she sat, and a big pot in the corner she guessed was her bathroom.

It had to be Jeffrey, she thought. Why would he do this? She had given him plenty of money, so that wasn’t it. She had done nothing to him but be unable to return his love. There had to be something else—something she didn’t know about. David knows I’m in Santa Verde, and Aunt Lillian knows, too. They’ll find me. They have to find me, Brett thought, and gasped as an iguana scampered across her feet.

Several hours later, her limbs were almost numb and she desperately had to use the bathroom. She pounded her feet on the floor to summon her guard. Still gagged, she nodded toward the corner.

“I will untie your feet, but not your hands. Just as I warned you not to scream, I will warn you not to try to run. You are far up in the hills, in the back-country. It is treacherous, and you cannot get away.” With that, he unbound her ankles and left her alone, but he returned a short time later and secured her to the chair again.

Shortly after sunset he came back with the tin plate. This time it contained rice and breadfruit. He uncovered her mouth. She did not scream, but she did not eat.



“I am Colonel Monterra. I am sorry your visit to our country is under such unfortunate circumstances. We are really quite a friendly place.” The colonel was trim, tan, and appeared to be in his early forties. His dark hair was combed straight back from his face and it gleamed from his generous use of pomade. Since the police in Santa Verde were soldiers, he was dressed in full military regalia. They were at the Santa Verde police headquarters, a concrete barracks that had been painted pink. The colonel’s office had been freshly whitewashed and a wooden ceiling fan revolved slowly.

“Have you found out anything?” David asked anxiously. “Do you know where she is?”

“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Agent Walker interrupted. “I’m sure the colonel here will tell us everything he knows, won’t you, Colonel?”

Agent Morgan remained silent, but David began to pace.

“Mr. Underwood has arrived and he is staying at La Reina, a hotel not far from here. It is not the usual tourist spot, but it is across the street from Banco Santa Verde, where I am told the money is being wired. We have a man watching him. So far, he has done nothing out of the ordinary. We interrogated airport personnel, and the young woman in question did arrive yesterday. However, she was seen leaving the airport in the company of Manuel Cissaro. I am afraid that Senor Cissaro is, as you Americans say, bad news. He is a well-known broker of arms, ammunition, and American dollars. Usually he will sell to whoever is willing to pay, but he has a brother who is suspected of planning a military takeover of Alletia, our neighbor to the south. And lately Senor Cissaro has been unusually active.”

“So what you’re saying is that she’s in more danger than we thought. And we’re sitting around here talking about it!” David shouted.

“If he is holding her where we think he is, we can have the place surrounded by morning. We should have word soon.”

“Up in the hills would be my guess—someplace nearly inaccessible unless you know where you’re going. It’s probably laid out to make finding it easier than getting out.” Agent Morgan’s recitation was made with his eyes closed and his hands folded in his lap. He started to whistle again.

“Exactly. We have to plan this carefully, so as to minimize injury to all concerned. Unfortunately, your hotel, the Casa Verde, is in town also. It is two blocks from La Reina. What a shame you will not see our beautiful beaches. But we will meet you in the lobby at seven-thirty. The bank opens at eight, and we expect that to be Mr. Underwood’s next move.”

They left the police station and took a taxi to their hotel. “The colonel knows what he’s doing,” Morgan said as they bumped along the dusty road.

“He looks like a dandy who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” Walker replied.

David said nothing, but he thought the colonel sounded like he worked for the chamber of commerce. David tried to imagine the terror Brett must be feeling.

They exited the taxi in front of the fading pink hacienda that was the hotel, and David registered in a daze. He presented his passport, paid for the room in advance, and was presented the key. “Be ready to roll by seven,” Walker called as David plodded up the wide center staircase.

When he entered his room the musty smell of humid air trapped in damp bed linens met his nostrils. Not bothering to turn on the light, David dropped his black bag from his shoulder and fell, face down, onto the woven spread covering the lumpy double bed. White light from a street lamp shining through the shutters fell across David’s body, striping him in alternating dark and bright bands. He reached for the phone and called Lillian to report the sketchy information he knew.

David had not slept in nearly forty hours. His eyes felt filled with grains of fine sand, the muscles in his neck and back were rigid with tension, and he could smell his own sweat.

Yanking the pillow from under the spread, he shielded his face from the light. Soon he was overwhelmed by a deep, dead sleep, but a short time later his own muffled cry awakened him. David had dreamed that he was falling, deeper and deeper into a cold, dark pit. He flailed his arms and legs, trying to catch hold of the craggy walls and stop his descent. He failed, and his wild plummeting continued.

Head pounding, sweat coating his body, David stumbled to the tiny bathroom, turned on the cold water in the tub, and stuck his head under the faucet. After several moments he turned it off, then sat on the closed top of the toilet and buried his head in his hands.

All day, David had been plagued by the aching feeling that he had seen the disaster coming, but had failed to avert it. If only Therese had been home sooner, he would have had the pieces he needed to convince Brett of the danger.
At the airport yesterday Brett had been buoyant with hope and excitement.

“I’ll bring you a surprise,” she had said playfully.

“You’re always full of surprises,” he had said.

She had kissed him and ruffled his hair, then disappeared down the jetway. And at this moment, the only thing David wanted was to see that face again.

But he couldn’t let thoughts of the peril she was in paralyze him. He had to summon all of his energy to think of how they were going to save her, and he knew that to be ready for tomorrow he had to get some rest, so he stripped off his wet shirt, returned to the bed and made himself sleep.

* * *

Jeffrey hated the tropics. The heat and dampness made him feel limp, and he could never take enough showers to feel clean. He stayed in his room, entertaining himself by imagining the torture Sven was enduring, miles away, completely unable to affect the outcome. He slumped in a bald gold velvet chair, his feet propped on the bed, tying and untying the belt of his robe. In a few hours, Sven Larsen would be sorry he had ever met Karl Holmlund. “The bastard will never even know what happened,” Jeffrey said under his breath and closed his eyes, thinking of his father and enjoying the bitter ecstasy of the moment.

Sven Larsen had known Karl Holmlund since they were boys. They were both children of hard-working Swedish immigrants who had successfully staked claims in the Midwest. Their families had been among the wealthiest in Racine.

Each grew up to head the company founded by his father. Karl, always steady and conservative, built Holmlund Metal Works into a mid-sized company, employing a hundred people. The company primarily provided precision equipment for the automotive industry, concentrated in nearby Detroit.

Sven believed that diversification was the route to success. He took his company, then known as Larsen Rail Transport, from a rail freight carrier servicing the lumber and mining industries, and expanded into air freight and eventually to passenger travel. In the process he began acquiring smaller companies—often, his suppliers. He looked for firms that were in dire financial straits but had the potential to be profitable, and among them was Michigan Tool and Die, an undercapitalized facility located in Clemens, Michigan, not far from Detroit. Larsen had pumped money into the ailing firm for five years, but it had yet to show a profit.

In the early sixties, Holmlund engineers developed a prototype for a precision gauge that Karl realized had far-reaching applications in automotive manufacturing. Seeing it as the way to expand his business, Karl poured all of his capital into refining the device. He borrowed additional money, based on projected sales increases that the equipment would generate, and put Holmlund Metal up as collateral.

Sven had been at the point of closing Michigan Tool, an uncharacteristic and bitter admission of failure, when he got wind of the developments at Holmlund Metal. He, too, saw the profit potential in the new device and recognized it as the means to salvage his investment in Michigan. By bribing a Holmlund employee, Sven was able to obtain copies of the plans for the gauge, which he filed with the U.S. Patent Office before Holmlund.

Karl was devastated. He knew that Sven had stolen the information, but had no way to provide it. Without the patent, he could not generate the capital to repay his loans. Eventually, his company was seized and the assets auctioned to repay his debts.

Lars had been fifteen at the time. He had been yanked out of the military school he had attended since he was ten years old and watched as his father dissolved into a bitter, gin-drinking recluse.

In his drunken state Karl would cry and berate himself for losing the business entrusted to him by his father. He felt ashamed and responsible to all of the people put out of work by the company’s failure. And then he would curse Sven Larsen’s treachery.

Eventually, Karl drank himself through what money he had left and they moved to Minneapolis, where they stayed with relatives, but Karl continued to deteriorate.

The winter that Lars was seventeen, his father wandered away from home and was missing for days. Lars finally found him, in an alley behind an abandoned factory, with a bottle of gin between his knees, frozen to death.

“Jeffrey, have you heard anything?” Sven asked.

Jeffrey had waited until ten at night to call Racine, allowing Sven the full day to stew. “I received a call just ten minutes ago. I am to be at the bank when it opens tomorrow and collect the money. There is a church, down a side street, a block away from there and someone will meet me and take me to Brett.”

“What can I do, Jeffrey?” Sven asked.

“Nothing but wait, sir. I’ll call you when I have her.”

Sven hung up the phone with shaking hands. He had spent the whole day waiting. For the first time in forty years he did not rise at dawn, drink a cup of black coffee and drive to his office. He lay in his bed, in the dark, thinking.

Several times before he had been forced to wait for those he loved, and it had not gone well.
He had waited in the parlor, listening to Ingrid’s moans and screams, while a doctor tended to her labor. Then he told him she was gone.

Barbara had sworn that she would return from school and he waited, but it was only through his intervention that she came home. He had not intended for anyone to die, but at least he had gotten Barbara back, and Brett.

Sven remembered how happy he had been when he first saw Brett. She looked like his Ingrid, with shiny dark hair and green eyes, but she was gone out of his life soon, too, and he could only love her from afar. But now all he could do was wait, and he was afraid.

* * *

The stagnant tropical darkness weighted Brett’s chest like a millstone. She was no longer gagged, but she felt as if she would smother under the oppressive heat. A scream rested quietly in the back of her throat, afraid that once swallowed into the black night it would be gone forever. I have to stay awake. I have to stay awake, she chanted silently. The guard had barely spoken to her, nor had he tried to harm her, but the night held unseen threats that daylight minimized. She could hear howls and calls from far away that stalked through her imagination and fed her fear. As though timed to add to her discomfort a mosquito orbited her head, its incessant whining buzz an instrument of torture that would leave her unmarked. I have to stay awake. Then she was overcome with the sensation of insects crawling across her skin. There’s nothing there, there’s nothing there, she told herself. She lay still and willed the sensation away. Tomorrow someone will come, she thought as hope timidly edged despair aside. But what if they don’t? Terror seized control once again.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:50 AM

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