Before intermission was over Jim was alerted to Emma’s disappearance. Martin hurried to his side and whispered in his ear. Jim was furious. Jesus Christ! How did it happen? When? He continued questioning Martin who hadn’t witnessed her disappearance until he managed to break through the milling crowd to get to Jim.
Taking Jemma’s hand he held on then leaned toward Sarah and Jake, “We have to go, now.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“No time to explain, let’s go.” Between him and Martin, they hustled the family to the waiting car.
Jemma stopped short, “Where’s Emma?” Panic filled her eyes. “Emma!” she called loudly.
“In the car, please, Jenna.” Once they were inside and Martin was at the wheel, Jim explained his concerns.
“I found this.” He held up the note Emma had left behind. “It indicates Julie had been abducted and Emma was to meet up at the airport with the sender of the note.”
“Jessop! Jessop’s got Emma? What about Julie and…”
“The others are fine. My men are with them now. It was a ruse to get to Emma.”
“Oh my god!” Jenna shook and tears filled her eyes. “This can’t be. She didn’t just go with them did she?”
“I’ll find out more when I get back to base.”
“Does Nathan know?”
“He does, yes. He’s the prime target of course. They’ve used Julie to get Emma to get to Nathan.”
“Is he on his way?”
“Yes, he’ll be here in 12 hours or so. He was half way to Maryland when I informed him of the situation.”
“I don’t know whether to be relieved or scared. They could get him too.”
“Nathan can take care of himself. I’m sure it’s Jessop and his cohorts and once they contact Nathan, he’ll place a tracking device on his body that I can follow. We’ll get them both home safely.” He pulled Jenna close and hugged her.
Jake and Sarah held onto each other, fear in their eyes, but a look of hope when Nathan’s name was mentioned.
No sooner had she skidded to a stop by the double doors at the far end of the airport than two men appeared, each grabbing an arm and hustling her through them and into a waiting car. Emma took note of their appearance committing each to memory. She couldn’t get a clear look at the driver as the divider between them was up. No one spoke.
Emma asked where they were going but other than a sneering look in her direction, they completely ignored her presence. The only time she was on their radar was when she moved.
They finally told her to put her head down and placed a black bag over it and she could see nothing at all. She took a couple deep breaths in anticipation of what was to come. One of them pushed her upright again as they continued wherever they were headed.
Emma determinedly listened hoping to glean their whereabout from anything she could hear. Unfortunately, the music they were playing was blasting and she couldn’t hear a thing and the ride was comfortable and smooth telling her little about speed direction or impediments like railway tracks or speed bumps that could assist with a direction.
It seemed like hours before they finally stopped and as one man got out the other gave her a shove in his direction and she slid across the seat and out. Both of her arms were grabbed in vice-like grips and she was impelled forward nearly losing her footing on the uneven ground. She got the feeling they wouldn’t care whether she fell or not but someone said something in a muffled voice and their grip tightened and they hauled her up several steps.
She was suddenly surrounded by the fragrance of flowers, African Violets if she wasn’t mistaken … a hot-house of some sort. As she was dragged along, the smell of potting soil and fish meal assailed her nostrils. She was halted abruptly turned and shoved onto a chair.
“Emma, at last, we meet. How wonderful. I knew you’d come. Your Achilles heal is family, of course, why wouldn’t it be. Nathan’s is you.”
“I take it that’s why you’ve abducted me. Where is Julie?”
“Safely ensconced in her family’s arms, I’m sure.”
Emma’s sigh of relief was audible. “I see that pleases you.”
“I can’t say I’m not relieved.”
“No, my dear, you were my target. Having you means I hold all the cards.”
“It simply means you have me. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“You underestimate your worth, Emma. That doesn’t sound like the woman I’ve come to know.”
“You know nothing about me.”
“Oh but I do, dear Emma. I have made it my goal to study you, to know everything about you.” He rattled off several facts that anyone could obtain, her life was practically an open book. Minus a few chapter’s she’d recently added such as the self-defence Nathan had correctly instructed her on. Her journalistic and photographic memory added a perception he’d never understand. Knowing her family was safe and sound was all that mattered to Emma. She could handle herself.
“You’ll remain here in these humble surroundings until Nathan comes for you. Relax. You are among friends!” he laughed at his own joke thinking himself quite amusing.
“Of course we’ll have to make some adjustments.” With that, her arms were lifted and shackles placed on both wrists. “Should you require the amenities, they are to your left, please feel free to use them. I’m not completely without heart.”
He turned and left and Emma listened to his receding footsteps until the nearly silent swish of doors indicated he’d left. The black bag was ripped off of her head and she blinked until her eyes became accustomed to the light which was minimal at best. She watched her two captors saunter toward the far doors and they too disappeared.
Time to take stalk. The shackles were solid with five-foot chains attached giving her some room to move. Indeed there was a bucket should she require it and a long table with planting implements, nothing more.
The family decided on an outing and along with Jim headed out for the evening to see James Hunter six, a soul-blues band from Essex, England, touring and recording for more than a decade. It was hinted that Allen Toussant, Sharon Jones or Van Morrison may be in attendance since all three were avid fans. Jenna was a fan and had been for years and since everyone loves music, they were all as eager to attend the event as she was.
Heading out, their discussion was animated as they entered the limo. Jim was attending alongside them and Martin would drive and stand guard. Jim attended to all the protection before they left and double checked as they drove to the event.
Settling into their seats, they talked were talking in hushed tones even though many hadn’t taken their seats as yet. Excitement ran high, the air filled with the electric anticipation that filled the room. The lights dimmed twice signalling the group was about to take the stage and everyone scurried to their seats while exchanging muffled.
The show began with an introduction, which proceeded with great fanfare and humour and had the audience completely involved. Before long the group began and silence reigned, you could have heard a pin drop.
It was just before the first intermission that a note landed on Emma’s lap. She quickly scanned the area but due to the number of people milling about, it was impossible to tell where it came from. Turning her attention to the note, she slowly opened it, half dreading what she might find.
It read, “If you want to see Julie again, meet me at the airport now! You and only you. I’m a man of my word, you should know that by now.” Emma’s hands shook as she valiantly attempted to appear calm and not let her feelings show. Inwardly she was quaking. Dear god in heaven, not Julie! How the hell had he managed to get to that delightful baby? What of her parents? A thousand questions flittered through her mind, the least of which was how to notify Nathan without causing havoc panic and dire consequences. Uppermost in her mind was the threat. She couldn’t allow anything to happen to that sweet baby!
Turning to Jenna she whispered, “Ladies, I’ll be right back.” Jenna nodded and turned her attention back to Jim while Jake and Sarah were chatting with a couple they were acquainted with from back home.
Emma made her way to the washroom, then scanned the area looking for Martin. He was surrounded by a crowd of people, his eyes trained on the family. He obviously hadn’t noticed her departure so she hustled toward the entrance and on outside.
Flagging down a cab, she gave the driver instructions to head to the airport and prayed she was doing the right thing. It took forty-five minutes to arrive, traffic was heavy, bumper to bumper and she barely breathed the entire trip. She tossed cash at the driver and raced into the airport.
The moment she was inside she noticed a sign that read, “Emma Banks!” Making a bee-line straight for the sign she said, “Yes, I’m Emma Banks.” The sign holder handed her an envelope and turned away.
The note’s instructions directed her toward the far end of the terminal. Emma wasn’t thinking clearly, simply reacting out of fear. Her journalistic thought processes halted. All she could think about was somehow getting to sweet innocent Julie and freeing her.
Jessop rarely drank, but when he did, he drank heavily. He was listening to his own voice, unrecognizable even to himself. He wobbled and staggered around his den talking to the objects surrounding him. “Youuu, yuuuur mine now. Yuuur mine, nooo one can shtake that now…not een youuu Nafan.”
He needed to sit. He went for the chair and missed falling on his butt on the floor laughing at himself. He’d dropped his bourbon on the way down and momentarily searched for it before giving up and falling on his back asleep in an alcoholically induced haze. If anyone was listening, they’d have heard muted snoring.
When he woke on the floor curled in a fetal position, he was momentarily at a loss. Then he remembered damning himself for his stupidity and loss of control. Nathan’s fault! It was all due to his disgustingly infernal meddling. Damn him! He raised on one arm, lifting his still heavy body from the floor to a knee then up. Heading through the door he set the lock and scuttled up to his bedroom to shower and change.
He’d have to wait for his head to clear before checking on his current plans. Damn Nathan to Hell! his mind screamed.
Nathan had been in meetings for the better part of four days and exhaustion wasn’t just nipping at his heals, it was threatening to swallow him whole. He decided he’s sleep for a few hours then call Emma. He felt chagrined at his neglectfulness but still, it couldn’t be helped. He’d make it up to her upon his return. He smiled at the thought as he allowed himself to drift off into sleep.
He’d been sleeping all of ten hours when his cell went off alerting him to possible problems and danger. Quickly rising he answered. “I’ll fly out immediately. Meet me at my cabin.”
His driver delivered him at the plane and within 40 minutes he was flying out.
Jim was nowhere to be seen when they re-entered through the side door. Odd! They went in search of their parents and found them working on the puzzle.
“Good morning my lovelies, how are you?”
“Good. Jenna and I were dancing to some new music she’s put together, it is absolutely exquisite.”
“I heard a little of it earlier when I passed by but I didn’t want to disturb the creative process so I kept going, but it sounded heavenly. Seems to me she’s got a winner there,” Jake responded.
“Did you really like it dad?”
“Yeah, there’s something completely appealing about it, draws you in. It sure did me.”
“You guys had breakfast yet?”
“No, just coffee, but my tummy is rumbling so I figured I’d have to do something about that.”
“How does home-made pancakes with true maple syrup sound along with a side of sausages and bacon?”
“I’m in.” Jake rose from the table and said,” I’ll get started on the bacon.”
In the kitchen he asked about Nathan and whether Emma knew anything more than what Jim had explained.
“No, I don’t.” She sighed heavily. “Not quite sure what to make of that.”
“I’m sure Nathan’s got a lot of irons in the fire and he’s busy with that. He’ll contact you soon as he can.”
“Yeah, I look forward to it.”
Jessop was displeased. His efforts had worked but not as well as he’d expected. He stomped around the weight room. He’d hoped to divide and conquer and get his hands on the Banks family, Emma in particular that despicable little… he wasn’t sure what term to use. Troublemaker too tame, since she was beautiful, well bitch! She’d screwed up his plans and his life. He’d have to come up with something equally compelling to make her pay.
Nathan’s unlimited resources were making this far more difficult to accomplish than he’d anticipated. Time to call in the heavy hitters. It would be a one-time payoff, more than he’d bargained on, but it would work. It had to.
They were momentarily stunned into silence at the information. Emma was the first to speak. “I have to admit I’m shocked. I can only imagine Nathan’s reaction, he must feel hurt at heart thinking someone close to him was not trustworthy.”
“I’m sure he does, but that’s not his only concern.”
“What do you mean, Jim?”
“Since the individual in question had inside knowledge, it puts our men at great risk. We’re not sure how much information was divulged and where it stops.”
“Does he know Nathan’s in Italy?” Emma asked concerned.
“Undoubtedly. That’s not our major concern, though. Nathan’s capable and surrounded by his own men who’ll protect him at all costs. Our real concern is what his next target is. He knows Nathan well, how his mind works. With the inside information he’s got, he can use that against him.”
Before he could finish his thought, his cell rang. “One moment, I have to take this.” He got up and immediately walked to the den.
“If his target isn’t Nathan, then what is it?” Jenna asked perplexed.
“I’m not sure, but Jessop will consider all possibilities and hit at what he considers a weak spot.”
Jim re-entered the room. “Well, we know his target.”
“Who, where, what?” Jake asked rising to his feet.
“What happened?” he took a step forward agitation clear.
“He tried firebombing it. My men put it out before it got going and the culprits were caught red-handed, handed over to the authorities.”
“How much damage?”
“The far corner, the garage was hit. Fortunately, my men were able to put the fire out before it got going, but there is considerable damage inside and out. It didn’t reach the house proper. We got lucky on that one.”
“Perhaps I should return to the cabin. I have an arsenal there.” Jim’s face was suffused with angry red at the thought they’d attacked his home.
“Jake, we have the situation under control. If you go, you’ll be an added incentive to attack again, or Jessop might consider taking you hostage.”
“I feel helpless and angry.”
Emma jumped up, “I’m so sorry papa. I never dreamed it would get this far.”
“How could you? How could anyone? Jessop is a loose cannon, striking at whatever and wherever he wishes.”
“If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that we can now tie the incidents at the galleries plus the strike on your home indisputably to Jessop.”
“How so?” Sarah asked.
“He used the same type of device on three of the four locations. The men at the cabin are scared and talking. Most of it is here say, but we’ve gleaned enough information to use in court to tie the incidents together and to Jessop.”
“But is that enough?”
“No, but it’s a start. When we tie the warehouses to him too, he’s done.” Jim smiled at the thought.
They pondered the situation for a minute and Jenna walked to Jim, “I’m glad you are you and know what you’re doing. I’m not sure how I’d react otherwise.”
“It’s what I do, Jenna, literally, put out fires. No pun intended.”
Jenna hugged him close. “When is Nathan returning?”
“As soon as he finishes up, a day, two at the most.”
Everyone was excitedly anticipating their walk in the park, hopping into the limo, their chatter was unending. First on the agenda was the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture followed by the Museum of Pop Culture and lastly the Seattle Art Museum, a little ‘something’ for everyone.
Emma smiled at Martin who was “on-point” as it were, stiff, watchful, definitely on guard taking the job quite seriously. He was coordinating with someone constantly, every fifteen minutes (whether it was Jim or someone else) didn’t matter.
They entered the Art Museum were half way across the entrance when all hell broke loose. and Martin immediately herded them into a group toward the far corner pulling his weapon calling for assistance. Within a matter of seconds, a group of men and women rushed toward them crowding around the Banks. They encircled the family and laid a hand on a shoulder of each of them, pushing and manouvering them through the front door into the waiting limo parked at the entrance. They didn’t have time to think let alone see anyone or anything in the rush to the vehicle. The moment they were inside, the car started up and raced away momentarily throwing them off balance. The window between the driver and passengers opened. Jim was at the wheel. “Sorry about that, ” he announced. “Had to move quickly. We got word Jessop was making a move and he’d sent a crew after you. Undoubtedly it would have been made to appear a robbery attempt gone wrong while taking you as hostages.”
“How the hell did you find out?” Jenna was agog while everyone else stared open mouthed.
“We have a mole. I’ll explain once we’re safely home.”
As they watched several black SUV’s approached and surrounded the limo. “It’s alright,” Jim stated, “they’re with us. An extra detail to get us from point A to B in one piece.”
“Is this seriously necessary?” Jenna was shocked.
Giggling she said, “Now I know how the President feels.” Everyone understood it was her nervous response to the situation. Jim couldn’t help but smile in the mirror at her.
They returned to Nathan’s in record time. Jake asked, “Did you have this set up beforehand?”
“Yes, I did. It was Nathan’s idea and he was right. He had a feeling Jessop was on a roll and would make an attempt the moment he became aware you were out and about.”
“How would Jessop know?”
“Let’s sit down with a beverage and I’ll explain.”
Curiosity got the better of them and they silently followed his direction. Coffee in hand, seated in the living room, Jim began. “We spread some stories about regarding events you were supposed to be attending. A group of thugs showed up at two of those locations. Today, we announced you were going to the attend an event downtown, but let slip where you really were. There had to be an inside source, a mole if you will, reporting to Jessop. He made the call to Jessop and since he wasn’t aware of our monitoring system, or let’s say the extent of our monitoring system, was caught red-handed.”
Emma was almost afraid to ask, “Who? Who was it?”
“A member of the kitchen staff who replaced another that went on maternity leave. Not sure how they got passed out intel but it happened. We have our inside man and we’ll get further information on Jessop’s plans.”
Jessop sat back in his chair, calm. Juicy, indeed, this was very juicy. Sitting back watching Nathan and company scurry around like little ants after a piece of delectable fruit. What could be more fascinating and delicious. He laughed aloud. “Well, Nathan, have I at last found your Achilles heal? I truly hope so. In that case, I know how to up the pressure.” He picked up the phone and dialed a nefarious connection able and willing to do his bidding and said, “Continue with the plan, now!” He thought, yes indeed, I have him on the run. How interesting.
Yes indeed, life was worth living and living well. And part of living was making Nathan suffer.
Meanwhile, Nathan had met with the manager of the Paris Gallery and looked over the damage. It could have been worse. Most of the artwork had suffered smoke damage which he could repair. The outside of the building required minimal restoration, it could have been far worse.
What angered him more than the damage to his establishment was Jessop’s ability to make a dent in his world. It annoyed and frustrated him that this was an aspect he hadn’t considered. That would change. After meeting with the gendarmerie nationale or the Compagnie Républicaine de la Sécurité, security had been tightened, they would now watch his properties. He hired private security to police the property immediately and throughout the repairs. His manager was on alert with express orders to double check all requests for art and delivery and to take nothing for granted.
He hired workman he knew he could rely on to make needed repairs expressing adamantly he required updates via snapchat, daily on the progress being made.
He returned to his Hotel and crashed for 4 hours before boarding his plane and heading to Italy. Onboard he looked over his other galleries locations, specs and designs, prepared to place similar protection in place.
Before he arrived, however, a second gallery was attacked. He listened attentively as the manager explained the damage, far more extensive as some sort of bomb had been placed inside a janitor’s closet causing the back wall to cave in, taking a large portion of art with it. Fortunately, there were no injuries to report.
Nathan cursed as he dialed the third gallery instructing the manager to call the local police, ( The Polizia di Stato) explain that his properties were being attacked and request assistance until he arrived. Before he had landed, men he trusted were already in place.
The bright spot in all this was that Jessop had slipped up. Attacking one gallery could be considered unfortunate but attacking all three created a pattern. He had only to connect the dots. A nail in Jessop’s coffin he hoped.
Emma rubbed her eyes when Nathan rose and hurried out of the bedroom. He rarely looked at his phone once they were snuggled in for the night. Something was wrong and an inner battle ensued. Should she go find out what was up, or stay put and await his return? She was admittedly curious but also wanted to lend support and on the other hoped he’d share whatever was happening. She lay back down and waited.
Half asleep when he returned, she rolled to face him. “You ok? What’s happening?”
“I just received a call from my manager in Paris.” He sighed. “Someone torched my gallery. The damage is extensive but repairable. I’m going to have to fly over and survey the damage and make some decisions.”
“Decidedly. I’ve never had any other incidents involving the art galleries before, so it stand to reason, he’s behind it. As a result, I’ve placed extra security around the other galleries. If he’s insane enough to make another attempt, it will guarantee his guilt.”
Emma sat straight up in bed and wound her arms around him. “Nathan, I’m so sorry.”
“I knew there would be reprisals, I miscalulated on where. That doesn’t mean he will give up on any ongoing plans he may have regarding your family, just that he wanted to take a pot-shot at me personally.”
“I’m flying out in two hours. I’d love to take you to Paris with me and it’s something we’ll do at a later date.”
“I would love to go but I’m sure you’ll move faster, cover more ground, get more done without having to consider me.” Placing a hand on the side of his face she added, “I’ll hold you to that invitation though as I’d love to see Paris.”
Nathan drew her close. “It’s a promise then. When the dust settles, we’ll go together and enjoy the sights.”
“Anything I can do on this end?”
“Keep an eye on Jenna and your parents. Try to encourage them to stay here. It’s safer and my men can oversee the rest of your family easily enough.”
“Since he’s hit my place, he could decide to hit others. I’ve beefed up security all round, Emma. I’m concerned this isn’t the last of his hit and run tactics.”
“You think he’ll try something similar on my family!?”
“Unfortunately, I do. I’ve doubled security on every location, Emma. I’m not leaving anything to chance. This place is impenetrable, he won’t get near. Should you go anywhere, you’ll have Jim on alert and another guard as well. You won’t have to limit your activities, just be mindful and alert. I’m sorry I have to leave you, Emma.”
“Don’t be, it can’t be helped and I’ll be right here waiting for you to return, safely!”
“You got it!” he promised adding a heart-pounding kiss. “I have to go prepare now, there’s a great deal to organize.”
He dressed, packed and before leaving returned to leave Emma with another heart-stopping kiss and a hug that had her melting. “Be safe, Nathan, above all else, please.”
“I intend to.”
Almost before the deed was done and Jessop had begun maligning him, Nathan was aware. He had people in low places or at least monitoring low places, and he’d heard the scuttle an hour after it began. Although he was thick-skinned and wasn’t overly concerned, it would be something different for Emma and her family in particular. It hurt Nathan more that they would malign her people, her family as they were salt of the earth types who had worked hard all their lives, were honourable and loving. They didn’t deserve this.
Of course, it meant he would have to talk to Daniel and Jenna first, before explaining the situation and it’s ramifications to the others.
After that, he’d begin his own barrage of information. An
An in-depth search had rendered some interesting facts. When he followed the dots, the connections were easy to see. Many of the businesses Jessop had taken over came from people from his past. Nathan began there and over the course of the last week, had contacted many of the men ruined by Jessop. Most were unaware it was Jessop who had systematically destroyed their businesses then bought them up.
Upon learning who, the why became obvious, and they were very vocal about the type of individual Jessop had been growing up. They were eager to go public and humiliate the man he’d become. Although innocent as a child, his actions now, were on him.
Nathan contacted over 20 businesses that Jessop had personally followed and destroyed, and all were linked to his childhood. Across the states, articles had been submitted in notes to the Editor portraying Jessop as a sad lonely child who’d never grown up and owned his actions or taken responsibility for wrong-doing but instead had become self-centered, egotistical and selfish. They outlined his MO in the destruction of their businesses and lives. It was easy for anyone reading the articles to clearly see the man for what he’d become.
Nathan wasn’t sure how he’d react upon seeing his life trivialized into the evil mean spirited vengeful man he’d become, but one thing was sure, other business men would run a mile before accepting or doing business with him from now on.
Because the articles came from the individuals involved and had nothing to do with Nathan, it wouldn’t come across as sour grapes, and indeed, couldn’t be tied to him on any level which although Jessop might figure out, could never prove.
Now for the hard part, talking to Daniel. In that vein, he’d flown out early before anyone was up and met with him explaining the reason for the fallout and how to handle it. Daniel was furious, not about what was said about himself (for he and all that mattered knew the truth) but that it would hurt his family. That had him stomping in large circles. Nathan had to smile because it covered how he’d felt when he’d heard what Jessop was up to.
As soon as he arrived home, he made time to meet with Jenna and apprise her of what was being said. Although she was in Seattle not back home, her friends and agents would certainly hear of it.
She was actually more relaxed about the entirety of the news than he’d expected. Jenna explained that to be in the music industry, entertainment industry for that matter, you had to have a thick skin, because jealous was rampant and half what you heard were out and out lies. She’d learned that one the hard way. This was but a bump in the road to her.
Nathan didn’t bring the subject up during dinner, but as soon as they were finished and relaxed he explained Jessop’s latest antics. As expected, Emma was furious. It took a bit of doing to calm her down. Once Nathan was finished and Jenna explained it was of no consequence, she sat down. A little of the fire-breathing dragon was still apparent, the nostrils flared and her breath came too quickly, but she was obviously taking everything in. The journalist in her was taking over, seeing the big picture.