Now to begin his campaign against Nathan. He secretly met with various captains and planted ideas he desired circulated on different levels hinting at scandal, corruption, involvement in clandestine ventures too numerous to mention, covert operations involving individuals from other countries. “Yes indeed, there were many facets to the man the community knew as Nathan, and he had no problem besmirching his name or character to remain a few steps ahead of him.
Unfortunately, Emma Banks was another matter. Her life was very public and he couldn’t bring the same kind of pressure to bear. That didn’t mean he couldn’t attack the credibility of members of her family. He set about bringing snippets of information about Jenna Banks former lover’s death to light, hinting that she knew more than she’d admitted. Hints that once fused were automatically accepted as credible weren’t necessarily true, people were sheep enjoying innuendo readily accepting eager to believe the worst and perpetuating it, even if it was unfounded or untrue.
He sat back in his chair, pleased with his accomplishments. “Yes, let’s see how you quell the shots, Nathan. You’ll be so busy covering your bases you won’t have time to continue attacks on me. That should give me breathing room.”
His next step in character assassination involved Daniel Banks. Sure he’d been dismissed from the army due to his loss of sight, but it could be easily hinted he’d chosen to walk away because he was a weasel and couldn’t stomach the job assigned. It would throw enough dirt his way to make colleagues and friends question his integrity. Something else to dissuade Emma Banks surely. The good name of her family at stake would halt her step if not stop her in her tracks. If not, there were other means at his disposal that could be used. The more he attacked their character, the less credibility they’d have later and served his purpose perfectly.
Jessop loved beauty. His home was filled with extravagant elegance. The finest crystals, imported rare woods, expensive luxurious fabrics. Only the best would do. As he wandered his palatial home, contemplating his plans, he smiled almost affectionately at his surroundings as he scanned the room. Every item had a special place it belonged. When something was moved even a fraction from its original spot, he noticed and moved it back to its designated location.
Clothes were second on his list of must-haves. Quality, style, elegance. Therefore he worked out, perfecting his own form so he did them justice. There was no excuse for slovenliness. He was impeccable at all times and expected anyone that worked for him should do so the same.
He treasured all that he’d slaved for. He particularly delighted in taking it from those who’d rubbed his position as a child in his face and these items became even more precious, so precious they were locked in glass containers inside his den.
“Yes, so fitting,” he remarked wandering through the locked room which no one else was allowed to enter. This was his sanctuary. This was his glory room. His and his alone. The pinnacle of his success and all he obtained and considered worthwhile was contained within these walls.
His eyes were turned momentarily black with remembered pain. The pain only a child can understand when made to feel small, insignificant and unimportant. He smiled once again, that lop-sided grin that turned his handsome face into an evil mask.
He’d done well in tracking down his vicious abusers. Abusers of his emotions who’d taken delight in tearing him apart and shredding him to pieces, pieces he’d put back together by himself.
Indeed, he hoped his father would have been proud of his accomplishments, that his current wealth superseded even that of his father at the pinnacle of his wealth before that horrific disgrace.
Jessop pondered the current situation. Threats on Nathan’s cohorts hadn’t worked so far. Little nudges to back him off didn’t seem to concern him. Threats of physical violence, car accidents, even sending a team to Bank’s home had not garnered the desired effect. Nathan hadn’t taken them seriously. Perhaps his thinking was faulty and he’d sent the wrong people. Perhaps Nathan thought he was invincible. Striking Nathan where it hurt most was key. That was Emma Banks.
Turning attention in her direction and what was most important in her world, it was obvious that included her family and now Nathan. Yes, he could use this avenue very nicely. At the moment, the family was well guarded in an impenetrable fortress and well guarded all round. He’d keep watch, bide his time. He could be patient when necessary.
He’d have to call in some IOU’s. His inside man, vigilant in keeping him informed, worked out nicely.
“Well Miss Banks, let’s see what you do about this!”
He called up his right-hand woman, Cheyenne Forrester, giving her explicit instructions on how to proceed. Jessop was good at pushing buttons, cutting to the core, ensuring loyalty. Cheyenne was no different than the others but far more loyal and eager to do his bidding. Hanging up, he began tapping rhythmically on the desk as an evil smile covered his face.
Jessop wandered his palatial home ranting and raving! Even the vases trembled at his approach. How could this be happening? How was it possible his well-laid plans were in dire straights, near collapse? That hideous man! “Nathan!” he roared to an empty room. “You are responsible for this!” An extravagantly pricey crystal vase crashed to the floor followed by a second equally expensive candy dish.
He stomped around the room glaring, eyes filled with hatred and the vile evil that only comes from the wickedly insane.
His focus changed, now from protecting his growing empire, to destroying Nathan and all he held most dear. One way or the other he would pay for what he’d done, was doing!
As he flung himself into his wing-backed chair he recalled the day he’d walked in on his father while amid a furious tirade. Now he understood. At the time he’d been frightened by his father’s all-consuming anger.
Having made (what turned out to be) a bad investment, they’d lost everything to a con-artist. Then came the horrific moment they’d been forced to move from their beautiful home (filled with antiques and rare wood-lined walls) to the middle-class area of town.
Adding insult to injury, were the instances he’d been cruelly reminded of how far they’d fallen and he was overcome by the shame and humiliation at meeting old friends he’d spent time with. The chagrin never ending, as he noted the look in their eyes containing sadness or worse yet pity, swept over him and away. It was like rubbing salt in the open wound of their downfall from grace. Others not content with looks added mean disparaging remarks, laughing at their unexpected financial demise. It still stung!
It was at that precise moment, he’d determined to win back all his father had lost, and more – his goal to snub all those families they’d once known while actively destroying any and all that had looked down on him or made fun of their sudden collapse. No one was safe from his fury.
He’d systematically tracked them down and taken over their businesses or destroyed them, leaving them destitute and broken. A trail of broken men and their pathetic lives had fallen in his wake, and he’d smiled.
They were nothing compared to what he’d do to Nathan. He must quieten his mind he decided, in order to concoct a plan so perfectly evil he’d have him groveling on his knees. “Yes,” he steepled his fingers in front of his chest, “yes, Nathan, you will pay!”
Emma and her mother sauntered arm in arm through copious gardens. “Emma, do you think this “thing” will end soon?”
“I’m not sure, mom. Nathan and Jim are doing what they do, it seems they’re getting closer. It’s just not enough to take to court.”
Somewhat startled, Sarah asked, “I don’t quite understand, how so?”
“Someone was intent on chasing Nathan down, but who? The man at the theater would have attacked me if possible, he was stopped and although he was grilled doesn’t know who hired him. We don’t have any links. The men sent to our cabin were paid in cash, never met their boss, and although we know they were sent by the man responsible for Marks and Westwood’s untimely demises, where’s the indisputable evidence? We can follow the dots but that’s all at the moment. We can tie the arms in the warehouse to Jessop, loosely. He could easily deny it, say they were planted and he knew nothing about them. We need hard cold facts, proof he was selling to foreign governments branding him a terrorist. While the armaments are in warehouses belonging to Jessop (and in one instance) on land owned by Morgon, it doesn’t mean they were in cahoots. It simply means Morgon rented property to Jessop. It’s less than circumstantial. Someone ran us into the guardrail but was it Jessop’s doing or a drunk or careless driver?”
“There has to be one man who knows all Jessop’s dirty little secrets. If we find that man, and he rolls on Jessop, we’ll have him. So far, we haven’t found that connection. Jessop’s very good at covering his trail. Either he pays well or has a means of putting the fear of god into his underlings. We need to find that crack in his armour, and there is one, has to be. No man is an island as they say.”
“I know your father’s concerned, hell beyond worried.”
Emma hadn’t heard her mother curse in forever. It only happened when she was exceedingly worried or fearful.
“We’ll be ok, mom, seriously we have Nathan and an army protecting all of us.”
“I’m grateful for it, Emma, I am. It’s just that this is constantly hanging over our heads. I’d like to breath again.”
“We will, mom, we will, I promise.” Emma prayed it would happen sooner than later, for all of them.
The following morning, they all met for breakfast, the men looking somber, the women looking relaxed and pleased.
As soon as their breakfast was served Nathan said, “Since we all know the truth of last night’s little adventure, let me be clear, there will be no more recon for any of you.” He looked solidly at all three women.
The women exchanged knowing glances. “Since you know we followed you, and that we met with no harm, no foul, and the accident could have been simply that, a drunk or crazy driver, I see no point in belaboring the issue,” Emma spoke firmly in response.
“Having said that, we’ve already agreed we won’t go unescorted into enemy territory. So, it behooves each of you to include us in your plans. We expect to know what you’re doing, and when. We all have a stake in this.”
The other women nodded their approval.
Nathan exchanged glances with the other men and continued, “Alright, that’s fair enough. You have a valid point. We’ll let you know when we’re making a move and why. Having said that, we expect that you’ll honour our request and stay out of it.”
“I think we can all agree with that proposal.” Emma looked at the other women who exchanged glances then agreed.
“So what did you find out last night?”
Nathan explained about the ownership of the warehouse and land and continued, “We found more of the same, in larger quantities. It’s a link at least tying the two men together indicating they are in business together, something we didn’t know previously. It’s going to take more time to find indisputable proof, but we will.”
The day progressed in relaxed mode with couples breaking off involved in a variety of activities. Jim showed Jenna some basic moves, to protect herself, Emma and Nathan went over plans and concerns regarding the men involved, Jake and Sarah took a leisurely walk around the grounds.
The third degree continued with Jake and Sarah. “I know you too well, Sarah, that was a load of bullshit back there. What the hell were you three really up to?”
Sarah smiled. “Following you of course.”
“Do you realize how dangerous that was?”
“Jake, nothing happened. It was so boring. I can’t imagine doing that for a living. Besides, we left before it got interesting I assume. You weren’t far behind us after all. We left and were well out of harm’s way. I have to admit though, I understand the draw.”
“Darling, you could have been seriously injured. I can’t get past that part. Don’t do this again, do you hear me?”
“Are you giving me orders, Jake?”
“Yes, yes I am. Not something I do, but I’m putting my foot down on this one. No more of this Sarah. I’ll have a talk with Emma. I’m shocked and surprised she’d involve you in this, she knows what to expect.”
Sarah stood ramrod straight, “Don’t you dare, Jake. I wanted to go. We all did. We chose to be part of the situation. It had nothing to do with Emma.”
“It most certainly did. She was the ringleader, no doubt about it.”
“She may have known what to do, but we all made a choice, Jake. I wanted to live a little, be part of the big picture, something I haven’t really done. Oh sure, I’ve raised our family and they’ve turned into fine people, people I’m proud of. But you, you, Nathan, Jim, you’ve all been part of something far more important. Exciting. Thrilling even.”
“Perhaps, but at a cost. Mentally and physically. It’s taken its toll. Not something I would willingly want you involved in or dealing with.”
“Let it be, Jake. We all enjoyed our little excursion, it was fun. I’m not particularly interested in going again, as I said, it was boring.”
Jim and Jenna were excitedly mid-grope when Jim stopped. “Jenna, were you telling us the truth?”
“Why do you ask?”
“It didn’t feel right. I need to know, Jenna.”
Jenna sighed. “Yes, we were going to the little coffee bar, but we followed you first.”
Shocked, he asked, “Why?”
“We wanted to know what you were up to. So we followed you and sat there for an hour before we finally left.”
“Jenna, do you know how seriously dangerous that was? These guys play for keeps and you have no training, you and the others could have been seriously injured! As it is, you were so damn lucky!”
“It didn’t though. We got out of there.”
“The better question is why you couldn’t share your plans with us, with me.”
“I might not be in your league, but I understand what you do, the risks you take, the jeopardy you place yourself in every time you go out. I wanted to know what the rush was, the feelings, the…”
“You are right. There is a rush, the excitement and energy have to be contained, you have to be thorough, logical, methodical. Excellent planning for any probability a must. You being out there, unprotected, not knowing how to act or react puts you in immense danger!”
Taking her in his arms he continued, “Please, Jenna, don’t ever do that again. If you want to know the plan, I’ll include you, but you have to promise me you won’t involve yourself again. Or I’ll have a talk with Nathan and Emma, neither will enjoy.”
“It had nothing to do with either of them. It was my decision to go. I wanted to see what it was all about. And if you ask me, it was pretty dang boring. Sitting around in the dark waiting for something to happen.”
Jim laughed at that. “A lot of my work involves just that. The occasional scuttle can bring dire consequences, so we avoid that at all costs.”
“I’ll give you some training, so you can protect yourself if that will dissuade your desire for stakeouts.”
“Oooh, hand to hand, now I like the sound of that! Care to show me some now?” She pushed Jim onto the bed.
Nathan played along, asking the staff to prepare some light snacks with coffee and brandy for others. Conversation was light, stilted at times, with everyone skirting the subject they all wanted to discuss. The women were hamstrung as they couldn’t ask what the men were up to without giving themselves away and vice versa.
When exhaustion finally settled in, they retired for the night. The minute the bedroom door was closed, Nathan pounced. “Alright, Emma, what were you up to?”
Emma sighed. “We knew you were planning something, so we followed you.” She winced waiting for his response.
“I figured as much. Taking her in his arms he asked quietly, “You never thought about the possible consequences to you or the others?” He gave her a little shake, “This is not a game, Emma. These men are dangerous and could care less who they hurt or take out to save their skin.”
“How would you feel if your mother or sister were hurt while you snooped? You are lucky they only sideswiped you. Your mother and sister aren’t in the same league as you, they’ve had no experience in defense or self-protection. Jim and Jake would be devastated. I would be devastated!”
Having said that, he hauled her close and held on, “In part, I’m so damn angry I don’t know what to say and in part, I’m simply relieved you are all safe.”
“Then why couldn’t you have explained what you were planning? Why didn’t you include us? We have a right to know what’s going on, and what our men are involved in. You think you have a corner on caring? On being devastated?” She pulled back, eyes flashing, “I love you, Nathan. I may have tried to fight it, but I do. I’m ok with what you do and how you do it, I just want to be involved.”
Smiling, she added, “I have to admit it was exciting too.”
Nathan lifted her, set her on the bed and proceeded to show her exactly how he felt about her while Emma reciprocated.
Emma knew Nathan and company were up to something. She’d whispered her intention to follow the guys to the others as soon as she figured out the guy’s plans. Immediately upon their disappearance, the women raced to gather their coats, hats, and gloves and hustled out to one of the waiting vehicles.
She followed at a safe distance, hoping to go unnoticed, but really, this was their line of work so she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. Fingers crossed she said, “I’m hoping we’re far enough behind that we can tail them. I’m new at this, so we’ll see what happens.”
Jenna giggled nervously, “Your worst is better than my best. I guess I should have paid more attention to those chase scenes in my mystery movies.”
They all leaned forward in their seats actively staring ahead. “You notice the type of tail lights on Jim’s vehicle?”
“Yeah, they are sort of oval with a triangle inside.” Jenna was the first to respond.
“You watch that, mom, can you watch the shape? I’ll watch too but I have to navigate, it’s the best idea I can come up with, which is going to get more difficult once we enter the thoroughfare with numerous other vehicles moving around.
They did surprisingly well. Emma changed lanes constantly, and when the traffic was heavy, pulled closer to within a single car length behind Jim’s car. As soon as traffic thinned out, she dropped back two and three car lengths. She laughed, “OMG, this is hilarious. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“I’m more concerned about what we’re going to do once we get there. I mean, do we follow them inside their destination, or do we keep watch, what’s our purpose here?” Jenna unconsciously emitted another nervous snicker.
“We’ll play it by ear. I won’t put us in a dangerous situtation, but we can act as look-out and back-up if necessary.”
Sarah asked, “I take it you’ve never done this before, Emma?”
“No, never. I was with Nathan on one occasion when we followed a man, but it was more of a high-speed chase and I was too excited to take note of his movements.”
“What do we say if they find us?” Jenna asked as this surprised thought filtered her nervous brain.
“I’ll take care of that, don’t worry.”
Eventually, they turned off onto a lone road that headed out to nowhere. Emma cut the lights and fell even further back. When she noticed the other vehicles parking, she pulled to the side of the road and set the car into park and they waited and watched.
“Jeeze, Emma, it’s been over an hour. What could be taking so long, and don’t you think we should leave before they do? Especially if we want to remain incognito.”
“Yeah, I suppose your right. It’s pretty boring anyway. Hey, let’s hit an all night eatery and enjoy a snack? You interested?”
“Sure. Got anything in mind?”
“I know a little bar that has great food, finger food. We can give that a try, see what we think about it.”
They were well on their way, back on the main road and heading to their destination when a car appeared from nowhere slamming them into the guardrail that separated the two sections of highway. Emma did a remarkable job of holding on and keeping the car on the road until it was safe enough to pull over. Hazard lights on, she turned to check the other passengers out, “You two ok?”
“Yes, I am, gave me a start of course, but I’m not hurt.”
“What was that all about?”
“I’d say we got someone’s attention. Probably the perp’s. This has been an MO he’s used before. Damn it!”
“How do I explain this to Nathan?”
“You tell him the truth.”
“Yeah, I know. The problem is, I promised I wouldn’t pull another stunt like this without telling him first.”
“You don’t have to tell him the whole truth, just that we went for a drive looking for this restaurant and . . .”
As much as Emma hated half-truths as much as lies, she agreed. He would accept that, but not that they were following him and his men.
“Ok.” Sighing she asked, “Are we all in agreement then?”
“Yes. I know Jake will be scared to death if he knew what we were up to.”
“I’m sure Jim wouldn’t be any more pleased than dad so yeah, I’m in.”
“Ok, I’ll call Nathan, arrange for a pickup.”
It was about twenty minutes later that Nathan, Jim, and Jake rolled up alongside. They hopped out of their vehicle and hurried toward the waiting women. “You alright?” They asked in unison?”
“Yeah, we’re fine, we weren’t hurt at all. Just a misfortunate accident.” Jenna was the first to chime in.
Nathan looked Emma over from head to toe before wrapping her tightly in his arms and kissing the top of her head.
Jake grabbed his wife and held onto her tightly before releasing her but continuing to hold her hands in his. “Love?”
“I’m fine, dear. A little shocked but otherwise quite alright.”
“Where were you going?” Jim asked unable to hide his surprise.
“We were going to check out a little coffee shop I heard of that offers delectable entrees and coffee for all-nighters. It’s supposed to be really good. I thought we’de give it a try.”
They returned to Nathans when the limo arrived and Jim drove his car back to Nathans. Jenna seemed pretty good at distraction and involved her mother every step of the way as they asked Emma and Nathan about the various landmarks they passed.