Friday, September 28, 2012


After enduring a long taxi ride in unruly traffic, Jason was glad to finally be in his hotel room in downtown Damascus. He knew he'd have to get in touch with Michelle soon, but for the moment he just wanted to lie on the soft bed. His flight had been difficult to sleep through.

He had only been on the bed for a minute when the phone in the room began to ring. He was annoyed that Michelle was calling him already. He pulled himself off the bed and picked up the receiver. He made no attempt to hide his irritation when he said, "Hello."

"Jason." It was a man's voice--Dave's! "How was your flight."

"It was alright. Long. I didn't get much..."

"Listen, we have a problem. Michelle hasn't checked into the hotel. As far as we can tell, she's missing. Can you look into it?"

Jason sat in the desk chair, unable to speak for a moment. Finally, he found his voice. "Miss-missing? Are you..."

"Talk to the people at the hotel, ask around, do whatever you have to do. But call me on my cell before you alert any authorities, ok? I've got my own plan I'll put into action as soon as I hear from you. Ignore your story for now until we know where she is. Got it?"

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Brian had been paying attention, too, and now joined Emily in Andy's cubicle. "I guess you can't call her cell phone. Would a text get through?"

"I sent one, but I don't know," Emily said.

"And you called the hotel." Andy didn't look well.

"Yeah, of course."

"Sixteen hours," Ricardo said, thinking aloud. "Could she have just found something else to do, somewhere else to go? Should we assume something bad happened?"

"Would she've tried to contact us if she changed hotels?" Brian said.

"I don't know, this's never happened before," Emily said, trying not to sound exasperated. She had already thought all of this through before she dared say anything to anyone. So far no one was actually being helpful, but they couldn't know that.

"And where's Dave right now?" asked Ricardo. "Have they left El Salvador yet?"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The next day, about eleven o'clock on the East Coast, Emily visited Black Andy's cubicle looking concerned.

"Hey, Andy, I don't want you to freak out, but I thought you should know...Dave asked me to keep tabs on Jason this week, and I happened to notice that Michelle's flight landed like sixteen hours ago but she never checked into her hotel."

Andy appeared to be frozen, just staring at her. Finally he said, "What."

Emily sat on his extra chair. "Y-yeah. Ok, I'm kind of freaking out now."

Andy tried to remain calm. "Can you check other hotels?"

"I wish...I have no idea how."

He cursed. 

Ricardo had overheard them and peeped over the wall to ask, "When does Jason get there?"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The elevator ride to the third floor was quiet and uncomfortable, with neither Brady nor Aggie ready to speak after their tense experience at the police station. It wasn't until they reached their doors, opposite each other, that Brady finally broke the silence:

"Hey, um." She turned but didn't look directly at him. "I know things were crazy tonight. I, uh...I don't like, expect..."

"Brady, you really don't need to say anything, ok? It was...I was just..." She finally looked him in the eye.

He felt like time was suspended for a moment. Finally he was able to shake himself and say, "Yeah, yeah, I know. Hey, g'night, ok? Yeah. See you tomorrow." She didn't respond, and he closed the door behind him.

Monday, September 24, 2012


It was nearly midnight, and as much as Aggie wanted to continue visiting with Dave and Pierce at the hotel bar, exhaustion from worrying in a jail cell all day overtook her. Brady seemed uncomfortable and would probably retire upstairs, too. She wasn't sure she wanted to see him alone just then, but she couldn't stay there any longer.

"I hate to do this, but I've really got to get some sleep..."

"Please, go to bed," Pierce said, waving her on. "You've earned it!"

"Oh, I haven't earned anything. I've been a burden to you..."

This time Dave interrupted. He seemed annoyed, but his words told a different story. "Aggie, you haven't done anything that I'm not extremely proud of. You think Jason would've gone to that jail to interview those guys? You were after a real story; you don't just phone **** in. Now get your *** to bed; tomorrow I'm treating us all to the best breakfast San Salvador has to offer."

Friday, September 21, 2012


On the taxi ride back to their hotel, Aggie and Brady sat on either side of Dave while Pierce rode shotgun. Brady took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

"Man, we weren't even in there twenty-four hours. You're like some kind of super boss. How did you manage to get us out of there so easily?"

Pierce turned in their direction, smiling. Dave was smiling too, a hard kind of smile. Pierce said, "Police down in these countries take a special kind of convincing." He faced front again and didn't explain.

Brady probed further. "Throw a little money around...?"

Dave finally responded. "Mm, there was a combination of politics, a little lawyer-speak, probably a little over their heads, a little bluffing, a little hardball, and yeah, a small peace offering."

Brady had the answer he'd feared. Now what to do with it without harming what little relationship he had with Dave? He took a risk, just to express his feelings. Looking out the window, he said, "Not sure how I feel about that."

Dave said, "We can take you back right now if you want. No problem."

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Back in New York, Emily, Paul, Brian and Black Andy were enjoying after-dinner drinks at their usual table at Little Nemo's. Andy and Brian shared a pair of headphones, enjoying a new music video on the latter's smartphone. Halfway through Andy glanced up and said, "Look who it is."

"Heeeeey!" said a tall, handsome Latino in a dark sport jacket and colorful tie, walking toward them from the door. Behind him came a waif of a girl with unnaturally black hair, thick-rimmed "hipster" glasses and a camera bag strapped around her casually clad torso. Both of them were toting luggage.

"Ricard-o," said Andy, emphasizing the o as he always did. They clasped hands. Ricardo and Brian exchanged a similar greeting.

"What's up, guys?" Ricardo was raised in a Hispanic community in Atlanta and had a purely American accent.

"Hey," said Rachel with a smile, and the others greeted her warmly. She was not a conversationalist, but she was far from uninteresting and was well-liked by her friends at the magazine.

"How was Tasmania?" said Emily.

"Pretty great, pretty cool," said Ricardo, stealing one of Brian's french fries. "Tell ya what, I'll write up a report so you can read all about it. I'll put some great pictures in it!" He put an arm around Rachel's tiny shoulders, acknowledging her contribution. "Might even publish it somewhere. But hey, what's with this e-mail about Aggie and Brady? Dave went to El Salvador?"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Nearly fifteen hours after takeoff, Michelle's Egyptair flight finally landed at Damascus International Airport. While it was Monday evening in New York, it was already Tuesday morning in Syria. Michelle was thankful she'd been able to get plenty of sleep during the flight. Upon landing, she found she had a text message from Emily saying that Jason wouldn't be able to join her until the following morning. That pleased her, since she would now have an entire day to explore the city alone, taking pictures of whatever she wished.

She had bought long skirts that would help her fit in better, and she had worn one for the flight. She knew it wouldn't prevent her from sticking out as a tourist, but hopefully she would get fewer judgmental stares for any perceived lack of modesty.

With her luggage in tow, she exited the terminal and was greeted by much warmer air than she had left behind her in New York. The temperature would reach the mid-sixties by the afternoon. As she began looking for a ride to the hotel, she became very excited about this trip, especially this first day on her own.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Still smiling under his mustache, he said, "We have decided to not, ah, press charges," a phrase he seemed to have only just heard, "since the, ah, informant was not a reliable source." With a glance at Pierce and Dave, he unlocked the cell and slid the door open. "You are free to go." Then he added, "I was going to let you go anyway, I know you not do it, amigos, but I had to know for sure. Following proper rules, you understand?"

Aggie nearly knocked him over as she burst out of the cell and threw her arms around Dave. "I knew you'd do it! You can do anything. Thank you, thank you."

Dave seemed surprised by this outburst, but he maintained his cool. "Well, if it'd been anyone else, I'da just let 'em rot, but since it's you..."

Brady felt awkward and wasn't sure whether to try a handshake or a pat on the back while Aggie sustained her hug. Instead he put his hands on his hips and said, "Man, Dave, thanks a lot. I thought we'd found a new home here."

Dave seemed not to hear him. "Let's get some fresh air, huh?"

Monday, September 17, 2012


"Well, well, well," Dave said, smiling with hands on his hips. The atmosphere in the whole room had turned to mirth when he and Pierce Devreaux entered, so Aggie and Brady didn't mind a little lighthearted joking. "And I thought you were one of the good ones, Aggie."

Brady, surprised in the middle of an intense moment but just as happy to see Dave as Aggie was, countered with a goofy cartoon voice. "It wasn't us, honest!"

"Dave, thank you so much for coming," Aggie said with a shudder. Their relationship began before Brady joined the magazine, and it had always seemed a level above all others at the company. Brady almost thought he saw tears in her eyes. He couldn't help but wonder if another moment like they'd just shared could ever happen again, now that the situation had taken a dramatic turn.

"Don't worry about a thing," said Pierce. "We have connections to lawyers who specialize in just this kind of thing."

And then they saw the lieutenant produce the keys from his belt.

Friday, September 14, 2012


As much as Brady wanted to hold her, Aggie was in bad need of being held. She came closer still. "Brady, in case they do separate us, I want you to know..." She looked at the floor, searching. He just waited for whatever it was. "You've been so great. This has been one of the best trips...until now, of course."

He spoke in a low voice. "Yeah, it's been fun."

"I think you're really great." Was she even closer? Brady began to feel excited and uncomfortable at the same time. "There's no one I'd rather have with me here, tonight," she said.

Whoa, Brady thought. Did she want to be kissed? If it were any other girl, he wouldn't hesitate, but this was Aggie. She was his senior partner, a mentor, someone he respected. And he'd never been in love before. What on Earth should he do? He began to sweat on the back of his neck. He eased forward and touched her arms, hoping this was what she wanted and that he wasn't making a total fool of himself. Of all places for their first kiss! Was this really happening?

"I'm really glad it's you," she said softly.

"Me too," he said, not knowing what else to say. He lowered his head to match her height, and she lifted her face, eyes closed. Their lips were now impossibly close...

The door burst open without warning. The lieutenant entered, smiling as usual. "Hola!" he shouted. "You have visitors!"

Aggie had never felt such joy as when she saw Dave's face in that moment.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Two more hours passed. They had been fed two modest meals, but they felt undernourished. Through the window outside their cell, they could see the winter sun was setting. They stood at the bars, only speaking occasionally. Both were thinking of home, and each other.

"I just hope they don't separate us," Aggie said. "Not tonight, not ever. I'm a little terrified of that, actually."

He looked at her, wanting so much to take her in his arms and comfort her. "Aggie, no matter what happens, we have to stay strong. Stay free in here." He pounded his fist on his chest. "We're totally innocent. If there's a God up there, I'm sure He'll get us out of this."

She took a step closer to him. "I've been trying to pray a little, actually," she said. "I grew up in church. You?"

"I went with friends some when I was younger."

"I'll pray for both of us."

"Deal." He looked at her tenderly. "Thank you."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Brady and Aggie shared a small holding cell apart from the cell block they had visited on Saturday. Brady sat on the bench and looked at the ceiling, apparently searching for contentment in his current situation. Aggie stood, sipping water from a cup and thinking about how he would grow through this experience and what kind of man he would be. She also thought about the gang members and why one of them apparently thought his punishment would be lighter if he framed the two Americans for trafficking. And she thought again of the handsome gangster who sacrificed his body to protect them that day. When the thoughts became overwhelming, she focused on Dave Pike, whom she was hoping to be her hero on this day.

"You didn't do it, right Aggs?" Brady said suddenly. "I know ya didn't. Those guys are just tryin' to get some leniency, right? Can that actually work?"

"I kinda doubt it, but I don't know. Sometimes when you're in big trouble, you want more people in it with you."

"Trouble loves company, right?" He stood up, leaned against the bars and sighed. "Think Dave can get us outta this?"

"I'm afraid I don't know any more than you do. I've never been behind bars before. And it's my first time in El Salvador."

"I hope they're not passing around our credit cards in there."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Two-and-a-half hours later, Dave was waiting to board a plane at JFK. He was gnawing on a PowerBar, since lunch had been an impossibility. The day's events were beginning to tie his stomach in knots, anyway.

When BT's attorney, Pierce Devreaux, appeared in the terminal, Dave instantly felt a significant amount of relief. Despite his lawyer status, Dave knew Pierce to be a good man who was always ready to help in a way that benefited all parties as much as possible. There was no one he would rather have on his side in a bind. And he was in a serious bind.

He stood to greet him. "Pierce, I can't thank you enough for coming on basically no notice."

Pierce unbuttoned his coat and gave Dave's hand a firm shake. "Don't mention it, Dave. This is the kind of thing I live for. I want you to put your mind at ease. We're gonna handle this."

Dave sat down again and breathed a little easier. "It's a bad day, Pierce. My business's most valuable asset is sitting behind bars in El Salvador, and she didn't do anything. Wait 'til you meet her, Pierce; she's a sweet girl from Vermont and sharp as a tack. More professional than a lot of women ten years older."

Monday, September 10, 2012


Aggie had never known the kind of desperation she felt in that moment. She'd heard stories of Americans imprisoned abroad. Many were never able to return home. Even if they could get back to the States within a year, her career would probably be over. She would have to live with her parents in Vermont, working whatever uninteresting job she could find...

"So what do you say?" The lieutenant's voice snapped her back to the present. "Anything you have to tell us? I can tell you that drug trafficking carries a harsh punishment in our country."

She looked at Brady again and suddenly felt very glad it was him traveling with her and not Michelle or Rachel. They lacked his strength. And she needed his strength right then.

She looked the lieutenant in the eye. "We need to make a call."

Friday, September 7, 2012


Aggie stared at the lieutenant with wide eyes. Then she looked at Brady, who appeared equally incredulous. Were they really being accused of drug trafficking?

"Lieutenant, I assure you, we never spoke a word to any of those gang members."

"Not true. I was with you here in station when you talk with them two days ago."

"That...that was an interview for our magazine. We spoke about it."

"One of the perpetrators tell us that you two made agreement to take cocaine with you back to United States."

Brady looked ready to pounce. "What? No..."

The lieutenant cut him off. "Was that your real reason to come back here? Did you come to get payment instructions? Find out where to go?"

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Having agreed to go to the police station, since it was the lieutenant who asked, Aggie now sat in the interrogation room for the second time on this trip, still wondering what would've happened if they had refused to go quietly. She wondered if they should've contacted the U.S. embassy following the gang incident. She had a feeling they might not be allowed to leave freely this time.

"Man, why couldn't they have done this two days ago?" Brady had tried not to whine, but it was a very disappointing situation. "We're supposed to go home tomorrow!" He thought about his friends and the comforts of home.

The door opened, and the lieutenant entered the room along with the sergeant who had interrogated them three days earlier. "Ok," said the lieutenant, looking more serious than he had before, "we have more questions to ask about the men you were with last Friday. We need to know how they contacted you about transporting their product."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Two thousand miles away in Santa Tecla, the breakfast that Brady and Aggie were sharing in their hotel's dining area was interrupted by two young policemen. "Perdón, Señor Murr, Señorita Simms?" said one of them.

They looked at each other. Aggie finally said, "Sí?"

In Spanish, the young officer asked them to accompany them to their vehicle. She asked for identification, but even after they'd provided it, she felt frozen to her chair. She asked what would happen if they refused to go along. At that, the lieutenant from the station emerged from the hotel office across the hall from the dining room. Aggie felt relieved at seeing a familiar, even friendly face.

"Good morning, my friends," he said in English. "I ask you, please no be difficult. We have a situation that need you cooperate with us."


"Oh, aren't you a sweetheart," Andy said. "Actually, Diane kicked me out."

Emily gasped. "Because you were out late one time?"

"It was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back, I'm afraid. We haven't been seeing eye to eye on a lot of things. So now she feels like I'm not committed to the family, and somethin' about being a bad influence on our son."

"That's crazy, you're one of the nicest guys I know."

"Well, thanks, Emily..."

"So what are you gonna do?"

He paused. "Well, I'll just carry on. I moved into a hotel last night, and I'll just take it from there. Make it my goal to move back in so I can prove myself to be a good dad."

Sunday, September 2, 2012


After the meeting, as the attendees filtered out of the room, Dave told Emily to keep close tabs on Jason, making sure he boarded his plane, arrived in Syria and checked into his hotel. "He's earned a little micromanagement for the week," he said.

Emily went by Andy Haines' office and knocked lightly on his door. He opened it himself, since he had only just closed it upon returning from the meeting. "Hi, Emily, come in," he said with his usual joviality. She closed the door behind her.

"Hey, I was just wondering...well, Paul and I were wondering how you were doing, I mean, after Friday night. Diane seemed pretty upset."