Friday, November 30, 2012
Tires squealed, and within seconds they saw, between the houses, the two black vans roaring away. Not two seconds later, they heard another vehicle approaching at high speed from the other direction. As it passed them, they saw that it was a black sedan. It must have been chasing after the vans--maybe someone from the State Department? he wondered. Whether his new friends were caught or got away, he'd probably never know. The media weren't likely to catch wind of it if they were caught. And Jason had decided he wouldn't give them up for anything. He might not agree with their methods, but he liked them as people, and they helped him find Michelle.
Then he realized she probably would've been found within a few minutes anyway, as other vehicles arrived and more men in black were suddenly on the scene. "Jason, what's goin' on?" Michelle asked, grimacing with pain.
"Um...I'm not sure. I think the cops are here to find you. I'm gonna take you back over there, ok?" He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to the house.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
She heard someone with an American accent say that the cops would be there in seconds along with officials from the State Department, so they needed to get out of there right away. So if these weren't cops, who were they?
With her head on the ground, she could see someone with pale skin in Asu's yard, wearing a long coat. The other men were apparently in the house. She cried out to him, focusing all her energy on that one person, praying he would hear. She saw him turn, and then he ran to her.
"Michelle!" The voice was very familiar. "Guys, over here!" He turned her onto her back and gathered her into his arms, the first physical contact they'd had in two years of traveling the world together.
"Hey, Jason," she said, smiling feebly. "Did you get your story yet?"
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
A dog barked and roused her. She had dozed off, after all. She looked to the east and saw orange hues at the horizon. Soon she would be found. Soon this would finally all be over.
She heard a leaf crushed underfoot and looked back toward Asu's house. Several men dressed in black were walking carefully around it. Must be the Syrian version of a SWAT team--they'd found her! Asu had known her name, which meant he was connected somehow to the men who stole her luggage. But now she wasn't in the house, and they could deny having ever laid eyes on her. She tried calling out, but she didn't have the energy to muster enough volume to be heard from that distance. In desperation she began crawling back toward the house from which she'd come. The pain across her body was growing again, causing her to grunt with each movement. She prayed she wouldn't be too late.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Finally the radio crackled again with Peter's voice. "Alright, Rani, they've fessed up. These guys were treating an injured woman at the house, and she meets Michelle's description. But they're genuinely surprised that she wasn't there when we got there. Either somebody stole her during the night or she left."
"She couldn't have gotten very far in her condition," Jason said to Rani.
Rani apparently agreed, as he told Peter: "We'd better go back."
"Roger that," Peter said. "See you back at the house."
"What will they do with the two men?" Jason asked.
"Take this exit," Rani said. "We're not in the business of taking prisoners or meting out punishment. We'll leave them at the house. We don't have to worry about them calling the police. They may seem like nice guys who wanted to help Michelle, but they both have criminal records. And keeping Michelle at their house instead of taking her to the hospital would get them in big trouble with the police. Probably they intended to keep her there."
Jason hoped the two men hadn't already done something horrible to Michelle.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Half the team piled into the van, and Jason shifted it into gear, wondering how he ever got himself into this situation. He saw the rest of the team forcing two half-dressed Arab men into the other van, one younger, one older, hands tied behind their backs. "What's going on?" he asked Rani, seated next to him.
"We found two men sleeping in separate bedrooms. Turn right at the next street. A third bedroom with sort of a lab bench, lots of drugs and meds. There were signs that they had been caring for someone with severe injuries, in a great deal of pain. Such as someone thrown from a car outside the airport."
"Where do you think they took her?"
"Probably had her picked up, but we don't know. We will interrogate them on the road and then return them here."
As Rani directed Jason onto a highway going across the city, he wondered what kind of interrogation was happening in the other van. He suddenly realized that Peter had gotten into that vehicle and was part of the questioning. Jason desperately wanted Michelle to be found, but how far were these men willing to go to get the information they sought?
Friday, November 23, 2012
One hour later, Jason was sitting in the passenger seat of a black van with Rani at the wheel. They were in a poor neighborhood in south Damascus. They and a team of men with assault weapons and night-vision goggles had arrived in two vans, headlights off. Jason was watching them surround the house. Peter was among them. There was no hesitation as most of them suddenly entered the house simultaneously, kicking in doors and smashing windows without warning. They waited to see what would happen next.
Within half a minute, the radio crackled. Peter said, "Rani, come on in."
Rani looked at Jason as he opened his door. "Take the wheel and get ready to drive as soon as we are loaded." He ran into the house.
Jason was incredulous. Apparently they hadn't expected to need one of their drivers in the house. Had they found her? He hadn't heard any shots fired. What was happening? He climbed into the driver's seat and tried to prepare himself for anything.
After the longest two minutes of Jason's life, Peter emerged alone and came around the van to speak with him. "She's not here," he said. "But we think she mighta been."
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Jason had been asleep for a few hours back at his own hotel when the phone rang, waking him. He was disoriented from the exhaustion of the previous day. Who would be calling him in Damascus in the middle of the night?
It was Peter, of course. "Jason, get yerself ready and meet us in the lobby ASAP." He rang off. Something had happened. Whether good or bad, it was impossible to hear in Peter's voice. Maybe he wasn't sure himself.
Still rubbing his face to rouse himself, Jason met Peter and Rani wearing khakis, a sweater and his long coat. He was glad he'd brought some warm clothes, though he hadn't imagined he'd be running around at night so much when he packed.
"Four a.m., guys? What's goin' on? Did somebody find her?"
"Big lead," said Rani. They had black duffle bags with them.
"Somebody heard somebody who knew about Michelle's luggage talking about some other person who wanted to get her off the side of the road," Peter said.
"Huh. So we were right about that. So what do we do?"
"We have an address," Rani said. "We're going in."
"We--what? The three of us?"
Peter smiled, something Jason hadn't seen much yet. "We have a team. We're meeting them now."
When the sitcom rerun Brian was watching went to commercial, he flipped to the eleven o'clock news in time to see an update on Michelle's story, accompanied by scenes of a familiar figure being escorted to a waiting car.
"Well at six we told you about a journalist, Michelle Owens, who's gone missing in Syria. We have an update to that story now as her manager, David Pike, is being questioned by the FBI. Mr. Pike apparently failed to notify authorities when he found out Ms. Owens had gone missing, and as we told you at six, she may have been injured in an assault. We're told Mr. Pike does not face criminal charges, but he could be faced with a lawsuit due to negligence. And we'll continue to update you as more details on this story become available."
Brian wasn't sure what to do. He wanted to jump up, throw his coat on and head into the night, but where would he go? He felt helpless to assist the man he admired so much. Would Dave be in the office in the morning? Would he have to leave the magazine?
And then the realization came: Brian might have to take primary responsibility for the content of Bold Traveler immediately. Did Dave know that earlier in the day? Is that why he was really promoted? Was he ready for that kind of responsibility? He knew he might have to find out very soon.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
"No one's on trial, Mr. Pike," said the blond. "We just wanna find your missing employee. We'd appreciate your complete cooperation."
"Sounds like you know an awful lot already. How will questioning me help?"
"Mr. Pike, by failing to report Ms. Owens as missing, you have put her in immense danger. If you had alerted the FBI when you found out, we'da had a full day earlier to start lookin' for her."
"Did you drive all the way out here to tell me that?"
"Mr. Pike, we're bringing you in for questioning. Agents are confiscating the computer in your office tonight. Please surrender your cell phone--"
"You people broke into my office?"
The blond raised his voice. "If you do not come quietly, of your own volition..."
Dave stood and put his fists together as an invitation to arrest him. He knew this had nothing to do with finding Michelle. The FBI was after Peter's and Rani's network. Bringing Dave in wouldn't help them, as the network was well hidden, but fighting them wouldn't do any favors for his company or his family. He didn't say another word as they led him outside, where cameras were rolling and reporters were reporting. They put him in a car and took him away.
Monday, November 19, 2012
"David Pike?" said a man approaching him when he arrived. He was accompanied by two others. "We'd like to ask you a few questions. Could we step inside with you, please?" He agreed and went into the house, thankful that his kids were in bed and wouldn't see this. Cindy met him at the door.
"Finally," she said, clutching him tight. She whispered in his ear, "I knew you shoulda called someone."
"I did call someone," he said, not looking her in the eye. "Have a seat, guys," he said to the three men. He was determined to not give them any respect as authority figures, as he didn't consider them to have any real authority over him. "Should I make coffee?"
"Why don't we get right down to it," said their leader, a tall blond in his forties, as he sat in a chair. "We know you found out your employee, Michelle Owens, went missing a full day before any kind of public official was notified. Wanna tell us why you didn't bother to call the police or the FBI or anyone?"
Friday, November 16, 2012
With much effort and some pain, she managed to sit up for the first time since she was thrown out of the taxi. Her head swam and her ribs ached. The house was incredibly quiet, and the only light was a streetlight shining through the blinds over the one window in the room. She slowly swung her legs over the side of the bed. The floor was nearly a foot from her toes. She felt very dizzy. She rubbed her face, trying to wake herself. Then she scooted her backside toward the edge of the bed with small twisting movements until she made contact with the floor. Now she felt sick. Her legs couldn't bear the weight, so she quickly lowered herself to a crawling position. She heard a sound--someone coming in? Maybe going to the bathroom. She prayed they wouldn't look in her room.
She waited on the floor for a few minutes. She didn't have the strength to return to bed anyway. She only ever heard the one sound, so finally she began to crawl toward the door opposite the bed. She hoped no one was sleeping outside the door. If she could just make it outside, she'd be free. She focused all her strength to that end.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
"Dear Lord, thank You for this family I'm gettin' to know tonight. Thank you that in the midst of tragedy You bring us together in love. Lord, we love Michelle very much and we want her to be ok. I..." Tears began, and he couldn't speak for a moment. Finally he choked out, "We miss her, Lord. Please let her be ok." He broke down and cried, and the family embraced him.
Eliisa made cookies since she couldn't possibly send Andy home empty-handed. The family chatted as the cookies baked. They talked about the magazine a good deal, since they had hardly heard from Michelle since she started working there. They had a subscription to Bold Traveler and were able to see month-to-month which places she had traveled, thanks to the photo credits. Andy told them about Little Nemo's and all the fun times that had led up to their romance. He even told them about Michelle's reluctance to visit his church.
When he finally decided to go home, Carl put a hand on his shoulder. "Andy, I'm so glad you decided to come by tonight. You've been a little piece of Michelle for us that we've been missing for a long time. Here's my card. Could you do me a favor and ask your boss if he knows anything about this assault we heard about on the news? Call me and let me know what he says, if you would please."
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The picture changed to a female reporter in lower Manhattan. "Thanks, Lou. I spoke with Matthew Remington at the FBI's New York Field Office in the Federal Building behind me. Now it's only been three days since anyone has heard from Michelle, but the case has gotten the attention of the FBI due to signs that she may have been assaulted and could be injured..."
"Assaulted?" Andy said, shocked. He hadn't heard anything like that. "What's she talkin' about?"
Michelle's parents were just as surprised. Eliisa buried her face in Carl's chest and sobbed while the reporter finished her story. Andy's heart sank into his stomach. He couldn't look at the screen.
"...as the FBI continues to work with Syrian authorities to find Michelle. For Channel Six News, I'm Casey Banning."
"Thanks, Casey. And we'll be following this story and will update you as more details arrive, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Michelle's family."
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
"Andy, I'm Reverend Owens, but you can call me Carl." Andy immediately thought of the dad on that Urkel show, and this Carl didn't seem so different from that one. Carl introduced him to Michelle's mother, Eliisa, who had moved to New York from Finland as a child. She was blond, lovely and sweet. Andy searched their faces as they talked, trying to discover how these extremely different people created the woman he loved.
Others were there, Carl's cousin and his wife and two daughters from Alphabet City. They were watching the news with excitement. "Andy, they're runnin' a story on Michelle on the six o'clock news," Carl said. It was already three past six.
"We didn't know what to do," Eliisa said. "The authorities weren't communicating with us very well; we didn't know what was happening. So we called the news station, and this afternoon there were three news crews out here talking to us."
"Here it is," said Carl's cousin.
Monday, November 12, 2012
His plan all along had been to get it all out quickly with boldness and sensitivity. "Hi, sir, I'm Andy, I'm dating Michelle. I wanted to stop by and say..." But that was as far as he'd been able to think through. He paused and then resumed. "Sir, how are you doin'? I'm really sorry about Michelle. I'm..." He looked at his shoes. "I'm really hurtin', too."
The man stood looking at him for several moments. Andy wondered if he should just leave. He'd never felt so awkward. Finally the man stepped aside and said, "Come in here, Son. You're datin' my daughter?"
Friday, November 9, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
"As long as it ain't Twilight, I don't care. Hey, Dave wrote a nice e-mail, huh?"
"Man, Dave is my hero right now."
Andy sat down. "It's a good day, man. But listen, I don't think I'm gonna go to Nemo's tonight."
"Aw, man, what's up?"
"I keep thinkin' about Michelle's family. She doesn't talk to 'em much, but I feel like I wanna find 'em, talk to 'em. They gotta be hurtin' ten times as much as I am."
"They know, right?"
"Oh yeah, Dave called 'em from El Salvador as soon as he found out. But I don't know what's happened since then. I got an address; I'm gonna try 'n' find 'em after work."
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
"He's, um, Jay Leno," Ricardo said as he scanned his post-lunch e-mails. "That's who he is. And come on, anybody who can't name at least two of the guys on Mount Rushmore has gotta be pretty ignorant."
"Ignorant of things that mean nothing to them, though. I admire them for having more relevant things to think about."
"Hmph, if they're thinking about anything. And really, none of those guys on Mount Rushmore are relevant? Whoa, what's this? 'Congrats to Brian Grouper on his promotion...' VP! Brian's a veep now! Youngest in the magazine's history, it says! Oh man, drinks are on him again tonight."
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
An Arab man in a gray flannel suit, expensive tie and a gotee entered and approached them. "Peter," he said, grasping his hand. "Good to see you again."
Peter stood, gathering his coat. "Jason, this is Rani. Let's move to the restaurant. I'm starvin'."
They discussed their situation over a decent hotel meal of fetté and bread. "So assuming the girl who was robbed was our girl," Peter said, "I'm thinkin' they probably just ditched her in the desert. Simplest thing, right?"
"Definitely," Rani said. "And that would be the second time in the past week."
"Could she still be alive, then?" Jason asked.
"There is hope. I can envision many such scenarios."
Peter leaned back in his chair. "The car we chased down had gotten back onto the highway. We were hopin' they might've found her out there, but..."
"If that was even the right car," Jason said. "For all we know, she was right there and we just chased the wrong car."
After dinner, Rani paid for their food and they returned to the lobby. "Don't lose hope," he said. "The trail is still very warm. We have eyes and ears all over the city."
"What if she's not even in the city," Jason said.
Peter looked him in the eye. "We'll find her." They stepped out into the darkness.
Monday, November 5, 2012
"So who is this guy we're waiting for?" Jason said.
"You'll be happy to know he's a Syrian cop," Peter said in a low voice, "well, ex-cop. He doesn't work for tax money, anyway."
"A private eye?"
"Sort of, but he considers himself more of a protector and server."
"A cop for hire?"
"Exactly. Guys like us have to work in secret since our activities are considered illegal in most places. But we feel like we do more good than state-run cops and soldiers. They're mostly lookin' out for each other and whoever's runnin' the show. Especially in places like this. And we network with people in low places to do good things, like findin' your friend. That's another difference--we don't let pesky things like laws or someone else's moral standard get in the way of doin' what needs to be done. We have our own code."
"So you're criminals."
"We're the real good guys. Like the posse in the old westerns, except that we're everywhere. And we don't come cheap."
Friday, November 2, 2012
"Hey, have a seat, Brian." Dave continued typing his e-mail while Brian sat and tried to be comfortable. He had no idea what might be coming. Rockefeller Center was visible through the window. Shoppers in heavy coats were scurrying around six floors below them. He looked at some of the items on Dave's windowsill: a tennis trophy, a family portrait, a Far Side daily calendar that still showed Monday's page. Finally the e-mail was sent, and Dave turned to address him.
"I had a long look at the new issue last night."
"Cool. I hope it was--"
"Ya did good, man. I saw a few stylistic things that I would've done slightly differently, but this is always a team effort, and I like that this one kinda has your signature on it. I couldn't find anything really negative about it, and that says a lot."
"Yeah, it does..."
"This was a great experience for you, and if anything ever happened to me, I'm really glad somebody like you is around to take the reigns. You've got a good eye and you know what customers are looking for."
"So can you give me one good reason we shouldn't make you VP of Content right this minute?"
Brian felt outside of himself. "S...seriously?"
"And I think we can get that monthly movie going. In fact, that can be your first responsibility. It's all yours. Work with Emily."
"Whoa, thanks, Dave..."
"You've earned it, man. Great work. I'm lookin' forward to workin' more closely with ya."
Thursday, November 1, 2012
"What's that?" she said. Seeing the concern on her face, he spoke to her in comforting tones as he came near. "No," she said, but she had no energy to resist. She grimaced as he held her arm and the needle entered it. When he removed it and turned back to the table, she began to cry. She wasn't a crier, but she'd never felt so helpless. She wished she knew what these men really intended for her. How much pain would she be in if not for this doctor? She might still be alone by the desert road if not for them.
After a few minutes Asu returned with a plate of food and a cup of water. "Here, eat. It's good. Make you strong."
It did smell good. Asu propped up pillows behind her and helped her sit up. She ate a little. It was different from anything she'd ever eaten, but she liked it. After a minute she said, "I need to lie back down. Thanks for the food."
He helped her lie down again. "You see?" he said. "You will be very happy here, Michelle. I will make sure of it."
She smiled politely despite the uneasiness he gave her. She turned on her side, away from him, to rest. He remained seated beside her, stroking her hair. Sleep came again quickly, but as it did, a thought came to her: How did he know her name?