Claire and Bonnie
Jim scooped up the phone before it had a chance to ring a second time. "Ellison."
He listened, a frown forming on his face. "Are you sure, Sally? He didn't just take off to play golf or something?" Things had been better with his father these past couple of years, and it really wasn't unusual to hear from him several times a month; but Sally sounded concerned and was telling him that his father was missing.
"When did you see him, last?" His frown deepened to a scowl at the answer. "Have you tried his cell phone?" Of course she had. She would never contact him before doing everything she could to make sure first.
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Don't clean anything!" His admonishment was automatic, but he was feeling concerned, as well. Hanging up the phone, he looked across to his partner who had stopped what he'd been doing and focused on him. Probably heard the worry in his voice.
"That was Sally. My father's missing. She last saw him last night. He didn't come down for breakfast, there's no sign of him anywhere in the house and his car is still in the garage."
"I'll tell Simon and we'll be on our way."
"This isn't a police matter yet, Sandburg. I'm taking personal time."
"And I'm saving us all time by telling Simon and making this official."
"Chief, if he's really missing, it can't be our case, because he's my dad," Jim reminded his friend.
Blair grinned. "I know, but for preliminary investigation, you can't be beat. First one on the scene and all. If there's anything to be found, you'll be the only one who can find it. Come on. Get your coat and let's go." He grabbed his own coat and pulled it on as he approached the captain's office. He tapped twice, got a 'Come' and disappeared through the door. Less than a minute later, he was back out, with a concerned Simon Banks right behind him.
"You both be careful. If you find anything, call it in and I'll send out Joel and Megan to take over the investigation."
"Thanks, sir. We'll be in touch," Blair replied as he joined his fidgeting partner and headed out of the bullpen.
The trip to the Ellison mansion was spent in silence. Blair didn't want to offer false assurances, and Jim was already brooding over the possibilities. Both men were hoping that it was a false alarm, but knowing their luck, seriously doubted it.
The house was eerily quiet. Sally opened the door before they even got to it. She'd obviously been watching for them. Her anxiety was palpable, her face pale and drawn with worry.
"I searched the house again after I called you. I found nothing. No sign of him. His clothes from yesterday are in the hamper, and his pajamas are missing, so he must have undressed last night."
"Has his bed been slept in?" Blair asked. Jim, jaws working in distress, was using his senses to do his own search.
"No. He usually undresses, then sits and reads for a while before going to bed. He has a snifter of brandy then, too." Sally wrung her hands in agitation. "What could have happened to him?"
"I don't know, yet," Jim softly growled and began prowling through the house on his own investigation. Blair pulled out his spiral bound notepad and started taking down Sally's statement.
His dad's upstairs study looked fine. The light over the recliner was on and there was a glass half full of brandy on the small table beside the chair. He sniffed at the brandy, but sensed nothing unusual about it. There was an elusive scent, however. Frowning in concentration, Jim tried to find the source of the odor. Shaking his head in frustration, he prowled around the room once more, seeking anything else that could give him the faintest inkling as to where his father had gone, and why.
He left that room and entered the next, his father's bedroom. He looked around curiously. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in here. He was pleasantly surprised to discover photos of himself and Steven prominently displayed on the dresser. The photo of him was from his Policeman of the Year award ceremony. He was actually smiling. He remembered Steven taking the picture, and how Blair had whispered something only he could hear that had him bursting out in laughter. It was a good photo.
There was nothing to find here, either. Just more of that elusive scent. He wished he could place it, but it escaped him. There was one thing, however: a hair. Short, black, and curly. It had that smell on it and he finally recognized it. It was some sort of hair gel. He peered at the hair on the desk and, pulling on his latex gloves, he gingerly placed a small evidence bag over it and left a note for forensics. He checked the master bathroom, just because, but he was starting to feel that there wasn't going to be anything for him to find. He prowled around upstairs and, much to his surprise, finally found something... in his old bedroom.
It was a single sheet of paper, typewritten or, more likely, done on a computer. It reeked of that hair gel, which was what attracted his attention. It was a request to meet with his father, one that gave very little information, only that someone wanted to talk to his dad about some kind of business deal. Jim frowned; his father was retired, what kind of business would he be engaging in now?
It didn't make much sense, but he tagged it and left another bag by the note, as well. Finishing his search, he returned downstairs, to find Blair making tea in the kitchen and Sally sitting at the table, smiling at what Blair was saying.
Looking up when Jim came in, Blair asked, "Find anything?"
"Couple of things. A hair and a note asking to see Dad." He looked at Sally. "Did Dad mention anything about expecting someone over for some kind of business meeting over the past few days?"
Sally shook her head. "No. He has been getting letters, though. They seemed to make him angry and he often tore them up. I'm afraid I never looked at them. Is it important?"
"Could be. There's no sign of a struggle, but that doesn't mean very much." Jim was frowning; he had a bad feeling about this, but there was so little to go on.
"Jim, did you check the foyer? Maybe someone came late last night and he let them in?" He knew it was a stretch, but that seemed reasonable now. Where would a man in his sixties go late at night in his pajamas? Not very far, certainly; at least, not willingly.
"Yeah. Good idea, Chief. Let me sniff around outside and see if anything pops up at me." With a pat to Sally's shoulder, meant to reassure, Jim headed outside. Unfortunately, it had rained early that morning. If there had been anything, it was washed away now. Then he found one of his father's slippers in the shrubbery lining the walk. He crouched and looked hard. There were faint traces of someone being dragged across the grass. Not much, but definitely something. He left the slipper where he found it and pulled out his cell phone.
"Simon, someone's taken my dad. Apparently, they just came to the front door and he invited them in. No, there was no sign of a struggle, but it looks like when he let the visitor out, a second person helped grab him and drag him away." Jim fidgeted nervously as he listened to his captain tell him to remain calm until he got there with backup. Disconnecting the call, Jim frowned and looked into the distance, wondering who had taken his father, and why.
"It's pretty slim evidence, but we'll do what we can, Jim. Are you sure there's nothing else?" Simon was chewing the end of his cigar to a pulp. Joel and Megan were checking with the neighbors to see if anyone had noticed anything the previous night.
Jim shook his head while Blair looked around, puzzled. "Nothing, sir. Just a hair that's neither Sally's nor my dad's, and a note. Maybe there's something on the paper, fingerprints, hopefully."
"Jim, it's pretty obvious that your dad knew whoever it was who came by. Otherwise, they'd never have gotten into the house."
"I know. But why was that piece of paper in my old room? Why not in the study? And, why would Dad have invited them upstairs at all?" He shook his head again. "It just doesn't make any sense."
Joel and Megan returned. Jim looked at them, hopefully. "Sorry, Jimbo. None of the neighbors remembers anything out of the ordinary last night," Megan dashed his hopes. She gave him a commiserating look and patted his arm.
Joel tried to brighten the outlook. "Yeah, but the people directly across the street said that their son, who's at work now, came home late last night and maybe he noticed something. I left them a card and they promised to have him give us a call when he gets home." He grasped Jim's shoulder, squeezing it and offering his support. "I know it's not much, but maybe we can get lucky."
"Yeah. Maybe." Jim didn't sound at all convinced or hopeful. He shook his head. "I know you'll do your best, but I'm kind of worried about him. I can't understand why anyone would want to kidnap him. I mean, he's retired, living off his investments." He shook his head. "I just don't get it. He doesn't have the kind of money that normally attracts kidnappers."
"Maybe they don't want money," Blair ventured, immediately drawing everyone's attention. He looked up at them and shrugged. "Maybe they want information your dad has. Something like that? Or... I don't know. I'm grasping at straws here, too."
"No, that's got possibilities, Sandburg," the captain reassured. "Maybe they need information your dad has; information on someone else, perhaps?"
"Like Jim, maybe?" Megan asked. When she noticed the expressions on the men's faces, she shrugged. "Hey, he's high-profile, and who would know more about him than his own dad?"
"God, I hope not," Joel growled. The others merely nodded.
Sally had watched the forensics crew as they went over everything, searching for anything that might give them some hint of what had happened. Megan had questioned her and she'd answered to the best of her ability. As she brought out coffee for the officers still dusting Mr. Ellison's room, she abruptly remembered something. She hurried in and served them their coffee, for which they gratefully thanked her.
"Please, I remembered something. Mr. Ellison was supposed to go and play golf this morning. I think it may be written on his calendar down in the study," she offered. Serena Chang offered to go with her to look.
There it was, in William's bold penmanship. He had planned on playing golf that morning at seven. He normally didn't get up until nine, however. Sally led the way to the closet where William's clubs were kept. They weren't there.
"Do you think maybe he rode with his friends, instead of taking his own car?" Serena asked.
Sally frowned. "Not usually. He hates to have to depend on anyone else for anything," she said very softly. "I have spare keys to his car. Maybe we can look in the trunk?" she offered.
Serena, biting back a smile over the description of William because his son was exactly the same way when it came to such things, nodded her agreement. The two women went out and opened the trunk. There were the missing clubs. Obviously, William couldn't have gone to play golf. Serena frowned.
"I wonder why the people he was supposed to meet haven't called to see what kept him?" she muttered to herself. Deciding, she pulled out her cell phone and made the call.
Joel scooped up the telephone receiver and spoke into the mouthpiece, "Taggart."
He listened for several minutes and then replied, "Find out who he was supposed to meet. Maybe we'll get lucky." He listened for another minute or two, and then waited while the requested information was garnered. Picking up a pen, he got a post-it notepad to write on. When she came back, he had her spell out the names to be sure he got them right. "Thanks, Serena. Good catch." He gently hung up the phone and read the list, and then prepared to track down the three men for questioning.
The forensics people didn't find anything. Officially, it was now a suspected kidnapping. With Jim's permission as next-of-kin, a wiretap was placed on William Ellison's home phone, as well as an automatic recording device. They waited hopefully, patiently, for twenty-four hours, but there were no calls demanding a ransom, no messages via email or postal service. They had nothing to go on, and nowhere to look for answers.
When Joel and Megan returned to the station the next morning after talking to the three men William was supposed to have met for golf, they still had less than nothing to go on. Although Joel wondered if maybe one of the three businessmen had been telling the truth, he had nothing solid to base his suspicions on. He couldn't very well drag the man in for interrogation. All he could hope for was that the kid across the street from the Ellison house would call and would have seen something, anything they could get their teeth into.
Megan, seeing Jim's eyes on them, nudged her partner and gestured towards their worried colleague. Joel looked up and met Jim's hopeful gaze. He shook his head sadly to indicate that they hadn't gotten anything from the interviews. Jim flushed slightly and looked back at his own paperwork, obviously distressed.
The phone on Joel's desk rang. "Taggart." He listened for a moment, and then sat at attention, reaching for a pen and his notepad. "You're sure? Did you by any miracle get the license plate number?" He listened as the caller tried to remember. At least they had a description of the vehicle, including approximate age, make and style. "Thank you! Do you think you'd recognize the driver if you saw him again? You do? Great. We'll be in touch. No, thank you." Joel concluded his call and stood up, heading for the captain's office.
"Joel?" There was an unaccustomed strain to Jim's voice.
Taggart paused and turned to his friend. "The kid across the street. He just got home and his parents remembered to have him call us. There was a 'big old boat' of a car parked in front of your dad's house. He guessed it to be an early to mid-seventies Ford. There was some heavy rust damage, and the license plate was a vanity plate, but he doesn't remember what it was."
Simon had come out of his office when he saw Joel stop to talk to Jim and heard it all, saving Joel from having to repeat himself. "Old Ford? Gee, I wonder how many of those there are around?" he asked, disgustedly.
"Well, it was a two-door, vinyl landau top, dark in color, with a lot of body rot. Plus, he saw the driver fairly well and thinks he could recognize him if he saw him again. The kid said that he seemed to be waiting for someone."
That got everyone's attention. "So, there were two of them, just like we thought," Jim murmured.
"Did he give you a description of the driver?"
"Yeah. Older guy, mid-to-late fifties," Joel began.
Simon snorted at that bit of description. "Just how old is this witness?"
"Nineteen," Joel chuckled. "Anyway, he was clean-shaven, with short, styled hair, and he had 'real bushy eyebrows'. The hair was gray, but the eyebrows were black."
Simon nodded in grudging admiration. "Not a bad description. Too bad he didn't get the license plate."
"I think it must have been something pretty obscure, or he'd have probably remembered it," Joel replied. "At least he remembered that it was a vanity plate, and not just an ordinary one."
"You're right. Get on it. There can't be too many old Ford 'boats' left around, particularly not with vanity plates and a lot of rust on them." Simon grabbed Ellison by the arm, stopping him from following Joel. "Uh-uh. Sorry, Jim. You know you can't get involved."
"But he's my dad, Simon," was Jim's plaintive rejoinder.
"I know," Simon said, soothingly. "But we can't have you running around doing anything that might be construed as 'interfering', and you know it."
Jim gnashed his teeth and nodded sharply. "Yes, sir," he ground out, obviously not happy.
"Go work on your own cases, Jim. Joel will do a good job, you know that."
Jim did know, but it didn't make a lot of difference to him, since it was his father and not some stranger they were searching for. Just because he understood didn't make it any easier for him to just stand by and let someone else search for his dad. Without another word, and with his head hanging down, he returned to his desk, where Blair had just placed a bag from Wonderburger in the middle of his blotter.
He ate mechanically, not even noticing that it was his favorite mushroom-Swiss burger, or the fact that Blair had even gotten him chili-fries. His expression kept anyone from disturbing him; no one wanted to set off the volcano in their midst.
Half an hour after he finished eating, Blair sauntered over and perched on the edge of his partner's desk. Jim barely looked up at him.
"I've been doing some quiet checking."
Jim froze for a moment, then looked up, questions in his eyes. "Oh?"
Blair glanced around the bullpen. "Yeah. It seems that one of your father's investments may soon become far more valuable than it currently is."
Jim was definitely interested; he sat back in his chair, all his focus on his partner. "Oh?"
Blair nodded. "I need to give this to Joel, but I thought I'd tell you first. It would appear that someone wants to buy up as much of this company's stock as they can before it's announced that SugiCorp is going to buy them out."
Jim frowned. "SugiCorp? I don't think I've heard of them before."
"Me either, but I did some checking. Your brother has had dealings with them. In fact, I think he's the one who turned them on to the company they're trying to buy."
"Go on." Jim was definitely interested now.
"Well, they have an outstanding reputation. They aren't one of those raider types that come in, buy out a company, then gobble up the parts they want and destroy the rest. They purchase companies that can provide support to their other endeavors and integrate them into the whole conglomerate."
"Which company are they interested in?" Jim asked.
"The one your dad's retired from. The one he's technically a partner in, but basically stays out of the day-to-day running of."
"Electronics," Jim stated flatly, frowning. "Japanese firm?"
Jim's frown deepened. "But Dad's retired. What could anyone possibly want from him on that? He doesn't have anything to do with the company any more."
Blair shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe they want his shares, or maybe they want him to oppose the sale, or move it along faster. I just don't know. But I have to get this to Joel. We'll let you know if anything comes of it."
Blair stopped and grinned at his partner and friend. "Hey, just because you can't get actively involved doesn't mean that I can't. Besides, what are friends for, if not to help you when you're down?" With a light punch to Jim's arm, Blair turned away and headed towards Taggart's desk.
A faint smile played about Jim's mouth, trying to decide if it was safe to be there. Glancing down to hide the sudden grin, Jim reached for his telephone to make a call.
"Yeah, Steven? Jim. Yeah. I know you know. No, nothing yet. Steven, tell me about SugiCorp..."
The search through the DMV records took the rest of the day. Surprisingly, there were still more than a hundred old vehicles with vanity plates. Narrowing it down to two-door models (they didn't take the Ford identification as gospel), there were thirty-eight that fit the description. Now began the job of tracking down every one and determining whether or not there could be a connection to William Ellison.
Even with only thirty-eight people to contact, it was a daunting task. Late the next morning, Joel, list in hand, approached the office of Captain Banks. Taking a deep breath, he knocked; at the grunt to enter, he opened the door and stepped in, closing the door behind him.
"I have a list of possibles. There are thirty-eight of them, but there's not a lot for us to hold any of them on. I'd like Jim to come along, so we can use his ability to tell when someone's lying."
Simon frowned. "I don't think that's a very good idea. He is, after all, involved." He didn't need to say how volatile Jim was and how difficult it might be to control him should he deem one of the suspects to be lying. It could be particularly dangerous if the suspect were lying, but not connected to the missing man.
"Between us, I think we can keep a leash on him. He's just so good at telling when someone's lying to him. Besides, that glare might be enough in itself to get the right one to give in."
Simon grunted, nearly a laugh. "If you believe that, I've got some really lovely beachfront property about five hundred miles due west."
"Well, I'll try to narrow it down, but none of these thirty-eight have a rap sheet. I kind of think that this has something to do with just William, and nothing at all to do with Jim or his abilities."
Simon looked up, consideringly. "Hmmm. Have you been able to find out anything about his business dealings?"
"Not a lot. He's pretty much retired, but he does still have some pretty extensive business holdings. I don't have enough information to go on. I could really use someone with a bit of business acumen."
"Good luck." Simon scowled. "Maybe Sandburg can turn you onto someone to help? How about Jim's brother?"
"He's in Japan at the moment. Sally promised to have him call the minute she hears from him. I think he might well be our best bet. Meanwhile, can I take Jim and Blair to interview these people?"
Against his better judgment, Simon nodded. "Just be sure you keep his leash short," he warned. Joel nodded and left, closing the door gently behind him.
Every move he made, he found Jim's hopeful eyes on him. With a sigh, he headed towards the younger man's desk. "Where's Sandburg?"
"He's out getting us lunch. He was looking for you yesterday, he's got some information he thinks might help you." He glanced around the office, wondering what was taking his partner so long. Turning back, he asked, "Did he give it to you?"
Joel frowned. "Maybe he left it on my desk, I might have missed it. What was it about?"
"Something called SugiCorp is wanting to buy out the business my dad is a partner in."
Joel frowned. "Sounds interesting. Anything else?"
"I've got Steven working on getting info on SugiCorp."
Joel smiled. "That's great. I'd really like to talk to your brother, maybe he can help with some of the questions I've got on your dad's business dealings."
"I'll give you his number then. Was there something else?"
"Not really. I have a list of possible car owners, though. After lunch, get together with me and I'll let you in on what I need from you."
Jim's countenance fell as he glanced towards the captain's office. "You know I can't do anything to help. Simon's right. I'm too close. I can't guarantee to control myself."
"That's why we're going to wait for Blair. I'm going to grab Megan and get some lunch. I'll meet you back here afterwards."
Jim nodded in agreement. With the possibility of being able to do something, his mood lightened a bit, and he was able, for the moment at least, to focus on his own caseload.
When Sandburg returned with their food, Jim snatched the bags from his hands and started rummaging through them. He told him to stick around and wait for Joel and Megan to return as he set his share of the food on his desk and dug in as though he was starving.
"Jim, don't eat so fast, you'll get heartburn," Blair admonished. He was a bit surprised, as he'd expected his partner to show little, if any, interest in food. He frowned. Jim seemed preoccupied by something other than worry about his father's whereabouts.
Jim looked at his partner, then down at his food. He'd torn into it like he was starving, and was already feeling the effects of wolfing down his food. He grimaced and leaned back, reaching for his soft drink. "Too late," he sighed.
"What's the big hurry, anyway?" Blair asked, pulling out a roll of antacids for his friend.
Jim smiled in gratitude and opened the package, taking out a couple of tablets and eating them. He grinned; trust Blair to get him the cherry flavored ones. "Joel wants our help talking to the owners of some possible cars. With any luck, we'll be able to pick our perps out."
Blair watched Jim a bit pensively. He knew that it would be his responsibility to keep his partner from going ballistic. He just hoped he could do it. "Do me a favor?" he asked, his tone very serious.
Jim paused, his drink halfway to his mouth. "If I can," he responded.
"When Joel and Megan are asking the questions, stay behind me?" Blair watched his friend as he thought about it. Jim was perfectly aware of why Blair wanted him as far away from any suspects as possible. Blair knew that Jim couldn't go through him without injuring him, so would be less likely to cause an incident.
Jim regarded Blair for several silent moments, and then nodded his agreement. "That might be a good idea, Chief. Thanks for thinking of it."
Blair smiled. "Hey, that's what friends and partners are for, right?"
"Yeah, it is, among other things."
It was suffocatingly hot. The blindfold over his head and the gag in his mouth made it hard to breathe, and he felt like he was going to die if he didn't get something to drink soon. There was also a muffler leak, and he was afraid he might die from carbon monoxide poisoning if he didn't get out of this trunk in the very near future. Neither prospect appealed to him. They'd driven for over an hour, by his reckoning, before stopping for the day and night. Now, they were on the road again. From the temperature, it was early afternoon. He had no idea why he'd been taken, nor where they might be going. He hoped his golf date thought to call Sally and ask her what happened to him and that she would have the presence of mind to call Jimmy.
He felt like throwing up, but knew if he did, he'd drown in his own vomit. The car turned off the paved road and he was bounced and jostled helplessly as the vehicle careened around the curves. Why on earth were they doing this, anyway? He wished he knew.
When Joel and Megan approached them after lunch, list in hand, Blair looked at the daunting number of names. Frowning, he glanced up. "Anyone bother to bump this against the guys William was supposed to meet for golf?"
Joel and Megan froze, and then turned slowly towards each other to ask the same question. Without saying a word, Megan took the list and, sighing, headed back to her desk to do just that. Joel, looking embarrassed, turned and followed her.
"I'll take that as a 'no'," Blair mumbled, glancing at his partner. Jim was beet red, trying not to laugh.
It took them only a few minutes to search the list for the names of the three men William was supposed to meet for golf.
Surprisingly, one of the names matched.
He was immediately moved to the top of the list of suspects.
Jim was about ready to hit something; anything. Beating his head against the wall almost sounded reasonable. He'd tagged along after Joel and Megan all afternoon, like some kind of ride-along. Most of the people they were looking for weren't home, and they didn't have any idea where any of them worked. The people who'd had the golf date with his dad had already been questioned once, and were now 'unavailable' for further questions.
Blair understood his frustration and, instead of letting him stew about it, kept distracting him with annoying suggestions. Suggestions like working on his own caseload. Jim knew that his partner was right, but it wasn't helping. It had been two-and-a-half days, and they had nothing. Less than nothing; and he was about to go ballistic if something didn't happen, and soon.
He'd long since lost all track of time. He knew it had to have been two days, simply because of how cold he'd gotten, twice now. At least they'd stopped moving and his nausea from the exhaust fumes had dissipated somewhat. He had no idea why anyone would have wanted to kidnap him, but here he was, his hands bound behind him, a gag in his mouth, and locked in the trunk of an old rattletrap of a car. At first, he'd thought it some kind of joke on the part of his friend. Former friend, he decided. This wasn't the sort of thing one did to their friends.
He drifted in and out of consciousness as he continued to dehydrate. At least they were in some trees which shaded the car and protected him just a bit from the sun's rays, but there was no protection or comfort at night when the temperatures approached freezing. He'd given up wondering why, just wanting some relief; either kill him or let him out. He wasn't even embarrassed any more that he'd soiled himself. What did they expect, leaving him locked in here for so long?
He struggled back to consciousness, hearing voices approaching. He prayed that they'd be letting him out. He didn't want to die, certainly not like this at any rate. He heard a familiar voice shouting angrily at the other voices, he couldn't quite make out the words, but the anger was clear. Then he heard a car door slam and an engine start up. Thankfully, it wasn't the vehicle he was locked in. After the other car left, he heard voices approaching again and finally heard a key in the lock of the trunk, which opened, letting in sunlight.
"Oh, man, Rob, he shit himself!"
'Rob' grimaced in distaste. "Yeah. Guess your old man was right. We shouldn't have left him in there so long." He looked at his partner in crime. "Let's get him out of there and cleaned up, so we don't get in any more trouble from your dad."
Greg flinched and looked away, his jaws working. He didn't like this. It was wrong, and Mr. Ellison hadn't done anything to them, so why snatch him? But his dad wanted something from the old man, so he and this friend of his dad's were doing this. Seeing what poor shape Mr. Ellison was in, he was beginning to wonder if there was something he was missing.
William blinked up at them in confusion. The teen-ager and the older man pulled him from the trunk. He was so weakened from his imprisonment that his legs were unable to support him. The two kidnappers simply dragged him to the nearby cabin.
Once inside, the one he didn't recognize, Rob, insisted on taking him to the bathroom to clean up. They untied his hands and took the gag out, then left him there to fend for himself. After drinking from the sink faucet for several minutes, he regained enough strength to strip and take a shower. He couldn't remember when tepid water had ever felt so good.
He jumped when the door opened and the younger man came in. He stayed behind the curtain, pressed into the corner, wondering what was going to happen now. He needn't have worried.
"I, uh, brought you some clothes. They're Rob's, but he's bigger than I am, so they should fit you okay. Look, I'm sorry about this, but my dad says he needs you out of the way for a few days. We'll let you go when he's got what he wants, okay?"
"What is it your father wants?" William asked, his voice still weak from his ordeal.
"I don't know. Something about a vote, or a proxy, or something. We're just supposed to keep you here until afterwards, then we'll let you go."
William didn't reply, afraid that this boy might get upset if he mentioned that they'd have to kill him to avoid going to prison for kidnapping. Maybe, just maybe, he could manage to escape, if he didn't do anything to annoy them or make them suspicious. He could only hope.
"Look, uh, Mr. Ellison, you finish up your shower and get dressed. We've got some soup on the stove. I'm sure you're probably starving. I know I would be."
William listened as the door closed behind the boy and wondered if the kid was really that stupid.
While Jim and Blair pored over one of their cases, Megan got busy getting backgrounds on the three men William had had the golf date with. She finally got a hold of one of them, one whose name was not on the list of owners of old cars with vanity plates.
"Mr. Kostmayer? Yes, I'll hold." She glanced over at Jim, who was frowning, but not apparently at her. When the voice came on the line, she immediately identified herself and asked her question. "This is Inspector Conner, with the Cascade Police? I'm assigned to the kidnapping of William Ellison and I was wondering, since he had a golf date with you and the two other men, didn't you think it odd that he should miss such an appointment?" She listened and began taking notes. "Really? You're sure? Mr. Grigsby? You're sure? No, I'm not doubting your veracity, Mr. Kostmayer, just making sure I've got it straight. No, no word yet. No ransom demand, nothing. Oh? Really? That's very interesting. I'll follow up on that as well. Thank you very much for your time." She was frowning as she hung up. As a shadow fell across her desk, she looked up at her partner.
"Something interesting. According to Mr. Kostmayer, Mr. Grigsby said that Mr. Ellison had changed his mind about playing golf, so just the three of them played. He also noticed that Mr. Grigsby kept looking over his shoulder. He said he didn't think anything of it at the time, but then in retrospect, the man was acting very odd."
Megan frowned and shook her head. "I'm not sure I understood, but he said he kept looking for someone who never arrived, so he seemed to relax towards the end of their game. He said it gave him the 'creeps', to use his word."
"Let's see if we can find his car, shall we? I'll put out an APB." Seeing her frown of concern, he quickly added, "Not an 'arrest' them one, just a 'find this car for us so we can ask them some questions' kind." Joel glanced over at Jim. "We need to get something, and soon. I have no desire to see Jim in full meltdown."
Megan followed his gaze. "You and me both, mate. You and me both."
William, dressed in some of Rob's clothes, came out of the bathroom. He paused for a moment and then followed the sound of voices to the kitchen. He probably should have tried to escape, but one look out the window at the woods and he knew he couldn't get very far barefoot. He paused and shamelessly eavesdropped for a few minutes.
"I sure hope we can take him back soon. I don't like this, Rob."
Rob didn't answer for several long moments. "We aren't taking him back, Greg," he finally replied.
"What do you mean, we aren't taking him back? Why not? After the vote, my dad will have what he wants, so why keep him any longer?"
Rob sighed. "Greg, he's seen us. He can describe us to the cops. He's heard you mention your dad, so he knows that one of his business partners is behind his kidnapping. Oh, and kidnapping is a federal crime, Greg. You won't just get a slap on the wrist for this one. It's not like snatching a car for a joy ride. This is heavy-duty, man."
Greg was silent for a time. "Then," he paused for a moment to swallow. "Then what are we going to do with him?"
"Kill him, of course."
William, despite being hungry, realized that bare feet or not, he had to escape right now. He turned around and headed back towards the bathroom. Bypassing that door, he slipped into a bedroom and headed for the window and opened it. Realizing that the weather was changing and it was going to rain, he turned away from the window and stepped into the closet, hoping... yes! Going back to the window, he pushed the screen out and made it look like he'd gone out that way. Moving quietly, he returned to the closet and went in, closing the door behind him. Fortunately, he was light enough to use the clothes bar to climb up to the shelf, and from there, he pushed the attic access open and climbed through. He was very careful to leave no indications of his passing, and closed the panel behind him. It was terribly dusty, but he moved carefully, so as not to fall through the ceiling. He found the outside vent and settled down near it. It was comfortably warm, and through the vent he could see the car and the dirt road. He settled down to wait.
He didn't have to wait very long. Greg went to see what was taking the old man so long and when he found the bathroom empty, he yelled for Ron to come and help him. When they found the open window, Rob snarled and shoved Greg.
"You idiot! What'd you give him clothes for, huh? Come on, he can't have gotten too far with bare feet." Greg watched worriedly as Rob climbed out the window and dropped to the ground, and then followed. Neither of them had any idea of how to track, so they simply headed into the trees looking for their escaped prisoner. After half an hour of fruitless searching, they returned to the house.
"Call your dad and tell him what happened," Rob growled. Greg winced, but did what he was told. His father was furious. He told them to go out and search some more, and if they knew what was good for them, they'd find him and get him back in the house and tied up. Angry, Rob told Greg to go one way, while he searched in another direction.
When William saw the two men heading out the second time, he came down from the attic and searched; finding a pair of running shoes, he put them on, even though they were too big. Finding a jacket, he put that on as well. He slipped out the front door, listening to the two searchers calling to each other as they looked for him. He stopped by the car and looked in, only to be disappointed that the keys were not there. With a sigh, he started walking, keeping to the trees and paralleling the dirt road. He moved quietly, hoping that the two kids either didn't come this way, or made enough noise that he could hide. Unfortunately, he had no idea where he was. He could tell by the sun that it was the middle of the afternoon and that the road led southwest. With any kind of luck, if he followed the dirt road to a larger one, or if he headed west, he'd eventually come to the ocean, and then decide from there if he needed to go north or south. Of course, with really good luck, there would be a sign to tell him which way he needed to go. Right now, however, he needed to make tracks and get as far from the cabin as possible, and hope he had the stamina to get to safety. Jaw clenched in stubborn determination, he set a steady pace.
It had been two and a half days since his dad had been abducted, and Jim was just as lost as he had been that very first day. He'd listened in on Joel and Megan's conversations, but knew they had no more to go on than he did. Late in the afternoon, his phone rang and he picked it up distractedly. "Ellison."
"Jim? I'm inbound and due to land in about half an hour. Could you pick me up?" Steven's voice held some of the strain he was feeling, worrying about their father.
"Sure. Which airline?" Jim replied, shifting to grab a pen and post-it pad.
"American. Flight 2458. We're on time." He paused for a moment to give Jim time to write down the information. "Anything on Dad yet?" he asked, hopefully.
Jim sighed as he dropped his pen to the desk and folded the post-it and put it in his shirt pocket. "Nothing, I'm afraid. Did you learn anything from SugiCorp?" Jim glanced over and, spotting Joel at his desk, tossed his pen at him to get his attention. As the older man looked up, he mouthed 'Steven' at him, which brought Joel to his feet and over to Jim's desk immediately, where Jim pushed the speaker button so they could both hear.
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Sugihara is with me. There's a vote coming up on whether to sell out to his corporation. Dad's got a lot of shares, enough so that whatever way he votes, that's what's going to happen. I'll be putting Mr. Sugihara up at Dad's; if you think that will be all right? He really hates traveling, especially hotels, and eating out. Besides, I thought Sally might enjoy... well, someone to take care of, you know?"
Jim could hear how uncomfortable his brother felt, inviting a stranger to stay at their dad's house without him being there to give permission, but it made sense to him. If whoever it was who took his dad didn't know where to find Mr. Sugihara... well, that just made it easier to protect him, in case there was anything to actually worry about.
"Sounds like a good idea. I'll see if I can get someone to stay there to make sure he's safe, if you think he won't be too upset?"
"I'm sure that won't be a problem." The relief was obvious in his voice. "In fact, I think I'll stay at Dad's, too. Will that be all right?" The worry was back in his voice.
"That sounds like a good idea. You have Dad's proxy, don't you?"
"Because I'm thinking this has something to do with SugiCorp's desire to buy out the company. But if you have his proxy, and they don't know you're back in the country, that could be a very good thing, if you get my drift."
"Have you heard anything on Dad?"
Jim sighed. "I'm afraid not, but we haven't exhausted all hope, yet. Hey, do you know anyone Dad's got business dealings with who's in his fifties, short gray hair, black eyebrows?"
"Business? I don't think so, but let me check it out when we get in and I'll let you know. Oh, do you want to bring that other detective with you when you pick us up? I've got the intel on Mr. Sugihara's corporation, well, I've got Mr. Sugihara, actually. He can explain it himself."
Jim looked up at Joel, who spoke. "If it's all right with you, Mr. Ellison, I'd rather pick you up myself. Jim's not assigned to this case." He winced sympathetically and shrugged at Jim, who understood why Joel didn't want him involved any more than absolutely necessary.
"He's right, Steven, but I can come by tonight. In fact, I'll call Sally and have her get something prepared for dinner and will meet you there in a few hours, all right?"
"That'll be fine, Jim." Steven's voice showed his relief. "I guess that no news is good news, huh? About Dad, I mean?"
"We're doing everything we can, Mr. Ellison," Joel said reassuringly, but he knew that Jim was losing hope. Without a ransom note, there was no telling what had happened to his father, or if he was already dead. "I'm leaving for the airport now, so I'll see you when you get in. Maybe we can find something in your father's papers?" He knew he was grasping at straws, but at this point anything could help and almost nothing could hurt.
"Sure. I'll see you in a while, uh, I'm sorry, but I don't remember your name."
"Joel Taggart. We met at the race track."
"Right. I think I'll remember you. You're one of the partners in Little Stogie, right?"
Joel chuckled. "Yep. His first get is going to be starting this summer, and he's due in from California any day, now." Joel's tone took on a note of pride. "Anyway, my partner and I will be there to pick up you and Mr. Sugihara when you land. Thanks for coming back, by the way."
"Don't thank me, thank Mr. Sugihara for agreeing to come. He hadn't planned on coming at all, but when he heard about Dad he suggested coming."
"We will. I've got to get going or your plane will have landed before I can get out of the building. We're doing everything we can, Mr. Ellison."
"I know. And it's Steven," His voice was very soft, his worry very apparent.
"Then it's Joel. See you in a few." Joel headed for the door, grabbing his coat on his way, and his partner by the arm as she came in, not giving her any chance to speak.
"I'll see you this evening, Steven," Jim said, picking up the phone receiver and turning off the speaker.
"Is there anything? Anything at all?" Steven asked helplessly.
"There's a couple of leads, but they're pretty slim. Joel's a good man, a good detective. He'll do his best."
"Is his best any better than your best, bro?"
"Well, he's got a lot more experience than I have, and so far there just hasn't been much to go on, I'm afraid." He heard his brother sigh and resisted the urge to do the same.
"Well, the seatbelt light just came on so I've got to go. I'll see you tonight, Jim."
"Will do. And Steven? We will find Dad. I promise you that."
"I know. But will it be in time?" Without giving Jim a chance to reply he disconnected the call, leaving Jim to ponder the same question he'd been worrying over for nearly three days, now.
Megan frowned at her partner. "What's up? Why'd you rush me out so fast? Is something wrong with Jim?"
Joel shook his head. "Jim's holding up as well as can be expected, but we've got to go pick up his brother and Mr. Sugihara at the airport." He cast a glance at her as he opened and held the car door for her. As the senior partner, he had the choice of who would drive and after some very close calls due to her penchant for driving on the wrong side of the road, he'd permanently opted to do the driving.
Megan perked up. "The man behind SugiCorp? Wonderful. Maybe he can give us something to go on." She fastened her seatbelt and waited for Joel to get in and start the car.
"We can only hope."
Simon had been watching his detective slowly self-destruct over the past two and a half days, and he knew he had to do something he didn't want to do. But it was for the safety of his men and, hopefully, the successful conclusion of the case. The FBI had been called the previous afternoon and they were supposed to be sending someone in today. They'd want to take over of course, and that wasn't going to set well with his crew, but it couldn't be helped.
He went to the door of his office and softly called out. "Jim? Find your partner and come into my office, please?"
From the softness of the captain's voice, Jim knew it wasn't going to be good. With a stricken expression on his face, he stood up and went out in search of his partner.
Blair was easy to find. He was in the break room, pouring over his notes. He looked up when the door opened and, seeing the look on his partner's face, feared the worst. He stood up quickly and, concerned, he reached out to his friend. "Jim? What is it? Have they found him? Is he...."
"Simon wants to see us. I imagine he's going to suspend me, just to keep everything above board."
Blair frowned. Jim had been excruciatingly circumspect, even with the scum he'd had to deal with in the past three days, so why on earth would Simon suspend him? "It can't be that, Jim. You haven't given anyone any cause. It must be something else."
"Well, maybe not suspended, but he's going to tell me to get out of town, go fishing, or something like that. As if that would help." His shoulders slumped and his entire body language expressed defeat.
"We don't know that, yet. Let's go see the man and find out what it really is." Grabbing Jim by the arm, he turned him around and gently pushed him towards the door; shifting his hand to Jim's back, he maintained contact all the way to the captain's office.
The grim look on Simon's face wasn't reassuring in the least. Blair started to fidget, thinking that maybe Jim was right. But that wasn't right. It wasn't fair. It was Jim's dad, and he'd been behaving himself... oh man. Maybe his research was the problem? His poking his nose into Joel's case? Damn! That wasn't fair to Jim, to punish him for what his partner had done. His lips compressed into an angry line as he waited for the man to speak.
"The FBI is supposed to be sending someone over this evening or tomorrow morning. I'm sorry, but they've held off as long as they could. It's been three days. There isn't anything I can do, unless we manage to find your dad before then. I'm sorry, Jim." He watched in surprise as Jim and Blair glanced at each other and then looked at him with relief on their faces. "What? What did you think I wanted to talk to you about?" he asked in confusion.
"I thought you were going to suspend me or tell me to take some vacation," Jim softly replied.
Simon was shocked. "What? You've got to be joking." Seeing the looks on their faces, he frowned and shook his head. "You've been better than expected on this, Jim. I just wish we could have found him before this became necessary."
"Me too, sir. Any word on who they're sending over?"
"None, I'm afraid. From what I understand, no one wants to work with us, which is why they put off coming in for so long."
If it weren't so serious, the three men would have laughed at the idea of the Feds being afraid of them. Not that it wasn't deserved, of course.
"If that's all, sir? We've got a few more things to do and then we're taking off," Blair asked, rising.
"Sure. Go on. It'll probably be better for everyone involved if you aren't here when the Feds arrive anyway."
"Oh, by the way, Joel's on his way to the airport to pick up Steven and Mr. Sugihara, of SugiCorp. We're all hoping he can help us figure out why anyone would want my dad out of the way for the vote. Steven has his proxy, so we don't think it can be that, unless they don't expect Steven to come back for the vote tomorrow."
Simon frowned. "Tomorrow? Hmmmm. Maybe you have something there. Don't let anyone know they're here, will you? It might be a good idea to give them some protection, as well. Just in case."
"They're going to stay at my dad's house and I'll be there this evening." He glanced at Blair, who had been unaware of this development. "Just happened, Chief. In fact, their plane should be landing in about ten minutes."
"Okay." He looked at the captain and cocked his head to one side, consideringly. "Do you think we could be the protection?" He didn't say it out loud, but they all knew that it would give Jim something different to worry about, instead of going slowly insane with worry about his father.
"Excellent idea. Let me know if there are any problems."
"Will do, sir." Jim stood up and followed Blair from the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Simon leaned back in his chair and hoped that they found the elder Ellison soon, and still alive. It didn't bear thinking about what the loss of his father due to a crime would do to Jim. In instances like this, the entire family and their circle of friends were the victims, not just one person. Shaking his head and sighing, he turned back to the reports on his desk, dreading the appearance of the Feds.
"Mr. Ellison!" Joel called out upon seeing Jim's brother. Steven looked wan, worry lines etched deeply in his face. The older Japanese man beside him looked at him in surprise. Steven smiled when he spotted Joel, and he spoke softly to the man beside him, who could only be Mr. Sugihara.
"Detective Taggart, it's good to see you again." Steven Ellison was still the perfect gentleman and businessman. He turned to his companion and spoke to him in Japanese, apparently introducing the burly detective.
The older man bowed deeply, his strongly accented English softly spoken. "It is a great honor to meet you, Detective Taggart."
Joel bowed even more deeply to the elderly man. "The honor is mine, Mr. Sugihara. Welcome to Cascade. I'm just sorry that we must meet under these circumstances."
"You are most gracious. I do not often leave my homeland any more, but Steven is such a fine salesman that I felt the desire to see his homeland and meet his people." The man straightened up, smiling.
Joel followed suit, smiling as well. "Allow me to introduce my partner. Mr. Sugihara, this is Inspector Megan Connor. She's here on an exchange program from the Sydney Police." He turned to his partner, who was bowing deeply and began speaking in Japanese. Mr. Sugihara smiled broadly and bowed, answering in his native tongue. After straightening up, he again smiled at Joel and spoke in English.
"This is wonderful! I am most impressed, Steven, you did not tell me that your police friends had someone who spoke Japanese."
Steven blushed slightly. "I'm afraid that I didn't know, sir. I'm as surprised as you are." He smiled at Megan, who grinned back at him.
"If you give me your claim tags, I'll get your luggage for you and we'll get you through customs. If you'll follow me?" She winked at Joel and headed off with the two new arrivals to get their luggage, but Joel stopped her.
"Why don't you let me do that? Since you aren't exactly an American, yet."
Megan looked indignant. "Yet? Yet?! Never, thank you very much. I'm perfectly happy being an Australian, I'll have you know."
"Right. Which is why I'll run them through customs, if you don't mind?"
Mr. Sugihara whispered something to Steven, which had the younger man laughing and avoiding the eyes of both detectives.
Joel smiled and winked at his partner, who then realized that he'd deliberately baited her to try and lighten the worry and concern of Jim's brother. Joel didn't know the youngest Ellison well, but having met both father and older son, he figured that it couldn't hurt to distract him from his major concern of the moment: what had happened to his father.
Customs was an easy task and within thirty minutes they were on their way. Joel let Megan do the talking while he drove. Mr. Sugihara was very concerned about William Ellison's safety. He'd obviously 'adopted' Steven. He explained why he wanted William's company, that it had facilities and held patents that he could use in his other businesses, making his conglomerate even more competitive and profitable.
"Was there any outcry against your purchase plans, Mr. Sugihara?"
"There was only the usual concern about selling to foreign interests. There are still many Americans who hold strong anti-Japanese animosity, I'm afraid. However, our policy is to treat those companies we absorb more as vendors, rather than possessions. Unless, of course, they stop performing to expectations. That's happened a few times, unfortunately, but when we went in and cleaned house, those businesses blossomed and have become very lucrative, both for us and their employees."
Steven nodded and added, "SugiCorp has the finest stock-sharing plans I've ever seen. American companies could take a page out of Mr. Sugihara's book and learn how to motivate their people and make money for everyone involved. Unfortunately, most American companies only want to make money for their stockholders and forget that their employees are the only reason they make any money at all."
Joel and Megan exchanged a glance, both smiling at the enthusiasm in the younger Ellison's voice. Obviously, he'd been converted to Mr. Sugihara's point of view. It sounded pretty good to them, too.
"Do you know who was against it?" Joel asked, as he turned onto the street the Ellison house was on.
"There were two or three stockholders who were very vocal about not wanting to sell to us," Mr. Sugihara began. "I'm certain I have their names written down, as I wish to meet with them personally to see if I wish to ally myself to them. If they are too, well, prejudiced, I may decide to find another company to buy instead. If I do that, I will then do my very best to drive them out of business."
Joel nodded his understanding, but Megan looked shocked. "Really? Why would you do that?"
"The war has been over for more than half a century. Isn't it time to stop holding a grudge?"
Megan blushed in understanding. "My apologies. I guess I'm not really old enough to remember any of that, not even my family talking about the war. Please forgive me, Mr. Sugihara."
"You are forgiven. It is a nice change to find someone who doesn't understand ancient prejudices, is it not, Detective Taggart?"
Joel chuckled as he pulled the car into the Ellison driveway and parked. "That's one of the things I like about Cascade, and especially the people I work with. Most, if not all, are pretty much colorblind when it comes to people. It makes working with people a lot easier."
"You are most fortunate indeed. I wish everyone were as lucky," Mr. Sugihara softly replied.
"Yes," Joel agreed, "I am."
"We all are," Megan added, grinning at Joel and opening her door to get out. She then opened the rear passenger door at the same moment Joel opened the driver's side rear door to let their passengers out.
Steven insisted on helping with the luggage and then led the way to the open front door, with Sally standing in the doorway waiting for them. As they approached, she bowed deeply and spoke in Japanese, welcoming them. Mr. Sugihara smiled broadly and bowed in return. He, naturally, replied in Japanese. Sally blushed at whatever it was he said and led them into the house, with Mr. Sugihara chattering with Sally. Just inside the front door, Steven stopped, letting Megan close the front door behind them while trying to stifle her giggles. Joel just looked confused.
Megan let him off the hook and softly said, "He's flirting shamelessly with her." Joel glanced at the shocked Steven and grinned.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," Steven muttered, following his guest.
Joel and Megan grinned at each other, deposited their burdens next to where Steven had dropped his luggage, and followed the others. This could be quite a diverting experience.
William heard the sound of the car and scrambled deeper into the underbrush. He watched as the vehicle slowly cruised by, the occupants searching the roadside for him. He realized that staying so close to the road might not be such a good idea and decided to head west in a more direct route. He'd need to find a stream for some water, and with any luck, he'd be able to catch a fish by hand. He smiled, remembering one of the rare times he'd taken his sons camping and Jimmy had demonstrated how Native Americans used to catch fish. He'd laughed at his son at the time, but had been impressed when the boy actually managed to catch a fish. He just hoped he'd be able to do as well. That and he hoped that he could manage to start a fire. It was going to get cold come nightfall, and even with his stolen jacket, he was going to need some kind of shelter, even if it was just a deadfall and a nest of leaves under it.
He determined which way was west and started hiking. It wasn't quite as smooth as the road, but he was less likely to be seen, found, and recaptured. Every tiny trickle of water he found, he'd pause for a drink. The going was hard and he was no longer a young man, but his sons had gotten their stubborn determination from him and he wouldn't give up, not as long as he drew breath, at any rate. He heard the car come back up the road and was glad he'd gone off at a tangent. Now, all he had to do was find a real road, the ocean, or a Ranger's Station.
It was late afternoon and William was tired, hungry, and aching. He hadn't had this much of a workout in many years and he wanted to go home. It was getting late and he felt like he'd traveled forever, up and down the hills, never seeming to get anywhere. He prayed he wasn't walking in circles, but was fairly certain he was maintaining a relatively straight line. When he came to a small pond, he decided to stop for the night and make his camp there. As he rested for a few minutes before trying to build some kind of shelter, he heard a not too distant roaring. Frowning, he rose and followed the stream, which led in the direction the sound was coming from.
Reaching the place where the noise originated, he groaned. He could see a highway from there, but feared he couldn't get to it from this cliff. It was probably a hundred feet straight down, and he was too old, too weak, and too out of shape to even consider trying to climb it. He turned to go back to his little pond, when something caught the light of the setting sun and gave him a glimmer of hope. It was a fire ring. He went closer to examine it, and smiled. He found a little cave-like shelter under the trees and next to some rocks. Inside, there were the remains of an old plastic tarp. It wasn't much, but it was more protection from the cold. He went back to the pond to see if there were any fish, but was disappointed to be unable to see or catch anything bigger than a minnow. Returning to the cliff, he filled up on water and crawled into his makeshift shelter, wrapped up in the ratty old tarp, and dropped off to sleep, lulled by the sounds of the waterfall.
Jim and Blair finished up their work for the day and were heading out when they spotted what could only be the Feds coming off the elevator. One of the men spotted them and spoke softly to his partner, who turned his attention to the two detectives, frowning. Jim's jaw set grimly, having overheard the cutting remark of the agent. He forced himself to pass the two men without even acknowledging their existence, much to Blair's puzzlement. Seeing his partner's expression, he decided he didn't want to know what the man had said and simply avoided looking at them and followed his partner to the elevator and got on the minute the doors opened, only looking back as the doors were closing. The one who had made whatever comment that had Jim fuming was grinning at him.
Once the doors were closed, he turned his worried gaze on his partner. "Do I even want to know?"
"No," Jim ground out; then sighed and shook his head. "Typical crap. They don't know their... never mind."
"Got it. So, what do you think Sally's fixed for dinner?"
Jim blinked. "Huh?"
"Sally, she's making dinner, remember? Steven and Mr. Sugihara? Your dad's house?"
"Oh, yeah. I haven't a clue. Tempura, maybe? I have no idea, but I'd guess it'll be Japanese."
"Cool. I like Japanese food." Understanding Jim's mood, Blair remained silent for most of the journey to William Ellison's house. Funny thing that he didn't think of it as William's 'home', but merely his 'house'. Come to think of it, Jim always referred to it as his 'dad's house', too. Obviously it still wasn't (and would probably never be) 'home'. Sad, really. He glanced over at his friend and hoped that they found William alive, and soon. Jim was starting to fray at the edges of his control. He didn't dare think of what would happen if Jim's dad weren't found, or if he was found dead... he swallowed hard and looked out the window at the traffic, desperately trying to think of something else.
Jim glanced over at Blair and seemed to read his mind. "I've been working on accepting the fact that he might already be dead."
Blair looked over in surprise. "You have?"
Jim nodded and glanced over at his friend. His blue eyes showed the grief he was working through. "Yeah. Yesterday. When we still hadn't gotten a ransom note. I don't know why, but I think maybe someone wanted him dead." He turned his full attention back to driving. "I don't understand why, though. I don't know if we'll ever find out either."
Blair lightly touched Jim on the shoulder. "We'll find out. One way or another, we'll find out. You aren't alone, you know," he added, watching his friend closely.
Jim smiled. It wasn't much of a smile, but it showed he knew his friends hadn't abandoned him. "I know. That's the only thing that's keeping me from going over the edge at the moment."
Blair nodded. "Good. That you know, I mean."
Dinner was subdued. Mr. Sugihara willingly told them all about his company and the plans he had for William's company. Neither Jim nor Blair was all that up on business practices, but, to them, it sounded like a winning proposition for all involved. Steven agreed, and explained how and why SugiCorp was so successful. They studiously steered clear of their real concern, the whereabouts of William Ellison. Who had taken him, and why?
When Jim announced that they were going to be spending the night, Steven and Sally looked relieved.
Unfortunately, all they had were questions, and no answers but several suspicions. No one slept well, worrying about William and the company vote the next day.
Doug Roberts had his first day off in almost a month. The previous five weeks had had a higher than normal incidence of illness and injury in the uniformed ranks and, being single, Doug had done much more than his share in covering for his missing colleagues. He'd had a good night's sleep and was up early, getting ready for his date. The lady had agreed to join him for the day. She hadn't even balked when he told her what he wanted to do. Sure, she was a little nervous, never having done anything like this before; but he assured her that he was very good at it and would make sure she didn't get hurt.
She'd thought about it for the past two days, and last night, just at end of shift, had stopped him on his way to the locker room to tell him that she was game. He shivered in anticipation. This was going to be great!
Serena Chang was having second thoughts, until Doug showed her his climbing gear. Most of it was obviously used, but very well maintained. Seeing the new equipment he'd gotten for her, reassured her to the point that she began looking forward to the adventure.
"We're just going up the canyon to the falls. It's an easy climb, with permanently set carabineers and pitons. I'll go up first and then you come up behind me. You'll be linked to me, and I'll be tied off to the permanent fixtures. You'll be wearing pads and gloves and a helmet, so you should be okay," Doug tried to boost her confidence.
"Unless I trip and fall and sprain my ankle or break my wrist," Serena replied sardonically.
Doug chuckled. "Nah. You're much too graceful for that."
She grinned. She'd been surprised when Doug had asked her out. Even more surprised when she heard what kind of date he had in mind. She'd never climbed a rock or mountain in her life; but he seemed very confident and, as she watched him put his gear on and helped her on with hers, she realized he was very knowledgeable, too.
She'd never been to the falls before. In fact, she hadn't even known that they existed. She looked around and smiled. It was beautiful. The two-lane road was seldom traveled during the week, and the scenery was magnificent. The waterfall was enough to make her glad she'd come, even if they didn't ever try climbing.
Of course they were going to climb. Doug gave her the particulars of how to climb, demonstrating and then watching closely as she practiced.
"Looking good, Serena. You ready to try the real thing?"
He'd made it look easy, and then made it feel comfortable. She nodded, looking forward to making it to the top. "Let's go."
Voices. Laughter. William woke up, confused. It was full daylight, and he really was hearing voices. A woman was laughing, somewhere nearby. He crawled out of his shelter and cautiously made his way towards the voices. He frowned when he saw the couple sitting on the edge of the cliff, looking down at the waterfall. They certainly weren't his captors, and from their climbing gear, they obviously had climbed up from the road.
"Ex-excuse me?" The man and woman spun to look at him, startled. Both of them frowned.
"Yeah?" the man asked.
"Could you help me, please? My name is William Ellison, and I was--"
"Mr. Ellison?" Both chorused as one, casting quick startled looks at each other. "Jim's dad?" Serena added.
"Yes! Do you know Jimmy?"
"Yes, sir. I'm Patrolman Doug Roberts, and this is Serena Chang. She works in the Police Lab. Everybody's been looking everywhere for you. Are you all right?"
William sagged with relief. "Yes. I've been kidnapped, locked in the trunk of a car with a leaky muffler, left to bake and freeze in there for a day or two, and then taken to a cabin, back that way." He waved in the direction he'd come. "I managed to escape and spent the night here. I heard your voices..." he started shivering. "I'm sorry, I'm a little..."
Doug, realizing that Mr. Ellison was shivering from cold, had to be hungry, pulled off his backpack and climbing harness, and then removed his jacket, handing it to the older man. "Here, put this on." He cursed himself for not bringing his cell phone on the climb, but there was nothing to be done. He dug in his pack, pulling out several energy bars and a bottle of Gatorade. William gratefully accepted it all, eating two of the bars and drinking half of the Gatorade.
"Thank you, Detective Roberts. Now, how do I get down from here?"
"It's just Officer. I'm a uniformed patrolman." He frowned as he looked at William, wondering how he was going to do this. Chewing his lower lip, he glanced at Serena. "Well...." Then his countenance cleared and he began adjusting the straps on his harness. "OK, let's get you into this harness, and I'll lower you down, then you take the harness off, I'll pull it back up, and we'll climb down to meet you. How's that sound?"
William grinned in relief. "Sounds like fun, but can you hold my weight?"
"Between us, we'll manage, Mr. Ellison." Serena smiled at him.
Just as they were about to lower him down, Doug suddenly scrambled for his pants pocket. "Wait a second. Mr. Ellison, when you get to the bottom, after you take off the harness, here's my keys, go get in my car. It's warmer there, and my cell phone is in the glove box. Why don't you call Jim?"
William smiled gratefully. "Thank you. I'll do that."
Jim grumbled when his cell phone rang, and pulled it angrily from his pocket. He'd been officially introduced to the two Feds and he was, as usual, unimpressed. They were the usual pompous jerks with no idea of how to talk to real people.
"Ellison!" he barked into the phone. "Dad?" He looked around wildly, spotted his partner and frantically waved him over. "Where are you?"
Blair came over, looking worriedly at Jim, who looked to be in shock.
Jim covered the mouthpiece and hissed, "It's my dad! He's okay." He was grinning in relief, then he frowned again and spoke into the phone. "You're where? With who?" Jim listened and sagged against the edge of his desk. "Thank God. What happened, anyway? Sure, I can wait until you get here. Do you need to go to a hospital or anything? Are you sure that you're all right?" He listened for a few more moments and finally disconnected the call.
Turning to Blair, a broad grin on his face, he said, "He's okay. He's a little cold, a little hungry, and we owe Doug Roberts and Serena Chang the biggest and finest meal in town."
Blair looked confused. "Doug and Serena? How come?"
"They found my dad and rescued him. He was up on top of the falls, that place Doug likes to go rock climbing? He took Serena out for her first climb, and my dad was there. He escaped his kidnappers and he's okay." He couldn't restrain himself and pounded Blair on the back. Blair hid the wince the bruising blows caused, deciding the bruises were worth it.
"So, let's go tell Joel, Megan, Simon and the Feds the good news."
"Well, Joel, Megan and Simon, maybe," Jim agreed, no longer grinning.
Blair thought about it and nodded. "Agreed. Let the 'super sleuths' find out on their own." With a grin and a light punch to Jim's arm, Blair headed for Joel and Megan, who had just come out of Simon's office.
Grabbing each of them by an arm, the four headed out of the bullpen and down the hall to the break room. Once inside and with the door closed, Jim made his announcement. "My dad's okay. He managed to escape his kidnappers and Doug and Serena found him. They're bringing him in."
Joel and Megan exchanged relieved glances. "Better tell Simon," Megan said, grinning.
"No. I just now got a call from him. They should be here in a couple of hours. I thought I'd wait until the Feds were gone before letting Simon know," Jim said.
Megan chuckled. "Lovely idea. Those two were acting like the evil stepsisters. I seriously wanted to smack them both." Joel nodded his agreement.
"Meanwhile, we should let Brown and Rafe know, and take the APB off of your dad. It wouldn't do to have them stopped by a Sheriff's patrol on their way back now, would it?" Joel headed for the door to follow through on his plans. Just before he left, he turned back. "I'm glad your dad's okay, Jim."
"Thanks, Joel." Jim couldn't wipe the relieved grin from his face if he had to.
"Yeah, mate. I'm glad he's all right. You on your way to meet them?"
"At my dad's house. Doug's taking him home and we're going to make sure he's all right and get him ready for his meeting. I wonder how big a surprise that will be?"
"Someone's sure to react. Did he say if he knew who was behind all this?"
"I didn't push." Jim blushed at having forgotten his job in the excitement of hearing from his father. "I will, though. I'll let you know."
"We'll be waiting. Go on, we'll take care of everything here." As Megan followed after Joel, Jim and Blair headed for the elevator and Jim pulled out his cell phone to call Sally and his brother.
Once Doug and Serena had climbed down and joined William at the car, Doug packed away their equipment, while the others watched. Seeing the expressions on their faces, he shrugged and grinned. "Habit. If I don't take care of my equipment immediately, I might not see if there's any wear, and that could be dangerous, so I always check when I finish a climb. It won't take but a few more minutes. Why don't the two of you get in the car and start the engine; get yourselves warm?" Serena, seeing the look he gave her, nodded and urged William into the front passenger seat, then got in herself and started the engine, turning the heat on high and turning the blowers to point at the shivering William.
When she was sure he was warming up, she got out of the car and returned to Doug to help him finish packing his equipment. "He's in shock. Do you think we should take him to the hospital?" Serena asked.
Doug paused for a moment and then shook his head. "Nah. He'll feel better just getting home and relaxing. Let Jim decide if he needs a doctor. I do think we need to stop for some hot cocoa, though."
Serena looked at him in surprise and then smiled. "Great idea."
A few minutes later they were on their way back to town, stopping at the first gas station/convenience store for hot cocoa and some more energy bars for William, and themselves.
Jim and Blair were waiting in the driveway when they pulled up. William, now recovered from his shock, quickly got out of Doug's car and practically ran to his son. Jim gave his father a bear hug, holding him tightly as he reassured himself that his father really was all right.
Blair watched, grinning, and when Doug and Serena came up, greeted them. "So, bucking for cop of the year, huh, Doug?"
Doug looked surprised. "Who? Me? We just got lucky, is all." Serena came up and took his hand.
"It really was. Pure, dumb luck."
"Well, as you can see, luck or not, it was great work. On behalf of Jim, thanks."
Doug grinned. "You're more than welcome. I didn't question him, by the way. He was kind of in shock, so we just got him warm and stuffed him full of energy bars, Gatorade, and hot cocoa. He stopped shivering about halfway here." He looked over to where Jim was still hugging his father. "I guess he's gonna be okay."
Blair glanced over his shoulder. He grinned as he turned back. "Yeah. Looks like it. Thanks, Doug. And you too, Serena."
"You're welcome, Blair. I'm just glad we were there and could help." Serena patted him on the shoulder.
Blair couldn't stop smiling. "So, you guys going to go back and finish your climb?"
Doug looked over at Serena. "Uh, I think our climb is over. What would you like to do now, Serena?"
"Well, how about a movie, followed by a late lunch?" She took his arm and smiled up at him.
"Uh, sure. Sounds like a great idea. What do you want to see?"
"How about something with a lot of gunfire, explosions, and chases?"
Doug's smiled broadened. "Yeah? Coolness." They headed for his car. He paused a moment and looked back. "Uh, I'll catch you guys later, huh?"
"Yeah. Just get Captain Banks your report. Thanks again."
Doug waved and turned back to open the passenger door for Serena. Circling around to the driver's side door, he got in, started the car, put it into gear, and beeped 'hi' in Morse code as he drove away.
Shaking his head, Blair turned back to Jim and William.
"Are you all right, Dad?" Jim asked, totally oblivious to anything but his father.
"Yeah, Jimmy. I'm okay."
"Uh, I have to ask you, do you know who kidnapped you?" Jim left his hands on his father's shoulders, not yet wanting to relinquish the tactile reassurance that his father was really there and really all right.
William's face went hard. "I can't believe it. George Blackburn. He's one of the partners in the old firm, the one that SugiCorp wants to buy."
"What about Grigsby?" Blair asked as he came up. Mr. Kostmayer said he was acting weird that morning, and that you had called him and backed out of the game."
William frowned. "Grigsby? Really? That's a surprise... Although, I suppose they could both be involved. Between the two of them, they don't have enough votes to have their way. They'd need either my vote or Kostmayer's to swing anything. I haven't spoken to any of them about the proposed sale, although George did keep sending me requests for my proxy for the vote. I told him that I was perfectly capable of making my own decisions and voting them without his help."
"Who came that night, Mr. Ellison?" Blair asked as they headed for the front door.
"George and his son. It was very late and they just showed up at the door. Foolish me, I let them in." He sounded disgusted with himself.
"Don't let it bother you, Dad. You had no reason to suspect that they'd kidnap you. So, how'd that note requesting a meeting get into my old room, anyway?"
William chuckled. "I'd been in there earlier in the day and I guess I just forgot it there. Did it help?"
"Well, there weren't any prints on it but yours, but whoever used too much hair gel left the scent and a short, black, curly hair behind."
"Greg Blackburn. The other man was Rob-somebody. I didn't know him, but he was probably in his fifties, younger than me or Blackburn, but older than Greg. Gray hair with black eyebrows. Almost looked fake, but I'm sure they weren't."
"That's the description we got of the driver of the car, from your neighbor's son across the street." Blair frowned. "I need to call Joel and get him directions to that cabin, if you can give them?"
William looked confused. "I don't know that I can. When I escaped yesterday afternoon, I headed away from the road because I was afraid that if I stuck to the road they might find me. I headed pretty much due west from the cabin, though. Oh, there was one thing, there's a lightning-struck cedar by the house, if that helps?"
Blair grinned. "Yeah, that might be enough, especially if they're still there. Did you happen to notice what kind of car it was?"
"Old Ford, late 70's model. License plate was..." he frowned in concentration. "TIHZTOH."
Jim snickered. When they looked at him oddly, he murmured, "Imagine it in a mirror." Both Blair and William frowned for a moment and then smiled.
Blair chuckled. "I'm surprised it got by the censors."
Just then, the front door opened and Sally and Steven came running out. William was again engulfed in a monstrous bear hug, this time from his younger son, while Sally chattered about how worried they'd all been. When Mr. Sugihara came out to watch the reunion, Jim and Blair moved over to him.
"It is good to see that you were successful in finding your father safe," Mr. Sugihara noted. He watched, keen-eyed, judging the family relationships here, then nodded his approval. "Your father is a fortunate man, to have two such sons to worry about him."
"The kind of man you like to do business with, Mr. Sugihara?" Blair asked, a knowing look in his eyes.
Mr. Sugihara smiled and nodded. "Oh, yes. One may learn much by watching a family in times of duress. We were just getting ready to go to the meeting, do you think your father would like to go?"
William heard him and looked over. Steven pulled away and blushed, then awkwardly introduced them. "Dad, this is Mr. Sugihara, of SugiCorp. He's here to take a look at the company and decide if he really wants to buy it or not."
William frowned and looked at his sons. "Is that what all this is about? Selling the company?"
"It looks that way, Dad," Jim admitted, wishing it were otherwise.
William's face froze into an expression that both of his sons knew only too well. It definitely did not bode well for whomever had caused all this trouble. Mr. Sugihara read the expression and nodded. "Perhaps Steven and I should go ahead, to get things started, then you, your other son, and his colleagues might come later, during the actual vote, perhaps?"
William smiled, and it was obvious that the old shark was ready to take on the boardroom. "That sounds like an excellent idea. Give me half an hour and I'll be ready to go, Jim. If that's enough time for you to do whatever it is you need to set this all up?"
"I'll call my captain and they can get our end covered," Jim said softly. Turning to Blair, "So, you think Grigsby and Blackburn are in cahoots, Chief?"
Blair frowned for a moment, then nodded. "Could be, Jim. Could very well be. Why don't you take care of your dad and I'll call Simon?"
"Thanks, Chief." Jim turned and escorted his father into the house while Steven and Mr. Sugihara prepared to leave for the meeting and Blair pulled out his cell phone to call in.
Using further information from William, the County Sheriff's department used a helicopter to locate the cabin. With Rafe and Brown liaising with them, they crept up on the cabin and surprised Greg Blackburn and Rob, whose last name turned out to be Grigsby, the brother of William's associate.
At the company headquarters, the arrival of Mr. Sugihara with Steven Ellison was quite a shock to several members of the board. Members who were strongly against the sale. Unfortunately, Steven held his father's proxy. Mr. Sugihara had come prepared to sell his business practices to the board. Steven was surprised to see which of the stockholders were against the sale. They would still hold the same number of shares, but no longer be in control, and that seemed to be the problem. Blackburn was obviously nervous and Grigsby was noticeably upset. Steven watched them closely, wondering how much each man knew about his father's abduction. Mr. Kostmayer, on the other hand, was noticeably in favor of the sale. He'd done his own research and was more than pleased with what he had learned.
The vote went as expected. Grigsby and Blackburn, along with some smaller, older investors, were against the sale. Kostmayer and most of the younger stockholders were for the sale. Neither was a clear majority. It came down, as predicted, to the Ellison vote. Before Steven could voice his proxy, there was a commotion. Everyone stopped and stared as the conference room door burst open and more than a dozen police officers entered, their hands obviously hovering near their weapons.
"What is the meaning of this? This is a closed meeting! Who are these people, and what are they doing here?" Blackburn blustered, standing up; Grigsby right behind him.
When William Ellison walked in, his suit and tie sartorial perfection, Blackburn turned pale, while Grigsby frowned. Turning to his partner, Grigsby hissed, "I thought you said he was out of town, George?"
William looked coolly around the room. "Sorry I'm late, ladies and gentlemen, but I was unavoidably detained by a couple of very inept kidnappers." Turning to his younger son, he asked, "Am I in time to vote my own shares?"
Steven smiled. "Yes, sir. You've arrived just in time." Turning back to the shareholders, he apologized. "I'm sorry, but since my father is here, I'll let him decide how to vote." He stepped back next to his brother, ready to watch the show.
William nodded. Glaring at the man he knew had planned on having him murdered, he scowled. "George, I'm very annoyed with you." Turning back to the room at large, he announced, "I'm fully in favor of selling out to SugiCorp. I vote yea on the sale." There were murmurs of confusion as the police officers seized George Blackburn and Joel Taggart announced that he was under arrest for kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder. Grigsby was arrested as well, as a suspected member of the conspiracy, even though his brother had told them that he wasn't involved. They'd let the detectives ask the questions and then allow the District Attorney's Office decide whom to prosecute.
The entire board was in an uproar. Mr. Kostmayer made his way through the throng to William's side, frowning. "Are you all right, Bill?" he asked in concern. "My God, kidnapping? What kind of idiots are they? This is the best deal I've ever seen! We may no longer own the company, but it's going to be making us fortunes for years to come. I can't imagine why anyone would be against that."
"We aren't sure yet, but it looks like they just didn't want to sell to a foreign company, Tom," William said as they watched the controlled chaos sort itself out, with the police escorting their detainees out while the rest of the stockholders watched in wonder.
Mr. Kostmayer sighed. "That's the dumbest thing I've heard in a long time, but I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised." He smiled at his friend. "So, from now on, if you don't show up for a golf date, I'm going to call you myself and make sure, okay?"
William laughed. "Thanks. I'd appreciate it."
The company lawyers were flummoxed over what to do, until Kostmayer reminded them that they were corporate attorneys, not criminal, and put them to work drawing up the sales agreement.
Jim and Steven flanked their father, one on each side, as the details were hashed out over the sale of the company. No one said a word about their intimidating presence. No one dared.
Two Weeks Later
William Ellison certainly knew how to throw a party. Of course, he had several good reasons to celebrate. First of all, his sons were both there, smiling and happy to all be together. Second, he'd just made a great deal of money through the sale and stock trade involving his company. Third, the police had gotten to the bottom of the conspiracy involving his kidnapping, and the District Attorney was positive of not only a conviction, but that the malefactors would spend many, many years in prison, not to mention his own civil suit against them for all they'd put him through.
Mr. Sugihara had stayed to oversee the transfer of control and he and William had become friends, much to everyone's surprise. They'd played golf a number of times and had enjoyed themselves tremendously.
Most of the people at the party, however, rather than being business associates of William Ellison, were members of the Cascade Police Department. Conspicuously absent were the Chief of Police and the Mayor, who had specifically not been invited. It gave the officers present a chance to party without having to worry about what they said.
In all, there were nearly 200 people present. Dinner had consisted of steak (not the usual crap that got served at the kinds of events most of the group ever went to), furnished by a local steak house. There was a live band and everyone was having a good time.
Jim Ellison was leaning against a wall, watching the crowd and smiling at some of their antics. Sensing someone come up beside him, he glanced over, to see his partner lean up against the wall beside him.
"Great party, Jim. Your dad really pulled out all the stops."
"Yeah. He thought it was the best way to tell everyone 'thank you' for everything." Jim chuckled and pointed to the dance floor. "Take a look at Roberts. He looks like Fred Astaire out there with Serena, doesn't he?"
Blair looked and grinned. "Oh, man. He's really got some moves, doesn't he?"
"Well, from the look on a number of the ladies' faces, it looks like he's never going to want for a partner."
Blair laughed. "Yeah. Hey, how's your dad, anyway? I haven't seen him since the 'thank you' speech."
"He's around here somewhere." Jim cocked his head to one side, concentrating. "He's over at the bar. Damn. He's telling Mr. Sugihara stories of when Steven and I were kids." He shook his head in wonder. "And Steven is begging him to stop," he laughed.
Blair grinned. "I can imagine." He turned serious. "I'm glad everything worked out okay, Jim."
"Me too, partner. Me too." Jim relaxed and took a sip of his beer. His gaze traveled over the people gathered there and he sighed. It was good. His dad was okay, everything had worked out, and he'd even managed not to hurt anyone or come completely unglued, thanks to the man beside him and the rest of the people he worked and socialized with. They'd rallied around him, keeping him sane and working their tails off. There'd been some good luck along the way that had helped a lot, but he knew that if things hadn't gone as well as they had, he'd have been all right, because his friends would have seen to it.
It felt good. The protector being protected. It gave him a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, and he found himself grinning, happy and content with his current lot in life, and with the family of friends he'd found.