Authors: Lorelei Moone
"I need you to tell me who this 'Fight4Independence' person really is."
One of his silent minions dragged a chair into the cell, the bare metal of its legs scraping against the concrete floor, making the hairs on the back of Heidi's neck stand up.
"Did you hear me? Who is 'Fight4Independence'?" The man repeated.
I don't know the guy, okay? I just met him online," she tried to explain, but something told her, a vague answer like that wasn't going to satisfy this guy...
Aidan entered the office bright and early in the morning, only to find it empty.
Where was everyone?
The clean coffee cup on Heidi's desk was dry, unused. Aidan wondered whether to go upstairs to see if she was still in bed... But that would have been too creepy, so he decided against it.
He made a quick call to Jamie instead, who picked up just when Aidan was about to give up.
"Jamie. I'm back." Aidan sat down at his desk, and impatiently tapped his fingers against the already worn surface.
"Great timing, Heidi has made some progress while you were away." Jamie sounded uncharacteristically excited, especially considering the time.
"Has she? She's not here."
A crackle interrupted the awkward silence.
"She's not upstairs, either?" Jamie asked at last. His tone had changed, gone was his excitement, instead it had been replaced by... concern?
Aidan's chest tightened, and a feeling of dread came over him. He rushed to the door, up the stairs and into the room where Heidi's scent lingered the strongest. Her bed looked unused, the pillow was still fluffed up and her duvet was neatly folded and placed at the foot-end of the mattress.
"Goddammit, Jamie!" Aidan shouted into the phone. "She hasn't been here all night!"
"I… Shit. I'm coming in." Jamie hung up and Aidan stood helplessly in the center of her room, phone still in hand. His bear wanted to come out, roar in anger and tear up the place. Where was she? Why hadn't she come home?
She had looked strong enough, Aidan had no doubt she would have been a good fighter, but the city could be a dangerous place for a lone shifter. They had files filled with names downstairs of shifters at least as capable, if not more so, who had disappeared without a trace. The last thing Aidan wanted was to have to add her name to one of the files. He wouldn't be able to stand it.
Aidan paced around the room, trying his best to control his breathing and suppress the urge to shift. After regaining a little bit of focus, he rushed back downstairs and powered up Heidi's computer in an attempt to find out what she had been working on.
Before Jamie even turned up, Aidan had read through various messages between what he assumed was Heidi's ID on the message board, and some of the regular members. They had been very chatty, much more so than they had been with him when he first joined.
"What the fuck where you thinking?" Aidan shouted, as soon as Jamie finally came through the door. "She hasn't been here a week and you let her meet with these people? She wasn't ready!"
"Watch your tone!" Jamie responded. "She seemed capable enough, and the job was simple: go meet a couple of people for drinks in a public place. Nothing more than that. Perhaps she's just hungover and..."
"I'll use whatever tone I see fit!" Aidan slammed his fist down on the desk, making it shake dangerously in the process. "She hasn't even slept in her bed! Whatever happened last night, she never made it out of there."
"Don't talk to me like it wasn't my call to make. In case you forgot, I'm the team leader. And you weren't even around!" Jamie responded.
Aidan took a couple of deep breaths and tried to control the rage that had bubbled up into his chest. He balled his fists and released them a few times, but he couldn't calm down. Jamie was right, though. Aidan had gone off on his own before even training Heidi properly. He'd had good reason to, of course, but still... How could he not feel responsible for what had happened?
"Okay, let's think about this. The last thing the Alliance needs right now is to make enemies of the Wolves of Rannoch." Jamie slowly wandered over to his desk and sat down and rested his head on his hands.
"What?" Aidan looked up again in confusion.
"Rannoch. That's where she's from."
"What the- You're telling me she's wolf?" Aidan couldn't believe his ears. This was a disaster. The woman fate had selected for him was gone. In his haste to run after ghosts from his past, he hadn't even realized the most basic details about her. He hadn't noticed she was a completely different species, and from Rannoch, no less!
He'd heard about that place, a secretive community of wolves living deep in the woods, far removed from human society. She wouldn't know the first thing about how the world worked, and probably jumped head-first into a dangerous situation with the bloody Sons of Domnall! He should have known. This was all his fault.
"Jesus Christ, Jamie. Would it have hurt you to let me know?" Aidan asked at last.
"You already weren't thrilled about her coming here, it seemed unnecessary to complicate matters further. Plus I figured you'd have noticed from her scent."
"Her scent..." Aidan shook his head. "How the fuck do I know what a wolf smells like? Fuck."
"Anyway, enough of this. Rather than continue to blame each other, let's figure out how to fix this," Jamie suggested. He looked terrified, as though there was something else he wasn't sharing, but Aidan decided to let it go for now.
Perhaps there was still time to sort this out. The one thing he did know was that he couldn't trust Jamie with this, not fully, anyway. And if by chance Lee Campbell was involved in Heidi's disappearance as well, Aidan really needed help he could rely on to ensure he'd get the chance to capture the man himself. There was only one other person he would entrust Heidi's life with: Derek.
By the time evening came around, Jamie had pulled fellow Alliance team member Kyle back from his vacation, and Aidan had managed to get in touch with Derek, who was on his way as well.
The office was buzzing with activity, and eerily quiet at the same time. All three of them - Aidan, Jamie, and Kyle, were each completely absorbed in their work, so they barely spoke to one another.
"I've got it!" Kyle finally broke the silence.
Aidan looked up, his eyes burning from staring at his screen for so long.
"What is it?" Jamie asked, who had gotten up to take a look at what Kyle had found.
"I've managed to hack into the phone company's server." Kyle pointed at his screen. "There. That's the cell tower Heidi was connected to when her phone went dead."
"All right..." Aidan rolled his chair up to Kyle's desk and took a look. It was just a number, a code, it might as well have been Greek to him.
"So cross-referencing the tower ID, with the grid, here," Kyle opened another screen, and showed his two colleagues a map of Edinburgh, which was divided into zones with equally confusing looking numbers in them. "It seems Heidi was roughly in this area." Kyle circled one of the zones with his index finger.
"Okay, well… that's something." Aidan scratched his head. "Jamie, you said she was going to meet people for drinks. A public place, a pub?"
"Yeah, a pub."
"How many pubs are in that area, there?" Aidan braced himself for the answer. This city - as well as most of the country - actually, was famous for its numerous drinking establishments.
"Let's see..." Kyle clicked a few buttons, and super-imposed another map over the grid he'd looked at earlier. "About... thirty?"
"Thirty." Jamie let out a dejected sigh. "We don't have enough people to canvas thirty pubs in time to figure out where she went. Not without drawing attention to ourselves anyway."
"Perhaps we don't have to... What else do we know about these people? If they've taken Heidi at the meeting, they would have done it somewhere where they felt comfortable. Somewhere, where nobody would have called the police on them... They're nationalists, right? Separatists. How many of these pubs are independent, not owned by large breweries - especially not English breweries?"
"About half are free houses, not tied to any brewery."
"How else can we narrow this down? How about location? It's unlikely Heidi would have been taken from a pub that is in full view of a main road..."
"That leaves us with five. Five unaffiliated pubs that are set back from main roads." Kyle sat back, crossing his arms. "That's not half bad. Good thinking there, Aidan!"
The printer in the corner purred into action, and soon spat out a list with all the addresses. Jamie got up to retrieve it, read through it, and handed it to Aidan.
"Let's go, then. No time to waste."
The first two pubs on the list didn't feel right to Aidan. He couldn't catch a whiff of Heidi's scent there either, so they quickly moved on to number three.
After picking up his brother, Derek, on the way, they parked up a few buildings down and walked up to the third pub. There was a Scotland flag in the window, and the place had a particular vibe to it that made Aidan suspicious.
"This could be the one," he remarked.
Jamie, next to him, nodded. "Very private, service alley leading to the back. I agree."
They decided to split up, with Jamie heading inside to look for clues there, and Aidan exploring said alley, while Derek went back to the car to keep an eye on the surrounding area. Aidan had barely made it to the back of the building, before he found what he'd been looking for.
Right next to a stack of piled up garbage bags, was unmistakable proof that they had come to the right place. A discarded hair band, a couple of strawberry blond hairs still attached to it. He picked it up and immediately caught Heidi's scent. She'd been here.
He made a quick call to Derek, telling him this was the place and to stay put. Then he decided to head inside to join Jamie, who had taken a seat at the bar.
Inside the dimly lit establishment, Aidan immediately saw that the crowd looked right too. The clientele was overwhelmingly male, working class, a lot of tightly cropped or shaved heads around the place. They fit the profile down to the combat boots and occasional nationalist tattoos. And they were all were staring at him.
Actually, both Aidan and Jamie stood out like sore thumbs. Considering how built they were, of course, it would take a lot more than wearing your hair the wrong way for any of these people to confront the two bears. After a quick greeting, they ordered whatever was on tap and immediately started commenting on the football playing on the flat screen overhead like they came here all the time.
All the heads they'd turned initially looked away again. A decent knowledge of the local sports scene was apparently enough to appease the crowd.
Although Aidan knew that time was of the essence if they wanted to get Heidi back in one piece, he also knew that patience and stealth were called for here. By the third round, they'd gotten a few of the regulars involved in an in-depth discussion about coaching decisions and seemingly blended in.
It was then that a familiar face walked in the front door and ordered a scotch. It was the younger guy from the park.