Authors: Alyse Zaftig
he next day
, the ride to the estate was incredibly tense. Harold and Andreas hadn’t spoken for the entire ride. Both of them were suffering from a chaos of thoughts. Was the exchange the right thing to do?
At least they were doing something. Andreas hadn’t told Mr. Kaine about his secondary mission. Harold hadn’t talked much about this decision. The retrieval wasn’t all that important.
He was going to lay down his life for his daughter’s. Andreas understood and respected the sacrifice; if it came down to it, he’d do the same thing for Phoebe’s sake. He was just much less valuable than an FBI agent. It was a necessary sacrifice, although Andreas wished that he didn’t have to play it that way. But he would do his best to make sure that the Kaines were safe.
Andreas parked in an empty cornfield.
“Text if you get a call.”
They exchanged a meaningful glance.
“I’ll be back.”
Harold nodded but said nothing at all, not even, “Good luck.” For a man about to die and/or be tortured, it fit.
Managing a grim smile, Andreas stepped out and let the door slam behind him. He neede dto get to the tunnels.
He didn’t envy Harold, sitting alone in the car. He didn’t know what he’d told his wife, but Andreas was not looking forward to going back to his mother-in-law without his father-in-law.
He headed to a small shack that concealed an entrance to the underground tunnels. Harold thought that Andreas was going to be helping Phoebe out; he had no idea that Andreas was going to be on the estate, too.
He followed the track that the Agency had highlighted on the blueprint. He passed a small waterfall. The estate was built around a small valley, but the tunnels radiated beyond the valley. It was probably an ideal setup for smuggling.
He was relieved that there didn’t seem to be any cameras detected by his bug finder. It made sense, if they were this close to the Pentagon. He shook his head. The Pentagon was so careful to protect its own secrecy that it ended up concealing the people that it was afraid of.
He hurried through the first two tunnels until he reached the third one. He took a glance around, looking at all the corners. There hadn’t seemed to be any direct entrances into the house on the map, not even a ventilation system that would bring him upwards.
Frowning, he turned his attention to the circled area on the map. It was a picture of the Grand Canyon in a frame. There had to be something besides that, which suggested that the Agency had some kind of contact and could have helped him way more than they actually had.
He wound his way through the tunnels until he got to the painting. There was a small flash drive in the frame. He put it in his pocket.
He ran back towards the car, knowing that he shouldn’t leave Harold stewing there for too long. When he got back to the car, one look told him that Odhran had already called.
Harold looked as if he had looked death in the face.
“Let’s hurry up and drive there. We’ve got an hour to wait.” He was pale, but Andreas respected him for keeping it together.
Drawing in a sharp breath, Andreas looked forward as the car lurched to life and headed towards the rendezvous point. He felt as if he had failed Harold, but there weren’t any entrances leading from the tunnels into the estate. He would’ve been pushing his luck to try the other tunnels, not knowing what kind of surveillance might be on the other paths. Phoebe was his priority, not Harold.
Andreas’ heart was tight in his chest when they finally got to the rendezvous point. He could see Phoebe in the back seat. She glared at him as the car came to a stop, avoiding his eyes after that.
A goon pulled her out of the car.
“Baby girl, you okay?”
“I’m okay, Daddy.” She was crying. “You should leave now. I’m okay.” They all knew that Harold wouldn’t be.
“Too late, baby girl.” Harold turned to her captors. “Let her go, okay? I’m ready to take her place.”
Harold sounded cool and collected, but Andreas could see the sweat on Harold’s forehead.
Odhran got out of the car and grinned at Harold. It was a terrifying grin, the kind that suggested that he had all kinds of sadistic plans for Harold.
Phoebe was frowning at Odhran.
“Dear Phoebe, you better walk towards the handsome guy. Go on, now.”
She could’ve killed with her eyes from her laser glare.
Odhran’s grin deepened. He motioned at Harold to start moving, too. He didn’t say to not try anything stupid. Harold was so honorable that he’d just go like a lamb to slaughter.
Andreas reached out for Phoebe when she came close. She flinched away from him. What had Odhran done to her?
“Daddy!” Phoebe turned around to call out to her father just in time to see one of the thugs knock her dad out with a single blow to the jaw.
When she would’ve run to him, Andreas wrapped his arms around his wife.
“Baby, we’ve got to get going.”
“Daddy!” she screamed again.
Andreas pulled his wife into the car.
“We have to get out of here.”
“They…they have my dad.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
“Don’t call me that. I don’t even know you.”
“I think that we have more important things to do right now than throw around accusations, okay? We’ve got to figure out a way to get your dad back.”
Phoebe tried to open her door. Andreas put the car in park to calm her down.
“No, Phoebe.” She hit him with her fists landing on his chest. He gathered her closer.
“Phoebe, you better calm down. I promise you that we’ll get your father back. Calm down, okay? You’re stressing out the baby.”
She was crying in earnest now. “Turn the car around and get my daddy! Now!”
Andreas held her still. “It’s not that easy. We need to get you to a safe place. I promise you that I’ll get him, okay? I’ll go back for him.”
She calmed and stilled, averting her eyes and looking out the window before looking at her husband again.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the same man who said ‘I do’ in church for you. I promised to love and cherish you, and I’ve never stopped.”
She crossed her arms and stared out her window. After a moment, Andreas put the car back into drive and drove further away from Odhran’s estate.
He was several miles away when she said, “Do you kill innocent people?”
“No, Phoebe. They’re never innocent or even guilty of just one thing. Don’t lose faith in me, babe.”
She was quiet again. Andreas kept driving the car back to safety.
He knew that Harold didn’t want the FBI to get involved, so he took her to Chung’s. It would be better if the Bureau stayed in the dark about Harold’s capture. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team could get him out, of course, but at a very high cost. He needed a secure place to keep his wife, and there was a safe room in the back of Chung’s. He had plenty of security, some of whom were more than capable of handling Odhran’s thugs.
Phoebe was as safe as he could make her now. She was just a pawn in Odhran’s game, anyway. She was important to Andreas and Harold, but she was disposable to Odhran.
Harold, on the other hand, wouldn’t be too healthy very shortly if Andreas couldn’t quickly find a way to come through on his promise to his wife.
“What are you doing here, Andreas?”
“I need a safe room for my wife.”
Chung looked at Phoebe. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. How would you feel about eating some tiramisu.”
“That’s my favorite!” Phoebe looked at Chung and then Andreas. “How did he know?”
Andreas winced. “Don’t worry about that. Just go with him.”
“You’re in luck. My sister is visiting at the moment. She can keep you company.”
“Keep me company? What about my husband?”
“I’ll be back later, honey. I made you a promise. I’m going to keep it. Time is of the essence.”
“You promised.” Phoebe bit her lip. “Come back with him, okay?”
“I’m going to do my damnedest.” Andreas wished that he could kiss her for luck, but she was still mad about his deception.
Chung’s sister came out of the restaurant and put an arm around Phoebe.
“Do you like Clueless? How about we do a movie marathon?” Andreas knew that Phoebe would be in good hands at Chung’s.
“We should talk. You barely gave me any details.” Chung brought Andreas into his own office, the largest room in the back space.
“I just…I just exchanged my father-in-law for my wife.”
“I promised her that I’d get him back. I may need you to round up a few friends…unofficially.”
“Let me know if it comes to that.”
ndreas drove away
from Chung’s. He had the USB in his pocket. He needed to go to Chip’s.
He drove straight there. He had the USB in his hand, which he gave to the barista under the cover of a few bills.
“Hang on. You’ve got something waiting.” The barista went into the backroom.
Were they giving him an assignment right now? It was the wrong time. His fists clenched. Monsieur X had made it clear that he couldn’t say no. He folded his arms over his chest while he waited. He leaned against the counter and tapped his foot.
Finally, the barista came out with a package in his hand and quickly poured black coffee into a cup. He accepted both things and brought it to a booth toward the back of the coffee shop. He pulled out the document.
It was a transcript of one of Harold’s conversations from when he was researching the mega-weapon. The Crucible was a weapon with its own AI, a brain of its own.
It was clearly on the cutting edge of technology. Weapons that could detonate themselves were terrifying, frankly. It didn’t rely on regular electricity. It would never run out of energy as long as it could get a little light. It could hold solar charges for a very long time. It could also find Wi-Fi networks under a cloak, so it could easily be accessed online.
It could do things that Andreas didn’t want to think about. A weapon that could think for itself…that would have the capacity to bring around major civilian casualties that would change the entire political climate and influence Congress to write blank checks just like during Bush 43’s administration.
Suddenly it made sense that Harold wouldn’t give up the location of the Crucible. Giving it to a man like Odhran was basically handing over the country to an unscrupulous man.
There was a small note scribbled at the bottom of the document.
There was a research symbol that the Agency used. They were helping him extract Harold.
Suddenly, it clicked into place. They weren’t asking him to murder his father-in-law. They’d known that all of this would happen, and they were telling him what he could do. It wasn’t his final mission.
His resolve was strengthened. He had to get Harold back before it was too late. He shuddered when he thought of everything that Odhran could do to him before he got there.
He also knew that the Crucible could never land in Odhran’s immoral hands.
No matter what.
a little bit of oolong tea. “This is really good. Thank you for making it.”
“No bother at all. You poor thing. You’ve been through quite an ordeal. I’m here for you if you need anything.”
Phoebe just drank more tea and wished that she had something stronger, but she had to think of the baby.
She blurted out, “How do you know if love is real if you learn that you don’t actually know someone?” She couldn’t keep it inside anymore, and Atana was the first sympathetic ear that she’d gotten since she was kidnapped.
Atana put her hand over Phoebe’s. She smiled at her.
“The true face of love is beyond circumstance, title, or appearance, sweetie.”
Phoebe sat and turned that statement over and over in her head until Andreas knocked on the door.
She got to her feet. She looked into his eyes. She saw that he was wary.
He crossed the room and they hugged awkwardly.
Atana got to her feet, “I’ll leave the two of you alone.” She drifted out of the room.
“I’m so sorry about all of this, Phoebe. I couldn’t tell you…”
“Just bring my dad home, okay?” She took his hands and laced their fingers together.
She looked up at his face. She could tell that he really wanted to repair their marriage, but she didn’t know if she could find that much forgiveness inside of herself.
He brought her hand to his lips. He kissed the back of her hand. “I will.”
She pulled her hands out of his. She wasn’t ready to be close to him, not when she still felt like he was an enigma.
whipped to the side when another punch came to his face.
"You gonna pass out like a wuss again, huh?" The thug who was wearing brass knuckles grinned at Harold. He had a bunch of gold teeth.
Harold spat blood onto the thug's shoes, which earned him another blow.
"It might be my job to hit you, but damn am I enjoying it. I could do this for hours."
Harold had already been there for several hours, but it was worth it. His baby daughter was safe now. He was sure that Andreas would make sure that nobody would ever be able to abduct her again.
Harold had been trained in resisting interrogation techniques from the best at the FBI. This here was like a walk in the park.
Pain exploded in Harold's head as a fist landed on the side of his head.
Well, maybe a very painful walk in the park. They hadn't used any tools yet. Harold knew that one reason why he was able to keep his mouth shut was because they hadn't gotten to the advanced techniques yet. He prayed that Odhran didn't use them. It wasn't a secret that the federal government used some questionable techniques to extract information from sources. It was hard to be on the other side, for sure. He might spend the rest of his very short life in Odhran's hands.
Whatever Odhran did, Harold couldn't talk. Too many innocent people would die as a result. If his silence meant that he would die while tied to this chair, then so be it. He knew what he was signing up for when he became an FBI agent.
"Enjoying your stay with us?"
"Just fabulous. Wonderful hospitality." Harold spat out some more blood.
Odhran said something else, but the words bounced off of Harold's ears. His ears were ringing and his head was spinning.
Harold might as well focus on the fuzziness. They were going to hurt him as badly as he could stand before dying, and if he didn't tell them where the Crucible was, they might kill him.
At least his daughter wouldn't pay the price with her innocent blood. He had saved her from being violated or murdered by Odhran, and that meant a lot to him. It was worth the sacrifice.
He thought about Sally. If he died here, he would regret leaving without telling her what was happening. At the same time, if Andreas found a way to break him out, he'd retire from the Bureau and take Sally somewhere warm, maybe Florida. She had always enjoyed freshly squeezed orange juice. He was getting too old for this sort of thing. It hadn't happened often, but recovery was definitely a bitch.
He hoped that he had the chance to recover from this.