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Friday, November 30, 2012

It's Friday!!












Chapter Thirty ~


    "The colonel has Amy. He's infected her with the virus somehow. We have to go back and save her." Jackson ran his fingers through his dark hair.

    "If she's infected with the virus she's already a goner, my friend. We need to concentrate on a plan to take this guy down. He can't be allowed to get his hands on the virus. Why didn't you tell me you copied it?" Jude asked.

    "If you’d been in my position, would you have copied it?"

    "Of course, I think all..." He began before realizing he should've known. Jackson was a good operative, and he would always choose what he believed was right, including copying a deadly virus.

    "This guy is definitely of the monster variety. How could you not know who he really is?" Otis asked quizzically.

    "I trusted him because he was my superior." Jackson answered. "That's a stupid reason, I get it. But right now we have to concentrate on saving Amy."

    "You can always tell when an operative has been compromised." Jude said with a worried grin.

    "How is that?" Otis asked rhetorically, because he already knew the answer.

    "When someone is more worried about something that isn't the main objective, they've lost their edge." Jude gave a quick look in Jackson's direction.

    "I haven't lost my edge just because I care about Amy. You need to stop the childish ribbing, men. That maniac infected her with a deadly virus. We have to help her and catch the monster who used to be my colonel."

"I'm sorry, man." Jude apologized.

"I'm sorry, too Jackson. I shouldn't be teasing you in a situation like this, it isn't a Christian thing, to do to start with, and it doesn't help the situation." Otis said with a look of embarrassment on his wrinkled face.

    They spent the next hour constructing a plan to get Amy back. They needed to find out if she could be saved.

    "Jackson, where is the thumb drive?" Amos asked.

    Jackson pointed to his phone and said, "the drive was destroyed, but I copied the data to my phone before I torched it."

    "Wow man, you’re some piece of work." Jude said in relief. "Didn't you say the antidote was on the thumb drive?"

    "That's what Amy said on the phone. I'm guessing the copy Colonel Walsh made got destroyed somehow, and he needs this one. Otis, grab that laptop and hand it up here, could you?"

   Otis handed it up front and Jackson held the steering wheel in one hand while he pulled an adapter for his tiny cell phone memory card out of his pocket. He popped the back off his phone with one hand and pulled out the memory card and stuck it in the adapter. He slid the card into the slot and waited for it to come up. He copied the files and removed the card and put it back in his phone.

    "Jude, look for the antidote for the host virus and tell me what it says, would you?" He wanted to save Amy. The possibility he couldn't was too painful to contemplate.

    Jude ran his finger along the screen, following the words on the page. "Blah blah blah...host virus must be annihilated by using the pre-determined antidote. What is the 'pre-determined’ antidote? Why wouldn't a man smart enough to make this virus use code to write it down?"

    "Oh, he did use code. I decoded it on the way back from my last assignment." Jackson said. It was a very hard code to crack, too."

    "How is it your colonel is smart enough to even think of something like this, let alone execute it?" Jude asked in disgust.

    "He was originally a chemist in the bio-technical division of the army. They pulled him to our team because of his ability to read and understand just such things as what's on the thumb drive. He has the unique ability to make antidotes on the spur of the moment. He was supposed to be our weapon against bio-terror. I see that's worked well for us."

    "You've got to be kidding me!" Otis exclaimed from the backseat. "How could they not know he was a security risk? Does he have any kind of record? Has he ever been insubordinate?"

   "His record is spotless. They don't put people in his position if there is even a smell of something amiss." Jackson replied.

    "So let's get this plan down-pat. I don't want any mess-ups. Jude and I will show ourselves when we get there. Otis, you can hop in the trunk down the block in case he's watching us arrive. After we've gone in, you climb out of the trunk and assess how many men are on watch. Sneak to the room he's keeping her in and try to get her out." He said. "I have this little device that's a heat-seeker. All you have to do is push the button. If there's heat equivalent to the human body anywhere in the immediate vicinity, it’ll vibrate." He tossed it behind him to the gray-haired man. "If he has her hidden, one of us should be able to find her with these." He pulled out another one and threw it to Jude. He searched his pockets and found another to toss to Amos.

    "Why don't we have any of these cool gadgets in the FBI?" Jude asked.

    "Maybe you aren't cool enough."

    Jude threw a cheeseburger wrapper at Jackson and they all grew silent. They had a lot of contemplating to do before they reached Salt Lake City.

                                              ***

    Back at the mansion, Amy was just waking up. She looked around very imperceptibly in case Colonel Walsh was watching her, but he was nowhere in sight. She shook each arm and leg, seeing if the cuffs might be loose enough to slip out of. Her right arm handcuff popped open when she shook it. She pulled her arm free and twisted to see if the left arm was loose, too. It popped open, as well. By this time, Amy new it was a trick, but she was so desperate to be free she didn't care. Maybe she could get away if she evaded him long enough to get out of the room. She pulled each leg free and didn't even take the time to rub them, but jumped off the bed and ran to the door. It opened and she stuck her head out a bit to see if she could see the colonel. He was nowhere in sight.

    Amy ran as fast as she could down the steps and to the kitchen. She remembered being down in the wine cellar with Matilda one day and seeing a light coming out from behind one of the shelves. Her instinct to survive kept her moving; even though she knew once he realized she was gone he would most likely activate the microchip inside her. She prayed for her safety and the safety of all involved as she ran. She wasn't able to formulate a plan, but instead let the Holy Spirit pray for her.

    Amy quietly slipped through the door to the basement and crept down to the wine cellar. She'd grabbed a flashlight from the wall right inside the basement door, but hadn't turned it on yet. She was afraid a light would give her away, so she was basically working from memory.

    As she hit the bottom step, she saw the same light coming from behind the shelf at the back of the wine cellar. She was scared of what she might find, but resigned to the fact it might be her only chance to get away from the madman.

    When she reached the shelf she pulled on it, trying to get behind it. It wouldn't budge. She was becoming frantic. She thought she heard steps in the kitchen right above her. She turned her flashlight on and shined it around the edges of the shelf. There were two buttons under the edge of the first shelf. She made a decision and pushed the left-hand button. The shelf slid to the left with a whooshing sound. What Amy saw made her gasp in surprised horror. There were people back here. They were sitting in a cell on cots. There were two women and some children, and even a dog.

   "Hey, who are you?"

    A woman in her late thirties or early forties replied, "I'm Amos Cohen's wife. He's a hostage negotiator, and these are my children, and my dog."

    "I'm Matilda, the maid's daughter, and these are my children." The other woman gestured toward the little ones.

    "How long have you been down here?" Amy asked.

    "We don't know exactly. We lost track of time." Matilda's daughter said. "We've been here a few days more than Sheila and her babies."

    "Bless your poor souls. We need to get you out of here. First I need to get some dirt. Does anyone know where I could find some?" She asked. "I also need something to put it in, and some water."

    The children scrambled around and moved the back cot to reveal a spot in the wall they’d been digging out. There was fresh dirt lying on the ground, and the young girl shyly handed Amy a jug of water. "This is all we have." She said in a cautious tone, not trusting the new woman.

    The smallest boy handed her a bowl and she scooped some dirt in it and added water. She used a plastic spoon the older woman handed her and mixed the dirt and water into mud. She threw the spoon into a pile of garbage on the floor and said, "Okay, we need to get out of this room. Does anyone know of a way that doesn't go back through the kitchen?"

    "There's a passageway on the end of the wine cellar." Matilda's daughter Sophia said.

    Just as they assembled in a line to leave the little hidden cell, the door at the top of the steps opened and Amy heard, "Oh Amy, where did you go? You can't possibly think I won't find you."

    Amy turned and put a finger to her lips to shush them and slid the door to the little room shut. She heard the shelf click into place and sighed with relief as she heard him shuffle past their hiding place.

    "What if he knows about this cell?" Sheila asked.

    "I don't think he does. The man responsible for putting you in here is in custody, and chances are he didn't divulge your whereabouts."

    There were several tense minutes while they listened to him move around. They could hear him opening a bottle of wine, and even his rude gulp as he chugged it down.

    "You're not in here are you?" He asked as he passed by the shelf again.

    They listened as he walked back up the steps and slammed the kitchen door.

    "He brought me here in an ambulance. It's sitting under my bedroom. I'm going to do my best to get you back to it, and I want you to go straight to the police." Amy ordered. She was beyond exhausted and her stomach had begun to rumble. She couldn't even remember the last time she ate anything, and she was worried about the children, and Jackson. But the main objective now was to get these people away from her in case he activated the virus.

    "You're not coming with us?" Sophia exclaimed.

    "You can't possibly stay here." Sheila whispered as loud as she dared.

    "I have reasons that I don't have time to go into right now. You have children to think of, so you'll go without me with no arguments, is that clear?"

    They whispered yes and Amy said, "I'm going to open the door and make sure he didn't trick us. Stay back until I gesture for you to follow."

    Amy pushed the button and the door slid open. If they hadn't been behind bars they could've escaped so easily...

    She stuck her head out cautiously, but didn't see anyone. She gestured with her finger and they all moved forward as quickly as they could. In a few minutes they were outside at the ambulance. He'd left the keys in the ignition, and Sheila climbed up in the driver's seat while Sophia loaded all the children and the dog into the back. Amy slapped the side of the ambulance and said, "Go to the police station and don't leave it until you hear from me." She watched as the tail lights grew dimmer and dimmer before she turned around to go back inside.

    She snuck around to the back of the house, praying God would let her accomplish her goal if it was His will. She snuck into the living room through the patio door she'd taped the day after arriving because it was so inconvenient to have it close on her.

    She went up the stairs as quietly as possible and slid into the office. She looked around, but he wasn't there. She ran to the safe, opened it, expecting to find the gun, but it was gone. She opened the next safe, and nothing. It went that way until the very last one. She opened it up, and there was the gun, and a black, familiar-looking object Amy was overjoyed to see. The taser.

     Amy pocketed the gun and held the taser in her hand like a lifeline. She went on the hunt then, just as she'd been hunted.

    "Oh Colonel Walsh, where are you?" She tested the button on the taser. The electric sound brought a smile to her face.

    Colonel Walsh came around the corner from the stairs at a fast trot. Amy pushed the button on the taser and two little electrodes flew out and hit his skin. He screamed in pain, but kept on coming. Amy didn't know what to do then, she'd never used one, but she pushed the button again, trying to get it to electrocute him once more. This time she kept her finger on the button while turning a knob with her other hand. The man fell to the carpet and flopped around like a fish out of water. She didn't want to kill him, but she did want him unconscious.

    "I'll teach you to handcuff me to a bed and put little microchips of death inside me." She said as she began to tug on the unconscious male. He was heavier than he looked. It took her about thirty minutes and three more pushes of the button to get him down the first set of steps. She was tired, sore, hungry and weak, but determined. She kept working until she'd rolled him through the kitchen and to the basement door.

    "You’re just lucky I love my God more than I dislike you because you'd be dead by now you evil, evil man." She rolled him to the door. She didn't want to kill him, but these steps were wooden, and it was gonna hurt. She grabbed a throw rug from in front of the sink and rolled him until it was wrapped around him. She opened the basement door, got in front of him and began to pull him over the edge. He stirred and groaned, and Amy pushed the button again. He went still.

    She pulled until he slid down each step, falling against her legs every time. When she felt him rest on her legs, she'd pull until he slid down the next one. Once she got him off the stairs she maneuvered him to the little jail room door and slid it open. She pushed the button once more just to make sure, and opened the cell door. She put him inside and slammed the door shut behind him. She left the leads on him and kept the taser in her hand.

    She sat down outside the cell, and waited. It seemed like hours later that he finally woke up, but was probably only minutes. She'd gone through his pockets and found his cell phone, which she would need to keep him from activating the virus.

    She’d barely begun to doze when she heard him say, “You're just full of surprises, aren't ya, little filly?"

    "Not really, I just don't want to die. People do all kinds of crazy things when their life's in danger."

    "What do you plan on doing with me?" He was forlorn-looking, and Amy was amazed she was actually starting to feel sorry for him.

    "I'm not going to do anything. When Jackson gets here he can deal with you." She told him. "But until he gets here, you have to listen to me."

    "Don't you want to change the world? Aren't you tired of all these evil people?" He asked in a serious tone. He was totally oblivious to the fact he was one of them.

    "You don't realize you're one of those evil people, do you? I am too, for that matter. You aren't God though, and judgment is His alone." She spent the next thirty minutes telling him the gospel. He looked at her like she had two heads, but was forced to listen.

    "So you're telling me because Adam sinned, I have to go to hell?"

    "You'll go to hell if God doesn't save you, yes, but you're responsible for your own sin." Their conversation had turned to an almost friendly one. She couldn't believe this civil-sounding man was such a monster, but that's how he'd gotten away with it for so long.

    Jackson showed up, picked her up and twirled her around several times before standing her back on her feet and saying, "Where's the microchip, Colonel Walsh, I'm going to remove it."

    "Now why would I tell you that?"

    "If you don't tell me, you won't have a chance to make a deal with the authorities." Jackson told him shortly.

    "It's in her arm, right above the elbow."

Otis joined Jude and Jackson. "I'm so happy you're okay, Amy."

    "I'm happy, too." She gave a wan smile. Tiredness had overtaken her, and she sat down on the old wooden chair by the shelf and let Jackson take full reign.

    Amos came down the steps with a sad smile on his face. "I'm so happy you're okay, and I’m so terribly sorry for anything you had to go through because of my actions." He walked up and gave her a hug.

    "I almost forgot to tell you guys. I found Sophia, Sheila, and the kids in this cell. That's how I knew about it."

    "You mean my wife is okay, and my kids?" There was a hint of hope in his voice.

    "Yes they are.” Amy hugged him back. What had happened in the last few days had forged friendships that would last a lifetime.

    "Amy, you're going to have to sit still while I dig that thing out of your arm. I'm sorry I have to cause you more pain." Jackson said with a sympathetic look.

    Amy sat up straight and gave him her arm. "Have at it. I can't wait for it to be gone."

    Jackson dug it out while Jude questioned Colonel Walsh. All kinds of authority figures had entered the basement now and Jackson and his people were almost ready to leave. They had to get back to Scott and the children.

    Jackson slipped the microchip into a little case and shoved it into his pocket. He took the sim card out of the colonel's phone and crunched it beneath his feet before stooping over and lighting it on fire. He picked it up and stuffed the still warm card in his pocket, and they all left the basement together.




Thursday, November 29, 2012

I can't believe it's Thursday Already!

                   I love pics of the water, how about you? Leave a comment and let me know!!











Chapter Twenty-Nine ~


    The paramedic was on the CB again, trying to get in contact with Jacob Walsh. Jacob had told him to take the girl around the corner for a while and then double back. He'd done that, and had been sitting in the back driveway for over an hour. He felt guilty because he knew Jacob planned to kill the girl, but it wasn't like he actually knew her.

    She was beginning to move around, and Andrew knew he would have to give her some more knock-out medicine if the colonel didn't show up soon.

    "Where...am...I?" Amy asked weakly from the gurney.

    "You're back at the mansion." Andrew answered absently as he checked the mirror again to see if Jacob had arrived.

    "Oh no, you mean you're with the bad guys, too?" Her tongue was sticking to the roof of her mouth, and there wasn’t an inch of her body that didn't ache.

    "I'm sorry, but I need the money. You know how it is."

    "How can you be so emotionless? Are you really a paramedic, or is that just a cover?" her fight or flight mechanism was beginning to kick in.

    "I’m really a paramedic, but this gig’s gonna buy my drugs for a long time to come." He sat up straighter in the seat and spied Jacob Walsh sneaking up the driveway toward the ambulance. "It looks like the colonel has arrived." He put his hand on the door handle to get out and greet him, but never got the chance. The last thing he saw was down the barrel of a gun. He fell to the ground, and Jacob Walsh kicked him until he was out of the way.

    He slid up into the driver's seat, started the ambulance, and pulled it into gear. He drove around to the left side of the house, where Amy's room was.

    "Okay, this is how it's gonna work."

She couldn't see him because she was tethered to the gurney. Her heart was beating wildly in her ears. "Let me guess." She interrupted, "you're going to take me to the office and I'm gonna give you the thumb drive, or you're going to kill me."

    "No, that's not quite how it's gonna go. You see, Jackson burnt the thumb drive to a crisp. It's just a melted ball of plastic in his candle holder now."

    "Then what could you possibly need me for?"

    "You are my bait. I plan on catching Jackson to throw to the hungry wolves known as my associates."

    Amy's mind was trying to work, but the drugs had done a job on her. She was fuzzy-headed, and her mouth felt as if she'd been sucking on cotton balls. She tried to form a reply, but fell into unconsciousness.

                                              ***

    Jacob Walsh turned the ambulance off, un-shackled Amy Petersen and threw her over his shoulder. He carried her to the patio doors under her suite. All he needed to do was go in this door and carry her up the steps. He pulled her hand up and slid it through the fingerprint reader and watched as the little light changed to green for a fraction of a second, and the door lock hissed as it was released. He pushed it open, looked from side to side to make sure he wasn't being watched, and walked through the door. His paramedic buddy had been able to dismantle most of the security system, but he couldn't turn off the fingerprint scanner for some reason, and that was okay, because he had her finger to use.

    Jacob took her up to her room and tossed her onto the bed. He went over to the sliding glass doors and made sure they were locked before he punched a hole in the wall beside the metal frame. He pulled out the wires and jerked them apart. Now they wouldn't be able to get in unless they used the door in the hall. With only one door to guard, he was confident he could keep them all at bay while he executed his plan across town. The whole scenario here was just a distraction for his real plans.

    "Hey, come let me go. Surely you're not afraid of little old me, are you?" Amy said from the bedroom.

    "I know better than to underestimate you." He walked to the door and looked over at her. She was hand-cuffed to the bed again, and he smiled at her dilemma. "You forget I already know the trouble you've caused. We wouldn't even be here right now if it weren't for you."

    "True enough, but I'd be dead, now wouldn't I? That's something I'm not ready for, thank you very much." She pulled on her arms and legs to let him see she wasn't done fighting.

    "You're definitely a feisty little filly, I'll give you that. When I realized Jackson was in love with you, it made it easier to formulate my plan. It's near its execution as we speak." He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and showed it to her.

    "What are you talking about?" Her heartbeat thumped in her temples. "Jackson destroyed the virus code. You can't use it now."

    "Did he now?" He asked with a vile smile.

    "You were duped, just like he was. Like they all were, for that matter." He laughed maniacally. "I couldn't have asked for a better plan."

    "It won't be known as a good plan if you don't tell someone." She cajoled from the bed. She was still woozy, and if she moved her head she felt like she was spinning out of control, but at least her mind was working.

    "You see, my darling little Amy..." He began. He stroked the little patch of fuzz under the middle of his lip, as if trying to measure his words. "The virus code he destroyed was already developed. The structure of the virus is intact and on a microchip. I can wipe out the whole United States if I choose to." He stroked his chin faster.

    "Aren't you afraid the virus will spread to other countries?" She knew she needed to keep him talking.

    I'm not afraid of that at all. I have an antidote. You see, what you're pretty little head hasn't thought of is that I embedded a recall code into the DNA of the virus itself. All I have to do is punch a code into my phone and the virus will go dormant. Of course, I'll be able to recall it at will..." He gave another crafty smile and a final stroke of his chin as he got up from the bed.

    "Why haven't you killed me yet?" Suspicion began to engulf her.

    "You’re finally figuring it out, aren’t you?" He asked with a smile so vile it made her skin crawl.

    "You didn't...you wouldn't..." She sputtered as her heart began to beat a tattoo against her chest as the full realization of what he'd done finally dawned on her. She was the first victim. I’m the host.

   "Oh, but I most assuredly did. When Jackson refused to return my thumb drive I decided the only way to get him to cooperate was to infect you with the virus. You see, I could've just removed the microchip I planted in you when he gave me the thumb drive, but he destroyed it. It's his fault you have to die.”

    "Why would you make a virus and not make a copy of it?" She asked weakly. Tiredness was overtaking her again, and she was trying to overcome it so she could think of what to do before this maniac not only killed her, but used her to kill millions of other people, too.

    "Do you take me for a fool, Ms. Petersen? I did make a copy of the virus, and of the genetic code I used, but that stupid terrorist killed the man who had the microchip with the information on it embedded in his hand against my orders. To make matters worse, the imbeciles cremated him before I could retrieve it."

    When his words sunk in, Amy couldn't help but laugh at how silly this whole thing sounded. "It sounds like something out of a cheesy end of the world story." Her voice was starting to slur, so she shook her head and winced in pain, but was glad she was fully conscious once more. "So how are you going to stop from getting the virus yourself?"

    "It's quite simple, really. I used my DNA in the original sample as a failsafe. My DNA kills the virus. That means my whole family is immune to it. It's quite brilliant, isn't it?"

    "How do you plan on stopping the virus from spreading to the whole world? I mean, if you can recall it from me, it's all well and good, but every person in the United States doesn't have a microchip embedded inside them." She was amazed she’d even been aware enough to think of it in her condition.

    He laughed in derision, as if he thought her silly to even ask the question. "There is another way to stop it, of course. It's simple as simple can be." He toyed with the little patch of hair under his chin again and continued, "All you have to do is eat some mud. Mud counteracts the whole DNA of the virus. Except for you, that is. If I activate the chip inside you, only the original antidote will work because you’re the host.”

    "Then why would you need to make an antidote from your own DNA that would make you and your family immune?" Her head was becoming fuzzy again, and she squeezed her eyes, trying to concentrate enough to put her thoughts in order.

    "Accidents happen, Ms. Petersen. What if I died after the virus was executed, and no one but me knew mud counteracted it? I don't want my whole bloodline wiped out. I never intended to infect any person with the host virus. I was going to infect a monkey as the original host until Jackson stole the thumb drive and refused to return it. If I’d gotten it back, you wouldn't be here right now with a microchip inside you that's going to be responsible for wiping out everybody in this city, and maybe even the whole country." He moved in agitated anger.

    "If you’re going to kill me because Jackson refused to give you the thumb drive, why am I still alive?"

    "Do I have to spell everything out to you? I trained him, Ms. Petersen. If I taught him anything, it was to make sure he has back-up documentation for everything he does..." He trailed off, waiting to see if she picked up his train of thought.

    "You mean you think he copied the thumb drive." While she was lying on what would most likely be her deathbed, mental pictures of the children were flashing before her eyes. It left her feeling sad and anguished. Jackson was the last to trail through her thoughts, but his image dissipated when Jacob Walsh interrupted.

    "That's exactly what I think, and what you better hope." He flipped his phone open, pushed a button, and waited for the person whom he called to answer.

    "Colonel Walsh! Where are you?" Jackson asked.

"I'm at your house Jackson. You might want to turn around and come back home."

    "Why would I want to do that?" He knew the colonel must have a reason to call him, and goose bumps appeared on the skin of his arms.

"Tell Jackson why he should come back home." He pulled her head up by the hair.

    Amy winced and said, "Jackson, it's me. You’ve got to come back. He infected me with the virus." Jacob grabbed her by the hair again and yanked hard.

    "Jacob, what have you done?"
    "I've done what needs to be done. This whole country is messed-up. They're immoral and selfish and I'm going to stop them."

    "Why have you infected Amy? She's done nothing to you. Why did you involve her in this?"

    "You refused to give me what belongs to me. I know you Jackson. I know you made a copy. Either you bring it to me, or there won't be anything left of your girlfriend but a greasy stain."

    "What happened to you, colonel? I thought you loved this country and the freedom it represents."

    "I love what this country used to be, son, not what it is now. In case you haven't noticed, the only 'freedom' this country stands for is that of the low-lifes. I'm going to change that, though," he finished on a maniacal laugh.

    Amy yelled at Jackson, hoping he would hear her from her position on the bed. "Mud is the antidote for everyone but me, Jackson. I can't be cured unless you saved the data on that drive. The host virus is in me, Jackson!" Amy screamed before Jacob walked over and stuffed a pillow over her face until she passed-out.

    "I'm coming Colonel Walsh, don't do anything to her. I'll bring you the copy." He knew he couldn't hand over the drive, but it would give him time to devise a new plan.

    "Good decision son, she's a good-looking gal." Colonel Walsh told him before hanging up the phone.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sorry this is late...



           This is my beloved Cave Run Lake in Morehead, kentucky. I didn't take this picture.








Chapter Twenty-Eight ~


    Scott was worried about Jackson, Otis and Jude, not to mention Amy. They hadn't returned and he'd received no call. Angie and Benji were being little angels, and Teenie only woke up when she was hungry, or needed to be changed.

    "Uncle Scott, when will Mamie be back?" Angie asked tiredly as she sat on the couch beside him while he rocked Teenie.

     Benji climbed up on his other side and laid his curly, dark-haired head on Scott's chest.

    Scott turned on a cartoon and tossed the remote on the table. He got up to put Teenie in the bassinet and was settling down in an easy chair when his phone rang. He didn't bother to look at the name or number. He assumed it was Amy or Jackson. "It's about time you called me..."

    "Are you serious? You were supposed to call me back."

    "Michelle? I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else."

    "There's no doubt, or you wouldn't have answered the phone."

    Scott laughed in spite of her rudeness. He missed the banter. "Shelly I'm sorry. I've been really busy."

    "You've been so busy you can't find time to call the girl who’s madly in love with you?" Her tone was light-hearted, but he knew it was anything but. The girl was in love with him, and that's one of the reasons he'd been avoiding her. The other was that she didn't know who he really was. She didn't even know his real name.

    "I really have been busy, not that I would expect you to believe me. What did you need?"

    "I didn't need anything, Jorgy. I just wanted to hear your voice.”

    "I'm truly sorry Michelle, but I really can't talk right now." He sucked in a breath, keeping the yearning inside.

     As he was getting ready to hang up, Angie said in her little-girl voice, "Don't you like her Uncle Scott?"

    Scott tried to cover the earpiece with his hand, but it was too late. The little girl had unknowingly blown his cover.

    "Jorgy, who do I hear talking? I know you don't hang around anybody that has kids, and who is Scott?" Michelle asked on the other end. "Well, nobody with kids but me."

    "How is Elijah?" He knew he was opening a can of worms, but he needed to try to avert her attention.

    "Your son is perfectly fine, not that you'd know, you never come to see him."

    "Michelle, I don't want to go into it right now, okay? I really have been busy, that's the reason I haven't called."

    "Let me guess, you met someone, she has a kid, and she needed a babysitter? How close was that?"

    Scott felt remorseful. He knew if circumstances had been different, he would have a real relationship with her. But their relationship had been built on a lie, and he'd ended it before she could get too nosy. He didn't know if he could trust her if she found out he was an undercover agent. Her brother was the leader of the 'Streetwise Thugs.' Scotty had infiltrated the gang through him. "Michelle, can I call you back later?" He was expecting her to throw a fit, but she didn’t.

    "I guess so. I'll talk to you later."

    "Bye Shelly, I'll call you soon." He clicked the end button and shoved the phone in his front pocket.

    "Was she your girlfriend?" Angie asked curiously.
    "Now where would you even come up with an idea like that?" The child had amazing insight for her age.

    "I watch TV, you know."

    "Wow, you watch TV?" Scott laughed and tickled her a time or two. "You've learned a lot in such a short time." He got up and went to the kitchen. He needed to call Jackson and find out what was going on. He was worried about his sister. The last few days had brought home the enormity of giving his sister up for a job, and he yearned for a true relationship with her.

    He pushed Jackson's name on his contact list and waited for him to answer.

     "Hello? Is this Scott?"

    "Yeah, it's me. What's going on? I haven't heard from you and when I tried to call earlier, it went to voicemail."

    "Amy was beat up pretty badly Scott, but she's okay."

    "Are you sure? Of course you are… Did you get the thumb drive?”

    "No, we caught the mastermind though. It was my boss, but he escaped. We also got the scar-faced guy. He didn't get away. Otis wants us to go to his headquarters, but I don't think we will."

    "I know you're worried about Otie Jack, but honestly, he would never harm anyone unless they threatened his life, or the lives of the people he loves."

    "I'm hope you're right. My credibility is in rags. I didn't suspect for a minute my boss was the man we were after. I was giving him every plan we put in place."

    "I wouldn't worry about it, Jack. Nobody else caught it, either. He’s very good.”

    "Amy needed to go to the hospital, but I sent her to a private place I know down there. It's in the next town over. We're getting ready to come that way. Do you need us to bring anything?"

    "I'm going to say something Jackson, and I want you to listen carefully, okay?"

    "Okay, I'm listening."

    "My sister's life and the lives of your own children are in your hands right now. Don't screw it up by losing sight of what's important. We have to find your boss so we can end this, you got me?"

    "I know, I understand. If I were in your place, I'd be worried right now, too. I'm really struggling with this. I've never been in love with the person I was protecting before."

    "Love is never easy Jackson, no matter the circumstances." Scott said sympathetically. "Just keep your wits about you.”

    "We're getting ready to leave. Do you need anything from the city?" Jackson was unaware he'd already asked.

    "Nope, I think I'm good."

    "Hey Scott, I need to tell you something."

    "What?”

    "I had just burnt the thumb drive and melted it into a little ball of plastic when I found out my boss escaped."

    "Oh no, they're gonna be so angry..."

    "I know, right? I had no idea he was loose, though. I thought it was over, and I wanted to make sure nobody, including our government, got their hands on it."

    "You know you're gonna have to pay the piper over that one Jack. The government wanted that thumb drive so they could duplicate the virus in order to make an antidote."

    "You know better than to think I would destroy the only one. I'm just hoping they'll fall for it."

    "Yeah, that’s a little optimistic."

                                              ***

    Jude walked up and asked Jackson, "Have you decided where we're going yet?"

    Jackson put his hand over the phone. "We're just gonna go back down south. That's where Amy really is, and I want to be with her. Besides, I don't trust Otis' people."

    "Do you trust Otis?" Otis asked as he walked up to where they stood.

    "I trust him with my life." Jackson said without hesitation, giving the older man a long look.

    He pulled his hand off the phone and said, "I gotta go. We'll see you in a few hours." He hit the end button and shoved the phone back into his pocket.

    "Are we ready to roll?" Otis asked.

    "Yeah, let me go get some cash from the office first." Otis and Jude followed close behind him as he went to the office, and he smiled.

    He was getting ready to go in the door when a sound coming from Amy's room down the hall hit his ears. "Help, someone please help me!"

    The three men raced down the hall to Amy's room. Jackson pulled out a key card and slid it in the lock. The light flashed green for a second, and then clicked to the open position. Jackson went inside. Amos the hostage negotiator was handcuffed to Amy's four-poster bed. His arms and legs were stretched out so far he couldn't have slid his arms or legs up if he'd tried.

    "Amos, we were worried about you." Jackson rushed over to un-cuff the cop.

    "You mean you don't hate me for what I did?" He asked in surprise.

    "We know the kidnappers have your family. We don't know where they are, but we're on it."

    Amos had unshed tears in his eyes as the cuffs were taken off. "I’m glad you guys finally heard me. That ghastly man with the scar brought me up here last night. I was terrified he would kill me, but he didn't even try. He just brought me in here and cuffed me. I don't know what they wanted from me after the first abduction was a disaster, but I sure don't want to find out. I heard the girl screaming. It went on for about half an hour. I’m so sorry she had to go through what she did. Is she okay?"

    "Yes, she's gonna be fine, she's a scrapper." Jude said. "Do you have any idea where they may have taken your family? How many people are we looking for?"

    "They have my wife, son and daughter. My son's name is Adam, and my daughter's name is Emerald. They even took Sparky, our dog. He's a papered Chihuahua."

    "We know who most of the group is, so it shouldn't be too hard to track them down." Jude said.

    "Let's get back to your family. Do you have any idea where they may have taken them?" Otis asked.

    "We were coming back from Wednesday night Church meeting. We stopped at a four-way stop sign, and three cars hemmed us in. Sparky was with us because he had a vet appointment right before Church and we didn't have time to go home, so we took him with us. Anyway, men came from every direction and opened up our car doors. They put bags over our heads and pulled us out of the car and took us to what I would guess was a van. They threw us in, and the next thing I know, I was waking up in my car where I started from, minus my family. I don’t know where they took us."

"We're going to do everything we can to find them. We have at least one other family still missing." Jude said.

    "We need to get on the road. Let's take him with us." Jackson said.

    "Sounds like a plan to me." Otis chimed in. "let's stop and get something to eat on the way though, I'm starved."

    Jackson laughed, easing some of the stress. “I could eat a horse.”

    "I agree, and third that motion." Jude replied.

    "Are you sure I won't be an imposition on you guys and your investigation?" Amos asked.

    Jackson discerned his reason for asking and said, "You don't have to be afraid of us. Unless you're on the wrong side, of course."

    "Yeah, you don't want on his bad side, either." Jude said as he got in the front passenger seat. "Let me tell you about the time we got into a knock-down drag-out fight."

     He looked at each man, and then said, "It happened the first time we met. Jackson took an immediate dislike to me for some odd reason. I mean, I'm a great guy, right?" He grinned. At the groans from the other guys, he laughed and continued, "We were after this thug. He was in the 'Army' so Jackson automatically thought he had jurisdiction, but he didn't, I did. Well, he got so mad I had the audacity to challenge his right to authority he walked over and punched me in the face." He paused for effect and went on, "I punched him back, and we rolled around on the ground until our respective teams pulled us apart. I guess I stuck in his mind, because when he needed help, he called me. Now I consider him a friend, and I believe he considers me one, too."

    "Aw, that’s such a touching story." Jackson mimicked. "He forgot to tell you he was making faces at me like a two year old. That's why I hit him. I know it was wrong, but at the time I reacted without thinking. I'm sorry, Jude."

    "I'm sorry, too." Jude said. "Of course, I'm a Christian now, and wouldn't think of doing anything like that again."

    "Speaking of being a Christian..." Otis began, but was interrupted by Jackson.

    "What does it mean to be a Christian?" He asked Otis bluntly. They were in the car driving down the road, and Jackson looked at him through the rearview mirror.

    "First off, do you know who Jesus is?"

    "Yes I do. I know He is the Son of God, the Son of man, and our Lord and Savior."

    "You know He came to the world as a man so He could die for your sins, correct?" Otis asked.

    "Yep, I know that too. I also know salvation is a gift from God and there's nothing I can do to be saved. God has to call me. He has to enable me to hear him. He has to change me so I can respond to Him, and then He continually works through me and causes me to grow in sanctification and glorification of Him. I know that saying a prayer doesn’t ensure I’m saved because those who believe they have to say a pray to be saved are not only relying on the prayer and not God, they’re trying to usurp the work of God when He told us salvation was a free gift. It's all of Him and none of us." Jackson took a mouthful of air to catch his breath.

    "Wow man, it's awesome you know all that, so why aren't you saved?" Jude asked curiously.

Jackson pondered that question as they continued their journey south.