Chapter eighteen ~
Jude ran up the road and jumped the barricade. He made it to the house about five seconds later. He went in the door and asked the first officer he ran into, "Where's the other perp? I came back to help."
"What other perp?" The officer looked confused. "I didn’t know there was another one.”
Realization dawned on Jude. Amos was the traitor. It must’ve been him all along. A sick feeling settled in his stomach. He'd never been that wrong about someone's character before. He would've sworn on the man's honor...Maybe someone was 'making' him be a turncoat.
It didn't matter at the moment, he had to find Amy. He turned and rushed back out the door, his cell phone in hand. "Yeah Harvey, track my car for me please. Yeah, someone took off in it, could you hurry?"
A couple minutes went by before Harvey said, "It looks like it's down the road from the Masters mansion. Are you close by?"
"Yeah, that’s where I'm at Harvey, thanks." He shoved the phone into the pocket of his suit pants and headed the way the techie had indicated. He saw the maid's cottage just off the gravel road. The thought of what he might find there had his heart pounding.
He saw his car sitting cock-eyed in the middle of the driveway, but no one was in it. Frustration immediately spread up his body. They’d been one step behind these guys through this whole mess. They must be trained in some kind of Special Forces.
He was beginning to believe whatever was on the stick drive really was a matter of national security. Why else would they be trying so hard to get it if it wasn't? He pulled his phone out and called headquarters. "Did we get an ID on the unknown perp from the Masters mansion? No, that's good, that's really good, thank you." He got into his abandoned car. Lucky for him, the keys were still in the ignition. He pulled out and called the hospital on the way. "Hello, could you put me through to Jackson Master's room, please? Thank you, yes I'll hold.”
A weak but conscious Jackson Masters croaked out, "Hello, is that you Jude?"
"Yeah it's me. Things haven't gone at all like we planned, but I finally got a lead."
"Arlo from swat just called me. You have to get Amy away from those people Jude. She isn't trained to withstand the kind of interrogation they'll put her through. Promise me..."
"Jackson, are you gonna tell me who these people are? I'd be better equipped to fight them if I knew who they were and what they're capable of. I know they're capable of kidnapping and murder, but what else can we expect, man?"
"You know if I could tell you, I would. I don’t know who it is. I've dealt with so many factions like this in my job it would take months to track down one specific cell. I know they're after the thumb drive, so I'm pretty sure they're terrorists linked directly to what's on it, but other than that, it’s up in the air."
"Can you give me an idea what's on the flash drive?"
"It's a matter of security, Jude. I know you understand that. I can tell you it has a very sophisticated plan of attack, along with a recipe for a deadly biological weapon."
"Where is the flash drive, Jackson?" Jude’s frustration was mounting at his newfound friend.
"I'll tell you what; the flash drive is in my house, just not in the safe where they think it is. I have to get out of this hospital, and I will as soon as I can find my clothes. I've got to get the drive to safety before these people manage to get their hands on it."
"You can't leave the hospital. Are you crazy? You just got shot."
"I have to find Amy. She didn't have anything to do with this, and I feel responsible.”
"You need to admit to yourself that Amy means more to you than just a nanny. You know, a lesser woman would've given in to the demands of the kidnappers, but she stood her ground, even in the face of death. There's more here than just employer/employee."
The frustration in Jackson's voice could be heard plainly when he replied, "I don't have a right to feel anything toward her. I don't even know her that well, and she has no idea who I really am. How do you tell someone you've come to care about that you're really a Special Forces marksman? She'll hate me.”
"Do you really think she's going to feel that way, man? She's done everything in her power to protect some secret she doesn't even know about. Give her some credit.”
"Well, the point might be moot. If they kill her..."
"I'm at the perp's mother's house, Jackson. Go to sleep and get some rest. Do not try to leave that hospital, and I mean it. I bet I can take you in the condition you're in right now, so you better do what I say. I'll call as soon as I know something."
As soon as Jude hung up, Jackson Masters sat up on the side of the bed and pulled out his IV. Getting dressed was a slow process, but he finally managed it.
He was leaving the hospital through a back entrance at the same time the dark-haired man was carrying Amy into a house in West Valley.
Jude got out of his car and knocked on the black, iron-barred door of the ratty-looking house.
An older woman finally answered the door after Jude knocked a couple more times.
"Yes, can I help you?"
"Ma'am, I'm Special Agent Jude Johnson with the FBI." He pulled his badge and flipped it out expertly.
"Oh my, what's Jimmy done now?"
Jude realized no one had informed her of her son's death, and resigned himself to the task. "I'm sorry to tell you your son was shot and killed this morning at the scene of a kidnapping, ma'am."
The look that came over the older woman's features wasn't one of surprise, but resignation. Huge tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. "I've feared this for so long. I loved him so much. But he wouldn't listen to a word I said.” She turned from the door and made her way to an ugly, blue-flowered easy chair in the living room. The TV was on and tuned into a popular soap opera. Sympathy for this poor, lonely old woman swept over him as he followed the worn out path to her chair.
"I'm sorry ma'am. It's never easy to lose a child, even when we know it can happen. Do you want me to get you a glass of water?" He spied a black-ringed coffee mug sitting on a cluttered end table, "Or a cup of coffee?"
"No thank you.” Tears continued to fall, but she seemed ready to talk.
"I was hoping you could give me some information."
"I'll do whatever I can to help. Who was he trying to hurt this time?"
"He was involved in an attempted kidnapping earlier this morning. He was shot by the police when he refused to drop his weapon. Again, I'm so sorry." He hated these scenes. There was no way he could take the death of his child this calmly.
A sob of mourning finally escaped, and she sobbed for a couple minutes before pulling a tissue from the box on the table beside her chair and wiping her eyes and nose. "I'm sorry, I tried my best not to cry in front of you, but I couldn’t contain it.”
"It's totally understandable, ma'am. What I wanted to ask was if you knew any of your son's friends, or maybe if he'd been hanging around some new ones lately." He reached over and handed her the stained coffee mug that had a drip or two left in it.
"Jimmy was always hanging around the wrong people. I tried to direct him, but it didn’t do any good. There was this one guy, he was scary-looking. All I can remember is he had black hair, and a big scar running from one side of his mouth to his chin."
"Which side of his mouth, ma'am?" He pulled out a little notebook, flipped it open and wrote the information down, and then waited for her to go on.
"Well let's see. I was looking at him, and it was on the left side, so it's actually on his right."
"Did he ever call the other guy by name, ma'am?"
"No, I don't think....wait. I think I remember Jimmy calling him Swami or Hami, or something like that."
"That helps tremendously ma'am."
Jude said thank you and left the woman's house in a hurry. He flipped his phone open as he walked to his car. When he got in, he was surprised by someone sitting in the passenger side. It was Jackson Masters, and his face was a mask of pain.
"You've got to be kidding me, man. I told you to stay in the hospital. How'd you even know I was here?" He was beginning to suspect Jackson knew more than he was letting on.
"Jimmy Ortega worked on my estate as a pool boy."
"Man, are all your employees involved in this thing?"
"Why on earth would you ask something like that?"
"Your maid was in on this. She turned the alarm off and let Pete in. We know he took her daughter and grandchildren as a way to force her to let him inside the house.”
"Oh no, poor Matilda, she must’ve been beside herself, not knowing what to do."
Jude was amazed Jackson didn't feel anger toward the woman, even knowing she'd been responsible for the kidnappers gaining access to his home. He was a fair man, and Jude's respectometer raised a couple notches.
"Maybe the pool boy gave them access to the maid. That would be a logical conclusion." Jude said, starting to put together at least part of the maniacal plan that had kicked-off this unfortunate set of events.
"I could just kick myself for putting my family in danger. I should've known they'd be watching me, and I led them right to my house and my children." Jackson’s voice was full of self-recrimination.
"How long ago did this take place?"
"It happened right before I hired Amy. That's when I brought the flash drive to the house. I hope I didn't show any personal interest in Amy in public that would cause them to use her against me."
"Man, you'd have to be blind as a bat not to see the interest you have in that girl. I've never even seen you together and I know it's there."
Jackson's face fell, and Jude sympathized. The man had been through a lot, for sure, but right now they needed to concentrate on finding the nanny.
"I've been running Amos through my mind, Jack. I'm usually a really good judge of character, and I never would've pegged him as the turncoat. Do you think maybe they took his family, too?"
"I wouldn't have believed it was him, either. Something caused him to turn traitor, and I don't think it was money." He finished with a sharp intake of breath.
"Man, you need to go back to the hospital. Why don't you let me take you?"
“That’s not going to happen.”
“I didn’t think so, but you need to go.” He turned the key over and pulled the car onto the road. They needed to go stakeout Jackson's house. It was pitch black outside, and worry for Amy filled his mind.