"I never did care much for flying," Jo Johnson said absently as she gazed out the window of the chartered flight at the patterned ground below. "We're just so far off the ground." She turned toward him quickly, knowing what he was about to say. "Oh, I know what they say about it being safer to fly than to drive a car, but I think it's more to do with not being in control. And it is a long way down," she added, turning back to the window to view the ground, so far below.
Justin observed his wife's mother for a long moment, understanding that it was worry for Adrienne that kept her talking about inconsequential things. As long as she was talking about something else, it kept her from brooding about her daughter. "Well, I have a confession to make," he said. When she turned to face him again, he continued. "I don't care much for flying either. It's the fastest way to travel long distances, and so I fly, but I'd just as soon take my car."
She turned back to the window again. The landscape had changed from the flat plains to the rolling green hills, and they both knew they were not far from their destination.
"We haven't heard anything from Bo," she mused.
"There's probably nothing new to report," he told her.
"That means she's still being held hostage," she said, worriedly.
He reached across the narrow aisle to grasp her hand. "We're going to get her back safe and sound," he promised. "Steve isn't going to let them harm her."
With a disappointed sigh, Adrienne disconnected the call and handed the cell phone back to Bo. "Still no answer," she said. "It's going directly to voice mail. What do you suppose is wrong?" she asked, worriedly. Restlessly, she stood up, abandoning the black vinyl bench she had been sharing with Bo. "Why isn't he answering?"
"I'm sure nothing's wrong," he replied, comfortingly. "Most likely, the battery is down on his phone."
That was probably true, and she gave a nod to acknowledge his comment, then turned and walked restlessly to the glass wall that ran from the floor to the ceiling of the airport terminal's lower level, where the private planes boarded. Directly above, drifting down the stairwell, she could hear the hustle and bustle of travelers as they walked along the concourse toward the commercial airline terminals, where they would board the tall planes through jetway arms.
Several times while they had waited, Bo had allowed her to use his phone in an attempt to call Justin to let him and her mother know that she was safe, but always it was the same; Justin's curt businesslike voice urging the caller to leave a message. She had left a message the first time, but he had not returned the call, indicating that he had not received the message. Normally, Justin was fastidious about keeping his phone battery charged, so that he was always available for his clients, but in the aftermath of her kidnapping, it was feasible that he might have forgotten.
Outside the window, a large jet taxied slowly along the tarmac toward the gate to which it had been assigned, and she looked at the passengers who were visible in the windows, wondering idly where they were from and where they had traveled. Then, with another heavy sigh, she turned her back to the window and glanced at the round clock on the wall. It was nearing 24 hours since her kidnapping from the parking garage, but it somehow seemed much longer. The distance she had traveled and the events she had endured seemed to have distorted the reality of time.
"It shouldn't be much longer," Bo told her, understanding her restlessness. "The last time I checked with the desk, they were only a few hundred miles out."
She moved closer to him, but instead of sitting down beside him again, she leaned back against the wall. Turning her head toward him, she said, "I want to thank you for coming here to pick up Mama and Justin. I know you would have preferred to be at the station while they question those guys about what they did to Steve."
Bo's pause was just long enough to confirm that he would have liked to be there, while they interrogated Carlton. As Steve's friend and brother in law, he had a vested interest in the mystery involving him and the Wyatt house. However, he would be briefed about it later, so he shrugged it off in a good natured fashion. "Roman and Shane have it under control, and they're recording everything, so it doesn't matter if I'm there."
"Well, I still appreciate it."
He smiled. "It's my pleasure. Really. It's nice to be a part of reuniting this family, especially after everything that's happened over the past fifteen years."
"Poor Steve," she said, sorrowfully. "As hard as it was for us to deal with losing him, I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for him, alive and being held against his will all those years, wondering about his family, missing his wife and daughter. That is just such a cruel thing to do. How could anyone be so mean?"
"I don't know. Criminals aren't really known for having a conscience. They tend to think only of themselves and what they can get out of it."
She fell silent for several moments, watching the planes moving slowly to and from the runway, pondering the mystery of her kidnapping and the greater mystery of Steve's kidnapping and the reasons behind it.
"Why was Steve taken to England?" she wondered aloud.
"Several reasons, we think. It was an I.S.A. drug that was used on him, so it required someone familiar with the drug and its effects to bring him out of it," Bo replied. "And they were using I.S.A. equipment to secure him. That's the best explanation we can come up with."
"If they were searching for information about the house, why was Steve considered the key?" she wondered aloud. "I mean, Kayla lived there too, but they made no attempt to kidnap her until after Steve's escape, and even then, if they had succeeded, it was only to make him talk, not because they thought she had the same information. Why did they think he alone knew the answer they were seeking?"
"That's actually a good question, because she knows everything about the house that he does. Both of them have stated that. We're hoping that Vaughn may have the answers we need to close this case. Most importantly, we need to know the name of the mastermind, the person who put this all together."
"Whoever he is, he must be awfully smart to have kept this from us for so long."
"Smart and very rich to keep this going so long. The kicker is," Bo said, "whatever it is this person wants, it may not be in that house at all, but in the Matthews house in Virginia."
"How could they know about the Wyatt house but not the Matthews house?"
"Another good question for which we have no answer. But we will get to the bottom of it, I assure you."
"It's just all so strange," Adrienne said. "I mean Steve's just an ordinary guy from the Midwest. I know he did some questionable things in his past, but I just can't imagine how they could possibly think he knows anything about what they're looking for. They should be looking for the descendants of the house's previous owners, shouldn't they?"
"I know," Bo agreed. "It doesn't make any sense. But Shane has sent some agents out searching for the Matthews' house. Once they find it, maybe the components of this mystery will start falling into place."
As he turned back to the windows, he saw the lean private jet, gleaming white in the sunshine, as it taxied into view, dwarfed by the size of the 727 at the neighboring jet way.
"That should be it," he said, rising from the bench.
Adrienne's heart leaped in anticipation, and she pushed herself away from the wall and followed Bo to the door to wait. Non personnel and those who were not arriving or departing passengers were not permitted on the tarmac, part of the high security that had been in place since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, so she did not open the door, even though she very much wanted to rush outside to greet them. As a police detective, Bo would have had the authority to do so, but out of consideration for her, he remained inside, and they watched as the plane came to a complete stop.
Through the plane's large windshield, they could see the pilot at the controls as he powered down the small jet, then he removed his headset and stood up. Turning toward the rear, he then disappeared from view. Past experience on small jets when she occasionally accompanied Justin on his business trips, she knew there were no flight attendants, leaving it to the pilot or co-pilot to open the passenger exits.
A few moments later, half of the hatch door folded up, the other half folded down to form the exit stairs, and Justin came into view, so handsome in his jeans and casual polo shirt that he still took her breath away. With two small suitcases in his hands, he trotted nimbly down the steps, then stopped at the bottom and after setting the bags down on the tarmac, he reached up toward the hatch, offering his hand to assist his mother in law.
Adrienne's heart seemed to expand with love for her husband and his consideration and affection for her mother. Jo, she knew, regarded him as the best son-in-law that any woman could hope to have, and he in turn seemed to adore her.
Jo took his steadying hand and made her way down the steps with more caution than Justin had used, but her worry for her daughter's safety was evident in her nervous and anxious countenance.
When she reached the bottom, Justin gestured toward the terminal door, then picked up the luggage again, and together they moved toward it. Adrienne was desperate to wave to them, to relieve their obvious worry by attracting their attention, but the tinted glass that protected the interior from the blazing summer sun also prevented them from seeing her. Her image was merely an unidentifiable shadow from their perspective, and she felt annoyed that she couldn't simply open the door and walk out to greet them.
"I know, it's frustrating," Bo said, understanding her agitation.
"Mama looks so worried," she lamented. "I wish someone would open this door!" she added, giving a nearby security guard a pointed stare.
"Think how happy she'll be to see you," Bo said.
The security guard who had been standing attentively at the bottom of the escalators had been watching the progress of the two passengers approaching the terminal on foot, and as they neared the door he finally unlocked and opened it. Instantly, the small waiting area was assaulted by the loud whine of airplane engines from the commercial flights waiting at the jet ways for passengers and the roar of a jet speeding down the runway. The smell of jet fuel permeated the air with a pungent odor.
Unable to wait any longer, Adrienne stepped into the doorway where they could see her. "Mama! Justin!"
Relief swept across their faces, and Justin jogged ahead to take her into his arms for the anticipated embrace, dropping the two bags at his feet.
"I was so worried about you!" he exclaimed. Pulling back from the embrace, his eyes examined her critically. "Are you all right? Did they hurt you?"
"I'm fine," she assured him. "Thanks to Bo and Roman. I'm just a little tired is all."
After a final squeeze and a kiss, Justin released her to her mother, who hugged her tightly, fighting back the tears of joy and relief.
"I'm so glad you're safe!" Jo said, her voice thick with emotion.
"It's okay, Mama," Adrienne said, her voice muffled against Jo's shoulder, which she was patting affectionately. "I'm fine."
While his wife greeting her mother, Justin turned to Bo and offered his hand. "Thanks for getting her back safely. You don't know how much it means to me. To us," he added with a glance toward Jo.
Bo shook his cousin's hand warmly. "Well, Adrienne gets a huge portion of the credit for her rescue for herself. That was one of the easiest take-downs and hostage recoveries that we've ever done. She recognized the location where she was being held, and when we demanded to talk to her as part of the negotiations, she was able to provide us with a clue without tipping off the kidnappers."
Jo squeezed her tighter for a moment, then released her. At the same time, Justin caressed her cheek with his hand. "I'm so proud of you."
"I tried to call on your cell phone to let you know I was safe, but it kept going into voice mail."
Justin withdrew his cell phone to examine it, confirming that the battery had exhausted its power. "I'll be damned. I must have forgotten to put it on the charger last night. I was so worried about you, I never even thought about it."
"Happens to me all the time," Bo said with a smile, then gestured toward the bags at Justin's feet. "So, is this all the luggage you brought with you?"
"Yes. We just threw some things together in case we needed to be here a few days."
"I hope you brought me a change of clothes," Adrienne said. "If not, I'm going to have to find a store to buy a few things. I've been wearing this same outfit since yesterday morning, and it isn't even one of my favorites!"
They laughed at her humor, but Justin nodded, "I brought both of us several changes of clothes, anticipating that you would want something else to wear once we got you back."
Jo could wait no longer. "Is it true? Is it really true that Steve is alive?"
"It's true, Mama. He looks wonderful!"
"It's true," Bo added at almost the same time. "Considering everything he's been through, I would have expected him to be worse for wear, but other than being a bit malnourished and out of shape, he looks just about like he did before."
"Kayla will take good care of him," Jo stated.
"She already is," Bo agreed.
"Where are the boys?" Adrienne asked. "They didn't come with you?"
"No. They're worried about you, but I figured a hostage situation was no place for four boys their age. I parceled them off to friends along with a stern warning about behavior. I need to call them to let them know you're safe."
"You can call from the safe house," Bo suggested. "We'll find a cord for your phone, or you can borrow one of ours."
Reaching out, Bo took Jo's luggage, and they rode the escalator up to the main level, then followed the flow of passengers toward the main entrance, bypassing the luggage carousel.
"It feels wonderful to be back in Salem," Jo said as they stepped through the door into the open air. "I loved living here, but after what happened with Steve, I never thought I'd come back here again."
"To be honest, neither did I," Adrienne agreed. She shuddered, remembering those horrible days of her brother's death and funeral, followed by the devastating events of her mother's temporary insanity and incarceration.
"Well, we're not going to dwell on all of that," Jo said, refusing to be drawn into the pain of the past. "Steve is alive, and that's all that matters!"
With the interview wrapped up and Carlton back in his cell, Shane left it up to Roman and his people to conduct the preliminary interviews with Jennings and Harding. Steve had been absolutely correct about Carlton, and the wealth of information he had provided would wrap up his own case, so as soon as he returned to the Inn, he placed a phone call to Thiessen.
"It's Carroll," he said as soon as his supervisor answered.
He could almost see Thiessen flinch in the brief pause that followed. "Bob?" he asked, incredulously. "Are you absolutely certain about that?"
"That's the name Carlton gave me. And I must add that he volunteered the information before I even asked him about it. I have no reason to doubt him."
"I just can't believe it could be Bob," Thiessen mused, very troubled and clearly upset by the information. "He's been a trusted agent for many years."
"Think about it, Dennis," Shane said. "His security clearance gives him access to the device vault. And his high security clearance also means that he isn't watched as closely as lesser agents. No one would think twice about seeing him going into the vault, especially if he was legitimately checking out other items at the same time. When you asked me to look into the matter, you knew it was almost certainly someone high up in the organization."
Thiessen sighed, heavily. "I know. It's just that I have long considered this man a friend. He was probably at the very bottom of my list of suspects. This disappoints me greatly."
"It's always a disappointment when a good agent goes bad," Shane agreed.
"Hell, I had lunch with him just yesterday! He was probably sitting across the table from me laughing about the fact that he has gotten away with this for so long!"
"Well, I don't know about that. You said the devices were most likely stolen years ago," Shane reminded him. "You said yourself that you only became aware of the missing items because they were being recalled do to upgrades. He probably hasn't even thought that much about them recently. He's confident he got away with it, and has moved on to other things, assuming that if the disappearances become known, it'll have happened long enough ago to diffuse any suspicions toward him."
"Yes, you're probably right. I'll notify security to bring him in for questioning. Did you get any other useful information out of this Carlton fellow?"
"We're still processing the information he gave us regarding the Steve Johnson kidnapping, but yes, it appears he will be a major contributor to bringing this event to a close."
"So, the Americans were agreeable with the concessions you made on his behalf?"
"They're more than agreeable. In fact, they're giving us completely jurisdiction over him as compensation for his testimony. They do expect him to return to the United States for trial, but other than that, he's our responsibility."
"That will be no problem," Thiessen confirmed. "I'm sure you can see that he arrives for trial when the time comes." He paused briefly, and Shane could hear some papers being shuffled in the background. "By the way, I had intended to tell you this a few days ago, had you kept in touch with us better. I sent some men up to Loughborough to search the general area this Johnson fellow said he had been kept, and we found a house that is without a doubt the place. There were I.S.A. alarms on all the exterior doors, an I.S.A. identification keypad, and other various sensors and alarms. It'll take them a few days to dismantle everything."
"I don't suppose they apprehended any additional suspects," Shane said.
"No, I'm afraid the place was deserted. They had a good look around and found the rooms in which Johnson was held prisoner. He was given one room plus a small bathroom. Just bare necessities, they report. Cold and drab."
"Just like he described."
"I understand your interest in this matter, given that Johnson was your brother in law, so when you get back tomorrow you can look into these matters, even though they really have nothing to do with us or the stolen devices."
Shane tensed slightly, knowing that Thiessen expected him to be back in London the next day, now that the assignment was over. "No, I will be staying here for a while on a personal matter."
Thiessen was quiet for several moments, and Shane could sense the tension growing in that silence before he finally said, "I really can't spare you right now, Shane. There is still a lot of work to be done on this case. I want you to interview Carroll."
"I know it's a bad time, Dennis, but I must insist. I will handle as much of the current case out of the Salem offices that I can, but I won't be returning to England until my business here is finished."
"And how long will that be?"
"I don't know. As long as it takes, I guess."
"I could pull rank," Thiessen warned.
"I hope you won't do that, because it won't change my mind," Shane countered.
"Might I inquire as to what is so important that you would risk your career for it?"
"As I said, it is a personal matter, but one I should have been putting first from the beginning."
"And nothing I can say will change your mind?"
"I can't think of one thing you could say that would change my mind."
That statement said it all, and Thiessen knew his colleague was not bluffing. He would resign before he would back down. "Very well, then. If it was anyone but you, I would begin disciplinary measures, but if it's as important as you seem to think, I'll let it pass this time. Send me a detailed email describing everything that transpired."
Shane was not intimidated by the threat of discipline, but it did give him an idea of where he stood within the organization. Thiessen's thinly veiled warning was a reminder than, regardless of how high up he was in the organization, he did not have autonomy to come and go as he pleased.
"All right. I'll stay in touch." He did not thank his supervisor for the extended time, a detail that did not escape Theissen's notice.
Shane disconnected the call, and began composing his detailed email to Thiessen describing the information he had gleaned from Carlton.