They were fortunate enough not to encounter any problems as they made pit stops along their two-hour journey. It was three o'clock once the three reached Southampton. Straightaway, Mack was in awe by the neighborhood as it was much more characteristically suburban than what he was used to seeing in New York. Still, the properties were enormous, which gave off the notion that the individuals residing there were wealthy.
Mack answered his phone after it rang the first few times, recognizing the drill of the routine check-in calls from his two colleagues. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah, we're good," Xander replied, his voice resounding throughout the amplifiers of Mack's vehicle.
Mack glimpsed up towards his rear view mirror and observed the Bugatti trailing behind him. The early stop that they made was still fixed inside his brain, so he needed to confirm that everything was okay. "How's Jade?"
"She's drained. I let her take a little rest." From his own automobile, Xander gazed over towards the passenger seat where he perceived Jade leaned off to the side with her knees drawn up to her chest, sound asleep.
"We should be pulling up to Brie's house fairly soon," Mack updated, watching onward at the path ahead. He was unsure of what to anticipate, but he was ready for any revelations he would possibly come to face in the next few minutes.
The delight within the community was unlike its urban counterpart. It was easygoing, and it presented a more stress-free ambiance than New York City did. Being that it was neighboring the ocean and that sky-high towers were nowhere to be found, that took the edge off of Mack's habitual apprehension.
Mack was shocked when the address he entered into his navigation system carried him to a mansion that was safeguarded by an elevated and widespread gate. He pulled up to the gate then set his vehicle into park, stepping out to devise a way to cross the threshold.
Xander followed suit, wakening Jade before he made his way out of his coupé and came within reach of the barrier.
Mack caught sight of a mechanical box that gave the impression of being a direct way in, but as soon as he flipped the cover upwards, it wasn't a code that was required for admittance into the estate but a thumbprint.
"Looks like this place has been on heavy surveillance," Xander pointed out, sustaining his eyes up towards the lamppost that was mounted in front of the gate.
When Mack drew his attention up, he identified a miniature security camera implanted on the bulb of the post. He was enthralled by how Xander discerned something that would've taken a regular person strong concentration and a divergent approach to detect.
Mack positioned his thumb on the fingerprint pad, hoping for the best. He didn't take into consideration any alarm systems that could go off if his strategy was unsuccessful, but he was either going to take this gamble or they had to take difficult route in.
As luck would have it, Mack's fingerprint was enough to prompt the gates to draw open. The fences slid apart progressively as the eyes of Mack, Jade, and Xander broadened, not believing that their entry was going to come that easy.
"Welcome, John Mackenzie," the voice within the gate system greeted in a monotonous, machinelike voice.
Stunned expressions pervaded all three of the associates' faces as they seized a moment to regard the manor that stood beyond the boundary.
Mack was the most astounded out of all, releasing his jaw at the sight of the grand residence, conjecturing how his niece even met the expense of the home and why she never allowed anyone into this lifestyle that she breathed.
The household was gray and made of wood like most residential homes. The only factor that made it appear prominent among the other traditional homes was that it was substantial in size.
Mack began to suspect how his fingerprint was able to tap into Brie's security system when he had never physically travelled to the place himself. Did she prepare everything in dread of her future?
"Let's get inside." Xander strode back into the driver's seat of his car, preparing to put it in drive.
It took Mack a few moments to become conscious of his daze, but he ultimately moved back into the Spyder.
The two vehicles drove into the property, and the gates fastened behind them with a slam. Whether they were welcomed or not was up for debate, but so much inquisitiveness was enough for the three of them to take the trip in the first place.
Entering the mansion itself was intimidating, given that the home was grander than anyone had predicted it to be. It was most daunting for Mack because only a number of days ago, he assumed that his niece worked in public relations and not for his malevolent former friend.
Mack was the first to step through the massive front door but the last to move upon entering. Judging on the primary glance at Brie's home, it was surreal for him to even fathom her secreted life and all that she was capable of doing.
"I say we locate the room that houses all of those security cameras and investigate whatever footage there is," Xander proposed, stepping towards the first extensive hallway and looking towards the end of it.
"We should start now," Jade commenced, browsing around the interior of the residence and making an effort to take in its entirety. "For all we know, it could take hours."
"Then we'll split up." Xander peered about the place, beginning to communicate his next thought. "I'll check the back; JB, you check this level; Mack, you check the upper floor. Just keep an eye out for anything dubious."
When all was understood, the three of them proceeded to their selected areas and initiated searching for anything that could be of value.
On the lower floor, Jade rummaged through any drawers and cabinets she could come across. In the kitchen, she only got ahold of a load of electric and water bills, along with paper work and advertisement flyers.
There were more than a few rooms to inspect thoroughly, and she couldn't rush though and miss anything that could be considered beneficial. The entire place was mostly impeccable and orderly which made her quest a bit more complex.
Mack hastened up the steps to the second floor. There were minor passageways that had multiple rooms for him to explore, and to do so, he had to make his way around the railing of the staircase once he was on the highest level.
He strolled down each minute corridor as he pushed each and every door wide open with a slight tap. There were nothing but several guest rooms, bathrooms, and closets as far as he had recognized.
He eventually reached the master bedroom which was the most profligate room of all. From the entrance way, he saw the bed, faultlessly made with the pillows arranged. On the opposite wall, there was a TV placed right above a fireplace that still had the fresh smell of wood. To Mack's right, he saw the doors that led out to the terrace.
Everything looked as if it was the way it should've been, but Mack knew for a fact that that wasn't the case. He made his way towards the terrace and watched outwards onto the deck, not sensing anything that seemed out of the ordinary.
"Mack, Xander found something!" Jade shouted from below.
Mack hurried down the stairs where he observed Jade standing by the sliding doors in the dining room that led out to the courtyard. She permitted him to exit first as she glided the doors shut and followed.
Once outside, the pool was in view as well as the tennis court that was placed right behind the pool area, separated by an assortment of plants.
"You need to see this," Xander stated, situating by the entry of a shed that was sited in the far right corner of the yard.
Mack controlled his breath upon going in. He was overwhelmed when he learned that the inside of the shed was unlike its appearance on the outside.
The interior was loaded with an array of flat screens as it exhibited the feeds of the cameras that were placed throughout the residence. The shed was appropriately lit and air conditioned as the metallic floors and walls made each and every step any of them took to be a bit noisy.
"This is all live?" Jade asked, shifting her attention from screen to screen. Every single area of Brie's house was under immense observation, extending from the pool to the bathrooms.
"Yeah," Mack breathed, bewildered by the sight himself. He dragged an office chair out and sat himself down, wheeling himself closer to the desk set in front of all the screens.
Mack pulled out the drawer that contained the keyboard and mouse. The first step was to hack his way into the system so that he could survey whatever footage was on the desktop computer. Soon enough, he was in.
Jade and Xander made their way behind the chair Mack was settled on, examining the computer screen as he applied his talents. They both elevated their brows in an effort to express their admiration at Mack's skills.
"Is this the part where you tell us you're a developer for Oracle or something?" Xander jested, impressed by Mack's technical abilities.
"No." Mack was in no mood to chat, so Xander was left to focus on the computer screens once again.
Mack went through what he could on the system, browsing through folders of surveillance tapes and opening the ones he considered worthwhile.
"These cameras are on twenty four hours a day, seven days a week," Mack specified, still scanning through a horde of the archive tapes.
"Check Tuesday's log," Jade advised, resting her hand on the head of the office chair while still retaining her eyes on the monitor.
Mack hesitated for a second and thought about that day as he recalled the moment he received that unforgettable phone call from his niece. He had to understand what had happened, so he took a deep breath and began to seek out Tuesday's surveillance footage.
After a few moments, he came across the folder that contained what they were all looking for. He sorted through each and every itemized file, hovering over every individual one to reveal the exact time each one was saved.
"What time did I leave the hospital that afternoon?" He enquired, not rotating his head to face who the query was directed towards.
"I checked you out at 1:15 pm," Jade replied, drawing her eyes towards him but not getting the same gesture in return.
Mack drifted his mouse over various files after presuming where the exact footage could've relatively been located. Bingo, he thought once the right one was uncovered.
He moved the mouse onto the file, but he faltered as he was nearly about to double-click onto it. What he was about to see could appear unspeakable in his eyes, and he didn't feel as prepared as he thought.
"You don't have to do this," Jade chimed in, looking down at Mack once again. He wasn't ready, and she knew that for a fact. The least she could do was save him the trouble and watch the tape herself.
"No," Mack declared, tightening his grasp onto the mouse as his eyes persisted ahead. "I got this."
After inhaling a deep breath, Mack double-clicked onto the video file, and all of the scenes from that hour projected onto the display of plasma screen TVs on the back wall.
Every single camera feed was there in front of their eyes. They just had to know where to look.
The corner of the screens categorized the feeds as Tuesday's, starting from 12:30 pm and going beyond.
"Your dad should be here by now."
All of their eyes drew up at the monitor that was front and center. The voice belonged to none other than Brie. The video showed her inclined on her forearms on the kitchen island as she conversed with her son who was seated on one of the stools with a plate of food placed in front of him.
From the camera angle, Brie's face was in full view while Ace's back was the only thing they could see from him.
"Mom, I don't want to go home. I want to stay here with you." Ace's voice echoed within the shed, sending chills down everyone's spine.
"Baby, I would love it if you stayed here. But I have to go to work, and only your dad is able to look after you."
Mack felt his lip quiver as he watched his family exchange a few words. It felt pleasant to observe them in their ordinary lives since he hadn't seen the both of them in so long. Still, it was bizarre knowing that things weren't as normal as they had appeared.
The doorbell rang as Brie glanced out towards the front before standing upright, getting ready to walk out.
"I'll be right back, honey. That's probably him."
Brie left the room as the eyes of the three colleagues followed her from camera to camera. She went up to the front door and looked out through the peephole of the door. Just from that, it was palpable that the peephole itself had a camera rooted into it.
Brie first turned the small lock that was located on the doorknob. Then she moved onto the deadbolt lock, slid the security chain, and lastly, glided the latch lock to unbolt the front door.
"I'm so sorry I'm late again, Brie." The voice came from a tall man with dark hair. He wore a simple black t-shirt with a pair of jeans and flip flops. His left hand was shoved into his pocket while his other hung by his side.
"This is the third time you've showed up late within the past two weeks, Aaron. Unlike you, I have to go to work," Brie snapped, marching back into the kitchen where Ace was still settled.
Mack pressed his lips together at the sight of Brie's ex-husband. He wasn't the slightest bit shocked at the behaviors exhibited since he was so acquainted with them.
"Ace, your dad is going to take you home now." Brie paced over to the kitchen counter and snatched her bag before heading back to give her son a kiss. "Be good for me, okay?"
"Aw, I don't want to go yet. Can't I stay a little longer?" Ace turned his body so that he was facing in a direction where Mack, Jade, and Xander could perceive his profile. He was now facing Aaron, displaying a pout in an attempt to convince his father to let him stay.
"Ace, your mom has to go to the office now. C'mon." Aaron held his arm out, signaling his son to come up by his side.
Brie gave one last smirk to her son before embracing him for the final time. "I love you, Ace."
"I love you too." Ace pushed himself off from the stool and jogged up towards Aaron who then held his son by his side, striding towards the door.
From the monitor to the left, the camera viewpoint of the driveway was visible. Aaron opened the front door as Ace dashed out towards a parked red 2015 Buick LaCrosse.
The child opened the car door and sat himself in as he buckled his safety belt. His father followed out, unsealing the door into the driver seat and starting up the engine so that the air conditioning would kick in.
"Brie, if you're ever free, we should all get together," Aaron put forward, standing by the driver seat door that remained ajar.
Brie positioned herself by the entry of her home with her arms crossed, glowering at Aaron as if he had just recommended something awful. "You know I can't do that."
"You're right." Aaron's face went dismal as he nodded, agreeing that maybe the idea wasn't the greatest after all. The tension between the two was still powerful, but he wanted to have at least one decent moment for Ace. "If you ever want to spend some time together for the sake of our son, I would be willing to arrange something."
Brie pursed her lips, and a small beam escaped soon after. She knew that Ace wanted to see her and Aaron together as a family again, but there were things about her that they both were better off not being a part of.
Her ex-husband gave her one last smirk before situating himself into his vehicle and driving off. Brie stood at the doorway for a little while before returning into her home and bolting her doors shut.
She made her way into the kitchen and proceeded into the stack of documents that rested on the countertop. She sorted through the papers, clearly probing for something in particular.
Before she was able to find what she had been searching for, her phone buzzed within her pocket. Brie removed the cellular device and checked the caller ID before answering.
"Hi, Abby… Yeah, Ace just left the house with Aaron… Nothing's come up yet, so I should be able to make it tonight…"
Eventually she stumbled across a piece of paper and fixed her eyes on it. The deep concentration on her face appeared to last a lifetime even though it was merely a few fleeting moments.
"Hey, Abs. I'm so sorry, something just came up."
The voice on the other line was unmistakably upset as her friend shouted with displeasure.
"I know I'm such a terrible friend… Look, I'll reschedule the dinner, and I'll get it all taken care of. I just have to meet someone… Okay, talk to you later."
I just had to meet someone… Brie's words echoed in Mack's head. Who was she meeting? What made it so important that she had to cancel her plans?
That was when Mack paused the video and judged each TV screen to decide which one would give him the best view of what Brie was looking at. When he finally concluded on the one that he thought to be the most convenient, he zoomed into the footage as much as he could.
- . . - / .- - / -. .-. .- -. -.. / -.-. . -. - .-. .- .-.. / - . .-. - .. -. .- .-..
"Morse code," Jade distinguished, assessing the dots and dashes without blinking as mystification engulfed her expression. She understood that the message had to be of benefit if it was inscribed in a way that most people would not understand without special equipment.
"Anyone have a pen and paper?" Mack queried, not removing his eyes from the screen. Both of his colleagues presented him what he requested, and he got right into decoding the message without any delay.
Jade peeked over to Xander who returned the motion, solely nodding his head. She compressed her lips and concentrated down at the sheet of paper while Mack deciphered the symbols, one by one.
Within a minute, the whole message was decrypted. Mack eyed each and every letter to validate that he had deciphered the memo appropriately. When he read over the directive, he was stunned at what it stated.
Meet at Grand Central Terminal
It was beginning to grow dark as the sun began to set. It had been four hours since they arrived in Southampton, and nothing was how they thought it would be.
Xander was knocked out on the couch as Jade came over and draped a blanket over him. She closed the laptop he had positioned on the coffee table and organized all of his paperwork before placing the stack tidily on top. Jade exhaled, recognizing that her friend was still the overachiever she knew back then.
She looked out towards the shed and couldn't see Mack making his way back into the house. She had to persuade him to take a rest for the night as she was certain that he was still viewing tapes.
From inside the shed, Mack wasn't watching security footage, but instead, he was viewing old family videos. The one that was presently playing in front of him was one at a family barbecue twenty years ago.
He observed footage of himself and his wife as well as Brie and her parents. There was nothing more satisfying than revisiting those blissful moments. He had no idea his niece had kept all of the home videos within her residence, but he was pleased that she did because he needed to be reminded that he had a purpose.
The door behind him brusquely came open, permitting whatever sunlight was left outdoors to shine into the shed. Mack pivoted around in his chair to glance at whoever had come inside, fearing that it could have been someone other than Jade or Xander.
"Relax, it's just me," Jade specified, closing the door behind her as she made her way over to where Mack was seated.
He hadn't removed himself from the chair since the minute he originally sat down. How could he leave after seeing so many unanticipated things, things that he didn't even know existed?
Jade handed Mack a cup of tea as she uttered, "Here."
Mack seized the glass and articulated his appreciation before turning back to the center screen and pressing play on the family video to continue his viewing.
Jade grasped that moment to inspect the footage herself, acknowledging how much family meant to Mack. Now that he had no one who was blood-related to him and currently alive, all he could do was recollect.
"Did you see how paranoid she was?" He wondered in reference to Brie, taking a sip of his drink then setting its container down on the desk in front of him.
"Yeah," Jade began, placing her hand on the head of the chair once again. "But what can you do?"
"I think you know the answer to that." Mack pressed his lips, rotating towards the side and stopping momentarily before locking eyes with Jade.
"What do you think you're going to find?" Jade raised her eyebrow, struggling to make out Mack's master plan. "How do you know this isn't all a set up?"
"How do you know that it is a setup?" Mack retorted. "Look, you and Xander don't have to come with me. You both have helped me out enough already."
"If you think I'm just going to let this opportunity go to waste, you're wrong. I won't stop until Donnie is dealt with."
"I promise you, I will do whatever it takes to make him pay for all that he's done." Mack meant his words. Donnie had played him so many times that there was no way he was going to stop when he had gotten this far.
"I need to have a part in this. Donnie is my problem just as much as he is, yours."
There was a short-lived pause as Mack understood that Jade was serious about this. If she wanted to come, that was up to her. He couldn't force her in case anything were to happen, even though he would do his best to prevent anything from transpiring.
"Okay," Mack started, giving into her decision. "We're leaving early tomorrow morning. Be prepared."
Jade gave one last nod before travelling back towards the door to leave the shed, but before she stepped out, she had one last thing to express. "Was this trip able to help you in one way or the other?"
"I didn't come here for help. I came here for permission."