Arrivals and Interrogations

Hex's fingers flew in a frantic flurry over the tiny keys of his palmtop as he sat in the arrivals lounge of JFK airport. Weary looking passengers from across the world filed out of two small doors that belonged to customs. Hex had just cleared customs and now sat waiting for the other boy from England to make it through.

The hacker looked up as a harassed looking Alex made his way through the security gateway, lugging a sports bag and a smaller rucksack.

"Damn, it's a madhouse in there!" He commented exasperated.

"Yup.. the Yanks got the tightest security that's for sure." Hex agreed nodding sagely and sliding his palmtop back in its pouch.

"They even wanted to X-ray my palmtop."

Alex sighed in relief, glad to finally be out the other side.

"At least I remembered to put my knife in my checked luggage, I hate to think of the problems that might have caused."

"Yeah that's true, I think Amber would kill us if she found out we were going to be much later." Hex noted with a wisp of fear in his voice.

Alex chuckled remembering the expression on Hex's face back in Heathrow Airport when he told Amber that their flight had been delayed. The mixed look of fear and horror had gripped his face as he held the headset of his phone several feet away from his ear; saving it from the angry tirade of a woman's scorn. To his credit, he had calmed her down really well and after many quiet assurances, he managed to put the phone away with a much more opaque expression.

Hex had to use every trick and tactic he had learnt in all his years with Amber to stop her melting down on him big time when he broke the news. The girl's temper and scorn was something he handled on a day-to-day basis, it was the subtler undertone of disappointment that had cut the London boy to his core. Of all the things he knew for certain, the most important to him was that he never wanted to let Amber down. With that in mind, his stomach seemed to coil uncomfortably, he was feeling unusually edgy about this party and a small part of him didn't want to go at all.

It's not really my thing these posh parties, he thought to himself, dreading the high culture society and the feeling of inferiority it brought. It always served as a reminder of how different he and Amber were, seemingly to reinforce how much he didn't belong in her world. Thinking of their differences and the barriers between their worlds made Hex's stomach churn further, as if there was a knife in there being twisted.

Alex rescued the teen from his thoughts by pointing towards the bathroom.

"We should probably get changed before we leave."

He sensibly suggested, the forlorn look on his face suggesting that he too, was rather nervous about the event.

Indeed, Alex too was having second thoughts about the party; there was a certain someone there who he hadn't seen for about a month. If he was completely honest with himself, Alex would admit that lately he had been avoiding the girl who he had met six months ago in Egypt. But young men are very rarely honest with themselves and the turmoil in Alex's head often spilled over to his face.

What he wanted was clear, but the means of keeping it was far more complicated and an issue he had been hiding from for the last few weeks, as it weighed heavily on his mind.

The two friends quickly cleaned themselves up using the washbasins before quickly getting changed into their suits. The pair both wore similar black suits with matching black trousers and highly polished black leather shoes. They wore simple white pinstriped shirts underneath that were highly ironed and were worn with the top buttons done up.

Alex leaned into the mirror as he concentrated on securing a double Windsor knot with the silver tie he had chosen from his dad's collection. Beside him, Hex struggled with the emerald tie his mother had chosen for him from his meagre supply of formal attire.

The jacket seemed a bit tighter across the shoulders then Hex remembered and he started to flush with the effort of tying his tie and his embarrassment in the ill-fitting clothes. The suit had belonged to his father, but the absent figure obviously didn't need it anymore. He had left it in his closet along with a few other things, the day he had walked out on his family.

Alex turned to help his distraught friend before he choked himself to death.

"Here mate give me that." He offered helpfully, as he undid the shoddy mess that Hex had devised and made him something a little more respectable.

Alex was just pleased to have something to keep his hands busy as his anxiety increased the closer they were to leaving. He gave himself one last look in the mirror and was not displeased with what he saw; his lean frame was well supported by the jacket, which clearly displayed his wiry figure. Alex thought the jacket showed off his shoulders and chest nicely, which had developed in size significantly from his rigorous fitness regime over the last month.

He ran a hand through his hair in contemplation; it was much shorter then he had ever had it and his long fringe had been reduced to a short ridge of sand coloured hair. It looks much tidier, kind of cool, he concluded, agreeing with his father who had constantly teased him about his long hair.

Hex finished spiking his hair into short dark spires and the two friends stepped outside into the crisp night air to catch a taxi.

In her on suite bathroom, Amber carefully finished applying her makeup and turned her head to inspect it before yelling to Li.

"Come on girl, you've got to come out sometime."

"No I don't!" Came Li's muffled reply through the closed door that led to Amber's room.

"I'm staying right here for the whole party!" She declared defiantly.

Amber sighed, taking one last look in the mirror at the extravagant crème dress she wore, the plunging neckline was highlighted by the necklace she always wore. The length went to just below the knee and displayed ample dark leg.

"I'm coming in.." Challenged Amber. as she slowly opened the door to her room and slipped inside.

Li's expression was one of pure venom, as she tugged at the top of the scarlet dress trying to make it sit better.

"You know I hate you for making me wear this stuff?" She hissed as she stepped into the matching black shoes.

Amber brushed off the assault carelessly with a wave of her hand. "It's my birthday you had to, a girl only turns eighteen once you know? Besides you look great in it."

Li's sour expression softened slightly from the compliment before assuming a mocking tone. "Whatever, it's not even your birthday until Monday your Highness."

Amber rolled her eyes in response before taking on her most regal sounding tone.

"Yes well it is my royal party tonight, so I will get whatever I want."

Li moved in for the kill with her amused smile. "Speaking of things you want; where is Hex? Shouldn't he and Alex be here by now?"

Blazing, Amber biffed her lipstick at the girl before answering with a dirty look. "Hex said they were delayed from Heathrow, but they should be on the ground by now." Her voice had a slightly flat tone to it Li noticed.

"I'm sure they are on their way right now.." Li reassured her friend throwing an arm over her shoulder.

"Yeah you're right Li." Amber nodded quickly, dabbing at her eye before heading for the door.

"Come on lets go give Paulo something to stare at."

Paulo, however was not short of girls to stare at, as more and more of Amber's friends arrived in small groups.

Going to an all girls' boarding school, it made sense to Paulo that most of her friends would also be female. To his delight this seemed to be the case as hordes of teenage girls in stunning dresses and perfect makeup made their way into the mansion.

In his fitted white Argentinean suit that contrasted his olive skin, he was getting more then his fair share of glances also. From his position beside the buffet table in the Ballroom, Paulo was content to snack on the kind of food that was reserved for the rich and famous. He felt a bit like a movie star himself as he flashed a cocksure grin and helped himself to one of the many flutes of champagne on the table.

Paulo almost burst out laughing, when the bubbles went up his nose and someone softly tapped him on the shoulder.

A single light bulb swung slowly from the roof of the dank room that John Middleton awoke in.

His neck stung like something had bitten him and every muscle in his body ached. Involuntary tremors rocked his body as muscles spasmodically fired by themselves. He tried to reach a hand to his stinging neck, when he realized that his hands were firmly bound to the chair he was sitting in.

Panic began to flare in his head as the details of his assault began to come back to him. He remembered the metallic slide of a van door before he was taken by surprise and manhandled into the vehicle. The constriction of the ropes holding him to the chair seemed to grow tighter around him, as his worried mind raced to consider his predicament.

God I hope Amber's alright, he solemnly thought to himself.

His train of thought was derailed when the small door to the room opened and two men clad in black confidently walked in. They were both massive with biceps that bulged underneath the dark, long-sleeved turtlenecks they wore. The thugs walked in and stopped either side of the open door as a portly third man walked in. All three wore balaclavas that created a sinister skull like effect in the shadows of the room.

The fat man was obviously in charge and he gestured to one of the men, who quickly walked up behind Johns chair and pulled his head back by a painful grip on his hair.

"Mr. Middleton..." The leader formally addressed John in a silky dangerous voice.

"I am under the impression that you are quite a wealthy man."

John started to protest, but was cut off immediately as the second man pummeled a huge fist into his face, almost knocking him over in the chair. The uncle's head pounded and his vision drifted in waves as the kidnapper behind him dragged him back up by the hair to sit up straight again. Blood leaked from somewhere in his mouth onto his tongue, creating an irony tang that made him feel nauseous. Focusing his vision he looked up at his captor once more.

"I do not like being interrupted, Mr. Middleton." The ringleader admitted, sounding almost regretful for what had just happened.

"Now is a time to listen and not to talk. We are after your money and your money alone. We do not want to hurt you, but if that's what it takes we will." The interrogator spoke easily, in a local accent, but placed his words in an odd order with misplaced inflection, a sign that English may not be his first language.

John's head nodded in acceptance, money being what he had expected they would demand, unfortunately for the kidnappers it was not going to be that simple.

The fat man continued as he paced in front of his hostage.

"What is going to happen now Mr. Middleton, is one of my men is going to enter this room with a laptop. Using this device you will electronically transfer twenty million dollars to the account that is preset on screen."

"I can't…" John started to explain, before he was silenced with another colossal punch to the head.

He felt bones shatter in his cheek and a couple of teeth smash free from their lodgings as the heavy blow connected. The blood now flowed freely in his mouth and he spat to clear his airway; in detached horror he noticed several bits of teeth disappear in the spray that left his mouth. White lights danced in front of his eyes, occluding his vision, as he struggled to keep a grip on his consciousness.

His ears seemed to echo with the mighty blow that had hit him and he barely heard the man in front of him when he talked to him.

"What did I say about interrupting? Let me be clear Mr. Middleton; we can drag this out for days until you do this. My men are quite experienced in working with reluctant investors." He warned the bound and broken man in a heavy New York accent.

The silence following this last statement seemed to stretch for several minutes before John seemed to think it was safe to finally speak up.

"I don't have access to that money I'm sorry." He mumbled between weak spluttering coughs that rebelled against the blood sliding down his throat.

John cringed in anticipation of another blow, but was surprised to see his interrogator just standing in front of him quietly evaluating. After staring in silence for several minutes he finally gave his verdict.

"Maybe you are telling us the truth, maybe you aren't. We will soon find out." He stated in a level voice, the American accent slipping and his dark emotionless eyes searching the battered figure in front of him, before gesturing to his flunkies.

The two henchman for their part simply nodded at their boss as he walked out of the room, before turning back to their prisoner to start delivering massive hits to his chest and abdomen.

Thankfully their prisoner slipped back into unconsciousness, as his body was further broken with each devastating hit.

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