"Hello Uncle," Amber answered in a conversational tone, trying not to convey the worry she had felt.
"Amber Middleton?" A cold distorted voice inquired.
"Who wants to know?" She carefully replied, suspicion and dread creeping forward in her head.
"The men who have your uncle." The sinister voice responded impatiently. "And if you ever want to see him again you will do exactly as we say."
Amber's world was destroyed in an instant by this short sentence, she felt herself sinking to her knees as Hex ran over to her. Amber's usually dark features appeared a dusky grey, as all blood drained from face in shock. Hex shook his friend's shoulder trying to question her, but his words fell on deaf ears. Her ears could only hear the last sentence of the kidnapper echoing in her head, repeating over and over.
After what seemed like an age, she realized the voice was waiting for a response and screwing up her courage she replied.
"What do you want?" Amber asked, trying to keep her pitch level.
"Twenty million dollars electronically transferred to an account of our choice in exchange for your uncles life."
"How do I know you haven't killed him already?" She demanded a mix of anger and fear invading her tone.
A muffled clicking and banging came across the line before a strained yet familiar voice spoke.
"Uncle!" Amber sobbed into the receiver, "They haven't hurt you?"
"Nothing serious Dear, listen please listen, they have already proved to me how serious they are; just give them whatever they want ."
John Middleton was cut off as his captor took the handset back from him to issue further instructions.
"In two days you turn eighteen and are granted access to you trust fund. By 0800 that morning you will have deposited twenty million dollars into my bank account or you never see your uncle again." The kidnapper explained, their voice distorted by a sound encryption. "I will text the account number tomorrow."
"If you go to the police John Middleton dies and we come for you next"
The sinister robotic tone finished, before ending the call with a resounding click.
On the dance floor downstairs a different couple were facing their own truths in an uncomfortable silence.
A naturally awkward teen, Alex tried his best to dance with his pretty partner. He couldn't help but think that it looked much easy in the movies to dance romantically with the girl, unchoreographed and in front of all your friends. While he appreciated the proximity he got to spend to his beautiful girlfriend, he felt certain his clumsy efforts were detrimental to any romantic mood a slow song was supposed to create.
The dance itself seemed to disappear though as the couple made eye contact in their corner of the room unaware of the world and swaying gently to the soft song. Staring into Camilla's beautiful face he couldn't help but wonder, not for the first time, how he had ever ended up with such a good-looking girl in the first place. It was unusual, one part of him couldn't take his eyes off the stunning young lady, but another part could barely stand to look at her. A mix of an unrivaled love with the poison of guilt he felt from his weeks of neglectful behavior.
The sour cocktail of emotions made Alex feel like throwing up and he quietly looked for a distraction.
With Princess Amber upstairs with her Prince, attention was drawn elsewhere, his girlfriend attracting a fair deal of it. As Alex pivoted slowly in place observing the leering of a couple of Amber's creepier looking guests, he really couldn't blame Hex for his earlier violence.
If these guys don't find their eyes and put them back in their sockets I might have to do a Hex, he thought heatedly to himself. Hey, I wonder if that could become a thing? 'Pulling a Hex?' He contemplated, his anger giving way to humor. To completely rage out in a righteous fashion and kick someone's arse: Alex defined internally. I've got to see what Paulo thinks, it could really catch on, he concluded.
Alex's slightly weird thoughts were suddenly broken by Camilla's sweet voice at his shoulder.
"What's wrong Alex? You seem a million miles away tonight."
Grey eyes wavered from their potential opponents to take in the lovely creature in his arms instead. He felt a pain somewhere inside of him seeing the hurt and confusion in such a pretty face. Alex tried for a nervous smile and brought her two hands to his chest and meeting her eyes.
"Just a bit of jetlag I think. Can we maybe step out of here for a minute or two?"
A look of thorough relief crossed Camilla's face.
"Oh god yes, I can't stand this high society crap! I'm actually wearing a dress.."
Alex laughed out loud, a sound full of affection for the likeminded girl, before looking back at her with his eyes alight.
"And you look very pretty in it" He responded honestly and automatically.
"Should we step outside for some fresh air then Cammy?" He asked using his pet name for her and offering his arm, as she shied away, embarrassed by his open compliment.
She nodded, regaining her composure and squeezing his hand in thanks.
"Anywhere to get away from the creeps in here." She said in disgust, shooting a look of pure disdain at a seedy looking guy nearby.
"I'm in half a mind to go all Hex on one of them." Alex replied without thinking, between gritted teeth as they crossed the space to the door.
"Go all Hex on them? Did you just make that up now?" She asked him in confusion as he opened the door for her.
"Actually yeah." He admitted a bit taken back having spoken aloud his peculiar thoughts.
Camilla giggled. "That's actually quite funny I could so see that catching on."
"I know, right?" Alex exclaimed and they settled onto a bench on the patio laughing.
The laughter continued for a few more seconds before Camilla turned to look up at Alex seriously and ran a hand over his smooth-shaven, angular jaw.
"I've missed you." She softly uttered, the affection in her eyes evident, but intermingled with a tinge of sadness.
Alex felt overwhelmed by her simple sentiment of love and slowly guided her face into his to deliver a firm kiss to her lips. He let it linger to describe the pent up emotion he felt, the internal conflict that raged inside of him and the one thing he knew for certain. It was a breathless Camilla who leaned back from him wide eyed to evaluate his face.
"Well that was… just .. Wow. Answers my first question I guess." She stumbled through her words, still blown away. Pausing to regain her composure once more, she started again.
"Damn I hate how you do that to me." She confessed half annoyed.
"But something is up, you've been acting so weird around me lately. What is going on Alex?" Camilla questioned him, her azure eyes poised.
Alex sighed deeply sinking his head in defeat, his façade broken under her light scrutiny.
"Is it the whole long distance thing?" She probed. "Because I know it's hard, but I think we are making it work and hopefully it isn't for too much longer anyway."
Alex shook his head sadly, "It's not that…" He started, but was cut off as the door swung open and the large outline of Paulo filled the door.
Camilla sighed, what the hell was it with these friends and their terrible timing when it came to interrupting each other?
"Can you give us a minute here, Paulo?" She asked in a frosty voice.
Stepping from the silhouette of light the South American shook his head sadly and the couple saw the serious expression he was burdened with.
"Something has happened." He explained grimly.
Alex and Camilla followed Paulo back into the ballroom still in a state of shock. John Middleton; their benefactor, greatest supporter and a good friend, held to ransom. The first thing they heard as they entered the large room was Amber's voice loudly addressing the audience.
"Party is over sorry folks. Thank you for coming everyone, but if you could make for the nearest exit it would be much appreciated."
The crowd looked at each other in confusion as Hex killed the sound system and Li pulled open the door to the atrium.
"This is not a joke, I'm serious people it is time for you all to leave." Amber reinforced, her voice starting to lose its politeness.
Camilla noticed the faint streaks of Mascara that framed her eyes and ran the length of her cheeks.
"Jeez Amber looks like she's starting to get pissed off." Alex warned
"If people don't start leaving soon she is going to Hex out on someone." Camilla agreed with a sly grin to Alex.
Paulo nodded dumbly before realising what she had said and chuckling "Hex out? Ha, I like it! Did you guys come up with that?"
The pair nodded with small smiles despite the terrible news they had just received and the serious situation in front of them.
"It could become a thing right?" Alex appealed.
Paulo nodded enthusiastically "Absolutely hombre. Oh look she really is getting her Hex on now." He crowed, delighted at the chance to put their new term to use.
It was a just call too, as a furious Amber ushered people out through the door, shouting at and pushing the more reluctant guests. Hex and Li hung at the outskirts, helping her out as best they could while wisely staying out of her firing line.
With all the guests fleeing it was quickly only the six friends left in the ornate room and they gathered towards the centre.
"Well that's the guests taken care of." Li noted satisfied.
"So you've all been brought up to speed?" Amber asked her friends in a small voice.
One by one they all nodded morosely.
"So what are we going to do?" Amber questioned them quietly in a fragile voice.
Li placed an arm across her friend's shoulders and put forward her suggestion. "We are Alpha Force right? We rescue him, this is just the sort of thing we have trained for."
"On principle alone I agree with Li." Hex started choosing his words carefully. "But I think our top priority must be your uncles safety and we don't know if attempting a rescue will risk that."
"Can we just pay them the money? No amount of money is worth your uncles life." Paulo elaborated.
Amber nodded, the last suggestion aligning with her opinion; the money basically meant nothing to her.
"But does paying them guarantee his safety?" Camilla added in a timid voice, "What's their incentive to keep him alive once they have been paid?"
She thought back to the dozen or so kidnappings she had heard of in Africa where money changed hands, but the hostage remained missing.
Alex was, by nature inclined to agree with Camilla, but this time he also thought she raised a valid point. Hostages spent long periods of time with their captors and therefore had the greatest ability to identify them to the police if they were released. Eliminating any potential witnesses was one way these scum of society ensured their continuing freedom.
Amber looked lost and helpless as she watched the ideas bounce from her friends and the indecision that resulted from the disorder.
Alex whistled loudly, bringing the arguing group to silence.
"There is some good discussion here, but we need to make some decisions because the trail is getting colder the longer we stand here talking." Alex noted with his usual calm voice.
Hex spoke up "I think the decision should be Amber's" He firmly suggested, "It's her Uncle and her they are targeting."
There was a general nod of agreement at that idea.
"So what do you want us to do?" Li asked her friend gently.
Amber's dark eyes swum, but with a strong voice she made her decision. "We find these bastards and get my uncle back."
The group matched her determined look and started to pool ideas as to how they could do it.
"I guess our two big questions are; who has taken him and where they are holding him." Li mused.
"When would they have snatched him?" Paulo asked his friends.
Amber thought about it for a minute.
"It must have been when he was between work and his limo." She concluded, remembering the call from his driver.
"Okay so that's where we start then." Alex resolved, "Hex can you access security camera feeds in the area along his route to the limo?"
Hex nodded firmly before drawing his palmtop to get to work.
Camilla noted Amber's worried expression and sought to reassure her.
"Don't worry Amber we will find something. We've still got a couple of days before we reach the payment deadline."