Larson had started to doze in his seat, the murmuring voices of Doug and Nigel getting further and further away from him. In his half awake, half dreaming state, he saw his daughter when she was merely five or six years old. He had been out of town on a case, and came home one night to find her sound asleep in the same bed with their housekeeper Mrs Bailey. The screen of the television was all static, whatever video they had been watching long since over. He moved to turn off the television when Lexie stirred, calling his name in her sleep. He walked over to her, bent to gather her in his arms, and she disappeared right before his eyes. Suddenly he was alone in a warehouse sized building, dozens and dozens of doors, all locked, surrounded the sides of the concrete structure. “Daddy!!!!” Lexie’s voice screamed in his ears as he rushed down the aisles trying to open every door, searching for her. A maniacal voice started laughing, taunting him, saying, “Keep on looking, Evans...you’ll never reach her in time.....”. He opened one last door, calling out for his daughter, her scream echoing in his ears. It was then that he awoke with a start, his heart beating fast and loud in his ears. He was disoriented for a moment, but then slowly realized where he was when he felt the warm pressure of Margo’s hand on his arm. She had also fallen asleep, but she obviously wasn’t having a nightmare.
In front of him, Doug and Nigel were still finalizing the plans. The plane was descending out of the cloud banking to begin landing preparations at the small commercial airport outside Savannah, Georgia.
Nigel went inside the terminal and spoke to someone at the front desk. The attendant nodded, asked him for identification and upon looking at the impressive credentials the man carried, picked up the phone immediately. Nigel went back to his party just entering the building, an airport steward already had the luggage in hand.
“I have a limo coming to get us in just a few minutes. We should be settled at the hotel within the hour.”
True to his word, the sleek black luxury car arrived a few minutes later, the valet handed over the keys to Nigel, an air of awe in his youthful face.
“Thank you, Sir,” he said, when Nigel pressed a bill into the young man’s hand. Within minutes their bags were stored in the limousine’s trunk, and after assuring himself that Doug, Larson and Margo were safely stowed inside, Nigel closed the back door of the car and went to take his place behind the wheel.
Margo felt almost guilty when she walked out of the beautiful bathroom adjacent to one of the four bedrooms in the exquisitely decorated hotel suite. The room was ornate with rich tapestries adorning the walls; vases of fresh-cut flowers sat on rich, dark tables. Much too glamorous for the task at hand, that being to rescue the child she had not seen in over sixteen years.
A complimentary basket of fruit sat on the table just inside the lounge area, where Doug, Nigel and Larson were sitting, gathered around the glass coffee table, a map spread out before them. Nigel was consulting his small hand-held computer, Doug was drawing a route with a red pencil, and Larson was studying the whole process, his lips pursed together. She wasn’t needed in this planning, she knew, and felt rather helpless, so to take her mind off of the upcoming adventure, she simply sat in one of the cushioned beige chairs in front of the large glass window and let her mind wander back to another time when she’d seen Larson so deep in thought.
They had been hardly married a month before they were ensconced in a regular routine back in Atlanta. Larson had six months to study for and successfully pass his bar exam. He took a job as a legal assistant, as most grad students did back then, taking the time to study between errands and case files. Margo was working at the Atlanta Public Library full time, teaching a creative writing course two nights a week. Most of the time, Larson brought his notes and books to the library those nights she worked, and would sit in a corner of the main reference area of the library, the small lamp burning way into the wee hours of the night. The library was open late back then, allowing working students to utilize the material when their schedules would allow it. After her class, Margo would go into the break room, make a pot of coffee for them, supply him with healthy snacks and energy bars, and help him study. Later they would drive home together, tired but content over the day’s progress.
Three months after their wedding, Margo started getting sick. Not just in the mornings, but sometimes all day. The first few months of the tell-tale turn of events were hard and Margo lost weight at first. Then, by the time everyone knew she was carrying a child, the sickness stopped and she started to thrive. Larson said he knew she was pregnant even before she did, but she knew this wasn’t true. The night they had conceived Lexie, Margo had felt the flutter of her existence, not merely in her body, but in her very soul. The one thing that would bind them together for eternity lay still and evolving inside her, no bigger than a grain of sand, but she knew all the same. It was what made leaving so hard on her, and why she had vowed to never speak to the people who had caused her such grief.
The sun was starting to set, and the pink and purple sky marked another day was ending. She felt Larson’s presence and smiled reassuringly. He sat on the edge of the chair, resting his hand on her shoulder lightly. She raised her hand up to grasp his, tears shining in her eyes.
“What were you thinking about, my love?” he asked her softly.
“I was remembering our first year together. When I found out I was pregnant, and all the work we were doing together back then.”
She turned slightly and looked at him earnestly. “Larson, I am so sorry. I should have told you about my grand-father’s threats. I never should have left without somehow giving you a sign. I should have....”
Larson brought her up to stand in the circle of his arms, his hands clasping together at the small of her back. “Stop it. There is no reason to apologize. I should have looked harder for you . And as far as when you left, I knew why you did that. There was never any question as to the love you had for me, or our daughter. There’s nothing to apologize for, because there’s nothing to forgive. Our love has stood the tests of time itself, and this last little detail only makes it more certain. I have never stopped loving you...and I will not stop until I am no longer breathing...if then.”
“And even after,” he smiled, drawing her even closer.
Lexie was startled by the sound of a key in the lock to the door of the room where she was. She felt sleepy and realized that she must have dozed a bit as it was now pitch black outside the window of the room. Gail entered the room followed by a dark-haired formidable looking man who appeared about the same age as her father. She straightened her back, wariness overtaking the fear that lodged itself in her heart.
“Time to call Daddy, I thought you’d like to listen in,” he said, his voice thick with an accent that she didn’t recognize. She watched the way her female captor was watching his every move, and it made her uneasy. The woman’s devotion to her brother was almost eerie, and she thought that her parents’ love for each other was sick? They both were in need of some serious mental therapy, she thought to herself, but she said nothing. Silently she prayed that whatever else, her parents would be able to find their way back to each other. No matter what happened to her.
They waited for what seemed hours, the sky outside the hotel was dark, the lights of River Street shone brightly below them. Nigel ordered dinner for them all, but the delicious food was barely touched by the worried parents, the stress erasing their appetites.
Finally around ten o’clock Larson’s phone began to ring. Larson leveled an icy stair at the phone, knowing full well who was on the other end. Nigel immediately went to his computer, and Larson looked at Doug for guidance.
Doug motioned for Larson to answer the call.
“Yes,” Larson spoke softly, his voice tinged with worry and apprehension.
“Game-time. Meet me tomorrow morning at the old military storage warehouse on River Street. Do not play games now. You know you have no life without this little girl.”
“Let me speak to her Reginald, or I’m not meeting you anywhere.”
“Absolutely,” the voice agreed, pausing a moment to grant the request.
Larson’s heart lurched when he heard the voice of his daughter. “Hey sweetie, I’ll be there soon.”
“Be careful Daddy, I’m okay, but I really don’t think you can trust…” Reggie cut off the girl’s call.
“Teenagers never trust grown-ups ‘Daddy’. You have what I need right?”
“I already told you as much. Do not waste my time. I’ll meet you in the morning. You bring my daughter.”
“Oh I don’t think so. I will tell you where she is after I get my information back. No cops or you will not have your precious reunion. It is a simple game, with simple rules. See you at the warehouse around eight.”
Larson did not bother to look at the phone’s screen. He knew the call was over. He snapped it shut angrily, and tossed it into an empty chair across the room, feeling a bit better at the show of aggression.
“Did he give you a time to meet? And what does he think you’re bringing?”
“Both of the flash drives. I only have the one though; the other he probably already has, as he has Lexie, where ever that is.”
Doug grinned and pointed toward Nigel who was immersed in something before him on a computer screen, headphones over his ears.
“Did he?--” Larson started to ask the question, but knew it was merely a waste time. Of course Nigel, special ops leader from Desert Storm days had gotten a trace on the last phone call from Larson’s cell phone. It was what he did.
White teeth sparkled when Nigel lifted his head, smiling. “They’re hardly even a few miles outside of the city limits. We can be there inside thirty minutes. We should plan now so we can get her safely and then bring in the authorities to take care of the rest.”
Doug called his pilot and asked if there was a helicopter available, making their entry to the make shift compound that much more covert. He was assured that there was, and that he would be on the roof within the hour.
Gently, Larson came to stand before her. “I’m going with Doug and Nigel, you have to stay here. I can’t risk you being in danger. I promise, I will return with our daughter. You just get ready to meet her.”
She hesitated, but then knew he was right, and agreed. She watched as he climbed aboard the chopper, her heart silent, fear taking her breath down to but a whisper. She knotted her hands against her stomach, offering a silent prayer, then turned to leave the roof.
She knew the game plan of course. It wouldn’t take long to get to the hideout. Nigel, Doug and Larson would go get Lexie, and if he was there, Larson’s missing client. She shuddered , thinking of the possible obstacles before them. Violence, guns and kidnapping. It was as though she’d stepped into the middle of one of Richard Andrew’s novels.
She went inside the cabin, sat in the same seat she had occupied when they flew into Savannah, and bowed her head in prayer.
Gail’s phone rang again startling Lexie again from her mid slumber. She couldn’t see outside. Gail spoke quickly in hushed tones, glancing toward the young girl as if to reassure herself that the hostage was still there.
“Be right back,” Gail said, “Gotta check on our other guest.
She went out the door and Lexie heard the swift click of the lock on the other side of the door. Locked in, windows were probably nailed shut. How was she going to get out of here, and where would she go if she did escape. There was no way of knowing which way her dad would be coming from even if she did make it to the main road. She meant what she had said to her father. The slick guy she had seen briefly was definitely running the show, and she didn’t trust him.
Before she could think, she heard a scratching noise coming from the outside of the window. Muffled shouts came from outside just as the window rose and Lexie was greeted by the smiling face of her father’s assistant, Nigel. Lexie ran to the window and allowed herself to be lifted out to the safe ground below. Nigel produced a knife and cut her loose from the rope that had her hands bound together. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she could see that her father stood just a few feet away, and she ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck. He ushered her away to a waiting car, once inside he hugged her again.
“I’m so sorry baby,” he choked hoarsely, “Did they hurt you?”
“No, I was just scared. Is Nikki alright?”
“She’s fine. She was more scared for you than anything. But I have a surprise for you that I think you’re going to like.”
“You’ll see,” he smiled, turning his attention to the approaching Doug with Scott Chambers limping along beside him. “I need to stay here, with the authorities, and that chick that was in there. Nigel get them back to the helicopter, and I’ll meet you guys back in Abbeville. I’d like to have some down time after this little adventure!”
Larson smiled, “Absolutely,”
Nigel got in the car, closed the door and turned slightly to face them. “You don’t have to say it Sir, I know where we’re going,” There was a twinkle in his eye as he faced forward again, put the car in gear, and pulled the car into the road past blaring police cars that were speeding along toward the cabin.
When Nigel stopped the car, Lexie looked at the helicopter waiting in the field. “We’re riding in a helicopter? Cool!”
“Yes, but that is not your surprise. I’ll talk to you aboard.”
Larson and Lexie climbed aboard the helicopter with Nigel, and after taking their seats and fastening their seat-belts, the helicopter lifted gently into the air and turned back toward the city.
The air inside was cool, and there was not a lot of noise, so Larson was able to speak softly, reassuringly, holding his daughter’s hand as he spoke.
“When we were talking, on your birthday, and I was telling you about your mother, you knew most of that story already. Why did you want to hear it again?”
“Daddy, you know I love you. And all my life, I’ve never wanted a single thing that I didn’t get. I’ve been happy, and encouraged and there isn’t a value I can put on all that. But your sacrifice has gone on long enough. I want you to be happy, find love, laugh again. I’ll be going to college soon, I can’t bear to think of you burying yourself in case after case...you’re too wonderful for that.”
“Those are mighty grown up words for such a pixie,” he told her, smiling. “I’ve never stopped loving your mother. I don’t want to look for love anywhere else. So, if you’re serious about my happiness...then just get ready for this.”
He took his phone from his jacket pocket, and dialed quickly.
“Come to the roof, we’re almost there.” he said, then closed the phone, ending the call.
There were moments in life that everyone experienced. Bittersweet moments that brought tears of joy to even the most staid person. The helicopter glided toward the top of a high rise hotel along the shore line, Lexie could see the giant letter x painted on the roof, guiding the helicopter where to land. As Lexie climbed down the steps of the elegant machine, her father just ahead of her, Nigel behind them, she looked around as the wind from the blades still spinning blowing her hair away from her face. In wonder she saw the woman standing nervously, tears streaming down her face, her hands over her mouth. There was no question, not to Lexie, this woman before her was her mother. She ran to her, stopped short, searching her father’s eyes, seeing the tears there when he nodded. Lexie stepped warmly into the loving arms of the woman before her, and hugged her, the long lost dreams of a teenager finally coming true. Her parents were at last together, and she had her mother back.
Larson stood back for a second, then joined his wife and daughter in the embrace. As he soothed the hair of his daughter with one hand, his other brushed the nape of Margo’s neck, soothing, lovingly, complete.
Nigel coughed loudly to get their attention. “I think we’ll be more comfortable in the suite downstairs, sir. We can leave in a few hours, but I for one, would like a cup of coffee before I travel again.
They all looked at each other, then at him and laughed. “Absolutely, Nigel, lets get a snack,some coffee, and we can all go home.”
The house was silent, but the lights were on when Larson, Margo and Lexie walked into the warm interior of the Evans’ living room, and despite the lateness of the hour, they were greeted with the usual haphazard din of family. Sylvia looked up into the smiling eyes of her oldest son and took in the sight beside him with grace and wonder, the stress of the last days draining out of her with the speed of a mountain waterfall. Margo, her long lost daughter-in-law, was holding his hand, and beside them Lexie was bouncing, beaming with delight. True wonders never ceased in their world she marveled. Her baby’s family was whole again.
Everyone seemed to start talking at once. Nikki, hearing the commotion came in from the kitchen drying her hands on a towel. She saw her friend standing next to her brother, the glorious happy look of her niece beside her mother, and succumbed to the tears of joy that welled up inside her. She moved swiftly across the floor of the living room and threw her arms around her brother. “Now we’re ready for the holidays, big brother,” she said, hugging him.
“And we’re going to have a nice long talk about keeping secrets!” he said, tongue in cheek, because no matter what had happened in the past, his love was beside him now, and the past no longer mattered. The future, however, was a different story. He wasn’t sure how he was going to meld all the pieces of his life but he knew one thing. There would never again be a separation between him and Margo.
In the wee hours of the morning, in the same room where Larson had spent most of his childhood, the reunited couple lay wrapped in a soft tangle of arms, beneath an ancient quilt handmade by some distant relative. Just down the hall in a spare bedroom between her grand-parent’s and parent’s rooms their daughter slept soundly.
The next morning, Doug found Margo outside. He approached her apprehensively, not wanting to disturb her, but she looked up and smiled, her eyes clear and content.
“Did you need to talk to me?”
“Very astute. I did. I have been wondering how to do this, but I figure after everything else you’ve been through, this should be a piece of cake.” He paused for a moment, taking a deep breath.
“The thing is, I don’t just work for your husband. I am a detective, and I can have sometimes two or three open cases going at a time. In this case I have to tell you, I was hired by your father to find you.”
Margo looked up sharply at him. “My father? Why, after all this time would he want to find me? Is something wrong?”
Doug nodded. “I’ve already told him that I did, indeed, find you. His instructions were simple. You were to be found, and told that your grand-mother, his mother, is sick. He believes that seeing you would brighten her spirits. We can arrange it any way you like, but after this whole mess, I feel like I owe him that much. He was the one that gave us the plane to rescue Lexie after all,” Doug searched her eyes, looking for a sign of emotion, not knowing what to expect.
Margo thought for a moment and looked steadily into his eyes. “My grandmother was nothing like my grandfather. She was loving, and kind, and made all the rules and harshness of that house bearable. Of course I will go see her when I return. You can tell my father as much. And tell him Larson and I said thank you for helping us.”
Doug nodded and smiled. He stood up from his perch on the rail of the old brick house and walked slowly down the porch steps toward his car.
“I feel like exploring, I’ll be back later,” he said, walking out of the chain linked gate and turning up the street toward town.
’What a funny man,” thought Margo with a smile.
Later that evening, the couple retired early to their room, needing the closeness of intimacy to reassure themselves that the ordeal was indeed behind them.
In the stillness of the house, listening to the quiet noises of the town he had grown up in as it slept soundly, he thought about the questions that needed answers. He thought back to the afternoon, when after a luncheon of cold cuts and pastries, and a pot of strong coffee, Margo had slipped outside. Larson had watched her, talking on her phone, and gave her the privacy she had needed. He wanted to know who she had been talking to, but didn’t know if he should ask. They had not spoken of any decisions, but there were several to be made. Somewhere in his heart he knew he still had a job to do, but his daughter, their daughter, was finally happy. There had to be a way to combine both of their worlds.
Hating to break the silence, but knowing the answers had to be found, he tightened his hold on the sleepy woman in his arms.
“I think we need to talk,” he said simply.
“I know we do. I don’t want to rock the boat, and I’m afraid maybe I’ve assumed too much. But I wanted to reassure you that I’ve made a pretty big decision regardless.”
Larson held his breath while she continued.
Margo lifted her hand searching for his, and laced her fingers with his. “I called Darcy. I turned the management of the shop over to her. She’s been ready for a while, and I think it’s time I stopped running away and came home. To you, if you’ll have me.”
In one fluid movement he switched their positions to cradle her in his arms, his blue eyes searching hers with intent and wonder.
“Are you sure?” Tenderly he touched her face, the lump of emotion nearly blocking his airflow.
She nodded, becoming more confident in her decision. “My place is with you now.”
“And your grandfather?”
“I don’t think anyone can interfere with your accomplishments. You are strong and successful, and you’ve made a name for yourself. The important thing is for us to stop wasting so much time.”
Larson smiled and lowered his head, tenderly catching her lips with his own. “You will never know how happy that makes me. Not everyone gets a second chance.”
They slept then, both secure in the arms of the other.
By the time Thanksgiving came, the ordeal was firmly put into the past. Larson had heard from Ben Prescott, who heartily congratulated him on his detective work and quick results. There was a rumor that it was one of the DA’s assistants that had leaked information to the informant Reggie had inside the police department. There was an investigation opened, and Larson breathed a little easier knowing that at least some of the corruption he was seeing was coming to an end.
The delightful smells of turkey, dressing and ham filled the house, mingling with the laughter of children, the excited talking of the siblings, the light arguments between them about who gets the first piece of pumpkin pie was solved by Clyde’s insistence that it be his bride, Sylvia, for putting up with the unruly bunch for so long, himself included.
Doug had returned to Boston, but Nigel had remained behind, at Sylvia’s encouragement, to partake upon the festivities with the family. Anybody that protected her baby so loyally deserved to be included in her family, she’d said, causing Nigel to blush for probably the first time in his adult life.
Before Doug had left, however, he’d slipped a note to Margo, which had simply been a phone number and a brief sentence. “Call him, make his day,” it had said.
So Margo took the folded piece of paper out of her jacket pocket, flipped open her phone and dialed.
When Larson found her, just before they were to sit down to eat dinner, she was sitting on a swing on the front porch of his parent’s home. She had tears in her eyes, and a faraway look on her face, but she smiled lovingly at him when she saw him. He noted the phone in her hand, and cocked his head to one side, concerned. “Bad news?”
“No, the opposite. I talked to my Grandmother, and my father. I think I may have to go see her, it’s only right that I ease her mind and bring her at least some sort of comfort. It’s not her fault about all this. I think she and my father have suffered almost as much as we have.”
“Whatever you need to do, so long as you know I’m not letting you out of my sight ever again,” he said, outstretching his hand toward her. “Now come on before they start without us. Dad carving a turkey is never something to miss.”
Margo took his hand in hers and smiled lovingly.
They sat around the table. Clyde Evans stood at the head of the massive table filled with platters and bowls of delicious food. His children, some with children of their own, husbands and wives surrounded him and his lovely bride. He reached over and took her hand, motioning for them all to take part in the customary prayer before the meal. Not one to ever mix words, he simply stated his blessings, and offered thanks for the day and the members of his family, all present at their table. Each person took a moment to give thanks for their own blessings, some were simple, some were more involved, but all were sincere. Then, Clyde, with tears shining unashamedly in his eyes, closed with a simple promise...”And Father, may I never take for granted the simple fact that You are always in our lives, ever watchful, and ever knowing. AMEN.
“Amen,” the crowd said in unison. Even DJ and Bennie said their version, taking their lidded plastic cups out of their mouths at the same time, bringing laughter to the brink.
Sylvia looked at her husband when he sat down and leaned toward him, kissing him soundly on the mouth. “Don’t ever let me forget how wonderful you really are, or how many blessings we have in this life.”
“Count on it, my love, count on it.”
There was a lot of screaming and cheering in front of the television the next afternoon. In amongst the happy family members, Sylvia surveyed her full living room with happiness. She watched her grand-daughter, wearing her bright red Carolina Gamecocks jersey getting tickled and teased by her Dad who sported Clemson Orange with glee and mischievous laughter. Margo looked on lovingly at both of them smiling, her hand gently rubbing Larson’s shoulder.
Across the room her eyes found her daughter, Nikki. Nikki who would not sit still of her very life depended on it. Well, wouldn’t it be nice to have another romance around, she thought, the air was certainly speaking of such things.
“Are you plotting again, my love?” Clyde asked her.
“I never plot. I plan, and the fairies see to it for me.”
Clyde shook his head. Only his wife would turn her attention to the romantic notion of fairies on a traditional football day!