Chapter 14 - Rescued
“There’s been a change of events. The higher-ups would spare all of us if we pay the amount of what was lost.”
A chorus of murmurs went around Sebastian’s men at this spark of hope. The drug cartel never gave second chances but it seemed as though fate was throwing them a bone.
“But how can we pay millions of dollars?! The latest drug shipment was a big one and it was worth too much!” one of his men cried.
“The men in charge of the shipment disappeared off the face of the earth,” one of Sebastian’s men reported. They’d searched for weeks but to no avail.
“We are still the head of this territory and the blame will fall on our shoulders for this slip-up,” another interjected.
“Unless we find a way, we’re all dead men.”
Suddenly, Sebastian had an excellent idea. His men looked at him as though they thought he finally lost all his screws when he smiled and then laughed.
This was a perfect opportunity. He could get money and have his revenge at the same time. The timing couldn’t be any more perfect. Besides, he’d waited too long already...
“I have a plan. Exhaust whatever resources would be needed. I expect you to succeed or we are all dead men.”
“What do you want us to do, boss?”
“Get me Nikos Demakis.”
November 18, 2013 (The Next Day)
Fifth Avenue, New York City
“What do you mean you won’t be able to make it?” Cassia breathed into the phone.
“I’m sorry, princess. There are so many things I have to do right now. I won’t be able to make it to our dinner later and I also won’t be able to go back the rest of the week. I’m not sure when I’ll go home but something’s come up. I’ll call you and keep you informed, I promise,” Hector explained. His voice sounded strained and he spoke too fast.
“Hector...you promised that you would try. You said that you would try and be here more often.”
“I am trying, princess. But I can’t escape this. I have to tell you something and you must listen to me carefully...”
Cassia stopped trying to take inventory of the shelves in her store and focused more on her phone conversation. Hector’s hurried rate of speech and his serious tone gave her the impression that this was really important.
“You know you can tell me anything, Hector.”
“There are some things I have done that I know you won’t be able to forgive, Cassia. But know this, no matter what happens...I love you. I truly do. You are the only thing in my life worth fighting for,” he said.
“Now you’re scaring me,” she replied. There was a wobble in her voice and Hector sighed when he heard it.
“I’ve done things...”
“I can’t tell you about them, Cassia. Knowing more would just place you in greater danger. I’m trying to protect you as best as I can. I am hiding now. I involved myself in something big and now that I don’t want to continue anymore, they won’t allow me to leave. They are forcing me to their will. These are the only things I can tell you.”
As dread filled her, Cassia replied, “What did you do Hector? What is this error you are talking about? Is this about money? You know you only have to ask.”
“No... Cass,” Hector sighed with frustration. “This is bigger than you or me. Just know that I am doing everything I can to fix this. Soon, I’ll go home and we can spend all the time we want together. For now, please understand,” he pleaded.
“As if I have any choice.”
“Cass, there’s one more thing I have to tell you. You have to leave your apartment. Take a vacation for about a week or two. Go to some beach and stay there.”
“What? I just can’t take off like that! My work depends on me and I have a lot of commitments for the next few weeks!”
“This is for your own safety. Please, Cassia, just follow me this once without question. Do this for me. Those who are after me might know of my connection to you and they may hurt you to get to me. Please just pack up and leave. Make as many phone calls as you want and take your laptop so that your work won’t suffer! All I ask is that you leave the city and spend some time in a faraway place.”
“Cassia, please,” Hector begged.
Something in his tone said he was desperate. For now, Cassia decided to believe him.
“Fine. But you will have to meet me wherever I choose to go. We’ll hide together,” she bargained.
There was a long pause on the other line wherein she only heard Hector’s rough breathing then he said, “I’ll try, Cassia. I’ll try and finish everything right away so that I can be with you as soon as I can. Please understand...”
“Hector, whatever it is that you’ve done, you know I’ll always be here, right? You can tell me and I won’t judge you.”
“I know. But I’m not ready to tell you now. Give me some more time,” he sighed. “I don’t deserve you, princess. You will forever be my greatest treasure.”
Cassia’s eyes misted with tears and she found it difficult to swallow through the sobs that welled in her throat.
“I love you, Hector.”
“Not as much as I love you, princess.”
Silence descended over them. She would hold Hector to his promise that he would fix everything and that they’d soon be together.
“Cassia, I have to go. I’ll call you as soon as I can. But I’ll be using another number so that they will not be able to track me,” Hector told her.
“I understand. Bye, Hector. Keep yourself safe and return to me as soon as you can,” she urged.
“I will. And I will be counting down the hours until we are together again.”
Cassia stared at her phone for a couple more minutes as she replayed her conversation with Hector over and over again. She tried searching for clues as to what predicament he was in but everything was so vague.
She sighed and went to the computer to straighten things out. It was a good thing that it was still early and there were no customers yet. She could still do whatever work she could and at the same time make plans for her impromptu vacation.
She sat and began answering her numerous emails. Afterwards, she sketched some changes to her designs and made a note to start searching for the perfect fabric to create them with. Then, she took out her planner and pondered which meetings she would have to cancel or postpone for another time. When she was sure that her schedule was cleared, she searched for vacation packages to the places that she wanted to go to.
After careful consideration, she decided to settle on going to Hawaii.
Then she made a list of everything she would need on that vacation.
Nikos stretched his legs out in front of him.
Then he stretched his hands in the air, arched his back, popped his neck and yawned widely. He had been awake all night as he finalized some papers about the Higeshima Deal he was working on.
Higeshima Corporation is a shipping company in Japan. Due to bad management, the once prestigious company became bankrupt. But Nikos saw its potential so he wanted to buy the company and take over. If all goes well, the Higeshima Corporation will now be under the Andrade-Demakis Corporation and this will expand the company’s reach in Asia. Soon, they will also conquer the Asian market and this was Nikos’ goal for the next five years.
But before that happens, there was still so much work to be done.
Nikos stretched his arms again and leaned back. Now, the sun was nearly in the middle of the sky and he’s just finished.
He was at the penthouse suite of his hotel but instead of relaxing, he finished a mountain of work. He decided he’d take some brunch, drink his sleeping pills and go straight to bed while wishing for a dreamless sleep.
Suddenly, his phone rang. It was not a registered number so he hesitated in picking it up.
“Nikos Demakis, speaking,” he drawled in a bored tone as he stifled yet another yawn.
“Nikos! It’s me Alex. Thank God you answered!”
“Alex? Why? What’s wrong?”
He heard the note of distress in his usually calm and unshakeable friend.
“Just got intel that says they already know of her. Hector called her earlier this morning and they traced the call. The person I’ve assigned to guard her just reported there are several suspicious men outside her shop. I’m on my way,” Alex explained hurriedly.
Nikos heard the screeching of tires in the background and he knew that this was a dire situation indeed. His heart started beating faster as adrenaline flooded his system. He tucked the phone between his shoulder and ear and ran towards the table where he hastily retrieved his keys and wallet.
He ran towards the elevator as he continued speaking to Alex.
“Where is she?”
“Cassiopeia. Fifth Avenue,” Alex replied and the line went dead.
Nikos pocketed his phone and cursed the elevator for going so slowly. His mind emptied of any other thoughts except for the desperation to get to Cassia. He didn’t even have time to think why he was acting and feeling this way about his wife who was practically a stranger.
The moment the doors opened, he bolted across the lobby and towards his car. He painted the road black as he burned tires in his haste.
However, one look at the traffic and he knew he wasn’t going to make it as fast as he wanted to. He banged his palms on the steering wheel and cursed the city to hell for its heavy traffic. At the same time, he sent a prayer for Cassia’s safety to whoever might be listening.
Then, he pulled out his phone and decided to warn her.
Cassia’s phone rang again for what must have been the twentieth time already. She glanced at the screen and saw that it was Nikos. For the last fifteen minutes, she pressed the Ignore button repeatedly. She even considered switching it off for the frantic ringing was driving her crazy.
“What?!” she hissed.
“Thank the gods you finally picked up! Listen to me. Go to the back of your store and stay there. You’re not safe. Do not open the doors for anyone!” Nikos barked.
“What? That’s absurd! I cannot close my shop! It just opened and there are customers already! If this is a prank or a drunken call, then let me tell you, Nikos, it isn’t funny.”
Cassia hung up but before she could place her phone down, it rang again.
“Leave me alone!” she shouted.
“Cassia. Please. Listen to me. You are in danger. Just go to the back of your shop and wait for me there. I’ll explain everything later.”
She laughed and moved away from her register. She went closer to the glass that contained the mannequins dressed with her most beautiful designs.
“Are aliens coming to get me, Nikos?” she asked sarcastically as she looked at the skies. “I’m staring outside and the heavens look clear to me. No sign of flying saucers or something,” she teased.
Cassia didn’t disregard Nikos’ warning fully, however. She also scanned her surroundings while taking cover by the pillar near the glass. Nothing was out of the ordinary. She shook her head and berated herself for taking Nikos’ word seriously at all.
“Cassia, this isn’t a joke!” Nikos shouted. He considered throwing his phone because of his frustration but what good would that do?
He heard Cassia laugh and his anger and desperation just spiked up another notch.
“There are men out there who are out to get you. Get away from the glass, lock your shop and hide!!!” Nikos roared.
Cassia’s laughter was cut short and Nikos heard her gasp. It was followed by the sound of glass breaking and falling. There was a muffled thud like a body hitting the wooden floor.
“Cassia!” Nikos shouted.
There was no sarcastic reply this time, only a groan of pain.
His entire body tightened with fear. He stepped harder on the accelerator. He weaved through traffic and thanked the gods that his hobby was racing. He certainly put it to good use now.
By the time he made the turn towards Fifth Avenue, his heart was beating so fast that he half expected to have a heart attack.
He jumped out of his car and ran towards Cassia’s shop. However, he was stopped short when he heard the sound of gunfire and the window of the taxi beside him shattered. He ducked then hid behind one of the nearby cars and used his arms and legs to crawl nearer.
He lifted his head for a second to survey his surroundings and saw the front of Cassia’s shop. Broken glass and bullet shells were everywhere. The mannequins lay on the ground and some had several large bullet holes.
His wife was on the floor and his heart squeezed inside his chest. He saw red and all thoughts fled except the need to get to her. Without thinking, he leapt over the car and ran to her.
“Get down, you fool!” He was yanked hard mid-jump and forced down to the ground by Alex.
Nikos struggled but Alex held him down effortlessly with one hand while his other hand held his gun. His eyes darted around and when the sounds of gunfire stopped, he lifted himself from the cover of the taxi and fired several shots.
“You won’t be able to save her if your brain is blasted to bits on the pavement!” Alex hissed.
“I have to help her!” Nikos shouted.
“Nikos! Stop this insanity and use your God-given brain to assess the situation!” Alex hissed and then smacked him in the head.
Those words, along with the stinging pain near his temple calmed Nikos enough for rationality to creep back into his brain.
“Where are they?” he asked.
“Some are already inside the shop but they don’t dare approach Cassia because she is out in the open. If they go nearer, my team and I will be able to take them out. So they’re staying near the back and shooting at everyone who tries to approach.”
“Cassia is left there vulnerable. What if your team shoots her?” Nikos said through gritted teeth.
“They won’t shoot her; they’re damned good. The men won’t shoot her either because they need her. If the going gets tough, the most they can do is take her hostage until they can negotiate with us for a way out. When they emerge, my snipers will take care of them,” Alex told him and pointed to a spot above the buildings.
Nikos saw a glint of metal and he felt slightly reassured.
“Do the police already know of this?”
“Yes. They know my name too and who’s backing me up on this case. They won’t interfere unless I ask them to. They know my team and they know we can handle it,” Alex answered.
Nikos breathed a sigh of relief. He placed his full trust and confidence in Alex and his men. They were the best in the field.
“What do we do?” Nikos asked his friend.
Alex completely understood what he was feeling.
He had been in situations like this hundreds of times before. Every time that he was on a mission, he felt the thin line between rationality and anxiety. Sometimes he crossed that line and went into full blown panic. But that was what got a soldier killed.
With time, he learned to control his emotions. Rationality played before emotions. He always used logic no matter what the situation.
“Sit here and wait,” he answered.
Alex reached into his back pocket and retrieved a pistol for Nikos. He handed it over to his friend.
“For your protection. Still know how to use that thing?”
“Of course, I do,” he snarled.
Once more, Nikos lifted his head and looked at Cassia. She looked so helpless on the floor that his heart squeezed with every breath. Her eyes were closed and his gaze zeroed in on the blood surrounding her.
Alex gripped him by the collar of his shirt and looked straight into his eyes.
“Calm the fuck down!”
“I can’t,” Nikos’ voice broke as replied.
A thousand emotions assailed him at seeing her like that. He did not understand why he was feeling this way. He hated how he couldn’t think. He hated how he couldn’t function logically or rationally and could only panic.
Alex must’ve noticed his slip and looked at him from head-to-toe.
“I didn’t realize you felt this strongly about your estranged wife,” he teased in an attempt to lighten the situation.
“Just get her out of there,” he pleaded.
Suddenly, a black massive Hummer skidded to a halt on the street before them.
Out came more men dressed in black. They were reinforcements of those attempting to kidnap his wife.
“Shit,” Alex muttered at the same time that Nikos cursed under his breath in his own native tongue.
The mercenary lifted his hand and touched his earpiece. He barked several orders to his team. Nikos didn’t understand a word of it for he was looking at his wife.
He saw her chest rise and fall and it calmed him a little bit. But fear still twisted his gut when he saw that her beautiful features were twisted in a mask of pain.
“Stay down,” Alex commanded.
One of his men threw an Uzi submachine gun to him. Alex quickly grasped it and the roar of gunfire echoed as he squeezed the trigger, discharging a storm of bullets. Three men dropped dead while the others ran for cover.
Nikos looked to his left when he saw a flash of black and saw more enemies come from the other side. He then relied on his reflexes as he lifted the pistol from the ground and fired several shots. He missed several times as he did not have a steady hand like Alex.
While the sound nearly made him deaf and the recoil hurt his hand, all he could think about was how these men intended to hurt his wife and how he would never allow them to. He had to protect her. So he focused and fired again.
He was so focused on his left that he left his back unprotected. The moment he turned around, he was suddenly rooted to the spot when a gun was pointed to his face. He took a deep breath and sent his elbow into the man’s ribs. It made him drop the gun and Nikos kicked it out of reach. He aimed another punch towards the man’s nose and the force made him stagger backwards. Nikos then dived towards the discarded weapon and fired a hole into the man’s skull.
He almost gagged at the sight but he kept himself in check by staring at the other direction and taking in several breaths of air.
Suddenly, he was flashed back to another scenario. It was two years ago and the scene was exactly like this. Only that it was him who was bloody and it was his bodyguards firing against the enemies to keep him and Antonio safe.
But they were outnumbered.
Immediately, he felt fear and panic sliding down his spine.
No. Not now.
Nikos shook his head and tightened his grip on the pistol.
He could not be weak. Not at a time like this. Cassia and Alex needed him.
He shook his head and focused harder. Alex threw him a magazine clip and said, “Cover me.” Nikos nodded and reloaded his pistol. The two of them crouched low and moved slowly to the front of Cassia’s shop. Suddenly, the men ran outside the shop. When he saw that they didn’t have Cassia, he aimed the gun at the bastards and squeezed the trigger. He did this until he ran out of bullets and none of them was left standing.
The sound of gunfire stopped and the only sound that could be heard was the sound of the police sirens in the distance. He lifted his head and saw several bodies on the floor. There were more of them piled outside Cassia’s shop.
“All cleared,” one of Alex’s men told him. He and Alex stood up and ran inside the shop.
He was almost afraid of touching her in fear of causing her more pain. Her eyes opened and sheer terror was written all over her face.
“Shh...it’s me, Cassia. You’re safe now,” he crooned as he gently brushed the hair away from her face. He wanted to lift her into his arms but he was too scared to move her because of her injury.
“Nikos...” she sighed.
He ran his hands down her arm, not caring one bit that he was already covered in her blood. He checked her for injuries and saw a bullet hole near her shoulder. His grip on her tightened as his fury overtook him once more. He let her go when she winced and he cursed himself for being a fool.
Nikos withdrew his handkerchief from his pocket and used it to press Cassia’s wound and stem the bleeding.
She winced again at the pain and he felt like his heart was being clawed out.
“I’m so sorry, glikia mou...”
Her eyes slowly drifted shut. Nikos was so shocked that his heart stopped beating for a second. But when he saw that she simply lost consciousness, it was as if air was let back into his lungs and he could breathe and function again.
“Medics are on their way. But from judging the wound, I don’t think the bullet hit any major arteries. She’ll be fine,” Alex told him.
“But why isn’t she awake? Why is there so much blood?”
“It’s a wound, Nikos. There’s bound to be blood.” Alex rolled his eyes. “As for her being deeply asleep, I think she might have also been hit with a sedative so they could snatch her away more easily. This is better; she won’t feel the pain,” Alex continued.
Nikos only nodded because his throat suddenly felt too tight to form any words.
The medics arrived and they carefully lifted Cassia onto a stretcher. They rolled her towards the waiting ambulance and when one of the wheels hit a rock, the stretcher was jolted so badly.
“Careful!” Nikos roared.
Everyone flinched, including Alex. The medics nodded apologetically to him and this time, they wheeled Cassia faster but more gently. Nikos climbed onto the ambulance and he glared at everyone inside as though threatening them to just try and tell him that he couldn’t be there.
Alex also climbed in and the ambulance made its way to the hospital.
Nikos held Cassia’s hand while the ambulance hurtled through the streets of New York. All the while, he was thinking that her safety was now his main concern. They would go somewhere safe. He’d hire hundreds of men if need be just so he could protect her.
He cursed under his breath, shocked at the intensity of his own thoughts. Alex was right. Since when did he care so much? Since when did he feel this way about the woman who destroyed his life?
Nikos comforted himself by thinking that she was still his wife. No matter what, they were bound before God and before man. Naturally, he had to care at least a bit. Naturally, he had to feel at least some emotions for her.
Also, if she died, what would happen to their contract? Would he forfeit all rights to the company he worked so hard for? Death was not part of their contract and he did not know how this would affect his life.
Yes, surely that was the reason why he felt this way.
He just had to protect her. It was one of his responsibilities as her husband. Now he’d never let her out of his sight.
She would come with him. He did not care if she did it willingly or if he would have to chain her to his side.