Chapter 1 - Destined Meeting
“Hmm, yes. Yes. I am just going to buy four chicken buckets and I’ll be on my way there.”
Cielle Antonette Becker, a half-Filipina, half-American woman, parked her car in the parking lot of a popular fast-food chain and turned the engine off. She twisted the key out and disembarked the vehicle just as she informed her best-friend, Silvia, at the other line of her plans.
“Uh huh, I’ll be just quick, ” she added whilst righting her black blazer into position — the first garment she was able to pull out from her luggage that could protect her from the cold October evening. Under it, she wore a white v-neck tee and dark blue jeans — an ensemble of which she deemed simple but elegant paired with a wedged sandal.
Right after locking the car door, she stood right beside her white SUV and studied the whole of the area. At this time of the night, exactly seven in the evening, a lot of customers jovially flock the mouth-watering establishment with their families so it was no wonder most of the parking spaces were occupied.
But no matter. The crowd didn’t bother her at all.
She had giddiness in her eyes, smiling from ear to ear as she looked up the well-known bee mascot signage bolted up some few meters above a thick pole. From where she stood, she could already detail out the long line of customers waiting to order, but once again, it didn’t bother her. Heck, it was even a welcomed situation.
It reminded her fondly of her memories back when she was younger when her grandparents would bring her in the establishment every time her parents visit the Philippines.
She sighed and brushed a single tear that escaped from the corner of her eye. Those were wonderful memories indeed, worthy to be treasured inside her heart. It has been years since then. A beautiful adult she may have become but that didn’t mean she won’t get the same happiness when stepping inside the building.
“Alright, four chicken buckets here I come!” she exclaimed after a deep breath of confidence. These juicy cuts were apparently Cielle’s share of food in her own welcome party after having stayed in the US for nearly six years. She had just arrived in the dainty town of Cordova in the province of Cebu a day before and was already very excited by meeting her loved ones in their ancestral house in the city.
“I believe I should get some large fries along with the buckets to eat while driving, ” she murmured to herself and nodded twice, agreeing with her own decision.
When she was finally in the cashier, she did just that — ordering four buckets of chicken and one large fries.
By the time she headed out of the building, her hands were full of her purchases. It was heavy but she had a fun time carrying it all the way to her car.
‘Silv, I’m on my way, ’ she texted on her iPhone after she laid the buckets at the passenger side of the car.
After sitting comfortably and adjusting her seatbelt, she turned the ignition on. Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk immediately sounded inside the car as Cielle drove out of the parking lot. She sang along with it and even bobbed her head, swayed her shoulders, and rocked her hips even while driving.
This part of the road that she took was one dark area. From the right and left sides, overgrown shrubbery was seen. No huts or concrete houses. Not even one person was on sight. There were small electric lamps along the way, but it didn’t dismiss the gloomy aura of the place.
Cielle didn’t mind the overall presence though as she was too engrossed with the booming music of her speakers and eating her crispy fries. However, when a loud, resounding gunfire passed through her attention, she yelped and abruptly stepped on the brakes. Her car immediately came to a halt beside a lamppost.
“What the—” she uttered as her eyes fell on the scene a couple of meters away from her.
A light brown Toyota Fortuner was on a standstill in the middle of the road while a middle-aged man was seen with his head popped out of the driver’s shattered window and one hand dangling along with it.
Through the windshield, Cielle could see a boy of not more than seven shaking the unconscious man’s shoulder.
Though confused and wide-eyed, her nurse instincts kicked right in. She stepped out of the car, waving her hand and calling out the boy’s attention.
Although warily, she inched forward in quick strides.
The small passenger only noticed Cielle when she arrived on the man’s side of the window.
“Oh God, ” she immediately exclaimed, covering her mouth and stifling a scream when she noticed that the man had a gunshot wound in the head and dead.
“Who did this!?”
In realization, she quickly turned from side to side to see if there was an armed person behind her, but she found none. Dark were the surroundings still, without a chance of showing the culprit at all — if there was even any. A soft glow of the fluorescent light some inches away spotlighted the immediate area, but it wasn’t enough.
“Big sis, is my step-father alright?” the boy asked surprisingly in clean English; his innocent eyes dancing with confusion.
It made Cielle’s heart squeeze in pain.
Oh, God. What should I tell him?!
Gathering her courage and resolve, she rounded the car and stopped near the boy’s window.
“Hey, I’m Ci...Cie...Cielle by the way, ” she stuttered, too conscious of the possible danger lurking around them. “I’m your friend. What is your name?”
She smiled trying to hide the nervousness she was feeling.
“Alexander...” the boy answered softly.
“Ah, Alexander! What a strong name!” With the side window pulled down, she patted the boy’s head and gave him a new smile that emitted radiance. The fear in her heart was there still, but for the boy, yes, for the boy, at least she had to show positive strength.
“Can I call you Alex?”
The clueless boy nodded.
“Good. Now, Alex hear me out. Your step-dad...isn’t feeling well. He needs medical treatment.”
Cielle abruptly chanced a look at the bushes behind her when she heard some twigs breaking. Seeing no presence in the shadows, she continued in a hurry, “We...we are going to call 911.”
She flung open the car door but then stopped and face-palmed herself, “Uh, is that even available here? Oh God, no. I don’t think so.”
The boy stared at her with brows cutely knitted as if he was trying to figure out why she was showing a ridiculous face. Cielle would have pinched his cheeks because of that, but then her eyes widened.
“The police! Yes! The police and an ambulance!” She looked heavenward as if thanking her quick wit. “We need to tell them that your step-dad needs help!”
“Ophs ophs ophs!” a sharp, squeaky voice of a man then caught Cielle’s attention.
She turned with a start and with mouth gaping — her back and long golden-brown soft curls pressed too much against the car door — as her eyes fell on three men wearing uniformed black shirts and pants.
“Not so fast, Beautiful, ” said one man in their native language who was at the center. His face was unshaven, full of holes from dried up pimples and two warts in his chin and the side of his left brow. He looked the typical villain along with his other air-headed sidekicks who were snickering at her, looking like they have just captured a priceless magical bird. All of them held a gun on their hands looking every bit a wanted criminal.
Cielle’s face turned ashen. “Oh, God.” She understood exactly what the man said.
“What’s this Don? An escaped mouse?” said a new man who emerged from the other side of the road. Cielle glanced at him when he stopped near the car’s hood hoping to see his face but failed as he wore a half-face motorbike helmet with its cover pulled down.
Another man followed him and stood at his left. He had a blue full-face helmet and wore the same uniform black clothes, but he was the tallest of them all and the only man who wasn’t holding a gun. His posture was relaxed, too relaxed, and even when Cielle couldn’t see, she felt his eyes bore deeply into her.
“Yes, a mouse, but she won’t be able to escape from us, ” the first man named Don replied whilst glancing wickedly at Cielle and then to her SUV.
“Please, ” finally she gained the courage to speak. “You can take anything! My car, cellphone, and wallet! Everything! Just as long as you release me and this kid!”
“Are you joking with me?” Don asked with brows cocked up whilst holding his gun high. He poked his chin with its muzzle, looking as if he was playing the damn weapon like it was just a toy.
Understanding their native language pretty well, she shook her head vigorously and felt a sob coming out from her throat.
“I am not joking with you, Sir. Please, we are harmless.”
The man with the blue helmet shifted his stance, still listening to their exchange.
“Sorry Beautiful, but we need the child, ” Don answered. “We can fetch a great amount of money with him.”
Cielle felt herself choke. She had just crossed paths with a kidnap-for-ransom group that was for certain.
Then, Don, acting as if he was the leader, gestured something to his comrades with his head, and even though she heard no words, Cielle knew exactly what they were about to do.
“Please! Please!” she begged, feeling her hands suddenly cold and clammy. She stood breathing deeply acting as if she was a wall able to block the men’s advances. “Let us go!”
But the two snickering guys only shoved her roughly to the side and pulled the boy out of the car.
Cielle’s ears immediately numbed with the child’s sharp cry.
“Please don’t hurt him!” she begged again, looking worriedly at Alex who was flung over the shoulder like a potato sack by one of his captors.
“You know woman, you shouldn’t worry about the child. He is money in our eyes. Instead, you should be worried about yourself. You have seen things you are not meant to see, ” the man in the black helmet said.
Cielle shuddered in reaction. Of course, she had been so worried about the boy that she had forgotten about herself.
With this, realization hit her and in desperation, she sprinted in haste to the back of the Fortuner hoping she’d be able to escape from there but then a gloved hand shot out and grabbed her wrist tightly.
“Ah!” she whimpered.
In her line of sight, she saw the man with the blue helmet stepping out.
How? She didn’t even notice him move from his spot near the car’s hood! Or was she just too preoccupied with escaping that she didn’t care at all?
Under the fluorescent light, the helmet gleamed, but it didn’t show the man’s face as he towered her.
“Let me go!” she shouted as she fought back her wrist.
She kicked him in the heel, kneed his groin, and pounded his back as if it caused any difference. She could hear the men shouting, whistling, and mocking her meager strength calling her a spirited cat who could only make a small scratch and nothing more.
The man silently ridiculed her by just standing there looking unaffected. She already hated them the moment they showed themselves, but this man in particular who held her captive and made her helpless just by holding her right wrist created an even bigger hatred inside her heart.
“Nic, put that woman in her SUV but you drive, ” the man in the black helmet instructed. “Let Arthur take care of your motorcycle.”
Cielle saw the one addressed nod curtly and then felt herself being pulled towards her vehicle.
“No, please, let me go! I am innocent! I swear I won’t tell a soul! Please!”
But her cries fell on deaf ears along with the boy’s shouts of fear.
“Silence that child!” she heard Don shout to his fellow kidnapper before she was pushed inside the front seat of her SUV. Through the windshield, she saw the man holding Alex produce a white handkerchief from his pants pocket and pressed it into the boy’s mouth.
Seconds later, silence enveloped the area.
Tears streamed down her eyes. She was really in a tight mess this time. These men were genuine bad guys who wouldn’t think twice killing a poor soul.
The sound of the door shutting behind her caught her attention. She whirled around to check and amidst the pooling tears in her eyes, she saw a kidnapper she hadn’t seen earlier settle himself next to the chicken buckets.
“Hmmm, the smell here is delicious, ” remarked the man who sported a goatee. Cielle clenched her teeth in rage. Any seconds now, it would be no surprise he would sample one piece of chicken in his mouth.
He looked in his late twenties with little muscle and fat as readily seen in his limbs. He had narrow shoulders and chest which complemented his high forehead and receding chin. He was close to being a lanky man, but it didn’t reassure Cielle one bit that this man was a little less wicked than the others.
All kidnappers were in fact wicked especially her captor who rounded her SUV and slipped into the driver’s seat.
Cielle’s attention diverted from the goatee man to him who, in a swift move, pulled the blue helmet out and placed it in between them.
Her eyes briefly flickered with something akin to surprise.
Her captor looked nothing like his comrades. Although some soft dark brown stubble peppered his jaw, he was all in all what society would call a ‘handsome hunk of a man’.
For a kidnapper, he was handsome with well-trimmed brows, defined jawline, shapely nose, and slender neck. Not to mention his unruly dark brown hair that ever so lightly curls around the edges.
He almost looked like a welcomed apparition if not for a hard scowl set on his face.
“Oi Theo, what are you doing there?” Nic, as called by his fellow criminals, shot a glare on the front-view mirror. Though using the native language, his voice sounded fluid and soothing to the ears. He had an accent there, maybe British, maybe American, but it was so faint, Cielle couldn’t make out what.
She blinked probably numerous times just to pull herself out of her uninvited physical inspection of the man.
What was she thinking? A criminal is still a criminal no matter how handsome he is!
“Eating chicken. Why? You want some Nic?” said the goatee man named Theo.
Nic sighed and shook his head. “Suit yourself.”
Cielle’s brow arched.
British! There was definitely a British lilt to it!
As much as she hated the man, this new tidbit about him really made her curious enough to cease her from crying.
“Oi, woman, ” Nic turned to look at her with not an expression on his face and added, “You know what happens when you try to escape right? Just sit there silently and be a good girl.”
Oddly, for whatever reason, it gave her the courage to scoff. “You know I end up dead anyway whether I pretend to be a good girl or not.”
“True, ” her captor agreed in a snap, “But at least it prolongs your lifespan. You care for the boy right?”
Though she was unrelated to Alex, her kind and sisterly-side made her nod once without hesitation.
“I thought so, ” he stated. “So I suggest you act obediently. The child needs a woman’s care while in this situation.”
Cielle’s brow flinched. Now that was not what she expected from a criminal.
She opened her mouth to speak but was cut off when the goatee man suddenly inserted, “Nic, what you probably mean to say is that we are the ones who need her service.”
From the front-view mirror, Cielle saw Theo’s reflection smirk at her. Then, he thrust his tongue out and moistened his lips in a perverted kind of way.
It made her skin hair crawl in alarm. God, no. With her arms pressed against her chest, she pushed herself to the side as much as she could in the hopes of hiding herself from his blatant examination.
“Let’s get going, ” Nic broke out, appearing nonchalant as he gripped the steering wheel and stepped on the gas pedal.