In the Darkest hour light burns brightest
For two months Simon lived with the nightmares. He got close to William and his family and shared their loss. William was sole heir to his father’s estate but he was preoccupied with helping Natalie deal with the grief. She was in therapy now and she resented William. In fact she blamed him, because of the connection between his father and Jean Pierre. But Simon knew it wasn’t an easy time for William either. He lost a daughter and his father in the same day, without being given the opportunity to get to know them. Michelle’s funeral was the last occasion William and Natalie stood together, since then she couldn’t bear to look at him because of the loss he reminded her of. Then there was the matter of Jean Pierre. A man with his resources and connections had the ability to disappear and as much as Simon searched it appeared that he was always one step behind.
He was on his way to see William now; their shared experience had created a special bond between the men. They were not the only ones that became closer because of the ordeal. Special Agent Jennifer Lee now left a toothbrush and some sleep wear at Simon’s place, but they were taking things one day at a time. There were business matters that required William’s attention and more specifically his signature, so Simon agreed to pick him up at the offices of his father’s lawyers Steinberg and Smith. As he came up to the curb he saw William standing with his hands in his pockets. He wore a tasteful charcoal suit that belonged to his father.
“William. How you doin buddy?”
“I’m doin.” He said smiling weakly as he closed the door behind him. As Simon pulled away from the curb William started speaking without turning his head.
“I received a call last night. They said they knew that you would listen to me so that I should try to appeal to your sense of reasoning.”
Simon looked at William.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“They said discontinue your search for Jean Pierre or many more people will die.” Tears of frustration streamed down William’s face as he continued.
“I don’t know who these fucks are but I believe them when they say that more people will die.”
“They are powerful, but they’re not all powerful because we know who the head is and we’re not dead. Thankfully we’re still being monitored closely by the agency. I’m sorry William but I can’t stop and I know you don’t want me to. In fact I think we need to press the issue because they will try to finish the job, as soon as they can.”
“I know you’re right, I do. But we’ve all lost so much and there’s so much more we can still lose…including our lives. There’s also part of me that believes that if Pierre really wants us dead he will eventually find a way.”
“I know. He hasn’t tried yet because he was exposed and he doesn’t want to risk anything more than he should, but he will try again. It’s the reason that we must use the information that we do have to our advantage.”
“Information?” William questioned.
“I’ve done some digging and I found out that Pierre funds a children’s foundation that is responsible for taking care of displaced children. The foundation has a presence in every major city in the world and actually is quite respected for the work that they do in the community.”
Simon tried to fill in the blanks for William as he drove and as he stopped in front the house he now rented he continued.
“Thing is I’ve been working a missing children’s case for a while now and it seems that Pierre ‘Segregate Foundation’ is a perfect front for him to recruit for his own private army or society or whatever it is this freak refers to them as. We have managed though to get some of the records that were not yet ‘misplaced or lost’ and we have compiled a list of impressive names. Orphans who now hold key positions in the military, government and business and not just here in the U.S. We know now that this is no mere coincidence that Pierre has plans and the means to carry them out whatever they may be. I –” A knock on the glass interrupted his train of thought. He put the window down to speak to the well-dressed man with the earpiece.
“Everything okay sir?” came the polite inquiry.
“Just fine, has everything been quiet here?”
“Yes sir, all clear. I’ll continue my sweep of the area. You have a good night.”
He turned back to William and smiled wanly.
“I think we should get inside, Jennifer is expecting us for dinner.”
As the walked towards the house Franz thought about the encounter they had with the special agent assigned to protect him. Something wasn’t right. It was the first time in weeks he had been approached by any of them. They were supposed to stay in the shadows and avoid attracting attention and yet this agent walked right up to the car and spoke to him. The kind of reaction that would be expected form a very intelligent person who was caught off guard with something to hide, someone who wanted to buy time for something either finished or still in progress. Instinctively he removed his weapon and gave William a knowing glance. They stood on opposing sides of the front door. He did a mental three count in his mind as he searched the area to the front of the house. There was no sign of any security detail, or the special agent who approached him. He kicked the door open and cautiously entered. The smell of sautéed vegetables and baked chicken filled the air.
“Jennifer!!” he waited a few seconds, no response.
“Jennifer!!” there was the distinct smell of something else in the air. It was the fresh sickening smell of blood and now his mind raced to keep pace with his heart. Sweat rolled down his forehead as he entered the kitchen. There was a body on the floor in a pool of blood, but it wasn’t Jennifer’s. William followed closely behind Simon.
“It’s okay it’s not Jennifer.” Without looking back he extended his left hand to caution William to stay back.
Five minutes later he had checked the house and there was no sign of Jennifer, but there were some signs of a struggle and a man’s body. Something told him that if he had been a little later getting home there might not even be signs of that. He knew she wasn’t dead else he would have found her body at the house. This was about sending a different message, but what? They could have taken their chances and tried to take them out all at once, but then Natalie was not with them and perhaps it was not that simple. Maybe as powerful as Jean Pierre was his plans were compromised by Simon’s intervention. Maybe he had to revise his timetable as a result. Maybe now it was about damage control. Maybe they did have some bargaining power.
Simon walked outside rubbing his eyes and as he stepped unto the front porch he felt his cell phone vibrating on the inside of his slacks. As he took the phone out he realized that the caller’s ID was blocked.
“I’m sure that we have your undivided attention now.” Came the clear response from the other end.
Simon’s throat tightened and he swallowed hard as he continued.
“Is she alive?”
“Alive and well Mr. Franz. I assure you that we are not animals. No more of your loved ones need to be hurt once our precise instructions are followed.”
“Can I speak with her?”
“Of course, but first you listen.” The clear unidentifiable voice was now discernibly sterner but not any louder.
“We want you to discontinue your search for Mr. Pierre and discontinue the investigation into our activities. We will provide you with names and locations and you will make some arrests and receive a commendation for your efforts, but it ends there.”
Simon’s mind raced. Names, locations? They had people willing to take the fall for everything and they wanted him to make the unwanted attention go away. He felt sick to his stomach. He couldn’t agree to this, lord knows what their plan was. But if he didn’t they would take their chances and kill everyone; of that he was certain.
“I’m sorry. Yes, I agree, yes. Now please let me speak with Jennifer.” There was a crackle on the line and then he heard her voice.
“Simon honey?” she sounded calm and Simon decided that was a good thing.
“How are you sweetheart, how are they treating you?”
“Good, good. They’ve given me water and I’m blind folded so I don’t have any idea where I am.”
Simon closed his eyes. He understood the message. If she was blind folded it meant they didn’t want her to be able to identify anyone. She was still alive. Thank God she was still alive.
“You’re going to be okay J, I promise.”
“Very good,” came the male voice in response “we’ll be in touch.” then there was a click and the line was dead.
He felt William’s hand on his shoulder before he heard his voice.
“What are their demands this time?” He asked quietly.
“They want us to leave them alone…and they’ll leave us alone.”
“Do you believe them?”
“Yes. This is why I think we can’t do as they ask but we don’t have much of a choice. They don’t want too but they will kill us if they have to and this time they’ll do it quickly.”
William looked around the surrounding area.
“We’re being watched right now aren’t we?”
“Yes. I believe we are.”
“I don’t understand how they’re able to do the things they seem capable of but it seems they have the ability to clean up this mess. Let’s get some of your stuff and head to my place. We need to think things through.”
Two hours, a shower and three scotches later they sat in William’s recently acquired Manhattan loft. He inherited his father’s simple but exquisite taste and his loft was a reflection of that. A speed bag and a punching bag hung from one corner of the loft decorated with weights a strike dummy and a couple of small weapons. Large paintings of feudal Japan hung from every wall. Simon could sense that although William’s place felt warm and comfortable, it also spoke of a restless spirit; someone at odds or at war with himself. The question now though was what course of action was available to them? Simon knew that if they didn’t follow Jean Pierre’s instructions that he would not hesitate to kill Jennifer. They would call again with directions to a meeting place of their choosing. This would probably be their last good chance to flush Jean Pierre out.
“What are you suggesting Simon?”
“We have to convince them that we’re ready to deal in good faith. That we are prepared to hand over the evidence that we have collected, but only to Jean Pierre himself.”
“Then we crush the head of the serpent.”
“What if the body goes on living?”
“I believe it will, but the best we can do for now is leave them without leadership and hope it sets them back long enough for us to identify and locate the other major players.”
Simon looked at William long and hard, before he continued.
“You know this is no longer your fight. You don’t have to put yourself at risk anymore.”
“Jean Pierre is my grandfather and is responsible for my father’s and daughter’s death and you say this is no longer my fight. That is a helluva thing for you to say to me my friend. I’m in thank you very much.”
Simon allowed himself a ghost of a smile. He was still apprehensive about using a civilian, albeit a skilled one, but he had to admit that William made the odds a lot better.
“We’re going to get real bloody on this one buddy and there’s a high possibility that we will get killed.
“I think it’s a possibility that we both live with everyday. Let’s finish this.”
Simon trailed off in thought because he knew death could not be avoided.