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“I’d like to think he wouldn’t. But I’ve seen cases where the meekest people turn into rabid tigers and get very unpredictable. Tomorrow after he’s sobered up and calmed down, I’m sure he’ll be more reasonable. For now, it’s just best everyone stay away from everyone else. If there is any trouble there tonight, call me. I’ll be there.”
“My white knight in shining armor and all.” Jay sounded more relaxed.
“And don’t you forget it,” Eric said, dropping his voice. “I saw Kellie hold your hand and kiss your cheek, not to mention the fact I’m sleeping alone tonight. Repercussions.”
Jay wuffed out a short laugh. “Oh God, I hope so.”
Breathing a deep sigh of relief, Eric chuckled. Jay was doing all right for now. “You sleep good, we’ll work it out,” he murmured, and when Jay responded in kind, Eric ended the call.
Eric threw on some clothes and drove to the resort. The night clerk there verified that Senator Molloy was indeed in one of the rooms and had been for about an hour. Eric decided it was time to flex a little head-of-resort security muscle.
“If he leaves tonight, I want you to call me immediately.” Eric wrote his number down for her and slid the paper across the front desk countertop.
“Sure. Is there a problem?”
“No. But a lot of folks, the senator included, had a lot to drink tonight, and I don’t want any of them driving around these woods getting into car accidents, crashing into trees, and being eaten by Sasquatch.” The woman nodded, giggling softly. “And, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you about confidentiality?”
“No. I don’t know a thing.” She smiled when Eric snickered. “I don’t even know you.”
He tapped the counter a few times and bid her good night. After a fast check to make sure Senator Molloy’s car was in the parking lot, Eric decided he’d done all he could and headed back home. Most of the night he spent staring at the ceiling, waiting for some phone call of doom. Eventually, he dropped off to sleep, hoping in the morning Jay’s parents, or at least his father, would go their merry ways and leave him and Jay in peace.
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One of the interns burst into the workshop, gasping for breath. “Th-they’re l-looking… for you…. Ms. Hollan sent me.” When Mal started patting himself down, the intern gulped a few breaths and added, “Your phone is sitting on your desk back at the offices.”
“Oh shit. What’s wrong?”
The kid shook his head. “I don’t know. She said it was an emergency and to run, so I did.”
“Thank you.” Mal quickly secured his workshop, and after they were through the door, he locked it before hurrying toward the distillery offices.
The last time Audrey had used the word “emergency” was when one of their shipping trucks overturned in front of a high school. There’d been broken bottles, whiskey, and kids everywhere. Once everything was under control, the situation was more comical than anything. If Audrey felt the need to send someone to retrieve Mal immediately, this must be bigger than that.
Having left the intern behind by the time Mal reached the main offices, he ran the final distance and burst into his office. Phillipe stood in the middle of the room with Audrey, Jeffery, and Frank. Something cold and nasty crawled through Mal’s gut to his chest and took root there like a heavy, jagged rock.
Colt had been with Phillipe.
Thoughts of car accidents, shootings, violent and sudden illness—all leaving Colt in a hospital in a coma or worse—rampaged through Mal’s brain.
“Wh-where’s Colt?” Mal stammered.
Phillipe looked terrified, and Frank wore an expression Mal could only describe as pissed off. Jeffery appeared stunned, and Audrey was the one pacing for once.
“Mr. K, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Phillipe’s words rushed out so fast it took a second for Mal to process them and realize he was holding something out to Mal. Then it registered. Phillipe’s face was bruised, and he had a cut on one hand.
“Are you all right?” Mal asked softly. He took the paper Phillipe offered, read it, frowned, reread it, and looked up at the others. “What the hell? Colt’s been kidnapped?”
“Yeah. Notice they used Colt, not Colton,” Frank pointed out.
Mal could only ask, “How did this happen?”
“We, Colt and me, were to meet at a coffee shop,” Phillipe said. “When I got there, I found his order all over the sidewalk. Then a guy comes up to me, hits me, and gives me that note. Says, ‘Do it or Colt dies.’” Phillipe took a few deep breaths. “And no cops.”
“Oh hell no,” Frank said. “We have to contact the police.”
“But they said—” Jeffery started.
Frank cut him off. “Yes, we can take a bag of money, and I have a few friends who can help. We will likely get Colt back. However, think. None of that is legal. These assholes need to go to jail, and without the police, that won’t happen. We’ll be nothing more than vigilantes and open to prosecution ourselves.” Frank flicked at the paper in Mal’s hand. “Whoever did this aren’t pros. Too sloppy. They’re small-time thugs, and that makes them very dangerous. Professional kidnappers rarely kill. I can’t say the same for this type.”
“He’s right,” Mal agreed. “And Phillipe needs to get to a doctor.”
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Linden shrugged and said, “I’m not here for a vacation.”
“Oh.” Tyler’s face fell.
Linden felt a sudden stab of guilt. Had Tyler thought Linden came to see him for other reasons? “Can I?” he asked and waved at the few tables that weren’t covered in plastic.
Tyler nodded silently and carried Linden’s overcoat while Linden took his laptop case and crossed to one of the tables. He extracted the computer and bent to look around.
“There’s an outlet in the floor.” Tyler tapped a small metal plate near one of the table legs with his toe. He draped Linden’s coat over the back of a chair, dropped to one knee, and reached under the table. Using the pad of his thumb, he turned a large screw set into the top of the plate, and the plate popped off to reveal two outlets set into the floor. Nodding at Linden, Tyler held out one hand and Linden laid the power cord for his laptop into Tyler’s palm.
Once he was plugged in, Linden booted up his laptop, explaining, “I didn’t have the chance to charge it before I left home.” He used a USB cord to attach his phone to the computer. “It’ll be easier to see the photos I have on my laptop.”
Tyler nodded, but Linden wasn’t sure if he was simply acknowledging what Linden had said or if he knew what Linden was doing without any explanation, which might actually be an ominous sign. It was another minute before the files finished loading and Linden opened the first one.
“Do you know this man?” Linden turned the laptop to make it easier for Tyler to see.
Tyler pulled out a chair and sat down. He dragged the laptop closer and stared at the screen. “I don’t….” He shook his head. “Maybe. I’m not sure. He seems familiar. Possibly someone who came through here. I see a lot of people. He’s dead?”
“Yes.” Linden paused, then said softly, “He’s from Ohio.”
If he had doubted Tyler’s guilt before, he was positive of his innocence now. Tyler sat back in the chair, blew out a slow, somewhat unsteady breath, and wiped one hand over his face.
“H-he was one of my…. I was a teacher once, long time ago, and he….” His voice faltered, and he dropped his head back and ran both hands through his hair. “He was a student, and I can’t remember his name. God, I wanted to remember all their names.”
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