Beyond Ransom (The Ransom Series)

BOOK: Beyond Ransom (The Ransom Series)
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Beyond Ransom

 

Part One of The Ransom Series

 

By A.T. Douglas

Copyright © 2014 by A.T.
Douglas

 

All rights reserved
.

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, distributed,
stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in
any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without prior
written permission from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief
passages for review purposes.

 

This book is a work of fiction.  References to real people,
events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to
provide a sense of authenticity.  The author acknowledges the trademarked
status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of
fiction, which have been used without permission.  The use of these trademarks
is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

To writing the
story that started it all

and doing it
completely on a whim.

1

 

Freedom

 

I tap my
fingers on the counter lazily as I wait for the toaster to complete its purpose. 
It’s early, and the few sips of coffee I’ve had so far have yet to take effect
on my system.

This morning
is like most other mornings.  Dad is in the dining room reading the local
newspaper.  His badge and gun rest idly on the table.  They hardly leave his
sight, which shouldn’t surprise me given that he’s been a detective for over
twenty years.  The two items might as well be considered additional appendages
of the man.

Mom is already
out of the house and at the gym.  Is it Pilates or Zumba today?  Honestly, I
forget.  It’s her morning routine, and she’s usually out the door before I’m
even out of bed.  She’s in great shape for her mid-forties and probably has
more drive toward being physically fit than I do, which is saying a lot
considering I’m an athlete.  I’ve played basketball and volleyball in one form
or another for as long as I can remember.

The three of
us make a family, and while I love the closeness we share, I often wish there
was another kid in the house to take some of the attention.  My parents are
extremely protective of me, particularly my dad.  I know they mean well, but I’ve
found myself feeling sheltered and almost held back in life as a result.

I’m ready to
break out into the world.  I’m ready to emerge from beneath their protective
wings and go out into the open wild myself.

I’m ready.

Two weeks. 
Only two more weeks and I’ll be heading to college at the University of Arizona.  Granted, it’s only a two-hour drive away from home, but that’s two hours further from
my parents than I’ve ever been before.  I’ll be living in a dorm with other
people my age, able to go out without a curfew, able to live and thrive.  In a
way, I’ll be free.

The toast jumps
out of the toaster and scares me half to death.  Screw coffee.  The adrenaline
pumping through my veins has done more to wake me up in the last two seconds
than the quarter-cup of bitter black liquid I’ve ingested while waiting for my
toast.

After
buttering the toast and adding it to my plate of scrambled eggs, I take a seat
across from Dad at the dining room table.  He looks exceedingly serious this
morning, his normal stern demeanor and hard exterior even more pronounced than
usual.  There’s a bit of an awkward silence between us.  He hasn’t even greeted
me this morning other than a nod when I walked in the kitchen.

“Everything
okay, Dad?” I ask, not really sure if I want to know the answer.

It takes a
second for my question to register with him before he finally puts down the newspaper. 
He nods a few times.  “Everything’s fine.”

I’m not convinced. 
I’m not sure he’s even convinced of his answer.

Add to the
protectiveness of my parents the fact that they have some aura of secrecy about
what Dad does for a living.  He never talks about work.  He keeps it as far
away from home as he possibly can.  I guess I should be grateful, but I hate
being the only one out of the loop.  I want to know the purpose behind him
putting himself in the line of fire and at the bull’s eye of the scum of the
human race on a daily basis.  That need for understanding has always been there
in my life and has always remained unfulfilled.  My quest for answers was
abandoned years ago.

“I’m going to
check out a store that sells used textbooks today,” I offer in an attempt to
change the subject.  “They just got a new shipment in.  I think I’ll go see if
they have any of my books after breakfast.”

With Dad’s
initial lack of response, I can tell his mind is far from me and my quest for
cheap textbooks.

“Morgan, I
don’t want you going out today.”

I immediately
sigh and drop my gaze to my plate, mindlessly poking my fork at the eggs.  This
isn’t the first time Dad has insisted I stay home when I’ve wanted to go out. 
There will be no explanation, so I won’t even bother asking why, but I’ll put
up a little more of a fight than usual.  “The place is ten minutes from here. 
I’ll be there and back in less than an hour.”

He shakes his
head.  “No way.  Not today.”

I’ve suddenly
lost my appetite, pushing the plate away from me toward the center of the table
between us, my fork clanking dramatically against the ceramic.  “How are you
going to handle me going to college in a couple weeks if I can’t even go to a
local store?  You’re ridiculous, Dad.  I’m almost nineteen.  I’m not your
little girl anymore.”

Dad leans his
arms forward on the table and gives me a firm look.  His graying hair is messy
today.  He hasn’t shaved.  It all adds to the look of anger emanating from
him.  Despite my show of defiance, I still hate making my dad angry.

“You’ll do as
I say today,” he orders.  “I’ll make sure you have what you need to stay
protected while you’re at school.  I’ve been planning for it since you were a
baby.”

A moment of
stillness and silence fills the space between us.  We’re at an impasse.

I run my hands
over my face, putting my frustration with this conversation very clearly out in
the open.  “I just don’t even know what to say to you anymore, Dad.”

Tears burn at
the back of my eyes as the words tumble out of my mouth.  My body stills for a
moment before I push my chair back from the table, stand up, and walk away
without another word.

The walk down
the hall to my bedroom is a long one, just me alone with my thoughts.  I love
my dad, but I’m tired of his constant protectiveness, his overreaction to
everything in the scary outside world that could have even a most remote
possibility of causing some kind of harm to me.

I’ve always
been a well-behaved daughter and a good student.  I’m the ultimate rule-abider,
and where has it got me?

Nowhere.

By the time I
enter my room and slam the door behind me, I let the first of my tears finally
fall.  With college just around the corner, I thought I was past this, but I’m
clearly not.  I’m trapped in my room again as I have been so many times before.

Dad seems to
have plans to protect me while I’m at college, but he can’t be there.  He
wouldn’t abandon his job on the force to hover over me at college… would he?

Jesus, I need
fresh air.  I need it so much my lungs are practically burning for it.  I move
to open the window and immediately suck in a deep breath through the screen and
hold it there.  My eyes close.  As I take in the oxygen and absorb the heat of
the sun on my face, I let myself be swallowed up in the quiet hum of nearby
traffic from the entrance to our little cul-de-sac part of the neighborhood.

Once I finally
let myself exhale, my eyes slowly open and are immediately drawn to my car
sitting idly at the end of the driveway.  I should be in that car.  I should be
out on the road enjoying this beautiful day and a taste of freedom.

“Freedom.” 
The word flows out of my mouth and into the open air, taking with it all notion
of obeying my dad’s orders.

A rushed
debate flickers across my mind before the decision is made.  I quickly close
the window and move to my closet to throw on a pair of jean shorts and a white T-shirt. 
I grab my purse from my desk and peek inside it to confirm the presence of my
keys and cell phone before silently and slowly opening my bedroom door.

As I slink
across the tan tiled floor down the hall, I hear Dad’s voice booming from the
area of the dining room.  I gather that he’s on the phone with work and clearly
upset about something he saw in the newspaper.

I don’t bother
listening to his call, though I’m grateful for the distraction it’s providing
and the opportunity it’s giving me to slip on my sandals and sneak out the
front door.

A decent wind
whips my shoulder-length dirty blond hair all around my face the moment I step
outside.  I take care to close and lock the door as quietly as possible behind
me before setting out down the driveway.

In my lack of
planning for this little escapade, I neglected to account for the fact that
starting my car would be an immediate giveaway that I’m not in my room where I’m
supposed to be.  I hate the thought of walking in the heat of the morning under
the Arizona sun, but I don’t have much choice.  A few blocks’ distance is all I
really need.

I pull out my
phone as I walk and search for a local cab company.  The call is short, but the
wait for the cab will be longer than I hoped.  The nearest cab is fifteen
minutes away but still worth the wait.  It’s too hot to walk all the way to the
bookstore and back.

My wait begins
as I finish walking the last block away from my house to the intersection where
the cab will meet me.  The dirt on the sidewalk beneath my feet becomes a convenient
thing for me to kick around while I wait.  I’m only contributing to the dust circling
in the air with this wind, but I couldn’t care less.

Within minutes
a car pulls up next to me.  It’s a black town car with tinted windows, not the yellow
cab I was expecting, and it’s early.

I approach the
car warily, still trying to make sense of what it’s doing here and why I’m
worried about its appearance when I’m the one who called for it.

The
passenger-side window suddenly goes down and the driver speaks to me.  “Morgan
Whitford?”

I nod.

The back door
of the vehicle opens abruptly.  Two huge hands reach for me, owned by someone with
insanely broad shoulders wearing a malicious scowl on his face. 

Shit
.

Flight or
flight reflexes kick in, and within a fraction of a second my body has its
choice.  I turn to run, confident I am faster than my pursuer, but instead of
bolting into the free air, I run into something solid.

I look up at
another version of my pursuer, this one not as physically imposing as the other
but just as menacing with his malevolent grin.  I instinctively begin to move
backward away from him only to run into the original pursuer.

I’m trapped.  I
have nowhere to run, and there’s no one in the immediate vicinity to help me.

The second man
approaches me, grabbing the front of my shirt gruffly and pulling me up toward
him.  “Glad you could join us, Morgan.”

His voice is
low.  It’s deadly.  It’s telling me something I never wanted to admit to
myself.

My dad was
right.  The world is dangerous, and I need protecting.

Where is he when
I need him?  That’s right.  He’s at home thinking I’m in my bedroom sulking
that I couldn’t go to the bookstore today.

I’m so
screwed.

“What do you
want?” I ask without any hope of getting a positive answer.

“You,” he
replies.

“Why me?  Why
do you know my name?”  My hands start shaking, but I clench them into fists so that
no one will notice.

I watch each tiny
movement of the broad smile forming on his lips.  “You’ll have to ask your
father about that.”

A strong arm
grabs me around the chest from behind and holds me as a hand presses some kind
of cloth to my face.  Potent chemical smell and taste immediately fill my
nostrils and my mouth as I involuntarily gasp and breathe it in.  I start to
feel woozy.  I know I’m going to pass out.  In that moment a million thoughts
and regrets run through my mind as I realize it’s over for me.

Freedom. 
All I wanted was a taste of freedom.

That last thought is but a whisper in
my mind as my knees buckle and
I fall
away into
unconsciousness.

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