Authors: Annie Jocoby
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense
© 2015 by Tobann Publications
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O SEE ALL MY BOOKS
he Gallagher Family
End of Illusions
Ryan Gallagher (Illusions Series Prequel)
had just gotten
off the phone with Scarlett. I knew that CJ was somewhere, out there, alone and terrified. Of course, this emergency couldn’t happen at a worse time for me, but no matter. My preparations for my congressional testimony were just going to have to wait. The thought occurred to me that I might even have to send somebody in my place to testify.
If that was what I had to do, then that was what I had to do. All that I knew, at that point, was that CJ was in danger. And I had to get to her ASAP.
Scarlett had explained to me what had happened in some detail. Namely, that CJ got a photojournalist job with a major magazine. Good for her. Her assignment was simply to document the plight of the homeless in New York City. She apparently did that, going to pockets where the homeless manage to live. She befriended some of the people whom she was documenting, and even slept on the streets with them for a few nights.
All was well, except that her curiosity got the best of her when she saw two men hassling a homeless man on the street. Apparently this wasn’t a case of random homeless abuse, but, rather, was a shakedown by a member of the Albanian mob of a man who was hiding out from them by attempting to live, incognito, amongst the street people. The Albanian man demanded CJ’s camera, she refused, so he forced her into a van.
And that was the last that anybody had heard from CJ. Scarlett had found information about what had happened to her when she went down to the homeless row where CJ was working. She was concerned that CJ wasn’t answering her phone and hadn’t called. Their agreement when CJ went to do this assignment was that she would keep in daily contact with her best friend. When Scarlett didn’t hear from her for several days and all her phone calls went unanswered, she did some investigation by going down to the homeless row where she knew CJ had been staying. She talked to the guy who CJ was talking to and he told her about the Albanians and how CJ was forced into a car.
That’s all Scarlett knew. The kidnappers weren’t demanding a ransom, surprisingly. I was perplexed by this, because my automatic assumption was that CJ was probably targeted due to her involvement with me. While I did believe that Scarlett thought that CJ had been kidnapped because she took a picture of something that she wasn’t supposed to, I didn’t believe that was probably the actual reason why she was kidnapped. On the contrary, I thought it was probably all a ruse to get to me.
I also thought about the possibility that Sophie was somehow behind all of this. It would be just like her. I knew that she was friendly with some of the men who were in the Russian Mafia here in America. The Albanians often worked with the Russians in their organized crime syndicates. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she was behind these criminals targeting CJ, if that was what happened.
I knew that I had to call in some enforcements if I was going to get CJ out of this situation in one piece. I had to admit that my killer instincts were rusty, having not been in that world for so long. So, I called Nikolai, Peter and Andrei. These were all guys that I had been close with when I was younger, and were still a part of the syndicate structure back home. They had all moved up to various positions over the years, after having spent time being Sixes, although none of them were actually enforcers at any point. Nonetheless, they were trained to be defenders, therefore they were excellent with intelligence gathering and weapons training.
I first asked Edward, who was the head of my security team for my corporation, to ensure that the phone lines to these men were safe. I knew that they were safe on my end, because Edward and his team were always diligent about ensuring this. But I wasn’t at all positive that both lines would be safe.
Edward did his security detail, and informed me that I could safely call these men. So, I did.
“Alexei,” Nikolai said to me when I called him. “I haven’t heard from you in a long time. How are you?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Listen, I have an emergency over here. I need your help and expertise.”
“I will be there,” he said without hesitation. I didn’t even ask him how it was that he would be able to get here, because I knew the answer to that – my father would pull some strings, bribe some people, and he would be here. My father had been the one person who I could count on to ensure my own safety here in this country, and he usually didn’t ask questions when I asked for something from him or one of the men who were close to him. Nikolai was definitely close to my father, as he was one of the men who was in charge of a very powerful branch of the organization.
Peter and Andrei were also called, but I only wanted them on stand-by, just in case something happened to Nikolai, which would cause Nikolai to not be able to come to New York on a moment’s notice.
In the meantime, I had to do what I could to find out who had her. I wasn’t yet going to try to find out why. That would matter in saving her, because, obviously, I would have to find out what these men wanted out of her captivity. But I had to approach this one step at a time. First, find out who had her. Second, negotiate with her captors, and, if necessary, use violence to get her back. I didn’t want to resort to that, of course, but I would.
I would do anything, at that point, to ensure her safety.
The first person, therefore, I called in town was Arian, who was a low-level runner with one of the Albanian clans in town. I had contacts with many different syndicates in town, even if these contacts were superficial. I didn’t ever get involved with these gangs and what they did, but I did try to know who I could bribe if something ever went wrong. Arian’s clan was one of the most powerful Albanian groups in New York City. He might have been low-level, but all that meant was that he hadn’t yet gotten to the point where he had men under him. He still had valuable intelligence that he was usually willing to give to me. For a price, of course.
“Hello,” I said to Arian when he answered the phone. He always answered the phone when I called, to his credit. “I need your help.”
“Asher,” he said, calling me by my American name. “Anything you need. Our organization is in desperate straits and we really could use some funding.”
“Of course,” I said. “And what I’m going to ask for you to do would be something that I would imagine would be quite valuable to you. I need for you to find out about a kidnapping victim. Find out where she is, and there will be a premium for you and for your group.”
“Give me more information,” he said.
“Her name is CJ Parker. She’s somebody who is extremely important to me. Very important to me. I hope you get my message there.”
“I do. Describe her.”
“She’s around 5’4”, dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes. Around 115 lbs. Let me email you a picture.” At that, I emailed him a selfie picture that I had taken of the two of us at her apartment.
“Thanks for that,” he said. A few minutes later, he said “okay, I have the picture. I’ll be asking around about this with some of the guys who have more of a reach than I do. I’m not going to give you a figure, though, on how much I want for this, until I figure out who she is and why they want her. I’m not going to put my life in danger for a low sum if that’s the case.”
“I understand,” I said. “I would certainly appreciate it if you could find out why she’s being held, and who tipped off these men as well.”
“I’ll get as much information for you as I can,” he said.
After I got off the phone with Arian, I swiveled in my chair. I had to get proactive, but I didn’t necessarily want to get my hands dirty. When I was younger, of course, I didn’t hesitate to get my hands dirty. I was expected to do so. But I had to have more finesse. I didn’t want to be brawling like a common Six.
Besides, I didn’t necessarily think that going into this situation with guns blazing was what was called for.
At the same time, I knew that, if I had to get down in the muck and pick off some men who were in my way, I would do that. My only interest was in making sure that CJ was safe.
I sighed. I had the wheels in motion in finding her. Nikolai would soon be here. I knew that there was little that I could do until I got my intelligence back from Arian. I also knew that Arian would be back with me soon. He knew that the faster he got me what I needed, the better he and his group would be compensated.
I tried to examine my reports that were prepared for me. The reports that showed why the trade agreements needed to be amended. Yet I couldn’t do it.
I had always been able to compartmentalize what was going on with me with my position of power. Always. I never let outside stress get in the way of my laser focus with my job.
Yet I looked at the reports and saw Greek.
That was when I had to acknowledge what I was feeling at that moment. It was a feeling of panic. I knew about these Albanian groups. They could be vicious, capricious and brutal. My only hope was that this kidnapping did have something to do with me. If that were the case, then CJ was probably safe. Relatively safe. They wouldn’t harm her if they were going to use her to get to me. That would be cutting off their nose to spite their face, and I assumed that they would be smart enough to know this.
The worst-case scenario would be if she had been captured for the reason that Scarlett said. Because then they would have nothing to lose by killing her. They might even want to kill her, as it would send a message out to other journalists who were trying to investigate them.
I hoped against hope that Arian would be able to figure it out. His tentacles went pretty far in penetrating the different clans, so, if anybody could find out what had happened to CJ, it would be him. I just had to wait until he called.
The wait was interminable, though. I couldn’t stand it.
“Mr. Sloane,” one of my assistants said to me. “Mr. Kim is on line three.”
I sighed. Mr. Kim referred to Ye-Jun Kim, who was the point man for a major company in South Korea, which was a market that my company was having problems penetrating. I had been working with Mr. Kim for the past six months, and I was so close to getting some contracts with his company. That would be a major in for my company.
So, I had to take that phone call. I had to put CJ out of my mind for the time it took for me to speak with this most important man.
With a heavy heart, and a distracted brain, I answered the phone.
And I was able to fake my way through it, thank God. By the end of that half hour phone call, I was able to secure Mr. Kim’s commitment to Sloane Enterprises supplying wind and solar energy to his conglomerate.
I should have been happy. Ecstatic, even. That was something that I had been working towards, and South Korea was an amazing market for my company to get into.
But I wasn’t happy. How could I be happy about anything when CJ was in danger?
I had to know that she was okay. That she was alive.
I looked at the clock. I had spoken with Arian just under an hour earlier. Nikolai presumably was on a plane, hopefully on the private plane that was owned by my father.
In other words, I was in a holding pattern. I absolutely hated that, because I was a man of action. I also knew that there was a good chance that CJ’s life would be in danger, even if the criminals who had her were only using her to get to me, if I didn’t reach her within 72 hours. They could be trigger-happy and ruthless.
As I sat in my chair, behind my desk, I pondered the possibilities. I naturally was suspicious that they hadn’t contacted me directly, nor were they apparently interested in a ransom for CJ. A ransom that I would have gladly paid. That got me scared, because that might mean that they weren’t interested in me after all. Unless they figured that I would find out where she was, even if they didn’t directly contact me.
I was possibly going to play right into their hands, and they might kill her regardless.
This was going to be tricky. Trickier than anything that I dealt with in my legitimate business. I had learned to negotiate land mines. Learned how to do business with corrupt countries where bribery was the only way that companies could get a foothold. I always did what I had to do to get the ends that I wanted.
Yet all these business acquisitions seemed like child’s play compared to what I was possibly up against right at that very moment. I could possibly buy my way out of this situation, but I didn’t really know. And I wouldn’t necessarily know until Arian, or better yet, somebody who was involved with CJ’s kidnapping, would get ahold of me and let me know what I needed to do to secure her safety.
, two hours later,
Arian called me. “Asher,” he said to me. “I have some information about this CJ Parker.”
My heart was pounding. I silently prayed that she was alive. Obviously, I also prayed that she was unharmed. I couldn’t begin to imagine what she was going through. Nor did I want to imagine it.
Yet I did. I saw it in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t stand the vision of her suffering, but I couldn’t get away from it. I also heard her voice in my ears. Her desperate voice.
I fought back tears.
“Talk to me,” I said to him.
“She’s being held by the Bardha clan.”
I nodded. I knew them. They weren’t one of the more ruthless clans, thank God. Not that they were non-violent, but they could be reasoned with. “Okay. Have you been able to find out why?”
“That’s unclear. I can tell you that my source didn’t mention your name, so I don’t think that it has anything to do with you, directly.”
I nodded. That made sense, as nobody had contacted me directly to negotiate with me for her life.
I took a deep breath. This was my greatest fear – that they wanted CJ for some other reason.
Arian paused. “My suspicions are, and I don’t have intelligence on this, but I suspect that they might be wanting to sell her.”
My blood ran cold. I had to admit that such a possibility was in the back of my mind. CJ was a beautiful young woman, who had apparently put herself in the position to be dragged off.