From there, the event went smoothly. Until Bennie went missing. Little Bennie was a master at hide and seek and was aboundingly curious. All the exits were watched by security. Benny had found a place to hide and was waiting to be found. Barker organized the search.
After determining he’d been missing less than fifteen minutes things calmed down a bit but the search was on.
Andie was down on her hands and knees looking under Damien’s desk when a “Watcha doin?”
Coming from behind her had her jumping and bumping and ow.
She rubbed the back of her head, turned and stood and looked down into big brown eyes, “Benny Sweetie, we’ve been looking everywhere.
“I found a secret passage.”
“You did?” Andie blinked at the now open panel she’d seen Damien walk through a couple of days ago. “You did.” Oh crap.
Walking Benny to the door, she handed him off to Barker who was coming down the hall. Good. Great. Awesome. “Ah, you found the young sir.”
“Could you see that he gets back to his mother?”
“Of course. This way Master Benny.”
“Why are you calling me Master?” Benny asked.
“Ah, well in England a young man is Master an older gentleman is Mister.”
“Oh. So you’re Mister Barker?”
“What do you call Mommy.”
“That would be Mum.”
“What do you call frogs?”
“Ah, I would probably call it a frog, but if it were large I’d call it a Toad.”
“What do you call macaroni and cheese?”
Andie grinned. Once Benny got on a roll he could come up with questions for hours.
“I believe, Master Benny, I would call it lunch.”
Benny’s giggle floated up the hall.
Barker really was Super Butler.
Andie turned back to the open hole in the wall and oh shitty shit. What on earth had the child seen? Only one way to know. She took a couple of steps inside. She smelled paper and dust, ink, and window cleaner. It smelled both old and new. Like a library, What the heck? The Demi had a naughty librarian fetish?
Andie creeped down the dimly lit corridor. She stopped. She froze. She stood absolutely still. Didn’t move an inch. Not a smidge. Not a twitch. Well, other than her heart pounding its way out of her chest.
Holy Shit. She’d been worried about whips and chains and leather? She stood in a room about the size of her apartment living space. So not large, but not exactly tiny and turned in a circle. There were no whips. No chains. No leather.
What there was, was newspaper – lots of it, all over the walls. There had to be hundreds of news clippings along with charts, graphs, white boards, photos, legal documents. A cacophony of information papered the walls. Holy shit. She was in a Uni-bomber Basement. Only it wasn’t a basement – so a lair. A Uni-bomber lair. Or a stalker lair. Or serial killer lair. Andie slapped her hand over her mouth to silence the hysterical giggle popping out.
Her eyes snagged on the nearest set of clippings. Some yellow with age, some were preserved in plastic. All of them pertained to one Carter Berke. The former owner of The Fugue Hotel. Then she saw the obituary. Then she saw the list. The list of names including Carter Berke’s and half of those names including Berke’s were marked out in red ink. Then she saw another obit and another and….. yep, those names were red-lined as well.
She pulled her hand down. She didn’t have to worry about hysterical giggles cause you had to have air to laugh and there was no air. No….
Andie blew out of the lair and into The Demi’s office, nope no air in here either. There. Doors. The Demi had an exit in his office. The outside had lots of air. She threw the french doors open and stumbled out to the to the immaculate lawn. She kept going. Her pretty shoes sinking in the dirt. Her midnight magic dress billowing all around her. Cold rain hit her skin. Then someone grabbed her, her arm screamed in its socket.
“Well, this is convenient.”
And then somebody shoved a bag over her head and then poof! Nothing.
The pain in her shoulder woke her. She blinked her eyes. She was cold and stiff and damn uncomfortable and what was that smell? And why couldn’t she move and OH SHIT. Andie opened her eyes to see she was tied to a chair that sat in the middle of eerie gloom. It was damp and cold and smelled like old water dirt and mold. “What the hell?”
“Good, you’re awake.” A man stepped out of the shadows. The same one she’d seen in Richmond.
“Desmond Drake. Damien’s uncle.”
The uncle who had messed with her brakes and now had kidnapped her. And tied her up in a dank dark smelly basement and ruined her pretty dress. Well, he was now officially Desmond the dipshit.
“What in the heck is going on?”
“Damien has something I want. Now, I have something he wants.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. “What? You couldn’t just ask? You had to resort to a federal crime? What is wrong with you rich people?”
“I asked. Damien is being stubborn.”
“And again, I’ll point out – kidnapping. Federal crime. Kinda’ extreme, don’t you think? And I’m a someone not a something.” It was important that your kidnapper saw you as a person. She’d read that in some fiction book somewhere.
Desmond waved off that effort, “Semantics.”
“I’m assuming he knows you’ve taken me.”
“I sent him a picture.”
“Uh… you planning on being here when he shows?”
“He doesn’t know where we are.”
Oh, so he was a stupid dip-shit. “Desi, I’ve seen Damien’s uni-bomber lair. He’ll find us and it won’t take long. I’d make tracks and don’t stop until you’ve got an ocean between you.”
Dipshit had nothing to say to that, other than a look that spoke volumes of “This girl is cray-cray.”
Well… Pot – kettle, kettle-pot, kettle-kettle-pot-pot.
The jerk. Maybe she could use this lack of creative intelligence against the moron.
But first things first, “God, I’m starving. Is there any food?”
“Food. You know, munchies.”
“You are aware that you’re a prisoner.”
Well, whoop-di-doo. Dipshit loved to state the obvious. “Look Desi, I’m five feet two. You outweigh me by a couple stone and you have a gun. I’ve had a long day. I have to pee. I’m thirsty and hungry. I’d like to use the necessary and drink some water, maybe have a sandwich.”
“I’ll go get you a bucket to pee in.”
That would work. “Thanks, you’re all heart.”
She waited for the door to close and went to work.
By the time Desi Dipshit returned, it was just a matter of a. b. c. and d.
A.He swung the door open.
B. She swung the chair.
C. Bone crunched.
D. Dipshit hit the ground screaming.
So – wrenched knee and downed villain.
Jose had injured his knee skiing a few years ago. They’d had to carry him down the side of a mountain in a wheelbarrow. He’d screamed the entire way. Andie could have run out and locked the door while Dipshit was screaming and rolling, but he still had that gun and besides, he’d gotten her Midnight Magic dress all dirty. She whacked him again.
The gun went flying. She whacked him one more time – third time being the charm and all, before going after it. By the time she’d picked it up, he’d stopped screaming, and was trying to rise, cursing to beat the band.
“Stay down, dipshit!”
Possibly he didn’t hear her over his own screams and maybe she should have tried warning him a second time, but she’d had her fill of tv villain drama. She aimed and squeezed. She didn’t pull, she squeezed. That’s right, Grandpa Jack had taught her to shoot – and he had taught her well. The bullet went right where it was supposed to, pinging off the floor to the right of Dipshit’s foot. He shut his mouth and stopped moving.
Another two-fer. Yee. Hah.
“Okay, dipshit. Listen up. My grandpa Jack was a police officer. There were always guns in the house so he taught me how to shoot.”
Dipshit blinked at her. Blink blink blink, “You were tied up.”
She waved her fingers at him. “Floating ligaments, more commonly known as double-jointed.
She tossed the prepared loop of rope at him, “Sit down, legs out straight. Hands behind your head.
He opened his mouth.
“How many bullets do you think are left in this gun?”
Dipshit shut his mouth.
She had him trussed up and tied down in no time. Uncle Jack had taught her that, too.
“I’m leaving now. I’ll send somebody back for you. Where’s your cell phone?”
“Upstairs.” Dipshit grunted, “Kitchen table.”
“Cool.” She’d call Damien. Or maybe she’d call the police. Did she really think the Demi was a killer? Her instantons No no no was cut off by her suspicious, annoying high to low wwwwweeeeeeeeeellllll… preempting some equally annoying facts. The uni-bomber wall wasn’t covered with children, dewy-eyed girls, and sweet little old ladies. Nope, it was covered with rich powerful, and likely, corrupt as all get out, men.
She could absolutely see The Demi coming up behind some rich asshole on the street, stabbing him in the kidney, and shoving him in the gutter without so much as breaking his elegant, long-limbed stride. So… cops or no cops?
Demi or no Demi?
Jose or Layla?
She’d call Jose. If Layla showed, Dipshit would suffer permanent injury. And if The Demi showed there would be blood and gore and extended jail time. And if the cops came, they’d ask questions and take her downtown and she wanted get the hell out of here and take a hot bath maybe eat some chicken wings and have a Margarita, and boy was her low blood-sugar babbling. Heading out, she shut the door behind her, not bothering with the padlock, dipshit wasn’t going anywhere, and took a moment to get her bearings. The dank cold little room emptied into a bigger dank cold basement. Packed dirt under her feet and old stone masonry walls. There were even rickety wood steps going up. It looked like every basement from every horror movie ever to hit the big screen. The one where sweet, little, lace-wearing old ladies buried you after dumping arsenic in your tea.
Bring ‘em on. She’d already kicked one crazy ass. She could take a couple of old ladies. “Who’s a bad ass? I’m a bad ass.” She was high-fiving the rickety staircase when she smelled the smoke.
“That son of a bitch.” Damien stared down at the image on his phone. Andie, dirty, disheveled, and unconscious.
His uncle had taken her right out from under him. Had probably had her a good hour before anyone realized she was missing. It wasn’t until all the guests had exited EverMay that he’d looked around and asked, “Where’s Andie?”
He’d not been worried at that point, thinking she’d be helping with clean up. But when he entered the kitchen all he found was Min hunkering down over a plate of chocolate covered crème puffs, fending Dee off with a meat fork. He’d had to shout over her screams of “Mine and Back, I say” to ask where Andie was. They didn’t know.
His worry grew and exploded when Jose pranced in carrying two sparkling blue pumps, “Amdie Chase, how dare you leave shoes out in the rain…” Jose had paused, looked around, saw Andie wasn’t in the kitchen. His face lost all color, “Oh, God.”
“Where did you find them?”
Jose led him to his office and out the sliding doors. Then his phone received a text and his heart froze.
He’d had to inform Andie’s parents of his failure to protect their daughter. Andie’s father had gone blank-faced, saying only, “I don’t understand.” Delilah simply crumpled to the floor. Thank God for Carolyn. She’d gotten Delilah back on her feet, taking charge and escorting her and Andie’s father to the Solarium, saying they would wait somewhere out of the way until Andie was found. Requesting only that he keep her updated. With Barker’s assistance, she’d even corralled Min and Dee, silencing their arguments with a stern, “You’ll only be in the way. Come.”
So that now he had plenty of room to pace in his office. Which he did, back and forth in front of his desk.
“We’ll get her.” Caine said from where he lounged in the desk chair behind it, all kinds of calm. Damien had to suppress the overwhelming urge to punch him in the face. “Your uncle’s not so crazy he’d actually hurt her.”
“Oh, excuse me,” Layla spoke up. She was doing her share of pacing and quite a lot of cursing in front of the French doors. When he’d suggested she join the group in the Solarium she snarled that Andie was her best friend and dared anyone to try and move her. Nobody took her up on it. “Are you forgetting that trip down the mountain? Plowing into a Semi at top speed would have hurt plenty.”
Caine rubbed his chin. “Yeah, that doesn’t fit.”
He’d pop him right there…
“Trace is no good.” Maurice entered the study with more bad news, “Used a burner to send the pic.”
It was a long shot.
“How the hell did he get on the grounds?” Stan demanded, stomping into his office behind Maurice. “How the fuck should I know?”
“I told you to get Laser.” Stan snarled.
“I ‘got’ laser.” Damien snarled back. He’d pop Stan right after he finished with Caine. “We couldn’t very well light it up with all those people wandering around.”
“I told you to put more bodies on her.”
“I did” He said through clenched teeth. Now wasn’t the time to punch anybody. He’d knock Stan’s head off his shoulders after he got Andie back.
But Stan wasn’t cooperating. The ass wouldn’t shut the fuck up. “Then why the hell was Andie outside… alone.”
“The kid had gone missing. We were all looking for him.”
“The kid who followed you into your secret goddamn room that you never told Andie about, that kid?”
“Stan, swear to God…”
“I told you to talk to her.…”
His fist took flight.
It connected to Stan’s jaw. But before he could throw another, the squirrely bastard got him in some judo hold and his back slammed into the floor. The air left his lungs, but gasping for breath didn’t stop him from rolling and grabbing Stan’s legs out from under him. The ass hit the floor beside him. Damien wasted no time wrapping his arm around Stan’s neck, going for a choke hold. If he couldn’t breathe, he’d fucking stop talking. But Stan got his arm under it, hooked their elbows, tangled their legs, and sent them both rolling across the floor. On the third rotation, Damien got his knees under him, Stan clinging to his back like a goddamn monkey. He was about to flip the fucker when, out of nowhere, white hot agony pierced the back of his skull. Clutching his head in both hands to keep his brain from leaking out all over one of Jane’s one-of-a-kind rugs, because Goddamn, his skull had to be split the fuck open, he collapsed, rolling back and forth in an instinctive effort to diffuse the pain. In some distant part of his brain he knew Stan had slid off his back. Groans coming from his right assured him that Stan had gotten the same brain bashing treatment.
Blinking through shooting stars of agony, Damien made out two bare feet beside his head. He looked up long black-clad legs to see Layla holding a spike-heel stiletto in each hand. “Look Dickheads,” Her voice shredded through his splitting head, “My best friend has been kidnapped. Get your shit together. You two can do your jackass, testosterone, shit-for-brains shit later.”
Stan sat up, using the motion to put some distance between himself and those shoes, “We’re not going to find anybody if you kill us.”
“While normally not a fan of Layla’s Amazon in Armani tactics, she’s right. We have no time for your straight boy dramatics.” Jose said from the doorway, “Now, would you like to know where Andie is?”
“Follow me, Gentlemen.”
“Look at the wall behind her.” Jose pointed to the image he’d transferred to one of Damien’s laptops.
“And?” Damien didn’t see shit.
“It’s stone.” Jose said with extreme significance.
“So?” Stan said, he wasn’t seeing it either.
“You poor straight boys.” Jose’s finger ran along the stone’s edge, “Look at the mortar. See the deep gouges? That’s a different kind of masonry. Older. This basement was built before 1900. This house is historic”
“Jose, do you know where she is?”
“Andie is in Sussex County, specifically off Lewes Trail.” Jose’s fingers flew over the keyboard and brought up a house, “This sold to an anonymous buyer three months ago.”
“How did you find this?”
“Tommy’s sister is a realtor. Specializes in historic homes. I recognized the brick and called her. She gave me a list of all the homes sold within fifty miles in the last six months. Fortunately, the basement is a huge selling point as they date the house.” He pulled up side by side.” The stone was an exact match.
“I’ll be damned.” Damien blinked.
Stan just gaped.
Maurice scratched his bald head.
“Yes, I am every kind of fabulous. Now, get your tight tushies out there and bring my Andie home.”
“Come on, dipshit.” Andie pulled the ties on dipshit’s feet loose. She wouldn’t leave the jerk to burn to death.
“What are you doing?”
“The house is on fire.”
Dip-shit sniffed, “SHIT”
She moved to his wrists, “I’m guessing this wasn’t the plan?”
“No! Hell no!” Dipshit struggled to his feet and hobbled with remarkable speed out the door and into the basement proper. He was hobbling up the stairs when she caught up to him, earning him double dumb-shit with moron on the side. Andie didn’t feel like climbing the stairs after him. She grabbed a foot. Desi Dipshit looney-tuned his way down the stairs.
He was a mite upset when he got to the bottom, “You fucking…”
“Backdraft Dipshit. You open that door, we’re crispy golden fried. Got me?”
“There was no time….”
“I felt the handle. It’s hot.”
“Not possible.” Damn if the moron didn’t start hobbling up the stairs.
Andie aimed and squeezed. The bullet pinged. Dipshit stopped hobbling.
“Listen carefully. Where do you think most house fires start? I’ll tell you – the kitchen. What’s on the other side of that door? I’m guessing by your horrified face, it’s the kitchen. This is happening, so wrap your dipshit, dumb ass around reality. Is there another way out?”
Dipshit hobbled back down, going all pasty, “Not that I know of.”
“Not that you know of?” Andie repeated. And just like that all her bad-ass cool blew away. “What the fuck, Dipshit? Have you never watched a Bond movie? Escape hatch, you idiot! That is evil villain 101. Jesus Mary and Joseph. You are now officially Desi Dumb-shit.”
Dipshit the Dumb-shit blinked at her again, “You are a strange girl.”
“Oh, just shut up.” Andie turned her back on him, and scanned the walls searching for… “HA! Light!” She ran over to the faint square outline bridging the wall and the ceiling on a slant, got a closer look and halle-frickin-lujah, “Cellar Doors.”
“Dammit, turn! Turn here.”
“There’s no road.”
Like he gave a shit. “TURN!”
“Crazy fucker.” Caine spun the wheel taking them through a break in the tree line, “If we get stuck…Shit.”
Caine tossed his head left. “Smoke.”
“Head for it.”
“I got it.” Nate floored the SUV. It bumped and rolled over the uneven ground. For about a quarter mile then they hit mud. Deep red mud.
“I told you.”
Yeah, still not giving a shit. Damien jumped out and headed for the smoke. “Call 911.”
“No stairs. They’re on the damn ceiling. How are we going to get up there?”
Andie ignored dumb-shit’s dumb shit, searching her surroundings through the thickening smoke. There wasn’t much. Sitting on a long work table were a couple of carboard boxes. She stuffed the gun in her dress. Her beautiful dress that would no doubt be ruined. And grabbed them, light empty, and useless. She tossed them aside. But the table. The table THE TABLE. It was just planks of wood on top two saw-horses. Sweet Mercy and Hallelujah. She lifted one of the planks off. It was light, probably pine. It would need reinforcement. She handed it to dumb-shit. “Hold this.”
Dumb-shit took the plank, “You’re a bossy little thing.” Then he chuckled. One of those condescending man-chuckles.
Oh, that didn’t make her want to smack the stupid out of him. Not at all.
She grabbed the saw horse with both hands instead and placed it on the floor, aligned it with the cellar doors, “To quote another bossy lady, ‘Someone has to save our skins.’” She took the plank back and lay it over the horse like an out of whack see-saw the other end hit just shy of the doors. It was steep, but doable.
“Get up there and hold the plank steady, fly-boy. It’s going to want to slip.”
“How do I know you won’t close the doors and leave me.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. “Because if you die of smoke inhalation, I can’t kick you till your dead.”
With a good deal more man-chuckling, Dumb-shit did as he was told. “Does Damien know about this temper of yours?”
Andie let him chuckle, went to kick her shoes off and realized for the first time, she wasn’t wearing any. Huh. It was possible she was a tad shocky. Taking her gorgeous ruined dress, she tucked it up into the “V” between her breasts turning it into a flowy jumpsuit, squatted, gripped with her toes held the board with her hands and climbed, ignoring the pain of splinters finding her palms and her toes. The beam slipped, she yelped, “HOLD it dumb-shit.”
She made it to the top and pushed. The doors stayed put. She pushed harder. She cursed. She put her shoulder into it. Nothing. Andie gave up on her inner bad-ass and screamed like a girl.
Damien broke through the tree line and saw flames, “Oh God. ANDIE!”
“NO!” Caine grabbed and held him.
“She’s in there.”
“Damien Dammit You can’t go in there.”
Damien did what he’d wanted to do and popped him on the chin.
Caine’s head snapped back, but the bastard held on. “Dammit Drake, LISTEN! It’s coming from the back of the house.”
He couldn’t hear shit over his pounding heart, but he followed Caine to the back of the house shooting past him when he saw the cellar doors. Sliding the hoe barring the doors out of the handles, he flipped them open.
Smoke rolled out and a tiny bundle in blue silk fell into his arms.
“Oh, hey.” Blood shot eyes of vivid blue searched his face, “Knew you’d find us. Are you going to kill me?””
“Could you make it quick and painless. I’m not into pain.” Then those blue eyes rolled back and she went limp in his arms.