There are two types of people that live in this world. Those that live in the light and those that live in shadow. Those that live in the light spend their lives making this world a better place for no other reason than that they believe it should be. Those that live in shadow spend their lives seeking the opposite purpose. For Lee this in an undeniable fate. This tale is the first section in an ongoing novel. This story will bring you love, hate, hope, despair, forgiveness, damnation, and redemption. It is amazing what you can endure if you remember to breathe.
Disclaimer See Part 1
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Chapter 1: I always did like a good challenge
"How long have you been here now?"
"Tired of me already Anne?"
Three months had passed since the two companies made the contract. Both companies were running smoother than ever and Lee's growth projections were proving quite accurate. Riley's optimism grew with each passing day even though she knew it was a bit premature. True to form, after leaving her employ, Mr. Karman set up plans to join the Prime Minister's campaign. Despite Mr. Karman's objections, she was still firm in the belief that she made the right choice in signing with Lee. In fact, his removal seemed to help decisions come faster. She could only hope that Mr. Karman was not the vindictive type. Having favor with the government would be useful when seeking out funding.
"Of course not. Time just seems to pass so quickly. I feel old."
"Fifty-four is not old."
"So says the thirty year old. What I wouldn't give to be thirty again."
"What's so great about the thirty? All I seem to do is work, and the amount of effort I put in does not near equal the amount that comes out."
"You thought saving New Zealand would be easy?"
Laughing, "Honestly? When I started the company ten years ago I was naive enough to think I could save the world, not just New Zealand . It seemed so simple then. To help your neighbor was to help yourself. You help them thrive and they help you. I thought I would be well into curing the poverty in Africa by now."
Smirking at the remark, "Well you are not ambitious at all are you?"
"I always did like a good challenge," Riley said finishing off her ice tea.
"I remember when Lee approached me about starting this company. Here I was thinking about retiring early. I spent my life as a public advocate driving my decidedly aging parents crazy for never making the money I could have in a private law firm. I do believe they wanted me to pay for the royal treatment when they retired," laughing at the memory. "Anyway, so there I was standing in the court room fighting for the rights of a teenager accused of stealing, trying like hell to get her off the hook."
"Was she guilty."
"Hell yes she was guilty. I'm a lawyer not a saint. The prosecution was trying to give the poor girl five years for writing bad checks. They were not even for good amounts; one hundred dollars here, fifty dollars there. I think the grand sum of her larceny only reached five hundred dollars over a three year period. The prosecution was trying to make an example of the girl. I know that stealing is wrong, and I am not saying she should have gotten off with a slap on the wrist, but five years? Of course I asked the girl why she stole the money. She never did give me a proper answer, so I being the inquisitive type..."
"You mean the exceedingly nosy type."
Giving a mock glare, "The inquisitive type, went to her home. When I got there I saw a small house and a poor working family trying to make ends meet. This girl was sixteen years old working a full time job after school trying to help pay the bills. Apparently, her father was in an accident at work which subsequently disabled him. Four years of rehab later and he was just now starting to have the ability to go back to work. The home, however, was a two income family and the mother's income was not enough to make ends meet. The mother kept telling me that it was her fault this happened when she handed me a shoe box. When I looked inside I found a bunch of receipts. Forty-nine dollars for asthma medicine for her younger brother. Thirty dollars for a new pair of shoes for her mother. Fifteen dollars for a new blue tie. The same tie her father happened to be wearing that day coming home from a job interview. The next day I asked this girl what could possibly possess her to keep such incriminating evidence. Her answer was, how else was I suppose to keep track of what I owed. My father will go back to work soon and I can pay it all back."
With empathy in her eyes, "So what happened?"
"What do you mean what happened? Thirty years experience practicing law and that child got six months probation. You happen to be sitting next to the finest public advocate in New Zealand . Besides, pissing off the prosecution was something of a habit I made. Always brought a smile to my face as I remember."
"And how does this story relate to Lee?"
"Ah, well it just so happens that Lee knew of the family's problems. The interview her father had that afternoon happened to be with a young red haired philanthropist. He still contracts with us. You have met him in fact; Mr. Findley in construction."
"You know Lee, when she puts her mind to fixing something, it will damn well be fixed by the end of it. I guess she was impressed that the girl got off with probation. I was told Lee coaxed a young public official into letting her read copies of the case files. When she approached me after the trial, she knew not just about the current trial, but all about the work I had been doing for the past thirty years. As I am sure you know, Lee can be quite persuasive when she wants to be. In the end, she made me an offer I couldn't refuse and here we are."
"Regrets? What do you think? Here I was, having spent thirty years of my life trying to make a difference in this world and some upstart, headstrong, pain in the ass albeit brilliant twenty something year old told me I had wasted my energy and that I should pass my time trying to save the world with her!...Of course I have no regrets. Best decision I ever made." Finishing off her glass of ice tea she winked at Riley, "Seems you are not the only one who likes a good challenge."
Taking a more serious tone, "You think she will ever come out to lunch with us?"
"I don't know," Anne replied honestly. "For one reason or another Lee puts up walls around herself."
"I don't suppose you know why?"
"No, I don't. I do know that I am proud to know her."
The two headed back towards the office. The office had a decent layout. The building was set up in two stories. On the first floor you could find the customer service center with a waiting area. In the rear was the child care setting in which employees could drop of their children while at work. On the second floor the main area was set up with half of the space belonging to the accounting department and the other half set up for marketing; open desks not cubicles. Along the back wall was an opening that lead to another open room which was set up as a secretary's office. Eva used to work in this area, but after having her baby she asked to be moved downstairs closer to the child care center. Lee and Anne did not mind since Eva was professional enough not to let it interfere with her work. As of now, the office sat empty save a desk and the room lent itself as a waiting area for meetings. Through this area was a hallway in which you would find a conference room along with Lee's, Anne's, and now Riley's offices. Two more offices were along this hallway but were empty and generally used as storage.
Having had lunch, the pair felt rejuvenated and ready to get back to work. Upon their arrival, however, they were greeted with the sight of a young businessman being haphazardly shuffled out of the office by no other than Lee herself. The young man was about to protest when he turned to see the unyielding expression Lee held. Thinking retreat was the better part of valor in this instance, the young man turned and fled. Lee of course turned on heel and went back to her office.
"What do you think that was about?" Riley asked.
For Anne's part she had an expression on her face that held all the meaning Riley needed. If Riley had not known better, it was almost that of a mother trying to reign in her own temperament to that of an unwieldy child.
"Lee is...Lee." That was all that could be said.
The pair walked back to Lee's office.
"I'm glad you're back. It seems that Mr. Lyndon will not be joining us after all. I hope that will not be a problem."
"Problem?" Anne replied, "No problem, why people in our line of work always have a number of young wealthy business professionals just waiting to make donations...network for us...provide support..."
Hearing the sarcastic note in Anne's voice she did her best to look innocent, "Wonderful, oh and if you don't mine, please find me one with better manners this time."
"Better manners..." Anne replied, shaking her head as she left the office. A distant mumbling of "I'll show you better manners," could faintly be heard down the hallway.
Riley, still perched just inside the door, tried valiantly to reign in the grin slowly spreading across her face.
"What?" Lee asked again, the innocence not quite reaching her eyes.
Unable to hold in her grin any longer, Riley openly smiled at the situation. A smile that always managed to penetrate Lee's reserved demeanor.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something."
Lee waved her into her office.
"Ms. Silverman has left me another message. She would like us to move part of our construction there."
"To Australia ? I see. So, saving all the struggling families in New Zealand does not keep you busy enough that you want to save Australia as well?"
"Actually, it's more like, I would like to help all the struggling people in New Zealand as well as across the world."
Laughing, "Ambitious. I see you don't waste time."
"I'm behind actually. I was supposed to be in Africa by now."
Lee gave an inquisitive look.
"Long story. What should I tell Ms. Silverman?"
"Are you ready to expand that far?"
" New Zealand is doing quite well. We have a presence in nearly every part here and we are thriving. I am not saying we should abandon our efforts here, but I think we should look outward. Australia has places that could use schools and clinics. If we can help them I think we should."
"And then I suppose after helping Australia we will be expanding into Africa ?"
Another smile. No matter how many times Lee had seen it, the smile never grew old.
"Well then, I suppose you should tell Ms. Silverman we hope to see her soon."
"Great!" Remaining in her seat, "Anne mentioned you were going on a business trip."
Lee nods her head, "I leave tomorrow."
"I imagine that Ms. Silverman will want to set up a meeting. What would be convenient for you?"
"I will be gone the remainder of the week. The middle of next week would be best."
"Are there any preparations I can help you with."
"Thanks but I can handle it. This is more of a conference than anything else. Networking."
"Oh. Well, I will see you when you get back then. Safe trip."
Chapter 2: You dream of me?
Lee opened her eyes and found herself staring at the ocean. The sight always brought comfort. It had been some time since she had seen this place. This place was so...warm.
The voice was so familiar. Turning her head to verify, she watched as Riley walked toward her, stopping within mere inches.
"Hello," she spoke again.
Riley was dressed in a vibrant blue tie around; the color matching her eyes. Her top was a simple white cotton t-shirt. Her feet were bare and her hair was left swaying in the wind.
After taking in such a beautiful sight, Lee began looking around. Riley smiled patiently.
Breaking Lee's thoughts Riley asked, "It is beautiful here. Where are we?"
Just as she was about to answer, she tried stepping forward only to find herself bound; her hands tied above her head. Odd for a beach.
Remembering now, and saddened not because of her predicament but because she knew the vision was not real, she turned to Riley, "I'm dreaming."
Riley looked over Lee's shoulder to the scene behind. Her mood sobering instantly; her eyes filled with sorrow. Following Riley's line of sight.....
Lee felt her body jolt with pain. She was in a basement of an abandoned building, strung up by chains to a water pipe overhead. The pipe had been cut to allow water to run down her body. It was more effective when electrocuting people. Another jolt ran through her body.
"Who have you told about us?"
Smiling at the man holding the electrodes, Lee mouthed a kiss. His response was to stun her again. It was certainly not the first time she had been tortured; still, though these men were nothing more than amateurs they certainly knew how to cause pain. It was times like these Lee was grateful for Samuel's lessons. Separate your mind from your body he would say. The reason people break is because they allow their torturers to control their mind. Keep your senses. Go somewhere where they cannot follow or hurt you; somewhere calm, peaceful, safe.
The main turned up the power to his electrodes. Lee's smiled at his approach.
Feeling a hand caress her cheek, Lee opened her eyes. Gently, Lee was pulled back toward the beach; back to Riley. Looking at her wrists Lee was no longer bound as before. Smiling, Riley took her hand and pulled her forward.
"Stay a while," she requested, pulling Lee toward what looked like a picnic. A white blanket was laid across the sand with a kite nearby. The scene was very close to the one on the day they first met. The only thing missing were the other people. Sitting down, the two sat close enough that their arms brushed past one another.
"You didn't answer me before. Where are we?"
"Silver Strand beach, Ireland ."
"It's beautiful. Do you come here often?"
Lee shook her head no and continued to look around.
Her gaze followed Lee's and she asked, "What are you looking for?"
Lee turned her attention back to Riley.
"I...I was not expecting you. Usually my family is waiting here."
Patiently, "Would you like me to go?"
Disturbed by the thought, "I don't want you leave."
She smiles again. Then undoing the binds of the kite she allows it to fly overhead.
A crack along the side of Lee's jaw brought her out of the moment. Well that will leave a bruise.
"Tell me who knows we are here!"
Lee was in Spain . The men beating her belonged to a gang called Serpent; hired thugs, nothing more. Unfortunately these thugs gained access to some C-4 and planned on selling it to a terrorist group. When working for The Order, Lee had been ordered to stop a bombing by this terrorist cell. As her usual habit, Lee tended to keep an eye on her old enemies. Unfortunately, terrorists who decide they want to kill a bunch of innocent people usually don't give up even if a plan has been foiled. They simply look for new ways to accomplish the same task. In this case, they planned to buy explosives from this gang in order to blow up an embassy.
To Lee's estimation, the best time to stop this was at the buy. The only problem was that she needed access. Being on the outside of The Order means that you had less notice of impending acts of terrorism and far fewer resources. Given such short notice, all she could think to do was allow herself to get captured. Of course they would torture her for information, but she would make sure to leave enough evidence that would stop them from killing her until they found out what she knew. There were times that she felt it would be easier to leave an anonymous tip with the police. That way she would be free of the guilt of inaction. There were two problems with this solution however. The first was that the police may not take the tip seriously without any evidence. Of course she could not give any evidence away without giving away some of her old contacts. This action would most definitely be noticed by The Order which could put her in danger of being caught. In addition, she would lose the trust of the contact which is not something a woman in her position could do. The second problem was that if the police did take the anonymous tip seriously, it was likely that they would come in full force which would lead to deaths on both sides and probably civilians in the crossfire. She found this to be an undesirable outcome. As such, as she envisioned, her only option was to buy some C-4 herself, drop it at the local police station which would no doubt get their attention, leave an anonymous tip leading them to the place of the buy, take out all the bad guys before the police arrive, and then escape before the police have time to ask questions. Decided, Lee created a false persona; Lieutenant Peterson. She made a fake badge and credentials and began nosing about the building waiting to be captured.
"Who knows that you are here?! What have you told them?!"
Another jolt ran through her body as the torture continued. His aggression had been increasing steadily over the past hour. He must be running out of time. The buy would take place soon, Lee simply had to be patient.
"I lost you for a moment. Where did you go?"
Lee looked over her shoulder again. It was an odd sensation to be separated. Behind her were her torturers, in front her peace.
"I've not left. I'm here...with you."
Another smile. Lee felt as though she could fall into that smile. The kite remained in flight above them while they sat watching the birds, watching the kite, taking in the ocean.
"It is warm here."
Noticing the calmness in Lee's expression, Riley spoke, "You look at peace here. Why don't you choose to live here instead of New Zealand ?"
Thinking over her answer in order to choose her words carefully, Lee spoke, "There are two types of people in this world. Those that live in light and those that live in shadow. You belong here, not I. There is no place for me here. I allow myself to come here only in my dreams."
"You dream of peace?"
Looking towards the ocean again. An interesting idea; peace. So simple in its terms. Funny how the world works. Those who have had peace all their lives tend to find any reason to fight. Those who have fought all their lives dream of nothing but peace. The idea itself nearly foreign to her. With resignation, knowing that so simple a dream would never be realized, Lee nodded.
Then, Riley turned her body to face Lee; her back to the ocean. The intensity with which she gazed into Lee's eyes bored into her very soul.
Slowly reaching to caress Lee's face, "You dream of me?"
Feeling heat rise in her cheeks, Lee felt very exposed. Even in her dreams this woman had the ability to turn her world upside down.
Her speech was interrupted by the soft touch of Riley's lips upon hers. How could the briefest of touches hold such depth?
Lee crashed to the floor having been released from her chains. As the electrocution did not seem to get answers, Lee supposed that they were about to start a new form of torture. A man walked in and whispered something to her torturer.
"You just ran out of time Lieutenant Peterson."
Taking this as a sign the buyer arrived, Lee waited for her opportunity to strike. The man pulled out his gun and aimed it at Lee. When Lee reached up and kicked the gun out of his hand he had little time to show his astonishment as another roundhouse kick sent him crashing to the ground unconscious. The man who had brought the news soon followed with little effort on her part. She had little time. Steadying herself, she grabbed the gun and made her way to the door. Beyond this door were two enemies, the gang and the terrorist. She could only hope the police didn't take too long. Opening the door she dashed in towards her fate.
Chapter 3: Do you mind if I join you?
"Have you seen this rubbish?" Anne asked throwing a newspaper at Lee. "What is this world coming to? Every week you hear another story of terrorists groups trying to bomb someone. Here read this," she pointed to a section of the newspaper. " Spain 's police stop a terrorist attack meant for the embassy."
"You know I don't read the newspaper. Most of the stories in there are just to sell headlines."
Reading the story over again, Anne's brow furrowed in distaste.
"Good morning... What happened to you?"
Riley's concern was aimed towards Lee.
Lee's hand went to her jaw. "Clumsy."
"Are you alright?"
"Of course, just embarrassed."
Trying to make light of the situation, embarrassed that she had been so forward before, "Don't be, it is hardly noticeable."
Lee nearly laughed and Anne did.
"You know for an actress you are a terrible liar. I'd have eaten you up in court."
"You see why I decided on business then."
"Uh huh," Anne grinned. "How long is this flight again?"
"About three hours," Riley answered. "You not afraid of flying are you."
Anne looked towards Riley with an evil eye, "Not everyone is a jet setter like you. You know, I think if Ms. Silverman were serious about having us move there she would come to New Zealand for the meeting."
Riley laughed, "And how would we find a good place to start if we do not go and see for ourselves."
Anne frowned defeated. Looking towards Lee she asked, "What's wrong with you?"
With mock sternness in her tone, "Just afraid I will have to spend the entire flight listening to the two of you bicker. Perhaps I should have booked a ticket for Ms. Becket as well."
The two grinned knowing Lee's prediction was likely to be true. In the short time of knowing each other, Riley and Anne went back and forth as though they had known each other for years rather than months. Ms. Becket was the childcare coordinator for Lee's firm. She had a habit of telling the children to play nice.
"Probably," Anne whispered.
It took all the reserve Lee had not to roll her eyes.
As promised, the flight took about three hours and fifteen minutes. Anne was never happier to be on the ground. For about an hour she turned a decidedly pale greenish color. Riley did her best to distract her, but to no avail. Some people are just not good with flying. Walking towards the exit, a driver stood holding a sign with Riley's name. The driver was a cheerful fellow and drove them straight to the meeting scheduled at ten.
"Ms. Allen, Ms. Leeland, Mrs. Torres."
Ms. Silverman took each hand in turn.
"It is a pleasure to meet you all. I am so happy you have decided to expand here. Everyone I have talked to has given high praise of your companies."
"Thank you," Riley replied.
"Well let's get started shall we," Ms. Silverman said, ushering the trio into a conference room.
About two hours later and Silverman had given a rundown of the highest need areas in Australia . It seems that even though Australia seemed to be doing rather well in the world, there were still areas that could really use improvement. Sydney seemed as good a place as any to start.
A knock at the door.
"That should be Dr. Brown. I hope you don't mind," Silverman spoke as she answered the door.
"Dr. Brown is the chief medical officer at one of our clinics. As I'm sure you know, our healthcare system is universal. The government pays for most of the cost, but as you can imagine, stays at hospitals are not cheap. Even though the government pays for ninety-five percent of the cost, not all the population can afford to pay the other five percent. Moreover, though we have clinics throughout Australia , not all of them have the tools or funding to give the type of patient care that some require. I am afraid that in some of our poorer areas, our funding does not keep up with demand. Dr. Brown heads some of the clinics in the poorest areas of Australia . He would be able to tell you their needs better than I."
"Call me Dr. Mike. All the kids do. I am a general practitioner, but lately I have tended more to pediatrics."
Another hour of talking with Dr. Mike and it was decided that Ms. Silverman and Dr. Mike would take the trio on a short tour to see some of the sites needing help. There was a lot of work to be done here. They would have to find contractors, start a marketing process to derive funding, find doctors and nurses. It might be easier if they set up an office here. If not, there would be endless amounts of travel back and forth. This meant that Lee would have to find someone to run this site. All in all, this endeavor was going to take substantial effort at substantial cost. It was almost like starting her company from scratch, just in Australia this time.
Just maybe, Lee thought. Looking out the window Lee saw some children playing soccer in the park. As always, Lee felt compelled to help. Looking towards her two colleagues she saw the same desire.
On the way back from the tour, Silverman and Dr. Mike stopped at a local restaurant in Sydney .
"This place has the best fish in town," Dr. Mike exclaimed.
The meal went on with companionable ease. Lee never made any promises to lend aide, but it was pretty well aware to both Riley and Anne that Lee intended to expand here.
"Ms. Silverman, Dr. Mike," A man walked towards the table.
"Mr. Elis. How are you?"
"I'm well, thank you. Who are your guests?"
"Ah, this is Ms. Allen, Ms. Leeland, and Ms. Torres. Hopefully Dr. Mike and I have persuaded them to help us expand our clinics." Turning towards the group, Mr. Elis is one of our leading businessmen. He works for a consulting firm helping small businesses grow and develop. He is also very active in the community. He is one of our leading donators."
Mr. Elis shook everyone's hand pausing to take time with Lee's. Riley tried not to notice, but he made no mistake of his attraction.
"Seth, please. Do you mind if I join you? I would love to be involved."
Looking towards Lee and seeing no disagreement, Ms. Silverman smiled and gestured for him to take a seat.
Seth was a charming man no doubt. All through dinner he did his best to make all three ladies feel welcome and comfortable; listening intently on what each had to say. Clever as well. You could see his mind turning, tailoring his speech to each of them so as to make the best impression. If consulting didn't work out for him he should go into sales. Lee knew this type of person all too well. She knew he was a liar and suspected he was probably a thief. Best to steer clear.
Dinner came to an amiable end. Lee called a taxi to take them back to the airport. Ms. Silverman had offered to put them up in a hotel for the night, but all three were due back in the office the next day. There line of work tended to be tedious at times. The next few months were bound to be sixteen hour days at least. Expanding to Australia was a worthwhile effort, but it would take considerable effort to see it through.
No time like the present, Lee thought.
Chapter 4: Will you help us?
Two weeks had passed since their meeting with Ms. Silverman. Riley had been back and forth on the phone setting up terms and conditions; she was one hell of a negotiator. Just as Lee predicted, it was not long before it was thought that an office should be set up on location to keep an eye over operations. Knowing her people well, Lee tended to promote from within. Charlie was just the person she needed and he was more than willing to take the job. He was set to depart within the month.
"So what do you think?" Riley asked.
"That you are over ambitious," Lee said with a grin.
"Would it help if I told you I had a really good feeling about this?"
Lee didn't know whether to laugh or sigh. She had no one to blame but herself. Still, when she brought Riley on she had no idea how far her ambitions truly went. Still, if anyone could save the world...
Anne popped her head in the office and looked towards Riley.
"I saw you on the news yesterday."
Riley tried to look innocent.
"I didn't realize you were a member advocate for Green Living."
Green Living was a local activist group supporting green energy for a pollution free world.
"Well if we are going to save the people on this planet, we might as well have a planet worth living on."
Anne laughed and then directed the next comment toward Lee.
"Seems our Green Living member advocate decided to go on a rally with the rest of Christchurch against draining the swamps."
"And just where do you think we get our freshwater supply from. Wetlands such as these should be preserved, but our government seems more than willing to drain them in order to build condos."
Leaning in as to tell a secret, "Did you really call the builder a backward thinking imbecile with jello for brains or is that simply rumor?"
"I would never say such a thing," Riley looked down at her papers and whispered, "on camera."
Sigh, definitely sigh, Lee decided.
"Riley and I were going to go out to Sails for lunch. Would you like to come along?"
"Thanks, but I have a lot of work to do." Lee replied. "Have fun."
It was her normal reply. Neither Riley nor Anne were surprised by the remark.
Pain in my ass, Anne thought.
Lee watched as the pair left her office and then she diligently went back to work. Not more than a few minutes later, a beep on her phone interrupted her concentration.
"There is an Interpol officer here to see you."
Immediately Lee bolted from her seat to look out the window. Steadily she looked to each roof line trying to see anything out of place. Could they have found me? Lee frowned. She looked to the park across the street, to the cars, to the parking garage. Nothing seemed out of place.
Hesitantly, "Show him to my office."
Eva knocked on the door before entering.
"Ms. Leeland, this is Detective Andrews and Detective Cobb," she said before exiting, shutting the door behind her.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?"
"Thank you for seeing us. We won't take up much of your time. Do you know a Seth Elis?"
Obviously they knew she did or they would not be here. Giving only what was asked, "I met him recently. I was having a business dinner with a Ms. Silverman. He approached us and joined us for dinner."
"It seems he has taken an interest in your company."
Lee watched the two detectives. There was no evidence that they were from The Order, nor any other group she was aware of. The badges and identification they were carrying were perfect. Lee had learned to be a quick study over the years. A skill that has repeatedly kept her alive. These men were definitely Interpol, but what did they want from her?"
"Yes, he seems to want to help us expand in Sydney ."
"Have you accepted?"
What do they want. "No. I find it hard to do business with men as charming as him. They are always hiding something. Best to steer clear in my experience."
The two detectives looked towards one another.
"Is there any way we could change your mind?"
"What exactly do you want me to do?"
"We would like you to get close to him. If he is willing to help you, he no doubt will make donations. It will have his banking information."
"Surely Interpol is not interested in a simple thief?"
Detective Andrews seemed to have the highest authority of the two so he was the one to answer.
"Ms. Leeland, Mr. Elis is a person of interest in an ongoing investigation. We cannot prove or disprove that he is involved. We would simply like to check him out but his lawyers have him quite covered. If we could see his banking transactions, his day to day schedule, who he has meetings with, I am sure all of our suspicions would be immediately unfounded. We just need to be sure."
He seemed like a decent man, but a terrible liar. Interpol officers are not in charge of running down leads that they feel have no intention of going anywhere.
Interpol normally deals with international crimes. Either it was stealing, murdering, or abduction. Lee decided it could not be stealing. Mr. Elis was not smart enough to come up with a plan that would steal enough money that Interpol would be involved. Murdering was a possibility, but again, it would have to be some high profile case. Mr. Elis is not that smart, but yet he is not that dim-witted either.
Prying for information, "Kidnapping or human trafficking?"
Detective Cobb looked towards Andrews. The look on his face revealed the answer; trafficking.
"We cannot divulge any information about the case."
"Of course not. Well, I would like to help you gentlemen, but I doubt very much that the bank details I would find would have any connection to his extracurricular activities. Surely he would not be so brazen as to use the same account. And as for his schedule, how am I suppose to get that?"
Clearing his throat. "Mr. Elis seems to have taken an interest in you personally?"
Damn, damn, damn. The picture becoming clear. Truthfully she knew all along where this was heading.
"I take it you would like me to encourage his attraction to spy on him."
"I realize we are asking a lot of you. I can assure you, you would be under our protection. We would keep surveillance on you at all times. You would never be in danger."
"And why should I do this? Surely you gentlemen can come up with a better plan than this. Why not just get a warrant and raid his companies, home, finances."
"As I said, his lawyers keep him well protected. They have made it impossible to get a warrant unless we have solid evidence. Evidence you could help us get."
Lee knew she shouldn't get involved in this. If anything went wrong it could be disastrous.
"As much as I would like to help you, I think despite your reassurances that my company, my colleagues, and myself would be put in undue danger for this. I am sorry, but you will have to look elsewhere."
Detective Cobb stepped forward. He must have been new to the job. He cared to much. That type of caring would get him killed one day. When dealing with situations like this you had to be impartial, unfeeling, uncaring. It was the only way to solve the problem. Giving anything less would lead to mistakes.
"Please, Ms. Leeland." He reached in his pocket and pulled out fifteen pictures of children; all missing. "You could help us stop him. I promise you we will do everything to keep you, your company, and your colleagues safe. Will you help us?"
Taking a look at the pictures, the children all looked between the ages of eight and fifteen. Why did it have to be children?. Lee knew she couldn't turn them away.
"If I help you, my colleagues must be kept out of it. I will not have them involved in any way with the investigation. Further, I will not testify, nor will you use my name in the trial. Any evidence I find you will have to use as an anonymous tip from an informant. Do not call me to trial, I will not come. I work in poor neighborhoods where trust is considered absolute. My goal is to help people and I cannot do that if they do not trust me. Even if you agree to talk for a good cause, some will see you as a snitch. People rely on trust and I will keep it. Are we understood? These conditions are nonnegotiable. Do not think I will not walk away."
The detectives nodded, "Agreed."
Chapter 5: A lunch meeting?
"Lee?" Anne knocked on her door.
Still concentrating on her work, Lee waved Anne in. Anne took a seat perched in front of her desk.
"Eva says you have a noon meeting with Mr. Elis."
"Is there a problem?"
"No, just surprised is all. Most of the time, you tell men like him to shove off rather than invite them for meetings."
"Weren't you the one who insisted I play nice with rich donators?"
Anne shrugged, "I didn't mean him specifically. He gives me the creeps."
"That is a bit dramatic."
"Seriously Lee, there is something not right about him."
"He seemed perfectly charming to me."
"Yes, he was that," she agreed fumbling with the papers in her hand.
"Don't worry about it Anne, it's just lunch."
"You are going out to lunch with him?" Anne asked credulously.
"Yes Anne, generally lunch meetings involve eating."
Anne stopped midsentence as Lee looked up to give a no argument attitude.
"He is rich and willing to help. We will need some funding."
Dumbfounded Anne left the room nearly knocking into Riley on her way out. Mumbling an apology she sailed past Riley to her office.
Catching Lee's eye, she was about to ask what happened. But since Lee immediately returned her focus to her paperwork she decided to let it go. She had seen Lee and Anne have some heated debates, but it worried her to see Anne look angry. She would wait for another time to bother Lee. Heading back to the office, she began her daily routine. As much as she had on her plate, it was bound to be a very long day.
With all the work ahead of them noon came quickly. Eva knocked on Lee's door and entered.
"Mr. Elis," Lee extended her hand.
"Ms. Leeland, I am glad you returned my call."
In truth, Lee had spent the last week analyzing everything she could find on Mr. Elis. Her skills at The Order already proving invaluable, she was able to hack into his company and retrieve his schedule. She did not have access to his bank accounts yet, but it shouldn't take long. She just had to know where to look. Unfortunately, that meant she had to see him. Lee had also discovered several video clips of Mr. Elis. From his mannerisms, she could tell he was a man of refined taste. He like the best of everything. He was ambitious, arrogant, and diligent. Furthermore, after following his business behavior and relationships, it was quite obvious that Mr. Elis took what he wanted with little regard to others. He was a sociopath. He knew right from wrong, he just didn't care. As with many sociopaths, Seth was a controlling person. He liked to own things. It was no wonder that he felt attracted to Lee. Lee was strong and independent. She was beautiful. She didn't need anyone or anything. It would make Mr. Elis feel very powerful if he could have her. She would use this to her advantage. If he wanted to own her, she would make him work for it. Men like him needed a conquest.
"Shall we," he ushered her ahead.
"Of course. I made a reservation at the Harborside Cafe. If I recall, you enjoy Tilapia."
He smiled at her, "I can't wait."
Meanwhile, Anne tried to reign in her anger. Lee normally did not dismiss her concerns so carelessly. It wasn't so much that she was going, just that she knew Mr. Elis was not all who he pretended to be. Thirty years experience dealing with felons and she knew that this man was trouble. Clouded by her own thoughts she did not see Riley approach.
"What is Mr. Elis doing here?"
"They are having a meeting," Anne said trying to keep her tone even.
"Where are they going?"
"It is a lunch meeting."
Although having no real reason to, Riley felt her stomach clench. She should not care so much. After all, Lee made it clear that they could only be business colleagues. Still, watching Lee walk out the door smiling with someone other than her made her stomach flip. She doesn't go with anyone. Surely I have seen her turn down countless people when asked. She even turns Anne down and they are friends.
"Huh. Thanks Anne."
Hearing Riley's tone, Anne forgot her anger. She knew how deeply Riley cared for Lee. She could see it every time they spoke. There was a connection there even though Lee would dismiss it as nothing. After all these months, Anne was beginning to regret telling Riley to keep at it. Lee was too stubborn. She wouldn't know the good side of heaven if it were laid out in front of her. Riley returned to her office. This was the first time Anne saw any sense of unease in her.
The Harborside Cafe was a beautiful restaurant. Every month the owner would change the artwork to the newest enterprising artist. Many of the pieces came from University students. The ambience is what kept people coming back. In addition to the change in artwork, the menu changed from month to month as well. If you wanted to eat the same meal twice, you had better come twice in the same month. Otherwise, you would not see that dish again.
"I would gladly make a donation to your cause. Sydney needs more clinics. I would even be willing to set up a fundraiser if you like."
"Thank you. That is very generous."
"But I was thinking that perhaps you would like to join our company as a liaison. We need eyes and ears in Sydney . Surely a man like you with close ties to the community would be a suitable choice."
She hated having to flatter his ego. It is what the situation called for however, so she would submit.
"An interesting offer. Although I am not sure I could dedicate the time it would take to truly be useful in that position. I'm a busy man."
"And running for office next term if I am not mistaken."
He had not announced his intention to run to anyone but his top business partners. Impressed, Seth leaned forward in his chair, "And where did you hear that?"
"I make it a point to know who I ask to partner with."
"So do I. You need money. You need someone close with the government to help you bypass any troubles having to get a license to practice business in Sydney . You need a face for the media."
"And what better way to show the people in Sydney that you care than by helping the less fortunate. Surely you could make time for that."
Sitting back in his chair he folded his hands behind his head. "You are ambitious. You know what it takes to succeed and you do it. I bet you don't hear no often."
A grin crossed her features, "Not for years. I can be very persuasive."
Laughing arrogantly at the remark, Lee almost thought she heard the cruelty laced not far behind it. And his eyes, his eyes were hungry.
"I have no doubt."
It took all the reserve Lee had not to show her distaste in her features.
"So, will you join us?"
"On one condition."
She raised her eyebrow and sat forward, leaning toward him attentively.
"That all my business dealings are handled directly with you."
Lee smiled, "Of course Mr. Elis. I look forward to them."
Chapter 6: Grin and bear it
A week had passed since her lunch meeting with Mr. Elis. After her meeting with the detectives, she had to design a plan that would gain Mr. Elis's trust and attention. Allowing him to simply make donations was not going to get the job done, nor was simply dating him. The best way to intricate yourself with a target is to make yourself invaluable to them in some manner. Mr. Elis craved the art of politics. For him, it was a means to expand his control and to lessen his limitations. His previous business handlings, though always favorable to him, were not necessarily a public relation coordinator's best dream. He needed a new face and new press. Lee was his opportunity. He needed Lee to be elected. It was her way in.
Looking at the clock, it was eight thirty in the evening. Everyone had left for the day. Anne had been less than talkative with her. She was still showing some tension from their previous encounter.
Well, you hired her for her instincts. She can read people. Of course she can see right through his charm.
Whereas most days Lee found this to be a comfort, right now it was decidedly working against her. Anne was not the type to give up easily. Lee could only hope this would not put a rift in their relationship. Anne would do what she thought was necessary. The problem was, Lee would do the same. And Riley, who knew where Riley would end up as a result of this.
She would side with Anne, Lee thought .
Riley would not compromise her principles, not even for Lee. The thought warmed Lee, and saddened her. She would have to respond to Mr. Elis's attentions. She had to. How could she not when it was the only way to save the missing boys and girls? And she couldn't tell them. She could not risk telling either of them her plan. Lee knew the type of man Seth was. A man who takes what he wants and does not mind stomping on those who step in his path. If either Anne or Riley got in his way, they would be in danger. She could not let that happen. She would not let that happen. Moreover, Lee knew it would incite his passions. What better way to stroke his ego than for Lee to go against her colleagues to make this deal with him knowing full well they are against it. It would simply further her aim. A means to an end. Why must everything always be a means to an end?
We all make our own hell. Why then do we fear to live in it?
Nine pm. She should go home. She should sleep. Packing up her things, she left for the parking lot.
Detective Andrews and Detective Cobb stood waiting at her vehicle.
"Detectives. What can I do for you?" Lee asked irritably.
"We were just hoping you had some information for us."
Pulling out her phone, she opened up a spreadsheet listing the times and dates of Mr. Elis's appointments.
"So far I have managed to find his schedule. It is still too early for any bank account numbers, but you should have them soon. Also, I have asked Mr. Elis to be our liaison in Sydney . That should help me get closer to him, to see if I can find any unusual meetings or acquaintances that are not listed."
Detective Andrews took her phone and forwarded the schedule to his account.
Detective Cobb spoke up, "You are doing your country a great favor."
Annoyed, Lee interrupted him.
"I am putting my company, my colleagues, and myself in jeopardy because you asked me to, not for any sense of patriotism. I am doing this to help the children he has profited from, nothing more. I did not ask to be responsible for these children, you made me so when you showed me their pictures and told me their names."
Detective Cobb took a step back feeling suitably reprimanded.
Andrews handed Lee her phone back, "Is there anything we can do to make this easier for you?"
She eyed him squarely. "Men like Mr. Elis do not like loose ends. Try not to get yourselves killed, nor me for that matter, by waiting by my car. If I am not being followed now, I certainly will be soon. I will contact you when I have any more information. Do not contact me."
Brushing past the two detectives, she got in her car an left.
As for the detectives, Cobb turned to Andrews and asked, "Is it just me, or does it seem like she has had some experience with this?"
Finally home, Lee laid down to rest.
"Cinderella dressed in yellow went upstairs to kiss her fella, made a mistake, kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take? One, two, three, four..."
The school bell rang, but the girls kept jumping.
"Come on girls, it is time to come in."
One of the girls swinging the jump rope around whined, "But Ms. Rutherford, Ally is on twenty-seven, she can't stop now."
The teacher held open the door and pointed towards the girls, "You three, inside. Time for math."
"Aww..." the three said in unison.
Beep, beep, beep, beep.
Lee hit the off on her alarm. Feeling no more rested than when she laid down, she pulled herself from bed and readied for the day.
At eight am on the dot, Anne barged into her office.
"What in the hell is this!?" Anne shouted angrily, throwing a stack of papers in front of Lee.
Gently skimming the papers she replied, "I asked Mr. Elis to be our liaison in Sydney .
"And just when were you going to tell me?"
"Correct me if I am mistaken, but I control this company and you work for me. I make decisions and you make sure everything is handled properly and legally. Since when do I need your permission?"
"You know very well you should have consulted me! Damn you Lee! I helped you build this company from the ground up. Do not treat me as though I am just another lawyer! We made this company together, you and me, not just you."
"You're right, I should have consulted you, but it is done now."
"Like hell it is! I know we don't always agree, but I am telling you this guy is bad news. What are you doing?"
"I appreciate your concern, and I am glad you care so much for this enterprise, but this was my decision and I made it."
The phone beeped.
Lee held up her hand to stop Anne from continuing.
"Mr. Elis has arrived."
"Thank you, please send him up."
"I am not going to sit here while you go and destroy our chances of making a good start in Sydney . The people their need us and this liaison will only serve to ruin our reputation. A reputation that we have worked hard to make and maintain I might add."
"Nothing will happen to our reputation."
"Nothing?! You think this is nothing?"
Too tired to argue anymore, Lee raised her voice, "The welfare of this company is left into my hands. You do not have to like my decisions, nor do you always necessarily have to agree with them, but they are my decisions. As far as Mr. Elis is concerned, he will be our liaison to Sydney and you will make sure the paperwork is correct and proper.
"If you think for even one moment that I am going to play nice with him."
"You will be respectful. And if you can do nothing else, I suggest you simply grin and bear it."
Anne left the office just in time to see Mr. Elis enter the hallway to Lee's office. She ducked into her own to avoid running in to him. She knew full well if she did not, she would have ripped him a new one.
Mr. Elis reached Lee's office just as Anne's office door shut. It was as close to a slam as possible without it actually have being slammed. She was an adult after all.
Internally, Mr. Elis smiled.
A few hours later, Elis left Lee's office feeling quite satisfied with himself. From his point of view, everything was falling into place. His empire awaited him. As for Lee, three hours of conversation with that man and she felt she needed a bath. She had been watching him over the past few days since he arrived in New Zealand . He frequented an up and coming restaurant on the south side of town. From eight to ten pm, the restaurant held live performances. Many of the artist were quite talented. Tonight they would have a special guest.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
Lee put down what she was working on as Riley entered the room.
"Hey. Anne tells me that Mr. Elis is to be our new liaison in Sydney ."
Handing over a file to Lee, "I think you should look at this."
Lee perused the file. This was going to be harder than she thought.
"I don't normally look up backgrounds on people who intend to donate. Usually, I take them at face value. But when Mr. Elis offered back in Australia , I just thought I should check. Call it a gut feeling, but I wanted to know how he made his money before we accepted it. Well, I just.... I just can't see taking his money. And I think you may wish to reconsider making him our liaison in Sydney ."
Lee continued scanning the file. He made his money off sweatshops. Worse, children worked in his shops three to one in ratio to adults. They worked twelve hour days with only one fifteen minute break. And what he paid was far below the minimum wage.
"Thank you for bringing this to my attention."
Lee knew about this before Riley brought showed her the file. She found it when she was doing her own background check on him. She just didn't expect anyone else too. Working a few more hours, she watched as everyone left for the day. She was always the last to leave. Checking her watch, it was eight-thirty. She had better get ready, she had plans this evening.
Having decided to treat himself this evening, Elis ordered himself dessert; Pavlova. It was a New Zealand favorite and one he had become quite fond of over his past stays. He enjoyed watching the musicians. They had great talent for locals.
As the band finished their song, the lights faded and the announcer spoke, "Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, we have some new talent tonight."
The crowd cheered with enthusiasm. As the lights came up again, the crowd looked on at a woman sitting on a stool holding a guitar. She was beautiful, with hair the color of fire.
"Please welcome, Lee."
Once again, Seth's eyes became hungry as he watched on. Knowing full well she had his attention, Lee began to play, staring intently in his direction.
(to watch the YouTube video please use http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Plv_eQXlGWM)
You were from the North, I was from the South
We were form opposite places, different towns
But I knew it was good and you knew it was too
So we moved together like a ball and chain
Minds becoming two halves of the same
It was real, but in shadows it grew
Cos you've got a secret don't ya babe?
I would've shouted loud and broken through
I would've given it all to belong to you
But there were different plans, different rules
You said "where I'm from there is a lock and key
If you'd be so kind as to follow me
I will show you the way to the rest of my sins"
Cos you've got a secret don't ya babe?
Yeah you, you got a secret don't ya babe?
And I should know
Yeah I should know
So this room was damp where your sins laid
There was that smell in the air of an old place
That hadn't seen much daylight in years
And you threw me down, said, "If ya don't mind
I'm gonna leave you here until night time
Then we can do what we want my baby out of the spotlight."
Cos you've got a secret don't ya babe?
Yeah you, you got a secret don't ya babe?
And I should know
Yeah I should know
For I'm your secret aren't I babe?
Yeah I'm your secret aren't I babe?
Aren't I babe? (1)
Having finished the song Lee sat the guitar down and took a seat at the bar. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Seth walking towards her. She had but one thought.
Grin and bear it.
Chapter 7: You look like any other Jane to me.
"What do you think she does on her business trips?"
Anne took off her glasses and sat them on the conference room table. She and Riley just finished a meeting with Mr. Findley. Despite Lee's reassurances to Mr. Findley, telling him that they could find a construction crew on site, Mr. Findley was having none of it. He insisted on overseeing the start of the construction process in Sydney . Lee supposed he felt like he owed both Anne and herself; Anne for helping his daughter, her for giving him a job. In reality however, Mr. Findley was the best, most honest, contractor she had ever dealt with. Lee was happy to have him on site, she was just afraid it would take too much time away from his family. He insisted, however, and even his wife came to the office to tell Lee directly that she would be proud to have her husband look over the new construction site. With an offer like that Lee could hardly refuse. He was a good man.
"Oh Riley, I stopped asking those questions a long time ago."
"Because you never got an answer?"
"Because I was afraid she might give me one."
Riley looked confused.
"What would a strong willed, short tempered, arrogant, pain in the ass be doing in her spare time? Well I am sure I wouldn't know, but if I asked she might actually tell me. You may have noticed her unique talent at making friends." Anne grinned. "And I being her friend would feel obligated to help in any way I could. Well, I could not very well be her lawyer if I was also her accomplice. Surely you can see the inherent conflict of interest."
Riley laughed at the joke.
"Ah but surely as a lawyer you would be better suited at getting away with it. Having been around cops all those years surely you know what they are looking for. No need for trial if you are never accused."
"For future reference, I do not want to know what you do in your spare time either," Anne laughed and starting packing up her notes. "Surrounded by heathens."
Riley packed up her notes as well, her mind drifting over to where Lee might be, and what sort of trouble she might be getting herself into. Anne was not wrong after all, Lee had a knack for making friends.
Walking down the streets in Sydney , Lee had just left a rather upscale nightclub and began following a woman named, Bella.
Just before the woman got into a cab, Lee called out, "Excuse me, Bella?"
The woman turned to Lee.
"Can I help you?"
Lee put on her most charming smile.
"Hi, I uh."
The woman looked on Lee intently. She closed the cab door and walked towards Lee. Lee did her best to act the bumbling fool. She began looking around as though someone were watching her, like she might get caught.
Humor in her voice, "You said that already."
"Oh right, yea," Lee said, fumbling with her shirt. "Uh, listen, I noticed you at the club a few blocks back. Mr. Elis told me that you, well that you might...uh."
The woman smiled, it was not often that she was propositioned by a woman, especially not one as beautiful as this.
Trying to make Lee feel comfortable, "Would you like to get a drink?"
"A drink, yes, yes. I would like that."
Lee continued to stand and stare at the woman.
"So do you have an apartment, a hotel, or would you like to go back to the club?"
"Right, uh I am staying in a hotel just around the corner."
The woman taking Lee by the arm, "Well lets go shall we?"
Entering the hotel room, Lee watched as Bella went to sit on the bed.
"No need to be nervous," she patted the spot next to her, "I don't bite, unless you ask."
Lee continued to stand, "Do you know Mr. Elis well?"
"As well as any escort would. If you would like a threesome though, that is going to cost extra."
"I am just looking for some information."
"Some information? That really isn't my strong suit. Besides, you can understand that my clientele like to keep a low profile."
"I am willing to pay for it."
"That would be very expensive. He is a good client. I would hate to lose him. What are you any way, some jealous girlfriend?"
"The information I want is not something that would get you in trouble. I just want to know where he spends his time."
"And how much are you willing to pay?"
Lee pulls out five hundred dollars and hands it to Bella.
"He spends his days at work, then dinner with his fiancé, and his nights with me."
"And the nights he does not spend with you?"
"Where was it? You know he mentioned something. A place downtown where he goes to conduct his after hour business."
The last words were drawn out. Lee handed her another five hundred dollars.
"He has a house on the outside of Sydney , off Sixth and Park. A real isolated place from what I understand. I have heard him talking about, his business, whatever that is. Dumb brute doesn't think I know about it. He thinks that speaking in French means I cannot understand him. I let him think so. A woman in my position might need a favor one day."
Lee hands the girl another thousand dollars.
Speaking in French, "I was never here either."
"Of course not, you look like any other Jane to me."
Lee left the room without another thought. Looking at her watch, it was one am. She had a plane to catch at seven. Still, if she went tonight, she could scan the perimeter, see what type of security he had. It certainly wouldn't be enough to make any conclusions, but it beat putting it off. She would do anything to speed the investigation. It was all she could do not to break his wrist every time he touched her. If she had to let that bastard kiss her again, she was afraid she might punch him. Decided, she headed toward Sixth and Park.
Despite its seclusion, it was not a difficult place to find. She was not able to get a close look at the house because the gate had video surveillance. She would have to disrupt that. From the size of the house, she guessed the inside would hold no more than fifteen hundred square feet. In order to hide the children, it must have a basement. From her perimeter walk she saw that the house had seven visible windows and three entrances; a front door, a back door, and a garage. From her view, she could see a man smoking through the window on the rear entrance door. He walked about the inside of the room, but never left it until three am. He was replaced by another guard at that time. At least two guards are in the house. She did not see anymore, but that did not mean they were not there. She would have to get a look inside. Not this trip though. As seven am neared, she gathered herself and headed for the airport.
Lee yawned again. She hadn't been getting much sleep lately. Last evenings intel mission was not helping.
Ignoring Anne's question, "How is Mr. Findley? Is he still set on leaving for Sydney ?"
"Ready and willing. I think that his family is going to come down for the first week to keep him company after work. They are taking a vacation so to speak."
"Shouldn't he be vacationing with them?"
Anne shrugged, "You know Mr. Findley."
"When he gets back, we need to make sure he takes a proper vacation. Any other news I should know about?"
"I believe Riley has some Green Living events she needs to attend next week, but other than that it is business as usual."
"Oh, I purchased our tickets earlier this week. Our flight leaves at nine am tomorrow. We should be in Sydney by noon. We have a meeting with Mr. Elis at one thirty."
She tried to say the last with as even a tone she could muster. Still, Lee thought she heard Anne's back teeth grinding.
"Thank you Anne."
N o rest for the wicked.
Chapter 8: I will end you
"Good afternoon ladies," Elis extended his hand. "I trust your flight went well."
"Not as good as the flight home will be I'm sure," Anne griped.
Riley shook his hand with as polite a smile as she could muster.
"Well you know what they say, there is no place like home. But hopefully we can make Sydney the next best thing."
Charming as always, Lee thought extending her hand to shake his.
"So what's on the schedule?"
"Well, this afternoon, we will go over our plans for the fundraiser event. Then Doctor Mike would like to show you around the set up of one of his clinics. Tomorrow morning Ms. Silverman would like to join you at the site Mr. Findley chose to build on. I understand he will be joining us next week."
"That's correct. And Mr. Charlie Baker will be joining him; learning the ropes."
"Well, I am sure Dr. Mike and Ms. Silverman will be only too happy to greet them. Shall we?" he said, extending his hand to direct them towards the conference room.
An hour into the meeting all Lee could think was that this man liked to talk about himself far too much. It always bothered her those types that thought themselves so fascinating that the rest of the world would marvel to hear them speak. Ninety-nine percent of the time they were worth less than a grain of salt.
Lee and the others could not be more ecstatic that the meeting ended. It was three o'clock before they reached the clinic.
"Good afternoon ladies. I am so happy you could make it by. I thought I could show you our setup. It seems to work pretty well. I was hoping to adopt it into the clinics you are helping us with. Oh and if you see anything you think we could improve on, don't be afraid to shout it out. Whatever we can do, you let us know."
The trio spent an hour listening to Dr. Mike discuss hospital settings, technique, and regulations. He didn't go into a great amount of detail, but enough so that Lee understood why some things were the way they were. All throughout the meeting though, she became more and more interested in the young boy that was sitting behind the nurse's station.
The boy was probably ten years old and sat drawing on some paper. Dr. Mike was going on to Riley and Anne about some legal regulations that needed to be followed and Lee quietly excused herself. Walking over towards the boy she sat down and looked at what he was drawing. It was a maze. The book next to him was a math puzzle. Even as she looked over his drawing, he never once looked up at her. She picked up a pencil and added a number to his math puzzle. For the first time this gained his attention. Putting down the stencil, he picked up a pen and placed a number beside hers. Smart boy, she thought, scribbling in another number. He followed suit. They went on like this until the puzzle was finished. At the end, he managed to snatch a quick glance at her before returning to his drawing. She was about to start another puzzle game when Dr. Mike spoke up.
"I see you have met my son."
"He is very bright."
"What do you say Peter."
Laying his head down on his arm he mumbled, "thank you" as he continued to draw.
The drawing itself was becoming an ever more complex maze. Before she put her pencil down, she added a line to his maze. He looked at the line, looked back to her, looked at the line again, and then continued to draw.
A problem solver, Lee thought.
It was quite clear that the boy had a form of autism. None the less, he was very clever and well mannered. It was obvious that Dr. Mike spent a great deal of time with his son. Her respect for him deepened.
"Thank you for the game Peter," Lee said, standing up to rejoined the group.
The boy nodded his head, continuing to draw on the new path Lee had conjured up for him.
The next morning came quickly. Ms. Silverman was ready and waiting to take them to Mr. Findley's proposed construction site. It was not directly in the center of town, but close enough that it would be accessible to those living in the inner city.
So much to do. Charlie has his work cut out for him, Lee thought.
After seeing the site, Anne asked to be taken back to one of the clinics. She wanted to talk more with Dr. Mike about any regulations that would need to be followed. She was more than certain that this conversation would take more than an hour. Gladly, Ms. Silverman drove them back to the clinic.
"Good morning. I was not expecting to see you until later this evening for the fundraiser."
"Sorry to drop in unexpected. I imagine you are quite busy during the day, but I was hoping you would speak to me more about any legal regulations we would need to follow. I have petitioned the government, but they said it would take a few weeks. I was hoping that maybe you had a better way, or a contact I could follow up with. I would like to have these requirements as soon as possible."
"Of course. Anything I can do to help. I think Ms. Simper would be better able to help you. She is our lawyer contact. I will get you her number."
As Lee and Riley continued to speak to Ms. Silverman, Peter came up and stood next to Lee. He was holding a sketch pad in one hand and his puzzle book in the other.
Lee waited until the boy glanced up at her before kneeling down. She was worried that too much attention without him ready to receive it would frighten him away. He handed the sketch of the maze to Lee. It was the same maze from the day before. After looking over it thoroughly, Lee smiled in appreciation. It was quite complex. Catching the smile on Lee's face, the boy looked toward the floor and smiled as well. Making a note in the other book, he showed it to Lee
"If you two don't mind, I believe I have been challenged."
"Of course," replied Ms. Silverman. Anne looked on in appreciation. Lee always did have a soft spot for children.
Lee took a seat on the nearest waiting room chair, Peter sat next to her. They continued to play several games. The boy becoming more and more enthusiastic as the games became harder.
When Dr. Mike entered the room again, "I see my son has found a numbers partner. I have studied more biology and chemistry than I would care to admit, but I swear I am no match for him when it comes to his games."
"Like I said yesterday, he is very bright. Maybe one day he can come work in my finance department."
Peter paid no attention to the conversation, he continued to focus on his numbers. Waiting on Lee to respond, he pushed the book into her hand in order to gain her attention. Smiling, she indulged him with yet another number. He smiled in return, eagerly awaiting the challenge.
When they had finished the game, Lee excused herself.
"Thank you Peter."
The boy nodded. He had yet to speak in any length to her, but she knew that he had a brilliant mind.
"Do you have everything you need Anne?"
"I think so. If not, I have Ms. Simper's number. She said she would be happy to help."
Leaving the clinic, Ms. Silverman rode with the trio back to the hotel so they could ready themselves for the fundraiser this evening. It was a formal event. Lee had to wonder, at five thousand dollars a plate, guests tend to wish to be greatly entertained. When it was all said and done, that is when everyone has been paid, she wondered how much money would actually be donated to the construction.
Walking up to her room, Lee sat down with her laptop. Last evening after Riley and Anne went to bed, Lee snuck out of the hotel to spy on Elis 's property. Before she left, she set up four cameras that would give her real time images. The first camera was set up to take view of the front of the house. The second to view the back of the house. The third camera was set up to see a panoramic view of the streets. The fourth camera was infrared. This last camera was vitally important. It would show where the children were being kept. The other cameras would tell her who was coming and going, how much security, were there buyers on scene, how was transportation set up, did Mr. Elis visit himself. She could not imagine that he was that unwise, but she hoped. In a couple weeks, she would have the transportation down as well as the guard routine. It was only a matter of time. The only thing left that she needed was the banking information that would tie it all together. What she needed was a buyer.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.
Answering the door, she was greeted by Riley and Anne.
"Of course," Lee said, following them to the car.
The fundraiser itself was a sight to see. Apparently, Mr. Elis knew some good public relations coordinators; no detail was left unattended.
Most of the evening Anne, Riley, and Lee went around thanking all the guests for donations and continued support. Networking was key in the line of business. Making all the rich donators feel good about themselves only increased donations. It was tiring, but necessary.
About an hour after dinner, Anne went over to a microphone.
"I would like to thank everyone for coming. The support you hold for your communities is overwhelming and humbling. I would like to pledge on behalf of our teams that we will give just as much effort on our end. From this day on, it will be our goal to reach out and help all the underprivileged communities throughout Australia ; starting with Sidney . I have no doubt that with your help, we will be successful. "
The crowd cheered at the comment.
"I would also like to thank all the staff and coordinators that put in countless hours to making this evening so special."
Taking a breath, and with as even a tone as she could muster, she pointed towards Mr. Elis.
"And a special thanks to Mr. Elis for holding this event and making this evening possible. Again, thank you all and please, enjoy the evening."
As the clapping died down, Anne went back to networking the scene. Riley and Lee were doing the same. A half hour later and Lee was beginning to wonder when this fundraiser was going to end. She was grateful, but this was turning more into a party than anything else. Catching the corner of her eye, Lee saw Mr. Elis approach her. Just shy of Lee, he whispered something to the lead singer in the band.
Then, holding out his hand, "Dance with me."
Gently grasping his hand, he pulled her tightly against him.
(If you have not heard the song you can watch at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSCp9-ZkLoI)
I was like mindin' my business
Wasn't thinking 'bout strikin' up no conversation
But she has those thick things and a around about
Like the devil said “boys how's 'bout a little temptation”
She was so fine
Could not keep my eyes off her
It was critical, even Biblical like
Just like Delilah says
O Girl you're so bad
But it feels so good
I ain't never seen a girl so bad
Surprisingly, Elis happened to be quite a good dancer. Not long after they started dancing, the crowd gathered in a circle to watch.
I've been like Mr. Perfect, Goody Two-Shoes
Couldn't break me down for nothin' (Uh huh uh huh)
Always knew that messin' 'round ain't worth it
Till I met her, well so much for my nothing, nothing, yeaaah
She was so fine
Could not keep my eyes off her
It was heavy like Delilah
Set my soul on fire!
O Girl you're so bad
But it feels so good
I ain't never seen a girl so bad
(Hey hey hey)
She's so fly, she's so bad, but she's trouble, yeah
Kicks my strong, makes me weak, till I crumble
I don't know what to do I see double
Forgive me if I wanna do wrong
Hey hey yeah
Hips moving in kind against each other, the pair danced on.
I never seen a girl so bad
Hey, but it feels so good
Ain't never, never, never
I ain't never seen a girl
Never, never seen a girl so bad
Never in my life have
I ain't never seen a girl
Never baby (2)
After the song ended, Elis reached in to kiss Lee quite passionately. Far to passionately as far as Lee was concerned. Among the onlookers was Anne who had a shocked look on her face. She had never seen Lee act so brazenly in public. Coming to her senses, she had just enough time to see Riley walking away from the crowd towards an exit. Following shortly behind, all she could think was that Lee had lost her mind.
"Are you alright?"
"Of course. I was just getting some air. I think the wine has gone a little to my head."
Anne looked on with sympathy.
"I'm sorry," it was all she could say.
Trying to act as though she didn't know what Anne was talking about she replied, "For what, you can hardly be responsible for the wine."
Inside, Lee was grateful the song and the kiss had come to an end. Seth escorted her over to a table and called for two glasses of champagne. She continued to scan the floor looking for any signs of Riley. There were none. Surely she would not be so lucky that Riley would have missed that scene. She had wanted to pull away, but if she had Seth would have known something was wrong. She had been trying to seduce him. She couldn't put the children's lives in danger because she didn't want to kiss Seth. Continuing to scan the room she didn't see Anne either. Anne was going to be mad as hell.
Where are they?
No sooner had the thought left her mind, Lee saw Anne and Riley enter through a side door. Upon looking at the sight of Riley, an overwhelming feeling enveloped Lee, shame. She was well acquainted with this feeling. She thought that running away from The Order would minimize this emotion, but inevitably, here it was.
"Is everything alright?" Seth asked taking her hand in his own.
"Of course," she smiled at him and squeezed his hand gently.
Her eyes returning to Riley. It was at this point that Riley finally looked at her. In this moment, Lee was clear of only one thing, she had lost her. Blinking back any shred of emotion that might betray her conviction, she turned back to Seth and smiled. In her head she knew this was the best possible outcome. Her past would always deny her any future with Riley. All these months she had spent pushing Riley away and in one moment Seth could do what she had not the will to; break the connection between them. Seth was not an ignorant man. He knew what he was doing. He knew how much Riley cared for Lee and he chose his moment well. The look of utter satisfaction on his face made Lee feel sick inside. If he only knew, the sole emotion she felt for him was pure and unhindered disgust.
In her mind remained only one thought, I will end you.
The plane ride home was eerily quiet. Neither Anne nor Riley spoke a word, not about anything personally or professionally. Knowing that she was at fault for the situation, Lee sat quietly hoping for a tail wind to speed the trip home. Sharing a cab back to the office, both Anne and Riley drove home immediately upon arrival. Rather than going home, however, Lee went inside and sat behind her desk. Opening her laptop she began to write,
Detective Andrews and Cobb,
It has come to my attention that Mr. Seth Elis is guilty of both human and drug trafficking. On the corner of Sixth and Park you will find his safe house. As of yesterday, he holds thirteen of the fifteen boys and girls, each of which are accounted for in your pictures. The two missing are Anthony Sheppard and Miranda Cendreste. It is my belief that these children were sold before I managed to find them. In this package, I am sending you live feeds of the area. There are four cameras on sight. The first two cameras show feed of the front and back of the house. The third camera will show a live feed of the streets leading to the house. The fourth camera is sending infrared. You should find it a comfort to know that Mr. Elis has made one mistake. The buyers come directly to the home to select their merchandise. From what I can tell, the female children are sold for about twenty thousand dollars and the males for twenty-five thousand. The payments are made through an electronic format.
In addition to this memo, this package contains the photo, home and business location of the latest buyer. His name is Mr. Jack Shroyer. Fortunately, Mr. Shroyer has much to lose. It seems he has a taste for young boys. Being of such high stature, I am sure he would not like this information to become public. It would be my suggestion that you bring this man in for questioning, show him the live feed, and then interrogate him. I am sure, for some confidentiality and leniency, he will gladly tell you how he came into contact with the seller, provide you with Mr. Elis's banking information, and testify against him. I have no doubt all these transactions take place in an offshore account, but certainly with the evidence in hand and a testifying witness you shall have no problem asking the courts to issue a warrant to search and seize the house.
Lee placed the contents into an envelope and sealed it. Stopping by the post on her way home, she mailed the package.
Chapter 9: Thank you, for lunch
Two weeks passed since Lee had sent Detective Andrews and Detective Cobb the letter. Surely they had got a court order by now. She had become increasingly impatient over these past two weeks. She was tired of the charade. She wanted to get back to business.
"What the hell is this?" Anne stormed into Lee's office.
"You know, this is the second time in a matter of weeks that you have come into this office to throw papers at me."
"Well, if you would stop neglecting to inform me about side deals you are making this wouldn't be a problem."
"If I had told you about it, would you have been less angry."
Anne took a breath and then went to shut the door.
"I don't know what you are doing, but this needs to stop. First you make Mr. Elis your liaison, now you broker a deal that looks like an investment in our company. To what end? Please tell me you are not giving him a say in the policies and procedures."
"I understand that you and Mr. Elis do not get along..."
"I can't imagine what might have tipped you off, for a moment I thought you hadn't noticed."
"However, Mr. Elis is well respected all over Australia . Having a binding agreement will help us find a foothold in areas that we would not be able to touch for years."
"I am afraid it is not up to you."
Taking a step towards Lee, she calmed her demeanor. Never in her life would she have thought Lee so callous. Despite the seriousness of her next words, there was a hint of sadness in her voice.
"If you do not find a way out of this agreement, you will have my resignation by the close of business today."
There was a knock at the door. Neither Lee nor Anne moved to open it. The knock came again.
Slowly Lee answered, "Come."
Riley entered the room.
"Sorry to disturb you. Charlie wanted to speak with you before he left for Sydney ."
"Ms. Leeland, I just wanted to thank you again for the opportunity to set up an office in Sydney ."
"It is going to be hard work and long hours," Lee stated kindly.
"I look forward to it. Any last minute details I need to finish up here before I go?"
"I don't think so. It all looks well in hand."
"Great. Well I am sure we will talk often over the phone. Thanks again."
Turning now to Anne, Charlie added, "I imagine I will be speaking to you quite a lot over the next few weeks."
"You will do fine Charlie. Don't hesitate to ask if you need advice."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Turning to Riley, "Ms. Allen."
Leaving the room he shut the door behind him.
Moving to leave, "Ok. Well I will see you two later."
Anne stopped her, "Lee has decided to form a contract with Mr. Elis allowing him to set up policy and procedure in our Australian branch. I think she intends to make him a partner."
Slowly Riley answered, "I think that would be unwise."
Folding her hands across her lap, "Mrs. Torres has given me an ultimatum. Either I find a way out of this contract or she is resigning by the close of business today."
"I see," Riley answered, looking towards Anne.
"And you. Where do you stand? Your contract is a three year commitment, but I think it would cost me more to try and hold you to it if I am fighting you for the next two and a half years."
"I have already told you, I disagree with the appointment of Mr. Elis as our liaison. You ignored me despite my evidencing his lack of business ethics. Surely you can understand that my opinion has not changed. However, as you have pointed out, I am only contract. So your opinion the only opinion that really matters."
"You didn't answer my question."
"I made a three year commitment which I intend to keep. However, if you partner with Mr. Elis, I will not extend the term of that contract."
"You both feel that strongly about it then?"
Lee took the proposed contract and fed it through the shredder.
Relieved, but still suspicious, "It is not that simple and you know it," said Anne.
Looking at Anne evenly, "Had you bothered to read past the first line of the contract, I am sure you would have seen the paragraph that outlined the need to have one hundred percent share agreement in order for the contract to stand valid. It is my understanding that you hold a twelve percent voting interest in this company, do you not? As you will not sign, the contract is void."
Anne looked on at Lee. Why would Lee write that stipulation into the contract?
"Was there anything else you needed Anne? Mr. Findley asked for an impromptu meeting before you stormed into my office. However, if you have further concerns I can reschedule him for later."
"Uh, no I'm good."
"And you?" Lee asked turning to Riley.
Riley shook her head.
"Then I will see you later," Lee said, leaving her office.
Anne and Riley sat staring at each other for a moment. Anne was the first to speak.
"Why would she put that stipulation in the contract knowing I would not sign?"
"Either she thought she could persuade you, or she had no intention of going through with the agreement."
There was a knock at Lee's door.
"Hello, I am Detective Cobb. Is Ms. Leeland available?"
Anne answered, "She just stepped out. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Uh. Actually, I really should speak with her. Eva sent me up. Do you know when she will be back. I have some news to tell her that I think she would enjoy."
"She just stepped away, but I will call her for you. Just a moment."
"That would be great. Thank you."
When calling Mr. Findley's office didn't work, she called Eva and asked her to get a hold of Lee.
"She should be up soon. Can I get you something to drink while you wait?"
"No thanks, I'm fine."
Neither Anne nor Riley were willing to move from Lee's office. Both were wondering what Lee could possibly have to do with a detective.
Once again Detective Cobb's boyish enthusiasm got the best of him.
"You must be so proud to work with a woman like Ms. Leeland. She is very brave."
The pair shared a glance at one another.
"We are. Do you mind if I ask what this is regarding?"
"I am afraid that I am not allowed to go into detail. Suffice it to say, Lee was kind enough to help with one of our investigations. I just wanted to thank her in person as would my boss, Lieutenant Webber. Just between you and me, Lieutenant Weber has decided to give Ms. Leeland a commendation for her service."
"A commendation, surely you can tell us what it is for," Anne pried.
"I'm sure you exaggerate Detective Cobb," Lee interrupted as she walked into her office.
Detective Cobb stood to shake Lee's hand.
"I have some news I thought you might like to hear. Our investigation is coming to a close. We are rounding up the bad guys as we speak thanks to you."
Trying to accept as gracefully as possible, but a tad annoyed that he was speaking about the case in front of Riley and Anne, "You are not very good with the idea of confidentiality are you?"
"I have not given any details. Honestly though, at this point maybe you should tell them. Surely your colleagues would want to know how brave you are."
"Thank you, but I think it is best we keep publicity to a minimum."
Not understanding why she was so hesitant to take credit, "You wanted to keep Ms. Shelton and Mrs. Torres out of the investigation because you feared for their safety. The raid on Mr. Elis's property happened an hour ago. They are no longer in danger. Besides, Lieutenant Webber is on his way down to thank you personally for your help. It is hard to keep the secret now. Like I was telling your colleagues, you were indispensible in this investigation. It will no doubt be on the front page of newspapers for weeks."
"And I recall our agreement to keep my name out of the papers, don't you?"
"What's this about Mr. Elis?" Anne asked.
Lee answered, "You were correct, Mr. Elis was an unsavory character and we will no longer have any business dealings with him or anyone he associates with." Then turning her attention back to the detective, "I take it Mr. Elis is in custody then?"
"Not yet, but he should be soon. It seems he was here in New Zealand at the time of the raid, but it is only a matter of time. We have put a hold on his passports and locked his banking accounts. He won't get far."
"Well if you don't mind, I would like to have police stationed outside to deter him for seeking any kind of retribution here."
"There is a unit on the way. They should be here within the next fifteen minutes. Don't worry, you are in good hands."
Somehow, that did not comfort Lee.
"You said Lieutenant Webber was coming. When shall we expect his arrival?"
"Within the hour actually. He would like to thank you in person. If you don't mind, I will just go down and wait in reception."
Lee walked Detective Cobb back through to Eva's old office. Nodding his appreciation, he made his own way towards the elevator. Riley and Anne had followed Lee.
"Do you mean to tell me that all these dealings with Mr. Elis was some sort of charade on your part to help with an investigation?"
"Yes," Lee answered shortly, trying to make her way back to her office. Anne stepped into her path.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me?"
"As you two have repeatedly told me, Mr. Elis is not a good man. I wanted to help with the investigation without putting either of you in any danger."
"And just who was keeping you safe?"
Lee pointed in the direction of the elevators, "You just met Detective Cobb. He was one of the many detectives assigned to the case."
Anne looked dumbfounded. It was obvious that Detective Cobb did not have much experience. Anne couldn't help but think he was all but useless.
"When did this start?"
"Does it matter?"
Anne was not moving.
Sighing, "Shortly after our first meeting with Ms. Silverman. Detective Cobb and his partner Detective Andrews noticed Mr. Elis's appreciation of me. They asked me to distract him."
Well, it was sort of the truth.
"Distract him how?"
Lee looked towards Anne as though the answer should be obvious.
"Surely you have noticed his attraction to me. They asked me to encourage his attentions in order that I could get some information."
"Lee you could have gotten hurt."
"Honestly, Detective Cobb is making a bigger deal out of this than it is. All I did was forward the police his schedule. I was not in any real danger."
"Not in any real danger. Then why not tell us?"
The two stood staring at one another, neither willing to give any ground.
"Are you ok?"
It was the first time Riley had spoken since the revelation. Slowly Lee turned to face Riley.
"Of course. Truly, Detective Cobb is a bit on the dramatic side. I really had very little to do with the investigation. I am sorry I deceived you and hope I have not caused irreparable damage to our working relationship. It was bad enough I was putting the reputation of our company on the line, I was trying to constrain anything damaging to myself."
"You should have told us," Anne insisted.
"Well I can't change it now. All I can do is apologize. Forgive me for deceiving you."
It was at that point that Lee noticed Anne was no longer listening to her.
Following Anne's line of vision she watched as Mr. Elis walked towards her office. He must have been walking up the steps as Detective Cobb took the elevator down.
Entering the office, "Good morning ladies."
Lee looked for any sign of tension in his face. The raid happened only an hour ago, was it possible that he had not figured out that Lee had betrayed him?
"Seth. I didn't know you were here. You should have called."
"Ah, but that would have ruined the surprise."
Reaching in, he kissed Lee much more chastely than he did on the dance floor. Out of the corner of Lee's eye she saw Riley's take in a breath.
"I was hoping I could have the pleasure of your company for lunch."
"I'd love to, but I am afraid I have a meeting in twenty minutes."
Drawing closer to Lee, "I don't suppose you could reschedule it?"
"Afraid not, perhaps we could have dinner later tonight."
Leaning in, he reached to kiss Lee again.
Turning her head to the side, "I'm at work Seth."
Kissing her hand instead, "Of course, forgive me, I was simply hoping we could pick up where we left off last time."
Anne's face was one of utter revulsion, yet one more reason she couldn't tell her about the plan, she was terrible at hiding her emotions.
"Sounds interesting, but I'm afraid you will have to wait until I have finished working today."
"Correct me if I'm mistaken, I believe I heard you tell one of the donators at the fundraiser that saving the world was a job that was never finished?"
Thank God for that.
"Surely you could take a break," he kissed her hand again.
"I would be happy to. How's eight o'clock this evening?"
Chuckling at his inability to gain any leeway, he acquiesced.
"You work too hard Lee. Last time you waited to take a break till that late in the evening, you were so tired you could barely finish you meal as I recall."
Why did his eyes always look hungry . Will he never leave?
"Well, I promise you, this evening will be different."
"I shall wait in anticipation then," he said finally releasing her hand.
In order to put some distance between them, Lee turned in an attempt to walk towards Anne.
Interrupted in her retreat, "Oh and Lee..."
She had just enough time to turn back as she felt Seth pull her fiercely into a kiss. She was startled by the change of pace and it took everything in her power not to slap him upside the head. Willing her body to relax, she calmly put her hands on his arms to gently push him away.
"Till this evening," he said.
The phone in the inside of his jacket began to buzz. Releasing his grip on her he answered the phone and headed for the doorway only to stop dead in his tracks at the threshold.
It was quite clear from his change in posture that he did not like the news he was receiving. From the first moment he walked into the office he had a carefree expression and attitude. Now, he stood up tall, his shoulders straight, and his hand clenched. He was the very sight of tension. Slowly Seth turned around.
"Who did you say your meeting was with?"
Handing a business card to Anne, "Would you mind getting a hold of Mr. Findley, tell him I would like to see him in my office."
Anne looked down at the card to read; Detective Cobb, Interpol.
Turning back to Seth, "Mr. Charlie Baker. He wanted to go over some last minute preparations before he left for Sydney ."
Just as Anne was about to turn and head for her office, Seth stepped in her path.
"May I see that card."
"Why?" Anne asked innocently.
His only response was to smile.
"Seth? What are you doing? I don't know what kind of game you are playing, but honestly, we need to get back to work," Lee said, stepping between Elis and Anne.
"No Lee, no more games."
Damn, damn, damn.
"What have you done?"
"Excuse me?" she asked innocently.
Brushing a strand of loose hair behind her ear, "Do you know why I chose you?"
Lee continued to stare at him, his eyes deepening in color.
"I chose you because you are just like me. I can see it, in your eyes," he motioned with his fingers. "Most people I'm sure think it is just ambition, but it isn't. It is dark, like me."
"I don't know what you are talking..."
He stopped her speech by brushing his thumb over her lips, "No more games Lee. Tell me what you have done."
The tension between the two was thickening immeasurably.
A breath away from her lips, again he whispered, "What have you done?"
Just as gently, "If that phone call has anything to do with the immediate change in your behavior, I have a feeling you know exactly what I've done."
Slowly brushing his hand down her lips and past her chin, he squeezed her throat.
"Your colleagues may not know you, but I do. You're exactly like me."
"I am nothing like you."
Squeezing tighter, bringing her face mere inches within his, "Why?"
A slow laugh emerged from Lee's lips.
"Did you know that Riley showed me some information on your business practices. It seems you own several sweatshops around the world. Children work in these factories for next to nothing."
"Is that what this is about? Business ethics?"
In a dangerously low voice, "No. Thousands of businesses do the same. You are much worse than that. Did you think I would not notice your habit of abducting and selling children? From my understanding, you abduct these children from your sweatshops, from the local youth groups that you so avidly support in Australia , and correct me if I'm wrong, I do believe it was your intention to find some of your merchandize from the clinics we planned to open. You kidnap them, addict them to drugs, and then sell them to the highest pedophilic bidder. The younger they are the higher the price. Truly an entrepreneur. You turned drug trafficking into human." Leaning dangerously close to him, "You disgust me you bastard."
Reaching his hand back he slapped Lee harshly across the face. Her colleagues had little time to react to the current situation let alone to the news that was just revealed to them.
Lee laughing as she wiped her mouth.
"Tell me, do you like little boys or little girls best."
He slapped her again. Seizing her by the throat he pulled out a gun.
"I'd plan to sell you to if it weren't for that mouth. I imagine I could have gotten a decent price. Many men would have loved to break you. What do you think, fifty thousand for as feisty a catch as you."
"I take it back, you are a terrible business man, I am worth far more than that."
Tired of the struggle, he brought his hand up to point the gun at Lee.
"Anything else you would like to add?" laughing as though her were a victor.
"Yes actually," He had little time to react as Lee head butted him in the nose. It only takes seven pounds of pressure to break the cartilage and causes an involuntary reaction in the assailant to reach for the wounded appendage. Gathering his wits, he tried to point the gun again only to find his wrist twisted in a cripplingly awkward position causing him to drop the gun. Swiftly Lee spun around him, kicking him in the back of the knee, bring him to the ground. Forcefully, she slammed his head against the side of Eva's old desk, dropping him face down to the floor. As he tried to raise himself up, Lee punched him hard in the back of the neck sending him decidedly into unconsciousness.
Satisfied that he was no longer a threat, she looked up to her colleagues. Anne was on her cell phone yelling at Cobb to get up here immediately. She imagined that she only had about fifteen seconds before he came barreling into her office. Quickly she stood up and kicked the gun over towards Anne. Sure enough, she had just enough time to see Detective Cobb bursting through the stairs door, clambering to get to their aide.
"Detective Cobb, thank God you are hear. It seems Mr. Elis was taking the stairs up as you took the elevator down."
Lowering his own weapon at the sight of an unconscious Mr. Elis he asked, "What happened?"
Anne was about to answer but Lee interrupted.
"Well he came up here to ask me to lunch, I don't think he knew about the raid. Just as he was leaving he got a phone call and then slapped me. Next thing I know he pulled out a gun and made a grab for me. Thank God he is a clumsy oaf, because when I scrambled to get away, he tripped over his own feet and hit his head across the desk. Thank God you are here, I wouldn't know what to do if he woke up."
Doing his best to act as a calming force, "Don't worry Ms. Leeland, I have him now," he said as he slapped the handcuffs around Mr. Elis's wrist, "he can't harm you anymore."
Lee nodded her thanks. Riley and Anne didn't know why on earth Lee was lying, but not wanting to contradict her, they both remained silent.
"Are you two alright?" asked Detective Cobb.
"Yes, yes, we are fine. Just startled."
It was at that moment that the promised police detail arrived along with Lieutenant Webber.
"Detective Cobb, what happened here?"
As Cobb went to brief Lieutenant Webber, Elis slowly regained consciousness. Looking around he was angered to find himself in custody.
Directing himself toward Lee, "My lawyers will have me out in a week. What will you do then? I am a powerful man."
Lee looked toward Anne.
"It is my understanding Anne that even thieves and murderers have their own code. What happens to pedophiles in prison?"
The look that crossed Anne's face was one of horrific understanding.
Whispering her answer to Elis , "You will never get out of prison, I assure you. As for me, I'm certain you will be far too busy worrying for your own livelihood that mine won't even factor in the mix. I imagine a coward like you will not last more than a month in prison." Leaning in close, she whispered in a deadly tone, "Do this world a favor, try not to take your own life before you fully realize the pain you have placed on others."
With that, the police detail took Mr. Elis through the doors. All the way to the elevator you could hear Elis scream,
"You're dead! You bitch! I'll kill you! I'll kill you, you filthy cunt whore!"
Lieutenant Weber approached Lee.
"I can assure you, nothing of the sort will happen. We will have a police detail sent to keep an eye on you throughout the trial. No one will get near you."
"Thank you, but that is not necessary. With all his friends rounded up in your raid, I'm sure he has no one to call to back up that threat. Besides, I am pretty good at looking after myself."
Lieutenant Webber nodded.
"I came down here to thank you for all your help during the investigation. Seems I must thank you again for helping us apprehend Mr. Elis."
"Thank Detective Cobb, he has good timing," she motioned towards his direction.
"There's one more thing. Now is not the best time, but I would like to set up a commendation ceremony for you. People should know how valuable you are."
"Honored as I am, I am terribly camera shy. If it pleases you, perhaps you might be willing to support our foundation. Having public support from such highly recognized and respected organization would go a great distance in helping the people accept us. I would be very grateful."
Smiling at Lee, "Well I don't see why not. My wife takes our son to Dr. Mike's clinic. He speaks the world of you. And I have the ear of the firefighter and nurses unions as well. By the time we're done, you shall have all the support you need, I promise you. Good day, Ms. Leeland."
Shaking his hand, "Thank you Lieutenant Webber."
As the elevator doors closed, and all the police were finally out of the building, Lee addressed her staff.
"As you may have noticed, Mr. Elis will no longer be serving as our liaison in Sydney . I would like to apologize for the disturbance you just witnessed. I know you all have put a lot of hours in on this and I am grateful. Thankfully, the Australian police department has generously decided to support us in our cause." Pausing a moment, "As I can imagine, there is going to be a lot of buzz talk going around about what just happened and very little work being done." Interjecting a smile in her words, "I can't say as I blame you. In fact," she looked towards Anne, "Ms. Torres thought that because we have caused such an ugly disruption that perhaps we should make it up to you buy buying you all lunch and insisting you spend the rest of the day relaxing at our expense or at home with your families." Handing Eva her credit card, "Surely you all can pick out something you would like to eat. Oh, and Ms. Allen insisted that you all may talk about anything you like, except work."
Walking back to her office, she imagined the crowd behind her held slightly stunned about the incidence, and amused at the response faces. It mattered little, she heard a few suggestions about lunch. So far pizza was the likely favorite.
About an hour later Lee heard a knock at the door. Looking up she found Riley standing in the doorway holding a plate of cheese pizza. Moving to take a seat,
"So why does everyone else get the day off except the boss. I thought the boss got to go off and play golf somewhere while the employees remained underpaid and underappreciated."
Smiling, "I knew I had gone wrong somewhere. Ah well, golf is boring anyway."
Riley laughed, "Right, of course. What would you prefer to do? Climb trees?"
"If only to see that I could reach the top."
"Naturally," she laughed. "So, I've been thinking."
"We just started in Australia , let's wait a bit on Africa ."
"Damn," Riley snapped her fingers. "No really, I've been talking with Mr. Sono and agrees that you and I, well that our companies should, well we should merge."
"Three hours ago you wanted to run for the hills."
"Well, that was when I had thought you lost your mind. Now that I know you are keenly aware of your senses, it seems like the only reasonable thing to do."
"Reasonable, huh," she played along. "And did you and Mr. Sono come up with some reasonable figure about how much voting interest you should have in our merger."
"We did actually. As you have more financial resources, it only makes sense that you would remain with senior voting right. However, Mr. Sono believes that I would be able to successfully negotiate towards the higher end of twenty to twenty-five percent voting interest."
"You have thought this through then?"
"And you are sure this is what you want?"
"You have some objection?"
"No, not at all."
Collecting a piece of paper Lee wrote down some figures and handed the paper to Riley.
"Is this agreeable to you?"
Nodding her assent she handed the paper back. Picking up the phone Lee dialed Anne's number.
"Will you please come to my office a moment."
Entering her office, "What's up."
"It seems Ms. Allen would like to merge with our company."
Anne's eyes grew bright with giddiness.
"Since of late I have been negligent in discussing future plans for our company, I thought you should be present for this discussion. We came up with this compromise," she said handing the paper to Anne.
Anne read over the numbers. Voting interest, Lee fifty-one percent, Allen twenty-five percent, Torres twenty-four percent."
Holy crap, Lee doubled my voting interest .
Then very seriously, "You threatened to resign from this company earlier today. It is my desire to deter you from doing such. You are an incredibly valuable member of this team and I intend to make sure you understand this. Hopefully with this percentage, you will find yourself fully vested with the company."
Anne looked on dumbfounded, "Uh huh."
"So this agreement is amenable to you?"
"Uh huh," she nodded.
"Wonderful. And if you don't mind, I want everyone to know that this agreement is fully supported, therefore make sure we need both yours and my signature to make the merger valid." Turning her attention back to Riley, "She will probably write the contract very basic. If you feel we should add anything I am sure we can come to an understanding."
"Thank you Anne."
"Thank you," Anne replied unsteadily. She couldn't believe she just had her interest doubled. Gracefully exiting, she heard Lee call after her.
"Tell your husband I said hello."
Lee smiled and looked back to Riley.
"Was there something else?"
"No. I imagine that was probably the easiest agreed upon merger in the history of business. Mr. Sono will be very pleased."
"You know, everyone else is having a good time. You should come out and celebrate."
"I have some work I need to finish up, but please you go on ahead."
Looking at the papers on Lee's desk, she realized they were important, but nothing that couldn't be put off for a day. Sliding her plate of food in front of Lee, Riley reclined in her chair, content to sit back and enjoy her slice of pizza.
Sighing Lee stood up and went to the side of her office. There was a desk to the corner. When Lee opened the inside, Riley was surprised to find it was actually a small cooler. Pulling out two glasses Lee poured some tea. Returning to her chair, she handed one to Riley.
"You are a bad influence."
Riley just sat with an incredibly satisfied look on her face. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes before Riley's mood grew increasingly somber.
"Are you ok?" Riley asked shyly, looking at the cut above Lee's mouth. "Would you like some ice?"
"No, I'm fine."
Jesting, "How about for your right hook?"
Before she knew what she was doing, Riley brushed her fingertips over Lee's knuckles. Quickly realizing the implicit intimacy in the act, Riley quickly moved to retract her hand. Before she got away, Lee stopped her. Placing her palm over Riley's she tightened her grip. It would be so easy to apologize. A myriad of emotions crossed Lee's eyes. She couldn't apologize. She knew that given the same situation she would have taken the same action. She couldn't have allowed those children to be hurt simply because she didn't like the means by which she had to save them. Moreover, if she did apologize, it would be admitting that there was something between Riley and herself. Riley deserved better than she could ever hope to give. For a woman who was so good at reading others, articulating her own emotions had always been challenging; probably because she had spent her whole life making sure no one could read her. Brushing her thumb over the inside of Riley's palm, she reluctantly released her. In truth, she never should have clasped her hand, she just couldn't bear to have Riley think that she meant nothing to her. Gathering the courage to look up at Riley, a moment of understanding coursed between them.
"Thank you, for lunch."
Riley smiled, "Anytime."
End of Part 2
To be continued...
(1) Missy Higgins song "Secret"
(2) Anthony Hamilton's song "Woo"
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