“Everything is in place,” AIC Webster told the DA. They were gathered around a conference table doing a final run through on the plan before they moved forward.

“Tell me again,” Winston said. “I don't want there to be any room for error.”

“Agents assisted by the Tennessee Highway Patrol are ready to serve simultaneous arrest warrants that way there won't be any opportunity for anyone to run and avoid arrest. Once all the suspects are in custody they will be brought back here, questioned and booked. Judge Harellson signed the local warrants about thirty minutes ago and we have one more suspect to locate and then we'll move. Agents and troopers also have warrants in hand for suspects in Nashville and Memphis.”

“I don't mind telling you that this whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. In all the years I've held this job, this is the worst mess I've ever dealt with. So many heads are gonna roll today.” Winston reached for a bottle of Tums and popped one into his mouth just as Agent England entered the room and took a seat beside of Sam. “Ma'am, everyone is in place all we need now is your go ahead.”

“Good work, Matt. Gentleman, ladies. Let's get this show on the road. Winston, I'll let you know just as soon as we have everyone rounded up.” The AIC quickly left the room with various agents and state troopers close behind.

One person stayed in her seat a look of dread on her face that matched her boss' but for very different reasons. “Well, Casey. You did a wonderful job leading the task force. You should be very proud of yourself. You pulled this together much more quickly than I had originally thought possible.”

“You and I both know we caught a lucky break when those idiots took Courtney Gibson. We'd still be looking if it wasn't for that.” Casey's voice sounded flat, tired, defeated.

“This job really sucks sometimes, doesn't it?”

“You can say that again.” Casey walked to her boss and squeezed his shoulder as she prepared to leave the room. “But it looks like you'll get to keep your unblemished record. Good work, Boss.”

Winston patted the hand on his shoulder. “Why is that I don't feel so good about this one?”

“Perhaps for the same reason I don't. This is going to hurt too many people that we've thought of as friends.”

“But we swore to do this job and protect the good citizens of Wilmington even when --”

“Even when it hurts those we love.” Casey finished for him. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to head over to the Gibson house so that I'm there when Jennifer Gibson gets the news.

“Be careful, my friend. You've gotten in rather deep and it's not going to be easy.”

“I know, Winston ... I know.”


When Casey arrived at Jennifer's house she found her on the sofa cuddling with her son. Janie and Alex were sharing a chair across the room. Jennifer looked up expectantly at Casey memories of the closeness they shared the night before shining in her eyes. Casey was struck yet again by just how beautiful the blond woman was.

“Any news?” Janie asked.

Lost in thought, the assistant DA didn't answer immediately.

“Earth to Casey,” Janie teased. The women had developed an easy friendship since their first tumultuous meeting.

“Yes, there is some news. It looks like we've caught a break. I should know something very soon.”

Jennifer sat up straight and looked to Casey for confirmation. “You've found Courtney? Casey, please tell me you've found my daughter,” she cried as she sprang to her feet and ran to the woman's side. “Casey, tell me!” Jennifer grabbed the taller woman's arms and looked up into her eyes. “Have you found my daughter?”

“We believe we know where Courtney is being held. We'll know for sure very soon.” Casey hated not telling her the full truth. She knew the hell Jennifer had been through the last few days. Sleeping in spurts. Hardly eating. On the verge of tears most of the time. But her job demanded that she wait until the arrests had been made. Looking at her watch, she noted that almost an hour had passed since she left Winston's office. Wow. They could already be on their way here with Courtney by now. This will all be over very soon. And chances are Jennifer will never speak to me again!


Sam and Matt sat in a dark sedan up the street from the residence Sam had found a few nights earlier. The Bureau rented a vacant house on the block and had been using it as a command post since Michael Gibson confirmed his daughter was being held in the house. He told agents who questioned him that he had heard his daughter's voice but did not actually see her. He also agreed to cooperate completely in order to bring his daughter home safely. Sam couldn't help but think that Gibson was a basically a good man who allowed greed to overshadow his better judgment. He broke down in sobs at the idea of leaving his daughter captive until he could help the authorities get enough evidence against the conspirators to bring them to justice. He like Casey had wanted to free the girl and work from there.

It took a direct order from Winston to get Casey to back down. She took exception to endangering the life of a child to take down the conspirators and everyone within hearing knew her feelings. Sam wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the woman resigned from the DA's office after this was over.

He and Matt had drawn the assignment of freeing the girl from her captors while other agents and state troopers took the suspects into custody. Arrests were to be made simultaneously at six separate locations. The veteran detective was getting antsy while he waited for the go ahead. He had the stub of a cigar in his mouth and kept changing it from side to side with his tongue. The rookie agent appeared to be having some of those same feelings. He had his arm propped on the passenger door of the car, his fingers tapping rat-a-tat-tat. Neither man paid much attention to the other.

“Look at that,” the young agent said as he watched a silver sedan pull into the driveway of the house they would be raiding in just a few minutes.

“It looks like Gibson did his job. This will all be over soon now.”

They watched as a tall blond man got out of the car and entered the house leaving his car parked in the driveway. A few minutes later, Michael Gibson pulled in and parked beside the other man's car. He, too, entered the house. In what felt like only a second, three armored vans entered the neighborhood and dispatched three teams of specially trained agents and state troopers. They kept to the shadows of houses along the street as they surrounded the residence where Courtney was being held. Then on the command of the AIC, one team broke down the front door and entered as another team did the same from behind.

“You son-of-a-bitch you set us up,” the blond man screamed as he pulled a gun from the band of his belt and aimed it at Michael Gibson's head.

AIC Sandy Webster led the team that entered from the front. She had her weapon drawn and was holding it in both hands at just about chest level. “Drop your gun, now!” She commanded in a calm, cold tone. “Did you hear me, man? I said drop it? You are surrounded by armed officers of the law and we will take you down.”

The blond man turned cold angry eyes to the agent. “Do you know who you're fucking with, woman? Heads will roll for this.”

“The only thing that concerns me right now is that you drop that gun you're holding before someone gets shot. You really don't want to do this.” As the agent watched she saw the man's hand shake just a little. A twitch was visible in his left cheek. It was obvious to her that he wasn't quite as confident as he pretended and desperate men sometimes did stupid things. “Come on man. Just put the gun down and this will all be over. No need for anyone to get hurt.”

“Lady, have you ever heard the expression fate worse than death?” Just as the words were spoken he squeezed the trigger and a shot rang out. The agent saw the gunman's intent and reacted by throwing her body into Michael Gibson and taking him to the floor. The next few minutes were a flurry of activity as the man was wounded and disarmed. Michael Gibson sat on the floor with his head in his hands. Shaking. Tears streaming.


Loud voices woke Courtney and she sat up on the bed. When the gunshots rang out she drew her knees up against her chest and started moaning as she rocked back and forth. Being held in the dark room for so many days had taken a tremendous toll on the girl. She was just a shadow of the confident, lovely girl she had been only a couple weeks before.

Suddenly the gunfire stopped and she heard doors being opened and closed. Then she heard someone calling her name. “Courtney Gibson. We're here to help you. Where are you Courtney? Courtney call out to us so we can find you. Let us know where you are.”

Terrified Courtney cowered on the bed. Whimpering. Hugging her knees and rocking back and forth. It was her whimpers that greeted Sam and Matt when they finally opened the right door. “It's okay, kid. We're not gonna hurt you,” the older man spoke softly as he approached the girl slowly.

Courtney buried her face into her knees and whimpered even more as the men approached. Matt sat down on the bed beside of her. He didn't touch her but he seemed to reach her with quietly spoken reassurance. “Do you want to go home to your mother? We're gonna take you to her. You're safe Courtney. And we're gonna keep you that way. I promise. You wanna go home now?” The frightened girl didn't speak but she lifted up her tear streaked face and nodded her head one time.

Matt tenderly helped the girl to her feet and he and Sam supported her on each side as they walked her from the room and to the front of the house. They were passing through the main living area when she happened to look to the side and saw her father sitting on the floor crying.

“Daddy! Daddy!” she cried as she flew across the room and fell into her father's arms. Michael buried his face in his daughter's neck and shoulder. He caressed and smoothed the hair on the back of her head. Tears went unchecked and he muttered over and over. “I'm so sorry baby. I'm so sorry.”

Sam and Matt stood quietly by and gave the man time with his daughter. They knew there was going to be so much more heartache for the family in the weeks and months to come.

AIC Webster put an end to the reunion when she entered the room with a medic at her side. “Matt as soon as the girl has been checked out by the medic, you and Sam take her on home. Then I need you back at the Justice building for the debriefing.”

“We'll be there, ma'am.”

It wasn't easy for the medic to get the girl out of her father's arms to examine her for injuries. With Michael's help he finally accomplished what needed to be done. The medic advised the agents that Courtney did not seem to have any physical injuries and seemed to be in good shape except for possibly dehydration. After encouraging them to have the girl checked by her family physician as soon as possible, the medic left Matt and Sam alone with the girl and her father.

“Mr. Gibson, we're ready to drive your daughter home now. I'm sure she wants to get home to her mother as soon as possible.”

“Make sure she gets home safely will you and please tell my wife how sorry I am for all of this,” Michael said as he looked up at the young agent. “Courtney, these men are going to take you home now. Go with them, sweetheart and I'll see you later, okay.”

“Daddy, aren't you coming too? Please, I don't want to leave you.”

“I'm sorry, baby. But they need me to answer some questions so I need to stay awhile longer. I'll talk to you soon. I promise.”

After a few more minutes of hushed conversation, he was able to convince his daughter to go with the two men. He watched as they led her from the room and then he laid his head back and groaned.

“Is my dad in some kind of trouble?” Courtney questioned as Matt helped her into a car.

“Let's just get you home and worry about all of that later. My name is Matt by the way and your mother is going to be very happy to see you.” The young agent gave the girl a reassuring pat on the shoulder as he helped her into the waiting car. When he closed the door, his eyes locked with those of the veteran detective across the top of the car. Each acknowledged that the girl's life would sadly never be the same.

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