Fandom: Xena Uber/Alt/Original
Rating: 18 or NC-17
Summary: A company burned, ex-CIA operative, who seeks absolution in a bottle, is forced into a situation that could be the defining moment of her life. Burnt-out and long ago thinking herself incapable of feeling, her numb complacency is tested when she meets an innocent woman who must now suffer the ultimate consequences of her bad choices.
Disclaimer: Just in case there is a need to say this because a few of the characters might slightly resemble some cast members of a TV show we know and love, no infringement is intended to the powers that be at MCA/Universal. Other than that, the story, the characters and the fantasy are mine.
Warnings: This story contains lesbian sex. If that offends you but you continue reading anyway, then I take no responsibility if your retinas catch fire. Once again, I must mention that there is one fleeting recollection of heterosexual sex that is nonconsensual but not violent (you can tell from her snoring). There is also another scene that starts out as nonconsensual but changes very quickly.
Big Warning: My Spanish is rusty. Oh, let's not mince words, it sucks. Crossing my fingers that it isn't too far off.
This is for Ren, who really took me to task on this one. Thanks. I needed that.
And for Canna, whose initial reaction to this story inspired me to finish it. ;-)
Archive: Only with permission from the author
A lie is the deliberate withholding of any part of the truth from someone who has the right to know
Jody knew her captor was up and about. She had heard the microwave beeping. The heiress wondered when the woman would make her presence known and if Jody would be able to find out any more about this woman who had taken her hostage and the reason why.
She longed for a shower, knowing the spray of water would perk her up but she just didn't dare. Her stomach had started to protest its emptiness, breakfast being the one meal she tried to make sure she never missed. She had removed a bottle of raspberry flavored water from her small refrigerator, drinking the contents and all that did was make her more hungry. Noises started rising from her belly that could have rivaled the beginning of an MGM movie when she heard the knock.
"Yes?" Jody approached the door, her tone tentative. She wanted to sound stronger, more fearless but she couldn't muster the energy to act it out.
"I've got some breakfast for you. Step away from the door."
Having learned her lesson the night before, Jody obeyed, walking back to the bed. "Okay." She heard the bolt lock slide and her captor entered, balancing a tray on one hand while she closed the door with the other. She set the tray down on the vanity and stepped back.
"I don't know what you usually eat in the morning but I found some dry cereal, some milk and I made you some toast and coffee," Tia told her, civilly. She wasn't used to serving anyone and had no idea if the heiress normally even bothered with breakfast but if Tia was going to kill her, starving her was not the way she was going to do it.
Stepping over to the vanity, Jody surveyed the tray. It held a bowl of rice krispies, an eight ounce glass of milk, two slices of buttered wheat toast and a pretty horrible looking cup of black coffee. She looked up at Tia, seeing her for the first time in daylight, catching herself before she openly gasped. Her kidnapper was powerfully striking, even in her obviously unkempt state. "Thank you." Not daring to stare at the tall woman longer than necessary, not knowing what would provoke her anger, Jody returned her attention to the tray. Reaching for the glass of milk, she poured enough in her coffee to turn the color to tan. Now that the food was in front of her, her stomach lurched at the thought of eating a bite. The presence of the woman standing next to her didn't help.
Nodding, Tia took a couple steps back and assessed her captive. She looked like shit, probably hadn't slept a wink, face a little puffy from, no doubt, crying. In fact, her eyes started watering a bit after taking a sip of the coffee. "Too strong?" Tia asked, then wondered why she cared.
"A little," Jody responded, nearly spitting it out. She reluctantly swallowed not wanting to insult her formidable abductor. Putting the mug back on the tray, she picked up a slice of toast, taking a nibble to hopefully remove the bitter, acidy aftertaste of the beverage. There was no way this sludge came from her coffeemaker. "Can I ask you something?"
Tia leaned against the door and folded her arms. "You can ask anything you want. I won't guarantee I'll answer."
"Why?" Jody looked over at Tia again and, for the first time, their eyes connected. What she saw in those ice cold blue eyes, rattled her. They seemed vacant, devoid of any and all life and Jody wondered how someone could get to that point. The taller woman held her gaze, studying her. The heiress was still a little jarred by this woman's smoldering beauty, a physicality that was unexpected as, in her sheltered upbringing, she incorrectly assumed that all criminals were male, blatant and never that attractive. There was no doubt her captor had an edge and, in order for her to be doing what she was doing, obviously had less than pure motives. Jody wondered what must have happened to this woman in her life to incite her into this kind of behavior.
"Well...I could say money, but..." Tia began, her mouth once again, moistureless. Regardless of the emotional condition of the heiress, she was indisputably pretty and disarming in her confusion. Tia was very drawn to her, feeling a sudden sexual pull that was undeniable. This was not good.
Jody looked away first, finding the mesmerizing eyes staring into the depths of her fear too intense. "If it's money you want, if that's what it will take to get me out of here, I can give that to you right now. I can have money transferred anywhere in the world for you right now. We don't have to do this." She concentrated on the contents of her tray, her stomach now feeling like it was taking forcible possession of her backbone, her distress overcoming her previous hunger.
"It doesn't work that way," Tia advised, troubled by her reaction to the heiress. Under different circumstances, she would have been a nice little conquest. What a stupid time for her hormones to wake up and stand at attention.
Jody returned her focus to her captor. "Why? Why can't it work that way? Let me give you the money and we can both walk away right now." Her tone was pleading. She took a small step toward Tia. "Please...everybody has a price..."
Abandoning her casual stance, Tia instinctively responded to the heiress moving closer to her. Her body now had a slightly more defensive posture, not that she felt she had anything physical to fear from the smaller woman but she needed to send her a message without words. Subtle body language usually did the trick. As expected, Jody stopped dead in her tracks, immediately realizing her mistake and stepped back, demurely, looking down at the floor. The unspoken submission prompted a smile to curl Tia's mouth. She still had it - that dominant presence and 'don't-fuck-with-me' demeanor that helped her go as far as she did as an operative in the Agency. Glancing at her watch, Tia said, "Even if that was an offer that interested me, which it doesn't, it's too late. The first phone call has already been made to your father."
Shoulders slumping in defeat, Jody's hand covered her eyes. "My parents know I've been kidnapped?"
"Abducted," Tia corrected. "When a woman is the victim, it is usually referred to as an abduction."
Peeking out from behind her hand, Jody watched Tia, puzzled. "I'm talking about my life and you're correcting my phraseology?"
Almost laughing in spite of herself at Jody's expression, Tia turned to leave the room, putting her hand on the door handle. She needed to get out of there, away from whatever was eliciting this gnawing at her libido and back up to the deck as she was expecting a check-in call from Montgomery.
"Are you working alone?"
Tia's eyes swept the stateroom before alighting on Jody again. "Does it really matter?"
The expression rattled the heiress for some reason other than dread. Casting her eyes downward in embarrassment, Jody mumbled, "No. I guess it doesn't."
"Need anything before I lock you back in?"
"My freedom?" The smaller blonde woman tossed out, subdued.
Tia swallowed, hoping to work up some saliva. "You can't always get what you want, Mrs. Montgomery."
"How's the lovely heiress this morning?"
Tia grit her teeth, wishing she could reach through the phone and grab Montgomery by his throat and squeeze. She could not hide her contempt for him. "How do you think she is?"
"What's the matter? Get up on the wrong side of my wife this morning?" Just that thought almost made Montgomery hard.
"Shut up, you sick fuck."
"Jody is a very attractive woman. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it."
"I haven't thought about it." Instinctively knowing he was fantasizing about it made Tia nauseous.
"Do you have anything to tell me or not? If you don't, I have a beer calling my name."
"This early? My...you're nothing if not dedicated."
"Breakfast of champions. Tell you what, I'll drink to your health, how's that?"
"I'll be sure to be extra careful then. I bet you drink to so many people's health that your bar tab could be deductible on your medical insurance."
She found herself pacing. She hated this man, what he was doing and what he expected of her. "Did you make the call?"
"Me? No. But the call was made. I was there when it came in. I was appropriately frenzied. Distraught. I should have been an actor."
"So what happens now?" She could figure it out on her own. The police would contact the FBI, who would set up a command post in the estate and the crush would then be on. The reporter on the cop beat would then leak the story to the press and within an hour, everybody in the world who already didn't, would know what Jody Montgomery looked like.
"I'm waiting on the cops now. The chief of detectives wasn't good enough for Wainwright, he demanded the police commissioner accompany the feds when they get here." His casual, playful tone was repugnant. "Oh, by the way...the dead hooker was found this morning."
"Her name was Trisha," Tia reminded him, recalling the redhead's lifeless expression in her mind's eye.
"Yes, I know that. I've fucked her enough times." He yawned, sounding bored. Tia shook her head, not believing the remorseless attitude of this prick. "So, I give the cops about twenty-four hours before they're on your trail. Fortunately for you, my wife's abduction will overshadow a lowlife, discredited ex-CIA dyke murdering her prostitute lover in a stolen car."
Fuming, it took every ounce of willpower Tia had not to explode. She had no idea that she was capable of such self-control. "How could such a nice woman as your wife seems to be, marry such a psycho?"
Montgomery let loose with a hearty laugh. "I told you. I should have been an actor. Okay, at some point, the FBI is going to want to check The Quintessence just to make sure Jody just hasn't flipped out and run away on her own. When that happens, I will let you know before we leave the house."
"You're going to bring them here?"
"Oh, absolutely. I've thought of everything. I, of course will stay on the bridge when they do their walk-through as it will be too painful for me to go with them, remembering all the great times my wife and I have had there...which have been none but they don't need to know that."
"And where will your wife and I be?"
Tia had returned to the master stateroom a lot sooner than Jody had anticipated she would, in fact it had only been a matter of minutes since she had left. The tall, sable-haired woman instructed the heiress to once again step away from the door and she entered with a purpose. As she walked directly toward Jody, the frightened blonde instinctively backed away from her.
"Come here," Tia commanded, reaching out and grabbing Jody's forearm.
The heiress was torn between complying and trying to fight her. The look in her captor's eyes was flooded with hostility and if, for whatever reason, this was going to be her last few minutes on Earth, she wanted to know why. But it all happened too fast for her to get the words out. "Wait! What -?" she tried to dig her heels into the carpet, hoping to make herself resistant against the pull but it did not work. The woman yanked her to the head, pushing her inside, shutting the door and securing it. "What's going on? What did I do?" Jody's voice was on the verge of hysteria. She slapped the palms of her hands against the door in confusion and alarm.
Ignoring her, Tia moved back over to the berth, dropping to her hands and knees. She completely removed one of the drawers underneath the bed and studied its width. Then, she looked at the height and estimated what would be the highest part of her prone body. Not leaving it to chance, she laid down and eased her body into the vacancy left by the drawer. It was snug but she fit, nonetheless. She slid back out, stood up and walked to the other side of the berth and pulled that drawer out as well. It was the same size as the first one which meant the space left in between would be just about big enough for two people. She stood up and placed her hands on her hips in reluctant admiration. Damn if Montgomery hadn't thought of everything.
Putting everything back where it belonged, Tia unlocked the door to the head and opened it to see Jody sitting on the edge of the tub with her arms crossed. Her expression reflected a mixture of anger, bewilderment and fear. Feeling almost guilty, Tia rolled her eyes and turned her face away then looked back at the heiress. "Come on out," she requested, calmly.
Stubbornly, Jody remained in the same position, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks, mollified but still apprehensive. "Why did you do that?"
"You don't need to know that. Now, come on out of there."
"No." There was a defiant edge to her voice and a mutinous demeanor that showed Tia there may be some spunk in this adorable woman after all. "I'm cooperating with you and I intend to continue cooperating with you. You said if I behaved that everything would be fine. There was no need for you to do what you just did. If you had asked me to go into the head and stay there until you did what you had to do, I would have done it. You don't need to bully me." Overcome with relief and frustration, the tears involuntarily rolled down her cheeks.
Tia dropped her head and sighed. Nodding, she glanced back up at the heiress. "You're right. I'm sorry. I was pissed off and I took it out on you. You didn't deserve it."
The apology stunned them both. Wiping away her tears with the backside of her wrist, Jody slowly stood up and passed Tia in the doorway and moved to the vanity. She turned toward her captor who was looking quite uncomfortable. "Can I at least ask your name?"
Tia's first reaction was to tell her no, it was none of her business but then she could not really come up with a legitimate reason why Jody shouldn't know. After all, what difference did it make if the heiress knew her identity, they both might very well be dead in a couple of days. "Sure. It's Tia."
"Tia," Jody repeated, liking the name immediately. It was exotic and seemed appropriate. "Is that a nickname for anything?"
"No. It's just Tia."
"I'm sure I don't need to tell you my name."
"No, Jody, you don't." Tia relaxed at the sound of her own voice saying her captive's name. She suddenly imagined that name coming from her lips under entirely different circumstances and a wave of sweat washed over her body. She had to stop this. Once again, she felt the need to bolt. She picked up Jody's breakfast tray and started walking to the door.
Jody noticed the slight flush that rose in her captor's cheeks as Tia reached for the door handle. Was it anger or something else? She knew she had done nothing to upset the taller woman so what could have provoked that blush? Was it something related to why she shut her in the bathroom? "Tia?"
She stopped but did not turn around. "Yes?"
"Can you stay longer and...talk to me?" Jody silently admonished herself for sounding so needy.
Yes, Tia wanted to very much. She wanted to get to know the heiress on a more personal level, wanted to look at her lovely face for a few unguarded moments, feeling entranced like she hadn't been since Maria Maladin. She wanted some of Jody's decency and decorum to rub off on her, wanted the heiress to make a difference. She wanted Jody to liberate her from herself, a task she considered impossible and would not have placed that burden on anyone. "I don't think that's such a good idea."
With that, she locked Jody in and headed for the bridge. She needed a drink. Bad.
One of the most painful wounds in the world is a stab of conscience
Jody sat on the king-sized berth, staring at nothing. She had been thrust into a living nightmare. She was being held for ransom by whoever this Tia person and her silent partner were, knowing her father would do whatever it took to get her back, knowing her mother would hold this against her for the rest of her life - if she even survived - and knowing her husband would be caught completely in the middle. If there was any chance of her having anonymity before, it would be gone now.
The idea that she might be dead within the next couple of days felt like a punch in the stomach. Obviously there was no rationalizing with her captor and, even more evident, money was not the real reason Jody was being held hostage. Tia had to know that Jody could make good on her proposition to buy her way out of the situation yet her offer had been immediately rebuffed. The initial emptiness in the woman's eyes reflected a barren soul, which Jody interpreted as representing a lack of conscience. If that was true, she suspected Tia could and, no doubt, would kill her should something go wrong. Hopefully, the plan all along was not to eliminate her regardless of whether or not the ransom was delivered.
Yet this woman, her kidnapper, her abductor, had her riveted. Had she actually seen a small spark of something in her eyes when she apologized? Jody wanted to know more about Tia, what made her tick, why she was doing what she was doing. There had to be a story behind her actions, an explanation to justify her criminal behavior. Maybe if Jody could appeal to that, her abductor would think twice about harming her in any way.
She then returned her focus to her yacht. How had Tia gained access to it? The location was not a secret but neither was it well publicized. However, if one knew where to look, finding it was not that difficult but Kevin never would have allowed anyone access without clearing it through her or Tony first. Was this something the young security officer was in on? Well, it was possible but she didn't see that happening. Kevin had been in their faithful employ for five years and his loyalty was beyond reproach. Had this woman and her partner ambushed him and done something insidious to him? No, that was just too horrible for her brain to wrap around, that she would indirectly be responsible for Kevin's death. She would have to believe, for now, that the young man really was on vacation.
Her attention went back to the glass of milk on her vanity that she had not finished. She thought about the breakfast she should have been eating: eggs florentine, vanilla yogurt with fresh raspberries, seven-grain toast and a Latte with a hint of caramel. She thought about what she should have been doing that day: volunteering at the Westside Animal Shelter in the morning and telling stories to the kids in the pediatric cancer ward at Valley Hospital in the afternoon. Although both activities were emotionally compensating, they were also heartbreaking and were beginning to take their toll on the normally optimistic heiress.
She had been pretty successful at finding homes for the animals who weren't too severely injured and had to be destroyed but having to watch more and more abused 'pets' come in on a daily basis was testing her resolve. She quickly gained the opinion that anyone who harmed an animal should have the same thing done to them as punishment. Then there were the kids. She was getting too attached to these brave children whose fate was out of her control. She could donate all the money in her bank account and it still would not cure the patients who were infirmed in that unit of the hospital. The research her money funded may help future cancer patients but not this current group. However the time she donated was rewarding and these kids had given her much more than she ever could have given to them. It was these children who taught her that the greatest wealth was contentment with little, a lesson she wished her mother had learned.
Snapping out of her introspection, Jody stood up and began pacing again, wondering when her next encounter with Tia would be.
She sat, stretched out on the deck, soaking up the heat of the sun, letting it toast her skin. Although it was nice, her can of Sapporo quickly became tepid and she considered allowing beer to get piss warm alcohol abuse. Rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand, Tia contemplated her predicament. She was being framed for a murder she didn't commit and was about to be set up for another murder that had yet to be committed. Whether or not Tia would actually follow through with killing Montgomery's wife was not the point as Montgomery made it very clear that, one way or another, the heiress was going to end up dead. The question was Why?
Casting aside her earlier reactions to Jody, Tia was having a big problem reconciling the justification for anyone having to kill the fetching little blonde. If this abduction went off without a hitch, the heiress could be returned to her family none the wiser about her husband's involvement. There was no reasonable need to eliminate Jody other than pure malevolence on Montgomery's part and this was what was tying Tia up in knots. Dispatching bad guys served a purpose. Murdering the innocent did not.
Tia was sure Montgomery would go through with his intention of killing her if she did not get rid of his wife. However, she was also sure Montgomery wanted no witnesses to this little adventure and would execute her and whoever this Bruce guy was, too, whether she did his bidding or not. If she could only find a way out of this mess, nobody had to die.
Tia told herself it wasn't about saving Jody, Jody was incidental, it was about self-preservation and if she was going to get herself out of this situation without dying, she might as well rescue the heiress as well. But how? She was in this deep but was it such an abyss that she couldn't climb out? Every problem had a solution. She just had to figure out what it was.
No amount of riches can atone for poverty of character
Sondra Wainwright remained in the room as the FBI set up their intricate, technical trapping devices. While playing the dignified, overwrought mother, she silently seethed at all the activity invading her home. Damn her daughter! The focus was supposed to have been on her this week, she had been scheduled to receive an award from the Metropolitan Arts Council for her relentless fundraising skills which netted the organization close to a million dollars. It was a big deal, it was to have been covered by the media and it would have been her fifteenth fundraising award in two years, a distinction separating her from anyone else in her social group.
And now it was going to be overshadowed by this. Once again, her dear Jody stole her thunder and with this stunt, Sondra was pretty sure she would never have the spotlight again. Watching her husband and son-in-law interact with the federal agents in the sitting room and trying to stay out of the way of the other worker bees as they set up their equipment caused Sondra to simmer in her own self-pity. She bristled when a female agent asked her if she was okay, telling her that they would do everything possible to get her daughter back. She honestly didn't care if they ever got Jody back. That girl was nothing but an obstacle in her path to being first and foremost in her husband's life and in furthering the elite Wainwright name.
Jody's charity work was noble and, although she was highly praised for it in bourgeois circles, she never quite grasped the concept of her aristocracy. Sondra never understood how a daughter of hers could have turned out to be the exact opposite of what she always wanted and expected of her. All the private schools, tutors, specific education and training with the best of the best still didn't have an impact on the inherently kindhearted and ridiculously benevolent heiress. Try as she did, the supercilious Mrs. Wainwright could not turn Jody into a snob. In her eyes, her daughter was useless and an embarrassment.
She never wanted a child and only agreed because producing an heir was a provision of the marriage agreement as John needed someone to whom to pass on his fortune and legacy. She despised every day of her pregnancy, cursing what it did to her perfect body for six of those nine months and hated every second of her seventeen hours of labor. When her daughter was born, Jody immediately went into the care of nurses and nannies. The only time Sondra spent 'quality' time with Jody was when John insisted or when in competition for John's time and attention or when a 'family outing' was going to be recorded by the press. The child may have walked on water as far as her husband was concerned but Sondra made sure Jody knew, every chance she got, that her daughter never quite lived up to her standards. She never really liked the little brat and Jody never seemed to understand that no matter how hard she tried, nothing she did would ever change how her mother felt about her.
If Sondra didn't know any better she would have suspected her daughter did this on purpose but she knew Jody would never put her father through this intentionally. Especially not after finding out she was carrying a Wainwright heir, something else to kick her up a notch in John's eyes and push Sondra even further out of the picture. Well, at least a grandchild would have made John dote on Jody less and then maybe her daughter would know what it felt like to constantly be pushed aside for a child.
As Sondra reached for the decanter of bourbon, she was unaware of how much her bitterness and resentment showed in her body language. But it didn't escape Anthony Montgomery. Maybe he should have set up Sondra to take the fall for Jody's death. Would have served the bitch right.
The Wainwright residence was in barely controlled chaos. Uniforms and ill-fitting suits were everywhere, as were cables and wires and computers and federal technicians. The personnel running around included members of the Critical Incident Response Team, a group which was expressly assembled to deploy a staff of specialists trained in areas of negotiation, communications and behavioral sciences and usually provided command logistical support. The local Police Tactical Response Squad was also in attendance and were on their best behavior due to the presence of the police commissioner, a personal friend of John Wainwright's.
House staff busied themselves serving the new 'guests' while privileged friends and business associates were allowed into the sacred fold, much to the FBI's dismay. Montgomery heard, "I'm so sorry, Tony," and "Don't worry, they'll get her back," so many times, he thought he'd retch if he heard it one more. Yet each time, he would nod somberly and pat the person's hand who was grasping his arm or shoulder. When a concerned colleague of his father-in-law's started heading toward him for the fourth time, looking more dour than the last time, Montgomery excused himself and made a beeline for the exterior patio off the living room. He approached an official-looking, young gentleman who was taking a cigarette break.
After reintroducing themselves, Montgomery engaged in small talk with the agent who seemed uncomfortable, standing there exchanging pleasantries with the man whose wife was missing. He understood that the man must be beside himself with despair. Finally, he said, "I don't want you to worry, Mr. Montgomery. We're very good at what we do and we'll do everything we can to make sure Mrs. Montgomery is returned to you safely."
"How many kidnappings have you handled?"
"Well," he looked out over the vast landscape, avoiding direct eye contact with Montgomery, "this is actually my first..."
"And what about your comrades?"
"Agent Sanborn has supervised three incidents all with successful results."
"Well, I'm surprised to see you guys jump right on this. Is it normal for you guys to give this such prompt attention? Don't you have to wait a day?"
"We used to have to wait twenty-four hours before responding to and beginning the investigation of an unwitnessed abduction. But, experience has shown us that those kind of delays can prove fatal for the victim and that the first hours following the abduction is critical and how we respond and react in that time is crucial."
"And this has nothing to do with her being from one of the world's richest families?"
"I think that also sped things up," Agent Danny Marciano admitted, grinning sheepishly.
"Look, the guy told my father-in-law that he didn't want the cops involved. Yet here you guys are. What are the odds that's going to piss this guy off and he'll hurt her?"
"I'm sure he expected it," Marciano told him.
"But what if he didn't?" Montgomery probed, doing his best to sound distressed.
"Mr. Montgomery, let's not jump the gun here," Marciano warned, kindly. "Your father-in-law did the right thing. The only way we're going to catch who is behind this is if we get on it right away. We first need to make sure whoever this person is even has your wife and that she isn't already..." He shut up before he could say any more. Seeing the stricken look on Montgomery's face, he knew he had not stopped himself in time.
"Isn't already what? Dead? Is that what you were going to say?" Montgomery sounded very close to becoming unhinged.
"Sir, listen to me, please," Marciano implored. "I'm not trying to be cold here and I understand we're talking about your wife's safety. I would be inconsolable if it were my wife going through this, regardless of the outcome. But before your father-in-law goes any further with this abductor, we need a show of good faith. We need to make sure he or they actually have your wife and that she is still alive and not harmed."
Montgomery visibly calmed down. "Yes, of course. That makes sense." He had already thought of that and tomorrow morning he would call Tia with the headlines from the morning paper so that the feds would know when they heard Jody's voice mentioning the latest news, that she was still alive. He would provide Tia with a brief script of what he wanted Jody to say into the phone and then Tia would call Bruce who would dock his cell into one of his computer ports and then incorporate Jody's dialogue into his interactive voice response program. "How do you guys negotiate a ransom?"
Marciano sighed. "Mr. Montgomery, the FBI strongly urges private citizens not to pay a ransom."
"Excuse me? This guy told my father-in-law that he was going to call back tomorrow with a ransom demand. If John refuses to pay a ransom, my wife is as good as dead, don't you think?"
"Sir," Marciano began, patiently, "The FBI cannot participate in establishing and enforcing a ransom strategy. It's against policy. If Mr. Wainwright wishes to follow a path that deviates from our hostage resolution policy, he will do it without the consent or cooperation of the Bureau."
"So what you're telling me is that any payment of money and supervision of the transaction is the sole responsibility of the victim's family?"
"That's what I'm telling you. However...that doesn't mean that we can't be kept discreetly informed of the progress if that's the route he decides to take. Legally, we just can't be involved."
Montgomery glanced toward the living room at all the activity and looked back at Marciano. Sighing, he ran a well manicured hand through his expensively styled hair, feigning anguish. "God. I know all these people are necessary and I hope my father-in-law hasn't signed my wife's death warrant by getting you all involved."
"I do appreciate your concern, Sir. But, with all due respect, this is what we do."
"So now that you are here, what happens next?"
"We wait for the next call. Although we follow a certain criteria, we do realize that this kind of investigation is interpretive and sometimes we are expected to make plans or revise existing plans on a moment's notice, based on the requirements of the situation. So how we respond will depend on the demands of the abductor. In the meantime, I want to assure you that we are not sitting idle. There are police officers and agents retracing Mrs. Montgomery's last route, looking for leads and witnesses. Hopefully someone will have seen something and come forward so we can at least get started with a composite drawing. We have helicopters searching for her vehicle and we have dogs who have been trained to track your wife's scent, starting at The Cypress, which was the last known place she was seen. We have technicians who will be digging into the Violent Crime Information Network which keeps track of crimes and offenders such as convicted kidnappers, registered sex offenders -"
"Oh, shit. Oh, no. That never even entered my head. Do you think she could be sexually assaulted during this?" Montgomery asked with a panicky tone to his voice.
"I can't predict that, Sir. In the vast case files I have read, usually kidnappers are not sex offenders, I was just advising you of what the VCIN kept track of. I didn't mean to imply -"
Montgomery put his hand up to halt Marciano's backpeddling. "No, no, it's okay. I just hadn't thought about that...aspect. Please go on."
"Are you sure you don't want to talk to the field supervisor or our profiler, Mr. Montgomery?"
"Actually, Agent Marciano, I feel comfortable with you, if you don't mind. I'd like to know what the Bureau is going to do to get my wife back to me alive."
By the time Tia brought Jody's lunch around, the ex-operative was well on her way to being drunk. Since it was routine for her, she was under the impression that she was able to disguise it well, except for the appearance of her eyes, which she knew would be glassy and unfocused.
Jody watched her captor as she placed the tray on the vanity. She didn't seem to be intoxicated but she smelled like a brewery. Tia didn't look at the heiress once while she was in the room and that bothered Jody considerably. Their conversation was limited to Tia asking if there was anything else she could get for her, Jody replying with a polite 'no, thank you,' and the former CIA officer advising her that she would be back for the tray and then she exited.
The heiress wanted to ask Tia to join her for lunch, to sit and talk with her while she ate. She was desperate to learn more about this woman, especially now. Added to everything else she was curious about concerning her captor, she now wanted to find out what drove Tia to be inebriated before noon. However, as her abductor's temperament was unpredictable, at best, Jody chose to remain subdued and not test her boundaries.
She sighed and looked over the meal that was displayed before her. It was a microwaved container of vegetable lasagna that actually smelled pretty darned good. Her stomach had settled down since that morning and the more the aroma wafted upward, the hungrier she became. If she didn't eat, she was only hurting herself, so she picked up the fork and dug in.
Montgomery had stocked the yacht with enough food and alcohol to last a full week. Guessing that Tia was far from a gourmet cook, he made sure that a majority of the provisions were quick and easy to prepare. The ex-operative was fine with that arrangement. If she ate anything at all during her binges, she could certainly deal with a Marie Callender frozen entree and if it was good enough for her, it was good enough for the heiress.
The heiress. Thinking about her drove Tia to reach for the scotch bottle. It wasn't that Tia didn't like her, it was that she liked her too much. She wanted to stay in that room and talk to the petite blonde, to absorb her. She wanted to tell her not to worry that she would think of something to get them out of this mess - except she hadn't come up with any brilliant ideas yet and the heiress had no idea that Tia was quickly crossing over to being on her side.
Smiling, Tia knocked back the shot and chased it down with another ice cold beer. She liked the idea of rescuing Jody. Maybe there was hope for her yet.
Zeal without knowledge is like heat without light
The media was starting to gather outside the gates of the Wainwright estate, setting up their video production and uplink satellite trucks. Network news helicopters were beginning to buzz over the area like a swarm of bees and members of the press were already in competition to see who could break the story first. So far, the only thing that had been leaked to the news agencies was that Jody was missing. Until a show of good faith and a ransom demand was made, the authorities wanted the public involved only so far.
Although speculation was already running rampant, reports of an actual kidnapping were, at this point, just a rumor. When the official announcement was made, then the cutthroat rivalry would really begin to see who could get the first interview with a family member. It wasn't about Jody Montgomery or whether their broadcasts might help find her safe and sound, it was about ratings.
Montgomery questioned Special Agent Walt Sanborn as to why he made the decision to alert the press when the man who called didn't even want the police to know. The CIRT supervisor advised him that because at this stage of the investigation, Jody was just 'missing,' allowing the public into a limited loop was usually beneficial and a major tactic in an ongoing search. Getting the story out there and keeping it in the public eye could result in valid leads and maybe get a jump on the abductor's trail. Time was of the essence and sitting around, idly waiting for the abductor to run the show was not in the best interest of Mrs. Montgomery. "You never know who could have seen what from the time she left you at dinner until right now," he told the 'anxious' husband.
"But doesn't that open you up to all kinds of nutcases? And wouldn't that just take up more of your time trying to weed through what was an authentic lead and what wasn't?"
"We'll only release so much information to the public. One of our strategies is to subtly, through daily press conferences, let the abductor know we have specific evidence that will lead to him while holding other things back. That way, when you have the nutcases, as you put it, coming forward with invented clues and stories or jumping up, screaming, 'I did it,' we have a way to separate the liars from the credible witnesses or someone actually involved in the case."
Montgomery nodded. "And what if it's an inside job? You know, staff or someone who knew her?"
Sanborn scratched his chin. "Or a family member?"
"Well, yeah, but the only family is her parents and me. John and Sondra have no brothers and sisters, John's parents are deceased and both Sondra's parents live very comfortably in Hawaii. And I love my wife very much and have unlimited access to her bank accounts so it would make no sense for me to do this."
"True. But you'd be surprised. In any case, anyone and everyone in this household and in yours will be given a polygraph...just for process of elimination. Then should something suspicious come up during that, we'll take it from there."
"Isn't the lie detector test pretty vilified legally, though?"
"Honestly, Mr. Montgomery, I'm not concerned with whether polygraph results are allowed in court or not. It is an effective tool to help us maneuver through this investigation quickly. We have one of our top FBI polygraphers flying in today from Washington. He will start with immediate family and spread out from there - friends, acquaintances and then strangers. If anyone has anything to hide, it will come out."
"Well, just let me know when you need me to take mine. I'll do anything to help." He wasn't worried. He'd passed polygraphs before, lying through his teeth. This time should be no different.
"Thank you, Mr. Montgomery. Your cooperation is much appreciated. Oh, by the way, you don't have a problem with us taking a look at your personal and work computers, do you?"
"Uh...no, no, of course not but why is that necessary?" He tried his best to sound more curious than concerned.
"There is always a possibility that whatever is on Mrs. Montgomery's computer could give us a clue to her possible whereabouts. And, with you, it's just a precaution. If you pass the polygraph, we probably won't but if your results come up inconclusive, once again, it's just another procedure to help establish your innocence."
Uh oh. Montgomery swallowed hard. Why hadn't he thought of that?
"I don't give a good Goddamn how you do it, Bruce, but do it! Copy everything off the computer in my office and then send the fucking thing a virus that will crash the machine and destroy everything on the hard drive! Or reformat or repartition the drive, whatever the hell it is you do to get rid of that shit!" Montgomery was on his way home from his in-laws' house. Getting out of there without being mobbed by the press took a police escort which separated from him within three miles of the estate when it looked like whoever had been following them had given up. Except for one news van that seemed to appear out of nowhere after the cops left and was now four cars behind him in traffic. That didn't matter, he wasn't intending to go anywhere he shouldn't or behaving in a suspicious manner and once he got beyond his electronic gates and was safely on his own property, they were going to get mighty bored waiting for him to show himself again unless requested to leave the sanctity of his home by the FBI.
"But Tony, that won't guarantee..."
"Just do it and do it right now!" Montgomery hissed. As he passed the rest stop where Jody had been abducted, he saw three uniformed police officers spread out, showing people flyers and taking notes. It was a popular area to pull over and use its facilities and just take a break. However, the possibility of the officers speaking to anyone who had been there last night were between slim and none.
"Yes, sir, I'm on it," Bruce replied, as he heard the beep on the other end of the line indicating the call was over. He snapped shut the pre-paid wireless phone his boss had purchased for the specific purpose of communicating during the abduction. Well, at least if he had to get deeper and deeper into this mess, Montgomery finally assigned him a task at which he was good.
If Bruce so desired, he could disarm all the firewalls and anti-virus protection, opening up security holes right from his desk. He had the know-how which enabled him to attack anywhere he chose with little chance of detection. But that ran the risk of still leaving information on the hard drive that surely any FBI techie could retrieve with no problem. Reformatting the drive would be useless in this case. Repartitioning the drive would only be a little better as all it would do would modify the partition tables stored on the disk and leave the file data on the hard drive intact.
The only way to ensure that all information had been erased was to use an encryption program to scramble the data, delete it, and then completely overwrite each and every subdivision on the disk including the master file tables, deleted files, the boot record, cookies, memory, system restore, temporary files and contents of the hard drive. He could do that by repeatedly using fabricated data of configurations with random patterns of ones and zeros. And he had just the disk sanitizing program to accomplish that.
When all pertinent files had been copied and everything had been wiped down to the hardware, Bruce would reinstall all the business-related programs to make the system appear normal. If the geeks at the Bureau did find anything on Tony's computer, it should take them a few years to do it.
Arming himself with a portable file box full of blank and programmed CDs, Bruce headed out of his basement office and up to the executive suite. He had his work cut out for him. Being Saturday, the building was not occupied, meaning he did not have to be concerned about his presence in his boss' office, working on the computer for so long, looking suspicious in any manner. It was the beginning of the weekend and he had been at work when Montgomery called. Sighing, he thought, when this thing was over, if he survived it, he had to get a life.
Turning the television on, Tia was curious as to what was being said about the discovery of Trisha's body but before she could tune in to a local station she saw a 'breaking news' banner with the words, 'Pregnant Heiress Missing' underneath it. The ex-operative's eyes grew wide and she nearly lost her grip on her beer bottle. That bastard didn't say anything about his wife being pregnant. If she had seriously considered getting rid of Jody before, this little tidbit cemented Tia's decision to keep the heiress alive. Raising the volume, the ex-operative watched the unanimated Barbie doll reporter's collagen-injected lips move and listened with interest.
"...the FBI is not releasing much information at this point but from what our police source tells us, Joanne Wainwright Montgomery was last seen at approximately eight-thirty last night driving eastbound on Dillon Highway from The Cypress restaurant, where she and her husband, Anthony, had dinner." Flashing across the screen was a casual picture of Tony and Jody both looking happy and perfect. God, Tia thought, her captive certainly was gorgeous. File footage of a Mercedes, the color and model exactly like Jody's was then shown while the voiceover of the reporter provided the listener with the details of the car. Another candid photo of the heiress was displayed and Jody's vital statistics were provided. "The family is asking anyone who may have seen this vehicle or Joanne Montgomery to please come forward. A toll-free tip line is being activated but until we have that number, anyone with any information, please contact your local law enforcement agency or FBI office."
Tia heard the same broadcast at least four times before she shut the TV off and only once was Jody's pregnancy alluded to with the news anchor commenting about the mysterious disappearance of the heiress being doubly unfortunate because of her carrying a Wainwright heir. Pressing the 'off' button on the remote, the ex-operative tossed the device onto the sofa closest to her and headed down to the master stateroom.
We underrate that which we do not possess
Despite fighting sleep, Jody had dozed off after her meal. She had stretched out on the bed to rest, was only going to close her eyes for a second and ended up in a light nap. Something lured her out of her little siesta and when she awoke, she sat up, startled to find Tia leaning against the edge of the hot tub, her arms folded, observing her.
The look on her captor's face caused her insides to tremble and she could not decide why. This time Tia's expression was not one of menace or intimidation but of...was she actually seeing concern?
"Did you want something?" Jody asked, cautiously.
Oh, the places Tia could have gone with that question. "Actually, I need to ask you something. Are you pregnant?"
The inquiry obviously surprised the heiress, whose eyes snapped open wide and struck her momentarily speechless. Finally finding her voice, Jody shook her head in puzzlement. Where had she gotten that idea? "No. I'm not. Why?"
"The media seems to think you are," Tia countered. "They're referring to you as 'The Pregnant Heiress.' Why would they do that if you're not?"
Still shaking her head slightly, she said, "I honestly have no idea. Maybe...maybe that's something my parents are putting out there to make you think twice about harming me."
Tia nodded, then shrugged. "Maybe." She let her arms fall to her side and stood up to leave.
Jody looked up at her through honey-colored eyelashes. "Did it work?" She sounded unwittingly coy.
"Did what work?" Tia asked, wondering if the heiress was trying to be flirtatious or if it was just wishful thinking.
"Make you think twice about harming me?"
Pursing her lips into a smirk, Tia remained silent and left the room, locking Jody back in.
The sultry expression on her captor's face caused Jody's stomach to unexpectedly clench and not in an unpleasant way. Her mouth fell open as she stared at the closed door. This certainly was an alien feeling, she thought, wondering what caused her body to suddenly react as though her insides had just fallen to the bottom of her feet. It had to be her nerves.
Tia leaned against the wall outside the master stateroom and closed her eyes. She was relieved that Jody was not pregnant as that really would have turned her irrationally homicidal against Montgomery. For him to want to waste his guiltless wife was bad enough but to want to dispose of her and their unborn child depicted a monster of a whole new caliber. Not that she didn't think Montgomery had it in him but if he had known Jody was going to have a baby and had expected Tia to kill her anyway would have provoked her to turn whatever murder weapon she was supposed to use on him instead, damn the consequences. Hell, maybe she should do that anyway.
Slowly ascending the few steps to the salon, Tia's head was swirling with too many thoughts at once, the most prominent being her libidinous feelings involving her captive. She knew she had to keep things in perspective. Despite her growing attraction to the younger woman, Tia knew the heiress would not be interested in someone like her once this ordeal was over, even if Jody had been inclined toward the fairer sex. Maybe once upon a time but not how she was now.
She walked to the galley and began searching for something to munch on. Finding a few possibilities that appealed to her quirky palate, she opened one cellophane bag and returned to the salon, picking up the remote where she dropped it. Flopping down on the sofa, Tia replayed Jody's coquettish demeanor only moments ago in her head. She was pretty sure she read something into it that was never intended to be there. The heiress was a married woman. Her taste in men left a lot to be desired but, that aside, all indications pointed to Jody being straight.
She speculated that even if Jody was remotely interested in women, in her, more specifically, their interaction had been minimal and certainly not under the healthiest of circumstances. And, what if the occasion in which they met had been different? Tia wasn't even sure she could do romance anymore. The idea of settling in with a lover who actually meant something was difficult as ever since Maria Maladin, women were nothing but sex objects to her, regarding them and treating them worse than any man she had ever known. Fuck 'em and leave 'em. Anything else was unfathomable to her. Until now.
How could this man have such a gift as his wife seemed to be and not appreciate her? To have such a beautiful and, evidently, loyal woman in his life and in his bed and take that for granted was a display of arrogance that well surpassed anything she could ever achieve. Her hatred for Montgomery was beginning to take on an entirely different level of potency.
Well, it didn't matter. All this mild fantasizing about the heiress was futile and frustrating. The reality was, in that aspect, Mrs. Montgomery was a chimera and Tia might as well resign herself to that and keep her focus on her task of getting them both out of this situation alive.
Turning the television back on, Tia tuned in to the cable news program which was now showing footage of Montgomery leaving the Wainwright estate amid a crush of reporters attempting to stop his vehicle to hopefully interview him. As she watched his black Porsche Cayenne Turbo S slowly push through the crowd of people and equipment, followed by two motorcycle cops, she sneered and popped a lime-flavored corn chip into her mouth. "Fucker," she said to the screen.
When Montgomery reached his residence, he found it crawling with press on the exterior and FBI agents on the interior. He could have been annoyed but he had willingly brought this on himself and actually welcomed the intrusion. He knew they would find nothing incriminating in the house and the sooner they did their search, interviewed all staff members and confiscated Jody's laptop, they would be gone back to the Wainwright estate where all the action really was. He did not have a personal computer as he preferred to do all of his research and communication from his office.
Tomorrow morning, promptly at nine, he would be hooked up to a polygraph and hypnotize himself to believe that every word he was saying was the gospel truth. And while he was in the presence of a group of law enforcement officials, lying his ass off, the ransom call would come in, placing him even farther down the list of suspects. After all, he couldn't be two places at the same time.
After the agents completed their business and left, Montgomery retreated to the privacy of his personal bathroom, turned the shower on and called Bruce. No one but the maid ever came into his and Jody's bedroom, other than to clean the room and that had already been done. Just to be safe, he made sure he was behind two locked doors, the television was on in the bedroom and the sound of running water drowned out any side of his conversation to anyone in the house. He was pleased to find out that his personal geek was almost finished with his little project, the results of which seemed very gratifying.
He then phoned his less than enthusiastic cohort on The Quintessence who was clearly feeling no pain.
"You might want to take it easy on the booze there, Ramone."
"Or what? You gonna threaten me with death? Too late, so fuck you." She detested the sound of his voice.
"No, or you're going to run out." He really wasn't in the mood for her contentious and combative attitude. "How's my wife?"
"Not pregnant. What is that about?"
"Don't know how that leaked out. It was something I threw out there this morning at my father-in-law just to rub salt in the wound. So, in order for you to know that, you two must be talking a lot."
"Actually, no, we're not." She wasn't going to give him any more than necessary.
"That's good. No sense in getting too cozy, she's not going to be around that much longer. But then, on the other hand, that would give you free reign to take what you wanted from her...it's not like she's ever going to have the opportunity to tell anyone."
"Is there a purpose for this call other than you trying to make me despise you even more?"
"Just checking in, making sure everything's okay at your end. Tomorrow, I will be calling you with Bruce's number. I'm going to give you the morning's headlines from the Daily Herald and a script of what I want Jody to say. Then you will call Bruce and have her say exactly that. I'll see how that's received and take my cue from there. Who knows? If it looks doubtful that they'll pay the ransom, maybe you'll get to kill her by tomorrow night and then you can go on your merry way."
That thought sobered her up somewhat. She couldn't let on to Montgomery that she would execute him before she'd kill his wife. She needed to think. There had to be something she could get on this bastard that was provable. Until then, she needed to continue sounding ruthless and normal. "What about my money?"
"Don't worry about your fucking money, Ramone. You'll get paid regardless of what happens to Jody."
"Good. Anything else? Because it's time to feed my prisoner."
"Nope. Just make sure you are up and sober by seven. That phone call to Bruce is going to be the key to this whole scheme."
"Don't worry about me." She poked around the galley for something she could bring Jody for a substantial evening meal.
"Of course I worry about you. You'd turn on me in a second if you had the chance." Dead silence on the other end of the line confirmed his sentiment. "Yeah. Just what I thought. That's why I'm not going to let you get the chance."
"If you're finished -"
"Yes, I'm finished. Go have fun with my wife now."
She could hear the lewdness in his voice. She wanted to throw the phone against a wall and break it into a million pieces. "Fuck you."
Dignity is one thing that cannot be preserved in alcohol
Once again, Tia left Jody a tray of food for her to eat, alone, politely but firmly refusing to be drawn into a conversation, despite her captive's persistent and charming attempts. When she returned to retrieve the tray, the ex-operative brought with her a Sapporo and a champagne split. If the little heiress wanted to chat, Tia had some specific subjects she wanted to discuss.
After shutting the door behind her, Tia was a little surprised to see Jody seated on the side of the berth, looking toward the porthole, not paying any attention to her. "You okay?"
"Do you really care?" Jody's voice was soft, almost detached.
"I have to care. You're my responsibility until this is over, so it's up to me to keep you safe. And well."
The heiress bowed her head and then swiveled her body to face Tia. This time when their eyes connected, Jody saw beyond the impassible gaze that had stopped her cold the first time. She was mistaken. There was a spark of life there, after all. Might as well get the hard questions out of the way first. "Are you going to kill me?"
The terrified look behind the inquisitive green eyes made Tia want to run to her, envelop her into a tight hug and tell her no, that she was going to try to make everything okay. Tia shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She had to be careful how she answered, as until she devised a plan, she may have to use the heiress' fear to her advantage. It actually might be the only way to save Jody's life. "If everybody does what they are supposed to, you should be fine."
That did not make Jody feel any better. "And if they don't?"
"Do you honestly think they won't? They do know what's at stake here."
"Yes. My life."
Tia studied her, noncommittally. She stepped toward her and extended her hand with the mini champagne bottle in it. She held up the Sapporo with her other hand. "Join me. I have a few things I'd like to ask you."
Staring at the small frosted glass bottle, Jody looked up at Tia. "No, thank you. I'd rather have all my wits together."
"One champagne split gets you drunk?"
"Normally I wouldn't think so but one glass of wine doesn't get me drunk, either. Yet look at the mess that got me into."
"Your wine was drugged." Should Tia have told her that? Oh well, too late now.
Jody figured as much. "How? I never left the table."
"Careful planning is how."
"It was the waiter, wasn't it? He's in on it with you."
Smiling, Tia offered the champagne again. "This isn't drugged. The seal hasn't even been broken. Besides, you're already here. What purpose would I have to drug you?"
Shrugging, the heiress thought if Tia had been a man, there was at least one reason she could think of for wanting her sleepy or unconscious. Looking longingly at the bottle, thinking she really could use something to ease her tension, Jody wondered if this was the only thing that would keep Tia there, talking.
"Come on," Tia coaxed. "Take it and hold on to it. If you don't want it now, save it for later."
Hesitantly, Jody took possession of the bottle. She noticed that Tia appeared less under the influence than she had when she brought her noon meal and her supper yet she was still drinking. Interesting. "So what is it you want to ask me?"
"I was watching your family on the news and -"
"How does my father look?" Jody inquired, worried. The thought of what this must be doing to him nearly choked up the heiress. She took a deep breath and kept her composure.
"Your father? He actually seems to be holding up well at this point." She had to remember that Jody had no access to the news and Tia could tell her anything and the heiress wouldn't know the difference. "I'm more curious about your husband," she brought up, cautiously.
Taking a long swallow of her Sapporo, Tia said, "I don't know. You two just don't seem to...fit. He somehow seems, well, beneath you."
"Beneath me?" Jody flared. Shades of her mother. "You don't know him," she threw out, defensively.
Neither do you, Tia thought. Aloud, she said, "Hey, relax. I'm just sharing an observation." She wanted to ask the heiress if she loved her husband and why. She wanted to know how Jody could have ended up with such a megalomaniac but she wasn't quite sure how to broach the subject without letting on that she was acquainted with him.
"I think you somehow have gotten the wrong impression of him." Her fingers were nervously playing with the foil protecting the cork in the bottle. Her curiosity was getting the better of her, though, and she was interested to know why Tia had come to that conclusion about her husband. The ex-operative raised an eyebrow as she took another drink, a disbelieving countenance that prompted Jody to ask, "How can you think that about someone you've never even met?"
"Call it a hunch."
"A hunch?" Jody repeated, incredulously. "That's rather unfair, don't you think?"
"Perhaps. But I'm usually pretty accurate with my hunches."
The heiress remained silent, wanting to tell Tia that it wasn't so much that Tony was beneath her, it was more that Tony wasn't suited to her and there were several reasons for that, none of which she was going to get into with this stranger. No matter how attractive and compelling she was. Jody then blinked a few times, wondering why she was thinking of her captor in terms of being attractive, even if her dark beauty couldn't be denied. Under the circumstances, those thoughts were inappropriate and definitely out of place. "Well...you're not accurate with this one," she said, finally, not sounding the least bit convincing.
"Do you love him?" Tia had to know.
Jody's eyes flashed up at Tia. "That's none of your business." Again, the ex-operative had stepped into somewhat sacred territory but it had nothing to do with invading Jody's privacy.
"My asking you whether or not you love your husband is none of my business?" Tia repeated for clarification. "Well, most women wouldn't have a problem telling anyone and everyone that she loved her husband, so I guess I got my answer."
Flustered, Jody peeled the foil off the cork and twisted the stopper out of the bottle, the action making a soft popping sound as Tia continued to search her face for any signs of ostentation. There didn't seem to be any and instead, she found her almost humble. As the nonplussed heiress took a sip, the former CIA officer smiled at her captive. She certainly was unnerving her.
"You could obviously have the pick of any man in the universe. Why would you marry and stay with a man you don't even love?"
"I never said I didn't love him," Jody protested, taking a longer swallow, avoiding eye contact with her captor.
"You didn't have to."
"Why are you asking me these questions?" She glanced back up at Tia, puzzled by her amused expression.
Shrugging, Tia said, "You wanted to talk. We're talking."
"What possible difference could whether or not I love my husband make?" Finally, she looked directly into Tia's eyes and stopped breathing at the raw, smoldering, sexuality that adorned her captor's face. This time, in her eyes, she saw something else, something predatory and it sent a shiver down her spine. It gave her a small idea of the many things of which this woman just might be capable. Kidnapping, murder...what else? In order for her to breathe again, she needed to break the spell and look away. With great difficulty, Jody then concentrated on the bottle in her tight grasp.
I bet I could seduce you right now, Tia thought, having recognized the familiar yield in the heiress' bearing. But if she did, she wanted to make sure that Jody's submission would be out of want, not fear. Although sometimes overly eager to make the conquest, Tia had never crossed that line into rape and didn't intend to start now. Especially not with this woman and not with the amount of alcohol in her system. If it was to be, this was an encounter in which Tia wanted to recall every detail, unlike her subjects in her recent past where she could not have cared less about the particulars, just in getting off.
Draining her beer bottle, dangling it between her thumb and forefinger, Tia leaned against the vanity. "It makes no difference. I'm just confused. Honestly, I don't understand the attraction to men, period, but I find it curious that a woman, such as you, would marry a man she didn't love. I'm sure there wasn't a lack of suitors. You're still young, there's a whole world of guys out there. Why this one?"
She had suspected that Tia might be a lesbian but now, in so many words, she had admitted it. Those blue eyes boring through her were almost too much. As if being abducted and held for ransom wasn't stressful enough... "You don't understand. Marriage was expected of me..."
"And he was convenient?"
"My father thought so."
Tia's eyebrows knitted. "Was your marriage arranged?"
"In a manner of speaking." Why was she telling her captor all this? She still couldn't look at her. It was disturbing enough knowing she was under the scrutiny of those exquisite eyes.
"There had to be other choices," Tia stated, a little blown away by this information. Why would someone of Jody's social and financial stature have to have a husband picked out for her? And what kind of deal had her father made with the devil to hook her up with Montgomery?
"I'd rather not talk about this," the heiress said finally, bravely. "What about you? I bet the choices you make about...partners...aren't always perfect."
Cheeky little thing, Tia mused, as memories of the unseemly women she'd had since Maria Maladin sifted through her brain. "People don't usually warm up to me." She anticipated a sarcastic comeback from her captive, expected her to say something like, 'Well, what do you expect?'
Instead, the demure blonde took that moment to stare directly into Tia's eyes and in a gentle tone said, "If you don't have fire in yourself, you can't very well warm others, now can you?" This time it was Jody's gaze that was too intense and it was Tia who had to look away. The heiress felt heat rise to her face that she conveniently blamed on the champagne.
Tia knew if she did not leave that room right then, she would be too tempted to approach her captive and do something she might regret. In her inebriated state and hopeful frame of mind, she may have been completely mistaken regarding her seduction odds and there was no way she was going to purposely make this ordeal any more traumatic for the heiress.
Nodding, the ex-operative picked up the tray she had brought in earlier and headed for the door. Surprisingly parched, despite the amount she had been drinking, her question came out in a full rasp. "Anything you need before I lock you in for the night?"
"No," Jody replied, quietly. "Thank you."
Totally perplexed by the interaction that had just taken place between Tia and her, Jody finished her drink, and returned to her berth to lie down. She found Tia fascinating and, even though she fully understood that her captor was not her friend but instead someone who could end her life, Jody was still drawn to her strength of character, regardless of how jaundiced it may have been. And, there was something else she was drawn to but the heiress wasn't ready to confront that yet.
Tia's interest in her marriage to Tony still puzzled her. She had asked some pointed questions that seemed to get right to the heart of the sham of her being Mrs. Montgomery. Very perceptive of her. But why? Tia was holding her hostage, shouldn't she be inquiring about, well, other things, things pertaining to security and finances?
And what was this odd kinship she was experiencing toward this ominously feral and strangely magnetic woman? What was she really seeing in those mesmerizing pastel eyes that could one minute appear dull and lifeless and the next be blazing with intensity?
Folding her hands behind her head, Jody spent the next couple of hours in deep contemplation. She knew sleep would be elusive without her medication, despite how tired she was, so she might as well put her solitude and waking hours to good use.
She wished Tia had at least left her CD player in the room. Some music to help divert her mind from her possible imminent death would have been nice right now.
She had been topside, reclining, looking up at the black, starless sky, a position she had occupied for hours, ever since she left the master berth. She had finished her oil can of Sapporo ten minutes after she had ascended the deck and held onto it, mindlessly, her thoughts clearer than they had been in months. Tia needed to find something on Montgomery that was not connected to this abduction, something on him that was not tied to her, something she could use against him. She wondered if this Bruce guy had any information that might be helpful and, if he did, would he be willing to share. She would be speaking with him briefly tomorrow. Her question now was should she take the chance that his allegiance to Montgomery was as coerced as hers was.
But what was really driving her was that she wanted the little heiress. Bad. And, unrealistically, she wanted Jody to want her, too. Unlike her recent past, however, what she was feeling was more than mere lust, it was deeper. In any other situation, she would dismiss the idea that she felt something other than sexual for a woman she had just met a day earlier as ridiculous. The overwhelming longing that was caressing her heart for Jody Montgomery felt almost...ethereal. Had Tia been brought to this moment for a reason? No, she didn't believe in fate, because if she did, she might have thought that she and the heiress were predestined to meet. But if that were true, why under these conditions? And when would Jody recognize it? How could she prove to this woman that they should be together? Because just as sure as Montgomery wanted his wife out of his future, Tia knew her future was supposed to have Jody in it.
For the first time in many months, she had lost the urge to drink herself unconscious.
People determine your character by observing what you stand for, fall for and lie for
Bruce nervously awaited the phone call from the former CIA operative to whom he had spinelessly directed his boss. It didn't matter if she knew it was he who got her into this mess, he acknowledged it and felt enough guilt for both of them. It didn't matter that the heiress wasn't going to die from an act committed directly by him because indirectly he would be just as responsible as Tia Ramone.
Checking once again to make sure he had all his programs ready, he glanced at his watch again. It should be anytime now.
Montgomery had phoned Tia with the morning headlines and she dutifully copied the words Jody would be speaking to Bruce so that he could prepare the next call to the Wainwright residence, the one that would demand a ransom and start the ball rolling for the real search to begin. When he was satisfied that the former operative had recorded everything properly, he hung up and headed out the door on his way to the Wainwright estate, where he would be right in the middle of his polygraph when the ransom call came in.
Just a couple more days and his life would be his own again.
Tia was actually civil to Montgomery but she wasn't sure if that was due to not waking up with a hangover for the first time in she couldn't remember when or the fact that it was too early to work up the proper amount of hostility. Writing down, verbatim, everything he told her, she then clicked the phone shut and went to the master berth to wake up the heiress.
Knocking on the door, she was surprised to hear an alert voice telling her to come in. Entering, she found Jody, freshly showered and in a change of clothes that unintentionally showed off the little blonde's physical attributes. Trying not to stare at the obvious, Tia cleared her throat and looked at the heiress' face, who actually smiled at her. This was an expression she had not seen yet and it startled her. A smile? For her? Perfect, white teeth were revealed behind rose colored lips that enhanced all of Jody's already lovely, unblemished features and Tia was positive her heart actually stopped for a minute. Recovering, she returned her attention to the note in her hand as she approached her captive.
"No breakfast?" Jody wondered, feeling unusually peckish but not looking forward to that horrible cup of sludge. She was about to ask Tia what exactly she did to make the coffee so awful when her captor held out a piece of paper to her.
"We have to do this first." She did her best to sound professional and indifferent. But standing next to the heiress took everything she had to behave herself. Off Jody's quizzical look, she said, "I need you to say these words exactly as they are written and I need you to sound as though you are not being forced to say them."
The bright expression disappeared from Jody's face as she accepted the paper from Tia. Reading the contents of the message, reality washed over her once more that she was a prisoner and that the woman standing next to her was her warden. She had decided some time around three A.M. that she would continue to try and pull Tia from her inhuman side, hopefully wearing her down so that she would reconsider killing her if it came to that. The words she was going to have to repeat quickly reminded her that her captor was in a business deal and one her life depended on.
"Will I be speaking to my father?" she inquired, her tone now disheartened.
"No. You actually won't be speaking to anyone but you need to say it as though you are. I want you to read it over a few times and get comfortable with the words so that it doesn't sound like you're reciting it."
Jody stopped short of glaring at her. "Get comfortable with the words? You think I'm going to be comfortable saying, 'Daddy, you need to pay the ransom or they will kill me'?" Shaking her head and folding her arms, the heiress said, "I don't want to say that."
Please don't start getting rebellious on me now, Tia thought. She had to play tough. Narrowing her eyes, she stood up straight, her bearing immediately becoming ominous. Firmly, but only with enough pressure necessary to get Jody's attention, she took her captive's chin between her thumb and forefinger, forcing the heiress to look at her. "There is no negotiation here. You will say what is written. I don't care how you manage it but just do it. If you don't get it right the first time, we will continue to do it until you do. Got it?"
Nodding, Jody understood that any resistance, no matter how mild, would not be tolerated. As Tia removed her hand, Jody bowed her head, angry and embarrassed. Silently reading over what she was expected to say, the heiress advised Tia that she was ready.
"Let me hear it first." It wasn't a request and Jody did as she was told. "Okay." Tia displayed her cell phone. "I'm going to make a call. When I hold the phone to your mouth, I want you to say that exactly as you just read it. No short cuts, no embellishments."
Still chagrinned from Tia's admonition, Jody said, "Yes, Ma'am."
Sighing, the ex-operative, shook her head. "Jody, this isn't a game. I have to have your cooperation. I can almost guarantee that, given the choice, you don't want to say or do anything I ask of you. But," she added for effect, "if you want to stay alive, you are going to have to do as I tell you."
There was that message again, the scary one reminding her that this woman held her life in her hands. "I understand."
"Good." Tia searched her face, seeing no more insurrection there. Jody's expression reflected a fear that Tia immediately wanted to kiss away. Instead, she stayed on course with the inevitable call. Dialing the number Montgomery had given her, the phone was answered in one ring. When she heard a baritone voice greet her, she responded with, "It's Tia. You ready?"
"Yep, put her on."
Tia placed the phone to Jody's lips and the heiress began to recite, "It's Sunday, July sixteenth. The headline in today's Herald is Wainwright Heiress Missing, Police Step Up Search and right below that is Discovery Astronauts Prepare For Fourth Spacewalk. Hi Daddy. Please don't talk, just listen. I have been abducted. I don't know who my captors are. I'm fine right now and I'm being treated well but unless you pay them what they ask, I won't be. They have told me that they will kill me." Her voice broke. "Please, Daddy, do what they tell you. I love you."
Tia took the phone away and spoke into it. "Get what you need?"
"Got it," Bruce replied.
"Great," Tia told him, unenthusiastically, as she terminated the call. She looked at her captive, the stress of it all getting to her. Jody tried to control her tears, clamping her hand over her mouth as though that would dam up the flood from her eyes. The ex-operative used massive restraint in not going to her and wrapping her into a comforting hug. "Jody, you know your father will come through." Her tone was as close to consoling as she felt she could be without stepping into compassionate territory.
"I'm sure he will try," she got out, getting control of herself. "I still don't understand why you will take a ransom from him and not from me."
"I told you, it really isn't about the money."
"What is it about?" She asked, desperately.
"I can't tell you that." Turning, Tia walked toward the door. "I'm going to bring you some breakfast but only if you're going to eat it."
Jody thought about it. She was upset but she was still hungry. "Do we have any bagels?"
"I'll have to look again but I think there are some plain bagels up there."
"Could I have a bagel, toasted with butter, please?"
"Do you cook eggs?"
"Not anything you'd want to eat." Tia smirked.
Jody nodded, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. She had stopped crying. She reached for a tissue. "Is there any yogurt?"
"I'll check. Anything else?" Tia put her hand on the door handle.
"Yes. Your coffee sucks."
Tia couldn't help herself and let go with an uncharacteristic, delightful chuckle as she locked Jody back in. The sound of the dark, brooding woman laughing elicited a strange reaction in the heiress. Amid the severity of the situation she was now in, she found herself smiling, as well.
Filtering out any background noises from the segment of Jody's call that could even remotely be recognizable, Bruce prepared the application for the ransom demand. His computer would be asking one of the richest men in the world for five hundred million dollars in exchange for his daughter's safe return. Five hundred million dollars. Montgomery had promised him five million of that. If there was any consolation to what he was doing, the payoff would be it. If only it could buy off his conscience.
The speech the heiress gave took up fifteen seconds which gave him forty-four seconds or less to make sure the guidelines of the script Montgomery provided him with were met. Since he was controlling the pace of the conversation, that wouldn't be a problem.
Tomorrow, when he called back with the instructions of what to do with the money, hopefully Wainwright wouldn't fool around and by Tuesday this would be over and he would be a millionaire. He tried not to think about his fortune balancing on the murder of an innocent woman. Would every time he spent some of this blood money, drive it home even further just how he had 'earned' it?
Suddenly he found himself nauseous and wished he knew a way out of this that wouldn't get him arrested or killed.
The FBI polygrapher was considerably younger than Montgomery had expected him to be. Not that it made any difference. Even an inexperienced examiner trained in reading the machine could tell when the instrument was recording deceptive responses.
The last time Montgomery was hooked up to a polygraph, when he was questioned on his honesty and ethics before winning a government contract for being allowed to distribute certain controlled narcotics, it was an analog machine. Now he was being connected to a digital system, a laptop computer, the needles and scrolling paper replaced by algorithms that would monitor his blood pressure/heart rate, respiratory rate and electro-dermal activity. His hands never sweat so that would be the least of his worries. He really wasn't concerned, anyway. As a practiced liar, he didn't need to put antiperspirant on his fingers or a tack in his shoe to counteract his reactions, he was an expert on deceptive behavior. After all, he had completely fooled his wife, his in-laws and the staff of his legitimate business all these years, so the normal involuntary, stress-related responses that told the examiner his or her subject was lying were something he knew he could control. Regardless of the sophistication of the equipment.
As the pneumographs and the blood pressure cuff were applied to Montgomery by the forensic psychophysiologist, the FP explained to the heiress' husband that he would be looking for fluctuation in specific physiological activity. He was a personable guy and tried to put Montgomery at ease, as he would all of the people he would test today. He may have been young but he was aware that the anxiety brought on in anticipation of taking a polygraph could sometimes bring out responses that indicated deception and how he conducted himself and how he presented the questions could influence the results.
Mr. Montgomery would be his first subject but his responsibility didn't stop with just preparing the husband and asking him questions. He was also a trained profiler who analyzed and evaluated the test results. He administered a pre-test, asking Montgomery more generalized questions, getting to know him a little bit, asking him about his side of the events that led him to be sitting in that chair. Then how Montgomery responded to him determined how he designed his questions. When he started the actual exam, he would ask a dozen or so questions only four or five of which really pertained to the investigation, the rest being what were known as control questions, broad inquiries where a lie or truth could easily be detected.
If all else failed, Montgomery knew his attorney could easily discredit the results of the polygraph, which was inadmissible in a court of law but that widely known fact would not let him off the hook as a possible suspect in his wife's kidnapping. So, in order to avoid the FBI's further scrutiny, there was no margin for error in how he came across during this exam.
He took a deep breath and put on his best nervous smile for the FP. Let the games begin.
To Be Continued...