Progress of a Sort in Nano

Author’s Note: So all I can really say at this point is that I am still trying to finish this. Really, I am. It’s just… very difficult.

Progress of a Sort

Shaelynn hadn’t expected finding one car in thousands to be easy, not with only a broken tail light and tinted windows to go on. She didn’t figure she’d find anything, not when she was honest with herself, and so she hadn’t allowed for a lot of honesty while she drove around, frustrated. She would have loved to find that car sitting out in the open, leading her right to where they were keeping Nolan, but that wasn’t going to happen.

She stopped her car, shaking her head, tempted to scream or smack the wheel—anything let out some of this anger and fight against the rising sense of helplessness that was trying to catch up with her. She didn’t do helpless. That was not and never had been her. She’d had a few moments of fear, but she’d known she wasn’t helpless.

If she’d been forced into marrying Ambrose, she would have killed him, or she might have killed herself, but she wasn’t helpless. She had ways out of that nightmare.

She didn’t seem to have any out of this one. Nolan was missing, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to find him. She could drive the whole city over and over again and never find the car that might maybe have done this. Even if she found the car, there was no guarantee that it would be sitting out in front of the building where Nolan was.

Time was speeding away from her, and she was no closer to finding Nolan than she’d been when he first disappeared. She didn’t know that she could do to change that, either. She was going to lose him, and that was something that had never been acceptable, not from the beginning, from that stupid joke that he knew better than to make and she knew better than to smile at.

Someone knocked on her window, and she jumped, cursing her own stupidity as she did. She reached over and rolled down the glass, shaking her head. “Don’t you feds have better uses of your time than tracking me down again?”

“I gave Kaplan the danger to yourself and others speech when your man is missing, and she agreed with diverting our attention for a moment. Would you like the rundown of what our federal resources came up with?”

She considered that. “I don’t know, Morton. Does it end in dead ends or in you being here to take me with you when you raid wherever you think Nolan is? I won’t ask for a chance to be in on that raid, but damn it, I will be there when you pull him out of wherever he is. Alive.”

Morton opened up her door. “Videos plus forensics confirmed your town car theory. More videos got us a good look at the license plate, but we weren’t exactly lucky there—the plates were stolen yesterday. Someone went into this prepared.”

“A professional? You think that maybe the cult is behind it this time? That they managed to get at some of the assets Cyril’s been hiding for years and pay for a hitman to go after Nolan?”

“I don’t know. I lean toward saying no since a pro would have noticed all the attention that he got lately and backed the hell off until it died down. A pro wants to leave no trace. This? It’s an attempt to be professional, but it’s still sloppy. The accident might not have happened on camera, and our driver might not be on it, either, but there are cleaner ways of doing a kidnapping—and the kidnapping angle bothers me as well. I don’t know that I see your former tormentors taking him like this.”

“Anything they did to Nolan would have to involve some kind of ritual that made him suffer for being a ‘traitor,’” Shaelynn reminded the agent. “They’d have to take him. There’s no way they’d just kill him. He’d have to be tortured before he died—they’d also have to give him opportunities for repentance.”

“Oh, that I agree with,” Morton said. “I just don’t think they’d be at all concerned with hiding what they were doing. They’d want to prove they had that kind of power even locked away in prison. They’d want to show themselves a part of whatever was done to him if only for the sake of keeping the faith of their believers. You let someone else do that torturing for you and you might as well be handing the reins of the organization over to them. Hello, new prophet. Let’s get ready for armageddon.”

She winced. Morton had a point there. “Yes. My father would need to have done something that said he set it in motion or approved of it. If he had… He would have contacted me. He’d either ask me to change Nolan’s mind for him, or he’d be wanting me to pledge my loyalty to him and not my ‘husband.’ He’d want an answer for the question of whether or not I was with him, and if I was against him… I’d be with Nolan. I’d have lied and exploited the situation to get close to him if my father had contacted me, but he hasn’t. Cyril hasn’t. No one has.”

“Yeah, we figured as much. So we went back to the drawing board suspect-wise,” Morton went on, gesturing for her to get out of her car. “Cunningham seemed likely for a bit as he had an airtight alibi in being interviewed by me at the time of the abduction. We turned our attention to tracking his connections to the car and to possible locations where he could be holding Sheppard, and that left us with… well, nothing. Not that ties back to him, anyway. He’s got property, yes, but other than one corporate building, it’s all residential—all meant to show off. Penthouse apartments, beach houses, secluded cabins by lakes, mansions to make celebrities jealous, that sort of thing. It’ll take longer to go through the shell companies we think are part of the racketeering aspect, but with what we know now and the fact that we can’t trace any cars or rentals to him, can’t find any likely professionals who’ve been in contact with him, can’t find that he did anything out of the ordinary for him in the past week—no, we’re reasonably sure that he’s a dead end as far as the kidnapping goes.”

“Did you go back to Monroe, then?” Shaelynn asked, getting out of the car. “Track down any connections she might have made?”

“She’d have had to have set that in motion before she got arrested. The Interpol file on her has her in a secure lockdown waiting extradition. Let’s just say your guy got off easy with her setting up Harrison instead of going for him directly. I actually think she only intended to coax him into being a convenient fall guy, but she didn’t count on how far Harrison was willing to go for the girl he loved or how badly he’d botch an attempt on Nolan before she could do that herself to pin it on him.”

Shaelynn grimaced. “I should have gone after her myself.”

“Vengeance aside, it wouldn’t have gotten you much. She’s cold, and this slip up is like a miracle for our international friends.”

“So what have we got, then? Nothing? Why am I leaving my car and walking with you if you have nothing for me?”

Morton grinned. “I never said we had nothing.”

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