Special Forces Father
Author:Mallory Kane

chapter Nine

By the time Kate got home that evening, it was after six o’clock. She’d spent all morning at the bank. She’d gone straight to the bank manager and asked him for a loan of two hundred thousand dollars. She offered the house she’d inherited from her folks as collateral and when that didn’t work, she tried to mortgage it.

When the manager insisted on knowing what the money was for, Kate told him she wanted to remodel the house. He lectured her about the struggling housing market and the dangers of mortgaging a house for more than it’s worth.

When she’d been able to get a word in edgewise, she’d asked him, “Are you telling me that there’s no way I can get any type of loan for that amount of money?”

“That’s right, Dr. Chalmet,” he’d told her. “It would be virtually impossible, no matter where you went.”

So she’d withdrawn the sixty-eight thousand dollars in her savings account—in cash, despite the manager’s disapproving expression.

After leaving the bank, she’d gone to the credit union, but they were less helpful than the bank had been. She’d thanked them and withdrawn the five thousand she had allowed to accumulate in her checking account.

Then she’d gone to her office for a few hours to work on her findings for court, although she wondered whether there was any need for her to continue with her determination of Stamps’s state of mind when he’d shot Paul Guillame, now that the kidnapper had decided to target the Delanceys for ransom for their first grandson.

Back at home, she wearily took her cell phone out of her purse and set it on the kitchen counter next to the day’s mail, then glanced at her watch. She figured she had about an hour before the kidnapper called. Kate had no idea if seventy-three thousand dollars would be enough to tempt him. She hoped she could tell him it was only part of the payment and she’d be able to get the rest within a week. She had a sinking feeling that he was not going to be impressed with her small offering, given what he might be able to get from the Delanceys, but she had to try. She was desperate. It was her only chance to get her little boy back.

Rubbing her temples, where a headache was starting, she realized she hadn’t eaten anything since morning. She opened the refrigerator and stood there, staring at the spaghetti sauce, the fruit and the soft drinks she’d gotten for Travis, but none of it appealed to her. Sighing, she poured herself a glass of milk and picked up the Oreo cookies.

She sat down on a kitchen stool and took one cookie out and twisted the top half off just like she’d shown Max, then used her teeth to scrape the filling off the bottom half. But she had no appetite. She left the two halves sitting on the counter and made herself drink about half of the milk.

For a few seconds she was lost in a memory of Max licking filling off the cookies then dunking them in his milk. Oh, dear God, she missed him so much. Swiping tears off her cheeks, she stood and rinsed her glass. She wished she hadn’t sent Travis away. It had been a stupid impulse, fueled by her anger at him for all the things he had done without consulting her. She’d known what he would do—the exact same thing he’d done when she’d told him not to call her again after their one fateful night together five years ago. And he’d done just that—exactly what she’d told him to do.

Why hadn’t he refused to leave? Why hadn’t he fought to stay with her? Did he not love her enough to defy her and stay, even if she was stupid enough to tell him to leave?

She set the wet glass on the drain board, and picked up the mail and glanced through it. Nothing but bills and flyers, as usual. When she looked at her watch again, the minute hand had only advanced by nine minutes. She blew out a breath in frustration. She wanted a shower, but she didn’t dare take the chance of missing the kidnapper’s call. She started pacing. Every time she turned and paced back across the living room toward the kitchen, she eyed the phone and checked her watch. The minutes crawled.

Then, at eleven minutes to seven, the doorbell rang.

“Oh, Travis, don’t. Not now. I’ve got to deal with the kidnapper,” she muttered. The bell rang again. She swung it open, prepared to tell Travis that he couldn’t come in.

As soon as she turned the knob and pulled on the door, it slammed inward, banging her jaw and her right shoulder. It knocked her backward, onto the floor.

A huge man rushed inside and slammed the door shut behind him. Light glinted off a big gun he was holding in both hands. Kate wanted to scream but the blow had knocked the wind out of her and it was all she could do to force small gulps of air past her spasming chest.

The man glanced down at her then turned his attention to her house. He surveyed the kitchen, the living room, and the hallway to the bedrooms and the hall bath.

“Who’s here?” he asked, stepping a heavy booted foot on her left hand. He didn’t put his weight on that foot, but Kate had no doubt that if he did, her bones would crush like a bird’s.

“Noh-nobody,” she gasped. With his foot on her hand, she couldn’t move. She lay there, on her back on the hardwood floor, still trying to get a full breath and watching him in abject fear. It was the kidnapper.

“Where’s your boyfriend?” he growled, digging in his back pocket. He pulled out a set of metal handcuffs and tossed them down on the floor near her. Then he took his boot off her hand. “Put those on.”


“Don’t talk. Put the cuffs on. Your right wrist first.”

She did as he said. The cuff fastened with a loud metallic click. She sat up and started to slip the other cuff around her left wrist.

“Hey!” he yelled. “No. Not in front. In back.”

“In back? But—”

“Shut up and just do what I say.”

She caught the dangling cuff in her right hand and put her hands behind her back, then tried to slide the cuff onto her left wrist, but she kept fumbling and dropping it. The chain that held the two cuffs together was not very long.

“I can’t,” she said truthfully. She wished she were smart and brave enough to trick the man by pretending not to be able to fasten the cuffs, but unfortunately, her fumbling was real.

The man spewed out a string of curses. “Don’t try anything,” he warned. “Do it!”

By some miracle, she managed to get her wrist inside the second cuff and fasten it. It made a flat metallic sound as it locked.

“Now sit over there.” He gestured with the gun barrel. “On the floor next to the TV.”

Kate went over to the TV and knelt on the floor.

“I said sit.”

She rolled sideways, pulling her legs out from under her, then tried to sit up. It was hard with her hands cuffed behind her back. She wiggled around until her back was against the TV cabinet, and watched the man as he disappeared down the hall to search her bedrooms and bathrooms.

As soon as she heard him enter her room, she tried to stand, but again, she was surprised and dismayed at how hard it was to move without the use of her hands. By the time she got to her knees again he was back.

“I told you to sit. What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “My hands are falling asleep.”

“No, they’re not. You haven’t had the cuffs on two minutes yet. Stop horsing around or it won’t go well for the kid.”

With a huge effort, Kate pushed herself to her feet. “Where is Max?” she asked, trying to sound imperious and demanding, but knowing she wasn’t pulling it off. “Did you bring him with you?”

“No,” he said and laughed shortly. “That’s not how it works. You’re going with me. I’m going to do this on my terms. I’m not about to give you any kind of chance to sic the police or your baby-daddy’s family on me.” He let his gaze run from her head down her body to her toes and back up again. “So, Doc, how much money were you able to get?”

“A lot,” she said eagerly. “You’re going to be really happy.”

“Where is it?”

She nodded toward the kitchen. “In my purse,” she said, swallowing the panic that was pushing its way up her throat. For a man like this, who kidnapped people for a living, was $73,000 enough? She felt her throat fluttering with the need to scream or run or do something other than just wait pitifully, while this ghoul held the decision of whether or not she could see her child.

“In there?” He looked at her purse, then reached over and picked it up. “It’s not very heavy, considering. How much can you have in there. Gotta be less than a hundred thousand, right?” He grabbed her phone from the counter. “We’ll take your phone in case I want you to tell your baby-daddy something.”

“You’re not going to check it?”

“Nope.” The man shook his head. “We gotta get out of here. Besides, I’ll be able to squeeze five times that out of the kid’s grandparents. I’m hoping they’ll be willing to pay more for you and the kid together.” He gave her the once-over again. “Then again, maybe not.”

His flat words and the leer in his gaze chilled Kate to the bone. What had she been thinking, trying to handle this on her own?

He grabbed her arm and pulled her over to the kitchen counter. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do.” He unlocked the cuff around her right hand. Then he pulled something out of his shirt pocket, while he picked up the glass she’d left on the drain board. “I want you to swallow this. Here. Get some water.”

“What is this?” she demanded, studying the small tablet the kidnapper showed her. She couldn’t identify it.

“You don’t know? It’s a sedative. A very fast-acting one. About five or so minutes after you take it, you’ll start feeling really drowsy. You should just go with it. You’re not going to get to find out where we’re going, anyhow. But if you swallow the pill, you can ride in the backseat. If you won’t, I’m going to put you in the trunk. Do you understand?”

For a brief instant she considered refusing. He’d have to force her out to the car. She could fight and maybe attract attention from the neighbors. Maybe one of them would call the police. But as soon as that thought entered her head, she rejected it. She didn’t dare do anything that might put Max in danger. She looked at the tablet in his hand. “I don’t want to be drowsy when I see my son,” she said. “Can’t you just blindfold me?”

He shook his head. “No way. I can’t risk someone seeing you with the blindfold on. Now take it or I’ll put you in the trunk.”

“No, you won’t. Somebody might see that, too.”

His face flushed. “Then I’ll shove the pill down your throat. Nobody’ll see that, will they?”

She shook her head. She picked up her glass and ran some water into it from the tap. She held out her hand and the kidnapper gave her the tablet. She swallowed the tablet.

“Okay,” she said. “I swallowed it.”

He grabbed her by the back of the neck. “Open up and let me see.”

She opened her mouth. He stuck a beefy finger in and swept between her cheeks and gums, the roof of her mouth and under her tongue.

Kate shuddered and did her best not to gag. She didn’t quite succeed.

“What?” he demanded, squeezing her neck as he grabbed her jaw in his other hand. He leaned in so close that his face was only about two inches from hers. She swallowed audibly. “You too fancy for the likes of me? You don’t like my taste?”

She closed her eyes.

“Open your damn eyes and taste this,” he grunted, then put his mouth over hers and kissed her with brutal force. He drew back and grinned at her. “What do you think about that?”

She felt dizzy and her eyes were getting heavy, but she managed to spit at him.

He jerked her backward by her neck, slapped her with his open hand. Then he fastened the handcuffs around her right hand again.

Tears sprang to her eyes.

“Watch out or I might have to really hurt you. Now let’s go get in my car. And don’t attract any attention. I don’t want to shoot anybody and I know you don’t want me to.”

Despite her fuzzy head and heavy eyes, Kate felt panic gushing up from her throat like an active volcano. She didn’t think the kidnapper would shoot anybody in the middle of a quiet neighborhood in daylight, but she couldn’t take the chance. She clenched her jaw and let him lead her out to his car. He kept her body close to his to hide the handcuffs from view.

He pushed her into the backseat just about the time the fuzziness covered her brain and her legs decided to give way. He locked the doors with the electronic key, then got into the driver’s seat and pressed a couple buttons on the console. “Gotta love child-safety locks.” He looked at her in the rearview mirror. “You have a nice nap, now. By the time you wake up, we’ll be there.”

“I’ll get to see Max?”

“If you’re good, Doc. If you’re good.”

* * *

TRAVIS GOT TO Kate’s house a few minutes after seven. When he pulled into the driveway behind her car, he noticed that all the lights were on, which seemed odd. Kate never left a room without turning off the light—never.

He went up to the front door and knocked. He didn’t want to use his key and take the chance of startling her, since she wasn’t expecting him. But when she didn’t answer after a second knock, he unlocked the door and went inside. Immediately, he knew something was wrong. Her left shoe was on the floor in the living room. He didn’t see her purse anywhere, but a glass sat on the kitchen counter. By itself, the glass wasn’t a cause for worry, but he saw something streaked on it. He walked over and looked closely at it.

Burning fear ignited at the base of his spine and coursed upward to his scalp. Travis had no doubt what had happened. While he’d been talking to Dawson, the kidnapper had come here and taken Kate. He clenched his fists and closed his eyes. Focus, he told himself. Anger didn’t accomplish anything. He could hear his sergeant’s yell.

Soldiers! Listen up. What’s your best weapon? These? He’d held up a rifle and a grenade.

No, sir! the recruits cried.

These? He held up his fists.

No, sir! they cried again.

Then tell me! he bellowed.

A clear and focused mind, sir.

Right now Travis wasn’t sure he could clear his mind, much less focus. All he could see was Kate, terrified and possibly hurt, in the hands of the kidnapper. He should have been here. He should have never allowed her to kick him out. If he’d stood up to her and forced her to listen to Dawson’s plan, the kidnapper would never have found her alone.

He flexed his right fist and eyed the wall next to the front door, but he stopped himself. He was reminded of something that Kate had told him, long before he joined the army’s Special Forces division.

You don’t have to give in to the anger, Travis. It is not stronger than you are.

He’d always given her hell for psychoanalyzing him back in college, but now he knew she was right. It had taken him a long time and a lot of specialized training to understand that anger was not only wasted energy, but wasted effect, as well. He had to look at this situation rationally. Kate had been taken by the same kidnapper who held their son. He needed to talk to Dawson and get the rescue operation started. For a few moments, he carefully studied the living room, searching for clues to where the kidnapper had taken her, but found nothing. As he headed for the door, he spotted Max’s wooden toy car on the floor next to the couch. Kate had told him the car was Max’s favorite. Travis picked it up and put it in his pocket.

* * *

FROM THE MOMENT the man had shoved her into the backseat of his car, Kate had been too sleepy to pay attention to anything around her. It seemed to her they’d driven a long way. But she kept drifting in and out of sleep, so she couldn’t be sure. At one point she’d roused enough to push herself to a sitting position so she could see out of the windows, but the vehicle’s backseat windows had been covered with dark plastic. She tried to look out the windshield, but the brightness of the sun forced her eyes closed and once she closed them, she drifted back to sleep.

Something different in the rhythm of her sleep woke her. She opened her eyes and remembered she was in the kidnapper’s car. She had no sense of how much time had passed. “Where are we?” she asked, but the man didn’t pay any attention to her. He killed the engine, got out of the car and opened the driver’s side rear door.

“Let’s go,” he said impatiently.

“Where are we?” she repeated.

The man shook his head. “You’re mumbling, Doc. I got no idea what you said. Time to get you into the house and into bed, so you can sleep off that sedative. Come on.” He wrapped his thick fingers around her upper arm and pulled.

“Ow,” she whined. “That hurts.” She leaned toward him, trying to take the pressure off her arm. Her eyes were blurry and so was her head. “I need water,” she said. “My mouth is so dry.”

“Come on, Doc. Try to walk and stop mumbling. I think it’s going to be about four or five hours before you can speak clearly. Meanwhile, you need to sleep. They told me the damn pill would last a long time, but I didn’t know they meant hours.” He snaked an arm around her and half carried her toward an old, rusted and peeling mobile home, the kind that could be towed behind a truck.

Squinting, she saw that its far end had been backed into the thick woods and underbrush that surrounded the small trailer park. Her hazy brain couldn’t figure out why. If it was supposed to be hidden, it wasn’t.

Once she was up the metal steps and at the door, he let go of her. She did her best to stay upright. But when she lifted her head, everything started spinning dizzily and she felt queasy and faint. He opened the door and shoved her inside.

Kate’s feet felt too heavy to lift, but with the man behind her pushing, she managed to stay on her feet inside the house. But when he crowded in behind her, she stumbled and almost fell face-first into the orange carpeting.

“Get up!” he growled, then louder, “Shirley? Where are you? Get out here.”

Shirley peeked out from a room off the living room through a flimsy aluminum door. “Bent, hush!” she hissed. “Oh,” she said when she saw Kate. “You must be Dr. Chalmet.”

Kate met her gaze. “Where’s my son?” she asked, concentrating on speaking clearly to her.

Shirley poked a thumb backward, in the direction of the tiny bedroom.

Kate tried to move in that direction, but the kidnapper, Bent—or whatever the woman had called him—kept a firm hold on her arm. “Let me go!” she cried, hearing the slurring mumble of her words, almost incomprehensible to her own ears. She jerked her arm but it was no use. All she earned for her effort was the feeling that, if he wanted to, Bent could dislocate her shoulder with almost no effort.

The woman eyed the way Bent was holding her, then crossed her arms and stared at him. “Well?” she asked him.

“What?” he grunted.

“Are you going to let her see the kid?”

At the woman’s words, Kate’s sluggish mind perked up and she almost cried out. But then a thought occurred to her. If she could keep them thinking that she was overwhelmingly drowsy for a while, maybe she could gain an advantage over them. She did her best to show as little reaction to the thought of being able to see Max, to hold him, as she could.

“Hell, I don’t know.”

“Come on, Bent. I’m getting sick of being a babysitter. After a while that whining can get to you. Let’s lock them in that back room and we can have the bedroom back.”

Kate tried to see the man’s face by barely opening her eyes to a slit, but when he turned toward her, she closed them again and just stood there, swaying slightly, as if in a stupor.

She felt and heard Bent shift. “She might try to get out the window,” he whispered.

“I don’t think so,” Shirley said. “These bedroom windows are the tiniest windows on the planet, and they’re over six feet off the ground. She wouldn’t drop the kid that far and she’s not going to leave him.”

“There’s nothing but woods and bushes outside that window, too,” Bent agreed. “Hey, Doc,” he said to her.

She lifted her chin slightly and opened her eyes as if each lid had a two-pound weight attached to it.

“Wanna see your kid?”

Don’t react too much, she warned herself. Slowly she opened her eyes and squinted at him. “Max?” she whispered, letting all the longing that had been building in her for the past two days color her voice. “Max?” She opened her eyes wider. “Where is he?”

“I knew you could wake up if you wanted to.” The man’s words were so flat and cool that Kate was afraid he was baiting her. That he wasn’t going to let her see her son after all.

“Please,” she begged.

“Go ahead,” he said to the woman. “Put them in that back bedroom. Make sure there’s nothing in there she could use as a weapon.”

“Way ahead of you, Bent darlin’,” the woman said sarcastically. “There’s nothing in there but piles of clothes and a stack of empty boxes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah. Check for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

“Okay. Get the kid and his stuff. Not the train. That’s metal. I don’t want her to have anything she could use on the window or on us.”

Kate waited, hardly daring to breathe as the woman went into the bedroom. Kate could hear her talking to Max. As heavy as her limbs were from the sedative, Kate had to use all her willpower not to go tearing through the door to her son. She held it together until she heard the woman say, “Honey, want to see your mama?”

Then she heard Max’s shriek and she couldn’t be still another second. “Max!” she cried and started to run toward the door, but she’d forgotten the kidnapper’s hand on her arm. She jerked against his grip.

Then Max appeared in the doorway, his big dark brown eyes wide as saucers, his mouth open in a huge, excited grin. “Mommy!” he shrieked. “Mahmm-eee!” He threw himself at her.

“Maxie,” Kate cried and held out her arms and she bent down. Max ran, nearly knocking her over.

“Mommy! You’re here!” He wrapped his little arms around her neck and pushed his face into the curve at her neck and shoulder.

“Max,” she whispered, pushing her nose into his baby-fine, sweet-smelling hair. For a long time she just crouched there, holding him, reveling in the familiar, sweet smell of her little boy. Then she opened her eyes and met the woman’s gaze. She had kept him clean and fed and as happy as he could be without his mommy. Kate gave the woman a nod. Shirley raised an eyebrow and sniffed. She looked away.

“Okay,” Bent said. “That’s enough. Get up.”

Kate closed her eyes again and pressed her nose against her baby’s hair.

* * *

WHEN TRAVIS GOT to the warehouse, it was after eight o’clock. Ryker was there. He was dressed in a sport coat and tie and was looking at the laptop, where Travis had left Google Maps on the screen. When Ryker saw Travis, he stood and held out his hand. Travis took it and they shook hands.

“Dawson filled me in—” Ryker started, but Travis broke in.

“He’s got Kate.”


“The kidnapper’s got Kate,” Travis repeated. “He must have gotten there while I was here talking to Dawson. There was a smear of blood on a water glass, so he may have hit her.”

“What else did you see?”

“One of her shoes was lying in the middle of the living room. Her purse and phone were gone but today’s mail was sitting on the kitchen counter. So she’d been home a little while before he grabbed her.”

“Do you think she opened the door to him?” Ryker asked.

A terrible thought occurred to Travis. “He probably rang the bell. She’d have thought it was me.”

“So she opened the door without question.”

Travis nodded bleakly. “I’m sure she did.”

“Okay, so we now have two to rescue.”

At that second the door to the warehouse opened and Dawson came in with a young woman dressed all in black. She had midnight-blue hair and about seven or eight gold studs running up and down her left ear, and one long feather earring in her right. She was also wearing black fingerless gloves and black motorcycle boots. Both she and Dawson carried large, hard-sided metal cases.

“Hey, Ryke. Trav. This is Dusty.”

Travis was surprised. He probably shouldn’t have been, but he’d have sworn he’d heard Dawson refer to his computer wiz as he. He nodded to her. She met his gaze and he saw that she had pale gray eyes—they were almost colorless. She nodded back.

“Hi, Dusty,” Ryker said. “We met a few years ago when I was helping Dawson on a case.”

She nodded at him, then walked over to the table and set the case down on it. She popped the locks and started unloading electronic equipment. Dawson set the other case beside hers and opened it. “I’ll leave you to set up the equipment,” he said. “We’re going to talk strategy.”

Dawson pulled a chair to the far side of the long table. Ryker sat in a chair next to him and Travis sat next to Ryker. Just as Dawson opened his mouth, the door opened again and Lucas came in.

Travis had known he was coming, but he still felt self-conscious and embarrassed to face his older brother, after coming back to New Orleans without calling him or anyone else in his family.

“Trav, you son of a gun,” Lucas said, grinning.

Travis got up and went to him, holding out his hand. Lucas grabbed it then pulled Travis into a full-on bear hug. Travis gave it right back to him. “Hey, Lucas,” he said.

After about thirty seconds, Lucas pushed Travis to arm’s length and looked at him. “What the hell happened to you?” he asked. “Last time you were home, you were bulked up like a bodybuilder. You look like you’ve lost twenty-five pounds.”

“Twenty,” Travis corrected him. “I had a rough tour.”

Lucas nodded and narrowed his gaze. “You were captured,” he said, not a question.

Travis waved a hand. “I’m fine,” he said. “Let’s get started figuring out how to rescue Kate and Max.”

“Kate and—?” Lucas said.

“Kate and Max?” Dawson spoke over Lucas. “What do you mean, Kate and Max?” he finished.

“When I got to Kate’s house this evening, she was gone. Her car was there but her purse and phone weren’t. One of her shoes was in the living room and a glass of water had a blood smear on it. She spent all morning and most of the afternoon at the bank and the credit union. I think she was gathering all the cash she could. I don’t know if she has savings or got loans, but she told me yesterday that she was taking care of the kidnapper, so I’m sure he called her and she told him she had money.”

“Damn,” Dawson said on an exhalation.

Lucas used more colorful language.

“Yeah,” Travis said. “So what are we going to do?”

Ryker stood and smoothed his tie. “First of all, Travis, I think we need to talk about how we’re going to handle this. Reilly’s waiting with two off-duty SWAT team members who volunteered to help us out. They’re at Airline Highway and U.S. 51, waiting for my signal to go in.”

Travis rounded on Ryker. “You’re sending a SWAT team in? What are you thinking? You can’t do that. My four-year-old son is in there. If half a dozen men storm in, dressed in full SWAT regalia, how do you think it will affect him?” he demanded. “I’ll go. You find the house. I’ll get in and rescue them.”

Ryker was shaking his head before he finished. “No,” he said. “I can’t risk sending in a civilian—”

“A civilian?” Travis spat at the same time as Lucas muttered, “Uh-oh.”

“Ryke—” Dawson said in a warning voice.

Travis glared at his cousin. “Ryker, I’m an army Special Forces operative. I’ve had the most specialized training available. I know how to make myself virtually invisible. I can walk through a tangled wood without breaking a twig. I can sneak up on a building set in the middle of an airport runway—no cover anywhere. I can pick any lock. I can break a man’s neck with one hand.”

“No disrespect, Travis, but you’re too close to the situation,” Ryker said in a calm but firm voice. “I can’t risk you going off half-cocked, or—”

“Ryker,” Lucas said. “Hang on a second, if you don’t mind.”

Travis looked at his older brother. He hadn’t expected to see him. The last he’d known, Lucas was still in Dallas, where he’d gone as soon as he’d graduated from high school, declaring he would never again live in the same city as their dad. At some point, somebody was going to have to bring him up to speed on everything that had happened in the Delancey family in the past five years since he’d been gone. But now, his son and the woman he’d driven a thousand miles to see were in danger.

Ryker turned to Lucas. “What is it?” he asked.

But Lucas ignored him. He watched Travis. Travis stood there, holding his gaze, until finally, Lucas cocked his head. “What’s different about you, little brother?” he asked.

Travis shrugged. “Five years of training, missions and—difficult situations,” he answered.

Lucas shook his head. “You’ve changed, a lot.” He laughed self-consciously. “Don’t mean to wax poetic, but you’re not carrying around that sullen fury anymore. I can see it in your eyes.”

Travis nodded. “All it does is drain your energy and dull your focus.”

Lucas nodded again. “That’s right. Congratulations. You’re smarter than I was at your age.” Then he turned to Ryker. “I say let him try. Reilly and his SWAT team can be standing by in case Travis needs them.”

It took a while and a long telephone discussion between the twins, Ryker and Reilly, but finally Ryker agreed. “This is unorthodox,” he said with more than a touch of irritation in his voice.

“Of course it is, Ryke,” Dawson agreed. “Which part of what we’ve planned is orthodox? We’re not doing this on the books, so it’s already a covert op.”

Ryker didn’t answer Dawson. He turned to Travis. “Reilly and his team are set up at the U.S. 51 exit off Airline Highway, as I told you earlier. Reilly will communicate with you via a communications device that uses an earpiece and a throat mic, so that no one can overhear either of you. If you get into trouble, say Mayday and they’ll storm the house.”

Dawson stepped up. “Dusty’s got the equipment set up. It’s time to put everybody in place and get ready to make the call. Remember, we’ve only got one chance to latch onto that signal—one chance to pinpoint where the kidnapper is keeping Travis’s son.”