Carlos Sandoval sighed as the light ahead went from amber to red. I’m never gonna get there! he thought in aggravation. He willed the light to green, snarling at it as the traffic continued through from the other lanes. He had to get to his destination, had to see for himself if Tiffany was wearing what she said she would be wearing. Or, is not wearing the better term for it?! Carlos smiled to himself as he thought about the direction their date was going to be heading, and he knew the roses he had just picked up would accelerate that direction.
The light ahead turned green just as the passenger side door open and a man clambered in. Carlos looked at him in shock. “What the??? Get the hell outta my car!”
The man shook his head. “They’re going to kill me!” he yelled. “Drive!”
All of Carlos’ old police instincts kicked in as he drove through the intersection. “Who’s going to kill you?” he asked warily. He kept one eye open for any weapon the man may have had.
“They are!” The elderly man looked out the rear window. “Take me to the nearest police station!”
“I plan on.” Carlos turned onto a back street and headed towards the closest precinct, which was four blocks away. He hazard a glance at his occupant. “You wanna tell me what this is all about?”
“No!” The man continued to stare out the rear window. “They’re coming!”
Carlos looked into the mirror in shock. Sure enough, a black van was following him. He turned left down the next street, then took a right…the van stayed with him.
Carlos gasped in shock and surprise as a car pulled out in front of him. He swerved hard to miss it, and headed for the ditch. “Hang on!” was all he managed to get out before the car hit the embankment and crashed in an undignified manner into the shallow water.
The man looked at him. “Remember this,” he whispered. “The essence of the danger is silent justice.”
Carlos blinked at him in numb shock and nodded as the door beside him was pulled open. A set of strong hands yanked him free of the vehicle, and he was forced to the ground.
Tiffany reached blindly for the phone as it hit its third ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, Tiff,” the voice on the other end replied. “Its Trent. Is Carlos there?”
Tiffany Chambers sat up on the couch. “No, he isn’t…he stood me up again last night.” She paused, waiting for Trent to come to the defense of his friend and business partner. “Trent?”
“Something’s wrong,” Trent said quietly. “Carlos didn’t show up this morning…he’s not at his place, and he’s not answering his pager or cell.”
Tiffany stood quickly at the worry in his voice. “Calm down, Trent,” she said as she headed towards the bedroom to get dressed. “I’m sure he’s fine.” She tried to pull a shirt on, and dropped the phone. “Shit!”
“Tiff?” Trent’s voice came from the receiver on the floor. “You there?”
Tiffany scooped up the phone. “Sorry, just getting dressed. I’ll meet you at Thunder Investigations in twenty minutes.”
“And if Carlos shows up before I get there, tell him that he is in…” she trailed off, and swallowed. This was not like Carlos at all. Every time he had stood her up, he had always called to let her know that he was sorry. “Just tell him to wait there.”
Carlos rolled over slightly and tried to focus as he opened his eyes. He looked around the small white room, jumping in shock as a voice boomed through it.
“What did he tell you?!”
Carlos pushed himself to his feet. “I don’t know what you mean.” He looked around for the source of the voice. “Who are you?”
“Silence!” the voice snapped loudly. “The man you picked up last night…what did he tell you?!”
Carlos spotted the small camera and speaker on the ceiling and walked to it. He looked straight into the camera. “I have no idea what you are talking about. I was on my way to…” He stopped, something in his mind telling him not to mention a girlfriend. “I was on my way home, when some guy jumped in my car, asked me to take him to the police…then someone forced me off of the road.”
“You are lying!”
Carlos had not thought it possible, but the voice had seemed to get louder. “Why would I lie?”
“Because you are working with him! I know exactly who you are, Mr. Sandoval.”
Uh-oh! “Then you know that I have no idea what you are talking about.” Carlos ran his hands through his hair. “I think it’s time you let me out of here.”
“You will remain here until you tell me what the professor said to you.”
“What professor?” Carlos waited for a reply, but none came. “Hello?? HEY!” He jumped at the camera in the ceiling, his fingers narrowly missing it. “Let me out of here!” Carlos pounded a fist against the wall in frustration.
“I’m starting to get worried,” Trent said as he sat on the corner of the desk. “It’s not like Carlos to do something like this.”
“I know,” Tiffany said softly. “When did you see him last?”
“Just before he left for your place last night. He said that he had one stop to make, then he would see me this morning.”
Trent nodded. “He mentioned something about picking up some roses for you.”
Tiffany smiled, then remembered her boyfriend was missing. “You called the hospitals?”
“Just after I called you. He hasn’t been admitted to any, and…” Trent stopped as the phone rang, and he reached for it, hoping that it was his friend. “Thunder Investigation.” He listened for a moment. “Yeah, she’s here.”
Tiffany took the phone from him. “Hello?” She closed her eyes as the person on the other end talked. “I’ll be right there.” She lowered the phone and stared at it.
“What?” Trent asked softly. He took the phone from her shaking hands, dread building in the pit of his stomach.
“That was Cortez,” Tiffany said. “They found Carlos’ car…”
Trent’s eyes closed briefly, as a hard looked crossed his face. “Is he…”
Tiffany shrugged. “He was calling from the precinct…all he knows is that there is a body.” She stood quickly. “I gotta go.”
Detective Jennifer Hendricks sighed as the phone rang. “I’m on days off!” she complained to it before answering. “Hello?…I’m on days off, Cortez.” Jenny listened for a moment. “Tell her I’m on my way!” She hung up the phone, grabbed her jacket, and ran out the door.
Carlos leaned against the wall and stared at the camera in the ceiling. He had been from one end of the small room to the other, but beyond the securely closed door, there was no other way out. He knew that even if he had told these people what the man in his car had told him, he would probably not be walking out of there alive. My only chance of getting out of here is to play dumb. He vaguely remembered hearing silenced gunshots coming from inside his car as he lay on the dirty ground, and he was certain that the man who had gotten into his car had been the recipient of those bullets.
All I gotta do is bide my time, and pray that Tiffany finds me. He smiled at the thought of her, and hoped that she wasn’t too mad about him missing their date. At least this time I have a damn good reason! Carlos laid on the floor and closed his eyes, determined to rest so that he could make his escape at the first possible opportunity.
A loud clanging sound echoed through the room, causing Carlos to jump. “There will be no sleeping!” a voice blared over the noise.
“What?!” Carlos got to his feet and glared at the camera. “Let me out of here,” he said in a dangerously low voice. The noise continued. “Let me outta here!” Carlos screamed. “Do you hear me?!”
“What did the professor tell you!?”
Carlos tried to mentally calm himself down, a feat that was almost impossible due to the unnerving effect of the clanging noise. “I already told you that!”
“You will tell us! You will break!”
Carlos shivered at the venom in the voice, but put on a brave face. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know!” he yelled. He blinked, startled as the noise stopped.
“You will tell me!” the voice reverberated through the stillness.
Trent had the door open even before the car skidded to a stop. He jumped out and ran to the sight of his childhood friend’s car, pushing past the uniformed police officer that tried to stop him. Tiffany showed her badge, and followed Trent through the ‘police line’ tape. All she could think of was that she might have lost the one good thing in her life.
Detective Richard Ryan stepped in front of Trent before he could reach the car, and put a hand on his shoulder. “This is a crime scene,” he said sternly. “Don’t go any further.” He spotted Tiffany, and motioned her over. “It’s not him.”
Both Tiffany and Trent stared at him as the words took effect. Trent sighed in relief as he sat on the bumper of the nearest police cruiser. “Where is he?”
Ryan shrugged. “No idea.” He looked at Tiffany again. “All I know is that I have a “John Doe” in the passenger seat with three bullets in him.”
Anger built up inside of Tiffany. “Are you accusing…”
“Hold on!” Ryan held up a hand. “You know I don’t like Carlos, but I know he wouldn’t do something like this.”
Tiffany nodded. “No, he wouldn’t…I want to see the vic.”
Ryan hesitated, then motioned to the tarped figure on the ground. Tiffany walked over, knelt beside it, and slowly lifted the tarp. She stood in shock, and turned. “That’s Professor Malcolm Hill.”
“Who?” Ryan joined her. “You know him?”
“Knew of him,” Tiffany said. “He works for the rival company my ex-in-laws own.” She called over one of the officers. “Check with Hedge Industries, and see if Professor Malcolm Hill still worked there.”
Ryan stared at her. “This is my investigation, Chambers.”
Tiffany folder her arms across her chest and glared at him. “I am in a very bad mood today, Dick…do not add to it!” She whirled to face Trent. “Mr. Malloy…I am hiring you to find Carlos Sandoval.”
Trent nodded as Ryan snorted in disgust. “Let’s get started,” Trent said as he stood and walked back to the car. Tiffany followed without further word to Ryan. She paused as she saw a familiar car pull up to the scene.
Jennifer Hendricks hopped out of her car and hurried over. “Cortez called me…What happened?…Where’s Carlos?”
“I don’t know, but I plan on finding out.”
Carlos moaned in annoyance as the loud clanging sounded again. He sat up and glared at the ceiling. “Yeah! I’m not asleep, okay?!” He looked at his watch, surprised to see that he had been captive in the small room for nearly twenty-four hours. No, correction…I’ve been here longer than that. I’ve been awake for nearly twenty-four hours.
He stood and stretched, trying to get the circulation moving, trying to stay awake. “Like that’s gonna be a problem,” he muttered under his breath. He wandered around until he was directly under the booming speaker. “Shut up!” he yelled.
Jenny finished the last of her coffee as she reached for the file on the other side of the table. She looked it over for the fifth time, trying to find something that would lead them to Carlos. There had been no witness to the accident, and she doubted that they would find any since the area of town Carlos had disappeared in was a notorious “I didn’t see a thing” zone. She went to put the file down, stopping when she spotted a word.
“Hey!” She turned to the others in the room. “I think I might have something.”
Tiffany got up from her spot on the couch. “What?”
Jenny held the papers up. “Trent said that Carlos was going to get you some roses.”
“True,” Trent said from the other side of the living room.
“Well…there is a flower shop about four blocks from where the car was found.” Jenny smiled. “I know that shop…it’s been robbed a few times, and they put in a surveillance camera a few months ago.”
“So…we get the footage, and check to see if Carlos was on it,” Tiffany said. “It’s a long shot, but…” She swallowed, and finished in a whisper, “If it means that I get to see him again…”
Gabriel Paulson, her former partner, put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey,” he said in a soft voice, “you have to think positive.”
Tiffany patted his hand in thanks. “I know, I know…I’m just…it’s just…” She sighed in aggravation. “I’m tired.”
Gabe smiled. “I’m not even going to suggest that you get some sleep. Just know that I’m here…we’re here if you want to let off some steam.”
“Thanks,” Tiffany said quietly. “I’ll let you know.” She cleared her throat. “Let’s get to that flower shop.”
“He’s getting rather tired,” a man announced. “Should we give him a few hours to rest?”
A tall woman shook her head. “No. He should break soon, then we will know what secrets Professor Hill told him before he…died.”
The man nodded and went back to watching the screen. The man he was watching paced the small room constantly, pausing on occasion to check out his surroundings and to glare up at the camera in the ceiling.
Tiffany inhaled deeply as she entered Apology Flowers And Gifts, and felt a sad smile start. She walked to the cashier, showed her identification and requested authorization to view their security tapes.
The clerk, who happened to be the owner, quickly agreed and set off for the back. He came out, handed videotape to her, and then went back to his perch behind the counter.
Tiffany walked back to the car, climbed in the passenger side, and leaned back wearily. Trent gave her an encouraging look, and pulled away from the curb. Tiffany sat there, wrapped in her disturbing thoughts, not noticing the city that passed by her.
It’s been over thirty-six hours since Carlos disappeared. She looked out the window. We’re not going to find him.” She blinked back the tears at that thought, then she realized that Trent was talking to her. “Huh?”
“Are you okay?” Trent asked again.
“Yeah…no.” Tiffany wiped a tear from her cheek. “What a I going to do??” She started to tap her hand against the dashboard. “I mean, Carlos is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. I know we fight half of the time, but…” She stopped and stared out the window.
Trent nodded slightly. “It’s okay, Tiff.” He paused, trying to decide if he should say what he knew she wanted to hear. He finally decided that the truth would be the best. “You remember when Jenny and I broke up?” He waited while she acknowledged him, and nodded. “Well….ha…I’m not sure if I should tell you this, but the night that Carlos found me drunk…well…he sat me down, and gave me a rather good talking to.”
“What did he say?” Tiffany asked, grateful to have a conversation that would keep her mind off of the dread she was feeling.
Trent turned down the street to Tiffany’s house and pulled over to the curb. He shut off the car and faced her. “He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if you love someone, you shouldn’t let a stupid argument get in the way.” He stopped, then decided to go on. “That was when he told me that that was the reason he…tries so hard with you.” A sad look crossed his face when a tear rolled down Tiffany’s cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be.” She ran a hand over her face. “Ohhhh…what am I going to do if…?” She stopped, opened the door, and got out. “Like Gabe said, ‘be positive.’”
Carlos jolted awake when the annoying sound started again. “Oh, come on! Give me a break!” He leaned against the wall and tried not to yawn.
“What did he tell you?!”
“Nothing!” Carlos yelled. “He told me nothing!” He stood and glared at the camera. “How many fucking times do I have to tell you that?!”
“What did he tell you?!”
Carlos yelled in aggravation and put his hands over his ears. “Go away! Leave me the fuck alone! Let me out of here!” Don’t swear he chided himself. It will only show them that they are getting to you. He inhaled deeply. Come on, Tiffany…find me!
“See anything yet?” Trent asked as he sat on the couch beside Jenny.
She put the video tape on pause, and looked at him. “Nothing. The tape isn’t time stamped, so there’s no way of knowing exactly when Carlos might have shown up…if he did at all.” She motioned to the hallway behind her. “How’s she doing?”
Trent sighed and put his arm around her. “Tiffany is sleeping. She’s scared.”
“And how are you doing?” Jenny asked as she kissed him lightly.
“I’m…okay,” Trent said. “Worried, but okay. I have to think positive about this. Carlos has been through a lot before, and come away basically safe.”
Trent nodded. “He always manages to pull through.” He leaned her back onto the couch. “Let’s see the rest of the tape.”
Jenny pushed the button and settled back into the couch. She tried to concentrate on the film in front of her, but the nearness of Trent made it hard for her to think. She programmed her mind to notice the image of Carlos, while her thoughts centered around her lover. Just as her imagination started to turn to what her and Trent could be doing, she spotted an image.
“Carlos!” She paused the tape quickly, jumped up, and ran to the bedroom door.
Trent’s voice caused her to stop just outside the door. “We should watch first…”
Jenny nodded reluctantly. She wanted to let Tiffany know that they had proof that Carlos was at the store, more to the fact that she was worried about her partners behavior. Ever since she had been at the academy, Tiffany Chambers had been a sort of role model for her. To see that person unsure, and vulnerable had made Jenny start to doubt her beliefs.
She returned to the couch and put the video back to play. She watched as Carlos bought a rather large bouquet of multicolored roses, stopping to talk with the clerk for a few minutes. He walked out of the store, and then his car appeared at the edge of the screen. She leaned forward as a man got into the car.
Trent leaned forward, his attention solely on the screen.
Tiffany tossed on the bed, gasping as vision after vision filled her mind. In one, the one that was the most vivid, she saw Carlos sitting on the floor of a small room, and she started to cry as he realized that he was going to die. The dream flipped to another scene; one of his face when she had first seen him. She reached out to touch him, but he disappeared. She bolted upright in bed, shivering against the certainty that she would never see him again. Tiffany tried to breathe, but found it difficult.
Gabe opened his eyes at the soound, then quickly went to the bed side. “Tiff?”
She looked at him confusion and fright. “Wha??….uh…I’m okay, Gabe...just a dream.” She blinked a few times. “What the hell are you dong in my bedroom!?”
“It’s been a dream of mine,” Gabe quipped as he sat on the bed. “If you want to cry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“Thank you,” Tiffany whispered, a second before she let the tears of hopeless frustration fall.
“Arrrrggghhhhh!” Carlos jumped at the speaker as he yelled, his fingers brushing the metal. “Enough with the noise!!!!”
“What did he tell you?!”
Carlos let loose with a string of Spanish profanity, the type of words that would have earned him a guaranteed months grounding from his mother when he was a child. A few hours previous, he had deduced that he must have received a concussion from the car accident, since he was extremely tired, had a horrific headache, and could not get his thoughts in order.
“What did he tell you?!”
“Is that all you can say?!” Carlos yelled over the noise. “Isn’t it obvious that I don’t know anything????”
“I think that you do know something.”
“What am I suppose to know?” Carlos asked in desperation.
Captain Transerpt walked around his desk and put a comforting hand on the other person’s shoulder. “Take all the time you need,” he said. “You have a few weeks vacation saved up.”
Tiffany nodded softly. “Thanks.”
“Remember…there is nothing to stop you from working with Trent Malloy on finding Carlos. As a P.I., he has the ability to do things that police cannot.”
“I know.” Tiffany stood and walked out of the office.
Jenny looked up from her desk. “You okay?”
“Yeah…I’m booking off for a few weeks,” Tiffany said.
Jenny nodded. “Do you want me to book off, too? Or should I stay here and find out how Dick’s investigation is going.”
Tiffany sighed heavily. “I would appreciate the help, Jenn. But you could do more by staying here.”
Trent rubbed his eyes as he walked down the street. He showed Carlos’ picture to a group of women, and sighed when no one recognized him. He continued on, hoping that there would be at least one person who had seen something. He met up with Gabe Paulson, and the two crossed to the opposite corner.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Gabe said as he held up the picture. “But have you seen this man?”
The elderly woman took the photo and raised it to her eye. “No…what did he do?”
“He’s missing,” Trent said a he took the picture from her.
“Doe this have anything to do with that murder the other night?”
Trent and Gabe exchanged looks. “Yes, ma’am, it does.”
“Did they find the van that forced the car off of the road?”
“Let me sleep!” Carlos yelled at the ceiling. He banged his head against the wall. “Please!”
“What did he tell you?!”
Carlos tried to massage away the tension by rubbing his temples. “I’ve been here for over two days!” he screamed in anger over the clanging noise. “Let me go!” I can’t take this noise much longer! He put his hands over his ears in a vain attempt to block out the sound.
The man watched the screen and smiled. “He’s about ready to break,” he reported. “A few more hours should push him over the edge.”
The woman nodded. “Once he tells us which code Hill passed on, then you may kill him.”
“Of course.” The man paused. “What if he’s telling the truth, and he knows nothing?”
“He knows,” the woman replied. “It’s too much of a coincidence that Hill was with him. Carlos Sandoval is an ex-police detective, and is currently a private investigator.” She shook her head. “No…Professor Hill obviously hired him for protection.”
“Right there!” Trent exclaimed as he paused the video tape. “A black van!” He slowly forwarded the tape. “I can’t make out the plate.”
“I’ll take it in, and get it enlarged,” Jenny said. “They can have it done by tomorrow morning.”
“Why didn’t that woman call the police?” Tiffany asked from her chair beside the couch. “She could have saved us almost three days.”
“She was scared,” Gabe said.
“Scared?” Tiffany repeated in disbelief. “Scared!?” She stood quickly and stormed out of the house, slamming the door on the way.
Tiffany leaned against the railing on the steps and stared at the traffic going by. Scared? She took a small pack out of her pocket, opened it, and withdrew a cigarette. She hesitated, then lit it, coughing as she inhaled deeply.
“Oh, Carlos,” she whispered. “Where are you?” She was silent as she smoked, trying to fight the images that popped into her mind.
It was approximately into his third day of forced sleep deprivation that Carlos finally snapped. He lunged at the speaker when the noise started again, his anger giving him the strength to reach the metal surface. He fell to the floor as the speaker came out of the ceiling, and he stared at it before grounding it into the floor with his heal.
When the speaker was no more than a shattered memory, he leaned against the wall and slowly sank to the floor. “Fuck you!” he yelled at the ceiling. “You’re not going to break me! You hear me!?” He laughed to himself. “Even if the professor told me something, do you think that I would tell you?!?”
He pushed himself against the wall as the door swung open. He waited a few moments for someone to appear, then stood and slowly went to the opening. He stepped out into the hall and looked around. Spotting no one, he set off at a trot. He followed the hallway for ten minutes, before he found an unlocked door. He opened it gratefully, stopping when he saw that it led back to the room that he had been held in. Carlos stared in shock at the walls, trying to fight the desperate tears that threatened to flow.
A man appeared in the doorway. “Ready to discuss why you are here?”
Carlos glared at him, all the frustration and anger he had experienced since being there coming out at once. He jumped at the man, knocking him to the floor. The man pulled a gun out of his jacket and pointed it at Carlos.
Carlos paused for a fraction of a second, then attacked.
Kyle chambers smiled at the person standing in the waiting room outside of his office. He motioned her in, then shut the door behind them. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?” he asked as he took his seat on the other side of the desk.
Tiffany sat down. “I’m here in an official capacity, Kyle.” She leaned forward. “Three days ago Malcolm Hill was murdered.”
“I heard about that,” Kyle said. “Pity…but what does that have to do with me?”
“There was another person in the car…that person is missing,” she said. “Would you know what Professor Hill was working on?”
Kyle leaned back and regarded his ex-wife coolly. “Are you suggesting that we had something to do with this?”
“Not at all, Kyle. But, this company is in direct competition with the company Hill worked for. And, if I remember correctly, you’re usually both working on the same things at the same time.”
“What we do is strictly classified. It wouldn’t do good for me to tell you government secrets, now would it?” Kyle smiled slightly. “Besides, if the other person in the car was caught in the middle, all I can say is…give it a few days, the body will show up.”
Tiffany stared daggers at him, then stood slowly. “What were they working on?”
“Are you all right?” Kyle asked. “You got this…” He stopped as it occurred to him. “The missing person is someone you know?”
Tiffany hesitated, then nodded.
Carlos bent low as he jumped at the man in front of him. He felt, more than heard, the bullet as it whizzed dangerously close to his head. The man’s face registered shock as he pulled the trigger again. The gun was forced out of his hand as Carlos kicked it, then he was slammed to the wall by a full body check.
Carlos stumbled back as he was kicked in the groin, then launched himself at the man. He grabbed his arm as it reached for the gun, and twisted violently. He heard bones snap as the man yelled out in pain, then he brought his knee up and slammed it into the other mans face. The man fell to the floor in a heap.
Carlos knew that he should grab the gun and leave, but the events of the past few days clouded his judgement. He picked up the gun, pointed it at the figure by his feet, and smiled slightly as his finger tightened on the trigger.
Kyle unlocked a door, entered, then closed it. He walked to a file cabinet. “What I am about to show you cannot go any further than this room.” He waited while Tiffany nodded. “For the past few years, we have been trying to find an antidote to a virus. We’re very close, and, we suspect that Hedge Industries is close, too.” He pulled out a file and handed it to her.
“What virus?” Tiffany asked as she opened the file.
“A rather nasty one that was discovered while…some company…was testing out various options for insertion…somewhere.” He leaned against the filing cabinet. “The virus is called Silent Justice, so you can figure out what it was intended for.”
“Did you make it?”
“No…we deal strictly in anti-virus, and antidotes…you know that.” He looked at her. “This missing person…”
Kyle nodded. “I hope you find him.” He reached out and took the file back.
The gun moved slightly as Carlos pulled the trigger. He stared at the body, then his gaze moved to the hole in the wall a mere inch above the mans head. He sighed at what he had almost done.
The man on the floor moaned slightly and opened his eyes. He jumped slightly at the site of an extremely angry face staring at him from behind the barrel of the gun. He moved back against the wall.
“Why am I here.” The voice was dangerously low and even.
The man stayed silent as he watched the gun move towards his face.
Carlos bent down and grabbed him by the front of the shirt, dragging him to his feet. He slammed him against the wall and shoved the gun into his face. “Why am I here.”
“You really don’t know, do you?” the man finally said.
Intense anger flashed across Carlos’ face. “What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to tell you?!” he yelled. He brought his hand back and slammed it into the man’s face, breaking his nose. All judgement was gone from his brain as Carlos continued attacking the man.
Reason finally broke through the haze, and he stopped, letting the body fall back to the floor. He looked at his bloody hands, and slowly fell to his knees. Carlos put his hands against the sides of his head, and rocked back and forth.
“Oh, God,” he mumbled. “Oh, God…no, no, no, no.” As the past three days came crashing down on him all at once, a noise started in the back of his throat; and he stared at his hand as a primal scream emerged from his lips.
TO BE CONTINUED......