Atalanta's Story Continued: Reaching Home Chapter 22

Guys this is a short chapter but it seemed like a good place to stop. I have the same flutter of nerves that I had with the very 1st chapter I posted way back when maybe because it has been almost a year. That and I have a brain injury that makes sequencing difficult means that I don't really understand parent child tree relationship works. So I'm liable to get it out of order and have to get Erin to help me. After I get a semblance of a schedule going then I can sort of mimic what I need to do.

I want to thank Ashleigh for pushing through her illness to finish editing what I've written and I also want to thank all of you that wrote and asked about Atalanta and apologize for the sometimes slow replies. I do hope you all enjoy the chapter, story, and the rest of her (mis) adventures as it unfolds. This will be the last book in the Whateley world and I now know the direction I want for her.

But now to this chapter not a lot action wise happens, information is gathered, characters are staged for action that happens in subsequent characters. If the good Lord is willing and the creeks don't rise I'll have another chapter posted no later than Wednesday and another next weekend. The previous chapter has the trio arriving in town with Manny and Atalanta dining with a former contact in General and Mrs Nelson where the girls are kidnapped from the parking lot.

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Manny looked at the round face wall clock above the old fashion water fountain. Its hands pointed straight up and down, the minute hand ticking each 60 seconds off clicking loudly in the sudden silence. The four of them were absorbed in their own private thoughts. General Nelson sat behind the desk, to his right Frank Wright, the agency’s top investigator, sat at one end of the desk. Manny sat facing the General with Sam on his left.

It had been a busy but mostly ineffective four hours since the abduction of Atalanta and Mrs. Nelson and they had learned very little in the meantime. Manny called Sam, who had taken a cab to the restaurant, and together they followed Anthony Nelson and Wright to the nondescript building that they were located at.

It was an unremarkable brick and block structure built in the early 60s and served many functions, factory, warehouse, business offices until it was quietly bought a decade later. The chain-link fence and concertina wire appeared normal although if someone were to look close the infrared detectors and the alarm panel hidden by the large old fashion padlock on the gate might give one pause to reflect. The parking lot remained uncluttered even on a night like tonight.

“Damnit why don’t they call,” General Nelson slammed his hand down on the desk shattering the silence. Manny wondered who they referred to; the kidnappers or the field agents working leads. They had decided to not call the police but to use police assets and federal IDs to gain access to the restaurant’s security tapes.

“Give it time,” Manny answered without looking up, “I still believe we’ll hear from Atalanta first.”

The older man ran his hands through his thinning hair, “We both have looked at the tapes; these people are professionals. No matter how good she is Atalanta is still not yet 15.”

“You’re right about her age but you saw the tape; you saw that she damn near forced them to take her with them,” Manny drawled. “You’re correct that they are professionals but Atalanta diagnosed and responded in the same instant. That’s something you just can’t teach.”

“Washington is a city of contrasts attracting some of the best and some of the worst low life scum that will cut their own mother’s throat and not lose a minutes sleep afterward. These are well trained professional killers and assassins.”

Manny stood, his neck tendons throbbing, “It wasn’t me, Atalanta, or your wife they want but you. Does this have anything to do with whatever you were going to tell me tonight?”

“No, I don’t think so as that is early in the planning phase, hell it just an outline at this stage.”

“Okay, why don’t we go over everything again,” Inspector Wright suggested. General Nelson’s intercom chirped interrupting any response.

“Yes,” he spoke into the receiver.

“We have a group at the gate demanding entrance. They said they were called.”

Manny reached over the desk and pushed the intercom talk button, “Mark Rivers and Short Executive Services.”

“Yeah that’s them,” came the tinny reply.

“I called them; let them in.”

Pushing Manny’s hand to the side, the commander depressed the button, “This is General Nelson; let them in.”

Three pairs of questioning eyes turned to Manny, “Damn I forgot to say I called these guys in. I served with many of them and have used their consulting services before.They have their own network of contacts and they know their way around the city. I trust these guys in any foxhole anywhere, and they know Atalanta.”

A few minutes passed before the door opened to admit a small squad of grim, hard, and effective looking men.

“Mark,” Manny greeted their leader, “damn you guys made good time.”

“Hey, we dropped what we were doing and came a running. We all told Atalanta we had her back and we meant it.”

Manny introduced Mark to General Nelson, to Frank Wright, and to Sam who had seen them the day Atalanta was escorted into the school grounds.

“The rest of your guys can introduce themselves as we go along. We were just going to review everything we’ve learned so far so your timing is perfect. Another set of eyes might see something we missed.”

They then trooped down the hall; going deeper into the building,turning a corner and then walking through a door into a conference room large enough to seat 25 people comfortably at a long table that dominated the center of the room. Rows of office chairs lined both sides of the table amid half a dozen open laptops at scattered intervals. Recessed lighting, three overhead giant screen monitors and blue lighting from laptops combined to cast the room in an eerie other-worldly glow.

The group gathered around a technician seated at a computer at the far end. Quickly occupying all of the empty office chairs which required three of the Boston guys finding folding chairs to complete the seating arrangements.

Manny sat beside the technician running the graphics, “Cory how about bringing up the front entrance footage.”

Cory’s fingers curled around the mouse bring the laptop and the nearest widescreen to life. The camera looking out from the business caught the ebb and flow of diners.

“Can you pause it?” Mark asked Cory after the guys had left the women to retrieve the vehicles. He nodded freezing the image instantly.

“What distances are we looking at?”

“This is a wide angle lens so it is not as far as it looks—20-25 yards of the walk and about 5 yards wide,” the technician explained.

“So this is not valet parking.”

“As a rule no,” Anthony answered then clarified, “but on special catered events they do. This is a place is for fine eating but not as a rule for formal dining.”

“Any sound with this footage?”

“Sorry, no there isn’t.”

“I heard Atalanta scream,” Manny divulged, seated beside Mark, “But I was too far away to help.”

“I assume there is footage of other angles. Have you synchronized them yet? ”

Nodding Cory brought up each view on split screens showing the restaurant entrance from different angles. The footage showed Atalanta warning Mrs. Nelson to run before either man fully emerged from behind the hedgerow lining the curb. They all saw Mrs. Nelson grabbed by her waist and dragged into the car with the outline of a gun pressed to her head followed a split-second later by the headlong rush of Atalanta and the second thug.

“Can you back that up,” Mark asked his attention on the screen, “it looks like the car was a Mercedes and I believe the last guy has a ponytail.”

“Good eye Mark, correct on both counts.”

“Does he show up in any earlier footage?”

Cory brought up still shots showing that guy or his doppelganger in the parking lot near two identical looking Mercedes.

“Can you show stills of all three cars?”

“Sure,” and seconds later the three vehicles appeared side-by-side.

“Mercedes did a design change in ’06; these are the older models, makes sense too there are more of them on the road,” Mark observed. “Probably both vehicles are involved as well;one as the blocker or decoy vehicle.”

“That’s what we thought too,” Manny echoed. “Before you ask I got a partial ID; it’s a Virginia plate and one of three counties.”

“They’ll probably use reflector lens or paint to defeat license plate readers; that’s what I’d do.”

Manny nodded, “We got a few hits on I-66 going north some on the Beltway going in the same direction. But none of the hits were of a Mercedes…at least of the ones we’ve identified.”

“How many you figure?”

“Four were in the car,” Manny answered, “add two more in another car making six people total.”

“Seven,” Mark turned to the General, “Excuse me if this has been flagged, but your wife is obviously the target and even if you have standing reservations for every Saturday night somebody somewhere had to identify her. That occurred either at the restaurant or on your end General.”

Silence greeted Mark’s observation as the logic of his assertion sunk in.

“We did run background checks on the restaurant employees; nothing out of the ordinary turned up there. I trust my staff implicitly.”

“What about landscape people, groundskeepers, cleaning services, drivers, handymen, pool services any contract or part time people you employ?”

“None of those people have access to our schedule,” Nelson interjected.

“But they might have planted electronic surveillance.”

The General’s eyes widened and a collective sigh escaped as he withdrew his phone from a coat pocket.

“General,” Mark hissed placing his forefinger to his lips, “just order a covert electronic general sweep; there’s no need, for now, to let them know that we know and we might intercept some network traffic.”

“Good idea,” he nodded relaying the order adding, “If we find I’ve been bugged some of us might need to relocate to my home and see what we can stir up.”

“That’s not a bad idea General,” Manny speculated. “Mark, what have you been doing since last we talked…anything exciting?”

“Quiet as an altar call, that last excitement was…I dunno’…I seem to recall some wannabe callin’ and askin’; would I escort a young lady from the train depot to her hotel? Said she’s a sheep among the wolves an’ would I keep her from beein’ shorn,” Mark drawled a lopsided grin spreading despite his best efforts to remain stoic, “Turns out we were there to save Boston from her not her from Boston’s perils. And if that wasn’t enough for our ne’er do well he next decides to turn her loose on the swamp that is the nation’s capital,” slapping Manny on his shoulder.

“Speaking of a wannabe, this wannabe couldn’t even see her safely on a train.”

“Yeah, yeah, what’s your excuse?”

“Touché!”

The General despite his distress leaned forward nodding his head at the exchange of banter between the two warriors. That they liked and respected each other showed in their words and actions. That they also drove several hundred miles on a moment’s notice bode well for Atalanta’s character as well.

The germ of the idea he was presenting to Manny after dinner solidified its parameters in his mind. But he frowned; his wife and Atalanta needed rescuing first. In any crime involving missing persons, the first 24 hours are crucial and a quarter of that time had already passed with very little to go on.

They needed something to happen and soon.

Again this is a short chapter but two more should follow this week. Comments and kudos are welcomed and appreciated and I'll do my best to answer any questions.



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