Shadows around me, shadows above me
Never conceal my Savior and Guide;
He is the light, in Him is no darkness,
Ever I’m walking close to His side.
written by Henry J. Zelley
Ryan McFadden looked at each of the men gathered around the large boardroom table. He searched the familiar faces for any sign of the unease that sat so heavy in his gut. When he didn’t find any, he began to question his own ability to judge the situation. Still, he couldn’t just keep silent.
Leaning forward, he rested his forearms on the file laying open in front of him on the table. “Does no one else find this situation suspicious?”
“What’s causing you concern?” Marcus Black asked, his intense blue gaze settling on Ryan.
When he’d first met the man, that gaze had made Ryan want to squirm, but now, it just lit a fire within him to prove his point to Marcus’s satisfaction.
“They have basically requested that all of our top team be present for this mission. Normally we don’t have such specific requests. Maybe for one or two people, sure, but so many? If something should happen to derail this mission—and I’m beginning to think it will—it would decimate the company.” Ryan glanced around the table. “And we know that there are plenty of people who would be happy to see that happen.”
Marcus didn’t say anything, but he kept his gaze on Ryan as if considering his words. Finally, he gave a nod and turned to Alex Thorpe, the co-founder of BlackThorpe Security. “I see what you’re saying, Ryan, but I trust the recommendation. We’ve done plenty of work with Yazen Halibi before. He has never given us any cause for concern.”
“True. But we must not totally trust him,” Ryan stated. “After all, we do keep him under modified surveillance even when we’re not working with him.”
Again, Marcus nodded. “Which is why I feel confident in this mission.”
Ryan tried to take comfort in the words, but he just couldn’t. “And Evan Gallagher?”
“He’s a bit more of a mystery.” This time it was Alex who spoke. “But we’ve done an extensive check on him. The only thing we found of significance in his life is that his wife recently left him. Other than that, his finances appear to be in good order, and his business is flourishing, not just in the US but also around the world. We found no indication that he’s anything but on the up and up.”
“Still, it is a bit odd how they’re calling the shots personnel-wise.” This came from Trent Hause, their head computer tech. “I know we’re taking extra people of our choosing, but Gallagher has been rather vocal about wanting the best.”
“Of course he wants the best,” Connor Mackenzie said. The man was a great strategist. A pro at planning missions that got BlackThorpe teams in and out of precarious situations without injury or loss. “From what we’ve dug up on him, he’s a well-respected businessman who takes care of his employees. Plus, he’s paying a fortune for this rescue.”
“How has this kidnapping not triggered the news or some sort of report?” Tyler Harris asked. Like Connor, he’d married one of Alex Thorpe’s sisters, and Ryan considered Tyler one of his best friends in the Twin Cities.
“Gallagher said that they were instructed to not involve any sort of authorities.”
“So just pay them,” Than Miller said with a shrug. “If they’ve got the money to pay us, they should just pay the kidnappers.”
Ryan often worked with Than when it was necessary to interview people. Than was a language expert—which was why he was going on the mission—and Ryan had a knack for reading body language. Working together, they were often able to gain valuable insight that others on the team might have missed.
“You know the answer to that, Than,” Alex said with an exasperated shake of his head. “Paying the kidnappers provides an incentive for them to kidnap from that company again. This way, we go in, retrieve Gallagher’s people, and leave the kidnappers with a reminder of why they don’t mess with Gallagher.”
Ryan thought back to the meeting they’d had with Evan Gallagher. The man had been charismatic and charming, even as he’d showed himself to be very concerned about the situation and his kidnapped employees. Ryan had only been an observer in that meeting, watching for signs of deception, but there had been nothing glaring about the man that had tripped Ryan’s senses.
When it came right down to it, the only thing tripping his senses was the man’s insistence that he wanted the best personnel BlackThorpe Security had to offer. In Ryan’s mind, the only smart thing about the mission was that Marcus and Alex were going to stay behind. If the worst should happen—God forbid—they would at least be available to keep things on track.
“Any more questions or concerns?” Marcus asked.
Ryan closed his eyes for a moment then looked around the table again. Most were shaking their heads, though now he could see that a couple of them had looks that made him think that what he’d said had given them something to consider.
“Okay. Wheels up on Saturday at oh-six-hundred. Make sure all equipment is ready to go.” Alex got to his feet. “Let’s pray before we dismiss and ask for God’s blessing on this mission, and safety and wisdom for everyone involved.”
Each of them stood and bowed their heads. Several of the men prayed before Alex closed, and then they all headed out of the boardroom for their respective offices. Ryan and Tyler fell into step as they headed for the elevator that would take them to the floor where their offices were located.
“Are you really concerned about this mission?” Tyler asked as he pressed the button for their floor.
As the doors slid closed, Ryan leaned back against the wall of the elevator and crossed his arms. “I don’t know why, but yeah, I’m a bit…concerned.”
Tyler frowned as the elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open so they could step out. “I hate the idea of leaving Melanie right now as it is. I trust your gut, which makes me even more reluctant to leave her. She’s only two months along, but she’s not happy that I’m heading off.”
“Maybe she needs to take it up with her brother. I can’t believe that Adrianne is any happier with the idea of sending her husband on this mission either, what with her baby only being a few months old.”
Tyler sighed and nodded. “I’m sure that’s true, but since this mission got the green light, I don’t think there’s anything stopping it now, short of the people being released before we leave.”
Ryan couldn’t argue with that. Once he’d left Tyler at his office, he headed for his own, already trying to get his mind in gear for the mission ahead. It had been a few months since he’d last been sent out, but, unlike most the others on the team, he didn’t require any special equipment to do his part. His was a mental preparation, and with the unnerved feeling in his gut, Ryan was struggling to keep focused.
When he got home later that day, Ryan headed for the fridge to grab a soda before he sank down on the couch with his tablet. He sat for a moment before tapping the screen, then waited for the connection to be made. It didn’t take long for his brother’s face to appear on the screen.
Ryan had four days until he left. Four days during which he planned to touch base with each and every member of his family. He didn’t want to be fatalistic, but he’d rather leave with the knowledge that he’d told each of them that he loved them. If the worst happened, he hoped that their conversations would be a positive memory in the midst of the grief.
Usually, Ryan was happy to be right. As one of ten children, he’d always taken great delight in being right and being able to hold it over his siblings’ heads. So yeah, in every other circumstance, he wanted to be right. Except for this time. Except for this situation.
The pain in his head was rivaled only by the throbbing of his back as he shivered in the cold, dark room. Ryan shifted on the firm mattress that lay on the hard cement floor, groaning as his mind came fully alert. How many days had it been? Or was it weeks now? It felt like ages since he’d seen the sunlight. He didn’t know if it was day or night.
What he did know was that he was alone.
The first time he’d gained consciousness, most of the team had still been together, but gradually, the others had been taken away. He’d wake up and discover another one or two were gone. His heart ached with the thought of what might be happening to his co-workers. His friends. Many were husbands. Some were fathers. All were sons, and possibly brothers. Each one was important to someone, and now he had no idea what had happened to them.
When he’d eventually woken up and found himself alone, he’d cried for the first time. Ryan wanted to hope for the best, but the reality was, quite possibly some, if not all of them, might be gone. Why had he been left until last? Had the others been released? Had they been hurt? Or worse?
Ryan had no idea how many days he had been alone, with only scraps of food and sips of water. Beaten for information that he didn’t have. Which, when he allowed himself to think about it too much, didn’t make any sense.
Each time he came to consciousness, Ryan struggled to piece together what had happened. How they’d gotten from the house they had rented—one that Alex and Marcus had insisted on arranging themselves at the last minute—to a darkened cell.
He had no idea how many times he’d been moved. Or if he’d been moved at all. He just knew there were times when he woke up feeling drugged, like he had the very first time. Now when he woke to darkness, it was hard to know if it was a different location or not. All he knew was that when he spoke into the darkness, asking who was in the room with him, there had been fewer and fewer responses each time.
He tensed when he heard a rattle and then the squeak of hinges. No light flooded the room, but it sounded like someone had entered the cell. Ryan blinked, trying to see something—anything—as he struggled to push himself up to a sitting position. Pain shot through his back as he moved, and it took everything within him to not cry out.
There was a metal clatter near his leg, and a gruff voice told him to eat. He waited until the person had left him alone before he reached for the plate. The food was foreign to him, and it had taken some time to get used to the spices, but he’d forced himself to eat it knowing he needed it for strength, and he appreciated its warmth in the cold of the room where he was confined. Unfortunately, there was always a risk that what they gave him to eat or drink was laced with something.
Once the plate was empty, he lifted the metal cup and took small sips. The water tasted odd, but he didn’t know if it was the spices from the food or just how the water in that location tasted. But it didn’t really matter as he still drank it, knowing he needed to keep from getting dehydrated.
But as an overwhelming desire to sleep overcame him, Ryan wondered if maybe the funny taste of the water came from something else entirely. He fought sleep as hard as he could, but whatever was in the water worked its way into his bloodstream, pulling him under despite his best efforts to stay awake.