A Life Apart
Chapter 32: Standing in Light (pg. 147)
Paxton had barely disembarked at the DC airport when an officer accosted him. “Mr. Paxton, the general is expecting you. Please come with me.” Much to Paxton’s surprise, his escort led him away from the exits, down lengthy corridors and out onto the tarmac where a helicopter was stationed at ready. As they approach, it fired up its engines. The officer assisted Paxton into his seat, and they immediately took off for the Pentagon. There were no words spoken. His escort, the pilot, and navigator all seemed to be acting routinely, while Paxton squirmed in his seat, anxious to find out the reason for this dignitary-like treatment.
When they finally arrived at the Pentagon, Paxton was whisked through a maze of hallways, elevators and card-accessed doors into the inner sanctum of military intelligence and command. It was only last night, he recalled, that he had told Eli and Mirabelle about his plan to see the general. Now he was being led into the general’s private office. In previous visits he had met with the general in conference rooms with aides standing by. Here he found himself shaking the man’s hand and taking a seat opposite his desk.
General Perry presently resumed his seat and eyed Paxton in a cold, matter-of-fact manner. “Your visit is timely. But first I want to know why you asked to see me?”
Paxton couldn’t imagine why his visit would be considered “timely.” But he could tell by the tone of the general’s question that he was being held accountable for something, but for what? So far, nothing about this trip had been customary. What had started out as his initiative was now somehow anticipated, perhaps even expected. He decided to get to the point, beginning with the surprise encounter he had with Millie Ward in the garage. The matter of the check required him to elaborate on his relationship with Ms. Ward and his belief that she was the unwitting tool of some nefarious agent. Initially, he explained, he had believed her story about foreign investors. However, since the sabotaging of Solvetur’s systems via its own intranet, and the events involving his wife and son, he realized how badly he had underestimated Ms. Ward and the people backing her. Then he showed the general the envelope that had been slipped into his company’s mail.
While the general perused the envelope’s contents, Paxton continued in a rather defensive tone, “As you’ll probably agree, the check has been doctored. The amount has been changed from what I originally wrote. Besides, I don’t carry that much money in my checking account. I’m sure you have the capability to verify that. I already told you what happened in the garage, so her leaning on me was premeditated for the purpose of snapping something that at least looked compromising.”
“So this is why you asked to meet with me: your failure to tell us about your meeting with Ms. Ward and about this recent blackmail attempt.”
“Yes, partly, but mainly I’m worried about my family. I’ve come to ask you for more protection for them. I don’t care what you might do to me for my mistakes in judgment. I know I’ve been slow to look beyond our contract—what it means for Solvetur and all.”
“So when did you come to the conclusion that your family was endangered?”
“Yesterday, when I received this envelope and its threat . . . well, really, when I talked with my daughter and her boyfriend last night.”
“Interesting.” The general rose and came out from behind his desk. Sitting opposite Paxton, he studied him for a long time, apparently assessing him and the words he was about to utter. “John . . . may I call you John?”
“Certainly, sir.” Paxton felt uneasy for he felt something ominous in the general’s words and actions.
“While you were in transit here, Dr. Eli Grey was assaulted and your daughter was kidnapped.”
Paxton stared at the general in disbelief. He could feel his heart beating. The room suddenly seemed to collapse around him, entrapping him in his own fear and anxiety. “’Wha’ . . . what happened? Do you have leads? Who’s working on finding her?”
“We don’t have any leads. In fact, we have almost no information on the events of her kidnapping. We’ve lost several valuable hours. When our agent failed to report in, a team was sent out to investigate. We found him in his car, dead. Dr. Grey was also found in the garage, slumped over his steering wheel. He barely had a heart beat when we recovered him.”
“Is he going to be alright?”
“He should be fine. I’m waiting for his testimony. He was shot in the back with a tranquilizer gun. He had enough in him to put down a horse. I understand he has regained consciousness and is talking now. But I have a question for you regarding the condition in which we found him. Apparently, he intended to make contact with our agent on the scene when he was attacked. We found a note in his coat pocket with a list of items he wanted to share with us. Unfortunately, our man exposed himself with an easily identifiable routine—his morning Starbuck’s coffee. We found cyanide in his coffee. As a result, the kidnappers could approach Dr. Grey and your daughter without any interference from us. They did not, however, uncover that note. Do you know what that note contained?”
“I have no idea.”
“Did you know that your daughter and her boyfriend had contacted Ms. Ward by phone and planned to meet with her?”
“No, I can’t believe that. They knew I would have opposed such an act. Mirabelle had told me she had Chloe’s, I mean Millie Ward’s, phone number. And it’s true we discussed the possibility of meeting with her. We thought it possible that she could be persuaded to clear her name by coming forward and revealing who’s behind this whole affair. But I had nixed the idea and came to you folks instead, to ask you to beef up your security net around my family. I felt I had already compromised my relation with the Pentagon by not disclosing my unexpected encounter in the garage. I didn’t want to make matters worse by contacting her on my own initiative. Also, I became apprehensive about using my daughter as an intermediary.”
“Apparently, they didn’t take your admonition seriously. We suspected something when they tried to evade our agents, sneaking out the back exit of a theater. GPS tracked them to Larkspur. But when we got there, they were scurrying back to their car. We think they tried to make contact and were unsuccessful. They seemed frightened by something. They may have been threatened. For we also know from Dr. Grey’s notes that attempts had been made to discover your daughter’s health issues, even to the extent of breaking into Dr. Grey’s office and reading her file. Do you know anything about this?”
“No, of course not! If they had told me, I would have come to you sooner.”
Again, the general studied Paxton closely. “John, I’m a father too. I feel you’re being honest with me. So I’m going to tell you what else we found with Dr. Grey and ask for your cooperation.” The general rose and returned to his desk. He opened a folder marked “Top Secret.” While perusing it, he said, “On Dr. Grey’s lap we found a package addressed to you. I can’t tell you what was in it, at least not yet. Serious national security interests are involved here. They may compel us to require your help in resolving this matter.”
“If ‘resolving this matter’ means recovering my daughter safely, then I will do everything I can to help you.” This time it was Paxton’s turn to assess the general’s intent. He stood up and leaned forward, placing both hands on the general’s desk. “If you’re thinking to protect whatever plans the Pentagon has at the expense of my daughter, then I’m not your man. I want to know that everything possible is being done to find her and deliver her safely to her family.”
“Sit down, John. You needn’t worry. Your goals and ours totally correlate. We want to find your daughter’s kidnappers as much as you do. Since this is a kidnapping case, we’ve already enlisted the help of the FBI. But for national security reasons, we’ll maintain operational control. In other words, this investigation and its eventual outcome will be administered under strict non-disclosure rules. What that means is that neither you nor Dr. Grey can talk about this kidnapping until the matter is resolved. Do you understand?”