Story by Maya Perez
The phone rang loudly in the cool darkness. Jun sat up, eyes half closed, and reached automatically towards her nightstand for her wrist activator. It wasn't until the phone rang again that her sleep muddled mind figured out what had really awakened her.
Stifling a yawn, Jun glanced at the softly glowing numbers on her alarm clock. Her eyes widened, her mind suddenly more alert, as she saw that it was past four in the morning. She reached out to grab the phone before it could ring a fourth time.
"Hello?" Her mind raced trying to guess who might be calling at this hour. Had Joe gotten in a bar fight again? Maybe Ken had wrecked his plane in one of his infrequent night deliveries. Jun held her breath as she waited to find out.
"Jun? Oh, thank God! I didn't know what to do. You were the first person I could think of. I didn't know who else to call. I'm so confused! God I'm so glad you're there. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't. I…"
Jun fought to comprehend the rush of words as she only too clearly understood the panic and fear in her friend's voice. "Loraine, slow down! You're not making any sense." The rush of words from the other end slowed. "Take a deep breath and start over."
Loraine's gasping breaths echoed across the line as she stopped and tried to gather her thoughts. "It's - it's my father. I think something terrible has happened to him. I don't know what to do. I'm so scared for him, Jun…" Loraine's voice caught in her throat and turned into a sob.
"Loraine, tell me where you are. Loraine?"
Frayed sobbing continued on the end other end of the line.
"Loraine, I can't help if I don't know where you are. I can come right over."
Jun waited patiently as she heard her friend trying to stop long enough to speak.
"I'm, I'm sorry, Jun. I'm at home, at my father's house, not, not at the apartment. The address is… oh, I can't think!" Her voice sounded ragged.
"That's okay. Just keep taking deep breaths and take your time. Everything will be all right." Jun's mind raced as she talked, trying to figure out what could have happened.
"Um, 2440 Slice Street, off the East Avenue exit from 35 north. Please hurry."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Just hold on, okay?"
Loraine gave a soft sniffle. "Thanks, Jun, I really appreciate this."
"No problem." Jun hung up and rushed out of bed.
Quickly grabbing her bell bottom jeans and a t-shirt, she slipped out of her nightgown and got dressed. Halfway to the door, she turned back around and grabbed her wrist activator from the nightstand and put it on.
Jun knew that Loraine was not apt to exaggerate, though most people didn't take her seriously. At her age, the normal populace tended to think unflattering things about those in her profession. It didn't belittle her in Jun's eyes, however, that Loraine had chosen to pursue a singing career at sixteen. It was one of the things Jun had seriously contemplated trying if she'd not had her commitment to the team. The Wildcats, as Loraine's group called themselves, had done a number of gigs at the Snak J. Jun thought they were quite good and might actually make big someday. Loraine was a sweet kid and very responsible. Most not in the know, though, didn't believed that, never able to see past her mode of dress.
Jun hurried down the hallway, pausing only long enough to venture a quick glance into her brother's room. She smiled fondly, as she spotted Jinpei in his bed, the blankets wrapped around him as if trying to hold him while his skinny rear prominently sat up in the air for all to see. With any luck, she’d be back before he even realized she was gone.
Quietly, Jun closed his door and then quickly followed the stairs into the coffee shop below. Moving through the familiar darkness, Jun made her way out a side door in the kitchen and into the garage. Smacking a shin against Jinpei's buggy's bumper, Jun hobbled around it until she reached her bike.
Jun triggered the remote for the garage door even as she settled into the motorcycle's curved seat. She got the engine running and zoomed out into the alley before the door had a chance to open completely.
The bike sped as fast as Jun thought she could get away with. She cursed softly at every red light that got in her path, the panic in Loraine’s voice urging her to go faster. As soon as she made it onto the entry ramp of the highway, she opened the throttle and streaked down the straight road.
From Loraine's directions, Jun gathered that her father lived a good distance from downtown out in Utoland's suburbs. It took her over twenty minutes to get there even at her speeds. And the more she thought about their conversation, the more concerned Jun became.
As she came up to the house, Jun skidded her cycle to a halt in the driveway. She ran up to the door, her heart slamming in her chest. She thought to pound on the door, but forced herself to settle for the doorbell instead. She couldn't believe this was making her so rattled.
Jun stood in the darkness of the entryway for several minutes, her anxiety increasing as she was forced to wait. By all rights, Loraine should have jerked the door open the moment she'd stopped in the driveway. Had something else gone wrong?
The porch light came on, forcing Jun to blink against the glare. About a minute later, the door slowly creaked open before her.
"Loraine?" Jun squeezed inside the moment the door had opened wide enough.
The sixteen year old tried to smile as Jun came into the foyer. Long blond hair colored with bright neon red streaks accentuated her unusually pale face even as dark rivers of black mascara stained her cheeks. Jun could see marks where the mascara had been wiped on Loraine's soft leather clothes. The small golden bells at the shoulders and ankles rang mutely as Loraine stared at the floor.
"I got here as quickly as I could. Are you all right?"
"S - sure, I'm fine. Just fine…" Loraine tried to smile at her again even as her eyes would not meet Jun's own.
Jun got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach as Loraine just stood there the silence stretching between them. Her friend only smiled a fake smile and didn't invite Jun further into the house.
Not sure what had happened in the time that it had taken her to get here, Jun moved to go past her to see for herself. Loraine immediately stepped to block her path.
"No! Jun, wait!" Loraine sounded desperate. She clung fiercely to Jun's arm to stop her from going further.
"What's going on? I thought you wanted my help?" Jun tried to read Loraine's face but couldn't make heads or tails of it. What was this about?
Loraine avoided Jun's questioning gaze. "I'm sorry, Jun. I really am." Her eyes darted around the tiled floor. "I made a mistake. I really shouldn't have bothered you. I didn't say, didn't say anything because I just couldn't find a way to tell you what a fool I'd made of myself." She looked up at Jun for a moment and then quickly looked away.
"I, I overreacted. I thought that something had happened to my father but I was wrong. That's all there's to it really. I'm so very sorry to have dragged you out all the way up here at this time of night. I - I promise that it will never happen again."
The plastic smile came on again as Loraine visibly forced herself to look at Jun. Everything she did only made Jun feel ever more anxious. Something was very wrong here -- very wrong. Jun tried not to let her feelings show on her face. "Don't worry about it, I didn’t mind all that much. Besides, I'll remember it when it's time to figure out your fee next time you play at the Snack J."
Loraine looked visibly relieved.
"Though," Jun added, "since I'm already here, would you mind if I stayed a while? It's been such a long while since we've had a chance to talk after all."
Loraine's plastic smile started to falter amidst what looked like a wild wave of panic. "I, I would love that, but it's so late. It was a really rough night with the gig and all and then all this stupid panicking on my part. It's worn me out. All I want to do is go to bed and pass out. Do you mind? I know all of this is my fault, but still… Maybe I could make it up to you later? Come visit you at the Snack J on Saturday?"
Jun frowned inside all her instincts insisting that something was amiss here. "Sure, that'd be great." She smiled as if she could see nothing of Loraine's obvious distress. "I'm just glad that nothing was wrong after all."
Jun turned to go out the door. She hesitated just outside before Loraine had a chance to close it. "If you ever do need someone to talk to though, whether it's for something silly or not, you can call me, okay?"
Loraine hid her face behind the door but not before Jun caught a glimpse of the tears gathering there. "Sure, Jun, if I ever need to talk to someone, you'll be the first person I call."
"Good night, Loraine. Say hello to your father for me."
"I - I will. Good night. Sorry about the trouble..." Loraine closed the door.
Jun stared at it for a moment, the back of her neck prickling as she felt herself under someone's stare. Not letting it show, Jun returned to her bike and got ready to go.
She left Loraine's father's driveway and drove out for another block before pulling over to the side of the street. Jun turned off her lights, leaving the motor running, until she was sure that no one had followed behind her. She then shut the motor off as well. Satisfied that she was alone, Jun left the bike and stealthily began making her way back towards 2440 Slice Street.
Watching from the neighbors’ yard, Jun looked for any signs of movement before dashing over to the cover of the bushes planted close to the windows of Loraine's father's house. Her senses alert, she waited for any signs that she might have been spotted.
When nothing happened, Jun clung as close to the brick walls as possible and inched silently towards the window where a light was shinning through. Once there, Jun bid her time raising herself up until she could take an unobtrusive peek inside.
The window looked in on the house's living room, and it was a total shambles. Broken furniture and papers lay strewn randomly everywhere. It was obvious now why Loraine hadn't let her go further into the house. One look at this and there would have been no doubt at all that something wasn't right here. That someone had gone to such lengths of destructive violence also ruled out that the incident was in anyway minor.
Loraine stood at the end of the room wringing her hands as she paced back and forth a look of utter misery on her face. Jun didn't hear the phone as it rang, but guessed it had done so as Loraine pounced upon it almost dropping the receiver in her haste to bring it to her ear.
Jun saw her say but two words before tears welled in Loraine's eyes and streamed down her face.
Jun needed no further confirmation. She was sure now that someone had coerced Loraine into turning her away. Whoever was responsible for this had no idea who they were dealing with. No one ever got rid of the Swan so easily, not if she could help it!
Filled with a slow simmering anger at the pain she could see being inflicted on her friend, Jun pulled away from the window and inched her way back down. Hiding once more amidst the bushes, she flattened herself on the slightly moist ground and made herself as invisible as possible. She had a feeling she might be in for a long wait.
Several hours later, Jun almost jumped out of her skin as her wrist activator beeped in the early morning stillness.
"G-3 here," she whispered.
"Neechan, where are you? You didn’t leave me a note or anything!" Her brother sounded annoyed. "I thought it was your turn to open the Snack J."
"Jinpei, keep it down!"
When Jinpei spoke again, his voice was much quieter. "Neechan, what are you up to?"
Jun sighed. This was all she needed. "I'm not up to anything. I'm sorry I didn't leave you a note, but at the time I didn't think of it. I promise to make it up to you. I'm sorry." She was giving in too much and she knew it.
"Are you trying to get rid of me, neechan?" He sounded hurt. "You're out there doing something fun, aren’t you…"
Jun sighed again. "Jinpei, listen to me. I'm trying to help out a friend. She desperately needs somebody to lean on right now. I'm not sure how long it'll take so don’t expect me back real soon. Please don't call me again unless it's an emergency. I'll explain everything when I see you, okay?"
"I could help, neechan, I could." His voice had picked up a bit. "I could bring over some food. That always cheers people up."
"No, Jinpei. Thanks for offering, but no."
"Can I tell the others if they ask?"
Why would he ask her that? "I - I would prefer if you didn't mention it."
"Hah! I knew you were up to something, neechan. You're only this tight lipped when you're doing something I'd like to be doing too."
Jun grimaced not sure how she'd talk him out of this without wasting a lot of time.
"I'll be good though." He didn't sound happy. "I'll stay here and take care of the Snack J even though it's not my turn and I'd rather be doing whatever it is you're doing. So don’t worry about me. Everybody likes to leave me out of everything."
"Jinpei, it really isn't like that. And it means an awful lot to me that you're helping me at the Snack J. Really."
"Okay, but neechan?"
"Call me a little later so that I know you're okay, please?"
Jun could have hugged him right then and there. "I will, I promise. Good bye."
It was close to eight in the morning when Jun tensed as she heard the front door to the house open. Looking through the bushes, Jun almost didn't recognize Loraine as she moved onto the driveway.
Loraine's long blond hair had been washed, all traces of her tell-tail neon red streaks gone. The leather clothes had been replaced by a bright mauve dress and sensible shoes. The stage make-up was gone, letting Loraine's natural loveliness shine through. Her unsupported beauty made her look even younger than her years.
Jun made herself move as Loraine unlocked the garage and raised the door. As soon as she was out of sight, Jun dashed across the driveway hightailing it towards her bike a block away. She chewed herself out mentally as she ran down the sidewalk like a madwoman. For no good reason, she had assumed that the problem would come to them not the other way around. As she ran, Jun fervently wished she'd taken the risk of brining the bike closer to the house.
As soon as she got close enough, Jun leapt for her bike and started the engine all in one smooth movement. Almost immediately, she peeled away from the curve and headed back the way she'd come. Now if she only didn't head this way!
Jun reached the house within moments, but the car was already gone. Hoping she'd not been too slow, Jun sped ahead trying to catch a glimpse of any moving vehicles. She soon spotted an older model sedan at a four way intersection. Jun slowed, seeing Loraine's bright hair through the back window. She didn’t dare get too close and risk Loraine spotting her by accident.
Jun followed her from the intersection as close as she thought prudent. Whenever possible, Jun availed herself of other cars to shield her from Loraine's view. After several minutes, Loraine made her way to the highway, merging with the heavy morning traffic. It took the two of them a lot longer to get back downtown than it had for Jun to leave it in the panicked night.
Trying hard to keep track of Loraine yet not be seen, Jun almost missed her as she left the highway. More than once during the wearying chase, Jun found herself regretting not having Jinpei there. Two were always better than one in this type of game.
Loraine drove directly to the heart of downtown. Jun barely glanced at the familiar ISO building as Loraine prepared to make a left at the light.
Following her around the corner, Jun's eyes widened with surprise as she saw the sedan disappear into the ISO's underground garage entrance. Not sure why in the world Loraine would come here, her friend's problems had just taken on a whole new dimension.
Going in, Jun immediately turned down the first lane and quickly parked her cycle between two cars. Glancing around quickly, she ran for the nearest set of stairs. Hurrying up to the main lobby, Jun hid behind a convenient pillar there. She tried to look inconspicuous as she waited for Loraine to make it upstairs.
After standing around for several minutes, Jun finally spotted her as she came up the main set of stairs. Carrying a briefcase in one hand, Loraine headed straight for the security desk.
"Good morning, Ms Rathbone."
Loraine gave the uniformed guard behind the desk a tight smile. "Good morning, George." She picked up the pen at the desk to sign the logbook.
"You're somewhat early this morning, aren't you?"
Loraine nodded, even as she took a painstakingly long time to sign her name. Jun could see that she was having a difficult time keeping her hand from shaking. Why was she here?
"Yes, you're right. I'm early," Loraine answered. "My father isn't feeling very well this morning so he asked me if I'd come by and get some papers for him. He gets so bored with nothing to do at home when he's ill."
The guard didn't look at her directly, his eyes mainly glued to the security monitors. "I'm that way myself. I hate being sick."
Loraine finally finished filling in the log. "Yes, don't we all." She tried smiling again. "I, I really do have a lot of things to get done today, I'll see you later." Loraine hurried off toward the elevators before the guard could say anything else.
It wasn't until the elevator doors cut Loraine from view that Jun extricated herself from her hiding place. She quickly moved to the security desk. "George, I didn't realize that you knew Loraine Rathbone."
The guard smiled. "Oh, sure, she's been coming here for some time now."
"Is she visiting someone here?"
The guard looked away from the monitors giving Jun his full attention. "No, she works here, part time anyway. She does secretarial work for her father, Dr. Rathbone."
Jun was totally surprised. She had never guessed at Loraine's other activities. She'd never mentioned them. She supposed it would have been hard to keep the hard rocker image if rumors of her daily life had been spread about.
"Where is Dr. Rathbone's office, George?"
"It's on level 12, room 104, why?"
"I'll have to tell you later. I've got to go." Jun started to turn away but then changed her mind. "Oh, George, if anyone asks about me, I haven't been here, okay?"
The guard looked more than a little puzzled but said nothing knowing better than to question people with Jun's type of clearance.
After she'd pressed the button to summon the elevators, Jun waited for the doors to open with something akin to impatience. The more she found out about what was going on, the bigger Loriane's troubles seemed to be. When the elevator finally arrived, Jun rushed in and immediately pressed the corresponding button for the twelfth floor. She paced in the small confined space, hoping that Loraine had gone where she expected her to. She didn't look forward to having to alert the building if she was forced to search for her.
Once on the twelfth floor, Jun left the elevator and searched for the proper office. It didn't take her long to find it. But when she did, she realized that she wasn't altogether sure on how to proceed.
After a moment of indecision, Jun decided to crack open the door and take a peek inside. As she carefully glanced in, she saw that the room was furnished with a long couch and a pair of matching chairs. Against the far wall was a small desk and another door. A purse was sitting on the desk, but of her query there was no other sign.
Silently, Jun entered the room and made for the other door. A loud cracking noise echoed from that direction. Cautiously, Jun slowly turned the new door's knob and eased the door gently inwards. She soon spotted Loraine across the room, her briefcase open on top of a wide desk, while she wedged a crowbar once more into a small opening she'd already forced into her father's locked cabinet.
"Ah!" With a start, the young girl jumped away from the cabinet dropping the crowbar to the floor with a muted clang. Her eyes were wild as looked to see who had startled her. Jun saw her freeze as she recognized her at once.
"Jun?" Eyes wide, Loraine took a step back looking confused and disoriented. "Wha - what are you doing here?"
"I'm here to help you."
"No! I told you I don't need any help. Nothing is wrong!" The young girl shook her head in denial.
"Is that why you're here trying to open your father's files with a crowbar?"
Loraine's frightened eyes moved in panic from the cabinet to the crowbar on the ground. She took another step back. "Please, please, I've got to do this. I don’t expect you to understand, but I have to! Just let me get what I came for. I'll explain it all when I can, but not now. Not now!" Her eyes pleaded with Jun.
"Tell me what's wrong and then I'll decide." Jun made sure to keep herself between Loraine and the door even as she took a step towards her.
"No!" Her voice rose in pitch. "Don’t you get it? I can’t tell you anything, I can’t! Please, Jun, I don’t want to do this, but I don’t have a choice!" Loraine rushed forward and dropped down to grab the crowbar from the floor.
Having expected the move, Jun leapt over the desk and chopped down on Loraine's wrist forcing her to drop it. Her friend yelped in pain and quickly backed away. "Loraine, there's no need for this. Let me help you," Jun said. "You don’t have to go through this alone."
Jun lunged after her and grabbed hold of her arm as Loraine abruptly made a run for the door. Though the girl struggled to break her grip, Jun held on. "Let me help you!"
"I can’t, I can't!" Loriane tried even harder to break away. "Please, Jun! They'll kill him if I do. They said they would. Please let me go!"
Jun held on to her as tears rose in Loraine's eyes and streamed down her face. "Who said this?"
"Please, I've said too much already! They might even know I'm talking to you now just like last night!" She tried to break away again panic infusing her red rimmed eyes, Jun wouldn't let go.
"This is the ISO building, no one could know what you're doing in this room. And as for last night, your phone was probably bugged by the same people who trashed out the house. Besides, if they could know what you're doing in here, they could have then easily come here themselves instead of sending you to get your father's things for them."
Loraine hesistated. She nervously looked about them even as the panic in her eyes seemed to ease a bit.
"Now tell me what's going on."
Loraine immediately tensed up. "Jun, I told you, I can't. My father's --"
Jun cut her off. "I've already learned enough to make some good guesses. Besides, you don't have a choice in this. You're my friend, I'm going to help you whether you like it or not."
"Out with it." Jun maneuvered her to the desk's chair and made her sit down.
Jun heard her sigh.
"You followed me here, didn't you," Loraines asked this softly staring only at her hands.
"Yes. I was very worried about you and about your father." Jun looked into her friend’s face trying to impart as much caring and trust to her as she could. She could see Loraine trying to make up her mind on what to tell her.
"They, they've kidnapped my father. I don’t know who or why." She stared at the clasped hands on her lap. "I got home after the gig last night and found the house turned inside out and my father nowhere in sight. I - I lost it, I couldn’t think of who to call or what to do. You were the first number that popped into my mind." She looked up at Jun for a moment and then looked away. "I don’t know why it came to me since it’d been a while since I'd talked to you. But I was so desperate I didn't care. I needed help." Loraine wiped her tears away with the hem of her dress.
"After I'd talked to you on the phone and hung up, it started to ring. There was a man on the line, one whose voice I didn’t recognize, he - he told me he had my father. He, he told me that if I didn't cooperate and do everything he asked, they'd kill him. I didn’t want to believe that it was true, I even told him so." Tears gathered in her eyes again.
"They put him on the phone." A lone tear streaked down her cheek and splashed down on her clasped hands. "He said, he said not to do anything they told me, not to help them. And then, then they hurt him, they hurt him! I heard it over the phone and all I could do was stand there and listen!" Loraine buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly.
Jun waited patiently for her to regain control.
"The man I didn’t know got back on the phone and said that he knew you were coming. If I didn’t want my father to be hurt anymore, he said that I'd better get rid of you and make sure you didn’t suspect anything. He said he'd know if I didn't, that he'd know everything. He also said he'd call me back.
"And he did. They said they'd kill my father if I didn't go into the office this morning and get as many of his papers as I could."
"They didn't ask for anything specific?"
"No." Loraine shook her head. "It didn’t make any sense."
Jun's brow creased with a slight frown. "What were you supposed to do once you got the papers?"
"I, I was to go to the park across the street after parking my car on the north side by the telephone booth there. He said they'd know when I got there and contact me." Loraine looked up at Jun's face and her own twisted in misery. "You think they'll kill him anyway once they get what they want, don't you."
"No, I never said that." Jun took Loraine's hand and squeezed it gently. There was no way she'd tell her that that was exactly what she'd been thinking.
"Jun, what do I do now?"
Jun bit her lower lip. "Well, I have a friend, his name is Dr. Nambu. You may have heard of him, he works here at the ISO. I think we should go talk to him right now. He's got the resources best suited to help your father."
"The Dr. Nambu? And he's your friend?" Loraine stared at Jun unbelievingly for a moment and then nodded. "I – all right."
Still holding Loraine's hand, Jun led her from the office down to Nambu's five floors above.
As Jun expected, she found Nambu in his office. She quickly introduced an awed Loraine to him and explained why they had come.
"Did the kidnappers identify themselves or their organization in any way?" Nambu's entire concentration was centered on Loraine.
"No, sir. I - I don't think so."
Nambu nodded. "Hm."
"Can't we help her, hakase? There's not much time left. And he is one of our own." Jun felt nervous and pricklish. Surely there was no way he'd say no.
"Given the time constraints I don't see how there's much choice regardless of whether or not Galactor is involved. The question is, are you willing to take her place in this?" Nambu adjusted the glasses sitting on the bridge of his nose.
Jun noticed Loraine staring at her in confusion. She didn’t hesitate. "Yes, hakase, I am."
"Jun, what are you talking about?" Loraine looked at Jun then at Nambu and back again.
"Loraine, this pretext they sent you on to get your father's papers is a double prize for them. One, they get papers belonging to your father they couldn't get otherwise, and two, they get you, to use as leverage on your father to get him to do whatever it is they want him to do."
"Oh." Loraine’s face drained of color.
"I'm going to take your place," Jun added. "That way we can let them think they're getting what they want, but in actuality, they'll be taking us to your father and giving us a chance to get him back."
Loraine dabbed at her face, tears welling in her eyes again. "I, I don't know what to say. Jun…"
"Don’t worry about it, this is what I do."
Jun watched Loraine shake her head and she could guess at what she was thinking. Obviously just as she herself had never thought of Loraine as anything but a rock singer, Loraine had never thought of Jun as anything other than a "snack" owner.
"Jun, you'll need to have your hair changed as well as your clothes. I'll signal for the rest of the team to join us while you get ready. Rachel will be up momentarily." His eyes turned to Loraine. "Ms Rathbone, you'll stay here for your protection until we've recovered your father. This will also minimize the chances of Jun's deception from being exposed."
"Yes, sir. I understand." Loraine looked both worried and resigned.
As soon as Rachel arrived, Jun and Loraine left with her to get Jun ready. By the time Jun returned alone, the rest of the team were already assembled in Nambu's office.
"Ah, here she is." Nambu motioned for Jun to come in.
She did, feeling a little uncomfortable in Loraine’s dress. It wasn’t often that she got dressed up for anthing. It felt strange.
Joe let out an appreciative whistle. "Being a blond suits you!" He grinned. "And blonds do have more fun."
Ken stared. "Ah…"
Jinpei's eyes were bright. "Wow, neechan! You look great! A skirt and everything."
"You sure do, Jun. It's almost as if you were another person." Ryu seemed awed.
Jun felt herself starting to blush. Surely a dress and a change in hair color couldn’t make that much of a difference. Could it?
"Jun, this is for you." Nambu handed her a wide silver bracelet. "It will help conceal your wrist activator."
She took it and put it carefully over the familiar wrist band. "Thank you, hakase."
"The plan is for you to take Loraine's car to the appointed place at the park. The briefcase has been filled with a myriad of administrative information that should keep them guessing for a bit." Nambu handed Jun a briefcase. "Ken will be in the trunk of your car and Joe will follow you in his once you’ve contacted in the park. Jinpei and Ryu are to track you at a more discrete distance in the God Phoenix in case you need to be extracted and. Trying not to stare too raptly about her, Jun sat down on the bench sitting beside the phone booth.
The wool dress itched as the minutes ticked by and nothing happened. Jun was starting to worry that maybe she didn’t look enough like Loraine to fool the kidnappers when the booth's phone started to ring. Praying that this was what they were looking for, Jun rose to her feet and headed for the phone.
"H - hello?"
"You took your sweet time didn't you." The voice was deep, gruff, and unhappy. "I was starting to have grave doubts about your father's welfare."
Jun clamped down on the anger that rose in her at the threats. "I'm sorry! I had some trouble. I didn’t have any of my father's keys! Please, is he all right?" Jun tried to imitate Loraine's state of panic as well as she could. She tried to think of herself in her situation and could picture it so convincingly that she almost started sobbing for real. With any luck, it would all be enough to distort any differences between how she and Loraine sounded over the phone.
"Your father is fine, and will continue to stay that way as long as you do as you're told." The man's voice was cold. "Now, did you get the papers?"
"Y-yes, that's what took so long. I, I have them right here."
Jun heard nothing for a moment except for the rustling of papers in the background.
"Do you know the Old Canyon road outside the city?"
Jun purposely hesitated. "I think so."
"You'd better more than think so if you want your father to stay alive," he snarled.
"Yes, I do, I do! Please, anything you want, just don’t hurt him."
The kidnapper laughed. Jun could almost picture the self satisfied smirk on the evil man's face. It got a little harder to hold back her anger.
"Get to the Old Canyon road by using highway 106, then head north from the exit. We will contact you once you get there."
"But, but how will I --" She got cut off by a loud click and a following dial tone.
Jun hung up the receiver and headed back to the car. Glancing in Joe’s direction only for a moment to reassure herself, she climbed into the car and got ready to leave. As soon as she was able, she merged with the flowing traffic and headed toward the highway. Only after she'd been driving for several minutes and felt confident that she wasn't being watched, did she activate her wrist communicator.
"Joe, I've been instructed to follow highway 106 to the Old Canyon road and then head north. They said they'd contact me there at some unspecified point."
"Got it," he said. "Don’t worry, I’ll be only minutes behind you."
Traffic was light at that time of day and so she made good time to the Old Canyon road. Turning off at the appropriate exit over an hour later, she followed the road north along its barely maintained lanes.
The Old Canyon road climbed steadily upwards as the terrain around it rose to the sky. Eventually, the road became nothing more than a bare track cut into the side of cliffs, which undulated frequently as it followed the natural patterns of the terrain. It was almost impossible to see what would be coming up on the road ahead or what might who might be coming up on the road behind her.
Jun had just crested a long and weaving turn, wondering just how the kidnappers planned to contact her, when she was forced to stomp on her brakes. "Oh!"
Before her, a black car had been parked across both lanes of traffic. She'd had no warning of its presence until she'd come out of the latest turn. As it was, it wasn't almost enough. The sedan came to a skidding halt barely two feet away from the other car.
Jun looked behind her in the direction of the trunk, a loud thump echoing from there as she came to a stop. She bit her lip, hoping Ken hadn’t been injured. She was considering trying to raise him on the communicator, when two men popped up from the other side of the black car. Both wore dark overcoats and broad rimmed hats that hid most of their face in shadow. As they moved around the car, they each raised a machine gun in her direction.
"Get out of the car, Ms Rathbone," the one on the right said. "We're here to take you to your father."
Not having to do much to look frightened, Jun slowly got out of the car, her purse and briefcase in hand.
As she timidly approached the pair of armed men, one of them pointed his gun toward the back door of the black car. "Get in."
"But –" Jun forced her mouth shut as the man closest to her jabbed her with the point of his machine gun. With a last glance at her car and the secret protector inside it, Jun did as she’d been told.
Once she was inside, the broader of the two men kept her covered while the other moved to get in from the other side. When he’d gotten inside and had his gun trained on her, the other closed her door. He then went around the car to the front passenger door and started rummaging around in the glove box. Jun gasped as she saw what he pulled from inside it. What did he plan to with those?
Her question was answered momentarily as the man put the timer to the plastic explosives and then left to move to the sedan.
Jun felt a chill course through her. Ken! "What are you going to do? Please, that's not my car!"
"Be quiet!" The man beside her poked her in the ribs with the gun barrel driving his point across.
Jun stared out the window hoping that Ken had heard her warning. If he hadn't…
The second man leaned over and affixed the bomb to the sedan's undercarriage. He ran back to the black car and hurriedly slipped into the driver's seat. After starting the car he had it head north. Minutes later, a large explosion blossomed out behind them.
Jun was staring out the back window even as the explosion occurred. Though she watched as each red tendril reached toward the sky, turned black, and then faded away, she saw nothing that bespoke of the fate of the ninja team's leader. Cold dread filled her to the core. Soon, the car rounded a bend obscuring anything else she might have been able to see.