It was one o’clock in the evening before Gloria and Sheila returned to the bar. Gloria had a small patch of her hair shaved off and there was a white bandage taped to her head where she had had to have four stiches put in. Sheila had her ribs wrapped with what looked like an oversized ace bandage and her arm was in a removable cast and sling.
When Stacks returned from seeing Ed Sanders, he took one look at the two women and started laughing, “You two look as if you were in a fight and Mom won.”
“Well we were in a fight, but neither of us won,” Sheila said morosely, “I swear that I felt better before I went to the hospital. If I die, guys, I want you to find Dr. Chan and string him up. I swear he was rougher than he needed to be.”
“Quit complaining Sheila. Dr. Chan told you that he wanted to keep you in the hospital and you flat-out refused him. Besides that, it is not his fault you hurt all over,” Blaster replied in a playful manner.
Looking towards Stacks he said, “Sorry boss, but I tried to get her to stay there, but she threatened to call a cab if I wouldn’t bring her home. Women are always saying that men are hard-headed, but they have us beat in that department.”
“That’s ok Blaster, I know how she is. Now, what did the doctor say about you both?”
Gloria looked into his eyes and said, “Sheila has a couple of cracked ribs and a hairline crack in her arm. I had to have four stitches. However, we will be fine, but I want to know about Candace. Were you able to find out anything from Ed?”
“No Mom, Ed said it was against the law for him to give me her address. He did mention that his office window was having a problem staying locked and that he closed at six o’clock today. He then told me that he was having trouble with his alarm and that if someone who knew how to set the alarm, just happened to come after hours and set it for him, as well as lock the window, he would be grateful. I guess it was his way of helping without helping, or something like that. I will take Mead with me tonight; the rest of you will stay here and work. We do have to keep the bar open and it is Saturday night.” Directing his question towards Sheila, he said, “Sheila, if you feel like it, will you call Alice and see if she can take your place tonight as well as next weekend? I have a feeling that you will be out of commission for a week or two.”
“Sure I will and if she can’t then I will find someone else. Don’t worry about us or the bar, Stacks. Just find Candace, please.”
Gloria slowly shook her head and said, “I am so worried about Candace. I hope they don’t hurt her. I wish I knew what they wanted from her. I have gone over our conversation at least fifty times and I still come up with the same conclusion. Candace told me nothing that would give us a clue as to what these vile men want from her.”
“Yeah, I was wondering about that. Since we have some time, how about you telling us exactly what she told you about her week.”
Gloria thought for a moment and then said, “Candace started off her story describing how she was just starting to exit interstate twenty and her tire blew out. She said that it was at this time she started hearing extra noises in her car, which she attributed to the flat…”
As Gloria recapped what Candace had told her, everyone listened intently. When she was finished, Stacks rubbed the two-day stubble on his cheek and frowned.
“Are you sure that is all she said?”
“That is everything I can think of, at this moment, But Sheila heard part of the story, ask her. If I remember anything else I’ll tell you.”
All eyes were on Sheila, when Stacks said, “How about it Sheila, can you think of anything else?”
“No Stacks, I had to get back to work and the last thing I heard was about her boss and how she told him what she thought of him. I was trying to remember if Candace told us where she worked, but I don’t believe she did. I think she said her boss’s name was Anderson; then again I can’t be for sure.”
“It seems that if we are to gain any leeway into this mystery, we will need to first figure out where she lives,” Stacks said as he stood and started walking towards the door.”
“Come on Mead, it’s not long till dark and I want to get to Candace’s house as soon as possible.”
Pausing to look back at the small forlorn looking group, Stacks said, “Tommy will you keep on top of things here and let me know when Henderson finds anything on that computer of his?”
“Will do boss,” was his only reply.
Looking down at the computer screen, Tommy Collins read an email he had just received from Cory Henderson.
“Would either one of you ladies happen to know if Candace owns her home or not?”
With her elbows on the table, Gloria had covered her face with her hands when she suddenly looked up and said, “She told me she inherited it from her grandparents. Why, is it important?”
“Henderson didn’t say if it was important or not, he just asked. I would assume it has something to do with how to find Candace, because at this point, we are just grasping at straws.”
Sheila picked up the phone and proceeded to call Alice to see if she would take her shift for the next few days.
While Gloria and Sheila sat at the table, the men started making the necessary preparations for the Saturday night crowd at ‘The Bar.’
Stacks parked the SUV on the next block over and both men walked through the wooded lot behind Ed’s garage. As they silently came to the clearing, directly behind the garage, Stacks held up his hand in a silent gesture for Mead to stop.
“Let’s do some reconnaissance before we proceed. You take the left and if it looks clear to you give me the signal, then get in position. I’ll go to the right, since the office is on that side of the building. I will give you the all clear, if I am going in,” Stacks told him.
Having worked together for years, it was understood that the all clear signal was the Mockingbird’s trill.
“Will do Boss, I think that old oak tree will give me the advantage I need. I still think you should have let me bring the M-14, just in case. Good hunting Boss,” Mead said as he silently merged into the dark shadows.
Whispering, Stacks said, “Not this time, Mead. I don’t want any bullets flying near or around Ed’s place.”
Stacks worked his way deep into the darkness and walked a grid to make sure no one was nearby. After what seemed to be a long time, Stacks signaled to Mead that it was clear on his side and immediately received the signal back.
Entering Ed’s office by way of the window, Stacks left the window open a crack, so that he could hear any signal from Mead, and then went in search of Candace’s address. As he started to pull the first file drawer open, he noticed that they were in alphabetical order.
“Who would have thought that old codger would have filed his papers properly,” chuckling quietly to himself, Stacks opened the drawer labeled ‘ABC’ and started thumbing through the files.
Ten minutes later Stacks was dismayed to see that the papers, for the work done, on Candace’s car was nowhere in the file. Wondering where to look next, Stacks turned towards Ed’s desk, when he happened to see what looked like a receipt alongside of a pad of paper and pencil. Looking closely he saw that it was a copy of Candace’s receipt. Writing quickly, he jotted down her address and hurriedly locked the window. Stacks then unlocked the rear door and went back to set the alarm. He knew he had three minutes to get out of the building so he hurriedly locked the back door as he left. Signaling Mead, he quickly stepped into the dark shadows and headed towards the SUV.
“Hi Boss, did you find Candace’s address?” Mead asked as he opened the door and climbed in.
“Yeah, but I feel like an idiot. I spent all that time looking for it and it was on Ed’s desk all along. Let’s get to a service station and then I will put her address in the GPS, so that we will be able to find it quickly. ”
Stacks handed the piece of paper to Justin Mead, as he started to drive.
Reading the address, Mead said, “Oh man, I see what you mean. This address is a county road address with a box number. We could be searching for days, without help.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Stacks grumpily said as he pulled into the first station he came to.
After setting the GPS, he looked at the mileage indicated on the screen and exhaled a long pent-up breath.
“Well it looks as though we are going east for fifty-six miles. I had no idea that Candace lived so far from Ft. Worth. I just assumed she lived close since she uses Ed for her mechanic.”
“Me too, but remember what Gloria told us Candace said when she had her flat? She said that Candace was headed to work on interstate twenty and had just taken the Hulen exit, when the tire blew. Interstate twenty is one long road, and people travel long distances to work nowadays.”
After an hour of driving Stacks and Mead found themselves in the deep woods area of East Texas, in what Mead called a jungle. When the GPS told them they had arrived at their destination, both men were skeptical.
“Stacks, I don’t see anything but trees here. Are you sure this is the right address?”
“Yeah, it is the right address alright. Let’s just pull over and see if we can find anything using the night goggles. It has been a long time since we were accustomed to the total darkness. I had forgotten how noisy and dark the country is.”
Listening to sounds of the birds and crickets and many other night sounds, he was unaccustomed to hearing, Mead said, “Was that a wolf I just heard, or is my imagination playing tricks on me? I also think I hear running water. Do they have waterfalls and wolves in East Texas?”
“Wolves they have aplenty, but waterfalls, I don’t think so. We need to be armed just in case,” Stacks said as he opened the hidden compartment and handed Mead his Smith and Wesson fifty-two hand gun.
After gathering the equipment they felt they might need and donning their night vision goggles, they started surveying the area. Looking in the direction the GPS indicated Candace’s home was, Mead motioned for Stacks to follow him across the road. Once there, he placed one dark clad gloved hand on the barbed wire fence and lifted the first two strands so that Stacks could go through to the other side of the fence. Once he was through the wire, Stacks took the wire and held it so that Mead could follow.
“Whispering, Mead said, I think I saw a roof top about a quarter of a mile this way. It could be that Candace’s home is set back off the road.”
“I saw it also. We will have to move slowly and quietly so not to upset the nightlife. I don’t want to alert anyone we are here and if the crickets become silent or the birds start flying off, whoever is around will know that someone is here,” Stacks said as they silently proceeded to make their way back towards the place where they had glimpsed the rooftop.
After slowly trekking through the unknown woods, they were startled as a wolf pack darted off to their left. One lone wolf stood at the top of a rise and watched them through eyes of steel. After a few moments of silently watching them, the wolf had obviously perceived them to not be a danger to his pack, he ran off to join the others.
“Ok, now that was scary. How can people live in the country? I swear to you Stacks, that I felt safer in Iraq. At least there we knew what to look for.”
“Yeah I know what you mean. You may also want to keep an eye out for snakes. I think this part of the country has an abundance of rattlesnakes and water moccasins,” Stacks told him.
“Oh great, now you get around to telling me,” Mead said sarcastically.
At that moment Stacks saw a large two-story home loom up on his left. Pointing towards the house, Stacks headed off in the direction in which he had just indicated. As they came closer, stacks saw that there was a warm golden glow coming from the back of the house. Remembering Candace’s story of how she had gone to the back of the house to gain entry into her home through the kitchen window, he motioned towards the light.
Nodding his head, Mead headed in that direction. They went as far as they could, and still stay hidden in the shadows of the tree, and stopped to listen and decide on a plan.
“What do you think Boss?” Mead said tipping his head to indicate the dark van that was parked in back of the house.
“I think that is probably the same van that was used to abduct Candace. This also means that they knew where Candace lived. I have to get in that house if we…”
Hearing a clanking noise farther out in the woods, Stacks stopped talking so that they could listen.
“That sounds like shovels hitting the ground and I still hear the waterfall sounds,” Mead whispered to Stacks.
“I agree and I think I am hearing some voices also. Let’s work our way back there and see what’s going on.”
Under cover of the moonless night and the total darkness of the woods, Stacks and Mead worked their way towards the sounds coming from farther back in the yard.
“It sounds as if the French are invading,” Mead said as he shook his head in amazement, his tawny brown hair flickered with starlight.
Put your cap back on, the shine in your hair may be seen,” Stacks said. Then a moment later he said, “Your right, they are speaking French. Why the French would want Candace, is a mystery to me. I wonder if this has something to do with Candace’s parents.”
Moving along the edge of the woods, Stacks and Mead were as close to the others, as they dared go. Using their night vision goggles, they started sweeping the area to see how many men there were in the area. That was when he saw Candace. Her head and face was bruised and bloody, her blouse was torn and dirty, and she was tied to the trunk of a huge weeping willow tree, with a gag in her mouth. Anger filled Stacks body and soul; he had never wanted to hurt anyone in his life as he did at this moment. Seething inside, he tried to calm himself by taking deep steady breaths.
Noticing his boss’s anger, Mead looked in the direction Stacks was looking. Gasping sharply, he said, “I see her Stacks, come on, let’s work our way behind these jerks and see if we can come up behind Candace. We can get revenge later, but for now, Candace is number one priority for us. Are you with me on this Boss?”
“I’m ok Mead, let’s go.”
As they moved off into the woods, Stacks let his anger slide away. He knew he had to become the Soldier to be able to help Candace at this moment in time, but afterwards…
To be continued…