The Wrong Girl
Taylor blinked as he stepped out of the dim club, blocking the blinding sunlight with one hand while his eyes adjusted, and held his phone to his ear.
“Tell me you found her, and you want to meet for lunch back at the apartment,” Whitaker said when she answered.
She was clearly in a good mood, and her tone suggested she wasn’t particularly interested in food for lunch. Taylor had a moment of regret for the train wreck he was about to create out of the rest of her day.
“Rain check, Princess, we have a problem.”
“What happened,” she said, her voice becoming focused as she recognized Taylor’s tone.
“I’m pretty sure the senator’s daughter was kidnapped last Saturday night. You should be getting emailed two videos in the next few minutes that show her stumbling and being led out of the back door of a local club. The other shows her semiconscious, being carried to a waiting car and driven away. Also, a shot of the guy who walked her out of the club passing money to the guy Mary Jane was dating after they loaded her into the car.”
“Shit,” Whitaker said as the sound of typing drifted through the phone.
“Maybe it’s nothing, and these were guys who worked for the senator paying a helpful guy for alerting them about Mary Jane’s state and they were just getting her out of the public eye. But I’ll tell you now, that’s not what this is,” Taylor said, his voice putting the lie to the words. “This was an abduction, plain and simple.”
“I’ve got the video.”
Taylor continued to his car and pulled out of the lot while he listened to her watch the silent security footage.
“Shit,” she said again after the four minutes it took to watch both.
“Who’s the kid?”
“Nick Braiden, Mary Jane’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. He took her to the club and I know he was there that night, but the bartender confirmed he left without her.”
“I’m going to put out a BOLO on both the license plate and Mr. Braiden and open a case. The person who sent this email has the name and address of the club on it. I’ll send some people over there to talk them as well.”
“Go easy on those guys. I didn’t catch a whiff of them being involved, and they cooperated.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Taylor, we’re on this now. Maybe you should step back and let us handle it.”
“You know that’s not going to happen. Maybe if you have the senator call me off, but she asked me to find her daughter, and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Sounding simultaneously frustrated and acquiescent, Whitaker said. “Call me if you find anything else out.”
“Sure,” Taylor said and switched off the phone.
It took some time, but Taylor found his way to the address on Nick’s license. It was unlikely Nick would be there, but it was a starting place. Taylor just hoped the kid left enough behind to give him a clue where he’d gone, or the identity of Mary Jane’s abductor.
The address led Taylor to a rundown apartment complex well outside Washington DC in one of the less trendy suburbs and near one of DC’s rail lines. Even as Taylor got out of his car, he could hear a train rumbling by. He couldn’t imagine what it’d be like trying to sleep with that just overhead late at night.
Going to the second floor, Taylor found the door and knocked, just to be sure it was empty before he let himself inside to begin searching for clues. To Taylor’s utter shock, the door opened and Nick, surrounded in an acrid haze of pot smoke, opened the door, and stared out through bloodshot eyes.
Recognizing Taylor, Nick froze in place, his dull expression morphing to terror. Neither man moved for several beats, each surprised to be facing the other.
Unfortunately for Nick, Taylor recovered from his surprise first. Taylor’s fist snapped out and punched Nick square in the face, knocking him into the apartment and flat on his back. Taylor stepped inside and shut the door, flicking the deadbolt closed before standing over Nick, who was now holding his nose and mouth as blood poured from both.
“You have to be one of the stupidest mother f•©kers I’ve ever met. You knew you lied, and you knew I had your license. Did you think I wasn’t going to come by here?”
“Yew broke my nose,” Nick said, tears welling up in his eyes.
Taylor reached down and grabbed Nick by the throat, lifting him to his feet and shoving him onto the couch nearby.
“I told you what would happen if I found out you lied, Dumb-ass. Now we get to pick up our conversation from the club again. Although this time with less lying.”
Taylor leaned down and buried a fist into Nick’s stomach, causing him to ball up on the couch and let out a groan.
“You can’t do this,” Nick said, pleading, his voice coming out nasally and distorted through the broken nose. “I’m gonna call the cops.”
“And tell them what? You paid off a guy to kidnap your girlfriend? How’s that gonna look, Nick?”
Nick just groaned.
“It’s time to use your head. You are in some serious shit now. I don’t know what their plans are with Mary Jane, but how do you think going after the family of a US Senator will go over? What do you think someone like that will do with a lowlife piece of shit like you? It’s sink or swim time, Nick.”
“What?” Nick said, sounding confused.
“Sink or swim. Do what you should’ve done at the club or end up in a world of hurt. Man are you stupid.”
“No, I mean what senator.”
It was Taylor’s turn to look at Nick confused.
“Mary Jane’s mother.”
“Her mom’s a senator?” Nick said, almost whining.
“How do you not know who her mom is?”
“We never talked about it. She complained about how controlling her mom was, but she said nothing else, and she never said her mom was a senator.”
Taylor stepped back from Nick and let out a puff of air.
“Wow,” Taylor said, pacing in a small arc while he let the idea this might be a coincidence sink in, “you have seriously f•©ked up.”
“I didn’t know,” Nick said, the tears coming again.
“Nick,” Taylor said, walking over and sitting on the edge of the coffee table, trying to sound sympathetic. “You are in so far over your head, you can’t even see the top any more. You have just one way out of this. Tell me everything. Right now.”
Nick was crying as he realized the trouble he was in. Taylor mused how he didn’t even know the half of it yet. Nick only realized that Mary Jane’s mother was a senator, not which senator. Assuming Nick paid enough attention to know who Suzette Caldwell was.
“I was in debt, man,” he said, through choking sobs. “I owed so much, and Gregor said he had a way I could get my debt wiped away. I just had to find a girl for him. She had to be pretty, young, and most importantly someone who wouldn’t be missed if she disappeared. Mary Jane said she hardly ever talked to her parents, and they didn’t get along. She told me about the times she ran away or disappeared for months from them because they’d had a fight. It was so much money.”
“So you sold your f•©king girlfriend,” Taylor said, the faked sympathy gone as his anger threatened to slip out of control.
“Gregor said he would break my legs. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Where can I find Gregor,” Taylor said, gritting his teeth.
“He runs a backroom casino behind a bar,” Nick said.
Taylor pulled out his notepad and pen and sat them in front of Nick.
“Address,” Taylor said.
Nick sat up and wrote Gregor’s name, and the address.
“Did they ask about Mary Jane specifically? Ever mention her name or give any kind of indication they knew her?”
“No. He just said they needed girls. He said they’d take a blond or a brunette, but if it was a real redhead, he would give me some money on top of clearing my debt.”
Taylor reached over and roughly pulled Nick off the couch then marched him to the bathroom, pushing him to its tiled floor. Taylor didn’t feel bad at all that Nick’s head bounced off the side of the toilet bowl.
Pulling out one of the zip ties he carried in his pocket, he pulled Nick’s arms around the joint that connected the toilet bowl with the rear tank forcing Nick to lay under the tank, looking at the bottom of the toilet, and tied his hands together with the zip ties.
“I thought you said you would let me go if I told you what I knew?”
“No, I said you would help yourself, and you did. I’m not kicking the shit out of you, despite really wanting to. Consider that a win.”
“Wait, how am I going to get out of here?” Nick yelled as Taylor walked out of the bathroom.
“The FBI will probably release you when they come to pick you up. But Nick, if I find out this address is a bust, I’m going to come back here before they let you loose. You do not want that to happen.”
Taylor turned and walked out of the bathroom.
“The FBI?” Nick’s whining voice called from behind him.
Taylor walked out, shutting the door behind him and headed to his car. He typed out a quick text message to Whitaker, letting her know where to find Nick. He didn’t want to call her. Now he had confirmation Mary Jane was kidnapped, Whitaker would try to pull her FBI shtick and tell him not to go to the casino by himself.
But he also knew she’d have to pick up Nick and question him to get the probable cause to get a search warrant before going to talk to this Gregor. It had been almost a week since they grabbed Mary Jane and Taylor wasn’t prepared to wait while the wheels of justice plodded their way along.
Taylor knew the area the bar was in. It was a rundown section of DC with a lot of shady businesses, clubs, and bars. He’d met contacts at bars in the neighborhood once or twice when they didn’t want to go somewhere they’d be noticed. Most of them came out being more afraid of getting mugged than getting seen, but Taylor found it a good place to remain anonymous.
He pulled up across the street from the address, which turned out to be a bar called Pivo, which Taylor recognized as Russian for beer. He put his head on the steering wheel and cursed.
‘Of course, it had to be Russians again,’ he thought. Checking his gun to make sure there was a round in the chamber, Taylor got out of the car and headed for the bar.
It was unlocked, not a sure thing since it was early afternoon, and empty inside except for the bartender. Taylor walked up to him and leaned on the bar.
“I’m looking for Gregor,” he said to the man.
He got a glower in return before the bartender replied in a thick Russian accent, “Don’t know him.”
As he spoke the man’s hand dipped underneath the bar. Taylor pulled his gun free and pointed it levelly at the man’s chest.
“Move another inch, and they’ll have to find someone else to serve beer here.”
The bartender didn’t reply but stopped moving.
“I know there’s a back room being used as a casino. I’d like you to take me back there.”
The man turned and walked out from behind the bar.
“Stop,” Taylor said.
Keeping his gun trained on the man, Taylor walked around the bar, motioning for the bartender to take a step back. Reaching with his off hand, Taylor pulled out a revolver
“Come on,” Taylor said as he backed up, now pointing both guns
They walked to a door on the side of the bar that said, ‘Employees’. The man punched in a code above the door handle, and the lock clicked open. Taylor gestured for the man to continue. He pulled open the door, preceding Taylor into the room.
“Narushitel,” the bartender screamed as soon as he was through the door, jumping to one side.
Taylor stepped through the door, speed being his only hope for still surprising anyone armed on the other side. One man was standing next to the door, the bartender having made his dive across where the man had been standing.
Coming through the door with the gun in his right hand already moving to take aim at the bartender, Taylor readjusted when the man by the door who was already pulling his own weapon, came into view. Taylor fired, shooting the man through the side of the chest before he could get his gun out of its holster. Even as he pulled the trigger, Taylor swiveled his head, looking for additional threats.
A second gunman was standing next to a row of slot machines, a pistol already clear of its holster. The man slowed in surprise as Taylor came through the door; a fatal mistake.
Or rather, it would have been a fatal mistake if Taylor hadn’t been firing from his off hand with a gun he wasn’t familiar with. The shot went wide left, hitting the bottom of the man’s right collar bone. Luckily for Taylor that was also the hand the man was drawing his weapon with. The impact caused the gunman to lose his grip on the gun which slid underneath one of the two tables in the center of the room where three stunned men sat, playing cards.
“Put your hands flat on the table,” Taylor said in a calm but serious voice.
When no one moved, he fired a second shot from the pistol into the spot where a fourth person would have sat. All three men dropped their cards and placed their hands flat on the table
“Shut up,” Taylor said, aiming the revolver at him for emphasis.
Taylor kept one gun pointed at the bartender and levelled the revolver at the men playing cards. Sliding his automatic into the holster at his back, Taylor moved clockwise toward the right corner of the room, allowing him to see everyone, without swiveling his head.
Reaching into his pocket, Taylor pulled out several more sets of the zip ties he carried on him for occasions such as this.
Lobbing them to the ground in front of the bartender, Taylor said, “Pick those up and tie their hands behind the chairs.”
The bartender paused until Taylor freed the gun from his holster, again pointing it at the bartender. The man pulled himself across the floor to retrieve them, blanching when he looked into the sightless eyes of the guard by the door, before standing and going to the card table. Stopping at each person around the table, the bartender took their hands, much more gently than Taylor would have, and fastened them together with a zip tie.
“Those better be tight, and they better be secure, or I’m going to shoot you next.”
The bartender went back and tightened one man’s restraints, his face pinched with worry. Whether it was because he was worried he had to tighten the restraints on this one man or because he had tried to pull a fast one on Taylor and didn’t want to get shot, Taylor couldn’t tell.
“Go against that wall,” Taylor said, indicating the wall opposite the injured but still breathing guard, “and lie on your stomach.”
When the man did as he said, Taylor holstered his weapon again and retrieved the dead guard’s gun, dropping the clip before tossing it in the corner of the room.
Switching the revolver to his right hand, he patted down each seated man, keeping his gun hand away from them at all times, just in case the bartender was less craven than he appeared. His search was rewarded with two more firearms, receiving the same treatment as the dead guard’s gun.
The room more or less secured, Taylor pulled out his phone and texted his location to Whitaker, mentioning there was one man injured and one dead. As he did this, he spent a moment taking in the room. When Nick had said underground casino, Taylor’s expectations were low. Somehow, Gregor’s establishment sank below them.
The room was small, with one wall containing boxes of beer and booze, presumably for the bar out front. The wall opposite the door had three slot machines with small stools in front of them. Two card tables sat in the room, each with four chairs, although one table was unoccupied at the moment. And that was it. Taylor had seen dorm rooms better outfitted than this. OK, without the slot machines, but they didn’t particularly class the joint up.
Taylor moved to stand by the man sitting in the rightmost chair. The man with the tattoo on the side of his face.