His gun drawn and held out in front of him, Lorenzo moved toward the house in the lead position, Diego at his back and the rest of the men fanning the perimeter of the house, covering all possible exits.
The house was quiet. Too quiet. Lorenzo didn’t like it. He moved slowly toward the front of the house, tensed and ready for an attack. Over the ear piece he wore, he could hear his men checking in, calling out all-clear signals. No attack came.
Lorenzo and Diego had reached the front door. Gun in one hand, Diego used his free hand to test the doorknob – it was unlocked. The two men looked at each other, both thinking the same thing – this was too easy.
Diego pushed the door open. Father and son braced themselves for whatever might come. Neither of them put it past Manny to have rigged the place to explode when the door opened. They waited a heartbeat. Then two. Nothing happened. It remained quiet.
Lorenzo nodded to Diego, who communicated to the rest of the men that all was clear and to procede inside, remaining on alert.
The house was dark and still. The only movement was Lorenzo and his team. Diego looked at his father, his eyebrow raised in question. Lorenzo indicated to Diego to continue searching the ground floor. They split up. The search was quick and turned up nothing. The same for the second floor. Walking slowly around the main floor again, Diego found the basement door. He opened it and started down, slowly, one step at time, his gun preceding him all the way down.
The basement was as empty as the rest of the house. Diego saw it had been separated into two rooms. The first room held various monitors and electronic equipment, including a couple of smashed monitors in the corner of the room. Apparently it was the same equipment used to get into their systems. Diego moved to the second room. It was empty as well; dim with no windows, except for something shiny on the floor. Diego walked over to it. He knew what it was before he reached it. Lowering his weapon, Diego bent down and picked up the tiny bracelet.
Elaina was scared. She didn’t know what to do. The ugly man had hurt her Mommy and made them leave the place they had been in. Elaina’s hand went to her wrist. The ugly man had pulled her bracelet off – the one her Daddy had given her. Elaina had looked at it lying on the floor as she was carried out of the dark room.
Scared, Elaina moved closer to Sam. “Mommy, Mommy, wake up,” she said, shaking Sam. Digging in her pockets, she found a tissue – her Grandma Melda was always putting tissues in her pockets – and tried to make her Mommy’s boo-boo on her head stop bleeding. “Wake up Mommy,” she pleaded, shaking Sam again.
Lorenzo continued to pace outside of the SUV, rage and fear boiling inside of him as he clutched his granddaughter’s bracelet in his fist.
Spinelli remained in the vehicle, not wanting to get in Alcazar’s way. But he wasn’t just sitting there cowering. He was hard at work trying to figure out what could have happened. He was trying to see how whoever had done this found out about the bracelet and was setting up firewall after firewall behind him to keep unwanted foes out. Then, when he found out who was doing this, he was going to send a couple of worms their way.
Diego close his phone and slipped it back into his pocket. “That was Max,” he said to his father. “Jason’s vitals are stronger. Dr. Quartermaine says he’ll make a full recovery.”
Lorenzo nodded. At least he had some sort of good news. He just wished he could offer the same to Jason when he regained consciousness.
“Ummm . . . I-I think you guys need to see this,” Spinelli said, sticking his head out of the window. “The Jackal has prevailed once again.”
Sighing, Lorenzo closed his eyes and turned away from the wide, goofy grin on Spinelli’s face. “Diego . . . I swear . . . I don’t think I can do this . . .”
“I got it Pop, don’t worry,” Diego said, squeezing his father’s shoulder. Then he moved over to Spinelli. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Spinelli looked up. “Oh . . . ummm . . . I thought Big Al would want to know that The Jackal – the amazing Assassin of Cyberspace – has been able to track down the Nefarious One and wreak havoc on his systems.”
Diego raised an eyebrow and nodded slowly. “And this is good for us?” he asked.
Spinelli sighed in exasperation, rolling his eyes. “It’s totally awesome Al Jr.,” he said, ignoring Diego’s glare. “It means that I – The Jackal – in all my cyberspace awesomeness – have hacked my way into the Nefarious One’s computer system, implanted some devious worms and . . .” Spinelli held up a hand when Diego opened his mouth. “I have taken the liberty of copying all of the Nefarious One’s files and emails.”
Diego was impressed. “Nice,” he said with a nod. “See if you can find out where Manny has taken Sam and Elaina.”
“Fear not Al Jr., the Nefarious One won’t have a place to hide from The Jackal.”
Her head was throbbing. Sam willed the pounding to go away. She could hear a small voice calling for her, crying, begging her to wake up. Sam knew it was Elaina and she was scared. Pushing against the darkness that wanted to take over again, Sam forced herself back into consciousness. She pried her eyes open and saw Elaina leaning over her, shaking her arm and crying.
“Wake up Mommy,” Elaina continued to plead.
“Elaina,” Sam croaked out, opening her eyes more and bring a hand to her head.
“Mommy have boo-boo,” Elaina said, showing Sam the tissue that had blood on it. “I try to make better.”
Sam smiled as she moved to sit up. Everything spun and her stomach lurched. She was sure she had a concussion, but she had to move around and regain her strength for Elaina. “Are you okay? Did the bad man hurt you?” she asked, checking the little girl over.
“Little boo-boo, “ Elaina said, looking at her wrist and the scratches from when the bracelet had been pulled off of her. She looked up at Sam. “The ugly man is mean,” she said. “He hit you and make you fall down.”
Sam tried to remember what had happened.
~ Flashback ~
Sam sat leaning against the wall, rocking Elaina in her arms. The door opened. Sam didn’t move, she barely looked up as Manny crossed the room to her, kicking the untouched trays of food out of his way.
“You thought you could get one over on me, didn’t you?” Manny asked a sick smile on his face.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sam said, lifting her eyes to him. “I have done everything expected of me. If you think I’m going to fight you just to satisfy some sick need you have, you can forget about it.”
He moved so fast, Sam barely saw it coming as his fist connected with the side of her face. As Sam’s body lurched to the left, Manny reached down and grabbed Elaina out of her arms. “NO!” she screamed, regaining her balance quickly.
“MOMMY!” Elaina cried out, jarred out of her near sleep state by the rough movement.
“Let her go Manny!” Sam yelled, trying to get to Elaina. She stopped when Manny pulled out a gun and pointed it at her.
“Another move and this little brat will watch her mommy die like her father,” Manny snarled. “It would be a shame for her to lose another mother.”
“Don’t hurt her,” Sam said, her eyes on the gun. “She hasn’t done anything.”
Manny laughed. “Good one,” he said. “But then, children are not as innocent as they appear.” Then he put Elaina down, keeping a hand on her and ripped the bracelet off of her wrist. He tossed it aside and pulled Elaina up into his arms again when she tried to go after it. “Looks like there’s going to be a change in plans,” he said, before sending the gun crashing down onto Sam’s head.
~ End Flashback ~
Sam didn’t know how Manny had known about the tracking device in Elaina’s bracelet, but with that now gone, Sam wasn’t sure how Lorenzo was going to find them.
Manny stepped into the new command center he had set up in the safe house he had moved his two guests to. He was expecting some good news, not his top tech guy to be cursing and pounding on the keys.
“Problem?” Manny asked, shutting the door. At that moment, the monitors went dark. “What happened?”
“Our systems have been infected,” the tech guy said. “We dead in the water.”
“How is that possible?” Manny demanded. “Get it back up!”
“I can’t,” he said. “We’re down. And our files are vulnerable to whoever infected the system.”
“Could it be Alcazar’s tech guy . . . Stan something?” Manny asked, not believing this was happening. With the systems down, and the files vulnerable, he could lose everything.
“No . . . but if it Alcazar, then he found someone really good. It’s going to take me months to fix this.”
Manny didn’t have months. He needed the systems running now. Pulling out his gun, he shot the tech guy in the back. “Looks like I’m going to have to find myself a new computer genius.”
“I got it!” Spinelli yelled, practically bouncing in his seat. He looked around. No one was around. Putting his lap top on the seat next to him, he scrambled out of the car and found Alcazar and Diego by the house, talking.
Rushing forward, he bounded up the stairs, bouncing on his toes. “You are going to be eternally grateful to The Jackal,” he said, a wide grin on his face.
Lorenzo took in a breath and turned to Spinelli. “How?” he asked.
“After infecting the Nefarious One’s computer systems with a radical worm, the amazing Jackal was able to hijack all his files and . . . .”
Lorenzo held up his hand. “I don’t have time for your . . . .I don’t even know what the hell you’re saying and I don’t want to know. The lives of my sister and granddaughter are at stake here. So either, you found them or you didn’t.”
Spinelli swallowed a couple of times. “The Jackal has procured the locations of several of the Nefarious One’s hideouts.”
Lorenzo nodded. “Get me a copy of then now,” he said.
Spinelli nodded and hurried back to the car.
“If he can help us find them Diego, I might not have to kill him,” Lorenzo said to his son.
“Pop, it’s been three days, have you even slept?” Diego asked in concern as he found his father in his office, standing at the window.
“Have any of the searches turned up anything?” he asked, not turning his gaze from the window.
“Not yet,” Diego said. “I added another team to check out the safe houses down south.”
“Good,” Lorenzo said, not moving from the window. “Has Spinelli been able to narrow the search down any?”
“He’s working on it,” Diego said. “Pop, we’re going to find them. Manny can’t hide forever. We’ve got all of his information.”
“We may need to draw him out,” Lorenzo said. “Have Spinelli hack into Manny’s offshore bank accounts. He’s to report to me. I need to hit him where it’s going to hurt.”
He groaned and tried to open his eyes. How long had he been asleep? Groaning again, Jason was finally able to open his eyes. He was in a hospital room. His body ached – particularly his chest and leg. What happened? Then it all came rushing back.
Manny. Elaina. Sam. Manny shooting him and taking Sam and Elaina away. Elaina’s scream as the bullet ripped into his leg. The smile on Manny’s face as he pulled the trigger again. A searing pain in his chest.
“S-Sam . . . “ he managed to croak out. “E . . . laina . . .” Gathering the little strength he had, Jason opened his eyes all the way. He was in a hospital room. He had to get out of there and find them.
“You even try to get out of that bed and I will sedate you again,” Monica said from the side of his bed.
Jason turned his head. “I . . . I have to . . . to find Sam . . .and Elaina,” he said.
Monica held up the syringe with the sedative. “I am not joking Jason,” she said. “You’ll get out of this bed when I say.”
Jason stayed put. He was still too weak to argue.
Max sat in a corner of the room and smirked at the exchange. Pulling out his phone, he went out into the hall to call Lorenzo.
“Make sure he follows Monica’s orders, Max. I’ll be over there this afternoon,” Lorenzo said before hanging up.
The knock at his door had him turning. “Come in,” he called out and watched as Spinelli cautiously poked his head in.
“Al Jr. said you wanted to see me,” Spinelli said timidly. It had been tough to avoid the wrath of Lorenzo Alcazar that last few days. Spinelli had been given a room in the house and told he was not to leave alone or without consent. And if he wanted to stay alive he was to follow orders.
“Take a seat Mr. Spinelli,” Lorenzo said, indicating the chair in front of his desk. Then he moved to the leather chair behind the desk and sat down.
Spinelli waited as Lorenzo Alcazar looked at him. He wasn’t sure if he should say something. It was hard not to fidget under that intense gaze. He swallowed a couple of time. Went to say something, and then stopped himself. He had witnessed Alcazar berating one of his men and did not want to receive the same treatment for saying the wrong thing.
Lorenzo watched Spinelli. He had never met anyone like him before and he was sure he never would again. This kid was unique – that was for sure. But he was fast becoming an asset to his organization, and the one thing Lorenzo knew was that you don’t let someone who could be an asset go – or put them in the line of fire.
Just when Spinelli was sure he would jump out of his skin from nerves, Alcazar cleared his throat and sat back in his chair. “You are a very unusual individual, Mr. Spinelli,” he began.
“Ummm . . . thank you?” Spinelli said, shrugging his shoulders.
“And you’re proving to be a very . . . interesting asset to my business,” Lorenzo continued, trying to choose his words carefully. “If it weren’t for your computer skills, I would have no hope of finding my sister or granddaughter.”
“Well . . .I am the assassin of cyberspace . . ."
Lorenzo held up his hand. “That’s all well and good,” he said. “But by bringing into my business, I’ve also put you into the line of fire. And Manny Ruiz is the worst of them out there.”
“Well . . . I am sure I don’t rate on the Nefarious One’s radar,” Spinelli said nervously.
“Don’t bet on it,” Lorenzo said. “Because I am about to ask you to do something that will put you right in his cross hairs like the rest of us.”
Spinelli’s eyes widened. “Umm . . . is this one of those things where if you tell me you’ll have to kill me?”
Lorenzo resisted the small smile the threatened to form on his lips. “No. But if Manny gets his hands on you, then he’ll be the one who will want you dead.”
“Oh . . .okay . . . so, what is it you want me to do?”
“Before I tell you . . . or ask you . . . I need to make sure that you understand this is not one of your computer games. There are real lives at stake here, including you own. This is real life Mr. Spinelli, and when you die, you don’t get another life. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” Spinelli said. “But, B- . . . ummm . . . Mr. Alcazar . . . as you’ve said before, there’s a child’s life at stake. And I am sure this Innocent Little One has done nothing to deserve the wrath of the Nefarious One. I’m in.”
Maybe this kid wasn’t as bad as he looks. “Good. You will be compensated nicely for you work. There are some conditions though.”
“First, you work for me and Jason Morgan. You will answer to my son, Diego, unless otherwise directed. You may keep your room in the house. And until I have my family back, I will be relocating you to a safe house for your protection. Understood?”
“Got it,” Spinelli said. “Ummm . . . so what is this top secret thing you want The Jackal to challenge?”
“I want you to access Manny’s offshore accounts and clear them out. I don’t care where you put the money; just make sure it all disappears for good.”
Spinelli’s eyes widened. “Ummm . . . won’t that make the Nefarious One majorly ticked off?” he asked.
Lorenzo nodded. “I’m betting on it.”
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