One Night Only by Samj Chapter 11

Republisher’s Note: Has Michelle jumped from the frying pan into the fire?

One Night Only by Samj Chapter 11

The limo’s occupants were silent as the car made its way out of the city and into an upper class residential area. Knowing instinctively that her earlier panic would only serve to endanger her further, Michelle used the time to compose herself: she ran through one of her anatomy lessons, reciting all of the bones in the hand. The familiarity of the exercise comforted her considerably.

Turning her attention next to the current situation, she wracked her brain for every scrap of information she had ever seen or heard about the mob, and especially her “host,” in a vain attempt to determine exactly what she had become involved in.

By the time the car reached its destination Michelle had compiled a list of questions she needed answered. As her “host” helped her from the car she decided to begin with the one she thought he would be most likely to answer.

“Am I safe here?” she asked with more confidence than she felt, relieved that her voice hadn’t failed her again.

“Of course, Miss Bauer,” he assured her, leading her to the front door of an imposing mansion and ushering her inside. “I already gave you my word that you’d be safe with me.”

“Did Danny send you?” she ventured next, wondering, if so, just how much this man knew about her relationship with Danny.

What relationship?

Michelle suppressed a laugh at the realization that her sense of sarcasm was still going strong despite the circumstances.

Gesturing for her to take a seat on the couch, he made himself comfortable in the chair opposite her. “No,” he said reluctantly, as though he regretted that his answer would disappoint her.

Michelle’s radar went up immediately. “Then how did you just happen’ to be in that parking lot?” she asked suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you came all the way to Chicago to buy a loaf of bread.”

“Actually, I was there because of you,” he stated matter-of-factly, hoping that she would remain calm. “I must admit, however, that I wasn’t expecting to have to compete for your attention.”

A chill ran down Michelle’s spine at the thought of this man waiting for her. Although her mental list of questions seemed to double with this revelation, she chose to pursue the more immediate problem of the thugs in the parking lot. “Do you know who they were?”

“Not yet,” he answered honestly, a touch of frustration coloring his tone. “But I have my men following them, and when I find out who their employer is…” he paused, knowing that even the most innocent of phrases could be used against him later, before declaring “I will deal with him.”

Michelle knew enough about the mob to know that she didn’t want a further explanation. She also knew without a doubt that she didn’t want any part in what was happening around her, but she wasn’t at all sure that she had a choice in the matter. There was really only one way to find out.

“And in the meantime…” she prompted, her mind already conjuring up the less than desirable options.

“And in the meantime,” he repeated, “I hope that you’ll be comfortable here. Olga has made up one of the guest rooms for you, and -”

“Wait just a minute, Mr. Sandoval!” Michelle exclaimed, jumping up from the couch and folding her arms defensively across her chest.

“Bernard -” he interjected, glad that her reaction was one of anger rather than fear. Anger he could deal with; his daughter gave him plenty of practice.

“Bernard,” she conceded absently, her mind completely focused on escaping this dangerous situation. Taking a deep breath, she established eye contact to make sure she had his full attention and then said calmly, “I’m grateful that you rescued me from those thugs, I really am. But I didn’t avoid being kidnapped just so that I could be kidnapped by someone else.”

“I didn’t kidnap you,” he countered forcefully, his polite demeanor failing momentarily as he took in the accusation. Recovering his equilibrium he offered, “If you don’t want to stay here, you absolutely don’t have to. In fact, my driver will take you anywhere you’d like.”

Without missing a beat, she walked behind the couch towards the door and said brightly, “Great, then I want to go home.”

“I understand that, Miss Bauer,” he nodded, thinking to himself that Danny hadn’t stood a chance with this girl – her innocence was certainly a refreshing change from the jaded life of the mob, yet her stubbornness and determination were formidable. “But, before you go rushing off, I want you to think very carefully. What did those two gentlemen’ say to you while they were holding you at gunpoint?”

She stopped dead in her tracks, and her voice sounded distant in her own ears. “That someone’ wanted to talk to me. They didn’t say who.”

As though he were conducting an algebra lesson, Bernard continued the line of questioning designed to bring Michelle to accept his offer of hospitality. “Do you really think that person will just give up and leave you alone if you go back to your apartment?” She shook her head slowly, the reality of the situation suddenly weighing on her. “You’re a very smart young lady, Miss Bauer – you must realize that, for the moment at least, you need protection.”

There has to be another way, she thought desperately. There has to be someone else who can protect me. Drawing a complete blank, she balled her fists in frustration and pushed them into her thighs.

And somehow that triggered a memory of little Davey Grant, who had once punched her in the leg then laughed when she couldn’t chase after him. They’d had a hate-hate relationship through most of their childhood, but that had changed when they attended SU together. She was now reasonably good friends with Officer David Grant. Officer.

That was the answer! “Take me to the police,” she demanded. Stopping to consider the absurdity of her demand – please, Mr. I’m-Wanted-By-the-FBI-in-Three-States, drive me up to the front doors of the Chicago P.D. – she amended, “Okay, just take me to my car, and I’ll go to the police myself.” She hesitated, wanting to convince him but afraid that she would say the wrong thing and ruin her chances. “I promise to leave your name completely out of it.”

“And what, precisely, do you intend to tell them?” he inquired. “That two men you’d never seen before threatened you in a parking lot, and that even though you’d never seen them before you just know,’ somehow, that they’re connected to organized crime? That they were frightened off before they could kidnap you, but you don’t know who frightened them off, or why?”

Feeling a touch of guilt at the tears welling in her eyes, he softened his tone and explained, “I’m not trying to be cruel Miss Bauer, I just want you to look at this situation practically.”

Michelle opened her mouth to protest, when suddenly the answer was so clear she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it immediately. “Then take me to Danny,” she requested without hesitation. “He can protect me.”

Um, sweetie, are you forgetting that you dumped him while he was in the hospital? He might not be all that happy to see you again.

But Danny wouldn’t ever want me to be hurt, she argued.

I dunno. You did call him a heartless murderer, didn’t you?

Michelle thought about how patient Danny had been with her in his hotel suite while she had been fighting her nerves, and how well he’d listened over dinner as she related the saga that had brought her to Chicago. There was a whole lot more to Danny Santos than his role in the mob. He’d definitely want me to be safe, she decided. And besides, it’s his fault I’m in this mess – he owes me.

Bernard could see the flicker of doubt in her eyes and wondered about its cause. Whatever it might be, that doubt helped to strengthen his own resolve. “I’ve already considered that option, Miss Bauer. I’m afraid that being with Daniel would not be in your best interest right now.”

“My best interest?” she parroted skeptically. “What the hell does that mean?”

He laid it out for her slowly and carefully. “Whoever sent those men to take you was obviously trying to use you to get to Daniel, which means that I have to assume your kidnapping is connected to his shooting, and that Daniel is still a target.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” Michelle countered, walking back around the couch and standing in front of her previous seat. “How would anyone even know that I was connected to Danny?”

“Keeping tabs on our fellow associates’ is part of the business,” Bernard explained vaguely. “I’m afraid that your private life is no longer quite as private as you would’ve thought.”

Moving almost mechanically, Michelle sat down stiffly on the couch. Her voice was tinged with resignation as she declared, “Well, then, it looks like I’ll be staying here…at least for the night.”

“Very good,” Bernard agreed enthusiastically. “And Miss Bauer -”

“Michelle, please,” she corrected. “I think we’re probably past the formalities by now.”

“Michelle,” he said, “this will only be for one night; I fully expect to have the information I need within a few hours, and to have those meetings first thing in the morning. I just ask your indulgence until then.”

Michelle nodded, trying to reconcile the polite, concerned father-figure in front of her with the mob boss that made Springfield headlines on a regular basis. Nothing she’d seen or experienced since she’d met Danny really made any sense anymore.

“So…” she started conversationally, trying to keep her mind off of the implications of everything she had learned, “what exactly did you want to talk to me about? I mean, before, when you were waiting for me.”
~~~~~~~~~~
Danny used all of his training to conduct a coldly methodical search for Michelle. First he increased the security at his condo to ensure the safety of Carmen and Ray, then he dispatched all of his remaining personnel to comb the city for the slightest clue to Michelle’s whereabouts. Next he called a member of the Chicago P.D. who’s son owed him money for a gambling debt – that officer was keeping him informed of all new developments in the case. Just for good measure he also put out a call to every snitch he’d ever had occasion to use to find out what the word on the street was regarding Michelle’s abduction.

Danny next turned his attention to the other mob families, concentrating on those which operated in Chicago. He started with the city’s least powerful families, mainly seeking information that might’ve trickled down to them from higher up. It was an incredibly delicate endeavor – saying too much could inform otherwise ignorant families that Michelle Bauer was in fact a weak spot for him, and saying anything in too accusatory a manner could start a war. Danny somehow managed to play by the rules during these calls, but each and every one proved to be a dead end – either no one knew what had happened, or everyone was too afraid to talk – and Danny destroyed two more cell phones in his frustration.

Once he had collected himself, Danny moved on to the more powerful families, arranging meetings that, unfortunately, wouldn’t take place until the following morning. Danny wished he could simply storm into these people’s living rooms and interrogate them, but that wasn’t how the business worked – there were protocols for circumstances such as these, and he would dutifully follow them. He knew, however, that it would be an extremely long night.

Observing that Carmen was completely engrossed in a phone conversation of her own, Danny pulled Ray into a corner and whispered earnestly, “Listen, man, I need you to do me a favor.”

“If I can,” Ray said evenly, waiting to hear the request. As much as he wanted to say, “Anything for you cous’,” they both knew that those days had ended when he took his vows; now there were limits to what he could do.

“I need you to track down Nino and Teresa,” Danny continued, fixing Ray with a measured stare that filled in all of the blanks.

[Flashback]

“Okay, Danny, what’s the problem?” Ray asked as he walked into Danny’s hospital room and flopped down in the visitor’s chair beside the bed. “The nurse said you’ve been a total nightmare today.”

“Nothing,” Danny muttered sullenly, turning away from Ray to face the wall.

Trying to change the subject Ray casually threw out, “I guess Michelle hasn’t been in to see you yet.” He thought perhaps the implication that she would do so later would be enough to cheer his cousin.

“She’s been here,” Danny replied shortly. Eyes blazing, he turned back to look at his cousin. “And thank you so much for telling her who I really am.'” Danny paused for a second as those words ripped through him once again.

Ray wanted to explain why he had felt obligated to tell Michelle the truth about the Santos family. “Look Danny I -”

But Danny was in no mood to listen. “No. I don’t wanna talk about it. Her. Ever.”

“Fine,” Ray sighed in frustration, knowing that there was no reasoning with Danny when he put up walls this way. “If you want something else to talk about, why don’t you tell me what the hell you were doing with Nino when you got shot.”

“Nino?” Danny faltered, wondering how Ray could’ve possibly known that.

“Yeah, Nino,” Ray repeated. “There’s no point in lying to me Danny, I can already see that I’m right. Just tell me what’s going on.” ….

[End of Flashback]

“Of course, Danny,” Ray agreed. “But if you couldn’t find them, what makes you think that I can?” He sounded almost wistful as he pointed out, “It’s been an awfully long time.”

“Because you won’t raise the suspicions of the other families,” Danny explained. “Or my mother.” Danny glanced over at Carmen, who was just closing her cell phone. “I gotta….”

“We’ll find her, Danny,” Ray promised him, “we’ll find her.” With that he squeezed Danny’s shoulder reassuringly and headed for the guest bedroom to make the necessary calls in private. Ray couldn’t imagine that Nino was involved – after all, he’d been hurt worse during the shooting than Danny had – but if eliminating him as a suspect would put Danny’s mind at ease, Ray would certainly do so.

“Mama,” Danny called, crossing the room and sitting down beside his mother on the sofa. “What’s the word in Springfield?”

Carmen was so distracted by her own thoughts that she didn’t even hear Danny’s voice. He loves me, she thought, I know he loves me. Twenty minutes ago she had been as certain of that as of breathing. And yet…

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Sandoval, he isn’t here,” Tony apologized.

Carmen didn’t have time for her staff’s incompetence. “Of course he is,” – you twit, she didn’t add – “check his office, then check his bedroom.”

“No, Mrs. Sandoval, you don’t understand,” Tony protested. “I don’t need to check, because I know he isn’t here.”

“Then where is he?” she asked impatiently.

“I don’t know Mrs. Sandoval,” Tony apologized again. “He didn’t say where he was going.”

“What exactly did he say?” Carmen asked in exasperation, wondering why she was playing this ridiculous game of twenty questions.

“Only that he would be back first thing in the morning, Mrs. Sandoval, and that if anything went wrong here we should contact him through his driver.”

If Carmen were a jealous woman, she would’ve been worried that Bernard had a mistress. As things stood she found that possibility extremely unlikely. The possibility that he had abducted Michelle, however….

“Mama,” Danny repeated, touching her lightly on the arm in an effort to gain her attention. “Did you call the house?”

“What?” Carmen asked, obviously startled. “Oh, Daniel, yes…and everyone available is on their way here to help with the search.”

“Good, that’s good,” Danny replied, concerned by his mother’s strange behavior. “And is Bernard going to talk to the families there?” Danny still didn’t trust Bernard as far as he could throw him, but these were desperate times, and he needed all the help he could get. He doubted anyone in Springfield was responsible for Michelle’s disappearance, but he didn’t have the time to verify that fact for himself.

“Bernard?” Carmen choked out, still struggling with the possibility that Bernard had betrayed her.

Danny’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. He couldn’t remember ever seeing his mother so, so…nervous, he realized, and he immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion.

“He killed her, didn’t he?” he yelled, jumping up from the couch in agitation. He remembered how beautiful she had looked when he left her in the hotel suite, sleeping in his bed, but the image turned ugly and disturbing as he pictured her on a cold metal slab in the coroner’s office.

Carmen raised her voice as well. “Daniel, please, we’re not going to get anywhere if you keep flying off the handle.”

“What did he do to her, huh? Huh?” he demanded, picking up the pillows on the sofa and flinging them violently against the fireplace. He couldn’t believe how important she had become in his life, but he absolutely did not want her blood on his hands. “Her blood,” he muttered under his breath.

“Stop!” Carmen commanded forcefully.

Danny froze with pillow in hand, his shoulders heaving as he struggled to catch his breath.

Carmen took the pillow from Danny’s hand and placed it gently on the sofa. “All I know,” she admitted reluctantly, “is that he isn’t at the house.”

“He isn’t at the house,” Danny repeated slowly, shaking his head at the completely not-surprising turn of events. “So he might be somewhere with Michelle.”

“We don’t know that,” Carmen answered stubbornly.

“No, we don’t know that,” Danny agreed in a patronizing tone. “But we can certainly find out.”

Danny was half way out the door before Carmen stopped him. “Go get Ray,” she instructed, knowing that she would need a stabilizing influence to keep Danny under control, “and I’ll have Dietz bring the car around.”

Please God, she prayed silently as she walked toward the front door of the condo, don’t take Bernard away from me the way you took Miguel.

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