DANGER IN THE SHADOWS
The summer storm lit up the night sky in a jagged display of energy, lightning bouncing, streaking, fragmenting between towering thunderheads. Sara Walsh ignored the storm as best she could, determined not to let it interrupt her train of thought. The desk lamp as well as the overhead light were on in her office as she tried to prevent any shadows from forming. What she was writing was disturbing enough.
The six-year-old boy had been found. Dead.
Writing longhand on a yellow legal pad of paper, she shaped the twenty-ninth chapter of her mystery novel. Despite the dark specificity of the scene, the flow of words never faltered.
The child had died within hours of his abduction. His family, the Oklahoma law enforcement community, even his kidnapper, did not realize it. Sara did not pull back from writing the scene even though she knew it would leave a bitter taste of defeat in the mind of the reader. The impact was necessary for the rest of the book.
She frowned, crossed out the last sentence, added a new detail, then went on with her description of the farmer who had found the boy.
Thunder cracked directly overhead. Sara flinched. Her office suite on the thirty-fourth floor put her close enough to the storm she could hear the air sizzle in the split second before the boom. She would like to be in the basement parking garage right now instead of her office.
She had been writing since eight that morning. A glance at the clock on her desk showed it was almost eight in the evening. The push to finish a story always took over as she reached the final chapters. This tenth book was no exception.
Twelve hours. No wonder her back muscles were stiff. She had taken a brief break for lunch—two apples and a ham sandwich—while she reviewed the mail Judy had prioritized for her. The rest of her day had been spent working on the book. She arched her back and rubbed at the knot.
This was the most difficult chapter in the book to write. It was better to get it done in one long, sustained effort. Death always squeezed her heart.
Had her brother been in town, he would have insisted she wrap it up and come home. Her life was restricted enough as it was. He refused to let her spend all her time at the office. He would come lean against the doorjamb of her office and give her that look along with his predictable lecture telling her all she should be doing: Putter around the house, cook, mess with the roses, do something other than sit behind that desk.
Sara smiled. She did so enjoy taking advantage of Dave’s occasional absences.
Dave’s flight back to Chicago from the FBI academy at Quantico had been delayed due to the storm front. When he had called her from the airport, he had cautioned her he might not be home until eleven.
It wasn't a problem, she had assured him, everything was fine. Code words. Spoken every day. So much a part of their language now that she spoke them instinctively. "Everything is fine"—all clear; "I'm fine"—I've got company; "I'm doing fine"—I'm in danger. She had lived the dance a long time. The tight security around her life was necessary. It was overpowering, obnoxious, annoying...and comforting.
Sara turned in the black leather chair and looked at the display of lightning. The rain ran down the panes of thick glass. The skyline of downtown Chicago glimmered back at her through the rain.
With every book, another fact, another detail, another intense emotion, broke through from her own past. She could literally feel the dry dirt under her hand, feel the oppressive darkness. Reliving what had happened to her twenty-five years ago was terrifying. Necessary, but terrifying.
She sat lost in thought for several minutes, idly walking her pen through her fingers. Her adversary was out there somewhere, still alive, still hunting her. Had he made the association to Chicago yet? After all these years, she was still constantly moving, still working to stay one step ahead of the threat. Her family knew only too well his threat was real.
The man would kill her. Had long ago killed her sister. The threat didn’t get more basic than that. She had to trust others and ultimately God for her security. There were days her faith wavered under the intense weight of simply enduring that stress. She was learning, slowly, by necessity, how to roll with events, to trust God’s ultimate sovereignty.
The notepad beside her was filled with doodled sketches of faces. One of these days her mind was finally going to stop blocking the one image she longed to sketch. She knew she had seen the man. Whatever the cost, whatever the consequences of trying to remember, they were worth paying in order to try to bring justice for her and her sister.
Sara let out a frustrated sigh. She couldn’t force the image to appear no matter how much she longed to do so. She was the only one who still believed it was possible for her to remember it. The police, the FBI, the doctors, had given up hope years ago.
She fingered a worn photo of her sister Kim that sat by a white rose on her desk. She didn’t care what the others thought. Until the killer was caught, she would never give up hope.
God was just. She held on to that knowledge and the hope that the day of justice would eventually arrive. Until it did, she carried a guilt inside that remained wrapped around her heart. In losing her twin she had literally lost part of herself.
Turning her attention back to her desk, she debated for a moment if she wanted to do any more work that night. She didn't.
When it had begun to rain, she had turned off her computer, not willing to risk possible damage from a building electrical surge should lightning hit a transformer or even the building itself; something that happened with some frequency during such severe storms.
As she put her folder away, the framed picture on the corner of her desk caught her attention; it evoked a smile. Her best friend was getting married. Sara was happy for her, but also envious. The need to break free of the security blanket rose and fell with time. She could feel the sense of rebellion rising again. Ellen had freedom and a life. She was getting married to a wonderful man. Sara longed to one day have that same choice. Without freedom, it wasn’t possible, and that reality hurt. A dream was being sacrificed with every passing day.
She opened her desk drawer and retrieved her purse, then picked up her briefcase.
Her office had plush forest green carpet and ivory walls, the furniture European, the bookcases mahogany, for this was the office where H.Q. Victor, the internationally known British author, worked.
She lifted her lightweight raincoat from the stand by the door and smiled. With the London Fog coat even she looked British.
As she stepped into the outer office, the room lights automatically turned on. They illuminated a massive receptionist area where the walls displayed children's books—thirty-five of them, by Sara J. Walsh. Sara reached back and turned off the interior office lights.
There was a second office twenty feet away, where the name Sara Walsh had been stenciled in gold on the nameplate. She wrote the children's books there, illustrated them, had fun there. The office behind her had no nameplate. When she locked the suite door, an electronic beam triggered behind her, securing the office.
Her suite was in the east tower of the business complex. Rising forty-five stories, the two recently built towers added to the already impressive downtown skyline. Sara liked the modern building and the shopping available on the ground floor. She struggled with the elevator ride to the thirty-fourth floor each day, for she did not like closed-in spaces, but she considered the view worth the price.
The elevator that responded tonight came from two floors below. There were two connecting walkways between the east and west towers, one on the sixth floor and another in the lobby. She chose the sixth floor concourse tonight, walking through it to the west tower with a confident but fast pace.
She was alone in the wide corridor. Travis sometimes accompanied her, but she had waved off his company tonight and told him to go get dinner. If she needed him, she would page him.
The click of her heels echoed off the marble floor. There was parking under each tower, but if she parked under the tower where she worked, she would be forced to pull out onto a one-way street no matter which exit she took. It was a pattern someone could observe and predict. Changing her route and time of day across one of the two corridors was a better compromise. She could hopefully see the danger coming.
Adam Black dropped the pen he held onto the white legal pad of paper and got up to walk over to the window, watching the lightning storm flare around the building. He felt like that inside. Storming, churning.
He had lost more than his dad—he had lost his confidant, his best friend. Trying to cope with the grief by drowning himself in work was only adding to the turmoil.
The passage in Mark chapter 4 of the storm-tossed sea and Jesus asleep in the boat crossed his mind and drew a smile. What had Jesus said? “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Appropriate for tonight.
He rubbed the back of his neck. All of his current exclusive commercial contracts expired in three months time. A feeding frenzy was forming—which ones would he be willing to renew, which new ones would he consider, what kind of money would it cost for people to get exclusive use of his name and image?
The tentative dollar figures being passed by his brother-in-law Jordan were astronomical in size.
The stack of proposals had been winnowed down, but the remaining pile still threatened to slide onto the floor.
All he needed to do was make a decision.
He couldn't remember needing God’s guidance more than he did now.
Five years of his life. The decisions he made would set his schedule for the next five years of his life.
Was it that he didn’t want to make a decision or that he didn’t want to be tied down?
Adam knew the root of the problem had little to do with the work and everything to do with the state of his life. Grief marred his focus, certainly. It was hard to define what he wanted to accomplish. But he was also restless. He had been doing basically the same thing for three years: keeping his image in the public eye and building his business. It had become routine. He hated routine.
His dad would have laughed and told him when the work stopped being fun, it was time to find a new line of work.
They’d had eight days together between the first heart attack and his death. Eight good days despite the pain—Adam sitting at his dad’s hospital bedside and talking about everything under the sun. They had both known that time was short.
“I’ll be walking in glory soon, son,” his dad would quip as they ended each evening, never knowing if it would be the last visit. And Adam would squeeze his hand and reply, “When you get there, you can just save me a seat.”
“I’ll save two,” his dad would reply with a twinkle in his eye that would make Adam laugh.
Adam glanced at the red folder he had placed between the picture of his father and the glass-encased football on the credenza. No, he wasn't reading the list in the folder again tonight. He already knew it by heart.
It was time to go home. Time to feed his dog, if not himself.
Sara decided to take the elevator down to the west tower parking garage rather than walk the six flights. She would have preferred the stairs, but she could grit her teeth for a few flights to save time. She pushed the button to go down and watched the four elevators to see which would respond first. The one to her left, coming down from the tenth floor.
When it stopped, she reached inside, pushed the garage-floor parking button, but did not step inside. Tonight she would take the second elevator.
It came down from the twenty-fifth floor.
Sara shifted her raincoat over her arm and moved her briefcase to her other hand. The elevator stopped and the doors slid open.
A man was in the elevator.
He was leaning against the back of the elevator, looking like he had put in a long day at work, a briefcase in one hand and a sports magazine in the other, his blue eyes gazing back at her. She saw a brief look of admiration in his eyes.
Get in and take a risk, step back and take a risk.
She knew him. Adam Black. His face was as familiar as any sports figure in the country, even if he’d been out of the game of football for three years. His commercial endorsements and charity work had continued without pause.
Adam Black worked in this building? This was a nightmare come true. She saw photographs of him constantly in magazines, local newspapers, and occasionally on television. The last thing she needed was to be near someone who attracted media attention.
She hesitated, then stepped in, her hand tightening her hold on the briefcase handle. A glance at the board of lights showed he had already selected the parking garage.
"Working late tonight?" His voice was low, a trace of a northeastern accent still present, his smile a pleasant one.
Her answer was a noncommital nod.
The elevator began to silently descend.
She had spent too much time in European finishing schools to slouch. Her posture was straight, her spine relaxed, even if she was nervous. She hated elevators. She should have taken the stairs.
"Quite a storm out there tonight."
The heels of her patent leather shoes sank into the jade carpet as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Yes."
Three more floors to go.
There was a slight flicker to the lights and then the elevator jolted to a halt.
"What?" Sara felt adrenaline flicker in her system like the lights.
He pushed away from the back wall. "A lightning hit must have blown a circuit.”
The next second, the elevator went black.
Ten seconds clicked by. Twenty. Sara's adrenaline put her heart rate at close to two hundred. Pitch black. Closed space.
Lord, no. It’s dark. Get me out of this box!
"How long before they fix it?" She did her best to keep her words level and steady. She had spent years learning control, but this was beyond something she could control.
"It may take a few minutes, but they will find the circuit breaker and the elevator will be moving again."
Sounds amplified in the closed space as he moved. He set down his briefcase? She couldn’t remember if there was a phone in the elevator panel or not. How could she have ridden in these elevators for three months and not looked for something so simple?
"No phone, and what I think is the emergency pull button seems to have no effect."
Sara tried to slow down her heart rate by breathing deeply. Her cellular phone would not work inside this elevator, nor her signaling beeper.
"You're very quiet," he said eventually.
"I want out of here," she replied slowly so as to hide the fact her teeth were trying to chatter.
"There's nothing to be afraid of."
She wanted to reply, “You've never been locked in a pitch-black root cellar and left to die before,” but the memories and the panic were already overwhelming her. Her coping skills were scattering to the four winds right when she needed them most. She could do this. Somehow. She had no choice. Her hand clenched in the darkness, nails digging into her palm. It was only darkness. It wasn’t dangerous.
"Consider it from my viewpoint. I'm stuck in the dark with a beautiful woman. There could be worse fates."
She barely heard him. Lord, why tonight? Please, not this. The darkness was so bad she could feel the nausea building.
"Sorry, I didn't mean any offense with that remark."
She couldn't have answered if she wanted to. One thought held her focus fast: surviving. The memory verse she had taken such delight in that morning had scattered. Psalm 23 was a tangle. The moment she needed clarity, her mind was determined to retreat into the past instead. A cold sweat froze her hands. Not here. Not with someone else present. To suffer through a flashback when her brother was around was difficult enough. To do it with a stranger would be horrible.
Adam Black didn't understand the silence. The lady had apparently frozen in one position. "Listen, maybe it would help if we got introduced. I'm Adam Black. And you are...?"
Silence. Then a quiet, "Sara."
"Hi, Sara." He reached out a hand wondering why she was so tense. No nervous laughter, no chatter, just frozen stiffness. "Listen, since it looks like this might actually take some time, why don't we try sitting down." His hand touched hers.
She jerked back and he flinched. Her hand was like ice. This lady was not tense, she was terrified.
He instantly reviewed what he had with him. Nothing of much use. His sports coat was in his car, his team jacket still upstairs in his office. What had she been wearing when she stepped into the elevator? An elegant blue-and-white dress, that had caught his attention immediately, but there had been more...a taupe-colored coat over her arm.
First get her warm, then get her calm.
"Sara, it will be okay. Sit down, let's get you warm." He touched her hand again, grasping it in his so he could turn her toward him. Cold. Stiff.
"I'm...afraid of the dark."
He had to peel her fingers away from her briefcase handle. "You're safe, Sara. The elevator is not going to fall or anything like that. The lights will come back on soon."
He could feel her fighting the hysteria. The tremors coming through her hands were growing stronger. He didn't have to be able to see her to know she was heading for deep shock. "You're safe. I'm not going anywhere. And I'm no threat to you," he added, already wondering what would make a grown woman petrified of the dark. The possibilities that came to mind all made him feel sick.
"I know that, too.”
He carefully guided her down to sit with her back leaning against the elevator wall. He spread her coat out over her and was thankful when she took over and did most of it herself, tucking it up around her shoulders, burying her hands into the soft warmth of the fabric.
He couldn't prevent a smile. "Don't have much practice lying, do you?"
"It sounds better than admitting I'm about to throw up across your shoes." There was almost the sound of an answering smile in her reply.
He sat down carefully, close enough so he could reach her if necessary but far enough away so she hopefully wouldn't feel any more cornered than she already did.
"Try leaning your head back and taking a few deep breaths."
"How long has it been?" she asked a few moments later.
"Maybe four, five minutes."
Adam desperately wished for matches, a lighter, anything to break this blackness for her. "We'll pass the time talking about something and the time will go by in an instant, you'll see. What would you like to talk about first, do you have a preference?"
"Sara. Come on, work with me here."
He was reaching out to shake her shoulder when she suddenly said through teeth that were obviously chattering, "Sports. Why did you retire?"
Adam didn't talk about the details of that decision with many people, but in the present circumstances, she could have asked him practically anything and he wouldn’t have minded.
"Did you see the Superbowl we won?"
"Of course. Half this town hated you for months afterward."
He didn’t have to wonder if that was a smile.
"I liked the feeling of winning. But I was tired. Too tired to do it again. It wasn't just the physical exhaustion of those last games, but the emotional drain of carrying the expectations of so many people. So I decided it was time to let the next guy in line have a chance."
"You got tired."
"I got tired," he confirmed.
"I bet you were tired the season before when you lost the Superbowl to the Vikings."
"Your retirement had nothing to do with being tired." She sounded quite certain about it. Her voice was also growing more steady. "You won that Superbowl ring to prove you were capable of winning it; then you retired because the challenge was gone. You didn't play another season because you would have been bored, not tired."
"You sound quite certain about that theory."
"Maybe because I know I'm right. You're like your father. 'Do It Once—Right—Then Move On.' Wasn't that the motto he lived his life by?"
Adam's shoulder muscles tensed. "Where did you hear that?"
"You had it inscribed on his tombstone," was the gentle reply. "Sorry, I didn't mean to touch a nerve."
Adam didn't answer. When and why had this lady been to the cemetery where his father was buried? It was outside of the city quite a distance and it was an old cemetery where most plots had been bought ahead for several generations. That inscription had not been added until almost a month after the burial.
She was a reporter. The realization settled like a rock in his gut. She had executed this meeting perfectly. Setting up this “chance” encounter, paying off a building maintenance worker to throw a switch for her, giving him every reason to believe he was going to be playing the hero, keeping her calm while the lights were out. He had been buying the entire scenario, hook, line and sinker.
"I like the quote and the philosophy of life it contains."
"Sara, could we cut the facade? What do you want? You're a writer, aren't you?"
Silence met his anger.
"What kind of writer would you like me to admit to being?" The ice in her voice was unmistakable.
"Just signal for this elevator to start moving again and I'll consider not throttling you."
"You think I caused this?"
"Not going to try denying you're a writer?"
"I don't have much practice lying," she replied tersely, echoing his earlier words.
"Great. Then I would say we are at an impasse, wouldn't you?" He waited for a response but didn't get one. "When you get tired of sitting in the dark, just signal your cohorts that we are done talking and we'll go our separate ways. Until then, I have nothing else to say to you."
"That's fine with me."
And with that, there was nothing between them but a long, cold silence.
THANK YOU FOR READING CHAPTER ONE