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Trust is a funny thing. It’s fragile and indefinable, something that can’t be seen or heard or touched. Trust is something you either have, or you don’t. It can appear in an instant, and it can disappear in an instant. Trust is something that can build from something crazy, but also from something normal.
Trust is a lot like love.
So it was funny to me that someone who was so completely off-the-rocker insane, someone who should’ve been the bad guy in this story, could earn my trust even after she kidnapped me. Maybe it was because she was a girl. Maybe it was because I had this uncontrollable desire to help her in any way. I didn’t know, and I still don’t.
All I know is that trust alone is what I have to go on, now that I’m stuck here in the middle of this mess. And trust is going to have to be enough.
It was Blake’s idea.
I’m not sure what made him suddenly decide to hold a surprise concert in Barnsdall Park in the middle of the night, although I can understand why. Our band, 88Keys, hasn’t been in the spotlight since three months ago when Blake had turned seventeen. We were bored, simple as that. Blake even wrote a song about it, but Bruno Mars beat him to the punch with “The Lazy Song”.
I was the tweeter in our family, so as soon as Blake came up with the spontaneous idea I tweeted it to all of our fans. I got a ton of text-squeals back, which was gratifying. It was nice to know that people hung onto our every word. Blake rushed around our Los Angeles house—because we had more than one, of course—grabbing instruments and notebooks and trying to decide what clothes or sneakers he should wear.
“Rocky!” he exclaimed, running up to me and holding up two guitars—one red and one blue. “Which one should I use for the surprise concert?”
I barely had time to open my mouth before he glanced at them again and shook his head. “You’re right—they’re both too dark to play at night. I’ll get my white one. Thanks, Rocky!” And he dashed off again.
Blake was childish. It made sense, because he was the youngest in the family, so he had an excuse. He was kind of like the youth in our brotherhood, while Shane was more serious and I guess I was a mixture of both. Blake was always ready with a smile.
Shane was probably the opposite. He was sardonic, one of those dark, brooding bad boys chicks couldn’t get enough of. He didn’t talk unless he had to, but when he did it was usually with a smirk. Shane was usually the target of Blake’s infinite pranks—I think Blake was trying to draw some sort of reaction from him, but Shane was as about as expressionless as a rock.
I already had my outfit picked out. While Blake was careful about what he mixed and matched, I was more the person who would throw something on and be done with it, and that’s why I had on a black and red leather jacket, a dark red T-shirt advertising Robin, my favorite non-superhero from my current favorite TV show, Young Justice, loose jeans, and some sweet black Nike kicks. The choker necklace Mom gave me before she died hung around my neck as always. I wasn’t a sensitive person, but if one thing made me feel closer to Mom, it was music and that necklace.
Shane was ready to go, too. He chose black and silver instead of black and red, with black denim skinny jeans and silver boots. He was lounging in the kitchen with me, strumming his Solidbody electric guitar that had been custom made to fit in the crook of his elbow. Shane was the guitarist in our band. All of us could play, but he’d been playing the longest and that automatically made him better at it. Same thing with Blake and the drums, and me at piano.
I glanced at the clock on one of the kitchen’s many ovens. “Blake, it’s almost nine o’ clock!” I yelled. “We’re going to be late if you don’t haul your—”
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Blake came flying down the stairs and into our kitchen. He’d kept up with the black theme, going for black and blue with a blue jacket and black jeans. He’d gone with the blue guitar again, probably deciding that it didn’t need to be seen if it matched his outfit. Blake gave us both a bright smile. “This is gonna be sick.”
I rolled my eyes and caught Shane smirking slightly as he stood and stretched. Blake bounced excitedly as he all but skipped out the door, giving the picture of our mother hanging on the wall a kiss as he went. Shane kissed his fingers and then the picture on his way out, and I did the same, lingering on her soft brown eyes and sandy blonde hair. I’d gotten most of my looks from her as the only blonde in the family. I missed her. Giving the glass another quick kiss I slipped out the door and closed it quietly behind me.
“Did you leave a note?” I asked Shane as I slipped into our silver Toyota Camry.
We’d done this before; ditching our Dad and bodyguards, I mean. The most trouble we’d ever gotten into was having to run from a mob of fans, and that hasn’t happened in a while, so we were confident we didn’t need any of them. Dad meant well, but sometimes his overbearing protectiveness, just like his overbearing height, could be a little choking.
Shane drove quickly. Nine at night was cocktail time for Hollywood, so I wasn’t surprised to see the familiar LA traffic crowding the streets. Luckily for us, Barnsdall Park was only a couple of blocks from our house. It was small in the Hollywood sense, but it had a perfect field surrounded by trees that was just right for holding an impromptu concert.
“Is this solo?” Shane asked Blake.
“Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t want to bother the guys.”
Blake was talking about our other bandmates. While we were a brother band, nobody could just pull off band fame with just three people. There were five more in all—Ash Drake on bass guitar, Karen Williams and Mike Jackson for backup vocals, Joy Hart on violin, and Jake Moore on keyboard. They came on tour with us and played when we had scheduled things, but Blake was right—they’d just be downright cranky called out in the middle of the night, no matter how close we are.
We made it to the park in minutes, and I was impressed to see how many fans actually made it out in time. There were at least a couple hundred, all crammed into the small field. Shane, Blake, and I parked our car right in front of them and they all screamed, probably recognizing us on sight. We had really dedicated fans. They even waited patiently while we got our mics and amps set up. A few minutes after that and we were all rocking out to the music.
Music has always been a big thing for my family. Back when Mom was alive, she had this guitar and she would sit us down and strum it while we made up songs about school and getting our pajamas on and stuff like that. It seems really silly now that I’m older but they were some of the best memories I had. Now I could feel her all around me as I sang and danced and played my guitar. Blake was right—we really needed this. I was going crazy cooped up in the house doing nothing all month.
We were into our third song and everything was going great until the feedback came. The thing about mics and amps is that they don’t really mix very well. If you stand in the wrong spot, you get really loud, high, painful screeching from the speakers and a headache to last you a week at a time. Trained musicians who’ve been doing concerts for years know where to stand and where not to stand. Blake, Shane, and I have been doing concerts for years. We knew where to stand. There shouldn’t have been any feedback—not only that, but it definitely shouldn’t have been that loud.
I knew what the high pitched wail was but that didn’t mean I was immune to it. One minute I was rocking out and the next I was on the ground, hands clapped over my ears, eyes squeezed shut in pain. If it was bad for us it must’ve been twenty times worse for our fans. They were hearing it amplified on the speakers. Next to me, Blake writhed on the ground. His mouth was open and I think he was screaming, but I couldn’t hear a thing. My ears were ringing with a million bells, but I realized the sound had stopped. It was only a short burst of feedback—incredibly painful, but at least it didn’t last long enough to rupture my ear drums or something.
Someone grabbed my arm and I looked up, trying to focus on the hazy figure standing above me. It was a girl, I think, a girl with long, sleek black curls and headphones over her ears. I locked eyes with her for a second, and they were cold and calculating and not in the least bit fan-like. She reached for my face with a cloth and that’s when I knew I was in trouble.
The call came at two in the morning. The man in the bed rolled over and picked it up. He hadn’t been sleeping—he rarely ever did—so it wasn’t an interruption, although it was unwelcome.
The man didn’t have to say anything, because the voice on the other end started to talk as soon as the line was picked up. “You saw on the news?”
“I don’t watch the news,” the man told him.
“You should. It would keep you up to date.”
The man blinked slowly into the darkness of the hotel bedroom he was currently staying in. “I assume you aren’t calling me at this hour to reprimand me for my lack of television use.”
There was a dry chuckle on the other end. “True enough. The girls. The boss thinks they’ve resurfaced.”
That got his attention fast. The man sat up, wide awake now. “Is he sure this time?”
“Positive. Turn on the news and you’ll know why.”
It only took a couple of seconds for the man to grab the remote and turn on the TV, switching to the local news station. A puzzled frown sat on his lips. “I don’t know. This seems a little upscale for two teenagers to pull off.”
“They’re that good,” the voice on the other end said. “That’s why he’s so sure—those girls are the only ones smart enough and ambitious enough to succeed.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Use the boy, this… Rocky Nelson. Find him and you find the girls. The boss wants them dead and the keys retrieved.”
The voice on the other line hung up, and the man was left to stare at the television screen, where still shots of three teenage celebrities flashed repeatedly, the anchorwoman’s voice full of false panic and sympathy. A slow smile spread across his face.
This could be fun.
Once, when I was thirteen, a bunch of girls raided the boys locker room, grabbed the few of us guys that were in here, and tied us to trees. They took pictures, but that was the most harm done. We even sat down with the girls and laughed about it afterwards, getting our revenge by pelting them with water balloons. That’s probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to being kidnapped.
This was nothing like that.
I woke up abruptly, enough to make me smack the back of my head against something metal. My ears still rang from the feedback burst. Everything was disorienting and confusing, so I didn’t realize I couldn’t see at first. Then, once I got my bearings, I realized there was a cloth around my eyes.
A blindfold? I tried to reach up to take it off and discovered my wrists were handcuffed behind me. My heart rate sped up, and that’s about when I realized that whatever situation I’d gotten myself into, it could be dangerous.
Voices drifted in, assaulting my ears. It appeared to be two people—sorry, two women—arguing. I lay still and tried to listen for words that would tell me what happened, but they were foggy, as if I couldn’t focus on the individual voices. Then, I realized with a shock that whoever was arguing was talking rapid Spanish.
“What—?” The word slipped from my mouth before I had a chance to think about what I was doing. Immediately the voices stopped, and there was a deafening silence as I waited for something to happen. Fingers closed around the blindfold and yanked it off my head.
“Ow!” I whined, blinking in the sudden light. It took me a second to focus on the girl in front of me—she had her faced pressed up so close to mine our noses were almost touching. “Whoa! Lady, space!”
She back up, and I saw her for the first time. She couldn’t have been much older than me, with copper skin and sleek black ringlets resting on her shoulders for hair. I caught a glimpse of annoyed, dark brown eyes, like crystallized chocolate, as she finally came to rest on her heels. The girl didn’t say anything, just stared until I shifted uncomfortably, looking around whatever they were keeping me in just to avoid those chocolate crystals.
It looked like the back of a van, but it must’ve been in park mode because it definitely wasn’t moving. The walls were bare and metallic, so, definitely a van. No windows except for the windshield and the side windows on the driver and passenger sides. I got my first look at the driver of the van, and then I got a real shock. It was another girl, except she was young—young like, Blake young. She was avoiding my eyes but the energy coming off of her was a lot less hostile than the girl in front of me. They were both Hispanic. But the younger girl’s hair was a lighter red-brown, although it was still dark. I assumed they were sisters, or at least related.
“So, are you fans or something?” I ventured. “Because if you wanted an autograph, all you had to do was ask.”
My voice cracked a little bit, betraying just how freaked I was about this whole situation. I had a feeling that the girls weren’t fans, which was then confirmed when the older one pulled out the unmistakable sleek form of a gun. She stopped me from scrambling into the side of the van by placing the barrel right up to the center of my forehead, execution-style. My limbs seized up and I froze, despite every nerve of my body screaming at me to move and get out of the path of the crazy homicidal kidnapper chick.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Pure, blank, white terror coursed through me, and I didn’t even know what to think, no last thoughts or words to remember me by… not that anybody would catch those last thoughts or words. I just cringed against the chilled metal of the gun, waiting for the bullet that would tear apart my skull and send me off to see my mom again.
But it never came. A good ten seconds passed before I cautiously opened my eyes again and the girl was half-glaring at me, but I could see the tiniest hint of amusement in her face. The gun was still pressed my forehead, and she kept it there until a couple more seconds had passed. Then she said, “Shut up,” and put the gun away.
The girl up front said something in Spanish, and Crazy Chick answered. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decipher what was being said—not that I’d be able to concentrate after what’d almost happened anyways—because I’d taken sign language in high school instead of the cliché Spanish everybody else took. The conversation continued like I wasn’t even there, but it wasn’t until Crazy Chick had moved up to talk to her sister or whoever she was when my body finally went limp. I had the strongest urge to cry, or have a hysterical fit, but I forced back the scream rising in my throat and tried to think through exactly what had just happened. Crazy Chick was just messing with me with the gun, but I got the feeling that she would actually shoot me if I tried anything. That was fine by me—I didn’t know how many scares it would take to send me into cardiac arrest, but one was definitely enough.
Another wave of panic surged through me. I’d been kidnapped by Spanish-speaking teenagers who definitely weren’t fans. Blake and Shane—with any luck I was the only one being held hostage and my brothers were safe, but who knew? Maybe they were terrorists sent by aliens to try to break our spirits and just wanted me to think that they were okay. Hell, what did I know? I’d been kidnapped by psycho chicks!
I took another deep breath. Now I was starting to freak out, and that wasn’t an option right now. Right now, I had to figure out how I was going to get out of this mess. The younger girl put the van in gear and started to back the car out, while the older girl turned back to me.
“Shut up,” she said again when I opened my mouth. I shut it with quiet annoyance. Shutting up was something I wasn’t exactly used to. Not to brag, but I was used to people hanging on my every word. I tried not to take it personally, though. She wanted me to shut up, fine.
Ten minutes later I had to press my lips together tightly to keep from saying anything. The panic had ebbed a bit, and now I was desperately curious, questions on the tip of my tongue and wild, wild theories running through my head. But Crazy Chick was staring at me again with that creepy intense look on her face. She barely blinked the entire time we’d been in the van, so I kept my eyes on my lap as I sat Indian-style, leaning against the metallic wall of the van. The younger kidnapper put the van in park and turned it off, looking at Crazy Chick. The girl jerked her head once towards the door and the driver opened it and hopped out. The door had barely closed when Crazy Chick turned back towards me and pulled out that nasty gun again.
“Out,” she said, motioning with the gun at the sliding door of the van.
I blinked at her. A thousand smart-aleck comments came to mind but I bit them back. Pissing off the crazy kidnapper was probably not the best idea. “I can’t,” I told her honestly.
A perfect eyebrow arched and disappeared into the girl’s long bangs. “Pretty sure you can. Get out.”
Look at that, she could speak more than two words at a time. A small twinge of a Spanish accent hinted in her voice, which probably would’ve been sexy if she wasn’t holding a gun in my face and threatening my life with it.
I jingled my cuffs from behind my back and gave her a pointed look. Her eyes rolled and she reached around me—uncomfortably close, I might add—and grabbed a hold of the chain between my wrists, jerking it and turning me around forcefully. I yelped and crashed backwards, almost landing in her lap, except she was already up and moving, grabbing the handle of the door and sliding it open. Then she grabbed my shoulder and hoisted me up and out. I grunted as I face-planted on the sidewalk, jarred. Definitely not my most graceful exit.
“Come on,” Crazy Chick said, grabbing my arm and pulling me to my feet. “Inside.”
I took a look at the building. It was a small warehouse, about the size of a Safeway grocery store. Graffiti decorated the sides of it but I could never read that stuff anyways, and the whole outside was the basic definition of “run down.” The brick was falling apart at the edges and I could see broken windows. To my left, the waves broke and lapped against the sea wall, also made of brick, and it gave off the comforting, familiar smell of the salty Pacific Ocean.
The place looked deserted and would probably be a candidate for Ghost Hunters just from appearances. I looked at Crazy Chick, incredulous. “You’re kidding.”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?”
I eyed her up and down. She didn’t look like she could kid anyone. I winced, staring up at the building, reluctant to do anything until Crazy Chick gave me a hard shove in the back and I stumbled forward a few steps.
“Will you chill?” I told her. “God, you are so violent.”
She didn’t say anything, but her face darkened as if to tell me I was pushing my luck. Good enough for me. I shut up and walked forward slowly, taking in my surroundings. To the right the street was empty and desolate, kind of sad-looking. I could tell nobody had been on it for a while because there were cracks in the street that had grass and dandelions growing in them, huge potholes, and broken glass. Trees lined the lonely road on the other side, with rows and rows of other trees behind it to form a forest. The sky above me was overcast and gray with clouds, and there was an electric smell in the air that told me a storm was coming.
I didn’t want to risk a look back, because I knew that Crazy Chick would probably just knock me out again if I annoyed her too much, but I could see the Pacific Ocean to my left and felt instantly better. We were still in California, I figured, despite not knowing how long I was out. That meant there was still hope, no matter how bleak the situation looked.
The other girl appeared around the corner of the building. I didn’t know where she went, but she gave Crazy Chick a nod and then opened one of the doors. The top hinges creaked and then the poor thing snapped, and with a moaning noise the door succumbed to gravity and fell. I cringed away, expecting it to crash to the ground, but then the bottom hinges caught and it sagged with the extra weight.
Crazy Chick grinned at me. “You scared, superstar?”
“No,” I muttered, staring cautiously at the door to see if it would hold. It did, and the younger girl walked right through it and motioned us inside. Crazy Chick shoved me again, and I followed her in.
Immediately I started to cough. Dust and grime was everywhere. My eyes watered and I leaned to the side to keep from coughing on anybody else while Crazy Chick pounded on my back, hard. Awfully considerate of her, being a psycho kidnapping criminal and all. Eventually my cough was controlled and I took to alternating between my nose and my mouth for breathing.
Crazy Chick pulled up a chair that had been sitting in the middle of the room, grabbed my shoulder, and shoved me into it. “Sit,” she said belatedly, like she was remembering her manners at the last second.
“Yeah, I got that.” The words slipped out before I had a chance to think about them. I mentally slapped my palm to my forehead. Me and my big mouth, right?
Crazy Chick arched another eyebrow, looking amused as the other girl undid one of my cuffs, slid it through one of the pegs in the back of the chair, and re-cuffed it to my wrist and locked it. I jerked the chain, just to test it, and it held fast. Awesome.
“Okay,” Crazy Chick said, finally tucking the gun into her back pocket. “Here’s how this is going to go. You’re going to stay with us for a while until your parents pay for you, and then you’re going to leave. Got it?”
I blinked at her. “This is about ransom?”
“You’re also going to shut up or I will gag you for the rest of your time here,” she said pleasantly. It was creepy, how conversational she was being, but I didn’t want to have to chew on a rag until Dad could pay, so I didn’t mention it.
“If you try to escape, I will shoot you. If you call someone, I will shoot them, and then I will make sure you die slowly and painfully and hide you where no one will ever find your body again.”
I blinked. “Um, okay. No escaping, no calling. Got it.”
She gave me a smile that held no humor or fondness. “Good boy.” Then she turned to the girl, said something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, and turned back to me. “Just do what we say and you’ll be out of here by the weekend. I’ll be back. Don’t try anything.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said dryly, watching as she strutted out of the building.
The girl pulled up a chair and sat it in backwards, leaning on the back so she could watch me. She stared, just like Crazy Chick, unblinking. I shifted, uncomfortable.
“So,” I said awkwardly. “You always go around kidnapping famous people, or is this just a new hobby for you?”
Her mouth twitched.
“I mean, I know this face is worth some money, but this is a little ridiculous.” I rolled my eyes for effect, and this time she really did smile. The smile was infectious, so I smiled back. “Good to know not all kidnappers are psychotic.”
“I’m a fan,” she admitted, and her voice was husky like Crazy Chick’s, but a lot younger-sounding. And there was that accent again, too.
“She talks!” I looked up to the ceiling as if it was the sky. “Hallelujah! I won’t be bored out of my mind!”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I also bake and kidnap rock stars for a living,” she said, sarcastic but light.
I shrugged. “To each his own, I guess. Err—her own? You know what I mean.”
Another eye-roll. I was scoring points with Little Miss Kidnapper.
“So, you’re a fan, huh?” I asked. “That’s cool. I would shake your hand, sign something for you, but, uh… I’m a bit tied up, so.”
“Sorry,” she said, shrugging. “My sister says it’s necessary. But yeah, I’m a fan.”
Aha! Sisters! I knew they were related. Obviously the excitement of having new information showed on my face, because the girl looked horrified that she’d blurted it out. “Please don’t tell her I said that!” she said, covering her face with her hands. “You weren’t supposed to know that.”
“My lips are sealed,” I promised her, smiling a little bit.
We settled into a comfortable silence until the girl got up to grab a small backpack on the table next to the door. Now that I was really looking, the empty warehouse wasn’t as empty as it seemed—there was a table, three chairs counting the ones me and the girl were sitting on, a cardboard box beneath the table, and a small office room in the back with glass windows. The girl walked back and sat down, unzipping the backpack and pulling out a banana.
“Hungry?” she offered, holding it out to me.
My stomach ached but held back a rumble, so I shook my head. I really was hungry, and I had no real reason to refuse the banana except for the fact that I was feeling a little rebellious. Now that Crazy Chick was gone, the terror and panic had disappeared with her. Now I was just mad. Although this girl’s company was nice enough to let me forget that.
The girl shrugged and peeled into the fruit, taking a bite and swallowing. “So,” I said, shifting in my seat. “What’s a nice girl like you doing committing a federal offense?”
Her eyes rolled again. “I see somebody’s been keeping up with cheesy kidnapping movies.”
“Well then,” she said, leaning back in the chair. “I would tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” There was a twinkle in her eye as she said it, but I got the feeling that she wasn’t exactly kidding.
I shrugged. “Fair enough. But can I at least know your name? It’s getting old, calling you “the girl” in my head all the time.”
She gave me a look, and then heaved a sigh. “Nani.”
“Yeah,” Nani said, shrugging. “Like Shawnee, except with an ‘n’. Or ‘what’, in Japanese.”
“Cool,” I said, relaxing. “I’m—”
“Rocky Nelson,” she said. “I know.”
“Of course you do,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Silly me.”
Nani grinned. “Fan.”
Crazy came back then, flinging the door open so hard it banged against the side of the wall. She stood in the doorway, a hammer in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. I shook my head. So that’s what she was doing—fixing the hinges on the door. This chick could do it all—fix doors, speak Spanish, kidnap rock stars… and I had a sinking suspicion that wasn’t even the half of it.
“Behaving yourself?” she asked me snarkily.
I rolled my eyes. “Like I can rebel cuffed to a chair.”
She shrugged. “Could be worse. I could be a fan, forcing you to do unspeakable things. With a camera.”
I stared at her, trying to figure out if she was messing with me again. But her glossed lips just pulled back into a mischievous smirk and she turned again to talk to her sister in Spanish. I rolled my eyes and waited for them to finish.
“You know,” I said, butting in when it looked like Crazy was pausing to take a breath, “we don’t actually have a lot of money just lying around. Most of it goes to our record label. If this is about ransom, you should know—you’re not getting millions.”
“We don’t need millions,” Nani told me. But then Crazy shot her a sharp look and her entire face flushed, embarrassed.
“They’re going to need proof that you have me,” I said stubbornly. “And cops can trace phones—or don’t you watch CSI?”
Crazy crossed her arms and looked at me thoughtfully. “You’re right.”
I opened my mouth to argue some more, and then her response caught up to me and my jaw dropped anyways. “I am?”
“Yeah, you are.” Her chocolate crystal eyes focused on something below my face. “I wonder how many people have custom-made necklaces with “Rocky” spelled on them?”
My eyes widened and I jerked my chin down, trying to see the choker necklace around my neck. “Wait, no, please,” I said pleadingly, not even ashamed of my begging. “My mom gave this to me, you can’t just—”
Too late, her hand closed around the beads that spelled my name and yanked, hard. Pain shot up my spine as the clasp gave and suddenly Mom’s necklace, the one I never took off, was in Crazy the Kidnapper’s hand. I glared at her, royally pissed now. She was lucky that I was cuffed to this chair because if not, I would’ve been beating her senseless, girl or no girl.
“Don’t worry, Superstar,” she said, giving me another smirk. “It’s going back to your family. You’ll get it when you get back.”
When. I tried not to sag in relief. When was good. When meant they really wouldn’t hurt me if I didn’t push my luck. Crazy looked at Nani and said something in Spanish, then turned to me again.
“I’ll be right back,” she said. “You know the drill.”
I bit back the sarcastic remark that sat on the tip of my tongue and watched as she walked out the door and shut it, the new hinges and screws squeaking quietly.
Fuming, I sat in the chair and twisted my wrists, just to see if I could pull a Houdini and slip out of the cuffs. Nani sat in her chair, watching me.
“This doesn’t come easily to you, does it?” she asked suddenly. “Obeying orders.”
I gave her a look. She seriously had no clue.
It was amazing how fast news traveled. Shane Nelson sat on the grass with his baby brother in his lap, staring at the flashing blue and red police lights. The cops had taken eleven minutes to reach the park, and another eight to fight through the panicked, jam packed crowd of teenaged girls to reach the brothers. Yellow tape surrounded the equipment while men in black vests scurried over the scene with cameras and lasers and other CSI things. It would’ve been cool to Shane, who was a huge technology buff, if Rocky weren’t missing.
Blake wasn’t crying but Shane could feel his little brother shaking as he held him. Shane was twenty-three, and he wasn’t really a hugger. But his brother needed this. I need this. Something this huge has never happened before—not that he knew of.
It was all so bizarre. Shane hated using the excuse, “It all happened so fast,” but this time he didn’t have a choice. He barely remembered anything after the feedback burst assaulted his ears and sent him crashing to his knees. There was one thing, though. The girl.
He didn’t remember much about her except her face. Copper skin, sleek, black hair with curls that reached down to her shoulders and eyes that looked like brown crystals glittering in the spotlights set up for the concert. The two of them had locked gazes before she ignored him, and moved on to Rocky.
That was the thing Shane hated the most about the whole thing. Why Rocky? Why was he so important to her that she would pass up Shane? Why didn’t Shane do anything to stop her from taking his brother?
He must’ve blacked out, or maybe the disorientation got to him. The next thing he knew, Rocky and the girl were gone and the fans were going crazy. He found Blake sitting on the ground staring at the trees, fists gripping the grass for dear life as sirens echoed in the background. Shane didn’t recognize the look on his face—something a cross between complete and utter anguish, horror, confusion. He was in shock, Shane knew. So he did the only thing a big brother could do in this situation, and gather him in his arms and hugged him for dear life.
He wished he could hug his other one.
The sound of his name jerked him back to reality and he looked up from his position in the grass. His father was bounding towards him and pretty much shaking the ground along with him. He had closed the gap between them in seconds, crowd and all.
“Shane,” he said, and before Shane knew it he was being crushed by his father’s meaty arms, Blake sandwiched in the middle.
Hank Nelson stood at a staggering 6’6”, and ninety percent of his 210 pounds was based on solid muscle. He was a handsome man with a clean shaven face but an obvious five o’ clock shadow etching on his chin. His hair was dark and his eyes were blue, just like his eldest and youngest, and his voice was a baritone that rang over crowds of voices.
Being hugged by him was like being crushed by a polar bear.
“Don’t ever do that again!” Hank scolded his sons as he finally released them.
“Sorry,” Shane told him. Blake didn’t say anything.
Hank rubbed a hand over his face and tried not to freak out. “Forget it. I’m just glad you’re safe.”
“Rocky isn’t,” Blake said. His voice was dark and low and Shane didn’t like it one bit. “Rocky’s with that psycho girl who kidnapped him, and we just sat back on our ass and did nothing!”
“Blake Jeffery,” Hank said, using his son’s middle name. “Watch your tongue.”
“Watch my tongue?” Blake exploded. “Rocky’s out there somewhere with some kidnapper and you’re worried about me swearing?”
Shane put a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and it immediately calmed him down. Blake took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and opened them again.
“Sorry, Dad,” he said dejectedly.
Hank nodded. “I understand.” He heaved a sigh. "There's nothing else we can do here. Let's go home and get some rest, and then we'll handle the press tomorrow. Sound good?"
Shane and Blake nodded dutifully. Inside, Shane’s stomach was churning. His dad was handling the whole kidnapping situation a whole lot better than he was. Or than Blake was. It made him wonder if his mom would’ve been just as worried as they were, had she be alive at the time, or if she would take it stoically like his dad?
“Excuse me,” came a soft voice from behind them.
The Nelsons turned to see a short, stout man wearing a pressed suit and a tie, a small black goatee and beady eyes. He had a badge on a string that hung around his neck, and his hands were shoved in his pockets.
He wasn’t the one who talked, though. The voice belonged to the female standing next to him—and she was much nicer to look at. Auburn hair spilled out from a ponytail at the top of her head, bangs framing her face and her bright blue eyes. She had fair skin and looked considerably younger than the man standing next to her. A badge hung around her neck, resting against the white cotton material of her shirt.
“Special Agent Kate Howard, FBI,” she told them, not unkindly. “This is my partner, Special Agent Rodney Turnbow. We need to ask you some questions… if that’s okay?” She said the last part looking at the towering Hank Nelson, who had his arms crossed in a defensive gesture as he stood slightly in front of the boys.
Hank tilted his head and eyed his sons. Shane stared back at him, stoic as usual. He got that from his father. Blake, on the other hand, avoided the gazes directed at him and glared at the ground, wringing the sides of his jacket with his clenched fists. He stood next to Shane but leaned into his older brother—protective, but also to remind himself that he still had another brother to keep.
“Alright,” Hank told the agents. “But not here. Let’s go to our house."
“We will require the use of your telephone lines,” the man said, “in case the kidnappers call for a ransom.”
His voice made him instantly dislikable, if his looks and his name hadn’t already scared somebody away. A nasal tenor, it made the skin on Shane’s arms crawl and made him want to wince at the grating sound. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the man didn’t censor his words in the least bit, causing Blake to flinch violently at the words “kidnappers” and “ransom.”
Shane felt his own fists clench as he fought to keep from hitting the man for upsetting his brother. Agent Howard shot her partner a disapproving glance, and Shane immediately liked her more than Agent Turnbow. She, at least, knew how sensitive this case would be to the brothers, the fans, everyone around the world who would hear about Rocky’s kidnapping in the next twenty four hours.
Hank ignored Turnbow’s words and turned to Agent Howard. “Follow me,” he said gruffly.
Although the crowd of fans had thinned, the crowd of paparazzi took its place almost immediately. The clicks and flashes of the cameras combined with the never ending flood of shouted questions had been blocked out by Shane and Blake due to the initial shock of the kidnapping, but now they returned with full force. Shane winced and fought his way down the aisle his bodyguards made for them, ignoring the questions but not bothering to hide his face from the pictures. He knew from experience that hiding your face just spurred gossip, and that was the last thing they needed.
They got to the car unscathed. Hank chose the Range Rover—a huge, towering truck with considerably speed and efficiency. It screamed, “Get the hell out of my way” through its jet black paint and blinding headlights, especially when Hank was driving it—considering he drove like a maniac anywhere. Shane suspected this ride may be more wild than usual as his dad fought through traffic to get to the house.
He was right. Cars honked and people stuck their hands out the window, although they blurred past them so fast Shane couldn’t see exactly what they were signing. He had an idea, though. His dad usually got that reaction out of people when driving.
They pulled up to their house a few minutes later. To their credit, the agents didn’t even blink when they stepped out of their own Denali, which led Shane to believe they had handled celebrity cases on a daily basis. It was when they stepped inside, however, when they got the biggest shock.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Nelson,” Marni, their Spanish housekeeper, said as Hank opened the door. “He insisted.”
“Who insisted?” Hank wondered aloud, traveling down the hall to see.
In their massive kitchen sat a man on a laptop. He wore a long brown trench coat and a black fedora, which would’ve looked good if not for his long, greasy brown hair that stuck out underneath. He had a strong chin and mischievous brown eyes that twinkled as he turned towards the five.
“Hello, I’m Private Detective Caleb Dawson!” he said, obnoxiously cheerful. He immediately leapt up upon seeing them enter and made a beeline towards Hank. Grabbing his hand and pumping it up and down, he grinned a toothy smile. “You must be Hank Nelson. I’ve read all about you. Of course, I had to do some research on the way up here, but I have one of those Droid thingies that let you surf the internet? Of course, this happened like an hour ago, and I was in the neighborhood, but still, do you know how hard it is to look people up and drive at the same time? Let me tell you, it’s ridicul—“
“Get the hell out of my house,” Hank growled.
Usually his voice and his size was enough to send a regular person packing for the door, but Dawson obviously wasn’t a regular person. In response, his grin got even wider, if that was possible. “No, no, I have to tell you my proposition first!” he exclaimed. “Come here, take a seat, I’ve got something to show you!”
He spotted Shane and Blake then, and his grin dropped and his eyes got wide. “Oh, gosh, you guys are 88 Keys!”
“We’re missing a member,” Shane told him, but the sarcasm in his voice did nothing to damper the detective’s enthusiasm.
“Gosh, I’ve been following you guys ever since two cases ago! See, this girl went missing and she was huge fans of yours. Found her—she’s a pretty girl, too, maybe I could hook you up? I just know she’d love to hear from you guys.” Dawson caught wind of the expressions on his audience’s faces and quickly backtracked. “Anyways, I’m here to offer my services.”
“What are we, chopped liver?” This came from Agent Howard as she and Agent Turnbow shouldered their way up to face the detective. Shane liked her sarcasm.
“No disrespect to you, agents,” Dawson said apologetically. “I just mean, I usually handle big cases like this. And I have a high success rate! See?” He pulled a thick stack of news articles from out of nowhere and slapped it onto the marble counter top.
Hank glared at him but his eyes darted down. He had to say, the detective sure had made a name for himself. His specialty was locating missing people, and he was pretty good at it. Hank crossed his arms slowly and looked at the agents for their opinion.
Turnbow spoke up first. “I’ve heard of this clown,” he said, scowling. “His attitude is grating, but he’s good at what he does.”
Dawson beamed at the praise. “Well, you know what I like to say: humor balances out the gloom in life!” He gathered up the papers and stashed them back in his briefcase. “So! I’d like to start with your boys, if that’s alright. They did see the kidnapper, for a brief second is that correct?”
“How did you—” Blake started to say.
“We never said we would hire you,” his father interrupted, glaring at the man.
Immediately Dawson’s face fell. “You won’t regret it, sir,” he insisted. “Honest—I can work on all the smaller leads while your agents can work on the more obvious ones. That way it distracts the kidnappers and gives me a chance to work my magic!”
“Dad,” Shane said, and that’s all he had to say as his father looked back at him. Shane gave him a shrug. It couldn’t hurt. Hank sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. Suddenly he looked extremely tired.
“Okay,” he said finally. “But tomorrow. It’s almost one in the morning and my boys need to get to bed.”
Dawson lit up like a beacon. “Thank you sir, you won’t regret it!”
You said that already, Hank thought wryly, trying not to wince as the detective grabbed his hand and tried his best to pump it off. He spotted a few more words that went by so fast Hank couldn’t even catch them, and went out the door in a blur of brown and black.
The Nelsons stared after them, until Hank caught the looks of the agents still standing in his house. “That goes for you too,” he snapped. “Anything you have to ask my boys will have to wait until tomorrow. Understand?”
“Yes sir,” the two chorused. Shane wondered if it was because as agents they were naturally respectful, or if it was his father’s demanding nature. Either way, they meekly left without a word.
Hank turned to his sons. Blake looked like he was about to fall asleep on his feet, but Shane stood leaning against the wall, arms crossed, eyes dark and tracking his father like he usually did. “Bed,” he told them. “Now.”
Blake and Shane trudged up the stairs to their rooms, giving the picture of their mother a kiss as they went. Hank walked over and took the picture frame off the wall and sat on the couch, staring at his wife and wishing she was here to ease everyone’s minds.
He waited until the sounds of his sons’ doors shut and the click of their light switches told him they were in bed, and then curled up with the photo to let the force of the night hit him.