A Thousand Shades of Success
a continuation of
A Thousand Shades of Feeling
© by Taleweaver
Morrigan watched the streets pass by from the back seat of the beat-up Honda she was crammed into. “I’m sorry; I didn’t catch your name at the school…”
“Muerte.” The pierced girl behind the wheel half turned her head so could speak more directly to Morrigan. “I have everything of yours I could find on the web. I’m a real fan, you know.”
Morrigan smiled politely. “That’s great, I’m impressed. Ummm, where are we going?”
“Oh, I just have to drop by my place for a sec and then I’ll take you back to your hotel.”
“Janie, drop us off at the mall okay?” For the first time the passenger in front spoke, but she wouldn’t look at Morrigan.
“But you said…” The girl that had called herself Muerte stuttered.
“Janie, just drop us at the mall. You’re on your own.”
The driver wrenched the wheel hard, drove quickly along the driveway and stopped abruptly at the double doors of a small, un-impressive strip mall. There was silence between the other three occupants of the car, and quite suddenly Morrigan found herself alone with Muerte.
She rode along wordlessly re-playing her argument with Merlin over in her mind. She knew they were bound to have differences in how they handled issues, but this was a bad time to discover the first hurdle. Morrigan studied her feet while unshed tears prickled and burned. She was ashamed at her behavior in a public place. She should never have walked out on Merlin like that. She would apologize and make it up to Merlin when she got back to the hotel. Banana splits always worked; perhaps a walk to Dairy Queen or Baskin Robbins...
Morrigan looked out the window, relieved that her inner turmoil lessened, only to realize that she had no idea where she was. “Muerte? Where are we?”
Muerte pulled the car to a stop on the shoulder of a dirt road and rummaged under the seat. “Damn, I have no idea. I must have made a wrong turn back there.”
Morrigan couldn’t remember any turn, but she had been so distracted that she wasn’t sure she could trust her memory.
“Here, hold the map for me, would you?” Muerte held out a worn map for Morrigan, but before Morrigan had opened the folded paper, she had handcuffs snapped around her wrists.
“What the hell is this? Muerte! ... Janie… What’s going on? This isn’t funny!”
The young woman behind the wheel turned in the seat, aiming a gun at Morrigan. “Oh, it’s no joke Miss Artemis. You’re going to be staying with me for a bit. You’ll do exactly as I say, or you’ll end up lost out in the boonies where no one will find you. The bears and wolves would love you, I’m sure. Then again, I know some hunters that would love to see you … or any woman with a pulse for that matter. They can be very rough when agitated. I suggest you think carefully about how much pain you can endure.”
Morrigan thought about the situation she was in. She knew she stood a much better chance of living unharmed if she co-operated. Her best option was to play along and pray Merlin found her soon. In answer to her captor, she simply nodded.
Merlin sprinted down the stairs cursing and muttering the entire way about the fight she had with Morrigan. By the time she had reached the front desk, the promised fax was just emerging.
“Miss Alwyn? You have a fax coming through.” The clerk behind the desk handed the sheet of paper over and smiled politely. “Is there anything else you need?”
“Yes, I need a cell phone right away. Where can I get one?”
“There’s a Rogers store across the road in the mall.”
“Great. Thanks for your help.” Merlin ran back down the hallway to the stairs, leaving the desk clerk looking strangely after her.
A half hour later Merlin was on the phone to Morrigan’s father.
“Paul? It’s Merlin. Here’s the number of the cell phone. (705) 796-9176.”
“Thanks On the fax I sent is some names and phone numbers. One of them belongs to Zuke Brennan. She’s a local investigator. I’ve already called her and she’s willing to help you find my daughter. She has local connections Merlin.”
“She’ll be my first call. Paul… I’m sorry.”
“This isn’t your fault Merlin. Remember that.”
Merlin found it hard to believe.
“Have a seat Morrigan.” Muerte tried to sound inviting as she motioned to a chair.
Morrigan turned toward the hard backed chair sitting in the middle of the room. She wordlessly walked toward it but turned suddenly and slammed her still handcuffed fists into Muerte’s mouth. It was a solid shot that staggered the kidnapper, but she recovered quickly and grabbed a handful of Morrigan’s hair.
“Nice try.” Muerte turned her head and spit a tooth out. “Don’t do that again or I’ll be taking one of yours, got it?”
Morrigan nodded as best she could.
Muerte shoved the writer into the chair and released the handcuffs only long enough to tie her to the chair.
“Kind of tight.” Morrigan winced as the rope bit into her skin.
“Now how would I get the ransom if I left them loose enough that you could get away?” Muerte checked the ropes to be positive they were secure, then tied Morrigan’s ankles to the legs of the chair. Once she was sure Morrigan wasn’t going to get free, she sat on the floor on the opposite side of the room.
“Where are we?” Morrigan asked.
“A home that will allow me to make a lot of money.” Muerte smirked.
“You live here? Kinda skimpy on the furniture, don’tcha think Janie?”
Muerte was off the floor and across the room in a heartbeat, clutching the front of Morrigan’s shirt tightly. “Don’t EVER call me that again! Never!” She shook Morrigan roughly.
Suddenly, Morrigan knew her captor’s weak spot. She only raised one cocky eyebrow and grinned. Even the stinging slap she received for her petulance couldn’t erase the satisfaction she felt. When Muerte released her hold on Morrigan and slammed out of the house in a huff, Morrigan grinned even wider.
Merlin met Zuke back at the 5th Wheel Truck Stop and was fortunate enough to get the same table that she and Morrigan had occupied earlier. The woman who approached the table was of medium height, and carried herself with confidence. Shoulder length, dark hair, soft brown eyes and an easy smile made Zuke seem approachable. A sure step and firm handshake said volumes about her level of comfort with herself. She seemed unflappable. ‘Yup, this one could be an ally or one hell of an enemy.’ Merlin thought as she shook the investigators hand. She ordered coffee, and Zuke ordered a Dr. Pepper, and they got down to business.
“I’m sorry to be so direct Miss Alwyn, but in situations like this we need to be. Was this the last place you saw Miss Artemis?”
“Yes, it was. We had a… disagreement a few hours ago. She left, saying she would meet me back at the hotel.” Merlin waited for Zuke to finish the notes she was making; knowing the next question was the one she dreaded.
“You had a disagreement.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“You two are domestic partners, correct?”
“And you’re a bodyguard by trade?”
“I am, but I’m not Morrigan’s bodyguard. I’m here as her friend and partner for moral support.”
“I understand that Miss Alwyn. I’m not here to judge you.”
“Please call me Merlin.”
Zuke nodded and drank from her glass before continuing to ask the questions that Merlin hoped would find Morrigan. “Did Morrigan know anyone here in the Soo that would wish her harm?”
“As far as I know the only person she knows here is her Aunt Sharleigh. But I can’t see any threat there. She’s a sweet old lady.”
Zuke and Merlin talked for an hour, Zuke asking questions and Merlin trying to think of some helpful piece of information. They decided to re-trace Morrigan’s steps, starting with the truck stop. Deciding two pairs of eyes were better than one, they set off in the most likely direction Morrigan would have taken. They peered at the dusty shoulder of the road carefully, alert for any scuffed print, any evidence of Morrigan’s whereabouts. As they came closer to the high school, Merlin spotted the imprint of a shoe tread that matched Morrigan’s running shoes. She called Zuke over and they both bent to get a closer look.
“It might be Morrigan’s. It does match.” Merlin tried not to put too much hope in the dusty track. She could guess how many feet had trod this part of the road, especially this close to a public school. They continued looking diligently for some trace of Morrigan, but found nothing. They had walked nearly two miles with no results except the one impression. Merlin knew that Morrigan could be anywhere. She also knew that the longer she went without word from her friend, the greater the chances were that Morrigan was hurt.
“Try not to eat yourself up over it; ‘though I know how you must feel.” Zuke put a hand on Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin said nothing, but she burned to comment on her pain being hers alone.
Zuke removed her hand and continued. “I wasn’t born knowing how to find people. I’ve had experiences that made it necessary for me to be very, very good at what I do. I won’t bore you with details, but I’ve been where you are Merlin. I just hope that the ending to your story is happier than mine was.”
Deftly chastised, Merlin watched her feet step along the boring grey gravel. After a few minutes of silence Merlin asked, “So now what?”
Zuke glanced at her. “If she were a paying client, and nothing more than a contract to you what would you do?”
Merlin thought for a minute before replying. “Place ads in the paper, post flyers, ask around the school, put out a missing persons bulletin as soon as I could, contact the aunt, and find out who Morrigan knew in the surrounding area.”
“Good. We can’t ask the police to start searching yet, and they would do exactly what you just told me. So until we can talk to the police, let’s focus on what we can do. What do we know for sure?”
“We know that she was kidnapped, and not lost. We know that the kidnapper wants to stay anonymous, because they faxed the ransom note. We also know that it must be someone who is knowledgeable about Morrigan.”
“Why?” Zuke held the door of the truckstop open as she asked.
Merlin ordered coffee to go before she answered. “Because it’s not a widely known fact that Paul Conway is her father.”
Zuke was silent in her surprise. “Oh”