4. My Father's Son Ch. 01-03byinspirixis1©
FALL, SENIOR YEAR
It had to be a joke. It was an awful, cruel joke and Nicholas would come through the door any minute and she would yell at him and tell him that it wasn't funny.
But it was getting late, it was almost ten o'clock and Nicholas never stayed out this late without calling her. He wasn't answering his phone. It wasn't a joke. Grace read over his note again.
I'm sorry. I have to find myself. I'm going to japan to find a kyosa-nim to help me. go back to Adrian, He is good for you.
p.s. don't eat the cookies in the fridge, they have peanuts in them. give them to Adrian.
Grace started to cry again. It made no sense. If it wasn't a joke, then what did it mean? There were so many things that felt wrong about it.
Nicholas never called her Maria. Even though it was her first name nobody ever called her that. It was the name her birth mother gave her. Her real parents gave her the name Grace.
Nicholas didn't need to 'find himself,' she didn't know anyone who was more introspective and aware of who he was. Even if he did want to find himself he wouldn't look for a Kyosa-nim in Japan. Kyosa-nim meant teacher in Korean, if he was looking for guidance in Japan he would need a Sensei, he knew that. Besides, Nicholas out-ranked a Kyosa-nim, he was a master himself, if he wanted more training in taekwondo he would need a grand master, a Kwan Jang-nim. She knew these things because he had taught them to her.
He had told her to go back to Adrian. She couldn't think of anything more absurd than getting back together with Adrian, they had never even really been together in the first place, not the way she and Nicholas were together. Had been together.
Why had he signed his name Nick? The A. was easy enough to explain, his middle name was Amir, but he hated it when people called him Nick.
And why shouldn't she eat peanut cookies? It was pecans and walnuts that she was allergic to not peanuts. Nicholas knew that.
There was something very wrong, she could feel it in her bones. It was after ten, Nicholas wasn't coming home. She turned the dead bolt on the door and went to bed but she couldn't sleep. Where was he? Why had he left her such a strange note?
The next morning she walked to rowing alone for the first time in years. She didn't feel safe. She couldn't tell if it was just because she wasn't used to walking around alone at this time of the morning or if there really was danger out there.
Even as the day pressed on and the sun came up and she had her friends and classmates around her she didn't feel safe. It was probably just because her fiancé had mysteriously disappeared, that would probably be enough to make anyone feel unsafe.
She went to Aikido practice that night, she didn't see a reason not to. She felt sure that Nicholas wasn't coming home, there was no point in sitting around the apartment waiting for him. Besides, she wanted to ask their Sensei if he had said anything unusual to her. Nicholas and Charlotte Sensei had just given a special seminar together on Sunday, the day before he disappeared, if he really did want to 'find himself' he might have said something to Sensei about it.
"Where's Nicholas-san?" Sensei asked.
"Um, he's sick," Grace replied. She didn't know why she lied. Maybe it was just too much for her to handle to say that he had left her.
"Oh, that's no good," said Sensei. "Tell him to get better soon."
"Mm... Hey Sensei?"
"Do you think he's been acting weird lately?"
She shook her head. "Not that I've noticed. Why? What's up?"
"Oh, it's nothing," she lied. "He's probably just stressed out about the new semester. He said something about 'finding himself.'"
Sensei lifted one eyebrow and made a funny face. "Yeah, he must be stressed out, that doesn't sound like the sort of thing he'd say."
After practice it was dark outside and she didn't want to walk home alone. She asked Robert, a big burly man who looked like he could beat the crap out of anyone, if he would walk her home.
"Is Nicholas out?" He asked.
"Yeah, he's sick."
She felt kind of stupid as they walked through the quiet tree-lined streets, it didn't seem like this was the sort of neighborhood crime occurred in, but Robert didn't seem to mind. She knew he was happy to do this for Nicholas. There was a fair bit of hero worship that went around the dojo when it came to Nicholas.
Nicholas was a superior martial artist to Sensei. He didn't do the exams to advance his rank so he still wore a white belt when he practiced Aikido but it was obvious that he was the best. Everyone knew it but nobody said anything. His skill wasn't the reason that everyone worshipped him though, it was because of his attitude.
Despite his obviously superior talent and form Nicholas was respectful and submissive to Sensei. He always bowed lower and longer than her. He always did whatever she told him and he never pointed it out when she made a mistake. This won him a huge amount of respect from Sensei's long time students, like Robert.
"It looks dark in there," Robert observed as he waited for her to open the door to the apartment.
"Yeah, he's probably already asleep. Thanks for walking me home, I appreciate it."
Robert nodded. "Any time. See you on Thursday?"
"Yeah, probably. Good night."
Robert waved a hand as he walked back down the front path.
Grace closed the door behind her and immediately flipped the dead bold shut. She didn't turn any lights on, she stood behind the door and watched out the peephole. She waited. She had almost given up when she saw him.
A tall lanky man dressed in jeans and a black hooded sweater passed her front door and looked up at the apartment as he walked by. He didn't belong in this neighborhood. Grace knew all of their neighbors from months of watching and waving out the bay window.
He had been following them. That must have been why Grace felt so uncomfortable. Someone was following her. She moved over to the bay window and watched him walk a few hundred feet down the sidewalk then cross the street and get into the driver's seat of a dark sedan, but he didn't drive away. She couldn't tell what he was doing in there, it was too dark to see.
Was he arming himself? Was he going to break into the apartment in the middle of the night and kill her? Was he in the same gang as the men who Nicholas had killed and was he looking for revenge? Had he killed Nicholas?
Her heart was beating at a million miles an hour. Where was Nicholas? Surely he wasn't dead. Nobody could kill Nicholas, he was too good at martial arts, he would never let anyone kill him. Even if he was out numbered and they had guns he would be able to get away. Besides, he had left her a note. He wouldn't have been able to do that if he had been killed. No. Nicholas was alive. He had been kidnapped. That was the only explanation that made any sense. He had been kidnapped by someone who had allowed him to leave a note.
It still didn't make much sense. The man that was following her wasn't a martial artist, she could tell by the way he was holding himself. That meant it was unlikely that anyone working with him was a martial artist, they were probably from the gang that the men Nicholas had killed were in. Why would Nicholas let himself be kidnapped by someone who he could defeat?
And then it clicked. The man didn't necessarily start following her today, he had probably been following her for a long time. He was probably following her when Nicholas disappeared. Maybe that was why Nicholas had let himself be kidnapped, maybe her stalker had been pointing a gun at her and threatening to shoot unless Nicholas went with them.
What should she do? Should she call the police? Something was warning her against it. If the police showed up here they would dismiss her as a broken hearted stupid woman who couldn't get over the fact that her fiancé had left her. And what would happen to Nicholas, wherever it was that he was being held?
No. She wouldn't call the police. She had two options. She could continue on as if she didn't know she was being followed or she could try and outsmart her tail and escape. Maybe if Nicholas figured out that she had gotten away he would escape too. Maybe.
She had no idea what anyone would want with Nicholas, apart from revenge for killing gang members. But if it was revenge they wanted then why didn't they shoot him here in the apartment? Maybe they wanted to torture him. The thought sent a disgusting chill down her spine. She couldn't think about that.
If she was going to outsmart this guy and get away she needed a plan. She couldn't come back to the apartment. She would have to pack a bag and go somewhere else, but where? She needed to leave Boston and she needed to go somewhere where she could get help.
Denver was the obvious choice. Her dad would be able to help, he was smart, he would see what was going on and figure out how to get Nicholas back. That is if Nicholas' mom and dad didn't flip out and call the cops. But wouldn't they be expecting that? Wouldn't they expect her to go home to her family? They probably already had her and Nicholas' home addresses.
And could she really bring this sort of danger to their doorsteps? Could she risk her brothers' lives? Could she lead dark shadowy men to Aunt Maya and baby Madeline? No.
She could go to Uncle Josh and Aunt Anna in San Diego, they probably wouldn't expect her to do that, but Josh would flip out. Josh had a major soft spot for Nicholas and he wasn't the sort of person who dealt well with stressful situations, he would probably flip out and call Nicholas' dad.
She would go to Zach. That's what she would do. Unless they had really done their homework on her family they wouldn't know about Zach. Zach would help her to figure out what to do, he had some street credentials. He hadn't always been the responsible hard working husband that he was now. He would know how gangs like this think.
She went to the kitchen and got her laptop. She was still too afraid to turn any lights on so she moved slowly and carefully, groping for the corners of their furniture to guide her.
She got online and was about to search for tickets to San Francisco when she thought of something. She had no idea how sophisticated these people were, what if they had access to her file history and bank account information? She didn't even know if that was possible, but she had seen her share of spy movies, wasn't it better to be safe than sorry?
She booked a ticket to Denver. It would be what they were expecting. She bought a first class ticket so that she wouldn't have to pay anything extra when she changed the destination to San Francisco.
She packed in the dark. First she went to the safe box in the filing cabinet and got out her passport, just in case. Nicholas' was in there too. He wasn't in Japan, he had no intention of going to Japan. She took his too. She didn't know why she wanted to take it with her.
She packed the sari Nicholas' grandma Priya had given her when they told them they were engaged. That had been such a nice weekend. Grace had been worried that his grandparents would not approve of her. On the two other occasions she had visited they had smiled at her politely but never shown much interest in her. She was pretty sure they wanted him to marry an Indian girl.
When Nicholas told them he was going to marry her they looked at each other for a moment in shock, but then they had smiled and hugged her and fawned over her ring and given them some clear sweet liquor in little crystal glasses and made a toast to their future happiness and prosperity.
Nicholas' grandmother had taken them to an Indian dress shop and Grace had stood there and felt self conscious as the assistants had wrapped and unwrapped her in dozens of different saris until his grandmother had finally chosen the ones that she liked the best.
"This one for now," Priya had said in her thick accent as she patted the simple grey-blue and cream one, her ancient eyes soft and warm. "This one for later." She smiled as she laid her hand on the ornate bright red and gold one.
Nicholas stood there watching the scene with a smile on his face. Seeing her in a sari must have awoken some dormant Indian desires in him because when he took her home after that day he made love to her with an intensity and an urgency that she hadn't seen in him before.
She folded the fabric of the sari but before she put it in her bag she lifted it to her face to breathe in the fragrance of that day. It was too much. She sank to her knees and doubled over, clutching her stomach. What she wouldn't give to be back there, safe with Nicholas and his grandmother.
"Where are you Kolya?" She whispered into the fabric.
The pain in her chest was overwhelming, it fingered out and grasped at her every thought. Nicholas was gone. She had no idea where he was, but she knew he wasn't safe. Her heart searched, trying to locate him, as if she had some super-power that could find her soul mate if he was lost. She searched for him but he was gone. She reached out for him but he was nowhere to be found.
She woke up early the next morning, probably because she was extremely uncomfortable having slept in the closet beside the front door. She had figured that it was the safest place in the apartment because she would be able to hear it if anyone came in the front door, and it would be one of the last places an intruder would look for her. It was a small closet so nobody would look at it twice. There were some advantages to being small.
She quietly opened the sliding door and stood in the hallway. Pale grey light streamed in the windows and she looked around as she moved through the apartment. Nothing was out of order. Nobody else had been in here last night. That was good. That meant the man outside was just for surveillance. He wasn't there to kill her. Yet.
She inched up to the window that looked in the direction of the car that she'd seen last night. It was darker inside the apartment than outside so she was pretty sure that nobody could see in the windows. The car was still there but she couldn't tell if there was anyone inside it, its windows were too heavily tinted. She got out her phone and used the zoom function on its camera to try and get a better look. Still no luck. She decided to take a few photos while she had it out, there was no reason not to.
She walked to rowing alone again and she felt exposed, but nothing happened. She purposefully didn't look around to see if anyone was following her, she didn't want him to know that she knew.
She asked her coach if she could film the crew that morning. Every now and then they filmed the crew and picked apart all of the ways they could improve. Her coach shrugged her shoulders and said "Sure."
Out on the water Grace pretended to concentrate on the crew but she was actually watching to see if there was anyone following them. She put the camera on her lap sideways so it was filming the scene along the bank of the river, but she swiveled the screen around so she could look down and watch without having to look around. It wouldn't look suspicious. Grace had to look down periodically to check the readouts from the sensors on the boat anyway.
She saw him a few times and caught him on film. It was hard to tell much about him because he seemed to be good at staying just far enough away that he could be anyone. He was tall and skinny and she was pretty sure he was white.
When they got off the water she downloaded the video file onto her laptop and then she walked over to campus for breakfast with her friends. It was so hard not to look around to check if he was following her, but she did her best to pretend that she had no idea what was going on.
After breakfast she went to the bank in the student union and withdrew ten thousand dollars from her and Nicholas' savings account. She was glad that Nicholas believed in liquidity and insisted on keeping part of their assets as cash. She had asked him once why he didn't reinvest everything in the stock market.
"You can never know what is around the corner milaya," he had told her. "I want to make sure we always have enough cash available incase there is some unforeseen problem."
She thought this counted as an unforeseen problem and so she withdrew the money. She was paranoid, is what it came down to. She was afraid that she would be able to be tracked by when and how she used their bank accounts. She wanted to be untraceable.
She got her first good look at her stalker at the airport. She got in line to check in at the front counter and he joined the cue behind her. There were two people between them.
She got lucky and the agent that called her up was the furthest one from the cue, so he wouldn't be able to hear her change her destination. The agent was almost done checking Grace in when the one next to her called him over.
She made sure not to look at him but observed in her peripheral vision. He handed some cards over to the agent and she typed a few things into her computer.
Grace got her phone out and pretended to make a phone call, but she was really turning the video function on. She held the phone up to her ear so that the camera was pointing at him.
"Hi mom," she said into the phone. She paused as if she were listening to her mom talk to her. "Yeah I'm at the airport." Pause. "I should land at about a quarter past three." Pause. "No don't bother, I'll just take one of those door to door shuttle busses." Pause.
The agent handed her the boarding pass and Grace smiled and nodded at her and walked away.
She continued to talk into the phone for a while, just in case. After she had gone through the security check point and walked to the gate of the flight that was going to Denver she went to the bathroom. Once she was in a stall she pulled out her headphones and plugged them into her phone so she could watch the video and listen to it in private.
He was a white guy. He was tall and pale with spiky blonde hair and a big nose. She listened carefully in the pauses that she had left to try and hear what the agent had said to him.
"Going to Denver today Mr. Stover?"
She listened to her own voice pretending to talk to her mom.
The camera caught him glance at her and then she must have gotten the boarding pass and walked away.
Now she knew two new pieces of information. His name was Stover and he had somehow known that she had booked tickets to Denver. Maybe her paranoia was well founded. She wondered if her computer was bugged or if there was a way to monitor the internet traffic from outside the apartment.
There wasn't much time to try and figure that out. She opened her bag and started to put on the weird ensemble of clothes that she had brought to try and trick Stover. She swapped her jogging shoes for high-heeled boots first, then she pulled a bulky sweat suit on over her jeans and shirt and put the sari on over the top. She got out the cream scarf that almost matched the sari and wrapped it around her head. She was glad that her friend Aicha in the physical therapy program was Muslim and had showed her how to do this once.
When she looked at herself in the mirror she hardly recognized her body. She looked taller and chubbier. All she would have to do was hide her face and she might get away with this. What she wouldn't give for a burka right now.
She couldn't believe her luck when an old lady who looked Indian and was dressed in something that was not a full sari but looked distinctly Indian came out of a toilet stall behind her. Grace washed her hands very, very thoroughly while the old lady washed hers and then dried them and then walked very slowly out of the bathroom. Grace shuffled behind her, keeping her head down.