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Midtown Manhattan, 11:01 A.M.
Donovan Blair knew one slip of his blade could not only puncture vital organs, but potentially end his and his assistant’s lives—blowing the entire building into a fine powder. He focused on the body lying before him, working masterfully, as though it were the last thing he would ever see.
The rogue surgeon had worked diligently for almost two hours, opening the little girl’s stomach cavity by carefully slicing her from sternum to abdomen, pushing aside internal organs in order to place several balloons of explosives inside the perfectly monitored body.
“Roll another one, will ya?” Donovan motions for Mo, his assistant, to fill another balloon. “I’ve got a little more space.”
She taps a glass vial of explosives into another balloon, careful to keep the material from contaminating the area. Her hands are rock solid.
“Nicely done,” he grins, taking the last tube of horror and gently filling a remaining space. “Now, let’s see my seam work.”
He whistled, as it kept his spirits up and his nerves down.
Donovan, never tired of thinking of new and inventive ways to get his products from lines of impasse to lanes of progress. His life had been lived with determination and drive. He has always been a man of clarity and focus, striving to make enormous amounts of money, thus creating massive amounts of control. The passion to be rich superseded most else and represented the quintessential element of life few people know: genuine freedom. Power would be a close second. Donovan was certain nothing would stand in the way of his achieving both.
“What’s her BP?” he asks.
“110 over 60.”
“This is taking longer than expected,” his Japanese assistant says quietly.
“Perfection takes time.”
Anyone else would be sweating bullets. Not Donovan—even though his assistant wipes his brow.
“Nervous?” she asks, knowing the answer.
Mo Wang not only was his assistant, but his girlfriend of the past two years. She knew him well and could tell when he was bluffing. Today, she wasn’t sure. She admired the skill with which his hands deftly worked, and the effortless way the razor sharp tool sliced through tender skin.
“Have you decided what pattern you’d use?” she asks.
“Pattern, you know…”
“Three loop pulley.”
The temperature in the warehouse had lowered considerably. It had to be in order to keep the meat fresh and the surgeon sharp. Being underground helped keep noise and interruptions at bay.
“High-tensile strength. Less gap. Prevents ripping,” he adds.
The overhead light bounces off the scalpel and glistens in his eyes. He stares at the child’s angelic face on the operating table, marveling at her porcelain skin and the golden hue of her soft hair. They were a sharp contrast to the opened bloody cavity of her tiny torso.
“This certainly is…” Mo hesitates, “Different.”
“Drastic times. Drastic measures.”
Performing an operation like this wasn’t something he did every day, and for obvious reasons, he had to take great care to keep from lacerating internal organs. Likewise, he wanted to leave behind but a trace of a scar, as he knew the girl would be reminded of this moment and this maniac, for years to come.
THREE HOURS EARLIER
Young Abigail Burton is strolling through Central Park with her Nanny, french-born Stephanie Marcheaux, just as they did every day of the week. Having just left the Zoo, they were making their way to the Dairy Visitor Center & Gift Shop, when the distance between them stretched.
“Abigail, stay close!” Stephanie shouts, as the nine year old runs toward some balloon artists making free souvenirs for a group of children.
“Okay, Stephanie. Oui, oui…” Abigail giggles, running in and around other children who are likewise mesmerized by the colorful clowns.
Abigail is the only child of New York Mayor Lukas S. Burton, one of the most admired leaders of New York. He has been commended for dramatically lowering both crime and taxes for three years in a row, and it’s rumored he is considering running for President of the United States.
Summer arrived early in Manhattan and with it came flowers in full bloom and people out in droves. That, and a 5K race for Breast Cancer Awareness, made for a packed park. The runners were beginning to form in the middle of the park, where 65th Transverse intersects Center Drive. Soon, traffic would be a nightmare.
Stephanie glances up from her cell phone just in time to panic. “Abi?” she shouts, her head whipping in all directions.
“Over here,” Abigail replies, running toward her nanny.
Stephanie’s shoulders relax, just as a woman comes from behind, grabbing Stephanie’s arm.
“Please help me. I’ve lost my little girl,” the woman shouts, first in French, then in English.
Distracted by the hysteria, and responding to the stranger’s familiar accent, Stephanie checks to see Abigail is just a few yards away. She had stopped to join other children petting a large rabbit held by a yellow-haired, red-nosed clown.
“Please, please…my little girl has run off and…” the stranger continues shouting, pulling at Stephanie’s sweater.
“Okay, okay, where did you see her last? Was she…” Stephanie stops abruptly, as the eyes of the hysterical woman suddenly shift from terror to neutrality.
Confused, Stephanie whips her head in the direction of Abigail.
She gasps, searching the crowd.
She spins around to stop the hysterical stranger from pulling at her sleeve, but the woman has vanished. Instead, a blind man, wearing sunglasses and holding a cane, is now tugging at her sleeve.
Confused, the nanny pushes his hand away, returning her attention to where she last saw Abigail.
“Putain de merde!” (Holy Shit!)
Looking around for a police officer, Marcheaux fumbles in her purse for a cellphone. As she pulls it out, she drops it, then frantically retrieves it. Standing back up, she turns to attend to the blind man, but he’s gone.
Quickly becoming hysterical, she begins to sob, amidst an oncoming throng of runners. Mayor Burton's employee of the past dozen years was becoming paralyzed with fear. Her mind raced, knowing she would either be fired, or found floating in the East River, in the very near future. Either solution would be better than being responsible for the loss of Abigail Renee Burton.
As Daddy's pride and joy was being snatched from Central Park, Mayor Burton was hosting a televised conference about a new super train to Long Island, while Abigail's socialite mother, Clare Marie was hosting a fundraising event atop the Frick Museum on the upper-crusty East Side.
Within the next several minutes, Donovan’s other assistant and second girlfriend, Margo Wheeler, aka the hysterical mother, along with Donovan’s most trusted bodyguards, Ken “Park Clown” Dawson and Sean “Blind Man” Combs, would be traveling in an all black SUV with strobing lights and government plates, racing down the Westside Highway. By the time Mayor Burton’s Nanny would clear enough headspace to call 9-1-1, the entourage will have disappeared into a subterranean warehouse somewhere in the Chelsea district of Midtown Manhattan.
THREE HOURS LATER
Donovan's original synthetic mixture of explosives was called K5; similar to C4, a popular product used to drop buildings in cities and destroy enemies in battle. He developed the deadly concoction for his construction business summers ago. Now, he planned to use it for a completely different application. The difference between C4 and Blair’s latest proprietary material was it’s lower toxicity, yet higher combustibility. Terrorists were making headlines in Brussels by using a similar product in the form of TATP, a crystalline power. The nightmare dust, as authorities had come to call it, was quickly becoming the new method to wreak havoc.
While Donovan’s usual fare of mayhem included kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder, this latest mission would inevitably gain higher access, using lower resources, reaching into deeper pockets, for shallower reasons.
Ken Dawson, Donovan’s key bodyguard and ammunitions specialist, had been watching from a distance, working calls on two separate cellphones.
“Hey, boss?” Ken asks, approaching the table.
“Yeah,” Donovan answers without looking up.
“Mayor and his wife just got the news. She’s done in 20. He’s wrapped and heading to his office now.”
Donovan looks at one of four oversized clocks on the wall.
“Perfect timing,” he says, motioning for Ken to get a case from the end of the table and set it next to the patient.
Donovan removes a transmitter the size of a watch battery and connects it to a tiny wire protruding from Abigail’s navel.
Trimming the last stitch, he says to Mo, “Get her dressed and we’ll meet upstairs.”
Nodding to Ken, he adds, “Let’s go. Time to plug in Part 2.”
Young Abigail would soon be part mule, part incendiary device, and a dangerously full-strength conduit aimed at a great political leader in the most powerful city in the world. The target: a civil family man who crossed an eccentric mad man one too many times. Very soon, The Scorpion would strike with an explosive sting this city would never forget.
CHAPTER 2 - THE PREP
Donovan Blair, aka The Scorpion, had chosen to set up shop in the Meatpacking District years ago, when meat was the currency of the day and rents were affordable enough to buy entire buildings for less than six-figures. Today, things were different, as buildings were being erected in months, not years, and access to and from the island was much more sophisticated than it used to be. Another selling point to this area was the proximity to not only the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, but also a Helipad on 30th. Having those avenues of egress so close, as well as his Bell Ranger helicopter just blocks away, provided quick access to the island, and wherever else he needed to escape. Donovan would capitalize on all this accessibility, as well as his expertise with military warfare, in order to gain the controlling power he so desperately craved.
Leaning against the room’s tall wall of glass, he scanned the city from high above the High Line and Hudson Yards. This live-work building was a fortress of steel, glass and the highest level of security. It also offered a panoramic 360-degree vista, allowing Donovan to keep an eye on an enormous and crucial portion of Manhattan.
Abigail was in a nearby room being filled with a wide variety of antibiotics and vitamins in order to keep her functioning as normally as possible under such bizarre circumstances. Mo would administer a drug that would slowly wake her, and another to keep her controllable.
Margo, Ken and Sean enter. She walks to Donovan, while they take seats at the dining room table.
“This is your best plan yet, babe,” Margo whispers in Donovan’s ear.
He kisses her cheek. “Feels wickedly good.”
Mo enters and says, “She’ll be awake in about 20. Everything’s in order.”
Quiet before the storm, he thinks, waving her over.
He kisses Mo and then Margo. The three share a warm embrace.
Donovan slaps both their bottoms then, rubbing his hands together like warming them over a fire, he says, “Okay, kids, let’s review the plan once more before our surprise package wakes up. So many pieces to the puzzle…everything must come together perfectly.”
Donovan’s crew watch their leader pace the floor like an expectant father, methodically wringing his hands while periodically scanning mid-town Manhattan. The constant motion isn’t nerves; his energy came from intense daily exercise. Staying fit placed him at the front of the pack in every situation. Confidence, plus the drive to win at any cost, made Donovan one of the elite soldiers in any unit. But his days of military service had run off the rails, evolving into an entirely new mission.
The talents of his squadron were top notch. Mo Wang, a woman he had known the longest, was expert in computers and electronic surveillance. Besides being one of Donovan's two girlfriends—an arrangement each of them enjoyed, she was one of two people he trusted with his life. Ken Dawson was the other. His best friend of nearly twenty-five years, they had grown up together in Brooklyn, before one turned to the military and the other to law enforcement. Ken became Donovan's bodyguard about a decade ago when his leader was in the wrong place at the wrong time—a place he didn't find himself often. Ken was there to save his ass. It also became the tipping point whereby Ken exchanged his “Life of Blue” for a life of crime. When Donovan showed Ken that his future could become infinitely more lucrative if he helped get his pal out of a tight spot, it was game over.
“It won't be long," he says, glancing at his Tag Heuer watch, "Before the shit hits the fan.”
"But you've planned meticulously,” Mo says, “as always."
"She's right, Donovan. We’ve gone over the mechanics a dozen times. The snatch was flawless,” Margo adds.
Both Sean and Ken nod.
“Copy that, Boss,” Sean interjects. “I'd beg anyone to put a bead on us.”
"That's not my concern; each of you performed perfectly. I couldn't have asked for more."
Donovan wanted his team to have anything that kept them happy and loyal. That is why he spared no expense in providing luxurious homes with a state-of-the-art fitness center and pool on the two penthouse levels both he and his team occupied.
The glass and steel Avalon Tower rose well above all the surrounding high-rises by some 50 stories. It was among the very best residences in the city, offering modern construction and European amenities, along with multiple doormen and concierge services. It provided amenities any New Yorker could imagine.
The 1,225 foot residential tower placed it among the five tallest buildings in New York City—in between the Empire State Building and Bank of America tower. The only taller residential tower was 425 Park Avenue, but that building was in a league all its own, climbing nearly as high as One World Trade—the proud replacement to the World Trade Center building which collapsed on 9-11.
It was nearly five years ago when Donovan and his investors began erecting the modern structure on the corner of 45th & Eleventh Avenue. Being in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen was perfect, as it sits atop the Lincoln Tunnel, has instant access to Air Pegasus heliport on 30th, is within minutes of Penn Station and not much further from Grand Central. This location, and more specifically Donovan’s penthouse, provides perfect visibility of the George Washington Bridge to the North, the Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn Bridge to the South, and the Queensboro Bridge and Midtown Tunnel to the East. Having a bird’s eye view of the island was not only a luxury, but a necessity. The main office, and home to their underground labs, sat directly across the street in a nondescript eight-story brick building built in 1905 that Donovan purchased a decade ago, when his drug business was young. The building hadn't changed much since then, with one exception. Donovan had created construction magic by leaving all the office units that faced 45th and Eleventh as they originally appeared. The two sides which faced neighboring buildings to the side and rear were retrofitted like a Hollywood backlot, showing only what appeared to be a live office. Lights would turn on and off all hours of the day and night, providing a perfect cover for his underground business. The center of the building had been cut out like an enormous tube, extending from the basement to the roof's skylight. This allowed steam to rise from the basement and dissipate through the roof; thanks to an advanced filtering systems, no attention was called to itself. The three story deep subterranean warehouse hid a monstrous drug lab, and was home to a vast network of technology, housing dozens of cameras, which allowed Donovan to monitor all activity from his nearby penthouse.
“THIS is why I chose you guys long ago. And why we are working together,” Donovan says, looking at each of his team.
They nod in agreement.
“And WE will see this through…just as we have from the start,” Mo says quietly.
Picking up a remote, Donovan aims it at a large piece of exotic art on the wall. It quietly lifts into a pocket in the ceiling, as a bank of tall doors quietly open, seamlessly pivot and close into spaces within the wall. All eyes are on an entire wall of TV screens, currently monitoring many of the major intersections of Manhattan.
“The latest addition,” Donovan grins.
The four clap as though he dropped a winning putt.
The impressive technology, along with an enormous arsenal of weapons, made for one of the most expensive toys Donovan ever created. And when Donovan’s underground lab at the former Nuclear Power Plant outside Havana, Cuba was demolished—thanks to several misplaced operatives who became embedded with one of his business partners, he needed an alternate place to expand his business; one that didn’t require having to travel overseas. Plus, this hometown boy wanted to make his mark in his own backyard.
“Is that the Governor’s…” Sean starts to ask.
“Mansion. Yes,” Donovan interrupts. “And the Mayor’s home, as well as that of our esteemed Chief of Police,” he says, pointing at one screen after another.
“Just outside the secret entrance to the United Nations,” he says, crossing the room to point out the many locations being watched, “There’s the Federal Reserve Bank…and we can’t leave out…the Central Park Zoo…”
“Looks familiar, huh?” Margo jokes, punching Sean in the shoulder.
“And Times Square…One World Trade…The Stock Exchange…Penn Station…Grand Central…all the tunnel and bridges—both entrances and exits…”
“Talking about Big Brother,” Mo says.
“Jesus,” Sean whispers.
Donovan grins, “Nah, just call me Scorpion.”
CHAPTER 3 - THE HYSTERIA
Mayor Lukas S. Burton and his entire security entourage completely commandeered the outside front of the New York Mayor’s Office of Operations. The long line of black SUVs stretched the length of the building along Broadway and wrapped around to Murray. The parade of vehicles more closely resembled a funeral procession than a security detail. A random gaggle of press had followed the pack of politicos from Long Island—wondering where the fire was.
The Mayor stormed down the hallway to his office, having multiple and simultaneous conversations with members of his staff, all the while trying to keep his head about him. Several staff members who had not attended the recent Super Train media event on Long Island joined other staffers in preparation for an impending media conference. The press was going to hear about this sooner than later and Burton and his people wanted to be prepared.
“Where in the hell is my wife?” Burton barked to the small pack of personnel that greeted him in the lobby.
“She’s in your office, sir,” Margaret Childress, his secretary of two terms answered. “She arrived within minutes of being notified by your Nanny that…”
“And where in God’s name is that…moron!” he shouts. “I want her in my office now and I…”
Childress pulls up close to the Mayor’s ear, lowering her voice while nodding to his security director.
“Sir, might I suggest she wait in your private lobby?” Margaret interrupts. “That way…”
Mayor Burton slows his pace, nodding his head and taking her by the arm.
“Yes, yes,” he exhales, pulling her near. “That’s a good idea. Otherwise, I would have her killed for losing…”
He catches himself, knowing everything he says could be monitored. He smiles.
“Thank you, Ms. Childress, that’s fine. I’ll be in my office, talking to everyone…”
The Mayor stops in mid-sentence, catching the piercing look of his Chief of Police crossing the wide expanse of marbled hallway. The red-faced and overweight officer looks nervous.
Jacob Davis had been elected to the office of Chief of Police about two years before the Mayor was elected. They didn’t start out as good friends, but had grown to like one another in the past couple of years. Burton could be a bear, demanding complete loyalty from his large staff. Davis could be a dick, expecting instant respect from his smaller staff. Their heads butted more than a dozen times; that is, until Burton found Davis’ soft spot. Cash.
“What’s up, Jake?” the Mayor asks, knowing the likely results, judging from the man’s expression.
“Not good, sir,” The Chief says, nodding toward the office where they were heading.
“Right,” Burton replies, taking another deep breath, hoping the nightmare would disappear.
Handing Margaret his briefcase, Burton asks, “Can you drop this on my desk, brew a pot, ask my wife to join me in my office and give me…” he looks to The Chief, who holds up five fingers, “Make that ten, so I can pee. The damn drive on the LIE shook my kidneys into my back pocket.”
He grins, trying to ease the tension of the moment. He knew it wouldn’t, or shouldn’t—given his little girl is missing.
Standing at the urinal, the Mayor relieves himself while his Chief rattles off shorthand.
“First, I’m sorry, Luke. Seriously. Oh my god, I wouldn’t know what…” he shakes his head. “Anyway, second, we have no idea where she is. I mean, I’ve been drilling your nanny downstairs for the past half hour and all I’ve got outta that immigrant is…”
He takes a breath, checking the Mayor’s reaction.
“Sorry. She’s fuckin’ hysterical and, well, I can’t for the life of me figure it out. I mean…”
Zipping his pants, Burton walks to the sink. He holds up his hands for Davis to slow down.
“I get it. She’s an idiot. And trust me…” he looks over his shoulder and under the stalls.
“We’re good,” Chief Davis says quietly.
“If you…I mean…if WE don’t find my daughter inside the 24 hours, you will make that…fuckin’ moron…disappear. Hear me?”
Davis nods, handing Burton a paper towel.
“What else?” Burton asks. “There’s got to be something,” he sighs.
Shaking his head slowly, Davis says, “Nope.”
“Fuck!” Burton shouts, staring at himself in the mirror, nervously adjusting his tie.
“We’re on it, though. The full force. We’ll find this prick. Or, these pricks.”
Burton looks at his Chief with a grave intensity.
“You and I’ve been in some pretty tight places together, Mayor. I’ve never let you down. And I won’t this time.”
Burton opens the door, waves him through and, just before bumping into a half-dozen staffers, says, “WE had better. Or heads will roll. Get it?”
“Good. Now, let’s get to it.”
Clare Marie Burton was the quintessential socialite: perfectly coiffed, outfitted, and poised in every situation. However, today the Mayor’s wife—while handsomely coiffed and outfitted, was not poised.
“What in God’s name is happening, Lukas?” Clare’s half-whimper/half-bark came out sounding like a growl.
Mayor Burton takes his wife by both shoulders and kisses her cheek.
“We are doing everything possible to find our little girl,” he says softly, hoping to allay fears the best he can.
“Trust me, honey, we will find the perpetrators of this heinous crime and…prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Prosecute?” she spits a nervous laugh. “How about permanently disfigure? Or even…”
He stops her, knowing too many ears would love to take statements like that—under duress or not—and whip them into an eye-catching, rumor mill spinning headline.
“Can I get you a glass of water?” Burton asks, looking to Margaret for assistance; she nearly sprints across the room to get a glass.
“I want my baby!” Clare begins to sob.
She grabs Lukas’ arm for balance and melts into a chair.
Chief Jacob Davis joins them, holding his hat in his hands.
“Mrs. Burton, you have my word that we have the very best minds on this. We will find your daughter. And we’ll find her soon. You can count on that.”
Clare smiles a nearly sincere smile and holds his stare before quietly saying, “I certainly hope so, Jacob.”
He doesn’t budge for a long moment, says, “Yes, ma’am,” then leaves, nodding to Burton as he exits the room.
“Dear, I’ve got to meet with my team…design a message we must release in order to…get this moving swiftly. Okay?”
Regaining her composure, she nods. “Of course. I’ll be fine.”
Standing, she turns her head, waiting for a kiss.
While kissing her cheek, she whispers in his ear, “Luke, I don’t care what we must do, but I’m sure you’ll do everything you can…to get our girl back.”
Several of his staff watch the quiet moment.
The two separate and lock eyes.
“Everything,” he says.
“I’m going home. Call me the instant you have anything.”
“Of course,” he says, squeezing her hand.
Waving two assistants to join her, she walks to the private exit. At the door, she turns, blows him a kiss and leaves.
Chief Davis and Mayor Burton stand in the middle of the room for a moment. Everyone is still, awaiting direction.
“Okay, let’s prepare a statement.”
Clare rides in silence, making her way back home to Gracie Mansion—the old Federal home that’s been the address of many New York City Mayors and their families for nearly seventy years. She liked living on the East side. This part of Manhattan had a certain civility she enjoyed; not to mention shopping along the rich Park Avenue corridor.
But for now, all she could focus on was her Abigail.
Her mind races with images of where she might be…of who may have abducted her…in what condition she could be…if she were harmed, or worse.
Her heart races, as tears pour down her cheeks. She was having difficulty breathing.
Her driver, Jerry, kept checking on her—his eyes shifting from the East Side Highway to her and back again.
“Are you all right, First Lady?”
She nods, fighting the tears. They ride in silence for a better part of the journey.
Just as the fear starts to subside, her feelings turn to anger. Within minutes, her imagination begins to follow a dark course, as she expects the worse.
Taking a deep breath, she reaches for a silk handkerchief in her purse. Something inside gets her attention. She stares out the window, lost in thought.
After a long period of reflection, she looks up and catches her driver’s eye.
“Jerry, be a dear and close the privacy window. I’ve got a call to make.”
“Of course, Ma’am.”
“And I don’t want to be disturbed. For any reason.”
She waits for the window to close, before she takes two cell phones from her purse. One is silver and has a New York City logo on the cover. The other is black and nondescript. She lays the silver one on the seat beside her, takes the black one, presses one button and holds it. After a series of beeps and tones, she enters a four-digit pin.
Placing the phone to her ear, she waits for the connection.
A voice on the other end says, “I wondered how long it would take before you called.”
She smiles, starts to speak, just as the voice says, “Okay, I got you. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I feel like it.”
She smiles, hesitates, then hangs up.
------- To Be Continued -------
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