THE KIDNAPPING KING
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – PRESENT DAY
The abyss was dark and formless. Millions of tiny, bright lights were speeding past as Inez Mac Paidin traveled, at high speed, through space and time. Thoughts were only a blur in this dis-embodied state. She felt confusion and rage building within her. What just happened?
The experience was short-lived, ending abruptly as she landed, face-down, spread-eagle, on the hard parquet floor of the foyer in her exquisite Ostermalm home.
Inez pushed up onto her elbows and rested, momentarily, re-establishing her boundaries.
She reached up to her neck and discovered it was, in fact, missing.
How could the boy have betrayed her trust so completely?
Her eyes widened, and then the hint of a smile gradually turned up the corners of her mouth.
That’s right…their agreement.
Smoothing strands of long, dark hair from her face, Inez sat upright and glanced around her.
Flammel stepped out of the music room. “Madam?” He asked when confronted by the image of his mistress sprawled in a disheveled mess on the floor. Dashing to her side, he took hold of her elbow and gently helped her to her feet.
Inez roughly shoved him away, smoothing the front of her blouse and brushing off the knees of her slacks, as she gathered her wits about her.
“Thank you, Flammel.” She looked at her servant, who was wearing a bewildered and slightly frightened expression on his age-worn face.
Shaking her head back and forth and blinking slowly, she addressed him;
“Things didn’t go quite as planned. But I’m fine. No need to worry yourself.” She turned from him and headed toward the staircase.
A small frown was forming on the butler’s brow.
“But, Lady Clara and young Master Ethan? Will they be following you, Madam?”
Inez turned and glanced in his direction.
“That is yet to be determined. I expect their arrival will be delayed. How long is any body’s guess.” She turned again and, holding tight to the handrail, carefully made her way up the stairs.
Arriving upon the landing at the top of the staircase, Inez turned to the left, and slowly strolled to the far end of the hallway, where she opened a door that looked the same as every other door in the house. This one, however, revealed a large, mostly vacant meeting room, and the energy of the space differed from that of the rest of the elegant home. Unlike the light and welcoming decor filling the balance of the house, this room was deliberately designed to evoke a sense of fear, darkness, and foreboding. The center of the space was dominated by an enormous, round, ebony table around which were positioned seven ornately carved chairs. Their style was sharp and Gothic On the far side of the room, behind the table, and built into the wall, was a door-frame of the same color and design as the chairs. But instead of a door with a handle, where it would normally be, there was only a glossy, black, wooden panel. To the far right were floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast expanse of lawns, walking trails, and forest on the outskirts of Ostermalm.
Inez walked in and closed the door behind her. She strolled across the room to the windows and stared out for a moment before turning to gaze at the table.
Her thoughts turned to the last time she sat in this room.
3 DAYS PRIOR
“This situation is taking a turn we never intended.,” Earl O’Brien glanced around the table at the others seated there. A deep frown creased his brow and a furrow was forming between his eyes where his little, round glasses sat upon the bridge of his nose. “But at least we know where he is, now. Lizzie and I have been distraught trying to locate him.”
“Well, we still aren’t sure exactly who transported him, or how it was accomplished,” Inez began, “but Phinneas has determined that two boys are currently hiding out at the family home. We further strongly suspect that Bill Flanagan, the friend’s father, is the responsible party. Or at least made the arrangements to relocate Jack to Mac Paidin Manor.”
“Yeah, I seen ‘em all out front when they arrived wit their bags an’ all.” Phinneas Dreadfort piped in.
“We need that boy,” Thaddeus O’Brien interjected. “All these years of care and preparation are for nothing if we aren’t able to control all three children.”
“Exactly,” Clara Mac Paidin stood from where she had been sitting and walked around the table to stand next to her sister. “That’s precisely why Inez and I have formulated a plan to get him out of there.” She brushed her pumpkin-colored hair away from her face and looked at her sister, a wry little grin turning up the corners of her mouth.
“Oh, really?” Genevieve Whisperstill joined in, a sparkle lighting her vibrant blue eyes. “Do, tell!”
“Clara? You do the honors,” Inez glanced down at her younger sister. “It really is quite brilliant.”
“Well, I’ve crafted a pendant for Ethan,” She started. “Sister and I have been working to convince Ethan that Jack is being groomed to replace him as the heir apparent. Usurping his rightful position and title in the family line.” She looked at Inez.
“Ethan is fully convinced and onboard with our plan…this next part is sheer brilliance!” Inez looked back at Clara, who continued.
“It’s very simple, but should be convincing,” she paused, grinning at the others. “You see, the three of us; Inez, Ethan, and myself, will teleport into the upper observation room at Mac Paidin Manor together. All three of us will be wearing port-key pendants that I’ve crafted. Each pendant is programmed to open a portal from here to Mac Paidin Manor, and back again. But only the pendant on Inez will be active and visible to anyone else who sees us. Ethan and I will keep ours hidden beneath our clothing. Once we arrive, we will locate Jack, and here is the genius part…it won’t matter whether he is alone or with others when we find him. The plan will be as effective either way. At some point in the interaction, Ethan will feign reading the minds of those in the room, then in a dramatic display, will turn on Inez, grab her pendant, and shove her back through the portal…effectively convincing Jack and any others present that he is a turncoat, has suspected us of being evil for quite some time, and is now on their side. The portal will safely return Inez here, to our home, and Ethan will have earned Jack’s trust, along with the others in the house.” Those sitting around the table were wearing broad smiles and sitting forward on their seats.
“That is brilliant. But how does this plan get us any closer to controlling Jack?” Earl leaned in, his eyes squinted into thin slits.
“Just wait, Uncle,” Inez lifted her index finger in the air, nodding her head, both eyebrows raised high up on her forehead.
“Yes, this is the clever part,” Clara continued.”Remember that Ethan is also wearing a port-key pendant. Now that he has set Jack, and anyone else in the house, at ease, he will be in a position to not only gather additional, inside information,” she paused, tilting her head to the side with a grin, “but he will also be able to arrange for an ideal opportunity to grab hold of Jack, materialize the portal, and transport him directly back here to us.” She finished, looking very pleased with herself.
Lively chatter broke out around the table as all those seated expressed enthusiasm for Clara’s plan.
“Uh, hem,” Genevieve rose her hand in the air, “I’m confused,” she started. The others quieted and looked in her direction.
“What is it, Gen?” Inez asked.
“Well, it’s just that…as genius as this plan sounds…and it IS genius, what about Clara? How will she get out of there after Ethan has set himself up as a hero and pitched her as an enemy? Nothing has been said about a return route for her.” She looked at Inez, then Clara, and waited.
“Thank you for your concern, Auntie!” Clara grinned brightly. “But we thought about that and decided it will be much more beneficial if I allow myself to be captured,” it was obvious the idea thrilled her, “so that I can gather more intel about who in The Order of Light is leading this plot to thwart our plans. I’m going to be an infiltrator! Make them think I’m worried I may be in danger from the rest of The Cabal, and that I’m willing to switch sides.” She giggled, placing a hand on her stomach, and shaking her head from side-to-side. “But remember that I will also have a port-key pendant around my neck, under my clothes. So, I will be able to return home at any time. I will just need to be careful not to allow them to search my body. If that seems likely, I’ll initiate the portal immediately.”
“Impressive,” Thaddeus said, “it seems you’ve thought of everything. So, Ethan will return with Jack in tow. And you’re confident he will follow through with his end of the agreement? He can be quite bull-headed, you know?”
“Yes, we’re sure he will hold up his end of the deal,” Inez looked at him, “he is enamored with the idea of titles and powers and has no intention of allowing his little brother to usurp his rightful inheritance.”
“Sounds like him…” Thaddeus said, a small, prideful grin spreading across his face. “Do you have a date scheduled?”
“Yes, Clara is putting the final touches on the pendants. We will be ready to take action in the next couple of days. As far as return goes, Ethan knows the timeline is short. We’ve stressed that he needs to grab Jack and get back to us at the earliest possible opportunity. We don’t want him exposed to any distractions.” Inez finished.
“We’ll keep you all informed as things progress.” Clara looked to the dark door frame and spoke a word, igniting the pendant around her neck. She raised her hands and a shimmering portal appeared in the space. The others in the room stood, shaking hands, and preparing for their departure. “Safe journey,” she said as Genevieve approached and stepped into the portal.