The Best Option

Hide and Seek Chapter 17

“Me?” The revelation took Naomi’s breath away. “You think I could help you take down the kidnappers? But… But…”

Emily pulled a chair out from the kitchen table and pushed Naomi down into it. “Relax,” she said, squeezing Naomi’s shoulder. Then she glared at Innis. “Mind explaining what you mean?”

Innis shrugged. “I’m not claiming Naomi is the only person who could defeat these people’s security. There are dozens of specials in Victoria alone, thousands across Canada, and I can’t claim to know what they all do, or how they might be useful. But there’s no one else I’m personally aware of who could handle the situation as well as Naomi could—in theory, at least.

“When I learned about Naomi’s gift, I right away thought, ‘Yeah, this might work.’ Maybe I shouldn’t have approached you the way I did this afternoon, Naomi—I feel like I came on a bit strong, and I apologize for that—but if you understood how much this problem has been weighing on my mind for the past couple of years… And like I said, they took someone I cared about, so it’s personal between them and me—not that they realize it, of course. They might not even know who I am.

“But it’s personal for you girls now, too, isn’t it? That’s the only reason I’ve brought it up again. Naomi, I wouldn’t dream of asking for your help if it was just for my own selfish reasons. I’d feel terrible putting you in harm’s way. But I—”

“‘Harm’s way’?” interjected Emily. “As if we haven’t seen enough of that already today, especially Naomi.”

Innis wrinkled his forehead. “What do you mean? Was there something other than the kidnapping? Did they come after you twice?”

“No, there was…” Emily trailed off and glanced at Naomi, unsure whether she should say any more.

Naomi stared quizzically back. What was Emily…? Oh, yeah. The memory of the blue car bearing down on her came back in a rush. That had been less than twelve hours ago, but it felt like days or weeks had passed in the meantime. And they’d seen the driver downtown, talking to the crow, and… Naomi frowned as a new thought suddenly occurred to her. What if there was a connection between that man and the kidnappers? What if that near miss had actually been a kidnapping attempt of its own somehow—maybe they’d been trying to knock her out so she couldn’t skip—and when it failed, the man who spoke to the crows had used his birds to spy on her so that they could try again? Maybe Candace wasn’t really their main target, Naomi thought. Maybe they were really after me.

If that was true, it definitely changed things.

“Yes,” said Naomi, “I think they did come after me twice.” She explained the run-in with the blue car, what she and Emily had learned about its driver, and how she thought it all might connect, while Innis listened quietly, a look of concern growing moment-by-moment in his eyes.

When Naomi was finished, Innis spent several seconds nodding and rubbing his chin. “It does all seem to line up, though it presents plenty of questions, as well. I’ve heard of the guy who speaks to birds, actually. His name is Miguel. He’s a bit of a free agent. I hadn’t heard anything about him working with the kidnappers, but I guess it isn’t really all that surprising. I wonder what they’re paying him. Not much, I bet. He isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. I bet they’d be furious with him if they knew you’d spotted him downtown, and still driving the same car, no less.

“Anyways, if they really do have their eyes on you, I definitely don’t want you to get involved in any kind of rescue attempt. That would just be playing right into their hands.”

Naomi said, “But…”

Innis seemed preoccupied with his own thought process now. “You should stay here until Mrs. Leighton is ready to go home, and then head straight home yourself, and make sure the cops know you’re still in danger.”

“I want to—

Innis interrupted her again. “Actually, you know what? I don’t know if I’d trust them to take good enough care of you—there should really be someone watching over you closely at all times, and even Callahan probably couldn’t swing that, not with the limited police resources he’s always going on about. But there are other options.” Innis dug a new-looking flip phone out of his pocket and began clicking at its numberpad.

“…What are you doing?” asked Naomi.

“Calling in an employee,” Innis explained. “I want someone to keep an eye on you until I can deal with these kidnappers once and for all. Shouldn’t be more than three or four days,” he mused, looking up from his phone. “It’ll take a bit of time to call everyone together and finalize the plan… But we might be able to move fast enough to hit ’em before they ship anyone else out. Don’t give up on your friend yet, girls.”

Naomi frowned. “I thought you said you needed me to defeat the special security they had in place.”

“No, not necessarily,” Innis corrected her. “I said you were the best option I’d found so far. There are other ways. Probably. I’ve had a few half plans floating around in my head before now. They’re all more complicated, and require more manpower—and I’m not going to lie, there’s more risk involved, too—but I’m sure I can put together something with at least half a chance of success. Whatever it costs, it’ll be worth it to shut this place down. I’ve left you girls and others like you in danger for long enough.” He went back to his cell phone.

As Innis hammered away awkwardly at his text message, Naomi looked at Emily and saw equal parts concern and resignation written across her face, a mirror of the emotions Naomi herself felt swirling around inside her, desperation and determination and helplessness… But she wasn’t really helpless here, was she? Not entirely.

Innis hit the Send button on his phone and looked up. “Okay, she’s a light sleeper, so that’ll probably wake her up. She’ll be on her way soon. Man, I’m terrible with these cell phones. Typing on them takes forever.” He half-smirked. “Sometimes I wish I had someone to do this stuff for me, you know?”

Pushing her chair back, Naomi stood and said, “I want in.”

“Hmm?”

“You said it yourself, and so did the cops: three or four days might be too long. Candace could be gone tomorrow, for all we know. It’s probably my fault they even took her in the first place. If she and Emily hadn’t been with me tonight… Well, I can’t just sit around and hope someone else saves her. And I don’t like the idea of a whole bunch of other people risking their lives because I was too scared to get involved myself. Candace is my friend, and if I’m the best option for rescuing her, then I’m in.”

“I don’t know, Naomi,” said Innis. “I really think…”

Naomi folded her arms across her chest. “Don’t try to talk me out of it. Just tell me what I need to do.”

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