For the second time in her life, Tuki found herself alone in a cell. There were differences though. The first time it had been a cold stone room with a forbidding studded door.
Shackles had hung from the walls and the mold-covered stones were etched in the initials of dozens of previous occupants, along with the obligatory stroke calendars of days ticked off.
This cell was not nearly so homely. A square, steel-walled cube not quite large enough for a person to lay down in without bending their knees. No door either.
The ceiling was a steel grill through which Tuki could see a camera staring down at her.
The camera hung from the ceiling of the room above and, from her limited view, she recognised pipes and wiring looms typical of LifeNet facilities.
The steady background hum added further evidence that she was in one of the many LifeNet buildings dotted all over the province.
And there were people up there, at least two. But neither of them responded to her when she tried to talk to them. But at least they had provided her with a bottle of water, and a bucket.
No mattress though, and the steel walls and floor were cold. Tuki shivered and sat hunched in a corner to try and keep warm.
Miss Brown was annoyed. She knew Joe had a family now, a baby daughter. Miss Brown liked babies.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Aunt Lucy's staff, there was no sign of either Joe or his family. By mid-morning, it had become evident that they had gone into hiding.
Unfortunately, thanks to Joe,
she no longer had the contacts to find them and the old woman's 'network' was too small to be much help in locating someone who could be anywhere in the province by now.
The plan on taking Joe and his family captive and then having him watch while she played with his daughter to get him to relinquish what was rightfully hers was kaput.
Now she needed a plan to get Joe to come to her.
According to Lucy, Joe owned an ammunition factory, and Miss Brown was warming to the idea of attacking it to get his attention.
But blowing it up would mean losing it as an asset, a valuable one by all accounts. Which is when Aunt Lucy brought up the girl from Hope Springs.
Miss Brown knew about Doctor Troy. Of course, she did, she had even met her... hadn't she? Yes, she was sure she had.
Why was it that the memories always seemed to slip by? Having to be reminded of the girl's existence by an underling only added to her annoyance. But Lucy was right.
Joe cared for the girl for some reason. Again, she couldn't remember why? Did she even know?
By eleven o'clock, Tukiko Troy had been located.
Aunt Lucy knocked on the door of the honeymoon suite but didn't wait for any kind of reply. It was her damn place after all.
"We got her. One of my guys got stuck by one of them fancy swords the fancy-ass tea-drinkers carry, but we took care of the two guards as were with her.
They've just dropped him off at that emergency room next to the square. The girl will be here in a few minutes."
"I don't care about your man, he shouldn't have been careless. Don't bring the girl here, too many eyes to see..." Miss Brown tailed off, a smile forming on her lips. "I have a better idea.
" She wrote down some coordinates and gave them to Lucy. "Have her taken here and tell your men to stay with her until I get there."
Aunt Lucy hid her anger. She was not enjoying being told what to do in her own domain. She watched silently as Miss Brown went to leave but stopped at the door
"I'll need a car."
A thin smile cracked the older woman's face.
"What's the magic word, sugar?" She was rewarded by seeing Brown's whole body stiffen. It was a couple of seconds before the reply was forced through gritted teeth.
Hyle drove several blocks, putting a reasonable distance between herself and the two thugs. She pulled to the kerb and cut the engine, she had some thinking to do.
Firstly, she considered the attack by the thugs.
Was this just a random mugging attempt? After all such things were sadly not uncommon in Flagstaff, perhaps she was foolish for parking her car in such an isolated area.
However, given the current circumstances, namely Tuki's abduction. Did whoever was behind that also want Hyle either dead or disappeared for whatever reason.
The circumstances favoured that theory over the first. Hyle would have to take more care.
Next, Hyle returned her thinking to the more serious problem of finding Tuki. Rodney was a washout, and Joe was nowhere.
Hyle had no leads to follow, she sighed and felt the pangs of worry gnawing at her guts again. She screwed her eyes, forcing herself to keep in front of the tide of self-doubt she recognised.
"Come on, Think!"
Then it came to her. Something 'Lightbulb Bob' had said when he informed her of the attack on Tuki's car. One of the attackers had been wounded.
Which meant he could likely be one of two places now. Hope Springs Clinic or the emergency medical centre here in Flagstaff. And it certainly would not be the former.
"Time to look more Mayoral," Hyle muttered.
She opened the boot and pulled out her pink leather jacket, the one she usually wore to work when official meetings were scheduled.
She also took her best handbag and her make-up case, then sat in the car to apply some 'civic slap' to her eyes and lips.
Doctor Brightman was feeling his usual overworked, underappreciated and certainly underpaid self.
So when he was told that Mayor Troy of Hope Springs wished to see him, he was only too glad of the diversion.
"Miss Troy, what a pleasure!" He said as Hyle entered his office, a vision he seldom saw in his humdrum life.
Hyle was looking regal and carried herself with all the bearing her office should demand. "What can I do for you?"
"I understand you are caring for an unfortunate chap who was injured in an incident just outside of Hope Springs this morning. If you would be so kind, I would like to speak to him.
Obviously, it involves my town and, as you would suspect. I need to ask him a few questions. Normally I would have my Head of Security to do this but she is unavailable so...
here I am, in her place" She smiled graciously. Brightman was suitably overwhelmed.
A few minutes later, Dr Brightman led Hyle into a room where the hapless individual lay. A blood drip led to his arm and another lead ran from his chest to a monitor.
"He was wounded in the abdomen, nasty cut but we were able to patch him up, although he lost a lot of blood, he will be fine in a few days,
" Brightman explained as Hyle went to stand next to the bed. "Although he is very weak..."
Brightman stood near the door, Hyle smiled sympathetically down at the man, keeping a firm lid on the fury she felt inside.
"Thank you." Hyle turned to Brightman with a polite smile, but the raised eyebrow had the desired effect on Brightman, He excused himself, closing the door behind him.
Hyle turned her attention back to the patient and the smile slipped from her face.
"Trevor." Hyle read from the nameplate at the top of the bed. "Where is she?"
Trevor's eyes widened as Hyle put her large and heavy handbag right on top of the bandages across his belly. She leaned closer, to Trevor, her eyes looked like pale blue hell.
Hyle placed her hand over his mouth to stop the screams and pressed down heavily on her handbag.
Back at her car, Hyle considered things. It was not this Miss Brown who the thug worked for but Aunt Lucy.
Hyle had good reason to despise the old woman. She had once got her sister addicted to Storm and had tried unsuccessfully to start a drug operation back in Hope.
Hyle had banished Aunt Lucy from Hope never to return on pain of a long session with Reavy.
Still, Hyle could not figure out the connection between Brown and Lucy. But she did have one more lead. Diamond Lil's.