Naira, Heart of Flame - Part 18: In the dying light
Grant was facing a moral dilemma. He was driving fast, not quite paying attention to where he was going. Should he go to James and tell him that something had happened to Naira, or just wait it out? He didn't want to fess up that he had followed her, but on the other hand there would be questions and he would be identified as one of the people on the trail today. That would make me a prime suspect, he realized in horror. After all, I did try to... I have to tell him, he thought to himself, what if something really bad happens to her? He tried to ignore the feeling stirring inside him; feelings of real admiration and fondness for Naira.
He flew down the street to his father's house to get Clara. After all, he had promised to take the princess to James's. As long as he was delivering bad news, he might as well keep his promise. The pit of his stomach seemed to be sinking lower and lower into his belly with every turn of the wheel, soon it would disintegrate and he would die of nerves.
"What do I have to be afraid of?" he asked himself, attempting a laugh that got caught somewhere in his throat. But Grant knew he had a lot to be afraid of... James. "He's going to kill me..." floated across his mind as he pulled into the driveway and honked for Clara.
Meanwhile, James was sitting in his office upstairs, trying his best to comprehend what he was reading. Dr. Wallace had lied to dozens of people, giving them treatments for illnesses they didn't have, letting them die. The reason was also evident, because enclosed with the files that Nurse Wetzel had risked giving him, was an appointment book. In it, Dr. Wallace had kept detailed notes on his meetings with Dominic Florien and their "business transactions." James tried not to think about the fact that if he hadn't found Naira, that murderer might have been his father-in-law.
There was only one file left now, one last patient who had been lied to. It sat perfectly centered on his desk, waiting patiently to be opened. James was telling himself there wouldn't be a false set and a real set of records in this file, that the patient really did have an infection and nothing more. That his baby sister wasn't going to die.
He shook his head, and tried to think of something else. The clock read 6:43, the house lay still and quiet. Suddenly, James realized that Eli and Naira were not at home. He got up, and walked into Naira's room. Everything was as it should be, neat and orderly. All that was missing was his girlfriend. James laughed at the thought of calling Naira his girlfriend. She was an elf, after all. He reminded himself later to ask her what courting elves call each other. He tried to imagine Aragorn referring to Arwen as his girlfriend, and laughed harder because it seemed so ridiculous.
Slams echoed from downstairs, feet tearing apart the staircase, a crazy man flying into the bedroom to attack James. No, not a crazy man at all, it was Eli.
"What is it?" James asked, his eyes narrowing in concern.
"It's...." he began, barely finding the courage to finish the sentence, "it's Naira."
"James, let me explain! I took her to the stable in the park before my classes and her horse came back riderless. They don't where she is and if she isn't back in an hour the owner is going to call the police."
James felt as though his heart skipped a beat, and in that moment he had died a thousand times. Naira could be anywhere, hurt and alone, or worse. But James stopped those thoughts immediately.
"We have to find her." His voice was wavering, but strong. Only one thing mattered, and that was Naira. He ran to his room and grabbed a flashlight and a sweatshirt. Then, he and Eli headed out and got into Eli's car. As they sped down the street, James silently prayed to God and the Valar. He knew that he would give anything, even his own life, for her to be safe and sound.
Neither James or Eli noticed the car that sped past them and then did a U-turn to follow them, or that is contained James's siblings. Grant breathed a small sigh of relief. Eli had told him, he was safe. But Naira wasn't, and Grant was more concerned that he would like to admit. Clara wanted to ask Grant what was going on, but she felt weak, and closed her eyes to try and focus on not getting sick. Even though James hadn't opened her file, it didn't stop the cancer that was ravaging her body from being real.
Chief Staub hated being disturbed at home, especially by Dominic Florien. It always resulted in having to clean up other peoples' messes with a bullet. He'd been doing the same kind of work for years, but he was the chief now, not some rookie. Besides, he'd had a rough day and he didn't feel like driving all the way out to the plant. That Varden kid had pushed too many buttons, made Staub feel too vulnerable. He had Charles's eyes, those piercing eyes that made you feel like he could see inside you, read your thoughts, know what you wanted three seconds before even you realized what it was.
"But I closed Charles's eyes permanently..." he said to himself, trying to make it all better somehow, "because I killed him. I can choose who lives and dies...." He felt better, more in control as he drove his car down the wooded road that Florien had instructed him to use. It was the same road he had used the day he killed Charles, but it bigger now because Florien's company used it as a regular road to dump the waste from the plant.
He saw the van already, the same van that always held the poor soul that was dumb enough to cross the Florien family. However, he was shocked to see not only Dominic, but his daughter Lena. When had she gotten caught up in all of this? He parked the car and waddled over to where the father and daughter stood waiting.
"Good evening, Staub," Florien drawled, his bulging face looking rather sinister in the dying light, "we have a favor to ask you." He paused, and chuckled amusedly, "Actually, I think Lena is the one who needs the favor. After all, this can only improve her dating life."
Lena shot her father a look that in any other family wouldn't have been tolerated. But, thought Staub, this isn't really a family. They're partners. She doesn't embarrass him, he doesn't cut up her credit cards. But, he was intrigued by the last comment.
"How so?" he asked, trying not to seem to curious. Lena opened her mouth to speak, but Dominic cut in.
"Well, she couldn't keep a hold of little Varden, so when she caught his new girlfriend snooping around my little... experiment.... She decided to make it personal and free James's social life up a bit."
"I'm supposed to kill James Varden's girlfriend?" Staub asked. Dominic and Lena both nodded. Suddenly, the day didn't seem so bad to Staub after all.
"How does robbed at gunpoint sound?" he asked as he walked back to his car. He popped the trunk as Lena practically purred, "Just fine." He removed the gun that he used for these occasions from the portable safe he had in his trunk. He had confiscated it years ago, it was unregistered. How ironic, he thought, first his father and now his girlfriend with the same gun. Poor little James, he'll be all alone. From the look in Lena's eyes, he probably wouldn't be alone for long.
He walked back over to the van as he pulled on a pair of black leather gloves. He opened the door, and stood stunned at the beauty of the girl he saw lying there bound and gagged. She had been beaten up pretty bad, and was in a lot of obvious pain. She looked at him with eyes the color of flawless emeralds. Those eyes held not fear or panic, but a wisdom that seemed to be greater than him. She seemed to tell him that no matter what he did to her, she did not deserve it. He knew that those eyes would haunt him forever. He suddenly didn't want to do this, he couldn't see a reason why this heavenly creature had to die. He turned to Florien and said, "I don't think I can do this one."
Dominic's face didn't change, then as though someone had pricked him with a pin he winced once. The next instant, Staub lay dead on the ground from a shot to the head. Lena let out a surprised yelp, looking in shock at her father who held the gun that killed Staub. It was suddenly silent. Every tree seemed to be looking at the dead man whose blood was staining their home.
"If you want something done right, do it yourself." Dominic's voice cut the silence like a iron knife. He pulled out his cell phone and talked quietly to someone. He hung up, and smiled like a well-fed cat.
"What was that about?" Lena asked harshly.
"You'll see dear."
Less that two minutes later, another van pulled up and five men jumped out. They all wore dark suits and looked at the dead body like it was a fork, nothing out of the ordinary. Naira wondered who they were, but Lena recognized them as her father's bodyguards. Without a word, two picked up Staub and took him through a gate and into the woods. A third carried a black bag after the other two. Another came, and gruffly hauled Naira up. She tried to resist, but her shattered ribs made her cry out in pain and cease her struggle.
"Goodbye Naira. I'll kiss James goodbye for you," said Lena, her manicured finger tracing Narya, which still hung from her neck. A thin strip of red still shone like fire at the bottom, but the rest was black as pitch now. Since Lena had put it on, the stone had been changing rapidly. Naira's heart beat faster, deperately wanting James. He'll never find me, she thought sadly. Lena turned to go, her lips sneering with delight. But her father's grip prevented her from taking a step.
"No you don't. You want her dead, you watch it happen." He didn't loosen his grip on her arm as her steered her towards the fence. Dominic said over his shoulder to the final bodyguard, "If anyone that isn't me or my daughter somes near the area, shoot them, understood? No one gets to play hero tonight."
As Chief Staub beheld the beauty of Naira's eyes, James and Eli frantically searched in the dying light for any trace of her. They were not far from the gate when Grant and Clara caught up to them. Over Grant's shoulder hung his bow and quiver of arrows.
"What are you doing here?" James asked, hugging his sister, but eyeing Grant suspiciously.
"I was bringing Clara for dinner when we saw you two speeding away.We followed you because we knew something had to be wrong. Clara mentioned that Naira went horsebackriding here today, so we wanted to make sure things were okay."
"We think Naira got hurt, or kidnapped, while riding her horse today. Her horse came back without her," said James sadly, and Clara buried her face in his chest, her heart breaking for her brother and her friend. Suddenly, a new thought occurred to her.
"James..." she said quietly, "are you sure she didn't, well, go back?"
James's heart broke a little at the thought. It was possible, all too possible, that her time had run out with him and she was back in Middle-earth with her family, on the ship to the Gray Havens, without him for the rest of eternity.
"Back? Back where?" spat Grant venomously. Honestly, he thought, these people got stupider everyday. The others ignored him, each deep in their own thoughts. James was envisioing Naira on the deck of a tall ship, with Gandalf, handing him Narya, a tear sliding down her cheek.
His thoughts were cut to shreds by a gunshot that was too close for comfort. James knew Naira needed him, she near, and it was up to him to save her.
"Grant, give me the bow and arrows and take Clara back home. Now. Eli, go call the police. Don't any of you dare follow me." Before they could protest, he had the bow and quiver in his hand. James's tall figure was swallowed by the darkness.