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JOHN WOKE UP the next morning and phoned Cara's room. No answer. He showered and dressed, then knocked on her hotel door. Nothing. He leaned against the door and pressed his ear to the wood. Silence. Casting a stare down the hallway, it struck him as odd that he had not seen even one of his hired security. What's going on?

He knocked on the door next to Cara's, crossed the hall, and banged on the door down from his. The responding silence shot a chill throughout John's body. No! He grabbed the doorknob, tested it, and found it unlocked. Shit. Senses heightened, John moved to the side of the door and pushed it open, cautiously.

The hinges creaked.

John peered in and discovered his worst nightmare. Two bodies lying facedown on the floor. He rushed to the room next to Cara's, also finding it unlocked—carpet soaked with blood from two additional security, lifeless on the floor. "Shit!"

Heartbeat set on overdrive, John charged into Cara's room. The door slammed against the wall. "Cara!" He sprinted for the bathroom, but it was empty, and Cara was missing. Her belongings left behind in her room rankled John's insides. "She been kidnapped."

He pulled out his phone and tapped a number in the list. Two rings.

"Hello?" Maddie's voice transmitted groggy.

John scanned the room but spotted no signs of a struggle.

"Mr. Profit? Where are you? How can I—"

"Maddie, just listen." John paced the room. "Something is up, but I can't talk now. Do you still have that phone I gave you a few years back?"

"Yeah, sure. Why?" Concern grew in her voice. "What's happening? Are you okay?"

"I've been better. Listen. I need your help. Keep that phone on you at all times, get to the office, and I'll call you in an hour. I'm going to need you to pull a few strings for me."

"Okay, but—"

"Thanks." John terminated the call.

He returned to his room, wasting no time in packing anything unessential. Two minutes later, the elevator shook to a stop, and the doors opened. A child entered through the doors with his parents and struck every floor between the floor they were on, and the lobby.

"I'm sorry," the woman said. She grabbed her son and slapped his hand.

"Not to worry." John exited the elevator. "I need the exercise. The stairs will do just fine."

He entered the stairwell and wound down the steps without a sound, cracked the door leading to the lobby the slightest fraction.

And saw a pair of man, gloved, standing next to the hotel staff at the front desk, and jamming a gun against their ribs.

"I've heard of white glove treatment, but I don't think this is what they mean."

The light above the elevator indicated that it was safely stopped on the eighth floor, then it ticked down to seven—and stopped. Good boy.

John dug out a round black clay ball from his pack and pulled the pin as if it were a grenade, rolled it through the open crack of the door.

It hissed like a nest of serpents, spewing a foggy venom that clouded the lobby in mere seconds. The few people lingering in the foyer evacuated through the front doors. The gunmen whipped around to catch John sneaking out the stairwell. It took a moment for the events to register before they pushed away their hostages and leveled their guns.

John broke into a sprint.

The front door was too far a dash, so he barreled toward a side corridor, ducking low behind a fountain for cover. The two men gave chase. A gunshot struck one of the fountain tiers, chipped plaster raining to the floor along with a meaty chunk. John ran past, darted into the corridor, and kicked open a double door.

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