SIXTEEN

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Mark was in an early morning meeting with the Arts Council architects to approve some last minute change orders. The Chilvati Group was the main donor on their new ultramodern building going up in downtown LA, and when internal disputes had started causing delays in construction, the council had asked him to step in and take a more active role in the structure's completion. He was happy to do it, as long as it didn't take time away from other Chilvati business.

When the boardroom door was yanked opened, he looked over, expecting to see Lisa with something for him to sign. But it was Louis standing there.

Louis never interrupted meetings.

Mark stood and buttoned his suit jacket while addressing the five men sitting at the table who had all stopped talking. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I'll be back in a moment."

Coming up to Louis in the hall, he glanced around to make sure they had some degree of privacy before turning to him.

"It's Lieutenant Robins," Louis blurted out.

He didn't know why his heart suddenly started to race. Maybe it had something to do with the pissed-off look on his chauffeur's face. "What happened?"

"She was taken to the emergency room last night in pretty rough shape. According to the neighbor who babysits, the ex-husband came over and sent her home, saying he would stay with his daughter until Lieutenant Robins arrived. Nobody knows the whereabouts of either of them now. The neighbor heard the garage shut, and a little later, she watched the ex-husband and daughter leave. Worried, she phoned the lieutenant but got no answer. After a few more tries, she went over to the house to check and found Lieutenant Robins on the floor, unconscious."

Mark knew there was no love lost between Virginia and Tom. With Louis's help he'd been learning more and more about her, convincing himself it was only because she seemed insistent on intruding in his life every few months.

When Mark made no attempt to hide his anger, Louis went on with, "A friend of mine said there was word on the street of some suit trying to buy help in kidnapping his daughter. None of our guys were touching it."

"Find them," Mark all but growled.

The smile that broke out on his driver's face was part promise, part pleasure, but pure evil. "I knew you would say that."

Louis was turning away when Mark grabbed his arm. "I want him scared shitless," he said, leaning in close. "Take Adam and Ben with you. Call me as soon as you know where he is."

"You've got it, boss." He left in a rush, getting on his cell phone right away.

Mark reentered the boardroom, giving a reassuring smile to the faces staring back at him. "Sorry for the interruption. We can continue."

Unbeknownst to them, they held very little of his attention during the remainder of the meeting.

) l (

Louis was glad to help. The thought of a young girl being torn away from her mother made his blood boil. He liked kids. He and his wife, Rosie, had tried for years to have one of their own. Nothing had worked. Lack of hormonal synchronization or some such thing. If karma had any say in these matters, it would have been his little swimmers that were the culprits, payback for the abuse he'd put his body through in his younger days. And he would have gladly taken all the blame, to alleviate some of the guilt Rosie carried around with her after the diagnosis.

She'd left him once, saying he should find a woman who could give him a family. Damn near killed him, driving him back to the booze and drugs and stupidity of his youth. Took a near-fatal car crash to turn things around—he'd been drinking when he slammed into that tree. Rosie was the one who had nursed him back to health. And Louis had used the time to his advantage, telling her over and over that she was all he wanted and everything he needed. Months. It had taken months to convince her. But that was his Rosie. Stubborn. Proud. Tough as nails.

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