Chapter 35

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It felt as if a battering ram had blown out her entire midsection. How could anyone punch so hard? Petronia remembered he had been a muscular football player during his college years. No doubt he still worked out. She should've seen it coming. She had goaded him too aggressively and backed him into a corner.

Petronia knew she was in trouble. Howie Boy had tied her wrists and was marching her through a door, up a set of stairs. Where was he taking her?

A door opened and a cold wind blasted her face making her eyes water.

They were on the roof.

Oh, god, he was going to throw her over! The punch to her midsection had weakened her and made every breath feel like a knife jab. She didn't have enough air in her lungs to scream and tried a feeble shout, "Help!"

A hand closed over her mouth. "Shut up. Nobody can help you now."

His hand cut off her air. She was suffocating but in too much agony to resist. Dark spots swarmed in her vision. He dragged her. He tossed her onto a hard seat and removed his hand from her face. She gasped for air.

Two men engaged in a heated conversation, Howie Boy and someone else. She wasn't able to sit up to see.

"You're out of your mind. I can't be a party to this," the stranger shouted.

"You will do as you're damn well told. You're paid well enough."

"What are you going to do to this woman?"

"That's not your concern."

"When I get back, I'm going to speak with your father," the stranger said. "This is bullshit. I won't be party to a kidnapping."

"After you drop me and her, you can do whatever the hell you want. Let's get going."

Petronia heard a door latch. Were they in a vehicle? On the roof? She struggled and finally managed to sit upright. In front of her, the stranger and Howie Boy Collier wore headsets. She noticed an instrument panel and the whine of a turbine powering up.

 She noticed an instrument panel and the whine of a turbine powering up

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Barlow heard the helicopter before he saw it. A powerful engine vibrated the building, sending ripples dancing on the surface of his coffee cup sitting in the console cup holder. From his parking spot on the roof of the public parking garage, he watched the bird lift smoothly from atop the Collier building.

Dread filled him. Although he knew it to be irrational, Barlow sensed Pet was aboard. He wished he had binoculars. During the next few seconds he'd have a clear view inside the cockpit, but it was too far for him to make out individuals with the naked eye.

He banged his hands against the steering wheel. "Damn it."

The helicopter rotated in mid-air and nosed due west, into the setting sun. The thing was fast. In a minute, it was a mere speck against the sky. A moment after that, it was gone.

Barlow punched the speed dial for Pet's cell phone. It went immediately to voice mail. "Where are you, Pet? I saw a chopper leave the Collier building. I hope you aren't aboard." He tried the Find-my-iPhone app. It displayed: "Offline." Why the hell had she turned off her phone?

Barlow exited his van and headed for the building main entrance. He entered through the revolving door and marched up to the security desk. "A lady state trooper named Petronia Henning came through here about half-an-hour ago. She had an appointment with Uriah Collier. Can you check to see if she's still with Mr. Collier?"

The attendant shot him an expressionless stare. "Are you with law enforcement?"

"No, I'm Trooper Henning's driver."

"Then, sir, I'm afraid I can't confirm any information with you. Mr. Collier's appointments are strictly confidential."

Barlow didn't have time to dance around with this man. "I'm only asking if you can check if Trooper Henning is still here. I believe she is in danger."

That got the attendant's attention. He pushed back on his chair and stood. "What kind of danger?"

"She was supposed to check in with me and didn't. A helicopter recently left the rooftop. I believe she may have been taken against her will."

The attendant smiled and spoke to Barlow as if he were a small child. "Sir, helicopters come and go from this rooftop all day long. There's no reason to suspect foul play based on that observation."

"Then why doesn't she answer her phone?"

"I really wouldn't know."

He wasn't going to get anywhere and decided to do something different. Barlow exited the revolving door and ran around the city block to the rear of the building. People streamed all around him appearing anxious to get home to start their weekend. He found what he was looking for, a loading dock. He slipped in without being questioned. Could he find the elevators before being noticed?

He slipped into a bathroom—luckily it was a single—and locked the door. He tried Pet's phone again. Still straight to voice mail. Adrenaline pumping, he found it hard to think. He needed to gain access to the penthouse office. That's where Pet was supposed to meet with Uriah Collier.

Elevators were usually located near the center of the building.

He opened the bathroom door and peeked. People were still walking out. Most were dressed in business suits so he would stick out in his casual clothes. He had to risk it.

Going against the flow of people leaving, he made his way deeper into the building. In the distance, he heard the chime of an elevator car as it opened onto the lobby. Rounding the corner, he stopped dead and reversed course, halted out of view of the security attendant he had spoken with. From where the man sat, he had a clear view of the bank of elevators.

Barlow knew he had to time things perfectly. He heard the chime of another elevator car. The door opened and people made their way past the attendant toward the building entrance. He stepped behind them and ducked into the elevator.

The doors seemed to take forever to close, but the attendant never looked his way. He breathed a sigh of relief and pressed the button for the top floor.

After a quick ride up, the elevator door slid open revealing a double office door. Should he knock? If Pet was still in there, it might disrupt things if he just barged in. On the other hand, she had turned off her phone.

He eased the door open, surprised it wasn't locked.

Inside the office, Barlow found a couple dirty drink glasses, a lamp on the floor missing its electric cord, and a pool of vomit. His heart pounded at the ominous sight. "What happened here?"

He took a few minutes to explore and discovered the back door to the helipad on the roof.

More so than before, Barlow sensed Pet to be in grave danger. He made a hasty exit, desperate to return to his van.

 He made a hasty exit, desperate to return to his van

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Is it time for Barlow to call the police?

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