Chapter 9: Flight of Frustration

Once again getting off of the plane it was an advantage being in business class. Tom and Daria were allowed off first, which meant that they had a substantial head start getting to passport control. The machines were aggravating. Probably the most humiliating part for Daria was when the machine took her picture and she had to admit it was her. Her passport picture was bad enough – it wasn't like she considered herself to be photogenic – but his was humiliating. Then she had to take her receipt to an officer anyway, who again admitted it was her and let her into the country. Things were screwed up enough as it was. Adding more pictures and a computer just made it worse. Well, at least she and Tom were back in the U.S. Now to get the luggage and hope that customs didn't think they were a two person drug cartel or something. After all they were coming back home early to get away from the bad guys.

It took about 20 minutes before their bags arrived on the baggage carousel. Daria thought that at the very least they appeared not to have been run over by any trucks. She and Tom went through with nothing to declare. Then they were fortunate enough to get picked to go through the agriculture line. Great, another waste of time. God forbid they bring a ham sandwich back from Europe.

They walked up to the screening officer. He started in on the standard list of forbidden fruits, vegetables, etc. Tom said calmly, "Officer, we've been in Europe for just two weeks on business. We were in London, Paris, and Stuttgart. The only things we are bringing home are a couple of clothing items and some chocolate we bought at the duty free store. Please x-ray our bags if you like, but we are just trying to get home."

The officer looked at their bags, which were not that much bigger than carry-on luggage and said, "OK. Here is your receipt. Just go through the exit over there."

"Thank you." Tom replied. "We really appreciate it."

Tom and Daria turned in their receipt and went directly to the exit from agriculture. The exit from customs was just through the transfer area, where people dropped their checked luggage so that it could be routed to their connecting flights. Then they had the joy of submitting themselves to the TSA. Fortunately, Tom and Daria were not connecting and were able to go to the exit without the TSA check.

The blacked out doors opened with a swoosh and Tom and Daria walked into the arrival terminal with their luggage in tow. Scanning the crowd quickly, Tom spotted Captain Samuelson, the company pilot, and waived at him. The pilot saw him and they made their way toward each other. As Tom almost reached the pilot he suddenly came face to face with his father.

Angier moved forward quickly and embraced his son. Tom was shocked and didn't know quite how to respond. It took a moment, but he embraced his dad. Then Angier released him, walked over and hugged Daria. Daria, not much of a hugger other than of Tom, just stood there. She gradually put her arms loosely around Angier.

"Hi, thanks for coming," she said.

"We need to go," Angier ordered. "We'll talk on the plane." He turned on his heel and led the way. Angier effectively took point while the others formed up around Tom and Daria. They made their way through the airport as a unit. There was a van waiting for them at the curb. Angier opened the side door and they all got in. One of the security men loaded the luggage into the back of the van.

The driver drove off as soon as all the doors were closed. Tom looked at the driver. He couldn't see the driver's face, but the set of the shoulders seemed familiar.

In less than ten minutes the van pulled up to general aviation. The driver got out, came around and opened the side door. Someone opened the back door, pulled out the luggage and started toward the plane. As Tom got out he knew why he recognized the driver, it was his mother - Kay. He paused and was about to say something.

"Get moving both of you," Kay ordered. "Follow Captain Samuelson to the plane. I'm taking up the rear."

The van drove off with a security man at the wheel. The people accompanying Daria and Tom again formed up around them. They walked together to the plane. A security man was standing in the doorway. He walked down and reported to the pilot that the aircraft was secure. The group waited at the foot of the stairs until the captain had gone in and checked it out himself. Tom saw their bags being loaded into the luggage bay. Captain Samuelson came back to the door and motioned them to come in. Angier went first followed by the co-pilot and then the rest of the family members. Security stayed on the tarmac. The co-pilot waived at security and the stairs were raised. The plane's auxiliary power unit was running so the Captain started the engines.

"Everyone please be seated and buckle in," the Captain announced over the intercom. The Sloanes quickly took their seats and no sooner were they buckled in than the plane started moving. In less than 15 minutes they were airborne.

"OK," Daria said in an angry tone. "What is up that we had to cut our trip short because people – probably associated with some eastern European mafia – were following us all over Europe? I was especially unappreciative of the guy who showed up in the restaurant in Esslingen. I thought we had shaken those goons!"

Tom piped up with, "I agree with Daria, Dad. What have you gotten us into? You know I have a family to protect!"

Angier took a deep breath. "So do I! I have not gotten you into anything. Jenkins in the U.K. Office took on an account which turned out to be a shell company for a criminal organization based in the Balkans. As a matter of course the organization wanted leverage with our firm so that we would do illegal things for them, specifically money laundering. The goal was to compromise you two and have something to hold over our heads. While you were trying to stay off the grid, our U.K. Office came up with some incriminating documents. I made Jenkins take them to Scotland Yard himself. Thames Security followed up to make certain they were received. The information has been shared with the FBI as well as French and German police. Parts of the Balkans are a complete mess. It is sometimes difficult to tell who is government, mafia, or both. So there is little chance that they will extradite the criminals to the U.K. We have dropped the client and their offices have been raided by MI-5, as well as the French and the Germans. That piece is now out of business."

"I'm still concerned," Daria replied with fear still in her voice. "Those eastern European mafias can be very brutal."

"I think they will move on. There were some arrests. The French were lucky and got a high ranking person in the process. The Mafiosi will be spending their time fighting each other for the spoils. This was a big break and a substantial network has been taken down," Angier replied. "Don't underestimate what you have set in motion."

"I just don't want someone coming after me or Tom or our baby," Daria said.

"They won't," Angier replied. Turning to Tom he said, "Your Mother and I flew to DC yesterday and spent much of the afternoon and early evening with an old friend from Bromwell. He is Special Agent in Charge of an FBI task force on Balkan gangs. He brought with him a counterpart from CIA who introduced himself as 'Mr. Clark.' They have been monitoring activities in both the Balkans and the U.S. Several arrests have been made and a couple of high level Mafiosi have met with unfortunate accidents, seemingly at the hands of rivals. The particular group you encountered does not have the resources or contacts to act in the U.S. They were both very clear on that."

Angier went on, "In fact, for your peace of mind I have taken the liberty of having a state-of-the-art security system installed in your place. It is based on cellular technology so even if the power is cut there is battery backup and the police will be called. Anyone trying to break in would have to knock out the power to two cell towers in order to bypass the system. There is also encoded video which travels over cell phone rather than internet. Thus it is virtually impossible to hack. There is even encoded radio that will reach the security firm if both cell towers go down."

Tom looked at his Father and said, "I guess I should thank you for the security system. However, I am still unhappy about the circumstances that led to needing it. The other question I have is, Mom, why did you come along on this trip?"

Kay Sloane paused for a moment before looking at Angier, Daria, and then Tom. "There are a couple of reasons. First, I was deeply concerned about you and Daria. And yes, Daria, I do love you too. We may be very different people and not agree on many things, but that doesn't mean I don't care for you. I consider you just as much a member of this family as my own children and that is not just because you are pregnant with my first grandchild."

"The second reason is a little more complicated," Kay said. "Tom, do you know what my major was in college?"

"Sure," Tom said. "You got your degree in sociology."

"That is only part of the story," Kay said. "I actually started out in criminal psychology. I was interested in organized crime. To make a long story short I found some of it so disturbing I couldn't continue. In the process I met and dated a fellow criminal psychology student, Mitch, whom we met with yesterday. I hadn't seen him in thirty years. I broke up with him when I changed my major. I couldn't take that world any more. I met your father just a month later. When I found out who your Dad was going to meet I just had to go along. Besides, I think it helped us get more information out of him."

Daria deadpanned, "So your old boyfriend came through with otherwise unavailable information. Not a totally bad strategy." With a certain note of playfulness in her voice Daria went on, "You used the 'hotness factor' to your advantage and you didn't even kill him when you had the information you wanted."

Kay chuckled, "Why thank you for the complement, Melody. I do think I am pretty well preserved! Besides, the government takes a dim view of people killing federal officials, especially when those officials are doing you a big favor! Oh, and don't think I haven't read all of your Melody Powers novels, Daria. I like to know what my daughter-in-law is thinking."

Once again in total deadpan Daria remarked, "l'll remember that next time Tom gets out of line."

Looking at the two women Tom commented, "Hey, I'm sitting here you know!"

Angier chuckled and then got up and poured a round of sodas. The group all sat there and sipped their drinks as the plane made its way toward Lawndale Municipal Airport.

After landing Tom and Daria picked up his car from the airport parking lot. The drive home was uneventful and they disarmed and rearmed their new security system upon entering their townhouse.

Daria said to Tom in total deadpan, "Well, now after that adventure we need to decide what we will do on New Year's Eve. We won't be dancing in Vienna!"

"Well," Tom said. "I'm sure that the club will have a New Year's Eve party. My mother can make certain we have tickets."

Daria picked up a small pillow from the couch and started hitting Tom with it. She chased him upstairs and into the bedroom. Together they fell onto the bed exhausted.