Chapter 7:

They found out through Finch that the man who had Jacob was Aaron Bryce. Though his occupation was listed as a contractor; no one was fooled. Bryce was a killer for hire. They weren't able to find any connections to the Mendoza Cartel, at least any direct ones. But Sarah Ann and Harold were getting close to decrypting the diskette. They just needed to buy more time.

"I might agree to substitute the disk for the kid," Bryce warily said to Zoe. "But I want West, too."

"You won't get West," Zoe said flatly. "That boy needs his father, he just lost his mother. He knows nothing of what's on the disk."

"You could be lying to me. There could be nothing on that diskette."

"But you're worried and want to be reassured. This would give it to you. Look, you got to Evan before he had a chance to even look at the file. He was in the hospital for days before they even realized they didn't have that disk."

Silence. "And why can't I have that disk now?"

"Do you think getting to that storage unit is easy? It's right at rush hour and it's a little more than an hour and a half away. It will take my guy three hours at least to get there and back. That's not even factoring in the traffic. Set up a meeting anytime after that, and I'll put it in your hands." She paused. "Or you could let me meet up with your boss, after you release Jacob."

Bryce scoffed at the suggestion. "Do you think I'd be stupid enough to do that? Besides, I'll have to look at the disk to make sure you aren't lying to me."

"Oh, you have a computer that can actually read a diskette from 1997? Good luck with that."

"You think I'm trying to pull a fast one?" Bryce asked mockingly.

"No, but I don't want one hair on Jacob's head harmed. He shouldn't have to go through this, he's only eight. You set up a meeting, somewhere in the open, just you. I'll make sure I come alone too. Once Jacob is away from you, I'll give you the diskette."

"Just bring it to me."


"I'll call you in three hours with a location, be ready to go then." He hung up.

Zoe drew a deep breath and pressed the disconnect button. Up to the last minute, she hadn't been sure he would go along with it. There was still a possibility that this plan of hers wouldn't work, but at least it would keep Jacob safe for another few hours.

"John, put those away," Zoe said as made a shooing motion at John.

"Zoe, you need protection," John insisted laying two guns on the table.

"John, I do not need a Glock 26 or a Smith and Wesson M&P Compact 9mm, okay?" John cocked a brow surprised she actually knew the kind of guns they were on sight.

"Zoe . . ." John warned with a look of upright determination.

"No, John. Christ, I refuse to risk shooting that damn thing and accidentally hitting Jacob," she said waspishly.

"Fine, then take this . . . " he pulled another item from his equipment bag and put in on the table. He folded his arms and issued a challenge with his intense stare.

Zoe set her jaw and raised an eyebrow. "Where the hell am I supposed to hide that thing?"

John gave her that look that said he didn't care where she hid it.

Sighing, she gave in with a roll of her eyes. "Fine."

Looking around to make sure Evan was otherwise occupied; John reached out and grasped her hand. Cupping her cheek, he commanded softly, "Please . . . Be careful."

Taking a deep fortifying breath, she nodded. He nodded in return and started to pack away the guns she refused to take with her.

Placing a tentative hand on his arm, "John, about the . . ." she motioned awkwardly towards the balcony.

He shook his head. "I know it didn't mean anything." At her curious look, he continued, "You weren't mewing."

"MEW . . . like a kitten?" She asked full of righteous indignation, "I most certainly do not . . . MEW, who uses that word anyway?" She continued hands on her hips as she stood in his path.

His heart stopping grin momentarily blinded her as he moved quickly. Zoe knew John was fast on his feet yet she was still surprised how quickly he had her flat against the wall with her hands pinned above her head. Without preamble, he proceeded to give her a toe-curling kiss which rendered her mind completely blank.

"Hey!" Evan called from the other side of the wall. "What the hell is that sound? Sounds like a stuck pig."

With a huff, Zoe shoved John aside. "Smart-ass."

Giving her another heart stopping grin, he slowly turned around to pick up his equipment bag, but not before he whispered in her ear. "See? At least I said mew. Evan thinks you sound like a pig."

Bryce called when Zoe was twenty minutes away from her destination. "Where are you now, Miz Morgan?"

"Corner of forty-fifth and Grand." Zoe could tell he was leading her towards a section of New York that was mostly abandoned buildings.

"Turn east on the next street you get to and head towards the end of the road." He hung up.

Zoe drew in a deep breath. She had to be calm and in control. Jacob's life depended on it. The tension in Zoe had been building for the past several days. She wasn't sure how much longer she could keep her fragile walls up.

Bryce called her one last time as she reached the end of the road. He told her to wait for him and that he was close.

"John, I've got Miss Morgan's signal" Finch's voice was tense. "She's about ten minutes to the south of you by the abandoned warehouses. Satellite photos show her vehicle stopped and another vehicle approaching. The vehicle contains what appear to be a driver as well as a child in the back seat."

"Are there any other men in the vicinity?"

"None, it seems Mr. Bryce is a man of his word."

"That or he doesn't take Zoe seriously," John responded. He didn't like Zoe going in by herself unarmed and unable to defend herself, but she had refused to bring a gun. This was a situation he couldn't control and he didn't like it.

Zoe tensed as she saw the car driving toward her. The black four door sedan pulled in front of her blocking the only way out of the road. As a man got out and crossed in front of the car, she could see a small shape in the back seat. The man's physique was familiar to her. She had never known what her assailant looked like except that his eyes were an icy green hue, he had been wearing a ski mask. Fair wavy hair, handsome some would say, but a sadist none the less. He had his gun trained on her.

"Miz Morgan, it's so good to see you again." He motioned with his hand indicating that he wanted to search her.

She felt his eyes on her as she stretched her arms out to her sides parallel to the ground. He walked around her assessing her body through her clothes, as if she were just a piece of meat. She then felt his hands on her. Her breasts, between her legs, painful at times, probing, and demeaning. But she took it knowing this was the only way she could get to Jacob.

"You can stop searching, its pretty obvious I'm unarmed and I'm not wearing a wire." Zoe said her voice had a deceivingly bored tone to it.

His hands froze for a second then he pulled her to him from behind, his free hand tightened painfully on her breast. "Oh, you're no fun. Besides, I just wanted to check out what I missed out on years ago. I was too busy beating the crap out of you to notice your . . . " His eyes ran the length of her body once more. ". . . finer attributes."

Don't show pain or weakness, Zoe thought. He would like it too much.

He gave her breast one more painful squeeze then grabbed her by the arm and turned her to face him. "Do you have the diskette?"

Staring at him straight in the eye, she quirked her lip up and said, "Yes, but I'm not giving it to you until Jacob is safe in my car. And please, put the gun away, you already know I'm not hiding anything."

Zoe held her breath as Bryce gave her one more assessing glance, then tucked the gun behind him. He motioned for Jacob to come out of the car.

Zoe smiled at Jacob reassuringly as she held her hand out. "Hi Jacob, I'm a friend of your daddy's, are you ready to go see him?"

Jacob nodded as he tentatively reached for her hand. Jacob looked exactly as she imagined her little boy would have looked like at that age had he lived. Tears threatened, but she pushed them down. He had light brown almost blond hair with big blue eyes, he was beautiful.

She led him to the back of her car, and settled him into the back seat. She ran her left hand over his hair as her right reached for the diskette she had stashed in the back seat pocket as well as a laptop. "You'll be with your daddy soon, Jacob. I promise."

John had just reached the back of the abandoned warehouse in time to see Zoe lead Jacob to her car. "Finch, Zoe has Jacob in the car. What's the ETA on Carter and Fusco?"

"They are about twenty minutes out, but John, I see another car coming up the street."

"What?" John silently swore. "And it's not Carter and Fusco?"

"No," Finch replied.

"Damn it, that car is going to spook him," John's pulse thudded in his ears as he watched what he had feared would happen. Zoe was at the mercy of a man who had a gun to her head.

Hearing the unmistakable sound of a vehicle approaching, Bryce looked up, an angry expression on his face. "You said alone!" He grabbed her, spun her around and clamped an arm around her throat. Then pulled his gun and pressed it to her temple.

Zoe froze, panic coursing through her veins. "No, I swear, I don't know who that is." They both stared at the car coming towards them. But the car never came all the way in. It stopped several yards away then backed up and made a u-turn.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Zoe stomped on his foot and immediately swung to face him. As his momentum was carrying him forward, she grabbed a hold of his shirt by his shoulders pulling his upper body right into her rising knee getting him right in the solar plexus. As he doubled over, the wind knocked out of him, she used her elbow to come down hard on the back of his neck, knocking him completely to the ground. Grabbing the tazer gun she had stashed at the back of her waistband when she led Jacob into the car, she immediately zapped Bryce. She backed away as she heard running footsteps and more approaching vehicles. She watched almost in fascination as Bryce's body continued to twitch and jolt.

She knelt down by the twitching body and whispered, "Never underestimate a woman with a grudge. I learned a few things from my new boyfriend by the way."

A joint taskforce between the DEA and NYPD had been created to analyze the information contained in the diskette that was anonymously sent to Detective Cal Beecher of the NYPD.

Discovering the identity of the Finance and Legal cell head wasn't difficult when one knew what to look for. Once the files on the diskette were decrypted and meticulously analyzed, it was easy enough to identify most of the major players of the Mendoza Cartel. Evan's confidential informant was never identified and was thought to have perished the day Evan left New York. The files on the diskette had provided the details of the money laundering operations and much more.

The laundering operation started and evolved with Johann Rodriguez, a well known American philanthropist but also a high ranking lieutenant in the Mendoza Cartel securing the position of Chairman of the Board of Banco Americas in New York. The bank was believed to have been used to launder funds for the Cartel. Cartel members were permitted, through their affiliation with the Rodriguez, to overdraft the accounts and take out loans without repayment. These funds were then used to purchase legitimate businesses which in turn made more money for the Cartel. It was believed that the Cartel was grossing upwards of about five billion dollars in annual revenue in the United States alone.

Within two hours of Johann Rodriguez' exposure, an unspeakable number of men who were members of various law enforcement agencies found themselves on the wrong side of the law. All had been identified as taking orders from Rodriguez and a few members of Congress. No one was particularly surprised by the discovery. The Cartel was a business after all, and like most businesses, the Cartel had a politician or two in its clutches.