Ch. 10 Imperative Trust

Beta: Stacyo72 and maxandmo

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.

EPOV

I walk out of my third airport in the last thirty-six hours. A rolling wave of white metal canopies, resembling giant inverted beach umbrellas, protects me from the sun's bone-soaking heat as my anxiety manifests in the quick pace of my gait. I reach the end and step out into the blindingly bright sunlight and shield my sunglass-covered eyes. It's a marked contrast from the torrential rains I left in Abidjan and the damp New York spring outside La Guardia.

I've landed in Kingston, Jamaica's capital, on the southeast side of the island. Far from the cruise ships and mega-resorts; this is the home of Bob Marley, Reggae music, and the infamous poverty of Trenchtown. To my left, a cabbie and his potential passenger loudly argue in rapid patois while an airport[ security officer observes them closely. I look for Max amid the raucous crowd in front of Norman Manley Airport. Tourists usually arrive across the island at Sangster International, where they're whisked away to the all-inclusive resorts of nearby Negril, Ochos Rios, and Montego Bay. Kingston's reputation keeps most American visitors away, but I'm not here to lie in the sun and drink cocktails.

I turn and look around, vainly searching. Finally, I spot a sign with my name on it. I frown when I don't recognize the person holding it. Between the rain delays leaving Abidjan and missing my connection in New York, I'm arriving much later than I expected. Max is probably already at the Tower Street Correctional Facility, where Laurent DuBois is currently jailed. I tighten my grip on my duffle bag and approach the man, who doesn't look much older than a teen.

"I'm Edward Cullen," I say, as our eyes lock on each other.

He gives a quick nod before replying in a thick Jamaican accent, "Yah, man.

Good, everything govern. I'm Riley. I work for Max. I'm takin' you over to the General Penitentiary."

"Sure, just give me a minute."

I look at him speculatively as I pull my cell phone from my pocket, and check my messages. Sure enough, there's one from Max stating he needs to smooth things over at the prison and I'm to accompany Riley.

"All good? Babylon awaits," Riley replies briskly when I agree to accompany him.

He's already on the move towards a small white SUV in the parking lot across the road. Even though he's shorter than me, he moves fast, and I have to increase my pace.

"Babylon?" I ask once I'm next to him.

"Yah, man. Captivity, the police, the jails, the corruption: it's all Babylon, Jah knows."

"Right, of course," I say, as I struggle to understand his accent.

The inflections and rhythm of his speech are completely unfamiliar. For the past two years, I've only spoken English occasionally. I'd almost feel more comfortable speaking Nouchi. Riley seems aware that I'm clueless.

"Babylon in the Bible is where the Hebrews were held captive, enslaved just like the blacks here were enslaved. Yah undastan wah mi a seh ?"

He emphasizes the patois to where it's barely recognizable as English. I'd like to think he's joking with me but his body language is indiscernible and his serious expression never changes.

We get to the SUV and I throw my bag in the back before climbing into the left side passenger seat. I focus on the view outside my window rather than the odd feeling of being on the wrong side of the car as we wind our way down the highway. The airport is out on the Palisadoes Spit, which is best known for the remains of the infamous Port Royal at the opposite end. When we approach the main part of the island, the road narrows and becomes a two-lane causeway. Riley speeds down the narrow strip of land, zigzagging around cars whenever the opportunity presents itself. By the time we merge onto the A4 and bear to the west, I'm grateful there's not much traffic at this time of day. We hug the shoreline, towards the city as the sand beaches give way to the stalwart walls of Kingston Harbour on our left.

It's a beautiful sight- the famous blue mountains of Jamaica, dark with foliage, sit behind the glittering gold and blue ocean, reflecting the midday sun directly above us. The grassy fields and palm trees on our right are replaced by modest homes set behind whitewashed stone walls. Eventually, the view consists of industrial complexes, urban office buildings, storefronts, and apartments. Brightly colored murals depicting various famous Jamaicans, as well as social and political issues, cover some buildings. I point out one of Bob Marley, only for Riley to correct me in a clipped, serious tone.

"That's Dennis Brown, man. Can't you tell the difference? The Rasta all look the same to you?"

I mumble some excuse about driving by too fast while I make a mental note to google Dennis Brown when I get to the hotel. I sit fidgeting with my hair as I look out the window again before attempting another conversation with Riley, this time asking him about his job and how long he's known Max.

"Security is a good business on the island," he replies curtly.

I wait for him to add more, but there's nothing else.

"So you've been working in security awhile?" I finally ask.

He snorts but doesn't smile. "No one better to protect you than someone who used to be the reason you needed protection. The only time I go to the General Penitentiary now is when I'm bringing visitors like you."

He nods to an imposing white-trimmed brick fortress dead ahead. It's mostly windowless, with high stone walls topped with barbed wire. Guards with sniper rifles stand in sentry towers at each corner and above the main entry. From the exterior, the prison defies the marks of time. It could've been built forty years ago or two hundred and forty years ago. Riley confirms it's the latter. We drive past, turn around, and park on another street nearby.

"You've been here before?" I fish for information.

Riley derisively snorts.

"I guess that's a yes," I state after I get no other reply.

We walk toward a small wood lean-to attached to the outside wall. The sign above declares it to be the visitor's waiting area. I hope I'm presenting a façade of calm but inside, I'm a jumble of nerves. I've come halfway around the world to finally confront Laurent DuBois. This is the closest I've gotten to those responsible for destroying so many lives: my employees, my family, and most of all, Bella.

"Stop fidgeting, man. You makin' me jumpy just watchin' you."

I glance over at Riley who's eyeing me with concern. So much for a calm façade, I guess. I thrust my hands into my pockets to keep from running them through my hair. I mumble an apology as we take our place in the small crowd waiting to enter the prison. Almost all are holding bags and containers of food. Riley explains that on certain days, people are allowed to bring meals and groceries to the inmates since the sparse amounts of food the prisoners receive are barely edible. We stare up at the building, ringed by barbed wire and he shakes his head.

"Worse than any hell you can imagine in there."

He doesn't say more, but the people around us chime in, describing the horrific conditions in vivid detail. The building is overcrowded, containing almost twice as many prisoners as it was built to hold. Many of the cells don't have toilets so men urinate in bottles and defecate on newspapers, like dogs. Inmates sleep on the floor or in hammocks, but despite the lack of traditional bedding, the cells are infested with chinks (bedbugs), and cockroaches. Fights and stabbings are common. I almost feel bad for Laurent; he'd have been better off getting caught in the United States. One positive is I doubt he'll fight extradition. U.S. prisons might not be country clubs, but at least prisoners can get the basics like three meals a day and a bunk with a mattress and pillow.

The single white wooden door in front of the visitors' area opens and two guards emerge, immediately blowing high-pitched whistles and herding us into something resembling a queue. Behind them, another pair of guards appears with Max.

"Edward Cullen!"

I step out of line and walk toward them. As I approach, I can see one guard holding a photocopy of my passport. He motions for me to remove my sunglasses. I comply as he confirms I'm the same person. I'm struck by how young he is. He doesn't look older than twenty. Riley hangs back, not quite with me, but no longer in the queue. I get the impression he's not eager to get any closer to the prison than necessary.

"One moment, please," Max asks the guards before stepping over and whispering in Riley's ear. Riley's expression is still inscrutable as he nods his head once, turns, and disappears without a word. I catch Max's eye. Even though his face is as impassive as Riley's, I can tell something is wrong. I keep my jaw clenched, willing myself to be patient and get through whatever lies ahead. I certainly didn't expect Laurent to welcome us with open arms and provide the GPS coordinates for Jason Chase. However, I can't imagine that his present circumstances, rotting in a filthy prison cell, would make him completely uncooperative.

The guards finish their paperwork procedure and usher us both inside, closing the old wooden door with a heavy thud. With one guard in front and the other behind us, we walk down a series of short corridors, briefly emerging outside into a cacophony of reggae rap blaring from speakers mounted on poles above us. We're separated from the incarcerated population by a high barbed-wire chain link fence. Several shirtless prisoners stand on the opposite side, silently watching as we walk pass them. The stale pungency of urine permeates the courtyard. We enter another short corridor where the guard in front leads us to a white-walled office with only a desk and a few chairs. The younger looking of the two remains outside the door while the other takes the seat behind the desk and motions us to sit in the two simple plastic chairs in front of it.

Years ago, I would've let my impulsiveness get the best of me and begun immediately asking questions and demanding answers. I've learned the art of patience now, and so I wait as the guard opens a manila file on the desk and slowly reviews its contents. I remember Riley's admonishments about my fidgeting and keep my body as quiet as my mouth. I glance at Max and see he's just as still, sitting with his fingers steepled, waiting for the guard to finish.

After an eternity, the guard finally looks up and acknowledges us before casting his eyes on the top page in the open folder.

"Laurent DuBois, Barbados National, aged twenty-eight years…"

He reads the entire sheet aloud: the charges he faces in Jamaica, his previous arrests in Barbados, and finally, the outstanding United States warrants.

"… for crimes including forgery and embezzlement."

He looks directly at me. "This is the man you seek?"

"Yes." I nod once, swatting away a stray fly. I half-watch as it circles the room before landing on a spot on the wall, high above the guard.

He returns the nod and turns his attention to Max. "We have a problem granting the request to speak with the prisoner."

Max quietly sighs, yet his voice shows no sign of the frustration I know we both feel.

"Yes, you told me that when I arrived, but haven't explained any further. You've confirmed Mr. Cullen's identity and his purpose here. He's completed all of the forms, everything should be in order. Can we see the prisoner?"

"You want to see him?"

"Yes, I thought we made that clear."

I allow my hand to rake through my hair just once in exasperation.

"You wanted to speak with him, that's different from seeing him. He won't be speakin' with you."

"We'll see about that," Max retorts.

The guard sneeringly laughs, just the way Riley had earlier when I'd asked if he'd ever been here.

"I don't think so, my brother."

"Why's that?'

"Like I told the young lady from your embassy this morning, dead men don't talk."

Even before my brain completely comprehends what has been said, my body reacts. My stomach sinks as my head whirls. I grip and release my fingers- into a fist and out straight- over and over while Max exercises a saint's level of patient restraint. He asks the questions- the how, the when, the where, while I keep my eyes focused on my hands. If I look up, I'll be too tempted to take my fist and bash it into the guard's face.

Regardless, it doesn't change the fact that Laurent DuBois is dead. I listen numbly as the shock begins to wear off. The guard tells us it was suicide- he hung himself. Somehow, in a cell surrounded by other inmates, no one noticed. More likely, I think to myself, no one cared. Max pulls out a stylus and takes notes on his tablet while I silently berate myself for not getting here earlier. If I'd flown to London or Rio instead of New York, maybe I could have arrived yesterday. Laurent would have been alive, and maybe we'd be that much closer to finding Jason Chase.

"Who was here from the embassy?" Max asks in an off-hand, bored tone as if it's routine. The guard searches through the page, seeking the answer.

"Victoria … here it is …Victoria Woods."

Max straightens in his seat and casts me a glance. I know he's expecting me to get it- to comprehend something he's not saying - but it eludes me. I shrug one shoulder, telegraphing my lack of understanding. Rather than respond to me, he asks the guard questions about the embassy employee.

"Victoria Woods? I don't think I've met her. She must be new? "

The guard chuckles, "Yah man, still wet behind the ears, I think. You should've seen her face when she heard he was dead, she was whiter than the wall. I had to bring her water. I thought she was going to pass out right on this floor."

Max looks at me again, but I'm still clueless. He continues his casual interrogation, but it's not until he asks about her hair color that I finally grasp what he's thinking. Woods translated into French is du bois ; Victoria DuBois, Laurent's sister, Jason Chase's lover and accomplice, the woman I once mistook for Bella in a grainy video designed to shake my faith in all that I knew. The guard's description, however, doesn't match Victoria DuBois' profile. I shake my head slightly when Max looks my way. It can't be. It's just a coincidence. She wouldn't make such a bold, blatant move, not when she's been completely off the grid for the past five years. Once Max has exhausted his questions, there's really nothing left. We can view the body if we want, but we can't exam it or take photos. Max tries to persuade me to stay outside the makeshift morgue at the back of the infirmary.

"Have you even seen someone who died from hanging, Edward? Do you know what happens to the body? It's not pretty."

"Max, I've just spent two years in West Africa trying to prevent people from dying from Ebola. I saw what happened when we arrived too late; victims bled from their eyes, from every orifice, as they got sicker and sicker. I think I can handle it."

Max nods and a few minutes later I find myself staring down at Laurent's body, cold and naked under a thin white sheet. I silently berate myself again. If I had gotten here sooner, I'd be standing in front of a living person instead of a corpse. He's taking everything he knows with him to his grave. Meanwhile, Max stays focused. He jots more notes as he circles the surgical table with a member of the medical staff, at one point asking the man to open one of Laurent's eyes. The man no sooner prods Laurent's eyes when the guard abruptly calls an end to our viewing. We're escorted back through the maze of halls and onto the street in much less time than it took to enter.

Max says nothing as we walk to a late model black Mercedes sedan. It's not until we're pulling away from the curb that he begins reciting forensic jargon I didn't know: petechial hemorrhages- blood spots in the eyes which are typical of strangulation but not often found in a hanging death. Pooling of blood in the extremities, lack of fibers on the hands, and most importantly, the ligature marks around the neck all indicate death by strangulation, not hanging.

"Laurent was murdered?" I ask, incredulously.

"I can't be absolutely certain without seeing the actual crime scene and without a more thorough forensic exam, but it seems that way."

"You think Jason Chase was behind it?"

"He's the most likely candidate."

"Then why was Victoria DuBois - if that was her- here? Do you think she found out Chase ordered him killed and tried to rescue her brother?"

"Could be. We have no idea if they're still together. He might have been conning her just like he conned you. He needed her and her brother to accomplish his plans. Honestly, I'm surprised they weren't killed right after he stole your money. Chase is a psychopath."

I sigh. I'm beyond frustrated and exhausted.

"Now what?"

"Now I'm dropping you off at the hotel. You're going to get some sleep. I've got Riley checking to see what he can find out. I've already texted him about Laurent's supposed suicide. He's well connected in the General Penitentiary. I'm going to see if I can track Victoria. If Chase is responsible for her brother's death, this could be our best chance to get solid, concrete information about where he is. Until now we've had nothing but misinformation and false leads. This could be the break we've needed."

"I'll go with you."

I straighten up in my seat, prepping myself for no sleep. There has to be a coffee place nearby. Maybe I can find a Jamaican Blue Mountain gourmet blend.

"I understand you want to be involved, Edward, but in these types of situations, you're not an asset. You're a liability."

"Max, I can help…"

"No Edward, you really can't. I don't need someone that I have to watch and protect. It's one thing to accompany me to question a prisoner in a secured facility, it's completely another to be out in the field. You're not trained in security or reconnaissance, not to mention Victoria Du Bois would run if she saw you. To put it bluntly, I'll find out more without a rich white guy hanging over my shoulder."

"You do realize I just spent the past two years in a very dangerous part of the world? I'm not a spoiled rich kid anymore. I can handle myself." I snap.

Max sighs then calmly asks "So you were involved in street fights? Hand to hand combat? Knives? Guns? What we're getting into could involve risking your life. Laurent's death has just taken this case to a whole new level. We can now assume that Jason Chase is willing to kill to protect himself. Laurent wasn't just a former accomplice; he was Jason's lover's brother. It's well known that Chase hates you and your family. Do you think he wouldn't hesitate to kill you if he has the opportunity?"

Shit. I draw a long breath, release it, and then admit defeat.

"You'll keep me updated though?"

"Of course."

I awaken to the gold-tinged gray of early morning, simultaneously stretching and reaching for my phone. There's a brief text from Max telling me to be patient and that he'll contact me later. Now that I've rested, I'm eager to do something, although I'm at a loss for what. Max has already made it perfectly clear that I can't help him, but the amount of energy I have can't be contained.

I head to the hotel gym to burn off this restlessness. The place is empty save one middle-aged guy on the treadmill. I've worked out with enough trainers over the years that I don't need guidance. I run through a routine designed to get my heart rate elevated. Even with rivulets of sweat dripping down my back, it's not enough. I spy a punching bag in the corner. That's what I need. I need to hit. The other guy left so there's no one to see me make a fool of myself. I know nothing about boxing, but I grab the gloves on the floor next to the bag and just start hitting. The bag is less pliable than I imagined. It's hard, solid and makes a satisfying thwack whenever I make contact. I hit as hard as I can, getting the bag to swing as I push it further away with every punch.

"Edward, that's all wrong."

I turn around, breathing hard, to find Max, dressed in workout clothes, shaking his head. He walks over and stills the bag.

"You've never hit a heavy bag before, have you?"

"Uh, no," I admit.

Max picks up a roll of sports tape and nods his head at my gloved hands. I take them off and he makes quick work of mine and then his before helping me put the gloves back on.

"Beginners think that the bag swinging is a sign of a hard workout, but it's really just a misunderstanding of timing and kinetics. Instead of punching to move the bag away, punch so that you stop it from coming at you. It's a subtle difference, but important if you want to maintain control of the fight. Watch me."

Max demonstrates and I see the difference instantly. His feet move in time with the bag's swing so that the distance between him and the bag never changes. He hits as the bag comes toward him, rather than pushing it away, explaining that the momentum makes the punches land with more power, using the opponent's force against him. He motions for me to take his place and I try again, feeling the difference, not only from the tape holding my wrists, but in kinetic energy with every hit.

"I know you were already picturing Jason Chase's face getting pummeled as you do this, but see how much better the contact is once you make those changes?"

I nod. I stop and turn toward Max.

"Speaking of Chase, did you discover anything?"

Max sighs. "Only what we already expected; there's no one at the United States Embassy named Victoria Woods. She walked out of the General Penitentiary and disappeared. I've got nothing, no leads, nothing on the airlines. Most likely, she smuggled herself into Jamaica, and then smuggled herself back out, probably by private boat. The only ferry service is local, limited to the island itself. There are freighters that take passengers to other islands and I'm having Riley's contacts investigate just to cover the basics but it's unlikely; she'd be too noticeable."

"Cruise ship?" I ask.

"Also unlikely, since most cruise ships now have security cameras so she would want to avoid them but I'm looking into that as well. One possible scenario is driving or taking a ferry to Montego Bay then somehow getting on board a ship. However, I'd put my money on her own boat over any other method."

"Where would she go? Barbados?"

"It's the most obvious place. I've got people there watching her father's house."

I watch him take a few quick jabs at the bag. The sound of his bare fists hitting the bag sounds more satisfying than the muffled thump mine makes.

"You don't think she'll go there."

He shakes his head. "There's something off. At first, I was sure Jason Chase was behind it but after speaking again to both guards, I'm not convinced. Victoria was shocked that her brother was dead. If she and Chase are still together, why would he send her here if he meant to kill Laurent? Conversely, if she and Chase weren't together anymore, then it stands to reason she'd know Chase was a threat to her brother's life."

"You think it was just a coincidence?"

"No, there are no coincidences here. Riley's preliminary findings confirm that. After Chase, who has the most to lose from Laurent's extradition to the U.S.?"

I don't hesitate.

"Volturi Pharmaceuticals."

"Exactly. We could never prove their involvement in the letter forgery case against Cullen but that doesn't mean we don't know they were behind it. They've gained everywhere Cullen Conglomerated lost: market positions, R&D, profit margins…"

"Trust me, I know."

We'd once thought my father's old friend and chief rival, Aro Volturi, had done us a favor, giving us a much-needed influx of cash during those grim days after the Supreme Court ruling that brought Cullen Conglomerated to the brink of bankruptcy. In actuality, he and his brothers cherry-picked the best of our research and development and advanced pharmaceutical products, saving themselves billions in development costs and leaving us with our core product line, essentially aspirin and other old-fashioned remedies, to keep our company alive.

"We'd have been out of business in two months if you hadn't discovered the forgeries."

I pull off my gloves and try a few quick jabs at the bag before putting them back on. The sound is satisfying, but breaking my hand isn't going to help anyone. Max chuckles.

"Just part of the job, Edward."

He watches me and suggests a few corrections in my technique.

"Technique? I don't think 'hitting as hard as I can' qualifies as a technique," I respond.

Max ignores my comment as he watches me.

"By any chance, have you ever taken fencing?"

I pause, reminiscing of a time before all this, before I knew what it meant to lose.

"I fenced for Penn and before that at boarding school."

"That explains your movements- you lead with your dominant side, which is the opposite of what a boxer does. You've got good footwork for a fencer, but boxers move differently. Fencing is all thrust and parry, forward and back, boxing is side to side as well."

Max demonstrates a few moves and I follow his example until his phone buzzes. He checks it.

"Riley's here, come on. We'll meet in my room."

I drop the gloves and tape and follow him. Riley's waiting at the door when we get to Max's room. Once inside, he wastes no time confirming that Laurent was murdered.

"And the prison warden doesn't give a damn at all?" I ask, the frustration boiling over again.

"They callin' it suicide because they don't want trouble. Too many problems already with Smallies in the jails."

"Smallies?"

"It's what Jamaicans call other Caribbean islanders. There's no love lost, especially between Jamaica and Barbados," Max explains.

"But there were witnesses. You talked to people who know what happened," I persist.

"So? Ain't nobody gonna risk their neck for some Smallie thief, even if they weren't gettin' paid a lot of money to keep their mouths shut."

"Who's paying them?"

"You think they're stupid enough to say, if they even know where the money comin' from?"

I rake my hands through my hair in frustration.

"So, we came all this way and we walk away with nothing? No Laurent, no Victoria, no evidence. Now what? I just go back to Seattle and wait another five years for a new lead? Then, I stay out of the way while you do all the work? I want to do something. I want to catch this asshole. He destroyed..."

I stop. Let them think it's the material things I miss.

"Edward, I'm not giving up, you shouldn't either."

"I'm sick of always being a step behind. If we'd just gotten here sooner."

"Laurent might not have told us anything."

I bleakly listen to Riley and Max discuss the possibilities of catching up with Victoria before heading back to my room. After a long shower, I get into bed, my legs and arms aching from my workout. I turn on the news and at the very end is a short blurb about Laurent.

"Notorious Bajan forger, Laurent DuBois, hanged himself in the General

Penitentiary, where he was being held for extradition to the United States. While he has a long criminal history, Dubois and his half-sister are best known for their roles in the bilking of the Cullen . . ."

I turn it off.

Another early morning, another workout alone in the gym; my earbuds are in and Dennis Brown is playing. Hey, I'm in Jamaica after all, and I like reggae. My flight back to Seattle leaves tonight. There's no point to staying here. This isn't a vacation that I'm cutting short. I'm working on boxing, this time remembering the tips Max gave me when he walks in carrying a familiar shaped long bag. I smile wryly.

"Of course you fence too."

Max returns my smile.

"Let's see what you got, Cullen."

He opens the bag and removes two masks and a pair of sabers.

"Here?" I ask.

"What? You want to drive down to Port Royal and play Jack Sparrow?"

"I'd look damn good in a pirate shirt."

"Save it for the ladies. Let's see what you got."

He tosses me a mask.

"I haven't fenced in almost a decade."

"So, I don't have one of these strapped to my side when I'm working. I just want to see what you can do."

I remove the boxing tape from my hands, pick up the saber and position the mask, before practicing my thrusts a few times.

"Like riding a bike?" Max teases.

I ignore his comment and instead ask "You know the rules for sabers?"

"Anything above the waist, except the hands, is a target, and the edge of the blade counts."

"Good enough," I reply. "En Garde!"

In school, I'd been a decent fencer, not great, but good enough to make the team and hold my own against most opponents. Like so many other parts of my youth, I hadn't really cared enough to fully apply myself and truly test my limits. As long as I wasn't the worst, I didn't care enough to try to be the best. Max exemplified the opposite of my old dilettante attitude. He'd been overachieving his entire life; therefore, I knew I need to play at the top of my skill level if I wanted to stand a chance of beating him.

I advance, taking a step forward and extend my saber, attacking first, and acquiring right of way. Max parries, countering my attack. After that, it's a flurry of thrust and parry, feint and attack, riposte and recover. We fight mostly in silence. The ringing of the blades against each other, and our increasingly labored breathing are the only sounds in the room. I have the advantage of a thorough background in the sport, but Max is an overall better athlete. For every touch I score, he counters with a point of his own. He wins the first and third rounds while I take the second. All three matches are close, though, so I'm not devastated by the results.

"You really haven't dueled in ten years?"

Max drapes a towel around his neck, sits on the floor and grabs two bottles of water from his bag. He tosses me one as I sit and lean back against the opposite wall. After a long drink, I answer.

"Not since I graduated from Penn. You're damn good for someone who doesn't have one strapped to your side."

Max laughs.

"Edward, in this business, knowing and practicing all sorts of defensive skills are required. I'm constantly training, regardless of whether or not I'm working a case."

Max takes a drink of water.

"Edward, do you have any other weapons expertise?"

I furrow my brow, confused by why he's asking.

"I know how to fire a gun if that's what you mean."

"Handguns?"

"Not much. Most of my experience is with shotguns, you know, for trap shooting, but it's been close to a decade since I've done that."

"Did you compete?"

"No, it was just for fun."

"How's your aim?"

"Decent for a beginner."

"What about hunting rifles?"

"No. Aro Volturi once invited my family to a fox hunt but my father declined. Aro and his brothers love to host hunting parties. My dad went once by himself when I was a child. He came back from the trip a vegetarian."

"Too bad he didn't realize the Volturis are just as bloodthirsty in business."

I finish my water and lean back against the wall.

"Max, where are you going with this? Do you think Jason Chase intends to come after me?"

Max locks eyes with me, his gaze steady and unwavering, before responding.

"It's just the opposite. How do you feel about becoming more directly involved in this operation?"

"Directly involved?"

"It's a commitment. You would need to spend a significant amount of time, a minimum of six months to perhaps over a year, training, but from what I've seen, there's no reason for me to doubt you can do it."

I sit in stunned silence for a moment as I absorb what Max has said.

"You want me to become a member of your team?"

Max gives me a wide grin, enjoying my shock.

"Yes. Are you up to the challenge?"

"Max, I have a company to run. I'm on my way back to Seattle tonight. I can't just shirk my obligations to go play Batman."

"Bruce Wayne never had a problem balancing the two. But seriously, isn't your sister Alice the C.E.O.? Do you think she wants to step aside because you're done playing Dr. Schweitzer in the jungle?"

"My father has always been the C.E.O. Alice took over my position, the C.O.O., the Chief Operating Officer. However, even when I was in Africa, I still remained a part of the corporate executive team."

"A vital part? Or more of a consultant after the fact?"

"I . . ."

Is that true? I wonder as I hesitate to answer. It's not as though I've disagreed with any of Alice's decisions. She seems to instinctively know the best direction for our company's future. Cullen Conglomerated's recovery and subsequent growth have been unprecedented, especially since our focus isn't on profits but on saving lives. Somehow, Alice blends what can be disparate goals for others in our industry, and makes it work. The realization that I'm no longer needed, no longer the savior of Cullen Conglomerated, is disconcerting. What do I do now? I've made so many changes, altered my path so many times, yet there is still one thing I need, one thing that keeps me from sleeping peacefully. Was it only last month that Martha Weber told me to stop blaming myself?

"Edward, do you want to be there when we finally catch Jason Chase?"

I return Max's steady gaze and nod. Nothing would give me more satisfaction than to deliver Jason Chase on a silver platter, dropped at Bella's feet.

"Yes, I want to catch that bastard and make him pay."

Max drops the smile and nods in return. "Good. When we get back to Seattle, I'll introduce you to a few different specialists and you can begin training. It won't be easy. I'll have them put you through the same regimen anyone on my team would endure but I don't think you'll fail. You're properly motivated."

I'm back in Norman Manley, sitting at the gate, waiting to board. I have a list of contacts from Max saved on my phone. Their skills range from hand-to-hand combat to weapons to nutrition and even meditation. As crazy as this is, it's also perhaps the easiest decision I've ever made. I've atoned as much as I can for my own role in this fiasco, in every way except one. I see no other way forward except to come full circle and make the hunter the hunted. The prey becomes the predator.

Impulsively, I grab my phone, opening email. I haven't spoken to her since she contacted me about her book. I suppress any thoughts about the selfishness of my motivations. I'm doing this because she deserves to hear it from me, not from the media. I have no idea if the story will get picked up in the U.S. press but with her book being made into a movie, there's still plenty of interest in us. I keep it short.

Hey Bella, Someday, I'd like to make sure that when you hear from me, it's notdisappointing news.

No.

Dear Bella, I think you should know that

No.

Hi Bella, I know hearing from me isn't your

No.

Bella,

I'm in Jamaica. Laurent DuBois was arrested here four days ago and I came to question him about the whereabouts of Jason Chase. Unfortunately, I didn't get that chance. He was found dead in the jail cell. I wish I had better news. I wish I could tell you that I've found Chase and I'm going to bring him to justice but after five years, there's still no sign of him. However, I promise you, this isn't the end. I won't relent. I'll do whatever's necessary to make him accountable for his crimes, for what he did to all of us.

I wish you the happiness and healing that have eluded us both for so long.

Edward.

A/N It's been a long time. Thanks to Stacy and Tracy (maxandmo) for their continued support and beta skills. Thanks to all of you for still being here. It's not over but the last chapter isn't that far away and hopefully it won't take me as long to get there as it has to get to this point. I'm loading this into the document manager now and the font looks small. Hopefully, I'll get this to upload properly. Anyway, I hope you're enjoying summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Check my profile if you want to find me on social media and hit that review button even if it's just a smiley face to let me know you're on board.