Chapter 1

What was I doing in this small town in Arkansas? I was going to stick out like a sore thumb while I looked for the child I had been sent to find and return to his mother. I stopped at a sign that said "Diner" and decided to go in for some food since I had been driving all night. I figured since it was the only place I had seen to eat, it would also be a good place to hear all the local gossip.

Before I go any further, I think I had better fill you in a little on what I do.

My name is Jon Morgan and I am called a protector by Children's Services. I take on the jobs the local authorities won't bother with. Like hunting for children that spouses have taken without the court's permission or looking for dead beat parents who won't pay support or help their kids out. That pretty much is the meat of most of the jobs I accept.

I am thirty two years old and single, and have lived in France for most of that time. My parents were killed in an automobile accident while on holiday there, and I was put in an orphanage. I was three at the time and had no papers or passport. They had all burned in the accident. When I was sixteen, I ran away and lived on the streets of Paris for over a year until I was befriended by a Captain in the French Foreign Legion. He talked me into joining so I spent the next eight years in the service of France. I traveled all over the world, mostly spending time in the armpits of war and countries that didn't want us there. I made squad leader in my fourth year and was in charge of my own unit. We were in Ethiopia when I rescued a family that was about to be executed by some rebels. The man I rescued was a manager for a Nigerian Bank who had gone there to get his family out to give them a better life. I was lucky enough that he spoke French and was able to give me his name and where he lived.

We escorted him and his wife and kids to safety. Before he left us, he told me if I ever needed his services, all I had to do was contact him. I didn't know it at the time, but he would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. We went from Ethiopia to Algiers to help control the drug trade and to try to stop some of the smuggling going on.

It was in Algiers that I lost my whole squad, but gained much after I got over the grief of losing the men I had been so close to. We were on patrol in jeeps in a little burg along the ocean, when we saw several cars parked near an abandoned barn. We went to check it out and as soon as we got close, we were caught up in a gun battle with the owners of the vehicles.

To make a long story short, we won, but I was the only survivor of my squad. I had been wounded three times, but they were not crippling wounds. As soon as I stopped the bleeding, I called for assistance for my men. When I went into the barn, it was apparent why they had opened fire on us. There were more than a hundred kilos of high grade raw opium and hashish on a table inside the barn. That's when I found six duffel bags of U.S. Dollars to be used to pay for the dope. I didn't know how much was in them, but being the only person still alive, I hid them until I could figure out what to do with all that money.

By the time the investigation was over it was almost three months later. I found myself being discharged from the Legion because of nerve damage in one of my hands. I was sent back to France for further medical treatment and that's when my mother's father found me. It seemed he had been looking for me for all those years, thinking I was dead along with my parents, but was hoping I wasn't. He had my DNA checked to confirm my identity and I was given dual citizenship because of my service in the Legion. He went back to the U.S. where I was supposed to join him as soon as I was discharged from the hospital. I went to Algiers first and recovered the money I had hidden. I took it to Nigeria and let the man I had rescued take control of it. He promised me he could double it in a few years by using offshore accounts and wise investments. I gave him ten percent off the top for his services and he said that was more than enough to put his children through college. His name was Quanta Mutamba and he was true to his word. I am now a multi-millionaire three times over, thanks to his good management of my investments and stock portfolio. I have it mostly in offshore accounts that he set up and I use a credit card for anything I want to buy. I live in my grandfather's house in Virginia and have a maid and a handyman who live on the property. My grandfather passed away five years after I came to the states and left it to me since I was his only relative.

Thanks to his contacts and friends, I was able to get a Federal Gun Permit and I was appointed as a National CASA representative for all states. I get called in when a case is at an end because of interstate flight or they can't get cooperation from the state they are trying to get the kid or kids from. It's not a glamorous job, but it has its moments.

Now that you have been brought up to date on my history, let's get back to the case I am working now. I was contacted by the Tennessee Department of Children Services about this one. A child had been taken away from his mother by the father who was a drunkard and an abuser. She had full custody and when he found her, he put her in the hospital and took the three-year-old with him. The local law was related to him and refused to cooperate with Tennessee in recovering the child, so they called me and asked if I would try to get him back. I visited the mother in the hospital. Her story and condition helped me make up my mind to take the case. I got the court order from CASA in case I needed it, and headed for Slagston, Arkansas. I had stopped to make a courtesy call at the State Police and told them who I was and what I was doing there. I was warned by them that I was on my own until I got out of that county. If I needed help anywhere else, then they would come running. This was nothing new and I had been in the same situation before.

I had the father's address and directions to get there, but I had been told by the mother that he was always hanging out at the diner. I got out of my truck and walked into the diner. As was common in a small town, I was eyeballed by the four or five people sitting inside as I walked in. I took an empty seat at the counter and ordered coffee and the breakfast special. I was asked a couple of innocent questions by the waitress, and I answered her loud enough so that everyone could hear. This seemed to take the attention off me as I figured it would, so I just sat and listened to the old men talk. I was sipping my coffee when the boy I was looking for came in the door with his dad. I could tell he wasn't happy, because he was dirty and his dad was yanking him by the arm to come inside. They sat down in the empty booth to my right where I could watch them out of the corner of my eye. I was looked over pretty closely by his dad because I was a stranger, but he didn't seem to be suspicious of me. I don't know what the little boy said, but his dad reached across the table and slapped him hard and he started crying. It was all I could do not to go over and slap the asshole silly, but I knew I would have my chance later.

I finally got my food and to my surprise, it was excellent. Whoever the cook was, he knew what he was doing. The eggs and bacon were cooked better than most of the expensive restaurants I had eaten at in Virginia. I took my time eating and kept watching the two of them as I did. He had to have been one of the most foul mouthed parents I had ever heard as every other word out of his face was a cuss word. The little boy was miserable from the way he was acting. I watched as the waitress tried to cheer him up but his dad said he was just a little cry baby and needed to get toughened up.

The boy was three and was being treated like he was full grown. I think the topper of it all was when his dad pulled out a bottle of whiskey, poured it in his coffee, and then tried to get the little boy to drink some. I was almost ready to explode after watching all of this, but I knew I had to act like I didn't know them in order to affect the rescue I had planned.

I looked up when the door opened and a uniformed officer came in and sat down with the father, pushing the boy over against the wall so he could fit into the booth. The dad then offered him some whiskey for his coffee when the waitress set it down on the table. To my surprise he accepted, smiling as he did. Man, no wonder the State Police didn't want to come in here. The way this was accepted by the other people, it must have been an everyday occurrence here.

I finished my meal and left a nice tip and went to my truck to wait. As I sat in my truck, I made a couple of calls and was surprised by the information I was able to gather about the Police Chief here. I was told this was a two-brother force and they had a really bad reputation in the county. They were related to half the people who lived here and had several complaints about being heavy handed with strangers who came into town. They also were suspected of growing weed and selling it, but nothing was ever proven.

When I had talked to the mother, she had filled me in on the whole bunch that lived here, and she also had said that's how most of the men in the area lived. They grew weed and sold it, using the money to drink while they smoked their own product. I watched as the chief came out and got into an old unmarked 4x4 that needed a muffler and drove off. Let's see, I had a three-mile stretch of highway to be clear of the county line, so I didn't need to worry about pursuit. Maybe I would just knock the dad out and grab the boy and go. No, I didn't want the boy to see that, but I needed some way to keep the father out of the way. I needed at least an hour so I could get far enough away so the father couldn't find me before I could turn the boy over to the authorities. My thoughts went out the window when the boy and his father came out of the diner. He opened the back door on the old rusted out Chevy and almost pulled the kid's arm out of its socket when he threw him into the car. I could hear the scream plainly from where I was sitting in my truck.

When he started the old car, I wondered how it ran, it was smoking so much. He pulled out and headed past me, going toward the city limits on the same road I had come in on. He wasn't going home if the directions I had gotten were right. I waited until he was almost out of sight and pulled out following him. He went right out of the county, headed for I didn't know where but now I had my chance. I got on my cell and called the State Police and identified myself, giving them my location. I was told they had already positioned two cruisers about a mile from my location and asked for a description of the car. I gave it to them and just waited for them to make their move. When they came in behind him, I could see he must have floored the old car because the fog behind it got twice as thick. The so-called chase didn't last long and I heard the old car's engine blow above the sirens.

He drifted to the side of the road and came to a stop. The troopers went to the car and he came out fighting. They quickly had him down and cuffed before getting the boy out of the car. That's when I went forward and approached him.

"Hi Tommy, my name is Jon and I was sent to get you by your mother. Do you want to go home?"

He just jumped into my arms, sobbing his head off. I hugged him to me, thinking this is what's it's all about.

"Is my mommy ok, sir?"

"She will be fine and is waiting for you to come home."

I got a tentative smile when the Trooper came up to me and the boy.

"Mr. Morgan, I just found out there is a Federal warrant out on him for kidnapping and child abuse. Do you want us to take the boy and make sure he gets home?"

"Not necessary. I will make all the arrangements and make sure he gets back to his mother. I have court papers giving me temporary custody until he is returned. I will get him to the nearest airport and make sure he gets on the plane. I have a friend who will escort him back to Tennessee."

"Ok Mr. Morgan. We will do the paperwork on the dad, so I guess you and the boy are free to leave."

I watched as he walked back to his cruiser. I felt the little hand slip into mine. I stood there and looked down at him and he was looking up at me and smiling.

"Come on Tommy, let's go get you cleaned up, and get you on a plane with my friend."

"Aren't you taking me home?"

"I have to drive my truck back but I am sure you will like Sarah. She is really pretty and likes to help kids get home where they belong. Have you ever flown on a plane before? I think you will like it, and you can tell your mom all about it when you get home."

When we got in my truck and I got him into the car seat, he almost immediately fell asleep. I looked over at him and wondered how much he would remember as he got older. Maybe later in life his dad might change and want to be part of his life. I called Sarah and told her I was on my way in and what sizes of clothing I thought would fit him. She said she would be waiting and would book an immediate flight back to Tennessee for them. I had to smile because Sarah had been bounced around in the system for years. She had finally graduated from High School with honors and had gone on to graduate from College at the top of her class with a degree in Social Work and Sociology. She had come to me and asked if there was any way she could help with the kids. I immediately jumped and made her my official helper by flying her to wherever I was with a kid and having her escort them back home. So far, it had worked out great. She had helped by counseling them as much as she could to get their lives back to normal after the shock they had gone through. She also got paid a good salary by me, but it came through one of the companies I owned stock in so it would be legal and tax deductible. She seemed happy with what she was doing, and the kids all seemed to like her almost immediately.

I had realized in the first six months she worked for me that she had a crush on me. But, to her credit, she had always kept our dealings and relationship professional. Besides, she was only 25 and looked like she was still in high school. She had been thinking about starting her own practice, specializing in abused kids only, for any agency that needed her. I had already told her I would front the money for her to get started when she made up her mind. I hadn't heard her mention it now for quite awhile.

I pulled into the Holiday Inn Express by the airport where she was waiting for us in the lobby. Tommy, like every other child, was immediately captivated by her bubbly personality and youthful looks. He went off with her after giving me a hug and thanking me for sending him home to his mommy. I hugged him back saying he was welcome and watched as they walked off chatting with each other. Sarah had told me their flight would leave in an hour and she had to get him bathed and fed before they took off.

I went to the front desk and got the key for the room I had booked. I was going to sleep for about twelve hours, then drive back to Virginia. I got in the room and took a shower, then waited on Sarah to call me, letting me know they were safely on the plane before I went to sleep. Forty-five minutes later she called and said they were boarding and would be in the air within ten minutes. I was finally able to relax and sleep, remembering a bad incident that still haunted me to this day.

It had taken six months of hard work for me to track a twelve-year-old girl who had been taken from a foster home by her uncle. He had taken her to some kind of religious group in Texas and I had a hell of a time getting her out. I finally got her away and put her on a plane for home, but during a layover someone had cut the stewardess' throat and snatched her again. The stewardess lived but she didn't have any idea who had taken the girl. I spent the next six months trying to find her, but in vain. It was like she had been whisked off the face of the earth. I did know the group had compounds in several different countries, so I used my contacts to watch for her just in case she was in one of them. I had a large reward standing for her recovery, just in case. The uncle had bonded out of jail and had disappeared also. I still was holding out hope she would be spotted so I could go get her again.

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