Everybody Loves Me

Connor enjoyed watching the actors accept their awards. It made him smile to see the people he knew – the people who had worked so hard to bring his vision to life – being honored in such a way.

His eyes widened faintly when the officiators began speaking about the writers, the people behind the stories that the actors, producers and directors worked so hard on. He had known that the writers were given awards as well, of course. However, he’d somehow gotten it into his head that the awards for the writers were given off the air.

He glanced over at the first nominee and clapped politely. The woman in question preened a bit at the praise. It was clear that she felt she, above all the others, deserved to win. The second and third nominees accepted the praise with polite nods.

Connor felt his cheeks warm when the spotlight fell on him. He was a writer because he preferred being in the background. He smiled faintly as he dropped his gaze. Only when they’d introduced the final nominee, did he lift his head.

“She deserves to win,” Connor murmured to his wife. She wrote for one of his favorite television dramas.

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It doesn’t hurt to dream big

Connor looked up at the marquee sign that stood, bright against the starlit sky, over the entrance of the theater. He grinned, spinning to face his wife. “Someday,” he said, “My name is going to be up there – as the writer of one the movies they have playing here.”

Ceinwyn arched an eyebrow at him. “Is that so?” she said. She frowned, just a little bit. “That’s not going to be an easy thing to do, Connie. It might take years of hard work and many disappointments.”

Shaking his head, Connor looked up at the sign again. “I’m ready for the disappointments and I’m not afraid of hard work.” He gave his wife a sidelong glance. “I’ll shoot for the moon. Then, even if I only get to soar with eagles, I’ll have still achieved something.”

Or Even Longer – Part 5

Connor knew, when his captor had removed the blindfold, that the man didn’t intend to return him to his home. At first, he’d been afraid the man intended to kill him. Now, he knew the truth. The man would profit from the kidnapping twice.

First, he would sell Connor to the Berklian slavers. Then, he would collect the ransom that Ceinwyn was getting together. Connor squirmed helpless in the bindings around his wrists and ankles.

The door to the little hut where he was being held opened. His kidnapper entered, followed by the slavers. They were typical Berklians: tall and dark. He wasn’t so different from them and Connor wondered if he was a citizen of Shynia or if he’d come from Berklia for just this sort of operation.

One of the slavers caught Connor’s chin, tilting it upward to look at his face. “Handsome enough,” he said. He tugged off Connor’s glasses and then chuckled. “He’s got enough Cygman in him that he’s all-but blind without these.”

Connor blinked owlishly at them. Then, the slavers were closing in around him. He tensed, knowing what they intended to do. He’d been to enough slave markets to know how Berklians presented their slaves.

Soon, he was lying back on the cot. He squirmed as they cut his shirt and trousers away. When he was just in his underclothes, they caressed his body, gauging his reactions to their intrusion. When one tried to do more, Connor let out a cry of protest.

“Ah,” the slaver said, as his fellow chuckled softly. “Yes, out client will definitely enjoy this one. You did will in selecting him, Roland.”

“Thank you,” the man who’d kidnapped Connor said. He sounded pleased by the praise. “I’ll continue the operation, then, shall I? You tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll do my best to find someone suitable.”

“Yes,” one of the slavers said. They stood and stepped away from Connor. “In fact, we have a few more… orders to place with you now. Then, we’ll pay you for this one and be on our way.”

“Of course,” Roland said. Then, they headed back out of the little hut, leaving Connor alone.

Connor shivered and blinked away tears from his eyes. Crying wouldn’t do any good. The only reason he shed any tears was to give his captors a false sense of security. At least, that’s what he told himself. He tried to ignore his trembling and his pounding heart. He needed to focus on trying to get away from them.

He squirmed against the bindings on his wrists once more. He couldn’t loosen the knots or slip his wrists free. However, he might be able to get his legs through his bound arms. Then, at least, he’d be able to untie the bindings on his ankles and escape.

Connor bit his lip and squeezed his eyes closed as the action sent pain through his shoulders. He squirmed and slowly, painfully, he managed to force his legs through the loop of his arms. He bit off a cry of pain and then sat up. Blinking away tears, he worked at the knots on the bindings around his ankles.

Finally, he was able to tug the knots free. He pulled the bindings away. His ankles seemed to throb as normal blood flow was returned to them. He stood and moved as quietly as he could manage towards the door. He opened it and squinted outside.

He could see the blurred forms of Roland and the two slavers by the water. He blinked as he caught sight of movement much closer. He squinted as the small blurry form darted through the brush towards him. It shot into the room, darting between his feet.

Connor gasped and shut the door, then he whirled around. “Trenton?” he breathed, recognizing the blurred form of the man that was now standing in the little hut with him.

“Hey, Connie,” Trenton whispered. He knelt and lifted something off the floor. “This should help,” he said, holding it out to Connor.

Blinking, Connor took the object. Then, he realized that it was his glasses. Sighing in relief, he slipped them onto his face. He gave Trenton a weak smile as the other agent untied his wrists. “You did come,” he said, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.

“Of course,” Trenton said, nodding. He took off his jacket and gave it to Connor. Then, he frowned. “Think you can walk without shoes?”

“I’ll manage,” Connor assured him. He’d walk barefoot over hot coals if he had to, in order to get away from these people. “He sold me!”

“Yeah, we’d guessed that much,” Trenton said. He opened the door and peered outside. “Holly’s taking pictures of the transaction. Once we’ve got the evidence we need, she and Rowan will move in.”

“I want to help,” Connor said. When Trenton gave him a doubtful frown, he said, “I’m just as much an agent as you are, Trenton. This guy kidnapped me and called my wife and upset her!”

Trenton gave him a tight smile, then he nodded. “Fair enough,” he said. He glanced back outside and said, “There’s a dartbow in the pocket of that jacket.”

Connor nodded and check first one pocket, then the other. He found the piece tucked into the inside pocket and drew it. “Ready,” he said, nodding.

Nodding, Trenton stepped outside and knelt, holding his other dartbow out. Connor stepped out behind him, also holding out his weapon. Holly was doing the same and Rowan was swooping in on them, his claws extended.

He knocked the weapon out of the hands of one of the slavers. Then, the other three agents told them not to move. Things happened very quickly after that. Rowan grabbed one of the slavers, who had tried to run. Holly shot the other. Roland, however, stood stock still, his eyes wide with shock and his hands up.

Connor sighed and relaxed as three men were taken into custody. He could hear sirens in the distance, approaching the scene. The local constabulary was on the way. He glanced at Trenton and smirked. “Think they’ll let me get some clothes before I give my statement?” he asked.

“They’ll probably even let you go to the clinic and get checked out,” Trenton said.

Nodding, Connor sat down in the doorway of the little hut. “I missed the party,” he said, sounding disappointed.

“I think we’ll have another,” Holly said, as she ruffled his hair. “One to celebrate that we got you back safely?”

Connor smiled and nodding. “Thanks, Holly,” he said. He looked over at Trenton and said, “That goes for all of you, really! I couldn’t hope to work with a better group than the six of you – both on the set and off.”

“Any time,” Trenton said, nodding his head politely.

Or Even Longer – Part 4

Trenton felt that it took them a longer than normal time to reach the studio. The trip to Sunny Lakes Campground felt like an eternity. It always seemed to go that way. When he wanted to get somewhere quickly, the trip seemed like a long one.

Finally, they were pulling into the lot. He turned the car off and looked at Holly and Rowan. “All right,” he said, “Rowan, scout from the air. Tell us if you see anything that seems out of place.”

“Yes,” Rowan said, nodding.

Trenton looked at Holly. “We’ll split up and start checking cabins,” he said. As they got out of the car, he said, “Most of them should be empty this time of year, so be cautious of any that look like they’re occupied.”

“Will do,” Holly replied.

Rowan bowed at them, then his form seemed to shimmer and blur. A moment later, a five foot long dragon stood in his place. He kicked off the ground to hover before them for a moment. Then, he blinked his enormous eyes and said, “I will call, should I see anything.”

As Trenton nodded, Rowan flew upward, looking very much like a kite, as his sinuous form swayed in the wind. Soon, he was zigzagging through the sky overhead. Hopefully, anyone who saw him would assume he was a kite. Dragons were rare enough outside of their mountains that most people had never seen one.

“Good luck,” Holly said, slapping Trenton on the arm. Then she hurried down the path that lead south of the lot.

Trenton turned and headed up the other path. Although he kept to the path, he kept his eyes and ears open. He scanned each of the cabins as he neared them. As he’d expected, most seemed to be empty for the season.

He glanced down at the path and noticed tire tracks from some sort of off-road vehicle. They veered off the trail to his right, heading for the lake. He was about to call the others, when Rowan’s voice crackled over the radio.

“There is activity near the lake,” he said. “There is a boat, small, but clearly of Berklian make moored away from the docks.”

Trenton’s brows furrowed. “That’s north of the lot, Rowan?” he asked.

“Yes,” Rowan chirped. “North and west, by the shore. You have found something?”

“Yes, indeed,” Trenton said. He knelt and peered through the trees. “There are tracks here leading down towards the water.”

“I’ll meet up with you and we’ll check it out,” Holly said.

Trenton nodded and stayed where he was. He was squinting through the trees. He knew he wasn’t close enough to the water to see the boat, but maybe he’d see something else. He keyed his microphone and said, “Rowan, can you see any sign of a structure where they might be holding Connor.”

“I do not,” Rowan replied. “It may be hidden by the trees. Shall I move closer?”

“No, stay up where you are,” Trenton said. He looked up, squinting up at the soft violet sky. He could just make out the form of a red dragon gliding far overhead. He looked exactly like a kite at the moment. However, the illusion would be broken if he suddenly dove towards the trees for a better look.

Trenton straightened when he heard someone coming down the trail. A faint smile touched his lips when he saw Holly come around the corner. He pointed at the tracks and she nodded. “We should document them,” he said. This was a time they needed to do everything by the book.

Although they’d been given permission to find and rescue Connor, it was technically a case that should have gone to the Wardens. The only reason Keenan had given them permission was because Connor was an agent. If they failed to handle any and all evidence properly, it might make things difficult for the Wardens and the relationship between the two law enforcement organizations was strained enough without Trenton adding more complications.

Holly nodded and drew a camera out of her bag. She photographed the tracks and then took casts of them. While the casting material was setting up, she smiled at Trenton. “I think that’s everything,” she said.

Trenton nodded. “Without Selyn, we can’t do any arcane forensics,” he said. “That’ll have to wait for later.” When Holly nodded, he turned and set off after the tracks. As he’d thought, they headed down to the shoreline.

As they drew nearer, they could see a small four-wheeled off-road vehicle sitting beside a stand of trees. A fishing hut was nearby, close to the water but under the cover of the trees. Further out, bobbing on the water, Trenton could see the boat Rowan had spotted. He could tell by the bright colors that it was of Berklian design.

Trenton looked at Holly. He signaled to her that she should go around to the right, and he would circle to the left. When she nodded, he flashed a smile at her. Then, they set out. Hopefully, they would be able to catch the kidnappers off guard.

or Even Longer – Part 3

While the rest of his team was busy at the studio, Nicco had arrived at Connor’s home. He was currently sitting in the little sitting room, setting up the Agency’s tracing equipment. With a little luck, the kidnapper would call and they’d be able to trace it.

Ceinwyn was pacing nervously, carrying their little dog. Josiah seemed to sense her tension. He whined softly and nuzzled against her, as if seeking to comfort her. “Do you think he’ll call – whoever it is that’s taken Connor, I mean?” she asked.

“They usually do,” Nicco assured her. Although, that was assuming the kidnapping wasn’t the work of some deranged killer. That, however, didn’t sit right with Nicco. If the subject was intending to kill Connor, why kidnap him in such an elaborate way? Why not simply kill him at the studio and leave his body to be found when they came out? A small voice inside him said that deranged people didn’t think like that, but he squashed it. He refused to believe that Connor might be dead.

He had just finished hooking up the equipment when the telephone rang. Ceinwyn flinched and whirled to face Nicco.

He nodded. “Try not to let him know I’m here,” he said, his voice soft.

Ceinwyn took a steadying breath and then lifted the handset. “Hello?” she said. She nodded at the operator, then glanced at Nicco. “Cellular,” her lips said. After a moment, she said, “Who is this?”

Nicco settled headphones in place over his ears and frowned as the kidnapper spoke. “If you want to see your husband alive,” the strangely distorted voice said, “You’ll deliver 15,000 pieces to me by the end of the day.”

Frowning, Nicco signed to Ceinwyn that she should try to keep the man talking. His fingers danced over the keys of his computer, as he tried to get a trace on the cellular signal the man was using.

“Where?” Ceinwyn said, sounding upset. “Where do you want me to have money?”

“I’ll call again with the details,” the distorted voice said.

Ceinwyn nodded and then swallowed thickly. “I need to know that Connor’s all right,” she said, her voice firm.

There was a growl and the kidnapper said, “Talk to your wife.”

“Ceinwyn?” Connor’s voice said, through the line. “I’m scared!”

“Honey, you’ll be all right,” Ceinwyn said, as tears sprang into her eyes. Her hands clenched into fists as Connor tried to say something, only to be cut off by the dial tone. She sighed and set the handset back in its cradle. “Did you get the trace?” she asked, looking at Nicco.

“Not precisely,” Nicco said. A faint smile touched his lips as he added, “But I do have it narrowed down to a three block area.” He disconnected the headphones from her telephone, then hooked them into his computer. A moment later, he was connected with his team.

“Trenton,” he said, trying to maintain a professional air. “We got a call from the kidnapper. We were able to narrow the trace down to a three block area, near the Sunny Lakes Campgrounds.”

“Good job, Nic,” Trenton said. “Rowan and I will check that out. You maintain position there. The others are finishing up here and they’re going to take everything we found here over to the lab.”

“Got it,” Nicco said, nodding. He tugged the headphones off and smiled at Ceinwyn. “We’ll get him back.”

She nodded. “I have faith in you,” she said, her voice soft. Then, she sighed and shook her head. “If that… if he hurts so much as a hair on Connie’s head, I’ll see that he pays dearly!”

Nicco hid a smile. He was beginning to understand why Connor called her before doing anything. She was a frightful person, if she were crossed. However, it was clear that she also had a deep and abiding love for her husband.

or Even Long – Part 2

“The look on your face was priceless,” Nicco said, shaking his head. He chuckled softly and added, “The best part is: we have it all on film!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Trenton said, rolling his eyes. “Laugh while you can, but I will get my revenge.” He stopped when his cellular rang. “Hold on,” he said. He pulled out the cellular and looked at it. “It’s Ceinwyn.”

“Why would she be calling?” Holly asked, blinking.

Trenton shrugged and flipped the cellular opened. “Hello, Ceinwyn,” he said, “It’s Trenton. What can I do for you?” He paused and then his brows furrowed. At his suddenly serious expression, the group quieted.

“What is wrong?” Rowan asked, blinking.

“He wasn’t outside when we got there,” Trenton said. “We assumed you’d said he couldn’t join us and that he’d gone home.” There was another pause and he shook his head. “We’ll find him, Wyn. Just relax – or try not to panic, at least.”

He flipped the cellular closed and shoved it into his jacket. “She wanted to know if Connor had left yet. He was supposed to call, but he’d said he would probably leave at ten.”

“It’s after eleven,” Selyn said, scowling. “Connor wasn’t outside the studio. Where would he have gone?”

“He would have waited right there,” Leslie said, shaking her head. She looked at Trenton. “You think something happened to him?”

“Must have,” he said, standing. He looked at Gen and shrugged. “Duty calls, pay the tab and we’ll keep you posted as to what we find.”

“Sure,” Gen said. He laughed wryly and added, “Guess there are perks to having agents in the cast and crew. Good luck!”

Trenton nodded and then pulled out his cellular again. As he headed outside, the others followed. “Hey, Keene, sorry to wake you,” he said, as the call connected. “Connor’s missing, so…” he trailed off and then smiled. “Thanks, man.”

“We have permission from the Agency to begin searching,” Nicco said, looking up at him. When Trenton nodded, he sighed in relief. “I will go to his home, in case whoever abducted him calls. I will coordinate communications from there.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Trenton said, nodding. “The rest of us will go to the studio and see if there are any clues that we missed in the darkness.”

“It is darker now,” Rowan said, his ears twitching anxiously.

Trenton gave him a tight smile. “I know, but we’ll actually be looking now. Hopefully, that will make a difference.” He sighed and said, “We’ll take my car and ride over together.”

Once everyone had piled into the vehicle, Nicco waved and climbed into his own vehicle. They pulled out of the lot together, but Nicco headed south: towards Connor’s home. Trenton turned his car north: back towards the movie lot.

It seemed to take far longer than normal before they reached the movie lot. Getting in wasn’t a problem, since they all had passes. The only problem was light. It was late and the only light source was the lamp above the door of each studio.

“Maybe we can use the stage lights,” Holly suggested. She flushed when everyone turned to look at her. “Is that a stupid idea?”

“No,” Trenton said, smiling. “It’s brilliant, Holly. I’m surprised none of us thought of it first.” He nodded at Rowan. As the strongest member of the team, he had no problem getting several of the stage lights outside and set up.

Selyn knelt by the corner of the building and pointed. “Something was dragged around the side of the studio,” he said. He grimaced and added, “Or, I should probably say someone.”

Trenton nodded. He stepped around the building and pointed. There was a pile of cigarettes in the gravel near the building. “They waited here for him to come outside. When he did, they grabbed him and dragged him out of sight.”

“We would have heard them,” Leslie said, shaking her head. She sighed and added, “Or we should have, at least. You can’t walk on this gravel and not make a sound!”

“They stood right here,” Trenton said, pointing at the ground. “See how the footprints are deeper here? He – I’m assuming our kidnapper was a man – was holding Connor up off the ground. He waited until we’d left, then…” Trenton trailed off.

“This way,” Rowan said. His keener vision could see the tracks in the darkness. As Holly adjusted the angle of the nearest lights, they became visible to the others as well. “He had a vehicle parked behind the building.”

Trenton sighed. “Start taking impressions and photographing the scene,” he said. He looked sharply at Selyn and added, “See if you can do a stress test.”

“Got it,” Selyn replied.

Or Even Longer – Part 1

“Together they throw the dirt, listen to its plunk against wood, a sound so unlike anything else in the world, one you could remember forever. I can only sit back and watch, too stunned to move or even to make a sound.

“Only one thought breaks through my shock to echo through my mind. How? How could it have all gone so horribly wrong? I don’t have the answer to that question. All I can say is that the last few days have been a nightmare – one from which I may never awaken.”

Connor could hardly contain himself until Gen had told the cast and crew that it was a wrap. He clapped and then smiled at them. “That was just great, Trenton,” he said, bouncing forward to slap the male lead on the shoulder. “Terrific job! There was such feeling! Such terror! I was blown away!”

“Thanks, Connor,” Trenton said, bowing with a flourish. The cloak swirled around him as he turned away. Giving a jaunty wave, he said, “Off to change. Then, we can all get together for the party, right?”

“Absolutely,” Gen said. He punched Connor on the arm. “You’re coming, of course,” he said.

“I have to ask Ceinwyn,” Connor said, shaking his head slightly. When Gen looked like he might argue, Connor said, “Say what you want, Gen. The fact remains: I need to ask my wife before I can just vanish for hours at a time. Besides, maybe she’ll want to come too?”

“She’s got you licked, man,” Gen said. “I’d never let my wife tell me when I couldn’t go out an enjoy myself.”

Connor smiled. “If you were married, you mean?” he asked, blinking at the director innocently.

“Maybe, that’s why you aren’t,” Holly said, her tone bright and cheerful. She laughed when Gen shot her a half-hearted glare. Then, she hurried after the other actors.

“Seriously,” Selyn said, giving him a smile. “How do you come up with these ideas, Connor?” He shook his head. “You’re all bright and cheerful and then, you write these really dark stories that give people the willies!”

“Just a talent, I guess,” Connor said, shrugging. He nodded politely at Selyn, then stepped away. He waited until he was outside, where he could get the best signal, to pull out his cellular. He hit the first number on the speed dial, then he waited while it rang.

“Pemberton Emporium,” a warm, familiar voice said. “How can I help you?”

“Hey, Honey,” Connor said, as he leaned back against the wall. “We just wrapped up here and everyone was going down to The Lone Star for some celebrating. I just… would it be all right if I went too?”

“Sure,” Ceinwyn said. She chuckled lightly and said, “Have fun, Connie. Just call me when you’re on your way home, all right?”

“I will,” Connor said. He sighed softly and then added, “I won’t be out late, probably just until ten or so. I’ve got work in the morning, after all. We’re already filming episodes of Inside the Agency.”

“All right,” Ceinwyn replied. “I’ll see you when you get home.”

Connor made a noise of affirmation and then shut the cellular. He slipped it into his pocket and glanced around. It wasn’t late, not yet, however, it was already dark. The sun set so early in the wintertime.

His brows furrowed and he shifted from one foot to the other. He didn’t like being outside alone. Part of him wanted to go back inside, but he knew the others would meet him there. He didn’t want them to think he’d gone home and leave without him. Besides, they were on a closed movie lot. What could happen?

He heard the crunch of feet on gravel and looked up. “Trent?” he said, tilting his head to one side. “Is that you?” He didn’t realize until it was too late that he’d heard the echo of footsteps – the person was coming up behind him.

A hand covered his mouth and another wrapped around his torso. Connor screamed as he was dragged into the shadows between two buildings. His cries, however, were muffled by a cloth that his attack held in place there as well.

His eyes widened as Trenton and the others appeared around the side of the building. “I guess Connor went home?” Trenton said, glancing around.

Connor squirmed, but his attacker picked him up as if he weighed nothing. They wouldn’t even hear the crunch of his feet on the gravel. As his vision began to darken, the group turned and walked away. No one would miss him for hours, when Ceinwyn called them looking for him. That was his last thought as he tumbled into darkness.