Page 92 of The Moneychangers

"I already have looked, and don't like what I see. I will not have FMA responsible for risking human lives even Eastin's.

That's definite, so let's not waste time in further argument."

As Wainwright looked sourly despondent, Alex went on, "The other thing I want done is a conference set up this afternoon between you, Edwina D'Orsey, me, to discuss what to do about Mrs. Nunez.

You can start considering ideas. What may be necessary…"

A secretary appeared in the office doorway. Alex said irritably, "Whatever it is - later!" The girl shook her head. "Mr. Vandervoort, Miss Bracken's on the line. She said it's extremely urgent and you'd want to be interrupted, whatever you were doing."

Alex sighed. He picked up a phone. "Yes, Bracken?"

"Alex," Margot's voice said, "it's about Juanita Nunez." "What about her?" "She's disappeared." "Wait." Alex moved a switch, transferring the call to a speaker phone so that Wainwright could hear.

"Go ahead." "I'm terribly worried.

When I left Juanita last night, and knowing I was going to see you later, I arranged to telephone her at work today.

She was deeply concerned. I hoped to be able to give some reassurance."

"Yes?" "Alex, she didn't get to work." Margot's voice sounded strained. "Well, maybe…" "Please listen. I'm at Forum East now. I went there when I learned she wasn't at the bank and I couldn't get an answer on Juanita's home phone either.

Since then I've talked to some other people in the building where she lives.

Two of them say Juanita left her apartment this morning, at her usual time, with her little girl Estela. Juanita always takes Estela to nursery school on her way to the bank.

I found out the name of the school and phoned. Estela isn't there. Neither she nor her mother arrived this morning."

There was a silence. Margot's voice asked,

"Alex, are you still listening?" "Yes, I'm here."

"After that, I phoned the bank again and this time talked to Edwina. She's checked personally. Not only has Juanita not appeared, she hasn't phoned in, which isn't like her.

That's why I'm worried. I'm convinced something's gone terribly, terribly wrong."

"Do you have any ideas?"

"Yes," Margot said. "The same one you have."

"Wait," he told her. "Nolan's here." Wainwright had hunched forward, listening.

Now he straightened and said quietly, "Nunez has been picked up.

There isn't any doubt of it." "By?"

"By someone from that Double-Seven crowd.

They're probably on to Eastin, too." "You think they've taken her to that club?"

"No. That's the last thing they'll do. She's somewhere else."

"Do you have any idea where?" “No” "And whoever it is has the child, too?"

"I'm afraid so."

There was anguish in Wainwright's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Alex." "You got us into this," Alex said fiercely.

"Now, for God's sake, you've got to get Juanita and the kid out of it!" Wainwright was concentrating, thinking as he spoke.

"The first thing is to see if there's a chance of warning Eastin.

If we can get to him, and get him out, he might know something which could lead us to the girl."

He had a small black notebook open and was already reaching for another phone.

20

It happened so swiftly and was so totally unexpected that car doors had slammed, the big black limousine was moving, before she had a chance to cry out.

By then Juanita knew instinctively it was too late, but screamed just the same

"Help! Help!" until a fist slammed savagely into her face, followed by a gloved hand clamped across her mouth.

Even then, hearing Estela's shriek of terror alongside her, Juanita went on struggling until the fist hit hard a second time and vision blurred while sounds receded far away.

The day a clear, fresh, early-November morning had begun normally. Juanita and Estela were up in time to have breakfast, then watch the NBC Today news on their small black and white portable.

After that, they hurried to leave as usual at 7:30, which allowed Juanita just enough time to accompany Estela to nursery school before catching a bus to downtown and the bank.

Juanita always liked mornings, and being with Estela was a joyous way to start any day. Coming out of the building, Estela had skipped ahead, calling back,

"Mommy, I'm missing all the lines," and Juanita smiled because evading lines and cracks in the sidewalk was a game they often played. It was about then that Juanita took vague notice of the dark-windowed limousine parked just ahead, with its rear curbside door open.

She had taken more notice, though, as Estela neared the car and someone inside it spoke to her. Estela moved closer.

As she did, a hand reached out and yanked the little girl inside.

Instantly, Juanita had run to the car door. Then, from behind, a figure whom she hadn't seen dosed in and shoved Juanita hard, making her trip and fall forward into the car, scraping her legs painfully.

Before she could recover, Juanita was dragged inside and pushed to the floor with Estela.

The door behind her slammed, also a door in front, and the car was moving.

Now, as her head cleared and full consciousness returned, she heard a voice say,

"For chrissakes, why ya bring the goddammed kid?"

"Hadda do it. If we don't, the kid's gonna make a big fat fuss, then some jerk hollers cops.

This way we got away clear, fast, no sweat."

Juanita stirred. Hot knives of pain, originating where she had been hit, surged through her head.

She moaned. "Listen, bitchI" a third voice said.

"Ya make trouble, y'll get hurt plenty more.

And don't get ideas about anyone outside seeint in. This car's got one-way glass."

Juanita lay still, fighting off panic, forcing herself to think.

There were three men in the car, two on the back seat above her, one in front.

The remark about one-way glass explained her earlier impression of a big car with dark windows. So what had been said was right: It was no good trying to attract attention.

Where were she and Estela being taken?

And why? Juanita had not the least doubt that the answer to the second question had something to do with her arrangement with Miles. What she had dreaded had come true.

She was, she realized, in gravest peril.

But, Mother of God.' why Estela?

The two of them were sandwiched together on the car floor,

Estela's body heaving in desperate sobs. Juanita moved, trying to hold and comfort her.

"There, amorcito! Be brave, little one."

"Shaddup!" one of the men commanded. Another voice she believed the driver's said,

"Better gag and blindfold 'em." Juanita felt movements, heard a cloth-like substance tear.

She pleaded frantically, "Please, no! I’ll…"

The remaining words were lost as a wide adhesive tape was slapped over her mouth and pressed down. Moments later a dark cloth covered her eyes; she felt it being fastened tightly.

Next her hands were seized and tied behind her.

Cords cut her wrists. There had been dust on the car floor which filled Juanita's nostrils; unable to see or move, choking under the gag, she blew frantically to clear her nose and breathe.

From other movements beside her she sensed the same treatment was being meted out to Estela.

Despair enveloped her.

Tears of rage, frustration filled her eyes.

Damn you, Wainwrightl Damn you, Miles

Where are you now?.. . Why had she ever agreed… made it possible…

Oh, why? Why?.. . Mother of God, please help me

And if not me, save Estelal As time passed, with pain and helplessness increasing,

Juanita's thoughts drifted. She was aware vaguely of the car moving slowly, stopping and starting as if in traffic, then of a long burst of speed followed by more slowness, twists, and turns.

The journey, wherever it was to, seemed endless. After perhaps an hour or was it much more or even much less?

Juanita felt the force of brakes applied fully.

Momentarily the car's motor was louder, as if in a confined space.

Then the motor stopped. She heard an electric hum, a rumble as if a heavy door was closing mechanically,a "thunk" as the rumble stopped.

SimultaneousIy the limousine's doors clicked open, hinges creaked and she was pulled roughly to her feet and impelled forward.

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