DISCLAIMER: This is an Otalia-Uber fiction. The characters in this story portrays the physical and some personality attributes of the characters Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera from Guiding Light but they belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Blue for her great beta-ing skills!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Tuesday morning at work was nightmare personified. Kristen was already in a cranky mood. Benjamin had not been very forthcoming with information and all the mystery was frustrating her. To top it off, she had come in to work to find that the food in all the fridges had gone off because the fuse box had tripped.
"Who was here on Sunday?" Kristen asked Ramsey quietly.
"Russell, myself, Tammy, Missy and Sandra," Ramsey said, shooting Kristen a questioning gaze. "What, you don't think...?" he trailed off.
Kristen shrugged. "Seems too coincidental to be a random thing, doesn't it?" she murmured, chucking a box of funky smelling cheese into the bin with a look of distaste on her face.
"I am so over this, Kristen, I really am. What's next?" Ramsey muttered, running a hand through his dark hair.
"Guys, I rang up the Metro and Oceanworld to check why they haven't made our deliveries yet. They said someone had called in to cancel our orders!" a worried looking Tammy said with the phone in her hand. "Metro's got the stuff we need but we'll have to go in and get it ourselves. Oceanworld doesn't have some of the items..."
Kristen growled. "That's it. Ramsey, let's go by Metro. I wanna hear the order voicemail to see who rang up to cancel our order. Tammy, get the list of things that Oceanworld can't provide and see if you can any of it from Woolies. If it costs too much, we'll just have to do without it for a day." At her co-workers' nods, Kristen added, "Call Russell. This time I'm not gonna let it slide. And he shouldn't, either."
Fuming, Kristen and Ramsey made their way to Metro in Ramsey's car. "The fuse box is in the yard, Kristen. Anyone could have jumped the fence and got to it," Ramsey said, frowning.
"Yeah, but how did they know where the fuse box is? There must be a mole. Who are the people we can rule out with certainty? You, me, Tammy, Russell. Everyone else is fair game."
"Missy? Sandra? Liam? I just can't imagine any of them..."
"I know," Kristen said, her brows furrowing. She didn't know Sandra very well but she had gotten to like Missy and Liam. "Out of the three of them, Liam's the only one who knew the old security code to Taters before it got vandalised..."
Kristen's mobile rang shrilly before she could finish that thought. She answered the call grimly when she saw that it was Russell, expecting an explosion of some sort. Surprisingly however, the first thing Russell wanted to know was if she had heard from Frances.
"No, why?" she asked curiously.
Frances' work had called Russell because he was listed as her emergency contact person; she hadn't shown up at work for two days now.
Kristen's stomach lurched nastily. "I'll call you back, Russell. I'm gonna give Nell a call," she said in what she hoped was a calm voice. An uneasy feeling that had been niggling at her since the day before now pervaded her.
A quick conversation with Nell later, Kristen cussed loudly and Ramsey shot her a fearful glance. "Everything okay?"
"No!" Kristen pinched her trembling lower lip. "Frances hasn't been seen since Sunday. Her housemate thought that she was over at mine the past two nights and..."
"And you thought she was home," Ramsey completed Kristen's sentence in a low voice. He signalled left and pulled over. With the engine still running, he turned to Kristen, concerned. "Fuck Metro. Should we go over to Russell's or Frances'?"
"I... I don't know," Kristen said, her voice shaky. “She told me she had a lot of extra work, some students with their IELTS tests coming up… I just thought she didn’t want to be disturbed…” Her mind was racing and her heart was pounding in her ears. She placed a call to Frances' mobile and once again got a computerised message. Benjamin had suggested swinging by Frances’ place to see if she wanted to join them for a drink the night before but Kristen had wanted to work on Frances' present instead. If only she had done as Benjamin suggested...
"Jack..." she snarled, her hand cradling her throbbing temple.
"You think he'd do something as outlandish as kidnapping?" Ramsey asked incredulously.
"Who else comes to mind?" Kristen snapped, then blew out a breath. "Sorry, I -"
Ramsey shook his head. "It's okay. We're all worried. Let's go to Russell's and we'll go from there, okay?" Kristen nodded distractedly as Ramsey did an illegal U-turn and sped off in the direction of Russell's home.
Kristen was in Russell's kitchen with Russell and Ramsey when Benjamin turned up. Although looking for his watch, which he’d left at Kristen’s the night before, he insisted on staying to help when he heard about Frances' disappearance.
"I'm calling the cops," Russell said, pacing around the kitchen with the phone in his hand.
"She was walking home from here," Kristen said, wishing for the millionth time that she hadn't let her go. Her last memory of Frances could not be of them kissing goodbye. She clenched her jaw and tried to stifle the panic threatening to overcome her. She had to do something. "Can I borrow someone's car please?"
"Where're you going?" Benjamin asked, getting up immediately.
"To look for Jack." The look on her face was resolute.
"I'm coming with you," Russell said, but Kristen shook her head.
"No. I need to talk to him. Alone." She did not want Russell to fly off the handle when he saw Jack. That would only serve to complicate matters more. "You need to stay here, Russell. Maybe I can get something out of him." She had brought this upon Taters, Frances and Russell, and she needed to make things right. "I'm so sorry..." she murmured, not wanting to meet his eyes.
"It's not your fault, Kristen," Russell said gruffly. "You can't feel responsible for any of this."
Kristen bit her lower lip as she tried to control her tears. "I know," she said quietly but the guilt would not leave her.
"Then stop feeling guilty. Frances needs you. And I need Frances," Russell said, his voice breaking slightly. He cleared his throat and wiped at an invisible tear. "If that piece of shit has laid a finger on her, I'll tear him apart. And if it wasn't him..." Russell could not finish the thought out loud.
"It has to be... he can't have... he wouldn't..." Kristen's voice was shaky.
If Jack had done this, why hadn't he contacted them? What if Frances had been taken by some other sick bastard? What then? Her mind raced and she felt sick. She shook her head to dislodge the thought; she had to focus. Letting her imagination get the better of her would not do anyone any good.
A loud knock came and everyone's heads swivelled around. Ramsey, who was the closest to the door, went to open it. Nell strode in, looking pale. "Is Frances okay?"
"We don't know where she is..."
"Oh, God... has anyone called the cops yet? What did they say?" Nell asked frantically, looking around. "I thought she was with you, Kristen..."
Russell grunted. "I'm calling the cops now," he stated evenly before exiting the house.
"I'm gonna go walk around, see if anyone's seen anything," Ramsey said. "Does, uh, does anyone have a picture of Frances?"
"You'll have to ask Russell," Kristen said when Nell shook her head. "I'm going to look for Jack. You coming?" she asked Benjamin, who nodded.
"I'll come with you... Ramsey, right?" Nell said. "I'll go check Frances' old room, see if there's a picture of her there. You wait for Russell to get off the phone." With that, she took to the stairs two steps at a time. Kristen exchanged a nod with Ramsey and left the house with Benjamin in tow, her mind screaming, Please God, let Jack be the one who took Frances. And please, God, don't let him have done anything stupid.
Liam flipped his phone shut. "It'll be over soon, Frances," he reassured her.
Frances looked away and did not reply. It had been the two longest days of her life.
Getting Jack's whereabouts had been easy, thanks to Benjamin. Not trusting Kristen to drive, Benjamin held on firmly to the car keys. He shot nervous, concerned looks at his sister, at a loss for words of comfort.
"I'm sure she's fine, Sis," he said finally.
Kristen shook her head. "You don't know that."
"Jack's not stupid. If he took her, he wouldn't do anything to her, I'm sure of that."
"What if it wasn't him? What then?" Kristen asked, her voice quivering. "What if it's some random sick act?"
Benjamin shook his head. "Too much of a coincidence, don't you think?"
Kristen barked out a mirthless laugh. "I'm actually hoping now that it's Jack who did it. At least, then, we have a target, a focus."
"She couldn't have taken off on her own, could she? You mentioned that she had the tendency to run off..." Benjamin trailed off as they waited at the lights.
Kristen shook her head. The thought had crossed her mind, but only briefly.
"No... Everything's been great. There's no reason why she'd run off on her own. Certainly not without a word to Nell at least. And she promised that she'd talk to me... no, there's absolutely no reason why she'd go off without saying anything to anyone," Kristen said with conviction.
Benjamin gave her an assessing look. "You... really love her, don't you?"
It wasn't a question but Kristen answered anyway. "I do."
"Everything's gonna be okay, Sis. I promise."
"You don't know that."
Kristen dismissed her brother's empty words of comfort and stared out of the window, psyching herself up for her meeting with Jack. It wasn't going to be pretty.
Isobel had not wanted to get her brother into trouble but it was evident that he was doing so without any help from her. She had overheard him talking to his employer one evening quite by accident and was about to leave him alone to his phone conversation and when she picked up the words 'Taters' and 'Frances'.
She had confronted him after, when he was alone. He had looked almost relieved when he told her his side of the story. He had been riddled with guilt ever since he helped Edwin Richardson carry out his plan of destruction against Taters. There was no turning back after; he had had to tell them everything he knew about Taters to keep his own hide safe, thus allowing them to conduct further mischief.
Isobel could not believe that Doug had sunk that low. She was appalled--disgusted, even.
Armed with the knives that he had taken from Taters and what Doug had told her, Isobel rang Nell when she could not get a hold of Frances.
"I did not take your little girlfriend," Jack said with a sneer. "I'm not that stupid."
"Where is she then?" Kristen all but shouted, her control at breaking point.
"How the hell would I know? Maybe she did a runner like you did. Maybe what goes round comes round, after all."
Kristen felt like hitting Jack. Her hands shook and she curled them into tight fists. "What do you want, Jack?" she asked, after taking several deep breaths to calm herself down. Being frantic wouldn't help her cause. She had to remain level-headed.
"You, of course," Jack said with an amused smile. "Now that she's gone and Taters is going downhill, maybe you'd come to your senses and see that I'm the one for you. I love you, Kristen. Let's put this behind us and start over."
Kristen shook her head. "After everything that you've done to sabotage Taters... what makes you think that I'd come back to you?" she asked with a note of disbelief. "There is no 'us'. Can't you see that? It's over. I don't care if you sleep with a hundred women, a thousand. There's nothing between us anymore."
"No! I refuse to believe that. I will have you. Remember when you laughed in my face when I told you that one day, you'll be my wife? You came around, didn't you?"
Kristen blew out a breath of frustration. "I don't love you anymore. Taking Frances won't change anything." Kristen's voice broke and she pinched the bridge of her nose to stop her tears from falling. Her chest ached with suppressed anger. "Please, just tell me where she is."
Jack shrugged. "Can't help you there. Don't have her," he said flippantly. "It must be a sign from God. Come back to me, Kristen, and I'll leave Taters alone. It can't withstand much more than what it's gone through anyway. Maybe your little girlfriend will return once you come back to me."
"You'll return Frances if I come back to you?" Kristen asked slowly, her mind racing. She didn't care what she had to do to get Frances back. Just as long as Frances was safe and sound...
Jack looked at Kristen shrewdly. "Come back to me. The rest means nothing."
"Not even the company?"
Jack frowned. "What do you mean?"
"If I sign my shares over to Benjamin, he'll have control of the company," Kristen said, hoping to find a leverage. Maybe all was not lost. If Jack wanted C&C more than he wanted her, she might have something to bargain with.
"Benjamin is useless! He'll just run the company to the ground!" Jack said snidely.
"If you return Frances and leave us alone, I'll sign the shares over to you," Kristen offered, hope blossoming in her chest.
"You'd sign the shares over to me without a second thought for your brother?" Jack asked, surprised.
"Yes," she said firmly.
Jack was silent for a long moment. "I need to think about this," he said finally. "I'll call you tomorrow when I've decided."
"Can you just let me talk to Frances? To hear that she's okay?" Kristen asked, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. "She's got nothing to do with this."
"Tomorrow, Kristen. Now leave. I need to think."
Kristen clenched her jaw and took a deep breath. "If you hurt her, I will spend the rest of my life making sure that you have no peace," Kristen stated in an even tone, eyes darkening. "I don't know how, but I will destroy you. That much I can promise you."
Jack eyed her thoughtfully. "You loved me like that once," he said quietly.
"I did," Kristen said regretfully. "Not anymore. You mean nothing to me. Nothing means anything to me but her."
Jack inhaled sharply but did not speak.
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