All I can say is I hope Mace has discovered something. Poor Chantal is in a hell of a fix!!! Shall we see what has happened since our last installment? Enjoy!!!
Hustle Into Love
* * * * *
“Are you sure he couldn’t tell us where Chóngdé had taken Chantal?” Mace stared at Hui Sun, his guts in knots. The choreographer had broken completely, weeping like a baby, but he really hadn’t had much to say. “Maybe he’s lying.”
Hui lifted a silver eyebrow. “He has told us everything. He knows what will happen to him if he doesn’t.”
Mace had a feeling Chin Zhao was in a world of hurt anyway. What he’d done was criminal, and he would pay for it. But Mace was pretty sure he’d never see the inside of a courtroom. Hui Sun would handle him another way.
Men died in accidents all the time, and Sun had the reputation for helping those accidents along. Not that it bothered Mace all that much. He felt pretty bloodthirsty when it came to the man who’d snatched Chantal away to who knows what fate.
“He says Chóngdé had special plans for Chantal,” Lì mused thoughtfully. “So we can assume she is still alive.”
Mace’s heart wrenched. “Damn it, Lì!”
“I am sorry, brother.” Lì’s face filled with regret. “But we must speak frankly if we are to solve this mystery.”
“He is right, D’Avranches, “ Hui Sun agreed. “It shames me to say it, but we know my daughter has your lady, so we have learned more than we knew a few hours ago. And I have sent men to search both Zhao’s house and my daughter’s room. If we are lucky, we will find something there to help us.”
Mace paced away to the window, his thoughts awhirl. He wanted to do something…anything. This waiting around was killing him. Again he berated himself for getting involved with Chóngdé Sun. If he hadn’t done so, Chantal would be home and safe where she belonged. He ignored completely his lover’s part in angering the other woman. It didn’t matter. He was responsible. He hadn’t kept Chantal safe.
“It’s my fault,” he muttered, gazing unseeingly outside the window. “I’m to blame for this happening.”
“Do not be foolish,” Lì shot back, joining him at the window. He watched as a bird swooped and dove into the lake close by. “It is not your fault.”
“God damn it,” Mace snarled. “I didn’t protect her. She was…is my responsibility. I should have known Chóngdé was up to something. I didn’t like how she looked at Chantal.”
“She is no more your responsibility than mine.” Lì punctuated the argument by giving rein to his emotions and pounding on the window frame. “If I had not brought her here to redesign the entertainment, she would still be safe in France. So blame me instead of yourself.”
“I—” Mace began.
“Neither of you is at fault,” Hui Sun said heavily. “Chóngdé is my responsibility and mine alone. If I had understood her obsession…seen her true face, I would have been able to put a stop to it. But I didn’t. Now I’m wondering if I even know my daughter. What else has she kept from me?”
Mace shook his head. “So it’s all our faults? I’m not buying that.”
“Then perhaps we should place the blame where it should lie. On Chóngdé’s shoulders,” Lì answered. “She is the one who put all of this in motion. We may be a part of this, but none of us is responsible for her actions. No,” he insisted, when Hui opened his mouth to speak, “not even you, my friend. I’m sorry to say your daughter is ill. Sick with envy and hatred. She will have to face the consequences for her actions, but unless you try to protect her wrongly, I cannot hold you accountable for something she alone has done.”
Hui didn’t speak for a long moment. But his throat worked furiously. “Thank you, Lì,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. “I will not forget your generosity.”
“Great!” Mace cut in. “None of us is responsible. Chóngdé is. But that won’t matter if we can’t find her!”
“I know you are anxious, D’Avranches,” Hui Sun said quietly, “but I promise you my people will find her. They will not fail me.”
“I hope you’re right.” The knot in Mace’s gut tightened. “If Chantal has been hurt—”
He was interrupted by the shrilling of the phone on Hui’s desk. The man snatched it up. “Yes?”
Mace waited impatiently as Sun listened to the caller.
“Are you quite certain?” The older Asian man’s eyes narrowed. “Look again. No, I do not care how many times you’ve searched. The man was involved. There must be something there. Find it.”
As he set down the receiver, Lì sighed. “Nothing?”
Hui shook his head. “No. Chin Zhao has nothing to tie him to my daughter or Chantal Montgomery. No papers, no emails. Nothing.”
“Damn it!” Mace exclaimed. “He has to have some sort of connection.”
“I have told them to keep searching,” Hui responded. “And we are still waiting for the men searching my daughter’s room. Do not give up hope.”
Before Mace could answer, the phone rang again. Lì and Mace’s gazes met and Mace prayed this time the news would be good.
“Yes? You found something?” Hui listened to the voice on the other side of the phone and frowned. “One moment. I want everyone to hear this.” He pushed a button on the phone then nodded. “All right. You are on speaker. Say that again.”
“Sir, we have searched your daughter’s room and all is as it should be except for one thing.”
“And that is?” Hui questioned.
“I-I think better see for yourself, sir.” The man on the phone sounded hesitant. “There is an area… It does not make sense to us, but to you…”
“We’ll be right there,” Mace interrupted. He looked hard at Sun as he went on. “We all want to know what’s going on.”
A few minutes later they all stood in Chóngdé’s bedroom. Mace had never been in her room before and he looked around with distaste at the ornate decorations and overdone feminine fripperies that were everywhere. He much preferred Chantal’s more subdued decorating. His lover’s rooms showed her eclectic personality, displaying memories and things she truly loved, but nothing was garish or over the top like this room.
“What have you found?” Hui questioned his man, who was shifting nervously back and forth.
“This, sir.” The man glanced at Lì and Mace then moved to Chóngdé’s vanity stand. “We found it quite by mistake. I knocked over this statue—” he motioned to Kuan Yin, a slender, beautiful goddess with a serene and gentle face, “—and this happened.”
He pushed the statue over again and all the men jumped as the wall behind slid silently back, revealing a small hidden room.
“What is this?” Hui Sun exclaimed, pushing past his man into the room. “This is not in the floor plans.”
“It looks as if it was added on recently,” his man said apologetically. “Within the last few years.”
“Three years,” Sun stated, sudden realization in his eyes. His face had turned a sickly shade of gray. “Three years ago she asked if she could redecorate her room. I gave my permission, but I was out of town. I did not see the actual construction.”
“What the hell is she using it for?” Mace also entered the room, his keen eyes noting everything. “It looks like an office.”
He was right. The small space was carefully sectioned off with cabinets, a desk area and a flat surface where a printer and fax machine sat. On the desk was a glowing computer and another porcelain goddess. This time, Chai Sen Poh, the brightly colored, matronly goddess of wealth.
“The computer.” Lì touched his arm, drawing Mace’s attention. “Wouldn’t that be the most likely place to keep the evidence we seek?”
“Yes.” Mace immediately sat down. For the first time since Chantal had gone missing, he felt the stirrings of hope. “And if it’s here, by God, I’ll find it.”
After another hour, they had all the information they needed. Chóngdé had been so arrogantly sure no one could find her hidden room, she hadn’t even bothered to password protect her computer. A few keystrokes, a little digging, and the truth was revealed. But it wasn’t anything like they expected.
Hui Sun really didn’t know his daughter.
“I cannot believe this,” Sun said heavily as he stared at the spreadsheets Mace had printed out. The man looked like he’d aged twenty years in the last hour. “She has been doing this all along and I knew nothing.”
“Pretty slick little operation.” Mace was sickened by what he’d discovered. He glanced out of the room at the statue that had opened the door and revealed the truth. It seemed particularly despicable that Chóngdé had used Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, as a hidden lock for her hellish plans. “She has cargo going out every three weeks. Like clockwork.”
“Children,” Lì whispered, his face shocked and disbelieving. “Woman and children sold like cattle.”
“A few men here and there…forced labor,” Mace muttered as he read the facts on the computer screen, “but mainly women and children. Sold into prostitution.”
“My daughter—” Hui Sun’s voice was broken, “—has no honor. She has destroyed my family’s name.”
“She’s destroyed a hell of a lot more than that.” Mace turned and glared at the man. “A lot of lives have been ruined because of Chóngdé’s greed.”
“And she will pay for it.” Lì touched his brother’s arm to calm him then looked at Hui. “I am sorry, my friend, but this is much more than we expected. What Chóngdé is doing is criminal. She must be stopped.”
If possible, Sun’s face went even grayer. “She is my only child.”
“She’s a broker in human flesh,” Mace snarled. “Making millions by stealing away these people’s future. My God, man…” He pounded his fist on the desk. “How can you even think of protecting her? She’s sold children, Sun. Kids as young as four and five. That’s fucking monstrous.”
“I know. I know.” The older man put his hand over his eyes. “But I cannot believe—”
“Believe it.” Mace interrupted the man’s misery without remorse. There wasn’t time for Sun to sink into self pity. There was too much at stake. “She’s not only built this organization, but she’s used your own ships to smuggle those people. It’s all here in black and white. She’s played you for a fool, Sun.”
“And now she’s used this barbaric business to kidnap Chantal,” Lì broke in. “We must move quickly or she too will disappear like the others.”
“Christ.” Mace shot to his feet. “Damn it, Lì, you’re right. But there is nothing here about Chantal specifically. What would Chóngdé do with her?”
“Chantal is too famous to be disposed of in the same fashion as the other women Chóngdé has sold.” Lì tapped his lip thoughtfully. “But she may be smuggled out of the country the same way.”
“Check the records.” Mace leaned over Hui’s shoulder. “When is the next shipment heading out?”
Sun’s lips tightened but he obeyed. His gaze moved over the spreadsheet quickly and his face went pale. He stared up at Lì and Mace with defeated eyes. “It is too late. The records say the cargo is already on the ship. It is to leave in the next half hour. In fact, it may have already left port.”
“Where?” Mace gripped the man’s arm, not realizing his own strength until Sun flinched with pain. “What ship, damn it?”“The Shen-Yi,” Hui answered, pain filling his face. “The biggest and best ship in my fleet.”
Wow. I actually feel sorry for Hui Sun. I know he's not the nicest guy in the world, but to find that out about your little girl... This is NOT going to be pretty.
Now that Mace has a lead, do you think he'll find Chantal before it's too late? Or will they lose each other forever? Find out next week on the next installment of Hustle Into Love.