North to the Max
Brian’s blonds cried out simultaneously as soon as Bree entered the diner. They rushed into each other’s arms.
Brian gracefully slipped out of their booth then walked over to meet his son and Raymond. He carefully scrutinized each young man. Gus had his game face plastered on while Ray defiantly stuck out his chin. Brian knew something was not quite right but decided that the best course of action was to follow his brother’s advice. He bussed his son’s temple as he whispered, “Are you okay?” Gus nodded. “Is she?” Gus nodded again as his game face was slipping.
“I’m good. Happy to be home but we have to go back,” Ray stated. Brian nodded with understanding. The boys were needed back at North, for at least a little while longer to oversee their new accounts before turning over the reins to Shelly. Brian then noted the change in Gus’ expression. Just under the cool exterior that Gus had learned so expertly from his father, the little boy who needed his dad was peering out.
“Come here,” Brian murmured as Gus moved into his father’s arms. After a moment, Brian commanded, “You too,” as he stretched out an arm to include Ray.
While the emotional and not so emotional reunion took place, Brian noted that the diner was filling up with more official looking people, one of which was wearing an amused expression as he glanced at Gus, Brian, and then John. Brian smirked but the answer to the inevitable question would have to wait until after he got his hugs in with his daughter.
“Hey Squirt, what am I, chopped liver?” Brian loudly snarked.
“Dada!” Bree shrieked as she threw herself into her father’s arms. There were tears in their eyes as they both held out one arm each for Justin. Once Brian had both his blonds safely in his arms, the explanations could begin.
“Mr. Kinney, I’m Victor Murdoch, Senior Crown Attorney in the Toronto office,” Murdoch introduced himself as he extended his hand to Brian.
“Brian,” he replied as Bree slid out of his arms so that he could give Murdoch a firm handshake. “My brother, John,” Brian said as he continued to introduce the family. “Can I assume, we’re going to get an explanation for the number of suits here in the diner and outside?” Brian asked as he noted that the usual Liberty Avenue foot traffic had diminished as the suits increased.
“All will be revealed, as they say. Shall we sit?” Murdoch gestured to the large booth. He took center court opposite Brian and the family. The booths and tables quickly filled up with all sorts of law enforcement officers in suits. Lacy and staff were kept busy.
“First, Mr. Kinney, Mr. Taylor…”
“Brian,” he repeated.
“I’m Justin,” said Justin as he reached out his hand.
“Thank you. You have remarkably astute children and very brave,” Murdoch stated in a neutral tone. “They’re very observant and follow directions well.”
“Not always,” Brian grumbled, sending out a glare to said children, including Ray.
Ignoring the remark, Murdoch continued. “Several weeks ago, my office was contacted by a Ms. Melanie Marcus,” Murdoch began.
“I will fire her ass,” Brian swore. Justin placed a calming hand on Brian’s arm while John reminded him to be patient.
“What Ms. Marcus had to say was incredible to say the least, and fortuitous. I believe you’re familiar with the name Max Jacobs,” Murdoch stated. Brian nodded as Justin gasped. “In what capacity do you know him?”
“Simply put, he wanted Kinnetik, my company. I said no. He tried again in London, this time trying through Gus. Again, we refused. Gus and Ray, with the help of one of our partners, did a little digging. We found out just how Max Jacobs did business. We were able to muddy the waters, so to speak. Max lost interest,” Brian stated succinctly with his usual flair.
Murdoch took a moment to translate the Brian-speak as someone handed him a file. He quickly looked at the file and filled in the blanks.
“I see,” Murdoch murmured then handed back the file. “Very ingenious; it appears that Jacobs got bored with advertising soon after that and decided to go back to something familiar.”
“Such as?” asked Justin.
“Human trafficking,” Murdoch stated bluntly. Justin went pale; Brian pulled him in closer.
“Jacobs had been on the radar of several different law enforcement agencies in various countries including Interpol since he had a habit of globetrotting. Fraud and flipping businesses were the least of our problems. One of the agents on the taskforce noted an interesting pattern. When Jacobs was happily taking over and ruining a business, his involvement with the traffickers waned. When his schemes no longer worked, his involvement increased and so did the disappearance of pretty young men and women.”
“Shit!” Brian exclaimed. He closed his eyes, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “Did we inadvertently…?” Brian didn’t want to finish his thought.
“No, you didn’t. This had been going on for years before Jacobs’ interest in Kinnetik. He dabbled. He fancied himself a rich playboy who enjoyed the company of pretty people. But that life cost him a lot of money. He enjoyed the elaborate parties and loved matching up the pretty people with people in power. Those so-called powerful people thanked Jacobs handsomely with gifts such as free reign at one of their little used villas, and of course, with money - lots of money. Max was encouraged to throw more parties; he matched up more rich and famous with the beautiful not so rich and famous. The more parties he threw, the more people disappeared. But we could never tie him directly to the nasty business. When Jacobs got bored of throwing parties he went back to “work.” Apparently, you and Kinnetik fascinated Jacobs. Not only did he find you and your son attractive, it stuck in his craw that he couldn’t win either of you over to his side.”
Not really convinced, Brian forced himself to accept Murdoch’s declaration.
“Which brings us to the business in Toronto. Again, we had eyes on Jacobs. He had flitted around Europe for a while, spent time in Paris with a friend then decided to cross the pond. At some point he took an interest in amateur football, soccer to you,” Murdoch continued. Brian and Justin sat up straighter.
“Dada,” Bree began. All eyes shifted to her.
“Wait, Bree,” Gus interrupted his sister. “Dad, at lunchtime Bree would go to the local park, you know the one near the office. She made friends with the local team and…”
“And wowed them with her skills,” Brian finished Gus’ thought. “Let me guess, she somehow wowed Max,” Brian growled.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Murdoch interjected. “And she was very smart about it too.”
“He never got close to me, Dada. I played along for a few minutes and took his business card. I said goodbye then ran back to the team. Practice was over but there were a lot of them walking close to North so I stayed in the crowd until I got close enough to the office. I told Auntie Mel and Gus and Ray right away,” Bree explained about how she had met Max.
Brian was seething.
“And no one saw fit to call me,” Brian growled in a low scary tone.
“I don’t understand. If you knew all of this, why didn’t you arrest him?” Justin asked.
“Because he didn’t do anything illegal. He just happened to be sitting alone on a park bench, watching a bunch of kids playing soccer. When one of those kids sat on the same bench, Jacobs struck up an innocent conversation. It was only through your daughter’s innate sense of, of, I honestly don’t know what tipped her off,” Murdoch said with frustration.
Brian smirked. He was still angry but he figured out exactly what tipped Bree off. He held up his hand.
“Squirt, tell me how Jacobs approached you and how you knew that he wasn’t legit,” Brian told Bree. Bree was a little scared that she had done something wrong. “Go on. I’m not angry at you; your brother, on the other hand.” Brian narrowed his eyes on Gus.
“Dada, he said he was a talent scout or something like that. He made it sound like he was rich and travelled all over the world looking for special people. But he was wearing these horrid knock offs and black socks with brown shoes. And his accent! He was trying to sound like Hudson but his accent sounded awful. Then he started speaking in French. I think he was trying to say I was pretty but what he really said was that I looked like a dish rag. He pretended to switch over to Italian but the only real words he said were something about a goldfish!”
Brian burst out laughing; Justin was stunned.
“Come here, Squirt.” Brian drew Bree closer and kissed the top of her head.
“So, who’s the clotheshorse in the family?” Murdoch asked.
Everyone pointed to Brian. Brian smiled as he shrugged.
“Bree told us what happened as soon as she got back to the office,” said Ray.
“I asked Mama if she had any lawyer contacts in Toronto,” Gus added.
“And that’s how we officially became involved,” said Murdoch. “Ms. Marcus contacted one of my colleagues.”
“And that’s when you all decided to set up a sting without telling me,” Brian said, all humor gone from his voice.
Everyone started speaking at once until John held up his hands.
“Brian, they contacted me and I told Bobby. They explained what they were going to do. Bree was never in any danger. If you’re going to blame anyone then blame me. You know as well as I do, your head was miles away, at least 3,000 miles away. Under normal circumstances you would have flown straight to Canada. But nothing this past month was normal. Justin was in London and so was your heart,” John said gently.
“About London,” Brian began. “Did he have anything to do with the fire?” Brian asked assuming Murdoch and the rest of the boys in the band would know what he was talking about.
A heavily accented man who hadn’t yet formally introduced himself, spoke up. “No, the fire was started by someone else. It was done as a distraction to keep law enforcement occupied in an effort to make the real target more vulnerable,” the man said; he neglected to give his name. “It almost worked,” the man said with a slightly feral smile.
Justin slightly relaxed.
“Daddy, Dada, can I introduce you to my new friend?” Bree asked meekly while there a pause in the discussion. Lacy and staff came to the table to top off coffee mugs and offer some of Emmett’s finest treats.
“Your new friend?” Justin asked.
“Yes, Daddy,” Bree said as a very sophisticated woman approached their table from another booth. “This is Andrea; she took my place,” Bree explained.
Brian was unconvinced that the thirty-something woman before them could make herself look young enough to fool a predator like Max Jacobs. Justin saw something behind the makeup and nodded with a smile.
“Bri, is it only love speaking when you tell me that I still look like that boy you met under the street lamp?” Justin asked. Brian shook his head. “Then look at Andrea again.” Brian did as he was told. He had to admit to himself that Andrea probably could get away with it but not for very much longer.
“And the soccer?” Brian asked.
“I played in high school. I’m no way nearly as skilled as Bree, but she helped me look convincing,” Andrea said with a pretty smile. “Bree told me about your trophies,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. Brian took that as a compliment.
“Is he gone for good?” Justin asked the table at large.
“Yes, he and the whole network. Max was not the smartest cog in the wheel. He was sloppy; he also kept too much on his phone,” Murdoch answered for the group. “We,” Murdoch made a gesture meaning the whole taskforce, “have enough on him and his network to keep them locked up for years. They will answer to each country involved. We’ve also managed to track down several of their victims. It will take time but we’re hopeful that we’ll find them all.”
“Dad, you still angry at me?” Gus asked.
“I really don’t know,” Brian replied honestly. “It’s a lot to take in.”
“You angry with me?” John asked. “You have every right to be.”
Before Brian could respond, the bell over the door jingled.
“Oh my!” Emmett let out a squee. John groaned as Brian closed his eyes and hung his head.
“How do we explain this?” Justin whispered.
“We don’t,” Brian said. “Honeycutt, what brings you back to the diner?” Brian asked for all the world to hear.
“Well, there were rumors floating around that some very attractive men were having a meeting at the diner and since you know everyone and everything that goes on around here, I figured I’d just pop in and make myself useful,” Emmett announced with an innocent toothy grin. His eyes took in all the healthy looking gentlemen in the room.
“Uh huh; I’m not buying it,” Brian declared. Just then a curious expression crossed Brian’s face. “Hmm, Sunshine, a word,” Brian said as he pushed Justin off the bench. He and Justin stood in the middle of the diner quickly whispering to each other. After a few moments, they invited Emmett to join their pow-wow.
“That’s an excellent idea,” Emmett pronounced.
“Brian, what are you up to?” Bobby asked.
“Well as I see it, I could throw a hissy fit and ground these three for life,” Brian began.
“Hey, I’m not your son,” Ray helpfully pointed out.
“No, you’re not, but you are my son-in-law and I have no problem squealing to your parents.”
“What are your other options?” John asked, reasonably sure he was on his brother’s wavelength.
“We bring the lot of them to the lane and have a real Labor Day bash to end this summer right,” Brian said with a grin.
“I vote for option two,” Gus called out. “We can use a break before we go back.”
“I hear you, Sonny Boy,” said Brian.
“I think we all can,” Justin agreed.
After another group hug ensued, diner and surrounding environs were finally cleared of MIBs. It was time to party.
The convoy of those planning to attend Labor Day festivities on the lane set out toward Edna’s Treasures. Brian and Justin led the way with Bree in the back seat and her new friend Andrea beside her. The guys had decided to invite Andrea at Bree’s behest, and they issued the same invitation to Agent Murdoch. Andrea said she was due some time off and agreed to accompany them to the lane. She had packed a change of clothes when they had headed to Pittsburgh, and she felt she could stretch what she had over the long weekend. Agent Murdoch, on the other hand, had politely declined the invitation, saying he had pressing business to take care of elsewhere. He had looked rather disapprovingly at Andrea when she accepted the invitation.
“I’m really glad you could come with us,” Bree said with a smile at her new friend.
“I’m really happy too,” Andrea responded. “I’ve been wanting to take some time off. It’s kind of lonely doing my job. Hard to make friends.”
“I’ll be your friend,” Bree volunteered.
“I appreciate it,” Andrea said giving Bree a warm smile.
“Do you do a lot of undercover assignments?” Justin asked.
“They use me a lot for the kind of thing where they need someone who looks young and is able to wheedle her way into a situation,” Andrea explained.
“Doesn’t sound like much fun,” Brian observed.
“It was when I started doing it. But I’ve been doing it long enough that it’s become kind of tiresome. I’m getting to an age where I won’t be able to pull it off much longer.”
“What will you do then?” Justin asked.
“I really don’t know,” Andrea said with a smile. “I hope this bit of time away will help me to think more clearly about what I want to do next.”
“That’s a good idea,” Bree piped in. “I should take you to the Thinking Rock when we get home.”
“The Thinking Rock?”
“It’s this big old rock down by the stream behind our house. It’s a great place to think things through,” Bree explained.
“We’ve all used it from time to time,” Justin added.
“You too, Mr. Kinney?” Andrea asked.
Brian nodded, “Even me.”
Andrea smiled as she saw Brian glance at her in the rearview mirror.
In the second car, John was driving Gus and Ray to the lane.
“You looking forward to being home for a few days?” John asked.
“It’s not really home anymore,” Gus said. “The loft is our home, but there’s no place like the lane.”
“Lots of memories there,” John observed.
“And lots more to make this weekend,” Ray agreed.
“I’m just glad Pop didn’t kill us,” Gus said wryly.
“There was a moment there when I thought he actually might,” Ray admitted.
John chuckled. “Surely you know that his bark is worse than his bite … most of the time.”
Gus laughed. “Exactly, but that’s part of his genius. You never know how bad it’s going to be. He does keep us guessing.”
Ray shook his head. “I’m glad we got this second option of a weekend in the country - a lot more appealing than him getting my parents involved.”
“I think this is going to be a fun weekend,” John said with a grin, “especially after Patrick comes home for the weekend from university.”
Emmett and Drew were in the third car of the convoy.
“Did you see all those hunky men that came with Bree and Gus and Ray?” Emmett asked.
“They were just leaving when I got to the diner,” Drew said. “I can see you were very impressed with them.”
“It’s always fun to look at fine specimens like those guys.”
“Fine specimens, an interesting choice of words,” Drew observed.
“But you’re still the finest specimen of all,” Emmett said with a toothy grin at his partner.
“Glad you still think so.”
“I’ll always think so, hon.”
Drew smiled at his husband. After all these years they still adored each other. He cleared his throat. “So what are you planning for the Labor Day bash?”
“I’ve got all these ideas flowing around in my brain,” Emmett said. “I need to talk to Debbie when we get to the lane. I think this is going to be one of the best Labor Days we’ve ever had.”
Return to North to the Max