Retrieve the briefcase and open it.

Terror seized control of Penny's heart and spread through to her legs in the form of a cold numbness; she was no longer able to support herself, and slid down the cabinets to the cold tile floor below.  She sat in front of the sink as fear and anger fought for dominance of her emotions.  Images of her daughter and her deceased husband swirled around her head: Josie as she was now, a quiet and sweet toddler, but also as an infant, asleep in Kelvin's arms as he cooed to her, grinning through that scruffy beard he'd decided to grow just before the accident.  God, how Penny had loathed that beard.  How many times had she plead with Kelvin to shave it?  And with a growing amount of guilt she now realized how little she really cared about that beard; she would give anything to once again feel it's terrible scratchiness against her cheek and Kelvin's warm breath on her shoulder as they embraced.

These images and memories slowly but inevitably squeezed the oxygen from her lungs, slowly draining the life from her, and soon she sat unmoving on the floor as hitching sobs choked her.

They took her.  Someone had taken Josie.

The kitchen began to spin and Penny's stomach lurched again.  From somewhere above her, she could hear her mother's keening wail and Penny just wanted her to shut up; that damned crying made Penny's skin feel brittle.  She opened her mouth to inhale but nothing happened.  Her nostrils flared but her chest remained frozen and heavy, as if a bus decided to park on top of her and steal away her breath.

Just then the lady cop was kneeling before her and gently tapped her cheek, "Hey, hey, hey.  Nice and easy now.  Take a breath, sweetie.  Gently, gently."

Looking into the woman's eyes had a calming effect on Penny; they were young but had the look of experience, like the eyes of a Baby-Boomer.  They were as weary as Penny's.  She took her hand, a soft gesture, but it had the power to punch through Penny's distress and suddenly breath came in big, heaving gulps.  Penny coughed harshly and the woman patted her back, "There, there."

Penny buried her face in the woman's coat, a mixture of tears and snot that left a big wet mark on the woman's lapel.  When at last she pulled away the woman was ready with a tissue, which Penny accepted numbly.

"Now, what was this about codes?" the woman asked softly, "and who is Kelvin Garett?"

"He was, um, my husband."

"Was your husband?"

"Yeah.  He, uh, passed away last year in a car accident, along with my son, John."

"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Garett.  Was he a computer programmer of some kind?  Would he have access to codes?"

Penny slowly shook her head, "No, Kelvin was a biologist of some kind, I forget which right off the top of my head."

"Hmmm," the woman rubbed her chin in thought, "would he have worked with the government at all?  Have contacts within the government that these kidnappers might hope to steal access to?"

Again, a shake of the head.  Penny answered quietly, "No, he didn't work for a single company.  Kelvin was more of a freelance."

She smiled wanly at a forgotten memory, "He liked to call himself a 'Free Agent,' beholden to no one in particular."

"Focus, Mrs. Garett.  What codes might your husband have that men would kidnap your daughter for?"

The thought of some faceless, dangerous men storming into her parents' place, roughing up her father, and snatching little Josie scorched a hot new ember of fury within Penny.  What was once dormant was now smoldering and on the verge of igniting.  Anger now far outweighed the fear.  A fresh batch of tears flowed from Penny's eyes, and she hated them for making her cry, hated them for taking her girl.  Hated them all.

She grit her teeth and replied, "I don't know... but I think I know where to look."

The End

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