“Where are Tori and Richie?” Mike stepped into the foyer.
“Getting the kids cleaned up after breakfast. Did you find something?”
“Mmm. Can we get everybody together?”
“Sure. In the living room.” Jon led the way, calling out as he went. “Mike’s here and he’s got some news!”
Within seconds the family appeared and settled around the room. Tori and Richie sat together on the couch, hands clasped.
“Mike? What’s happened?” Tori searched his face, but couldn’t read it. I wouldn’t want to play poker with him. Shaking her head at her own errant thought, she brought her attention back to his face and waited.
Mike reached out to grab her free hand, a big smile spreading across his face. “They found her.”
Tori ignored the exclamations being shouted all around them, keeping her gaze locked on Mike, her hand in a death grip with Richie’s, afraid to hope. “They really found her?” Mike nodded. She swallowed and licked her lips. “And the baby?”
“Neighbours have confirmed hearing a baby crying several times a day, including last night.”
“How did they find her?” Bill asked.
“A fan came through. She got Jasmine to give her a street name. With that, it didn’t take long to find her.”
“Where?” Tony spoke up.
“Glendale. The police are organizing a raid as we speak.” Mike looked back at Tori. “You’ll have little Zachary back very soon.”
Tori finally let herself believe it. With a small cry, she turned to Richie, throwing her arms around his neck and clutching him tightly, tears of relief tracking down her cheeks. He held her close, sending up a silent prayer of thanks, his own eyes damp.
Twisting her head, she caught Mike’s gaze. “Can...can we go?”
He smiled. “Yeah. But you’ll need to stay out of the way until the police have secured Jasmine.”
Tori nodded her understanding and stood. “Let’s go.”
It was the work of only a few minutes to organize people and vehicles. Rosa and Cathy stayed with Lauren and Stevie, but everyone else was determined to go.
They knew they were close when they came across several police cruisers and officers blocking the street. A SWAT van was parked in front of an apartment building a block past the barricade.
“Which one is it?” Tori asked Mike as he parked behind a cruiser.
He pointed. “152. Apartment 2C. But wait....” He might as well have saved his breath. He was talking to air. “Tori!” But she was gone, Richie right behind her.
At the door of the apartment building, Tori was stopped by an officer. “I’m sorry ma’am, but I can’t let you in.”
“That crazy bitch has my son in there!” She fought his retraining grip.
“I know. Ma’am....Mrs. Sambora, we’ll get him back for you. But we need to be careful. We can’t just break down the door, we...”
“Why not?” Richie demanded.
“Because we don’t know what weapons she might have or what she might do. We don’t want to scare her into doing something to hurt your son.”
“She won’t.” Tori assured him. “She thinks he’s her ticket to get Richie to be part of her life. She won’t do anything to harm him.”
“You’re probably right.” The officer agreed. “But what if you’re wrong? Do you really want us to take that chance?”
“I want my son back!” She almost growled in frustration. To be so close to him, but unable to get to him was almost more than she could stand.
“We’ll get him. I know it’s hard, but try to be patient for just a little while longer.”
Upstairs, several officers, including a hostage negotiator were outside the apartment rented to Jasmine Yamoda. The cries of a young baby could be heard through the door.
The closest officer raised his hand and knocked. “Police! Open up.”
After several minutes of silence, he knocked again. “Jasmine Yamoda! Police! Open up!”
More silence. The negotiator stepped up. “We know you’re in there Jasmine. We can hear the baby crying. It’s time to give Zachary back to his parents.”
“He’s mine!” Even the wood panel didn’t muffle the near hysteria in her voice.
The officers exchanged glances. The negotiator took a deep breath. “Jasmine, you know that’s not true. If you open the door we can talk about it.”
“No! Go away!”
“I can’t do that.”
“His father will be home soon, and he won’t be happy to find you here!”
After an hour of trying unsuccessfully to get her to open the door, the negotiator took a break and went downstairs for some fresh air and to plan the next step.
Tori saw him first. “What’s going on? Where’s my son?”
He tried to smile encouragingly, but he didn’t lie to her. “It’s taking longer than we anticipated. She won’t open the door. We may have to force our way in after all.”
“But I thought that was a risk to the baby.” Tori frowned.
“It is, but we may not have a choice. Her delusion has evolved further than we thought.” He glanced at Richie. “She’s convinced that you’re together and she’s expecting you to come home momentarily.”
“Then maybe I should.” Richie commented, a thoughtful look on his face.
“What do you mean?” The officer who had restrained Tori earlier asked.
Richie didn’t look away from the negotiator. “If she’s expecting me ‘home’, let’s give her what she wants.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” The officer argued.
“Why not? Chances are she’ll open the door for me. And we can be pretty sure she won’t try to hurt me.”
While the police weren’t thrilled with the idea, they couldn’t argue his logic. The negotiator scratched his chin while he studied Richie’s face. He’d been doing this job long enough to have a good instinct about what would work and what wouldn’t...and assess the risk involved. And his gut told him this may be the best way to bring the situation to a successful conclusion without somebody getting hurt. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I’ll do whatever I have to do to get my son back.” Richie assured him.
“Okay then, let’s go.”
When they reached the second floor, the negotiator turned to Tori. He knew better than to try to make her stay downstairs, but it was imperative that he lay down the rules if she was going to be this close to the action. “Mrs. Sambora, I know this is a hard thing to ask, but I need you to stay absolutely quiet. She cannot know that you’re here. There’s no telling what she might do if she found out.”
Tori nodded. “I understand.” She understood, but she didn’t like it. The truth was, she wanted to break down the door herself.
Whether he could see something in her face, or just knew her that well, Richie pulled her into his arms. “I’ll bring him out to you angel, I promise.”
She nodded and released him.
Standing in front of the door, Richie took a deep breath and reached for the knob. It was locked as expected, so he knocked. “Jasmine? It’s me. I forgot my key. Can you let me in?”
“Richie? I’m so glad you’re finally home!” Jasmine exclaimed as she opened the door and threw her arms around his neck.
Gripping her waist, he manoeuvred her back from the door, leaving it open. He had to force himself to stay focussed on his role and not toss her aside. “Yes, I’m home.” He glanced around. “Where’s the baby?”
She led him to the far side of the room to where a bassinet was set beneath the window. “He’s sleeping. Isn’t he beautiful? He looks just like you.”
As Richie looked down at his son, the tight band that had been surrounding his heart since that fateful day in the hospital finally loosened. Reminding himself to move slowly, casually, he reached into the bassinet and lifted the baby into his arms. “Hi little man. Daddy’s got you.”
Jasmine watched in confusion as Richie turned and walked towards the open door. “Richie? Where are you going? Where are you taking him?”
Having reached the safety of the doorway and the police waiting just out of sight, Richie paused to look back at her, letting her see all the anger and disgust he felt. “To his mother.”
“But....Richie....I don’t understand. I’m his mother!”
“No you’re not. And you never will be.”
“I am!” Tori had waited as long as she could, but seeing her baby nestled in his father’s arms where he belonged, she couldn’t hold back any longer. Pausing only briefly to look Zachary over and assure herself he was okay, she kissed his forehead and stepped into the room to face her nemesis.
“You!” Jasmine’s eyes widened and she took a step back, lucidity lighting her dark eyes – at least for the moment.
“Yes, it’s me.” Tori kept walking forward. “I told you before. Richie is mine.” She came to a stop with only a foot between them. “And I fight for what’s mine.” That was the only warning she gave before drawing her fist back and letting it fly.
Jasmine was knocked to the floor, her nose spurting blood all over her white blouse. “Ow! Stop!”
“Not until I’m sure you get the message loud and clear.” Tori reached down, grabbed a fistful of silk and dragged Jasmine off the floor, only to send her back down with another punch to the face.
Two officers stood inside the door and watched Tori pummel the kidnapper over and over.
“Should we stop it?” The younger of the two, barely out of rookie status, asked his partner.
The veteran snorted and crooked a brow at him. “Do you want to get in the way of a mother protecting her child?”
“Me either, unless I absolutely have to. Besides, the woman deserves it for what she put these people through.”
Finally, Tori couldn’t ignore the pain in her hand any longer and stopped. But she wasn’t finished. Bending until their faces were only inches apart, her glare bore into the younger woman’s. “If you come near my family again, I won’t just bloody your nose or blacken your eye.” She paused. “I’ll kill you. And no one will ever find the body.” She waited until she saw understanding in the dark eyes staring at her. The doubt visible there made her continue. “That’s not a threat. That’s a promise. And I always keep my promises.”
Satisfied that she’d made her point, Tori straightened and strode back to the door and her waiting family. When Richie handed her the baby, she cuddled him close and looked up at her husband. “Let’s go home.”