The sky sparkled with stars and the moonlight reflected on the sheen of rain left by the summer storm early that afternoon. A Chinese restaurant in Kildare proved to be a solace to Callum and his growling stomach, as the events of each company kept him out late that night. He glanced each direction as he emerged through its door and peered down the alley at its side. Although Melia would scold him if she knew, his car was parked on the street at the opposite end.
Certainly not the most safe option, but definitely the most convenient.
As he strode down the cobblestone alley, he heard the scuff of a shoe and a hollow click that sent his stomach to the ground. He raised his hands in surrender, which was received by getting him slammed against the restaurant in such a way that he could only stare at his car on the street and the people with startled eyes passing between them. Something that could only be the barrel of a revolver pressed into his spine and sent chills straight up to his neck.
"Do not move," rasped a crackling voice at his right shoulder.
"Do you know who I am?" Callum scarcely recognized his weakened voice.
"You are Callum McCallister, the inherited owner and CEO of two successful enterprises. Reach into your pocket and give me everything you have on you."
Callum reached into his suit pocket and withdrew his suede wallet, the sound of his pounding heart echoing the ear pressed against the stone restaurant.
He dropped it with a splash in the puddle at his shoes. The stench of alcohol assaulted his nose as the man reached over his shoulder and wrenched the white gold ring with the sapphire stone from his right hand, provoking a grunt of pain. As he reached for his wedding ring, Callum cried "Wait!"
"Why should I do that?"
"I can write you a check," Callum rushed, "for a higher amount than what that ring is worth."
He sensed the hesitation of his tormentor. "Why should I believe that?"
"Let me get a pen and write it out. It will be clear the amount is more than one can purchase a ring for. You will be a wealthier man than if you steal that ring."
There was a stark silence. Then, "Get it out."
Callum reached into his suit pocket and extracted his checkbook and a black pen. He planted the checkbook against the stone wall and watched the rain droplets seep into view. He raised his trembling hand with the pen and signed the check. "I need to put your name in the memo so there will be no inquiries at the bank. There is no way this will work if I have none."
The man seethed impatiently. "Rufus Fitzgerald."
"Right," Callum breathed as he scrawled the name onto the check. He presented it over his shoulder, and the man snatched it away. He jerked Callum back by the collar and shoved him toward his car.
"Do not look back, or you will not see that car again!"
Callum breathed as steadily as he could with each step back to his car. He was aware of the pairs of eyes penetrating his back, and he feared his watery legs would fail to carry him to safety. Several attempts to penetrate his key into the lock were made, and when he succeeded, he flew into the driver seat and immediately twisted the key in the ignition. The second it started, he gassed to the right lane.
In the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the rolled up paper bag of Chinese food and a sort of relieved maniacal laughter bubbled inside of him. How had he managed to get that meal all the way to the car!
. . .
The soft hum of the black Cadillac sent Melia thundering down the marble stairs with a shawl around her shoulders. She greeted Callum with a kiss to the lips when he emerged through the door and set his briefcase down with a trembling hand.
"I called you," she drew the coat from his shoulders and dropped it onto the hook beside the door. "Where were you?"
"Everything is all right," he soothed as he turned around to meet her eyes. "But I was robbed when I stopped to get supper."
"Oh my Lord," she gasped as her hands flew to her mouth, and then to cup his face. "Are you hurt?"
"Only a little shaken," he managed a wry smile and received her into his arms. "But Melia, he has the ring Eli gave me."
"All that matters is that you are safe," she murmured into his suit. He savored the warmth of her embrace and the apparent depth of her love revealed by the terror that ambushed him that night. It seemed to be the candle in the darkness.
"I have to call Calder and let him know," he said and pressed a kiss to her dark curls. "Although it would be ideal to not use them, his connections to the Gardaí may be the easiest way to solve this."
She released him reluctantly and laid a cool hand against his cheek. She then darted away and returned with a phone extended toward him. He accepted it with a grateful smile and dialed with his yet unsteady thumb.
A single ring later, his brother answered with a grave "Calder McCallister."
"Hello" he answered. "I was robbed at a restaurant in Kildare tonight."
A clatter at the other end of the line gave the impression that Calder stood, and the swiftness in his words were the primary indication of urgency. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. He let me go when I gave him what money I had on me."
"And you have a description of the person who did it?" Calder managed more calmly.
"Actually, I have the name."
"A name," Calder answered with a trace of laughter. "How did you manage that?"
"With a moment of clear thinking. He stated his name as Rufus Fitzgerald. But Calder, he stole the ring Eli gave me. Do you suppose the Gardaí will be able to return it to us?"
"I will give them your information and press them to action."
Callum closed his eyes and released his breath. "Go raibh maith agat."
"Get some sleep," Calder reminded him. "You will need it."
. . .
The morning dawned crisp and cool. Sunlight streamed across the cherry wood in the Tristis Opera offices and was tangible to Callum as he rushed down the lengthy hall with a covered dish of fresh croissants and the boardroom within sight.
"Callum," Adare rushed to match his stride with a penetrating stare that searched his expression. "I heard what happened. Are you all right?"
"I am only wondering whether this occupation is worth the time, the cheating, and the stealing."
"Stop," Adare moved ahead of him and raised his hand. "You have had a shock, and emotions run high when those happen. You have decent people who are genuinely concerned to hear the news working around and for you. Do not let the one rotten apple spoil the rest."
"Where were the decent people when I was shoved against that restaurant?"
Adare stared at him with surprise.
"I apologize if I was harsh," Callum continued with the same quiet and gentle tone he generally used. "But I watched people milling around out there while I was pinned up against a stone wall. Where were the decent people when I needed them?"
The eyes of the elder man softened. "They were scared. To aid a decent man under assault would be exceptional. But to shield themselves and their loved ones from violence is the average."
Callum dropped his eyes to his shoes and shook his head. "Why do people settle for average?"
"Perhaps they know not their own potential."
Callum considered his statement. "I have to be honest with you – sometimes I severely wonder if I can manage these two companies."
"Son, you have to prepare the ground to plant healthy seeds and persevere when the weather seems dry. Believe me, there were seasons where Eli was not at his prime. There were times where he was deceived, and times where he was cheated. He was tempted to throw down his work many times, but he persevered until the seeds he planted yielded fruit."
Callum listened and nodded as he spoke. "Thank you."
Adare planted a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You should spend the day at home. Let me take care of business today. That is what most people do after a trauma, you know."
Callum gave a small smile. "But would that not make me the average?"
A spark lit the hazel eye of his friend and a bark of laughter escaped his lips. With another clap to his shoulder, he continued toward the conference room with an amused shake of his head. As he entered the room, he called over his shoulder, "Eli would be proud!"
Callum grinned and pursued him into the boardroom with a "Good morning" to the staff as he set the plate on the desk beneath the opposite window. Then he returned to the head of the rectangle made of tables and seated himself in the swivel chair.
"Yes, I was robbed and yes, I am all right. How are you all doing?"
A murmur of answered rippled across the room. With a satisfied nod, Callum continued.
"To start with, I have something to share with everyone – and that is that I appreciate each of you who is as loyal to me as you were to Eli. You have no idea how much that means to me. And I realize that many of you were discouraged to learn about the embezzlement schemes Potter used to damage this company. But I want to assure you that we will recover from this," he strove to meet each pair of eyes with a smile. "We will be at our prime again."
Mariah Sanders applauded and someone else released a cheer. Adare met his eyes beside him with an approving nod. His heart swelled with encouragement. And when each key staff member gave a summary of their current progress, he was pleased to note that all seemed well.
"Alan Corrigan, I need the latest report on sales. Breanne O'Sullivan, there is someone I want you to meet with later, and I will give you his name after this meeting…"
He noted a sort of readiness in each person as they accepted and penned their assignments that progressed from the sullenness that weighed them the previous week.
"… Andrea Woods, I want you to continue searching for someone to hire in our vacant position. Drew Clancy, there is a list of investors I must ask you to look into. The rest can continue as they were. Have a great rest of your day"
He gathered his personal effects and allowed the people to exit before he traveled back to his office. As he seated himself and started the messages on his phone, he was surprised to hear the official tone of an officer.
"Callum McCallister, this is Lionel O'Brien in the SDU. We have apprehended a teenaged suspect by the name of Fitzgerald who appears to have your personal effects in his possession. We will leave them in the care of Calder McCallister until you can obtain them."
He released a smile.