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An international flight originating in Sydney landed at Los Angeles International in the wee hours of the morning. Among the passengers on board, an extremely handsome but quiet man waited while the others deplaned before standing up and heading for the hatch. He said good-bye to the stewardess who obviously wondered why she couldn't be lucky enough to date a hunk like him--her thoughts written all over her face. He smiled, leaving the huge Boeing 747.
He walked along the passageway leading toward the terminal and baggage claim followed by customs. He prepared himself for a long wait. Since September 11th and the beefed-up security, it had always added another hour to his travel time--at least. He understood why though it amazed him how easily people got things through, despite the heightened security measures.
He walked through the scanner after an official stamped his passport and while his luggage and briefcase went through the scanner.
"Belt buckle. Would you mind using the hand-held scanner, please?"
"All right," she said. She ran the wand of the unit along the outside of his leg, the monitor beeping again near his knee. She looked at him.
"Steel pins after surgery. You'll find them in my back as well."
The woman looked at him as if to ask why.
"Rodeo, ma'am. I had a slight disagreement with one of the bulls," he explained. A lie, some of it was true. His knee had been damaged when the bull's rear hooves came down on him after the animal threw him off, knocking him unconscious. The rodeo clowns--bullfighters as they preferred to be called--distracted the bull heading the animal toward the chute and out of thearena. The injury had been season ending but it didn't stop him from competing the next year.
The lie came about describing his back since it became easier to attribute it to rodeo instead of the truth. Yes, he'd had surgery and steel added to help support and strengthen his spine but the injury came at the hands of a sadistic Columbian drug lord. Sent in by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, DC to bring the menace back to the United States to face trial, he spent the better part of a year in the man's mountain compound. When the elite Delta Force rescued him, they found a half-dead man with a broken spine, the result of constant beatings and torture.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself in a body cast after surgery to repair his back. People thought he had excellent posture because he always sat straight but he had no choice thanks to the steel rod supporting his spine. This made rodeo difficult at times but he managed to compete in the sport he loved despite the odds. He'd also been told if he needed surgery again, the doctors would replace the steel with titanium.
Once cleared through customs, he gathered his bags and headed to the Hertz desk to pick up his rental car. He left the airport finally heading to a hotel downtown where he took a room under an alias for the night. In the morning, he drove away in a second car, always careful to make sure no one followed him. After he made sure, he drove to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, boarded his private Lear jet and flew home to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"Did I miss anything?"
He relaxed, reading the latest edition of USA Today before dozing off.
"Welcome home, Nigel."
"Thanks, it's good to be home."
"Did you have a successful trip?" Catherine Wade asked. His housekeeper had been with his family since coming to the United States from London thirty years before.
"Let's put it this way--I have a happy client along with my happy bank account."
"Good, I'd hate to see you waste time."
"Never, Catherine," he said, then gave her a quick kiss. She smiled.
"I'll have your lunch served on the terrace."
Nigel watched her disappear, grateful for her presence in his life. She'd been like a mother to him after his died from a cardiac arrest. With his father always on the road, Nigel turned to Catherine when he needed to. After his father's drowning, Catherine became Nigel's only family. She knew everything there was to know about him and just what to ask about and what not to and Nigel loved her for it.
He went up to his room to wash up and change into something more him--jeans and a t-shirt. Designer suits worked at the office or on business trips but at the ranch, jeans and relaxed. Once he had changed, he went downstairs to the terrace and ate. Catherine took care of him--her idea of lunch was a steak and baked potato. Fortunately, she usually called supper late.
She'd also put the Wall Street Journal on the table so he could catch up on the last week's deals and financial news.
"Nigel, you have a call."
"Take a message."
"It's Aaron--he says it's important."
Nigel picked up the phone and took a deep breath.
"Aaron, what's up?"
"We've got a problem."