Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
Most of their clients engaged them to obtain evidence for cases of divorce, child custody, missing persons, information about individuals’ character or financial status, and Annie’s experience had been a natural progression into their current enterprise.
Jake did most of the outside work, chasing leads, stakeouts etc., but this evening she knew he was feeling a little restless. There hadn’t been much for him to do lately, and he was aching to be useful.
Tuesday, August 2nd, Five Days Ago
JEREMY PUFFED and panted. He stopped for a well-needed rest. He’d never grown much. Now at twenty-four years old, he was only five feet three, or maybe four, inches tall, and as thin as a teen-ager. In fact, he was still often mistaken for one. He’d had to use his brains rather than his brawn to get anywhere in life.
The bundle he maneuvered from the trunk of his 2005 Hyundai dropped to the ground with a dull thump. It wasn’t easy dragging almost two hundred pounds of dead weight for someone so small, but he finally managed, with great effort, to heave and roll it over to the hole. The blanket came loose from its contents, exposing a bloody corpse.
The trees around him snapped and ruffled in the warm afternoon breeze as he stopped again to wipe the sweat from his face with his dirty shirtsleeve. The pungent smell of the nearby swamp permeated the air.
Jeremy preferred to bury the bodies here, in the forest, a secluded place away from prying eyes. Easier to cover them up and hide them. Here they would never be found.
He knelt down and stared intently at the body. The blood around the wound looked dry, and dark, but as he touched it, it was still slightly moist, and warm. He wiped his hand across the ground and stood, and for a moment, he gazed quietly at the body.
Bending over, he gave another heave, and the corpse slid to the bottom of the shallow hole. He kicked the bloodstained blanket in behind. A few minutes more work. Pat the ground flat. Cover with leaves. The job is done.
But now he still had one more task to do. He was perplexed. The guy got what he deserved, but what about the girl? I can’t let her go, but I can’t hurt her. That would just be wrong. He had to come up with an idea, but for now, she was safe.
Monday, August 8th, 3:30 PM
DETECTIVE HANK CORNING reached across the desk and gently touched the woman’s hand. “I’m sorry Mrs. James. We’ve done all we can do. Your daughter has been missing for almost a week now, and there’s no information to go on. There’s no evidence of foul play, and the Captain just won’t allow any more resources and time.”
The woman sitting across the aging desk from Corning was in her late thirties. She still had signs of true beauty, but right now the grief and anxiety clouding her face was masking her true allure.
The woman bowed her head and gave another little sob. She dabbed at her tears with a soft white handkerchief, and slowly nodded her head. “I just know she wouldn’t go anywhere without telling me.”
Corning nodded sympathetically and sighed deeply. At forty years old, he’d been doing this job for almost twenty years and had seen more than his share of grief. Missing kids, murdered kids, and victims of all kinds. He was tired. Tired of all the pain. Tired of feeling helpless.
He ran his fingers through his short cropped, slightly graying hair, and sat back. “I’m really, really sorry.”
Mrs. James looked intently at the detective. The hope in her eyes had grown dim but she knew he’d done his best. “Will you keep trying?”
“I’ll do what I can, Mrs. James,” he promised gently.
The woman clutched her purse and pulled her jacket around her as she stood. “Thank you, detective.” She gave him a fragile smile.
Corning’s heart was breaking and he stood and watched her turn and head slowly toward the door. “Mrs. James . . .”
She turned back.
“Perhaps a private detective . . .”
Monday, August 8th, 9:59 PM
SHEETS OF RAIN were pounding against the office window. A bit of wind had come up suddenly, and now threatened to remove the shutters as they rattled and clapped. The big oak in the back yard was sighing under the strain.
Jake was on the phone. The woman sounds desperate, he thought. “We can come to see you Mrs. James, or you’re welcome to come to the office.”
“I would prefer if you could come by here,” she said.
An appointment was arranged for the next morning. Jake hung up the phone.
Annie poked her head into the office. “What was that?”
“That was Mrs. Amelia James. Apparently, Hank recommended she talk to us. Her daughter is missing, and the police have nothing more to go on. I told her we would do our best to help locate her.”
“Another missing kid. Thank God for the internet. Hopefully we can track this one down as fast as the last one.”
“I’m not so sure this time. She’s been gone for a week. She didn’t take any of her things with her, and just disappeared. Her mother says it’s just not like her to do anything like this.”
Jake stood and came from behind the desk toward Annie. He was a daunting sight at six feet four inches tall, short dark hair, and an impressive physique. After eighteen years married to this hunk, Annie was continually awed at the sight of him. She put her arms around his neck. He drew her close and buried his face in her hair. She always smelled good.
“We’ll find out more tomorrow morning. We have an appointment to see her at ten,” he said.
Annie looked up at him and nodded, and then said, “By the way, I’ve invited Mom and Dad over for a barbecue Thursday evening. Is that ok?”
Jake frowned at her and sighed. “You know I don’t get along too well with your mother.”
“I know. She can be a bit trying at times. Just try to be patient. She’s not all that bad.”
He pulled away from her. “Oh, and always giving instructions on how we should raise our own son? It’s hard to be patient with that.” Jake sounded annoyed.
“She’s my mother, and I don’t want the two of you fighting. Besides, she does have some good suggestions.”
“Oh, like sending Matty to a private school? Who’s going to pay for that? Did you forget my money tree ran dry? I don’t know how your father puts up with it either.”
Annie shot him a sharp look. “My father is an amazing guy,” she said. “He’s been through a lot, and he’s happy, so leave him out of this.”
“I’ve nothing against your father. I agree with you. It’s your mother. She treats me like a kid. She thinks I’m not good enough for you. Maybe I’m not, but it’s none of her business.”
“Look, I don’t want to argue about this,” Annie said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen them, and Mom has been hinting at coming over for some time, so I had to invite them.” She paused. “And Matty needs to see them once in a while as well. They adore him. Especially Dad. He’s his only grandson.”
Jake plunked down in a chair and looked up at her. “All right,” he said. “I’ll try to keep it under control.” He paused. “For you.” He secretly hoped it would still be raining by then.
Annie bent over and kissed him quickly. “Thank you.”
Jake stood and drew her close again. “But right now, it’s time for bed,” he said.
Annie smiled. She was all for that suggestion.
Tuesday, August 9th, 9:58 AM
JAKE BROUGHT the 1986 Pontiac Firebird to an abrupt stop under the shade of an ancient oak. Annie crawled from the passenger door. She stepped onto the sidewalk and surveyed the house in front of her. They were in a fairly exclusive part of town. It seemed like a quiet and safe upper-class family neighborhood. Sitting on about two acres of land, the house was by no means new, but it’d been restored to an elegant finish with vintage character. A winding path in front leading through a well-maintained rock garden led to a large verandah guarding the front doors.
The solid forged brass doorknocker clanged as Jake knocked three times. In a few moments, there was a rattle of chains, and the door swung open. A tall and remarkably beautiful woman appeared in the doorway.
Jake introduced themselves, “Good morning. We’re Jake and Annie Lincoln, from Lincoln Investigations.” He handed her a business card. She looked at it briefly and smiled. “Come in. I’m Amelia James.”
She ushered them into a fashionable sitting room. Larger than our whole house, Annie thought. Feminine flourishes and modern lines with the absence of a rug made the look sparse and showcased the beautiful dark hardwood floors. Matching bookcases with what appeared to be antique books framed a huge fieldstone fireplace on either side.
“Would you like tea? Coffee?”
“Coffee please. We’ll have coffee.” Jake spoke for both of them.
Mrs. James beckoned toward a comfortable divan and Jake and Annie sat. She left the room and returned a moment later, sitting across from them in an overstuffed armchair. She leaned forward and looked intently at them, sizing them up.
Annie placed a small digital voice recorder on the coffee table in front of her. “Do you mind if I record this interview Mrs. James?”
“Go right ahead. And please, call me Amelia.”
Jake spoke. “Tell us about your daughter, Amelia.”
Amelia thought for a few moments. “She’s a good daughter. Rarely gets into any trouble or anything like that. The occasional party or hanging out with her friends, but nothing worse than what we did as kids.”
“Does she have a boyfriend?” Annie asked.
“There’s no one steady boy, as far as I know. I mean, the boys really like her. She’s very pretty, and there’re a few of them in the group, but there’s no-one real serious or she would’ve told me. We’re close, Jenny and I, and we talk about everything.”
Annie knew no matter how close you are to your mother, there are always some things you don’t tell her, but she said nothing. “Has Jenny ever gone anywhere before without telling you? Even overnight?”
“Never. Like all girls that age, she would stay overnight at a friend’s house occasionally, but I always knew where she was.”
“Is there any one friend in particular?” Annie asked.
“Her best friend is Paige, Paige Canter, and they are . . . were together a lot.”
“Do you have a copy of the police report, Amelia?” Jake asked. “That may save asking a lot of questions. I’m sure the police have contacted Paige, and her other friends?”
“Oh yes. That was one of the first things they did.” She frowned. “And maybe about the only thing.” She paused. “However, Detective Corning has been kind, but there’s a limit to what he can do.”
Amelia got up and opened a small drawer beside the bookcase. She pulled out two or three sheets of paper stapled together. “Here’s the police report. It has all the names and addresses of her friends.”
Jake reached for the paper. “Thank you. That should help.”
Annie glanced over at the paper and scanned it briefly before asking, “Would you have a picture of Jenny we could borrow?”
Amelia reached toward a nearby end table. “Here’s a recent picture of her,” she said, handing it to Annie.
Annie looked at the picture. Jenny’s mother certainly was not biased. The girl in the picture had long blond hair like her mother, a great figure, and a beautiful smile. A very pretty girl indeed.
The entrance of a tiny Filipino woman, who appeared to be the maid, briefly interrupted them. She set a tray with three cups of steaming coffee, with cream and sugar, on the table in front of them. Jake was the first to help himself. The others followed.
“Do you have another picture? Perhaps a close-up more of her face?” Annie asked.
Amelia looked around the room, her eyes stopping at the fireplace. “There’s one.” She took a picture from the mantle and handed it to Annie. “You may borrow these.” She removed the pictures from their frames, handing them to Annie. She smiled. “I’d like them back, though.”
Jake asked, “When was the last time you saw Jenny?”
“It was last Tuesday morning, August 2nd. She left for school as usual. Richmond Hill Public School. And that was the last I saw or heard from her.” Amelia bowed her head. When she looked up a tear or two was on her cheek. “Oh please, I hope you can find her. I’m so afraid she may be in some danger.”
“We’ll do what we can Amelia,” Annie said gently. “I can’t promise we’ll find her, but we won’t give up.”
Jake sipped his coffee and glanced at the police report again. All of the vital information seemed to be there. Full name, date of birth, nicknames, height, weight, hair color, etcetera. There were a lot of other questions regarding habits and personality. Jake wanted a little more information. “Does Jenny have a cell phone?”
“Yes, she had it with her as far as I know, but the police were unable to track it. She must have turned it off, or maybe it was lost.”
“And what about social media? Facebook and so on?”
“Yes, like just about everyone she knows, she had a Facebook page. She didn’t spend a lot of time on the computer. Mostly just for homework, but I know she did chat with friends sometimes.”
“We can’t rule out on-line predators,” Annie said.
Amelia looked fearful at that comment. “She’s careful about things like that.”
“Still, we’ll check it out. We don’t want to miss any possibilities.”
“And your husband?” Jake asked. “Jenny’s father? Is he . . .”
Amelia forced a smile. “My husband, Mr. James, is . . . was . . . Jenny’s father. He passed away just over three years ago.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Jake said.
“He was a good man. A good father.” Amelia looked around the room. “He provided for us very well.” She sighed. “He just worked too hard I think. Winston had a weak heart, and it couldn’t take the stress of his job.”
“What was his work?” Annie asked.
“He worked for a private investment firm. Private banking, asset management, hedge funds, things like that. He had some very wealthy clients, and had to work long hours to keep up. But he always had time for us.”