Authors: Rayven T. Hill
“Or perhaps your people weren’t as undercover as you thought,” Diego said.
“There might be something else going on here, sir,” Hank said.
Diego waited for Hank to continue.
“I haven’t ruled out Dr. Gould as a suspect. He has an alibi for the time of the kidnapping, but he was the only person outside of us who knew about our involvement.”
“The Lincolns knew,” King said.
Hank looked at King in disgust. “Are you actually insinuating they had something to do with this?”
“I’m just saying. They knew.”
“Well, you can stop that line of thinking.”
Diego asked, “Is it possible they let it slip to someone?”
Hank shook his head adamantly. “No way. Never.”
King pulled back the other guest chair, sat and slouched back, tucking his feet under the desk. “Maybe the kidnapper was watching the doctor’s house and saw us show up there.”
“That’s a more plausible theory,” Hank said. “He does seem to have all the bases covered.” He paused. “But right from the start, he might never have intended to let Mrs. Gould go free.”
Diego said, “That way he gets his money and there’s no witnesses.”
Hank sighed. “That’s what I’m thinking, Captain.”
Diego twiddled his pen a moment before sitting back. He waved his hand toward the door. “Get out of here guys. I need you to catch this maniac before he strikes again. And keep me posted.”
JAKE KNEW who was calling the moment he answered his cell phone. The rasping breath on the line was the giveaway. He paused a moment before saying, “Jake here.”
“Jake, my good friend. How are you this lovely morning?”
He didn’t answer. He put the call on speaker and dashed into the office. Annie looked away from the monitor and leaned forward as he slid into the chair and held up the phone between them.
Jake spoke slowly, trying to hold back the anger he felt seeping into his voice. “Why’d you have to kill her?”
“Alas, I deeply regret that and my sympathies are with the good doctor, but unfortunately it was necessary because the rules were broken.”
“What rules? You got the money and you’re free and clear?”
“My rules. The police were not to be involved.” A pause, more breathing, then, “At any rate, you’ll hear more about that on the news. Right now I have other things to discuss with you.”
“It’s over. Mrs. Gould is dead and you got paid. What else is there to discuss?”
“Jake, Jake, don’t be so harsh. I only called to give you a warning. Please, for your sake and others, keep the police out of our affairs next time.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed and he took a sharp breath. “What do you mean, next time?” Jake and Annie exchanged a look. Annie frowned as she listened intently.
“Exactly what it sounds like. You didn’t think this was a one-time arrangement, did you?”
Jake closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. This was just what they had feared. “You won’t get away with this. The police are on top of it and already closing in. It’s just a matter of time.”
A deep laugh, eerie and ominous. “The police are running around in circles, Jake. They’re not even getting close and they never will. They might as well try to shoot rabbits from a tree, that’s about as much luck as they’ll have in catching me.”
“Don’t be too sure of yourself.”
“Oh, I’m sure of myself. I’m aware of my shortcomings, but I also know my strengths. I’m smart, my friend, and a businessman, and you can be sure you’re a long way from hearing the last of me.”
Jake gritted his teeth. His fist tightened around the phone, threatening to crack it in two. “I’ll see you dead if I have to kill you myself.”
“You mustn’t let your anger control you, Jake. I’ve seen many people get into a lot of trouble, simply because their emotions took over. If you want to catch me, you’ll need to keep a cool head.” A weird chuckle, then, “You know what they say; cool heads prevail and all that.”
“I don’t need your advice.” Jake raised his voice. “And I will catch you.”
“Just trying to be helpful. I wish you luck in your endeavors, but in the meantime, be sure to watch the twelve o’clock news.”
Jake frowned. “Why is that?”
Another chuckle, then, “Oh, I can’t give that away. It would spoil all the fun.”
Jake wanted to reach through the phone and tear the scumbag’s heart out. His eyes narrowed as he held the cell up and glared at it. He knew the kidnapper was goading him, trying to get to him and he was succeeding.
Annie reached out and placed a hand on Jake’s arm. He saw her anger rising as well, but she was telling him to remain calm. And she was right.
He relaxed his grip and forced himself to speak in an even-tempered voice. “Is there anything else?”
“That’s all for now, Jake. Take care of yourself and my regards to your lovely wife. I’ll be talking to you again real soon.”
The line went dead.
Thursday, September 1st, 12:00 PM
LISA KRUNK barely had time to put her story together for the twelve o’clock news. It had been a rush to get it to the editor, do the voice-overs, and get everything finalized and cued up for the lead story.
And now, it was the Channel 7 Action News at Noon. Watchers throughout the city saw the familiar station logo flash on the screen and teasers for upcoming news stories ran.
The anchor took his cue, shuffled his papers and looked at the camera.
“Our top story. The kidnapping of a woman ends in brutal murder. In an exclusive report, here’s Lisa Krunk.”
The scene flashed to a view of Lisa in front of a large building. To one side, a uniformed police officer could be seen climbing the set of concrete steps that led up to the precinct.
“I’m standing here in front of the Richmond Hill Police Station. Earlier this morning, officers responded to a frantic 9-1-1 call from an unidentified caller. A body of a woman had been found in a ditch along a secluded road.”
The view switched to a panorama along County Road 10 where a few officers could be seen combing the nearby woods. Police cars lined the seldom-used road, their lights flashing. The camera view continued to pan; across, then down, where the crumpled grass at the bottom of the ditch hinted that something alarming had taken place.
Lisa’s voice-over continued.
“My sources have identified the victim as Mrs. Linda Gould. The body of Mrs. Gould was discovered here early this morning. It has since been removed and officers are in a furious manhunt for her killer. As of now, they haven’t been able to name any one suspect.”
A smiling photo of Linda Gould along with her husband came on the screen.
“Mrs. Gould was the wife of Dr. Gould, a family physician who has a practice at Richmond Medical Clinic, here in the heart of the city. She was the victim of a kidnapping gone terribly wrong.
“Mrs. Gould was abducted from her workplace late Tuesday afternoon. In a surprising turn of events, Jake Lincoln, of Lincoln Investigations, was named by the kidnapper to deliver the ransom. It was successfully delivered and though the police did everything possible, the killer was not apprehended.”
A picture of Jake came on the screen.
“I’ve had occasion to cross paths with Jake Lincoln in the past and though Mr. Lincoln’s involvement has been confirmed, I’m unable to determine if he’s a suspect in this horrendous killing, but he’s certainly a person of interest.”
Lisa came back on the screen. She held the microphone close, her thin, sharp nose raking the mike, her tight lips almost twisted into a triumphant sneer. She gave a calculated pause, cleared her throat and sighed.
“The audio I’m about to play is disturbing. It contains certain threats and I struggled with it before I made the choice to air it. I believe the public has a right to know what’s going on and what you might be up against and therefore concluded you should be the ultimate judge of its meaning.”
She paused again, glared at the camera for effect and held up her cell phone.
“Earlier today, someone claiming to be the kidnapper called me. As he was privy to otherwise unrevealed information, I have reason to believe he is who he claims to be.
“For the record, I in no way condone his message. I’ve turned this recording over to the authorities and am working closely with them in their attempt to apprehend this vicious individual. For clarity, certain parts have been removed.”
As scenes of the police combing the woods, photos of the Goulds, and the picture of Jake, continued to roll in a never-ending loop, a sinister voice-over played. Lisa’s voice was heard first.
“Can you tell me who you are?”
“You may call me the Merchant of Life.”
“What does that mean?”
“I sell life, Ms. Krunk.”
“What do you mean, you sell life?”
“Linda Gould was held to facilitate a trade—money for her life. The police were notified of our bargain and a change had to be made in the agreement.”
“And so you killed the woman.”
“Dr. Arthur Gould was given a simple task and yet . . . he failed. Our contract stipulated the police were not to be involved. Next time, the rules must be obeyed.”
Lisa’s face came back on the screen.
“In this disturbing exchange, the kidnapper revealed to me the abduction of Linda Gould was the first of more to come.
“Her subsequent murder was, according to him, the result of the police being involved, which was against his twisted rules. Apparently, she would have been set free if the terms of what he called, his contract, had been kept.
“Let me state however, our police force is among the best in the world and though I’ve played the message for you, I urge you to be sure to notify the police should you be an unfortunate victim of this madman.
“I believe this killer, who calls himself the ‘Merchant of Life’, has made one fatal flaw in announcing his intentions to find more victims. You the public, must be aware of your surroundings at all times and be careful until the police have captured this lunatic and the streets of Richmond Hill are safe again.
“I’ll continue to pursue this story as it unfolds. It’s my hope that with my help, the perpetrator of these shocking crimes will be brought to justice.
“I’ll bring you more on this story as it breaks. For Channel 7 Action News, I’m Lisa Krunk.”
The anchor announced another, less sensational story. Lisa, standing in the wings, smiled grimly to herself. Another scoop and another job well done.
Thursday, September 1st, 12:04 PM
ANNIE SWITCHED off the television, sat back in her easy chair and glanced at Jake. He stood with his arms folded, glaring at the blackened TV screen, obviously upset by the broadcast.
“Lisa Krunk should know better than to air that rubbish,” he said.
“Yes, she should, but it’s not at all unlike her. You know she’ll do just about anything for a sensational story.”
“I’m sure that’s why the kidnapper called her. He knows her nature and he knew she would air his message.” Jake shook his head, a frown furrowing his brow. “And she practically accused me of being in on this. She certainly seems to have it in for me.”
Annie sighed. She didn’t think it was personal, but Lisa’s comments and near accusations were approaching inflammatory. She knew Jake’s anger at this situation was aimed more at the kidnapper and less at Lisa.
“Lisa’s just a pawn in this,” Annie said. “She’ll get what’s coming to her one day, so for now, let’s concentrate on catching the killer.”
Jake rubbed his massive hands together, his eyes narrowed. “I’d love to get my mitts on him, but we have nothing to go on.”
“We’ll need to come up with a better strategy next time.” Next time. Annie shuddered at the thought of another innocent person being a victim of this madman. “We’re dealing with someone not only devious, but dangerous.”
Jake sat on the edge of the couch and leaned forward. “But can he be trusted? I mean, if the police aren’t called in next time, will he keep his word and let the victim go free?”
“If he’s a psychopath like we suspect, he might find another excuse to kill. Another one of his rules broken and another person dies.”
“Yes, but I think he’s smart enough to know if he kills all the victims, he’ll stop getting paid. He has to show some good faith to keep things going.”
Annie frowned. “So, are you saying not to call the police next time?”
Jake shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ll have to wait until it happens, but I think we can be sure of one thing. If the police are involved and he knows about it, then it’s not going to turn out well.”
“We have to hope the police come up with something before then and put a stop to him so it doesn't happen again.”
Jake sat back and rubbed his hands through his hair. “As far as I know, all they have is that white van, which may or may not have anything to do with it.”
Annie felt frustrated. She knew Jake was right; there was little to go on right now. It seems they had to wait until the kidnapper, the self-proclaimed “Merchant of Life”, made his next move.
The doorbell rang and Annie looked toward the door. “I wonder who that could be.”
Jake shook his head.
Annie stood, went to the door and peeked through the small window.
It was her mother.
This was not a good time for her to show up.
Annie opened the door, forced a smile and looked at the woman waiting impatiently on the step. “Hello, Mother.”
Alma Roderick looked remarkably like Annie, but a generation older. Although not unattractive, her sour disposition made her appear that way on most occasions. This was one of those occasions. She smiled thinly and brushed her way past Annie, then spun around and stared at her daughter, her hands on her hips.