Authors: Rayven T. Hill
“Without a psychology degree,” Jake put in. “I can tell you this guy is a raving lunatic and unpredictable.”
“Without a doubt,” Hank said with a yawn. “And now, I’ve got to get some rest, or at least try to.” He picked up his briefcase and stood. “I’ll be on this bright and early tomorrow morning. We have some planning to do.”
Saturday, September 3rd, 7:11 AM
HANK FELT LIKE he’d barely caught more than a few moments sleep since the day this case came his way. But last night he’d managed to get in a good seven hours and he felt refreshed and ready to tackle his demanding job once again.
The kitchen table was strewn with files and photos, papers, reports and notes. He’d been up later than planned last night, attempting to make some sense of this difficult case. He brushed them aside and sat down to a quick breakfast, a couple of eggs over easy, a slab of ham and a piece of dark toast.
He flicked on the television as he ate. This case was all over the news and even now, a commentator was discussing it on an early morning news show with a couple of other talking heads. They all had their own opinions and they seemed to like the “Merchant of Life” title the kidnapper had given himself. It all made for great news but served little good.
The photo of Antony Miflan flashed on the screen, asking people to call if they saw him or knew where he was. Hank realized that “Mouse” might be the key to unraveling this whole mess.
He finished his meal, dumped his dishes in the sink and then scooped up the paperwork and stuffed it all into his briefcase. He checked his service weapon, grabbed his keys and was out the door, heading for work.
When he reached the parking lot behind the precinct, Callaway had just arrived. He was carrying a satchel over his shoulder. Hank stepped from his vehicle and joined him.
“Good morning, Hank. I see you brought some great weather with you.”
Hank eyed the satchel. “What’s in the bag?”
“I just came from the Lincolns. Jake is all set up with a tracking device and I put one on Annie’s car as well. We’ll know where he is every minute.”
“Great. Let’s hope that does the trick.” Hank looked at his watch. Still some time to go. The drop was at 11:00 so they had almost three hours to make final preparations.
As they came through the precinct doors, Detective King stopped them. “Diego’s waiting for you.”
Hank tapped on the frame of Diego’s open door, went in and sat in the guest chair. King followed him in and plunked down on the corner of Diego’s desk. Callaway stood in the doorway.
The captain looked up and gave King a backhanded wave. “Get off the desk.”
King slipped off the desk, leaned up against a filing cabinet and crossed his arms. Diego sat back and gave him a disapproving look. “Don’t you ever change your clothes?”
“This is my uniform,” King said. “I keep my good stuff for weddings and funerals.”
Diego gave him the once-over, shrugged, and looked at Hank. “Are we all ready to go?”
Hank looked at King.
King said, “I have a detail put together and we’ll cover that plaza like mud on a hog.” He chuckled, then added, “Don’t worry, they’ll be out of sight.”
Callaway spoke up, “I got the trackers installed.”
Diego stroked his bristly mustache and looked at Callaway. “Did you have any luck with the latest photo? With that metadata whatever?”
Callaway laughed. “The Exif metadata. The location setting was turned off and the ID number showed the photo was sent from a throwaway phone. That’s all I got on that.”
“And the photo itself?”
“Didn’t tell me anything except Mrs. Martin is being held in a concrete-walled room.”
Diego turned to King. “And the vans?”
“No luck,” King said.
Diego sat forward, his brow wrinkled. “Hank, what about that punk you’re looking for?”
“His picture is all over the news, Captain. We hope to hear something soon.”
“So what you guys are telling me is you have nothing at all.” Diego shook his head and sat back again. “You’d better produce some results today. I don’t want another dead woman.”
“We’re on it, boss,” King said.
“Does Lincoln still have that gun?” Diego asked Hank.
“Yes. And the vest.”
“See to it they’re returned after this. The gun at least. God forbid he ever had to use it, there could be some headaches.”
“Right, Captain. I’ll see to it.”
Diego glanced at King, then Hank, then Callaway. “Anything else I need to know?”
“That’s it. We’re good to go,” Hank said.
Diego dismissed them with a wave. “Then get on it. And keep me posted.”
HANNAH MARTIN sat up from the fetal position she’d been laying in most of the night. She didn’t know what time it was, and wasn’t even sure if it was morning, but she’d heard her captor rustling around in the room outside her cell and assumed the sun was up.
All she could do in this place was sleep, and though she had dozed off and on throughout the night, her discomfort in this cool room hadn’t allowed for a peaceful rest.
She stroked a hand through her hair. It was a mess, stringy, grimy. She felt dirty all over.
The lock rattled and the door swung open. Her abductor stood in the doorway, one hand on his hip, the other holding a paper bag, scrutinizing her. She looked up at him, hoping he’d come to free her, but knowing he hadn’t.
He tossed the bag her way. “Breakfast time.”
She opened the bag and peered inside. Looked like a sandwich of some kind. She was hungry but in no mood to eat. She set the bag in her lap and looked up at him. “When . . . when will you let me go?”
He laughed. “It’ll soon be over. Not too long now.”
Had her husband paid the ransom? She knew he had the money and she hoped he would pay soon. She just wanted to go home.
“Has the ransom been paid?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I expect it’ll be paid today. At least, that’s what the plans are.”
Her voice became hopeful. “And then you’ll let me go home?”
“I expect so. It’s up to the boss when you get out of here. He makes all the decisions; I just do what he asks and get paid. That’s all I care about.”
With that he spun around and left. The door slammed shut and the lock rattled in the darkness.
Saturday, September 3rd, 10:30 AM
JAKE ADJUSTED the bulletproof vest. He didn’t think he could ever get used to wearing this thing. It hampered his freedom of movement so much he’d considered leaving it behind. But Annie had insisted, so that was that.
He fastened the shoulder holster in place and then removed the Smith & Wesson from the drawer and snapped the magazine in, making sure the safety was on. It felt good in his hand, comfortable, like it was designed especially for him.
He put the weapon in its holster, adjusted the vest again and put on a button-down shirt, leaving it unbuttoned, concealing the weapon at his side.
He picked up his cell phone and hit speed dial. Hank answered on the first ring.
“All ready at your end?” Jake asked.
“All set. Everyone’s in place and we’re watching every move. Nothing’s going to happen in that plaza without us knowing it.”
“I’m just about to leave,” Jake said. “First I have to swing by Eli Martin’s and pick up the money. I’ll be there before eleven.”
He hung up the phone and went into the kitchen where Annie was sitting at the table with Matty, helping him with his homework—some kind of math problem. She looked up when he entered.
“You have the vest on?” she asked.
Jake pounded a fist on his chest. “It’s under here.”
Annie glanced at Matty and then back at Jake. “And the . . . other thing?”
Jake grinned. “It’s under here too.”
She swung around on her chair, stood and put her arms around him, looking into his eyes. “Be careful,” she said, a hint of worry on her face.
“Always.” He gave her a quick kiss and caressed her cheek. “And now, I have to go.”
Matty looked up, twirling a pencil in his hand. “Where you going, Dad?”
“Just have to make a quick delivery. I should be home soon.”
Matty turned back to his homework, satisfied.
Jake picked Annie’s car keys from a wicker basket on the counter and grabbed a couple bottles of water from the fridge. He headed out to Annie’s Ford Escort, parked in the driveway, jumped inside and pushed the seat all the way back. Callaway had installed a tracker somewhere inside and they would painstakingly follow his route.
In ten minutes, he pulled up in front of Eli Martin’s house. He’d called earlier to be sure the money was ready. It was, and Martin met him at the door and handed him a cloth bag, tightened by a drawstring and knotted.
“Mr. Lincoln,” Martin said. “Fifty thousand is a small price to pay for my wife’s safety, but . . .” He paused a moment and his lower lip trembled. He drew a deep breath. “Please make sure nothing goes wrong.”
“I hate to say this, Mr. Martin, but it’s out of my hands. I’ll do all I can and leave the rest up to the police.”
Martin nodded slowly and Jake went back to the car. He climbed in, tossed the bag of money onto the passenger seat and glanced at the house. Martin was standing in the doorway, watching him, an anxious look on his face.
Next stop, Midtown Plaza.
The large plaza on Main Street was buzzing at this time of day. Most of the shoppers seemed to be favoring the Walmart store looming at the near end, however the row of smaller shops and services were also getting their regular Saturday morning business, with people jockeying for parking spots as close to the storefronts as possible.
The north end of the parking lot was furthest from the action and there were several available spots along the row bordering the sidewalk. Jake picked a slot empty on either side, backed the Escort in and shut down the engine.
He glanced around the lot. He knew the police were here somewhere, probably hiding in plain sight, but among the many shoppers coming and going, he couldn’t pick out who they might be. A sniper might be on the roof of one of the shops. Maybe other officers waited in unmarked cars close by. Or perhaps some were across the street, waiting to follow anyone who came to pick up the money.
Wherever they were, they had it completely under control.
Jake looked at the clock on the dash. It was 10:54. Almost time. He watched the digital numbers click over several times and then his phone rang.
“Hello, Jake. It’s a lovely day.”
“Yes, it’s a lovely day, now where are you? I’m sure you already know; I’m waiting for you in the plaza.”
The caller laughed. “You didn’t actually think I was going to show up there, did you?”
“I was hoping.”
“With all the police watching? Sorry to disappoint you, my friend, but that wouldn’t be expedient of me, now would it?”
Jake was hoping the kidnapper would show up in person, or at least send someone else, but he didn’t expect it. And now he was going to get the runaround. “I have the money,” he said.
“Excellent. Now please start the car, Jake.”
Jake sighed, felt for the pistol at his side and keyed the engine. Here we go.
“As you know, Jake, it’s not safe to be talking on a cell phone while driving. Someone could get hurt, so please be careful.”
“That’s the least of my worries. I’m waiting for your instructions.”
An unearthly chuckle on the line and then, “We must go now. Hannah Martin is waiting and I’m sure Eli is anxious. Please exit the plaza onto Main Street and turn north.”
Jake pulled the shifter into gear, eased from the spot, took a last look around the plaza for telltale signs of undercover cops and pulled onto Main Street. He didn’t know if any unmarked cars might be following him, but he knew Callaway would be aware of his every movement.
“Are you heading north, Jake?”
“Excellent. Keep driving and when you come to the last set of lights north of town, let me know.”
Traffic was light, the morning rush of workers now past, and in a couple of minutes he saw a set of traffic lights ahead. Cherry Street. The lights were green and he zoomed on through.
“I’m past the lights,” he said.
“Wonderful. Keep the speedometer at fifty.”
Jake touched the gas slightly and increased the speed of the vehicle. There was silence on the line for several minutes and then, “You should be approaching County Road 12, Jake. I assume you know where that is?”
“I do. It’s just ahead.”
“Turn left when you reach it.”
Jake slowed the vehicle and made a left turn. Soon, he was crawling along County Road 12, the Escort bumping over potholes and old pavement.
The disguised voice came from the phone, “Do you know where the old Spencer residence is?”
Jake was familiar with that place. “I do,” he said.
“About a quarter mile past there, but on your right, you’ll see a small laneway. Let me know when you reach it.”
Jake drove carefully down the seldom-used road. He glanced to his left as the Spencer house came into view. It was now empty and boarded up, the old barn set away from the house, unused and likely to stay that way for a long time to come.
He slowed the vehicle as he approached the laneway to the right, almost hidden behind a row of trees.
“I’m at the laneway,” Jake said.
“Pull to the side of the road and stop.”
“Get out of the vehicle.”
Jake felt under his shirt for his weapon and then grabbed the bag of money and climbed from the vehicle. “What’s next?” he asked.
“Walk down the lane.”
Jake stepped ahead a few feet, stopped and gazed down the laneway that led into a darkened forest. It was little more than a trail, a few weeds struggling through the hardened soil, a rut or two caused by the occasional vehicle, tangled shrubs and wild berries bordering the pathway.