Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Dr. Gould nodded slowly. “The money is no problem to me. The kidnapper said if anything goes wrong my wife will die. When I weigh the value of money against the value of my wife there’s absolutely no comparison.”
“Our concern,” Jake said, “is that your wife be returned safely. The problem is, we have no way of guaranteeing the kidnapper will keep his word and let your wife go free once he receives the payment.”
Annie said, “All kidnapping is serious, but the threat on your wife’s life shows he might be willing to carry out that threat.”
The doctor drew a sharp breath. “So, what do you suggest?”
“The question is this,” Annie said. “Should we call the police and endanger her life or, is her life in more danger if we don’t call them? That’s something you have to decide.”
“What’s your opinion?”
Jake glanced at Annie and then addressed the doctor. “I believe the best plan is to bring the police in on this. They’re well trained to handle these situations.”
Dr. Gould gave a small nod and stared out the front window. Annie could almost see his mind weighing his options, knowing his wife’s life was at stake.
“I . . . I can’t make that decision right now,” the doctor said. “I’ll need awhile.”
“Of course,” Annie said.
Jake asked, “Doctor, did the kidnapper say why he wanted me to deliver the ransom?”
Dr. Gould shook his head. “He said he had his reasons.”
Annie’s brow wrinkled in thought. “Perhaps he wanted someone emotionally unattached to the situation.”
“Then he picked the wrong guy,” Jake said.
Dr. Gould looked worried.
Annie explained. “What Jake means, is he’s already emotionally attached. We both are, but obviously not as much as you. I’m just speculating, but he’s clearly aware of who we are and he might think that as professionals we’ll do everything exactly as he wants.”
The doctor nodded and Jake changed the subject. “Doctor, did you by any chance recognize the kidnapper’s voice?”
“No, he used one of those voice changing machines. It came through deep and unnatural.”
“Did anything in his wording sound familiar perhaps?”
“I . . . I wasn’t listening for that. I was in too much of a panic to pay any attention, but off hand I have to say no.”
“It’s unlikely he would give himself away like that, but you never know,” Jake said.
The doctor sprang to his feet and dashed from the room. He returned a moment later with a cell phone. “I almost forgot; he sent me a picture of my wife.” He swiped across the screen a couple of times, took a deep breath as he looked at a photo and then handed the phone to Jake.
Annie leaned over and looked at the picture on the screen. A woman was tied securely to a chair, a gag in her mouth. Annie winced at how frightened the woman appeared.
“Can we take this phone?” she asked. “The picture was likely sent from a burner phone. It’s unlikely he would use one that can be traced but just in case . . .”
“Yes, please take the phone. It’s my private number, so if anyone calls, tell them I’m unavailable.”
Annie took another look at the photo, shut the phone off and tucked it into her handbag. “We have someone who can take a look at it. I’ll get it back to you as soon as possible.”
“Dr. Gould,” Jake said. “We need to know when your wife was last seen, and where.”
“She left work at the usual time last night, just after five o’clock, and hasn’t been seen since. She always parks in the underground parking area but whether or not she’d driven away, I . . . I don’t know.”
“Where does she work?”
“She’s a paralegal for a small firm a few blocks away. I’ll get the address.” He went into the den off the front room and returned a moment later with an address book. He leafed through it and handed it to Annie.
She removed a pad and pen from her handbag and jotted the information down. The firm’s name was “Williams & Thresh”, and she recognized the office building where they were located.
“What kind of car does she drive?”
“It’s a silver Toyota Corolla. Brand new.”
“We’ll check this out right away,” Annie said, as she scribbled in her pad. “Again, it’s unlikely we’ll find anything, but I want to see if her car is still in the underground parking.”
“How’ll that help?” Dr. Gould asked.
“It might not, but we have to check all possibilities. He might have slipped up somewhere.”
“Do you have a house line as well? We might need to contact you.”
“Yes,” the doctor replied. He gave Annie the phone number and she jotted it down.
“There’s not much else we can do until the kidnapper calls,” Jake said.
“I’ll contact my bank right away and get them to put together the cash,” the doctor said. “It might take them some time to get that much but I’m sure there’ll be no problem.”
Jake looked at his watch. “You should do it right away.”
The doctor nodded, and then, “Mr. Lincoln, would you come to the bank with me later when I pick it up? I would feel safer with you there.”
“I will if possible,” Jake said. “However, I need to get back home and stay there until I hear from the kidnapper. We have three phones: the house line, the line for Lincoln Investigations, and my cell phone. We’ve no idea which number he’s going to use.”
“I’ll give you a call before I go,” the doctor said. “If not, I might be able to get a guard from the bank to accompany me.”
Annie stood and said, “If there’s nothing else you think we need to know, we’ll get on this right now and let you know how things proceed.”
Dr. Gould stood. “Please, please get my wife back safely.”
Annie touched his arm. “We’ll do everything possible, doctor.”
Wednesday, August 31st, 11:14 AM
WHEN JAKE AND ANNIE arrived home, Annie grabbed her keys from the house and jumped into her Ford Escort.
Her destination was a few blocks away and after a couple of turns, she pulled in front of a row of townhouses, ran up the steps of #633 and rang the doorbell.
Jeremiah Everest was known by his friends as Geekly, and when he answered the door the reason was obvious. With dirty-blond hair over his ears, his feeble goatee, a face that spelled “geek”, and John Lennon glasses, he more than looked the part.
He and Jake had been unlikely friends since high school and his expertise was useful to their investigations several times in the past.
He answered the door with a graceful flourish. “Hello, my dear lady. Come into my humble abode.”
Annie followed him into what was supposed to be a living room but rather was a forest of all things electronic. Computer parts took up space on bowing shelves, with mice, keyboards and equipment of all shapes and sizes littering every corner. DVDs, drives, and cables bulged from neatly labeled boxes.
A television sat on a small table and faced a well-used easy chair, the only indications this room was more than a geek’s paradise.
“It’s a good thing you called first,” Geekly said, as he kicked aside a carton of electronic stuff and dragged an extra chair over for Annie. “I was just about to head out.”
“I won’t take up much of your time,” she said, as she sat and pulled Dr. Gould’s cell phone from her purse.
“It’s no prob. It’s nothing I can’t do later.” He held out his hand. “Let’s see what you have there.”
She brought the photo up on the screen and handed the phone to Geekly. “What can you tell me about this photo?”
Geekly frowned at the picture. “What’s this, a kidnapping?”
Annie nodded. “Yes, it is.”
“Well, let’s get right on it.”
He spun around and pulled a box from a shelf, dug inside and came up with a data cable. “I’ll just transfer this image to my computer, then we can take a look at the metadata,” he said, as he plugged one end of the cable into the phone, the other into the USB port of his Mac Pro.
He clicked the mouse a few times and the image appeared on the monitor.
A couple more clicks and a window popped up, filled with technical data. Annie had no idea what she was looking at, but knew it must contain information on the photo.
“This is the Exif metadata,” Geekly explained. “It’s contained within the image file itself and has information that relates to the image.”
Annie leaned forward for a better look.
Geekly touched the screen. “Phones contain a GPS system, but just as I was afraid, on this phone the GPS/Location setting appears to have been turned off.” He glanced at Annie. “I can’t tell you where this photo was taken, only when. There’s a lot of other useless information pertaining to this image and the only other thing that might help is the unique ID number of the device.”
“Yeah, every phone has its own identification.” He turned back to the keyboard and in a moment, a small application loaded. He glanced at her and grinned. “I have some special software I can use.” He chuckled. “Not publicly available software, of course.”
“That’s why I came to you,” Annie said, with a smile.
Geekly copied a string of numbers and letters from the first window, pasted it into a box in the second and sat back. In a moment, another window popped up. “Looks like a burner phone.”
Annie’s shoulders slumped. “I was afraid of that.”
“With the ID number, this software helps me track down the phone number as well.” He grabbed a pad and jotted down a number and then handed her the paper, crossed his arms and leaned back. “The only other thing I have is the timestamp. The photo was taken yesterday at 17:44, so that’s 5:44 in the afternoon.”
Annie thought a moment. “So, it looks like she was abducted right after work.” She stood. “I’d love to stay and chat a bit, but this is rather time sensitive and I have to go.”
Geekly stood. “Come back when you can stay longer. Bring that lunk of a husband with you, too.”
Annie smiled, and said, “You’ve been a big help, Jeremiah.” She turned toward the door and he let her out.
She climbed in her car, dug her cell phone from her handbag and dialed the phone number Geekly had given her.
It rang three times and then she heard breathing on the line.
“Hello?” she said.
A voice asked, “Who’s this?”
She thought quickly. “I’m taking a survey. Would you have a minute to answer a few questions?”
“About . . . the amount of time you spend on the phone on a daily basis.”
A laugh, silence, and then, “Not very much. This ain’t even my phone.”
“Could I speak to the owner of the phone?”
“Dunno who it is. Well, maybe I’m the owner now. Somebody throwed it away and I found it.”
Annie frowned. “Can you tell me where you found it?”
“You ain’t gonna take it away from me, are you?”
“No, you may keep the phone. I just need to know where you got it.”
“It were in a garbage bin.”
“Where was the bin?”
“In the alley.”
Annie rolled her eyes but spoke patiently. “What alleyway? Do you know the name of the street?”
“Yup, right off Benson.”
That was in an older part of the city and several minutes drive away from the area where Mrs. Gould worked.
“I gotta go now,” the voice said. “And I’m gonna keep the phone.”
“Thanks for your help.” Annie hung up. The kidnapper had tossed the phone in a dumpster after using it, so that was a dead-end lead. She was disappointed, but not surprised.
Wednesday, August 31st, 11:44 AM
AFTER ANNIE HAD LEFT, Jake parked the Firebird in the garage and went inside the house to wait for the kidnapper’s call.
When the phone rang in the office he hurried in, flicked a switch to activate a recorder and snatched up the receiver.
“Lincoln Investigations,” he said.
A deep synthetic voice spoke. “Jake Lincoln?”
“This is Jake Lincoln.”
“It’s nice to hear your voice again.”
Again? What did he mean by again? “Do I know you?” Jake asked.
A deep, rasping chuckle came over the line, and then, “Now, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
If this guy wanted to play some kind of game, Jake wasn’t interested. “Can we get down to business?”
“Business? I’m happy to hear you’re approaching this with the right attitude.”
Jake sat in the swivel chair, leaned forward and spoke. “You know what I mean.”
“You’re right to call this a business transaction. An exchange of valuable goods for a financial consideration. Wouldn’t you call that business, Jake? I can call you Jake, can’t I?”
“Call me what you want,” Jake said. “And what should I call you?”
A weird laugh, and then, “You don’t need to call me anything. All you need to do is listen.”
“We must get down to business.”
“It might be business for you, but for the victims it’s much more than that. You’re playing with their personal lives.”
“Oh, but money and life are linked. You can’t have life without money.”
“How so?” Jake asked.
“Well Jake, just for the purpose of illustration, let’s say you need a doctor or you’ll die. Perhaps you need a heart transplant. Can you get that without money? Of course not. The doctor holds you hostage and if you have no money, you die.”
Jake was silent.
The kidnapper continued, “Or perhaps you’re starving to death. You need food or you’ll die. Can you walk into a grocery store and help yourself? Of course not. They hold you hostage because, without money you die.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Jake said. “It’s not even close.”
“Oh, but it is, Jake. Money is life. I could give you many more illustrations. Perhaps you need a lawyer to keep you out of prison, where you’d likely die. Can you get a lawyer without money?”
“You can always get government assistance.”
“Sure you can, but that’s still money. Money, wherever it comes from, buys life.”