Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Hank thanked her with a smile, took the bag and tucked it under his arm.
Maggie gave him a bright look. “You’re welcome to come see us any time, Detective.”
Hank smiled again, bade them goodbye and was let out. That was the easy one, now he had to see Dr. Gould—a task he was dreading.
Thursday, September 1st, 10:33 AM
ANNIE AND JAKE were in the office when the doorbell rang. Jake jumped up and in a few long strides had left the room, returning a moment later with Hank following.
Annie swung her chair away from the monitor and greeted Hank with a weak smile as he entered the room. He looked peaked, no doubt a result of the emotional stress he’d been under—the same stress they’d all been under.
Jake resumed his position in the guest chair as Hank pushed the other one closer to the desk, settled into it and dropped his arms on the table. Annie saw the strain on Hank’s face as he spoke. “I just came from Dr. Gould. Needless to say, he’s not doing very well.”
Annie glanced at Jake. The pressure her husband was under, blaming himself for Mrs. Gould’s death, had put a haggard look on his face. He was drained, mentally exhausted and angry.
No one interrupted as Hank continued, “The doctor broke down and wept. The poor man is heartbroken and more distraught than I think I’ve ever seen.” The cop dropped his head, shaking it slowly. His voice quivered as he spoke. “And to make matters worse, though I doubt he had anything to do with his wife’s death, we still have to rule him out as a suspect. That means he has to face some uncomfortable questions.” He paused. “I have to catch this guy.”
“We’ll catch him,” Annie said, not so certain her statement was true, but determined to do all she could to track down this vicious killer.
Jake spoke up, exasperation in his voice. “He got his money. Why’d he have to kill her?” He jumped to his feet and paced awhile. Suddenly he stopped, crossed his arms and glared at Hank. “Annie and I are willing to do anything . . . anything, to catch this scum.”
Hank sat back and looked up at Jake. “The farmer who found the body gave me something that may be useful.”
Annie leaned in eagerly.
“He met a white van on the road just a couple of minutes before he saw Mrs. Gould’s body,” Hank said. “It was traveling fast and heading away from the place the body was found. It may be nothing, but then again, we have to check it out.”
“There has to be a million white vans out there. Did he get the plate number?” Jake asked.
“Nope.” Hank shrugged. “It’s all we have right now, but at least it’s something. I talked to Callaway and he’ll cross-check the records for any registered white vans. The only other thing we have is the area where the cell phone was found in the dumpster.”
“That still doesn’t narrow it down a lot,” Jake said impatiently.
“It’s a start,” Annie said. “Jake, it’s a start. We need to give it some time.”
“It doesn’t stop there,” Hank added. “Once we get the list from Callaway, King has a detail ready to check each and every white van within a ten-mile radius of the city. Inside and out. There might be some dust on it from traveling the backroads, or perhaps something inside.”
“I doubt if the kidnapper is stupid enough to leave anything lying around,” Jake said. “Did the farmer have anything else?”
Hank shook his head. “That’s all.”
“What about the location where I dropped the money?” Jake asked. “Did King and the officers find anything there?”
Hank sighed. “No. Nothing at all.”
“So we have an unknown white van from an unknown location.” Jake raised his voice somewhat. “And a killer on the loose. And I think the only reason he killed her, was because the police were involved. He warned the doctor and he warned me.”
“You couldn’t have known he would kill her, Jake,” Hank said patiently.
Jake sat back down, leaned back and took a deep breath. “Yeah, you’re right. I just feel helpless at the moment.”
Annie was drumming her fingers on the desktop. She stopped and sat back. “I wonder why Mrs. Gould’s body was left in such a remote location. I mean, he could have left it anywhere. Why there?”
Hank said, “I was curious about that as well, especially if she was held somewhere in the downtown area, as we suspect.”
“To draw attention away from that area,” Jake said. “Remember, he doesn’t know we found the cell phone, and even if we can determine the approximate location of the building from the picture he sent of Mrs. Gould, it doesn’t exactly show what area she was in.”
“Perhaps he’s operating from a remote location,” Annie said. “And he dropped the phone in the city to throw us off.”
“Yeah,” Hank said. “There is that possibility.”
“But he’s smart,” Jake added. “And I don’t think he would dump the body in the same area he’s operating from.”
“We only have two choices,” Annie said. “In the city, or out of the city.”
“My gut tells me it’s somewhere downtown,” Hank said. “But where?” He looked at his watch. “I’m anxious to see what Nancy comes up with in the autopsy report, but that’ll take a while longer.”
“What about that cloth stuffed in her mouth?” Jake asked.
“It was removed, as had any ties from her arms and legs.”
“Why was she killed with a garrote?” Annie asked. “What a horrible way to die.” Annie’s hand moved instinctively to her throat and she shuddered at the thought of a wire being tightened around her neck, cutting off her breath and then her life.
“It’s quick and clean,” Hank said. “But you’re right, strangulation, especially in that manner, is a painful way to die.”
“He’s definitely a psychopath,” Jake said.
“No doubt about that,” Hank said. “And that might be his weakness.”
“A psychopath has a low restraint and a demand for immediate gratification. That desire, combined with a low level of fear, not only makes him dangerous, but despite his intelligence, prone to mistakes.”
Annie broke in, “And a need for a level of fame sometimes, considering they’re generally narcissistic.”
“So,” Jake mused. “If that’s the case, then we haven’t heard the last of him.”
“I believe he’ll be back,” Annie said. “Especially if he gets away with it this time.”
Hank sighed. “I’m afraid you’re right. I’m so afraid you’re right.”
Thursday, September 1st, 11:00 AM
LISA KRUNK considered herself a first class reporter. Truth is, she wasn’t all she supposed herself to be, but her sensational stories, sometimes faked and usually exaggerated, always put her on top of the ratings for Channel 7 Action News.
She’d been up late last night, chasing her latest spectacular piece, and slept in this morning. She was angry she missed the events that had taken place out on County Road 10 early this morning. By the time she got there with her cameraman in tow, there was nothing left to see but a few officers combing the nearby woods and unfortunately, she couldn’t nail any of them down for information on who the victim was.
All she knew was, someone was dead, this was a great story and she wanted a piece of it.
She pushed aside her frustration to answer her ringing cell phone.
“This is Lisa Krunk.”
“Ms. Krunk, I’m a great fan of yours.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. She knew she had a lot of fans, but this guy was some kind of a nut-case. His voice was deep and unnatural. It sounded like it was filtered through something that made it that way.
“I don’t have time for this,” she said. “I appreciate your call.” She touched the hang-up icon, tossed the phone onto the dashboard of the van and turned to her cameraman, dutifully maneuvering through the city streets. “Just one of my many fans.”
Don nodded knowingly.
The phone rang again.
Lisa shook her head and retrieved the ringing cell. She looked at the caller ID. Unknown number. “This is Lisa Krunk.”
“I have a story for you.” It was the same voice.
Lisa perked up.
“It’s about the woman found dead this morning.”
Lisa sat forward, now giving the caller her full attention. “I’m listening?”
The unearthly voice continued, “It’s unfortunate, obviously, but certain people didn’t play by the rules and now a woman is dead because of it.”
“What rules? What woman? Who is she?” Lisa spat out the words.
“Her name is, or should I say, was, Mrs. Linda Gould. Her husband, Dr. Arthur Gould was given a simple task and yet . . . he failed.”
Lisa scrambled in the console beside her seat and found a pen and something to write on. “Failed how?” She furiously jotted down the names.
Don was frowning, casting frequent glances her way.
The voice said, “I offered him a fair trade. His wife, for one hundred thousand dollars. That’s fair, wouldn’t you agree, Ms. Krunk?”
“Yes . . . yes, I guess so.”
“How can you put a value on a human life? Of course it’s fair. More than fair.”
Lisa had dug her digital audio recorder from her bag of tricks and switched it on. She put the phone on speaker and held it close to the microphone. “Can you tell me who you are?”
A deep, eerie laugh, then, “You may call me the Merchant of Life.”
“What does that mean?”
“I sell life, Ms. Krunk. May I call you Lisa?”
“Yes, and what do you mean, you sell life?”
“I enter into a fair verbal contract with the purchaser. If that contract is kept, the life is preserved, however . . .”
“If the contract is broken, then I’m under no obligation to keep my end of the bargain.”
Lisa was bewildered. “What bargain? Are you trying to tell me you’re a kidnapper?”
“That’s one way to describe me. But it’s much more than that.” A pause, then, “I’ll dumb it down for you, Lisa. Linda Gould was held to facilitate a trade—money for her life. Our contract stipulated the police were not to be involved. Alas, the good doctor failed to understand the seriousness of the situation, the police were notified of our bargain and a change had to be made in the agreement.”
Lisa arched a brow. “And so you killed the woman?”
“It was a necessary penalty. A forfeiture, you might say. I’m a man of honor, Lisa, but I expect others to be honorable as well. I’ve expressed my regret to Dr. Gould, however my regret only goes as far as being disappointed in the eventual outcome.”
This guy was crazy, but she liked crazy. It made for a compelling story.
Don had pulled the van over to the side of the street. He was twisted sideways in his seat, leaning in, listening intently to the conversation.
Lisa spoke into the phone. “Did you not get the payment?”
“Oh, I got the payment. It was delivered by someone you know well. Jake Lincoln was kind enough to do the delivery.”
Jake Lincoln. So, he was involved in this. She’d had occasion to run into him several times in the past. He and his ditzy wife were always sticking their nose in somewhere.
“I know the Lincolns,” Lisa said. “But why are you calling me?”
“I like you, Lisa. You’re my kind of woman. Another place, another time, who knows . . .”
A sneer twisted Lisa’s already unattractive mouth. “I don’t think so.”
“You’d like me Lisa, however I’m calling you because I know you’re always anxious to get the word out.”
“That I’m serious, and next time, the rules must be obeyed.”
“Next time?” Lisa was at an unusual loss for words.
“Yes, next time. If the people can be made aware a human life is nothing to be trifled with, then perhaps they won’t be so quick to break a bargain, should they be in the same position as Dr. Gould and his late wife.”
Lisa paused. She had some morals, howbeit rarely put into practice.
“Can I count on you, Lisa?”
And now, she had to weigh the value of a good story against the value of doing the right thing. The good story invariably came out on top. This would be no different. She had a duty to the public and of course, to herself.
“You can count on me,” she said.
Thursday, September 1st, 11:21 AM
DETECTIVE KING was climbing from his vehicle when Hank pulled into the parking lot behind the precinct. Hank jumped out and hurried to join King, who looked like he hadn’t changed his clothes since yesterday. He wore the same sloppy shirt and pants, and his unkempt hair and beard were a bit scruffier.
“Got anything?” Hank asked.
King slammed his car door and turned to face Hank. “Officers are canvassing the city checking the white vans,” he said. “But there’s a lot of them and it’ll take some time.”
“It’s the best lead we have at this point,” Hank said. “Let me know as soon as anything turns up.”
They made their way in silence around to the front of the building, up the steps and into the precinct.
“Hank, King,” Captain Diego called as they passed his office door. “Come in here a minute.”
Hank followed King into the office, slumped into one of the guest chairs and sat back, while King leaned against a filing cabinet and crossed his arms.
Diego peered at King and then addressed Hank. “Fill me in.”
Hank cleared his throat. “There’s not much to report, Captain. We’re on every lead and we’re hoping something will turn up.”
Diego brushed aside a file folder, leaned forward and dropped his arms on the desk. He frowned. “I have a dead woman on my hands, a distraught husband, and there’s a killer on the loose. What happened?”
“I don’t know. The doctor kept his end of the bargain and the money was delivered.”
“Perhaps he wasn’t happy we were involved,” King put in.
Diego stared at King a moment. “How would he know?”
King shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know. There were no uniforms around and no police cars in sight. Perhaps he just took a good guess.”