Authors: Mary Jane Clark
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
isa Nichols sang along to her new Bon Jovi CD as she rode to camp. That she was late for work didn’t bother her. The night she’d just had was well worth a disapproving look from the camp director, a dock in pay, or even dismissal for her tardiness.
She was completely unaware that, when she didn’t answer her cell phone, deputies from the sheriff’s office had gone to her parents’ house, the address listed on her Camp Musquapsink personnel form. The parents were under the impression that Lisa was sleeping over at her girlfriend’s house, but a phone call to the friend determined that Lisa wasn’t there. After some pressuring, the friend admitted to promising Lisa that she would serve as an alibi while Lisa slept over at her boyfriend’s apartment. Neither the girlfriend nor Lisa’s angry parents knew the young man’s address or cell phone number.
As her car neared the entrance of the camp, Lisa saw the news vans and police vehicles gathered on the road. Her first thought was that something could have happened to one of the kids; her second thought was relief that she couldn’t have had anything to do with it since she hadn’t even been there yet this morning. She slowed and came to a stop when she reached the gate.
“ID please, miss,” ordered the officer standing guard.
Lisa rifled through her purse, found her wallet, and pulled out her college identification card. She handed it to the officer, who perused it and handed it back to her.
“The witness just arrived,” the officer said into the radio attached to his shirt.
Looking up at him from her open window, Lisa’s face expressed her puzzlement. “Witness? Witness to what?” she asked.
“Go directly to the reception office, miss.” The officer waved Lisa on.
Outside the main building, a few uniformed officers awaited her arrival. As Lisa got out of the car and walked toward them, one of the officers broke off from the group and escorted her inside the building. Holly Taylor was standing at the front desk, a grave expression on her pale face. Even scarier was the fact that Lisa’s parents were standing beside her boss. Her father was glowering; her mother looked like she had been crying.
“Lisa, these people have some questions to ask you,” said her father in the controlled voice he used when he was truly angry. “They’re with the FBI.”
Introductions were made.
“What kind of questions?” Lisa asked worriedly.
“Janie Blake never came home after camp yesterday,” said one of the agents. “Do you know anything about that?”
Lisa swallowed. “I know her maid came and signed her out yesterday, before lunch. Janie was really excited.”
One of the other agents was taking notes. “So, give us a description of exactly what Janie Blake looked like the last time you saw her,” he said.
Lisa spoke slowly and deliberately. “She was wearing her camp uniform, the Musquapsink T-shirt and the navy shorts, and she had a construction-paper band around her head with a big yellow feather attached to the back…and she had stripes of green paint on her cheeks. It was Native American Day.”
The first agent resumed his questions. “And what did her caretaker say when she came in to get her?”
Lisa tried to remember. “Nothing, really. I was collating some papers and I think she asked me what I was doing.”
“I think she said something about Janie’s mother meeting them at home with a surprise. That’s it. Then she just signed the log and they left.”
“Did you check her signature?”
Lisa’s face reddened. “No, I guess I didn’t,” she said softly.
o escape the bustle and tension inside the house, Eliza and Annabelle went out to the patio. Annabelle carried a yellow legal pad that she placed on the white wrought-iron table as they sat down.
“I’ve been looking around on the Internet, Eliza, and there are some things we should be doing.” Annabelle was taking on the functions she knew well as a producer: researching, planning, and organizing. “The FBI and the police are doing their jobs, but we have to do ours. Someone may have seen Janie or will come forward with information that will help us find her. We have to get the word out there.”
Eliza took a deep breath, considering what Annabelle was saying. She thought about some of the missing-children cases that had gotten heavy media attention. Tragically, having the coverage didn’t necessarily mean there was a happy ending to the story. How many times had she read the copy from the teleprompter and informed the nation that a missing child had been found alive? On the other hand, how many times had she told the audience that a missing child had turned up dead or never turned up at all? She knew she could ask somebody in the KEY News research department to find out the statistics on the resolution of missing-children
cases, but she had a feeling that the answers would terrify her even more than she already was.
Annabelle was staring at her. “Eliza?”
“I brought this on myself,” Eliza whispered.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You did not.”
“Yes, I did. Exposing Janie this way, doing all those interviews, letting all those stories be done and pictures be taken, leaving her open to some sick individual who would abduct her for whatever twisted reason. Oh, God. I might as well have given them instructions on how to get at her. Anyone could know where we live, anyone who wanted to could figure out our schedules, where she would be. This is my fault.”
Annabelle reached forward and wrapped her arms around her friend. “It’s going to be all right, Eliza. It will be. It has to be.”
Eliza tried hard to think clearly. If media exposure had put them in this position, media exposure might be able to bring Janie back home. Annabelle was right. Besides, what other choice did she have? This was the fight of her life and she would do everything possible to get her little girl back.
“All right,” she said with determination. “What are we going to do?”
Annabelle consulted her notes. “We’re going to get a designated hotline number set up where people can call in with information,” she said. “And we’ll set up a Web site: www.findjanie.org, or something like that. The guys at KEYNews.com can help us with that. And, of course, they’ll post information on the KEY News Web site as well. I’m sure there will be millions of hits on KEYNews.com because that will probably be the first place on the Internet people will go to find out what’s happening.”
“Shouldn’t we include Mrs. Garcia’s name in the Web address?” asked Eliza.
“We need something that people will remember easily. ‘Find Janie and Carmen’ doesn’t cut it,” said Annabelle.
Eliza smiled in spite of herself at Annabelle’s matter-of-factness. But as she tried to listen intently to Annabelle, Eliza’s mind kept wandering to thoughts of Janie. Where was she? What was she thinking? She must be terrified and unable to understand why anyone would take her away from her secure little world.
, Eliza prayed.
Let her be safe. Please, just let whoever took her call and ask for money. I’ll pay whatever they ask if I can just have Janie back, healthy and unharmed.
Annabelle was continuing to talk as she checked off the items written on the pad.
“You have a fax machine, right?”
“Yes, in the den,” Eliza said, trying to sound positive.
“Good,” said Annabelle. “We’ll need it to issue press advisories. And I’ll need some good pictures of Janie, and Mrs. Garcia, too, if you have any. We have to get missing-child flyers made. We can get volunteers to post them around here…and we can offer the flyers on our Web site so that people out of the area can download them.”
Eliza nodded. “I already gave the police a picture for TRAK, the Technology to Recover Abducted Kids, and it was sent out to various state law enforcement agencies. Wait a minute,” she said as she got up. She went inside the house and came back with a silver frame. “How’s this?” she asked as she handed it to Annabelle.
Annabelle looked at the picture. Janie smiled broadly as Mrs. Garcia stood behind her, wrapping the child in a towel.
“Sweet,” Annabelle remarked.
“It was taken on the Fourth of July,” said Eliza. “We swam and had a barbecue that afternoon before we went over to Ridgewood for the fireworks. Janie was so excited. She loves fireworks. That was less than three weeks ago.” Eliza’s voice trailed off.
“All right, we’ll use this,” said Annabelle, trying to pull her friend out of a reverie that wasn’t going to help her. “Here’s the hardest part, Eliza. It’s time to go and talk to the vultures out there. You have to look into the
cameras and tell Janie that you love her and that you are coming to get her. You have to beg whoever has her to give her back, and you have to ask the public to help you find her.”
Eliza considered Annabelle’s words, thinking of some of the parental pleas she had seen televised over the years. The dazed parents, trying to hold themselves together as they begged for the return of their child. In their most desperate hours, expected to go out there and face the cameras and the barrage of questioning.
How were they able to do that?
But she knew the answer. They had been able to do it because they felt their child’s life depended on it.
“All right,” she agreed quietly. “And, Annabelle?”
“Tell me it’s going to be all right.”
“Yes, honey, it is going to be all right,” said Annabelle, giving Eliza the answer she needed to hear. She knew it wouldn’t do Eliza any good to tell her what else she had learned in her research. The vast majority of kidnapped children who were murdered—were dead within three hours of their abduction.
“I want to offer a reward.”
Eliza stood beside the table where the FBI agents were stationed.
“I was thinking of a quarter of a million dollars,” said Eliza. “Do you think that seems like enough?”
Trevor Laggie whistled softly. “That kind of dough sure sweetens the pot. Just be prepared for people coming out of the woodwork with leads that turn out to be nothing.”
he men were busy, spraying windshields and scrubbing hubcaps. They kept working when they saw the police car pull into the service area, but they watched quietly and warily, hoping not to call attention to themselves, ready to run if they had to.
“Which one of you is Vicente Rochas?” asked a heavyset cop.
The men put their heads down and concentrated on their cleaning tasks.
Seeing that no one was going to volunteer any information, the police officers walked into the office.
“We’re looking for Vicente Rochas.”
“He’s out there working, isn’t he?” answered the cashier.
“Will you come and point him out to us?”
The cashier locked up her register and followed the policemen outside.
She looked around the lot. “I don’t see him, but I know he was here this morning.” She turned to one of the workmen. “Hey, Miguel, where’s Vicente?”
The workman shrugged.
One of the policemen stepped forward. “Listen up, fellas. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll tell us where Vicente Rochas is.”
No one said a word.
“Don’t make us go around checking your working papers, guys. If you want to stay in the good ole U S of A, you’ll tell us where Vicente is.”
At the side of the building, the door to the men’s room opened and a man with a small frame and caramel-colored skin came out slowly.
“I am Vicente Rochas,” he said.
They took him to the police car. Vicente sat in the backseat while they peppered him with questions.
No, he had no idea where his mother-in-law was. He hadn’t seen her since Sunday when she’d spent the afternoon with him, his wife, and their daughter.
Yes, he knew where the Blakes lived. No, he had never told or shown his friends where the house was.
No, he had no idea where Janie Blake went to day camp.
No, he didn’t have working papers.
“Please, don’t turn me in,” Vicente pleaded. “Don’t send me back to Guatemala. There is nothing for me or my family there.”
“If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about,” said the heavyset policeman. “But we’re going to be watching you, Vicente.”
mile a minute. With each minute, Janie could be another mile farther away. She could have been taken over two thousand miles by now.
Eliza stood in the den and spun the globe she kept there, mostly for Janie’s benefit. Her fingers traced various routes going up and down the eastern United States or spraying out in varying degrees in a westerly direction. Janie could be in Florida or Canada or Arkansas or Michigan. Janie had last been seen a full twenty-four hours ago. By now, if an airplane had figured into the kidnappers’ plans, Janie could be almost anywhere.
Her cell phone rang and Eliza glanced at the tiny identification window. Margo Gonzalez was calling.
“Hi, Margo,” she answered, noticing that her free hand was trembling.
“Oh, Eliza, I’m so sorry about all this. I would have called sooner, but I was tied up with a suicidal patient all morning. Are you holding up?”
“I was going to wait till tonight to come out for the meeting with Annabelle and B.J., but I can leave now and be out there in an hour,” Margo offered. “I can bring something to help calm you.”
“I might take you up on that at some point,” said Eliza, “but right now I want to try not to take anything. I want my mind to be clear.”
“All right, but just think about it, will you? There’s no need for this to be more painful than it already is. Give yourself a break.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it,” said Eliza.
“And make sure you eat and get some rest.”
“I will,” Eliza promised.
“All right. And I have something else I need to talk to you about, Eliza. Something that, under these circumstances, seems so ridiculous to even bring up. But I wouldn’t want to do anything without running it by you first.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I got a call from Linus this morning. He asked if I would be willing to fill in for you while you’re out.”
“As cohost of the show?”
“I know, I know,” said Margo. “It’s crazy. I’m still so green when it comes to TV in general and I have absolutely no experience in doing what you do. I told Linus all that, but he says he still wants me to take a stab at it. Who knows what is going through that crazy mind of his.”
“Crazy like a fox,” said Eliza. “There’s always some method to his madness. We just don’t know what it is yet.”
“Well? What do you think?”
“Do you want to do it?” asked Eliza.
“Not particularly,” answered Margo. “In fact, the thought of it really frightens me. But something in my gut also tells me that I should do it, as long as it’s all right with you.”
“Then do it,” said Eliza. “I’m absolutely fine with it, Margo. And you don’t have to come out here tonight with Annabelle and B.J. You have to get up too early in the morning.”
“Are you kidding me?” asked Margo. “There’s no way I won’t be there!”