Authors: Mary Jane Clark
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
hen the FBI agents got to the Broadcast Center, Joe Connelly met them in the lobby and escorted them down to the security center. They sat in his windowless office while Joe shared the contents of his aberrant behavior computer file.
“Naturally, I’ve been going through this file since we got the news that Janie Blake was missing,” said Joe. “There’s one letter that keeps haunting me. I leave it to you to figure out if it’s completely harmless or something else. You’ll see a notation about it on the computer there, but I want to show you the actual letter itself.”
Joe opened a blue folder containing the letter and the envelope it had come in, and slid it across the desk to the FBI agents. Without touching the letter, one of them read it aloud.
I watch you on television and read all about your career at KEY News. I think not only are you a wonderful newswoman, but you are the world’s best mom. You seem to love Janie so much. I wonder if she knows how lucky she is. Janie is such a beautiful child, wouldn’t it be terrible if something happened to her? Can you imagine what your life would be
like without her? Janie better appreciate how lucky she is to have you, because it only takes a moment for life to change forever.
“No signature,” noted the FBI agent.
“Yeah,” said the other. “And get a load of those little hearts and flowers and smiley-face stickers plastered all over it.”
t was embarrassing, but Uncle Lloyd said she had to do it. Nell had a standing appointment at the public pool on Tuesdays. She took an exercise class in the water with the old women who had tried to mother her since her own mother died. Any time she missed a class, they checked up on her and, while it usually made her feel good that they cared about her, she didn’t like to give them a reason to stop by unannounced. Even though all the attention Janie Blake’s abduction had gotten on the news this morning had upset her, Nell had been determined that she wouldn’t miss the class today.
As they all waited for the instructor to appear, the women talked about the Janie Blake story.
“Dear Lord, what has this world come to?”
“That poor little girl.”
“Her poor mother.”
“It just goes to show that you can have all the money in the world and you still can’t protect yourself from bad things happening.”
“I think it happened
Eliza Blake must have a lot of money. She’s a target for evil people who want to take advantage of her.”
Nell took her long braid and tucked it under her mandatory bathing
cap. She listened as the old ladies talked among themselves but she said nothing.
The instructor arrived and the women carefully descended into the pool. Nell moved along with the others, twisting and reaching, following the instructor’s directions as best she could. To Nell, the forty-five-minute class seemed to drag on forever.
When the instructor signaled they were done, Nell got out of the pool and wrapped herself in a towel.
“Everything all right with you, Nell?”
Nell looked around and saw Cora Wallace standing behind her.
“Yes, everything’s all right, Cora.”
“You’re looking kind of pale, honey.”
“I’m fine, Cora.”
“Are you eating all right, Nell? How about I make you some of my chicken soup?”
“I’m eating fine, Cora. And thanks, but it’s too hot for chicken soup.”
“You sure? It’s no problem. I can bring some by this afternoon.”
“Don’t do that,” Nell snapped.
Cora was taken aback by the tone in Nell’s voice. Her smile faded.
“I’m sorry,” said Nell. “It’s really nice of you to offer, Cora. But I really don’t want any.”
“All right, dear,” said Cora, “but I worry about you, Nell. Since your mama passed, we all want to watch out for you. Are you upset about this Eliza Blake situation? I know how much store you set by her with your scrapbooks and everything.”
“I really don’t want to talk about it, Cora. And anyway, I’ve got to get home. I don’t like leaving my uncle to take care of things by himself.” Nell turned and made her way to the locker room to change.
hey would be taking a chance but it was worth a try.
She wondered why it hadn’t occurred to her earlier and she cursed herself for not thinking of it when she had gone into the camp office to pick up Janie yesterday.
Mrs. Garcia waited until the next time Janie asked to go to the bathroom. The kidnapper, masked as Popeye again, untied their hands and took off their blindfolds.
Once they were in the bathroom, Mrs. Garcia carefully disconnected the skinny wire that ran from the microphone on the shirt collar to the transmitter on her waistband. She leaned close to Janie’s face and stared directly at the child. “Listen to me,
” she whispered. “This is very important.”
Janie stood still, her eyes wide.
“I am going to boost you up and you climb through that window. Then you are going to run as fast as you can. Just run out to the road and follow it.”
“I don’t know where I’m going,” Janie whispered back.
“Just follow the road,
Keep going until you meet up with
people. Then you tell them who you are and that your mommy is looking for you. They will help you. Tell them you need to tell the police.”
Janie jumped at the loud pounding on the door.
“What’s going on in there?” came the voice from the other side.
“In a minute,” Mrs. Garcia called out.
“Hurry up,” demanded the voice. “I have better things to do with my time than stand here waiting for the both of you.”
Mrs. Garcia looked at Janie. “Ready?” she whispered.
“I want you to come with me,” Janie whispered back.
“I can’t, Janie. I’m too big and there is too little time for me to try to squeeze through. Be a brave girl. You run and get help.”
Pacing back and forth across the room, the kidnapper waited, not particularly concerned. The housekeeper may have been on the chubby side, but she would be no match for him physically if she should get the bright idea to come out and attack him. Actually, there wasn’t anything for her to attack him with. He’d made sure there was nothing in that bathroom but a towel and some toilet paper.
“Popeye’s waiting,” he called. “How much longer?”
“Coming,” said Mrs. Garcia.
But the door didn’t open—and it dawned on him that he was hearing her actual voice, not a voice transmitted through the microphone.
He grabbed for the doorknob and pushed his way through.
Janie ran down the road, breathing hard, her sneakers pounding on the ground. Why wasn’t there anyone around to help her?
She looked over her shoulder, afraid of what she might see. But the road behind her was empty. The man wasn’t coming after her, she thought with relief. She kept running until she tripped. She fell forward,
the beaded necklace she had made in camp coming from her neck and flying to the side of the road. Janie put out her hands to block her fall but she felt the burning pain as her knees scraped along the ground. She pulled herself up and kept running.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she felt the strong hands come from behind and grab hold of her shoulders.
pecial Agents Gebhardt and Laggie stood in the kitchen doorway and watched as Eliza sipped a cup of tea at the table with her in-laws. Eliza, Katharine, and Paul Blake were pale and quiet. Eliza’s hand trembled as she brought the cup to her mouth.
“Let’s take a walk outside,” Agent Gebhardt said to her partner.
The FBI agents strolled the perimeter of the property, discussing the case.
“Of course, we have to consider the fact that she is in on this.”
“Come on, Barbara, really. I know we should look at the nearest and dearest first, but are you going to tell me that Eliza Blake would actually have her own daughter kidnapped?”
“This world is full of sick stuff, Trevor. You know that. I was stationed at the Columbia, South Carolina, field office when Susan Smith got on TV, sobbing and pleading for the return of her two little boys. Then it turned out she’d strapped those babies into their car seats and let her vehicle sink into the lake. I was there the day they dragged their tiny bodies out of the water. I’ll never forget it.” Despite the hot July air, Agent Gebhardt rubbed her arms to warm herself.
“Still, Barbara, I don’t buy it that Eliza Blake would have anything to
do with having her own daughter abducted,” said Agent Laggie, “or stage a kidnapping to cover up something even worse.”
“I’m just saying,” said Agent Gebhardt, “all we know for certain is that Mrs. Garcia took Janie from camp yesterday morning. We don’t know if she was forced to do it. We have to look at the possibility that Garcia did it on her own or that Eliza told Garcia to take Janie and knows where they are.”
“Then why offer a huge reward? Why would she want people trying to find Janie?”
Agent Gebhardt shrugged. “Offering a reward
“Well, what about the
notation in the camp log? That sounds to me like Mrs. Garcia was trying to get help. She wouldn’t do that if she and Eliza had planned it.”
“Maybe,” said Agent Gebhardt. “Or, as I said before, maybe Garcia just wrote it to throw us off, to make it look like she was under duress. We have to look at every possibility, Trevor.”
Agent Laggie shook his head, unconvinced that Eliza Blake should be considered a suspect.
They walked back into the house, not realizing that a sound technician hired by the
stood on the other side of the hedges aiming a very sensitive parabolic microphone to record every word they said.
opeye the sailor pulled the ropes so tight around Mrs. Garcia’s wrists that she cried out in pain.
You’re lucky I don’t beat the hell out of you. Try something like that again and I’ll make you wish you’d never been born.”
Blindfolded again, Mrs. Garcia could hear Janie hiccupping in between sobs. “My legs hurt,” the little girl cried.
“Let me help her,” Mrs. Garcia begged as she thought of the glimpse of Janie’s legs she had caught before the kidnapper covered her eyes. “Let me wash those cuts out and put some bandages on them.”
“Uh-uh. It’ll teach the kid a lesson. If she tries to run away, she gets hurt.”
“But the cuts could get infected,” insisted Mrs. Garcia.
“Nice try,” he said. “But now I don’t trust you. And besides, I skinned my knees plenty of times when I was a kid and they healed up just fine without anybody fussing over them.”
Once he was certain there was absolutely no way either Mrs. Garcia or Janie would be able to free themselves, he left the room, walked outside, and got some plywood from the shed. He covered the bedroom and
bathroom windows, pounding in the nails. He then lit a cigarette. After he took a few drags to calm himself, he went back inside the house and made a phone call.
“We’ve got a problem,” he said.
“What is it?”
“It’s the damn housekeeper. She helped the kid crawl out of the bathroom window. The brat was halfway down the road before I caught up with her.”
“Did anyone see her? Did anyone see you?”
“No,” he said. “Fortunately, nobody did. But it was a warning. I’ve boarded up the windows, but we can’t trust the woman. We have to get rid of her.”
She wasn’t really surprised by how easily his instructions came. “You aren’t going to kill her, are you?” she asked with trepidation. This wasn’t what they had agreed to when he’d come up with the plan.
“God, no. We don’t want to face murder charges; kidnapping is bad enough. I know where to take her.”
The blindfold was one precaution, but he decided it would be best to take another. He would drive Carmen Garcia around for a while so she could have absolutely no idea where she was when he buried her.
“Come on, ladies,” he said. “We’re going for a little ride. You first, princess.”
Janie recoiled as the man took hold of her arm, pulling her up from the mattress and away from Mrs. Garcia.
“Where are you taking her?” Mrs. Garcia called, her eyes covered, her head tilted toward the sound of the man’s voice.
“Don’t you worry about where I’m taking her,” said the man. “Just do as I tell you.”
He steered Janie out of the room and to the front door.
“My legs hurt,” Janie cried as her knees bent as she walked.
“Maybe you’ll remember that the next time you get a smart idea about trying to run away. Now quit complaining and climb inside.”
Janie felt herself lifted and pushed into the back of the van. She waited, listening, as the man walked away. A few minutes later, Mrs. Garcia was in the van with her and the back doors were closed tight.
The van drove for what seemed like a long time before it came to a stop and the doors were opened again.
“You stay right where you are, princess,” ordered the man. “And you,
, slide yourself over here.”
Mrs. Garcia did not move.
“You heard me,” the man growled. “Get moving or I’ll take it out on the little one here.”
” Mrs. Garcia pleaded. “Let me stay with Janie.”
“Uh-uh,” answered the man. “You two are a dangerous combination. You’ve got to be split up.”
He reached in and pulled at Mrs. Garcia’s arms. She kicked outward, hitting him in the chest. He fell backward, stunned for a moment. When he got back on his feet, he was breathing heavily.
“That’s it. Get the hell out of that van or I swear to God, I’m going to break the kid’s legs and really give her something to cry about.”
Feeling she had no choice, Mrs. Garcia maneuvered herself toward the door. “Don’t worry,
,” she said softly. “Everything will be all right. Your mommy is coming, Janie. I know she is. Just keep thinking about that. You’ll be with your mommy soon.”
The child started to sob. “Please, Mrs. Garcia. Don’t leave me. Please.”
Mrs. Garcia was pulled the rest of the way out of the van. As the doors slammed shut, she could still hear Janie crying from inside.
Popeye untied Mrs. Garcia’s wrists. “You’re going to need your hands because there won’t be anyone to do a thing for you,” he said from behind
the mask. “You’ll be all alone. And don’t waste your time trying to figure out how to escape because there
Mrs. Garcia heard the sound of a hinge creaking.
“Go ahead,” said the kidnapper, urging her forward and guiding her hands to the wooden struts that lined the walls. “Hold on to the wall and go down a little bit at a time. Once you get to the bottom of the steps, feel around and you’ll find some bottled water, some packages of crackers, a box of cereal, and a couple of apples. I’d eat those first, before some insect or little animal starts worming its way into them. And help yourself to anything else you find, though God knows how long it’s been down there.”
Please,” Mrs. Garcia begged. “Don’t do this.”
“You did it to yourself, lady. You were too smart for your own good. Get going, and be glad this is your punishment.” He added, “For now, at least.”
With her heart hammering against her chest wall, Mrs. Garcia inched her way down the wooden steps. She counted ten of them. When she reached the bottom, she estimated she was about six feet underground.
The kidnapper’s voice came from above. “When I close you up, you can take off the blindfold, but not before.”
Mrs. Garcia’s head tilted upward as she listened to squeaking noises as hinges moved, then the sound of the lid coming down, and, finally, loud clicks as an iron bolt slid into place and a padlock was fastened.