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Authors: T. Jefferson Parker

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BOOK: Silent Joe
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BoWar, I thought.

"Nice to meet you, sir. I'm Joe Trona."

He didn't say anything, so Lorna took up the pause.

"Joe, anything to drink?"

"Nothing, thank you."

Jack sat down on the couch and motioned me into a chair across from them. There was a glass coffee table between us. It was shaped like a coastline, and the craftsman had etched waves along curved edges of the glass. I sat and put my hat on the waves.

"First things first, Joe," Blazak said. "We're grateful that you located our daughter. We thank you. We're beyond grateful that she's alive. We called you here to tell you a few things, get you straightened out and up to speed."

Again, his words were fast and his tone aggressive, a man used to being listened to.

I nodded. "I don't want to be crooked and slow, sir."

Warren snickered. Jack looked at me blankly, then turned to his wife.

"Jack's blunt these days, Mr. Trona," said Lorna. "He hasn't slept more than two hours a night since Savannah was taken. Neither have I. Forgive us both if we're kind
of. . .
short."

"I understand."

"Help," said Jack. "A little help is all we're after." Silence then until, Jack looked across at Warren. "You take it from here, Bo."

Warren moved to the edge of the sofa like he was ready to spring.

"Glad to," he said. "Joe, sometime between nine and eleven hundred hours on Monday, June eleven, Savannah Blazak was kidnapped."

Semper fi,
I thought. 'Nam. His voice was much deeper and louder than you expected, like he had a speaker inside him.

"Jack was at work. Lorna was out. Marcie, that's the head maid was doing some light cleaning and keeping an eye on Savannah. Savannah was allegedly playing in her bedroom. When Marcie went to check on her at ten fifty-five, Savannah wasn't in her room. Marcie called and walked the house—no girl. Called and walked the grounds—no girl. She called neighbors, who have a girl about Savannah's age, nobody home. At eleven ten she called Jack at work, then—on Jack's orders—nine one one. After that, she called Mrs. Blazak on her cell phone. Jack made it home in seventeen minutes. Newport PD was already on scene."

Warren stared at me, eyes blue and hard. "With me?"

I nodded.

"Then, in brief: the cops get here making a lot of noise, glance a girl's room—"

"Call her Savannah, Bo. Not
the girl"

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Blazak. Savannah. They look in Savannah's room Question Marcie. Question Jack. Take the report, say they think Savannah will show up unharmed. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they say, a missing juvenile shows up unharmed. They probably wanted to chew out Marcie for using nine one one for a non-emergency, but Jack Blazak’s daughter was the subject of the call."

"Stick to the facts, Bo," said Blazak. "You're a gopher, not a prophet.’’

Warren's smile appeared and vanished, on then off, like a turn signal.

He cleared his throat.

"Yes, sir. Okay. Now, Joe, about three hours after the maid called cops, the Blazaks got a call here at home. The caller muffled his voice somehow—a cloth or towel or something. He said he had Savannah. He let her say 'Hello, Mom and Dad' to prove it. Affirmative, it was Savannah. Then he demanded half a million cash dollars for her safe release. He gave Jack and Lorna forty-six hours to pay the ransom. If they didn't pay it he'd kill Savannah. If they contacted the authorities about this, he'd kill Savannah. He said he would contact them before noon Wednesday. This was Monday, two o'clock, remember."

"Yes."

"Here's the first twist: Jack recognized the kidnapper's voice. Twist number two: the kidnapper is his son, Alex, known to his friends as Crazy Alex."

Are you with Alex?

"Damnit, Bo," pleaded Lorna. "Why do you have to be so crude?"

Warren's voice was resonant with apology. "Well, I'm sorry, but I was just trying to give Joe here a feel for what we're up against. I think the nickname is a good indicator of his character
at times
, Lorna. I'm not trying to drag your son's name through the mud, even though he is a convicted felon, a longtime mental patient and now, apparently, a kidnapper again."

"An accused felon. He wasn't convicted," Lorna said tiredly.

"A kidnapper again?" I asked.

"He took Savannah from the family home when she was three years old," said Warren.

"He was
thirteen
, Bo," hissed Lorna. "They ran away."

"Get on with it, Warren," snapped Blazak. He was leaning his head back against the couch, looking into the distant recesses of his living room ceiling. "You're wasting everybody's time again."

"All right, Jack, sure. So, Jack and Lorna didn't want to endanger Savannah any more than she was already. And, understandably, they didn't want to endanger their son, even though he's threatened to murder his own sister if he doesn't get a pot-load of money. Jack and Lorna confer. Jack and Lorna agonize. Really
agonize.
They decide to pray to God in heaven for guidance. They go to the Reverend Daniel Alter and they tell him what's happened. He leads them in a series of prayers and scriptural readings that lasts almost half an hour. When they've finished praying to the Lord for help, Jack and Lorna both believe that paying Alex for Savannah’s safe return and getting help for Alex—rather than a prison term—is the Christian thing to do. The Reverend Alter agrees."

Warren leaned back and sighed. "I think you can fill in from there,’’ he said.

"Reverend Alter volunteered your services for the ransom drop cause your line is security."

"Exactly."

"But something went wrong with the Wednesday exchange or none of us would be sitting here right now."

"Obviously. Enter Will Trona. The Reverend Daniel had asked him help find Savannah and Alex, because of your father's connections throughout the county. Your father called Jack on Wednesday morning saying that he'd talked to Alex and seen Savannah. He wouldn't say word about where they were or how he found them. Will said that Alex now wanted one million dollars to let his sister go. Will said that he would collect that money, and when he'd collected it, he would gather up Savannah and bring her to us. This was all supposed to happen Wednesday night, Jack's money was given to Will, as planned. Not as planned, your father was murdered and Savannah vanished."

I tried to match Warren's story with what I had seen and heard. It seemed about right to me. But it surprised me in an empty way to learn that Will had known Savannah's whereabouts on Wednesday morning, but never bothered to tell me. Never even told me he was looking for a kidnapped girl. He'd left me in the dark before—for my own good, he always said later. But it hurt because Will's night business was supposed to be my business too.

"I understand," I said. "When Savannah's name hit the news yesterday, you figured it was time to call in the police and FBI, go public and try to get her back before Alex could find her again."

"Good," said Warren. "So you can see our troubles now."

"Yes, sir. The first trouble is, that was two nights ago and Savannah still missing. The second is, Mr. and Mrs. Blazak still love their son. You convinced the FBI that a full-scale, highly publicized manhunt for Alex would lead him to either suicide or a breakdown. And may or may not get Savannah back. Steve Marchant indulged you for a few days, but they haven't found either of them, so they're about to plaster Alex's face and name all over the news, just like Savannah's were. That means an arrest on a federal kidnapping charge, not therapy for his disorders."

"That's it," said Warren. "Marchant says they'll hold off on launching a public manhunt for Alex until Monday. Three days. And that brings us to you. Because we're hoping that since you found her once, you can find her twice."

"I thought so."

"Well, you're a bright kid," said Warren with a smile. He chuckled.

"Joe," said Jack, leaning forward now, his voice soft. "We need a few other things from you."

"What things, sir?"

"We need to know everything that happened that night. Anything Will might have said. Anything you saw or heard about my daughter. Everything you told the Anaheim PD, the Orange County Sheriff's, the FBI, the media—I want to hear it again, from you. I'm going to tape record the whole story. Every
last
detail, Joe. Do you understand?"

"I understand."

Bo Warren stood and took a step toward me. Until then, he'd sounded like a colonel briefing the press, now he spoke like a general giving orders.

"Joe, we've got a crack hypnotherapiest—works without drugs—who can put you in a state so deep you can remember details of your own birth. She's scheduled to be here in one hour and fifteen minutes. Before that, we want one hour with you, to hear your account, hear everything you remember. Then we need one hour from you, under hypnosis. We think you know how to find Savannah, because you and your father found her. Whether you
know
you know how, or not. We're asking you to help the girl. Help us. Help yourself.
One million dollars
if you can find her, Joe. Or if you can lead us to her. Either way. You might already hold the key in that good brain of yours. A million dollars is not a bad paycheck for lying on the couch in the Blazaks' den, just remembering that night."

I looked at them one at a time. Warren stood about eight feet away from me, to the side of the coffee table, eyes fixed on my face. Jack’s hands were locked behind his head, elbows out, and he was staring at

Lorna stared at me too. Then she did something that astonished me.

She shook her head. It was slight and it was fast. But I saw it and it was clear. She was looking right at me.

She did it once more, and looked down.

"Agreed, then," Warren said.

"Terrific," said Blazak. "Let's get started."

"What's your answer, Mr. Trona?" Lorna asked. The glaze in her was gone. I saw her jaw muscle move under the skin.

"No, for now. But I'll think about it."

In the silence I heard the
kyew, kyew, kyew
of a hawk outside. I heard
the air conditioner sigh on.

"Uh, Joe?" said Warren. "You just listened to two parents telling about the kidnapping of their daughter.
By their own son.
You saw daughter briefly, on Wednesday, two nights ago. You know now that was in the hands of a rather dangerous young psychopath, brother or not. May well be
back
in those hands, for all we know. And you're going to sit there after hearing all this, and tell us you won't help?"

"I'll look for her. I'll bring her to you if I find her. I won't tell everything I know about that night."

"Why not, soldier?"

Warren took two steps toward me, which put me in range of his boots.

"Because," I said, "something else happened that night. Something I care about, even if none of you do."

"We care about Will," Warren snapped. "If that's what you mean

"That's what I mean. And Will Trona is none of your business."

"Look, sonofabitch—whatever happened that involves this man’s daughter is
definitely
his business. Help us, help yourself.

"I gathered my hat and stood, watching Warren, then turned to the Blazaks. "Thank you for having me into your home. I'll do what I can to find Savannah. She seems like a wonderful girl."

Jack was staring at me. Lorna was staring at her husband. Warren was suddenly out of my field of vision, then directly in front of me. "Hey,
meatface
, hold it just one second—"

"Don't," I said.

But he grabbed my upper arm, hard. A strong man. I took his wrist in both hands, drop-spun and threw him over my shoulder like you would an ax. He landed flat on his back but very hard on the carpet and I heard the wind huff out of him. He turned over gasping, gnashing his mouth into the cream-colored wool.

"Oh, my God!" cried Lorna.

"Head of Security, my ass," said Jack.

"I'm sorry, and I'll pay for spot cleaning," I offered.

Lorna walked away. Jack stood and looked at Warren.

I picked up my hat and looked down at Warren, too. I shouldn't have been surprised by his shoulder rig but I was. Something about a five million dollar house and an automatic handgun don't go together, like finding a fly in your whipped cream.

He was still fighting for a good breath when I turned out of earshot and into the entry room on my way out.

Lorna Blazak held open the door for me with one hand, held out a business card to me with the other. I took it and read it.

BOOK: Silent Joe
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