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Mac parked behind the detached garage in the alley behind a well-kept blue rambler with white trim. The owner of the home, and the man who called in, was Patrick Hall. Others would be joining the party shortly, but for now Burton was holding them back several blocks, letting Mac and the rest in first to get the lay of the land. Riley and Mac called from the Explorer, and Hall picked up on the second ring. The homeowner was in bed with a broken leg, but directed them to a spare key underneath the bottom of his “piece-of-shit” air conditioner.
Riles found the key in a little black magnetized key box. The detectives let themselves in the back door and entered the kitchen. They noticed the heat immediately.
“Now I know why he called the AC a piece of shit,” Riley noted.
Mac called out to announce their presence, and they heard an “in here” from the front of the house. There they found Hall, lying in bed, a cast encasing the entire length of his left leg. To say the man looked uncomfortable was an understatement.
“Man, you have got to get your air conditioning fixed,” Mac said, noting both Hall’s sweaty appearance and the impact of the heat on his own body after just a few minutes in the house.
“I hear ya,” the man answered. “I really need a new one, but with me laid up and all, we’re trying to watch what we spend.”
“Try Craig’s List. You could get a window unit for cheap at least.”
Riles got down to business. “So what’s the deal with this house across the street?”
“Like I said to the gal on that tip line, these guys have been around, ok, I’d say the last four or five days, I guess. My wife said they started showing up the day I got hurt. I broke this leg of mine five days ago and got back home three days ago. I haven’t been out of the bed much since.”
“So you’ve been watching these guys across the street then?” Mac asked, casually pulling the curtain back to sneak a peek out the window.
“I wouldn’t say watching,” Hall said, shaking his head. “I’d say I’ve noticed them coming and going in vans is all.”
“How often?” Riles asked, walking over to the other side of the window. The house was across the street and to the right, a single-story home similar to Hall’s in a neighborhood of similar homes. It was gray, with faded burgundy trim and shutters and a high wood privacy fence around the backyard.
“Hard to say really,” Hall answered, “other than often enough that I noticed them coming and going is all.”
Mac turned to Hall and away from the window, “You said you’ve noticed them. What have you noticed?”
“Such as?” Hall asked.
“Men? Women? Height? Weight? What did they look like?”
“I never really got a good look at anyone,” Hall replied.
“How come?” Mac asked, confused.
“I figured you guys were going to ask that,” the man replied, wiping his forehead with a towel and taking a drink of water. “These guys were coming with vans, backing them into the garage and closing the door. Or, they open the door and leave. Nobody ever walked around outside that I can recall. At least not that I ever saw.”
“You never saw them at all?”
“Detective McRyan asked whether they were men or women?” Riles asked.
“Men, I’d say.”
“Did you ever notice what they were wearing?” Mac inquired.
“Baseball caps for the most part. Dark shirts usually. Sunglasses and….”
Hall paused and Mac looked back at him. “And what?”
The man closed his eyes for a minute. “There was something else now that I think of it. I saw, or I remember seeing, once or twice, and I just thought it was odd since it’s been so hot.” Hall sat still, his head back against the pillow, closing his eyes. After a few seconds, a smile spread across his face, “Gloves. They wore gloves.”
“Gloves?” Riles asked.
“Yeah, when they drove the vans, they had gloves on. You know black leather gloves, like you might wear in the winter.”
Mac and Riles exchanged a quick look. He was maybe onto something. The kidnappers had yet to leave a print behind, and black leather gloves this time of year were unusual. Plus, two other witnesses to the abductions mentioned gloves in their descriptions. Some people liked to wear gloves when they drove, but not many.
“Was it one guy wearing gloves or more than one?” Mac asked.
“Not totally sure. I mean, I couldn’t tell one from the other. I do know that I noticed gloves more than once.”
“So these guys wore dark shirts, hats, and gloves. Anything else?” Mac pressed.
“Not really. At least nothing I recall right now.”
“Just vans?” Riles asked, tacking a different direction.
“Yeah, for the most part. I might have seen a car once, parked in the driveway overnight, but other than that, pretty much just vans.”
Mac looked back from the window. “What kind of vans?”
“Those panel kinds of vans.”
“Get any license plates?”
“No,” Hall answered, shaking his head.
“How about just what states the plates were from?”
Hall shook his head again.
“Always the same vans?” Mac asked, pushing.
Hall thought about that one for a moment. “You know, now that you mention it, I don’t think so. There were different ones, colors, makes, models. Not a bunch, but it wasn’t always the same two either. There was some variety to them.”
Mac sat down in a chair in the corner of the room and started jotting down some notes. Riles continued.
“You mentioned a car. What kind of car?”
“White. I think it was a Taurus,” Hall thought a little more. “Yeah a Ford Taurus.”
“Get a license number?”
“No,” Hall answered. “I didn’t really think anything of it except for those Heather Foxx reports on Channel 12. She was talking about vans being used in those kidnappings, and I noticed these guys coming and going.”
“How about now?” Mac asked. “Are they there now?”
“I don’t think so,” Hall replied, shaking his head. “They’ve been gone a bit.”
“How long?” Riley asked.
“Oh, maybe half-hour, a little more. They left around the time I called in. My wife told me they left anyway. I didn’t see it when they did. My wife said she saw them leave when she came into the bathroom and helped me off the potty.”
Mac looked Mr. Hall over. He was a working man, an electrician, in his mid to upper fifties. The house was neat and orderly, nothing suggested the guy was a kook or anything. The yard around the home was neat, with flower beds and well-trimmed hedges. There were pictures of family around and what appeared to be a grandchild or two. All in all, Hall seemed on the level.
“You need anything?” Mac asked Hall.
“I could use a fresh glass of water,” he replied. “It’s a little hard for me to get to the kitchen at the moment.
“I imagine it is,” Mac said smiling. “We’ll be right back.” Mac led Riles toward the kitchen.
“So what do you think?” Riles asked as Mac opened the freezer and grabbed ice cubes.
“I think this guy is on the level. Could be our guys,” Mac said.
“Maybe,” Riles added. “Vans, different ones, and wearing….”
“Gloves,” Mac finished for him, turning on the tap water. “Witnesses mentioned that yesterday. These guys have been careful all along. We never found any prints off those vans, partly because they blew them up, but also, I bet, because they were wearing gloves. And according to Hall, these guys are wearing gloves. It’s starting to add up.”
“You don’t suppose the girls are over there do you? Buried in the backyard?” Riles asked.
“No. I mean we can go check there in a minute, but unless that video was a huge ruse, no, they’re somewhere else.”
“If these are our guys then, why use this house?”
Mac walked into the living room and peeked through the curtains. “Safe house, maybe. An hour ago we were talking about how they were centrally located, running up to Clearwater one night, Ellsworth the next, then to Duluth. They’d need a central spot to operate from. Maybe this is it.” Mac let the curtains fall closed and walked the fresh glass of water to the bedroom for Hall. Once Hall was taken care of, Mac came back to Riley. “Let’s walk across the street.”
Mac and Riles exited Hall’s house out the back door. Riles quickly walked back to the Explorer, instructing Lich and Rock to slowly pull around the house and to the street, just in case they needed backup.
Mac put his sunglasses on and untucked his shirt so that it covered his Sig. Riles, given his girth, already wore his out. The two detectives walked down the alley at a leisurely pace, turned left, and walked to the street corner. Checking traffic, the two men quickly jogged across the street and then walked north along the sidewalk to the house. They walked up to the front door and knocked. There was no response. Riley tried the doorbell, but again, no response. He pulled the storm door open and peered inside one of the three thin vertical windows in the burgundy front door.
“See anything?” Mac asked.
“Not really. Odd, though.”
“No furniture. The place looks empty. The only thing I can see is part of a card table and some folding chairs.”
Mac stepped back and looked at the front picture window. The drapes were pulled shut. The same was true of the rest of the house as he walked around, climbing over the privacy fence to get into the backyard. All the windows were covered with shades or drapes. Mac climbed back over the fence along the south side, where Riles was waiting.
“You notice how the basement windows are painted black?” Pat asked.
“Yeah,” Mac replied. “Nobody is supposed to be able to see inside.”
“So are these our guys?” Riles said, “Or are we so desperate for a break that we’re seeing what we want to see?”
“Only one way to find out,” Mac replied. “We have to go inside.”
Riles flipped open his phone and dialed. “Burton? Riley. We need a search warrant.”
“Hit me with it.”
Smith checked the rearview mirror non-stop since he had left the safe house. The further the Twin Cities faded away behind him, and the more rolling green fields of soybeans and corn he passed, the more at ease he felt. Nobody had followed he was sure of that now, having doubled back twice and finding no one behind. The police scanner in the passenger seat remained quiet. Perhaps the text message had given them enough time to get some distance from the house before the police connected the dots.
He knew that, sooner or later, something would go amiss. It was why they’d taken all the precautions, multiple vehicles, using a safe house, burying the girls out of town, prepping the boat and campsite. They were flexible, untethered to any one place or path. If need be, they could adjust on the fly, as they were doing now.
The police would search the house, but he wasn’t sweating it too badly. As long as Monica did her job earlier – and he trusted she did – there would be little for the police to find and certainly no way to trace them.
Smith exited the interstate and traveled east on a county road toward the college town of Northfield, home of St. Olaf College and prestigious Carleton College. Smith fell in with the early evening traffic of the town. The gas gauge on the van was low, so he pulled into a service station.
Smith pre-paid for the gas with cash and then went back to the pump. He took inventory of his situation as he filled the tank. The first order of business was to check on Dean. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
Dean answered on the third ring. He was well north of Minneapolis, pulling into the small town of East Bethel. Best Dean could tell, he didn’t have anybody on his tail. He had changed roads frequently, doubled back twice as directed, and had yet to find a common vehicle or vehicles following him. He felt he was clean.
Smith pulled the gas nozzle out and placed it back in the pump.
“Besides, what are the police going to be looking for?” Dean said. “Plain white vans? There are hundreds of these in the Cities and thousand all around. We’re fine.”
“Just the same,” Smith replied, “Find a place to dump the van. I’d prefer someplace it won’t be found, like a lake or something.”
Next, Smith dialed Monica. She already was on the move, driving toward East Bethel to rendezvous with her brother.
Smith contemplated his options and emptied his pockets. He had the keys for the Chevy at the Park & Ride. The police were looking for plain white vans. Who knows, the police might start pulling them over at random. While it was a little bit of a risk, he decided to drive back into the city and dump the van for the Impala at the Park & Ride. Then he would drive up to the northern suburbs for the evening’s meeting.
* * * * *
Carrie’s watch told her it was 6:05, which she assumed was PM. In the dim light of their flashlight, the two girls had assessed their situation. A search of the box revealed nothing other than the flashlight and the Dictaphone. They tried together to again push the roof on their box, hoping against hope that their captors lied about burying it. The top didn’t budge.
For lack of a better option, they listened to the tape again and again, listening for anything that could help them: a slip of the tongue, information to help them get out. It was a pipe dream. There was nothing.
“We’re stuck, plain and simple,” Carrie said, now lying flat on her back with her eyes closed, trying to breathe slowly.
“I’m not feeling well,” Shannon replied with a little sniffle.
“No, you don’t understand,” Shannon answered. “I’m diabetic. I haven’t had insulin for awhile.”
“How long?” Carrie asked.
“I haven’t had any since Saturday night after dinner. I usually take it when I eat. I was out super late on Saturday night with some friends. I overslept on Sunday so when I got up, I grabbed some quick breakfast but I forgot to take my insulin. I usually bring my insulin with me, but I was running late Sunday and I accidentally left it at home. Then after work I was going to run home quick and take some. But before I could do that….”
“You were taken,” Carrie finished for her.
“Yes. And I didn’t have any with me in my purse, so I didn’t get to take any while we were at that house.”
“So what happens to you if you don’t get the insulin?” Carrie asked.
Shannon sniffled again. “Depends how long I go without. My doctor said I have a sensitive system. There are a few times in the past where I went a couple of days without insulin and I got really sick. I tend to get disoriented and once I passed out. If I go long enough, I could lapse into a coma.”
“Has that ever happened before? The lapsing into a coma part?”
“Almost. One time, a few years ago, I got frustrated with the whole Type I deal. My boyfriend broke up with me, and I thought the reason he did was because I always had to take insulin. All my friends were leading a normal life, and my boyfriend was leading a normal life, and here I was stopping to take insulin three to four times per day.”
“Was that really the reason he broke up with you?”
“Later on I asked him and he said no. He met someone else,” Shannon answered. “But at the time, I thought that had something to do with it so I said ‘screw it’ I wasn’t going to take the insulin anymore.”
“So what happened?”
“I went a couple of days without it. I became disoriented and didn’t really realize what was going on. Eventually, I fell asleep on the couch with nobody around. My roommates came home and they couldn’t wake me. They rushed me to the emergency room. I ended up in the intensive care unit. Thankfully, the doctors were able to revive me, but it was a close call. I could have easily died if they hadn’t found me. I’ve gone a couple of days now. I’m worried what’s going to happen to me. I could die in here before they find us.”
“Shannon, that’s not going to happen,” Carrie replied, summoning all the confidence she could muster into her voice. She grabbed Shannon’s hand.
“I wish I had your confidence,” Hisle replied, her eyes welling with tears.
Carrie squeezed Shannon’s hand. “Don’t you worry, Honey. I know who’s looking for us.”
“Our fathers for one. Those are two men who can make things happen.”
“They’ve got to be going crazy about now,” Shannon answered. “How can they possibly find us?”
“I don’t expect my dad or yours would,” Carrie answered. “But my dad’s boys on the other hand….”
“Yeah. Mac McRyan, Pat Riley, Big Bobby Rockford, and Lich. I know them. They are relentless. They will do anything to find us, and they will not stop until they do. They will not let anyone stand in their way. We’ve just gotta have a little faith, Sister. They’ll find us.”
* * * * *
Plain-clothes cops had already spread out down the street, knocking on doors and asking questions, as well as distracting neighbors. Mac and Lich climbed over the fence into the backyard again, this time moving to the back door to the garage. Down on a knee, Mac went to work picking the lock on the ancient doorknob. He fiddled with it a minute, and then he heard a little click and felt the lock pop open. Mac opened the door, and he and Lich quickly moved inside the garage and closed the door.
“Let’s clear the house quick,” Mac said, his Sig in his right hand.
Lich nodded as he pulled his Smith. Neither of them expected to find anyone, but this needed to be done. Mac pushed into the house, and he and Lich quickly moved throughout the first floor and then quickly down to the basement. There was nobody inside.
Mac grabbed the radio on his belt as he walked back up the stairs from the basement. “The house is clear. Come on in.”
Lich yelled from the front of the house, and Mac hit the garage door opener. As it opened, the white police surveillance van backed into the driveway. The back door of the van opened, and four forensics techs, two each from the department and the FBI, exited the van. With everyone out, the van pulled out and rolled down the block as the garage door closed. Mac slipped on rubber gloves while everyone else got their equipment together.
With everyone ready, Mac opened the door and let them into the one-story house. The group stood in the eating area, which was separated from the dark wood cupboards and mustard yellow Formica of the 1970s kitchen by a waist-high counter. The card table that Riley saw was the only furniture in their immediate view. Mac pointed to an FBI and St. Paul tech, “I’ll work up here with you two.”
“And I’ll take you other two downstairs,” Lich added.
Now that the house was clear, Mac took his time walking and looking around. His first stop was the living room to his left, which was devoid of furniture, its beige shag carpet the only contrast against the stark white walls. The only thing worthy of notice was the fresh vacuum tracks in the carpet. Leaving the living room, Mac walked down a hallway to the two bedrooms and full bath. The larger of the two bedrooms contained only a queen-size mattress and box spring, but no bed frame or headboard. There were no sheets on the bed. The closet was empty, not even a solitary hanger on the rod. Again, there were fresh vacuum tracks throughout the room.
Across the hall, the other bedroom was tiny, maybe ten by ten, also empty and freshly vacuumed.
“Empty?” a tech asked, walking up behind Mac.
“Yeah, nothing. Freshly vacuumed is about all that I see of note.”
“If they were using this house, yes. They have been careful every step of the way,” Mac replied with a sigh. “But it’s a long way from vacuum tracks to saying they were here. It could be that a cleaning company has been in and out for all we know. That might explain the vacuum tracks.”
“I’ll process the room and maybe we’ll find out,” the tech said.
Mac stepped out of the bedroom and checked on the other tech working the bathroom, which was a narrow deal with a tub and shower on the left and the vanity and toilet on the right. “You got anything?”
“No,” was the terse reply. “I think someone was in here recently, if only because the smell of disinfectant is so strong. This room has been cleaned to within an inch of its life, and today I’d say.” The tech pointed to the vanity. “There’s just the slightest film around the drain of the sink. I’d guess it was cleaner. I took a sample.”
“How about the shower? Maybe the drain?” Mac asked, stepping past the tech and pulling back an orange shower curtain. It clashed badly with the pink tile of the shower and vanity top. “All we need is one hair, and we’d have something to go on.”
The tech shook her head. “I hear you, Detective, but the shower is spotless. There’s nothing in the drain. I checked already. I half wonder if it was even used.”
Mac stepped out of the bathroom and moved back into the kitchen, checking the cabinets and under the sink. All he found was peeling shelf and drawer paper. No silverware, plates, pans, or glasses. The kitchen was empty of any utensils or other common accoutrements.
Next he moved to the two-stall garage. It was vacant except for a green, wheeled garbage can. He flipped the top open. It was completely empty, nary a scrap of paper inside. Looking around he noted nothing in the garage. No shovels, rakes, brooms, tools, garbage bags, anything one would typically find in a man-cave. The cement floor was nearly spotless, other than a light coating of dust and some light tire marks, truck width apart, a van perhaps. There were no cleaning supplies, no mops, buckets, rags or vacuum cleaner, and no dirty towels or refuse. The place seemed almost sterile.
Back in the kitchen, Mac stood with his hands on his hips, looking around. This could be the place, but if it was, the kidnappers had again left nothing behind. It could just as easily be that the house was being cleaned or readied for tenants, not occupied, although Hall seemed pretty certain that people had moved in. They were trying to track down the home’s owner. Maybe he’d be able to shed some light on it all.
“Mac! Come down here,” Lich bellowed from the basement.
Mac bounded down two steps at a time. At the bottom he turned right, down the dark wood-paneled and linoleum-floored hallway that wrapped around the steps to a back bedroom on the left. Inside the bedroom he found Lich and the two techs standing between two twin beds. The beds had silver-barred head and footboards, along with mattresses and box springs, but no sheets or blankets. The beds sat on a gray cement floor. As with the rooms upstairs, it smelled faintly of disinfectant.
Lich waved Mac over to the bed on the left and pointed to the end posts. “See the scrapes here?” Lich said, pointing at the right post of the headboard and then to the left side. “Then, on the other side, the same thing. Then down on the footboard, the side posts, same thing.”
“Yet,” Mac said, waving to the head and footboards, “the rest of the rails are pristine, unscratched.”
“Right,” Lich said, and then turned to the other bed. “And we have exactly the same thing over here. You know what I think?” Dick asked, a twinkle in his eye.
“Hit me with it,” Mac said.
Lich moved to the end of the bed on the right. “Girls are on the beds, arms cuffed to the posts for the headboard and either cuffed or manacled to the footboard,” he said, pointing with his pen at the headboard and then back down to the footboard.
“And the scratches are from the cuffs moving up and down on the posts, the girls struggling to get free,” Mac added.
“Right,” Lich said, nodding.
“The girls were here, man,” Mac said, with conviction now. “I can feel it. Upstairs, the house has been cleaned top to bottom. The techs are processing it, but they’re finding nothing. These guys are so careful, they even remove the cleaning supplies and the trash. All of that stuff is gone.” Mac spoke with a modicum of admiration. “They’re ready even when we get a break.”
“My gut tells me your gut is right,” Lich said in agreement.
“I’m right,” Mac said, walking out of the bedroom, down the hall and back to the family room at the bottom of the steps. “They used this,” Mac said, waving his arms around, “as a safe house. They take Shannon on Sunday, drive out to River Falls, dump the one van, transfer into the other, drive back here and chain her to the bed in the basement. Then they can take an hour, run up to Clearwater to place the call, then come back nice and easy-like. Whole thing takes maybe three to four hours.”
“They stay here overnight,” Lich said, picking up on the thread. “So they’re close to St. Thomas and are in position to take Carrie the next day.”
“And then,” Mac said, pacing now, his left hand grabbing the back of his neck while he gestured with his right hand, “They bring Carrie back here after they dump the van over in south Minneapolis.”
“Precisely,” Lich said.
“You said, ‘precisely.’”
“Fuck you,” Lich went back to the task at hand. “Monday night one of the kidnappers drives over to Ellsworth to make the call and then drives back.”
“Then they take the girls and put them underground, but it’s someplace that isn’t that far from here,” Mac said. “So while we’re running around down in Ellsworth and dragging Drew Wiskowski in for questioning, they’re putting together that video.”
“Which they put under the stands at the football field sometime overnight,” Lich added. “After which they come back here.”
“Exactly,” Mac said. “The house gives them a good central staging area, so they can be close to town and operate, yet they’re not too far from wherever the girls are buried.”
“I shouldn’t smile,” Lich said, smiling. “But we’re on it, man. This is something. We just have to lay in wait.”
“If they come back,” Mac said, doubt creeping onto his face. “This place has been cleaned, is clean,” he said as he climbed the basement steps. “What if they’re not planning on coming back? The ransom call comes tomorrow at six. What if we’ve missed them?”
“Only one way to find out,” Lich said following.
“I know. We’ve got to sit on it,” Mac answered.
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