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“What do you mean ‘ripped out?’”
The small monkey wrench thrown into the day’s plans was having an unintended but pleasant effect. After exchanging vehicles with Dean in Cambridge, a small town nearly an hour north of the Twin Cities, Smith and Monica had started driving back into town when she spoke.
“There’s a little motel.”
“Looks like they have a vacancy,” Smith added, turning right off of Highway 65 and into the dirt parking lot of the 65-Hi Suites. They had several hours to kill before a midnight meeting. There were ten rooms at the motel and five cars in the parking lot: just enough that they wouldn’t be memorable to the motel clerk, and just few enough that there was minimal risk they would be remembered by a guest.
His first two weeks out of prison, Smith stayed in Chicago and went on a binge, hooking up with a different woman every night. Some nights it was a woman he picked up in some bar. A divorcée, a woman looking for a fling, he wasn’t real particular. If he couldn’t find a woman at a bar, a hooker in a cheap hotel room would do. The quality didn’t really matter. He was working off fifteen years of pent-up sexual frustration, so any woman did it for him.
After Chicago, he moved to the Twin Cities and joined up with Dean, David, and their sister Monica to start the planning. He was immediately attracted to her. Monica was in her mid-forties, but the years were being very kind to her. Twice divorced, Monica was a petite woman with creamy skin, short, jet-black hair in a stylish cut, deep green eyes, a tiny, slightly upturned nose, and full ruby lips. And she was smart as a whip. A CPA, she worked the books for a number of years for area jewelers. That was where, three years ago, she crossed paths with Lyman Hisle. He didn’t know her, but she knew him.
Monica was in a jewelry store on Ford Parkway, balancing the books, when Hisle walked into the store, dressed in a two-thousand-dollar French suit and two-hundred-dollar Italian shoes. He spent ten thousand dollars in fifteen minutes without blinking an eye, money that Hisle had made off of people like her father.
Anger raged within her as Lyman Hisle whipped out his American Express card and spent the money as if it were nothing, as if he were buying groceries or a DVD. From that point forward, she never let the rage go. As far as she was concerned, Lyman Hisle had killed her father. He didn’t pull the trigger, her father did that. But Hisle drove him to do it. For ten years she suppressed the anger, shoving it to the back of her mind. She’d been able to cope with the damage Hisle’s work did to her father, the drinking, the pills, the loss of all the money, and finally the suicide. But seeing Hisle, seeing him spend all that money so cavalierly, brought it all back.
She was looking for the same kind of payback Smith was looking for. As the planning for the kidnappings began, she and Smith spent many hours together, scouting sites and observing targets. Their passion for revenge ignited the same within them, as though the two feelings fed off of one another. Within a month they were sleeping together. In another month, Smith and Monica knew they would escape together when everything was over. He was in love with her, and she said the feeling was mutual. Monica was married twice and divorced twice. Both times she had married unworthy men, weak men, men she couldn’t trust. Her brothers told her that Smith was none of those things. He was strong. He’d been a man in prison. He was a man they could trust, a man who wanted what they wanted and possessed what they didn’t: the ability and the connection to pull it off.
Now it was 8:27 PM, and they were lying in a musty motel room with an air conditioner working overtime to cool the room. They lay naked on the bed, her head just under his chin, the sheets and blankets on the floor and the sweat from the sex cooling on their bodies. Smith reached over and grabbed the remote for the TV. He turned to Channel 6, which was running a special bottom-of-the-hour report about the kidnappings. For the first time, Smith saw the videotape played by the media.
“I didn’t think they would release that to the public,” Monica said.
“I’m not sure I did either.”
“Are you worried about that?”
“Not particularly. The video snippets are short. The land is mostly private. I’m sure they’re hoping that somebody will recognize the road or some marking in the background. I don’t see that happening.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have put so much into the video.”
“You might be right,” Smith answered mildly. “I wanted to build the anxiety for Flanagan and Hisle before we showed the girls going under. I wanted them to see the process, let the pressure and suspense build. I wanted them fully motivated to pay. In the end, perhaps less would have been more.”
They listened to the rest of the report.
“Nothing about the house,” Monica said. “Perhaps the coast is clear.”
“Maybe,” Smith answered, lightly scratching her upper back. “The media has been on most breaks in the case, but they’re not on this one. Either the police have done a good job of keeping this one quiet, or they don’t think we were at the house.”
“What do you think is the case?” she asked, running her fingers through his chest hair.
“You cleaned the house well?”
“Yes. It’s clean.”
“They might think we were there. But they’re not finding anything, which means they’re no closer to finding us. And besides, we’re not going back,” he said, cupping her breast in his hand and stopping her questions with a kiss.
* * * * *
Jupiter Jones grabbed a Red Bull out of his Sub-Zero refrigerator and a bag of chips out of the walk-in pantry. He loaded up his coffee maker for a night’s worth of fuel. Frequent jolts of energy would be needed for what looked to be an all-nighter. The video of the kidnappers burying the girls alive had his utmost attention. If the video didn’t hit you, you weren’t human. He couldn’t imagine the impact on the chief or Lyman Hisle.
He tied his Hefner robe shut over his shorts, slid his feet into his flip-flops, and went back to his home computer lab. The FBI techs – who were good – very good – had gone over the video all afternoon and found nothing that seemed helpful beyond identifying the van as a Chevy Astro, 2001 edition, based on elements of the dashboard design. Jupiter didn’t believe there was nothing else there. There was always, always, something to be found, something that could help. To do that required patience, a keen eye for detail and, most importantly, top-of-the-line equipment – all of which he had. His equipment was better than anything law enforcement owned. Mac had called Jupiter in on more than one occasion as a secret weapon. Mac often said that Jupiter should be in one of those “Break in Case of Emergency” cases. Jupiter thought Mac was right.
Having watched the video a number of times, Jupiter had a feel for it now, knowing what it showed and how it flowed. Nothing jumped out at him initially, but then again, if something like that were there, the FBI or the police would have found it. No, what he was looking for wouldn’t be obvious, if not flat-out hidden. But it was there somewhere. You just had to know how to find it, or get lucky enough, and then extract it.
He needed to break the video down frame-by-frame. Jupe took a sip from his Red Bull, grabbed a handful of chips and started at the beginning: the van driving through the field.
* * * * *
Mac wiped sweat off his forehead as he sat on a dining room chair, looking out the front window of the Hall house and across the street at the rambler. The crime scene techs found nothing inside the house: no prints, no hairs, no odd fibers, no nothing. The house was clean. Or, as Mac bitterly stated, “It’s a safe house for these bastards because it’s clean.”
It took three hours, but Burton and the FBI found the owner, Gavin Harvey, who was out on his boat on Lake Minnetonka. Arriving dressed in a bright orange swimsuit and an unbuttoned blue and white Hawaiian shirt, not to mention half in the bag, Harvey turned over a manila folder with a thin set of rental documents for the house.
The renter was Ramona Jones. No picture identification was in the file. Simply a one-page, two-month agreement and a notation of $2,000 cash paid up-front. It was nothing unusual, according to Harvey. This was one of his lesser rental properties, and he was contemplating selling because he couldn’t regularly rent it. When Jones came along with $2,000 cash and a two-month rental request, it was “a no brainer,” Harvey said. “Otherwise the joint sits empty.”
Harvey’s description of the woman wasn’t helpful either. “Small, petite, she was attractive, had long blonde hair, nearly down to her ass. I took a little run at her, if you know what I mean,” Harvey said, smiling crookedly and winking at Mac. “But she blew me off.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Lich cracked.
“Where was she from?” Mac asked, suppressing a chuckle.
“I don’t know, beyond what’s on the rental sheet,” Harvey said, the booze on his breath causing Mac to wince and take a step back. Good thing this guy has a lackey driving him.
The rental sheet revealed a nonexistent address in Duluth. Harvey said that he had spoken to Jones once over the phone, met her once in person to have her sign the lease, collected the money, and gave her the keys. Harvey hadn’t stopped by since.
Neighbors were questioned, but nothing useful was coming of it. People saw the vans, but they couldn’t give consistent answers as to colors, makes, models, or plates. Men were seen, but nobody seemed to know how many or what they looked like beyond being big. Nobody spoke to the men or ever saw their faces. They were seen pulling in and out of the garage, black-clad torsos with hats and sunglasses on. Otherwise, they were never seen and never did anything to draw attention.
Burton, Duffy, and Peters were also convinced that the kidnappers were using the house. Now, if only they would come back. Mac ran the facts continuously through his head as he watched the house and the neighborhood. The neighborhood was eerily quiet. The heat was keeping people inside. A normal July 3rd night would have people out walking their dogs, taking a run, enjoying the small window of summer weather in Minnesota. Instead it was quiet.
Stifling a yawn, Mac turned away from the window to see the massive Rock sitting in an undersized armchair, reading, of all things, Better Homes and Gardens. Rock wasn’t exactly the kind of guy who cared about curtains or tulips or anything of the like. He was bored. So was Lich, who was failing miserably in his attempt to complete a crossword puzzle in the Star Tribune. The kicker was Riles, a man who absolutely hated pop culture, reading a People magazine. Pat far preferred watching the Discovery and History channels or reading a Newsweek or Time.
Mac had to laugh. Riley, all six feet, three inches of him, wearing a faded blue Minnesota Twins cap, a dark blue golf shirt, and khakis, sat on the right side of a small couch. On the other side sat the short, squat Lich, wearing white tennis shoes, lightly soiled off-white pants, a red Hawaiian shirt with white collar, and a white beach hat he had fished out of Mac’s backseat earlier. It was the Skipper and Gilligan.
Mac slyly caught Riles’ attention before he said to Lich, “Hey little buddy,” in his best Skipper voice. Riles, right on cue, hit Dick on the head with his blue hat. Rock howled in laughter.
“Fuck you all,” Lich growled, rubbing his head. For no reason at all everyone started talking about their favorite Gilligan’s Island episode. Rock argued for five minutes, mostly tongue-in-cheek, that the show was racist. “I didn’t see no brothas on that show. Why not? That Sherwood Schwartz dude was racist.”
“Oh, right,” Mac answered, rolling his eyes. “There were lots of African Americans who were going on charter boat rides in Hawaii back in the mid-sixties.”
“Fuck that,” Rock answered. “They just didn’t want a gook lookin’ black dude like Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, or Richard Roundtree scoring with Ginger or Mary Ann.”
“You know what I don’t get? Why weren’t the skipper, professor, or Gilligan drillin’ Ginger or Mary Ann to begin with,” Lich said, his mind always wandering in a certain direction. “I mean, you know Thurston was putting the Howell the III to Lovey.”
“Oh God,” Mac howled, doubling over with laughter, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Okay, which one, Ginger or Mary Ann?” Rock asked smiling.
“Mary Ann!” Mac and Riles replied in unison.
“Agreed,” Rock said. What about you, Dick Lick?” Rock asked.
“Ginger. Definitely Ginger. She could suck a golf ball through a straw,” Lich said, smiling, sticking his tongue out in his best impression of Morris from Slap Shot.
Mac got up out of his chair, still clutching his stomach, and went to check on Hall. Mrs. Hall, whom they had yet to meet, was out shopping although she was due back any minute. In the meantime, Mac and the others would check on Mr. Hall from time to time. When Mac walked in he was lying in his bed, watching the Twins game.
“Can I get you anything?” Mac asked. Hall was sweating through yet another shirt.
“A refill on my water,” Hall answered. “I have to take some medication.”
Mac arrived in the kitchen just as Mrs. Hall came through the back door with two bags of groceries.
“You must be Mrs. Hall,” Mac said as he introduced himself and pulled out his shield. Mac explained what he and the others were doing.
“How is Pat doing?” she asked.
“He needed some water for his medication.”
“I can get that,” she said.
“That’s fine,” Mac answered. “You put your stuff away. I can run it in for him.”
Riles walked in, putting his cell phone back in his pocket. “That was Peters. We’ve got relief coming in a bit. We get until 0600 to get some rest. They’ll call us if anything comes up.”
Mac nodded, grabbing some ice cubes out of the freezer. “I’m starting to think these guys have bolted.”
“They might have, but what else do we have at this point?”
Riles was right. What else did they have? Or why weren’t they looking for something else? Mac wondered. All they’d done in the last two days was react to whatever the kidnappers were doing. To Mac, it still seemed like they weren’t pushing the investigation. Rather it was being pushed at them. Three words surfaced again in his mind: complicated, prepared, and motivated.
Mac walked back to Hall’s room with Riley in tow. As he placed the glass on the nightstand he heard a vehicle slowing outside. Mac turned to the window to see a minivan pulling into a neighbor’s house, but not to the house they were watching.
“Nothing, eh?” Mr. Hall asked, taking a sip.
“Nada,” Mac answered. “How are the Twins doing?”
“They’re up four. Mauer is three-for-three,” Hall said, then added with a little pride, “That St. Paul kid is hitting over three-forty again.”
“He’s got a shot at another batting title,” Riles said, straightening his Twins cap on his head.
Mrs. Hall walked into the room to check on her husband. Riles and Mac stood watching the game for a moment and both clapped as Mauer flared a single to left field, now four-for-four in the game.
“He’s unbelievable,” Riles said of Mauer.
“That he is,” Mac replied as he went back to the window and pulled back the curtains.
“They haven’t come back, have they?” Mr. Hall asked disappointedly.
“No,” Mac answered, looking out the window.
“You think they’re the guys?”
Mac looked back and nodded slightly.
“Too bad I didn’t pay a little more attention when they ripped out of here earlier,” Mrs. Hall said. “Maybe I could have seen something that would have helped.”
“Ripped out?” Mac asked, turning back to Mrs. Hall.
“What do you mean ripped out?” Riles added.
“I might have missed them when they left,” Mrs. Hall answered, “except that they squealed the tires pulling out. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the air conditioner was working. But with the windows open, I heard the tires and saw them go.”
Mac pulled out his notepad, checking his notes from earlier. “Mr. Hall, you said they left just after you called it in right?”
“How long after you called?”
“Five minutes at the most, I’d say,” Mrs. Hall answered for her husband. “Pat was on the potty when it happened.”
“They ripped out of here?” Mac asked. “Like they were in a hurry?”
“It sure seemed like it.”
“They ever do that before?” Riles asked. “Or was that a first?”
“Not that I recall,” Mrs. Hall answered. She thought about it some more. “They were usually pretty quiet.” Hall thought a few seconds more and then shook her head. “No, that was the first time I recall them leaving so fast. What about you, Pat? Did you ever see them leave like that?”
“Not that I recall.”
“And again, this was after you called,” Mac pressed. “You’re sure it was after?”
“That’s right,” Mrs. Hall answered.
Mac and Riles shared a look. They left the Halls and went back to the kitchen.
“Do you think…” Riles started.
“…that they were tipped off,” Mac finished as he led Riles back to the living room. “I think it’s entirely possible.”
In the living room, Lich and Rock were peering out the front window.
“I think we might have missed something,” Mac said in a hushed but excited tone.
They all looked at him. “Like what?” Rock asked.
Mac related what Mrs. Hall had just told them. “We got the call from Burton, what? At about four thirty?” Mac asked, looking at his notebook.
Riles nodded. “Yeah.”
“At about the same time we’re getting that call, these guys, according to Mrs. Hall, bolt as well. They ripped out of here.”
“They ever do that before?” Rock asked.
“No,” Mac and Riles answered in unison.
Lich’s face paled. He pinched the bridge of his nose and grimaced. “Fuck, Mac,” he said heavily.
Pat ran his hand hard through his thick mane of black hair. “They ripped out of here, boys. Mrs. Hall said that she almost missed them because they ripped out of here.”
“At roughly the same time we’re getting the call, which is five to ten minutes after the call from Mr. Hall originally came in,” Mac answered, pointing at Rock with his notepad. “Isn’t that awfully convenient? That they left the house like that at about the same time as I got the call? And we’ve been sitting here how long, and nobody’s been back?”
“Could be a coincidence,” Rock answered. “They could be back any minute for all we know.”
“Riles looked at Mac, who said, “I doubt it. We can keep sitting on this house. But they’re not coming back.”
“Oh shit,” Lich said, rubbing his face with both hands.
“Mother fuckers,” Rock muttered. “They’ve got someone inside.”
“We’ve got the rest of the night off,” Mac said. “We need to figure out what we’re going to do.”
“Who can we trust?” Lich asked.
“Peters,” Riles answered.
“Double Frank, I’d say,” Rock added.
“And any McRyan,” Mac said. “And Sally – we could use her help. But beyond that?” He shook his head. “We gotta keep this close.”
“We got lots of people hanging around,” Riles said. “Within the department and then all those FBI people. God,” he sighed, running his hand over his face. “It could be anyone.”
“Not to mention Hisle’s law firm,” Lich added. “Lyman’s a good guy, but who knows?”
“I’d start with the department,” Mac said matter-of-factly. That stunned everyone. Mac had more institutional love than anyone else.
“Why not the fuckin’ FBI?” barked Rock.
“Easy, Rock,” Mac answered, holding up his hands. “It could be them, too. But, if you’re with the bureau, how could you know for sure you’d be on the case?”
“Whereas people in the department…” Lich started.
“Could be certain, or at least more certain, that they would be involved,” Rock finished. “I see Mac’s point.”
“We need to move carefully, boys. Very carefully,” Riles said. “Ideas?”
“Let’s go to the Pub,” Mac answered. “Just us and Peters. We’ll get Sally over there, too. We gotta start making some moves of our own.”
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