Roger Stelljes. Smashwords Edition

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Who’s the guy?”

River Falls, Wisconsin, was a sleepy community half an hour from downtown St. Paul, fifteen miles into western Wisconsin. Mac pulled up to the crime scene tape in front of a bland industrial park. Mac, Dick, Riles, and Rock all filed out of the Explorer and walked up to the officer on guard standing in the opening between two one-story buildings and flashed their shields. The officer took a quick look at their badges and waved them through. Behind the building on the left, they found a burned-out van, a Ford Econoline Cargo. It was white, or at least used to be before it was torched. It was now massively disfigured with the frame and body distorted by the extreme heat of the fire. The van now listed to the right over the slag of melted tires. As they walked around it, Mac noted a distinguishing feature: a dent that ran for two feet just behind the bottom of the driver’s side door.

A stocky man in his mid-fifties approached, a large dip of tobacco in his lower right front lip.

You guys from St. Paul?” he asked. Everyone nodded. “Paul Fletcher, chief here in River Falls.”

Thanks, Chief,” Riles replied and then introduced everyone. “How’d the call come in?”

Fletcher pulled a little black notebook out of his chest pocket, “Call came in to us around 5:45 PM. The woman over there made the call,” Fletcher pointed to an older lady holding a small terrier, “heard an explosion. She walked around to the back of the building here and found the van in flames.”

Did she see anyone, any other vehicles pulling away, anything like that?”

Says no,” Fletcher answered, spitting tobacco to the ground. “She was just walking along the street with her little dog and then heard the boom.”

How long for you to get here, Chief?” Riles asked.

We got here about five minutes later, and the fire department just after that to put it out,” Fletcher said, spitting again off to the side. “It was blown up intentionally. There’s part of some sort of detonator in there and what might have been part of a plastic milk carton. The van has a Minnesota plate. And then we started hearing the radio traffic out of St. Paul about the kidnapping and to keep a look out for a white van, maybe dented. We thought this might be of interest.”

Not much left of her,” Lich said.

Nope,” Fletcher replied, spitting again. “They did a pretty good job blowin’ ’er up.”

I don’t imagine we’ll be able to get any prints or anything out of it,” Rock said.

I seriously doubt it,” Fletcher replied. “The blast and fire probably took care of all that. Then us pourin’ that water on it.” Fletcher scratched his head. “Well shit, there probably isn’t much left. Once we realized what might be going on, we left ’er alone. But at that point.…” He squinted and shook his head. “It was probably too late.”

You run the plate?” Mac asked Fletcher.

Yeah, the plate is for a van in Willmar. But the VIN number matches a van stolen in Breckenridge two weeks ago.” Willmar was a town in south central Minnesota, and Breckenridge was in far western Minnesota, along the North Dakota border, two hours from Willmar. Mac snorted.

These guys are being very careful.”

I’ll say,” Lich said. “So they dump the van here and use a pickup vehicle?” Lich asked.

I imagine that’s the case,” Mac replied. “However, I suspect that, in putting out the fire, any tracks and anything else was washed out.”

Probably so,” Fletcher sighed, resignation in his voice.

Not your fault, Chief,” Riles replied. “Safety first ya know. Gotta put out the fire. I’ll make a call and get some forensics help out here. You never know, we might get something.” He walked away from the group, cell phone already to his ear.

So, they’re being extra careful,” Mac said. “They drop the van well out of the city, it’s a stolen van with stolen plates, and they blow it up after the abduction. Smart.”

That it is,” was Fletcher’s reply. A local cop called to Fletcher and he walked away.

You know what this means,” Lich said.

What?” Rock said. Mac finished off Lich’s thought.

Shannon Hisle went over state lines. If the Feds weren’t in already, they’ll be in now.”

* * * * *

Smith and the others came up out of the basement, leaving Hisle bound, cuffed, and gagged downstairs in the bedroom. She’s been cooperative and gave them what they needed. “So, you’re off?” Dean asked.

Yeah,” Smith replied, “I’ll be a couple of hours. Keep your ears on your scanner as well. Call if anything comes up,” he ordered.

Smith went out into the garage and jumped in the van. They’d dumped the Econoline in River Falls. Now he was driving a Chevy Express Cargo. Within five minutes he’d maneuvered his way via Shepard Road to a Park & Fly lot for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He dropped the van next to a light blue Chevy Impala. On a quiet Sunday night leading into a holiday week, the lot was quiet; most of the people intending to fly out were long gone. Nevertheless, he quickly scanned the lot before leaving the van. Noticing nobody nearby, he hopped out and slid into the Impala.

He maneuvered the Impala onto Interstate 494 and made his way through the southern and then western suburbs of the Twin Cities. When he reached Maple Grove, on the northwest side of the metro area, he took Interstate 94 toward the college town of St. Cloud, sixty miles to the northwest.

* * * * *

Lyman Hisle lived just north of Stillwater, a burgeoning suburb fifteen miles northeast of St. Paul. Perched above the picturesque St. Croix River, Stillwater looked like a town right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Of course, in a Rockwell painting the shops would be used by the locals, but that was not always the case in Stillwater. On its main street, two-story storefronts of aged red brick and sandstone housed shops filled with antique furniture and trinkets. The narrow sidewalks teemed with antiques’ shoppers from all over the Midwest, who milled through the maze of shops and ate at the small bistros. Stillwater was also a popular place to begin a cruise on the St. Croix River. Mac had his boat docked in the marina on the north side of town.

It had been a quiet ride to Stillwater from River Falls as the four detectives silently contemplated the case. As they idled at a stoplight in the midst of the town, Mac broke the silence. “Whoever is pulling this off is smart and ballsy.”

Is it someone Hisle pissed off or just a random grab for money?” Riles asked.

Good question. It could be either, I suppose,” Mac answered. “Lyman’s apt to have some enemies we’ll need to get to know. At the same time, this could be about money and nothing more. A sharp set of kidnappers decides to take Shannon and see what they can get.”

Could be a nut or a group of nuts,” Lich added. “Some sex pervert who took Shannon for reasons other than money.”

That doesn’t feel right,” Mac disagreed. “This was too well-planned and thought out to be a nut. Shannon was picked out for some reason. The key will be whether, as I said, it was random in the sense that the kidnappers just picked her because Lyman was wealthy, or….”

“…they picked her because they want to hurt Lyman,” Riles added.

Right, or maybe both. We’ll see.”

So,” Lich asked Mac, “what’s your bet? Financial or personal?”

Hell if I know,” Mac said, exhaling. “Lyman’s rich. He’s got lots of money, but it’s not like he’s the wealthiest guy in town. There are a lot of people with far more, so….”

Personal,” Lich finished.

If I had to lay a two-dollar bet, yeah. At least personal in the sense there was a reason, a specific reason, to pick Hisle’s daughter. It wasn’t just random. There must be some reason to pick her. We have to figure out the why and maybe that’ll give us the who.”

That would mean we’re looking at his client list,” Rock said. “That’s apt to be a fuckin’ long list.”

You practice law for thirty years and have his level of success…” Mac whistled. “It’ll be long indeed. We should probably look at his opponents as well.” Hisle had hundreds, maybe thousands of criminal clients over the years, not to mention clients in his civil practice, discrimination cases, and class-action suits. “We’ll have to get that list going in a hurry.”

Wonder if we’ll run into any issues in looking at his files.”

Possible. Attorney-client privilege will be something of an issue, I suspect,” Mac responded. He was a licensed lawyer, but he’d never practiced before deciding to be a cop instead. “He’ll undoubtedly have a client or two who doesn’t want us rifling through their files.”

I imagine that’s the case,” Lich answered, as he looked to the marina on his right and changed the subject.

Isn’t that where your boat is docked?”

Yeah. Sally and I have to get you and Dot out sometime soon.”

She’d love it. Besides, I’d get to see Sally in a two-piece and that would be quite a sight,” Lich replied with a dirty grim. Dick knew his comments about Sally’s shapely body got under Mac’s skin just a little. Rock and Riles laughed heartily in the back.

I’ll make sure she wears a one-piece for you,” Mac snickered.

Asshole,” Lich said.

Pervert,” Mac retorted.

Hisle’s house lay a mile or so north of town on a high bluff over-looking the river. Normally you wouldn’t think there was a house on the bluff, as it was set back from the road behind a ten-foot-high wall of thick bushes and a line of mature trees. Beyond that natural barrier, well tended flower beds dotted an expansive and finely manicured three-acre lawn that gradually sloped down from the road toward the river. The house itself was a wide, prairie-style home that looked like Southfork from Dallas. However, tonight the house, or at least its location, was easy to spot, given the collection of police cars and media trucks with lights flashing, parked at the gated entrance to the winding driveway.

Mac pulled up and waited for the sheriff’s deputies to clear the cars blocking the driveway. Lich had his window down, and they could all hear Heather Foxx from Channel 12 starting her report fifteen feet to the right.

Thanks John. Right now, we’re in front of the Stillwater home of prominent attorney Lyman Hisle. At this point, we don’t know if Mr. Hisle has been contacted by the kidnappers. What we do know is that his daughter Shannon was abducted outside Cel’s Café on Selby and Western avenues in St. Paul. It is believed there were three men involved, who appear to have abducted her behind the restaurant and left the area in a white van.”

There was a pause in Heather’s report, although she didn’t take her eyes off the camera.

That’s a good question, Sheila. What we do know is that the van may have been dropped behind an industrial park in River Falls. Apparently, the kidnappers dropped it there and transferred Shannon to another vehicle. However, before the van was found by the police, it was burned, apparently through the use of an explosive device.”

A uniform cop moved one of the cars blocking the driveway, and Mac pulled through while Heather finished her report, her voice trailing away behind them.

Man is she aptly named,” Lich said, his mind ending up where it normally did. Heather Foxx was a leggy brunette with inviting green eyes, a perfect little ski-slope nose, and a dynamite smile. One come hither look from her and men melted. She’d been covering crime in town for two years and had developed many a good source, which she obviously already plumbed for information.

Man, what I wouldn’t give to throw a fuck into her,” Dick said, his eyes shut, dreaming of the lovely Heather. Riles laughed from the back.

Forget it, Dickey-boy. Your only hope is if your partner made a move on her and then gave you the post-game recap.”

Jesus Christ, not this again?” Mac said, shooting Riles a disgusted look.

Whatever,” Riles replied with a big grin, “I saw her try to get in your pants that night. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t let her.”

Heather had been at the pub a few months ago with a group of friends. Mac was there after work with Riley, Lich, and Rock but not Sally, and the two groups eventually found themselves together. Heather was well served and, at the end of the night, horny. As they were getting ready to walk out of the pub, she made a less-than-subtle pass that Mac was forced to decline in front of the boys. Of course, with these guys around to see it, he never heard the end of it.

Hey Mac,” Rock said, “There are worse things to live down than having Heather Foxx want to screw your brains out.”

This is true,” Mac replied with an evil grin. “It’s one problem I have that you all never will.”

Fucker,” Lich replied.

Prick” and “Smartass” were added by Riles and Rock, respectively, as Mac parked the Explorer at the edge of the circular drive. Theirs was the last in a long line of cars, both police and private. Inside the front door, they found Chief Flanagan and Captain Peters awaiting their arrival. The group quickly ducked into a small, well-appointed study.

Charlie Flanagan had been chief of the St. Paul Police Department for nine years. The chief was an angular man with a shock of bright white hair that had, at one time, been an equally bright red. He was a thirty-four-year veteran of the force who worked his way up from uniform cop to chief the old-school way.

While usually a man of good cheer, tonight the chief was pensive and foul-mouthed. The daughter of one of his best friends had been abducted, and in his city, no less. Not only that, but the mayor, Hizzoner Ted Olson, and the FBI’s local agent in charge, Ed Duffy, were standing just outside their room, monitoring the chief’s every move. Neither of them had much love for the chief, nor he for them.

Where are we at?” the chief demanded.

We’ve got what apparently the media’s got,” Riles said.

Which is?”

Zip,” Riles started, opening his notebook. “She was taken in the parking lot behind the café. She was thrown into a white van, which we found in River Falls. The kidnappers burned it there. Doesn’t look like there was much left behind. We have some crime scene techs going out there. Who knows, they might turn something up.”

The chief sighed and ran his hand through his thinning hair. Peters asked the obvious.

So you don’t think you’ll get anything?”

Doubtful,” Mac replied. “The River Falls cops didn’t know they were dealing with a crime scene right away. Police and fire trampled all over the place and hosed up what evidence there might have been.”

Maybe the FBI can help,” Peters replied.

They’re in for sure then?” Rock asked.

Yup,” the chief said. “As you saw, Ed Duffy is in the house.”

Bet that makes you happy,” Lich said with a wry smile.

Well, no it doesn’t. But let’s put that all aside tonight shall we,” the chief replied. For whatever reason, the two men did not get along with one another. Duffy replaced an old friend of the chief’s whose career was unceremoniously brought to a premature end due to some management discrepancies. Duffy came in, aired the management issues, made changes, and did a little more end zone dancing about his predecessor’s departure than the chief thought appropriated. On top of that, Duffy was good friends with Mayor Olson. Chief Flanagan and Olson were also on the outs, the mayor tiring of the city’s long-serving police chief.

I’m more worried about Shannon Hisle than fighting a turf war,” the chief continued. “The FBI can help.”

Lyman’s political friends have been on the horn,” Peters added. “And apparently one of the bureau’s best on kidnapping is in town this week to work with local agents. He’s coming in on this.”

Who’s the guy?” Mac asked.

A fellow named Burton. John Burton,” Peters replied.

That guy!” Riley replied, surprised. “I’ve heard of him.”

Is he the guy who brought that judge’s daughter home?” The one who was kidnapped by the white supremacists in Montana last summer?” Mac asked.

He is,” Peters replied.

I remember that,” Rock added. “That’s this guy? He won’t need us much.”

He is that guy,” the chief replied. “But don’t worry, you boys are working this. That’s the way I want it. That’s the way Lyman wants it, and that’s the way the FBI will deal with it.”

I saw the mayor hanging around out there,” Mac noted. “The four of us aren’t exactly his favorites.” That all stemmed from the PTA case last winter, not to mention a recent investigation into a cop killing. Rock and Mac, with Riley and Lich in tow, finished a controversial chase and shootout with an African-American suspect in the old Rondo neighborhood. There were complaints of excessive force and the shootout was in the news for weeks. The chief was unyielding in his support of his men, which led to political discomfort for the mayor. And if there was anything the mayor hated, it was political discomfort.

Hizzoner pushed hard for the FBI’s involvement,” Peters said. Everyone groaned.

Nice he has confidence in his department,” Mac commented.

It is what it is,” the chief said. “But listen, I want to get Shannon back, so we eighty-six the political bullshit. Do you boys read me on that?”

Everyone nodded.

How’s Lyman doing?” Mac asked

About as well as could be expected,” the chief answered. “I can’t possibly imagine what he’s going through.”

He wanted to see you guys when you got here.” Peters opened the door. “He’s back in his library.” Everyone fell in behind Peters, walking down the back hallway and into the library, where they found Lyman sitting at his desk. He was talking with Detective Frank Franklin, better known as Double Frank, as well as a few other dark suited men that they all recognized from the local FBI field office.

Mac made eye contact with Lyman, who broke away from the group and walked over. Mac gave him a hug.

Michael, I’m glad you are here,” he said. “I just can’t believe this is happening.”

I know Lyman, I know,” Mac answered quietly. “We’ll get her back.”

Lyman gripped Mac’s shoulders and looked at Lich, then to Riles and Rock as well.

Gentlemen, it’s good to have you working on this.”

We’ll do everything we can Lyman, you know that,” Riles replied. Everyone else nodded.

I know you men will; I know you will. Now, tell me where you’re at and don’t bullshit me. I need to know.”

Riles gave Lyman the rundown of what they had and then asked, “And I assume we haven’t heard from the kidnappers yet?”

No,” Double Frank replied. “We’ll be ready when they call.”

Just then there was a commotion in the hallway and a rangy man with a shaved head strode into the room with Ed Duffy in tow. Duffy made the introduction, “Chief, Mr. Hisle, this is Special Agent John Burton.”

Burton.” The chief replied, taking his hand. Then Flanagan paused and gave the FBI man a long look. “You look familiar for some reason.”

I worked out of the Minneapolis office way back in the early nineties, Chief,” Burton replied. “Our paths crossed on occasion. I wondered if you would remember.”

Good to have you,” Flanagan replied. “This is the girl’s father, and a friend of mine, Lyman Hisle.”

Hisle took Burton’s hand. “Word is you’re pretty good at this sort of thing,” Lyman said.

I’ve had some success, Sir. We’re going to do everything we can to get your daughter back.”

Well, let me tell you one thing that will help you,” chief said. “You keep my boys over here in the loop,” Flanagan waved toward Mac and the others. “They’re damn good.”

Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Burton replied blandly, shaking hands and getting names. When he got to Mac, he held his hand an extra moment, “McRyan? Are you a relation of Simon McRyan?” Burton inquired with an unmistakable tone of respect.

He was my father.”

Burton held the handshake and pointed, “He was a hell of a cop son, a hell of a cop. You worked that PTA case with the CIA guys, right?”

With these three,” Mac answered, gesturing to Riley, Rock, and Lich. Burton turned to the chief.

Damn right I want to work with these guys.” There was noticeable approval in the FBI man’s voice. Then he looked to Riley, the senior officer.

What do we know?” Riley gave the run down for what seemed like the tenth time. It didn’t sound any better no matter how many times he told it, Mac thought.

Well, probably not a nut then,” Burton said.

No,” Mac replied, “it was a well-orchestrated attack. These guys knew exactly what they were doing.”

* * * * *

It was dark now, approaching 10:00 PM, but the temperature was still in the mid-seventies. It if weren’t for the fact he had just completed a kidnapping, it would have been a lovely night to be out for a drive, Smith thought. Apparently, many Minnesotans agreed. During the summer, Minnesota cabin owners tended to stay up north at their lake places as long as possible before trekking home for another week grinding away at their jobs. As a consequence, even at this late hour, an endless stream of headlights glowed for miles in the distance, coming in the opposite direction on Interstate 94. The mass of traffic heading back into the Twin Cities would be of assistance to him soon enough.

Smith approached the Clearwater exit, which was forty-five miles from the Twin Cities and eleven miles southeast of St. Cloud. He took the exit ramp up, turned right, and drove a quarter mile before turning right into the parking lot of an abandoned fast-food restaurant. The lot was full of weeds, plastic soda bottles, and discarded fast-food bags. He pulled his car up to the single pay phone on the side of the building, the back of the car facing the road.

He stepped out of the car with a duffel bag. At the phone, he reached into the bag and pulled out a plastic bag with ten dollars’ worth of quarters, a Dictaphone, and a portable voice changer. He attached the acoustic coupler to the handset and adjusted the selector switch for a low voice. He then reached with his gloved hand for the pay phone and put in enough quarters to cover his call back to the Twin Cities. He dialed the number and put the receiver to his head with his left hand and held the Dictaphone in his right hand.

* * * * *

Here we go,” Burton said, jumping into action as the phone rang. Waving Lyman over, he put an arm around his shoulder, directing him. “Try to keep him on as long as you can,” Burton said to Lyman. “Keep him talking and maybe we get a fix on his position. Keep him going a little longer and maybe we can get somebody there. Get your daughter back! That’s your job, your mission here. Get her back. Keep him talking.”

On the third ring, Lyman picked up, “Lyman Hisle.”

The voice came over the intercom, obviously disguised.

We have your daughter.”

How do I know that? How do I know she’s alive?”

There was a muffled sound followed by a click and then the slow, quivering voice that made Lyman cringe.

Daddy, I am okay. I have not been hurt. Please do as these men say, and I won’t be harmed. I love you….”

The tape cut off. There was another muffled sound, and a few seconds later the voice was back. “Satisfied?”

No, I want to speak with her,” Lyman answered.

That is all for now,” the voice answered.

Wait,” Lyman pleaded, “I need to tell you something. Shannon is a diabetic.”

Sorry, I’ve got to go.”

Are you hearing me?” Lyman implored, stringing it out as best he could. “She’s a Type I diabetic. She requires daily injections of insulin. If she doesn’t get it, she can get very, sick. She could go into a coma without it; she could die. What good is she to you if she’s dead? You have to help her with that.”

Then you better do as we say,” the kidnapper replied.

I won’t do that until I speak with her, so I can hear her voice, so I know that she’s okay.”

We’ll be in touch.”

Wait, wait…. Her insulin! She needs her insulin!” Lyman yelped, but the line was already dead. He looked helplessly to Burton as he slowly set the receiver back into the cradle. The chief went to his friend, putting an arm around him.

Burton looked to the agent working a laptop.


The agent held his hand up while watching the screen.

It’s coming… wait…. Bingo! A landline… payphone, in… Clearwater.”

Where’s that?” Burton asked.

An hour northwest, up Interstate 94, toward St. Cloud,” the chief said, turning back to the group. “I take that exit going north to my cabin.”

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