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“Prepared, complicated, motivated.”
Mac rubbed his eyes and checked his watch. It was 8:03 AM when he dropped Lich off. Mac agreed to pick him up in a couple of hours, and he powered up the window to keep the blazing heat out. Sometimes when storms blew through town, as they had the night before, a cool front would come in behind and bring some relief from the heat. This was not one of those times. Mac’s dashboard thermometer registered eighty-six degrees. It was going to be a miserable day.
Mac exhaled. There was a complicated plan in motion – a plan that was only partially executed, and they had no idea what was coming next. Furthermore, Mac worried that the kidnappers knew – had to know – that the police and FBI would be applying immense resources in search of the connection. The kidnappers either knew this and didn’t care, which Mac doubted was the case. Or they believed that the connection would be made, if ever, only after they were long gone, somewhere on the other side of the world, living off the ransom with new identities, never to be found. If the connection was that hard to find, the odds of making it were not in their favor.
Burton was worried about the timeline as well, so he was focusing on the money drop, figuring that might be their best chance. Having the money so close that the kidnappers could taste it might cause a mistake that the FBI and police could pounce on. The FBI man had the experience and the success, but Mac wasn’t so confident about catching the kidnappers when it came time to pay the ransom. Burton was good, no doubt, but they were up against someone with all the advantages at this point. And this was not a by-the-numbers case. The kidnappers were keeping them off balance and would be ready for the ransom drop. It wouldn’t be simple.
What bothered him the most was what was motivating the kidnappers. There was no reason to pick both Carrie Flanagan and Shannon Hisle other than to get at their fathers. This was as much about revenge or retribution – whatever you wanted to call it – as it was money.
Mac turned left and made his way to Berkley Avenue and halfway down he pulled up in front of Sally’s house. He snorted and shook his head. He always thought of it as her house, and she kept telling him he needed to think of it as theirs. Well, it might be “their” house, but she got the one-car garage, so he parked in the street.
Out of the Explorer, he stretched his arms, moved his head from side to side and yawned, the last day finally catching up with him. As he walked slowly up the driveway he ran everything through his mind again. He sat down on the back stoop and pinched the bridge of his nose. Another thing was beginning to gnaw at him. He didn’t feel like he or everyone else was really doing anything, pushing the investigation and beating the bushes, throwing out theories, doing what Lich liked to call “that investigative shit.”
Tired as he was, he could feel the time ticking away. He didn’t know what the clock was, but he was certain that they were way behind and that the time remaining was short. It was like being down by two touchdowns with less than two minutes to go, and the other team has the ball. Mac went inside and into the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge and went back out to the stoop. Making a pull off the water, he closed his eyes and tried to think about what they had done thus far and what they needed to do. He took out his notebook and started jotting down notes about the case. In the center of a fresh sheet, he wrote down his three concerns, boiled down to three words: prepared, complicated, and motivated.
The door opened behind him and Sally, dressed for work, stepped out onto the stoop. She sat down, kissed him on the lips, and put her hand up the back of his shirt to scratch his back while he continued with his notes.
“Prepared, complicated, and motivated?” Sally asked.
“That’s what these guys are?”
He surrounded the three words with notes, thought, and names. He was tired, exhausted really, and needed sleep. But his mind was working a little now, churning, moving, and he wanted to get it down on paper, and then sleep on it for two hours. He would let it all roll around in his subconscious. Fifteen minutes later, his head hit the pillow with “prepared, complicated, and motivated” percolating in his mind.
“In reality, a million dollars isn’t that much.”
Smith walked past the bank, through the alley, and across the street into the quiet city park. He was in Duluth, Minnesota, two hours north of the Twin Cities. Sitting at the far southwestern tip of Lake Superior, Duluth was an old port city with a large and deep harbor. At one time, Duluth was a booming shipping town, a pickup point for taconite, iron ore, and agricultural products to be shipped through the Great Lakes and onward to the Atlantic. However, with the decline of northern Minnesota’s mining industry, Duluth had suffered both economically and in population, which was now just over 87,000. Back in the 1950s it had been well over 100,000. Still, Duluth was a beautiful town, built into the rocky hillside overlooking the largest of the Great lakes. The steep cliffs and the roads traversing them vertically made him think of San Francisco, though without the Golden Gate and the trolley cars. As Smith looked back between the buildings, he could see the lake off in the distance, its dark cool blue water meeting the deep cloudless blue horizon, making the lake look like an ocean. The cool water of the lake also moderated the local temperature, making things more comfortable in Duluth than the rest of the state. While the temperature was going to hit the sticky upper nineties in the Twin Cities, Duluth was an easy seventy-four degrees as the noon hour approached.
Smith turned to the task at hand. He’d chosen the park weeks ago. Set in an older neighborhood on the southern end of town, it was pleasantly empty, as it had been when he first visited. Nonetheless, Smith wore a baseball cap pulled down tightly, wraparound sunglasses, and a nondescript outfit of jeans, a plain white T-shirt, orange reflector vest and tan leather work gloves. He carried an orange toolbox containing a variety of tools including screwdrivers, wrenches, and a hammer. To anyone walking by, he would look like a run-of-the-mill city maintenance worker.
The pay phone sat on the wall outside a small, octagonal cinderblock building that served as a warming house for ice skaters in the winter. He checked the door of the building, which was locked. He looked through the metal-grated window to make sure it was empty inside. It was. Scanning the area around the park, he noted only an older woman walking her yip dog on the far side of the park at least a hundred yards away.
With the park clear, Smith opened his toolbox, took the top tray out and pulled out a roll of quarters and his voice-masking device, which he placed over the phone. He dialed the number for Flanagan. The chief of police picked up on the second ring.
“Hello, Chief, and greetings to the many members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation listening in. Good day to you all. Chief, we want five million dollars total for your daughter and for Shannon Hisle. The cash is to be in non-sequential hundred-dollar bills. No dye packs or GPS tracking devices. Keep it simple and comply. You have until 6:00 PM tomorrow. We will call your office phone at that time with instructions for the drop.”
“What about our daughters? I’m not giving you anything until I speak with my daughter live on the phone.”
“Sorry, Chief but that isn’t possible now. If you go to Griffin Stadium at St. Paul Central High School and look under Seat10, Row 15, Section C, you’ll see why. We have a little gift for you that will, I think, motivate you and Mr. Hisle to meet our more than reasonable demands. Good day.”
Smith cradled the phone, took off the masking device, and kneeled down to reassemble his tool box, closing the top and fastening the latch. He walked briskly back across the street and through the alley. Dean saw Smith approaching and started the van. Once inside, Smith checked his watch. The walk back to the van took a little over a minute. Dean pulled out onto the street, turned left, and traveled four blocks north. As he waited at a stop light, a Duluth police squad car roared through the intersection, rollers and siren going, heading in the direction of the park.
“Could be something else,” Dean said, noting the pensive look on Smith’s face.
Smith simply nodded as he contemplated their next move, noting the swiftness of the police response, if that was in fact what it was.
“I want to make sure. Let’s take a more leisurely drive back, he said as the van merged onto Interstate 35 south a few minutes later.
Dean nodded and took the bridge east on Highway 2 over St. Louis Bay, crossing over to the city of Superior on the Wisconsin side. The group drove back south toward the Twin Cities on Wisconsin’s quiet State Highway 35 instead of Minnesota’s popular Interstate 35.
* * * * *
“McRyan,” Mac said, answering his cell phone with a yawn.
“Where are you at?” Burton asked.
“Just south of downtown on West Seventh.”
“Meet me at Griffin Stadium.”
“Griffin Stadium? At St. Paul Central High?” Mac asked quizzically. “What the heck for?”
“Kidnappers left a gift for us. And we have the ransom demand.”
Two minutes later, Mac was weaving in traffic again, the siren moving traffic.
“Five million dollars?” Mac said skeptically, turning a hard right onto Lexington Parkway and heading north. “That’s light.”
“What do you mean light?” Lich asked, confused.
“Split three ways, maybe four, that’s not that much money,” Mac said. “Four ways, my Cretin High School math tells me that’s $1.25 million per.” He shook his head. “Odd.”
“Maybe to you,” Lich said, “But to me, I could make $1.25 million go pretty far. Especially tax-free.”
“Yeah, after alimony, you’d have a buck twenty-five left,” Mac snickered.
“All kidding aside, think about it. You kidnap the daughters of the chief of police and a high-priced lawyer, and all you ask for is five million for the two?” Mac questioned. “I don’t buy it. All that risk for that little reward, relatively speaking. I mean in reality Dick, a million dollars isn’t that much. A nice house with some equity, some money in a retirement fund or two, a little inheritance, and you’re there. I mean, five million split between three or four people just isn’t that much.”
“If you say so,” Lich replied. “You’re the one with the money, so you should know.” Mac did have money. He had invested in a coffee business with two high school friends a number of years ago. There were now twenty-seven Grand Brew Coffee Shops with more on the drawing board. While a minority investor, Mac’s ten percent investment left him sitting pretty. It was one secret Lich had managed to keep. Mac didn’t want everyone on the force to know that he was going to be – in fact already was – wealthy.
Lich changed topics.
“God, the air conditioner feels good,” He said, wiping the sweat beads from his bald head. Sweat had already filtered through his fresh red Hawaiian shirt. He looked like Norm Peterson on a Cheers episode. “And not a cloud in the sky. We’re gonna bake today.”
“Grab the white beach cap in the back seat,” Mac replied. It’ll help keep your head cooler.” Not to mention that the last thing Lich needed was a sunburned head.
“God, it feels like this is all I’ve done for the last twenty-four hours,” Lich said, reaching in back. “Run around.”
“That’s what the kidnappers want,” Mac said, decelerating hard as he approached a left turn onto Marshall Avenue, with St. Paul Central High School on his left. Mac turned in front of the school, drove past the front door and smoothly turned right into a parking lot behind the football field. Two squad cars were there already, as well as a Tahoe from Forensics. The uniform cops had crime scene tape up, creating a perimeter. A guard waved the Explorer through a break in the tape.
As Mac hopped out of the Explorer and looked back, Riley, Burton, and the others pulled in. He noticed a few media types already loitering against the tape, including Heather Foxx, who was still looking good in that white sleeveless blouse. Her tastefully short, black skirt hugged her hips and revealed her tan legs. Heather looked happy. The Wiskowski tip put her well into first place in the morning media game.
“Mac?” He turned to see his second cousin Tip, a patrol cop, pointing to the football bleachers. “Up in the stands.”
Mac, Lich, and the rest hustled through the tunnel in the middle of the grandstand and then up the bleachers to the spot just in front of the press box, where a tech was taking photos, dusting for prints, and evaluating the package. Wrapped in clear plastic, it hung underneath a wood bleacher like a bat in a cave. Mac walked down the row just below where everyone was hovering. He crouched down, took off his sunglasses, and looked underneath. “What do you see?” Burton asked.
“Laptop,” Mac answered, noting the red and blue inputs on the back. The laptop was held to the seat by duct tape, which looked to be covering Velcro straps.
“Any prints?” Burton asked the crime tech.
“Nada. It’s clean,” was the curt reply from the tech.
“Not even on the tape or the plastic?” Lich asked. The tech just shook his head. The kidnappers weren’t leaving them anything to work with.
“Are we canvassing?” Riles asked, wiping sweat off his upper lip with the back of his hand.
“I’ve got bodies coming, yours and ours,” Burton replied. “We’ll blanket the neighborhood, see what turns up.”
Mac snorted and shook his head.
“Got to do it I know, but it’s a big fuckin’waste of time,” he said.
“Never know, someone could have seen something,” Burton said.
“You really think so? These guys haven’t left us anything up to this point,” Mac replied in disgust.
Burton exhaled and shook his head.
“No, but like you said, gotta do it.”
“What about the laptop?” Lich asked. “Want to look here or downtown?”
“Downtown,” Burton replied. “I want my people taking a look at it. I’m guessing we have video.”
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