Veiled threat, p.1
Veiled Threat, page 1
Veiled Threat © 2013 Alice Loweecey
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First e-book edition © 2013
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(It was your idea, after all.)
GIULIA FALCONE—DRISCOLL INVESTIGATIONS’ PARTNER-IN-TRAINING—HUSTLED her friend up the narrow wooden stairs to the office door. Even after four months, the sight of her name on the frosted glass still gave her a shiver of pride.
“The hall isn’t heated. If we walk, we’ll have eyebrow icicles before we reach the landing.”
Laurel Drury, owner-operator of Stage Door Soup Kitchen, reached the landing before Giulia. She didn’t smile as she tapped snow from her red suede, spike-heeled boots onto the mat.
Giulia stomped snow from her low-heeled, practical ones and switched them for her flats. “Don’t worry. Frank will help.”
Laurel nodded, pulling a wadded tissue from her pocket. Giulia gave her a quick squeeze before she opened the door.
Their admin started and hid the window on her monitor. “Hi, Giulia—oh, you have a client?”
“Hey, Sidney. Is Frank in?” Giulia hung their coats on the rack behind the door.
“He’s eating lunch.”
“Great. C’mon. We have a captive audience.” She tossed her purse on her own desk, kitty-corner to Sidney’s. “Here’s a fresh tissue.”
Laurel honked into it. Giulia knocked once on the door separating Frank’s office from theirs and opened it without waiting for an answer.
“Frank, we need to talk.”
The head of Driscoll Investigations choked on a bite of pastrami sub.
“Giulia, those four words strike fear into the heart of the strongest man.” He swallowed several gulps of Coke.
“Don’t be a wuss. And it’s nothing like that. This is my friend Laurel—you know, she runs the soup kitchen in the theater district. Laurel Drury, Frank Driscoll. Frank, Laurel.”
Frank wiped his hands on a napkin. “Pleased to meet you.”
Giulia dragged in her client chair while they shook hands. “Sidney, could you take messages while we’re in here? Thanks.” She closed the door and sat Laurel in Frank’s client chair. “That one has better padding. Now tell him.”
The tall, dark woman with circles under her eyes, wearing a wrinkled gray sweatshirt, shredded the tissue in her hands without speaking. Giulia put a hand over her restless ones, and her friend’s mouth trembled.
Laurel inhaled a long, shaky breath. “They kidnapped our baby.”
Frank’s body language did a one-eighty. He sat straighter, pulled a covered notebook from the center drawer, and uncapped a pen. “Start at the beginning, please, Ms. Drury.”
Laurel held onto Giulia’s hands while she spoke. “Anya and I—she’s my partner—we’ve been trying to adopt for three years. We jumped through every legal hoop they threw at us. We’ve been background-checked, counseled, submitted our financial records, and got references from our families, friends, pastor, teachers, and co-workers. Giulia’s appearance as a character witness tipped everything in our favor at the final hearing, because she taught the judge’s grandkids back when she was a nun.”
Giulia shrugged. “Anything I could do to help, you know that. You two were made to be parents.”
Laurel swallowed. “We’ve only had Katie for a month. She’s perfect. Big brown eyes, lots of curly hair. Her skin even looks like a cross between mine and Anya’s because it’s exactly the color of cappuccino.” She freed her hands to wipe her eyes. “She was born with polydactyly.” She looked at Frank’s and Giulia’s faces. “An extra pinky on each hand. The brand-new doctor at the hospital when she was born botched the removal and left stubs on both hands, but our pediatrician says he can snip them off and she won’t have any scars by the time she’s a year old.” Her voice broke and she sobbed into the soaked tissue.
Frank cleared his throat. “Ms. Drury—please—”
Giulia waved a shushing hand at him. She moved to the arm of Laurel’s chair and rested her friend’s head on her shoulder. “Come on now. Come on. We can’t help if we don’t know the whole story. Come on, sweetie.”
Napkins, she mouthed at Frank. He slid the remaining clean one across the desk. Giulia pushed it under Laurel’s nose. She blew into it and wiped her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I’ll try to stop. It’s just that there’s so little time.”
Giulia returned to her chair. “That’s why you’re going to tell us what we need to know. Ready?”
Laurel dropped the crumpled napkin onto her lap and ran her hands over her short, ruffled hair. “Yes. You’re right.” She straightened and balled her fists on her thighs. “Anya’s team played in the State Cup yesterday.”
Frank, writing, said, “State Cup? You mean high-school soccer?”
“Yes. Anya’s director of sports at Quaker Prep. Four of her seniors are going pro—they’re an amazing team—and it’s all because of Anya’s coaching. My niece Erin is a Red Cross–trained babysitter. She’s excellent with infants; she’s sixteen-and-a-half.”
Giulia said, “You’re skipping around. Why did you attend the game without Katie?”
Laurel’s voice hitched. “We didn’t—didn’t want her out in the cold for two hours. She’s so little. I had to go, to support Anya and her girls. The pitch is only ten minutes from our condo. I had my cell phone. It was perfectly safe.” Her voice wavered and threatened to break.
Giulia gripped her shoulder and shook her the tiniest bit.
Laurel took a deep breath. “They won, of course, and I congratulated them and came right home. Erin didn’t answer my knock, but I figured she was in the bathroom or on the phone or changing Katie. My key turned too smoothly in the lock, but I didn’t notice it till the police were asking me questions.”
Frank finished writing a sentence. “What was the situation in your condo?”
“It was neat as a pin, just
“Was she injured?”
“Of course she was.” Her fist increased its muffled staccato tempo. “They knocked her unconscious. Do you think she would’ve let them take Katie without a fight? They put a washcloth in her mouth and tied a long strip of sheeting around her head and her arms and legs. Bastards. They scared the life out of her.”
Frank fidgeted. Giulia frowned at him.
“But she’s okay now, right?”
Frank stepped on Giulia’s last word. “Ms. Drury, you should be talking to the police, not me.”
Laurel leaned forward. “We have talked to the protectors of society, if you can call them that. I don’t understand how such do-nothing attitudes didn’t get caught in psychological screening.”
Frank dotted an i. “Ms. Drury, even an apathetic officer would still do his duty.”
“I don’t doubt that, Mr. Driscoll. What concerns me is the alacrity with which he might or might not perform those duties. We went to the station this morning to play the message the kidnappers left us, and he was less than sympathetic.” She dug her fingernails into the arm of the chair. “His captain is nothing like him, fortunately.”
“Yes, Reilly is his name. Do you know him?”
“Quite well. I can assure you, Ms. Drury—”
“Play the message, Laurel.” Giulia avoided Frank’s eyes. It was unprofessional to cut him off like that, but saving Laurel’s baby was worth the lecture he was no doubt already composing.
Laurel took out her cell phone and pressed several buttons. After the soothing instructions from the recorded voice, she pressed “4” and set the phone on the desk.
“You might have railroaded your agenda through the state legislature, but you don’t deserve to have everything so easy.” A man’s voice, muffled and distorted by noise and other voices in the background. “You don’t deserve to have anything easier than normal people, especially children. Get four hundred thousand dollars by seven thirty in the morning three days from today. We’ll call with further instructions. Remember, don’t be stupid. We’d better not hear an AMBER Alert or see anything that looks like the FBI. Get a Bible while you’re at it and read. One Corinthians Seven. You know, about wives having sexual relations with their husbands.”
Voicemail offered them a series of choices. Laurel stared at the phone as though she wanted to drag the kidnapper through it.
Frank spoke over the recorded instructions. “Play it again, please.”
When the message finished, Frank nodded and Laurel ended the call.
“Ms. Drury, do you plan to pay the ransom?”
“We’re trying. We’ve cashed in our IRAs; we’ve written checks on our credit cards and maxed them out; we’ve emptied our savings. It’s still not enough. Anya’s at the bank signing paperwork for a home equity loan on our condo. We’ll need a miracle to get approval by the twenty-second. Banks can’t even process some deposits in three days.” She ran her hands through her hair, making it stick out every which way. “We’re not rich. You don’t get wealthy running a soup kitchen and coaching high-school sports. He asked for that much money because he knew we couldn’t come up with it.”
“How do you know that?” Frank’s voice remained neutral.
“The kidnappers had a copy of our key. The police said there weren’t any signs of a break-in. They knew we’d be out yesterday afternoon. Erin said they came in half an hour after we left. Who knows how long they’ve been watching us? Who knows how much of our lives they’ve invaded? They stole the most important part of our lives—our baby.”
“Don’t take that condescending tone with me!” Laurel transformed from distraught, sobbing victim into a Valkyrie in rumpled clothes. “I had a bellyful of it yesterday from the detectives at our condo. They pretended they didn’t know about the other kidnappings. They took notes and fingerprints and asked question after question and, no matter what they said, I saw the sneer in their eyes. The younger one took his cues from the older one, and the more they talked to us the less they cared. The younger one gave us that look—like we’re some kind of porno sluts. We see it in guys all the time.” She slammed her hands on the desk, making the phone jump.
Giulia stood. “There’s always a few scumbags in any organization. You know Frank’s not looking at you that way.”
“I know. You told me. I trust you. It’s the police—they’re so slow.” A wail crept into her voice, but she got hold of herself. “We played the message for them this morning. They wrote it down and said they’d get back to us.” She stood and paced the small office. “Get back to us? This isn’t a job interview. It’s Katie’s life! They’ll kill her if we don’t give them the money. They’ll kill her!”
Giulia stepped in Laurel’s path and put her hands on the taller woman’s shoulders. “You don’t know that for sure.”
“They killed one of the other babies—they may have killed both of them. The mainstream media paid more attention to Iraq and Afghanistan and North Korea, but everyone in our network knew about the other two kidnappings.”
Frank said, “These other two kidnappings. Did they occur here in Cottonwood?”
Laurel shook her head. “No. One happened in Erie and the other in Akron.”
“Then I don’t quite see how they are connected to your situation.”
Giulia thought at Frank, Stop being so cold. What are you trying to do?
Laurel got an “I’m counting to ten” expression. “I don’t expect you to be familiar with gay adoption, but there is an extensive network dedicated to helping each other through the legal and financial mazes. We share all the news, good and bad. The Akron kidnapping took place a year ago February. The Erie one took place last April. Both sets of parents are gay women. Both sets of parents received the exact same message we did. The first baby was never seen again. They left the body of the second baby at the same place as the ransom drop.” She broke away from Giulia and braced herself on Frank’s desk. “Do you see the connection now? We only have two more days to raise the money and, no matter what, we won’t get Katie back unless we find out who’s doing this. Giulia said you could help us.” Her voice shook. “Please.”
Frank stood. “Ms. Drury, I still think your best solution is to let the police do what they’re trained to do. But,” he overrode the beginning of her protest, “based on the information you’ve given me, I’ll consider whether Driscoll Investigations can assist you.”
He glanced at Giulia, then at the door.
Laurel’s rigid posture sagged. “Thank you.” Her voice sagged with it.
Giulia opened the door. “I’ll walk you downstairs.”
The phone rang as they entered the main office. Sidney’s always perky voice made “Good afternoon, Driscoll Investigations,” sound like an invitation to chat with one’s best friend.
Laurel didn’t speak till they were halfway down the stairs. “He’s going to hand this off to the police.”
Giulia wished for an injection of Sidney’s eternal optimism. “He used to be a cop, I told you that. He still has something of a cop’s mentality, but at the very least I’m sure I can convince him to work with them. No, to let both of us work with them.”
“There are rules. Confidential information and all that. The police can’t share everything they know.” Laurel took her gloves out of her pockets.
“Well, you’ll give us all your confidential information, so we’ll have that as ammunition.” Giulia squeezed her. “I’ll work on him. Don’t worry about that part. I’ll call you as soon as we know something, but it might not be till tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Laurel’s voice veered from defeat toward desperation.
Giulia put on her teacher face. “Some things take time, especially wheedling the police. I’ll light a candle for you and Kati
Laurel nodded. “Call me anytime. My cell’s always on now.” She opened the door to the snow-covered street. “Thank you.”
Giulia ran back upstairs, rubbing her arms to counteract the goosebumps. When she opened the door, Sidney’s big brown eyes were stretched to their limit.
“Mr. D.’s banging drawers and talking to himself.”
GIULIA STARTED TO FROWN but couldn’t hold it in the face of Sidney’s idea of speaking softly.
She glanced at Frank’s door. “Sidney, you’ve got to work on your stage whisper.”
“But I’m not an actor.”
“I know, but your whisper could carry to the second balcony.”
Frank’s voice interrupted them. “Giulia, could you come in here, please?”
She pulled down her sweater and straightened her shoulders. Then she whispered to Sidney, “Better take messages again.”
Without waiting for Frank to say it, she closed the door, shutting them in together.
Frank struggled with the side drawer that stuck unless he caught it on the rollers just right. “Piece of crap.” Yank. Bang. “I’ll turn you into firewood.” Yank. “Giulia, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m trying to help a friend.”
“No, you’re trying to trespass on police territory.”
“Frank, let me explain.”
“Finally.” He slid the drawer into place. “You’d better, because that meeting sounded to me like you’ve committed us to finding batshit religious kidnappers on an impossible timeline, despite the fact that Jimmy’s already involved, as he should be and as we should not be.”
Giulia plucked a shredded tissue and a sodden napkin from the client chair and tossed them in the trash before she sat.
Calm. Rational. You have to convince him.
“Some things are more important than the rules.”
Frank, pacing like Laurel had, stopped at the window. “Did those words really just come out of your mouth?”
by Alice Loweecey / Mystery / Horror / Humor and Comedy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes