I duck out of the office, package in hand, and run to the desk sergeant.
After filling out all the paperwork for my damaged car, it’s 10:10. I can’t claim the phone since it would mean exposing my CI, Grigory. Besides, it’s a fair trade for that painting, if I keep him out of the spotlight.
The Russian guy wants Nick; I want Nick. I need a search warrant, but first I need to get this burglar guy and his directives off my back.
He claims he’s a friend, if a guy like that has friends. However he persuaded me that I couldn’t see him, I know for a fact that he was a physical being. Why else, or how else would he blindfold me? Why else would he have to leave out the door? And how else could he carry a package?
Maybe the smell—and it’s the first time I’ve considered this—maybe there was some sort of hypnosis scent in the air. I’ll need to suggest it to forensics when we have our next regroup.
A few minutes later, the desk sergeant hands me keys for a vehicle and I hurry out.
I wait right outside the front entrance to Meridian Holdings. My phone’s clock ticks 10:22 and a car pulls up in front of mine.
I step out and stand between them and the door.
Then a thought settles on my brain. How would anyone know to the minute what time the Blacks would be here? Unless he had planned this beforehand with this couple.
But he said to arrest them.
“I need you to come with me.”
“By all means,” William says. “We’ll come after our meeting with Mr. Briggston is over.”
And how did my guy know it was a meeting with Briggston? Does the mystery burglar work at the bank?
“I’m afraid it can’t wait.”
“I’m afraid it will wait, detective.” William pushes past me and takes hold of the door handle.
I block him, pressing it with my foot. A security guard comes to the door, but he also cannot exit. I flash my badge.
“Am I under arrest?”
“Please don’t make a scene, William.” Brooke Black’s eyes are bloodshot, with her heartbreak no doubt. For me it seems a lifetime since her son died, but it was just yesterday.
William’s jaw clenches.
I’m in a bind here. I cannot arrest them, not without probable cause. But I also can’t let them into that meeting—for whatever unknown reason—or my Sophie will die, they say.
“We have some information about your son, and time is of the essence. Will you please come with me?”
“I’ll come,” says Brooke.
“Fine.” William pulls at the bank door. “At least let me tell Briggston.”
I’m not sure if the bogeyman would want that. “I’m sorry. We need to leave urgently. You can call him.” I open the car door. “Please.”
Brooke slips into the car and William grimaces but sits down next to her.
Okay. The directions say they need to be in custody. It implies something was going to happen at the bank.
Cold chills my neck. What if the envelopes are a ruse to set me up in a bank robbery right now? They’d have this envelope as evidence.
I shake away the thought, but it returns. He’s blackmailing you to be involved in something. He’s connected with the bank. Something about that meeting that he knew about in advance.
He claims this is about Noah’s death, and yet what evidence has he given? All it is is words. Fluff. Scary soothtelling.
The envelope is on the passenger seat next to me, the Blacks are in the back seat. What is the correlation between all of us? The guy last night, me, the Blacks, and this envelope tying us all together.
“Can you give me some information about the case?” William’s eyes meet mine in the rear-view mirror.
“I’d prefer to talk with you at the station. There’s much to discuss.”
“Do you have any suspects?” Brooke asks. “Who would want to kill my boy? You know, I thought he’d killed himself.”
William pats her knee, as if to silence her. Her face twitches with frustration. Noah had mentioned a tension between them. I need to figure this out.
“Nothing’s for sure yet, Mrs. Black. But we can rule out suicide.”
“Did you check on Nick yet, dear?” she asks her husband.
He shakes his head.
“Wait. Detective, you were in the car with him! What happened? How did my son get hurt?”
“We were going to the station, and some people shot at us.”
“Who shot at you?” Brooke leans forward.
“We haven’t caught them,” I say truthfully.
“Why were you taking Nick to the station?” William asks. There is a tinge of concern in his question.
“I prefer not to discuss it right now. You can understand this case has a lot of leads and nothing clear.”
We arrive at the station none too soon.
I take them to the interview room and leave them there. Technically, they are in custody. Under observation. I excuse myself and hurry to my office. I close the blinds, lock the door, and sit with the envelope in front of me.
Someone is going to be knocking on my door in five minutes, no doubt. I get no time alone, so I’ve got to get this done then make my plans. What am I supposed to ask these people as they are in custody? Why did they have to both be in custody when I ask them?
And, God forbid, if there’s a bank heist right now, I am busted.
I unfasten the clasp, but the envelope is also glued shut. So scissors out, I cut the top off the envelope and empty the contents onto my desk.
In front of me is a package wrapped in brown paper, a smaller envelope, and a letter.
I grab the letter.
Tim, I trust you have done what I asked. I trust you have the Blacks at the station under custody. If so, we can win this thing. If not….I don’t want to think it. Thank you, if you are still with me.
One thing I will tell you about myself is that, though it cost you, as I see it, if you follow all these steps, you will untangle me from a trap and you will solve this terrible, deadly, horrendous crime spree.
I think about what he’s saying. Hadn’t he said he had the weapon? How could finding the weapon stop the crime spree?
I continue reading.
1. Go home post haste. Tie the scarf I gave you around your wrist.
2. Open the package. Read the instructions and do everything in order, as instructed.
How am I going to get out without a million questions about the couple in custody? If they can’t find me, they’ll let them go.
But the envelope implied to leave them in custody.
Timing mattered, for some reason.
Someone knocks on my door.
“Who is it?” I call out.
Someone tries the knob. “What’s with the locked door?” It’s Maura.
I look at the clock on my phone. It’s 10:45am.
“I’m busy.” I hope she’ll go away, otherwise how am I going to get on with saving Sophie’s life.
Remembering Sophie reminds me I haven’t seen her today. I usually stop by in the morning, this morning it slipped my mind. For people in the hospital, every minute counts, and every minute feels like an hour.
“I must talk with you.” She jiggles the knob again. “Why weren’t you in the meeting? Tim? What’s going on?”
I open the door and let her in.
“What is happening to you? Have you just dropped the case?”
My sister’s narrowed eyes mean she’s angry. And she’s never reasonable when she’s mad.
I need to leave. The note said post haste. He must have figured how long it would take me to get to this point, but what if he estimated wrong? He had no idea if or when the others will give up on me and let the Blacks go. And I can’t explain why I have them in custody. No evidence against them whatsoever.
“Well?” she asks again, scanning the things on the table. “What are these?”
I pull them together and cover them with my arms. Bring no one was one of the rules.
Do I have no evidence? I have a pile of clothes smelling of sulfur and a disappearing red bathrobe tie. Enough to pin a murder on a father.
“I’ll be right there,” I say. “Can… can you go out for a second?”
“I will not go out. What is going on, Tim? What are these things? Why aren’t you answering your phone? Why are you disappearing, going AWOL? We needed you in that meeting.”
She turns my chin toward her. “Well?”
What is this guy doing to me? Why did I take the Blacks into custody? Is he trying to get me to lose my job? Is that it?
The Blacks are still grieving for Noah, they have business at the bank, and I’m being manipulated by a… strange ghostly-but-there man who says I have to help him or he’ll kill Sophie.
I try to remember the words on the note from this morning. It’s in my chest pocket, but I dare not take it out with Maura here. In my ear last night, he had said my wife would die, but Sophie would live. He will kill one to prove his power over me? Is that it?
Maybe. But it seems like more.
The sulfur smell was key. Sulfur and demons, sulfur and aliens, sulfur and Sasquatch.
Sulfur guy telling me what to do.
“You’re not answering me. Can I help you?”
What should I say to my sister?
I can ask her to check on Mercy, and while she’s occupied, slip out, hurry home with the package to do what the note says.
Still, the guy had said post haste. How soon did he need it? Maybe I have time.
I could ask her to explain, in brief, the things they discovered, then I can go home and do what the package says.
- Should I go immediately, or not?
- Go immediately: Get Maura distracted with calling about Mercy and slip away
- Go in five minutes: Get a brief update from Maura, then go
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek