Kolin Raynes unpacks from his eight-week hiatus at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, when the house phone rings—it’s an almost alien sound as he’s so used to hearing the Hawaii Five-O ringtone on his cell.
He looks at the caller ID.
“VCU, huh?” he asks, wondering if it’s his best friend Simon welcoming him home.
“I’ve been trying your cell for the past ten minutes,” Captain Lewis Mack, Kolin’s new boss at the Minneapolis PD’s Violent Crime Unit, says. “Why didn’t you answer it?”
Kolin runs his hands along his pockets. “Sorry, sir, I must’ve left it out in the Expedition.”
Then, he hears something that stops him cold: “We need you in here today. There’s an Amber Alert issued for our area. A teenage girl was reported being dragged into a dark blue car along the north side of Minneapolis.”
Kolin’s plan for the day had been simple, since his official starting day isn’t until tomorrow: once he’d arrive back home, he’d unpack and unwind, his mind swimming from the intense training he underwent as a part of his new job. Then, when Anna would come home from her high-level job at the IRS, he’d fulfill a promise he made to his three daughters by taking them out to King Chester’s, a local pizzeria known for its elaborate play area.
“Why is VCU involved, sir?” Kolin asks. “Shouldn’t the street cops follow up on this?”
“They are, but asked for our assistance when eyewitnesses gave a description of the UNSUB as wearing all black clothing, including a face mask, matching the other two snatch-and-grabs we’ve had over the past two weeks.”
While in college, he would’ve given his right arm to be an FBI special agent, so his recent training, in a way, was like a dream come true. Just one that had passed, like so many others.
He grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, and his many life-long aspirations were greatly influenced by popular culture. When he first watched the Rocky movies, he wanted to be a boxer. Early one Saturday morning, he started running around their small suburban home. After a half-dozen laps, however, he went inside and ate a bowl of Captain Crunch. His boxing career was officially over.
After he got accepted to Bemidji State University, he had no idea on a major. There were so many to choose from. He perused the course catalog, eliminating those fields of study he had no interest in while earmarking the ones that peaked even a little curiosity.
One night that summer, he watched America’s Most Wanted. This time the events drew a little closer to home as the show featured the brutal murder of a teenage girl in a small northwestern Minnesota town. He then spied, within the tall stack of movies next to the TV, one of his favorites: Silence of the Lambs. “That’s it,” he said.
“What’s it?” his dad asked.
“I know what my major is going to be.” He turned to one of the earmarked pages. “Criminal justice,” he said. “I’m going to be an FBI agent.”
He graduated with a 3.2 GPA, married Anna, and readily applied to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. But after a battery of written and physical exams, as well as an intense interview, he was not selected.
“Things happen for a reason,” his dad said to him.
“Hope you’re right,” Kolin said. He could always apply again after working as a cop for a few years, gaining the necessary field experience that would make the FBI take notice.
But he never did.
“I’m teaming you up with Simon Templeton,” Captain Mack says. “He’ll get you up to speed on what we have so far. Oh, before I forget, you received a package in the mail here. It has an odd return address too. Part of it looks like it’s in code. The street address itself is something you’ll have to check on, to see if it’s even real. Don’t worry, it’s been scanned. They said it looks like a VHS video tape. God, I haven’t seen one of those things in ages. It’ll be sitting on your desk when you get here.”
Kolin peers over at a picture of his three daughters. Last summer, he built a large L-shaped wooden swingset, with swings on one side, a set of rings on the other, and a tower connecting them. The directions on the kit said it would take roughly eight hours to put together, which ended up being so far off the mark he considered putting a match to it when he was only halfway through after twenty hours. When he finally completed it, Claudia, Emily, and June stood in the tower and posed for a picture. The same picture he’s looking at now.
“Okay,” he says, disappointed that he’ll have to break his promise about King Chester’s. They’ll understand. I hope. “I’ll be right there, sir.”
When Kolin steps out onto the third floor of the Minneapolis PD’s Central Division Building, the sharp ebb and flow of buzzing telephones and frantic chatter strike a jarring contrast from the serene atmosphere inside the elevator. Since the Violent Crime Unit shares this floor with three other investigation units, their portion of the frenzy is undoubtedly due to today’s abduction.
Cascaded across the entire floor are rows upon rows of several hundred cubicles, most of them manned by investigators in similar garb: light-colored button-down shirts, ties, khaki pants, and dark-colored suit jackets. Decorating these mini-offices are bikini calendars, Vikings or Twins memorabilia, and paper silhouette targets, many of the latter with .40 caliber-sized holes littering center-mass. Family photos are devoid in this largely masculine atmosphere, save for a few bearing kids dressed in sports uniforms.
How the hell am I supposed to find Simon in all this?
“Over here, Kolin!” a familiar voice sounds off to his right. Simon Templeton is along the far aisle, waving him over. The outer walls are lined with conference rooms and offices of the upper echelon—including that of VCU Captain Lewis Mack.
Kolin’s cubicle is next to Simon’s. Save for a laptop and a small, rectangular-shaped package sitting in the middle of his desk, his cubicle is bare—but probably not for very long, he thinks. The package is wrapped in plain brown paper. The handwritten address is in neat block lettering. The top right corner is also loaded with stamps. Looks to be way too many, if it’s just a video tape.
The return address reads:
NW CR 300D 120Y
11083 Robbinsdale Blvd. NE
Anoka, MN 55303
Captain Mack was right about it looking like a code. I’ll call Anoka PD, but I’ll bet good money the address is a fake.
“We’re assigned to the three snatch-and-grabs,” Simon says.
“Yeah, I heard, but I’m confused,” Kolin says, looking around at the frenzy. “Who else is working on them?”
“Just us, my friend. Most of my caseload has been reassigned so we can concentrate on these. It isn’t unheard of. Happens quite often when a case gets headline news.” Simon sips his coffee. “How was Quantico?”
* * *
Kolin logs onto his laptop and accesses his case files. He chooses the latest one, then opens a JPEG in the victim’s folder. A driver’s license photo appears.
“Kelsey Marie Falk, age seventeen,” Simon says. “This morning, her mother Stephanie drove her to school but dropped her off at the corner of Fifth and Franklin when she realized she was running low on gas and didn’t wanna be late for work. Not long afterwards, a dark blue car, possibly a Pontiac Sunfire, crossed over from the oncoming lane and stopped next to Kelsey. The driver then jumped out, smacked her along the side of the head, threw her into his car, and peeled out in the direction of the Interstate.”
“Holy Christ,” Kolin says. “Talk about bold. And in broad daylight. It’s like the UNSUB didn’t even care about eyewitnesses.”
“The first two were also like that,” Simon says, nodding. “But the abduction vehicles are all different. It’s possible they’re stolen and the UNSUB has a drop-off car stashed somewhere, but the odd thing is no one’s called in a stolen vehicle that matches any of them.”
“What about Kelsey’s father?”
“Died from stomach cancer a few years ago. No boyfriends either, for both Kelsey and Stephanie. Unless Kelsey had one her mother didn’t know about.”
“That’s odd, for a single mother and a seventeen-year-old girl,” says Kolin.
“Let’s go to the first abduction, so you can see all of them together. Maybe you’ll notice a pattern I missed.”
I doubt it, Kolin thinks, closing out of that file and opening the first. He can tell that the size of this one is quite large, given the delay in opening it—the hourglass icon turning over and over and over. Once the file opens, he clicks on the victim’s info.
“Patricia Sue Waterman, age sixteen, was abducted twelve days ago from the Arch Mall parking lot,” Simon says. “The UNSUB was driving a blue Chevy Astro mini-van. Surveillance cameras there are very sparse. Only two covering that particular corner of the parking lot actually recorded it. The videos aren’t real clear, sorry to say.” He says this last part while pointing out the two video files.
“Eyewitnesses?” Kolin asks.
“Patricia was walking with five other girls when she was abducted,” Simon says. “They were heading towards Glitzy, this little jewelry shop in the mall.”
“Any leads?” asks Kolin.
“Several, but so far they’ve all been cleared. I interviewed all of the registered sex offenders in a twenty-mile radius, forty-seven of which are level threes. Every single one has a strong alibi. I kinda hit a road block by around day six, and then of course we had another one.”
Kolin closes out of that file, and opens the next one, which is also quite large.
“Fergie Ruth Almanderez, age fifteen, was abducted six days ago along Hennepin Avenue while walking home from school,” Simon says. “Three eyewitnesses said that the license plate of the UNSUB’s tan-colored Cutlass Ciera looked like one you’d get at a dealership.”
“No,” Simon says. “Like the ones that have the dealership’s logo on it. No one knew what dealership it was though. It’s probably one of the smaller lots.”
“What about Fergie’s family?”
Simon leans back, crosses his arms, and says, “Fergie’s mother, Adrianna, is a widow. Her husband Juan died from a hit-and-run about five years ago. You might even remember this one. Juan’s car broke down on Penn Avenue, just as he got off of I-394. Since he only lived a few blocks away, he decided to walk home, but was struck from behind by some dope-heads in an older black Cadillac.”
“Yeah, I think I remember that one. Didn’t we find the guy’s finger in the busted headlight of that Caddy?”
“Good memory,” he says, patting Kolin on the back.
Kolin rubs his chin, then asks, “Her mother never remarried?”
Simon shakes his head. “Adrianna works days as a full-time grocery store clerk and three nights a week part-time as a janitor for a daycare center. She’s only had two guys in her life since Juan’s death and all were pretty short-lived. She told me she just didn’t have time for men, with her raising three kids and working two jobs just to make ends meet.”
“Do you think it’s a coincidence that the last two victims came from single parent families, both having a mother as a widow?” asks Kolin.
“I thought of that, briefly, but they don’t have any other connection to each other. And here’s the shitty part: all three girls were taken during rush-hour traffic times. We couldn’t set up any road blocks, especially on the Interstates, so we’ve had to rely on the media and as well as VCU’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.”
“What’s the description of the UNSUB on the first two?” asks Kolin.
“Descriptions are near identical to today’s: black clothing, including a black face mask, height is between five foot six and five eight, and weight is anywhere from one forty to one fifty.”
“Huh, not a very big guy.”
* * *
Kolin carefully removes the brown paper wrapping from the small package. He cuts through the tape securing the box, opens the top, and peers down at a VHS video tape sitting upon a cushion of bubble wrap. On the video’s label area is a silver-colored sticker of an eyeball. Imprinted along the bottom of each corner of the video are the words: IMPERIAL and PROFESSIONAL GRADE.
He takes the tape into a nearby conference room. Since everything has been converted to digital over the past few years, he searches around and luckily finds an old VCR in a nearby storage closet. After painstakingly hooking it up, he sits back, says a little prayer of encouragement to the ancient, dusty machine, and presses PLAY.
The screen is snowy for a few seconds, then turns black. There is a muffled panting in the background as the picture focuses on a single candle.
Wondering if some of his cop buddies sent him a skin flick as a joke, he starts to smile, but remembers the cryptic return address and his expression fades.
The camera pans back. A teenage girl, fully clothed, is gagged and tied to a bed. The room is dark, save for four lit candles on either side of her. She’s breathing hard, her eyes wet with tears.
Simon strides into the room. “Here you are—what the hell is this? God, that looks like Patricia. Waterman, I mean.”
“From the first abduction?” asks Kolin.
Just then, someone dressed in black, brandishing a butcher knife, slowly emerges from within the shadows.
The girl screams, the gag gouging into the sides of her cheeks.
Simon hangs up the phone and says, “When I was a kid, my grandma used to tell me to not count my chickens before they hatch. Well, I’m counting ‘em now because I really think we might’ve just closed this case.”
“You mean the return address is real?” Kolin asks.
“You knew it was real when we did a Google search,” Simon says. “We just didn’t know who lived there. Anoka PD said the address is for a Rick and Joy Busch, ages thirty-three and twenty-nine. According to the DMV, they own a blue Chevy Astro, which matches the vehicle Patricia was abducted in. But that’s not all. They requested a house watch because they were going to be out of town for a few weeks. Take a guess when they left.”
Kolin searches for the answer in the ceiling, then says, “The day Patricia was abducted.”
“There you go,” Simon says, slapping him on the shoulder. “If you were this sharp back in college, you would’ve gotten an A in Criminal Investigations instead of a B.”
“Eighty-nine percent. Almost an A.”
“Almost isn’t good enough, my friend. But you’re right. That’s when. Twelve days ago.”
Kolin rubs his chin and says, “I wonder if the going out of town bit was a bluff. But if it was, why would they call the cops for a house watch? They just set themselves up if they were. Doesn’t make any sense. Do we have enough for a search warrant? It could just be a coincidence that they own a blue Chevy Astro and left twelve days ago.”
“I agree, but check this out over here.” Simon shows Kolin a secure Minnesota DOC website. “Rick is a convicted felon and registered sex offender, a low risk level one. When Rick was nineteen, he got Joy pregnant. She was only fifteen at the time. He pled guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct and spent eighteen months in Moose Lake.”
“But I thought you interviewed all of the registered sex offenders?”
Simon nods. “Because of their high recidivism rate, I concentrated on the level threes and spot-checked only the twos that had a history of violence. I did a quick check just now on all of the level ones in the same twenty-mile radius, and I found over nine hundred.”
“What about Rick’s height and weight?” asks Kolin.
“Weight is one thirty-five and he’s five six, which is another match. But since Rick is still on probation for another two years, we can search his residence at any time. We don’t need a warrant. Now, I got in touch with his PO and told him what we had. Get this: with Rick on probation, he was prohibited from traveling out of the state, but since he’s had absolutely no violations—and I mean absolutely none—Rick was granted permission to go on a trip out east to DC.”
* * *
Kolin follows Simon down to the ground level, where the Fugitive SWAT Task Force is located.
Simon’s cell rings. After a few minutes of back-and-forth conversation, he disconnects. “That was Forensics,” he says. “They didn’t find any of Rick’s prints at all, but they did find Patricia’s prints on the tape used to secure the package as well as on the self-adhesive stamps. Speaking of stamps, what did you find out at the post office?”
“They told me the package had to be dropped off in an outside mailbox instead of mailed directly with a postmaster,” Kolin says. “I told them how many stamps were on it and the weight of the package. They said it had about three times the amount of postage needed to mail it.”
“How do they know it wasn’t brought inside to mail?”
“Because the postmaster would’ve just printed a label with the exact postage.”
“Good way to avoid getting captured on any cameras.”
They stop outside a SWAT briefing room. Simon pokes his head in, sees a group of five suiting up, and says to Kolin, “Forensics also said the wrapping was from a grocery bag. There wasn’t any lettering on the paper to tell what store it came from, so they sent a sampling off to the FBI Crime Lab to find out the manufacturer. They could tell the wrapping was from the bottom half of a bag though. What we can hope to find at the house is the top half.”
SWAT Captain Ray Smelt, an ex-Marine with close to twenty years of law enforcement experience, bursts out into the hallway and says, “Simon, I thought I heard you. Let’s get on with the briefing.”
And remains unsolved, even to this day.
Before Kolin was hired by the Minneapolis PD, he worked part-time for the Glade County Sheriff’s Department. Glade County is a rural farming community, one of the smallest counties in the state, located fifty miles north of the Metro area, with more gravel roads etched across its landscape than tarred ones.
During the hiring interview, Glade County Sheriff Dean Ross Jr. jokingly called him an overqualified college twerp, for all of his other deputies had two-year technical college degrees—the minimum licensing standard required by the state. But since he received only one application, Kolin got the job.
His one day of training consisted of riding around with Deputy Philip Gust, a seven-year veteran who, ironically, was also the county’s last hired officer. They drove from one edge of the county to the other, Philip not saying a word for the first few hours. Then, Philip turned and asked Kolin, “Four years of college, huh? Why’d you do that? Kind of a waste of money, those extra two years. Most departments have a starting wage of around twelve, thirteen bucks an hour. Not here though. What’s it at? Five bucks?”
“See what I mean? Should’ve just gone for two years. That way you could’ve been earning a decent living by now.”
Kolin didn’t quite know how to answer him. He didn’t want to sound like a smartass and say that he’s shooting for a job with the FBI, which did require at the very least a four-year bachelor’s degree. “I just figured the extra education would give me an edge over someone else,” Kolin said.
“You know, most of that crap they teach you is bullshit anyway,” Philip said. “When you’re dealing with a drunk driver or if there’s a fight at Rooster’s Tavern, who cares where the first prison was built? It doesn’t, does it?”
“No,” Kolin said. “I guess not.”
Kolin’s first shift was Saturday morning. All of the other deputies, save for one, were at an annual law enforcement golf tournament in Edina. The one who stayed behind had no interest in golf, and besides from counting the years before his retirement—which were at least in the middle single-digits—Deputy Devin Cross usually spent his nightshifts dozing behind the Kettle Café.
Kolin hopped into his squad, a turd-colored Ford LTD Crown Victoria, running on seven of its eight cylinders, at 0758 hours, and radioed-in that he was 10-8: on-duty. At 0804 hours, dispatch received a frantic 911 call from Scott and Marie Sandberg. Apparently, their fourteen-year-old daughter Trisha was missing, having been last seen at a neighbor’s slumber party earlier that morning.
Kolin felt his chest tightening as he sped out to the rural residence. He didn’t know exactly how to proceed, but knew he had to remain calm and gather all the facts.
This notion of working alone seems dangerously odd to him nowadays, especially after working in one of the largest, most dangerous cities in Minnesota. If there’s a non-critical incident in Minneapolis, no fewer than two squads respond, each with two officers inside. And at any given time, more than a dozen squads as well as SWAT could descend on a critical situation within minutes. In Glade County, however, like in many smaller communities, officers work most of their shifts alone, and back-up could sometimes be thirty or more minutes away.
Trisha Ann Sandberg was last seen walking home from a friend’s house, about two miles away, around six thirty that morning, despite her parents’ wishes about picking her up or allowing her friend’s parents to give her a ride.
“She said she was a big girl and not to worry,” Scott had told Kolin. “She walks to their place all the time, just never that early. But after we waited an hour or so and she still wasn’t home, we drove out to look for her. When we couldn’t find her, we called you guys.”
“Why did she leave so early?” Kolin asked, remembering the few sleepovers he had when he was a kid. He didn’t think there were any that he had to wake up by six thirty, let alone leave the house by then.
“Tracy and Dean Long are heading to the Wisconsin Dells,” Marie said, twisting her hands back and forth, “and their daughter Angela wanted to have a birthday slumber party before they left.”
“Did they give the other girls a ride home? Maybe Trisha hitched a ride with them after all.”
Marie wiped her eyes, glanced over at her husband, and said, “I don’t know. But Trisha insisted on walking home alone. We pleaded with her to change her mind.” She choked back a few tears. “No, we’re pretty sure she walked home.”
The first obstacle Kolin faced—aside from his inexperience—was that there were few clues to go by. Scott thought he might’ve seen a white Ford Bronco driving by between six thirty and seven, but the hard-packed gravel left virtually no tracks and no one in the area knew who drove a vehicle like that.
After interviewing the Long’s, and confirming that Trisha did indeed walk home, he drove back. A quarter-mile from the Sandberg’s, he noticed something pink sticking out of a culvert. He jumped out, waded down into the ditch, and pulled out a pink Hello Kitty sleeping bag. He then feared the worst for he saw blood splattered across the bottom of it.
Kolin, the other deputies, and dozens of volunteers, combed the countryside, searching for Trisha. Nothing was found until almost a week had passed when one of the volunteers Kolin was with stumbled on a clump of brush beside a creek, west of the Sandberg’s house, and came face-to-face with the dead body of a young girl. The vile stench that surrounded the body was nothing that Kolin had ever smelled before but has experienced hundreds of times since then.
She was later identified through dental records as Trisha Ann Sandberg.
An autopsy showed some disturbing results. Trisha may have died from a single knife wound to the abdomen, but there was bruising around her vagina, indicating recent penetration, even though she was found fully clothed.
Kolin spoke with Scott and Marie down at the office. The Sheriff sat behind him in case he needed help. Kolin told them how Trisha had died, then asked, “Did she have a boyfriend?”
Scott’s gaze turned icy. “She was only fourteen. We’d never allow that. What makes you think-”
“Scott,” Marie said, placing a hand on her husband’s arm. “Let’s hear him out.” She turned to Kolin. “Not that we knew of. Why?”
Rubbing his hands together, Kolin said, “Because she had some bruising around her . . . her privates. We found traces of fluids too. Dried, of course, since she was fully clothed. The DNA results will take a few weeks to come back. Would you know anything about that?” This last part was a lie, of course, but he wanted to see Scott’s reaction.
“What are you saying?” Scott asked, his whole body trembling. “Are you saying I fucked my own daughter? What kind of sick bastard do you think I am?”
“He doesn’t,” Sheriff Ross said, leaning forward. “But the question has to be asked in order to eliminate suspects. Would you submit to a blood test, to eliminate any possibilities?”
Scott stood. “What if I don’t?”
“If you don’t,” Sheriff Ross said, also getting to his feet, “we can have a judge order you to do so. Make it easy on yourself, Scott, so we can move on and find out who killed Trisha.”
“This is an absolute fucking waste of time!” Scott exclaimed, fists clenching. “You should be out there, finding out who did this!”
“That’s why we need the blood test,” Kolin said. “It’ll provide a baseline so we can rule out suspects. There are other deputies in this department than just us, and they’re out there, working hard to bring this killer to justice. And we will, Scott. We just need your help.”
Scott eventually agreed.
When the Sandberg’s left, the Sheriff said to Kolin, “For an overqualified college twerp, I’m very impressed with how you’ve handled this case so far.” He smiled. “You’ve got the instincts to make a very successful career in this field. We probably won’t have any full-time openings for about five or six years, unless the county suddenly allocates a bunch of money to this office, which is about as likely to happen as me winning the Powerball. Trust me, I had to plead long and hard for them to allocate enough in my budget to hire a part-timer, which we were sorely in need of. Anyway, I’ll give you a great recommendation if you apply anywhere else, and I really hope you do because you deserve it.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll keep that is mind.”
* * *
Two weeks later, Simon called Kolin.
“Hey there, Famous One,” Simon said. “What’s it like being in every newspaper from Duluth to Des Moines? Has Hollywood bought the movie rights yet?”
“Sure did,” Kolin said, lying. “Twentieth-Century Fox offered me a hundred grand, but I told them I wouldn’t take anything less than a half-million. Sounds like that Garrett Hedlund is in talks to play me.”
“Really? I was joking-”
“So am I.”
“You asshole. Anyway, have you looked in the Minneapolis Times today, in the job openings?”
“No, I haven’t looked there for a while,” Kolin said, which was strange since he usually scanned that section of the paper quite regularly. “This case is eating up a lot of my time. Why?”
“Minneapolis PD is hiring. We should both apply.”
“But I’m in the middle of this case. We might’ve located the vehicle Scott said he saw that morning, that white Bronco-”
“Benefits, man. Think about it. And their starting salary is one of the highest in the state. The sheriff said he’d give you a recommendation. Let him prove it. What do you say? Let’s apply.”
Kolin looked around his apartment, which was so small that Anna and he barely had enough room for a bed and dining room table. Hell, they didn’t even have a TV. He sighed. “When?”
“What are you doing this afternoon?”
The Busch’s residence is a tri-level with an attached two-stall garage. Along the back is a red cedar gazebo, topped with a black cast-iron weathervane in the shape of an angel.
Simon and he are in an unmarked SWAT surveillance van across the street. The other SWAT van, this one equipped with lightbars and housing four of the five-man team, is parked three blocks away in the corner of an empty elementary school parking lot.
Kolin frowns, studying the entire yard, front and back. Where are all the toys? I don’t even see a swing set or a sandbox or anything, and their oldest would be around fourteen. And I’m sure they had more kids, if they’ve stayed together this long.
A UPS van soon pulls into the Busch’s driveway. The driver, SWAT Lt. Quentin Rose, dressed in UPS browns he borrowed from his brother, exits, carrying a long narrow package. He rings the doorbell. He holds the top of the box away from him. The bottom side, however, is cut out, so he can grasp the Benelli twelve-gauge shotgun hidden inside.
He rings the doorbell again.
“Young man! Hey, young man!”
An elderly man strides across the lawn towards him. “They’re not home,” he says. “They should be back tomorrow.”
Quentin glances at the label pasted on the box. “Mr. Richard Busch will be back tomorrow?”
“Yes. I’ve been looking after their place while they went to DC. First vacation Joy and Rick have had in years. They sure deserve it, working as hard as they do. He’s an engineer at 3M. She doesn’t work, mostly because of their son Travis. Poor thing. Had this brittle-bone disease. Life expectancy wasn’t very long, and he sure beat the odds for a while. He died about . . . three, maybe four months ago.” He wipes his eyes. “Anyway, I water their plants, feed their fish, and make sure their cat Smokey has enough food and a clean litter box. Did you want me to sign for that?” The man reaches for the package.
“No,” Quentin says, pulling back the box. “I need this delivered to Mr. Busch personally.”
“Are you new to the route?”
Rehearsing the story his brother came up with earlier, because you never know when you’ll run into someone who knows all of the drivers by name, Quentin says, “I usually work Metro South, but they’re short-handed in North this week and asked me to help out.”
“Bob Jingle still around or did he finally retire?”
“Ah . . . Bob’s still around. No, I have to run. Thanks. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
The old man smirks. “Don’t mention it. Say hi to Bob for me.”
* * *
Harvey Baker pours himself a cup of coffee. He picks up the phone.
“Bob Jingle, my ass. Died two years ago from the big C.” He dials nine, but soon disconnects. “But if he works Metro South, he wouldn’t have known Bob at all.”
He stares out through the kitchen window. The UPS van is still in the Busch’s driveway, the driver sitting inside.
He brings the cup up. Then, before the strong beverage reaches his lips, he slams it down onto the counter. “He didn’t have one of those electronic clipboards. I knew it. That’s what was missing.”
He starts to dial 911, but stops again when a black van with flashing lights pulls into his neighbor’s driveway.
* * *
Three hours later, in which time Forensics thoroughly scans the house and garage, they find no trace of Patricia Waterman in the way of fingerprints or personal belongings. One stall of the garage is empty, while the other houses a royal blue ’57 Chevy with a tarp draped over it. On a shelf beside it are a few dozen trophies from various car shows throughout Minnesota.
“Maybe they took Patricia to a cabin or something,” Simon says, rubbing his forehead.
Kolin faces his partner and says, “We went through over ten years of financial papers in that office upstairs. This is the only property they own, and it appears that they have quite a substantial mortgage. Given their son’s condition, they probably had piles and piles of medical bills. We’ll get a subpoena for their credit cards, but what if they’ve really been in DC for the past two weeks? The Busch’s own a blue Chevy Astro and Rick matches the description of the UNSUB.”
“Height and weight only,” Simon says. “The UNSUB wore black clothing, remember?”
They walk out to the driveway, where a blue Chevy Astro pulls in behind the Forensics van.
The driver leaps out. “What the hell happened?” he asks, oblivious to the words MINNEAPOLIS PD and SWAT painted along one of the black vans. “Were we robbed?”
Immediately recognizing the man from his driver’s license photo, the two VCU investigators quickly detain Rick Busch.
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