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© 2014 - 2016 Ted Louis

Joel VII

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Chapter 20

"What? What do you mean he's been kidnapped? How could that happen?"

"I'm terribly sorry, but I was unable to prevent it," Carlton Banks said. "I feel responsible for what happened."

"Tell me how it happened and then maybe we can try to figure out how to get Donald out of this mess."

"After our meeting with the other lawyers, we were invited to Senor Herrera's hacienda for a meal. Since we had not made any plans, Mr. Baker agreed to the invitation. Our party arrived at the hacienda at the agreed upon time and were treated to an excellent meal. As it was getting late after we ate, Mr. Baker suggested that we leave for our hotel. It was about five miles away. We were about half way there when we had to travel through a desolate gorge. As we rounded a curve the road was blocked by an old horse-drawn wagon that appeared to have lost a wheel. Our driver got out to see if he could help get the blockage moved to the side of the road when four masked men approached from the rear of our car and jerked open the doors. They were all carrying AK-47 rifles and demanded to know which one of us was Baker. Mr. Baker identified himself and was jerked roughly out of the car and disappeared with the four men into the darkness behind our car. Before they left, one of them said not to call the police or Mr. Baker would die."

"No one else was taken?" I asked. "Wasn't there anything you could do?"

"Regretfully no. The rest of us were shaken up, but not harmed. Since our trip was arranged rather quickly, there was no time to get approval for us to be allowed to carry firearms. Our driver was also not carrying a firearm."

"Have the Mexican police been notified anyway?"

"No," Carlton said. "When we got back to the hotel, there was a note also telling us not to contact the police or Mr. Baker would be killed. Knowing how corrupt the police are in Mexico, I took it to mean that the kidnappers had at least some of the local police in their pockets."

"Okay, what are the plans to rescue Donald?" I asked.

"I have contacts with a private agency out of Mexico City that helps in these situations. I plan to make contact with them first thing in the morning. I doubt that their offices are open at this time of night," Carlton said. "The note we received did not stipulate a ransom demand, only that they would be in contact with us soon."

"Mr. Banks, I am personally opposed to giving in to kidnappers' demands. However, I am not opposed to spending whatever it takes to find the criminals who have done this and to deal with them. You have a blank check to spend however you feel is prudent to obtain information on how the criminals knew where and when Donald would be at that particular point in the road. They had to have had some inside information. It might be wise to interview Senor Herrera to start with. I'll see what I can do from this end. Keep me informed of what's happening. I'll expect an update at least once a day until this situation is resolved."

"I will plan on calling you every evening around this time unless I have something urgent to report earlier."

"What about the others who accompanied you on the trip? Are they going to remain there or are they going to return to the States?"

"For the time being, they plan to remain here in the hotel," Carlton said. "That may change if things drag on."

"Thank you," I said. "I will see if there is anything that I can do from this end. Oh, before I forget, has anything been released to the press?"

"No, and we plan to keep this out of the press," Carlton replied. "That was another demand of the kidnappers."

"I'll wait for your update tomorrow," I said and hung up.

I looked at my watch and decided that it was not too late to make a call to Jack Hogan. He answered on the third ring.

"Hello."

"Jack, it's Crane. I hope I caught you before you went to bed."

"Oh, hi, Crane. Another five minutes and I would have been. What causes you to call this late?" Jack asked.

"We've got a problem and I hope you might have some answers," I said. "Before I go on, I must ask you to keep what I tell you strictly secret."

"Of course, I deal with confidential information all the time. What can I do for you?"

I went on to describe the situation with Donald and to give him all the information that I had gleaned from what Carlton Banks had provided. "What I need from you is to find out if you have any contacts in Mexico that might be useful in helping resolve this situation. Keep in mind any and all options are open, if you know what I mean."

"I understand," Jack said. "I believe that one of the investigators in our office has had dealings with people in Mexico, and specifically in the area you're talking about. As I recall him talking about them, they are not the pillars of the community. I will contact him first thing in the morning to see if he might be able to help. I'll let you know as soon as I talk to him."

"Good," I said. "Do not hesitate to use whatever resources that are necessary. Money, in this case, is not a problem. You have a blank check."

"I understand," Jack said. "It will be more than likely that some palms will need to be greased."

"Whatever it takes - do it," I said. "I'll wait for your call tomorrow."

After I hung up the phone, I decided I needed a glass of wine and went to pour myself a glass. I wondered how, or if, I should break this to the boys and Lenore. I wrestled with this for a while before deciding that as long as the news didn't get out, I would delay telling them.

Needless to say, I did not sleep well. I was up and had made the coffee before Gilda came into the kitchen.

"My, you're the early bird this morning," she said.

"I didn't sleep too well last night," I replied.

"Anything special, or was it you were just missing Donald?"

"I guess that must have been it," I lied. "Do you suppose we all could gather for a meeting after all the kids are at school?"

"You mean with Hildy and Manfred as well?"

"Yes, I have something I want to tell you."

Gilda went about beginning the breakfast preparations and I went to get the morning paper. I could hear her talking to herself when I returned with the paper. After a while, she went to wake up Lenore and to get her ready to go to pre-school.

After breakfast and everybody had brushed their teeth, we were loading the van and were ready to head out. Just then Manfred arrived to get Lenore. I asked if he and Hildy would come over for a meeting after we both returned from dropping our charges off at their schools. He indicated that they would come over as soon as he returned.

Arriving at the school, Joel lingered at the van as the others ran off to see their friends. "Is something wrong, dad? You seem distracted or something this morning."

"I didn't sleep well last night," I said.

"Okay," he said, shrugging his shoulders. From the look he gave me, I could tell that he didn't think that was the entire reason. Sometimes that boy was just too perceptive.

When I returned home, Hildy and Manfred were sitting at the breakfast room table drinking coffee with Gilda. I poured myself a cup and joined them.

"Thanks for coming this morning. There is something very important that I need to tell you, but I must insist that you do not say anything to anyone about this conversation. It must remain totally secret for the time being. I need your word that you will not breathe a word of this."

Getting agreement from the three of them, I went on to describe the phone call I had received last night. When I finished, there were stunned looks on all of their faces.

"Are you going to tell William and Lenore?" Manfred asked.

"Not right now," I said. "Donald was not expected to return until at least Wednesday evening at the earliest. If nothing is resolved by that time, I suspect that I will have to let them know what has happened. I'm not looking forward to having that conversation.

Before any further questions could be asked, the phone rang. I excused myself and went to answer it, hoping that it would be Jack or Carlton with some good news. It was neither. It was Jesse.

"Crane," he said after he had identified himself, "I wanted to let you know that we have arrested Lee Boyd."

"Who?"

"The guy who broke into your house and stole all that stuff," Jesse said.

"Sorry, Jesse, my mind was a million miles away. That's great news. When do you expect he might go on trial?"

"That's hard to say. He's lawyered up. The prosecutor will probably try to get him to plead guilty and then a formal trial won't be necessary, just a judge to take his plea and then sentencing."

"Whatever," I said. "Keep me informed if I need to do anything."

"Will do," Jesse said and hung up.

I was heading back to the table when the phone rang again. This time it was Jack.

"I wanted to let you know that we have made contact with the people in Mexico and they have agreed to look into the matter. They are expecting to be well compensated if their inquiries turn up anything useful. They'll want to be paid no matter what. It will not be cheap, my friend," Jack said.

"Make the best deal possible, but don't let money stand in the way. Information and any assistance that they might be able to provide will be worth almost any price," I said.

"These people do not want to be hindered by the police, to put it politically correct," Jack said. "Are the Mexican police involved at this point?"

"As far as I know, they have not been notified."

"Good, that will make things easier for everyone involved."

"Keep me informed if you get anything from them."

"You know I will," he said and hung up.

"What was that all about?" Manfred asked.

"Two pieces of news," I said. "First, the creep who broke in here and stole all the silver has been arrested. Second, as I told you I had made contact with Jack Hogan to see if he and his organization could be of assistance, he just informed me that their contacts in Mexico are going to assist us with the attempt to locate Donald."

"Who are those people?" Hildy asked.

"I don't know who they are, only that they are not exactly saints. My guess is that they are either drug smugglers or some other type of criminals," I said. "If that's who we have to deal with to get Donald back, then so be it."

Sometime later, Hildy and Manfred went back to their home and I made an attempt to pick up the book I had started reading last night. It was no use. I couldn't concentrate on the story and repeatedly reread the same passages over and over. I finally gave up and decided to go for a swim. Maybe that would take my mind off the situation at hand. It did help for a while.

Gilda called to me as I completed a lap in the pool. "You have a telephone call," she said.

I jumped out of the pool and quickly dried off before I ran into the house. I picked up the phone. "This is Crane."

"Carlton Banks," he replied. "We just received a phone call from the kidnappers."

"What did they say?"

"They demanded 5 million in US dollars," he said. "The money is to be deposited in a bank in the Cayman Islands. They'll give us the account when the money is ready to transfer. They have given us two days to get it together."

"Were you able to trace the call?" I asked.

"No, unfortunately the call came through the hotel switchboard."

"Was there anything unusual or identifiable about the voice of the person that you spoke to?"

"None of us could identify the voice. I had the call recorded and played to all of our party. The person on the line sounded well educated and spoke with only a slight Mexican accent. He had probably been educated in the US, possibly even raised here."

"Anything from the people you were going to make contact with in Mexico City?"

"Nothing yet, but it's a bit early. I only made contact with them about three hours ago. My contact there is Miguel Rivera. He's to update me with any information as soon as he receives it," Carlton said. "I did pass on to him the kidnappers' demands. I also emailed him the Mp3 file of the conversation."

I decided not to tell Carlton about the efforts underway from this end.

"Have you spoken with Senor Herrera since last night?"

"We have tried, but he hasn't been available. That is very suspicious, since he was supposed to meet with Mr. Baker and the lawyers again this morning and as far as I know he shouldn't have any knowledge of the kidnapping - at least from us."

"What do you know about the guy?" I asked.

"Not a lot," Carlton said. "He is some minor official that has something to do with recording land deeds. I'm not sure exactly what he does. The lawyers are the ones who dealt with him and the attorneys on the Mexican side."

"What about those attorneys? Were they aware that you all were going to Senor Herrera's hacienda last night?"

"Yes, and we have been in contact with both of them. They arrived for this morning's meeting right on time," Carlton said. "My gut tells me they are not involved in this mess. I have been in touch with Mr. Baker's VP of finance and clued him in on what is happening. If any payment is to be made, he will have to be the one who transfers the funds."

"I think it would be advisable to delay any payment as long as possible," I said. "I don't in any way want to jeopardize Donald's safety, but there may be some wiggle room when it comes to making the transfer. See what you can do when they make contact with you again."

"I'll see what I can do," Carlton said. There was a muffled conversation on the line before Carlton came back on the line. "I've just been told that Senor Herrera has been found dead inside his hacienda. The information that I was just told was that he had been trussed up and shot twice in the back of the head. Sounds like a mob hit."

"That's one lead we can't follow up on," I said. "My guess is that he was a minor player in the kidnapping and they are eliminating the witnesses. Keep me informed of any developments, no matter how insignificant they might appear."

"I almost forgot, when we were going through Mr. Baker's things for possible clues, we discovered a power of attorney in your name. It gives you the right to act on behalf of the company in case he is anyway incapacitated."

"No way!" I exclaimed. "Donald would surely have talked to me about that."

"It's a good thing he executed that, otherwise the ransom, if it's paid, could not be transferred without your authorization."

"I guess it would be best if I went into Donald's office and talked to the finance guy," I said. "Call me if you get any more information, no matter how insignificant." I gave him my cell phone number and then hung up.

I quickly showered and dressed before taking off for Donald's office. When I got there, I asked his secretary if she would have the Finance VP come to Donald's office suite. She picked up the phone to make the call and I went into the office. It was only a couple of minutes before there was a knock on the door.

"Mr. Crouch is here," the secretary said.

"Mr. Crouch, please come in. I don't think we have ever met. I'm Crane Johnson."

"It's nice to meet you, only not in these circumstances. Please call me Jerome," he said, shaking my hand. "I've been in contact with Carlton Banks. He said you would probably want to meet with me."

"Did he also tell you that Donald had executed a power of attorney authorizing me to act in his behalf in all matters related to the companies?"

"Yes, in fact he faxed me a copy."

"It is my intention not to pay the ransom unless there is no other alternative, but we need to make arrangements in case it becomes necessary," I said. "How difficult would it be to make the transfer of funds?"

"It's fairly routine," he said. "We make money transfers all the time. Since it is a large sum of money, there will be inquiries from the feds, but there are many legitimate reasons we could give them for the transfer."

"I'm going to have Carlton try to stall the transfer from his end as long as possible. He has people working on his end to find the kidnappers and I have initiated a second avenue to do the same. I'm not sure about the people that Carlton has made arrangements with; I only know that the ones we have initiated from here may have a better chance of success. From what I've been told, they don't operate strictly within the law."

"I'm not sure that I approve of that, Mr. Johnson," Jerome said. "The company cannot be associated with extra-legal activities."

"Don't worry," I said. "This is in no way associated with the company. It is strictly a personal effort on my part to find and deal with the kidnappers."

"Good."

"If it becomes necessary to transfer the money, does the company have enough ready cash to make the transfer?" I asked.

"The cash reserves will take a moderate hit, but there is more than enough to make the payment."

"Thanks, Jerome, I'll keep in touch," I said. "I have a meeting at noon in town tomorrow and I'll stop by after the meeting. If something needs my immediate attention, give me a call on my cell phone." I gave him the number and then hurried to my car so I could get home in time to go pick up the kids at school.

"Dad," the twins said as they ran up to the van, "we have tennis practice after school tomorrow. Is that alright?"

"Sure, one of us can pick you guys up after practice," I said. "Just let us know about what time practice will be over."

"The coach said it would be between 5 and 5:30," Chris offered.

Later after we had finished supper, I told everybody that I had to go to the school board meeting. I hoped that it would be short. Some of the board members tended to get tied up in the minutia that really should be left up to the head master.

Thankfully the meeting was a brief one and I was home shortly after nine. Joel had taken over my responsibilities of checking the boys' homework assignments. They were all ready for bed so I made my rounds to tuck them in. My last stop, as usual was in Joel's room.

"Dad, something is going on," he said. "You haven't been acting the same. Can you tell me what it is?"

I walked to his door and closed it, before sitting down in his desk chair. I turned to face him before I said, "You must keep what I have to tell you absolutely secret. Your brothers are not to hear a word of this. Do I have your word?"

"I swear, dad," he said. "It's something about Donald, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. To cut to the chase, Donald has been kidnapped by a gang in Mexico."

"Oh," he said, letting out a long breath.

"There are several efforts going on trying to affect a rescue. It's too soon to have any results, as yet."

"Have the kidnappers made any ransom demands?"

"Yes, they want $5 million transferred to a bank in the Cayman Islands. They will give us the exact instruction on the transfer probably tomorrow."

"Are you going to pay them?" Joel asked.

"Only as a last resort," I said, "It's Donald's company that will make the payment, if it becomes necessary."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Just hope for the best and try not to worry about it too much," I said. "I'll do enough of that for the both of us. Good night, son, and remember, not a word to your brothers.

"Good night, dad. They won't hear it from me."

At breakfast, I asked Joel if he would pick up the three musketeers after their tennis practice if I wasn't available. He agreed and after everybody finished their breakfast they went off to get ready for school. With tennis rackets in hand the three players were the first into the van. I dropped them all off at school and returned to the house.

"Jack Hogan called," Gilda announced as I came in the back door. "He wants you to call him right away."

I headed for my office and dialed his number. "It's Crane," I said when he answered the phone.

"I just wanted to keep you in the loop," he said. "The contacts in Mexico believe they have identified the group responsible for the kidnapping."

"That's great," I said. "Do they think they can make a rescue attempt?"

"That's the problem at the moment. Although, they believe they know the who, the where is another matter. Where he's being held is still unknown."

"Regardless, that is the best news we've has so far," I said. "Do they think they will be able to locate Donald?"

"They feel fairly confident that they will," Jack said. "It may take them a day or so."

"I hope we can stall meeting the ransom demands a couple more days," I said. "Be sure that you make it absolutely clear to them that Donald's safety is the most important thing. What happens to the kidnappers is of no importance to us. That may sound harsh, but that is the way I feel. Have your 'friends' told you how much they want and where and how the payment is to be made for their efforts?"

"Nothing definite yet, but I assume it will be in the neighborhood of 100K," Jack said.

"It will be well worth it if Donald is rescued unharmed," I said. "Let me know if anything breaks."

"Will do," Jack replied and hung up.

Gilda knocked on the open door to my office and announced, "There's a Terrance Beekman at the front gate and says he has an appointment to meet with you. Should I let him in?"

"I had totally forgotten about him. That's the security company that is going to install some outside video cameras. Yes, let him in."

I greeted Terrance Beekman at the front door and invited him in. We sat down at the dining room table and he laid out his recommendations for a totally new system which would include the new cameras. I glanced at my watch and realized that I needed to get ready to go to the ASEC Board meeting.

"Mr. Beekman, I like your suggestions and I want you to go ahead and install the first option that you presented," I said. "I don't mean to rush, but I have an important meeting in San Antonio at noon and don't have much time to spare. If you have a contract for me to sign, I'll do that now. Otherwise, send me a copy along with the timing of the installation and I'll get the contract back to you immediately."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I'll get the contract in the mail this afternoon." Terrance said. "Work on the installation can start on Monday and will take about two days to complete."

I saw him to the door and then rushed to my bedroom to change out of my jeans and into more suitable business attire.

It was good to see Darcie, Carol and Paul again. I had been derelict in my duties to visit the office more often. When all the board members were present, the meeting began. Most of the business was fairly mundane. Darcie reported on the number of children that we had helped and how many were still receiving our help. Many of the recipients of our support were adoption related, which is what the charity was set up for in the first place. While we now branched out into other areas, it was still my favorite.

Lunch had been served while we were meeting and the caterers were beginning the clean up when my cell phone rang.


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