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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.
This story is copyrighted by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Checking the caller ID, I saw that it was Jack, "Jack, I hope that you have good news for me."
"The news is mostly good," he said. "Our contacts in Mexico believe that they have located where Mr. Baker is being held. They are not absolutely certain at this point, but are fairly certain that they will be able to confirm his location later today."
"That's encouraging," I said.
"They have said that they want their "fee" deposited to an account in the Wells Fargo Bank there in San Antonio," Jack said.
"That's strange. I figured it would be an offshore account somewhere. Did they say how much?" I asked.
"Yes, it was as I had indicated earlier. They want 100K whether they recover Mr. Baker or not."
"Do you trust that the information that you are getting from them to be accurate?" I asked.
"Not one-hundred percent, but the dealings that our agent who has had with them in the past, says they have an incentive to be dealing straight with us," Jack said.
"I guess we'll have to trust their word," I said. "Did they give you the account number for the transfer?"
"Yes," Jack answered. "If you have a pen and paper I can give it to you."
"Go ahead," I said.
He read off the account number and I repeated it to him so as to make sure there would be no mistake.
"I'm about six blocks from the main Wells Fargo Bank," I said. "I'll head over there now and make the transfer. Thanks, Jack."
I was in the bank about fifteen minutes later and had asked to see the bank manager. I had to wait a couple of minutes before Buford Dent appeared and offered his hand.
"What may I do for you?"
"May we discuss this in your office?" I asked.
"Of course," he said. "Follow me."
"I need to transfer money to another account," I said, after we had settled in his office.
"Certainly," he replied. "I will need to see some identification and the account numbers."
"Yes," I said, retrieving my ID from my wallet. I handed it to him and he looked at the picture on it and then at me.
"Very well, Mr. Johnson," he said and handed the document back to me. "What are the account numbers?"
"Here is my account and this one is the receiving account," I said.
"What is the amount of the transfer?"
Dent took the information, without showing any surprise at the amount, and typed it into the computer terminal on his desk. He printed out a form in duplicate and had me sign them both. He countersigned both forms and handed me one. Having done that, he pressed a button on his phone and spoke to someone. Almost immediately, a middle-aged woman entered the office. He handed her his copy of the form. "Darlene, will you make this transfer and let us know when it has been completed?"
"Yes, sir," she said and left the office.
"It should only take a minute or so for the transfer to be completed. Since it is all internal, there will be no delay. While we are waiting, would you like a coffee?"
"No, thanks," I said. "I just got out of a meeting where I drank too much coffee."
"You know, of course, that this transaction will have to be reported to the feds. I'm sure that they will not be concerned with it unless they suspect it's drug money. It isn't, is it?" He laughed, but I could tell he was serious.
"No, nothing like that," I said. "Just making a time-critical purchase. You have to strike while the iron is hot."
Darlene returned and handed Buford Dent a piece of paper. "Thank you, Darlene," he said. "Mr. Johnson, this is a copy of the receipt of the transfer for your records. Is there anything else we can do for you today?"
"Not today. I appreciate your expeditious handling of this matter for me," I said. "Good day."
I headed back to the car where I used my cell phone to call Jack to let him know that the transaction had been completed.
Noticing the time, I started the car and took off for home. It would be time to pick up the kids from school by the time I got there. I made it to the school a few minutes before the youngest ones were released.
"Is my daddy going to come home today?" William asked as soon as he had given me a hug.
"I don't know, son. I haven't talked to your dad today," I said. It was the truth, but it felt like a lie. "When he left, he said it might be tomorrow before he returned. If he calls before you go to bed, you can talk to him."
"Okay," William answered and hopped into the van.
I kept looking for the three musketeers to exit the building when I suddenly remembered that they had tennis practice and would not be riding home with us. When Joel arrived, everybody got into the van and we took off for home.
"Joel, I may be available, but I would like for you to pick up your brothers after their practice," I said.
"Sure thing, dad," he replied. "I talked to their coach at lunch and he said it would be closer to 5:30 when practice would be over. I'll still try to be there by shortly after five just to be safe."
Lenore was sitting at the table enjoying a glass of milk and a peanut butter cookie when we arrived. TJ, Peter and William all ran to their room to change clothes so they could have their snacks as well. I grabbed a cookie as I went by and headed to my bedroom to change.
The phone rang as I was slipping into a pair of jeans. When I answered it, Carlton Banks was on the line. "Have you heard from the kidnappers?" I asked before he had a chance to say anything other than who he was.
"Yes," he answered. "They have given us the name of the bank and the account number to transfer the money to."
"Did you try to stall them?"
"I did. I told them it would take at least two days and possibly three to get the money together before the funds transfer could happen," Carlton said.
"Did they buy it?"
"Reluctantly, I guess. It took some convincing, but in the end they agreed. The thoughts of all that money coming into their hands was more important to them than meeting an arbitrary date. I don't think we will be able to stall any longer, so we need to make arrangements just in case."
"I met with Jerome Crouch yesterday and he's making arrangements, if it becomes necessary," I said. "Have you heard anything from your contacts in Mexico City?"
"I spoke with Miguel Rivera earlier today," Carlton said. "They are following up on several leads, but they haven't had any success so far. To be honest, I don't believe they are all that interested in a quick resolution. I get the impression that they are more interested in the daily rate they're charging and want it to go on as long as possible."
"If they're not doing a good job, fire them," I said. "Surely there are others who could do the job."
"If it weren't too late to do that, I would," he said. "Starting an investigation from scratch at this point is a non-starter."
"I see your point," I said with a sigh. "Keep on their butts to make progress. Wave more money if that's what it takes. If nothing happens between now and tomorrow, I will get with Crouch and set things in motion to pay the ransom. I won't issue the authorization until the very last minute. I hate to see anyone profit from a crime like this."
"I agree," he said. "If anything happens, you will be the first to know."
"Thanks," I said.
It was almost six o'clock by the time Joel arrived back with three, sweaty, tennis players.
"You three, hit the showers," I said.
"Can't we have a snack first?" Lenny asked for the three of them.
"No, it's almost time for supper. It will be by the time you've showered. Now, scoot!"
Three unhappy boys trudged up to their bedroom. I swear they must have stayed in the shower only long enough to get wet because they were dressed and downstairs in under ten minutes. As a consolation for not having their after-school snack, they got a couple extra cookies for their evening snack after their homework was checked.
After supper, I was sitting on the sofa reading an article in the newspaper when Lenore climbed up beside me and laid her head on my arm. "Is something wrong, sweetie?"
"I miss my daddy," she sniffled.
I put the paper aside and lifted her onto my lap. "I know you do. I miss your daddy, too."
"When's he coming home?"
"I haven't talked to your daddy today, but I hope he'll be home tomorrow."
She remained in my lap with my arms around her until Gilda came to get her ready for bed.
"Come here, little one," Gilda said. "Let's go get your bath taken and then I'll read you another story."
"Can I sleep with you? I don't want to sleep alone," Lenore said, holding out her arms for Gilda to pick her up.
"Sure, baby," Gilda said, and carried Lenore back to her apartment.
I waited anxiously until almost midnight hoping to hear something from anyone about Donald's status before I got ready for bed. Again, I did not sleep well.
I don't think Gilda was surprised when I was up and had made the coffee when she arrived in the kitchen. "Another bad night, I see," she said.
"Yes," I said, sipping my coffee. "I hope something breaks today."
She gave me a quizzical look before asking, "Is something going on?"
"Is there reason to hope Donald will be rescued today?"
"We have two separate efforts going on. Either one of them could produce results," I said.
"You only mentioned one when you explained the kidnapping to us. What's the other one?"
"The one I told you about is the one that Carlton Banks is running there in Mexico. It is a straight-forward, legitimate operation using an organization that has some claimed expertise in rescuing kidnap victims," I said. "The other effort is not exactly, for want of a better description, legitimate. It's one that I'm financing and being coordinated through people here in Texas. Their contacts appear to have made significant progress in locating Donald and the people who kidnapped him, as of yesterday afternoon when I got my last update. I'm hoping I will hear some news this morning."
"I can guess who is coordinating it from here," Gilda said. "I'd bet it's your friend Jack."
"I wouldn't bet against you," I said.
With the preparations for breakfast nearly completed, Gilda went to wake Lenore and get her ready for her preschool. I went to wake the boys so they could get ready for their school. As usual, Joel was up and dressed when I got to his room.
"Good morning, dad," Joel said. "I skyped Jimmy last night. He said he went to the Student Services at U of H."
"He said he was able to get a grant that would pay his tuition and books for the rest of his college. The strange thing was that it was a grant specifically for a student from Comal County. Now, who would make such specific criteria for a grant?" he asked with a smile.
"I wouldn't know," I said innocently.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, giving me a hug. "It's our secret."
We walked down the stairs with my arm around my exceptional son.
"Dad, we have tennis practice again after school," Larry shouted, as he and his brothers ran up the stairs to brush their teeth after breakfast.
"I can pick them up," Joel said. "I was going to ask you if I could drive my car to school today. I have some research to do in the school library for a paper I have to write that's due next week. The school doors are open until five, so I would only have to wait a few minutes before their practice is over."
"That'll work," I said.
After dropping off the kids at school and returning to the house, I decided that I needed to go in to Donald's office and talk to Jerome Crouch. We might as well begin the preparation to transfer the ransom money even though I had no intention of authorizing it until the very last minute and then only if we had conformation that Donald was unharmed. The meeting with Jerome was short. He was very efficient and had the money set aside in a special account by itself so that it could be easily transferred and would not be susceptible to being hacked for more money by any unscrupulous character. I had to commend him for his foresight.
I spent the rest of the morning with Donald's secretary going over some things that needed immediate attention. Most of it was routine matters that I felt comfortable handling in Donald's absence. There were a few items that I would need to confer with the appropriate department head before I would feel comfortable handling them.
As it was approaching lunch time, his secretary, Alisa, asked if I wanted her to order something in for lunch. I considered it for a moment before declining. I needed a breath of fresh air and decided to walk to a little café that I used to frequent that was only about five blocks from the office. It was off the main thoroughfares on a side street and was frequented mostly by office workers from the surrounding businesses. It was starting to get crowded by the time I got there, but I was able to find a stool at the bar. A waitress that I remembered from when I used to come here greeted me by name.
"Crane Johnson," she said. "Where have you been? You haven't been in here in, what, three years."
Her nametag said Pattie, which jarred my memory. "I no longer work downtown, Pattie. It's good to see you again. What do you recommend that is especially good today?"
"The boss says that I have to say everything is good," she laughed. I also remembered that she and her husband owned the place. "How about what you always ordered? A turkey club and a glass of unsweet tea."
I don't know how she remembered after all these years, but I just nodded my assent. When it was served, I remembered why I had ordered it so often back then. I finished up, paid the check with a generous tip and headed back to the office.
I looked over the few remaining items from this morning and agreed with Alisa that the rest could wait another day or two before they needed a decision. "Any news?" she asked, as I was getting up to leave the office.
"I'm afraid not," I said. "I'm hopeful we'll hear something today."
She shrugged her shoulders and we walked out of Donald's office together. I went to my car and she went back to her desk.
As I drove into the garage at home, my cellphone rang. I answered it without looking at the caller ID.
"It's Jack," the voice said.
"What's going on, Jack? I thought we would have heard something by this time."
"Communication is not these people's highest priority. We did get word a few minutes ago that they have confirmed the location and are in the final stages of developing a plan to rescue Mr. Baker. If their plan succeeds, we should know something late tonight or early tomorrow morning. As I understand it, they are going to wait until dark before they try anything. They believe that'll give them the greatest chances of success."
"If they know where Donald is being held, they must know who the kidnappers are. Right?"
"Yes," Jack said. "The gang holding him goes by the name of the jaguars. They are apparently a small gang of around a dozen members trying to make a name for themselves by making a big score."
"And what about the people we are dealing with?" I asked.
"Let's just say they are a bigger gang and don't want anyone horning in on their territory."
"What's going to keep them from rescuing Donald and then demanding ransom for his release? Are we going to be dealing with another gang of kidnappers?"
"I don't think that will happen," Jack said. "As I understand it, they owe my associate. Plus he has contacts in the Mexican Federal Police and has enough information on the gang that would put most of the members in prison for a long time."
"I'm not totally reassured, but it's better than not having any hope at all. Thanks, Jack, keep me informed," I said, before we hung up.
"Something may break tonight," I told Gilda, after she asked if there was any news.
"I certainly hope so, not only for Donald, but for Lenore as well," Gilda said. "She misses her dad something fierce. She woke up several times in the night with nightmares. I'm glad that she was in my bed so I could comfort her."
"I could tell she was having difficulty with her dad being gone. She had never wanted on my lap before. She needed to be comforted," I said. "Thank you for being there for her."
"How could I not be," she said. "She's like a granddaughter to me. One that I wish I had. I'm not sure that Cel is ever going to give me a grandchild. By the way, when you go to pick up the kids from school, I've got some brownies for you to take for the three tennis players to eat on their way home. Maybe you can have TJ entrust them to Joel to give to them when their practice is over."
"I'm positive that they will appreciate them." I said. "I hope you included a couple for Joel as well?"
I went to change out of my suit and into a pair of jeans. Seeing a couple of phone messages that had come in on the home phone, I had time to return a couple before heading out to pick up the kids. Gilda was at the door with a small sack which she handed to me as I passed her on my way out.
When I got to the school, I saw Joel's car in the parking lot and decided to put the brownies in it along with a note telling him what it was for. Since I had a key to his car, I opened the passenger door and placed the sack on the seat with the note. As a backup, when TJ came out of the school, I asked him to find Joel in the school library and tell him that his and the three musketeers' snacks were in his car.
When TJ returned, I hollered at Ginny and Jeannie to come get in the van. They had been talking to a group of girls some thirty or so feet from the van. They waved goodbye to their friends and got into the van. The van seemed empty with four of the usual troops missing.
"Mr. Johnson," Jeannie said as I drove up in front of their house. "It's my turn on the Xbox. Is it alright if I come over?"
"That's fine, Jeannie," I said. "We'll see you later."
"How's our girl doing?" I whispered to Gilda.
"For the moment, she seems to be doing okay," she replied in a low tone. "I certainly hope that something happens soon. She can't lose another parent."
"We'll have to keep our fingers crossed," I said. "As soon as you boys finish your snack, you need to go tend to the dogs. I'm sure they have missed you. Take care of your other brothers' dogs as well."
"Sure, dad," TJ said around a mouthful of brownie.
The waiting was difficult. Not knowing what was happening was even more difficult. I knew that there was a one hour difference in the time between San Antonio and Cabo San Lucas. If the rescue attempt came after dark there, it might be well into the early hours tomorrow morning before word reached us. Still for the kids' sake, I had to act as if there was nothing wrong. That was difficult.
The evening dragged on through supper and homework for the boys and their taking turns on the Xboxes with Jeannie. Lenore was very quiet and wanted to be close to me. I didn't know if she sensed that something was wrong or that she was just missing her dad. I was pleased that she and I had become closer than before and hoped it would continue after Donald was home. I couldn't let myself think that he wouldn't be home again.
I sent the boys off to shower and get ready for bed. Gilda took Lenore to get her ready for bed as well. I heard Lenore sob into Gilda's neck as she was being carried, "I want my daddy."
I want your daddy, too.
"Is my daddy coming home tomorrow?" William asked as I was tucking him in.
"I hope so," I said. "I'm pretty sure he will be."
"How come he hasn't called?"
"Your daddy is probably very busy and has been tied up with business. If I hear from him tonight, I'll tell him you miss him and want him to come home soon."
The twins and Chris were almost asleep when I went to say goodnight to them. The tennis practice must have worn them out. I kissed all three of them on their foreheads, even though they thought they were too old to be kissed.
Joel was in bed reading a book when I entered his room. "Is anything happening?" he asked.
I sat down in his desk chair and explained what was supposed to happen tonight.
"That could be dangerous, couldn't it?"
"Yes, son, it could. All we can do is keep a positive attitude and hope that Donald will come through this unharmed."
"When will you know?"
"Not before early tomorrow morning at the earliest," I said. "Goodnight, son."
I decided to go to bed shortly after all the boys were settled, hoping that I could get a couple hours sleep. The past two nights had been very restless. I put my cell phone in the charger on the nightstand beside the bed and got ready. I must have fallen asleep almost as soon as I had crawled into bed.
When my cell phone rang, I sat straight up in bed in a state of confusion. It took a couple of rings before I was able to get my thoughts straight enough to realize what was going on and grab the phone. As I did, I also turned on the bedside lamp and saw that it was 3:47AM.
"Hello," I croaked.
"Crane, is that you?" the familiar voice asked.
"Oh, my god," I said, getting my voice back. "Are you all right?"