Mastigouche

facon-generale-lavanderia-lieu-fortSitting out in the restaurant, Jack paid the bill. They waited.

“Jack,” said Hilda. “Did you notice the two men at the bar?”

“Not the same ones.”

“Yeah, but guys don’t go to the restroom together.”

Jack leapt from his seat and sprinted to the restroom. Hilda was right behind him. He pushed the door open to the men’s room. Empty.

“Jack!”

He ran to the women’s room. Hilda was kneeling over two unconscious women. “Call 911. Tranquilizer darts. Emily’s not here.”

Jack ran out the side entrance with the phone to his ear. The parking lot was quiet, but he smelled the exhaust of a cold engine that had left not long ago. He walked back into the hallway with the restrooms. The manager was there, having been called by the waitstaff when the two Americans raced across the restaurant.

Jacques and Maryse appeared next. The manager ordered one waiter to have the other guests please return to their seats. A second waiter was sent to the street outside to direct the EMT’s to the side entrance.

“Where’s Emily?” asked Jacques.

“Kidnapped, I think,” said Jack. “Could you call Pierre? I’ll call Pete in Baltimore.”

ambulance at sceneThe EMT’s from the ambulance came in with the first responding police officers. Hilda identified herself as a nurse and let them know that the two women were not in immediate danger but would remain unconscious for hours. The police officer took some photos of the scene, then let the EMT’s carry the women to the ambulance on gurneys. The manager located the two gentlemen who were with them. The police officer took business cards from each man and told them to wait at the hospital until the women came to. A policeman would come for their statements there.

Pierre Laurent showed up just in front of a pair of detectives from the Montréal Police. The officers and the detectives recognized the grey-haired giant immediately. He looked around, pausing to see each person carefully before looking at the next one.

“Majors Paisley and Rathburn, I take it.”

“Yes, sir,” said Hilda.

“And we’re missing Miss Hampstead, non?

“We only reported a possible kidnapping, Pierre,” said Jacques. “I did not identify her to the dispatcher.”

“But almost everyone in the restaurant recognized her. Photos of your table went viral on Facebook while you were eating. The dispatcher knew who was kidnapped immediately.”

He switched to French and ordered the crime scene set off. While they were taping off the area (and re-signing the men’s room to unisex service), the Chief of Detectives from the Montréal Police arrived. Laurent suggested that they all move to the restaurant and let the crime techs do their thing.

“The FBI will be interested in this,” he said, looking at Jack.

“I called them already. Pete Sayfield said that they will expedite the tracer on that shell company that owns the blue Peugeot.”

Time paused in Hilda’s world. The unconscious women had been removed, the forensic specialists were processing the crime scene, and the policemen were brainstorming in French and English, while everyone waited for more information to emerge. An amber alert and an APB with Emily’s description (as if anyone needed it) had already gone out.

She tapped Jack on the shoulder. “I have to call Katherine.”

He put an arm around her. “Want me to call?”

“No. Just be here while I do.”

They turned away from the others, while Hilda dialled the Katharine’s cell phone.

“Hello, Hilda. We were just finishing dinner. What’s up?”

“Are you sitting down with Mark?”

“Uh – yes, why?”

“Please put this on speaker. I need to talk to both of you.” She heard the bleep as Katharine tapped the icon.

“What’s wrong, Hilda? You’re scaring me.”

“Emily’s been kidnapped.”

There was a long silence on the line, then she heard Katharine scream. Mark was holding her.

“What happened?” he said. “Where? When?”

“Just now. We were paying the bill when Emily went to the restroom. We got suspicious about two men who looked like they were going to the men’s room and raced after them, but by the time we got there, they had shot two women with tranquilizer darts and disappeared with Emily.”

“I could smell the exhaust fumes of their vehicle when I ran outside, but they were gone,” said Jack.

“The police and the Sûreté Chief Inspector are both here, and the authorities will move heaven and earth on this case.”

“But why Emily?” Mark was still holding the sobbing Katherine.

“We just don’t know, Mark. All along we expected some fanatic to take a shot at me. Emily is a celebrity here, which we did not expect. I don’t even know if a ransom request is going to come, or what. I don’t think that they harmed her, because no firearms were used, and there was no blood or signs of a struggle.”

“Wait. There’s someone at the door.” Mark went to the door, while Katharine slowly regained control.

“Where are you, Hilda?”

“At the Lavanderia restaurant. Obviously, we have been followed by a sophisticated gang. We spotted the pair who tailed us yesterday, but not knowing what to make of it, we reported it to Pete Sayfield, and we’re waiting for information about the car that pair was using.”

Mark came back on. “It’s Greg Sprouse.”

“Hi, Greg.”

“Hello, Hilda. Is Jack with you?”

“He’s right here, but I’m not on speaker, because the restaurant is full of police and others.”

“OK. Pete called me and asked me to come see the Dempsey’s. I figured you’d call before I got here.”

“Are you going into your kidnapping protocol?”

“Yes. We’ll have people here soon, and I’ll go over it with Mark and Katherine.”

Hilda relayed to Jack. Jack took the phone from Hilda.

“Hi, Greg. If I may suggest something, be ready to think outside the box on this one. It may or may not involve ransom. I can’t see why it would involve revenge, even against Hilda. The fact is, Emily is famous here. People have been asking for autographs and taking pictures of her everywhere. The only thing we have not had are paparazzi, but they will be on us now, I’m sure.”

“So, you’re saying the motives are unknown and could be confused.”

“Right. We’ll know more when Pete finishes tracking down the car ownership lead. Maybe.”

“What can we do now?” asked Mark. Jack passed the phone back to Hilda. She heard the question, and Greg’s answer.

“Sit tight. They have the ball. We have to be ready for it.”

Katherine was muttering, almost inaudibly. “I never should have let her…” Hilda could hear the guilt and pain in her voice. She could imagine her bending over in grief, but she also knew that she could never know what it felt like, being an only child and childless herself.

“Greg, can you handle that end?” asked Hilda. “The police are still working the scene here.”

“We’ve got it. The team from Richmond should be here any minute. We’ll organize this with Pete and the SDQ from here.”

“Thanks, Greg. Let us know if you need anything.” She rang off.

Hilda looked out the window of the restaurant as she put her phone away. The street was ablaze with the hot lights of TV news crews. A satellite truck across the street was outlined by its own shadow against the building behind it. There were more police outside than people inside, trying to keep the crowd back. She looked at Jack, who was standing with the Pointreau’s.

“How do we get out of here?”

“We don’t for now,” said Jack. “As long as the Chief Inspector is here, I think no one wants to leave. Any new information is going to come to him.”

Jack’s phone rang. “Pete”, he said as he answered. “Hello, Pete. Any news? Sure.” He put the phone on speaker and called out, “Chief Inspector? I have Special Agent Sayfield here. He wants to talk to all of us.”

The big policeman came over, motioning them to distance themselves to a quieter corner away from the restrooms.

“Hello, Agent Sayfield.”

“Hello, Chief Inspector. I have some news on that shell company in Miami.”

“Yes?”

“Our people in Miami have been investigating that company for a few months now, under the RICO statute.”

“Money-laundering? For whom?”

“That’s what’s interesting. We have leads to the Colombian drug cartel, the New Orleans and Las Vegas mafias, and MS-42 of all people.”

“The gang?”

“Yes. MS-42 is more complex than the typical street gang it used to be, but it runs money both ways. Drugs, of course, but also local muscle and collecting money for the financiers.”

“And, of course, they developed kidnapping as a revenue stream in the past.”

“Yes. But why they targeted Emily is something we may not find out until a demand comes in.”

“Is Mr. Dempsey wealthy?”

“He’s well-off, but he’s no billionaire. The company has kidnap insurance on him because of his travel and his government connection, but no one thought that his profile required insurance on his family.”

“Interesting.”

“What about Emily as a target herself, independent of ransom?” asked Hilda. “Is there something related to her celebrity status?”

“I have to defer to the Chief Inspector on that,” said Pete. “We know so little about the bicycle racing world, that we can’t even imagine what her popularity in Québec is like.”

“We’re working on that, Agent Sayfield. We have thought up two or three scenarios. The one that seems unlikely is the obsessed fan. This was a pre-planned, sophisticated operation.”

“I agree,” said Jack. “Pete, want me to call Ted with a short brief?”

“Already did. It’s only tangential to Hilda, it seems, but we’ll keep him in the loop because of her.”

“Thanks, Pete,” said Hilda.

“I think that we need to keep up the search for Emily, but that is better done from our Headquarters,” said Laurent. “Let’s ring off and organize a way to get you four back home past the news cameras and the paparazzi.”

“Let’s stay in touch, Chief Inspector. Call me anytime.”

“Same here. Anytime.” He gave the phone back to Jack.

SdQ cruiserJacques had parked on the back of the block, so Pierre arranged for the four of them to slip into a pair of police cruisers parked by the side entrance away from the news crews out front. Twenty minutes later, they were walking from the garage to the house. Apparently, the press had not yet figured out who Emily was staying with in Montréal.

“That may not take long,” said Jacques as they trooped into the foyer. “I want to call some people before I go to bed. They may have some additional information that the police can’t access.”

“Private detectives?” asked Hilda.

“That, but mainly our security contractor. They perform a wide range of services for us. As you can imagine, executive kidnapping in the budget. We are not a small bank, after all.”

Maryse hugged him. “I forget sometimes that you are not a humble accountant.”

“Giles will probably have some good ideas in the morning.”

“Let’s face it,” said Jack. “I may have been the only one at the table tonight who was not a likely target.”

No one appeared sleepy, but they could all feel the exhaustion of the post-adrenaline come-down. Jacques switched on the eleven o’clock news. Emily’s kidnapping was the lead story, and the subject of three follow-on reports. A terse statement by the Chief Inspector provided little information, so most of the half hour was taken up with TV footage of Emily’s racing, and her high school graduation. Katherine was described as a school teacher and Mark as a manager for a government contractor.

“At least that doesn’t give them the idea of deep pockets if they didn’t have it already,” mused Jack.

The program concluded with the Météo report, promising beautiful weather for the next four days. They bid each other goodnight, and turned in.

Hilda lay awake, staring at the ceiling. After an hour, she realized that Jack was not breathing deeply as he did normally. She put her arm out, and he wrapped her in his arms.

“Not your fault. And we know that this Christmas tree has a couple of dim bulbs. Let’s hope for a break.”

He wondered what they could do to create that break.

=====

Emily opened her eyes, then shut them quickly to shield them from the sun coming in the window. Her head was pounding, and her stomach was hot – like the feeling as a sudden burn cools off. She felt a little nauseous, too. As she lay there, she listened. She was alone, wherever this was. Whoever brought her here was either gone, asleep or incredibly quiet. Her phone and her purse had been on the table in the restaurant.

When she was sure that she was not sick, she gently opened her eyes and looked around. She was in an austerely furnished bedroom: pale cream walls, wooden floors, a queen-sized bed beneath her, one chair, a night-stand and a four-drawer dresser. No pictures. Two windows.

June-cornShe eased off the bed and checked out the windows. She was on the upper floor of a two-story house. An old house, judging from the high ceilings, which meant that it was a long way to the ground. One window faced south. From the other window, she could see the sun still low over mountains beyond the thick forest that started as the edge of the fields around the house. The fields were planted in corn in rows that ran east-west. The fields to the south went to more forest, but with no mountains behind them. She tested the windows. They opened easily and quietly. However, it was too high to jump and there were no protrusions allowing her to climb down. She closed the windows and checked the rest of the room.

The door was locked. She found a chamber pot in the nightstand, and decided to use it, in case she were suddenly forced to move again. She put it back.

The closet held a man’s wardrobe. Mostly flannel shirts, overalls, jeans, and a single dark grey suit. There were two pairs of work boots, one tall and one ankle-height. One pair of sneakers. No dress shoes.

She expected the dresser to be empty, but it held more personal items. Whoever lived here was very organized: socks, underwear, shirts, belts, etc. neatly folded in their assigned drawers. The top drawer held the small things that go in a man’s pockets: gas lighter, Swiss army officer’s knife, handkerchiefs, a tin with spare change, pocket comb, and a pocket flashlight.

She thought, why leave a knife where I can get it?

She sat on the chair and considered her situation and her options. The house was deathly silent. She opened the windows and listened carefully. Only an occasional bird. She could not even hear traffic on a road. In fact, she could not see any road at all. She leaned out the windows to check north and west, but the view was the same: fields leading to the forest. If there’s a driveway, it must head northwest from here.

She reckoned that it was still early morning, from the height of the sun, and the fact that no one had checked on her. That won’t last. Someone will be back for me.

She decided to act now, and hope that no one was here – or coming back soon. She took a denim jacket from the closet. With her tall frame, it was not ridiculously big, and it had lots of pockets. Into them, she loaded the lighter, the knife, the change, one belt and a couple of the handkerchiefs. She put on a pair of socks, figuring that she was going to hike a long way if she got out.

She put the chair under the door knob, then also pulled the dresser over and leaned it against the chair and the door. The noise of moving the dresser did not bring anyone upstairs. She was sure that she was alone.

Next, she pushed the bed against the east window, because the forest was closest in that direction. This works in the fairy tales; it better work now, she thought, as she stripped the bed and tied the bedsheets together. Tied to the headboard, the sheets reached within six feet of the ground. She hoped that she could drop that far without spraining anything. She tossed the blanket onto the landing zone.

corncanopy-photocreditandredumontShe was half-way down when she heard a car engine on the other side of the house, coming closer. She scrambled to the end of the sheets. She dropped to the ground, bending her legs to take the impact. She picked up the blanket and began running through the corn in the field. She had just reached the trees when she heard shouting from the house. She turned right and ran along the edge of the fields, just behind the first stand of trees. The shouting stopped, so she figured they were in pursuit. She needed to hide and to find out what was going on. She found a tree with low branches and began to climb.

About 25 feet up, she found a comfortable crotch into which she could nestle. Looking back, she could see the corn moving where the men were running through the fields. She guessed that there were at least four in the fields, but there may be more in the house. She could see the access road heading in a straight line due west.

She was not worried that they could see her through the leaves. She watched the men rustling through the corn and considered her situation. She had looked at the maps of the Laurentians and southern Québec enough to understand a few things. Most of the roads and almost all the waterways ran north-south, so to meet up with a road or a river, she needed to go east or west. She knew also that the large farms ended where the forests began, so she probably was still within 100 km of the Saint Lawrence river. Of course, how far east or west of Montréal, she had no idea.

The men canvassed the fields for more than three hours, until the sun was almost at its zenith. About midmorning a Chevy Suburban with another half-dozen men arrived and joined the search. Two men passed below her trees twice, going in different directions. She could tell when they gave up, because they moved through the corn from the four edges of the field at the same time and returned to the house. Coordinated by cell phone. She made another note to herself. This gang has resources: vehicles, people, real estate. They’ll have surveillance drones out next. She resolved not to traverse any more fields in the open.

After the search party gathered in the house, she occasionally heard more shouting and arguing. After a while, the Suburban left, followed by the familiar blue Peugeot (which she figured must have brought her there). She waited until the sun had moved noticeably in the sky before deciding that she could move on. She would move to the south edge of the field, then strike out west, hoping to find a river where she could camp for the night, or a road where she could hitchhike. corn-field-southern-ontario-canadaWhen she reached the southwest corner of the fields, she wrapped as many ears of corn in the blanket as she could carry. With the loaded blanket over her shoulder, she dove into the woods.

====

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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