“They didn’t look the types to turn down a free Thank You Thursday meal,” Drew said, his head down as he played with his phone. “But after what happened today, I doubt they’ll be hanging out in the village for a while. I wonder if they’ve got security footage of the incident at DressU. It would be better than just eyewitness testimony, especially since the key witness is another person of interest.”
“This information isn’t for the site, Drew. I don’t want to be on it,” Sam said, glancing at him with aversion.
“Alright, alright. You’ve said already,” Drew replied without taking his eyes off his phone. “But that bit about Steve’s sudden influx of cash is pretty incriminating. Check out the difference between my photo and the ones P-lo took today. Dude looks like a different guy. That’s what money buys you. And I’m not going to name you, I’ll just cite ‘anonymous sources.’ P-lo was a witness too. Ugh, it would’ve been so great if you’d gotten it on video, Sam. Ben designed a jacket for Wes where his phone is totally hidden. He can record everything without anyone noticing. I need to ask Ben to design one for me.”
“Hi guys. How’s everything going?” Cara’s voice was quiet, even though she was standing right beside their table.
“Cara!” Drew responded immediately, welcoming her to sit beside him. He held out his phone as he spoke, launching into a detailed tour of his website and walking her through all of the latest developments. “And, I got my Porsche back and nobody will ever know what happened,” he finished.
“Wow,” Cara said, pulling out some notes. “Makes what I have to add seem like nothing. So, user ‘xxx8808’ likes a lot of videos and has subscribed to a few channels, most of them are about nature and outdoors. I don’t think that’s so unusual for anyone from Glacier Village. I haven’t gone through all the videos he, or she, liked, but so far, a lot are news clips. Reports of corporations getting fined, C-Suits getting arrested or jailed, political scandals, financial stuff I don’t totally understand, and whistleblower interviews. A few cat videos too. I’m not sure how we can identify this user, though.”
“No, it’s good. I’m definitely adding all that to the site. That user made a direct threat on Ben’s life. Definitely a suspect. I’m sure we can figure out how to identify them. We just have to be a little crafty, is all.” Drew tapped madly away on his phone.
“Seems crazy that there are so many persons of interest,” Cara said.
“Even crazier that Sam is on that list at all, Drew,” Penelope said, her forehead creased as she shot him a pointed look. “I feel like, if you’re a member of our group, there should be some kind of loyalty pledge.”
“I have pledged loyalty,” Drew responded, “to the truth.”
“Well, the truth is that Sam is not a suspect in this crime. The truth is—”
“That Ben can’t corroborate her story,” Drew cut Penelope off and continued, “See? It’s all right here under her section.”
The lump in Sam’s throat returned as she listened to Drew and Penelope. Why had she asked for Drew’s help in the first place? That had been a mistake. Now it seemed so clear that he was on Wesley’s side. But how was she going to get rid of him at this point? She looked out the window, trying to maintain her composure when she noticed a man enter the cafe. “Guys,” she said.
The group looked up and followed Sam’s eyes, but only Drew responded. “That idiot,” he said, rising to his feet.
“Drew, wait,” Sam said, but he ignored her.
“Hey! You nearly killed me and my friend on the highway today,” Drew said as he stood beside the man in line.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t see anyone out on the highway today.”
“Maybe because you don’t clear your windows of snow? You know that’s illegal, right?”
“What? No. Whatever. It’s just snow. Not a big deal, kid.”
“Not a big deal? Snow from your roof shattered my windshield. And look at her head.” Drew pointed to Sam. “Cracked open because of your carelessness.”
The man approached Sam, looking at her cut. “How do you know it was me?”
“Who else has a car with snow covering every window and light and over a foot of snow on the roof? Who else drives a black Audi Q7 with a licence plate also covered in snow?”
“Well if it was me, I’m sorry. But unless you have proof,” the man said, turning his back to Drew to look at the display menu behind the counter.
“Where did you get those gloves?” Drew demanded.
“What? None of your business. Are you going to accuse me of something else?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am. Those belong to my friend, Benjamin Black. See that?” Drew pointed to Ben’s logo on the man’s gloves. “That’s custom made. He didn’t give them to you, so how do you have them?”
“So now I’m a thief in addition to being a negligent driver.”
“No, I’m not accusing you of being a thief. Whoever stole those gloves got them when they kidnapped my friend. So I’m accusing you of kidnapping, which means they’re going to lock your stupid ass in jail for the rest of your life.”
“Well. How about that. Now I’m a kidnapper facing life in prison. You got dropped on your head when you were a baby, didn’t you?” the man said with a smirk. “Think I’ll get a snack somewhere else. Buh-bye.”
“Drew has dashcam video of the entire incident and it starts with you getting in your car,” Sam said, standing up as the man took a step towards the door. “You know, your car parked at your house at 1878 Lucky Lane? Maybe we should call my dad? He’s a detective with the Glacier Village Police Department. He could really help us sort this all out.”
The man stopped in his tracks, the smug look on his face now completely gone. “Wait. There’s no need to get the police or insurance involved. I’m sorry if I caused an accident. I’ll pay for the damages to your car,” he said to Drew. “And what can I do to make it up to you, young lady?”
Sam eyed the man’s hands. “Tell us where you got those gloves.”
Dan arrived back at the station with Timbits, preoccupied with his conversation with Sam. She had asked some valid questions and, whereas he would have always fallen in line and never doubted his colleagues’ intentions before, he had to admit that there was something odd with the Black boy’s case. Donuts were the first step towards getting some answers.
“Hello Maureen.” Dan opened the box of Timbits and slid it next to her.
“Ooooh! Timmies! I was just thinking about these.”
He picked up a donut hole and held it out. “Cheers,” he said as she bumped her chocolate glazed Timbit against his.
“Mmmmm. So good. Thank you, Dan!”
He winked at her and walked back to his desk. The bait was cast.
Dan’s right leg shook as he watched the box out of the corner of his eye while he feigned interest in his computer screen. He was never nervous investigating crimes or staking out targets, but this was different. What he had planned was crazy. His target wasn’t just a colleague, it was the Chief. The penalty, if he was caught, would not just be severe, it would be catastrophic.
Dan had bought a box of fifty Timbits. Twenty-five were powdered and raspberry filled, the Chief’s favorite flavor. There was a high probability that most of those jelly-filled donut holes would go untouched by the staff. Years of donut runs had taught him that.
As Chief Constable Joe stepped out of his office, Dan tried to concentrate on his screen, but he couldn’t stop himself from keeping one eye on his target. The Chief leaned on the front desk and chatted with Maureen, popping two donuts into his mouth. His cheeks bulging out like a chipmunk’s, jelly oozed out of one side of his mouth as he chewed. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, sucked on the red mess and grabbed a few more donuts before returning to his office. Dan’s left leg was shaking now, moving offbeat to his right leg, which was still bobbing up and down under his desk.
Maureen peered into the box and pushed the donuts around with her finger. She pulled out one and then went in for another, her third and last, according to her self-imposed daily limit. This time, she used two fingers and dug into the box more aggressively until the corners of her mouth curled upwards with delight. She picked up the box, held it at an angle and shook it vigorously. Dan held his breath. That was that last thing he had expected would happen. Maureen rotated the box and shook it again. He watched closely, his heartbeat escalating. He hadn’t prepared for rough handling. He saw the flaps of the box vibrate violently as she searched for her elusive Timbit. Two jelly donuts fell out of the box and onto the floor. She didn’t notice. Another three spilled out, dropped down and rolled halfway across the room. Dan cursed under his breath.
Finally finding her choice treat, Maureen packed her donuts in her bag and left, her half-day Thursday done.
Dan rubbed the sweat from the palms of his hands on his pants and took a deep breath. The room was dead silent as he waited, yet there was palpable, explosive energy inside him. He had a strong urge to abort the mission. If he got caught, he reasoned, he would certainly get fired. And going to jail would be the least of his worries. He had so many other battles to fight, so many things that had to get done, so many responsibilities that couldn’t be neglected. The runaway tanker was still behind him, chasing him down and gaining ground. Could he really afford to add another problem to his list? He wanted to do this for Sam, but was this worth it? No, he decided, it wasn’t. He had to abort. What Sam was going through was bad, but it just wasn’t worth the risk.
He rose up from his desk, but it was too late. The Chief had walked out of his office.
Dan sat back down and lowered his head. This was it. His legs now still, he rubbed his wedding ring against his finger with his thumb, aware of the dampness building up in his fist again.
Chief Constable Joe picked up the box and walked back to his office, stopping briefly at his door. “Timbit, Dan?”
Dan looked up, having managed to appear busy just seconds before the Chief glanced over. “No thanks, sir,” he replied with a smile.
The Chief continued into his office, setting the box down on his desk.
Well, the plan was in motion and past the critical point of no return, Dan thought. He had to carry through with it now.
He waited a few minutes before knocking on the frame of the Chief’s door. “Do you have a minute, sir?”
“Sure, Dan. Come in.”
“Thanks sir. I appreciate what you told me the other night and I understand your point in not giving the media any more attention.”
“Good, Dan. I knew you’d understand.”
“But I think it’d be reasonable to issue a statement acknowledging the fact that my daughter is no longer a person of interest. That she’s definitely not a suspect in the case. You’ve seen the headlines in the Times, she’s just a kid. She’s been through enough, don’t you think?”
“Now Dan, I get that she’s got a stink following her around. No one wants credit for a fart, but she’s a tough one. She might get a few upturned noses right now, but I can see her cracking one in a crowded elevator one day and crushing anyone that even tries to plug a nostril.”
“I think you might be right about that, sir, but she doesn’t need this right now. She just lost her mom and—”
“Okay, okay, Dan. I know all that, ’course I know it. I’m not heartless!”
“Let’s just think on it, okay sir?”
“Sure, Dan. That’s fair. Just be better if we could issue a statement that would show some progress at the same time.”
“Well, sir, what did you turn up when you traced the number from the ransom text?”
“Ah, oh yeah. The, ah, trace on the text. Yeah. Nothing. Came up short. Prepaid. Untraceable.”
“Figured. Worth a try, though, huh, sir.”
“Yes it was, Dan. ’Course it was.”
“What about the payment?”
“Payment? Well, ah, same. Offshore. Tough to dig out under all the shell companies.”
“Right, sir. At least there’s a bit of a lead there. We just need to follow the money and paperwork.”
“You’re right about that, Dan. We’re working on it.”
“Thanks, sir. Just let me know if I can help,” he said with a smile. He glimpsed at the donut box and saw the tiny microphone he had hidden inside, peeking out from the fold. It must have come loose when Maureen had shaken the box and now he had to hope that the Chief wouldn’t notice it. Dan’s stomach dropped as he walked back to his desk, realizing that he might have just made the biggest mistake of his life.
“Good thinking, Sam. I should probably get a dashcam for my car, actually. But do we really believe that he got the gloves from Craigslist?” Drew asked.
“Look,” Sam said. “Here’s the listing for the townhouse on AirBnB, just like he said. And here’s a picture of the owner, S. Price. Unless he suddenly grew hair and shrunk six inches, Mr. Gloves wasn’t lying about renting the place. It makes sense too. Any local would know to clean snow off their car. He said he got into town on Monday night. That should be easy enough to verify.”
“I can do that.”
“Perfect, Cara. That would be great. Anything, Pips?”
“Sent an email, but who knows if we’ll get a reply. After all, the seller already sold the gloves, so unless he has another pair, he’ll probably ignore it. If the gloves were bought on Tuesday, that means they were obtained and sold within a day or two of Ben’s kidnapping. What’s the likelihood that there’s anything left to sell that hasn’t already been sold?”
“It’s worth looking into, just to be sure. Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook, the Times and the Pique classifieds too, maybe. And Second Chances,” Sam said.
“Second Chances requires ID for everything they consign, so that could be lucky. Unless they used fake ID,” Drew said. “I’ll look into it. Whoever kidnapped Ben stole his gloves. I’m sure of it.”
“I can help search,” Cara offered.
Drew’s back jolted straight and a wide grin spread on his face. “Want to come back to my place tonight and go through listings together?”
“Oh, umm, I…Wade is coming by soon. But I can take Craigslist and Kijiji off your list. Wade just got a new game so he won’t notice me looking at the ads while he plays.”
“Oh. Sure. Thanks,” Drew said, hunching back down in his seat and scrolling through his phone, seemingly disinterested in the conversation.
“We could compare notes tomorrow on my break, if you’d like?” Cara added.
“That would be awesome,” he said, smiling as he reinflated himself. “Check this out guys, #JusticeForBen is trending in Glacier Village. Someone caught the whole ‘knifegate’ incident on video and uploaded it. And look at this — we just got our first anonymous tip.”
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