If you haven’t read Chapter 1 – 29, make sure you read them first. Find the Table of Contents here.

Dan had waited at his desk for an opportunity to retrieve the Timbits box — or more specifically — the microphone that had almost been shaken out of it. That chance never came.

Shortly after Maureen had left, the station was buzzing with officers and staff. Then, the Chief had left early, locking his office and everything inside, including the box and the tiny device that had the potential to ruin Dan’s life and Sam’s as well.

Dan had planned to recover the listening device that night after the box was discarded in the trash, just like all the other boxes the Chief had taken to his office and tossed within hours. This was the first time that the Chief hadn’t done that and the only time that Dan cared. But for now, there was nothing he could do.

Dan had tried to focus on the case files on his desk, but he couldn’t stop himself from stealing glances into the Chief’s office. He had been discreet, but still, someone watching him could have noticed his behavior. Not once in his professional life had he ever given himself away while undercover. But this was no ordinary case. Chief Constable Joe Ackerman of Glacier Village wasn’t a suspected criminal, he was a well-known, highly-connected and much-admired public servant. And the target of Dan’s unsanctioned investigation.

Dan had grown up with a deep respect for authority. An unequivocal view that rules were never to be broken, that punishment for disobedience would be swift and severe. Even when the rules weren’t clear or when they changed on a whim because those in charge had had a bad day, Dan strove to obey, to avoid standing out, to evade conflict. He knew he was born unlucky and that if things could go wrong for him, they would. That if he broke a rule or crossed the line, even for a microsecond, even by a nanometer, he would get caught. And then he would suffer.

Unable to retrieve the box, Dan went home with one thought on his mind and in the morning, well before his alarm went off, he woke up in a panic, still fixated on the same thought. He had to get that bug back today.

“It’s an emergency, Sam,” Penelope said too loudly over the speakerphone as Sam scrambled to turn the volume down.

“Mmm.” It was 4 a.m. and Sam was still half asleep.

“So? What do you think?”

“Mmmm?”

“Sam, wake up. You need to make a decision. Now.”

“Mmm.” Sam removed her mouthguard and rubbed her eyes. “Sorry. Tell me again?”

“Claudia is leaving to go back to UBC in fifteen minutes. Her cells are dying and she has to go back to the lab right away or she could lose everything for her PhD. So you need to decide right now whether you still want her to take Trax with her.”

“But we’re going to Animal Control today. When they see the proof you found, he’ll be safe.”

“They don’t open until 11 a.m. Claudia will be long gone by then. So what do you want to do?”

Sending Trax so far away felt wrong, cruel and even unnecessary. Sam thought about how peaceful he had looked when he taken his first nap at the foot of her bed. She couldn’t wait to see him fully recovered, to see what he actually looked like with a healthy, shiny coat. She had already imagined herself going on hikes and backpacking trips with him. She hated the thought of sending him away, essentially getting rid of him, and never being able to see him again. How could she know for sure that he would continue receiving the medical treatment he required? Penelope had said herself that it wasn’t fair to pass a dog from home to home, that to the dog it felt like rejection regardless of the reason, that a dog needed to feel loved, that Trax needed all the love he could get. And nobody could love Trax more than Sam did.

But if Animal Control was intent on killing him, Sam would be guaranteeing his death by keeping him in Glacier Village. Except, they wouldn’t kill Trax after Penelope showed them the new evidence she had discovered. Penelope was certain of it. One hundred percent confident, she had said.

Sam sighed as she hung up the phone. It wasn’t an easy decision, but she knew it was the right one.

A constant stream of beeps from his phone had kept Drew up all night. He could have turned his notifications off, but he didn’t want to. His website was getting noticed and along with it, his YouTube videos and social media pages. He finally knew what it really meant to go viral. Every beep was like a zap to his heart, making it jump and beat just a tiny bit faster. He enjoyed watching the subscriber count, the pageviews, the referrals and the share numbers grow. This was proof that people wanted to know the truth, just like he did.

When he wasn’t reviewing the statistics of his website, Drew searched through online classified ads for Ben’s special collection of mountaineering equipment and clothing. He quickly discovered that it was no small task. Many ads didn’t have photos of the sale items and if they did, the quality of the photos varied greatly. For some, no amount of enlarging, sharpening or brightening would make the pictures better. In addition, Drew had no idea what other items had been stolen or whether they had already been listed and sold. And Ben was still not taking any calls. Finding the person who had stolen the gloves was not going to be easy, but Drew had never backed down from a challenge before. Undaunted, he carried on.

By noon, Drew had visited Second Chances, gathered a list of thirty-seven ads to follow up on and called or emailed fifteen sellers on the list. He collapsed into a chair at a window table in Glacier Surge and pulled out his notes.

“Coffee?” Cara asked as she stood over Drew.

Drew was sure he saw a halo over Cara’s head. “You’re an angel, Cara. That would be amazing.”

She beamed and tilted her head, trying to read the notes on the table. “Did you find a lot of Ben’s stuff online?”

“Not sure yet. I’ve got a huge list of ads to investigate.”

“Me too. Here’s mine.”

“Alright, alright! Today’s the day we catch ’em,” Drew said, watching Cara smile and retreat to the counter. He turned on his phone and as he read through his notifications, his eyes grew bigger and bigger until he gasped. “Whoa,” he said under his breath. “Sam needs to see this.”

“Just listen to what he says when he gets to the spot,” Penelope explained to Dennis at the Glacier Village Animal Control office. She had cued Drew’s video of Wesley, Ben and himself hiking up Black Mountain with the rifle. “Here it is! Listen!”

“That’s it?” Dennis asked after watching the clip.

Sam studied Dennis’ facial expressions. His initial reaction told her everything she needed to know. Any attempt to save Trax was futile. She had initially thought that her only enemy in this fight was Wesley. That maybe she was just being paranoid to think there might be some kind of conspiracy. But now she thought that maybe she wasn’t being paranoid at all. Wesley did have people on his side and Drew was only the first to show his true stripes. Now she suspected that Dennis from Animal Control was on “Team Wesley” too.

“What do you mean, ‘That’s it’? He said it himself! The dog was barely alive! He said, and I quote, ‘it could hardly move.’ Is that not enough to show that the dog isn’t aggressive?” Penelope asked.

Dennis sucked on his lower lip and replayed the video. “I mean, it seems to imply…But, I don’t know. I don’t make the decisions around here, you know.”

“So you’ll check?” Penelope smiled at him.

Dennis flashed a bashful grin in return and nodded.

“Thank you, Dennis!” Penelope looped her arm in Sam’s as they walked out the door. “See? I told you,” she whispered to Sam.

Sam smiled, but there were no crinkles in the corners of her eyes.

Dan saw the box of Timbits at the front desk as he walked into the station. Had the Chief brought it out of his office to share with everyone, he wondered? That had never happened before. He examined one side of the box and didn’t see the microphone. It had to be on the other side.

“Dan!” Maureen giggled as she popped up from behind the desk.

“Oh hey, Maureen.”

“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?” she asked. “You’ve been drooling over those donuts since you walked in the door. Cheers!” Maureen picked up a honey glazed Timbit and held it out, waiting for Dan.

Dan reached into the box and noticed it was full of donut holes of all types. Flavors that he hadn’t bought yesterday. This was a different box. He picked up a chocolate glazed and bumped it against Maureen’s donut. “Cheers, Maureen. Did you get a haircut yesterday? Looks great!”

“You’re the first to notice, Dan. As always. Thank you so much.”

Dan winked and smiled. “Have a great day, Maureen,” he said as he walked to his desk. He had let himself slip up and was lucky that Maureen had thought he was hungry. He knew that with his luck, he could not make another mistake. Stay calm and act normal, he reminded himself, you’re a professional.

The Chief’s office door opened and Carl exited, but before he closed the door behind him, Dan spotted it. The old box of donuts was still on the Chief’s desk.

Dan rubbed his wedding ring, spinning it around and around, his hand growing clammier with every rotation. He thought about the box and the bug, about how they were within arm’s reach of the Chief and about how easy it would be for the Chief’s eyes to linger on the box for just one extra second and notice the device. Unless…unless he had already found it. The perspiration under Dan’s armpits betrayed his cool exterior as he worried about what he was going to be forced to do next.

Drew and Cara were on their phones when Sam and Penelope arrived at the cafe. Drew hung up and rolled his eyes. “Why are people so flakey?” He crossed off a number on his list.

“No luck?” Penelope asked.

“Well, I’ve gone through thirty-four ads,” said Cara. “Still waiting for three to get back to me, but I don’t have high hopes. Drew has gone through his list too.”

“I’m waiting for two people for more details,” he said.

“Did you guys try a reverse image search?” Sam asked.

“With what? That guy’s gloves? Wouldn’t that just pull up the gloves?” Cara asked.

“With Ben’s logo,” Sam said tapping on her phone. After a few minutes, she felt a tiny rush of adrenaline flow through her. Her idea had worked. “Look. An old listing that was cached.”

“Ben’s fleece jacket!” said Drew. “That’s definitely his design!”

“The number matches this one on Cara’s list,” Sam said, pointing to one of the three numbers not yet crossed off.

“That ad is for gaiters, but the photo was too dark to see if the logo matched,” Cara said.

“That’s the one we want. Now we just need to set up a time to meet.” Sam circled the ad.

“Oh my gosh! Guess who’s calling me back? Shh.” Cara spoke into her phone, “Yes, I called about the gaiters you have listed for sale. Do they have—”

Don’t ask about the logo,” Sam typed on her phone and showed the note to Cara, who nodded.

“—holes at both ends?” Cara shrugged her shoulders and made a face at the group after she asked the question. “Oh, duh, of course they do. Like waterproof leg warmers. Of course. No I really want them. No, no negotiating, no problem, I’ll pay full price. When can we meet? Can we meet sooner than that? No? Okay. Tomorrow at one sounds great. In Dogwood Park is good. By the gazebo? Okay. Oh, I’m Cara. Okay and what’s your—Oh, sure, I’ll bring cash. And, um…hello? Hello?”

“Did you get a name?” Sam asked.

“No, he seemed like he was in a rush. Sorry.” Cara stared down at her phone as her cheeks turned pink.

“Well, let’s see what this guy has to say about selling stolen goods,” Sam said.

“Doesn’t matter what the guy’s name is. He would’ve probably given you a fake name anyway. Awesome work, Cara! This guy’s the one. I can feel it. Guess we can relax a bit until we nab him after the funeral tomorrow. Are you guys going?” Drew leaned back to take a sip of coffee.

“Ryder’s Celebration of Life ceremony? Everyone I know is going,” Penelope said. The others nodded.

“We can meet the seller afterwards. Funeral starts at 10 a.m. and should only last a few hours, tops,” Drew said. “Oh, hey, I almost forgot. Sam, you’ve got to watch this. I cleaned up the audio from the video that was posted of you, Steve and Aiden outside DressU and you can totally hear what they’re saying. I posted it under their section on my site and it went crazy viral. So, in addition to the tip yesterday saying that these two are brothers, someone else posted that they see them outside of the BEE sometimes and that they’re regulars at Thank You Thursdays, which we already know. But look here — a bunch of comments put them on the trails around our first checkpoint. These guys could have totally been the Creeper who followed us and took Ben!”

“Wow. Look at all these comments and posts!” Penelope was browsing the social media pages. “Someone here says that they hang out in the alley behind Baker’s Doutzen just before closing to get anything that’s thrown out.”

“Okay, but why would they still hang out there if they just got a million dollars from the Blacks?” Cara asked.

“They showed up for Thank You Thursday. I’ll bet they’re pretty used to getting free food,” Penelope said.

“Yeah, maybe they’re saving all the ransom money for drugs, or booze, or cigarettes, or whatever. Why waste cash on food if you can get it for free?” Drew added.

“I think we all need to be together if we confront Steve and Aiden. After Aiden pulled that knife on Sam, we shouldn’t take any chances. Okay people. Whose phone is ringing?” Penelope paused. “Oh wait, that’s me. I forgot that I changed my ringtone.” She took her phone out of her bag and answered it.

Drew continued, “I knew those guys were sketchy from the moment I saw them. They totally could have kidnapped Ben, stole his stuff and are now selling it all. They’re asking top dollar too. Probably because they know everything’s brand new.”

What was Drew on about, Sam thought to herself. Was he actually saying that he thought she wasn’t Ben’s kidnapper? Was he not working with Wesley after all?

“What?” Drew asked Sam, catching her staring at him.

“Nothing,” Sam said, feeling blood rush to her cheeks and averting her eyes. “With your website going viral, we need to find Steve and Aiden fast. Before they go underground. If they did it, we need to get them to confess. And we need that confession on video. If they catch on to us before the meeting tomorrow, they’ll probably ghost and we’ll never be able to find them.”

“How do we do that without getting stabbed?” Cara asked.

“Oh my goodness!” Penelope said in a panic after ending her call. “They’re at my house!”

Stay tuned for Chapter 31 – “Surge”. Are you enjoying Fool’s Bluff? Please share this with your friends and family who would also like this story!