Serena shifted on the worn mattress, trying to find the position in which none of the mattress springs were poking into her back. She turned her gaze back to the ceiling, playing the by now familiar game of trying to make out shapes in the peeling paint of the ceiling. There wasn't really much else she could do.
The small room provided few distractions. There was a window at the head of the bed, but it had been long since boarded up and only thin slices of the darkened street outside were visible through the cracks between the boards. The other walls were bare, covered in ancient wall paper with a long-since faded yellow and rose floral pattern, torn and stained in many places. As boring as it was, it still made for a nice difference from her usual day to day life, where she spent half the day in bed, after spending the night working the streets, serving a string of anonymous men. It would probably be a good week before she could go back to that, Alonzo had made sure of that when he'd beaten her up yesterday. It hadn't been so bad at first, but by now the bruises and swelling were clearly visible, marring her face enough to scare of any potential customers. She had seen other girls getting beaten plenty of times, but this was the first time she'd been at the receiving end of Alonzo’s wrath. Sure, he was always rough with his girls, but usually not to the point where they couldn't work. After all, it was his loss of one of them was laid up, so he usually avoided getting too violent unless badly provoked. Still, she had made her bed by going to the hospital to see Megan and besides the girls who didn't have someone out to to protect them were far worse off.
In light of that, a beating and a week off didn't seem so bad. Serena continued musing until she heard a car door slam outside. She sat up and edged to the end of her bed, peering through the slits in the boards. A silver car had pulled up. One of those expensive foreign cars which usually meant wealthy, well paying clients, except that they never came out to this dump.
Out got a man, his face momentarily illuminated by the street lights. Serena had seen him before around the place. He was Alonzo's boss, or something like that. She had heard the two men argue before. It was always about money from the few scraps of conversation she had overheard over time. She sighed, Alonzo was usually especially vicious after he'd received a visit from this guy. Especially if they got into an argument.
Serena watched as the boss buy bang on the door. It was eventually opened, although she couldn't see who had gone to get it. It was probably Alonzo, the girls all knew better than to go get the door without express permission. For while boss guy remained standing there on the sidewalk, probably talking to Alonzo, until he suddenly turned on his heel and walked back to the rear of the car, followed by Alonzo himself. Boss guy popped open the trunk and together with Alonzo, he pulled the limp body of a man out of the trunk, carrying him into the house. Serena had been unable to tell if the man was still alive. She wouldn't put it past boss guy to kill someone. Alonzo was always saying that he was brutal. Her curiosity piqued, Serena got up from the bed and tip-toed over to the door. As silently as she could, she slowly turned the handle and opened the door a fraction of an inch.
"What am I supposed to do with him!" she heard Alonzo say angrily.
"You got me into this mess, you deal with him," Boss guy said.
"You want me to get rid of him?" asked Alonzo, somewhat incredulous.
"If I wanted him dead, I would have taken care of it myself," boss guy said. "Just put him somewhere safe and out of sight for the time being. Better not mess this up, I'll be in touch."
A few moments later, the front door was slammed shut and Serena could heard the sound of a car driving off at a high rate of speed.
Malachy stifled a yawn. He had gotten next to no sleep the previous night. He had tried for an hour or two, but had only tossed back and forth in bed, his mind going in circles. At 2 a.m. he had given up on sleep entirely and gotten up. After pacing the living room for a few hours, turning everything over in his mind, he made a decision, left a note for Rose and got into his car. His first port of call was the police station. It was still early and he wasn't sure if Dan was in yet, but he needed to know if there had been any fresh developments in the case. He was in luck and found Sergeant Hood already behind his desk, nursing a cup of coffee and a big stack of files.
"Dan," Mal said quietly.
Hood looked up, slightly startled. When he set eyes on Mal, his expression took on a peculiar expression, resignation mixed with what looked suspiciously like sympathy.
Hood held up a hand, forestalling any questions from Mal.
"Before you ask, I'm not working your son's case, so officially I don't know anything."
"I'm not looking for the official version," Mal said. "I just want to know where the investigation is at."
Hood signed and closed the file he had been reading.
"All right, but you didn't get this from me."
Mal nodded, impatient for the sergeant to continue. "Now, the good news is that the fire investigators found no sign of human remains in the torched car. Bad news is that there are no strong leads in the case at the moment."
"Dan, I could have gotten that from the papers. Now, what did you find where the car was torched? Any tire tracks, anything?"
"Yes, we found tire tracks, but it's generic model matching several dozens of makes. There was some blood on the ground and it's Jake's."
"How much blood?" Mal asked, forcing his voice to stay steady.
"Just a few drops," Hood replied. "Nothing to indicate a serious injury."
Mal was slightly relieved, but just because the kidnapper's hadn't killed Jake on the spot, didnÃ„t mean that they weren't going to harm him. Especially given Jake's talent for getting people riled up. They had to have taken him for a reason. Once again, Mal racked his brain trying to come up with some possibilities.
Hood broken on his thoughts: "We do know that the SUV was driven by two white males. A witness saw them driving off away from where Bennett and your son were forced off the road. Unfortunately, the witness didn't get a good look, but she's coming in today to work with a sketch artist.
"Anything else? Mal asked, not even trying to hide his disappointment.
"Oh yes, the crime scene guys found an empty syringe nearby. Might or might not be related. The lab's still working on it," Hood paused, then went on. "I'm sorry Malachy, I don't know what else to tell you. You know how it is. Unless we figure out the motive behind the kidnapping, there isn't much that we can do, especially with as little evidence as there is in this case." Hood's voice was as close to being full of sympathy as Mal had ever heard him.
"I know," Mal agreed sadly. He knew only too well how kidnappings could end. He had seen their victims. "I should get going," he said, suddenly wondering why he had come to the station at all. After all, if there were any ground-breaking development, the detectives investigating the case would have let him know.
He was about to turn and leave, when a thought came to him.
"Corinne Dawson, what is she in the system for?"
Dan frowned and then began rummaging among the files on his desk.
"Here it is! Corinne Dawson's prints are on file from a shoplifting beef five years ago. Apparently she assaulted both the store clerk who confronted her and the constable who responded to the incident. Oh, and she was also involved in several domestic disturbance complaints, all filed by neighbors of the happy couple," Hood told Mal.
"Do you have the boyfriend's name?" Mal asked. He doubted that Corinne was the type to send anonymous threats. From what Hood had told him about her record, it didn't sound like she was likely to stew in silence over some old grudge. But her prints were on the letters, so she clearly had handled them at some point. He just had to find out why and the easiest way of doing that was to find how she was connected to either Jake or him. Maybe the boyfriend was the missing link he was searching for.
"Name's Paul Meyers, but that's all I know."
"Thanks. Listen, if you hear something, anything, let me know?"
The curious looks were not lost on Leslie as she made her way through the corridors of the police station. So far no one had questioned her presence but she was sure that once the inspector heard that she was back at work already, she would surely be sent home. Not that she intended to spend then day at the station sitting behind her desk.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice calling after her.
"Sergeant Bennett?" Leslie turned around and spotted Constable Markham with an envelope in his hand, coming hurriedly toward her.
"Good that I catch you," he said. "You caught the case involving that PI, right? I think this might be for you," he said and handed her the manila envelope.
Leslie thanked him and continued on her way to her desk where she grabbed a letter opener and slit open the envelope. Overturning it, out fell a photograph and a sheet of paper. The photograph caught her attention immediately. It depicted the familiar figure of Jake Doyle, lying crumpled on the ground in a darkish room. There was little of the room visible, except some naked concrete walls and floor made of the of same material. Jake appeared to be unconscious in the picture. Or at least that was what Leslie was hoping.
The lighting was pretty bad, but she could still make out the bruises on his face and the dark reddish brown stains on his light colored shirt. His arms were stretched behind his back, most likely his wrists had been tied together in some way. The same was probably true for his ankles, judging by the positioning of Jake's legs in the picture. Seeing Jake like that, not knowing if he was alive or dead, sent a chill through her. Doing her best to quash the sensation, Leslie turned her attention to the note. It was written in thick red lettering on a lined piece of paper. One of the edges was rough like the sheet had been torn from a notepad of some sort. The red letters formed the words:
BACK OFF OR THE P.I. DIES
So Jake was still alive. At least he had been when the note was written. Who knew what had happened since. Jake had a habit of provoking people. She could only hope that this time, he would keep his cool and not do anything that would make his situation worse. But who was she kidding, Leslie thought as a bitter laugh escaped her. It simply wasn't in Jake's nature to sit quietly and await rescue, no matter how badly he was hurt or what the consequences of failure might be.