Major Freedom was sitting alone in his study, a crystal decanter sitting mostly empty in front of him and a highly carved crystal glass in his hand. He looked depressed, which I suppose was understandable. A single desk lamp was the only source of light was in the room, illuminating an area of about eighteen inches across.
“Collier.” He said, his sharp voice softened by what I deduced was a prodigious amount of booze. “Come sit.”
I nodded to Bendis and started my away along into the dark office. The door closed behind me and my eyes started to adjust to the dark office enough for me to make out the chair I was supposed to sit in. I eventually made my way across the carpeted floor, expecting at any moment that I would be eaten by a grue in the dark.
I sat down in the overstuffed leather chair and looked at the old man, deciding to let him start the ball rolling. He poured himself a drink, without offering me any, and swallowed it in a single gulp. Having steadied his nerves, he could start to talk to me. I wanted to light a cigarette, just to annoy him. I don’t smoke, but I wanted to annoy him because I find him to be such an annoying character. He opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out a large white envelope. He tossed it across the desk, sort of in my direction. I reached out and took the envelope, as my eyes were probably adjusted enough for me to see what was in it.
“They started with just threats.” He said suddenly, pointing at the envelope, which was stuffed with papers. “Tried blackmail notes and threats and things. I had Bendis make copies of everything.”
I looked into the envelope, where a bunch of copies of hand written notes and notes made of cut un magazine letters were arranged one after another. Who the hell ever heard of anyone really doing that? A ransom note made up letters that were cut out of magazines, next thing you know I’d be describing a woman as the kind of trouble you want or something.
“What do they want?” I asked.
“Money.” He said, but I could tell that wasn’t it. If it was money he would have mentioned a figure.
“What else?” I asked, looking up at him.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Is there more than just money?” I said leaning back in the chair. “Have they made any special requests?”
“Five million dollars isn’t enough?” Freedom asked.
“Sounds like a lot to me.” I said, rubbing my chin. “When did you get the first note that she’d been kidnapped?”
“Saturday.” He said, grabbing the ring on his left ring finger and turning it around. “It came in the morning, right about the time we were wondering where the hell she was.”
“She just didn’t come home Friday night?”
“That’s right.” He said biting his nail. “Her friends that she was supposed to be going out with stayed home on Friday.”
“The police and FBI all called?”
“Yes.” He nodded and poured himself another drink without offering me any. “They’re working on it. We’ve got to keep it quiet though, I can’t afford to have anything go wrong right now. We’ve got a very delicate negotiation going in with our Middle East expansion, something like this could derail everything. I don’t need the extra attention.”
I nearly grumbled that it would certainly be a shame if his precious expansion deal into the Mid-East got derailed by something so trivial and a lunatic holding a gun to his eldest child’s head, but I knew that would get us no where. He was already wound up enough with his four year old attempt to expand his operations into places where he clearly wasn’t wanted, and he was a little touchy about the subject.
“Were they asking for money before?” I asked looking at the notes, which besides being cliché were terribly generic.
“Yeah.” He said, “They claimed they had some proof they could blackmail me with, but they never said what it was. Then they snatch Columbia and tell me I need to pay five million dollars to get her back.”
I wanted to slap him and ask if he was aware that his twenty two year old daughter was missing. His little girl, the light of his light as he’d once put it, was probably naked and duck taped to a pipe in a basement. Yet all he could do was worry about his deal and how much it would cost to not ruin his deal.
“Who’s working on it?” I asked.
“FBI, local and state police.” He waved his hand listelessly. “You know… everyone.”
“Yes.” He nodded despondently and poured himself another drink. “How much?”
“How much for what?”
“How much to look into this?” He asked, leaning forward again and raising his voice. “How much do you want to get her back?”
“Am I to work with the police?” I asked, remembering how he felt about compartments.
“No.” He shook his head. “No, you’re working for me. You can talk to them, but you remember that you’re going to be my agent. They’re going to fuck around and be really polite to a lot of people and their not going to find her. I think it’s someone they won’t talk to because I’m not the only one around here with money.”
“I understand.” I nodded. “You want me to go step on the toes that the cops won’t?”
“Yeah.” He then smiled for the first time and it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “That’s right, you go step on toes. Maybe if enough people complain about their toes the police will decide someone’s being suspicious about it.”
“Okay Major.” I said standing up. “I think I can get to work right away then.”
“No, wait.” He said waving his hand at me, “Before you go, my wife wants to talk to you, please go see her.”
“Yeah okay.” I said, and had to wonder if he thought I was going to rush out the door and start dancing a fandango on every foot I could find.
I left the old man to his dark room and his booze, wondering if he even understood that he had a family beyond that group of people who came with him when he needed to be photographed. His total lack of interest in how Columbia might be feeling annoyed me, but then I probably knew his family better than he did. I walked into the light of the hall way and found a dark haired eleven year old girl facing me.
“Hi Jack!” Jenicia announced and nearly tackled me when she jumped up to hug me.
“Hi Jen.” I said trying to both maintain my balance and not drop her on the floor. We managed a quick hug and I set her down.
“Mom wants to see you.” She said taking walking a few steps a head of me and tilting her head. “C’mon, she’s in the plant room.”
“How are you doing then?” I asked her as I followed her thin and somewhat gawky frame down the hall.
“It’s boring.” She complained, falling into step next to me. “I can’t go anywhere because Collie got grabbed or something. You ask me she ran off with a boyfriend and they’re faking this so she can get money out of daddy.”
“She done that before?” I asked, noting the Jenicia was growing into quite a beautiful and suspicious young woman.
“She’s talked about it.” Jenicia said. “She’s got lots of dumb ideas like that, she’s sort of dumb like daddy, you know? All those dumb ideas that they haven’t really thought through?”
“Yeah.” I nodded, remembering some of Columbia’s schemes that she’d hatched.
“And now I can’t even go anywhere because daddy thinks I’m going to be grabbed next.”
“Except you don’t think she was snatched?” I asked.
“Not for five.” She said. “Anyone who knew what they were doing would ask for ten times that.”
“Hmm.” I said non-committally.
We arrived at the door to what Jenicia would have called the conservatory, except I got her to start calling it that when she was a little kid. She leaned against the door of the plant room and tilted her head towards it, smiling up at me. I looked at the door, knowing what was on the other side. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go in, it was that I wanted to go in too badly.
“What’s the matter?” She asked, a smirk forming on her lips. “Shy or something?”
“I was waiting for you to open the door.” I said, looking down at her.
“Oh, sorry.” She grabbed the handle and swung the door open.
Natural light spilled into the hall from the plant room, the sweet smell of roses and other flowers wafting towards me. The room was full of the smell of living things dependent on the attentions of others. I looked into the room, knowing that she was around a corner, waiting for me to enter but out of sight at the moment.
“Well?” Jenicia asked.
“Okay.” I agreed. “Now I’m shy.”
“Well, you can’t stand here all day.” She smiled at me, as if she knew some secret that I hadn’t been made aware of. “You’ve got to get in there, so get moving.”
“Yeah.” I said, taking a step through the door. “I’ll do that.”
The door swung closed behind me, leaving me alone in the plant room with what could be described as a predator. A sort of tigress was in here with me, and she knew my scent well. There wasn’t going to be any hiding for me I would have to march right in and get eaten like a man. I didn’t feel like a man though, I felt like a mouse. If I was lucky, I might be able to take a thorn from her paw and not get eaten alive as a result. Of course, saying all that also made it sound like I didn’t want this particular tigress to put me in her mouth and chew me up.
I took a step into the plant room and heard the door click behind me. I was trapped in here now, no getting away for me.