The video was amateurishly shot, or at least it was meant to look that way. It was shot on some kind of camcorder, a small handheld model I guessed. It started with a close up of Columbia’s face, which was wet with sweat and her mascara had run but she looked alright. The person with the camera then moved it up to show the hand cuffs that they’d secured her to the small metal bed with and then went down her body to show the roped they’d tied her legs to the other end of the bed.
There was something wrong about it though, the jerks and shakes looked like someone trying to look like they didn’t know what they were doing. Someone started talking in the back ground, but it was indistinct and I couldn’t make it out. The camera moved quickly and swiped across the room, stopping at someone’s waist and then moving around again. I didn’t stop the video, and I really hoped that no one noticed my face when the camera stopped for that moment on the waist. The camera then swung around and alighted on a ski masked face.
“As you can see, we really do have Major Freedom’s daughter, since you decided to ignore our earlier demands the price has now gone up. One hundred million or we will ship the remains of her to the four corners of the earth.”
“You’ve been warned.” A voice said from off camera and then the video abruptly ended.
“You need a copy?” Alice asked me after a second of looking at the blank screen.
“No.” I said. “I think I’ve seen everything you have. I mean I could go over it frame by frame, but I think it’s just a room somewhere. I mean there are a hundred thousand rooms like that, maybe a million in Michigan alone.”
“You didn’t see anything?” She asked, and I wondered for a moment if she’d been watching me instead of the video.
“No.” I shook my head and bit my lower lip which is usually a sign that I’m trying to process things in my head.
“You talked to anyone yet?” Cramer asked.
“A couple of people didn’t get anything.”
“Who did you talk to?”
“Someone mentioned that she’s been hanging out at the Flower Bed a lot recently, so I went and asked them about it.”
“What’d that net?” Cramer asked.
“Nothing.” I said turning and looking at him. I always like to face someone and look then in the eye when I lie to them. “She liked hanging out with the girls, she thought it was exciting.”
“Wonderful.” He growled, chewing his cigar into a pulp. “You didn’t think to press them any further?”
“I’m a private little gumshoe.” I said smiling at him. “I just don’t have that kind of authority.”
“No, I guess not.” He conceded.
“You find anything yet?” Alice asked.
“I’ve been on this case four whole hours.” I reminded her. “Without anything like a support staff.”
“Who told you where she’d been hanging out?” Cramer asked taking out his note book and opening it to a page.
“Client.” I said and was gratified to see him close the note book and put it back in his pocket.
“So what did you think you’ll do now?” He asked.
“If you give me your reports I’ll go back to my office and read them over.” I was gratified to see Cramer’s jaw actually dropped open, and impressed to see that without looking his hand caught his cigar in mid-air.
“Give you our reports?” He asked.
“I’ll send them over.” Alice said, and Cramer’s face turned a gorgeous shade of red.
“Thanks.” I said and stood up. “I’d better go now, or I’ll be in deep trouble.”
“Look Collier.” Cramer started, and then glanced at Alice and stopped. He probably had some old fashioned thing against swearing around women, or he knew she could over rule him no matter what he said. He let his finger drop and glared at the carpet, possibly hoping it would explode into flames.
I left the room, because I didn’t want to be between the looks that were undoubtedly firing between the two of them at that moment. I was pretty sure that lightning would start spitting in the air when their gazes met. It wouldn’t be safe to stay there too long, that much frustration could turn radioactive pretty soon.
I made it out of the room and half way to the front door when she came to me again. Liberty swept from the door of one room and touched my arm, though it felt more like being a fast moving fish that’d been unexpectedly hooked. It’s not that I specifically wanted to avoid her, but I knew something hot and I wanted to act on it.
“Jack?” She asked, her sparkling blue eyes staring right through me. “Can I talk to you?”
“Of course.” I said, trying not to let my voice become husky. It would be embarrassing to show the effect she had on me like this.
She led me from the hallway, up the stairs and towards her room. She and the Major have had separate rooms ever since I could remember, and that fact was often something that was taken great advantage of. It seemed little early in the day for this sort of thing though. She closed the door behind us when we got into the room and immediately threw her self on me. I do not mean that she made a sexual advance, but rather that she physically pushed herself into me. I think I knew what she was doing, because I caught her in my arms when she slumped in my direction. I’m a big strong guy, but the force of her blow nearly knocked me over.
The shuddering of her body was immediate, and the sobs bubbled up after a few seconds, growing in volume as she shook. I looked around for someplace for us to sit down, so I could take her slight weight off me. The nearest thing was the bed, and I would have to move around it to get to the window where a small bench sat. I decided that while I was up to the walk she clearly wasn’t. I moved us over to the bed and sat down on it. I tried to get her to sit on her own, but she only slid onto the bed to better lean against me. Having nothing else to do, I smoothed her hair and made soothing noises to her.
“Don’t worry.” I said brushing back the golden treads with my hand. “I’ll take care of this.”
“He doesn’t even care.” She sobbed into my chest. “All he cares about is how this effects his stupid expansion deal.”
“I care.” I assured her squeezing her shoulders in my arms. “And I will get her back for you.”
“You will?” She looked up at me, her eyes glistened and her lips trembling.
“I will.” I said, and kissed her forehead, which I will admit was a stupid thing to do.
Once you kiss the forehead, how hard is it to dip down a little further and kiss the lips? I mean if nothing else, that stops them from trembling right? And if you’re going to kiss the lips, you might as well put some feeling into it, because you don’t want people to think you give half hearted kisses. From there of course, one thing leads to another and before you know it, I’m using the excuse of personal privacy to expunge the record of the next hour and a half.
Lying in bed next to her, having finished what I was justifying to myself and being comforting a dear friend, I knew that guilt should start riding in as a wave. I didn’t feel terribly guilty though, I felt elated that after so long I was still a worthy prospect for her. This makes me feel like a jerk, sitting here and writing it down now, but at the time I felt nothing more than joy at still being able to do the things I’d done with her a decade ago. If anything, I think I was congratulating myself a bit because I had clearly improved over time. I looked at her back, which she had turned to me like she always did. I touched her spine down at the base and ran my fingers up that line of bones to her neck.
“You need to go to work.” She said turning over.
“Do I?” I asked.
“If you’re going to find Columbia.” She said.
“Yeah.” I agreed and then a thought struck me. “Do you know a guy named Piggy?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Is he a friend of Columbia’s?”
“Possibly.” I said. “Someone mentioned his name to me.”
“The poet?” She asked.
“You know about him?” I asked, my voice changing slightly.
“Yes.” She said blushing. “I knew what she was doing, but how could I stop her? I mean… really.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I nodded at her, and there was the guilt.
The total and complete wrongness suddenly struck me all at once. I was screwing a married woman, with her husband and a dozen police officers in the house, while her eldest daughter was somewhere being held by bad people. I had to be the stupidest man on the planet, so damn dumb I couldn’t even see how clearly wrong this situation was long before I got into it.
I sat up and looked for where my clothes had been tossed. I looked back at her, then leaned over and kissed her. Strangely, that made everything all right again. For whatever reason, kissing her made all the guilt and self recrimination slide away. I was just happy to be allowed to play in her garden again. I got out of the bed, and put my suit back on, noticing that it would need a good cleaning and press before I wore it again. That would be alright though; it had gotten dirty and wrinkled in a good cause.
I got dressed, pulled the blanket up to cover Liberty and give her one last kiss, and then left the room to once again get back to my office. I went down the stairs and Bendis was just touching the door handle for me when Alice came around a corner and noticed me about to leave.
“I thought you left like two hours ago.” She said, slipping her hands into her pockets and looking at me in that special way women have when they know what you’ve been up to.
“I thought you worked for the DEA.” I commented back. “How come you’re on a kidnapping?”
“I work for The Agency.” She said.
“Central Intelligence?” I asked, raising my eye brows.
“No.” She shook her head and smiled delightfully. “Just The Agency.”
“Which agency?” I asked.
“You could call it Department B or Section 7 or some string of letters like MFD or something, but really it’s just the Agency.” She said.
“Oh.” I nodded. “That agency.”
“Right.” She said. “So now that we’ve established I have a pretty high security rating, what were you doing up there?”
“I had to have a talk with Mrs. Freedom.” I said, trying not to say anything that would be considered a double entendre. “She and her daughter were very close, she suggested a few names I might try.”
“Anything she didn’t give us?” Alice asked, knowing full well I was full of shit. “Now all of us can pump her for information like you can.”
“Have you tried?” I asked, and would have stomped on my own foot if that wouldn’t have given the whole game away.
“Should I go try now?” She asked.
“I don’t think so.” I said. “She’s resting now, she said she’s tried.”
“I see.” She smiled at me, and I felt like a book being read. “You care to share the list?”
“I’m sure it’s the same one you have.” I said, “But if it comes that you don’t have these names, we can talk.”
“We can’t talk now?” She asked.
“I’ve got to get back to my office.” I said looking at my watch. “It’s going to be late by the time I get there as it is.”
“Well, I’ll call you later about that list then.”
“Yeah.” I nodded, “Later.”
Bendis opened the door for me, and the heat from the devil’s own oven struck me dead in the face. I walked out into the heat and started down to my car, pulling out my cell phone to tell Debbie I was on my way back.