Copyright© 2020 by Graybyrd
“Good morning, Alpine-Colorado office of acquisitions and permits. How may I help you?” Marjean Foster answered. She struggled to maintain a neutral, friendly tone. Her secretary said the caller refused to identify himself but insisted that the call was most urgent.
The moment the man on the other end spoke, Marjean’s hand clenched the handset so tightly her fingers cramped. She felt a premonition of fear.
“You were told specifically never to call us,” she snarled, glancing to her open office door. She could see no one; she dare not let anyone overhear her words.
You’ll listen, and you’ll pay. Five thousand in cash, to the usual drop box. If you don’t, your outfit will lose that Brightman property tax sale. I’ll wait one day. If I get the money, you can fix the problem in time to win the bid. Goodbye.
The line went dead. Marjean stared at the handset like she was holding a rattlesnake. She slammed it down.
“Barbara!” she called through her office door to her secretary. “Call Embridge. Tell him I need him here, immediately, right now!”
Embridge stood in her doorway, scowling at her, his face flushed and angry.
“Don’t say it!” she warned. “Close the door and sit down. We have a big problem!”
He sat, staring angrily at her across her cluttered desk. Damned woman ... always insubordinate. This disrespect is...
“Shut up!” she ordered. “I can read your face like toilet stall graffiti. It’s all filth and fantasies. So don’t start on me. You’ve got one hell of a problem and less than a day to fix it!”
His words choked in his throat and his hands shook when she explained the telephone message. He stared down at his hands, clasped them tightly together and silently wished he could shove them down her throat to stifle her gloating accusation.
“You hired them, Embridge. You deal with them. I’m sending all of my files for this deal over to your office and I’m washing my hands of it. All of it! Now! Get the hell out of my office!”
What she didn’t say was that as soon as Embridge left, she’d leave. She had no plans to come back. It was time to get out. The Alpine-Colorado enterprise was starting to take on water. It was sinking. She had no intention of going down with it. One quick call to her bank with a transfer request and a set of account numbers and she’d be arriving a few days later, comfortably compensated and ready to move into her Virgin Islands beach-front bungalow. She’d been aware for several years that Embridge and Atwood had been running a dirty game. She was smarter. She’d used her position to skim a little here and a bit more there from her acquisition budgets and permit expenses--much of those involving unreported sugar to venal officials to grease and guarantee prompt property approvals and project permits. She’d kept a fat corporate slush fund of untraceable cash, long hidden from auditors’ prying eyes. Now it was her ticket to a swift escape and a new life.
Look for my new name on the shit-house wall, Embridge, for all the good it will do you, you scummy bastard, she snarled. All these years I’ve dodged your groping hands and suffered your filthy advances. Well, no more! she smiled.
“Barbara, I’m leaving for the day. I’ve got an appointment.” And she was gone, down the elevator and out the door. She walked into the brilliant Denver sunshine. She hailed a cab and she never looked back.
An eventual audit uncovered a tangled trail of money manipulations and contingency account deposits. All of them pointed back to Sr. V.P. for Development Planning, Jason Embridge.
Embridge knew who had called. It was the same investigator who had overheard the courthouse rumors and uncovered Purdy’s Power of Attorney to Graydon Williams. He opened his office wall safe, counted out five thousand in one-hundred dollar bills, slipped them into a kraft envelope and tucked it into his briefcase.
Not trusting anyone but himself, he caught a cab to a private mailing and postbox service. He sealed the envelope of bills into an overnight shipping box and paid the clerk for guaranteed, receipt requested, delivery.
Barbara, Marjean Foster’s secretary, called Embridge the next day.
“Mr. Embridge, I have that man who called yesterday on hold. He insists on speaking with Miss Foster but she hasn’t come in. He demands to speak with you, sir.”
Embridge took the transferred call, swearing silently under his breath.
“You got the package?” he growled.
“Yeh. A good thing, too. I’ll tell ya, Embridge, don’t get too cozy behind that desk of yours. The shit’s gonna hit the fan and if you don’t move fast enough, you’ll get a face full of it!”
“Purdy’s Okanogan lawyer, Abner Goode, broke Brightman’s accountant. He confessed he’d been black-mailed by a guy who resembles Adams. He said he was forced to ruin Brightman with a false report to the Internal Revenue Service.”
“Goode took sworn affidavits and the false accounting records to the judge. The judge issued an injunction. The day of that tax sale, they’re gonna slap it on your ass and disqualify your company as a bidder. And I got a dollar against your hundred that there’ll be some guys in suits holdin’ handcuffs, waitin’ for you. How’s that for sour owl-shit, fancy-pants?”
Embridge sat in silent rage, his jaws clenched so tightly he cracked a filling. He didn’t feel it.
“If I ever hear from you again, Ross; if I ever see you, or hear your name, or if you ever dare threaten me, or ask for more money, I can guarantee that for a thousand dollars I can find a bus full of men eager to make you disappear, permanently. So are we finished here?” Embridge slammed the phone down, not waiting for an answer.
Augustus Atwood stared at Embridge but said nothing. His eyes blazed in a cold stare and he clenched his fists tightly together on his desktop. His face, normally tanned and arrogantly self-assured, distorted into a mottled puce that extended well past his forehead, wrapped over his scalp, flushed over his ears and down his neck. His jaws ground tightly, his heavy jowls writhing and crawling in knots.
“Deal with it. Use that sweaty fat-assed lawyer ... Adams, Bertrand Adams. He’s disposable. Promise him whatever he wants. Pay cash and leave no trail.”
Embridge nodded, grim-faced and silent.
“Get a message to our Mexican associate,” Atwood continued. “Adams will need a crew of experienced men. No more of those local-yokel jerkwads. And no office phone calls. Use pay phones. Nothing written. Nothing back to us, got it? Tell Adams to find a lever, apply pressure, and terminate our problem. For good! Suggest to our associate that expendable talent is needed. Nobody left to talk. Can you handle that? Remember, it’s your ass too. Together! We pull our asses out of the fire together!”
Frank Jacobs returned home after a late day at his insurance agency. No one was home to greet him. He saw signs of a struggle in the kitchen. He could only assume that his wife Madeline and teenage daughter Marilee had been taken. He found no note, no message, no demand. There was no message on his answering machine either at home or when he called to check at his office.
He called the Twisp City marshall who radioed the resident County Sheriff’s deputy. Both men responded. Other than signs of the kitchen struggle and a small blood smear on the front gate post, there were no clues, no evidence left by the abductors. A close examination showed the door knobs, the gate latch, the screen door pull, all had been wiped clean. The gravel verge beside the paved lane discouraged tire tread impressions.
One neighbor reported seeing a telephone company van in the neighborhood, but she couldn’t describe the driver. There may have been other men, but she couldn’t be sure. Her ‘old eyes’ weren’t so good any more. And she mostly tried to mind her own business. “People don’t like snoops and gossips much, so I tend to my self, mostly,” she complained.
“Did the van stop at the Jacobs house? Did anyone get out and approach the house? Did you see anything at all?” the marshall asked.
“No, nothing. I was in the back yard, watering. Like I said, I try to tend to my own self,” she said.
That night a sedan with mud-smeared license plates braked to a hard stop facing Abner Goode’s law office. A masked man jumped from the passenger door and hurled a brick through the entrance door’s plate glass window. An envelope was taped around the brick. It contained ransom terms for the release of Madeline and Marilee Jacobs.
Marilee was first to regain consciousness. She lay stripped, naked and bruised, her ankles and wrists bound with duct tape. Her mother lay beside her, her face bloodied, her lips split and swollen. She too was stripped naked. Her wrists were taped together with duct tape, her ankles bound.
They lay on a rough plank floor in dust and litter. Sunbeams filtered through the cracks between shrunken stockade board walls shined dimly through the dusty gloom. Marilee squinted in the dim light. She moved her head to scan her surroundings. They were in a barn. They lay in a stall against a feed manger. Looking up, she saw the open beams and plank flooring of the hayloft. Everything smelled old and dusty. Dry and crumbled scatterings of cow and horse manure lay everywhere. She tried to sit up; her body protested. She ached. Her attackers had handled them roughly. She saw bruises and scrapes on her thighs, legs, and arms. She tasted chloroform! She recognized the pungent odor. The men had pushed into their home, grabbed her, then her mother, and forced wet pads against their faces. They struggled and then ... nothing.
She remembered nothing after that.
Should she try to rouse her mother or would that make her cry aloud? Should she yell for help? No! Only their attackers would be nearby. A barn, old and disused, maybe abandoned. Probably no close neighbors. Wait. Be still. Think, rest, stay calm. Don’t panic! Wait for mother to wake up. Be calm, be strong.
Abner Goode called the Okanogan County sheriff. The sheriff sent a deputy to photograph the scene and take custody of the brick, the envelope, and the letter. Neither Sheriff Johnson or his deputy said anything about the Twisp deputy, the one investigating the kidnap scene. Goode then called Father Ambrose in Twisp.
Father Ambrose turned, phone in hand, and motioned to the men around him, gathered in his small house.
“They’re being held,” he announced. “There’s a ransom letter. It was taped to a brick and thrown into Abner’s office sometime last night. The demands are long and complicated, but--basically--the tax sale injunction is to be withheld, and all records and evidence to be handed over in exchange for the hostages. No one is to appear at the tax sale. The women will be released the following day. That’s the gist of it. Abner has a copy. The sheriff took the original as evidence. He says it was typed. The sheriff intends to call the FBI. Maybe they can do something with the letter. Or the brick, or the tape, or the envelope.”
Frank and Graydon sat together on the small sofa. Mike stood grim-faced and silent. Soft sounds of someone in the kitchen were ignored. Sister Agatha was making coffee, tea, and sandwiches. Nobody had an appetite; earlier cups of coffee sat cold and ignored.
“Damn them,” Graydon swore, softly, almost under his breath. “How did they know to take her? Have they been following us, watching us? I never should have been there so much,” he cried.