The Message Chapter 15
Author’s Note: Thank you to all of you who have been taking time to offer feedback on the story to this point. The characters are products of my imagination and the story includes a growing relationship between two women.
By J.A. Breeze
“What do you think, Sam? Is this kidnapping going to tie to our case? Could it possibly be a coincidence?” Casey and Sam had stepped outside the Gibson home. They were standing side-by-side, heads close together talking quietly in dark. As they talked, Casey kept gazing at the clear sky, watching the stars. “It’s hard to believe so much heartache is being felt inside this house on such a beautiful night.”
“I know what you mean, kid. Oops. Sorry I mean, Casey.” Casey shrugged off the hardened investigator’s slip and gave him half a smile, which he accepted with a sheepish grin and a shrug of his shoulders. “In all the years I’ve worked in law enforcement the most difficult cases for me were the ones that involved kids. There was a time when I all I did was investigate missing kids. The sad part is that it’s often someone the family knows and it doesn’t end well..” Sam paused, his words trailing off, as he stared off into the distance. His mind focused on faces of missing children from many years past. He pulled a wooden toothpick he had been chewing from between his teeth and pointed it at Casey as he continued. “But, you know, I don’t think whoever took the Gibson kid wants to hurt her. I have a gut feeling that this will connect to our case.”
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking the same thing. But what I want to know is how does it connect and why take Courtney?”
Sam and Casey grew quiet each lost in private thoughts. They continued to look off into the night.
Inside the house, Jennifer was sitting on the end of the couch. Her feet pulled up on the cushion. Her head leaned back and her eyes closed. Michael was seated in his favorite chair directly in front of the big screen television. Although his eyes seemed to be fixed on the screen, the the screen was blank. He kept thinking that if the kidnappers were after money they should have called by now. Hours had passed since the men had taken Courtney. As darkness fell, so did his hopes that Courtney would be returned home safe and unharmed. He glanced over at his wife. He noted her puffy eyes, the streaks her tears had left on her face. But although her eyes were closed, Michael knew she wasn’t sleeping. He knew that like him she was suffering her own private agony. Hoping and praying that Courtney would be found. As he watched, Jennifer sat up and opened her eyes. She stretched to relieve the stiffness in her neck, back and shoulders. She noticed Michael looking at her. Saw the deep sadness in his eyes, the distress, the hopelessness that she knew mirrored her own.
“I wish we would hear something, anything,” she said. “Michael, I need to know that Courtney is going to be okay. I want to see her and hold her.” As she talked her voice broke with emotion. Tears yet again welled in her eyes.
Michael moved from his chair to kneel in front of his wife on his knees. He rested his right hand on her leg and then reached to cup her chin in the palm of his left hand. He gently stroked a thumb along her cheek, wiping a tear away. “Jennifer, we have to be strong and not give up hope. I believe with all my heart that Courtney is going to be okay. Just hold on. It's going to be okay.” As Michael spoke he looked directly into her eyes to let her know that he shared her misery. Jennifer didn't resist as he drew her into the comfort of his arms. He rested his cheek against hers and moved his hand to the back of her head as he placed a kiss in the hairline at her temple. Anyone who didn't know the true nature of their relationship would have thought they were a loving couple, united in their fear and grief.
When Casey ended her conversation with Sam she went in search of Jennifer and Michael. The sight that greeted her when she stepped into the doorway of the room stopped her cold. She saw Jennifer locked in her husband's arms. Saw him place the loving kiss at her temple. Seeing them that way ... so close, so together ... made Casey's heart sink and her breath catch in disappointment. She wanted so badly to be the one holding Jennifer. Providing her with comfort. Protecting her. Loving her. Get a grip, Casey. It's only natural that they would cling to each other now. She is his wife. And you can just put any ideas you have of loving this woman on hold. There is time for that later.
Deciding that she would give them a few more minutes before interrupting, Casey stepped back and turned away from the embracing couple. Just as she turned her back Jennifer looked up and saw her retreat.
Even in her misery Jennifer noticed the slump to Casey's shoulders and for a moment she wished it was Casey who was holding her. “Casey, did you need to see us for something,” Jennifer called from her position in the circle of her husband's arms.
Casey stopped. Pulled in a deep cleansing breath, automatically straightened and squared her shoulders. For just an instant she closed her eyes to erase any thoughts that might be reflected there. Then she turned toward the couple whose lives had been hell for the last few hours.
“If you're sure I'm not interrupting there are a few things I'd like to go over with you.”
“Please, Ms. Jarnigan, join us. Do you know anything new?”
Casey stepped through the doorway and made her way to the couple. Michael pulled an ottoman over to sit on and indicated that Casey should take a seat on the couch beside his wife.
“First, as you requested we arranged for your neighbor to bring your son home from their field trip. They should be here any minute. I spoke with the teacher in charge of the students and she said the kids have not seen any news reports or listened to the radio so your son doesn't know what's happened.”
A shudder ran through Jennifer's body and she closed her eyes as if to hide from the pain of having to tell Brandon about his sister. Casey and Michael watched her closely each well aware of where her thoughts had gone, of the distress she was feeling. Without thinking Casey reached out a hand and squeezed Jennifer's leg just above her knee. “If you prefer I can explain things to your son. If it would make it easier for you.”
“Casey, thank you for offering but I really think it will be better for him if we tell him. Now, if we can only figure out how to do that.” Jennifer patted Casey's hand where it rested on her leg and then ran the same hand nervously through her hair. “My God, I still can't believe this is real. That someone actually has my baby. Michael, she must be terrified and we're just sitting here doing nothing. We've got to do something. I can't just sit here anymore. I've got to find my baby.” Jennifer sprang to her feet but once she was upright her movements were frantic like a person on the verge of drowning. Michael moved to try to take her back into his arms but she pushed him away. “Don't touch me, damn you. I want my daughter back. Do you hear me? I want her back now!”
“Jennifer, honey, you've got to calm down. This isn't helping anything. The police are doing all that can be done. Hell, we're doing all that we can do.” As he talked he placed his hands at her elbows, holding her in place so he could try to reason with her. “We have to trust these people to do their jobs and bring Courtney home to us. You going off the deep-end isn't going to help anything. It isn't going to bring Courtney home.”
“Get your hands off of me, now. And get the hell out of my face.” Jennifer walked away from Michael and went to stand at a patio door across the room. She stared off into the darkness. Her back stiff and straight. She brought her hands up and crossed them, embracing herself. She knew that her words were harsh ... that he only wanted to comfort her, to help.
Casey fought the tears that threatened to fill her own eyes as she watched Jennifer struggle with her misery. She wanted to go to her. To tell her that everything would be okay. But that wasn't her place. Her job was to keep the investigation going that would bring their daughter home. As Casey was contemplating what she should do next, she saw Michael pull his cell from a clip on his side. He looked at the screen and then snapped it closed again.
“As much as I hate to do this, I've got to make a phone call to a business associate. There's some kind of problem. Would you excuse me?”
“Take as much time as you like, Mr. Gibson. I can stay here with Jennifer while you're on the phone.”
“Thank you. I'll be back as quickly as I can.”
Once Michael had left the room, Casey sat quietly and watched Jennifer. She didn't speak. She didn't move. She just watched from her place on the couch. But when she saw Jennifer's shoulders shaking, saw her bury her face in her hands, she couldn't sit and watch any longer. She moved behind Jennifer and wrapped her arms around her and locked her hands on the shorter woman's stomach. She ducked her head and placed her chin on Jennifer's shoulder and began a gentle rocking motion. After a few minutes, Jennifer dropped her hands to rest them on Casey's and leaned back into the comfort of the larger body. Neither of them was conscious of time passing. Jennifer drew strength from the comfort of Casey's arms and Casey felt a protectiveness toward the other woman that she had not experienced in a very long time.
Midnight was quickly approaching and there had been no word from the kidnappers. Literally hundreds of police officers and state troopers were combing the highways looking for some sign of the dark van. Photographs of Courtney Gibson had been shown on every major news network in the state. And still no word. Nothing.
AIC Susan Webster was growing more and more frustrated as time went on without any demands being made. She had worked many kidnappings through the years and knew that time was quickly running out that the situation would end well. She looked up as Matt England cleared his throat as he entered the kitchen. She had already grown to respect the young agent's ability to do research and find bits of information that others didn't expect to ever see the light of day.
“Hey, Matt. How's it going?” she asked as she took a sip from the coffee mug beside her. “Do you have any new information to share?”
“As you might expect, we're getting dozens of phone calls from all sorts of crazies. But we're working with the Wilmington Police and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Hopefully, we'll catch a break soon.”
“What about this woman that Jennifer Gibson is having the trouble with? Any new information on her?”
“We have done a pretty thorough check on her and can't find anything that ties her to the kidnapping.”
“But didn't she make some threat to Ms. Gibson about her daughter?”
“Yes, she did but for right now it looks like that was all just talk. I questioned the CEO of the bank where she works. He said that after what happened this morning at Jennifer Gibson's office he forced Tessa MacCalister to take a leave of absence and that he made it clear to her that she would lose her job if she persisted. He also suggested that she seek counseling. We've had someone watching her since she was released from jail and so far nothing.”
“You feel certain that this MacCalister woman isn't involved?”
“Of course there's a possibility that I've overlooked something where she's concerned but all indications are that she just wanted to scare Jennifer Gibson into continuing their relationship. But the DA has ordered a search warrant for her residence and the judge has most likely signed it by now.”
“The Wilmington police will be making the search?”
“Yes, along with a couple TBI agents. In fact I plan to head over there myself.”
The Agent in Charge couldn't help but smile at the young agent.
“What?” he asked.
“I admire an agent who doesn't dismiss a suspect because he thinks someone else is responsible. You are very thorough, aren't you, Matt?”
“Yes, ma'am. I try to make sure that I've covered all the bases and I want to see what's inside the MacCalister woman's apartment for myself.”
“You're a true asset to the Bureau. Who knows you may even have my job someday?” The praise from his superior caused Matt to blush. Although she noticed his discomfort and was tempted to tease him, she decided to let him off the hook. “Okay. Head on over to Tessa MacCalister's apartment and let me know what you find out.”
“Yes, ma'am. I'll do that.”
Once his back was turned, Susan Webster smiled as she remembered her own eagerness to succeed first as a police officer and later as a rookie agent with the TBI. You'll do just fine Matt. Just fine. I only hope you don't have to make too many sacrifices, face too many disappointments. That's enough of that. What I really need to do is stretch my legs. I've been sitting here far too long.
Deciding to take a walk outside the house, she let herself out the kitchen door after telling the crew working with her where she would be. Once outside she took a deep cleansing breath and took a moment to enjoy the fresh air. She automatically followed the walkway around to the back of the house. She made a visual check of each window and door as she went. She had almost completed the length of the back of the house when she heard someone talking and realized it was coming from a partially opened door just in front of her. Listening carefully she recognized Michael Gibson's voice. It was raised in anger and he was obviously very upset with whoever was on the phone. Being careful not to make any noise to give away her presence, she moved closer to the door and then stopped to listen.
“I told you over and over that we should never have gotten involved in this mess.” Hm, I wonder what mess he's talking about. She only had a second to wonder before his next words caused her to gasp. “I'm telling you right here and now, if they harm one hair on my daughter's head, you are the one who is going to pay. I'll tear you apart piece by piece with my bare hands.” Now, this is certainly interesting. I'd bet my retirement fund that Daddy is up to his eyeballs in this mess. She continued to listen but Michael Gibson didn't say anything else of importance until he started to end the call. “Okay, I'll meet you there in about an hour. I'll need to make some excuse to my wife.”
Susan Webster stayed where she was until she heard the door click closed inside the room. She then made her way quickly but silently back to the side of the house. Sam Hardin was just about to light a cigar when she caught him off guard when she stepped out of the darkness.
“Hey, Susan. I didn't see you there.”
“Sam, I'm glad you're here,” she said with urgency. “I have something that needs to be taken care of immediately. Michael Gibson is going to be leaving here shortly. I want to know where he goes, what he does once he gets there and most importantly I want to know who he meets. Can you do that for me?”
Sam recognized the excitement in her voice and knew immediately that she had somehow stumbled upon the information they needed to find the kidnappers. He didn't hesitate or take time to question her. He knew it would only slow things down and there would be time to fill in the details later. “Susan, I'll take care of it immediately. Is there anything more I need to know?”
“Not right now, Sam. Just follow Michael Gibson and pull a couple other agents to work with you. But be discreet.”
“Don't worry, Susan. I know what I'm doing and will get right on it.” He turned to go back inside the house to assemble his team for the assignment but he paused when the agent in charge spoke.
“Sam, just so you know, I am well aware that you are the best agent this state has ever known and I feel damn lucky to have you here.” All her words got from the former agent was a grunt as he continued into the house.
Michael struggled with what excuse he could give Jennifer for leaving the house. He finally decided that he would just tell her that he thought he should be at his apartment in case the kidnappers called there. He was making his way back to the family room where he had left his wife and the assistant DA when Brandon burst in the door and straight into his arms.
“Dad, what's going on. Why are all of these police cars here? Where's Mom?”
“Slow, down, Brandon, and I'll explain things to you.” Michael gripped his son's arms and attempted to hold him close.
“Mom? Mom? Where are you?” Brandon called at the top of his lungs. The minute Jennifer heard his call she pulled out of Casey's embrace and ran from the room calling his name as she went. The second she stepped out of the room and into the hallway, Brandon broke his father's grip and ran straight into his mother's arms. “Oh, God, Mom. I was afraid something had happened to you.” The boy sobbed his relief. And then it dawned on him that his sister was missing. “Mom, where's Court?” But one look into his mother's grief-filled and swollen eyes gave him an answer. “Mom, please tell me where Courtney is,” he said as his lower lip began to tremble and tears started to stream.
“Brandon, I need you to be strong for me. Can you do that, honey?” He nodded his head that he could but the ache in her heart twisted even more when she saw the fear in his eyes. “Someone took Courtney and the police are trying to find her. That's why there are so many police officers here. But, honey, they are going to find your sister. Do you hear me? They will find her.” Jennifer looked her son straight in the eyes while she talked to him and attempted to assure herself as much as him that everything would be okay ... that Courtney would be okay.
“Your mother is right, Brandon. Courtney is going to be just fine and will be back home with us before you know it.” Michael walked up to his son and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “In fact I can't take this sitting and waiting any longer. I'm going to drive around town and look for her and then go back to my place in case someone calls there.”
Jennifer looked up in shock at his words. She had assumed their family would stay together until the police had found Courtney and arrested the kidnappers. “Michael, don't you think you should stay here?”
Several police officers had stepped into the hallway when they heard the commotion. Casey noticed the look Sam and Susan Webster exchanged when they heard Michael's declaration. She caught Sam's eye and raised an eyebrow in question. He nodded his head toward the agent in charge as if to say “ask her.” Then he turned and quietly slipped out of the hallway. Casey doubted that anyone saw him go but her and the other woman.
The agent sensed she had drawn the attention of the assistant DA and knew from experience that she may as well fill her in on what she suspected. She mouthed the words “meet me outside” and pointed toward the kitchen. Casey responded with a slight nod of her head and then turned her attention back to the Gibsons.
“I can be easily reached by phone if you need me but I've really got to get out of here for awhile. I promise I'll come back immediately if you need me.”
Knowing that it was useless to try to convince him to stay, Jennifer continued to hold their son in her arms as she caressed the back of this head. “Okay, Michael. Do what you need to do and I'll call if I need you.”
Without saying anything further, he turned and left the house out the same door their son had entered just a few minutes earlier.
Why that rat bastard. How in the hell can he just walk out on them at a time like this? Casey had clenched her fists as the unpleasant thought crossed her mind. She stepped out of Jennifer's way as the smaller woman led her son into the family room. She watched as Jennifer settled on one end of the couch and pulled Brandon close to her side. She rested her cheek on the top of his head.
Casey was moved by the protectiveness she saw in the woman toward her younger child and spared a moment to savor the sight before going to seek out AIC Webster.
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