3:07 p.m. Tuesday, Fort Smith Arkansas
Highway patrol officer Brad Williams technically didn’t get off work until 3:30, but he usually checked in early so he could catch up on paperwork and be out of there by the end of his shift. He shut off his police radio, locked the patrol unit and walked into Arkansas State Patrol Headquarters on Interstate 40 near Fort Smith.
After a cursory glance at the lighted communications board, he stood at the charge desk sorting through his meticulous records. He couldn’t help overhearing Officer Dale Richards on the phone at the next desk:
“You’re telling me they might know something about this kidnapping deal, and they might be driving somewhere in the state of Arkansas. Do I have that right?”
He listened a moment and then replied, obviously testy, “Well, sure, I’ll take down the information, and while we’re working the state line, making random stops for narcotics, and while we’re clocking speeders, then maybe we take an accident call, and while we’re doing all that, we might keep an eye open for this old couple. In our spare time.”
Richards wrote down what he was hearing, punctuating each fact with an impatient “uh-hunh,” and finally “yessir,” and hung up.
“Can you beat that?” He asked no one in particular. He looked up and noticed Williams. “The local yokels up in Newton County think they have a truck used in a kidnapping, so they tell the FBI, and the FBI wants us to watch for the folks who own the property where the truck was located.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Boyoboy, I sure do love it when the Feds roll in and start giving orders. What’ll happen is, we’ll find these two, and then a couple of FBI agents will turn up and claim they solved another case. After we’ve done the actual work for them.”
“Old couple, huh?” Williams said. “Too bad I’m through for the day. It’d be my pleasure to pull another one of those old codgers off the road. Dangerous, most of them. Slow-moving hazards.” He handed over his duty sheet and walked out the door.
Just as his left thumb hit the door handle of his Ford 150, it hit him. He turned on his heel, almost a military about-face, and went back into the headquarters office.
“Say, Richards. Give me the description on that old couple we’re supposed to be looking for. The one connected to a kidnapping case.”
“Peter and Katherine VanderLeiden,” Richards read from his own notes. “Mid-seventies. He’s roughly six feet two inches tall; she’s five eight or nine. Both slender. Believed to be driving a 2001 Jeep Grande Cherokee, metallic khaki, Arkansas tags 039-CAJ. Have you seen them?”
“Affirmative. Yep, I sure did. Does it say anything about them having a kid with them?”
“No. Just the man and his wife.”
“Well, they have a kid. A little boy. I’m betting it’s the one that was supposedly kidnapped. I pulled them over for an expired tag, but it turned out he had the sticker in the glove compartment. Just gave them a warning.”
“Where was that?”
“East of here a ways, right on I-40.”
“Did you write down the time?” Richard ran his finger down the report Williams had given him a few minutes ago. “Yeah, here it is: 13:25. You even wrote down the tag number and the name on the registration. It was them, all right. Good work, Williams. I’ll call this in.”