5:00 p.m. Tuesday, Harrison, Arkansas
Gil Bosch, at the FBI office in Harrison, took down the information. He called the Oklahoma highway patrol and asked them to send somebody to the Texaco in McAlester to check it out. After he had done so, he wondered why.
He could see wanting to talk to the VanderLeidens; after all, an officer found the truck on their property and they could be in danger, plus, as Harden pointed out, they must know something. They might even be guilty of aiding and abetting. You never knew with those old hill folks. But what he didn’t understand was, what was the girl supposed to have done?
Thirty minutes later, Oklahoma highway patrol reported back: no sign of the Jeep, the old couple, the child or the redhead, and Bosch dismissed the supposed sighting at the Texaco as just another one of those helpful citizen leads you have to follow up on but you don’t expect anything to come out of.
He would have forgotten it entirely but for the fact that his next call was from Gabe Turner, one of the Bureau agents assigned to the alleged kidnapper’s brother. Turner, in what sounded to Bosch a lot like a whine, narrated the details of a frustrating day. He said that after a suspicious meeting between a female hair stylist and their subject, they followed up on a hunch and discovered that her only living relatives were her grandparents, semi-recluses by the name of VanderLeiden, who lived up in the Arkansas Ozarks. Gabe said he and Moldenauer suspected Tina might know something about the kidnapping, but by the time they put two and two together and came up with three-and-a-half, they couldn’t find the girl, and could he put out a bulletin to watch for her in the area of…and he explained as nearly as he could, where the couple were living.
Turner waited, not saying anything. “Are you still there?” he asked finally.
A long answering sigh was followed by some genial cursing, difficult to classify as such because Bosch, not a practicing religious person, had had his mouth washed out with soap so often by his Pentecostal Holiness mother that he’d developed a few choice phrases which made no sense but seemed to satisfy his need to do more than sputter.
“Yeah, I’m here. Give me the description of the girl.”
Turner’s resulting narrative about Tina lacked the poetic embellishments Jake might have included, but when he had finished there was no doubt in Bosch’s mind that the “dishy dame” spotted by the drooling Wal-Mart driver and Turner’s Christina VanderLeiden Hilbert were one and the same. Furthermore, the blond kid whose hand she had been reported holding was likely the little boy who was the victim in the open kidnapping warrant.
Fifteen years with the Bureau had taught him not to believe in coincidences. If it looked like there might be a connection between two seemingly disparate events, there probably was. ‘If it walked like a duck…’ they always said. This bird quacked.
“Well, Turner, I think somebody spotted your beautician in McAlester, Oklahoma this afternoon, and she had a boy, about six years old, with her—“
“You’re kidding!” Turner interrupted, then evidently remembered who he was talking to. “I mean, that’s great, sir! Can we tell a local cop to pick her up, I mean, pick them up? Uh, sir?”
“No, I’ve already tried that and there’s nobody by her description there anymore. Her grandparents aren’t there, either, although they’ve been spotted earlier, and they had a boy with them, too. That was about noon and they were headed west from Fort Smith.” He paused, thinking.
“I’m wondering what’s going on. Are there two boys, one with the girl and one with the old couple? Is one of them a decoy? And what are they doing with the kidnapped kid, whichever one has him? Why don’t they just turn him in? The boy hasn’t committed a crime, so far as I know. I’m beginning to think the old couple and the girl are giving us the run-around, and when the dust finally clears we’ll find out the trucker is still missing.”
Turner didn’t respond, so Bosch continued thinking out loud. “In that case, we’ll all look like fools.” He grunted. “And I know just the guy who would love to see that happen.”
The thought of Denny’s long-standing feud with all levels of law enforcement in Arkansas brought on such a rush he thought he’d been hit with divine inspiration.
“Tell you what, Turner. I’m heading out for some supper right now and while I’m out, I’m going to check on the location of a certain ex-agent who, I’d be willing to bet some serious money, is in this somehow. I’ll let you know if I find out anything, and I expect you to do the same, all right?”