Note: This is the twentieth chapter of my novel "The Just War." I hope you enjoy it!
Sitting in a chair, watching her injured husband, Jan drank coffee and thought. She thought a lot, thought about her husband, and her son, and her daughter. Throwing the coffee cup had felt good. Nailing the jerk and watching him go down had felt really good. But he had gone down too easily, even though she was extremely angry it shouldn’t have happened like that. But while Sue and Bob and everybody had acted concerned about Vic, she’d been happy. Just a little.
Then she watched the ambulance drive away with Vic in the back, heading toward IU Saxony. Officer Rogers had gone with him, Smithers had told her what had happened, at least as best as they knew at that point. They weren’t sure why Vic had chosen to drive slowly back up Allisonville Road, but they were certain that one of the kidnappers had run Vic off the road, stolen the Risperidone, then beat Vic up on the side of the road.
Smithers told Jan that, according to Rogers, Vic had said very little on the way home. He seemed dazed and kept clutching at his side and around his chest. He frequently gasped for breath and acted in general as if he were in excruciating pain.
She looked over and saw Barry and Stacey trying to clean the carpet, clean up all the coffee from when she’d thrown the mug. They had talked about getting hardwood flooring, carpet was considered passe` now, but never got around to actually doing it. When they’d bought the house, textured walls and ceilings were all the rage. Now, popcorn ceilings could lower the value of a house. But they had no plans to move so why spend the money? Now she wished they had done it, because when they got Jen back she wanted to move far, far away. Walking over, she bent down and took the towel from Stacey, saying, “Thank you, it’s very thoughtful. Right now, though, I think we need to concentrate on Jen.” She looked down at the stain, then said, “Let’s just put some towels over it for right now. We’ll rent a carpet steamer later.” Stacey just looked at Jan, a mixture of awe and respect and love and terror etched plainly on her face. And Jan thought how funny it was, the things your mind might choose to dwell on at times like this.
Tommy had left to follow the ambulance. Rogers had also left. Sue pulled Jan back into the kitchen and looked for tea to brew. “Jan, how are you doing?”
“What do you mean, Sue?” Jan asked. She was totally unsure of what Sue was up to.
“You know, because you seem so…” Sue was trying to find the words.
“Pissed off?” Jan responded, trying to be helpful.
Finding the tea, Sue set out a pair of tea bags, then took the kettle that was already on top of the stove and filled it with hot water. She turned the gas stove on and set the water to boil. “Look,” she said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like. Nobody has ever taken Billy or Sarah, and knock on wood they’re fine. But I can imagine what it’s like to not know where your kids are.”
“Yes, Sue, but your kids are typical. It would drive me crazy if Barry was missing and I didn’t know what was happening, but it’s so much worse with Jen.” The two women looked each other in the eye, and things passed between them without words.
Smithers came over and asked if he could have a seat. Jan wasn’t sure what to make of this man. He was competent, smart and detail oriented. But he was quiet, there was something a little secretive about him, and she knew that Smithers didn’t quite approve of Vic and Jan. Still, he was the detective in charge, so she answered that of course he could. Taking a seat but politely refusing a cup of tea, Smithers said, “In a way, this might be a good thing.”
Jan took it in stride but Sue looked like she had just been slapped. Smithers took it all in, in his inscrutable way. Then the kettle started whistling, so while Sue got up to pour the tea Smithers leaned a little closer to Jan.
“What I mean is that if the kidnappers, or even just one of them, were that concerned to get the Risperidone, that may mean that one of them is not in it for the money or the thrill.”
Accepting the steaming cup of tea, Jan was confused and interested. “I’m not following you Detective. What do you mean?”
No one could accuse Phil Smithers of being the most animated speaker, but his hands did move a bit while he was talking. “If all they cared about was conrol,” Smithers said, “Then they don’t need Risperidone at all. There are plenty of drugs they can use to keep her quiet.”
Jan looked at Smithers, trying to figure out what he was saying. “I’m not getting you, Detective. Are you trying to say that one of the kidnappers might actually have some sympathy for my daughter?”
“In so many words, ma’am,” Smithers replied. His face showed the creases of a life lived on the edge. She guessed that he had brought his family to Fishers to get away from exactly the sort of thing he was involved in now. She had seen new lines on his face just in the few hours she had known him. His hands were moving again. “I don’t know why the main guy, the one who obviously instigated it all, what he wants. I hope it’s just the money. But his helper seems to be more unsure. The main guy, he would never have called you to ask for help, he would have just taken care of the situation himself.”
Jan took a drink of tea. Her stomach was very sour, from the stress, from coffee and tea, from her husband. She looked straight at Detective Philip Smithers and asked, “Do you think my daughter is still alive?” Sue seemed surprised by the question but obviously was wondering the same thing because she turned to look right at Smithers.
Smithers hesitated to answer, obviously weighing his words carefully, but finally said, “Yes. Yes ma’am, I fully believe that she is still alive.”
“Why do you say that? Just because it’s what you think I want to hear?”
“No, ma’am. I say that because I think the situation would be different if your daughter were dead. I don’t think your husband would have been run off the road and Risperidone taken from him at gunpoint. I think the kidnapper is smart but he’s also arrogant, you’ve heard it in his voice.” Jan and Sue both nodded vigorously at that. “We still don’t have the full picture of what happened while your husband was on the road, Mrs. Lawless, but my best informed guess is that the kidnapper called him, said the situation was taken care of, and taunted him.”
“Yes,” Jan replied, taking a sip of the tea. Although she had been hoping that the tea would sooth her, which was what Sue had obviously been hoping, it was making her stomach more agitated. That did nothing for her mood. “He does seem to enjoy that.” Sue nodded. She looked around and saw Bob standing in front of the tube, watching a live report.
“What’s going on?” Sue asked, seeing lights on the screen.
“CNN is in front of IU Saxony, reporting that Vic was taken there just a moment ago,” Bob answered.
“Jan,” Sue said, taking Jan’s hand. “Jan, you really need to be up there with Vic.”
“I don’t know,” Jan responded.
“Mrs. Lawless,” Detective Smithers interjected, “I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know if you two were having problems before or what is happening here, but I do know that your best chance of getting your daughter back in one piece is to present a united front. If the kidnapper succeeds in splitting you two, then he’s won a victory, no matter what happens.”
“Jan,” Sue said, “he’s right. You’ve got to go.”
“I don’t know. Tommy’s up there,” Jan said pensively.
“Jan, you have to go,” Sue said.
“Please,” Barry said, with a quivering voice. The three adults looked up to see Barry standing at the entrance to the kitchen, tears forming in his eyes, Stacey holding on to him.
That was too much for Jan. “All right, honey, I’ll go. Are you coming?”
“If it’s okay, I need to get away,” Barry said, looking down at Stacey.
“My dad said he could come over if he really needs to,” Stacey said.
Taking a deep breath, Jan nodded her consent, then went to the bathroom. She ate two antacid tablets, then got her coat. As she was leaving, Smithers offered to drive her, which she accepted.
As they left the neighborhood, she was amazed at the number of news trucks and vans hanging out. Several cameras were pointed at the police car as it drove away from their house. She hated it, she wanted to take a baseball bat and bash the cameras.
As they travelled north on Allisonville to 146th Street, then turned east toward the hospital, Jan thought about Vic. She’d never resented leaving her job, never resented having to cut back a bit on the money. Vic made enough. But now she did, now she resented that he seemed unable to become president of his company while she would most likely have become president of hers. Most of all she resented that Jen had been stolen on Vic’s watch, that he hadn’t done enough to protect her. She knew that Vic probably couldn’t have done anything, Jan had seen him risk his own life and limb to save Jen when she had run out in traffic more than once. Jan knew that Jen was a fast runner, and that the kidnapper had probably planned this for some time and finally seen his chance. She knew this with her head, but her heart said that Vic should have done more, tried more, been more.
Smithers pulled into the parking lot of the Emergency Room. Fishers Police were keeping the news trucks well away but they still felt like they were crowding in. Jan hated it. They went in, where they were immediately waved in, being told something was happening. Smithers ran as fast as he could, Jan was not so sure she wanted to go there. The room where they were treating Vic was around and to the back of the area, and as she approached it she heard him yelling, “Forgive me, Baby Girl! Please forgive me, Baby Girl! Please forgive me…” When she went in, he was asleep.
When he woke up, she was crying. “Who’s there?” he called out. “Tommy? Are you there?”
“No, it’s me,” Jan sobbed out.
“Jan? Jan. I’m sorry Jan, I’m sorry…” Vic started but she her hand on his chest, rubbing it.
“Don’t worry about that now,” she said. “The important thing is that you’re okay.”
“But I’m not okay,” he responded. “And I’m not the important thing.”
“Vic, if you’re a good boy they’re going to send you home. We can worry about everything when we get there.”
Vic tried to think for a moment, but it was too hard. “Jan?”
“What’s the weather like right now?”
Her voice betrayed a little irritation. “Why do you want to know that?”
“I don’t know, it’s just important to know.”
She sucked in her breath, then said, “It’s still raining hard, and it’s still cold.”
copyright (C) 2012 christopher w neal all rights reserved