Panic has a way of defining an individual. It scrapes the soul bare, strips away pretense, reveals the core of the human spirit. It’s hard to dissemble when fear crawls up your throat, your heart stampedes like a herd of wild animals, and your skin burns with the prickly-heat of terror. For the six people thrown together in a Loop office building on a hot June day, the moments they shared would reveal parts of themselves they had not known existed.
It was early afternoon in Chicago, the kind of day that made people want to ditch the chill of air conditioning and head to Wrigley Field. The first man who stepped into the elevator at the sixty-fifth floor might have been doing just that. He was a florid- faced, doughy man with gray at his temples. His jacket was hitched over his shoulder, and his shirt gapped between buttons, calling attention to his belly. He moved to the left side of the car and kept his gaze on the floor, as if by doing so, he—and his early departure—might escape notice.
The elevator descended to the sixty-second floor, where two women who didn’t know each other got on. One was slender and small, with mousey brown hair pulled back at her neck. She wore a heavy sweater over a flowered dress. She went to the back of the car and leaned against the metal railing, trying to look inconspicuous. The other woman, in a gray pinstriped pants suit over a sleeveless black tank, wore her hair in a chin-length bob. She positioned herself on the right side of the car and kept her eyes on the car’s indicator panel. The faint aroma of coconut shampoo surrounded her.
On fifty-seven a young man got on. Wearing shorts and a ratty t-shirt, he clutched a large manila envelope in one hand and a bicycle helmet in the other. The envelope bore the logo of a prominent Chicago messenger service. He kept shifting his feet, and his mud-caked sneakers left tiny pellets of dirt on the tiled floor.
Three floors below a middle-aged man in khaki chinos entered. His shirt sleeves were rolled up, and he wore his hair in a sparse comb over. Another man entered the car on the fifty-first floor. Dressed in a suit, tie, and crisp white shirt, he wore wrap-around Oakley sunglasses. He kept one hand in his pocket, but through the shades despite the shades, appraised everyone in the elevator.
As the elevator descended past the fiftieth floor, it gathered speed. It was one of three express cars from the upper floors; the next stop was the lobby. Both women stared at the overhead panel lights. The messenger squeezed his eyes shut. Comb-over Man hugged the back wall. Florid-face shot the man with the Oakleys a sidelong glance, but whether from envy or trepidation, it was hard to tell.
No one expected the elevator to lurch to a sudden stop.
When it did, the force threw everyone to the floor. The lights blinked out, plunging the car into darkness. One of the women screamed. So did a man. The messenger shouted, “What the fuck?” Florid-face moaned. So did Comb-over Man. The man in the Oakleys kept his mouth shut.
“Please, please, don’t let me die,” one of the women cried out. It wasn’t clear who she was addressing: someone in the elevator? Jesus? God?
“I think my leg is broken!” Comb-over Man screamed. “Help me!”
The messenger tried to get up. The weight in the car shifted. The elevator rocked.
“Stop! No one move a fucking muscle!” Fear thickened the voice of the woman in the pantsuit. “We’ll all be killed.”
“Doesn’t fucking matter,” the messenger said. “We’re already dead.”
“My leg! I can’t move!”
“Oh my god…oh my god…” The mousey haired woman started to hyperventilate. Waves of tension radiated through the air.
“Anyone have a light? A match? Flashlight?” It was the Florid-face. He shifted. Again the car rocked.
“I said don’t fucking move!” Pantsuit yelled. Her breath came in short little gasps. “Someone push the alarm button!”
“I tried! It’s not working!”
Florid-face found his voice. “Oh fuck, oh fuck…” He started babbling. “Holy Mary, Mother of God!”
The car swayed enough. Anyone who tried to get up might have lost their balance.
“Father, forgive me for I have sinned…” The mousey woman prayed in a thin, quavering voice. The smell of fear permeated the car.
“We should try to stay calm,” a male voice broke in. “If we were going to die, it would have already happened.”
Pantsuit wasn’t mollified. “I don’t believe it. Where is everyone? Where are the lights?”
“Shit, shit shit…” Comb-over Man chanted.
Someone made a rustling sound. The elevator rocked again. Bounced a little.
“Who’s doing that?” Pantsuit shouted. “Stop, goddammit it! Don’t you understand English?”
The messenger said, “I’m trying to climb up on the railing so we can get out, you know, through the roof…”
“Yes, and when the fucking elevator rolls over, we’ll be smashed to bits. Stop it, asshole!”
“Jesus! Someone help me!” The florid-faced man raked his hands across the floor tiles as if he was trying to collect something precious from them.
“Look, someone has to know we’re in here…” the messenger said. “Try the alarm again. Somebody!”
Pantsuit started to reply. “I had my finger on it for over a—oh fuck! What now?”
There was a lurch and a rumble. The elevator groaned. The lights flashed on. Off. Then on again. They stayed on.
“Oh god! This is it!” The mousey-haired woman gripped the steel railing so hard her knuckles turned white. The man in the Oakleys clutched it too. Mousey-hair looked over, noticed the index finger on Oakley’s left hand—or most of it—was missing. She quickly looked away.
The elevator started to descend—slowly, under control—as though nothing unusual had just happened. But Comb-over Man was still moaning, and Pantsuit’s cheeks were stained with tears. The messenger, looking wild-eyed, searched for his manila envelope, picked it up, and clutched it to his chest. Florid-face turned ashen. Rising to his knees, he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped sweat from his face. His hands shook. Oakley picked himself off the floor and stood in the back, looking blank.
After what seemed like eternity, the elevator reached the lobby. The doors whooshed open. Three security guards were waiting with anxious expressions. A crowd of people gathered behind them.
“Are you all right? Is anyone hurt?”
The messenger yanked a thumb towards Comb-over Man, who was still on the floor. Two of the guards hurried in to examine him.
“What the hell happened?” Pantsuit demanded as she stepped out. She was followed by the mousey-haired woman, Florid-face, and the man in the Oakleys.
One of the guards shook his head. “We’re not sure. The power dipped in parts of the building. This entire bank of elevators went out. Probably a brown out. It’s really hot out there.” He looked at the others. “But we’ll find out. If I could just get your names—”
The messenger cut him off. “Not me. Man, I’m never coming in this fucking building again.” He ran toward the revolving doors, pushed through, and disappeared from sight.
The guard turned to Florid-face. “Sir, could I have your name?”
The man shook his head. “Just let me out. Right now.”
“You sure you’re ok?”
Florid-face didn’t answer, just turned on his heel and walked away.
“It’s a miracle no one else was seriously hurt,” the guard said to no one in particular.
The mousey-haired woman gave the guard her name. Pantsuit did, too, adding she had some serious bruises. Comb-over Man was in the process of being carried out by the guards, who assured him paramedics were on their way. “Just hold on, sir.”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Now that the danger was past, anger was replacing fear. “Watch it, goddammit. That fucking hurts!”
In the commotion no one noticed the man in the Oakleys. Turning away from the security guards, he eased his way through the crowd toward the revolving door. As he pushed through, he slipped his hand out of his pocket and looked at his watch.
“Right on schedule,” he thought to himself.
Three Days Earlier
I found the used condom when I was changing the sheets in the guest room. Technically, it’s not a guest room—it’s my office. But there’s a daybed against the wall, and, sometimes, when out-of-towners show up, or some of Rachel’s friends spend the night, it’s put into service. As it clearly was last night.
At first, I didn’t know what it was. Crumpled up, an off-white, beigy color, it might have been a used band-aid. Maybe one of those footlets they give you at the shoe store. Even an empty sausage casing. I swept my hand over the sheet and scooped it up. When I realized what it was, I dropped it back on the bedcovers, ran into the bathroom, and washed my hands. Then I gingerly picked it up with a pair of tweezers and placed it on a sheet of clean, white printer paper. I picked up the paper and walked into the hall.
Her bedroom door was partially closed, but I could hear her talking on the phone. There was no pause or drop-off in her voice. I called again, louder this time, all the while staring at the condom as if it was infected with Ebola.
I heard a grudging, “Hang on a minute,” and in the next breath, “What is it, Mom?” Her voice had that clearly-annoyed-to-have-been-disturbed-tone.
“Out here,” I snapped. “On the double.”
A dramatic sigh was her response. Then, “Call you right back.” Rustles and creaks followed as my eighteen-year-old pulled herself off her bed and emerged from her room. Her blond mop of hair, so unlike my dark waves, fell across her forehead. Her big blue eyes that she’d learned to highlight in just the right way with liner and mascara sought mine. As tall as I, and more slender, she wore a red t-shirt and gym shorts, and all her physical attributes were very much in evidence. My daughter had turned into an attractive, desirable young woman.
Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed.
I held the condom out in front of me. At first she squinted as if she couldn’t figure out what it was. Then her brain registered, her lips parted, and a flush crept up her neck. At the same time, she tried to hide her surprise and shot me a look that managed to be both shrewd and defiant.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You and your friends were blowing them up like balloons.”
Her eyes narrowed, the way they do when she knows I’m onto her and the only possible recourse is disdain. “No, Mother.”
“Pouring water into them, maybe.”
Her eyes were little more than slits.
“No? Pray tell how this ended up in the sheets.”
Her eyes flicked to the condom then back to me. Her shoulders heaved, and she blew out a breath. “All right. I’ll tell you. But you’ve gotta swear not to tell anyone.”
“I can’t promise that, Rachel.”
“Mother, please. You have to. If it gets around…”
“Tell me. I’ll decide.”
Her face scrunched into a frown. Her lower lip protruded. There was another dramatic silence, and then she said, “It wasn’t me. It was Mary. She and Dan were in there.”
Mary was her best friend. Dan was Mary’s boyfriend. “When?”
It was Monday now. “Where were you?”
She didn’t answer.
“With Adam?” Adam was Rachel’s boyfriend. At least on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or whenever she wasn’t breaking up with him. Regrettably, she’d inherited my emotional intimacy patterns. Or lack of them.
“We didn’t go upstairs, Mom. I swear. We were out on the deck smoking hookah.”
My house had become the “go-to” place for Rachel and her friends over the summer. I kept a lid on drinking and smoking, but otherwise left them alone. The newest craze was smoking flavored tobacco in ornate silver hookahs that would do Alice’s Caterpillar proud. But teenagers always think they’re smarter than adults, and I knew they slipped in some weed now and again. I’d done worse in my youth—I came of age during the Sixties—so I pretended not to notice.
Still, sex in my office wasn’t my idea of acceptable behavior. “Rachel, this is wrong. It can’t happen again. Not in my house.”
“Mother, we’re not children. Jesus. I’m going to college next year.”
“I know. And I can’t wait.”
“You would say something like that. You never want me around. You don’t trust anyone. You always have to be in control.” When Rachel goes into attack mode, I cringe. It was a tactic she’d learned from her father, who figured he could wear me down with belligerence. It didn’t work when he did it; it wouldn’t work now.
“If I were you, I’d button my mouth before I found myself grounded for a month.”
She tightened her lips, but her eyes were pools of rage.
Then the phone rang. Her eyebrows went sky high, and she bolted into her room to grab it. Which was fortuitous. We were both on the verge of saying things we’d regret.
“It’s for you,” she called petulantly.
I poked my head in her room.
“Could you please take it in your office? I need to call Julia back.”
“We’ll continue this conversation later.”
She rolled her eyes.
I went back in my office, put down the condom, and picked up the phone.
“Sounds like another fun morning at the Foremans.” It was Susan Siler, my best friend and possibly the wisest person I know.
“She’s full of angst right now.” I started to tell her about the condom but Susan cut me off. “Ellie, I want to hear about this, but it’s got to wait. Something important has come up.”
Susan rarely makes demands. Of course, her life is perfect. She has the perfect husband, two perfect kids, a perfect house, and a perfect part-time job in an art gallery. We’ve been friends for nearly twenty years, and I still don’t know how she does it.
“I have this friend,” she said. “Sort of a neighbor, actually. Christine Messenger.”
“I don’t think I know her.”
“Ellie, her daughter has been kidnapped.”
We live in a peaceful bedroom community twenty miles from Chicago on the North Shore. It’s an affluent suburb in which the biggest tragedy occurred twenty-five years ago when a disturbed young woman went on a school shooting spree that killed one child and wounded several others. In fact, our village is generally so safe that, if you believe the rumors, it was once was a haven for Outfit families—their children deserved safe neighborhoods, too, didn’t they? It stayed that way until the village police chief was caught extorting money from local businesses, after which he and the Mob made a speedy exit.
Christine Messenger’s red-brick house, nestled on a block of similar homes, was neat and well-tended, with what had to be a nitrogen-enriched green lawn, a riot of annuals, and climbing roses flanking the door. It wasn’t that large—three bedrooms, I guessed—but it fit nicely with the white picket-fence theme of the street. I met Susan outside—she lives three houses away—and we trudged up the flagstone path to the door.
Susan is taller, slimmer, and more graceful than I. She’s always perfectly coiffed and dressed, and today, her light green sun dress and matching sweater complemented her red-gold hair perfectly. Her pearl earrings—studs, of course, nothing too ornate—glowed in the sun. Susan gave me the once-over with a practiced eye, taking in my cropped pants, wrinkled t-shirt, sandals, and hair tamed temporarily with an elastic band. She didn’t say a word.
“What did you tell her about me?” I asked, trying not to feel slovenly.
“I told her you were my friend, and you had experience with this type of thing.”
I raised my eyebrows. “This type of thing?”
“You know what I mean.”
Over the past several years, I’ve had several encounters with the dark side of human nature. I don’t look for it, and don’t much like it. I prefer a boring, normal life. But then Rachel is my daughter, Jake Foreman is my father, and Luke Sutton is my boyfriend. Normal is not an option.
“How old is the girl?” I asked Susan.
“When did it happen?”
“Couple of hours ago. After she dropped Molly at camp.”
The Park District runs a day camp for kids during June and July, basically a glorified baby sitting service with arts and crafts and the occasional trip to the pool. Rachel had attended when I worked in the Loop.
“Chris took the train downtown as usual,” Susan went on. “She was just getting to her office when the call came.”
“What did they say?”
“That… well, why don’t we let Chris tell you herself?” She stepped up on the porch and rang the bell.
“You know what I’m going to tell her,” I said, listening to three perversely cheerful chimes.
“That she needs to go to the police. Now. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.”
“The kidnapper specifically said no police. Or he’d kill Molly.”
I leveled a look at Susan. She looked back at me. We stood there staring at each other for a long moment.
She blinked. “Don’t look at me with those big gray eyes. I’m not asking you to get involved. Just talk to her. Chances are she’ll do whatever you say. But she’s totally freaked out, and you’re the only person I could think of who’d understand.”
Houses give off smells. Some are pleasant, some sour. Sometimes they define the home’s personality, and you know at once whether the place is one you want to spend time in or leave as soon as you can. I’ve never figured out where the smells come from—laundry soap, lingering body odor, dirty carpets—but a stale, briny odor bit at my throat as I entered Christine Messenger’s house. I resisted the impulse to flee.
Not that the house was a mess. The décor was well-bred Wasp elegance, with plenty of silk and brocade, an antique or two, and a splash of color that her decorator must have said would “give the room a finished look.” But the shades were drawn, and the dim lamplight threw gloomy shadows across the living room.
Christine Messenger closed the door and stood against it, as if she was barricading herself—and us—inside. She would have been attractive, were it not for the fear and misery etched on her face. She had red hair, like Susan, which fell to her shoulders, but hers was darker, almost auburn. Her eyes were green and red-rimmed. Her skin looked pasty, and when I examined her closely, I saw it was covered with freckles that she probably agonized over as a child. Although she looked thin I couldn’t tell for sure. She was wearing bulky sweats, like it was the middle of January. I’d seen it before. Grief can strip body heat away faster than a cold shower.
“Thank you for coming.” Her voice was ragged. “Susan said you might be able to help.”
“I don’t know.” It was a brilliant blue-sky June morning, but as I stepped into the living room, my mood darkened. “I’m so sorry.”
She nodded grimly and pulled out one of those small packets of tissues from a pocket.
“When did it happen?”
She extracted a tissue and clutched it tightly. “It must have been around seven-thirty this morning. Right after I dropped her at camp.”
I could feel her desperation. “Perhaps we could go into the kitchen?”
Christine stared at me blankly, as if her distress had slowed down her reflexes and she needed extra time to process. Then it registered. “Yes, of course.”
The kitchen was cheerier, mostly because of a skylight that bathed everything in bright light. I considered it a hopeful sign. We sat in chairs around a butcher block table.
“So you dropped her off at camp…”
“They have the early bird program, you know. She likes making lanyards. Blue and purple. And pink.” She fingered the tissue. “I drove to the train station as usual. Got the 7:52 downtown. I was almost at the office when—”
“Where do you work?”
“Midwest National Bank at Madison and Dearborn…”
“…when I got a call on my cell.”
“Who was it?”
“I didn’t recognize the voice. He said…” She took a breath. “They had Molly.” She crumpled the tissue.
“He said ‘they’?” When she nodded, I asked, “Did he say how much—I mean—what they wanted?”
Christine looked blank again, then shook her head. “No. He said not to call the police. That if I did, they’d… hurt her.” She said it slowly, enunciating each word.
“Did they let you talk to her? You know, to prove they really had her?”
Christine’s hands began to shake. Susan covered them with her own. Christine gave her a grateful look. “Yes. She sounded… so frightened.” Her voice quavered.
“Do you have a picture of Molly?”
She nodded, got up, and brought back a photo she’d obviously had ready. A school photo with the ubiquitous blue background, it showed Molly in a Kelly green sweater over a white collared shirt. She was a fresh-faced kid with flaming red hair tied back in a scrunchy. Her eyes were blue and widely-spaced, her nose tiny, and a flash of silver gleamed behind a pair of reluctantly smiling lips. I could relate. I had braces when I was her age, and I swore never to let them show in pictures. But when the photographer said “smile” or “cheese” or “artichoke” as did Sid, the man who took all our school pictures forty years ago, I couldn’t help it. “She’s adorable.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Christine blinked away tears.
I stood up, my chair scraping the floor. “Did he say anything about next steps? What you needed to do? What they would do?”
“He said he’d call me later. After he was convinced I wouldn’t go to the police.” She bowed her head. Susan kept her hands on Christine’s but looked over at me. I saw a warning in her eyes.
I started to pace. “Christine, Susan called me because she thought I might be helpful.” I paused. “But my advice is to go to the police. They have the resources and experience to deal with this. Despite the threats.”
Christine looked up. Tears rimmed her eyes. “I can’t take that chance.”
She looked up. “So you’ll help me?”
“I can’t. As I said, I really don’t have any special knowledge in matters like this.”
Her face crumpled. Tears inched down her cheek.
I tried to look hopeful. “But I know someone who does.”
Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure is a start. Hunched over her laptop, Georgia tried to remember who said that. She was in the middle of a search for the title of a vacation home in Galena, Illinois. A couple, one of whom was her client, had been married thirty years but was now locked in a bitter divorce battle. Both parties claimed the property, but, even with a subpoena, neither the husband nor the wife—or their respective lawyers—had coughed up enough information to verify the claim. Georgia was slogging through public records on the state of Illinois’s website, hoping to find the title to the property, but so far, she’d had no success. She was cursing Paul Kelly, the lawyer who’d sent her the job, when her cell trilled.
“Hi, Georgia. It’s Ellie Foreman.”
Georgia sat up. She’d known Foreman for years, since she’d been the youth officer on the village police force. She’d counseled Foreman’s daughter, Rachel, through a dark period when the girl was twelve. A year later she and Ellie had found themselves on the same side of a case involving white slavery and the Russian Mob. Foreman was the kind of woman who seemed to attract trouble; it was a small miracle she was still alive. Georgia hadn’t heard from her in almost a year, which was a good sign. That she was calling now wasn’t.
“Hello, Ellie. Is everything ok? How’s Rachel?”
“She’s fine. She’s a senior now. Applying to college soon.”
“No way. I’m not that old. Where does she want to go?”
“We’re hoping to cheer on the Hawkeyes.”
“It’s her first choice. But that’s not why I called. I need your help, Georgia. It’s an emergency.”
Georgia hung up, went into her bedroom, and opened her bureau drawer. The furniture in her Evanston apartment was still new—she’d had to replace it all after a fire last year—and she felt a sense of satisfaction as the drawer slid smoothly across the metal tracks. She took out a white tank top, then went to her closet and pulled out a pair of beige slacks and a lightweight navy blazer. She had four nearly identical blazers: two for summer, and two for winter. They were all loose fitting and had plenty of pockets. You never knew what you might have to stash in them.
In the bathroom, she peered into the mirror. She normally wore her blond hair in a ponytail, but today she left it down. It softened the sharp planes of her face and made her nose seem less prominent. Her blue eyes were wide and unflinching, but her eyelashes and brows were so light they seemed to disappear on her face. Even so, Pete said that she reminded him of Scarlet Johannson. She smiled at the thought and applied some lipstick, her only concession to fashion. Then she stuffed her wallet, keys, notebook and pen in her pockets and took off.
Driving her red Toyota up Green Bay Road, she thought about what Foreman said on the phone. Of all the crimes against people, kidnapping was the most personal. And cruel. To steal a child, someone’s flesh and blood, suggested a viciousness that was hard to understand. Even if the resolution was good and the child was returned uninjured, the family would bear the scars forever. The parents would always worry about the people who came into their child’s life. And if it turned out that one of the parents had taken the child, as so often happened, the other parent would never sleep through the night again.
Foreman had said Christine Messenger was recently divorced. Had it been ugly? If so, the ex-husband could be involved. He might have skipped town, maybe the country. Fathers sometimes did. Even so, the chances were good no harm would come to the child. Which was oddly reassuring. In the event it was a stranger abduction, the kidnapper probably wanted money. That also usually meant the child wouldn’t be harmed, at least until the ransom was paid. The problem was if there was no demand. No communication from the kidnappers. Georgia didn’t want to think about that.
Whatever the situation, the police were better equipped to handle it than she. Foreman knew that. Georgia wondered why she hadn’t insisted the mother call it in. Foreman wasn’t a fool. Maybe she needed a third party to reinforce her advice. Georgia tapped the steering wheel with her palm. Being a good PI meant knowing when to take on a case and when to hand it off. This one practically screamed “hands-off.”
“I don’t understand why we have to talk about that now,” Christine Messenger said. “The man on the phone was not my ex-husband.”
Georgia sat in Christine Messenger’s kitchen at the butcher block table. Foreman was still there, but her friend, Susan, had left. “A major factor in child abductions is the relationship between the child’s parents. A bitter divorce can be a motivating factor.” She paused. “As for the voice on the phone, that could have been anyone: a friend of your ex, a brother, a cousin. Tell me, what was Molly’s father’s reaction when you told him?”
Christine didn’t answer. Then in a small voice, she said, “I haven’t.”
“Why not?” Georgia knew her voice was sharp.
“You don’t understand. Terry’s always accusing me of being a horrible mother. Of putting my career before Molly. This—well, he’ll see this as the last straw. He’ll file for sole custody. I—I couldn’t handle that.”
“Mrs. Messenger.” Georgia tried to keep her voice neutral. “The issue right now is getting Molly back safely. Not whether your husband—sorry—ex-husband—approves of your lifestyle.” She looked at her watch. “Molly’s been gone for almost three hours. He needs to know. Where does he work?”
“He’s a doctor at Rush.”
“You need to call him right away.”
Christine eyed her doubtfully. “Please. He’ll use it against me. I’m telling you.” She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, though she didn’t appear to be crying. Then she took a long breath. “It was a horror show.”
A spit of tension thickened the air.
“The divorce?” Foreman asked softly.
The woman nodded. “It’s been final less than a year.”
Ellie crossed her legs.
“So he’s bitter?” Georgia asked.
Christine made an ugly noise, somewhere between a laugh and a cry. “Him? I couldn’t say. I am.”
Georgia exchanged glances with Ellie.
“Why?” Georgia followed up.
“My father died ten years ago. Right after we got married. He left me—and my brother—some real estate. A shopping center in Joliet. It turned out to be pretty lucrative when it was sold. It was clearly an inheritance, but my ex-husband tried to claim it was part of our marital assets. We had to jump through hoops to prove it wasn’t.”
Christine crossed her arms. “No, I don’t think you do. I had to waste over a hundred thousand dollars. On top of supporting Molly, since I make more than Terry.”
“I thought you said he’s a doctor,” Georgia said.
Christine’s mouth tightened. “He is.”
Must be nice to make that kind of money, Georgia thought and looked over at Foreman, who was frowning. Was she thinking the same thing?
“And then, when the lawyers realized they’d soaked us for as much as they could, and made their quota for the week or the month or whatever, they settled the case. In three days. Don’t ever mention the word ‘lawyer’ to me.”
Foreman ran a hand down her arm. Her ex-husband was a lawyer, Georgia recalled.
“Was any of your—bitterness—directed toward Molly?”
Christine shook her head. “We tried to keep her out of it. We knew we would probably share custody, regardless of the money situation, and we didn’t want to put her in the middle of it. At least I didn’t.”
Her words sounded scripted. Was she hiding something? “Do you have any reason at all to think you ex-husband took your daughter?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“Where do you work?”
“At Midwest National Bank. I’m the director of IT.”
She nodded. “I used to run the computer systems. Make sure they’re secure. Make acquisitions. Do maintenance. Facilitate our online activities. Manage the staff. But I was promoted recently. I still have responsibility for IT, but I’m also an Officer in Account Management.”
“Basically hand-holding major customers. Making sure they’re happy. Encouraging them to use as many of our services as possible. That kind of thing.”
“That’s a promotion?”
“That’s what they tell me,” she said dryly. “Midwest isn’t really that big. Despite the building downtown. We…” Her voice suddenly trailed off as if she’d just realized how inappropriate it was to be talking about her job at a time like this.
Georgia persisted. “That’s an unusual mix: computer geek and customer service.”
Messenger’s expression was tight. “I was part of a new business pitch for a customer who requires a lot of online banking. It made sense to have me work with them. But, really, I don’t understand what this has to do with Molly.”
If Christine Messenger earned more than her husband, a doctor already earning a nice chunk of change, she was a very senior level officer. Still. Georgia checked her watch. “Mrs. Messenger, you need to call your ex-husband. And then you need to call the police.”
“I told Ellie. No police. They said they’d hurt Molly.”
Georgia leaned forward. “Listen to me. The police get these kinds of cases all the time. They know how to deal with them. They’ll work the case in a quiet, clandestine way so that Molly is protected.”
Christine tilted her head, as though she hadn’t considered that.
“And they have capabilities neither Ellie nor I have. Resources and connections all over the country, not just Chicago.”
A look of horror shot across Christine’s face. “Do you think they took my baby to another state?”
Georgia dodged a direct answer. “As I understand it, there hasn’t been a ransom demand yet, right?”
“What, exactly, did he say when he called?”
Christine tightened her lips. “Just that he had Molly, and that if I wanted her back unharmed, I’d be here when he called again.”
She shook her head.
“Do you have any idea what he might be after?”
“No.” Her voice was reticent, even timid.
“Maybe he’s trying to figure out how much he can demand,” Ellie said.
“Maybe,” Georgia said. “Or he’s still working on a getaway plan.”
“But why Chris? Why Molly?” Ellie looked at Chris. “You have no idea?”
“How many times do I need to tell you? I don’t know a goddam thing. All I know is that I want my baby back.” Tears welled in Christine’s eyes. “Whatever it costs, I’ll pay. You need to know that.”
Georgia sighed. “I get it. Which is why you really need to bring in the police. They can trace the call when it comes. Maybe bring in the FBI to help . And, by the way, if your ex-husband is involved, they’ll know that, too. I can’t emphasize it enough. You’re doing your daughter a disservice if you don’t.”
A tear rolled down Christine’s cheek. “If you heard the man on the phone, you wouldn’t say that. His voice was… so cold. He specifically said that I had to—just—please. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“The longer you hold off, the harder it gets. A trail grows cold quickly. I wish I could help you, Mrs. Messenger, but this is the best advice I have. If you want, I’ll call my former boss. His name is Dan O’Malley, and he’s the Deputy Chief of Police for the village.”
“If I do—call the police—and my daughter is hurt or …” Christine couldn’t finish. She slumped in her chair.
Georgia pulled out her cell and went into the hall to call. Waiting for it to connect, she gazed around. Clustered around a window in the living room was a group of plants. Their leaves were thick and shiny. Georgia remembered the flowers outside, growing in gay abandon. In addition to a high-powered career, Christine Messenger had a green thumb. Georgia had bought plants for her apartment last fall. She watered them, fed them, even talked to them, after someone told her it would help. By Christmas, though, they looked sick and weak, and by the end of January, they were dead.