I ran over to the passenger seat and hopped into the car. Bruno pulled away from the alley quickly. He headed north into the bowels of the city away from anyone locally who may be searching for an escaping suspect. Relief flooded over me as the car sped away, taking us farther and farther from the police station.
After a few moments, Bruno broke the silence. “How was the interrogation? Did you hold up OK? You didn’t confess to everything, did you?”
“It was fine,” I said ignoring his barb. “The only time I got riled up is when they said Zoe Burke and Sarah Jacobs looked like Hannah. It was a low blow and I lost it for a minute.”
“They were doing it just to get a rise out of you. I’m glad you were able to regain your focus. Any issues getting out? No one was following you at all. I waited for a few blocks to be sure before picking you up.”
“No one paid any attention to me in the least bit. Following my dad’s advice over the years, I simply acted like I belonged there and had the authority to do whatever I was doing. Works every time. I only really made eye contact with one person the whole way out. Someone in the stairwell who looked familiar but I can’t remember for the life of me where from.”
“Good. If the person you encountered in the stairwell didn’t stop you, then don’t worry about it. Maybe when this is all over you might remember who they were. I wasn’t sure if you were smart enough to catch my clue on what you needed to do.” It was another small shot from Bruno intended to cheer me up and not necessarily to poke fun. I really needed to find some new friends.
“I caught it quick enough but I thought it might be your senility rearing its ugly head again,” I countered not wanting the jab to go unreturned. Changing the subject, I said, “You confirming Jane was kidnapped really threw the dynamic duo for a loop. Why?”
“Their whole belief of you being guilty of killing all three of the victims was predicated on two things. First is the fact they completely despise you and second is your seemingly ludicrous story of finding Neil’s body and Jane being kidnapped. They obviously thought the story was just a last-ditch effort to save yourself from death row. Once the kidnapping portion of your version of the events was proven to be true, it threw a wrench into everything. For as much as they hate you, even those two wouldn’t railroad anyone for a felony crime like murder. They saw what they wanted to see.”
“It is somewhat of a relief I guess. They were really gunning for me. When this is all over you are going to have to tell me what my dad did to have them hate both of us so much.” I was tired but extremely motivated to find and rescue Jane.
We rode in silence for a few minutes as Bruno drove in a northerly direction out of the city and into the surrounding suburbs. He stayed on side streets as much as possible, most likely staying away from any cameras that might capture a glimpse of us together. Plausible deniability. A favorite phrase of those up to no good.
I finally broke the silence. “What about the business card from my client got you so excited? Did you find my client using a different name?” I was anxious about what was next in finding Jane but I couldn’t get that specific question out of my head.
“I was wondering when you were going to ask,” Bruno smiled as he responded. “You were always one to read creative writing when you were growing up. You always had your nose buried in those science fiction and fantasy series when you didn’t feel like talking to the adults and wanted to be left alone.”
“Don’t make fun,” I shot back. My dad had never understood my desire to get lost in something so far from reality.
“I’m not at all. Just making a point.” Bruno was using his lecture voice, indirectly telling me to shut up and listen once again. “Your father and I, on the other hand, were more a fan of non-fiction and true crime stories. Subject matter rooted in reality and based on what actually happened in the world. Not better or worse, simply different.
“The name is what struck me right away when I saw the business card. There are a ton of people out there who don’t go by their actual first name. Heck, everybody calls me Bruno instead of my real first name.”
“Brunello,” I said out loud, unable to resist temptation.
Bruno held a finger up and pointed it at me. “That’s a free one. The only one you get. Just remember you can easily be replaced with Kelsey. She is much better company and far more attractive.”
I turned to look out the window, not allowing Bruno to see me smiling like a little kid who had just gotten away with something.
“My point being,” Bruno continued, “is all of the database searches take people using their middle name or nicknames into account. People go by nicknames, their middle names, or a derivation of their first name all of the time. The search program uses the variations people use with their names and includes those results with the direct ones. It was the actual name that garnered my attention. W. John Burns. I am assuming it means nothing to you at all, otherwise you would have said something.”
“Nothing rings a bell at all. I searched for him online mainly using John Burns but also W. John Burns and got nowhere at all. Too much of a common name to find anything of value. There was a ridiculous number of results even here in the local area.”
“The exact problem with internet searches. Trying to find the right information in a sea of clutter. Anyway, I would bet my life that the full name the client was using was William John Burns, or more importantly, William J. Burns.”
“In a way, you bet my life on that thought,” I responded back.
Bruno paused for a few beats. “You have a very valid point. My apologies.”
“I am assuming you know who he is. Care to explain?”
“William J. Burns is the most famous of detectives here in the United States, even though few people have ever heard of him. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the person who created the famous character and a friend of his, once called William J. Burns the American Sherlock Holmes. William J. Burns started off by helping a private detective up in Columbus with some cases and he was hooked. He later joined the U.S. Secret Service where he quickly became a rising star, closing a large number of high-profile cases where he seemingly was able to always be two steps ahead of both the criminals and his fellow agents. He even served as the Director of what would become the FBI.
“He created one of the most famous detective agencies which was named after him, second only to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. It was hugely successful for decades. He spent the last part of his life writing true crime novels and stories based on his exploits through his long and storied career.
“William J. Burns himself was a master at going undercover on many of the cases he worked on. He acted like someone else to get the information they needed or to persuade someone else to do something he wanted them to do.”
Bruno let the last statement hang in the air and allowed my brain to grasp what he was saying.
“So what you are telling me is John Burns is a completely fake name the client used to get me to do something?”
“Bingo,” Bruno replied back, happy I was following him. “We had thought all along someone was setting you up in this whole thing but this proves it to me. The fact William J. Burns was a famous private detective, the same as you, is way too much of a coincidence. Well, actually famous, but you get my meaning. Your client isn’t missing. He was the one setting you up to take the fall for all of the murders.”
Everything Bruno said was in line with what was happening. Only one thing didn’t make any sense to me. “Why?” I asked.
“The million dollar question. Regardless, they want to punish you for something. Revenge of some sort. The key to getting Jane back is to find your client, whoever he is.”
“Easier said than done. We have nothing to go on. I looked for him over a couple of days after Sarah Jacobs showed up dead and couldn’t find a single thing. At least then I had a name to go on. I don’t have anything now.”
Bruno was quiet again for a few minutes as he continued to drive. I had seen the thought-provoking look on his face before. Indecision on whether or not he should tell me something. He finally spoke, “I have an idea of where to begin next. I have to go confirm something first as this is too important to rely strictly on my memory.”
I let an obvious senility retort go unspoken. It was too easy. “So what’s next?” I asked.
“A number of things. First off, go home and grab what you need for a few days for stakeout type of work. Clothes, shoes, snacks, and most importantly your camera gear. Bring your big lenses. The good stuff. The ones where you can take a picture of an insect from a mile away.” An exaggeration but I knew what he meant.
“Second, grab your dad’s gun if you still have it,” he continued. “Let me rephrase, get the gun if they didn’t take it as part of the search of your home and office. Grab ammunition as well. I know you know how to use it even if you don’t like it. You need to be prepared if you encounter these guys again. Shoot to kill and ask questions in the aftermath.
“Also, give Kelsey a quick call and let her know what is going on. Some point soon it’s going to hit the fan and you need to make sure she is protected. Tell her to stay at a friend’s place or her parents. Anywhere but her place or yours. We have no idea if they know about her, but it is not worth taking a chance.
“Finally, when you’re finished, I need you to go to the following location.” He handed me a slip of paper with an address that was completely unfamiliar. “He’s a friend and will be a safe place. Just be careful with everything. Get in and out of your house as soon as possible.”
“As long as all of this helps get Jane back safely, I will do whatever it takes. What are you going to be doing in the meantime?” I asked, hoping to get some detail of his actions.
“I need to review an old case file to verify something. Specifically, the transcript of an interview from a number of years ago. I have a copy of it at my house and want to confirm this noggin is still working properly. Depending on how long it takes me to locate and confirm my theory, we should finish around the same time. Hopefully, we will know what the hell is happening.”
I had no hesitation Bruno’s mind was still firing on all cylinders. The fact he had a copy of whatever he needed at his house was proof to me it was a case close to him. Detectives only keep copies of investigation paperwork for the select few cases which kept them up at night. He would tell me when he was ready, so I didn’t push for more detail.
“Anything else you want me to do?” I asked.
“Not right now, but make sure you are ready. Before this is all over, I have a feeling the situation is going to get much worse.”
Before I could ask what he meant, his cell phone rang. He looked and the caller ID and put the phone back in his pocket.
“Looks like the twins finally noticed you were gone. It’s going to get a bit hectic from this moment on.”