The Thousand Words

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Chapter 7

I waited until Wednesday morning to start my search for Sarah Jacobs even after telling the client I would start last night. My meeting with Bruno went on longer than anticipated after spending almost two hours shooting on the range. Carrying a concealed weapon is something I never felt comfortable with even though I have been around them since birth. Using them at a controlled firing range is a different story. It always felt good to practice even though I didn’t like having a gun on me when out in public.

I was once again driving my nondescript Toyota that I normally use for anything remotely related to surveillance. I was headed into Blue Ash to one of the seemingly endless office buildings that lined Reed Hartman Highway to the specific location where Sarah Jacobs worked. It was a beautiful morning outside and I wished I was taking photographs someplace instead of trying to locate a missing fiancée who was hopefully not even missing.

Sarah worked in the sourcing department of a large multinational corporation. Their office building in Blue Ash was just one among many throughout the local area and the world. I didn’t have high hopes for today because Sarah Jacobs worked for a large company. Locating and taking pictures of someone in a small office, retail, or restaurant setting is a great deal easier. Places like this tended to have hundreds if not close to a thousand employees coming and going at various times, which made it harder to find one person amongst the multitude of workers. These locations usually have security with sophisticated electronic badge readers preventing me from getting into the building and wandering around.

I decided to head over near lunchtime as around noon is usually the best time to find someone. There are a lot of people coming and going for lunch and less of a chance to be stuck in a meeting around this time. I had tried calling her office phone a number of times but got nothing except her generic voice mail each attempt. Her Facebook page was infrequently updated so the platform provided no helpful information.

I pulled into the far end of the visitors parking area where it had a good view of the main entrance and the lobby area, and waited for a few minutes pretending to check paperwork in the passenger seat. No one seemed to be paying any attention to me at all. It looked like their security was typical, mainly concentrated on the building itself than on the grounds where people were always coming and going.

It was just about noon. I decided to sit for a bit pretending I was waiting for someone to join me for lunch and just watch the building for employees who are entering or leaving. I have gotten lucky in the past so there was some potential for success. I had my camera out across my legs in case she made an appearance. I had a much smaller lens attached since I was much closer and wanted to be a bit less conspicuous.

Right around noon, a number of people headed out to their cars. No one came close to matching Sarah’s description or profile picture. There were a number of other vehicles leaving the parking lot. These were not the employees coming out of the main lobby, so there must have been a few other exits that couldn’t be seen from my vantage point. I never saw her car drive out but she could have easily left with a coworker.

I kept watching for the next half an hour with no luck at all. I tried calling her office number one more time with no answer, so I decided to change tactics. I backed out of the parking spot and drove slowly around the lot pretending I was searching for a good place to park. Actually, I was looking for her car. A white Honda Civic. Another generic car that would be good for surveillance. An unremarkable vehicle also made it difficult to find in such a large parking lot. After going up and down most of the rows without finding the car I went back to my spot in the visitors parking area.

I waited for another hour keeping track of the people during their lunch break. No one paid any attention to me at all which was positive. Made my job much easier. I kept an empty envelope on my lap covering up the camera in case anyone got close enough to see. A man in a car with a large camera on his lap could have drawn attention. A few phone calls were returned while I waited. I simply looked like another regular person slaving away doing whatever my job was during another hectic work week.

Right around one-thirty, Jane called my cell. “Skyline Chili. How may I help you?” I answered cheerfully.

“Gee. Your greetings never get old,” she said in her normal annoyed voice. “We have a few things to go over with the latest batch of internet orders. There are a couple of special requests I want to get your opinion on. Nothing major. Just a couple of changes to the standard framing and matting raising our costs more than normal. Want to go over the costs with you to see if the customer should be charged more or not. How are things going on your end?”

“No progress at all. I figured I had a bit of time before I headed to downtown for my meeting at the paper. Was hoping to get lucky but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

“You really need to work on your phrasing and setting me up so easily. It’s just too easy sometimes.” She was laughing. Jane had a frequently dirty mind and wasn’t afraid to show it. She was always quite suggestive in her thoughts and quite willing to express them.

“Whatever,” I said trying to blow her off. “I will make a quick stop by on my way downtown so we can talk. One more thing here I want to try. Anything else?”

“Nope. Good luck and see you in a bit.” She hung up.

I packed up my camera in a generic bag to prevent possible theft when I left it in the car, got out, locked up and walked towards the lobby entrance. I had on a decent pair of khakis and a polo shirt for my meeting later on today so I didn’t look out of place. It was a much better option than the jeans and henleys or t-shirts I generally wore for this kind of work.

The main lobby was an impressive large open area that was almost three full stories tall, all framed by glass. Different sitting areas were strategically placed for people to wait comfortably. There were a number of banners hanging over the reception counter along the back wall with generic company slogans. The other walls had various display cases with products and information on services they provided. It must cost them a fortune to heat and cool this enormous space year round but I bet they didn’t care. The additional costs must be justified for the impression it gave visiting customers and clients.

I walked up to the main receptionist counter where there were a couple of young attractive women ready to provide whatever help was needed. “Hello. What can I help you with today?” The one on the left asked me as I approached.

“I am trying to get a hold of Sarah Jacobs in sourcing,” I said as I held up an empty envelope I was carrying. “Can you try and contact her for me please?”

“No problem,” she replied. She looked down at her computer and started typing. No doubt looking Sarah’s number up in the corporate directory. She grabbed the phone and called. After about thirty seconds, she hung up. “I am sorry she is not picking up her extension. Do you want to leave the documents for her? I will make sure she gets it.”

“No thank you. This is something she needs to sign.” I lied. “Do you mind if I wait for a few minutes and have you try again?”

“No problem,” the receptionist said again as she must hundreds of times each day. “Feel free to wait over there.”

“Thanks,” I said. I headed over to one of the empty seating areas and waited. The seats were an industrial style that is only ever found in office buildings but were surprisingly comfortable. Each area had a low table in the middle containing sales literature for the company neatly laid out. The thought was if you were going to wait in their lobby your only option is to learn more about their company. This obviously became the standard before everyone started carrying cell phones and could check email or surf the internet while waiting.

So naturally, playing on my cell phone was what I started doing along with everyone else who was waiting. I read my email, paid a few bills online and checked the latest headlines from the news. After a few minutes, I headed back up to the receptionist.

“Do you mind calling again to see if she is back?” I asked politely. “I have a few other stops to make this afternoon.” Polite urgency works best in these situations.

She picked up the phone and tried again, twice. I could tell no one answered either time. “I am sorry, sir. She is still not picking up either her work or cell phone.”

I glanced at my feet pretending to think, hoping I had the same numbers she did. Not wanting to ask, I looked up a moment later like I had a good idea. “Is there one of her colleagues you could call to see if she is here in the office? I am not sure if she is at one of the other buildings today or not.”

“Sorry,” she answered. “I really don’t know her co-workers in her department, so I wouldn’t know who to call.” The vast number of employees is a problem with large corporations. Most people are just random faces coworkers get used to seeing on a daily basis. Not more than an employee ID number where names are forgotten soon after. “You can leave whatever she needs to sign. She will get it.”

“No thanks,” I said. “I appreciate all of your help. Thanks again.” I turned around and walked back to my car. No luck but I didn’t exactly expect any. No idea if she was there, stuck in some meeting or some all-day training and not answering her phone. It was worth a shot. Hopefully, I would have better luck tonight at her apartment.

I got in my car, started it up and headed out of the parking lot towards my meeting downtown. Remembering I had to meet with Jane, I changed directions and headed to my office instead.

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