The sling my arm rested in was making me itch and restricting my movements. I rolled my shoulder again, biting down on the pain, as Eli and I walked into Claire and Julie Jenkins’s house.
The lounge was trashed, the coffee table on its side, broken glass laying on the floor, and the pictures thrown off the wall.
Julie, Claire’s mother, told us that a man forced his way into her house after she got back from her morning walk with the baby, and told her to keep looking out the window, at my house, until the red car leaves, and to run over and tell me that he took her child and that he wanted his Lilly back.
He gave us till sunset to have Lilly back in Portland, or the baby will be sent to the mother in pieces. Forensics was working the house, and Eli and another officer went upstairs. The pram, the same purple and black one I saw every morning going past my house, lay on its side, the blankets scattered on the floor.
Julie came in, escorted by an officer, her hands shaking and her face dripping in tears.
I turned to her, “Mrs. Jenkins, where is your baby bag?” I asked, knowing exactly how much shit little kids needed with them when setting foot out of the house.
“He took it with him. He made me get her bottles ready, pack extra diapers, a change of clothes…” She stopped, her cries stealing her words.
I nodded, that’s all I needed to know. I went to the stairs, “Eli!” I shouted up to him.
He came downstairs, “Hey, you got something?” He asked.
I motioned for us to step outside, leaving the mother with the police inside.
“Claire could still be alive. He had the mom pack a go bag for the kid. Bottles, nappies, that kind of stuff,” I looked at my watch, “We have about nine hours before sunset, let’s not waste a second. You finish up here, I’m going to see if Gail can find anything.” I said.
“Yeah, ok.” He said, going back inside.
I walked back to my house, only a short distance down the road, and went in. Gail, two officers, and three techs from her lab were setting up computers on the dining table.
She turned to me with a smile, “Almost set up here. How did it go at the house?”
I went over, moving out the way of the techs running cables along the floor, “There is a chance Claire is still alive. He has supplies for the baby and gave us till sundown. How long will this take to be up and running?”
She stuck her hands on her hips, “Um, about five minutes. Just getting the last of the cables laid down, and we’re good to go.”
“Good. Anything I can do to speed this up?”
She looked at my sling, then at me, “No, we got this. But a pot of coffee would be great.”
Perfect. Now all I’m good for is making coffee. I need to get rid of this sling!
I went to the kitchen, prepped the coffee machine, and waited, tapping my fingers on the counter as the machine did what it did.
Gail called out, “We’re up!” From the other room and I went over to her.
Three screens stood around her, all waking up and displaying a strange neon colored mosaic as the wallpaper.
Gail twisted her neck, the bones cracking, “Where do we start?” She asked.
“Let’s check for any cameras in the area. Home security, dash cams, anything that could have picked him up. Julie said she got home from her walk at about eight thirty, so start from eight."
Footsteps coming into my house made me turn to find Eli and Tom coming in.
“Hey, anything?” I asked Eli, but he shook his head.
Tom came over, “What’s all this?” He asked gesturing to the digital set up now taking over my entire table.
Gail looked up at him, “You said you wanted us together, and safe. I can’t go to the lab, so I brought the lab here.”
She turned back to the screens, her fingers moving without her looking, as the three of us stood watching, waiting. Hoping.
Toms phone rang.
He pulled it from his pocket, “Dispatch,” He said showing us the screen then put it to his ear. He listened for a moment, then “Where?” He shouted out, looking at me. “On our way.” He said, ended the call and looked at me, “A call just came in from a gas station outside of the city, on Clackamas highway, heading towards Eagle Creek. A man spotted with a baby. Owner of the gas station is a friend of the mothers, recognized the kid, called it in. Gail get on it, let's go!” Tom said.
We all ran out of the house, climbed into Eli’s Landrover and gunned it towards the city limits, leaving Gail with six cops in the house.
She’s safe. She’s safe.
We approached the gas station, a patrol car already there, and climbed out. An older man, maybe late fifties, stood with the officers. Another young man looked like his son, stood by the pump talking to another officer.
I went over to the old man, “Excuse me, sir, I’m detective Mason, Portland PD. What happened?” I asked in a rush.
He looked at my sling for a second then at me, “I know Julie. Her husband and I go hunting together. This guy pulled in and my son went to fill his tank, saw Claire in the car. He babysits her sometimes when we all go on a hunt. He told me, and I called you guys.”
“Does he know you recognized her?” I asked.
“No. Josh didn’t say anything, and I kept my mouth shut. Phil, Julie’s husband told me what’s going on. He’s in LA on business now and I didn’t want to risk Claire getting hurt.”
“What car was he in?”
“White Pickup. Ford F-150. He had a bunch of gear in the back like he was going camping or hunting. It's not hunting season yet, but there are a lot of cabins out here.”
I reached for my phone, “Thank you.” I said, dialing Gail.
She picked up, “What am I looking for?”
“White Ford F-150, out by the gas station on Clackamas highway. He has Claire. She still alive.” I said with a smile.
I heard her smile as she said “Oh thank God. Ok, I will call you if I have anything.”
I hung up and went over to Eli, “Let's get more units out here, start searching the cabins. Tell them to come in quiet. If he knows we’re on to him, you and I both know what he will do.”
He gave me a stern nod, leaving me scratching at my arm again.
That’s it! This thing is coming off!
I pulled the Velcro straps of the sling and released my arm, groaning at the pain of my shoulder moving.
Tom came over, “We got units in route, but I just got off the phone with Gail, and we have around sixty cabins out here to search. If he spots us before we can get to him, its over. Can you think of any way to narrow it down?”
I bit my lip, looking around at the tall power lines across the street, the cars flying past on the highway, the Pine trees around us. I squinted up at the blue sky, thinking.
Where are you? Why all the gear in the truck? Why come all the way out here, out of the city? What are you up to?
I pulled my phone out and called Gail.
The smile in her voice made my own lips twitch, “Hey Paul. Anything?”
“No, not yet. Can you do a search on me? Have a look if anyone I know owns a cabin out here?” I asked.
It’s about me. It’s been about me from the beginning.
Her fingers tapped, the clicking of her nails on the keys almost deafened by the cars on the street.
“Ok, I got something.” She said with hesitation.
I sighed, “Tell me, Gail.”
“Ok… Addison’s dad used to rent a cabin out here. Hasn’t been back for about fifteen years, but the cabin is still around. Rented out for the night this morning. I’m sending you the coordinates now.”
Hearing Addison’s name like that hurt more than I expected. Her face flashed in my mind, only this time it was her smile. Her happy eyes as we danced under the stars on our wedding night.
“Thanks,” I said and hung up, staring at the screen for a moment. A text coming in jerked my mind from the past, and I pushed myself back into the moment.
I turned away from the street, “Tom, Eli!” I called.
They came over, “We have a possible location. Looks like its about four miles North East of here. There’s a dirt road that leads there, but it’s too open. He will see us coming.” I said, showing them the map on my phone.
I looked at my watch, “We have about six hours of sunlight left. We’re gonna have to go about two miles in by car, and the rest of the way on foot.”
Tom nodded and turned back to the officers at the station, “Alright everyone, gear up. We have a location, high-risk approach, vulnerable hostage and a fucking lunatic, possibly armed and very dangerous!” He called out.
Eli and I went to the back of his car, he opened the trunk, and his mandatory police equipment bag lay in the back. He opened it up, and pulled out a vest, handing one to me, and taking another out for himself. He pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun, a box of rounds and extra mags for our service pistols.
I struggled to get the strap of my vest around my body, my arm burning in pain with every movement. Eli finished strapping on his vest and helped me get mine done.
He checked it, hitting the large white POLICE sign on the front, “You ready for this?”
I took a deep breath, my chest restricted by the heavy armor, “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
I took my gun from its holster, checking the magazine.
Please let this work. Please let this end.
Tom came over to us, tightening the last of his straps on his vest, followed by four officers all ready for battle.
He waited till everyone was gathered and said, “Alright everyone, you all know what we’re dealing with here. Our main priority is to get that child out alive and unharmed. This guy is unstable and unpredictable, so if you get a shot at him, take it. Put that son of a bitch down. Do not hesitate. As far as we know, there is no one except the child with him. We will approach by car from the East, stop two miles short of the cabin and walk the rest of the way. We go in quiet. We get that kid out, and we take him down. Let’s not fuck this one up, guys.”
Everyone looked at each other, nodding. We climbed into Eli’s car and made our way onto the dirt road. My leg bouncing in its spot and heart pounding. We stopped at the designated area, gathered at the path, and everyone checked their weapons one more time.
We started walking up the hill, the group spread out, and after about an hour, we spotted the cabin through the trees.
Tom spoke quietly through the earpiece, “Ok, that’s it. A white Pickup truck parked in front of the door. It's him. Spread out around the cabin, keep your distance, don’t let him see you.”
I sank down to my haunches, Eli and Tom next to me and the clearing in the forest flashed in my mind.
I have a bad feeling about this.
“Tom, there’s no way to get close without him seeing us. It’s to open around the cabin.” I whispered.
Eli said, “We need to draw his attention to one side of the cabin, and breech from the other. It’s the only chance we have to save this kid.”
I bit my lip for a moment, thinking. I spoke quietly through the mike, “Officer Lloyd, are you on the far-left side of the cabin?”
A crackly voice said, “Yes. Just waiting for the go ahead.”
“I need you to move back, into the woods about two hundred yards, and fire off a single round with that rifle of yours.”
Tom and Eli frowned at me.
“It’s not hunting season, but these parts are renowned for illegal hunting this time of year. The gunshot will draw him to the left side of the cabin but shouldn’t seem too much out of place. I’m sure it won’t be the first one he’s heard out here today.”
We waited for Officer Lloyd to tell us he was in position and ready to fire the shot. Tom ordered all the men to move to the right side of the cabin, and we waited. Lloyd said he was ready, and Tom nodded.
“Aim low, at the base of a tree. One round… Now!” I said, and the echo of the gun going off carried just enough to be heard inside, but not too close to spook him.
“Breach, now!” Tom ordered, and we ran for the cabin.