Dan had spent as much time as possible poring over the DVD of his distressed daughter before walking through the door of the police station. He felt surrounded by clocks, every one of which seemed to be staring at him, keen to point out that Abigail had already been gone for over three hours.
As had been expected, the police had taken possession of the disc when he had met the officer assigned to the case, DC Keeble. Within seconds it was bagged and tagged and taken to a nearby evidence locker.
He had provided his own fingerprints when requested to aid the police in identifying any on the disc that were not his own. A good kidnapper wouldn’t fail by leaving fingerprints. He kept his thought to himself as his fingertips were covered in black ink and pressed to suitably prepared pieces of paper, knowing any police officer would check anyway. Of course, it’s possible he’s not a good kidnapper.
Relying more upon his own initiative, as opposed to that of some other uninvested investigator, he had kept a forensic copy of the disc for his own continued efforts in finding Abigail.
The officer was perhaps slightly too forthcoming with information, possibly as a result of trusting an ex-copper, or just the need to talk to someone else about it.
“Two other local schoolgirls have also been reported missing this evening,” the young man said, “but you are the first person to have received anything from the kidnapper.”
It was also plausible that Dan was the first civilian to sit in that chair. The police officer looked as much a recent addition as the desk he was sitting behind.
Amid talk of deficits and reductions of police budgets, Dan had expected to encounter scruffy premises, worn chairs all occupied by worn out, over-worked, penniless police officers. The recently refurbished building was a surprise. Maybe the budget cuts aren’t as bad as I thought.
Perhaps appearances were deceptive. Maybe there was a mountain of items in evidence lockers that were still awaiting forensic examination. Maybe the traffic police were driving broken down, rusting cars. Maybe a wage freeze was in effect.
Just a glance around the open plan office helped Dan to realise how quickly things changed. How long have I been gone?
Visiting as a civilian, almost everything had changed. His former colleagues had retired, had been promoted or had moved away. Even the location was different. No longer did they occupy an outdated pre-fab building. The current crop had moved to a renovated building slightly further from the centre of the town, and by the look of it, they had only moved recently.
The changes hadn’t stopped with the location, staff or the furniture. In Dan’s early days, missing children were assumed to have run away, expected to walk through their own front door within hours. It was usually a day or more before the disappearance of a teenage girl was investigated with substantial manpower, unless the circumstances of the case strongly suggested an abduction. In recent years, and with increasing numbers of child-snatching predators, he was pleased to see a different mentality from the boys in blue.
Young Detective Constable Keeble, whose thin, face, peppered with small red spots around is jaw and neck suggested he was still overcoming acne (whilst learning to shave), had shown Dan a list of procedures and protocols relating to missing children. The DVD delivered to Dan had accelerated the police process.
The police had already started to assemble their force to search the homes of the three children. The cases were believed to be linked, and to be the work of a single suspect (or several working together).
Parents and extended family would likely be considered suspects until ruled out. Preparations would be made to go door to door for information. Officers would be asking for a recent photograph for any future media purposes. Phones, computers and digital media would be examined as a priority by Hi-Tech Crime. Unfortunately, even priority cases took weeks rather than hours or days.
Maybe it was his age, or maybe it was his imagination, but Dan wondered whether the crop of police officers surrounding him were old enough to be suitably qualified. What has happened to my former colleagues? Where are the old guard who could be leaned on for a favour or two? Had they been forced into retirement by spiralling budgets and tight-fisted bosses?
The fresh-faced men and women around him looked more suited to the office than to life as an officer of the law. Perhaps their expertise centred on working with stationery rather than walking the streets. There had always seemed to be a certain requirement for aptitude and experience when dealing with crazed paedophiles. Skill was required to catch the kidnappers of young girls. Did this crowd really have what it would take? They seem more adept at resolving paper jams than solving cases.
Dan felt as if he could have said anything, proved any point, and the officers in front of him would have seemed just as keen to nod whilst rolling their eyes, all the while shooing him out of the door. They would insist that they were the professionals, asserting that his daughter’s safe return would be best accomplished by trusting them and newer methods that he would not understand.
I can’t blame them. He shrugged his shoulders. If someone came into my station, citing their many years of experience, analysing and criticising my every move, I would have been far less polite. Dan couldn’t remember being in such an awkward position, but he decided that he was achieving nothing by talking the ears off a detective constable who probably had a dozen or more cases that were deemed urgent by a selection of injured individuals.
As Dan left the police station moments later, throwing his arms aloft and wanting to scream in frustration, he brought his observations concerning the DVD video to the forefront of his mind. He couldn’t leave it all up to the police. I have something to offer here. He wasn’t about to gamble his daughter’s life on someone who looked like they were handling their first child abduction case.
He needed to find the devil amongst the detail of that video. He stood for a moment, closed his eyes, and replayed the video on the screen inside his head. Wishing for a photographic memory, he had to be content with his powers of recollection, aided by the ferociousness with which the video burned itself into his memory.
The video had been made when dusk was fast approaching, but no shadows were cast over the room. It was likely this man had the curtains closed. The man had an unusual accent. It sounded like a fairly generic Mid-West American accent, as if someone had been trying a bit too hard to sound something other than English. He would listen to it again for any key indications of a more local dialect being covered by an amateur American impression.
The television in the background had shown a twenty four hour News channel only available on satellite and cable television. Did that narrow his field of search down these days? Not by much. The last time he counted satellite dishes on a row of typical terraced houses, at least nine out of ten had a grey dish stuck to the exterior of their property.
He concluded that he had nothing. There was nothing in his memory of the video to advance the search for his daughter.
This man wanted money. He wanted the parents to pay a price and then he said he would release their daughter. He wasn’t sure he believed him. He shook his head. If he didn’t plan on releasing her, why would he send me the DVD?
Why would he make it obvious he had the girl? If his plan was to abduct and abuse or kill, wouldn’t it have been better to do that quietly without telling the parents, as so many others had done previously?
Dan was not an expert on criminal profiling, but he could see that this would not be a typical child abuse case. This person was different. He was either clueless or careless, taking unnecessary risks, or he enjoyed playing some twisted game.
Three girls, abducted within minutes of each other, probably using the same methods, did not match the methods of previous kidnappers in the area (as far as he was aware). The difference in approach suggested that the unknown suspect was either doing this for the first time, or he was fairly new to the town.
It was infrequent that a person would intentionally kidnap more than one person at once, especially if they were asking for a ransom. Keeping one prisoner was difficult. Controlling three was crazy. This person seemed to be different. He would certainly know what he was doing. In fact, he had stated that he had done this all before in the video.
He’s in over his head, Dan thought. If he’s unsure of his own methods, he’ll be very clear on mine very soon.
Dan reminded himself of the illegal handgun stashed under the passenger seat of his car. He would need to hide it for the police search of his home. Perhaps I need to drop it off at the office on the way. He suspected the events of the next couple of days would allow the weapon to see the light of day, or to come out of hiding in the dark of night.
With his car keys in his right hand, he clenched a fist so hard that the keys started to dig into his flesh, leaving an outline reminding him of old-school key-copying techniques.
“He’s taken the wrong man’s daughter.” Dan whispered through his teeth. “He will be made to pay dearly for his mistake.”