It wasn’t too much of a diversion on his way to Lowestoft when the police suggested he visit the headquarters in Wymondham.
As he pulled in to the car park and found a space, the words of Jennifer continued to fill his mind. Surely our only daughter is worth every penny of our savings and more, she had said. Dan, of course, agreed, but this was a complicated and delicate situation.
As he took a seat in an innocuous-looking room, he was provided with a Wi-Fi key, and allowed to connect to their network with his own laptop. This Wi-Fi was only available in certain parts of the building, and was separate from the police network to which most of the computers in the station connected. It was merely there to provide access to the internet for a small group of researchers, administrators and approved guests.
With the laptop turned on and ready, he visited a yellowish webpage of a money transfer service. His own account, which contained several grand after some movement of money, had been filled in automatically. There was a requirement every now and then for a private investigator to use money transfer services to be as discrete as possible.
“Mr Castle, I’ve arranged to trace your funds as far as we can, in the hope of getting something useful.” DCI Hunt said, his olive complexion seeming to clash with his white hair under the fluorescent lighting. He smiled briefly, showing a perfect row of gleaming white teeth. They obviously had better health plans in Norfolk than they had in his Force. “If he moves the money or withdraws it, we’ll know within seconds.”
Dan nodded, paused and furrowed his brow. “You managed to get a Court to sign off on that pretty quickly.”
DCI Hunt shrugged. “I’m sure you remember the days before we needed warrants for everything.” Dan thought he saw a wink before the officer continued, “When a life is on the line, and we’re not gathering evidence, we can justify cutting a couple of corners.”
Dan nodded again, slower than before.
“How much will you be transferring?”
“Five thousand. Enough to show we’re serious about paying, but not enough to break the bank.”
DCI Hunt raised an eyebrow. “I should warn you that you could be throwing your money away here.”
“I understand the warnings.” He looked the officer in the eyes. “Would you pay all of your available money if there was a hope of finding and freeing your own child?”
There was another shrug. It was the shrug of a senior officer who had seen and dealt with almost everything over the years. “I suppose the guidelines go out the window at times such as these.”
Dan smiled with half of his mouth. “You’ve evidenced that already with what you’ve set up for me here.”
The DCI reached for a mug of coffee that never seemed to be too far away and gulped down a drink from which he could see no steam rising. I wonder how many gallons of cold coffee are consumed each year by the police. I certainly consumed my fair share.
Dan’s finger hovered over the enter key with all information entered and checked. Here we go.
As he pressed the key and watched the screen change, DCI Hunt spoke again. “Joshua Billings’ account seems to be registered to a branch of a nationwide bank, situated in a small town in Staffordshire”
Dan knew the location of the holding branch made little difference to anything these days. Their money would be as available in Sudan and Suffolk as it would be in Staffordshire.
Towards the end of the drive, Dan had made several suggestions to the older officer, now sitting across the table from him. Each suggestion had been shot down only seconds after leaving his lips, and long before his arrival at the station.
His first suggestion was the sending of a photo of Joshua to banks, shops and offices in the Lowestoft area. The DCI had explained that the resources to do that properly were not available, and that this was too time-sensitive to be messing around with mugshots. Besides, the B & B incident not long ago would put a lot of people in the town on high-alert when the news spread, as it often did in such places.
Dan’s second suggestion concerned putting a hold on the man’s account. We’re not in a Hollywood movie here, he had said. We can’t just stop people using their bank accounts when we feel without a Court order. We don’t have time to stand in front of a judge and explain the situation. It’s not money laundering, fraud or drugs, so they would say no anyway.
Dan watched as the transaction succeeded, reducing his bank balance by a hefty sum. “What are our chances?” he asked.
The DCI shook his head. “Do you know how many child abduction cases are reported to the police in England, Northern Ireland and Wales every year?”
“I assume you’re going to tell me.”
“Over five hundred. There used to be over a thousand. We’re used to dealing with these kinds of situations.”
“How many of those cases are like this one?”
“Almost a quarter are abducted by estranged parents, slightly less are taken by a friend or relative. That leaves more than half of children being abducted by someone they don’t know.”
The statistics surprised Dan. Like everyone else, he paid attention when child abduction cases made the news. The police started the family to find the whereabouts of the child. In the high-profile cases, if it wasn’t family, it seemed to be a teacher or someone else in a position of trust.
If the statistics that had been recited were accurate, then most of the cases of child abduction didn’t get as far as media coverage. An almost overwhelming feeling of sympathy hit him when he considered the hundreds of parents whose children had not come home, the ones that had never even had the chance to appeal to the public for information.
“Aren’t a lot of those cases tied to arranged marriages and people trafficking?” Dan asked in response to the figures.
“They are, but an increasing number relate to abductors like Joshua Billings. The internet has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for every sick fantasy imaginable. These days, not many cases are as simple as a kidnap for ransom, so this helps us a great deal.”
“We already know the town he’s in,” Dan said, “so how does any of this help?”
“Mr Castle, we are monitoring the roads out of the town between the two Forces. We have reason to suspect he would have left the town as a result of his actions this morning.” He tapped the top of Dan’s laptop screen. “Tracing this money transfer will aid us in either cornering him, or alerting the correct Constabulary to deal with his location.”
Dan nodded again, feeling like a shelf ornament of a car, such was the up-and-down movement of his head during the conversation. “So we’re expecting him to have fled Lowestoft in a panic earlier, and you want to determine whether he is still in East Anglia?”
It was finally the DCI’s turn to nod his head. “That’s correct.” He moved to stand up, probably to refill his coffee mug while he waited. “In the next couple of minutes we’ll know where he is, and we’ll be able to formulate a plan for dealing with him.”
Dan closed the lid of his laptop. “Nothing to do now but sit and wait, I suppose.”
DCI Hunt nodded as he picked up his mug and headed for the door. “I can’t expect we’ll be waiting long.”
Dan started to feel uneasy. He asked for twenty five thousand. I sent him five. How will he react?
If Joshua had any sense, he would gratefully receive the money, release the girl, and do his best to hide. Rarely, however, did criminals (especially infamous criminals) make the wisest of choices. Greed, power or purpose clouded their judgement. Dan had to hope that Joshua could still keep his head clear enough to see the value in keeping Abigail alive and unharmed. The next hour or so would be certain to reveal more about the character of the kidnapper than he had revealed in the hours that had preceded it.