The Simsville Inheritance
Copyright ©2006 Elizabeth G. Cox. All rights reserved.

Chapter 7 - City Council in Session

The back room of the Saloon wasn't well known to most patrons. Down a narrow hallway past the restrooms and storeroom, it was closed off with an ordinary door and secured with a deadbolt. It was furnished with one well-used pool table, a dart board, a bar with coffee maker and cups, a metal cabinet housing a high-tech computer system, and a large round table with chairs. This was the sanctuary of the Simsville City Council, home to the weekly poker games that followed every council session. There was no window, but a solid metal door led to the private parking lot in back. The council usually entered by way of this back door.

Judy Greenland detoured to the kitchen to collect a pot of coffee and tray of sweet rolls. The morning regulars had come and gone; the lunch crowd would soon be arriving. Leaving routine instructions with her staff she returned to the back room, distributing coffee and rolls around the table before taking a seat. The Dunstons sat apart from each other, Charlie next to Jones, Lisa next to Green. Green patted Lisa's hand, whispering "It'll be okay, we'll get her back safe and sound."

"What happened to Charlotte's GPS, Charlie? Wasn't it turned on?" Jones started the discussion.

"The daggum thing was off. She's supposed to have it on all the time but she got to where she thought we were snooping on her and kept it off half the time. I thought putting it in the base of her handbag was better than the car, since she walked so much and rode that colt of hers so much. Guess I was wrong." Charlie clenched his jaw, thinking about where Charlotte might be, what she might be going through.

"Okay. Let's take stock of what we know. When did you see her last?" Jones looked over at Lisa. Lisa pulled her cigarette pack out of her purse and lit up, then she and Charlie took turns relating events. Lisa was sitting at the breakfast table reading the morning paper and drinking a cup of coffee when Charlotte came through the kitchen. Charlotte just grabbed a cereal bar to eat on the run, like she usually did. And like she usually did, Lisa nagged Charlotte to eat a better breakfast than that and complained that she spent too much time at the stables. Charlotte had just brushed her mother off with a quick hug and a smile. Charlie was in the shower when Charlotte left the house and hadn't seen her at all. It was just an ordinary morning, nothing unusual at all.

"When did you first know something was wrong?"

Lisa answered. "She almost always came home for lunch, it's about the only time we sit down together. We eat around 1:00, but she's always back before then so she can shower. She wasn't there by 1:00 but we figured she just got sidetracked, something's always going on with that horse. I called her cell and got her voice mail so I just left a note, it's lunch time baby, that sort of thing. When she wasn't there by 1:30 we went ahead and ate." Lisa's voice was sharp, hard and distressed. She took a long drag on her cigarette, thumping the ash into her empty coffee cup.

Charlie took up the account. "I was in my study when the phone rang, but since Charlotte wasn't home yet I figured it was her explaining about missing lunch. Lisa picked it up in the kitchen, then called down the hall for me to answer the phone. It was a guy saying he had Charlotte, I'd have one day to get $100,000 ready in small bills and he'd call again. Then he said, no cops of any kind and hung up before I could get out a word. The whole call lasted maybe twenty or thirty seconds. No longer than that." Charlie fiddled with his empty coffee cup and Green rose to give everyone a refill.

"What time was that?" "You didn't recognize the voice at all?" "You sure money's all he wanted?" "$100,000 isn't much in today's standards." Several voices spoke at once.

The call had come in about 2:30. The voice was not familiar to Charlie or Lisa. Money was all he seemed interested in, and yes it did seem a small amount, considering...

After the kidnapper hung up Charlie immediately hit star six-nine, but the recorded message was no help. Then he'd tried Charlotte's cell phone again. This time there was a recorded message saying the cell was turned off. That's when he searched for Charlotte's GPS signal on his home computer and discovered her device was also turned off. He had immediately started making arrangements to collect the $100,000. It took a number of calls to get that much cash in small bills transferred to the Simsville bank without arousing too much curiosity. A very discreet man, Johnson had not asked any questions; he'd merely stated in a serious tone that if Charlie needed anything else anything to please call on him. The money now occupied a soft-sider suitcase locked in the trunk of Dunston's sedan.

"You haven't gotten another call yet about the money?" Silver asked. He had pulled a little spiral book from his inside coat pocket and was jotting down notes as they talked.

"No. I expected another call before now, but no. The guy said no cops but you all aren't cops. Lisa was dead set against me getting you involved and we argued over it all night, but we've lost too much time already. I've got our home phone forwarded to my cell. We need to be doing something." He looked over at Jones, then around the circle. Catching Lisa's eye, he added, "We're open to suggestions." She reluctantly nodded her agreement.

Jones shared what little information he had with the group. They had discovered Charlotte's car was still at the stable. The keys were in the ignition but her purse was gone. Fargo looked healthy and happy in his stall. Jones had already asked Black about who Charlotte left with and when, and whether she said anything about coming back to get her car. Black had seen her walk her colt out of the stall and waved good morning but hadn't seen her after that. None of the stable hands remembered her leaving but they all had chores to do and weren't paying attention. It seemed like a normal morning.

Green pushed her chair back and headed to the kitchen to prepare a batch of sandwiches. No use ignoring their stomachs while they discussed what to do.

By the time they finished eating lunch everyone had an assignment. Silver would use the city tax database to research possible places the girl could be held within a reasonable distance. He'd run down details on ownership, occupancy and access.

Jones would gather up some equipment, then go over to the Dunston house and install tracing equipment on the phone line. It was a long shot but worth a try. He would get lists of all the girl's friends from Lisa, then start background checks on all of them. He'd include brothers and fathers of her friends as well as the male staff at the high school.

In the meantime Green would use that list and make calls to Charlotte's female friends with a plausible story about why she was looking for her, see if there were any new male acquaintances the parents weren't aware of.

Smith would return to the stables and enlist Black's help. She would do checks on all the other horse owners, their families and employees, anyone who had the run of the stables. Black would re-talk with their own stable hands, find out what Charlotte's normal routine was with her horse and make sure no-one saw anything or anyone out of the ordinary on the grounds. She left the stable somehow. How?

Charlie Dunston would take the cash over to the bank, Johnson would insert chemical agents in some of it and a tracking device in one stack of bills, then Charlie would return home, unforward his home phone and await the kidnapper's call.

The council members agreed to make frequent progress reports to Jones by cell phone. Doing their best to reassure the parents, they dispersed to begin working on their assignments.

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