It took them just over two hours to reach the lakeside cabin. They had hooded Jenny for the final stretch and now Duggan transferred her to a room at the rear of the cabin, with a window looking straight out at tree trunks. As far as she knew, there had been just one kidnapper. He had not spoken and he had been masked when she saw him. While she sat and gazed through the window at the tree, John was weeping for her in Ross's patrol vehicle. She felt deflated, but terror and panic had left her. She felt lonely. There was no human contact, not even with her gaolers.
Hadley, Mitchell and Duggan sat on the porch overlooking the lake, a beer cooler in front of them.
"We've got to exploit this mess to our advantage," Hadley was saying.
"How do you mean, Bill?" Mitchell asked. "I mean, I don't know why we don't shoot her and be done with it."
"No, Bill, it's better for us if we are not on the run. We'll use this to legitimate ourselves." Hadley was thoughtful.
"Doesn't look very likely to me." Duggan was taking Mitchell's side.
"Think about it. This is not police work," Hadley said.
"What do you mean?" Mitchell asked.
"That stuff with the tape, the girl coming to my office," Hadley explained, "that's not what the police do. This guy's on his own."
"So what good does that do us?" Mitchell was getting bored with this.
"Boys, give me three days. I'm going to get to know about this girl and her man. Then I'm going to turn the tables on them. I'm going to have him back off. That's the plan." Hadley had finished. He stood up and went inside.
Hadley started to type a note on his laptop. Win trust with trust, he thought. They think I am the kidnapper. It follows that if they trust the kidnapper, then they will trust me. Because they trust me, when I make it clear that I am not the kidnapper, then they will believe me. If I am not the kidnapper, I am not the bank raider. Therefore they have no reason to investigate me, or Duggan, or Mitchell. Mitchell will say he took off because he was frightened when I was not arrested. He effectively told them that he would do that. The logic may be circular, but it is logic. Earth exists so god must have created it: god must exist or he could not have created earth. What's good enough for the Pope is good enough for me. Win trust with trust. I am going to give her my trust.
Jenny saw the door open three inches. A hand reached in and dropped a sheet of paper and a cell phone. She picked up the paper.
You may talk to your husband for twenty minutes. I suggest you call his cell phone. Do not make any other calls. It will not help and we will withdraw this privilege. If you follow the rules, you can call him tomorrow as well. First, tell him you have twenty minutes, but this is a personal call, not business, and definitely not police business. Tell him there are two rules, just two rules. Rule one is that you do not talk about kidnapping. Rule two is that you do not try to describe where you are (it would be a waste of time anyway, as you have no idea of where you are). Tell him to respect these rules.
We have no desire or intention of harming you or him. Oh, and you can mention that we expect to have you out of here and back home within three days.
Jenny's hand trembled as she reached for the phone. She would not believe this until she heard John's voice on the end of the line. Slowly she tapped the numbers willing the call to go through.
"Hello." It was John's voice. For a moment she could not speak. "Hello, hello." His voice repeated and she had to force herself to speak. As emotion flooded through her it came out in a whisper.
"Jenny, are you alright. Jenny, where are you?" Panic was rising in his voice. She looked down at the paper, drew herself together and read out the rules.
"Do you understand, John?" she asked. "Do you agree to these rules?" He did, and the tension dissipated as they talked. Normality was returning for them both, but twenty minutes was short. She watched the last minute of those twenty minutes slip by on her watch and then respected the trust given to her. She replaced the phone by the door. A hand reached in and withdrew it.
Hadley went back out onto the porch, where the empty beer cans were building. The late afternoon sun was playing on the water, which lapped against the stony beach. Birds flitted across the lake catching insects as they flew. Behind the cabin rose the leafy backdrop of wooded hills with the buzz of wildlife.
"Nice holiday." Bill brought his arm round in a flourish towards the view of the lake.
"What you been doin' in there?" Bob smiled at him and winked. "Something sweet in there, Bill?"
"My plan is going to work. On day four we release her and go home. Now I'm going to take her for a walk. It's part of the plan."
"You what?" It was Jim.
"Look, if she does anything wrong, I shoot her, OK, and we get out of here," Bill said. This satisfied Bob, who told Jim to pipe down.
There was a rear exit from the cabin, which opened onto a path leading straight into the woods. Jenny stepped through the door and set off along the path. The written instructions were clear.
You have been cooped up too long. Go for a walk. Keep to the rear of the cabin in the woods and be back in thirty minutes. I shall be behind you, well disguised, but still, please, do not look at me. You may exchange greetings with anyone you meet, but not more than that, or you must accept the consequences for them. You must be lonely. Feel free to talk. I will listen, but not reply. It is nice to know someone listens to you when you are lonely.
At first she had not been sure, if she should go, but the trees through her window, the outside, had beckoned. A talk with her husband and now a walk in the woods. She began to hum to herself, and then, as if remembering the last sentence, she began to talk out loud, softly at first, but someone was listening and she gained confidence. She wondered about her friends at the office, and voiced this. Then she moved on to John and how he was coping with this ordeal. Afterwards this would seem surreal to her, but at the time, after days shut away, it seemed so natural. The listener had her entire sympathy for that moment, until suddenly she realised time had slipped away. Forty-five minutes had elapsed. Had she broken a rule? He was following her steps as she walked wistfully back to the cabin and captivity. It is said that a special relationship develops between a torturer and his victim, one of mutual dependency. This was no torture, this was control and a special relationship was developing, but it was one-sided.
As soon as Bill left, Bob turned to Jim and threw him another beer from the cooler.
"Bill's good at planning," Bob said to Jim. "I can't say I like this releasing idea."
"Me neither," Jim agreed.
"I think I'll give Bill some more planning to do," Bill continued.
"Day four, in the morning, I shoot her." Now that business was out of the way, Bob turned back to his beer.
On day two Bob suggested to Bill that they take a boat out on the lake and go fishing. Bill decided to stay back and work on his planning scenarios, but Jim joined him. They walked around the lake to a clubhouse where they were able to hire a Dory and pick up some fishing tackle. Neither of them knew how to fish, but what the hell, they were on holiday. First stop was back at the cabin where they picked up a beer cooler and accepted Bill's challenge to haul in some fresh fish for dinner. Out on the lake, the shore was soon distant and the colour of the water faded from the green reflection of the trees into the deep blue of the sky. It was wind still and with gentle ripples giving texture to the surface of the water.
"Bill's getting sweet on her." Bob was gazing back at the cabin, wondering about Bill.
"Bob, Bill doesn't get sweet on anyone. I've known this guy for years. He's what they term a psychopath." Jim was pretty clear in his mind about who Bill was.
"Then we shouldn't let him alone with the woman," Bob responded.
What do you mean? You said you were going to shoot her anyway," Jim countered.
"Exactly." Bob opened another beer. "Do you believe in evolution?"
"You mean like we were apes?" Jim questioned.
"Yeah, you see I think I'm very evolved. Do you want to know why?" Bob asked.
"No, I don't," Jim replied.
"Well, I'll tell you anyway," Bob continued. "I was reading this thing about how Europeans developed this gene giving them tolerance to alcohol, which Native Americans, for example, don't necessarily have. Because the Europeans lived in dirty little towns and villages the water wasn't safe, so they drank alcohol. Natural selection eliminated those who couldn't take it. So drinking alcohol is advanced evolution. There's a gene for it."
"So what's that got to do with you?" Jim wasn't particularly interested, just polite.
"Well, I'm leading the way. According to the current state of medical knowledge someone like me should be dead." Bob grinned. "I'm supposed to drink two beers a day max. Imagine."
"That's beyond my imagination, Bob."
"Exactly. I'm leading mankind in the direction of a world where it can survive on liquor alone. Just think. You could store your next thirty years of nourishment in your basement. You'd never have to work, or in our case rob a bank, again."
"You're a real intellectual, Bob, when you can't find anything to shoot."
"I'm serious about dealing with this woman, Jim. Bill's a clever guy, but I can't have him taking risks with my future. He should have discussed this with us, like we discuss the raids." With that Bob turned his attention to fishing.
Back at the cabin, Bill was toiling away over his laptop. He could see a way to ingratiate himself into the Ralphs' household and exonerate himself. Where he had a problem was how to handle her release: how to do it and how to time it. His mind drifted to her in the back room, and he decided it was time for another walk. He typed up a note for her and slipped it under the door. Five minutes later they left the cabin, following the same procedure as the previous day. Jenny, naturally a bubbling, buoyant person had something of the spring lamb about her as she stepped out into the woods, freed from her stall. He followed, admiring her movements and hoping her spirits would bubble over into speech again today. She knew she had a listener, she felt it, and soon the words were flowing. Bill was building his mental picture of her, her psychology and her relationship with her husband. He was looking for the trigger points he would use to draw them to him. Later everything would be recorded on his laptop for analysis and reference, but for now he was simply alert and attuned to her psyche.
The days of the kidnapping were passing slowly for John. To hear Jenny had been an immense relief, especially when she had been permitted to call again on the second day. Otherwise, he had nothing to do. He was still suspended. He could think of no way of tracking Jenny, and he cursed himself for having involved her. It had to be that trio, he thought, but somehow all the pieces did not seem to fit. Ross, stretched beyond belief, had little time for him. The fact that the case had gone way beyond the local level, just seemed to generate that much more work for him, answering the investigators' queries and undertaking assignments for them locally. Still there was no progress worth mentioning, and there was an argument about whether Jenny's kidnap was really tied in to the robberies. John felt a kind of resignation settle on him. All he found himself doing was waiting for her next phone call. Outside the twenty minutes with her on the phone, the day was a haze of nothing, and so day three passed. At five a.m. of the fourth day, sleeping fitfully, John woke to the sound of the answer phone in the lounge. He leapt out of bed, but the caller had hung up by the time he reached the machine. The light was flashing. He pressed play and heard an unbelievable message.
It was an hour earlier that Bill Hadley had awoken with a jolt. There was something about Bob Mitchell these last couple of days which eluded him. Now it came to him. Whatever topic was under discussion, Bob always came out with something about shooting, representing, in his book, the approach of the true red-blooded male. For two days he had not talked once about shooting. Did that mean he was hiding something from Bill? Bill guessed it meant Bob was planning to shoot someone, and he did not have to look far to decide who. He had proposed they leave at seven. Now he had to get her out of there fast before Bob executed his plan. He threw off the covers, turned on the laptop and he dressed while it booted up.
Jenny awoke to a light scratching on her door and saw a note slipped underneath. He promised I could leave today, she thought. What is this? In the half-light she moved across the room and retrieved the note. She unfolded it and switched on the bedside light.
Be quiet, be quick, be ready in three minutes. You're leaving. Trust me.
Her heart pumped. She was ready. She had always been ready, dressed at night for a rapid exit, if the chance arose. She waited and those three minutes, dragged and dragged. She looked at her watch. Just one minute elapsed. God, please, please. Two light years later, she heard the click of the lock outside as it was very gently, almost soundlessly released. This did not seem right. As far as she knew, there was just one kidnapper. What was he afraid of? Were the police on their way? Was this a ruse? Should she resist? As she started to speak, he clamped his hand over her mouth and dragged her out towards the woods, the way she had gone on her walks. Under the darkness of the trees, he released her and she shivered with both fear and cold, feeling herself truly at his mercy, and fearing the worst. The trembling spread through her limbs.
He pulled out another note and struck a match so that she could read.
Call your husband and give him the address below. Tell him he may tell no one, come on his own and find you safe and unharmed. Or he may call the police. Then he may come here with or without them and retrieve your corpse. It is his choice. I do not mind either way.
You must hide where I take you now. Do not come out until you hear your husband's voice. Repeat do not under any circumstances come out. He should be here in two hours.
As he led her further into the woods, she keyed in the number. The answer phone came on. John, John, she whispered to herself, answer it, but he did not and she left the message as instructed. She was given no second chance. He took the phone from her and indicated that she should crawl into a clump of thick bushes. He left.
Back at the cabin, Bill went to bed. He was awoken at six by Bob's booming voice.
"She's gone. Where the hell is she?" Bob burst into Bill's room, and Bill leapt out of bed.
"It's OK. I advanced the plan, Bob. It's safer that way." Bill spoke evenly, with a faint smile. Bob had a pistol in his hand and was gesticulating wildly.
"I'm going after her," Bob roared. He flew out of the rear door of the cabin and crashed through the woods. Bill walked out onto the porch, where Jim was munching breakfast.
"I don't think I should go after him, Jim. I think you should. I think you should let him know that it won't be good if she sees him. Right now we have no eyewitnesses." Jim was reluctant to stalk a raging armed Bob Mitchell through the woods, but he saw the point.
Situated just thirty yards from the cabin, Jenny heard the sound of a wild creature crashing through the undergrowth, and was on the point of leaving her hiding place when she realised it was a man. She got a glimpse of an arm waving a gun, but did not see the man. I don't understand this, she thought. First, he hides me and then he's crashing through the woods with a gun. Or is it someone else? But why would anyone be running around with a gun other than the kidnapper? Or is he the police? I should show myself and get this over with. She began to crawl out of the bushes. Then she stopped. The note said wait for John's voice. It was very clear. Surely it's not a trick. She crawled back under cover, just before Jim Duggan ran by in search of the rampant Mitchell.
By the time Mitchell had been retrieved and they had packed up, it was six forty-five. Bill drove the truck off the grass down to the tarmac road and eliminated the tyre tracks. Not that it really mattered. They would abandon the pick-up later. The other two got into the truck, as Bill went back up to the cabin. He set light to the bedding in the bedrooms and the cushions in the lounge, and then he turned on the gas bottle in the kitchen. They drove out past the clubhouse and on to the highway, heading north. Ten minutes later, heading south, John passed a black pick-up truck going in the other direction and thought nothing of it.
In the bushes time was slipping by slowly for Jenny. She realised she had been there for nearly two hours. She just hoped that John had got the message, hoped he would be there, to hear him. That was when she smelt the smoke. At first the faint smell of burning floated in the air, but it grew stronger and soon she could here the crackling of a major fire, and as it caught the smoke belched out. Soon smoke was billowing through the bushes and she began to cough. Where is John? So near and yet so far, she thought. It can't fail now. Please. What's happening? Her panic grew as she choked on the smoke and realised she would not be able to hold out.
As he swung up the driveway towards the lake, John could see smoke rising, and soon he could make out a cabin on the shore, ablaze. His heart sank, as he realised he was too late. Still, he accelerated hard, swerving off the driveway and heading straight over the grass towards the blazing cabin. Stopping just clear of the blaze, he leapt from his vehicle, screaming for Jenny. And then through the smoke, from behind the cabin, he saw a figure moving towards him, now running towards him. She shed tears of relief, as she sobbed in his arms, stricken but saved, and he led her away.
They drove down to the clubhouse, where the emergency had now been recognised, but there was little to be done. John decided it was better to leave, to be on their own, and they headed back the way he had come. He knew he should call Ross with the news, but he could not face it. They were both still in turmoil. She with the knowledge of what she had escaped and he with the knowledge of what might have been. Somehow, they could not talk for the moment, but sat in silence as he drove north. In this last month the whole world had changed.