The "Taster"

A Time for Living

Chapter Two
The attic room was dingy and dirty with years of dust, the sagging roof beams and cracked wooden flooring showed the neglect of time. The furniture was sparse; an old settee hard against the wall near to the door, the torn imitation leather hung down raggedly. The only light came through the grimy windowpanes of a dormer window. Carelessly thrown cartons and food wrappers littered a corner of the room, crushed cigarette stubs lay on the broken wooden floor around the table legs.
She huddled against the railings of the iron bedstead, knees against her chin, her arms around her legs. She held them tight, finding comfort in the simple action.

Her long blonde hair was in tangles and fell across her face, remnants of a tattered dress hung from her shoulders.
The bruise on her left cheek was starting to throb and swell. Streaks of dried blood ran down inside her thighs and a small coagulating patch lay on the dirty mattress. She raised her head and with tight lips looked at the man sitting at the table.
She was cold, but made no move to reach for the blanket hanging over the back of the chair next to the bed.
Sarah was eleven years old, she was frightened, and she felt sick inside.

Joe sat at the table, his thin face matching his short, thinning grey hair, his eyes, small and hostile as he scowled at the girl. He was tired and irritable, but this was the last day and by evening, he would be well away from here and the girl would be dead. She was a feisty little bitch he thought, fingering the scratches on his cheeks.
He rubbed the three-day growth of stubble on his chin, wondering if it would continue to itch when the beard had grown.
He glanced at his watch again; Earl should be ringing soon. This was a big one for both of them. A gas station or a liquor store was their usual job.
On the table in front of him was a piece of paper with his instructions and a mobile phone. As soon as Earl called, he would do his part in the scheme to collect the ransom. Earl had said, somehow they had to isolate the moneyman, making certain that other agents were further away would give them that extra few minutes to get the money. Earl had planned this one and said they had to be fast to keep the feds confused. If things looked as if they were going wrong they would cut their losses, kill the girl and get out.
They were going to kill her anyway but they could always try again elsewhere.
He looked at the girl. Maybe next time she would be a bit more cooperative, though he doubted there would be a next time. Once they had the money, they would waste the bitch and torch the place.
He lifted his thick set figure from the chair and walked over to the icebox in the corner of the room, his shoes kicking up swirls of dust on the broken bare boards. Sarah whimpered and pressed closer to the head of the bed as he walked by her. He looked down and as he passed, he swung his open hand across her face, the shock made her blink her eyes and cower even further down.
Opening the icebox, he took out a bottle of Coors and went back to the table. Striking the edge of the table with the bottle, he removed the cap, sat down, and started to drink.

Senator Henry Lewis sat at his desk in his study, his head in his hands. His brown hair streaked with white. He lifted his head and gazed at his wife. Intense blue grey eyes beneath his thick wild brows were red rimmed with lack of sleep. He was physically and mentally exhausted.
His wife Barbara sat opposite in an easy chair. Her face was full, her cheekbones high, giving an appearance of character that might not otherwise have been noticed. She had her head down, nervously playing with her fingers, the fatigue, and worry showing on her tired face.
It was now four days since the kidnap of their daughter.
The television and newspapers had been running the story continuously requesting help from the public but to no avail.
It was on the first night the Senator received a call from the kidnappers telling him to get five million dollars together, four million in bonds, the rest in used one hundred dollar bills, and they would give instructions later
The callers voice was distorted, as if he was speaking through cloth.
The call lasted thirty-eight seconds and was from a call box in Arlington.
On the second day he received a call from Horace Gradwell, a newspaper magnate friend of his.
‘This is terrible, Henry, anything I can do?’
`The FBI are running things, and I don’t see what else anybody can do,’ said the Senator.
‘When my son was taken by rebels in South America, a man got him out unharmed. Unfortunately, I misread the situation and messed things up. If anyone can get Sarah back it’s him, do you want me to try and contact him?’
‘I’ll do anything to get her back safely,’ said the Senator.
‘I’ll try to reach him,’ Horace said, ‘my thoughts are with you old friend.’
‘Thanks, Barbara and I appreciate that,’ said Henry, putting the phone down.
‘That was Horace,’ he said to his wife, `he wanted to know if he could help.’
Barbara just shook her head, not speaking.
The Chief of Detectives assigned one of his best men, detective Frank Lane to the investigation. Lane was an experienced negotiator and psychologist, although his negotiating skills had not been used in a kidnapping. His last job involved a young thief who had been caught robbing a liquor store: he spent a whole night convincing the young hoodlum to give up his hostage, the storeowner. Lane was sandy haired, with a boyish face that was strong and relaxed. He was a calm and reassuring figure in the room. The Mayor pledged his support. The Hostage Recovery team was on full alert.
FBI agents investigated, but so far, the results were negative.
Detective Lane appealed on TV and through the newspapers for the kidnappers to make contact, but there had been no reply until today.
A mail sack was to be used to carry the five million to the Tyson Corner shopping center at two o’clock that afternoon.
The man carrying the money was to be alone and they would contact him by telephone at the public booths. There were to be no tracer bugs with the sack.

Federal Bureau Investigators traced the call to a public phone in Arlington and enquiries were concentrated in that area. Agents questioned people in the vicinity but no one remembered seeing anyone at the booth.
Detective Lane had volunteered to deliver the money and attempt to negotiate for the safe return of Sarah.
At twelve- thirty, the telephone rang again. The FBI turned the recording equipment on and indicated to the Senator that he should pick up the receiver.
The Senator answered it, a voice said, ‘Good afternoon Senator I believe you require my services.’
‘I’m sorry,’ the Senator said, ‘I don’t understand,’ a frown crossed his brow.
`Horace Gradwell asked me to phone,’ the voice said.
Henry remembered the telephone conversation with Horace, two days previously.
‘I’m sorry, Mr …’ he said, slightly bewildered.
‘Summers,’ said the voice, `Geoffrey Summers.’
‘Thanks for calling, Mr Summers, but I don’t think there’s anything you can do,’ said the Senator, glancing at Lane who was shaking his head vigorously.
`Have you paid the ransom?’ Summers asked.
‘We’re paying it today.’
‘How do they want payment?’
Henry Lewis, remembering what Horace said, told him about the Tyson Corner Center and the time for the telephone contact.
`Thank you Senator,’ Summers replied, `I’ll do what I can,’ and the telephone went dead.

The recording equipment turned off, Lane expressed his displeasure.
‘With all due respect, sir,’ he said to the Senator, `we could do without this. It’s hard enough without someone interfering.’
The Senator shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Detective, I’ll do anything to get my girl back, can you assure me that you can get her back safely?’
‘In all honesty, I can’t,’ said Lane.
‘Then don’t question my actions, this man may be able to help and I’m not going to do anything to stop him,’ said the Senator.
Lane interjected, ‘I just don’t like anyone interfering with our plans. The money is important to them but if they feel too threatened they could call it off and we can’t have that happening.’
The Senator was not convinced and shook his head.
‘I don’t give a shit about the money, or the kidnappers, I just want her back. Do what you have to do.’

They held a briefing a few minutes before Lane was due to leave. There would be two other cars besides Lane’s and a helicopter close behind. Other agents would be on foot and close at all times and a lapel microphone would enable Lane to speak to them. He also insisted on a further short-range microphone to be fixed to his wristwatch. His car was fitted with a tracer to allow them to locate him.
Lane set off for the first location, the Tyson Corner Shopping Center with a photograph of Sarah in his pocket.
The skies over Washington had been cloudy for the last few days; today however, it was a clear day and the sun was shining as Lane walked towards the entrance of the Center. A figure dressed in motorcycle gear wearing a crash helmet dashed out through the entrance. He was carrying a parcel under his arm and collided with Lane, who dropped the mail sack.
The agents tensed and one or two started to draw their weapons, relaxing only when the figure picked up the sack and gave it to Lane muttering, ‘Sorry buddy,’ and carried on down the pathway.
Lane saw the letters, “Washington Messenger Service” on the left chest of the man and quietly told the agents to relax and continued into the shopping center. Earl was watching from just inside the doorway.
Lane went through the entrance, made his way to the bank of telephones, stood, and waited. He looked around and could see that the center was quite busy with people milling around the shop fronts. Somewhere amongst them could be one of the kidnappers and he scrutinised everyone within his sight.
It was two minutes to two when Earl telephoned.
Joe picked up the mobile from the table and answered it, `Yeah,’ he said.
`Listen, Joe, I’m at the Tyson. The moneyman’s here but there are Feds all over the place. Tell him to get rid of them or the deal’s off and the kid’s dead. Got it?’
`Got it Earl, I’ll call now,’ said Joe and hung up, looking at his list he telephoned the first number

At the first ring, Frank Lane moved towards the bank of telephones but realised that the ringing was from a mobile phone placed close, picking it up he said, `Lane.’
‘You were supposed to be alone, now get rid of the Feds who are with you or the kid’s dead,’ the voice was brusque and cold.
Lane looked around the crowded shopping Mall. There were men with their ears glued to mobile phones; the kidnapper could be any one of them.
He spoke quietly into his microphone, `He’s getting spooked, get out of sight.’
The agents left the Mall and Lane spoke into the phone.
`Ok,’ he said, `they’re all gone, what now?’
`I don’t want to see any more of them around, if I do there’ll be no more contact.’
`Wait a minute,’ said Lane, `you can have the money; all I want is the girl, now calm down. I’ll see that they keep well away.’
`You’d better,’ said the voice, ‘you’ve got two minutes to get to the Opus 88 bar, just round the corner. I’ll call you there.’

Lane left and ran round the corner to the Opus. Going into the bar he made his way to the phones as one of them started ringing, he picked up the receiver, breathless.
‘Take off your mike and hold it up in the air so I can see it,’ the voice said.
Lane took the mike off his lapel and held it up.
‘Put it on the floor in front of you with your cell phone. Now stomp on them both and remember I’m watching,’
Lane put the microphone and his cell phone on the ground and stomped on them, breaking them into pieces.
`OK, now go to the Wellington and wait for our call.’
Lane looked around the bar, but could see no one obviously watching him so went back to his car and drove to the Wellington. On the way, he lifted his arm and spoke quietly into the mike on his watch.
`I’ve had to destroy the lapel mike. I’m on my way to the Wellington for further instructions, keep well back until I call.’
He knew that someone must be close and he hoped they’d heard. At the Wellington, he went straight to the public telephone booth located near the bar but it was a few minutes before it rang.
He picked it up and before the kidnapper could say anything, Lane said, `Just a minute, so far I’ve have gone along with you, now it’s your turn to give me something.’
There was silence for a moment or two, `What do you want?’ The voice said.
`I want to make arrangements for exchanging the girl for the money.’
Once again there was silence and then, `When we get the money, you’ll get the girl,’ he continued, `now by the side of you is a door. Go through to the parking lot, you’ll see a White Toyota; the keys are in the ignition. On the seat is a radio, turn it on and I’ll give you more instructions.’
`OK,’ said Lane, ‘but what about the exchange, the girl for the money?’ The line was dead.
The voice was not the same as the previous contacts, this voice had a Californian drawl, there were at least two men directing him, he thought. The chances were that one of them had him in sight at all times .It would be extremely risky to try and contact other agents. He would just have to take his chances and follow the instructions.
Going though the side door, he saw the Toyota parked nearby with the keys in the ignition.
As he walked towards it he spoke into his mike, `I’m changing cars to a White Toyota round the side of the bar.’
He got in and drove the car out of the lot. He picked up the hand radio from the seat, recognising it as a short range Transmitter/Receiver, pressed the speak button and said, `OK what now.’
‘Drive up Western Avenue and make a right onto Military North West, continue on that road, call me when you’re on it.’
`Military NW, ‘ said Lane out loud, `OK.’
He knew that the agents would be following close behind but not too close, he would call them in when needed.
A few minutes later Lane said, `OK, I’m on Military NW.’
`Call me again when you see Fraser G Newbank Park School on your left.’
Lane noticed that the voice had become more confident since he left the Wellington.
`Fraser G Newbank School,’ he repeated for the benefit of his wrist mike.
He glanced in his mirror, he could see no obvious signs that he was being followed, and he hoped they were receiving his voice.
When he reached the Newbank School he said, `I’m at the school.’
`Make a right down Glover Road.’
He turned and started driving down the road, the voice said.
`Now turn into the Nature Center. Call me when you get to the parking lot.’
The voice now sounded anxious and Lane realised that he was getting close to the contact point.
He repeated the words, `Nature Center OK,’ for the benefit of his mike, and shortly afterwards turned into the parking lot of the center.
He picked up the portable radio and said, `Right, I’m in the lot, where to now?’
`Take the radio with you and walk towards the center, to your left you’ll see a pathway leading to a bridge, leave the sack by the bridge and go back to the center.’
He stood in front of the Nature Center, he could see many paths, but only one seemed to lead to a wooden bridge in the distance. The promised sunshine caused families to gravitate to the park and there were many parents with their children.
Lane looked at them in the hope that one would be Sarah, but could see no one of the likeness to the photograph in his hand. He attached himself to the tail of a group of walkers and followed them. At the bridge, he stopped and looked around but could see no one acting suspiciously.
He spoke into the radio, `I’m at the bridge now, but I want to see Sarah before I leave the money.’
`I said you would get her back when I get the money,’ said the kidnapper angrily.
`Not good enough,’ said Lane, `let me see the girl first.’ He stood there with the sack in his hand.
`Leave the sack and walk back to the center, I’ll contact you there and tell you where the girl is,’ said the voice, sounding angrier.
`No,’ Lane said, `I want to see the girl.’
You’re stalling, either put the money down now or the deal’s off.’
The voice sounded firm and threatening.
`OK,’ said Lane quickly, anxious to avoid the kidnapper becoming more agitated, `I’m putting the sack down and returning to the center, but I expect the girl to be released as soon as you get the money.’
`Do it now and move away,’ said the voice impatiently.
The group continued walking as he placed the sack on the ground and turned to go back.
He’d only covered a few yards when the sound of a motorcycle caused him to stop and turn. A red and white bike came roaring over the bridge scattering the walkers as it swerved to a stop. The rider picked up the sack and the bike roared off over the bridge again.
`Shit,’ said Lane angrily, everything happened so quickly although he swiftly recovered and raced after the bike, shouting into his mike, ‘everyone close in, were looking for a red and white motorcycle, get that copter up here.’
He stood there helpless for a moment looking around, cursing under his breath. They should have called the helicopter in earlier he thought, but if they had they could have the scared the kidnappers off. He raced back to the parking lot just as agents drove in, the helicopter moving in fast. He shouted to them to radio the helicopter to make a sweep for the motorcycle and to close the park exits and entrances, but he knew they would be too late.
He spoke into the radio but there was no answer and he knew that the kidnappers had lied about returning the girl here. Quickly he told the agents to start a search of the park and look for Sarah. There was a chance that she was here, but he had to admit to himself, the chances were slim.
The motorcycle had disappeared. The kidnappers had the ransom money and they had not returned the girl.

Summers sat on the bike and watched Lane walk towards the center. The tracer bug he had planted on Lane had led him here. This is where the money will be collected he decided, but the kidnappers wouldn’t come back this way. Agents would be here soon. The kidnappers would make their get away at the other side of the Park. Summers knew that a main road ran down the top side of the park. That’s where he’ll be going he surmised, and starting the bike drove it around the perimeter.
He soon saw the main road and stopping the bike, looked around for anything unusual. Near the road, concealed partially by a clump of trees he could see a box truck, the back doors were open, and a ramp was behind it. He continued to watch and saw a red and white motorcycle ride out of the trees up the ramp and right into the back of the truck.
Summers gave a satisfied smile and rode the bike towards the truck keeping to the trees. He was nearing it, when he saw it start off, and drive onto the road. He followed, just as a helicopter came flying over the park.

Joe sat back on the chair and picked up his glass. He checked the paper to make sure he’d done everything that was written down, pretending to be able to see what the moneyman was doing was Earl’s idea.
Satisfied, he crumpled the paper and tossed it into the corner with the other rubbish. He finished his drink and looked at the girl again. She was still subdued and looking frightened.
He glanced at his watch. If everything was working out right, Earl should be collecting the money any time now. They’d worked out the plans for this very carefully. This was their first kidnapping and they came from San Francisco to carry it out. They realised they would be up against the FBI and had to think carefully how to get the ransom without being caught.
He got up, walked across to the icebox, and picked out another bottle of beer. He walked past the girl, glanced down at her, and made a sudden move. She cringed and pressed herself closer against the bars. He laughed and returned to his chair.
He sat there deciding how he was going to spend his money. They’d already made plans to split it and go their separate ways, meeting up in about six months time when the heat had died down. Joe had decided that Florida was the place for him. Somewhere nice and warm with lots of beautiful women scantily clad. He smiled at the thought of it and took another drink from the bottle. He leaned back in the chair and imagined the sort of life he would live. With two and a half million dollars, he could have anything and any woman he wanted and with the girl dead, they would be safe. They’d kept the girl alive only in case she was needed as a hostage.
He took the gun out of his pocket. He’d bought the Hi Point JS in a bar in San Francisco. It had eight rounds in the magazine, more than sufficient for what he had in mind.
A sudden noise downstairs made him sit up. He rose from the chair and moved slowly towards the door holding the gun. The door opened and Earl stood there, still dressed in motorcycle clothing with a gun sticking in his belt .A short figure of a man with a broad nose affixed to a small weasel face.
We did it,’ he shouted, grinning at Joe, ‘they didn’t see it coming; I was in and out fast. I took the bike through the woods into the back of the van and drove out of the area, no problems.’
Joe grinned back at him, ‘Let’s have a look at the money,’ he said, ‘what does Five million dollars look like?’
Earl swaggered across to the table, his face smiling as he thought how clever he had been in fooling the FBI. He loosened the rope holding the sack closed and tipping it up poured the bundles of money on to the table.
Joe put down his gun and picked up a bundle of twenty thousand dollars. He laughed with excitement as he rippled the hundred dollar bills.‘Let’s split the money and get out of here,’ said Earl, ‘the sooner we’re away the better, sort them into two piles, when we’re ready we’ll get rid of her and burn this place.’Joe grinned and picked up a bundle of bills.

‘OK boys, just put the money down and get your hands up,’ said a voice.
Joe and Earl looked up startled at the man standing by the door. He had a lean figure, dark hair, small moustache, and wore a black leather jacket with the words “Washington Messenger Service” on the left breast. A crash helmet hung from his left hand, the right hand held a gun that was pointing at them, his eyes level and unblinking.
They both started to make a move but stopped when the man said, ‘Now don’t do anything stupid, boys.’ He motioned with the gun for them to keep their hands up. He glanced around the room and saw the girl, her terrified figure cringing close to the bed head.
His eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. Turning back to the kidnappers, he said coldly with mockery and challenge in his eyes.
‘I take that back, do something stupid,’ and his gun hand dropped to his side.
Joe made a grab for his gun on the table; Earl drew his from his belt. They both had their guns level when the man raised his arm and fired two shots.

He walked across to the table and looked down at the two bodies, each with a hole in the centre of their foreheads. He extracted the magazine and placed it with the gun on the table by the money. He turned, looked at the girl, and walked towards the bed.
Sarah cowered away from him and started trembling.
‘It’s all right,’ he said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’
He sat on the bed and quietly said, ‘My name is Geoffrey Summers, is your name Sarah Lewis?’
Sarah looked at him for a few seconds through frightened eyes and nodded slightly.
‘Oh good, your father and mother asked me to get you and take you home, is that OK with you?’
Sarah nodded her head again, tears of relief forming in her eyes.
‘Come on then,’ said Summers, taking the blanket from the chair and wrapping it around her.
He picked her up in his arms and walked out of the room.

The Senator was angry, ‘you made a proper balls of that detective, if anything happens to my girl, I’ll have your ass,’ he said to Frank Lane. ‘It’s been over an hour now and no word.’
‘I’m sorry sir,’ said Lane, ‘we’ll just have to be patient and give them time, they’ll probably drop her off somewhere.’
He was trying to calm the Senator down although he thought that Sarah, along with his career, was probably dead.
There was a commotion in the hall outside and the door burst open. Thomas, the Senator’s manservant rushed in and started to say, ‘Sir..,’ but was swept aside as Summers strode into the room carrying Sarah. He went straight to the settee and laid her down.
Henry Lewis and his wife rushed over to her. Sarah’s mother was sobbing and holding her tight. Henry stood by her side controlling his anger as he looked at the broken body of his daughter.
Summers turned to the FBI agent, ‘I’m Summers,’ he said, ‘get a doctor.’
Frank Lane, relieved at the return of the girl, nodded and left the room speaking into his radio.
Summers turned to the Senator, ‘I’m sorry sir, I wish I could have got to her sooner.’
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ said the Senator, ‘I thought we’d lost her.’
‘I’m glad I was able to help.’
He went out into the hallway and said to Lane, ‘did you get a doctor?”
‘On his way,’ Lane said, ‘you got the girl back and saved my ass, thanks.’
Summers smiled, ‘no problem,’ he said, ‘you helped a lot.’
Lane raised his eyebrows quizzically. Summers went on, ‘get some men over to route 7; about half a mile on the left is a small lane. Two hundred yards up the lane there’s an abandoned farm, you’ll find the two kidnappers and the money there.’
‘I’ll get on to that right away,’ Lane said smiling, and speaking into his radio gave the location of the farm to the agents.
He turned round to talk to Summers, but he was already making for the door. Lane followed him and saw him walk down to the truck parked in front of the house.
He opened the back door and wheeled out a motorcycle. Putting on a crash helmet he got astride the bike and started the engine, turning to look back at Lane standing in the doorway he raised his hand.
Lane returned the gesture and watched as Summers rode the motor cycle down the drive and out of the gates

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