(Start with Part One)"Got another kidnapping for you, Jack."
I groaned. “This a real one, Lacey? Or just another groggy?”
“See for yourself.” She dropped a pile of papers on my desk. “The parents are coming in in an hour.”
I sighed and sat up in my chair. Pulled the latest stack a little closer so I could start flipping through it.
Taylor Benson, age 8, left for school at Washington Elementary at 7:30 yesterday morning. Half an hour later he showed up at home, with no memory of how he got there or why he had a cotton ball taped to the inside of his elbow. Photographs showed a small, neat hole underneath the cotton ball on the boy’s arm. A few drops of blood on the cotton matched the kid’s. No prints on the cotton ball, no witnesses saw the boy being taken, nothing explained what had happened to him.
Another damned groggy.
The third one in as many weeks, which was three too many for me. They weren’t really kidnappings, since the kids were always returned. But why take them at all? And why poke a hole in their arms?
Thank God no one had talked to the press about this. None of the parents had known each other - the first had been in Encinitas, the second in Del Mar, this was the first one downtown - so as far as they knew, it was just some random weirdness that hadn’t really hurt their kid.
Lacey tapped my desk, breaking my reverie. “The Bensons are here. Room 3.”
“Thanks.” I stood up, grabbed the Benson’s casework, and strode over to the cramped meeting room.
The Bensons looked young enough to make me feel old. Firm handshakes from both - Mrs. Benson’s toned arms meant she probably did yoga, Mr. Benson looked like a runner. Young, trim, nice clothes. They looked more puzzled than angry, shocked that something like this could happen to their kid.
“We moved to Little Italy because it was quiet,” Mrs. Benson - Tanya - explained. “Taylor could walk to school, and we both work downtown, so…”
I nodded understanding. “Can you tell me if you’ve seen anyone new, anyone strange, hanging around your building?”
Mr. Benson - Jeff - shook his head. “Not really. There’s this one guy that likes to hang out at the 7-11 and ask for change, but he’s been there for months.”
I walked them through the rest of the routine. Had they met any new people that showed an unusual interest in Taylor? Were there any bullies at school that might have wanted to scare him? Were they Russian spies whose bosses were sending them a message?
Okay, I didn’t ask that last one. But it would’ve explained a lot.
When I’d run through all my questions, I thanked them for coming in and told them we’d be in touch as soon as we knew anything. I could tell they were both frustrated, but they just nodded and left.
I took my notes and the rest of the file back to my desk. Just to see if it jarred anything, I rummaged around until I found the files on the other two groggies and flipped them open.
Justice Walker - poor kid, with a name like that he’d have a hard time at school - was the first case. 7 years old. Snatched while riding his bicycle to a friend’s house. Dropped off 45 minutes later at home. Woke up crying and shaking.
Billy Jessup, age 8. Disappeared from a playground three blocks from his house. Found at home 20 minutes later, still bleeding from the tiny hole in his arm.
I started making more notes. All the victims were white males. All about the same age. All sent home after being taken, so the perp probably knew them socially. No ransom calls.
It wasn’t much to go on, but I had to start somewhere.
My desk phone rang. It was Jeff Benson.
“I, uh, just thought of something,” he said. “Last week, Taylor told us this story about how he escaped from a crazy guy on a motorcycle. We thought he was just making it up - he’s really in to spy movies - but after yesterday–”
“Anything seems possible.” I reach for a pen and started jotting some notes. “Did Taylor tell you anything about the bike? Did he get a look at the rider?”
I heard Jeff sigh on the other end. “No. The rider had a helmet on. I think he said the bike was red?”
A red motorcycle. One more tiny piece of the puzzle. “Red motorcycle. Gotcha. Thanks for calling, Mr. Benson, every detail like that helps.”
He hung up. I strode over to Lacey’s desk just as she was hanging up the phone. “Lacey, can you pull the video from the traffic camera at India and Grape?”
She grinned. “Sure. It’ll take a couple of hours, but you’ll be busy anyway.”
She nodded at the phone. “That was Ms. Walker. Seems little Justice has just remembered something about a guy on a bike chasing him.”
“You’re right, Lacey,” I admitted as I grabbed the Walker file and my coat. “I’m gonna be out for a bit.”