One of the downsides to living in a rural area comes when trying to get patched through to the proper authorities, as was our case. The first person Jeff talked to was a Sacramento city dispatcher who then patched him through to the CHP even though he asked to be put through to the Sheriff’s office. Only the CHP wanted to give him a number to dial instead of placing the call directly through. He finally convinced them to do it.
“Look, I have a patrolman on my tail right now,” he held the phone up for a moment then put it back to his ear. “Now, this is a high speed chase that’s only a few miles out from a populated area. You know, women pushing strollers, kids playing, old folks crossing streets? Put me through to the SO please.”
I continued following the plume of dust.
“Yes ma’am. You have a deputy involved in a pursuit, correct? I’m a passenger in the vehicle your deputy is chasing. It’s a matter of life and death that I speak to that deputy’s commanding officer now. Can you patch me through, miss?” Jeff winked at me. “Thank you!”
The van turned down a service road. I followed. So did the deputy.
“Sir, my name is Jeff Danvers,” he said evenly. I didn’t think it possible my mouth could get much drier, but yet it did. “No, I’m not being held hostage. I just escaped. However, the person who’d been holding me hostage is in the van just ahead of me, two vehicles ahead of your deputy. I believe he is armed.”
“We have no intention of evading your deputy, but…”
I watched as my knuckles turned a glow-in-the-dark white.
“Yes, sir,” Jeff said, then handed me the phone. “They want to talk to the driver.”
“Hello?” I yelled
“Who is this?” Came a flat voice that reminded me of those shirt boxes you can fold down to store easily.
“Lisa Knowles.” The moment I said that I realized what a grave error I had made.
“Sorry, could you repeat that?”
“Sarah Tolls,” I said smoothly.
I was tempted to say “i-t.” “S-a-r-a-h T-o-l-l-s.”
“Sarah, are you being held against your will?”
“Okay. The deputy will pass you. When he does, you are to pull over, turn off the engine and wait until a deputy gives you further instructions, is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” I nodded, glancing at Jeff. “Do I hang up?”
“Can you put Mr. Danvers back on?”
“One moment,” I handed the phone to Jeff just as the deputy flew by. I let off on the gas and let the BMer coast to a stop, then shut off the engine. Ahead of us, the clouds of dust moved along, then vanished as the shapes of the 2 vehicles were left like huge boils on a pubescent child’s forehead.
“Armed?” I glowered at Jeff.
“Sarah Tolls?” He parlayed.
“Abducted?” My invisible blade bent under his three-day growth of whiskers. “Let’s start with your explanation, shall we?”
“I left at the beginning of the month to meet with the manufacturer of a new product I’ve been selling. I’d been having some problems and didn’t feel I was getting sufficient answers from them, so decided to meet with them face-to-face. After the third day there and still being treated like I had a ring through my nose so they could pull me around, I got a bit ornery, maybe even a bit out of line. But when you have customers whose animals are dying or getting sick all of a sudden and racking up huge vet bills to treat mysterious illnesses and then there’s the suspicion an infant who’s developed leukemia may have been the result of the product, well, I defy you not to become incensed, even outraged.”
“So you threatened them.” I found my first impressions of Jeff Danvers beginning to change as we sat along the high desert road in the “borrowed” BMer. He nodded, chin to chest.
“Big guns, civil action, drawn out, clean house, law suits.”
“I’d venture a guess they weren’t inviting you to dinner at a five star.”
“Indeed,” his mouth twitched. “I returned to my room and made arrangements to catch the next flight home, but never made it. Instead, I received a call from a guy claiming to be an attorney. Said he worked in an office that represented the manufacturer and overheard the conversation with their client. He wanted to meet with me because he felt as I did that if the manufacturer wasn’t going to be responsible, that someone should hold them accountable and he wanted to be that one. I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall, but I was too blind with rage to look.”
“Yeah, well,” I laughed dryly as I adjusted the rearview mirror to suit my relaxed position while keeping my own eyes open. “Don’t kick yourself too hard. Most of us thought you were dead.”
“I want to hear about this,” his knee folded up on the seat as he turned more towards me, pressing his back against the door.
“Later. Go on, please.”
“Well, I was lured in, began giving this kid all kinds of information along with a hefty retainer. I know, I know,” he shook his head as I stared at him in disbelief. “I never thought to make him use layman’s terms and he got me all confused with the legal mumbo-jumbo. Once he had the info and his money, he helped me check into a new hotel designed for longer stays, told me to lay low for a few days and he’d get back to me. My guess is that he sold the info to the legit lawyers and they don’t have phones in Aruba. When I hadn’t heard from him after three days, I called the number he gave me. You probably already guessed—it was disconnected, most likely had been before I even had it. And since he cashed the check against a bogus account, there was nothing else I could do. Except call my wife and give her the bad news. She took it even harder than I expected, which proviked me to give it another go with the manufacturer. Only now they had an advantage over me that they hadn’t had the first time. The…”
“Information,” we said in unison.
A small cloud of dust rose from behind us. I sat up and cranked my head around.
“Looks like we have company,” I said as I keyed the ignition and fastened my belt.
“We’re supposed to stay put,” he cautioned even though he turned around forward and was pulling his belt across his lap.
“Yeah, well, with what I’ve learned these past few days, it’s better to be a bit paranoid. If that’s not a marked car, we’re out of here.”
Jeff nodded dumbly.
“So, they had the info,” I prompted as I continued watching the dust cloud move towards us.
“Right. And they claimed they had no idea of what I was talking about, repeating over and over they’d done hundreds of tests and never ever found anything to indicate their product was harmful to animals or humans. By then I got the picture. I went back to the hotel and called those people. Only one talked tome, the rest were either screening their calls or simply didn’t wish to discuss it, not that I blamed them.”
My eyes slid away from the mirror and I looked at Jeff. “Mrs. Tanpelli.”
“How’d you know?”
“Wild guess,” I shrugged, averting my eyes to the mirror again. No sense in telling him what I knew.
“Well, you’re right. She wasn’t willing to accept their offer, she said. I asked her what she meant. She told me some pretty woman came to her house and told her that she was authorized to give her a check for one-million dollars if she would sign an agreement in exchange.”
“Lillian Von Furstenberg.”
“Jesus, you’re beginning to freak me out now,” he said shakily as he ran a hand through his hair. The car came into view.
“Hold on,” I snarled as I threw the car into gear, hit the gas and lurched across the clay and gravel down the road, then twisted the wheel and sped off back towards town. “You just had to go piss off people who like to feed fish and desert rats, didn’t you?”
Lillian was a shot in the dark. Not a complete and utter black kind of dark; more of the evil, lurking shadows kind. It seemed pretty obvious she had something to do with this because why else would Jeff Danvers—who apparently had been brought to Bellsworth against his free will—probably even unconscious at the moment of his arrival, be there? And the description fit Lillian. Of course, it probably could have fit a number of attorneys, but in such a small area, that number dwindled.
“Call the SO back again,” my voice stuttered with the vibrations of the car. Despite their sophisticated suspension and shock-absorption, an all-terrain vehicle BMers are not.
“I never got their direct number,” Jeff fumbled with the latch on the console. Had I not been driving, I would have rolled my eyes then smacked him upside his head.
“Okay, so call information and get it from them,” my voice took on the tone of a grade school teacher who was on her seventh round of instructing her students on the proper way of titling their homework assignments halfway through the school year.
“Good idea,” he chirped as he went to work. A bit later he was talking to the same dispatcher. “This is Jeff Danvers again.”
The car behind us was closing in.
“What? No, it’s… Oh. Lillian called in a stolen vehicle? Yes, well, did she also tell you that she’s involved in participating in several federal crimes including kidnapping, conspiracy and attempted murder?”
I shot Jeff a quick look. He winked.
“Of course I have proof. But right now that’s the least of any of our concerns because while your deputy is playing verbal ping-pong with one of my abductors, someone else is chasing us and closing in.”
“I’m not sure how much longer we can do this,” I cranked the wheel tight and zigzagged towards a crag of buttes. “Our gas is a little over a quarter tank.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Jeff pointed to me, then the phone. My guess was the dispatcher heard me. “A helicopter? How long?”