Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Kidnapped Daughter

As I waited for my appointment, I looked through the people in my vid one more time. They were the people high enough in the imperial hierarchy to have ordered my former boss and friend, Bill Stanford, to kill me and for him to feel he had no choice but to obey. I did not think it was one of Bill's immediate superiors, for Bill would have found a way around them. Bill was good at politics on his own level. But how could John Talltree, ordinary investigator, get a chance to investigate these people? What was on the media was always completely positive and undoubtedly untrue. But how could I ever get to the real people behind the propaganda? I then did what I should have done in the first place and prayed.

Just then I was interrupted by a vid call. It was Stephen Lewis, Bill's replacement. A bit too conventional for my taste, but a nice guy. "Sorry to interrupt," he said, "but we have an emergency. Some terrorist group has kidnapped a councilor's daughter and killed the councilor and his wife. I know this is not usually your cup of tea, but you are one of the few investigators, considering time dilation, to be close enough to get there soon enough to be of any use."

"On my way," I responded. Looked like my other case would have to be placed on hold for the moment.

The councilors were once the rulers of the empire, like a congress or a parliament. They had long ago become appointed by the emperor and were his cronies and servants. In some cases they had become hereditary. But they still exercised a lot of real power, and one being killed and his daughter kidnapped was a real problem. When I arrived on the planet Bouqertac, things were in a bit of a chaotic state, but I asked to be taken to the planetary investigator on the case. "What can you tell me about the kidnapping?" I asked.

"The girl was Terran and 16 years old and seems to have been taken from her room," she replied. She was a Qourdhokian named Phytaoi and was short and reptilian. "There was a note there to wait for further instructions. Her parents were found dead in the den below. Blaster shots from an unknown blaster, looks like a Towerazian, probably the same gun for both. We have searched for it but have not found it."

"Who found the bodies and the notes?"

"A couple of maids, who reported it to the head butler. You can talk to them if you like, but they told us nothing useful. Also, no one will admit to letting the kidnappers in."

"Any idea who the kidnappers are?"

"They claim to be from the Roudasikian Liberation Front and want the ransom to fund the cause. The RLF has indeed taken credit."

"It is not their MO. The RLF is more known for drive-by murders than kidnapping for ransom. But maybe they are branching out. Any ransom demands?"

"Yes, though we had a hard time finding them. They were eventually found on Mr. Campbell, the father's, vid. They are fairly straightforward, and I have some experience with ransom drops. Do you want me to set it up for you?"

"Yes, I have little experience with them. Go ahead and arrange things, and I will investigate and see if we can find them some other way."

The head butler was an old and conventional  type of butler, who did not like trouble. He was an Opartion named Jartyw, a tall thin humanoid with leathery skin. I could not tell if the if his blank expression was the result of his occupation or his species.  "Most disturbing incident. The stars must have been in a bad quadrant today."

"I do not share your belief in the stars," I replied, "but I will admit this is indeed disturbing. What do you know about these events?"

"Very little, sir. The maids reported these unfortunate events to me and I reported them to the authorities. I know little more than that."

"Did you notice any strange or suspicious events immediately before or after the incidents?"

"No, sir, I did not."

"Could I speak with the maids who found the bodies and the letter?"

"Yes, but I have asked my assistant butler, Sam Copper, to help you. He is a Terran and is better at this sort of thing than the rest of us."

Sam Copper turned out to be a talkative middle-aged man. "I hear you police have all sorts of machines that will help you catch criminals: DNA tests, fingerprinting, identification of blasters. Is any of that likely to be of help here?" Sam remarked.

"They have not settled the case yet. But there are results we have not gotten back yet."

"And here I thought with all your modern gadgetry that you did not have anything to do but read the results and nab the culprit."

"It is not quite that easy."

"The blaster marks looked like a Towerazian. A little high-end for a common terrorist isn't it?"

"They are more upper middle level, but it is a little high-end. But maybe they stole it somewhere."

As we arrived at the maid's dispatch room, Sam called out, "Wertianius, Moturpoinus, front and center; the police have some more questions." Two tentacled Quitpozians separated from the rest and came over.

"It was just so terrible," said Wertianus, who had found the body, "I came in, and they were just lying there dead."

"When were they last seen alive?" I asked.

"At 8:00 a.m., Terran time. They had asked not to be disturbed until lunch at 12:00 noon. And we have found out they are serious about such things."

"Did you see any strangers in the house anywhere?"

"No, no one I did not know."

"Any strange or unusual incidents?"

 "No, sir."

"Were you the daughter, Susan's, maid?" I asked Moturpoinus.

"Yes, I was always running in and out of her room, running errands and helping her out."

"What was her schedule?"

"Oh, she did not follow anything like that, she just made things up as she went along."

"When did anyone last see her before she disappeared?"

"I had been in there with her about an hour earlier. I had gone over to the store outlet in the house to purchase some things for her. Her parents did not want her to have one in her own room, too much of a tendency for impulse purchasing."

"Did you see any strangers or any strange incidents?"

"Nothing abnormal."

 The ransom drop was in an open field away from the road. An air-car  dropped off the container with the ransom in it and sped off. On either side there were air-cars parked there earlier, hidden in the foliage. After a time there appeared an armored air-car. It made a pass over the two air-cars parked on either side, guns blazing. This disabled them and did considerable damage. It grabbed the ransom and sped off.

"The tracker is still working," remarked Phytaoi. "Follow them to their destination." Our air-car, parked well back from the ransom site, took off.

"What about your people in the other cars?" I asked.

"We have people standing by to help them," she replied. "They were prepared for what was going to happen and knew what they were getting into. But everyone expects you to try to catch them when you deliver the ransom. The key is to have one more plan than they do."

We rendezvoused with a battle cruiser on the edge of space, and they also landed on a larger ship, though not the size of ours. As we approached each other, an incoming message came up on the screen. There was a very tall and slender humanoid, holding a blaster to the head of a thin Terran girl with brown hair. "I have the councilor's daughter here. Let us go, or I will shoot her."

"If you kill her there is nothing to prevent our killing every last one of you," stated Phytaoi. "Are you going to surrender, or do we have to do this the hard way."

Later, Phytaoi remarked to me, "Well, that is that. No terrorists, just a bunch of greedy thieves hoping to live high off the hog with a big ransom."

"It is not quite over," I explained. "Could we get all the people involved together."

"The first thing I noticed about this," I began when everyone was gathered, "was that it had to be an inside job. The kidnappers came in and out without anyone seeing them, which means they knew exactly what they were doing. And that took inside help. Further there was only one person who could pull it off and that was Moturpoinus, her maid. Moturpoinus, by her own admission, was always going in and out of her mistress's room at irregular intervals. I have checked with the other servants and they confirm this. Without Moturpoinus on their side, they would not be able to count on finding the girl alone. There also seems to have been the deposit of regular large amounts to her monetary accounts. I must conclude that she is the one responsible for the kidnapping."

"The second problem was the double murder. The kidnappers did not do it. They wanted the ransom to be paid, and the parents were the most likely to do it. Also, they were sending demands to Mr. Campbell's vid in the hopes of getting the ransom. They did not know he was dead. So someone else took advantage of the situation to kill the Campbells and blame it on the kidnappers. Then I noticed that Sam Cooper did not act like a servant. He treated me as more of an equal and ordered the other servants around. So I did some investigating. I found out he was really George Campbell, a cousin of Oliver Campbell who he had not seen since childhood, and the next in line for the concilorship  after Susan. He had evidently come here in disguise, looking for an opportunity, and he ultimately found it. It would leave only Susan (assuming she survived the kidnapping) between him and the power he wanted. So he took action accordingly."

After it was over, Susan Campbell came up to me and said, "I thank you for your help. I trusted those two, and if you had not pointed it out, I would have kept trusting them until one of them really succeeded in killing me. If there is anything I can do for you, you have only to ask."

"I appreciate the thought," I replied, "and someday I might need to take you up on it."

And I walked away, asking myself whether this could somehow be an answer to my prayer. I could not see how a teenage girl who would undoubtedly be put under guardians until she came of age could be relevant to my problem. But if this was the answer to my prayer, I trusted that God would explain to me what, if anything, I needed to do about it, and when.  

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