Charles didn’t expect Liz to call him. After chatting at length with the waitress at Pandora’s Pizza about their strange, brief relationship (which had, inexplicably, left him feeling much better), he had come to the realization that he probably wouldn’t get the chance to explain himself to her. The knowledge chafed, but he had little choice. There was some relief in knowing that the brief affair was over, but a touch of disappointment as well.
But she call she did, and hearing her voice kick-started the desire to talk to her again. “It’s me,” she said. “Valentine is here.”
He guessed by the tone of her voice that here meant not just in town but also standing right next to me, and kept his response businesslike. “I had reason to believe that was true.”
“I wish you’d have told me,” she said in a lower voice. “He’s got me and your sister. It’s about the briefcase.”
Charles’ free hand became a fist, and he squeezed the phone so hard the plastic creaked. “And I suppose he wants me to bring it to him.”
“Yes. He says he killed a friend of ours in Los Angeles, and he’ll do us too. I think he’s serious.”
“He is,” Charles said. “Tell me where the briefcase is.”
“In my car, at the Kroger near my apartment. The case is in the trunk, under the spare tire. If you can’t find it you might be able to call–” there was a thump as the phone hit the floor, followed by a bark of pain from Liz and a shout in the background. The receiver scuffled, then Liz was back on. “Okay, I was mistaken,” she said, her voice tight. “You’re not to call anybody. Bring it to this house.” She gave him an address.
“Liz, don’t answer this if he’ll hurt you again, but is the address you just gave me the place where you’re being held hostage?”
“He’s out of control, isn’t he? He’s going to kill you even if I do bring the money.”
“Probably. So hurry,” she added. “Please.” The connection broke.
Charles put the phone down slowly, and started to pace. His gut was telling him to rush right out the door, find Liz’ car, and do whatever was necessary to save Nikki and Liz.
And yet, he knew better. He knew it was better to turn the matter over to the police. He was a part of the system, he had to trust the system. Charging out action-hero style seemed on the surface to be the best thing, but that was because he wanted nothing more than to save Liz and his sister. To redeem himself in their eyes, perhaps. He wanted it so badly he had his coat on and was halfway to the door.
But he couldn’t. The lone-wolf, knight in shining armor approach was pure ego, nothing more. Charles forced himself to think farther ahead, to the possible worst-case scenarios. Getting the police involved might cause Valentine to kill Liz and Nikki, if hostage negotiations and attempted exchanges failed. But going it alone might result in all three of their deaths, and like it or not, he had Andrea to think of as well. This wasn’t a courtroom; the cops knew better than he did.
Part of himself still insisted it was a rationalization, and he just wasn’t man enough to take care of this himself. He did his best not to listen to that voice.
Charles called the Ypsilanti police department first, and hated himself for a coward for doing it. He spoke to the cop whom he’d talked with concerning the attack on Katz, and passing on everything he’d heard from Liz. Yes, Valentine was a known suspect in a Los Angeles homicide. He was where? He’d done what? Charles could all but hear the other man’s energy level rising. No, there was no need to contact the Los Angeles police, he’d do it. He’d send officers to Charles’ location, and then he could brief them on what he knew as well.
It was a long night. By four in the morning, Charles had finally told his story to enough officers that he didn’t have to repeat it any more. He had watched security cameras from the Kroger where Valentine had abducted Liz, and identified Valentine, Andrew and Liz as they entered and exited. His heart gave a jolt as a short woman who looked remarkably like Nikki entered the store at one point, but he didn’t see her leave. Being their principal source of information had its bonuses; he was able to tag along as cops raced to and fro in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, locating Liz’ car and searching it top to bottom. The mysterious briefcase was finally broken open, revealing approximately $450,000 in cash. Close to dawn, Charles was pulled into yet another police car and whisked to the Ypsilanti lockup, to identify two people who’d been held overnight after fleeing the scene of the abduction. One of them was Andrew, who looked surprised to see Charles, then grateful when he told the cops to release him and the woman with him.
“I told them we were chasing the bad guys,” Andrew said. “I hate spending a night in jail when I haven’t done anything.”
“Sorry I didn’t come sooner. It’s been a bit disorganized tonight.” That was all Charles had a chance to say before he was whisked off to the house where Valentine was holding Liz. A breakfast of donuts and coffee was barely consumed before they were crossing the yellow police tape that blocked the entrance to the street, where SWAT and police units were setting up for a siege.