KIDNAPPED: PART 4

Wednesday, 4:10 p.m.

“Got it,” Kwan said.  “Public phone at MLK Boulevard and 140.  We’re on our way.”  Kwan and Murphy were on their cell phones as they ran out of the Van Horns’ building, asking their uptown colleagues to get the pay phone secured as quickly as possible.  If they were lucky, they might get some prints.

OK, Tagliotta thought. This is good news.  The boy is alive—if the caller wasn’t lying.  Tagliotta wondered whether the voice was that of a man trying to sound like a woman, or a woman trying to sound like a man.  They hadn’t yet ruled out the possibility of a team of kidnappers, one male and one female.  The kid’s teacher had seen Marius run to a woman, but most women need a man to help keep a boy in line.

The Van Horns had some explaining to do.  What, exactly, had the kidnapper’s cryptic demands meant?  A kidnapper who didn’t ask for money, and who seemed to hint at private matters….  This might point to someone associated with the family—a resentful nanny or neighbor, for example—but a stranger couldn’t be ruled out.  In a city as densely populated as New York, you could make an unknown enemy on every block: the cabbie you undertipped, the person you inadvertently jostled in the elevator.  Greta was easy to hate:  rich, self-absorbed, and a terrible mother to boot.  And people hated doctors almost as much as they hated lawyers.  People found them cold, impersonal, and materialistic; they hated them for charging them $125 for a ten-minute office visit, for treating them like numbers in an HMO plan.

Tagliotta turned to Nicholas.  “Dr. Van Horn, why does the caller want you to stop seeing older patients?”

“I have no idea.  I don’t age-discriminate in the patients I take on.”  By which you mean, Tagliotta thought, that you’re happy to suck money out of people from all walks of life.  “And it’s not like I have a gerontological practice.  I see patients of all ages.”

“Think.  Have you had any elderly patients lately who might blame you for something?  Someone who might hold a grudge?”

“Detective Tagliotta, I don’t hurt people. I help them.”

“I need your office manager to get me the names and records of everyone over 65 that you’ve seen in the last year.  Tell her to pull it all together and call here when the list is ready.”

Tagliotta looked at Greta.  “Mrs. Van Horn, why does the caller want you to stop playing tennis?”

“Oh, who knows!  He’s crazy!  He kidnapped my son!”

“Is there someone at your club you might have offended?  A locker room attendant?  Have you stood in the way of a rival winning a tournament?”  What an insane idea, that someone would kidnap a child to prevent the mother from winning a tennis match—but in a world where mothers took out contracts on the lives of their daughters’ cheerleading rivals, nothing could be ruled out.

“No, I haven’t offended anyone.  And as a player I’m mediocre at best.”

Tagliotta looked at LaTralla.  “Call Kwan and tell him we need a list of the entire membership of the Gotham Racquet Club, plus all employees, with addresses.”

Tagliotta turned his gaze back to the parents.  “All right, last question for both of you.  What did you do to your son that warrants an apology?”

“We lost him,” Greta said in a tone much more apologetic than anything Tagliotta had heard thus far.

 

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

“So, where are the parents of the year?”  Murphy asked as he shoveled a mass of chicken lo mein onto a paper plate at the precinct house.

Tagliotta answered.  “Getting ready for the newscast.  They’re going live on NBC news at ten to offer the apology.”

“What are they gonna say?”

“The usual plea to the kidnapper to return their kid.  And a promise that she’ll give up tennis, and he’ll stop taking on old farts as patients.  Kwan—any word on the tennis club?”

“We’ve talked to all the managers and some of the staff.  They know Greta Van Horn, but she seems to keep a low profile.  The people at the front desk say she isn’t overly friendly, but she isn’t rude either.  We’re talking to the people she plays in the league with, one at a time,” Kwan continued.  “A lot of other women just like her, too much time and money on their hands.  The tennis pro who gives her lessons, a guy named Philippe D’Arget, had the day off, but he’ll be in at seven tomorrow morning.  I stopped at his apartment but he wasn’t there.”

Tagliotta continued the questioning.  “Murphy, what about Van Horn’s older patients?  How much money has he sucked out of ‘em?”

“Talked to about a dozen so far.  Nothing out of the ordinary, they all think he’s a good chiropractor.  Some say he’s helped them a little, some say a lot.  You gotta see these people.  A detective knocks at their door and asks them to talk about their ailments.  It’s like a lifelong dream come true for them.  I have a few possible dates with single granddaughters.”

“Have those single gals give me a call before they do anything rash,” LaTralla put in.

“But I’ll tell you something I didn’t like,” Murphy continued, ignoring LaTralla’s barb.  “I didn’t like the vibe from the nurse.  Sonia Litchfield.  She seemed nervous.  I mean, more nervous than the average person who’s dealing with a detective.  How much you think nurses make?”

“Maybe fifty or sixty?  Van Horn doesn’t seem like the type to overpay his staff.”

“She was wearing some pretty expensive jewelry.  Gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds.”  Murphy knew precious gems; he’d worked a big counterfeiting case a decade earlier and had learned enough about jewels to write a book.

“She sleeping with Van Horn, you think?”  Tagliotta asked matter-of-factly.

“Doubtful.  Greta is at least a knock-out.  Litchfield is older, matronly, ankles like Hillary Clinton.”

“Should we bring her in?” Tagliotta asked.

“Why don’t you let me go see her?” LaTralla suggested.

The three men in the room nodded simultaneously.  LaTralla’s expertise in such matters was unquestioned.

“OK, here’s an update on the call,” Tagliotta said.  “No prints on the phone.  Wiped clean.”

Tagliotta continued.  “No one in the neighborhood remembers seeing anyone on the phone at four o’clock.” Which made sense, of course; most passersby would not pay the least attention to a stranger talking on a public phone.  The East Harlem guys were in the process of talking to the local business owners and residents.  Maybe they’d get lucky and find a shut-in who sat at his window all day long, observing what happened on the block.

“Speaking of phones, maybe we should get records for the Van Horns, just in case.  Cell and home numbers, and for the husband, the office records, too,” LaTralla suggested.

“Good idea,” Tagliotta said.  “Delegated to you, of course.”

 

Wednesday, 8:45 p.m.

Tagliotta was reading a slew of interview reports from the tennis club, poring over every detail, looking for that one tiny bit of information that would help crack open the case, when Murphy burst into his office.

“We started getting calls about ten minutes ago.  Look at this.”  He handed Tagliotta a few sheets of paper.

The pages had obviously been printed from an Internet browser.  Tagliotta read:

 

I AM MARIUS VAN HORN.  I AM SOMEWHERE IN NEW JERSEY, I THINK THE TOWN IS CALLED CAMDON.  I AM IN A BRICK APARTMENT BUILDING WITH TWO BIG PINE TREES IN THE PARKING LOT.  I THINK THE BUILDING NUMBER IS 865, THAT’S WHAT I CAN SEE FROM THIS WINDOW.  I AM AFRAID OF THIS MAN, I THINK HIS NAME IS GARY.  PLEASE SEND HELP.

 

The other sheets of paper held similar messages.

“Jesus,” Tagliotta said.  “Where’d these come from?”

“They’re postings on Internet newsgroups and bulletin boards.  Started showing up about an hour ago.”

“Real or fake?”

“Don’t know yet.  They come from a free Yahoo address, MVanHorn@ yahoo.com.  It’s a new account, apparently set up only a minute or two before these things started showing up.”

Tagliotta allowed himself to feel a moment of pinched hope.  “Isn’t the kid supposed to be good with computers?”

Murphy nodded.

 

Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.

The NBC news anchor sat on a small platform across from Greta and Nicholas Van Horn, his earpiece hidden behind his shellacked helmet hair.

“Good evening.  I’m Lars Burke.  Our top story tonight:  Marius Van Horn, an eight-year-old Greenwich Village boy, disappeared from the playground of P.S. 41 on West 11th Street at approximately 3 p.m. yesterday.  Joining us this evening are Marius’ parents, Greta and Nicholas Van Horn.  Greta, Nicholas, thank you for being with us.”

“Thank you for having us, Lars,” Nicholas said in a voice less booming than usual.  Tagliotta had coached him not to appear overly confident, cocky, or aggressive.

“Mrs. Van Horn, do you have anything you’d like to say to the kidnapper?”

Greta seemed sedate, or at least sedated.  “Yes, I do, Lars.  First, I want to beg the person who took Marius to please bring him back to us.  We won’t ask any questions at all.  Second, Marius, if you are watching, I want to apologize, from the bottom of my heart, for not picking you up at school yesterday.  I want to say how sorry I am for not being there when you needed me.  Third, I want you to know I’m giving up tennis so that we can spend afternoons together, and I’m giving up all the things that are bad for me, too.”

“Dr. Van Horn, I understand you’d like to make a statement as well.”

“Yes, I would, Lars.  I want to apologize to my son, also, for not being there when he needed me.  I get too wrapped up in my job, and I understand now how that affects my family.  Marius, if you’re watching, I want you to know I’m going to be a better father.  I’m going to start by not taking on so many new patients in my practice, whether they’re young or old.”

Nicholas had followed the script exactly.  Everyone had agreed that he shouldn’t specifically talk about taking on fewer elderly patients; doing so would have raised eyebrows and questions.

The cameras swung to the news desk, where the female co-anchor took over.  Nicholas and Greta ripped their microphones off and joined Tagliotta and LaTralla.

“What now?” Nicholas Van Horn asked.

“We go back to your apartment and wait.”

*  *  *

Philippe D’Arget was eating a sandwich in front of his TV while watching the news.

He understood exactly what Greta meant when she said she was giving up tennis.  He’d already had a call from the club manager saying the police would be at the club to interview him the next morning.

Should he tell them the truth?  Greta had begged him not to.

*  *  *

Sonia Litchfield sat in front of the TV in her small Sixth Avenue Apartment.  This was to be her last week in the place; she’d recently bought a large two-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side.  Packed boxes were crammed into every corner.

Her blood froze when she heard Dr. Van Horn say he wasn’t taking on any new patients.

She’d never thought that what she was doing was all that bad.  She was simply signing a few papers and helping Dr. Van Horn.  But had it led to the kidnapping of sweet little Marius, who sometimes visited the office with his nanny?

But nobody knew—no one.  Just her, and Dr. V, and the accountant.  And the accountant was making more money than she was, so why would he tell anyone?

She didn’t sleep a wink the entire night.

 

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