Chapter Ten

The bookish-looking young man in the suit knocked again, getting no response. He snuck a glance at the growing crowd of adults and kids milling around on the front yard of the apparently empty home, on the street and in other front yards. Most were talking or texting or recording the scene on their cell phones.

So far no media, but a few odd-looking guys sat in various spots on the grass, including one fruit loop on some sort of blanket. In front of the guy sat a pot and a hand-lettered sign with a wayward attempt at the word Armageddon and a request for cash. The other onlookers gave this bird a wide berth.

Along the curb, two gray and dark blue Virginia State Police cars with lights flashing (one of which the young man had arrived in), drew children like moths. A steady stream of auto traffic inched past the house, with carloads of passengers pressed against the windows like monorail riders at Lion Country Safari. And, despite it being Sunday, two service vehicles — a plumber’s van and a lawn service van — parked nearby.

Meanwhile the millers-about, focused mostly on him. One group had inched closer, and after what appeared to be a short conference, one woman broke away and approached.

“Where are they?” the envoy demanded.

“Who?” the door-knocker replied, with zero believability.

The inquisitor shot a skeptical look. “Are you with the police?”

The young man glanced involuntarily at the police cars, where he noted with relief and alarm that the state troopers were getting out of their cars. The last thing he wanted was a confrontation between the crowed and law enforcement in front of all these cell phones and with the media due any moment.

He revealing his identity would be a mistake. Despite his youth — he was the youngest-ever assistant deputy press secretary to the governor of Virginia — he was no idiot.

“Me? I’m…” he then pointed to the right and yelled at the top of his lungs, “— HEY, WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE?!” As heads turned, he leapt off the stoop, catching his foot on a bush and bouncing hard across the green grass. Leaping to his feet — a flailing blur of black wing-tips, khaki slacks, white pressed shirt and grass stains — the assistant deputy press secretary to the governor of Virginia ran like a 13-year-old nerd around the left side of the crowd.

Seeing their young charge charging toward them, the troopers scrambled back into their cruisers. Even as they flipped on their triple-digit-decibel sirens, the worldly-wise press aide dove into the back of one car screaming “GO GO GO GO!”

Children and adults lunged for safety as tires screeched and smoke billowed from the rear wheel wells of the two powerful autos. Fishtailing wildly, they roared up Crystaldale Drive. Half-a-dozen cell phones recorded the departure.

A member of the dazed crowd finally cleared his throat and spoke. “That dork must work for a politician.” Nods all around.

Seconds later, one of the service vans pulled out onto Crystaldale Drive and sped off in the direction of the fleeing police vehicles. A moment later, the second van followed.

The occupants of the police cruisers did not notice the vans trailing them. The young press aide sat up and inspected his appearance.

“That went all right, don’t you think?” he chirped.

The career law enforcement officer did not respond, but instead directed a cold stare at the aide through the rear view mirror. After a couple awkward seconds, the press aide cleared his voice for maximum importance.

“Better check in with the governor.”

The trooper rolled his eyes.

A speakerphone rang in a conference room on the third floor of the Capitol, interrupting a raging debate. On the walls of the room hung hundreds of photos of Governor Rolfe and her staff doing the people’s business, meeting with world and business leaders, listening with serious expressions to constituents, speaking with inspired eyes to unseen audiences, and cutting up at staff get-togethers.

Several of the photo subjects were at that moment sitting or pacing around the conference room table: Scott Butler, the governor’s chief of staff; Marc Byrd, the governor’s top political advisor; Steve Armstrong, the legislative and policy director; and, the press secretary, Jimmy “Stonewall” Jackson — a nickname he’d earned from a frustrated Capitol beat reporter at a press conference after the umpteenth non-answer: “Look, there stands Jackson, like a stone wall!” Richmond is very hip, Civil War-wise.).

Butler punched the pickup button before the second ring.

“We just left the Smith house,” came the hyperventilating voice of the press aide over the speaker, sounding a bit like a space mission in trouble. “They’re not there. Nobody’s seen them since they left for church this morning.”

“Any media there?”

“Negative, not yet, but a bunch of people are hanging around the front yard, taking pictures.”

“What’d you learn?”

“The family’s got one kid: the miracle boy, Billy. Two years old. Mom’s name is Amy or Tracy or something, and the dad is Tom. He works somewhere in Richmond. The mom stays at home, I think.”

Faces fell into hands around the table. The young reverend at the church had been more helpful, although he had thought he was talking to the Washington Post at the time.

“Did you attract any attention?”

Rocketing down a residential street in the police cruiser, sirens screaming, the press aide glanced at the trooper’s eyes in the rear view mirror. “Nope.”

“All right. Get back here.”

Inside each service van, men smiled and tapped keys on laptops. Digital recording devices flashed. A man in each van picked up secure telephones.

“Dog Pound?” began one. “This is Big Dog…”

“La guarida, este es el gato grande…” began the other.

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© Chuck Hansen - 2019