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By Della Street
He had been alone for well over an hour now, by his estimation. They probably couldn't figure out what to do with him; they never could. They had no more proof now than the last three times he sat in an interrogation room, calmly denying any knowledge of these unfortunate incidents.
Different rooms, different stations, but always the same result: No proof. No witnesses - not since that first near-disaster, when he temporarily left alive what he had thought was a reliable assistant - no evidence, no trace of payments made by desperate husbands and parents against the advice of law enforcement officials. Each time they came for him a little sooner, but gut feeling did not probable cause make, and Raymond Herrod could eventually collect his things and leave.
Still, he could expect to spend the better part of the day stuck inside these gray walls, he knew. Twelve hours, give or take--he did the math--came out to just over $160,000 an hour. Couldn't complain about that.
From the increasing noise levels on the other side of the door, he guessed it was shift change. The door opened, and an attractive brunette stepped across the threshold. A detective, possibly; she wore an expensive blue jacket over dark slacks. "Tom," she called out to a group of drones, "Can you get me out of here?"
One of the uniforms walked over. "Hey, Jo," he greeted her. "We haven't had our briefing yet. What're you here for?"
She jerked a thumb toward a piece of paper taped to the door, and Herrod noticed that HENDRIX 155.05 was scribbled across it. 155.05 - embezzlement.
"Adventures in Babysitting," the woman replied.
The male officer reached for a clipboard and scanned it as someone called to him from the far corner. "Transport to Albany?"
"Or I might just knock him on the head and bury him somewhere," she said, inspecting the paperwork.
The other cop laughed. "They don't pay overtime for that any more," he said.
"Bureaucrats." For the first time, she turned to Herrod. "Wanna go for a ride?"
Oh, this was too rich. "Love to," he said with a smile.
She reached into her pants pocket for a set of car keys and tossed them to the other cop. "Finally getting your chance," she told him. "Don't move the seat." As he trotted off, she reached for the handcuffs behind Herrod's back. "Up."
"Of course, Detective . . . ?"
She did not supply the requested information.
A real talker, this one. No wonder they didn't have her on the interrogation squads; at least she hadn't been in on any of the interviews of him. Come to think of it, he had never been questioned by a woman. He wondered what it would be like.
As she walked him toward the exit, he smirked at the label taped to the door on the adjoining room. HERROD. Rich, indeed.
Now, this was different: Awaiting them beside the curb with the engine running was a bright, candy red Porsche. Mid-'80s, he guessed, in immaculate condition. A beauty.
"Nice," he complimented, but again she ignored him. After tucking him into the passenger seat, one hand clasped protectively behind his head since his own hands were otherwise occupied, she walked around the car and slipped in behind the wheel.
"I've invoked my right to counsel," he said as a precaution. "I won't be answering any questions."
"Good," she said. "Keep your trap shut and we'll both be happy."
She meant it, apparently. Mile after mile passed as she stared out at the road.
Suddenly, the radio came to life, and a male voice asked, "Polniaczek, what's your 20?"
She reached for the radio. "Just enjoyin' the sunshine," she replied.
Herrod looked over at her.
"Give me your location." When she did not answer, the voice exclaimed, "Polniaczek, give me your location, then pull over and wait for backup."
So, someone back in the Big Apple had finally figured out the screwup. He wondered how long they had been grilling some pencil pusher about his bomb-making techniques before realizing that the wrong bastard was on his way to Albany, and with a lone escort.
Flipping off the switch, the woman cradled the phone. True to her word, she had asked him nothing. Said nothing. Appeared utterly disinterested in him. This clusterfuck wasn't turning out to be quite as amusing as he had hoped. But, of course, she still thought her travel companion was some low-level white collar criminal. Time to let her in on the secret.
As he weighed his introduction, she steered the Porsche smoothly onto an exit ramp.
"Call of nature?" he asked.
Again there was no answer. He watched with slight interest as they turned left, then drove a few more miles until they passed a cheery "Welcome to Peekskill" sign.
Unexpectedly, the woman spoke up. "I went to school here."
Not that he particularly cared - cared at all, actually - but the fact that she was finally acknowledging his existence was at least noteworthy.
"Met the love of my life here."
And the point was?
"This was her car," she said. "First time I ever got some was in this car."
Her? He looked her over with greater interest.
"Not the whole enchilada, of course," she went on. "She wasn't 'doin' that' in a car. Not back then, anyway."
"How'd you end up with it?" he asked. He had never ended up with any of his ex-bitches' cars. Not that he needed them; he could afford a hundred cars now.
She nodded toward a small restaurant. "That used to be a bar," she said. For the first time, she smiled. "We got arrested there the day we met."
"Let's get some lunch," he suggested. Italian sounded good to him. Miss Memory Lane would probably jump at the idea.
Instead, she pointed down the street at a large brick building. "Spent an hour in that jail."
No lunch, apparently.
This was getting irritating. How presumptuous of some no-name cop to think that she could just drag him all over some podunk town on her little comeback tour. It wasn't illegal, Herrod knew - he was well versed in his constitutional rights - but it was damn annoying nonetheless.
"Aren't they waiting for us in Albany?" he said. He was going to have to go further, he predicted, identify himself and then watch as she floored it back to her angry bosses at the speed of light.
They were driving past another local landmark, apparently. "'Two Philburgers, one with no cheese, two Chilly Phillies, two strawberry shakes, a Coke, and an order of fries,'" she said, smiling again.
"Detective, I think I've seen enough of your quaint little village," he informed her. "I want to call my lawyer." He didn't actually have the right to a lawyer unless he was being questioned, of course, but most of these flatfeet didn't know that.
"You know, my care level about what you want is not real high at the moment," she said.
She turned the car onto what appeared to be a long, paved lane. "This is the Eastland School," she said. "Ever hear of it? Used to be called the Eastland School for Girls."
There was something familiar about the name, he realized uncomfortably.
"We went to school here," she said. "Then she bought it."
Eastland . . . . Where had he heard it?
Eastland . . . . Not . . . .
"Police report no leads in the kidnapping of heiress Blair Warner, the fourth Manhattanite taken from her parking garage in the past eight months. Ms. Warner, daughter of billionaire David Warner and a Vice President of Warner Industries, had just returned home from an event at . . ."
His heart began racing.
". . . the Eastland School in upstate New York."
"They're out for the summer," the detective said. Turning off the engine, she grabbed the keys and inserted one of them into the lock on the gate.
He looked around desperately, but the place was clearly deserted. Fumbling for the door handle, he realized to his horror that the one on his side of the car had been removed. He lunged toward the driver's side but she was there, shoving him back. "You tryin' to escape?" she said.
She settled back into the seat and drove slowly down the tree-lined lane.
"I demand to be taken to the local police station," he said.
"Like I care about your demands," she replied.
After a while the road widened and a large campus emerged, with what appeared to be several academic buildings, dormitories, staff housing, all surrounded by layers of green. She cruised slowly past a large house. "We lived here for a while," she said. "That's where I first told her I loved her."
She turned onto a narrow rock road, at the bottom of which was a pond. "In the summer you've got total privacy," she said. "We used to bring out a blanket and look at the stars . . . ." She pointed to a patch of yellow on one of the banks. "She always liked lilies."
She stopped the car and sat for a moment, staring out over the still water.
"I don't know what's going on here," he said. "You're a cop. This is illegal."
She turned a cold gaze to him. "A little fresh air never killed anyone."
Reaching down with her left hand, she popped the trunk, then opened her door and walked around to the back. From the side mirror, he watched her draw a shovel and a sheet of plastic from inside the trunk.
Fuck! Panicked, he looked around again. She wouldn't mess up the car - not this car. His door jerked open, and she ordered, "Out."
He scrambled to get to his feet, his brain churning. His only chance would be when she walked him down to the water .
Herrod nearly cried with relief. Peering down at them from the lane were two uniformed police officers.
"Shit," the woman murmured.
"I thought that was you," one of them called down. "We saw the open gate and thought we'd better check it out."
She let the shovel and plastic drop casually to the ground, then plastered on a smile. "Jimmy?"
"Jo Polniaczek!" He seemed pleased to see her, and trotted down the embankment. "How long has it been?"
"Long enough for you to get better looking," she said. "Who's your partner?"
"Ed Beacham, Jo Polniaczek," he introduced them. "The crime rate in Peekskill dropped 50 percent when Jo moved to the City," he said. More soberly, he added, "Listen, Jo, I was sorry to hear about--"
"Yeah," she cut him off. "Sometimes you're just too late, you know?"
An awkward silence fell on the group, but apparently Barney Fife had finally noticed that there was a fourth member of this little group. "Who's your friend?"
"Prisoner transport," she said casually. "Just stopped to dig some flowers. You know Blair planted these. Well, had them planted, anyway." They smiled at each other in some shared understanding. "Couldn't leave this bozo alone in Blair's pride and joy."
Herrod spoke up. "You've got to--"
The woman brought up a hand. "Silent, remember?" she warned.
"Can you stop by the house for a few?" the older cop asked. "Terry'd love to see you."
"I'd love to, but this little detour's got me behind schedule already."
"Okay; maybe nex--"
"She's going to kill me!" Herrod erupted.
The men paused, but Polniaczek chuckled. "It is tempting," she said. "It might get me out of the next perp run."
The other cops laughed.
"Although there are few things more stimulating than hauling CPAs to Albany," she said.
"I'm not an accountant!" he yelled. "They arrested me for her girlfriend's murder."
That seemed to catch the yokels' attention, thank God.
"Right," the woman said sarcastically. "And he's the Unabomber, and D. B. Cooper. We closed every open file since 1914 when we nailed this guy." She pointed down at the lilies. "I'm just getting' some of Blair's flowers, then I'm on my way with Walter Mitty here."
"She's going to kill me!" Herrod shouted. "She thinks I blew up her fucking girlfriend! She's going to fucking kill me, goddamn it!"
The officers seemed unsure what to do, damn idiots.
"Yeah; the N.Y.P.D. thought it'd be a good idea to put me on the guy who took Blair," Polniaczek said. "No wonder they keep gettin' sued."
The officers laughed again, and then turned to start up the hill.
"No! They don't know! She switched the names!" Herrod shouted. "You can't leave me here!"
The men were nearly back at their car now.
"I have money!" he shouted at them. "Four million dollars! I'll split it with you. You can't leave me here with her!"
One thing he had learned over the years - money talked.
"A million dollars apiece," he said. "Just to take me to the police station."
That's it come on
"She's not gonna say anything," he urged. "We're not supposed to be here. I just want to go to the police station."
"He's full of shit, Jimmy," the woman said quickly, but - thank God - they were still thinking. "Jimmy . . ."
Hours later, Jo reached for a familiar doorknob. Normally, she would have chastised the first person she saw for leaving it unlocked - it hadn't bothered her while they were growing up, but she had seen too much since then - but Jo had bigger concerns at the moment.
She tore up the stairs, calling out, bursting into the bedroom and sprinting across the room to sweep the beautiful woman there into her arms. "Blair," she murmured, tightening her embrace.
"I'm OK, Jo," Blair said, soothing a palm across her back. "Everything's OK."
She knew it, had known it intellectually, had been reassured repeatedly by her captain and her partner and the bomb squad and the commissioner and everyone except the one person she needed to hear it from.
Herrod first, reunion later, her captain had gently insisted. Blair was fine. This was their chance. They had gotten to him before the morning news; as far as Herrod knew, Blair Warner was dead. She needed to do this. Blair was fine.
"How did it go?" another voice asked from what used to be Jo's old bed. Natalie. She smiled at the additional comfort.
"We got him," Jo said.
This time, it was Tootie - Dorothy. "He admitted taking Blair?"
Jo shook her head. "But we got the bank account when he was paying the guys off. FBI was able to trace it to the other ransom payouts." And admissible, too, the DA opined - not a threat to be heard on the carefully orchestrated tape. Who knew Herrod would freak out just at digging some flowers? Guilty conscience, they all agreed. Yeah, that would work.
She released Blair and kissed her lightly, mindful of the others in the room. "Jimmy says you're even now on that time he tp'd the 911."
"Well, I suppose," Blair said dramatically. "But it was pretty traumatic "
"He also says he wouldn't have done it if he'd know it was yours," Jo drawled. "Something I need to know?"
Blair patted her cheek. "So many things," she said.
True. But for now . . . she took Blair into her arms again. A thought occurred to her, and she said, "Let's stay here tonight. Blanket, stars . . . ."
"That sounds great!" Dorothy declared.
Natalie reached for her arm and urged her oblivious friend up off the bed. "We'll be at the Ramada . . . ."
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