Two years of nursing school and then six more spent practicing as an RN didn’t seem to be enough to prepare Sera for the details of the report Val handed her. If anything her depth of knowledge seemed to leave her more confused.
“What is this? It doesn’t even look like a report on animal blood?” she asked, turning the hemtology reports over and back again as though she would force the numbers to make sense if she folded the papers into the right sort of origami.
“We don’t know,” Tam said. “What we can tell you is that this is a copy of the original inspection report from Jenny’s apartment. The current file though has a blood sample that matches a missing person, quite human and nowhere near as remarkable as the owner of this blood.”
“Someone tampered with Jenny’s file?” Sera asked, her bewilderment deepening.
“It’s noted in the log as a correction,” Tam said. “The claim is that there was a mixup of the case samples, the wrong vial got tested and results were assigned to Jenny’s casefile. We spoke to the officer that performed the investigation though and there was no mixup.”
“Why would they do that?” Sera asked, pressing a hand against her battered head.
“An effort to keep whatever that faux-blood is underwraps maybe?” Val said, handing Sera an ice pack wrapped in a towel.
“The more important question is who would be well connected enough to corrupt a police investigation?” Anna said.
“One lead we might have is Phillip Boyer,” Tam said. She’d taken her laptop out of her courier’s satchel and rotated it to show everyone Phillip’s bio and picture from the Best Deal company website. “He’s the general manager and it looks like he personally handled the short term loans that Lewis took out.”
“You think he’s after Jenny because of a paycheck loan?” Sera asked.
“Not the paycheck loans,” Tam said. “Those were small potatoes compared to the overall medical bills that Lewis paid off.”
“Do we have any evidence that he was loan sharking in addition to the Payday loans?” Val asked.
“Evidence that would stand up in court? No nothing like that unfortunately,” Tam said. “Enough to be sure he’s doing it though? Oh yeah, absolutely. Money laundering too. From what I can see of his history, Phil came from money, and since Daddy had always paid for everything he wanted, he decided the rest of the world should follow suit.”
“How did Lewis get mixed up with someone like that? He wasn’t an idiot,” Sera asked.
“Desperation does not always make room for good choices,” Anna said.
“It looks like Boyer’s whole business model revolves around that. Best Deal does most of its advertising around hospitals,” Val said. “They even have offices right near each of the major surgical centers in Atlanta.”
“Predators do tend to look for moments when their prey is weakest,” Anna said. “On a brighter note, if Boyers was the one to send the men who attacked Sera however, then he does not know where Jenny is.”
“Yeah,” Tam said. “He probably knows a lot of places she’s not, which could be helpful, but he can’t lead us directly to her.”
“Do we have options for tracking her that Boyers doesn’t?” Val asked. “Follow her credit card transactions or something like that?”
“Normally that’s an excellent option for finding someone,” Tam said. “Most hotels require a credit card for security on check-in, and we know Jenny didn’t have enough cash to go for a month buying food and shelter for herself and Meg.”
“What are you saying?” Sera asked, her breath growing shallow.
“I’m not saying she’s dead, don’t worry,” Tam said. “She’s not using credit cards, touching her bank accounts (which are basically empty anyways) or registering for anything with her driver’s license or social security number but she’s still alive. I think the guys who broke in here are confirmation of that. They wouldn’t still be looking for her is she’d already been caught or turned up dead somewhere.”
“If she knew people were after her, she has perhaps fled somewhere too far away to follow?” Anna asked. “Taken on a new life with no connections to the old one?”
“That’s what a lot of people in her position would do,” Tam said. “The only problem is, that takes time. You need to save up enough for a plane ticket, or at least bus fare. And getting a new identity is not trivial or cheap anymore.”
“Maybe a friend drove her somewhere far off?” Val suggested. “It doesn’t sound like she had a lot of baggage to move with her.”
“I talked to her friends,” Sera said. “They were all asking me about what happened to her and where she was. It could have been an act, but I don’t know why they would have lied to me.”
“There is another factor to consider,” Anna said. “She called you the night she was attacked, but we do not know for sure that it was before the break-in happened.”
“But afterwards she would have told me, wouldn’t she?” Sera asked.
“Not necessarily,” Val said. “She wanted to leave Meg with you didn’t she? What if she knew people were coming after her and she wanted to make sure they didn’t come after anyone else?”
“She might have disappeared because she didn’t want to put you or any of her friends in danger,” Tam said.
“The break-in would have been proof of the lengths people were willing to go to in order to get what they wanted from her,” Anna said. “It is easy to imagine Jenny being afraid that her attackers would target anyone close to her as well.”
“So no money trail to follow, and she’s had a month headstart on us. There’s got to be something we can do to find where she’s holed up though right?” Val asked.
“Of course there is,” Anna said. “As you said though, there may be good reasons for why Ms. Williams is hiding. We would do well to remove those reasons before bringing her back to the light of day.”
“That sounds like we’re going to pay a visit to Mr. Phillip Boyers?” Val asked, cracking her knuckles in anticipation.
“Yes, let us see what he knows of Ms.Williams disappearance,” Anna said.
“While you do that I’m going to start setting up for my show,” Tam said.
“Your show?” Sera asked.
“Stage magic,” Tam said. “I thought as long as I was in town, I’d put on a performance.”
The offices of the Best Deal Payday Loan company showed the sort of keen style and aesthetic refinement usually only found at the bottom of a beer keg. Anything that wasn’t splashed with a sloppy layer of gold paint was instead adorned with giant clear paste “gemstones”. Val’s fourth grade class had put on a stage production of “The Hobbit”. The treasure mound they’d created for the dragon’s lair had been both better designed and more tastefully executed than the decor in Best Deal’s offices. She could only imagine how horrible it would look if the lights were on.
“Tam’s already raided their computer system,” Val whispered. “I’m going to see if there are any physical ledgers that tell a different story. Guys like this usually like to keep a set of accurate books so they can keep all the lies straight.”
“Yes, check in the CFO’s desk,” Anna whispered back.
They were standing inside the executive suite on the top level of the Best Deals office building. One of the skylights had developed an inexplicable issue with the lock that kept it closed at night. The bolt cutters which lay on the roof beside the skylight might have matched the damage done to the skylight’s latch but as there was no one around to inspect the roof, and would not be before JB retrieved the bolt cutters in the morning, it was hard to say the cutters counted as ‘evidence’ in any meaningful sense.
The damage to the security system was more subtle and lasting but, again, was small enough to be overlooked by all but the most determined searches, which would also not occur before the building changed ownership.
Val strode across the darkened office, secure in the notion that no alarms would trigger due to her passing. In the Chief Financial Officer’s room, she dug into the large, multi-drawer desk that was waiting for herr. As Anna had predicted, a set of hard copies of the businesses ledgers were in the (poorly) locked lower drawer.
“That was pathetic,” Val said. “Why didn’t they have this somewhere more secure? I mean, we could have broken into the vault too but at least make it a little challenging.”
“Boyers probably wanted the ledger updated with each significant transaction,” Anna said. “With any requirement for extra work you can add the fact that people are lazy and you will find many large security holes.”
“Did you find anything interesting?” Val asked.
“A list of all their repeat clientele,” Anna said. “This should help us build a case against them.
The elevator dinged and opened.
When the quintet of men inside stepped out and turned on the lights, they found Val and Anna reading quietly with pen lights, each leaning against the half walls on the opposite side of the aisle that made up the executive assistants area.
“Who the hell are you?” Phillip Boyers asked, his voice not yet slurred by the alcohol he and his associates had been indulging in at their dinner party.
“Consultants,” Anna said.
“Oh no, they’re from the main office!” one of Boyers flunkies said.
Boyers himself took a step back and then shook his head.
“No they’re not,” he said. “They were standing here in the dark. They broke in!”
“Is it really breaking if your locks are pieces of junk?” Val asked, holding the ledger in front of her chest.
“Yeah, I kind of think it does,” Boyers said, drawing his gun. The men with him followed suit.
“There’s no need for this to become unpleasant,” Anna said. “We’re here on behalf of a client.”
“No you’re not,” Boyers said. “If you had legitimate business, you’d be here when the sun’s up.”
“I never said our business was legitimate,” Anna said. “At least, not any more than yours is.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about lady,” Boyers said.
“Is that true?” Anna asked. “Because I see you holding a gun on me, but I do not see you calling for the police? Should I call them for you?”
She help up her cell phone.
“Yeah, I’m sure they’d like to get a look at the stuff in here,” Val said, waving the one of ledger books.
“You dial that phone and I’m going to put a hole in your head,” Boyers said. “What do you want?”
“We want to resolve the debt owed by Ms. Genevieve Williams, which was originally incurred by Mr. Lewis Lakes, her husband,” Anna said.
“You came here in the middle of the night for that?” Boyers asked.
“We wanted to make sure we knew what the debt total really was,” Anna said.
“Wait a minute, did you say ‘Jenny Williams’? Do you know where she is?” Boyers asked.
“I am not at liberty to discuss the details of my clients whereabouts,” Anna said.
“That’s too bad,” Boyers said. “I’ve heard old people bones are really fragile and losing a hip is pretty bad for them. You might want to reconsider what you’re willing to talk about before we show you how tough it is to grow old.”
“I know all about how tough you can grow with age,” Anna said, drawing herself up to her full height.
Boyers retort was cut off by the ring of his cellphone. He thumbed it on and hit speaker so that he could keep an eye on Anna and Val.
“What?” he asked when the call connected.
“We got her boss!” the underling on the other end of the line said.
“Her who?” Boyer’s asked.
“Jenny Williams,” the underling said. “We found out where she’s staying. Should we get her now?”
Boyers looked over at Anna and smiled.
“Yeah, grab her. We’ll be over in a few minutes, and she better still be there. I only want to have one mess to clean up tonight.”