I had picked up the note at first thinking it was a deli paper that had fallen out of a packet of sliced cheese. I had nearly tossed it into the trashcan when I saw the words glaring back at me. I’d dropped it instantly back onto the island where I’d first picked it up. I cursed. If there had been prints, I’d probably smudged them. I stared at it in horror but also relief. If someone had finally made contact, they wanted a ransom. They knew I’d ask for proof of life. Chris and Daniel had to be alive. I was shaking as I riffled through the kitchen drawer searching for Emily Stratton’s card. I finally found it and punched in the number.
“Emily,” I said brokenly, “They’ve left me a note. Chris and Daniel are alive.” I finished relaying how I’d found it in a rush.
“Slow down, Elizabeth. Did you say you touched it?” she asked.
“Yes, I did. It’s not a sheet of notebook paper or printer paper. It looks like a scrap-sort of like what they put between slices of cheese. That’s what I thought it was. I almost threw it away without even seeing what it said.”
“Maybe they’re on the run and couldn’t risk being seen,” Emily guessed aloud. “I’ll be there with a team right away.”
“Can you do it with just a few people?” I asked. “If they’ve been so scared it’s taken them this long to contact me, I don’t want to risk frightening them off for good.”
“Okay,” Emily replied. “We’ll be low key, I promise. They didn’t ask for a ransom?”
“No. Is that a bad sign?” I asked nervously.
“Not necessarily.” Emily backtracked, “They may just want to keep us off guard to make it harder for us to trace them.”
It sounded reassuring. I didn’t know how true it was. In a few hours, both Emily and her team and the security firm arrived. After the bad reaction to the medicine and finding the note in my home that morning, I’d completely forgotten about the alarm company coming. They arrived in a nondescript minivan but I shivered in fear at the appearance of them at the same time as the FBI. If the kidnappers were watching, it had to strike them as unusual to find two vehicles descend on my house right after they left their note.
Emily reassured me after she came inside that the kidnappers had to expect I would call someone after they’d contacted me and again told me not to worry. She eyed the note and bagged it. Her team began to work on the doors searching for prints.
The security company assured me they could walk around the home and figure their estimate without getting in the FBI’s way. Emily forced them to sit in the living room and told them they could start when she was finished. They waited patiently without complaint for which I was grateful. I didn’t want them to contaminate any evidence the FBI might find.
Finally, Emily’s team was done. I continued to wait nervously by the phone praying for it to ring. The alarm company personnel walked around the house making notes. The oldest looking of the three men approached me, “We finished our estimate and we can start placing some of the cameras today if you want us to.” He handed me a slip of paper.
At the number I saw circled, I gasped. It would push the limit of my credit card to the max.
“I know it may seem high at first glance, but in your circumstances, we want to use some of the best night vision cameras we have.”
He didn’t have to explain further. I hardly wanted to miss the chance to identify my family’s kidnappers. I nodded, “Okay. Just please be extra discreet as you work.”
“We will. Don’t you worry,” he added.
Emily pulled me aside once it was almost midnight. The security company had left hours ago, installing cameras in a few key areas with a promise to return tomorrow to complete the job. “It doesn’t look like they are going to call tonight. Why don’t you try to get some sleep?”
I didn’t snap like the first time she’d told me that. Instead, I nodded and made for the stairs. I doubted I would sleep. I was edgy and jumpy and didn’t want to try any medications after the episode I’d just had. I spent the entire night rolling and flipping from side to side. I didn’t think I’d slept at all when I saw the sunshine beginning to peek through the drapes.
I staggered down the staircase into the living room. Emily was awake but tired looking. “They never called, did they?” I asked.
“No, I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but don’t get discouraged-”
I just walked away and slipped outside on to the patio. The tears flowed over my cheeks. Deep down, I had thought they wouldn’t call but it didn’t make it hurt any less. I wiped my face with the tail of my shirt and went back inside.”
“Emily, you guys had better just pack up and go. They know you’re here and they’re not going to make another move until they’re sure I’m alone.”
Emily looked concerned, “I can leave an officer-”
“No, I’ll be fine alone. Trust me.” I tried to look fearless and confident. I doubt she bought my act but she did agree to leave and began packing up the equipment.
She assured me though that the phones would still record all incoming calls. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay? I can send the rest of the team back.”
“No, but thanks for the offer,” I replied.
After they left, I sat down on the sofa and picked up the manual for the new security setup. I flipped through the pages. The jargon rushed over me and after ten minutes, I realized I was wasting my time. I couldn’t concentrate on the words. I’d have to ask the company to review the recordings for me for a while.
My head started to pound painfully and I went into the bathroom to search the medicine cabinet for some pills. I pulled out a bottle of Advil only to find it empty. Great. I reached into the back and found an old bottle of Tylenol. It had expired a year ago. I took it