Date of publication: July 2016
Sam pushed through the double doors and into cool, crisp winter air that smelled like snow. She’d had a conversation yesterday with her son, Scotty, about how air can smell like snow. Scotty said it wasn’t possible to smell snow, even after she got him to take a few deep breaths to see what she meant. He remained skeptical, but she had a few more weeks of winter to prove her point.
Sam turned toward the man who’d called to her. He was in his late twenties or early thirties, handsome with dark blond hair and brown eyes. The panic she saw in his expression put her immediately on alert. “That’s me, although they don’t call me that around here. And you are?”
Sam shook his outstretched hand. “What can I do for you, Josh?”
“I need your help.”
“Today I was bored at work, so I started surfing the web, you know, just clicking around aimlessly.”
As a technophobe of the highest order, Sam didn’t know because she’d never done that and certainly not at work, where she was usually too busy to pee, let alone surf.
Josh took a series of deep breaths, and Sam’s anxiety ramped up a notch. “I saw this story about a baby who was kidnapped thirty years ago. They had this age-progression photo showing what he’d look like now, and…” He gulped. “It was me.”
With trembling hands, Josh retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and called up a web page, zeroing in on a digitally produced photo that did, in fact, bear a striking resemblance to him.
“Those photos are produced by computers. They’re not exact.”
“That’s me! And it explains why I’ve never felt at home or accepted in my family. What if they took me?”
“Hang on a minute. What evidence do you have to suspect that your parents participated in a criminal act to bring you into their family?”
He seemed to make an effort to calm down. “They’re extremely accomplished people and so are my siblings. My brother is a board-certified neurosurgeon. He went to Harvard for undergrad and medical school. My sister is an attorney, also Harvard educated, Law Review, the whole nine yards. And then there’s me. I barely made it out of state college after having spent most of my five years there on academic probation. After four years working for the federal government, I’m a GS-9 at Veterans Affairs, where I shuffle paper all day while counting the minutes until I can leave. The only reason I have that job is because my father, who has never approved of a thing I said or did, pulled strings to get me in. They’re all Republicans while I’m a liberal Democrat who fully supports your husband. I hope he runs in four years, by the way.”
“None of that proves your parents kidnapped you.”
“Will you take my case? Please? I need to know for sure. This would explain so much of why I’ve felt like a square peg in my own family my entire life.”
Sam held up a hand to stop him. “I’m a homicide cop, not a private investigator, but if you really believe a crime has been committed, I can refer you to someone within the department—”
“No.” He shook his head. “I want you. You’re the best. Everyone says so.”
“I’m honored you think so, but I’m on a leave of absence for the next few days, so I’m not able to take your case personally.”
“It has to be you. You’re the only one I’d trust to do it right.”
“The Metro PD has plenty of very qualified detectives who could look into this for you and help determine whether a crime has been committed, Mr. Hamilton.”
“You don’t understand. It can’t be any random detective. It can only be you.”
“Are you going to tell me why?”
He took another series of deep breaths, appearing to summon the courage he needed to tell her why. “It’s… He’s… Well, my dad, you see… He’s Troy Hamilton, the FBI director.”
Holy bombshell, Batman! Sam’s mind raced with implications and scenarios and flat-out disbelief. “You can’t honestly believe that your father, one of the top law enforcement officials in the country, kidnapped a child thirty years ago.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Josh said.
“He’s one of the most respected men in our business. He’s revered.”
“Believe me, I know all about how revered he is. I hear about it on a regular basis.” He looked at her beseechingly. “You have to help me. I don’t know who else to turn to. Besides some of the people who work for my father, I don’t know any other cops, and you’re the best. And… I’m scared.” The last two words were said on a faint whisper.
Sam wanted nothing to do with the snake pit this case could turn out to be, but the detective in her was far too intrigued to walk away. “How’d you get here?”
“I took the Metro.”
She took a look around to see if anyone was watching, but the parking lot was deserted, and the usual band of reporters that stalked the MPD were taking the day off. They tended to do that when it was freezing. “Come with me.” She led him to her car and gestured for Josh to get in the passenger side.
Though she had no idea what she planned to do with him or the information he’d dropped in her lap, she couldn’t walk away from what he’d told her. “Tell me more about this website where you saw the photo.”
“It’s a blog run by parents of missing children.”
“How did you end up there?”
“I read a story about a baby who was kidnapped from a hospital in Tennessee the day after he was born and how his parents have never stopped looking for him. The thirtieth anniversary of the abduction is coming up, so they’ve gotten some regional publicity. There was a link in the story that led to the blog where the age-progression photo was.”
“So the photo hasn’t been picked up by the media?”
“Not that I could tell, but I was too freaked out by what I was seeing to dig deeper, especially since my thirtieth birthday is next week. I told my boss I had an emergency. I left the office and came right to you.”
“Are you serious? After the inauguration, the whole country knows what an amazing cop you are. Who else would I go to with something like this?”
Blowing off the comment, she said, “You realize that accusing the FBI director of a capital felony is not something you do without stacks of proof that he was involved.”
“That’s where you come in. I need proof, and I need it fast before that picture gets picked up by the wires or social media and flung around the country. I need proof before he knows that I know.”
Sam had to agree that time was of the essence before this thing blew up into a sh*tstorm of epic proportions. With that in mind, she started the car, pulled out of the MPD parking lot and into weekday afternoon traffic that clogged the District on the way toward Capitol Hill.
“Where are we going?”
She glanced over at him and saw his eyes get big. “For real?”
“Yes, for real.” She paused before she continued. “Look, if you want me to dig into this, I have to do it at home. I’m…off duty right now. I’ve gotta stay below the radar on this or my bosses will be all over me.”
“No one will hear it from me.”
After a slow crawl across the District, Sam pulled up to the Secret Service checkpoint on Ninth Street. Normally they waved her through, but she had to stop to clear her guest. “They’ll need to see your ID.”
Josh pulled his license from his wallet and handed it to her.
She gave it to the agent, who took a close look before returning it to her. “Thank you, ma’am. Have a nice day.”
“What’s that like?” Josh asked. “Being surrounded by Secret Service all the time?”
“About as much fun as you’d expect it to be.”
“Why don’t you have a detail?”
“Because I don’t need one. I can take care of myself.” Thankfully, he didn’t mention the recent siege in Marissa Springer’s basement as an example of her inability to take care of herself. Sam liked to think that was a onetime lapse in judgment, never to be repeated.
Outside their home, her husband’s motorcade lined the street. What was he doing home so early?
She parked in her assigned spot—everyone who lived on Ninth Street now had assigned parking spaces—and headed up the ramp that led to their home.
“Why do you have a ramp?” Josh asked.
“My dad’s a quadriplegic. He lives down the street. My husband installed the ramp so he could come to visit.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Sorry about your dad, though.”
Nick’s lead agent, John Brantley Jr., met her at the door. “Lieutenant.”
“Brant. What’s he doing home so early?”
“The vice president isn’t feeling well.”
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