"What we didn't figure was that it would happen in our own house. Four days ago I have a doctor's appointment. Mary takes me there."
"Where was Amanda?" says Harry.
"We left Amanda home with a sitter, a young woman in her early twenties. She's sat for us many times. I figure, what could happen? We were scheduled to go back to court on Friday. The lawyer told me there was a good chance we could get the visitation order amended to require Jessica to see Amanda only in our home, under our supervision.
"My daughter must have been outside, watching. Ten minutes after we leave she shows up at the front door. She's alone and wants to see Mandy. The sitter told her she had strict instructions.
"My daughter is a practiced con artist. She tells you noon is midnight, smiles that cute little smile, and nine times out of ten you'd believe her. She's calm, reasonable, well dressed. She tells the sitter she's driven all the way across town to tell Amanda something about a surprise present for her grandma. Mary's birthday is eight months off. Still it's a hot secret between mother and daughter.
"Baby-sitter doesn't know what to do. She tells Jessica she's got instructions.
"Jessica gets all reasonable and understanding. You know the rap," says Jonah. " 'Last thing I'd want to do is get you in any trouble. Walked on hot coals to get here, but you want me to do it again? Sure, no problem.'
"So the girl lets her in. Jessica asks for a cup of coffee. The sitter goes to make it in the kitchen. She was gone three minutes." He holds up three fingers. "That's all it took. When she came back to the living room, they were gone. Jessica and Amanda both. She looked through the front window just in time to see the car backing down the driveway, tires screeching. A man was driving. Another man was in the passenger seat. There were two figures in the back."
"Jessica and Amanda," says Harry.
Jonah nods. "We haven't seen them since."
"Did the sitter get a license plate off the car?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "Just a description. Late-model sedan, a two-door, dark in color."
"No description of the driver?"
"She couldn't see well enough. It happened so quickly. But I know this woman's involved. This Zolanda Suade."
"Let me guess," I say. "The sitter didn't see her the day they disappeared?"
"No. But who else could it be? She as much as told us she was gonna take Mandy. And there's more. My lawyer says that's what she does. Suade has an organization that specializes in this."
"What? Kidnapping children?" says Harry.
"Yes. She's done it in other cases. The FBI. The police. Nobody can stop her."
"Why the hell not?" says Harry.
I answer the question before Jonah can: "Because she uses a parent in the abduction."
He points at me with his finger as if to say Just so. "It's why they won't get involved. They say technically it's not kidnapping. Violation of the court order of custody, maybe."
"But that's a civil matter," I say.
"Right. And it gets worse," says Jonah. "They've taken her across the border. Somewhere into Mexico."
"How do you know that?"
"Cuz that's what the lawyer told me. He says she's taken others across. Somewhere down in Baja, but he doesn't know where."
"Why does she do it?" says Harry. "What's in it for her?"
"She's a feminist nut," says Jonah. "Has a problem with men. She has this organization to help wayward women and their children. Self-appointed crusader," says Jonah. "Only this time she's chewed off more than she can swallow. I'll bury the bitch." As he says this, I can see the vein in the side of his head bulge. For a moment I'm afraid he will blow a major vessel in his brain, keel over on my desk.
From The Attorney by Steve Martini. (c) Novemeber 1999 , Steve Martini used by permission of the publisher.
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