Abduction, Suspense, and a Strange Demand. Detective Sergeant Stella Bruno investigates the abduction of eight-year-old Julia Ryan, Taken from her nanny at gunpoint. When the kidnapper demands something outside the control of Julia’s family as ransom for her release, Stella is determined to find him before it’s too late. Detective Constable Brian Rhodes is confident the kidnapper will make a mistake. If you enjoy mystery and intrigue, you'll love Taken, book five in Peter Mulraney's Stella Bruno Investigates series of quick reads.
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events, other than those clearly in the public domain, are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 Peter Mulraney
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover image: Joseph Gonzalez | Unsplash.com
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A note from Peter
Also by Peter Mulraney
A few Australian terms:
Boot is the term used by Australians for the trunk of a car.
Chips (as in cooked potato chips) and French fries are used interchangeably in Australia.
The Hills is how people living in and around Adelaide refer to the Adelaide Hills.
Surveillance was a skill he had neither mastered nor required until now. He felt awkward and conspicuous doing it, but he needed to know what certain other people were doing if he was ever going to get what he considered to be rightfully his.
He'd tried all the legal ways. He'd even simply asked for what he wanted. No-one had agreed. Now, he was taking matters into his own hands and, this time, they'd listen to him. He smiled as he caught a glimpse of himself in the rear-view mirror because, if things went to plan, they'd be giving it to him.
He pulled the black baseball cap down over his eyes and watched the young woman sitting in the car parked three cars down on the opposite side of the road. She was fiddling with her mobile phone and not looking at her surroundings. He hoped she wouldn't look up and notice he was watching her until it was too late.
He'd followed her movements every day over the last week and she'd given no sign of being aware of him. Maybe wearing black to enhance his invisibility, something he'd gleaned from the internet, was working for him.
He looked at the clock in the dashboard. The time was three twenty-five pm.
She was as regular and as predictable as clockwork. In five minutes time, she'd get out of her car and walk into the school to collect her charge. Then, she'd drive the girl home along the same lonely road she used every afternoon. There was no other way for her to get to the tree-lined driveway of the house in the hills on the outskirts of Stirling.
He waited until she'd gone into the school building and then set off. He intended to be in position when she arrived at the spot he had chosen to relieve her of her charge.
The duty sergeant at the Stirling Police Station raised the alarm with Operations shortly after six-thirty, immediately after Harry Ryan had called the station to report that he and his wife had arrived home to find their nanny trussed up inside her car and their daughter missing.
Then, the duty sergeant dispatched all of his available constables to the scene, hoping they'd find the girl alive but fearing they wouldn't.
Stella and Brian arrived at the Ryan house shortly after seven-fifteen. Policemen with torches and dogs were searching the driveway and surrounding fields. Stella knew there were officers knocking on doors and interviewing everyone that lived along the road to the house from Stirling.
They were admitted into the house by a uniformed constable from Stirling.
'The Ryan's are in the front room, Sergeant.'
Stella looked through the open doorway into the room. A man of about forty, dressed in jeans and a dark sweater, sat in an armchair with his head in his hands. In front of the window, staring into the darkness, stood a woman in her mid-thirties dressed in a navy business suit, and on the sofa opposite the man sat a younger woman with red eyes who Stella presumed was the nanny.
Stella walked into the room. Brian remained standing in the doorway with his notebook and pen in hand.
'Who are you?' said the woman, turning away from the window.
'Detective Sergeant Bruno,' said Stella, 'and this is my colleague Detective Constable Rhodes. Are you Mrs Ryan?'
The woman nodded. 'What are you doing here? Why aren't you out there looking for Julia?' She pointed to the darkness through the window.
'Mrs Ryan, I need some information if we're going to find your daughter,' said Stella.
Mrs Ryan walked over to the armchair occupied by her husband and stood behind it.
'Harry, these people are detectives. They want to ask us some questions,' said Mrs Ryan.
'But we don't know anything,' said Harry, looking at Stella and then at Brian.
'Do you have a recent photograph of your daughter? Preferably something digital,' said Stella.
Mrs Ryan picked up her smartphone and scrolled through her photographs. 'Here's one I took a few days ago,' she said, handing the device to Stella.
Stella looked at the image of a girl with long dark hair in a school uniform. 'Is this what she was wearing today?'
'Yes. That's her school uniform,' said Mrs Ryan.
'Can you email that image to this address, please?' said Stella, handing Mrs Ryan her card. 'We'll send that out to all patrols and the media.'
'Okay,' said Mrs Ryan, taking Stella's card.
'What's your name?' said Stella, sitting down next to the young woman on the sofa.
'Melanie. Melanie York.'
'Are you Julia's nanny?'
'I know you're upset, Melanie, but I need your help. Will you help me?'
'I want you to think back to when you got home from school. Can you do that?' said Stella.
'Yes,' said Melanie.
'What time did you get home?' said Stella.
'About four. We came straight from school.'
Stella glanced at Brian. He was writing in his notebook.
'What was the first thing you noticed when you got here?'
'There was a man standing in the driveway. I had to stop.'
'What was he wearing?'
'Black pants, black top. Black everything.'
'Was he wearing sunglasses?'
Melanie nodded. 'And, one of those black baseball hats you see the boys wearing.'
'Was he holding anything in his hands?' said Stella.
'A shotgun,' said Melanie. 'He pointed it at us.'
'What did he look like? I mean was he tall? Short? Fat? Slim?'
'He was about the same size as Harry,' said Melanie.
Stella noted the familiar tone and wondered about the nature of the household's internal dynamics.
'How old do you think he'd be?'
Melanie shrugged. 'In his thirties?'
'What happened after you stopped the car?'
'He opened my door and told me to turn off the engine. Then he asked me for my phone.'
'Where's your phone now?' said Stella.
'He took it. He made me show him the code to open it. He even switched it off and tested the code I'd given him.' She looked up. 'Then he asked me to write it out for him.'
'What sort of phone is it?' said Stella.
'An iPhone 6.'
'Does it have the Ryan's numbers in it?'
'What about email addresses?'
'What happened after he took your phone?'
'He told me to get out of the car. Then he tied me up and pushed me into the back seat. Then he told Julia to get out of the car and to take her school bag with her. Then he locked me in the car and left the keys on the windshield where I could see them.'
This guy's into psychological torture, thought Stella.
'Which way did they go?'
'They went towards the road.'
'Did you see a car?'
Melanie shook her head.
'Now, I want you to think carefully. Did you see a car parked anywhere along the road when you were driving home? One that wasn't usually there.'
Stella watched Melanie's eyes roll up towards her fringe.
'Yes, there was a white car. One of those two door things. A Lancer, I think. Yes, a Mitsubishi Lancer, an old one like my brother drives.'
'Do you remember your brother's phone number?'
Melanie shook her head. 'It's in my phone.'
'I have her mother's phone number,' said Mrs Ryan.
'Brian, find out what model that car is,' said Stella, before turning back to Melanie. 'Was there anything about him that was familiar to you?'
'No. I don't think I've ever seen him before.'
'What was his voice like?' said Stella. 'Did he sound scared?'
'He was very polite and soft spoken, actually. I'd say he was someone with kids of his own, going by the way he spoke to Julia.'
Yes, and someone armed with a shotgun, thought Stella.
After forwarding the image of Julia to Operations for distribution to all patrols, and to DI Williams for release to the media, Stella turned to face Mr and Mrs Ryan.
'Do you think you'll find her?' said Mr Ryan.
'He's had several hours start on us, Mr Ryan. It may take some time but we'll do our best to find her, however, we need to consider the possibility that we may not find her tonight.'
Stella wasn't sure how blunt she should be but she was aware child abduction cases often ended badly for all concerned.
'What are you trying to say?' said Mrs Ryan.
'We may not find her until he makes a move.' Stella looked her in the eye. 'Our best-case scenario is he'll make contact with you and ask for a ransom.'
'What's your worst-case scenario?' said Mrs Ryan.
'That we're dealing with a paedophile,' said Stella, 'Let's hope we're not, because if we are, it's probably already too late.'
'Don't go there, Nadia,' said Mr Ryan. 'It has to be about money.'
Stella hoped he was right.
Mrs Ryan sat on the sofa next to Melanie.
'Anyone in particular come to mind?' said Stella. 'Anyone you owe money to? Anyone you've had a business disagreement with?'
Mr Ryan shook his head. 'Could be anyone in the building game. People get burnt all the time when subcontractors go broke. I've been chased a few times by tradesmen after I'd paid the contractor they were working for. But no-one's ever threatened to kidnap my daughter because he didn't get paid. They usually threaten to see me in court.'
'How many people work for you, Mr Ryan?'
'We have a team of six in the office and three site foremen. Everything else is done through subcontractors, and there are tons of them on our books.'
'Who would be the best person to talk to about your business operations apart from yourself?' said Stella.
'My brother, Patrick. We're partners. Do you want his number?'
Brian wrote the number into his notebook.
'Do you have any outstanding gambling debts, Mr Ryan?' said Stella. 'Especially ones you haven't paid on time.'
Mr Ryan shook his head. 'Nadia doesn't agree with gambling, Sergeant.'
'What about you, Mrs Ryan?'
'I work with desperate people, men mostly.' She smiled. 'They're often the losers in custody battles, but they're usually angry at their partner or the court. We're often their last resort.'
'The Family Court?' said Stella.
'Yes,' said Mrs Ryan. 'I'm a partner at Ryan and Hayden.'
'Any violent clients?'
'No, mostly disappointed ones. They usually don't look for a lawyer until it's too late.'
Stella wondered what it would be like knowing you couldn't help your client, and hoped she wouldn't end up feeling that way about this case.
'Who should I talk to for a list of your recent clients?' said Stella.
'Pauline. She's our office manager.'
'Do you have her number?'
Brian wrote the number Mrs Ryan provided into his notebook.
'Do you need to go home, Melanie?' said Stella.
'She lives with us,' said Mrs Ryan, 'we couldn't cope without her.'
Stella heard footsteps in the hallway outside the room.
'Excuse me, Sergeant.'
Stella turned and faced the doorway.
'Community Liaison,' said the older of the two uniformed constables standing in the doorway.
Stella beckoned them into the room. 'This is Mr and Mrs Ryan, and this is Ms York. She's Julia's nanny.'
The constables introduced themselves and set up their equipment.
'These officers will stay with you until he calls,' said Stella, 'and, they'll let me know as soon as he does. I'll be in touch if anything comes to light before then. I'm sorry, but it's going to be a long night.'
When they returned to Police Headquarters in Angas Street, Stella and Brian met with DI Williams, who was coordinating the search for Julia Ryan, to put together their media release.
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