HANGING UP the phone after talking with the kidnapper, Herbert Harrington said, “Well. I can’t say I cared for that at all.”
“Let’s listen to it,” the head FBI man said, and they all waited in silence while the technician ran the tape back to the beginning again.
Herbert Harrington plucked his white handkerchief from his suit coat’s breast pocket and patted the tiny beads of perspiration that gleamed on his pale high forehead. A calm, methodical, successful corporation attorney of fifty-seven, he was used to emergencies and crises that ran at a Wall Street pace: weeks of gathering storm clouds, spotted with occasional conferences or public rumor denials, then a flurry of phone calls, a massing of capital along the disputed border, and then perhaps three days or a week or even a month of concentrated buying, selling, merging, bankruptcy declarations and the like. Drama with sweep to it, emotional climaxes as carefully grounded and prepared for as in grand opera.
But this. They kidnap the boy at four o’clock in the afternoon, and by nine o’clock the same night they’re demanding one hundred fifty thousand dollars for him. In old bills. In an equivalent situation on Wall Street, it would be three or four working days before anybody even admitted the boy had been taken. Then, there’d be a period of weeks or months when the kidnappers would publicly maintain the posture that they meant to keep the boy, had no interest in selling him, and wouldn’t even consider any offers that might come their way. This logjam, assisted by continued denials from Herbert Harrington or his spokesmen that (a) he was interested in negotiating a repurchase, (b) that he was in a cash or tax position to make such a repurchase possible, or (c) that in fact he had ever had such a son at all, would eventually be broken by tentative feelers from both sides. Dickering, threats, go-betweens, all the panoply of negotiation would then be mounted and gone through like the ritual of High Mass, and it would be even more weeks before anything like a dollar amount was ever mentioned. And in fact dollars would be the very least of it; there would be stock options, rebates, one-for-one stock transfers, sliding scales, an agreement with some meat on it. Instead of which— “All set,” the tape technician said.
“Run it,” the head FBI man said. They all talked in clipped little sentences like that; Harrington felt himself getting a headache.
From the machine, a voice said, “Hello?” and another voice said, “Is that Herbert Har—”
Talking over the second voice, Harrington said, “Is that me? It doesn’t sound like me.”
“Hold it,” the head FBI man said, and the technician stopped the tape and ran it backward again. To Harrington the head FBI man said, “Let’s just listen.”
“Oh, of course,” Harrington said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I was merely startled.”
“Run it,” the head FBI man said, and the tape started forward again.
“Hello?” His own voice sounded lighter to him than he would have guessed; not so manly. He didn’t much like it.
“Is that Herbert Harrington?” It was a female voice, middle-aged, New York City accent, rather truculent. An irascible-sounding woman, like one of your lady cabdrivers.
“Yes, it is. Who’s calling, please?”
“We have your boy.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, ‘We have your boy.’ It means we kidnapped him, we’re the kidnappers. I’m one of the kidnappers, this is the phone call.”
“Oh, yes! Of course, I’m sorry. Maurice phoned me when he got home.”
“My chauffeur. He was very upset, he said it was extremely difficult to drive while chained to the steering wheel.”
Small pause. Then, the woman’s voice again: “Look, let’s start all over. We have your boy.”
“Yes, you said that. And this is the phone call.”
“Right. All right. Your Bobby’s fine. And he’ll—”
“I said, ‘Your Bobby’s fine. And he’ll stay—”
“Are you sure you have the right number?”
“Jimmy! I didn’t mean—I meant Jimmy. Your Jimmy’s fine. And he’ll stay fine just as long as you cooperate.”
Silence. Far in the background one of those telephone company noises took place: boop-boop-boop-boop-boopboop-beep-boop-boop-boop.
The woman’s voice: “Did you hear me?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well? You gonna cooperate or aren’t you gonna cooperate?”
“Of course I’ll cooperate.”
“At last. Okay. That’s good. And the first thing is, you don’t call the police.”
“I do wish you’d told me before. Or told Maurice, that would have been best.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Well, the fact is, I’ve already called them. In fact, they’re here right now.” (That had been the moment when the head FBI man had started waving his arms back and forth in a negative manner; Harrington remembered now his decision at that point not to mention to the woman that the call was being recorded. But weren’t there court decisions to the effect that people had to be informed if their calls were being recorded?)
“You already called them.”
“Well, it did seem the thing to do. Maurice said you people carried guns and seemed extremely menacing.”
“All right, all right. We’ll forget that part. The point is, you want your kid back, right?”
Slight hesitation. “Well, of course.” (Listening to the tape now, Harrington could see where that hesitation might very easily be misconstrued. But he hadn’t been thinking it over, or anything like that, it was merely that the question had been raised so suddenly it had startled him. Naturally he wanted Jimmy back, he was a fine lad, an excellent boy. There were times when Harrington wished he’d named this son Herbert, rather than having thrown the name away on his first son by his first marriage; the actual Herbert, now a twenty-eight-year-old hippie on a commune in Chad, had little to recommend him. In fact, nothing. In fact, it was good sound business sense on the kidnappers’ part to steal Jimmy rather than Herbert Jr., since Harrington doubted very much he would pay one hundred fifty thousand dollars for the return of that clod.)
“All right. You want him back. But it will cost you.”
“Yes, I’d rather thought it would. You people speak of that as the ransom, don’t you?”
“What? Yeah, right, the ransom. That’s what this call’s all about.”
“I thought as much.”
“Yeah. Okay, here it is. Tomorrow, you get a hundred—” Clatter, clatter. “Damn it!”
“Hold on, I lost my—” Rattling sounds. “Just a minute, it’s—” More rattling sounds. “Okay, here we go. Tomorrow, you get a hundred fifty thousand dollars in cash. In old—”
“I doubt I could go that high.”
“—bills. You— What?”
“You say tomorrow. I take it time is of the essence here, and I’m not sure I could gather a hundred fifty thousand in cash in one day. I might be able to do eighty-five.”
“Wait a minute, you’re going ahead of me.”
“Here it is. That’s up to you. The longer it takes, the longer it’ll be before you see your Buh—Jimmy again.”
“Oh, I see, it isn’t necessarily tomorrow.”
“It’s whenever you want him back, Buster.” She was sounding really very irascible by this point.
“I was just thinking, if you wanted to complete this operation tomorrow, you might settle for eighty-five thousand.”
“I said a hundred fifty thousand, and I meant a hundred fifty thousand. You think we’re gonna haggle?”
“Certainly not. I’m not dickering over the well-being of my child, it’s merely that I thought, within the time frame you appeared to be contem—”
“All right, all right, let it go. It’s a hundred fifty thousand. no matter what.”
“Very well.” He sounded a bit chilly himself by this time, and listening to the recording now he could only applaud his decision then to let the woman see a bit of his irritation.
“Okay. We’ll go over it again. Tomorrow you get— Well. As soon as you can, okay? As soon as you can, you get a hundred fifty thousand dollars in cash. In old bills. You pack it in a suitcase, and stay by your phone. I’ll call again to give you the next instructions.”
(It was during that statement of the woman’s that the head FBI man had extended toward Harrington a slip of paper containing the penciled words, “Tell her to prove it.”)
“Urn. Prove it.”
“I said, prove it.”
“Prove what? That I’m gonna call you again?”
(During which, the head FBI man had been with great exaggeration mouthing the sentence, “That they have the kid!”)
“No, urn— Oh! That you have the kid. My son. Jimmy.”
“Of course we have him, why would I call you if we didn’t have him?”
“Well, I just want you to prove it, that’s all.”
“Prove it how? He isn’t here by the phone.”
“Well, I don’t know how.”
“Okay, look. Check this with the chauffeur. The Caddy was too wide for the truck. The planks broke. We all wore Mickey Mouse masks. We drove a blue Caprice. Okay?”
(The head FBI man had been nodding.) “That’s fine.”
“You’re satisfied, hub?”
“Yes. Thank you very much.”
“Yeah.” It sounded very sour indeed. “I’ll call you by four o’clock tomorrow afternoon.”
“Well, there’s a possibility—” (clkk) “—I’ll be called to Washington tomorrow to appear before the SEC, but— Hello? Hello?” (away from the phone) “I believe she hung up.”
“Okay,” the head FBI man said. “Switch it off.”
The tape technician switched it off.
The head FBI man said, “You recognize the voice?”
“I didn’t recognize either voice,” Harrington said. “Did that really sound like me?”
“Yeah, it sounded like you. But the other one didn’t sound like anybody else you know, hub?”
“How could it?”
“Maybe a disgruntled former employee? A servant out here, somebody like that?”
“Well, she did sound disgruntled enough, I’ll say that for her. But the voice doesn’t ring any bells at all. I’m sorry.”
The head FBI man shrugged. “Sometimes it pans out,” he said. “Usually it don’t.” Nodding thoughtfully toward the tape machine, he said, “There’s some interesting things in there.”
‘We didn’t know it was a Caprice.”
“A caprice? I’d call it something more serious than that.”
“The kind of car,” the head FBI man said. “Your chauffeur just said it was a blue car, so that’s a piece of information we picked up.”
“Oh, very good.”
“And that slip of the tongue there. Be interesting to find out who this ‘Bobby’ is.”
“Do you suppose they kidnapped more than one child today? Maybe they’re making a whole raft of phone calls.”
The head FBI man frowned, thinking that over. “Mass kidnappings?” He turned to one of the assistant FBI men who’d been hovering all evening in the corners of the room. “Look into that, Kirby,” he said. “See do we have any more kidnapping reports today.”
“Right.” The assistant FBI man faded from the room, not like a person walking out of a room, but like a television picture fading from the screen when the power has been turned off.
“Another thing,” the head FBI man said, turning back to Harrington. “It sounded at one point there like she was reading a prepared statement.”
“Yes, I noticed that,” Harrington said. “I think she lost her place for a minute there.”
“Could be the kidnappers sent a dummy out to make the call, somebody that isn’t really part of the gang. So if we traced the call and got her, she wouldn’t be able to tell us anything.”
“Very clever,” Harrington said.
The head FBI man nodded. “We’re up against a shrewd gang of professionals,” he said, with a kind of gloomy satisfaction. “That’ll make it tough to catch them. On the other hand, it means the boy is probably safe. It’s your amateurs that panic and start killing people; your professionals don’t do that.”
“It all seemed very professional to me, too,” Harrington said. “Speaking as a layman, that is. But the truck, and the school bus, and so forth.”
“Very carefully planned.” The head FBI man stroked his craggy jaw. “I keep thinking I’ve seen that MO somewhere before,” he said.
“Modus operandi. Method of operations.”
“Isn’t that interesting,” Harrington said. “The way the initials work in both Latin and English.”
“Yeah,” the head FBI man said. “I’ll have to run it through our computers down in Washington, see do we come up with something.” He nodded thoughtfully, then became more brisk. “Now,” he said, “about the payoff.”
“Yes,” Harrington said. “I was wondering about that.”
“We’ll try to recover your money, naturally,” the head FBI man said. “We’ll even try to set a trap with it if we can, though I think this bunch is probably too sharp for that.”
“I got that impression,” Harrington said.
“The main point is to recover the child. The money is secondary.”
The head FBI man nodded again, and said, “How long do you think it’ll take to get the money together?”
‘Well, it’s too late to do anything tonight.” Harrington frowned, considering the problem. “I’ll call my accountant in the morning, work out the best way to handle this, from a variety of points of view. You may not be aware of this, but money paid to a kidnapper is not deductible on your income tax.”
The head FBI man looked interested. “It isn’t?”
“No. I remember running across that while looking up something for a client. I don’t recall the justification; possibly it’s considered payment for a service, nonbusinessconnected.”
“I’ve never had much to do over on the Treasury side,” the head FBI man said.
“In any event, there are various ways of going about it. Sale of securities, depending on whether it would be long-term or short-term gains, possibly loans against my margin accounts where my portfolio has increased sufficiently in value, various possibilities. Well, I’ll talk it over with Markham in the morning.”
“But how long do you figure it’ll take?”
“Really, you know,” Harrington said, “the most difficult part is going to be conversion of assets to cash, actual paper money. I don’t believe I know anyone who deals in cash.”
“Banks do,” the head FBI man said.
“Eh? Oh, of course! I never think of them that way.”
“I still want to know how long. Two days? Three?”
“Oh, good Lord, no. I should have the liquidity by noon. One at the latest.”
“Certainly tomorrow. Then it all depends how long it takes to bring the currency out here.”
“We’ll take care of that,” the head FBI man said. He was frowning deeply, studying Harrington’s face. “Mr. Harrington,” he said. “Can I ask you a question?”
“That business about the eighty-five thousand, that was all you could raise tomorrow. Do you mean you really were haggling?”
Harrington thought about it. In sudden surprise, he said, “Why, yes! I do believe I was.”
The head FBI man looked at him. He didn’t say anything.
“It was just force of habit,” Harrington said. Then, when the head FBI man continued to gaze at him unspeaking, he added, “I certainly wasn’t going to turn the deal down.”