The black sedan pulled up at the corner of the street to avoid turning around. The dude beside Rochelle wouldn’t make way so she climbed over him to get out, a discomfort she willingly endured for the reward of freedom. The car immediately drove away. Rochelle, already on the ball, noticed no number plate on the back. Strange people. In some ways, totally unprepared and amateurish, in others they were like ASIO.
As she started quickly walking towards home, she checked the flood of texts she dared not answer while in the presence of her unwanted body guards. Two from the mysterious Briefcase Supervisor, judging by the blank caller ID, and the rest were from Tina and voice mails.
The phone rang as she scrolled, making her jump. Tina. “Hello –”
“Shit, babe! So glad I finally got hold of you. It’s been like hours, I was so worried. Are you okay? Where are you?”
“Yeah, shaken but not stirred. I’m at home of all places. Well, nearly. How about you?”
“Home, too. They insisted on taking me home. Don’t ask. Weirdest guys. What are you planning now?” Tina sounded quite flustered. To be expected under the circumstances, Rochelle thought.
“Hang on, I want to check something”, Rochelle reached the top of her driveway. By the yellowish light of the driveway lamps she could see that the briefcase that was last seen near her doorstep was no longer there. Aha! He obviously took it with him, just as they suspected.
She jumped again as another text arrived. Rochelle checked the SMS list again and read the anonymous ones in turn.
“The briefcase is safe for now but you must still get it and look after it.” And…
“You must get the Briefcase, Rochelle.”
And the most recent: “You can do this. It’s important to you. Get it now!”
Important to me, how? She wondered. And how can she get it now? It isn’t there. Just as she thought it might be safe to go home, they wouldn’t get off her back. The abduction was one thing. It brought back horrible memories but at least she could see the men and they ended up doing no harm. Somehow the text messages frightened her in a different way. This tormentor was invisible and therefore everywhere at once. She had to hide. But where? Ruby’s? No. She had no doubt about her safety but it’s too close to home. Tina’s? No she didn’t want to draw any more attention to her than was necessary. The decision was made. Rochelle turned back the way she’d come.
“Ok, listen. I still don’t wanna stay at home tonight. Can you meet me at the main street shops near my place ASAP and we’ll still go to the motel as planned? In a taxi?”
“Absolutely”, was the immediate reply. Rochelle dismissed its implied urgency.
“Hey, hun? I’m sorry about all this.”
“It’s okay, babe. It’s not your fault. I know how you feel.”
Yeah, right. Instead: “Thanks”, a pause. “Hun?”
“Can I borrow some of your clothes for tomorrow?”
“Of course! I’ll be quick.”
“Thank you. I love you.”
“Aww! Don’t cry when you say that!”
“Hurry up, ya dag!”
Rochelle ended the call before she lost her self-control in the street. Was Tina still talking as she ended the call? Sounded like “Bring the –”. Briefcase? Not possible. In ten minutes she’d be at the main road, safer and away from this dark and quiet street with all the closed doors of those who would not care. Yet she somehow knew the men who took her, and then brought her home unharmed would not return for her. At least not tonight. The sender of the texts was another story. She expected him (them?) to materialise at any moment. If she avoided the briefcase much longer she feared exactly that.
On her way to the deserted shopping strip she pondered some of the conflicting things she had learned that evening. When Tina arrived, Rochelle couldn’t hug her quickly enough.
* * *
The hug was comforting but the silence in the car wasn’t. Small talk about where to go, little else. The tension was strange but Rochelle didn’t want to press it. Tina did say don’t ask about letting the men take her home, so she would let her talk when she was ready. The cut-off at the end of the phone call was never mentioned.
The girls found a cheap and not so cheerful motel, booked a room with a double bed and set up camp. Tina had packed her overnight bag with enough stuff for the night and some corporate attire for herself and Rochelle for the following day. Rochelle examined the blouse Tina lent her and hoped it wouldn’t look too big. Better than too small and busting out of it. The skirt should be fine. Satisfied with Tina’s choice in clothes, she prepared for bed. Tina was already in with a book in hand but wasn’t reading it. Rochelle climbed in and lay gazing up at the ceiling.
Neither spoke for several minutes. Tina made no attempt to read her book.
Rochelle finally broke the silence. “Today I woke up looking forward to this date you’ve organised for Saturday. For the first time I actually felt like this could be a fantastic opportunity. I decided to be proactive about it. I wanted to go out and buy a dress to wear for this guy you insist will be worth it. I was going to the gym tonight and work myself out silly for him and what happens? I get to baby-sit someone’s fucking briefcase while they look over my shoulder every couple of hours via my phone to make sure I’m doing it properly. Then someone kidnaps us, loses interest and follows a weird guy, who happened to have the briefcase at my place, back to his house only to watch him drive into his remote controlled garage where they couldn’t see him unload his car.”
Tina almost decided to share her secret as Rochelle paused.
“So we sit there out the front of his place and waited”, Rochelle continued.
Pause. Tina deliberately didn’t take her cue.
“Then after about an hour or so they decide he’s not going to give anything away and decide they’ll continue ‘The Operation’ tomorrow. Just like that. So they brought me home again. Go figure!”
“I forgot to go to the loo.” Tina jumped out of bed and threw the book across to Rochelle’s side and stomped off to the bathroom.
Rochelle at first thought the book had come apart when she saw the loose sheet of paper hanging out but the book was too new. She picked it up. Different paper. She let the sheet fall and put the book down. She unfolded the sheet and read it.
Rochelle Summers was specifically requested to tell no one of her mission. She has failed in this regard. You know too much. You were not to be involved.
Tonight her mission was almost compromised. However, all is not lost. She may still succeed if you assist her. It must be stressed that knowledge of this mission MUST be limited to the two of you. NO ONE ELSE is to be informed of this.
Unfortunately there is another who also knows too much. This person is being dealt with. If you inadvertently determine who this person is you must take no action. You must not deliberately seek to determine the identity of this person. It is not your concern.
Your assignment is to ensure that Rochelle guards the briefcase with the utmost importance. Previous instructions have proven too subtle. She must keep it with her AT ALL TIMES.
However, do not let her know you are involved to this level. She must continue to think she is acting alone.
Tina emerged from the bathroom looking like a sombre version of the proverbial kid in the cookie jar. “Oops, you weren’t supposed to find that”, she said, feigning surprise.
“Obviously. How they get it to you?”, Rochelle asked.
“It was on my coffee table. They were inside my house, Roche!”, Tina voice was wavering.
“Come here, babe”, Rochelle held her arms out to her friend. Tina lost control of her tears as she came to her. Rochelle suddenly realised she didn’t know if they’d been inside her house – she never went in to check. “What are we going to do, huh?”
“I just want to sleep on it.”, she replied. “Work it out in the morning.”
“As if you’re gonna sleep! Listen, we’re both in the same boat now. We have to work out what’s going on and what we’re going to do. We can’t ignore it. We don’t know what they are going to do. I mean, they’ve been weird… I dunno, assertive but they haven’t harmed us –”
“Bullshit! They scared the crap out you! You were freaking out earlier about them stalking you by phone and then they bloody kidnapped us and left a note inside my house. Inside, Rochelle. They somehow got in and out without leaving a trace. They could have still been in there for all I knew. They’re violating our privacy. You can’t deny that. I mean that’s what freaked you out, too, wasn’t it?”
Yes and no. Rochelle didn’t answer. She just stared, thinking. This turn of emotions from Tina was somehow bringing out some rationality in Rochelle. If her rock was going to crumble, she had to be the strong one.
“Why can’t we just go somewhere till next week. Go where they can’t find us?”
“We can’t. I wanted to do that too. Right up until I saw your note. Trust me, I am still freaking out about this. I was kinda wanting to lean on you, babe. But it looks like we have to lean on each other.”
Tina conceded this was true. “So what do we do?”
“Well, what do we know? We know they’re pressuring me to keep this briefcase with me at all times until Wednesday lunch time when I’m supposed to give it back to the guy at the shop. And hopefully that’s the end of the story. Which means I have to take it with me on Saturday night. Like hell I am! That is not going to ruin my night, let me tell you!”
“Worry about that later. What are we doing now?”
“Alright.” Rochelle grabbed Tina’s note and quickly scanned it, mumbling a summary as she did so. She looked up to see Tina suppressing a look of impatience. “What? I’m just gathering thoughts.” Tina dropped the guise. “Oh stuff it, should we call the police?”
“And tell them what? We’ve got a bunch of anonymous texts on your phone, this note and – wait! Where’s that other note I gave you at the OK bar?”
“Shit! I’d forgotten all about that.” Rochelle got out of bed to rummage through her bag for the note and and absently pulled out the briefcase tag with it. “Here it is. This note had a list of three people who apparently knew too much… at 6 PM. Geez that seems like so long ago.”
“Well, who are they?”
“You and the IT guy at work are the only one’s I know. The third –”
“Me? They had me deliver a note to you with me listed on it? I didn’t know anything then.”
Rochelle had forgotten that she hadn’t told Tina she was on the list. “I emailed you, remember. Obviously that was enough. And maybe the IT guy watches emails but I have no idea how they would know that.”
“Who’s the third person?”
“No clue. There were heaps of people around when that guy shoved the thing in my face but it couldn’t be him. Or could it?”
Tina shrugged. “Could be. Maybe they paid a random bloke to give it to you, so you could say he knows too much, but so what? Do they say what they are going to do about it?”
“Nup. It just says”, Rochelle did finger quotes, “’tell absolutely no one or consequences will be considered.’ That’s all. But I guess that guy could have been a paid random. He seemed very reluctant to be involved, too. Like he was scared and really wanted to get out of there.”
“Hey, was this tag attached to briefcase?”
Rochelle’s eyes went wide. “Of course! I put the case down straight away and started moving away. There was a guy who asked if the case was mine and read all my details off the tag before I snatched the tag and just bolted. I barely looked at him so I wouldn’t know him if I fell over him. You think he’s the one that know too much?”
“But how do they know his details if he was a true random? If they hand-picked the guy who gave it to you, they’re more likely to know who he was. So my money’s on him.”
“True.” Rochelle looked at the note. “His name’s Ashley Cedric. Lives at number 34 Goodwyn Street – the house number where that blue hatchback lives was 34! I know because we watched it for ages.”
“Was it Goodwyn St?”, Tina asked. Her fear was all but gone, replaced by excitement in the hope a solution was near.
“You know, I never thought to look at the fricking street sign. Damn it! I don’t even know what suburb we were in. Totally unfamiliar area.”
“But how far away was it? Can’t have been that far.”
“It was a good half hour drive. Could have been anywhere.”
“Shit, woman! That could be an important clue. You said yourself they thought that’s where the briefcase was taken.”
“Don’t yell at me! At the time I didn’t care where it was.”
“Then why do you care now?”
“I dunno. I just think we can get rid of this whole problem if we be smart about it.”
“Play their game.”
“I’m not supposed to know you’re encouraging me to look after the case right? So if I get the briefcase back and keep it with me, they’ll think you successfully convinced me to watch it and they might get off our backs.”
“How will they know if you’ve got the case?”
“Not sure but I think they can track it somehow. At first I thought they were actually watching me but now I don’t think so.” Rochelle turned to grab her phone from the bedside table and started scrolling through the texts. “I wonder if these texts were sent when they knew I was near the briefcase so I could possibly get it. The first couple were sent soon after I ran from the thing in the city. The next one was warning me to not let her read it. I assume that was you when you brought in the letter at the bar. Then I didn’t get any more until we got back to my place when it was sitting at my house. That one said ‘Get the briefcase, now. Keep it with you!’ The next one said it was safe but I still had to get it. That must have been soon after they grabbed us. And another one telling me to get it must have been on the way back to my place. Then the last one I got was literally as I was walking home talking to you. It said ‘You can do this. It’s important to you. Get it now!’”
Tina’s eyes went wide. She waited for Rochelle to react. “They think the briefcase is still at your house!”
“But the guys who took us were sure it was with the Blue Hatchback guy.”
“Are they even on the same team? After the Code 5 Yellow came up the guys in my car talked about the ‘other’ team. Actually thinking about it now they might have meant your car. They said the other team were following the possible target and we were to go and verify the other site which was your place.”
“You mean the car that took you came back to my place?”
“I think so. After they brought me home.”
“So they could have taken the briefcase if it was still there! And I got that last text as I was walking home and the case was gone when I got to the top of the driveway. But the guys in my car didn’t say anything about it having been picked up.”
“Could that be why they stopped stalking the blue hatchback guy’s house?”
“Could be, I guess. Mission complete, let’s quietly take the girl home and crack open the case.”
The girls stared at each other for a few seconds then retreated into their own thoughts before Tina broke the silence.
“Okay so we have no clue where the briefcase is, we want it back to satisfy the people leaving us messages, who we think are on a different side to the amateur kidnappers. Have I got it right so far?”
Rochelle slowly nodded. “I’m wondering if we need to worry about the other person who knows too much. What do they mean by being dealt with? – Oh shit! Ruby!”
“Ruby? But we didn’t tell her anything.”
“No but she’s the well-meaning sticky beak from heaven. Curiosity could just about kill this cat.” Rochelle started getting out of bed. Tina stopped her.
“Whoa, girl! Where do you think you’re going?”
“We gotta get over to Ruby’s place, make sure she’s okay.”
“Not at this time of night, woman! Get back into bed. She’ll be fine. Firstly, the guys chasing the case either have it now or they think the blue hatch has it. And the Mysterious Messengers think it’s at your place when it obviously isn’t and so far they’ve made no attempt to reveal themselves.”
“But that could change.”
“Yes but not tonight. I wanna go to sleep so we’re gonna decide now what we’re gonna do tomorrow. Choices are: 1, we can go to work as normal and meet up at the OK bar again after and take it from there. 2, we can try and find the hatchback guy or his place and see if he’s got the case, after all, he was trying to get it back to you. 3, as much as we both know Ruby can look after herself, we can go back to your place and check on her. Or finally, 4, we go to the police.”