Peril in the Pines Ch. 07byHansTrimble©
On the Wednesday afternoon before the wedding, I called Jan's cell phone around three o'clock to leave a message about some detail or other, and was told by a recording that Jan was not answering. I left a message, expecting a call back within fifteen minutes or so. When I didn't get it, I called her again, and again got the recording. We'd been planning to do a little last minute shopping together and then grab a bite to eat at a restaurant, and I couldn't understand how there could be a change of plans without her calling to let me know. So I called the school and was told that Jan had received a call earlier and had asked that somebody cover her classroom so she could leave early. This sounded very strange and I began to worry about something bad happening to Jan.
I immediately put the procedure into motion that would track the location of her phone. One aspect of the procedure was to call in help from the state police, and I did that without delay. Meanwhile I had sent deputies to Jan's school and our home. She definitely wasn't at home and there were no signs that she had been there. At the school, they got the same story I had been given. The BOLO was already out for her car, which was distinctive enough to spot easily. I called the Verizon rep and he got their techs going on the search. They worked up a location history on her phone, and when that was available the rep and his head tech came to the station. By then Vince had set up a command post in our interview room. I was standing in the doorway talking with Vince when a burly guy said "Excuse me," and I looked up into the face of Detective Dolan from the CID, who had come over to offer his assistance, and to pass along a message from the Commander that the entire state police apparatus was ready to assist in any way they could.
It made me feel good to know that we had so many people ready to help find my wife. But as warm as that made me feel, it didn't make a dent in the hollow feeling I had where my stomach used to be, the site of all my worries about the most precious person in my whole world.
An hour after my first indication of trouble, a little guy wearing a sweater vest and sandals showed up and explained that he was a writer from the state's biggest TV station, and had been sent to help us draft a message to be broadcast every half hour, announcing Jan's disappearance and appealing for help from the public to provide any relevant information and to find her car. He explained that after his station broadcast the message the first time, it would be made available to all of the other radio and TV stations in the state.
By this time, the long table had been cleared of incidental items so that it could be used for whatever was going on at the moment. Vince sat at the end closest to the door, and the Sheriff was at the opposite end. Across the hall, Rose and Deputy Andy Beyers were working the phones, checking at the bridal salon, hair salon, flower shop, hotel, every place where Jan might possibly have gone. I was mostly in my office, with Tim at my side. I had already surrendered my car keys to him and I was depending on him to do everything for me, to prevent my nervousness from screwing anything up. We had a deputy watching my house, and two more at Jan's mother's house.
At five o'clock the Sheriff called for a recap of every bit of significant information that we had. The cell phone had been tracked, and its travels had been plotted on a big map on one wall of the room. It had been at the school, not moving, until about two thirty, when a call had come in on it, originating from a phone at the public library. The call lasted about three minutes, after which Jan's cell phone had left the school and gone by a fairly direct route across town to the parking lot of the hospital. Again it sat still, jiggled a little, and then started moving again. It circled the block twice as if to detect a tail, and then headed north toward the interstate highway.
The recap narrative was interrupted by Becky's voice on the intercom announcing that our deputies had found Jan's big sedan parked at the hospital, unlocked, with the keys in the ignition switch. A flatbed wrecker was on its way to pick it up and take it to the state police garage for detailed examination.
Before the recap could be re-started, Dolan announced that state police cruisers were covering the interstate in both directions from the nearby interchanges. Then there was an announcement that the phone had entered the interstate and was headed eastward at seventy miles an hour and faster. The room was quiet as everybody wondered what that meant, and Dolan looked up from his phone to say that state police helicopter number two was paralleling the highway about a half mile to the south, and the pilot had determined which car seemed to be slowing down and speeding up exactly as the electronic track did. The car appeared to be an unmarked light blue Police Interceptor model Ford LTD, and a telephoto camera shot of the license plate showed that it belonged to the state CID! The pilot did not see any other cars operating in conjunction with the blue Ford, and a roadblock was being set up fifteen miles ahead, on a stretch of highway where there were no exits for ten miles.
At this point, Deputy Jeremy Phelps rolled in a TV set on a wheeled stand, and after fiddling with the wires he stood back so everybody could see the screen, which showed the picture from the nose camera on the helicopter. A minute later there was a crackling sound and the pilot's voice was heard to say that helicopter number one had joined the chase. It was headed for the vicinity of the roadblock, where it would loiter out of sight until the blue Ford was past the last exit before the roadblock. The pilot was offering the opinion that the helicopter might be carrying a high ranking officer who would take charge of the chase once the blue Ford had been entered the roadblock zone.
Tim and I had entered the interview room when the recap had started, and were standing in a corner near Vince's end of the table. We had a good view of the TV set, but we turned to look at Dolan when he put his phone on the table and said, "Oh Boy!" He gestured to get the Sheriff's attention and said, "The pilot of helicopter one just told me that his passenger is the Commander! He's going to take charge of the hostage negotiations when they have stopped the car that we think is carrying Janice."
The room got quiet. It seemed that everybody had stopped breathing. I could hear my pulse thudding in my ears, and I stood as still as if I were on a stakeout in the woods. The picture on the TV showed that helicopter two had lifted above the houses south of the highway just enough to bring the blue Ford into view. It came around a curve and slowed as the unknown driver caught sight of the roadblock ahead, where state police cars with flashing lights flanking a huge dump truck parked across the pavement a half mile from the blue Ford. As the blue Ford slowed down, more police light bars lit up with flashing blue and red lights, so the driver could clearly see that there was no possibility of going east, no matter how he tried to get around the obstruction. At the same time, a car came into view, paralleling the blue Ford down in the graded apron beyond the shoulder to its right. The light bar on that car lit up. A car came up from the far side of the westbound lane, onto the westbound pavement, and its light bar came to life. As the blue Ford got to within a hundred yards of the roadblock, red and blue flashes came into view from the west, revealing that more cars were following the blue Ford to keep it from turning around.
Helicopter two made a low level pass over the blue Ford, its camera peering into the windows on the right side of the car first, and then on the left side as it banked to the west and lifted away from the car. The driver was a middle aged man, slightly heavier than medium build. In the back seat was a woman whose face had been obscured when viewed from the right side, but from the left side, as she looked out the window and up at the helicopter, I could see that it was Jan! "Dolan!" I screamed. That's my Jan!"
Dolan immediately relayed the information into his phone, and in a few seconds we heard the helicopter two pilot say, "The identity of the passenger has been passed on to the commander's helicopter."
Our whirlybird's eye view tilted and rotated as the helicopter did a climbing 180 over the highway, well behind the blue Ford. When it was again headed eastward, we could see helicopter one flying sideways, almost skimming the ground north of the highway. The blue Ford slowed to a stop about fifty yards from the roadblock. Immediately helicopter one came to a stop and touched down on the grass beside the highway, just long enough for the tallest man ever to wear the state police uniform to step nimbly out and wave to his pilot, who immediately did a jump takeoff, spun around, and headed out of the camera's view.
The commander was hatless, and wasted no time sprinting to the police cruiser parked facing eastward on the westbound lane, behind and to the left of the blue Ford. He crouched by the driver's door, talking to the driver. Then we saw someone running into the picture from north of the highway carrying a rifle, which he handed to the commander. The pilot of helicopter two came back onto the audio, saying, "I'm listening to a conversation on a radio channel that you can't hear. The negotiator is talking with the driver of the blue car. The driver is waving a pistol as he lists his demands, and he already said that if he doesn't get what he wants, his hostage will die a slow, painful death."
Meanwhile, we could see the commander at the rear of the parked cruiser, rifle in his hands, lying out across the trunk with both elbows planted. It seemed to take him no time at all to get steady and acquire a sight picture, then squeeze off a shot. The head of the driver of the blue Ford jerked and seemed to expand, and the right side of the windshield turned all red. Then he slumped and came to rest leaning against the driver's door. Immediately the picture was filled with men in state police uniforms, all running toward the blue Ford. The first one to reach the car opened the left rear door and reached in to help the most beautiful girl in the world out of the car, onto the pavement. He said something to her, and she turned her face up toward the helicopter and waved.
I really don't remember what happened right after that. Tim told me that I yelled "Yes!" and pumped my fist in the air, and then turned to him and collapsed into his arms, crying like a little kid. I do know that he helped me into my office and went out and closed the door. I had just finished a prayer of thanks when Vince came in and sat down in one of my visitor chairs. He looked anxiously at me, yet he was smiling. I do remember saying to him, "Please help me get up and go back to the interview room."
I stepped into the room and everybody stopped talking and looked at me. I said, "I want to tell you all, and all the people who worked on this rescue, that this is the greatest thrill of my life. My Janice is safe, and you all did it. Every one of you, tell your coworkers this: if you ever need anything that I can do for you, I'm your best friend in the world. Thanks again." And then they were all coming over to me, to shake my hand, pat me on the back, lay a hand across my arm, grab my shoulder, anything to show that they understood. I knew that they'd do it all again if they had to.
It wasn't until almost seven that night that I got to hold my Jan. She had been interviewed on the site, checked there by paramedics, and then flown back into town on helicopter one with the commander. The helicopter set down in a parking lot a block from the Sheriff shop, and I was there to greet her. She and I both hugged so tight that she was gasping for breath when we backed off. "Oh, Jack, I don't want you ever to be farther away from me than this."
"I feel the same way. Were you scared?"
"I was so scared that I thought I'd pee my panties. And then I was more afraid that I'd do that than I was of anything that awful man said he'd do to me, so I just kept squeezing my legs together and that gave me something real to concentrate on."
"What did you and the commander say to each other on the way back?"
"He said that you'd just done him a big favor, and he was surprised that he could return it so soon afterward. He told me that I was very brave, and he felt bad that it was a gang of his own men that had terrorized us like this. Then I asked him why he had taken over and fired that shot himself. He said that he has an excellent SWAT team, but he is also very good with their sniper rifles, and he knew just exactly where he wanted to place that bullet. Then he said it had got personal with him and it just felt right to end it himself, and to save my life as a way to show his gratitude to us for exposing those bad cops. He's really a good guy, so imposing with his height, but so real and so human. Oh, he said he and his wife are coming to the wedding. Then I asked him for a favor."
"What kind of a favor?"
"Well, it seemed as if he was rescuing me from those crooked cops so I could marry you. So I asked him if he would give me away. He asked me why, and I told him I don't have any close male relative to give me away, and he and all of his men who were involved in my rescue had saved me for you, so we could have our wedding. They really were giving me to you. He had a yellow legal pad in the helicopter, and when we landed at his headquarters to drop him off we worked out the words that he'll say, while we sat right there on the helipad. He'll say that he's representing my mother and father, and everyone in all the professions, in and out of uniform, who contribute to the enforcement of our laws, and made my rescue possible. So it's his pleasure to give me in marriage, on behalf of them all. The more we worked on the words, the better it seemed, so he agreed to do it."
"Honey, you have such amazing instincts. Nobody else would even have thought of that, but you did. You and the commander put it together and it's going to be just perfect, just the same way that you're always just perfect."
The I held both of her hands in both of mine and we offered a prayer of thanks, and asked that all of the people of all the law enforcement agencies be kept from harm. On the Amen, she fell into my arms and I held her tight.
ORANGE BLOSSOMS AT LAST
The wedding went off without a hitch. Jan looked like the happiest girl in the world as she walked slowly toward me on the arm of the commander. As we left the church, the drill team from the Police Benevolent Association formed an archway for us to pass through, with eight men on each side in crisp uniforms, holding their sabers over our heads in response to the shouted commands from their brigadier who stood alongside with the golden shoulder rope setting him off as their commander. We did get one thing wrong, though: Jan was the one beaming from ear to ear, while I was the one who was so moved that I had tears running down both my cheeks.
At the reception Vince, the best man, gave a very moving toast, which was followed by another toast from the Sheriff. After all, he would soon be campaigning for re-election. Our deputies were there in their dress uniforms, including the newest member of the team, Kathleen Cafferty. Her date was Chet Meyers, the paralegal who had backed down Pike County and secured her settlement. They were seated at one of the tables of our deputies and their ladies, while her mother was sitting with Mayor Mary McCarthy, County Attorney Charles O'Brien, and Monsignor Sullivan, who led us in prayer before the meal in his rich, deep baritone voice with hints of a brogue that he must practice daily to keep from losing it.
We had asked all the policemen from the various departments wear their dress uniforms, to add a little zest to the appearance of the men, who usually just blend into the background at weddings. So Vince and I and the ushers, Tim and Harold, were in our dress uniforms instead of tuxedos. Jan, of course, wore white and she was so gorgeous that she made my heart melt just looking at her. The state policemen in their dress uniforms included, to my surprise, Detective Dolan, whom I had never seen in anything but plainclothes. Also seated at that table were Gordon and Grace Reese. Gordon was in uniform, too, being entitled as director of the academy to the rank of Colonel in the State Police. The master of ceremonies quipped that nobody would be stealing any wedding gifts from this reception.
Those gifts were piled in an empty room nearby, and I mean piled! There were two tables there to start with, but so many gifts were coming in that the hotel staff removed the tables and put everything on the floor, stacked high in one corner and cascading down and out until there was no place to walk in nearly half of the room.
The bridesmaids, maid of honor Rose and Jan's cousin Sally, were in light lavender gowns. Or maybe they were mauve, what do I know? Whatever you call it, the color had been chosen to harmonize with our dress uniforms and we made a dazzling sight when we lined up for group photos. The photographers were having a field day. Our professional wedding photographer, Beatrice Sanders, flitted about with three cameras while the newspaper photographer and two TV cameramen were off to the side, competing for the best pictures and trading comments about composition and lighting. Jan and I were buttressed by the tall bookends of Vince and Rose, who almost seemed to be guarding us. And after what we'd been through three days earlier, that felt good.
At the end of the meal, while the tables were being cleared and dessert was being served, I got up and made a speech. I thanked everyone for helping us celebrate the beginning of what we were sure would be a lifetime together. Then I went on to explain that when I came home from overseas my immediate family had all passed away and I felt like an orphan, but thanks to the solidarity of our law enforcement community, I had come to feel like a brother in the greatest family on earth. When the applause died down I paid a somewhat similar compliment on Jan's behalf to the teachers who were filling up four tables and beaming at Jan, like the sisters and brothers she never had. Then I raised my glass in a toast to family and friends, and invited them all to enjoy the party.
I led Jan onto the dance floor. As we danced I talked seriously about that day out in the woods, when both of us acted and felt like two young kids hiding from the big world out there. Since that day we'd made the transition to a mature married couple, relishing the closeness of all our friends as we had grown into our roles in that big world, a world that we didn't need to hide from any more. I promised her that no force on earth would ever come between us. I added that I could not imagine us ever moving away from our home town and our friends. We ended the dance with a kiss that brought applause, whistles, and foot stomping, and I waved at our guests while Jan blew kisses to them all.
Truly, life was good!
All that was a long time ago, and a lot has happened since then. Our number one son, Vincent Timothy Olson, just completed his master's degree in criminal justice by going to school part time while working full time for the state police. He is continuing to work there, and said he has a surprise for us, some big promotion that he's keeping very hush hush.
Our middle child, Marilyn Rose Olson, is continuing her studies at the state university, majoring in biochemistry. She has inherited her mother's love of learning, and I expect her to pursue at least one graduate degree and probably more, before embarking on a career in medical research.