The parents in the parking lot turned out to be Candace’s, but Naomi ran to them for the comfort of a hug as if they were her own mom and dad. They were familiar, sympathetic faces, and under the circumstances that was enough. Besides, the Leightons probably needed as much comforting from Naomi as Naomi needed from them.
Callahan gave them a few moments before stepping in. “Mr. and Mrs. Leighton? I’m Detective Richard Callahan. I’m in charge of tracking down the people who took your daughter, and I promise I’ll do everything within my power.”
A car door slammed. “And when he says he’s in charge,” grunted a gruff voice, “he means we.”
Naomi thought she saw the corner of Callahan’s mouth twitch. He said, “Of course. Sir, ma’am, this is my partner, Detective Horace Jacklin.”
Jacklin was a pig. Naomi couldn’t think of any word that might describe him better. There was a coffee stain on the breast pocket of his wrinkled shirt, thin red veins crawled across his sunken, pale eyes, and bristly hairs jutted out from under his expansive chin. “Now, folks,” he oinked, “we’re gonna have a coupla simple questions for you, just to make our job a little easier. First thing we need t’know, nat’rally, is whether you got any enemies.”
Mrs. Leighton glanced towards Callahan, as if she expected him to save them from this monster-in-a-uniform, but he just gave a mild shrug. “We…” She gathered herself. “No, we don’t have any enemies, not that we know of, nothing serious.”
Jacklin licked a corpulent finger, flipped open a grubby notebook, and scratched some notes into it with the stub of a pencil. “Uh huh. ‘Kay. You got any idea at all why someone who wasn’t your enemy might wanna nab your girl?”
A tear escaped from Mrs. Leighton’s eye. Callahan quickly procured some tissues from his pocket and offered them to her. “I don’t… I don’t know,” she sniffed.
“We… have money,” offered Mr. Leighton, his cheeks reddening.
“A lotta people got money,” grunted Jacklin. “How much we talkin’? One mil’? Ten? Fifty?”
“Horace,” said Callahan.
“Why don’t we get a basic outline of the case first, and worry about those kinds of details later? Attaching a dollar figure isn’t important right now.”
“Sure it is,” snorted Jacklin. “Might tell us who we’re dealin’ with, give us a ballpark. Under a mil’ we’re prob’ly lookin’ for some homegrown junkies; 50 mil’ we’re talkin’ about bigger fish, eh?”
“You know it’s not that simple,” said Callahan. “I think there may be more to this than just money.” He gave Naomi a meaningful look.
Mr. and Mrs. Leighton followed the detective’s glance. Naomi gave them a small nod: Yes, it said. He knows about me. And she tried to add an assurance: I think he’ll understand.
“What’re you talkin’ about?” demanded Jacklin. “More to this how, exactly?”
Mrs. Leighton said, “Candace is… special.”
“Oh ho!” said Jacklin. “Whole different kettle o’ fish we got, then. Whole new class o’ criminal to consider; whole new kinda ransom.”
Mr. Leighton held his wife a little closer. “What do you mean? You’re still going to get her back, right?”
“Now, we’ll do what we can, o’ course,” said Jacklin, “but our best bet here’s gonna be to wait for that ransom call to come. This kinda thing happens more often than you might think… It’s big business, snatchin’ up specials. Big-time crooks target ’em ’cause it’s a win-win: either they get ransom from the rich ones, or if they don’t think they can get paid that way, they sell the kids off on some kinda black market, dependin’ on what flavour o’ freak they are.”
Mrs. Leighton choked on a sob.
Callahan glared at his partner, but Jacklin didn’t seem to notice. “In case it might help,” said Callahan, “would you mind telling us what Candace’s special ability is?”
The Leightons looked down at their feet, hesitating.
Naomi said, “She makes smells. All kinds of different smells…”
Callahan nodded thoughtfully. “Okay. Well, Detective Jacklin is probably right: I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few messed up people out there with too much money who would love the novelty of picking up a slave who could make their bedroom smell like anything they wanted…”
“It’s a screwed up world, folks,” grunted Jacklin. “So, at least we got somethin’ to work with. Callahan, put a car at their house and make sure they gimme a ring when that ransom call comes through, eh?” Without waiting for a response, Jacklin waddled back to his squad car and drove off, his stereo blaring out 80s southern rock.
Callahan shook his head. “I apologize for my partner’s… insensitivity. Unfortunately, he’s right. The most likely scenario is that your daughter was kidnapped in order to be either ransomed or sold. We’re going to try to find her, but the most likely next step is that you’ll receive a ransom call, probably within 24 hours.”
Mrs. Leighton snatched at the scraps of sympathy in Callahan’s voice like a drowning person grabbing a life ring. “Detective, please, we can’t just sit and wait for that! What if they never ask for a ransom? What if they just bypass that and go straight to trying to sell her?!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We’ll put the word out right away and watch all of our known contacts, but a pretty sophisticated network has been springing up for this kind of human trafficking, and we just don’t have the resources to crack it yet—not working within current protocol, anyways. I hate to bear bad news, but I don’t want to give you false hope. The ransom call is likely our best option. We’re going to make sure you’re safe, and wait for the call.”
Mrs. Leighton sobbed into her husband’s shoulder.
Callahan opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again. He scratched the back of his neck. A gust of wind ruffled his jacket. “Here,” he said, softly, “I’ll tell you what: if you really can’t stand sitting and waiting, and you’re not too hung up about, well, let’s call them grey areas, there may be another route open to you.”
“What?” said Mrs. Leighton. “What is it? We’ll do anything!”
Callahan swirled his tongue over his teeth and cast a quick glance over his shoulder. “Okay, here.” He slipped a business card out of the breast pocket of his jacket and held it out to Mrs. Leighton. Naomi noticed that the card was plain and white, with two lines of text printed on one side. “Give that number a call, and make sure you let them know your daughter’s a special. That should pique their interest. Don’t expect them to help out for free, though.” He lowered his voice. “And if anyone finds out I told you about this, I could lose my job, so keep it quiet, all right?”
There was a pause, and another gust of wind. Naomi held her breath. Was this really happening?
In a slow, clear voice, Mr. Leighton said, “Thank you, detective, but I’m not sure we—”
His wife didn’t let him finish: she snatched the business card with trembling fingers and tucked it into her purse. “She’s our daughter, Fred.”
Mr. Leighton sighed. “Yes, but… Fine. We’ll talk about this when we get home.”