Chasing The Wind
The woman was hysterical.
Her husband wasn’t in much better shape. He could barely talk, struggling to answer my questions in fragmented sentences. Their six-year-old daughter had been abducted from their backyard. There were no witnesses, and an exhaustive search of the neighborhood turned up nothing.
“I don’t understand how this could have happened,” the child’s father said, choking on every other word. “She only let Mandy out of her sight for a minute.”
He looked over his shoulder at his inconsolable wife, being tended by a neighbor. “She’s always been an overprotective mother,” he said, lowering his voice. “Mandy’s our miracle baby.”
“How so?” I asked, taking notes. In the years I'd been with the FBI, I'd found child abduction cases to be the biggest test of my objectivity. If somebody took my kid, I'd probably hunt them down and kill them. Kidnappers and pedophiles should always be turned over to the parents. The courts might let them go. But you didn't hear that from me.
“We’d been trying to have children for years, almost as long as we’ve been married,” the distraught father went on. “We both come from big families and wanted kids of our own, but it just wasn’t happening.”
“Is your daughter adopted?” my partner, Jack Farlow, asked.
He shook his head. “No, no,” he said. “She’s ours. We went to a fertility clinic when we couldn’t conceive. It took everything we had, all of our savings, but Mandy’s worth it.”
“You had difficulty in having a child,” Jack said slowly. “Who was at fault?”
The man was at first puzzled, then angry. “What kind of question is that?” he asked. “What has it to do with Mandy being missing?”
“Probably nothing, maybe everything, depending on the circumstances of her birth, sir,” Jack said. “Did you use an egg or sperm donor?”
The man shook his head. “No,” he said. “Mandy’s ours, one hundred percent. She was conceived by in vitro, but we used our own…you know.”
“We have to ask,” I apologized. “If your daughter were not biologically yours, then we would have to consider the possibility that the biological parent might have taken her.”
“We’re her parents, no one else,” the man insisted. His face reflected his deep fear for his child’s safety. “Please bring our baby home. Please.”
* * *
“I only turned my back for a moment,” the distraught teacher repeated over and over. “I never left the schoolyard!”
A six-year-old boy had been abducted outside a prestigious Seattle school for gifted children. No one saw it happen, even though there were several children in the schoolyard, being picked up by their own parents. Everyone was being questioned.
“We understand, Mrs. Harwood,” I said in an attempt to calm her.
“I don’t understand!” The emotional outburst came from the child’s mother. “You were responsible for him! You were supposed to be watching him!”
“I was watching him!” the teacher attempted to defend herself. “I was watching all of them! I only turned away for a moment!”
“Long enough for someone to take my son!” the angry mother shot back at her.
“Easy, Mrs. Wyndham,” Jack urged. “She won’t be able to remember anything if you keep attacking her.”
Charlotte Wyndham turned to the window, hugging herself tightly as if trying to shield herself from the chill of fear that consumed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She’d said her husband was in Paris on business. He’d booked a flight as soon as she called him, but he could not be there before the next morning.
"We only had each other, until Noah was born," she said. "Neither of us have any other family, and we both wanted children. When we couldn’t get pregnant on our own, we sought out the experts. It took us three years and thousands of dollars to have Noah, but he's worth every penny. If anything happens to him…."
* * *
The woman’s body was found in her car, parked in the driveway outside her Florida home. She was still in the driver’s seat, her seatbelt still in place. She’d been shot in the head at close range. Her five-year-old son was missing, presumably taken from his car seat.
We questioned her husband at length. He was frustrated by the endless probing. "My wife is dead, my child is missing. Why are you wasting time questioning me?" he demanded.
"You found her, sir, " I said. "We have to start there. With you."
“She had no enemies,” he said irritably. “None. She got along with everybody. I always envied that about her. She was the peacemaker. I was the loose cannon.”
“Were you a loose cannon with her, Mr. Reynolds?” Jack asked.
“No, of course not.” Roger Reynolds didn’t miss the implication. “What are you asking me?”
“Only if there were any problems between the two of you.”
“You think I killed her?” Reynolds asked incredulously.
“No, of course not!”
“What about your son?”
“What about him?”
“Were there any problems regarding the child?” I asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Reynolds snapped. “Our son was perfect. Perfect.”
Dear God, how long has it been? As I stood at the window in my hotel room in London, looking at the city below, I found myself feeling like I'd just landed on another planet.
I should probably explain. I'm a field archaeologist. Home is wherever I happen to be excavating—at that time, “home” was Egypt. The only people I see on a daily basis are the members of my team. Restaurants, theaters, shopping—all are rare luxuries. My wardrobe is simple and functional, much like everything else in my life.
As I looked at the royal blue tunic I'd planned to wear that night, I realized I hadn’t worn it in months. It didn’t fit my normal lifestyle. Too feminine for a dig. Thinking about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made the effort to be feminine, to actually look like a woman. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like a woman, the last time I’d wanted to feel like a woman. Feeling and acting like a woman always seemed to get me into trouble. I had discovered long ago that I got on better with people who’d been dead for a thousand years than I did with the living.
I'm not one to spend a lot of time worrying about my looks. For what? I've been divorced over a decade and can't remember the last time I was on a date. I turned forty that summer, but on the good days, I could still pass for thirty. I had fine lines around my eyes—“archaeologist’s squint”, an occupational hazard more than a sign of aging. I haven't changed my hairstyle since college—it's long, dark and threaded with strands of copper from being out in the sun all day, every day. I know I don’t look my age. But there are times I feel it acutely. I got good genes from my parents. Genes that I haven’t been able to pass on to any children of my own. The thought of the children I’d never have and the family I hadn’t seen in a year brought a wave of unexpected sadness I couldn't shake. It was Thanksgiving in the States. How many years had it been since I’d gone home for Thanksgiving or any other holiday? I told my parents I was too busy, but the truth was that it was too painful to see my three sisters with their children. Seeing what I’d been missing.
I always believed this was the path God had chosen for me. I could never have been satisfied with the life my sisters led back in Missouri. Taking the easy route had never been my style. We all have a purpose. I believed without doubt that mine was to find evidence that would prove the events described in the Bible had actually happened.
As for why I was in London, I hadn’t planned on being here. Three weeks before, I’d been minding my own business, working on my dig in Egypt when that call came, asking me to do a series of lectures in London, to replace a colleague who’d been injured in an earthquake in China. The request surprised the hell out of me, since it came from someone I not only didn’t know well personally, but had been at odds with professionally. What was it Dr. McCallum had called me? Too much of a dreamer to ever be a serious archaeologist. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t about to debate the merits of his request. It had been so long since I’d taken any time off from my work, for any reason…and as much as I loved it, I’d been feeling the need for a break for a long time now. It was a feeling I’d never had before, one I was at a loss to explain, even to myself. Work had been my whole life for…how long? Ever since the divorce.
I was giving serious consideration to adopting a child, maybe two. Not babies. Older kids. Kids who could live the way I live and actually enjoy it. There are lots of kids in the world needing parents. It doesn’t matter if I give birth to my kids or not.
Being in London would hopefully also provide me with an opportunity to seek the funding I needed to continue the dig. Time was running out and I’d already been rejected by the three private foundations that had funded my previous digs. God, I need a miracle, I silently prayed. That’s what it’s going to take if I’m to continue my work—your work.
* * *
I saw him enter the crowded lecture hall. He was hard to miss. He looked so out of place in the sea of conservatively dressed attendees—but it didn’t seem to bother him. He wore faded jeans and a beat-up black leather jacket. He was with a young woman, a petite brunette who looked as aristocratic as he was scruffy. His light brown hair was in desperate need of a comb. His boredom was evident in his body language, the way he shoved his hands down into the pockets of his jacket. I decided I'd lost my audience before I even got to the podium.
“I fail to see why you couldn’t have come to this event alone, Sarah,” he said, annoyed. “You know quite well that I’ve no interest in spending the evening listening to a decrepit old man talk about life in some desolate outpost of Hades, digging up the pathetic remains of people who lived in another millennium.”
The woman shook her head disapprovingly. “If you had even bothered to read the brochure I gave you, you would know that Dr. Raven is a woman,” she told him.
“No difference,” he said with an offhanded shrug. “Frumpy, gray hair in a schoolmarm’s bun, sensible shoes, no doubt.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to need a pint—or two—to get me through this evening. I’ll be back. Eventually.” He turned to leave the lecture hall and we were face-to-face. He smiled, and his whole face seemed transformed by it. His eyes, blue and intense, instantly softened. “Hello,” he said in a low voice.
The woman came up behind him. “This is Dr. Raven,” she told him.
He extended his hand to me. “Connor Mackenzie,” he introduced himself. His Scottish brogue was unmistakable. I noticed that he didn’t introduce his date.
“Lynne Raven.” I shook his hand. “I left my sensible shoes back at the hotel,” I said, feigning regret.
He looked embarrassed. “You heard that?”
I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
“Don’t be.” I smiled. “I get it all the time.” It was the truth. People are always surprised when they discover I'm an archaeologist. They always expect us to look and act like Indiana Jones. I do have the hat and the leather jacket, but no bullwhip. I used to wish I'd had one when I was still married. My ex could have benefited from a good whipping.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “You certainly don’t look like an archaeologist.”
He wasn't expecting Indiana Jones. He was expecting a fossil as old as some of my finds.
I laughed. “Having heard your description, I’m relieved to hear I don’t look like one to you.”
He looked me in the eye, which was a little unnerving. “I think you’re quite beautiful,” he said.
I could feel my cheeks flush. I couldn’t remember the last time a man had made me blush. Maybe my ex-husband, but that was another lifetime—one I preferred not to remember. “Good save,” I said, a bit unnerved by the intensity of his stare.
“Are you enjoying your stay in London?” he asked in an awkward attempt at small talk.
“Very much,” I answered, grateful for the change of subject. “I spend most of my time on excavations. This has been heavenly.”
“Where will you go when you leave?” he asked.
“Egypt,” I said. “We’re digging in the Sinai, near the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.”
He looked amused. “You don’t really expect to find stone tablets—” he started.
I shook my head. “The tablets were taken to Israel in the Ark of the Covenant,” I explained. “They were still in the Ark when it disappeared from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. It’s been rumored that the Ark’s now somewhere in Ethiopia, but no one’s been able to prove it. Much as I would love to be the one to find the Ark, we don’t expect to find it in Egypt. We are searching for evidence of the Exodus in general.”
He laughed. “Have you found the secret to parting the Red Sea?” he wanted to know.
I didn't hesitate. “Yes. It’s called faith.”
“I’ve heard archaeologists are now using modern technology to aid their work,” he recalled. “Computers, satellites—”
“We do.” I drew in a deep breath, thinking of the equipment I still needed to continue my work. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped in this case. We haven’t found anything significant yet. This has turned out to be a long-term project, which means it’s been costly. My funding’s been cut off, and other sources I’ve used in the past have already turned me down. I have to find a new source of funding ASAP. Time is running out, if I’m going to continue my field work.” Why was I dumping this on him? I glanced toward his female companion, who was watching us intently. “I think your girlfriend’s getting the wrong idea.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he said. “She’s my sister.”
Only then did I realize that he was still holding my hand. I withdrew it slowly.
“Have you eaten?” Connor asked.
I shook my head. “I’m beat. I thought I’d just get some Chinese takeout after I’m finished here and call it a night.”
He laughed. “A rare trip to the civilized world and you plan to spend the evening in your hotel room? That’s unacceptable.” he said. “Come have dinner with me.”
“I don’t think so—” I started.
“I may be able to save your project,” he suggested.
I was more than a little skeptical. “How?” He didn’t look like he had enough cash to pay for dinner. Except for the watch. The watch he wore looked very expensive. He probably stole it. Or so I thought at the time.
He winked, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “My trust fund,” he told me.
I nodded slowly. “Right.”
He wasn’t about to give up. “I could surprise you. What have you to lose by hearing me out?” he asked.
I hesitated for only a moment. “All right,” I said finally. Even if he didn’t have the means to save the excavation, there was something so compelling about him, I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t want to refuse.