Will Fulton flopped down on the couch in Jared’s apartment. “Tell me some good news, buddy.”
Jared brought two Cokes from the kitchen and sank on the couch beside him, handing one to his friend. “Whether it’s good news or bad, I’m not sure.”
Will took a swig and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Let’s hear it.”
Jared recounted his conversation with Melvin and his own conclusions about the chat transcripts. “Melvin and I both think these scams were a test run for something bigger.”
Will took a long draw on his soda. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “Any ideas as to why Wildcat decided to target Soul Believers instead of another Christian dating site?”
Jared shook his head. “Nope. I’ve been over the file a dozen times and have looked at the women’s profiles that Wildcat seemed to target a lot, but still no clue.”
“What about Mary?”
“She finally admitted to chatting with someone from Soul Believers, but it’s some guy named David Kline.” He tried to keep his voice even, but his disbelief in Mary’s choice came through. “His profile states he’s a Christian, and his picture shows him to be a clean-cut guy, with a Colgate smile.”
Will laughed. “Sounds like you’re a little jealous, my friend, that she’s chatting with this guy.”
Jared snorted. “Yeah, right. It’s hard to be jealous of someone who’s not even around in the physical sense.”
“But it bothers you all the same that Mary’s chatting up this fellow.” Will looked at Jared with a knowing expression.
Jared winced, recalling how Will had teased him about getting involved with Sasha too. That experience should have been enough to turn him off women for a long time.
“Are they serious?”
“She didn’t really say, but she’s going to sell a valuable painting to help him raise money to go be a missionary to Peru, some Indian tribe on the Amazon River. Which is weird because that’s where her parents went, and she hasn’t seen them in thirty years.”
“Thirty years?” Will shook his head. “That’s strange.”
“Tell me about it, but she won’t say anything else.” Jared had tried to restart that conversation several times recently when he had encountered Mary in the yard, but she had changed the subject each time. He knew there was more to the story, but she wasn’t reopening that vault anytime soon.
“What’s this about raising money?”
Jared toyed with his Coke can. “He needs to raise a boatload of money to go and he needs it in a hurry.”
Will leaned over and pointed to Jared’s laptop on the coffee table. “Do you mind if I look up something real quick?”
“Nah, go ahead. I’m online.” Jared leaned his head back and closed his eyes, the clicking of Will’s fingers on the keyboard fading in the distance as his mind frantically tried to put the pieces together.
Jared jolted at Will’s words. A fist punched him robustly in the arm.
“I think I’ve figured out the scam.”
Jared rubbed his eyes and stared at his friend. “What?”
Will blew out a breath and looked at the laptop screen. “Did you hear me?”
He sat up. “Who didn’t hear you?”
“Man, you’re sucking all of the fun out this.” Will flopped back and glared at Jared.
“I’m sorry. All this yard work during the day makes me doze off when I sit down at night. What have you discovered, oh, Master of Intrigue?”
Will burst out laughing. “That’s better. Take a look at this.” He placed the computer on Jared’s lap and pointed to the screen of a rather homely brunette’s profile.
“Look at the name of her correspondents.”
Jared scanned the list of “friend” names the woman was linked to on Soul Believers. One name jumped out at him. The two men looked at each other.
Will continued. “I checked the other profiles that Wildcat had looked at. Only one name was consistent on all of them.”
“David Kline.” Jared had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was sure Mary had no clue that her David was a friend with these other women, or maybe she did. Maybe she had asked David about it. If he was in on the scam, David had probably made up some story she believed. Mary was entirely too trusting for her own good. “It looks like we may have found Wildcat.”
“And Wildcat has definitely found Mary.”
Jared placed the laptop on the coffee table and rubbed his eyes, listening as Will fitted more pieces together.
“If we’re right, and Wildcat and David Kline are one in the same, we’re going to have to be very careful not to tip him off that we’re on to him.”
“I could do some digging into David Kline’s background.” Jared offered. “That way, it isn’t directly connected to the FBI, and if he discovers it’s me, he’ll just think it’s Mary’s childhood friend looking out for her.”
Will nodded. “That might work. You could do Internet searches for things that are public, like property tax records. Schooling information can be verified with phone calls.”
“I think I’ll also check out Bringing Christ to Latin America.”
“It’s the missionary organization that David Kline is with.” Jared leaned over and shoved some papers aside to pull David’s brochure out. “Here’s his brochure.”
Will looked at the pamphlet. “Oh, for a nonprofit like that, start with the Better Business. There’s also charity verification organizations, like Charity Navigator, Guide Stars and Nonprofit Watch. You can always just call the organization, too. If you can’t reach a live person, that’s usually a red flag.”
Jared typed in notes to a Word file on his laptop as Will talked. “Thanks, I’ll do that.”
“So you want to tell me what’s really bothering you?”
Jared shrugged and looked at his friend. “What do you mean?”
Will raised his eyebrows. “Seriously? We’ve been friends for what, four or five years now. I think I know when you’re not telling me something. What happened with Mary today?”
“What makes you think it has to do with Mary?” Even as he spoke the words, Jared knew Will wouldn’t let it go, not when he could sense Jared was being evasive.
“Aha. I knew it. Spill the beans. You’ll feel better.” Will nudged him in the arm. “Come on.”
“You sound like a girl.”
“No, I’m more like a dog with a bone.”
Jared sighed. “Okay. Mary’s going to sell her Eakins painting and give the money to David Kline for his missionary trip.”
“A what painting?”
“Thomas Eakins, some artist from the late 1800s.” Jared picked up his Coke and took a sip, grimacing at the tepid temperature. “It’s worth a couple of million.”
Will whistled. “That’s a pretty penny.”
Then Jared sucked in a breath as he considered what they had figured out. He could see by Will’s expression that he had the same thought. Jared’s chest tightened. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“That we finally know what Wildcat and his friends are up to.”
Jared swallowed and thought of Mary blushing in the kitchen as she talked about David. If true, this would break her heart, especially since she was planning on selling a family painting to support him. “How are we going to prove it and protect Mary at the same time?”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.