Jared slid into the booth and picked up the diner’s menu. He had rented a car last night and drove up to Fairfax this morning to meet Will and Steve Calahan, the tech guy. Jared crossed his fingers that Steve would have good news about David’s Soul Believers activity.
“Ready to order?” The waitress chewed on the end of her pen as she waited.
“Just coffee for now, please. Two more will be joining me shortly.”
She nodded and walked away. Jared tossed the menu aside and tapped his fingers in a staccato rhythm on the tabletop. Hard to believe five weeks had gone by and they were no closer to figuring out who David Kline really was. They still weren’t certain David was Wildcat, and the auction was only a day away now.
Jared slouched in booth, surrendering to his cranky mood. He had pushed himself to finish the yard, working long hours that bruised his body in an effort to banish Mary from his mind. The strategy failed, too. Every glimpse he caught of her in the house while he sweated outside in the summer heat reminded him of their kiss.
Each morning, he awoke with only one thought—find concrete evidence of David’s wrongdoing and stop Mary from making the biggest mistake of her life. His brows wrinkled at the thought of her refusal to accept his phone calls or answer the door. Perhaps it was just as well. There was nothing he could say that he hadn’t said more than once already. The only way he could talk to her would be in the public setting of her radio call-in show. Today, he hoped that Will and Steve would have the proof needed to convince Mary of David’s lies. He might not be able to stop the sale, but he would have time to halt the wedding.
“Here you go.” The waitress set down a mug and poured black coffee. “Cream?”
The woman set several individual creamers on the table and walked away. Jared dumped a sugar packet into the mug and added one creamer before stirring. He glanced at his watch. Ten-thirty. He checked his cell phone but had no new texts. They were running out of time. Mary’s Eakins painting was up for auction tomorrow. Once the painting sold, their time left to catch David would be measured in minutes.
Will scooted into the booth opposite Jared. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Jared sat upright.
Another man joined Will on the seat. “This is Special Agent Steve Calahan,” Will said.
The forty-something man extended his hand.
Jared shook Steve’s offered hand. “Glad to meet you. I hope you have some good news for me today.”
Will picked up a menu. “All in due time, Jared. First, I’m famished. What are you having?”
“Depends,” Jared replied. “Is the bureau paying?”
Will chuckled. “I’ll put the tab on my expense account.”
Jared raised his eyebrows. “Steve, you must have worked wonders. Will never pays if he can avoid it.”
Steve shrugged, his face buried in the menu. “As for your good news, once I knew what to look for, it was fairly easy to find it. Just took some time tracing the tendrils back to the mother ship.”
“Steve was never one for small talk,” Will said. “When he’s on the scent, nothing distracts him. I bet he hasn’t seen his dog in days.”
“That would be funny if I had a dog,” Steve said from behind his menu.
The waitress returned to their table. “Ready to order?” She poised her pen over the order pad.
“Yes,” Will said. “I’ll have coffee and the Lumberman Jack’s Breakfast with the eggs over-easy.” He handed her his menu.
Steve ordered the same, and Jared choose a Western omelet with toast. After she departed, Jared said, “Don’t keep me in suspense any longer. What did you find out?”
Steve looked at Will, who nodded. Steve leaned across the table, lowering his voice. “We found a lot of connections between David Kline and the women whose profiles Wildcat looked at.”
Jared pushed his coffee aside and leaned forward, too. “What does that mean exactly?”
The men paused while the server placed mugs in front of Steve and Will and poured their coffee. After she left, Steve dumped three sugar packs into his coffee. “That David has been in close contact with the very profiles Wildcat visited multiple times.”
“How close contact are we talking?” Jared tried to keep the impatience out of his voice. He needed something big to stop Mary from marrying David and ruining her life. Not to mention his life.
“You already know about Mary and the Eakins painting she’s selling to finance David’s Peru trip. He’s conned the other seven women out of equally valuable property.” Steve drank from his coffee cup.
Jared whistled softly. “Would you mind walking me through what you have for each woman?”
“Sure, I could, but it might be easier if I use one as an example and point out the similarities between the women.” Steve pulled out his cell phone and taped the screen. “Let’s see. Lonelygirl would be a good representative of the group of eight women, including your Mary.”
Jared shot Will a quizzical look, but Will merely shrugged. Just like Will to label Mary as “his” when Will knew perfectly well that Jared was no longer on speaking terms with her.
Steve continued. “Lonelygirl, aka Laura Perry, is a forty-five-year-old who lives in Chicago. Laura’s never been married, has no immediate family still living, and has a job that requires limited contact with others.”
“So all the women are single orphans who work in an isolated environment, like from home?” Jared interjected.
Will nodded. “It gets even more interesting.”
Steve picked up the narrative again. “David Kline began contacting each of the women in January, a week or so after Wildcat looked at the profiles. Soul Believers gave us access to all of David’s chats. He started out in contact with a group of fifteen women before whittling it down to these eight. Within three months, he had exclusive chats with them on a daily basis, telling each woman she was the only one with whom he chatted.” He arched an eyebrow. “Get this—he broke the news of his missionary opportunity to Peru to all of them within the same 24-hour period.”
“The swine,” Jared muttered under his breath.
“He might be a pig, but he knows how to woo the ladies, at least online,” Steve said. “These women he picked don’t appear to be stupid. In fact, three of them—including Mary—paid for a background check to be run on David. The information came back clean because the real David Kline is clean, albeit dead.”
“How could someone’s death be wiped out?” Jared slumped in the booth. He had been sure a background check would have triggered questions.
“There are ways to do that if you know how, and apparently, these people did just that. I ran a background check myself on David Kline with the same information Mary would have entered and it came back with no red flags.” Steve sipped his coffee.
“Here we go. Two Lumberjack Breakfasts,” the waitress placed the plates in front of Will and Steve. “And a Western Omelet with toast.” She set Jared’s breakfast on the table, too. She glanced at Jared. “I’ll be back by with some fresh coffee in a jiffy. Enjoy.”
Will and Steve dug in to their food.
Jared’s chest expanded with a deep breath as he drummed his thumb against the lip of his mug. He’d wait until the waitress had refilled his cup before continuing their conversation. For the first time, he allowed himself to hope that whatever Steve had found would be enough to convince Mary to at least delay her wedding.
“Here you go,” the woman said, as she refilled his mug with steaming coffee.
“Thank you.” He forced a smile for her sake, but once she’d gone, the wrinkle in his brow returned.
“In Lonelygirl’s instance, she owns a very valuable emerald necklace, ring and bracelet set worth $1.2 million,” Steve said. “David’s engaged to her as well, and she’s selling the set to finance their trip to Peru. A local auction house is selling the necklace in three days and their wedding date is four days after the sale.”
The omelet lost its flavor in Jared’s mouth. The similarities between Mary and Lonelygirl—Laura were eerie. “And the other six women also are selling something worth a million or so dollars and are engaged to marry David a few days after the sale?”
Steve nodded. “All eight have opened joint bank accounts with David Kline and the auction houses will be depositing the sale money into those accounts.” Steve shoveled the last of his pancakes into his mouth.
“And you have proof of this?” Jared put his fork down, his appetite gone.
“Yes,” Will said. “The chat transcripts are quite clear.”
“Mary will be devastated.” Jared shoved away his plate.
Will pointed his empty fork at Jared. “You’re not going to tell Mary. Not until our accounting guys and our tech guys can finish tracing who and where David Kline is operating. This thing has exploded into more than we originally anticipated, and we’re pulling in offices from the cities where the other women are located for assistance.”
“So where does that leave me?” Jared glared at Will. He wouldn’t sit by and let Mary’s life be ruined because of a case. He learned that lesson the hard way and he didn’t need a repeat.
Will finished his eggs. “You’ve done your part, now it’s time to let the FBI do theirs.”
“But what if you don’t expose him before Mary’s wedding date?” There was no way he could let Mary marry David Kline, investigation or no investigation.
Steve stacked their plates together. “I seriously doubt David has any intention of actually marrying these women. We’re not sure what he has planned, but we’re fairly sure it won’t involve weddings. In fact, he has several scheduled on the same dates in different cities.”
“Don’t forget, we still don’t know who Wildcat is.” Will wiped his mouth on a napkin.
The waitress scooped up the dirty plates. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Just the check,” Jared said, anxious to get out of there and back to Mary. He needed to talk with her, to figure out how he could stop the wedding. Maybe if he told her how he loved her and wanted to marry her, she’d change her mind about marrying David. But what could he offer Mary? A non-practicing psychiatrist with a bum leg.
“Jared, you’re not to interfere with this investigation. I repeat, you cannot tell Mary about David Kline.” Will stared unwaveringly across the table. “I know that look. That’s the look that got you shot, remember?”
Jared stood. “Will, you can throw me in jail for interfering with an official investigation if you want to, but I’m not going to sit back and watch some low-life con artist destroy the happiness of the woman I love.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.