“What are you saying?” Mary couldn’t believe that the couple she called her parents all these years never went to the mission field. Not when their infrequent letters had abundant references to their missionary endeavors. “But I have letters about their work there.”
“They were not missionaries in Peru or any other place.” Jared spoke softly. He started to say more, but Will’s cell phone rang, interrupting the conversation.
Will pulled it out of his pocket and checked caller ID. “Excuse me, I have to take this.” He stood and walked away with the phone to his ear.
Mary returned her gaze to Jared. “How can you be sure? They’ve been in the field for thirty years. I mean, they could have been connected with a small group that didn’t have online records.”
“That’s true, which is why I called someone I know in the State Department.” He eased his leg off the coffee table. “Ed and Louisa Divers didn’t have a passport. They never obtained visas to any foreign country. Wherever they are, it’s not overseas.”
The revelation that her “parents” were never missionaries added to the soul searching she had been undergoing since David’s “death” a few days ago. She’d let her faith founder, relying instead on her own strength and nursery-rhyme mantras to carry her through the tough times. The fear of ending up like her grandmother drove her to ignore warning signs and opened her heart to David, while pushing away a true and good friend in Jared.
Will strode back. “I have good news. We know the real identity of David Kline. It’s David Carstairs, who had a security clearance for a Department of Defense job a decade ago.” He handed his phone to Mary. “Here’s a photo of Carstairs.”
Mary glanced down at a man in his early 30s, with dark brown hair worn long over his collar, dark eyes, and a cocky grin. Some might call him handsome, but to Mary, his looks were about as attractive as a slug.
Jared looked at Mary. “At least he wasn’t lying about his first name.”
His expression remained guarded. She thought she’d glimpsed pity in his eyes, but it could have been a trick of the late afternoon sun. Both men stared at her. Maybe they expected her to ask the obvious question. “Do you have him in custody?”
“Yes, along with Sylvia Matthews,” Will said.
Her body tensed. She hoped he would volunteer more information because she was at a loss as to what to ask next. Seeing the real David had made everything seem more true.
Will propped his back against one of the porch columns. “We picked them up at a Chicago bank two days ago when they tried to empty the account of another victim. Now that their identities have been verified, I can share a few more details.”
“Please do.” Mary settled back in her chair. “I’d like to hear whatever you can tell me.”
“We found where they headquartered their operations, a townhouse in Dallas. Our tech crew is looking at their computers, and we should be able to piece together the whole picture of the scam. What we’ve figured out thus far is that they started working together six years ago, mainly doing small-scale Internet scams. Then last year, they came up with the missionary angle.”
“Was it only the two of them?” Jared interjected. “I always thought they must be part of a larger operation.”
Mary hadn’t thought of the possibility that other Davids might be wooing unsuspecting women online. Nonetheless the fact that she was one of many didn’t make her actions any less foolish. If anything, it made her feel more dumb that she hadn’t caught on to David’s two-timing, especially since she could see clearly things from their chats that should have raised questions.
“We arrested six more men and three women at the townhouse. David has started to talk, saying Sylvia was in charge, and that he just chatted with pre-selected women.” Will shook his head. “If they had gotten away with it, the entire operation would have raked in between $120 million and $140 million.”
Mary’s mouth fell open. “That much?”
Will nodded. “That’s the figure our tech guys have come up with based on records from all the chats. It will probably go up as we finish our analysis.”
“What about Wildcat? Any leads on his identity?” Jared asked.
Mary rubbed her temples. All these names and aliases were making her head swim. “Who’s Wildcat?”
“He’s the one who selected the women on Soul Believers and other dating sites.” Will’s phone chimed and he pulled it from his pocket, then checked a text message. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go. I’ll be in touch.”
Mary waited for him to leave before turning back to Jared. “So what’s next?”
“I’m not sure. We think Wildcat is the mastermind behind this scam, and until we figure out who he is, we don’t know how many others may be involved.” Jared straightened his back. “How are you doing?”
Mary stared past Jared. Something to do with the name Wildcat niggled her subconscious, yet like the actors of a play before the opening act, the scene had yet to unfold.
She blinked, then looked at Jared standing beside her chair with his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, there’s something about the name Wildcat that I should know.” She stood. “Maybe a cup of chamomile tea will settle my thoughts and I’ll make the connection. Would you like a cup, too?”
“Sure. Tea is your solution to everything, isn’t it?” Jared walked beside her to the front door and opened it for her.
“It does soothe one’s frazzled nerves, so I suppose it does help most situations.” Mary ducked under his arm and went inside, Jared right on her heels. She paused in the living room, glancing at the blank space over the fireplace where the Eakins painting hung. “I’ll miss it. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until it was sold. I would probably still have it if I had listened to you. Or even prayed about it.”
Jared laid a hand on her arm. “I haven’t been all that interested in God myself before I came here. I shoved God away after I was shot and Sasha was killed, but seeing you again has made me remember the faith of my youth.”
Mary smiled. “I sometimes I feel that my faith is still a mustard seed, not growing. My parents, or rather, my cousins, never talked much about God. I had a hard time reconciling their choosing God over me. All these years, I compared my faith with their Gospel zeal that blazed from the pages of the few letters they wrote me, and I felt like mine was a pale imitation of theirs.”
“We shouldn’t compare our faith with anyone else’s.” Jared slid his hand down her arm and clasped her fingers. “Jesus’ blood covers us just as much as it covers them or a pastor’s. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior.”
“I’ve never heard you talk like this before.” She squeezed his hand. “Thank you.”
Jared’s cheeks turned red. “I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t welcomed God into my life until recently.” His chest heaved with a deep breath that he released slowly. “These last few days have been instrumental in bringing me back to the faith.”
“How so?” Mary gestured they sit down on the couch. His sharing had revealed a side she wanted to know more about.
“I saw the coincidences that led us to figure out the Internet scam were just that—coincidences. I didn’t want to believe that God could use circumstances to bring this case to a close. I also chose to ignore that God was using this case to resolve our own pasts for his glory. It’s like the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28: ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’ Our meeting again had a bigger purpose than catching the bad guys.”
She nodded. She, too, had let things in her past fester and hamper not just her ability to interact with the world, but also her faith. “I see what you mean. I didn’t realize how many unresolved issues stemmed from my childhood.”
“As a psychiatrist, I highly recommend closure.”
Mary laughed. “I think I’ve had enough closure this week to last me a while. I’m not sure I can take any more revelations.” The phone rang, and they both jumped. “I’d better get that. It might be Amy. We’re supposed to have lunch tomorrow.”
Mary rounded the corner to the kitchen to answer the cordless handset, but skidded to a halt a few feet away. The ringing telephone had triggered a connection to the name Wildcat. Her hand to her mouth, she whirled around and dashed through the dining room to where Jared sat on the couch.
The phone stopped ringing, then the faint greeting of the answering machine played.
He reached out his hand and steadied her. “What is it?”
“This may be crazy, but …,” her heart pounded in her ears, “I think I know who Wildcat is.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.