Jared stared out of the Metro train’s window at the blackness outside. The train zoomed along the underground track to the Foggy Bottom station. His brain still hurt after trying to sort out all the misleading identities in Mary’s story of how her parents were only her second cousins, and her aunt had been her grandmother. His heart saddened that Mary had found her real mother’s death certificate among her aunt’s, no grandmother’s, papers, shutting off the possibility of learning why her mother had left her with cousins instead of her grandmother.
Mary hadn’t contacted her cousins about their lengthy masquerade as her parents, and wasn’t sure she would. He encouraged her not to until she had contacted a lawyer to figure out any legal issues relating to her grandmother’s estate that her change in parentage would trigger. Like whether or not her cousins actually adopted Mary. Her birth certificate should hold some clues to that. Mary promised to examine it to soon.
At the end of their conversation yesterday, Jared forced himself to ask about David. Mary’s reply that all was well and the light in her eyes made him more determined than ever to find the real David before it was too late. Then Mary told him something that had provided another avenue of exploration: David had called her “lonely girl” during their chat last night.
“I told him that I used to be a lonely woman, but not anymore since I had him, and he laughed about that.” She brushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled across the kitchen table. Jared smiled back. He wanted to disclose what he had discovered so far about David’s duplicity to prevent her being even more hurt. She had suffered so much, learning about her grandmother’s deception, that he found himself asking God to prepare her for the revelation about David when the time came. Until then, he had to keep mum about what he had figured out so far, even if it meant letting Mary’s wedding plans continue.
As soon as he left Mary’s house yesterday, he went directly to his apartment and booted up his laptop. Clicking on the Soul Believers site, he keyed in words “lonelygirl” and up popped a member, a woman in her mid-forties with mousy brown hair and thick glasses. He flipped through the printout of profiles Wildcat had visited and found lonelygirl listed. Here, at last, was a connection between Wildcat and David, tenuous, but a real link. Now he had to convince Jeremy Liddons, the president of Soul Believers, to let the FBI tech guys have a crack at firming up that connection. He took a chance and first thing this morning he drove to Vienna, Virginia, to the nearest Metro stop to see Liddons in his Georgetown office.
The train screeched into the station and Jared rose from his seat, picking up his cane and slinging a messenger bag over his shoulder. He opted for the escalator, propping himself against the right side as the long stairs moved up. He maneuvered his way past the throngs of tourists, and businessmen and women.
Flagging down a cab, he climbed in and gave the Soul Believers address. Within fifteen minutes, he was standing on the sidewalk before a converted brick townhouse nestled between a bank and a cupcake bakery with long lines stretching out the door. He ignored his stomach’s rumblings and headed into the building, riding the elevator up three floors. A perky burnette greeted him as he exited the elevator, which opened directly into the Soul Believers reception area.
“Hello, sir. May I help you?” She smiled as if helping him was the only thing she had to do all day.
He returned her smile, launching into his prepared speech. “Yes, I have an appointment to see Jeremy Liddons.”
“Your name please?”
“Dr. Jared Quinby.” He hoped she wouldn’t confirm it, but instead, pleasantly usher him inside.
Still smiling, she clicked some keys on her keyboard and her smile faltered a bit when she turned back to Jared. “I’m sorry, sir. You don’t appear to have an appointment.”
He frowned, and leaned over the counter, peering at the computer. “Really? I was sure my secretary had made one last month.” He shook his head. “Let me check with her.” He walked a short distance away, pulled out his cell phone, and pretended to make a call, keeping his voice low and his back to the receptionist. He turned around and tapped on the phone as if to end the call. “She insists she made an appointment for June 30 at 10:30 a.m.”
A line creased the young woman’s forehead. “Sir, Mr. Liddons has no appointments scheduled at all this morning.”
Jared leaned on his cane more than needed as he walked back to her desk. “There, you see? Alls well. If you could let him know that Dr. Quinby’s here to see him, we’ll be all set.”
She chewed on her lip. “I don’t know …”
He pressed his case, leaning over the desk. “Just buzz me through and let me talk to his secretary. I’m sure this is all some misunderstanding.”
“His secretary’s not here today.” Her phone line lit up. “I’m new here. I’ve only been working here a few weeks.” Her words ended on a wail.
“It’s okay.” Jared used his best doctor-patient soothing voice. “I’ll make sure Mr. Liddons won’t be upset with you.”
Her phone beeped, and she flailed her hands. “Now I’ve got two calls.”
“Hit the buzzer to let me back, and I’ll be out of your hair.” He pointed to the flashing phone console. “Then you can handle the calls.”
When the front desk phone rang again, she shrugged and buzzed him through, picking up the caller as he rounded her desk for the glass-fronted door. The first obstacle had been breached.
Jared located Jeremy Liddons’s office easily. The other staff, assuming he had been vetted by the receptionist, ignored him as he passed cubicles and closed office doors. He rounded the corner and saw an empty desk sitting outside a partially opened door. As he neared, he could see the nameplate beside the door: Jeremy Liddons, President.
He paused just outside the doorway, the urge to pray filling his mind. This time, he gave in, shooting up a quick prayer. Dear Lord, I know we haven’t been on speaking terms lately, but I could really use your help here. Thanks.
Jared knocked briskly on the doorjamb and waited until a voice commanded, “Come in.” He pushed the door open fully and entered a spacious corner office. Jeremy Liddons, a dark-haired man in his late 30s, sat with his back half-turned to the door, typing on a desktop computer perched on a large mahogany table. Three monitors dominated the flat, shiny surface. A group of two club chairs faced the table.
Jared stopped in front of the desk. “Mr. Liddons?”
The other man looked up, his eyebrows knitted together in a puzzled expression. “Yes?”
“My name is Dr. Jared Quinby. I’d like a few minutes of your time to discuss a matter of great importance.” That came out more pompous than Jared had wanted. He hoped the other man wouldn’t see kick him out.
“Do we have an appointment?”
Jared shook his head. “Your receptionist buzzed me back at my insistence. I didn’t have time to make an appointment.”
Liddons looked at his watch. “I have an appointment at ten-forty-five, so you have exactly twelve minutes.”
Jared hid his grin. He knew the other man had no such appointment, but he allowed him to maintain the fiction. “Mind if I have a seat?”
“Make yourself comfortable.” The other man leaned back into his office chair as Jared selected one of the club chairs. “What’s this all about?”
“I’m here to ask a big favor, one I hope you’ll grant.” Jared quickly outlined the facts of the case, emphasizing he was not representing the FBI, but on his own with this request. He kept his eyes intent on Liddons’ face, but the other man, while giving the appearance of listening politely, gave nothing else away. “So I’ve established a link between Wildcat, David Kline, Mary Divers, and Lonelygirl. But we need access to your system to further investigate.”
Liddons shook his head. “For that, you’ll need a search warrant. We have to maintain absolute privacy for our members. We cannot break that trust for a wild goose chase.”
“Getting a search warrant will take weeks. We don’t have that kind of time.” Jared struggled to ignore the frustration in his voice. Mary’s wedding date was weeks away—he just had to get Liddons to understand how dire the situation was.
“You have an extremely tenuous link between this Wildcat, David, and the two women. The only connection is that David and the two women are members of our service.”
“Could you at least tell me if David Kline is talking with any other SoulBeliever members?”
“That would be unethical. I can’t divulge that kind of information.” Liddons rose, signaling the meeting was at an end.
Jared rubbed his left leg as his muscles tensed up. He couldn’t fail, not with Mary’s happiness and possible life on the line. “I wasn’t completely honest with you.” The other man raised his eyebrows but remained standing. “I’m working with the FBI on this case, yes, but my interest is personal.” He licked his suddenly dry lips. “You see, I know Mary Divers. We were childhood friends who lost touch and reconnected because of this case, although she doesn’t know of my involvement with the FBI’s investigation. She’s, uh, she’s getting married in six weeks to David Kline, then the two of them are going to Peru to be missionaries.”
He looked up, allowing all the love he felt for Mary to flood his expression. “I can’t let her ruin her life because of someone like David Kline, not when I love her.”
Liddons walked around the desk. “I can see that you do, which makes me truly sorry I can’t help you. My hands are tied.”
Jared pushed himself to his feet using his cane as a counterbalance, the crushing disappointment of the trip weighing him down. “It was worth a shot. Thank you for your time.” He held out his hand and shook the other man’s hand. “I wish I knew how to convince Mary that David Kline is not the man he says he is on your website.”
Liddons frowned, withdrawing his hand. “What do you mean? Has he misrepresented himself on our site?”
Jared’s heartbeat quickened. Maybe there was a God who answered prayer after all. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. I searched newspaper records in Mason City, Iowa, which David Kline lists as his hometown. There was indeed a man named David Kline with the same birth date, workplace, and church affiliation as listed on Soul Believers, but that man has been dead for ten years. Plus, the photograph posted on David Kline’s profile is actually of a male model named Ray Germain.”
“Do you have proof of this?”
“Yes.” He leaned his cane against the desk and reached into his messenger bag for the photocopies of the newspaper articles as well as Ray’s photograph side-by-side with David’s supposed picture. He handed the papers to Liddons, watching as the other man scanned the information, flipping the pages quickly before moving back to his desk. Jared leaned over to see the monitors as Liddons keyed in David Kline’s Soul Believers profile, bringing up the glossy photograph of Ray Germain.
Liddons looked up at Jared. “This changes everything. If David Kline has lied about who he is, he has violated the basic tenet of membership. And if he’s broken his agreement with Soul Believers, then we can look into his online activities on our site with impunity.” He held up a hand. “But this means I’ll grant access only to David Kline’s information, not any of the women.”
Jared couldn’t stop the wide grin that spread across his face. “Fair enough. I’ll call FBI Special Agent Will Fulton and have him send someone over immediately.”
Jared made the call from Liddons’ office. As he expected, Will read him the riot act for sneaking around, but agreed that Special Agent Steve Calahan would be over within the hour to delve into David Kline’s cyber-persona.
He thanked Liddons and walked out of the office. In the elevator, Jared sent up a prayer of thanks to God for working things out. Not that it meant the two were on speaking terms again, but his mother had raised him to be polite.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.