“Come in.” Jared stepped aside to allow Will to enter the apartment, then closed the door. “Thanks for coming over on such short notice.”
Will sank onto the couch. “Your message was very cryptic. What’s up?”
“Want a drink first?”
“Do I need one? This isn’t sounding like something I want to hear.”
Jared laughed. “I was just fixing myself some afternoon coffee and thought you might like some. Nothing more.”
“Sorry. Another case has me tied up in knots. And I thought fraud would be a less stressful division.” Will rubbed his eyes. “Decaf or regular on the coffee?”
“Regular. I need a caffeine boost.”
“Then count me in. Nondairy creamer, no sugar, unless you have one of those pink packets.”
“Nope, only real sugar. That artificial stuff will kill you.” Jared crossed into the kitchen and took down two mugs from the cabinet.
“Tricia’s been after me to cut down on calories,” Will called from the living room. “She says because I’m older, I need to be more selective with my calorie consumption.”
“I suppose you gotta keep the wife happy.” Jared carried the mugs of steaming coffee into the living room and handed one to Will. “Nondairy creamer only.”
Jared sipped the hot brew before putting his cup on a coaster and fetched a notepad from the end table. “I’ve done some digging on David Kline. I found records of a deceased David Kline, with the same stats. This David drowned in a lake, but his body was never recovered. His workplace, church, Iowa town, it all pointed to a good lead. Until I tracked down his widow, Grace Wymans.” Jared recounted his newspaper searches and meeting with Grace. “She doesn’t know anything about our David at all, so a dead end there.”
“I know you didn’t call me here to tell me that.”
“Nope.” Jared grinned. “I have something even better. Remember I told you Mary had a brochure with a photo of David Kline?”
“I showed the brochure to Grace, but her late husband looked nothing like this David Kline.” He passed the brochure to Will. “She did say something significant though.”
“You’re toying with me,” Will grunted. “Spit it out.”
“Okay, okay. Grace said the brochure photo looked like a model, his looks were so perfect. Which got me to thinking. What if this was a model’s photo?”
Will studied the photograph again. “If looks were all that mattered, I can see why she said that. Any woman could fall for this guy.” Will handed back the brochure.
Jared scrutinized the picture of David’s smiling face. The Mary Jared had known in childhood was the type of person who looked past outward appearance, and he suspected she was the same today. But it didn’t hurt that David Kline had the rugged good looks of Daniel Craig. “On a hunch, I scanned in the photo and posted a query on some of the online photo sharing and buying sites to see if anyone recognized the model.” He paused. “And someone did.”
“Maybe there’s a God after all.”
Jared frowned. “Why would you say that?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about God. He was still mad at Him for the way things had turned out with Sasha.
“Because you found a needle in a haystack on your first try. In the old days, you would have told me God’s hand was in the discovery.”
Jared squirmed a bit in his seat. He wouldn’t have called Will if he knew his friend would start in on him about religion. Jared used to talk about the Lord in the early days of their working relationship, when he was on speaking terms with God. But he never thought the agent had really been listening.
“So, what did you find out?”
“I’ve confirmed that the brochure photo is not of someone named David Kline, but of Ray Germain, a model. I spoke with his agency this morning to make sure.”
“And where is Germain now?”
“When I Googled his name, I found his webpage that listed him as out of the country. The agency told me that he’s been on a spiritual retreat to Tibet since January, and he’s not expected back until December.”
“So anyone could use his photograph without worrying too much that Ray would find out.”
“Not unless his agency monitors his image usage,” Jared added.
“I doubt they troll dating sites.
“Have you told Mary?”
Jared shook his head.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Will took a drink of his coffee.
“Mary’s engaged to David.”
Coffee spluttered out of Will’s mouth and onto his shirt. “Give a guy a bit of warning next time you tell a whopper like that.”
Jared handed Will a napkin. “It’s true. I wish it weren’t but there you go.” Jared relayed the details.
“How are you taking this?”
“What do you mean?”
Will shot him a knowing look. “I mean, how are you doing now that Mary’s gotten herself engaged to another man.”
Jared blew out a frustrated breath. “To someone who probably doesn’t even exist.”
“She doesn’t know that, and we don’t have positive proof he’s not real. For all we know he’s a man who would rather look like a model. People post altered pictures of themselves all the time on these dating sites.” Will leaned forward. “But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is how are you going to watch the woman you love make plans to marry someone and not jeopardize our operation. ”
Jared stood up, empty coffee cup in hand. “I need a refill.” He headed to the kitchen.
“I’m not in love with Mary,” Jared called back to Will. Even he heard the weak protest in his words. He couldn’t dwell on his feelings for Mary, not when there were more important things to discuss. He rejoined Will in the living room.
“If you want to live in denial, that’s your business.” Will grinned at him. Jared knew that look—his friend would not let this go permanently.
Jared needed to shift the subject. “There is something other than my love life that could compromise our mission.” He told him about the painting auction.
Will whistled. “A couple million for a painting?”
“That’s what it’s insured for, although Mary seems to think it will bring closer to a million at auction, since there’s not a lot of time to publicize the painting beforehand. The auction’s August 10, and her wedding date is August 15.”
“That’s pretty quick for both.”
“Apparently, the Peruvians can’t wait any longer to hear the Gospel.” Jared crossed his arms. “Everything about this guy neddles me. And now that I found out he’s using someone else’s photograph, you have to wonder what else he’s hiding. But so far the only evidence I have is the photo.”
“Did he post the same photo on the missionary website?”
“Bringing Christ to Latin America? Yes, and I’ve sent several emails through the website asking about that.”
Will sighed. “No response yet.”
“And we might not get one.”
“Still nothing to link Wildcat with David Kline?”
“Nothing concrete, but my gut tells me that there is a connection. David Kline’s lied about what he looks like. Somehow he’s convinced Mary to auction her painting.” Jared pounded his fist onto the couch arm. “He’s hiding something.”
Will rested his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Patience. We’ll get him, but right now there’s not enough for a warrant to see who else, if anyone, David Kline is wooing on Soul Believers.”
“Can’t you talk to the website administrators and ask for a peek at their records? Maybe just the women whose profiles we know Wildcat looked at?”
“The chances are slim to none that the company would agree to that without a warrant.”
Jared gulped his cooled coffee. “What about asking to see who else David Kline communicates with? We could match up the profiles with the ones Wildcat looked like and start contacting the women…”
“And ask them if David has done what? Flirted with them? Asked them for money?” Will shook his head. “We need hard evidence. Being a sleazebag isn’t a crime.”
“We’ve got to do something.” I can’t let Mary actually marry someone who I know is up to no good. “Mary deserves better than to be tangled up with someone like David.”
“From what you’ve told me, she seems like a woman worth fighting for.” The two men’s eyes met. “You’ll just have to come up with something solid I can take to a judge to get access to the Soul Believers records.” Will walked to the door. “I’ve got to go, have a meeting in Manassas and I’m going to be late if I don’t leave now.”
“Thanks for stopping by, Will.” Jared opened the door.
Will paused on the doorstep, cupped his hands over his eyes, and looked up into the late June sunshine. “Maybe it’s time you started praying again in earnest.” He locked eyes with Jared. “Solving this case might just take divine intervention.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.