The Andrew Scribner Case
O. S. Snead
Monday, April 19
Edgar Nikephoros Huntinger, private investigator, had current cases solved, so he was in good spirits. He dressed for a casual morning in short-sleeved white and blue checked shirt, and black jeans, and went down to breakfast. After cleaning the dishes, he went into his office, sat down, and thought. I wish I had an exciting case unusual to my portfolio, for once. Huntinger yawned. The telephone rang.
“Hello, Mr. Huntinger. My name is Franklin Harrington. I’m a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. May I schedule an appointment with you? I’d like to discuss a problem we have, that you may be able to help us with.”
“I welcome the opportunity to help the FBI in any way that I can. I’m between cases presently.”
“May I make an appointment, for tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow morning around ten if it’s convenient for you.”
“Yes, Mr. Huntinger, it would. We have your address. I’ll see you then.” The line clicked.
That night Huntinger sat in his living room pondering the call from Agent Harrington. It was the first time they’d asked for his help.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew every case an unhappy client brought to private investigators in desperation. And probably followed up later and learned the investigator had successfully solved their problem.
The investigator thought of Amaltheia, and her soothing Grecian tones, and decided to call her before it got too late. He dialed her number. “Amaltheia, how are you? I’m glad to hear it. I may be working on a complex case soon, and I wondered if you’d care to go to dinner soon? Wonderful. I have a meeting tomorrow. I’ll call you again soon.” Feeling better now that he had something to look forward to, Huntinger put on an opera, and he soon fell asleep on the couch.
Tuesday, April 20
Huntinger awoke at nine o’clock the following morning. He jumped up. He did not have time to change his clothes. He went to the bathroom, washed, combed his thick wavy black hair, shaved, and brushed his teeth. He gulped down coffee. The doorbell rang.
Huntinger opened the door to a tall brown African American, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and a black tie. He regarded Huntinger with sharp grey eyes. He smiled.
“Mr. Huntinger? Harrington with the FBI,” he said cheerfully. He presented identification.
“Come in,” Huntinger said. He led him to the living room. “Please be seated,” he said, indicating the white sofa. “Would you like refreshment?”
“No, thank you, Mr. Huntinger. I won’t be impinging on your time too long.”
Huntinger sat across from him and waited.
The agent pulled papers from his briefcase. “We must solve this case fast. It’s a kidnapping case. The victim is a respected journalist, named Andrew Scribner. His wife received a letter on April 18 written and signed in his handwriting.” The agent handed Huntinger an unclean sheet of paper.
“Is this the only lead that you have?”
“Yes. As I mentioned, we’re running out of time. We are hoping he’s still alive. Will you help us?”
“Yes. When was Scribner last seen?”
The agent took out his typewritten notes, and he handed them to the investigator. “Friday, April 16 he jogged along his usual route. There’s a photograph of him among the papers.”
Huntinger sifted through the papers until he came to a photograph of a somber man with brown hair, which framed a face lined with age, especially prominent around cool blue eyes.
The agent took out a check. “We’d like to leave a retainer for a thousand dollars. Let me know if you need more.” The agent regarded Huntinger. “Mr. Huntinger. You are probably wondering why we chose to ask you to help us.”
“I did wonder it, yes.”
“We admired your success at of unsolved cases that desperate victims brought to you. We’d like to feel comfortable to enlist your help, every now and then. “The agent chuckled. “We have a backlog, as you can imagine. But we have a slogan to regard every case a priority. We appreciate your help.”
“Thank you. I’m humbled. I will work to succeed.”
“We know you will. Oh, Mr. Huntinger. I brought something you may find useful, should you encounter any difficulty.”
“Thank you, Agent Harrington, but I don’t need extra help. I have skills in boxing, and in gymnastics that I’ve developed to make my prosthesis an asset. My right foot is an effective weapon.”
“We have learned of your skills with your prosthesis, and we are impressed. However, perhaps you could use these items.” The agent took out a black suede pouch.
“You will find the things in the pouch useful to an investigator.” He handed him the pouch. He snapped his briefcase shut and stood up. “I’ve taken enough of your time. I’ll be leaving now.”
Huntinger stood, and shook the agent’s hand, and walked him to the door. “Thank you, Sir. I’ll be in touch.”
“You’re welcome. And please call me Franklin. Good-bye.” He left.
Huntinger walked to the living room, and he sat down. He opened the pouch and took out: a wound lightweight white nylon string, a palm sized glass cutter, and a flashlight with small buttons on the side. He pressed one of the buttons; it ejected a small sharp knife.
Yes, these items are especially useful for an investigator. He smiled.
Earlier, Friday Morning, April 16
It was still dark, with fog. Andrew Scribner jogged down a major Miami highway. A speeding car zoomed beside him, and two masked men jumped out. Quickly, they pushed him into the back seat. They bound and gagged him.
As the silent men sped down the highway, Andrew Scribner listened to the sound of pounding waves. After about two hours, they stopped. They pulled him out of the car and pushed him as he dragged his feet through undergrowth. Soon, they stopped. The bound man heard hinges squeak. They pushed him inside. Only a kerosine lamp was in the enclosure. They removed the bands from around his wrists and handed him a sheet of paper and a pen. They instructed him to write a note. “Write a note, “one man said, “that will make us rich; a note that will guarantee your freedom.” They lit a small candle so he could see, then they walked out. The bolt slammed; a key clicked. Silence ensued.
Andrew Scribner fought for composure. He sat on the bare cold floor in a windowless room. He shivered more in fear than in the environment. The fear that gripped him was more for his family than himself. He held his head rigid and screamed in grief and outrage into the uncaring darkness. Finally, he forced control, and he thought:
Maybe I can form a hidden message in the note to help my family. I’ve got nothing to lose if it doesn’t work.
Desperately, he clutched the pen in his clammy hand, and he wrote. Soon, his captors returned. They took the paper and the pen. They bound him again.
Wednesday, April 21
Wednesday morning at dawn, a stressed Edgar Nikephoros Huntinger, wearing the same clothes, now so wrinkled they produced a havoc design, went into his office, sat down, and put the soiled note in front of him. Not caring that he was wearing the same wrinkled clothes he’d worn yesterday, he thought:
Most victims try to escape, and if they can’t, they will devise a way of escape, that is, if they can retain a semblance of sanity regarding the situation. These kidnappers told Scribner to write the note; to make Scribner’s dilemma a reality to his loved ones; to make sure they will accede to their demands. I’m sure they checked it after he wrote it. He got up and paced from one end of his office to the other.
What if Scribner, perhaps realizing the mentality of his kidnappers, tried to devise a method they could not see. He’d make sure of it, to keep himself alive. He’s a journalist; a professional with words. He knows how to apply words in an article to help the reader understand, to grip the reader’s attention. It would be natural for Scribner to painstakingly write a hidden message. He sat down, and he read the note line by line, letter by letter, until he sweated, and his eyes blurred. Finally, he opened a drawer in his desk, took out a sheet of paper, and wrote what he found:
Only if you do what they want
Can I be released
Early they may contact you
And please understand
No one must know especially
The police so that I
Won’t be hurt
Only if you refuse them and they don’t
Obtain what they ask for.
Huntinger deciphered the message by the first letter of each line. He wrote on a separate sheet: Ocean Twoo.
The journalist formed a word in the message, except for the additional “O.” He might have intentionally meant it to be that way, or maybe he did it as a precaution in case his captures suspected he’d attempt a message. In any case, those two words are my only clue. Maybe it means two miles from his home, or two miles up the highway from where he usually jogged. Or maybe it’s the number of a house.
Huntinger thought that the only way to find out was to check everything he’d surmised. He put his notes away and decided to try to get rest. It would take time to examine his ideas, so he began the investigation immediately. He scribbled Scribner’s address from the notes the agent had given him. He went out, locked the door, and got into his Buick. He sat for a moment, and opening the sheet of paper, he reread the address, 751 Meridian Road. He pulled the clutch and went on his way. When he arrived at the apartment building, he carefully drove two miles east, two miles west, two miles north, and two miles south. He came to the main highway and passed hotels and fast-food restaurants. He checked address, but not one was close to the clue. Huntinger was hungry, so he stopped at a Burger King, and ordered a hamburger and coffee. Refreshed he got back into his car and continued South until he came to an ancient Spanish monastery. Nearby was a small wood. He had a hunch that these woods would be worth exploring. But first, he needed to return to his home for darker clothing, and the gadgets the agent had given him.
That night, Huntinger drove to the woods. He stopped, opened the glove department, and took out his flashlight and the black suede pouch. He got out of the car and entered the woods.
He trudged silently, shining the flashlight from left to right. His heart quickened and his pulse raced, as he gripped his flashlight, imagining Scribner forcibly led to his unknown destination; imagining his fear, and imagining his confusion; and bound and blindfolded. He had an uncanny feeling that he was close to the journalist. He saw footprints, and he saw broken and scattered foliage. Huntinger tripped and sprawled. As he fell on a firm surface, he dropped the flashlight. He sat up and wondered what had caused his fall. He retrieved the flashlight and shone it in a circle. He gasped. He was sitting on a wood surface with a metal handle, with a lock. His fall had moved a heavy mound of foliage that had covered it. He got up, stooped, and pulled the handle. It didn’t budge. He leaned down, pressed his ear to the door, and listened. He heard faint scratching. He reached into the pouch, and he took out a small flashlight. He turned it around until he found the tiny buttons located in a row alongside the flashlight. A small knife sprung as he pressed the tiny buttons on the side. He inserted it into the lock, and patiently jiggled until the lock sprung. He pulled the handle, and slowly the door cranked and screeched; he pulled it wide. He looked down into the darkness and saw a bound and huddled figure.
“Don’t be afraid,” Huntinger whispered urgently. “I’m a private investigator working for the FBI. My name’s Huntinger. If you’re Scribner, nod your head.”
The huddled figure nodded.
Relieved that the journalist was alive, he jumped down and quickly cut his binds. “Don’t speak,” Huntinger whispered. “Do as I say.”
Huntinger took out the wound nylon string from the pouch, unwound it, and handed one end to him.
“Step up on my hands, and I will balance you as you grope for the edge, then pull yourself up. After that, tie the string securely to the nearest tree.”
Silently, Scribner stepped onto Huntinger’ s palmed hands, groped the ledge, and pulled himself up. He went over to the nearest tree, tied it securely, then went back and whispered into the gaping hole. “It’s okay.”
Huntinger climbed up and leaped over the edge.
Thursday, April 22
“Well done, Huntinger. The agency is extremely grateful,” said Agent Harrington, as they sat in Huntinger’ s living room. “We waited until dawn for the kidnappers and caught them before they realized their hostage was gone.”
Huntinger smiled, “Thank you. I must admit that this was one case that will be a gem to my portfolio,” said Huntinger, his blue eyes sparkling.
“Hard work and hunches combined bring results, Huntinger, and a black pouch.” said the smiling agent. He stood up to leave. “Now that the case is solved, do you have plans?”
“I’m going to take someone to dinner at a new restaurant in town to celebrate,” Huntinger said. He smiled, thinking of Amaltheia.