He had one hour to get home. If he didn’t make it, he might never see his wife and daughter again. He was sitting in his car in the pouring rain in a seedy back alley on Chicago’s Southside waiting for an informant to show when he’d gotten the text.
We have Sara and Jennifer. Answer your home phone in precisely one hour or we’ll start cutting off pieces to leave on your doorstep.
The mysterious called-in tip he’d been chasing all day was a massive bluff. He’d been setup. His last story about racial injustice and police corruption had stepped on somebody’s toes and somebody who was clearly mobbed up. While he’d been out chasing a potential lead, somebody had taken the opportunity to kidnap his wife and child. Sometimes life as a reporter was more dangerous than people knew, but his family shouldn’t be the ones to pay the price for his failings. Rory Callahan would do anything to be the one being held hostage right now, not Sara and their baby.
He’d beat land records getting out of that alley and onto the freeway headed to Lincoln Park. With the rain and the additional traffic for a baseball game, he’d be hard-pressed to get there in time, but he had to give it a try. His heart pounded in his chest as sweat soaked the hair on the back of his neck, despite the sticky chilly day. He’d been forced to stop for a red light. He pounded on his steering wheel.
“Come on, come on,” he said to nobody in particular.
This was when having a sidekick, a protégé, a partner to help him investigate leads and conduct interviews, would’ve been a godsend. His pig-headed stubbornness had kept him from taking on an intern or even working with one of the more-experienced junior reporters at The Sun. No, he wanted the limelight all to himself. Solo by-lines that could pump up his career. What an idiot!
He took an opportunity in stopped traffic to dial Duke Morgan, Editor of The Sun’s Investigative Journalism unit. It was long past the end of a working day and dark was burgeoning around him, but Duke was often one to hang until the early hours of the evening, waiting for a line on a story or a reporter to return from a meet-up. He listened as the phone continued to ring and ring with no answer. Rory released a deep sigh and waited for Duke’s familiar voicemail message to play then left a message of his own.
“Duke, this is Rory. Whoever is behind this story is mighty pissed off, man. I got a text saying they have Sara and Jennifer and I need to go home within an hour, or they’ll start chopping them up.”
His eyes went to the clock on his dashboard. He had ten minutes left.
“It’s 6:47 right now. If you get this message in the next ten minutes, call me back. It’s an emergency. I’m rushing home right now. If you don’t, well, then I guess it’s too late.”
Rory pounded on the disconnect button and cringed at his own stupidity. He was paying for his arrogance by sitting on an over-crowded freeway that was at an absolute standstill. He should’ve done more homework, dug in more thoroughly to find out what toes he might have been stepping on before filing his story. Anytime you dug into corruption within the police department you were walking a thin line. Who could you go to for help? It’s not like he could call the cops right now. How likely would he be to get stuck with a crony of the guy he’d pissed off? It wasn’t like he had time to spare. Everybody knew anything having to do with cops took forever and a day. By the time they interviewed him to find out what was going on, it would be too late for Sara.
He took the next exit ramp at the first opportunity and meandered his way through the busy streets of Chicago. An SUV in front of him was turning left, blocking his view, so he snaked his way to the side despite not being able to see oncoming traffic and barely made it. At the next light he took a left onto Summerdale, a street he knew well from his early years of fascination with crime in all its gory goodness.
Rory couldn’t help but think of the irony that he was in this sticky predicament, dealing with someone who would think nothing of killing the people he loved as he turned onto the street that was home to John Wayne Gacy, one of the most despicable serial killers of all time. In his teens, he’d been fascinated by the man who, at night, had stalked his victims in the city that Rory loved, by day masquerading as a civilized human being. All along, deep inside, was the heart of a monster who thought nothing of killing and maiming innocent young men.
It had been those days in the 70s that had whet Rory’s appetite for news. The footage on an hourly basis of policemen coming out of the house on Summerdale sickened by the sight of the horrors they’d found within had captured his rapt attention. He’d read every syllable of stories that went on for months and years, following every detail of Gacy’s arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing and eventual incarceration. It had made him, in a nutshell, a newshound and started him on the road to what would eventually become his first love and occupation.
His ridiculous attraction to all things “true-crime” was what had put him on this road, today, zigzagging his way through the back streets trying to find the magic path that would get him to his wife and daughter in record time.