I was resting in the rear of a taxi heading north out of the city on our way to Charles de Gaulle when I first heard the sirens. I opened my eyes and watched the red needle on the speedometer drop steadily as the driver turned the wheel to the right. In the rearview I glimpsed a halfdozen white Peugeots topped with flashing light bars bearing down on us. As we pulled to the shoulder, two of the cruisers skidded to a halt diagonally just in front of us, two boxed us in on the side, and the remaining vehicles screamed to a stop at our tail. I instinctively inventoried myself though I knew I wasn’t carrying any contraband—nothing at all that would link me to the missing boy in Bordeaux.
The driver casually rolled down his window. One of the officers poked his head in, asked the driver in French where we were going.
“L’aéroport,” the driver said.
The officer nodded, glanced at me, and switched to English, speaking to the driver as though I weren’t there.
“I require your passenger to step out of the vehicle,” he said. “Slowly, always showing me his hands.”
Two younger officers stood outside the window to my right, hands on their sidearms. In the rearview I noticed several other officers taking cover behind their open car doors, their weapons already drawn.
With a sigh I slid over to the driver’s side and gently opened the door. With my hands held out before me I stepped onto the road.
“Monsieur Fisk,” the officer said as he sized me up. The rank insignia on his uniform jacket indicated he was a lieutenant, formerly known as an inspector. “I would like for you to accompany us back to Paris.”
Cautiously, I lowered my hands.
“Sorry, Lieutenant. I have a plane to catch.”
“You may return with us voluntarily or involuntarily,” he said, “it makes no difference to me.”
“Am I under arrest?”
The lieutenant made a show of gazing over my left shoulder at his officers with their drawn SIG SP 2022s.
“Does it appear to you that you are free to leave?”
I didn’t give him the satisfaction of looking behind me. Instead I pictured the route back to
National Police Headquarters. If memory served, we’d be heading to Ile de la Cité, which meant passing through several areas of heavy traffic. Assuming we wouldn’t be blaring sirens all the way, we should be moving slowly enough to facilitate an escape. Perhaps on Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré near the Palais de l’Elysée, a short distance from the American embassy, and thus, safety.
“All right, then,” I said. “Let’s get on with it.”
The lieutenant, whose nameplate read Davignon, escorted me to the last cruiser, patted me down, and opened the rear door. He didn’t cuff me, didn’t push me roughly into the car while pretending to protect my skull. He just motioned to the inside and permitted me to seat myself.
Strange, I thought. But then, I’d never been arrested in Paris. Tokyo, yes. Beijing, sure. Moscow, Oslo, Budapest. Mexico City, more than once. But never Paris. Until now.
“What about my luggage?” I said.
Davignon smirked and slammed the door.
Maybe the French police weren’t so cordial after all.
No worries. Lieutenant Davignon had left me my hands, which were more than I needed.
I’d planned to make do with only my feet. At the first congested intersection, I’d summon this morning’s croissants and espresso and decorate their backseat. All I needed from them was to open
my door; the rest would be up to me.
Davignon, who looked to be in his midforties, sat up front in the passenger seat. The moment we pulled off the shoulder, he turned fortyfive degrees and began talking at me.
“Simon Fisk,” he said in heavily accented English, “thirtynine years old. Born: London, England, to Alden and Tatum Fisk. One sibling: a slightly older sister named Tuesday, who was actually born six minutes after midnight on a Wednesday morning. When you were five, your father, who possessed dual U.K. and U.S. citizenship, left London for Providence, Rhode Island, taking you with him and leaving your mother and sister behind. To my knowledge, you have not seen either of them since.”
I set my jaw and glared at him through the wire.
“If you’re attempting to get a rise out of me, Lieutenant, I suggest we stop off at the nearest pharmacy and pick up a bottle of Cialis. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.”
Davignon ignored me. “At seventeen you left home to attend American University in Washington D.C., where you majored in Justice and minored in Law and Society. While at university, you met Tasha Lynn Dunne of Richmond, Virginia, and soon fell head over heels in love, as the Americans say. Both of you graduated American with honors and married a year later in a sizable ceremony in Norfolk. Your father, Alden, wasn’t invited and didn’t attend. From there you moved back to the District of Columbia, where you began serious study and conditioning to become a United States Marshal. You submitted a flawless application, excelled in interviews, and were invited into Basic Training at FLETC in Glynco, Georgia. After seventeen and a half weeks of rigorous training, you were assigned to fugitive investigations in the D.C. field office, an assignment you yourself requested.”
I stared out the window at the unfamiliar landscape blowing by. Wherever we were making for, it wasn’t National Police Headquarters.
“After four months on the job,” Davignon continued, “you announced to your immediate supervisor that your wife, Tasha, was pregnant. Another six months after that, your daughter, Hailey, was born.”
“Enough,” I finally snapped, angry at the direction in which both the conversation and the vehicle were heading. “Where are you taking me?”
Davignon finally turned fully in his seat to face me. It was only then that I noticed just how heavy and tired his eyes looked, how his five o’clock shadow reflected an additional twelve hours or so.
“To a very private place,” he said. “Where you and I can have a long talk. And possibly come to some sort of an arrangement.”
Signs indicated that we were approximately forty kilometers north of Paris when we parked behind a quaint twostory cottage set off from its neighbors in a quiet, rural village called Saint Maurdes Fossés. Only one other cruiser had followed us into the village and it was now nowhere in sight.
Thoughts of escape morphed into curiosity. Clearly, this wasn’t an arrest, wasn’t a hit. For the first time I wondered if this had anything at all to do with the boy in Bordeaux.
Davignon opened my door and I stepped out under the tired gray sky and headed for the dull peachcolored house. As I flattened the tall blades of grass underfoot, Davignon uttered some instructions to his partner in French. Glancing back, it appeared that he had told him to wait with the car.
The interior of the cottage was brighter than I had expected. Natural light poured in through large, uncovered windows, illuminating a wellappointed living room with a sofa, love seat, and several straightback cushioned chairs that looked as though they belonged in a seventeenth century castle. Davignon motioned for me to take a seat in the chair positioned kitty corner to a tall, wellused fireplace. I sat, folded my arms, and crossed my right leg over my left.
“Something to drink?” Davignon said. What little hair remaining on the sides and back of his head was shaved down, nearly to the skin. He possessed a bulk that came free with age, and a casualness that conveyed confidence and authority. I could tell that he liked being in charge, that he’d do just about anything to maintain control of a situation.
“I’d rather we get to it, Lieutenant.”
Davignon stepped out of the living room and returned a moment later with a thin manila folder. He dropped it in my lap and remained standing next to the sofa across from me. He didn’t
remove his jacket.
Inside the folder were several photographs of a female child, age five or six, with straight auburn hair that fell to her shoulders. Wide emeraldgreen eyes highlighted a perfectly symmetrical face and stole attention from her tiny smile, which revealed two rows of neatly aligned teeth. The image reminded me immediately of Hailey, though this little girl looked nothing like my daughter. It wasn’t the shade of her hair or shape of her face, wasn’t her flawless complexion or even the color of her eyes, but rather the sparkle of light afloat in each pupil—that distinctive sign of life—that made me flash on the past, on days spent sailing on Chesapeake Bay, on nights when Tasha and I watched little Hailey dance through the sprinklers from our lounge chairs on the back porch.
“Her name is Lindsay Sorkin,” Davignon said, “six years old. Born: Santa Clara, California, to Vincent and Lori Sorkin. No siblings; however, Lori Sorkin is presently fifteen weeks pregnant.” He cleared his throat. “The night before last, Lindsay Sorkin went missing from the family’s room at Hotel d’Étonner in ChampsElysées. The family was in Paris on holiday and claim to know no one else in France. They are, to put it mildly, devastated.” He paused. “And they are desperate, Monsieur Fisk.”
I closed the folder and set it on my lap, sighing deeply, truly regretting what I had to say.
“Since you know my history so well, Lieutenant, I’m assuming you also know what I do for a living.”
“I do. You retrieve missing children.”
“No,” I said. “I retrieve children abducted by estranged parents who flee to countries that don’t recognize U.S. custody decisions.”
“Countries like France.”
“The point is, Lieutenant, that I don’t deal with ‘stranger abductions,’ only parental abductions—cases in which the kidnapper is known and related to the victim.”
Davignon put his head down and clasped his hands behind his back.
“Given what you have been through as a husband and father, that is understandable.”
My body tensed. In that moment I could have snapped Davignon’s neck. Was he really using the abduction of my sixyearold daughter and the subsequent suicide of my wife to play on my emotions? Did he really think that would work? Or was he hoping I’d attack him, giving him the leverage he needed? I drew a deep breath, trying to think only of the Sorkins. Still, I had no intention of playing into his hands, regardless of how noble the cause.
“But the past is past, Simon,” he said, “and at present there is a terrified young American couple who require your services in Paris.”
I stood, tossed the folder onto the chair I’d just vacated. “Fortunately,” I said, “you have the resources of the National Police at your disposal. Roughly, what, a hundred and fifty thousand agents?”
Davignon nodded. “Roughly,” he said. “But as I am sure your service with the United States Marshals has taught you, sometimes organization and cooperation within an agency of that size can prove difficult. Too many chefs, as they say, spoil the soup. And in these cases, time is of the essence. Each hour that passes makes it that much more unlikely that we will ever find Lindsay Sorkin alive.”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” I said, moving past him, trying to disguise my emotions. “But as I said when you pulled over my taxi, I have a plane to catch. If your driver will take me to Charles de Gaulle, I still have a chance of making my flight.”
“Or . . .”
I stopped, stared at the door, my pulse racing.
“Or you can spend the next several months in a French prison awaiting trial. As you may have read in Newsweek, our former president Nicolas Sarkozy left office with our prisons operating at a hundred and twentysix percent capacity, far higher than the European average. The prisons are overcrowded, and frankly an embarrassment. But it’s not my job to comment, only to enforce the law.”
I turned back to see that Davignon’s gun was drawn, aimed at the dead center of my chest.
“I am afraid, Simon, that without your cooperation, I would have to place you under arrest for the kidnapping of Jason Blanc from his mother in Bordeaux.”
I stared at him, ignoring the weapon as best I could.
“And here I thought that you admired what I do, Lieutenant.”
My statement was met with a mirthless smile. “I do, Simon. It is why you are here and not at headquarters being booked. It is why I am offering you this opportunity.”
Coincidentally, most of my referrals came from U.S. government officials who thought I could do more for the victimized parent than any government agency could. The father of Jason Blanc, for instance, was referred to me by a case officer at the U.S. Department of State. The case officer had been assigned the unfortunate task of informing Peter Blanc that his Massachusetts
child custody order could not be automatically enforced in France. Once he learned that he’d have to file for custody again in the French courts, Peter Blanc immediately began fearing for his son’s life. Peter had won custody only after Jason’s mother, Fanny, smacked the nineyearold boy’s left hand with a hammer, sending him to the emergency room at Mass General with three shattered fingers and a mouthful of lies.
Peter’s caseworker at the State Department sympathized—her sister had been in a similar situation four years earlier and I’d helped. So, within twelve hours of opening the case, Jason’s
father received an anonymous email with my phone number. Yesterday, after taking Peter’s frantic call at five in the morning, I had dropped what I was doing, verified the information he gave me with his family lawyer in Boston, and been on a Delta flight to Charles de Gaulle three hours later.
Needless to say, all my referrals were very hushhush, but none had been delivered under threat of arrest, none with a handgun pointed at my chest.
“You say the Sorkins are desperate, Lieutenant, yet you’re the one leveling a semiautomatic pistol at my heart. Smacks a bit of desperation on your part, I’d say.”
“You no doubt followed the disappearance of little Madeleine McCann, the three year old British girl who went missing in the resort area of Praia da Luz in the Algarve region of Portugal. The girl was never found. To this day, the Portuguese police are swallowing criticism from international media outlets accusing them of being slow and inept. Meanwhile, Portugal’s own media have attacked the police for their massive effort, contending no other missing child in the history of the country ever received such attention. You see, Simon, in the case of a missing child, the police cannot win, nor can the country in which the child went missing, particularly when it is the child of foreign nationals from the U.K. or the U.S.”
Davignon lowered his weapon so that it pointed at the floor, but continued to hold it in both hands, elbows slightly bent.
He said, “France and the National Police are in no condition to endure an international media circus that will not aid one iota in returning Lindsay Sorkin to her parents. The Sorkins have agreed to hold off speaking to the media, because I promised to deliver you. I have only until noon today. So yes, Simon, I am desperate to find that little girl. To save an innocent life, and to spare my department and my country from a deluge of unwanted attention.”
I considered Davignon’s plea. Frankly, I could not have cared less about the National Police or their image. Even the country itself, though welcoming, wasn’t high on my list of priorities.
However, I had the grave feeling that if I didn’t at least entertain Davignon’s offer, he wouldn’t let me leave France. At least not without a fight. Of course, my own wellbeing didn’t rank much higher than French national pride; it hadn’t for some time.
On the other hand, there was Lindsay Sorkin. This little girl—her image would remain burned into my mind at least until this crisis was over. As painful as it might be for me, I owed it to Lindsay to hear her parents out.
“I’ll give you twentyfour hours of my time,” I said. “If I have no leads by the close of that window, I’m returning home. Because if that’s the case, my presence will make no difference. It’ll mean the girl is gone.”
Davignon hesitated, but finally he nodded.
“Fair enough.” He holstered his weapon and removed the walkie talkie from his belt.
“Bring in the Sorkins,” he said into it.
He held the walkie to his ear and listened before speaking again.
“Oui, Bertrand,” he said. “Both of them. Maintenant, s’il vous plait.”
Vince Sorkin appeared to be in his midthirties, the wear of the previous twentyfour hours already showing on his face in the form of a vacant gaze I knew too well. The same dead eyes often stared back at me from the mirror, causing me to question whether I was still among the living. Both of us continued breathing, both of our hearts continued beating, but both of our little girls were missing and it wouldn’t matter how much time passed. Until and unless his daughter was found alive, Vince Sorkin’s eyes would never burn with life again. Just like mine.
We’d moved into the dining room, with the Sorkins seated across a thick marble table from me and Lieutenant Davignon.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Mr. Fisk,” Vince Sorkin said.
“You’re welcome,” I replied, though I thought thanks were hardly in order. “Now, first things first. Give me a complete description of Lindsay. Height, weight, birthmarks, scars, the works.”
Vince said, “She’s about three feet four inches tall. Approximately fortytwo pounds. She has a large birthmark on her big left toe, and a small scar on her right knee from when she took a bad spill off the couch and onto our glass coffee table as a toddler.”
“Blood type?” I said.
Vince glanced at his wife and frowned. “All we remember is that it’s rare. We’d have to contact her pediatrician back in the States.”
“We’ll take care of that,” Davignon said. “What’s her doctor’s name?”
“Richter,” Vince said. “Keith Richter in San Jose.”
Davignon took the name down and motioned for me to continue.
“Now,” I said, “tell me everything that’s happened since you arrived in Paris. Don’t leave out any details.”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to tell. The family had arrived at Charles de Gaulle only forty eight hours earlier and immediately took a taxi to their hotel. The driver wasn’t overly friendly; in fact, he hadn’t struck them at all. He was nondescript, spoke barely a dozen words during the entire transaction, all of which were uttered either at the beginning or end of their ride. In front of the hotel he halfheartedly thanked Vince for his generous tip and sped off.
“Did you catch his name?” I said. “It would have been posted somewhere inside the taxi.”
Neither of them had. It had been a long day of air travel, fifteen hours from San Jose with connections in Seattle and Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. They were exhausted and, understandably, Lindsay had been fussing.
“I have men at the airport, making inquiries,” Davignon assured me. “We’ll inform you as soon as we identify their driver.”
“Which leads us to the hotel,” I said.
Vince described Hotel d’Étonner as a sixstory luxury hotel with rooms starting at six hundred euros a night. The nineteenthcentury mansion was a brief walk from the bright lights of the Champs Elysées and had been artfully restored to blend smallchateau charm with worldclass appeal. They’d booked their stay online.
“How many people did you interact with when you arrived at the hotel?” I said.
Vince turned his smooth, aristocratic face toward the ceiling in thought.
“The desk clerk,” he said, “who was a young female, a brunette, black hair with blue eyes.
Her name was Avril, like the pop star. Then the bellhop, a young male, light hair. Seemed more German than French. He also brought our food when we ordered room service. Both he and the desk clerk were friendly enough, but neither seemed to take any particular interest in Lindsay.” He shook his head and frowned. “No one else, at least not that I remember.”
I turned to Lori, who had remained perfectly silent since she entered the cottage.
“Mrs. Sorkin?” I said gently.
Lori shrugged; it was a tired gesture befitting a woman twice her age. The flesh around her eyes was red and puffy from crying and lack of sleep. When she finally spoke, her voice sounded like she’d spent a lifetime smoking, though that probably wasn’t the case.
“I can’t remember speaking with anyone,” she said. “I was preoccupied with Lindsay the entire time. She was upset that we’d left our Yorkie, Lucy, behind.”
Upset, I thought. If so, it could be that she left on her own. Or at least not put up a struggle or screamed when she was taken. If someone overheard that bit about the dog, they could have used it to calm her or even lure her away.
Of course, that was if she had been taken by a complete stranger, which was rare. Far more often, children were abducted by people they already knew.
So I changed direction and said, “Any enemies, Vince?”
He seemed taken aback by the question.
“Enemies?” He shook his head. “No, no enemies. I mean . . .”
I tried to remain eventempered. “Let’s start with work. Tell me, Vince, what is it you do for a living?”
“I’m a software developer for Nepturn Technology.”
“It’s a Silicon Valley start up.”
I asked him to elaborate.
Vince Sorkin sighed, rubbed his eyes. “Typically, military contractors are funded by federal agencies, right? They use taxpayer money to build, test, and sell new weapons designs.
Nepturn takes a different approach. We’re funded by private investors. This cuts out the majority of the wait time and bureaucratic red tape.”
“So you design weapons technology,” I said.
Vince didn’t respond, didn’t need to. Instead, Davignon cut in with what he already knew.
“Monsieur Sorkin helped design a remotecontrolled automaton that could potentially replace soldiers on the battlefield. It is two and a half feet in height, can travel up to fifteen miles per hour, and it has the ability to blow a onefoot hole through a steel door with perfect accuracy from a distance of five hundred meters.”
In the span of less than a minute Sorkin and Davignon had changed the very nature of what we were dealing with. Chances were, this wasn’t a random abduction perpetrated by an amateur pederast who lived alone or in his mother’s basement. There was now a very good chance that we were playing with professionals. Which meant extortion, the exchange of life for information, quite possibly a ransom demand.
I tried to choose my words carefully. I wanted to do everything I could not to upset Lindsay’s parents any further.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but this isn’t my field. I want to help you find your daughter but, given the circumstances, I’m afraid I can’t. You’re much better off in the hands of the National Police.”
Lori Sorkin, who bore an uncanny resemblance to my beloved Tasha, broke into tears.
“We know the statistics, Mr. Fisk,” she said. “If you’re wrong, if this has nothing to do with my husband’s business, then we’re running out of time. Please . . .”
I slowly pushed my chair out and stood.
“Mrs. Sorkin,” I said gently, “if time is indeed of the essence, I can’t help but think I’d be wasting yours, and I can’t do that.” I turned to Davignon. “Lieutenant, I promised you twentyfour hours. But given this new information, I think I’d only be hindering the investigation. . . .”
“I understand,” Davignon said, his eyes locked on the marble table. “But there is nothing to indicate that Lindsay’s abduction has anything to do with Monsieur Sorkin’s employment. There has been no contact whatsoever with the kidnappers, which is rare in matters of extortion.”
He finally stood, stared me straight in the eyes. “I have only one more request, Simon. Visit the crime scene in Paris. Perhaps you will see something my men may have missed.”
I shook my head. “Lieutenant, there may be no evidence Lindsay was taken for Mr. Sorkin’s trade secrets, but there’s also no indication she was chosen at random—”
“But there is,” Davignon said quickly. He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “I am afraid that Lindsay is not the only young girl to be abducted in Paris this month.”
I shuddered despite the warmth of the cottage. Children abducted by estranged parents was one thing; physical harm was seldom done to them. But victims of stranger abductions—the crimes often committed against them were unthinkable. And when more than one went missing from the same region in a short period of time, it eliminated a number of innocuous possibilities. Rarely did such stories conclude with the parents and child happily re united. Indeed, the odds of recovering the missing in these situations were rather bleak. Tragic endings, from my experience, were almost inevitable.
I suddenly found myself in an impossible situation. The reason I didn’t take on cases dealing with stranger abductions was simple: I couldn’t bear to relive the days following Hailey’s abduction. It didn’t matter that Lindsay Sorkin wasn’t my own daughter. I would see this case through Vince’s eyes, watch Lori’s heart tear a little more every moment there was no news. If I became involved to any significant extent and little Lindsay couldn’t be located, I didn’t think my body could make it through the next seven days. My stomach would never mend if this six year old girl was found dead. Since Hailey’s abduction, I’d felt as though I was teetering along some imaginary line and I feared this search would finally push me over the edge.
But when I turned back to the Sorkins to apologize one last time, I fixed my eyes on Lori and saw total devastation, the same desolate shell I had faced ten years ago when I stared across the kitchen table at Tasha and tried to explain that there was nothing else we could do to bring Hailey home. Isn’t there, though? she’d shouted. Isn’t there? And that unfathomable weight—that absolute helplessness—that had been pressing down against my chest since the day my daughter disappeared finally caused my ribs to cave in and crush my lungs. In that moment I couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, and that same pressure was bearing down on me again now as I stared across the marble table, trying to blink away my lightheadedness and explain to Lori Sorkin that there was nothing I could do to return her daughter.
Isn’t there, though?
Those three words still held so much power over me.
As I looked into Lori’s moist, pleading eyes, I thought, What if I could do for her what I couldn’t do for Tasha?
And what if I walked? How could I go on, having failed her twice?
What could I possibly say? That I couldn’t get involved? Like it or not, I was already involved and I had no right turning Lori Sorkin and her husband down. No right giving up on Lindsay without making a proper effort. Finding Lindsay alive wouldn’t return Hailey, but at least it would mean there were two less parents in the world walking aimlessly through their own hell on earth. If there was a chance I could spare Vince and Lori Sorkin the burden of losing a child, I had to try, my own feelings be damned.
Find out what happens next in GOOD IS GONE by Douglas Corleone now available wherever books are sold as a paperback and ebook.