The police blew off Gharith’s information. But twenty-four hours later there was a message in the form of a phone call to Emil on his cell. “Hello, Emil,” a male voice said, very chummy. “We have your daughter and she’s safe. If you want her back, the conditions are simple: you tell us everything you know about the Bukh and where it’s hidden. We verify your info, and if it’s correct, we return Cecily Rose. If not…”
He didn’t finish his sentence. He told Emil he would meet him at a specified time and place and would call again. “You’d better be thinking of that Bukh, bro,” he said and hung up. The police were unable to trace the call, which presumably had been made from a GoPhone. They knew it had originated in San Antonio.
Emil and Alicia returned to their home in Austin. No point hanging around the Hill Country when they could be in familiar surroundings. From the beginning, Emil had deduced the kidnapping was connected to the Bukh. He knew from being followed and harassed in his car that things were heating up. “Victor turned sixty-two last week on July 18. That’s if he’s still alive. They’re getting desperate.”
“Who’s they?” I asked. It was all very confusing. I had assumed Victor was dead. Now he might be alive. There were the many factions seeking the Bukh, and there was the mysterious force that took out healers in the Gottlieb line at the age of sixty-two. None of it made particular sense. All I knew was that alternative health practitioners like Victor were apparently an endangered species, one doc disappearing after the next, and the much sought after Bukh of Remedies was like the holy grail. People would kill for it.
“’They,’” said Emil, “are most likely operatives from Big Pharma. But they could be government operatives, too. Or someone hidden and extremely wealthy, like, I suspect, the person who stole your portrait of Victor.” He was sweating profusely and looked exhausted. Alicia didn’t look great either, extremely thin and shaken up. She must have dropped five or six pounds in the past few days. Anxiety had caused her to stop eating or caring for herself. Her roots were showing, stark white at her temples and along her part line, and she was in the same clothes I’d seen her in last, a light grey sweatsuit.
I had stopped by to see how she was. There were tons of other people at the house, cops, friends, relatives, including Alicia’s mother, a fierce little grey-haired woman whom I could see was going to drive her crazy. Food and coffee were laid out in the kitchen. Emil’s phone was being monitored as carefully as if it were a bomb. He sat by it, muttering over and over again that he’d thought it was he, and not his daughter, they’d grab in the middle of the night. Tears were running down his face. He knew a lot about the Bukh, but not where the goddamn thing was hidden. I went to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. While I was in there Roy arrived. He was in a pale suit, reminiscent of his brother, Victor, and was carrying a brown leather briefcase. Emil looked extremely relieved to see him. The two shook hands, and without a word to anyone else disappeared into Emil’s study.