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PHIL HARDWICK’S THE ALIBI, a serial novel: Chapter 2: The Assignment

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» Jack Boulder, Mississippi’s premier private investigator, seeks to recover the special Brett Favre MVP exhibit that has been stolen from the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum.

 

By PHIL HARDWICK

 

Sunday afternoon, March 1

Jackson, Mississippi

Jack Boulder, retired St. Louis, Missouri homicide detective and now Mississippi private investigator, downshifted his 1968 Camaro and made a right turn into the small parking lot behind a three-story multi-use structure at 601 East Capitol Street in downtown Jackson. He parked the car in the designated parking place. As always, he turned and gave it a affectionate gaze before walking inside and taking the small elevator to the third floor where his office and residence were located. The high-ceiling area was defined by three distinct spaces: a kitchen, a dining area and a living room area. More New York than Mississippi. As he emerged from the elevator his cellphone rang. The caller ID showed an area code that he recognized as Atlanta, Georgia.

“Mr. Boulder, this is Brad Sharpe with Lux International Insurance. You did some work for us in the past. I apologize for calling you on a Sunday afternoon, but I think you will understand the urgency when you hear why I called.”

“Go ahead,” Boulder said.

» READ last week’s Chapter 1: The Break-In

“You worked a life insurance case for the company several years ago, and we deeply appreciate your work.”

“Thank you,” Boulder said. His brow furrowed and his head cocked sideways as he tried to remember the case.

“Our company now specializes in the insurance of fine art and other museum pieces. Yesterday, a museum in Mississippi was the victim of a theft of one of its most valuable exhibits. We are interested in retaining you to recover the item. As you might imagine, time is of the essence. I know that may take you away from some of your other cases, but we have generous incentives for quick recovery of the item. Do you think this is something you might be interested in?”

Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

“Possibly,” Boulder replied. “May I ask you a few questions first?”

“Of course.”

“Which museum is it, and what’s the item?”

“Tell you what,” Sharpe replied. “Why don’t I email more information to you along with a copy of the retainer agreement?  What’s your current email address?”  Boulder gave him the address. “You will have it in five minutes. Review it and call me back at the number in the message.”

Boulder touched the cellphone to end the call, stepped to the desktop computer and turned it on. It seemed to take forever to load up. Minutes later he had the email from Sharpe opened and began reading:

“Dear Mr. Boulder:

This past Saturday a special trophy exhibit was stolen from the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. Our company has insurance in force on the item and is desirous of its quick recovery. Attached is our agreement engaging you to recover the item on our behalf. Please read the agreement and call me back at the number below if you are interested in this assignment.”

Contact information was listed at the bottom of the letter.

Boulder opened the attachment and read its contents. The contract contained the usual legalese, and offered a retainer fee of $10,000, plus reasonable and necessary travel expenses. What was unusual was the recovery fee schedule. If the item was recovered within seven days the payment would be $100,000, if within 14 days it would be $50,000, if within 21 days it would be $25,000. At the end of 21 days the contract expired, and there would be no recovery fee. Wow, these guys want that thing back as soon as possible. Boulder thought about the worst-case scenario:  He would receive $10,000 plus “reasonable travel expenses” for 21 days work, plus maybe a little bruised ego and a black mark in the world of insurance companies. And the best case scenario?  He refused to let himself think that far. He picked up his phone and dialed Sharpe ‘s number. It was answered before the first ring finished.

“Jack Boulder here. I received the contract.”

“Is that acceptable to you?” Sharpe asked.

“I was wondering about the definition of the term ‘expenses’ in the contract. It says ‘travel expenses’ instead of the usual language about reasonable and necessary expenses. Is there a reason for that?”

“Could you be more specific?”

“Well, let’s say I had to take someone to dinner or pay for some information from some third party?”

“That would come from the recovery fee. We felt that there would be enough incentives considering those amounts.”

“I see,” Boulder replied. “What’s your policy on publicity?”

“We would like to keep this as quiet as possible. Under no circumstances would we want our name to be made public. That’s in paragraph thirteen.”

“What about reward money?” Boulder asked. “Is that supposed to come out my expenses or my fee?”

“I can authorize ten thousand in reward money apart from your contract.”

“I assume that when mentioning reward money we identify you only as the insurer or some such term.”

“Exactly.”

“May I also assume you would not object to my placing advertisements announcing that there is a reward for information and so forth?”

“Again, exactly,” Sharpe said.

“I think that’s all I need to know.”

“Good,” said Sharpe. “The police processed the scene yesterday. There is a meeting at eight o’clock tomorrow morning  at the museum with the local and state police. Could you attend that meeting as our rep?  We’ve told the museum that we would have a representative there. Remember that the museum knows who we are, but the police do not.”

“I understand,” Boulder said.

“Good. If you could sign and fax the contract to the number on the document. Anything else?”

“Just one more thing. Go to jackboulder.wordpress.com and click on client login. You can send the retainer fee to me using the online payment system.”

“Of course,” Sharpe said. “You will have it momentarily.”

That ended the conversation. A few moments later there was another email, this one informing Boulder that $10,000 had been sent to him by Lux International Group. It was time to call Laura.

Laura Webster, listed as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in America, was a partner in one of the state’s largest law firms, which was located in a downtown office building only two blocks from Boulder’s office. She and Boulder were high school sweethearts. They went to the Senior Prom, made out in the back seat of his father’s Oldsmobile and shared long conversations about their lives ahead. She was goal-oriented. He was oriented toward her. She received scholarship offers to several colleges from around the country, but decided to stay in town and attend Millsaps College because of its academic reputation. He applied for Millsaps, but was not accepted. He told her that he wanted to go to work instead of going to college. Two months before high school graduation his parents were killed in an automobile accident. He changed after that. Became more inward. On the day before graduation from high school, she asked “When?” to which he replied “What?” to which she replied, “get married.”  The day after graduation he joined the Army.

Over the years, they did not communicate directly, choosing instead to inquire about each other through mutual friends. Boulder served three years in the Army, during which time he completed a college degree. After getting out he became a police officer in St. Louis, Missouri. He rose to the rank of homicide detective, earned a master’s degree in criminology and found his calling in life. A few years ago he retired and felt a yearning to return to where he grew up, a place he had vowed never to go back to. He drove to Jackson and called a few old friends, all of whom were living out their own boring lives. They all asked him if he had seen Laura. He fumbled around for an appropriate answer and was told that he should call her. “Y’all seemed so happy together.”  He called her parents and got her phone number. He asked around and discovered that she was now a high-powered corporate attorney with a national reputation. Just when he decided that coming home was a bad idea and that she would certainly not want to hear from him – after all, he had run out on her – she called and said, “Why haven’t you called me?”  The result was a rekindled relationship and a move back to Jackson. Both of them had been married to others for a brief period and divorced with no children. Their careers had become their marriage partners. He was wed to investigative work, and had been recognized many times for it. She married her legal career. Their romance rekindled. They were now best friends and something deeper.

There was a chime from the intercom at the front door below. Boulder checked the computer and opened the screen to the camera that was focused on the entryway to the building. There was Laura, looking straight into the camera and smiling. He grinned and clicked the icon that opened the front door. Seconds later she emerged from the elevator and entered the apartment. She wore blue jeans and a dark blue hoodie. They smiled and gave each other a smack on the lips in the manner of a loving couple who had been married for twenty years.

“So, whatcha got?” She asked. He told her about the phone call from Brad Sharpe and the follow-up email and the contract. She read both and then said, “And what would you like for me to do?”

“My thinking was that there should be a reward and lots of advertising and some news releases about the theft, and that there should be a toll-free number that anybody with information could call with leads. I figured you might have a paralegal who could answer the phone and screen the callers. You could review them and call me when you believe that there was a serious lead. Looks like there is enough money in the contract to make hiring your firm a worthwhile investment on my part. Besides, I would wager that there will be less than a week’s work here.”

They discussed the fee arrangement for the law firm and came to a mutual understanding. Tomorrow the hunt would begin.

» NEXT WEEK:  The Briefing At The Museum

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About Phil Hardwick