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PHIL HARDWICK’S THE ALIBI, a serial novel: Chapter 3: A Briefing At The Museum

Picture 7» 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

Monday, March 2

Jackson, Mississippi

Jack Boulder parked his car in the lot in front of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and headed for the front door. A stocky guard with clipboard in hand stepped out from inside as Jack approached.

“Name?” the guard asked.

“Jack Boulder.”

“Go on in. They’re waiting on you.”

At the front of the large room stood four people surrounding a light that shone down on an empty exhibit case. There were three men and one woman. The men wore coats and ties. The woman was dressed in a black pants suit and red blouse. As Boulder stepped toward the group, the man wearing the navy blue suit and red necktie looked at him and said, “Looks like we are all here now.”  He had a voice like that of a news anchor. Red tie lowered his head, and then raised his eyes at Jack, signaling that Jack was to identify himself.

» READ MORE: PHIL HARDWICK’S THE ALIBI, a serial novel: Chapter 1: The Break-in

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

 

 

“I’m Jack Boulder. I represent the insurance company.”

“How much was it insured for?” asked one of the men.

“I wouldn’t know,” Jack said. “My job is to recover it.”

“Surely you must have some idea. Was it over a million?”

Red tie raised his palm outward and spoke. “Yes, it was over a million. Regardless of the amount of insurance I can tell you that the item is worth more than it could ever be insured for.”  He paused for a few seconds, looked at every member of the group and then said, “Again, thank you for coming. I’m Chad Montgomery, director of the museum. Before we begin the briefing let’s get to know each other.”   Each member of the group then went in order and gave their names and affiliations.

“Captain Larry Lewis, Criminal Investigations Division of the Jackson Police Department.”  He was thin and short and talked abruptly. Was there a Napoleonic complex?  He could not have been over forty.

“Agent Jennifer Burgess, Jackson Office, MBI – Mississippi Bureau of Investigation,” said the female. She looked the most professional. Early thirties, short haircut. She stood with her legs shoulder-width apart and her chin up. Probably former military, thought Jack. She was about five feet, five inches.

“Captain Robert Richards, Special Operations Unit. MBI.” He was the giant among them. Must have been six foot six and 225 pounds. He wore a black business suit with a badge holder in his top pocket.

That left the man wearing the red tie, museum director, Chad Montgomery. Turning to one of the detectives he said, “Captain Richards, it’s all yours.”

The captain stood in front of the empty exhibit stand that was illuminated by a spotlight from the ceiling. A large acrylic cube rested on the stand.

“Here’s what we know so far. Sometime between eleven o’clock this past Friday evening and eight o’clock Saturday morning an unknown subject or subjects entered the museum and took the trophy exhibit that was displayed here.”  He motioned with his left hand toward the now naked exhibit. “There was no sign of forced entry. The security alarm on the building and another alarm on the exhibit case itself did not sound. One of the outside security cameras captured an image of a late model Toyota Camry leaving the parking lot at four eleven a.m., so we assume that the burglary occurred shortly before then. The vehicle had Madison County plates and is registered to Ruth Ann Tucker of Madison.

“During this past week the security system here had been receiving an upgrade, although it was supposed to be on and operating at night. There were several workers in and out of the museum during the day on Friday working on the system. The company doing the work is Caliber Alarm, which is headquartered in Jackson. I have spoken to the manager and he will be giving us the names of the employees who were working here this past week. He said that there are only four of them.”  He raised a notebook in his hand and referred to it. “Yesterday afternoon, Agent Burgess and I interviewed Ruth Ann Tucker, to whom the Camry was registered. She swears that she was in Ocean Springs on Friday and Saturday performing an internal audit for one of her clients. She is an accountant. We called the client, owner of one of a condo development, and he confirms that she was there at one o’clock on Friday, but cannot vouch for Saturday. It is noted that she is also a member of the Board of Supervisors of Madison County, so there are possible political implications. She says that she went to Ocean Springs in her car. She cannot explain how her car would have been seen in the security video in Jackson on Friday night. Unfortunately, the video shows only the vehicle driving away. It is unknown if it was driven by a male or female. Personally, I don’t like her alibi. It’s a little too airtight if you know what I mean.”

Just then, a ringtone sounded from the cell phone in Captain Richards’ jacket pocket. He held the phone to his ear and said “uh-huh” several times before saying, “Thanks. I’ll get back to you.”  He then faced the group and said, “That was the owner of Caliber Alarm. One of the workers in the museum this past week was new on the job. He didn’t show up for work this morning. Agent Burgess, would you like to take that lead?”

“Certainly, sir” she said.

He returned the notebook to his side and said, “Questions?”

“Mr. Montgomery, did all of the museum employees show up for work today?” Agent Burgess asked.

“I’m sure that they did, but I would have to go check.”

“Why don’t you do that?” she said.

Montgomery looked at Captain Richards, who remained expressionless, and then walked away saying, “I’ll be right back.”  Five minutes later Montgomery was back. “Yvonne is not here yet,” Montgomery said. “I’m sure she’s on the way. She’s one of our best employees.”

“What is her position?” Agent Burgess asked.

“She our finance and accounting person.”

“Anything else?” Captain Richards asked.

There was no response so Boulder said, “I want to let all of you know that there will be a five thousand dollar reward for return of the trophies and a toll-free number that anyone can call in with information. Captain Richards, would you and Mr. Montgomery be willing and available to hold a press conference at noon to make that announcement? “

“Of course,” said Captain Richards and Montgomery at the same time.

“My firm will contact the media and provide you with a suggested announcement, however you can feel free to say whatever is necessary,” said Boulder.

Afterwards, Chad Montgomery motioned Boulder into his office. It was smaller than Boulder expected. Maybe eight-by-eight. There were no windows. Papers were stacked everywhere. A plaque on the wall revealed that he was once sportscaster of the year in Mississippi.

“Excuse the mess,” Montgomery said. “This is my working office. The formal office with the conference table is in use right now.”

“Tell me about the trophies exhibit that was taken,” Boulder asked. “How you acquired it, how much you think it’s worth, that sort of thing.”

“It’s on loan through the summer from Brett Favre,” replied Montgomery. “I contacted him and he said he would love to help the museum. He’s being inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame class, you know?”

“Why did you hire this particular alarm company?” Boulder asked.

“We’ve used them before,” Montgomery said. “It’s one of the largest alarm companies in Mississippi. Been around for a long time.”

“Supporter of the museum?”

“As a matter of fact, they are,” Montgomery said as he leaned back and raised his chin. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“I’m just curious,” I said. “How did you arrive at the insurable value?”

“That’s what we could afford,” he said. “It’s priceless.”

Boulder pointed to the “Sportscaster of the Year” plaque, and said, “I see you were in the broadcasting business once upon a time.”

“That was from my days as the sports editor of one of the Gulf Coast television stations. It was a nice award.”

“So how did you go from sportscasting to museum directing?” Boulder asked.

“Ever since I was in high school my goal was to be the play-by-play announcer for Ole Miss football. I was the sports editor for the school newspaper in high school, and did color commentary for the radio station that covered our school sports. That’s how I got the sportscasting bug. Went to community college and did the same thing for its athletic teams. Did my junior and senior year at Ole Miss, but didn’t do any sportscasting. They had plenty of pros already on board so I went back home and did high school sports on the weekends. It was obvious that it would be a long time – if ever – before I could announce for Ole Miss football, so I took a job as a sports reporter for a television station in Biloxi. That went well as you can see,” he continued with a nod toward the award. “It’s not my dream to broadcast college football anymore because I discovered that working here is what I love. This museum honors Mississippi sports. Past, present and future. We have a lot of events here and have very strong support. It’s a magical place.”

“What do you think happened regarding this theft?” Boulder asked.

“Obvious suspect is someone from the alarm company,” he replied. “I don’t see how anyone else could have gotten in.”

“Not even an employee?” Boulder asked.

“I’d be very surprised if it was an employee,” Montgomery replied.

“What about this person from Madison?”

“That’s very strange,” he said. “Doesn’t make any sense.”

Boulder exchanged contact information and told him that he would stay in touch. Boulder went back to his car and called Laura Webster. He told her about the meeting, gave her the names of those who were there and that he mentioned a noon press conference. It was about to be time for some national “Breaking News” from Mississippi.

» NEXT WEEK:  The Press Conference and a Lead

About Phil Hardwick

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