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PHIL HARDWICK’S THE ALIBI, a serial novel: Chapter 8 Trophies found at Old Waverly

Alibi-graphic_rgb» 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.

Wednesday, March 4

Jack Boulder arrived at the Elite Restaurant in downtown Jackson at 7:30 a.m. and was shown to a booth next to a mirrored wall. Outside, a chilly rain drenched central Mississippi. As he took his first sip of coffee the cellphone in his shirt pocket began to vibrate. It was a text message from Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Agent Sheila Burgess. “Need to meet. Call me.” Before he could reply he looked up and saw Laura Webster crossing Capitol Street toward him from the glassy office building that housed her law firm. She sat down across from him.

“Sorry I missed you last night when you got back into town,” she said. “We burned the midnight oil after a long day of depositions.”

“You said that things were developing and that there was a new suspect?” Jack said.

“Someone called in on the 800-number late yesterday and said that they had the trophy exhibit and wanted to turn it in,” she said.

“No kidding?” he said.

“He said his name is George Turnage. Lives in West Point at Old Waverly in one of the residential areas. He said someone gave it to him and that he did not realize that it was a stolen item. Our intern did some research and found that he’s a retired engineer from a utility company in Alabama. There was an article in an engineering magazine a few years ago that featured him and his trophy collection. He has hundreds of trophies from every sport from all over the world. We told him that you would be visiting him this afternoon to pick up the trophy exhibit. Here’s his contact information.”

“Looks like that 800-number paid off,” Jack said. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” she replied. “Another call came in late yesterday that has me concerned.”

“How so?”

“Shortly after five o’clock a man called and said the we should tell you to discontinue your efforts to recover the trophies. He said they were no longer recoverable. When asked what he meant by that he said that it would not be good for your health. He named you by name. ” She took a sip of coffee. “Are you satisfied with the alderwoman’s alibi?”

“More or less,” he said. “Her client and friend in Ocean Springs could be covering for her. What I don’t understand though is why someone would try to frame her.”

“This is politics in Mississippi,” Laura said.

“I guess you’re right,” he replied. “Well, I’m off to north Mississippi. I’ll call you when I return with the trophy exhibit.”

“Jack, this could be a setup. Please be very careful.”

“You can count on it,” he said.

They finished their coffees and headed out separately into the rain. As he got in his car he remembered the text message from Agent Burgess. He dialed her number.

“I need to talk to you in person,” she said. “Meet me at Broad Street Bakery.”

“I’m on the way,” he said. Just what he needed. More coffee.
Broad Street Bakery is the morning place in north Jackson. Located in a three-story, retail building known as Banner Hall, it’s where lots of people pick up breakfast on the way to work, where early business meetings are held and where lots of customers know and greet each other. Some would describe it as the happening place. Boulder entered the open area lobby and found Agent Burgess sitting at a table under the stairway. She wore a navy blue pants suit.

“Coffee?” she asked.

“Already had my limit,” he said.

“How was your trip to Ocean Springs?”

“OK, I guess,” he said. “Alderman Tucker’s alibi is backed up by words from a client and a friend. No motel receipts. No hard evidence. I’m inclined to think she’s telling the truth though. What I don’t know is why she’s being set up if she is indeed telling the truth. What have you got?”

“We’ve identified the van that was used to pick up the box at the truck stop in Canton,” she said.

“It’s owned by Caliber Alarm Systems.”

“That matches the ‘r’ and the ‘m’ and the word Systems we saw in the video,” he said.

“Caliber Alarm Systems is also the company that had been working on the security system at the museum,” she said. “They reported that one of the technicians working on the system did not show up for work on Monday. He had been working for the company about a month. There is no answer at his residence, but I’m still working on finding him.”

“An inside job?” Boulder asked.

“Possibly,” she said. “We’re also checking to see if the museum director had any non-business connection with the alarm company.”

“You’ve been busy,” he said.

“There is another thing that you should know. Caliber Alarm Systems is owned by Jerrold Jefferson,” she said. She stirred her coffee. “He owns about a dozen security companies and at least twice that many politicians. It is said that he has people who can hack into any security system or listen to any phone conversation. It would not surprise me if our case gets closed this afternoon.”

“The 800-number had a call yesterday from someone named George Turnage in West Point,” Boulder said. “Says he has the trophies and wants to turn them in. Said he received them as a gift. I’m headed that way this morning.”

“I’ll check him out and call you,” she said. “Be safe. It’s wet out there.”

Shortly before noon Boulder arrived at the entrance to Old Waverly. The rain had stopped; the wind had picked up. Located just east of West Point, it features a strikingly beautiful lodge, an 18-hole championship golf course and several residential areas. It is one of Mississippi’s premiere golf and residential communities. He informed the white shirted, necktied security officer at the small entrance house that he was visiting George Turnage, whereupon he was given directions to the Azalea Cove section. The Turnage residence was an English Tudor style, with a two-car garage on the right side. Both garage doors were open and a white Lexus SUV and a dark blue Crown Victoria were parked inside. The front yard was mostly concrete, a backup and turnaround spot for vehicles. Boulder parked on the street and approached the house. Instead of heading straight for the front door he made a casual stroll to the garage and attached a tracking device under the rear bumper of each vehicle. Technology was making his life better all the time. He rang the doorbell and stood slightly to the side. An old police habit. A half minute later the door opened to reveal a what could be a modern version of Ichabod Crane.

“Mr. Turnage?” Boulder asked.

“That’s right,” he replied. His voice matched his appearance in a squeaky way. He was about Boulder’s height, that is to say no more that five eleven. He had a completely bald and shiny head. It was more oval than round. His nose was prominent and his eyes were slightly sunken. He leaned forward as if his back gave him problems. He wore dark pants and a white dress shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar.

“I’m Jack Boulder,” I said. “You called about the trophy exhibit.”

“Come in,” Turnage said. “It’s back here in the trophy room.” He led Boulder down a hallway past two closed doors and into a large, dark-paneled room that resembled a grocery store with aisles of trophy shelves. There was an open space in the middle of the room that featured a small table illuminated by a spotlight from above. As they entered the room and Turnage saw the table he gasped and groaned and staggered back against a wall, “Oh, my God!”

“What’s wrong?” asked Boulder, wondering if the man was having a heart attack.

“It’s gone,” he moaned. “They were right there,” he said, pointing to the table. “I can’t believe this. It is not happening.”

“Calm down, sir,” Boulder said. “Let’s sit down.”

They walked slowly backward across the hall to a dining room and sat at the table. Turnage caught his breath and began to breath normally.

“The trophy exhibit was setting right there on that table when you rang the doorbell,” he said, pointing across the hallway. “Damn her!”

“Damn who?”

“My wife,” said Turnage. “There’s no telling what she’s going to do with it. Probably throw it in the Tenn-Tom Waterway.”

“Back up and start from the beginning,” Boulder said.

“It’s like this,” Turnage said. “My wife and I have been not getting along too well the past year or so. I told her that maybe we ought to try a trial separation. You know, give each other some space. She would not have it. We went to counseling. She’s very domineering. Anyway, our anniversary was this past Sunday. She said that she wanted to start over and that she had changed. She said to prove it that she wanted me to have something no one else had. She knows how much I love trophies. So Sunday night at dinner she presented me with the most important trophy anyone could ever receive. Can you imagine? Three NFL MVP trophies mounted on one base. Trophies that the greatest quarterback to play the game won. I set up that table and spotlight and just stared at them the entire night.” He paused briefly and then shook his head slowly from side to side. “By Tuesday I realized that I could no longer keep them in my possession. They belong to the museum. So I called the 800-number and told them I wanted to return them.”

“How did your wife steal the trophy exhibit?” Boulder asked.

“I have no idea,” Turnage said. “No, wait. I do have an idea. Her brother must have had to have something to do with it.”

“Who’s her brother?”

“Jerrold Jefferson,” he said.

About Phil Hardwick

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