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

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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.




Chapter 1: The Break-in

Early Saturday Morning, February 28, 2015

The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum

Jackson, Mississippi

At precisely 4:04 A.M. the burglar inserted a key into the lock of the metal door at the rear of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Dressed all in black, including a black ski mask over the head, black driving gloves, special no-tread black shoes, and a black duffel bag draped over shoulder, the burglar turned the key and slowly, but firmly, pulled open the door and slipped inside. The high-frequency sound of the alarm system immediately penetrated the quietness of the building. At only five feet six inches in height it would have been impossible for a witness to say whether the intruder was a woman or a man. Whatever the gender, the burglar moved deliberately toward the origin of the sound, a plastic box with blinking red and green lights on a wall. The burglar raised a left hand to the alarm pad where fingers punched in the correct set of four numbers. The alarm system went silent. The figure turned and headed toward the main exhibit room. High on the curved west wall of the room hung banners from Mississippi’s universities. The wall itself featured exhibits that told a part of the Mississippi sports story.

Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

The main room was the scene of awards presented, letters of intent signed and deals made. A podium rested under a basketball goal at the top of the foul lane. White lines on the green floor represented baseball, soccer and other sports. It was in this very space where many of the legends themselves gathered from time to time to swap stories, catch up on current lives and tell each other, “we’ll have to get together soon.” Earlier in the day, three groups of elementary school students had visited the museum and had played interactive games, marveled at the exhibits. One of the groups had engaged in a scavenger hunt in which participants were given clues to find certain items of sportabilia. Many of the exhibits were interactive. There was even a computerized virtual reality area where kids could throw baseballs, kick soccer balls or become a reporter in the Broadcast Room. There was also the Trustmark Conference Facility, a large space of over two thousand square feet available for rental for seminars, training sessions, wedding rehearsals, and even family reunions. But none of that mattered to the burglar in black.

Earlier in the evening, just after the close of the museum, a team of expert technicians had installed a new exhibit in a prominent space in the room. It was an exhibit that was expected to draw thousands of new visitors, even out-of-state tourists to the museum. The installation technicians finished their work at almost 11 p.m. The museum director stayed around until just before midnight imagining what the following day, and indeed the following months, would hold as throngs were expected because of the exhibit.

The burglar walked purposely to the target. Under a cubicle of clear acrylic lay what the burglar had come for. Resting on a stand covered in black velvet cloth was a specially-made exhibit of three National Football League Most Valuable Player trophies, one each for 1995, 1996 and 1997. Each had been attached to a silver base so that the trophies had become part of one large piece. Behind it was a life-sized, four color cutout of Brett Favre, one of the greatest – many would say the greatest – quarterback to ever play in the National Football League. Although Mississippi has produced some of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, no other quarterback had ever won three NFL Most Valuable Player awards three years in a row. He was a living, breathing icon of Mississippi sports and this year would be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

The burglar carefully lifted the clear acrylic box and laid it on the floor. No alarm sounded. The thief placed the exhibit in the black duffel bag upon which was stitched in gold thread the fleur-de-lis logo of the New Orleans Saints. The burglar lifted the bag, placed the straps over shoulder and walked out of the main exhibit room to the main entrance, where the bar was pushed to open the glass front door to the museum. The burglar suddenly stopped and turned around. The burglar laid the duffel bag on the floor just inside the front door. The burglar walked quickly to the alarm box, punched in the same four numbers and watched the lights on the alarm box change colors indicating that the system was now armed and that there would be only thirty seconds to exit the building before the alarm system would be fully activated. The burglar walked back to the front door and picked up the duffel bag. Making certain the door was securely closed the thief stepped outside. Underfoot was a collection of bricks with the engraved names of contributors to the museum. Clouds obscured the three-quarter moon. Clouds that had been forecast to bring a half-inch of snow to central Mississippi. The burglar noticed the white vapor from the exhaust in the waiting car, a two-year-old silver Toyota Camry. The burglar walked to the car and tapped on the trunk lid, which popped open immediately, and carefully laid the duffel bag in the trunk. The burglar then pressed down the trunk lid to close it in  such  manner as  it would not be heard by someone standing close by. The burglar stepped to the passenger door and entered the car. The burglar took off the ski mask and exchanged glances with the driver. Then a nod that said “mission accomplished.” The burglar then raised a hand, pointed a finger at the driver and cursed.

“Don’t you know that running the engine on a cold night makes vapor come out your exhaust? Get out of here.”

As the Camry drove away, the alarm inside the building made a sound as the system reset. Outside, the snowflakes began to fall and the wind grew stronger. The Camry exited the parking lot, made a right turn on Lakeland Drive and then headed north on Interstate 55.

Sunday afternoon, March 1

Hartford, Connecticut 

The 65-year old man standing at the head of the conference table tossed a thin, plain brown file jacket onto the table top. “Do you understand the consequences to this insurance company if we have to pay this claim in full?”

“It’s not a claim yet,” pointed out the younger man across from him. “It’s just a report.”

“It is a report that we must deal with immediately. An item like that must be recovered within the first two weeks or our chances of ever seeing it again will be infinitesimal. Infinitesimal, I tell you.”

“Don’t worry, Randall. I’m on it.”

Randall Lux, Chairman of the Board of Lux International Group, one of the fastest-growing fine art insurers in the world, had summoned Brad Sharpe, manager of the Atlanta office to company headquarters. The chairman’s mood was as cold and gray as the winter weather. Even the walls of the ninth floor conference room were painted gray. The building reflected the character of the company. Modern, yet discreet.

“Do you have a plan yet?” Lux asked. “We can’t just take out an advertisement. Nor can we do a press conference. Advertising that a museum exhibit has been stolen is counterproductive. Our recovery rate is better when the world doesn’t even know that it’s missing,” Lux said.

“That applies to the fine art of the world, where every potential buyer is an owner, not a reseller. In this case we need to make certain that every Tom, Dick and Harry knows it’s missing. It can’t get very far if half the South and perhaps Wisconsin is on the lookout for it. I concede your point on fine art, but this case is different.”

“Very well,” said Lux. “But we do not need this company’s name mentioned in the media in any way. And we need the item recovered A-S-A-P.”  He stepped to the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window and stared outside at the wisps of evaporating, wind-blown fog rising from heating units attempting to cope with the frigid temperature. He placed his hands in his pockets. “Hell, it’s probably too late anyway.”

“I would not get out the checkbook just yet,” Sharpe replied.

“So, what’s your plan?” asked Lux, turning around.

“I checked our records before I left Atlanta. We have a private investigator whom we’ve worked with in the past. We can let him be the intermediary.”

“So who is this private eye, and what makes him so special?”

“His name is…”

“Wait,” Lux interrupted with a raised hand. “Don’t tell me. He’s a down and out ex-cop, who got kicked off the force, drinks too much, has a girl Friday and will shoot and then ask questions later.”

“You are correct on two counts,” replied Sharpe. “He is indeed a retired cop and he has been known to shoot and ask questions later. But the shooting happened only once when he shot a thug who had killed his partner’s wife and daughter while they slept.”

“Where was this?”

“St. Louis. He left there and moved back to his boyhood home in Jackson, Mississippi.”

“You said he had done work for us before?”

“When you had the life insurance company. Thanks to him we saved a few million dollars. One case was a fake death and the other was a fraudulent application.”

“Oh yes,” Lux said. “I remember now.”

Lux did indeed remember the claims for it had happened in the past two years and had saved him financially. He did not think that anyone knew that now he needed being saved financially again. Paying a claim in this case would bankrupt Lux International Group.

“Do you know him personally?” Lux asked.

“No,” Sharpe said. “Only from what I read in the files and what the lawyers told us. I think that we need somebody like him.”

“And we need him fast.”

“I’m on it,” Sharpe said.

» NEXT WEEK:  The Assignment


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About Phil Hardwick