Home » NEWS » Arts & Entertainment » PHIL HARDWICK’S THE ALIBI, a serial novel: Chapter 5: Following the Trail to Madison County

PHIL HARDWICK’S THE ALIBI, a serial novel: Chapter 5: Following the Trail to Madison County

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.

Monday, March 2

Jackson, Mississippi

Jack Boulder took the Canton exit off Interstate 55 and drove toward the travel center where Bobby Gates said he delivered the package during the dark hours of this past Saturday morning. At the facility there was a vast expanse of concrete parking lot for the 18-wheelers to one side and to the rear of the building. In front were what looked to be nine rows of gasoline dispensing pumps, all of which were lined up like short, fat soldiers in a formation nestled under a wide metal cover. A dozen vehicles gulped gas from the black umbilical hoses attached to the sides of the pumps. The center’s building was wide and low and as functional as could be for a highway traveler.

Boulder pulled in a parking place near the front door, turned off the motor and began checking the email on his smartphone. There were a dozen new messages. As he got to the third message he was startled by a rap-rap on the driver’s window next to his ear. He jerked sideways, looked out and saw a familiar figure. It was Agent Sheila Burgess of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, standing there with a big grin on her face. Boulder opened the door, shaking his head from side to side and grinning a smirky grin as if to say, “Ha ha, you got me.”

» READ MORE: Chapter 1: The Break-In



“Sorry about that, but I just couldn’t resist,” she said. “You were really into that cellphone.”

“Umm huh,” he replied.

“I called the manager,” Burgess said. “He’s expecting us. “

Boulder followed her through what can only be described as an emporium for travelers. There was a sit-down restaurant on one side, a convenience store in the middle and a couple of fast food restaurants on the other side. Rest rooms were strategically located in the rear, farthest away from the cash registers. There was even one section containing clothing, most of which was t-shirts, NASCAR-style jackets. cheap cowboy hats and colorful baseball caps. A few video games were placed throughout. And of course there were plenty of items to meet the needs of the long-haul trucker: CB radios, logbooks, coffee mugs, mechanical equipment and much more. Eventually they arrived at a door that had a “manager” sign on it. Agent Burgess gave it a “shave and a haircut” rap. The door opened and there stood a middle-aged black man no more than five feet six inches tall. He wore a green sweater with the logo of the travel center stitched on the top left. He had close-cut hair. The office was small, no more than six-by-eight feet, and crowded with two file cabinets and stacks of paper scattered about. The desk faced the back corner wall. On the back wall were several company certificates indicating that the manager had been to training classes.

On the desk beside a computer monitor and keyboard was a framed photograph of a man and woman and two children. There was also a one-way mirror to the retail space for the truckers. From this side of the mirror one could see the cashier and the store for the truckers. “Hey Sheila,” the man said, donning a smile spread from ear-to-ear that indicated that he and Agent Burgess were not strangers.

“How you been, Fred?” Burgess said as she slapped Fred’s hand. She turned toward Boulder and said, “Meet Jack Boulder. He’s helping with the Brett Favre stolen trophies case.”

“Haven’t heard about that one,” Fred said. “I stay in here with forms and reports and the telephone.” He took a step backward and motioned toward two chairs, removing a stack of papers from one chair.

“So what can I do for you?”

“We have reason to believe that the stolen items may have been transferred here at your gas pumps. We wondered if you might have any video from last Friday evening, early Saturday morning.”

“Right here in the file cabinet,” Fred said. “Do you know about what time this would have occurred?”

“Within twenty minutes of four forty-five a.m. early Saturday,” Boulder said.

Fred got up and pulled out one of the filing cabinet drawers. He rummaged through a collection of compact discs, found the one he was looking for and placed it in his computer. They watched as the screen showed four boxes of views of the gas pumps. The letters at the bottom of the screen showed the date and time. Fred fast-forwarded the view to 11:40 p.m., and slowed down the fast forward speed. At 4:52 a.m. the screen showed Bobby pulling up in his truck, getting out and placing a box on top of the gas pump. He immediately got back in his truck and drove away. Thirty seconds later a white van with a red stripe around it pulled up. The door opened and a person wearing blue jeans, a dark colored hoodie jacket and gloves got out. The hood was pulled over the person’s head. The person picked up the box with both hands, placed it on the front passenger seat, and then drove away.

“Rewind it slowly,” Agent Burgess said. Fred did so. At least nine times as they stared intently at the screen. “Damn. There’s no way to tell if that’s a male or female, much less what race they may be. And by the way they move they could be anywhere between nineteen and fifty. And there’s no way to make out the tag number.”

“Let’s study that van,” Boulder said.

“Yeah, I can see something,” Burgess said. “Looks like ‘Systems’ is the last word, followed by Jackson, MS, and two letters in front of that.”

“R and M,” offered Fred. “Lower case.”

“Can you make me a copy of this part of the video, Fred?” Burgess asked.

“Yes mam.”

“Thanks Fred,” she said. “That will help a lot.”

“I’ll have it for you at five o’clock.”

Burgess and Boulder thanked Fred, and then walked back to the parking lot.

“It’s not much, but maybe it will help,” Burgess said.

“It told me that this thing was well-coordinated,” Boulder said.

“I’ll bet that none of these characters knew each other.”

“I’ll get our guys working on identifying that van,” she said.

“So what we think we know so far is that around four-fifteen a.m. the thief and a black bag containing the trophies got into a car bearing an elected official’s license plate. A few minutes later a package that may or may not contain the trophies is picked up from Briarwood Drive by a courier and then dropped off at a truck stop in Canton. As soon as the courier leaves, the package is picked by someone driving a commercial van. Somewhere between the Sports Hall of Fame and Briarwood Drive the black duffel bag was placed in a box and sealed with duct tape. And the van is probably a commercial van owned by a company in Jackson.” “There’s more we know,” Agent Burgess said. “The license plate on the car at the museum is registered to Ruth Ann Tucker, member of the

Board of Supervisors of Madison County and a resident of Canton. We also know that this truck stop is in Canton. And we know that someone else was driving that car instead of the thief.”

“I know that you and Captain Richards interviewed Ruth Ann Tucker already, but I want to talk to her myself.”

“I have no problem with that,” Burgess said.

“What’s your gut feeling? I gather that your boss doesn’t place too much stock in her alibi.”

“She’s very smooth and professional. Says she has no idea how her car could have been in two places at the same time. She claims to have been in Ocean Springs doing some accounting work for a client. We’re having an agent on the Coast interview her client today. Of course, an alibi is one person’s word against another if there’s no supporting evidence. And even if she is vouched for during the day this past Friday and Saturday it would have been possible to drive to Jackson and back to Ocean Springs during the night.”

“What would be her motive?” Boulder said.

“Now that’s the sixty-four dollar question,” said Burgess. “But you’ve got lots more than sixty-four dollars to find out.”

“But what I don’t have is lots of time.”

» NEXT WEEK:  Interview With The Madison County Supervisor


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About Phil Hardwick


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