Worlds of imagination by Sara B. Gauldin

Off the Record: An Avery Rich Mystery is live on Amazon!

Off-The-Record-FINALThis fast-paced thriller is now available for digital download!  Off the Record will keep you on the edge of your seat!  You can order Off the Record on Amazon on Kindle here.  The paperback will be released soon! Here is a sneak peak!

Copyright 2016, Sara B. Gauldin

Chapter 1: Off the Record

The heat and humidity beat down on the pavement causing mirage ripples to writhe upward. My suit seemed oppressive as I hurried from the car to the station. I brushed a bead of sweat off of my brow as I bundled my hair into a tight bun without breaking my stride. I needed to make the right impression.

My phone came to life, buzzing angrily in my pocket. I shifted my weight to remove it. “Hello?” I answered in one breath. I didn’t have time to entertain any interruptions. The scheduled briefing began in only ten minutes.

“Detective Avery Rich?” a man asked.

“This is she,” I said.

“This is Commander Calbert. I need you to report directly to my office as soon as you arrive.” His voice sounded different from when I had interviewed with him.

“Err, yes, sir. Will I miss the briefing?” I had just rushed to the station from across town to hear about a series of home invasions. The case was proving to be more widespread and organized. I had visited a few of the crime scenes, but we were still processing the evidence collected. Could he need to talk to me about that? I hadn’t been in town long enough to be second-guessed over a judgment call.

“Never mind that. I’m putting you on something else. I already let dispatch know not to reroute you until they hear from me. I’ll see you in my office.” The call ended with a parting click.

I rushed down the corridor that led from the parking garage into the station. I could not help wondering what the commander had in mind. I had not heard of anything on the dispatch or picked up by the press that was dramatic enough to have him quite so edgy.

By the time I had reached the commander’s office, I was regretting wearing heels. The idea that appearing a bit taller would garner respect really did nothing but slow me down. There were not enough shoes in Virginia to make my five-foot one-inch frame seem more formidable. As I opened the door, the commander stood up. His face seemed flushed. There was a look in his eyes I had not seen before. The man who had hired me had been calm and composed–this man was more like a caged beast.

“We have a situation,” Calbert said. “Before I get into details I need to make one thing clear to you: this is a case unlike anything you’ve experienced in the past. What I tell you in this room cannot be repeated without my express permission. To do so would jeopardize the entire case. Until we know the breadth of this, it can’t be shared.”

“Yes, sir, I understand.” I lied. I could not imagine anything that could not be shared among colleagues. That was the strength of the police department: collaboration.

“You know that I hired you because you came highly recommended. That is only half of the truth. I also wanted you because you have a reputation for being able to work independently. You are tough. You have a sense of integrity that has not been corrupted by years of work on the streets. And you’re not from this area. I needed you here for just this type of situation.”

“Situation, sir?” I asked. I was beginning to wonder if Calbert was having a breakdown.

“I need you to go off of the grid for a while,” Calbert said. “There is a situation here that I cannot open a formal investigation on because it cuts too deep. There are officers here who would be a detriment, and it would take a long time to sort them all out.”

“Sir, I keep my police work on the table so that when things go to trial there is no question. It keeps the cases tight. I’m not sure what you mean by officers being a detriment.”

“Rich, this case is sensitive. You are moving up in the force, and it is time for you to understand that there are some cases that must be handled…differently.”

“I understand,” I said. Whom was I kidding? I was worried about this guy. The stress from the job was clearly getting to him. However, being the newbie, I was not going to be outright disobedient to my C.O. I would be cautious. Warned or not, I was not going to step on any toes until I knew what was going on.

Calbert scribbled a name onto a piece of paper. “Destroy this when you’ve found him.” He nodded towards the name he had written. “I think you’ll find him at the shelter over on Huntington Avenue.”

“Is he homeless, sir?” I asked. I wondered why I would need the help of a vagrant.

“He is unconventionally situated. You’ll understand why when you meet him,” Calbert said. His frazzled appearance had not improved. “You’re investigating the disappearance of a bank president by the name of Lawrence Shultz. He was recently named as the head of First National Bank. He’s the third bank president to disappear in the last month.”

“Has he been entered into the missing persons’ database?” I asked. I wondered if this was on or off the record.

“He’s never actually been reported missing,” Calbert said. “Neither have the others. The first bank president who disappeared, Alan Morris, was a good friend of mine. I noticed he was no longer at his office, ever. I asked about him at the bank, and each time I asked they claimed he was in a meeting. I called his wife at home, but he was always unavailable to come to the phone. There was something out of place–his wife’s voice shook when she lied, and the teller could not look me in the eye when she reported him as being busy–it never let up.”

“You haven’t been able to track him down?” I asked. Why would the people in this man’s life be hiding him?

“It’s as though he was sucked into a void. There’s no sign of him anywhere. I think word got out that I was asking around, because a couple of weeks after I was sure that he was missing, a lady called me, here, at the station, from a disposable cell phone, with a tip that a second banker, Jim Maple, was missing. The call came directly to me. The caller was very brief. She sounded terrified. I traced the call and found the phone in a trash can near Fort Ward Park. It was covered in blood.”

“And Shultz, how did you notice he was gone?” I asked.

“After the second disappearance that was never reported, I started doing some digging,” Calbert said. “I found out that Mr. Shultz was similarly unaccounted for. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more that I haven’t discovered yet. It’s strange. Usually when someone disappears someone reports them as missing. These are business men, not transients. They have families, careers, and roots here. It is not as though they just wandered off to relocate in a new town.”

“I’ll get right on it, sir,” I said. I could not help thinking that these men may not want to be found. “Oh, and sir, this Ryan Kain person at the shelter, how does he tie into this?” Clearly, I was missing something.

“Kain was a good cop, one of the best here in Alexandria. Somewhere along the line the way he saw the world became different from the way the department worked. Some people said he had lost his mind. He seemed to believe there were forces around him that couldn’t be measured by the casual observer. I suppose some call his kind ‘conspiracy theorists,'” Calbert said. He betrayed no emotion of judgment.

“Do you think he can help, or do you think he’s a suspect?” I asked. Was I supposed to interview the nutcase or enlist him?

“Kain can’t work within the system anymore. That much has been proven, but he sees patterns in things that others don’t.” Calbert nervously glanced towards the clock.

“Do you mean patterns like missing bankers who aren’t considered missing?” I asked.

“Exactly,” Calbert said.

“I’ll be on my way, sir,” I said. I was ready to leave the office before Calbert had a stroke or a heart attack. His face was becoming increasingly red. Sweat beaded around his temples. I wondered what he knew that was upsetting him so much. It crossed my mind that I should be concerned he did not disclose whatever it was.

As I opened the door to leave, Calbert grunted one last warning: “Keep your head low and be careful.”

I would do that much.

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