Eighteen months later.
Two dozen white marble steps between tall white pillars, led up to the four doors that allowed entry into Portland’s largest courthouse. It was an unusually busy day, with reporters vying to get seats inside, while others gathered outside hoping to seize an interview or a very telling photograph.
Inside the courthouse, two armed guards checked photo identifications, and then permitted visitors to pass through the metal detectors into the wide corridor. Next to three sets of tall, mahogany, double doors stood signs on stands designating which trial was to take place in each courtroom. The line of people hoping to get into the middle courtroom left little doubt as to which trial would take place in the largest.
Mark Barrett’s murder trial was about to begin.
The Harlan Detective Agency, of which Jackie Harlan was the owner, specialized in finding missing people. She and her team were the best of the best, and charged an enormous fee that only the wealthy could afford. Along with the fee came complete discretion and secrecy, which made what they did well worth the money. Their current case was what brought them to Portland, Oregon, and unless they were mistaken, the missing person they had been looking for was in that very courtroom.
A pretty woman with brown eyes and long auburn hair, Private Detective, Jackie Harlan, almost didn’t get in and had to settle for an aisle seat in the back row. The room had traditional wood panel walls that faintly smelled of furniture polish. A pole held an American flag on one side of the Great Seal behind the Judge’s bench, and another held the Oregon State flag. Aside from that, Jackie Harlan could see very little. Immaculately dressed in a white blouse, black business skirt and jacket, Jackie wore nylons, even though they had gone out of style, and black heels. She crossed her legs, took a pad and pen out of her purse, and got ready to take notes.
The people behind her that could not get in, moaned, when the doors were closed in their faces. Normally, seating for three hundred was more than enough, but for the biggest trial Portland had seen in a long time, five hundred seats would not have been enough. The murder of a wealthy woman known for her generosity to the arts was a very big deal indeed. According to the Portland, Oregon newspapers, all of which had covered the case extensively, the trial was expected to take less than two weeks.
Not counting Jackie, The Harlan Detective Agency’s employees numbered only two. The three member team called hotel suites their home, and restaurants their personal chefs, although they ordered in a lot more than they went out. Business came first, last and in-between, and netted them more money than any of them could conceivably spend in a lifetime. Therefore, what motivated them was accomplishing the impossible. Finding missing people who could not, or did not, want to be found was the ultimate challenge. The Harlan Detective Agency was not always successful, but when they were, there was no greater reward than a happy family reunion.
When Jackie needed someone to do the out-of- office legwork, Carl Kingsley was more than happy to accommodate her. A man of average height and build, he was just as good as she on a computer, but he was more of an outdoor kind of guy who had a fascination with hiding tracking devices, cameras, and microphones in obscure places. Carl was also their Learjet pilot, and in charge of keeping the plane ready to take off at a moment’s notice. Inside the jet was the corporation’s fully functional office, a change of clothing for each of them, maps, charts, and most importantly, boxes of flash drives containing copies of all their secret records. A second set, including personal records Jackie did not share with her team, was kept in a bank vault in Iowa.
Carl could fix anything – except his marriage. In the divorce settlement, he talked his wife into giving him the air crane they jointly owned in exchange for their small drug company. Even now, the thought of it made Carl smile. The drug company went broke, but the air crane lasted for years. In fact, when he and his high school friend, Jackie, first teamed up, they used the air crane as their basic mode of transportation.
Michael Sorenson had thick, brown hair, and wore gold-rim glasses. He was shorter than most men were, and claimed short men were not taken seriously. Therefore, he jumped at the chance to give up the corporate world and go to work for Jackie. A computer geek, hacker, and electronics nerd, Jackie constantly spoiled him with all the newest and most expensive equipment on the market. Michael was, or at least said he was, madly in love with Jackie. It was to no avail, for Jackie firmly refused to mix business with pleasure. That didn’t keep Michael from hoping that, someday she would accept his repeated marriage proposals.
She wondered what he would do if she ever accepted.
While Jackie sat in the courtroom waiting for the trial to begin, Michael and Carl sat on a sofa in the hotel room. Both had their legs propped up on the coffee table, were working on laptops, and had a good view of a closed circuit big screen TV that displayed three separate images. For their current case, it was important to have a good view of all that was happening in the courtroom. It was illegal, but Michael managed to hack into the courtroom’s closed circuit cameras. The camera, located in the front of the courtroom, provided the image on the right side of the TV, and the middle image was from the camera in the back.
The third image came from a tiny camera, complete with a microphone that Carl put in the dangling white rhinestone medallion Jackie wore around her neck. He also put a wireless headphone in an earpiece that looked like a hearing aid. Her hair aptly hid it from an inquisitive public, and right now, all they could see through her medallion was the back of the man seated in front of her.
Michael and Carl shared a two bedroom suite, but the work was normally done in Jackie’s hotel room. Maids were rarely let in to clean and make beds, for fear their computers, printers, papers, books, graphs and charts spread out all over the place might be disturbed. When the dishes began to pile up, they set them outside the door with a generous tip, for someone to take back to the dining room. When a case was finished, they copied everything onto a flash drive, shredded the papers, and then moved on to the next location.