Michael Sorenson, the Jackie Harlan Detective Agency’s computer geek, wasn’t in a rush to get to work. With no new clients lately, the team kept busy researching their previous unsolved cases, checking for new DNA and any possible new leads. It was boring thankless work.
Michael and his bride of only a few months lived just two houses down from Jackie and Carl’s tri-level home. That made it easy for Michael to walk up the street, unlock the front door, and turn off the alarm. The smell of bacon and eggs greeted him as he descended the stairs, indicating that his boss and her husband were awake. In the expansive basement family room, turned into office space, he entered the small adjoining kitchen, hit the start button on the coffee pot, and then went to check the agency’s bank account on his desk computer. Their last client still hadn’t paid. However, a million-dollar bank transfer had arrived at three a.m. that morning.
“Finally, something new to work on,” Michael muttered. When he heard Jackie and Carl coming down the stairs, he turned in his swivel chair to face them. “We’ve got a whole bunch of money in the bank this morning.”
“That’s good,” Jackie said, turning on the rest of the overhead lights, and then taking a seat at the conference table.
“Mind telling me about our new case?” Michael asked.
“It’s the worst case in the world,” Carl grumbled, “the kind people like me lose sleep over. I hate to break it to you this early in the morning, old buddy, but Jackie’s lost her mind.” Carl strolled into the kitchen, noticed the coffee wasn’t ready yet, and began to strum his fingers on the kitchen counter.
“Uh oh, what has she done this time?” Michael asked. He used his middle finger to shove his gold rimmed glasses up his nose, and then got up and joined Jackie at the table. “Who’s missing this time?”
“Russell Summers, an ex-employee of the Skaldeck Foundation,” Jackie answered. She carefully watched to see if he remembered the original case and what his reaction would be. Michael was pretty good at hiding his feelings, but not this time – this time, his mouth slowly dropped open.
“You’re kidding?’ Michael scoffed. “You said yes to the Sunrise Lane Case – the most puzzling missing persons case in the history of mankind?” When she only smiled, he buried his face in his hands. “Carl’s right, Jackie, you need help.” At length, he removed his hands and folded his arms. “With all your connections, you should be able to find a discreet psychologist somewhere – maybe in Italy?”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she promised. She pushed a lock of shoulder-length dark hair behind her ear, and then nodded her appreciation when Carl set a cup of hot black coffee in front of her. She waited while he set a second cup in front of Michael and went back to the kitchen. “I suggest we start with finding out just who Russell Summers was. He had a lot to say when the other three disappeared and then he clammed up. I’m betting he knows something and if we find him, we might be able to find out what happened to the other three.”
Michael waited until Carl took a seat, and then watched as his co-worker blew on his coffee before taking a sip. “She’s your wife, do something!”
“Down here, she’s the boss. Besides, I’m kind of intrigued. It’s not like we have anything fresh to work on, and Summers only disappeared three years ago. That means finding relatives, a work history, and all those hidden background things you’re good at finding, Michael.”
Michael rested his folded arms on the table. “Him I’m not worried about; it’s finding the other three that bothers me. We could be tied up in that case for years.” He paused to take a deep breath and slowly let it out. “The guy that ran the foundation was some rich woman’s husband, right?”
“Second husband,” Jackie corrected. “Her first husband was already fifty-six when she married him. He was part owner of a ship building company somewhere overseas, had no other living relatives, and left his fortune to her.”
“Fifty-six isn’t that old. What killed him?” Carl asked. Not only was Carl Jackie’s husband, he was a pilot with years of experience, and his only child was the latest sixteen passenger Gulfstream G550. Most of the space inside had been converted into a flying office.
“A heart attack,” Michael guessed.
Jackie nodded. “Right. Less than a year later, Danielle Langlais married Dave Casso, CEO of the Skaldeck Foundation. She’s quite the society flower, generously donating to the performing arts, among other institutions. It’s her reputation and notoriety that drew so much attention to the case.”
“She doesn’t know what happened to her husband?”
“Not according to the articles,” Jackie answered. “They ate breakfast together that morning, he went to work, and she never saw him again. She had no contact with him after that and doesn’t know why he left his office that morning. Danielle Casso said she had nothing to do with the foundation.”
“Wow,” said Michael, “You remember all that?”
Carl chuckled, “She stayed awake half the night reading the articles on her phone.”
“Did I keep you awake, Darling?” she teased. Jackie turned to Michael, “He kept asking questions, so I finally gave up and read them aloud.”
Michael was used to their banter and ignored both of them. “What about the other two? Didn’t they have families?”
“Simone Goulet was born in Etretat, France and came to America to work for the Foundation. Her family still lives in France, but they were opposed to her leaving and hadn’t spoken to her for nearly a year. After the second year when Simone still couldn’t be found, they had a memorial service and refused to give any more interviews.”
“They could be hiding her,” Carl suggested.
“From whom?” Michael asked.
“If we knew that, we would …” Carl started.
“Morgan Ashton,” Jackie interrupted, “had no living relatives. She was put up for adoption shortly after birth, and then shuffled from foster home to foster home until she was old enough to go out on her own. By all accounts, she had a brilliant mind and acquired a full scholarship to Yale Law School. By the way, Simone was brilliant too, although her major in college was not law, it was literature.”
“Simone was a writer?”
“According to the articles, there are no known works by her, but it’s possible she never found a publisher. The Skaldeck Foundation, is the real mystery. Established and operated by Dave Casso, it was less than five years old when he disappeared. The sketchy thing, is that no one seemed to know what the foundation actually did. It sometimes reviewed articles on such things as self-help, and technical medical and mental theories or discoveries.”
“Lawsuits?” Carl asked. “Some people might sue if they got a bad review, lost the suit, and killed the reviewers off just to get even.”
“It might be worth looking into,” Jackie agreed. “It seems an excellent review by the foundation was a feather in the cap of a technical writer. However, the website was taken down shortly after the disappearances.”
“Nothing is gone forever on the internet,” Michael said, “I’ll find it, and any old files that still exists. The thing is, people got smart and left the files, but erased the contents.”
“Impossible to find?” Carl asked.
Michael grinned. “Impossible? I don’t believe I’m familiar with that word. So what did Russell Summers do at the foundation?”
“I don’t have the answer to that,” Jackie admitted. Just then, her phone alerted her to a text message. She opened it, scrolled down and then forwarded the text to both Carl and Michael’s phone.
“What’s this?” Michael asked.
Jackie answered, “It’s from our friendly Senator. It says it’s the last four places Russell Summers worked before he disappeared.”
Michael’s eyes brightened. “Looks like we’ve already got our first break, and it’s not even nine o’clock in the morning.”
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