An Adam Fraley Mystery
Mystery, Crime Mystery
Published: September 2020
Publisher: Melange Books
Private investigator Adam Fraley and his colleague, Tamra Fugit, the woman to whom he is engaged, travel vastly different paths, as they take on two seemingly unrelated missing person cases. The trails take them through idyllic lands darkened by underworld intrigue, twisted relationships. carnal temptation, physical danger, and personal tragedy. Such are the legal ramifications they confront during their crossing of both state and international boundaries, that the FBI is eventually drawn into the matter. From the very beginning, little did the investigators realize that the two roads they were travelling eventually would come crashing together in a manner entirely unexpected, testing not only their professional skills and resolve, but their personal faith in each other.
The paramount lesson Adam Fraley learned early on in the private investigation business was to place a premium on case selection. Much like personnel hiring, you want to make sure you take on the right case, just as you would the right person, lest you end up drowned in disappointment and endless damage control. Fortunately, he had thus far successfully managed this aspect of the business. First, by hiring Tamra Fugit several years ago as his office manager. Secondly, by relying on her knack for making the right choices. Still, no selection system was foolproof. As an old boss of his was fond of saying, “You can only ride horses so many times before you get bucked off one.” Consequently, the admonition was always in the back of his mind when he and she met for their regular Monday morning caseload review.
“What’s on the agenda?” he asked from a visitor’s chair positioned in front of her desk.
“Two cases—one for you and one for me,” she said, working her desktop computer.
He halted in mid-motion the sip of coffee he was about to take to look askance at her.
She swiveled her chair to face him. “I’ve assisted you in nearly every case we’ve taken on since I was hired here, Adam. And thanks to your generosity, I will soon own half of the business. No better time for me to start taking half ownership of some of the cases, don’t you agree?”
“By ownership you mean taking to the street—the actual gumshoe part.”
“Yes…surveillance and tracking.”
“Who’s going to take care of the office end of it while we’re out gumshoeing?” he asked, carefully setting his coffee cup on her desk.
“Think of it this way,” she replied. “As with the modern family, the mother sometimes stays home to tend to the house and kids while the father is at work. Conversely, the husband stays home while the working wife takes to the road. We are destined to become a family business, are we not?”
“You’re looking terrific today,” he abruptly said to the woman who would have to be subjected to prolonged physical duress, say like an extended hike through the Mohave desert, to look bad—the woman, by the way, he happened to be betrothed to. But for her presence, the Adam Fraley Private Investigations office could best be described as nondescript, he opined.
“Do you realize your auburn hair, beautiful green eyes, and bright yellow dress offset very well the dull cast of this office?” he continued.
“You’re digressing,” she said. “Or are you stalling?”
“Okay, what are the two?” he asked in resignation.
“The first is for you,” she said, sorting through some notes on her desk. “I received a call from a woman by the name of Carmen Rivera. She was calling from Bogota, Colombia, where she lives. She has a son by the name of Manny who is attending Coastal State College here. She and her husband have not heard from Manny in over a month. Normally, he checks in with them at least once or twice a week. He lives in an off-campus home which he shares with another student who, for whatever reason, claims no knowledge of his whereabouts.”
“She’s contacted the cops?”
“Yes, and received the standard reply. Since he is an adult and there is no evidence of foul play, they will not get involved at this point.”
“We should send the department a thank you note, considering how much business that policy of theirs generates for us. You have the address for the kid?”
She again scrambled through the notes on her desk, picked one out and handed it to him. “Here you go.”
“Before we get started, how are we handling the fees? It’s not like we have a history of job requests from overseas on which to draw from. In fact, we have no history of it…right?”
“Correct,” she said. “However, if we do take the case, she will wire us a down payment upfront with the remainder to follow once we have concluded our investigation.”
“What do you think?” he asked. “Legitimate?”
“She spoke in a very cultured voice and with a mother’s concern. My sense is the Rivera family could very well be one of the five percent of the populace who control the wealth of the country.”
“Five percent…is that a fact or your opinion?”
“It comes from a former roommate of mine who spent a half year in the country.”
“Studying the Colombia rainforest region.”
“Six course credits,” she cracked. “She was in a study abroad program.”
“Well, it’s not likely we’re going to break the parents financially,” he said. “And the second case—the one you’ve put a claim to?”
Tamra glanced at another note on her desk. “I received a call from a man named Mickey Riley. He says his sister went missing about four weeks ago. He wants us to find her.”
“Let me guess…the cops don’t want to get involved because she is an adult and there is no evidence of foul play.”
“You got it.”
“So, does Mickey have any idea where his sister might be?”
“With her husband somewhere, he says.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Adam asked, no doubt repeating the same question the cops asked the brother.
“According to Mickey, the husband, himself, is a bad thing…a very bad thing. Apparently, his sister has become a virtual prisoner of her husband, to the point he won’t even let her out of the house. A control freak, to say the least.”
“So, you aim to free her?”
“I aim to find her. It’s up to the brother to free her. He’s coming in for a meeting this afternoon. I should know more then, including where would be a good place to start looking for her. Meanwhile, your mother called. She’d like to know if we want a wedding planner. If so, she knows of a good one.”
“We’ve already decided we don’t need one, don’t you remember?”
“I certainly do, but apparently you failed to pass that bit of info along to her.”
“I’ll tell her when we finish with these two cases,” he sighed, perturbed by his oversight.
“You know, this will be a good time to go on the road,” he followed. “Noelle will be on her school-sponsored camping trip. We should be home by the time she returns.”
“If all goes well,” Tamra responded with a deadpan expression.
Adam leaned across the desk. “I have a proposition for you. How about we flip the cases? You trail after the missing student and I chase after the missing sister? You know how volatile these simmering domestic situations can get. They’re invariably about some demented guy’s passion to control another, usually a helpless woman, like the one you describe in this case. The moment you show up, you become a threat to take away that control. Needless to say, he’s not going to like that at all.”
“Are you worried for my safety? Would you rather I go chasing after porch poachers…sit in the car for hours on end waiting for a home delivery to be stolen? We still have one of those requests on the back burner waiting for a decision.”
“No, I’m not worried for your safety. It’s the safety of the captive wife’s husband, I’m worried about,” he joshed, rising from his chair to give her a quick kiss, followed by a longer one, before heading out of the office. “Before you leave, I have two other items to run by you,” she said, halting his movement.
“Harold Jenkins, the attorney from The Justice Brigade called. He wants to know if you’d like to meet with him regarding the merger idea that he discussed with you over the phone a while back.”
Adam slipped back into the chair, indicating it was a subject requiring immediate attention. “What do you think?” he asked of her.
Tamra gave a slight shrug. “I remember you mentioned the idea at the time. Run it by me again.”
“They’re interested in bringing us into their fold via some sort of a partnership, whether it be a corporate takeover, merger, or retainer-type arrangement. Whatever it takes to get us on board.”
“A big operation like theirs? What for?”
“Law firms have a need for tracking missing persons or conducting background checks, as you well know…”
“Yes, we’ve conducted several for them recently,” she interjected.
“Right, and apparently they liked the results. The Justice Brigade is one of those young, aggressive, fast-growing firms looking to gain a leg up on their competition. It’s not like they don’t have many law firms to compete with.”
Tamra flashed a look of surprise. “By doing their own detective work?”
“My guess is they’re planning to become a one-stop shopping operation, so to speak.”
“What’s in it for us?”
“Well, it could mean a steady work flow, which is no small matter. Looking down the road a way, there’s Noelle’s college tuition costs looming on the horizon. Right now, we’re operating at a small profit margin, enough to keep us afloat for the time being. However, as you and I have discussed, we’ve reached the stage where we’re either going to have to raise production or raise prices. I have a hunch joining forces with the Justice Brigade would lessen our office management burden significantly. Taking on the bulk of our paperwork would be an insignificant addition to their overall workload. Doing so would allow us to concentrate on the detective work.”
“You’re making it sound like—what do they call it in the business world—a white knight coming to the rescue. I don’t see it as magnanimous move on their part, Adam. They are simply making a business pitch.”
“Oh, I agree, but at the moment we’re discussing potential benefits, not the drawbacks. Jenkins also pointed out we would be working under their legal umbrella.”
“Meaning they would provide us free legal service, both personal and professional. And depending on the business arrangement, perhaps even corporate benefits, like retirement plans, something foreign to us.”
“Adam, we may be gaining corporate benefits, but would we not be losing our corporate identity?”
“That’s going to depend on the details of the proposed agreement. The question is how much independence we would be surrendering, starting with the case selection process. Who is going to have the final say on which ones we take on?”
“I do see one potential benefit in that regard,” Tamra opined. “They could serve as a filter to the possible legal landmines of each case. There are always those we have to consider.”
“True, but then there are other issues—potential conflicts of interest, the need to report to a supervisor, how it may affect the positive relationship we’ve developed with local law enforcement officials over the years—not to mention the more logistical items like office location. No question, there would be details galore to be worked out. Perhaps not so many if it was a retainer-type agreement, which could suffice, for all we know.”
“Something along the lines of a rental car company operating in the maintenance section of a car dealership,” Tamra suggested. “Have you consulted with your old boss on this?”
“Pete? No, though I definitely intend to before any final decision is made.”
Adam was already having second thoughts on the proposed relationship, particularly its impact on the freedom of choice regarding the case selection guidelines. Currently, the procedure was greatly influenced by their location. They were operating out of a street-level office situated on the corner of a moderately busy street. Walk-in traffic was steady—granted, not always a good thing for a P.I. outfit. It led to a significant amount of “impulse buying,” which was not in tune with most of the trade’s target base. Passersby would spot the store sign and on the spur of the moment decide they would rid themselves of lingering suspicions that their spouses were cheating on them, or an employee of theirs had his or her hand in the till, or they wanted their outdoor cat trailed so they could find out where it was spending the day. Following one walk-in guy’s request that they conduct a background check on his neighbor whom he suspected was a mass murderer, he joked to Tamra that they should post a sign on the front entrance stating We don’t do serial killers. It was one of the reasons a growing number of private investigators were forsaking the brick-and-mortar store for the home office where there was less chance of the delusional individual wandering in off the street to seek their assistance. In a home-based operation it was much easier to concentrate on corporate clients who were interested in tackling problems like insurance fraud or employee theft. That’s where the money was.
Yet, despite all the challenges posed by the walk-in trade, it did offer what Adam considered the most rewarding aspect of the profession—the opportunity to fix a family for the man or woman in the street. Tamra had picked up on this preference of his early on and had developed the skills to take on cases based on the attributes of clients, more so than the task involved, a distinction that greatly reduced the possibility of subsequent regret.
“In selecting clients, you want to pick someone whose side you wish to be on,” he had advised her. “There are no honeymoon, probation, or engagement periods with clients. Therefore, you want to be on the same page with them from day one. Lawyers may look at it differently, giving greater consideration to the case.”
Her earlier mention of a white knight potentially acting as a filter for the business brought him an inward smile, for there was no better filter than her in screening out the nightmare client.
“Maybe these two cases we’re taking on simultaneously will give us an indication of how raising the production end of the operation impacts us…office-wise and field-wise,” Tamra continued.
Adam glanced at the wall clock. “Maybe so…now, what was the second item you wanted to bring up before I head off?” he asked, hurrying her along.
“I received my first subpoena.”
“Relating to Adam Fraley Private Investigations, I assume.”
“Another good reason to join The Justice Brigade,” he quipped. “Seriously, you are to be congratulated. I’m surprised it took this long. In this business you come to expect them. What does it pertain to?”
“Do you recall those background checks I conducted for the Midtown Mall security people for that job opening they had a few months back?”
“One of the applicants is suing, claiming she lost out to a far less qualified candidate. I’m not sure why they want my testimony.”
“Which side are you testifying for?”
“The security firm…any tips?”
“Stick to the facts of the background checks and be very careful with your opinions. I had a similar case not long after I first got into this business. I conducted background checks on a group of applicants for an upper level position in a banking firm. As in your case, one of the applicants sued for being bypassed for what she called a less qualified candidate. The bank felt they had a solid case and, in my opinion, they did. In the court testimony, however, one of the bank’s personnel managers on the hiring panel stupidly commented on the witness stand that he considered the plaintiff a dullard. When the judge’s final ruling came down in favor of the plaintiff, the word ‘dullard’ appeared five times in the written decision. He cited it as an example of a preconceived bias. As a result, the plaintiff ended up getting the job and the careless personnel manager wound up without one. He was fired.”
“I’ll be sure to watch my language,” Tamra declared.
“When’s the court date? It’s not going to interfere with present business, is it?”
“No, it’s a month away.”
“You’re fortunate, though I should say we’re fortunate. Often those subpoenas are served hours in advance,” he said. “Nothing like having a monkey wrench thrown into your regular workday plans before you even get started on them.”
Adam paused a moment, reflecting on Tamra’s proposal about who would handle which assignment. Both cases could present dangerous circumstances, he knew from previous experience, so trading cases based on the facts as presently known could be premature.
“Tamra, I’m not comfortable leaving you in charge of a domestic case that could go awry,” he said.
“The future is always unclear, no matter what type of case we take on,” she countered.
“This is the nature of the business we’re in.”
“Then promise me that you’ll fill me in the moment your intuition tells you that you’re in over your head.”
“You’ll be the first to know, she said, gathering her notes. “With that in mind, we best hit the road.”
About the Author
Henry Hoffman is a former newspaper editor and public library manager. He is the author of the Adam Fraley Mystery Series and is the recipient of the Florida Publishers Association’s Gold Medal Award for Florida Fiction.