Authors: Debbie Viguie
“I started going through the files, one by one, looking for some reason why he might have been out where he was. I drew a complete blank, though. Nina caught me looking, too, and I had to make up some lame excuse. I think she’s been watching me since then, though, just waiting for a chance to fire me. She’s a strange one. It’s like she lives for getting people into trouble.”
“And yet her job is to get people out of it.”
“Like I said, strange.”
Mark had come to accept that anything that touched Not Paul’s life had been strange.
“There’s nothing under the Ds, but I’ll keep looking,” Melinda said, closing the top drawer of the filing cabinet and opening the next one.
Mark sat down at the desk and began to open drawers. It felt weird to do something like this without a search warrant. He kept telling himself that it was okay. Melinda had a key and Kent had authorized her to use it. Of course, that didn’t extend to him. He’d just have to claim that he was with Melinda if they got caught.
He went through all the drawers on the right hand side with no success. Melinda moved down to the third drawer of the filing cabinet.
Mark switched to the drawers on the left hand side, but still had no luck identifying anything about Paul. A couple minutes later Melinda finished up with the filing cabinet and shook her head. “I’ve got nothing.”
“Did he have a safe of any kind in here?” Mark asked.
Melinda frowned. “He does, but I don’t think it will help.”
“Do you know where it is and how to open it?”
She nodded and moved over to a large hunting picture on one wall. She swung it forward to reveal a wall safe behind it. “I know, it’s terribly cliché, but what can you do? He was a traditional kind of guy.”
“Let’s hope he was traditional enough to leave something laying around that we can use,” Mark said grimly.
The safe was a combination one and he stood back a couple of feet to give Melinda space. She spun the dials and a moment later was unlocking the safe.
Mark craned his neck to see what was in there. There appeared to be some cash, a couple pieces of jewelry, and a very small stack of folders.
The folders were what held Mark’s attention. Without a word Melinda handed them to him. He took them and returned to the chair by the desk. He carefully spread them out, glancing at the titles of each one. The names were meaningless to him, but if they’d been placed in a safe instead of a filing cabinet, chances were they were important.
He flipped through the first four and put them aside. Then he came to the last one. Unlike the others it was labeled with only a single letter: P.
His hands began to shake as he opened up the folder. The first thing he saw was a picture of Paul, staring back at him.
Jeremiah and Cindy finally made it back to their bungalow after dinner. Once Jeremiah had done one more cursory sweep for bugs they settled down at the table to compare notes.
“Did you see this?” Cindy asked, holding up one of the brochures she had collected earlier.
“What is it?”
“Apparently they have a two week retreat once a quarter for those trying to beat gambling addictions.”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“It’s just ironic, holding that kind of a retreat two miles down the road from a casino. I wonder how many people make a run for it?”
“I guess it depends on how serious they are about getting help. It does seem like an unnecessary temptation.”
“Yeah, weird,” Cindy said, dropping the brochure back onto the pile on the table.
“It’s going to be an interesting week,” Jeremiah commented.
“Yeah, maybe too interesting. I’m hoping we can get this solved so we can get out of here before we have to interact with some of those people again,” Cindy admitted.
“Like the psychologist?”
“Yes! What was up with that? Did you see if he had a problem with anyone else besides you?”
“To be honest I couldn’t tell. I was too busy focusing on each person we were talking to.”
“He was seriously weird and seriously creepy. Of all the staff he and the guy running it are my picks for villains,” Cindy said.
“They’re the obvious choices given their behavior, but the question would be why? What would they have to gain by kidnapping or killing a retreat attendee?”
“I have no idea,” Cindy said with a sigh.
“I think it’s fairly safe to rule out anyone actually attending the couples’ retreat unless we find out that someone was here for the other retreat as well.”
“It’s a good thing we can rule them out because otherwise there’d be just way too many suspects and people to point fingers at. Besides, some of them I wouldn’t want to have to spend more time around them investigating.”
“Like who?” Jeremiah asked.
Cindy rolled her eyes. “Jill and Kim for sure. I was so uncomfortable talking with them earlier. The two of them were busy obsessing over Dorothea and her pearl necklace. If that thing goes missing I know exactly where to look for it. I felt bad for their husbands. For something that’s supposed to be a couples’ retreat they gave zero focus to the men in their lives.”
“That’s okay, Jack and Levi were already plotting a prison break.”
“They were trying to figure out when they’d have a chance to sneak away and hit the casino just down the road.”
“Aha! Good thing they’re not at the gambling addiction clinic. Although, maybe they should be.”
“Apparently they’re both big poker fans.”
“I bet I could beat them,” she mused.
“Yes, no, sorta.”
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“I grew up playing with my father and my grandfather.”
Jeremiah smiled. “I bet you took them for every penny.”
Cindy laughed. “We played with poker chips for bragging rights. Although if we had played for pennies I would have gotten them all.”
“I’d love to see you beat Levi and Jack. They seem to have pretty high estimations of their own skill. It’d be amusing to watch you deflate those egos a bit.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, but they play for money. I’ve never done that. It’s a different game when you actually have something to lose.”
“That’s true, but I still would love to see you beat them.”
Cindy allowed herself a moment to picture that. It would be a sweet victory, especially if it upset their wives. She knew she wasn’t being charitable, but both women had really rubbed her the wrong way. Dorothea, on the other hand, had seemed very sweet. Beth, the other woman at their dinner table, had been very quiet. So quiet that Cindy hadn’t been able to get a good impression of her except to think that she must be even more introverted than Cindy could be.
“So, what is the plan for tonight?” she asked.
“I’m going to wait for midnight then slip out and see if I can break into the computer system and find out more about Malcolm, including which bungalow he was staying in.”
“Okay, and what will I be doing?”
“Staying here and covering for me just in case we get any surprise late night visitors.”
She blinked at him. “And just what do you think the odds of that happening are?”
“Late night visitors?”
“No, me staying here and doing nothing while you’re out getting the information.”
“I think the odds are pretty high,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “I need you to be safe.”
“Did you learn nothing over the summer?” she countered. “I’m safest when I’m with you.”
“I think you’ll be perfectly safe in this room. I don’t want to put you in danger. I’m going to have to be moving fast and if I get caught I might be able to come up with a good excuse, but if they catch both of us it’s over for sure.”
As much as sneaking around the compound in the middle of the night sounded daunting and a little frightening to her, it was nothing compared to how she felt about waiting behind while he did all the sneaking around.
“I want to go, too.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“I can help act as a lookout or something.”
That made him smile for some reason. “Careful or you’ll be offering to drive the getaway car next,” he said.
She rolled her eyes at him. “We’re breaking into a computer, not a bank vault. Besides, we don’t have a car to drive.”
“Okay, but we might want to rethink our wardrobes for the big caper. Matching black burglar costumes will be a little too suspicious.”
“I think I have the perfect idea,” Cindy said as something came to her. It was either brilliant or insane. Either way, she was running with it.
Mark stared at the image of his dead partner, feeling like he was looking at a ghost. His hands were shaking as he held the file folder. The picture was of Paul when he was younger, probably college-aged, standing with his arm around another guy’s shoulders. They were both smiling for the camera.
“Did you find something?” Melinda asked, walking over to him.
“Paul. Do you know who the other guy in this picture is?” he asked.
“That’s Kent. They both look so young there. It’s hard to believe they’re both gone,” she said, her voice filling with sorrow.
“Tell me about it,” Mark muttered.
He strained to see if he could make out any other details in the picture, but the background was blurry. He saw what were probably a couple of trees, but it could have been taken anywhere. He also wondered who had taken the picture.
“They were friends, I know that much. I always had the impression they met during their undergrad days,” Melinda said.
Mark moved the picture and looked at the first page underneath it. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, then he thought the writing on the page must be in some foreign language. It took him several moments to realize he was staring at a coded message.
He instantly thought about the coded message Paul had had this man give to Georgia. Was it possible the two codes were the same?
“Did Kent ever write his more sensitive notes in code or a personal shorthand or something?”
“Not that I ever saw. Why?” Melinda asked.
He showed her the piece of paper. She took it and stared at it, frowning for a moment before handing it back. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she admitted.
There were at least a dozen pages in the file, all of them covered with the same unintelligible scrawl. Kent had written this in code, labeled the file with only a P and then locked it up in a safe. Whatever it was, he had done his best to keep it safe and hidden.
The hair lifted on the back of Mark’s neck. Whatever it was, it could have gotten Kent killed.
He closed the file back up. “I’m going to take this with me,” he said.
Melinda nodded slowly. “I don’t see why not. The firm doesn’t know the file is here. Kent’s wife doesn’t even know he has a safe in here. I think I was the only one who knew about it.”
He thought of the key that Kent had given to Georgia.
“There aren’t any small boxes in that safe, are there?”
“No, just those files,” she said.
Mark looked at the other files that had come out of the safe. He quickly flipped through the others. They all seemed to be tied to important people, but he didn’t see anything like the code that was in Paul’s file. Reluctantly he handed the other files back to her and she put them away.
“Kent didn’t have any kind of safe deposit box, something a key would have gone to, did he?”
“If he did, he didn’t tell me about it.”
Given that Kent had trusted her with a key to his house and the combination to the safe even his wife didn’t know he had she would have been the one to know something like that.
After she locked the safe back up and re-concealed it she turned to him. “Do you really think that file is going to help you?” she asked.
“I hope so. Are you really just going to leave those other files there? No one else knows they even exist.”
“I know. He didn’t want the firm to have them, so I never mentioned them, even after his death. I don’t know what they are or what they pertain to, but I always figured if someone needed one of them really bad they’d come looking.”
“Like I did,” Mark said.
“And that’s why you brought me here.”
“Yes. I owe him that much.”
“Someday others might come looking for those other files.”
“All of them might not be as friendly.”
“I know that, too,” she said. “But what else can I do?”
She was right. There was a reason the attorney had wanted those files kept safe. Turning them over to his firm or even to the police could be a huge mistake.
“I’ll give you my card if you ever need help,” he said.
“I appreciate that. And you have my number if there’s anything more I can help with.”
With nothing left to be said they left the house. Melinda set the alarm, locked the door, and moments later they were driving away. Once they got back to her house he’d be able to retrieve his rental car and make it back to the airport and get home in time for nighttime diaper duty. Traci would be pleased. She’d been right to urge him to fly. Had he driven up he would have missed seeing Melinda being escorted from the building and he wouldn’t have the file he did now.
Mark realized he was clutching Paul’s file so hard that the muscles in his hands were beginning to cramp. He’d have to figure out a way to break the code. Maybe he could enlist Jeremiah’s help. Until he knew exactly what those pages said he wanted to be extremely careful who he shared them with. Deep in his gut he felt someone’s life might depend on that.
“This is insane, you know that right?” Jeremiah whispered to Cindy as they let themselves into the building that held the registration desk.
“Or brilliant, it might be brilliant,” she told him.
He wasn’t sure how he’d let her talk him into this. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was banking on them not getting caught. Both of them had towels wrapped around them as though they were headed off to the pool for a midnight swim. While Cindy’s logic had been somewhat sound, which was why he had ultimately given in, he felt completely exposed and vulnerable.
There was enough moonlight pouring in through the windows and glass doors that the interior of the building was lit in a soft glow. He positioned Cindy near the door where she could see out to the pathway leading up to the building. He had told her to let him know if she saw anything moving outside. The moon was shining brightly enough that they hadn’t needed a flashlight when walking here which was good for them. It also meant someone else could sneak up on them fairly easily with no tell-tale bobbing light giving them away and that was bad.
With Cindy in position he moved over to the check-in counter and got behind it. He was gratified to see that whoever had last manned the station had simply shut off the monitor and not the entire computer. The screen blipped to life and he clicked on the icon for the reservation system. Fortunately it didn’t ask for a password, a serious security flaw on their end. He spent about a minute figuring out his way around the program before he was able to do a search on past guests.
He typed in the name Malcolm Griffith and zero hits came back. It was possible Malcolm was actually a middle name he went by so he searched for the last name Griffith by itself. Zero hits still. He scowled. Just to make sure the system was actually working he typed in Flynn Castleback. More than a dozen entries instantly popped up. It seemed he and his wife really did spend their anniversary here every year.