The Mind Sleuth Series #6
Date Published: 05-02-2023
Publisher: Mind Sleuth Publications
Bullied to death in the boardroom?
Private Investigator Rebecca Marte doubted it. Since when would the president and CEO of a highly successful company find the criticisms of his subordinates so destructive to his self-image that he would commit suicide? That, however, was what her new client, Nicole Veles, claimed.
Nicole painted a toxic, if not criminal, picture of defamation leading up to the man’s death. His problems were more than just the company’s bottom line. They ranged from public ridicule of some of his out-of-date marketing concepts that had been leaked to the press to a police report from a young man who claimed the president and CEO had propositioned him. And after his demise, one of his most vocal detractors ascended to his position. That was enough to raise Rebecca’s suspicions. She took the job.
But as she began her investigation, hints that Nicole’s beliefs were tainted by her history became difficult for Rebecca to ignore. Two years earlier, Nicole had been kidnapped, and she still bore the mental and emotional scars of abuse and captivity. She’d cut all connections to her friends and fled her past by relocating to Colorado where no one knew her. She took a job where long-term relationships were impossible, save one stubborn older woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer—and who just happened to be the wife of the suicide victim
While everyone else thought the man’s death, while tragic, was just the consequence of high-pressure business and depression over the loss of the company he had founded, could Rebecca trust anything to the contrary that her new client told her?
“Tension is well-developed, whether it's psychological revelations that involve Rebecca more deeply in her client's life than she'd imagined, the wedge between client and investigator driven home by the victim’s wife, or the probe of a business structure that supports dangerous undercurrents.”
-Midwest Book Review
It’s not what you look at that matters,
it’s what you see.
Henry David Thoreau
American naturalist, poet, and philosopher
FRIDAY, MARCH 26
Midnight, Jen’s Place, Lone Tree, CO
Conditions were far from ideal for what Kyle Logan had in mind.
He pulled a pint of whiskey from a back pocket and leaned on the front fender of his battered brown pickup truck to consider his options. His gaze tracked up and down the lonely road. Empty, as he expected at this hour. So, he tipped his head back for a long pull on the bottle, his gaze following the tilt of his head. The moon, although only three-quarters, shone like a searchlight, its rays unfettered by the thin cold air of the high plains.
His eyes came back down to the ghostly outline of a massive old house across the road, previously the home of a local rancher. Now, it was Jen’s Place, a temporary shelter for survivors of domestic abuse.
In the front, a porch ran the length of the building. Two sconces carved arches of light in the darkness cast by the porch’s roof. Their rays revealed two doors—a larger main entrance to the shelter and a smaller door well to its right. Otherwise, the porch lay in shadows, the windows mere rectangles of still darker voids. Having seen the structure by day, however, Logan was under no illusion that the feeble rays of those two bulbs were the only security for the building. He’d seen two cameras—motion-sensitive no doubt—on each corner of the structure. There were almost undoubtedly other cameras on the sides and back of the building.
A gravel driveway cut through a xeriscape yard, ending in a circle in front of the house. The native shrubs and grasses of the plot were brown and brittle from the long winter, matching the vacant lots on either side of the building. The area behind was undeveloped, although whether it was just waiting for a new housing project or was part of the Colorado Open Space Alliance, Logan didn’t know. And he didn’t care because the wind that might have covered the sound of his approach through the dry landscape—a wind that had howled down from the mountains or across the face of the front range most of the month—was eerily quiet.
Yes, the conditions were far from ideal. But since the shelf life of Logan’s information was limited—probably measured in hours rather than days—he had to act soon. And since he couldn’t hasten the new vegetation of spring or command the wind to blow, tonight was as good a night as any. He drained the bottle of whiskey and tossed the empty into the bed of his pickup.
“To hell with sneaking around,” Logan snarled into the darkness. He pulled a knife from its cover, admiring the sheen of the blade in the moonlight. Growing up, knives had been his weapon of choice against his peers who always seemed bigger and stronger. Now, it would serve him well once inside.
But to get beyond the front door, he needed another of his tools. He returned the knife to its sheath, walked to the back of his truck, and lowered the tailgate. Laying on the bed was a post driver—a thirty-inch, weighted section of pipe with handles used to drive metal posts into the ground. Though lighter than the equivalent law enforcement battering ram, it was much cheaper and considerably less incriminating. And unless the new owner of the ranch house had seriously upgraded its door, the driver would work. He picked it up and quietly closed the tailgate.
As Logan started up the drive, lights mounted below the cameras came on. The beams overlapped on the drive, and Logan had to pause a moment to shade his eyes with a hand. He broke into a slow jog. His quickened pace wasn’t to limit his time in view of the cameras. After all, before the night was over, it would be clear to everyone who had visited the home. There would be no doubt because, one way or another, he’d be leaving with what was rightfully his.
Logan hit the porch steps at a full run, only slowing to ready his makeshift battering ram. He slammed it into the door just above the knob. The door held although he could hear the frame crack. He hit it again and the door exploded inward, splinters from the shattered wood flying across the entry hall. He dropped the post driver on the floor and pulled the knife from its sheath.
There were rooms on the right and left with their double doors open. Their interiors were dark, but even so, Logan could tell they were large communal areas with chairs, couches, and desks. Beyond the doors, the hall split with a stairway on the left while a narrower hall continued on the right toward the back of the house. From his surveillance earlier in the day, he knew he wanted a room in the front right corner of the second floor. He took the stairs two at a time, reversed direction on the landing, and sprinted to the door. He turned the knob. Finding it unlocked, he burst inside and switched on the lights.
A woman was sitting up in bed, covers gathered up around her neck. Her eyes blinked under a hand that partially shaded them, her understanding of the situation coming slowly. But when it did, she screamed. Logan sprang forward and slapped her hard across the face. With her head turned from the force of the blow, he grabbed her roughly by the hair, sat beside her, and held the knife in front of her eyes. She froze, her sobbing the only sign she was still alive.
“What the hell am I going to do with you, Linda? I thought after the last time you’d forget all this crap. You belong at home. With me. What do I have to do to make you see that?”
“Please don’t hurt me,” Linda whimpered. “I’ll do better.”
“Like hell, woman.” Logan raised his hand again, this time slowly closing it into a fist. He drew his hand back.
“Don’t you dare touch her,” came a voice from behind him .
About the Author
Until ten years ago, I was a human factors psychologist doing research on cutting edge technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence at a major aerospace company. The aim? Fit these technologies to the way people learn, remember, and do their jobs, not the other way around. But if the world can be shaped to work with us, it can just as surely be molded to destroy us.
Now, I’m an author writing “The Mind Sleuth Series”, stories where the evil side of research and science too often surface. Sometimes the devastation is unintentional. Sometimes, it’s motivated by greed or passion, but it’s always a race to see if and how my heroes—Doc, Nicole, Rebecca—can turn the tide.
For special features, giveaways, and previews of my upcoming books, subscribe to my newsletter at brucemperrin.com.
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