Excerpt from the South Hills Conspiracy

Lenticular05“So, Mr. Powell, tell me your story again,” Samantha said.  She was readjusting her gear in preparation for the next climb.  Her climbing partner Stacie was working similarly on the other side of the tent.  Andrew thrust his fists into his pockets where hand warmers embraced them with intense heat.  He’d spent the last hour trying to explain his presence without jeopardizing the chances of gaining Samantha’s cooperation.  Her reaction was tending towards skepticism so far.

“David and I work at the college together.  The chancellor asked me to find him.  He’s heading up a research project that is very important to us and it is nearing a very critical phase.  Since he left unexpectedly without leaving a method for contacting him, I was sent to do it the old fashioned way, in person.”  Not knowing just what Samantha knew about David or his work, Andrew was taking a risk by fabricating part of his story.  But standing near the top of the mountain he felt he had to play every card in his deck now that he’d found his only lead.  Failing to put Samantha’s piece of the puzzle in place could result in Andrew’s investigation coming to an abrupt end.

“And he sent you why?”

“She, Marie Marisol, thought I’d be a quick and inexpensive option.  For starters I know David.  I also have experience finding people.  Add to that the fact that I’m relatively free during the summer term.”

“What kind of experience?” Stacie asked.  She had been quietly but attentively listening since they’d met.  Now her curiosity was apparently piqued by what he’d said.

“He’s a cop.  I recognized your name.  Aren’t you the Police Chief of South Hills PD?” Samantha asked.  Andrew could see that Stacie was now giving him her full attention.

“I used to be.  I’m retired from law enforcement now.  I work at the police academy which is run under the auspices of the college, my current employer.”  Andrew pulled his hands out of his pockets and held his palms open.  Years of experience had taught him that if he was going to be able to establish rapport and build trust quickly, then his time to strike was now.  Otherwise he might never succeed, even after the considerably longer investment of time that would have to be spent in the relationship.

“So after talking with family and friends my search has narrowed down to Samantha being the only person known to possibly be able to help locate David.  We really appreciate any information you could give us.  Anything at all, no matter how trivial, I’d like to know.”  Andrew sat down on a cot and leaned on his elbows.  Body language was a key tool for interrogators and he was careful with his now – lower the tension, hide any indication of desperation – but keep the conversation moving forward on the subject of David’s whereabouts.

Samantha, however, was clearly resistant as she asked, “If you’re saying David is missing, shouldn’t the police be involved?”

“The South Hills PD does have a missing persons case open.  I am acting on their behalf.  The current chief Kenneth Hand will confirm that if you call the number on his card here.”  Andrew handed the card to Samantha who looked over at Stacie.

“So,” Stacie began, “the department found no evidence of criminal or suspicious activity at David’s home and there were no hits from his credit cards or cell phone I take it?”

“No.”

Stacie nodded at Samantha and Andrew detected an unspoken message passing between them.

Samantha asked, “Why not just wait to hear from him?  I assume that is what happens typically in these cases.  He knows the importance of the project obviously since he’s in charge of it.”

Everything about his police instincts told Andrew that something was not right about Samantha’s reluctance to accept him.  After years of dealing with interested parties an officer could recognize distinguishable patterns of behavior.  Innocent or uninvolved witnesses did not act the way Samantha had.  As sure as he was about Samantha’s behavior Andrew was also as sure that he had to get something out of her or all his efforts so far would be for naught.

“Well there is that yes,” he said calmly, slowing the pace of conversation, “But I’d hate to think that David might be in a situation where it’s not possible.”

“You aren’t suggesting that David is either in danger or has been harmed, is that correct?” Stacie asked.

“That is correct.” Andrew answered.  He was trying to plant a seed without pressing down too hard on the earth above it.  The question remained as to whether he had added the right amount of water.

Samantha appeared to have lost some color.  Her eyes widened and she folded her arms tight around her.  “Well what do you think?  What should I do?”  She was speaking to Stacie but pacing back and forth while doing so.

“I don’t know Sam.  But if it were my brother, husband or boyfriend, and he was missing under similar circumstances, I’d want somebody like Andrew here to care enough to come all this way to find him.  I like that in a man.”

Hearing those words caused Andrew to again take notice of this impressive woman.  A mystery lay there he thought, and well hidden.  He was motivated to stay around long enough to uncover those secrets.  If for no other reason than the fact there was so much more to her that Andrew found attractive.  Andrew stood, walked over to Stacie and smiled as he bowed before her.

“This is what I can tell you, Andrew is it?  I don’t know where David is or how to reach him.  I am expecting to meet him in three days though I can’t tell you where.  That leaves you with two choices in my view.  You can go home and wait until I meet David, and then let him decide whether or not to call you, but your problem is solved knowing you’ll eventually hear from him.  Or you can tag along with us and see him when we do.”

Andrew turned back towards Samantha as she spoke that last sentence and uttered the only reply he could think of, “Thank you.”

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