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Caleb Wygal Book Club
Meet the Fitzgeralds, one of the richest families in the state of North Carolina. Owners of the wildly successful Fitzgerald's line of restaurants. They are a picture perfect family and pillars of the community of Concord.
Until the morning the owner, Trent, is found dead in the middle of the highly secure Fitzgerald's Inc. parking lot. There are no witnesses and no suspects. Trent seemingly had no enemies leaving the police baffled.
The only person who appears on the police's radar is Trent's assistant, Lucas Caine. The person who found Trent and the last person to see Trent alive.
When Lucas finds himself in the crosshairs as a potential suspect, he launches his own investigation using his intimate knowledge of the Fitzgerald family to try to clear his name.
He finds a dark side to this family no one knew about, and what he finds could lead to his death.
Lucas Caine awoke at the same time that he has every Wednesday for the past year and a half: 5:40 a.m. He rolled over in his lonesome bed, and quieted the buzzing alarm clock. He stretched, and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a yawn.
God, this is getting old, he thought. If it were not for the pay and the benefits that went with his job, he would have quit a long time ago. For the first year that he had this job, he had to be at the office at around six in the morning. He was one of the first people to arrive, and one of the last to leave every day. It almost killed him those first few weeks. They hired him right out of college, so he had to adjust from the college life to the working life in the course of two weeks.
He rolled out of bed, and started the same routine that he does every morning; shave, shower, brush teeth, put on coffee, read the headlines on the Charlotte Observer paper, eat waffles, and leave.
The headline on the front page of the Observer read, ‘Charlotte Area Muggings Up 500%. ‘
It stated that the reported muggings were in Mecklenburg, Iredell, and Cabarrus, the county that he resided in. Over the past year, there have been many more muggings than has ever been reported. These muggings seemed to occur primarily at night, but there was the occasional daytime, broad daylight mugging. The police suspect the same person, or persons were perpetrating the crimes. Usually the assailant threatened the victim with a knife or gun, and sometimes it was just a purse-snatcher. The muggings happen so randomly, the paper reported, that the police have been unable to catch even one of the muggers. The people who get robbed say usually say that it happened so fast they did not get a good look at the mugger other than it could have been a white or possibly a black man. Further investigations were pending.
The muggings worried Lucas, but he was not going to let them keep him at home. The victims were mainly women, and a few older men. Lucas stood nearly six foot three and weighed a shade over two hundred pounds. Not the typical target for a mugger. Lucas has been seeing these reports in the paper over the past couple of months. He did not know what the crime rate of Concord was before he moved to Spring Street, but seeing the many police patrols makes him feel safe.
When he moved to Concord, he bought a small house on Spring Street, which was just off Union Street. Union leads to the small, historic part of downtown Concord. The small house was located just outside of the historic section of Concord, which included many, old, breathtaking, Victorian-style houses. It was a quiet part of town. He appreciated that fact, having grown up in a small West Virginia town where one rarely heard a siren of any kind breaking the silence. The home is a small, one-story, white house behind two, towering oak trees. The grass in the front yard is a nice color of burnt brown from his neglect and from a long, lasting drought. He kept telling himself that he was going to hire someone to tend to his lawn. It is a decent starter home, but with the money that he made, he knew that he could afford better. At the time that he moved here, it was the best that he could do.
Lucas backed his brand new Scion TC out of the driveway and pulled away. The sky was starting to brighten with some high cirrus clouds in the sky and a burgeoning sun turning the clouds different shades of blue, violet, and orange. It was a stunning sunrise. The air was already muggy, as it had been for days. It had been very humid lately. Usually the high humidity combined with the heat brought along afternoon thunderstorms, but not recently. It had not rained in weeks, and that has a lot to do with his dying lawn.
Lucas worked for Fitzgerald's, Incorporated at their main office working closely alongside the owner's son, mainly as his personal assistant. He dealt with public relations for the company and their restaurant chain. Not a position many would accept, fresh out of college with a degree in business administration. The truth is however, they offered him truckload of money to take the position. He had a huge amount of debt left over from his college loans, and with this job, not only could he have that paid off soon, they also promised him an even higher position if he stayed there for awhile. Much of what he did as Trent’s assistant was manage his time, keep butt-kissers off his personal schedule, arrange public appearances, issue press releases, grant interviews, and otherwise try to keep the family's name out of the public eye.
Lucas was young, and he was still learning the nuances of his job. It was exciting to him, and occasionally he has a lot of fun.
He pulled onto Copperfield Blvd., and soon pulled up to the huge wrought iron gate that led to the Fitzgerald Incorporated’s parking lot. Lucas could see the building from where he was at the gate, but people cannot see the building from the highway from anywhere except from this spot as it is largely concealed by a line of thick trees that run along the property line. The building looked as many other large buildings in the area with one exception. The façade of the building, all three stories of it, are comprised of a huge, glassed in atrium. Through the glass, a person can see the foliage that is on the inside of the glass. The thing that stands out is the full-sized, live palm tree that dominates the inside of the structure.
The entire complex sits next to the old CTC Building that is now Windstream Communication’s Concord headquarters. There is no guardhouse at the gate. No cameras and no one is there to let people in and out like some sort of minimum-security prison. All that’s there is a brushed nickel number pad with a black plastic housing, firmly attached to a heavy duty black steel post coming out of the ground. All that a person needed to get into Fitzgerald Incorporated's main building was a password. The password changed daily, and was unique from person to person. It was not a difficult password to crack if a person had the time to sit at the gate it and knew an employee‘s personal info. It was a ten-digit number that consisted of the last four digits of the employee’s social security number and the current date. It seemed simple, but no one ever got in the gate uninvited. The Fitzgerald's would call the SWAT team or the cops if that ever happened. They would simply tell someone to turn around and go away. If an argument ensued, then the intruder received coupons for a free meal at one of the Fitzgerald's diners.
Lucas posed the question on his first day of work of how they received deliveries by UPS or Fed-Ex. Trent smiled, and said that they had a Post Office Box, and did not receive any deliveries of any sort at the office. They had a person whose job was to pick up and deliver the mail for the office. Lucas then asked about the unique, in his opinion, way in which they had their security set up. They told him that they liked to keep the number of people coming out of the main office to a minimum. That hiring security was unneeded for an area in which the Fitzgerald family felt relatively safe. Lucas wondered if they wanted to keep workers to a minimum, why have such a large office, and why hire him. He did not voice this thought to Mr. Fitzgerald, however.
He punched in his code and proceeded through the gate. He saw Mr. Fitzgerald's Lexus already sitting in his parking spot near the entrance. This was normal. He was supposed to be here before Trent, to arrange his day, and get other affairs in order. For Trent to be here first was no surprise. His work ethic was legendary. He was known everywhere as one of the hardest workers around.
All members of the Fitzgerald family had parking spots near the main entrance. Trent and his father's parking spot were side by side. The leading women of Fitzgerald Incorporated spots were next to them, which remained vacant most of the time. The last two spots belonged to the two grandsons, Simon and the younger Brian. Those spots also remained vacant most of the time. Particularly Simon‘s parking spot. Brian came about once a week. Lucas’s parking spot, while not anywhere near as glamorous, was still closer than some who have been working for the company for far longer than he has.
He pulled into his reserved spot on the second row back, all of the way to the right of the parking lot. He grabbed his briefcase and his laptop case from beside him, and got out of the car.
He almost missed it as he passed by the front of Trent Fitzgerald's Lexus.
Trent's body lay crumpled on the pavement next to his car. He was on his back, feet facing Lucas, legs askew. Trent’s right arm extended from his side, with his left arm pinned underneath him.
Lucas thought that he yelled, "Trent!" He knew that in that next instant, he was kneeling next to Trent’s body.
It was obvious the instant Lucas got close that Trent was dead. He smelled bad, not in a B.O. way either, and his trouser pants landed in a puddle of blood that seeped from the neat bullet hole in the middle of his forehead, and meandered in a trail to a nearby sewer drain. Lucas looked closely, and saw no other obvious bullet holes. From his cursory examination, it appeared to him that Trent had been here for a while. This did not happen recently.
He looked around to see if the killer was still hiding somewhere in the parking lot. Lucas did not panic. He gathered his wits, took the cell phone out of his pocket and called 911. He knew in the back of his mind that this was no longer an emergency.
Trent was long dead.
He explained to the operator who he was, where he was, and what he found. She said that she would dispatch the detective and the crime scene investigators right away, for him to wait where he was and not disturb the crime scene. For some reason he thanked her and hung up the phone. This was the first time he had ever seen a dead body that was not already in a coffin, much less the dead body of someone that he knew and worked closely with.
Lucas knew that the operator told him not to, but he took a bit of a closer look at the body. He had read many books and watched dozens of murder mysteries on TV. He has seen what detectives look for at a murder scene, which this was. He examined the hands. There were no scratches on his hands or anything under his fingernails to tell him that there was a struggle involved. He felt cool, again leading him to think that what happened was not recent. Either the killer got the drop on Trent, or, a more ghastly thought, Trent knew the person.
In the distance, Lucas heard a siren. He stood up, careful to leave Trent the way he found him. Lucas did not want to leave his fingerprints on the crime scene. He already knew that they were there, but he did not want his prints to show up on Trent’s clothes or briefcase, which stood next to the driver's side door of the car. He walked over to a nearby row of bushes that lined the front of the building, sat down at the edge of the sidewalk, took out his phone again, and dialed a number that he knew well.
After a few rings, someone picked it up. "Hello," said a tentative female voice.
"Hey Carly," Lucas said in a low tone. Carly was Trent’s wife.
"Oh…, Lucas, How are you?"
"Umm, not too great," he replied.
"What's the matter? Does it have anything to do with my husband? Have you seen him? He didn't come home last night. That sometimes happens, but he didn't call, but I tried not to worry."
"No, I know that he didn't come home last night," Lucas replied. "Are you sitting down?"
"Yes," she said, and suddenly she seemed to know what Lucas was going to say. "Oh, no," she said breathlessly.
"Listen," Lucas said, pausing before he broke the news. "Trent's dead. I found him here in the parking lot when I pulled in a few minutes ago."
There was no reply, she did not ask him how her husband died, just sobbing coming from the other end of the phone.
He looked up and saw two police cars, one of them an unmarked car with a single flashing red light perched upon its dome, pull up outside the gate. "Listen Carly, I’ve already called the police. They're here now, and I need to go let them in the gate."
She sniffled, "Okay. Thanks Lucas. Who else have you called?"
"You were the first after 911."
"Thanks. I’ll be down there as soon as I can."
She seemed to have regained some composure over the phone. That made sense. Carly Fitzgerald is much like her mother-in-law, Laura Ann a very strong woman. As much as Carly would not admit to it, she knew that she and Laura Ann were a lot alike, though at times they acted as if they were mortal enemies.
"If I don't see you before I know more, I'll call your cell."
"Okay, and thanks again Lucas," she said breaking the connection.
Lucas was halfway to the gate when the connection was broken. He doubted that they received the emergency code so soon. He would have to let them in.
As Lucas walked to the other end of the parking lot, he wondered who would do such a thing. Trent Fitzgerald did not have any enemies that would do this. He shook his head. He also wondered, as he looked at the pass code box, the security cameras at the top of the lighting poles and the ten-foot wrought iron fence going around the property, how did this happen?
The only conclusion that Lucas could draw was that it had to be someone that worked for the company. But who?