Episode III: Part II - The Case of the Missing Virus
“The FBI was on this two days ago,” agent Morelli disclosed.
“Yeah, I figured that,” Matt replied, his iPhone held securely in place by the phone holder on the center console. Turning onto a main thoroughfare, he was only minutes away from his agency's parking lot.
“That’s all I can tell you at the moment, Matt. Why don’t we meet at our favorite watering hole,” he suggested. “Now that you’re officially involved in the case, I can shed a little more light on what we believe might be happening.”
“Sounds good to me. I owe you a drink anyway,” Matt chuckled. “Give me an hour. I have a few things I need to take care of.”
Parking and exiting his car, Matt casually walked into the office. Sitting at her desk, Delia looked up and over her laptop’s screen, acknowledging Matt’s presence with a smile. She moved her hand across the keyboard, pressed the enter button, then slowly pushed the screen down and closed the computer.
“It’s hot out there today,” Matt blurted out, removing his sports jacket and further loosening his tie.
“According to the internet, it’s going to be toasty all week,” Delia replied, lightly tapping the cover of her laptop several times.
“Yeah, I get it,” Matt said, standing next to Delia’s desk.
“How did the meeting go?”
Matt took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. “Hot as the weather,” Matt replied. “Why don’t you come into my office; I’ll bring you up to date on what we’re dealing with.”
Wrapping up his brief with Delia, she pushed her chair away from his desk and stood. “Sounds like more than you bargained for,” she cautioned.
“Before this is all over, I might wind up agreeing with you,” Matt admitted, a wry expression on his face. “In the meantime, we’re on the case, as well as our friend with the FBI. In fact, I'm on my way to meet Morelli. Use the remainder of the day to find out everything you can about our missing scientist,” he directed, handing Delia the file he received from Hutchinson.
“I’m on it,” she said, turning around and walking back to her desk.
“We still don’t have enough information to make an assessment regarding what we’re dealing with,” agent Morelli confided. Sitting across the table from Matt, he took a sip of his drink, a Jack Daniels on the rocks.
“Then what does the FBI have? You didn’t invite me over here just to tell me you’ve made no progress.”
“No, I didn’t,” Morelli responded. “We combed the inside and outside of his home, along with his vehicle, which, by the way, is still parked in the garage. No evidence related to his disappearance was discovered, no vials were found, nor was his home or vehicle ransacked. We departed his house shortly thereafter, locked it up tight, and turned the lights off. We did speak with his only neighbor by the name of Susan Caine, a widow who resides in the house nearest our missing scientist. She did tell us she thought she heard what sounded like shouting coming from the Mitchell home around 3 am or so.”
“Was she awake, or did the shouting awaken her?” Matt asked.
“Neither. Mrs. Caine had retired earlier in the evening. She set the alarm on her cell phone for 3 am to check on her cat who two days earlier was brought home from the vet. She wanted to make sure the cat was okay mid-thru the early morning.”
“Other than the noise, did she see anything?” Matt asked.
“She noticed a back porch light go on for about ten seconds, then off. That was it. She didn’t see Mitchell or anyone else.”
“So, where does that leave things?”
“That’s all I can tell you for now,” Morelli replied. Matt straightened, irritated by the hesitancy of his FBI associate and friend to provide any further information. He knew Morelli was holding back.
“I’d like to talk to her,” Matt proposed, lifting and finishing the mug of beer he was holding.
Morelli grinned. “You took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to suggest you do just that. We had an entire forensics team on Mitchell’s property at the time we questioned Mrs. Caine. She seemed more rattled by our presence and questions than the disappearance of her neighbor.”
Matt laughed. “Yeah, you were the sheriff and neighborhood welcome wagon all rolled into one. Did you remember to present her with a gift basket?”
“Very funny,” Morelli smirked, “which is exactly the reason why I believe she’ll be more receptive to you dropping by. Mrs. Caine might be less ruffled by your presence than a throng of FBI agents swarming all over her property. She may have remembered something after we left — or decide to reveal something she knows and didn’t want to share with us.” Morelli leaned forward, “You might even uncover something new, although you didn’t hear me say that.”
Matt nodded. He understood the innuendo. “I’ll bring Delia with me. She might feel more comfortable in the presence of another female.”
“Good idea,” Morelli proclaimed. He finished his drink then stood. “Good to see you again, Matt. I’ll be in touch.”
“Later, Frank,” Matt replied, watching as Morelli turned and walked toward the exit.
It was a little after 7 pm. Matt thought about ordering another beer, then changed his mind. He stood, threw a five spot on the table and walked out of the pub. Driving back to his office, his thoughts focused on dropping by the Caine residence the following day, unannounced, with Delia accompanying him. Just before he reached the agency’s parking lot, he made a quick u-turn. Delia’s gone home for the day — probably wouldn’t hurt to complete a quick drive-by. At least I’ll know where I’m going tomorrow, he thought.
For half an hour Matt followed the directions voiced by the GPS app on his iPhone. “It’s remote but close to the lab,” he mumbled. The home’s address did appear to correlate somewhat with the location of the Bio-tech lab where the missing scientist was employed. A thick forest of trees lined the two lane winding roads leading to the unincorporated area of the county. The locale encompassed only a handful of isolated homes. If you like privacy this is probably as good a place as any.
Navigating his way around several winding roads, Matt finally turned onto a narrow side street leading to the scientist’s residence. Pushing the passenger side down window switch and removing his foot off the peddle, he allowed his car to idle slowly up the road. Approximately an eighth of a mile into his search for Mitchell’s home, he happened upon a house to his right, set-back quite a distance from the shoulder, a numbered postbox attached to the top of a four by four mailbox post that looked more like a birdhouse than an actual mailbox. The number on the box corresponded with the information Morelli provided earlier. Matt tapped the brakes. He starred for several moments at the log cabin style home. It was the Caine residence. Soft illumination from inside the home confirmed the house was occupied.
Taking his foot off the brake, he continued up the tree-lined road for a short distance until he reached a stop sign. Turning left per the GPS, Matt continued another eighth of a mile until he noticed an oversized, premium street side metal mailbox supported by a metal four by four. Three inch reflective house numbers were plainly visible on the box. Here we are, Matt thought. He tapped the brakes again. Unlike the Caine residence, the Mitchell home was more traditional country in its architectural design, but with one notable difference — lights, although dim, were clearly visible on the inside.
“Somebody’s there,” Matt uttered.