The Little Bugger Stole Itself!

chapter 1

Nathan Ford sipped his whiskey slowly, ignoring Sophie Devereaux's near silent sigh. Seeing their clients come in the door, he placed this glass on the table and stood to wave them over. Shaking their hands, he made the introductions, "I'm Nathan Ford and this is my associate, Sophie Devereaux."

The tallish man, skinny with a casual business dress, gripped Nate's hand firmly and responded in a clipped British accent, "My name's Simon Darcey. And this is Susanna Butler. Thank you for seeing us."

Sophie smiled reassuring, "Of course, please have a seat."

Once they were settled and the waitress had brought a round of waters and taken coffee orders from the two guests, Nate leaned forward and folded his hands on the table. "So, I'm to understand that your case is a bit on the unusual side?"

Simon nodded and pushed a usb flash drive towards Nate, "Yes. It's hard to explain without having seen the security footage I copied onto the drive there. But I'll try to explain it as best I can."

Suddenly a portly gentleman in a white Stetson burst into the bar and made a beeline for their table. His thick Texan accent bristled with anger, "Now, Mr. Darcey… Ah thought we were gonna discuss this move o' yours in more detail before goin' forward with it."

Simon stood and held his hands up in a calming gesture, "And we did Mr. Adair. We held a vote from all the families involved and agreed to a consensus to bring in a consultant."

Adair clenched his fists angrily and got into Simon's personal space and basically shoved him backwards with his girth, "It was not a complete consensus! We were supposed to vote again!"

Simon sidestepped away from Adair and shook his head at him, but Susanna interrupted, "Mr. Adair, you were the only dissenting vote. If you wish to withdraw from the joint effort then we'll make sure that you have no financial responsibility for the investigation."

Adair opened his mouth to yell even louder only to find himself pulled back and turned to face one serious face Eliot Spencer. "You're interruptin' a business meeting, Mr. Adair. Please, move along."

Adair sputtered and then got into Eliot's face, "Ya want a fight, Son? Cuz I'll be sure to give ya one!"

Nathan finally spoke up and said, "With all due respect Mr. Adair, Eliot will be more than obliging to take you outside to settle your anger over the issue. I assure you however that he will win the fight. Now, if money's your only concern then you should be aware that we don't charge our clients for our services."

Simon looked back at Nate then and said, "How can you run a business if your clients don't pay anything?"

Nate smiled back at Simon while taking another sip of his whiskey, "We have an alternate revenue stream."

Adair huffed and bristled and then looked at Eliot again indecision written across his face. Alec Hardison came up and threw an arm around Adair's shoulder, "Now come on, man. No need to stress anymore than you already are. Come over to the bar and I'll buy you a drink. You can rewind a little and let those two handle the business, okay?"

Adair relaxed finally and nodded, insecurity now showing, "I s'pose you guys ain't so bad. My wife's been so angry since that car got stolen. She bought it with money she won from her dog shows, ya know?"

Hardison and Eliot escorted the now depressed Adair to the bar, nodding in tandem with the sob story. Nate smiled and sipped his whiskey again as Simon finally retook his seat. "Your people seem like good men," Susanna said with a weary smile.

Sophie patted Susanna's hand and smiled, "We do what we do because we care about what happens to those who have nowhere else to turn."

Nate nodded and then turned back to Simon, "So… do your best to explain this to us."

Simon exchanged a worried glance with Susanna and then took a deep breath. He looked back to Nate then and started speaking. "Mrs. Butler and I represent seven families who have all bought the same Porsche and had it stolen. In spite of the excellent work covering the usual changes when reselling a vehicle on the sly like that.. changing the vin number and so on, there was one detail that remained the same on this car. Only one family didn't have a picture of it, but their son distinctly remembers the marking. The photos are also on the flash drive. It was this weird face symbol on the hood."

Susanna nodded, "It was the creepiest thing too. I always felt like it was staring at me. Cordelia Bradford from L.A. said she felt it too."

Simon smiled gently and nodded, "Bridget said she wanted to get rid of it. I didn't disagree. Anyhow, we have all purchased this same vehicle within the last year. And we all had the car stolen from us under mysterious circumstances. It wasn't until it was gone from my garage that a breakthrough in the case came through. My family and I are the recent victims. I work at a small software company that has several million dollars in government contracts. We've had to be careful of corporate espionage. As a result all programmers working for our company have had top of the line security systems installed and then reimbursed by our company. I have two cameras in my garage.

Mr. Ford.. Miss Devereaux.. that car drove out of the garage by itself. It's like someone stole it via some kind of remote control setup. I have no clue how they'd remotely open my garage like that… much less drive outside the viewing range of the cameras outside my house like that. Or past the ones on the houses of my team members who live on the same street. But they did it."

Susanna broke in at this point, looking very upset, "I know this sounds like some kind of bizarre prank… but each of our families has lost a large deal of money because of this."

Sophie patted Susanna's hand again, "It's okay, Susanna. We understand."

Nate took another sip of his whiskey and put it down, "Okay. Now, what do you want from this? Jail time? Money?"

Simon nodded slowly, "Mostly we just want them stopped. If that means jail time then that's excellent. Getting our money back is not a priority. But it would be nice."

Nate nodded slowly and then assured them that everything would be taken care of. A round of goodbyes later, Simon and Susanna collected Mr. Adair and left. He turned when he heard Sophie sigh. She answered his look with a frown, "A car stolen with no driver? What are we getting ourselves into?"

Nate smiled in his usual, uncanny way, "I don't know. But I look forward to finding out."

Nate stood behind the couch with his arms crossed over his chest, "Show us what you got Hardison."

"Right, man." Hardison replied while taking up his clicker and standing to the side of the large multi-screen display. "Now, our clients are a semi-organized group of seven families that have each bought the same car."

One side of the screen displayed a splash of pictures of each family group, while the other side show several pictures of a vividly crimson Porsche Roadster. Clicking through zoom-ups of each of the pictures of the car, several of them showing members of the victims family. "Photographs from not only the families but ones saved by the 'buyers' from the online sales ad all confirm that if this isn't the same car, it's got a lot of twins in this country. Details have shown that they've reset the mileage counter each time it's been sold and any identifying marks made by the buyers and their families were completely erased. We have seven different vin numbers for it, as well as seven different sets of license plates and registrations. What's more each family is different down to nearly evert major detail."

Switching now to the family pictures he started to scroll through them, "The most recent victims are a British immigrant family based out of Redmond, Washington near Seattle. Simon Darcey is a programmer for a small but very lucrative software company. He has a wife and three kids.

The first victims were a Wall Street investor, Lindsey Kane and his well-known socialite wife, Josephine. She's known throughout the New York high rise party scene as Jazzin' Jo Kane. They have one son, who is a mathematical prodigy with what appears to be perfect memory.

Next was the man we met downstairs, Michael Adair. He's the CEO of a small-time appliance company that services the San Antonio area. His wife, Danielle, is a champion breeder and shower of Yorkshire Terriers. Her current showings are Fluffy and Pookie.

Third was Jacob Butler and his wife, Susanna, who we met earlier. Mr. Butler's an architect in Atlanta and the father of triplet sons.

Then we have Zachary Burnside who is a third party arbiter focusing on corporate level financial resolution. He lives in Chicago near his ex-wife Kristine and their two sons.

After them was Bobby Bradford, divorce lawyer from Los Angeles. He has a well-known looker of a wife, Cordelia and two sons from a previous marriage. His first wife died of a heart attack.

Finally we have a neuro-surgeon from Phoenix name Matthew Rivers. His live-in girlfriend, Lucille Cooper, is a locally known hippie and is studying to be a Naturopath. She has a daughter by a previous boyfriend."

Clicking again to spread the display of the pictures back out, "Each family is from a different region, lifestyle, career and background. They were all found via web forums where sellers can advertise their car and buyers and shop without pressure. A different forum was used each time. The seller also used different usernames, real name, bank accounts, IP addresses and phone numbers. And he always cleaned up after himself.

His background check came clean every time, until after the theft and then it was found that he did not exist. One thing that was the same every time was that he was a olive-skinned man with a generic mid-west accent and drove a yellow-green H3 Hummer with very darkly tinted windows. The Hummer's license plates also changed to local plates for each sale. My searches have found no H3 Hummer's of that particular color owned by a man of that description."

Another click brought up security camera screen captures of a police cruiser parked in front of the Darcey house, as well as seven scanned copies of a police report from seven districts, all with the same handwriting. "What's more, after every theft was reported to the police, an additional officer arrived at the homes of the families to interview them. He was described as a tall, wiry caucasion male with short, dark brown hair and to quote Susanna, 'Eyes so blue that it was a crime it should be on a man.' "

One more click brought up seven pictures of the same man, as described, wearing seven different district uniforms. "His name is Prescott Rierdon. He's shown in seven police databases as a captain that's recently transferred to the local area of that particular district. He's been reported by each family to have a cruiser from the district though each one noted that he had a 2010 Dodge Charger each time.

Like our seller however, outside the police databases there is no Prescott Rierdon that matches our officer. Calls I made to each district asking for him resulted in me being sent to his voicemail. The answering recording was the same each time."

Hardison clicked on his remote again and a small audio recording of a clipped, cultured voice played, "You've reached the voicemail of Captain Rierdon. I'm not available at the moment, so please leave your name and the number I may reach you at accompanied by a brief message detailing your intent in calling me. I will attempt to return your call as soon as is possible."

Hardison's next click brought them back to Captain Rierdon's picture. "As far as I'm aware, he's never called back any of our clients and he hasn't returned the singular message I left either. This one's well played guys."

Nate nodded, "Thank you, Hardison. Let's take a look at Mr. Darcey's security footage now."

Hardison grinned, "Sure thing, boss. Saved the best for last. I didn't even look at it yet."

He pulled up the video and took a seat on the couch as Nate also came around and sat down. The five of them watched as the picture of the recognizable Porsche with the odd symbol on the hood came up. It looked like any other car sitting in the garage, inanimate and noticeable only for it's make and color, until the headlights came on. The shot showed that there was clearly no one in the driver's seat. Then the garage door opened up and the Porsche backed out and drove off. The rest of the video was clips gathered from the security systems of the other homes on the street showing the vehicle driving away with no driver.

They each sat in silence as the video played out and then stopped. A full minute later Parker speaks up, "Cars aren't supposed to drive themselves…. are they?"

Eliot shakes his head at her, his eyes still not leaving the now black video, "No… they aren't."

Parker nods, "Okay.. it's some kind of remote control then. Right?"

Hardison shrugs, "They'd have to have some pretty decent equipment to start up a vehicle, open its garage and drive it down the street that cleanly. I'm not even sure it's possible without military grade stuff."

Sophie looked over at Nate then, "So, we have ourselves a car that abandons its brand new owners the night after it's bought. What's the plan?"

Nate smiles, "I think it's time we went car shopping."

A couple of blocks away, an empty gunmetal gray Dodge Charger sat parked on the side of the road. A caucasian man with dark hair materialized in the driver's seat. He pulled a cell phone out of the glove compartment and chose a number out of the contacts list.

"They've been hired. Set the watch on them. I'm going to go back to tracking our Con."

He listened a moment more and then hung up the phone. Securing it in the glove box once more, he started his engine and then quietly drove away.