As usual Bob McIntire arrived to work at 6 a.m., bagel and coffee in hand. As he entered the foyer of the Herald, he was careful to use the door handle to avoid smudging the glass on the front door that the cleaning staff had been so diligent to clean overnight. He headed up the stairs to his second floor office, preferring the exercise to the elevator, and rounded the corner toward the center row of cubicles to his desk. Careful not to spill the coffee, but not so careful to avoid letting crumbs from the bagel spill into the computer keyboard, he sat the cup down on a napkin and turned to boot up his PC.
Noticing the blinking message light on the telephone, he turned his attention toward checking voicemail first; the e-mail would have to wait for later. McIntire had been expecting a return call from a local contact regarding a tip that a local auto dealer was under investigation by the State Attorney’s General office for unscrupulous sales practices.
McIntire had been promoted to section editor and transferred to Orlando to work in the investigative news section at the Herald, a newspaper with a large daily circulation. He’d worked his entire career waiting for an opportunity like this. Beginning his work in rural communities and progressing later into small metropolitan markets, he’d made a name for himself in journalism circles.
He developed a reputation as a hard hitting “tell it like it is” reporter with an uncanny ability to get to the root of a story. He was able to find the crux of issues and expose problems that other journalists couldn’t. McIntire’s years of experience helped him time his inquiries perfectly, usually in a public forum in front of an audience, which made it very difficult for subjects to avoid answering questions. McIntire spent a lot time compiling background information and research on his subject matter before exposing the thesis of a story and motives behind it that made it news worthy.
In his first few months in Orlando, a city councilman and an employee of the county housing authority had been on the receiving end of his piercing narrative. The county employee exposed for funneling repair contracts to a relative’s company was now unemployed and the councilman who leaked information to a real estate developer buddy about the city’s plans to re-zone the vacant Naval property near downtown would likely his bid for re-election to a second term.
In a recent Sunday edition, McIntire provided an account of how Richard Swartzfield, the embattled founder and president of Global Vision Systems, a local manufacturer of night vision devices with several government contracts, became the chief subject of an investigation focusing on accounting improprieties found in it’s most recent financial reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The scandal threatened to end employment for several hundred local residents working at the manufacturer. The Herald had been receiving tips about the accounting discrepancies from disgruntled former employees for several months, but editors had been unable to verify the accusations were true. The SEC investigation validated those suspicions and McIntire interviewed several of the tipsters for the not-very-flattering front page story under the condition that they remain anonymous.
Between stories and out of ideas, McIntire was hoping for something fruitful as he waited for the voicemail to connect. Pen and pad in hand to take notes, he took a sip of coffee as he listened to the first message, a reminder from a co-worker that would be arriving a little late to work. He listened to a second message from his boss about a meeting scheduled later in the day for all the section editors and senior reporting staff. Then, bingo, just as he hoped the third message was from Chad Reese, an employee of the auto dealership he’d received the tip about.
“Hello, this message is for Bob McIntire,” the message began. “I got your message. Call me on my cell phone.”
McIntire replayed the message again to ensure he had transcribed the phone number correctly and saved the voicemail into memory before hanging up. He was more than a little surprised that the caller had ended the message so abruptly and disappointed that Chad Reese did not provide more details.
Reaching for his personal cell phone, he took another bite out of the bagel he’d purchased at Dunkin Donuts on the way into the office.
Now almost 6:15 a.m., he hoped it wasn’t too early to call Chad Reese, but decided it was the perfect time to call. Maybe he’d actually answer this time. They had been playing phone tag for a couple days, but in two attempts the previous day, McIntire received voicemail each time.
The phone rang exactly two times before a voice on the other end answered.
“This is Detective Rowland,” the voice on the phone said. “Who is this?”
Confused that a detective had answered the phone, he replied, “Bob McIntire with the Herald. I’m trying to reach Mr. Chad Reese. Is he available?”
“How do you know Mr. Reese?” the detective questioned, preferring to be asking the questions rather than answering them.
“He left me a message on my voicemail and I’ve been trying to reach him. I’m returning his call. Can you please put him on the phone, I really need to talk to him,” McIntire continued.
“Mr. Reese can’t come to the phone right now,” detective Rowland explained, comfortable now that he had confirmed McIntire’s purpose for calling, he continued, “but, we’d like to talk to you Mr. McIntire. Can you meet me at the police station in about an hour?”
McIntire agreed to be there within the hour.
“Now we’re talking,” he thought to himself as he disconnected the call. Confident that he’d found his next story, McIntire finished off the bagel and coffee and headed to the police station to meet with the detective.
Police stations always made McIntire nervous. This wasn’t his normal beat and besides, he’d been raised to believe that you avoid policeman whenever possible and except for a speeding ticket now and then, he’d been successful. He’d have to overcome that sheepishness this morning.
McIntire entered the lobby of the building and walked straight ahead toward the elevators. He checked the department listing and building map posted on the wall near the elevators, but didn’t really know what he was looking for anyway. Finding nothing to help him identify Detective Rowland’s location in the building, he turned toward the information desk to his left and just as he was about to speak the receptionist behind the partition offered to help point him in the right direction. McIntire explained that he had an appointment with detective Rowland.
“Detective Rowland is part of the Homicide Division, sir. They are located on the third floor in suite 310. Have a great day” she explained, as McIntire turned toward the elevators.
“Homicide,” he said softly as he turned to board the elevator continuing to think out loud. “I wonder that has to do with Chad Reese.”
As the elevator reached the third floor the door opened and McIntire exited the elevator into large open work bay with desks aligned in simple rows and stacked high with paper clutter and various piles of manila folders. It was still early, but there weren’t many people working in the department.
Finding someone to assist him proved harder than it should have been, but just as he started to walk toward the back of the work bay and speak in the direction of a woman eating an apple and reading a newspaper, the elevator door opened startling him a little. As McIntire turned toward the elevator to see who it was, a man in blue dress pants and suit coat appeared out of an office located along the north wall of the big room.
“Who you looking for?” the man asked.
“I’m Bob McIntire with the Herald, I have an appointment with detective Rowland,” he replied.
“You just found him,” motioning toward the hallway in the back of the room the detective turned and started walking, which implied that McIntire should follow. Rowland led him down a brightly lit hallway and after making a left turn into another large bay filled with cubicles, they arrived at a conference room situated in the far corner of the office.
“I’ll be back with you in a minute,” Rowland said. “Have a seat in the conference room.”
Rowland, a fifteen year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, was a statuesque man in his early forties. He’d worked hard to achieve a certain status within the department and as a detective he was reaping the benefits. A former patrol officer with a street beat on the east side; he’d been promoted to detective and transferred to the homicide division about a year ago.
Being a detective definitely had its’ ups and downs, but for Rowland one of the definite perks of the job was that he didn’t have someone breathing down his neck all the time. Detectives had more leeway to come and go more freely and he definitely liked it that way. On the negative side, they were often called into work early and often in the middle of the night. He’d left the house early this morning and drove straight to Chad Reese’s apartment without eating breakfast. On the way back to the office, Rowland stopped by the Waffle House for his customary two eggs over-light, waffle and coffee.
A little irritated that the detective arrived late to his own appointment, McIntire released a gasping sigh and took a seat at the conference table and pretended to be reading from his notebook. About ten minutes later, detective Rowland returned with two other men that McIntire had never seen before either. He placed the stenographer’s notebook down on the metal conference table and stood up to shake hands.
“Bob McIntire gentlemen, good morning,” he offered.
“Mr. McIntire, it’s not been a very good morning around here,” Rowland replied. “These are detectives Pullman and Schmidt and they’ll be setting in with us this a.m.”
Pullman was a lanky man, but very well-groomed and well-dressed, with dark black hair that was beginning to thin around the temples. Schmidt was plainly overweight and his clothes didn’t fit well sporting a comb-over hairstyle. McIntire noticed he was sweating profusely and wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief just as he was being introduced.
“Fine by me,” McIntire said, getting right to the point. “I’ve got a few questions about Chad Reese that maybe you gentlemen can help answer. He told me he had some information I might be interested in and we’ve been trading phone messages for a couple of days. Do you know how I can get a hold of him?”
“We’d like to hear the details regarding your relationship with Mr. Reese,” the fat one asked as sweat dripped onto the table, ignoring McIntire’s question.
It was becoming clear to McIntire why he’d been invited to the meeting and he felt uncomfortable with the tone of voice Schmidt had just used.
“I don’t know the guy,” he replied. “I’ve only met him a few times. All I know is that he left me some messages on my voicemail about an article I’m working on. I’ve been trying to contact him for the past couple days.”
The lanky one interrupted, asking, “You never met him before, so that’s your story? Are you sure about that Mr. McIntire? It seems funny to me that you’ve never met the man, but you call his cell phone the day after he’s reported missing. If you don’t know him very well, why were you calling him at 6 a.m.? You seem to be in hurry to speak to him.”
“Missing?” McIntire questioned. “What’s that got to do with me?”
This time Rowland took up the pursuit, “We were hoping you could answer that for us. His parents called us last night, worried that he’s been in some kind of accident. His roommate has been out of town for three days and hasn’t had contact with him. And now you call his cell phone. That’s kind of strange, don’t you think?”
“Well, what seems strange to me is why he didn’t have cell phone with him,” McIntire responded.
Rowland continued, “What kind of article was Mr. Reese helping you with?”
“I’m working on an article about the car dealership where he works,” McIntire answered.
Pullman added, “We know you’ve called his cell phone six times in the past week. What’s so important? Why didn’t he call you back? Perhaps he felt threatened by you and didn’t want to talk to you. Were you threatening Mr. Reese?”
“Look, I am not happy with the gist of this conversation and if you gentlemen don’t mind, I’m late for another appointment,” McIntire said as he stood up to leave the room. “So if you have nothing further, I must excuse myself.”
Pullman and Schmidt exchanged looks and Rowland shrugged his shoulders extending the palms of his hands upward conceding that McIntire could leave. They really had nothing to base detaining him on in the first place, but Rowland thought it was wise to invite him down to the station for questioning on the off chance that he might have some information about Chad Reese. He had hoped the exercise might intimidate the reporter into telling them what he knew, but Rowland had concluded that either McIntire was good at acting dumb, or he really didn’t know anything. Rowland followed him out of the conference room, walking closely behind as McIntire headed for the elevator.
Hoping to gain McIntire’s attention before he boarded the elevator, Rowland cleared his throat loudly. McIntire turned, looked at detective and Rowland continued, “Mr. McIntire.”
”Yes?” McIntire said as he turned to face the detective.
Staring straight at the reporter, pausing a few seconds for effect, Rowland pointed his index finger at him and commanded, “Don’t leave town.”