First To Find
An Online Mystery/Suspense Novel by ThePharmGirl

Chapter Three

The trap door was working perfectly.  The geocacher known as Inspector Gadget, Rollie to his real-life friends, sat hunched over the cluttered worktable in his garage and smiled with smug satisfaction, staring down his handlebar mustache into the depths of the small oak birdhouse.  It wasn’t a trap door, per se.  More accurately, it was a false bottom he had built into the birdhouse, activated by a hidden spring mechanism, and he knew it would trick and frustrate a lot of geocachers in search of the tiny hidden cache he planned to conceal within the secret chamber.   He placed a faux nest in the house, and the grand deception was complete.

So much more rewarding than seeking caches himself, Rollie derived great pleasure from hiding caches for others to find.   True to his Inspector Gadget moniker, he specialized in creating unique and memorable caches that made use of his handiness with tools and gadgets.   He often tried to challenge cachers with atypical containers and hiding styles, and his continuous innovation earned him much respect in the geocaching community. 

He enjoyed making other people excited about his cache hides—or aggravated, depending on how one looked at it.  He was still getting an influx of emails from cachers logging finds and non-finds on his most recent devilish multi-cache requiring teams to follow laser beams, and--

“Hellooo?  Earth to dad?!”  An irritated voice broke into his consciousness.  “Did you hear anything I just said?”

“Huh?  Oh, sorry honey.”   Rollie hoped he was showing his best sheepish expression as he looked up to meet his daughter’s exasperated stare.  “But take a look at this!”

Missy, having 34 years to understand and put up with her gadget-loving father, rolled her hazel eyes and made her way to the workbench. 

“That’s awesome,” she concurred, her voice reflecting both admiration and astonishment as he demonstrated the trap door in the floor of the birdhouse.

“Of course, now that you’ve seen it, I’ll have to kill you,” he deadpanned.

That comment earned him another exaggerated eye roll.  “Very funny.  Don’t worry; I’ll let somebody else be the first finder.  My lips are sealed.”  She made a lock and key gesture with her fingers to her closed mouth.  

Rollie smiled.   He had created a geocaching monster, but he trusted her.   After retiring as a detective from the police department three years ago, he had taken up geocaching as a hobby to occupy his time.   He guessed it had helped fill the need to solve clues, even after leaving the force.   At some point, he had invited Missy to join him on a geocaching search, and she had been addicted to the sport ever since, finding hundreds of caches on her own under the name B Natural, fitting for a music teacher, he thought.   Thinking about her musical talents—a trait definitely inherited from her mother, as were her expressive hazel eyes and auburn hair—resulted in an undefinable but sharp ache in his heart.

“So, as I was saying,“ Missy continued, “If you want to come, our fall concert is next Friday at 7 o’clock.   I’m a little stressed right now, but I’m actually feeling good this year.  The students are prepared.  And they’re really getting into it—it’s sea-themed.  The fourth graders are excited they get to dress up as pirates for their number.  They’ve been swashbuckling around the school for weeks.  I think all the teachers, myself included, will be happy when the “Arrrrs” and the “Ahoy, Matey!” greetings have subsided.“ 

“Is Jason coming?” Rollie asked.

“Yeah, he said he was,” she replied with a smile she couldn’t hide.

Jason Smolski was Missy’s boyfriend.  She had met him at a geocaching event soon after she began caching and they had been seeing each other exclusively for the past year.  Jason, who went by jsmolski—not so original, but he liked a straight shooter—has been geocaching since it had first been invented.  A computer whiz, Jason had set up the state geocaching association webpage and was on the board of directors.  Rollie liked him; he seemed like a genuinely good guy.  And more importantly, Missy liked him. 

Their conversation was abruptly interrupted by the persistent ringtones emanating from his cell phone, residing somewhere on his worktable under the wood scraps and craft materials.   Following the sound, he found the found the phone hidden under a clump of bird nest material.  Kind of late for a call, he thought, as he noticed the time was almost 10:00pm.

“Hang on,” he muttered to his daughter before gruffly answering the phone.  “Hello?”

“Yah, Rollie.  How’s retired life treating ya?”  Rollie immediately recognized the deep voice of Frank Collins, a fellow detective from his department, still active on the force.

“Alive and kickin’.  So to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?” 

“Uh, well, sorry to call so late.  A little birdie told me you know about geocaching?” he phrased as a question.

Huh.  He wasn’t expecting that.  “Yeah,” he drew out as a long syllable. “Why?  You lookin’ to find some treasure, Frank?”

A hesitant chuckle filled the airway.  “Nah, I’ll leave that to you.   Actually, we’ve got a 10-57 and the wife says he was out looking for one of those geocaches, thinks he might be hurt.  Hoping you could help us out.”

“Who’s missing?” Rollie asked, knowing a 10-57 was police code for missing person.

“Hank Briggs.  You know him?”

“Hank?”  Dr Flossn Gloss?!   That’s interesting.  Rollie chewed on this information as he fingered his mustache, a nervous habit he mindlessly employed when facing perplexing mysteries. “Yeah, I know him.  How long has he been missing?”

“This afternoon. “

“What? That’s it?!”  Something was off, Rollie thought. 

“Yeah, I know.  Look, it’s nothing official yet, obviously.   But the guy left his dental office in the middle of the day, told the staff he’d be back in 5 minutes, and never came back.  It’s strange, right?  We’re just following up, making sure he’s okay.  Think you could come to the station and show us how to go to one of these geocache thingys?”

“I’ll be right there.”   Rollie ended the call as he stood and headed inside the house, his eyes going dark, his mind automatically going into police mode.  Retired or not, they can’t take the detecting out of the detective.

“Someone’s missing?” Missy inquired after him, having overheard his end of the conversation.

“Maybe,” he replied, keeping it vague.  Inside the house, he hurriedly collected his GPS unit and a flashlight, quickly shrugging on a jacket.  Grabbing his car keys, he added, “I’ll talk to you later.”  He kissed the top of her head, and headed out the door.

Go to Chapter 4.... coming sooner or later.