Robert Magellan stood on the front steps of his Tudor-style mansion and looked over the crowd gathered on the paved circular drive that was wide enough to accommodate three vehicles.
“I want to be able to park three cars across,” he’d told the contractor, and that’s exactly what he got.
Today there were people, not cars, lining the driveway.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Robert’s personal assistant and right hand, Susanna Jones, asked from just inside the front door.
“It’s a great idea,” he assured her.
“You’ve always avoided the press,” she reminded him.
“Yes, but this time I have something important to say.”
“There were those who thought you might have had something important to say when you sold your stock in Magellan Express a few years back,” she said dryly.
“My ex-partner talked enough for both of us,” he recalled. “There wasn’t much for me to add.”
And of course, he’d had little enough to say to the media when his wife and son went missing two years earlier. At the request of the police, he’d made the televised pleas for anyone with any knowledge of their whereabouts to call the numbers that flashed on the screen, but beyond that, he’d been silent. His reluctance to speak on camera about his family had led some to speculate that perhaps he’d had a hand in their disappearance, but no one who knew him took that seriously. Robert had always worn his heart on his sleeve, and even now, speaking publicly about Beth and Ian was acutely painful, something he’d rather not do.
“Mr. Magellan, if you’re ready . . .” The young assistant to the head of the public relations firm Robert had hired to organize his press conference placed the microphone on the podium that had been brought in that morning.
“Let’s do it.” Robert smiled and stepped up to the mike.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming today on such short notice.”
As if anyone from the local newspapers or television stations would have missed the first press conference Robert Magellan had ever called. His gated property had hummed with a buzzing undercurrent for the past hour.
“What do you suppose he’s up to? Think he’s going to announce that he’s starting up another business?” The whispers floated on a light late spring breeze.
“What do you think it is this time? Energy? Or do you think he’s sticking with technology?”
“Whatever it is, I’m calling my broker and telling him to buy me some of whatever it is he’s selling. Everything he’s ever touched turned to gold.”
“Well, except for that business with his wife and kid . . .”
“Yeah, that was tough. Still haven’t found either of them.”
“You think maybe that’s what he’s—”
“Shhhh. I want to hear what he’s saying.”
“Recently, my cousin, Father Kevin Burch of Our Lady of Angels parish here in Conroy, reminded me of an oath we made to each other when we were kids.” Robert made eye contact with Trula Comfort, who, as his late grandmother’s best friend, had been invited to come along for the ride when he made his fortune. Trula winked, knowing, he suspected, how he planned to introduce his latest venture.
“?‘When I grow up, I’m going to make a lot of money,’ we promised ourselves and each other, ‘and I’m going to use it to help people who can’t help themselves.’ Well, I grew up and did, in fact, make a lot of money, and Kevin has devoted his life to helping others. But until now, I haven’t done a whole lot of good for too many people outside of my immediate circle.”
Robert paused momentarily. “Father Kevin recently reminded me of that, too.”
When the light laughter died down, Robert said, “As I’m sure you all know, two years ago, my wife, Beth, and our son, Ian, disappeared without a trace. Because I have unlimited resources, I was able to hire private investigators to search for them when the police came up dry. The fact that our local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies were unsuccessful doesn’t negate the diligence of their work, but the reality is that, eventually, as every lead turned into a dead end, they had to turn their attention to other cases.
“Not too long ago, Father Kevin enlisted my assistance in finding two Conroy teenagers who’d also gone missing. I know that some of you covered the story of the successful return of these kids to their families. And once again, Father Kevin took the opportunity to remind me of that oath we’d made long ago.”
Robert cleared his throat before continuing. “There are countless people whose loved ones have disappeared. There are thousands of parents who go to bed each night wondering where their missing children are, whether they’re dead or alive. Over time, their cases go cold, the police are pulled in other directions, and the investigations often cease, leaving the families praying for a miracle. Well, I’m here today to announce the formation of what I like to think of as a catalyst for miracles, the Mercy Street Foundation. Funded by me, the foundation will employ the best talent available from all avenues of law enforcement, and put them to work to try to solve those unsolvable cases. Missing persons and homicides will be our focus.”
A reporter in the back row raised his hand, and without waiting for acknowledgment from Robert asked, “Are you talking about a private police force?”
“More like a private investigative firm,” Robert told him.
“When you say this is funded by you, what exactly does that mean?”
“It means that I will be paying the investigators, whatever staff I have to hire, whatever expenses we incur to get the job done.”
“How is this going to work?” someone asked.
“Suppose you have a sister who’s been missing for a couple of months—maybe even a couple of years—and the police are no longer actively looking for her. The trail is cold. You’d go to our website and you’d fill out a form. We’ve streamlined the process as much as possible. Answer all the questions about the case, tell us why we should choose your case to work on. You’d apply pretty much the way you would for a scholarship. You fill out the paperwork, then you wait for a response,” Robert said. “To start, we’ll choose one case each month to work on. It’ll be up to the applicant to convince us to choose his or her request. Each one will be evaluated. The one we feel we’re most able to help is the one we’ll choose that month.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” someone asked.
“Right now, the evaluation committee consists of my assistant, Susanna Jones; Mallory Russo, a former Conroy detective who was the first person I hired; and myself.” He nodded in the direction of an attractive blond woman who stood close to the podium. “Mallory will be pretty much calling the shots on how the investigations will proceed, and since she has nine years of experience in law enforcement, her opinion will carry the most weight. She’ll also be the bottom line on new hires. That’s our committee.”
“A-hem.” Someone coughed nearby.
“Oh. Right. And Father Kevin Burch,” Robert grinned. “He doesn’t have any law enforcement experience, but he’ll be trying to channel some divine guidance.”
On the sidelines, Kevin laughed.
“You’re saying you’ll work on one case each month. Is that how long you’re giving yourselves to solve a case? One month?” one of the local TV anchors asked.
“We will work each case until it’s solved or until we or the applicant feels the investigation has run its course and is no longer productive.” Robert stacked the index cards containing his few notes on the podium. “Look, I of all people know that there are some cases that will never be solved. Some missing persons will never be found, some killers will never be brought to justice. But we’ll do our best on every case. For some victims, there will be justice. For some families, there will be closure.”
“How much staff do you anticipate?”
“We’ll grow as we need to. Right now, we have only one investigator, but she’s going to have her hands full evaluating the submissions. We’re going to have to hire at least one more immediately just to take on the first case.” He looked directly into the camera and added, “We’re looking for law enforcement personnel with experience in all avenues. Crime-scene investigators, crime-scene analysts and reconstruction experts, criminologists, profilers—we’ll need them all, sooner or later. I’m also hoping to set up our own lab within the next year so that we can analyze evidence on our own without being a burden to the state and county labs. So if you’re tops in your field and you’re looking for a real challenge, go to our website and fill out an application.”
Excerpted from Cry Mercy by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2009 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.