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The Missing Taylor

     It was only around 6 PM, and it wouldn’t be dark until 8 PM this time of year. From a safe distance, I watched Averell Thompson lock his office’s front door. With time to spare, I drove away and looked for a quiet restaurant. 

     

     A little past midnight, I parked on a side street near Yacht Charter of Miami, grabbed my backpack, and walked behind the business mart. Earlier today, I had scouted the surroundings. On one side of the yacht rental agency, a clothing store, while a barbershop sat on the other side. The latter one was most likely unprotected; who stole gel or mousse these days? 

  

     Feeling nervous, I reached for my tools to pick locks, unused in quite a while. My hands were immobile when I looked down, but my active mind told me they shook. I worked on the barbershop back door, looked around often, and noticed no bizarre movement in my vicinity. I doubted anyone could see me in my black jeans and shirt at midnight, but you never know. Even rusted, I beat the lock in less than 30 seconds. With great care to keep quiet, I closed the door, still unlocked, and retreated to a hiding place, waiting for an alarm company to show up. After twenty minutes, I was sure nobody would come. I walked back, opened the door, and stepped right in. A backroom lunch area without windows greeted me, I was in luck. With my flashlight, I checked around and found only one area, under the door leading to the barber chairs which presented a problem. I located a few towels and put them along the door’s bottom. I switched the lights on with a long sigh of relief, but something interrupted me.

     A chill ran down my spine as I heard a voice rising in the back alley. I turned off the light and move behind the rear door, holding my breath. The sound diminished slowly as the late walker passed by position. After taking deep respiration, I flipped the lights back on.

Looking up, I found a typical false ceiling suspended from the roof structure as I expected. I put a chair on top of a table and manufactured a temporary but fragile ladder. I displaced a ceiling tile and directed my flashlight towards the wall separation between the barbershop and the rental agency. In luck, it was a simple piece of drywall, possibly reinforced, dividing the neighbors. My heavy backpack was a testament I didn’t know what to expect. With my knife, I cut out a square hole large enough to get through and installed a portable cord ladder to go down in the office next door. I passed through the hole and descended, removed a ceiling tile on my way down, and set foot in the back office area of Yacht Charter of Miami. Somewhat relieved, I looked at my watch; it was 1 AM; I used twenty minutes so far; it seemed like a few hours to me.

I dimmed my flashlight with a piece of cloth, not wanting light streaks showing through the front glass. I searched for the most prominent office, assuming it would be Averell Thompson’s. It was right in the corner. I looked around his workplace, no sign of the blue binder. In the back office space were eight file cabinets, each with three drawers. They were all closed with the standard locking mechanism, easy to pick. No labels indicated the file cabinet’s content. I guess everyone knew what they contained. Good for them, not so for me.

 

    I started on the first one, unlocked it, and searched for blue binders in each drawer. When I reached the sixth file cabinet, the top drawer finally contained what I was looking for. I imagined these were vessel names, in alphabetical order, written on the binder’s edge. The middle drawer held the Ocean Dancer pedigree, the same document Thompson referred to in my presence this afternoon. I didn’t want to remove it since the agency held my business card, and I inquired today about this yacht; too obvious. But I wanted the information it contained.

     Lugging my backpack and the binder, I walked to one of the two bathrooms. I made sure no window would give me away, and I opened the light. With the book set on the washroom counter, I picked up my small camera and photographed all relevant pages. I was interested in the ship’s destinations over the past year, customers, crew, and so on. I flipped a page, click, turned another page, click. When I wasn’t sure, I clicked anyway. Altogether, I used more than twenty minutes to finish; I held more than a hundred images on my camera. Once my photography session was over, I looked at the ship’s activities in September of last year, when it stopped in Marathon. It was that infamous weekend when Mark Taylor traveled to the Keys. I was looking for the ship’s real customer name. BC International appeared in the schedule. 

     At full tilt, I returned the binder to its original location and hunted for customer records. A bunch of company names showed up in the second cabinet, but they looked like maritime-related, maybe accounts payable. I continued and found another set of files arranged in alphabetical order. In the B section, I pulled up BC International which was rather thick. I went back to the bathroom for another picture session. In no particular order were invoices, statements, requests to rent sent by email, and at the start of the file, a form to create a customer’s account.

     Having grabbed as much as I could, I turned the bathroom lights off, closed all cabinets securing them by pushing the lock-in, just like when I found them. I returned to my point of entry and looked around for debris I may have caused; I picked up drywall dust and climbed back the way I came. On my way out, I reinstalled the ceiling tile. I could not repair the hole tonight, but it would go unnoticed until someone looked into the false ceiling. I cleaned up on the barbershop side, replaced tables and chairs, turned off the light, and opened the rear door bit by bit.

     Not hearing anything suspicious, I locked it, walked back to my car, put my backpack in the trunk, and then took a long breath of air. I drove within the speed limit and headed for my temporary shelter near South Beach. Tomorrow promised to be another busy day.