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Chapter One: Missing

Wednesday, June 23, 10:24AM

Special Agent Peter Burke glanced at the clock on his computer. He had six more minutes. He forced himself to focus on the paperwork in front of him. Mortgage fraud, as usual. He should have picked something more interesting to distract him from the way the seconds seemed to be creeping by this morning.

After reading the same seven lines of an accounting report four times, he pushed the papers aside and stood. He looked through the glass walls of his office to the bullpen of the White Collar Crime Division below. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. Jones was on the phone, taking notes. Diana Berrigan was simultaneously clicking away at her computer and flipping through a fat book filled with photographs – art, it looked like – which looked more interesting than what he was doing. He searched his brain for what case she could be working, and made a note to ask her about it.

He glanced at the clock again. 10:28. With as much discipline as he could manage, Peter sat back in his chair. He closed his eyes, thought about what was left on his task list for the day. He thought about Elizabeth, and decided he needed to plan to take her out to dinner this weekend. They’d been busy lately, and she deserved a good date night. He thought about the Yankee game he was planning to watch that evening, with a beer and his dog by his side.

By the time the reminder alarm was buzzing on his cell phone at 10:30, he already had the receiver of his desk phone in his hand and was punching in a number he knew by heart.

“Good morning, Winters Correctional Camp.” The switchboard operator sounded bored underneath the cheerful façade.

“Morning. This is Special Agent Peter Burke, White Collar Crime Division, FBI,” said Peter. “I’d like to speak with Warden Stone.”

“Warden Stone is currently on medical leave,” said the operator, “Would you like to speak with Interim Warden Jeffries?”

“Medical leave? What happened?” asked Peter.

“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t give out that information.”

“Right. Of course. Can you tell me how long he’s been on leave?”

“Going on six weeks, sir. He should be returning on Monday. Would you like to speak with Interim Warden Jeffries?”

Peter considered. His impatience notwithstanding, this could wait for Stone to return. He could speak with the interim warden, but…it might raise questions. “That’s all right,” said Peter. “This can wait. Thank you.”

Ninety seconds later, Peter was redialing. When the operator answered, he spoke in a rush. “This is Special Agent Peter Burke again,” he said. “On second thought, Warden Stone is likely to be busy on Monday, and this is a simple matter. I’m just doing a routine inmate check.”

“Certainly, sir. Let me transfer you.”

The line clicked, and there was silence. Peter waited. Usually, when he made this call – every two months exactly – he spoke directly with Stone, because he and Stone were friendly and Stone would give him a little more information. But he could satisfy himself with the basic check this time around, and maybe in a couple of weeks, once Stone had had a chance to re-acclimate, he would do an informal check, off schedule. The line clicked again.

“Inmate Services, Officer Lewis,” snapped an impatient voice.

Peter cleared his throat. “Officer Lewis, this is Special Agent Peter Burke, doing a routine inmate check.”

“Name and Serial Number?”

“Caffrey, Neal. 667609F,” Peter replied. He held his breath. He always held his breath at this point, even after almost four years of a perfect record. Caffrey had been a model inmate. He could here the clacking of computer keys and the clicking of a mouse.

“Caffrey is no longer with Winters Correctional Camp,” said the officer.

What?

“What?” Peter asked, a spike of unease crawling up his throat. He was supposed to be notified of any change in Caffrey’s status. He wasn’t supposed to be eligible for early release, and if something had happened…

“Caffrey is no longer with Winters—“

“Yeah, okay, I heard you,” said Peter. “Where is he?”

“I can’t divulge that information,” said the Officer. “Have a good—“

“Wait, hold on,” said Peter. “Don’t hang up. What do you mean, he’s no longer with the camp? Do you mean he was transferred? Do you mean he…is he…”

“All I can tell you, sir, is that he is no longer with our facility. Any other inquiries must be made through the proper channels.” Peter clenched his teeth together. The officer was only doing his job. A routine check meant a confirmation that the inmate’s status hadn’t changed and limited information on any infractions committed that could alter his time served. That was fairly common – many agents kept loose tabs on their most memorable inmates. Peter got more information from Stone, who kept an eye on Caffrey for Peter, but that was off the record. Very off the record, since the FBI – and the system – discouraged agents taking too much personal interest in the inmates they had collared. It raised ethical questions.

He rubbed a hand over his forehead. “Okay, yeah. Got it. Can you transfer me to Interim Warden…Jeffries, was it?”

The line clicked. Peter waited. He tapped a pen on the desk. He jiggled his knee. He rolled his shoulders. He tried not to imagine why in hell Caffrey had been moved from Winters with only a few months to go on his four-year sentence.

Finally, a voice came on the line. “Agent Burke? This is Paul Jeffries. What can I do for you?” Peter relaxed slightly. You never knew what you were going to get from wardens, particularly wardens of large, supermax work camps. Some were assholes. Some, like Stone, were decent men who believed in rehabilitation through structure and discipline. Jeffries sounded reasonable, particularly if he was willing to talk with an unknown agent and offer assistance. If he approached this right, he could get what he wanted without raising any red flags.

“Warden Jeffries,” said Peter. “I am the agent of record for a man who was serving a four-year sentence at Winters. I run a routine check every two months. Because of the circumstances of his arrest and his capacity for escape, his file also has clear instructions that I’m to be notified of any significant changes in status – not day-to-day infractions, but any change to his sentence or his assignment. I just learned from Inmate Services that he is no longer at Winters, and need to find out what happened – and why I wasn’t notified.”

“Who’s the inmate?” asked Jeffries. “I stepped in while Warden Stone is out, so if something slipped through the cracks, it’s because—“

“Totally understandable,” said Peter. The man sounded young, he realized. Peter could throw his weight around and scare the guy, or he could make the guy’s life a little easier. He chose the latter, and softened his tone. “His name’s Caffrey. Neal Caffrey. Serial Number 667609F. If you could tell me what happened – where he is, when he was moved, anything you’ve got – I’d really appreciate it.”

More clacking and clicking. Then a soft “hmmm.”

“Hmm?” asked Peter.

“I see you here on the file, Agent Burke. I apologize that you weren’t notified. That was an oversight, clearly.”

“That’s okay. What can you tell me now?”

“Well – unfortunately, since the transfer has already processed, there’s paperwork involved before I can –“

“Listen, I’ll paper the hell out of it. I’ll do it as soon as we hang up and personally hand-deliver it this afternoon if you want.”

“And as soon as I have that paperwork, I’ll approve it, run it up the chain, and we’ll have the information for you within 72 hours. But –“

Peter re-assessed the situation and changed tactics. “Sure. I’ll also bring along the paperwork on my formal complaint, so you can see where you’re implicated in the ‘oversight.’”

There was silence. Peter gentled his tone again. “Warden Jeffries, you’re in a difficult spot, I get that. But Caffrey is…he’s a special case. He was in the supermax camp at Winters because of these special circumstances. He’s an extreme flight risk, and he has attributes that someone unscrupulous might try to take advantage of. He wasn’t supposed to be transferred. At all. He wasn’t eligible for early release. So I can’t help but be concerned that something like that has clearly happened. Can you just tell me – was he transferred to another facility? Did something else happen? Is he…” Peter couldn’t finish the question. Is he dead? Injured? He swallowed. The thought of something happening to Caffrey – really happening – wasn’t a thought he wanted to entertain.

Jeffries heaved a sigh. “That paperwork better be on my desk before three.”

“I’m filling it out right now,” said Peter.

“Caffrey wasn’t transferred to another facility,” said Jeffries.

Oh, god. Then he… Peter closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“His Contract was sold.”

Peter’s eyes flew open. “Sold?” he managed. “What the hell do you mean?”

“Six months ago, Congress passed the Economic Stimulus Indenture Act,” explained Jeffries.

Right. Peter knew about that. He didn’t agree with it, but that was something the civil liberties groups were fighting in the courts, and something to think about for the next election. Ever since the passage of the Prison Indenture Act eight years earlier, those convicted of federal felony offenses – and not deemed too dangerous – were sentenced with Work Contracts instead of simple prison sentences. Prisons turned into private factories and work camps, where prisoners were assigned jobs to produce a benefit for society. It was little better than slavery, in Peter’s opinion. But the Economic Stimulus Indenture Act was worse. ESIA said that the federal government could sell Contracts to private citizens. Peter didn’t like it. There were supposedly safeguards and checks in place, but too much could be manipulated, hidden, and paid off. The work camps weren’t great, but they were subject to heavy scrutiny. The government simply could not – and would not – scrutinize a private citizen’s home in the same way. If Caffrey’s Contract had been sold, he could be…who knows where. Not to mention, if he was out of supermax, he’d find a way to escape. And even if he didn’t, ESIA gave private citizens far too much power over inmate punishment for infractions, without sufficient protections in place.

“Caffrey’s contract pre-dated ESIA,” said Peter. “It shouldn’t have been able to be sold.”

“A last-minute rider made ESIA apply retroactively to all Contracts in service,” said Jeffries. “When I got here, we were just beginning our Contract sales system. It was a little…disorganized at first.”

And with Warden Stone out, no one was paying attention to Caffrey. Which would explain how Caffrey was sold without anyone notifying Peter.

“Okay,” said Peter, after taking a few deep breaths. “When was his Contract sold?”

“Over a month ago,” said Jeffries.

“Jeffries,” said Peter, praying Jeffries was willing to bend the rules a little farther, “I’m going to need to know who bought it.”