An Adam Fraley Mystery

by Henry Hoffman

During the course of his search for a missing man living off the grid in a remote stretch of the Sierra Nevada foothills, private investigator Adam Fraley suddenly finds himself the target of a deranged sniper who is determined to take him out. Behind the attempted execution is a mysterious mastermind who fears Fraley’s probing will uncover a link between the man he is in search of and a lucrative underground drug-trafficking scheme. Coming to the aid of Fraley in his hour of need is an unexpected friend who appears out of nowhere to help guide the private detective through the harrowing encounter. Meanwhile, all of this is played out against the backdrop of a great American tragedy that occurred over a century ago, one that holds a direct tie to the case at hand.



May 1997


Light attracts. Nothing extraordinary about that when considering creatures of every species. For Jeb Lanigan, it was the source of the light that ultimately would land him at the epicenter of a great American tragedy.

Back in the seventies, Jeb would take a round-trip train ride once every summer from his hometown of Reno, Nevada, to San Francisco to visit his grandmother who had retired to San Jose across the Bay. He adored his grandmother, but in all honesty, it was the train rides that spurred him westward. Jeb was a man filled by wanderlust, and the cross-country treks were a convenient way of satiating some of that lust.

As an independent financial advisor who was already approaching burned-out status at the age of forty, he recently had considered jumping off the grid. At first, he fell for the attractions of his profession—the chance to offer meaningful advice on one of the more important aspects of a person’s life, the opportunity for him to be his own boss, the prospect of unlimited earning potential, not to mention the flexible hours. Altogether, it amounted to a comfortable lifestyle for one who harbors no desire to further climb the ladder of success. It wasn’t long, though, before the cons came to the fore, especially the one when you come to realize that you are, in fact, taking on a heavy responsibility in handling other people’s money and not always to their satisfaction. The flexible hours were turning into a daily twenty-four-hour grind. How many times had he advised a client to invest in a certain stock, and when the issue dropped a fraction of a point, the client called him immediately on the phone the next day questioning the decision? As for other responsibilities, he had few. He was single—never married—an only child whose parents were independently wealthy and, unlike his grandmother, a thousand miles away, much more into their lives than his.

“Face it, you’re devoting all your time to the lives of others, not your own,” he told himself while on one of his trips to see his granny. “Time for a mid-course correction, before it’s too late.” That’s when he saw the light, quite literally.

Gazing out over a darkened landscape from the window of his Amtrak cabin, he could vaguely make out the outline of the Sierra Nevada mountains as the train approached the California border just past Verdi, Nevada. For miles on end, pine trees and hills cloaked in shadows lulled him into a meditative state, until he saw that light off in the distance.

He soon realized it was a cluster of lights he was viewing, indicating a remote human presence of some sort. A homestead? A tiny village? A roadside tavern? From what he could discern, the source of the distant light was coming from the slopes of the Sierra foothills, perhaps twenty to thirty miles inland. Rough terrain for any kind of commercial enterprise, he surmised. He had often seen similar sightings in his rail travels, invariably leading him to ponder the strong attraction such isolated places held for him…calling him, like a lost soul in the night.

One of the lights, he noted, shone substantially larger than the others and emitted almost a strobe effect, as if calling attention to the locale. Then, slowly, the lights faded from view as the train continued on its way. Before they had dimmed completely, Jeb had made up his mind to revisit them on his return trip, the next time up close and personally.




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