Jeremy was the middle, and sometimes, forgotten son, who lived in Roberts's shadow. In a sense both younger brothers did.
His door was still closed, but there was a woman sitting at the desk outside his door, his personal assistant, Harry assumed, and she looked up after he’d stood in front of her desk for a minute and a half.
“What do you want?” she asked abruptly.
Her manner was directly channeled from my brother, as it was exactly how he would have addressed Harry if his brother was sitting in that seat.
“Robert tell you he had a miscreant brother who might come calling, did he?”
The stony expression on her face didn’t change. “As I said…”
Two strides Harry had his hand on the office door handle. She was also just about out of her chair, but too slow to get between him and the door.
Harry smiled. Forced, of course. Then he opened the door to see his brother sitting with his feet on the desk leaning back in his chair, talking on the phone. The sound of the door being thrust open almost made him fall backward.
Harry could smell the perfume of his assistant; she was that close.
He turned his head and looked into her eyes. “Thank you, you can sit down again now. I can see he is in.”
Harry stepped through the door and then closed it, leaning against it.
Robert finished his call, took his feet off the table, and shrugged. At what, Harry was not sure.
“Mother said you’d be dropping in.”
“Did she? Too many floors above us for me to attempt that.”
He looked quizzically at me. Harry forgot; his older brother didn’t have a sense of humor, and worse, he never understood his brother’s ‘interesting’ sense of humor.
“Whatever. What do you want?”
“According to our mother, our father is missing.”
“You know this for sure?”
“He just goes away for a few days, to get away from everything, but mainly our mother. He said as much when he left the office the other day.”
“He said this, on the way out?”
“Not in as many words, but this is not the first time, nor will it be the last. I think he’s found a new squeeze.”
Robert could be, well, Robert. He was well aware of our father’s proclivities because the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Not that Robert had a wife to cheat on, or, last Harry had heard, a girlfriend. The last one had dumped him.
In Harry’s opinion, she’d been too good for him.
“What was he working on?”
“How should I know. He doesn’t confide in me. You know as well as I do that we’re just the hired help.”
Hired help didn’t get their own personal assistant, nor did they get an office.
“You never were a very good liar, Robert. So, for the next week or so I’m putting you under surveillance, everywhere you go, everything you do. At the end, I’ll put it into a report and give it to our father, if, or when, he returns.”
A flicker of either astonishment or fear appeared for a second in his expression.
“You wouldn’t. You couldn’t.”
“Let’s do it and see where it goes.”
Harry was reasonably sure that Robert had several friends that he didn’t want anyone to know about, and one habit he didn’t want his father to find out about. Sadly, in the early days of Harry learning the trade so to speak, Harry had used him and Jeremy for surveillance practice.
Harry’s older brother was not the paragon of virtue Harry thought he was.
Nor was his father, but Harry had known that already, and tried not to be disappointed.
Harry opened the door, ready to step out.
He shook his head. “Shut it.”
Harry closed the door again.
“This doesn’t get attributed to me. If it does, I’ll just deny it.”
“What is it?”
“He said he had a delicate job to sort out in Philadelphia and that he would be gone for a week; some business he had to clear up. He seemed distracted, and when I asked him what it was about, he just yelled at me, telling me it was none of my business and left.”
“He’s not normally moody and sharp?” He was, as Harry well knew from experience, but this sounded like an exception.
“Not like that. He looked really rattled.”
It couldn’t be anything to do with the Jones’ business, Harry thought, so it had to be associated with the vacant block down by the docks.
“Delicate, you say.”
He nodded. The circumstances seemed about right.
“Maybe I’ll hold off on the surveillance, just for now. Thanks.”
© Charles Heath 2020
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