Tuesday 9 March 2021

Case 2 - Episode 26 - Dancing with the devil, sorry, Harry's mother

Harry opened the front door, and his mother was standing in front of it, key in hand ready to put in the lock.

A look of astonishment crossed her face when she saw him.  “What are you doing here?”  It was a question that was quite blunt, the result of her unwanted surprise.

“You asked me to investigate the disappearance of your husband, and this is one of the logical steps in that investigation.”

She glared at him, then brushed her way past, yelling out to Maria in much the same manner someone would call a dog.

Maria came out of the rear just in time to collect the fur coat just before it hit the ground.

“Tea?” Maria asked?

“For two, in the morning room.”

She swiveled around as Maria left the room and glared at Harry.  “We need to talk.”  Equally abruptly, she headed towards the morning room, and Harry followed like a hapless puppy.

The morning room was his favorite in the apartment, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park, and for many years, the breakfast room when sustenance was taken on before heading to school.

Those years seemed carefree, though he had never realized the importance of them at the time.  Only when he had finished school and moved out had he realized what he was missing.  Now he was lucky to get breakfast or see Central Park in summer or winter.

“Sit,“ his mother barked.  They sat at either end of the long table.

She gave him several minutes to take in the view and consider his answers, even though he didn’t know the questions.  At times it was difficult to know who scared him the most, his mother or his father.

“What progress have you made?”

A simple question with no double meanings.  They would come later.

“Who is Emile Florenz?”  A dangerous start to the briefing, particularly if he meant something to her.

“Why do you want to know about him?  He’s just a golfing partner of your father's.  I assume you have spoken to him.”

“Not yet.  You have though.”  He looked up, and she was looking straight at him, eyes blazing.

“Have I?  How could you know who I talk to?”

“You might want to reconsider the notion that if you were thinking you’d put a fool in charge of the investigation because you don’t really want to know, or care, where he is, you’d better think again.”

A statement he never thought he’d have the courage to say, and was, in a sense, almost blurted out.  Perhaps he knew that the only way he’d get answers was to come straight for her.

“I don’t think of you as incompetent if that’s what you think.”

“I do.”

“Why would I hire you then?”

Why indeed.  It was something he’d thought about on the way over, and the only reason was that she didn’t want him to succeed.  The idea of her and Florenz together, that surprised him, despite the fact he knew she was as good at having affairs as his father.

Perhaps it angered him.  But it was a bit hypocritical because he could sanction those of his father and not of his mother.  Neither was setting a good example for their children.

“Don’t start answering questions with questions.  Florenz was your flame at University.  I’m going to be digging deeper, are there any other surprises I might find?”

“It depends on how deep you dig.”

“Either of you put a contract on him?”

Maria arrived with a tray with the tea and shortbread biscuits.  The tea service was 18th-century bone china, which I would have locked away in a safe rather than be drinking out of, and I would have to be careful not to drop my cup.

She poured the tea, passed me a cup, and waited until Maria left the room, pulling the double doors closed behind her.

“No.  I am married to your father, that’s non-negotiable.  I fuck Emile because it makes me feel good and it’s none of your business.  There are others, I don’t expect you to understand, nor do I care.  We have an arrangement.  It works.  I’m careful, he isn’t.  How did you find out?”

“I’m a private investigator.  If you have any secrets, I’ll discover them.”

“There’s nothing to find out that’s useful in finding him.  There are two other golf partners, and no, I don’t fuck them, there’s some law society he goes on conferences with, they’re just booze and prostitutes, and he intermittently plays poker with some more salubrious types.  Find his phone, or tap into it, it might give you some leads.”

All good information, he thought and would be on his list had he thought of it.  He took out his notebook and made some notes.

“Now that’s done, who the hell was the girl in your office that said she was your girlfriend?”


© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Case 2 - Episode 25 - Harry investigates the study

 The door was closed.  It was always closed, the one room in the apartment where it was forbidden to go, which is why Harry had ignored common-sense, and his father's specific orders.  He was a 'curiosity killed the cat' sort of person, always had been.

He tried the door.  Locked.  Of course, it explained why Maria was not overly worried about him going on.  She knew that it was locked.

But not an obstacle for the intrepid private investigator.  If his father ever asked him how he was so adroit at opening locked doors Harry would have told him, it was all the practice he got opening this door in front of him.

And before a minute had passed, he was inside, and the door closed and relocked behind him.

The Harry stood, just inside the door, soaking up the aroma of old leather, carpet cleaner, and air freshener, slightly on the must side because there were no windows or access to fresh air.  And when there was no air conditioning, it was stiflingly hot.

The desk was a turn of the century, that is eighteenth century, oak creation that was a family heirloom, though given the little mountains of wood dust, it was probably being eaten by white ants and one day crumble before his father's eyes.

Harry had found the dust when hiding under it one time when his father came home early and nearly caught him.  It would have been discovered if Maria was allowed to clean in there, but she wasn't, so nothing had been done about the problem.

The desktop was clear, the same as it was at work.  If there was anything to be found it would be in the drawers, and from experience he knew they too would be locked.

Enough with the memories, Harry thought, time to get to work, before Maria realized, he was missing.

He sat in the chair behind the desk, and shuddered, a bad feeling coming over him.  It was like his father's ghost was in the room.  

There were four drawers on either side, three narrow, one, the bottom, much larger.  He tried each of the drawers and discovered the bottom two were open, one on the left empty, and on the right, a bottle and three glasses.  He picked the bottle up and found it to be a very old scotch whiskey, the sort his grandfather drank.

Another secret; Harry used to sneak into his grandfather’s study, and have a drink of the whiskey, not hidden from view, and read some of the old books his grandfather kept in glass-doored shelves.  No doubt the black witch had sold them off the moment the old man died.  That, and everything else worth anything.

His grandfather would be rolling in his grave if he knew just how mercenary all of his family had become.

He passed over the opportunity to have a drink and worked on the first draw, top left.  It took two minutes, longer than he expected.

Inside?  Nothing of consequence, a few papers relating to the apartment, and a sheaf of accounts held together with a paper clip.  Harry shuffled through them and, near the bottom, he found one stamped 'overdue'.  A closer look at some others above and below it showed they were also overdue but spared the garish red stamp of disapproval.

Apparently, the family was experiencing cash flow problems, something, Harry suspected, his mother knew nothing about.  She had, he knew, made a point of letting him manage the family's finances so there'd never be arguments about money.

So, it raised a question, where was all the family fortune.  Last he was told, the Walthenson’s were worth in excess of 250 million dollars, excluding the property portfolio which included the apartment, and a weekender in the Hamptons.

He put the papers back in the drawer and relocked it.

Next was the top drawer on the right, a little easier to open, but sticking when he pulled on it.  The wood had warped, and it took some gentle coaxing to open it halfway, enough to discover the only item in it was a diary.

Harry shuffled through the pages to the date when his father disappeared.

'Lunch with EF and BA'

Going backward from that date, there were a number of similar entries only the initials changing.  It might help to write down the initials and try to marry them back to real people.  If possible.

He then spent five minutes going through cupboards, looking for some paper and a pen, neither of which were in the top drawers, where one would expect to find them.

None.  Five minutes wasted.  He opened the next drawer of the left.   Of course, that's where the stationery would be.   He quickly wrote down as many of the initials and the dates as he could then replace it.  No notes on where he was meeting them, just who and when.

Perhaps his work diary might be more forthcoming.

The other drawers had nothing of consequence, and certainly, nothing to help find him, just more evidence that he was in some financial difficulty.  Harry wondered if his mother knew, or the two brothers.  Or was personal and business separate? 

Another question to ask at the office.

Done, leaving the room as he'd found it, he took a last look around the room, took a moment to guess where a safe might be, and looking, proved he was wrong, then left.

Maria was nowhere in sight when he came out, so rather than see her, and answer any difficult questions, he headed to the front door to pet himself out.

Pity, then, it was exactly the same time his mother chose to return.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021