Of all the people in the office, Harry considered Giselle his favourite, and she his. At least that was the impression she gave him from the very first days he was taken there as a child, and later when doing work experience.
She had made the law fun and was one of the reasons why Harry had originally chosen to follow a career in law. To begin with, at any rate.
But, as Harry began to discover when he started law school, the law was anything but fun. It was a time when he also discovered that she hadn't been showing him the right way to do things. And that, Harry considered, was wrong, and caused him to suspect her motives for doing so.
It went on to fuel an investigation into her background, her style of practising the law, and her knowledge of the law in practice. And that investigation had ended with a discovery that changed everything, and especially his desire the practise law at all.
A simple open and shut case, Sims v Simpson, a case brought by Sims that alleged that a piece of property belonged to him, and not the defendant. Suffice to say, documents were discovered, documents were either altered or forged, and a travesty of justice was enacted.
A year later, her role in the case was discovered, and it led to a very quiet end to what had been, up to then, an interesting career, if somewhat lacklustre after she had married the elder Walthenson.
It could be said she tried to use the case to impress her husband, but by then their relationship had fractured past the point of no return and the marriage was over. What had been planned as her saving grace had exactly the opposite effect she had hoped for.
Officially, she had ended up in the basement because she decided it was time to stop front-line lawyering as she called it, and move into a research role. And not long after that old man Walthenson divorced her.
Not because of another woman, younger and more motivated, but because of a legal disaster that cost the practice a small fortune to keep it private.
It was just another secret, one of many that pervaded any legal practice. The saying, he had heard spoken of in hushed tones within those hallowed hallways, if the court doesn't know about it, no harm done.
Winning then, apparently, was everything, no matter what the cost.
But it was another powerful reason why Harry hated the idea of becoming a lawyer, and even more so in his father's practice.
And after making the discovery which Harry knew his father was privy to, but never spoken of, he decided to keep it to himself as well No need to upset their rather fractious relationship any further.
Not unless he needed it as a bargaining chip.
Giselle wasn't at her desk that morning he decided to visit the office. Fortunately, neither of his brothers were there either, both out visiting clients.
A quick chat with Merilyn told him that Giselle would not be in until later that morning, so it gave him time to poke around in the filing system, one that Giselle had devised to keep others from finding anything in the research system unless she delivered it.
She had told him a long time before what she had to do to ensure her continued employment and had shown it to Harry, whether deliberately or by mistake, and thus he also knew his way around the filing and computer systems. He had been hoping she might be out because he wanted to look at some of the files, if there were any, relating to the dockside plot.
He needed to know what his father had known.
He also needed to look at his father's electronic diary, not something he could do by asking Merilyn his personal assistant, if she would open it for him. His credentials for the investigation, given by his mother, were not all-encompassing, and anything she hadn't considered blocking, his brother Robert, had. That was reason enough to believe his brother had something to hide or was currying favour from Alicia.
There were too many important company trade secrets that the practice could not afford to give access to his brother had told him, a valid enough reason. Harry thought he would ask first, knowing that he wasn't going to take heed of his brother's decree. It wouldn't be difficult to get what he needed, and the icing on the cake, he would do it using his brother's access code, and what that didn't cover, well, he had the back door login used by the programmers, people he had worked with when they were installing and setting up the systems.
It was this he could use to gain access to the master hard drive where everything was stored, and where, particularly, his father's and brothers' diaries were stored. He was not interested, yet, in any other diaries other than those belonging to the family. It also included his mother whom he knew sometimes consulted for the practice.
And there were also the email accounts, always a go-to when things went awry in business, and something the others didn't know, deleting emails didn't actually delete them, it just hid them from view.
Fortunately for him, the server bank was installed down in a room off the archive and was rarely visited except by the maintenance company, and any one of three servicemen. Giselle also poked her head in the door from time to time, pretending she didn't know what was going on, and was, as far as Henry was concerned, more switched on to an opportunity when one presented itself to her, and poking around in the computer’s filing system was one of them.
She had been the first person to put her hand up as a network system administrator.
There were two computers side by side, near the server room door, one an administrative machine, the other for upstairs staff to use for searches of online documents.
The first thing Harry did was put a USB drive into the main server to upload a small program that Felicity said would enable her to log in as an administrator and leave no trace of her activity. He trusted her when she said it would not do anything else.
Then Harry sat at the search machine so that if anyone came down, they would not see him on the admin machine and raise suspicions. He knew the necessary login information worked on both machines, unlike those upstairs in the offices, set up for only one user, and their rather narrow permissions.
He logged into the mail administrator and brought up all the accounts. His father was first, and he picked three days on either side of his disappearing. Those emails before were standard requests and discussion points with clients as he gathered evidence and discussed strategy for his current cases, and then one, from Argeter, setting up lunch the day he disappeared. Nothing was added to say what it was about, just a time and a place. He noted down the details in his notebook.
Harry then narrowed the search to only Argeter's emails, and firstly, noted a consistent email on the 25th of May of each year reminding his father of the interest and principal repayment due but the end of the month. An amount wasn't mentioned but Harry got the impression it was a substantial amount.
Harry then checked for an expense spreadsheet, a specially created ledger account each of the lawyers had so they could bill their time and expenses to clients and found no mention of Argeter. It must be, he thought, somewhere else, though it was odd to Harry that the head of chambers didn't have such information.
Harry made a note that it might be a secret loan, his father not wanting to borrow money from his wife, or her family, or, for that matter, his father, what was once a sticking point for him. Another note gave the impression that Argeter might be a reason for his disappearance, perhaps because he couldn't pay back the money. Or did his father use the money for gambling? He remembered a long time ago when he and his brothers were home for the holidays, the arguments their parents had over his father's drinking and gambling.
It was an odd memory that popped into his head, the fact that his father had resented the fact his wife was an heiress, and richer than he ever would be, and the fact that he had told her he would make his own way in the world, without the benefit of her wealth. They seemed to him, now, such an unlikely couple, and more than once he had thought she might be better off without him. That shine of those early days of marriage had long worn off, and she had often moved in her circle without him.
More than once his friends had told him his parents were 'odd fish'.
Odd fish indeed.
© Charles Heath 2020-2022